Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Innocent" Ears

You said you'd always love me
You said you'd be my friend
You had your fingers crossed
You stuck it to me in the end

Innocence ... it's all you'll ever plead

Ah, Harlequin ... rescuing the pride of Winnipeg rockers in the 80s!

Burton Cummings was flying solo; The Guess Who were done; BTO was on the verge of paying the principal on the "Overdrive" ... what were the odds a Winnipeg band would ever pull us back into the arena for a rockin' good time?

The guitar-based, synth-friendly Harlequin accomplished that very stunt with mullet-coiffed élan.

Last night I was walkin'
And I, I saw you with my friend again
And you weren't both talking
Least I don't try to pretend

Yesterday as I wheezed to the melody it occurred to me that "innocence" was pretty much required from the listener for this song to work its magic. When I was 15 this was just the song to get me roller-skating: at the time, the odds of witnessing the object of my desire holding hands with any one of my friends were actually pretty good -- better, in fact, than my own. Now, almost 30 years later, this sort of song with its stilted lyrics would prompt me to switch stations.

In fact, it didn't take 30 years for my taste in music to change. The next track chosen by the randomizer was "Dirty Pool" by Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble. Same subject matter, better execution and only three short years' difference between 'em.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Post-Q Thoughts

CBC Radio One is an example of our tax-dollars being put to the best possible use in a given medium, and Q, as hosted by Jian Ghomeshi, is the cream of the crop. It may be "lighter" in content than Ideas, but it is every bit as thought-provocative. Consider the Nov 27 show (pod) which features back-to-back interviews with Gene Simmons and David Foster. Simmons has taken it upon himself to save the Canadian record industry; Foster took off for LA to become the hit-maker of the 80s and 90s.

Two impressions from the show:

(1) I don't know how this happens, but despite the fact that Simmons should be the dreariest (if not loathsome) personality on the planet, I end up (as ever) quite charmed by his performance. I'm not sure what he's likely to accomplish in his latest gambit, but I suppose we owe him at least some credit for the longevity of RUSH: Geddy Lee has said that opening for KISS in the 70s was all the education RUSH needed to survive. Lee & Co. saw firsthand that while the other KISS members were partying and packing their faces with drugs, Simmons was mostly sober and fastidiously working the business (when he wasn't, erm, "working" the groupies).

(2) In the musical component of the Foster interview, Foster off-handedly says he had to "do the math" before approaching the piano -- a statement that spoke volumes to me. I was a disaster at math all through my primary education. For reasons that still elude me, that all changed in my 30s. And music, at least as it is appreciated in the West, is chiefly a mathematical exercise: it can be basic math like Hank Williams and KISS, or it can be the more complex stuff like late Coltrane, or Branford Marsalis. Either way, the performer abandons rigor and structure at his (or her) own peril.

Addendum: There is a subtext to these conversations that I think is worth making explicit. Ghomeshi was, in a former life, one of the front-men for Moxy Früvous (w). I was loitering in the Toronto music scene back in the day when Ghomeshi's band was sharing the stage with The Barenaked Ladies. At the time I was sure Moxy Früvous would soar to much greater heights than the Ladies: when they both participated in public workshops, MF would improvise songs that were catchier, cleverer and funnier than TBL. MF eventually cultivated a respectable "college" crowd. As for the Ladies, well ....

Anyway, when Ghomeshi challenges Simmons on his notion of how Canadian musicians need to change the challenge arises from his history as a performer. I'm sure he has some trenchant thoughts re: the desirability and nature of fame and fortune. I'd love to hear him expound, but this show is not his platform -- he is only its able host.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Whither The (Male) Jazz Singer?

"A Lot Of Livin' To Do" as performed by Sammy Davis Jr. came up today, and it got me wondering: where are the male jazz singers? I could name a dozen living female jazz singers, but the first and only male name that comes to mind is Michael Bublé -- a singer who, like Diana Krall, I have little use for, and thus hesitate to acknowledge as being in the "jazz" camp.

Then again, had I been a little more sentient when he was alive I might have been reluctant toward Sammy, too.

Sammy gets the jazz award in hindsight. The guy had some kind of attitude when it came to music. Where other people might try something, he DID it. In fact he often did something he wasn't asked to do -- like give Nixon a hug -- but even that earns him hindsight kudos. Bang bang, daddy-o.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Groove That Saved The Song That Saved My Life

Today's exercise with the randomizer produced two tracks with simple but delightful grooves that generate their own electricity:

"It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" -- AC/DC
"Found A Job" -- Talking Heads

"Long Way" is one of those rock songs that gets me nudging the volume knob a touch higher, to give it "that extra push over the cliff." What's the attraction? Other than bagpipes, nothing more than a stripped-down Chuck Berry groove that just won't quit. It's not just my favorite AC/DC song, it's my favorite AC/DC video as well: Bon the Falstaffian clown is still alive, and the other four are young enough to throw everything they've got into making a "concert" on a flatbed truck look like it's a heap of fun. And did I forget to mention the bagpipes?

The "Long Way" riff is the easiest thing for a first-time guitar-player to learn, which gives it an instant nostalgia factor. The groove the propels Talking Heads' "Found A Job" is similarly straight-forward -- two bar-chords, A7 and D7 -- but physically trickier to master. In fact, the dexterity it requires never really occurred to me until I saw David Byrne strumming it on his Strat in the movie. His strumming wrist is as fluid as the rest of his body, making it all look very easy -- for him. That visual memory of Byrne's rhythmic panache adds to the song's groove. It's also got funny lyrics that seem to have pretty much become the stock and trade of this world-wide web we're on.

The other song courtesy of the randomizer was The Kinks' "Destroyer." Nothing particularly groovy about that tune, but I've always admired the band's audacity, harnessing new lyrics to a former top-ten hit ("All Day And All Of The Night") and nearly getting the same slot 15 years later.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cycling With A Zombie

The recent snowfall has forced me to move the Jake indoors again. I very much prefer the road to the trainer, but I know from personal experience what a terrible toll salted roads take on a bicycle -- even one with an aluminum frame. The one benefit to indoor pedaling: listening to music and podcasts.

I went with music yesterday, and the randomizer kicked out:

"The Great American Nightmare" -- Rob Zombie
"LA Is Where I Belong" -- Peachfuzz
"Manteca" -- Dizzy Gillespie/Funky Lowlives Remix
"The Man Without Fear" -- Drowning Pool, with Rob Zombie

As my late father-in-law was fond of quoting, "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places!" I have a rather soft spot in my heart for Mr. Zombie. My first exposure to his vocal stylings was at the closing of Daredevil. I was staring at the screen, trying to put my finger on how a movie could be so true to its source material and yet feel so soulless, when Drowning Pool came on with their cascading guitar riff, stopped, waited for Zombie's shout: "GO!!" I actually laughed and clapped my hands when it was over. Then I got to my feet and bought the soundtrack. Then I bought Past, Present & Future. After years of dismissing Metal as witless and stoopid, I was now thoroughly charmed by its witless stupidity.

This really was the perfect soundtrack for comic books. For the next few years after that moment, whenever I took the girls tobogganing they could be counted on to cheer, "C'MON, C'MON, C'MON -- DAREDEVIL!!" Now they can be counted on to roll their eyes, and request a change to Mama Mia.

Yes, well: two -- or more -- can play at the eye-rolling game.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Random Tracks

The randomizer chose some surprisingly heavy tracks, considering this was a "light"* day for me:

"Bon Temps Rouler" -- T Bone Burnett
"Sweet Child Of Mine" -- Guns n' Roses
"The Criminal Inside Me" -- R.L. Burnside

The session did conclude on a light note:

"Everybody Wants Everything" -- Carolyn Arends

Post-mortem: I only have three GnR tracks on my player, but they come up with such frequency I'm thinking of pulling them. Have to admit, however, that Slash knew what it took to build a rock 'n' roll guitar solo. His playing on this track is elemental, sure, but it works brilliantly within the song's structure.

The randomizer also seems to like R.L. Burnside. I do too, for the most part. A friend was playing A Ass-Pocket Of Whiskey at a party. Someone asked him what he thought of Burnside. "He sounds like Robert Johnson screaming from the depths of Hell," said my friend.

The questioner was taken aback. "I kind of like Burnside," he said.

I guess the questioner missed the note of admiration in my friend's assessment.

Some months back I rented and watched Black Snake Moan chiefly because the filmmaker (Craig Brewer) cited Burnside as the basis for Samuel Jackson's character. The film is unintentionally risible in spots, but not without value: Sam Jackson communicates exactly why playing filthy blues in a juke-joint is the sole means of his salvation. Not many films do a good job of capturing that quality: at the moment, The Commitments is the only other flick that comes to mind.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Random Tracks

"Tush" -- ZZ Top
"I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" -- ZZ Top
"Gone Gone Gone" -- Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
"Best Of My Love" -- The Commodores
"Take On Me" -- a-ha
"Someday I Will Kill You" -- Supersuckers

The inclusion of a-ha was a bit of a buzz-kill. Jet Li contends that happy music inspires better work-outs. "Take On Me" qualifies as a "happy song," but none of the (entirely pleasant) memories it conjures add to my iron-heaving will-power. Quite the opposite, really. Thank God for the Supersuckers.

Other songs: Chuck Klosterman once proposed that we respond to and remember bits of songs, as oppose to their whole. He enumerated several such bits -- the bagpipes in "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock 'n' Roll)" by AC/DC was the only one I remember. I think this theory, like so many he throws on paper, is half-baked but whimsical enough to stir the magazine reader's imagination. Suspending my criticism for a second longer, I'll propose that the cymbal work in "Gone Gone Gone" by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss is another such "bit." Remarkable how such a simple bit of "tic-tic-tic TSH-TSH-TSH-TSH TSH-TSH-TSH-TSH" gets the blood surging.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thanksgiving Monday, 1:15 - 2:50

In a dry-heave clench of post-Thanksgiving remorse, I pulled a double-shift in exercise. First, the Random Tracks:

"Twist" -- Tones On Tail
"Goodbye Stranger" -- Supertramp
"Country Home" -- Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Then it was off to Wilfred. The song in my head on the way there was "One Long Saturday Night" by BR5-49.

Say, could you point me to the Interesting Music Shoppe?

Closed, of course. Actually, the owner is an avid cyclist -- we talk more about bikes than we do about guitars -- so I suspect he's doing what I'm doing, probably somewhere up the Bruce Trail.

Even with my father-in-law in the hospital, this year's Thanksgiving was an absolute delight in contrast to last year's. The song in my head for the journey home: "What A Good Year For The Roses" -- Elvis Costello.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Random Tracks

A "heavy" day generates a longer list of random selected tracks. My player took it easy on me today, indulging in only a pinch of nostalgia.

"Hero Of Nineteen Eighty Three" -- Peachfuzz
"Damn My Soul" -- Supersuckers
"Immigrant Song" -- Led Zeppelin
"Where's Your Boyfriend At" -- The Yayhoos
"Like A Rocket" -- Reverend Horton Heat
"Fishin' In The Muddy" -- Gurf Morlix
"Gospel Plow" -- Jason & The Scorchers

Gee, after a tracklist like this I wonder why I'm thirsty for a beer?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tuesday, 1:05 - 2:00

The Manilla Valley was one of my father-in-law's favorite sights in the Fall. Whenever I was a passenger in their car and we were passing the valley I could expect the old man to slow down to a crawl, the better to take in the view (and incite drivers behind us to road rage).

Looking at the pictures I've taken I can't get over how inert and pedestrian they are. There are good and bad ways to take landscape shots. These aren't bad, really, just ... there.

Alright, I'll admit it: the above shot is bad.

But then it's also a rare landscape that lends itself to dramatic photos. I suspect most landscapes incite a sense of drama via our capacity to move through them. Perhaps video is the better way to capture some of their emotional impact.

My father-in-law is a preoccupation because his health is very frail. He's been in the hospital for the last four weeks, and administrative staff have made it clear they cannot release him to anything but a long-term care facility. He has said he would rather die, and his body and spirit show every indication that this will be the likely outcome. He alone has emotional clarity in this matter.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Random Tracks: "This Is Me In Grade 11!"

A "light" day, so the track list is short (BTW, I'm serious about "light" -- the bar has 12 1/2 pounds on it):

"Burnin' For You" -- Blue Öyster Cult
"Photograph" -- Def Leppard
"Directory Assistance" -- Barnabas
"Roll With The Changes" -- REO Speedwagon

The randomizer was in a nostalgic mood, it seems. Just looking at this list is enough to bring out a rash of facial acne. The Def Lep was the most difficult track to endure, but BÖC and Barnabas were genuine delights. "Burnin' For You" in particular stirred an olfactory memory: the smell of my buddy's Plymouth Duster, an old but reliable slant-six he drove for five or six years. That car had a dusty smell that actually seemed to get worse when the weather was rainy. I recall spending a weekend with him and his cousin, and driving that car through a prairie storm of apocalyptic proportions that brought out all the frogs. Just cruising from Winnipeg to Headingley we must have mowed down 1000 frogs. It just seemed of a piece with the panoply of weirdness that constituted our late adolescence in the early 80s.

Later that night the three of us sat on the front porch, sipping "Pic-a-Pop" as we watched the lightning roll southwest. We didn't have a clue about anything, which was just as well for all concerned. What little knowledge we did possess only got us into trouble.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Thursday, 11:35-12:20

The bridge permitting entrance/exit at the east side of town has finally reopened. I figured lunch time was probably the best time to court disaster with gravel truck drivers and young yahoos driving half-tonnes. Any later and alcohol invariably becomes a factor.

I've avoided the highway to the east of us, and my reasons for doing so were confirmed when I finally traveled it. It is every bit as busy as the highway to the west of us, but it is not so well maintained. The apron to this highway is slighter than the apron to the western highway; it is also a shambles.

I spent the first 25 minutes riding on the left side of that white line -- NOT my preference. Whenever I heard a vehicle come up behind me I resorted to the gravel shoulder. Some spots were treacherously soft. No wipe-outs, and I eventually attained the Manilla Valley.

Vurrey purty, 'n' all, but I think the next time I'll attempt this trip is on a late Sunday morning when traffic is slight and I can chance an extended loop to the south, west, north and back east into town.

Over 400 Tracks To Choose From, And "Random" Gave Me This:

"Monkey With A Gun" -- The Yayhoos
"Snake Drive" -- R.L. Burnside
"Treat Me Right" -- Pat Benatar
"Holy Roller Novocaine" -- The Kings Of Leon
"Kick The Chair" -- Megadeth
"Brother, Where Are You?" -- Oscar Brown, Jr., Matthew Herbert Remix
"Rock Your Ass" -- The Supersuckers

"Brother Where Are You?" came on twice. I suppose if my player is trying to tell me anything it's that I could stand to substitute slower music for some of my, um, harsher tracks.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

(Reluctantly) Pumping Iron

The year I turned 38 was also the year of my very last killer workout routine (this one). I heaved and hoed, and bent myself in unusual shapes in hopes of getting unusual results. And, in fact, the results were impressive -- perhaps more impressive on the bar than they were on my bod, but impressive nonetheless.

As I was taking note of the new records I was setting, the penny slowly dropped: this was as good as I was going to get. Ever. Oh, I could take another stab at it after a two-month lay-off, perhaps paying stricter attention to my diet, but I knew there were aspects in which I had reached my physical limit. My elbows were especially clear on this matter: when it came to that hallmark of masculine oomph, the bench-press, I wasn't up for any further "progress."

When I finished the program, I took a break. The break grew longer than I'd intended, but eventually I dragged myself back into the garage and went through a few routines. And that's roughly what my "pumping iron" amounts to these days: a basic routine that gets the blood flowing and keeps the dust from settling in my joints. Ideally I do this twice a week, with one day heavier than the other. Most workouts last 15-20 minutes; I never break 30.

Five years on, this "program" has succeeded in keeping me fit enough to rake leaves in the fall and sand in the spring. It also allows me the chance to listen to workout music, which leads to my next posting...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Morning, 8:35 - 10:00 a.m.

Cloudy and cool after last night's hard rain. For the first ten minutes of the ride I wondered if my shorts and T-shirt were warm enough, but my body temperature climbed and I was grateful not to be burdened with the hoody.

After a summer of near continuous rain the dirt sideroads have become treacherous for cycling. The roads are washboard rough; the shoulders so soft they absorb and stop a skinny-tired bicycle like the Jake. And so I resort to paved roads -- not my first choice, but really quite fine for an early Sunday morning (no gravel trucks).

It's been over a week since I last hit the road. By exceeding an hour in the saddle I run the risk of pushing my body a little too hard, but it is the right thing to do. There is a level of anxiety that does not get worked out of the body until I hit the one-hour mark. I read in Saturday's Globe & Mail that there were over 300,000 foreclosures in the United States just this August. That's roughly the population of the Winnipeg of my youth (1970s). It's just the beginning, of course. Throw in a presidential run that defies even-tempered analysis and I wonder if an hour and a half will do the trick.

But it does. Then it's off to church, and back home to type this up as I listen to the last 30 minutes of Darko's show. Sundays were made for this.