Sunday, February 28, 2010

Scott Walker: 30 Century Man

I briefly mentioned the documentary Scott Walker: 30 Century Man a couple of years back, after seeing it a VIFF; I picked it up on DVD last week (along with the Scott 3 CD which I am loving), and I've got to say, it deserves a second mention.  The film covers Walker's career path from idolized pop star to fairly reclusive avant garde musician/composer, interspersed with really interesting interviews with musicians about the influence of Scott's work, and fascinating interviews with the man himself.  

What got to me this time were two of the extras - the first, an extended interview with Brian Eno.  Eno's amazing musical brain is not news to me, but I was still left shaking my head in wonder at his ability to so clearly articulate some fairly difficult musical ideas, and his ability to so accurately pinpoint what makes Scott's music unique.  Eno speaks with the confidence of someone who is comfortable with his lofty position in the pantheon of musical gods - he's great at what he does, he's comfortable, he has nothing to prove. 

Not so much with the second extra - an extended interview with Scott.  What slays me about this interview is how revealing it is - every question is treated with complete openness and honesty, and the picture you end up with is of a man who is at once very precise and sure of his musical ideas, and utterly terrified that they won't work out; someone who understands that he is on the musical margins, but is somewhat pained by the isolation of that position; someone who blames himself for any perceived misstep his career has made, and not the record company's creative shackles.  You look at his eyes and see the pain of living with his creative, tormented brain.  Unlike Eno "comfortable" is never a word that comes to mind.  Scott has no choice but to do what he does, but it doesn't mean that he finds it easy. 

Not much else to say really - except rent it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

It's almost too much

It's been quite a week...though my feelings about the Olympics are mixed to say the least, one thing I will say is that t has allowed for a fantastic convergence of remarkable artistic talent in our fair city (and with this sunshine, it is more than fair, it's fantastic).  This week's entertainment?:

Tuesday: New Songs/New Voices - which featured 4 singer/songwriters from across the country (Meaghan Blanchard, Romi Mayes, Jason Plumb and Dan Mangan); excellent show, and gorgeous sound at the Roundhouse.  I'm hoping they will continue to present music there - so few small QUIET venues in Vancouver.  And, being the hometown boy, Dan brought the house down, but I also really enjoyed Meaghan Blanchard and Romi Mayes.

Wednesday: Delusion, the new performance piece by Laurie Anderson.  The highlight of the week for me, for sure.  It's a bit hard to explain her amazing twining together of story, music, visuals, but it was astounding and completely transfixing.  One of those things I just feel very lucky to have had a chance to see.  As an aside, the slightly curmudgeonly and surprisingly tiny Lou Reed was sitting in front of us, which was kind of cool.  When we left the venue he was busy reaming out a technical person for the misplacement of one of the lights on the stage, so his cranky legend lives on.

Thursday: Hal Wallner's Neil Young Project - a Neil Young tribute that brought together a huge whack of diverse musicians (Broken Social Scene, Sun Kil Moon, Joan as Policewoman, Eric Mingus, Teddy Thompson, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Emily Haines to name a few).  Overall a very enjoyable, if uneven, night.  They couldn't quite get the energy in the place just right, but when the performances worked, they were fantastic. Below is the only clip I took, and unfortunately it was one of the low points for me of the night - Kevin Drew and gang do their best to close the night off, but the energy wasn't there.

Friday: The Blue Dragon, by Robert Lepage (oh how I love thee RL!) - for the second time.  As always, an amazing production.  I didn't find it as powerful as the two solo works of his that I have seen, but I'm starting to realize that there is a resonance that a one person play can have - at least for me -  that can't really be touched by ensemble work.  Great to see it twice, and to notice how he had modified the work over time.  Also had the good luck to listen to a Q&A with the cast; Lepage is a wonderfully open guy, great to hear him speak about his process.

It has been a GREAT week.  Sorry about the brief, not all that insightful post, but I just had to get it down on paper...I mean, on computer...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Olympic Portraits

It takes all kinds.
This Olympic Portrait is by my fantastic stealth photographer pal A., taken at la Place de la Francophonie at Granville Island last night.  We had a brief chat with our new friend - and, indeed, he does love his foreskin, and we got to learn the many, many reasons why.  Not sure if anyone else loves it, but honestly, I don't think it matters to him.
And he does sell the t-shirts if anyone wants one.  I suggested he start making mugs as well.

Funniest moment?  The fact that A.'s rabbi called her during our chat with ILMF.  ILMF cut the conversation short after that - so to speak...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dan Mangan at the CBC: you had me at Leonard Cohen

I headed to CBC Radio's Studio 2 with my pal A. for a particularly special treat:  I managed to score a couple of seats to Dan Mangan's studio session with NXNW host Sheryl MacKay.  CBC Radio is trying out having a live audience for some of their studio sessions - in the case of Studio 2, that audience is limited to a max of about 14, so we were two of a very lucky few.  

First off, let me once again attest my deep, crazy love of CBC radio;  NXNW and Sheryl MacKay's bright yet miraculously soothing voice (soothing being oh so important at 7am on a Saturday) is inevitably the soundtrack of my weekend mornings, usually accompanied by whining cats and a cup of coffee.  It was a real treat to walk through the new CBC building down into the uber-quiet, studio-filled basement to see what goes into producing the show - well, at least a little bit of it.

I have also gone on (and on, and on...) about Dan Mangan repeatedly in this blog.  I've spoken about his records, his voice, and his ability to engage an audience.  What made this experience different was getting a chance to listen to him talk about what his life is like now fame is starting to nip persistently at his heels.  Here is someone who has obviously though long and hard about who he wants to be, and how he wants to be.  He seems genuinely humbled and grateful for what is happening in his world - not the fake humble you can smell a mile away, but the real, all-too-rare humble.  Unfortunately I am someone who looks for the cracks, and (maybe frustratingly?) I didn't see any.  Even when asked for his opinion on the rise and popularity of marketing-machine pop stars, he managed to treat the topic respectfully and graciously, with a recognition that they are playing completely different "sports," not begrudging them their fame, and realizing what he wants, and what they want, are very different things.  He remarked with admiration on the grace and humility of Leonard Cohen - and what decent Canadian doesn't love Leonard?   Really, he just came across as a genuine, pleasantly self deprecating guy.   He was getting over a flu so his voice was a little hoarser than usual, but his performance, as per usual, was completely engaging.

My pal A. brought her camera and was an incredibly effective stealth recorder of the event, as you can see.  As we left, she made the comment that pretty much summed it all up: "Don't you just want to wrap him up and put him in your pocket?"  Weird maybe, but it made absolute sense to me. 

The burning question we didn't ask?  How did he feel about being tied with Jack White as the #2 musician women want to sleep with - according to the Georgia Straight -  behind #1 Jon Bon Jovi (who comes up with this stuff?).  One thing I will say - of those three, Dan is the only one you'd want to bring home to meet your Mom.

Listen to the interview this Saturday morning on NXNW on CBC 88.1 - it will play at some point between 8 and 9 am.

Friday, February 05, 2010


I'm heading into a couple of weeks of cultural craziness - no, not the Olympics (which would classify as craziness...and other things... but that's another story).  It started last night with KAMP - a play by the fantastically creative, Rotterdam-based Hotel Modern.   I met up with my pal A. there, and we both brought along our well coordinated relatives (meaning they both share the same birthday and matching surgery scars, and not that they are both able to walk and chew gum at the same time - hey, it's my blog, I can tease if I want to...this post needs a bit of levity, trust me.)

I'm not sure where to start really.  When you walk into the room, the stage area is covered by an incredible, tiny, detailed scale model of Auschwitz.  The theatre troupe of three then starts to tell the story of a day in the life of this concentration camp - everything from the human cargo trains coming in and out, the painful repetitive hard labour, desperate suicides, gas chamber murders, meager rations, the broken bodies - all by manipulating tiny figures in this incredible set.  Often, the action was filmed and projected on the white curtains that surrounded the set, providing a really amazing interplay of scale, of live, real-time action and projection.  All many of us have seen of Auschwitz is in film, either news footage or cinematic recreation; the fact that the action being projected was happening right in front of us helped remove the safe distance film allows - not only from what was being seen as part of the play, but really all footage you might have seen of this horror in the past.

There was no dialogue - just incredible, intense sound - the scraping of the shovels, the screaming whine of the train on the tracks.  And we all just sat, quiet and still, completely transfixed.  There were no personal narratives told - this story was the ugly machinery of day to day life in this unimaginably horrendous situation, and the incredible scale of what was happening.   For me, that is perhaps the hardest thing to really grasp about the Holocaust - the scale.   This piece did a beautiful job of making it tangible.  

There was a Q&A afterward.  One of the questions raised was when will this be history?  If you mean specifically what transpired in this one camp - well, strictly speaking it is history; if you mean genocide, the answer is obviously very different.  The reasons the Holocaust is still such an active and important story to tell are many and various.  As we chatted on the way home, the fact that in part, the importance of what happened at Auschwitz is to remind us that we, despite our illusions to the contrary, can so easily do the unimaginable, given the right situation, the right social permission, the right recognition.  It's a horrible thing to have to face up to, and it is all too easy to forget.  For that reason - and many more - this story has to be told, again and again.   YAY to Hotel Modern for doing it in such a fantastic, fresh, creative way.

Up next: Robert Lepage's The Blue Dragon, next Tuesday night  - I CAN'T WAIT