Sunday, March 26, 2017

I'm Remembering Those Times Too

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my identity and the various pots I've got my spoons in in my life. I do think that I crossover a lot of subcultures, but I wonder if a particular one wins out over the others in terms of the perception of me by others. How do others see me?

We don't live in a world of absolutes, so I guess the easy answer to this issue would be that your identity depends on the person you're talking to. Each person you interact with approaches you with a wide range of experiences, preconceptions, and biases which all affect how they consider you. To my co-workers, my love of baseball and music stick out a lot more than my interest in art because we all already share an interest in the latter. As a result of that, they probably see me as more of a punk dude or a "bro", because let me tell ya, the artworld knows fuck-all about sports.

Also, as a sidenote, I am consistently surprised by how little people know about punk music and the subculture. I guess I spent a lot of time hanging out with mostly punk people, which explains it, but it still surprises me when I mention a band like Against Me! and get blank stares.

By the same token, I'm sure that I'm the "art" person to my punk friends.

But with this in mind, can I control my identity? If I try hard enough, will one identity win out over the other ones? What the fuck is my identity now, anyways?

I guess that I've been thinking about this a lot because for a long time I could be pigeonholed as a punk. This was especially true when I was in Beat Noir, as BN was always my main pursuit artistically. Being a band guy was an integral part of my personality and I can't tell you how many times I've been asked "Are you an artist?" since starting my job. Since I'm not a practicing artist, at least in the "makes tangible artworks for the purpose of showing them in a show" sense of the term, my response was always "I'm a musician", which usually led to some haughty art fuck being slightly condescending about my elision of "artist" and "punk band".

Now I am sort of not a musician because Beat Noir isn't a band anymore. I'm still (half-assedly) working on songs, but not seriously enough that I would label it as my main pursuit. I've also had a lot of trouble doing any creative writing lately, as I'm sure you can tell if you frequent this blog with anything resembling regularity. For a time I would have maybe self-identified as a writer, but I've been kind of doubting that lately too. I am still less than a year removed from finishing Engineering Failure, undoubtedly the biggest writing project I've ever finished, so I might be being a little hard on myself, but the aforementioned doubt does carry a lot of validity with it. Maybe I'm not a writer.

Do I become a "Museum Educator" now? This is definitely not how I want to be known. I need to avoid that, for the sake of my sanity.

I feel like I'm using a lot of big words in this post to make myself feel better about not writing so much,

The project that I outlined late last year has slowed to a trickle lately. I initially was very gung-ho about it and outlined a whole schedule to keep myself on-track, but I can assure you that I am very behind schedule now. I think I'm still in fine shape, but I do really need to stay on it.

In thinking about my identity, I came to the conclusion that calling myself a writer would probably be what would make me feel most comfortable about myself. I also don't want to ever let go of the part of myself that's a competent musician in a punk band.

The path to both of those labels lies in working on stories and working on songs and writing on this fuckin' blog. It's important to remember what inspires you, hold onto the feeling it gives you like it's rope ladder, and never look away from it. As easy as it can be to let yourself grow stagnant and sink into watching TV, you can never let that happen, because nobody ever changed the world by sitting on their couch.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Entry #100 on the "Songs That Make Me Think About Jack and Cry" List.




Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Through Troubled Times



It is fair to say that most people's opinion of the world in the recent past has been a negative one and this is mostly due to American politics. The results of the most recently general election and the ensuing results has been divisive to say the least and the kickback online from everything not far-right on the political spectrum has been pronounced online. With an event as significant as the election of President Trump, the trend on social media has been that you must saying something about it, or risk being seen as "un-political", which, in a US election, is next to evilness. Seemingly every person in North America had something they did to express their opinions on the new President of the United States.

One such instance was Josh Caterer, the frontman of the great Smoking Popes posting a video of himself playing an acoustic cover of Elvis Costello's cover of "(What's so Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?"

I had never heard the song before, immediately checked it out, and found that it really resonated with me. Since then it's gotten a lot of plays and has sort of become my personal anthem for navigating the world right now.

I find that the phrase "Peace and Love" can be irritating because, for me, it's come to mean that the person is naïve in matters of politics. Though I recognize the importance of the hippie counter-culture in terms of 1960's resistance movements, most people that adhere to that lifestyle now are morons. To say "We just need peace and love!" is to dramatically simplify global politics to the point that it is clear you do not understand the state of the world. It's the equivalent of saying "People need to be good." Of course they do, but that doesn't mean that most will do the opposite. No shit we need peace and love. How about you add free food to that too?

That type of statement really bothers me. To the point that I always skip the Fountains of Wayne song linked above. It's on a favourite album of mine. And I always have to skip a song in the middle!

But this whole context is part of what makes the Elvis Costello song so fucking good. The lyrics to the song accept that the world is completely irreparably fucked. It's not about saying "We must do this" in a short-sighted way, it's about asking why humanity won't do that, which absolutely must be asked. Rather than blindly looking up to a vague ideal, it presents you with a darker reality.

As I've been compulsively listening to songs every day, the chorus has played in the back of my mind while I think about ways to be better and to help. It's impossible to be good all of the time, but it's important to try to do it a lot.

It's okay to be cynical about the state of the world. It's kind of impossible not to, actually. But it's also important to remember to not be cynical about how to fix the world.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Out For a Rip


I wouldn't say that I am a super fan of the TV show Girls. I really enjoyed the first season and a half or so of the show, but feel like it fell off a little bit and have since only watched sparingly. Something I feel kind of strongly about though, is that the show gets far more shit than it deserves. A lot of this is due to showrunner/star Lena Dunham, which is understandable, as she can be intolerable sometimes.

I feel like that's undue, because the show is almost entirely Dunham critiquing herself. The show isn't about the petty problems that millenials have, it's about dealing with those problems so that you can become a better person.

I say this because I just watched the first episode and thought that it was really good. The episode follows a fairly well-worn theme, in which Hannah realizes that she can be too cynical and judgmental and seems to vow to take pleasure in the little things and enjoy the moment. She is thrust into an environment she feels uncomfortable in, responds by trying to run away, but eventually comes to appreciate the small-scale beauty and perfection in what she's around. It was a pleasant take on the world.

I say all this because I've run through the same gamut of emotions today. This weekend, Rebecca is visiting friends and family out of town and has taken the dog with her. I was originally a little anxious about making plans to have friends over and bro out, because I couldn't think of what to do and ultimately didn't end up making any plans. I felt a lot of pressure to fill up the whole weekend, like it wouldn't be "worthy" or something if I didn't.

I watched the episode of Girls this morning while I was eating breakfast and made me start to think about lightening up a little bit. Then I went to enjoy some nice weather, skateboard, and eat a donair. While enjoying my sandwich, I couldn't help but think that I was more or less completely content and couldn't really ask for more. As horrendously cliché as it is to say, some times life seems to be about enjoying the little things.

I mean, it's unfair to say that just looking on the bright side or keeping a sunny disposition will fix all of the seemingly insurmountable problems in the world right now, but it can make one day absolutely great and sometimes one day away from the madness that is global politics right now can make a big difference.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Oh, We Can Beat Them, Forever and Ever

On January 16th, 2017, Regular Show aired its final three episodes, ending the show's broadcast run. Given that I can comfortably call Regular Show one of my all-timers, and really one of my favourite pieces of media ever, I feel it's important that I give it a eulogy here on IMU. I originally meant for this post to be much more timely, so that it would better reflect my initial emotional response to the finale, but here we are.

When J.G. Quintel announced that Regular Show's 8th season would be its last, I actually felt relief. The show hadn't settled into the repetitious routine that many cartoons do, but it did seem like it was on a fast track to that point. Instead, they decided to end the show and turned the central conceit, two slackers working in a park, on its head by sending everyone to space. I loved this, because I would much rather see my favourite evolve and go out in a crazy way than lose interest.

I discovered Regular Show by watching Adventure Time, as the two shows form a sort of almost-prime time partnership on Cartoon Network. At first, I thought it was a nifty partner to AT that was broadcast in the same timeslot, but soon realized that Regular Show was much closer to many of my main interests (re: buddy comedies, rom-coms, lowbrow humour, constant references to 80's pop culture).

Though ostensibly a kids' cartoon, Regular Show is rife with references to more mature things. I mean, if they just switched the pop cans and wings enjoyed by the characters to beer, which the audience clearly understands them to be, it would have been shown on Adult Swim instead of weeknights. I feel like the show tried a lot harder to appeal to kids in its first season, but soon afterwards settled into its "Okay, we're just making a 'kids show' for adults" tone and I LOVED that tone.

Almost right away, I recognized the series' two protagonists, lovelorn slacker and art school grad Mordecai and slacker shit-disturber Rigby, as mirrors of myself. The way I can best explain it is that Rigby is the person I am around my friends, while Mordecai is the person I am while I'm alone. I recognized every exchange the two had as one I had had with my own friends. That was what made me love it immediately. I saw myself in what was happening. That is how a show makes you feel real feelings. Mordecai doing things he doesn't want to, just to please Margaret, hits home because I've been in that situation myself.

A quick aside because typing that up made me feel things: The romantic comedy episodes of Regular Show are so so so underrated. Nobody ever talks about them while discussing the show and I never understood that. It's something that I've never seen a cartoon do before and it's done so well. They perfectly capture the awkward nervousness of dating in your early 20's. Amazing TV.

I was not in a very good headspace when I started watching the show. I had just graduated university and was at a loss in terms of finding out what I was going to do. I felt very alone, very stupid, and very bad. Mordecai's life hit pretty close to home. The mundanity of Modecai and Rigby's life, supernatural phenomena aside, and the fact that their friendship with each other was usually the only thing that saved them from their minds melting out of their ears, was right on the nose. That was exactly where I was at in my life and what I was doing. Though I stumbled upon Regular Show and Adventure Time at the same time, the former quickly eclipsed the latter  in my own hierarchy.

One of the great things about Regular Show is that the story grew and the characters developed a lot, which I find is pretty uncommon for surreal comedies featuring lactating coffee bean. What solidified my bond with the show was that I found myself growing with it. As the show went on, and Mordo and Rigbone learned lessons about being responsible and becoming adults, I found myself doing the same. I made it through university just fine, but came out on the other end with no idea about being an adult and being a man. To be clear, I do not mean that as a slight against my parents at all, these were lessons I had to experience and learn myself, and that happened in a hurry when I was thrust out of my comfortable university bubble and into the real world. Through all of that, it was nice to have an accompaniment in Regular Show.

The show stayed with me while I moved from a bad place to good place and that made me feel a sense of ownership over it. There were plenty of episodes that I didn't think were great, but even when the show wasn't at its best (which was pretty rare), it still achieved a huge importance just by being there in my life. Regular Show was something very solid for me.

Leading up to the finale, I was expecting that I would have a strong reaction to it. The show always delivered with a strong episode to end a season, and I was confident that they would make sure to continue that into the finale. TV finales can be an intensely emotional thing, depending on how much you have invested in the show and Regular Show figured to be something I would remember.

Given the amount of reviews that already exist on the internet, there's no need for me to recap Regular Show's finale a month after the fact (can't compete with the AV Club, can I?), but it's probably enough to say that the last few episodes consisted of a classic Regular Show blow-off battle blown up to accommodate the significance of the episode. I was enjoying the show, but then a few characters started to die, which really took me by surprise. While Regular Show has certainly ramped up the emotional gravity of events in the past, nothing close to this had happened before. A break in action brought the show back exactly where it started, leading to some amazing meta-commentary on the reception of the show since its inception.

I was really happy with how things are going, but I guess it would be fair to say I expected it because of the high opinion I have of the show. Then a closing montage started with "Heroes" by David Bowie playing over it and I was immediately a wreck. The song, coupled with visuals showing you the fate of the characters immediately brought up all of the emotions that I had tied up in the show and reminded me that, even though I'll still be able to watch Regular Show as long as I like and it will still mean the same thing, it's also kind of done now and the chapter of my life in which the show served as an accompaniment to me sorting out my priorities and moving and being a goof with no responsibility and being sad and meeting a really nice girl and growing up a lot is now closed.

Thanks Regular Show.

Garbage Clowns Inc.

One of the most prominent narratives in sports journalism over the last decade has been between the "established" sports media, meaning large newspapers and television sports networks, and "bloggers", which at the time meant freelance sportswriters who owned their own smaller websites or blogs. There were obvious power dynamics that played into the divide, as the more established journalists were funded by huge private companies and corporations, which granted them opportunities and benefits the bloggers did not have. Bloggers were much quicker to jump on the rapidly expanding field of advanced statistics, now a cornerstone of baseball analysis, and they also weren't shy about letting major sports media know how behind the times they were, were didn't really ingratiate them.

For people who live and breathe baseball, advanced stats and sports blogging was an easy sell. It was a completely new way to look at something that had been around for more than 100 years. It was smart and better than anything else that was being said and everyone who write it knew that.

In Toronto, there were a few exemplary bogs who typified the "blogger" trend, with the two most well-known ones being Drunk Jays Fans and Ghostrunner on First. I started reading DJF, as it was affectionately known, the day after Roy Halladay threw a complete game against A.J. Burnett, who was returning to Toronto for the first time since leaving for New York. The Jays won 5-1.

DJF quickly replaced the newspaper in terms of what I turned to for my Blue Jays news and became an integral part of my daily routine.

In what I considered a coup, Canadian sports network The Score hired all of the cities best young bloggers and writers to publish their online content for them. This meant that DJF got bigger and more resources, while Ghostrunner on First sort of (longer story that I won't elaborate on) turned into the excellent blog Getting Blanked, which focused on all of MLB, as opposed to just the Blue Jays. Everything that The Score made at the time was a perfect mixture of young, smart, engaging, and creative writers being given full reign to make whatever they wanted. Or at least, that's how it seemed to me at the time. It was the best sports journalism that I've ever read and profoundly shaped my identity as a sports fan.

Recently, DJF creator Andrew Stoeten posted a link, through the Wayback Machine archive, to an old post and it immediately sent me down a hole reading posts. One in particular was from Getting Blanked at the start of the 2013 season, which was a very significant time to be a Blue Jays fan. During the preceding off-season, the team had made what is probably the biggest trade in franchise history and unloaded a tonne of young prospects for many established veterans. They also traded one of the current best pitchers in baseball for R.A. Dickey, who is not one of the current best pitchers in baseball, but is still okay!

The trades made in that time turned out to be a flop, as Jose Reyes never lived up to his previous success and turned out to be a piece of hit, Josh Johnson was hot garbage, and Dickey never regained the form that won him the Cy Young award in 2012. Mark Buerhle was really great though! Papa Buerhle!

Still, 2013 was a time of unbridled optimism, as it seemed like the Toronto Blue Jays were destined for the World Series. They didn't get near sniffing the playoffs and it's funny to think that that team, which didn't exist all that long ago, didn't feature Josh, or Russell, or Stroman, or Tulo. Osuna was still way down in the minors and all Jays fans thought Kevin Pillar was bad.

I think it would be fun to re-visit this post and answer the questions posed about the then-upcoming 2013 Toronto Blue Jays season:

The Questions:

Can Ricky Romero rebound after a horrendous season?

No.

Can Brandon Morrow remain healthy for an entire season?

No.

How will R.A. Dickey’s different knuckleballs perform in a different environment after a season in which his approach wasn’t yet known by opposing hitters?

Not great.

Is Mark Buehrle in the American League East really going to be anything more than a back of the rotation starter?

No. Still good though!

Will Josh Johnson’s fastball ever be as good as it once was? Will he be able to throw breaking pitches for strikes?

No. No.

Can J.P. Arencibia actually manage to avoid getting out in more than  70% of his plate appearances?

No.

Can Edwin Encarnacion carry on with his success from last year?

Yes!

Can Adam Lind actually hit left handed pitching? Will he actually be worth an entire win above what a replacement player might offer?

No. Yes.

Who will emerge as the starting second baseman?

No one.

Will Brett Lawrie emerge as anything other than an adrenaline fuelled swing machine with little power?

No.

How will Jose Reyes adapt his game and hamstrings to the turf at Rogers Centre?

By getting hurt in the first month.

What on earth can we expect from Melky Cabrera coming off his embarrassing drug suspension?

A half a season of sub-par play.

Can Colby Rasmus exhibit the least bit of plate discipline in terms of both strike zone knowledge and swing mechanics?

Yes!

How will Jose Bautista adapt his swing – one so dependent on maximizing leverage through body weight transfer – after a serious wrist injury?

He's getting hurt again.

Who is going to emerge as the team’s closer? Both options – Casey Janssen (currently the first choice) and Sergio Santos – are coming off surgery that can’t merely be shrugged off.

Casey Janssen will be good!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Cool

Once more, I've fallen out of practice of writing in my free time. The 40-hour week will do that to you. 9-5 in front of a computer every day has a way of melting your brain and spending more time on a computer is generally the last thing that I want to do when I get home.

This all being said, it has afforded me to listen to a lot of music, so I'll you this post to talk about a few things I'm really into.

During my golden years of Ontario punk, !ATTENTION! quickly became my favourite of all the bands I was seeing at every show. They moved from "Hey, that band was pretty good." to "I can't wait to see !ATTENTION!" to "!ATTENTION! is THE BEST." I placed a lot of importance on collecting everything they put out and listened to Another Year constantly while living on Dublin St. in Guelph. Towards of when they were still playing shows regularly in Southern Ontario, they had started putting new songs into their set that were going to be on their upcoming full-length. I couldn't wait for it. I would listen to Four or Five Ways to Play These Chords, the demo, Another Year, and their blink-182 cover all in row to pretend it was a full-length. Time started to pass and I figured that it was never going to come out.

Then, apropos of nothing, they announced in 2016 and put it out in October. Though I didn't listen to it tonnes when it came out, for some reason, it is absolutely great. I love the band and am so so proud that they are a product of the scene that I'm a part of. Please support this band however you can, because if there was ever a band that deserves it, it's !ATTENTION!




Oso Oso put out an album called Real Stories of True People Who Kind of Looked Like Monsters in 2015 that was one of my favourites from that year. It's really good!

When I saw them play in October, they played a few "joints" and it was that perfect type of live experience where it makes you so eager to listen to their stuff as soon as you get home. The new songs sounded really good and I was really excited to hear them when they came out.

In a nice turn of events, they announced on twitter that were going to do a surprise release of their album the next morning, so I made sure to download it as soon as I woke up. The album, The Yunahon Mixtape, proved to be AMAZING and has stayed in constant rotation since then. It's a great progression in their sound that subtly adds complexity to the compositions while retaining everything that made them awesome in the first place (re: extremely catchy hooks and riffs). Oso Oso has now put out two very strong albums and that is something rare and is much harder to do than it sounds. The band seems to be on an upward trajectory and is getting more attention. I'm really happy for them, as their music deserves any and all attention it gets. I may expand on why I think this album is really special in the near future, but for now, all I can do is recommend jamming this.

YO:


Monday, January 23, 2017

I Refuse to Run and Will Die Before I Kneel in This Life

Donald Trump's inauguration as President of the United States this past Friday has proved to be one of the more significant political moments that I have been alive for.

More significant are the protest marches by women that took place all over the world the next day in response. There was a huge version of the march in Toronto which started at Queen's Park and moved towards City Hall. I thought about attending the march to show solidarity, but ultimately decided not to, though I did turn the issue over a few times in my head. The following are a few of the points that I went over.

The march is not for me. Even though I support the sentiment behind it 100%, I am a man and as a result am partly what they are marching against. Though I consider myself an ally of the cause, I think it also important to acknowledge when it is your time to step back and allow others to speak. I think that this was one of those times.

The inverse of that also seemed logical though, as if there was ever a time to stand and show support, it has to be now. It was hard to reconcile these two points of view, but ultimately I decided on the former.

The march was also very white. The Toronto one was nowhere near as whitewashed as others (the problems explained excellently here), but it did still weird me out a little. Me being a white male, I didn't think the march needed my presence there for extra support!

Though there may be problems in the composition of the crowd, I think that a left momentarily putting aside its differences would do a lot more harm than good in the face a fucking white nationalist running a superpower. Let's not stop here. Don't forget how mad you are and don't let that stop inspiring you. Don't stop punching fucking nazis.

FIGHT FASCISM.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Everybody Wants Some!!

A recent trend on Facebook has been users posting statuses which list "10 Albums I Loved During My High School Years", with the focus appearing to be that the albums listed were no only enjoyed at the time, but also instrumental in leading you to find later music that you loved. This isn't the first time a trend like this has popped up on the website, as I remember a version called "10 Albums That Have Stuck with Me Through the Years" being pretty popular maybe two or three years ago, but this is the most recent and I think that the high school stipulation has made this one the most popular, as more or less everyone I know is posting their own version, as opposed to just my punk friends, which is the crowd that the old ones appealed to. So popular that even Pitchfork posted a version!

My first reaction to trends like this on social media is to reject them and think that I am above them and that posting them is lame and that's exactly what I thought when this one started to catch fire. But then I caught myself reading ever single version posted and, to be honest, I found that I enjoyed reading the versions by the, for lack of a better term, normies than those by my punk friends, as the latter were mostly the same (blink album, Taking Back Sunday album, Lawrence Arms album, bad hardcore album).

Once I realized this, I came to the conclusion that me hating this trend, or even devoting any energy towards thinking of reasons why I hate it or think it's lame, is dumb and a waste of my brain. It's fine! Why should I care what benign things people do on social media? People are just talking about music they enjoy. I do that almost constantly on here, so why judge people for doing it on a different website.

It's silly, but I caught myself before I ranted about it to anybody. I've tried to be less jaded and less of a hater lately and I guess this is a small sign that I've been succeeding to a small degree.

Anyways, here's my ten.

Operation Ivy- Energy
The Arrogant Sons of Bitches- Three Cheers for Disappointment
The Suicide Machines- Destruction by Definition
Bomb the Music Industry!- To Leave or Die in Long Island
Big D and the Kids Table- How It Goes
Less Than Jake- Losing Streak
The Flatliners- Destroy to Create
Catch 22- Keasbey Nights
NoFX- Punk in Drublic
blink-182- Dude Ranch

You could also make a case for albums by The Specials and, more embarrassingly, Sublime and Reel Big Fish. Probably also a greatest hits collection by Mötley Crüe and Iron Maiden.

A thought I've had all morning, while learning early Van Halen songs, is that I wish I could say that Van Halen II was listened to enough for it to qualify for the above list, but it wasn't. My hot take for the day is either of the two following songs are the best songs in Van Halen's oeuvre:





You would think that David Lee Roth being maybe the world's worst live singer would lower my opinion of the band, but it actually does the opposite. Van Halen is so good.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My Best Pieces of Fiction

Actually my fucking national anthem.