Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten Great Songs 2009 #4: All the Money I Had is Gone

Michelle Lang was the agriculture reporter when I started at the Leader-Post in 2001. My job was mainly to sort the mail, archive each day's edition, and tame the wild fax machine. It was the closest thing to an adult job I've ever had. I held on to it far longer than I should have because I was afraid that that was as good as I was going to get in this world. And also because they let me write CD reviews and interview Bruce McCulloch and Bob Newhart and Charley Pride.
By the time I started at the L-P, I'd been writing consistently for about four years for the student press, alt-weeklies, and the odd not-quite-glossy music mag. Among the amateurs and the activists, I thought I was pretty hot stuff. I was quickly humbled at my leftover desk on the edge of a real newsroom, watching real journalists do real journalism every day. I spent the next five years wallowing in a wounded sense of inadequacy that mostly manifested itself in self-sabotage.
Early days, before I resigned myself to a lifetime of fax wrangling, it felt like my lowly position might be a springboard to better things. During that first year or so, some reporters would ask me to help search the archives (before the archives went digital). One day Michelle stopped by my desk and said she'd heard I had the best French in the newsroom.
"That's not saying much," I said. I'd helped translate some French documents once.
Well, Michelle explained, of course I'd heard that such-and-such federal agriculture program was falling apart and the provincial Ag Dept. was publicly considering pulling out or going ahead anyway or something. She knew that Manitoba had already bailed and had heard that Quebec might be too. Trouble was, her French wasn't good enough that she could call up the Quebec Agriculture Ministry to confirm. Would I, could I?
So, with my horribly out of practice French and extremely limited knowledge of agricultural issues, I dialled up the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture. "Etes-vous...?"
I made a transcript and translated it and left it on Michelle's desk. The Quebec Ministry was weighing their options and promised to act in the best interest of their producers. When Michelle got back to the newsroom, she thanked me for my help. It felt great to be challenged and to come through on it. Good work is its own reward, I figured.
The following morning, I immediately opened the paper to the Ag section to see how much ink my little adventure had generated. The Quebec Ministry of Agriculture featured in one tangential sentence in the article, which was mainly about how Saskatchewan farmers were dealing with the mess. At the bottom of the the article, in italics, read: with files from Emmet Matheson.
Damn. I doubt Michelle realized how much that acknowledgement meant to me. For her, the whole thing was routine: you follow through on stories and you give proper credit. That's just good journalism, that's just being a decent human being.
I think everyone who worked at the Leader-Post back then would agree that working there became a little less fun and interesting after Michelle left for the Calgary Herald.
Michelle Lang, along with four Canadian Forces soldiers, died yesterday in Afghanistan when the vehicle they were traveling in hit an improvised explosive device.

mp3: "All the Money I Had is Gone" by the Deep Dark Woods

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ten Great Songs 2009 #3: Going Out Tonight

Recidivism. A great, dark theme for a great, dark song. It starts with that spare twang-y chord, like it's an outlaw country murder ballad. And it is, in its way.
The song finds its narrator at a point of despair so low that bottoming out seems like redemption. Maybe this is what's happened to (the hopefully fictional) Gary Hache in the decade since Andrew Vincent first sang about him. Ten years younger, getting loaded and mouthing off to cops sounds like a lot of fun. But sometimes bad boys grow into sad men , and this song catches one of them in a quiet moment, and nails it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Should Have Loved Them When You Had the Chance

Originally published in a December issue of prairie dog magazine.

You Should Have Killed Us When You Had the Chance


Saved By Radio

4 dogs

Proof there’s no God: The Parkas were twice as good as Two Hours Traffic, yet somehow failed to reach even half the national profile of the Two Minute Miracles. The Parkas played their final show last July in Toronto and you probably didn’t even know they existed until you read this paragraph. WTF, my friends?

You Should Have Killed Us When You Had the Chance comes to us like an infant in a rocketship from a doomed planet. Each song is a feat of strength magnified by our yellow sun and lesser gravity. “Isolation Pay” is David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” ferociously played as if an outtake from This Year’s Model, the lyrics rewritten as a convincing blue collar anthem. “Bad Comedian” is one of two odd setpieces (the other is the brilliantly simple “Face the Facts”), a roman a clef that recalls Toronto writer Jason Anderson’s overlooked 2005 novel Showbiz in the way it plies the tragedy out of comedy and then socks it right back. “Brighton Hurricane”, “Don’t Say No” and “The Gang’s All Gone” are prime examples of the meaty, muscular brand of rock the Parkas have always excelled at. “Goodnight, Nemesis” calls back to the themes of the Parkas’ first album, 2003’s Now This Is Fighting, and highlights how the band has matured. Back then, on “Giants in My Field” the Parkas cheekily riffed on Aretha, spelling “R-E-V-E-N-G-E, find out what it means to me.” Now, older and wiser, they broodingly tell us “Sometimes justice is just a grudge." You Should Have Killed Us... shows a band that held on to all that was good and interesting about itself and continuously found new ways to make it work.

mp3: "Face the Facts" by Parkas from their new, final album You Should Have Killed Us When You Had the Chance

mp3: "Scam the Tram" by Parkas from their first album Now This is Fighting

mp3: "Get on the Cardboard" by Phasers on Stun, a pre-Parkas band featuring the world famous Rhyno Bros Rhythm Section

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Showbiz, Part Two: Escapism

“I read and review a lot of CanLit where there really isn’t a plot,” Jason Anderson told Taddle Creek magazine about his debut novel, Showbiz in 2005. “A lot of character, a lot of theme, but there’s really not a ripping-yarn story element to it.”
Showbiz follows Nathan Grant, a freelance journalist whose career has stalled out in the middle of an intersection, as he gets in over his head chasing down a story that could make his career or break his legs. That's plot taken care of. Out of the plot, or maybe alongside?, come all kinds of great characters and themes. And jokes.
Mostly Anderson gives us a nervous Canadian navigating the USA, a post-paranoid landscape yin-yanging on the axis of exhibitionism and secrecy. Reality TV and conspiracy theories. All of which is plenty entertaining and worthwhile, but what really makes the novel crackle are the insights Anderson teases about, well, Showbiz. Throughout the book, we get brief italicized vignettes from Grant's quarry, presidential impersonator Jimmy Wynn; internal monologues as he psyches himself up for another curtain call in the good old days. As the novel winds its way through show biz meccas New York City, Las Vegas, L.A. and rural Californa desert toward a climax that could only happen on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, the parallels between the art of impersonation and the craft of writing start humming like tines of the same tuning fork. The last half of the book is really enjoyable.
The first 30 or so pages are a little awkward. There are scenes at an art opening and a bar-qua-barber shop that don't do a lot to engage the reader or necessarily set up the rest of the book. Anderson eases in to the parallel reality of his novel--a world where JFK was named Teddy Cannon and killed in New Orleans, Lenny Bruce survived to turn into a low-rent Ed McMahon, though the Shaggs persist (albeit under a different name) because even on a quantum level, no universe could exist without them--a little too slowly, giving the impression at first that he's just too chicken shit to use real names. But once we meet Anderson's pudding-loving Lenny Bruce the idea finally clicks and the novel really takes off.
Plus, Anderson includes my favourite joke (best told as an orphaned punchline by Detective Meldrick Lewis throughout several seasons of Homicide: Life on the Streets) about a bear.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Ten Great Songs 2009 #2: Holiday

If you're looking for a perfect gift for that special someone in your life who is trying desperately to make the transition from writing incoherent 250-word record reviews to full-fledged novelism, you could do a lot worse than Jason Anderson's 2005 novel Showbiz.
Anderson plays keyboards in The Two Koreas and, more importantly for our narrative today, writes arts journalism out of Toronto for a bunch of places that you'll probably recognize if you live in Toronto, and won't if you don't. Like the CBC.
About 12 years ago, Anderson was the music editor at Eye Weekly, and I was very slowly making my way from Regina to Montreal to become a writer. Seriously, that was the plan: Move to Montreal, become a writer. I made a flowchart and everything. I was well on my way to achieving both goals, because I had published at least five record reviews in Regina's prairie dog magazine (it was a monthly back then) and was temporarily living in a London, Ont. basement apartment. I was 20, I was destined for greatness.
I had already faxed (!) my tearsheets to the Mirror before I even left Regina, to give them time to find me a desk, I suppose. But my plans were still malleable, so I decided to send Eye an email, just in case. I included a couple of my better pieces (I didn't have a lot, but it was still obvious which ones were better) and an offhand remark about how I was the second coming of Richard Meltzer. Of course, this was 1998 or something, and Meltzer was more or less entirely out of print at the point and I don't think I'd even read anything by him, I'd just read about him and decided he was my hero based on that. Well, maybe I'd read some of his stuff on Addicted to Noise, which was kind of a kickass website back in tha day. But I certainly wasn't familiar with his style, just his reputation.
So I get an email back from Jason Anderson. He commends my intention to be the next Meltzer, says he likes one of the samples I sent him and invites me to pitch to him. He even suggests I use more jokes. So I call him up, he talks to me as if I'm a peer, telling me that the new Plant & Page album really sounds like an Albini recording (because it was) and I'm like, oh shit. I'm just a guy who's written a handful of CD reviews, I don't know what an Albini recording is supposed to sound like! I'm in way over my head. I have one pitch, not a great one, based on a musical obsession I was on the verge of growing out of. Anderson whittles it down a bit, but accepts it, gives me an assignment. He never hears from me again.
I spent the next few months in Montreal, writing horrible poetry and short stories that were even worse.
Eventually I went back to Regina and have incrementally become almost as good a writer as I used to tell everybody I already was. Give me another twelve years.
More about Showbiz tomorrow.

Monday, December 07, 2009

One Year Later...

I think back to those dark days of last December, sleepless and harrowed, wandering the streets near on midnight looking for the late-night supermarket in the snowy mystery. One foot in front of the other, one diaper change to the next.
Those early days, you were losing more weight than you should have. Just by a little, just enough to scare us. We supplemented and regulated, stepped up the frequency of your feedings, every three hours, no matter what. It really felt, and I supposed it was, that all we had to do was keep you alive. It was easy to forget about ourselves. But when we remembered, we were famished.
I went out into the night, I didn't remember the last time I'd been out, I didn't know what day it was. It was dark, but it had been snowing so the ground reflected the light from the standards above. Everything was new, built in anticipation of the Canada Line, it was like walking through a window display.
I got to the store just as they were starting to close up. I wandered the aisles in a hurried fog, not wanting to be last out, but without much idea of what I should be buying. By the time I made it to the cashier, my basket was full of random frozen meals, unripe fruit and a salad mix. I had no business buying groceries in my state of mind, but what else could I do?
I got home, put a frozen lasagna in the oven, and hoped it would be ready before your next meal.
A week or so later, the danger had passed, but no one was getting much sleep, no one had recoverd. We took you out to our neighbourhood coffee shop. I wore the same green corduroy Snuggli my parents had carried me in, 31 years earlier. You were so calm and quiet, I was afraid I'd smothered you. You were so fragile. I took nothing for granted.
Yesterday, we took you out for brunch, you walked part way. You ate a pancake and some fruit. You raised a ruckus and laughed, laughed, laughed. I laughed too.

mp3: "Daddy Loves Baby" by Don Covay

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Ten Great Songs 2009 #1: Rising

A few years ago, I went to see The Marriage of Figaro. Not my favourite opera, but related at least. It was a pleasant enough experience, but I wasn't all that impressed by the supertitles projected above the stage. I'd seen foreign movies, so I was prepared to read and watch at the same time. I wasn't, however, prepared for how pedestrian the libretto seemed when translated to English.
I get what Opera is trying to do with the supertitles, and I appreciate that they're trying to broaden the audience and democratize the artform. But, geez, I like the mystery! What's obscure and unknowable is half the appeal! I don't want quotidian Opera, I want it so grand that I can only respond to it on an emotional level.
So I was a little worried when I noticed a number of English-language songs on Lhasa de Sela's new album, Lhasa. Her previous albs were mostly sung in Spanish and French, and though I understand French, I often choose not to. Luckily, Lhasa didn't flake out on me. The album is a country & western album in about the same way that Leonard Cohen's Various Positions is a C&W record. "Rising", written with Patrick Watson, is a great song.

mp3: "Rising" by Lhasa de Sela

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


What's funny is that I bought a new parka the other day.
I live in Vancouver, I don't actually need a parka. I could get away with a windbreaker over a sweater. Growing up on the Prairies, though, I had some parkas, yes sir. Big puffy numbers from the Hobo Shop, three-quarter length Hudson's Bay doozies, and yeah, oversized army surplus parkas. When I was 15, everyone I knew either had a green army surplus parka or was about to get one. Friday nights we slouched and loitered around the South End of Regina imagining ourselves ruthless street toughs until the minivans and station wagons rolled into the DJ Cinnamons parking lot at 9:30 to take us home, where, if we were lucky, our mothers would make us hot cocoa and popcorn.
My big green army surplus parka followed me around the country the winter of 1995/96. We were out there near Hawk Junction, tending to the snow mobile trails, trimming the undergrowth with Husqvarnas and Stihls. I used to put a mandarin orange in the pocket of my parka as we'd leave for the trail in the morning. By midafternoon, the juice would be frozen, but not the pulp, making for a sweet, slushy snack.
For the last three years, since I've been out on the coast, I've made do with a flock-lined corduroy jacket, real rugged-like. I bought it at a mall. In the suburbs. Aside from how heavy it gets in the rain, it's been a good coat. The main problem I've had with it is that wearing it supercedes wearing corduroy pants. Which I really like to do. But you can't wear top and bottom corduroy. Unless you're in the woods. Wrestling Bigfoot. In the year 1978.
My new parka, purchased downtown, has street cred. It's fitted, with a vinyl shell and a fuzz-lined hood. At first it reminded me of Han Solo's parka from Empire, but I don't have goggles for it. Yet.
What it really reminds me of is the type of coat tough, young single mothers from Queens wear in hip hop videos and inspirational movies. You know, that stereotypical image of the girl with the big hoop earrings and her hair back in a super-tight ponytail. She won't listen when everyone says she can't do it, or she shouldn't do it, because she has a dream and can't no one tell her she can't chase her dream. I have the same parka as her. And for a minute or two today, I was her.
It wasn't raining, so I had a choice of outerwear. Lill and I were going to the grocery store to pick up some bananas and bread, two of her favourite foods. It was just cold enough that I wanted something snug, so I wore my new parka out for the first time. I zipped it all the way up, like a turtleneck, and let the hood sort of half hang off the back of my head. On the way back, I pushed the stroller up Commercial Drive, a cloth grocery bag slipping off my shoulder. I started to feel a little swagger in my hips, a little J.Lo in my attitude. I became Emmet from the Block, and I was gonna go to beauty school and someday take my baby out of this neighbourhood and have a nice house with a yard and little fence, and well, it's just a little dream, but it's my dream and you can never take it away from me. I bobbed my head as I thought these strange thoughts and gave the stinkeye to all these people on the street judging me, thinking I'm just another girl from Queens going to beauty school, learning how to do extensions. But I'll show them, I'll show all them, that I'm something else. I'm something else.

The Parkas of Ontario release their final album today. You Should Have Killed Us When You Had the Chance. Great record, great band. I'll hopefully have more to say about it by the end of the year. Until then, here's a fitting track, "The Gang's All Gone" from the new alb, you can buy it from the Parkas. As well, what the hell, a track from their previous alb, Put Your Head In the Lion's Mouth: "You and What Army".

mp3: "The Gang's All Gone" by Parkas

Monday, November 23, 2009

Is this thing on?

Hey pals!
Just checking in to say HEY and let you know that regular blogging will resume shortly. And by regular blogging, I mean I might have something ready by the middle of December (probably sooner).
In the meantime, here's a recent CD review I did for the prairie dog:

The Circle

Bon Jovi


3.5 dogs

A quarter century in, Bon Jovi makes the most vital album of their career with The Circle. It’s not just a return to the rock power anthems we expect from Bon Jovi after a slight detour into country power anthems on 2007’s Lost Highway, it’s total fucking dominance of the rock power anthem. You’ll hear songs from this album in locker rooms, auto ads, and on the campaign trail for years to come.

Two intertwined things make The Circle work so well. One, it’s the Bon Jovi-est album Bon Jovi has ever made. They haven’t merely refined their sound, they’ve definitively mastered it. “We Weren’t Born to Follow”, “Live Before You Die” and especially “Work for the Working Man” actually include immediately identifiable elements of previous Bon Jovi hits and repurpose them into mostly better songs. Two, the album is essentially a song-cycle about the shitstorm of economic uncertainty and cultural fear America has created around itself.

“Work for the Working Man” is one of the album’s most intriguing and most problematic songs. It’s a remake of 1987’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” for the Corporate Bailout Era. While it’s pretty righteous to hear JBJ howl for American labour, the song lacks the emotional power that came with “LOAP”’s narrative of Tommy and Gina. Sure, that’s a trick Bon Jovi stole from Springsteen, but it’s a good trick and it works. The lyrics of “Working Man” have no such emotional hook and, though the chorus does its best, it never quite achieves the resonance of “Livin’ On A Prayer.”

It’s Recession Rock, with a Bon Jovi twist: In the internal logic of all Bon Jovi songs, there are no problems that can’t be solved by some brash expression of rugged individualism, like driving a fast car, playing baseball or saying “Yeah!” Hey, this is Jon Bon Jovi, not John Kenneth Galbraith.

In the meanertime, here's Mark Matos & Os Beaches, whose press materials would have them compared to Os Mutantes, the Byrds and Pavement. I don't really hear the Os Mutantes on this track, but it's an exceedingly pleasant country-rock number.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Is Don Morgan the new Dorothy Parker?

In some ways, Saskatchewan Justice Minister Don Morgan's crusade to seize alleged profits from the sales of wife-murderer Colin Thatcher's new book Final Appeal: Anatomy of a Frame is cute, quaint even. That Morgan, daydream believer that he is, believes there are riches to be had in Canadian publishing, well, it makes me glad he's not Finance Minister.

That said, Morgan's Profits of Criminal Notoriety Act is toothless policy and smacks of nothing more than a hollow attempt a snagging some cheap public approval points without actually, y'know, doing anything. If Morgan and his Sask Party bossman Brad Wall were really interested in righting the wrongs done in the murder of JoAnn Wilson they could have enacted stronger domestic violence legislation, allocated more money to women's shelters, or done any number of things that would actually prevent future spousal-homicide. But instead, the Sask Party is using public funds to pay legal fees to seize money from Thatcher and ECW Press. Morgan says any seized money might go to Thatcher's children, who have remained close to Thatcher and would likely benefit from any profits Thatcher received anyway. So, besides a public contribution to the bank accounts of a handful of Sask Party-friendly lawyers, what's the point?

More troubling is that the Profits of Criminal Notoriety Act threatens to suppress many voices that have already been marginalized. According to 2005/2006 numbers, nearly 80% of Saskatchewan's prison population is Aboriginal (compared with 15% of the at-large Saskatchewan population. We may never get to hear their stories, stories that could very well be essential to creating a more equal and just Saskatchewan for all of its citizens. Without at least the potential for profits, what publisher would bother? The Act promises to muffle, if not silence, voices of dissent, voices of that don't come from a background of privilege.
Authorial intention and artistic or social merit really aren't questions for government, are they? Certainly not this government.

Most troubling about the Profits of Criminal Notoriety Act, though, is that it reveals a contempt for the intelligence of the people of Saskatchewan. The Sask Party, otherwise champions of the free market, seemingly don't trust the people of SK to recognize Thatcher's book as the manifestation of an egomaniacal persecution-complex seemingly too vain to hire a ghostwriter (only John Gormley and his staff seem to have found much merit in the book). For all their fifth-grade understanding of capitalism, maybe they don't have faith in the system of supply and demand after all.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Paradise Domed

If Winnipeg is mini-Detroit, can Regina be mini-Winnipeg? At least until R-Town gets the domed stadium that promises to be the (sadly) hottest issue of its fall municipal election. Then maybe Regina can be mini-Vancouver. It's already rocking the urban poverty thing like no one else can (though not as sensationally as Wpg), so why not let well-fed white guys* watch football indoors? What's the worst that could happen? Municipal and provincial taxpayers blow an obscene amount of money that might be better spent on social services, infrastructure, health care & education? So Regina closes a few libraries, a few highways fall into disrepair and the inner city rots further into third world levels of poverty, disease and despair. Think of the KISS concerts, won't anybody think of the KISS concerts?
So Dome-Lovers like Pat Fiacco, Brad Wall, John Gormley and Kevin Blevins might be guilty of narrow-minded, irresponsible arrogance. Big deal. This is Melville-level sleazebaggery, Moosejavian at best. If these fellows really want Regina to be a world class city on par with, say, Vancouver, they're gonna have to try a little harder.
Here in the Lower Mainland, we've made something of an art of scuttling sensible priorities in favour of corporate-interested extravaganzas. Gordon Campbell's Liberal government has lately made sweeping cuts to education--including pulling funds already promised and budgeted for by school boards, sports teams and parent groups--and health care. All standard issue deficit-battling that should be familiar to all who remember the early years of the Romanow gov't in Saskatchewan, with the big difference being that amid all these "tough love" cuts Campbell has boosted Olympic spending by 27.5 per cent. These aren't cuts to high-falutin' sculptors who make statues of dead Paraguayan tone poets out of cat feces (though, yes, there are some killer cuts to the arts) or cancellations of programs that protect the rights and safety of drug addicts (likewise, nasty cuts), these are cuts to high school sports, which purportedly are the foundation of the ideals the Olympics are supposed to be promoting the first place.
Y'know, at least Fiacco is being upfront about his vainglorious, wasteful, potentially harmful plans before the election. On a sliding scale of scumbaggery, that puts him in misguided oaf/lackey of industry territory well below Gordon Campbell's Lex Luthor-level of treachery and deception.

mp3: "Pennies, Fountains And Stars" by Mack Mackenzie
mp3: "Used Car Salesman" by Ira Lee

*some of my best friends are well-fed white guys

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Meet and Greet

I was actively minding my own business. (jump in don't get hung up on first sentence) I had just sat down outside CC with an A'cano and the NYT x-word puzzle. (first sentence + last sentence: fact/question/observation) This was how I liked to start my day back then: By withdrawing, in public. (opening paragraph: topic sentence knock it out and get to the next paragraph)
Have been writing since 1997. (Honourable mention) Writing has appeared in prairie dog magazine, the Regina Leader-Post, No Depression, the Calgary Herald, Exclaim! Magazine, Rev Magazine, Degrees Magazine, CBC Radio 2 & Global TV. For five years, contributed avg. 2.5 stories/wk to L-P arts & life section as well as weekend CD reviews. Have maintained a blog since 2006, which has been cited by the blog of New York Magazine. Which is nearly the same as writing for New York Magazine, except for I didn't write for New York Magazine. Have worked in radio, TV, as well as performed stand-up comedy. Am from Saskatchewan which ought to count for something. I've interviewed Steve Albini and Bob Newhart. I once got a fan letter from Roy Shivers, which I wish I still had. All my past editors still take my calls. (clear, concise, personal history/professional, get name right, specific details: Miscellany.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Purdy in Pink

or, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret Atwood

from the Aug. 13, 2009 issue of prairie dog magazine

by Emmet Matheson

“The sad fact is that the next generation of Canadian writers is working at Starbucks because writing doesn’t pay the bills.”
Richard Rosenbaum is being a little facetious, but probably not as much as he wishes he could be. As associate and online fiction editor for Broken Pencil, the magazine of record for zine culture and independent arts, he’s better positioned than most to know what’s going on with the Giller nominees of 2025.
Rosenbaum recently edited Can’tLit, an anthology of fiction published by Broken Pencil over the last decade, which will be published by ECW Press this fall.
Assuming you already have a latte, that’s where you’ll find Canada’s freshest writers.
You’ll also find them in magazines, at least for now. But magazines are in trouble around the world, facing the double whammy of a global recession and an online audience that expects everything for free. Canadian mags are even more vulnerable, faced with the overwhelming free flow of content from the U.S. and a federal government that’s at best suspicious of all things cultural.
Most ominously, Masthead, a Canadian magazine about Canadian magazines, folded last October. But while they last, magazines like Broken Pencil, Winnipeg-based Border Crossings, and The Walrus continue to present the best in Canadian writing, both fiction and non-fiction.
“Magazines that publish fiction are always at the forefront of discovering new talent,” says Rosenbaum, “because the newest writers who are just discovering themselves and experimenting with forms are writing short stories, and magazines are practically the only medium that prints individual short stories.
“If you’re looking for really exciting writing, that’s where you’re going to find it,” he says. “I don’t think most people realize that. Because if they did, Canadian magazines would be in a much better state. Broken Pencil has been around for 15 years but it’s always just barely kept its head above water. The Walrus is practically bankrupt. It’s a matter of insufficient funding certainly, but it’s also that I think people just don’t realize how much great stuff there is out there.”
The Walrus was founded in 2003 as a Canadian answer to high-minded American general-interest mags like Harper’s or The New Yorker. Since its launch it has consistently cleaned up at the Canadian National Magazine Awards, and was recently awarded the “Best Writing” prize from the Utne Reader’s annual Independent Press Awards.
The Walrus boasts a paid circulation of 60,000. Not bad for what publisher Shelley Ambrose calls “a Canadian magazine for smart people.”
But perhaps The Walrus’s most notable achievement, the reason it deserves to be enshrined as a national treasure, was its March cover-dated issue. At a time when every magazine, American, Canadian, Uruguayan, whatever, had U.S. President Barack Obama on their cover, The Walrus stood out on the rack with its cover featuring a Marco Ventura portrait of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Ambrose recently posted a video appeal on the magazine’s website, calling for donations to the Walrus Foundation, the non-profit organization that guides and provides a third revenue stream for the magazine, beyond the traditional circulation and advertising dollars. But as the global recession claims its casualties in the corporate world, the once-titans of ad buying, like GM, just aren’t spending like they used to.
“Our advertising revenue has plummeted,” Ambrose says, “because we are attached to the outside world.”
That’s why The Walrus was founded on a model based on the funding structure of U.S. mag Harper’s, which is partially funded by the McArthur Foundation. Similar to the concept of Community Radio, The Walrus accepts that what it’s doing may not always be commercially viable, but nonetheless takes on the important and vital task of presenting Canadian voices.
The Walrus has bet its life that means enough to Canadians that they’ll support it.
“If Canada is going to have a magazine like this, it’s going to have to be based on that funding model,” Ambrose says. “Though it’s difficult for many Canadians to understand why they should give money to a magazine. There’s no reason for someone to pick up The Walrus instead of a magazine like Harper’s or The Economist except that it’s by and for Canadians. Those other magazines, as good as they are, don’t talk about us.”
Lee Henderson is a Saskatoon-born writer living in Vancouver. His short story, “The Nerve”, is featured in the recent “Summer Reading” issue of The Walrus alongside fiction by Joseph Boyden and Stephen Marche.
Henderson’s first novel, The Man Game, recently won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize at the B.C. Book Awards.
“If The Walrus didn’t exist in Canada, the country’s national identity once again goes into hiding,” says Henderson. “We need this ferociously weird, shaggy broom-bristle-moustached ice monster to stand tall for our shiftless, passive national intelligence.
“I love The Walrus,” he says.
Henderson is also a contributing editor at Border Crossings. Border Crossings published his short story “Conjugation” in 2005, which went on to win the gold medal for fiction at the 2006 Western Magazine Awards.
Henderson has also written journalism and criticism for both Border Crossings and The Walrus.
“Journalism is a necessary part of a writing life,” he says. “It takes me out of my sordid brain and into the world to meet real people and learn their stories. At its best, journalism is a deeply selfless art. I look to do journalism that will help me research or inspire my fiction projects.”
Both Henderson and Rosenbaum attest that Canadian readers do indeed have a desire to read Canadian writers.
Broken Pencil’s annual online fiction contest, the Indies Writers Deathmatch, I think has proven that Canadians do have a craving for the new and the weird if they just knew where to look for it,” Rosenbaum says.
“We have to find a way to let Canadian readers know that this is really where the boundary-pushing art is happening. Nobody has a lot of money right now, but if you knew that for like 20 dollars a year you could discover all this great new stuff that would genuinely enhance your life and help Canadian artists survive, wouldn’t you want to do it?”
Can’tLit features nearly 40 different writers ranging from total unknowns to more established scribblers like Joey Comeau and Zoe Whittall. Rosenbaum is quick to point to highlights like Emma Healey’s “Last Winter Here” as “one of the best things we’ve ever printed,” “Panties” by Greg Kearney as “hilarious and weird in exactly the way we love” and Janette Platana’s “heartbreaking” tale of the Clash playing in Regina, “Some of This is True”.
Canadian writers, it seems, will always be with us. They’re a tenacious bunch with something to say, usually about ourselves. Often unflattering.
One believes, one hopes, that in a world where Canadian bands like Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene can attract the gaze of the world, Canadian writers will somehow, some way, finally attract the readership they deserve right here in Canada. Maybe Canadians will someday come to appreciate learning about themselves, perhaps from a magazine that dared to put Stephen Harper on their cover at a time when it was really important for Canadians to know something about Stephen Harper.
“If The Walrus weren’t around,” Shelley Ambrose muses, “where would you be reading an in-depth profile of the sitting Prime Minister? Not in Harper’s, not in The Economist, not in The New Yorker.”
Maybe Fox News?


mp3: "This Is It" by The Wheat Pool, from their forthcoming second album, Hauntario

Saturday, August 15, 2009

James Luther Dickinson, Rest in Peace

Classic weirdo country-soul-rock musician Jim Dickinson has passed on. To get a full appreciation of the man's contributions check out Robert Gordon's awesome book It Came From Memphis. Short version: He played piano on the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses", and produced Big Star, the Replacements and Mudhoney.

mp3: "Wild Bill Jones" by James Luther Dickinson
UPDATE: Here's a massive, but no doubt incomplete, list of Dickinson's credits. The dude played with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Primal Scream.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Choice of Frenemies: Reader Mail

"The internet gives us the illusion that we're wonderfully gregarious people. When we type away on discussion boards and post comments on one another's blogs, it feels as if we're sitting outside a pub in the evening sunshine with our attractive, cool friends. But we aren't. That's what we did before we got addicted to the internet. Instead we perform some empty, unsatisfying facsimile of that. We sit alone in our rooms, becoming more and more isolated from society. And, inevitably, this turns us into mad, yelling, wild-eyed loons."
That's Jon Ronson, the British writer and broadcaster, from a May, 2007 column in the Guardian, and also from a BBC4 Radio doc.
It's not the first time I've posted that passage, but I think it's time again. Not so much because you need to read it, but because I do. Maybe you haven't noticed it, but there's been a certain smugness creeping into the ol' bloggue lately. Nick Miliokas noticed.
"Instead of coming across as an intelligent commentator, you came across as an asshole," he writes. "And even a strong argument is difficult to make from way up in there. I tell you this for your own good."
Something to think about over the next few weeks as I take my summer hiatus and go back to that part of the world what sprung me and spewed me forth. I don't know when I'll get back to blogging, but I'm sure I won't be long without an opinion, ill-advised or ill-expressed, that I can't contain.
Nick also sent in a list of restaurants you would probably never want to eat at unless, like me, you were an out-of-control Mordecai Richler nut:
1. Son of a Smaller Hero Sandwich
2. A Choice of Entrees
3. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Radish
4. Cork, Sir?
5. St. Urbain's Horsemeat
6. Joshua Hen and Sow
7. Solomon Gherkin Was Here
Pat, either Fiacco or Book (I know they both read the blog), also sent in a lit-chit:
Omlette (Hamlet)
Grape Expectations
the Ketchup On The Rye
Lord of the Fries
the Fry Machine
Finally, Sask-Lit titan Cliff Burns dropped a note on my pouty post about Regina:
To tell you the truth, Saskatoon is more like my kinda town. It just seems hipper, less uptight, more open and artsy. I lived in Regina for over 10 years and formed some roots...but with the loss of places like Buzzword Books in the Cathedral area, friends who have moved on, it's just a place I visit (and very rarely).

Before I go any further, I highly recommend you seek out a copy of Burns's Righteous Blood (straight from the guy himself is probably your best bet!), a twisted pair of horrific novellas impressive for both their ambitious imagination and economy of narrative.
Anyway, thanks for reading, Cliff! I'm glad you mentioned Buzzword, because it was actually the memory of that 13th Ave. bookstore that prompted the essay. The first draft actually wound up being an attempt to talk myself into moving back to Regina to open up a bookstore. I nearly had myself convinced.
But man, Gord pushed so many great books and authors on me, and also just had weird and interesting stuff on hand. He pushed all the big name writers from The Wire (Price, Pelecanos & Lehane) on me before The Wire was even a concern. He always had a great selection of books on jazz, like the Roland Kirk biog Bright Moments. When Buzzword shut down, well, that was kinda the beginning of the end for me in Regina. There were lots of other factors, but none so thematic as the loss of a cultural landmark in my own personal Queen City topography.


Durham, N.C.'s Megafaun is in town tonight, playing a show at the Biltmore. They sound kinda like the psychedelic-side of the Sadies mixed with the Alan Parsons Project. In a good way. So it's no surprise they're pals with Bon Iver. They're pushing their new record, Gather, Form & Fly.
mp3: "The Fade" by Megafaun

Friday, July 24, 2009

I really need to stop reading the L-P

As someone who despite everything actually does love Regina--so much so that I wouldn't cheapen such a love by advertising it on a t-shirt (a mug, meanwhile, totally classy)--I'm incredibly disheartened to read the Leader-Post's Kevin Blevins's blog post about critics of the proposed domed stadium in Regina.
Sure, he's not the first L-P opinion writer to combine a small and dim worldview with unimaginative and lazy prose, nor is he the only Reginan who seems to think that anyone who criticizes the Queen City's abysmal record of dealing with urban issues like sprawl, poverty, addiction, housing, transit, business development , etc. is a hare-brained communist.
"A city is many things," Blevins writes in response to Regina activist Jim Elliott's criticisms, "And it can't just be about trying to solve poverty issues, which seems to be Elliott's position over and over again."
Maybe, just maybe, if Regina actually did something to address its poverty issues, Elliott wouldn't have to stand up for them over and over again.
I'm not going to fume too much over this here, because Wade already did and the Jurist already boiled it down. If you want to read how a real journalist blogs about Regina's dome of destiny, here's Will Chabun on the matter.

If I've had Regina on the brain lately, it's because I'll be there during the first two weeks of August. I mean, isn't there enough urban blight in Vancouver to keep me occupied?

mp3: "The Place Where We Lived" by Hayden

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Oh, Regina, You Virgin Queen

Here's a short essay I wrote that ran in the prairie dog about a month ago.

My friends Scotty and Kristen, of the pop group the Choir Practice, came back to Vancouver last summer after playing shows in Regina with shocking news. They loved it.
This was not what I was used to hearing from touring musicians who play my hometown. Empty clubs or inattentive bar crowds who talk through the whole set are the usual reports from the road, so Scotty and Kristen’s raves about their enthusiastic audience and great gigs left me a little confused. Then Kristen gushed about the vibrant downtown and beautiful Victoria Park. And that’s when I knew what they were talking about.
They didn’t play a show in Regina, they played the Regina Folk Festival. A totally different beast. The Folk Festival is one of several times throughout the summer when, like the lost city of Shangri La, a different Regina reveals itself. It’s the Platonic Ideal of Regina, a place where arts, culture, food and community are valued and celebrated. It’s a city that approaches the cosmopolitan. It’s the Regina that Regina could be all the time, if only it would let itself.
That’s not the Regina I left three years ago. The Regina I walked away from was the one with only one, almost quixotic movie screen left downtown. It was the city whose economic growth didn’t have room for the inner city neighbourhoods, where urban sprawl is valued over urban growth. It was a city that no longer had a centrally-located new bookstore where you could just easily find Saskatchewan authors Dianne Warren, Cliff Burns and Dave Margoshes alongside works by Noam Chomsky, George Pelecanos or Richard Meltzer. It was a city I wasn’t sure shared my values anymore. It was a city I had little confidence in.
A few years ago, back when I still believed in Regina, my friend Mike Burns, that great promoter and defender of the arts in Regina, liked to repeat a line from the David Mamet film State and Main: “Everybody makes their own fun. If you don’t make it yourself, it isn’t fun. It’s entertainment.”
It all seems so easy and simple during the honeyed days of summer. From the Cathedral Street Fair to the Folk Festival to the Farmers Market, there’s that Ideal Regina, making its own fun. That’s the Regina I love, that’s the Regina I miss.
I keep hearing that Regina’s changed these last three years, I hope it’s been for the better.

Restaurants with Bad Service

Last night, while I was making my famous gazpacho, aka Mathezpacho, Nicole and I made up names of restaurants based on books. Here are some of them, along with some further gags:
Barney's Venison
The Three Muskox-Eaters
The Grape Gatsby
A Complicated Winelist
Szechuan & Sensibility
Slaughterhouse Fries
A Farewell to Coleslaw
The Coleslaw of the Wild
Are You There God? It's Me, Coleslaw
A Coleslaw Orange
The French Lieutenant's Coleslaw
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Coleslaw
The Spy Who Came In From The Coleslaw.
thank you, goodnight.

mp3: "Memory of a Specific Silence - to Paul Auster" by Mats Gustafsson

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Frank Black is the Capital of Kansas

originally published in the July 2/09 edition of prairie dog magazine. Black Francis plays solo acoustic at the Exchange on Wed., July 8.

In between breaking up the Pixies in 1992 and reuniting with them in 2004, Black Francis released nine albums as Frank Black. The first song on his 1993 self-titled solo debut was “Los Angeles”. The last song on 2003’s Show Me Your Tears, his final album with his country-rock band the Catholics, was “Manitoba”. Kind of like Nia Vardalos in reverse.
Now, a decade might seem like a long time to cover the distance from the world capital of show biz to the longitudinal centre of Canada, but consider this: In 25 years of writing Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler never achieved the required artistic confidence or intestinal certitude to send his private investigator to The Pas. Frank Black not only went there (at least in his song), but he brought in Van Dyke Parks to work on it.
Fascinatingly, during the 1920s, Manitoba had a provincial treasurer by the name Francis Black.
The Pixies’ six-year-run of off-kilter, noisy pop and infighting makes for great rock & roll mythologizing, and it’s hard to argue with Surfer Rosa and Doolittle as two of the best albums of the 80s, but it would be a shame to overlook--as many do--Francis’s solo career, which has been just as interesting, rewarding and often as surprising as his Pixies material.
He’s travelled through styles, growing out of the Pixies’ sound over his first three albums. He’s done country songs and soul songs, and even cut an album of wild minimalist electro-jazz remakes of Pixies songs with David Thomas of Pere Ubu’s collaborators Two Pale Boys. He quit making records for labels in the 90s, just before labels quit making records. Instead, he makes his own albums and then licenses them to labels for promotion and distribution. He once told me that he’s taken voice training. He’s one of the most down-to-earth people ever to record an album inspired by a semi-obscure Dutch painter (2007’s Blue Finger celebrates the late Herman Brood). Lately, he’s started a new band with his wife Violet called Grand Duchy and released their debut album earlier this year. He’s equally effective singing about Pong as he is about Spanish missionaries showing up in what would become the state of California. He’s an artist who is endlessly fascinating because he himself seems endlessly fascinated with the world.
In 1998 he recorded a song about Jonathan Richman, a fellow Bostonian whose first band the Modern Lovers cut what was probably the first actual punk rock album in 1972, but broke up before it was released in 1976. Richman, in fact, had by that time completely changed his sound, and to this day disappoints fans who come out to hear “She Cracked” by singing about Johan Vermeer. Surely there was some self-reflection involved when Frank Black wrote “The Man Who Was Too Loud.” I wonder if he’ll play that song at his upcoming acoustic show when Pixies fans shout out for “Debaser”?

Vancouver-related: Mats Gustafsson of The Thing was in town last week, playing half a dozen shows for the ends-today Jazz Festival, and I missed them all. But the new Thing album Bag It! is killer.

mp3: "Drop the Gun" by the Thing

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Frank Black Francis is the A.J. Liebling of Rock

"The only way to write is well," A.J. Liebling says, "and how you do it is your own damn business."
Okay, A.J., fair enough. But how do you account for Jana Pruden's column in the Leader-Post? I knew Jana when I was at the L-P, and I've known her husband Evan since I was in high school. They are both smart, hip, funny, even sassy. They are both very nice people. So why does Jana's column in general, and her most recent one specifically, bug me so much?
Because it's not smart, it's not hip, it's not funny and it's not sassy. In fact, it reminds me of Peggy Hill's Musings columns from Mike Judge's King of the Hill, only those were actually funny.
When Pruden took over the general interest column from disgraced retiree Bob Hughes, it seemed as though the paper was finally starting to pay attention to the 20-55 age group that has rarely seen itself in the Regina daily. Finally would come a fresh voice from someone engaged with urban life, someone who valued art and culture at least as much as football, someone with something different to say. Instead, we got Bob Hughes in a skirt. Well, the most benign form of Bob Hughes in a skirt. I haven't read all of her columns, but I doubt that Pruden has attacked organized labour with the reckless meanspiritedness that Hughes embarrassed himself with. But Pruden definitely carries on Hughes's legacy of joyless solipsism, stories about cats and uninspired boasts about not understanding what's the big fuss about current trends. Pruden's latest col overdoses on puns as she states and restates her love of shoes. Why am I reading this?
I continue to read, I guess, because I know Jana Pruden to be capable of fine writing. You can see it in her court reporting. You know it if you've ever had a conversation with her. So why is she punching below her weight class with these asinine columns, wasting primo real estate with sad, Diagnosis Murder-style pap like "after some serious sole-searching" or "invariably, I flip-flop" when there's a readership starving for interesting commentary?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Don't Haunt This Country: A Canada Day Mixtape of sorts

About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote about how the Rural Alberta Advantage was pretty much the greatest thing since snowmobiles with two skis, and little has changed in that time. Except that the RAA got signed to Saddle Creek, my fave Pitchfork writer gave 'em the thumbs up, and they embarked on a big-ass tour. That tour brings them to Vancouver on the fifth of July, which is a Sunday this year. The show's at the Media Club.

We here at ABWAWBA would like to apologize for neglecting the ol' country blog for the last few months, as our attention has been changing diapers and writing for sweet, sweet cashola. So, in the spirit of Canada Day (is there a Spirit of Canada Day?), here's some great Canadian music (or music about Canadians) just for you, the reader.

mp3: "Merde Il Pleut" by Pawnshop Diamond - sweet Vancouver country rock
mp3: "Burgess Lake" by the Lazy MKs - Regina instro-country, I guess if we call instro-rock post-rock, this is post-country. Wahoo!
mp3: "Belles" by Feuermusik - skronky Toronto fazz-junk
mp3: "Saskatchewan" by the Wooden Stars - Rheostatics cover by one of Canada's best groups
mp3: "Louis Riel" by John Millard - great, idiosyncratic folk, often with a cabaret twist
mp3: "Louis Riel" by Doug Sahm - not the same song as above, but at least Texan Sahm knew how to pronounce Regina.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

When your compass only points to you...

Now that I'm well ensconced in my thirties, I've got the privilege of looking back on my twenties in disgust. I wouldn't go so far as to say that they were a total waste of time, they got me to where I am. But I coulda done better. I coulda done better by a lot of folks.
At the very least, I coulda--shoulda--done better by the many people who tried to help me. The other day we were browsing the online Arts & Entertainment section of the Leader-Post, the Regina daily newspaper for whom I wrote for five years. Nicole asked a seemingly innocuous question about an article, and my mind flashed on a particular episode about midway through my time at the L-P. But looking back on it, it was painfully obvious that I had misread the whole thing. And if I misread that, well, probably I was wrong about most everything. But what's really eating me is how wrong I was. For five years, I was wrong to Gerry Krochak.
Gerry was the one who'd invited me to write for the L-P. I'd been writing for prairie dog magazine and the student press for about four years at that point. Much respect to Mitch Diamantopoulos and Stephen Whitworth at the dog for their invaluable faith, encouragement and patience during those early years, but it was at the Leader-Post that I really started to become something resembling a writer.
I used to give Gerry sideways looks when he'd bring me leads and assignments. Can you imagine? Here's this guy, giving me the opportunity to make money doing what I say I want to do, and I'm acting like an asshole. I'm acting like he's kicking dirt on my new sneakers. I even through a tantrum or two. Meanwhile, I'm blowing deadlines and carrying on like, I dunno, like I'm too good or something. Like I'm such a great writer and I shouldn't be wasting my time on the Doobie Brothers or whatever. But Gerry kept bringing me leads, kept bringing me assignments. Gerry--along with Nick Miliokas, one of the finest wits and best editors in the whole racket--kept giving me gigs though, and most of the time, I kept taking them.
So, like, this must have been around 2003, maybe 2004, which were the prime years of my arrogance. Gerry asked me to speak with another aspiring entertainment writer, maybe give him some tips, point him in the right direction. And me, I'm all chuffed. Like, why is he putting this on me? All these years, I'd been carrying that as an insult, as an offence against me.
So the other night, after Nicole's words had spurred that memory, and I saw so clearly, that wasn't an insult, that was a compliment. And not a small or hollow one, either. The whole time, Gerry was helping me out. And I was too wrapped up in my own arrogance to even see that, let alone show some gratitude.
Now, in the present, I'm sticking some toes back in the kiddie pool, doing a few CD reviews and the odd interview, and building up to bigger things. You can find my name from time to time in prairie dog magazine and Planet S, thanks to the friendship and forgiveness of Stephen Whitworth. And, inevitably, you'll be seeing my byline everywhere and you'll be so sick of me. I'll be rich and discovering a whole new kind of arrogance, you thought I was insufferable before.
Gerry's moved on from the L-P, to Calgary, I've heard. I hope he's doing well, and maybe sometime he'll come out to the coast for a Lucinda Williams show or something, and he'll look me up and let me buy him an Indian lunch, huh? Who knows.

mp3: "The Highway Divides" by the Parkas
mp3: "Back Where I Started (Live)" by Marcellus Hall & the Headliners

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Well, he's got a point.

ITEM: Kanye West tells Reuters, "Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed. I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book's autograph." (via NYMag) I think I may have read some of the same books as he has. We do have a lot in common, you know. We were born on the same day, in the same hospital. (Well, I don't know if he was born at Saskatoon's City Hospital, Wikipedia says no, but y'know, that could just be more of Wikipedia's general anti-Saskatchewan bias.) Also, despite the fact that we are both disgustingly rich, neither of us feel that we have yet achieved our true potential. Our biggest difference? His book is finished and published. Mine is still just a bunch of weird notes about Frankenstein, the Barr Colonists, and club house sandwiches.

ITEM: Vancouver weekly the Westender wonders on its current cover: "Are bloggers making it hip to have kids?" I haven't read the article because I don't live in the West End, and, y'know, I stay outta theirs, they stay outta mine. A friend who does live in the West End told me, though, that the report says the ME of Only Magazine--which I can't read either, since I have siblings--has column about being a dad. Another reason I can't read Only Magazine is because they filed their Eugene Mirman article under "Music" instead of "Not-Music". Other than that, Only's pretty fine. Maybe they'll Google themselves, find this page and ask me to write for them. I wouldn't automatically say no.
Back to blogging dads, well, more power to them. For this dad, blogging's been at the bottom of my priority list because A) who wants to blog when you can make noises with a six-month-old? B) I'm taking a writing class and y'know how that is C) I'm doing a tiny little bit of writing out in the world with an interest, if not a lot of time, to do more D) Did I say blogging was at the bottom of my priority list? That's just cuz listening to music didn't even make the list. E) is for Emmet F) is for Fiction, which is slowly, oh so slowly taking shape G) what, I still have to explain myself? Didn't you see reason A? That's my bottom line. The fam. It's where I'm at, it's where I'm happy, it's where I'm (kinda) needed. I'm also not blogging that much about my little girl because I'm saving all my observations and experiences to pitch a sitcom to HBO about what it's really like to be a parent.

ITEM: I think I was also going to say something about Paul Auster, but, um, I'll save it.

mp3: "Dangerous Fun" by Jesse Winchester

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The real reason newspapers are failing

You call this a scoop? Back in my day, you had to jump out a window to secure an exclusive rescue/interview or turn the Earth backward on its own axis to qualify as a scoop. I guess times really are hard.

mp3: "Hard Times" by Baby Huey

Saturday, May 09, 2009

M is for the Many Sleepness Nights

My mom was in town last month. She dropped perhaps the most shocking revelation in my entire family history ever: She's never seen the original Star Wars movies in their entirety. If she had told me this five months ago, I would have called her a liar, right to her face, my own mother. How could someone who raised three boys and one girl in the 1970s and 80s not have seen the Star Wars movies? Get real, Mom.

Of course, now that I'm a parent--now that I have just the slightest idea of what it's like to be a mother--I get it. While we were busy watching Han Solo get frozen in carbonite for the 80th time, Mom was busy, y'know, TCB. Motherhood, like rust, never sleeps. Never watches Return of the Jedi, either.

Not that she wasn't familiar with the material. She used to let me stay up late to listen to the Radio Dramatization of Empire on CBC. She helped me learn to read with the Star Wars storybooks and novelizations. She abided my ambition to become a Jedi Knight, tolerated my Lego tornadoes and dutifully reminded me when I had left my action figures in the freezer again.

These days, I've got a baby of my own. I'm a pretty good father, in my opinion. I'm getting better at it all the time. I like to think that if I had to, I could take the world on my back for my little girl. But my wife, the beautiful mother of my beautiful little girl, she's there carrying the weight every single day. I don't want to undersell the importance or hard work of fathering here, but mothers, man, I don't know how they do it. I do know, though, that I couldn't do it without 'em. And I certainly wouldn't even want to try.

This is all an inadequate show of appreciation for both my own mother and the mother of my baby, and all the sacrifice, hard work, and love they commit every single day.

mp3: "Be Careful There's A Baby In The House" by Loudon Wainwright III

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dear Newspapers, Be Better Please

I still buy the newspaper. On Saturday. What can I say, I like the idea of the Weekend Review section, I get excited by the heading Issues & Ideas, I look forward to the book reviews. I like the readers' letters, which, unlike readers' comments on newspaper websites, are generally worth a damn, even if they're often just as bogglingly boneheaded.
Which is not to say that newspapers never let me down. They do. Frequently. Yesterday's featured Issues & Ideas essay was from lifestyles columnist Shelley Fralic, sort of the Bob Hughes of the Lower Mainland, and warned us that we'll miss newspapers when they're gone.

Where, for instance, will Canucks fans find in-depth daily coverage of their beloved team -- the locker room perspective, the game analysis, the stats upon which hockey pools are won and lost?
It won't be from radio, which can air a game, but already rips and reads much of its content from newspapers.
It won't be from television, which can broadcast a game, but can offer little
beyond 30-second news clips.
And if you think that bloggers, Tweeters, Facebookers and fan sites will provide the quality of sports reporting you now get from this newspaper, coverage you've enjoyed these past 40 years in hockey-mad Vancouver, you're dreaming.

Really? Is that the best you've got? Cuz the broadcast media and the Internet have been kicking newspaper ass in sports coverage for years. The Internet might as well have been invented for fantasy sports leagues (the jock version of D&D) and hockey pools. It will even do the hard math for you! When was the last time a newspaper did your math? Also, the Sun's sister paper, the Province, is generally regarded as most sports-friendly.
Fralic goes on to blame newspapers' woes on free online content, rather than, y'know, 30 years of corporate greed, convergence, monopolies and mismanagement. Newspapers have survived and even prospered in the face of far more radical societal changes brought on by radio and television. It's not the Internet that's killing newspapers, it's newspapers.
The last few decades have seen newsroom staffs cut in half several times over, inevitably leading to reduced coverage of local issues. In its place, we got more wire copy, more celebrity gossip, more rewritten press releases, more of what one of my former newspaper colleagues sneeringly calls bumf, short for bum fodder.
Sadly, newspapers either don't have the will or the capital to put up a decent struggle anymore. I love the newspapers, and I hope to see them back on their feet someday. In the meantime, wouldn't it be great if they decided to go out with their heads held high? With a little class? If they decided to be truly papers of news. Be papers of depth. Be papers of investigation. Papers of questions and answers. Papers of consequence. Papers of integrity. Papers worthy of our esteem. Be good, be better.
Speaking of good and better, I saw my dissimilar doppelganger again the other day. Lee Henderson was at my favourite coffee/book shop Friday afternoon. As was I. Once again, I didn't introduce myself, for a variety of reasons. Mainly, because I have to to finish reading his novel, The Man Game. I was about two-thirds through it when my new roommate showed up and completely disrupted my habits. I want to finish the book before I speak to him. I think that's really the decent thing to do. Also, I probably suffer all kinds of social anxieties that make me a terrible person to know. I only even brought it up because yesterday Henderson was announced as the winner of the Ethel Wilson Prize at the BC Book Awards. The prize money will buy him, if he so desires, 1,000 Americanos at the coffee/book shop. Congratulations.

mp3: "Don't Talk In Your Sleep" by Magik Markers