Wednesday, October 18, 2006

An Introduction

Good evening. My name is James Howard, and this is going to be my blog.

There are a few things about me that I should establish, first off, just so you know what sort of an endeavor this is going to be. I was born in Winnipeg in 1984 and, aside from a few years spent in a very tiny Nova Scotia town, have lived here all my life. I currently live in a small townhouse, with three (soon to be four) other people, near Perimeter Highway in the very south end of the city. I still love this city, and -- as most people who love this city do -- I have no idea why.

I listen to a lot of music, and I grew up in a family of musicians. My favourite recording artist is Peter Gabriel. I'm a singer-songwriter, bassist and guitarist; I don't have anybody else to play with. (It would be nice to change that.)

Five months ago I graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Double Honours degree in History and Political Studies. My current employment is as a barback and overnight front desk clerk in a two-and-a-half-star Winnipeg hotel and bar -- and it is, without exaggeration, the best job that I've ever had. No employer in Winnipeg has ever offered me greater than $8.50 an hour, and in fact the job offers have been getting worse since I graduated. (It would be nice to change that.)

One of my oldest friends (and a girl who I'd been occasionally smitten with, secretly and not-so-secretly, but never mind) told me just last week that she's moving to Calgary in a few months; she's tired of not being able to walk outside on her own safely, she's tired of having nowhere to go with friends, and she's tired of the entire collapsing city in general. She's already arranged her roommate, plane ticket and employment. This was the first I'd heard of any of it, and all things considered I think I could have taken it a bit better than I did.  (Now that I think about it -- of my five closest friends, three of them are moving away within the next year.)  But, as many things have of late, it got me thinking.

 After graduating from high school, I couldn't afford to pursue post-secondary education anywhere else; now that I've graduated from university, I can't afford to live anywhere else. Here I stand as a young graduate looking for some reason, any reason, to stay in Winnipeg -- and still coming up with nothing no matter how many times I come back to it.  It would be nice to change that.

And, now I have a weblog. I love writing, even though nobody's been willing to hire me for it, and I'm hoping that an outlet like this will give me time to figure out what if anything is going to keep me in the city that I'd gladly live in if it would let me.

This was all a very long way of saying that I live in Winnipeg, love music, recently graduated with History and Political Studies arts degrees, do not have a lot of money at all, and have no idea what I'm doing here. So! What am I going to be writing about? Well, here's what I've had in mind.

-- One does not graduate from university with a Political Studies degree and then not read newspapers. And, sometimes, a brother can't read an article without wanting to talk about it. Thing is, where do you go to express your ideas about local developments? Aside from the tiniest of space available on Letters to the Editor pages, there is precious little room for anybody to talk about what they like and dislike about Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Free Press, bless its soul, has been doing its best to spur citizen dialogue about the upcoming civic elections -- but that's a very new development, for a single event, that many people remain unaware of.

This is something I've been thinking about off and on for a while now, actually. An increasing disconnect between popular media and community interest has been the general trend across recent years -- as anybody who used to watch the local news on MTN A-Channel CityTV can attest to. If you hadn't been watching the local news on CityTV, don't bother trying now; they quietly cancelled it nearly a year ago. Hence my concern.

Media in Winnipeg, like media almost everywhere, has steadily lost the local focus and character that engages citizens and gives them something to unite around. And it's obvious we all miss this local connection, as has been shown by the recent buzz in local circles about the excellent RetroWinnipeg collection. Was it perfect television back then? Of course not; in fact, it was pretty bad sometimes. But it was our television, damn it, and it gave us something to enjoy as being distinctly Winnipeggian.

I feel, and I dare any of you to argue with me about this, that Winnipeg would be a far greater city to live in if it could better express its local character. And that's why this local character feels like talking about what's going on in the city. You'll humour me, I hope.

-- Me being me, this site will frequently double as an MP3 blog. It's no secret to anybody even passingly familiar with me that I listen to a lot of music, and one of my favourite things in the world to do is twig people onto new artists they would never have found otherwise.

I am a man who scours the internet for music as much as I possibly can, and a great many MP3 blogs out there have been very good to me; I figure it's my turn to pass along the favour. (This could be considered 'paying it forward', if anybody had given a crap about that movie.) I can tell you from experience and research that a great many artists I love, especially Manitoban and Canadian artists, get little or none of the attention they deserve -- and I probably can't do much to change that, but hey! I figure, if somebody else ends up liking them, that's good enough for me.

Now, keep in mind, I'm an eclectic sort. (This is a nice way of saying that I listen to way too many things and that I am crazy.) I'll be writing a lot about a lot of different music, all kinds of stuff from all kinds of places; please, do give everything a shot on here.

-- Speaking of the local music scene! I know as well as anybody that there's never too much to do in Winnipeg on any given day, but it seems there's always one or two things coming up that people just never find out about in time. Uptown aside, major concerts are the only things that ever get mentioned properly in Winnipeg -- and then only because people are aghast at the increasingly ludicrous prices at the MTS Centre. (Sorry, did you pay eighty dollars to go watch the Black Eyed Peas ruin popular music?)

I don't get to go to many concerts any more ('cause, as I'd mentioned, I've been working overnight shifts), but that shouldn't stop other people from going to things that are going to be awesome. If there's something coming up that I think people should know about, I want to be able to tell them when it is -- and I'll try to tell them why they should know about it, too, because that's what I usually have to do anyway when I bring these things up in conversation. (An example: one of my absolute favourite concerts was Echo & the Bunnymen, playing one Halloween at the Pyramid Cabaret for $25. Almost every time I mention this, people ask me who Echo & the Bunnymen are. Then I quietly start making noises of exasperation in my head.  I figure this will probably be easier.)

-- You probably don't need to be told this now that I've revealed that I listen to Echo & the Bunnymen, but I'll go ahead and write it anyway: I can be sort of geeky sometimes. Or, given the right material, I can be really geeky. I've been playing video games since I was two (!!) years old; my favourite movie is This is Spinal Tap; hell, I still keep abreast of professional wrestling from time to time. (A tip: North American wrestling sucks nowadays, and you should really be watching Mexican lucha libre wrestling. Hey, I warned you I can be geeky!)

Now, it must be noted that what used to be considered geeky is far more prevalent and mainstream in our modern times than ever before; I can guarantee that you're far more likely to overhear a conversation on the bus about the Xbox 360 than about, say, Jerzy Kosinski. (Read The Painted Bird, by the way.) Regardless, what I'm getting at is that you shouldn't be too surprised if one day I'm talking about the prolonged economic degredation of our downtown core and then the next day I start babbling about Mario playing soccer. I am what I am.

-- And, occasionally, amidst the local news and the music and the geeky stuff, I'll be writing more personal sort of entries. You might read them, but more likely you'll probably ignore them unless they have an MP3 in them or something. That's cool; sometimes writing something is more important than having it read. You can totally just bear with me.

Anyway! So that's what I'm going to be up to. Subsequent entries are going to be a lot shorter, I swear.

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