Archive for March, 2009

Too Far Gone

March 31, 2009

The band is just about to get started, so throw the switch, it’s rock and roll time.

Gord Downie

Over the Neptune

It’s been awhile since I reviewed a CBC Radio 2 Concert on Demand, so I thought I’d take some time to check out Gord Downie‘s recent performance with The Sadies. This show promises to be a mixture of tunes from a variety of sources.  Gord Downie is well known as the frontman of Canadian icons The Tragically Hip. The Sadies are a well traveled alt-country act.  They are probably best known for backing up Neko Case, whose recent work has garnered critical and popular acclaim.  Thanks to a very nice commenter I now know that this show was part of a longer deal on a program called Fuse. The show took place in Ottawa, at the Studio 40 Broadcasting Centre. Without further ado, on to the show!

The show kicks off with Gord Downie’s Over the Neptune. This is a very short little song that gets us warmed up for what’s to come.  Already though the energy is apparent.

The next song begins before the previous one even ends.  This is a cover of Robert Pollard’s Figment.  He is known for leading Guided By Voices for over 20 years, and being one of the most prolific songwriters of the last couple of decades.  Downie sounds a lot more raspy than im used to so far, but that could be a function of the song.  If you are used to The Sadies as Neko Cases band then this absolute bit of rocking will be a little surprising.  The guitars are masterful, and the outro bit of this song is fantastic.

The group immediately shows its Canadian allegencies by playing Too Far Gone by the immortal Neil Young. I think the CBC has a rule that if you play one of their recorded concerts you have to cover Neil Young, since his songs have shown up in previous installments.  This is a fun little cover, and to hear Downie, who is one of Canada’s most distinctive voices, taking on Neil Young’s melody is quite nice.  Once again we are treated to a nice little solo. It’s reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I like that.  Neil Young is actually the ideal song writer for The Sadies, because he was alt-country before it had a name.

The First Inquisition is a Sadies’ tune.  I’d quote some lyrics for you, but Downie is usually difficult to comprehend when he sings live.  Should you live for yourself, or die in his name. If you are familiar with surf music then you have probably heard a lot of the mushy guitar tone from this show.  The use of distortion and reverb create a guitar sound that combines dirty water with a little sinkholes.

This whole show is being played up tempo, but Flash, another Sadies’ song, cranks the speed up even more.  The solo is almost too fast to hear, but still fits into this bluesy country song.  The show has the feel of a high school dance or friend’s basement show.  I don’t mean that the quality is bad, in fact the musicianship is great. It’s that this doesn’t feel slick and commercial, rather it could be a big party for a few friends on a Saturday night.  It’s hard to argue with fun like that.  Every musician gets a moment or two to shine and the crowd gets to rock along.

Without even checking I instantly know the next song is by Johnny Cash.  Downie is doing is best impression, and the distinctive guitar and bass parts (you know the rhythm that seems to dominate every Cash song) is on full display.

Fire In The Hole starts out like a U2 song with generous bits of echoed guitar.  Downie, who has been on from the word go, is in his element here.  Another great solo, a little understated but still grand, leads to a musical breakdown around the middle of the song.  I bet the crowd left this show feeling energized and exhausted all at once.  There is no let down through the first 7 songs I’ve reviewed.

Almost on cue we get a mellower track.  A cover of Roky Erickson’s I have Always Been Here Before, is a bit obscure for me.  The song is only a few years old, but the man has been making music on and off for 40 years.   Til the devil’s clock strikes midnight. This seems like a song that grows out of a lifetime of ups and downs during turbulent personal and societal times.

What better way to finish a mostly country-ish set then to pull out The StoogesSearch and Destroy.  No other song in the online version of this set even remotely matches this one.  It is punk through and through.  Somebody gotta save my soul.

This concert quickly ends almost as soon as it begins.  In less than half an hour Gord Downie and The Sadies have gone from Neil Young to Iggy Pop without missing a beat or even slowing down for a drink.  This is one show that is definitely worth a listen.  Gord Downie has been increasingly branching out in recent years with much success, and The Sadies are an accomplished backing band.  In some ways the show is a reminder of how music used to be in clubs and bars all over the Western world. Musical men with big personalities like Ronnie Hawkins put together highly talented backing groups to belt out their own work as well as recognizable covers for an audience that loved a good time. You will get that and more with this recording.


March 30, 2009

Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight.

The power went out for awhile today, so I haven’t had as much time to write a blog post as usual.  It’s kind of odd that after last night’s Earth Hour, which I passed playing Yahtzee by candlelight, that we would spend some time in the dark this afternoon.  I suppose the city of Hamilton was catching up with the many people who have embraced this symbolic event.  Fortunately, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon so I was able to go outside.

Speaking of Earth Hour, the newspaper suggested going outside to gaze at the stars during the hour. Since the street lights remained on, unlike during the great blackout of 2003, the light pollution still made the sky a bright mess.  It was also a partly cloudy night, so there was little for the average person to enjoy.  Although I have grown up in the city I absolutely hate the fact that I can only see a handful of stars at night.  I long for a time when the full majesty of the sky is available to me.  I am far from the first person to make a plea for reclaiming the darkness.  There are obvious pros and cons to making that kind of drastic change to urban life.  I know that at least one city in Ontario has changed their by-laws concerning outdoor lighting.  They require that any external light is diffused in such a way that it doesn’t send any light upwards.  I’m sure there is a very expensive proposition, but it definitely makes for happy astronomers. The night sky can be a major source of inspiration for children and dreamers alike.  I think its time that as a society we gave those in the inner city a chance to flex their imaginations.

In other news, I had an interesting chat the other day about my vision for The Alder Fork.  I brought up the fact that I laid out my plans both on the blog and during an episode of the podcast.  Perhaps someday in the next week or so I will sit down and really sort this whole thing out.  I have a lot of wild ideas, and this is one I’d like to work with for awhile.

They Go Twirlin’ Down And Down White Water

March 29, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I believe I once linked to this video, but this is the first time it’s been embedded.  This classic Canadian folk song, about an apparently defunct profession is quintessential Canadiana.  No one really makes animated films like this anymore.  The Log Driver’s Waltz was regularly played on TVO when I was a kid, so I am quite familiar with it.  It was one of the films I was desperate to see again, so I have to thank the NFB for giving it to the world for free.

I can understand that some people may not see the purpose of animating an old Canadian folk song.  Obviously, the audience for such a piece is limited.  That was certainly the case in 1979 when John Weldon took a version by Mountain City Four and turned it into a short film. It’s popularity, however, is almost unsurpassed in NFB history.  I think there are two main reasons for this.

First, as was the case for me, many people associate seeing this film with significant parts of their life.  It is directly linked to my childhood, and thus is a nostalgia piece. I’m sure many others share similar memories of the song and the film.

Second, it represents a way of life that is at the core of the Canadian experience.  Many of us who live in the bigger cities of the St. Lawrence/Great Lakes corridor may forget that this country was founded and has thrived on natural resources.  Logging, Pulp and Paper, Mining, Drilling, Fishing, Trapping, and Farming have been the backbone of Canada’s economic development for much of its history. Going forward, the vast supply of fresh water could surpass all of the items on that list. Certainly manufacturing, such as the steel mills of my hometown, have also played a significant role, but it would be hard to argue against natural resources as our greatest strength as a nation.  The Log Driver’s Waltz, without even intending to, casts the young lady in the role of Canada, as she realizes the value of the soft footed labourer against the bankers and doctors of the city.  Without vast natural resources, and the hard work it takes to extract them, there wouldn’t be much of a country here.

I think The Log Driver’s Waltz is an important piece of the cultural history of Canada.  The version heard here is performed in part by Kate and Anna MacGarrigle who showed up in my piece on Martha Wainwright’s concert.  I really believe that tru folk music is the sound of the soul of a nation.  In this case there can be little doubt.

As Seen On TV

March 28, 2009

He used to do surgery for girls in the 80’s but gravity always wins.


Fake Plastic Trees

I occasionally browse the WordPress Dashboard to see what the hot posts are all about. It’s not so much checking out the competition, as an earnest desire to see what others have to say on a wide range of topics.  Some of them (like the anime ones) seem like they are written in another language.  Generally, though, I find something interesting among all the celeb gossip and political outrage.  This post is one such piece.  Although the change in law will only affect the United States, I think it is a positive step towards improving the messages we see on TV.  As someone who undertook a weight loss project earlier in life, out of a desire to be a better athlete, I know how difficult and challenging it is not only to shed pounds, but also to be comfortable in your own skin.  Surely any kind of pill, diet, or machine that circumvents the necessary process is very attractive.  When I went from 225lbs to 175lbs 6 years ago it took a full year of eating properly and exercising daily to get there. It has taken 6 years of maintaining a similar regimen to stay in the shape I am in (and when I get gassed 10 minutes into a basketball game I curse myself for not working harder).  Believe me when I say that I know weight loss is hard.

Pitchmen has long made outrageous claims about their products, and TV has allowed them to trot out seemingly convincing testimonials about the greatness of their products while including that “results are not typical” as protection against anyone who would rightly call them liars.    I welcome any law that prevents shameless people from exploiting people’s hopes, dreams, and insecurities.

I must add one last note.  The only aspect of this development that will be disappointing is the loss of outrageous infomercials.  In a previous post I mentioned that I love those 30-60 minute paid commercials.  The ridiculousness and hyperbole makes me laugh.  Unfortunately, far too many people, out of hope and naivety hand over their money to unscrupulous hucksters. I should add that not all infomercial producats are bad. In fact some, like the Ronco Food Dehydrater, apparently com as advertised. But there are far too many weight loss, vitamin pill, colonic, and money making schemes that baltantly deceive the consumer.

Please also check out the linked post for another, albeit similar, perspective.

The Song Is Playing In My Head

March 27, 2009

It’s another overcast day like it’s been for a week and I would blame feeling down on the weather if I had no other reason to be, people let you down when you least expect them to and hearts they move around so fast and love it somehow gets renewed.

Jill Barber

In Perfect Time

I want to write some more about Jill Barber in a future blog, so hang around for that.  Today I want to talk about feelings.  Some blogs are all about the people who write them, while some deal mainly with topics outside the individual. Some link to other people’s stories, and some just give opinion after opinion. Some have pictures, some have video, some have music, and some have all of those.  This blog falls in and out of all those categories.  It operates a great deal like my brain wandering to and fro as the sun goes up and comes down. I thought I’d give you, the stranger, a glimpse into what I’m about inside. It’s a tour I rarely offer, so strap in.

Those who know me, may realize that I am a deeply emotional person. I once walked into an interview with 12 other people and when asked to pick one word to describe myself I picked “moody.”  It was a perfectly accurate assessment, but likely prevented me from getting the job.  I have always been careless with my future, just like that. Yet it was a rare moment that I let people who were mostly strangers know what I’m actually about. I guard my real feelings as much as possible, probably due to growing up as an only child.  I don’t feel compelled to be around other people, or to soak in their company. I love my friends and do many things with them, but probably less than most people.  The internet is ideal for me because I can compartmentalize my interactions with people in nice, clean packages.  Does this make me socially deficient? Probably, but if you met me in the real world, you might not think that.  Like most people I am different things at various times.  There are those I have worked with who were surprised to see me operate so effectively in front of an audience, because I can generally seem a reserved and quiet person, especially with strangers.  I change jobs frequently, and it’s almost like I don’t want to give people time to know me.  Or perhaps I don’t want to take the time to know them, I never know which it is.

My family worries that I’m anti-social, that I don’t spend enough time around other people and that I live too much in the basement.  I think I have found a fine balance in my life, between doing what I like and what I have to.  I do worry sometimes that I will regret missing out on many adventures, but I believe the future is a giant mystery that I don’t want to worry about.  I’ve always lived better in my head anyway.  And that is the great big secret that I usually hide from the world. In my mind there is a vibrant life full of crazy thoughts, and endless conversations with people who don’t exist.  Now I might sound crazy, and possibly I am, but bear with me.  This blog and my associated podcast have become outlets for many of these ideas.  I would say the number one reason anyone blogs is their inherent need to get ideas out of their head.  I suppose some are out to make money, and others want their opinions known, but I do it first and foremost so I can occasionally say things that won’t come out of my mouth.  Those pieces are interspersed throughout entries about bands, videos, mental illnesses and whatever other obscure or common posts I’ve made.  I also hide them in songs.  My lyrics generally chart elements of my life that are mine alone.

I said at the outset that I’m a deeply emotional person. That is quite true. I mentioned a few days ago that there was a song that made me cry.  This wasn’t just a run of the mill cry.  This was an instance where I had to pull my car over for 10 minutes until I could calm down enough to continue.  It was the single most intense moment of my life, and I somehow feared for my life. I simply couldn’t go on.  That may sound over-dramatic, but it is the truth.  There is, perhaps, a deeper story hiding behind that story and any of the other emotional episodes of my life.  It will stay behind the words of The Alder Fork.

But I’ll Be Close Behind

March 26, 2009

If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied and illuminate the nos on their vacancy signs.

Death Cab For Cutie

I Will Follow You Into The Dark

A new podcast will be up tomorrow (as my internet is having upload issues). I will be talking a bit about the military and the CBC.  Music by Dual, F & M, and Amy Millan. The first act technically together anymore and some of their members are in Leisure Co. and F & M.

I don’t want to write much on account of the podcast (I assume you’ll get enough of me there) but I want to give the link for the Maple Leaf Legacy Project.  This site aims to “The aim of the Maple Leaf Legacy Project is to photograph or obtain a photograph of every Canadian War Grave of the 20th Century.”  I think it’s a highly worthwhile project.  I found my great uncles record and may be requesting the photo.  This is a great way to connect with the past and to appreciate those who gave their lives in the name of Canada.

A Feeling And A Definition

March 25, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Another day, another incredible Canadian short film.  This Oscar nominated (1968) piece by Ryan Larkin captures the variety and majesty of human walking in a variety of animation/art techniques.  I am posting this video not only for its visual content, but also for the phenomenal music that accompanies it.  It’s fascinating to me that an artist can take an ordinary action and transform it into a compelling presentation. On the surface there is nothing remarkable about walking, or the many people presented in the film.  But on closer inspection, I see the complexity of bipedal transportation being explored through whimsical eyes.

In my intial post about the National Film Board, I noted that many Canadian shorts have received Oscar nominations.  I think it is a testament to the creative visionaries who have pushed the boundaries of film over the years.  While most elements of creative endeavour battle the move towards popular conformity (see yesterday’s post) I think it is important that as a nation we encourage dynamic activity in the Arts.  If Canada is to truly have it’s own culture defined, then we must invent our own way to express that meaning.

Much of this blog has dealt with elements of that cultural definition, by highlighting movements and creations that I see has significant to the conversation. Certainly there has been a great deal of other material on here, but at the core of The Alder Fork is a quest for meaning.  One of the main elements of that is the hope for a Canadian identity.  Perhaps it should not be quantified in a standard way, but I think it should be sketched. If we can see it, we can touch it, and by feeling our way through Canadian culture we will come to a greater understanding of the nation and its people.

Please enjoy Walking by Ryan Larkin.


And The Winner Is…

March 24, 2009

When it actually promotes Canadian music at root levels, and it isn’t kind of this weekend when the Canadian music industry pretends that it’s this independent industry and not just marketing warehouses for the United States, then sure, I’ll be a part of it

Matthew Good

An article was passed along to me today concerning this year’s Juno Awards.  Matt Good, who is usually aprickly pear about everything, has come out and bashed the awrds show as being too commercial and mainstream.  He also believes that the Junos fail to promote the roots of Canadian music because many of the awards are based on sales.  One of the big tenets of the Polaris Music Prize is that it is judged on artistic merit and not sales. So conceivably an album that sells 10 copies has an equal chance against one that sells 1 million.  Now in practice the Polaris has taken some heat for failing to truly reward the best albums at times.  Now Matt Good has been known to complain about many things and he is apparently difficult to work with.  So hearing him belittle the Juno Awards is not surprising in the least.

I have to admit that I never watch awards shows.  I find them very boring, and since the outcome is the often the result of a subjective vote, I feel that victory really only represents popularity.  I do realize that some awards are very important to people.  As for the Junos, I do like the idea of the Junofest that surrounds the awards show. As the article points out, over 100 Canadian bands will perform over the course of the weekend.  If that helps the popularity of lesser known bands (Laura Smith is actually one of them) then I am all for it. I suppose in the end that the Junos are a tiny distraction that some people will watch, and most of those people will like the acts that win.

We can complain all we want that bands like Nickleback sell a lot of records but the fact is they do.  People like it.  I once watched a documentary about the man who was responsible for creating the playlists that dominate pop radio.  A lot of old DJs despise him because he “ruined” radio by denying emerging artists a place.  He points out that he just plays what people want to hear.  I personally support having new and unknown music, provided it is of high quality, on my stereo.  I also acknowledge that my tastes may not always merge with the majority, and since music is a commercial industry, I have to accept that reality. As a final thought I want to leave this question: if the Beatles were emerging today (assuming they achieve the same level of popularity) would we decry them as “everything that is wrong with popular music” because they creat sounds that are loved by the masses?

But Wait There’s More

March 23, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I have been on a National Film Board kick the last few days.  This delightful vignette is a play on both Canadian bilingualism and flashy infomercials.  I absolutely love infomercials.  I would never actually purchase a product I saw on one of those programs, but that doesn’t stop me from watching them.  Perhaps it is my love of watching confident persuasive people at work (see my interest in religious leaders for more on this), or maybe I am just easily entertained.  I highly recommend clicking your way over to the infomercial blog for a wide array of commentary and video relating to everyt commercial from the Slap Chop to the Magic Bullet.

The video itself cracks me up. I wrote a big project in OAC (what was once Grade 13 in Ontario) on English-French relations in Canada.  I think this one minute film summarizes the great divide between the two cultures in a unique and clever way.  Director Andre Leduc clearly has a handle on this relationship.  The “4 different accents” part made me laugh out loud.  In high school we were taught to speak Parisian French, and many of my friends have been made fun of in Quebec for “sounding funny.”  I also had a bilingual friend whose dog only understood French despite living in Southern Ontario.  This is such a wacky country.

A new episode of the podcast will be forthcoming and I may discuss a few of the recent blog topics in a little more depth.

John Law and the Mississippi Bubble (Two Lessons For The Price Of One)

March 22, 2009

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Today I bring you another National Film Board of Canada short film. This one is new to me, but I absolutely love it’s treatment of history.  Kern and I had a conversation on the podcast about modern documentaries and how many of them have taken the reality TV approach to teaching science and history.  I think that reality TV has convinced show producers that people crave extreme emotion.  Thus when telling an historical tale, the dramatic elements must be exaggerated, and the narrator must make every event seem like the most dire and important occurrence in history.  Perhaps educational television is being made by those who sat at the back of history class and fell asleep. At least they assume that everyone else was that person.

This 1978 Richard Condie documentary takes a fairly obscure piece of French history (oddly appropriate now though), adds a delightful cartoon, and creates a compelling story.  Besides being a lesson in speculation and currency, it is also, in my opinion, a superior method of teaching history.  The story is not over-dramatized besides the occasional comic cartoon foible.  Instead the story is presented mostly as it occured (though simplification is always a part of any documentary story), and without any unnecessary appeals to extreme emotion.  I think many of today’s documentary filmmakers could learn from this and other NFB docs.

One more question, shouldn’t cartoons play a bigger role in our education system? This doc shows how using imaginative animation can liven up a bit of financial history.  Just a thought.