Sunday, September 18, 2016

We Fucked Our Ears, We Fucked Our Throats

I apologize in advance because I am pretty sure that this will end up being a post that is sort of all over the place. Touching on a lot of topics, hinting that I might be getting a bigger idea or sharp take on one of those topics, and then cutting the prose off before I get there is one of my talents. I may as well embrace it in lieu of avoiding it and doing nothing at all.

I had a minor crisis earlier this week pertaining to work. I have started my new, more serious position at my work under the fancy, typically overblown title attached to the position. I am no longer on the ground floor of the gallery interacting with people and have moved into a desk in an office upstairs. This freaked me out. I don't want to get stuck in an office and have it become comfortable. Don't want to settle into a routine and have small project become mountains. Don't want to wake up one day and find that my closet is full of business-casual collared shirts.

While coming home from work in a pair of quasi-dress pants from H&M and an inoffensive patterned button-up, I felt so fucking fake. Didn't feel like myself at all. I felt like I was in a costume and I was betraying myself.

I think a big part of this is that Beat Noir hasn't done anything at all for about a year or so. We wrote and recorded the album and half-assed promoting it for a week, but otherwise have ceased all activity as a band. We haven't practiced for about two months and even when we were jamming, it wasn't like it was for any particular goal. It sometimes (re: most of the time) feels like the writing is on the wall and the band is over. I don't think that we would make a huge statement about not being a band anymore or "break-up" in the traditional sense, but we aren't really doing anything. It feels really bad. A band is a relationship and this certainly does feel a lot like getting broken up with.

I don't want to be a guy who used to be in a band. Or a guy who used to go to shows. That ain't me. Punk still matters to me as much as it ever did. Don't want to be the "alternative guy" in the office with a few tattoos and stretched ears. Settling into that sort of persona scares the fucking shit out of me.

I was in crisis and wondered if I would be able to avoid this at all. I am working at here for the next two years and that is for certain. Would that mean two years or struggling every day against settling and routine? That seems daunting and exhausting and nightmare for mental health.

I managed to get over that hump and rationalize what I was worried about. I am lucky to have my job. Very lucky! It's not as bad as I make it out to be and it is important to contextualize all problems. I will not become someone I don't want to be unless I let that happen. Sure, it may be taxing, as I described above, but if the alternative is turning into something you hate, then it's kind of an obvious choice, no?

One good thing about this job is that I have realized that working in galleries is not my long-term goal. It was something I always thought I would enjoy, especially after positive experiences at KW|AG, and while it is fine for now, it's not for me in the future. My goal is definitely a PhD and teaching at the university level and I'm going to focus on that as much as my life allows me over the next two years.

As for what I said above about Beat Noir, yeah it sucks. I think about it a lot and how different things could have gone, but I can't remedy that now. While I was really sad about it, I watched the first two things I thought of that pertain to the experience of "being in a band" and what that phrase means in a lot of different ways.

The first was The Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo, which, if you haven't seen it, is a masterpiece. It first boils a once-in-a-generation band down to friendship and then builds on it from there. Friendship is the basis for every band and what keeps it together. The audience doesn't really notice that when they're seeing a performance and most of the time the band isn't really thinking about it, but it's true. You start a band because it's something you want to do with your friends and it's easy to forget that.

The documentary is also great because of the touching humanistic look it gives at the oeuvre of The Minutemen. They never compromised on anything and are, without a doubt, a model for all bands to follow in terms of integrity and morals and ethics. After showing you what's fun about being in a band, the doc shows you what's important about being in a band.

We Jam Econo brought up a lot of emotions in me, as it always does, and served as a way for me to lean into my Beat Noir-related sadness. This is funny, because the other thing I decided to watch was Spinal Tap.

After the serious introspection and emotion caused by We Jam Econo, it was nice to watch something that made light of all the stuff I was thinking about. Spinal Tap really is a masterpiece and is so good at laying on tons and tons of jokes, with just enough of them being so specific that you'll only laugh at them if you've played music before. God, what a fucking good movie.

And you know what, even though it's silly and everyone is an idiot, it stills boils down to Nigel jumping back out to play the solo in "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight".

As I said, all over the place.

I started reading a collection of Frankfurt School essays on art called Aesthetics and Politics. Benjamin and Adorno really stuck out to me in grad school while doing critical theory and I find that returning to their work clear my mind out and gives me context a lot more than some of the bigger names in art theory.

"In it, he argued that Wilhelmine Germany, increasingly a society of parasitic rentiers, had been dominated by philosophies (Neo-Kantianism, Machism, Vitalism) that conjured away the connections between ideology and economics or politic, preventing any perception or critique of imperialist society as a whole. Expressionism had been a literary reflection of that obfuscation."

Funny how problems 100 years ago in Germany are still fucking up the world today. Sub in 20-something self-mockingly complaining about mundane things on social media for Expressionism and you've got a scathing critique of contemporary mass media.

Or at least that's how I see it.

Yours in madcappedness, Timmy Chandler

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Don't Forget the Good Parts

From Monday to Wednesday of this week, the Blue Jays played a three game series against the New York Yankees in New York. The Jays entered the series in first place, 6.5 games ahead of the Yankees, but lost all three and now sit a game behind the Boston Red Sox for the division lead and just 3.5 games ahead of the Yankees.

It was a rough series, to be sure, but I think that my days of huffing and puffing and being anxious when the Blue Jays lose are past me. I still always want the Jays to win and I still get that tightness in my chest during close and stressful games, but I don't beat myself up about losses when they happen. A big part of this is that, if we're being realistic, 2015 was the most fun Blue Jays season that I will ever experience. This doesn't mean that there won't be great moments in the future or that I'm not having fun watching the team anymore. It's more that last season came right at the perfect time and was magical and ethereal and unbelievable. It will be hard to recreate that. A lot of the stress I used to tie to the team was due to me always hoping for something like 2015 to happen. Now it has and my experience as a fan is changing.

Case point is the game from which the above photo comes from. The Jays coughed up a late lead and were behind 7-4 when they started an amazing late-inning rally to score two runs and draw close to tying the game. Edwin Encarnacion got boned on a catcher's interference miscall and then did the unthinkable and legged out an infield hit. A few missteps by the Yankees combined to let the Jays draw close to overtaking the lead. Justin Smoak hit a ball very deep, but Bret Gardner jumped to make an amazing catch (pictured above) on a ball that was about a foot away from being a home run and seemed destined to drive in runs.

There was certainly the customary giant exhale after the pressure of a tight ballgame was released, but no anger came. I was more just happy that I got to witness such a great game. After the catch, Gardner yelled and fist-pumped which was very uncharacteristic for the normally stoic and even-keel Yankees. Part of me even liked seeing the Yankees crack and show emotion like that.

I think that this is a sign of me maturing as a baseball fan and continuing further down the path of valuing the narrative of a game over the result. To be sure, I still root as hard as I can for the Jays, but I would rather seeing a pitchers' duel in which the winning run is driven in by Kevin Pillar than a blowout that ensures a win. I think part of this comes from Roger Angell's books which tell the narrative of a team and its season. The personal stories of the players and cities is really the meat of baseball and what keeps fans coming back. Not the trophies.

I would say I've even grown to a point of respecting rivals. I recognize the history and cultural value that surrounds the New York Yankees. As much as I hate how the team has beaten on the Jays consistently throughout my existence, they are the Yankees and that is what they do.

Not Boston though. I think Pedroia will have to retire before I can even begin to start coming around on that shitpile of a franchise.

I could say something like "the last two years have marked a turning point in my life as a baseball fan", but that is just not true. My experience watching and following baseball is an ever-changing journey that takes on a lot of new parts all the time. The true beauty of something that you keep with you your whole life is that it grows with you and changes just like you do.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

California Jam II

"Fuckin' Mahogany Rush man!"

That line is said by Willoughby in Richard Linklater's most recent film Everybody Wants Some!! while four of the main characters are smoking weed in a bedroom and listening to records. Willoughby explains that Mahogany Rush are more philosophical and make you think as much about the space in between the notes as the notes themselves and they aren't just "guys jumping around in spandex". Plummer responds (after taking a bong toke) "I dunno man, Van Halen are pretty fuckin' awesome." which I'm inclined to agree with.

This scene was the type of coincidence that is so rare that you can barely believe it happened. I'll explain why.


My place of work is on Toronto's harbourfront, which means that throughout the course of the summer, we've gotten a fair amount of randoms and weirdos in to see what we have and talk to us. The encounter I'm about to describe is absolutely my favourite of these weirdos and one of the funniest and memorable experiences I've ever had.

I was in the largest gallery, which was a bunch of fabric sculpture. A pretty rough-looking guy, who I assumed was homeless, came in and started asking me about the show, which he thought was pretty weird. This man looked kind of like an 80's metal burnout whose glory days were long behind him. He had a mullet that had grown out a bit and was greasy and stuck to his head, was wearing sunglasses inside, smelled a little bit and had dirty, grown out fingernails. When he was speaking, it seemed like he wasn't really together, and I think he might have been on something.

One of the sculptures that was showing was a letter L hanging on the wall and the man asked if it was "a psychedelic L", which I had to ask him to repeat a few times and then explain. He was wondering if it was a reference to LSD, which is wasn't. After this he asked me if Franz "gets sex, drugs,a nd rock 'n roll. Like, not sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, but like, sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. You know?" I had to reply "Oh yeah, of course he does!"

The guy then told me that he plays guitar, mostly at night, so I assumed, because of his appearance, he was a busker and then he rapidfired a ton of stuff at me. He asked me if I was a virgin and when I answered he said that he used to be like a rabbit, jumping from hole to hole. He asked how old I was, and when I said 27, he said that I had my whole life ahead of me and that I wouldn't even know all the shit that was going to happen to me. He brought up drugs, said they were bad and then followed that with "I dabble. I'm not an addict or anything," which I took to mean "I am 100% addicted to heroin.

At one point during this conversation, he turned to me and asked "Do you recognize me?", which I found very confusing and weird.

I figured that this guy would come and talk to me for a few minutes, get his daily need for human interaction out of the way, and then leave, but he surprisingly followed me as I changed positions in the gallery to sit behind one of our reception desks.

Once I had sat down, he again said that he plays guitar and then dropped the bombshell that this whole post revolves around.

"You ever heard of Mahogany Rush?"

"Nah man, I haven't."

*pulls down sunglasses to the tip of his nose and looks at me over them*

"You've never heard of Mahogany Rush?"

"I haven't! I swear."

"Different generation man."

I don't know what I expected Mahogany Rush to be. Maybe a cover band or something? I searched the band on my work computer and, to my astonishment, discovered that they were a popular Can-Con 70's rock band who toured with all of the biggest rock bands of that decade. Before this reveal, I was entertaining this guy as a mostly harmless guest, but this is when I got really interested and really excited about what was happening. He asked me who the website I was looking at said was the singer and I replied "Frank Marino". Though he never told me directly, I concluded, through my powers of deduction, that I was speaking to Frank Marino. If you look at the picture on the site linked in one of the previous sentence, give the guy in that picture 30 years and 30 less pounds and you've got the version of Frank that I saw.

Frank was really interested in how he was described on Wikipedia and so was I. I think it had been a while since he had used the internet, because everything seemed very interesting to him. The article on him was much long than I thought it would be and I was so surprised to see the amount of output he had managed. 17 albums with Mahogany Rush and 4 solo! To go along with numerous appearances on other artists' recordings! Frank was not just a funny minor Toronto character, he was turning into a real lost artefact from the 1970's in front of me. The fact that I had not heard of Mahogany Rush really surprised me.

After this, I started to warm up to Frank a lot and reciprocated my extension of friendship. I told him that I played guitar and he started to tell about why he thought scalloped fretboards were good (with demonstrations!) and run through some of his favourite guitarists. "Man, you know Eric Johnson? He plays those pentatonic scales, man. Stretches his fingers from here to here. Like, I can do that too man, but not like him." "Man, you know Joe Satriani?" He was not a fan of Steve Vai.

Frank eventually worked his way behind the desk and talked to me for a while. We were reading his wikipedia article and he came across a passage which read "He has been criticized by some as a Hendrix clone." That angered Frank and he said "People are always saying shit" and got distant. This set up how the rest of the conversation would go: Frank would be very fun and wild and engaging, but would then say something that was really sad that would show his vulnerability and remind me that, though it was really fun and funny to speak with this relic of a bygone era, the reality of his situation was sad and sobering.

Frank was really interested in his presence on the internet and wanted to see how many pictures of him were floating around. We searched a lot and he would saying things like "I've lost so much weight" that were a bummer. He started running through people he used to know and said "See if there's a picture of me and Stevie Ray Vaughan on there." I was skeptical, but, sure enough, a search yielded a picture of the two together (though I couldn't find it when I tried to for this post). He then asked if there was a picture of him and "Keith". This fucking guy is dropping Keith Richards on a first name basis? There wasn't one, but he did enjoy a caricature of the guitarist that came up.

He started to talk about how he used to play shows at the Docks and brought up Lemmy. "You know magazines? All the shit they say about him in there, it's all true. Hookers everywhere." I was pretty sure that he didn't know that Lemmy died this year, but I didn't want to bring it up and ruin the mood.

Throughout our hour and a half conversation one thing that Frank came back to a lot was boating and the Toronto Islands. He recounted a time when he went on a date with a girl to the islands, but stayed after the last ferry had left because they had drank a lot. They dealt with the situation by stealing a canoe and paddling back to the harbour. When they got back his date tried to stand up in the canoe, but Frank insisted that they didn't. They did anyways and they both fell in. "The lake, it's always cold man!"

Frank also seemed dead set on renting a boat to take out onto Lake Ontario. He asked if it was possible to get one anywhere and I told him about the different marinas in the area, but it seemed like he mostly wanted to was poetic on the topic. He asked how long it would take to make it to Buffalo by boat and I guessed about three hours. He was surprised and responded "I don't know man, I'd be going full-tilt", struck this pose, and imitated a motorboat sound. It was one of his more adorable moments.

He even asked me if I wanted a beer! While I was at work!

But for all the awesome parts, he would also say things like "I just got out of a coma, so my mind is a little."

Frank is originally from Montreal, so at one point he asked me "Parlez-vous français?" in an awful anglicized accent. I responded "Oui, bein sur" which I repeat several times and then translate. He then started on a rant about how Québequois French was a bastardized version of the language that wasn't "true French". All the insults in Québec were about women, whereas all the insults in France were about the Church, which seemed like an oddly informed thing for Frank to say. He said that it was just like how North American English wasn't "True English" like the version spoken in England. Around this time, a group of women came into the gallery who were visiting from Ireland and Frank was convinced that he should go speak to them about how they curse in order to illustrate his point, because in his mind, Ireland was close enough. I overheard them say that they say "feck" instead of "fuck" and when Frank came back to make his report, he was excited about telling me about the Irish girls. "What do they say instead of fuck? Duck?" Close enough, Frank.

Around this point I realized that this conversation with Frank would be one of the more memorable ones I would ever have and one of my best stories, so I started to relish it and egg on Frank a bit. We were both having a really great time.

He showed me a pen with a built-in flashlight in it, which he said was handy for when people ask for autographs at shows and it's dark and hard to see. Frank insisted on giving me the pen, despite my resistence. "I have tons of them! They give them to me for free!" he said, despite there being a health centre logo on the side. I eventually decided to take it and he illustrated its use by signing a program with the flashlight on. In the daytime. What a guy.

Eventually my rotation came around again and it was time for me to a go home. Frank took that as his cue to leave, put on his hat and disappeared.

Friday, September 2, 2016

This One Thing Doesn't Have to Go Away

One of the most popular topics to write about in 2016 has been, without a doubt, celebrity deaths. A wide variety of notable figures across basically every discipline. The two biggest were probably David Bowie and Prince, whose fans mourned and celebrated their accomplishments. When these deaths happened, I wondered which Canadian figure's death would prompt an outpouring of emotions from Canadians similar to the way Minnesotans gathered around Prince, and I sort of got that when Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip announced that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

If I written this post before or shortly after The Hip's final show, my explanation of my slow come-around to their music would have seemed a little more prescient, but I've seen a million of those, so I'll try to temper that topic out of this post. I associated them with jabronis I knew and dismissed them.

One day, I was driving with Duff and we were discussing how we both loved the idea of The Hip as being a picturesque representation of the ebb and flow of life in small town Ontario, but just couldn't get into their actual music at all. We recognized that there was more to them, but couldn't deal with the vaguely alt/classic-rockish style of the their music. This topic came up a few times in conversation and Duff decided that while driving to Ottawa for a trip he was going to bring along the Hip albums he felt like he would be most likely to like and try to dive into them pretense-free. That worked for him.

A few weeks later, we were in Kitchener for the wedding of Beat Noir's drummer. Since both of us were in the wedding party, we had a busy day of errands ahead of us and for that day's soundtrack, Duff chose The Tragically Hip. I have a ton of memories from that weekend and The Hip's Phantom Power is tied to them as the soundtrack. "Something On" played while Duff and I drove to breakfast. "Bobcaygeon" was on while we waited for Mike in his driveway.

We dressed at Colin's house, putting on our matching groomsmen suit and then left for the wedding itself. "My Music at Work" played while we left the driveway and the image of the sun coming through the car and the song blaring while all of us wore matching black suits is branded on my mind. It's my favourite Hip song.

As the date was drawing nearer for The Hip's final show, I started to make plans to watch the concert. A bar near Rebecca and I's new apartment was showing it with sound on throughout the place and it seemed like a logical choice. We thought about making plans with friends, but a few fell through and we ended up staying home because we had both worked and were tired. That turned out to be a great decision because we could just watch it in the comfort of our apartment. It was a very intimate setting and I'm glad I didn't go to a bar to watch a 3 hour Tragically Hip set. As much as I would have loved being able to watch the last set with Duff or my brother, it was nice to be able to have my own moment during this giant cultural eruption.

Several times during the concert I was struck by the actual unbelievability of what was happening. This was the last show for the Tragically Hip, who have been present in my entire life. It didn't matter if I always listened to them, or if I hated them for a little bit, they were always around and an integral part of Canadian music and identity. And, of course, that the band's leader is dying of cancer and responded by leading the band on a national tour to say goodbye, which culminated in a medium-sized city halfway between Toronto and Montreal. I don't think anything like this has ever happened before. Definitely not in Canada. Maybe not in the world. That is why the show was so amazing and captivating. It was completely singular.

Doesn't hurt that the songs are good too.

Though the Tragically Hip have always been "important", I kind of feel like they circled around being true cultural icons for a long time. Everybody was aware of them, but I don't think that the majority of Canadians thought of them as legends really. That changed this year, of course, as now they've cemented themselves in Canada lore and people will speak about the final show, and to a lesser extent the final tour, forever. Regardless of if you're a fan of their music, everyone can say something about the band and, whether you like it or not, that means you're relating to them.

Their relatability is something truly special and wholly uncommon. Here's three people who cried during their last set:

Me, a punk music fan that works in contemporary art.

My brother, a sportswriter. While very much a music fan, sports are without a doubt his main interest over music.

A young guy, probably around my age, who was at the show and was briefly shown on the broadcast by the CBC. He was wearing a Team Canada hockey jersey and a backwards Toronto Blue Jays hat and looked like a typical Canadian bro.

These are three very different types of people who have very different interests, and yet they were all moved to a similar degree by The Tragically Hip's last performance and what the band means to them.

Part of me felt like it was a copout to finally give in and start listening to the band in earnest once Gord announced he was dying (Phantom Power is my favourite) and the band's sentimental popularity was at its highest, but then I came to the conclusion that there is actually no better time to listen to the band than the present and while the band will always be important, their music will never be as significant as it is right now. The country is still glowing from the energy and emotion that overflowed during The Hip's last show and there is no better to channel that than listening to a Tragically Hip record.

This picture, which was taken as the band left the stage for the last time really got me. While it may seem like a typical curtain call shot, it has the subtext of the band rallying around Gord to help him through this last stretch of his life. Understandably, most of the night centred around the frontman and the camera was almost always on him. At the end of the show though, the band said goodbye as a group to remind us that while this most certainly is about Gord, it's also the end of a Canadian cultural institution, the Tragically Hip. It made me think of my own relationship with my band.

Ending a band is a very tough thing to do. While we will remember the records and the many hits they produced, for the band members this was something they did to have fun with their friends. That's what every band is. That's why everybody starts bands:

It's the most fun you can have in the world.