Wednesday, March 07, 2018

My 50th Birthday Movie event: Suburbia (the Penelope Spheeris one, that is)

So: for my 50th birthday party, I'm getting to curate a film: Penelope Spheeris' under-rated 1983 "punxploitation" follow up to The Decline of Western Civilization, Suburbia, screening March 12th at the Vancity Theatre. Here are eight good reasons to come see it!

1. You like me! (I only turn 50 once, on March 7th, in fact, and I don't curate film events very often).

2. You like Flea! Yes, before he was famous, I think even before he was in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flea was a punk, who played in Fear (and I believe a few other California punk bands - I had heard he was in the Circle Jerks for awhile, and I believe he has a Black Flag tattoo, though I don't know if he was actually ever in Black Flag). He kind of steals the show here, as he tends to do, acting under the name "Mike B. the Flea" as a rat-loving street punk named Razzle, living with a group of other LA punk kids in an abandoned suburb. Ever wanted to see Flea put a live rat in his mouth? Here's your chance! (No rats are harmed). And who can forget the "Happy Easter, Asshole" scene?

3. You like a good exploitation film! This film - not to be confused with the stilted 1990's Linklater/ Bogosion slacker comedy of the same name - was produced by none other than Roger Corman and is very similar in respects to a lot of Corman's classic AIP exploitation dramas and of the 60's and 70's, containing the same sort of unsubtle social commentary you get in classic blaxploitation cinema, the same feel for youth that you see in his drug films like The Trip or Psychout, at least some of the same sensationalism of vintage women in prison movies (even a bit of lesbianism!), and a straights-versus-outsiders plot that you get in biker movies. There are certainly documentary elements to the film - a cast of real punks, for one, real bands, real concerts, presumably real locations (like the housing complex where the kids are squatting, sort of foreshadowing the squats of Decline of Western Civilization III). It has the same unexpected authenticity that a lot of the Corman films have (I mean, they're always a bit cheesy, but for a B-movie huckster, his productions often do more justice to their subject matter than their "serious" A-list contemporaries).

4. You like punk music! The Vandals - the original Vandals, with Stevo - kind of steal the show with "The Legend of Pat Brown," which appears to be about a cop killer (?! - "he's no zero/ he's a fuckin' hero!" But D.I. also performs "Richard  Hung Himself" - later covered by Slayer; and there are, if memory serves, two clips of vintage Jack Grisham TSOL. There's also punk all over the soundtrack, and a cast of real punks (including, I gather from comrades at the Straight, the female drummer from the Butthole Surfers, back in the day, trying to sell her pap smear); Penelope Spheeris said something at the time about how she was operating on the principle that you could train a punk to act but you couldn't train an actor to be a punk (though she tried with a subsequent film, Dudes, which I haven't seen in years and can't comment on; it's got John Cryer and the chubby murderer-dude from River's Edge, whose name, if I recall right, is Daniel Roebuck. All of this is long before Wayne's World).

5. You like Penelope Spheeris! ('nuff said, I hope, but certainly this film and the first and third Decline films are essential seeing for anyone who cares about punk cinema).

6. You like live music! We will have a guest, Jeff Andrew. I picked Jeff for this event because: a) his music works great in a solo acoustic context; b) for a folky kinda guy, he has pretty impressive punk credentials, having appeared on the final album by the Rebel Spell, co-writing a song with them; and because c) Todd Serious, the departed frontman of that band, was a big supporter of Jeff's, was the man, in fact, who turned me on to Jeff's music. Jeff is a very, very gifted songwriter in his own right, and songs like "Professional Asshole" - about cops abusing authority - to me have the classic feel of the very best (punk or folk or what-have-you) protest songwriting; I am sure Phil Ochs would have been impressed. Read Jeff on Todd Serious and the writing of "The Tsilhqot'in War" here...

7. And at the risk of opening old wounds, for fans of the Rebel Spell, I hope to play a couple of videos by the band as an added bonus, in tribute to Todd, who actually died ON MY BIRTHDAY, on March 7th, 2015 (March 12th might well be the anniversary of the day I found out about it - I was sitting at work at PGIC, in the computer lab downstairs, planning a lesson, when Adrian Mack called me to ask me if I'd heard. He was momentarily freaked out when I asked if it was rock climbing accident, like I was psychic or something, but it really wasn't a tough thing to guess; Todd had been injured previously in rock climbing accidents, which we'd talked about. Anyhow, the Rebel Spell remain one of my all-time favourite punk bands. I believe members of the band are going to come to the screening, and I might try to play some clips of both the Rebel Spell and maybe one or two bands from the Rebel Spell's diaspora...

The Rebel Spell at Adstock in Maple Ridge, photo by me!

8. And hell, I dunno what else you need to come see this event, but hopefully a few of my friends (and Facebook friends) will be there. I usually give out a couple of prizes - not sure what those will be this year. There is a bar at the Vancity, just like the Rio. Real comfy seats; Jeff will be playing in the atrium, so it's really easy to grab a beer while you watch. And, you know, how often have you heard of Suburbia playing THEATRICALLY in Vancouver? (I don't know if it has EVER played theatrically here, actually, or anywhere in Canada; it's kind of an under-seen, under-discussed classic).

I will have an interview online SOMEWHERE (take a guess where) with Penelope Spheeris on this film, before it screens, but seriously, folks, if any of the above moves you, come see Suburbia at the Vancity Theatre on March 12th. I promise it will be entertaining. I mean - *I'm* going to be there, and I still bleed when I pee!

See you there! Happy birthday to me...! (I'd add "rest in peace" for Todd, but "peace" seems like a strangely inappropriate thing to wish on Todd, akin to "old age" or "mediocrity" or something. In any event, I miss you, man).

Saturday, March 03, 2018

On Eli Roth's Death Wish

Note: apologies to Joe Carnahan - I HAD noticed his name in the credits (and based on Narc and The Grey, count myself as a fan) but I didn't know what to make of it, and didn't know ANY of the sad history of his screenplay (which you can read in the original here - thanks for that, David M.!). I am sure Carnahan's version would have been better. Anyhow, he doesn't get mentioned at all in what follows, but from what I gather, it wasn't much of "his" screenplay anymore at all (he left the project when the producers insisted on Bruce Willis). Hope he got a paycheque out of it, at least.  

I don't consider myself a total vulgarian when it comes to cinema. There is crap I enjoy - including the original Charles Bronson Death Wish movies, which I wrote about here; Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie got me on a Bronson kick awhile ago and I really quite enjoyed myself. But simplistic and sleazy and crudely-made as such movies may be, I think the question of vigilantism is a very interesting one, not entirely irrelevant to my interest in punk rock (CF. Gerry Hannah's comments about Direct Action and vigilantes in Susanne Tabata's Bloodied But Unbowed). Sometimes crappy, sleazy movies can raise interesting questions, speak to aspects of society in a way that is potent, honest and unpretentious (no one \accused Bronson of being pretentious ever, I should imagine). And sometimes sleazy action films and thrillers do things that rival Un Chien Andalou in their capacity to unsettle, that can be quite startling and psychologically revealing, in ways more genteel, "mature" films rarely are.

Take Eli Roth's first two Hostel movies. While paid newspaper-type movie critics - mostly jobbers who trade in moral outrage and middlebrow mediocrity, seldom saying much of interest at all, often just jumping from one predictable bandwagon to the next - dismissed Roth's two best films as grindhouse "torture porn," I  would be hard-pressed to name any 21st century horror franchise that interested me half as much, and I entirely bought Roth's protestations on the Hostel II commentary that the film was meant as a sort of political protest against GW Bush's America, that it was a film about exploiting, torturing, and killing people for profit (among other things - there's also a whole subtext in the film about beauty and female competiveness, grounded by an incredibly brave performance from Heather Matarazzo, whose death scene is maybe the most upsetting scene in any movie I've seen, shy of Salo). When I applied to the Master's Program at Film Studies at UBC (which I was not admitted to, and nevermore shall attempt to access, because, well, just fuck'em), the main thing I was interested in writing about was transformative ordeals and class rage in what I was calling urban/ rural horror movies - a phrase I thought I had picked up from Carol J. Clover, but which I don't think she actually uses. Her chapter on rape revenge movies and the city versus the country in Men, Women and Chainsaws is some of the most provocative film writing I've read - and can be productively applied far beyond her scope (which mostly focuses on Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes, Hunter's Blood, and, of course, I Spit On Your Grave). If you get thinking about it, her analysis - that such films allow people further up the class ladder than the downtrodden to guiltlessly act out their rage at the poor, for MAKING them feel guilty in the first place - lends great depth to the Hostel franchise, which swaps out rural America in favour of economically-depressed Eastern Europe. It's part of a growing tendancy to use the developing world in the place of the dirt-poor, rapey hillbillies of Deliverance (see also, say, Turistas, for a Latin example. or The Ruins, or Borderland; there are others). There's lots I can say on the topic - there's a pretty good book in it, actually, on the globalization of urban/ rural horror... 

...but suffice it to say that I really, really liked the Hostel movies - especially part two, which is just jam-packed with ideas about class and gender and beauty and power and capitalism. It's one of the smartest, richest horror films I've seen, with its brilliance lying in part in the fact that it draws on a very simple template (but tweaks it and complicates it).  I spent a few years forcing friends to watch Roth, even got my wife, who doesn't like horror that much, to watch Hostel  (though she disliked it enough that I haven't pressed Hostel 2, the better film, on her... yet. There is almost no point, since I would probably have to just fast forward through Heather's big scene, which is just so cruel and heartbreaking and ugly that I couldn't bear to expose her to it, as important a scene as it is). 

Alas, I haven't been that impressed with anything Eli Roth has done since: acting kinda badly in a weaker Tarantino and the one Latin horror film I caught him in (Aftershock) didn't do anything to vindicate my enthusiasm for him, and while The Green Inferno and Knock Knock were both decent enough - I liked The Green Inferno the second time through far better than I did the first, after my expectations had been suitably lowered -  they weren't as original or striking as the first two Hostel films, with the first being a genre homage and the second a flat-out remake, if memory serves. I began to worry that Roth's early brilliance would prove to be as temporary as Tarantino's, if, as so often happens in American cinema, success would spoil him in one way or another (Because I haven't loved anything QT has done since Jackie Brown, you know? And I flat out disliked his last two features,  albeit in very different ways).  

Anyhow, having read Brian Garfield's original novel; having seen all the Bronson Death Wish films, and several other Bronsons besides; having seen Death Wish knockoffs like Harry Brown and The Brave One, having greatly enjoyed James "Saw" Wan's Death Sentence, based on Garfield's follow up novel to Death Wish, and much truer to Garfield's intended message; and having even watched Zebedy Colt's bizarre, transgressive, and disturbing porn ripoff of Death Wish, Sex Wish... I was actually really excited to hear that Eli Roth was taking on Death Wish, and I thought it brilliant that he had cast Bruce Willis in the lead role. It seemed a perfect choice, especially if Roth was planning to do anything remotely transgressive or fresh with his text. He had every opportunity - to make a film that stood to the original Death Wish films as Unforgiven stood to earlier, more violent Clint Eastwood fare, or that took in, say, a film like Falling Down (which speaks to the put-upon white male vigilante, with some fairly overt political messaging). Willis has long been - especially in the first Die Hard and The Last Boy Scout - sort of a poster-boy for put-upon white male rage; who better could Roth possibly cast in the role of Paul Kersey - especially if Roth intended to subvert Kersey's vengeful rage, query it, make it an uncomfortable place for the viewer to access? (Which, by the way, is what Wan does with Death Sentence, making it very clear in a way the Bronson franchise never did that VIGILANTISM IS BAD, that it leads to a dehumanized, ugly place; Kevin Bacon ends up far uglier than the monsters he's dispatching, and the film ends up no advertisement for taking the law into your own hands). Garfield had always disliked the Death Wish franchise for making his story into something pro-vigilante, turning Kersey into a sort of folk hero.... and I always felt bad for him, because the book, while uncomfortable, even painful to read, has brilliance to it. Roth could right that old wrong, amp up the damaged, racist, angry aspects of his main character's descent, and maybe even end the film with a surprise twist, like having Kersey get shot and killed at the end by a black man, say. There are a billion interesting and provocative things to be said about gun violence and racial tension in America right now; and if you're going to address such issues through an exploitation film - especially a remake - what better source text to choose than Death Wish?

You see, all the hand-flapping bandwagon-jumping critics who,  when the Death Wish trailer broke, posted articles about how tone-deaf, ill-timed, and insensitive it was for Roth to resurrect this franchise...? They were TOTALLY WRONG. It was, all along, a potentially brilliant move. If Roth did something as brave and confrontational as he did with the Hostel films, if he took a few risks - I thought - and ventured to rub his audience's noses in their desires and prejudices, he could make an INCREDIBLY timely and politically significant film, show that his finger was in fact RIGHT on the pulse of American violence, maybe even digging his thumbnail into it a bit. IT COULD HAVE BEEN GREAT. I spent months salivating, even interviewed Robin Bougie about his reactions to the trailer. (I avoided watching it, myself, lest it sully my excitement). Despite the early shit reviews - which were totally predictable, given the current state of critical culture -  I still made my way off my sickbed to see the film on opening night at Metrotown, last night, with at least somewhat high hopes still intact. 

Sometimes you need to have a movie you have hopes for, you know?

And while I enjoyed myself - it's a fine, fun "homage" to the Bronson films, and if you like those, you'll probably enjoy it well enough - I must say that my main reaction was disappointment. I try NOT in general to review a film against what I had HOPED it was going to be, but it's impossible for me to do otherwise here, since my hopes were so high and played so much of a role in my going to see it last night: I had hoped this film would do something inspired and original with the Death Wish mythos, and that it would vindicate all the long hours I have spent arguing against the "torture porn" Roth-dismissers out there. 

Sigh. Turns out the film is merely okay. It is assembled well-enough, in terms of editing and photography and scoring and pacing - it is a competent bit of crap, vastly better-made than any of the original Death Wishes, for one thing (none of which look that good, and especially not the first one). Some of the overhead traffic shots are just great. Some of the action scenes play out very crisply. There's a bit of interesting commentary on social media, with Willis watching a clip of himself in action on the internet and approving, even smiling. I like the score. Even AC/DC is well-used - how is it that "Back in Black" hasn't been in a movie until now? (Or has it been...?). 

All of that is not enough by far - especially when MOST of the key players in the film appear to be beyond Roth's capacity to direct. Bruce Willis, Elizabeth Shue, and Dean Norris all look like actors delivering lines through most of the film (with Willis basically re-visiting the ground covered in the vastly fresher Unbreakable: he seems sad and mournful even before the home invasion that so damages his family, so you never really feel the depths of his grief or rage, afterwards; he's basically in sad-sack mode the whole fuckin' film, turning in a performance that actually is WEAKER, acting-wise, than Charles Bronson's - which, much as I like Charles Bronson, is really SAYING something). Vincent D'Onofrio, on the other hand, almost overacts his role, running a bit too far with it, like he's compensating for Willis' lack of expressivity, panicking a little at how stiff everyone else is; he borders on the hammy at times, which doesn't help matters. There are a few relative unknowns who do decent work in the film - Camila Morrone, as Jordan Kersey, or Beau Knapp as Knox, to name two - but the only name actor present who actually submits a memorable performance is Stephen McHattie, who has a minute-long cameo in the film, where he bursts in a room, EXPLODES with actorly power, and then leaves, putting everyone else in the film to shame. His lines are NOT "you call this acting? Where the fuck did you learn to act, in a TV commercial? You assholes aren't acting. THIS is acting, for fucksake. NOW SHAPE UP!" That is NOT what he says, but that's kind of what you take away from his scene. 

I love Stephen McHattie. I like that Roth cast him, obviously just for the sake of having McHattie in the film, briefly. 

It still is nowhere near enough to save the movie. Where the film is really disappointing is in its completely not living up to ANY of the potential it has. Does it offer anything new or fresh or interesting? Does it say anything that the original Death Wish films didn't? Does it do anything remotely inspired or creative, beyond having Kersey watchin' himself kill people online?

Okay, there's one pretty great, gory torture scene in it, but I always held that Roth, at his best, was about a LOT more than "torture porn." Maybe his naysayers have convinced him, finally, that that's a suitable ghetto for him to occupy, though? When the only remotely fresh scene in the film is, in fact, a scene of torture... it makes me wonder if maybe I had Roth wrong all along? Maybe Hostel II isn't the inspired, provocative masterpiece of contemporary horror that I always took it for? ...or maybe he just got lucky, had a couple of good ideas early on, then made a lot of money and got lazy or just plumb ran out of new things to say? 

It wouldn't be the first time, in American cinema, that that's happened.

Eli Roth's Death Wish did not offend me. I enjoyed it well enough - if you like a good violent shoot-em-up kinda film, if you like Charles Bronson or Bruce Willis movies, you'll probably enjoy it just fine. It is no more dangerous or tasteless than most other action films out there; if it remains in line with the reactionary tendencies of the original franchise - if we started condeming American movies for being reactionary, there wouldn't be many of them left that we could watch. The film is a purely passable entertainment. Someone who has never seen a Charles Bronson film might even find it an agreeable gateway drug. 

But I sure didn't care about it, and I'd really hoped to. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Kidney Stone blues

First off, I'm all right. I have a puppy training pad stuffed in my shorts as I write this - basically a giant, folded maxi-pad, in case I dribble; they were much, much cheaper than an adult diaper, which is what I was sent home in. (Thanks to my smart wife for this brainflash; puppy pads can be purchased at any Dollarama and cost a fraction of their human equivalent, for those of you with incontinence issues). Now that the anaesthetic has worn off, the dribbling appears to have stopped, but it burns a bit in my urethra when I urinate; my pee has a pinkish hue (or did yesterday); and it doesn't take long for my bladder to feel uncomforably, even painfully full. Plus I have a bit of constipation, also caused, I think, by the anaesthetic.

But for a guy who had tubes stuffed up his dick yesterday, I'm doing just fine. 

I also still have a kidney stone, 6X9 mm, jammed up my left ureter, apparently exactly where it was before I went to the hospital. I would feel much, much better about my experience yesterday had it actually been effective in removing this blockage. My urologist DID manage to get a stent into my ureter, so the urine can now flow around my stone - which is definitely something - but - I had not realized this - apparently yesterday's treatment was kind of exploratory, of a "let's go in and see what we can do" variety.

The answer, sadly, was "not much."

Pretty sure my urologist was more definitive when he initially described the procedure to me two weeks ago, but okay, whatever: apparently my kidney stone is not in a place where it is accessible. The lasers and cameras and other mysterious technology that went up my penis, through my bladder, and into my ureter yesterday could not get far enough up into my tubing, as my buddy Mark has put it, to "blow up my Death Star." So I will have to go for a different procedure, involving heavy vibrations, at VGH. I'm not even sure what the hell it is called, or what the side effects to THAT will be. (No one warned me about urinary incontinence yesterday, though in hindsight, it makes sense; what will being vigorously vibrated about the guts do, I wonder?). Maybe I would rather have cut to the chase, on that, and spared myself the experience yesterday, had I known it might not be effective, but I guess I'll try to have some equanimity here. I got a stent. I am almost fully recovered. It was nowhere near as bad as I imagined it would be.

And while it may not have actually solved my problem, it was still an interesting experience, as those of you who follow me on Facebook will know. I got to have my feet in stirrups, just like a woman giving birth. (I was pretty much knocked out by that point, with a spinal shot and a general sedative, so my memories aren't very clear about that. I kinda wish I had pictures to show of it). I spent about three hours numb from the waist down, with nurses using ice to determine how effective the freezing was, moving it down my body to see where I was frozen up to ("is it cold?" became yesterday's equivalent of "Is it safe?"). I got to have first hand experience of the whole "wiggle your big toe" trip from Kill Bill, which scene I have new appreciation of. (Apparently my left big toe comes out of anaesthetic much faster than my right). And I had the singularly strange experience of feeling like there was some sort of small stuffed animal in bed with me, an odd lump between my legs that, on further investigation, turned out to be my penis. (As senstation returned to my feet and groin it felt like my dick and balls and the bottoms of my feet were all made of pillows).

And while the what's-that-oh-it's-my-dick moment was probably the high point of weirdnesses, there were, indeed others. At some point, for instance, I apparently involuntarily ejaculated, with no erection, because I could sniff semen on my fingers after touching myself. When I could finally stand, in order to demonstrate to the nurses that I could urinate and was therefore fit to be discharged, I got to Tim Conway my way from the bed to the bathroom, leaning  into the porter with my IV bags on it, dribbling urine every step of the way. Usually Erika gets annoyed with  me when I pee on the floor, but apparently yesterday I had a free pass. It has, further, been some time since I wore a diaper (which was soaked with pinkish pee by the time I got home; alas, we didn't think to ask for a second one to change into, which is where the puppy pad came in). All of these count as life-lessons, I suppose - a sort of practice-run on my old age. I probably didn't need to re-learn how little I like having tape ripped off my arm, though it may encourage me to shave my arms a bit before I go into VGH for phase two of this procedure.

But I'm home, I'm safe, and while there was probably wisdom in keeping a puppy pad on, I am no longer leaky, apparently. Sometime in March, I get to get my guts vibrated. We'll keep you posted on how that works, I guess.

Meantime, I leave you with this Frank Zappa song. Maybe you know the one...

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

A Shaw Brothers Night at the Vancity Theatre: Come Drink With Me plus vintage trailers!

You meet people who remember the Rickshaw as it was from time to time, back when it was known as the Shaw Theatre. One of my wife Erika's coworkers tells me he used to regularly go see Hong Kong-made Shaw Brothers movies there with his father throughout the 1980's, back when it was actually a movie theatre. The place was an institution for Vancouver's Chinese-Canadian (and/ or kung-fu-movie-loving) community for decades, run by the actual Shaw family, before it eventually closed and fell into disrepair. The resurrected Rickshaw's current proprietor, Mo Tarmohamed, has put up a couple posters for vintage kung fu movies in honour of the building's heritage, but - though I've chatted with him a bit about the building's past - I hadn't heard until recently that, when he took over the building, he also inherited film reels that had been left in an office, including some vintage Shaw Brothers trailers. (I believe Adrian Mack over at the Straight has actually seen the film cannisters in question, which Mo and co. are currently cataloguing; it was all news for me, as of a couple weeks ago).

That's all some cool local history. But besides being overwhelmed with other work, I'm maybe not the best-suited man to write a story about all this, because, despite a recent  failed attempt to make it through The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, the only actual Shaw Brothers movie I have seen to completion is an anomalous one: The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, a Hammer Studios co-production that features Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, battling, yep, kung-fu fighting Chinese vampires. It is very silly, very fun, and reasonably well-made, even if the film's Dracula pales next to Christopher Lee.

I mean, vampires are supposed to be pale, but... you know what I mean.

I do like a good kung fu movie, mind you, and have enjoyed two Ip Man movies, Bloodsport, Circle of Iron, and a couple of vintage Bruce Lees, but it's a genre I have less than exhaustive knowledge of. I am too fussy to watch poor-quality bootlegs, I can't abide most dubbing, and am even less fond of incompetent subtitling (which I have noted more than once on less-than-reputable DVDs of Chinese films). You just don't stumble across good quality DVDs or Blu's of classic kung fu actioners that often in your da-to-day scroungings in this town. (Or at least I don't). Hell, I don't even know if Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon counts as a wuxia film. To be totally honest, I'm not even sure what a wuxia film is, though I know that the 1966 feature Come Drink With Me is a wuxia film, because it is mentioned in the Vancity Theatre's program description.

Which brings us to the point. The Vancity Theatre will be playing Come Drink With Me and THREE of the Shaw Brothers trailers rediscovered at the Rickshaw on February 11th, at 9:45PM, to mark the occasion of Chinese New Year (the next day). Apparently the star of Come Drink With Me, who made a splash at age 20 in the film - her name is Cheng Pei Pei - was also in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and acts in Mina Shum's upcoming Meditation Park. She's still around, and through Shum, she too has a Vancouver connection. All of this is more than enough to put this film on my radar (my crazy-busy worklife right now might still mean I don't make it, but I'm gonna try).

There really isn't a lot else I can tell you, but Tom Charity has posted a piece on the Vancity Theatre website which includes trailers for some classic Cheng Pei Pei films, including Come Drink With Me, and more news about the Rickshaw discovery. It should fill in a few blanks. I wonder if Erika would enjoy Come Drink With Me? (Maybe she should tell her aforementioned coworker?).

Friday, February 02, 2018

Paolo Angeli's Vancouver return: a real (rare) treat for guitar lovers

Welcoming Paolo Angeli back to Vancouver!

I used to be a lot more involved in the avant garde music scene in Vancouver - noise nights, pancake noise breakfasts (or was that "noise pancake," to differentiate from the sound of the noise MADE by pancakes?). I wrote a Wire article - my only one so far - largely focusing on the Fake Jazz Wednesdays scene and Vancouver New Music, also speaking to people involved at 1067,  and tipping hat to bands like Shearing Pinx and the Mutators (unfortunately, some editor capitalized my And, making them into one band, but ah well, by the time I saw it the article was in print.) I think I got Dave Chokroun, Flatgrey, Harlow McFarlane and Josh Stevenson in there, maybe under a band name in some cases. I missed a couple of obvious names - Bill Batt and Jeremy van Wyck deserved to be in the article, for sure (Anju Singh was only just getting involved in the scene, though I did plug the Her Jazz Noise Collective). But I was focusing on the fear of impending venue closures, and talked to wendythirteen about the Cobalt instead, not knowing either Bill or Jeremy at that time and trying to keep my interviews manageable. The punk in me was glad to get wendythirteen into the Wire, but missing Bill and Jeremy seemed a mistake afterwards (I don't even recall if I mentioned Bill's band at the time, Stamina Mantis, who I'd only barely heard of). Besides all that, I paid a little more press than was maybe strictly warranted to my friends in Ejaculation Death Rattle (but what can I say, I dug what they did, members of the band were my "in" to a lot of the cooler stuff I was aware of, and, I mean, that's a great name for a band). I also blogged here a lot on any of the noise events I went to - go back ten years or so. And I frequently volunteered at Vancouver New Music events, selling merch for a long list of very cool people: Paul Dutton, Fred Frith, Maja Ratkje, the Her Jazz Noise Collective, Sir Richard Bishop, Diamanda Galas, and one of the guys from Negativland (Mark Hosler, I think his name was).

Those merch table nights were really fun. I often bought a ton of merch myself; I sold merch to some cool people (Alex Varty and I both bought Kick the Dog, a live Fred Frith album that you just don't see in stores); and sometimes I got to have very interesting conversations with the artists in question (including a long talk with Jaap Blonk that didn't ever end up making into the world, if anyone is hungry for a Jaap Blonk interview; it's one of about five major interviews I've done that for one reason or another never actually got published). Often I would be sitting at the merch table, "guarding" it, instead of going in to the venue proper (we're talking the Scotiabank Dance Theatre, here, so there was definitely a separation between the merch tables and the performance area).  Frequently that meant hanging out with people who were waiting to perform, or just winding down. I missed Koichi Makigami's set but I got to see him do a little bit of warming up in the anteroom. I had a long, enjoyable talk with Paul Dutton. I got Otomo Yoshihide to sign a CD, and confirmed with him in my broken Japanese that his family name was indeed "Otomo," not "Yoshihide" (the program got it wrong). Got to meet Maja Ratkje, too (much less terrifying when not performing). And of the five, I think, Vancouver New Music festivals (and a couple of stand-alone concerts) that I did that sort of thing for, by far the set that got the most buzz was Paolo Angeli, at the Guitars! Guitars! festival (or was it "Guitars! Guitars! Guitars!"...?).

I had no idea who Paolo Angeli was at that time. I was keener to see Rene Lussier that night, if memory serves, doing a combination of traditional French-Canadian reels and improvised electric guitar stuff, so I decided to just stay on the table and let a co-volunteer go into the space. But when people came out, after Angeli was done, they were totally excited about this masterful performance they'd seen, of moving, tuneful music played on a totally unique prepared guitar/ cello that gave him a much richer, bigger sound than you usually get from a solo performance. People cued up to buy his CDs in droves - it was Tessuti that he was touring at the time, involving his covers and homages to the music of both Fred Frith and Bjork (!) - and we sold all but one or two.

Mr. Angeli, after the performance, came out to square up, saw that he'd sold almost all his merch, was very surprised and happy, and - this was the only time, as I recall, that this happened - he gave me a tip: a copy of his CD. He tipped me! (That didn't happen very often).

It was terrific. I took it home, put it on, and commenced kicking myself for having missed his set. Understand, this was not really avant-garde music as the term is usually understood. It was fresh and new and virtuosic, sure, but there was none of the demanding/ indulgent/ noisy quality generally associated with the avant-garde. It was utterly beautiful to listen to, but also very earnest and down-to-earth, something that could easily bridge the gap(s) between people who liked classical music, jazz, experimental music and pop. I can't imagine anyone who likes guitar music, regardless of his or her background or tastes, spinning the album and not enjoying it (unless they really needed to be able to pigeonhole the genre, which I imagine would be frustrating). If you like music, you'll like it (and I'm tempted to say if you don't like it, you don't like music). And while I have sold off most of the CDs and LPs that I bought during that time, and almost never listen to anything remotely avant-garde anymore - the odd Eugene Chadbourne disc aside - I think I'm going to make up for my error and go see Mr. Angeli's Vancouver return performance on February 10th, again, put on by Vancouver New Music.

That's all I can really say about it, but an excerpt from the press release from Vancouver New Music follows. Note, fellow vulgarians, that in reading this through, I initially thought he adjusted tunings "on his fly," not "on the fly," which error lasted long enough in my head that I formed a mental picture of what it might look like.

Vancouver New Music presents
Paolo Angeli (Italy) – Solo Performance
Saturday, February 10, 2018; 8PM
Free pre-show chat 7:15PM 
Pyatt Hall at the VSO School of Music (843 Seymour Street)
Advance single tickets: $29 general / $21 senior / $12 student
At the door: $35 general / $25 senior / $15 student
(includes taxes and venue surcharges; ticket vendor surcharges extra)
Vancouver, BC – Virtuoso guitarist Paolo Angeli (Italy) returns to Vancouver on Saturday, February 10 for a one-night only, solo performance for prepared Sardinian guitar and voice at Pyatt Hall. This concert will be the final Canadian stop on his world tour for his new album, TALEA, which will begin at Carnegie Hall in New York City. 
Whatever you want to call it, nobody else plays music quite like this. Angeli, the Sardinian sorcerer, creates beautiful, multi-layered music from his unique prepared guitar: a hybrid orchestra of an instrument with strings that go in all directions, foot-pedal-controlled motorised propellers and hammers. Creating shimmering drones and bass-lines, Angeli bows, strikes, plucks and strums while producing rhythmic musical atmospheres by treading on a plastic bag and adjusting tunings on the fly. With this singular instrument he improvises and composes unclassifiable music, suspended between traditional music of Sardinia, free jazz, baroque, post-folk and pre-everything else. Every performance is lived through the practice of free improvisation, and represents for Paolo the chance to mould the sounds generated by his ‘orchestra’-guitar. The result is an ever-changing portrait where, in real time, can be found remnants of the ‘canto a chitarra’, Tasgia choirs, free jazz, punk noise, drum & bass, and avant pop. 
He has collaborated with Pat Metheny – who used Angeli's guitar in Orchestrion – Fred Frith, Hamid Drake, Iva Bittova, Butch Morris, Ned Rothemberg, Jon Rose, Antonello Salis, Evan Parker, Takumi Fukushima, Louis Sclavis, Paolo Fresu, and others. 
"Paolo Angeli is one of jazz’s best-kept secrets. The Sardinian guitarist (of sorts) has the ability to conjure incomparably beautiful multi-layered music, all from just one instrument. Playing a one- of-a-kind guitar/cello/motorised hybrid, Paolo bows, plucks and even provides his own percussion all at the same time without any need for loops." – Jez Nelson - BBC radio 3

More on the event here, and on Paolo Angeli here. Check him out on Youtube and tell me that it ain't lovely. Maybe we see you there?

Monday, January 29, 2018

My Kidney Stone, My Penis and My Urologist's Laser

Was is June? July? One summer night, back when I was still working at Douglas College as a tutor, you could find me at the hospital, doubled over with pain in the mid-back, sitting on the floor of the ER because the nurses wouldn't give me a chair (because I might be infectious, and because they apparently all had chips on their shoulder, some weird hate-on for sick, unpleasant men - because who can be pleasant in the state I was in?). The tiny hard hospital cot was too uncomfortable, and too high off the ground for a guy who needed to barf pretty frequently, so, chairless, I was slumped there on the tiles with the trash bin between my legs, projectile-puking and moaning, the doctors and nurses staying well away, and my understandably disgusted but still supportive wife standing, worrying about me, from the opposite corner of the room... it was several months ago, now... worst night healthwise of my life since I got over my tongue cancer surgery...

I figure  now that that day was when the kidney stone left my left kidney and began its passage down my ureter (the tube that leads from the kidney to the bladder). At 9mm long (and whatever the diameter - "it's a big one," my urologist tells me) it is too big to actually pass into the bladder, too big to be effectively shockwaved into fragmenting, too big to pass with the help of products like Flomax (which my urologist doesn't trust, anyhow, and which has, I gather, some scary dick-damaging side-effects). So as soon as they can book an appointment, they're going to admit me to the hospital, put me under, and stuff a camera and laser on tubes UP MY PENIS, THROUGH MY BLADDER, and INTO MY URETER to laserblast my rock into fragments that I might actually piss out, hopefully without cutting my urethra to ribbons, and without them accidentally lasering through my internal tubing. "It's a very small risk," my urologist said...

It's only taken six months of the BC medical system to get me to this point, from the diagnosis of a "possible kidney stone," even before my ER trip, to a diagnosis of "likely kidney stone" to an inconclusive ultrasound to a conclusive CT scan, each spaced out by a month or two, as my symptoms persisted unabated and untreated. Having a partially blocked ureter means your body wants to pee more to flush out the blockage, so you dehydrate a bit, and wake up to pee a lot, no matter how much water you do or don't drink. Because my blockage - a lump of calcium and minerals presumably about the size of a playing marble - is actually too big to pee out, there has been some buildup behind it in the ureter of substances that it traps; for all I know, it's gotten bigger. (Infection and inflammation are obvious other risks). The pain is actually fairly mild - a dull lower back ache on the left side. Some days I don't even notice it. But I am told if it goes untreated much longer, the pain will worsen, and my urologist seems intent on fast-tracking me. With my apnea and my being overweight and so forth it takes a little while for them to get all the paperwork in place for a surgical procedure, but, if he speaks the truth, it could be as soon as next week.

I never would have guessed that there would come a point where I was looking forward to having ANYTHING stuffed up my penis, but here I am. If it's the most likely treatment to have the desired effect - if there are, really, no other good options, then, like I said today to my urologist, "Doc, you go ahead and stuff that laser up my penis, and the sooner the better." 

If that's not the most unlikely combination of words I have ever strung together, I dunno what is.

Streets of Fire: Meh

Finally saw, thanks to David M., the Shout Factory Blu of Streets of Fire, without having to pay money for it (it's $34.99 at Sunrise, and last I checked, around the same at Videomatica; I wonder who can afford such things?). I had been itching to see it in the best looking version available, so I could a) share it with my wife and b) re-evaluate it, because my memory of it, formed in the days of VHS, is that it was fun but trivial, hardly anything to write home about (which I've seen a few film writers do in recent years, making me wonder if seeing it through the misty filter of 80's nostalgia would change my estimate of it). And while I am not sure if I am happy or sad to say so, so it seems to me now, exactly as it seemed to me then: fun... but trivial. 

It's not awful, mind you. I think part of what will make the film work or fail for you is how much you care about images versus words, when eventuating a film. It's definitely a BEAUTIFUL looking film - the production design is exceptional, more on which below. But like another film I regard as lesser of Hill's, The Driver, it has a screenplay that feels like it was written by a teenager, with each line of dialogue packed with import and drama and a total fearlessness when it comes to cliches, like Hill isn't even aware they exist (or is, perhaps, very very fond of them; maybe he has a cliche fetish?). Once you have some practice with the film, you can practically see the next line coming, in all-caps and boldface, embracing its own inevitability; surely several takes were ruined by actors involuntarily wincing at the cheese they were being asked to deliver with total sincerity. And like his re-edited version of The Warriors, it feels both in framing and in line delivery very much at times like a comic book, with basically fewer than ten words being uttered at any moment, such as might appear in the word balloons over a character's mouth in any given image. It's almost as if the utter simplicity of his approach to writing is, in fact, a point of pride - and the corniness (not quite campiness) DOES make it kind of fun. But the last time I saw it was as a teenager, and having grown up in the interim does nothing to make the dialogue any easier to swallow...

Of course, the production design - imagining a 1980's version of the 1950's that acts as if the '60's and '70's never happened -  is superb, with streets that are always wet, full of vintage cars and bikes that shine with a fetishistic glow. The set design alone must have cost a fair bit. The film looks utterly fantastic on Blu, so if the whole comic-book-dialogue thing doesn't sound bothersome to you - you might actually really ENJOY the movie. Plus there are fun performances throughout - especially, for me, that of a reptilian Willem Dafoe and his henchman Lee Ving (a punk whose movie apparances, like those of Chris D. and John Doe, seem weirdly few and far between, given how much charisma he has when he's onscreen). Amy Madigan looks a bit too much like Amy Madigan, and seems a bit better than the material, but is always fun to watch. Rick Moranis has a thankless role as the money-conscious manager/ boyfriend of a kidnapped pop star but manages the trick of being a twerp and being likable at the same time. Hero Michael Pare, hired to rescue said star from the bike gang holding her, seems to be embracing his inner Stallone, and definitely does NOT seem above the material, which I guess is a good thing. About the only person who comes across a bit wooden is Diane Lane, whose greatest accomplishment in the film was to make me think wistfully of how much I enjoyed Joan Jett in Paul Schrader's Light of Day. The film would be more fun, I think, if her character were at all believable or interesting. There is some great music on the soundtrack - including a rockin' appearance by the Blasters, some Ry Cooder originals (and a Link Wray cover by Cooder's band), and for those who have a guilty fondness for such things, a couple Jim Steinman tunes (don't judge  me, but I count that as a positive). And there is a club dancer, played by French dancer Marine Jahan, who is very compelling and watchable, doing a semi-strip to Leiber and Stoller's "One Bad Stud" as performed by the Blasters (featuring three people who were just in town with the Flesh Eaters, since Steve Berlin is onstage with Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman). I gather from M. that she was the dance double for Jennifer Beals in Flashdance. I remember her being fodder for my horny teen self when watching it 30-odd years ago; now I mostly just appreciate how GOOD she is, and her being sexy as she does it is simply a side-observation... 

But fuckin' hell is the movie corny, and almost utterly absent of anything provocative or interesting in terms of content. It describes itself as a rock and roll "fable" but it's more of a rock and roll comic book - or maybe even simpler than that. I am aware that the film has its fans right now, that it has been reclaimed and embraced by a certain kind of cinephile out there, including people who have declared in their favourite film. It's truly puzzling to me. Southern Comfort, sure, that I will get behind. Or The Long Riders, or Hard Times, or the original version of The Warriors, which, while also cartoonish, has some real originality and inspiration to it. Maybe there's something I'm simply failing to appreciate, maybe there's some way in which the film is about cliche, and not just jam-packed with it?

I would like to add another Hill movie I can enjoy to my list, would still like to think of myself as a fan of his cinema - but Streets of Fire sure isn't it.

Anyhow, thanks, David M., for having saved me the $35!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

George Carlin Redux: "George Carlin Cancelled"

Woke up to a blog-comment/ lecture on a piece of writing I did from five years ago.

It's kinda interesting to me to see anyone reading stuff I did from that long ago, let alone taking me to task for it. I mean, I didn't even remember what I wrote (and the idea that anyone would take it seriously enough to respond to it is kinda flattering, really, even if they're hatin' on me). The person in question might have a few points, I dunno. It's early in the morning. Wakin' up to a spankin' over a five year old potential tastecrime is a bit odd. 

As you will see, tho', (in the linked piece, above, and the comments section below it) it was about the only time I saw George Carlin. Let me just say here, without reiterating the above-linked piece, that I have great love for George Carlin, meant him no disrespect in the slightest in that piece of writing, am sad that he is gone, and would love to hear what he would make, say, of President Donald Trump, or Harvey Weinstein, or #metoo, or  Louis CK, or so forth. There have been a lot of deaths of some note in the last decade, but in terms of PEOPLE WHO I ACTUALLY SPENT TIME WITH - whose words I have spent the most time on, whose ideas and observations have most shaped me - the two I have felt the most are probably George Carlin and Lemmy.

I got to actually TALK to Lemmy about death, and know he had a pretty good sense of humour about it - there's a line from a very early song he wrote and sang, with Sam Gopal, called "Escalator," to the effect of, "if you like me when I'm living/ you're gonna love me when I'm dead." He actually chuckled when I quoted that back at him during an interview and talked about how people get better after they die. Death and mortality and serious illness are terrifying things to me since my brush with cancer last year, and I hope I too can keep a sense of humour and perspective as they get closer (I'm almost 50!). Lemmy had a pretty great way of dealing with the inevitable, it seems, living exactly the life he wanted to live right to the end (even if he hadda switch out Coke for Diet Coke because of his diabetes).

Carlin got a little morbid in his last couple shows, for my taste, actually - there's some really kinda nasty bits, amongst the humour and wisdom.  But as far as dark death-related humour goes, nothing I have seen is funny in the same way as this ad that appeared in the Georgia Straight shortly after George Carlin died. He had a show scheduled at River Rock Casino when he passed; so this is what the casino ran, to let people know the show was off.

If there IS footage of that final Carlin show mentioned, I think they should make this the cover of the DVD, actually. George Carlin: Cancelled. I would buy it.  And seriously, blog commenter: there is no spite or disrespect or so forth intended here. If Mr. Carlin were around, I would show him this ad, and he would laugh, of this I have no doubt.

Have a good morning...

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Flesh Eaters, Chinese food, and the forgotten art of self-disembowelment

The Flesh Eaters by bev davies, January 25, 2018 at the Rickshaw; not to be reused without permission. All photos below also by bev davies, unless noted otherwise (the crappy cell phone photo at the end is by me). 

Two great nights at the Vancity Theatre and the Rickshaw. Thanks to Tom Charity for takin' a dive for culture, first off (and not the first time he's done it with my involvement, either) and programming Border Radio. We all kinda knew (though we had, of course, hoped otherwise) that Border Radio wouldn't be a huge draw - though I can't REALLY understand why a couple hundred people who would come out to see the Flesh Eaters wouldn't want to hang out, chat, and hear stories the night before from Chris D., and watch a  movie with 3/5ths of the band in it (including John Doe and Dave Alvin), with a soundtrack by Dave Alvin, and better yet, with the rhythm section of DJ Bonebrake and Bill Bateman in the fuckin' audience with you. I mean, the film IS out there on DVD, but you're not going to get to ask Chris D. questions about it, y'know? He really showed a friendlier, chattier side of himself at Border Radio, too. He comes across as a bit stern onstage and up-close, with those Patrick Magee eyebrows and all.

Chris D and I at the Rickshaw, by Erika Lax

But whatever - it was an intimate and positive night at the Vancity, in part BECAUSE there were only 20 people there, and Kier-la Janisse conducted a great Q&A: more about her implied below in the section on ritual self-disembowelment, an art to which she is no stranger. Which reminds me, Chris D. said some very nice things about the importance of event programmers like her to generating/ sustaining/ fostering and supporting culture, often at a financial loss to themselves, frequently without getting acknowledgement. I don't have an exact quote, but amen to him for the sentiment: Chris is the rare example of someone who has straddled BOTH sides of the fence, as a writer/ interviewer/ programmer AND a singer/ actor, filmmaker - so he knows what he's talking about...

Chris D. of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

And besides Kier-la and Tom (and the people who DID come out to Border Radio), HUGE thanks to Mo for putting on the Flesh Eaters show. It was not a show I actually had anything to do with inspiring, note - or at least not that I know of (Mo mighta seen me enthusing about them somewhere or other in 2015). It's just that they were my favourite punk band of all time, throughout my 20's and teens, when my range of tastes was still contained enough for me to have favourites. I know Mo was nervous, with sluggish advance ticket sales, that he was going to regret booking such an all-star band, but Vancouver more or less acquitted itself decently, with a venue 2/3rds full and enthusiastic for the music; he seemed happy enough with how it turned out, though I gather it didn't pay for itself, either, ultimately. The coolest cultural events in this city are almost always, to borrow a phrase from the Japanese, "jibara o kirimasu" - an idiom adapted from the practice of hara kiri, which involved cutting open your belly to show your sincerity, represented by your entrails; it has come to mean, in Japan, to dip into your own pocket, to foot the bill - "using one's own money to pay for something that one isn't obligated to pay for," according to the Complete Japanese Expression Guide. This blog itself is kinda that way. I mean, you see all the ads I'm running? 

What, there are no ads? What's wrong with me? (Note: if you are reading this at some distant point and there are, in fact, ads, well, sorry. I stuck it out for over ten ad-free years, folks. It's not like I haven't considered it...). 

And speaking of Mo, chatting with Bev about how cool he is the other day, it occurred to me - I don't even KNOW who runs the Commodore, the Venue, the Imperial, or so forth... it's all faceless agencies like Timbre or Livenation or whatever; but the actual people behind the scenes - you might know one person involved in promoting shows, but whose venue actually IS it? What do they actually LISTEN to? Do they LIKE what they put on? Mo, by contrast, is on the frontlines, taking pride in what he does, interacting with people, checking in with them, and digging his own booking choices, as much as a presence in his own venue as "vintage wendythirteen" was at the Cobalt-back-when. I like a business like that! It's kinda Mom and Pop, when you think of it - kinda like how some of my favourite restaurants over the years, the person cooking your food and the person serving you are the OWNERS, and you get to know both of them by name. Actually, I'm thinking of Chinese restaurants. The Rickshaw is the Vancouver music scene's Chinese Mom and Pop restaurant. But holy fuck is the food good!

Okay, that was a bit weird, but you see what I mean. 

And, I mean, how much money - this was Bev's observation, actually - has Mo raised for charity and such? The last Bowie Ball alone took in, what, $10,000 for cancer research? She was saying the city should recognize him in some way, BOTH as a belly-cuttin' purveyor of culture and a socially-conscious contributor to those in need. I totally agree. Cheers, Mo.

The Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

And by the way, it was a great show. I think the band actually did a better set last night than in Seattle a couple years ago; Seattle the energy was intense, but kinda subdued, right up til the end, with a rip-roarin' encore of "Cinderella," "Pony Dress" and "She's Like Heroin to Me" that really raised the stakes when there was nowhere left to go. By contrast, last night, there were more dynamics to the energy - less of a linear journey to a climax than Seattle. You really noticed the rhythm section, too - Bill Bateman and DJ Bonebrake are an amazingly solid team (as Doug Smith will tell you, leaning in to your ear and shouting - or, wait, that was MY ear: Bateman is a singularly amazing drummer, a real powerhouse - though there was one song where DJ got off the vibes and got on snare and we had two drummers, which was a real treat). 

Bill Bateman of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

DJ Bonebrake of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

As with Seattle, John Doe seemed to have the most fun onstage - getting singled out for cheers by X fans and very sweetly actually coming out to say hi to a few of them afterwards (He remembers Bev well and she introduced me; I, in turn, introduced her to Chris, who she's never met, though apparently she took pictures for Slash back in the day). I wish X would come back to Vancouver - I've never gotten to see them! But I've seen John twice now, and someone mentioned that Exene would be in town this spring (I have done nothing to confirm this). John seems like a real great guy.

John Doe of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

Also, as with Seattle, Dave Alvin seemed the hardest person to fully contain onstage, the most tightly-packed package up there, a hugely energetic musician, having to channel his energy through a fairly narrow corridor. I mean, face it, he's really a frontman, not a sideman, and you kinda sense a tension in him, like he's packing in sooooo much of his personality and passion to be a support person rather than the bandleader that it kinda wants to explode out the edges... which he got to do a LITTLE, during solos, but not nearly enough to fully use him up. Hopin' he brings the Guilty Ones (and Phil!) back sometime soon (I saw their last show here and I gotta say that it was maybe my happiest concert-going experience of 2016, dancing to "Marie Marie" with my wife, also diggin' it, beside me).  My favourite Dave moments last night included a particularly fun passage of "Satan's Stomp" where he deliberately de-synchronized from John, so both were playing the same hook but at different times; plus there was  a nice moment where he squatted to take a pull off a beer at the side as the band did their thing and could be seen grinning hugely at checking out his bandmates. Dave Alvin has a real infectious smile; looking at him, it was impossible not to grin back, then glance away awkwardly when he noticed I was doin' it. What can I say, he seemed so serious sometimes up there that it was a relief to see him lookin' that happy...

Dave Alvin of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

Sax player Steve Berlin took my joking with him with grace and humour when he came out at the end (quoth me: "I saw Los Lobos when you opened for Neil Young here and I was, like, 'it's Steve Berlin from the Flesh Eaters!'"). I always kinda am reminded of another sax-playing Steve when I hear him with the Flesh Eaters: Steve Mackay on the Stooges' Fun House, who does similar things with his horn, packing in noise and texture, treating his sax much like one might an electric guitar. There's nothin' jazzy about what he does, and none of that Clarence Clemons' rock sax thing happening. He and Dave Alvin complimented each other beautifully, at opposite sides of the stage. Good beard, too. 

Steve Berlin of the Flesh Eaters by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

Finally, frontman Chris D. was super-generous, telling stories between songs about sharing stage with the recently departed Mark E. Smith (in the run up to the somewhat Fallish "So Long") and making sure the audience knew "The Green Manalishi with the Three-Pronged Crown" - the band's first encore - was NOT a Judas Priest song (it's by Peter Green of the original Fleetwood Mac, who also, didja know, wrote that Rezillos song about someone getting their head kicked in tonight!). Other covers were the same as Seattle: the Sonics' "Cinderella" and a blistering show closer with John and Chris teaming up for vocals on "She's Like Heroin to Me," by the Gun Club. Incidentally, have I showed you this photo that I found online of Kid Congo and Jeffrey Lee Pierce dressed up as Debbie Harry and Rita Moreno? This one goes out to Erik Iversen (it is also not by Bev):

In fact, Chris' voice got pretty ragged at times - more when he was speaking than singing, weirdly enough; he seems to be able to scream when he can hardly talk, which I don't understand at all. He even seemed to have a bit of a sore throat at the Border Radio Q&A, but it was obviously not something he was going to let get in the way. He seemed irrepressible both nights, coming out after the concert to chat with fans (the artist formerly known as ARGH! of DOA colouring book fame and he had a nice chat about Dan Stewart of Green on Red, apparently living in Mexico now  - "living Border Radio," as ARGH! put it; I gotta get me a copy of Gravity Talks, speaking of which). Chris actually should probably take a page from David Thomas' and PROTECT and CONSERVE his voice before a show, and only do email interviews or something, but then, I'm the motherfucker who did a three hour phone chat with him a couple weeks ago (see below) and then had him do a Q&A after Border Radio the night before, so, um, mea culpa folks.   

John Doe and Chris D. by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

It didn't really matter. Chris still delivered, passionately and powerfully, with "Miss Muerte" in particular standing out as a fantastic tune on an album I don't know half as well as I should. Kickass versions of "The Wedding Dice" and "My Life to Live" from Forever Came Today, all of Minute to Pray, and "Pony Dress" filled out the set - and, oh yeah, "House Amid the Thickets." If the overall energy was better in Vancouver in 2018 than Seattle in 2015, I do have to admit that the Seattle "Pony Dress" was better, even got a moshpit going. (I had retreated to further back last night by then so I didn't see if anyone got moshin'). But still, what a treat. Setlist more or less the same as the Echoplex one posted previously, though "See You in the Boneyard" got moved til later...

Setlist by bev davies, not to be reused without permission. 

That's about it. (I missed Petunia and the Vipers and am bummed to hear that Petunia's guitar got stolen the other day; his new album should be in select stores now or soon, and he tells me that after the current run is done he's going to re-master it, with a few changes, so it's going to a very limited edition of 300 LPs. Get yours now!). Thanks again to the bands, and Mo, and Bev, and Tom and Kier-la and everyone who came to the show and did not embarrass me with how sucky and fickle the Vancouver music scene can be (it's still better than the cinema scene). Some of my guts got spilled too, with all the transcribing and writing I did (see also my Allison Anders and Petunia interviews on the Straight website, which were donated pro-bono, along with all the writing below).  The people whoopin' and dancing last night made it all worth it. 

It would be a real drag to cut open your belly and have no one notice. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Things Worth Doing (one that is already done)

Our screening of Border Radio was a total success last night - if you don't mind that maybe ten people paid to get in! (I fault no one on the guestlist - I was on it too). But the Q&A was very enlightening, the people in the audience were way cool (including members of the band, local fixture Gerald Rattlehead, Mo Tarmohamed and his wife, Tom Charity and Fiona Morrow, and Cinema Sewer's great Robin Bougie). And the movie was very enjoyable - for me greatly enriched by my having learned more about Allison Anders (like her apprenticeship, basically, with Wim Wenders; his mark is on the film for sure). How fun to hear Kier-la and Chris talking about the film - he gave her some very deserved acknowledgement as a person making things happen behind the scenes - and how great it was that she was doing a film event in Vancouver again... got a book signed (she has some with her if you're shoppin' for books)... I got Chris to sign stuff too... Real great night...

I don't really have time to write about other stuff, including a few notable obits I was wanting to post (RIP Jack Ketchum, Ursula LeGuin, and Mark E. Smith). Truth is, I have to spend today doing prep and marking for school. But let me just say - if you missed last night's Border Radio screening, and feel bad, now that you know it was a real fun evening - DO NOT MISS TONIGHT'S FLESH EATERS CONCERT AT THE RICKSHAW! It may be your only chance to see them live, and this is a great band - right up there in the Los Angeles punk pantheon with X, the Gun Club, the Germs, Los Plugz, the Blasters, the Circle Jerks. I will probably be late myself - I couldn't take tonight off work - but I will be there! (Maybe with a very generous car-drivin' wife who doesn't really like punk rock but loves her husband). 

See you there...

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

One night only! (?) The Return of Kier-la Janisse!

I can't speak to the excitements of the rest of the city, but obviously *I* am really keen about the Flesh Eaters show on Thursday, and about the Border Radio screening on Wednesday. But one thing I haven't written much about, that I am (almost) equally excited about, is for (writer/ programmer/ publisher) Kier-la Janisse to be hosting the Q&A with Chris D on Wednesday. It wasn't JUST the Flesh Eaters show that inspired the Border Radio event, understand: it was that Kier-la (pronounced K-La) had announced, as a friend and, I presume, a fellow fan of Chris D's, that she was going to fly out (I think from Montreal) to attend the concert. Chris D. coming to town was already an argument to show one of the films he's involved in, but Chris D. and Kier-la? ABSOLUTELY we needed a film event. (Yes, there is conflict of interest afoot here, gang, but my rules don't forbid me from writing about things I'm involved in on some level. It ain't about the money, anyhow, it's about CREATING AND SUPPORTING CULTURE THAT MATTERS, right? If it were about the money, none of us would be doing this; this blog wouldn't even exist).

There's tons I don't know about Kier-la, but the stuff she HAS done is amazing to me. She was the founder and curator of the horror film festival Cinemuerte, for one. Not only did I see some great films there - Vice Squad, Class of 1984, Phantom of the Paradise (but I stupidly missed the July 4th Toilet event afterwards) - maybe even a 1990's midnight movie screening of Peter Jackson's Bad Taste? Was that you, Kier-la? - but my first piece of film writing published in Vancouver, on Zev Asher's documentary Casuistry, ran in the last issue of Terminal City, apropos of that film screening at Cinemuerte. No Kier-la means no Al-as-we-know-him (thanks also to Fiona Morrow, here, btw). Later on, Kier-la curated a rock music festival called Big Smash in Vancouver that had some fantastic content - the Roky Erickson documentary, say, or Peter Watkins' Privilege, which she tracked down a print of and had it flown out, at some expense, when the film still wasn't seeable on DVD. She also brought Wreckless Eric up here for that - he picked Godard's Sympathy for the Devil to screen, which he introduced - and Kier-la organized a very memorable concert at the Railway for him, which kinda blew me away (even if he, himself, was a bit off-puttingly cranky at times - I tried to gush on him about his album, Big Smash, and he would have none of it). At that time - if my timeline isn't wonky - she was programming at the Alamo Drafthouse in Texas, and made some cool little movies there, editing together footage to make a doc on Krautrock that she played between features at Big Smash (I was impressed, lots in it I didn't know, but as I recall she was very nonchalant about it). Believe she did I Was a Teenage Quincy Punk, too, and made time to go get a video hello from Roky to play before the film. What a generous, generous person; I, for one, have missed her programming in Vancouver a lot. 

Oh, she was pretty important to the early years of Black Dog, as well, but I never really was a Black Dog regular. Great store tho'.

It's been awhile since I've seen anything she's curated. I loved her programming when she was in town, but one too many disappointing turnouts meant she eventually moved on. After leaving Texas, she ran a cinema in Montreal called Blue Sunshine, along with a colleague from my Nerve Magazine days, Dave Bertrand. There's a cool little video interview with her online about that. I know she's still involved in programming back east, but I'm not sure if Blue Sunshine is still extant, sadly. I have not, to my embarrassment, read her memoir/ film book House of Psychotic Women yet -  published on FAB Press, who are one of the coolest imprints out there, also doing Robin Bougie and Stephen Thrower titles - but I have at least one Spectacular Optical book on my shelf, Satanic Panic, featuring an essay about organized child abuse and the discrediting of Satanic ritual abuse by Vancouver's own Adrian Mack. The book also features an article on the films and music inspired by the story of teenaged "rock'n'roll" Satanist/ drug dealer/ murderer/ metalhead Ricky Kasso, whom I wrote about as part of my Electric Wizard review a year or so ago (if I may, it's one of my favourite pieces of music writing I've done). 

By the by, there's a super cheap PDF version of Satanic Panic on the Spectacular Optical website. Fans of Mack's at the very least should check it out...! There's lots else on the site, including a book on the cinema of erotic French vampire filmmaker Jean Rollin, a book on Christmas-themed horror movies... Lots of cool stuff...

Anyhow, folks, no time for much else this morning - I gotta go grab some pics to illustrate this - but if you're lucky, Kier-la will have a few books with her on Wednesday for your purchasing pleasure. Welcoming her back to Vancouver! Even if you don't care about the Flesh Eaters or Allison Anders or Border Radio, if you like cult and horror movies, come out Wednesday at 9pm to the Vancity Theatre to see a Q&A between Chris D. and Kier-la...! Not likely to happen in Vancouver ever again, gang. Now where the hell is my Cinemuerte t-shirt...?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Flesh Eaters #2: of I Pass For Human, Exorcism, Materialism, and the Realm of Spirits (with 2018 live photos by Deb Frazin!)

Rock'n'roll to me, it's spiritual, and it's beyond good and evil, and I think it's more positive than negative. - Chris D

The first Flesh Eaters album I ever bought was A Hard Road to Follow. I found it at Vancouver’s long-defunct record collector’s mainstay, Odyssey Imports on Seymour Street, probably when it was a new arrival, back in 1983, when I was 15. I don’t think I knew anything about the band at that point, just picked it up on the strength of the album cover alone, for the expressions on the band member’s faces - especially Chris’ - but also for the concept, presenting them as prisoners dominated by a powerful, armed female. I had no idea what to expect, but I had to hear it. I bought it, brought it back to the suburbs, and popped it on my shitty turntable, part of an old console unit that once housed a black and white TV.

I fell in love immediately. I was taken with Chris Desjardins’ angsty, pop-culturally steeped poetry and his singular singing voice, still wild and undisciplined. The lyrics of “Eyes Without a Face” - predating, I believe, Billy Idol’s hit of that name, and having no  direct bearing on Georges Franju’s 1960 French horror film, about a surgeon kidnapping women to try to transplant their faces onto that of his burn victim daughter. That song was featured on the soundtrack of  Return of the Living Dead, too (which I also had on vinyl back in the day. The words spoke to both my anxieties and my desperate, angry romanticism, wanting to make sense of the world, wanting to be loved, wanting to see my inner potentials manifested, but confused, foiled, and rejected at every turn, full of frustration and rage. No song lyrics have ever quite spoken to me the same way since; as far as rock lyrics go, encountering this was a formative experience.

“Eyes Without a Face,” lyrics by Chris D. 

Born into a world I don't understand,
It's hard to get a foothold in drifting sand
Every time I look someone in the eye, they trip up and start to fall
I've been burning a candle for you, private bedroom and a naive altar
of unswerving faith; 
tarnished wedding bracelet in a forgotten drawer,
darling, what are eyes for?
Good for love-talk inside a storm
fuckin’ unnoticed in a crowded room,
someone else by your side, someone else by your side

Two pairs of eyes want to be free
To write their history in a handful of dust
Yeah, I'm hurting inside
Sometimes your eyes can't see
No matter how close they get to me
Writing me a history of misery, 
My eyes without a face
Yeah, I'm hurting inside
my eyes without a face, my eyes without a face

I got blistered fingertips split open with blood
unbutton my top button, my shirt is in shreds
Up for eight days straight, a trip to drop dead
so history crashes to a stop
But I kept going, I didn't end
I didn't end because I can never ever end
I can never ever, ever, ever end
this happiness turned around inside out,
alone in the beating heart of night
pumping blackness into my veins
until any light on your beautiful face becomes the dirtiest word...

Two pairs of eyes want to be free
To write their history in a handful of dust
Yeah, I'm hurting inside
Your eyes won't go away,
They follow my trail down that twisted road
Right into that world I don't understand
a bedroom buried under drifting sand,
Can they catch me? How close can you get?
Can they catch me/ How close can they get?
Because what waits here 
are two burning eyes without a face
Why! Why! Why! Why!

Sorry, Billy Idol, your song’s lyrics blow compared to this. Is it a wonder that the Flesh Eaters sank hooks deep into me, that I had to hear more? I still retain great fondness for A Hard Road to Follow, but I have come to regard it as being slightly lesser of the Flesh Eaters’ classic albums. Forever Came Today remains my favourite, as a savage, potent rock album, though I understand why A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die generally gets ranked above it. (I also love No Questions Asked and Dragstrip Riot, I think more than Chris D. himself does). While I’m a bit sad that I will likely never get to hear “Eyes Without a Face” live, I’m blown away that I’ve been able to spend hours talking to Chris Desjardins, and that I got to see the Minute to Pray lineup in Seattle a few years ago. A band that seldom tours in any lineup, I never imagined I’d get to see them once, let alone twice.

The first part of the following conversation is from 2015, where I touched up a couple of issues from part one, but we soon segue into my 2018 interview with Chris, from a couple of weeks ago. Be sure to also read my Georgia Straight article on the January 25th Rickshaw show, and to check out Border Radio on the 24th at the Vancity Theatre, with Chris D. and writer/ programmer/ former Cinemuerte programmer Kier-la Janisse conducting a Q&A. (I also did an interview with Allison Anders about that film and much more, including her friendship with Wim Wenders, her shared passion for music geekery with Quentin Tarantino, and her time in Vancouver (she’s a big Neptoon Records fan and it is thanks to her knowing Rob Frith that the interview even took place). The following is every bit as much about Chris’ writing, filmmaking, writing, and cinema scholarship as it is about his time as a punk singer, but hopefully a few people will value that. 


So let’s go back to your time writing for Slash Magazine… which of those articles was most important to you?

The Sam Fuller interview, which was in the very last issue of Slash Magazine - it was kind of a big, over-sized issue that we did, but it was a little more elaborate for the last issue. I think it came out in the end of 1980, though I maybe wrong about that. It’s a pretty extensive interview. It meant a lot.

Was it over the phone, or…?

No, we got to meet him in person, we went to his place up on Woodrow Wilson drive. I don’t know if you’ve seen the documentary about him, The Typewriter, the Rifle, and the Movie Camera.

That’s not the recent one that his daughter did?

No, not A Fuller Life. But there’s probably some of the same footage. He had a kind of garage workshop, he had all of his stuff over the walls, and books and magazines that he’d written for and a lot of his army memorabilia. It’s the room where he did his writing, and we got to be in that room and interview him, so that was really cool.

Do you have a favourite Sam Fuller film?

Um. Gosh. That’s a hard one. I really love Pick Up On South Street, that’s probably my favourite.

Mine too! Yay! Widmark is great in that. What was Fuller like - he seems like a larger-than-life, very expressive person. What was interviewing him like?

It was kind of what you’d expect. I mean he definitely is bigger than life. He was very friendly. He was given to, like, really, demonstrative pronouncements, and he was very no-bullshit. He hated the bullshit connected with war. And he didn’t believe in a normal conception of heroics and war. Just a lot of his take on the world and what really happens is really refreshing.

That isn’t in print, right? That material’s all gone? Were you tempted to bring it back for the Minute to Pray anthology?

That’s stuff that I don’t own the rights to. I was actually talking to - there’s a guy I know who was working at Slash near the end of the time that Slash Records existed, and he’s been trying to mould the material into the shape of a book at some point, but there’s so much material, it’s kind of daunting, and he’s got a lot of stuff on his plate. [This book appears to have been published, note, but it isn’t cheap, at least not on Amazon…The entire print run is now also apparently online. And note, as of 2018, Chris Desjardins adds: "I AM going to be reprinting that Sam Fuller interview for the first time since 1980 in my next film book (which is about international noir/ neo-noir/amour fou movies) and which probably won't be available for another year or two. I got Slash publisher Steve Samiof's permission."]

Tesco Vee did a beautiful job with the Touch and Go book. Something like that would be wonderful for Slash. Did you have relationships with the other writers? Like, were you in the office, did you get to hang out with Richard Meltzer and…?

Well, I knew those guys of course, and I saw Kickboy [AKA Claude Bessy] every couple of weeks or so. When there was an office, we would occasionally go in and turn in our copy, because there was no internet at the time, so you had to physically turn in your typed-up copy. I’d sometimes run into Jeffrey Lee Pierce there and some of the other people.

Let’s talk about Jeffrey Lee a bit. I loved hearing the band do “She’s Like Heroin To Me.” What was your relationship to him like? Where did you meet him, how did you end up producing for him…?

I just knew Jeffrey through Slash, basically. Meeting them up at the office, he’d turn in his reviews, and he initially was reviewing a lot of reggae stuff. But he would review everything from blues to reggae to punk, and we gradually became more friendly. When Slash Records started, and I was working there, I heard - I can’t remember if he gave me the tape, or where I got the tape, but I heard some of the demo stuff that he’d done, that later became part of the album, the stuff he did with Tito. And I just thought it was phenomenal.

I guess I don’t know about this - Jeffrey Lee Pierce worked with Tito Larriva?

Tito produced half of Fire of Love. I produced half the songs (roughly) and Tito produced the other half of the LP.

Oh, I missed that. Did you share any particular musical enthusiasms?

Well, yeah - I mean, a lot of the blues and country influences that were on Jeffrey were on me. There was kind of a synchronicity with a lot of people in the original Hollywood punk music scene. John and Exene and I and Dave Alvin and Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Keith Morris had a lot of the same musical tastes, even though Keith was really - you know, you think of him as more of a hardcore punk rocker, but he had some of the same musical tastes. So it was something that was kind of shared and just happening. People were turning each other onto stuff - I can’t remember who turned who on to what. It was like a real symbiotic relationship that everybody had with each other.

You also produced some Germs stuff, right?

I produced some Germs stuff for Tooth and Nail, that compilation that Upsetter brought out, but the Germs album, Joan Jett produced that, and later on, some of the material that was left over, Bob Biggs licensed some stuff from Dangerhouse that they’d recorded with the Germs, like “Lexicon Devil.” I think it was Dangerhouse - maybe it was Slash that put it out.

Were you close with Darby?

Not real close. We knew each other well enough to say hi and make small talk for a few minutes, but I didn’t feel like I had a lot in common with Darby. The one thing I admired about him was his depth of lyrics, his lyrics were always really well-written.

Has there ever been discussion of reissuing Tooth and Nail?

I’ve kind of stayed away from reissuing that because I didn’t want to have to deal with the prospect of having to attempt royalties and stuff like that, for the other bands. A lot of those bands are history, and I just felt that trying to do that would be really more trouble than it was worth, in terms of having to worry about who was owed what money or who had legal claims. So I really kind of stayed away, except for the Flesh Eaters stuff. Plus the Germs songs, for instance, are superior on the Germs album than they were on Tooth and Nail.

What did you think of What We Do is Secret, as a representation of that scene?

Y’know, I didn’t see it. I heard it was terrible.

Mm. To come to your novels, I just read Mother’s Worry. It’s great - very dark, very perverse. And I was struck that there’s a scene where Ray, your main character, watches is girl strip at a strip club, because it brought to mind “Agony Shorthand,” about you watching your girlfriend strip at a strip club [the Ivar, note, written about by Robin Bougie]. So it starts to seem like it’s a personal motif, for you, and I wonder if there are other ones that we can talk about.

Not really. That stripper thing is just kind of a coincidence. My girlfriend that I wrote “Agony Shorthand” about, I never actually went to go see her strip. She was an amateur, she didn’t do it for a living, she did it on amateur night at the Ivar Theatre. It isn’t really a recurring motif. I don’t know why I had that character be a stripper, in Mother’s Worry.

Just a coincidence, then. Okay. Someone was mentioning that there’s quite a bit of Harry Crews in that book. Did you ever cross paths with him?

No, I never met him, but I was a big fan of Feast of Snakes, which was also set in Mystic, Georgia. I made the town in Mother’s Worry the same town. It’s supposed to be, like, years later.

There’s actually a mention of snakes in it? Snake handling, or…?

Have you read Feast of Snakes?

I haven’t.

There’s not really any religious snake handling in Feast of Snakes, but there is in Mother’s Worry. There’s a few little things I put in there as kind of a homage to Feast of Snakes. There’s a flashback episode with the main character, the male main character, who goes through a traumatic experience with the main character from A Feast of Snakes, who - I don’t want to ruin it for you if you read the book!

There’s a character from A Feast of Snakes that pops up in Mother’s Worry?

Yeah, in the flashback, it’s the one where they’re at the juke joint and the character Joe kills this travelling salesman with a cleaver.

The other day when we talked you recommended people start with No Evil Star. Why is that?

Because it was the first one that I actually completed in a long time, and it’s one I really like, I think it came out really well. I think it’s as good as Mother’s Worry.

What’s it about?

It’s about a Vietnam vet who is somewhat damaged from drug use, and he’s the caretaker at a cathedral in New York, and his older mentor from ‘Nam has kind of gone off his rocker and is kind of assassinating drug dealers in Harlem and the Bronx and stealing their money. Then there’s also a whole subplot of a mafia don whose underlings get involved with trying to shut down a storefront rehab for drug addicts, and…just how all these characters interact with each other. It doesn’t have a pretty ending.

Neither does Mother’s Worry! Out of curiosity, is there any other particular writer whose influence hangs over No Evil Star?

Not really anyone I can think of. I actually had a dream, it was a pretty detailed dream, that became No Evil Star. I sometimes have dreams that are in the form of movies, and that’s where that came from.

I’ve always been fascinated by writers and artists who have recurring dreams, repeated structures. Robert Stone, who died just recently, used to talk about a dream about being a smuggler coming into port, and he’s carrying contraband, and knows he’s going to get busted, but no one is going to help him, and he just has to sit there and wait for the axe to fall. If you know the dream, you can see how it comes up in his work - in some of his short stories or in Dog Soldiers, say. So do you have recurring dreams?

Well, one that kind of informs No Evil Star a bit is a dream of like, getting to a point of being destitute and homeless and having to do something like the guy in No Evil Star does, and be the caretaker at some cathedral, with like, one room in a basement. It doesn’t appear in any of the other books, but it’s a dream I have, a primal fear, which I guess a lot of artists might have, of not making the rent and getting thrown out on the street. Something I’m paranoid about (laughs).

Fair enough - I’ve got to interview lots of people I admire and a lot of them are broke. It’s horrible how we treat our creators. Let me ask you, were you happy with the [2015] mini-tour? You looked like you were having a decent time, so will you do more shows?

Yeah, I’d like to do more shows. I know John really wants to do more a lot more shows. Steve Berlin really wants to do a lot more shows. It’s just a matter of people’s schedules. I’m hoping that we get to do something during the summer at a festival.

It was really nice to see how much fun John was having - he seemed to be the person on the stage with the biggest grin. The last thing I wanted to ask you about was Mudhoney. I feel like we should give them a bit of credit!

Well, they Danny Bland, who's Dave Alvin’s road manager, lives in Seattle, and he’s the one who brought the Seattle show together. I know he’s friends with the Mudhoney guys. I’m not really sure who told them we were going to be playing. I know the fact that Mudhoney was more than willing to open for us was a big shot in the arm and shows how great those guys are in terms of camaraderie and being there - musician’s musicians.

I was actually referring to the All Tomorrow’s Parties show. They were curating that, and that’s what led to this lineup getting back together, right?

Yeah! That happened in 2006. They didn’t have a contact for me, and they got in touch with John about doing that, and John called me, and we discussed it and took it from there. It turns out everything worked out, we got what we wanted from the festival, and it was great that Mudhoney took the initiative to do that, because I don’t know if the reunions would have happened if it wasn’t for them.

All live photos by Deb Frazin, not to be reused without permission; taken at the Echoplex, Los Angeles, 1.18.18.


So what will the current tour hold? Mostly a Minute to Pray, or will you be bringing in more Forever Came Today, since it’s a more recent reissue?

We’re going to be doing most if not all of Minute to Pray. There’s one song on there I’d kinda like to jettison, but we’ll probably be doing all of it - it’s only a half-hour long, and as far as I know - there’s one song from Ashes of Time, which is “House Amid the Thickets,” and there’s one song from the Miss Muerte album, which is the song “Miss Muerte.” We’re already doing one song from Forever Came Today, “The Wedding Dice,” but there’s a couple of others I’d like to learn, and I’ve made that known to the guys. But so far we haven’t been together in a room to discuss it. We’ll just - I would love to do some other songs from some of the other albums, but it’s all about a matter of time. We just did this two years ago, so for the songs they already know, I don’t think it’s going to be a big stretch, but trying to learn new material… the jury is still out on how easy it’s going to be!

What else on Forever Came Today would you ideally like to include?

I’d like to do “Secret Life” and “My Life to Live.” Ideally I’d like to do “Drag My Name in the Mud,” but the song is pretty long, and it’s got a lot of complicated dynamics, so I think it’s best not to even try that one. If we have time there’s a song from Dragstrip Riot called “The Youngest Profession,” that’s just one blues riff repeated over and over; but it changes in the dynamics, the peaks and valleys in the playing and the volume and the singing. It’s kind of more of a hard rock, blues shout kind of a song. But - we’ll just see what happens.

(SETLIST ALERT! Those who consider setlists "spoilers" should not read this setlist, taken a few days ago at the Echoplex by Deb Frazin, Yes, this means you, Ford Pier): 

If we could talk about the movie for “The Wedding Dice,” the video - I don’t think we talked about that when we last spoke.

That was something we did to support the Forever Came Today album. I was still working at Slash at the time, and even though I didn’t have final say on Ruby releases, Ruby was kind of the low budget subsidiary to Slash Records. Of course, A Minute to Pray came out on Ruby, the Gun Club’s Fire of Love [which Chris D. did the front cover art for], Dream Syndicate’s Days of Wine and Roses [which Chris D. produced; great album btw], Green on Red’s Gravity Talks [also produced by Chris D.], Lydia Lunch’s 13.13, um… a couple of others that I can’t remember. But Forever Came Today was the third Flesh Eaters album, and it was the second one that came out through Ruby/ Slash Records. I can’t remember if I got some money from Slash to make that video or not, I might have done it on my own dime, I can’t remember. I do own the rights to the video; I don’t, of course, own the performance rights - Warner Brothers, through Rhino, owns that. They didn’t, of course, when the video was made. I had pretty much control over the making of the video. I wrote a script for it. The guy who directed it, Gary Walkow, was an independent filmmaker. He had optioned one of my screenplays, and I had complete faith in him, that he would be able to execute what was in the script. And he did a good job. Naively, I thought… this was when MTV was in a very young state, before they had all their stupid reality crap shows, when they still actually played a lot of music videos. But that being said, they really had kind of a “punk rock ghetto” show called 120 Minutes that they would have on Sunday night. And, uh, if I was as savvy then as I am now about the music business, I should have guessed we would only have been able to get one or two video plays on that show, which is what happened. It didn’t really get played on MTV. And, I was naïve, there are a couple of scenes with blood, and they really weren’t doing that kind of thing. The photography was kind of grainy - it looked like an exploitation movie. Which is good, that’s what I wanted, but - y’know, whatever. It was kinda disappointing - just these generally naïve expectations about using it as a tool to promote the record. Some copies were made and sent out to big venues in various cities and some other independent television shows around the country, but frankly, I don’t think it got much play. It didn’t get any wide dissemination until it got included as an extra on the Border Radio DVD.

Curious about Mary Woronov, since she appears, and is also in I Pass For Human. I really enjoyed that the second time through, by the way. What was your background with her?

I think I met her at some punk gig or at an art opening, probably it was mid-1978, I’m not sure. But I ended up interviewing her for Slash Magazine, because first of all she was really pivotal in being associated with the Warhol scene. She was in Chelsea Girls, she was in a couple of other Warhol movies. She was affiliated with the Velvet Underground. She did the “whip dance” with Gerard Malanga as part of the Velvet Underground’s original stage show when they were still affiliated with Andy Warhol, on that Velvet Underground and Nico album. And I knew all of Mary’s stuff, I was a big fan of hers, and I knew her from some of the exploitation movies she’d made out in LA. So we hit it off and became friends and I did the interview for Slash. She was a big fan of punk rock, she went to a lot of shows, then later she did some cult films like Eating Raoul and Rock’n’Roll High School, which she hadn’t done yet when I met her. I asked her to be in “The Wedding Dice” video as the coroner just as a favour from a friend. It took two or three hours to shoot her scene. She has been in and out of touch over the years, and then other years when we get together and occasionally go to lunch. Back when I knew her in the early ‘80s, especially when I was single, there were times when we would go out and see movies together. I’m kind of out of touch right now. I saw her about a year and a half ago at one of her art openings. There were so many people I got to talk to her for about ten minutes.

Since we’re talking about women in your life, I had an interesting coincidence where - I hadn’t clued in when I was watching I Pass for Human who Lynne Margulies [producer/ editor on the film] was, then some friends of mine were talking about Andy Kaufman, telling me to watch My Breakfast with Blassie, and I was showing my wife some of his stuff, and then I put two and two together - I hadn’t realized that Lynne Margulies was the same person who was Andy’s last girlfriend, and who directed I’m From Hollywood. And you were actually in a relationship with her?

We were together between 2001 and 2009. It was about eight years, and we ended up moving in together about halfway through the relationship. This is when I was working at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood as one of the programmers, and that’s kind of how I met her. I already knew her brother, who’s Johnny Legend, but I didn’t really meet her through Johnny; she used to go to a lot of screenings at the Egyptian in the early 2000’s, and they were a lot of the same kind of movies that I was going to the screenings of: a lot of horror and exploitation movies that we would occasionally show, and film noir movies. We started out as being friends, and then it gradually developed into a relationship. And she knew that one of my big dreams was to direct a low budget feature. I had quite a few scripts, even though they were designed to be low-budget, they weren’t quite as low budget as we needed, to try and do. So I wrote a new script, I Pass for Human, where I had an idea at least of a few of the locations we could use without having to get permits. Anything we ended up shooting on the street or on public property, we just did it on the fly, we didn’t get any permits. You start trying to get permits for that stuff and you get into all kinds of red tape and bureaucracy and impossible delays. It was a good time to do that movie. We shot it in 2002. I got a leave of absence for about a month from the Cinematheque to shoot the movie. She’d been a producer on TV commercials, and actually had done pretty well for a few years, doing that. And this was between the time that… y’know, she was Andy Kaufman’s last girlfriend, and was instrumental in helping My Breakfast with Blassie, which her brother, Johnny Legend, made, and I’m From Hollywood. I guess she did something for this new documentary that’s out, about Jim Carrey and Andy Kaufman, that I’ve heard is on Netflix.

Yeah, that’s gotten a lot of buzz. Jim and Andy.

I knew she’d been trying to get a “making of” done, of the biopic directed by Milos Forman [Man in the Moon]. She had done a whole documentary behind-the-scenes, which in some ways was more interesting than the actual movie. I know she was trying to get that out to the public for a long time when we were still together. Jim Carrey was into it, but Jim’s management was afraid at the time it would put him in an unfavourable light. Because he’s kinda crazy in the documentary, Jim Carrey. He insisted on remaining in the Andy Kaufman character even when he wasn’t shooting the movie, so there were a lot of bizarre pranks they pulled at Universal - I think that’s where they shot it - some of which got them into trouble. But anyway, I’m digressing. Lynne knew I wanted to do a feature film, low-budget, and she thought she knew where we could get $30,000. I used another six or seven thousand dollars off one of my credit cards. And - she’d gotten out of the commercial business, because she’d hated the kind of person it was making her become; she was uptight all the time, got angry very easily, and she saw the kind of havoc it played in people’s personal life that were producers on commercials. I’ve since been an extra on a few commercials, and I’ve seen firsthand the kind of insanity behind the scenes, in terms of really crazy last minute scheduling changes, the kind of things you have to deal with. There’s stuff that line producers have to do, especially if you’re a line producer on a low budget film: you have to put together the production schedule, how you’re going to minimize the shooting schedule based on access to certain locations on certain days, access to when actors are available… we actually did it as a low-budget experimental film, as far as SAG goes, so there were a few actors in the movie that were SAG, so we actually got to play them the lowest rate that we could do for a low budget movie, which I think was $100 a day or something. And we had to bunch up a few actors’ scenes together, like Mary Woronov - I can’t remember if we did her stuff in one day or two days. But there were a couple of other people that were in SAG, too - the lead guy, Josh Coxx and Jennifer Ciesar, who played Mila, who was kind of the crazy sociopathic character… but Lynne was really good at doing that, at putting together the budget, and really good at making it totally easy for me so all I had to worry about was keeping the film on schedule for the shots, getting the shots on the can, and getting all the shots we had planned. Since we shot it on video, we didn’t have to worry about the cost of film stock, so - we were still limited to how many takes we could do, because we had to keep moving in terms of the schedule, but in terms of video stock, it’s so cheap compared to film stock, you could afford to do two or three takes, if you needed to do it, because an actor flubbed a line or maybe there was a camera flare… 

We did a lot of rehearsal on set, before each shot, and sometimes before the rehearsals were over, we started shooting, just in case we got a really good take. Which happens sometimes. But Lynne really carried the brunt of the insanity when dealing with a lot of budget stuff and scheduling stuff, but there were times when she really went through hell. But she kept me from having to deal with that stuff, which is what a good producer should do. She was great. And I knew she was going to be the editor on the film - she had access to a video editing suite that she borrowed from Jim Carrey’s office. She was involved with Bob Zmuda, who did Comic Relief for HBO, and she did a lot of editing for him, and that equipment was in Jim Carrey’s office. I can’t remember who owned it, but we took all that editing equipment, and - at the time we weren’t living together, so we set up all the editing equipment in that bedroom, and, since it wasn’t being used by other people, we got to keep that equipment on loan for about a year, without paying for it. So we really got to take time, fine-tuning the edit, putting in the music cues, adjusting the sound levels, adjusting the colour levels, trying to get… there’s a lot of shot-on-video movies that don’t really bother to go in and do rigorous colour correction and making sure the blacks are as black as you can get them. That’s why you get a lot of movies that are shot on video that look like shit, frankly. They’re overlit, they don’t have black blacks. And we got around a lot of that, because we kept fine tuning it and looking at it on VHS, on various VCRs. If we did it a bit later, instead of 2002, in 2007, I’m sure we would have been using DVDrs, but VHS was kind of in its dying days, and it was the easiest at the time to transfer rough cuts to VHS… It was kind of challenge, but I think we really got a lot further than some people who shot on video.

It looks pretty good, though it’s really the story and the characters that are the hook. I enjoyed it a lot more the second time through, actually. The writing is really solid.

There was one particular sequence that was a voiceover flashback of the Josh character, where he’s recalling how he met his girlfriend, Azami, who died of an overdose, and her dying and stuff. The scene where Jack Hill has a cameo? And we had done a voice over with Josh, telling his story to the character Jane, played by Eleanor Whitledge; and we gradually removed as much voiceover from Josh as we could, to tell the story visually, and not become redundant by him describing stuff we could see going on. Lynne actually wanted to remove more of the voice over, and I was more cautious. That was the only time where we kind of disagreed. We had a significant disagreement about how much voiceover to leave in. Eventually it was resolved - I let a little more of it go, but I know she was still unhappy with how much got left in. 

(Jack Hill on the right, in I Pass for Human)

But anyway… Lynne had gotten out of the commercial producing business because she felt it was destroying her life: made her unhappy, made her angry. And she always wanted to devote her time to painting, which was her real love, and she would occasionally get editing jobs, because she was a good video editor. She also introduced me to the people up in San Francisco, where I eventually taught film history courses for four years, starting in 2009. Which was, ironically, the year that she and I broke up.

I’m curious about the ideas in the background. I know a lot of dreams of yours go into your writing and your screenplays - I’ve read some of your dream journals, and I’m wondering about the idea of having these undead junkie ghosts preying on the highs of living addicts… where did that come from?

I can’t remember if I read it in a story or an article, or. I definitely had a couple of dreams about it, before I got sober, in 1996. So I had some personal experience to draw on. And there were times where I was not in a relationship, I was alone a lot, I was being helped out financially by my parents where I wasn’t working. There would be a few months at a time where I wasn’t doing music, and I wasn’t making money from my music… I occasionally would get temporary jobs. But there was a lot of time where I was just by myself, and that was when I started working on the Gun and Sword Yakuza film encyclopedia, back in the early 1990’s. But I had nightmares several times about spirits that were into feeding off the negative energy of still-living addicts. And I knew I’d read some articles theorizing about if there are spiritual beings. This is regardless if you believe in God or not, if you do, if you don’t… I’ve always thought that people that get caught, and who die of an overdose - I do believe in the soul, in spiritual beings. I’m agnostic. It’s really hard to shake my Catholic upbringing, so a lot of times it gets a bit confusing when I’m not paying attention, because I revert back to my childhood beliefs. But I’m basically a person, when I’m thinking rationally, I don’t believe in a God with a personality who is, y’know, looking after some people and not others. But I do believe that there’s a realm of spiritual beings, and that some of them are developed enough, spiritually, that they don’t have to reincarnate, or they’ve been prohibited from doing so by the rules of the game, whatever those are. Of course, I don’t know for sure, but it kind of makes sense to me, as opposed to an actual omniscient God. Let’s just say that I believe in the supernatural to some extent, and that includes spiritual beings. The nightmares I had about it, some of the things I’ve read - about how there are sex demons that really prey on people, that become sexually addicted, because those demons, those spirits are no longer in a physical realm, and the only way they can experience that sexual thing - or if you’re talking about junkies, the drug high - are through melding onto the spirit of someone who is still alive. I don’t know how much that happens, I don’t really know if it’s my imagination. I personally don’t think it is - I think there are evil spirits and good spirits. There are enlightened spirits and spirits that are kind of caught in the middle, and then at the opposite end of the spectrum, really evil spirits that enjoy inflicting chaos and harm on the human race. These are fundamental spiritual beliefs that I’ve figured out, that make sense to me. I don’t know if that makes any sense, or if I sound like a total crackpot, but that’s just my spiritual world view.

I really appreciate it. I’ve had interviewed different experiences with people I’ve interviewed, and when it comes to spiritual matters - I’ve had a Canadian actor of some fame tell me to turn off my tape recorder for a ghost story, a personal experience this person had had, which - I could hear the story, but I wasn’t allowed to record it. Jello Biafra told me when I asked him if he had religious beliefs that they were none of my business. Michael Gira was a little nicer about it but he still wouldn’t go there. Some people really don’t like to talk about this stuff, in public, so I appreciate your candor. I was going to ask you about your childhood habit of prayer, which you mention in (the book) A Minute to Pray is something you still do… what does that look like?

I still do, and it’s more of - I’m sublimating; I don’t just pray to a kind of symbol of Jesus, I pray to good spirits as well. I like to think that there are literally guardian angels. I hate to call them “angels,” because it’s so Biblical, and there’s a tremendous amount of nonsense in the Bible about how angels can only be men. Which - if there are angels, that’s ridiculous. When we get down to it, if we’re talking spirits, why would a spirit even have a sexual identity, a gender? They could be a combination of male and female to begin with, or they could be genderless, and the only time they get into gender is when they’re in human form. Or if animals have spirits, in animal form. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t know about, but I think about this stuff; it’s metaphysical, it’s spiritual. I wouldn’t call it religious, certainly not in terms of organized religion, but it’s stuff I think about sometimes. Because there’s too much manifestation in the worlds of art, creativity, in writing, in literature - from poetry to music to movies… there are all different kinds of artistic expression that I think really manifest something beyond simple self-awareness. Self-awareness is a big thing to begin with, whether it’s a curse or a blessing… 

I think there are some animals that are self-aware. They’re not on the same level as humans - I don’t think there are animals that reflect, but you don’t know. There’s all sorts of animals that are supposed to be as intelligent as humans, or equal in intelligence to humans. They don’t have the capacity to speak, so we don’t really know. But, y’know, there’s dolphins, where there has been a lot of research and scientists agree that they’re easily the equal of humans as far as intelligence... They do have their own kind of language. Elephants are another species that are supposed to be incredibly intelligent. Pigs, of all animals, are supposed to be incredibly intelligent. Of course, then you get into the question of, “why haven’t they created this Utopia” or a kind of civilization, and I think it’s kind of missing the point. It’s like apples and oranges, it doesn’t matter. It’s like the same thing when you’ve got white European pilgrims and settlers, encountering indigenous people in the Americas for the first time, and believing them animals because of the way they lived, when really Native Americans, whether they’re from Canada, what is now the United States or Mexico, down through South America - and you’ve got the aboriginal people of Australia and Japan - there’s a lot of indigenous people that didn’t come up through a Euro-centric or Slavic background. The kind of notion that just because they seem more “primitive” or less enlightened or whatever the case may be, [is problematic]. You look at a country like Japan. There are the aboriginal people that were there to begin with [the Ainu] - but you have a tremendous amount of people that were undoubtedly migrants from China, from Russia, from what are now the other mainland Asiatic countries - the Koreas, further south, Pacific Islanders: there’s a tremendous polyglot mix in Japan, racially, that I don’t think you have so much in China. I think China has got less of a mix of races in their makeup, in their genes… I’m really going far afield with all this stuff, but my point is, Japan was isolated from the west for thousands of years, and the culture they did acquire was from China and mainland Asia. And they assimilated other things, they created some of their own culture, of course - they created their own spiritual beliefs. They’re kind of a country, a race known for appropriating: what is now called cultural appropriation. Which is now a big political hot potato, but I think a lot of it is misunderstood. But Japan has established a really unique culture from that, and because they were cut off from the west, and didn’t become connected to western civilization until fairly late - I mean, they had some Dutch and Portuguese merchants trading with them as early as the mid-1600’s, but they didn’t have a massive influx of western influence until the late 1800’s. You get a language and a culture that is extremely unique, very advanced, but totally different in dress, culture… these civilizations that come up independently of influence from other civilizations tend to vilify the other, the thing they don’t understand. And - whatever argument you can give about being against the global economy - and in many ways I am against it - there’s a lot of great stuff about the so-called global village, and the exchange of culture, the fascination with different foreign cultures. I think that’s one of the things that makes life worth living, the difference in cultures.

I agree.

That being said, the whole idea of cultural appropriation that people are getting into now, especially with food, I think is fuckin' ridiculous. Mexican food, Chinese food, Japanese food, all kinds of ethnic foods - if people open up a restaurant in a small town serving Mexican food, and they're not Mexican, that's somehow like a no-no. To me it gets kind of ridiculous, like the pendulum has swayed too far in the other direction. I think a lot of politically correct stuff is like that. It's taken to an absurd length, and then it invalidates all the things you should be politically correct about, the things that are serious, like the continued marginalization and oppression of the female gender... Anyway, this is the kind of stuff that goes through my mind when I'm thinking about different cultures and spiritual beliefs. I think western civilization, Eurocentric civilization, especially as it's evolved in terms of progress, in terms of material progress to the exclusions of cultural or spiritual progress, it's one of the banes, it's one of the curses of this planet. You see the exact, concentrated epitome of that in the current climate in this country - mostly concentrated in the ultra-conservative right wing, but it's also in the neoliberal wing, which generally - money and profit is the bottom line. It's just that they have all these socially liberal ideas about maybe gender equality or LGBT issues. But in other ways, they're just as greedy as their ultra-right wing conservative opponents. 

Live photos by Deb Frazin, not to be reused without permission

If we could bring this back towards your music a bit, I know your band name Divine Horsemen comes from Maya Deren's film about voodoo in Haiti. And you've talked about possession and such in regard to A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die. And we talked before about the Santeria bottles on the back of The Fire of Love. There's the whole thing of the Divine Horsemen being the loa, who possess the dancers during rituals... It's kind of a vague question, but I'm wondering because there are Catholic elements incorporated into voodoo, if that made it more interesting to you. And then there's the whole question of African pagan ritual music, and African music that informed your making A Minute to Pray... 

Yes. Umm... I think when you're getting down to the nitty-gritty, the very essence of spirit in a human being... the thing about religion is, it's people trying to organize the very ideas that I'm talking about, trying to establish patterns, trying to establish a framework where they can kinda cherry pick the good and get rid of the bad, and quantify and qualify certain attributes that are ‘virtuous’ or ‘good,’ and those that are ‘evil’ or ‘destructive.’ So you’re looking at that instinct, that essence, to establish that, to distinguish between the yin and the yang, the poles of positive and negative, good and evil, and of course there's a tremendous grey area, which fundamentalists... to me, fundamentalism in any kind of religion, whether it's Middle Eastern/ Judeo-Christian, Eurocentric or primitive, or a mix of religious beliefs... there are certain sects of Buddhism and Hinduism and Islam that are very black and white. There are other sects, certainly of Buddhism, that have virtually no strictures whatsoever, compared to western religion. To me it's very interesting, how those different organizing structures have evolved in different places in the world. The thing that's interesting to me, like, for instance, all the religious and spiritual imagery that's on A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die, or Forever Came Today, or the Divine Horsemen records [connects to] the very idea of getting onstage and using music as a way of transcending your physical self, lifting yourself up to a spiritual realm, [reaching for] a spiritual essence, which creativity is, I believe. There are all kinds of levels of creativity, from very rudimentary and childlike and very materialistic creativity, to abstract ideas that get expressed through creativity. There are cultural ideas, sexual ideas, ideas of love and hate and grief and joy - all different kinds of emotions that get expressed through art, creativity, music, literature or film. Some of these on a really infantile level, like - you see where the motion picture industry is now, tapping into the most infantile, childish emotions in the audience, especially with the proliferation of superhero movies. Which, to me - no matter how exalted or advanced CGI is, or whatever kind of special effects or technological wizardry they use - the story is so primitive as to be almost non-existent. They're templates, they're archetypes, with very little touchpoints with reality; they're pure escapism. They sometimes have pretensions of spiritual growth. I'm not a fan of Harry Potter movies,  but I think at least J.K. Rowling was intending to integrate ideas about spiritual growth into her books. I'm not into that style of stuff, but I have respect for her just from listening to things that she's said. But I think the amount you have to dumb down that sort of mass market entertainment is unfortunate. I don't know if it's unavoidable. But you have to homogenize too many elements... I'm really against homogenizing elements, because what you end up creating are white bread versions that have no spiritual nutrition, so to speak. They're empty spiritual calories. It's like heavy duty carbohydrate intake that supplies you in the moment with energy but in the long run has no nutritional value. So - I'm using all kinds of weird analogies here, but I'm really into this kind of cosmological point of view of life and how everything is integrated together. 

I get it, though.

So to me, art and creativity are kind of a sacred thing. A sexual thing, an expression of love, it can be an expression of sorrow, and grief, and loss, and anger. But those things are very cathartic and therapeutic to the human psyche. It's the way we work things out. It's the way we transcend our physical limitations, transcend our petty attachments to worldly things, to material things. That's why I think with art and film - especially film right now and especially pop music - it gets homogenized to such an extent that there are artists that have worldwide notoreity but to me they're instantly forgettable. They're completely interchangeable. They have no personality of their own. The different elements involved are synthesized from a lot of different music genres and homogenized to the point where they have no real personality of their own. And at the risk of being redundant, they're empty calories - empty psychological calories, empty spiritual calories, empty calories as far as catharsis. They're for a collective, for people without personality, without the energy or the courage to express their own personality, and what is individual about them. They take on the hive mind, the collective mind's view. Which in some respects you see the hive mind, if you're going to talk about bees or productive insects, which make the world liveable because of their pollination, their way of balancing out pests and vermin, things that are destructive to other species.... there's a real give and take to that, that's part of nature. At the risk of sounding too new agey, there's a balance. And the thing that I think is really destructive about human civilization, is trying to get their thumb in every single aspect of nature, every single - they want to control everything, the corporations. It's a real spiritual disease, and the kind of hubris and arrogance and egocentricy that go along with it - the intoxication it gives people who accumulate wealth and power - it's really a negative spiritual energy. I think that goes without saying, I'm stating the obvious. But a lot of people don't even think about that. A lot of good people don't even think about that. And a lot of Trump supporters and ultra-right wing supporters, they don't want to be bothered with that kind of stuff; they want black and white, they don't want grey areas. They don't want human frailty. They don't want diversity. They want everything to be as simple and uncomplicated as possible. Man became self aware, and it's only been manifested throughout the ages. The danger right now is that kind of negative spiritual energy could really manifest itself physically in a negative way and cause the planet to be a burned out cinder. 


Getting back to the music, to me, doing the music, you're allowing some kind of spritual essence to come through you. I know when I start writing, there's a complex set of neurological things that are firing in my brain, but there are also things I don't think you can explain, chemically or electrically within the human body. I think there are spiritual energies from outside the physical being.   

Flesh Eaters 1-18-18 by Deb Frazin, not to be reused without permission (note Dave Alvin!)

[And that's true] whether it's a human being or an animal being - especially a human being; I don't want to get into equating human beings with animal beings or so-called "lesser creatures," because I think you get into that and you start becoming really arrogant and vain... it's one of human civilization's big flaws, is to not see their place in nature, in the so-called ecological biosphere. They see themselves as outside of that, and able to control it, rather than integrating themselves constructively. I mean, I'm sure this why other life forms from other planets that are more advanced than us haven't started interacting with us, or if they have it's very surreptitiously, because it's a very tricky thing to start fucking with that kind of spiritual evolution, and I think we have to work it out for ourselves, and at times, it really seems the planet is tipping into chaos. The negative, the uncomplicated, the fearful - the people who want to use fear as a tool - are winning, are going to destroy the planet. But that's when art, music, writing, film become really important, because it's a way to exorcise all that. It's a way to kind of burn sage in the room, to get rid of evil spirits. That's what I'm talking about with the exorcism. It's an exorcism not just of negative spiritual energy, but it's an exorcism of anything negative, whether it's  negative emotions, obsessive emotional attachment that's fear-based, based on fear... I'm really going far afield.

It's okay. I was wondering about negative spiritual energy, though. I know people have responded to A Minute to Pray as being kind of "evil," and certainly rock'n'roll is constantly being called, or actually flirting with, the so-called "evil," or dangerous, or a threat. A lot of rock music seems to wallow in negative spiritual energy - I mean, we could look at anything from Body Count's "Cop Killer" to death metal to actual Satanic black metal... I like some of that stuff, but it indulges the darkness a bit. Do you ever have misgivings about that sort of rock music?

I think there's destructive pop music out there, and it's definitely soulless. I'm not into death metal or "death rock," so-to-speak. The Flesh Eaters sometimes get lumped in with death rock. I think death is a really important thing to write about and sing about. The film director Sam Fuller told me when I interviewed him, he told us, "the number one story" - being a former newspaper man, a really good newspaper man - Sam Fuller said, "the number one story on any given day, anyplace in the world is always death. Death is the number one story." And it's because there's a universal thing in human beings, because we're self aware, and we know we're going to die - we're fascinated by other people dying, and we have an almost apocalyptic fear of things getting out of control, and that death, be it on a mass population level or being murdered in a back alley somewhere, or murdered by your spouse, or shot by your four year old son by accident, that kind of thing is constantly in the consciousness of everyone. It's the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the elephant in the elevator, it's "duh: death." It's what we're all headed for. We're all gonna die. There's none of us that aren't going to die. Whether we continue as a consciousness entity after death, spiritually, I don't know. I kind of lend credence to it - more than the spiritual energy, the energy of the body changing into something else, and going on into infinity, but without a self-aware consciousness. I mean, that's certainly a possibility. And it could be just wishful thinking that I think we go on with a consciousness beyond our physical body's death. I don't know. My intuition tells me that you do hold onto consciousness. We have no idea if it's manifested in the same way or not. I can't imagine it would be, because you don't have a physical brain anymore, with endorphins and the same body chemistry that creates and represses emotion. So you wonder how emotion is going to figure into an afterlife. But... rock'n'roll to me, it's spiritual, and it's beyond good and evil, and I think it's more positive than negative.    

John Doe with the Flesh Eaters, by Deb Frazin, not to be reused without permission

There's negative things about rock'n'roll, there's certainly negative things about punk rock, but punk rock, garage band music, the most abrasive kind of rock'n'roll, the kind of rock and roll the Rolling Stones originally did the first ten years they were together, that kind of rock'n'roll is a reaction. It's a reaction to church, it's a reaction to state, it's a reaction to morality dictated by a so-called authority, whether it's a religious or a sexual authority. It's a rebellion. And as you become older, you pick and choose. Some of those things you may have been rebelling against when you were younger, you may find are necessary to survive, in the world that we live in. There's other things that personally I'm always going to rebel against. I'm always going to rebel against sexual repression. I'm always going to rebel against inequality, racism, any kind of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Obsession with material things. That's one of the things I hate about what rap music became. When rap music originally started, it was about life, a lot about ghetto life. There was a lot of sex in it, there was a lot of concern about material posessions, but not like today, where it's sex and money almost exclusively. Unless I'm missing something - maybe there are rap artists that are popular, that are spiritually elevated and that are not singin' about that shit, I don't know. I'm just looking at what's presented to me through mass media, and it's really made me hate rap and hip hop music. It's made me hate the removal of the melodic.  

DJ Bonebrake with the Flesh Eaters, by Deb Frazin, not to be reused without permission. 

That's what I really came to hate about punk rock, too. Hardcore punk, I'm not a big fan of. Once in a blue moon, to listen to that kind of music, really hardcore thrash, is cathartic and it might be fine. But to me rock'n'roll has always been about taking something beautiful - a melody that is beautiful, that actually is maybe timeless; and you can have that melody at any point in the timeline of humanity, from before Christ to a hundred years in the future. And it would transcend musical style, transcend technological advances in conveying that music. But when you introduce instruments into the mix, with the melody, you create volume, you create something that moves the body, that moves the physical self... you're going to awaken certain kind of Dionysian things in yourself. You're going to awaken "the basics." Which I don't think is bad. I mean, sex is great, it's liberating, and it only becomes bad when it's selfish and used to demean somebody else, to dominate somebody else... I hate to use Pat Benatar as an example, but she had that very bald-faced song title, "Stop Using Sex as a Weapon." That's so pretensious, but it's an admirable sentiment, because a lot of people who do use sex as a weapon. There's a lot of men who can't get off sexually unless they're assaulting a woman, basically, exerting power over a woman. That kind of thing in rock'n'roll is out of place, and I don't think that's ever been the kind of sexuality that's been popular in rock'n'roll. You get the Rolling Stones sometimes - "Stupid Girl," "Under My Thumb" - that are misogynist on the surface. I don't think anything like that is out of place if you're singing about something personal, that happened to you. If you're singing about how all girls are stupid, or "I've got all girls under my thumb"... Um, there's things in those songs that are about personal situations, they're getting those emotions out. They're reactions to negative things that have been done to the lyric writer or the singer, that have hurt emotionally... you get those songs written by women, as well. You look at some of Patti Smith's or Janis Joplin's songs - really powerful women in rock'n'roll, or you get someone like Alicia Velasquez - Alice Bag, now - or Penelope Huston from the Avengers. There's a reaction to things in the zeitgeist, in the mass hive mind, the hot topic in society - whether it's the oppression of women or misogyny, or whatever it is. There'll be negative things said about men, about men in general. You're always going to have that ebb and flow. Because there's going to be reaction against negative energy that's from the outside. Music to me is a reaction, when it's well-done, and it's well-written, and it's well-performed, and there's some consciousness behind it... it's about righting wrongs, it's about disspelling myths, it's about creating new myths, new mythologies that are positive. It expresses negative energy, and by expressing it, expels it out into the universe to disperse... so to me it's largely a positive force. 

The Flesh Eaters play January 25th at the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver, January 26th at the Crocodile in Seattle, and January 27th at Dante's in Portland (note! I previously wrote "Seattle" for that but no, Dante's is in PORTLAND! Border Radio will screen at the Vancity Theatre Wednesday, January 24th, with Chris D in attendance for a Q&A.