Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for January, 2008

The Rest is … Poise

January 31st, 2008

Did you check Alex Ross on Colbert last night? Some fine representin’ for the music-geek massive - I was surprised the conversation worked as well as it did, and it actually ended up being an aesthetic argument: Colbert playing the card that music means nothing to history (ie the autonomy of art) and Alex proving that it does, describing Shostakovich and Stalin’s relationship and Reagan’s history-blind use of Copland-ripoff music for “Morning in America,” eg, though I kinda wish he’d hit the McCarthy theme with Copland, not to mention Eisler and Brecht… Just because it would’ve tweaked Colbert nicely. … I do wonder, though, on a not-unrelated theme (music and ideology) how Alex feels about appearing on the show during the writers’ strike? That’s not a dig, because last week in NYC some friends were urging me to shoot for a Colbert appearance (this being the ilk of fantasies you can indulge in NYC), a conversation I couldn’t quite imagine but did feel a little shiver in picturing, but then realized, mid-shiver, “What about the union issue?” (And surely for writers a writers’ union issue especially counts.) I found the question painful to answer: It would be so tempting to get the book that level of exposure, and it’s not like the interview segments are so scripted even under normal circumstances; but if there’s a picket line there, I’d have a hard time crossing it.

Alex’s new piece about Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood is excellent and reminds me that I’d wanted to mention that experience here after seeing the movie: Not only is the score quite extraordinary in its own right, as Alex says, but it was the first thing almost ever to turn me around several degrees on Radiohead. I’ve been so fixated over the years on Thom Yorke’s voice and songwriting, neither of which click for me, that I missed a whole other aspect of the band’s essence. I happened to listen to In Rainbows for the first time only after seeing the film (shocking Internet music guy omission, whatever) and could hear them anew, listening for how the guitarist’s musical intuitions might resemble Ennio Morricone levels of smarts as opposed to how far short of a million post-Kraftwerk artists Yorke falls in portraying man-vs-technology themes (and vocally short of anybody similarly lauded in his tonal range from Jimmy Scott to Klaus Nomi to Antony). So count me at last as a partial convert.

In a footnote, mutual-backrubbing thanks to Alex for the shoutout the other day.

The Comeback Kid with a Last-Minute Motion

January 29th, 2008

… well, in the sense that I came back. To town. And then, slowly, to the blog. I have various things to report (Republic of Safety final show! Marc Ribot and Laurie Anderson in New York! new Mountain Goats! new Destroyer! etcetera!) but for now just wanted to give very last-minute notice to those who stumble upon it or are ace RSS flyers that I am reading tonight in the neighbourhood-positive Free Speech series at Tinto, a cafe-bar on Roncesvalles in Toronto, hosted by Johan Hultqvist, lead singer of Afro-beat band Mr. Something Something.

The other readers tonight are writer-actor Amanda Hiebert and the terrific fictioneer Catherine Bush. There’ll be music by Michael Holt (ex-Mommyheads, Mushroom, etc). I believe it’s doors at 7 pm, and it’s pwyc.

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Did Obama Really Touch My Book?
Ask Me in NYC

January 21st, 2008

‘If you truly have vision, you can look to the future and see… the end of taste?’
Obama-Wilson rumour mongering hit Facebook this weekend.

This was too weird and funny not to share: I was informed this weekend by a dubiously reliable source, that my book was leafed through briefly on the campaign bus last week by Barack Obama, who made some joke to the effect that it sounded like I felt about Celine the same way he feels about Hillary. It was the Celine/Hillary connection that prompted him to pick it up in the first place, after a campaign volunteer (the guy who told me the story) left it lying around on the bus.

So there. Obviously I’m the future of America. If this guy isn’t bullshitting me. And I have two readings in New York this week:

Tuesday Jan 22, 7:30 pm
Word bookstore, 126 Franklin St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn. This will probably be the more intimate-ish one. Unless word gets out about the free beer. (I’m not kidding.)

Wed, Jan 23, 8 pm (doors 7 pm)
Happy Ending Music and Reading Series.
Hosted by Amanda Stern. With Trinie Dalton (who comes recommended by Dennis Cooper, Aimee Bender and Ben Marcus) and Charles Bock (whose new novel Beautiful Children is endorsed by A. M. Homes and Jonathan Safran Foer) and me (whose book was maybe, possibly, briefly thumbed by Barack Obama). In addition to reading, each of us have to take some kind of “public risk” - doing something we’ve never done on stage before. (I’ve figured mine out. I’m nervous.) With music by Luke Temple. It’s at 302 Broome St., between Forsythe and Eldridge, in Manhattan. It’s highly recommended that you get there early … apparently the place fills up fast.

Bloggery will be sparse to non till my return next weekend.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Blogspot,
Tell Me What Reviews I Got

January 18th, 2008

Yes, there’s been lots of action this week, what with the posting of the Eye and Idolator polls, but I’ve been a bit too crazed to comment. Perhaps over the weekend. For now, just a point of information. I’ve created a new separate site to keep track of events, reviews, interviews and such around the book (what book? look to your left), so that I don’t clutter up Zoilus too much with such things. If you’re curious about the adventures of me, or still on the fence about reading (or selling, if you happen to be a bookshop) the book, tom-cruise your way over to This Is What We Talk About (When We Talk About Let’s Talk About Love) and click your finger off. I’ll probably mention upcoming readings here too (such as the two next week in New York) but that’ll be the main info hub.

(Later): Btw, The Globe and Mail had a review this weekend (link up on the blogspot but not here as I feel like the review gives a little too much away for people who haven’t read the book yet). And Brian Joseph Davis, who DJ’d the launch offers this free download of a track he created for the event that mashes up Celine with Dutch anarcho-punk masters The Ex. He calls it “Celine as a Montreal crusty punk.”

Book-Launch Memories: The Power of The Power of Love

January 15th, 2008

A video of Final Fantasy’s performance of Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love” at my book launch last Wednesday surfaced on YouTube over the weekend. (If someone has video of the other performers out there, please let me know.) Too bad about the laughing, but that’s entirely predictable of course. (See discussion of the “ironic cover” in my book - though this is by no means one, that’s what people are trained to expect.) By the second half, ain’t nobody laughing.

And here’s a first-person account of the event. One small note: I actually said Louis Armstrong, not Ray Charles, as an example of someone whose ability to transcend taste categories seems unquestionable. I’ll avoid reading too much into the switch-up: Ray does fine as an example.

News from Nairobi: Extra Golden Need Your Gold

January 15th, 2008

At the IAJE panel on Friday, there was some discussion of the wisdom-or-lack-thereof involved in mixing opinions on current affairs into music blogging - with the general sense being that unless you bring something unique to the topic, it’s unwise. The example that came up was commenting on the unrest in Kenya - no reason why some random music writer should start throwing his two bits into that well, we said. So it’s kind of ironic that five days later, I actually find myself having cause to bring up Kenya.

The reason is an appeal for help from Alex Minoff and Ian Eagleson, the American members of Extra Golden, on behalf of Opiyo Bilongo, Onyango Wuod Omari and Onyango Jagwasi, their bandmates who live in Kenya. Bilongo, Omari and Jagwasi make their livings as nightclub musicians in Nairobi, but with the current all-night curfews, they’ve been unable to work. They’ve also been forced from their homes, which have been looted. Their families have almost no food and no clean water. Minoff and Eagleson are asking for donations of $5 to service@kanyokanyo.com via Paypal.

Extra Golden’s mixture of Kenyan benga music (the Kenyan musicians are from a group called Orchestra Extra Solar Africa) with D.C. rock (Minoff is also a member of Weird War, while Eagleson is an ethnomusicologist) goes down beautifully, with much more richness than the African-rock pastiche efforts of certain fashionable bands. Nothing against pastiche, or even against those bands particularly, but it’s heartening to hear a more intimately collaborative approach to third-world musics.

Their current predicament is, like many of the stories out of New Orleans in the past few years, a potent reminder that whenever crisis affects a population broadly, you can be sure that it’s affecting the art and culture of those people as well; and that, conversely, it’s vital not to reduce any place and people to its problems. As Henning Mankell told me for the profile I wrote last year, “the West knows all about how Africans die but next to nothing about how Africans live,” from their daily working lives to the nightclubs and dances they attend - except, that is, when there’s a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

On a tangent, recalling the Tinariwen discussion here in November, it was at their concert that I learned about the Festival au Desert, which took place in Timbuktu last weekend. My colleague Stephanie Nolen’s report from Mali in The Globe and Mail, which follows the experience of a group of Inuit performers there, is very worthwhile.

Likewise, the promo video below for Extra Golden’s latest album, Hera Ma Nono, which came out in October.

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Jazz Bloggers at the IAJE:
There’s No Arguing With Darcy James

January 13th, 2008

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society North at the IAJE: Photo shoplifted from WBGO.

My busy week (see below) unfortunately coincided with the big IAJE jazz educators (and musicians and labels and critics and promoters - the name’s deceptive) conference in Toronto, so I wasn’t able to attend much of the proceedings, which included the likes of Courtney Pine curating a UK jazz night, an appearance by Francois Houle, a big Oscar Peterson tribute show this afternoon, etc. (You can catch up on some of it at Ear of the Mind.) But I was booked for one event, a panel on jazz blogging moderated by Chicago’s Neil Tesser (Listen Here) and featuring Brooklyn’s (but formerly Canada’s) Darcy James Argue (Secret Society), Montreal’s David Ryshpan (Settled in Shipping), New York’s David Adler (Lerterland) and me. (Jason Crane (The Jazz Session) had to back out as he had been transferred rather suddenly from Rochester, NY, to Saratoga Springs, NY, by the union he works for, and he was moving.)

The tone of the panel was a little bumpy because Neil didn’t know much about blogs and presented himself as a sceptic - going so far as to read a scoffing article from The Onion (gosh, The Onion… remember?) - and came at it rather heavily from a “don’t blogs suck and does anybody actually read them?” pov. He said that he’d often been asked to start a blog and never understood why. However, this proved somewhat useful, because it seemed a fair guess that Neil’s attitude was representative of what most middle-aged jazz guys feel about blogs, and so the rest of us built our case for the usefulness of blogs (and the Internet in general) as venues for the popularization, community-building, reconsideration and renewal of jazz. Jazz blogging now strikes me as very reminiscent of music blogs in general four or five years ago - tightly knit, very well informed, not beset with next-new-thing fever, and highly discursive. That’s lovely, but there’s tons more knowledgeable people out there who aren’t making use of the medium - part of why jazz folks get so frustrated with their lack of press (and lack of quality press especially - see Ken Vandermark’s many rants on the subject, for example) is that they are still focused on press, and we all know that’s a smaller part of how information and ideas are circulated today. (Though I always say that with mixed feelings, as a lover of and creature of print.)

Darcy made the point that every local jazz scene could use at least one highly active blogger to help track, critique and spread the word about a sadly overlooked sphere. He also responded inspiringly to one audience member’s question about how blogs can promote the “appreciation of jazz” - we should start, he said, by getting rid of the whole concept of appreciation, of treating jazz music like a series of monuments that need to be venerated and revered at a distance: “I don’t ‘appreciate’ Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, man, I fucking love them!” And I made the point that it’s this personal tone that bloggers are able to strike, and the intimacy of their relationships (and conversations) with readers, that give them some power to make readers find things accessible that they might otherwise keep at a distance. (Of course Destination Out came up as the shining example.) We won Neil over - he said at the end that he was convinced and that he’d think seriously about starting blogging.

Zoilus is by no means a “jazz blog,” of course, but jazz and especially local improvised music are a fairly frequent topic here (though a bit less often lately). I was happy to be invited and to point out to the jazz cats that when this music can be discussed in the same forums and in the same tone someone uses to talk about pop and indie music, for instance, there’s an opportunity to foster new audiences. I had a great conversation later in the day with Tatsuya Koeda from Now Forward (a promotions company in NYC) about the idea that for musicians and listeners alike, genres are less and less a barrier - not only because of the Internet but because of multiculturalism and much else, everyone’s ears are getting bigger (debatably, shallower too, but that’s another question).

Our conversation in itself demonstrated the point: With a couple of other people, we began from talking about the shifts in jazz venues in Toronto and a little while later I was being asked whether I ranked Spoon on my Top 10 last year and about Broken Social Scene playing at a NYC swimming pool last summer. Young jazz pianists are covering Bjork and Radiohead (in large numbers) and Black Sabbath (okay, that’s only The Bad Plus) and picking up rhythms from hip-hop as Jason Moran and Matthew Shipp do. I know from many personal experiences that plenty of young rock musicians are venerating not only Ornette and Coltrane, as they’ve long done, but Gyorgy Ligeti and Steve Reich and Tinariwen and Konono No. 1, too. That’s not the future. That’s the present. Genre will never disappear, as it’s a social epiphenomenon and a necessity for interpreting and interrelating musics and a way of keeping shit organized in our heads, but in the 21st century it’s not going to be as dominant (and oppressive) as it was in the last.

As it turned out, the concert that night at the Tranzac by Darcy’s Secret Society North band (the core of his 17? 18?-piece New York ensemble along with a pack of great Canadian players stepping in as, er, pitch hitters) was one of the most galvanizing illustrations of that development I’ve witnessed in a long time. While I’ve read and traded links with Darcy for a long while, I hadn’t taken the time to listen to his music. So what I (and a substantial crowd of IAJE attendees and local musicians) got at the Tranzac came as a wonderful surprise. Fluidly and expressively conducting this “steam punk” big band (horns, reeds, drums, electric guitar and bass, Rhodes piano), Darcy rolled out one after another his incredibly smart, complicated, beautiful, firey and funky compositions. (In the lineage of, but distinct from, the writing and arranging of his teacher Bob Brookmeyer - see Ben Ratliff’s profile in The New York Times.)

I told people afterwards that it was like hearing Duke Ellington and minimalism and Tortoise and Funkadelic and Elliott Carter and much else besides melding into one floating, shifting, dodging music, often with political themes (one piece was dedicated to Maher Arar), sometimes with Escher-like overlaps and spirals. I didn’t take notes so I can’t be more specific (though there were standout moments from saxophonists Christine Jensen and Chet Doxas [whose trio opened], trumpeters Ingrid Jensen and my mistake, sorry Jason Logue [who was subbing in for Lina Allemano, who unfortunately fell ill], trombonist Barb Hamilton, guitarist Sebastian Noelle, pianist Dave Restivo Gord Webster and drummer Jon Wikan, among others). But in short, this is music for people who fuckin’ love music. This skinny, scruffy young Brooklyn dude’s got it and he knows just what to do with it.

You can hear a sample of the band’s other IAJE appearance at WBGO.

There’s No Arguing With Darcy James">4 Comments

X to The Power of Love

January 10th, 2008

Me with “Celine” (Laura Landauer) and, right, Final Fantasy playing “The Power of Love” last night at the very-Gladstone in Toronto. Photos by Chris Reed and If You Want to Sing Out.

I can’t begin to tell you how asskickingly last night’s launch for the book went. Kay arr eh zee why!

There was a zillion jillion people there (sorry to everybody who got turned away!);
Laura Landauer took everybody to Celine-imitation college;
Laura Barrett made Celine’s dancehall-reggae bumper “Treat Her Like a Lady” into a wistful folkie plea and also covered Weird Al;
Steve Kado aka The Blankket covered the history of anglo-Canadian colonialism and Quebec class structure and the complexity of Celine as cultural object, told us “talking is the new music - go home and post some talking on your blogs,” used host Misha Glouberman as an exquisitely baffled foil, and then turned “This Time” (the domestic-abuse number on the new Celine disc Taking Chances) into a Bauhaus-worthy goth dirge, utterly polarizing the audience between those who did and those who didn’t know the meaning of “awesome”;
Owen Pallett aka Final Fantasy quoted Celine to the effect that when you perform you are naked and “when you are naked you suffer” then went on to prove that “The Power of Love” is a quantum-leap more beautiful song than even Celine fans ever realized and to generate more Vegas-sized metal-on-estrogen bombast with just voice and violin than has ever been accomplished in the history of sound;
and finally Mark Kingwell expertly conducted a conversation that made me sound a lot smarter than I really am.
Misha was the definitive host and Brian Joseph Davis (who is trying to cop Misha’s steez) was dapper on the digital decks.
We sold a whole lot of books. (I know ‘cuz I had to sign them all.) I wore the nicest suit I’ve ever worn and brand new shoes. And I think aside from the overheating the crowding caused, people had fun. Thanks to the Gladstone, Pages and all who attended.
It made my life.

Could I plead that anybody who made recordings, videos and pictures last night send me copies or links? (I already know there’s an MP3 out there of Owen’s performance, which I’ll post tomorrow.)

By the way, there’s an interview with me about the book today in British Columbia’s The Tyee.

And tomorrow (Friday), I am actually going to talk about something other than Celine Dion for once, in a panel in the IAJE jazz conference - about jazz and blogging, at 3 pm at the in Room 206 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, with a bunch of smart jazz-blog cookies.

PS Clearly the revolution’s not yet complete.

Ghosting the Gramophone

January 8th, 2008

The terrific trio who write my favourite mp3 blog, Said the Gramophone, are doing a series this week in response to Let’s Talk About Love - they’re doing a little bit of personal archaeology, examining the pre-history of their own tastes - taking up the notion of the “taste biography” that I propose early in LTAL. Dan started yesterday with a confession that his tastes began from the urge to explore the forbidden (parental-advisory stickers were his totems); today, by contrast, Sean gives a very honest and self-effacing account of his teenage addiction to sad songs and dismissal of angry ones as shallow and “mean” - while fun songs, songs to dance to, were completely out of the question. Tomorrow, Jordan completes the trilogy. And of course they all give you music to listen to as you read, because that’s how StG rolls. I’ll respond to their thoughts in more detail later in the week - after my book launch, which happens tomorrow.

Speaking of book events, by the way, I should tell New York-area readers that I’m appearing in the Happy Ending reading series there in two weeks, Wed Jan 23. There will probably be a couple of other events while I’m there.

2007 Eye Poll Ballot

January 7th, 2008

For the record, because my Idolator ballot was hasty and off, my Eye critics’ poll ballot. Most immediately regretted: Spoon (”You Got Yr Cherry Bomb”), Joel Plaskett Emergency (either “Fashionable People” or “Nothing More to Say”), Aly & AJ (”Potential Breakup Song”), LCD Soundsystem (”North American Scum”), UGK & Outkast (”international Players’ Anthem”), Burial (”Archangel”), The New Pornographers (”Myriad Harbour” but also “Challengers” and “The Spirit of Giving”) and The Weakerthans (”Civil Twilight”) would ideally all be in the singles list. And maybe Bettye Lavette (Scene of the Crime) in albums. (Not to mention all the albums I didn’t get it together to hear in ‘07, eg Robert Wyatt’s Comicopera or Britney’s and UGK’s full records, etc.)

1. Sandro Perri, Tiny Mirrors (Constellation)
2. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter 3 Sessions (mixtape)
3. Sunset Rubdown, Random Spirit Lover (Jagjaguwar/Absolutely Kosher)
4. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver (DFA)
5. Frog Eyes, Tears of the Valedictorian (Scratch/Absolutely Kosher)
6. Tinariwen, Aman Iman/Water Is Life (Harmonia Mundi)
7. Dirty Projectors, Rise Above (Dead Oceans)
8. Christine Fellows, Nevertheless (Six Shooter Records)
9. Deerhoof, Friend Opportunity (Kill Rock Stars/5RC)
10. Exploding Star Orchestra, We Are All From Somewhere Else (Thrill Jockey)

1. Battles, “Atlas” (Warp)
2. Amy Winehouse, “Rehab” (Island/Universal)
3. Feist, “1 2 3 4″ (Arts & Crafts)
4. Rihanna,feat Jay-Z, “Umbrella” (Def Jam/Universal)
5. Yo Majesty, “Club Action” (independent) (came out in 2006 but didn’t really get heard, including by me, till sxsw ‘07)
6. Britney Spears, “Piece of Me” (BMG)
7. Brad Paisley, “Ticks” (BMG)
8. Fucked Up, “Year of the Pig” (What’s Your Rupture)
9. MIA, “Bird Flu” (XL)
10. Grinderman, “No Pussy Blues” (Anti)

1. Lil Wayne, Da Drought 3
2. The Mountain Goats, “From TG&Y”
3. DJ Erb, “Ecstasy of Gold (Nas vs. Ennio Morricone)” (close runner-ups, ABX, “I’m a Flirt (Shoreline) (R Kelly vs Broken Social Scene”; “Leave Britney Alone”; Souljah Boy, “Crank That”; the complete Daytrotter Sessions)

1. The Very Best of Ethiopiques (Buda Musique)
2. Young Marble Giants, Colossal Youth (Domino)
3. Brian Joseph Davis, The Definitive Host (Blocks)

Celine Dion

1. Kardinal
2. Cadence Weapon

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