Wednesday, August 30, 2006

'Maybe I just don't like Nintendo cover bands or looped Slavic poetry accompanied by fuzz-pedal sleigh bells'*
Always good to see arguably the most dedicated music fan in this city questioning his existence. All the more so when the frontman for the city's most beloved band is wondering about his own. Take it away Kevin Drew...

"None of us has any time any more in this band. There's lots of families and personal stuff, other bands going on, so Social Scene has become ... it's lost a bit of its love outside of when we're together, but when we're together it's there.

"It disappoints me a bit because I feel that if we all gave it 170% then we would be doing a lot better than we are. We were always a music band that loved music. And we've now gone into a format of playing the same songs all the time. It's great because we have rotating members so you always have different magic, and personality-wise it's difficult to always be on the road so it's nice to have different conversations. But we've been touring non-stop for the last four years now, so it's just at a point where we've got to find something new about it."

Actually, the best part is his next quote from The Guardian story.

"He is quick to point out that he has thoroughly enjoyed the past few years. 'But it's also been some of the most stereotypical narcissistic times in our lives,' he says."

That about sums it up right there, don't it? Not just of Drew's band, but everything that has come before, after and around it (not, of course, to place Broken at the absolute centre of this Torontopia stuff - spare me the outraged corrections, please). In fact, it probably describes every scene (capitalized and otherwise) that has ever identified itself as such.

So far as I can tell - and remember here that I'm a complete idiot - this sudden surge of sad-faced introspection has much to do with the fact that Toronto, the music that has been generated by its skinny and unwashed and the 'culture' that has come to surround said music, has so far yet to achieve whatever it vaguely set out to accomplish, in theory. That it has yet to culminate in World Peace (a loose term we'll use here to slyly refer to that which is surrounded by false hope). That not enough has changed. Or too much has changed. Or something. Theoretically speaking.

This is all very true. And, of course, all very stereotypically narcissistic.

The history of popular music (a loose term we'll use here to slyly refer to that which is surrounded by false hope) is generally believed to be one of Great Change. Elvis came along and everything changed. The Beatles arrived in America and everything changed. Dylan mumbled something about a one-eyed dog and everything changed. The Sex Pistols used a bad word on TV and everything changed. Nirvana wrote Smells Like Teen Spirit and everything changed. Janet Jackson was assaulted by Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl and everything changed. And so forth. Unfortunately, the history of popular music almost always shows that Great Change is almost always over-stated.

Take the case of Nirvana. The widely accepted story is that Kurt Cobain came along, destroyed Michael Jackson, routed manufactured pop and all those silly hair bands and brought about a renaissance for raw, authentic, socially aware rock n' roll, even making FM radio good again in the process.

What really happened is this: Smells Like Teen Spirit became a hit, Michael Jackson went crazy and teen pop - as it does every few years - over-saturated the market. Then Kurt shot himself and into the void stepped several dozen lookalikes, most of them inferior and equally bothersome to most as the silly pop songs Cobain apparently destroyed - silly pop songs that would also soon return to chart dominance. Ten years later, popular music was ruled by Puddle of Mudd and *NSYNC - a conclusion that was neither inherently better nor altogether different than the world Nirvana had apparently changed. (Oh yeah, and somewhere in there hip-hop became rather popular too.)

(By the way, Nirvana is basically the Michael Jordan of rock music. Came along, completely dominated the competition and achieved legend status, only to disappear and watch a generation of successors flail about trying to duplicate their respective glory. Nirvana beget Silverchair, Puddle of Mudd and Nickelback as MJ beget Harold Miner, Grant Hill and Vince Carter. When discussing the relative greatness of Nirvana and Jordan respectively, it's important to consider the horrors they inspired. Not enough people remember this.)

Consider it another way: Since Elvis debuted, how much has popular music really changed? All in all, not that much. There have been slight shifts in tone and instrumentation and technology. But the biggest hits now are not wordless operas performed by robots playing instruments made of plywood, leather and watermelon. That would be a dramatic departure from popular music's beginnings. But music, sadly, does not sound like that. Yet. (With the possible exception of your average Fiery Furnaces record).

Furthermore, since Elvis debuted, how much has popular music changed the world? And how much has the world changed in the first place? I mean, there have certainly been dramatic shifts, but there's still war, racism, famine, disease... I'm told there are even some poor people. Even here in Toronto. This probably seems all very defeatist, so let me clarify - I generally believe the world is getting better. But gradually so. And how much of that can be directly linked to musical inspiration? Probably not much.

Anyway. Still, change is good. Change is sexy. Changes makes people feel important. So whenever anything that resembles change is identified, it is celebrated and canonized.

Another example: the modern music industry's continuing adventures in revolution as chronicled by Wired magazine. The magazine's latest issue celebrates our hard-won victory over the traditional music industry and the old white men who have forced Puddle of Mudd records upon us for too long. It's a great idea. Inspirational stuff. And it's all the greater now, three years after Wired first proclaimed the traditional music industry dead.

Granted, the Internet has changed some of the ways the music industry does business (the same way it has changed the way almost every business - with the possible exceptions of big oil and major league umpiring - does business). But if you check around you'll see that the old white men who like Puddle of Mudd are still in charge. They may be down to, say, 89% of the market. But they're still doing pretty well. Lyor Cohen probably earned $2.5-billion last year. Down from his best years, sure. But we all have to make sacrifices.

Anyway. Where were we? Ah yes, changiness. And popular music's distinct lack thereof.

So, given all of this, how surprising is it that Torontopia (a movement almost inherently doomed in the first place by its wanky title) did not achieve World Peace? On a scale of 1 to 10 - 1 being not surprising, 10 being very - I'd say about negative-36. But that's just me. More importantly though, does failing to achieve World Peace render the whole pursuit pointless or a failure (or, for that matter, worthy of sad-eyed navel-gazing)? Probably not.

First and foremost, popular music isn't supposed to do much of anything really. It should be interesting and exciting and periodically scare the crap out of your parents. Oh, and it should also encourage recreational drug use (especially this). But that's about it. After that, make of it what you will. Feel free to place it within a greater cultural context or scrutinize it for clues to what the masses are feeling and thinking (note: in general the masses are pissed off), but don't go agonizing over World Peace. Or at least expect such a thing to result from a bunch of people singing silly little songs**.

Which reminds me: While in Winnipeg I picked up the new Hidden Cameras record***. Apparently they're very representative of this whole Torontopia thing, though this was not exactly a motivation for my purchase. Anyway. I was pleased to discover that, if it's not the best record Joel Gibb and his friends have ever made, it is at least my favourite record of the year so far. It made me feel happy inside. And nearly inspired me to pursue drugs on a recreational basis. I'm sure it would confuse my parents.

And well, that's enough for me. Sure, that's a stereotypically narcissistic conclusion. But I'm satisfied with that.

(For the record, there are few people associated with this city and its music who have more to proud of than Frank and Kevin. Sure, Frank kind of lost me there when he started posting gratuitously long entries with the words all fuzzed out except for random references to childhood sodomy... wait, sorry, that was Kevin... but otherwise I'm a huge fan of both.)

(* The title of this post by the way is a direct quote from Frank at Chromewaves. It is arguably the greatest observation about indie rock in the history of observations about indie rock.)

(** I want to save Africa as much as the next middle class white guy living in relative comfort and feeling guilty about it. But the video for that song is kind of funny. All videos for charity singles simply have to feature shots of artists singing into microphones with remarkable conviction while doing that thing where they clutch at the headphones around their ears. It's a rule now.)

(*** When in Winnipeg, I highly recommend Into The Music.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Wynard? Why not?

These kids were rocking out on Whyte Ave in Edmonton the other day. Pretty awesome. I eagerly await their inevitable beef with Smoosh. Otherwise, various notes of varying interest...

1. The trip's greatest find so far: A genuine Al Tucker mug from his time with the Seattle Supersonics. Purchased in Edmonton. Probably about 40 years old. Completely inexplicable.

2. My CD haul so far: Aretha Franklin - Live at Fillmore West, The Hidden Cameras - AWoo, OutKast - Idlewild, Sam Roberts - We Were Born In A Flame (replacing lost copy), Factor - Candy's .22, Boyz II Men - Cooleyhighharmony, Elastica - Elastica, Josh Rouse promo CD/DVD, Charles Manson & Family - The Complete Studio Recordings, A Girl Called Eddy - Tears All Over Town EP, John Frusciante - To Clara, Nirvana - Nirvana (replacing lost copy), D'Angelo - Voodoo, Gord Downie - Battle of the Nudes.

3. If you should ever find yourself in Saskatoon, try the Filet Mignon at Mykonos. Phenomenal. I'm going to go ahead and call it the best Filet Mignon in the city. Nay, the province.

4. Every girl in Western Canada is not flirting with you. This is an important point. People are just friendlier out here, ok? Don't get confused.

5. I wish I knew more people who had spent time in Winnipeg so we could have a meaningful and measured discussion of this city's merits. (I dare say it's my favourite Canadian city west of Ontario. There. I said it.)

6. Here's a fun thing to do: Roll into a city (any city), find its most expensive hotel, stroll up to the person behind the front desk and insist that you overpay for a room there. You won't be disappointed.

7. Those people who told you about driving across the Prairies? They were not kidding. About anything.

8. Ever get the feeling Hall & Oates are secretly stalking you? No? Uh. Us neither.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Pop (All Love)'s First And Probably Last Not-Quite-Cross-Country Road Trip
Greetings from Edmonton, the City of Champions (not to be confused with here, here, here, here or here) and home of the 2006 World Cup... of women's rugby.

I come here not to enjoy the spectacle of rugged women cohesively beating the crap out of each other, but to launch what could very well be a thrilling education in the geography and people of Western and Central Canada. You see, a friend of mine, a periodic contributor to the comments section (identifying himself as P. Giddy), is moving his life eastward, from Smithers, B.C. to this sleepy nation's sleepy capital in Ottawa. And I've decided to join him for roughly 7/9 of this trip (you could make the argument that a better friend would have been there for the entirety of the trip and I would likely be forced to concede the point).

Anyway. Yee-haw... Edmonton! So far I've walked approximately two and a half blocks and already I reek of oil and capitalism. Other than that, my only other typically condescending observation is that perhaps, when they inevitably sell most of this province's natural resources to the United States or China, they can use the profits to move Edmonton's airport into the same time zone as the rest of the city. As it stands, it costs about $45 by taxi to get anywhere near this town after arriving by plane. (I suspect this may have been intentional - requiring all those entering or leaving the city to use that much more gas in the process).

Further remarks later. After I've, you know, at least had a meal here.

Otherwise, the rest of itinerary will look something like this:

Monday - Saskatoon
Tuesday - Winnipeg
Wednesday - Winnipeg
Thursday - Thunder Bay
Friday - Sault Ste Marie
Saturday - Pike Bay

That's right - two whole days in Winnipeg. Don't be afraid to say it, you're jealous, I know. Don't say I don't ever take you anywhere nice, dear reader.

Aside from travel notes I should have a longish post about Christina Aguilera and a spirited defence of Sam Roberts.

This blog just grows more exciting by the moment, doesn't it?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Bring The Beat Back
I haven't watched more than 25 minutes of Canadian Idol's latest season (once the guy I knew from university was eliminated I was too heartbroken to continue), but I feel quite strongly that Rob James had to lose. He simply couldn't be allowed to win. It would have set too dangerous a precedent - turning CI into an attractive forum for every b-list has been and robbing the show of its Smalltown Kids Momentarily Make Good charm.

But James' mild success - not to mention last year's sighting of a Moffat and Tara Slone's run on Rockstar: INXS - proves there is an obvious interest in former Canadian pop stars making futile attempts to recapture glory that never really quite existed in the first place. And if the producers at CTV are sufficiently cunning (remember, these are the people who once, if temporarily, made Ryan Malcolm look like a viable star) they will capitalize on this interest and create a special edition of CI dedicated to Canada's recent history of one-hit wonders and fleeting favourites.

Granted, in theory this may not seem so great an idea. No one really needs to see or hear from these guys again (guy in the middle, you're fooling no one). But imagine if next season we got Canadian Idol: One More Chance, with a line-up consisting of: Kish, Jane Child, Trevor Guthrie (soulDecision), Melanie Doane, j.englishman, Ivana Santilli, Michie Mee, Alannah Myles, Maren Ord, Sharon Costanzo (Len), Tamia, Jason Levine (Prozzak), Kazzer, David Ling (Bootsauce), Morgan Lander (Kittie) and Meryn Cadell.

You could skip the cross-country search part of the show (eliminating about the first 18 episodes of a typical season), but otherwise follow the exact same format - voting one fallen idol off the show each week until a winner was selected for resurrection. You know you would watch this. You'd have to. How could you not? The initial curiosity factor would be impossible to resist, but the actual competition could be legendary. Especially if the producers expanded the reality portion of the show. Imagine Kish and Kazzer having to share bunkbeds in the Idol Mansion, the inevitable Alannah Myles/Morgan Lander cat fight or the equally inevitable Sharon Costanzo/David Ling drunken makeout session... never mind the equally heartbreaking and poignant spectacle of these former stars getting back on stage and trying to recapture their past glory with whatever remains of their debatable talent.

Sure, the show would really only work as a one-time deal. But that's all CTV would need - then they could go back to another mildly entertaining, if ultimately pointless, search for Canada's next soon-to-be-forgotten Idol. You can't tell me this wouldn't be at least a little more entertaining than watching, say, this guy celebrated as the second coming of Corey Hart. Wouldn't you rather have the opportunity to reject the guy from Prozzak again? Wouldn't you much rather see if the time is finally right for Maren Ord's unique brand of Mormon rock?

I think we all know the answer to that.

(By the way, Jane Child totally owns this competition. Especially if she still has the chain that runs from her ear piercing to her nose piercing.)

Saturday, August 5, 2006

God Created The Internet So That Anybody Could Make Their Own Feist Music Video

Secret Heart (Brokeback Mountain remix)

Still True

Tout Doucement

Mushaboom (Clay)

Mushaboom (Dancing Girl)

Bonus: Drunken homoeroticism culminating in an all-male rendition of One Evening.

Dancing girl really should be added to Feist's live show. Someone with the power to do so needs to make that happen.

Friday, August 4, 2006

Hey, Remember When You Heard Stone Temple Pilots Had Broken Up? No? Me Neither
If you're half as cool as you think you are, you've surely heard by now that Death From Above 1979 (also known as Death From Above, but not, under any circumstance, DFA) have broken up. In lieu of a poignant obituary, herein some of the messages left by mourning fans at the band's MySpace page...

-Fuck this sucks
-i will still love you guys like i always have.
-I never thought I would hurt more than when Refused ended. but this hurt more!!!!!!!!!!!!
-It's crazy how this was your band, and it became my life... these kids lives... Thank you guys. I'll see you around on the streets.
-Hey why not just take a break for a bit. You guys were friends once so Im sure you can be friends again!
-Sad to hear DFA is no more... all the great bands leave us too soon...
-It is a sad day for music. I love you. I love like you were my own child. Goodbye, you beautiful bastards.
-its gonna take some time to recover.
-Gutted. I didn't get to see you yet. You were in my top three all time favourite bands along with Radiohead and The Cooper Temple Clause. This won't change. Reasons are understandable.....you have to do what makes you happy. DFA are proper original pirate material and there's no-one else like you nor will there ever be. Listening to your music changed me..for the better.
-Sucks about the split. You guys were good too. Maybe TOO good. Perhaps that was the problem.
-This proves that there is no God.
-You will be truly missed, especially by me! There was no band whose music was better to fuck to.
-Find a way to work out your differences for yourselves and the rest of us. You have a GREAT thing going and it would be a fucking travesty to call it quits now.
-moments in the grandscale of life create the legends we worship. *thank you*
-music needs you but we all need to grow up and you guys did that
-u guys own. u prolly get that a million times a day or w/e but yeah..
-Your music is sexy. You guys are sexy. Your fans are sexy. I think we should all get together and have a massive orgy.
-I agree with Olivia. I think an massive orgy should be in order.


(By the way, this is only surprising in that it is newsworthy. When you think about it, bands should be breaking up more often. As it stands, the average working, professional rock band arguably enjoys a more stable and longer lasting relationship than the average marriage. There are plenty of reasons for this of course - financial reward, the allure of fame, the long odds of finding a decent drummer to replace the current one - but it is entirely possible that the average rock star makes more of an effort to keep their band together than the average husband or wife does to keep their vows. Personally, I blame the movie industry. But in the interests of family values and saving the institution of marriage I think we have two options: either legalize polygamy... or encourage more families to form rock bands. Just look at all those smiles. Anyway. You can hear all about this in my upcoming Learning Annex seminar entitled: "Less Meat Loaf, More Guitar Solo: Saving The Modern Family Though Rock.")

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Asking The Silly Questions
I'm only recently returned to the country, so please pardon my ignorance. But apparently everyone is apparently troubled by some apparent racial slurs directed at Oscar Peterson. Here's a condemnation from The Globe and Mail and further outrage from a University of Toronto professor. Apparently Mr. Peterson is now considering whether or not to leave Canada. This is all, of course, rather awful. Racism is one of those things, like the officiating in professional sports, that is unquestionably bad in all cases.

But before we start debating multiculturalism and finding new reasons to questions this country's purpose (and don't get me wrong, I, like you, love debating multiculturalism and finding new reasons to question this country's purpose), should we maybe clarify whether or not the "cowardly racist bigots" were in fact racist?

(This is not to suggest that what was yelled in Peterson's direction was not racist. Or stupid, for that matter. I plead only confusion on this point.)

Update. Clarification, of sorts, from Peterson.

Peterson said the group members, who were in a blue vehicle, were yelling "ugly" slurs at him but said they were not racial. "I didn't hear anything racial, to be honest," he said.

And yet...

Peterson said the comments reminded him of the kind he heard in the South as a young touring pianist.

"For years, I have travelled throughout the United States and when we played some of the southern cities, I saw this kind of sickness at its worst."

It was there, he said, he "saw racism at its worst," complete with cross burnings and the Klu Klux Klan.

Update II. Sorry. I don't mean to dwell, but I was thinking some more about all this and realized that the whole affair is actually more messed up if it has nothing to do with racism. Without the involvement of racial prejudice, this is just a bunch of hooligans personally targeting Oscar Peterson with repeated drive-by taunts. Which makes almost no sense. If they're not a bunch of crazy racists, why on earth are they doing this? What's could possibly be the motivation? Do they just not like jazz?

Again. I'm confused.

Obviously Oscar can't leave because we need to track down his verbal attackers and get to the bottom of this.

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