Saturday, May 31, 2008

Midterm Report Card: The Best of Oh-Ate So Far

As we enter the sixth month (someone's having a birthday!), we here at ABWAWBA are pausing to look back at the tracks we've brought to you so far this year and highlight some of our favourites from each month.

January: "Don't Haunt This Place" by the Rural Alberta Advantage - I have come to absolutely adore this band and their album Hometowns. Their songs about growing up in (where else) Rural Alberta strike a chord with this prairie kid, and the way they put their songs together is pretty much superb. I really like the drumming on "Don't Haunt This Place." For those of you in Guelph, the RAA will be playing your Albion on June 10. To my brother and bros in T.O., check 'em out June 10 at The Boat.

February: "City of Noise" by The Summerland - "Hey, you rockers!" Lipps Inc goes dance-punk with this song by Calgary's finest.

March: "Lovefish" by Michael Wells - This just barely beat out the Fake Fictions' latest and greatest ode to dayjobs, but the buoyant optimism and pyschic freakout of this tune is irresistible.

April: "Spring Flower" by the Great Outdoors - I saw Adam Nation the other day, and I kick myself for not introducing myself and telling him how wonderful this song has made me feel.

May: "On and Off" by Junior Pantherz - More prairie music, this time from my hometown (or one of them) Saskatoon. This song has everything I love about the Junior Pantherz, plus more.

What will June bring???

Thursday, May 29, 2008

it may be no big deal to you...

...but Lyle Lovett is coming back to Vancouver! Whoo hoo. It seems like only yesterday I was imagining a movie where Lovett and Fred Ward teamed up as a pair of detectives who solve crimes the old fashioned way (whatever that means) by day and sing country & western music at night. Yeah, that'd be all right.

I saw Lovett a little over a year ago with my bro and my sis and the ever-lovin' CS Rippen. Lovett was on a tour with John Hiatt, Joe Ely and Guy Clark, where they all sat on stage together and told stories and played on each others' songs and it was pretty damn great. My dad was supposed to come out for the concert, but at the last minute bailed out, so that's how the Ripper became an honourary Matheson.

This time Lovett's bringing his Large Band (as opposed to a Big Band) and will probably be playing songs from last year's brilliant album It's Not Big, It's Large. Nicole told me that Lovett was going to be here tomorrow night, and with such short notice, I figured there was no way I was gonna be able to make it. But it turns out that Lovett won't actually be here (and by here I mean the Orpheum) until July 24. So I still have time to miss it.

mp3: "No Big Deal" by Lyle Lovett & His Large Band
mp3: "All Downhill" by Lyle Lovett & His Large Band

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Sea, some books, and an Ode

I live near the ocean. I mean, compared to my old place, which was in Downtown Regina, I pretty much roll outta bed right into the surf.
Okay, it's not really the ocean, it's a strait. And I have to take two buses just to get a look at it. But I do live pretty close to False Creek, which is less creek-y than and just as false as the one I left behind in Regina (on the Canadian Prairies all geography not vast vistas is manmade), and sometimes I like to go down there and watch the yachts do nothing all day.

Most days I take the New York Times Crossword and a book. Sometimes, just a book. I haven't transcended my adolescent shame enough to read comic books--or even graphic novels--in public, but I'm not really too many of those these days anyhow. I've been reading a lot of text-only (or lightly illustrated) books lately, thanks to a surfeit of sunny days, and enjoying most of them.

Sideswipe by Charles Willeford - A loaner from one co-worker or another (I'm honestly not sure which co-worker it belongs to), this is a winner. You might recognize protagonist Hoke Moseley, the overwhelmed Miami Police detective with false teeth, from the Alec Baldwin flick Miami Blues, where he was played by Fred Ward. I only vaguely do--in fact, Ward taking out his teeth is pretty much all I remember of the film. For some reason I thought Lyle Lovett was in it, but imdb says he's not. Who else would be down with a buddy-cop film starring Lovett and Ward?

Sideswipe starts with Moseley's nervous breakdown one morning before work, and casually strolls along its way as he does everything he can (he even cheats at Monopoly) to avoid going to work. It's incredibly easy-going and likable, taking its time to let its many characters really show themselves to you, even as some of them fight against their own true nature. There's one scene, just before the climax, that really knocked my socks off. Moseley's superior at the Miami PD tries to convince him to come back to work. It's just two men sitting in a tiny apartment talking, but it stands out as one of my favourite passages in any book ever.

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon - Okay, so I'm a big Chabon fan, but I had a really hard time working my way through this book. This one was originally serialized in The New York Times, and maybe read better at a rate of a chapter per week. In it, Chabon explores the serial adventure set in days of yore a la Don Quixote, and even adopts Cervantes's style (or at least that of whichever translator it was that I read) of overelocution. I don't know if there's even one simple, direct sentence in the whole volume. While it has high adventure, decent enough humour and brings an interesting Jewish viewpoint to the travelling adventurer genre, Gentlemen of the Road is a bit of a drag.

Boomsday by Christopher Buckley - Now this is more like it. Fast, ribald, a sweet combo of broad satire and pointed criticism. Set mostly around a Washington DC PR firm (where Terry Tucker stands in for Thank You For Smoking's Nick Naylor), Boomsday concerns a young blogger's modest proposal to solve the US's mounting Social Security crisis: tax incentives for babyboomers to off themselves before they drain the reserves and put the burden of their comfortable retirement squarely on the shoulders of our heroine's generation. She even comes up with a classy name for it: Voluntary Transitioning. The novel sweetly swings between deft humour and blatant-as-it-gets parody; Transitioning's main opponent is a sweaty biblethumper named Gideon Payne.

The Black Book by Ian Rankin - Yes, I'm back on the Rebus. I'm about halfway through this, and I think it might be my favourite yet. Even better than Tooth & Nail.


The Instruments (pictured above, photo by Nick Cervini) orbit around Heather McIntosh, who has played cello with everyone from Elf Power to Gnarls Barkley. Their new album is called Dark Småland and it's out now on Orange Twin Records. They've got a lush, melodic sort of lo-fi Stereolab thing going on that works on a summer night like this.

mp3: "Ode to the Sea" by the Instruments
mp3: "Sounds Electric" by the Instruments

Here's what we know...

Yeah, so I've been laying kinda low lately. No particular reason, just, y'know, whatevs. Expect a few updates this week as I sort through all the tunes in my inbox and see what moves me. Here's two things that just can't wait.

#1 B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield says Canada's narcotics laws no match for drug addicts' constitutional right to access supervised injection sites, in a bold and mightily interesting decisicion. Says the judge:
"In my opinion, section 4(1) of the CDSA, which applies to possession for every purpose without discrimination or differentiation in its effect, is arbitrary. In particular it prohibits the management of addiction and its associated risks at Insite. It treats all consumption of controlled substances, whether addictive or not, and whether by an addict or not, in the same manner. Instead of being rationally connected to a reasonable apprehension of harm, the blanket prohibition contributes to the very harm it seeks to prevent. It is inconsistent with the state's interest in fostering individual and community health, and preventing death and disease."

#2 The Mongrels rock. If you know me, you know that I have been a fan of Montreal's Tricky Woo for, like, a decade. I liked the way that their hair got longer with every album, both literally and musically. I even dug Andrew Dickson's psychedlick psyde project Soft Canyon, big time. So I was kinda surprised when Nicole told me, like two months ago that Dickson had a new band. I mean, I shoulda known, right?
Yeah right. So the new band is Mongrels. The album is Oshawa and the sound is, well, kinda Bell-Rays-y, but with a bit more chug-a-lug boogie.

mp3: "Needs Got Needs" by Mongrels

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

End a Saskploitation Era...

I'm honestly torn between thinking that there's no way that longstanding sports journalist turned folksy columnist Bob Hughes wouldn't be up on longstanding sports journalist turned folksy columnist Roy MacGregor, and well, the exact opposite of that. Hughes resigned from his column in my alma mater, the Leader-Post, this week under a light dusting of disgrace. It seems that he cribbed a col from the Globe and Mail's Bizarro version of Hughes, MacGregor. (Interestingly, the offending column has been locked at the L-P's website.)
Hughes, via his general (self) interest column, is something of a Regina icon, if for no other reason than no one else in town ever made so many announcements that he is not now, nor has he ever been, a member of one of Saskatchewan's most prominent groups organized to fight racism. Indeed, Bob Hughes is often a reminder of a less enlightened era, not so far back in Saskatchewan's history. And yet, through his columns, we got a rare glimpse inside the mind of a man quite earnestly trying to come to terms of with a society that refused to conform to his worldview. Witness his columns following the disappearance of Tamra Keepness, through which Hughes shone a light on Regina's inner city, despairing that in a city of such wealth there were still people living in abject poverty (a more recent column revealed that Hughes's realtor wife either owned or represented a property that Hughes himself called a "crackhouse"). While the conclusions he drew and the statements he made about Regina's inner city were often baffling and occasionally insulting, there was something inherently noble about the way the tragedy clearly affected him.
Hughes's writing style, which even the self-appointed "Ned Flanders of the newsroom" Will Chabun takes issue with, is a thing unto itself. Hughes's columns read like turgid boys' adventure stories from the early 20th Century (not surprising for a former sportswriter), and bore no small resemblance to the earliest writings of Hunter S. Thompson, a former sportswriter himself. For all its flaws, though, it has that one thing that nearly all writers, and certainly all columnists, hope to achieve. It has an absolutely singular and identifiable voice. Except when it's cribbing from Roy MacGregor.

mp3: "Gone, It's Gone" by Peter Elkas
mp3: "Everybody Works" by Peter Elkas

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Escalator Safety Issues

There were about 11,000 escalator-related injuries in 2007 in the US of A, according to estimates from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. A disturbing new trend in escalator-related injuries (ERI's) is entrapment (starring Catherine Zeta-Jones!). "CPSC is aware of 77 entrapment incidents since January 2006, with about half resulting in injury" reads their report. "All but two of the incidents involved popular soft-sided flexible clogs and slides."
So you can't have it both ways. If you're gonna wear comfortable (ugly) shoes, you gotta take the stairs. I imagine it won't be long until every mall has a little sign at their escalator warning Croc-wearers away.

It's a little-known fact that Knoxville, TN is the world capital of escalators. People there just hate stairs. Little wonder that a band such Diacon-Panthers should emerge from such mobile-staircase mecca. They've just released an album called Make It Feel Better. They're hard to describe, and even harder to forget (to fudge a Bill Callahan line). There's elements of, I dunno, Kings of Leon and Jason Molina, and maybe a little Modest Mouse. They're like the Band in a slapfight with the Flaming Lips. They're sort of a scaled down, garage-y Lambchop. Comparing bands to other bands is foolish, uninformative and boring. I'm gonna stop while I still can. So let's just say that Diacon-Panthers make music with lots of space, creepy howling and Southern rock motifs.

mp3: "St. Anthony" by Diacon-Panthers
mp3: "American Creature" by Diacon-Panthers

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ain't That America?

So we went to the United States of America on the weekend. As hard as it is to believe, it was my first time outside the Canadian border.
The first thing I noticed was that America loves to shop and eat. All along the highway, there were signs for places with exotic sounding names like OfficeMax, IHOP, and Jack-in-the-Box.

Second, Americans say things like "Do y'all come from Canada?" and "I hear y'all up there in Canada have some pretty tough hunting laws. It's them environmentalists, isn't it? I heard told that up there in Maine, the whole city's overrun by the deers and wolves because the hunting laws is so tough. Is that true? Is y'all being run out of your cities by the deers and wolves?"
Okay, that was just one guy.

Third thing I noticed is that rural America really does look like a John Cougar Mellancamp video. With slightly newer cars up on blocks on the lawn.

Seattle, though, is a very good looking city, even though we didn't have a lot to say to each other. I especially admired its buildings, of which there are many. Pike Place Public Market is pretty cool, and, to my surprise, there are a few sweet French-style cafes. Complete with snotty servers! (actually the snottiest server we had was at a seafood restaurant I guess because of the former grandeur of the aeronautical industry in the area, a lot of Seattle, a lot of older Seattle, has a pretty wicked space theme, which reminded me of Darwyn Cooke's The New Frontier. A lot of neon phalli.
We were only there for a couple of days, so there was more we didn't do than we did. But I did check out some of the Emerald City ComiCon. It was my first real comic convention and I didn't really know what to expect or what to do once I got there. I showed up late (I got lost) to Sunday's panel focused on Oni Press, which is one of the easiest small press publishers to cheer for, since it publishes a pretty great cross-section of genres, some of which are LEGENDARY, like Greg Rucka's Queen & Country series and Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series. No surprise, both Rucka and O'Malley were at the panel, though I missed O'Malley's bit, which was the main reason I wanted to go. However, Rucka's bit was pretty cool. He talked about a new series he's launching later this year about a P.I. in PDX, described as greatly influenced by the Rockford Files (which is only the greatest TV show in the history of TV shows). Of course, the new series, Stumptown, will feature a strong female lead with endearing character flaws, like almost of all of Rucka's notable comics.
During the panel's brief question and answer session, O'Malley did address the content of the upcoming Scott Pilgrim movie, saying that the first half half hour of the movie was "pretty much verbatim the first book." It sounds like the Scott Pilgrim movie will contain material from all four published-to-date Scott Pilgrim books.
After the panel, I locked eyes with DC Comics' Executive Editor Dan Didio, who was about to host a panel about how much we all love comics. I don't know how much I love comics lately, so I didn't go. As I wandered around the convention floor, I eventually locked eyes with a lot of funny book superstars, including: Kurt Busiek, Mike Grell, Tom Peyer, Rick Remender, possibly Gail Simone, and certainly Matt Wagner. I didn't know what else to do, and I didn't even know who most of them were until I lowered my eyes to see their nametags.

I did get a sweet Scott Pilgrim T-shirt, and bought another copy of Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life so that I could get BLO'M to sign it for me. There were two guys gushing about how Scott Pilgrim is the coolest thing in the whole world behind me, so I didn't say anything. I just stood there, like a jerk. BLO'M looked at me and didn't say anything either. Then I, a Canadian, handed him, a Canadian, some American money, and we parted ways. His significant other, Hope Larson, had been sitting beside him with her own books earlier, but wasn't there when I got my stuff. If she had been, I probably would have got something from her, since I hear/read that she's very good.

Eventually, I did actually have a real conversation with someone at a comic convention. Matthew Maxwell wrote a pretty swell comic book about cowboys and werewolves called Strangeways: Murder Moon , about which I'll have more to say when I'm finished reading the thing. We shared a couple of laughs about Superman's educational background. He also talked about the challenges of getting a comic book out to the world. It was actually kind of oddly encouraging, talking to a writer about stuff like that, even though I just kinda stood there, like a jerk. He let me in on a secret, though: Black Metal is better than Scott Pilgrim.
So after I talked to Matt, and bought his book, I went back to the Oni booth and got Black Metal. Yeah, it's pretty awesome. I also got thinking about what it would be like if I was a comic book writer, instead of merely a comic book reader. Then I started coming up with ideas. I already had an idea for a 30th Century adventure involving the Legion of Super-Heroes that I'm going to sock away until someone offers ONE MILLION (or possibly one hundred, we'll see where I am when anyone offers me anything for writing again) dollars for it. But I also came up with another idea that was influenced both Maxwell's genre mash-up and by stuff I think about nearly every single day. It'll probably just end up as another pulpy short story I never finish (ask me about my sci-fi art gallery caper story some day--better yet, ask me to finish it!), but it's fun to think about writing. It's also fun to write. It's also fun to get paid to write. SO, if you are looking to pay someone with a background in daily newspapers and rock & roll journalism to write some awesome stories for big money under extreme lax deadlines, look no further.

We've got some wicked new music from the Canadian prairies today. Including a new song by Saskatoon, Saskatchewan's Junior Pantherz, which is cool, cuz I thought they broke up a long time ago. I guess they got better. (that's a comic joke)

mp3: "Black Rice" by Women
mp3: "On and Off" by Junior Pantherz

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Back Alley Is Not A Safe Injection Site

Insite, Vancouver's Supervised Injection Site, is fighting for its existence. Its current exemption under Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act expires on June 30th of this year. Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd was hired by the Harper Tories to study InSite and addressed the Ottawa Press Gallery this week.

"There is no doubt that InSite has made a positive impact for the individuals who use InSite, the residents, service providers and business operators in the neighbourhood, and for the greater public health of the community," said Professor Boyd.

The Vancouver Sun had a very strongly-worded editorial on the matter last week. Even some Christians have found the philosophy of harm reduction to be preferable to Prime Minister Harper's claim that "if you remain an addict, I don't care how much harm you reduce,you're going to have a short and miserable life." Some people, to my embarrassment even some from Saskatchewan, still don't get it, arguing that "the risk of contracting a deadly disease" is "it's [sic] own deterrent or 'harm reduction' strategy."

I hate to read too much into that, but that seems like a rather callous way to talk about sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and friends. Intimating that people deserve to contract a deadly disease as some sort moral punishment from on high seems a little, I dunno, anti-Canadian or something. I mean, that's like saying all those American folks who got sub-prime mortgages deserve to be homeless now. Or that people who like bacon deserve to have heart attacks.

Get informed, and let Stephen Harper know that a drug addiction shouldn't be a death sentence.

This public service announcement is accompanied today by some tunes the swell Chicago band the Prairie Spies. They've got a new album coming out this summer called Surplus Enjoyment, which, not-so-coincidentally, is what you'll have after you listen to their songs!

mp3: "Vigilante" by the Prairie Spies
mp3: "Who's Been Gettin' High" by the Prairie Spies

Friday, May 02, 2008

Q: What's better than comic books?

A: Free comic books. By the time you read this, it will be Free Comic Book Day 2008. YES. At the risk of further ABWAWBA's reputation as the Douglas Wolk fan club, here's DW's look (from at what's up for FREE grabs today. Absolutely do not miss your chance to get a free copy of All Star Superman #1 if you don't already follow that series. If you ever tied a blanket around your neck, this comic will remind you why you did it.

If We Versus The Shark was the name of a comic, I would probably check that out. But as it is, it's a terrific name for a noisy pop group from Athens, GA. They've got a new album coming out in July called Dirty Versions on Hello Sir Records. They'll be playing at Sneaky Dee's (as featured in Scott Pilgrim comics--see how I made everything fit together?) in Toronto on the 11th of May.

mp3: "Mr. Ego Death" by We Versus The Shark

And what goes better with a Saturday afternoon fulla free comics than a nice peanut butter and jam sandwich? I have been completely intransigent about PB+J's lately: nice, wholegrain bread; salt-free organic chunky peanut butter; Bonne Maman confiture extra fraises. NICE.

mp3: "PB+J" by RTX

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Some People Like To Go Out Dancing...

...other peoples, they have to work.

Then We Came To The End, by Joshua Ferris is a book you would like. You of all people, sitting somewhere in an office, sneaking furtives glances at your favourite blog between coffee breaks. You've got Radio3 on in your cubicle, and you still have to lean into your desktop computer to hear it over the three other competing stations in your cubicle block. Across the orange felt divider, your coworker sings the wrong words along to Flo Rida.

You've got some grapes in a blue tupperware bin that you're snacking on and no matter hard you try, you just can't imagine them into chocolate covered pretzels.

This novel is for you.

You and your generation (mostly) haven't been to war. You haven't suffered the effects of a Great Depression. But you've worked in an office. This is your great shared experience that binds you together with almost everyone you know. You have spent 20 minutes trying to figure out which one is the toner cartridge for the fax machine, and which one is the toner for the photocopier. You have crossed the street to the convenience store to buy a pen so that you can fill out the supplies requisition form to get more pens. You have sat through an hour-long meeting filled with nothing with buzzwords and expecations. You have signed cards wishing people you've never spoken to and never liked well in their new jobs.

Then We Came To The End is the story of an office a lot like the one you work in. Some people show up early, some show up late. Some get haircuts, others get cancer. They form work units and social units within the building and the lines between the two blur. Small trespasses beget large grudges and rumour.

Joshua Ferris writes here in first-person plural, which makes us feel like a co-conspirator leaning against the doorframe at Benny Shassburger's office. We share in the pranks and the gossip, and we can't help but feel that we, too, are just as guilty of being flawed and selfish as Ferris's well-drawn characters. We love them and identify with them not because they are brave and noble, but because, like us, they are frail. They are human, we are human. Then We Came To The End is a beautiful book. You will love it.

mp3: "It's Getting To Me" by Lousy Robot
mp3: "My Poor Suburbans" by John Southworth