Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Dispatch 8-22-2005 -- Strathcona Hotel

“Where’s my wife and family? What if I die here?” -- Paul Simon

Monday night at the Strathcona, temperature dropping outside and the place is empty -- the crowds out there in the floodlights and vendor-glow of the Fringe Compound aren’t like gas molecules; they’re not Brownian Moving their way into this low-pressure area. Well, most of them aren’t; a screech from the direction of the north entrance calls our attention to the arrival of a pussy posse of slumming glittertrash:

“What did you say, bitch?!” It’s the unmistakable ear-pierce of the affronted Young Woman of Today; not even three steps in the door and a girl acting on behalf of the punkrock pool party in back had already cracked wise over the sequined tops and shimmery handbag trim making the scene. The scene escalates, people are rising from their chairs, the duly deputized representatives of barroom order show up... and the slummers get bounced right back out into the night.

“Are we seriously getting kicked out of the Strat?!”

Believe it, sugarpop; lines are being drawn all over this neighbourhood, and even the most arbitrary of boundaries’ll turn your average human animal into a territorial beast. Check out how the Fringe Fortress got fenced off like a fucking refugee camp, eh? This side/that side is a sign of the times, and some hoody-wearing rockin’ girls decided a line needed to be drawn right at the doorway to this ancient tavern, the ol’ Maginot of snobs-vs-slobs. Sorry your buzz had to be killed for the sake of homeland security.

That grass is always greener, isn’t it? I’m feeling it now... talk about demarcation lines, it’s like there’s an invisible forcefield in here keeping the bustle and bubble of the back from spilling into the dead n’ empty Old Man Bar where we sit, staring hopelessly into that Promised Land of pretty young things, draining draught as if it’s not going to give us the shits. A freelance photographer who’s paying for his drinks out of a Ziploc of loose change he scavenged from his dying grandmother’s house, a legacy rocker who’d be looping down some deep dub all over town if only drummers would return his phonecalls, and... me. Look out, ladies!

Jesus, is this how it’s gonna be? Is this it? I just came up from a weekend down in southern Alberta with my mom, my dad, my cop brother, his beautiful bride and their new baby... two middle-class mainstream married couples and myself. After a disastrous stab at having an actual discussion -- ever try to engage in the old give-and-take with a police officer who knows he’s correct? -- I just kept quiet ran the clock out with reading while babyshit and shopping and the weather and real-estate prices mingled with the gabble of the everpresent television. And damn me for a hypocrite, but I was jealous.

Not jealous of the giant mom-mobile or the faux-wholesome Pier One decor or any of the things... jealous of home. Jealousy’s a terrible enough emotion when you just unconsciously go with it, but when you stop and reflect and look into the heart of it, when you see that sick system of doubt and regret and shame and fear and embarassment that keeps the green slime flowing... And jammed in there like shrapnel, jagged chunks of every sweet chance I blew to fucking pieces.

It’s cold, and I’m drunk, and this place stinks like someone ate a urinal cake, shit it out, then ate that shit and threw up. I don’t want a home to go to; I want a home I never wanted to leave.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Drunkards & Drag-ins

(The following appeared as an Infinite Lives column in Vue Weekly)

The grizzled old rogue, obviously uncomfortable here in the sumptuous heart of the gypsy-elf chieftain's impossible crystal tent/palace, tries not to finger the hilt of his trusty cutlass as he speaks the timeworn lines of his profession's fundamental ritual: "So, how much am I getting paid?"

Hakan, the chieftain, looks up from his nest of pillows and slavegirls and squints through the haze of hookah-smoke he's just finished generating. He seems confused, as if he never considered that this elementary detail of business would be considered. He snaps his fingers for more wine, fire-brigaded to him by the mass of nubile beauties that fill his tent-within-a-tent, and takes a long draught of the potent nectar to buy time.

"Payment, yeah..." he drawls. "Well, I got a deal for you, see. See her?" He directs the veteran fighting man's gaze toward one of the other two supplicants kneeling in the hazy chamber, a haughty young elf-maiden in the darkly ornamented robes of hill-clan royalty, her eyes like a hunting cat's. "She's honourable, right? She's loyal.

"And this, uh... this guy?" The chieftain waves an indifferent hand in the general direction of a lean young half-elven man dressed in heavy travelling leathers, his chest crossed by two bandoliers weighed down with a dozen gleaming throwing knives, his hands and his attention occupied in tuning a two-string banjo that lays across his lap. "He's been reporting to me for, like, five years. So... so... um. What... what was my point, here?"

"The money? Some kind of deal?" the rogue prompts; his apprehension is quickly fading into boredom.

"Oh, yeah! The deal! OK." The increasingly wasted bigwig attempts to bring a gravity befitting his station into his voice. "Ahem. Human, I offer you the sum of like, 650 golds..." -- "That's a lot; I haven't really figured out the currency," he stage-whispers --"... in the currency of your people. Or, you can help yourself to whatever shit you find in the ruins of the Abbey. My point was, these guys will be watching you to make sure you don't, you know, do both." He punctuates his oration with a little shrug and self-consciously gulps another cupful of the Gallo Clan's potent vintage.

"That's... that's kind of a weird deal."

"Well, yeah, I mean... I just um thought it would be kind of funny, you know?"

"OK. Can I have fifty gold for expenses?"

A sigh from the elf-maiden interrupts this virtuoso display of the art of the deal. "I'm going for a smoke," she announces with regal finality. Her eyes take on a glazed and faraway look, as if she can neither see nor hear what's going on around her. Almost immediately she returns to consciousness, for just long enough to address the bartering rogue -- "You coming?" -- before her mind drifts once more into another plane.

"Yeah, just a sec," the man mutters before returning to the business at hand. "So," he says, pulling out a note pad, getting ready to take down the particulars of yet another dangerous mission, "where is this... Abbey? Abbey. Where is it?"

Hakan gets a panicked look in his eyes. His gaze flicks around to his coterie of slavegirls, all of whom make lovely little 'I dunno' faces. With the instincts of a life spent steeped in both the criminal underworld and the intrigues of clan politics, he deftly passes the buck: "Where is it? Shit, I don't know; ask Hamit, here." He points an elegant finger -- a finger charged with the power of life and death in this, his hard-won sanctum -- at the leather-clad halfbreed with the banjo. "He's the guy I pay to know this stuff. He sent me the memo about the Icon of Mercy. Hamit, tell him where it is."

The half-elven musician looks up from his instrument. When he was summoned to this audience, not an hour earlier, he'd been "working in his garden" and the redness rimming his half-open eyes displays the fact for the world to see. He makes a nervous clicking sound with his tongue before grinning, "It's in the Abbey of the Sun, right?"

"Yeah, we know that. It's in the Abbey. But where's the Abbey? Go ahead, man... just tell me. Roll with me here! We need to collaborate on this. Make something up!"

The knife-wielding bard's grin widens, and he gives a coy little stoner nod. Turning to the exasperated swordsman, he takes on a patronizing tone. "I know where it is, man. Dooooon't worry. I know where it is. I know where it is."

The grey-bearded fighter spreads his hands wide and makes frustrated circular motions of encouragement. "OK. Where is it? North? South? What?"

Another bleary know-it-all nod: "I know where it is. Don't worry."

The road-hardened rogue scrubs at his face with his hands. "Fine. I'll let you guys figure this out. I'm gonna go have a smoke." With that, his eyes take on the same unseeing not-there look that earlier overcame the gypsy-elf girl. The banjo player and the chieftain are left alone with the slave girls, the hookah, and the cask of Gallo. They look at each other in silence, each one in his own way empathizing with the other's drunkenness, stonededness and overall fatigue. The dark-haired musician breaks the silence:

"So... I've got sixteen throwing knives, right? Sixteen?"

"Fuck, dude, you've got as many knives as you want. Sixteen's fine. Something tells me you're not going to get the chance to use them tonight."

"OK, 'cause you said 'a dozen' a little while ago."

The chieftain makes an interesting attempt at drinking wine while still holding his head in his hands and massaging his temples; he looks like one of those Drinking Birds that once took pride of place on the bar of every man of status. "I was just (slurp) talking about the (slleppp) bandoliers. I thought maybe you've got four... I dunno; taped to the back of your banjo, or something."

"OK, cool." The bard's half-lidded eyes turn inward for a second, taking stock of his condition. "Fuck, I'm wasted. We should start earlier next time."

Karhan... no, wait; Hakan sighs heavily and reaches for a fresh goblet. "What you mean is, I should have been better prepared. I'm basically just making this shit up as we go along. Four hours and you're not even on the road, yet. Damn, I suck."

"No, no! It's good, man, it's good. It's just been a while; you just gotta remember everything you learned back in the day. Everyone's having fun." The banjo-picking thief, one of the indispensable undercover agents who act as the eyes, ears and hands of his people in the cities of humanity, leans back and considers the universe. Suddenly he starts forward, an urgent thought coming to his lightning-quick mind.

"I've got a nice yard, right? I've got a nice yard? I'm the type of guy who'd have a nice yard."

"Dude," replies the fatigued chieftain, his head lolling back into the lap of a voluptuous dwarven co-ed, a cavern-next-door undermountain girl working as a concubine to pay her way through blacksmith school, "you can have anything you want. This is collaborative storytelling."

At that moment, both men notice a flicker of sentience returning to the face of the tough old mercenary who'd "gone for a smoke". Before the man can come fully to consciousness, the hookah-smoking chieftain barks out a sharp command with the voice of one used to being obeyed:

"Wait! Don't sit down! Go flip the record; I want to hear 'Don't Let It Bring You Down'. Fuckin' Neil Young, man... that guy's singing into eternity."

Sunday, August 14, 2005


It's a blog rule: gotta post cat pictures. Meet Kitten (nee Aurora).

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Man, I've always thought the praying mantis style of kung fu looked pretty cool, and it usually kicks a lot of ass in the movies, I guess unless some novelty villain comes at our hero all spazz style. That's what I'm calling it from now on when a minor heavy in a kung fu film comes on all exaggerated and dramatic with a novelty style: Spazz Fist. They always get their showy ass handed to them. Sometimes they writhe on the ground after they're beaten, still "in character"... this mostly happens with monkey dudes.

Anyway, now I know what Wong Long saw in the praying mantis when he came up with the idea for Mantis Fist. Holee shit. I caught that link off BoingBoing, so if it's crammed, that's why. (SPOILER ALERT: it's a praying mantis impaling a hummingbird on the wing and having a snack.)

Related: Mantis! MANTIS!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Remans strike!

Space war! Romulus is in flames!

Dispatch 08-08-2005 -- His Nightmare

(A version of his column appears in Vue Weekly)

It's one of those group indentifiers that's been repeated so often and become so cliche that even though it's true it sounds like the parroting of received knowledge: "Canadians are so polite!" Well, maybe not all Canadians -- maybe it's just the special segment of Canadians whose lives are so connected to academia and its attendant institutions that they're still drinking in a campus bar during the wholly deserted height of summer. How else to explain the fact a waitress at the Powerplant, of all places, was shocked to learn their beer was flat and gross?

It's not really the 'Plant's fault; they just don't move enough draft during the summer months to keep their lines lively... oughta just shut all but the two top taps, and pick a new house brand. The thing is, I don't think they know. When I switched to bottles and commented on the draft-beer quality, this pleasant young woman was nearly floored; when my tablemates chimed in in agreement, she near to had a fit. The pisswater properties of off-season on-campus pints are axiomatic among collegiate drinkers (my order was a distracted lapse) but it was clear from her reaction she had no clue. She'd never (or rarely) had a pint sent back; people just swallowed and smiled, exerting no popular pressure. Polite.

It was while nursing one of these geriatric lagers -- literally nursing, medicating it with pinches of salt and squeezes of citrus to make its last moments more comfortable (for me) -- that I was given a piece of information that rocked my world. That night at midnight, according to the Radio Industry Insider across from me, the venerable K-Rock was going to change formats. There were no details, nothing but a half-hopeful haze of guesswork, but the fact was 97.3 went off the air at noon, to resume broadcast at the Witching Hour. Given the recent upheavals on Edmonton's dial, what could they be planning?

A real, honest-to-Satan hard music channel, taking the crustiest edge of Krock's current (very limited) playlist and expanding out into the thrashosphere? That'd be cool, but we couldn't see how the market could support it. Actually, we couldn't see how the market could support anything but the weak-ass hoser hit parade format Krock'd already staked out and developed into Edmonton's powerhouse at-work radio experience... without Krock, what would the boys in the back shop rock out to while the secretaries flitted about reception with Cool 880 cranked up to knob level 2? It didn't make sense.

I raced home to fire up my near-vintage Kenwood KT-47 tuner, kicking it way past its comfort zone -- I don't normally take that baby up past the high eighties. At 97.3 the fiery red twins TUNED and STEREO lit up, and there was Alice Cooper singing "no more... mister nice guy!" Not the awesome song "No More Mister Nice Guy", just a clip of that one phrase looping over and over and over. Every so often, that old-guy-trying-to-sound-tough voiceover Krock likes to use would come in and say things like "Call us schizophrenic... we've been called worse", "a new dawn is coming... at midnight", and even that old marketing shithead mantra "Change... is good". What could it all mean? At last, as my wine and patience dwindled -- though that looping clip actually had a strange lulling effect -- the Voice began to count down: "One minute until... the Change".

"The Change"? Was Krock going to an all-menopause format? Ha ha, no... turns out this was all just a stunt to introduce their newest late-night DJ, ALICE COOPER! Yep, the whole 12 hours of dead air leavened with vaguely threatening promises had been in the service of promoting the arrival of a nightly syndicated mainstream radio program, with yet another boring host puking up the same singles and cramming them back into the belly of mass culture, making Edmonton's airwaves just that little bit more identical to those in every other C-level market in North America. Yay!

"Wait a minute," you say; "Boring? This is Alice fuckin' Copper, here!" Buddy, I know where you're coming from, but there's Alice Cooper, the character, and Vincent "Alice Cooper" Furnier, the mellow, slightly dorky recovering alcoholic whose shock-rockin' legacy lives on only as gimmickry and royalty cheques. Despite what Rocking Old Man Voice would have us believe ("The show for people like our host, who can't function with the [sarcasm] 'normal world') Nights With Alice Cooper isn't hosted by Stage Alice but by Golf Alice. Golf Alice kicks his show off with the Stones' Start Me Up, moves on to overplayed singles from Bowie and The Nuge, and wraps it all up with the Beatles' Come Together before reading his email: "Dear Alice, your show is amazing... you have the same opinions as I do!" Sounds like the "normal world" suits the guy just fine.

Now, boys, don't get me wrong... I dig Alice. See that image illustrating this column? That's from the cover of Alice's Lace and Whiskey, scanned off the sleeve of my own beloved LP. And Golf Alice isn't a bad radio host, either; he's chatty and informal, meanders a bit and talks about his past and present life -- "I haven't been drinking for twenty years, but Seagram's V.O. was what I was into." Also, he sometimes seems to be talking to someone in the background, but whoever it is isn't picking up the cues or participating at all and it makes Alice sound like a nerd trying to get a party game going and being ignored by everyone. It's endearing... but the difference between how the show promos and bumpers try to build him up and the on-air reality is so jarring the whole thing's a joke.

And as for "Edmonton radio never being the same" and "The Change," well... that was all bullshit; Krock's unchanged, still cribbing their playlist from the same old mix-tapes they find under the seats of shitbox dudemobiles, pumping out the same blaring ads for blind aspirational culture ("Men: every woman is at risk for... Shrinking Diamond Syndrome."), giving jobs to the whitest, boringest broadcast-school gabblers they can find. Welcome (back) to my nightmare; all's right with the world.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Dukes of Hazzard

(This review runs in Vue Weekly)

Man, talk about your critical drubbings. Who pissed in the cornflakes of criticism, that everyone’s gotta hate on The Dukes of Hazzard like this? “There is no wrong time to flush this turd” (Rolling Stone); “A lame-brained, outdated wheeze” (Roger Ebert), etc. Doesn’t anybody like to have fun anymore? Even poor old Ben Jones, TV's original Cooter, has returned to momentary fame by damning the remake’s shameful straying from the show’s “family values”. Cooter, my man! It was a show about outlaw booze-running smuggler cousins blowing up the vehicles of duly appointed peace officers with dynamite arrows while their sexpot cousin corrupted the principles of due process by hypnotizing a learning-disabled deputy with the power of her denimed ass and gingham-restrained tits. Wake the fuck up!

I’m here to report that as a hoser who loves the antics of other hosers and who values nothing in a film more than a sense of joy and fun, I had a damn fine time with the new Dukes. I went in thinking I’d be bored – I went alone, and movies like this are best shared with friends – but I was laughing and grinning the whole way through, from that first classic midjump freeze-frame before the titles to the final shot where Wille Nelson tokes up in the smokehouse with Joe Don Baker. There’s a fine line between clever and stupid, as the man once said, and director Jay Chandrasekhar takes that two-sided aphorism into a third dimension by making one great realization: in the making of a Dukes film, getting too clever is stupid. So when we get jokes born from the cliches and conventions of the show, he’s not taking the piss or rolling his eyes or mocking… he’s having fun with the toolkit of iconic elements provided by an old show beloved by millions.

The engine driving this machine is the chemistry between Bo and Luke Duke, Seann William Scott and Jackass’s Johnny Knoxville. That chemistry isn’t deep, but it’s volatile as the moonshine molotovs Wille tosses; they are two good old boys, thrill junkies, hometown heroes, hair-trigger fistfighters with more guts than brains. “Cousins closer than brothers,” as Texas guitar legend Junior Brown narrates, Luke’s the “sensible one” only in comparison to his near-feral cousin – Scott’s got real danger in his eyes. Yeah, they’re crazy-brave, but it’s not because they’re stupid – it’s because they’re winners. They’re afraid of nothing because they never lose; they don’t even know what it is to lose. The Duke Boys live in an ‘80s action-adventure universe where everything always works out in the end.

There are slack moments, places where you’re going to get impatient for more action, more hootin’ and hollerin’, but they’re tolerable. Worse is any scene featuring Jessica Simpson. If anything comes close to wrecking this movie it’s that vapid, pneumatic, mannish nobody. I’m no Dukes purist – I mean, why would I care? – so the whole “Daisy’s gotta be brunette” thing doesn’t enter into this. It’s not about Daisy needing to have brown hair, it’s about a performer in a film needing to be able to speak and move like something other than a confused fuckdroid prototype whose voice module was programmed by an ESL student in a Houston primary school. Her distract-the-cops-with-ass routine is old the first time, let alone the fourth; I almost felt like cheering when her silicone siren’s song finally failed her.

With great chase photography that lovingly rebuilds the legend of the second-greatest fictional ride of all time (face it, KITT’s “super pursuit mode” is gonna leave any stock iron in a swirl of late-summer Georgia leaves ), and a cast that’s clearly having an infectiously fun time, The Dukes of Hazzard makes for an above-average action comedy that leaves you weanting a sequel or three. Just make sure you run out of the theatre as soon as the outtakes end, because Simpson’s rendition of “These Boots Were Made For Walking” is so bad it can cause irreversible genetic damage.

Monday, August 08, 2005

No More Mister Nice Guy

While enjoying a pint of flat beer at the Power Plant I learned that K-Rock, known to me in my youth as K-97 (If I recall correctly), was changing formats at midnight tonight and it was all a big secret what their new format would be. Right now, they're playing a clip of Alice Cooper singing "no more mister nice guy!" over and over again -- not he whole song, just that phrase. Now and then, an announcer voice breaks in to say shit like "Call us shizophrenic; we've been called worse... at midnight Edmonton radio changes forever." Since I'm not gonna see Dukes of Hazzard tonight (watching movies solo sucks), I guess my evening involes sitting home and ringing in the new 97.3. Something to write about, anyway...

Shit. Just realized I haven't changed the station , and "no more... mister nice guy!" has been looping over and over and I didn't really notice or care. We're pretty desensitized to our sonic environment, huh?


Eventually, this post will be the final prize for those who dig all the way down through the stack. Party on, contest winners!