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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

You get the result you deserve.
National Post editorial writer Adam Radwanski has taken to the blogosphere. And his latest post (as of this writing) is a must read. Maybe our bleeding hearts are getting the best of us, but we both seem to believe that the furor over visible minorities taking advantage of party membership rules seems rather misguided.

The Post is documenting - better than any of our competitors, I wager - how lax membership rules are causing havoc in the political process. But the membership problems and their abuse by ethnic groups seem nearly to be two separate issues. And, it seems, ethnic groups are unfairly being blamed in this regard (sort of directing your anger at the symptom, not the disease).

Take this paragraph from an Op-Ed piece in Wednesday's Post written by a group of apparently concerned analysts:
"All Canadians, including newcomers, should be encouraged to take an interest in the political process. At issue is whether they do so out [of] a desire to seek what is best for the country as a whole or whether they get involved primarily to gain influence and advantage for a specific ethnic group."

Individuals get involved in politics all the time to gain "influence and advantage" for a specific group. Why is it only when these groups are ethnic that we start sweating about our nation's best interests? If plumbers or left-handed people started flooding ridings with memberships in order to place their kind in power, would we be similarly fearful of their prospective tyranny?

The actual problem is obvious: membership rules in this country are flawed. Ethnic groups seem simply to be the only one's motivated to take advantage of these flaws.

Large gangs of old, white, Christian men could do the same. So why aren't they? And, more importantly, why are ethnic groups so eager to do so? Could it be that they feel under-represented in the political system and see this is a chance to gain some influence in a country that is still predominantly ruled by those apparently complacent old white men?

To do then: First, fix membership rules. Second, ask ourselves why it is that these ethnic groups are so much more motivated to take part than the rest of us.

Anyway. Adam said all of this and more with greater eloquence:
"But for now, maybe it's time to stop blaming members of a few ethnic groups for (gasp!) taking an active role in our parties, and wonder where the hell everyone else is. After all, it's pretty hard to accuse Sikhs, Ismailis, or whoever else of some sort of nefarious plot to take over the Liberals or Conservatives when they're only able to do so because nobody else bothers to get involved."

And Andrew Coyne has also commented. The discussion that ensued is a nice example of what a rather complicated issue this can become.
I've never experienced such reverent silence during a crowded bar show.
The esteemed Miss Liss makes Toronto's approval of Miss McKay nearly unanimous with a 4N review in this week's NOW.
SORTA BREAKING NEWS... Canada's Federal Court denies Recording Industry request for ISP information
Didn't see this coming. Expect angry response from recording industry soonish. In the meantime, download, at least temporarily (and at least in Canada), without fear of lawsuit.

**UPDATE**... 2:03pm EST... More here.

**UPDATE**... 3:31pm EST... This actually took longer than I expected...

For immediate release

"Canadian recording industry will continue to fight copyright infringers"

(Toronto) — The Canadian Recording Industry Association vowed today to continue to fight widespread infringement of music copyright on the Internet.  

CRIA President Brian Robertson stated, “We remain committed to our plans to enforce the law against unlawful “file sharing”, which is devastating the entire music community.   We will continue to fight to protect music creators from the theft of hundreds of thousands of songs.”

“We are reviewing the decision received today from the trial court and expect to appeal it,” commented CRIA General Counsel Richard Pfohl.  “In our view, the copyright law in Canada does not allow people to put hundreds or thousands of music files on the Internet for copying, transmission and distribution to millions of strangers.  We put forward a compelling case of copyright infringement in seeking these disclosure orders.  We presented more initial evidence than has ever been put forward in a request for disclosure of user identities from ISPs --which Canadian courts have granted on numerous occasions.”

On 11 February, CRIA filed motions to require five Canadian Internet service providers to disclose the identities of subscribers alleged to be large-scale infringers distributing thousands of digital music files to millions of strangers. These people were subscribers to internet services operated by Bell/Sympatico, Rogers Communications Inc., Shaw Communications Inc., TELUS Corporation and Videotron Telecom Ltd.

Canada’s recording industry has launched several initiatives designed to meet the technological challenges posed by unauthorized online music distribution: from the innovative and ongoing Value of Music public awareness campaign aimed at the early teen demographic, to direct ‘instant messages’ to unauthorized file-sharing service users, to the creation of new legal online business models like www.puretracks.com and www.archambaultzik.ca.

The Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) is a non-profit trade association representing the interests of Canadian companies that create, manufacture and market sound recordings. In all they represent 95 per cent of the sound recordings that are manufactured and sold in Canada.

**UPDATE**... 5:56pm EST... Yet still more here.

**UPDATE**... 11:42pm EST... Colby Cosh comments.
Reversal of fortunes
Soon-to-be Soundtrack of the Late Spring/Early Summer: Graham Coxon's Happiness in Magazines.

Remember when Damon was the one who loved Britpop and Graham was the one who wanted to drift further into left-field, lo-fi indie rock? Who switched their brains?
The Myth of the Underground
You really should take a moment (doesn't need to be right now, but soonish) to listen to Toronto's Lenin i Shumov. In their own words: "Lenin i Shumov sing in Russian and play in music."
In mine: Brilliant, thrilling, noisy, brassy, post-communist chaos fronted by an angry, diary-reading, Russian David Byrne. Plus, Carl Wilson likes them. Two tracks on the website to sample.

Then, seek out I Can Put My Arm Back On You Can't. Maybe the best band name ever (even if only the Canadian kids are going to get it). Music's pretty great too. Frantic, strife-stricken, screamy post-punk. All desperation and panic. Sometimes even with tunes. Sort of. Heard a song on the Toronto is Great!!! compilation. Impressed. Went out and bought the album. Very impressed. Plus, Carl Wilson likes them.

P.S. It says here that Lenin i Shumov play the Casa Del Popolo in Montreal this Sunday. They're back in Toronto April 9 to play the Drake Hotel. Then apparently they're in NYC for a North American Russian Rock Festival, May 2. Seriously.

P.P.S. Those fresh back from Austin are saying UK outfit Goldrush are worth a listen. Plus they're "cute." I tend to agree. On both accounts. Inevitable Coldplay comparisons. Not that that's always a bad thing. (Carl Wilson has not yet offered an opinion on them, so you'll just have to take my word for it.) Songs here, here, and here. More info here, here, here and here.

P.P.P.S. I Can Put My Arm Back On You Can't sounds even better in French when it's Je Peux Rettacher Mon Bras Toi Non.
Failer
Nice of Tangmonkey to take note of my post on Jonny Greenwood's wisdom.
Been thinking about his words a lot lately. Especially when stumbling through yet another clumsy answer to the question of the moment: "So, uh, what is it exactly that makes you think this Nellie McKay is so special?"
Then we're all in agreeance...
The Globe's Robert Everett-Green and I have rarely, if ever, agreed on anything. Not that we've actually interated, or even, you know, met for that matter. Purely in print. We often find ourselves writing about the same people and things. But I don't know if I can possibly remember a time we've shared a point of view.
Until now (so dramatic...). He too loves Nellie McKay - as fleshed out in this long-awaited (see below) profile in Tuesday's Globe.
Similarly warm thoughts from Lisa Ladouceur in the Toronto Sun. This review from Chart is equally kind, but also uses a rather creepy term - "blue-balled" - to describe the audience.

Monday, March 29, 2004

"I couldn't sing punk, I'm a good girl."
Two great stories in this week's Maclean's from the second-greatest writer to ever come out of Essex County - Shanda Deziel.

First, on the "irresistible" Sarah Harmer.
Second, a report from Austin, where apparently some interesting bands were playing recently.
"English people can't talk about themselves"
Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood in what would appear to be the latest Filter:

"I think when [music's] good and it's really affecting, then it's stupid to be embarrassed about it - about how good it is. You know, there's a certain Tom Waits song that whenever I hear it I, you know, it just... it makes me talk in this inarticulate way that I'm using now. It's so good. It seems to me quite disingenuous to be embarrassed about it. I think it should be ambitious, and good music does deal with life and art and all these wonderful things. I used to be ashamed talking about it, but now I just think it's fraudulent to pretend otherwise. I don't even know what I'm trying to say. You just sound like you're being passionate about it and I agree with you. I don't know how else to put it into words. You're the journalist, you should know. I'll leave it to you. If you could hash that out by tomorrow that'd be great."
Correction
What better way to start a new week than with an admission of error.
In today's column I have misquoted the esteemed Saint Kurt.
The line should read "All in all is all we are."
Please forgiveth me.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Absafuckinglutely
So who was the French MC providing the soundtrack to the big chase scene in The Sex and the City finale (which just aired here in our remote northern outpost)?

Friday, March 26, 2004

Thank heavens for naughty girls
This past week's Post column...

Will Courtney Love apologize for her misdeeds? Not (bleeping) likely
Monday, March 22, 2004
Aaron Wherry - National Post

Courtney Love is a walking, talking middle finger of a woman, completely free of all remorse. If her late husband's epitaph reads, "All Apologies," hers will most certainly read the opposite (with a few expletives thrown in for good measure). And maybe that's why she seems such an oddity these days.

It was The New Yorker that asked several weeks ago: "And what, exactly, is the appeal of Courtney Love at this late date?" A question she answered herself last week with a three-day Big Apple assault of good ol' fashioned rock 'n' roll mayhem, nudity and bloodshed.

But the week actually started with news of some good ol' fashioned rock 'n' roll mayhem from lil' Avril Lavigne. Well, sort of.

Around the same time Love was performing her usual stand-up routine in a Beverly Hills courtroom ("You're fired!" she told her lawyer in the middle of proceedings, only to rehire him a minute later), Lavigne was experimenting with rebellion at a Boston radio station. Commenting on the rumoured "feud" between herself and that beacon of teenage virtue Hilary Duff, Lavigne remarked that Duff could "go screw" herself. A photo of Lavigne on the studio wall was the next target of her pint-sized wrath. "I hate that [bleeping] photo," she said, according to the Boston Herald, before tearing it down.

In our Puritanical post-Janet world -- one in which the hunt for Howard Stern has surpassed the search for those mysterious weapons of mass destruction on the list of American priorities -- this is what passes for rock 'n' roll mayhem. Thank whichever higher power we're still allowed to invoke, then, for Love.

Stumbling on to the set of the Late Show with David Letterman, she was a less-than-gentle reminder of when network television used to be considered daring (there was little Love did with Letterman that hadn't already been done by Madonna, Drew Barrymore and Farrah Fawcett).

Afterwards, Courtney was off, barefoot, to Wendy's for some burgers. There she apparently let a stranger pose for a picture while suckling her breast. A couple of stops later she was at a New York club delivering a typically ravaged performance and spearing a concertgoer with a mic stand. That got her an assault charge and a night in jail.

The New York tabloids, which had been desperate for a new witch to burn in the interim between judgment and sentencing for Martha Stewart, revelled in Love's gory glory, the Daily News' account of the evening featuring seven reporters' bylines, the Post's only six.

A night later, Love was back on wonderfully unfinished form at the Bowery Ballroom. "She was brilliant, stumbling through a riveting, chaotic set full of pithy asides and grand, desperate gestures," reported Kelefa Sanneh of The New York Times.

With demands that the crowd "Take care of me!" she threw herself to the throng several times -- once, at least, striking a photographer and prompting even further attention from the local police. "This is exactly the sort of exhilarating ritual that seems to sustain her, but she also leaves open the possibility that it's slowly destroying her," Sanneh wrote. "That's the sickening undercurrent of the Courtney Love show: maybe it's our fault, too."

That, actually, is the sickening undercurrent of almost all rock 'n' roll, but something we seem only willing to consider selectively and, most often, after it's too late (see the recently deceased Elliott Smith).

And when we weren't worrying about Love's welfare last week, we were bemoaning the sad case of her daughter, Frances Bean -- the 11-year-old whose father, Kurt Cobain, committed suicide, and is now in the custody of Love's stepfather. No doubt Gloria Allred, having failed in her attempt to get Michael Jackson's children, is, as we speak, working to seize Love's Bean.

But remember that we've been here too before. More than a decade ago, Love's confession (later to be denied) to Vanity Fair of drug use during her pregnancy had resulted in Bean's removal. She was eventually returned and the whole controversy forgotten as we found new villains to decry. A couple of weeks from now we'll probably be too busy debating Janet Jackson's appearance on Saturday Night Live to bother with the likes of Bean.

So it's not that we're thinking of the children. Or that, as one columnist put it, Love is "staring 40 in the face" and needs to settle down. Rather, the hysteria surrounding Love's latest antics likely has more to do with that distinct lack of apology.

Remorse is what we've come to expect, if not demand, of our troubled and powerful -- preferably in the soft focus of a prime-time interview with Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer, preferably with tears.

The modern televised mea culpa may have started with Bill and Hillary Clinton sitting down in 1992 with 60 Minutes, amid Gennifer Flowers' allegations, to discuss Bill's wandering ways. That worked so well that when his successor, George W. Bush, decided to run for president, he sought out Oprah to confess his own youthful indiscretions.

In recent months, many of pop culture's evildoers, including Britney Spears, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Natalie Maines, Pete Rose and Howard Dean have been brought before the public to make amends for their sins. Those who show the most contrition (Maines, for instance) return to our collective favour. Those who don't seem appropriately shamed (Rose, Dean) are shown no such forgiveness. The underlying message is this: Thou must lower thyself to reign.

"Sorry" really is the one word we've always wanted to hear Love say. "Sorry" for not being worthy of Kurt's love. "Sorry" for then killing Kurt, or at least not doing enough to save him. "Sorry" for claiming other people's work as her own (in response to the implicitly sexist idea that most of her best work has been authored by the likes of Billy Corgan and Cobain). "Sorry" for cleaning herself up to take on Hollywood, only to slip back into her old punk rock habits. "Sorry" for daring to conduct herself with the same hedonistic aplomb as her male counterparts ("Ms. Love is not only one of the least respected rock stars working today, but she also has to deal with -- if not embody -- the double standard applied to women who live the rock 'n' roll lifestyle," The New York Times' Neil Strauss wrote recently).

America's queen of domesticity, despite several prime-time appearances, showed a similar refusal to bend to the cultural gatekeepers. Now, she's headed for prison.

In between challenging the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC!" she rasped at one point, pointing to her breasts), Love turned to Letterman and proclaimed, "You're having a really good time and you know it." And she was right. And if, for the moment, it's down to Michael Powell or Courtney Love, the choice seems clear. Because Love, of course, means never having to say you're sorry.
Won't U Be Nice
Well then. First, she silenced - if only for a moment - the notoriously noisy El Mocambo crowd (Folks - if ya want to sit and chat while you listen to good music, walk down the street to the Red Room. Decent food. And they're always playing something by the Cure or Verve. If you insist on going to the ElMo, please shut the fuck up. Thank you.). Then, she made them sing. Seriously. Full blown sing-along with harmony and everything.
Five minutes in to Nellie McKay's Toronto debut I turned to my friend who had until then never heard Miss McKay and the look I got back said simply, "Holy shit."
I'm now convinced that double disc debut that I've been so enamored with lately doesn't actually do her justice. In person the real extent of her talent, humour and insight becomes apparent. I haven't yet figured how much of it is conscious and how much is natural quirk, but whatever it is, it's remarkable to watch. Some people are artists without being entertainers. Others entertainers without being artists in the least. It's not that Nellie has managed to be both of these things, but that she has made her art so damn entertaining and her entertainment so damn artistic. Then there's everything else - the wit, the charm, the satire, the smarts, the self-awareness, the self-discovery. She's simulatenously operating on like eight different levels. I don't even know if she full grasps yet what she's doing (Coincidentally I'm not entirely sure if I know what I'm saying right now or whether it makes even the first bit of sense - this alone I take to be a sign that tonight was something of importance).
Seeing Dizzee Rascal for the first time earlier this year was sorta like this. But I dare say his live powers as yet pale by comparison.
I have repeatedly tried to shake this blind optimism, but to no avail. Others seem to have been more successful.
In a three-star review for NOW magazine, Nick Flanagan actually went after her shortcomings as a rapper (!?!?!).
At some point, such stuff becomes self-parody. I fear Nellie McKay will inspire much of the sort - she's too precocious, too talented, too young, too unlike-anything-else, too audacious, too loved by terribly uncool people...
Critics are critics for a reason of course - they possess that reflex contrarian spirit of suspicion, that searching for fault where others find none. Indie insecurities are tough to lose. More critics should be in therapy.
This if of course nothing personal against Nick (my apologies if it seems that way). More just my own personal disgruntlement with the entire profession - well actually just with cynicism in general these days. And, in truth, the negative reviews of Nellie McKay have been in the vast minority. So consider this my pre-emptive strike (hey, if it's working so well for Bush...).
NOW's Sarah Liss and The Globe's Robert Everett-Green were there tonight to review the show. Maybe they'll prove me all wrong and expound endlessly on the virtues of tonight's virtuoso performance. Or at least offer truly thoughtful criticism lacking entirely in cynicism or snobbery. We shall see...
Till then I will remain your daily source of completely partial boosterism...

(P.S. Nellie will be doing an instore performance at Sam the Record Man - 347 Yonge St. - this afternoon. 4:30pm to be exact. See all you cynical bastards there.)

(P.P.S. Pardon the cursing at you ElMo-goers. You've just ruined too many shows for me with your incessant nattering from the back of the bar. Please don't turn me into one of those "shhh"-ing people.)

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Sari
Off to see Nellie at the ElMo. Full report later tonight.

(How on earth did both the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail manage to ignore her show tonight?)
And another thing...
Danko offers further explanation of that last sentence (again via e-mail).

"I was told that people at the Universal office were 'hurt' by the stories. We were 'hurt' when they didn't return our phone calls for three weeks, we were hurt when they didn't really work the record, and a variety of other issues related to We Sweat Blood."
"Beware 4 the end of the beginning is near..."
Alright. How bout some happy news involving a Canadian artist and a record label?
Carl Wilson brings news of Toronto's 4th Pyramid, who has apparently signed on with fine folks at Definitive Jux.
"It's a blessing that they let us go"
Danko chimes in via e-mail:

"The reason Universal gave us as to why we got dropped (or rather why they won't pick up the 3rd option on our contract), was that we weren't doing enough Canadian dates. They were dropping us only 5.5 months into the release of this new record. Obviously they won't work the record from here on in...it's dead in the water...

"Meanwhile we are doing very well internationally and on Monday March 29th I leave for 5 months to go on tour abroad and come home September 6th. It seems by their reason, that the better a Canadian band does internationally the worse they get treated by their domestic label...

"I don't mean to stir the pot of shit 'cause things are looking great for us and it's a blessing that they let us go. But by my saying certain things they are trying to act like they are the victims and that's just upside down."

I take his last sentence to be in reference to his rather controversial comments to Ben Rayner and others. Apparently he went even a step further with CBC News Sunday and Uptown Mag in Winnipeg (story here). In the Perlich piece below he makes the direct connection between those comments and his being dropped.

More to come surely. Still trying to get a response out of Universal.
"Your government failed you"
So who did more damage to their respective sitting governments today?
Richard Clarke with his damning indictment of the United States' failure to prevent 9/11?
Or Myriam Bedard, alleging that Adscam involved as much as $12 million for Jacques Villeneuve and drug trafficking?

In the wise words of Jon Stewart: Mind. Fucking. Blowing.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

With all due respect to Page 6
What internationally successful Canadian rock star was dropped last week from his or her record label here at home?

**UPDATE**
11:27pm EST... Toronto's major alt.weekly, NOW, just hit the streets and seems Tim Perlich, their man at SXSW, has beaten everyone to this story - the above referring to Danko Jones who was told on Mar. 16 that Universal would no longer require his services. NOW's story can be found here. Cheers to Perlich for getting it. With Jones at SXSW this past week it stood to reason that the story would break there and then, but, as far as I can tell, Perlich is the first and, for now, only reporter to pick up on it. By my count, The Toronto Star, Montreal Gazette, CanWest News Service, and Chart had reporters on the ground in Austin (Maclean's did as well, but couldn't have done much with any scoop given their weekly status). And yet we all slept on this? What happened? Did we just not care?

P.S. Those who are fascinated by the funny nature of news cycles should keep a close eye on the music press over the next few days - see how long it takes for this story to make the rounds. Consider that on the same day Danko was getting dumped, our lil' Avril was pooping her pants in Boston. And we know how efficiently that story made the rounds...

Mar. 16 - While taping interview with Boston radio show, Avril has a temper tantrum.
Mar. 17 - Boston Herald first reports tantrum.
Mar. 23 - Ottawa Sun takes notice. Canadian Press, conceivably, sees the Ottawa Sun report and mirrors it. As does Chart.
Mar. 24 - Toronto Sun reprints CP report. Fellow Sun media papers, the Winnipeg Sun and London Free Press follow suit.

Only in entertainment journalism could a story be deemed worthy of front page mention (as it was with the Toronto Sun today), a FULL WEEK after the event in question actually occurred.

(Full disclosure: I made passing reference to the Avril tantrum in my Monday column about Courtney Love.)

I know, I know. It's just Avril. And it's just some Canadian rock band that's big in Sweden. But still...
And finally tonight...
Haven't taken the time to add a permanent link, but Coolfer is always a, er, cool read.
Also: Cancel your plans for Thursday night and go see Nellie McKay at the El Mocambo. Then, cancel your plans for Friday night and go see Kanye West at The Docks (Note: If plans for either night already included said shows, do not cancel plans).
Raffi: No Nukes In Space
Few days ago the NDP sent out a release asking "What do Jack Layton, Pierre Berton and Sarah McLachlan have in common?" Just now getting a chance to read it (too busy in the interim thinking of snarky answers to that question).
Apparently, the common thread the NDP had in mind was an opposition to America's latest attempt to weaponize space.
Other Canadian musicians who hate Star Wars II as much as they hated Star Wars II and have signed an open letter to Paul Martin voicing their displeasure: Bryan Adams, Steven Page, Bruce Cockburn, Susan Aglukark, Stompin' Tom Connors, and, most importantly, beloved children's entertainer Raffi. Whose last name is apparently Cavoukian (hmm... is that Afghani?)

Kinda makes ya think twice about Baby Beluga, don't it?

"Baby Beluga in the deep blue sea,
Swim so wild and you swim so free.
Heaven above, and the sea below,
And a little white whale on the go."

Baby Beluga is clearly an anarchist. "Swim so wild?" That's the kind of world Raffi wants. One in which terrorists and evildoers and their nukes can "swim so free" across our borders. And "Heaven" above, eh? Raffi? And I guess there's no room for weapons up there in this "heaven" of yours. And this whale swimming "so free." How will this whale feel when rogue nations are attacking the "deep blue sea" because America didn't have weapons in "heaven" ready to protect him. Huh? What then? Not "so free" anymore are we Raffi?

"Baby beluga, baby Beluga, is the water warm?
Is your mama home with you, so happy."

Warm, eh? Warm with the vile ignorance of anti-Americanism? And sure "mama" is happy now. But what about when the communists start lobbing missiles at that home. Not so happy then, huh? Of course, if we had a missile defence shield she could remain happy, safe in the knowledge that those heavenly weapons were there to protect here.

"Way down yonder where the dolphins play,
Where they dive and splash all day,
The waves roll in and the waves roll out,
See the water squirting out of your spout."

Dolphins? Who are these dolphins? How do they feel about the United States? Have you ever heard them quote from the Koran? Where can we find these "dolphins?"

"When it's dark, you're home and fed,
Curl up snug in your water bed.
Moon is shining and the stars are out,
Good night, little whale, goodnight."

Stars. See, those heavenly missiles would just be like stars. Bright, shiny, twinkling stars that could rain down fire and horror upon anyone who would disturb your "water bed."

And look at this! Raffi has been lying to our children! He's whitewashed whale history! Baby belugas aren't white! "The young are slate-grey to reddish-brown which changes to blue-grey at 2 years of age." Ha! See!

How long will the Liberal media ignore this clear and present danger to our national security?

We'll be watching you Raffi. If that is your real name.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

All good things come from Windsor
Received a rather breathless e-mail this evening from Amanda Newman at Paper Bag Records. Apparently, Plastikman has scheduled a concert for Montreal in June.
Why does this matter? Well, because Richie Hawtin hasn't done a Plastikman show in NINE YEARS.
It says here that said show will be June 3 at the Mutek festival.
Also:
"Hawtin describes the show as a rare, one-night performance incorporating multiple media with the artist controlling all parameters of the event. As with his DJ sets, he will also involve unprecedented new artistic technologies - all developed and customised for this show."
Lots of people and things involved in the show, including: Derivative Inc., Crush Inc., Ableton, AG and Digidesign.
Further:
"Turkish video artist Ali Mahmut Demirel, who directed the eye-popping video for the 'Disconnect' (novamute/Minus) single, as well as new media event producer/curator Kevin McHugh have both contributed to Hawtin's plans."
Surely more to be announced in the coming week's at the Plastikman site.
See you there then maybe.
"You can go screw yourself"
Why is the Ottawa Sun reporting on this only now?
Feist on Film
PopWherry favourite Leslie Feist has a video for Mushaboom now. It can be found here (scroll to the bottom).

(link courtesy of Feist's friend Tab)
'This is a once in a lifetime opportunity'

Federal budget day. Meh.

Some non-Goodale-approvaed Tuesday reading:

The ever-intrepid New York Post tracks down the young man seen suckling Courtney's breast(not safe for work) the other night.
Ben Rayner loves Austin, Texas - or at least the wee music festival they have there.
Vit Wagner loves Bob Dylan - or at least the wee man who claims to be Bob Dylan these days.
Sasha Frere-Jones considers the sexiness of Norah Jones.
Van Halen won't let the dream die.
Regular good stuff here, here, here and here.
Good call Anonymous
Esteemed Post pundit Andrew Coyne seeks help with hip-hop.
It's the simple things that crush
A few years ago Scotland's Delgados went and made one of the best records I've ever heard. Seriously. The Great Eastern. Others may have missed its brilliance. Their loss.
I wasn't so keen on their follow-up, Hate. Mr. Rayner speaks highly of it though - as he does the rest of their back catalogue.
Anyway. The point of this story is that they were in Toronto this evening to play Lee's Palace and I quite unexpectedly found myself in attendance. Fine show. Cheers to bass players who chug wine straight from the bottle. Great opportunity to renew my crush on the remarkable Emma Pollock.
Much of the set, to my delight, was devoted to Great Eastern material. Two new songs: One that reminded me of Nirvana (though everything reminds me of Nirvana these days) and one that was as close as The Delgados are ever going to get to California pop.
Special commendation to the long-haired fellow near the front who courageously launched into a solo pogo during various high points.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Television? Phair? Aerosmith?
Sasha Frere-Jones loves Nellie McKay. Almost as much as I do (see countless previous posts I'm too lazy to link to at the moment).
To wit:
"This woman is extra stupid good. She is possibly scary, twice-in-a-lifetime good."
Now with 75% less hair
The ringing slowly subsiding, our Hawksley will be touring as below:
April 8 Calgary - MacEwan Ballroom               
April 10  Vancouver - Commodore Ballroom
April 11  Victoria - Legends
April 14  Edmonton - Myer Horowitz   
April 15  Saskatoon - Louis Pub       
April 16  Regina - The State       
April 17  Winnipeg - Burton Cummings Theatre 
May 14   Toronto - Danforth Music Hall
May 15   Toronto - Palais Royale

**The Danforth Music Hall show is apparently an acoustic set.
"And I was like, maybe I should just call and then they'll know I'm a real human being."
Pitchfork hates Ryan Adams. A lot of people hate Ryan Adams, actually. So maybe Pitchfork is just speaking on behalf of "them." Either way, I've never understood the hate. And neither, apparently, has Ryan Adams. So he decided to give Pitchfork a call. The highly entertaining discussion that followed is here.
Crazy kids with their rock and/or roll
The Globe's James Adams seems to have enjoyed Dylan's show at the Phoenix - if only because he was still able to get home in time for Matlock.
"On a few of the tracks I think I've finally figured out how to write a chorus!!"
New LP from Ron Sexsmith, Retriever, has arrived. As advertised, it's a much more electric album (more insightful commentary to come once I've given it a few listens). Tracklisting, with comments from Ron:
1. "Hard Bargain is one part love song, one part letter to God"
2. "Imaginary Friends is a sort of cautionary children's song"
3. "Not About to Lose is a pretty straightforward track about um... defiance I guess"
4. "Tomorrow in Her Eyes is a love song that features another attempt by me on piano"
5. "From Now On is a song about vigilance in an age of fear mongering 'Prop-Agenda'"
6. "For the Driver is a simple hymn like tune about forgiveness and seeing another point of view"
7. "Wishing Wells is more of a 'rocker' written after a night of shockingly bad television"
8. "Whatever It Takes is a kind of tribute to Bill Withers (one of my heroes) and lyrically it's about trying hard not to screw up a good thing"
9. "Dandelion Wine is a very bittersweet tune, and more confessional than I normally like to get but felt it necessary to write somehow"
10. "Happiness kicks around the idea of pursuing something we're already in possession of"
11. "How on Earth is one of the most romantic songs I've ever written (probably not for the cynical)"
12. "I Know It Well is a direct lyric about reassurance"

Ed Harcourt appears on piano.
Travis' Neil Primrose and Dougie Payne appear on drums and bass respectively on several songs.
Release Date: April 20
And another thing...
Last time I'll talk about Courtney Love for at least several hours. Promise.
But the cover of The New Yorker for last week provides an interesting footnote to Monday's column in the Post, in which I make passing mention of Martha Stewart.
The New Yorker's cover story is touted as "Enabling Martha." Within, Jeffrey Toobin argues that it was Martha's need to be surrounded by loyal minions that led to her downfall. Much the same language is being used to describe those who would support Courtney Love at this time - most of them hissed at as "enablers" on Internet messageboards.
Anyway.
Over at Blender (referencing The New Yorker and Blender in the same blog post - that has to be a first), the esteemed editorial board of boob-loving music geeks has assembled a list of the "50 Craziest Pop Stars Ever!" Courtney comes in at #13. And, by comparison, her recent antics seem rather tame.
The Top Five:
1. Michael Jackson: nuff said
2. Brian Wilson: drugs, psychosis, three years in bed
3. Axl Rose: once had two elephants delivered to his home by helicopter
4. Whitney Houston: went to Israel, proclaimed Jewishness
5. Sly Stone: drugs, sex, and a profound interest in guns

Some of the also-rans, and their greatest hits:

6. Peter Green: grew finger nails so long he wouldn't have to play guitar
10. Ozzy Osbourne: tried to kill Sharon
20. Ike Turner: drug addict, wifebeater
22. Jerry Lee Lewis: married 13-year-old cousin
26. Iggy Pop: once lived solely on German sausage for a year
27. Keith Moon: brief fascination with Nazism
31. Lee Perry: worshipped bananas
39. Miles Davis: drug addict, wifebeater
41. David Bowie: brief fascination with Nazism
46. Sid Viscious: charged with murdering his junkie lover Nancy Spungen, before OD'ing on heroin

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Free for all
To the current Album of the Year Battle Royale - already featuring Leslie Feist, Kanye West and Nellie McKay - playing itself out on the discman, add Wilco's A Ghost Is Born, which seems only to get better with repeated listens at increasing levels of volume.
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was all about Wilco going to war (with their sound, with their limits, with their ambitions, with themselves - and, afterwards, with the industry). It was a report from the frontlines (Yan-kee... Ho-tel... Fox-trot...) of Tweedy's migraines. Joy came in the accomplishment of having succeeded and, maybe more importantly, survived.
A Ghost Is Born finds them back home - resting in the arms of their best girls and wrestling with the past, the present, the future and the inevitable question, "What next?"
Or so goes today's unified theory...
Weekend reading
I continue to worship at the altar of Frank Rich.
The New York Observer has kind words for Toronto's Cansecos, among others.
Every other cool Canadian band is in Austin, Texas kicking ass, reports The Star's Ben Rayner.
Good to see the Republicans aren't resorting to a smear campaign.
Drudge stumbles upon the Robert Pickton case with this story from an Australian paper(?).
Douglas Wolk reviews the Fleetwood Mac reissues.
And everyone's still talking about Courtney (Not Safe For Work, to say the least).
Long ago wisdom
The Globe's Lynn Crosbie (that's twice this weekend - I'm starting to sound like J. Kelly with his Coyne obsession) shares my appreciation for Courtney Love.
In one of her pieces about America's Sweetheart, Crosbie wrote the following:
"Internet searches of her name, which once revealed seemingly infinite fan sites, are now dominated by anti-Courtney, that 'evil cold-hearted harlot,' venues, or Web occasions to blame her for Cobain's death."
This is sort of right.
Actually, if you go to Google and type in "Courtney Love" the first thing that appears (below the latest headlines pertaining to her latest hijinks) is this - Courtney Love's speech to the Digital Hollywood online entertainment conference, given in New York on May 16, 2000.
Consider it a companion piece to Steve Albini's famous essay The Problem With Music.
In all the ridiculousness of her last four years, it's kind of been forgotten. But it's a nice reminder that this woman isn't entirely the mindless junkie she sometimes appears to be (and lends even more credence to my theory that even at her most deranged she knows exactly what she's doing).
Anyway, for more of my thoughts on Courtney, see Monday's Post (and while you're at it, why not subscribe?).

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Define "Is"
Lynn Crosbie's busy writing about Eleanor Lambert this week, so Andrew Ryan fills in on The Globe's Courtney Love beat with a comparison of Love and the vastly inferior Whitney Houston.
Of Courtney, he notes: "She recently released a new CD, America's Sweetheart, that is doing well."
Well? This shiny new issue of Billboard says, after four weeks, her album sits at 196 on the Billboard 200. It entered the charts at 53. A week later it was at 114. Next at 158.
Charts show it hasn't yet gone platinum. And everyone else seems to think it's only sold 65,000 copies.
(In Canada, she entered at 49. Fell to 80. And then disappeared.)
my heart and mind are opening to newness and discovery
The latest word(s) from Hawksley Workman:

i regret to say i have to cancel the next run of shows. i have suffered what the doctor calls trauma to my right ear. it happened during my show in paris. somehow i sustained a damaging blast of volume in my monitor on stage that has left my right ear ringing and unable to hear high frequency sound. i admit i am a tad worried... which is why i have heeded my doctor's recommendation to submit myself to a few weeks quiet. i am disappointed to have to go home early. our first half of the french tour was wonderful... and should have continued that way in to the rest of europe and canada. however with this time off... i should recover to near normal. beyond this minor turmoil... my heart and mind are opening to newness and discovery. i hear two new records in my head at the moment... and have been faithfully writing. a few weeks ago i visited bangladesh to host a television documentary about child labour in the garment industry there. the country and its people inspired me greatly. i am feeling that it is a good time to take good ideas and well meant intentions to task. to hold dear to your truths and beauties and humbly commit to employing them faithfully. i know these are lofty statements... and aren't my typical poetic codes... so i leave you with this...

i watched horses by the airport this morning. babies touched their mothers as the planes came and went. the sun struggled to be seen through the typical haze of a london morning. it was green around them and they stood naive and beautiful. sometimes such simplicities make me weepy. a man was planting flowers in the city garden last sunday. the sidewalk held them in. a breeze is still a breeze i thought. and these little flowers know it. winter has passed and spring has come with its resurrection and promise. i shall never take for granted my fortune of knowing winter turning to spring. i will roll up, one day, and be eaten lovingly... drunk like a rose petal tea... and feel the warm new breath of a beginning that i only distantly understand.
h.
Honey and Tryptophan

Broken Social Scene
Bee hives
Arts & Crafts

The day after Thanksgiving is always a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the memory of a fresh-from-the-bird turkey dinner still lingers on your palette. This fills you with hope, for you know that surely there must be more turkey to be had. And surely there is - only now in the form of leftovers. And here is where hope meets disappointment. Sure, it's still turkey. But it's a little bit dry now. Especially the white meat. And it's got that artificial warmth only the microwave can provide. B-side albums, specifically those that follow the sort of brilliance one might find in Thanksgiving dinner or Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People, are generally like this warmed over foul - somewhat wasted reminders of better times. Bee hives is not leftover turkey. It feels more like the time in between Thanksgiving and the day after - an album born in that sleepy, post-dinner, tryptophan afterglow. The love and joy of YFIIP remains. But it comes now in soft, gentle lullabies (Marketfresh), vibrant technicolour dreams (Backyards, Da Da Dada) and lazy slumbers (Weddings, Ambulance for the Ambiance). Then we awake to piano and Leslie Feist and a drop-dead gorgeous reworking of Lover's Spit. It is now apparently time we grow old and do some shit. If only to distract us from the anticipation we already feel for next Thanksgiving.
I don't regret my decision then
The Sun's Mary Dickie smacks Bob Dylan upside the head.
Everything's coming up Broken
Billboard's SXSW diary loves Broken Social Scene. And in between the boobies, Blender found room for a three-star Bee hives review. "Like a dream, it sticks with you," they said, then returned to leering at Amy Lee.
Tonight a rock star saved my life
Alright. "Life" might be a tad extreme. Maybe just "night." But still...
A screening of Greendale not the best way to start your Friday morning. Afternoon spent lamenting (in no specific order):
1) Kurt Cobain memorial coverage
2) Dave Eggers' new column in Spin
3) Gossip being more important than Music
4) Courtney Love
5) People who wish Courtney Love was dead
6) Hotdogs
7) The elusiveness of a tape of Courtney Love on Letterman

Anyway. Dragged sorry ass to Matt Mays show at the Horseshoe. Folks there from EMI, Universal, Warner, etc... surely won't be long now.
Somehow conjured up the morning ghosts of Greendale and the long-dead ghosts of Cobain. Made my ears hurt. All went home happy.

Friday, March 19, 2004

I'm 37 years old, and I don't want to fall into nostalgia for an era that I didn't even live through.
A quick skim of Tracks didn't impress me all that much - though I'm about 30 years outside its target demo (Yup, that's right I'm 86) - but editor Alan Light's week-long diary at Slate has been a consistently interesting read.
Speed bump
The Boston Globe's Renee Graham starts some serious beef with 50 Cent over his comments in Playboy:
"It's about 50 Cent proving yet again that he's a detriment to the public image of African-American manhood. And yes, the evocation of race is intentional. Since his debut, "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " dropped a year ago, 50 Cent has parlayed every toxic stereotype of black men into chart-topping success. He's a misogynist. He's a gun-happy fool doing his part to extol black-on-black violence. He's a cartoon character playing into white society's fears and fascinations with the perceived black urban male menace. Without anything new or interesting to say, his whole shtick consists of presenting himself as a violent, destructive force and cold-hearted pimp, whose primary power is scaring the mess out of people."
Best one since Castro
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban rules. All owners should care as much as he does about the product he puts on the court each night. And now he blogs. He's no Junior Harrington mind you, but still...
Busy Bush Watch, Day 2
Thursday, February 18: Gives remarks to troops and families, followed by lunch and closed meeting with families, Fort Campbell, KY (CBS News).
A Ghost...
... is out there. Seek it and ye shall find.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Humility is the new Not Caring
Broken Social Scene mad genius Kevin Drew in the press bio for Bee hives:
"Bee hives is our blue pill... If you like it - that's good - if you don't then try to give it to someone that will."
Such argument starters often seem the only way to get people talking about culture.
Carl Wilson blogs the controversial book review, The Globe's editors wouldn't dare touch.
Oh, alright, I guess it's not that dramatic. But a good read all the same.
Also: his review of Elvis Costello in Toronto.
J'aime bien
French fans of Bjork discuss the new Leslie Feist album here. You'll also find a small picture of the album cover and a rather large picture of Feist and Peaches, uh, "collaborating."
Busy Bush Watch, Day 1
"The president, of course, is the president, and he does have a schedule to keep, but he has said that he will sit with the chairman and with the co-chairman and that he will answer whatever questions they have. And I'm quite certain he will take as long as they need to answer those questions," Condoleezza Rice told Tim Russert Sunday morning on Meet The Press.
"Several hours, a day if they need?" Russert asked.
"Well, I would hope that they would recognize that he's president and that people would be judicious in the use of his time," Dr. Rice replied.

Indeed he is the president. And indeed he has many things to do each day. Many things that are apparently more important than lending his insight and knowledge (stop laughing) to help the country better understand the events leading up to and ramifications of that big important event he's been basing his re-election campaign on.

From now until the President speaks with the 9/11 commission, we'll be keeping an eye on his schedule (courtesy of The Note), with regular updates as to what pressing matters of the moment are keeping Bush from devoting more time to the investigation. Without further ado...

Day 1: President Bush participates in St. Patrick's Day festivities in Washington, D.C.
Feist for free
Tangmonkey has a couple tracks from the Feist album. Got my copy late last week. In a word: fantastic. Many, many more words to come in the next few days.
Normal & Healthy
As promised... this week's Post column.

The shock hopper: Prejudiced? Immature? Or is it just that 50 Cent 'ain't into' homosexuality
Aaron Wherry - National Post
Monday, March 15, 2004

So powerful and complete is hip hop's dominance over American culture that the genre's biggest star and the country's most powerful politician now find themselves in agreement over one of the more divisive issues of the day -- homosexuality.

Its presence, it seems, makes both men uncomfortable. President George W. Bush, at least, is in a position to do something about it. So it was two weeks ago that he proposed a constitutional amendment to bar the increasingly uppity homosexual community from degrading that sacred institution of marriage.

50 Cent is left to air his grievances where we all go to with our innermost insecurities -- Playboy. In the interests of fair play, his comments in full context:

Playboy: Did your grandmother tell you how your mom died?

50 Cent: I got what happened later. My grandmother was uncomfortable even saying that my mother liked girls.

Playboy: She didn't like the word lesbian?

50 Cent: Well, not lesbian. I don't know what you call it -- bisexual? I'm here, so it had to be bi. [laughs] But I think that's why I don't pass judgment on people. I ain't into faggots. I don't like gay people around me, because I'm not comfortable with what their thoughts are. I'm not prejudiced. I just don't go with gay people and kick it -- we don't have that much in common. I'd rather hang out with a straight dude. But women who like women, that's cool. I could actually get into that, having a woman who likes women too. We might have more in common.

Playboy: You use the word faggot in your songs, too. Can you refer to gay men as faggots and also say that you're not prejudiced?

50 Cent: It's OK to write that I'm prejudiced. This is as honest as I could possibly be with you. When people become celebrities, they change the way they speak. But my conversation with you is exactly the way I would have a conversation on the street. We refer to gay people as faggots, as homos. It could be disrespectful, but that's the facts.

- - -

Take note of the many contradictions. He doesn't "pass judgment on people." But he "ain't into faggots." He's "not prejudiced." But, then again, "it's OK to write" that he is. And of course, while the idea of two men together is too much to bear, the thought of two women sharing a bed is, well, hot.

This is a confused young man, to say the least. And, oddly enough, that's something he freely admits, having claimed in previous interviews that, "emotionally," he's about 13.

Which seems about right. If you're a straight man you may remember sharing many of his concerns about the "thoughts" of gay men when you were around 13 too. The idea being that if there was a gay man in your midst, he might be checking you out in the showers after gym class or waiting for the opportune moment to jump your bones -- our gay peers apparently seeing something in us that countless females must have missed.

Most of us shook this ignorance (if not arrogance) with age. Not so, apparently, for 50.

This is, generally, where society comes in -- full of outrage and intent on correcting 50's erroneous thinking. And, in a time when Janet Jackson's nipple is enough to launch a federal inquiry, and accusations of wrongdoing on the part of her brother are enough to get his music pulled off the radio, it seemed safe to assume a stinging rebuke was sure to come, letting 50 know that his homophobia was, simply, not acceptable. Until it never came.

Indeed there was mostly silence last week. And when Reebok, one of 50's sponsors, did speak up, it was to defend the rapper. Speaking the same week the shoe company announced the winners of its annual Reebok Human Rights Awards (what strange days we find ourselves in when shoe companies are handing out human rights awards), a spokeswoman for the company defended 50's right to free expression but only when asked about his other controversy of the week -- his involvement in an upcoming porn film.

"Our support of human rights actually does match up against our support of 50 Cent's right to express himself," she said.

Her defence came in response to what is becoming an almost cliched plot twist in every hip hop controversy -- the moral outrage of Bill O'Reilly.

"Reebok should be ashamed of themselves," O'Reilly told the Boston Herald after citing 50's porn connection on his all-too-popular Fox talk show/shouting match. "They're embracing a guy who's hurting children."

So, as it stands, you're either with 50 or you're with O'Reilly (see also: you're either with Bush or you're with the terrorists). And in the middle lies a great number of people who have simply tuned both out.

Which might explain why there was so little reaction to the Playboy interview. It could very well be that his comments simply confirmed everything we'd already assumed about 50 and rap in general. As the interviewer, Rob Tannenbaum, noted, homophobic slurs are nothing new to 50. And such prejudices in hip hop have been hotly debated for years -- peaking in the mainstream with the slurs of Eminem (until, of course, he cozied up to Elton John). So maybe 50's comments aren't all that shocking.

There is also the somewhat sinister connotation that has come to be associated with anyone who too loudly condemns rap and hip hop. In much the same way that Bush's disciples have tried to paint criticism of their leader as anti-American, hip hop's loyal throngs often see criticism of their community as simple racism.

Certainly there was a time when that was true. And certainly it may still be true in the case of some critics. And certainly it doesn't help that hip hop's most vocal and visible critic is Bill O'Reilly, an angry, white, conservative man. But refuting all criticism of hip hop as, even subconsciously, racist, is clearly as short-sighted and oppressive as rejecting all U.S. political dissent as anti-American.

And, as if there hasn't been enough to debate about the continued success and higher meaning of 50 Cent, here's still more that seems ready for discussion. Born to a bisexual mother, he now claims to simply be voicing the prejudices of his surroundings.

That's less than a hop, skip and jump away from the oft-whispered theory that homophobia is in fact a major force in the African-American male population. By pure coincidence it seems, on Friday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's editorial board, citing another study of the issue, revived the debate with an editorial blaming homophobia and the taboo of AIDS for rising HIV rates in young black men.

Could it be then, that just as Bush was pandering to his audience, so too is 50 Cent? Suddenly we've got a fairly serious debate about pop music, hip hop, homophobia, race, AIDS and America. All thanks to Playboy.
You're welcome
The federal government's Canada Music Fund was created in June 2001. A year and a half into the program, in Feb. 2003, I wrote about the program's progress for the Post.
For the record, to that point, Danko Jones had received $99,317.50 in loans and grants.
Is there something in the water?
Danko Jones has some complaints. Well, one big complaint actually - that being that the Canadian music industry has failed him and his band.
You have to marvel at a mid-level Canadian rock band finding fault with a system that includes the sort of CanCon regulations and government funding that have allowed them to exist in the first place. Someone ask Danko how many government loans and grants he's received? Or whether he really thinks his band's singles and videos would have received as much airplay if radio stations and MuchMusic weren't forced by the federal government to devote a good percentage of their programming to Canadian content?
Worse is the idea that Canadians somehow owe these bands attention - that it's disgraceful that Sweden loves Danko more than Canada loves Danko. He's one of us, right? And we've got to support our own. Even if we don't find their music all that interesting.
Nonsense.
Blame Universal if you like. Maybe they didn't give you priority. Such are the perils of putting your faith in a major label.
(We'll save our blame for the CanCon system that encourages this attitude of entitlement.)
But Danko, you aren't owed anything here. So go to Sweden. Get paid. Whatever you gotta do to ensure you can pay us back for all those government loans.
Now with angst
So who went and pissed off Great Big Sea? Well, everybody apparently.
Much pissing and moaning, including this soon-to-be-classic comment concering use of the term "Newfie" to describe our friends from Newfoundland:
"That's a derogatory term... like 'nigger.'"
No doubt, somewhere a Phd student at a small liberal arts college along the Eastern seaboard is already four pages in to an essay comparing the experience of Newfoundlanders in Atlantic Canada to African-Americans in the Deep South.

(Note: I checked. And Mr. Great Big Sea is right. Or so says this. Other slurs to be avoided: Seinfeld, Terrence and, uh, Canadian?)

Monday, March 15, 2004

Just look at the pretty pictures
Wrote about 50 Cent's comments in today's Post (will put column here eventually). Long story, short: said he was a dope. And then proceeded with a rather long-winded discussion of AIDS, homophobia, President Bush, racism, and hip-hop that tried to understand why no one else seemed to want to say as much.
Two letters so far from National Post readers. One arguing that I should spend more time looking at the pictures in Playboy. Another AGREEING with 50 Cent and arguing that it is "quite normal & healthy for straight males to feel uneasy in the presence of gay men, and there is nothing terribly improper about what 50 Cent said."
Sigh.
Lessons in Spinology
Spin: Apple's iTunes achieves new milestone with 50 millionth download.
Counterspin: Apple's iTunes falls way short of 100 million download target.

Cheers to the BBC.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

"I wanted to be Batman"
And this week's Nellie McKay profile.

In the key of 'Gee': Singer-songwriter Nellie McKay talks like Doris Day, but she can also sing like Randy Newman, and by one account is better than Gershwin
Thursday, March 11, 2004
Aaron Wherry - National Post

Where to start? Maybe with the fact that she counts Dylan Thomas as a cousin. Or that she dabbled in stand-up comedy before settling on music. Or that her grandfather was a convicted murderer who served time in San Quentin, or that her great-grandfather was a bullfighter in Spain.

Then there's the story about how Nellie McKay (pronounced mi-KAI if you believe her official bio, Muh-KYE if you read The New York Times) wanted to name her debut album Black America. Then Penis Envy. Both were rejected, so she settled on Get Away From Me.

Or the story about the time she was held hostage by a mugger and later forced to move to Olympia, Wash., (with nine cats and a dog in tow) because her mother's lawyer was murdered and dismembered, possibly at the behest of her building's landlord. Or that her mother, Robin Pappas, is an actress who appeared in Chariots of Fire and was recently featured as Donald Trump's pottery teacher in a TV commercial.

And let's not forget that she has penned songs in German and Japanese with the help of foreign-language dictionaries and pronunciation guides.

Then there's what happens when she sings in English. When she croons about love, loss, marriage, death, President Bush, the late U.S. senator Paul Wellstone and the Oxygen Network, she sounds like Doris Day, Randy Newman and Eminem all at once.

She giggles things like "golly," "gee" and "swell," echoing the classic movies she seems to have been transported from, but can turn on a dime and debate the development of modern feminism, the Atkins diet or the overbearing nature of Montel Williams.

Oh, by the way, Jason Trachtenburg of the equally outrageous Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players insists she's "better than Gershwin." And, let's not forget, she's all of 19.

But, for now, let's start where little Nellie started. With Batman.

"My mother was an actress, so I always wanted to avoid show business as much as possible," she begins. "And I had little friends who wanted to be actresses and I'd think I was so much better than them because I wanted to be Batman."

Batman's pretty cool.

"Batman's wonderful," she says. "But I mean, you know, I shouldn't have been laughing at them for wanting to be actresses when I wanted to be Batman. But I really did, I wanted to be Batman. But that didn't happen. Oddly enough."

No, instead she discovered Jerry Lee Lewis. And the rest is about to become history.

"I'd taken piano lessons from the age of eight. But I'd never appreciated music. I'd always wanted to do something else. But we moved to Olympia, Wash., and we saw the movie Great Balls of Fire. And I got up right at the end of the movie and I ran right over to the piano and I was starting to do that crazy boogie-woogie-woogie thing where you stand up and kick and play the piano. And from then on, I was so into that. And I was really practising.

"And I did a version of Whole Lotta Shakin' called Whole Lotta Learnin' Going On at my school. I was so, so into that. And so it was really from then that I've been pursuing the fame gambit."

Not that it was really that straightforward. Not that anything about McKay ever really is.

"From there, it's gone from wanting to be a piano player to wanting to just be a stand-up singer like Doris Day to wanting to be an actor to wanting to be a comedian to trying to dream up stunts that could just get me on the front page of the New York Post and then I'd be offered my own TV show or something," she says of her ever-evolving master plan. "But eventually it came down to doing standards in clubs and then I started writing my own music. But it was all pretty inadvertent."

She was a bit of an outcast in high school (why are we not entirely shocked by that revelation?) and didn't last too long in the Manhattan School of Music. She had, she says, a lot of angst. And a constant "need to impress." Both of which are all over Get Away From Me -- piano pop with disco and rap asides and the political pulse of a classic folk record.

On I Wanna Get Married she croons, "I wanna get married, that's why I was born. I wanna partake in bake sales for the classroom ... as I exhume the gloom of my shallow life."

On Sari she takes aim at liberal guilt and still manages to rhyme "shot" with "Faust" and poke at the disciples "cryin' for Senator Wellstone."

Her politics are a gift from her mom, who used to pin Dukakis buttons to little Nellie's parka when she was a toddler.

Won't U Please Be Nice (the jaw-dropping ditty that earned her an F from the Manhattan School of Music) warns a lover that "if we part I'll eat your heart" before gently pleading, "so won't you please be nice."

It was that song that reportedly won her Best in Show at a music festival in Alabama, and soon thereafter she was playing standards at piano bars and clubs in and around New York City (she was born in London, England, and besides New York and Olympia, she spent a short time in Pennsylvania).

Then came the Time Out New York piece in March, 2003, that introduced the world to "an eccentric teen songsmith about to give Randy Newman a run for his money." In her first major interview, McKay joked of playing with the brightly coloured crack vials that littered the park in her Harlem neighbourhood.

Nobody had asked McKay to her high school prom. But now everyone wanted to dance. A bidding war ensued, reportedly including as many as five labels. Sony went home with the girl.

"I just had to stop and ask, 'Wait a minute, is she really 19 years old? Is this really coming out of her?'" Mitchell Cohen, the man at Sony who signed her, has said. "The nature of the performance, the material, the piano playing and the vocabulary, the musical vocabulary -- ranging from vaguely cabaret-ish stuff to very contemporary, sharp and clever lyrics -- and sweet demeanour combined with a dark, subversive side. There was something about her that was very intriguing."

Her debut record -- a double album at McKay's demand -- was released last month. And the wide-eyed acclaim of critics who have never heard anything quite like it has been quick to follow. Redemption -- against the kids, the teachers, all those who thought her merely another artsy-fartsy New York oddball -- would seem to be hers.

"Redemption will come when I'm huge," she says with little doubt of her own bright future. "But by that time I'll be trying to get over my affair with Ellen DeGeneres or something. It'll just have to be another problem, whatever that will be."

She speaks in certainties, with little doubt that her every hope and dream is sure to come true. It's cocky and precocious, but not at all unreasonable. Not that doubt doesn't creep in every so often.

"I'm beginning to get kinda worried because I only knew the Top 40 of the Billboard charts so I thought, 'You must debut there. That must be how it works.' So since it hasn't I've begun to think, 'Uh oh, maybe I'm not going to be big.' But i think it will -- I hope it will sell. Do you think I'm going to sell a million albums?"

I don't see why that's not a reasonable goal.

"Oh, good. Well, I think I'll sell more than a million. I just wonder when I'm going to reach a million."

It'll be a start.
In search of the Purple Cow
This past week's column.

Lil' Johnny v. Men in slacks: The music industry is headed for a label-less future -- unless it's not
Monday, March 8, 2004
Aaron Wherry - National Post

With Edgar Bronfman's purchase of the company signed and sealed, Warner Music laid off 1,000 employees -- 20% of its global work force -- last week. All because Lil' Johnny downloaded the last Kid Rock album and burned copies for all his friends. Truly a sad, horrible day, etc. for the music business. Another sign of an industry in "crisis." Right?

Well, maybe. Then again, maybe not.

A couple of nights later, upstairs at Toronto's Top o' the Senator, local jazz luminaries Kollage, featuring Cuban piano prodigy David Virelles, were still swinging through a week long engagement. There was, to my eyes at least, little crying, moping and/or whining for the state of their beleaguered industry. Just periodic kibitzing with the 15 or so of us in attendance.

There was a distinct lack of mourning the next night at the Phoenix as Shawn Hewitt, Graph Nobel, Tangiers and Metric laid bare the never-ending potential of Toronto's limitless music scene as part of Canadian Music Week festivities.

Not even Lil' Johnny was feeling all that guilty last week. Because a few weeks ago he flipped open Rolling Stone and read that Lyor Cohen, the man who will lead this new, "nimble" (as Billboard put it) Warner will make at least (AT LEAST!) US$10-million this year. Then this week Lil' Johnny was skimming through Rolling Stone's latest Richest Rock Star List and noticed that Metallica, they of the stridently anti-downloading Lars Ulrich, had managed, despite the scourge of online piracy, to scrape together a little over US$39-million last year (in between lighting his hand-rolled Cuban cigars with hundred-dollar bills, Ulrich advised that the band was still welcoming charitable donations).

And there had only been optimism that Thursday morning, during CMW's State of the Industry panel discussion. Except when there was pessimism. And periodically, profound bewilderment.

One industry official had the temerity to say the label downsizing of late was, in fact, a "good" thing. Another argued that all was well because the industry was on the verge of finding its "Purple Cow." Whatever that means.

Strangely coloured bovine or no strangely coloured bovine, the music industry, we were told (by "experts" who seemed to derive all their knowledge of the consumer from the spending habits of their respective 10-year-old daughters), had simply to realize one thing -- CDs cost too much. Unless, others argued, they don't cost enough.

In which case, online subscription services are the answer. Unless they're not.

Either way, parents need to educate their children about the moral evils of illegal downloading. But then again, maybe we can't ask parents to do that. Maybe the dinner table should be saved for important discussions. Like, "What did you do at school today, dear?" or "Daddy, why does President Bush hate gay people?"

So maybe video games are the problem. Or, maybe not. Wait, it's that the records have too much filler. Or, maybe they don't have enough. Actually, we just need artists to make more albums. Or, maybe less.

If nothing else, we know one thing for sure -- illegal downloading is killing the music industry. And if the music industry collapses, there won't be anyone to make more music. Unless all of that too is a load of something that Purple Cow might leave behind.

This last argument -- that music's general creation is somehow tied to the industry's continued existence -- is, quite obviously, a flimsy one at best. That Kollage or the Tangiers would be silenced by the continued demise of the record business is to suggest that were Nike and Reebok to cease production, we would have nothing to wear on our feet. Everything else though is up for grabs. And if anybody tells you they have an answer, they are, in fact, most likely trying to sell you something.

Consider that of the three most-talked-about albums of the still young 2004, only one (Norah Jones' Feels Like Home) could be considered a bona fide major-label success story -- and even there her continued popularity has as much to do with small-label nurturing and the mystical appeal of pop music as it has to do with any kind of mass promotion or distribution.

The other two records -- Kanye West's The College Dropout and Danger Mouse's The Grey Album -- derived much of their success in direction contradiction of major-label wishes. Anticipation only heightened by an early leak of the album and West's stature on the bootleg mixed-tape scene, The College Dropout roared onto the Billboard charts upon debut, bested only be the aforementioned Miss Jones.

Meanwhile, EMI's cease-and-desist letter to Danger Mouse, the DJ who blended Jay-Z's Black Album and the Beatles' White Album to periodically brilliant effect, launched his illegal bootleg to global infamy and spurred a rebellious bunch of Internet geeks to launch Grey Tuesday, a 24-hour orgy of piracy that saw the album downloaded 100,000 times from approximately 170 participating sites (note: both organizers' claims).

These are indeed strange days. But for both sides; the cluelessness is equally shared. For as confused as those record executives revealed themselves to be Thursday morning, so too are the self-styled freedom fighters and Internet revolutionaries who perceive themselves to be bringing down the monolithic beast that is the music industry.

Last February, Wired magazine heralded a "post-label world" in a Charles C. Mann-penned obituary entitled "The Year the Music Dies." It was their cover story, complete with a picture of the Hindenburg disaster to illustrate the coming apocalypse.

More than a year later, the major labels, though consolidated, downsized and forever scrabbling for answers, still exist. And they show little sign of going gently into the good night.

Will they continue to adapt to a changing marketplace? Will indies thrive under a less-structured system? Will 12-year-old Lil' Johnny ignore the threat of lawsuit and continue to download with near impunity? Will iTunes be the answer? On all accounts: a definite maybe.

This much we know for sure: There is nothing more soul-crushing than sitting in a hotel ballroom, listening to a middle-aged white man in dress slacks discuss music in terms of "value proposition."

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Janet has had a complete facial repaint
This - commemorative Nipplegate dolls for sale on Ebay - just had to happen.

But why (WHY?!) must the guy selling them be Canadian? (And what the hell is wrong with Janet's neck?)
Eleanor Rigby
Former Canadian Idol contestant Mikey Bustos - whether he realizes it or not - perfectly summarizes the Idol franchise in today's Star:
"It's a TV show and they're looking for TV characters."
I have a huge taxidermy collection at home
Gawker has the best riff on the Jack White verdict:

Jack White Pleads Guilty, Gets Hand Slapped
White Striper Jack White pleaded guilty to making hamburger out of fellow Detroit rockboy Jason Stollsteimer's face -- and got fined only 500 bucks? Cool. Next payday I'm gonna get out my checkbook and go whomp on some Williamsburg kids. Who knew this was a game we could all afford to play?


Don't tell me life's not fair
So, everybody heading out to see Avril at Fairview mall Thursday afternoon?! Eh?... anybody?... no?... just me then?... oh... alright... nevermind...
"I was also heavily influenced by Sinbad."
The Cutting Room Floor, Vol. 1 No. 4: This time the charming Nellie McKay, who is profiled fully in tomorrow's Post.

On her brief foray into stand-up comedy:
"It was my second - and final - year of college. And it wasn't going very well there. And I had had a very good experience over the summer at school of film and television. So I thought, 'Screw this music stuff, I'll be like Brett Butler,' because she's one of my heroes. The first time I went out and did my routine I got a great response and this guy approached me about managing me. I really do like observational humour. I guess there's a bit of Brett Butler in there, but I'm probably closer to Ellen DeGeneres or Paula Poundstone. I mean, I was also heavily influenced by Sinbad, but I don't think it shows. There's something about comedians that I've always really identified with. But it's much harder now though because the comedy boom during the 80s provided a lot of venues for one to practice one's craft every night, you could just venue hop. And now there's no such thing. Eventually I did get a manager and I was beginning to get gigs MCing and hosting, but it was right about that time that I was getting gigs on my own for music at piano bars. And the pressure is much less intense there. And also I just always felt it was easier to prepare music than comedy... The material was ok, but my delivery SUCKED! Oh my god, it was awful. Just terrible."

On her introduction to politics:
My mother is very political. And I can remember as a little toddler having Dukakis pins on my parka. I remember the Clinton/Bush election was the first one I was really aware of and we could really root for someone and we'd be in elementary school talking about it. I remember I really wanted Clinton to win. And, you know, I can still remember jokes at Ross Perot's expense. That's when my political consciousness came alive. And I was in New York City at that point so everybody in my class - it was practically all black and Hispanic - they were all for Clinton. There was one white kid who was for Perot. So all the jokes were at his expense because he was kind of a little snot anyway. And also to have the first election that you are aware of, to have your guy win, I think that does something to you also. Because we weren't accustomed to defeat like our parents were. So it was pretty swell."

On high school student government:
"I also was fascinated student you run for student government in high school, how easy it is to win really. Because the popular kids, the only reason they get votes is because of name recognition. It's really a good
lesson in how you win. So as long as you have better posters than them you can win. Student government is nothing anyway. You basically run and don't do anything. Only when I didn't show up for meetings, I was the big bad one. But they were just going to meetings to talk about jewelry anyway."

On being called an oddball:
"There's Carrot Top oddball, and then, you know, The Beatles were considered quite freakish when they came out. I think there are different types of oddball."

On her old apartment building:
"It was always my dream to buy back that building. I think it still is. Gosh, I have so much I wanna do with my money. I want to make the rent really cheap and let everyone live there cheap."

On dealing with snarky journalists:
"My dog Joey used to run up to the pitbulls and wag his tail and try to be friends. And sometimes that really backfired. You gotta not always be so waggy tailed."

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

The disorder came later, with the divorce of the parents.
All good things come to France first. For instance, Leslie Feist's long-awaited second solo album, Let It Die (note: I have only this example to back up that original theory).
Le Monde is showing Feist le love. Or so I assume, my French being what it is (that is nearly non-existent - I feel your pain Belinda).
French version of the story here. Unintentionally hilarious Google translation here.
For our French speaking friends there's also: "L'épure éparse de Feist"
And the English translation: "The scattered diagram of Feist"
Short clips of the new album - including her covers of Ron Sexsmith and the BeeGees (?!) - can be heard here (though I'm having troubles viewing that page).
Finally, thanks to beloved technology, Let It Die is already popping up on the Internet. To keep this fair, I'll download it (since I was going to get it for free anyway), give it a listen and let you know how it is. Then you can all wait another two months to buy it. Deal?
Didn't think so.

(Thanks to Feist's friend Tab for all this.)
Tears of a clown
Don't persecute the kid because he wears make-up. This kid needs help. His poor, innocent mind is being corrupted by Good Charlotte. So much so that he's taking make-up tips from them. Listen, young man, if you like the make-up and the rock n' roll, listen to Marilyn Manson or, heck, dig out your mom's old KISS records. Or try some Duran Duran. Er, actually, scratch that last one.
Then again, kid sounds awfully enlightened - maybe more so than the guardians of decency and virtue running his school board:
"I don't think I'm goth. I don't think I'm punk . . . I'd call me, me."
Words to live by kids. Words to live by.
If Good Charlotte - or their publicist - know what they're doing, they'll publicly voice their support for this kid. Maybe give him a call and tell him to keep sticking it to The Man. Maybe tell him he's, like, gonna be, like, a Rosa Parks for young male punks who would prefer to wear, like, make-up at school. And stuff.
People telling me things
Information passed on today by eager local promoters:

The latest in the UmbrellaMusic Live series will be at the Rivoli on Mar. 17, and feature the Two-Minute Miracles, Aaron Booth, The Sea Snakes, and Afie Jurvanen. Tickets are $6. See the website for more info.

And Nellie McKay is coming to Toronto to play the El Mocambo on Mar. 25. For a preview, you can still grab the St. Joe's Pub bootleg from me on Soulseek (screen name: agwherry - when I'm online at least).
Cherry Bomb
Random tidbits, gleaned from a Sunday brunch conversation with Nardwuar, about Canadian glam-rock, Viking Thor:

1) Jack Black once expressed interest in playing the role of Thor in a film about the heavy metal oddity.
2) Thor himself was once up for a role in Full Metal Jacket.
3) At one time, Thor dated Charo.

Coochie. Coochie.

P.S. Saturday night, Thor was Nardwuar's special guest for the Evaporators' show at the Horseshoe. Poor guy almost passed out when he blew up the hot water bottle. Then he was accosted by some over-eager member of the audience. Then another guy jumped on stage and pulled down his pants. Rock. And. Roll.
Guess Carl Wilson's Age
I was handed the latest issue of Wavelength on Sunday by a nice young man on Queen St., so it seems as good a time as any to link to the increasingly influential zines' website. It is here. In the aftermath of Canadian Music Week it seems prudent to point out that a couple weeks ago one "insider" put forward the idea to me that Wavelength, much (MUCH!) more than CMW, is a true barometer of Toronto's (and, to a certain extent, Canada's) thriving indie scene.
Also a good idea to stop by Wavelength's 20hz messageboard. There I recently read someone observe that "The oldest person I ever see at shows is Carl Wilson."
Which makes me wonder: How old do we think Carl Wilson really is?
Only his hairdresser knows for sure of course, but I'm guessing 74. Give or take 35 to 45 years.

Monday, March 8, 2004

Bleeding Hearts
Wells, Coyne, Cosh, Kinsella and Nestruck are all over the Liberal family feuds.

Thoughts:
-Coyne's all over, well, everything. Including a Conservative debate or some sort. Apparently they're electing a leader or something (?). Who knew.
-Wells continues to helps us Anglophones out with the French papers.
-Nestruck is representin' us lowly arts reporters with a biting critique of the Liberals' new logo.
-Cosh seems to say that Tony Valeri is just slightly better than a baked ham (hell of a potential campaign slogan for our Transport Minister me thinks).
-And finally, Warren Kinsella. After grousing about the Martinites and the fact that he wasn't allowed to vote in Hamilton, Kinsella fires this shot at MP Carolyn Parrish:
"March 7, 2004 - Hey! Here's a neat new game! Let's call it Mass Slander. The rules are simple: defame entire countries, and then get rewarded with a prized Liberal Party candidacy - for example, call Americans 'bastards' who you 'hate,' or accuse unnamed Israelis of 'crimes against humanity.'
And you win! It's that simple!"

Fair enough. Martin is due much criticism for allowing an MP with such a record to seek candidacy solely so that he might maintain an uncontested grip on power and further wipe clean the slate of Chretien loyalists (in this case the man Parrish defeated, former Chretien cabinet minister Steve Mahoney).

But wasn't it Kinsella's guy - Jean? Jean Chretien? Remember him? - who allowed Parrish and her hate to fester, with inaction more or less granting such stuff his blessing? Couldn't he have effectively snuffed out Parrish's political career in the immediate aftermath of her anti-American rant?

Instead, he let it slide. And now, she's bouncing one of his boys from government.

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