by carl wilson

November 30, 2006

Zoilus Guest Post: If Matt Collins Did It

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The room was almost entirely fuchsia (the porter referred to it as "marigold" but I know a sickly pinkish orange when I see it), and I was poolside. Not that I was going to swim, but shit, great is great, right? Why settle for good? The next time you're a 15-year-old with killing for Charles Manson and a media conglomerate as his weekend plan, get back to me on whether or not you took the poolside room.

In a first for this website, Zoilus is pleased to present the following work of fiction: "If I Did It," a rollicking topical young-adult noir by Matt Collins of Toronto band Ninja High School. The events portrayed are fictional, not meant to represent any person, living dead or incarcerated, and all opinions expressed belong to the author, or CNN, or Charlie Manson.

You can read the whole twisted, incredible saga, after the jump. And no, further fiction submissions to Zoilus are not invited - unless you catch me seeming pliable in a bar at about 3 a.m.

Zoilus presents

IF I DID IT

by Matt Collins

I got the phone call during a rerun of Cheers where Cliff lies about a stolen postal van after it is found, by police, near a motel where he is about to lose his virginity to another postal worker, and when they lie about what happened, her devotion to the U.S. Postal Service drives her passion away from Cliff.

So he tells the truth, and she gets fired, and decides to move to Canada and wants him to come too, and he's working in "Dreaded Zone 19," which has some improbably huge Rottweiler population - anyway, there's this fantastic subplot where Sam discovers that Rebecca's one sensory sexual stimulus is the song "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," but Rebecca manages to hold it down while he plays it, and just LUNGES at Norm, kissing him passionately, and then when she says, "I don't know what got into me. Please apologize to Vera," and Norm says, "Are you kidding? After that Vera should apologize to me" - good good stuff - and then the phone rang.

"Chuck Manson? Who in the fuck gave you phone privileges? ...Bleeding heart, yeah..., ..., ..., ..., ..., ..., ..., ...wait, say all that again? ...OK... yeah, I suppose that would start a... yeah, ...no... exactly, a race war, yeah... exactly. Who? ... Who's paying for all of this? No shit! ... Uh... um... uh... Chuck. Charlie... uh... Charlie. Um..."

I rolled my eyes and decided to pretend I knew what he meant by different colors on different people's backs doing things to those different people. "OK. Stop. Stop. I'm in, I just need to know when... lemme check my... no, suuuuure ... OK, you know what? Fuck it. I'm in."

It was a pretty good plan. I was supposed to go to California and stab to death the ex-wife of some former Buffalo Bills/San Francisco 49ers running back with a college record of rushing 3,160 yards and 33 touchdowns in 1967 and 1968, total Heisman winner, who had been reduced to print ads for cowboy boots and cameos in movies like Back To The Beach (I know what you're thinking - when Pee Wee Herman sings Surfin' Bird and finishes by getting hit by a bolt of lightning and surfs into the sky, I get chills too) in order to pay alimony cheques.

Better yet, it was all bankrolled by a big-deal cable news network that my friends and I had been hooked on since the LA riots, who figured it was all a write-off once the footage went on the air and the ad revenue started rolling in. I had no problem with skipping school on Monday - the last week of classes before my Grade Ten exams? Like any university worth their salt was going to check those marks?

The in-flight movie was Sommersby - I cried, of course (romance!) - and this old Italian dude sitting next to me, who was on his way to the fifth congress of the IASS-AIS in Berkeley, pointed out that the movie had much the same point as Brecht's The Good Woman of Szechuan, which is that things should belong to those who love and use them best, regardless of legal ownership. I shrugged and said, "The transition of the story from the Middle Ages to post-civil-war America was awkward."

"Oh, you mean The Return Of Martin Guerre? But that didn't have Jodie Foster in it."

I looked back out the window and flipped open the copy of Thunderball I brought for the flight. The balding and Pavarottiesque English teacher sighed and put his headphones back on.

We weren't even in Los Angeles, and already it was as if we were having six lunches an afternoon while endlessly pitching hopeless romantic comedies to anyone with a chequebook and a suit but no tie. I kind of saw how Charlie got driven to biker-ranch orgy-cult murder delirium in the first place. And I had to get pumped for that, too, if I wanted a penny of that 24-hour-news-coverage money.

I got in late Saturday night and immediately started drinking. It was coolish and there was no humidity; I cracked a can of Pabst in the airport men's room and, finding it empty, began rock posing in the mirror, standing about three feet back from the sink. With my free hand I did a windmill, and made a "BRUNGGGGGG" sound, then inhaled for two seconds with my nose, tilting my head back. I held my breath in that position for roughly five seconds and stumbled forward, leaning on the sink, and staring into my own eyes I whispered, "Looking good, killer..."

The details, between an LAX security guard finding me and confiscating my beer and getting out of a taxi in West Hollywood, are hazy at best. My booze rampage continued into the lobby of the Best Western Sunset Plaza. It wasn't my chequebook, I figured, and I had heard the hotel bar was good.

The room was almost entirely fuchsia (the porter referred to it as "marigold" but I know a sickly pinkish orange when I see it), and I was poolside. Not that I was going to swim, but shit, great is great, right? Why settle for good? The next time you're a 15-year-old with killing for Charles Manson and a media conglomerate as his weekend plan, get back to me on whether or not you took the poolside room.

The next morning I woke up to Donahue - apparently I'd had the TV on all night - and the desk wakeup call. I mumbled something cordial and realized I had slept in my clothes. The blonde with the cute mouth from the Aerosmith videos was lying on her back, naked, on the floor next to the bed; PETA literature was scattered everywhere.

I kicked her playfully. "Wanna hit the buffet?"

Continental breakfasts are a joke. Sure, you can eat all the waffles and miniature bowls of Froot Loops you want, but it isn't breakfast. The girl started poking through the Times and I was on my sixth coffee.

"So, is it far to Brentwood from here?" I ran my finger across hers and tucked it into her hand. She looked at me over the rim of her shades and smiled, then looked puzzled.

"What do you want to go to Brentwood for?"

"I gotta drop off this package of... uh... drugs?"

She clasped my hand tightly. "Um... not far."

Then she motioned across the pool toward my room and raised her eyebrows. My rule back then was "never sober," but I had things to do as well. Chuck had given me what amounted to a script: Every move was planned out down to the number of steps someone my height (5'3") and weight (99 lbs) would have to take to effectively do the job and get the results the writers were looking for.

Step 1:

I walked up to the cash register at Ross Cutlery and loudly said, "I'm here to pick up the knife my boss, O.J. Simpson, ordered six weeks ago. Can the receipt say O.J. Simpson on it? Can we get that? Great. I'm his assistant. I am O.J. Simpson's assistant, and I am picking up this knife for him."

Step 2:

Al was taking too much time looking through the suitcase.

"OK, why am I putting $8,000 in cash, pictures of O.J.'s parents and kids, a fake beard and moustache and a loaded gun in O.J.'s front hall? What have you got against him?" He was waving the passport around like he didn't even know it was supposed to go in there too.

I smacked it out of his hand. "Cowlings, shit. Put the passport in the suitcase. OK? Look. Just do the fuckin' job. I could care less about that sad sack, but I do care about you dropping this off for me. In his front hall. Like I said."

Like I needed this shit? I was hungover as fuck and couldn't remember a thing about losing my virginity to the chick from The Crush. I had spent the entire cab ride trying to drag up some memory of digging up Cary Elwes' buried treasure.

Step 3:

Now, this may seem too stylized, but I like to wear Aris Isotoner gloves when I shop, and when I kill. I know it was the middle of June in California, but when you have a thing that makes everything you do you, it just makes more sense to give up on making sense.

The guy in the shoe store seemed to think they were worth staring at, though.

I looked all around the place then back at him. "Hey, up here, buddy."

Like I needed this shit?

He tried to regain composure - "Sorry, I..."

"Look, I said a pair of size 12 Bruno Maglis."

"There's no way your feet will fit a size 12."

"I figure at the price I might as well get a pair I'm going to grow into, shithead."

Step 4:

If you ever want someone's condo keys in LA, just fake being a UPS guy.

"Aren't you a bit young to be a..." Ron Goldman eyed me as if this was the craziest thing he had ever seen.

"I'm saving up to go back to high school. They don't let me drive a van. I have to take a bus," I replied, trying not to laugh. I couldn't believe how this city lived. A small-town Ontario boy was winning this town like playing Fish with an anterograde amnesiac. "Shit, you need to sign for this. Do you have a pen?"

He smiled a knowing smile and walked off into the living room. A set of keys was on the table by the door, and I snatched it and jammed it into the brown shorts I had on. Christ, I wanted to change. Like I needed this shit? I wanted the job to go off hitch-free, but dressing like the UPS man was going kind of far. Ron came back.

"Alright, sign here... and here. Your name is?"

"Goldman."

"Goldman what?"

"Ron."

"G... Ron. Okay, thanks, Goldman," I gave him a little hand pistol. I wondered who he was and if it was going to screw up killing this woman. I kind of wanted to know what she looked like. The upshot was, he obviously lived there, too, so I could see whoever he was with and stab them. Then a Ferrari pulled up and I walked away quickly without looking.

Step 5:

"Al, all you have to do is sound black and call her."

Cowlings was killing me! The hell kind of backstabbing best friend doesn't call his buddy's girlfriend the night he's being framed for murder?

"Matty, I don't even know HOW to sound black," he stammered.

Like I needed this shit? "Look, all you have to do is sound black and incriminating."

Al rubbed his face with his palms. "OK. Gimme the phone."

"OK. You're calling her back because she left a message, you've been busy all day."

"What do I do?"

"Roll with it, buddy. I'll direct."

He dialed. I cracked my knuckles and sat up straight in the passenger seat of the Bronco. I had never seen a cellular from this small a distance.

"Nothing."

"Try again."

"Try again?"

"Look, your girlfriend just left you a message breaking up with you - are you gonna let that stand?"

"I guess not..."

"Of course not!"

He dialed again.

"Nothing."

"Try again. Leave a message, at least!"

"It picked up. The, the machine, picked up."

"Leave a message!" I hissed.

"Yo, Paul-uh."

I winced and mouthed the words "Less black! Dammit!"

Al waved his hand at me and looked away. "I wuz just, um, calling you back? Frum, uh, before."

He sounded fucking Italian. I grabbed the phone.

"Fucking idiot."

"I was just!"

"You're an idiot. And I hate your guts." He went to open his mouth, and I raised a fist. "I am trying to build a perfect, beautiful thing here. And I told you that I needed your help, and all you do is half-ass everything. All I'm asking for is a full-ass job."

Like I needed this shit!

"Look, you get scarce. It's going to get real ugly here in a couple of minutes."

The weather was the same on Sunday night, but it felt a bit worse because Saturday night still hung heavy on my temples - how was it I couldn't remember railing the blonde from the episode of The Wonder Years where Kevin tries to pass his driver's test?

I looked at a light on in an upstairs window - was that kids? I didn't want to have anything to do with children. The light went out, and I scaled the fence and walked up to the front. Pretty out-in-the-open-like. Goldman was there, with an envelope or something. I could hear a dog barking, but couldn't see it. I figured it was going nuts because the garage door was opening.

My target opened the front door. All of a sudden, I was in action.

"Hey, the UPS guy!" yelled Goldman, and I slashed open his throat in one action. He fell to the ground, gurgling. I looked over, and realized this other guy was doing my job for me! He had my gravy train down in a kneeling position, and was cutting open her throat.

"The big idea?" I waved my hands back and forth between the body and the guy.

He dropped the body and walked past me, and started stabbing Goldman's body like crazy.

"Did Charlie send you? You seem like one of his guys."

No answer.

"Uhhh... that guy's already dead. Are you crying?"

Whoever this character was, he hated Goldman. I didn't even mean to kill Goldman. He just recognized me. Timing like Wayne Gretzky on SNL. Kind of an idiot. Rich kids in L.A., what do you want? For every Nathaniel West, you get six Nicholas Meyers, right? It's in the gene pool. They're charming at parties.

I walked back over to my job and put my knife down on the second step. I grabbed the body by the legs and hauled it over to the fence, and went back to the steps again.

This other guy was looking at me now.

I shook my head. "What?"

Then a voice came from behind me. "Son? What's going on? Jason?"

O.J. shoved me and rushed the stab fiend, grabbing for the knife. I went for mine, but before I knew it, the fight was over, and O.J. was huddled over Goldman's body, slamming his head into Goldman's chest.

I wanted to say, "Don't do that!" but I hid instead. I tried to go back to where I hopped the fence, but almost slid in some blood left over from dragging the body to the fence. The guy at the shoe store was right. These Bruno Maglis didn't fit for shit. My feet would never be this big. I sadly mused for a second about my adult cock size, and it hit me - my knife was still on the step! Or was it over by Goldman's body on the lawn? Did I drop it when the other guy was stabbing the living shit out of Goldman's lifeless corpse for no reason I could be in on without interrupting him and asking? Wait, I walked over to the steps, and put it down...

Why would I even do that? Or did he drop his knife after stabbing the corpse? Why didn't I stick it in my belt? Why would he leave his knife on the steps? That made about as much sense as stabbing an already dead body. Why did he hate Goldman so much? Was Alicia Silverstone into small johnsons? Which knife was mine?

The knife on the stairs clearly made no sense at all. Lawn knife. My knife was lawn knife.

I snuck up behind O.J. and reached for the knife. O.J. leaned back, looking panicked. I dropped flat next to him. Great. Covered in bloody grass. The knife was on the other side, and I tried to kick it away from Simpson. He was looking all over the place now. He stood up, and walked over to the steps. He didn't notice me, and I instinctively shook my head and shrugged. L.A., what the fuck? I stayed low, and put the knife between my teeth.

I scaled the wall again, and realized that I had the same problem with Broncos now that I had with knives.

Did Al stick around for all of that?

"Al. Aaaaalllllllll." Like I needed this shit!

Al flashed the interior lights of his Bronco once. What was he going to do next, honk? I waved my arm and pointed down the street. He drove off. I walked over to O.J.'s bronco, and had to stop myself from rubbing my forehead. "Shit - blood," I whispered to myself. I pulled off one of the Aris Isotoners, and massaged the bridge of my nose.

He was still doing something in the yard. With the bodies. "Californians are sick and idiotic," I mused.

Then I fucked with O.J.'s Bronco.

Fin

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, November 30 at 4:02 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

November 29, 2006

Weirdest Destroyer Review Ever

Amazon reviewer interprets Rubies as a country album, comparing it to Jim Reeves! I like this idea so much that I wish it were true. Or even remotely plausible. Dan, country album to follow, please?

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, November 29 at 7:14 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

November 28, 2006

Announcing

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I will be talking and leading some perverse group ritual yet to be invented. The theme will be something related to bad bands and participatory culture, unless some other whim strikes me. The Barcelona Pavilion will be serving as exhibit A. It will not go very late.

Man, my name looks so boring on a poster.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 28 at 4:58 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)

 

November 27, 2006

Art for a Change/Change for the Arts

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Had a grand time yesterday at the launch of the new Coach House uTOpia book. There were two major themes that I think emerged from the "unofficial culture" and "official culture" panels (I was on the former, along with Sarah Hood, Karen Hines, Stuart Ross and Kat Collins), along with discussion among the several hundred people in attendance: One, the notion of exploring alternative models of funding based on a grassroots patronage system, either for individual artists or for organizations - there was a lot of talk about getting rich people involved, but I think you could also get groups of middle-class people to pitch in, if there were a structure for it. I've mentioned the project ArtistShare before on Zoilus. I wish I'd thought to bring it up yesterday: It organizes musicians' fans to fund projects up front, rather than just buying T-shirts and CDs at the back end - and that's a model that could be emulated in various forms for other endeavours. But also, as moderator Misha Glouberman said, it would be a simple step forward if arts audiences (music fans very much included) were encouraged to think of themselves as patrons rather than consumers - rather than trying to get a bargain price on a CD, pay extra for it. Buy the T-shirt even if you're not going to wear it. Who cares? Give it to your little sister. And if you're broke, what about forgoing that pint of beer at the bar so that you can help out the band? Because what you're doing is funding artists whose work you admire. It's not like trying to get the best price on breakfast cereal.

The other big theme was the relative isolation of the downtown, white, indie-arts community from the racial diversity of Toronto. I talked about this from several angles in my piece in the uTOpia book, which is about participatory culture - a form that's been flowering in Toronto, but when looked at closely can seem dangerously incestuous. Two of the main things people name when they say what they love about Toronto are how great the arts community is and that the city is so diverse - and yet the two virtues don't overlap nearly enough. In part, that's a natural contradiction: People seek out like-minded people to work with, and art that speaks directly to them, and so it's inevitable that this will lead toward some similarness. Not as much as armchair critics resentfully assume, but still more than is ideal. I think these things have to come in stages: The community that's been built is mature enough now to begin extending into new realms, and challenging itself with encounters with people from very different contexts and ways of thinking. It seems necessary not just from some sort of politically correct point of view but in order for the art itself to get sharper and more powerfully connected to the real world that we inhabit. It was great to hear that feeling emerge from the crowd collectively as a real yearning, something that went deeper than lip service. My feeling is that it will be fraught with complications on a bunch of levels, but for change to begin all you need is a few smart, small initiatives. Most often people are just too hesitant to take the first step.

Recordings of the panels will apparently be up on the Coach House website, along with a discussion board.

The music after the panels was actually a lovely illustration of the themes and ideas of the day: First there was a classic indie-art-scene group, the Phonemes, playing one of their better sets ever (their new album on Blocks is going to be wonderful, and I'm betting it'll garner a lot of blog attention in 2007). They were followed by rapper More or Les and his DJ, Professor Fingers (also of Insideamind). It was my first time seeing Les - I've been meaning to check him out for awhile, thanks to buzz from local heads such as Del Cowie - and it was a real pleasure. He's got great flow, but moreover he's got one of the most charming, personable stage personae I've encountered in a while - and while some of his raps-about-rap are predictable in that indie-rap way (okay, we get it, you don't like women being disrespected, guns or the N-word), quite the opposite is true when he rhymes about brunch, busking and other quotidian facts of life. Plus, he did a freestyle based on the uTOpia book - getting an audience volunteer to call out page numbers, he flipped to those spots in the volume and improvised rhymes based on words and sentences in it. I got to hear a subtitle from my essay turned into a rap. Pretty hard to resist. And finally there was the one-off band Scarborough A/V, who played a live soundtrack to a video of the sights of the suburbs, mostly desolate and ugly, but sometimes beautiful, which fit with the occasional mentions in the book and through the day of the downtown arts world's need to consider the fact that most of the population doesn't live downtown, and to exhibit a little curiosity about life north of St. Clair, and to the west and the east.

I'll post quickly later about last night's Wavelength, with Tomboyfriend and Yah Mos Def. But I also wanted to mention that I have a brief piece in this feature in the recent anniversary issue of This Magazine, the small Canadian leftie publication where I worked a decade ago. My bit, about halfway through, is called "The Art of the Game," and in many ways, it's a short summary of some of the ideas I discuss in my uTOpia essay. If it catches your curiosity, why not buy the book? It's a sweet, gooey Whitman's Sampler of cultural notations and impulses - I've only gobbled up a few truffles so far, but it tastes like inspiration.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, November 27 at 4:34 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)

 

November 24, 2006

T-Dot Thrillz: Sunday
Tomboyfriends in uT.O.pia

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Tomboyfriend as portrayed by Margaux Williamson and Photoshop. See 2nd half of this entry.

This blog has been having SlowMovingBlood Syndrome (known to laypersons as "November"), but until its mojo regenerates, there are still events to tout. And this Sunday: No day of rest!

I'm part of the all-day launch at the Gladstone for The State of the Arts: Culture in Toronto, the second volume in Coach House Books' uTOpia series. I'll be on a panel on "Unofficial Culture" with moderator Misha Glouberman presiding. Last year's party for Vol. 1 was a highlight of '05, so don't come to please me. Come to please yerself. Talking is followed by tuneage, see sidebar for deets.

(My essay in the book, "The Party Line," jams on "the participatory turn" in local and global culture in recent years - from raves to flash mobs to Trampoline Hall to Haircuts by Children to Bad Bands - trying to scout out a critical perspective and vocabulary for art whose raw material is social relationships, stuff decidedly under the sway of the 'Net, but back in physical space.)

However, I urge you, urgently, not to loiter too long at the Gladstone, because the regular Wavelength program that night, at 11 pm sharp (pwyc), features the debut of Tomboyfriend, the band whose existence I teased you with back in July, with that post asking how many rock groups there'd ever been with a male frontman and all-female band. (Answer: Some, not many, and Robert Palmer doesn't count.) Let me let them elaborate:

"We are one poet (ryan 'scratch' kamstra), one illustrator and map-making social activist (Marlena Zuber), one gtarist and jackass inspired performance artist (Karilynn Ming Ho), one robot and visual artist of the freak show (Lindsay Fisher) and one bassist and scientist for the peoples (Susan Bustos). [We] play songs about androgyny, promiscuity, the economic opinion of Jeffrey Sachs, bisexuality,ultra-violence, high fashion, the plight of heterosexuality, cheerleaders, the wealth divide and what to do about romantic love. There is sprayed blood, costume changes and camp. There are participatory dance moves. You may wish to move back. The blood washes off. "

Check out their MySpace to hear The End of Poverty, one of Zoilus's top singles of 2006. (Any song posted at MySpace is a single now, right?) Or at least one of my top songs of the year, as it hits better live than in the rough demo recording. Like all Ryan's songs, it's romantic post-Marxism in an polymorphic-bestiality-blues ballet, obsessed with global capital and melancholy sex, as if Xiu Xiu were making out with Lou Reed in a hotel bar in north Ontario. For further tunes, including the possibly even better, due to more falsetto, but even worse recorded, Swan, see Ryan's site. To view lead singers Ryan and Marlena perform End of Poverty with an army of pigeon dancers outdoors at Nuit Blanche, check that there YouTube. Ryan attempts to explain in the Wavelength online zine and in their bandifesto.

I've been looking forward to this gig for months. Come along. Bring a smock. And word has just broken that the other band on the bill will be The Yah Mos Def, "hardcore-inspired hip-hop" from Philly. (Making two hip-hop acts in one night, if you count the earlier Gladstone bill, at Wavelength: Programmer Trevor says "we're trying to repair the damage caused by Michael Richards." Granted, Yah Mos Def are crackers, but doesn't that make it even better?)

Meanwhile, the other days your weekend are your last chance to catch /Dance/Songs/ - see previous post.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 24 at 2:37 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)

 

November 20, 2006

Swan Diving in Canuckistan

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He must have told me, but somehow it evaporated in the brainpan that music writer Michael Barclay (of Exclaim and other publications/broadcasts) had started bloggifying on Radio Free Canuckistan. Mostly he's been publishing transcripts of interviews, which is a fine way to use the medium, and in the past few days he's posted chats with all three principals in Swan Lake - the three terrors outta Frog Eyes, Sunset Rubdown and Destroyer, three of the better songwriters anywhere, let alone in Canada. (Two-thirds of whom you see above.) You probably know that their album Beast Moans is being released tomorrow, but I guarantee you'll know a lot more about it after you read Barclay's smart discussions with the three tricksters, which will be the basis of a Swan Lake feature in an Exclaim yet to come. Previous Barclaytalks on the site include interviews re: Final Fantasy, Torontopia and Bad Bands, so many Zoilus readers should go hang out in his blog-yard.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, November 20 at 5:46 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

November 17, 2006

T-Dot Thrillz: Dance/Songs/! 416!

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As suspected, I've barely had a second for bloggeration this week, or even to update the gig guide - all that will come over the weekend, and I promise never to be so tardy again. But meanwhile, wanted to tell locals two things:

You absolutely gotta see this show called Dance/Songs/ being put on by the mad crazy bright lights at Public Recordings, opening tonight in Toronto and continuing through the next week, choreographed and directed by the sparkling Ame Henderson and featuring the attractive people in the above pic. The music, by Constellation Records character Eric Craven (Hanged Up and other projex), is worth the ticket in itself. If you hate dancing and humour, then close your eyes and soak in the deep sound pool. But if you don't hate, you know, life, then you should also watch what takes place, which is a dance show aimed especially at us - the music nerdz. It's a very light and subtle parody of a rock concert, which treats physical movements as "songs" and the dances as components of a concert set - except where an actual rock group might dive off the speakers or do the splits, this "band" (bande a part) will start pounding their heads against one another's bums, or spinning in figure-skating patterns all over the floor, or otherwise enacting some puzzling ritual in a unique gestural code, with barely a shred of over-earnestness but an out-of-the-blue - and dead sexy - physical confidence and grace.

I had the privilege of being able to watch a rehearsal last weekend, and I look forward to seeing the staged version. So should you. (And you know, I almost never recommend theatre or dance shows here, so take me seriously this time.)

Also I wanted to mention that next week brings the annual 416 improvised-music mini-festival, beginning Wednesday, Nov. 22, at the Tranzac, with a panoply of oddball instruments and askew approaches arrayed as if in a cabinet of wonders. Or something like that.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 17 at 5:14 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

November 14, 2006

And You Can Call Me 'Bitsy Teacup'

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I may not be much on-site the next few days due to a hectic workweek, though I'll check in when I can. A bit of news meanwhile: Eric Warner is bringing recently married and pseudonym-happy couple Avey Tare (David Portner of Animal Collective) and Kria Brekken (Kristin Anna Valtysdottir, ex-of Icelandic band Mum, with whom she's been credited as "Doctess") to play a set at Sneaky Dee's on Nov. 30, along with locals Nifty (Matt Smith) and Tradition (James Klassen). There's a fine live recording of the pair's spooning harmonies and baby-talk poetry here on Alias Pail.

And in less localized events, note that Pere Ubu is appearing this week on Chicago critics Jim Derogatis and Greg Kott's weekly rock-talk show Sound Opinions, broadcast this weekend on various NPR stations and also available as a podcast. One fine day when things are quieter I'll get around to a proper diiscussion of the new Ubu album, Why I Hate Women, which hasn't gotten its fair share of attention but, when it has, like most new Ubu albums in recent years, also has been a bit occluded by overgeneralized praise.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 14 at 11:42 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

November 10, 2006

Ellen Willis

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A model of the culture (and music) writer as social critic, and much more besides, Ellen Willis died yesterday at age 64 of lung cancer. Little I could say here in haste could do her justice, but the way that she balanced her insistence on pleasure and freedom with her feminist vigilance on fairness and frankness, her suspicion of all paternalisms (especially of the state variety), and her attention to the detail of the resulting complexity, remain exemplary.

There's a starting point here, but her best work is in her published collections of essays. (The best of which, Beginning to See the Light, seems sadly to be out of print. Hopefully someone will correct that now.)

I'm sure there will be many eloquent testimonials in the coming days from those who lived, worked, thought and struggled alongside her, as well as the many people she inspired.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 10 at 6:33 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

Monsieur Chenaux's Musical Microscope

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I have an interview today in The Globe and Mail with guitarist, composer, improvisor and songwriter Eric Chenaux, mostly about his new disc Dull Lights.

Eric opens tonight at the Music Gallery for the Icelandic-American free-jazz-math-rock Tyft Trio. And he plays Tuesday at the Tranzac as part of Drumheller, who are releasing their great new second disc, Wives.

Seeking change and continuity too

CARL WILSON
The Globe & Mail Review
Nov. 10, 2006

Eric Chenaux's compact, bearded and bespectacled face has the kind of far-off squint you might see in a microbiologist who has spent hours peering into drops of pond water to track squiggly single-celled organisms in their protozoan routines.

Or in a carport tinkerer who toils with tweezers to twist tiny coils of copper and aluminum into circuits that come to crackle with an unwholesome intelligence.

Or even in a mushroom-perching caterpillar who has in mind several great jokes about cosmic entropy, but can't give away the punchlines, for they would fizzle in the parched air of language.

What you glimpse on his mug is what you get in his music, an overlooked trove of some of the most mesmerizing, elusive, made-in-Canada sounds of the past decade.

First in Toronto post-punk bands such as Phleg Camp and then in an array of improvising new-music groups, the thirtysomething guitarist's playing has become instantly recognizable. It teeter-totters a spiky course between generous melody and a more reluctant syntax, like Sanskrit read phonetically by a humpback whale, like Irish whisky with a crab-nebula chaser.

It's rare for a musician to have a style so distinct that is also hugely flexible. Never settling down, it is always at home, in an introspective love ode as much as an octave-crunching, avant-swing-jazz romp. That diversity also helps explain why a wider listenership hasn't gotten a bead on him.

This week, Toronto audiences will have the opportunity to hear Chenaux in two especially beneficial settings.

Tonight at the Music Gallery, he opens for the visiting Tyft Trio, whose members hail from Iceland and Brooklyn and smash hybrid New York jazz against brute rock riffs. Chenaux will play and sing songs from his recent Constellation Records release, Dull Lights.

In the album notes, he says these pieces "shape-shift from tender jazz standards to bossa to fried folk to meaninglessly romantic balladry. Sometimes these same songs are re-baked as modal tunes for guitar, banjo, drums, swinging speakers and wah-wah pedals . . . and become near-covers of themselves."

This open-ended approach has sources as varied as Celtic folk, medieval polyphony, jazz singers such as Betty Carter and pop interpreters like Willie Nelson. It also can frustrate admirers of Chenaux's wistful songwriting, who sometimes lament that he has never recorded tunes such as the new album's Weather the Wind or However Wildly We Dream in a more direct, concise form that new listeners could quickly grasp.

In an exchange this week, he explained it as a direct outgrowth of his tastes as creator, performer and listener. He's interested, he said, "in making a song that is itself and not really dependent on one arrangement or another. Something with some room in it. . . . As a player, I try to make something happen in that room. In the details. As a listener, I love a good song with something happening in it."

As well, most of his songs were written originally for other singers, for "muses" such as ex-partner Michelle McAdorey (with whom he made two luminous albums, some day to be recovered as lost classics) and frequent collaborator Ryan Driver.

"When I went to sing some of these songs for Dull Lights, it felt like I was singing their songs," he said. "And that again gave me room to experiment with the performance."

Besides, he added, "I improvise detail more effectively than I could ever compose it."

He'll do both at the Tranzac Club on Tuesday, at the launch of Wives, the second album by Drumheller. This jazz-based ensemble matches him with some of the other standout Toronto composer-improvisers of his generation, bassist Rob Clutton, drummer Nick Fraser, saxophonist Brodie West and trombonist Doug Tielli.

Begun at Fraser's instigation in 2004, Drumheller put out a solid but somewhat hastily recorded eponymous debut that year. But on Wives, Chenaux said, "we sound more like a band."

Which is typical understatement. The "deep pocket" of the Fraser-Clutton rhythm section permits the horns and guitar to slink up and pitch each other around lampposts, while never losing their footing -- slipping a contemporary, lighthearted experimentalism into the polychromatic-swing lineage of Duke Ellington and Sun Ra.

The cohesion is all the more impressive when you consider the band has been dispersed for much of the past year, while West spent most of his time in Amsterdam.

Chenaux, Tielli and Ryan Driver are also busy with their distort-o-pop trio, the Reveries, and plan a live disc and a box set of covers of Sade, Willie Nelson, Prince and Nick Cave in 2007 (on the Rat-Drifting label that Chenaux runs with another close associate, Martin Arnold).

And after that? Like most top-flight explorers, Chenaux never worries much about destinations. He's content with his long-time day job at the scholarly used bookstore Atticus on Harbord Street. When pressed to name an ambition, he said simply: "Continuing. With all the difference, change and hope that may include."

A continuity heard in every note he plays.

Eric Chenaux opens for Tyft Trio tonight at the Music Gallery, St. George the Martyr Church, 197 John St., 8 p.m., $5-$15, 416-204-1080. Drumheller plays the Tranzac Club on Nov. 14, 292 Brunswick Ave., 9 p.m., $8.

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 10 at 3:13 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

'All my bulbs are burned out,
and cheery aunts and uncles are just rolling in,
and being like, "Where can I store this ham?"
and "Here's some harvest-themed centerpieces
for your table." And I'm like, "What tables?" '

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Lots of people have been interviewing Joanna Newsom this week, as the official release date of Ys finally draws nigh, but for the most part, read one you've read them all - largely due to her demanding email interviews, as discussed when I interviewed her last month. And the exception that proves the rule is this cover piece from Stomp & Stammer, an interview that was conducted by phone and is human and digressive and colourful and a million megawatts the brighter for it. Truly worthwhile and illuminating on her conception of Ys - confirming much of what I've come to think about it, and recommended for those finding its russian-doll shell hard to crack.

(Peli, I'm not including you in that, but I would say that your anxieties over Ys seem exaggerated; they should be relieved by the thought that this is not a restatement of poetics on her part but a departure into a particular form for one long personal piece. Wait until the next disc before beginning to draw bigger conclusions, especially since you say you like Ys.)

Honourable mentions must go, though, to Mike Powell's funny and 3/4 right-on review in Stylus, as well as to the Under the Radar interview, not in itself the bestest of interviews (another e-mailure), but one containing this exchange, which I have subtitled, "Trussed Up! How Style-Goober Rock Critics Ruined My Wardrobe," and which really deserves to be anthologized somewhere. Like here. Like now:

UTR: On style and persona. From the Renaissance portrait painting that adorns the cover of the new album to the elf boots, you have a distinct style that permeates your music, both within the actual songs and in the packaging of you as an artist. That is, Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times called your songs "weird antiques, rescued from some extraordinary attic" and your aesthetic persona seems to match that spot-on. I suppose what I am really trying to find out in the above is how aware are you of your own persona? Is it conscious effort to construct an image, a persona, or is this just more or less who you would be with-or-without a professional recording contract?

Newsom: What elf boots? No, seriously, a lot of things get written about my clothes that ain't true. Like, I just played keyboards with my boyfriend's band, in Austin, and afterwards Pitchfork reviewed the show and said something like, I don't know, I was wearing my "trademark renaissance sleeves" or something. I was just wearing some vintage dress from the '30s, I guess it had voluminous sleeves or something, but, I don't know, 'twarent remotely renaissancey. Anyway, that's neither here nor there.

But it bugs me because I'm really into clothes and design and so forth but definitely not into, like, "costuming" or constructing a persona through clothing. There's a silhouette and style I favor, in the way that most girls come to favor a silhouette and style, and I've favored it for years, and it does sometimes involve some volume in the sleeves and a belted waist, but it also often involves blue jeans and shitkickers. I'm sorry to say this, but, in my opinion, music writers - most of whom are dudes - often don't seem qualified to make sweeping statements about someone's style; it comes off clumsy and ill-informed, since most of these dudes don't really spend much time thinking about girls' clothing or paying attention to what girls are wearing on the street. I'm not saying they should think about that stuff but it's annoying to hear some people make sartorial calls with the same suggestion of authority with which they might analyze your music.

I went to this big vintage store in LA once - one of these joints that hang clothes on the wall with little signs, like, "70's Dior Smoking" and so forth - and up there was a little Gunne Sax dress, and the sign said "Joanna Newsom dress." Blech! And my friend Jamie has forwarded me similar shit on eBay, people selling dresses and labeling them that way. It's caused me to be sort of self-conscious about wearing certain things that I used to wear all the time. I've given away a lot of clothes because I feel weird wearing them now. Before I ever put out records, I dressed a little flamboyantly, but I don't like the degree to which people take that stuff into account when listening to your music. I think on some level I might have toned things down for that reason.

Achhh, snap! In retrospect, I am astounded no female musician has made this point quite this way before.

PS: Do not read the recent crap in the Village Voice about Newsom, which is self-congratulatory and gossipy goop and left me with a sulphurous feeling all through my torso and up my sinuses. Growl.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 10 at 12:14 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (15)

 

November 9, 2006

T-Dot Thrillz: Local Aktion Gruppen

Some civic-minded announcements for T-dottopians:

Is Queen Street Dead? followed by A Funeral For A Building: Lecture Panel @ 3:15 pm at the Gladstone Hotel in the Melody Bar, moderated by Misha Glouberman with Roberta Brandes Gratz (NYC urban critic, author of The Living City: Thinking Small in a Big Way), Michael Toke (artist, Bohemian Embarrassment), and Margie Zeidler (creator of 401 Richmond). Followed by a Public Performance at the Corner of Queen W & Abell Street
with Jessica Rose, the Residents of 48 Abell and you. Presented by Toronto Alternative Art Fair International.

The performance will involve an attempt to form a record-setting-sized human chain wrapping its arms around the artists' live-work space 48 Abell St. Recommended dress: Funeral garb. But the panel seems especially noteworthy - anyone who's looked at the plans for the Bohemian Embassy, with its intent to tower five times the height of any other building in the area, knows that the title is not necessarily entirely alarmist.

Also, in advance of this Monday's municipal election: Yes, the mayoral contest is a foregone conclusion, but not so the city-council fight in your ward. If you're still making up your mind, there's useful information in the survey conducted by Artsvote - where do your candidates stand on culture issues? Or, more telling, could they not even be bothered to get off their asses to answer the question, demonstrating contempt for voters who care about culture? Check it out.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, November 09 at 4:14 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

November 8, 2006

First, We Take Putnam County ...
Then We Take the Shadow World!

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Above left, Orleans' 1976 album Waking and Dreaming, with new congressman John Hall the naked guy in the centre. Of all the other naked guys. And above right, a photo that I think might be Pat Patrick with the Sun Ra Arkestra in 1968... unless it's Charles Davis? Photo by Lee Santa.

A couple of musical grace notes to this very good day (Gin for Rummy! Senate on the verge! Bernie Sanders! Et! And cetera!):

When former Orleans singer and No Nukes benefit concert organizer John Hall made an unexpected breakthrough in winning a Congress seat last night, he didn't just add a delightfully fromage-aroma'd 1970s rock star to the legislature - he also became perhaps the first ex-music critic to hold U.S. federal office. (Any others?) According to E&P;, Hall was once a writer for Crawdaddy, penning among other things a cover feature on Stevie Wonder.

It's also, of course, sweet revenge for the Bush campaign using Orleans' Still the One as a campaign song in the 2004 election - an appropriation that drew Hall's heated objections. It's almost as if Springsteen had run in the midterms in the eighties to get his own back from Ronald Reagan after the Born in the USA debacle. (More: The Nation pre-analyzes Hall's win.)

More amazing yet, it turns out that Deval Patrick, who's just become the first black governor of Massachusetts, is the son of baritone saxophonist (Laurdine) Pat Patrick, who played with Coltrane, Monk and Mongo Santamaria among others, but mostly in the Sun Ra Arkestra from 1954 until his death in 1991. Boston's Weekly Dig ran a good piece about the connection. Lest you have any starry-eyed idealizations of what it would like to be the kidlet of an Arkestra-naut - sounds like Deval's childhood flat-out sucked. Because surely only the happiest, most adjusted of men would join an all-male semi-secret society devoted to playing the drunken-elephant-honking, parade-band anthems of a guy who steadfastly claimed to be an angel from Saturn. No escapist urges there. Talk about fatherhood material. But Pat was a great baritone player, often doubling with the somewhat better-known (and still living, I think) Charles Davis. (See here for a discussion of their joint influence.)

Perhaps Deval will bring some of his dad's originality and improvisational flexibility to Beacon Hill. His own biography, which starts on the south side of Chicago, sure makes it seem that he's got some of those traits.

(PS: None of the above is meant to imply that the Dems aren't still 90 per cent bleah. But at least for today, all is forgiven: Hip hip hoorah for the lesser of two bleahs!)

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, November 08 at 1:54 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)

 

November 7, 2006

High School is from Mars,
College is from ...
Some Other Galaxy, apparently

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While we're on the subject of "young adult" fiction: I'm increasingly inclined to agree with Peli about the dead end into which Veronica Mars has backed itself: It remains among the best-written and best-acted programs on broadcast television, moment to moment - but the undercarriage came rattling off along the way. It's much the same dilemma that VM's most obvious predecessor, Buffy, ran into: While the writers understand exactly how to use high school as a metaphoric microcosm (in Buffy's case, mostly a psychological one; in VM, mostly a sociological one), nobody seems to be able to find a way to do the same with university.

One mistake was shifting the thematic gravity from class to gender; if they'd been able to keep the focus on class, there would be novel stories to be told about college, on a level hardly ever talked about. There could be classic town/gown tension. The Kanes could try to manipulate the research agenda on one side; the custodial staff (including Weevil) could go on strike on the other; and Veronica would walk the borderlines in each case, as she always has. Instead, they've wandered into the bog of so-called satire of so-called political correctness - a portrait about a decade out of date. (Also, since when do people go to university and start dressing more conservatively, as Veronica has this season? Is it Betty Mars now? Lame.)

This is odd, given that most TV writers have been to college themselves - surely they have some thoughts about it, the way they do about high school? It seems to be the fear that it can't be universalized, that whatever meaning one can make of college would be too implicitly intellectual and thus "elitist," unless you stick to frat parties. It might be that the meaning and nature of higher education is utterly vague and unclear in the public mind - post-secondary ed. being the function that brutally separates the managerial class from the sub-managerial, and yet also being one of the primary sources of dissent and analysis, is a hard contradiction to churn into film noir-lite metaphorical buttermilk, with or without flies.

The only university show I can think of that wasn't just the continuation of a high-school show was Undeclared - which was really Freaks & Geeks redux with replacement characters. And how many genuinely good movies on the subject are there, even? Animal House-alikes still dominates the genre. There's a plethora and panorama of high-school flicks and office comedies - but very little about the mysterious process that gets people from A to B. Gee, it's almost as if it were too close to home.

I'm still more hopeful than Peli is that VM's problem is only a phase: They haven't finished even the first of the three stories planned for this season, and the drifting sensation is arguably an accurate representation of the feeling of the real-life transition from high school to college; perhaps Veronica is just getting her post-secondary sea legs. So while I'm not optimistic, I'm not giving up.

If you haven't seen at least Season 1, for damn sure get the DVD and get schooled, so to speak. But it does seem unlikely that VM will ever again threaten The Wire's berth as best-show-on-television, as it did two years ago.

Later (and with more difficulty): Telling Peli why he is wrong about Ys.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, November 07 at 2:28 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)

 

November 6, 2006

If this Bookmobile is Rockin'...

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Ninja High School @ North York library, as snapped by Rock Paper Pixels.

The North York Central Library show featuring Blocks artists Final Fantasy, Hank, Ninja High School, The Creeping Nobodies and Bob Wiseman on the weekend was a blast, although I was disappointed that the mix of the audience was a bit more on the side of college-kid migratees up from downtown, outnumbering the teens from the area. Maybe it was a bad idea to distribute any tix through the downtown libraries? Also, maybe better to run earlier in the evening: A 7 o'clock start time probably would have made a big difference to the under-16s. (An afternoon show would be even better from that p.o.v., but in a way, less satisfying as a twist-of-context for the library.) The introductions of the bands by tiny little library-loving teens, however, were priceless. And Matt Collins of NHS's skintight caramel-coloured bear costume was, uh, jawdroppingly squicky.

Awesome too was the neon-lime pamphlet they were distributing at the event called "MaKe SomE NoIse!: Music Books for Youth," which alongside a bunch of regular non-fic music books and bios, exposed a whole planet's worth of YA (young adult) fiction with musical themes whose existence I should have but never did suspect. Must reads among them, which I promise I am not making up:

Born to Rock, Gordon Korman: "Leo Caraway, president of the young Republicans and future Harvard student, is shocked to discover that he is the son of King Maggot, the lead singer of a popular, destructive punk-rock band called Purge."

Tribute to Another Dead Rock Star, Randy Powell: "For a tribute to his dead rock-star mother, 15-year-old Grady returns to Seattle, where he faces his mixed feelings for his retarded younger half-brother, Louie, while pondering his own future."

Heavy Metal and You, Christopher Krovatin: "Sam begins losing himself when he falls for a preppy girl who wants him to give up getting wasted with his friends and give up his passion for heavy metal music."

Fat Kid Rules the World, K.L. Going: "Seventeen-year-old Troy, depressed, suicidal and weighing nearly 300 pounds, gets a new perspective on life when a homeless teenager who is a genius on guitar wants Troy to be the drummer in his band."

There are a dozen more, but this one really can't be beat for total bafflement and gratuitous yet misspelt Thin Man reference:

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: "High school student Nick, the only straight member of a queercore band, asks Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes in order to avoid his toxic ex-girlfriend." (Uh, why doesn't Nick just pretend to be queer for five minutes instead?)

It seems clear now that there is no point made in any article of music criticism that could not be made better and more effectively in a 130-page Young Adult novel. Who's with me?

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, November 06 at 7:58 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (21)

 

No Comment?

Hey all - we here at Zoilus HQ have been implementing a new filtering system to weed out noisome comment-box-spam. It is working with such an eerie efficiency that it prompts me to ask - has anyone tried to post a comment that didn't show up in the past few days? If so, my apologies - and please let me know.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, November 06 at 5:32 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

November 3, 2006

Gonzo Gig Guide

I'd wanted to put up a discursive post today, but time was eaten up by a big Toronto Gig Guide update. The calendar now runs through to the end of December, though most of that month is fairly skeletal. One thing I've wanted to mention is that I am putting up readings, lectures, even theatre that seems relevant to me, as well as concerts, but only at my discretion. Feel free to send such things to me, but I won't promise they'll be listed - I do try to put all music gigs up on the guide. (Submissions to the listings always welcome via email.)

Note tonight's Simon Finn and DJ/Rupture gigs, and November 26's all-day launch at the Gladstone for the Coach House anthology State of the Arts: Living with Culture in Toronto (uTOpia, vol. 2), to which I contributed. It'll feature panels all afternoon and music all night in cooperation with Wavelength. More on this in the near future.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 03 at 5:51 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)

 

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