Sunday, May 20, 2018

Nomeansno: the Rob Wright Interview

I sure do miss Nomeansno. I wish they'd done a farewell show. 

Truth be told, I missed their last big Vancouver gig, at the Rickshaw (though I went twice to a three night stint, I think it was, at the Biltmore a year or so previous). One of the best bands ever to come out of Victoria/ Vancouver, ever. Wayyy up there. And Rob Wright is a much less intimidating guy than you'd imagine from his lyrics and/or the intensity of his playing. He's a pretty easy interview, actually - generous, funny, patient, and frank.  

So - without much preamble, here is a giant interview I did with Rob, around the time of All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt, and never before seen online in completion before now. We miss you, Rob! Hope you're enjoying your retirement. 

T-shirt reads: "I have the body of a God. Unfortunately it's Buddha." Photo by Jillo, at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto (I believe at a show I was at!). 

I’m starting my recording device.

Oh boy. Here we go. Huh huh huh huh.

Gotta confess that  I’m a just a bit nervous, here. If I ask any stupid questions try to forgive me…

No. I’ll just hang up, that’s it, cold. I’ll be gone. (laughs).

That sets me right at ease… The first question, I’ll try to be cute: Are you now or have you ever been a Catholic?

Catholic? No. I’m Irish, but Black Irish. All my relatives came from Northern Ireland. Protestants…

So the Mr. Wrong persona – I take that as sort of a Nazi and a Catholic priest?

Also a lawyer, cop – it’s just basically all the authority figures rolled into one. It’s funny how when you get all these respectable figures and put them into one little… it ends up looking really really ominous.

Particularly if it holds a shotgun…

Well, yeah. A few props don’t hurt.

Are you aware of any animosity between Catholics and Protestants in your family history?

No, no, not at all. Actually I lived in a neighbourhood in Richmond Hill early on where the Protestants fought the Catholics, but I was a newcomer there and I never really understood what that was all about, but it seemed to be a common occurrence in the Northern suburbs of Toronto, for some reason. But no, I – the significance of the priest collar and all the other gear, it’s just a conglomeration of those figures who are well respected and in authority, in terms of characterizing – caricaturing them.

And caricaturing yourself as a performer?

Oh, absolutely. Being onstage one must remember, always remember that one is in some sense a clown. And I thought, you know – a clown costume. That and Robbie Hanson there – it’s all clown  costumes.

Hm. I gotta admit, with all the guilt and moral heaviness of Nomeansno lyrics, I’d always assumed you were a Catholic – sort of the Graham Greene of punk.

(Laughs) Oh Good lord. No, more like the John Knox of punk. My heritage is more puritanical than Catholic, so I get that kind of moral outrage and sternness from the Lutheran side of my family.

John Knox?

John Knox is the inventor of the Presbyterian faith in Scotland. He was the one who rose to fame after the English, of course, killed all the druids and Catholics.

Nietzsche was raised Lutheran, wasn’t he?

He could very well have been, there were many Protestants in Germany, but that’s something I don’t know, it’s a good question.

So... uh, the new album. It has quite a different feeling from past releases. It’s a lot of fun...

I think so. I think, the last album in particular before this one, ONE, was a very dark album. And, uh, this album is sort of is basically, it’s sort of in a sense like WRONG was, because WRONG was sort of, after we did SMALL PARTS, we thought, well, no more epics, let’s just throw a bunch of songs together and whatever comes up and seems to have a good beat, we’ll put that on. This one kind of has that bent because for one thing, John, my brother, wrote the majority of the music, and I ended up putting lyrics on the majority of his music, in fact, I think, all of it.

So the music came first?

Yes, in the main cases. Only a few songs… “Til I Die” was mine completely… Oh God, I can’t even remember the ones.

I’m Dreaming and I Can’t Wake Up?”

That’s one of mine, yes, you’re absolutely right. But I think most all of the others, if I’m not mistaken… No, uh, I think “Mr. In-Between” is all mine, and so is “In Her Eyes.” But then the rest of those are all combinations of me and my brother, and actually Tom as well, especially in the song “The Hawk Killed the Punk.”

Tom was more involved in writing the music this time out, right?  

Yes, he had more of an input, even in songs he didn’t write. His guitar parts often – often in my songs I don’t have any guitar parts. A lot of songs were combinations of him and John putting riffs together. It was very loosely done, actually. A lot of it just came in with people bringing in parts and sticking them together and then about a month before the recording session we had, like, eleven songs that didn’t have any words, and I thought well… (laughs). So I just kept going to the practice space early in the morning and boom, writing lyrics, which is a lot of fun. I find it very easy in a sense to put lyrics onto other people’s music – easier than writing my own songs.

You seem to have really indulged your fondness for nursery rhymes in “Mansion in the Sky.”

That one is a total jam. That one is not - the music is really not written by anybody. It’s a rhythm set up by John, with a bassline that, I kind of did with the feel that he asked me, and then Tom’s parts are all over. The only part that’s really set were the, is the sort of melodic disco part in the middle, which is all John’s music and all my melody and words…

Why hasn’t Tom written much before?

Basically, Tom has always written his own music for his own work, which is his solo albums and his Show Business Giants albums, so basically his material, which is uniquely his, always had that avenue, and… a lot of it would have sounded very odd on a Nomeansno record. Not many of his songs would fit on a Nomeansno record, simply because they’re all Tom, really. Show Business is really unlike a lot of ---- music, and his solo stuff is even better I think, the latest things he’s done. But in the nature of this album, it was just because the songs were being put together quite loosely, and he had a chance to be involved… Often in the past I would just come and say here’s the words, here’s the music, learn it, and John would do that as well, although often in the past I wrote the majority of the songs anyway, so… But he would do his guitar parts, and a song like “A Little Too High” off the last album, that’s all my riffs and lyrics but all his guitar stuff is his own.

Is “The Hawk Killed the Punk” his own?

He started off with the riff, and John decided we were going to do something exotic, so he started playing in 5/4 and they decided I should play in ¾, and – no, yeah, so it’s 5/4, 3/4, and 4/4,  John Tom and me respectively, so… If you listen, if you turn your balance from one side to the other, so you get more guitar or more bass, you’ll find that one is a swing number and the other is a straightforward rock and roll number, and John’s just going in between. It takes the whole verse for it to come around together mathematically and end all at once. (laughs) It’s fun, because I think… it does… people know there’s something wrong but they don’t really know what it is, and the song rocks so well they don’t really care, but everyone is like, what the hell-? Are they making mistakes up there, what’s really going on in this song? It’s just very odd time signatures, let me tell you.

You wrote the words, though.

Yes I did, actually, but that one again is kind of a combination, because I had an idea for words for a poem I had written, and we decided to change it to “The Hawk Killed the Punk” – before it was about something else – and then we just – I wrote the words but basically on order, people would come up with ideas. Tom and John would come with ideas of what we should stick in there and then I just sort of made it rhyme, put it into a syntax that scanned, right.

What’s it about? What is “the hawk” supposed to be?  

The hawk is a Mohawk.

Ah! I see!

If you’ve got the lyric sheet you’ll see that the… it’s a list of things that are generically punk, and basically what this person is doing is channelling himself into being a nonentity, a generic figure, with a Mohawk, tattoos, listening to thrash music. And it’s a way of actually freeing yourself. Monks do the same thing. One way, if you’re trying to get away from the self, is that you put on a uniform and look like everyone else and therefore you become part of group which is more of your identity than any single identity you would have.

So “nothing of himself remains” is a positive state?
Yes, it can be taken that way… The trick is there is what reason you’re doing it for. People who escape from themselves because of the pain of who they are, that’s usually not the right solution. People who escape themselves to try to have a better perspective and to cease being concerned only with their own personal problems and peccadillos, those people are often the wisest of us all. (laughs)

Talking about making people feel more alive, with the darkness and pain that Nomeansno seem to dwell on, with songs like “He Learned How to Bleed,” I’ve often suspected the band of having a streak of masochism.

No, it’s basically the fact… a lot of the reasons people don’t feel anything at all is because if they do they have to come to grips with a lot of pain. Being alive involves a lot of pain, and what most people do is basically dull their senses to escape that, so a lot of people’s efforts psychically go into repressing pain and concerning themselves with day to day activities, y’know, eating, drinking, smoking, watching TV, saying little or nothing
of importance to the people around them, but talking at all times, um…And there’s an undercurrent of course of pain, and if you want to really be alive you have to experience the pain. And that’s not a masochistic thing, that’s a growth thing. Growing is painful, and if you don’t go through that, you don’t grow, you just kind of get sort of older and deader, and I’m afraid that’s kind of the situation many people will end up in.

But people can indulge their negativity too much.

Suffering can be self-indulgent, but often that’s not the kind of suffering that… Often again, that’s…People who choose to suffer in a certain outward way involving their faith or the personality they’re trying to project are also in that way avoiding true pain that they do not want to face, because there’s a lot of fear involved and a lot of challenge to who one is… I mean, a lot of people have secrets, they have dark and painful secrets and by not going through them they don’t learn how generic they are and how everyone has these same secrets and basically the only way to get rid of them is to grow out of them, and I think, a lot of people, you know, self-flagellation and self-denial involved in the Catholic or other religious faiths are also just a way to avoid true pain.

How does punk fit in as a way of embracing pain and connecting with emotion? Through moshing, through communal experience?

Through communal experience, for sure. I mean, music has always been a way for people to connect emotionally, I mean, that’s what it’s been doing since before they grew food or built houses… Music and musical expression. There’s studies now where people believe that singing, that vocalizing predates speech and language, which makes sense. It’s a true connector for people, um. And punk rock is sort of a way of doing that, that’s why it has such a community, that why music can sometimes have such a strong community feel to it, why people band together under the banner of musical styles and tastes. It seems rather odd when you think about it really, but they do, because music is a communal event and it does bind people together. I think punk rock was… In the early 70s rock and roll had become the pantheon of the Gods and the people making music were technical geniuses who employed huge stage tactics and stuff. It had become a bloated and unreal thing with very little relationship to the real lives of people who were listening to it. I think that punk rock – as it came, gritty and primitive and streetwise and showing all the negative sides of life, either inner city or from suburbia, there was combination of both – it touched a chord in people that a band like ELO would never do, you know what I mean. And a lot of people like I say have their dark secrets, a lot of people felt inadequate, a lot of people felt like they were nobody and nothing and a lot of people felt dead inside, like that they weren’t alive, weren’t allowed to be alive, and again, punk was the negative expression of that, a way of saying no to… a way of saying yes to life by saying no to everything, if you know what I mean, and Nomeansno is part of that. There’s strength in saying no. You know, just saying, “Eat your vitamins!” and, and -- “No!” “Why?” “Because I don’t want to! You know, there’s a power in that, if that’s all you have, especially young people who don’t have any answers, don’t know what the hell’s going on with themselves or anything else, but they do know what they don’t like and that’s why punk was such an allure for a lot of them, I think. And still is! Goddamn it, you still see the Mohawks and the bleached hair and the heavy eyeshadow and it’s just amazing to me how the style of music and style of living has survived for 30 years.

Nomeansno fans seem a little more fanatical than the average. I gather people recently came from as far as Poland to see you play the jazz festival, here.

One of the reasons that is because the internet brings these people together and contact and gives them information and again it’s another way of community getting together. So I don’t know if, I think this happens with other bands as well, but I think we get rabid fans, people who love us a lot basically because I think we’ve always tried to be honest.
We haven’t put our personalities on the covers. I think in the music, the people we are shine through. And I think people relate to that, at any rate. They know it’s not, we’re not doing it to be famous, we’re not doing it to be rich and we’re not doing it to be celebrities. Um. And so I think there’s a basic humanness there and the things we talk about I think strike a chord with a lot of people. And that’s good. You know you’re doing something right if what you say has a semi-universal you know, chord to it.

Yeah, it seems like a good thing that people are flying from so far away…

Although I think they’re nuts, I always tell them that. “Why are you doing this, you know, this is crazy? There are bands in your hometown that you could go see. Well, I hope you’re having a great vacation, but it’s a little embarrassing, really, it is. ‘I flew all the way from-‘Don’t tell me, it’s not my fault, I didn’t make you.’

 Also by Jillo!

One of the interesting things in lyrics is that you seem uncomfortable with authority role you’re forced into – in “My Politics,” for example... But you do believe Nomeansno offer a positive thing to fans…?

It is, and I think… it’s nothing to do with personality. That’s one of the main things that the band has always tried to stick to, it’s a firm sense of, this is not about us, it’s about what we do. And I always try to want to emphasize that to people and… in the way we present our work to take as much of the personality (out of it), by either making fun of it or making caricatures instead of ourselves…We’re in the process now of trying to get a video together in which we will not appear. (laughs). I truly think that, y’know, the most important thing that people do -- about people’s lives is what they do, and the most dead end search about those important things is to find out who those people are. I don’t think it really matters. In some extreme cases it might. But, again… In some people, what they do is who they are, and they put their whole personality as a part of their craft. I’m thinking of a person like Johnny Cash – who he is was as much his craft as the songs he sang, and his whole image, it was a part of the work, y’know? But that’s absolutely not true with us. We don’t have that kind of --We’re not trying to do that and we don’t do it and I think anyone who’s sort of, ‘I’d like to know, y’know what John’s really like – I know it (laughs). And it doesn’t matter what any of us are like. We’re just basically pretty boring dudes, middle class white dudes, getting rather old in the tooth, I tellya, too. So basically, y’know, if you want to get something out of us, listen to the albums, or better yet, come and see the shows.

All right... so how do you guys go about touring?

Pretty basic, since day one. And we’ve been doing it about the same with various degrees of size. We once toured with two vans and had a few employees. But it’s always been basically, we drive, we load, we load up again after the show and drive again the next morning. It’s very -- low expenses mean better pay at the end. And this is definitely us, just breaking even, making money…Small time cottage industry – Nomeansno.

John Wright had mentioned to me at one point that leaving A/T was about getting wider distribution, but ironically, with the change of labels, everything disappeared.

Everything did, yes. Y’know… It’s always the danger especially with a band on our level. It’s not like there are people waiting to snap up a band that sells maximum of 10,000 to 15,000 copies of their records, y’know? That’s not a big profit margin for anyone, even a small company. Um… But having said that, yes, I uh, didn’t have a great deal of problems with A/T, I loved AT, I loved the people there, but again, it just got to be a relationship that got old, and as they had their fights and battles we found that they were not ours and to be involved with them was only hurting us. And we also just wanted to, basically, at our age, gather everything under our own wing, under our own control. And in terms of getting wider distribution, I’ve always liked to have that but I didn’t ever want to be involved in the large scale corporate large scale, music, show business… and of course, working with Greg Werckman and Ant-Acid is the perfect medium between the two – between not being available and, y’know, having to do in stores at HMV, so… like we’re the kind of band anyone would show up to that, anyway. And we work with Southern in Europe, and they’re also… John Loder used to work with, of course, that famous band I can’t remember from England… That punk band, yeah…who was, uh, do it yourself philosophy and they’ve become the biggest and still the most solid and long-standing independent record maker and distributor in Europe. So we’re, uh, I think we’re, uh, kind of settled after years of being sort of in the wilderness, we’ve got a few good homes again.

Is there any potential for Ausfahrt to be a hit, do you think?

There’s a chance, I mean, it’s not as a dark, and there are -- it’s hard hitting, shorter songs, rockin’er stuff, uh, but you never know what people are going to like or don’t like, I know people who just love the 15 minute epics in which all the albums had like four songs, y’know, and then there are people who (whines) ‘Why don’t you make another one like Wrong, you know, ‘oh no bruno’” Ah, yeah, but… We’ll try. So we end up doing a mix of both and nobody can like it, so… (laughs)

Would it be accurate to say that the Hanson Brothers are more present this time out?

They got… They basically just took over there for awhile and it got ridiculous. This band… We were doing more work for the Hanson Brothers than we were doing for Nomeansno. But that happens, you know. You release a record and people say, why don’t go to Europe, and it did really well, so we went again another couple of times. Pretty soon the year is over and all you’ve done is put on a hockey mask and run around like an idiot all year, but I have a lot of fun doing it. And yes, I believe they’re a big interest on the new record. And that’s only natural. If you rekindle your interest in three chord punk rock, especially since NMN never really indulged in that side of their musical aesthetic, it just kind of brought back home how nice it is to make short loud, punk rock pop songs. It’s totally fun, and things like “No Solo” – we just had a great time. Who cares what it means? Put in a hook! I like that!” (laughs)

I admit, I love the album, but there’s a lightness to it I wasn’t expecting… I go for the most morally heavy songs, myself. I mean, I’m 38, and I nearly give myself a heart attack attempting to mosh to “The River.” I find the new album a bit light!
You’re absolutely right. Again, we’re gonna get this. All the people who used to yell us for not doing short punk rock songs, now all the other half of the audience is gonna yell at us for not putting out, y’know, ‘Bitches Brew 2.’ Though I don’t think anyone really wants that. That might be straining the bounds of that… That might have singly sunk the last record. I can’t think of anyone listened to that song all the way through. I think it was one of the best things we’ve ever done, but you cannot expect a punk rock audience to sit and listen to a fifteen minute rehash of a reworked jazz classic.

But you did it with Luca (of Zu) at the Commodore.

That was so much fun, so much fun.

But it’s true, I think some of the audience were going, “I wanna mosh...”

Yeah, I know, I know. Well, that’s the thing, you... Bands do that, I mean, bands set up their own limitations. We’ve always respected that, because, you know, people pay their money and the come wanting to see and hear what they expect to see and hear. Now, you can shake that up a little but you don’t want to piss people off. You don’t want to make them feel like, well, that’s not what I paid for. You know… I, I think you should push your audience but I don’t think you should bully them.

I loved it.

It’s the encore, man, that’s it. All bets are off.

Tell me about this recording with Zu.

I have done a bit of stuff, in fact I’m working on a couple of more tracks. We’ll probably put out an EP together.

You’ll meet up in NY?

We may do, yes. I’m not sure. I’m not sure about that. I’m the last to hear about these things. I know we’ll meet again in Italy the next time we go over.

It’s gonna be a Zu release?

I think so, I think so. It’s just me, it’s not the rest of the band. I wanna insist on the title, A Visit to the Zu with Mr. Wrong, and you have me in a monkey cage passing a joint to a chimpanzee.

I bet this is close as you guys have come to Eugene Chadbourne.

(Laughs) Yeah, I didn’t really like that release. It’s too much, it’s insane, you need them to play with someday who’s like... That’s what I’ve done, I’ll tell you what, I’ve straightened them out. I’m puttin’ a couple of lyrics on and make them sound like a blues band. I’m going against strength. There’s no way I’m gonna try to outdo them in their 13/7 time signatures, 12 parts here 2 parts there. Unh-huh. I’m just going to lay over some rock and roll on top of that.

Reel ‘em in… John Chedsey tells me you found turning 50 liberating?

I was thinking of finally getting a tattoo across my forehead saying I DON’T GIVE A FUCK, but that, that’s antisocial, I dunno… No, I think I’ve learned the hard way over the course of the years that anger and frustration and perfectionism and… it’s, it’s not worth the effort. It really does just spoil the fun, and I’ve gotten to the point now where I just basically worry about golf, playing bass, and playing on the computer, that’s about it.

So you do spend time online...?

Shopping on Amazon for books on Buddhism, or playing trivia. No, uh, yeah… I do virtually nothing and I’m trying to make an actual art form out of it.

Do you spend time on Nomeanswhatever?

Not unless there’s something upcoming. Although I… it occurred to me after 25 years of being a musician, you know, maybe I should practice, and I’ve actually started practicing the bass. Maybe I’ll learn how to play the piano. Now it’s just whatever. Whatever comes to mind, I’ll give it a go. But mostly I’m a very avid golfer and everything else comes second to that.

I thought they were pulling my leg when they told me you were a golfer...

No, no – I’ve become a golf fanatic. Sunshine, trees, air. It was a revelation to me. I started at the age of 45 and I realized, y’know, that I’ve spent my entire life going from one room in a car to another room, and the discovery that there’s another world out there that’s quiet, it doesn’t involve a lot of talk and you just hit a little ball into the trees and go in there and look for it, I love it, it’s great.

It’s gonna take me awhile to process that.

(laughs) I told you folks, it ain’t too exciting in there, don’t worry, you’re not missing anything.

Nomeansno by bev davies, location unknown, Sept. 7 1984, not to be reused without permission

If I can ask... “Wake Up” is filled with statements of desire, wanting three ways and whatnot, whereas “Mondo Nihilissimo” is about as anti-hedonism as a song can get. I like them both, but the interaction between them seems a bit, uh, contradictory...

There are strange occurrences in there, man. The thing about “Wake Up” you have to remember is that the continuing refrain is WAKE UP, wake up from all this I WANT I WANT I WANT, smell the coffee, smell the roses, and “Mondo Nihilissimo” is the same. It’s like… I think Jerry Falwell would like that song, if he understood it. I doubt if he did… But… It’s just that… people who just indulge themselves in the pleasures of whatever are basically people who don’t care about anything and who are basically in a state of despair, and all the booze, sex, drugs, money, celebrity – whatever it is that feeds your little engine, it’s just nothing, it’s worth nothing, it doesn’t mean anything, and I’m afraid that it’s all that people these days, more and more, I’m a 52 year old man, but even to me over the course (of life) I can see people just more and more and more not giving a damn, but not in a good way, in a sense that they don’t think anything’s worth anything so why not do anything you want, and it doesn’t matter who you hurt, yourself or others, because it’s all meaningless.

Hmmm. Have you read American Psycho?

I haven’t read the book but I saw movie – I thought it was great.

Book is even better.. I should fess up, I’m the guy who bugs you about James Joyce at shows (Rob, when I pestered him at a gig, told me that his favourite book was Ulysses, or “anything Irish.” When I spotted him at a Jello Biafra/Melvins gig sometime later in Vancouver, I approached again, confessed that I’d tried Ulysses, for the third or fourth time, and had been, once again, defeated. He recommended drinking a shot of whiskey every page).  

Oh (laughs, sounds surprised/amused).

Andy Kerr by bev davies, same gig, not to be reused without permission

Tell me about “Heaven.”

Yeah, I think that’s one of the strongest, a lot of people have pointed that out.

It’s about embracing a simple life in the face of death?

Well, also… the song is basically about, people look for the great meaning of life in religious profundity, in intellectual profundity, in great thoughts, in great spiritual revelations… To me, the most profound aspects of life are all on the surface, they’re in the dust under your feet, they’re in the candy bar in your hands, they’re in the air that you breathe, the morning sunshine. To me… People often search inward, too, into themselves, searching for a true self or a perfect self or the God within or whatever. And, um… To me, it’s all out there, it’s out there in the simplest things. It’s washing the dishes, it’s changing the bed, it’s picking up your kids from school, it’s talking to your friends. Um… That’s where the sacred is to me in life, and that’s where you’ll find the transcendent, not in the Vatican, not in huge Cathedrals, not in great spiritual or intellectual opuses, it’s virtually there under your feet… It’s the ground you walk on, and that  is what that song is trying to express. And it’s flawed. Even the flaws carry that weight. To me, if you’re looking for the inner truth, you’re just going to find more surfaces, but don’t be frustrated, because that’s where it is. It’s on the surface, it’s right in front of your face (chuckles)… Is that too much?

No, but… how does that play against the worry about nihilism…? On the one hand meaning is in what’s at hand, but in the US, people are so caught up in their little selfish pleasures and lives that they’re completely ignoring what their country is doing to the world. You seem not to want to comment too directly on politics…?

No, because we’re musicians, and a) I have no power and b) I have no real knowledge of what’s going on. So, y’know, every man has his opinion, it’s just, very few man’s opinions are worth anything, because most of us are completely uninformed. Which mine are. I’m gonna sit here and talk about Iraq, what the hell do I know about that? Or, uh, American imperialism, I could make a few glib comments about that, but basically, I probably don’t know the half of it, right or wrong, y’know. But what you can comment on is the life you live around the people that you live it with, and all these things, these big problems you can see around you, like you say, you can see disregard, disrespect, self-disrespect, disrespect of others. And also you can see people who live with a simple compassion who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and you can often learn from people you hardly know. By seeing certain simple acts. You know, I work in a church, in a soup kitchen every Thursday at a local church here, to dole out the soup, basically, and I work with three disabled kids, and who they are is written on their face, and in dealing with them and talking to them I’ve learned more about, you know, the good and bad about people than watching a thousand news reports or thinking a thousand great thoughts about politics or religion. So. That’s the thing we like to write about, or I like to write about, anyway.

If I can ask about “A Little Too High” – are you fairly anti-drug?

No, I’m not, because drugs, like anything else, can be used in a certain way. You can use a drug to break down a calcified and hidebound view of reality. But if you use a drug simply to anaesthetize pain or to liberate yourself from compunction and conscience, and allow yourself to live in a state where nothing matters and what you do to yourself or to other people just doesn’t concern you, you don’t even feel the consequences of that, then of course against it. But… I’m also against that on the level of people who spend their entire day making money. Those people probably do more harm in the world than any ten crack addicts. I guy who sits there and makes dollars by ripping off and destroying the lives of people around him… I mean, the people who ran Enron, they did more harm to society than 500 000 junkies stealing your cassette deck from your car, or whatever.

So what about Jello? He DOES presume to offer his opinions on everything, especially politics.

Yep…Well, he’s informed, that’s his passion, I mean, he goes out of his way to find out. And… that’s what interests him, you know, so that’s what he becomes an expert about. When you hear him talk… I don’t agree with everything he says, and I may argue with the conclusions that he comes to, but he’s full of…You’re going to learn a lot of stuff if you listen to him. You’re going to hear a lot of the other side of the story if you listen to him. And that’s because he’s done the research, he’s done… he keeps his eyes and ears open, and he finds stuff and he puts it together, A plus B equals THIS, and he does it in a passionate manner, which is really what makes it worthwhile, it’s not, you know, he’s not a school teacher trying to methodically trying to teach a lesson to bored kids. He’s a man who is extremely passionate about what he believes in, and wants to intrigue and incite the people around him with his knowledge… See, again… It’s not the substance of what people do, it’s the passion and the way that they do it, I think that’s the whole thing. I really don’t think the outcomes of what you do are so much as important as the methods and your procedures. That’s really what the value is in doing stuff. Like me, playing music, I mean, you play a song, you disturb the airwaves for awhile with your vibrations and you stop and it’s done, and what have you accomplished really… but in the doing of it, that’s the accomplishment.

Uh, yeah…!


I’ve often wondered if “the beast has arisen” in Rags and Bones is about the mosh pit experience... Some of the lyrics in that song are quite puzzling.  

You know, that’s one song where… uh… It’s sung… There’s another song like that song, even moreso, which is my favourite song on the new record, which is “Slugs are Burning”… That song wrote itself, and a year and a half (later? Ago?), I remember coming up to someone I was working with, going, Eureka, I finally know what that song means! But for the life of me from that time to this I’ve forgotten exactly what revelation I had about it. But… I’m sure if I thought about it again I might redo it… but some songs have a meaning you don’t know until after awhile, like “Slugs are Burning,” it took me a long time to figure out why that song got written the way it did and what the hell it was about… I think I have some idea now. It’s a song … I was talkin’ to somebody else the other day about this. It’s about the joy of savagery, and how really no intellectual or spiritual institution, religion or political ideology can deal with that or has dealt with that successfully. They all deny it, they all want to get out of it, they all want to get away from it. They condemn it overtly or they dismiss it as being a mistake, ignorance… Even the Buddhists who I think are most wise of the established religions really want to get out of that, but it’s the crux, y’know… Fucking, eating, dying, and the joy and relish with which all beasts, including the human beast indulge in that, is, is, is the fire of life, basically, um, and it’s dark, it’s disgusting, it’s frightening, and yet it is alluring, seductive, fiery – your appetite, being satiated, it’s what produces children, and what kills them off eventually, y’know, and that’s what that song came to be about.. And it’s a very joyful and very simple song, and yet includes with in it, of course, very horrific, natural… I mean, the slugs themselves crawling over dead bodies, I mean, These symbols revolt us, because we’re afraid of this, and yet at the same time, it’s the lifeforce, basically.

The slugs are burning with desire, not pollution, then…

No… I mean… the slugs, like everything else, are on fire. We all are creatures who are burning, we’re full of energy and eventually that energy will burn itself out and leave us as dust, that and… and… And all inanimate objects are the same. They all contain a channelled energy which eventually will burn itself out and they will dissolve to the last remnant of static heat, you know, the theory of entropy in the universe, but… we all are burning, and that burning involves fire, desire, and it also involves destruction, and it has no morality and (laughs) it has its own agenda, a very simple one and it doesn’t care, give a damn about ours and any of our more sublime and sophisticated thoughts, and like I say, it’s really something that no religion is able to deal with successfully, except to call it the Devil and dismiss it and ban it, forbid it. THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY. THERE SHALL BE NO TEEN PREGNANCIES. Okay, fine, say that from now to doomsday, it doesn’t make any difference, the weeds come through the cracks.

Nomeansno by bev davies, Sept 7 1984, not to be reused without permission. Anyone know what venue this is?

How about Satanists?

Absolutely true. They do it the other way, the other extreme, they’re equally foolish. They think they’ll escape the horror of it by embracing it, by owning it, by being the master of it, but of course, the pain…They’re still dying, y’know. It’s all a defense, both the rigid virtuous and dedicated demonic are all just trying to defend themselves against the life that’s going to, like a tidal wave, just wash them away, like it does everything.

You were talking about songs that write themselves...

Well, I like songs like that, I really do, to me they’re the most valuable because I get the most out of them. The ones that just drop out of the blue, and once you start into them, and even as you work them out, if you don’t fuck with them, if you don’t fuss with them, if you don’t censor them, you’ll end up with a little jewel there, and it may not be something that you’ll even appreciate until a long time afterwards.  

Do you have any favourites?

Usually the long epics, “The River” is a standard, yeah, “Rags and Bones,” “Heaven” from the new album, it’s hard to pick favourites because there’s a bunch that I like and then over the years I think they sort of, the mix changes… I really loved doing “Bitches Brew,” that was something I really enjoyed doing. But in some senses that Hanson Brothers’ song, “A Night Without You,” might be the best song I ever wrote. To write a hooky, three-chord pop song with a romantic lyric that is somewhat bent, uh, it’s very hard to do, because you’re so limited. It’s such a stiff discipline, there’s not much you can do there. And songs like that – people who write songs like that impress me a lot. And in some senses I think that’s the best song I ever wrote.

What are your tastes in film?

I like the Italian neorealists. I like Antonioni and… I’ve gotten into DVDs serious, the quality of restorations in some of these movies is just gorgeous, it’s just amazing. So, uh…I follow that pretty standard arty sorta thing, I avoid all Hollywood movies.
Are you a Cassavetes fan?

Somewhat, not lately. I sort of liked him a lot when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. But right now it’s mostly the Italians and Werner Herzog, people like that.

Any other last minute comments? Is the band planning its retirement?

If we ever do we won’t say so.

(...and they didn't).

Ford Pier Vengeance Trio plus The Invasives! ...and my final (god willing) Kidney Stone post

Hi, remember me? I finally peed out all my kidney stone chunks (see above). They're in the lab being tested, but I am finally back to a normal state, physically - no more bloody burning urine for me! No more excrutiating, lingering pain in the lower back! No more waking up five times a night to pee! ...and as big as these pieces are, they didn't even hurt that much to pass, believe it or not - it just felt like I was shooting spitwads through a straw. The stent had allegedly been helping them come out, but since nothing emerged for three weeks with it in place, and 20-30 similar chunks came out AFTER it was removed (an uncomfortable experience I will spare you a description of - I was NOT sedated for it), it seems the stent was actually keeping these little fuckers (and their kin) in place. They came out rapid fire after it was removed - all with a day and a half.

Surely that's all there was in me.

However, healthy or not, I'm still overwhelmed with life and work and not really feeling like writing much at all right now. You may be seeing the end of my career as a part-time music journalist, folks. (Though I do have a DOA interview as yet unspoken for in English, about their new album Fight Back, which is actually pretty great... let me know if you wanna pay me money for it!)

...but regardless of that... for the thirty or so of you who look at this, if you like angular, unusual, but infectious and engaging guitar-driven rock music, here's a great show (for a good cause) that you can go to this weekend: the Ford Pier Vengeance Trio plus the Invasives, doing a Grand Forks Flood Relief concert at the SBC Cabaret on Friday night, May 25th. I missed Ford's record release show a few weeks ago at the Cobalt, which if I understand correctly is now closed for good, but you know, I got Facebook friends who were pretty upset that I "crossed the line" to see a show there when I went to Pere Ubu last year... I got no regrets about that, but I also knew I'd have other chances to see Ford, like, say, THIS one, whereas I didn't think I would have another chance to see Pere Ubu (which I was almost proven wrong about, until the Rickshaw show got cancelled... they appear to be back on the road in Europe by the by... David is back to posting on the Ubuprojex site, last I checked... sounds like he is restored to his semi-curmudgeonly but no less lovable self...).

I got nothing very new to SAY about Ford OR the Invasives, however. I want Ford to record the song that he played before the Bob Mould show with the lyric about how "happy days are here again/ I'm bleeding out my ass." It isn't on this album. I can really, really identify with that line, though. That show - also by-the-by - had the most attentive audience I've ever seen Ford play to; he agreed with me afterwards that it was kind of strange to see a chatty Vancouver crowd paying THAT MUCH ATTENTION to an opening act, but they really seemed to groove on what he did, which was quite gratifying, especially since I could maybe factor myself in as having INFLUENCED their attentiveness by having given him some substantial press that week...

If by any chance you don't KNOW either of these bands, however - if you're a Nomeansno fan, in particular, these are both bands that have a strong musical connection to that legendary, now-retired, and much-missed trio, though with a host of other influences and individual idiosyncrasies (and with far less of the stern existential angst that permeates the work of Nomeansno). Ford and I talk about his history, including his dealin's with Nomeansno and his time in DOA, here; the FPVT's new album, Expensive Tissue, is a strong, quirky, original, highly Canadian, and all-round rockin'ly satisfying follow-up to Huzzah! (though I haven't done justice to it by far and apologize for the lameness of my obvious attempt at crit-speak earlier this sentence - can you sense me trying desperately to craft a potentially useful blurb? Fail). Byron Slack and I also talk about the retirement of Nomeansno and the history of the Invasives here. (Robot Stink is still their masterwork, by me, especially "Living Your Life Like It's Somebody Else's" and "Stop & Breathe." I may hit their merch table to see if it exists in vinyl...). I may not be doing very much work to blog about either band, but I'm excited for this show. And will probably go to it, work duties be damned.

I got no fresh pictures for this article but here's a great one Bev took, I believe of all the OTHER Invasives besides Byron. Maybe see you at the Buddha?

Invasives by Bev Davies, not to be reused without permission

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Formative albums list; the top 29, with a gesture at 30.

I've been neglecting this blog a bit! I've got a new computer and a semi-defective mouse that doesn't allow me to italicize properly, at least without a lot of strain; I'm still recovering from surgery and preoccupied with work and housework; and I just haven't felt like blogging (or writing much, truth be known). But there's this thing over on Facebook where people are naming ten albums and it got me thinking of formative influences and albums that have had a larger than average impact on my life. I can't keep it to only ten. But for the record, the albums that had the biggest, most lasting impact on my life - roughly in order of their coming into my life - would be:

1. Marty Robbins' Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs (I still have my father's copy. First album where I ever learned the lyrics to the songs - I could sing "Strawberry Roan" from memory at age eight. Great songwriting on this, in a country-western mode) 

2. Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits (first album I ever owned on my own steam, in my pre-teens, and while I don't listen to it now much, it has to be acknowledged. Another album where I learned all the lyrics to a few of the songs - and who can forget the whores of 7th avenue?)

3 and 4. The Kinks: Muswell Hillbillies and Give the People What they Want (both in my life from my pre-teens and still in my collection, though not the same copies; my original of Muswell Hillbillies - which my parents liked as much as I did, for "Have a Cuppa Tea," was on a Pickwick cassette I found in a discount bin!). Both albums get included a) to acknowledge the immensity of the Kinks and b) because they're very different - one from the classic period and one from the arena rock years. Truth is, since I SAW the Kinks during their arena rock years, touring I think this album (or maybe State of Confusion) at the Pacific Coliseum, that would be the one that I would pick, if I were only going to choose one. Except Muswell Hillbillies is so much better, objectively, and WAS a formative influence, so...

5. Doug and the Slugs' Cognac and Bologna (bought at the Maple Ridge Pay'n'Save, as I recall, and still with me today. A deep sentimental attachment here, as with Wrap It!, but I am only putting the one album on the list). The first album I ever owned (I think) by a local band. 

6. Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast. I went through a metal phase in my early teens, listening to AC/DC and Priest as well. I was embarrassed by this album for years and by Maiden and Priest, and I still can't listen to AC/DC much because of the "sexist thug" aspect of their music - great a spin on the blues - as it may be - but hell, I saw them as a teen and loved this stuff to death back then. And I have come to enjoying them. "Hallowed be Thy Name" is amazing.  

7. Angel City (the Angels): Darkroom. Another album that has been close with me for years, that I still love, and maybe my first "contrarian" gesture, an album my love of which had at least SOMETHING to do with the fact that no one here cared about it.  This had Doc Neeson at his most Dylanesque, if Dylan were fronting an Australian pub rock band. Even back then, I liked this better than AC/DC. 

8. Motorhead - Iron Fist. The album from my "metal teens" that survived my conversion to punk and that has never really left my side (in some version or other) since I first owned it, when it came out.

9. The Blue Oyster Cult - On Your Feet or On Your Knees. This is obviously inferior to Secret Treaties but what can I say, I had it for YEARS before I got Secret Treaties and the version of "ME 262" on it - while kind of corny-sounding now - was my main exposure to the song through my teens. Fire of Unknown Origin was also in my collection before Secret Treaties, and was the album where I saw them on tour (maybe one of two times?). But man, did I love this double live album when I was a kid - and that gatefold interior, whoa. 

10. The Sex Pistols: Never Mind the Bollocks, because it made me shift directions for years. It's kinda like the Simon and Garfunkel album though - I never listen to it these days (tho' I still have it). "Bodies" was an eye-opener.

11. DOA: Something Better Change - hugely important to me at age 14-15. (War on 45 too, but I am only giving DOA one spot, in part because I had to re-adjust this list to add Angel City to it).  

12. Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables - huge as a teen and maybe the most important album in defining my sense of what punk should and could be. 

13. Subhumans Canada: Incorrect Thoughts (which would supplant the DOA entries, maybe, except I didn't own it for years! All the classic DOA and Subhumans stuff was out of print by the time I was actively looking for it. Eventually pulled a copy of this out of a "sale" bin at Collectors' RPM for a mere ten bucks, when it was worth four times that. 

14. Nomeansno: Mama - which I owned when it was still Nomeansno's only LP! One of the most musically and lyrically ambitious punk albums ever, though it isn't "really" punk, is it? It's a singularity, really. I still love it.

15: The Clash: London Calling. Such a great album, I have to acknowledge it even though it is obvious. I am foggy on my sequencing here and might have had a few of the above BEFORE I acquired London Calling, which my parents bought for me on a trip to Montreal when I was 14. 

16. the Spores: Schizofungi! - man I loved this. Another contrarian gesture, because the relative under-appreciation of the Spores at the time, save by a devoted cognoscenti, helped fuel my passion for this record. Still some very funny, smart "horror punk" (kinda) - beats the shit out of the Misfits for me. 

17. No Fun: 1894 (Snivel was also important but I like this one better. I only ever liked SOME of the songs on Snivel, though David's best song in my view ("Ambivalence") is on it. Really not as big for me at the time as some of these others, but I did have it on cassette when it came out, David is a good friend now, he played at my wedding, and I enjoy chatting with the cover artist, ARGH!, when I see him at shows. So it gets a place! 

18: the Flesh Eaters: Hard Road to Follow - again, a subjective favourite, not their best but it still has my favourite Flesh Eaters songs, and the day I found it and took a chance on it at Odyssey Imports was a pretty serious day for me!  

19. Husker Du: Zen Arcade

20: minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime: both of which (the Du and the Minutemen) I had when they came out and enthusiastically participated in fandom for, thanks to my father, who brought them both back from a Vegas road trip he took with a friend, along with a few other punk rock classics I asked him to look for. 

21: the Replacements: Pleased to Meet Me. I acknowledge, again, Let It Be (and maybe even Tim) as better albums but this is the album I saw them tour. 

22. New Model Army: No Rest for the Wicked. Saw a live clip of these guys on Soundproof, fell in love, still own it, still love them. In my perfect world U2 would be waxing Justin Sullivan's car.  

23: the Meat Puppets: Up on the Sun

24. Sonic Youth: Sister

25: Tad: 8-Way Santa - because if I'm only going to pick one grunge album...

26. Mission of Burma: vs. 

27. The Holy Modal Rounders: I and II (on a twofer gatefold LP lent to me by Matt Rogalsky. It took a long time for these albums to really bear fruit but I wouldn't have plunged into old-timey without them. 

28. Pere Ubu: Terminal Tower

29. Ornette Coleman: Free Jazz. Hugely important in my 20's, and though the alley it led me down turned out to be a blind one - the friend I shared it most enthusiastically with killed himself awhile back; the drugs we took to help understand it proved ultimately counterproductive and/or damaging; and the visual arts we did while listening to it, as "aural Pollock," were not something I pursued outside my 20's. I never spin it now - would be more likely to listen to Don Cherry's Brown Rice, or maybe some of the pan-African stuff of the time, Archie Shepp or the Art Ensemble of Chicago or something BYG-ish - but the one that made the deepest mark was Free Jazz.

29. Shockabilly: Vietnam/ Heaven: speaking of drugs, this twofer CD was the one my friends most frequently made me turn off, while I giggled at their frailty. I don't really enjoy Eugene Chadbourne as much as I did, which has SOMETHING to do with interviewing/ hanging out with him a bit - he's a bit prickly! - but boy did I love this at the time.  

30... here I get undecided. Captain Beefheart feels like he deserves a space (and for Trout Mask, but it's not one I listen to at all now; I prefer, believe it or not, The Spotlight Kid). Sun Ra's Space is the Place was pretty important to me too, and I still do own it and spin it, though infrequently. The Cramps' Psychedelic Jungle obviously calls out, as does Slow's Against the Glass. The Stooges' Fun House and the Velvets' White Light/ White Heat - both of which I learned about as a teen through a singularly helpful Henry Rollins' article in Spin, when it was actually a cool magazine - are epochal albums but I came late to them and can't really say they shaped me (Iggy did, but I would have to include Zombie Birdhouse, if I were honest, since it was my first Iggy, I believe, and appeals to the contrarian in me). Camper Van Beethoven probably have had a bigger influence on me than I'd ever acknowledge, in terms of setting up my fondness for bands like the Creaking Planks, say, but they also seem kinda trivial in ways. I listen to Nick Cave and Townes van Zandt and Robyn Hitchcock sometimes and love them lots when I do, but did they shape me? Do they really merit a space here? Bison's Quiet Earth really made a big mark on me awhile back, and along with Motorhead, got me back into metal; without them I'd never have reclaimed some of the metal of my teen years, and never have explored any death/ black/ stoner metal (though that was also a bit of blind alley, thankfully. Real interesting while it lasted, though). And Bison's Lovelessness is one of the most expressive, emotive rock albums I've ever heard - fuck, Farwell wears his heart on his sleeve on that album, and what a soulful, beautiful sleeve it is. Also, nowadays, I kinda love Guided by Voices, at least some days, but my tastes and habits were formed long before I got to them. Alabama Shakes first two albums are things my wife and I can share our enthusiasm for and are great, but I never spin them of my own volition. The New Creation's Troubled was huge for a few years, too, influenced a fair bit of writing, has a personal connection to me in that I was a regular customer of Ty's, and to top all that off I count Chris Towers as a friend now, so it feels like it deserves a space - except I almost never listen to it lately. I'd be way more likely to spin a Dr. John record (and hey, why not include one of his records on the list, or, say, the Rolling Stones' Satanic Majesties or Exile or...?). 

I mean, I dunno.  What should I put for number 30? 

I  would like to include my wife in this list somehow, even though before I met her my tastes were quite formed and I wasn't taking in a lot of "newer" music. Like I say, Alabama Shakes is dishonest, because I only ever listen to them when Erika does. I could acknowledge her in a different way, and include John Renbourn's Faro Annie, since a) we played music off of it at our wedding, as she walked down the aisle, b) I have had it in my collection a long time; c) without Renbourn, I wouldn't be listening to Fairport Convention, or Anne Briggs, or any of the British folkie stuff I listen to sometimes, and since d) unlike a lot of the rootsy Americana I like, it is NOT in any way prefigured by my love of the Holy Modal Rounders... 

Wait, wait... there. 

30. Leonard Cohen: Songs from a Room. I think. 

There, the list is done. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Surgery 4

Surgery today. Fourth and final, I hope, after three failed attempts to shatter my kidney stone. I go to the hospital in a couple of hours for my uretoscopy; I will be knocked out, tubes will be stuffed up my penis, and I will (I hope) wake up stone-free, to pee out the pieces, hopefully with little pain. 

Then one more week of having a stent in me. Which as long as the stone isn't moving (most days) has been the bigger source of irritation, the thing that makes me bleed when I pee, that makes the urine burn, that makes me wake up at all hours to run to the washroom.

Anyhow, wish me luck.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Nada (plus Brian Jonestown Massacre, DOA, and Slow again)

Nothing exciting to report here.

I see gigs happening and feel detached. I hear of films playing and feel detached. I look out the window at the rain and my thoughts are of work I have to do, money I need, my health issues, my future, and my life ahead with Erika (patiently enduring my underemployment and my complaints about my health, though her own health has also had a few bad turns this year - a foot injury and a fall on a sidewalk while on a business trip... of course I am too preoccupied with the blood and fire shooting out my dick to give her equal attention but I'm trying not to be TOO miserabilist this time through. Kidney stones suck though - nothing good to say about the experience. Fourth procedure tentatively penciled in for April 19th, after three failed ones...). 

I mean, it's not like I am completely sidelined. I am kinda wanting to do something on the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and I am curious to hear what Joe has come up with for his new DOA album. Like this one, his last three or four albums have been pitched with words like  "DOA's most vital record since War on 45," so he knows what his last high water mark is well as anyone; and in honesty, I've thought his last three or four records were all pretty great punk records (especially by comparison to most of what DOA did in the 1990's and early 2000's, though Loggerheads is pretty great as well). I actually figure he's got a great punk rock album in him still. Maybe Fight Back will be it? It amuses me that he and I are finally geographically located in such a way that I am now in a position to vote for him. 

...And I will (by the way he's got a Burnaby townhall meeting or such scheduled for Wednesday of next week, though I will be at work). 

The Sunday Slow was interesting but there were elements in the night that overshadowed the actual concert, though Heather Haley was charismatic as ever, Slow did a couple of slow jammy almost funky/ bluesy things that I presume were new songs, which I had not heard before; and I was reminded of a great new song by them called "Nothing to Use" which I heard at the Fox and forgot about. There's a great album in the works, I think... lots else that I'm not really at liberty to get into (or just don't want to). 

I look out the window and see people walking by with umbrellas open. I smell my waffle cooking. I think I am going to stop writing, eat my waffle, and clean the apartment a little. Wish I had something more exciting to write.   Meh.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Walter Hill again: The Assignment

I already did some writing on the theme of "what the hell happened to Walter Hill?" I still haven't figured it out, how someone who made some of the great American action movies of the 1970's ended up where he now is, making what are very much B-movies, almost utterly lacking in the charm and craft of his classic work. I still revere his classic films (Hard Times,  The Warriors, The Long Riders, Southern Comfort) and can find things to enjoy about his one bad 1970's film (The Driver) or his lesser 80's and 90's output (48 Hours, Streets of Fire, Tresspass; I may even revisit Johnny Handsome one of these days). Overall, though, it's puzzling to me. With involvement as a producer on one of the most successful franchises ever, Hill seems like he should have the money, influence and power in the American film system to basically go his own way, and - catching up with his 2016 film The Assignment (also known as Tomboy, on IMDB) - it does seem like that's what he's doing; the film is eccentric in ways that suggest he's calling his own shots. For example, you know his "director's cut" of The Warriors, which introduces those unwelcome cuts to comic book panels at the end of each scene, and substitutes a good number of the films transitions for something akin to flipping a comic book page?

That's all over The Assignment, too. (It is one possible answer to the original question of what the hell happened: Hill apparently really got into comic books, and/or decided that film was or should be an extension of them). There is even a comic book version of the story, co-written by Hill before he made the film, and originally only available in France (which makes me wonder if Hill has been hanging out with Jodorowsky or something, but I have no idea).

That the story existed in comic book form prior to being made into a movie may explain some of what's wrong with it. There's a clumsy cutting-back-and-forth between two levels of narrative, which might work a lot better on the printed page than in a movie, since the comic book reader has a bit more of an authorial role in how lines are read and scenes imagined, contributing more to the work of assembling the story for him/herself. The less effective, much talkier layer has a psychiatrist (played by Tony Shalhoub, whom I like) interviewing an arrogant "rogue" plastic surgeon (played by Sigourney Weaver, whom I neither like nor dislike, but who can certainly do good work). Weaver has been declared insane and committed, and has to read some of the clunkiest lines in the film, illustrating her arrogance and elitism with references to Poe and Shakespeare, lording it over Shalhoub for not getting them. Shalhoub, in turn, has to report his interactions with her to a superior, compounding the talkiness of these sequences and making explicit what was already none-too-subtle. There is simply much more of this than is necessary for progressing the narrative, and elements of it seem so undercooked - like Weaver telling Shalhoub she insisted her bodyguards dressed in dark suits with white shirts, which she bought for them - that they could easily have been left out of the film altogether. That scene, as it plays, reads as Hill justifying a resort to visual cliche in how his characters present themselves (something even Frank Miller - who I generally don't like and don't have an interest in - is smart enough not to do; it's akin to having someone in The Driver explain why The Driver doesn't have a name). Come to think of it, the whole framing device reminds me of a much better film, in fact made by a Hill alum, the late, great Bill Paxton. His superb Gothic horror film Frailty handles its layers much more effectively.

It's a shame, because the other layer of the story - about a (male) hitman named Frank Kitchen, played by Michelle Rodriguez, who is abducted, rendered unconscious, non-consensually gender-transitioned by Weaver, and left to figure out what happened and/or get revenge - is much more interesting. It isn't without problems: it serves at the backstory to the story Weaver tells, but confusingly seems to vie with the Weaver narrative as a framing device, since it in fact begins the film. Since the story Weaver tells is not in fact the Rodriguez one - which contains tons of elements that Weaver was not present for - and since the story of Weaver is mostly unknown to Rodriguez, and happening after the fact, we have what ultimately seem to be two stories embedded in each other, definitely related, but neither of which are being told by either of the film's narrators. (This is very confusing to explain and a little less objectionable on screen, but still irritating). And the Rodriguez "layer" also has an element of its own explicit narration, as in a scene where Rodriguez recaps what is happening to her in a video, in case we've missed something. There are also some weirdly clunky edits (as when, about 21 minutes into the film, Rodriguez throws a tantrum and tires, the scene seemingly coming to an end, after which, the film cuts back to her throwing a tantrum again, with nothing in-between: this seems to violate a basic rule of film editing, that if you're going to let a scene come to an end and cut away from it, don't cut back to it going on again). It's a mess, overall, but there is good stuff in it - especially the performance by Rodriguez.

I don't know why Michelle Rodriguez isn't an A-list star in Hollywood, frankly. It seems unfair enough that I am tempted - again knowing nothing of the actual history here - to cry racism or sexism or something. She can carry a movie - as anyone who has seen her excellent debut feature, Girlfight, will know. Maybe it's daunting to people that she began her career with a performance so tough?

Mostly she seems to have done support roles in action films, since then. She's always welcome onscreen, by me, but nothing I've seen her in since Girlfight (like the surfer movie Blue Crush, which I saw because she was in it, or the Machete films, or the Resident Evil or Fast and Furious films she appears in) has really impressed me that much; she's always good - least convincing when she's happy and feminine, as in Blue Crush, and seeming more comfortable when glowering with body armour and a gun - but she's never the lead, that I've seen, which always seems a waste.

She does have (sort of) the lead role of The Assignment, and her performance is the best thing about it. It's a demanding, maybe even ridiculous, role that she sells: she credibly plays a straight male hitman, then plays a man who finds himself suddenly (and unwantedly) occupying a woman's body. Which doesn't mean she ever plays a woman: she remains a man throughout the performance, with the gestures and expressions and vocal cues of masculinity throughout. These are broadly conveyed - as when, in a scene reminiscent of Oldboy, she wakes up in a grotty hotel room to discover her condition, stripping off bandages to inspect her naked and newly-female body in horror. We've been shown - in Rodriguez's nude scene as a male - that he had quite a large dick, which we can infer he was fond of; his discovery that it has been swapped out is quite traumatic, but it is a masculine trauma we see on screen (presumably an element in the apparently negative reception of the film among transgendered people, but I don't want to get into that; the film is hard enough to get through, because of the levels and degrees of incompetence in its assembly, without also analyzing it politically - though I am sure it could also be politically defended, if you were of a mind to do that).

In any case, Rodriguez remains believably male throughout her performance. You may feel your disbelief straining at all this, but compared to the rest of the film, it works quite well, enough so that you'll be impatient to get back to him/her, frustrated when we cut away to more of the same chatter between Shalhoub and Weaver. There's an interesting story buried here, overwhelmed, overcomplicated, irritatingly assembled, and overall undercooked. If Hill had chosen to tell the story in a more linear fashion, from Kitchen's point of view, while keeping the reveal of what happened to the end - well, true, Park Chan Wook (and Spike Lee) might have been unhappy about it, since it would basically be Oldboy with revenge-driven gender-bending substituting for incest. But it would be a pretty original and powerful exploitation film, and might actually work as a movie, albeit a derivative one.

It does NOT work, as it is; it's a mess. But it is a mess I'm kind of enjoying sorting through, and for those at all curious, there's one other reason to see it that I can offer - besides a general curiosity about Hill's weird trajectory, an attraction to oddball exploitation cinema, and a liking of Michelle Rodriguez: it's filmed in Vancouver, apparently mostly around Chinatown and East Van (the Ovaltine cafe is clearly visible in one shot). Had I known Walter Hill was shooting in Vancouver in 2015 I would have tried to track him down and get my Southern Comfort blu-ray signed (though I would probably have kept my mouth shut as to the question of why he can't seem to make a movie that good again. I'd love it if he did, but it's going to take some rave reviews, at this point, to lure me back to his cinema).

Oh, and for the record, the disc of The Assignment is reasonably cheap, too, having been part of a big Mongrel Media markdown going on at Sunrise Records; while it was $20 or more last month, depending on your chosen format, you can now find it on DVD for 2/ $10 or on blu at 2/ $20, which you now have to pair with a similarly stickered item (a pain in the ass; I liked it better when all Sunrise's $6.99 items were 2/ $10 and all their $12.99 items were 2/ $20, but presumably, that was making it too easy for customers to shop there).

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Slow: some bad cellphone pics

I saw Slow again last night. Brought my wife, met Bev there, said hi to a few other people (Ron Reyes was in the house, in advance of his upcoming appearance with the band Thursday, but he didn't sing anything, and I didn't get a chance to say hi to him). Brought stuff for the band to sign but only got to chat with Terry and his wife, at the merch area - where I bought a shirt - though I got to briefly gush at Bruce Wilson of Tankhog and Sunday Morning, the evening's guest, who signed stuff by both those bands. Took a bunch of cell phone pics but Tom asked us all to not shoot and post video of the night, since there was bound to be some chaos and since - my words not his - he's trying to enforce a bit of quality control on the presentation of their as-yet-unrecorded, still-possibly-under-construction songs. I am fine with that (and I've removed some Youtube vids I had previously posted, at his request). "Asphalt Plane" last night seemed a bit darker and funkier than at the Fox. "Polaroid Queen" is awesome Stonesiness, reminding me of a glib comment someone - Dale? Phil? Grant? - made a Track Records years ago, that they didn't like the first Circle C album (the first Copyright album, that is) because it reminded them of those 80's Stones albums no one liked (but which, like Tattoo You, have long since acquired classic status, much like the Circle C album itself).

It was a great show, in any event. The space was small and packed, and indeed, the presentation was unruly, especially between songs; at one point Tom likened it to a Sonic Youth concert, "except we only use two tunings." But it sure was fun. It didn't go exactly as I expected: I thought there would be an opening set from Bruce, maybe even some Sunday Morning (or Tankhog!) stuff, but instead - after spinning all of the Stones' Some Girls off a turntable onstage, and a brief Aaron Chapman interview with Molly Malone, one of the Penthouse strippers - the instrumental portion of Slow kicked things off (at about 11pm) with a set of surf music (!); then - with Tom arriving - they played most of the Slow old and new catalogue - including a truly kickass "I Broke the Circle" and a couple songs that we had NOT heard at the Fox ("Hello," one appeared to be called). Only then, mid-set, was Bruce brought out, who did two songs: "He Ain't Heavy (He's my Brother)" and Iggy's "Kill City," with Tom doing a duet on the former and mostly stepping down for the latter. If Bruce came out later I missed it; my wife and I snuck out shortly after "Gimme Shelter," since my ailin' body was pretty uncomfortable by that point and I hadda go pee some blood downstairs. But it sure was fun. It struck me that Tom Anselmi is basically a 50 year old teenager. This, in turn, made me feel like a 50 year old teenager (though I've aged more like Hamm, who looks like a 50 year old Hamm).

It would blow to discover that Bruce got onstage for a final song or two with Tom, especially if one of those was "I Woke Up in Love This Morning," so please don't tell me if he did. What else? Them backup singers sure was cute (I didn't get their names, though I kinda thought "Betty and Veronica" would work). I am keen to see another show, though my body bein' what it is these days, I may not, especially since I'm back to work this week. (By the by, a little bird tells me that Doug Donut will be singing "In Flames" with them tomorrow, the greatest Death Sentence song ever; and I am guessing that Billy Hopeless will be doing "Ain't It Fun" with them on Thursday. My most likely night of attendance will be the Heather Haley/ Dennis Mills evening, which closes things off next Sunday. We'll see how it goes).

Anyhow, this is what I got pic-wise. Bev probably took a lot better ones but I ain't seen them yet. Lots of chances to see Slow still this week! (I wonder if I can make it to Vancouver on Thursday night after work? I dunno if I'll be up for it but whoo, Ron Reyes AND Billy Hopeless sharing the stage with Slow? Hmm).