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

See Liisa Read! Feb 19 at ChiSeries in Toronto

Friends,  my first public poetry reading in a while, and my first public appearance of 2014.
ChiSeries is always a good time. Please come.
RSVP on Facebook.

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Wednesday, February 19
8pm
Round House (formerly known as Augusta House)
152 Augusta in Kensington Market
PWYC

“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?

2013: A few of my favourite things

Ah, exhale. The end of another year. It feels that way tonight, surrounded by snow and twinkling lights and bits of shiny paper on the floor, with only a few squares remaining on the 2013 calendar. Time to plot the future. But first, a look back at the music, books, films that inspired me, excited me, provoked me, made me think, laugh, dance, rock out, dream, scream.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I find conflicts between my passion for all things tagged “goth” and “horror” and the reality of what I enjoyed and thought was good quality. I have never been a super fan of blind faith in terms of genre. Tell me a good story. If there be monsters, all the better. Sing me a song. If it’s sad and romantic and melodramatic, I shall sigh and swoon all the more. But I still get excited by many, many other genres of music, from folk to disco and beyond, as well as poetry and documentaries and all kinds of things. I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. Like what you like.

In 2013, I put out my own book, which impacted how much other stuff I could seek out, and really absorb, to recommend. But for the sake of posterity, and in the interest of spreading the word about what I find worthy and wonderful…. a few of my favourite things…

Listen.

Live shows were more exciting to me than records this year. Probably because I saw Nick Cave perform two nights, back to back, and it was a much more satisfying experience than listening to his latest release Push the Sky Away on its own. First in Montreal, at the always amazing Metropolis club, than at the even more amazing Massey Hall, where I managed to push myself up to the front of the stage. There were strings and children’s choirs making the new songs sound great, and St. Nick doing “Stagger Lee” and “The Mercy Seat” with as much vigor as ever and my friend and I giving he and Warren flowers like lovesick teenagers and all I really remember is thinking how if I could see only one act in concert ever again for the rest of my life, it would be him. Hands down. Have I purchased tickets for his summer 2014 tour already? Hell, yes.

There were other live shows for the books, many of them verging on nostalgia trips — Rocket from the Crypt rocking my Riotfest, two intimate sets of triumphant, glorious Patti Smith at the AGO, Nine Inch Nails proving they can add funk and back-up singers and still blast out the industrial hits. But also some new favourites: The XX beautiful in the rain at Echo Beach, Iceland’s Legend at a basement bar, Majical Cloudz making my NXNE with his intense solo performance.

As for the records, I made a Top 10 Canadian Albums list for Huffington Post Music with my critic hat on; those that I personally adored were Basia Bulat’s Tall, Tall Shadow (heartbreaking folk), Majical Cloudz’ Impersonator (very minimal, very dark), Young Galaxy’s Ultramarine (fresh, feel-good synthpop), and Daniel Romano’s Come Cry with Me (hurtin’ traditional country).

Beyond our borders, I got and will give love to Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get the Harder I Fight, was all over the Siouxsie-like post-punk of Savages’ Silence Yourself,  realized I actually do like Alkaline Trio  with My Shame is True, and finally discovered Agnes Obel thanks to Avetine — she’s my Goth Who Isn’t Goth alert for 2013.

Like everyone with a pulse, I also gleefully danced to “Get Lucky” way too many times.

Watch.

Only Lovers Left Alive! Jim Jarmusch’s arthouse vampire movie, starring Tilda Swinton, is exquisite, and was a highlight of my TIFF 2013. Sadly, no actual release date in sight. Ditto Horns, the most excellent adaptation of the Joe Hill novel, transformed into a superior dark comedy/horror/fantasy. Watch out for those next year. I join the chorus celebrating American Mary the indie Canadian horror flick about body modification, for being smart, sexy, nasty and driven by kinky, crazy, outrageous female characters. Thanks Soska Sisters for bringing back Katherine “Ginger Snaps” Isabelle to the big screen. And I really dug the sweetness of Warm Bodies. A zombie who plays vinyl records for a girl is my kind of zombie.  As for documentaries, I had much to ponder about violence and appropriation of voice after watching The Exhibition, about an artist painting women killed by Robert Pickton; and I couldn’t be happier to see BlackFish changing perceptions and policies about whales and dolphins in captivity.

Or, this is what I was doing alone in the dark when not obsessing over Klaus in The Vampire Diaries and The Originals.


Read.

It was a great year for me to see some of my favourite writers in the flesh, and hear them read aloud. After many years of adoring Anne Carson from afar, she came to town for the International Festival of Authors. My favourite living poet, she claimed in her humble introduction to lack charisma. Hardly. Her words make other worlds possible, and when she brings them to life in her own voice, even the most obtuse things became completely clear. (This particular event provided me the opportunity to experience a woman shhhhhushing a man for taking notes because she found the sound of his pencil on paper too loud. Seriously. ) Carson is a strange woman. The very best kind. I cannot recommend her books more highly.  Also, did I wait several hours to talk to Neil Gaiman at the Toronto stop for his Last Tour Ever for Ocean at the End of the Lane? Indeed I did. His reading was marvellous, the Q&A hilarious, the long queue well worth it to chat with him after about my own new book. He continues to say very kind things to me about Gothica and it's such a blessing to have these interactions with someone so beloved, and so generous.

(For a list of the books I enjoyed reading this year, visit my Good Reads page.)

Neil signed my copy of Ocean that night with "Dream dangerous." And so I shall. In fact, it's my resolution for 2014. See you then/there.

Gaiman

Shhhh. There are goths in the library.

Toronto book lovers….I’m so pleased to be giving my first talk for the Toronto Public library!

From Bauhaus to the Birthday Massacre: Origins and Evolution of Goth Music

Wed Nov 27, 2013
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
All-ages, and free

I’ll be lecturing on What is Goth music and how it has changed over the years, using my own Goth Music Family Tree from Encyclopedia Gothica as a guide.  The Bloor/Gladstone branch is a particularly wonderful location and I’m really looking forward to it. Bring your babybats, bring your questions…come!

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Goth Guy Gift Guide 2013

By request….for the gents…. 12 wickedly cool gift ideas for boys and men of the goth or punk rock persuasion!

To stuff a stocking (under $25)

Cat skull

Cat Skull T-shirt ($22)
If your guy loves both cats and skulls, put a bow on that keeper and grab one of these shirts for him. The clever design is purr-fect.

Biohazard Socks ($8)
Hot stuff, coming through. From Portland’s Sock Dreams, which also sells men’s socks in circuit board, mummy, and, of course, the skull and crossbones.

Hot Sauce in a Coffin ($17.95)
“Bloody Bat Hot Sauce” has cayenne pepper and garlic in it, and comes in a cedar coffin for gift giving.

 

For the nice and the naughty (under $100)

skull votive

Skull Votive Holder ($54)
Skulls. Candles. What else do you need to know. Oh,  is made of solid pewter and fits a standard votive.

Kern Noir Photobook ($varies)
Sure, there are naked photos of women everywhere. But a collection of Richard Kern’s black and white fetish portraits is still a rather nice thing to have. This one is out of print so hunt around for the best condition/price.

An Axe. ($39)
Yeah, whether or not there is an actual Axe Throwing League in your city, doesn’t every bad-ass man need his own weapon?

 

ascotSilk Ascot ($32.95)
Because Goth men actually know what an ascot is.

Evil Dead The Musical ($20-$80)
Gifting tickets to arts and culture is both noble and fun. And I can think of no musical that would appeal to a guy with a dark side more than this romp through Evil Dead. Blood. Boobs. Chainsaws. Demons. Playing to January 5 in Toronto.

Reaper Rosary ($40)
Ain’t nothing wrong with men wearing jewelry. This rosary of jet black Swarovski beads with a skull is a nice one for all the androgynous boys in your life.


Bluebeards Revenge ‘Cut Throat’ Shaving Kit
(£34.99)
Because goths are the one true hold-outs to the beard craze, keep him clean shaven with this gift set from UK dealer Bluebeards Revenge. Shaving cream, balm, a fancy brush and a “cut throat” razor for that Sweeney Todd role play night.

shaving

Splurgesville ($150 and way up)

Skull Cufflinks from Alexander McQueen ($175)
Who says only ladies deserve presents from McQueen? The design house makes several kinds of skull cufflinks but I like these ones best, silver finish brass with a ghostly Victorian skull encased in glass.

Memento Mori Watch ($209)
Tick, tock, tick tock….every second closer to death. This all-black watch features hands with the message “Remember…. you will die.”

John Varvatos Buckle Boot ($1198)
There are buckle boots. Then there are super duper fancy “Engineer Triple Buckle Boot” from John Varvatos.  Goth as fuck, for grown-ups.

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Goth Girl Gift Guide 2013

Happy pre-Holidays. Presenting, for your gift giving convenience, my second (annual?) list of beautiful things I think goth girls would like to receive in a pretty box under the Xmas tree. As with last year, I’ve avoided clothing or things you need to try on, and plastic crap from China with skulls. There are also many, many books, lots of music, and of course excellent charities to support, all worth your attention. But let’s start with these….12 items to get your shopping started, including a few fantasy shopping items — because one of these days maybe Santa will stop at the McQueen store….

Modest Pleasures (under $50)

ringJudas Cross Ring by Gasoline Glamour ($44)

Oversized crucifix rings are everywhere this year. This one, in matte black, is particularly bold, and well crafted and, of course, excellent protection from the vampires in your midst.

 

Black Diamond Nail Polish ($25)

Many companies make black nail polish. Only Azature makes black polish with a diamond in it.  Just the one diamond, mind you. If you have a spare $250,000 sitting around, Azature will sell you their deluxe version: 267 carats in every bottle.  But I think most of us would rather nab the $25 one, and save our 1/4 million dollars for a castle by the sea.

Fairy Stationery Set ($18)
Write out love notes, poems, or even a will on a notepad and matching envelopes in your choice of Earth, Water or Fire fairy design from Enchanted Studios.

PolishFairy

White Chocolate Crow Skull  ($20)
Life size cast of an actual carrion crow skull made into 100% pure Belgian chocolate. One of many strange and unusual items from the new Morbid Anatomy on-line shoppe.

Sophie Lancaster Foundation Tote Bag ($14.99)
“Weirdo. Mosher. Freak.” Take back these insults and support the S.O.P.H.I.E. Foundation’s mission to reduce prejudice and fight hate crimes with this bag, available in red, blue, purple and green.

Chocolatetote bag

“Recluse” Felt Pennant ($14)
Show your true team colours (black, and anti-social) with this pennant from Montreal artisans Stay Home Club screen-printed with the word “recluse.” Also available in “I don’t care” and “hibernate.”

pennant

 

Spoil Me (under $200)

candleCoiled Beeswax Candle ($55)

A goth girl can never have too many candles. This one is not only beeswax and burns for 50 hours, it’s in a unique and beautiful coil with brass base. From Kat Von D’s Wonderland Gallery. Uber.

Latex Thigh-Highs by House of Etiquette ($185)

I know I said no clothing but if your lady has long legs and knows how to use them, she deserves these latex stockings. Come in a variety of colours but I like the classic Cuban.

“The Raven” Duvet Cover ($166)

Perfect for memorizing poetry in bed, the full text from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” printed on a duvet cover. Classy and classic.. (Price is for Queen size.)

stockingsduvet

 

Serious splurges! ($500 and up)

mcqueen

Alexander McQueen Stained Glass Clutch ($525)
C’mon Santa! In the world of McQueen purses, this one is a bargain. Medievalists especially will appreciate the stained glass print on this canvas clutch, perfectly sized for your keeping your secrets.

Onyx Teardrop Pendant ($995)

Black onyx, goth girl gemstone of choice, is set in a beautiful mesh cap and chain of 18k rose gold. Keepsake for the ages.

Peter Murphy original artwork by Vincent Marcone ($541)

Peter Murphy is the inspiration and subject for this gorgeous  painting by Vincent Marcone, titled “His Scarlet Voice.” One of the limited-edition large prints will set you back a few bones but how much would you pay to have the Bauhaus vocalist hanging out in your bedroom?  (Smaller giclee prints are available for under $50.)

onyxmarcone

 

 

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