Friday, July 22, 2011

The cheapest trick of all

I was going to go to this show.

I changed my mind on Sunday morning, largely because of the heat wave that has been scorching the earth around these parts since the beginning of July.

I was going to go to this show because Cheap Trick was once an important band to me. Perhaps the most important one.

When I was eight and nine years old, our family stereo unit held a secret cache of LP's and 45's. My Dad had his collection, mostly consisting of Charlie Pride and Tanya Tucker. My mother had her Olivia Newton-John and Nana Mouskouri albums. And my much older sisters (at least they seemed much older at the time), they had their records.

On most occasions when the family stereo unit was in heavy rotation, I had to endure a rather unhealthy dose of Supertramp (Breakfast in America was indelibly branded upon my brain before I turned ten years old; a cruel and unusual punishment if you ask me), Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell (the album cover looked cool as hell, I thought, but it sure didn't sound cool as hell), or K-Tel compilations subjecting me to the truly hellish excesses of late Disco, the Bay City Rollers, K.C. and the Sunshine Band et al.

But to their credit, my older sisters record collection also introduced me to some glories of late 70s rock, particularly Queen's News of the World (now there was an album cover that looked cool as hell and so did the music) and Cheap Trick's Live at Budokan. Like much of the material that generates the playlists of putative "Classic Rock" radio stations, I don't know that Cheap Trick's music (let alone its band members) has aged very well, but at one time they were the biggest and baddest band in the world, at least within my eight-year-old world. When I saw them on TV Variety Shows/Specials, that peculiar late 70s/early 80s species of mass entertainment, I would marvel at Rick Nielson's five-neck guitar and Bun E. Carlos toiling away on the drum kit while the ubiquitous cigarette dangled from his mouth. When I started to buy my own albums a year or so later, one of my initial acquisitions was Heaven Tonight, advertised on Live at Budokan with "Surrender", probably the most enduring song they've ever released.

While Cheap Trick has not survived as a sonic companion of mine since those years (frankly, I couldn't believe that they are still touring), I was nevertheless considering checking out their gig at Bluesfest, if only for nostalgic reasons.

Might have been a hoot, had the stage not collapsed.

Luckily, nobody was seriously injured.

Yup, they're all alright -- they just seem a little weird.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

North by Northwest

I've always been drawn to the Pacific Northwest.

Especially the state of Washington and the city of Seattle.

As a eight year old kid, I was fascinated by books on cryptozoology. I used to pour through accounts of Bigfoot encounters and wistfully imagine that one day I would go hiking among those rain forest conifers and come across a North American Great Ape. Then I watched an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man that revealed that Bigfoot was really a robot from outer space, and I lost interest. I didn't care much for space when I was a kid.

As I got older, I started to read some science fiction, and Frank Herbert quickly became my favourite. I burned through many of those Berkley Books paperback editions of his novels, and not just the Dune series. I learned that Frank Herbert was from the Seattle area, and that the sand dunes on the nearby Oregon coast were, reputedly, the inspiration for the series. But I enjoyed his other novels as well, and a few of them had a Northwest setting.

I knew it rained a lot in the Pacific Northwest, and that was fine by me. Unlike most other people, I soon realized, I liked the rain. I still do, even after living for the better part of nine years in Vancouver. It matches the melancholia that I inherited from my Outer Hebridean ancestors. I seem to think better when its raining, and a sublimity sets in that elevates my mood.

One of the first Sports Illustrated magazines that was given to me featured Paul Westphal, who just left the Phoenix Suns to play for the SuperSonics. I knew and cared little about the NBA then, and that hasn't changed over the years, but at the time I knew that the SuperSonics had won back to back NBA titles not long ago.

In the other three sports that I truly cared about at the time, Seattle had made little impact. They didn't have an NHL team then, and its not likely that they ever will. The Seahawks and Mariners were expansion teams in the later 1970s and therefore were simply awful. For some reason I still found myself following them. Before my dear old Dad unknowingly torched them all in a fit of pyromania, I had football cards of Jim Zorn, Dave Kreig, Steve Largent, Curt Warner et al. I don't remember being interested in the Mariners until the late 1980s when Mark Langston was the best lefthander in baseball. The Expos then traded Randy Johnson to the Mariners for half a season of Langston before he moved on to the Angels in free agency. The rest of that sad story doesn't need to be told.

I also knew that Jimi Hendrix was born and raised in Seattle, and that seemed pretty cool to me.

My initial visit to Seattle was in the fall of 1997. Five of us crammed into the Old Idler and embarked from Vancouver on a pilgrimmage to Powell's, a legendary used bookstore in Portland Oregon (this was before ordering books online became a part of my ordinary life). Crossing the border was a bit of an adventure, as the Idler was full of international students, including one from Mexico. The border guard refused to believe that we were entering the US just to visit a bookstore. Needless to say, there was a considerable delay. We stayed overnight at a friend's apartment near the University of Washington. The Huskies were hosting Ryan Leaf and the rival Washington State Cougars, so it was a bit nutty.

I returned to Seattle and Portland the following spring. While the atmosphere inside the Old Idler was vitriolic, as my ex-girlfriend and I were at each others' throats the entire time, the drive back up the Pacific Coast Highway from the San Francisco Bay area was unforgettable. I finally saw the white beaches of the Oregon coast as well as the sand dunes that had inspired Frank Herbert so many years ago.

Over the course of my remaining years on the West Coast, I took the opportunity to return to Seattle, if not Portland, many more times. Unlike Vancouver, Seattle is a port city that makes good use of its downtown shoreline, which I remember as dotted with bars and cafes.

Recently, it seems that I'm more familiar than ever with the daily events of Seattle. While I work each day, I listen to KEXP, a local radio station that allows its disc jockey's to program their own music sets. (Thanks to the Cravat in Van City for that tip).

Oh yeah, and the music that broke out of that town in the late 80s and early 90s was really fucking good.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Songs from the Road

A happy July 14 to all my fellow sans-culottes. May you storm the Bastille of your chosen oppressor, real or imagined.

And a very happy birthday from Little Brother to Big Sister.

I recently returned from my first post-Interruptnal road trip.

It started with a little night music in Confederation Park. Robert Plant and his new band played a set that included many satisfying reworkings of some of my favourite Led Zeppelin songs, including Black Country Woman. And Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Jean-Luc Ponty trading sonic soliloquies under a setting sun.

The next morning I packed up (I no longer travel lightly), loaded up the New Idler, and took off on the two-lane blacktop for parts known and unknown. Ahead of me on the temporal horizon, almost two weeks of liberation from the tedium of Work and the prerequisites of Policy and Protocol.

The New Idler's CD player never stopped Whirring as I floated down the 401 on a River of Pride. That old white line was sure a friend of mine, and it was good time I was making.

After a sleepover at Big Sister's house on the outer rings of the gas giant that is the GTA, I GOTrained it downtown. Its been a long time since I lived in the megalopolis, so not surprisingly I took a wrong turn out the worst possible exit from the thoracic mass of transportation options that is Union Station. It was rush hour, of course, and on this particular late June day it made Penn Station look like a rural route that requires you to lay across the tracks to force the train to stop and pick you up.

When I emerged into the sunlight, I seemed to be trapped in a canyon of industrial wasteland tucked somewhere within a diabolical pentagram triangulated by the CN Tower, the Gardiner Expressway, and the concrete monstrosity formerly known as Skydome. Despite this post-apocalyptic environment, there was a senseless number of commuters going to and fro, walking at me, not with or around me.

Finally I found a dozing cabbie who appeared to be convalescing from the mind melting heat, and we were off for the Annex, where I spent two wonderful days with my dear old friend Curry and his charming family. On another one of the hottest days of the summer so far, I made a puzzling decision to walk east on Bloor from Bathurst to Yonge, only to then turn south down Yonge to Dundas, then all the way west back to Spadina. When I returned to the Annex, blood was seeping through one of my socked feet a la Curt Schilling in the 2004 World Series. I didn't feel like a "gladiator", as Mr. Schilling was preposterously anointed, but it was grotesquely visible enough for the twins to inquire about over dinner that night.

On my way back to the downtown train, my affable cabbie and I almost drownded, as the Young Artist would say, in a wave of baseball fans (really? in Toronto?) rolling down the road, sweeping everything along in its wake. Must have had something to do with Roy Halladay starting for the Phillies. Hard to imagine that I was once a subscriber to Baseball America and knew the names of most middle and long relief pitchers in the league. That ended almost 20 years ago -- and that had something to do with 1994, I'm almost sure.

Once I picked up the New Idler back east of town, I got back on the two(six?)-lane blacktop and Highway Star-ed it west into the heart of Huronia. I hadn't visited Cousine in his backyard since the summer of 2001. It was surreal to have conversations with his near-teenage boy and girl. Cousine and I had our obligatory evening of obliteration - Darts, innit? - and it seemed to me that I had once again sailed across oceans of Mill Street and Sleeman. However, perspectives and horizons, not to mention youthful stamina, have inevitably diminished. We were both a Victim of Changes as we re-enacted the Days that Used to Be. And Yet, we talked and drank until the daylight began to break, the temporal and physical distance between us dissolving into the rosy-fingered dawn.

I spent four nights with Cousine and his family, and one more overnight visit with Big Sister, a Circean bacchanalia that sent me off in fine style the next morning. Then it was time to move on to the closing books of the epic road trip -- the voyage home.

Once again the New Idler's CD player was put to good use as I Noodlanded my way towards the End of Music and O-town.

Once I got home, and still had a few days of vacation remaining, I slept like a log. A Victim of Changes, indeed.