Wednesday, December 30, 2009

too scary for buses

I can now almost understand why Calgary Transit thought that the ads for the current Real Life exhibition at the Glenbow Museum would be too distracting to put on the sides of buses. Encountering that hyper-realistic enormous newborn with the clenched fists and the scowl might just be startling enough to make some drivers drop their cell phones in alarm and goodness gracious we can't have that.

Ron Mueck's exhibition is quite startling in scale, featuring the aforementioned massive angry newborn, as well as a gigantic disembodied infant head. Contrasted with the tiny sculpture of the frail old woman in bed, these massive babies really do speak volumes about what every parent of a newborn knows - that baby is the biggest thing in the room. It's oppressive, judgmental and demanding. Looking at those gigantic babies reminded me of the moments of helplessness and panic that I remember feeling as a new mother.

Also part of the Real Life exhibition are installations by Guy Ben-Ner. The Offspring and I were particularly taken with his video, Stealing Beauty, in which Ben-Ner and his family carry on their lives inside IKEA showrooms and discuss the nature of private property, while shoppers shuffle by and through the display rooms, checking out prices of the Snits bowls and the Ekeskog sofas.

That's one of the things I love about these extended holidays, such as Christmas, the chance to peruse the museums and other places that I don't go to nearly enough.

Did you do anything outside the norm this Christmas?

Monday, December 28, 2009

meet you at the sound check

The tree is starting to shed, the boughs on the mantle are starting to look decidedly shabby and the turkey has got one more day of picking left on it before it is relegated to soup. It must then be time to unveil the first of the year's lists.

Everyone agrees that it was a stellar year for music. 2009 will certainly be remembered as the year that was responsible for many exploding heads, as list junkies everywhere struggled to whittle their best-of lists down to a manageable length. And with Calgary increasingly becoming a concert hub, it was next to impossible to walk down the street on any day of the year without tripping over a red hot concert or two. The year was almost as noteworthy for the concerts I missed (Leonard Cohen, Dan Mangan, Vic Chesnutt, Obijhou, Carolyn Mark and NQ Arbuckle, Daniel Johnston) as it was for those I attended.

But regret is pointless, especially when you are trying to shave the top twenty list down to a mere nine. So, in true list junkie fashion, you revisit those memorable concerts and you sort through the resulting nostalgia to find those golden nuggets.

And then you list.

Bad Tempered Zombie's Nine Most Memorable Concert Performances of 09

9. the Breeders
Sled Island Festival @ Olympic Plaza (June)

- a beautiful summer evening, in the heart of downtown, only a border of trees to separate us from the glass and steel towers lit up against night sky, as we crowded around the stage -

Here's what I said at the time (and I'll do this for the entire list):
"Both Kim and Kelly played the entire set with the hugest grins on their faces, mockingly telling people to stop smoking pot. Kelly: "I'm not supposed to be around this stuff. No smoking!" There was a feeling of real comaraderie between the crowd and the stage. As Kim started the awwooo part at the beginning of Cannonball, she started complaining that they didn't have the proper gear to make the distortion sound that it needed, and that it sounded like shit. So just like that, the audience started up "awooo awoooo awooo awooo awooo awoo".

Gave me chills."


8.Justin Rutledge/Melissa McClelland
Central United Church (November)
- a laid-back Sunday night in what is rapidly becoming my favourite venue in town -

"It started as a smoldering groove in a knock-out red frock, built into a smocking jam session that threatened to tumble off the packed stage, and ended as a heartfelt lullaby singalong standing on the pews. Not bad at all for a church concert.

I'd seen both artists perform previously, most recently at Calgary Folk Festival appearances, and had a suspicion that this musical pairing was a particularly inspired idea for a tour. And not just because they are both uncommonly pretty people either. Melissa McClelland and Justin Rutledge have two of the sweetest and purest voices in Canadian music today and their vaguely alt-country styles complement each other so perfectly that it's surprising nobody thought of this before. One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind upon hearing about this concert was that it would be criminal if they didn't perform at least a couple of songs together."

7. Final Fantasy/Timber Timbre
Knox United Church (October)

- I was lucky enough to see Final Fantasy twice in 09, and although we had front row seats for the June concert and although he was sick as a dog with strep throat at the October concert, the addition of Timber Timbre made this show sublime -

"The church had become a David Lynch film. Timber Timbre will do that to a place, impart it with such an unsettling but strangely lovely mood that even a solid structure like Knox United Church is transformed into a world of backwoods and shadows. We were held silent observers in those sturdy pews of dark gleaming wood, while the vibrant stained glass that punctuated the stone walls and soaring ceiling caught the subdued lighting perfectly and cast a surreal glow over everything. When Taylor Kirk and band began their set, they did so in utter silence, with just a couple of soft, barely imperceptible touches of the violin strings interspersed with an occasional guitar twang, all set against a backdrop of bird sounds. As the music gradually rose, the atmosphere escalated alongside, until I was convinced we were watching a soundtrack come to life.

In the film running through my mind I saw long abandoned farm houses and ominous flocks of silent birds, with shadowy veiled figures lurking silently in the background. The acoustics at Knox United Church are so perfect that every nuance of Kirk’s dark and eerie vocals, every haunting reverberation of the lap guitar, hung like crystals in air. The feeling of being frozen in some sort of freaky otherworldly cinema was inescapable.

The atmosphere shifted entirely when Final Fantasy took the stage. A creepy film morphed into a video game. As though a collectively held breath were released, the audience relaxed, still attentive, still respectfully silent during the performance, but discernibly more at ease. As it was, it was a brave venture of musical experimentation, melding new works with revamped crowd favourites. A Final Fantasy performance is always a joy, always an aurally tactile affair to be savoured with ears wide open. Marrying Pallett’s brand of playful orchestral pop with the dark and cinematic songs of Timber Timbre offered a sumptuous smorgasbord of auditory flavours. It was a very tasty evening."


6. Billy Bragg
Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver (November)

- a rainy night in Vancouver, basking in the glow of camaraderie of the Offspring and some great blog friends, in a stunningly beautiful venue. Great memories -

"Billy Bragg is one of those rare individuals who maintain their passions and their convictions over the years, and he does not tone things down just because he has a touch more grey. He played for over two hours at the Commodore on Saturday night, two hours of fervent rabble-rousing, two hours of soulful softy songs, two hours of stories and rants and working himself and his fans up into a lather.

He doesn't try to deny that he is aging. He was after all, drinking tea on-stage, for his "froat". But he is still passionately involved in life and causes, and in amongst thrilling us with
New England and Levy Stubbs Tears and Power in a Union and Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, he alternately delighted us and infuriated us with lengthy tales and pithy quips of his guitar-playing teenaged son, the fascist running for office in his hometown, the Vancouver weather, the "Thatcher is dead" text message, the Clash, and the dangers of cynicism.

There was a lot of love in the room, and it was felt across the wide spectrum of humanity in the audience that night, from the aging hippies and the olde punks to the indie kids and the young marrieds. It felt like community, and everybody sang along."


5. David Byrne
Jack Singer Concert Hall (February)

- way up in the nosebleeds at Jack Singer, and it was still a mind-blowing experience -

"David Byrne is still inventive, still relevant, still has incredible pipes, and I would hazard to guess that he is still the man whom many heterosexual men crush on.

Although visually David Byrne could easily have passed as a cult leader, dressed all in white as he was and with that commanding presence of his, he was anything but autocratic during the performance. Often, he would blend in with the dancers or the singers and mimic their movements, or fade to the background of the stage while the dancers took over centre stage.

The audience was dancing gleefully in the aisles during the entire second half of the performance and joyfully clapping along with all their favourite Talking Heads numbers. I'm pretty certain that if David Byrne had offered up kool-aid and a chance to ascend to the mother ship, at least 75% of the audience would have taken a drink."


4. Akron/Family
Calgary Folk Music Festival @ Prince's Island Park (July)

- I did not see this coming, this sublime communal experience -

"I have never before experienced such a melting of the boundary between band and audience as I did at that Akron/Family set. The audience was completely engaged in the music, undulating as a single entity to the pounding drums and the droning rhythms. But it wasn't simply a matter of the audience responding to the music, it was an actual synergy among all the elements at play. In a truly organic moment during an long extended drone, a complex clap arose from the audience and grew into an integral part of the song itself, such that the music from the stage ultimately morphed into an entirely new form to encompass the music that the audience was making.

In a final rock star encounter, I was able to gush to Miles Seaton ofAkron/Family for a little while about the jawdropping experience of their Twilight stage concert and engage him in a little debate about the nature of the audience/musician boundary and what a sublime experience it is for musician and listener alike when that boundary gets broken down. Somehow, just knowing that these rare and shining moments are just as precious to the people who make the music as they are to those who receive it, felt like it would be enough to sustain me until next year's escape to the Island."

3. Holy Fuck
Sled Island Festival @ the Warehouse (June)

- the most high energy (musical) performance I have ever seen at 2:30AM -

"Holy Fuck is one of the most appropriately named bands I can think of. Their high energy electronic show is so exciting to watch, the way they leap around and attack the sound boards like they were a combination of an enemy to be vanquished and a tv dinner to be devoured, is utterly incredible. By this time, of course, I was standing/dancing on the little corner table of the booth, as the Warehouse was packed and hopping. I have never seen a band engage an audience so
entirely. I think maybe five people didn't dance. The rest moved as one entity, including yours truly, doing her patented white girl shuffle on the table top.

Of course we didn't want to let them leave. But another nice thing about Holy Fuck, is that they have the perfect name to chant out, punctuated by hand claps, when you want an encore. Ho-ly Fuck! Ho-ly Fuck! You get the idea."


2. Elliott Brood/the Wooden Sky
Dicken's Pub (October)

- Not only is Elliott Brood my perennial favourite concert band, we were lucky enough to attend with a great BLIP friend. It was some party -

"Conventional wisdom suggests that Sunday night might not be the optimal time to hold a barn burner of a concert, but conventional wisdom obviously does not know Elliott Brood. The crowd that packed Dicken's Pub, threatening to seriously strain the integrity of the basement bar's foundations, did not care that they had a work week to start the next morning. Like every Elliott Brood audience I have ever been part of, they knew that the band was going to deliver a high calibre, highly interactive, joyous experience, and if it meant chafed hands and raw throats the next morning, well that's just the price that you pay when you get sucked into the exuberant vortex of this band.

The Wooden Sky opened the evening with a drop-dead gorgeous set of haunting and raw alt-country songs. Alternating between heart-wrenching ballads that morph into singalongs and gritty roots numbers steeped in experimental sound, they played a set that was at once haunting and raucous. It made me very glad that I was being true that evening to my life's motto of always buy the cd.

And once again we readily believed every word when Mark, Casey, and Stephen told us that we kicked Edmonton's ass."


1. the Decemberists
Calgary Folk Music Festival @ Prince's Island Park (July)

- it's hard to pick the ultimate concert, of course, but finally crossing the Decemberists off my list of bands I must see before I die, being swept away by Colin's infinite charm, and experiencing a full blown rock opera under the stars - it created the perfect storm -

"The Decemberists silently took their positions and we heard the first organ notes of the prelude to their new album, The Hazards of Love. They played it in its entirety, the way it is meant to be played. And they played it without song breaks, but with costumes and lighting and plenty of drama. It was glorious, it was a spectacle, it was an honest to god rock opera! And it was the Decemberists!

Naturally, we all went nuts at the conclusion of the performance, and, as hoped, the Decemberists came back for an encore of Sons and Daughters which was an inspired choice for a folk festival, being a singalong round, as it is. Of course, before launching into the song, Colin Meloy absolutely charmed the hell out of each and every one of us with his little tale of flying from Calgary to Dusseldorf on a $200 flight while attempting to get from Montana to Paris for an ill-fated romantic encounter.

Upon Colin's instructions to "the denizens of this island", we all sang loudly and lustily and long to the final chorus, with Colin conducting, in addition to jumping up and down and shredding and finally ending with a dramatic rock star leap off the speaker. My mind was suitably blown.

Then with
hear all the bombs, they fade away still echoing in our ears and pounding in our chests, as our new best friend Colin promised they would if we sang loudly enough, we shuffled en masse off the island of which we had all been denizens of Decemberists' mythology."

Did you see any stand-out performances this year?

Friday, December 25, 2009

the more things stay the same, the more they change

Merry Christmoose to all of you. I hope that you are finding joy in the company of family and friends during these darkest days of winter.

I am currently coasting on my breakfast of shortbread and oatmeal cookies, cherries and oranges, coffee and Bailey's, and some leftover wild Polish mushroom soup from last night. But the escalating turkey aroma is starting to drive me a little nuts, so I have decided I need to wrestle some nutrition from this big glass of red wine.

I've been looking through the Christmas cards that came in the post this month. I was particularly impressed to see three handmade cards amongst them. The craftsmanship is so beautiful and they fill me with a desire to make my own cards, but I am afraid of crossing over that line into over-achiever (or perhaps simply over-attempter) territory.

Another card that I particularly cherish is the one pictured above, from my German aunt. I love the old world feel of these German Christmas pictures. They put me in mind of the advent calendar like the one we had when I was growing up, for which I have been searching unsuccessfully for about ten years now. My aunt is the last relative left to whom I write Christmas cards in German and she, bless her soul, always writes back in English.

While Christmas tends to bring out the traditionalist in me, there is one tradition which I have failed miserably to fulfill this year. And it's a big one - leaving out the milk and shortbread cookie for Santa. I guess we stayed up too late watching crappy tv last night or something, but somehow I forgot to set out the offering before heading off to visions of sugar plums.

Santa still filled the Resident Offspring's stocking, but he made it abundantly clear in the note he left on the mantle that he was pissed. I'm just glad he didn't come up to our bedrooms and break our kneecaps.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

oh tidings of butter and joy

The most sacred ritual of the high holy days was performed at the Zombie household yesterday - that of The Baking of the Subversive Shortbread.

Iggy Pop showed up:

So did Jim Reid, circa 1985:

Danny Devito was there too, reprising his role in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia:

The day was not without its tense moments. Such as the emergency surgery that had to be performed on Thom Yorke, to extricate his head from the trap that the previously untested Gel icing tube inflicted upon him:

I was sure we were going to lose Thom, but the Resident Offspring's steady hand and first responder training paid off and our favourite little elf was eventually freed and airlifted to safety:

Where he spent a considerable amount of time in recovery:

But alas, our attempts to save Lady Gaga were in vain. Not even the eye patch could reverse the devastating effects of the inadvertent Jayne Mansfield re-enactment. (spoiler - we rebuilt her because we have the technology):

The celebrity lineup, clockwise from top left - Jim the mass vaccination clinic ninja who choreographed the photoshoot, Jim Reid rocking the JAMC hair, Iggy Pop who once again forgot to pack a shirt, an anatomically correct Dr. Manhattan, Danny Devito complete with body modification, Lady Gaga 2.0 this time sporting sunglasses which are much safer for driving than that eye patch, and Thom Yorke fully recovered with his beard looking only a trifle more grizzled:

And oh yes, there certainly were zombies:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

a tale of two clinics

When the Spousal Unit and I toddled down to the mass vaccination clinic a couple of weeks ago, we breezed into the registration area, sat down on one of the many empty chairs to fill in the forms, received our numbers and were immediately called over to the clinic across the roadway, where we had to wait behind three other people to receive our flu vaccinations. Factor in the fifteen minute recovery time and we were in and out of there in just over half an hour.

And then the perfect storm struck.

With flagging demand, a couple of clinics were closed and the one near us became slotted to close after tomorrow. Two more people died of H1N1 in the city, including a previously healthy teenager. A flood of university students, who had been unable to receive vaccinations at school, returned home for Christmas.

And like me, many of us dragged our students down to the clinics yesterday to ensure our offspring received protection from the anticipated third wave. Where we were met with a snaking queue of humanity, shivering in the lightly falling snow. It took a half hour to get inside the registration building, but the only person complaining was the grumpy woman behind us who later budged us in line (but never fear, we budged her back).

Once inside the registration area, I saw that the rows of empty chairs that the Spousal Unit and I had been greeted with two weeks earlier, had been replaced by rows of shuffling people. I could see we were in for a bit of a wait.

But then, in swooped Jim, the mass vaccination clinic Ninja. Suitably attired in a long black wool trenchcoat with a walkie-talkie attached to his shoulder, he turned those slowly shuffling lines into briskly moving model of efficiency. And he did it all with such panache, encouraging people to "keep moving right along as you fill out that form, there are two lines, I would recommend that you get into the shorter line here." And then there would be
an expansive sweep of the arm as he ushered people into place.

He was never still, although I am still not sure how he managed to work his way around that crowded room. Every time we looked, he was carrying another box of clipboards high above his head, setting up another reception table, moving ropes to create a smoother flowing queue, plucking elderly or disabled people out of line and personally escorting them over to the clinic proper. He was part maitre de, part choreographer, part military strategist, and one hundred percent awesome Ninja.

And after we had been in the registration building for half an hour, when he announced that it would be another hour and a half to two hours before we would be called over for our vaccinations, and he strongly recommended that those of us who had already received numbers go for coffee or lunch and come back later, at which time we would be able to go directly to the vaccination area, we took his advice and we went shopping.

And when we returned two hours later, it was just like Jim said it would be. Not that we expected any less. I am sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that Jim the mass vaccination Ninja now figures prominently in our games of Who Would Win In a Fight. Because Ninjas almost always win.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

so I'll just lay here and chew

I refrained from putting Bailey's in my coffee this morning, but only because I overindulged on the desserts last night. Because technically I could put Bailey's in my coffee without repercussions if I wanted, as the season has officially begun.

The OFKAR arrived home safely last night (bearing tales of other travelling students planning to sleep in the Montreal airport last night because they couldn't get home to New York, poor things). The presents are all wrapped and under the tree, and the cat is getting increasingly annoyed that the best sleeping spots under the warmest tree lights are diminishing. It's sort of a feline version of the shrinking of the icebergs, and she is getting justifiably concerned.

The seal has now been broken on the gluttonous season, and a few batches of cookies have already been tinned up. The high holy day of cookie baking - the annual Subversive Shortbread Showdown - is planned for later this afternoon. So expect some photos of decapitated Santas, anatomically correct snowmen, and perhaps an Iggy Pop or two in the coming days. Despite the fact that in real life Mr Pop looks like he has never eaten a cookie in his entire life.

The Zombies have even been to a couple of lovely parties in the last two evenings. I am not sure what's wrong with us, but we are feeling distinctly non-curmudgeonly this winter. There is even talk of attending a New Year's Eve p
arty, for the first time since we all Y2K'd our way into a decade of hiding in our basements.

It's not our fault, this unaccustomed need to socialize so extensively. I totally blame the Urban Blonde for hosting that swank yet cozy gathering on Friday night, and I am still shaking my head at Stan and Dorian for the amazing blowout birthday/Christmas bash last night. I have not seen so many people crammed into one house since my university days, but back then we were lucky if we were served a bag of Old Dutch salt and vinegar chips at those blowouts. University me would have broken down and wept with joy at the sight of all those groaning tables piled high with food that was not even from M&Ms.

So for those who requested photographic evidence of the new haircut, the pictures in this post are me prior to gaining 25 pounds this Christmas.

Oh look, it just started to snow lightly. May be time for some Bailey's after all.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

timing is everything

The best time to muse aloud that some day you really should change your hairstyle, is probably NOT just as your hairdresser is picking up her scissors to give you a trim.

Or you may end up with really short hair.

Just saying.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

so I always write you letters in multi-colour

I get a little sentimental around Christmas, I admit. Normally I pride myself on being a hard-nosed pragmatist, but at Christmas I tend to indulge in nostalgia and I get swept up in the trappings of tradition. Maybe because it's a time of list making and reflecting on the past, maybe it's simply that I have more time to reflect, as I hole up against the elements.

I like to end each evening, sitting quietly in the dark for a moment before bed, with whatever creature happens to still be stirring in the house, and let myself get lost in the lights on the tree. I'm not sure if you can even call it reflection that I indulge in, probably looking without blinking would be a more apt description, but it's a tradition that I find comforting and calming and one that I intend to keep.

I also send Christmas cards. And yes, I send the annual brag letter to people with whom I haven't been in close contact throughout the year. I realise this is turning me into somewhat of an anomaly, increasingly so each year, but I really do enjoy the process. I admit I get a little overwhelmed by the stacks and stacks of cards spilling off the dining room table and by the realization that I am only up to the Gs in the address book, and holy crap I don't have quite enough stamps so I am going to have to stand in line at the post office again. But it is worth it to me, in order to maintain contact with people.

It's sort of like the anti-Facebook.

A large number of people on my Christmas card list are elderly. Some of them are parents of friends, some are former neighbours, some are relatives, and some are old friends of my parents whom I started writing to on their behalf and whom I continue to write to now that they are gone. These elderly people are the ones who ultimately keep me writing Christmas cards. They are never going to be on Facebook, and sadly, there are fewer and fewer of them each year. I like to think that they enjoy being remembered, even if it does mean they have to read my big braggy letter each year.

Of course I always fear getting their cards returned to me, or getting a card from their son or daughter a few weeks later, letting me know that their parent is no longer with us. I hate the act of crossing their name out of my address book and I try to do it with as much respect as I can.

Today I received a card from a former neighbour, now well into his eighties, with whom we always exchange Christmas messages. He doesn't mention his dog any longer and I don't want to ask, but just knowing that he is still around and still in his own home makes me grateful. And I know that he enjoys our correspondences as well, as he makes mention of rereading last year's letter from us and commenting on things that I said a year ago. You know it must mean something to someone if they keep your letter for a year.

And that is why, despite the fact that sending Christmas cards is falling into disfavour, for being archaic and environmentally unsound and costly and time-consuming when there are faster, cheaper, easier options, I will always send Christmas cards. Until they have to pry the pen from my cold, dead fingers.

Do you have any traditions that you refuse to give up, despite all odds?
What keeps you doing the same thing year in and year out?

Monday, December 14, 2009

stocking the pot

It's not quite time to serve them up yet, but like any self-respecting list junkie, I have got the list ingredients thrown into the big stock pot, and they are now simmering quietly on the back of the stove. In a week or two, they should be perfectly stewed and the cream will rise to the top.

But it's hard to wait. And just like those cookies that are supposedly being saved for the big feast, nobody will notice if there are a couple missing.

So here then is a little practice list, a little warm up for the high holy days of list-making.

Things That Make Me Smile:
- straight lines - graph paper, plaid, grid roads, argyle, perfectly hung pictures
- those thick wooly socks that you only dig out of the sock drawer on really cold days, socks that are so thick that they won't fit inside your boots but that's okay because you're not going anywhere anyway
- that one present under the tree that has the recipient totally perplexed and you know they will never guess what it is, not in a million years
- a big pile of books beside the bed, waiting to be read, and a week of Christmas slothfulness in which to read them

Speaking of books, over at the Bookworm Collective, I have just reviewed a book that I read on the plane. It's quick, it's full of pop culture references, and it fits in your purse. I invite you to have a glance.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

my winter

has been largely black and white
with shades of grey
washes of midnight blue
and a splash of purple