Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for May, 2010

Pocketful of Ryeberg

May 31st, 2010

Tomorrow (Tuesday) night at the Drake, there’ll be a party to celebrate one of the best web projects created in Toronto in the past year, Ryeberg Curated Video, which features essays by local and international authors around online videos. The site is the creation of Erik Rutherford, and the party will feature live video commentary by Russell Smith (Girl Crazy), Sheila Heti (The Middle Stories, Ticknor and the upcoming How Should a Person Be?), Mike Hoolboom (filmmaker, author of The Steve Machine) and Sholem Krishtalka (artist, critic) & Jon Davies (Power Plant curator). Here’s a rare (but appropriate) thing: This party has a video trailer.

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Let’s Check Under the Hood

May 26th, 2010

It’s been a couple of months now since the site shifted to its more laid-back posting schedule and made some format changes, so I thought I’d check in with you. In particular, I’m wondering whether Toronto readers have feedback, thoughts, complaints about the weekly show highlights over in the left margin - are they giving you information you can use, or do you wish they projected further into the future? Also, sorry I haven’t gotten around to putting content in the new “Recommendation” and “Projects” pages yet. It’ll come.

As well, wanted to let those who’ve been asking know that my new group blog with Chris Randle and Margaux Williamson, called Back to the World, is now scheduled to launch June 15. Much more to come about that.


Torontopia Blues: RIP Will Munro

May 25th, 2010

Will Munro’s “Inside the Solar Temple of the Cosmic Leather Daddy,” 2010. Photo via No More Potlucks.

I’ve found it hard to know what to say about the death on Friday of the angelic Will Munro - artist, organizer, DJ, impresario and collaborator par excellence - of brain cancer at only 35. Will was easily one of the most significant creators of the cultural mood of the Toronto of the 2000s, to which this site has devoted so much energy and affection. But many other people were closer to him and can pay tribute more richly, as they do in this feature published today on the Eye Weekly site,, this appreciation by Benjamin Boles, and particularly in this post from another queer Toronto iconoclast-icon, Bruce LaBruce, on Torontoist. A celebration of Will’s life - and, I assume, an appropriately bitchin’ dance party - will take place on Wednesday night at the Gladstone. I’ll add only the words that I, along with scores of others, posted to Will’s Facebook wall in tribute:

Will, I was one of the many people in the cultural scene who didn’t know you well, but loved your effect on this city, and treasured your courage, your charisma, your ease, your imagination and above all your example of how to make positive change. Whenever I undertake a project you are one of the people I keep in mind as a model of how to approach it: to make the work at once open and welcoming, and challenging and thought-provoking. Whenever we did meet, you never failed to convey a sense of mutual recognition and common cause. It’s impossible to say how much you already have been missed and how much poorer we are that you will not be here, contributing to our cultural and social lives, in the years to come. We’ll all have to try harder, love stronger, think brighter, in your memory and your honour.

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2010 is in the house:
Breaking Out Now, Ms. Monae,
We assume?

May 19th, 2010

Janelle Monae on Letterman last night, the day of the long-awaited release of The ArchAndroid, leading contender for album of the year. Check the totally James Brown finale and the quick Diddy victory lap at the end.

Flavorwire: The Dion Abides

May 12th, 2010

"You like me, you really like me..."
‘You like me, you really like me …’

Last week a poll came out suggesting that Celine Dion is still the most popular singer in America. Statistical skepticism aside, the idea that this could be remotely true came as a surprise to a lot of people. So, for obvious reasons, New York’s Flavorwire came knocking, seeking explanations. Here’s the unabridged version of our conversation.

FW: Are you surprised?

I’m not surprised, given how enormously popular Celine was in her heyday (which, going by the sales of her last couple of releases, has definitely passed): She was one of the biggest stars of the 1990s. That doesn’t just fade away in a decade. To make a comparison that’ll curdle some people’s blood, when I was a teenager in the 1980s, Led Zeppelin records from the early ‘70s were still the coolest thing. And the fact that she still tours, plays Vegas, puts out concert films, etc., helps perpetuate that. That’s how an entertainer cultivates Sinatra-esque longevity.

Her fame is also renewed regularly these days by American Idol, the largest mass musical phenomenon of the past decade, where Celine’s stood solidly in its pantheon of singers for young people to emulate, alongside Whitney & Mariah.

You can’t take an online poll as gospel in any case, but I have to admit I’m relieved to know that Celine won’t be irrelevant by the time the next edition of my book comes out.

Why has she remained so popular?

Celine occupies a niche in popular music that’s far from the sexiest, most intellectually stimulating or world-shaking. But it’s central, and it’s a job someone has to do. She makes the sentimental music that’s the soundtrack to courting, marrying and burying. It’s music for the wedding dance floor and the family-video montage.

At the same time, it’s music that reinforces and plays out central value conflicts in our culture: It’s got a constant eye on individual ambition, striving and success, in everything from its lyrical content to its production style and Celine’s vocal performance, and yet it is very attached, again both lyrically and melodically, to family and tradition.

In other words, it’s quintessentially middle-class music, with a stress on the feminine side. That’s the kiss of critical death, of course - it’s got neither global-slumming esoteric bohemianism nor virile proletarian machismo, so in post-1960s western Cool culture, it’s void of the marks of sophistication and distinction that count. But it’s the kind of music that, once it lodges in someone’s life, stays there, as part of that person’s story.

What does this say about American taste after all this time?

It’s not particularly an American story, in fact. Celine wasn’t born in the U.S. and she remains popular all over the world - likely even more so in places like Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean. She represents somewhat different things in those places - no doubt she seems more glamorous to a listener in a developing country than she does to someone in Los Angeles - but she signifies.

It’s partly, too, that her own story is rags-to-riches, a fairy tale people want to emulate. In that sense her fame may be more like Oprah’s or a basketball star’s than that of, say, Mick Jagger.

But for Americans perhaps this poll is a welcome sign that there’s still some loyalty and longevity to people’s tastes. It’s not all instant disposability. Meanwhile if you’re waiting for the public at large to move on to a favorite that isn’t on at least some level cheesy and goofy, well, make sure you’ve packed plenty of lunches. Look at her main rival - Bono! Goofiness is the crack in a star’s aura that lets the fans’ love in.

(By the way, is no one else a little surprised that after Celine and U2, then Elvis & Beatles tied at #3, next comes Tim McGraw? That’s what we should be talking about.)

Will Celine Dion ever fall out of favor?

My suspicion is that in a generation, she’ll be remembered more vaguely, the way that Nat King Cole or Connie Francis is by younger people today - you might recognize a few songs but you don’t necessarily have a firm grip on who or what they were. The sentimental-song niche may turn on a longer cycle than that of the dance hit, but it’s still pop music, and it turns. Plus, not much of her repertoire is up to the level of the Great American Songbook era - Dianne Warren has her strengths, but she’s no Brill Building writer (I wish Celine had done more songs with Carole King), much less a Gershwin.

So there’ll be a fade. Whether it’s a fade to black, and how long that would take, I wouldn’t venture to guess.

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