In praise of …. Anne Rice

December, 1987.

I’m at the back of a Greyhound bus between Barrie and Toronto. It’s winter, so it’s dark. We are four high school kids travelling to see Depeche Mode play Maple Leaf Gardens, and by the tiny bus light I am reading aloud to my friends across the aisle: “‘Evil is a point of view,’ he whispered now. ‘We are immortal. And what we have before us are the rich feasts that conscience cannot appreciate…….’  I have recently discovered this book, Interview with a Vampire, by Anne Rice, in my hometown pubic library, and it is changing my life. Like The Outsiders once did. Like Othello once did. I have not yet read Dracula, or any other vampire novel. But I have seen The Lost Boys, and I have decided I am thirsty for vampire stories. This story, about the oh-so-beautiful Louis and Lestat and Claudia, this story, about magical, mystical New Orleans, of longing to understand one’s place in the universe, of mortality, and morality, and blood. As told to a journalist. This is my new favourite book, Anne Rice my new favourite author.

August, 1988.

I paid $10 to come and see D.O.A. and some band called Death Sentence play the Siboney Club in Kensington Market. All the cheap wooden tables are pushed against the walls to make room for moshing and whathaveyou. It’s a club so it’s dark. I live in Toronto now, with one of my best friends from Barrie. By not enough light I am sitting crossed-legged on top of one of these tables, back against the wall, reading The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice. Because I don’t care about Death Sentence nearly as much as I care about vampires. I may have been wearing a cape. My best friend, and our mutual punk rock friends, will make fun of me for this for quite a long time.

 Sometime later….

I stand in line for hours to get my copy of Queen of the Damned signed by Anne Rice at some Toronto bookstore. I remember this not because I have a signed hardcover copy of Queen of the Damned, but because I was captured on the local TV news coverage. I am wearing a black-and-white fun fur motorcycle jacket that used to be my favourite coat. I only remember this because 10+ years later someone I find incredibly annoying pulls out a VHS tape and plays it in front of a bunch of people I’m with. (Thankfully it is dark and noisy and no one pays him any attention.)

 November, 1994

It’s Friday night of not-Halloween weekend and I’m sitting in the front seat of a car wearing fake plastic fangs. I may have been wearing a cape. Four of us are speeding through the city trying to go see the new Interview with a Vampire movie. This is not the era of advance movie ticket buying. This is the first time I have encountered “sold out” at a cinema. We end up somewhere North, like Eglinton maybe? When we finally get seated I realize you cannot eat popcorn with fangs. A lot of people, Anne Rice especially, are angry that Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt are in this movie, playing Lestat and Louis. I think they look fabulous. The film is orange and red, so full of fire and blood, velvet and lace and ashes. I want to live in this world.

March, 2012

“I’ve been reading and enjoying thoroughly a delightful book called “Encyclopedia Gothica” by Liisa Ladouceur, given to me by the author when I was in Toronto. This is too informative and too funny. Am I an ubergoth? I certainly hope so. I’d wear black underwear if they made it in cotton.” —Anne Rice.

Well, that was a pretty awesome day.

October, 2014

Prince Lestat, the first new story in the Vampire Chronicles in 11 years, is released. I got an advance copy in the summer so I could interview Anne for Rue Morgue magazine. In this book, all the characters are swooning over Lestat’s return…much like the readers. The action takes place in several places I’ve been to, and I’ve had a relationship with these characters for more than half my life. If it wasn’t about vampires it might feel like a travel diary written by a friend. (Memo: Vampires are not real.) I had a chance to write about the book, first for Rue Morgue but also to review it for Macleans. It’s difficult to fit into short spaces, my thoughts. What I want people to know is that it’s an important release in genre, that Lestat is second only to Dracula in the vampire kingdom (sorry, Edward), that it’s a easy read (for those who gave up on the Chronicles when they got super dense and detailed) that is clearly designed to bring us all up to speed so that the Chronicles can resume in book and most likely TV series form. That it’s it’s not a great book, but it’s a very good book.

I sat down tonight intending to write about Anne Rice. About why I’ve been reading Anne Rice for so long. Forgive me for getting side-tracked. To close, a few practical notes:

  1. My interview with Anne Rice appears in the October 2014 issue of Rue Morgue, which is not on-line but the print issue can be ordered here. Since I could only use a small portion of our conversation for this assignment, I hope to publish the Q&A in full here or elsewhere soon.
  2. My Macleans review.
  3. Anne will appear in Toronto on Saturday, November 15 for the Inspire Toronto International Book Fair. See you there!
Rue Morgue - Rice

Interview with the Vampire (author), Rue Morgue October 2014

In Praise of….Kate Bush Live!

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Prologue.

“If she ever plays live again, anywhere in the world, I’m getting on a plane and going.”

I’ve been saying that for years. And as the years went by, and Kate Bush did not in fact play live again, it seemed like an impossible dream. And then….. March 21, 2014 came the shock: Kate Bush announces concerts, the first since 1979. They would be called Before the Dawn. They would take place in September, and only in London, England, at the Eventim (né Hammersmith) Apollo. There were 15 shows at first, then 22. The tickets would cost 100 British Pounds. For real.

Like a lot of the people excited about this news, for me Kate Bush is more than a favourite singer, she’s a muse. I know that makes me sound like a teenager, but when I first discovered her I was one. Spellbound by her music video for “Running up that Hill,” devouring all the vinyl records and VHS bootleg tapes I could acquire, falling in love with her voice, her lyrics, her mysterious, enthralling persona. I named my self-published zine The Ninth Wave, after side-B of her album Hounds of Love. I’ve danced wildly to “The Dreaming” about a thousand times, and written a glosa based on “Egypt.” Once, when she made a rare appearance in Toronto to promote her album The Red Shoes, I stood outside a radio station where she was being interviewed, which had literally had its glass windows papered up to shield her from view, and cried. Physically, I was the closest I’d ever get to her in my life, but I couldn’t see her. She wasn’t real.

I know at least 10 other Toronto Kate Bush fans who woke up at 5 am EST on the first day of ticket sales. Most did not score. I did, as did my friend Jeff. All of a sudden, I was not just going to  see Kate Bush play live, I was going to see her play live twice!  The dream was real.

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The Show.

“Well I said, ‘Lily, Oh Lily I don’t feel safe / I feel that life has blown a great big hole / Through me’ ”

Before the dawn, there is a theatre abuzz, there is a vast empty stage of possibilities, there are feather charm necklaces for sale, there is a no photography rule, there is a set list I know, there are tissues in my pocket, just in case.

Kate emerges sauntering from stage left, leading a procession of her back-up singers (which includes her 16-year-old son, Bertie). She wears a black dress, no shoes, a huge smile I can see all the way from the balcony. She sings “Lily,” one of my favourites. Tears. I don’t bother with the tissues. Rapturous applause and standing ovation. Boom! “It’s in the trees…it’s coming!” For some reason, the masses sit back down. Even during “Running Up that Hill.” I cannot. There are three of us up here, three lone people up dancing. One lady gets up just to come and tell me I am “ruining it for everyone” behind me. I am not here to fight or be upset, so I sit, but my heart is still dancing.  “King of the Mountain” ends with a storm and a canon firing orange confetti over the crowd.  And then the show starts, for real.

Before the Dawn is musical theatre. Part one is The Ninth Wave, a suite of songs about a woman tossed overboard in the sea. Tonight, Kate will drown (on screen, filmed in a floatation tank which I later learn made her sick), be pulled out from under ice, appear as a ghost, be lost and be found. There are old-school sets and props, sound effects and costumes. A helicopter with search lights whirring loud overhead. A rescue buoy. And Kate. She is not flexing her body in a leotard like it’s 1979. She is not shimmying like Kylie or Beyonce. But she is in total control, and her voice sounds glorious. Her voice. That’s how you know the woman up there is really her. Because it’s still hard to believe.

Part two is The Sky of Honey, another side-B, from Ariel. There is a wooden door sized for giants. There are birds in flight. There is a massive painter’s canvas and trees that descend from the roof/sky. There is Kate at the piano. There is, for some reason I still don’t really get, a life-sized artist’s mannequin, operated by a puppeteer. There is Bertie, singing his own song. This might be annoying if it wasn’t so clear it was Bertie who inspired Kate to do this, to be here with all of us. There is a lovely afternoon brought to life in the dark. There is a black bird who is Kate. There is a most magical surprise climax in which she emerges in flight. There is an encore. It includes “Cloudbusting.” Finally, there is dancing. And for me, there is one more show.

My second night at Before the Dawn was actually the final show of the run. I wondered if it would be  “special” in any way, different from the 21 that had come before. I wondered if this crowd might rise to their feet. I wondered if I could get some of that confetti, now that I was seated on the floor. And then “Lily” and there were no questions left for I was strapped in now and immersed in the experience, oh. It was the same show, but different in that I could really see and appreciate the band, I could make out more of Kate’s face, I could share it with my friend Sharon. There were four young men seated in front of us who talked through the first half for some confounding fucking reason but I tried hard to keep focused on every moment on stage, knowing the clock to when I’d never see Kate Bush sing live again was counting down. During the intermission, I climbed over seats to collect some confetti, printed with the section of Tennyson’s poem I knew well from the Hounds of Love liner notes. Wave after wave, indeed. In the end, we all sang “Cloudbusting” together, the “yeah-ay-ay-ay-ee-ohs!” bursting from our hearts and chests out through our lips and into the rafters.  There were many flowers. There were hints that it would not be the last time, as Bertie lingered after the cast bow, taking in the adulation until the final step into the shadows. If he wants to return, I feel Kate will come back. And even if she doesn’t, there will always be “Cloudbusting,” that black bird, and a shoeless, smiling muse made flesh. As I tweeted that night, for all the things in my life I wanted to happen that didn’t, I shall hold this night close to my heart and call it even.

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Epilogue.

Kate Bush doesn’t tour. That hasn’t changed. This show will not go on the road. Kate Bush doesn’t do greatest hits. Thank heavens for that. As much as it might have disappointed some people not to hear “Wuthering Heights” or “This Woman’s Work” or “Don’t Give Up” (in the months lead up to the show how many secretly hoped Peter Gabriel would be a special guest at some point?), what we got instead was pure Kate — all imagination, all passion — and a wholly conceived new work of art. I felt like I was seeing her in 1985, 2005 and 2014 all at once. It’s been over a week since the shows and I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe it. It’s easy to think words like marvellous and extraordinary and amazing, or to simply say “best concert of my life!” except you just can’t compare it to other concerts. It was as if a person you long thought dead returned from the grave, it was like as if someone wrote a musical about Kate Bush and Kate Bush showed up to star in it, it was as if a genie had granted you all your wishes at once. It was a magic show. It was unreal.

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New Music Writing: DFA and David J

I have been remiss. In posting my music writing here. Of course I want you to read it, but it’s like a hamster wheel sometimes, running around just getting assignments done…that I forget. Forgive me. I shall be better. Starting with these two articles, recently published, of which I am proud.

DFA Exclaim

Death From Above 1979: Friends Fatale. Exclaim! Magazine, September 2014

This was my second time interviewing Jesse Keeler and Sebastien Grainger. Way back in 2004 I talked to them for a magazine called Gasoline, which was put out by the folks behind the Bovine Sex Club. It wasn’t a great interview. Not their fault-mine. I remember feeling unprepared, and blindsided a bit by their interview tactic, which was to act like they didn’t give a shit about being interviewed. Not surprisingly perhaps, my story wasn’t great. I somehow thought it important to talk about their height (“they’re as loud as they are all tall!” or some such ridiculousness.) But I’ve always really dug their music, thought they were underrated in terms our country’s music history (I would argue they had as much influence on the world as any Canadian rock band since, oh I don’t know, Loverboy) and  have been as excited as anyone to hear their first record in 10 years, The Physical World. This time, the interview went quite smoothly. We talked about their break-up, their make-up, and why they turned down an offer to open for Daft Punk on that pyramid tour. This is my second feature article for Exclaim! It appears in print in the September issue (on streets now) and on-line at Exclaim.ca. They’re also touring, and you should go. Bring earplugs.

 
Aux34_DavidJTeaserDavid J, Auxiliary Magazine, June/July 2014

When I’m asked to interview a member of Bauhaus, the answer is always yes. This is for Auxliary, a high-quality goth fashion and lifestyle magazine out of, of all places, Buffalo. I’ve spoken to David J before, and he’s always been kind. He even gave me a lovely blurb for Encyclopedia Gothica. He has a new solo album out, inspired by and dedicated to the many female muses in his life. I talked to him about that, as well as his upcoming memoir. He then supplied us with a promo photo of him looking rather cool, with a naked lady. The article is not available on-line but you can purchase a digital download or printed magazine from the Auxiliary shoppe.

 
Coming soon: an interview with Anne Rice for Rue Morgue Magazine and Fucked Up for SOCAN’s Words and Music magazine.

 

I’m sitting here with the big book of movies playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Even for someone who’s been attending for years, who’s even worked inside the festival (feel free to ask me about that time I danced with Cuba Gooding Jr., or what Brad Pitt looks like up close), it can be daunting to skim through hundreds of film titles and try to narrow down once’s choices to a reasonable (read: affordable) amount.  There are plenty of arts reporters offering their top picks, but those lists are usually dominated by what the masses want: A-list celebrities, the next big Oscar contenders, critical acclaim at Cannes, etc. What if you don’t care about any of that, if you prefer to spend your time at the movies with things that are dark, strange, offbeat? One way to choose is simply attend Midnight Madness — ten nights of soon-to-be cult classics programmed by my friend Colin Geddes, which is an experience in itself. But there are some neat things lurking in other programmes, so while I whittle down my Wish List I thought I’d share some of the films I’m most excited about that I think my friends and readers will dig.  See you there, in the dark….

WHAT WE DO IN SHADOWS

Vampires are hilarious. Too bad most comedies about bloodsuckers simply suck. But this one looks like the best thing to come our way since Vampire’s Kiss. Kind of like a really twisted Big Brother, this is billed as a “mockumentary” about three old world vamps sharing a flat in a New Zealand suburb. Co-directed by and starring Taika Waititi (Boy, Eagle vs Shark) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), it seems to strike just the right notes of black humour and absurdity. Watch this trailer above for tips on how you get past a club bouncer when you need to be invited in….then come watch this with me at Midnight Madness on Friday September 12. I won’t bite you. (OK, no guarantees on that.)

 

ALLELUIA

One of my weirdest (read: best) TIFF experiences in recent years was Fabrice’s Du Welz’s Calvaire. (I also dug his Vinyan quite a lot.) Alleluia is thus my most anticipated film at this year’s festival, Du Welz’s take on the true story of the 1960s  “Lonely Hearts Killers” Martha Beck (a single mom) and Ray Fernandez (a handsome con man who preys on older women). Sure to be shocking and uncompromising and, if his past work is anything to go on, with a memorable, strong female lead.

THE EDITOR

The Canadians at Astron-6 have been hitting it out of the park in the low-budget, outrageous genre game (Manborg, Father’s Day). Their love letter to giallo comes in this sexy, stylish feature about an Italian film editor in the 1970s who becomes a prime suspect in the murders of some of the actors from the film he’s been working on. Did I mention the guy has a wooden prosthetic hand? And that The Editor has appearances from Udo Kier, Tristan Risk and Paz de la Huerta? This is sure to get weird. Also, my talented illustrator friend Justin Erickson at Phantom City Creative designed the wicked poster.

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THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY

If gore isn’t your thing, this erotic melodrama by Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio) looks deliciously dark and sophisticated. It’s about a wealthy woman who digs butterflies, domination, and her new young housekeeper. TIFF calls it, “kinky, dryly comic, and compellingly surreal, and boasting gorgeous, gothic cinematography and an enveloping score by orchestral pop duo Cat’s Eyes.” Sold.

OVER YOUR DEAD BODY

Confession: I don’t worship Takashi Miike. I mean, mad respect to the man who made Ichi the Killer but I haven’t necessarily followed his work as much as my horror-loving friends. But this, Miike’s version of Yotsuya Kaidan, a kabuki play about murder and vengeance from beyond, seems like a must-see. Samurais and ghosts are usually Midnight Madness’s specialty, but this is screening in the Vanguard programme, which means it’s likely going to offer even more than you expect.

MAGGIE

It’s a zombie movie. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I can’t think of a single way this won’t be worth your $25.

PASOLINI

Oh, Willem Dafoe.  You are not only my favourite film vampire, you are one of my favourite actors. It doesn’t look like you’re coming to town for this screening but I shall be there nonetheless. For you are playing the infamous, scandalous, Italian poet, on the last day of his life, directed by Abel Ferrara. These are the kinds of films TIFF was made for.

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THE TRIBE

Every year I try to see one kind of messed-up movie at TIFF. I’m still washing my hands after Snowtown, and shaking my head over Dogtooth. This year, my oddball pick is The Tribe, about a gang of deaf-mute teenagers into robbing, assault, prostitution and more. It’s made by a Ukrarian director but the whole thing has no dialogue or subtitles, only sign language. Because WTF? is pretty universal.

A LITTLE CHAOS

Finally, because sometimes you just need to watch something pretty and swoon, here’s one for the RomantiGoths: Kate Winslet is a landscape designer commissioned to work on the garden at Versailles. Cue romantic interest in the king’s chief architect (Matthias Schoenaerts).  Costumes and courtly love and historical drama to wash the blood out. Ahhhh.

In praise of ….. Nine Inch Nails

I couldn’t live tweet from the NIN show tonight. Not because my phone battery died. Not because my thoughts wouldn’t fit into 140 characters. (It really only needed three: OMG). But because I didn’t want to miss a thing, not even for the time it takes to put your head down and type. I have, by my count in the parking lot, seen Nine Inch Nails live 12 times (recount: 18 times!) before, and each tour is its own unique production, with beautiful, innovative set and lighting design that’s increasingly next-level in terms of theatrics and choreography and conceptually unparalleled amongst the band’s contemporaries. I know Trent constantly rearranges songs into new shapes, and that other than ending with “Hurt” you can never be sure what you’ll get. Hell, the last time they rolled through Toronto they had back-up singers. Most of the time, I am officially reviewing, and taking notes. (Here’s my professional take on the 2005 Koolhaus show and last year at the ACC.) Tonight I was not on duty. So I didn’t tweet. I watched. But sitting here now, hair and body soaked from a walk home in the rain, ears ringing, head spinning, heart and imagination afire, I can remember what was going through my head as they played. Here then, the tweets that never were:

Live photo from Red Rock show by Brandon Fuller

Live photo from Red Rock show by Brandon Fuller

Trent is wearing a skirt!!!!!

So, Trent just walked on stage with the lights up and started playing, alone. Basically, the exact opposite of what anyone expected.

Members join, one-by-one. Kind of like Swans last month. Forcing you to really listen. If it’s a trend, I dig it.

Ah, he’s playing “Copy of a” while standing in front of his shadow. #Lo-fi #High-concept.

Nothing is an accident.

I think he’s learned a lot from Bauhaus. #lightandshadow

Here come the drums. Hmmm. I miss Josh Freese.

Sanctified. Deconstructed. #oldisnew

1 Million kicks so much ass. The Slip is so underrated.

1-0-1-0-1-0-1-0 can be as just authentic as voice and acoustic guitar.

I think this entire show so far is commentary on authenticity in the digital age.

Is March of the Pigs their most metal song? (I’m standing next to my most metal friend.) It’s def more metal than Soundgarden.

So glad Robin Finck is still in this band. He’s like the Blixa/Ellis in Trent’s team.

End Act One.

Still. So. Fucking. Great. #terriblelie #rawpower

What city are they playing next? And how can I get there?

“Closer” is both the best and worst singalong song.

No, I think Gave Up is the most metal.

Dude in front of me is wearing a Jilly’s T-shirt and baseball cap. Grown woman beside me dressed as a goth schoolgirl. #crossover

End Act Two.

Widescreen. Minimalism. #oscarwinnerknowswhathesdoing

Now he’s dancing like Peter Murphy.

NIN was absolutely the best band of the 90s. Radiohead got all the credit. Where are they now?

The Great Destroyer devolves into pure industrial sight/sound. A reminder why I love this genre. And that haters who say NIN is not industrial make me laugh.

If this is the band that becomes my era’s U2/Aerosmith/Stones, I’m OK with that. But this is not yet nostalgia. It’s very much now.

God, what could he do with Bono’s budget?

If he’s not going to play Reptile or The Wretched I sure hope we get Eraser.

Eraser!!

WISH!!!!! #mostmetal #fistfuck

Dance break.

I should perhaps leave early to beat this soaking wet crowd and ensure I can get a cab. #not

Head Like a Hole was never my jam and it still fees silly. Still, not leaving early.

I love having an old favourite band that is still a current favourite band. #elixer

It’s 2014 and raining but the lighters are about to come out en masse.

Hurt is a song for the ages. Like this storm, it washes all the dirt away.

The sky unleashes its thunderous applause.

LIGHTNING.

Exit.

Post show. Soaked.

Post show. Soaked.

In praise of…The Grid (RIP)

I haven’t been writing here much lately, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I’m always writing. About something, for someone. And for the past three years, the place I wrote for most often was thegridto.com. The Grid is a weekly Toronto paper  and daily online publication that rose from the ashes of Eye Weekly, one of the many free urban alt.weeklies that didn’t survive the digital revolution. Well, it was one. Today, it’s done. Cease publication immediately. I found out yesterday like most people, on Twitter.

The Grid

I was sad to see Eye go when it folded in 2011, having written for them since 1996 (including two regular music news columns) and worked in their offices as a fill in editor on a regular basis. (Which means I got to enjoy the free donuts brought in by the sex workers who took out adult classifieds, amongst other perks.) But The Grid was the right move, the right paper for a city full of renewned civic activism and a new generation of hipsters, who were no longer too interested in counter-culture and no longer needed printed listings to plan a night out. Maybe it wasn’t really a paper for me and my demographic anymore. I sometimes joked it was Toronto Lite, a place for aspirational young Torontonians who cared more about chic restaurants, real estate and parenting than what art was going on in the galleries being torn down for their new lofty condos. But I read it anyway, because The Grid retained a very important part of Eye Weekly in some of its staff, who really turned the new paper into something. Edward Keenan in particular, a deputy editor and columnist, raised the bar for discussion of city politics. They worked with the best illustrators and graphic artists as well. The Grid was a fine looking paper, one that won multiple awards for its content and design. And still, its parent company couldn’t see a “path to profitability” that justified keeping it it around any longer. Maybe they shouldn’t have considered themselves too classy for sex classifieds. (Imagine the Dating Diaries and Hook-Up columns they could have had sponsored.) Maybe there was no way ever to overcome the headstart competing weekly NOW had for a grip on local ad dollars. (I’ve always found it frustratingly hilarious how the public perceives NOW as the grassroots paper because its independently owned, even while Eye/Grid employed and nurtured more local writers, columnists and artists compared to NOW’s syndicated American ones.) Maybe it was inevitable. But it’s still shitty that an award-winning publication with a big corporate backer can’t make enough money. This does not bode well for anyone in this town who cares about media diversity.

Toronto Goth History

I will really miss writing for The Grid, even if I was rarely in the printed version. I will miss working with my online editor Stuart Berman, a longtime colleague and fellow music obsessive who always found a place for me to write about great bands and do long music industry stories. He always let me say what was on my mind, and that counts for alot. Some of my favourite assignments were oral histories of local landmarks, like Toronto Goth and the 20th anniversary of Molson Amphitheatre (which turned out to be my final piece.) And especially my series The Plus One, where I took a musician with me to review a live concert – like NIN with Brian of Holy Fuck, Christian Death with Wade from Gallows, Beyonce with Odario from Grand Analog and Jay Z with Brendan Canning, because I think readers appreciated a different perspective on arts reviewing. And because it was really fun. (The Grid also published my only sports article, Five Reasons to Love Tennis, Especially if You Hate Sports.) I was always proud to be a contributor.

Mostly I will miss reading The Grid. It didn’t have the spit and sass of Eye Weekly but it was really smart and covered the heart and mind of this city (at least its downtown) better than any other local media. I will miss Denise Benson’s “Then and Now” series of extensive profiles of the defunct Toronto nightclubs that built this city on rock ‘n’ roll…and punk and house and techno and on and on…  (Thankfully it’s going to be a book soon.) Those stories weren’t just good memory lane for forty somethings but an important archiving of Toronto history and culture.  And on subject of nostalgia, I will miss the days when you could make a living reporting about your “scene” – whether that was music or food or city hall or whatever. When people wanted to read more about what was going on in their neighbourhood than you could find out on Twitter. When everyone, reader and writers alike, were dreaming together, about a great city and a space for conversation about how to make it even better. Because less media voices diminishes where we live, and how we live.  I really don’t know how any newspapers are going to survive these next few years. But I do know the great writers will keep on writing, somewhere, for someone.

Thanks everyone for reading me in Eye/Grid, 1996-2014.

 

World Goth Day 2014

I’m hosting this. See you in the dark.

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“The day that Skinny Puppy’s “Live Shapes for Arms” tour thundered into Toronto, February 18, 2014, the music news world was focused on the fact that date was the 40th anniversary of the release of the first KISS album. No doubt that debut was important to rock ’n’ roll. But when it comes to celebrating the impact and longevity of a group, I am personally much more excited that next month marks 30 years since Skinny Puppy released its first cassette, Back and Forth.”

Read the full review here.IMG_5347

“Skinny Puppy’s music used to torture prisoners.” This news has been going around my social media all week since Cevin Key told the Phoenix New-Times about how the band wanted to invoice the US government for the use of their music at Guantanamo. Now, if you read Cevin’s whole interview it’s not like the band mailed Obama a bill. But it’s the kind outrageous, touchy situation that makes for good headlines so it’s been widely reported and retweeted. (By no less than the UK’s Independent, who, sadly, referred to the industrial icons as a “metal” band.)

I actually wrote about this last year, when I interviewed Ogre about the then-new album Weapons for Rue Morgue. Since RM doesn’t put their articles on-line, you’ll have to read it the olde-fashioned way, in a back-issue.  But in the interest of adding more first-person information to this interesting story, I present here excerpts of my conversation with Ogre about the situation.  Skinny Puppy has always been vocal about social justice issues in their music and interview. (I went vegetarian as a teen in large part because of VIVIsectVI and “Testure.” ) I’m thrilled that the band continues to exist/record/tour, and talk about the things that bug them, from animal welfare to Fukushima fall-out, to gun control and Guantanamo Bay. Music is a weapon, indeed.

Ogre from Skinny Puppy,  April 2013:

The actual concept for Weapon came about on the Ohgr tour in 2011, based on meeting a Skinny Puppy fan who ended up being a guard in Guantanamo. He went from being Military Police to a two-week training to getting shipped over to Guantanamo to guard prisoners, high-risk prisoners. There, he heard of Skinny Puppy being used no less than 4 times to torture people. So the original idea, based on our interviews with him, was to do an album to torture people by. To make our album into a weapon.

At that time the Ohgr tour manager—who was a Renaissance Woman who is also a carny on the side— had the idea to get some of these sideshow people she knows and do interrogations on stage. But that concept got really bloated and obtuse.

When we were originally conceiving the Weapon record, I considered having bits and pieces in the native language of whoever was being tortured—Pashtun or whatever—of reassuring messages, saying things like “Even though this music sounds horrible and it’s being used to torture you, please know that in this country it’s used to fight the very thing that is torturing you right now.” Calming mantras. We were going to do that.

So one idea with Weapon is to actually do Freedom of Information requests about the music for torture, and do interviews. We were going to get information on the frequencies used, as much as we could compile, and based on that also give an instruction manual. But for now we’re not doing that.

The project was about going as far as we could, then to present to the US government, or whoever we could find that was responsible for torturing people with our music, an actual invoice for what they owe us for using our music.  We would make the cover art the invoice. The idea of a free society to me, is not one that tortures people. I can’t live with that, and not call it out.

Weapon

 

 

 

 

 

“Who wants to sleep overnight at the Mütter Museum with me for my birthday?”
Many hands shot up. My friends, they knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure being proposed. My friends, they knew exactly what the Mütter was: one of the world’s most unusual museums, the kind you don’t visit if you are squeamish. But my friends and I, we’re not squeamish. We’ve all long wanted to visit the Mütter’s collection of medical oddities, to see the conjoined liver from Siamese twins Chang and Eng, pieces of Einstein’s brain, diseased body parts floating in jars and the 139 skulls of the famed Hyrtl collection. Somehow, none of us had ever made the trek to Philadelphia. But when we saw that event listing, for a special adult sleepover at the Mütter — complete with scary movie, seance, pizza, and flashlight tour….it was, you might say, a no-brainer. (Sorry.)

hrytl skulls
In the end, there were eight of us Canadians who descended on the Mütter, joining a dozen others who had travelled from across America to attend. As first time visitors, it was alot to take in. The galleries are fairly small, but also jammed with fascinating specimens. We were supposed to be setting up our bedding in the assigned sleeping zones but all I wanted to do was just drop my bags and stick my face against the glass cabinets of curiosities and read everything! But the event features a full schedule of night-time programming, and soon we were whisked away in our pyjamas to the foreboding Gross Library for a “seance” with mentalist Francis Menotti. Thrice I was enlisted in his parlour mind tricks, good ones too. Then, beneath the artwork of Jordan Eagles, who uses slaughterhouse blood in this work, we ate gourmet pizza, drank beer and wine and watched The Sixth Sense, which was filmed in Philadelphia. I don’t think I ever saw that film again after the first time, and its Big Reveal, so that was good fun. There wasn’t much mingling between the participants, but I met a young women who is studying to be a neurologist, there with her sister and mom. And I noticed several people reading about and discussing medical conditions that they themselves have suffered from. The Mütter attracts the morbidly inclined (e.g., us) but also those with an interest in medical history and the human body.

Our guide for the sleepover was J Nathan Bazzel. Officially, he’s the museum’s director of communications—but clearly he’s much more. A passionate guardian for the College of Physician’s prized collection, there’s little if anything he doesn’t know the history of the building, the artifacts or the organization. The sleepover ticket got us access to parts of the Mütter not normally open to visitors, like the bowels where research is done (oh, hello, stray Iron Lung in the hallway), and the towering seven-stories of its library. Just as Bazzel was explaining how a report from the previous sleepover of a ghost spotted in the stacks couldn’t possibly have been true, some of our fellow visitors claimed a book fell off the shelf.  I didn’t see it, but believers took this as a strong sign that skeptics such as myself and Bazzel might want to sleep with one eye open. Most importantly, there was a tour in the dark by flashlight of the Müttter highlights. So many skeletons. So many stories of medical discoveries. For me, it was all about the Hyrtl skulls, and I spent as much time as possible staring at these cranial specimens before lights out, when we all tucked into our sleeping bags. That’s when it really hits you, how cool this all is, sleeping in a museum! I drifted off with my head next to something bizarre in a jar that would give most people nightmares. Smiling.

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By the time we ate the catered breakfast and checked out the next morning, we had been in the Mütter for close to 15 hours. At yet, I feel I have barely seen any of the collection, and need another full visit, without distraction, to really take it in. No further sleepovers have been announced but I’m pretty sure they’ll be doing it again. So, who’s in?

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