Monthly Archives: January 2014

Finding old junk — dead projects from long ago

I just happened to rooting around on my computer looking for something else when I came across the files I kept from an old online zine a few of us published way back in the early 2000s, called Uh Oh Canada. I remember us being pretty clever and amusing (and the visuals were great), and indeed, rereading the stuff now, some of it’s still pretty good. (Not my contributions, but some of the other pieces.)

It is funny to think now that we founding Uh Oh Canada members held a very serious meeting in the Railway Club before our first issue came out, and talked about what we would do if this thing really took off. We didn’t want to be surprised by overwhelming success, to have some kind of bad scene over all the money that might come our way. It is also funny to think how much work we put into this project. In the end — of course! — we put out a few issues which probably no one read, and then the whole thing fizzled out. But in the short time that Uh Oh Canada existed, I learned a lot, and developed huge admiration for the other contributors.

I’ll check with the old gang to see if they’re okay with me reposting their work here too, and meanwhile here are a couple of my own pieces. Both of these come from Vol 1 No 3, The Great Outdoors Release.

The first, under a pseudonym, is a review of the video release of the classic Canadian film, Goin’ Down the Road:

Like a lot of other Canadians, I’ve been waiting for years for this film to come out on video. After all, it’s a classic, even immortalized by an SCTV parody. But now that I have, at long last, got my own copy, I’m kind of sorry. I mean that in the best possible way. I really think is a compliment to say that it hurts me almost too much to see this brilliant, horrible movie. Apparently even director Don Sehib couldn’t understand why anyone would want to watch Goin’ Down the Road again, since it is about such a couple of “losers.” But what an examination of losers! These aren’t over-the-top characters like those in Midnight Cowboy. Pete and Joey, the two pathetic Maritimers who move to Toronto in search of a better life, are all too real. It’s 1970 and they have 1960 hairdos. (Like the hair, their car is similarly out of date, and represents the men’s belonging to a past era more than just being unfashionable.) They’re not good-looking. They’re attracted to women with mile-high ratted hair and white lipstick. They have no money, no education and no skills, but somehow believe they’ve get great jobs, apartments, and girlfriends. Put simply, they’re clueless. I don’t know about you, but move things forward a few years, say Pete and Joey are from Oshawa or Red Deer, and I could swear I know these guys. Or at least I used to. It’s been quite a while since I’ve spent as much as 90 minutes with anyone like them, and this film reminds me why. Too many moments in this film take me back to my own painful down-and-out youth a dozen or so years later. There’s the sad, drunken wedding, and the subsequent tiny run-down apartment that the newly married Joey and Bets have to share with Pete. There are the desperate attempts to have fun even while the furniture’s being put out on the sidewalk. There’s the constant smoking and bitching. And then there’s the constant feeling that the rest of the world is having an easy and wonderful time of it, and doesn’t care in the slightest that you don’t have food to eat or a place to stay. Yes, I winced almost all the way through Goin’ Down the Road, but only because it’s so true. I believe that this really was Toronto for one brief moment. There really were whole generations of unskilled, uneducated men who replaced pins at the bowling alley for a shitty wage. (No doubt these are the old guys you see at the Legion nowadays, resting their heads on the terry-clothed table tops as last call approaches.) Want ads specified whether men or women could apply, and how old the applicants could be. The world truly was clearly divided between the hipsters and the folks who had completely missed the cultural boat, even more than now. The next time some old fart starts telling you how society has changed for the worse, how the availability of contraception, federally-funded job programs, sexual harrassment laws, and the pogy have turned our country into a mess, you might want to sit them down with this movie. If these were the good old days the old-timers like to talk about, you might want to reconsider believing anything else they have to say. –Tracy Black

goin down the road

From http://www.canuxploitation.com/review/downroad.html

 

The second is a bit of an opinionated rant about music (and I guess was intended to be the first installment of a regular column?). It brings tears to my eyes not only because of the annoying tone, but more than that, because it is a reminder that David Wisdom used to be on the CBC, and he isn’t any more.

 

Get an Earful: 

Music Reviews, Opinion, and Unvarnished Truth

This Month: Stop Complaining and Learn to Love New Music. Here’s How.

Kenny G, muzak, Celine Dion, the wimpy MOR crap so often heard in cheap sushi restaurants, Bob Seger being played at weddings (apparently as unavoidable as death and taxes). These things seem sent to torment me. But what I hate most of all is hearing otherwise sensible folks proclaiming that there isn’t any good music anymore.

Usually, of course, this comes from some jolly person I’ve only just met, on discovering I write a music column and host a campus radio show. Since I’ve promised in recent years to be on good behaviour in social situations, I refrain from slapping these ignorant souls, however possible that it might knock some sense into them. Instead, I smile stiffly and move away in a hurry.

Well, this column isn’t about avoiding confrontation, so here goes, you naysayers. I’m about to set you straight.

 First of all, the obvious. Think back to your beloved, generation-defining music. Remember what the parents, teachers, and other old farts in your life used to call it? Is it possible that you’re saying the same things now? Notice a pattern?

Another question: when do you ever actually hear music that’s been produced in the past year or two? It ought to go without saying that if you haven’t heard it, you should keep your mouth shut about whether it’s good or bad. On the other hand, if all you’ve heard is what generally passes for new music on commercial radio and MuchMusic, I’ll cut you some slack, because most of it is indeed crap. (There are some exceptions. More about this later.)

Amazingly, a lot of people believe that music was shit before they were around twenty years old, at which point a glorious renaissance of sound took place, only to burn out forever when they turned twenty-five. (The ages may vary, but you get the picture.) We’re all guilty of some level of sentimentality toward the music of our youth. It was the soundtrack to our adventures of self-discovery, after all. We made both friends and love with this stuff playing in the background. For me it was the first two REM albums, the Hoodoo Gurus, Young Fresh Fellows, and the obscure sixties garage/psychedelic bands revived by the Nuggets and Pebbles compilations that came out around the same time. All of these still give me a pleasant case of the shivers when I hear them. I’m still convinced that this was and is good music, but what makes it magical to me is that I discovered it when I started university, met new, intelligent, and exciting friends, and left my nasty, miserable teenaged years behind me.

What most people don’t realise is that this can happen to a person more than once. When I started seeing the man I eventually married, he introduced me to the Buzzcocks, who now qualify for magical status on my personal soundtrack. Similarly, when I went back to campus radio (and graduate school) after a few years away, I discovered some of the exhilarating new music that had come along in my absence, and was especially moved by indiepop, the likes of Stereolab, and naughty girl garage bands with names like Kittywinder, Sit ‘n Spin, and The Rondelles.

This can happen to you too. If you join a conversational French class and meeting that special charming someone while Piaf is warbling in the background, you know perfectly well that Piaf will become a favourite of yours (at least until you break up!). 

But you don’t need to leave your house to discover new music that you will actually enjoy. Watch The Wedge on MuchMusic a few times and see if every tenth or twentieth band doesn’t give you hope for the future. (If this is too difficult, turn it on while you’re doing the dishes. It won’t kill you.) It’s also possible that your local commercial FM rock station runs one lonely program, probably at an inconvenient time, that plays independent artists that will never make it into regular rotation. Again, don’t expect to be thrilled by more than a small fraction of what you hear.

But for sheer musical variety, nothing can beat campus or community radio. These low-wattage stations, found in almost any reasonably-sized city, aren’t masterminded by professional (read commercially-minded) programmers and music directors, which is, depending on your point of view, either the best or worst thing about them. Instead, legions of music-crazy volunteers haunt CD stores, thrift shops, and their stations’ eclectic record libraries to produce reggae, raga, worldbeat, jazz, new classical, electro-acoustic, hip-hop, folk, roots, hardcore, klezmer, and gay-themed shows, among others. If you can find these stations on the dial (and it isn’t always easy), you’ll also hear country, metal, and pop music that is a very far cry from Garth Brooks, Led Zeppelin, or Britney Spears. (And thank the gods for that!)

Not quite as varied, but available from sea to sea to shining sea, is our national broadcaster, the CBC. You may be surprised to hear that Radio Two doesn’t just play classical music, but (especially late at night) offers up loads of the new stuff. If the amateurishness of campus radio makes you squirm, you’ll be pleased to hear that the programs are hosted (with a few exceptions) by announcers with great voices and a professional style that is much nicer to listen to than anything on commercial radio. (The exceptions? Well, let’s just say that your humble writer had the honour of hosting a late night show for six weeks a couple of years ago.) No matter what else you do, make a point of listening to one of David Wisdom’s programs. He hosts both the new music RadioSonic and the disarmingly eclectic Pearls of Wisdom, and he’s a genius.

I’ve offered you plenty of options, so get out there and get informed. You’re guaranteed to dislike a lot of what you hear. You’re likely to hate some of it with a passion. (You hated some of it when you were twenty, too. Remember?) But leave your radio on a campus or co-op station for a good two weeks, and I promise you will hear something that can change your life.

Really.

 

wisdom_character-page

 

The brilliant and wonderful David Wisdom, from http://jinglebellrocks.com/character/wisdom/