Things tagged with musings


Two nights ago, on the eve of the Polaris Music Prize gala, in which a Canadian album would be named the year’s best, and awarded a $30,000 cash prize as a result, I was listening to Godspeed You Black Emperor’s Short Listed Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! I consider it a highly accomplished musical creation, one that I personally enjoyed enveloping myself in, and the more I listened the more I thought, “This could win.”

GYBE

And then I dismissed it. In part because my favourites never win. (Hi Handsome Furs!) In part because it’s instrumental, with songs that are 20 minutes long, and that’s a hard sell, even to the expert open-eared music critics that make up the Polaris jury. And in part because Godspeed is, 20 years after first appearing on the fringes of Canada’s music scene, still pissing off critics, and Polaris is, after all, a critics’ prize.

Disclaimer: I was for many years a member of the Polaris Board of Directors. I also manged the jury, including moderating the final deliberations for the winner. I know more than anyone that those debates really are about the artistic merits of the album. It’s not a consensus vote, and the kind of of Borg-like hive mind that many people in the general public ascribe to the decision making is laughably speculative and false. There is no “let’s award a French act this year” or “that person is too rich to deserve to win.” It. Doesn’t. Happen.

But I know from private discussions with people who write about music for a (humble) living that sometimes when artists are mean to the media, talk shit about journalists, refuse to give interviews (or worse, waste people’s time by not showing up to scheduled ones) or generally act like we’re the enemy, their albums go the bottom of the listening pile. Media are people too, and they can have hurt feelings. I’m not suggesting that is a factor in that final Polaris debate (I certainly never witnessed it) but I did consider for a moment that Godspeed, notorious shunners of media attention, rejecters of interview requests, might not have enough friends in that room.

I’m so glad I was wrong. Last night, after several hours of joyous musical performances — highlighted by fiercely confident Zaki Ibrahim, ferociously pummelling METZ, and wickedly fun A Tribe Called Red — Godspeed was announced as the Polaris Music Prize winner for 2013. Post-gala, the question is always, “What did you think of the winner?” and this year, in all sincerity, I could say “Allelujah.”

It did not go unnoticed that this was the first time in the award’s history that the winner was not in attendance. This was by no means a surprise, knowing GY!BE.  But it was a story. A rep from the band’s label explained the band would be giving the $30,000 prize to try and set up a programme to distribute musical instruments in prisons. People clapped at that, mostly. Then everyone went to the Drake and mingled and talked about music and got on with our lives.

This morning I woke to the band’s official statement,  which starts off with “A FEW WORDS REGARDING THIS POLARIS PRIZE THING.” Right, this “thing.” This dismissive shrug bugged me. But it goes on to thank music writers for the prize, shout out struggling freelancers especially, express gratitude, and then:

BUT HOLY SHIT AND HOLY COW- we’ve been plowing our field on the margins of weird culture for almost 20 years now, and “this scene is pretty cool but what it really fucking needs is an awards show” is not a thought that’s ever crossed our minds.3 quick bullet-points that almost anybody could agree on maybe=-holding a gala during a time of austerity and normalized decline is a weird thing to do.-organizing a gala just so musicians can compete against each other for a novelty-sized cheque doesn’t serve the cause of righteous music at all.-asking the toyota motor company to help cover the tab for that gala, during a summer where the melting northern ice caps are live-streaming on the internet, IS FUCKING INSANE, and comes across as tone-deaf to the current horrifying malaise.these are hard times for everybody. and musicians’ blues are pretty low on the list of things in need of urgent correction BUT AND BUT if the point of this prize and party is acknowledging music-labor performed in the name of something other than quick money, well then maybe the next celebration should happen in a cruddier hall, without the corporate banners and culture overlords. and maybe a party thusly is long overdue- it would be truly nice to enjoy that hang, somewhere sometime where the point wasn’t just lazy money patting itself on the back.”

And so now we have an even bigger story. Godspeed “slams” Polaris! My social media, full of music biz people, is awash with arguments about whether or not the band’s position is respectable or bullshit—or worse, shtick. Many call them hypocrites, dicks, fake anarchists, for accepting a prize if they don’t agree with what it represents.

Some people seem very angry about the whole thing. I am not.

Sure, it’s fun to argue. But really, I fail to see this as some crisis, some failure of either the prize or the band. For one, they’re not totally slamming the prize. They say thank you. They don’t particularly like the glitzy gala, sponsored by a car company, sure, but in general they mostly sound conflicted. Which is exactly how I would feel about being awarded a prize sponsored by corporations. Grateful, yes. But I’d still have questions and concerns. And I haven’t made my living, my brand, off being anti-corporate.

Many are suggesting the band should not have accepted the win. That they should have withdrawn from consideration months ago, at the Long List stage. And they especially should not be taking the money. I don’t know if that’s some lingering resentment over their anti-industry stance all these years or what. But I do know it’s bullshit.

If you have a point of view, a message even, it serves nobody to withdraw from public discourse.

By pulling out, rejecting their nomination, they would first and foremost deprive many new music lovers from discovering and hearing their album, which is pretty much the opposite of what most musicians I know want. There may have been a few blog posts about their decision but only people who already know who Godspeed are would ever read them. And they most definitely wouldn’t have had the opportunity to take their views to mainstream media. To have a statement read on CBC Radio. To get a nation talking about the nature of arts awards. Even if their statement had its contradictions and flaws. Yeah, I know that their label Constellation has received government funding. I know they are going on a no-doubt gas-guzzling tour with NIN, playing venues named by banks and such. And it doesn’t bother me.

We are all compromised in our ethics. We all have to navigate a world that is for the most part not in line with our core beliefs of justice. Judging other people may be natural, but it’s petty. It’s like saying Tom Morello lost his activist cred by signing with Sony. It’s like tsking a vegetarian for wearing leather shoes to make yourself feel better for eating animals. If someone else is unpure in their convictions, well, then I guess my inaction is OK then.

We have no idea what goes in in other people’s heads, and hearts, and wallets. Maybe the band is giving their profits from the NIN tour to carbon offsets. Maybe Constellation used that funding to hire people to work in their office instead of exploiting intern slavery. I don’t know. And I actually don’t care. I’m still applauding a band for taking its 24 hours of spotlight to actually say something, about something, whatever that is. In my view, that’s what artists should do. It’s part of their job.

One point I am surprised to find overlooked is that the band chose a music journalist to speak on their behalf at the gala. For the first time, the Short Listed artists were given the opportunity to select their own presenters. Whitehorse picked Sarah McLachlan. Tegan and Sara picked Strombo. Godspeed could have picked any number of representatives — Sacheen Littlefeather, perhaps? — or none at all. But they picked Jessica Hopper, a music journalist. She read a short statement about why they would not attend, with a comment about what can be achieved when you “decide to say no.” It was kind of perfect. (Save for host Kathleen Edwards’ comment that Hopper is one of the “few and far between excellent women music writers,” which I found bewildering and offensive.) Here, their actions spoke.

Godspeed don’t hate everyone. They just don’t like everyone. Like their music, I can relate to that.

Every year at this time I plan my 10-day movie-going adventure that is the Toronto International Film Festival. And every year at this time I try to convince my friends who don’t regularly “do” TIFF that despite how big and chaotic the festival is it’s really not that difficult to get tickets to great films, even at the last minute. If you look beyond the big premieres of films with Hollywood A-list guests you’ll find literally hundreds of movies to choose from. I always start with the Midnight Madness program, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year—it’s the home of horror, action and general weirdness picked especially for the witching hour. The screenings can be closer to going to a rock show than a movie theatre. Expect lots of hollering. More and more, the Vanguard program, which describes itself as provocative, sexy and dangerous, is also where I find my new favourites. But then things that go “boo” jump out at me where I least expect them, too.

Because this month is all about vampires for me, I’m going to have to see everything I can in that genre. Thankfully, there are three interesting ones indeed.

"only lovers left alive"

Only Lovers Left Alive promises to be the coolest vampire movie since the Hunger, starring Tilda Swinton. Confession: I’ve never actually seen a Jim Jarmusch movie. I’m excited that this is premiering the first night of the festival, which should set me up well for the week ahead.

Story of My Death, an experimental film from Spain, mixes Cassanova with Count Dracula. This could be sumptuously, deliriously satisfying or totally odd. I’m going to find out.

Rigor Mortis. Chinese hopping vampires at Midnight Madness?! Hello! If you’ve never seen an Asian vampire movie, they’re generally a wild and fun ride.

Apart from these vamp flicks, I’m pretty keen to see the sexy sci-fi thriller Under the Skin, Alexander Aja’s adaption of Joe Hill’s Horns, the historical drama Mary, Queen of Scots, the Icelandic coming-of-age story Metalhead, and Tom at the Farm, a psychological thriller from Canadian wunderkid Xavier Dolan. Oh, and about 50 others!

See you there, in the dark.

Peter Murphy.

I can’t stop thinking about Peter Murphy. The “Godfather of Goth.” The Gothfather.

News surfaced last night that Peter was in jail in California, arrested Saturday  “on suspicion of causing injuries while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, felony hit-and-run and possessing methamphetamine,” according to the L.A. Times. There was an ugly mug shot alongside the story. Peter is 55 but has always seemed immortal. Here he has that unshaven, blank look of someone who has been through the wringer. A criminal. The charges come after he allegedly rear-ended a vehicle and drove off. The story quotes police as saying he appeared to be “very confused.” They also reported finding a small bag of meth in the patrol car where he had been sitting. Peter denied it was his. Or drinking that day. He said he took only his prescription anti-depressants. He blamed the collision on jet lag.

Right away, my Twitter and Facebook feeds filled up with jokes. He was driving a Subaru Forester? Hilarious! The crime took place at 11:48 a.m. The vampire prince trying to drive in California high-noon? Well that explains everything. Peter Murphy and Bauhaus lyrics that could be considered ironic now were cut up and posted. Wink, wink. Plenty more wondered how their lives would be affected: would his upcoming tour dates be cancelled? Will I get a refund? It doesn’t escape me that when an artist we admire is sick, I mean physically sick, there is an outpouring of sympathy. But if someone is known to have depression, mental health struggles, relationship problems, addiction, well how quickly they are raked over the coals. Like it’s lame. Like it’s not sad.

I don’t think it’s funny.  Not because he’s special, above ridicule. Just the opposite. Because he’s just a man. A man with problems, apparently.

Murphy Live at RPM. Better days.

We Goths, and plenty of 80s new wavers and 90s alt rockers, consider Peter Murphy A-list, an icon. Most people, like say the average L.A. Times reader, probably don’t know Peter Murphy from Adam Ant.  They don’t remember “Cuts You Up” or “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” or his role in the Hunger. The paper tagged him as “lead singer of 1970s British goth-rock band Bauhaus.” That’s close enough to a celebrity to warrant news coverage. Which means we can expect more details to come out, probably not good. About why he’s on anti-depressants. About any personal issues that might shed a light on this behaviour. (Someone on his FB page posted he’s mourning the death of his sister.) They might rip apart his finances, although the fact that he is in jail because he can’t post the $500,000 bail and there’s been no swift press release or statement yet tells you he’s not exactly rolling with high-priced lawyers or pr firms these days.  Fans can scream “leave him alone!” but that’s their job. the reporters, to report. And it’s his own fault. He didn’t have to crash that car. He didn’t have to drive away. Hit-and-run, that’s pretty low.

At least nobody was hurt.  I’ve read The Dirt. I know how Vince Neil of Motley Crue drove drunk and killed Razzle from Hanoi Rocks — and got 30 days in jail for it. (Then went on to beat up people and drive drunk again but still  get off free to date and fuck and marry models and Playmates, because he clearly does have expensive lawyers.)  I thought that made him a pretty awful human being, but it didn’t affect me. All those Hollywood celebs, glam rockers, whatever. Let them be bad. They’re not my heroes. This time though, I can’t stop thinking about it. I worry that Peter is not like Vince Neil at all, but like Dave Gahan. I think about Gahan’s heroin addiction, his suicide attempt, his near-death experience. Or Trent Reznor, whose struggles with depression and drugs, his descent down the spiral, thankfully led him ultimately to rehab, not jail. I remember how back then, in the mid-90s and even early 2000s, you mostly heard about these things much later, when the person was ready to talk about it. Not like now. People on the scene tweeted fuzzy cell phone photos of Peter Murphy being arrested. The infamy is immediate. Whatever happens in court, Peter will never be able to erase that mugshot. His Wiki bio— and his obituary — will have that mark.

Yes, there is a tour at stake. And his ability to work and to travel, if convicted.  I don’t care if the shows are cancelled. I hope his friends have called. (I’m looking at you, Trent Reznor.) I hope someone bails him out.

In 2011, Peter Murphy put out a damned fine solo record, Ninth. I saw him perform on that tour, and he was marvelous as ever. His voice sounded great. His aging body still had the moves. He was still a master manipulator of the stage, of shadow and light. On two occasions I had the chance to chat with him after the show. In these tiny, unglamorous dressing rooms he held court, smoking cigarettes and telling stories. One of my favourites was of him walking through the Leipzig Festival (the world’s biggest Goth gathering) without make-up or costume and not being recognized. I gave him a copy of my book and he said, typically, “But I’m not Goth!” My sassy girlfriend replied, typically, “Well then you will learn alot from this book.”  Sometimes the people there were really annoying. Drunks or ubergoths or both. He smiled at them anyway, listened to them, shared his cigarettes.  And when he got tired he simply waved and said goodnight and disappeared out the backdoor. I like to picture him wandering off into the night to read poetry or write a song or call his daughter or go to sleep. I like to picture him singing, dancing.

I don’t like to picture him in a mug shot, a meth user, a man on the edge. And so I will not.

Mr. Moonlight, 2011

2012: A few of my favourite things

It was the year of the Apocalypse. Nothing to do with the Mayan doomsday. More that so many things in my world came to an end, some for the better but mostly for worse. But then….life goes on. And art saves. These are some of the things from 2012 that made me think, made me dream, made me happy to be alive.

The Music.
For all that I talk about Goth, there is precious little Goth music I get excited about anymore. Well, of the stuff that gets tagged as Goth by its creators anyway. But there is a never-ending supply of new music that is dark and romantic, dangerous and danceable, minimal and macabre. In other words, Goth. They just file it somewhere else in the shops.

One of my favourite new-ish groups is Britain’s The XX, a love child of The Cure and various Northern soul, if said baby had died in childbirth and become a ghost. Their second album Co-Exist has been on repeat for me for months, a haunting listen in the truest sense. Bat For Lashes had a new one, and while I wish The Haunted Man was something more, something truly extraordinary, it has its moment of grace and beauty. The Raveonettes continue to delight me with fuzzy garage noise in a way the J&MC never quite could. Both their Into the Night EP and Obsverator album were never far from reach.

In the not at all Goth but still rocking my world category, I finally came ’round to overlooking the stupid band name Grizzly Bear and all the indie hipster accolades to embrace that band’s beautiful 21st century rock album Shields. Ditto psychedelic Aussies Tame Impala, but I guess with an album called Lonerism, I was destined to eventually fall for them.  …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead reminded me how much I used to dig that band with its raucous Lost Songs. I welcomed the return of the Deftones too. But of all the loud rock records this year I kept coming back to JapandroidsCelebration Rock. It made me dance wilder. Run faster. Scream louder. And feel better.

As for disappointments, well, I still can’t get into How to Destroy Angels. And that solo album from Interpol’s Paul Banks seems to have gone in one ear and out the other for me. But to make up for it, I had the discovery of Canada’s Cold Specks. Her debut album I Predict a Graceful Expulsion, a collection of very old-school mournful soul,  topped my ballot for the Polaris Music Prize here, and I had the pleasure of introducing her at the gala awards ceremony, where I did my best to convince the industry crowd that her “death blues”  was in fact, Goth. Also quite surprisingly, watching Dead Can Dance at the Sony Centre, live for the first time in a decade and realizing that, with the elimination of their organic (and presumably expensive) band of live drummers and the introduction of more samples and keyboards, they’ve finally turned into a Goth band. Next to hearing Lisa Gerrard sing “Sanvean” one more time, my most memorable live show was Justice headlining the Hard outdoor festival here at Fort York in the middle of a downpour. We didn’t know if the show would go on, but we waited, so, so, so soaked. And then it did. And we danced. And it was grand.

But what might in fact surprise you, gentle reader, is that my favourite album of the moment seems to be from Alicia KeysGirl on Fire doesn’t have the best title track/lead single, but “New Day” got me out of bed more than once, and the ballad “Not Even the King” is one of those tunes that I simply cannot listen to just once. I’ve worn out the replay button on that one. In years to come, I think it will be a classic. Here is it, for you….

The Films.
So many bummers. Dark Shadows. The Dark Knight Rises. And yes (sigh) even Prometheus, which I didn’t hate like most Alien fans but it certainly did not blow my mind as I had hoped.  Instead I had the insanely hilarious and clever Cabin in the Woods, a cinematic love letter to monster movie fans if ever there was. And thanks to more stellar programming from the Toronto International Film Festival, I thoroughly enjoyed tons of scary flicks new and old this year, from Neil Jordan’s return to vampires, Byzantium to Guillermo del Toro giving a master class in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. Most arresting: the TIFF world premiere of West of Memphis, another documentary about the West Memphis Three case, but this time produced in part by Damien Echols himself, the man who spent almost 20 years on death row for a crime he did not commit, mostly because he was a freak in a very wrong place in a very wrong time. More than all the Paradise Lost films, it will shell-shock you by the injustice, then and now. Being in a theatre with Echols, now free, but not yet exonerated, was kind of surreal. So was witnessing what happens when you put Johnny Depp (one of the film’s producers) in a room. I thought I had seen celebrity frenzy before but this was some next level hysteria. I hope it brings attention to this powerful documentary, and to this case, which is not yet over.

The Books.
Truth be told, I spent most of this year writing my own new book, How to Kill a Vampire. Which meant powering through dozens of novels and non-fiction titles about the various aspects of the nosferatu. I was pretty happy to finally get around to reading all the American Vampire comics, because they seriously rock. But in all honestly, much of it is a blur. So tell me what to read next. I need new poetry, new horror, new cultural studies, new classics, to take me new places in 2013.

So this is crazy. I am soaking wet, having just voluntarily jumped into a pool of freezing cold water on a windy, chilly September day. I am covered in mud, having just crawled on my stomach under an electrified fence in the middle of a field. I’m officially dead. And I’m totally smiling. This is how I ended my experience at Run For Your Lives, a 5km zombie themed obstacle course race. This is crazy not because of the zombies or the mud or the threat of electric shock. It’s crazy because 11 weeks ago I could not run half a block to catch the bus. I’ve never been able to run very far, or fast. In fact, I have vivid memories of an elementary school gym class where I puked on the shoes of a poor volunteer trying to get me to run around the track one more time. But when I heard about this event I figured if there was any an occasion to put on ugly shoes and embarrass myself in public, it would be a race where a mob of zombies is trying to chase you down and eat your brains.

So my friends and I made a team. We even got team shirts, that said “Not a Zombie.” And then I set about training to do this. From couch to 5k, they say. I couldn’t have done it without my weekend running partner, who like me was starting from scratch. And my friend Rory Lindo, who is an actual fitness instructor and taught me many things and made sure I didn’t die. (She teaches a fantastic cardio class called Rock ‘n’ Roar at Sugarfoot Fitness in downtown Toronto, by the way. If you hate gym music and would rather work out to RATM and BRMC, this class is for you!) I even got a zombie running app for my phone for extra inspiration. And black running shoes. By September 22, I was ready.

I'm Not A Zombie! (Yet)

Everyone doing the Run For Your Lives wants to know things in advance. We all looked at the YouTube clips from past races to get a sense of how hard it would be. But each race is different. So all we really knew is that there would be 12 obstacles and many zombies trying to snatch the three flags on your belt, which makes you “dead”.  Having done it I would now add this: it’s not 5k of straight running. Unless you are super keen and get a head start, there are backlogs at the obstacles and other reasons you will be stopping or walking part of the time. There are many, many zombies, and they are not shy about grabbing your flags. I lost all three of mine in the first 10 minutes. Our obstacles included a dark room filled with fog and electrified wires, mud pits, barbed wire, and that dreaded climb/water slide/pool. Memorable moments included crawling under that barbed wire behind a young man dressed  like Robin. His green tights were pretty see-through. Alot of the zombies were in costume too — wedding dresses, Sailor Moon, etc. It’s like the zombie apocalypse happened during Halloween, or Comic-Con.

In the end, all members of our team “died” at the hands of the zombies. But all of us finished, muddy and happy. And if Run For Your Lives comes back to Canada in 2013, we’ll be there, with new strategies to survive alive. And even if I never run this race again, I feel better prepared for any undead takeover. Bring it on.

Part of our Team, Victorious!

I am a girl. I like high heels and red lipstick and being called beautiful and having the umbrella held over my head for me when it rains by someone tall, pale and handsome; I by far prefer wearing dresses to pants. (Not that you can’t be a girl and the opposite of all that, of course.) When I ride, I ride a girl’s frame bike, with flowers on it. But when I write, I am a writer. Period. I don’t think of myself as a female writer, or a feminist writer. I don’t subscribe to the Women in Horror month/movement. I don’t study or cover gender relations. I want my work to be judged on its own merits, against my own work and other work of its kind, whether made by women, men, two-spirited people, or asexual aliens.

As a reader though, I do tend to gravitate towards other women writers. Particularly poets and novelists but also journalists, especially those who, like me, cover arts and culture. Well, for many years that’s what I did, reviewing CDs and concerts and when I was lucky interviewing really interesting people who make music. I work more in film and TV these days, but I still do it whenever I can, and I still care about the art of dancing about architecture. And so I read alot of women reviewers, maybe because I’m proud of them, I appreciate what they are doing on a professional level, and I want to support it. Or maybe because when women write about music, you generally don’t get articles like this profile of Canada’s Metric, by Ben Kaplan, in the National Post, in which he focuses on Metric singer Emily Haines as a smart sex symbol and muse who “attracts boys like free beer” and who he once (OMG!) had the opportunity to give an (unwanted) hug. Not suggesting female writers don’t ever crush on their subjects, or that sexy artists can’t be described as such, but I found the tone of this piece downright creepy, and was deeply confused about why the editors chose to run it as-is. (Besides being overworked and understaffed, but that’s another rant.) I’m guessing they too were men, who would find nothing untoward about it. Same as those who handled a piece that ran the same week in the Globe and Mail about Drake vs. Chris Brown by Brad Wheeler, which put Brown’s assault on Rhianna into parenthesis while referring to the singer as “the mother of all must-haves” and making the useless statement “other highly desired females in history include the widow Jackie Kennedy and Hollywood’s Marilyn Monroe.” As bad-ass heavy metal music writer Natalie Zina Walschots tweeted, can you imagine a paper printing “other highly desired males in history include Beowulf and Mick Jagger“? Ridiculous. These articles ignited a flurry of angry responses from male and female readers, including many other music critics. And they got me thinking about how grateful I am that in moments like that one can turn to read coverage written by women instead. The field of journalism is thankfully pretty open to women. Personally, I’ve never felt any discrimination in my career path because of gender and have worked for plenty of talented women editors and publishers. [Waves to Shirley Halperin and Carrie Borzillo]. I’ve looked around many times over the years and noticed how many of the music sections/publications in my country were being run by ladies. (Nostalgic nods to Mary Dickie, Mary-Lou Zeitoun, Betsey Powell, Denise Sheppard). I’ve never been treated like a groupie on the job. (Granted, I’ve never interviewed Gene Simmons.) However, I do recognize things aren’t in perfect balance. This TedTalk video by Megan Kamerick outlines that women make up under %40 of newsroom staff, and how women are underrepresented as subjects and experts in news stories and how all that spins the news towards victimizing and sexualizing women. It’s not specifically about music, but well worth 10 minutes of your time.

My response to all this is to praise those girls and women who are going good work reporting on music. Whose words rock my world as much as the sounds they cover. There are so many, but here are just a handful. Read them. They will inspire you, teach you, provoke you. They are unlikely to write about giving musicians unwanted hugs.

LIZ WORTH is the Toronto author of Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in TO and Beyond and the poetry collection Amphetamine Hearts. I believe our first encounter was her interviewing me for the Goth zine Raven’s Call several years back; our most recent was drinking slushies in the park waiting for an astrological phenomenon. She once gave me the awesome gift of a hardcover copy of Encyclopedia of Rock by Lillian Roxon. She is working on a novel now but I never know just what she’s going to do next. She is mysterious and brave. See what I mean on her Radio Forest blog or her Twitter.

AMY KLEIN is an American musician and writer I discovered when her piece “Tour Diary Day Four: Rock and Roll is Dead”was included in the Best Music Writing 2011.  In it she examines how the lack of images of girls playing guitars or any instruments in Rolling Stone magazine, and what that means for public perception of women making music. I like her blog and when her byline pops up in unexpected places, like this list of Feminist Anthems for Spinner.

JAAN UHELSZKI was a founding editor of America’s legendary Creem magazine and has done more amazing things in her life than I could possibly list here, but much of which is revealed in this interview. When I was working on the TV series Metal Evolution, it was important to me to include female voices; in the world of metal this turned out to be tricky but I am glad we got Jaan in there talking about the Detroit scene in the ’60s and more. If you have an account with Rock’s Back Pages you should read her famed 1975 article “I Dreamed I was on-stage with KISS in my Maidenform Bra.”

ANUPA MISTRY is a hard-working Canadian freelancer and, relative to these others, a new kid on the block, but I find I always learn new things when I read her reviews. She writes mostly about hip-hop, a genre I do need more schooling in, and that can use more smart women commentators, for sure.  Start with her feature on middle-class rap for Toronto Life then follow her on the Twitter.

GILLIAN G. GAAR is the Seattle-based author of She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock, published in 1992 and still my go-to guide for unearthing and understanding overlooked records made by ladies. She worked as a senior editor at the Rocket and was on the scene through the grunge explosion. According to this interview about her relationship/coverage of Nirvana, she got started writing for a Rocky Horror fanzine! Her next book on Nirvana is out this summer.

A must-have for your music reference library

LISA ROBINSON is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and, to me, one of the best magazine writers out there, full stop. For decades now, she’s covered the biggest names in all genres of music for the publications that really matter and is a master of the celebrity interview. Yeah, you might know her for the big Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga profiles now but she was talking to Patti Smith in the 1970s for Hit Parader and her early coverage of  The Ramones helped them land their first management deal.  I aspire to her ability to be a confidante to her subjects without losing her reporter’s instincts. Of anyone, she has consistently inspired me the most. And she does a decent TV interview too:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AC8-YgnGwTc

I welcome your suggestions for others I should read, below…

Scholarly Goths

When I was asked, many months back, to be a keynote speaker at the second annual conference of the Popular Culture Association of Canada, I accepted with great enthusiasm and without delay. I love talking about Goth, after all, even if I consider it to be “unpopular” culture, and I never actually studied it in university. (Unless you count all the late-night research in clubs which kept me from attending morning classes.) The CPAC conference was held this past weekend in Niagara Falls, where more than 200 academic types from across Canada and beyond came to present work on everything from wrestling to hip-hop to zombies to Skinny Puppy. (My colleague Ben Rayner gives a good overview of its mission in the Star.)  For my part, I spoke about the question of What is Goth, and the evolution of the music and lifestyle and language from 1970s UK to today. It was a pleasure, and afterwards I was asked many intelligent questions:  surrounding gender (I think I have insight into the androgyny of goth boys and the hyper-feminine girls but had never thought much about butch goths before), musical mutations (I decided my definition for Goth sound is “bass + space.”) and such. I learned a few things too, not the least of which that there was a teen goth character on the Sopranos!

The students and scholars I met there were a truly fascinating and diverse bunch. I enjoyed speaking with Moti Shojania of the University of Winnipeg about the role of Hamlet and his skull soliloquy in the Gothic tradition and the character of Abby on NCIS. Wish I’d had the chance hear deliver her “Food for Worms and Other Grave Matters:  Re-Membering the Body on Forensic TV Shows.” Also disappointed to miss Laura Weibe from McMaster, who presented on the paranormal. (We did get to talk about emo and heavy metal a bit though.) After meeting forensic anthropology expert Myriam Nafte I have ordered her book Flesh and Bone. (There was actually quite a lot of horror themed work on offer.) And of course, my host, Stu Henderson, who I know from the Polaris Prize jury — we could talk about music for hours.

The one question from my keynote Q&A which has stuck with me is about aging goths. Are all subcultures by nature the exclusive domain of youth? Goth, like skateboarding and headbanging, is often considered a phase one should grow out of once one gets a real job. But I know we have CorpGoths, who have real jobs. And ElderGoths, with Babybats of their own. Years ago, I attempted to address this topic for THIS Magazine, in a cover story called Lords of the New Church that you can still read here. (Oddly enough, I see I referenced my teen love for Ian Astbury, who turned 50 today.) I got flak from people who read alot of Dick Hebdige, as though my personal life experience as an aging goth and interviewing actual old punks was less credible than taking classes about it. But I digress….the person whose work came to mind the most this past weekend is Paul Hodkinson, sociologist from the University of Surrey in England… and actual Goth. His book Goth: Identity, Style and Subculture I really should have included on my Gothic Library list a while back. He’s really the most authoritative voice on this topic. And he recently publishedAgeing in a Spectacular Youth Culture: Continuity, Change and Community Amongst Older Goths” in a British journal, and was interviewed for an article in the Guardian that made its way ’round the net not long ago, Growing Up For Goths. By re-interviewing Goths he’d first met 20 years ago, he found what I already suspected, that Goths don’t grow out of it, they grow into it, finding ways to adapt even as their commitment to outrageous hair may wane.  And while I do enjoy working the brain muscles exploring some of the deeper meanings of Goths, I also think it’s all rather simple: this is the subculture won’t die, even if it looks that way. As I told the CPAC attendees: black will always be the new black.

Pasty face forever!

Speak of the Dead

It comes from the Latin — De mortuis nihil nisi bonum — our habit to speak no evil of the dead. Even unpleasant human beings, in death they enjoy a modicum of respect —in funeral services, in formal obituaries. I suppose it’s a matter of timing. Except for the vilest amongst us, in time we are all remembered more for our virtues than our sins. One day, when it’s my turn, I shall be grateful for this.

But I’ve always found it much easier to speak of the dead than of the living. To write about them, at least. I have often listed “dead things” amongst my “interests.” And I don’t mean just skulls and archaic words. I also mean people. Fictional characters and historical figures felled by tragic ends, sure. And the real people I once knew.

Mercifully, I have only a few loved ones who have died before me. I think of them often, what was learned from their lives, their deaths, guides and motivates me still. And I have written about them in ways I cannot write about those who are still alive. I know many writers have made a habit, a career even, from revealing intimacies about their families, their friends, their lovers. I could tell you that I don’t share the notion that when you are in a relationship with a writer, you open yourself up to being documented, of having your life shared in public. That I am doing it all out of respect. That’s only partially true. The real truth is, I am not so brave.

It’s one of the reasons I don’t think I am a great poet. Because I am not brave enough to fully reveal the truth of my emotions, and especially things that involve others. I often feel guilty about this, of not writing poems about for and/or about my mother while she is still alive, for example. I once did a series of poems I called the Sideshow Sonnets, in which I paid tribute to my favourite people by re-imagining them as sideshow freaks. Only a few were recognizable, the others composite sketches. Like so much of what I do, cloaked. A few years back, I even stopped my own journalling. In part, because so much was too difficult to look at on the page, but also because I spend a lot of time imagining my own death, and I worry about what private thoughts might be read after I’m gone. I did write an honest poem about this, called There Are Things About Me You Wouldn’t Like. Then I burned it.

These days, I think alot about dead people. Not so much ones who are physically dead, but those who are just gone. And I’ve started writing their obituaries. Because I find it interesting to chart a story from the end to the beginning. And because I want to say only the best things about them.

“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.” — Lao Tzu.

Why are all the women weeping?

In praise of wax seals

People love the wax stamp “trick.” Perhaps it’s the fire. At book signings this year I have sometimes whipped out my personal wax seal and, with the aid of a match and a stick of coloured beewax/resin, added a stamp to the personalization process. It’s been a big hit, but it surprises me how many people have never seen one before. To me, it’s a Goth correspondence staple.

I got my first wax seal almost 20 years ago: the letter L, made of brass. I used it the same way kings and popes and layfolk have done for centuries: to seal letters. It’s not a necessary tactic today for secrecy of course, what with private mail and lickable glues. But it’s pretty. It adds a touch of magic, of surprise. And Goth Points. Sadly, it’s become more and more difficult over the years to buy the sealing wax here in Toronto. Suppliers of art supplies and fancy stationary now carry only wedding-themed kits, or have stopped stocking it altogether. A sign of the times, I suppose, as actual letter writing has become archaic, a “lost art” in need of reviving at social clubs (I’m guessing by the kind of hipsters who got tired of knitting classes), or so I keep reading about in the lifestyle pages of newspapers.  I know that in much of East Asia, personal or family seals are still in use. And of course, they occasionally authenticate legal documents and such. But it seems the wax seal is now mostly medieval relic.

But I want to bring it back! There is a simple pleasure to be had in personalizing correspondence, I feel. Long ago now, the Canadian singer Jane Siberry once told me that to carefully address a letter, or piece of mail, was a true expression of love. Agree. First impressions and all that. It’s why I spend the money to buy real ribbon for wrapping gifts, rather than use the plastic stuff. I also like to give people more than they expect, and I can assure you that sending a card with your initial, or other symbol representative of your personality, stamped onto the envelope, will delight your recipient. And should they inquire about it, you may wish to toss out some of these tidbits I’ve gleaned from wiki and such:

The study of seals is known as sigillography.

When the pope dies it is the first duty of the Cardinal to obtain possession of the papal signet, and to see that it is broken up.

The bodies of dead French queens  have been found buried with their seals.

In the olde tymes, black wax was made partially from Lampblack, soot collected from oil lamps. White ones contained lead.

Sadly, should you decide to follow my lead on this, unless you live in Paris surrounded by fancy papeteries, you will likely need to order your wax and stamps from the internet. I do recommend Nostalgic Impressions for wide selection of quality products, including the fun Skull & Crossbones kit I’ve been using.

Happy letter writing. Or sad letter writing, as you wish. Signed….

2011: A few of my favourite things

I have decided I hate year-end Top 10 lists. As I mentioned around this time last year, it used to be part of my job to make them. But now I don’t even enjoy reading them. Not only because other people’s picks so rarely lead me to anything new and wondrous, but because the whole exercise seems so far away from how I experience music, film and culture these days. It’s not about the new release. The hot tip. More and more, old things are my new discoveries. And why 10 anyway? Truth is, I can’t recall the last time 10 records rocked my world in a given year. I expect I am not alone in this. At the same time we are voraciously consuming/discarding art and entertainment at high-speed, how much of what you hear/see is changing your life? Because that’s what I’m after: a thought-provoking, life-altering experience.  I want to feel that I am witness to something extraordinary. I want to be shocked. I want to be roused, aroused. I want you to make me cry. And if that seems unfair to the musicians just starting out who I inevitably walk out on 10 minutes into their set out of boredom, well….I’m sorry. But if you’re not going to be as good as the best I’ve already seen/heard in my life, why am I leaving the house? I think I may start walking out on films too (I’ve only done that once, a free screening of Van Helsing.). I’ve always felt fine abandoning a book mid-read if it’s not engaging me. Life’s too short.

OK, all that said, as the year comes to its close, once again I can’t not talk about what has thrilled me. It’s as much a way for me to preserve my memories as anything, like the mixed tapes I used to make of my favourite songs at the end of summer. And, like everyone who makes these lists I suspect, it is my hope that someone will follow a lead here and discover something that becomes their favourite of the year too. Even if it’s next year.  And so without further….. a few of my favourite things, circa 2011.

THE MUSIC

Truthfully, I spent most of the year working on a TV series about the history of Heavy Metal, so the record with the most spins on my iTunes is Def Leppard’s Pryomania, from 1983. But of the new releases, I was most pleased to hear Gothfather Peter Murphy return to form with Ninth. (Why he signed with Nettwerk though is beyond me.) Zola Jesus didn’t let me down with her haunting, howling Conatus, and there’s some pretty neat stuff for the rivetheads on OhGr’s unDevelopped. It’s not always an easy listen, but the latest minimal experiment from my dear friend Akumu, Between Worlds, remains as nightmarish as anything out there.  At the very top of my music pile are two albums I adored for similar reasons: the soundtrack to my life is generally comprised of sad songs. Fall-down-weeping, can’t-get-out-of-bed sad songs. But sometimes I want sad songs I can dance to. The Handsome Furs’ Sound Kapital and Lykke Li’s Wounded Rhymes provided the kind of melancholic (synth)pop that hit my sweet spot, not a weak track in the lot.  “Sadness is a blessing/Sadness is a curse/Sadness, you’re my boyfriend/Sadness, I’m your girl” sings Li. Indeed.

THE BOOKS

After finally finishing my own book this year, I had a moment to read for pleasure. And the most pleasurable read I had was Enter, Night, by Michael Rowe. I’ve known Rowe for years as a journalist and editor of the Queer Fear anthologies. This first novel of his — a vampire story that, with its weave of Wendigo and Jesuits into its horror, is true Canadian Gothic — is the best book about the undead I’ve read in a long time. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t pick up many awards. My favourite collection of poetry came from Susan Musgrave, whose book Origami Dove literally took my breath away; I often had to put it down after just a line. The working title for my new poems is lifted from it. In non-fiction (which I read most), I’ve already mentioned Natasha Scharf’s excellent Worldwide Gothic. I also devoured You are a Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier; I find it amusing I discovered a book about the flaws of digital culture/web 2.0 at the old school public library. And as part of many months of research into the Devil for my next film project, W. Scott Poole’s Satan in America proved invaluable. Right now, my nose is (finally!) deep into Alex Ross’s 2007 magnum opus The Rest is Noise, a history of classical/avant guard musics of the 20th century.

THE SHOWS

I said I wanted to be amazed. Well, nothing was more amazing than the world premiere of Amon Tobin’s ISAM  show at Montreal’s Metropolis club, part of Mutek, my favourite Canadian music festival. I could blather on about its cutting edge 3-D visuals but you really should just watch the sample below. I loved it so much  I went again in Toronto later in the year, where I overheard an amazed woman say “I feel like someone who has just seen TV for the first time. This is something that has never been done before.” An extended applause for everyone behind the scenes who put the show together. After that, nothing else could compare, although I had much fun at Devo’s free show as part of NXNE, seeing Alice Cooper play a casino and watching DFA 1979 “do it!” again at Lollapalooza. Peter Murphy in Buffalo, particularly his medley of “Strange Kind of Love” with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” while locking eyes with a swooning girl in the front row (not me), was goth points x 100. As for the new kids on the block, Esben and the Witch at Wrongbar and Myths at Electric Eclectics festival were worth leaving the house for.

THE FILMS

I watch alot of docs, and can tell you two that made me cry in the theatre: Werner Herzog’s death row examination Into the Abyss and Sigur Ros’ live concert film Inni. Two totally different pictures, equally masterful. For sure the best thing I saw all year was Melancholia. Catch it before the apocalypse. (Which, as I type this, some say is precisely one year away.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NM6dYVNNg2k

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