On Feb. 22, 1980, when the United States Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union, Al Michaels famously said, asked, and proclaimed all at once with the words “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” Mr. Michaels summed up the 80s, even before they happened. The 80s lifted America and the world up from a horrendous economy, oil embargos, hostage situations, and bloated, repulsive rock and roll.
2022 is also an Olympic year. The economy is in tatters, cancel culture wants to do away with oil, a virus has been holding the world hostage for years, and bloated, repulsive, Dave Grohl is everywhere.
So maybe, just maybe, John Lurie returning to the screens of people with fine taste everywhere in the form of Painting with John Season 2 will be the equivalent of those words that America’s best sportscaster said at Lake Placid 42 years ago. Maybe.
Consider this: in Douglas Adams’ 1979 novel, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is the answer to the “ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything”. Furthermore, Jackie Robinson wore #42.
Here’s hoping that Lurie can “pull a Michaels” and pull us all out of this cruddy situation.
Driving Home for Christmas might be my favourite Christmas song, even though I don’t drive, don’t have a home to go back to, and most certainly don’t care about Christmas. Anyway, I heard the Chris Rea staple early this year, on The Big Band Show with Glen Woodcock of all places. On top of that, I heard Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses a full 12 days before St. Nick does his thing. It feels like I opened all my presents a couple of weeks early!
“So what can a poor boy do?“1 On one hand, that means there’s nothing left to wait for, so how am I supposed to have a Holly, Jolly Christmas? On the other hand, it frees me up to take a deep dive into Christmas music I can not only tolerate but actually like.
So let’s take a trip and explore a little Christmas music that isn’t dreadful, shall we?
First Stop, Germany: Willkommen und Frohe Weihnachten
Germany is known for lots of great music, there can be no doubt. Kraftwerk immediately springs to mind, of course, but there’s also Bowie’s astounding Berlin Trilogy, and Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life and The Idiot. And of course, The Reeperbahn is where it first came together for The Beatles.
Ja, das ist gut, nein?
So many of today’s Christmas traditions started in Germany, and with an avalanche of great popular music coming out of Germany, there surely there must be some fine Christmas songs by fine German artists, right? Of course, there is!
Here are Deutschland legends Heino and james last serving up a holiday feast of happiness. Prost!
Next up: Memphis and The King
In America, places like Motown, Nashville, and New Orleans are musical Meccas. But The King lived in Memphis, of course, and he recorded many great Christmas songs. Graceland might as well be Jerusalem for many people.
Blue Christmas, It’s Christmas Time Pretty Baby, and Here Comes Santa Claus are all exemplary Elvis. The King wasn’t messing around with deep-fried birds. He did Christmas right! Be sure to check out Elvis’ gospel recordings if you want to do Christmas up all legit-like.
On It’s Christmas Time, Pretty Baby, Elvis sounds as ferocious as The Who at their most explosive, as intense as Dead Kennedys at their peak, and as maniacally focused as The Stones on Paint It Black. This ain’t no Holiday in Cambodia, this is Christmas with The King!
While Berry, Smokey, and the incredible Motown team at Hitsville USA isn’t turning out the hits Henry Ford style anymore, in more recent years two newer Detroit legends have gifted us a couple of fine Christmas covers.
Goober & The Peas – Snoopy’s Christmas
Back in 1992 Goober & The Peas put out an entire Christmas ep. It was beautiful, just like Christmas ought to be. One of the tracks is a heavenly gospel/country ditty entitled Tell The Lord (What Santa’s Done). More appropriate for this line of listening (inquisition?) is their cover of Snoopy’s Christmas. Besides, the late great Ernie Harwell is featured on that gem. So don’t just stand there like a house by the side of the road and watch it go by. Take a listen. Please. For Goob.
Electric Six – The Grinch Thing
And of course the hardest working band in not only the virtual world but also the real one, Electric Six does a marvelous job with a cover of You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch. Electric Six is from Detroit and has seen their city come back from the dead countless times. Electric Six has reason to turn to the Grinch side, but they never do, because tomorrow is always Easter when you live in The D. “They can’t kill Detroit”.
All you Lucy Liu’s, and Cindy-Lou Who’s, you know what to do.
Don’t Be a Grinch – Give It up for Iggy and Big Gretch!
Before we leave The Great Lakes State, and because we talked about Iggy a bit earlier, be sure to check his version of White Christmas. I just discovered it recently, and it is most certainly interesting. Go ahead, click Santa. He likes it!
Maybe for Christmas we can get to see The Godfather of Punk singing a duet of his smash hit Candy with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Across the Pond, Mark E Smith Was Practically Father Christmas
The Fall’s No Christmas for John Quays reminded us that “The X in X-mas is a substitute crucifix for Christ”. The song has been a yuletide staple for decades now, even if some would have all copies thrown on the yuletide log. No matter.
There’s a pretty good chance that none of the above appeals to you. That’s fine, of course, but it’s also great to make as many people happy as possible, especially at this time of year. Towards that end I offer you Jingle Cats!
As Ernie Harwell said in the aforementioned Goober & The Peas song:
(editors note: To skip to the part of this post pertaining to sleep aids and help with insomnia, click here. To read about “Leslieville Lenny” click here)
I went over to Leslieville to meet an old friend for a couple of drinks on Friday. He’d been suffering from terrible insomnia and we both needed the company. For me the commute is about an hour long and covers 11 km. On this trip it involved two buses, a subway train, and a streetcar. The picture above was taken while on a streetcar on Queen Street, just east of Broadview.
The route I take is basically an L, travelling south on Yonge Street and then east on Queen Street. The transfer at Yonge and Queen is at street level, in a concrete canyon that is bordered by the Eaton Centre on the north and The Bay on the south. This picture was taken there:
Before We Get to Ideas for Help with Insomnia
With the scent of cheese, pasta, and chicken fajitas in the air and the Raptors game on the big and numerous TVs, we got down to the business at hand. In addition to sleeping disorders, we also researched what college football game looked most intriguing for the following afternoon.
Just What Is an Aggie, Anyway? And What Does A&M Stand For?
As Canadians, those two questions are pretty sure to be asked whenever anything involving Texas A&M comes up. I can never seem to commit it to memory, so I did a quick Google while my friend was outside enjoying a fine tobacco product. He did the same thing while outside. Along the way I found some mind-blowing stats. There are about 70,000 students who attend Texas A&M, tuition is around $20,000, and the midsize campus is about 1/3 the size of Manhattan.
But to answer those critical questions, here are the answers, straight from the Texas A&M website:
“Agricultural and Mechanical, originally, but today the letters no longer explicitly stand for anything.”
“An Aggie is a student at Texas A&M. In the early 1900s, Texas A&M students were referred to as “Farmers.” The term Aggie began to be used in the 1920s, and in 1949, when the yearbook changed its name from The Longhorn to Aggieland, Aggie became the official student body nickname.”
Sleep Aids! Who’s Got ‘em? Who Needs ‘em?
When we finally got down to business, I didn’t have a good answer for what I use as a sleeping aid. Perhaps therapy helped with my insomnia, perhaps not. I’ve always had trouble sleeping, even as a young child. My sister used to yell at me to go to sleep from her room across the hall.
In college, the person living in the apartment next to me had a supply of Nytol. As I recall Nytol helped me get my Z’s, but I only used it a couple of times, and not since those days. I want to sleep, not kill myself.
I also mentioned that watching reruns of television shows looped helped me sleep. Familiar voices and all that. As my dad used to say, “TV is the greatest sleeping pill ever invented“.
Reading can also work on occasion, but after a few nights of no sleep, reading isn’t really someone one is capable of at any level. However, if you are in the mood for reading, there’s a recent article in the NY Times that may interest you entitled Did Covid Change How We Dream? It takes about an hour to read, so grab a blankie…
After Sleeping on It…
I had a couple of other ideas and thoughts for my sleep-deprived comrade:
Carb Coma? I used to keep a pot of rice in the fridge. Not for a sleep aid, but for a snack. I thought it might be healthier than junk food, and equally as quick. I take a little out of the pot, nuke it for a minute, and blammo! Just brown rice and margarine, and often that puts me out. I’ve also used oatmeal, but rice is much more pleasant.
Herbal Tea? In later years of college I would complain to Michelle that I couldn’t sleep and that I need a bottle of sleeping pills. She’d shake her fist at me and say “I’ve got your bottle of sleeping pills right here!”She was joking, of course, and would often brew me a cup of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea. There are lots of varieties of herbal teas and even store brands out there. I still use herbal tea as a sleep aide from time to time.
Melatonin Supplements? Melatonin is a hormone that is made by your brain. It helps to regulate sleep, in that your brain makes produces more melatonin when it is dark, and less when it is light. It’s basically your brain synchronizing your wake/sleep patterns with the sun. Melatonin supplements are available over-the-counter in Canada and the US.
It’s Getting Late, so until next Time…
On the way home from Leslieville there was a man on the streetcar walking up and down the aisle trying to sell uncooked roasts. He had them cradled inside his jacket and would be certain to make eye contact with whoever he offered them to. His voice was soft, as if he were pleading. “Half price?” Maybe he had a child who planning on attending Texas A&M in the fall and this was a side-hustle to work up tuition.
The beef salesman reminded me of a hilarious character from the old TV show Good Times named Lenny. Lenny wore a full-length fur coat and would open it to show off his wares, everything from electronics to medical supplies. His sales pitch was always in the form of a rhyme. With a hustle like that he must have ended up owning Chicago!
See Lenny in action for yourself here:
“Leslieville Lenny” had me remembering other unusual purchasing opportunities I had seen, and that was going to be the subject of this post. Oh well, maybe next time.
PS The Raptors dropped a close one at home.
PPS Texas A&M defeated Auburn. Elsewhere, the #3 ranked Michigan State Spartans were upset by unseeded Purdue Boilermakers. Before the MSU game, Purdue had also defeated the IowaHawkeyes, who were ranked #2 at the time.
Next week Purdue is in Columbus to take on the #6 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, so Boiler Up!
Beloved American Troubadour Dick Valentine often gifts music lovers around the world with cover versions of songs we know and love. Other times he puts his special spin on songs we don’t know and don’t love, introducing us to new ditties. That’s an old American trick first made famous by Will Rogers : “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.”i
Valentine’s version is definitely his own, but it shares the same intrinsic, smoldering intensity that Chapman’s original has . Both are so heartfelt and authentic that they refused to be ignored, so honest that they break your heart. You need to know both, trust me.
As songs, these two versions of Fast Car transport the listener to somewhere else, accomplishing in the mind what the lyrics desire so much. A good blues song will transport you back to the Mississippi Delta, whether you have ever been there or not. Chapman sped us away from problematic childhoods, while Valentine revisits those places, reminding us of how lucky we are now. Whatever the opposite of tearing down a statue is, he is doing that with his cover of Fast Car.
Talkin’ Bout a Revolution (sounds like a whisper)
Chapman’s original came out in 1988 and was a massive hit around the world. The lyrics are about young people getting away from a situation that is somewhat less than ideal. This ain’t Hollywood, as they say, and Chapman’s earnestness speaks to all good people. More so the young, because they are the ones who dream. They dream of getting to Hollywood, or at least escaping poverty, broken families, and abuse. They dream of finding peace.
Bring the Noise?
Far too many songs that are massive are shrill, contrived, and commercial. Hearing them is as painful as being force fed a jagged little pill. Fast Car is calm, thoughtful, and personal. 1988 was a noisy year, not unlike 2020. Black men like Jesse Jackson, Spike Lee, Michael Jordan, and Public Enemy were all bringing good noise. It took a nation of millions to hold them back. At the same time, a Black woman named Tracy Chapman was offering quiet, peace, and solace. She sold millions of records in many nations.
Gonna drive past the Stop ‘n’ Shop
As frontman for Electric Six, one might expect Mr. Valentine to cover Jonathan Richman’s classic Roadrunner before something by Ms. Chapman. After all, Roadrunner has a very similar theme as Fast Car: driving around and forgetting one’s worries and cares, at least temporarily. Richman’s song is upbeat though, a party song you turn up to 11 on Friday night and is likely on the same Spotify lists as Gay Bar.
It Isn’t Ironic.
A white man singing a black woman’s song has a lot of opportunities to go wrong and can easily be a recipe for disaster. Sung by Dick Valentine, we are reminded of how beautiful and universal Chapman’s song is. His rendition is authentic, without humour or irony, and is bound to hit you in that place we call the heart.
Again, we owe a great many thanks to Mr. Valentine.
Enough News for Huey Lewis
Valentine did indeed “nail it”, and hearing his version also took me back to how I heard Tracy Chapman’s album for the first time, way back in ’88. There was no internet back then, so every day I would go to the convenience store and exchange 20 hard-won cents for a copy of either The Detroit News or the Free Press, whichever I was in the mood for. I’d also visit Giglio’s Market on Wednesdays to pick up a copy of Metro Times.
Man, I got around before Al Gore invented the internet!
The convenience store where I scored my news fix was not the same one that Chapman wrote about in Fast Car, but it did rent CDs. So, after reading so many glowing reviews about her first album, I decided to rent it. I also checked out a couple of albums by the NYC noise band Sonic Youth and hid Chapman’s album between EVOL and Sister.
It was the musical equivalent of hiding Playboy inside of something like Field & Stream. I could not be seen in public cavorting with the mainstream!
And Don’t Forget the JOA!
Around the same time as Fast Car came out, The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press entered upon a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA). The newspapers agreed to share printing facilities but their editorial departments would remain separate. Certainly, the time is nigh for a Fast Car JOA between Dick Valentine and Tracy Chapman.
No Escape from Ohio?
One last thing I would like to point out is that Tracy Chapman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. One has to think that Fast Car was about getting out of the Buckeye State. Also, an important and popular part of the Electric Six canon is the song Escape from Ohio. Perhaps Dick Valentine covering Tracy Chapman was always part of some Divine Plan.
So now, ladies and gentlemen, here’s Dick Valentine baring his soul with his version of Tracy Chapman’s seminal blues song, Fast Car:
“THERE ARE NO STRANGERS HERE, only friends you haven’t met yet” is a quote attributed to a great many people. Who you think said it first is dependent on where you grew up, I suppose, and a variety of other factors, such as social status, class, race, etc. Some say Will Rogers, some say William Butler Yeats, some say some dingaling on Twitter. Getting to its origin is akin to answering the musical question “Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?”
My friend Seamus and I made plans to meet on the last Saturday of July in 2021 to tilt a couple of drink and make actual human contact before the next wave locks us down again. Seamus had discovered a very promising looking location called Eulalie’s Corner Store on Gerrard Street in Toronto’s Little India.
It’s a fantastic part of town officially known as Gerrard India Bazaar and “the largest main street marketplace of South Asian goods and services in North America”.
As luck would have it, a couple of “happy little accidents” happened. Seamus was running a little late, and I was a little early. Hello discovering opportunity!
Fun, Inviting, and Beautiful Patios!
There’s an amazing atmosphere in Gerrard India Bazaar, at once happy, inviting, hopeful, and fun. It immediately felt like home when I stepped off the 506 Streetcar at Gerrard and Coxwell. I was having a GREAT time even before spending any money, and I also noticed lots of parking, so get over there ASAP.
AMAZING Street Art!
Take a little trip…
Too much colour?
Not enough colour?
How about a portrait?
Next time visit Gerrard India Bazaar I will be sampling some of the many tempting street food options. See you then.
On July 10, the morning of my second shot, I was listening to The Jam’s live album Dig the New Breed before heading downtown for my 2nd jab. I didn’t choose The Jam so much as it sought me out. Music does that. Thank you, music.
Mingus Music kept me company during the lockdown, for instance. Sue and Charles came over and made themselves at home, and I am glad they did. Thanks again, music.
Take the Last Train to Jabs-ville
Riding the train downtown for maybe the 4th time in 2 years is a trip. It seems like we’re all meeker now, afraid, riding reluctantly. Aside from the occasional dingbat. Of course, there is a Barbie made up like she’s going to The Club and wearing a plastic mask that looks like a cross between Jacques Plante’s facial adornments and Hannibal Lecter’s. Of course there is. Cockroaches and Princesses will be around to keep Keith Richards company in the post-apocalyptic world, my friends.
The Early Bird Gets the Art
I was intentionally early so I hobbled down to where the jabs were being administered (basically the Dome) from St. Andrew Subway Station. This allowed for a scenic and leisurely walk and I was able to take in some of the visual delights offered by Toronto’s Financial District.
Instead of music choosing me, it was Russell Jacques’s sculpture Pas de Trois that sought me out as I strolled by University and Wellington. Completed in 1984, Pas de Trois lunged out and grabbed me by the throat, insisting that I take in its beauty and magnificence, if only for a moment. And I’m glad it did, too.
I didn’t Google at the time, but the words “Pas de Trois” kinda looked like the word “Detroit” to me. That made perfect sense, since one of the big reasons for me to get vaccinated was so that I could cross the border and visit friends in Detroit. (Pas de Trois is actually a ballet term meaning “three dancers”.)Thank you, sculpture.
Cat Scratch Fever?
Music grabbed me again while I was going through 19 versions of Checkpoint Covid. This time it was Cat Stevens, soothing me with his classic Moonshadow. Yes indeed, nipped by “the Cat”. The lyrics were very apropos.
Yes, I’m being followed by a moonshadow Moonshadow, moonshadow Leaping and hopping on a moonshadow Moonshadow, moonshadow
And if I ever lose my legs I won’t moan, and I won’t beg Oh, if I ever lose my legs Oh, if, I won’t have to walk no more
– Cat Stevens, throwing some moonshade on the situation
Face Masks Kill Comedy
The jab process itself is about what you would expect. If you are reading this, you likely know what I mean. If you don’t know, find out and get the jab.
What I do want to report though is that it is bloody hard to tell jokes with everyone in a mask. One of the people asked me if I was experiencing any symptoms on a list, things such as vomiting, feeling hot and sweaty…
Of course, I had to say “Only when I think of Justin Trudeau”, and of course I had to repeat it three times because we were both wearing masks.
The Great Escape
Upon exiting the convention centre after doing the jibby jabby, I walked down the ramp that connects the Dome to Front Street. I’ve been up and down it countless times before but never noticed the wavey structure before. I like it, I like it a lot. (It’s the Dodge Veg-o-matic of public art!).
It’s a billboard for the Aquarium, and it reminds me of the Oculus in NYC. In my mind, it represents waves, ebbs and flows, life, aquatic and otherwise.
The red and white eyesore of a grid across the street is the government’s propaganda building. In my mind, it represents confining, rigidity, unimaginative, restrictive, and boxed in, just to name a few.
King Street from John to Yonge
I walked north on John from the Dome King Street, and just stood there for a good while taking it all in. The fabulous restaurants to the west. Fabulous Queen Street and The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern to the north. Fabulous The Princess of Wales Theatre to the east. Fabulous TIFF central right across the street. It was all Ab Fab!
This Yonge and King Urban Oasis Has Come a Long Way (Baby)!
I grew up in a small, very homogenous burb that was stuck in the ‘50s (and from what i gather, hasn’t changed). When I dreamed of Big Cities, this is the sort of thing I thunked of. There’s bits and pieces of those dreams in Toronto, and this urban oasis at Yonge and King is a fine example.
Well, Mark Seabrook, you’ve done it again. A simple Facebook post of yours has inspired me to create another blog post. I know in the past we have discussed vinyl topics such as locked grooves and Porky Prime Cuts, but those are niche conversations that the public at large has no real interest in.
The post in question raises matters of great social and political import that concern a great many citizens.
The issue: The issue: Far too many people are listening to music in the incorrect order when they choose to listen using vinyl records. For too long certain elements of the vinyl record listening public has not been following generally accepted guidelines when it comes to listening to audio recordings through the medium of grooved discs.
The illustration above clearly demonstrates the frustrations felt by many artists when listeners interact with their art in an unacceptable and inappropriate manner.
Towards a more just vinyl experience
Here is a 9-point plan that The Government plans to introduce on how to create a better, more inclusive, sustainable, and clear record listening experience for all, at least insofar as it relates to turning over those groovy discs during the listening experience.
A modest sonic proposal: The Government can encourage a better user experience for all citizens and improved listening experience for all by implementing the following 9-point action plan. It is a simple and much needed plan that will further enhance the listening enjoyment for all who enjoy consuming their music and other recordings via the vinyl medium.
It is also a holistic plan that takes into consideration various systemic issues within the domain of vinyl recordings, addresses them, and offers long-term solutions.
A 9-point Vinyl Reckoning Plan (9-VRP)
~Drop the needle and give it a listen~
Setup a Crown Corporation to study the flipping of the sides, so as to allow clarity and transparency, consult with all affected parties including turntable manufactures, promise to support the domestic record producing industries with more studies and significant tax incentives;
Implement a Side Flipping Tax that will punish those who play Side 2 first. There needs to be a price on improper listening (and Improper Dancing);
Bansingle-use cellophane wrapping on the manufacturing processes of new vinyl recordings that include music and/or spoken word material;
Mandate that the pulp used to manufacture record album jackets is ethicallysourced from sustainablewood, and that the manufacturing facilities of said record album jackets achieve carbon neutrality by the year 20331/3;
Enactlawsthat ensure the spoken word and/or music has a high percentage of domestic value and is performed by domestic artists;
Side Two/Côté Deux
6) Legislate teachers to include in their curriculum important messaging about why it is important to be mindful of Side Flipping, while at the same time being empathetic with those who are triggered by a playing of sides that do not respect the intentions of the musicians, speakers, and other people who were involved in the production of the vinyl recording and have deep, real, and significant emotional attachments to their artistic artefacts;
7) Legislate a National Day of Vinyl Reckoning for those who have been affected by the playing of sides that goes against societal and artistic norms;
8) Enact mindful legislation that will ensure that instructions for the flipping of record albums are abundantly clear, free of gender-specific pronouns, and in both official languages;
9) Issue a formal apology, request that the RIAA do the same.
Comment le gouvernement gérerait la merde:
1) Mettre en place une société d’État pour étudier le retournement des côtés, afin de permettre la clarté et la transparence, consulter toutes les parties concernées, y compris les fabricants de platines, promettre de soutenir les industries nationales de production de disques avec plus d’études et des incitations fiscales importantes;
2) Recommander la mise en œuvre d’une taxede retournement latéral qui punira ceux qui jouent en premier à Side 2. Il doit y avoir un prix sur une mauvaise écoute (ET une mauvaise danse!);
3)Interdire les emballages en cellophane à usage unique sur la fabrication de nouveaux enregistrements vinyles enrobés de papier contenant de la musique et/ou des créations orales;
4) Mandater que la pâte utilisée pour fabriquer les pochettes d’albums de disques provient de bois durable de manière éthique et que les installations de fabrication desdites pochettes d’albums de disques atteignent la neutralité carbone d’ici l’année 20331/3;
5) Adopter des lois garantissantque la parole et/ou la musique ont un pourcentage élevé de valeur nationale et sont interprétées par des artistes nationaux;
6) Légiférer les enseignants pour qu’ils incluent dans leur programme des messages importants expliquant pourquoi il est important de garder à l’esprit le retournement de côté tout en faisant preuve d’empathie envers ceux qui sont déclenchés par un jeu de côtés qui ne respecte pas les intentions des musiciens, des orateurs et des d’autres personnes qui ont participé à la production de l’enregistrement vinyle et qui ont des attachements émotionnels profonds, réels et significatifs à leurs artefacts artistiques;
7) Légiférer sur une Journée nationale du calcul du vinyle pour ceux qui ont été touchés par le jeu des côtés qui va à l’encontre des normes sociétales et artistiques ;
8) Permettre une législation qui garantira que les instructions pour le retournement des albums de disques soient parfaitement claires, exemptes de pronoms sexospécifiques et dans les deux langues officielles;
9) Présentez des excuses formelles, demandez à la (Syndicat national de l’édition phonographique (SNEP) de faire de même.
Every once in a while, the Facebook algorithm tosses us a bone so worthwhile that we punt “uninstall app” down the road another few months. This morning was one of those times.
I was fed a memory from 8 years ago. It was an image I took of a piece of plywood being used as part of a temporary wall at a construction site. Painted on the plywood was a Basquiat-style image, the type that often intrigues me.
In the image the plywood has a “mature” look to it and clearly gets reused (insert applause for one of “the 3 Rs here). The wood is weathered, no doubt has “seen things”, and served many purposes throughout its life. Who knows what other functions it has performed, and who knows where it has been?
“This art went on tour, like Peter Frampton, eh?”**
But perhaps even more importantly, by being painted on reusable construction site materials, the art enjoys a much larger audience than one that is painted on a building in an alley. And certainly, its audience is much more varied, widespread, and diverse, and larger than it would be if it were “static”, painted on a more permanent structure. It becomes “art about town”.
This Is Where the Brain Pain Starts
One of the most disposable things i can think of is a soup can, and yet Andy Warhol made eternal art by simply reproducing images of them. Perhaps that was his intention. As a window dresser, his art would have a similar lifespan as that of a graffiti artist, changing with the seasons, at best.
In the digital, Covid age, you might as well say “tossed them out like yesterday’s soup cans”, because when was the last time you even saw a physical version of a newspaper?
The artists who create graffiti put a LOT of time and effort into their street art, and yet their art has the life expectancy of a can of beans. It must be frustrating, seeing their creations come and go so quickly, and not being seen by the audience it deserves. Unless, of course, you paint a piece of plywood that is used on various construction sites.
Unit 102, Where Are You?
The location where I captured the image is the eastern end of Milky Way, an alley just south of Queen Street. It runs from Dufferin in the east to Cowan in the west, and is not unlike Graffiti Alley, “Toronto’s most unexpected tourist attraction”.
I would have been there to review a play at the Unit 102 Theatre, a place which I loved a lot. It was tiny, operated by hungry, committed, and talented young people who staged interesting plays. It had a vibe that must have been similar to downtown NYC when it was at its zenith in the late 70s/early 80s.
To make my case about Unit 102 Theatre being as vibrant as NYC, I offer the following as “exhibit A”. I once saw a play there that featured one-time Blue Rodeo keyboardist and 6-time Juno winner Bob Wiseman playing accordion “matter-of-factly” in the lobby. The play was called Smother and you can read more about it here.
Here’s links to 3 more plays I reviewed at Unit 102 Theatre. BIG THANKS for everyone there for what they accomplished and shared:
Sometimes it is easier to just wear the tinfoil hat though…
I don’t know, I just got my first Covid shot, so maybe the newly implanted tracking device in my body is working in cahoots with the Facebook algorithm…
* “My brain hurts a lot” is a lyric in David Bowie’s song Five Years
** Somewhere on the Bob and Doug McKenzie album The Great White North Canada’s Finest talk about “going on the road like Peter Frampton” and taking “50,000 lbs. of back bacon” with them. I can not help but think is an unconscious reference to the Irish folk song The Irish Rover and of course the 8× Platinum album Frampton Comes Alive!
My good friend Mark Seabrook from Melbourne, Australia is a man of many talents. One of them is being an acclaimed artist. His award-winning work has been on display in many galleries. You can check out his Art Slightly Left of Centre online, and to conjure the chutzpah of Mr. T, “I pity the fool who doesn’t.”
Mark also knows the value of play, quizzes, and tomfoolery. So as a father, he refuses to cut his kids’ sandwiches in the usual way. Straight, or diagonal? Pshaw, so Passe! Mark doesn’t quite go “Full Escher” on the lunch front, but his culinary efforts are extraordinary, nonetheless. Here’s what his latest Sandwich Sensation looks like:
My Rorschach Reading:
Being a playful sort myself, here is what went through my “mind” upon first seeing today’s lunch:
2) A “sandwich de sac“. Good luck clearing the snow on that dead-end street in the NW quadrant, mate. Even urban planning is upside down and backward Down Under!
Well, if they absolutely insist on building the wall…
Apparently creative sandwich slicing is an entire subculture, and it may or may not be headed toward the southern US border. So, if they insist on building that wall, I say build it so it resembles one of Mark’s sandwiches. There seems to already be efforts on that front, and artists may or may not have been mobilized. The proof is in the guacamole, as can be seen here:
You can see the resemblance to a sandwich, right? The seesaw slicing through the wall like a knife slicing through bread, cultures interlocking regardless of political philosophies, peanut butter and jam combining and becoming better once they do…
Enough of this sitting on the fence
I requested Mark create an art installation of his sandwich masterpieces, putting them on display in a Warholian soup can inspired installation. He responded with crickets. That broke my heart, making me feel like half my sandwich was soggy, the other half stale. A bit like the current state of what passes for political discourse these days, and a total #FAIL as the kids used to say.
This monkey gone to heaven?
Not able to accept “LOL, get bent” as an answer, I decided to conjure some old Peter Gabriel spirit, defiantly shouting “Don’t you monkey with the monkey” to the world wide void. I’m in a conjuring mood today (see above), and like Mark, I’m a monkey man. Seeing his sandwich today was the “lemon squeeze” that triggered all this monkey business.
In full-on monkey mode, I took Mark’s picture and altered it using Word and IrfanView, then putting the images together as a collage using the online tool befunky. Inspiration for making a collage came from The Doors of London, one of the prints that I recall hanging in my doctor’s office when I was young. (Odd they gave me a doctor and not a vet, with all this monkeying around, come to think of it.)
The Doors of London was one of those prints that were omnipresent in the 70s. You’d see it in real life and then on the TV show Three’s Company. To conjure John Lennon, “most peculiar, mama, roll!”. Oh yes, there goes that conjuring machine again…
OK, now on to the bit about Alzheimer’s…
As you may or may not recall, the title of this post is Can Vegemite Prevent Alzheimer’s? Again, see above. Here’s how that works:
Mark is an Australian, a vegetarian, and an artist. He refuses to cut his kids’ VEGEMITE sandwiches with any form of orthodoxy whatsoever. I believe that has been proven without a doubt. (again, see above.)
Keeping one’s mind active through play and games can offset the developmentof Alzheimer’s. Mark does this by including play when packing up his kids’ lunches.
1 I conjured up the late, great Mark E. Smith when I mentioned Eat Y’Self Fitter. By my counts, Mark E. Smith sings the word “conjured” 4 times in the song. I lost count of how many times I used conjured, or a derivative of conjured, in this post. *This just in from The Annotated Fall: “Eat Yourself Fitter” is a slogan used to sell Kellogg’s All-Bran breakfast cereal. This particular ad campaign seems to have begun sometime prior to 1982: “The TV campaign for All-Bran, in area test at the time, went national from July 1982″ (Twenty Advertising Case Histories, second series, edited by Charles Channon, Cassell, 1989.” View the commercial here.
“Do you like good music?” is a question that resonates more than 50 years after Sam Cooke, Arthur Conley, and Otis Redding first asked it in 1967. “Yeah, Yeah!”, has always been my unequivocal answer, but like natural resources, it seems rarer and rarer to find these days. So, I must continue my Covid thank you series with a heartfelt Thank You to my friend James Cheney for introducing me to the band Dry Cleaning.
From South London to Midtown Toronto via East Lansing
Cheney heard Dry Cleaning’s song Scratchard Lanyard somewhere within earshot of Michigan State University’s student radio station WDBM IMPACT 88.9 and sent me a link, along with the heads-up:
“The band members may or may not have The Fall in their music library.”
Even with all their baggage, The Fall was ground-breaking and essential. There was always a beat, at times danceable, at times enough to make you feel like you were hungover. Mark and crew made you feel something but never like you we being ripped off by some corporate suck-ups. It was fun, and it was art.
The rise again of The Fall?
Singer and lyricist Florence Shaw reminds me of Mark E. Smith, not only in terms of delivery but also lyrics themselves, and her stage presence. In terms of presence, she seems like she’d rather be any other place on earth rather than fronting a band, while at the same time knowing she is exactly where she is supposed to be, and would die if she wasn’t delivering her lyrics with Dry Cleaning.
I suspect William S. Burroughs would be on board
In a KEXP interview, Shaw says her lyrics are snippets of conversations she has overheard over the years while on the bus, eating chips, popping over to The Rovers for a pint, or whatever it is they do in South London. That reminds me of William Burroughs’ writing, of connecting fragments of reality and creating something that is very intimately your own, but also something universal. We’re all on the same bus, but we all have our own memories to filter out what we see through our own window.
In pictures, Burroughs is almost always smartly dressed, as if his 3-piece suit was fresh from a mythical dry cleaner on The Bowery. He had a very dry delivery, too, and his topics of discussion were often centered around street scat, something dry cleaning removes. Maybe there is a connection, but likely I am nuts, just like you. Image though: William Burroughs, on a bus, carrying his dry cleaning.
We are the Mods, We are the Mods, we are… …Dry Cleaning!
There’s a certain minimalism inherent in the Dry Cleaning sound that reminds me a bit of Sleaford Mods which I find extremely interesting. It makes me think that maybe there is something important happening in England in terms of music again, something I find so direly lacking in current Canadian and American music. Live in-studio performances and interviews with both bands on KEXP can be found on YouTube, and when you listen to the artists respond to questions, the most refreshing part is that they seem like actual human beings.
There’s adults in the room/studio
The members of Dry Cleaning (Shaw, guitarist Tom Dowse, bassist Lewis Maynard, and drummer Nick Buxton) all come across as thoughtful adults. They’re not idiot rock stars and they’re not idiots anxious to sell their soul, and maybe even give up their #hashtagging to become rock stars. I find it very refreshing that these are actual people, people I might be able to have a conversation with beyond a nod. They don’t seem anxious to become heroin junkies for the sake of one good taste, which is essentially what most North American bands seem to crave.
Give Dry Cleaning a shot
Dry Cleaning has that same “feel” for me, and that is most certainly a good thing, not unlike the feeling of getting a COVID-19 shot. Yes, there IS hope.