Tuesday, June 29, 2010

splendid butterflies

I've been hanging out at my favourite vintage movie house lately, absorbing a few offerings from Sled Island festival's film segment.

The Plaza Theatre in Kensington has a long history of being an integral part of film and literary festivals and it is perfectly suited to do so. It's a cornerstone of this vibrant urban neighbourhood. It's retro, it's slightly seedy in a much loved way, it has no cupholders but it does have a stage and a sweeping red curtain, and it serves popcorn in buckets.

On Saturday we took in The Parking Lot Movie. You would think that a documentary about the parking lot attendants at one iconic lot in Charlottesville, Virginia would not exactly be fraught with dramatic potential, but that's where you would be mistaken. When the parking lot is located in a section of downtown filled with bars frequented by university students, there is bound to be significant drama.

The attendants at this lot are a seemingly ragged band of misfits, but in reality they are philosophers and intellectuals, artists and musicians. Working in this parking lot is a highly covetted gig; it's a select club whose membership you can only gain by being brought into the fraternity (and the parking lot attendants are all male) by existing members.

Between customizing the vast selection of frequently-broken wooden entrance gates with cryptic or iconic slogans, cleaning up the vomit of drunken frat boys, and arguing with people who try to skip out on their $4.00 payment, the parking lot attendants essentially spend the remainder of their time on duty sitting and thinking. They make collages out of religious pamphlets, invent traffic cone games, and speculate on class struggle, entitlement, and the human condition.

Eventually, these parking lot philosophers burn out and move on. But from their positions as university professors, musicians, baristas, and writers, they reflect on their years at the parking lot with a mix of fondness and bemusement, tempered with some residual resentment at the idiots who pissed them off. Way more entertaining than it should be.

Last night we watched the film that I was most excited to see - Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields. If you are a Magnetic Fields fan, then you need to see this. If you have no idea who the Magnetic Fields are, then you need to see this.

One of the directors was in attendance at the screening and she explained why the documentary was 10 years in the making. And it wasn't entirely because Stephin Merritt is such a taciturn and difficult interview. Although he is that.

Merritt has been called the Cole Porter of his generation, for his theatrical sensibilities and his ability to pen the most perfect songs, songs that are an irresistible blend of art pop musical and bubble gum folk, songs that are always too short. The film is almost as much about bandmate Claudia Gonson, a close friend of Merritt's since high school, and an equally fascinating personality in her own right. In addition to contributing piano, vocals, and percussion, Gonson manages the band, gets into daily passionate arguments with Merritt and functions as his self-described "fag-hag".

Merritt writes most of his songs, sitting for hours at a time in a darkened gay bar. He is a perfectionist who prefers to micro-manage the music at the studio level. Part of this can be attributed to hyperacusis, a condition with which he is afflicted that causes painful feedback in the ears when sound rises above a certain volume. Live shows are understandably a rare occurrence with the Magnetic Fields, because of Merritt's condition, but also because he prefers the control that a studio affords him.

Stephin Merritt is incredibly ambitious in his musical vision. He originally envisioned The Magnetic Fields' most noted album, 69 Love Songs, as 100 love songs. The more subversive smaller number is infinitely more suitable. Subversion, gender-bending, and perfect pop melodies are what defines the music of Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields. I can't wait to see what happens when he tackles his next ambitious project - 100 musicals. I hope they film that.

For sitting through two lengthy reviews, I will reward you with one of my favourite Magnetic Fields' songs. Naturally, it is far too short:

Friday, June 25, 2010

hey been trying to meet you

Friday? I'm not quite sure how we got here. It's not like I've even been all that busy.

Sure my official photographer and I went to the media reception for the launch of the Fashion Central rooftop patio and rubbed elbows with some beautiful people at the Giddy-Up Fashion Show (details and pics forthcoming), I got blisters from walking a gajillion city blocks in dancing shoes, my esthetician tried to give me chola brows, and the "p" key got stuck on my keyboard which causes it to start madly pppp-ing all over the place. Other than that, it was a normal week.

I certainly have no excuses for the lack of posts. I didn't even go to the Black Mountain concert at the Republik last night. Yeah, I'm shaking my head sadly at myself, too.

I did watch some films though:

Smart, incredibly naturally and well-acted, awkwardly funny, sort of sweet, and thought-provoking buddy film about two long-time friends who decide to make a porn together. For the sake of art, of course.
~ five thumbs up!

Decent science thriller, with some imaginative CG work, but not Sarah Polley's best work, and we called every single plot twist before it happened.
~ one bag of buttered popcorn and some M&Ms.

Kathleen Turner acting out my deepest mom fantasies. I can't believe I have never seen this John Waters film before.
~ recommended viewing for anyone contemplating bearing children.

For the first half hour I swore this was based on a short story I had just read, but then the Catholic church got involved, and amongst the evil priests, tortured writers, well-meaning psychologists, and rampant blood-letting, it got pretty crazy.
~ one eye on the action, one eye on the subtitles, one eye on your back

With the film segment of Sled Island Festival now underway, there are a couple more popcorn quaffing opportunities coming up. Both the films that we are planning to see are at the Plaza, my all-time favourite old-timey movie house. The Parking Lot Movie tomorrow, and Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields on Monday.

Popcorn is fast becoming a staple around here,and you don't see me complaining.

Monday, June 21, 2010

this is me with

For a while now I have been threatening to go beyond merely clobbering you with the written word, and to actually subject you to a video blog. But while I am far too lazy busy to figure out exactly how to do that, I do have some video footage that my friend Rick captured at the Olenka and the Autumn Lovers house concert held at Casa del Zombie last month.

Here's me, being all hostessy and emceeish. You are warned.

Followed by me shamelessly harrasing people for money. Cause that's how I roll.

Nobody rides for free.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

fifteen smiles, oh yes

My dad was an old school type of father. He wasn't the type to spend time much chilling with the kids, and, although he was a pretty strict disciplinarian, he didn't concern himself all that much with our social lives, as long as we stayed out of trouble and made it home on time.

I'm not faulting him for this. He was both a product of his time and a very private person. But since I was the youngest kid in the family, I suspect that I barely existed for him.

This suspicion was confirmed one night when I was in junior high school. I was at a dance at the school that I had been attending for the past seven years. This was in the olden days, when dances were called sock hops (on account of you had to take your shoes off before entering the gym in which they were held) and when pop was sold in cans that had fully removable pop tops sporting razor sharp edges. Naturally, I stepped on one of these discarded pop can shrapnels, cutting the bottom of my foot to rat-shit.

The vice-principal, who was chaperoning the dance, followed the trail of bloody footprints to the bathroom where I was attempting to staunch the flow of blood and escorted me to the office, where I phoned home to ask if my dad could come pick me up. He sat there with me in the office while we waited for my dad to arrive.

And waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally, the vice-principal must have tired of having me bleed all over his office, or perhaps he genuinely felt sorry for me, and he drove me home himself.

I hobbled into the house, where my mom was waiting with the cure-all bottle of Detol and the box of band-aids, mere minutes before my dad's Volkswagon pulled into the driveway and my dad stormed into the house. He took one look at me sitting there, and with a scowl on his face, demanded to know where the hell I had been, because he had been sitting outside the school waiting for me for half an hour.

The only problem was he had gone to the high school instead. No wonder he was pissed off! I always felt like I won that round, since it was evident that my dad didn't even know what school I attended. To this day that story remains one of my favourite cautionary tales and, ironically, one of my favourite memories of my dad.

I hope that all you procreating males had yourselves a fabulous Fathers' Day, and that all the surprises you received from your offspring were welcome ones.

Friday, June 18, 2010

untethered and without a reason

The Spousal Unit was driving home through Saskatchewan when I heard the news that the Trans-Canada Highway was closed at the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, due to flooding. I was able to get a warning to him just before he reached Swift Current, and to tell him the bad news that people were being detoured up to Kindersley (a 5 or 6 hour round trip jaunt) to avoid the widespread water.

I advised him to stop at the RCMP station in Swift Current, but he was able to get some good advice from the gas station attendants in Swift Current, who seemed to be functioning as Emergency Measures guardian angels - phoning ahead to Maple Creek (where the closure began) for road information, giving travel advisories to motorists, helping people stock up on supplies, and advising them to turn around and come back if conditions deteriorated on the detour routes that they were advising them to take.

The Spousal Unit then set off on secondary roads, part of a little convoy that must have seemed somewhat reminiscent of the Donner party, only with SUVs replacing wagons and the bald-ass prairie standing in for the Sierra Nevada mountains.

A few hours after he passed through Maple Creek, that town flooded. We then heard that the Trans-Canada Highway had been closed down on the Alberta side, from Medicine Hat to the Saskatchewan border. With the highway covered by five feet of water, the town of Irvine, just outside of Medicine Hat, was evacuated.

Somebody sure dodged a bullet on that commute.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

creative flux: IGNITE! festival

I have been meaning to take in IGNITE!, which is Sage Theatre's festival of emerging artists, for years now. But somehow those three days in June always seem to fill up in nanoseconds and the opportunity passes me by yet again. So when the RO and I were offered the chance to volunteer at the 6th annual IGNITE! festival, we said hell yeah.

In exchange for ripping tickets during three performances, we got a tee-shirt, an invitation to a wine and cheese opener and final night after-party, and most importantly, the chance to see some of the performances. What a deal.

Although we had previous commitments preventing us from coming back to see plays on other nights, we were able to watch two sold-out dramatic performances and the first installment of the music series on opening night.

I was really taken with the first play, Destroy. Two best friends, disenchanted with their lives in Calgary, take a road trip, looking for adventure and their true home. With their destination unknown, they let themselves be guided by their whims and their dwindling pocketbooks.

WIth a minimum of props being used with maximum ingenuity, Destroy relied upon solid writing, brought to life by believably natural performances. The narrator, Simon, and the instigator/driver, Tom, encounter hostile border guards, Mexican shop owners, and willing women, all of whom are portrayed with disturbing authority by the backing musicians.

The second play of the evening, Waiting on the Thunder, was less successful. The story of an increasingly brutal encounter between a self-described soccer mom and her ex-boyfriend didn't really work for me. The acting, perhaps the result of too much scenery-chewing, felt very acted to me. And I had a difficult time suspending my disbelief during the flip-flopping of intentions between the two characters.

The two musicians we heard during the evening's Music Series could not have been more different from one another.

Chris Beaudry opened with an acoustic set of highly personal songs. Although obviously heartfelt, the original songs did all start to sound very much the same after a while, and I felt that the 30 minute set would have benefitted from some variation in his song choices. He did have a strongly enthusiastic following in attendance, though, which was very nice and made me feel less badly about drifting off into my own thoughts during his set.

I did enjoy the originality of Lindsay Brandon's set. A one woman performer who goes by the moniker Information Agent, she played short quirky songs accompanied by arty visuals projected against the brick walls of the room. Using looping instrumentals which she produced from equipment set up on a vintage ironing board, she accompanied her quite lovely voice with building looping harmonies. I'm not entirely sure how Information Agent's music would translate into digital form, but with the accompanying visuals, it was quite compelling.

I wish I had not waited so many years to finally take in Sage Theatre's IGNITE! festival, because obviously I have been missing some exciting new work coming from emerging artists. Some of it was more successful than the rest, granted, but it's always exciting to see fresh new work.

Creativity obviously abounds.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

reality, biting hard

I'm worried about my friend Charlie, who is fighting for his life in hospital. Please send him any and all healing mojo you can muster.

The world needs more people like Charlie.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

fully clothed and painless: David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries

As the participants of yesterday's World Naked Bike Ride Day spend today administering first aid to their chafed bits, I felt it was only fitting that I share my thoughts on a book about cycling that I finished reading recently. I received this book a few months ago from a dear friend who has a gift (or perhaps just the inclination backed by hard work) for precisely matching his gifts to the recipient. No generic gift cards from him. He has an unerring ability to find that perfect book, one that precisely suits the interests and the personality of the person who receives it, certainly, but also one that simultaneously reflects aspects of his own personality.

He's batting a thousand with Bicycle Diaries.

Bicycle Diaries is part travelogue, part essay, part philosophical musings on the nature of globalization, transportation, sustainability, city planning, architecture, music, art, and humanity. The sorts of musings, in other words, that one should not be surprised to encounter coming from the immensely talented former Talking Head, artist, and all-round awesome celebrity with brains and heart, David Byrne.

David Byrne has been riding his bike around New York city for almost thirty years. He found it to be such a convenient and sensible mode of transportation at home, that he then began taking a collapsible bicycle with him on tour around the world. In Bicycle Diaries he shares his insights into the cities that he has experienced from a bike seat.

Bicycle Diaries has a very wide focus. In each city about which he writes, Byrne critiques the transportation infrastructure for its attitude toward cycling. It should come as no particular surprise that most American cities fall far behind European and Asian counterparts in terms of accommodating the bicycle. American cities are by and large designed for the automobile. But it was somewhat surprising to learn that a large metropolis like New York is actually making great strides to embrace cycling culture and is far safer in that regard than many mid-sized American cities. Istanbul, Manila, and Buenos Aires, on the other hand, are very challenging for cyclists.

While the central theme of Bicycle Diaries is that of getting around the world's cities on two wheels, that idea is really just a jumping off point for Byrne's observations on culture and for his stories on encounters in the art and music communities that he has had in his travels. I certainly expected this book to be intelligently written, given the reputation of the author, but I admit I was surprised by the esoteric nature of the topics that Byrne touches upon. I enjoyed the book almost as much for its insight into the mind of David Byrne as I did for the highly credible job that he does in imparting fascinating aspects of the history, geography and politics of some of the world's most intriguing cities.

This book is written with a great deal of insight and ingenuity, sprinkled with large portions of humanity and humour. Because the book is comprised of relatively short chapters, further broken down into sub-sections, it is the sort of book that is perfect for reading in short snippets. Chances are you will want to put it down frequently to muse over some of the concepts and questions that are raised in the chapter you just finished anyway.

It really is no surprise that David Byrne has become an elder statesman of sorts amongst the arts, music and civic communities. His insightful and thought-provoking writing in Bicycle Diaries proves that he is more than just another incredible musician with awesome hair who is aging exceedingly gracefully. David Byrne is actually one of our generation's thinkers.

He is definitely on my fantasy dinner party list.

Friday, June 11, 2010

the measure of a cat is not where she stands in moments of comfort and convenience

With apologies to Dr. King Jr, I was so pleased today when the Canadian Tire clerk appreciated my times of challenge and controversy. She totally understood my situation when I told her I was looking for a litter box for a really long cat.

Did you know that they don't make litter boxes in Extra Long?

But I'm hoping that the new 56L tub will provide ample room for kitteh business, without necessitating peeing over the side.

Because that's getting pretty old pretty fast.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

came out magical, out from blown speakers

The Mountain Goats / The New Pornographers
MacEwan Hall
June 7/10

There was no opening band.

Okay technically the Mountain Goats opened for the New Pornographers, but if you know the Mountain Goats you immediately realize how ridiculous that concept is. Both bands are undisputed headliners, both have seriously devoted followers. It was a lineup that made for a high-spirited evening that came roaring out of the starting blocks.

I generally don't like Mac Hall all that much; it's acoustically challenged and one generally spends most of the night trying to peer past the eight-foot tall guys who keep wandering back and forth. But probably one of the most annoying things about the venue is that the doors tend to open well over an hour before the first band ever takes to the stage, where they play a short set, and then you wait for over an hour again till the next band takes the stage. It's a strategy to get bums into the beer garden, I guess. Which exacerbates the issue of the wandering eight-foot guys, who have a tendency to drink until the headliner starts, at which point they pour their eight-foot selves out of the beer garden en mass.

But on Monday night, I was pleased to see that the floor was inordinately full even while the stage was still dark and empty. Which is as it should be, because anybody who stayed in the beer garden while the Mountain Goats played is an idiot.

I forget which song the Mountain Goats opened with, but it was a furiously spirited number that belied the image that the fresh-faced trio in nice suits and ties presented. He looks like he's going to a job interview, was Jeff's observation. I was Goats smitten.

Through a 45 minute set, which featured a solo mini-set by John Darnielle sandwiched between rollicking offerings from the full band, the Mountain Goats put forth and received back a whole lot of love from a highly appreciative audience. Thank you for coming to Calgary! was the heartfelt shout from one audience member, that I think we all silently echoed. It was a set filled with furious guitar riffs, heartfelt acoustic poems, and slightly awkward but oh so sweet between song ramblings.

I'm so glad that I picked up their 2004 We Shall All be Healed album at the concert, because I have been listening to it non-stop ever since.

For the New Pornographers' set, Susan and Jeff moved away from our established territory at side of the hall by the gates to vie for a more optimal spot in the centre of the floor. The Spousal Unit and I opted for the comfort of a wall to lean against and a great sightline of most of the stage, with limited opportunity for the gaggle of eight-footers to move in.

What can I say about a New Pornographers show that I haven't
already said many times before? They always put on a strong show, and when they have the full band in attendance as they did on Monday night (only the second time I have seen the full lineup), they are a force of nature. Because of course nobody can perform a Dan Bejar song like Dan Bejar (is that guy ever sober?) and nobody puts the power in power-pop like Neko Case and her huge pipes.

My only real beef was with the muddiness of the sound, which I think was due to the fact that we were sort of tucked in behind one bank of speakers. This wasn't an issue during the Mountain Goats set, but the New Pornos are such a huge band that they are going to challenge the integrity of any speaker placement.

The New Pornographers' set, although musically strong, often felt a little disorganized, with false starts, forgotten lyrics, and a fair bit of meandering about stage. But Calgary was the first stop on their North American tour, so maybe they were still shaking the bugs out.

Sing Me Spanish Techno was a great choice with which to open the set, and throughout the night the New Pornos interspersed selections from their new album with lots of fan favourites. I was really pleased that they performed Adventures in Solitude - one of my favourites, as well as crowd pleasers like Bleeding Heart Show, Myriad Harbour, and Slow Descent into Alcoholism.

It was a fun set. A spirited debate sprang up amongst the band following the "you are all hot!" shout-out from someone in the crowd, which morphed into accusations that there were photos of Kurt Dahle sporting a mullet in his mom's basement. At one point, Dan Bejar handed Carl Newman a bottle of beer, which he eyed suspiciously, speculated as to whether it was in fact Dan's urine, noted that there was no blood in it, and with a shrug, drank it.

And if that wasn't enough, they ended the night with Mass Romantic.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

it's over there

In amongst the hail and the wind and the sun and the thunderstorms (aka a typical Calgary day), the climate is a little interviewy around here these days.

Over at New Canadian Modern, you can read In a Glass House with a Flame Thrower, featuring a Calgary jewelry designer who makes imaginative glass beads. The article is the latest blurb in my little mini-series, People Who Do Stuff, and it features lots of pretty pictures to lift your Tuesday doldrums.

Later today, I will be interviewing some kids in grade 2 about learning to read. We'll see if my Barbie Cub Reporter digital recorder can handle the musings of a gaggle of 8-year-olds.

Tomorrow, in a slightly surreal case of the hunter becoming the hunted, I am going to be on the other side of the mic. The Calgary Journal is interviewing me for my perspective on Calgary folk festival workshops. We all know I can wax ineloquent for hours on that subject, so I pity the foo who drew the short straw and now has to talk to me. I will likely just keep rambling until a click and a dial-tone lets me know that the interview is over.

Still to come:
- a book review on David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries
- a concert review on the Mountain Goats/New Pornographers show at Mac Hall last night.

What's the best thing you have read or heard or seen lately?

Saturday, June 05, 2010

if you have five seconds to spare

Perfect jewel-box houses were visited. Story pitches were accepted. Offspring found short-term employment. Cars collided in parking lots. Computers were removed and returned. Interviews with second-graders were arranged. Kitties settled into families and indulged in joyous bursts of run.

It's been a crazy couple of days.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

dance, dance, dance this mess around

I shoulda just paid the fifty bucks or whatever and brought the desk top in to be reconfigured for the new router. I really should know by now that when it comes to the battle of will and brains between the computer and me, one of us will always end up in tears. I have learned something this week, though - to take it with a grain of salt when a computer tech guy tells you that it's not all that hard to do yourself.

Because it may not be all that hard for him, but I am an idiot, and I will keep trying to fix something until I succeed in fucking it up irreparably.