Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Life During Wartime, May 30, 2006

Still not quite up to speed on the relative merits of the many means of moving from my new place to the blazing playland of learning that is VarScona, I arrived for the show on time but rushing, and it kind had me off balance throughout. I suspect I babbled a bit. As for the records, I'm actually kind of surprised at how few Greatest Hits I threw down; normally when i have 5min of prep time, half the show come off the utility belt...

LDWt's still Tuesdays 3-5pm on CJSR!

A Tribe Called Quest -- the Scenario
***
The Brewtals -- Wild Man
The Jerry Lee Phantom -- Radio Stone
Astrud Gilberto -- the Gentle Rain
Beta Band -- Won
***
Handsome Family -- I See You All the Time in Airports
Feist -- Gatekeeper (Do Right mix)
Buffalo Daughter -- Great Five Lakes
Flaming Lips -- Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
Constantines -- Young Offenders
***
Cracker -- Where Have Those Days Gone?
Oakley Hall -- If I Was in El Dorado
The Ohsees -- Broken Stems
Mike Johnson -- Rot
***
Mr. Pine -- Dragonfly
Sons & Daughters -- Start to End
The Kills -- Sweet Cloud
***
Deadstring Brothers -- Get Up Jake
ILCK -- Big Damn Roach
Mission of Burma -- 13
***
Rae Spoon -- Willow
Wilco -- Thirteen
Matt Allen -- Last Ole Dollar

Monday, May 29, 2006

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Two steps down the nerd ladder

In a second-floor apartment somewhere in Toronto, an apartment with no food in the fridge and no cookware in the cupboards, a small, powerful man sits gazing into the flickering depths of a computer monitor. By night, he’s a hardass newspaper editor of a breed seldom bred. By later at night, he’s a king-hell Bloor Street boozer. But by day, while lesser men toil at their drone jobs or blearily poke at monster.ca in search of same, he is a general to heroes, master of the mighty, a Kaiser of costumed crimefighters. Freedom Force is his playground, and in its three-dimensional simulation of the four-color world of comic-book combat he finds the only peace his Apollonian psychology has known.

Yeesh. OK. Spend too much time thinking about superheroes and your prose starts to slip into that windy narration-box mode, the kind of writing that makes a perfectly good comics page look like the interior of a packed U-Haul; next thing you know, every sentence is filled with bold italics and ends in an exclamation mark! It’s how my instincts, conditioned by a youth filled with the adventures of Iron Man, want me to write; the alliterative curse of Stan Lee still stains every story I start. Anyway, the guy in question is a good friend of mine, he is indeed a Freedom Force diehard – someone gave him City of Heroes for a present and he actually got kind of pissed off – and he was much on my mind as I watched X-Men: The Last Stand this week.

The film was a shitburger all right, but inept as it was – and as bad as it got, it never came close to the worst of the comics I devoured as a kid and continue to gorge on -- the very act of watching superheroic action-adventure snapped open hair-trigger fantasy channels in my psyche. I caught my hands curling and twitching of their own accord, conjuring and controlling fantastic powers from my escapist subconscious; watching Brett Ratner’s blandified X-Men doing their things, I was right there with them. I was a bug-man zipping tiny through air ducts, a ghost-man freezing cheap thugs with a touch like unto the touch of death, a super-karate-man, a sorceror-man, a spring-heeled jump-man… and only occasionally a teenager-man with the awesome power to mack on Kitty Pryde without going to jail. I would have been Iron Man, but his schtick doesn’t fit the mutant milieu.

Unless one wants to just say “fuck it” to sanity and run around in gonch-over-tights all the time, the only way for us comic-book nerds to come close to living our fantasies is through gaming, and even then it’s frustrating. Superhero-themed videogames, once one gets through the character-creation process (which can take a while; nerds are universally dress-up-dolly addicts), are wholly combat simulators, reducing characters to gun turrets and tanks. That fits pretty well with the generally punch-happy, beam-filled tone of comic books – and with the play values of videogames in general – but the real four-color fantasist wants more: the drama of the double life, the mystery of the mask, the rivalries and enmities… the long-winded extemporizing on the field of battle. There’s only one way for us to really live the dream, and that’s getting back to the tabletop.

It’s a tough step to take; superhero role-playing is, like, two nerd-steps below even the crunchiest of swords-and-sorcery geekery, below even the Vampire: the Masquerade live role-players that skulk around suburban parks at dusk swirling their fucking cloaks and whining at each other. At least Vampire players get laid now and then, in a virginity-busting alchemy born of the grossly erotic nature of vampire mythology and the legendary easiness of chubby, insecure goth chicks. But once you take that step – and negotiate the pitfalls of choosing between either a rules system designed for retarded children or a system that requires advanced spreadsheet skills and on-the-fly calculus -- superhero RPGs offer some of the most fulfilling nerdgasms imaginable.

My memories of Dungeons & Dragons adventures are scant, hazy and generally pretty boring, but my college-days exploits with CounterStrike, North America’s tenth-rated superhero team (our presidential hotline only went off when the Defenders were in another dimension and Power Pack was grounded) will live forever in my dreams. Like… uh… the time we kept some bad guys drugged unconscious for six months because the infirmary was the only facility we managed to install in our HQ before our sugar-daddy pulled the plug on our funding. Or the astounding adventure where our shape-shifting “brick” teammate knocked up a hooker who ended up giving birth to one seriously pissed-off mutant baby. And what about our mysterious mission to Monte Carlo, where my dude used his x-ray vision and telekinesis to… yeah. Fun times.

So, I guess what I’m saying is… does anybody have a game going? I need a fix, bad.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Life During Wartime, May 23, 2006

In some ways, this felt like a continuation of last week... but don't ask me which ways. Just, some. My time of being sheepish or apologetic about the fact LDWt's basically a retro-alternative pop show with a barely conscious new-music element bolted on is over; now, I revel in spinning shit like Dinosaur jr... I mean, fucking Green Mind is a FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD RECORD.

I know; that didn't read like any "revelling" you've heard of. We Gen-X Slacker Alternative Grunge Latchkey Vidiot geezers do things different. Ly.

Les Savy Fav -- Blackouts
***
Karate -- It's 98 Stop
The (International) Noise Conspiracy -- Ready Steady Go!
Windows 78 -- Opportunity
***
Buzzcocks -- God, What Have I Done?
The Illuminati -- Down the Road
The Leather Uppers -- Bright Lights
Tijuana Bibles -- Wheelchair Werewolf
The Krazy 8's -- Phantom Car
***
Hank & Lily -- Laika
Tom Verlaine -- All Weirded Out
Hypatia Lake -- Joseph and the Divine Intervention of the Recreational Center
Beck -- Heaven Hammer (AIR remix)
***
Stereolab -- Excursions into "Oh, A-Oh"
Fantastic Plastic Machine -- On a Chair
Fancey -- Rock & Roll Rhythm
***
Carla Bozulich -- Pissing
Old Time Relijun -- Cold Water
Smalls -- VCR
Oakley Hall -- Lazy Susan
***
Pipo Fiasco -- Sanders
Dinosaur jr -- Thumb

Sunday, May 21, 2006

05-17-2006 – Before the storm

The worst thing about writing a column in a city where a playoff series is the only thing taking up space in the public imagination is trying to maintain something (something, anything) like relevance with readers a week – or even 24 hours – away from me. Here I sit on a supremely sunshining morning, apple blossom snowstorms in the breeze outside, knowing that before the sun’s set there’s going to be… some kind of scene? Game Six is tonight; what can I say to you from the past that’s going to have meaning in the aftermath of that bloody battle?

Are you using this paper to field-dress wounds received in the chaos of post-victory Whyte Avenue, your blood seeping through the horoscopes and hooker ads as you desperately, feebly keep croaking “Oiiiilerrrs…. Oilllerrrrrrrrs…” to keep the Fan Gangs from doubting your loyalty? Has the army rolled in yet, Stephen Harper finally getting the opportunity for his urban military pilot project as the Copper and Blue becomes a secessionist flag and the Free Republic of Champions digs in behind barricades of puckhats and overturned paddywagons, Oilfans in warpaint keeping the ragtag EPS at bay with deadly accurate deployment of half-empty Smirnoff Ice bottles?

Or did we lose?

I wonder where I’ll be when the shit goes down. It’s been a strange playoff for me. I went from celebratory streaking on the Detroit win to old-fashioned holing up in livingrooms. Sometime in the midst of all this madness I moved away from Whyte, and my first playoff party in the new ‘hood ended with my fleeing from Mama’s Pizza on 107th after three periods and two overtimes of constant draining of $4.50 pony jugs. After that, it was back in the hole, feeling Samsonov’s out-of-the-box goal in Rod Phillips’ radio screams…

I think radio might be the way to go, again. It’s actually a perfect way to experience hockey if you’re not really all that up on the swirling mechanics of playmaking and line-changes. Best of all, you get to get a lot of work done; unchained from the audiovisual lock of television, I managed to spend Game Four unpacking boxes, setting up my living room, cooking eggs and getting two years’ worth of tax documents together, all while zoned out into the imaginative space only a top-notch radio man can create. The phone would ring after every goal, some pal screaming “OILERS!” on the other end, but when the final call came – “Come on! Let’s go down to Whyte!” – I was so cozy in my unpacked and prepped new home, so warm in the glow of personal accomplishment and vicarious victory, that even the promise of seeing Edmonton’s world-famous Truncheon Team in action couldn’t draw me back across the bridge.

Oilers. OIIIILERRRRRSSS! The word has ceased to be the proper noun and marketing label it was just a few weeks ago, mutating instead into a watchword, a coded term, a tribal identifier, a post-hypnotic trigger. At breakfast after Game Four I felt a little bit like how I imagine The Man They Call Reveen must feel when he intones a couple syllables and his subject turns into a chicken. This one Hooting Dude, his jersey still stained and reeking from the night before, sat by the door to the restaurant, silenced finally by the mixed grill he’d stuffed into his face. On my way out, I made eye contact with him and said calmly, in my best Reveen tone: “Oilers.” The reaction was immediate; his arms flew into the air, hands still gripping knife and fork, and he screamed me back a street-hearty “OILEEERRRZZZ!”, spewing a mouthful of scrambled eggs across the table to his dining companion.

That’s the power of mass hypnosis, the power and peril that lies in the heart of a city gone mad-dog with adrenaline. Remember when the Sun’s front-page story wondered peevishly why Calgary fans were rocking out so hard and Edmontonians were being so sedate? Yes, please do remember that. Remember that when the sky is black with the smoke of a thousand burning phone booths, when the streets are running with bloody beer, when the OH MY GOD MILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF POLICE OVERTIME are breaking the budget and hard currency is being melted down to make model Stanley Cups for use as body jewellery on the Blue Mile slave girls kept as harem diversions (and rewards to loyal troopers) by the clashing warlords of Whyte. Remember, and weep.

Update: despite a semifinal win, Edmontonian civil order has somehow been maintained.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Life During Wartime, May 16, 2006

Lots of new cuts this week, hastily assembled but quite decent. Life During Wartime is seat-of-the-pants, man, every Tuesday afternoon, 3-5 MST on CJSR . Webcasted, yo.

Railroad Jerk -- Big White Lady
***
Quintron -- God of Thunder
Moneen -- The Frightening Reality...
Islands -- Swans (Life After Death)
***
Willie Nelson -- Don't Be Ashamed of your Age
New Lost City Ramblers -- He's Coming to us Dead
Leadbelly -- Don't Want No More Army Life
RL Burnside -- long-Haired Doney
Scott H. Biram -- Throw a Boogie / Black Betty
***
Black Ox Orkestar -- Golem
Devotchka -- The Last Beat of my Heart
Roots Tonic -- Akademikus du Umbeigu
Coldcut -- Aid Dealer
***
Eno/Byrne -- The Jezebel Spirit
Konono No. 1 -- Paradiso
Shooting at Unarmed Men -- Pathos at Bathos
***
Shapes and Sizes -- Island's Gone Bad
Volumen -- Orson Welles Was Right
Doers -- Handjob at Sunset
Mission of Burma -- Donna Sumeria
***
Matt Allen -- On My Deathbed

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

It walks! It lives!

It's been a couple of months, but the Field Guide to Monsters of the World has been updated. Tremble before the mystical might of the golem!

Go, Oilers.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

From dusty drawers...

Nearly twenty years of packratting add up, in boxes and binsful of baggage dating from grade seven. Moving from one place to another becomes a two-fisted attack on psyche and system. The big punch comes from the basics of home transplantation, the universal physical and financial hassles of moving. But before getting to that point, the packrat has another blow to weather -- the emotional gutpunch of sifting through (again) a lifetime of sacred objects.

Love letters, old photographs, creased menus, cheap toys, neglected notebooks, antiquated mixtapes... gone girls, lost friends, forgotten goals. If you have the luxury of storage space, it's better to just carry those old boxes, unopened and unexamined, from place to place to place... the physical weight is easier to bear than the emotional. That's what I did, for years, with a little chest of drawers that began life as the pedestal of my junior-high Ikea desk. Already packed to the point of unusability when I first left home at 19, it's been with me for fourteen years, a near-static time capsule. Brick-dense with junk, it annoyed the hell out of my dad move after move, every time we grunted it up onto a truck.

This time, though, I knew I needed to break the seal, to go back to the portable hallways of Elizabeth Seton Jr. High, the stairwells of Austin O'Brien, the barroom floors of those first blurry semesters of university. Most of the revelations lie outside the scope of this or any column, but somewhere in the middle of Drawer Three, between the substrate of old Dungeons & Dragons and Shadowrun character sheets and the sheaf of photos from a road trip to Jasper I keep losing from memory, I found a stack of old PC games. Strange to think they'd been with me all this time...

Like, Bloodwych? The only thing I remember clearly about this game is a feeling of boredom and frustration, which is weird 'cause crawling around dungeons and killing monsters was/is kind of my thing. Maybe it didn't grab me because I was 16 and too busy writing painfully earnest crush notes, drafts of which were tucked into the instruction manual. I totally don't remember the supposedly groundbreaking two-player action Bloodwych offered, which is as good a friend-o-meter as any.

And here's Starflight! I saved the hell out of my allowance to get this game in '87, the year after it was released, a year filled with reading and re-reading ads, reviews and hints in the pages of Family Computing; that beautiful moment in my mom's minivan, just pulling away from the old Softwarehouse, when I tore the shrinkwrap off and opened the EA flat-pak is probably the last golden memory I'll be reliving when the Alzheimer's takes me. The vast universe, the humor-laced mystery, the space battles, the nail-biting returns from surface-survey trips with nothing but fumes in the terrain vehicle's tank, the painstaking re-discovery of Earth and the ruins of Disneyland... wow; I'm going to have to fire up the emulator as soon as I get the 'net hooked up. "Borno, where's my money? --Xenon." Classic!

When our family first got a computer, there was a "no games" rule, a rule that lasted about three days until a couple of my parents' friends started handing us boxes of pirated discs. Still, it was way easier to get my folks to shell out for educational games, which is how I got Ticket to Paris, where you have to learn about the City of Lights and French culture in order to find your mysterious cousin. I'm still not really clear on what "profiteroles" are, but I do know that passing out from exhaustion is a good way to get cheap Parisian accomodations via the hospital.

There are many more: The Colonel's Bequest I remember coming with a notebook embossed "Tulane," and I didn't know what that was (I drew parody superheroes in it); the aptly named Impossible Misson; The (boring) Omnicron Conspiracy; Rad Warrior; King's Quest IV, which I bought but couldn't run... an arcade of ancient mystery, mostly B-grade games snagged from bargain bins, an oddball collection curated by the slow attrition of time, the surviving remnants of an adolescence spent staring into a flickering 256K, 16-color well... and... uh...

Yeah. I guess the point is, moving makes me moody. Readers, what 5.25" floppies are cluttering up your emotional space?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Friday, May 05, 2006

05-02-2006 -- in the aftermath of madness

Oh, yeah… sweet, joyous pain. Muscles from ankle to neck stiff and sore, balls of the feet so bruised and battered I’ll be walking like a penguin for days, lungs still reeling from unaccustomed effort, right-side road rash from an unfortunate encounter with the sin-stained sidewalks of Whyte… the streaker, I am learning, pays a steep price for his seconds of freedom.

Really, it was a sense of fair play that led me to ditch my drawers and run whooing and metal-signing down the fan-packed carnival lane. We’d had half an hour of high-fiving and hooting and honking and “OILERZ! WHOOOO! OIIIILERRRZZZ!” and I was frankly ready to see these tits I’d heard so much about. Then it struck me, how selfish – how sexist! – I was being; why should I wait on women to bear the burden of sexy celebration? What was I, as a screaming Oilers supporter, giving back to the community? It was, as the weak-ass cookie-cutter commentators say, “gut-check time.”

The streak was the ultimate – or penultimate, or pre-penultimate, or (dare we dream it?) fourth-from-last – expression of a year spent bringing my fandom up to the next level. I’d always had the basic background hockey love a life spent in Edmonton imprints on a kid – I think it has something to do with the magic hypno-powers of Rod Phillips – but this year was different. I sweated through the delicious agony of our goalie problems (and I still think Jussi could’ve done the job if he’d had some support); I gnashed my teeth through losing streaks along with the jersey crowd; I screamed “PULL THE FUCKING TRIGGER, DIPSHIT!” dozens of times. What a great year to be able to say “I’m an Oilers fan,” rather than “Yeah, [shrug]; I like the Oilers.”

There’s one force to thank for turning me (and I’m sure many others) from city-default autofan to relatively well-informed and opinionated fanatic, and it’s the same force that’s challenging and changing the way citizens everywhere deal with everything and everyone around them: blogs. Mainstream sports journalism, at least at the rank-and-file daily-desk level, is word-for-word the most agonizing shit you’d ever want to read or watch, but without the nuggets of actual information scattered among the reams of “We’ve just got to create more opportunities, score more goals” I had no real way of interfacing intelligently with the street-level barroom bullshit where real fandom takes place. But starting with Covered in Oil and from there moving out into a network of excellent fan-journalism – Lowetide, Battle of Alberta and many others, including opposition bloggers – I found myself in an atmosphere of smart, opinionated, ferocious and utterly entertaining commentary and analysis. Not only was I able to really follow and feel the team for the first time, I was able to feel fandom; lurker though I may be, these blogs (and their comment threads) have brought me closer to being part of the Oilers in a way I formerly misunderstood and, honestly, kind of laughed at.

I’m no starry-eyed Utopianist on the idea that blogging, social networking, citizen-journalism or whatever is going to remake the world into a shining land of collaboration and distributed democracy; the dark forces of command and control – and basic human indecency – have a lot of play left in their clamps. But I now have personal anecdotal proof that the community-creation power of blog networks can – at least when combined with the powers of liquor and crowd madness --turn a sports-indifferent nerd into a fan committed enough to run four blocks naked through a throng of thousands.

The only problem is, what’s next? What happens when the Oilers grind the Sharks to rubble? What happens after… after… after the thing we dare not mention happens? Since the agony I’m in convinces me that shoeless 400-metre sprints are best left to those with functioning cardiovascular systems rather than the sloshing amnion of perogy butter and cannabis resin that bathes my feeble organs, how will I top this pagan tribute to Lady Victory?

I guess all I can say is, keep watching this space, sports fans! Go, Oilers.

photo: fish

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Life During Wartime, May 2, 2006

Huh. Usually don't post two playlists in a row, but whatever. A cold, windy, shitty day and a show that felt four hours long... but not in a bad way. So I guess this show has a retro core, now, an unavoidable side-effect of being an ancient geezer. I don't mind; digging back offers just as much as guessing forward. Like... Television? A name, a concept until a few weeks ago. But now, as happened with Devo -- what was it... thirteen years ago? -- I'm decades-belatedly getting into a defunct band from a gone time... and Tom Verlaine's new record(s) is/are pretty special. Lots of learning left...

So, if my new job is to give Twenties their first taste of Six Finger Satellite, that's cool with me. Go Oilers.

Life During Wartime, by the way, runs Tuesdays, 3-5 p.m., on CJSR.

Macha -- The Buddha Nature
***
Zambonis -- CCM PSA
Amy Honey -- Do Ya Wanna Play Darts?
Grifters -- Re-entry Blues
Hank & Lily -- Princess Vampire
***
Six Finger Satellite -- Rabies (Baby's Got the)
Volumen -- Dune
Les Goules -- Gontrand
***
Shapes & Sizes -- I Am Cold
Black Ox Orkestar -- Ikh ken tsvey zayn
Calexico -- All Systems Red
***
Howe Gelb -- Arizona Amp & Alternator #4
Waco Bros. -- Baba O'Riley
Seven-Foot Dilly and his Dill Pickles -- Pickin' Off Peanuts
Bukka White -- Aberdeen Mississippi Blues
***[420]***
Anthrax -- I Am the Law
Furnaceface -- Slip & Stumble
Young Canadians -- Beg, Borrow and Steal
***
Black Foundation in Dub -- Warning Version
Mos Def -- Speed Law
Fort Knox Five -- Dodge City Rockers
***
Tom Verlaine -- Nice Actress
Stereolab -- Interlock