Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for December, 2007

Quick note

December 28th, 2007

CBC Radio 1’s Talking Books show will, I’m told, be having a roundtable discussion about my book (see left) this weekend, Saturday at 4:30 pm (5 pm in Newfoundland).

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It’s a Holiday, Such a Holiday…

December 27th, 2007

That Bee Gees song always seemed so mysterious, Syd Barrett-ish, with its talk of puppets and thrown stones. Take my holiday silence this week in that same spirit and indulge in grand speculations. I’ll be back with some year-endish blather next week; I’ve sent in my Idolator poll ballot hastily and wish I could revise it -even when you don’t believe in the list ritual quite so much, there’s still a self-portrait self-consciousness to the exercise, and this year I think my lists simply portray a person who was otherwise preoccupied. I was tempted to Bayard it and list some records I haven’t gotten around to hearing yet (Robert Wyatt’s Comicopera, f’rinstance) but apparently I’m not French enough to balls that through.

More next week.

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My Book, but in Iraq
And by GB Trudeau

December 19th, 2007

Two recent Doonesbury strips:

Freakin’ is Our Business &
Stock Options Are Peakin’:
Fairies, Turtles, Ninjas … and Me

December 17th, 2007

Matt Collins of Ninja High School, with NHS followers rocking out at rear, at Sneaky Dee’s last weekend. Photo by The CJM.

Reviews of le livre (see left) are beginning to trickle in: a hefty one in New York magazine (”this book goes very deeply right”) and one in the Gazette in Montreal (I love that they call it “a compulsively quotable book”). The Las Vegas Review-Journal also had a column about it this weekend, coinciding with the last night of Celine’s Caesar’s Palace run. And I’m honoured to have been “felt” by Simon Reynolds (whom I hope will pursue his asterisk’d caveat too).

Meanwhile, Claire Colley has a cuppa-tea-comfy chat with Robert Wyatt about his recent Comicopera, surely one of the albums of the year, about his “karaoke” songwriting process (”I play really nice records and when the record’s over I keep playing, and of course I can’t play the tune so I come up with something else, and that’s my tune”) and other things. Of Comicopera, he says: “The first part, Lost In Noise, is about loss and relationships. The second, The Here And Now, is more objective, about things I like, don’t like, don’t understand, like religion … and do understand, like nice cosmopolitan music in a town square. Side 3 is, you know what? I’m fed up with English-speaking people. I’m going to go away with the fairies. I sing in Italian and I do a bit of surrealism, free improvisation, and end up with a romantic revolutionary song of the ’60s, a hymn to Che Guevara.”

John Turtletop has a long essay in response to Alex Ross’s The Rest Is Noise. There’s a bit of throat-clearing at the top, but it picks up steam around the point he says, “The Rest Is Noise does not subscribe to the outdated theory that popular music is ephemeral while ‘classical’ … music is for the ages.” John, being generally a pop guy, pays particular attention to the contrasts and parallels and overlaps between 20th-century composers’ music and jazz and pop. One strong claim John makes is that there seems to have been no sequel in popular culture to the figures of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin, no one further who’s so successfully melded the roles of formal composer and pop musician in recent decades. My impulse is this is because the “classical” realm has lost its special status of ultra-respect, becoming simply one more cultural niche, and so it’s not an aspiration in the same way anymore. (Although I’m inclined to say that in a different way, Lennon & McCartney - with or without George Martin? - could claim to be Ellington and Gershwin’s heirs; someone [not me] might also point to Philip Glass.) Also, John hints that Alex slants his account toward The Battles of Harmony/Dissonance, wondering what other story might emerge from thinking through 20th century’s rhythms, timbres, durations. But mainly it’s an appreciation that certainly reminds me that I need to clear some time to finish Alex’s book.

I was too swamped last week to pen any sort of eulogy to Ninja High School, which disbanded after four-and-a-half years with a show at Sneaky Dee’s last Thursday. But sometime Zoilusian Chris Randle had one over at Eye. The demise of NHS (as well as the apparently stalled Barcelona Pavilion reunion?) does seem to cement the sense that a certain phase of the Torontopian moment has been over for a while now; what follows is perhaps the less starry-eyed, more methodical work of crop rotation and diversification that makes for a sustainable scene. What I’ll miss most is NHS’s ability to generate slogans that worked as self-fulfilling prophecies - the slogans would come true through the very act of shouting them: “It’s gonna be us-us-us-us-us!” “We know we’re not the only ones who think this way!” “These ideas kill!” (Or in the case of “It’s all right to fight,” they would be fulfilled, playfully, in the mosh pit, where the silly-wrestling energy tended to mirror the friendliness-through-mock-aggro mood of the lyrics precisely.) After their follow-up album to Young Adults Against Suicide was lost in a computer-hard-drive incident, and a few of the rounds of interpersonal drama that bigger ensembles are especially vulnerable to, the momentum went out. Fortunately, various fractions of NHS are planning to re-emerge in ‘08 with new projects (including one from Steve Kado and Matt Collins rumouredly called Serious [or was it Seriously?]). Hey hey, my my, iPod’sitivity will never die, but the way it’s seeming right now? It was gonna be us, and then it was us, and then it wasn’t. RIP NHS: You always sent us home in a fuckin’ ambulance.

Christine Fellows:
‘They’re Just Letting in a Little Light’

December 14th, 2007

Prelims: Today’s me-interview on CBC’s “Q” should land somewhere ’round here.

Yesterday, I had a feature profile of Christine Fellows in the Globe & Mail. (Transcript to come, Canuckistan-stylee.) Tonight, Christine plays a show at the Music Gallery, showcasing her lovely new album with a title that’s one of the ear-ticklingest, bitterest-sweet words in English, Nevertheless. (Borrowed gently from a Marianne Moore poem.) Her voice, ukulele, piano and cetera will be supported by cellist Leanne Zacharias and hand-animated visual projections by the amazing Shary Boyle (who’s also collaborated with Feist, Jens Lekman and others). Rather like this:


‘They’re Just Letting in a Little Light’">1 Comment

Queering the Pitch
(An Expression Whose Literal Meaning
I Have Only Just Now Come To Understand)

December 12th, 2007


I missed this Freakytrigger post when it first appeared last week. It brings up the most cogent criticism yet of the premise or placement of my book. Tom writes: “The utopian part of me wishes it was coming out as its own thing, not as a 33 1/3 publication. … [The] choice of this book for this series queers the pitch, creates a structural divide between Dion and all other music covered in the series. These other acts get their albums written about lovingly by fans, Celine’s is written about by a non-fan trying to convert themselves and explore ideas of taste. Celine Dion is a perfect subject for a book like that, and I think it’ll be a terrific book. But it unlevels the 33 1/3 playing field - it makes Celine a special case.”

He makes a sound point about the 33 1/3 meta-narrative. When I pitched the book two years ago, I felt the series inevitably reinscribed the notion of a pop/rock/etc canon. Perhaps that’s not true now, though when I was interviewed on the radio this morning that’s exactly how the hosts described it: books about “influential, important” albums, except mine. In this sense, it seemed like the right place for an intervention over canon criteria.

While I’d like to imagine the 33 1/3 editors would have accepted a “straight” Celine book from a plausible author with a good angle, “utopian” does seem a good word for the prospect. Likewise I doubt this book would have found a decent publishing berth anywhere else, at least in any version I would have been both willing and able to do. The match of series and book brings it to the most appropriate audience, in the less-than-ideal real world of taste: Pointing out that a field is already massively slanted isn’t the same thing as “unlevelling” it.

Frank Kogan extends in the comments: “I like Carl … but at the same time he may be the epitome of what I was calling ‘PBS’ in my book, embodying PBS virtues as well as flaws. The concept ‘How do people like us come to terms with someone like Celine Dion?’ seems almost guaranteed to render Celine lame in the context of ‘our’ appreciation. … There can be good reasons to temporarily suspend judgment at times while listening to music, but ‘This Is The Album Where We Have To Suspend Judgment’ seems awfully condescending.”

I’m dealing with my soreness over being called “PBS,” however good-naturedly: I am pretending Frank is mistaking for a PBS accent what is actually a Canadian accent. (Frankly I don’t see how criticism is ever really not PBS, including Frank’s, Lester Bangs’s, whoever. And good art is neither PBS nor anti-PBS; good art never heard of PBS.)

Otherwise: I hope that I never in the course of the book address an “us” that is presumed to include me, the reader and some vague group of people, save when that “us” is human beans. (A suspect device, yes, but useful.) Rather, it is about me, her and a range of particular thems. The reader isn’t presumed to share my dilemma, just that it might tell us generalizable things about the workings of social aesthetics. The reader is presumed to be like me in that she’s interested in knowing those things (in itself a ridiculous presumption).

I’m given pause by the proposal that suspending judgment is condescending. I’d say suspending judgment might be a habit to adopt every time we encounter a new cultural work, whether first-impression simpatico or not. Seeing how long we can leave it suspended. Paying attention to what ends up fraying the thread and causing judgment to come crashing down. There’s a lot more about this in the book. But what else do you do to undertake a reconsideration? Is reconsideration inherently condescending? Or is this again more a meta-series issue?

An audio file of my chat this morning with the hosts of NPR’s Bryant Project Park project can be found here. I’ve certainly been fortunate so far in my interviewers and their researchers - good questions all round.

I, Mediawhore

December 10th, 2007

Since the book (see left margin) comes out this week, I’ll be busy doing a heavy round of media. I’m on today’s edition of Fair Game with Faith Salie (a PRI show that airs at various times on various NPR stations) - it looks like you’ll be able to listen in their on-line archive later in the week. Faith is a very charming interviewer. I’m also going to be on the Bryant Park Project morning show on Wednesday (probably between 8 and 9 am EST), and on Q with Jian Ghomeshi on the CBC sometime in the next week.

(Why you’d want to know all that, who knows? But posting it here helps me keep track of myself.)

So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You
Plus: The ‘Shoe Fits

December 7th, 2007

The Horseshoe on Queen St, Toronto, as it looked back in the Stompin’ Tom/early-punk era.

This just in: RIP Karlheinz Stockhausen.

The Guardian’s “Readers Recommend…” Friday feature of themed song playlists is always a pleasure, and for me today’s “… Songs About Other Songs” is crystal meta, although I think they miss a beat by naming “Sweet Home Alabama” itself (more answer song than song-about-a-song) when they could mention the Drive-By Truckers’ “Ronnie and Neil,” or nearly anything else off of Southern Rock Opera, which is basically music history/criticism set to music. Nick Hornby was amiss in not including the entire ‘libretto’ in the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2001 book. Does the Guardian have a page where you can see the full list of suggestions for the category? Can’t seem to find it. I wonder if there were any Destroyer entries. And for some reason as soon as I saw the topic, perhaps my favourite Randy Newman verse from a not-so-great Randy Newman song began running through my head, from “Old Man on the Farm” (Little Criminals, 1977, the album with “Short People” on it):

Goodnight, ladies.
Sorry if I stayed too long -
So long, it’s been good to know you …
I love the way I sing that song.

Elsewhere, both Eye and Now (in several different articles, timelines, etc) toast the 60th anniversary of Toronto’s Legendary Horseshoe Tavern, which opened in 1947 and is celebrating this month. Tonight the Waco Bros. (Mekon Jon Langford’s country-rock-rave-up band) play, and next week, a six-night stand by the Joel Plaskett Emergency. Joel’s going to showcase a different album each night - so Monday it’s In Need of Medical Attention, Tuesday it’s Down at the Khyber (probably my favourite), Wednesday it’s Truthfully Truthfully, Thursday La De Dah and Friday Ashtray Rock. Then on Saturday he plays a whatever-the-hell-he-feels-like setlist. I’d go every night if I could, but it’s not exactly a quiet time of year.

Whenever I visited Toronto in the ’90s and for the first couple of years after I moved back here, a visit to the Horseshoe was practically obligatory - it was high times for “alt-country” and there were weeks I felt like it was a second home. Since then I’ve been more of a nomad, having Boat and Lee’s Palace and Sneaky Dee’s and Tranzac and Silver Dollar phases that have come and gone and come again, and the ‘Shoe, for some reason, has become a less frequent stop on my rounds. Yet even this year, when I’ve been a less rabid concertgoer, there have been memorable ‘Shoe occasions such as the show by The Blow and Republic of Safety this summer. I’m not always fond of the sightlines/crowd configuration in the room, but the sound is usually first-rate and the booking is consistent and strong, and above all the place carries a historical whiff (from Stompin’ Tom to the Last Pogo to the secret Stones show etc, as Now’s articles detail) that you can’t overlook. So happy birthday, you dirty old ‘Shoe. And keep an eye out for those surprise birthday shows, Torontonians.


December 4th, 2007

A friend today pointed out that I’ve been remiss in not publicizing the launch party for that there book over there in the left margin yet.

The event takes place Wed., Jan. 9, at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, starting at 7:30 pm, as part of the This Is Not A Reading Series (TiNaRS for the cognoscenti).

It features performances of Celine Dion songs and other aesthetic curiosities by 2006 Polaris Prize winner Final Fantasy, Laura Barrett and The Blankket (with perhaps one more performer tba), and an excerpt from the one-woman show Celine Speaks by Laura Landauer aka Gypsy Miller. There will be a short onstage conversation between me and writer/Harper’s contributing editor/U of T philosophy professor Mark Kingwell, and DJ’ing by Brian Joseph Davis. The price is nada.

If you’re on Facebook, there’s an event page here.


Crossbloggery @ Powells.com

December 4th, 2007

The site for the independent-bookselling juggernaut Powells.com has been hosting a series of posts by authors from the 33 1/3 series, and mine went up a couple of days ago. It’s called “In Praise of Distraction,” and it’s partly a reflection on writing the Celine book for 33 1/3 and partly about the notion that “Being interested in music … really means being interested in almost everything.”

If you’re a U.S. reader, in particular, you might be interested in Powell’s buy-2-get-1-free sale on the 33 1/3 series.

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