Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for May, 2009

A late-blooming twit

May 26th, 2009

Fast-talked in short strings of characters by persuasive friends, and against my better judgment, I am now @carlzoilus on that ubiquitously mentioned social-networking service. Personally I am more down with Facebook’s imaginary-city, three-dimensional model than the octopus-telegraph or chattering-birdnest of Twitter, I think, but I’m giving it a try. I don’t expect to be setting off many fireworks, @least @first.


July 9 at the Horseshoe,
Toronto remembers Jay Bennett

May 26th, 2009

Distracted by the sudden appointment of a new editor-in-chief at my office yesterday, I only today heard the shocking news of the weekend death of former Wilco member Jay Bennett, in his sleep at age 45. I haven’t cared much about Wilco in recent years, but I did back in Bennett’s era with the band, not only because of his multi-instrumental virtuosity but because he seemed to make Jeff Tweedy’s musical thinking markedly less insular. His death is a mystery for now, though we know he was in chronic pain awaiting hip-replacement surgery (apparently due to rock-moves-related injuries, for instance from stage-diving - will this be the new tinnitus?).

Along with sympathy to his friends and family and former bandmates (however estranged), here’s condolences as well to his Toronto connections, partly through Blue Rodeo (whose steel guitarist Bob Egan is ex-Wilco, and Bennett & Jeff Tweedy also appeared on a Jim Cuddy solo album), and partly through the lesser-known, now-defunct Staggered Crossing, whose indie label Bent Penny released one of Bennett’s solo albums. Julian Taylor of SC sent out a personal statement yesterday, which you can read over at Eye, but they followed up today by announcing that Staggered Crossing is reuniting, along with friends, to play a tribute show to Bennett on July 9 at the Horseshoe.

Mecca Normal
Anniversary Art Series #5 + #6

May 22nd, 2009

David Lester

The final installment in Zoilus’s series of art by David Lester and text by Jean Smith, aka “riot-grrrl godmother” Vancouver guitar-vocal duo Mecca Normal, who are in Toronto tonight for the Over the Top Festival, 6 Nassau, as part of their 25th anniversary tour, with the lecture-performance “How Art & Music Can Change the World” at 8 pm and music at 11. Also appearing are Dave Borins and Wilderness of Manitoba.

Munich, sometime in the 1990s
When we arrived for soundcheck the booking guy had the microphone in pieces - bare wires. The PA was a pile of crap. I don’t think we even got a soundcheck. The club was packed and management was pressuring us to start the show. The set was pretty intense - wild. At some point the booking guy started coming up to me while we were playing to tell me management wanted us to stop - we were well short of completing the set. I probably told him to fuck off. He came up and said if we didn’t stop we weren’t getting paid - and the money was good in Europe. They pulled the plug on their shitty PA - which suited me just fine. The mic had been an obstacle impeding my ability to be heard - free of it, I stepped off the stage into the audience of beer-drinking Bavarians and sang right in their faces. Dave’s guitar was still coming through his amp. The DJ put the music on to drown us out and the booking guy said we weren’t getting paid. I found the manager and yelled at him until he got out some money and threw it at Dirk, our tour manager, who we’d known for about two days. Dirk didn’t speak English at this point. We had to push our way out - lugging guitars, amps and merch through the crowd the whole length of the bar. Dirk had the car out front. There were about six of us and we went to a restaurant and met some record-store people and journalists. Dirk seemed upset - he was concerned that I was really upset - and I was like, “Hey man, this is what we do. That was great!” And our excellent friendship began.
[Jean Smith]

David Lester

Auckland, NZ
[The Gate (Michael Morely), Peter Jefferies and Mecca Normal tour]
David, at that time, in the 1990s, typically threw the guitar in the air, it twisted around, he caught it and continued playing wildly. On this night, when we reached that point in the set - in the middle of the song - the guitar stopped. I kept singing - staring straight ahead. Sometimes the guitar comes unplugged or a pedal gets bumped. I was waiting for David to resume playing. No sound. I looked to my left, to see the guitar dangling by its tuning pegs, tangled up in netting hung above the stage. David couldn’t reach it. A tall guy came out of the audience to free it while David stood waiting. Not the rock-godliest of situations. After the show, I think we sold one cassette - total merch sales. We were packing up rather grumpily when the people who bought the cassette walked back into the club to say they’d put it on in their car and it didn’t work. They wanted their money back.
[Jean Smith]

Anniversary Art Series #5 + #6">2 Comments

Mecca Normal
Anniversary Art Series #3 & 4

May 20th, 2009

David Lester

Art by David Lester, text by Jean Smith. Mecca Normal comes to Toronto for the Over the Top Festival this Friday as part of the guitar-voice duo’s 25th anniversary tour. More art from David throughout the week.

#3: Boston
There was a guy in Boston who really wanted us to stay at his house. He had a studio and he figured we could record together - he was a real keener. We got to the house and he had this big, aggressive dog - a pit bull or Rottweiler-type dog that was disobedient and nasty. Neither Dave nor I wanted this huge dog on top of us as we sat on the couch, but the guy and his wife thought this was really funny, that we didn’t really know how to get the dog off us. The guy seemed to suggest that we let the dog do what it wanted, as they did. I did not want this dog on me. This state of siege went on through the evening - the dog controlled the household, the dog was the only subject of conversation. The only time the dog wasn’t dominating everyone’s attention was when it left the room to go and piss on my sleeping bag.

The guy explained that the dog could sense my attitude towards it, that it was like a child having a passive-aggressive tantrum. At one point, Dave and the guy were in the studio with the door closed and the dog came into the bathroom while I was in there and I wanted it out of the bathroom so I could close the door. It started growling at me, blocking my exit. Absolutely terrifying - and there was no one around to control this beast. We left. We did not stay the night. [Jean Smith]

David Lester

#4: Fugazi

In the 1990s we played some shows with Fugazi - Seattle, Olympia, New York - and at the Vancouver show, someone threw his shoe at David while he was playing. Some of those young guys were really bugged to see and hear a woman on stage who is powerful - and the songs are weird and arty - and she’s angry-looking and yelling - yelling at guys - hmmm, this isn’t what they want at all.

Some of those guys, many years later, wrote to us on MySpace saying they hadn’t seen anything like what we were doing and at the time they didn’t like it, but it changed something for them. They became more open to women’s perspectives in music and they became more interested in different music, different than four guys on stage, and they felt it began with seeing Mecca Normal at a Fugazi show. For us, that sort of thing has been very helpful in allowing us to see how individuals can make an impact, how things change. [Jean Smith]

Anniversary Art Series #3 & 4">No Comments

Les Mouches Talk Songs Tonight

May 20th, 2009

I neglected to make much of it last week when I spoke at the opening night of Daniel Vila’s new Talking Songs series at Jamie’s Area, but it turned out to be a lovely event. In short:

Talking Songs is a new series at Jamie’s Area in which presenters play songs in their entirety and then talk about those songs. Narratives will be woven and parallels will be drawn, all within the potentially uncomfortable context of listening closely to recorded music communally. We recommend that you bring your own blindfold to be placed over your eyes during the musical portions of the evening so as to ease the tension and encourage closer listening.

Tonight it’s happening again, and I am not speaking, but who is? The former members of one of my favourite Toronto bands of all time, Les Mouches. They will not be talking about their own songs, though I suppose they could talk about one another’s. You may be familiar with other things the former members of Les Mouches do (he said coyly).

The blindfold thing sounds a bit freaky and/or precious, I know, but it’s actually charming and also totally not obligatory.

Here’s der Facebook page.

No Comments

Adapting Landmark Postmodern Composition to the Will of
the Batwinged Sabbatic Goat

May 19th, 2009

A press release or artists’ statement or whatever guano-sucking madness is going on in this communique from Steven Kado and Brian Joseph Davis about their performance on Thursday at Mercer Union - just received and had to share:

In-gallery performance by Brian Joseph Davis and Steven Kado
Thursday 21 May 2009, 6 pm–12:06 am, FREE

“In 1977, the same year that punk rock crossed over from a presumed New York underground and gained horrid legitimacy through the medium of the British popular music press, Alvin Lucier created ‘Music on a Long Thin Wire.’ The work consisted of the titular long, thin wire suspended over a great distance, activated by an oscillator and amplified by pickups at both ends. It created two distinct drones that were sometimes in harmony, sometimes at odds.

“The Library of Congress refused to register a copyright to Lucier for the work on the grounds that the piece itself was a natural phenomenon, and not the work of an ascribable author. Interestingly, the attempt to claim a natural phenomenon as one’s own work brings Lucier’s ‘compositional’ gesture closer to the practice of conceptual and land art, resonating with Hans Haacke’s early ’systems’ works, than to typical musical composition. At the same time, this legal decision removed that honour from Lucier, a moustached sound artist from New England, and conferred it to none other than the entire cosmos.

“If the physical reality of nature authored the work, who is truly responsible for the way our world works? Whence springs this world of nature as we know it? The Library of Congress actually knows this seemingly unknowable fact very well, holding as they do, one of the few copies, bound in human skin, of that most terrible and forbidden of books: The Necronomicon. As such, under the more acceptable guise of attributing the work to ‘nature,’ they in fact conferred authorship on the void wherein dwell Lord Cthulhu, Shoggoths and the jibbering chaos of Nyarlathotep. This conspiratorial identification of American bureaucracy with our world’s true masters (the unspeakable Eldrich Ones) is well enshrined in the Masonic roots of America’s founders. This foundational void was first the site of research by the Ancient Gnostics who passed it on to H.P. Lovecraft — like Lucier, a New Englander — and from him to the most advanced of death metal bands.

‘Alvin Lucifer’ seeks to reconnect the mythical Lovecraftian darkness at the heart of all creation to the presumably sterile and ‘physically neutral’ systems-based Minimalism of the ’60s and ’70s. The work is restaged to Lucier’s specifications, but is taken one step beyond by using Ampeg amplifiers and a Rat pedal in order to attain timbres and tonalities more pleasing to ‘the old ones.’

This drone communication—between cultures, eras and dimensions—will last 6 hours, 6 minutes and 6 seconds.

“Reign In Blood,
BJD and SKK”

the Batwinged Sabbatic Goat">4 Comments

Mecca Normal
Anniversary Art Series #2

May 19th, 2009

David Lester

Art by David Lester, text by Jean Smith. Mecca Normal comes to Toronto for the Over the Top Festival this Friday as part of the guitar-voice duo’s 25th anniversary tour. More art from David throughout the week.

Sonic Youth
In the 90s, at the height of grunge, we got a call that Sonic Youth wanted us to open for them in Seattle. The theater, the Paramount, was big - balconies and all that. When it came time in our set to do “I Walk Alone,” I left the microphone and ran to the side of the stage - I edged past the main speakers, singing, and down the steps. I ran up the aisle to sing directly into people’s rather shocked faces. I dashed back towards the stage - but there was a bouncer standing at the top of the steps and I guess he hadn’t seen me leave the stage. I must have appeared to be a rabid fan trying to accost Dave, who was playing the simple riff over and over, wondering if I’d ever return. The guitar was blasting out of the mains right beside the bouncer, so I couldn’t get him to hear what I was saying. Eventually I pushed past him and returned to the mic totally exhausted, with Dave looking at me like I’d lost my mind for being gone for so long. [Jean Smith]

Anniversary Art Series #2">No Comments

NXNoEffin’ Way!

May 14th, 2009

The Homosexuals? The Sonics? Not to mention GZA, AIDS Wolf, Black Lips, King Khan, DAT Politics, Japanther, Cool Kids, Matt & Kim, Health, Pterodactyl, Timber Timbre, Kyrie Kristmanson, to name a few? Do Make Say Think, Final Fantasy and Robert Lippock providing the soundtrack to an outdoor screening of a 1919 German horror film? A website that seems to be working? And rather attractive posters and graphics? … This is not the NXNE we’ve known and barely tolerated.

After nearly a decade of complaining about the way Toronto’s music-showcase festivals are shown up by those in Montreal and Halifax, I have to admit that the 2009 edition - June 17-21, many details announced this week, looks set at last to prove me wrong when I said in the Globe five years ago or so:

“At NXNE, despite organizers’ best efforts, the program ends up dominated by an unseemly desperation to please talent agencies and corporate labels. Getting the city as wrapped up in live music as in a major sports event, as happens each year in Austin, seems an impossible dream.”

Well, that last bit probably holds. But while this has been evolving for several years, and stylistic diversity remains somewhat wanting, I can’t deny that I’m more excited by this year’s lineup than I am critical, and that’s a fresh, welcome sensation.

Stop the Stopping of the Presses

May 14th, 2009

“The research, by industry body PRS for Music, showed the most pirated pop songs tend to be those at the top of the music charts. There was little evidence that file-sharing sites helped unsigned and new bands find an audience, it found. … There was no evidence of the Long Tail operating.” (BBC, see also WaPo, Billboard, Idolator, etc.)

This shouldn’t be a surprise ever since the 2006 Columbia University study that showed pretty convincingly that popularity tends to breed popularity whether on the Internet or not: When facing a big list of music, even if you have sampled each song, most people are apt to decide that the best ones are the ones other people also like. (Snobs will immediately get their sneers on here, but as I say in my book I think this is mostly a reflection of a desire for connectedness, and a certain faith in the wisdom of crowds, both of which are positive traits albeit with potential for abuse.)

It’s also notable that the Big Champagne study found that most people followed this pattern because otherwise they were overwhelmed by choice (you’ve probably run across Barry Schwartz on that paradox). All these factors make it seem to me (perhaps self-servingly) that the obsolescence of the critic in the file-sharing age has been exaggerated. Yes, there’s some changing of personnel at the gates and the way critics play their roles but people still need to outsource some of the search for needles to a designated haystack sifter.

What’s more the ensuing exchange of information and opinion is the primary way that these choices become meaningful. As one of the researchers, Andrew Bud, told The Register: “… it’s through people chatting to each other and seeing the music talked about in the media. That’s what culture is.”

PS: A caveat here. Zoilus friend Sean Michaels points out to me that big data errors were found in the same group’s study last year of music sales online. If they get the relatively clear info about legal sales wrong, one does have to wonder how well they crunched the much more nebulous info on file-shared tracks. I haven’t had time to examine the data; I am just pointing it out.

Mecca Normal:
Anniversary Art Series #1

May 13th, 2009

In celebration of the quarter-centenary of British Columbia avant-agit-punk duo Mecca Normal, whose 25th-anniversary music-and-lecture tour (”How Art & Music Can Change the World”) reaches Toronto on May 22 (as part of the Over the Top festival), MecNorm axe-master David Lester is sending Zoilus a series of illustrations for your eyes’ delectation over the next week or so. Here’s the first selection.

“The Politics Are Not Obvious is a painting I did that a banjo player bought after seeing it displayed when Mecca Normal played a barber shop in Olympia and a bookshop in Seattle during a west coast tour in 2004. The man later sent me a cassette of his banjo playing. He recorded just this one copy to send to me. This was art. This was political.” - David Lester

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