The Win – Olympic Memories #10

February 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

In the end, the jar filled high enough and I had made enough money to split an apartment with the Exners.  The dog walking put me over.  So as I counted my cash and realized that I’d made it I sighed a private sigh of relief.  I was sick of playing “The Hockey Song”.  One critical game remained though: the men’s gold medal hockey game, set to occur at noon on this the last day of the Olympics, just a stone’s throw from the Exners’ place.

Saturday had been an interesting night; noon came early.  I’d set my mental clock and got up.  I then sat across from the Exners’ bed and mouth trumpetted the tune to “Oh Canada”.  They hesitantly got up and we turned on a stream of the game.  As before, we didn’t think we wanted to be downtown if Canada lost to the Americans, we liked that we sat near the edge of downtown, but we felt like getting a big closer and joining our fellow citizens.

I suggested that we watch the third period at the Ivanhoe.  It was right on the edge of downtown, so if Canada won we could join the celebrations, but if Canada lost we could walk away and avoid the grumpy crowds.   I’d been talking to Hannah about this idea before, so I called her up and we made a plan to watch the final period there, a quick walk from the Exners’ flat.  For the life of me, I couldn’t find my ‘Canada Hockey’ shirt my dad had given me, so I borrowed Mykel’s custom hoodie which had an image of an upside down American flag on fire, with the slogan ‘Erase Errorism’ under it.  If I couldn’t wear my Canada Hockey shirt, I may as well wear a shirt featuring anti-American sentiment.

We found standing room with the rest of the Ivanhoe crowd and watched the game.  It seemed like the usual Ivanhoe crowd, just with more Canada jerseys — an unpretentious working class bunch with a higher proportion of First Nations than most places in Vancouver.  All eyes trained on the screens and hopeful smiled abounded.

We paused for a safety meeting outside at the park before overtime was to begin.  We walked out to a ring of stones in the grass.  “Each of these stones represents a woman who was killed by her husband” Hannah informed us.

“Really?” I asked rhetorically as I studied the stones.  I’d scarcely even noticed their existence before, let alone realized their meaning.  A hush came over us as we contemplated the stones, the women and the pleasant, mild Winter day.

Everyone knows what happened in the game.  Sydney scored the golden goal, Canada won and the glee spread all over.  Smiles, celebrations and high fives all around.  We walked over to Main Street skytrain station and joined a caravan of people all also headed downtown.  People were yelling and raving all over, horns and cheers blanketed the city.

We got off at Granville and as we rode that steeeep escalator up to street level everyone going down was high-fiving everyone coming up and vice-versa.  It was like a high-five orgy everywhere you looked.  Hannah started filming and said to the camera jokingly “People are the happiest they’ve ever been.”  The way I remember it though, people really did seem the happiest they’ve ever been.  When we got out to the street our senses were assaulted with madness.  Granville was closed to vehicle traffic so it was filled with people, dancing, jumping around, cheering.  Even the few people you could see wearing non-Canada colours seemed happy.

Some ladies pointed at the flag on my sweater and gave me a thumbs down as I passed.  I couldn’t tell if it’s because it looked like an American flag and they were Canadian or if they were American and didn’t like to see their flag disgraced.

Out of the blue we ran into Hayley Sales, who is from the same little town on Vancouver Island as me.  We looked at each other sort of stunned to run into each other in such bizarre and intense circumstances.  Up from Georgia there were painted elevated stages for people to sit on and people jumped from one to the other making an off kilter resonating rhythmic backdrop as we passed.

At Robson a crowd of cheering excited people literally engulfed us.  I lost the Exners in the shoulder to shoulder mass of people.  Everyone looked at each other with glee, confusion and excitement as we took some sort of group-mind, like seeing a culture of bacteria grow in a petri dish on fast-forward.

Hannah and I stayed next to each other as we became the crowd.  We lost the Exners though, and wound up being spit out on the north side of the intersection.  We took that opportunity to walk down to the Aboriginal stage and see what was going on there.

“Oh, Skeena Reece is playing!” Hannah said.  I’d heard of Skeena.  There she stood on stage in a vibrant red and black embroidered dress.  She had a commanding presence on stage.  I hung out at the side while Hannah talked to some people she knew.  The vibe of the Aboriginal stage felt very muted compared to the rest of the city.  I saw about as much black as I saw red in the audience.  Her music sounded soft and soothing, a mellow counterpoint to the roaring, celebrating city.

One Aboriginal guy stood in the middle of the spotty crowd wearing a flag and holding a drum.  It looked like he was surveying the sky beyond the stage for a bit, then he shook his head, started banging his drum to a completely different beat than Skeena’s song, turned and walked away while still banging on his drum until he eventually joined the hockey fans.

Between songs Skeena made reference to the missing and murdered women, noting that a lot of family members here and across the country will go to sleep tonight not knowing where their mother, daughter, aunt etc is and what happened to her.  A hush fell over the audience as we considered this, amplifying the noise outside our little bubble.  She then performed her chilling and beautiful song “Where Are You Tonight?”

Before her next song she said “battered women goes up on nights when there’s a hockey game.  This goes out to all the women who’re gonna get beat tonight…”  And before another one she said something to the effect of: “If you find people out there spreading their poisonous nationalism, give them one of these, because nationalism is an infectious disease.”  She showed the crowd a face mask like you’d find in a hospital.  She handed the masks to her assistant in the front row, who started handing them out to people in the audience.  I didn’t take one, nor did I raise my hand in solidarity when she asked us too.  It’s not that I didn’t feel what she was saying, but I felt as though I were a journalist, and that I should stand at the side and observe rather than participate (and that I’d want to write down these Olympic memories later).  I felt good that I got to see this side 0f the day, and that the Olympics in Vancouver were such that an anti-nationalist artist could be booked right in the middle of an orgy of nationalism and for that to be okay.  It reflects on Vancouver, this place of great extremes and paradoxes.

I have to admit that even though I’m not a very nationalistic person, I definitely got caught up in the excitement of Canada winning the Olympic Hockey gold.  I’m know the excitement of the hockey and madness of Vancouver after the gold medal game will remain as one of the most vivid and amazing memories of my life.

The main thing about Canada that makes it ridiculous is that climate and cultural zones run north-south in North America, but the border between Canada and the USA is an arbitrary line in the sand running east-west.  One thing that does run east-west though, is the snow line — the cold.  Cold bonds Canadians together, so I guess it should come as no surprise that this funny sport on ice with the L-shaped sticks bonds Canadians too, even me; even I feel bonded by this glue.

My feelings about hockey changed as a result of this Olympics.  For one, in international hockey the players don’t fight.  It just goes to show that they don’t have to fight in this sport, and this violence-lite version of the hockey revealed to me that international play is a purer form of the game.  Eventually I got myself some street hockey gear and started playing on my deck and in my neighbourhood.  I even taught my Bangladeshi roomie how to play.

I could have busked that Sunday after the game and I would have made a lot of money despite my lack of Canadiana tunes and appearance.  I heard stories later of people making buckets of money.  I’d reached my goal though — enough money to get a tiny room in a shitty ground-level apartment in Burnaby and get my life back on track–so I took it easy on Sunday and didn’t worry about money.

In the end, the Olympics wasn’t the boon Minna my dancer friend had hoped for either.  The club had doubled the commission the dancers have to pay the club, upped the cover charge and, of course, raised the price of alcohol.  This caused the regulars to stay home, and evidently the tourists had other things to do as well.

This seemed to be the case all around.  Even though we’d been sold the notion that the Olympics would bring us all “economic benefits” just by being in the proximity of it, the result, predictably, was that the tourists stayed within the lines, didn’t wander far from the Olympic zone and thereby shoveled their money at large corporations.  This being said, and considering how much our city changed in advance of the games, and with the tenacity of the anti-Olympics movement here, surprisingly, Vancouver had a very positive feel to it for most of the games, especially the second week and, of course, that massive finish.  I saw a piece of graffiti in the washroom at Nice Cafe that said: “Good luck touching down after the Olympics Vancouver!”  It was a telling statement.  For all the foreboding, divisiveness, rapid development and polemics in the ten years preceding the games, once it was on people seemed to shrug their shoulders and try to make the best of it while it was up and going, especially after the protests were finished.

This being said, I heard years later from someone who stayed in the Pivot camp for the whole Olympics, that idiots would come up to the fence and throw stuff like rocks and bottles in and yell obscenities at people, and that people in nearby apartments would hurl abuse and the like out their windows at the camp.

I hit a high that Sunday, but I crashed some in the following weeks.  Sure, I’d made rent and could get into a place for the first time in a couple years, but I’d expected / hoped to make way more money, enough to fund my next solo album and jumpstart my music career.  In the coming weeks I experienced a great deal of anger, sadness, hopelessness and depression along with poverty and starvation.  Eventually I pulled myself out of the house to look for a job on Commercial Drive.  I ran into an old acquaintance who reminded me of a local, independent bakery he used to work for.  I decided to try to get a job there so I stopped by and picked up an application.  The next day when I brought it back I spotted someone who looked like the owner and gave it to him.  He looked at it and said “young man, this might be your lucky day.”  I’d specifically applied to be a delivery driver, and as I would learn later, he had just fired one of his drivers that day, for taking some COD money and betting on horses with it.

I guess it was my lucky day, because I got hired and I actually started to accumulate money, but I only had to work four days a week so I could still have some time to work on music and such.  I’ve had the same job since, got a better place with a deck, yard and garden.  I’ve been productive with my music and writing, and I’ve grown quite a lot in the four years since that game.

I remember when Don, the owner of the bakery I got a job delivering for was riding along during my training.  “My sales were down during the Olympics” he said, “it was a good time to be selling red and white mittens… but my sales were down 15%.”  It’s no secret now that the Olympics has a parasitic relationship with it’s host countries and there’s no doubt that BC got screwed.  My home Vancouver has changed immeasurably since it was announced that we’d host the Olympics, and for the most part not for the better.

In the four years I’ve been settled in Vancouver though, I’ve gone to all sorts of amazing beaches, cycled 20 mins from my house to jump in Lynn Creek on a hot day, swam through canyons, mountain biked through the forest on my way to fly fish for salmon, cycled 15 mins to the golf course for crunk pitch n putt and played a concert on a rooftop with my reggae-rock band Hoffman Lenses.  Vancouver is still one of the most amazing places in the world to live and it’s worth fighting for.
This morning I got up early to watch Canada win another Olympic gold in men’s hockey.  An Olympiad has passed since I started this blog.  Now I find myself once again on the verge of a new stage in my life, as I plan leave my beloved Vancouver to tour across Canada with Kill Matilda, opening for them as a solo artist.  I don’t think I’ll be coming back to my cushy job in this gorgeous city.  It’ll be hard to leave this comfort and this place behind me, but I suppose there’s such thing as being too comfortable.  It’s frightening and exhilarating; a new adventure awaits!

Mariokart Olympics – Olympic Memories #9

February 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

This period around the Olympics I often stayed with the Exner’s in a studio flat on 2nd Ave.  This was simply a concrete rectangle with a kitchen and bathroom at one end and a deck and window at the other.  All sorts of the trappings of musical life stood scattered all over — a piano against one wall, a wardrobe, a telephone booth prop from Doctor Who, amps and guitars strewn about.  The space was loosely separated by a divider, and most importantly, a leather couch and love seat faced the wall and a projector lit it up, and we delved into Mariokart.

This Mariokart resurgence marks the only time in my adult life that I really delved into a videogame.  I say resurgence because, of course, over the years I’d already invested some time on Kart for SNES and then N64, as I’m sure many of us did.  So, when I wasn’t out in the street or at Granville Island pounding out tunes, I raced and I raced and I raced, mostly with Mykel.  The screen was literally huge before us and our brains were usually tuned right up for racing through bizarre worlds.

I suppose it’s fitting that during the Olympics, while feats of focus and athleticism were being showcased all around me, that I found myself perfecting my own moves and racing to the finish against people all over the world online.  I played so much and with such ferocity around this time that I actually got pretty good and started gaining some cred.  You can race as yourself — as your mii, the avatar you’ve made to resemble you — so racing and winning feels that much more satisfying.

Even though I did get into contention with and sometimes win, I noticed that there was still a contingent of MarioKarters who were a class ahead of me.  You never know what will happen in the Mariokart world — a bolt of lightning can hit when you happen to hit Bullet Bill, and you rocket into first on the last lap giving you the win, but overall, certain players still held sway most of the time and kept a cred level way higher than mine.  I suppose they represented the elite Karters, players who dedicate their lives to the craft of racing through the universe.

I began to admire the Mario universe, for in my mind they had thrown down their arms and decided to vent their competitive energy through the world of go-kart racing rather than out and out war.  Could humanity do this too?  Could we funnel our aggressions into the world of sport for the betterment of us all?

Over the days busking I had been depositing my excess money into a metal beer stein I’d been storing on their fridge.  The amount had slowly been growing.

I saw my friend Minna a few times.  She worked as a dancer at a men’s club downtown.  One of her coworkers had two Golden Doodles, and one day me and Minna went to feed and walk them for her.  I got along so well with the dogs that Minna recommended to her friend that I walk them for her during the busy Olympic rush.  I took them to the park and around the block near Hastings and Abbott, past the protest camp organized by Pivot Legal Society — a vacant lot occupied by a plume of red tents peppered with other temporary structures.  I looked to the a steady stream of smoke coming from the campfire in the middle and reckoned to myself that I’d like to come back and jam there bef0re the games were through.

We did intend to go down there, the Exners, Dave Roberts and myself, after the hockey game against the Russians.  We’d had a few drinks.  We didn’t feel we’d go downtown if Canada lost the game.  The energy would be just too dark down there.  I remember getting downtown, to Stadium station, joining the mass of people streaming out, and summarily losing the gang while I talked to a young woman from France.  She seemed nice.  I remember walking a long while before seeing her off down the escalator of another station.  My memory could be off, but I swear she said she was in Vancouver going to school to be and exterminator.

I’d lost my friends though, so we never did make it down to the protest song to jam around the fire.

The Exners and Dave had a big show with their band Kill Matilda at Pub 340 on the Saturday before the gold metal hockey game and the closing ceremonies.  The band was on a hot streak, and to them playing a show in their hometown seemed like a great way to bring their sound to a fresh, international audience.  Unfortunately, the city actually lowered the capacity of venues during the Olympics, so during Kill Matildas set their fans, myself included, stood outside in line because the pub’s regulars were still in there from the evening and due to capacity they couldn’t let anybody else in.  You had a lot of ticket holding fans standing outside helpless.  Mykel came out after the set steaming mad about it.

Canada Line – Olympic Memories #8

February 20, 2014 § Leave a comment


Before the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, they decided to tear up Granville street to make way for the Canada Line.  The new light rail line would run straight from waterfront to Richmond and the airport, under the city.  In the time when Granville street was being dug up to build the Canada Line,  a great gash opened across the city.  It felt strange to be down there.

Granville is known historically for being one of Vancouver’s most vibrant and significant streets, and suddenly a huge hole appeared in the middle of it, fenced off on each side.  During the day the familiar sounds of construction would emanate from inside the great hole in the street, at night it laid empty and became a huge resonating chamber.  I had quite a few busking adventures on Granville street during this period.  The street had been reduced to a footpath on each side of the construction fence.  The sidewalks had a bit of a claustrophobic feeling to them sometimes, all sorts of foot traffic confined between the construction fence and gaping precipice on one side and the businesses and buildings on the other.

One could get some good busking in during non-construction hours if you could lay claim to a little nook or doorway.  Your music would resonate in the great chamber that used to be the street and you could be heard from afar.  If you had drums or the like they would echo eerily in the chamber.  In the evening you often had happy-go-lucky young people coming by on their way to or from the bars, buzzed, and they’d give you some money and a smile.  Sometimes people would stop and request songs.  With the construction fence and lack of vehicle traffic it made for a fairly intimate busking scenario.  I recall as well though, that so-called “Downtown Ambassadors” or other security people used to come and harass buskers away from there.  You never quite knew when one of those guys would come along and ruin the fun.

This brings me back to some of my earliest busking adventures in Vancouver.  Outside the Granville skytrain station there was a double wide ascending sidewalk between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the bus stops and the road, under cover of an overhanging concrete roof.  Over the years this was a critical busking spot in Vancouver, most notably because it was under cover. A continuously refreshing stream of people came to and from the station; the concrete ceiling made for decent reverb.

Back in 2002 I came down to Vancouver a few times to do stints of work for my dad’s concrete cutting business.  I lived mainly in Prince George back then, and my life had taken some strange and difficult turns culminating in my band Dreadlock Nutz breaking up.  My forays into the city always felt exciting and vivid.  It was a different city then.  It felt like I was striking out on my own and testing out my chops in the big city.  I’d likely get on the seabus in North Vancouver, marvel with amazement at how big, imposing and impressive downtown Vancouver is against such a stunning natural backdrop and wander up Granville to find a little nook to play in.  I noticed that playing near bus stops, where people would have a chance to listen for a while, would work and I’d make a bit of money.  In Dreadlock Nutz I had been the guitarist, not the songwriter or vocalist, but on the side I’d started to develop my solo performance skills and been writing songs.  Now I had the chance to bring out my skills and practice performance.  I know that I wasn’t that good back then, but I showed promise and I captivated some people with my energy.  By far the best thing I played in those days was my frenetic interpretation of “Freedom” by Richie Havens and I played it often.  I was pretty sharp and creative at the guitar from my experience in the Nutz and hours busking outside the liquor store in PG.  I would often improvise and work out ideas on the spot.   My singing wasn’t very strong back then though, and I didn’t know very many accessible songs.  One song I remember playing fairly well, and a lot, is Pearl Jam’s “Black”.

You never knew what was going to happen.  Somebody would come up and want to jam with you on the harmonica, you’d oblige, have good jams, make some money and chat over Caribbean food in a little hole in the wall further up Granville.  Or a panhandler would come up and try to aggressively shoo you away because you’re on his block.  Granville was a funny, almost carnival-like place.  All sorts of food smells and noises swirling about; characters, stores selling bongs, rock shirts, sex toys, mushroom kits.  If you walked around and asked around long enough you could find just about anything on Granville.  You’d frequently see signs advertising 99 cent pizza, no joke, and certain sub-segments of society surely subsisted off it almost entirely.  And a big bank of payphones  attracted people from all directions.

♠♣
Fast forward to 2010: Payphones had become quite scarce.  This made my life quite difficult, not having a mobile phone.  Luckily, a lone phone stood, covered in graffiti, in front of a convenience store across from Yaletown Roundhouse station where I did much of my busking.  One time I phoned Tereza after busking.  Shortly after she answered a guy rode up on his bike and fixed himself behind me with his quarter in his hand.  “Oh” he said, noting to himself and everyone around that somebody else was indeed on the phone.  I proceeded a few words into my conversation with Tereza.  “Umm…” he said, shifting anxiously from one foot to the next and back, “Uh, I really need to use the phone” he said.

I turned and looked at him, in no mood for guff.  “Don’t you think I wouldn’t be on the phone right now if I didn’t also really need to use the phone?” I said and turned back to my conversation.

“I just really need to use the phone.”

“Well by telling me about it you’re just making it longer until you use the phone since right now I’m busy talking to you, wasting both of our time, rather than talking on the phone.”

He crossed his arms and paced up and down for a few seconds before getting on his bike and taking off.

Let’s say next I called Conrad.  He hadn’t been answering my calls.  I’d been using a calling card to make all my calls so I wouldn’t have to feed quarters into the phone.  This made my number come up as an Ontario number on people’s call displays.  Surprisingly though, this time someone answered.  It was KC, and I could hear Conrad in the background.  She’d nabbed his phone and answered it perhaps.  She sounded as surprised to hear my voice as I was to hear hers.  I hadn’t seen her in a while, but I’d known her from as far back as 2003, when we’d met at The Grind’s open mic in Kamloops.  I remember being just amazed the first time I saw her perform; she had an original, percussive style on acoustic guitar tuned in weird alternative tunings, and a distinctive husky voice even then.

Eventually Conrad got on the phone.  “Oh it’s you!” he said.  “I had no idea this number was you.  I was like ‘who’s calling me from Toronto?’”

“You know there’s one way to find out for sure who’s phoning right Conrad?”

“What?  How?”

“Answer the phone.”

“Oh right, ha ha…”

They were heading down to the Ivanhoe and it was decided that I would meet them down there.  The Ivanhoe is essentially a First Nations hang out, which is to say about half the patrons there are First Nations.  That actually makes it a pretty chill place to hang out; people are friendly and keep to themselves, it’s totally not pretentious and some of the drinks are actually affordable.  It didn’t have the ridiculous premiums put on alcohol everywhere else near the Olympics zone.

At one point when we were buzzed, this deaf guy came up to our table and started signing at us.  He pointed at my Canadian flag bandanna which was on the table and mimed someone proudly waving a flag, making a face like a moron.

“This?” I said, picking up the bandanna.  I’d been using the Canadian flag to keep my change in (and most of my money consisted of change at that point).  I’d lay it out in my guitar case with some coins on it each busking session and people would come put money on it.  I handed it to him.  His eyes lit up with surprise and laughter when he realized the flag was full of money.

“He likes it!” Conrad said.  The guy had just been miming at us about how nationalism is all about money and I’d handed him a literal representation of what he’d been saying.  The laughter thickened as the irony set in.  I think we wound up having a safety meeting outside the the ol’ guy even.

I don’t remember much more about the night, just good lively feelings as we descended into inebriation.  Near the end a Micheal Jackson came on and I mused on how he was a pop music master and how I was sad that he’d died.  KC objected.

“I see what your saying about the music” she said “but if he did that, you know, like molesting children and all that, well that just ain’t right”

“Well I don’t think that shit is true.  That was just parasitic people trying to used him and take his money” I said.

“Well if he did though, it just ain’t right. That’s all I’m saying”

“Or maybe they tried to set him up because he had so much power and he was awake, who knows?”

“I’m just sayin’ though… if he did…”

♠♣♥
I remember another time, I can’t remember why, but I wound up at the Astoria.  I remember is was well into week 2 and I’d gotten really sick of Canadian flags, maple leafs and people dressed in all red and white.  Therefore, going to the Astoria that night felt like a breath of fresh air.  I could breathe.  Absolutely no one there looked like a flag.  Pretty well right away I noticed that, out of the blue, my love Karla happened to be standing right there by the post noticing me back.  I stood stunned and speechless for a few moments as I took her in, big blue eyes, glasses, natural blond hair.  She beamed upon seeing me too.  We hugged and tried to carry on a conversation despite the loud DJ set going on.  I hadn’t seen her in months.  She’d taken a semester off of and moved back to Prince George; my house had been renovicted and I’d spent much of the year in Clearwater helping my friend build his house.

We held our cheap cans of PBR and spoke loudly into each others ears.  For lack of flags, I did see quite a few Canadiana flannel shirts, you know, counterpointed with skinny jeans and high top skate shoes.  Karla hadn’t dressed like a flag, but she’d worked a red scarf and red lipstick into her look.  Apparently I’d just missed some bands, and this DJ set was taking over for the rest of the night.  (The “DJ Set” consisted of a bearded dude looking at at laptop.)  “This music’s pretty good” she said.

“This is not music,” I griped.  “There’s absolutely nothing resembling a melody in this song.  This is sequenced sound effects and beats.  Just sound effects and beats.”

I told her about the busking, how pitifully I was doing and how I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to raise enough money to get a place.  She told me she’d broken up with her boyfriend and she felt bad about it.  “He was like: ‘I better bring my red pants down to Vancouver for the Olympics!’, and I was like ‘we have to talk.’” It felt warm and familiar to be standing with her talking, but a subtle distance had grown between us.

A new song came on.  “This song at least has a bass line” I said, “so at least there are some notes in sequence.  This one more resembles music”.
We wound up staying up late at some friends of hers’ house, sleeping on a cot for a few hours and going for an excellent breakfast at Sebs, a meal somewhat out of the price range of the average hobo busker, but which I savoured, as I savoured Karla’s company.

♠♣♥♦

The first time I took the Canada line was at the beginning of the Olympics.  Me and Dusty followed the lines of tourists moving slowly down the stairs like zombies.  Due to the insane traffic because of the Olympics, a brisk woman stood at the bottom of the stairs with megaphone telling people what to do and where to go and controlling the flow of people into the station.  It all felt really silly standing in the stairwell with people all around us at various eye levels because of the many lines and stairs.  Seeing how we felt silly already, me and Dusty spontaneously started waving at people waiting in line across from us.  “Hi!” we’d say, waving.  “We’re from here!”

“It’s true, we’re actually from here!”

“Hello! Hi!” we’d say as people filed by us.

“Welcome to Vancouver!”  Some people broke smirks and smiles, a few others waved back.

When you get into the station a disembodied female voice echos above your head.  You follow a concrete pathway around blind corners.  Conspicuous security cameras watch your every move.  It reminds me of 1984. To this day the Canada Line never fails to remind me of a potential dystopic future.

One friend told me that years before Vancouver won the Olympic bid she dreamed of a new subway being built from Waterfront to the airport called the Canada Line.  It creeps her out and she never rides it.

Olympic Memories #7 – Mimes

February 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

One night I packed up my guitar up before the fireworks.  I felt pretty done, and I’d heard of a party later near Chinatown.  (I had an address on a piece of paper; I think I’d heard about it from Adrienne.)  I walked up toward Mainland.  As I walked a striking looking young woman caught up to me from behind.  I’m not sure how, but I could tell that she was from here, not a tourist.

“Hey you” she said, “where’s the fireworks?  I thought there’s supposed to be fireworks.”

“Oh, they’ll be in like five minutes I think” I said.

“Really?”  She seemed thrilled.  Where are they?”

“They’re like, that direction.”  I pointed back the way I was.  I had honestly never seen anyone like her before.  Her clothes were all black except a red bandana around her neck, she had brown hair, pale skin, green eyes and red lipstick.

“Oh really?”  She craned her head to look where I was pointing, but proceeded swiftly along the direction I was going.  I had to pick it up a bit to keep up with my heavy guitar strapped across my back in a soft case  “I got out of work a few minutes early to see the fireworks.”

“Well, if you follow me we should be able to see them.”  The oddest thing about this girl’s appearance was how she wore multiple articles of black clothing, a black overcoat, black sweater, black pants and even black shoes, but everything was the exact same shade of black.  Not a single article was a shade into grey or brown, everything was flat black except her bandana and lipstick, which were the exact same shade of bright red, which emphasized her eyes by contrast.

“OK!” She had a certain hop to her step that I really enjoyed.  She seemed like quite the firecracker.  I led us down the next street headed toward Pacific Ave, which skirts along the edge of False Creek.
Just as we got there the sky began to alight with fireworks and explosions followed.  “Wow!” she exclaimed.
“Yep, isn’t it amazing?” I said sarcastically.

Oooh…  ahhh…” she did actually seem amused by the fireworks.  I mean, I  like explosions as much as the next guy, but I’d seen the fireworks for several days in a row by now and the novelty had worn off.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“I was named after one of the characters in Archie.”  she said  “Can you guess which one?”

“Uhh…” I thought about it.  “Veronica?”

“Nope.  Try again”

“Umm…” I paused, thinking. “Midge?”

“Nope.  Reggie”

“Reggie.”

“Yeah.”

“Wasn’t Reggie kind of a dick though?”

“Yeah, he was always trying to steal Veronica from Archie”

“You were really named after him?”

“Yeah.  My mom kind of thought my dad was like Reggie, and they wanted a boy I think, so they called me Reggie”

I introduced myself over the clatter of the fireworks.  Mostly she was fixated on the explosions in the sky.  “I work at Vera’s Burgers, up there.”  She told me, and that she doesn’t really mind it, “at least I don’t have to deal with fucking stupid people”.  She had just gotten off work and was heading to East Van.

“Oh my God I fucking love Phil Spector!” she exclaimed when the fireworks were done, grabbing an mp3 player from her pocket.

“You like Phil Spector?” I beamed.  Now this was a woman after my heart.

“No, I fuckin’ love Phil Spector!”  She plugged one ear bud into her ear, started blaring Be My Baby and singing along.  She started hopping along to the beat heading east and I walked along with her.

“Phil Spector’s the greatest”  I said “I swear if I had to listen to just one song for the rest of my life it may as well be Unchained Melody.”

“He’s the fucking best!  I fucking LOVE PHIL SPECTOR!” she said.  I’d never heard a woman talk like this.  I felt a bit dizzy.  We walked up a pedestrian overpass, unveiling the lights of East Van in the distance.

“And he wrote all those great songs, like, the artists were almost interchangeable…”

“Oh he didn’t write all the songs” she corrected me.  “He wrote some of them.”

“Right, right…”  I trailed off.  She resumed singing and rocking out as we walked.  Be My Baby gave way to Angel Eyes.  “It’s hard to believe that Phil Spector’s rotting in jail right now hey?”

“What?” She was too into the music for my jive.

“Can you believe Phil Spector’s in jail?” I said, a tad louder.

“Yeah it fuckin’ sucks!”

“Like, what a crazy world hey?”  I mused, “who knows how great he would have been if his father hadn’t committed suicide, like if he wasn’t a bit dark he wouldn’t have been so driven and creative, and he probably wouldn’t have made all that great music, but he also wouldn’t have killed Lana Clarkson and get thrown in jail.”

“Yeah.”  She just skipped along in her Phil Spector haze.  I just walked along for a while.

“What are you up to tonight?” I asked, hoping she might come along to the party.  She didn’t answer; she just kept walking briskly, singing: “Angel eyyyee-eyes, I really love you so, Angel eyeeeyes, I’ll never let you go…
She had put in her second earphone and skipped ahead.  At the end of the path I had to go left into Chinatown but she was going straight toward East Van.  “See yeah” I said, but she was completely oblivious to me, just carrying on walking, grooving to Phil Spector and singing aloud.

My pace slowed when I got on my own and I took in.  It felt nice to be in a neighbourhood far from the Olympic epicenter.  I breathed deeply.  Not a flag in sight.

I eventually made it to the party.  Even though I thought I’d be late, you know, this was after the 10 o’clock fireworks, I found myself actually a bit early and the place was relatively empty.  They’d set up a bar in one little nook on the main floor.  This big old house had a big living room and they’d put up a small stage in one corner about a foot high and a dude with long bangs set up his drum kit.

After a little while I noticed something was a bit odd about this party.  As more people arrived it really sunk in: everybody here was wearing black and white stripes of some kind.  I grasped my Pacific Pilsner and looked around.  As the place filled up I started meeting some people.  I kept expecting somebody to mention something about itWas this some sort of odd horizontal black and white stripe themed party?  I knew these were mostly Emily Carr students and I wouldn’t put it past them.  Nobody said anything though and I felt too funny to mention it.  In a way I fit in, since I happened to by wearing a corduroy blazer with fairly thick stripes.  To stripe purists though, I must have stuck out like a sore thumb.

Eventually I did see a couple people I knew, JF and Jen, and JF happened to be the only other stripe outlier, as he had a shirt with thick black and red stripes, rather than the ubiquitous thin black and white ones.
A band played and I gave them a good listen, good rock n roll based music, and I chatted with the guitar player after his set.  I probably dropped a few coins on beers, $4 a pop.

Interestingly, their next door neighbours had decided to have a co-party at the same time.  I wound up over there chillin’ for some of the night.  Not everyone there was dressed in stripes.  Eventually I asked someone: “Um… Is there a reason all the people at the other party are dressed like mimes?”  I asked someone.

“Mimes?”

“Yeah, everyone over there is sort of dressed like mimes, you know, with striped shirts.”  I motioned toward one of the stripe wearers who’d migrated over to the co-party.   “Like everyone is paying tribute to mimes in their own personal way.  I didn’t see any white gloves though I think.  Not that many black berets, but a few.”

“I don’t know man.”

“You think it’s on purpose?”

“Who knows?  Maybe not.”

“Some kind of hipster thing?”  He wasn’t much help.

Eventually I saw Adrienne.  I think I was pretty drunk and tired by then.  Near the end of the night, Jeff, a guy I’d been philosophizing with for a while, told his friend he was going to take off to go and meet Reggie.  “Reggie?” I asked, “a girl named Reggie?”

“Yeah, that’s the girl he’s seeing” his friend Marc said, rolling his eyes a bit.

“What a coincidence” I said, “I’m pretty sure I just met her.”

“Lucky you” Marc said sarcastically as Jeff chuckled and nodded.

In the end I walked back to Gropps Gallery, a big old house turned live in art gallery/creative space with Jen, they fed me some soup, and I slept on the front porch on a couch under cover with a sleeping bag over me.  I woke up early to the coos of pigeons.

Getting Caught Up

October 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

I still plan to go back into my brain and notebooks and finish my memoir of busking during the Vancouver Olympics.  I’ve been working hard with my heavy reggae band Hoffman Lenses as well as holding down a decent working class job in East Vancouver.  A while back I recorded this folk album, mostly at the now-destroyed Gladgnome house.  I’m happy with it sitting there on bandcamp for now, but I shall do a bit of re-mixing and release it on CD soon.  Hoffman Lenses  are just about done our first studio EP and we’re about to release a short-run live album recorded at Iron Road Studios.

That’s a lot in the works.  Stay tuned.  I shoot off letters every once in a while, in a fit, complete with errors.  That’s my main contribution to written culture at the moment: firing off angry, sardonic letters here and there between working and playing in the Lenses.  Now that the rains are moving in it will be easier to get some inside work done, like writing and finishing my solo “Lush Album” I’ve been working on for a few years.

10 Things Aspiring Musicians Should Keep in Mind

March 17, 2012 § 9 Comments

My accomplishments in music have been pretty modest.  Whatever you make of my achievements though, I assure you that I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve learned quite a few things along the way.
Becoming a real musician–the kind that plays shows, makes records and makes a career of it–is a long, weird road, so I’d like to share a few tips for those of you who may be considering following the music.

#1: You will not be good right away

There is no such thing as a natural musician.  Music has been ingrained in humanity for as long as humanity has existed.  Absolutely everyone has musical genes; it’s just that some people’s musical genes express themselves more and better than others depending on how musically rich their childhood was.

I’m not sure why the myth of the natural musician persists so much in our culture, perhaps because we want to elevate certain musicians to the status of gods and goddesses.  In reality, every great musician becomes great through lots and lots of hard work.  Chas Chandler said of Jimi Hendrix: “Jimi used to play guitar eight or nine hours a day.  It was no accident that he became as good as he was.”  People often point to Mozart as an example of the natural musician, or the prodigy, but in reality he spent his entire childhood learning and playing music every single day, so it’s no miracle that he got as good as he did.

This being said…

#2:  Getting good is not enough

During my times in rural BC I often heard stories like this: “There’s this guy in my hometown, my buddy’s brother Jeff, and he’s the best musician I’ve ever seen!  He plays whatever’s on the radio.  He can just listen to the radio and play it by ear!”  They give you a look like you should be amazed, “yeah man, anything: he can play it.”

I don’t doubt that there are all sorts of talented people out there with great technical skills, but what’s the point of all that if you’re just going to spend it regurgitating other people’s music?  The fact is that some people–lots of people– think that the goal of learning to play music is to impress their friends by learning some cover songs note for note or a few fragments of heavy metal songs.  This is folly.  Who cares what music you can copy?  Not me.  I’m interested in musicians who express themselves in a personal, meaningful way, and if that means re-interpreting some other people’s material in a personal and meaningful way then great, but note for note cover versions are boring as hell and playing certain ones to impress the easily impressionable is not only cheezy and unsavoury, it furthers the twisted expectation that all musicians should be able and willing to regurgitate popular music.

It’s not the getting good that’s important, it’s the decisions you make once you’re good that matter.

#3: Music is not a sport

Many young musicians look up to certain musical acts purely for their technical ability.  There are guitarists out there that only other guitarists listen to because the degree of difficulty of their playing is high.  If you want to become a real musician you must understand that fast and flashy playing for it’s own sake is juvenile and pointless, and it’s for good reason that it doesn’t appeal to non-musicians.  There are no olympic medals for speed guitar and power drumming.  Music is art and communication.  Technical prowess itself doesn’t guarantee good music.  Music is about expressing something meaningful and if somebody does so with impressive technique then great, but it’s not the  technique itself that makes it great, it’s the meaning.

Also, bands are not sports teams.  You don’t need to foster competition and attempt to blow other bands out of the water.  It’s best to get to know other bands, foster community and be mutually supportive so we all win.

#4: Say goodbye to your social life

Remember the good ol’ days? You know, back in high school: pit parties, young love, organized sports and all that?  I don’t.   It’s not that I didn’t want to do all that stuff–I was a social misfit, so I spent most of my youth playing guitar, writing songs and mastering Baseball Stars for NES.  I now consider myself lucky that I spent all that time developing my craft rather than doing normal things, because by the time I hit my 20s I was well equipped to play music in bands, and when you chase the music magic happens.

It takes a long time of patient dedication to get good at anything.  Some say it takes specifically 10 000 hours to become an expert at anything, and I believe them.  So long as this system persists,  capitalism is going to steal time from you.  That means that once you get out of your parents’ house you’re going to have to decide what your priorities are and focus on them.  If that means focusing on music then it means sacrificing other things.

#5: You will be treated like scum

Firstly, let me give you a small example.  For years whenever I was busking, especially if I was playing near somewhere where people were drinking, people would stand in front of me and yell “JUICY FRUIT!” right in my face or else yell “JUICY FRUUUIT!” from moving vehicles if I happened to be walking with my acoustic guitar or yell “JUICY FRUIT!” at me and then laugh hysterically about it with their friends as they walk by.  I learned years later that this is because there was a stupid gum commercial featuring a guy with an acoustic guitar.

Musicians train for several years and then spend several more years developing their talent.  In fact, real musicians train, practice and develop their skills at least as much as a doctor or dentist.  Music has been an essential part of every culture.  Why is it then that musicians don’t get medical and dental coverage, don’t have an effective union, can rarely afford insurance to cover their equipment, virtually never have job security and aren’t even guaranteed a wage for their work?

As a matter of fact, there is a whole class of venues that make like they’re doing musicians a favour by letting them come play at their establishment.  Often at these venues the musicians are reduced to passing a hat to collect donations from patrons, an audience they were expected to spend money attracting to said establishment so they can pay exorbitant fees for beer and food.  Many of these venues see young musicians coming, and knowing that musicians tend to enjoy having a drink with their friends, take advantage of this fact by encouraging them to bring their friends to their establishment and drink the $7 pint night away, which of course usually ends with the musicians themselves owing the house a pretty penny at the end of the night.  And what have you done if you’re the musician in this scenario?  You’ve brought you and your friends to some guy’s venue so he can profiteer off of your party when you could be doing the same thing at home without the markup.

Would these venues expect their cooks and dishwashers to come to work on the hope that some people may appreciate their efforts and chip in a few dollars?  Do they expect their servers and hostesses to coerce their friends to come out and support their employer’s business?  Sure, music is fun, but if you’re a real musician you are not just in it for the fun.  Music is serious business, and I think more musicians need to stand up for their right to be paid decently for their services.

#6: There’s a lot to being a musician that doesn’t involve playing music

Right now I’m staring at a computer screen.  I just got back from a friend’s place where we stared at a screen and adjusted some of the sounds coming from the machine.  I sit at the print shop, I put up posters, I lick stamps, I tinker with my engine.

If you want your music to get out there in the world you’re going to have to put it out there, by going around playing it live, getting on the internet, getting on the airwaves and getting in people’s heads.  All this take lots and lots of work that you’d rather not be doing, and nobody else is going to do it for you, at least not for a very long time, once you’ve proven that you’re a valuable commodity by working your ass off.  There’s no such thing as getting discovered anymore.  If you make it at all in this game, it’s because you’ve worked the hardest.

#7: You will be expected to act like a “professional” long before you actually start being paid like one

This is a funny quandary. In the music world you hear lots of talk about being professional.  ‘So-and-so did such-and-such and it was so unprofessional’ and so on, but it’s never explained why musicians are expected to be on time, have the right equipment, not get excessively drunk and high before their performance and treat others with respect when they’re not guaranteed to get paid at all, let alone a living wage.  Sadly this is the case.

#8: Bands are not democracies

Democracy may or may not be a good system of government for a nation, but it sure isn’t a good way to run a band.  Young musicians often assume that being in a band automatically means you have equal say with the other members about how the music will be.  The hard truth is that what’s ultimately important in a musical act are the songs and the singer.  For a band to be effective everyone must be aware of their role, and if your role is not songwriter or singer then your job is to support the people who are.

It’s impossible to get anywhere as a band with everyone dithering over every little detail and stepping on each others toes.  (For a graphic and hilarious demonstration of this watch Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.)  It is best to assign people with roles that accentuate their strengths and be mutually supportive.  The ‘band of brothers’ who come to consensus on every little thing is a myth.  Most great bands are driven by one main creative force whose vision is supported by the other members.

#9: Don’t be afraid to learn the structure of music

I believe that what is commonly referred to as “music theory” is actually ‘music structure’ (and what they call “music appreciation” is actually “music theory”).

Sound is like a rainbow you hear, and centuries ago certain people decided to divide the sound rainbow into 12 units, and those are the notes we know in western music.  Music structure is a system of expression using an infinite number of possible combinations of these notes.  It’s a way of explaining what’s happening in music.

Of course, something so specialized has technical sounding jargon.  I might say, for example, that I’m going to develop some counterpoint by superimposing the phrygian mode overtop of a blues scale, and do it to a 5/4-6/8 compound rhythm.   This kind of terminology scares some people, and can sound decidedly uncool, so young musicians often shy away from learning what it means.  Also, since people often believe the myth of the natural musician, even if they know their “theory”, some musicians pretend they don’t in order to further the myth that they are somehow genetically different from other people.  I suppose still others are just lazy. Why wouldn’t you want to learn the structure of something that’s so important and that you work with so intimately?

Think about it like a map.  If you didn’t know your way around town you could just wander about, and you may find some neat places, but you’re not likely to venture too far away from home.  But with a map you can venture wherever you like and find your way back home.  You can find all sorts of interesting places to go and efficient little shortcuts to places you already know.

#10: Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Because of the myth of the natural musician, asking for help or learning music structure is tantamount to admitting that you’re not a prodigy.  In reality every musician has learned from other people, and great musicians go out of their way to learn as much as they can from the people around them and seek out guidance.  To do this you must be humble enough to admit that you don’t know everything, and that there are elements of your craft that could use improvement.  This goes for the organizational aspects as well as the musical ones.
So, does working your ass off for years to become a real musician only to wind up enduring years of disrespect and poverty as a result sound a bit daunting, but you still want to feel like a musician and enjoy the benefits of being one?  You may want to consider getting your parents to buy you some DJ equipment and familiarizing yourself with some current trends.

G Laz Report on Occupy Vancouver #3

February 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

For unrelated reasons I started looking for love / lust on the internet at this time and managed to get a date with a former model.  I didn’t know much about her, but I did figure out that she’s from a well off family.
I’d been really busy covering shifts and working with my band Hoffman Lenses preparing for some gigs at Nyala, so I hadn’t made it down to Occupy except to drop off bread.  I devised a more efficient way of dropping off the bread, by just leisurely getting out of the passenger side door during the long wait for the dedicated right turn light from Hornby onto Georgia, whipping open the cargo door and dropping the bread somewhere near the kitchen.  Sometimes when I was back in the van waiting at the light again I’d see some occupier look in the garbage bags, discover it’s bread and look over to me with a thumbs up and a gleaming smile.

So I decided to take the opportunity, since I was downtown anyway to go on a blind date, to stop in at the Art Gallery to see what was up with occupy.   I guess you could say it looked like a crazy campground, but not music festival crazy, tents and tarps and signs and people, and a stage with speakers blaring music or people talking.  I noticed a fire in a barrel in the middle of the open area, which I thought was a good idea because it had been getting cold.  I, of course, had to stay away from the fire because I was about to go on a date with a classy girl and I sure as hell couldn’t smell like campfire.
I tried to sidestep and dodge the smoke but the wind kicked up here and there.  People on the stage were listing off things that had to happen in order for them the dodge the bylaws for another while.  Tents had to be such and such feet apart, no more tarp villages, no more stoves in tents… I felt satisfied that I’d gotten in a little for occupy and headed out to meet my date at the Railway Club.
When I got home I saw videos on the internet of scenes that occurred just moments after I left the site, of firemen and police clashing with occupiers in an attempt to put out the barrel fire, which turned out to be burning some kind of sacred alder.

Time kept on ticking by for occupy, and it seemed that more and more it became an issue of camping, park usage and bylaws rather than usury, debt, and media concentration.  The fate of the Art Gallery and occupy had become an issue in the civic election.  Susan Anton said if she were elected occupy would be removed immediately while Gregor Robertson noted how our local occupy is part of a global movement and could stay temporarily.  More and more I started to hear about how the camp and the stage had been taken over by ruffians who were hanging on for the good time.  Homeless people started to come up from the downtown east side to camp at occupy because it’s safer than the street or a shelter.  Some people noted how the presence of the poor at makes the protest a living reminder of how capitalism creates poverty.

My friend Max had been hounding me for a version of my song This Used To Be A Forest to use in a documentary he was making about how Vancouver has changed over the years.  I didn’t have a usable version of that song so I asked him if he wanted to go down to occupy and film me playing the song.  We found the time and headed down there one sunny afternoon.
We took some video of me playing that song on the south side of the Art Gallery site, on and near the steps where small groups of foreigners sat and looked over at us.  The lighting really played along and we got some good footage of me playing a song lamenting the loss of the forest with the evening sun streaking knives into the into the concrete jungle behind me.

Still more time passed, and in order to win over certain demographics, Gregor Robertson committed to removing the protest from the site by the Grey Cup football game, a marker just beyond election day.  I have to admit that it was a smart move on his part to associate his decision with a working class sporting even and win over sports loving voters who may have some anger towards the system but don’t want a bunch of punks and hippies representing it by slumming it up downtown.
One other time I stopped by the site briefly while in the neighbourhood, where I ran into my friend Francis.  He and everyone else around were scrambling to get everything tied down and secure because hurricane force winds were coming in.  They really were too; I hadn’t seen people trying to camp through wind like that since the Edge of the World Festival in 2006, when the whole festival was nearly blown off the island completely.
He said he’d been staying there for a few weeks and showed me his tent.  I asked him what he would do if they had to shut down the camp.  “I don’t know” he said, “go to a shelter I guess.”

So, I had played music at occupy, but I still hadn’t gotten up on stage yet, so I made my way down with my guitar one evening.  I’d spoken to organizer friends and they said I had a pretty good chance of just showing up and playing.  It had gotten really cool and the days short.  Asking around, I found a guy who seemed like a stage manager.  “Oh yeah, great, live music, cool, we’ll put you on after four more songs okay?”  Somebody was playing dance music out of a laptop and a bunch of teenage girls were dancing to it on stage.  I went over to the side of the stage, took my guitar out and got it in tune despite the cold.
I had to get up and move around because of the chill.  It was hard for me to believe people were camping in this weather.  Three songs went by and I went back up to the side of the stage.  One more song, and… another.  The stage manager, holding a mostly drank 2 litre of cheap cider, came back up and said “two more songs, then you” offering me some cider.
Later, when I came back, I actually expected to be playing so I put my guitar on and stood at the back of the stage.  But the DJ just kept playing more songs and the girls kept dancing and I think a joint was going around at the soundboard.  I just stood there getting colder.
By the time I finally got up to the mic and the girls left the stage I’d mingled for long enough for word to have gotten around that I was the one who’d brought all the bread.  There were sincere thanks all around.  “Thanks so much” said one of the dancing girls, “I would have starved way worse if it wasn’t for you.”
When I lived in Prince George I learned how to busk in the cold.  You can really only do it for a while before warming up.  I remember playing Ain’t Got No Home in this World, Losin’ It and This Used to be a Forest.  Over the course of my set I noticed that people gravitating toward the stage and that I was being videoed.  It was a diverse crowd: dressed up young clubbers out to see what’s going on in the park before hitting the bars, long-time organizers and activists, street kids and native elders.  I also did a version of Sweatshop Union’s Dirty Work and figured I’d give Freedom by Richie Havens a try, since I’d powered through that one quite often as a busker in the frigid North.
Early in the song some dudes came up on the stage and started talking to the soundguy.  They were bantering, smoking and passing around cider, somehow completely oblivious to the person playing guitar and singing beside them.  One guy stood right in front of me, so close that if I wasn’t busy playing the guitar I would have shoved him out of my way.  I couldn’t quite kick him either or I’d lose my vocals.
Seriously several minutes of the song went on with my hands completely numb and this dude standing right between me and the audience chatting and smoking.  When I stopped playing and said my goodbyes he came to his senses and noticed I was there and said “Whoa, I was standing in front of you.”
“Yeah” I said back.  I have to laugh about it now.  That was definitely the first and only set I’ve played where someone has nonchalantly blocked me out while my fingers nearly froze off.   I know there’s video of this performance somewhere out there in internetland.

Later I stopped by for a minute as people were finally packing up.  “That’s it,” my friend said as tarps and tents were coming down around us “we’re just going to pack up I guess, not much more we can do.”  I’m a fair-weather camper myself.  We’ll see what the Spring holds.

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