Thursday, 23 October 2008

Five months of home-owning bliss!

Here is a post I wrote nearly two months ago, but which in true Adam style I neglected to publish.

Labour Day weekend has arrived, and the neighbourhood kids will soon be spending their days in class rather than hanging out on our neighbours' porch. And we haven't stopped working on the house. In fact, tomorrow and Monday, we'll be reorganizing all of the furniture—all of it—having lived with our original arrangement now for about three months. But it's all for the best, of course. And it works out that we haven't really decorated or put up shelves and so on—no holes to patch and paint colours to match!

Things now have gone by so quickly that I can't remember the order of events with any accuracy. Yesterday, we had our air ducts cleaned, which is a pleasure our house may never have experienced in the past. So when perhaps 90 years of accumulated dust (in the richest sense) was sucked from our furnace into that big hose, it looked like a shower that might never end, and I'm very happy that we did it, though there was no immediately noticeable difference. I'm pretty certain now that once we start using the furnace again, the heat might actually reach upstairs. Of course, we'll be replacing our 30-year-old furnace before winter, too, so that will probably help.

We've nearly gotten rid of our junk pile in the backyard. It's packed up and ready for pick up. We hope the garbage men will take it all before we receive our new city garbage bin. Anyway, we now have a lawn, of sorts; particularly since Danijela's parents came and hacked away our jungle of grasses and tall weeds (front and back). Amid those, there were hiding mint, Italian parsley and one poppy. And it appears that the 'coons didn't quite get all of our grapes. There are at least ten remaining, and they're actually edible! So we actually have a pretty comfortable backyard area now, where I will certainly barbeque tonight [Oct. 24—I didn't].

Most of the last month, we have spent cleaning our hallway and finishing the installation of two doors, which we bought from ReStore, which is an initiative of Habitat for Humanity. It's an amazing place to find housewares, mostly the big stuff like cabinets, windows, lights, doors, and so on. It's all used, reclaimed from renos, and mostly in great shape. The two doors we bought clearly came from the same house, and they fit the decor of our home perfectly. But fitting old doors to old door frames is finicky business and it took us quite a while to get it right. It involved some jigsawing (the top and bottom of one of the doors), a lot of planing (the edges of the doors and the pieces of wood that we had to use to shrink the frames), some general sawing and plastic wood (to fill the holes for the original vintage locks—which I later discovered we could have simply replaced, because Home Depot carries them, boo!), some chiselling (to fit the new hinges), some drilling (two two-inch holes in each door for the new hardware), and a small amount of cursing (general purpose).

I should have another update for you in the new year—wink, wink!
Read on..!

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The High Dials and The Disraelis at the El Mocambo, September 27, 2008

Unfortunately, at this point in my life, I attend few live shows, though I enjoy seeing bands perform immensely. Watching a good live performance is often cathartic and usually occasions in me deep feelings of regret that I am not on the stage with a group of like-minded musicians.

Music, particularly live, is primal and carries the power of the simple soul. I imagine the first singers must have shocked themselves and their audiences with their expression, regardless of their intention. I'm sure I feel some of that wonder when I see a great performance. I was certainly impressed on Saturday night.

The Disraelis are a strange beast. They are three talented musicians trying to do something old and somewhat obscure in a time when audiences seem always to demand new (even when that new is often regurgitated old). The band has been together for a few years now, but I hadn't had the pleasure of hearing their music until Saturday. They are all friends of mine for many years, but I have been away, even while at home. Actually, I wasn't expecting them to be good, since I had heard some negative things in their early days. Nonetheless, I wanted to see them—after talking to two of them the day before the show for the first time in a long time, I was excited to see them—and I couldn't go wrong with a bill featuring The High Dials at the El Mo.

For a bunch of current or former mods, you might expect a rehash of The Who or The Jam, but The Disraelis' influences are clearly more recent—if still not current. I suppose they show their ages, being approximately my age. Here is where I feel conflicted. I find music reviewers lazy when they write 100 or 1000 words simply comparing their subject to other bands. Music writing should be creative; most is just sad. But I, myself, have a hard time watching shows or listening to albums critically without making such comparisons. Maybe the creative act in music writing lies elsewhere. So, if you want the simple overview, here it is: The Disraelis sound like a band from the Manchester scene of the 80s transplanted into the present day, but without the firm guiding hand of a great producer. (I'm not sure Toronto is lucky enough to host a producer as talented as Stephen Street or Martin Hannett.) From the first notes, I heard New Order, and the impression stuck with me throughout. They clearly also show a reverence for The Stone Roses. And I suppose I might say that that says it all, but that would be lazy, wouldn't it?

It was simple post-disco drum beats—not quite the kind that all cool bands seem to offer—but played so earnestly and almost certainly with clear knowledge of their source; it was driving bass lines, mostly unpretentious and unselfconscious; it was straight-up vocals, in the vein of Bernard Sumner, that didn't try to overpower the music but willing and ready to burst out in the moment; and it was melodic, playful guitar, nonchalant and flowing, that brought the sound together. These guys know their influences and aren't afraid to show it.

What I find refreshing is that, while so many bands try to emulate "the 80s sound"—because electro-pop is so cool—The Disraelis live it because they lived it. Not only that, but they are recreating or revisiting or reinvesting a side of music that hasn't really been revived, and they don't seem to care if it has mass appeal. The 70 or so people at the club watching seemed to appreciate them, too, though you can be sure that many among the audience were friends. In any case, if you like poppy rock music, particularly that Manchester style, this is a Toronto band worth seeing.

The High Dials must be one of the hardest-working bands in Canada, and now that I've seen them, I think they must be the most under-appreciated. I followed these guys when Trevor Anderson headed the Datsons, but foolishly I haven't followed since they grew out of their mod phase. Now I know just how foolish I was. The Datsons were tight back in the day, and they put on an excellent high energy power pop show. Apparently, I missed a few years of kick-ass shows by not paying The High Dials much (er, any really) attention until now.

Adding to the excitement of the night, the band's bass player was involved in a car collision on his way to the club and had to visit the hospital to get checked out. So the crowd waited over an hour between bands and The High Dials finally went on after midnight. You may have guessed that I thought it worth the wait. Unfortunately, quite a few others didn't. By the time they came on, there were probably only 40 people in the audience.

Anyway, it didn't matter. I was under the rock'n'roll magic from the first moment. The sound in the club was exquisite—each note rang out, even in the half-empty room, and the band came together like I don't often see. These guys are good, and if you like rock music, I think you will have a hard time finding better.

I wonder what it is that keeps this band below the radar. Their music may not be the most innovative thing coming out these days, but that doesn't mean it's not exciting. Over the last few years I've noticed a thoughtfulness and even a sort of wisdom entering the music and words of new bands, especially in the words. It often takes the form of a simple, stripped-down, and rootsy rock music, unconcerned with the schizophrenia of contemporary rock and avant garde pop. Instead the music is a vehicle for an experience and the expression of this new ethic. The High Dials are such a band, and their music is exciting in spite of its familiarity, and heck, it's definitely danceable, in a cool way.

The Soundtrack of our Lives was the first band that really conjured in me this depraved notion of simple wisdom in rock music. But I recognize it now in The Brian Jonestown Massacre and a number of others, as well as in some more cutting edge stuff, like !!!. I saw it in the High Dials at the El Mo, as I stood impressed throughout the show—and the extra long two-song encore.

It wasn't a perfect show, but it was pretty easy to forgive the late start and forget about the off moments. On a few occasions I saw The Datsons rock a club full of people, and I'm certain that The High Dials can do better. So I recommend everyone see them. Luckily, Toronto will host them again, after they finish a brief U.S. tour. Check them out at the Horseshoe, November 11.
Read on..!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Entering the fray

I find myself in a strange position relative to the upcoming Canadian election. The choice seems so starkly clear: progress or regress, acting boldly or procrastinating weakly. But in Canadian politics no choice is clear. There are always so many factors at play: four or five parties to choose from, four of which are arguably on the progressive side, either socially, economically, or both; past behaviour, which in the short term almost invariably plays against the reigning party; the numerous cultural divides—East and West and Centre, French and English, Rural and Urban; the not-so-creeping advance of "American-style" attack and smear politics; and principles, those poor mistreated things.

It almost makes one admire the simplicity of our neighbour's two-party republic, and it certainly highlights the failings of the first-past-the-post electoral system in the present day, in Canada at least. Let me say this: Canada has a de facto two-party system. It has always been this way, and it will likely remain this way until we demand some form of proportional representation. What I mean by that is that there are two strong national political parties in Canada, which generally trade turns governing the country. They do this not by winning the most votes, but by winning the most ridings, effectively preventing any other party from gaining a significant hold on power. They win the most ridings by either dividing the activists from the moderates, or by playing on our fears and dividing and conquering.

There are other parties; indeed there have been quite a number in Canada's great history, spanning the political spectrum. The current Conservative party was actually formed from a coalition of two previous "right-wing" parties. These alternative parties commonly win large percentages of the popular vote (the NDP won 17.5 percent in 2006...), which rarely amount to a similar number of actual seats in Parliament (...but only 9.4 percent of the seats).

One thing is: our existing system favours the major parties; only partly because they are more centrist in scope. Certainly, the greater part of Canada's population falls in the centre of the political spectrum, but clearly, given the voting results, many people look to other parties, for many possible reasons.

Another thing is: political partisanship in itself simplifies politics and encourages simplistic views and opinions, particularly at this media-drenched time. It encourages our representatives to insult us during elections by attacking, dividing and lying. Moreover, for some reason, our system discourages multi-party coalition governments, though to me, this seems like an ideal solution, considering our several progressive parties. Instead, the system demands strategic voting in order to encourage a majority win for one party. Often—and currently—in order to prevent an undesirable party from gaining a majority, voters have to choose between voting for their preferred candidate or voting for the party most likely to win. This is usually an evil choice, offering no satisfaction for the undecided, and the incumbent party can easily take advantage of the situation.

And another: the media distort the messages of all the parties to support the one they believe in. They show ads that are offensive and often highly dubious; they irresponsibly base so much of their election reporting on polls, knowing that in our system these cannot represent the final numbers; they collude to exclude dissenting voices from the political debate.

Such is the state of our confederation. But I'm not pessimistic about the outcome. I believe in the Canadian spirit and Canadian intelligence. We are better and smarter than the current level of debate happening in the country right now and I think we won't be cowed by scare tactics and insults. It seems clear that many or most of us have been inspired by the dignity Barack Obama has shown in the U.S. election campaign, and I'm sure we dream that we could have a candidate of similar stature and oratory skill. Canada has not seen such a person since Pierre Trudeau.

But no candidate is perfect, and certainly no political party is perfect. Certainly, they must earn our trust and act responsibly, but we also must think clearly and vote responsibly. In our case, unfortunately, this means examining what you want Canada to look like in the coming years, and how you think your vote might best achieve that end. It's "strategic", and I hate it, but it's where we are and who we are, and it's our duty. Read on..!
Creative Commons License
The New Dilettantes by Adam Gorley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.