Sunday, May 31, 2009

Let's Have a Quilting Party Tonight!

Let's have a quilting party tonight in our cute quilted robes from Best's!

Pajama parties after ten will soon be known as quilting parties, for young things off to boarding-school and college are choosing Best's new quilted robes, stitched like the quilts that Grandma used to make.
Miss Shanton and Miss Maurice are having one wild time! But according to the photo captions, Shanton is suffering from "mannish frogs." At first I thought she'd gotten the frogs by cavorting with young Shanton, but now I know that they are "An ornamental looped braid or cord with a button or knot for fastening the front of a garment" and not some type of old-timey venereal disease.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Cthulhu" and THE GAY!

At Gen-X video they have a special rainbow-coloured sticker that they place on movies with homosexual themes. I'm sure that the primary intent is to inform gay clients that a particular film might interest them, but I can also see the sticker being a type of stigma: if a film has that sticker on it, you're bound to assume that ONLY homosexuals will be interested in it. It doesn't help that most of the rainbow-stickered movies have an overtly sexual theme, to the point where those stickers tend to imply "porn."

So it was weird for me when I picked up "Cthulhu" in the new releases and saw that it had the "gay sticker" on it. What's this? A queer adaptation of a cheesy H.P. Lovecraft story? I would have rented it anyway but the sticker made me doubly curious. I hoped that the movie was one in which the protagonist just HAPPENED to be gay -- as opposed to the type of film I'd expect based on the rainbow sticker -- and I was pleasantly surprised because that's exactly what it was.

The plot of the movie wasn't particularly interesting...if you've read Lovecraft's work and you recognize how it could merge with environmental and political apocalypse, then you won't be surprised. What IS interesting, however, is how the sexuality of the protagonist is generally unimportant; it is not more explicitly "gay" than any other movie is explicitly "straight."

Where a gay theme HAS been introduced, however, is the VERY interesting subject of a gay protagonist "coming home" to the inbred small town he ran away from, as Lovecraft's work tended to use the "coming home" theme as part of the horror. There is also a subplot about the desires of the protagonist's family to produce an heir.

There are two really wonderful things about "Cthulhu": the overall tone (lighting, music) and the totally natural dialog, which is mostly free of cliche. Jason Cottle is an excellent actor, and -- surprisingly for such a low-budget movie -- everybody else is top-notch as well. "Cthulhu" could have been really, really good.

Why isn't it? Because it's disconnected and awkward. The pacing is weird. The ending is too ambiguous. And they simply didn't have the budget for any "pay off" scenes. They did the best thing they could possibly have done to sidle around the need for expensive effects -- relying on mood, uncertainty, and quick edits to sell the story -- but horror movies really DO need a bit more than that.

I listened to some of the commentary and it's disheartening to hear Grant Cogswell and Dan Gildark (the writer and director) be so crushingly disappointed with their own movie. I wanted to call them up and reassure them that the film was FAR better than they'd given it credit for. More disheartening -- but hardly surprisingly -- has been the online reaction to the film, where the usual comment is "Why did they have to make the guy gay? Just to be COOOOL?" They seem to miss the wonderful balancing act that the filmmakers achieved: to have a gay protagonist who ISN'T a token, who ISN'T there just to be cool or attract a gay audience.

That last point is the truly sad thing about "Cthulhu," that it achieved something quite remarkable -- and was a pretty good movie as well -- but it's a little too early for the world, perhaps.

I'd Buy Anything By...Andy Prieboy

I have said previously in this blog that Andy Prieboy is my favourite musician. He's smart and creative and eccentric, and he writes in a style that nobody else does in pop anymore, a sort of extremely wordy musical theatre approach which must be hell to score (and also to remember). Since leaving the reformed Wall of Voodoo in 1991 he has only released two albums and an EP, and his most famous song came right at the beginning: this happy little number called "Tomorrow Wendy" which you may remember.

During that time he was writing and refining "White Trash Wins Lotto," an ambitious musical about the rise and fall of an Axl Rose-style character. Apparently this was a really stellar show, and he would perform it in small L.A. clubs with various talented friends, waiting for a record company to give him a really sweet deal.

But Prieboy has been burned by record companies before, and he wrote scathingly about them on his second album -- and in the book he co-wrote, "The Psycho-Ex Game" -- so I suspect that he'll never go in that direction again. Instead, for the last fourteen years, he's been silent...

...until now. His website has been reactivated and a series of virtual EPs have trickled out. Brand new songs, each and every one of them a masterpiece! If you've ever seen a bunch of drunk idiots harass a donut store employee, this song ("Hearty Drinking Men") will thrill you (careful, virgin ears...there's some cussin').

Prieboy's musical output is slow and deliberate and his records disappear into obscurity immediately after their release. For this reason, scour the used bins for copies of his albums ("Montezuma was a Man of Faith," "...Upon My Wicked Son," and the absolutely brilliant "Sins of Our Fathers"), and then go to his site and pick up whatever .mp3s you can. One of the new songs -- "Shine" even contains harmonica by Stan Ridgway, another of my "I'd Buy Anything" artists and -- more interestingly -- the man who Prieboy replaced when he joined Wall of Voodoo long ago.

Dr. Seuss and Flit: "Aeronaught Edition"

Dr. Seuss was nothing if not imaginative, and he certainly knew how to work the current fads into his advertisements. But none have been so faddish as this one.

Immediately after Charles Lindbergh flew his famous 1927 flight, The New Yorker began covering every aspect of the airplane phenomenon. They tried to be cynical and reluctant about it, but that didn't stop them reporting about the latest airports, and the latest enhancements, and even sending one of their reporters in a flight over Manhattan.

By the time of this Dr. Seuss cartoon -- August 31, 1929 -- the fad had reached its height. The New Yorker was FULL of advertisements for $2000 personal planes; they even outnumbered the car and cigarette ads!

I'm not sure when the dream of "an airplane in every home" came crashing down. The depression probably killed it, as did the realization that businessmen didn't like having to FLY THEMSELVES to the office, and it would take a while for a really comfortable passenger plane to appear.

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Attraction" by Muffy St. Bernard

The man with the grey toque leaned against her, using her shoulder to support himself. He could come no closer because there were too many people around the bar.

"I'm attracted to you," he said.

She thanked him for saying so.

"It's strange, this attraction I have, because I'm gay. It's not obvious to anybody. Even my friends don't know! They're back there." He gestured. His friends were at the end of the bar, lounging, staring, interested.

"Would you know that I'm gay if I didn't tell you first?" asked the man.

She said no, she wouldn't have guessed. He pushed his toque down to hide his hair and then he smiled. "I want you to keep this a secret," he said, "just between you and me. Don't tell anybody what I just told you. About me being gay."

She said she wouldn't tell anybody. She promised. There were so many people around that she couldn't uncross her legs without hitting somebody.

The man with the toque kept bumping her shoulder, swayed by the moving crowd, bumping and bumping, but he didn't seem to care. "This is significant for me because I'm not actually attracted to women, I just pretend, I do it all for show...but you're the first woman I've ever been attracted to and I wonder what that means. I wonder if it's important?"

She said she didn't know if it was important or not. He put his hand on the shoulder he'd been bumping.

"Will you make this a special night and sleep with me?"

She said no. She said she was sad that he had to hide his homosexuality from his friends but that she was simply not interested in having sex with him. She said that there was no chance of him ever having sex with her.

He didn't remove his hand. When one of her male friends brought her a drink, the man in the toque said "So that's how it is, is it?" and he scowled bitterly, but he didn't remove his hand.

He was silent for a while, bumping. "It would mean a lot to me, if we could have sex," he said finally. "Since I'm gay and this is significant."

She said no, and he said "Kiss me," and he tried to pull her away from her stool and she sat back again forcibly. "Kiss me please." He pulled her face towards his. "It would be special. My friends are watching." And they were; they were taking pictures with their cel phones.

She pushed him away. He sneered. "I can't believe I told you about my sexuality and you're just rejecting me," he said. "I can't believe I confessed my biggest secret to you, and you're not going to have sex with me. That's awful. It's like you really don't care."

Her male friend intervened, pushed his way in and telling the man to cool it. She finally managed to uncross her legs and she drank her drink behind the barrier of her friend's arm.

The man with the toque stretched across from the other side, hissing. "I can't believe this," he said. "I told you my biggest secret and then you got your boyfriend to attack me. I can't believe you'd do this to me. I can't believe you'd betray me like that."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wednesday Morning Scrutable Poetry: "Girl in a Tree"

Her legs were long
And scratched with thistle.
She had a deft,
Enchanting whistle.

Her hands were slim
But strong for lifting
Herself to trees
When winds were shifting.

And there she'd sit
And watch the birds,
And nibble twigs,
And juggle words.

And there she'd lean
And whistle clearly,
'Till she was God--
Or very nearly.
By Frances M. Frost, now largely forgotten.

Wednesday Morning Humour

(By the always-odd Peter Arno).

"The Roaring Talkies"

In the August 24, 1929 issue of The New Yorker, James Thurber complains about the strange "resonance" and "clangor" of the voices in the talkies. Assuming that such things are here to stay, he proposes a plot which uses this audio problem to good effect.
[The Banker] is on his knees by the bathtub, scouring it out. Mrs. Brundage is in the kitchen cleaning out the breadbox. "Hello, dear," he calls--his head far down into the tub. "Hello, dear," she answers--her head deep in the breadbox. In the next scene, they go to the attic to straighten up there. The wife finds a couple of old megaphones that her husband used when he was a college cheerleader. Playfully, they talk through these. "Let's give a megaphone party," says the wife, through hers. "All the guests to talk through megaphones!" "Splendid, dear," he croons, through his.
The plot moves to the back of an armored truck, then into a laboratory.
At the laboratory, he picks up a hollow brass cylinder. "This hollow brass cylinder," he explains, talking into it, "is contrived to intensify musical tones and designed for the study and analysis of complex sounds." Mrs. Brundage takes it from him and sings the picture's theme song into it.
The next scene takes place in a bank vault, and then inside an empty diving-tank, followed by the lower level of Grand Central station. After the husband and wife have a fight, "She sobs brokenly into the goldfish bowl, 'Little fish, bring him back.' (Which also could easily have been the theme song.)"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I'd Buy Anything By...Pink Floyd

I've already talked enough about Pink Floyd in this blog, and you already know enough about them.

Let's just say that I've been immersed in their music since I was (literally) an infant.

"Dark Side of the Moon" was on regular rotation in our house.

I spent countless hours listening to "Wish You Were Here" and staring at the red blowing scarf on the back cover. When I saw that Arabic numbers were used to designate each part of the title song, I was so in awe that I filled an entire three-ring notebook with all the Arabic numbers up to two thousand.

"Animals" scared me and I brought it to my grade three class so the other kids could listen. I trained myself to make my letters "g" and "a" exactly the way they were on the lyric sheet, a habit that persists to this day.

"The Wall" was the first album I consciously bought for myself. I remember the joy of discovering and deciphering the secret message.

Instead of having separate copies of "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" and "A Saucer Full of Secrets," we owned the double-album combination called "A Nice Pair," complete with Doctor Fang's name and the censored breasts. I loved watching the psychedelic Harvest Records label spin around.

David Gilmour's feedback squeaks during "Echoes" used to give me nightmares, and when I asked my dad how the noises were made, he said "Probably by ghosts."

The cover of "Ummagumma" was more magical than "Alice Through the Looking Glass," partly because of the woodsy hippie tinge. I discovered if you slowed "Several Species of Small Furry Animals" down that most of the noises were coughs. I assumed that the wooden gnomes behind David Gilmour's head were the creatures that made those squeaky sounds during "Echoes." I marveled at the amount of time it must have taken to set all their equipment out for that photograph. I still marvel.

"The Final Cut" confused me and it took many years before I learned to love it. I had no idea who that "Maggie" person was. When I asked my dad what "nips" were, he said "Probably nipples."

I saw the "Delicate Sound of Thunder" tour twice when I was sixteen. The first time I went with my aunt Julie, a hard-rocking super-fox who -- when the joint was passed our way -- said "We don't need drugs to have fun!" Two enormous rednecks stole our seats, and they heckled Julie when she asked them to leave, so she said she'd throw them right the f*ck off the f*cking balcony if they didn't move their f*cking *sses, and if she couldn't do it herself she could easily find ten guys who'd be willing to, and they said "Okay, okay, lady, jeez!"

By the time of "The Division Bell" I'd already spent twenty-two years listening to Pink Floyd. It wasn't too bad an album, but nothing more. Pink Floyd will always be "Wish You Were Here" and "Animals" to me.

Fovea Hex: "Don't These Windows Open"

A few months ago I mentioned the creepy, ethereal joy that is Fovea Hex. Not only do they have a new album coming out soon-ish, but I just found this wonderful clip of a live performance.

Belaying their super-seriousness, Clodagh Simonds starts by singing "Somebody unplugged my laptop," which is why they crack up a bit at the beginning. But it quickly comes together again and they perform "Don't These Windows Open."

I assume the other vocalists are Laura Sheeran and Lydia Sasse, with Cora Venus Lunny on cello...but I don't know for sure.

The Books That Muffy Forgot - One

I have too much crap. I'm a pack rat. I get attached to my stuff and it's physically painful to remove it.

I've decided to do a junk-purge, and to make it more palatable I'm going to give my junk away for free. Rather than leave it outside, though, I'm going to take it to work so my coworkers can pick it over. Then, if they don't like it, I'll go out and either sell it or throw it away.

I'm starting with books. I collect books faster than I collect dust bunnies, but I'm out of shelf-space and it's REALLY ANNOYING to move books around.

To qualify for purging, the book must be one I've already read but can't see myself ever referencing or re-reading. Here's the first batch:
  • Alexandr I. Solzhenitsyn, "The Gulag Archipelago" (Volumes I-III). Disturbing and informative, but too scattered to be a good reference and WAY too uneven to be "a good second read."
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, "In Evil Hour," "Love in the Time of Cholera," "The General in His Labyrinth." I'm keeping some of his wonderful books in my collection, but these three just didn't do it for me.
  • Stephen King, "Four Past Midnight," "The Dark Tower." I am so sick of King's garbage.
  • J. M. Roberts, "The Pelican History of the World." I have a ton of these "history of the world" books, and I've never managed to finish any of them. They simply aren't effective ways to learn about history and Wikipedia gives a much better gloss these days.
  • William Golding, "Lord of the Flies." Sure it's a good book, but I'll never read it again.
  • "The Bhagavad Gita." Only useful on the shelf if you want to look smart.
I can't believe that, in my purge-frenzy, I almost swept up some Raymond Carver. I mustn't throw the baby out with the bathwater!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Solving the Caviarette Mystery

I read this New Yorker advertisement once. Then I read it again. I read it a third time and I STILL didn't know what the hell it was supposed to mean (click for a larger image).

I'm happy to report that the fourth time was the charm. So let me explain.

The people in the comic are all members of the same family. They try various pastimes and they all fail miserably; Brother sucks at polo (a "chukka" is a polo-style period), Sis is equally bad at tennis, Mom is losing vast amounts of money playing bridge, and Pop couldn't win at the stock market to save his life (a smooch to anybody who can find out which commodity "Cons. Gravies"* is supposed to be).

The butler knows that "something must be done" to make the family he serves them caviar on incredible J. R. Ritz Caviarette crackers. He also gives them illegal cocktails, you'll notice. The combination of booze, caviar, and crackers leads to a happy ending in the sixth panel.

Why was this all so confusing? Other than the fact that the actual plot is disconnected and silly, I had trouble figuring out what Pop was doing in panel four (that's ticker-tape, not spaghetti), and it took me awhile to recognize the affiliation of the butler was the bow tie that tipped me off.

But none of this explains the absolutely atrocious first paragraph, which would throw even the savviest culture bloodhound offtrack:
Athletic and high mental family loses all indoor and outdoor sports except Caviarettes at which pastime all run up tremendous record-breaking average.
This is such a terrible sentence that it must have been done on purpose. Was it meant to evoke a telegram, or a radio report, or a quick newspaper brief? Caviarette crackers deserved better, I'm sure.

* I guess I'll have to smooch myself because the answer just occurred to me while I was trying to get to sleep. It's "Consolidated Gravies" and is not meant to be an actual commodity; it's a play on "gravy train." Whew, now I CAN sleep.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Another experimental music video of my own construction: "Lightbox."

The Background

This time the audio came first. I had the idea of taking a sound source, splitting it up into five different frequencies, and applying a different type of tremolo to each frequency. The source I tried was a modified Hammond organ soft-synth, playing a rising series of barely-musical chords. That's the basis for the track.

Then I realized the bass was underrepresented so I added a single-note bassline (not an electric bass sadly, but another software synth). Up next was the "ting" of a pot handle being whacked with a spoon.

Once I'd gotten that far I tried to think of what it reminded me of, and ran down my ever-growing list of "box" words. Lo and behold: "Lightbox!" It was sharp, clean, shifting, meditative...

...but where to find the visuals? Lying in my bed on a Sunday morning and filming the odd pinhole camera effect of light coming through tiny slits in the curtains, filtered through blowing tree leaves. Those images aren't manipulated except for tiny tweaks in brightness and contrast; otherwise, that's the sort of thing I wake up to in the morning.

I tried filming the reflective lights of passing cars -- the phantoms that my cat chases at night -- but they didn't show up very well, and I'd pretty much decided to stay with stationary light only. Then I shot a few images of daylight around a chair and on my ceiling, and I had all the footage I needed.

Back to the music again. I sent the same, slowed-down chords through Logic's "Sculpture" instrument, which emulates the behaviour of various objects interacting with other this case, a really crazy bow being drawn across wood. I played a few descending notes on the ESQ-1 to finish it all off, and voila.

I like it. It's pretty, in a strange sort of way. It really does capture the feeling of laying in bed and watching the lights. Not much happens or changes during the song -- I took out the few stimulating samples and beats that I'd experimented with early on -- but I don't think anything SHOULD happen. It's just a lazy contemplation. It's meant to make you snooze.

The Kids are Alright. The Doors are Not.

I have never cared much about The Who. I have always loved the Tommy album (and movie), but I assumed that was an anomaly...they couldn't REALLY be that good, could they?

As part of my '60s kick, I rented "The Kids are Alright." I was disappointed to learn that it's more of a clip-collection than a documentary, but I came away with new respect: The Who really, really kicked butt. They were tight, brilliant, and crazy. This doesn't mean I'm going to run out and buy all of their albums, but I've come away with new respect.

Then I tried to watch "The Doors". It was terrible. I suppose it's okay if you buy into the hyper-pretentious Jim Morrison schtick, but if you don't...well, you don't want to watch Oliver Stone's equally pretentious movie. He managed to compress their entire pre-fame career into a single five-minute scene ("Hey guys, let's try this song...and here's a neat intro...great, we're a BAND!"), and then spend the next half an hour on pointless a peyote trip.

It became obvious to me that Oliver Stone made the movie because he wants to fellate a shaman. Everything else was secondary. I stopped watching after 45 minutes.

Tramps, Dishes, and Bins o' Sin

When the Tri-City Roller Girls put out a heartfelt plea for volunteers, I simply couldn't resist. "Yes!" I said. "Simply tell me what to do!"

I guess they couldn't resist either, because they asked me to be one of the "sin bin" timers. How hard could that be? Errrr...

Today's match -- the first of the season -- was at the spiffy new Wilmot Community Center. Since the Car Share charges me by the kilometer, I did what I always do (and regret later)...I forsook the loopy highway and tried to take the back roads. But here in Canada, May is the month of road construction, and when I realized that Erb Street was closed...

...well, I wish I could show you the totally stupid route I actually drove, trying to be "smart" and find my way. I ended up in BAMBURG. What's "Bamburg," you ask? It's a place you don't want to be in. Forget the fact that you don't actually want to LIVE in Bamburg (we used to call it "Bumburg" when I was in high school), but it's a road to absolutely NOWHERE. Being in Bamburg is like trying to get to the North Pole via Australia. Like, so off the path that the Blair Witch can pick and choose her victims at will, and then have a big party without the police even noticing.

But I did finally arrive at the arena, where I discovered that timing the "sin bin" is at least THEORETICALLY a really difficult thing. The rules involving seating and special exceptions are MAMMOTH, so I figured I'd rely on my volunteer partner to tell me what to do. But she was "Perky Set." Wonderful. Brilliant. Never timed a sin bin in her life.

Fortunately she'd spent plenty of time IN the sin bin, so between us we managed to figure out the rules. And since both teams were uncharacteristically sweet we got by without too many challenges.

The show? Wonderful! It really is an engaging sport and it's great to feel like you're part of something. I'm a Venus Fly Tramp at heart, but I (accidentally) wore Vicious Dishes colours, so I felt like I could sort of remain impartial. Sadly, the Tramps lost. Impartial my butt.

After pumping gas and returning the car (I've taken it out four times and NEVER ONCE has the previous user filled the tank), I decided to try something totally new: I'd refresh my face and go to the after party.

This is a difficult thing. If you've never done drag, think of it as like putting a big pancake over your face and then walking around and trying to look pretty. You can do this for about five hours before you start to look -- shall we say -- like a crack-whore-f*cked-up-clown. But sadder. I am SO paranoid about being ugly in drag. I have NIGHTMARES about it. I'd rather have two broken legs than be a really ugly drag queen, but please don't take me up on that.

I really wanted to go to the party, though, so I got out the wet sponge and dabbed...and dabbed...and reapplied...and eventually I just prayed for dim lighting and went out anyway.

What fun! Booze, booze, booze. Pizza appeared and then just as quickly disappeared. Ben Ong kept everybody dancing. I drank too much and then realized that I'd better leave before the ultimate collapse.

Now? Home and happy. What a wonderful night. I'm exhausted and hungry and spinny, and my shoulder feels like a roller girl just stuck a straw into it and then kicked it with a lead-filled skate, but it was a worthwhile and fun night and I look forward to doing it again.

Here's to the Roller Derby Girls, past and present. Here's to all the work they do, all the rehearsals and planning and money they spend. In a perfect world they'd be rewarded. I hope they feel they are.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What Makes the Picture Talk?

If you were a moviegoer in 1929 -- and who wasn't? -- then you might have wondered how the "talking pictures" worked. Fortunately Western Electric put this somewhat pushy advertisement in the August 3, 1929 issue of The New Yorker. Click on the picture for the full gorgeous schematic, including the stylized "horns" which look more artsy than functional.

This advertisement graphically shows the reluctant transition from the Western Electric-developed Vitaphone (sound on disk) technology to the superior Movietone (sound on film). Though not actually developed by Western Electric, the company was anxious to cash in SOMEHOW on the new techonology that was making the Vitaphone they sold these Sound Picture systems to make use of both methods, and then promoted the heck out of their own contributions ("Sound pictures came out of the telephone.")

Smart folks.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dr. Seuss and Flit: "Niblick in the Mosquito Hole"

Call me stupid for not knowing what a "niblick" was, but I suspect it's a term that isn't exactly common these days. I mean, sure, golfers are willing to wear ugly sweaters and "get exercise" by riding around in little motorized carts, but to say "niblick" would be plain silly.

I'm just happy that this particular Dr. Seuss cartoon -- from August 3, 1929 -- is refreshingly free of ethnic stereotypes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Great Labrum Blood Supply Controversy

While doing a Google search for “how to heal a labrum tear,” the top two results came from the Orthopedic Center of St. Lewis and the Cedars-Sinai Orthopedic Center. Oddly, they both make medical statements which are diametrically opposite.

From the Orthopedic Center of St. Lewis:
“Labral tears untreated do not heal because of the lack of blood supply in the area.”

From the Cedars-Sinai Orthopedic Center:
“Because the labrum has a rich supply of blood, some labral tears heal on their own.”

Strange! This goes beyond differences of opinion and into the realm of two objectively-stated facts which totally disagree. Like, either the labrum has a rich blood supply or it doesn' can't have BOTH.

I was planning to write to them but it seemed pointless...what would they possibly say except "They're wrong, we're right"?

Lazy Blogger Flush

Just a bunch of things that don't deserve separate entries (or do but require more time and thought than I can spare at the moment).
  • Every spring I am amazed at the way robins really DO go bob-bob-bobbin'.
  • Speaking of the animal kingdom, yesterday was "flying ant day" here at the Muffy Household. I killed at least thirty of them as they went copulating across my front window. When you crush them, they release a very strong chemical odour which smells a lot like cotton candy.
  • They have arrested two people for the murder of Tori Stafford, and the police say they're looking for her body...and yet most of the forum comments say things like "Please God let her be alright!" This makes me wonder just how carefully people read the news.
  • I've been exploring the '60s lately. I read a book by Abe Peck about the underground press, and this got me wondering about the social movements of the time. In particular I wondered why Woodstock turned out so well and Altamont was a complete disaster. Having watched both "Woodstock" and "Gimme Shelter," it seems apparent that part of the trouble was having 30,000 people pressed up against a stage that was only four feet high. Another problem was a bunch of stoned and rabid fans. A third problem was a bunch of drunk bikers being expected to deal gently with people.
  • So I bought "The Worst of Jefferson Airplane" and I have to say they were pretty cool. Now I'm finishing off "The Kids Are Alright," and next up is "The Doors."
  • I'm seriously considering buying a condo, and if things work out during the next month or so then I really, really will. Hopefully it won't burst into flame.
  • This weekend I'll be timing the "sin bin" at the season opener for our local Roller Derby teams. That's excitement!
  • Next weekend I'll be at Guelph Pride's "circus" event.
  • A second squirrel family has moved into the attic. They fight all the time. The ones in the northwest corner always lose.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Living with a Cat Who Is Mental About Water

Zsa Zsa has always been obsessed with running water, but as her kidneys continue to deteriorate -- and, maybe, as she grows increasingly senile -- this water thing just keeps getting crazier.

Last month I realized that her FAVOURITE way of drinking water was to lick it off of a wet loofah. You see, I have a synthetic loofah ball hanging off my bathtub tap, and every time I finished taking a bath she'd jump in and start licking it.

I figured that was an easy way to make her happy, so I broke my cardinal rule -- "Never encourage irrational behaviour in my cat" -- and started running water over the loofah "on demand." The problem was, the demand was CONSTANT and her cries became increasingly strident. She stopped reluctantly drinking out of the water bowls I've scattered around the house, instead sitting endlessly in the tub and yelling at me to pour more water, damnit.

That alone would just be sort of sad and pathetic, but I became TRULY annoyed when I realized that she'd only lick the LEFT half of the loofah. The OTHER half was perfectly wet and accessible, but she'd just never lick it. Only the left. This doubled the number of times I had to accommodate her already bizarre obsession.

I've gradually stopped her from yelling at tje loofah (by instead presenting her with a fresh bowl of water), but last week we moved to a new level of crazy. Now, instead of waiting for the tub to drain before licking the loofah -- which she still does religiously after bathtime -- she'll dive right in and start drinking before all the water is gone. Here she is.

There's no solution: she's thirsty AND crazy. It's a good thing we're in love.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Clickety-Clack Face (The Product of Nervous Tension)

How do you freak out a secretary? Tell her that her typewriter is making her UGLY!
Have you that work-weary look...that clickety-clack expression so often worn by stenographers who operate rackety typewriters?

"Stenographer Face" has already had scientific recognition. Industrial health investigators have found that typists are afflicted with ill health more often than any other class of office workers.

For it is typewriter clatter that compels office managers to segregate typists into poorly ventilated rooms...typewriter clatter that draws telltale crow's-feet on lovely complexions and steals away the bloom of youth.

In place of that hammer-blow typewriter you are now using, you are entitled to a "piano" touch REMINGTON NOISELESS. The same 4-row standard keyboard you have already used, but a lighter touch, enabling you to do better work, faster...with less effort and...NO NOISE.

Typewriter racket is no pleasanter to your office manager than to you. Tell him you want a REMINGTON NOISELESS Machine and he will help you get it, in the interest of the business as well as in kindness to you.
See, scientists ALREADY recognize "Stenographer Face" as a genuine affliction! Errr, or rather, stenographers tend to get ill more than other office workers. By some degree. For some reason. Must be because of..."STENOGRAPHER FACE!"

Monday, May 11, 2009

Criminal Weaponry in 1929

As I continue to chronologically muddle through the New Yorker, I still wonder when it will start getting SERIOUS. As of July 20, 1929 it remains a goofy collection of gags, cartoons, bon mots, and "burlesques," and the only consistent reporting seems to involve Parisian fashion trends, the Profiles of industrial tycoons, and the finer points of Polo.

The exception, however, is the semi-regular "Reporter at Large" column. It's always a highlight and it provides the modern reader -- or at least me -- exactly the sorts of things we want to know: the reasoned and thorough research of life at the time.

Niven Busch, Jr. is the writer of this particular article about police headquarters. It outlines exactly how people are processed by the police when they're arrested, including interesting lists like this one regarding the contents of the "Property Room."
Every branch of the underworld has its characteristic type of arms. Holdup men use conventional Smith & Wesson six-shooters, or Colt automatics; the gunmen employed by bootleggers or warring Chinese tongs depend on foreign military pistols which have great accuracy even at long ranges. Cracksmen carry arms when working on a big job, but the ordinary burglar, contrary to general belief, seldom does, though he may have a nickel-plated gas or airgun to use as a bluff if cornered. Negroes have a partiality for blackjacks, which they manufacture themselves, concealing chunks of lead in the finger of a glove, or in a big watchcase. Most deadly of all criminal weapons is the sawed-off shotgun, a cheap twelve or sixteen-gauge gun shortened so it will fit in a trouser-leg and which, loaded with screws and pieces of brass and steel, is carried only by a killer whose single and immediate purpose is to commit murder.
What did they do with all those confiscated weapons? They kept them in five wooden chests. When the chests finally became full they'd be taken out into the bay and dumped into the Narrows. There's probably a lot of neat stuff down there.

(Incidentally, this is the 1001st post in this blog. Whew!)

Friday, May 08, 2009


Rather than exclusively filming mini-drag shows -- which are rife with copyright infringement -- or silly sketches -- which have a whole bunch of tiresome and restrictive requirements -- I decided to make a music video. But I wanted the video and the music to evolve TOGETHER, instead of filming footage for a song I've already done.

So I filmed some footage and moved it back and forth between iMovie and Logic Studio, massaging both the video and music until...

"Phonebox/Lunchbox," the first in a projected series of "box" video-songs.

The Background

This is all part of an attempt to broaden my horizons, and in particular to learn new skills. I figured that this project would require me to research and explore a lot of things outside of my comfort zone: concept, composition, and actually trying to ACHIEVE something instead of just letting it happen.

Remember when I got all gushy about the video stabilization feature in iMovie '09? Well it has a pretty serious bug: if you choose to stabilize your trimmed clips in the editor window (instead of stabilizing the pre-trimmed clips in the event window), and then you decide later on to change the trimming for the clips, iMovie tends to misapply the stabilization settings and it will not let you override them. Even deleting the video entirely from the project and then re-importing it will not help...iMovie never forgets.

So if you noticed the three or four jittery clips in that video, I'm afraid that there was nothing I could do: iMovie would not let me choose a stabilization value above 101%. I have learned my lesson.

Most of the phone and wire footage was filmed on a beautifully cloudy, ominous morning. The park footage was filmed that sunny afternoon. I'm totally aware that many of the things I filmed are NOT telephone-related, but heck, I'm no technician!

As for the telephone voices, I have been collecting those for years, and this project was in many ways born from a desire to finally USE some of them.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Dr. Seuss and Flit: "Mosquitos in the Desert"

I understand that these "Dr. Seuss and Flit" cartoons are not intended to be accurate or educational, but c'mon doc...mosquitos in the desert?

Granted, mosquitos CAN live in desert environments as long as there's a source of water nearby. But it seems to me that "mosquitos" and "sunbaked thirst" do not go well together.

Perhaps I am getting hung up on unimportant details.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I'd Buy Anything By...Michael Penn

Michael Penn hit it big in 1989. Besides being the brother of Sean Penn -- who at that time was making quite a few splashes of his own -- the video for his first single "No Myth" was considered brilliantly unorthodox. It didn't hurt that Penn's look and sound had an odd 1930s aspect, something that he continues to maintain today.

But success was short-lived. None of the other songs on his debut album ("March") were as easily accessible, particularly the lyrics, which tended be surreal and very much Nathaniel West. Penn's charming Beatles-esque sound and the off-kilter keyboards of bandmate Patrick Warren were quickly perceived as gimmicky. He became a one-hit wonder. The end.


Michael Penn continued to quietly release albums, and though none of them have made a significant dent in the public consciousness, devotees still cherish each and every one of them. He still writes beautiful, punchy songs with emphasis on acoustic guitar and odd keyboards. He has a distinctive, honest, no-nonsense sort of voice. He's just slick enough to avoid sounding "indie," but he still manages to come across as a master of his own destiny...even if his destiny is to remain forever obscure.

If you lost track of him in the '80s, check out 2005's "Walter Reed." A great video for a great song.

As much as I love his music, part of me recognizes that Michael Penn doesn't have a lot of RANGE...his style and approach hasn't changed significantly in the last twenty years. The songs he writes today could have just as easily appeared on his first album. Add to this the fact that his wife Aimee Mann ALSO writes songs which sound exactly like HIS songs -- through no fault of her own, of course...her style was solidified long before she met him -- and you want to shake the two-headed indie-creature that is Aimichael Pennemann and say "MIX IT UP A BIT!"

In any case, he's great he is playing my favourite Michael Penn song, "Long Way Down." The instrument that Patrick Warren is playing is -- I think -- some form of Chamberlain, and a big part of the early Penn sound.

Albums to buy: I prefer "March" and "MP4," since they have a bit more variety to them, but they're all much of a muchness. For that reason there are no "albums to avoid" or "for fans only." Mr. Penn does not have much of an output and it is all of pretty much the same quality.


Yesterday was the long-awaited day for my MRI.

I'm not going to tell you about the more unpleasant parts because I don't think such stories are helpful. I heard all sorts of MRI-stories during the last few months and none of them did a lick of good; they were either single anecdotes of things gone wrong or alarmist stories about extremely rare complications, neither of which improved my mindset at all.

The only pre-MRI lessons that WERE useful were the ones that said that getting dye injected into a joint is not a pleasant experience. They were right, and I'm glad I knew this so I could mentally prepare myself; if I'd gone in expecting a painless procedure I would have been terribly shocked.

As for the MRI itself, I imagine that everybody has a different experience. It was an absolute nightmare for me, but that's because my arm needed to be positioned in exactly the way it CAN'T go: twisted around with its palm facing upward. They even put a sandbag on my elbow to keep it that way. Thirty minutes later, staring up at the ceiling just two inches above my nose, every second that passed was another second to seriously consider pressing the emergency "stop" button; it felt like somebody had stuck a fork into my shoulder and was twisting it out of sheer vindictiveness. I'm still paying for the forcible relocation of my joints that was necessary for the procedure.

One thing that kept me going through both the injection and the scanning was the realization that as bad and endless as all this was, it probably wasn't HALF as painful or interminable as childbirth...and what's more, the end result of childbirth is the ultimate punishment of actually being PRESENTED with a child. At least I'd get something GOOD out of the procedure. My mother confirmed this but still meted out some much-appreciated sympathy on the way home.

I feel sorry for the doctors, nurses, technicians, and volunteers. During these procedures their jobs are to put you through varying degrees of unpleasantness. I felt like a dog going to the veterinarian, the unthinking dog part of me screaming "No, no, just stop it!" and the owner part of me saying "It's necessary and it will be over soon."

Again, everybody's experience is different. Mine was so bad because of the nature of my injury, apparently.

I did in fact wear a blue hospital gown that was open in the back. I spent some time chatting with a wonderful volunteer whose primary role is to calm people down; volunteers, you are golden. The old man ahead of me whose hip was being evaluated was a particularly good sport: he referred to his walker as his "Cadillac," and when the pretty nurse told him to take his trousers off, he said "You've got a wonderful technique, haven't you?"

As an aside: Why is it charming when feeble old men say sexual things to young ladies? I think it's because there is absolutely no hint of threat in their comments -- if this guy had tried to actually cop a feel the nurse could have simply pushed him over -- and also because we assume these men are impotent, and that -- therefore -- their comments are largely self-deprecating. When an old man says such a thing he is REALLY saying "Ahhh, I'm beyond all that now." And somehow that's cute, and we feel sorry for them.

Anyway, my MRI is done and I hope it shows something useful. In the meantime, if YOU are going to get an MRI which involves a dye injection, simply be aware that it WILL hurt a lot, and that it WILL end, and that going through a couple days of pain is better than a lifetime of reduced mobility.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Mysterious Number Row

Have you ever looked at the copyright page of a book and noticed a row of numbers at the bottom? It usually looks something like this:

23 25 27 29 30 28 26 24

I took that particular set from my copy of "The Great Gatsby." It's pretty and all, but...what the heck do those numbers MEAN?

I've pondered this question since I was a child, and you'd think that in the age of Google and Wikipedia you'd be able to find the answer, but you have to know what those numbers are CALLED before you can SEARCH for them. Amazingly I've discovered that they aren't called anything. They're just a "number row."

One of the local Old Goats finally let me in on the number row secret: those numbers reveal the current edition of the book; in the case of the above example, my copy of "The Great Gatsby" is the 23rd edition printed by that particular publishing company: the lowest digit in the row is the edition number.

You might wonder why the copyright page doesn't just say "Edition 23," or why the numbers alternate and are centered, or why different books use different conventions; some are left- or right-justified, some include the year of the edition (eg. "06 07 08 09 10 5 4 3 2 1"), and some dispense with the system altogether. To understand this you need to understand why they're there in the first place.

The reason for the number row is because books are re-printed from a set of plates. When you re-use a set of plates to print a new edition of a book -- because the last one sold out -- you don't want to recreate the copyright page so it just says "Edition 23." That would require a new plate for a relatively trivial change.

Far cheaper is to simply obscure the numbers on the plates for the editions you've already printed. The plate is originally set with all the numbers from one to ten (or ten to twenty if you've surpassed ten printings, etc.), and the printer simply covers up the lower edition numbers when the book is being printed. Next time it's printed, the printer will cover up the next number.

Obscure! Bizarre! But it makes sense!

As for why different companies use different conventions for displaying the numbers, that is entirely due to the whims of the companies themselves, and it's because all the methods have different pros and cons. If they left-justify the numbers and print them from one to ten, it looks a little strange to have higher edition numbers floating off to the right. If they center them and alternate them (as in the example above), the number row always appears more-or-less centered on the page as the numbers are removed, but it's confusing to read. Some companies think it's best to have the numbers ascend from left to right (because it's the Western reading direction), while others prefer to ascend from right to left (more difficult to parse, but looks nicer).

If you'd like to learn more, check out this post and the accompanying comments. This information will never save your life, but maybe you've always wanted to know.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Open Ears 2009: Saturday May 3

The Books

My cubical-mate Dave quite literally FREAKED when he heard that The Books were coming to Kitchener. "Whozzat?" I asked. "Who are the books?

He tried to explain a bit about what they did, and he sent me a couple of videos that I barely watched -- I like to see shows without knowing anything about the artists -- and I heard all sorts of things about how they rarely perform live any more, and this was their first show in years, etc. etc.

After so much hype, could The Books actually live up to the impression that I had in my mind?

Yes. And more.

They're funny and genuine. They have a hint of humbleness to them, but they are totally confident about what they do. Their beats and some of their backing instruments are pre-recorded as part of the videos they perform to, but on stage it's still the two of them: one singing and playing acoustic guitar or bass, the other playing a sort of modified cello. They're great musicians. They're personable. They rock.

But that's only half of The Books that we experienced tonight; the other half were the videos that accompanied every song.

The first few videos were a tad gimmicky, and reminded me of a slightly more irreverent Emergency Broadcast Network: video clips and samples combined and synced up to create a new and otherwise unintended meaning. It was good, but it still tasted a bit bland to me.

But then they played "Classy Penguin." This had nothing to do with EBN-style culture-jamming, it was "just" a collection of home movies from their own families, showing the performers themselves growing up and just plain being alive.

Think of it. We were watching two extremely talented young men playing the guitar and cello on stage, while above them we saw a skillfully-edited re-run of their lives to that point. We saw the influences that shaped them and the silly things they did as children. We saw their parents and houses and even got a bass solo from the guitarists' brother. THIS was a turning point for me. Before that I just LIKED The Books. After this I LOVED them.

They got a standing ovation and did two encores. Their second encore was hilarious: a video that one of the band members had made for his child, to help him learn the alphabet. But it was TERRIFYING, an obscure and bizarre acid trip where the letters spun and flipped and made you want to run away. It so much WANTED to do all the things that a Sesame Street-style vignette would do, but somehow it went all WRONG.


Blue Dot

Afterwards we went to a party/happening/not-a-rave designed and curated by The Blue Dot. This time they'd shanghaied a large section of "The Tannery," a maze-like factory space complete with balcony, enclosed shaft-courtyard, a selection of DJs, and -- as expected from the Dotters -- something interesting happening in every nook and cranny.

Most impressively we saw a performance of Gordon Monahan's "Swinging Speaker." This was absolutely spectacular and dopplarriffic:

Since it was a sort of Open Ears "after party" I got a chance to chat with a lot of familiar faces. Unfortunately there's just no getting around the fact that such a big event requires a larger crowd than those Open Ears folks willing to stay up past their bedtimes, so when the bar closed and it turned into a not-a-rave, I reluctantly skeedaddled. Oh for a post-Open Ears booze buffet, in a calm venue, with enough attendees to make it financially worthwhile! I'll keep hoping.

So this was the end. I might get out to see some of the installations tomorrow, but otherwise my nights of live shows and no sleep are over until next time.

This was the best Open Ears festival I've seen so far. It had enough diversity and a high enough quality to make almost EVERYTHING worthwhile. Never once did I dread a show, and very rarely did I wish that a bomb would drop and put us out of our misery.

As much as I liked The Books, my favourite night was still the double-bill of David Lang's "Elevated" and the improvisational jazz of E.T.C. I have some seriously fond memories of that night and I don't think I went away unchanged.

Here's to whatever 2011 brings...!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Theoretical Girl, "Rivals"

I just stumbled upon Theoretical Girl. Is she a wonderful secret that everybody has kept from me until now?

Open Ears 2009: Friday May 2

After my brief recuperative day off I jumped back into the Open Ears fray. Unfortunately tonight's fray was a bit of a muddle, but the martinis at Jane Bond were delicious!

Penderecki String Quartet

There are certain things that I don't "have ears" for. Solo pianists who play modern compositions, for instance. And mezzo sopranos. And string quartets.

But I keep thinking that if I continue to EXPOSE myself to the Penderecki String Quartet -- which is pretty easy to do, frankly, as you can't throw a horsehair-bow without hitting them in this town -- I'll eventually "get it."

That hasn't happened yet and it didn't happen tonight. Therefore I can't pass judgment on them or their choice of music. I can, however, say that they're as cool as cucumbers and they seem like really sweet and stable people, and if they volunteered to look after my cat I would trust them to do a really great job.

Their first piece ("Light Garden" by David R. Scott) was the sort of string quartet-ty music that I never manage to enjoy. Bowing, striking, plucking. I am amazed that so much plucking can happen without the instruments going out of tune. This sort of thing seems to go nowhere in my mind, and when it's finally over I'm always surprised.

Their second, however, was "teatro dell'udito VI," during which they were joined by the composer himself, an extremely fuzzy Giorgio Magnanensi. While they played the composition, Mr. Gagnanensi sampled two of the instruments and played them back using what appeared to be some sort of delayed granular synthesis (I knew it would pop up eventually in this seems to have been the de facto choice for live electronic experimentation during the last six years).

The altered violin sounds were played back during the piece itself and an extremely creepy waveform morphed on the screen above the musicians, in sync with the electronic noises. During the first section the samples were played back in short discrete howls, sort of the way a dog tries to sing along with the theme for "The Tonight Show." During the second section, however, the waveform took on a life of its own, growing and pulsating in its evil green way, seeming almost to be FED by the string quartet. "Stop feeding it!" we should have yelled as a warning to the musicians. "It's getting bigger behind you!"

This was all quite beautiful, actually, though it kept reminding me of this.

The final piece included a dance interpretation of "Penelope and Odysseus," choreographed by the oddly-named "Dancetheatre David Earle." When I talked about the things that I don't "have ears" for, I should have also mentioned something that I don't have EYES for: modern dance. All that grasping, arching, and cringeing. I simply can't evaluate it in an objective way so -- once again -- I'll leave it to more knowledgeable people to say whether the performance was good or bad. Maybe they can also tell me whether Odysseus was the guy in the gray top, the red top, or the blue top.

I can say, however, that even when they were portraying a Greek person who is dizzy and is about to fall, they never once knocked over a music stand or a violin player, which is certainly a better balancing act than I could ever manage.

Hard Rubber Orchestra

Near the beginning of the set the conductor and spokesperson for the Hard Rubber Orchestra said that their repetoir was wide and varied. Hmmm.

Let me say right off the top that the musicians in the Hard Rubber Orchestra were AMAZING. Like, these guys could join just about any band and instantly create a sensation.

That said, I should have LOVED their show. They were bombastic and disciplined and they played a really likeable style of music: original compositions combining the most well-worn elements of film noir, Starsky & Hutch, and mid-'70s coffee commercials. You see, the problem's already starting.

They were so damn SLICK and SAFE, in the same manner as Cirque de Soleil or The Blue Man Group. Even when somebody was belting out a really amazing solo, they were almost totally steamrolled by a never-ending wave of capably-played soundtrack music, usually dominated and mutilated by a driving rhythm section. You get the feeling that their compositions have been through the wash so many times that all the colours have simply run together; the MUSIC is energetic, but the bulk of the playing HAS NO SOUL.

There were two notable exceptions, however. In the last song, the conductor (and composer of the song) seemed to suddenly pull a James Brown/Frank Zappa and twist things around a bit. The first instance of this was also the most amazing: he got the four trombone players to stand up and begin a toneless, arhythmic improvisation, while gradually the other band members ceased playing. Those trombones just went on and on and on, goofing off, sighing, laughing, climaxing...

...and the music was ALIVE! Frankenstein walked! Spring had come to Waterloo and the air was fresh and sweet and electric!

Then the rest of the band crashed in and it was all just spoiled, like maybe Frankenstein had tried to make good but had gotten frightened by fire. Seven minutes of brilliance does not a good show make. I'd be happy to listen to Hard Rubber Orchestra on the radio, but seeing them live as part of an experimental music festival was totally underwhelming.

I'm sure that Hard Rubber Orchestra is on their way to fame, and they deserve it too. Folks will love them in Vegas!