Interview – Doug McCombs of Tortoise June 3, 2010

This article originally appeared in Beatroute Magazine. Big thanks to Doug who found time in their insane touring schedule to answer questions he has likely heard many times before. Such things happen with longevity.


The problem with inventing a genre is that no one will ever let you forget it. Chicago post-rockers Tortoise are no strangers to this phenomenon, and whether they agree with such acclamations or not, they have come to define a band that made it’s mark consciously trying to defy definitions. “Being the reluctant poster child for “post rock” has it’s drawbacks” says Doug McCombs. Their ability to take the familiar component pieces or rock and turn them into startling Frankenstein monsters of tight instrumentation and seemingly loose, improvised composition earned them founder status in a movement that would influence a countless number of newcomers.

This status as pioneers comes with it’s own challenges, as expectations are often higher for the band internally and externally. “We are often trying to defy expectations, but it’s mostly to do with our own expectations” says McCombs. He is, however, cognisant of the effects those expectations have on their audience at large, remarking that “the steps forward that we take in our approach to making music are often imperceptible to people who are looking for something negative to say about us.”

In operation since the early 1990’s, Tortoise has moved in countless directions. Such longevity is usually associated with a thinning of options and the suffering of creativity, but McCombs is optimistic about Tortoise’s chances to continue innovating. “The longer we stay a band the more often we hit creative blocks. We usually try to push through them by trying experiments. Either that or take a break. We don’t really feel any pressure to produce product although it might help if we did”. The band’s output is characterized by long gaps between LP’s, something that McCombs admits the group is not wholly in favor of. “As a band we’re pretty active all the time, but it occurred to us that the 5 years between our last album and this one might have been a little too long”.

A single band has proved simply too little for the output of Tortoise members, with McCombs and bandmate John McEntire combining for more than a dozen projects between them, including The Sea and Cake, Brokeback and Gastr Del Sol. The brackish between the projects is kept to a minimum, however, McCombs commenting that “Choosing which songs go to which band often comes down to which band we’re concentrating on at the time. If TRTS is working on an album then I’ll give whatever I’m working on to TRTS”. The creative process Tortoise takes part in is unique from the others though. “The best TRTS songs often start with very small unfinished ideas” he says, adding “if a song is too finished or if I have a concrete idea of how it should go then I’ll probably save it for another band”.

Tortoise seems like a band destined to reform after a lengthy hiatus, but McCombs sees no practicality in this trend. “I think we all feel that there is something special about the way we work together, special enough that we think we can do it for a long time”. Their legend only growing and evolving, McCombs speaks with a kind of confidence fans of most bands could only hope for, saying “monetary concerns aside, there seems to be no reason to stop making records.” It seems for now, Tortoise is here to stay.

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Sunrise, Fucking Sunset: The Rise and Endless Fall of Vancouver Punk May 31, 2010

This article originally appeared in The Peak. I originally wanted to do this big meshed narrative about the cyclic nature of how these scenes rise and fall, but I ended up just doing a mash-up interview and review of the two films. I’m not sure I did them justice, so let me reiterate: these are two as important films on the local culture of Vancouver as you will ever find, and you should seek them out.

Two punk documentaries premiered at the DOXA Documentary Festival this year. One speaks to the rise of the Vancouver punk machine, the other documents the remains of a scene with nowhere to call their own. Together, they paint a portrait of alternative music in Vancouver past and present, its enslavement to the government, and the seeming desire to see it stamped out altogether. Despite this, their existence signals the continuing resilience of the culture and are both fascinating looks at our shared history and future.


He’s 20 if he’s a day. An impossibly young looking Joe Shithead smokes a cigarette in Stanley Park, readying himself for the Anti-Canada Day show at Prospect Point. He’s speaking almost over the journalist’s microphone, regarding it like so many mosquitoes. He’s talking about the state of music in Vancouver at the start of Susanne Tabata’s punk documentary Bloodied But Unbowed, dismayed that it has become mostly about “Fleetwood Mac and disco.”

“We can’t play because we’re punks. Because this isn’t a free country,” he says. They’re waiting to see if the show will even happen, their permits having been denied, and are lobbying a Christian picnic group to lend them theirs. It’s a bizarre introduction to a document of an equally bizarre time for Lower Mainland music, a scene born in a regional backwater of an international backwater and fueled by politics, youth, and noise.

Tabata herself is tired. After the world premiere screening of Bloodied But Unbowed to a capacity crowd (and a long after-party) that was beset by technical issues, you can hear the fatigue in her voice. A veteran of CiTR and the alternative and no-holds barred Nite Dreems program, Tabata was wading in the thick of the Vancouver punk scene in its heyday. Her newest film pays homage to a place and time that was “honest and raw,” or as Tabata puts it, a time of “spontaneous creativity and camaraderie without bitter rivalry.”

Mary Jo Kopechne of The Modernettes stayed the night after reuniting with friends long gone. “It was overwhelming. I’m still taking it all in,” she says. The emotions brought by the film aside, Kopechne was one among an attendee list packed with many of the same stars interviewed in the film. Filled with long hair and leather jackets, the theatre was a coming together of the faithful and the participants of an era past.

Bloodied But Unbowed’s list of interviewees is an encyclopedic look at who was who in the late 1970s and early 1980s: Zippy Pinhead and D.O.A., Gerry Hannah and The Subhumans, Jade Blade and The Dishrags, Colin Griffiths and The Pointed Sticks, and Art Bergmann of Young Canadians feature prominently in a film that could have stood on the quality of these interviews alone. Instead, Tabata weaves them into a cohesive historical tome of this period of art and culture. It packs a staggering amount of information, music, and sentiment into its 74-minute run time, surveying the vast landscape of art, politics, and social structure that bygone punks created.

Narrated by Billy Hopeless and strung together under different topic headings, Bloodied charts the rise of forerunners D.O.A. and The Subhumans, from their shared elementary school origins to the creation of a friendly rivalry in the community. Their differing styles would lay the groundwork for a scene that was obsessed with “versus,” resentful of their outcast status and yearning for a community. The film delves into the unlikely alliance they had with the gay community (“when the punks were around, it would take the heat off us”), its association with yippie politics (“using the weapons of the enemy against them”), and the confused relationship the scene had with women. Kopechne embodied this conflict, getting ragged on for playing with persons of both genders. It raises many criticisms to go along with its praise of the community, and finds a balance in its moment of levity and moments of intense heartache. Interviews with Art Bergmann are particularly intense, the scene portrayed as a sun he flew a touch too close to.

Bloodied displays the natural trajectory of a narrative film, which is fitting for the scene it documents. Punk has been declared dead almost from the moment it began, and the documentary is specific in its fingering of heroin as one of the culprits in the death of Vancouver punk: in part, it acts as a eulogy to those that could not be added to the list of participants by virtue of their passing.

“It died a natural death,” admits Tabata, noting that scenes rise and fall with the passing of youth and the “packaging and selling back” of its auspices. “It’s a very dramatic end to a documentary, a very dramatic finish. People started becoming more aware of themselves.” Some say, “The ‘80s happened.” Some say the violence got excessive. Whatever it is, the mohawks and patches sported by today’s youth are empty reminders that the dregs still look for a place to call home. In a way, being unable to fashion something new seems more painful. The only thing worse would to be beaten, bloodied, and have no place to go to lick your wounds. Not like something like that would ever happen.


Vancouver punk died, but it didn’t die all the way. There was still some life in the bones of the scene, that energy and momentum shifting into the emerging hardcore and post-punk, metal and noise scenes that jockeyed for position in the aftermath of Smilin’ Bhudda punk rockers. Like all movements, this music and art needed a home, and up until recently found one in the form of the Cobalt Motor Hotel. No Fun City is in part a chronicle of the closing of that venue, and an exploration of what makes Vancouver “no fun,” with co-directors Kate Kroll and Melissa James putting their cameras right in the middle

Spoiler alert: the Cobalt as it was is no more. Despite the efforts of the community and proprietor Wendy 13, the Cobalt as it is now is a completely different animal. The documentary shows an obstinate Wendy 13 saying that everyone who wants her shut down “won’t win.” But they did. Kroll and James admit this fact. “I think they won this round. It’s a strong community. So, regardless, things kept on going,” says Kroll and James.

The emotional climax of the film comes with the closing of the venue, the final night a must attend event for any and all associated with the scene. The booze, tears, and breakables fly freely. Though questions to her efficacy in dealing with the city and the Cobalt landlords are often raised, No Fun City captures a very genial Wendy 13, and you can’t help but feel for her in the end. “She will rise again,” says James. “No one would go into that place. She took that and with her dedication and passion made it into a place people wanted to go.” Despite that, a chain of complaints, coming down from residents in the area through the city to her landlords resulted in the closing of the Cobalt.

No Fun City examines the efforts of other noted venue promoters, such as Malice Liveit and David Duprey. The former a long-time concert organizer and manager of the now defunct Sweatshop and the latter a prominent Vancouver area developer have differing views and tastes about how the business of the scene is conducted, but both agree that without a home, Vancouver music scenes are doomed to die. Duprey is a proponent of gentrification, but seems to preach a gospel of responsible development, one that doesn’t kill art and music, ultimately driving away the young to other cities. While Malice and Duprey ultimately could not find common ground in their venture at the Rickshaw Theatre, they both agree that city policy regarding “dancing permits” and million-dollar liquor licences they are reluctant to grant are bureaucratic insanity. The result is an influx of illegal venues and shows, the counter-point of which is Duprey operating the Rickshaw to this day on temporary liquor licences.

The juxtaposition of the scene versus condo dwelling enemies is one that runs through the film, pointing a finger at the “not in my backyard” attitude that is tossing the scene out into the street. It initially comes across as a conflict between the haves and the have-nots, but James is loathe to draw such a definite line. “I know some pretty well off people that listen to punk and metal. In general, yes, but mainly the cost of living in Vancouver is huge. There’s no space. The city wants to encourage urban living, and in so doing are killing the urban vibe.”

No Fun City is an excellent look at some of the reasons why the city is now trying to change policies to fight the moniker, but even more it is a look at a people and a scene looking for some kind of headbangers’ Israel. They seem like a group that might be at their most natural underfoot, and No Fun City is a rallying call those in a scene looking to be reborn in blood, beer, and sweat.

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Why Slasher Horror Can Never Die May 27, 2010

This article originally appeared in The Peak. It was written for my friend Brendan Levesque, who knows far more about these flicks than I do. Hope I did them justice.


I was always more of a Jason man myself. Call me crazy, but a machete-wielding madman using an occupied sleeping bag as some sort of Cabela’s catalog morning glory to attack a tree always tickled me in an immeasurable way (R.I.P Judy).

That kind of terror is minimalist and embodies a kind of punk, DIY spirit that I gravitate toward — grab your biggest knife and a hockey mask and you’re in business. That being said, I was always intrigued by the nuance of fellow triumvirate member Freddy Krueger. Nuance might sound funny to describe a man with a lethal manicure coming to kill you through your dreams, but this concept played with the idea of mental illness and the intractability of deemed insanity. Invariably, telling even your nearest and dearest that a man is trying to kill you behind your eyelids is a quick route to a tidy lobotomy, and the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise plays with the loneliness and eventual independence that came with triumph. It pulled the slasher film away from an explicit external force with a neat mask to an internal struggle, an invader incurring on the most personal of human experiences. Further, the overtone of fearing your dreams is delicious.

It’s due to this level of nerd affinity that I can’t get too cynical about the recent rash of horror remakes. The Hills Have Eyes, Friday the 13th, and now the resurgence of A Nightmare on Elm Street are only partly the fault of a Hollywood that is out of ideas and clamouring for the shrinking box office take. The fact is, there are a ton of profitable, remake-ready franchises out there that don’t carry with them the lexical baggage of the horror genre. This recent Elm Street is mindful of these tropes, ones that — if not present — would represent the failure of the movie in the eyes of the horror cognoscenti. Paradoxically, their inclusion makes sure the genre never moves forward, that stagnation being both its hallmark and kiss of death.

Before remakes became the norm, Neil Marshall’s The Descent made the horror fanbase step back and ask if these tropes could be dismissed in favour of layered, smart, and engaging horror. 2010’s Elm Street takes that idea, gives it the finger, and bastardizes it in an incredible way.

The movie itself is mediocre. The inclusion of Jackie Earl Haley (Shutter Island, Little Children, Watchmen) and Kyle Gallner (who stole scene after scene in Veronica Mars) inspired some early hope for the film, but it falls on its melted face pretty hard. The script has interesting ideas that are relegated to vestigial status one by one. From interesting subplots regarding academic reliance on alertness medication and the disadvantages of the buddy system (it’s hard to convince people you’re innocent when you are drenched in stage blood), this Elm Street abandons smart ideas methodically, peaking with a fantastic sequence involving a video blog. It even starts toward an incredible character rewrite of Krueger, casting him as a kindly janitor unfairly lynched for child abuse. Instead, they take the easy way out, throwing away a very modern story of a persecuted innocent man and turning it into the standard “Yes, all single men over 40 are pedophiles.” Stacked against blatant quotes from Psycho, Pulp Fiction, and the aforementioned The Descent, it all comes off as thoughtless cash, desperately trying to be cool, and collapsing under the weight of its could-have-been innovations.

However, despite its overall failure, A Nightmare on Elm Street demonstrates why the genre is endlessly perpetuated, and why it can never and will never die. Elm Street is perhaps one of the most astute mirrors held up to our generation, and by far the most tongue-in-cheek comparison of Millennials to baby boomers to hit film screens yet. That lexical precision of the genre prescribes a few things; among these, the philosophies represented by the harbingers of death in them. Some trends border on the silly: minorities die first, mirrors are untrustworthy, running is pointless, and the virginal type is likely to slay the antagonist with some sort of phallus. In fact, these are so well documented that a fantastic mockumentary was created around them in the form of Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Most pressing here, however, is the changing social landscape seen in these films.

In previous decades, boomers were being punished for their teenage decadence — drugs, alcohol, fornication, and the ingratitude toward the Greatest Generation were punished mercilessly by those film’s antagonists, a kind of reaper acting in the interest of ‘50s American values. Here, the violence lacks that kind of engine by virtue only of what we have become. The characters are depressing modern archetypes — sexless, tepid, wannabe artists without a hint of warmth or confidence, toiling away on homework in their rooms instead of the standard vacationing in abandoned cabins ripe for coitus interruptus. In context, you would expect this film to be a mirror bent to fun house specifications, but Elm Street opts for realism and just shows us ourselves. It’s terrifying.

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Let The Wookiee Win Week 7: Just A Flesh Wound April 15, 2010

The following originally appeared in The Peak. It is the final edition of a seven week column. It was a long strange trip, and I thank you for reading.

It’s some strange justice that the current pulse of Star Wars fandom is talk of the series’ complete demise. Strange — but not surprising — as there’s nothing quite as fascinating as spectacular failure. George Lucas knew this, which is why he made sure Empire was as depressing as possible.

Head on over to YouTube and search for “Star Wars” and you’ll be treated to some thoroughly entertaining journalism on the subject of spectacular failure, specifically the Star Wars prequels. This comes courtesy of RedLetterMedia and Mr.Plinkett, the sociopath star of the outfit’s hour-plus long reviews of the films.

In it, his sardonic analysis of the films is cut with a darkly funny portrayal of a man beset by psychosis and obsession, his basement (pointedly) the scene of purported grisly deeds. The realization of this character is incisive service for and against those who would cast anyone with interest in the subject matter as a parent’s basement dwelling, sycophantic dork with mommy issues. It’s done so well, in fact, that you might not even notice that the character is a perfect metaphor for the Trilogy That Couldn’t; a man with no redeeming qualities, no hope, and no future. Star Wars asks the same question with its plot and characters: is redemption available?

The Star Wars universe is set in orbit around Luke Skywalker, a young man from the interstellar Bread Basket (or Water Basket, as the case may be), gone off to the big city to make good and beat up his dad. His personal journey, however, is marked early with the obligation to redeem the Skywalker name, and to fulfill the destiny his father set back a great deal — to bring balance to the light and dark sides of the Force. The weight of this is comparable to Adolf Hitler Jr. job hunting in 1956. Significant is the operative word there.

At the end of Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader has his human cockles tickled by the torture of his son and decides to take a hot electricity injection for him, turning on his master and ending the Sith Empire he helped bring to pass. This is an odd storytelling choice, one that seems so perfect in hindsight but could have very easily been different. If Luke strikes his father down, good triumphs over evil, right?

The fly in the Vaseline is that this is a particularly Sith course of action. Murder is pretty uncool for a Jedi. Trapped between a homicide and a hard place, Lucas needed an asteroid or drunk TIE fighter pilot to crash into the throne room, eliminating the three biggest potential threats to the galaxy. But Star Wars aims higher than that. Han Solo is the test bed for George Lucas’ philosophy of redemption, but Darth Vader is his finished symphony.

Lucas is reaching out a hand to the droves of fans that have flocked to a shared fantasy, telling those who might sit a little too close to the screen that their time spent is not wasted. He is giving retroactive justification to those of us who lean just a little too hard on the lives and experiences of people who will never exist outside celluloid and CG.

Just like Vader turned it around for a quickie deathbed sacrament, just like a hand getting cut off didn’t stop Luke, and just like they all ignored C-3PO’s advice and went up against the Imperial “Wookiee” at the risk at having their arms torn off (see what I did there?), Lucas aims to prove that a third act in life is not only possible, but well within reach.

So for those who are looking for coping tools in the exploits of fake smugglers and warrior monks, for fanboys dealing with exaggerated reports of their failure and a filmmaker tasked with following his own greatness, Star Wars can teach us that redemption is only as remote as the effort we are willing to put in.

Maybe instead of a rise and fall, we should try for a fall and rise.

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Live Review – Immaculate Machine/Sun Wizard April 6, 2010

The following first appeared in Beatroute Magazine. Thanks to Katherine Green for photo/moral support.

Photo Credit: Katherine Green-2.jpeg

Two reliable west coast stand-bys took to the stage at the Biltmore for some energetic and well-received sets. Though the start time was greatly delayed, a good sized crowd stuck it out to end a string of tour dates for the Victoria-based Immaculate Machine, and they punctuated with flair.

Warming up the crowd was Vancouver-based Sun Wizard, a band that is almost as famous for their controversy as their talent. Sun Wizard took to the stage with all the confidence and swagger their reputation entails, for a moment halting discussion in favour of rocking out. The set seemed to drag in the middle but was more than made up for with a solid send off and an appreciative charisma that perfectly set up the veteran headliners.

Immaculate Machine’s set – as usual – proved that they are among the most talented (if least heralded) groups in Mint Record’s intimidating stable. Their songwriting has gained dimension and maturity over a string of LP releases in the recent past, but by and large, their back catalogue sounds as refreshing as always. Favourite “Phone Number” came off slightly dated in comparison to richer material off Fables and new release High On Jackson Hill, but the one-two punch of “Broken Ship” and “So Cynical” remain a pillar of the Immaculate Machine live show. If one criticism existed, it would be that some parts of their more serious lyrics fall flat when the band looks as if they are having the time of their lives playing music together. Always entertaining and at their utmost in front of a crowd, Immaculate Machine demonstrate time and time again that they stand among the very best in the country.

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Live Review – Midlake/Matthew and The Arrogant Sea

The following first appeared in Beatroute Magazine. Thanks to Katherine Green for sitting through this with me.

Photo Credit: Katherine Green-1.jpeg

In previous decades, the keys to success were acid wash jeans and the occasional robe of sequins and leopard skin. Now, it seems the shortcut to popularity is the one-two punch of a buttoned plaid shirt and a mass of facial hair. Playing to a packed Biltmore Cabaret, Midlake seemed ready to up the ante with some cross-demographic success and copious flute embellishments in their music. Touring with Denton, Texas cohorts Matthew and the Arrogant Sea, Midlake brought their brand of pretty acoustic folk-rock to an appreciative (if overly reverent) crowd.

Matthew and the Arrogant Sea were almost too appropriate for the bill, their style blending so seamlessly with Midlake’s as to feel too similar. Where they diverge is Matthew’s penchant for drum-driven epics. Whereas Midlake feels like a walk through a forest, the Arrogant Sea evokes a more powerful intensity, a Tarzan to Midlake’s Mowgli. Being joined onstage by members of Midlake (the added manpower and chemistry was beneficial) and mentioning a meal they had at Foundation were just the right notes to make the crowd show some love.

For Midlake, even stepping onstage seems like an act of logistical might, as the ensemble packed the Biltmore’s stage with band members. The group powered through he majority of their LP tracks and were amiable and entertaining throughout, garnering applause only when it was polite (after each song) and prompting at least one fan to throw up the devil horns during a particularly moving flute section.

Midlake, for better or worse, garners an exaggerated amount of comparison to fellow crooners Fleet Foxes. This is unfortunate because this comparison will always serve to expose the truth about the band: their output is neither exceptional nor poor, just as middle-of-the-road as their name would suggest.

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Live Review – Postdata/Julie Fader/Clinton St.John

The following first appeared in Beatroute Magazine. Thanks to Katherine Green for making it out.

Photo Credit: Katherine Green.jpeg

In 1999, a movie called Detroit Rock City added a little KISS to a tired college road trip subgenre. In it, Sam Huntington would remark to his cohorts about how in 1973, KISS was opening for Blue Oyster Cult, and how in one year to the day, B.O.C. would open for KISS. This conversation was running through my head all through the set A Place To Bury Strangers played for relative newcomers The Big Pink.
A Place To Bury Strangers brought their noise rock styling to an increasingly likely place at Venue. As if to emulate the fuzz and obfuscation of their sound, they turned their stage into a photographers nightmare with about a cigar bar’s worth of smoke. Slicing in and out was an epileptic lightshow, one that elicited at least a few pointing fingers from the sparse early start crowd. If anything, The APTBS experience is heightened by the theatrics, owing in no small amount to the fact that their sets are, while remaining true to their trademark sprawl, a markedly tight, rehearsed feel to them. Album standout “Ego Death” was particularly exciting, and they ended a short set with “Ocean”, the outro to which had them sounding like Hell’s own string section. It was the opening act any band would be lucky to have, with an energy following that was ripe for the picking.
The Big Pink followed and seemed oddly out of place. Gaining all kinds of popular momentum off the strength of a well received series of singles and an album, they differentiated themselves from APTBS well – something that should have been a bit difficult given their similarity. But the way in which they differentiated themselves was less desirable.
The Big Pink simply could not follow the powerhouse that was A Place To Bury Strangers. Their set paled in comparison, and while it would have been merely uninspired in any other situation, following a atypically strong opening act was unfortunate. Despite their enthusiasm, they failed to reach any meaningful climaxes.
Which is what brought me to a late 90’s film about KISS. Just like the young men in that film, I am incredulous that The Big Pink follows A Place To Bury Strangers on the bill. Maybe next year things will have changed.

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Live Review – A Place To Bury Strangers/The Big Pink

The following first appeared in Beatroute Magazine. Thanks to Sarah Kloke for coming out and fighting the fog with her camera.

The Big Pink.jpeg

In 1999, a movie called Detroit Rock City added a little KISS to a tired college road trip subgenre. In it, Sam Huntington would remark to his cohorts about how in 1973, KISS was opening for Blue Oyster Cult, and how in one year to the day, B.O.C. would open for KISS. This conversation was running through my head all through the set A Place To Bury Strangers played for relative newcomers The Big Pink.
A Place To Bury Strangers brought their noise rock styling to an increasingly likely place at Venue. As if to emulate the fuzz and obfuscation of their sound, they turned their stage into a photographers nightmare with about a cigar bar’s worth of smoke. Slicing in and out was an epileptic lightshow, one that elicited at least a few pointing fingers from the sparse early start crowd. If anything, The APTBS experience is heightened by the theatrics, owing in no small amount to the fact that their sets are, while remaining true to their trademark sprawl, a markedly tight, rehearsed feel to them. Album standout “Ego Death” was particularly exciting, and they ended a short set with “Ocean”, the outro to which had them sounding like Hell’s own string section. It was the opening act any band would be lucky to have, with an energy following that was ripe for the picking.
The Big Pink followed and seemed oddly out of place. Gaining all kinds of popular momentum off the strength of a well received series of singles and an album, they differentiated themselves from APTBS well – something that should have been a bit difficult given their similarity. But the way in which they differentiated themselves was less desirable.
The Big Pink simply could not follow the powerhouse that was A Place To Bury Strangers. Their set paled in comparison, and while it would have been merely uninspired in any other situation, following a atypically strong opening act was unfortunate. Despite their enthusiasm, they failed to reach any meaningful climaxes.
Which is what brought me to a late 90’s film about KISS. Just like the young men in that film, I am incredulous that The Big Pink follows A Place To Bury Strangers on the bill. Maybe next year things will have changed.

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Live Review – Vacant City/The Stumbler’s Inn

The following first appeared in Beatroute Magazine. Thanks to Katherine Green for her war photography.

Vacant City - Photo Credit: Katherine Green.jpeg

Vacant City invaded the Anza Club to release their new album Forgotten Street. Sharing the stage with the Stumbler’s Inn, they aimed to usher in their recording with gusto. Gusto was had, but not from the headliners.

The Stumbler’s Inn played to a large crowd, but it was about half as large as they deserved. Their mix of rock and blues is infectious, with much of their charm attributable to a dynamic onstage charisma and fantastic songwriting. One of the highlights of their set was a song called “The Blues,” a masterful mix of compelling songwriting and hilariously ironic lyricism that had more than a few audience members laughing in between shouts and applause. It is unfortunate for Vacant City, however, that they set the bar so high.

Vacant City seem to have a dedicated following. Though there was a definite drift to the Anza basement (and to the door) a few songs into their set, the remaining fans were treated to a good mix of new and old material. Dressed like the Hives and sporting the requisite fedoras, they interspersed their songs with detailed descriptions of their content, revealing that one song was about making love in the back of a pickup truck. After a brief encounter with a guitar knocked out of tune by “rocking too hard,” their set concluded with a few less than it had to begin, but with satisfaction all around.

The CD release party was a success, but that success is not reflected in the new material. Despite their enigmatic presence, their tracks hearken to a dated era in rock, sounding like Stone Temple Pilots without the drama. Fans will find the new material more than satisfying, but newcomers may find the first half of their name a little too apt.

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Let The Wookiee Win Week 6: Be Like Han March 31, 2010

The following is part six of a seven part column in The Peak. This is the one I wanted to write at the outset, the one that really got me excited about the project. I am as happy with it as I could expect to be. I tried my best to source the inspiration bit, thinking I had seen it on a blog somewhere. But alas. Sounds like a 4chan soundbite anyway, doesn’t it? If the originator is reading this, we should date. And sorry.


Surfing around the information superhighway, cyberspace, if you will, I came across perhaps the most important philosophical advance since Plato said some stuff about stuff. It described the scene in Empire Strikes Back where Han Solo is promised a delicious meal and instead is served a platter of “Darth Vader a la Badass”. With no hesitation, no looking around in surprise, no look of disbelief towards Lando, he just takes out his gun and starts blasting away at him, taking pot shots at a man that can castrate him a parsec away. His thought process begins and ends with “Evil. Shoot it.” The parable concludes: Be Like Han.

So struck was I by this nugget of science that the years of Catholic schooling just melted away, replaced by a sorbet of Harrison Ford-flavored enlightenment. How many years had I admired the roguish smuggler and not realized that he is the perfect role model for everybody? Let me explain with some key examples.

When there is somebody across the dinner table from you who has more or less decided to kidnap you and either kill you or sell you into the bondage of a giant slug gangster not named James Gandolfini, you should probably take the nessecary steps to prevent this action by shooting first.

Be Like Han.

When you’re trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes, be polite about it. If you’re fine, ask them how they’re doing. If they’re on to you, put a bullet in the phone.

Be Like Han.

If a friend get’s killed in battle, the time for tears is after you escape the giant space station that can blow up planets with all the nonchalance of shopping for detergent.

Be Like Han.

When everyone has written you off and when you know you have made a mistake, redemption is as easy as admitting you were wrong and doing right. You can always swoop back in at the nick of time, blow that thing and go home.

Be Like Han.

Never leave a man out in the cold or a soldier behind. And if he is out in the cold, get him someplace warm.

Be Like Han.

Find your Kessel Run and be the best at it.

Be Like Han.

Technology is fallible and intelligence beats radar any day. If you find yourself in a place more dangerous than where you came from (say, inside a giant asteroid worm type thing), don’t fret, just calmly push the throttle as far as it will go.

Be Like Han.

If an authority figure tells you to do something heinous to an innocent, say no. The Nuremberg Defence is never moral and saving a life is worth your own.

Be Like Han.

Even if a friend has proven himself to be a touch greasy in the past, just remember that true friends are in short supply and grease is universal, especially on you.

Be Like Han.

Never, even under the pain of torture, talk to the “Empire” without a “Jedi” present. They are not your friends and you will go to jail.

Be Like Han.

If someone you love is watching you get turned into a Han-sicle, and they finally bust out the L-bomb, don’t waste time assuring them you love them too. You always did.

Be Like Han.

If you are going to be frozen solid for awhile, strike a memorable pose.

Be Like Han.

Despite what skills you may have, post-secondary education should be respected. Be nice to people with lightsabers.

Be Like Han.

Allies come in many shapes and sizes. Furry Marxists with spears can help you take down empires.

Be Like Han.

Lend your car to your friends when they need it, especially to fight wars. It will be fine.

Be Like Han.

When your best friend is about to be crushed by a celestial body of some sort, make god damn sure you have an outreached hand to grab them until someone has to drag you off the cargo ramp. If you can’t haul them in, it’s okay to cry.

Be Like Han.

Pride is not a sin. Confidence and willpower are virtues. Keep a blaster on your right hip and a good woman on your left. Punch people that deserve it. Know when you are wrong, and know that you can be sometimes right.

And when someone tells you that being like Han is a bad thing, have the wisdom and balls to do it anyway.

Be Like Han.

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Review – The Monitor by Titus Andronicus March 23, 2010

This review first appeared in Beatroute Magazine. Before I wrote it, I listened to the album front to back twice. I was intrigued, as you can probably tell. By the fifth listen I realized I was listening to nothing else. By the tenth time through, I was plotting it’s position in my Top 50 Albums Of All Time with great prejudice.

If given an opportunity, I would probably recant what I said about the way this album develops; it’s savvy didn’t dawn on me until way after the copy date. Titus Andronicus injects a ton of an arrested adolescence we have seen spoken of in recent albums by The xx and others, but then they decide to just grab their crotches and rock out. The QOTSA comparison holds water in the sense that this album is good and whereas the other album failed to inspire me, but the gloss and pop sensibility that characterized Songs For The Deaf is not present. The Monitor finds it’s voice in as many places as it possibly can, finding refuge in punk and rock, anthems and dirges, post-rock and alt-country. As a loose concept album about the American Civil War and as a something to bang your head to (against?) to it succeeds on levels of nothing else I have heard in quite some time. Not that I listen to concept albums about national struggles over slavery very often or anything…you get what I mean. It’s awesome.

The gravel in Patrick Stickles’ voice might not evoke the response often, but a friend of mine mentioned how it sounded like Bright Eyes. I was kind of aghast at this comparison (Desaparecidos maybe, but Bright Eyes?), but as I thought about it more, it really is fairly apt.

The major reason (in my mind) that people dislike Bright Eyes is because the lyricism of Conor Obrest makes people intensely uncomfortable. When you listen to a song by Journey or something, the emotion and topics that form the similar foundation of poetry for both exists, but the quality of the poetry and songwriting is disparate enough that Obrest simply expresses those emotions far clearer and more precisely. Emotion is only cool to an extent to that in a group, one would not be mocked for the enjoyment of such language of loss and pain. The word “Emo” was quickly drawn up to disparage an entire demographic that identified with some fairly dour subject matter in their iTunes library. While they didn’t help themselves by subverting that musical subgenre with some fairly shitty material and questionable purchases at Hot Topic, the message was clear: if you are sad or take part in perceived sad-sackery you are uncool and are open to acceptable mockery.

The Monitor is an album that nearly wallows in frustration, and that anger is (as Dr. Melfi would say) depression turned inwards. While it is easy to pin Obrest as “depressed” due to the style in which most of his discography is presented, they meet lyrically like Lego, Titus only deciding to punch a wall instead of weeping against it. Both are perfectly acceptable to some, but will always be rejected by a movement that is as stoney as it is erudite. This anti-sadness brigade is really just a railing against any public inclination towards emotions they themselves share, but are too reserved to share. Which, of course, is total bullshit. Do you think Jim Stark had no emotion? Do you think that wasn’t just a front and a lamented mask? Wasn’t that the whole point of Rebel Without a Cause and the whole brilliance of James Dean?

People are going to point to this album with the same derision they do anything by Bright Eyes, and I still cannot explain why. Maybe it will be punk rock enough not to threaten anyone’s masculinity.

Yet Fleet Foxes and The Antlers are cool. I don’t get it.

Here is the review, as printed. This is the best album of 2010 so far. Seek it out.

The Monitor

Titus Andronicus is a band that never shies away from bombast. From naming themselves after a fairly popular Roman military figure and Shakespeare character to opening their new album “The Monitor” with a truncated speech from former United States President Abraham Lincoln, the band gets as close your face as possible without treating it to a smart head-butt.

It’s strange, however, that this outing has more in common with “Songs for the Deaf” by Queens of the Stone Age in terms of the career arc of a band. “Songs for the Deaf” represented a streamlined QOTSA, bringing out the hooky, accessible aspects of the band’s sometimes monotonous sound. Though Titus Andronicus lacks the extended precedence for such a qualification, the metaphor is fitting; “The Monitor” is an incredibly listenable album, chock full of anthems and entertaining guitar work that the previous “Airing of Grievances” seemed patently opposed to.

Lyrically, Titus seems to want to distract from these dangerous flirtations with pop with full on punk-rock cynicism. The marriage between the two, however, seems to cleanse the sentiments of the scorn. Chants of “You’ll always be a loser” and “The enemy is everywhere” seem less like statements of defeat (or victory, or admonishment) and more a call to community, as if to say you’ll always be a loser, but we will too.

Though “The Monitor” seems to run out of new tricks in it’s last act with shoegaze dirges that would seem more at home on “Grievances”, it proves to be one of the finest albums of the young year. The director of this Titus Andronicus seems more focused, and with that brings out the best in some already promising ideas. Plus, you’ll want to keep it in mind when they tour, as “The Monitor” sounds like it will foment a jaw-dropping live effort.

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Review – Heligoland by Massive Attack

The following first appeared in Beatroute Magazine. Massive Attack is awesome and I hope if they meet me they don’t hold my opinions against me. I’m awesome, I swear.


There are very few bands that have reached the almost sacred status with music aficionados like Massive Attack has. The problem with becoming sacred is that it’s a whole lot farther to the ground when you fall.

   Enter “Heligoland”, the fifth collection of original tracks from the group and with it one of the biggest targets for critical vitriol this side of “Dig Out Your Soul”. The problem is that both it and the supposedly final album from Oasis are only middling. It is the history of their respective bands that do them a disservice. Neither of those records is bad by any metric, but they simply lack whatever chemistry that launched previous efforts into the realm of breathless hyperbole.

   There is no “Angel” on “Heligoland”. Certainly not. There is also no “Teardrop” or “Inertia Creeps” or whatever song fans would rather just go back and listen to again instead of hearing new material. Those tracks are memorable and iconic for the sole reason that they are exceptional. Exceptional is, by definition, tough to attain.

   “Paradise Circus” and “Babel” are pretty good tracks. Most of the stuff approaches “Black Milk” levels of energy and prowess, but never quite attain either. Whereas the down-tempo style of Massive Attack was never boring or sleepy, “Heligoland” waxes into some fairly sedate territory. While it never reaches a state of Mum-type lullaby, it is certainly the least sinister and immediate of the band’s material. “Saturday Come Slow” featuring Damon Albarn and “Girl I Love You” are the standout tracks on the album, but again, will not go down with the majority of “Mezzanine” into the canon. While their general thesis’ are sound, their execution fails to arouse the same emotion and interest as anything on “Blue Lines”.

   That said, this is still Massive Attack we are talking about. If this is truly their most lacklustre album, then it is only so in comparison to the rest of their work. Like Yo La Tengo, Massive Attack at their worst are still better than most at their best, and “Heligoland” is still more than worth the time it takes away from playing “Unfinished Sympathy” on repeat.

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Live Review – Peak Performance Finale (Bend Sinister/We Are The City/The Left)

The following was first published in Beatroute Magazine. Photos by Rachel Hurst. Snark by Clinton Hallahan. It appeared with an edit that truncated it quite a bit, so here is the full thing. Big thanks again to Miss Hurst who did a great job with the shots.

We Are The City

   The gong show that was the Peak Performance finale at the Commodore Ballroom was, at times, adorned with an actual gong. Though it’s musical use was limited, it’s symbolic presence behind the drum kit underscored the corporate vapidities surrounding the showcase of the last three bands standing in the contest.

The Left

   First up was We Are The City, a band so youthful it’s unclear whether the Commodore staff could even serve them liquor. That said, their set was the opposite of what one might expect from a band so young. It was a testament to their talent and more than evidence that they deserved to share the stage with their more aged counterparts. Their brand of indie rock was a crowd pleaser driven by tight drumming and catchy guitars. Say what you will about the death of radio, but the sold out event sponsored primarily by The Peak 100.5 (in association with MusicBC) was filled for what casual audience members might consider the opening act.

   But We Are The City was not the story of the night.

   The Left followed and with them brought the comparatively mellow, safe stylings of a band that seemed slightly out of place. Sandwiched between the vigor of their predecessors and the tour de force of Bend Sinister following, their more than competent radio rock that would have killed in many other contexts seem to fall on less enthusiastic ears.

   But this was not the story either.

Bend Sinister - Dan Moxon

   Vancouver veterans Bend Sinister finished out the night in rare form, playing a set that was packed with their hits. Reports of a stellar Bend Sinister show are plentiful to the point of becoming redundant, but this particular show had the atmosphere and crowd energy that each of those shows deserved. Joined onstage by Nat Jay and Adeline, the Bend Sinister experience was only enhanced by a stage that seemed fitting of their talents.

   This, again, was not the story of the night.

Bend Sinister

   The story of the Peak Performance finale was in the handing out of the awards. Running away with first prize and the not insignificant sum of $150,000 was We Are The City, with The Left placing second and Bend Sinister taking third, taking $75,000 and $50,000 apiece. With full knowledge that it was a contest scored by judges (who previously offered a suggestions on how to improve each band at a development camp, imparting such sage advice as “you shouldn’t play keyboard standing up” to Dan Moxon of Bend Sinister) and was not a popularity contest, the crowd revolted over the results. By far the loudest reaction of the night was the boos and anguish of the crowd when it was announced that Bend Sinister took up the rear. In acts that utterly overshadowed a trio of stellar performances, the night’s shrill emcee had to calm the crowd with sadly prosaic admonitions, assuring the angered audience that fifty grand was not “losing”.

Good music with a chaser of righteous indignation was the story of the night. That, and the gentleman screaming “shenanigans” at people being handed what some consider a year’s salary.

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Interview – Tristan Thompson of Cairo

This interview originally appeared in Beatroute Magazine. It was supposed to be there a few months ago, but an art snafu kept it out until nowish. Cairo is a great band and you should check them out posthaste.


When there is a delicious meal set in front of me, the last thing I want to be doing is pacing myself and trying to add to the conversation around me. So while Tristan Thompson of Cairo is answering my questions, the guilt I feel over making him talk instead of eating his Victoria sandwich from Theresa’s is second only to the pleasure I take from eating my stuffed French toast. I’m speaking to him ahead of the release of their self-titled debut recorded just down the street at Fadermaster Studios. As with any new band, conversation quickly turns to origins.

“I think tacking up a poster on a lamp post somehow exists on a lower level than Craigslist even,” says Tristan of his time before the formation of Cairo. While the drummer was advertising his services, he came up with no shortage of creative mismatches. “You get calls from dudes who just play Metallica covers in their dorm room. I was like, ‘You don’t actually need me to do that.’”

Thompson relates how he met up with his counterparts JP Lancaster, Mark Crawford and Dan Crawford as a fairly innocuous occurrence. Linked through mutual friends, Thompson was the late addition to the band.

“I was actually in England, got an email from Mark who I hadn’t seen in a while and he asked if I wanted to play with them.” A sound was already emerging when he joined, and the chemistry was immediate. “They already had about five or six solid song ideas, and I really liked the dynamic, I really liked the sound of it. There was never really any discussion about what we wanted to be like or what we should be like.”

Thompson describes how each member of Cairo was responsible for his or own “portfolio” in the songwriting process. “We just trust it all works together.” In spite of its disparate origins, each part of the album is remarkably cohesive, with each member’s pieces fitting like a jigsaw puzzle. The result is a taught package of clever tracks that sounds more collaborative than Thompson admits. This dynamic may be changing, however. He adds, “There is more (collaboration) lately – I think we’re kind of growing up and leaving less to luck.”

Cairo’s sound is also a departure from much of Thompson’s background. Frequenting punk bands in his youth, postings on streetlights led to flirtations with many genres at odds with the influentially diverse Cairo. From the post-rock leanings of album opener “Cogs” to the standout sing-along “A Hot Minute (At The Tech-Noir),” it’s a far cry from some previous project’s he found himself in.

“My band in Victoria was extremely pop-y. The keyboard player tried to call it ‘party pop,’ but we rejected that and told him it had to be called ‘slumber party pop’ because the only legitimate demographic for it would’ve been twelve-year-old girls at a slumber party.”

Though he has traveled across Canada and around the world, Thompson sees no issue with being a musician in Vancouver. While bands will sometimes head east to seek fortune, the prospect of leaving is foreign to him, though Cairo seems centered around travel, if in name only.

“I had the opportunity to travel quite a bit. I love other places and other cultures,” he says. But with an anticipated new album forthcoming and a seemingly endless reserve of enthusiasm, Tristan Thompson counts himself a die-hard local. “But man, I am from B.C. I am from Vancouver. And I want to live in my home. Please. Thank you.”

For more information, check out

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Let The Wookiee Win Week 5: He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Android) March 16, 2010

I can think of about six films off the top of my head where a robot taught me how to be a better human. My god I’m lonely. Star Wars in particular taught me that there’s nothing quite like having a best friend in in your corner to fight with you, support you, and do a bit of Taun Taun spooning.

Appropriately, I learned this from two robots, one a lovable mute, trundling through the movies like a wheel-bound Huck Finn, and the other ripped from the pages of steampunk homoerotica. There really is nothing quite like the friendship between C-3P0 and R2-D2.

See, it’s the other friendships in Star Wars that push me towards the mechanical Mork and Mindy. They all just fall a little short in the BFF Olympics. Take Han and Chewbacca for example. Their friendship would likely take homeboy gold, but their arrangement is really just a semi-legal situation that blossomed into a lifelong commitment. Han was just a really handsome imperial lieutenant ordered to kill Chewie. He refused, and Chewie ended up owing him a ritual life debt.

That it worked out so well and they became such good friends is nice, but its an affair born out of insubordination and obligation, two things that rarely form the foundation of a healthy friendship (but sometimes work pretty well for marriage, especially of the shotgun variety).

Han and Luke just weaken SoloBacca. I suppose it doesn’t matter where Han gets his appetite if he gets his meals at home, but there is a little bit of bro competition going on in this triangle. Han and Luke are another friendship that grows out of a sub-optimal arrangement and continues through convenience and warfare. Though there’s nothing as reliable as a war to bring on the bromance, it’s not near as organic as the one experienced by our non-organic duo.

This is compounded by the fact that Han and Luke are too absorbed in their own lives to really maintain the friendship. Han is too busy getting frozen in carbonite and trying to use the Force on Leia’s brass undergarments to support Luke through his trials at Uncle Yoda’s Jedi Community College, and Luke is too busy carrying senile old men on his back through swamps (my god, the innuendo) to care about anything Han is doing (other than Leia). Friendships can span distance and time, but the amount of effort needed is just not there between the two.

Leia and Luke are even worse. Harry and Sally knew the sex thing would always get in the way, and I can only imagine accidental incest to be a dealbreaker in that respect.

This is all why R2-D2 and C-3PO have such an exceptional relationship. They met by chance and had chemistry right away, if not affection. Forced apart early by fate, they lived their lives autonomously, their meetings sporadic and unmemorable. When they finally are together, that obvious compatibility starts turning into something deep and defined. They escape crashing ships, wander the desert, get kidnapped, and go on missions to save the universe together.

Their wit and banter is a pillar of the Star Wars experience, this made more incredible by the fact that one of them is incomprehensible to an English-speaking crowd. Like any good friends, the armour comes off when needed, sarcasm falling to emotion when danger and mortality are involved.

C-3PO insists that his injured friend take any of his own parts if needed, and when R2-D2 is going off to fight, C-3PO tells him to make sure and come back alive. Knowing his friend is unable to have his back and feels guilty about it, R2 makes sure to make a good-natured wisecrack to assuage this feeling in his friend despite the looming personal danger. He takes one for the team, a selfless act for their friendship. Thick, thin, and Three Laws Safe.

Rather than just comic relief and foils for the mostly dire attitude of the human leads, George Lucas imbues these characters with an added depth; he gives something created by humans the ability show compassion perhaps (in the given context) even beyond that of their creators. Their dedication to each other is unsettling, and forces you to wonder if you have anyone that would donate their parts to aid in your recovery, someone to follow you through whatever desert you find yourself in.

And let me tell you, if you can say “Yes, by god, I do,” Star Wars is going to put a sizable lump in your throat.

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Let The Wookiee Win Week 4: I Am Your Father…Issues (Or: That’s No Moon) March 2, 2010

The following is the fourth part in a seven part column appearing in The Peak. I talk about Star Wars a bunch in it. This one is all about daddy issues, because George Lucas was pretty blunt about things of that sort. Check it out.

Pour out a bottle of Algarine for the ladies in the audience, because if the startling innocence rate of its fans didn’t tip you off, Star Wars is about as male centred as flicks come. Both trilogies give us dashing young protagonists with some pretty heady paternal issues right when most their age are just, you know, totally getting into Led Zeppelin.

But by representing one of the worst possible such scenarios, fathers in absentia, Star Wars encapsulates a paternal tension as old as time. Show me a man without unresolved issues with his father and I’ll show you a liar, and George Lucas seizes on that. And as I would rather loofah my balls with steel wool, I’m not going to use the word “heteronormative” even once in talking about it.

George Lucas’s evocation of Jesus Christ with Anakin Skywalker is about as subtle as Greedo shooting first. His mother was immaculately impregnated by the Force, and in so doing gave her son some built in neurosis to go with his raw talents. I’m not stating that not having a dad around will screw you up, but having your mom say you were willed into being and then having a shadowy league of battle monks insist you are their messiah might inflate your ego a tad. I can’t help but think the scene at the Mount of Olives might have played out differently with lightsabers.

Anakin cum Vader has a lot in common with notable movie badass Bill from Kill Bill. Both spent their time collecting father figures, and both ended up with a fairly nifty villain resumé. Anakin drifted from his slave master Watto to The Worst Jedi Ever, Qui-Gon Jinn, where Bill went from pimps to samurai sword makers. Anakin was a little more attached, however. The trauma of having his saviour and preferred figure cut down by a bad L.A. Ink experiment stayed with him to the end, whereas Bill just went along shooting people in the face.

Anakin’s revolving door stopped the longest on Obi-Wan Kenobi, but it was a role that was constantly denied by his Jedi master. His constant quest for approval was met with more pedagogy and fraternity than his desired paternity. The Jedi council just served as an institutional body for condemning his adolescence, and the moderating effects of indoctrination from birth was lost on him as he joined the order at such an old age. Anakin wore this failure to find a male role model like a Tauntaun sleeping bag, and damn if it doesn’t smell worse on the inside.

The loss of his mother and his orphaning is just enough to send him to an exploitable edge that Darth Sidious seizes upon. Sidious as Palpatine gives him everything he wants from a father, and just enough validation and cajoling to convince him that the Jedi council deserves to be rebelled against. Naturally, with a new father promising him the moon, he has to annihilate any other fatherly pretenders. Like any confrontation with one’s father, this ends with him losing three-quarters of his limbs.

Lucas’ allegory is brilliant. The tension between any two fully realized adult males in the same family is palpable. While I don’t envy the mother/daughter dynamic, the father/son dynamic is fraught with testosterone and performative masculine crap, a dangerous cocktail of pride and competition. And blaster rifles, as the case may be.

Lucas describes the two ways the story can end. With Anakin, it ends terribly, through violence and loss. Even as he lays dying, Obi-Wan denies his paternal role, screaming at Vader, his “brother.” His failure to recognize the needs of his Padawan in this way is his greatest failing as a master, something that The Worst Jedi Ever Qui-Gon Jinn saw Anakin needed right away and satisfied as best he could. Rebuilt with a sexy new helmet, the death of Obi-Wan becomes the singular reason for Vader’s existence. The death of his “father” pulls him farther away from his duties as a father to his own child. The cycle begins anew.

Luke’s father figures meet with Vader’s at Obi-Wan, so his “death” is doubly significant. Han Solo and Yoda fill in for Luke’s paternal figures, but the entirety of Luke’s life becomes the defeat and violent death of his father, Vader. So when Vader sacrifices himself for his son and Luke lifts away his father’s armor to be met with a frail, dying old man, it represents the other end of the story: noble death, and the absolving of sin. The story that goes back to cavemen is unchanged by parsecs and protocol droids. Just conflict, love, and family insanity ending in death.

Confused? You should be. It reads like some Freudian psychoanalysis with a heavy dose of Orson Scott card sci-fi and Christian values. Lucas stops short of shaking you by the shoulders and screaming “the nuclear family unit is the salvation of the universe” like some sort of interstellar Tipper Gore, but just short. That the man without a father would go on to become a tyrannical psychopath is just horribly steeped in heteronormativity oh God dammit.

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Mad Men: Beating Off A Dry Spell

Some writer who is likely both handsome and charming wrote this under the Mad Men banner for Humour over at The Peak.

The dry spell: an unfortunate state for any virile young Mad Man to live in. Maybe serial macking has fished your local pond to nookie extinction, or perhaps you’re momentarily sidelined by a bowl-cut or problems of a crustacean sort.

Mad Men is here for you.

Together, we are going to beat this curse of forced celibacy with candor, compassion, and copious self-love. We’re all in this together, just as long as we don’t have to, you know . . . talk about it. Don’t be weird, bro. Just follow this easy four-step program to and we’ll have you eating like a king again in no time.

Step One: Assess the situation

Loneliness status: “I like me”

This isn’t so bad, is it? A little introspection and self-analysis never hurt anyone. You’ll likely be strapped with a woman for most of your adult life, so maybe a little alone time is valuable. You could start your novel, read War & Peace, even take up hot yoga. Without clam, the world is your oyster. You’ll likely have more money, too. Spend it on yourself! Buy a nice shirt, perhaps something Ed Hardy or Members Only. Take care of you. Just don’t Nair anything below your belly button.

Step Two: Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it

Loneliness status: “I should call an ex and have sexual intercourse today”

That was a harrowing half-hour, now wasn’t it? Now that you are good and in tune with your inner man, it’s time to bust out your giant black book and awaken some latent feelings! Call up a few ex-girlfriends. Start with “I’ve been thinking a lot lately,” and improvise from there. It’s not lying if you performed Step One. If this works out for you, good job, you’re done. Pass Go and collect $200. Hopefully you don’t have to spend it on the morning-after pill.

Step Three: Know your surroundings

Loneliness status: “I wonder if they still make those Tamagotchi things”

If you didn’t sow the seeds for a regretful little tryst in the past, it just takes a little MacGyver-inspired ingenuity to grant sexual independence. Have a few bananas? Enjoy the fruit, and then enjoy the skin. Evolution (or other, perhaps?) successfully made nature’s Fleshlight. Try using the microwave to improve the sensation, but have the burn unit on standby. A little moisturizer and a Ziploc freezer bag with your living-room couch can make a handy companion as well, and you’ll never look at a chesterfield the same way again. That little micro-suede minx.

Step Four: Go get laid

Loneliness status: “I wish my dog would stop giving me those bedroom eyes”

Like any affliction, the easiest way out is a cure. The desert-like dry spell has only one cure: a little moisture! This provides the perfect environment to try out some new approaches. Use less starch in your collar. Head-butt fewer boyfriends. Shower a few times a week. Take steps to make yourself irresistible, like becoming a T.A. or head of state. An old standby is to hang out around art schools with law textbooks open in front of you. The pond becomes a barrel, and it will be brimming with copic markers, Warhol prints, and the finest salmon. Time to take out your Deagle, you animal.

With these easy steps, you can be sure that your love muscle never atrophies. Be sure to archive them in case you end up married.

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Woohoo/Boohoo: Popery vs. Potpourri

The Peak does a section on page 3 that pits two often similar sounding things against each other. I did this one. It’s fairly self explanatory.

Woohoo: Potpourri

Want to know the secret of success? Smell goddamn delicious. I have it on good authority that JFK smelled of fresh lavender at all times, and everybody loves that dude. Potpourri is that dried leaf type stuff you find in the bathrooms of suburban 40-somethings, and it’s one of only two things that particular demographic gets right (along with listening to Fleetwood Mac). Potpourri is like Armani for your WC. It adds instant class and respectability to a place that at times sorely lacks either. Great for hobbyists and professionals alike, potpourri is the original populist accoutrement with most of it’s ingredients cribbed from around the house. Listen to The Cure? Throw some cloves in there. Alcoholic? Lemon peel! Japanese? Toss in some jasmine. The choices are as endless as the addiction you’ll quickly acquire. Hitting the vein has never been this fragrant.

Boohoo: Popery

The best advice my father ever told me was to never trust men in large hats. It seems like every good religion has it’s own fashion agenda. What is he hiding? Popery is like having a dictatorship on top of your dictatorship, with it’s own cardio-based rituals, taxes and social guilt. That collection plate doesn’t take PayPal either. Now, I will grant that the Pope is by far the most entertaining part of Catholicism; Did you know that one Pope dug his predecessor up from the grave and put him on trial? An actual trial, with the skeleton on the witness stand and everything. Forget The Tudors, I want to see The Pontiffs. And what’s all this about infallibility? He’s just some dude like me! I’m infallible hundreds of times a day, and more on weekends and religious holidays. It’s got me thinking about giving up the Pope for Lent. I like my religions how I like my women: decentralized and sporting modest headgear.

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Let The Wookiee Win Week 3: Full Carbonite Jacket February 1, 2010

The following is the third part of a seven part column I am doing for The Peak at SFU. You can read the other ones by clicking the title tag at the left of this post. It’s about Star Wars and how important it is to the world. Why yes I am in university, thank you for asking. Yes, I have kissed a girl before, too.

I feel a little like Milton, trying to justify the ways of Lucas and instead portraying some sort of bumbling God in denim button-ups. Which is to say in trying to portray sombody I like quite a bit, it comes off like he has wronged me in some way. This is not totally the case. While Lucas may have found himself at odds with the standards of his audience and good filmmaking, his mastery of contradictory human nature is, at it’s worst, better than most. This is excellently illustrated with his attitudes towards war and conflict, and is brilliant in the near omission of it’s significance.

In the history of film and television, the most memorable depictions of war are often the ones that run counter to traditional perceptions of military conflict as a glorious and honorable act. Post-Vietnam, these diminutive portrayals became the norm, with Stanley Kubrick nearly creating a career out of taking the piss out of hawks. Now, in an age of guerilla warfare and military excursions with all the popular support of tuberculosis, war has an all too uncomfortable way of getting put to the back burner, forgotten until it boils over. Star Wars raises stakes by not being contrary at all, and instead slapping us with the wet noodle of reality.

Released just eight months later, The Deer Hunter brought the terror of Vietnam to the home front while Star Wars gave the casualties of war all the gravity of a trip to Wal-Mart in heavy traffic. That is to say distressing, but in no way impossible to ignore. Star Wars is almost prophetic in how it’s characters react to prolonged military struggles with marked indifference, ahead of it’s time in describing the numbing of society to matters of foreign war that would define the rest of the Cold War and beyond.

Luke Skywalker’s Aunt and Uncle get killed? He shrugs it off and gets to work bringing down the Empire. Darth Vader blows Alderaan into a million pieces? Ben Kenobi puts his fingers to his temple and Leia is a little upset. She gets over it. Millions killed when the Death Star is blown up not once but twice? No tears for dead Imperials. The death of serial Force-choker Darth Vader is met with the most emotion (and little at that) in a prosaic relationship climax that evokes one of the most horrifying hypocrisies within human capacity; war becomes statistical and distant one moment, tragic and personal when convenient. We could write this off as bad acting, but the consistency of the chilled reaction to mortality forces us to consider it a directorial mandate.

In this the canon is not nearly reconciled. The Star Wars universe waxes between having the foot soldiers of the Empire nee Republic and Rebellion act as foreign policy meatsacks just a little more often than it creates fictions around distinguished veterans. The Jedi are exceptional, the ruling class, so we care about them. The average soldier is less than a volunteer, a clone built for the express purpose of being an expendable unit of a shrewd Machiavel who can shoot lightning out of his fingers. Making the average Stormtrooper a clone of Jango Fett and not a draftee of unjust regime was an embarrassingly fit metaphor for our attitudes towards military personnel.

The primary films disregard Stormtroopers, Republic troops and Ewoks as little more than bullet sponges. Genndy Tartakovsky’s outstanding Clone Wars vignettes straddle the line between the extremes, the clones taking on varying degrees of expertise, but ultimately being the silent, soulless vessels the series more than demands. Recently, as the series takes pains to gain the Sesame Street crowd, they’ve softened this stance to include fairly generous concern for the lives of the average trooper from the Jedi leadership, but at this point it seems token.

Star Wars puts a mirror up to our collective unconscious considering matters military, and the reflection is less than favorable. The nameless, faceless Ewoks and Stormtroopers fight battles a long long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, far away enough that to ignore it is a matter of turning off the (space) television. When it does view war through a compassionate lens, the moments are sparse enough to be arresting, and rarely involve central characters.

Consider this: the single most evocative explication of military loss in the entire series is seven seconds long. Through the frenetic cuts of the final battle on Endor, between Han Solo being suave and R2-D2 being mutely hilarious, Lucas cuts to a lone Ewok running to the front. In the grass is the body of a fallen comrade, a motionless ball of fur on the ground. He stops in his tracks and falls to his knees, cradling his head in his hand with grief. The war is screaming in his brain and there isn’t a title actor around to hear it.

Sometimes Star Wars hits a little close to home. Sometimes we need it to.

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Rebuttal to “TV Is Turning Us Into Idiots” January 23, 2010

The following appeared in The Peak on January 11, 2010 and is a response to a piece by Jonathon Van Maren, also in The Peak on January 4, 2010. It is only being posted now because, you know, I had things to do. Get off my back, you’re not my mom (unless you are, in which case, hello mom).


We should feel grateful, I think, that Jonathon Van Maren stopped short of waving his cane at us, telling us to get off his lawn and read a book, in his editorial about the evils of television [TV is turning us into idiots, January 4].

From the beginning, Mr. Van Maren co-opts the rhetoric levied against every new medium of storytelling since (presumably) shadow puppets on cave walls. Film, comic books, radio, television and video games have all been targets of similar complaints in turn, but Van Maren chose to focus on the perennial favorite: TV.

Van Maren’s insulting tone aside, he places television at the forefront of social decline. But, like any medium that has received this treatment, this is scapegoating at it’s finest. If anything, social decline is at the forefront of the decline of television (which Battlestar Galactica and The Sopranos may even refute).

But let’s assume his is talking about content versus a waning medium, and, as the Spice Girls have taught us, that popularity does not always equal value. He goes on to state explicitly that “television shows seem incapable of discussing anything but sex and violence”, and in the same breath points to the virtues of literature as a more worthy sink for our time.

I feel the need to point out that, as some of the defining issues of the human condition, these and other themes heavily featured in television are just as prevalent in literature. To ignore them is juvenile and to say that all television is singularly fixated on bayoneting opposing armies and then raping their widows is disingenuous at best. Sesame Street has hardly any intercourse at all, especially since Bert and Ernie broke up. I also feel the need to point out that for every terrible reality TV show, there is a literary equivalent spilling from the pen of Dan Brown, and the like.

Van Maren throws the word “Yale” around like a nightstick, in an attempt to lend his article a little pop-psych credence. He invokes a Jerome Singer (the Yalie in question) that was published over 25 years ago to illustrate how kids will emulate television characters. Ignoring the tempering effect of decent parenting, a kid stabbing a classmate because he watched NYPD Blue is clearly displaying symptoms of some larger problem. In an attempt to bring in readers other than the Helen Lovejoys of the world, Van Maren then brings the falling global fitness level into his argument; he attempts to portray TV as the cause of obesity, as opposed to just eating too goddamned much. This offends me as a fat person.

My complaint, however, is not confied to quibbles with his evidence. There are much larger problems in the broad strokes he uses to paint the medium. He admits that cinematography and literature are two separate mediums, but then proceeds to evaluate them with the same metric. In an article about the degenerative effects of television, he fails to mention a single television show by name, let alone their deficiencies. In fact, he spends more time talking about television journalism than anything, which I would argue is another medium altogether.

Van Maren wrote the article like he had only read about television on the internet. He writes like he had never seen classics like M*A*S*H and St. Elsewhere, nor the modern masterpieces like The Wire and Six Feet Under. He wrote like he’s never seen the work of the master writers like Sorkin or Mamet. He wrote like he never cared whether Joey and Pacey were dating, let alone like he knows who the hell Dawson is and why he owns a creek. The value is there, if you seek it, just as it is in books.

Television is the logical progression of theater media, and we can learn just as much about ourselves from Twin Peaks as we can from Beckett. To pin it as the source of modern human idiocy is as narrow as it is ridiculous.

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