Sunday, October 30, 2011

the historical conquests of Henry Bright

Bright's Passage - Josh Ritter

"What was it like?" I asked the friend who passed along his copy of this book to me. "It was what I expected," was his reply. "Josh Ritter writes novels the same way he writes songs."

Knowing that we are both big fans of Josh Ritter's intelligent and narrative lyrics, I took that to be a complimentary review.

Bright's Passage, the debut novel by the gifted American songwriter does indeed read very lyrically. Sprinkled with moments of perfect poetry and seeped in mythology and magic realism, it does feel at times as though you are reading a signature Ritter ballad.

The tale of Henry Bright, who returns to West Virginia from the horrors of the trenches of World War I, is at times parable, at times historical fantasy. When he liberates an angel from a scene painted on the ceiling of a bombed out cathedral in France, Henry unknowingly transports the angel with him from the battlefields to his lonely home in Appalachia, where it is encapsulated in the body of his horse. The horse/angel instructs Henry to kidnap his childhood friend, and after she dies in childbirth, to burn down his home (igniting wild fires that spread across the state) and flee with his infant son from his vengeful father-in-law.

The tale of their flight is interspersed with flashbacks to the war in France. The flashbacks, filled with brutality and wonder, are particularly powerful, written with a real sense of humanity tempered by self-preservation in the face of insanity.

I had some issues with the voice of Henry Bright, especially when he converses with the angel/horse; at times his words felt contrived, did not ring particularly true. But I suppose if I were talking with a horse/angel, I might sound a little less than real too. Ritter's beautifully poetic sense of language, his lyrical sensibilities, his perfect feel for detail, more than negate these issues.

Bright's Passage is a compelling read, an impressive first novel by a gifted storyteller. Not all questions are answered by the novel's end, but whether this is a function of the often perplexing nature of a tale encompassing magic realism, or whether this indicates that there is another story yet to come about Henry Bright and his quest, is another question that also remains, for the time being at least, unanswered.

Friday, October 28, 2011

the waters around you have grown

There are going to be some changes around here.

I'm going to be spending a lot more time downtown, if not physically, then certainly intellectually. Downtown YYC, these days, is where my creative bread is being buttered. I'm embarking on some new blogging gigs, about which I am utterly chuffed, and I will be posting links here as those posts go live. I would love to have you come visit me on these new sites.

Here are my new hoods:

Music Matters, where I will be volunteer blogging for Cantos Music/National Music Centre. My first post is about the Famous Five. Sort of.

East Village Experience, where I will be covering events and getting swept up in the growing excitement of the newly reborn East Village., where I am the newly minted music contributor for the Calgary Downtown Association.

But fear not, faithful readers, remains. I will continue to obsess and ruminate here (or simply let loose my brain farts) for as long as I am annoyed, entertained, mesmerized, puzzled, and
inspired by this great big crazy world. You can't get rid of this little zombie all that easily!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

what they said: quips from Communique 2011

You know what it's like. You get a bunch of friends in a room, add a couple of bottles of wine, and sooner or later somebody is going to say something weird. Sometimes you don't even need the room or the wine.

Continuing with the grand olde tradition established at last year's beta version of Communique, we made sure we had a note pad and pen prominently displayed at all our Communique gatherings this year. For note-keeping. Because sooner or later, somebody is going to unload.

Here are some quips that were quipped. See if you can guess who said some of them.


So I'm sitting there, with this man between my legs...

I only do Indian if I'm outvoted.

He's some kind of tech god!

I'm Allyson ... with an "L".

You can't buy seeds in a nut store!

Communique is about meeting people you wish were your neighbours.

Personally, the first thing I do when I get home is take my bra off.

I'm not feeling very protesty today.

It's a bit like herding cats. Thank goodness you're not a cat. You're definitely a dog, and I mean that in the best possible way.

What is oyster gravy egg sauce?

I love theatre. I love how they fuck with me.

OMG that was the most boring thing I have ever seen!

Dear Jane Siberry...

Monday, October 24, 2011

people of Communique 2011

A week ago, almost to the minute, I dragged that massive red suitcase through the front door, exhausted but filled with memories, missing my friends but cherishing the time spent in their company.

Tomorrow I will have some pithy quotations from Communique 2011 to share with you, but for now, I am just going to shut up and share these images.

Friday, October 21, 2011

something as simple as rock n roll, saving us all

Frank Turner
- Republik, Oct 20/11

Frank Turner is one of the people.

Not content to be "one of five English guys with matching white shirts and bad teeth" entertaining the masses from the safety of the stage, he is a musician who tears down barriers and turns a concert into a bar room singalong. When Frank Turner insists that everyone join in (the hipsters up front, god love you, the curious who had nothing better to do tonight, the plus one's, the security guys, the bartender), he means everyone.

And when he promises that setting aside our cool to clap and sing will make magic, will produce something transcendent, he is right. A man after my own heart.

Frank Turner was high on my list of must-sees at the Calgary Folk Festival a couple of years ago, where he simultaneously thrilled and charmed the crowd with his all-too-brief appearance. Headlining at Republik meant that the faithful could see the English folk troubadour in his natural element, a resurrected punk bar that celebrates dancing with abandon and spilling drinks. Although judging from the barfing I heard in the bathroom during the first opener, perhaps drinks were not being spilled quite fast enough.

We lost the Spousal Unit early in the evening, due to ill health, leaving my concert date and I free to get hit upon by one of the many Frank Turner look-alikes in attendance. But it was all done with jovial camaraderie and mirrored the sentiment of the entire evening.

I wasn't terribly keen on the first opener, a bearded fellow with a guitar who goes by the name Into It. Over It. A bit too Barenaked Ladies for me. With more swearing.

The Andrew Jackson Jihad, on the other hand, who were the second openers, were far more fun. Something about them reminded me slightly of The Burning Hell, perhaps the big standup bass, but more likely the slightly subversive nature of their songs.

By the time Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls took the stage, the crowd was well lubricated and ready for a rollicking singalong. I have to say, Frank Turner doing a solo performance is amazing, but when you take that passion and energy and back it with a solid band like the Sleeping Souls, something sublime happens.

Frank Turner is rapidly establishing himself as the new Billy Bragg, an inspired and impassioned performer who is as thrilling to hear talk as he is to hear sing.
Thursday night's show was an intoxicating mix of folk sentiment, punk sensibility, self-effacing humour, and cocky self-awareness. To end the main set with a Freddie Mercury classic was inspired. To save the signature song - the criminally catchy Photosynthesis - as the extended all-voices belting out, all-hearts soaring encore finale, was perfect.

Frank Turner knows how to work a crowd and make it feel like it was all our idea.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

naam and the nyan nyan percent: Communique 2011 the last half

You need four things for a successful scavenger hunt: good imagination, good weather, good shoes, and great companions. There was no shortage of any of these ingredients as we stood at the corner of Thurlow and Davie on Saturday afternoon, divided the gathering of Communiqueters into two groups, and set off in opposite directions.

Our resident museum curator had put together a deliciously curious list of clues, sufficiently challenging enough to have us exploring the greater downtown area, but with enough clues to keep us from throwing up our arms in frustration and ducking into the nearest pub. We were fortunate enough to have our scavenger hunt cross paths several times with the Occupy Vancouver camp, giving ample opportunity for self-expression for those of us who were feeling especially protesty that day.

As the demands of the weekend and the tendency of this herd of cats to migrate independently became more prevalent, the hunting began to flag, but as luck and excellent route planning would have it, the two parties ran into each other exactly halfway through the list, in front of the fabled Commodore Ballroom.

We all shook hands in a gentlemanly fashion and wandered back to the hotel together, to freshen up and imbibe in a much needed libation before heading to the home of one of our own who had graciously offered to feed and entertain the entire unruly bunch for the evening.

In a warm and welcoming home nestled deep in the trees overlooking a babbling creek, we feasted and feted, played DJ and dispensed door prizes. The entire evening was solid as a rock.

Sunday was intended to be a free day. But the problem with scheduling a free day for the final full day of Communique is that nobody wants to miss that last chance for belly laughs and bone-crushing hugs. Fortunately we all like breakfast, and even more fortunately we were all able to squeeze around tables pushed together at a Kitsilano all-day breakfast vegetarian restaurant, despite the fact that our group continued to pick up members as the weekend progressed.

But breakfast can only last so long. Eventually, members of Communique began to drift off in all directions, some to visit relatives, some to record stores, some to begin the journey back home. A few of us had a final chance that evening to linger over a meal of tapas, sharing stories, quirks, and life philosophies. There may have also been the odd belly laugh or two.

Monday morning came early to the last of the stragglers, as we said our farewells to Dave at the front desk, tetrised our luggage into the trunk of the rental car and headed to the airport. And I only got us lost once.

Still to come: photos and quotations. Because I can't let the weekend go just yet.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

wandering cats and whistling birds: Communique 2011 the first half

As Communiqueters began to trickle into the Zombie suite on Thursday from various points across the country, we threw open wide the balcony door and indulged in the sort of sunset you can only see over False Creek. Amidst the wine glasses and nosh platters at the reception were spontaneous and plentiful hugs, passed freely amongst much-missed old friends and well-met new ones alike.

It quickly became evident that the nature of this gathering had changed from the beta version one year earlier, the first indication of how the group had grown being the challenges of finding a place for dinner among the many (but tiny) restaurants along Davie Street.

The Banana Leaf turned out to be an inspired choice. Although a chain restaurant whose initial appeal was its ability to seat us, this Malaysian restaurant with the sassy saronged waiters was a treasure trove of leaf-wrapped goodies and suggestive drink names, all of which were shared with reckless and joyous abandon. To quote one particularly quotable Communique participant: If Jeff was going to get a disease, he would have picked it up when we all shared his woo-woo last night.

Despite the woo-woos, we were all fresh as daisies for Friday morning's foray to the final day of VIFF for the screening of Andrew Bird: Fever Year. Essentially a tour documentary, the film was a particularly inspiring and introspective look into the creative mind of this enigmatic musician.

For most of us anyway. One Communiqueter, who favours the metal sensibility, did not join in the collective murmurings of how we were inspired by the passion, obsession and intensity we had just witnessed. I guess you could probably call "OMG that was the most boring thing I have ever seen!" a dissenting opinion.

As the merry group of Communiqueters grew, we stopped to fortify ourselves with some rather sketchy sushi. We should have been suspicious of the quality of the offerings by the fact that it was an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, but it did make for some interesting discussions around the table, as we tried to determine (a) what the hell is that dish, (b) did we really order that.

A brisk walk to Granville Island for some, an aqua bus trip there across a distance that I would normally swim for others, found us in that wonderfully mixed mecca of rampant commercialism and esoteric arts. There is one spot on Granville that I have always loved - a small corner just off the harbour, tucked in behind an artisan shop, cement truck grounds on one side, the vast span of the Granville Island bridge stretching overhead, dwarfing the weeping willow trees that surround the pond. I always have to stop to soak in the juxtaposition of industry, nature and commerce when I am there.

Despite losing people, we found the tasting room of the Granville Island brewery; in spite of missed communications, we discovered the perfect market delicacies for the evening's pot luck in the Zombie suite.

The potluck evening proved to be a wonderfully eclectic mix of personalities and professions. Happily, "tech god" seemed be the most prevalent profession of the gathering, because you can never have too many tech gods in a room, in my opinion. We didn't really need any ice-breaker games at this point, but there were door prizes to be awarded, so we played ice-breaker games by god.

It was the most egalitarian of evenings. And it set the stage for scavenger hunt day. D
etails most certainly will follow.

Monday, October 17, 2011


And it ends. Handing over the room keys and heading to the airport in the morning.

Days of discovery and rediscovery, stepping out of the comfort zone and finding refuge in the hugs of old friends, experiences to open the mind and heart.

Communique 2011 and all who partook, you were amazing.

Story at 11:00.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I woke up to the happy news that the weather forecast for Communique had done a flipflop. Instead of cloud and rain, we are now anticipating nothing but sunshine. It's incredible what a little human sacrifice to the right gods will accomplish.

True to form, the day's rain fizzled out shortly after the plane touched down and by the time the OFKAR and I were tucking into our sushi lunch, the sun was peaking through.

Nor was the weather the only sweet part of the day. Unbeknownst to each other, the OFKAR and I had baked each other some sweet treats, my bourbon pecan pie brownies for her pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving dessert at last!

Sadly the OFKAR has a schedule filled with presentations, papers and midterms, so she will not likely be partaking in much of Communique. But as the rest of the conventioneers begin to trickle into the area tomorrow afternoon, I will have them on a pretty short leash for the entire weekend.

I will be gentle on them for the first day - a reception in the zombie suite and a wander down Davie Street in search of dinner and the sun setting over the ocean.

Be sure to stay tuned for updates and resulting gossip.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

which echoes belong

After having sat on the sidelines for decades while others merrily snapped photos, I slowly came to the realization that it was time to suck it up and get my own camera. No more family cameras that I use with great trepidation, and even greater suckage, every five months or so. I am tired of chanelling my mother-in-law, cutting off people's heads as they pose for exactly the same photo around the dining room table year after year after year.

So, with Communique 2011 right around the corner, just bursting with photographic possibilities and memories I am dying to capture, last week I broke down and bought my own designated camera.

These are some of the photos that I took while playing around with the settings as I familiarize myself with my Panasonic Lumix.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

counting loonies, trying not to say

Summer of My Amazing Luck
- Sage Theatre

I guess it really shouldn't have come as a great surprise that the audience was packed with Manitoban expats. I ran into three in the lobby alone.

When you stage Miriam Toews' well-loved first novel of luck (in all its forms), friendship, and finding community in a Winnipeg public housing project, people are going to come in droves. And when you are Sage Theatre, an institution with a reputation for producing thought-provoking and brave theatre, you will find yourself with sold-out houses, as has been the case with Summer of My Amazing Luck.

Part road trip, part buddy act, part vaudeville revivalist revue, Summer of My Amazing Luck is narrated by Lucy (Caley Suliak), a teenaged single mother who lives in the Have A Life housing project, where she and her best friend Lish (Myla Southward) struggle to find creative solutions to the boredom of poverty while dealing with a soul-destroying welfare system.

With only three actors and one musician (Chris Gamble), this play is a masterpiece of split-second timing. Particularly impressive is the chameleon-like ability of Graham Percy to portray a vast array of characters, carrying all the male roles and several female parts. The resourceful use of screens and lighting facilitates the often lightning-quick changing of roles, while also serving as Lucy's memory, where characters from her past reside.

The set for Summer of My Amazing Luck is simple, a table and chairs pressed into service as a bathtub, a bed, and famously, a rundown van with a toilet plunger as a stick shift. The ramshackle piles of kids' toys that line the entrance to the theatre and festoon the sides of the stage area serve as a reminder that this is a world peopled with women and young kids. Lots and lots of kids (many of them played with unsettling precision by the versatile Graham Percy). These toys also serve as some of the most creative stage props I have ever encountered.

Men in this world are peripheral - distant fathers, unknown lovers, hostile case workers - but those brave enough to hesitantly approach the borders of this female world often find themselves accepted with good humour. For, despite the truly poignant underpinnings of this story - moments of loss and isolation, of death and desperation - this is a story filled with humour; the sold out crowd laughed aloud throughout the two-hour play the night I attended.

Miriam Toews, of course, is dead funny, and much of the humour in this play can be attributed to her clever words. But much of it is also due to the sketch comedy nature and the rollicking pace of the production. I had concerns about how such a sprawling novel would translate into a stage production, but needn't have feared. Toews' words have not just been adapted to the stage through the gifted vision of playwright Chris Craddock (BASH'd!: a Gay Rock Opera), they have undergone metamorphosis. And in the capable hands of the talented young cast, under the direction of Kelly Reay, they have come to life.

Summer of My Amazing Luck ends its run at Sage Theatre with tonight's sold out performance. But if you run, you can still make this afternoon's matinee.

Friday, October 07, 2011

resting on our laurels otters

Normally you'll find us sitting across from each other at the kitchen table, or eking out preferred real estate on the chesterfield, instead of perching side by side on a carved wooden otter. But after 23 years of wedded bliss, you've occasionally got to mix things up a bit.

Happy Anniversary, Spousal Unit! Let's see where the next 23 take us.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

in love with your vision

Unlike many of my techie friends, I have never spouted an iboner over the latest Apple announcement. In fact, the only igadget I possess is an ipod. And that was a gift.

But I am still saddened that the world has lost a visionary like Steve Jobs. Thirty years ago, when the idea was inconceivable and bordering on a Jetsons' stoner fantasy, he foretold precisely what our lives would be like today. Without his vision, I am not sure I would have the ability to sit at my dining room table (or back yard, if the spirit moves me) and carry out my work. Or communicate with friends around the world. Or listen to an endless playlist. Or research any subject I could possibly imagine. Or watch cats dive into boxes.

The word has become terribly cliched and overused, but it's one that truly describes the impact that Steve Jobs has had upon the world. He was a game-changer.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

be the photograph

Just Kids - Patti Smith

Anyone who has ever found themselves fascinated and awed by the creative process (as I frequently do) should read this book. As should music fans, art lovers, and those who study pop culture.

When Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe met in 1967, they were both young, poor, and adrift in New York City. The poet and the artist were drawn to one another by their mutual appreciation of personal talismans, by their drive for artistic expression. Lovers who transcended sexual drifting and artistic metamorphosis, they continued to support each other emotionally and creatively for twenty years. They remained one another's muse until Robert's death from AIDS in 1989.

Just Kids tells the story of the life that Patti Smith and Robert Mappelthorpe shared, but it is no mere autobiography. Rather, Just Kids is a deeply reverent gaze into the heart of the artist, a laying bare of the creative soul. I now understand why the friend who sent me his copy of Just Kids felt that it had impacted his life so greatly, had coloured the way in which he experienced the world.

This is not a book that I could read quickly, nor did I want to. I found myself stopped time and again, by a particular phrase, an observation, that struck me as so deeply truthful that I needed to process what I had just read before I could continue. Never before has anyone dissected the creative process in such a personal and profound manner as Patti Smith does in Just Kids. I was forced many times during the reading of this book to evaluate my own relationship with my creativity, such as it is. This is life-changing stuff.

Just Kids is a very simply written book. Using deceptively straightforward narrative, Smith relates her personal history as a given, tossing out names as she unravels the lives of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. Many times I was driven to again stop, to google a name so familiar yet so unknown, with whom she had encounters, by whom she had been influenced.

And through all this simplicity runs the perfect phrasing of a true poet. Therein lies the difference (or rather, one of many) between Patti Smith and a mere scribe like me; where I keep writing, adding layer upon layer of words on top of each other until I have said what I need to say, a poet like Patti Smith finds the one perfect word that says it all.

So I will keep it simple. Read this book.

Monday, October 03, 2011

don't listen to the evil guidance counselor

If you could send a note back in time to your sixteen year old self, what would it say?

That was the question that Papermaps asked their fans recently. The resulting video for the song, Reunion, is a collaboration between band and fans, a montage of mostly fan-made clips answering that probing question. Irreverent, poignant, brave, and sweet, the answers do what every good party game should do - make you laugh and make you think.

Now it's your turn! What pearls of wisdom would you have for your sixteen year old self?

I have copies of Papermaps' new CD to give away to the first five people who leave a comment telling me what they would say in a note to their impressionable teenage being.

Who doesn't love getting shiny new music in the mail? (Actually even if you don't care to receive a copy, I'd still love to know what advice you would send back in time.)

Saturday, October 01, 2011

city nights below ground

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart w/ Big Troubles
Dicken's Pub
Sept 30/11

The Pains started at midnight. That's pretty late for an old zombie to be rocking out in a basement bar, but it turned out to be worth the wait.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, despite being in contention for having the most ridiculous name in indie rock, succeeded in waking the audience that had gone mostly somnambulant during the hour-long break between bands.

Prior to the lengthy stage setup, in which we were treated to the sight of a roadie with the lowest dragging pants in history slowly ambling about on stage and leisurely unraveling cords, the crowd had actually been pretty fired up by the opener, Big Troubles.

And with good reason.

The four guys from New Jersey threatened to steal the night with their high energy assault of melodic blissful fuzz and low-key vocals. With three guitars and one very hard working drum, Big Troubles conjured up inevitable comparisons to the Jesus and Mary Chain with, according to one particularly astute member of our party, shades of the Lilies thrown in for good measure. We loved them.

We went to last night's concert at the suggestion of friends who have impeccable taste in music, which only solidifies my contention that you never turn down a chance at live music. Frankly I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, having only a passing familiarity with their music, and prior to last night's trip to the merch table (where a Big Troubles member endeared himself to me by knocking over his beer during our conversation) a grand total of three Pains songs in my music collection.

But when they launched into a grand explosion of glorious noise pop, with beautifully fuzzy yet remarkably tight guitars, even the Spousal Unit, who was at this point several hours past his bedtime, sat up with rapt interest. Personally I was mesmerized by Peggy Wang, the keyboardist, who sported the most fascinating mane of shiny black hair that obscured her face for most of the set.

I may be a little bagged today, having not hit the pillow until 2:30, but a little bout of fatigue on a Saturday is a small price to pay for an amazing night of music.