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Archive for December, 2002

Tuesday, December 31st, 2002

Auld Lang Syne

There’s just under 12 hours left in 2002. I’m generally predisposed to extensive navel-gazing, so it seems natural that I close out the year with a year-in-review of sorts. It’s been an interesting year… I recall saying about 365 days ago, give or take, that this was going to be my year. That I kick ass in palindromic years or some such nonsense.

If I do a basic checklist of Jan 1 versus Dec 31, it looks like I’m not doing too badly – started the year unemployed, band-less , blog-less and single. Closing out, I’m employed, with band and blog-eriffic. The single bit… well, we’ll get to that later.

Amazing as it may seem, I like my job. A lot. I like the work, the people I work with, hell, even the clients don’t bug me. There’s a healthy level of pressure that only occasionally veers into stress, but all mangeable. I have benefits, a salary I can actually plan for the future with and I still get to leave at 5pm. There are days when I miss my freewheeling contactor days, when I could come and go as I please, but I’ll take the full-time employee sandwich, thank you very much.

It was a year ago tomorrow that I first met up with a slightly hungover Brad and also met 517, albeit in passing. I had no more or less expectations for this potential band than I did for any of the countless others I’d gone out for, but it seems like this was the one that was going to stick. We’ve played some good shows, made some recordings that I’m proud of more for the potential I see in them for the future than the actual finished products (which isn’t to say I’m unhappy with them – I’m not) and made some good friends. I am able to play music on a regular basis. I am a better player now than I’ve probably ever been. Hell, I’ve even learned to play drums. Sorta. I think someone somewhere sometime promised me groupies, but I guess you can’t win em all.

I’ve always been an introvert, so the idea of keeping a journal, let alone posting it online for potentially a world of strangers to read is pretty out of character. On one hand, who cares what I have to say, what I think about music or movies or comics, or even about me? Isn’t this just an exercise in self-indulgence and narcissism? And on the other hand, who cares who cares? I generally don’t have anyone to talk to about the pedantic little things in life, the tv show I watched last night, the CD I just bought, the new band I just heard about… so I’ll just talk to everyone. It’s fun, I’d like to think I’ve made some friends… and anyway, self-indulgence is healthier than self-flagellation.

Net results on my personal life are a little more mixed… Consider this – you have a shirt that you don’t like very much, maybe once you thought it was alright, maybe that it even worked for you, but you’ve had it for so long that you couldn’t imagine being without it. Habit and routine can be a slow death. But – one day, you find a loose thread. Just a small one, barely noticable, but it wasn’t there before. Unconsciously, you begin to pick at it. A gentle tug, then a more forceful one. It begins to come undone. The stitching is so old and worn, it almost wants to come apart and soon is, even without your encouragement. It all falls apart, and you are left naked, with nothing. What can you do? Weep, moan and grind your teeth. Why couldn’t you just leave well enough alone? Maybe that shirt, as ugly and repugnant as it was, was what you were meant to wear? It was your lot in life? Either way, it’s gone now and nothing’s going to bring it back. You couldn’t remake it from the scraps left over anyway. Now it’s at this point you have to make a choice – die of exposure or find a new shirt. And maybe this time, make sure that the heart is located quite so close to the sleeve.

I’m feeling pretty good now, though. It’s like Buckaroo Banzai once said, “No matter where you go, there you are”. It’s true, so I’ve become more comfortable in myself than maybe I’ve ever been. There are still things I wish I was and wish I wasn’t, but life is a work in progress, is it not? There were times when I once might have felt deathly lonely, I now I appreciate those moments for the solitude. I’m not making other people’s problems my own if I don’t need to. No one owes me anything, but I don’t owe anyone anything either. Et cetera, et cetera.

So I look forward to 2003. 2002 may not have turned out entirely the way I wanted, but in hindsight, maybe it turned out how I needed. I used to approach the turning of the years with a sense of desperation, of “Oh God, I’ve wasted another year and I’m not where I want to be”. Well shit, who cares? I grow weary of trying to dissect that which is unknowable and uncontrollable. I have things to do.

Happy New Year.

np – Joy Division / Unknown Pleasures

Tuesday, December 31st, 2002

Adaptation

So I finally got to go see Adaptation, and have to say it was absolutely worth the wait. Going in, I knew the premise and had read a good number of reviews, but I still didn’t really know what to expect, but that kind of goes with the territory. If you told me Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman were making a movie about a guy who waters his lawn, I’d still go in not knowing what to expect.

Nicholas Cage gives a performance that reminds you that he can actually be a decent actor with real depth, when he’s not tossing off asinine lines like, “You should have put the bunny back in the box!” and whatnot. He gives an excellent performance as both the schlubby and neurotic Charles and the vacantly chipper Donald.

A lot of people have taken issue with the film’s climax, like it was a cop-out and let down. I think it comes down to trust – do you give Jonze and Kaufman the benefit of the doubt? Was it the desperate final act of a writer who had genuinely run out of ideas or a very deliberate tongue-in-cheek construct to show how silly and unsatisfying conventional Hollywood devices could be? A little of both, I think. And if you’ve bought into the premise of the film to this point, you’ll understand that the final act plays an absolutely essential symbolic role in the character development of the protagonist.

This little review has (appropriately enough) taken an extraordinary amount of time to write and re-write, and I’m still not really happy with it… Adaptation is rich, complex, narcissistic, wildly funny and utterly original, and highly recommended.

np – Velocity Girl / !Simpatico!

Tuesday, December 31st, 2002

Geek

Watched the extended version of Fellowship Of The Ring tonight. Actually, I watched the first part last night, and the second part tonight. I’ve seen it twice already, but needed to see the additional footage… For the most part, it definitely enhanced the film and it’s a pity it was cut from the theatrical version. Some of the footage wasn’t missed, like the extra scenes in the Shire, but the additional material in Rivendell and Lothlorian would definitely have helped explain some of the stuff we saw in The Two Towers and probably will in Return Of The King as well. The extra exposition also helped round out Boromir’s character and gave him extra depth as a tragic figure. Again – a pity, but it’s a good bet that most people who’d care about such details will see the extended versions anyway.

It seems that one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to read more comic books. Once again taking advantage of Hairy Tarantula’s Boxing Week sale, I grabbed another stack of graphic novels (since they’re the trade paperbacks, I can call the graphic novels and not comic books! Though they are comic books…). More of the Marvel Ultimate stuff – this time the first Ultimate X-Men collection, the first Ultimate Spider-Man collection and the JLA : Earth 2 paperback.

While I enjoyed the Ultimate X-Men and Spider-Mans, they didn’t impress me the way that The Ultimates did, which is funny because I was never an Avengers guy back in the day. Part of the problem, at least with the Spidey, was that it retold the basic origin for the umpteenth time though with some material taken from the movie version. It wasn’t as sophisticated or engrossing as The Ultimates. Sorry Vic and Kevin, but I’m not getting the Brian Michael Bendis worship angle. X-Men was better, though again, I’m biased towards mutant titles anyway. I will be picking up the other Ultimate X-Men collections… can’t necessarily say the same for the Spidey. I am definitely a fan of the Ultimate universe concept – taking the classic characters, stripping them of the 30-odd years of back story and continuity, and starting from scratch in the modern day with a very capable creative team behind it all. I just hope they keep things small, tight and mangeable and avoid the money-grabbing title sprawl that drove me out of comics years ago.

The JLA : Earth 2 is courtesy of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. I’ve really liked their work on New X-Men, so I was pretty keen to see their take on the JLA. It’s classic Morrison… meaning I’m gonna have to read it a few more times to figure out exactly what went on. Some things never change.

np – The Soft Boys / Underwater Moonlight

Monday, December 30th, 2002

What Will You Do When Your Suntan Fades?

Sad news from the Beulah camp – while they are set to begin recording their new album in Februrary (yay!), they’ve also declared that it will be their last. I guess they’re tired of the rock’n’roll lifestyle, and after this album and the ensuing tour, they’re calling it a day. Very disappointed…

Still working on my little review for Adaptation – how apropos.

Thanks to Azra for the Christmas cookies and the super-cool vinyl CD-Rs. Pity I don’t have a burner… soon, though.

np – Sleater-Kinney / One Beat

Sunday, December 29th, 2002

Ashes Of American Flags

So I get an email today from Garry about my year-end Best Of list, and to explain what made Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot so interesting to me. I gave it a fair bit of though, and elected to make it a blog entry instead of just an email reply.

First off, I’ve been a Wilco fan for about seven years now, since A.M.. I’ve been delighted to watch them evolve from the fairly straight alt.country pop band they were back then to their current status as arguably one of the best bands in the world (my biased opinion, but I’m certainly not alone in that estimation). Some have compared Wilco in 2002 to Radiohead in 1997, circa OK Computer – that is, a band at the peak of their creative powers. The point of this is that I have followed Wilco through their evolution and trust in their creative muse no matter where it might take them. They’re preaching to the choir.

However, with the media hoopla surrounding the release of YHF and all the accompanying dramatics and the appearance of the album at the tops of so many year-end lists, there’s a lot of people coming to the record with an attitude of, “Prove to me why you’re so great”. This is absolutely fair – Lord knows I approach most hyped-up bands I’m not familiar with in the same way. And in this sense, I feel for anyone who’d play YHF without knowing what to expect. This is not an accessible record, at least not on first listen. The songs are stripped down and skeletal, there’s almost no polish here at all. It’s not mixed like a convetional pop record – vocals are either buried or uncomfortably dry and upfront. There’s a pervasive sense of bleakness and heartache throughout the record, echoed in the music, lyrics, production… and it’ll either grab you by the heartstrings and never let go, or it won’t. Simple as that.

Beyond just the record, there were some additional circumstances that made YHF so special for me.

1) Walking down the southbound subway platform at Bloor Station just as a train had unloaded it’s human cargo during rush hour, the outro of “Poor Places” on the headphones. I was walking against traffic, watching the sea of commuters break around me and reassemble in my wake, the steady crescendo of noise and static in my ears, the detached voice intoning, “Yankee… Hotel… Foxtrot…” A moment of transcendence, a moment of clarity. Just a moment. I think of it every time I hear the song.

2) October 1, 2001, The Phoenix Concert Hall – barely three weeks after the attacks on New York City. The shock of it all still hasn’t worn off. I’ve had tickets to this show for probably over a month, and it thankfully hasn’t been cancelled as I’d expected it to… concerns about travelling, et cetera. The band had considered it, but elected to hit the road anyway, because what else were they were going to do? I think they’d been officially dropped by Reprise by this point, and had begun streaming the album for free off their website for a while now. I had a copy on mp3 since August or so.

Without getting into a full review of the show more than a year after the fact, I will detail the two moments that are burned into my cerebral cortex. First, about halfway through the set. “Ashes Of American Flags”. The title alone has an added poignancy now, but from the moment Jeff Tweedy plays that twisted, aching guitar riff, there was just an indescribable sense of release and catharsis. The desolation and just pure sadness conveyed during the reading of that song, I still can’t put into words. The closing solo, which was little more than Tweedy, eyes closed, spraying bursts of fuzzed-out noise, articulated how I’d been feeling for almost a month since I watched the Trade Center collapse on television. It was moments like that that remind me just how powerful music can be. The uniqueness of this was evidenced at their show this past April at Convocation Hall. “Ashes” was done on acoustic and while excellent, just didn’t send the same chills down my spine. Maybe that wound was just closed.

The second moment in the show was during the second or third encore – I don’t recall exactly – when they broke out Woody Guthrie’s “California Stars”, from the Mermaid Avenue album, and brought local boy and former Wilco sideman Bob Egan on stage to play guitar. If “Ashes” was the agony, then “California Stars” was the ecstasy – it was ebullient, healing, redeeming. We had been rent asunder but were being put back together. It was an affirmation that we could get back up and continue.

This is what I got out of the record, the music, this ‘year of Wilco’. This is why it’s not only my favorite record of the year, but one of my favorites ever. The records that people remember and treasure are the ones that mark a certain point in their lives, the ones that resonate with the events that made them who they are.

It’s like that old Chinese blessing/curse – “May you live in interesting times”. This has been an interesting year for me, on both sides of the coin, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has been the soundtrack.

np – Wilco / Yankee Hotel Foxtrot