Tuesday, January 31, 2012

new words for Old Ideas

tell me again the words that burn your soul
show me the place where your songs live
go down to the pit where poetry lives, where the angels scratch for light
bring me platters of redemption, the mercy of the road
this is where your slave lies bleeding

Or something like that.

Can you be my Leonard Cohen? Would you like to win a copy of Leonard's new album, Old Ideas?

Our friends at With a Bullet would like to send you the latest CD from the bard of darkness and all you have to do is write me a poem. Pour your soul out in the comments or send me a tortured email, just make sure that you channel your best inner Cohen, and that you send it before Thursday, Feb 2 at midnight MT.

The winner of the most Cohenesque entry will be chosen by a panel, and will have my eternal admiration. In addition to your shiny new copy of Old Ideas, of course.

Need a little inspiration? You can stream Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas below.

Now go forth and bleed, my precious.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

wrapped up in (British) books

Quite unintentionally, the last two books I finished were both novels by British authors, whose books I have always enjoyed. Could they keep the streak going with these two books? All will soon be revealed.

Tigerlily's Orchids - Ruth Rendell

When Stuart, a vacant and rather vain boy-toy, decides to throw himself a flat-warming party, he invites all the residents of his small London apartment house in the outer suburbs. He is loathe, however, to invite his needy and expensive lady friend, as that would entail also inviting her husband. The party sets off a chain of events that forever impacts the lives of everyone who attends.

Rendell, always a keen observer of human nature, has created in Tigerlily's Orchids a richly-drawn cast of characters. I was taken with how well-rounded these people were, with all the foibles and redeeming qualities of people you would find in any neighbourhood.

Tigerlily's Orchids doesn't follow a standard murder mystery format, in that the murder (and I am not spoiling anything here) happens quite late in the novel. By this point, the series of intertwined sub-plots had branched into twisted threads.

I did feel that the book sort of fell apart briefly toward the end, but the scatteredness was short-lived and the novel concluded most satisfactorily. A fun read, with characters who remain vivid and memorable long after the last page is turned.

Juliet, Naked - Nick Hornby

Duncan is the self-proclaimed world expert on the life and music of Tucker Crowe, an American musician who suddenly and mysteriously disappeared into a reclusive life shortly after releasing his magnum opus. Annie is his long-time girlfriend who tolerates his obsession, until the release of Juliet, Naked, Tucker Crowe's first new release in over twenty years, causes a rift between the two.

Like all of Hornby's books, Juliet, Naked is a fast and fun read. Although I have never personally broken into somebody's house to use the toilet, while stalking the occupant, some of Duncan's musical obsessions did hit rather close to home. Hornby knows his music nerds.

Lovely touches of irreverent humour, an odd cast of characters, and a realistically ambiguous ending makes Juliet, Naked a good mid-winter novel.

Friday, January 27, 2012

snapshots of Science Cafe

It's a good thing we showed up early. There were only a handful of seats left at the Ironwood Stage and Grill, when we made our way down for a star-studded evening of Science Cafe.

This wasn't entirely unexpected. Jay Ingram is, after all, pretty much a rock star in the science media. His discussion with Valerie Sim, a neurologist specializing in prion research, about the pitfalls of reporting science data in the popular media, promised to be riveting.

And riveting it was:

- only 15% of a science show like Daily Planet is actually science

- "people make up their minds about controversial science, not based on data, but on social and cultural beliefs of groups to which they already belong" - Jay Ingram

in a five minute story on a science show like Daily Planet, two of those five minutes are spent setting the context

- "when you have been a host as long as I have, you keep forgetting that this isn't your show" - Jay Ingram, on muscling in on hosting duties

- "I just wear layers" - Valerie Sim, on climate change

- "I think we're in this situation: in the past, policy was shaped by science, now science is
shaped by policy" - Jay Ingram

- "every time you put a filter between you and the audience, you diminish the impact." - Jay Ingram

- "when you first start to interview you learn not to ask two questions at once, because the interviewee gets to choose which one to answer. Which I am going to do right now." - Jay Ingram

Monday, January 23, 2012

housebound kitty ventures forth

After a brutally cold week, nobody was happier about the arrival of
the chinook than the Slightly Retarded Kitty.

There was so much work to do:
- checking to see how the decorations fared through the cold snap

- doing a little porch sliding

- making sure the boundaries were secure

- spinning a few doughnuts

- checking to make sure mom is watching

Okay, I'm ready to come in now! Mom!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

run for the shadows

How old are you?

Or rather, how old do you feel?

I have always felt a couple of decades younger than my biological age, until sometime in the past year. The switch was gradual, but undeniable. Activities that I had always taken for granted started getting increasingly difficult and painful. Suddenly words like I ache in the places that I used to play made perfect sense to me.

But my medical parameters of health have always been solid. Those annual tests were a mere formality. I may have been getting creaky, but I was damned healthy.

And then last week I failed my first ever bone density exam. I knew I should have studied; I could have at least faked my way through the essay question.

It came as a bit of a shock, and suddenly I felt every single one of my misspent years. With this coming on the heels of the Spousal Unit's current health issues, I felt a little betrayed by the body I always considered, if not incorruptible, then certainly robust for the foreseeable future. And I'm not the only one.
I've noticed that when I talk to my siblings on the phone lately, one of the first things we discuss is our latest health betrayal.

I did eventually snap out of the bout of self-pity enough to realize that it was up to me to adjust to the new reality of life inside this shell and to work even harder to make it as strong as possible. This was no time to lie down and give in to the ravages of cell biology.

But sitting down and calculating my calcium and vitamin D intake made me realize something about the elderly, about why they are so obsessed with their aches and pains. The reason that failing health is by far the most popular topic of conversation amongst the geriatric set is because nobody expects it to happen to them, and nobody expects it to take up so much time and attention. I have two degrees in physiology and it was still challenging to come up with an exercise and supplement plan to combat this bone mass loss.

I can only imagine how confusing and frustrating all this aging is to someone without a science background.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

do right album

Get Out of Sin City - Boca Chica

If good things really do come in threes, then Get Out of Sin City, Boca Chica's third full-length album, is the best of the good things. This is definitely my favourite Boca Chica album (so far).

This album has everything I love in indie Americana music - gorgeous steel pedal that makes my heart swell while it makes me want to weep, boy-girl choruses, handclaps, a little twang, a lotta sass. And the band does it all so perfectly. This is a beautifully mature album that has me excited for the next one.

Get Out of Sin City has a slightly laconic sashay to it, a hip-swaying strut down Main Street, cigarette and a bottle in hand. You know you're heading for trouble, but the sun's setting over the hotel bar and you're too invested in this drink to go home.

Frontwoman and songwriter, Hallie Pritts has an utterly distinct voice that, frankly, I was never before completely comfortable with. But the songs and the arrangements on this album are perfectly suited to her unique vocals. In Pritts' hands, these songs take on the breeziness of cool indie dream pop, mixed with touches of dark folk rock, and leaning
heavily on their classic country pedigree.

Get Out of Sin City is a damned fine album, which I cannot wait to take out on a road trip. Windows rolled down, hair whipping in the wind, stereo blasting, following the yellow highway lines to Vegas.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

humanity on the battleground

Another Day in America
- Laurie Anderson

Theatre Junction Grand
January 12, 2012

Onto a darkened stage that is a veritable minefield of lighted candles, Laurie Anderson, understated in cropped black pants and a simple white shirt with a black tie, steps up to the microphone and begins to speak. Her words, measured and chosen with the care of a poet, are at once personal and profound. She has a voice that commands - commands attention, commands belief, commands imagination, commands compassion. It's another day in America.

So begins the premiere of Anderson's latest creation, a work-in-progress that meshes soundscapes and home movies, anecdotes and big questions, music, ideas and memories. It's an evening that those in attendance won't soon forget.

The audience on this particular evening was definitely skewed toward the slightly older, well-heeled crowd, which was not especially surprising given the $50 per ticket price tag. Not a particularly exorbitant fee, but not chump change either. Given the expectant hush that fell over the crowd as Anderson took the stage and the rapt attention with which all hung onto her words, I doubt that anyone regretted forking out the money. As if you could put a price tag on the chance to spend the evening in the presence of a contemporary visionary.

During the ninety minute show, Anderson led us through series of anecdotes that were simultaneously quirky, profound, and humourous. In her bemused, measured voice, she told stories of visits to tent cities, where the inhabitants maintain a tenuous thread to their former lives through the last vestiges of politeness. She related Darwin's thorny problem with peacocks, how to explain the existence of their tail display in the context of survival of the fittest. In a dreamlike monologue, she reflected on the recent signing of the American National Defense Authorization Act, which transforms American soil into a de facto battleground. These big questions were punctuated with haunting violin solos, allowing time for absorption and reflection.

And, of course, the Voice of Authority made an appearance. As I listened to the deep-voiced male character that Anderson creates using a voice filter, I was immediately struck with the realization that this must be who The Voice from the CBC's The Current models himself after. It explains so much, and only cements the impact that Laurie Anderson has had upon pop culture.

These moments of observation and pondering took an intimate turn when Anderson left the podium and waded through the sea of candles to an armchair, flanked by a screen. Along the short journey, Anderson shed her poet-seer persona and, as she lowered herself into the chair for a good chat, began to share tales (and video clips) of the life and death of her blind piano-playing rat terrier, Lolabelle.

But of course, even while sharing these stories of her personal home life, Anderson did not shy away from bigger picture. Perhaps not surprisingly for an artist in her sixties, she used the experience to look for ways to embrace the inevitable approach of death.

And then she stuck a pillow speaker into her mouth and played a song on it that was an eerie combination of ethereal throat singing and robotic instrumentation. Of course this made me wish that I was able to see Laurie Anderson as she is let loose among the instrument collection at Cantos Music Foundation/National Music Centre later this afternoon, if only to see what she puts in her mouth.

Despite the length of this review, it's very difficult to actually characterize the experience of seeing Laurie Anderson perform Another Day in America. It felt like a rare opportunity to see a contemporary visionary at work. At the same time, it was deeply personal. I will be thinking of this evening for a long time.

For background information on Laurie Anderson's amazing life, so far, please check out the primer I have put together.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I am

- convinced that She and Him is the worst name in indie music today. I also can only handle Zooey Deschanel's singing voice for short periods of time.

- aware of the irony that we are no longer going to St. Lucia next week, as originally planned. A week that is forecast to be the first extended period of deep freeze in an unseasonably warm winter.

- happy that the sensation that somebody dumped a box of salt on my tongue, which has been driving me crazy for the past week, is starting to subside. You know it's nasty when water tastes salty. On the plus side, I think I have been cured of salt cravings for life.

- excited to see Laurie Anderson perform Another Day in America tonight! The world premiere! I don't even mind that I am going alone.

What's going on in your life?

Monday, January 09, 2012

clung on tightly, like parenthesis

I got a free oil change, so there's that.

It's been so unseasonably warm and dry here, albeit with insane winds, that I decided to walk home through the creek valley after dropping off the urban assault vehicle for servicing. Not something I would normally do in January. Particularly since I am becoming increasingly terrified of ice patches.

But although any snow that remains has long been transformed into wind-polished snirt, enough of it has disappeared that I figured I could skirt my way around the slick spots.

This walk home was also to be a test of my knee. I have been gradually increasing the length of my elliptical workouts, but I am still a slower walker than I once was, and walking on uneven ground could prove tricky.

And then there was the matter of that killer hill that you have to climb to get out of the park.

I'm glad I did it. I needed a change of scenery, a touch of nature. There certainly was a lot of nature down in the park. Piles of it. I don't know what those coyotes have been eating, but it goes through them like shit through a goose. Or through a coyote, I guess.

I didn't encounter any coyotes this time, although I stopped on the little bridge just before killer hill to watch some ducks bob about in the water, in amongst the ice floes. I lingered there on the bridge for longer than I had intended, to allow two women with westie terriers to overtake me. I didn't want anyone to witness me labouring up that hill.

The hill wasn't as hard on my knee as I expected. I did take my time, and it took 185 steps instead of my usual 150. Yes, I count steps going up hills, what of it? It felt good to be a little winded again, something I have really missed with my slower workouts.

My knee is a little swollen tonight and I can feel the bits moving around and rubbing against each other, but the outing was all worth it. Especially for a January day.

Where is your favourite place for a winter walk?

Saturday, January 07, 2012

check, mate

Final Parcheesi game of the holidays came down to the wire.
First one to roll a one takes it all.
I'm green, the OFKAR is blue.


I still love Parcheesi though.

What's your favourite board game?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

in the suburbs young protesters write

Evidently, here in my neighbourhood, we are slow learners.

This is the sign that was erected a few weeks ago outside the gates to the community lake - a seasonally upgraded version of the same sign that informed us a few months ago that the area was also not a leaf and pumpkin recycling depot.

For a few years, this entrance to the neighbourhood lake was the site of a temporary leaf and pumpkin depot. Clearly people liked hauling their autumn yard waste to this site, because even after the depot was discontinued, bags upon bags of leaves
continued to appear in the dead of night, along with numerous collapsing jack-'o-lanterns. For years.

The community association tried putting up signs to dissuade the nocturnal leaf dumpers, but finally the City had to step in with something more official-looking.

So far the Christmas tree non-dumping sign seems to be more effective than the leaf and pumpkin one, but it's still early in the tree-turfing season, so I'm not holding my breath. The Fire Hall, a few blocks away, was a Christmas tree recycling depot for a few years, and people are still surreptitiously dumping their bedraggled trees there, years after it was moved to another location. Even though the City now picks up your Christmas tree directly from your back lane as part of the municipal recycling program. The firemen are getting mighty pissed.

The OFKAR and I lamented to each other many times, as we drove past that sign this holiday, that I hadn't thought to save at least one half-rotted pumpkin from Hallowe'en. For old time's sake.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

the year in my ears

I missed some big albums this year, as I do every year. It's become my thing. So you won't find any Tom Waits or PJ Harvey or Bjork on my annual recap of favourite albums.

I'm also missing some albums that I suspect would be strong contenders for favourites - the new Elliott Brood, the new Dan Mangan, and the new Rural Alberta Advantage spring to mind - as it's becoming increasingly difficult to find music in stores around here. So while I sit by the mailbox, waiting for my orders to arrive allow me to tell you about my choices for:

Favourite 11 of 11

1. The Decemberists - The King is Dead

- I never get tired of this album. Listen after repeat listen, I become completely engrossed in the achingly lovely ballads and the insanely catchy guitar-driven rock.

2. Frank Turner - England Keep My Bones

- I waffled for a long time before finally deciding that this would be my second choice. A very close second it is. This album is a rollicking, passionate feel-good blast of singalong goodness.

3. The Head and the Heart - The Head and the Heart

- boy-girl harmonies, exuberance, sweet melodies, all good.

4. Radical Face - The Family Tree: the Roots
- Even those songs that start out restrained end up in handclaps eventually. Awesome.

5. Beirut - the Rip Tide
- The gorgeous sweeping drama that you expect from Beirut, with accessible and catchy melodies.

6. Whitehorse - Whitehorse
- The husband and wife team of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland have gone in a surprisingly inventive direction, with lots of traditional touches.

7. Wilco - The Whole Love
- Classic Wilco, nuff said.

8. Wild Flag - Wild Flag
- The girls can rock, and I love the touches of rockabilly that keep this album surprising.

9. Radiohead - King of Limbs
- Not the best Radiohead album by any stretch of the imagination, but it has some touches of brilliance that save it from obscurity.

10. Austra - Feel It Break
- Wonderfully inventive looping sonic invasion.

11. Anna Calvi - Anna Calvi
- Calvi's big voice, paired with cinematically retro arrangements, make this album feel like living inside a James Bond movie. Dramatic stuff.

Let's see what musical goodness 2012 holds, shall we?