Archive for January, 2014

wpeSOUNDTRACK: An open letter to the Rheostatics (2014).

rheosTo Dave, Martin, Tim and assorted drummers:

I’ve been a fan of the Rheostatics for a long time.  I recall traveling to Toronto from New Jersey back in the 90s and tracking down Introducing Happiness at Sam the Record Man.  And then later driving around the Niagara Falls region listening to the strange and wonderful album. I’ve enjoyed all of the subsequent albums.

You were a unique band with a unique sound.  I was sad when you split up, even if that meant that now there were three solo projects to enjoy.  Of course, there’s been a lot of bands that have broken up, it’s just part of being a fan.  But the thing about the Rheostatics breakup is that you three (or four or five or six) have remained friendly.  You’ve done a few reunion shows since the breakup, which I think that’s super cool.  It’s especially cool because RheostaticsLive tends to post them after a while so that those of us who don’t make the shows can hear them.

I’ve never seen you guys live, and I imagine I never will.  And I’m okay with that.  What I’m mostly bummed about is that there will be no more new music from you.  You put out approximately ten albums (there’s a few miscellaneous things that are hard to qualify).  Those records include soundtracks and live albums and all manner of things, so there’s really seven proper albums (the others are great, don’t get me wrong).  Anyhow, my gut feeling is that there needs to be some new Rheostatics music.  I know you’ve all been doing solo stuff (and I have it), but sometimes the sum is greater, etc.

Clearly I’m getting at that it’s time for a new album from the Rheostatics.  Before you scoff, I’m not talking reuniting for a grand tour, or even any tour, I’m not even talking a live show.  Heck, I’m not even talking about you guys hanging out for more than a couple weeks.  Just an album of new songs.  A decade ago it would have been unthinkable that you would get together for the expense of an album without major label support.  But now, the cost is so much lower and with your fan base expanding, I assume it would be easy to recoup the expenses.

So what do you say?  Since it seems like everyone is still friendly and creative, maybe you can throw some ideas around in the email, see if there’s anything magical happening.  Obviously, if there’s nothing there or you just can’t work together, then don’t continue.  No one wants to hear a crappy Rheostatics album.  But if there’s even a chance that you guys can throw some ideas together and pull out another “Horses,” or “Northern Wish” or “CCYPA,” or holy cow, “King of the Past,” or, hell, anything you’ve done, then it’s absolutely worth it.

I don’t imagine any of you will read this, but maybe if you google yourselves, Tim Vesely, Dave Bidini, Martin Tielli, you’ll see this and think that, yes, dammit, seven records of Rheostatics music is not enough.

Thanks for the music, Paul Debraski.

[READ: January 26, 2014] Worst. Person. Ever.

I told myself that I wanted to read this book before anyone requested it.  And I did.  In fact, I wanted to finish it before the weekend was up, which I did as well.  It’s nice to meet a minor goal.

The last few Coupland books that I read (see last week) were very dark.  Since those books, he has broadened his palette somewhat, including writing a  children’s book and some more non-fiction.  And then we get this.  A vulgar, very funny sendup of modern culture.  The introduction to the book says that it was based on a short story that he wrote for McSweeney’s #31 called “Survivior.”  That story was written in the style known a biji which they described as

Biji is sort of a notebook, which contains legends, anecdotes, scientific notes and local wisdom.  Accounts of everyday life mix with travel narratives as well as lists.  It is meant to represent a picture of the culture at the time of writing.

I thought that this style was well suited to Coupland, because he includes all of that stuff anyway.  And so he has taken that story and fleshed it out into this full novel.

The worst person ever is named Raymond Gunt.  He thinks he’s Jason Bourne, but he’s really just a metaphorical extra in a Bourne movie (one who probably gets killed).  Gunt is a cameraman working in England.  He is divorced.  His wife is a raging harpy (at least from his point of view, which is all we see).  Since their divorce, she has become wildly successful in television production.  He calls in on her at work and she tells him about a job working as a B cameraman on a show called Survival.  He knows that the job must suck or she wouldn’t give it to him, but he needs to work.  Of course, he is most upset at the thought of having to work with Americans (Americans are majorly abused in this story).  Although by its very nature a B cameraman position is not as good as an A cameraman, Ray needs the work, so he agrees to fly to some godforsaken tropical island to watch beautiful people starve and try to have sex with each other.

On his way out of the building he sees a homeless guy.  And since Ray is the worst person ever, he kicks him. But the homeless guy is no pushover and he chases after Ray.  He catches Ray in an alley and pummels him, ultimately pushing his face into some garbage. The man is Neal and although he acts crazy, he’s actually quite sharp (why he is homeless is not addressed).  After forcing Ray to sing the female verses of “Don’t You Want Me,” Neal gives him this sage advice:

“Stop being a cunt to the world and the world will stop being a cunt to you.”

Advice which Ray simply cannot follow.

When ray learns that he needs a personal assistant, um, slave, he immediately thinks of Neal.  So he tracks him down, cleans him up and gives him a job.  And off they jet to make some TV.

In the course of the book, a series of crazy things–the kind of things only Coupland thinks of–sidetrack them from Ray’s goal.  (His real goal is to get laid, naturally).  First, it turns out that Neal, despite being homeless, is a total babe magnet.  And throughout the story, as he gets cleaner and fresher, he becomes irresistible  This, of course, ruins Ray’s plans of bedding hot women.  And as Neal gets cleaner, he becomes less and less Rays assistant and more and more Ray’s equal.

They jet to L.A., (he was supposed to be in first class, but was bumped and is super angry).  He also gets in trouble with the airport bartender, Lacey, who comes back to haunt him in ways one could never predict.  He gets first class seats on the way to Hawaii and he abuses the privilege.  Then, because of unforeseen circumstances, they have to stay in Honolulu (with lots of Spam jokes).  And because of those unforseen circumstances, they need to recast the show, which means Ray’s wife has to jet down and be around them.  And Ray’s wife, Fiona, is delighted to make Ray’s life miserable.  Eventually, they head to their intended island and prepare to set up for the show.

In the meantime, the U.S. has decided to destroy the Great Pacific Garbage Patch–in a very imaginative way.  And ray is on hand to witness the destruction.  This plan causes all manner of trouble with shipping and airplane traffic.  Which has the effect of isolating everyone on the Survivor island–causing a literal survival situation.

Raymond Gunt may not be the worst person ever, but he is pretty darn close. He tries to sleep with anyone.  He tries to screw over everyone else (but never seems to get anywhere).  And he genuinely likes to torment others.  And all the while he repeats his mantra, “I consider myself a reasonable enough citizen.”  Despite Gunt’s personality, he (or at least the story) is funny enough that you want to keep reading (and maybe even to succeed in some of his designs).  And that made this story a major page turner.  And it was very funny as well.

Coupland really gets the feel for writing a British story.  It doesn’t read like any of his other books and while it’s not full of crazy accents or overt Britishisms, his main character is defiantly not American. As I said, all Americans are fat, sweaty, stupid and prudish in Ray’s mind.

This is also the worst person that Coupland has ever written. He is such an abominable person with an incredibly filthy mouth.  The above quote is just one of just many curses in the book.  In fact there’s a whole subplot about how prudish Americans are about people saying “fuck” despite their cavalier acceptance of violence and other things (we say friggin, when everyone knows we mean fucking).

I have to assume Coupland had a ton of fun writing this.  And it really comes through.  I’m also going to guess that a lot of people’ won’t like this book because Gunt is so reprehensible.  But if you can get past that, the story is funny, and makes some pointedly humorous observations about a lot of contemporary life.  Like “Survival [sic] is a popular reality TV show… You’re either into this show or you’re not.  It’s binary.”  or “‘Come on Eileen’ was a single in 1982…What’s weird about this song is that it was so huge at the time and now you listen to it and wonder, what the hell was everyone thinking?  Well, that’s pop culture for you.”  It even has what seem like Wikipedia entries of things throughout in the book (and a YouTube link which is bizarre to see in print).

I really enjoyed this, and I’m thrilled that Coupland has unleashed his inner black humorist.

Watch him talk about the book with Jian Ghomeshi, a great interviewer


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CV1_TNY_11_18_13Tomine.inddSOUNDTRACK: TALLEST MAN ON EARTH-Tiny Desk Concert #26 (September 14, 2009).

tmoeI was not aware of The Tallest Man on Earth before hearing him on All Songs Considered.  And then WXPN started playing one of his songs, so he became somewhat familiar to me.  I have since listened to some of his concerts and this Tiny Desk Concert and I really like him a lot.

So the Tallest Man on Earth is Kristian Matsson, a Swedish folksinger with a great guitar picking style and a deep powerful gritty voice.  He plays three songs in this set.  “I Won’t Be Found” has wonderful fast guitar picking that contrasts wonderfully with his simple singing melody.  It’s a great song.  As is “The Gardener” which sounds very different.  This one is largely strummed–a bouncy, jaunty strum. It seems to contain the origin of his unusual stage name (or perhaps it just a fun allusion to it).

“Pistol Dreams” has more great finger picking (and reminds me a little of Richard Thompson).  It’s a sweet song, and his gruff voice once again provides excellent contrast.

I hope to hear more from The Tallest Man on Earth.  Check it out.

READ: “Find the Bad Guy”

This story was surprisingly dark (I don’t think of Eugenides as quite so dark).  It starts out with the narrator talking about the house that he and his wife have owned for 12 years.  And yet they still haven’t gotten the smell of the previous owners completely out of it.  (There’s a nice payoff to this idea later in the story).

But that’s not the point.  The point is that he has recently been kicked out of his house—given a restraining order, in fact.  But since he knows the plans of his house he knows that he can stand right where he is—just inside the front fence—and know that he’s not too close.

The story has trappings of being current—he plays Words with Friends with his daughter (her name is mrsbieber), which I found to be just slightly out of touch.  But that’s irrelevant.

The narrator is Charlie Daniels (not that one—he goes by Charlie D to avoid confusion, especially since he works in music).  He met his wife at a radio station.  She worked at a country station, although she didn’t like country music.  Johanna was from Germany (her name was Lübeck, but everyone pronounced it Lubbock).  But the thing about her was that she was very tall (not that tall in Germany, she said).  And Charlie D was suave, so he asked her clever things like how the weather was up there and if she ever played basketball.  She didn’t fall for this, of course, but then one day she asked if they could get married so she could get a green card.  He said sure. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_11_11_13Blitt.inddSOUNDTRACK: DARK MEAT-Tiny Desk Concert #25 (August 31, 2009).

darkmeatFor those keeping track, I wrote about Tiny Desk Concert #24 (The Swell Season) quite some time ago.

Dark Meat is a ramshackle band which I had not heard of before this Tiny Desk Concert.  The blurb says that they have had as many as 20 people in their band and often play loud rambunctious music.    In this Tiny Desk Concert, there are only 8 of them (they have reduced for this tour), but they’re still a huge band for a Tiny Desk.

This concert is an acoustic jam –mandolin, guitars, trombone and piccolo—and is apparently quite different from their usual show.  As such, I can’t really imagine what they typically sound like, because they sound like a pretty solid folk band.

Initially I wasn’t all that impressed, but after a couple listens I found myself getting into their sloppy fun folk rock.  I enjoyed their first song, “The Faint Smell of Moss” a little more than the others because of the great backing vocals, and the possibly slightly off sounding trombone.  The second song, “Dead Man” is long, but it has a fun middle second in which the singer invites the office to sing along (and howl like dogs).  “When the Shelter Came’ is a rambling track which I think actually suffers from the trombone at the end.

I don’t know anything else about the band, but I imagine them playing folk festivals.  I’ll be they’re fun to see live, although I can admit that i didn’t find their songs all that memorable.

 [READ: January 22, 2014] “Benji”

“Benji” is the story of wealth and idleness.  As the story opens, we learn that Benji, now 40 years old, is the last remaining male in the family.  His mother, Mrs Anyaogu  is telling her guest that Benji must choose someone to marry because anyone who remains unmarried, even a man, is suspect at that age.

Then we meet the guest who Benji’s mother is speaking to—a woman named Alare.  Alare also got married pretty late—in her thirties–to a man who was about 40.  Her husband was not wealthy—he was a gardener.  And this was something of a sore subject in their marriage,  Of course, he must have also felt the embarrassment of his employment, but that was his lot in life.

Alare and Mrs Anyaogu became friends when Alare’s congregation had disintegrated because of a scandal with the pastor and she joined Mrs Anyaogu’s Deep Life church.

Alare was aware of the wealth that the Anyaogus possessed, but she hadn’t witnessed it until today.  While the house was beautiful, she felt that the furnishing were tacky—not entirely, but enough.  Nevertheless, the lunch was nice and the food was delicious.  The groundskeeper, Godwin, kept the garden beautiful and Benji complimented the man on his loyalty and hard work. (more…)

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Pete Seeger [1919-2014]

seegerPete Seeger died last night at the age of 94.  I love his anti-war quote: “Sometimes I think [about] that old saying,’The pen is mightier than the sword.’ Well, my one hope is the guitar is gonna be mightier than the bomb.”

When I was a kid, I knew a few of his songs (and didn’t really like them) because of an organ songbook we had (did everyone have an organ in the 70s?).  I can remember pounding on the wheezing organ and making up silly lyrics to “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”  It’s amazing to think that these songs, which were written in the sixties, are often seen as eternal classics.  It’s also amazing to think that Seeger wrote “Turn! Turn! Turn!” which I never associated with him.  Indeed, like Woody Guthrie, much of American folk music can be traced to Pete Seeger (even if he adapted much of it himself).

I really started getting into Seeger when I had kids, as I found his music was fun to teach the kids to sing along to–it was designed for singing along to.  In fact, he wrote a ton of children’s music as well. (He released FIFTY-TWO studio albums, along with 22 live albums and 23 compilations).  His first solo album was a collection of traditional folk songs for children (he didn’t write them, which may be why it’s confusing to know which songs were actually his).  And I don’t even know anything about his first band The Weavers, who had hits with “Goodnight Irene,” “On Top of Old Smokey,” “So Long (It’s Been Good to Know You)” and “Wimoweh.”


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SOUNDTRACK: SARAH SISKIND-Tiny Desk Concert #23 (July 27, 2009).

sarahsI don’t know much about Sarah Siskind.  She is a country-ish singer who seems to have gained some fame once Bon Iver started covering her song “Lovin’s for Fools.”  She tells a pretty interesting story about how he came to learn her song (by looping it–thereby missing out on the words to the second chorus.  And yes she did wonder why he didn’t play that chorus).

She plays three songs in this Concert. I like her guitar work, especially on the first song, “Falling Stars.”  But there’s something about either her voice or her delivery that I just don’t really like. I’ve listened a few times ow and I have grown to appreciate her style, but it’s just a matter of personal taste that I don’t really care for her.

Listen for yourself.

[READ: January 17, 2014] “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”

One thing that I like so much about Alice Munro is that her stories are so timeless.  This story was originally published in 1999 (wonder why they didn’t re-publish that first story which I wrote about yesterday), but there are no real indicators of when it was written.  (There are some clues to the time frame of the story, but it was clearly not set in the late 90s).

This is a straightforward but fairly complex story, with a lot of emotional heft.  A married couple, Grant and Fiona, have been together for a long time.  Fiona had always written notes to herself, but Grant sensed recently that the notes were becoming somewhat alarming.  Instead of books to read or appointments to keep, she was writing “cutlery” on the kitchen drawers. Then she started forgetting normal things–like how to drive home or that something which she thought had happened last year had actually happened 12 years ago. Not major problems, but causes for concern.

And so, Fiona was sent, at first temporarily, to Meadowlake.  And Grant was not to show up for the first month–they found that patients settled in better if they were not reminded of their house and old life.  After a month of wondering about her and thinking about her, Grant goes to Meadowlake, excited to see Fiona.  But when he arrives she is not in her room–the touching reuniting scene will not be enacted as he pictured.  And the nurse seems rather impatient with him when he asks where she is. (more…)

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cbcIn honor of Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize, CBC radio has a playlist of “Literary Music.” Now, I have made many literary playlists over they years myself (including “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors” by Moxy Fruvous which is not included here), but this one consists of a few bands that I don’t know (and two that I do).

  • Library Voices–“Generation Handclap”
  • The Darcys–“Pretty Girls”
  • Kathryn Calder–“Right Book”
  • AroarA–“#6”
  • Arkells–“Book Club”
  • Dan Mangan–“Road Regrets”
  • John K. Samson–“When I Write My Master’s Thesis”

Samson is the only artist I know well, although I know Dan Mangan a little.  It’s a good listen and I’m sure if you scrutinize the lyrics you’ll find their literary worth.

Listen here.

[READ: January 18, 2014] “Her Big Break”

I’ve been a fan of Alice Munro for a while, and I’m always happy to see her in the New Yorker.  Strangely, I have never read any of her collected short stories.  Maybe some day….

When Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature, I imagined she’d get a lot more press.  And then I realized that it’s a literature prize.  And she’s Canadian.  So, perhaps a few columns in Canada’s The Walrus is all she’ll get.

But this article, which is really entirely this below letter and a brief introduction, explains that on November 18, 1976, Charles McGrath, a fiction editor at The New Yorker, sent Alice Munro her first acceptance letter from the magazine for her story “Royal Beatings.”  Soon after this, she signed a first-reading agreement with the magazine, which I gather means that they will see any of her short stories before she can send them anywhere else.

I am including this letter in its entirety because I assume that most people, like me, have never actually seen an acceptance letter from a magazine for a piece of fiction (I have several rejections).  But even if you have seen an acceptance letter, I can’t imagine that it will every be as thoughtful and considerate as this one.  i also love that as recent as 1976 The NEw Yorker was kind of prudish about their fiction.  I mean, now, the cursing is rampant, but back then the fiction was a more genteel breed.

I have not read “Royal Beatings,” but you can bet I’ve added it to my short list. (more…)

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2014-01SOUNDTRACK: THE DAVE DOUGLAS BRASS ECSTASY-Tiny Desk Concert #22 (July 20, 2009).

ddThis is the first jazz Tiny Desk Concert.  I imagine it was very loud in there!

So the Brass Ecstasy is a five piece band with trumpet, tuba, french horn and trombone (and drums).  They play three songs: “Spirit Moves” and “Twilight of the Dogs” two compositions by Douglas (who plays trumpet) and “This Love Affair” a Rufus Wainwright song!

The originals are jazzy and fun with a kind of old school feel.  And “Twilight of the Dogs” is even political (and yet instrumental).  I don’t know the Rufus Wainwright song, so i don’t know how well they do it, but i never would have guessed it was one of his.

The blurb says that the trombonist left the contents of his spit valve under Bob’s desk.  Ew.

To see everything (but the spit valve) click here.

[READ: January 18, 2014] “Greener Grass”

This is a story about Canadian hippie parents, which I rather liked.

The daughter of the story is named Shell.  Shell and her parents are house hunting–they currently live in a rental and want to get a proper house–for one where they can have an art studio and a garden.  So when they see an interesting house, they stop the Dodge Dart and decide to investigate the place.

They knock on the door and a boy answers.  He is drinking Mountain Dew and has a harelip.  He calls out “Gare” and a man who Shell calls “Shark Nose” appears. Shark Nose tells them that the house is solid and shows Shell’s dad around.  He talks about all the good things in the house and the sad fact that the basement is always damp (the foster kids all have asthma, so they can’t really stay down there).  [Interestingly, between this and Douglas Coupland’s Eleanor Rigby, that’s two stories that are critical of the Canadian foster system in the 1970s].

Even though the dad is a hippie (big of beard and seeking places to garden), he is no fool.  And he climbs up on the roof.  He also gets all of the dogs (who suddenly start barking) to silence with a shrill whistle.  But the story really focuses on Shell and the little boy. (more…)

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