by carl wilson

The Rat King:
Tin Tin Tin's Red-Whiskered Stepchild


Newer readers may not know that throughout 2004 I ran a monthly series at the then-newborn Drake Hotel in Toronto called Tin Tin Tin, which put together musicians from different bands, scenes and genres to play together in multidisciplinary ensembles. Sadly, I didn't have the time to keep it going, though I always nurture hopes for a revival someday. But even better is this week's debut of Maggie MacDonald's The Rat King, a full-scale indie-rock-opera that got its start as a set at the first Tin Tin Tin. The cover story on Maggie in this week's Now weekly kindly acknowledges my part in kickstarting it (thanks, Sarah), but the reason you should care is that it's a grand hodgepodge of Brechtian theatre and The Cat in the Hat with an underlying environmental-apocalypse theme and tunes by musical director Bob Wiseman, with a cast featuring members of the Hank Collective, the Phonemes and Gentleman Reg. Not sure how many tickets are left for the run between now and Sunday, but surf over to the show site to find out. Let's hope it sees a well-funded revival in a larger theatre soon, tho given Toronto theatre's general risk aversion, I wouldn't hold my smog-choked breath. Meanwhile, I'll be at the Saturday midnight show.

Also in the funny papers today, Eye Weekly presents its annual critics' poll. For some reason, neither I nor any other Globe critic received an invite to participate this year (I asked, and Eye says it was an oversight, not any kind of submerged newspaper-war torpedo), but it's still worth a glance as the only true hoser counterpart to the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll. (Rumour has it this may be the Eye poll's final year, which would be a shame.) This round's top raters are unsurprising, save perhaps their order. From numbers 1 to 10, the album victors are Broken Social Scene, MIA, The New Pornographers, Sufjan Stevens (yawn - okay if I start just calling him Sufferin' Succotash?), Antony and the Johnsons, the Constantines, Wolf Parade, Bloc Party, Sleater-Kinney and, bringing up the pale, somewhat tokenistic rear, Kanye West. The singles winners are perhaps equally predictable but sound much more like the 2005 that was, to me: Kelly Clarkson, Kanye (for Gold Digger), Madonna, Franz Ferdinand, Amerie, LCD Soundsystem tied with Metric (for Monster Hospital), Spoon (for I Turn My Camera On), Gwen Stefanie (Hollaback, of course), MIA (Bucky Done Gun), and The White Stripes (My Doorbell). R. Kelly's unforgivable absence is due, I'm sure, to vote splitting between the dozen parts of Trapped in the Closet, a dilemma all 2005 pollsters should have anticipated and corrected for.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, January 19 at 06:27 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (30)



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Posted by yCsrReDoNv on February 4, 2006 06:03 PM



Adrian - That's probably fair. I don't actually fall all over myself about everything from these parts (I'm on record as not particularly liking Broken Social Scene, to take the obvious example, and I'm only a moderate Arcade Fire fan; there are plenty more, I just don't talk about them much). However my pleasure, no, revelry, in localism is real. It's not unalike adopting a diet founded on eating locally raised meat and produce. Things taste fresher when they were raised within x miles of where they are consumed.

Similarly it's actually impossible simply to reclassify Stevens as coming from Toronto and carry out the thought experiment. He would not sound the same way if he came from here - perhaps he'd sound some way more suited to my Canadian ears, you know, a different combination of over- and under-done than the one he's got. Somewhere in the transport truck from Chicago to Toronto, for me, the sound spoils.

Owen's "Google search results" remark was a little extreme, but it does evoke the way Stevens' songs show their homework, like a historical novel that's too self-conscious about being a historical novel. However I do get the humour of that self-consciousness in Stevens' case. But not self-absorbed? Wow, we'll just have to agree to disagree there. I'm afraid I find the conspicuous (Christian) "modesty" of his persona quite obviously vain, much more than music that acknowledges the existence of an ego, as Owen's does.

But I never really meant to start this argument. The "yawn" in the post was a reference to being bored with Stevens as the ubiquitous top-ten-list presence not to being bored with his music. I've got no beef with people who enjoy it. Just, as my favourite indifference phrase goes, not my cuppa.

Posted by zoilus on January 22, 2006 03:46 PM



Hear hear!

Posted by Sofi on January 22, 2006 01:56 PM



Sorry but did Own just write-off Sufjan Stevens' music as over-instrumentalized Google search results?

Flame aside, it seems to me that Sufjan's real sin is not coming from Toronto.

Love your blog Carl and I don't want to be a troll but I think your (and Owen's) dismissal of Sujfan is geographic in nature. If he came from Toronto (or Montreal) you'd all be falling over yourselves about him (maybe even writing a song about his dreams??).

Posted by Adrian on January 22, 2006 12:51 PM



Thank you for attending the Rat King! I feel I must clarify my stance on J. Robert Oppenheimer. It was unclear to me what that fellow was asking in the Q&A.; It sounded like might have been referring to Hitler, or hinting that I think humans became more evil after 1945. That was not my point with the play.

To clarify my stance on J. Robert Oppenheimer, I don't think he was evil: I do think he made a mistake.

Initially, he wanted to stay out of the war effort, but as a Communist, he was upset about the invasion of Russia by the Nazis, and he became convinced that he ought to take action. He was asked to lead the Manhattan project, and he agreed, thinking the mere threat of atomic war (not the use of teh bomb on civilians) would be enough to stop the enemy. Towards the end of the project he was filled with terrible doubts, and he even tried to stop the project from being completed, but when he voiced his dissent J. Robert Oppenheimer discovered that the project was no longer under his control, but under the control of the military's representative- Leslie Groves- on that isolated site where the scientists where living in New Mexico.

That is the reason for the lyric in the Rat King, "He plead regret on the ashes of Weimar," (In the song 'Germinal Man') I mean here that once J.R.O. saw the war ending in the European theatre, the Nazis falling without even knowing the Americans had the bomb, then and only then did he realize how terribly wrong he was. It was obvious by this time that the Germans were light years away from creating their own A-bomb. The threat that the Nazis would create the bomb first was the reason that Albert Einstein and Leo Slizard wrote their historical letter urging the US President to start the Manhattan project in the first place.

With much of Germany smouldering, Oppenheimer knew he was mistaken, but he no longer had the power to stop the bomb from being completed. Soon came the Trinity test date, July 16th 1945, and on that fateful morning Oppenheimer watched the fireball in the desert and uttered those famous words from the Bhagavad Gita,

"I am become death, the shatterer of words."

So, in short, he did something terrible, but not with pleasure and pride; JRO was a man haunted by regret until the day he died of throat cancer in 1967.

Not that that was the whole point of the play, but that's what all the Oppenheimer stuff was about. It was about people who do terrible things because they are lead by false beliefs, not because they take pleasure in other people's pain.

With great love, I bid you good night!

Posted by Maggie on January 22, 2006 03:25 AM



Well, I just got back. It was amazing!

Maggie attempted something really difficult. The entire 80 minutes (or more?) was in rhyme, and not a minute when by when I didn't think, "Ahh!" I almost persuaded Patrick to go back for the second showing.

Although I think it could have benefitted from one more revision, there was not a single thing about it I didn't love.

The Q&A; afterward was insane. In response to even the most tentative question, Maggie would erupt in a lengthy explanation of her own nuclear fears. I had a feeling a couple of people who read (and agreed with) the recent "Hiroshima 50 Years Later" articles were rather taken aback with her views on Oppenheim.

(Briefly. The Economist, The Globe and a couple of English language Japanese papers I read all made much of the fact that the deaths at Hiroshima & Nagasaki did not equal the total deaths on Chinese soil over the course of the Pacific War. Some writers, rather wrongly in my opinion, used these numbers to justify the use of nuclear firearms.)

Anyway, there was a guy who I swear was going off of those articles, and I realized that The Rat King would be a pretty tough sell to those people who don't believe "nuclear weapons=bad", which I guess most people take for granted.

Posted by Owen on January 22, 2006 12:48 AM



For the record. My love of Sufjan has nothing with how clever he is.

There is no music that is less worthy than music made for dateless indie geeks to stroke their chins too. Sufjan aint that.

My reaction to Sufjan Is purely an emotional reaction. Casimir Pulaski's day (one of the best cancer songs ever) makes me want to cry, the transfiguration is utterly transcendent, he woke me up again and Chicago make me happy. I could go on.

And yes Im with Owne P. any feedback on Rat King?

Posted by guy tanentzapf on January 21, 2006 09:11 PM



Anyway, I wasn't here to read about myself anyway. (Weird!) I'm counting down the hours until I get to see Rat King, and wanted to read if anybody had any reactions.

Posted by Owen on January 21, 2006 05:46 PM



Sufjan is making a 50-album cycle that, so far, has included little more than songs written from Google search reductions and over-instrumentation.

I like him, but you can't call me self-absorbed in comparison, really.

Posted by Owen on January 21, 2006 05:44 PM



Owen is too clever to ever be anything beyond a critcs darling. Sufjan on the other hand would never be accused of being clever.

"Keep your mouth shut Sufjan Stevens"?

We'll never see that song because he's just not that self-absorbed.

Posted by Adrian on January 21, 2006 01:58 PM



I meant to get Rat King tix back in december, got busy and forgot, then found tickets were all sold out when I remembered last week... and I didn't win that contest in NOW... Rats.
But good for Maggie.

Posted by graig on January 20, 2006 02:43 PM



STUBER! quit cyberstalking me.

Posted by Ben Harris on January 20, 2006 10:05 AM



btw, Graham, you cldnt be more wrong about Kanye

however, i forgive you because i have found true love over at your blog

REALLY well-done, sir!

Posted by Rob on January 20, 2006 03:05 AM



Carl, let's face it, the real reason u werent allowed to participate is that it wldve ruined everything if someone with an actual clue wrote something...these things are SUPPOSED to be dumb and provocative and arouse reader ire

theyre freaking awesome...i gnashed my teeth several billion times and almost got worked up enough to write a blog post about it...whatta suckah

so much of a suckah, it wld be a TOTAL shame if that was indeed the end of it all

let's start a petition!

or let's take a page outta OCAP's handbook and head down there with a posse and talk to the music editor directly like and lean on him/her real good :)

Posted by Rob on January 20, 2006 02:57 AM



Hi Carl,

You keep your Owen P. and I'll keep my Sufjan S. and we'll both be very happy indeed.

(Agreeing to disagree aside, missed you and other notables in the poll.)

Posted by Sofi on January 19, 2006 11:31 PM



Oh yeah, and Sufjan should change his name to Shadoe Stevens.

Posted by stuber on January 19, 2006 10:13 PM



Carl, I swear, it was an oversight, not any kind of submerged newspaper-war torpedo. Not to sound like the dog ate my homework, but we switched email servers in the middle of last year, and a good chunk of my address book was lost in the process, so we were working off of an older list. We thought we had filled in our blanks. It turns out we didn't. I will hand deliver your ballot next year, promise.

Posted by stuber on January 19, 2006 10:06 PM



The list is shit. Where was "stay fly" for best single of the year???

Plus, Kanye's record is wack! It isn't even decent let alone top 10 good.

I could go on forever...

Posted by Graham on January 19, 2006 09:52 PM



PS: "Kelly who?" Boy, are you ever in England. Come home, Guy, you're missing everything!

Posted by zoilus on January 19, 2006 09:03 PM



Nah, Guy, the excess indie on my list still seems to me a symptom of a year of disengaged listening. As you know, running in our circles here, hearing indie rock is just like smelling cupcakes all the time if you lived above a bakery - it shows you're not going very far afield. Nothing against indie, but it's not enough nutrition to live on.

As for Sufferin', I don't deny the musical skill and I like the States concept. But nine-tenths of the songs don't justify the rapture, to me. Would "too skittish" make sense as an explanation?

Posted by zoilus on January 19, 2006 09:02 PM



Hey Boys.

Cool it with the Super Sufjan bashing. The boy wonder is awasome. For heavens sake the dude melds American folk music with bleedin' Steve Reich (the most obvious and never ever mentioned influence) and still can crank a perfect tune like Casimir Pulaski day.

Anyhow I noted the lack of Wilson on the rather anemic (pun intended) eye list.

Tell me Carl does it make you feel better about having so much indie rock on your top 10 list?

Kelly who?


Posted by Guy tanentzapf on January 19, 2006 08:26 PM



I think the official Sufjan perjorative is: Snoozin' Stevens. (Surfin' Stevens is better, I think, but more ambivalent.)

I wish I could be at Rat King.

Posted by Sean on January 19, 2006 07:00 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson