Friday, September 27, 2013

I'm Holding On

A few years ago, I wrote a post in which I mentioned how terrified I was/am of losing my hair. The main thing I wanted to bring up about this article was that the thing that made me realize "You know what Tim? Other people have it worse than you. Stop complaining." was that I saw a former classmate of mine had started chemotherapy and had thus lost all of his hair.

The important thing about this is that it was wasn't somebody who I was friends with, or even spoke to, it was just someone who I recognized from a class I took. He used to have a giant mop of curly hair and now he was bald and wearing a toque to cover it up. I actually recently remembered that we were supposed to work on a presentation together, but he dropped the course and in hindsight (and when considered the time-frame of these events) he probably dropped the course, and most likely out of school, because he had been diagnosed with cancer.

Fast forward to today. It is a beautiful day, I finally got the cheque owed to me by my school and an event on which I worked very, very hard is finally taking place tomorrow*. Needless to say, I've been in a great mood all day. I mean, we just added three bean bag chairs to our office at school! Anyways, I was on my way over to The Bullring and appreciating the fine architecture of our campus buildings with a nice spring in my step. The first thing I noticed when I walked through the door was that guy from my French class, on-stage ripping tenor sax with a jazz ensemble and looking healthy as could be. I hadn't given him any thought over the last few years, but knowing that that dude beat the big C and is doing well again is the type of coincidence that you really have to sit back and smile about.

Good for you man.

*I just realized that I did not make a post to promote Culture Days here on this blog. I worked on this event while I was employed at KW|AG this summer. Culture Days focuses on hosting free events over a weekend in order to foster an appreciation for the arts all across Canada. Our event at KW|AG is a 12 hour Draw-A-Thon starting at noon and (obviously) going until midnight. There will be tons of drawing activities and challenges to do, as well as artists from the community coming out to draw as well! Starting at 8pm we will have a few bands play in the gallery and open a cash bar. There's also three brand new shows open! Please come check it out!

Thick As Molasses

Something I've always found a little daunting is getting into a very established artist well after the fact. You constantly hear how great somebody is at something and obviously think "Well, if these people, whose opinion I respect, think that this is deserving of my time, then it probably is." Did I just use that many commas? I guess I did. Anyways, the whole scenario I just mentioned is always most relevant to me when people talk about a band/artist endlessly, but I've never listened to them. I guess that Greatest Hits albums are meant to sort of solve this problem, but listening to a greatest hits record never gives you the same sense of excitement and infatuation that comes with falling head over heels in love with a band's full-length.

So the problem I'm presented with is that I want to get into a band, but don't know where the best place to start is. I'm fairly sure I'll like them and usually am at least familiar with at least what they generally sound like, but I just have no idea which album to listen to first and (lightly) stress fear that if I pick the wrong one, then I will never properly have that first "Oh my god, this is the best listening experience I've had in forever! I can't believe how perfect this band is at what they do!" experience*.

Another thing that is relevant when considering what I just said is that semi-often, not all of the time, I have an unpopular opinion about what I think is a band's best album and get really into the records that nobody else likes (See: Against Me! White Crosses, The Stereo No Traffic, The Weakerthans Reconstruction Site^). Please do not take that as me acting self-important, it's just an honest expression of my taste. I'm a bit of a weirdo and nobody I know likes all the same bands as me. BUT, because of this I worry that if I look up reviews and pick the album that is the best reviewed, it might not coincide with the era of the band that wold best suit my taste and therefore not get me as into the band as I could be.

What all this leads to is a sort of haphazard strategy of sometimes looking at reviews and sometimes just going off hearsay and sometimes just leaving it alone when it comes to music.

However, one thing that I think I can claim from all of this is that a little bit of that anticipatory feeling I refer to in the first endnote is preserved and that feeling of me being alone with a collection of songs and just being consumed by them still exists. I know that this is silly of me to say and probably seems a little dumb, but the idea of downloading a giant endless catalogue of songs and systematically and exhaustively going through everything and THEN making a call about is best seems a whole lot more dumb to me.

So, I recently decided that I should probably give The Mountain Goats a chance, given all that I've heard about them*. Whereas many reviews said I should start with Tallahassee or Nine Black Poppies the first proper full-length Zopilote Machine no specific reason. I sure am lucky that I still grasp at adolescent experiences that no longer apply to the music world, because that complete listening experience is something I got as soon as I turned on Zopilote. As soon as the song below started, I knew I was going to be in love with the album and it hit me square in the feelings in the best possible way. It was also one of those weird cases where you hear a release and instantly know that you will be listening to it for a long time.

I feel like a lot of people really like and romanticize the idea of an artist having a lot to say, but not being able to find a band, so they just hastily record themselves with an acoustic guitar to get their message out there and the songs are so powerful that it doesn't matter about the almost complete lack of instrumentation or terrible recording quality. This was the case with Against Me! This has been the case a lot recently, as almost every band dude has set out on a solo career that involves just him and an acoustic guitar. The problem with this is that it almost sucks. Unless you are the absolute best at writing songs, it's going to sound boring. Fortunately for The Mountain Goats, John Darnielle seems to be pretty close to the absolute best at writing songs.

*Wow, remember when I thought that including endnotes would be better then endless sidebars? What a good idea that was Tim! Basically the problem I mentioned above doesn't exist anymore, with downloading. While I am kind of disappointed that the experience of anticipating an album, going out of your way to pick it up and then it surpassing your expectations and just rocking your world doesn't exist anymore, the fact that more or less all of the world's music is readily available to you if you own a computer is astonishing and amazing. Go out and look for some new things to fall in love with. You owe it to yourself.

^I'm not silly, I know that everyone loves The Weakerthans and that everybody loves all of their output, but Recon is my favourite of all their releases and I've found this to be an unpopular opinion among everyone that I've spoken to.

*Greg's line where he mentions The Mountain Goats and how influential they were in The Menzingers putting out the supremely excellent On The Possible Past acoustic demos was especially important in me forming an opinion on the band. I instantly started to think that if The Mountain Goats are anywhere near the emotional rawness of that Menzingers release (they are) then I would love them.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Contemporary Art And A Variety Of Other Thoughts

It's been awhile since I've thrown up a post that is more or less just a compilation of random thoughts and since that was the calling card of this blog for the longest time, I figured it might be nice to throw another one up.

Like I said in my last post, I can prone to grazing through my Facebook timeline and reveling in nostalgia. An obvious result of doing this is noticing how much I've changed over the years. Yeah, I know that I'm more or less the same ska fanatic, Peter Pan Syndrome havin' mawfucka I've always been, but everyone changes. While doing this recently, which inspired my previous post, I noticed that I've grown as a person in the last year or so and have done so positively, in my opinion. It may seem narcissistic to say this, but it's comforting in my mind to know that I'm always improving myself, no matter how minute and inconsequential-in-the-long-run those changes may be. Feels good man.

Currently, I am starting to get right into the heavy part of my first semester of grad school (re: the second two thirds of it). It's getting real busy, but the good kind of busy. My brain is functioning critically really well again. I seem to have a lot to say about all the things that we're studying and I really like that. The other huge part of being in a Master's program in TAing for classes, which is new and really exciting for me. While working at KW|AG this summer, I had a lot of fun teaching kids and getting to joke around with them but also instructing them in the basics of looking at, appreciating and making art, but teaching young adults in university is whole other can of worms. I think I'm doing pretty well so far and have managed to get through to a fair amount of the kids. If anything, I take immense pride in noticing that now the kids crack a smile when the see a Duchamp piece because the understand it now. I also love seeing the horrified expressions when my classes see a Chris Burden piece for the first time. Trust me kids, it only gets weirder from here on out.

On that note, what would the kids think if they knew that I spend most of my time in my office bobbing my head and doing the cooking dance to RiFF RaFF?

People love to make fun of RaFF because of how obviously silly he is, but seriously look how different he is from everyone in the game right now. Rap game Julio Franco.

Baseball's regular season is almost over. This makes me sad. This Jays season was a giant fucking disaster. Everyone had high hopes for us after "The Trade", and the Jays just completely dropped the ball this year. Being a fan who has suffered through 20 straight playoff-less seasons, I was extremely to see how the team would do after this obvious and dramatic upgrade, but all it did was make the letdown worse. Get out and get gone Josh Johnson. It's even worse now as we're finishing the season without any of best players in the lineup and are more or less fielding our AAA team. However, silver linings can be found in the excellent campaigns that Colby Rasmus (my favourite Jay), Edwin Encarnacion, the Joses and Mark Buehrle had. Also, Munenori Kawasaki established himself as the most endearing and fun player in MLB, so there's that too.

Cool, later.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

You're The Cutest Boat-Builder I Think I've Ever Seen

Something that is always a giant issue of contention among people roughly my age is when Facebook updates its layout and operating style. It's been this way since I started using the site and each time they update it, everybody gets in a giant fuss about it and complains endlessly about "the new Facebook". Eventually though, everybody gets used to it because they're forced to use it and perhaps because they realize that it is a free social network site, so who the fuck cares?

Hands down the biggest divide over a new Facebook layout was when they introduced the "timeline" feature about a year and a half ago. What "timeline" entailed was the addition of a clickable timeline on the side of your profile which could easily direct you to a certain time of your or somebody else's life, as opposed to a long clicking and scrolling session through somebody's profile. Some of my friends had concerns like "Now anyone can creep (look at) any area of my life right away and I hate the idea of that!" I guess that kind of makes sense, but I feel like nobody is interested in me enough to go and look in the deep nether regions of my Facebook profile. The other side of that coin is that due to former Facebook layouts, if anyone did take the time to do a deep creep on my profile they would just find things like "is seeing the Planet Smashers tonight!" about 10 times in a row and probably give up right away because it is useless and uninteresting information.

I however, am a huge fan of timeline because it has taken my profile and turned it into a digital scrapbook of my life which is very easy for me to navigate. Being the nostalgic son of a gun that I am, I'm fairly prone to looking back at a certain year of my life via my timeline (or this blog!) and reliving a whole bunch of events that I had half-forgotten about. While some people really like to write off their past because they are embarrassed by it, I kind of revel in how awkward and weird my existence is and was. I really like to compare how different I was then and how I'm also still kind of the same. What's that Tim? You want to look through those giant photo albums documenting your first week at university? Click 2007, then click September. Boom. Done.

Like I said, I'm swirling tornado of nostalgia and it can get a little overwhelming when I'm looking back through timeline and all these pictures and lyrics and things are really bringing up some old feelings that I haven't felt in a long time. A lot of the time, this can be good nostalgia. I'll see a picture from a night out or a status update from forever ago that had a good string of comments on it and I immediately think things like "Wow, what a fun night that was." "You know, even though it was a shithole, I really miss Cole Road." "Jesus, I haven't so much as spoken to Stryder in at least 3 years." I like it because, like I said, I'm not embarrassed by what I've done. I like to look back and I like to laugh at the minor mistakes that I made growing up. My life is conveniently documented for me on this website and I love the opportunity to look back upon it.

But there's also obviously bad stuff. I'll come across a cute photo or me teasing an old flame and immediately think about how bad then ended up or how I fucked things up or how I should have acted instead. And that's just life. Sometimes it rules. Sometimes it sucks. Obviously most people would like to just remember the good stuff, but that ain't the way it works Jack, you get it all. I can get pretty fucking sad sometimes and seeing this type of stuff never really helps. I'm pretty fortunate to be surrounded by the people that I am, but I do feel pretty lonely out here most of the time. Before I know it, Deja is on and I have become the sulkmaster supreme. Fortunately I usually know better than to keep digging and looking at these things that really cut me up, despite it being a good kind of hurt.

But the thing that made me sad the most is that when I went back and looked at those few months, there wasn't a trace of her at all, so maybe I should have known all along.

Monday, September 9, 2013

With A Golden Heart Comes A Rebel Fist

Earlier this year Streetlight Manifesto put out a record that I am pretty into. I worked a really shitty overnight job at a grocery store for a little bit and as a result I listened to a load of music while I worked there and the newest Streetlight record was always in high rotation. A weird thing happens with Streetlight Manifesto where I barely listen to them anymore and then when they put out new material I'm all like "HOLY! WHY DID I STOP LISTENING TO THIS BAND?!" and to be honest, I have no answer for that. I guess the simple one is that I'm just not as into the band as I originally was. While that statement might be true, the fact of the matter remains that Tomas is still a wonderfully talented lyricist and the band are one of the most musically gifted and interesting outfits around that manages to incorporate many different genres and influences into a loosely punk song structure.

So, while I was working that job and listening to The Hands That Thieve I noticed that Tomas was continuing on one of his most-used lyrical topics and came to the following conclusion: Streetlight Manifesto is one of the most atheist bands in the world.

I first started to keep track of this after I saw Streetlight live and while performing "Down, Down, Down To Mephisto's Cafe", Tomas bluntly said "This song is about the Roman Catholic Church."

While at first I thought that the lyrics of the song were merely a story fabricated by Tomas, as he is wont to do, it made quite a bit more sense after realizing that Mephisto's Cafe was in reality hell. Also, I just made the connection after posting the above video that the album's artwork shows the sky, ground and then fire underneath, making reference to Heaven/God, Earth/Us, Hell/Satan. Once you make that connection about the song it really does become blatantly obvious what the song is about and most would make that connection having just looked at the lyrics plainly. For example:

"Way back when the prophecies began
Do you think they really had a masterplan
Or were they merely writing fabled stories?
I don't know, but it did occur to me
The punishment that they threaten constantly
It's only real if they could just convince me"

Or this one:

"Now everybody's telling taller tales
And I don't know who to believe
Ok, if your father really loves you more
What about the other families?"

This is a really common theme on this album (obviously, given the album artwork) and is referenced in tons of other tracks, such as "The Blond Lead The Blind" with the line "Did you lose faith? Yes, I lost faith in the powers that be, but in doing so I came across the will to disagree".

"Forty Days" is another song off of Somewhere In the Between which deals with Christianity and skepticism regarding it (if you couldn't already tell from the title).

"What a way to begin: we all inherit sin
and nobody's going to quench your thirst when the well runs dry
and nobody's going to hold your hand on the day you die"

Furthermore, a longstanding cover that the band performed live was "Hell" by the jazz/swing revival/everything band Squirrel Nut Zippers, which is song-long wondering about life after death, making specific reference to the Christian idea of hell (Gee, who would've thought with that title!). The song was also included on the band's 2010 cover album 99 Songs of the Revolution: Volume 1 and is a great example that shows both where Tomas draws inspiration for his lyrics and also the type of influences that set Streetlight Manifesto apart from most bands.

So, once you sit down and actually examine all of Tomas' writing it becomes very clear that life, mortality and the morality of Christianity, especially the Roman-Catholic Church, is something that he thinks about a whole lot. I guess that I get pretty defensive sometimes about how people look down on me for listening to ska and how easily people just write off the entire genre as being joke bands who don't take songwriting seriously, and that this is me trying to show that there's a lot more to it than that (I would also point to the Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution/Streetlight song "Here's To Life", in which Tomas eulogizes his favourite writers and artists who have committed suicide and also ponders about how similar he is to them). Perhaps it's a little problematic for me to use Streetlight as an example to counter those arguments, as they really aren't much of a ska band at all and I personally don't think of them as one, but everyone seems to, with the only apparent reason being that they have a horn section and they are an easy touchstone for those who aren't well-versed in the genre. Believe me, I'd love to go on ad nauseam about how The Skatalites' drumming and horn arrangements put essentially every other band that has ever existed's musical skill to shame, but I figure this would be easier for everyone to put in perspective.

To be honest, a lot of the time I get an idea for a blog post and I'm all like "Yeah! That is a great idea for a post!", but find that when I'm writing it it doesn't come together as cohesively as I thought it would and have trouble finishing it. Then I continue to write the post, despite not having ideas about how to tie it together, because I've already started and written most of it and I know that I will at least get a mild sense of relief and accomplishment once the post is finally done and up on the blog. This entry is an example of one of those posts.