Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Life During Wartime, 2-28-2006

Lots of ground covered, lots of new stuff. The Calexico track comes off a new John Fahey tribute disc that's pretty good, while the TJ Brass number comes off a new disc that remixes ("rewhips") the entirety of Whipped Cream & Other Delights. Life During Wartime is still Tuesday, still 3-5pm MST, still on FM 88.5 in Edmonton, still webcast.

Capri -- Barbarella
Carpetbaggers -- Always a Pallbearer
Calexico -- Dance of Death
Smog -- In the Pines
Neko Case -- John Saw That Number
Sparks -- (Baby Baby) Can I Invade Your Country?
Tortoise & Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- That's Pep!
Jane Bond & the Undercover New -- Run to Him
Jerk With a Bomb -- These Hard Wrecks
Hugh Masekela -- The Boy's Doing It (Carl Craig remix)
Tijuana Brass -- Green Peppers (Antonio Marinelli remix)
Tata Vasquez -- Suite Guaracho Pt. 2 (Ursula 1000 remix)
Hayden -- Trees Lounge
Eels -- Flyswatter (live)
Aceyalone -- High Lights
The Clash -- Police & Thieves
Kilkenny Cats -- Nightfall
Thee Shams -- Love Grows & Grows
The Elected -- I'll Be Your Man
Ox -- Surrender
Stephen Malkmus -- Mama
The Advantage -- Castlevania III/Willow
Robert Pollard -- I'm a Strong Lion

Monday, February 27, 2006

"Did you get that picture I emailed you?"

"Isn't it cute?"

In this business, you've got to keep one finger on the pulse of mass society, and another finger on the "clear cache and history" button. The remaining seven (or however many) can just fuck around and do whatever.

Finger One's mission is a lot easier now that I've discovered FlatFeetPete's YahooTracker, a utility that indentifies, tracks and graphs the most-emailed photos off Yahoo News. Kittens, dogs in clothes, misery, T n' A... and noble American eagles (never forget).

Friday, February 24, 2006

Thursday, February 23, 2006

2-17-06 -- West (west!) Edmonton (Edmonton!) Mall (Mall!)

Malls are and have always been cartoon simulations of the traditional human spaces – markets, bazaars, public shopping streets, parks and plazas – they displace, but West Edmonton Mall takes it all the way; every zone’s a little Disneyland. “Bourbon Street” reaches feebly to attach the partytime cachet of the legendary New Orleans drinking district to its collection of characterless chain bars-and-grill; the lagoon and waterpark strive to evoke a wallet-loosening spirit of Caribbean fun-n-sun in the throngs of snowed-in credit-cardholders; “Europa Boulevard”, though it has tumbled further downmarket with every passing season, still works hard at aping a classy Continental vibe. So what pop-culture theme is the usually-vacant glass-walled space in front of HMV, thronged with aspiring Canadian Idols, going for this morning? “Dystopian sci-fi allegory”, I guess.

What a zoo! I mean, literally a zoo, a zoo for humans. See the Earth creatures in their natural habitat! Hundreds of specimens in one glass enclosure, camped out on the blond hardwoodish flooring: giggly teens tramped up for their big shot, jitter-leg wired on sugar-coffee; callow gel-haired boyband dreamers (guy/girl ratio, 1:9 at least) either trying to look dangerous and sexy through their unlined faces, or sleeping; scared tubby karaoke princesses quietly warming up their tremulous whitebread R&B voices in corners; moms, dads, friends, entourages… all penned in there, guarded by dozens of stern security drones and shepherded by clipboard ladies, surrounded by hundreds of rubberneckers on two levels, watching the animals. This holding area is where they wait for the Call Upstairs, where they will be tried, judged and processed by the faceless (at this point) machinery of Canadian Idol.

They are all numbered, huge ID codes pinned to their chest for easy security verification; with all the discarded water bottles lying around, it almost looks like there’s a marathon going on. And this is the start of their race, a race whose finish line is the fabulous Juno Awards… this is their chance at a shot at maybe getting a callback to try out for the finals that will decide who makes the cut for an opportunity to be made fun of on television. Everybody is very nervous, and it’s catching; WEM with its clangorous jet-takeoff noise levels is hell on the soul at the best of times, but with all this fretting and screaming and giggling and nail-biting going on, with all this hair product, cologne, fear-sweat, body spray and sex-hormone in the air, it’s almost unbearable.

Around a thousand hopefuls will be run through this system today, and along with their families and friends they are filling the mall; outside of the Holiday Season I’ve never seen WEM so busy. Money’s being made, hand over fist – you can always tell when the Mall’s having a banner day because the Chinese in the food court is actually kind of fresh; for lunch I had a spring roll that couldn’t have been more than two hours old.

It’s not sitting too well, though… this day’s wearing on me, and it’s even taking its toll on those for whom the mall is a natural habitat. Down in the holding pen, you can see the fatigue; tempers are getting short, perfectly made-up faces dropping into evil grimaces, black-rimmed eyes shooting daggers at those holding the colored tickets that symbolize progress: yellow for the first vetting, blue for making it through the day.

It’s an ugly scene, yeah – how could it be otherwise? – but there’s something oddly inspirational about it. I mean, what a great time for a young lady: eight to ten hours of adrenaline rush/crash and peak emotional experiences, surrounded by hundreds of demographically similar hotties, punctuated by bouts of shopping, seasoned with dreams of superstardom, with a glimpse of Ben Mulroney thrown in for good measure… with no admission charge! Whatever horrors Canadian Idol unleashes upon us, at least it’s done our nation the service of providing thousands of teenage girls with a fun day out. At least.

photo by Fish

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Life During Wartime, Feb 21

Whew. Wind, cold, snow and post-potluck doziness had me dawdling way too long this afternoon; I got to the station about five minutes before airtime. Pulse-pounding excitement... and plenty of utility-belt tracks. The show is broadcast and webcast every Tuesday, 3-5pm Mountain, on CJSR.

Marvin Gaye -- You Sure Like to Ball
Morricone Youth -- Starshine
Spoon -- Chips & Dip
Yo La Tengo -- Sugarcube
Diableros -- Tropical Pets
Dirtbombs -- Chains of Love
Bauhaus -- Third Uncle
The Ladies -- So Much for the Fourth Wall
The Russian Futurists -- Your Big Brown Eyes, My Big Broke Heart
X-15 -- Vaporized
Les Goules -- Turlutte
Polysics -- I My Me Mine
Zmrzlina w/ Milk Chopper -- Me & Bobby McGee
Richard Buckner -- Rafters
Arab Strap -- There Is No Ending
Mel Torme with Rob McConnell and Boss Brass -- Ellington medley
Mighty Sparrow -- Russian Satelite
Pawa Up First -- Scenario In Three
Robert Pollard -- Connoiseur of the Moon
Pere Ubu -- Down By the River II
The Jam -- News of the World (live)
The Whores -- Girls on Dope
Pixies -- Where Is My Mind?

Friday, February 17, 2006


It's still kinda rough around the edges, but the Field Guide to Monsters of the World is rolling. A bestiary of one hundred monsters, in no particular order, selected and described by myself and illustrated by Fish Griwkowsky, updated dailyish. Experience for yourself the book they didn't want you to see!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Second Life diaries II

As I bring myself to type this, I’m sitting on a virtual barstool in a bleak cavern called Moonshine Casino, sharing a drink they call Loneliness with some kind of wolf-man, some kind of tiger-man, some kind of goth-man (-woman?) and a nondescript nothing nobody with a face as bland as his unprinted t-shirt. You’d think this wacky bunch of Whyte Ave-meets-Night Breed misfits would have a lot to talk about, but there’s really not much to say. We’re all just “camping” -- in exchange for keeping his establishment’s traffic numbers up, the proprietor’s programmed the stools to pay us out two bucks for every five minutes we sit here. All we have to do is jiggle the mouse every twenty minutes so we don’t fall asleep at the bar. Camps like this are the cornerstone of the Second Life economy.

The exchange rate sits at about one American dollar to 250 SL Lindens, but even if you’re not putting real-world money into your wolf-man’s pocket there are lots of ways to build up a stake in this virtual reality. For example, you can literally pick money off trees. You have to get there first, of course; this morning there was an hour or so of system downtime, and when things came back up I raced like a madman around the SL globe, teleporting from money tree to money tree. Six trees and twenty-five Lindens later, things started to dry up. There was somebody by the name of Fried Fish – the clever trees record the names of their harvesters – one jump ahead of me. I caught up with him at a money tree in the lobby of a shitty virtual “art museum”, an open-air tower slathered with imported .jpgs of famous paintings, and he turned out to be an OK guy; gave me some cash-harvesting pointers and tipped me off to a couple of trees that were still loaded with cash after he’d taken his limit. Thanks partially to his info – it probably didn’t hurt that I was wearing my cutest hippy-girl shape -- I came out of an hour and a half of money-picking with about eighty bucks.

And then I dropped it all at the casino. If camping is the cornerstone of this economy of over 100,000 consumers, gambling is the rest of the damn building. You can’t /SPIT without hitting a slot machine, poker table, wheel of fortune or raffle box. After paying the rent on my floating one-room apartment, I took the remaining thirty Lindens to the Moonshine and slowly but surely – blackjack systems work better here than in real life – built it up to over 500 before I went crazy and bet it all (all two dollars’ worth!) on a single turn of the cards. So now, still wearing my “lucky avatar” (the fat hoser model with lumberjack shirt and Bogart spliff) I camp along with the animal dudes and freaks and blingged-out tarts with off-the-rack hair, waiting for the cardboard-cutout bartender to spot me two bucks for the slots.

Yeah, the American Dream dies hard, even in the limitless realms of the fantasyNet. Check out any neighbourhood in SL; beyond the lingerie malls, porno shops, casinos and cheesy streaming-audio discotheques populated by animatronic dance-campers there lies hillside after crammed-up hillside of participants’ personal palaces, vast favelas of countless bleak McMansions furnished with virtual Nice Things and idle cyber-sextoys. All the power of completely flexible VR with no pesky laws of physics, and all most folks can dream up is a neo-Tudor split-level with a baby grand in the foyer and a couple of DOGGYSTYLE M/F fuck-simulators in front of the fireplace.

Tree by tree, minute by minute, I’ll get there too; all I need is some bank so I can work my system. Brother… hey, brother! Spare a Linden for a sweet-hearted girl down on her luck?

Life During Wartime, Valentine's Day

The human mind can't help but find -- or invent -- pattern and meaning out of random chance... like, when it's Valentine's Day everything takes on a love undertone. Sometimes you just have to say fuck it and go with the flow.

Talking Heads -- Tentative Decisions
Neutral Milk Hotel -- Song Against Sex
Califone -- Your Golden Ass
Robert Pollard -- The Numbered Head
Danzig -- 777
Soledad Brothers -- Crying Out Loud
Destroyer -- Sick Priest Learns to Last Forever
Mark Olson & the OHRCD -- Linda Lee
"Guy Terrifico" -- I'm Only Make Believe
Serge Gainsbourg -- Black Trombone
Donna Regina -- Slow Killer
Margo -- Space Summer
Pawa Up First -- We Swear It Was Self-Defense
Takako Minekawa -- Sleep Song
Terry Vile -- Actual Case Histories
Twin Fangs -- More Can Go Wrong
Eurythmics -- Caveman Head
The Damned -- Jet Boy/Jet Girl
The Blasters -- Border Radio
Heartless Bastards -- Done Got Old
Old Time Relijun -- Cold Water
Gram Parsons -- Hot Burrito #1
Alice Cooper -- Only Women Bleed

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

02-06-2006 -- the Sidetrack

The benefits of a barroom smoking ban – such as being able to wear the same shirt the next day, if you manage to deke out all the flying fluids inherent in a night on the town – are balanced by the fact we now have to smell everybody’s farts. Bad enough for us boozers, but what about the poor staff? Two-score hours a week, standing in the miasma created when gallons of draft beer are run through hundreds of pizza-powered chemistry sets without the masking Marlboro smoke and the cleansing flare of lighters… man. I heard a story the other day about someone having to eject a party because they smelled like they’d all shit their pants. Everyone wants to burn incense… but nobody wants to “smell like a hippie.”

Yeah, bars stink. Sometimes, though, the stinks come together just right, fuse with the energy of the place to create a smellscape that’s so integral to the ambience, so right for the occasion you can’t believe your nose. “Sometimes,” I say, but the effect has really crystallized for me once: at the Gogol Bordello show Monday night, at the Sidetrack, which stank to high heaven. No farts, just sweat, feet, winter wool, perfume, farts (OK, there were a few) hair care products, pit-stick, beer & liquor, gum, mints, deep frying… and, yes, the faint whiff of cigarettes still clinging to the outside-smokers, carcinogenic molecules rattling around the room like memories… the honest smell of hundreds of people having a really fuckin’ good time. Beautiful.

It’s joy that’s the secret ingredient in this olfactory megamix; everyone knew they were going to have a good time with the gypsy punks but only a few knew exactly how good. When it came down to screaming wild-eyed moustaches monkeying across the lighting rig, waves of fist-and-ass-shaking crazy on the floor, crowd-surfing bass-drum boogieboards and even the railcar people movin’ it a little, people started emitting these vapors, pheromones, the ancient mammal sexchem signals of comfort and happiness that flip your brain to party mode. You can’t fight it; it’s science.

Damn, people were horny that night! A pretty fantastically good-looking crowd to start with, plus all this chemical purring starting up a dancefloor feedback loop (the sexiest of loops)… never, I think, have so many people been left in a wild-eyed state of coitus interruptus by the Track’s clock-strikes-twelve Cinderella policy of show shutdown. Throbbing with all that erotic bioenergy, the neurotransmitter crackle of full-being arousal… a girl I know had so much nowhere-to-go jazz in her that she went home and did paperwork for her shitty job until four in the morning. Children were certainly conceived in this aftermath. Myself, I didn’t do too much flirting; hooked on noticing smells, I was too self-conscious. I’d had a cup of coffee and half a cigarette, and no amount of gum or mints could assure me I didn’t have “teacher breath.”

So, yeah; good show. That was probably the last – second-last, maybe -- time for me at that Sidetrack location, so I’m glad I’ll be able to come at it in memory from a scent perspective; maybe with the emotional triggers of smell-memory in place I’ll be able to muster up genuine nostalgia for a room I’ve had lots of fun in but never felt the least attachment to. Will I dream back with fond longing to hex-grid bathroom tile and dining-car trysts while I sip beer tapped through clean lines and add my stinks to a new-bar smell that will never know the sniffy baseline of I-only-smoke-when-I-drink cigarettes… or will I continue to kind of not care?

photo: Fish

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Friday, February 03, 2006

Life During Wartime, Jan 31

Just found my log sheet in my bag, so I guess I might as well put this up. Nothing real special this week, other than a double-hit of Kristofferson -- it was one of those moods. Still Tuesdays, still 3-5pm, still on CJSR 88.5 in Edmonton... still webcast, too.

Kris Kristofferson -- Nobody Wins
Uz Jsme Doma -- Jassica
Dirty Faces -- Superamerican
The Bees -- Chicken Payback
Guitar Wolf -- UFO Romantics
Carla Bozulich -- Lonesome Roads
Drazy Hoops -- Nothing Makes Sense Anymore
Howe Gelb -- Jason's List (I should have played "Lying There")
Destroyer -- A Dangerous Woman Up to a Point
Kraftwerk -- It's More Fun to Compute
Professor Undressor -- That Robot in the Waiting Room...
Cadence Weapon -- Fathom
Mon Frere -- Up Circle
Books on Tape -- Girls Up Front
Blood Meridian -- Shit World
Okkervil River -- I Have Seen the World of Dreams
The Starkweathers -- Burn the Flag
Kris Kristofferson -- The Law Is For Protection of the People
Tim Balash -- Under the Radar
The Elected -- Not Going Home
The Dazzlebrights -- So Quiet
Delta 5 -- Try
Talking Heads -- Making Flippy Floppy (12" remix)
Townes Van Zandt -- Short-haired Woman Blues
Magnolia Electric Co. -- 31 Seasons in the Minor leagues
Guided By Voices -- My Valuable Hunting Knife

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


"Like any place in Reality, the Street is subject to development. Developers … can build buildings, parks, signs, as well as things that do not exist in Reality, such as vast hovering overhead light shows and special neighborhoods where the rules of three-dimensional spacetime are ignored." -- Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

You know how, in the new Battlestar Galactica series, the dwindling remnant of fugitive humanity has to use archaic equipment and analog, non-networked computers because if they use anything higher-tech the robotic Cylons will take over everything and kill everybody? I only just this week realized I was in a similar situation. While I was splitting my electronic life between a brainless ’97-vintage iMac and a six-year-old ThinkPad with more mental problems than a comp. lit. undergrad, I was safe from the life-commandeering viral escapism of online communities; when I picked up a computer built this millennium and downloaded Second Life, I opened myself to trouble.

It’s a kind of trouble I’ve been in before. Back in the early nineties (dates get hazy; it was a magical time), while living in a dismal walkup with a bitter Dr. Who fan, I got into text-based virtual-reality communities – think Infocom text adventures with everything written, programmed and shared by individual users. It near drove me crazy; I even had an online girlfriend, a real cutie from Hawaii. Second Life, with its total user control and customization, its everything created by everyone, its uninhibited masquerade-ball parody of human society, is the same old trap… with graphics.

At first, I thought I could avoid the leghold. When you first hop on (grab the download from secondlife.com, you poor suckers), the world of SL seems corny where it doesn’t seem boring: vast uninhabited ghost-town expanses of virtual architecture in various states of completion/abandonment, broken up by ugly-ass porno/fetish malls, casinos and sex-dance clubs. Gaudy, jumbled, tasteless, quivering with frantic erotic play-acting, obsessed with (virtual) money, status and appearance. I laughed.

But I knew there was something substantial underneath all that – many writers I respect take SL quite seriously – so I resolved to try. To participate. A bad idea, looking back, but (I told myself) professionally honest; how can I write about online communities and such if I don’t slide back my “sleeve length” control and apply a “dirt” texture to my polygonal hands? So, I decided upon a trade: in my second life I would be a custom bookbinder, creating virtual boutique chapbooks for SL’s artists, essayists, photographers and poets. Easy enough; I found a guy who makes and sells virtual printing presses.

But how to get the money – the “Lindens”, as SL’s currency is known? Without a paid account or credit card, I couldn’t just swap Lauriers for Lindens. I’d have to find a patron… beg, basically. It was tough going until one night, after some Weird Science-style monkeying with the avatar-creation controls, I stepped out into the world in female form.

Trouble. Trouble times. A five-foot-nothing cherub of a girl in an impeccably fitted earthy tweed suit who smokes with a filter (I didn’t change outfits from my previous “neo-Edwardian Dandy” look), walks and talks like a guy (I kept the male animation set, too) and looks like she’s going places? People like her and want to involve her in things. What a magical spell! It’s textbook salesmanship; put an easy-to-look-at face on the front end of your operation and you’re halfway to the bank.

Of course, I’ve creeped myself right out. Ever have a crush on yourself? To laugh the edge off, I created a whole wardrobe of other skins, like "Fat Hoser"– a totally unwelcome presence. The reactions he gets remind me that the first fun I ever had in SL was when a buddy took over my keyboard and typed “WHO FARTED” in a swanky disco.

So, here I am… barely meeting Maslow’s Heirarchy of needs through my real-world career, deliberately precipitating an identity crisis, apprenticing as a bookbinder in a videogame. I bet this’ll work out great!