Monday, December 28, 2015

Ace of Spades: In which one of the Author's idols is Killed By Death

Oh no. No no no no no. Not Lemmy. You can't get Lemmy. He'll live forever he will, he's indestructible he is, invincible, invulnerable, in in in. . .


It was silly to think Lemmy Kilmister's lifestyle wouldn't catch up to him. All the same, he seemed so durable, so powerful, a hurricane or a tidal wave rather than a man. I can't believe He's gone.

You see, the world isn't just a quieter place without him, a duller, more timid place. For all intents and purposes, Rock'n'Roll died with him. No one can take his place. Nothing else measures up. After Motorhead, everything else sounds just. . .wimpy.

Words fail me at the moment, but I feel I gotta say something. The thing with Lemmy wasn't just his gargantuan bass sound, or his riffs or his lyrics. All this did put him on the path to Greatness, but with Lemmy it was more. We all thought Lemmy was invincible because he was the Man Who Would Not be Stopped, who just kept Rockin' long after the rest of us got too tired. When he got fired from Hawkwind, when his records wouldn't sell, when the Record companies wouldn't back him. Throughout it all, Lemmy kept Rockin', on his own terms, in his own way, immune to commercial pressures and sub-cultural demands. Lemmy could shrug off commercial failure, and critical indifference and heartbreak and keep right on going, Long as he had Rock'n Roll. Long as there was Rock'n Roll, ("the only religion that never lets you down") nothing else truly mattered. And if that's all there was, that wasn't so bad. 

Lemmy just kept calm, and carried on. Would that all of us had such thick skins, such determination such single minded dedication to what mattered to us.

Maybe it killed him in the end, but my god what a crater it left. . .

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Kvetch. . .

Well, the lights are out and everyone's gone to bed. I'm sitting here wondering how to wile away the final hours of the Christmas season before sleep overtakes me. I guess I've decided.

Let it be said (and I have before) that I am neither a Scrooge nor a Grinch, and I'm not one to scoff at Yuletide traditions. Granted, the sight of tinsel on November 1st (or, God forbid, October 1) tends to give me seizures, and a single bar from Paul McCartney's "Simply Having. . ." is enough to make me want to rupture my eardrums with chop-sticks. But I don't mind the rest of it. I like sleigh bells, and nativity scenes, egg nog, Bing Crosby and Burl Ives. I have no problem at all with the endless reruns of Christmas Carol and Miracle on 34th Street, or all the moralizing that comes with it. None. Fine by me.

Having said as much, there is a period of the day, every single year it seems, when I begin to feel a little grouchy. Usually starts in the late afternoon, before the dinner, and dissipates much later in the evening, long after the food is eaten and the cheer is drunk. I sink into a cloud of melancholia and need to withdraw from the general company. Every year, never fails. WTF?

Part of it must inevitably be the disappointment of impossible expectations. Our entire culture, nay, our civilization, hypes Christmas to such a ridiculous extent, nothing that actually happens within that twenty four hour period can live up to it; nothing can produce the kind of earth-shattering euphoria pushed by television specials, movies, songs and marketers. And don't go trying to dig it up either because that will completely backfire - few things are more completely counter-productive than contrived joy.

Part of it must be the pull of nostalgia: what in mundane adulthood can possibly compare with the stuffed stockings of childhood? (Assuming you had a happy childhood of course). Perhaps you've got children of your own and can re-live it vicariously. I do not, so I can't.  

And a big part of it is, I just don't do well in situations where I can't fully be me. Really don't do well. One must never be one's true self at a family gathering. It just wouldn't do. And there's only so much I can take of that. Veiled formality and contrived sentimentality don't help. It shouldn't detract from my genuine gratitude at being surrounded by so many good people, that I occasionally find these prolonged periods of government-mandated merriment exhausting. And I'm hard pressed to believe I'm the only one who finds it so.

Having gotten that off my chest, I've consulted with the Metal God, Sir Rob Halford, to Get Back Into the Spirit . Who needs three ghosts?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Worse than GERD: in which the author complains about Doctor Who

So much for the previous posts!  I'm going to make this brief because I hate to dwell on negativity, but it's gotta be said, so that the thought and the memory can be purged and life can go on.

Doctor Who's season finale sucked. Really, really, really fucking sucked. Sucked worse than a Hoover, worse than a collapsing star. It was worse than an NRA fact sheet, or a Daily Mail editorial. Watching it felt worse than my latest bout with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, and depressed me more than the price tag of my meds. I'm in a bad, bad, bad mood right now, and though I keep reminding myself it's only a television show, it's not working. It completely utterly sucked, and it made me mad.

No no, it didn't make me mad; it depressed me. It sucked the life out of me and dumped it down the sink. Something wonderful has been mutilated and I feel betrayed. Stephen Moffat was a good writer once. I trusted him, and I stood up for him against the Billie Piper brigade. How can I face them now? I can see it now, legions of them circling around like vultures, leering at me with their smug little smirks and cawing: "What was that you were saying about the Doctor's Rose Tyler fetish?"

How could you do this to me Stephen?

Let's completely undo the drama of the previous episode. Let's completely undermine all of Peter Capaldi's hard won credibility in the role. Let's completely piss upon the mythology! Let's rename it the Clara Oswin show and be done with it - the obsession with that character has become almost pornographic. The Doctor himself is largely useless. 

What we've got now is a cowardly, reckless, shockingly irresponsible, petty, vindictive, unbelievably idiotic moral imbecile who was once supposedly a paragon of wisdom. Sure he can think fast, and sure he can rewrite the laws of the universe by twiddling his thumbs, but the Doctor portrayed here has got to be one of the most idiotic characters I've seen in modern fiction, a petulant little schoolboy utterly ineffectual without the presence of his chosen mother figure. So much for the previous efforts!

Did I really just see the Doctor shoot a man? An unarmed man? Point blank? In the chest? Did I really just see the Doctor kill someone? Not to defend himself, not to protect someone, not to save the universe, but to simply get something he wanted? Yes I did. And don't give me that guff about regeneration - causing a regeneration is basically murder. And the Doctor, my Doctor, the Doctor, did it quite willfully, for no other reason than to secure something he wanted.

That's not dedication to friend. That's murder.  That's the dangerously obsessive behaviour of a sociopath. with a callous disregard for life. That's the Doctor now.

Ever been let down by your heroes? 

I feel like I've been stabbed in the back, kicked in the balls, fed poison, chained to a bed and made to listen to "Merry X-mas (War is over)" on perpetual loop. I feel I've just had my teeth removed with crescent wrench, a spoonful of hot lead dumped down my ear and bottle full of liquid Drano pumped up the ass.

Oh ye Gods, make it stop make it stop!  Here's some Alestorm. It's the only thing I can think of. . .

Saturday, November 14, 2015

All that Glitters parte the seconde: In which the author insists he has a legitimate point.

In addendum to previous post, The Zygon Invasion was blast, but then, I’ve always been a sucker for invasion stories. If there’s one thing the New Who can do, it’s invasion stories – at least the first half. Yes, let me amend previous commendation to: if there’s one thing New Who can do, it’s set up invasion stories. Because if there is one thing New can definitely not do, is resolve invasion stories. Just as I’ve generally enjoyed the first half of every invasion story they’ve ever thrown at me, I’ve almost never enjoyed the second half. Maybe the Silence. Which makes me highly nervous, if not entirely reluctant, to watch the second half of Zygon Invasion. Maybe I should just skip it, and let my imagination fill in the gaps. Leave the memory intact, and the illusion in place. The illusion? That Doctor Who has never changed, and continues to be the garden of unearthly delights it’s always been.

            Sometimes it’s close. Sometimes, usually during the first half of any invasion story, the illusion is achieved. But there is always something, some teen-tiny little thing, usually in the second half, to ruin it. A bad joke. A dumb plot twist. A blatant violation of internal logic. Something.   

They almost always bugger up the second half. They go cheap on the cliff-hanger, embrace the cop-out, invoke the Deus ex Machina, and throw in a few bad jokes just to wreck any lingering tension that might remain. Usually though, a cheap short cut any grade-school story writer could have avoided, leaving the impression the writer either ran out of time, or imagination, or more probably both.

I’m talking about Rose Tyler waving her hand and magically making the Dalek fleet disappear. Or the Doctor giggling and gibbering as the Cybermen massacre millions of people outside the window. Or the whole population of earth ridding themselves of the Master just by going outside at lunch and shouting the Doctor’s name at the sky (Presumably the scene of them all singing Kumbai ya was cut). How about taking a whole episode to establish what an inescapable prison the Pandoricon was, and then in the next episode – get this – casually escaping from it before the credits have even rolled!

Short cuts, cop-outs and deus ex-machina. The unholy-trinity of the unimaginative writer. But even more than a lack of time or creativity, such things  scream a lack of effort. Not just that the writer hasn’t considered these things, but that he just doesn’t care. 

And no, I don’t buy into the cheap excuse – that many of you eat up by the bucket load, admit it – that these are only concerns for the ultra-nerd of geek. Producers like to spit out such sentiments to justify substandard work. These are matters of story-telling, which is the duty of every writer to take seriously. Years ago, when some smart alec asked Harlan Ellison what a reader, or audience, could demand from a writer, he answered (and I paraphrase) “his best effort”. No more. And no less. When I am fed these watered down cast off endings, I feel like I’ve not been given the writer’s best effort. That they just didn’t care enough to do better.

So yeah, I’m a little nervous about the next episode. I’ve been encouraged and let down too many times to go into it without trepidation.

But I’m still gonna watch it. It’s Doctor Who. What can you do?  

All that glitters: in which you don't get to piss on the Author's parade.

There are few things that can alternately make me feel orgasmically ecstatic and slash-my-wrist-lengthwise grumpy as that most magnificent of mythologies, Doctor Who. This post may very well take on the tone of the former rather than the latter, but first we’ll have to do a couple of things.

            First, we are going to have to pretend that The Girl Who Died never happened. We will pretend that we never had to deal with that idiotic central character and stupid villains straight out of Hagar the Horrible.  We could do these things, but I’ve expunged them from my memory. Having done that, I feel better already.

            Now we can concentrate on the fun stuff, which were the four episodes preceding it. Yup, you heard me right: I loved ‘em. There a new season of new Doctor Who out, and I’m loving it. After each one (remember: we’re pretending The Girl Who Died never happened) I got up and danced a jig with a concrete grin. I was twelve years old again, happy and innocent and on-top of the world. Pay no attention to the naysayers of the International Billie Piper Brigade: the season openers of the latest Doctor Who, a double whammy of two parters, were wonderful, marvellous and magical. Not a trace of Russel T. Davies’ idiotic dues ex-Machina or adolescent sexual inuendoes. Never a scintilla of Stephen Moffat’s cleverer-than thou plot manglations. Just Daleks. And Dark Corridors. And cliff-hangers. And a genuine love of the franchise.

            I loved the hand mines. I will always love Davros. I have finally gotten used to Peter Capaldi and realized that I actually love having an older, grouchier Doctor. I loved the spectacle of him riding around in Davros’ chair, which will surely be the defining moment of his Doctorhood. Hell, I even loved Missy – whose snooty Marry Poppins gone bad approach to the Master is much closer to the Roger Delgado/Anthony Ainley ideal than that twerp John Sim ever was.

            It was, in short, classic Doctor Who that my twelve year old self could have enjoyed, without reservation or qualification. Sure there was a little timey-whimey-blimey crap towards the end, but it was easily ignored. For once, I wasn’t wistfully longing for the past, but just enjoying the present, without even having to try.

            It will not last, I know. It never does. Sooner or later the creative team will want to tinker and tamper, and the outcry from the Billie Piper Legion will ensure such episodes as these are never repeated. But for now. . .

Plus ce chance; in which the author mercilously pisses on everyone's parade.

I think I have made my partisan preferences plain. I don't like stuffy-grey-shirt-stone hard-grumpy faced conservatism and dance a little jig every time I see it turfed from power.

So today, one day after the Conservative Party of Canada was turfed from office faster than a drunk from a M.A.D meeting, why am I not happier?

It of course a very good thing that the Marble Man has been removed from office - see previous entry, which I need add to by the hour. I am very glad that the right wing wet dream is over. The air already tastes cleaner. Naturally the chicken-littles of the world are already crying that the country will be bankrupt within a week, that the Muslims will take over, and the Unions will be allowed redesign people's kitchens. I take a bit of devilish pleasure in reading such complaints, though sadism of this variety is highly unbecoming of one as saintly as myself.

But I can't exactly sing. And I didn't exactly go to bed with sugarplums dancing in my head. I can't help feeling like one has just been removed from his torture chambre and placed in a padded cell. Very happy development, thankyou, don't get me wrong, but my situation hasn't fundamentally changed.

Canadian voters, in their much ballyhooed appetite for change, have only opted to rearrange the window dressing and once again went for the status quo. The Liberal party. That creaky old party that has more accumulated  years in power than the Communist Party of Russia. Whom, up until about a decade ago, were so firmly entrenched in power people were beginning to wonder if they'd ever leave. (Apparently not).

Change in other words, by doing the very same they'd already done a million times before.

I’m probably being unkind. Trudeau’s Liberals will probably not bait Muslims quite so shamelessly, or censor scientists quite so blatantly. They will at least try to attend global conferences on climate change, and will doubtless smile at many fund-raising luncheons. They will probably not try to take anyone’s citizenship away, and probably won't try to disenfranchise ex-pats. They just might give lip-service to diplomacy and peace. They might not be so petrified of "bogus refugees", and just might let a few into the country. Probably. Maybe. Possibly.  

            All very good things. But that hardly amounts to radical change. 

For one thing, my incredibly witty analogies notwithstanding, the Tories haven’t exactly been turfed; they’ve still got 91 seats in Parliament. They can still do damage. They just might come back stronger than ever. But more importantly, the Liberal Party, who’ve governed this country for most of its history, are the party of entrenched power. Even more than the Tories, they represent the vested interests of the privileged classes. They are the very embodiment of the status quo. And folks turned to them for change? 

            I mean, sure, they can be expected to poke their heads in at International conferences to combat climate change, but do you really expect them to impose strict regulations, or to actually take on the Oil Industry? I’ll believe it when I see it.   What about civil liberties? Remember, these guys voted for bill C-61, not against it. As for poverty and inequality and all that stuff, well, you may recall these were the guys who pledged to eliminate child-poverty by 2000. How far’d we get on that one prey tell? 

            How about privatization of public services?  Don’t forget it’s the Provincial Liberals who are in the process of selling off Hydro One, hoping for a little marketplace black magic. Granted that’s the Provincial wing, and maybe the new, more photogenic Federal wing won’t toady up to the private sector in quite the same fashion, and maybe I’ll win the next Super 7. Hey, it could happen. . .

            The party of change? More like the party of everything we’ve tried already and insist on trying again. But who knows. . .

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lysenko's snake oil: in which the author bitches about government. . .

I've got to get these thoughts down before they become obsolete.

I voted today. They couldn't stop me (though they may punish me later for having the audacity to register in another riding). It will probably surprise no one that I voted against the incumbent. While it is supposed to be a secret ballot, and there are good reasons for keeping it so, I have no problem announcing to the world that mine was cast against the granite golem occupying Ottawa now.

In the beginning I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I was willing to set aside (for a time) my ideological prejudices in the name of non-partisan pragmatism, provided he were willing to do the same. To whit: if he could forget about being a right-wing demagogue, I could forget about being an old Trot. I probably wouldn't like most, if not all, of his policies, but I'd learn to live with them if life went on. I couldn't bring myself to care when he beat out that other Stephen in 2008; and when the fashionistas attacked, I even defended his travel vest! Just keep the wheels turning. . .

But he's been a long time - almost ten years now - and he's steering the country places I don't want to go, and now I want to get off. No, scratch that: I want him to get off. He's not kept his side of the bargain - he's gone full steam into demagogue territory, slowly but surely turning the entire country into a playground for the privileged, and the longer he's in, the farther he'll get and the harder it will be to reverse the damage.

Naturally I have nothing but contempt for his almost mystical faith in tax cuts to solve everything (which is a different issue from the Kafkaesque labyrinth of Revenue Canada's punitive paper trails). My biggest problem with tax-cuts is they largely benefit people who never had a problem to begin with - those robber barons and oil-sheikhs who inhabit the ginormous castles of my home-town will continue to live in the lap of luxury no matter who wins tonight. But folks in the lower income-brackets, in social housing, or on disability? Could mean a matter of life and death. So no, that whole idea cuts no ice with me. But everybody from all over the spectrum is proposing that, so I get past it.

There never was a war Harper didn't like, or a conflict he didn't want to stick his nose into. He belongs firmly to that school of wannabe-warrior's whose solution to every problem is to blow it up. He's practically tripping over himself trying to send the fighter jets somewhere, anywhere, regardless of whether or not it's likely to do any good. (Try telling him that though and he's likely to question your patriotism; in these circles, love of country is measured only in terms of bloodlust).

Harper loves war, and wants one he can call his own. Since his lot came in, remembrance Day ceremonies have taken on an altogether different tone - gone are the peaceful, regretful, mournful tributes I grew up with - now you'd think the First World War was indistinguishable from the Second, and all wars alike. Glorious Fights for Freedom.  All Flander's Fields, not a word of Wilfred Owen. I wonder if anybody in the Harper caucus has even heard of, let alone read, Wilfred Owen.  . You can almost hear them singing "When the Bantam Roosters Crow". 

I have think that Harper learned all his history from Rudyard Kippling (the pre-war Kippling, not the one who lost his son to the trenches). It would explain his last-century Anglo-philia which saw the adjective "Royal" pointlessly and expensively added to Canadian military stationary, and all those portraits of the Queen suddenly hanging everywhere. 

War, one would think, is a great and necessary and perpetual thing. A thing that needs a constant flow of new, young recruits. Fresh blood. Cannon fodder. The Harper bunch love the troops - until they come home and need benefits. And World War II veterans are best of all, provided they sit quietly in the background at commemoration ceremonies and don't actually need anything which requires a Veteran's Affairs office, which have been closed all over the country. We probably would have joined Bush Jr's Iraqi adventure if Harper had been in charge at the time, and who knows what else. He hasn't even tried to be even-handed when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict*.

His environmental record is appalling: he's torn up every treaty in the book, every reduction target, weakened every law, and defunded all sorts of programs and organizations designed to protect the planet. His party's fetish for oil knows no-bounds. Climate-change denial is the order of the day (I don't even want to know what they think about Young-Earth Creationism).

Which leads me to science. Of all the fields of human endeavour, one would think - one would hope - that Science could rise above our petty concerns. But Harper's Torries have no time for science. Science for them is but a tool of commerce and subservient to policy, like all else.  Any Canadian scientist in the country is strictly prohibited from speaking their mind or sharing their findings. Like press-agents, they too must tow- the Torry Party Line. Presumably because their finding just might contradict official Climate Change (Denial) policy, and just might make their Oil Sands policies look misguided, and just might give comfort and solace to their enemies (not opponents) in Parliament. So objective truth about the natural world is kept under wraps for partisan purposes.

This I think bothers me more than anything. It pains me to no end to think that research and knowledge and information we need to make informed decisions is being suppressed to protect government interests. Democracies don't do this. Dictatorships do this.Under Stalin, all scientist had to subscribe to Trofim Lysenko's Lemarkism, a discredited pseudo science, long ditched by biologists. The results were catastrophic - if it didn't cause the Ukrainian famine, it sure as hell didn't help. But who was going to tell that to Uncle Joe? Science, and thus reality, was a party matter. It was what Dear Leader wanted it to be. That's what happens when science is suppressed  - when truth is kept hidden.

 We're not there yet. But you see why I'm concerned? The Government's censorship of science is a very, VERY bad thing. It will hurt us. It needs to stop TONIGHT.

So I went out and voted. We'll see how it goes. 

*(To be fair, many folk on the other side of the debate are hardly even handed either, but they're not running the country, are they?)


Monday, August 24, 2015

Wacken pt. III: in which the author prefers thorns to roses.

The spectacle of Matt Sinner’s Rock meets Classical project seems a natural segue into the next chapter of our memoir, the incredibly bittersweet spectacle of Savatage.
      Possibly no band on the planet have had a stranger career trajectory than Savatage. These days, the name is not much more than a foot-note or prelude in the history of the great Trans Siberian Orchestra (TSO, not to be confused with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra).

            The TSO is in many respects a truly successful Rock/Classical hybrid: both elements are indispensable to the whole, and after a while the barriers between the two melt away and leave a kind of mish-mash of old and new. It’s admirable in many ways, and hugely commercially successful; the TSO sell out stadiums on both sides of the Atlantic. My take on them? It’s pretty. It’s nice. It gives one a nice warm, tingly feeling at Christmas time. But I don’t think it achieves true greatness of either realm, of either a great opera or a great Rock album. Such as the original Savatage records. Which brings me back to them. . .

            A large proportion of TSO fans don’t know who Savatage were. Others may vaguely be aware, having read somewhere, the brains behind the TSO first met in a band called Savatage. Others still may remember Savatage as the skeletal blue-print of what would become the TSO, a kind of musical Petri-dish. And then, there’s the tiny-tiny number of us who really miss the Savatage of old.

            When Savatage burst on the scene in ’83, they were about as heavy a Metal band as you could find in those days. They had a razor sharp guitar sound, courtesy of Chris Oliva, Demonic vocals from brother John, and a cold, echoey production that just sent chills down our headbanging spines. In that regard, the first three Savatage records are masterpieces: Sirens, Dungeons are Calling, and Power of Night. They’re hard, heavy and fast, cold as ice, hard as iron, tough as nails, whatever simile you like; Savatage were the last band you’d expect to one day evolve into a pseudo-classical collective. Tell anyone back in ’84 that the band that just released Dungeons are Calling would one day best be known for their piano balladry, and popular among upper-middle class retirees, they’d think you insane. And yet. . . there it is.

            Fight for the Rock was a misguided attempt at commercial breakthrough: old and new fans agree it doesn’t count (though hang onto that thought). Hall of the Mountain King was a triumphant return to form, and then. . .things got weird.      

            Gutter Ballet had bits of the old Savatage on it – but also traces of a new, mellower, gentler Savatage, more in line with Andrew Lloyd Webber than Ronnie James Dio. As a huge fan of musical theatre myself, I personally could not condemn the attempt, but could not bring myself to love these records either. My trouble with almost everything Savatage have done since Gutter Ballet is that it all pretty much sounds like “Gutter Ballet”. Long, meandering, piano-ey ballady preludes that always seem to be building up to something and not really amounting to anything. Too often I find myself wondering where it’s all going, what’s it all in aid of, where’s the meat-and-potatoes pay-off. I’m not a punk: I don’t believe that songs need to confine themselves to three chords in three minutes. But I do believe that build-up needs to justify itself in payoff, that disparate elements need to amount to something, and journeys have to go somewhere. Rush, Wintersun, Luca Turilli and Ritchie Blackmore have, to my mind, all pulled it off; I just don’t feel it with Savatage, though it be their raison d’etre as a band. And while I’ve marvelled time and again at the vocal acrobatics of “Wake of the Magellan”, I can hardly bring myself to sit through the album as a whole.

            This all came to mind as both projects took the stage at Wacken: a short set by the band Savatage heavily heavily favouring its latter period, morphing into what most folk consider the real point of the story: the Trans Siberian Orchestra. And there’s me in the crowd, admiring the undeniable artistry and talent of all involved, but not enough to erase the longing for the Sirens of old. 

            The Dungeons still call.