Saturday, March 27, 2010


I've been seeing a lot of articles lately about the impending death of criticism (film, music, etc.) at the hands of the internet/blogs/etc. Today I came across an interesting quote (in this article) from Pauline Kael: "Criticism is all that stands between the public and advertising." I was immediately reminded of a good scene in a bad movie, Almost Famous, in which the great rock critic Lester Bangs (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) defends a fledgling rock music criticism with pretty much the same argument as Kael. It's a strong argument. I mean, who are you going to trust, the publicist who writes for the movie or record company whose job it is to get you to (or suck you into) buying the "product," or the critic, who's seen pretty much every movie, or listened to every rock album ever made? Or, these days, all of the thousands, millions of "critics" on the web?

I think the publicist, the traditional critic, and Joe Blow on the web all have their own place, function, and usefulness, as long as one knows what he's reading and by whom it's been written. This goes directly to Kael's argument (above).

Clearly we should be able to trust the publicist to get some basic facts straight: "This movie, Titanic is directed by James Cameron and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet." Really, who would doubt a sentence as boring as that? It's highly unlikely that you'd walk into the theatre and sit down, only to discover that the "stars" of the movie are Carrot Top and Phyllis Diller, and that it was actually directed by Leni Riefenstahl. (Believe me, as much as you might wish for it, it ain't gonna happen.) On these basic details, we can take the publicists at their word.

Things get a bit trickier when the publicity department of, say, a major studio starts describing the movie (i.e. the actual content of the "product"). And the ways they have to describe things to you are myriad! (And, if I may be perfectly candid, they constitute an art form unto itself. These guys could sell you back the turd that you just flushed down the toilet. I hate them, but they have my deepest admiration.) To stick with the Titanic example, did any other guys notice how the trailers seemed to emphasize the size of the ship, and the general mayhem surrounding it's sinking? Has anyone not heard the phrase "chick flick in disguise"? Haha! Nobody sucked me in with that one! I was living in my mother's basement at the time, but still... Basically you should treat the publicity put out by media companies like you would a used car salesman. Stop listening after "this one's a Ford Taurus..."

I should talk a bit about the internet hordes, the self-proclaimed "critics," the Amazon "reviewers," the bloggers, etc. First, though, I want to make one thing clear (hopefully it already is clear to regular readers): I often post about music (and much less frequently about movies). I don't do "reviews." I post a tune, tell you I like it, and perhaps call you an idiot for not liking it (and really, what the fuck is wrong with you?). Sometimes I might say something remotely useful like, "this band sounds like The Stones," or something. I call this "blogging." I do not call it "criticism."

If you're a young person who hasn't seen many movies or heard a lot of bands, the swarm consensus of the internet can be a useful thing. You've heard Lady Gaga and seen pictures and videos of her and you're wondering if maybe she could dig a guy like you and... Oh. No, not that. Heh. Look, you're a young person who hasn't heard a million albums yet, or seen a thousand movies. You've heard and seen enough to know that you like, say, Green Day and vampire movies. And really, that's cool. For now. You have instant access to opinions on all the stuff you like. But is all the stuff you like all there is?

Critics. Who are they and what the fuck do they do? Fucked if I know, BUT... If I had a job as a critic, I'd guess that my newspaper/magazine/TV show/website/etc. would expect a few things. I'd guess that they'd expect me to know how to write well. That probably, but not necessarily, would require me to have some sort of university education. I almost certainly would have to prove that I had some sort of background in the subject matter, whether it be movies, music, or whatever. What kind of publication (what kind of society?) after all, would accept the opinion of someone who had neither knowledge of the subject nor the proper tools to express his/her "opinion" on it? (Don't answer that, kids!)

It's not like you should accept the word of a critic as the "Word of God" or something as foolish as that. But the word of the guy who's listened to more albums, say, than you have should count for something. If it doesn't, then why even go to school to learn any subject? Don't get me wrong, it's not like I haven't had problems with the judgments of critics. I used to curse Robert Christgau for giving a "C" to a Stones album when I was a kid reading Creem. Thirty-five years later, having absorbed The Stones' work in its entirety, it's clear to me that Love You Live was a turkey.

[One thing that really does bug me about most rock criticism is its insistence on writing about fucking lyrics. I mean, shit, do I have to go all Schopenhauer on this or what? It's fucking music. I like it when what the singer does kinda matches the music, but please, these guys aren't Keats. Spare me the analysis of the "poetry." What the fuck does the album sound like?]

Anyway, the point I'd like to make is this: A "critic" has to have some kind of background in the subject she is criticizing. Proper criticism requires a breadth and depth of knowledge on a topic that, frankly, most people don't have. A critic has to be able to place a work into it's proper context in order to judge it against other works. She also has to have a much better than average ability to write. Go ahead and try writing a review for your favorite movie, album, or book sometime. It's not the same as talking about it. Writing and speaking are completely different creatures. Hell, I'm a musician and I've given up on trying to review music. "I really like/hate this album. It sounds like their other album which reminds me of this album by another band. They play their instruments well/poorly. The songs are good/bad." That's about all you're gonna get outta me on paper! Come over some time for a beer, though, and I'll play you the fucking album and show you what I like/hate about it. You might not agree with me, but you'll know what the fuck I'm talking about!

I like reading well-written reviews. When I was a lot younger I used to read reviews for stuff I knew I'd never see, read, or listen to. There is knowledge to be gained from a well-written review. Reading reviews has helped me to talk about movies, albums, etc. (Sadly, it hasn't translated to writing about music or movies.) I have no doubt that there are some good "amateur" reviewers out there doing some great stuff on the web. They deserve an audience. But when newspapers and magazines start dumping all their on-staff critics/reviewers they are essentially eliminating culture from their pages. And I mean "culture" in the only sense that matters or has any real meaning.

Cue the publicists...

Blue Sky + Clouds... In Black and White ;-)

Vending Machines, No. 97

Friday, March 26, 2010

Blue Sky + Clouds (2)


Would I pay to see a documentary film on the life of Motörhead's Lemmy? You're damned right I would!

Please enjoy this fine musical selection, Motörhead's "Killed by Death." Smashing any and all distinctions between pathos** and bathos**, the first 35 seconds are the greatest intro to any rock video. Evar!

Bow down to Lemmy! Yeah.

**Links to "pathos" and "bathos" provided for reference purposes only. And to make me look smart.

Bag of Gas

[Canada is] a lovely little country. I do recommend that you get free speech. It's a lot of fun.
--Ann Coulter, this week in Calgary
Seldom do we hear about an American conservative with a sense of irony. Really, Ann, you could have called us all a bunch of "faggots" if you'd liked, if that's your idea of "fun" and "free speech." It may well be technically against the law in Canada to go around calling people names. Being a country of "crazy liberals," however, you can rest assured that the Canadian court system would take your disadvantaged background (i.e. being American) into consideration. Canada's pretty tolerant that way, especially to people from developing countries like yours. We feel sorry for you, Ann. We pity you and your shitty health care system and your even shittier internet connections and your still shittier conception of "free speech." And when you're not looking, we laugh at you and make jokes. We wouldn't want to hurt your feelings. Discretion, after all, is the better part of "free speech."

The Side of a House

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


It seems that while I was away, the constitutionally elected government of The United States passed a bill to introduce universal health care to its citizens. My own impression is that while this bill is far from perfect, it's a huge step. At the very least people should soon stop it with the negative comparisons to Cuba, etc. already...

Welcome to the 20th... er, 21st Century, America! Surely the End Times are near!


Just got back from a couple of days in Kumamoto with my family. On the first day my only half-decent camera was taken out of action by an unfortunate crash to the pavement. (I don't want to talk about it right now, except to say that I'm severely depressed...)

Anyway, I managed to snap a few pics of some very "Japanese" stuff while I was away. Like these screens I saw at Kumamoto Castle (more on that later).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Girl Power

Vending Machines, No. 96

Where Do We Go from Here?

I've had this Exene Cervenka (formerly of X) album for months and just got around to listening to it tonight. My mistake, your gain. Check this out:

Exene Cervenka-Where Do We Go from Here
Alt. Link

If you liked that, you'll like the album. Kyklops recommended.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Whiskey Bottle (1)

One Friday night Jimmy was up in Victoria Park drinking with his buddy Brad, and Brad's girlfriend Connie. They were in the woods on a hill overlooking the main part of the park. The park was closed, so they weren't supposed to be there. There was also the matter of the three of them being underage.

They had just finished off a case of beer and were about to start in on a 40 of rye. Just as they were about to twist off the top of the 40 though, they noticed somebody approaching in the lighted area below them. It was Old Chas, the park's caretaker. Old Chas was the enemy of the world's young. He was about 65 or 70, and he had (so it seemed) a deep, specific hatred for "hippy-types" and, more generally, for any young people who might be enjoying themselves. Chas wasn't dangerous or anything, but he could be a real pain in the ass.

As Old Chas walks by below them, Jimmy's holding the 40 of whiskey. He whispers to Brad and Connie, "What the fuck. Let's open this sucker and drink quietly until Chas is gone." OK's are whispered back. Jimmy hefts the bottle, and is about to twist the cap when, somehow, the bottle slips from his hands.

Now, if they'd been on a street somewhere, the bottle would have smashed on the sidewalk, and that would have been the end of it--aside from some running. But they were in the woods. The bottle didn't break. It just hit the ground with a mild thud. Chas didn't even hear it. Unfortunately for Jimmy, Brad, and Connie, however, they were sitting on a pretty steep slope that was covered in pine needles. The bottle didn't stop when it hit the ground. It seemed, rather, to hit the ground and then take off down the hill, as if launched--directly towards Chas.

As the bottle is rolling down the hill it starts to make a bit of noise. It's bumping into trees, going through bushes, and bouncing around. Chas hears it and looks up the hill. Just as Chas says "Who's up--" Jimmy leaps up and begins chasing the bottle down the hill, bumping into trees, going through bushes, and bouncing around. "Fuck you, you old bastard" Jimmy yells, "we're coming for you!" As if on cue Brad and Connie jump up and begin charging down the hill.

Poor Old Chas doesn't know what's happening and runs away with a feeble "I'm callin' the cops on you kids!"

At the bottom of the hill they retrieve the whiskey. Jimmy's relieved to see Chas moving briskly toward the park entrance...


My little girl finished Grade 1 today. She's smart enough to go directly into university, but regulations require she attend at least another 11 years of regular school. Rules, ya know.

My favorite picture (from a couple of years ago):

I'll start watching TV again...

... when American Idol has "Rolling Stones Week" and somebody does this tune:

I'd settle for an "American Idol Out-takes" show  in which someone dedicates that song to Simon Cowell and gets kicked off the program. That person would be my "American Idol."

I'm beginning to grow impatient...

... with myself.

Linked (3)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Vending Machines, No. 95

Something in the Air

Back in my uni days I had a friend who would stand outside the student union building passing out copies of the Socialist Worker. She had the red hair of the Irish, and sometimes I would get into drunken debates about politics with her and her friends. I was kinda sweet on her.

As important as Earth's ecology and environment is, maybe we'll never get that shit together until we work out some kind of human ecology. As annoying as they may sometimes be, we need people like my friend. I remember around the time I got my Master's and just before coming to Japan, my thesis advisor (and mentor) worried that the collapse of the Soviet Union/"communism" would reduce to capitalism without a conscience. Fuck, was he ever right.

Anyway, tonight I was listening Tom Petty's version of the classic Thunderclap Newman tune, "Something in the Air." I thought of my friend.

"Run through the fields and houses..."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Monday, March 08, 2010



Nobody's ever mistaken me for a save-the-whales, tree-hugging kind of guy. And really, cleaning up after my dog is about as "activist" as I generally get about the environment.

This, however, is a disgrace:

These photographs of albatross chicks were made in September, 2009, on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world's most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.
I challenge anyone to go look at all these photos (at the link above) and then tell me they feel no sense of shame about what's happening 2000 fucking miles from the nearest continent. Damned if I know why, but this is really bugging me...

[Via: Cynical-C]

Saturday, March 06, 2010


Hole in the Bucket

Back in my days as an over-aged university student I worked a couple of years in the kitchen of a pub in Halifax. I worked with regular-aged students in pretty shitty conditions for pretty shitty pay. These kids became my friends and, in a very real sense, they became my educators. I'd like to think I taught them a thing or two as well, but who knows?

I learned a bit about rap/hip hop. I heard Spearhead. I didn't know there was a video for this:

More like that, please...

Friday, March 05, 2010

More Common Than You Might Think

Assholum Canadianum:
Canada's immigration minister says he takes "full responsibility" for a citizenship study guide that had all references to gay rights removed.
Records obtained by The Canadian Press show that an early draft of the guide, meant to prepare immigrants for citizenship tests starting March 15, contained sections citing milestones in gay rights, including decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969 and the same-sex marriage law of 2005.
But Kenney's office ordered those sections removed from the draft, and rebuffed an effort by bureaucrats to have them re-inserted last August. The new guide was released with fanfare in November.
The Canadian conservative: an asshole by any other name, eh?


Iggy Pop is one of those rock 'n' rollers who doesn't suck even when he sucks. Maybe he's the only one, I don't know. Tonight is the first time I've seen this performance Iggy did on The Letterman Show. It looks relatively recent. Letterman and Iggy must be contemporaries, eh? Hard to believe. It gets a bit surreal when Iggy heads out towards the audience. I think they were scared by his "frat boy" reference. This one definitely does not suck...

Iggy golfs...

Rice Krispies

Heh, yeah, why not?

Breakfast of champions...

Wood and Concrete

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Vacant Lot, After the Rain


A couple of days ago I posted an unattributed snippet from Pat Robertson's latest hate-infused drivel (this time directed against the victims of the recent earthquake in Chile), and asked readers to identify the speaker of the quoted passage. I'm not surprised at all that Dave had no trouble recognizing that particular spew as belonging to Pat Robertson. Dave is located in New Orleans, and the good people of that fine city were also accused by Robertson of incurring God's wrath and themselves being to blame for the destruction of their city. That Pat Robertson is one fine Christian, ain't he?

Anyway, as the winner (if that's what it can be called) of my little contest, Dave was more or less forced (he's a polite guy) into picking a topic for me to write about. He could make me write about anything. He went further than was necessary and provided me with a list of topics from which to choose:
Ooh, wait, let me think about this for a minute. So many possibilities... Comic books? Mosh pit etiquette? The poetry of Pablo Neruda? Baboon mating rituals? Your favorite movie? Best concert you've ever seen? Grossest thing you've ever eaten? Stamp collecting?
I can't decide, so I'm going to let you pick one from that list. Or any combination of three.
Look at that list, remember Robertson's quote, and you can see that Dave is a pretty clever guy. I'm clever too, Dave! Given the context, one of those topics is clearly more appropriate than the others...


Pat Robertson's birth was no different than the birth of millions of baboons before him. As dictated by traditional baboon mating rituals...

Haha!! Just kidding!


Having spent more than a few years hanging around universities, I had heard of Pablo Neruda. But really, that's about it. A name. It wasn't until earlier today that I actually found out a little bit about Neruda and read a bit of his poetry for the first time. (I don't dislike poetry or anything like that, I just never seem to get around to reading much of it.) Too bad for me, as it turns out, because from the few poems I've read today I think I quite like where this Neruda guy is coming from.

I don't imagine anything I have to say about Neruda will be especially interesting to anyone already familiar with the man and his work, but...
My dog has died.
I buried him in the garden
next to a rusted old machine.

Some day I'll join him right there,
but now he's gone with his shaggy coat,
his bad manners and his cold nose,
and I, the materialist, who never believed
in any promised heaven in the sky
for any human being,
I believe in a heaven I'll never enter.
Yes, I believe in a heaven for all dogdom
where my dog waits for my arrival
waving his fan-like tail in friendship.

--Pablo Neruda, "A Dog Has Died"
Look at the above passage... A guy's dog has died. He's buried the dog. He misses the dog. We've all heard songs, read stories and poems, seen TV shows, etc. about this sort of thing. But it's all maudlin crap compared to what Neruda does with it in a few short verses. Some day, he writes, he'll join his dead dog--in the ground, next to the "rusted old machine." The "materialist" doesn't believe in any heaven for himself, but he does believe there's a heaven for dogs, all waiting patiently for their masters to join them. One presumes they'll be waiting until the end of time itself, for at the end of the poem he writes "So now he's gone and I buried him,/and that's all there is to it." The notion of an atheist who believes in a heaven for dogs is, to my mind, only strange if you don't understand what exactly being an atheist entails.

The idea of death is at the core of the few poems I read today. Here's a couple of passages from "Nothing But Death" (I guess the title is a big hint!):
There are cemeteries that are lonely,
graves full of bones that do not make a sound,
the heart moving through a tunnel,
in it darkness, darkness, darkness,
like a shipwreck we die going into ourselves,
as though we were drowning inside our hearts,
as though we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.
That's some serious imagery there, folks. "We die going into ourselves." From darkness into darkness... Later,
Sometimes I see alone
coffins under sail,
embarking with the pale dead, with women that have dead hair,
with bakers who are as white as angels,
and pensive young girls married to notary publics,
caskets sailing up the vertical river of the dead,
the river of dark purple,
moving upstream with sails filled out by the sound of death,
filled by the sound of death which is silence.

Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.
Silence, emptiness, nothingness. Later in the poem, "...the face of death is green,/and the look death gives is green," it belongs to the earth; death is everywhere in everything; death is the final destination. (Do you hear, Pat Robertson, you useless piece of shit? The only thing waiting for you when you die is a fucking hole in the ground.) This kind of stuff might seem depressing to some. Grow up.

At this point I'm going to abandon any effort at "explaining" or "analyzing" Neruda's poems, because I don't see that it's necessary. They are what they are and they communicate so directly to me that I just feel like I'm reading the things back to you, the reader of this post. I'm also worried about the translations I've been quoting. I have no idea if they're trustworthy or not. I'm glad that Dave picked this topic, even though I haven't really done it any justice.

Boxes and Pipes

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Imaginary Album

Since I haven't had an idea of my own for a while now, I thought it might be fun to do another imaginary album. (Explanation/rules/etc. at the link.)

Here's Learning from Failure by Peltularia.

Original Photo

  • Style: According to drummer/lead vocalist/primary songwriter Elmo Bliss, Peltularia's sound varies between early krautrock with heavier drums and English lyrics, and Carpenters infused grindcore. Joe Slobizkowitz, reviewing their last album in Rolling Stone, opined that Peltularia reminded him of "nothing more or less than the hammer of Thor pulverizing a big pile of cooked spaghetti".
  • Influences: Kraftwerk, Can, The Carpenters, Napalm Death, Sepultura, Gong
  • Lyric: Machine men have only just begun/To live on the Autobahn/'Cause just like me/They all wanna be on top of the world (from "Machine Men Close to the Autobahn on Top of the World")
  • Quote: (From guitarist Lars Vindaloo) "On our next album I'm going for a sound something like Yngwie Malmsteen playing like Keith Richards if he had taken lessons from Yngwie Malmsteen."
  • What Lester Bangs would say if he were still alive: Is that fuckin' chicken!? Where the fuck is my copy of Hot Rocks?