Thursday, November 29, 2007

I'd Buy Anything By...Depeche Mode

Okay, this is an easy one. Everybody knows who Depeche Mode is.

Although they first entered my consciousness with "People Are People," it wasn't until the "Music for the Masses" album that I became a loyal fan. Something about that album's inscrutable, cold, deep, fat, orchestral melancholy. Crystal-clear vocals. Alan Wilder's brilliant keyboards. All sad and eye-clenchy angstiness.

That album will always remind me of a certain "Yearbook" party -- one of the few parties of my youth -- when I discovered that the cool and somewhat askew kids liked the same music I liked for a change. I realized there were other people in the world like me! And though the party ended with us watching "Alf," it was still a significant moment in my life, and "Music for the Masses" sums up that period of a teen's social-discovery.

"Violator," the next album, upped the ante. Superb all the way through (with the exception of "Blue Dress," maybe) and their darkest release yet, "Violator" was the soundtrack for the next stage in my life: dating, exploring, gaining confidence, and realizing that the world was a big scary place indeed. It was also the first time I fell in love with a producer: Flood (though Tim Friese-Greene had been on the periphery of my brain and my heart for some time).

My favourite Depeche Mode song off that album (and a wonderful video as usual): "Halo."

[Video excised when I realized that most of Depeche Mode's videos on YouTube are either crappy live clips or awful fan videos.]

My enthusiasm diminished afterward. "Songs of Faith and Devotion" had wonderful moments but sounded a bit messy, and when Alan Wilder left I began to wonder about "the point." The following albums have been lacklustre, but like a loyal dog I keep buying their music and sniffing their collective butts.

Come back, Alan. They need you!

That's not to say they haven't put out some great songs in the post-Wilder years. Case in point: "It's No Good" (and yet another typically brilliant Depeche Mode video):

Albums to buy? As above, "Music for the Masses" and "Violator." Albums to avoid? Their debut, "Speak and Spell," which seems to be mediocre no matter how you slice it. For fans only? The three CD "Remix" set, which has all those remixes that you loved on vinyl but couldn't find on CD...or most of them, anyway. Now that all the albums have been re-released in mega-format there's probably little a late-comer can't find at HMV.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How I Got My Soul Back From Bollywood

I used to watch a lot of Bollywood movies and then write elaborate reviews about them (which were well-received at the time and which I still get lots of praise for). I genuinely loved the films, for reasons which I described (sort of flippantly) in an L.A. Weekly article. My most likely route to long-shot recognition and fame was probably through Bollywood fandom, if anything.

Why did I stop enjoying the movies? Here's a list!
  1. The novelty wore off. What at first seemed to be revolutionary and unconventional turned out to be only "different from Hollywood." I had to eventually admit that I loved most of the plot twists only because I hadn't seen the films they were duplicated from, and not because the writers were geniuses.
  2. The medium was changing. New Bollywood films were looking more and more "MTV," and were moving away from those novel elements that I loved so much to begin with. This sullied my idea of Bollywood as a whole.
  3. It sank in that I could never really be "part" of the Bollywood machine, except as a curious outsider who would always remain awkward and comparatively clueless.
  4. The appreciative emails and "write reviews for our website" offers were not, ultimately, worth any money.
  5. The very small romanticized ideas I had about India were gradually eroded by Jai Maharaj and his ilk.
  6. I gained prestige for being critical, so I also gained criticism of my own critiques.
  7. Us cozy members of "Bollybob" became too busy to regularly meet, and our semi-annual get-togethers were no longer cozy.
  8. I increasingly felt like I was focusing only on the "kitsch" value of the films, mainly because a kitschy review is more fun than a serious one.
  9. Bollywood was becoming "hip," thus removing the joy of appreciating a gem that your peers are unaware of. And all because of "Ghost World."
  10. I could no longer enjoy the movies since I had to watch them with a notebook in hand, jotting down plot points and ideas for the inevitable review. I felt I NEEDED to review the movies.
  11. Writing the reviews (and taking the screen shots) took an awful long time, and that is the most significant point of all: when a non-paying hobby becomes a gruelling chore, JUST STOP IT.
I still love ELEMENTS of Bollywood, and someday I'll be able to go back and love the movies again (see below for ruminations about "going off" the things you cherish). But until then, the thought of yet another predictable 3 1/2 hour comedy/melodrama featuring an abused mother, a boys vs. girls dance, an over-complicated plot shot over several years, a snake, and a scene in a tacky nightclub makes me feel tired.

Two Things I've Avoided for Years, But That I Now Realize Are Really Quite Good

Sometimes you love something but you "go off it" for some reason. I used to enjoy eating cheddar cheese, pistachio nuts, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, but I couldn't even THINK about any of them for years because I got sick once while eating them (at different times, not all together).

It took me a long time to appreciate cheddar cheese and pistachio nuts again. Sometimes you need to distance yourself from a thing in order to learn how much you love it, though Kentucky Fried Chicken still grosses me out (for different reasons than it did originally).

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

My family was very much a British humour household, maybe because PBS was the only reliable channel we got. At some point Monty Python became a regular staple for us and I loved the TV show and the movies for many years.

Then, in high school, people started to QUOTE it around me. This got worse in university when the people who quoted it were thoroughly annoying (and should have known better). I had become exposed to the Monty Python Cult, and I ran away for fear of being associated with them. I stopped watching the films. I "went off" Python, and every time I saw a poster or a video cassette cover featuring Python artwork I felt vaguely hostile and ill.

Last week I found myself buying "The Meaning of Life" on DVD, and I'm now distant enough from my childhood and my bad "cult experiences" to see it for what it is: absolute genius. Maybe the film has actually gotten better with age, its "sketch" format no longer so jarring and its shocking bits more "fun" than "rude."

I'm most struck at what good ACTORS they all were. Well, Gilliam and Jones were never very good, and Idle was I think only middling, but Cleese, Chapman, and Palin were EXCEPTIONAL. They were no longer amateur performers relying on silliness and enthusiasm to sell their characters; they'd become 100% confident and skilled. And as Gilliam wonders on the movie's bland commentary, why did they all give up acting together just when they'd hit their peak?

And the musical As a kid I giggled about sperm and I think, holy cow, Terry Jones (and the choreographer and the set designers) deserve an award.

Skinny Puppy

My adolescent devotion to Skinny Puppy was based on angst, isolation, and novelty. When they started to repeat themselves (Ogre hits himself, falls down, gets dirty, falls down again) or produce total crap (Ogre "sings"), my interest began to fade. And when I decided in 1994 that I'd rather be HAPPY than hateful, I relocated my Skinny Puppy CDs to the shelf below the ABBA, and that was the end of that.

This month, high school chum Lynda reminded me of Skinny Puppy (she'd introduced them to me way back when, and we'd both gone to their Toronto "Too Dark Park" show). I said I didn't like them anymore. But in the back of my mind I wondered...hmmm.

So I dusted off the CDs and brought them to work, and (like with "The Meaning of Life") I was able to view their work with a new distance and maturity. NOBODY sounds like Skinny Puppy -- an overpowering, sludgy cacaphony that still sounds impossible -- and even though I no longer feel "the pain" I can finally appreciate "the creativity and the skill." They weren't simply making angry noise, they were making a new kind of music, and they knew exactly what they were doing.

"VIVIsectVI" is still my favourite (!!!DISTORTION!!!), as is "Bites" (for its relatively fresh early sound) and "Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate" (the clearest mix between percussion, keyboards, vocals, and samples). "Too Dark Park," which I didn't like at the time, sounds particularly good in these post-White Zombie days.

"Rabies," however, still pretty much sucks. It was the Kentucky Fried Chicken of Skinny Puppy albums. Just so you don't think I've lost my critical perception.

The Barthathon: "Once Upon a Time"

I feel increasingly stupid about reviewing these Barth books.

I'm reading them for pleasure and also out of a vague obsessive desire. I am not reading them so I can write thoughtful (let alone accurate) reviews. Who cares what I have to say about John Barth's writing? Not even *I* care.

How appropriate that these doubts would come to the surface of my brain just as I've finished "Once Upon a Time" (1994), Barth's largely autobiographical "floating opera." In it he gives us shockingly candid, personal close-ups of his own Ambrose Mensch-ish childhood, his struggles to become a jazz drummer (and arranger), his lame attempts to become a writer, his growth as a teacher, the painful dissolution of his first marriage, and his later years with soulmate, former student, and later wife Shelly (she of the "for Shelly" dedication fame).

You might say "oh no, he writes about that stuff in ALL his books!" You'd be right, but that doesn't mean that "Once Upon a Time" isn't worth reading. In this case, Barth approaches all these anecdotes with a sharper filter; not only are they more-or-less "true" this time around, but they're also told in the context of the novel's biggest theme: vocation.

Yes, it's the story of Barth's "calling," that is, his need to make sure that "the sentences get written." Everything in his autobiography is a preparation for the next step, the next idea, the next book. Obstacles are there to teach him lessons, and the rewards are lessons learned. Through "Once Upon a Time" Barth tells us How He Became a Writer, and all those life experiences we're already familiar with are retold so that they point in that precise direction.

Sound artificial? False? The benefit of hindsight? Definitely, and as usual Barth turns that structural weakness into a strength. During the story, Barth (or Shelly, or his twin sister) reminds us at appropriate times that this vocational tale is still a STORY. One of its major characters, Jay Scribner, plays a part in all of Barth's autobiographical epiphanies...but Jay never existed. He's only in the story because, in Barth's authorial opinion, he HAS to be in order for "the story" to work.

Along with the book's "time" conceit -- he has set it two years in the future, and since it takes longer to write the book than it does to live its climactic events the author gradually catches up to the story -- this balance between autobiography and idealized memory is the very thing that Barth is always doing...but this time it is done explicitly and with an appropriate purpose, or at least a purpose that appeals to me. We learn not just about his life, his environment, and the evolution of his writing, but we also learn the HISTORY of those things, both real and fantastic. We learn how HE really feels, and how HE relates to the world. We learn WHY and HOW.

It is honest, clever, and significant. It's Barth's world as it is, and also as it "should be" if it were novelised (which, here, it is). It is mind-bending in a way that ENHANCES the lessons as opposed to obscuring them.

Well, usually. The hundred page introduction contains far more filler, Shelly-love-note-ing, and structure-building than anybody should expect, and that section is also uncomfortably similar to all those other couple-goes-sailing-into-a-crisis books he's written immediately before this one. And you get awfully tired of Barth's (perhaps unconscious) need to tell us exactly what everybody is drinking, which he started doing around "Sabbatical" and REALLY overdoes here. Plus, Jay Scribner's bebob-talk is tiresome ("dippy," even).

But those are the quibbles of one who has read nothing but John Barth since July. "Once Upon a Time" enriches his earlier books (and it's surprising to learn that he was hopped up on amphetamines when he wrote most of them) and partly excuses his repeated themes. There are also brand-new meditations in here that are a joy to read; Barth's description of his early rhythmic and musical revelations are beautiful and I wish he'd spend more time on them in the future (and perhaps drop the frame-tales and mythic heroes for a bit).

I loved "Once Upon a Time" years ago when I first read it. I love it more now. I think it's one of the most significant of his novels, in an understated sort of way. But please, please, please read it SEPARATE from the rest of his books, as opposed to during a somewhat gruelling Barthathon (and before "Further Fridays" which -- you guessed it -- revisits these themes ONCE AGAIN).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Boo! You Pretty Creature!"

I find Peter Arno's "New Yorker" cartoons to be hit-or-miss, though early on I was enthralled by his "Whoop Sisters" strips. These cartoons were always single panel, somewhat confusing, and strangely vertical.

They'd show the two muff-wearing Whoop Sisters -- uncouth, middle-age British women -- striding rapidly through some far-out scene -- the greet-line for the Queen, exploring a construction site, etc. -- and exposing their crassness by making ridiculous comments about the situation (or sometimes just gossiping about something irrelevant). The sisters were always on the verge of a strange hysteria, and would express their amusement by saying "Whoop!" (a loud way of laughing, in this context).

As you can imagine this got boring eventually. After releasing a book of "Whoop Sisters" cartoons, Arno went back (as of 1928) to the strange illustrations of society gentlemen and debutantes that he was so good at. See above for the oddest one yet from the June 9, 1928 issue.

I mentioned Arno in a previous blog post about writer Lois Long (AKA "Lipstick"), because the two of them were married in what remained a sort of secret union for many years. This morning, however, I discover that those tales of Long and Arno's drunken sprees weren't all fun and games: he repeatedly had violent run-ins with his peers, and Long finally divorced him in 1931 for extreme cruelty.

Sometimes you'd rather NOT know certain things about artists.

PS: The OS X dictionary does not recognize "debutante" and wants me to use "debut ante" instead.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Because It's Sunday: Rambha

Next to Sridevi, Rambha was by far my favourite Bollywood actress. She wasn't a particularly GOOD actress last time I checked, but she had genuine spunk, a terrific turtle-nose, a strangely genuine screen presence, and WOW she could dance. For these reasons I think of her as India's Ann Miller, always likable but rarely the "star."

To illustrate this, here's one of the few good numbers from "Beti No.1." Rambha is the only person who can out-dance Govinda, and in this song she effortlessly matches him move-for-move.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Perils of Automatic Web Harvesting

By now you've probably noticed that when you type a search request into Google, you are often directed to spontaneously-generated pages that pull together bits of information about that search term. These automatic web harvesters are not usually meant to fulfill your search request...they are only there to lure you in so you can see the attached advertisements.

I don't usually notice these sites and I've gotten pretty good at NOT clicking on them, but this morning I did a search for "Creepy Pedro" and got sent to this page. It's run by "Pipl," the most "comprehensive people search on the web," and automatically populates its database from stuff it harvests off the web; newspaper articles, trade papers...and those "Creepy Pedro" radio plays I wrote so many years ago.

The subject of the page is "Bernard Hiller," a real-life acting teacher. Three of the "Pipl" links point to legitimate sources of information, but the fourth points to the "Camp Creepy for Kids" play, wherein a (fictionalized) James Bernard insults a (totally fictional) person named "Hiller Black."

Since "Pipl" obviously has a problem with punctuation, it includes a quote from the play as one of the "quick facts" about the totally real Bernard Hiller: "Hiller was always a bit of a copycat, wasn't he..."

I assume that people don't go to "Pipl" for their research reports or resume checkups, but even so it thrills me to know that some guy out there is being slandered in a supposedly authoritative database, entirely because of a Creepy Pedro radio play that has nothing to do with him. Ahh, serendipity. Pedro would be proud.

(PS: Some new Creepy Pedro movie reviews are in the latest issue of your copy today!)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dr. Seuss and Flit

You might think that Dr. Seuss was ALWAYS a famous author of children's books, but he didn't start writing those books until the late '30s. Before that -- as I discovered this morning -- he drew cartoons for humour magazines and advertising companies.

I discovered this bizarre fact when I ran across an advertisement for "Flit" bug-spray in the June 2, 1928 issue of The New Yorker. Not only is this ad the kind of thing you wouldn't be able to do today -- kids all over the country would be drinking insecticide in emulation -- but there's the trademark Seuss-type tree, and there's the Seuss signature at the bottom.

It turns out Dr. Seuss was Flit's big illustrator. Chalk this up to "weird things you should only learn about at 7:30 in the morning."

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Catching Up With (Happiness)

Sometimes you get an hour of total bliss, when everything comes together. You're finished work, you're looking forward to the year's first snowstorm, you have a DVD you're looking forward to watching (episodes of "Monty Python's Flying Circus") and a book you're enjoying (John Barth's "Once Upon a Time"). As if that wasn't enough, the songs you're working on are -- in your opinion -- the best things you've ever done (tentatively titled "Road to Avondale" and "Little Bit Out") and somebody just positively reviewed your latest CD collaboration with Infant Cycle:
St.Bernard’s four tracks give instead the idea of a mini-movie, as instruments, field recordings and pre-existent voices lead our brain towards the nowhere of significance. At one point, I was so mesmerized by the apparent nonsense of certain repetitions, I couldn’t decide if what I was hearing was too simple to accept a description or just nullifying my thoughts; one’s left even more anguished in the final minutes of the disc. Music that is intense and uninviting at one and the same time but, this notwithstanding, we all know that - aesthetic pleasures or not - if something stimulates a reaction, then it means that it’s good enough.
I am oddly complimented.

An additional "catching up" point: if you like the "Daily Muffy" episodes (or you didn't know they existed), another oldie (from 2003) is getting underway. St. Mark and I try to defeat SARS in Toronto's Chinatown, and then tackle West Nile and Mad Cow as an afterthought.

I'd Buy Anything By...Dana International

An inspiration, an artist, a real and utter thrill. She may have become uncomfortably "Celine Dion-ish" during the last few years, but you can't blame a girl for chasing fame, especially in those heels.

So spare a thought for Dana International, Israel's first (but surprisingly not only) transsexual pop princess. She clawed her way up thanks partly to Ofer Nissim's unorthodox power-production, surprised everybody by winning the Eurovision contest, and surprised everybody again by falling over at Eurovision the following year.

Her style was initially fluffy camp with lots of Arabic whoopy-hollery nods. On their way toward Eurovision, the Dana/Nissim partnership took on a harder-edge; all that whooping and hollering became somewhat scary and resulted in their best album to date, as well as their best video: "Chinquemilla." Yup, that's a banana.

Sadly, Dana International and Ofer Nissim parted ways shortly after her Eurovision win, and while he's continued blazing trails she has become...well, sort of a victim of the top forty climb. She's still fabulous, but she's no longer very "different," which puts her in a musical league that she can't compete in (especially not in English). Here's her latest single, "Love Boy," from the latest album this is constantly just about to be released. Sure it's great and all, but what sets it apart (besides Dana's crotch?)

In Las Vegas I met a cab driver who claimed to be her former lighting assistant. He said she was a jerk, and I believe him. Still, to become a transsexual pop star in the middle east -- and to go so mainstream as to hawk insurance for a "girls only" insurance plan -- is a significant accomplishment. And much of her music is simply amazing, no matter how much her "diva" stuff annoys me.

Albums to buy? Oh, "Maganuna," the wildest one out there! Albums to avoid? Anything post-Eurovision...they're not TERRIBLE, they just aren't very good. For fans only? Any of the frequent Israel-only special editions, which tend to come in outrageous packaging yet offer very little new music.

iTunes Word Search: "Move"

In honour of my moved-out neighbours -- and whoever might end up moving in -- here's what my iPod thinks about that particular verb.
  1. Begin to Move (Praga Khan)
  2. Earth Moving (Mike Oldfield)
  3. Gotta Move On (Dana International)
  4. I'm in the Mood to Move (Ween)
  5. I Can Move You If You Can Let Me (Parliament)
  6. Keep on Movin' (Soul II Soul)
  7. The Glass Moved By Itself (Edward Ka-Spel)
  8. Make a Move on Me (Olivia Newton-John)
  9. Move-On (Baby Ford)
  10. Move On (ABBA)
  11. Move On (K.M.F.D.M.)
  12. Move Over Darling (Tracey Ullmann)
  13. Move Your Ass (Erotic Dissidents)
  14. Movin' Out (Billy Joel)
  15. Moving (Kate Bush)
  16. Moving Away (Ween)
  17. Moving Like Water (Sky Cries Mary)
  18. Moving to Florida (Butthole Surfers)
  19. Mr. Move (Jonny Rainbow)
  20. The Subject Has Moved Left (The Art of Noise)
  21. We Move as One (Agnetha Fältskog)
So, when sung in song, moving tends to be about changing residency, dancing, emotion, and (as usual) sex.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Michael Palin, Adventurer

I am laying around at home in a relaxedly ill state, while the world outside my window is gloomy and motionless. In both my old apartment and this new one, the transitional seasons -- spring and fall -- are constantly chilly; through quirks of the heating system and the poor insulation most of the rooms are just cool enough to be unpleasant.

What better time for watching Michael Palin's "Pole to Pole?"

My brain is too foggy to come up with anything insightful, but Michael Palin's travel documentaries make me feel very, very good. He's a benign everyman, genuinely interested in every aspect of every culture, with a strange combination of extroversion and reserve.

He deals graciously with language barriers, often winning through with sheer force of persistent goodwill. He never seems condescending. Most people like him, even when he's a burden, but it's also enjoyable to watch the many people who DON'T like him. When forced to share close accommodations with a person who despises him -- as often happens -- Palin just ironically natters on at them, a form of passive-aggression that is fun to watch.

Most gratifying is the total lack of sensationalism. The film crew don't try to seek out dangerous situations; with only six of them operating with few (if any) allies in the vicinity, they can't afford to be foolhardy. Instead, the documentaries tend to be about ordinary hardships in extraordinary places; how to buy vodka in the Soviet Union, how to avoid the crazy Russian lady who is passionately in love with Palin, how to get the vehicles through hundreds of miles of thick mud, how to find running water in a decrepit hotel.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Hateful Advertisements are Effective

Most of us know that an annoying advertisement can be just as effective as a nice one. You know those commercials that are loud and brash and deliberately ugly? Their point is not to make you ENJOY them, it's to make you notice them and remember the message.

I live life blissfully free of adverts and it's rare that one actually enters into my consciousness. But I've developed such an irrational hatred of this Canadian Tire "Mortgage" character that I have to admit it: the advertisers, by being sneaky, have managed to get me. They've won again.

Every time I see this guy pop up somewhere -- most commonly at BlogPatrol, where I track my blog stats -- I get a hot feeling in my face and I try to minimize my exposure by frantically "clicking through." If I'm lucky I can get to my stats without ever seeing him, but more often than not I miss the links and wind up on other pages, where I see him again...and again...and again.

Why do I hate him? Partly because he looks "stupid," but mainly because he makes no sense. What is he supposed to be? Why's he dressed like that? Why's he always grabbing things and then falling down? YARGH!

The thing is, if I didn't hate him so much I would never have absorbed his message: Canadian Tire offers payment plans of some sort. Despite my best efforts this sidebar advertisement has effectively reached me. I now know exactly what Canadian Tire wanted me to know. Hey, I'm even indirectly advertising for them by telling you all how much I HATE the commercial.

The fact that I would NEVER get a loan from Canadian Tire is beside the point; other people DO want to get loans, and if they hate that egg-shaped guy as much as I do, they'll notice the advertisement and the message will get across.

Brilliant. Awful.

The Barthathon: "The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor"

Ignoring the funhouse of creative-license time-twisting for a moment, "The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor" (1991) is about Simon. He travels several life-voyages (childhood to adulthood, family life, divorce, fatherhood, love, sex) while absently flirting with the barrier between literature and the real world. During a climactic moment he is transported into the past (or the fiction) of Sinbad's seven voyages, where he hopes to find his way home by exchanging journey stories with the famous sailor himself.

That simple synopsis does not make a Barth novel, however. Introduce an elaborate mystery involving pirates, virgins, madness, metaphor, and the plotting between nine or ten members of the Sinbad household. Likewise structure the book as a series of frame-tales, re-tellings, interludes, and unreliable narrators. Wrap it all up in the final hundred pages with dense exposition that is both fascinating and maddening. Throw in lots of sex and agonized interpersonal relationships, and you have the REAL "Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor," which is full of so many hair-pin turns that you'd better pay attention or you'll lose your way.

I "lost it" the first time I read the book, which was only a few years ago. I paid scant attention to parts of the story that seemed tangential and dull near the beginning -- the details of Sinbad's visits, the backstories for Kuzia and Jayda (Sinbad's current and previous householders), all that stuff about names and impersonations and all the different versions of the stories. So when the story ended (and those skimmed details became crucial to the mystery) I had no idea what had happened, and I didn't pay attention to the final, beautiful chapter: the storyteller unraveling, the uncertainty before the end, the sad, the sad love.

I understand it all better this time, but I also better recognize the jarring shifts that the book goes through. The mundanity of Simon's (and our) world is described in a distinctly modernist, style...a style which those in Sinbad's world find unrealistic and boring. They want "realistic" stories about dashing heroes and giant serpents, as in Sinbad's tales. The novel bounces back and forth between modernism and romanticism in the same way that Simon spans the worlds.

And yet these two words are not so far apart. Simon loves both of them, and Barth writes in both styles. Love exists in both worlds, as does hate and cruelty and vengeance. "The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor" is about many things -- it's a mystery, an adventure, a serial love story, a bribe for Death -- but the theme that struck me most was that the "real world" can sound fantastic to romantics, and the "romantic world" can sound boring to modernists. The style is important, but the stories contain the same elements under the skin. Sinbad's seven-several morals apply just as well to us as well as they do to them.

To try to sum up the book this way is a stupid thing, and I apologize. If you plan on reading it yourself -- and I'd put it in a Barth "top five" if forced to make a snap judgement -- give the original Sinbad story a gloss first. You don't NEED to pre-read it -- and the book adapts the voyages nicely in all the appropriate places -- but if you already know the Sinbad story you'll be able to devote attention to what really matters: who said who did what for which potential reason, when.

That sounds sterile, but the book isn't. At least, not entirely. I love Barth's "Ambrose Mensch"-style meditations on childhood, maturation, and resignation most especially, and this novel has all of that in spades.

The usual list of Barth themes in this novel: seawalls, deafness, twins, Scheherazade (yes, she's here too, briefly), water-messages, an ill/insane parent, tidewater loss of virginity, going back to go forward (tell your story to return home), older male's declining sexual potency with young lover, troubled writing trip to Spain, ordinary object becomes almost magical and is subsequently lost, tragic young woman inconsiderately used sexually, Borgest ("zahir"), letters ("baylor, kuzia, yasmin"), female reproductive cycle (especially menstruation), sodomy and a general inserting of fingers into rectums, and multiple names (Simon, Simmon, Somebody, Behler, Baylor, Bey el-Loor...)

The Strangeness of YouTube

A few weeks ago I (poorly) digitized a couple of rare Canadian music videos, and then put them on YouTube. Strangely, the one that generated buzz was Belinda Metz's "What About Me."

Metz herself (AKA "mamamelody") showed up in the comments and seemed confused about the situation; who would EVER put her video online? WHY would they do such a thing? To make the situation stranger, her daughter showed up a little bit later ("dancer88skye"), as did a man who apparently appeared in the video ("cathode42").

While it's often difficult to judge a person's attitude in a comment's section, one of Metz's points was that posting the video was flattering but "not nice." And I don't think she just meant my making fun of her outrageous shoulder pads.

There's no question that posting a person's music video online is a violation of copyright. As Metz said later, she gets no residuals from such a thing. Legally her viewpoint is cut-and-dried.

But then we enter the strange world of online promotion. While Belinda Metz has become an established actress, it would seem that her mid-80s music career is...well, finished. That's not saying she can't resurrect it, but few people in the world actually know she exist, I don't believe her video is in rotation even on retro-music shows (hence its unavailability on YouTube), and even her CD is long out of print.

In short, I would think that posting a video in this situation serves only two purposes: to potentially promote the artist, and then to rally fans. It does not TAKE AWAY residuals (since there is no other way for people to SEE the video) or discourage legitimate sales of a DVD release (since no DVD exists).

Of course I would always bow to artists (and their lawyers), and I understand their antsiness about online reproduction. Fortunately Metz has given the posting her blessing, so you can now enjoy a wonderful song and an otherwise forgotten video.

But this makes me wonder: when I put other obscure Canadian artists online, will they think it's a positive thing, or will they sic their lawyers on me?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Because It's Saturday and I'm Not Dancing: Praga Khan & Nikkie Van Lierop

Praga Khan and Nikkie van Lierop helped build the bizarre Belgian "new beat" sound in the '90s, and quickly adapted themselves to every style that came their way. They did KLF-style stadium house as "Digital Orgasm," sex-industrial-rock as "Lords of Acid," straight-out rave as "Milk Inc.," and (literally) half a dozen different things under a dozen different names.

Through it all, Khan laid the bedrock, and van Lierop wrote the lyrics, sang, and added her own musical touches.

They've amicably gone their separate ways, but they're both still active. Van Lierop -- often as "Darling Nikkie" -- sporadically releases brilliant solo albums that range from electronic-metal to jazz. Khan still writes great music but has dropped into a well of awful cheesiness. Maybe it's a Belgian thing, I don't know.

Since *I* can't dance tonight, here are two Khan/Van Lierop songs from two different projects, and they are both WONDERFULLY danceable. First, the seminal remake of "Injected With a Poison," which is probably their most powerful song and is DEFINITELY their best video.

Next, "Time to Believe" from "Digital Orgasm."

Dance for me, please!

Just Let Me Vent For a Moment

One of my many self-improvement resolutions is to stop being concerned about what other people do, but let me just say this:

I hate people who carry more than eight items through the supermarket express lane. There's simply no excuse. These people don't believe that the rules apply to them and they have no concern for the other people in line.

Today I was behind a late-20s yuppie couple who actually TRICKED their way into the line. The wife put two items on the counter, but her husband actually HID a basket full of produce until the first two items were rung in. And produce is the slowest thing to deal with, because it can't just be scanned. It was incredibly rude.

When the cashier asked them if they'd like to donate two dollars to a children's charity, the husband scoffed, "I don't." He turned to his wife. "Do you?" "Me neither," she said. Their tone was distinctly, "don't waste our time."

After seeing those two selfish, tricky jerks breeze through like that, I started fishing for spare change. Because the only good thing about bad people is they set a baseline against which the rest of us should compare ourselves.

In Fact Actually Sicko

I know I said a few weekends ago that it was time for me to get sick, but somehow the moment didn't arrive until last night. Lethargy, runny nose, headache, desire to be away from humanity. So tonight I'm at home watching Michael Palin's "Pole to Pole" and looking forward to a bath.

Earlier, my mother dropped by to enact her peerless "mom-shui," this time with a rug for the bathroom door, a much-needed family heirloom footstool, and...the oddest craft I've ever seen: a woman's face made of wire for hanging jewelry on. It's just this side of ugly, to the point where it becomes fascinating, appropriate, and suddenly beautiful.

So me and my (as yet nameless) wire roommate will share a cozy night of reading. Feet up, snuggled in, only slightly missing the rest of the human race and the joy of dancing.


Kitchener/Waterloo had its Santa Claus parade this morning, which got me somewhat sentimental about parades past.

I don't remember ever LIKING parades very much. They were always cold and there weren't any warm diabetic drinks for children, and even if there WAS a warm drink you wouldn't be able to pee until the parade was over. If you moved to the front of the crowd, clowns and other entertainers would try to interact with you, but if you moved to the back you couldn't see anything. The marching bands were fun, and I always liked the majorettes and the fire engines, but at the end was the Santa Claus who I didn't believe in, and gosh my feet were cold.

My primary childhood memories of parades are the smell of coffee and exhaust fumes and other people's cloudy breath, the press and squish of puffy outerwear, the sight of legs in front of me, the never-ending jingle of xylophones, and the fear that I'd somehow get separated from my parents if I moved too far away.

Much later, for three years I lived in a house that was just behind the parade starting line, where all the floats and performers would assemble at 8am and start tootling their horns. I was working night shifts at the time so the last thing I wanted to see were a bunch of tipsy Shriners under my bedroom window.

But despite my desire to generally AVOID parades, I still see goodness in them, like many other activities that I avoid. And today, walking along beside the route, I felt affection for the volunteers who danced around to make the children happy, and the freezing parents who feigned awe at the spectacle in order to charm the youngsters, and I was most impressed by the Bethany Church group who do some sort of Christmas reenactment (involving mounted Roman soldiers, a camel, and a swaddled-up baby Jesus).

Sure it's mainly about advertising for the companies involved -- every float had a corporate sign, all the local radio stations had their slickest announcers out -- but seeing kids go "YAY!" at something they loved was a positive thing. It's ritual, socialization, and a bit of "let loose" for us repressed Canadians.

Like most winter activities, I'm glad they happen. Just don't expect me to shiver with you.

Friday, November 16, 2007


I just finished watching "Sicko." Here are a few thoughts before I go to bed.

I enjoyed Michael Moore before he started taking himself so seriously. At one time he was a pest that used irony and confrontation to make relevant points about greedy, selfish people. He seemed sort of cavalier and fun, making a difference almost by accident. Sometime around "The Awful Truth," however, he decided he was a combination "celebrity" and "guardian angel," and he became more concerned with his image, and more manipulative in his techniques, than he ever was before. He also stopped being funny. He also developed a sort of embarrassing love of Canada.

Maybe Moore is fighting back against the equally-manipulative conservatives, trying to use their own slick messaging against them. The thing is, most lefties -- like myself -- pride ourselves on LOOKING for truth, as opposed to cynically manipulating people, no matter how grand the cause.

So whenever Moore gets that sad sound in his voice, I squirm nervously. When a woman grieves over her child's death IN A PLAYGROUND, I turn slightly away. And when Moore wraps it all up by bringing in 9/11...well, gag.

But he probably does it because it works. All those Canadian, French, and English people who interject that they "love America" might touch the hearts of swing voters in the USA, but I can't help thinking that Moore's noble goal (universal health care) is being advanced by transparent methods (the French have universal health care AND THEY AREN'T EVIL!)

Anyway, there's no doubt in my mind that the American health care system is a wicked muddle of greedy jackassery, kept in place only by hysterical fear-messaging on the part of politicians and pundits (who are bought off by those who grow fat on the system). We're on the same page there.

And yes, thank goodness for the Canadian medical system, which guarantees that I will never go without treatment, will never pay money for necessary treatment, and will always be able to go for free checkups.

But the day I walk into a hospital emergency ward and only wait a few minutes for treatment is the day I'm...well, being interviewed by Michael Moore, perhaps. Emergency room treatment here will rarely take less than four hours and hospitals are quite full. Family doctors are scarce. Even so, however, I have never waited more than 90 minutes in an "urgent care clinic" (though they aren't open all night).

  • Many years ago I dropped a glass at Club Abstract and cut my hand open. I was driven -- in drag -- to the emergency ward at 2am, and I got out of there at around 6am. Most of that time was spent pressing a towel to my hand and waiting for the doctor to see me. Granted, my injury was not that serious, four hours is not long (considering that 2am is the busiest time at a hospital), and I didn't need to get any sort of approval or pay any money for my treatment. And the nurse liked my outfit.
  • It takes at least two weeks for me to get an appointment with my "hand doctor" (regarding my tendonitis), but he's always ready for the appointment when I arrive and -- as usual -- no approval or payment is involved.
  • I did need to pay for my "hand cast."
  • My diabetes supplies -- insulin, pentips, blood-testing strips -- are not covered (at least they weren't last time I checked, seven years ago). I don't know WHY they aren't covered, and they're VERY expensive. Fortunately my company's benefits pay 80% (though they get bitchy about the "usual and reasonable" thing).
My point is -- as others have noted -- the Canadian system is not perfect, even though Moore portrays it as being so. But as far as I can say it is LEAGUES beyond the American system and I'm very glad to have it (and help pay for it).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

All My Neighbours: At the Grey Yonder

The Grey Yonder – where I lived for a year between 1994 and 1995 – was a three storey slum packed with students. Each floor had the same configuration – five rooms, common area/kitchen, two bathrooms – and the landlords were…well, pretty much absent. It seemed customary for tenants to skip out on their rent, and also customary for the landlords to have a blasĂ© attitude toward fixing things (ie, never actually doing so).

Of the five of us on my floor (the top one), some were friends so I won’t talk about them. But our most notable top-floor roommates were R. and C.

R. was a good-hearted guy, but he definitely lived in his own world. A raver to the core of his bony little body, R. had arrived somewhat damaged by his experiences growing up in the Yukon…not the ideal place for organizing a youth gang, apparently, though there was lots of room for skateboarding.

The first thing he did when he arrived was to spray his gang’s tag on his bedroom wall. He assured us that he’d take adequate precautions, but as the hours wore on and the smell got worse we began to fear for R.’s brain cells. He finally came crashing out of his room, eyes bigger and crazier than usual, covered head-to-toe in pink dust and confessing that he didn’t feel good. It turns out that his precaution of opening his bedroom window for ventilation was defeated by his ignorance of “storm windows"...his fan was blowing at the tightly-sealed SECOND pane of glass, which he didn’t realize was there. R. got very ill and his room was tinted pink.

Other than insatiable hunger for those “people falling off of skateboards” videos, R. was a sweet guy and a considerate roommate. But then his older brother started spending nights in apartment, then spending weekends, until finally we discovered that he had a new (non-paying) tenant sleeping in the common area. He stayed until R. finally moved out a few months later.

Nunich – the most gregarious of our legitimate roommates – dubbed him “Polkaroo” for reasons that I don’t remember, but I DO remember that he was a creepy guy. You’d get up early in the morning and find this scruffy man in this early 30s sleeping in the kitchen. He’d hobble around on his cane and stare lasciviously at females. He brought an element of sexual tension into our already unstable world.

Our other roommate – C. – was the QUEEN of sex. She had an assembly-line of simultaneous lovers who would enter through one bedroom door and leave through the other. While waiting for sex, her lovers sat in the common area and intimidated us. Nunich called them “LoveCo” and gave us this early-morning anecdote:
NUNICH: (Making breakfast) Good morning.
LOVECO: (Farts)
NUNICH: Oh (Continues making breakfast)
LOVECO: (Farts again)
NUNICH: Would you please stop doing that?
LOVECO: Do you mind? It’s just a butt.
C. bought a rabbit because she thought it would be cute. The rabbit peed all over her carpet and ate her furniture. One night we were playing cards in the common area when we heard two loud thumps from her room. C. wandered out, wearing a nightgown and holding a belt, and simply said “I have killed the bunny.” She became known as “The Bunnykiller” and relations with her broke down after that.

The divider between my bedroom and hers was just a piece of drywall, so I became an unwilling audience to her sexual exploits. She would howl and – occasionally – actually bark like a dog. One of her boyfriends got wind of her revolving-door approach to sex and – at 1am – started beating her as she screamed “Help! He’s killing me! Help!” Nunich and I huddled in my room and listened, knowing that if we called the police she’d just deny everything and hate us forever. The next morning – covered with bruises – she sat in the kitchen and moaned about her beastly boyfriend, but later that day we heard her showing her “trophies” to one of her girlfriends, and bragging that this incident proved how much he loved her.

We had so much excitement on our own floor that we rarely paid attention to the people below us, but one of the notable neighbours on the first floor was "J." His nickname – as displayed on an illuminated sign in his bedroom window – was “Hot Johnny Five-Star.” When he bought a new bed we put his old one in the common area (so Polkaroo and LoveCo could sleep on it). We were delighted – but not at all surprised – to discover honest-to-goodness notches in his bedpost.

Monday, November 12, 2007

How to Feel Better on a Monday

No matter how much I love my job, sometimes I dread Mondays.

But if you've got to work, you've got to work, so when I sense a Monday Malaise coming on I go out and buy a bunch of CDs during the weekend. They don't have to be new CDs, or expensive, or even promising in any way, as long as I can wake up on Monday morning and say: today I will listen to all that music while I work. Yay!

Sometimes the CDs end up being delightful surprises, or they might be totally awful. Either way I at least have the ANTICIPATION of something, and that alone is enough to get me crawling off the mattress.

The thing is, if I'd known today that I'd be listening to Deborah Harry's new CD ("Necessary Evil"), I would have just shot myself instead. I've never been impressed with Harry's songwriting ability -- her lyrics tend to be a string of awful cliches and forced rhymes just BARELY mangled into a song -- but...well, I admire her individuality and her style. So I keep giving her chances to redeem herself. Plus the CD was cheap.

Cheap, yes, but total garbage too: the usual bad Harry lyrics dressed up with cut-rate "whizzzz booop" Attention Deficit Disorder production, in an attempt to sell her as Gwen Stefani. Now, I'm not a big fan of Stefani, but at least she has energy and can sell the lyrics that other people put in her mouth. Nobody could sell Harry's lyrics, least of all a tired-sounding lady who probably imagines herself to be a lightbulb or an ironing board when her medication wears off.

I also bought Carolyn Mark's latest ("Nothing Is Free"), because I understand she's part of the Vancouver scene that produced Hank & Lily. Listening to her CD I realized once and for all that I just don't like country music. I can't help it. The style bugs me.

BONUS: How to feel better on any weekday EXCEPT Monday:

When you get out of bed in the morning, think "oh no, it's Monday!" Mope around, because you HATE Mondays. On your way to work, complain endlessly about Mondays and wish feverishly that it were any other day.

Then, when you get to your computer, look at your desktop calendar and say "holy isn't Monday at all!"

Enjoy the sense of grateful happiness that floods through you. Later in the day, when you start to feel bad again, remember how silly you were, confusing your days like that, and remember how bad you felt when you thought it was Monday. You'll feel good again. Repeat as necessary.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mini-Drag Show: "The Monkeys Have No Tails in Pago Pago"

A few years ago I found this song in a radio broadcast from 1939, as part of pre-fame Arthur Godfrey's morning program. The sound quality was poor and it was jumpy and weird, but with some tender loving care I restored it to a listenable state.

But I wasn't just content to listen to it all by myself, I had to inflict it on others! I've performed it twice -- once in Guelph, once at Club Renaissance -- and both times I've been greeted by blank stares of incomprehension.

For the last two weeks I've been storyboarding, planning, and fiddling with my digital camera, and here's my second "mini-drag show" experiment. It's awfully hard to turn my living room into a jungle, I had some sync problems with iMovie (exacerbated by YouTube's tendency to go out-of-sync anyway), and the lighting is certainly wonky, but I think I might be on to something here...

I wish I knew who performed this song, but there's scant information about it online. A more popular version is slightly better known, called "The Monkeys Have No Tails in Zamboanga." You can even hear Beaver Cleaver singing it in one of the first season episodes of "Leave it to Beaver."

This Morning's Dream: Scorning My Annoying Handler

I've been invited to do a drag show for a book club at a university. They've assigned a handler to me who follows me everywhere I go, and she is always looking over my shoulder and gently pushing me from behind.

After the show, this handler leads me through the campus toward my (nebulous) transportation home. We keep seeing groups of people dressed up in elaborate butchy outfits, studded with high-tech odds-and-ends. A woman in a lab coat tells us that it's an annual convention where law students dress up like futuristic police officers. She says that their mandate is to be rude, but not TOO rude.

The handler keeps nudging me throughout this meeting. When we finally leave the convention and walk away, the handler tells me that it would have been nice for me to "put on a little show" for them. She points to a well-lit chair in the corner that might have made a good stage.

I instantly feel -- in the dream -- that this would have been appropriate, but I start inventing ridiculous reasons for why I chose not to do it. The big reason I come up with is that I don't want people to think that I'm "performing" all the time. The handler looks sceptically at me. I don't believe what I'm saying either.

While having this argument we are walking down a steep hallway full of scaffolding. The handler is picking her way through it, but I see a faster -- though more dangerous -- way through. In seconds the whole scaffold is collapsing and we're running to get away, and my cat is yelling at me that breakfast time should have happened LONG ago.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I'd Buy Anything By...Curve

The most satisfying musical success stories are those about session musicians who "made it." When a person is GROOMED for stardom -- discovered as a waitress or a budding actor, then trained to become a star -- well, who cares? Those people are simply products, sold to us.

On a higher level are those who formed bands and toured and honed their skills before, finally, being discovered in a little club or on an indie label. This is how it normally happens, and good for them...

...but my heart is always with those talented musicians and backup singers. They get session work based on their skill and flexibility, and they spend years (if not lifetimes) playing on other people's albums, or touring as "the band" for a singer. If you read the credits on your albums you'll see these people popping up all the time, and once in a while you'll hear a song and say, "hey, I've heard that style before!"

Dean Garcia -- bassist and musician-of-all-trades for Curve -- is one of those musicians who pop up in surprising places, on albums by Eurythmics and Feargal Sharkey. By the time he met Toni Halliday -- Curve's other half, singer and songwriter -- he was ready to fly off in strange new directions. The two of them did and achieved fleeting fame before sadly fading away.

Though the band grew more electronic as they went along, the "classic Curve" sound is a sharp drum machine, a fat bass, and a wash of overdubbed electric guitars. On top of all this is Halliday, who sings in a bloodless way about relationships, love, hate. Her style is straightforward and without guile; I remember reading a review where she said that singers like Celine Dion make her sick, they spend so much time on vocal acrobatics that they forget to inject any soul. I agree: Halliday has the soul. And I wouldn't want to look too closely at it.

Initially classified as part of the early-90s British "shoegazing" scene, Curve became harsher and more experimental as the tensions in the band grew. In the "Chinese Burn" video, Garcia and Halliday seem to be reenacting the romantic problems they'd already gone through together. It was their last real hit, and I think it's a highpoint.

After a string of internet-only releases the band disintegrated. Garcia is occasionally producing CDs in his ecclectic side-project "Crosseyed Rabbit," and Halliday has...well, just disappeared. It wouldn't shock me if they got back together, but until then they've left us with a whole whack of CDs that are very, very good.

Must-have albums? Fans are divided between their early work ("Doppelganger") and their middle period ("Cuckoo"). I vote for "Cuckoo" myself, for its dense complexity and total oddness. Albums to avoid? I'm not a fan of "The New Adventures of Curve," but that just might be me. I also hear that Halliday's pre-Curve solo work is pretty bad. For fans only? The "Rare and Unreleased" .mp3 collection that you can order direct from Garcia here, and which is a mixed bag but *I* love it TO DEATH.

Friday, November 09, 2007

UPhold Update: Life in Corner

It takes me a while to really "find my feet" with a new editing system. I moved from cassette four-track to an ancient version of Protools, and now I'm working with Logic Audio. While there's still so much to learn -- I haven't even LOOKED at the "folders" yet -- I think I'm finally finding my "Logic Audio workflow." And it only took three years.

So I've been hacking away at a project built mainly with subtleties, quiet sounds, source recordings, slow builds, soft moments. It's called "Road to Avondale" and the first part (the main section) is stretching twenty-five minutes. While much of it is in a final state, I'm just not comfortable excerpting pieces yet, so that's still locked up.

The proposed ending (possibly called "A Little") is another work in progress...the end of the road, the sad last death, the grief. It's still in a larval form and likewise isn't ready for posting.

But the middle part, "Life in Corner," has reached a rough edit state, and while it still needs MUCH tweaking (and integration with the other two pieces) it at least has a beginning, middle, and end...even if they sound a bit shabby yet.

"Life in Corner" descends from a song that's been sitting around since 2004, and was one of my earliest Logic Audio experiments. It sat around for years being the sort of fast, peppy, melodic track that I try to do occasionally but my heart is never in. It even had lyrics. It was about cars and love and stuff that doesn't really interest me much.

Now it's slow, effected, obtuse, and abrasive, and keeping with a new minimalism that I find myself slipping into. If you're curious, you can listen to it here.

The Rise of the Movietone

During the late '20s the Hollywood studios experimented with many different ways of recording sound onto film. Clever inventors had been managing to do this for years, but all of the systems suffered problems: they were too bulky, or too difficult to play in regular theatres, or they wore out too easily or went out of sync too quickly.

"The Jazz Singer" used the Vitaphone system, which involved playing a phonograph record during certain scenes. But the vitaphone records could only be used about ten times, and were certainly not long-players.

Along came Movietone, which actually recorded the sound signal onto the film -- a precursor to what we use today. It seems that the process became a novelty before it matured into usefulness (and the audience grew to accept it). As mentioned in the May 26, 1928 issue of The New Yorker:
Although we hate to say so, there are really two sides to everything. There are two sides to the movietone. The movie people, surprised and delighted to hear sounds coming from their film, seem to be under the delusion that anything that makes a noise is worth reproducing--just as in the old days they believed that anything that moved was worth screening. We agree that it is exciting to actually hear the airplanes which flash before our eyes in a newsreel. Sometimes the singing is pleasant too. We are less enthusiastic about motorcycle races, fire engines, and the interior of radiator factories. As we look back on the old days of noiseless steam shovels and speechless actors, we seem to recall a certain benign satisfaction derived from sitting in the comfortable dark, seeing things without hearing them. We recommend that movie showmen be discriminating with their audible flickerings--just in case we want to take a good nap.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Emotional Moments in the Life of a Flapper: Vehicular Homicide

There are many lessons we can learn by looking at the past, but I wouldn't recommend studying the Murad cigarette advertisements from The New Yorker. Here's their advice from the May 19, 1928 issue:
When you have unexpectedly run over a traffic cop, don't wait for him to get up and bawl you out, but...Offer him a MURAD.
Now we know why flappers were so unpopular with authority figures.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Doctor Who, Season X.3 - Conclusion

Give me strength to write short reviews of episodes 5 to 13, which I watched for the first time during the past two nights.

Evolution of the Daleks

This has to be the worst episode of Doctor Who ever, including anything involving Colin Baker. I can only assume that everybody involved KNEW it was awful, but they'd already committed so much time and money -- and it was the only Dalek two-parter they had on hand -- so they had no choice but to follow through. They shouldn't have. They should have just gone into reruns.

Besides the cobwebby, desperate plotline, it's the dialog and the acting that kills this one. By requiring American accents they ran afoul of what I think of as "Xena Syndrome"...they needed to hire either Americans living abroad -- in which case the talent pool is very small -- or they needed to hire local actors who could put on a credible accent, in which case the actors were too busy maintaining the dialect to actually, you know, act.

It can't help when you're a guy with a prosthetic pig-nose being forced to be sad all the time, or when you're a horribly mutated human/Dalek hybrid who has to say "If you seek...death and destruction...then death and destruction...will find you!" Without vocal distortion. In a Brooklyn accent. When you're a crap actor.

It was so bad that if I could physically remove this episode from my DVD, I would. So bad you expect a Slitheen to be in it. So bad that it's worse than "Fear Her."

The Lazarus Experiment

Sometimes you need a good old-fashioned "run from the monster" story. It helps if the monster is as freaky and goopy as this one. The inevitable Jones-family conflict slows things down a bit, and for the life of me I barely remember the details...but at least I remember it was fun.


Non-stop action! This was a real surprise, and I'm amazed they managed to pull it off: forty-two minutes of frantic running, fighting, screaming. I think it worked awfully well and I even liked the characters.

It's been so long since the Doctor got possessed by something.

Human Nature / The Family of Blood

Complex, multi-layered, character-driven. Ingenious idea. Martha's turn to shine, and wow does she shine. The nasty folks (see above picture) were all excellent actors, and scary. Next to the first season's "The Empty Child" I think these were the most frightening of the new series, and it really comes down to the convincing performances (how hard must it be to be so AWFUL?)

Extra points for the fairy-tale quality of the conclusion, wherein we see an uncompromising and quite disturbing Doctor mete out impossible (but somehow appropriate) punishments. Again, wow.

Sadly, as so often happens, the production team doesn't know when to quit. They often try to extend the episodes just a BIT longer, to squeeze out a few more drops of meaning or character development. Noble yes, but almost always anti-climactic.


I really do like these once-a-season "outside the box" episodes, and this is another one with excellent cast and a great concept. It progresses in a suitably eerie, step-by-step fashion, interspersed with surprisingly sweet moments. Like, yes, the creatures do something awful to people, but their victims end up pretty happy with their fates.

The problem is, after such a carefully-woven plot, the last ten minutes are so full of impossible holes that the scary stuff -- which is awfully scary -- is eclipsed by the shoddy bits. And the "spooky-boo" ending was just stupid, though kids probably liked it.

Utopia / Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords

I've been praying for a three-parter since the new series began, and I think it worked pretty well. Apparently, in Russell T. Davies' universe, all time lords are manic goofballs, but in The Master's case...well, it sort of worked, because he was so endlessly CRUEL. I mean really, his scheme was TERRIBLY cruel, and irredeemably so. Yet I still understand the Doctor's anguish at the end. It worked.

And Martha's exit was probably the best of all the companion exits. I also liked the Face of Boe zinger, though maybe I'm the only one.

On the downside, however, somebody needs to put a leash on Davies, and perhaps electrify it. Did nobody think to sit him down and say "Russell, tell us again why you want to turn Doctor Who into Gollum?" At the same time they could have asked him about the wisdom of a Toclafane theme song, shortly before firing whoever was in charge of the "get-older spasm" effect, which could only have been the result of a time/money crunch.

All in All...

I'm happy with the season. It suffers the usual excesses but also contains more than the usual number of good (even great) episodes. I liked the relative soberness of Martha Jones as a companion; I enjoyed having Captain Jack back doing what he does best (action-joke-flirting); and I've finally warmed up to Tennant's Doctor (or maybe he's finally warmed up to me?)

What would I like to see next season? Longer stories, a darker tone, and a momentary reprieve from soap opera moralizing, please.

iTunes Word Search: "Snow"

The snow was a bit late in coming, but it finally arrived this morning: time for winter jackets and toques, folks. In honour of that frozen precipitation that some love but most hate, here are the songs about "snow" that turned up on my iPod:
  1. Beneath the Snow (Flotilla)
  2. Disney's a Snow Cone (Michael Penn)
  3. First Snow (Fourprint)
  4. The Snow (COIL)
  5. Snow (Kate Bush)
  6. The Snow Falls (The Baldwin Brothers)
  7. Snowball (Devo)
  8. Snowball in Negative (The Divine Comedy)
If you like winter sports, congratulations. I don't, but as much as I dislike being cold I prefer snow to freezing rain anyday.

Daily Muffy: "Drag Your Ass Out Two"

We'll be doing some repeats over at The Daily Muffy for a bit, so if you want to see some historical shots from ye olde Muffye archives, go over and have a look. The current episode is a brief "behind the scenes" look at shenanigans after 2004's "Drag Your Ass Out" event.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Doctor Who, Season X.3

During the past three years I've been through all the usual stages -- denial, anger, depression -- but I've finally reached acceptance: the new Doctor Who will continue to contain a mixture of brilliance and skin-crawly badness. Fortunately there seems to be an emphasis on brilliance, here, but still.

Long ago I'd downloaded the first bunch of season three episodes, and I'd finished "Runaway Bride" and got halfway through "Smith and Jones" before -- for some reason -- losing interest. So the recent arrival of the third season's DVDs is full of surprises for me, both good and bad.

I did enjoy "Runaway Bride," partly because of scary-funny Sarah Parish, and partly because I like Catherine Tate*, scheduled to be the fourth season's the world ready for that? I could also excuse the rampant silliness as "Christmas Special" fodder.

Sadly, the silliness continues. David Tennant has actually RAMPED UP his goofy behaviour, though fortunately it's confined to shorter periods (at least so far). Murray Gold's music continues to annoy, especially his "tink-a tink-a tink-a" stuff for the "hysterically cheerful" scenes and his "dah-dah-dah...(pause for pop-culture joke)...BLATBLAT" riff.

To get my last complaint out of the way: the soap opera elements in the first two seasons (lonely time lord, reluctant love, "is Rose safe" family dramas) were just barely this side of "too blatant." This season's soap opera elements (lonely time lord in denial, unrequited companion love, missing Rose, and whatever Jones family tensions they're obviously leading up to) seem a tad clunky and random in the vein of:
SOMEBODY: Where are you from? Who are you?

DOCTOR: {Sadly} I'm... {Pause} {Cheerfully} Anyway, let's get back to saving the earth! Wacka-wacka choo-choo!
With all that in mind, however, I've reached this resigned state by watching all the 1960s episodes in sequence. C'mon people, was there EVER a perfect episode of Doctor Who? And there sure were a lot of stinkers. So if you think that the current series is in some way perverting the pristine originals, go back and watch "The Gunfighters" or "The Ark," but wear sunglasses or you'll scratch your eyes out. The series has ALWAYS been dodgy, so give RTD and crew some slack.

And season three is really quite good so far. "Smith and Jones" managed to introduce a new companion and STILL have an interesting story with a fully realized alien species. "The Shakespeare Code" had some tiresome moments, but the cackly witches were fun. I just finished "Daleks in Manhattan" and I'm always a sucker for horrible mutation (though they could give the overblown Brooklyn accents a break).

I saved the best for last: "Gridlock," which I thought was about as good as Doctor Who can get: smart, scary, funny, weird, sad. Emphasis on SCARY. Nice to see the Macra make a return, and I thought the entire concept was unusually intelligent. I'm not looking forward to the commentary, though, since I see the insufferable Julie Gardner is there ("Awww, Murray's score is just BRILLIANT here, hooray for Murray! We are SO LUCKY to have him. We brought back the cat people because everyone LOVES Russell's cats, the cats were BRILLIANT, and you're brilliant too, Russell! We are SO LUCKY to have you on this show, Russell...bless! I am SO LUCKY to be part of this absolutely BRILLIANT team.")

So yeah, this is the perfect collection for a sickly weekend, but I wonder what RTD has planned for the conclusion...a big Macra vs. Daleks battle, with more time lords and the return of Mickey, perhaps?

* A small chunk of my blog traffic is due to Wikipedia's "hyper-gyp" article. The article links to my short blog entry about Catherine Tate's "foreign language interpreter" sketch, which has nothing to do with hyper-gyp at all. Thanks, inaccurate Wikipedia link!

The On Stage Void

So yes, last night's "Kink" event was lots of fun, I think. The organizers deserve a round of applause for bringing together such distinct activities, AND for putting together their own performances for the night! The chaos in the dressing room did not extend to the stage, and spirits were high even after the campus police came in to shut down the "porn room."

I found the crowd to be more confusing than most, because I couldn't figure out how to "type" the majority -- they sat in chairs and could not be mingled with. Beforehand I was undecided about the demographic I'd be dealing with...hardcore BDSM community members? Politicized University of Guelph students? Sex-crazed chimps? The same type of number is not going to appeal to all those groups, and unfortunately I decided to play to "the chimps," who ended up being completely absent. I did manage to better tailor the second performance, however, and promise myself -- yet again -- that I will never cater to the chimps again. Doing so doesn't make me happy, so I'll simply stop doing it. I say to myself. Again. Again.

Skin Tight Outta Sight were plenty of fun, just the right degree of sexy and camp. Never having seen a modern burlesque show before (any time I've been on the same bill I've been too busy getting changed to be able to watch), my conflicted thoughts about burlesque have been well summed-up by Andy Prieboy in The Psycho Ex Game:
I'd never had a negative reaction to her burlesque dancing. I'd always seen it as a naughty, glamorous lark. I took it for granted that the Drag Hags were some nebulous form of Performance Art, in which enlightened women could don high heels and push-up bras and still consider themselves staunch feminists. But as I watched Winnie in Stu Lovesya's living room, it struck me that in the presence of his ratty couch, his fish tank, and his family photos, her brand of Performance Art was suddenly crossing the line into Bachelor Party. If it was art, it sure looked like a titty show...

I wondered, Was I supposed to be aroused? If I was, then she was failing as a Performance Artist... On the other hand, if I didn't find this sexy, then her Performance Art was succeeding, but her titty show was a flop. Oh! I was so confused!
I don't have the answers. I have similar thoughts about drag shows as well. But even if I didn't feel comfortable hooting and hollering for the slow reveals of Skin Tight Outta Sight -- even if I still don't know what THEY feel about hoots and hollers -- they certainly get kudos for a fun show. Especially Sauci Calla Horra, who was exceptionally creative AND sweet off stage.

Oh right, I was going to mention "The On Stage Void," that feeling I get during a number when I suddenly don't know what to do. Sometimes I just stand around like a dummy, or turn my back and walk slowly away from the audience as though I'm ABOUT to do something, or I make an ill-thought-out snap decision that I always end up regretting later (like kicking a stuffed cat into the crowd, which I think I intended to mean "giving a souvenir to the audience while also killing time" but probably came across as "crazy person abuses potentially misogynistic symbol").

I chalk up these "voids" to being unprofessional, overly-analytical, and ill-prepared, but I was perversely delighted to see that the "Skin Tight" performers suffered these "voids" as well, because that means that you don't have to be an amateur to get momentarily lost on a stage.

How do you recognize an "on stage void?" It's a crack in the facial expression, a rift in the pose, a stumbling of the self-confident bearing. It's a quick look of anxiety, an unpracticed darting eye, a turn in one direction followed by a sudden turn in the other. It's a repeated movement for no reason. I suppose that any fresh, somewhat spontaneous routine will invariably suffer voids, and I prefer those routines to the comparative dryness of the "done it a million times" performance any day.

Blogroll Additions

I've added two new blogs to the informal blogroll on the right. "Searching for a Unifying Theme" is run by Adrian, friend for 30 years (and counting). I'd love to tell you what his blog is really about, but since he's still SEARCHING for a unifying theme, I'm afraid to speculate lest it gel prematurely.

For literature and liberal education see "Apocaloopsis," helmed by Ambrose Mensch (who should be familiar to you if you're following the Barthathon).

Finally, check out "That Day in May" by...hey, her name isn't advertised! So let me just say she's an excellent photographer, a great writer, a lover of all furry beasties, and signed up for NaBloPoMo. Shiver!

Early Morning Observations

For your edification:
  • My cat's stomach does NOT run on daylight savings time.
  • It is very easy to take off false eyelashes...they just pull off. But last night BOTH of them were firmly and impossibly stuck to my real eyelashes, and it took ten painful minutes with tweezers to pull them off. I have no idea how this happened.
  • If I don't manage 365 blog entries this year I will consider myself an outright failure.
  • My one superpower is the ability to postpone illness until after an event has finished. For two weeks an autumn cold has been lurking in the darkest recesses of my body, asking repeatedly "can I come out and play?" and jacking up my blood sugar. This afternoon, after birthday and Hallowe'en and Kink show and breakfast, I will lay spread-eagled on my living room floor and scream "TAKE ME!" And it will.
  • I dreamed that I was walking to work in the rain, and my cat was following me, and we accidentally stumbled over the hidden entrance to Reverend Phelp's basement. I woke up before I learned anything juicy, but I DID see that they keep all of their paperwork in cheap cardboard filing cabinets.
Ahh, the sunrise, I confront ye!

What Low Blood Sugar Feels Like

Aw heck, I'm not sleeping anyhow (did I mention that both high and low blood sugar will absolutely prevent me from sleeping?)

Here are the low blood sugar symptoms. They vary greatly for me, and I know diabetics tend to be really individual about the type and severity of their symptoms, but here's what tends to happen to me:
  • Unlike high blood sugar, part of having an insulin reaction is NOT REALIZING that I'm having one. There's a strange mental impairment that keeps me from figuring it all out. At one time I had a "Confused? Get Sugar!" sign posted on my bedroom wall, and it actually worked, but I rarely wake up with insulin reactions anymore.
  • Before the symptoms get really bad I tend to become giddy and goofy and talkative.
  • Or, if I'm alone, I'll get REALLY WORRIED about things. This is usually the tip-off for me that something is wrong.
  • I get incredibly creative ideas. I think outside of the box. If I could stay in this brain-impaired state forever I'd be brilliant.
  • After those initial symptoms, my skin gets chilly and I break into a disturbing cold sweat. I become "clammy." This always amazes me, because it's so weird: it comes on suddenly and just GUSHES.
  • I see spots. If my blood sugar is getting low at work, this is usually the tip-off: I can't see the computer screen properly.
  • Sometimes the inside of my mouth goes numb.
  • I don't crave food, but when I eat it it tastes INCREDIBLE. There is NOTHING so delicious as breakfast on the verge of insulin shock.
  • A warm, floating feeling similar to being in a warm bath.
  • Confusion. I stumble over words, my voice sounds funny in my head, I stop making sense. I may start to say outright stupid, meaningless things.
I rarely get to this stage without fixing the problem, but for a brief time (when I first moved away from home), my diabetes was VERY poorly controlled and things became much more serious. Once I woke up and I couldn't move my legs; after eating some convenient sugar I was able to walk the way people with muscular disorders walked, with a wide swing and more jittery stumbling than actual forward motion. It was horrifying. One other time I found myself suddenly in the kitchen, feeling terrified and confused, and while my roomates looked on I jumped obsessively until I collapsed.

From those (hopefully forever gone) experiences I began to view insulin shock this way: if your mind is a boat sailing along in the sea, the encroaching insulin shock is like a contagious insanity spreading among the crew. The ship goes more and more out of control as things get worse...but YOU, the immune crew member, don't notice the insanity at first. Eventually you notice that you're the only sane one on the ship, but there's only so much you can do to get things back under control.

Nowadays I don't get insulin reactions much...they usually happen in bars when I'm fighting an insulin high with too much vigour (see below), though I do sometimes get them at work in the morning (at which time I'm briefly REALLY GOOD at my job, before the spots block out my eyes).

One important lesson I've learned is that it doesn't take much to raise blood sugar again. I usually end up eating too much food because of the delayed reaction; you eat some sugar, nothing happens, so you eat more and more...but meanwhile your sugar is just taking some time to digest.

So now you know.

What High Blood Sugar Feels Like

I should have learned by now: NEVER skip dinner before doing a drag show. For some reason, even though by skipping dinner I'm actually NOT eating food, my blood sugar invariably goes sky-high and simply refuses to come down afterwards.

I blame my liver ("Parker") for this, because chronically high blood sugar during a night is usually due to my liver secreting glucose, or whatever it secrets when it's upset (why can't it synthesize alcohol, or vitamin C?)

Since I am coming down off tonight's sugar high at this moment, now seems like a good time to describe what it actually feels like to have high blood sugar. It's a much more consistent feeling than a sugar low.
  • A difficulty with small-talk. This also happens with low blood sugar. I say things that are either obnoxious (see "short temper" below) or I open my mouth and...nothing comes out.
  • Thirsty, thirsty, thirsty! The first mouthful of liquid tastes great, but subsequent gulps feel funny, because of...
  • upset stomach. Actually, it's more like a stomach that's terminally clenched up.
  • Always having to pee because of all that liquid I'm drinking.
  • High body temperature accompanied by sweating, which makes your makeup slide off and defeats your deodorant.
  • A short temper. Grrr!
  • A tendency to complain and over-analyze, probably related to whatever makes my temper so short (and my makeup slough off).
  • Anhedonia; an inability to really feel emotionally good about anything. Hence the complaining. For instance, right now I want to burst into tears about the stuffed cat that I mistreated and then gave away tonight, but if my blood sugar were normal I'd be able to at least acknowledge the GOOD stuff.
Before you say "Muffy, why don't you just give yourself some insulin and bring your blood sugar down?" well, making a judgement about how much insulin I need is very much hit-or-miss in an unpredictable situation (like a drag show or a night at a bar), especially when Parker is involved. You can inject and inject all night long without any effect, and then suddenly all that insulin kicks in at once...and the only thing worse than having HIGH blood sugar in a public place is having insulin-related LOW blood sugar.

Am I complaining? Yes. Blame Parker.

Should I have eaten dinner? Yes. Blame me.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I'd Buy Anything By...Concrete Blonde

Even though I'd heard (and enjoyed) their first big hit ("Still in Hollywood"), it wasn't until "Joey" came out that I became really aware of Concrete Blonde. That sad, doomed, gorgeous song (and "Bloodletting," the album it came from) will always vividly remind me of a family trip to New England, sitting inside a string of tiny lake-shore cabins and playing cards with my parents while listening to "Joey," the one song we all enjoyed.

When I realized that Concrete Blonde was entwined with one of my most favourite groups (Wall of Voodoo) I started picking up more of their albums, and I gradually grew to like their somewhat minimal, streetwise sound. The later "Mexican Moon" release REALLY grabbed me -- all sludgy, cavernous studio-trickery, with Andy Prieboy on piano -- and though I sadly missed that tour, Vanilla and I made it to their "Group Therapy" reunion show, which was nothing short of incredible...flamenco routines and all.

Johnette Napolitano is a top-notch songwriter, able to distill both love and pain without relying on cliches:
Things get better every day you stay alive.
Then I'm amazed every day
that the sun decides to rise.
Every minute, every hour,
is another chance to change.
Life is beautiful & terrible & strange.
Guitarist James Mankey has a jangly, loose style well-suited to sweetness, power-chords, and even SWEET power-chords. Their drummers may come and go, but that core duo will hopefully always be around, charming the rockers and the goths and the card-playing parents alike.

Here's Johnette looking more Lee Aaron than usual, with "Heal It Up," including Roxy Music's Paul Thompson on Big Thumpy Drums.

After breaking up and then settling their differences, they proved to me (and hopefully the world) that they still "had it." Here's "Take Me Home," possibly one of the most astute and beautiful of all their songs.

Must-have albums? I'd say both their first self-titled release and "Mexican Moon," to capture both their garage sound and their crazy-studio sound. Albums to avoid? Definitely "Walking in London," which has some good moments but otherwise sounds like they're only going through the motions..."stumbling through London," as it were. For fans only: Napolitano's collaboration with guitarist Marc Moreland called "Pretty and Twisted," which is as demented and beautiful as you'd imagine.

Friday, November 02, 2007


For a self-proclaimed asexual blog, there's been a whole lot of sex-talk here for the past month. I say this now because, tomorrow night, I'll be performing at Guelph's "Kink Event."

I always find it worrisome that people tend to equate drag with sex. Sure, I may dress in a sexualized way, but that does not mean that I am either FEELING particularly sexy or that I am SOLICITING sex. In fact, I am so aware of the fragility of my drag-illusion that I try to stay as far away as I can from graspy or damp things: I am there to be (if anything) visually interesting, and nothing much more.

That's not to say people SHOULDN'T find drag sexy -- either to perform in or to be attracted to -- only that it shouldn't always be assumed to be sexual (or rather, "carnal"), which in many cases (including mine) it just isn't. At least not in a fetishy way.

So the fact that I'm performing at "Kink" -- whose playbill promises the exploration "pleasure and excitement" -- is a bit strange, since my idea of an ideal drag number is either a cutesy '50s-style song of chaste silliness or a totally misanthropic rant about emotional dysfunction. How can I compete with the "porn screening room" and the "erotic art?"

In this case I need to bite the bullet (or perhaps the pony-girl bit) and dig out the more explicit numbers that I do for particularly horny crowds (when anything less would be cause for mass audience evacuation). But as I'm searching through the archives I think...

...hey, if *I* resent my method of expression being characterized as sexual, does the "kink" crowd feel the same way? Is it condescending for me to assume that a kink audience WANTS sexy songs?

Well, it doesn't take much perusal of the handbill to see that the show IS about fetishy sex, so I think I'm justified in assuming that sexy numbers will be appreciated. But this still makes me wonder if "kink" -- outside of this particular event -- is always sexual. Are there non-sexual expressions of BDSM?

In any case I'm sure it will be a fun time, but I absolutely NEED to find a stuffed cat in order to defuse the over-the-top nature of "Pussy" by Lords of Acid. The only one I could find today was a "nursing mother cat," which would add a particularly perverse level to the song that I don't think I can deal with. I told the saleslady that I was looking for something more "traditional," and after I walked away I thought...God, that sounded REALLY conservative.