Friday, February 29, 2008

In Retrospect February Wasn't My Month

Now, I'm a dude who likes to do his taxes as soon as possible just to say that they're done and I don't have to worry about them for another year. I only had one T4 coming this year, as I'd worked for the same employer through the entirety of 2007; surely, I had thought to myself, it'll be here by the end of February. It finally came in the mail today, and the knowledge that the T4 arrived by the end of February is only because February has an extra day this year. But it's progress, at least.

I am also a dude who is looking for work right now, and I was hoping to be employed by the end of February; I have a job interview this coming Monday, March the third, and the reason it's in March is because it's been delayed twice now. But it's progress, at least.

I am also a dude who was hoping to have his two necessary letters of recommendation for graduate school application all set to go by the end of February; I've already succeeded in procuring one, and admittedly I would have the second in my hand by now if I hadn't gotten myself good and distracted with waiting for a T4 that wasn't arriving and looking for employment that ultimately hasn't employed me. But I'm halfway done; that's progress, at least.

Man, the hell with February. But at least we got a new holiday out of it this year! (And yes, on Louis Riel Day I drank steadily and read that book I'd mentioned; it is a very good book, and no doubt the next people who go drinking with me will be hearing plenty about it whether they want to or not.)

Anyway! Enough blathering about myself; there are other things out there to blather about! I should be up to my old tricks around here over the weekend, so drop on by later. I've got a good feeling about March!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Matter of Fact, It's the Only Dance in Cuba

Well, that's that taken care of! A couple of days ago, I had mentioned my difficulty in locating and securing decent free file hosting; it appears I've now found some, and I can operate as such without subjecting my readership to pop-under ads and general slipshoddiness.

So, huzzah! Less hassle involved in music posts! How to commemorate the occasion? How to try out the new host? How, how, how. How to--

Why, of course! Today is Sunday, February 24th, 2008. You remember what that means, right? It means that today marks the final day of Fidel Castro's fourty-nine-year reign as Cuban head of state. Fourty-nine years! Fidel Castro has been in power longer than Barack Obama or Stephen Harper have been alive. Love him or hate him, you know this is important; when a dude spends half a century doing anything on the world stage, much less running a nation, it's going to be notable when he finally retires.

It is popularly reported that Castro is believed to have survived at least 600 (not a typo; six hundred) assassination attempts since his ascension to power in 1959; that works out to 12.24 a year, or roughly one assassination attempt per month (with an extra one thrown in every leap year) for the last five decades. Fourty-nine years of gunshots, explosives, poison pills, gimmicked pens, contaminated wetsuits, booby-trapped mollusks and exploding cigars -- no, I'm not kidding about these -- and after all of that he retires to go home and die peacefully in his sleep someday. What a world!

Today is historic, and with this movement into history comes a shift in popular culture; from this point onward, every reference made to Fidel Castro's Cuba is now outdated and behind the times. Books, magazines, newspapers, comics, movies, television shows -- they weren't outdated yesterday, but by tomorrow they'll be as anachronistic as calling Russia 'the Soviet Union' or calling downtown Winnipeg 'safe'.

So, with that in mind, here are a few songs that just aren't going to mean what they used to any more:

Jay Chevalier and His House Rockers - Castro Rock (Castro Rock, 1960)
[buy compilation | site | bio]

Lord Invader & His Calypso Group - Fidel Castro (Calypso Travels, 1959)
[buy | bio | info | via]

The Skatalites - Fidel Castro (Foundation Ska, 1997)
[buy | site | info | myspace]

Urge Overkill - Sister Havana (Saturation, 1993)
[buy | site | info | myspace | music video -- hoo boy the nineties did not age well]

MP3 posts, you guys! It's good to be doing these again.

I should get working on the next installment of Slurpees and Murder Home Video, but I'll have to think of a topic first; a Homicide Watch doesn't really make sense when there've been no homicides lately. (Although that has not been for lack of effort; the local news has been pretty damn weird over this past month.) Well, we'll see what I come up with.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Does He Do, He Starts Monologuing

I keep meaning to make more MP3 posts, and I keep being dissuaded when my attempts to secure better free file hosting end in continued failure or frustration -- so hell with it! For the moment I'll stick with what I've been using, despite its noticable deficiencies.

I could go on and on about the various pitfalls and pratfalls I've encountered so far -- but for a change of pace, just for the heck of it, let's put aside my rambling about whatever and instead have... songs with other people rambling about whatever!

Lee Hazlewood - Go Die Big City (N.S.V.I.P.'s [Not So Very Important People], 1964)
[fansite | myspace | info | album looooong out of print]

This song would have been perfectly enjoyable by itself, if he'd just launched into it straight out -- but that wasn't Lee Hazlewood's style. Not for his solo works, noooo. Lee Hazlewood wasn't about to let you hear his songs unless he first made sure you knew every detail of the lunatic scenarios he'd already crafted around them in his head.

The story that he spins here is funny and unnerving and surreptiously clever all at once, which was par for the course with the majority of his work. When he died in August of last year, the obituaries tended to describe him as "oddball", "eccentric", "unorthodox" and "quirky"; these are the usual fallback words that the squares use to describe the really interesting people, the ones who cultivate and maintain a tangible streak of batshit insanity throughout their lives. Just a little streak, mind you; not quite enough to get themselves jailed or killed over, but enough that nobody can ever safely claim to have them completely figured out.

I know what's coming every time I listen to this track, but the perfectly droll timing on his deadpan delivery still cracks me up whenever I hear it. And the line "he was a chiropractor who did a lot of heavy thinkin'" -- I would bronze that and hang it on my wall if I could, because that is majesty. I would swipe ideas and concepts from early Lee Hazlewood mercilessly if I thought I could do them any justice; I can't, of course, so it's a moot point. But it's the thought that counts!

R.L. Burnside with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - The Criminal Inside Me (A Ass Pocket of Whiskey, 1996)
[buy | 1999 interview | info]

This is the most badass rambling pseudo-poetic story about an animal kindgom house party that you have ever heard set to music. (And if it isn't, notify me immediately.)

The genesis of this album was everybody involved gathering at Burnside's house somewhere deep in rural Mississippi, getting incalculably drunk, then recording the whole thing in four hours. As such, this is one of the tracks on the album that never actually involves any singing; the Blues Explosion lay down some impressively roughneck fuzz-blues to back up R.L. Burnside as he drinks and tells an increasingly rambling, mostly rhyming story about a particularly hardass monkey who took his lack of a party invitation very poorly and went on a drunken rampage. (He was also the town sheriff, Burnside adds as an afterthought.)

It's unclear whether R.L. actually finishes the story or not; he may be done or he may not be done. We don't find out before Jon Spencer intervenes to try and borrow some money, which you can tell immediately is just going to end in awesomely hilarious failure.

"R.L. -- you got fourty nickels? I need--" "HOW MANY?" "I need fourty nickels for a bag of potato chips, come on man."

Well, it was a nice try. You can't fault him for asking.

The Suicide Machines - 95% of the World is Third World (Bonus Track) (War Profiteering is Killing Us All, 2005)
[buy | label site | info | myspace]

An angry vocalist and an upbeat band is usually a good way to arrange a punk song. Make sure the lead singer is good and grumpy about something, have the other members play something fast and chipper behind him, and away you go.

That's clearly how this one was laid out, and it works perfectly well for exactly half the song. Then the character of the song changes dramatically a minute and seventeen seconds in; for the next thirty-eight straight seconds after that, the lead singer flips a shit and starts rambling about everything he can think of at the moment. American sense of entitlement, disinterest in other cultures, the military, the global media, unemployment, social disconnect, middle-class Americans, big corporations, big government, military bombing operations; surely the only reason he didn't announce the moon landing as a sham and proclaim George Bush's disdain for black people is because he had to stop and breathe in at some point. His bandmates watch him during this, then look at each other in confusion as he continues to talk; as one they give a collective shrug, wait for him to finish, and continue playing on until the end of the song.

The recording finished and the album now complete, the guitarist looks down at his notes and recoils. "Hey!" he exclaims, indignantly. "That was my solo!"

And the band broke up less than a year after this album came out. I'm not suggesting this is actually what happened, I'm just saying that the possibility exists.

It's fun to monologue! Just make sure you're aware of the potential consequences.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why Newspapers Come Out Daily

Hey, guys! Let me pitch this crazy, off-the-wall scenario to you.

Kosovo is a Serbian province, just as it has been for the past sixty-four years; Fidel Castro is the Prime Minister of Cuba for life, just as he has been for the past fifty-nine years; Mexico City reigns as the Guinness World Record holder for the longest consecutive ice-skating human chain, just as it has been for... about six weeks; and in the NHL a five-goal deficit against the New York Rangers is completely insurmountable, just as it has been for the entirety of the franchise's eighty-two years of operation).

Any of that sound familiar? It totally should! Because all of that was common knowledge and accepted to be true -- three days ago.

So in the last three days Kosovo has declared its independence (and seen this declaration recognized by major powers), Fidel Castro has announced his almost-immediate resignation, Winnipeg has (probably) set the new World Record for the longest skate chain, and the New York Rangers have set new records for futility that even the modern-day Toronto Maple Leafs would shake their collective miserable heads at.

What in the world is going on around--it's Tuesday! Would anything else like to happen this week?

I don't know about you guys, but I'm rooting for a breakthrough in cloning house hippos. Science, don't let me down here!

Monday, February 18, 2008

John Mellencamp w/ Tom Cochrane -- MTS Centre, Monday, February 11th, 2008

Well, all right! Louis Riel Day is upon us, and we've already established what my plans are for the day -- but before I get around to that, let's get started on working through the various backlogged items of interest that I've accrued during my extended tour of canine service.

It's not often I do this, so gather around -- I'm about to express some strong civic pride, in the form of an anecdote about a show I went to last week.

This past Monday I was in attendance for the John Mellencamp concert at the MTS Centre; I'm no more familiar with Mellencamp (Cougar-Mellencamp?) than the next twentysomething who's really tired of hearing Our Country in truck ads, but he's had more albums than I've had birthdays and it's usually a safe bet on general principle that you'll get a good show out of a Grammy-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Besides that, Mellencamp wasn't even my primary reason for going; the main draw for me was the opening act, because I believe very strongly that there is no such thing as paying too much money to see Tom Cochrane live.

(Mind you, the last time I saw him in concert was years ago at the Red River Ex, and as such his show was included in the minimum admission -- so I figure I'm running a decent price average on his live performances. Parenthetical aside! Moving on.)

Of course, the problem with Tom Cochrane as an opening act is that you know you aren't going to get enough Tom Cochrane, and sure enough that was the case with this show. My little brother and I spent the drive home alternatingly listing our favorite Cochrane tunes that weren't included -- "He didn't play Paper Tigers!" "He didn't play Pictures from the Edge!" "There was no Just Like Ali!" "Or Good Man Feeling Bad!" "He didn't even play I Wish You Well! How is that possible?" But such are the dangers.

Tom Cochrane is a hometown hero, as we all know, and the crowd of eleven thousand was stoked to see him; the value of playing to your home crowd is that they're going to cheer anything you say, and Tom had a grand time milking the dickens out of this knowledge.

"I grew up fishing at Lynn Lake! I wrote this campfire song about it! Here's Good Times!"
"Minor-league hockey is what keeps our Manitoba communities strong! This one's called Big Leagues!"
"My mother is from Gimli! Manitoba women are tough women! That's why I wrote this next song!"

It was a nice sentiment, but dude, come on. We're already proud of you. My loyalties are secure and unshakeable; you don't need to go "CHURCHILL HAS POLAR BEARS HERE IS OCEAN BLUE" or whatever to ensure my continued support.

Anyway, so Tom Cochrane was as awesome as always, and everybody marked out for Life is a Highway just as you'd expect. As much as I love Cochrane, this isn't the part of the story where my sudden civic pride comes into play. No, that part came during the headlining act -- and what an act it was!

As I'd said earlier, I've never been too big into Mellencamp's studio work; his softest singles are his most played, I'm tired of hearing him in advertisements, I could live my entire life without listening to Jack and Diane ever again, how many songs can you write about America, etcetera etcetera so on and so forth. But holy damn, does that man ever work hard on stage. His songs are all pretty simple, but he gears up and just gleefully rampages through them like King Ghidorah across the Japanese countryside. You have never seen a fifty-six-year-old white guy dance so well in your entire life.

He played all the hits you would expect, and he played them well; hell, he even played Human Wheels, and I'd forgotten (assuming I ever knew) that it was his song in the first place. Nine-year-old me loved that song! I hadn't remembered what the words were or what it was called or who had written it, because I was nine at the time -- but when the band launched into it on Monday, I recognized it within two bars and gave this excited little gasp of happiness because fifteen years of mystery had just cleared themselves up. Human Wheels! Whooooooooo!

Eventually, perhaps inevitably, he took the stage by himself halfway through the show and performed Small Town; I've never really liked the song, but I was one year old when it came out so I am willing to acknowledge that there may be a generational disconnect in play. Anyway, while he was playing it, the stage crew production team threw up a reel of Winnipeg-themed images onto the giant screen behind him; I'm sure they've done this without fail a million times, and I wouldn't doubt that it pulls the cheap pop every time in every city.

It worked this time, too, of course; when our local landmarks and our old maps popped up on the jumbotron, a big cheer went up just as you'd expect. Bizarrely, though, the cheering trailed off and disappeared just a few images into the slideshow; I thought this was pretty funny, and it might well have died down for the exact reasons I was thinking. "Hey! Winnipeg! Yaaaay! That's us! We're a small town! Yaaa--er... wait..."

So Mellencamp kept playing, this PowerPoint presentation of local interest images kept scrolling, and the crowd reaction remained tepid after the initial reaction. The fishfly bridge came up on screen, a few people clapped; the 'One Great City!' sign came up on screen and the cheering increased again.

Now, this is the kicker. This was the highlight of my night. The final photograph of the collection, the shot they'd specifically saved for last, was a full-screen picture of the green "Manitoba: Spirited Energy" banner -- and when that last picture hit, the crowd of eleven thousand strong united as one voice and booed the living shit out of it.

Man alive, it was glorious. You've never seen a crowd turn on something so suddenly, so viciously and so vehemently, as if shocked and wounded and insulted all at once -- and, if you have seen a crowd turn like that, I'd imagine you were endlessly thankful that the crowd wasn't turning on you.

I can't credit Mellencamp enough for his complete lack of reaction; he just kept playing the song, didn't miss a beat, never lost his composure once. Maybe the whole thing was an elaborate rib and he was in on the joke to begin with. Either way, well played; I know I sure enjoyed it, albeit for entirely the wrong reasons.

I'll admit it was a strange thing to gleam a sense of civic pride from, but you know what? Hell with it! This was the most kinship with my fellow citydwellers that I've felt in a long time. It isn't easy to try and define what brings Winnipeggers together; the city's biggest successes were eighty or ninety years ago, our downtown has been a crumbling husk for decades, our public community television was mercilessly exterminated eleven years ago, and our professional sports teams (or rather, the professional sports teams that we still have) have ranged from disappointing to soul-shatteringly awful. But for all the difficulty one might find in trying to establish the city's common character traits, it's nice to know that there are still some things we can all unite around -- or at least, some things that we can all find common ground in opposing strongly.

Togetherness! That's what it's all about. If we could sandbag Spirited Energy, we would!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Resumption of Service

Uptown Magazine! The gift that keeps on giving! I'm in it this week, writing once again about what everybody is just dying to hear about -- Canadian politics! yaaaaaaay

A recent reworking of the Uptown schedules means that I'll be appearing triweekly instead of monthly; take it on faith that I'll be reminding you whenever I'm up.

So! Here I am again; ailing parties are recuperating well, people are back from trips, the puppy has been successfully kept alive, and now I can get back to various items of importance around here. And I've got an interesting job interview liked up for Tuesday, so it seems that -- drat and blast -- I'm going to need to get a haircut again. Pesky things!

Anyway, so yes; I return, active again. Content to follow shortly! Trust me!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Things Could Be Going Better

Owing to a sudden familial medical crisis, my mother and sister flew down to Georgia this past Sunday; the onus has been left on me to remain at home and spend my every waking and sleeping hour making sure that the entirety of the house is not demolished by the unchecked brute force and gnashing of teeth that is a five-month-old golden retriever. It's like I'm housesitting for myself, but without any of the perks that such a job normally affords.

So my apologies for having no new and exciting content to report around here; as you can imagine, I'm not getting a lot done right now. As late I'm hardly in a positive mood -- especially given the, you know, sudden familial medical crisis.

My mother and sister are scheduled to fly back this coming Monday, which obviously presents something of a problem for my schemes of driving down to Winkler to poke around the upcoming Hockey Day in Canada shenanigans and goings-on. How often do we here in Winnipeg get to chance to say that we're thinking of driving out to Winkler for a big nationally televised sports-themed mini-festival? But, no -- I'll be here in town and most likely doing the same thing I've done every day this week, which is to say virtually nothing except activities related to keeping an adorable but high-maintenance puppy alive and entertained. (We have another dog and a cat, while we're at it -- but they look after themselves pretty well, most of the time.)

Here, then, is the crux of my post; everything written above is all preamble and reference points for the following request. If anyone reading this will be heading to Winkler this week, could you pick me up one of the souvenir travel mugs? I'll pay you back for it! I figure it'd be a cute thing to have, and if anybody ever asks me about the mug I will be able to tell them a story around it that has absolutely nothing to do with the advertised event.

The dog is trying to dig through my mattress. Man alive, this has been a long week so far.