Monthly Archives: March 2013

Finless porpoises and weeks of Canadian music

Today I once again had nothing to talk about, so I turned to Facebook and asked some of my friends for suggestions. The two suggestions I got are hinted at in the title, and I swear to god I’m going to connect them both, however shaky you might find the connection.

So let’s start with finless porpoises. They’re a species of porpoise that live largely in the Yangtze river in China. They’re actually pretty adorable little things, check ’em out.

Can you feel your heart melting? I kind of can.

Can you feel your heart melting? I kind of can.

They are pretty resourceful creatures, making do with food in the form of shrimp and fish, and, depending on the area, cuttlefish, squid and even octopuses. But sadly, these creatures are on the list of vulnerable species. There’s no clear number on how many are left, but it looks like there are less than 1,000 left in the Yangtze river.

This is largely due to sand dredging, which is a big source of income for people living near the river, but the practice has been the culprit for massive habitat loss.

And they’re of course not the only endangered species that are in trouble due to development. Last night I went to an event in support of the Stop the Ring of Fire campaign. The world’s last untouched boreal forest is under threat thanks to huge development in the area. The area in question is about the size of Lake Ontario, so it’s pretty damn huge. They’re looking for signatures for a petition, so please do sign if you feel so inclined.

The show itself started with an exhibition by fire spinners, and then a few bands played. I heard some lovely a cappella harmonies from Tall Grass, and then I saw a nearly hour-long set by Triple Gangers. I actually felt really tired after their set because so much of the music they make is perfect for swaying along, at the very least, if not full-on dancing. In fact, this was my first show I attended since Canadian Music Week.

Speaking of the event, it was suggested to me that I should write my thoughts on the event and weigh the pros and cons of being asked to play.

In short, CMW can be a bit frustrating at times because of the general lawlessness from venue to venue. Some were very strict about wristbands and lineups (I’m looking at you, Dakota Tavern) and some were not. But the main problem is that there’s just way too much going on, and with little guarantee that one will be able to successfully venue hop. It leaves bands that, in my opinion, deserve attention with little, because there’s always a “big-ticket” event to go to. The “too much choice” problem really popped up on Thursday of CMW, when PS I Love You couldn’t even manage to pack the Great Hall. Wildlife did, eventually, but I couldn’t believe that the other band couldn’t.

I’m not a musician, but I do know the huge problem for bands who are asked to play (or apply to play). Apparently they have to pay some kind of fee, and they have to choose between being given $100 or taking artist wristbands that allow them entry to any show without cover. Most bands elect for the latter, but there’s the problem. Bands aren’t being paid most of the time. So how are they making money when they come from the coasts of Canada, or god forbid, from another country? They probably aren’t.

I suppose the idea is for bands to try and network, but the networking seems to be done more often by industry people. I mean god, you should have seen what the Mariott looked like during those six days. It was a zoo.

If the band is from Toronto or close by, it’s not such a bad deal, but if you’re a little-known folk singer-songwriter from Flin Flon, you’re probably not going to get as much spotlight as, say, Chvrches or something.

So there we go, I linked finless porpoises and CMW.

Another David and Phoebe short

I almost forgot to write today, whoops! I can’t think of anything to write on today, so I’m going to write a sketch with Phoebe and David, the two characters I posted some earlier work about.

David was really feeling like a hipster when he woke up that morning. Or rather, he felt like a hipster as he went about preparing himself that morning. The previous night had been really, bitterly cold—or at least it felt that way in his not-too-well-insulated apartment. His first thought when he work up was to get warm and relax, as he had the day off from work.

He got out of bed, slipped on a housecoat, then went to his little kitchen to make himself some coffee. He opened the blinds in the living room, and he saw that, hallelujah, the sun was shining. He decided to add a little ambiance to his morning. He looked through his record collection and picked out something calm- he decided on the recently-released new album by Leif Vollebekk called Southern Americana. Vollebekk’s poignant lyrics and soft instrumentals soon wafted through his apartment.

He was only about halfway through his coffee when his cellphone began vibrating on the kitchen table. He didn’t have call display on his phone, so he assumed that work was calling him in. He bet Matt called in sick or something. The bastard.

“Hello?” he said, deciding to be responsible for once.

“Let me in,” said the voice on the other end. David nearly jumped, and then remembered that he had had a spare key card made for Phoebe. He turned off the phone, then went over and unlocked the door. Phoebe was, of course, standing on the other side of it. She kissed him and then slid by him.

“Which one’s this again? Was it Kalle Mattson? I can never tell those folk singers apart.”

“It’s Leif Vollebekk,” David said, putting special emphasis on the name. “Kalle Mattson is a little more rootsy.”

“Whatever,” Phoebe plopped down on his crappy couch, nearly sinking into its unnatural softness.

“Why are you here  so early? I just woke up!” David said, perhaps a tad more irritably than he should have said it.

“Well sorry if I want to take advantage of a nice day,” Phoebe said with a bit of a pout on her face.

“Just because it’s sunny out, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a nice day,” David said. “I nearly goddamn froze to death last night.” He decided to test his girlfriend’s potential craziness by checking the weather on his phone. His eyes widened. Last night had been -6 C. It was going to go all the way up to 12 C today. If this were five years ago, he might have been surprised, but he wasn’t anymore. The Toronto weather flipped back and forth between warm and cold seemingly daily, so David accepted that it was somehow going to be magically warm today. “Okay, you win,” David said. “I clearly know nothing about Toronto weather.”

“We’re going to go celebrate the warm weather,” Phoebe said. He loved and was irritated by the way Phoebe made statements like that. It was never “Want to do something with me?” It was always “We’re doing something.” On the one hand, David did enjoy being whisked away to places outside his comfort zone, but on the other hand he never had any choice in the matter. But on the other, other hand, if he was always given a choice he’d probably be the most boring human being on the face of the Earth.

“Where are we going, then?”

“We’re going to go to Toronto Island, of course,” Phoebe said. David smiled. As if that was going to be his first guess.

“Alright,” David said. “But breakfast first.” Phoebe relented, and so David made his usual favourite breakfast food, French Toast. She once again begged him for the recipe, but he kept mum. He moved so quickly through his prep and measurements that Phoebe couldn’t even mentally figure out what he was doing. They ate quickly, and David went to his room to change into a pair of pants and t-shirt. He grabbed his wallet.

“Let’s head out,” he said. Phoebe nodded and grabbed her purse she had thrown on the table. It was amazing living on Queen’s Quay- it was a very short walk to the Toronto Harbour. The line was very small, but not non-existent. There always seemed to be people using the ferry. Sometimes it was folks who lived on the island, and other times it was people who didn’t have the sense to wait until the island was a little warmer. David supposed he and Phoebe were in the latter camp that day.

They waited about ten minutes, and then they saw the Ward’s Island ferry pull in. The ferry wasn’t on its summer schedule yet, so the Centre Island and Hanlan’s Point ferries weren’t chartered yet.

As they boarded the boat, there was a brief silence between Phoebe and David before Phoebe broke it. “Do you remember that guy I mentioned in December?”

“Which guy?” David asked.

“You know, the mysterious disappearing guy?”

“Oh, yeah. What about him?”

“Well I saw him again,” Phoebe said. “I don’t know if I should tell you the rest…”

“Oh come on, there’s no way you can stop your story there,” David said. “As long as you didn’t sleep with him, I’m alright.” Phoebe punched him in the shoulder, but not quite as playfully as she usually did. “I’m sorry, Phoebe, that was uncalled for,” he said. “Forgive my idiocy.”

“You’d better be sorry,” Phoebe said. David knew she still had some issues she hadn’t worked out, and David knew he shouldn’t have provoked her like that. “Fine, I’ll tell you the rest. So last night I was drinking a latte at work after my shift, and I saw the guy enter. I knew he caught my eyes, but he tried to pretend like he hadn’t just given me a really intense look.”

“Okay…”

“And so I continued to sip my latte, and a few minutes later the guy came over to my table. He asked ‘Is this seat taken?’ and I motioned for him to sit down if he wanted to. I would have been creeped out if the store wasn’t totally filled with people. He told me he was from out of town and was visiting Toronto briefly. He asked me where certain tourist traps in Toronto were, like the CN Tower and stuff, so I showed him. He thanked me and said that we’d see each other again and then left.”

“Did you get his name?” David asked.

“No, he didn’t ask me mine, and I didn’t really feel comfortable telling him anyway, so I let it slide.”

“Have you considered reporting this dude?” David asked. “For all we know he could be stalking you.”

“I don’t want to report him yet,” Phoebe said. “He hasn’t really done me any harm. But if he starts following me at night, then I won’t hesitate to call the police.”

“Good call,” David said. He couldn’t help but entertain an ugly thought at the back of his mind; what if she found him attractive? Phoebe wouldn’t outright tell him something like that. He tried to stop being a jealous prick, though, and enjoy the island stroll.

They docked at Ward’s Island a few minutes later and disembarked. They started heading toward the other end of the island. Most of the snow had finally melted, and they had to clear the way many times for the islanders who rode their bikes everywhere. When they reached Centre Island, Phoebe stopped dead.

“What?” David asked.

“Him,” Phoebe said, pointing at two guys standing near a water fountain. Both were tall and slim, one with the long brown hair Phoebe had previous described, the other with wild-looking long-ish blonde hair. “That’s the mysterious disappearing guy.”

David didn’t immediately respond. He couldn’t believe he was actually feeling a pang of jealousy—the guy was decent-looking. “Let’s just keep moving. Maybe they won’t notice us,” David finally said. Phoebe rolled her eyes.

“Fine,” she said. They started to walk, but sure enough, the two guys looked up. The brown-haired guy waved. To David’s chagrin, Phoebe waved back. The two guys walked over.

“What are you doing here?” Phoebe asked. She didn’t demand it; she said it in the tone of somebody who hasn’t seen somebody in a long time.

“Oh, I was just exploring the island,” the guy said.

“How did you get here?” David asked. He wanted to be friendly, but… “We just got here on the first ferry, and I know you don’t live on the island.”

“Oh, you’re her boyfriend?” the blonde-haired guy asked.

“Yes, in fact, I am,” David said.

“Ah, that’s too bad,” the brown-haired guy said. “I figured you could do better.” The remark was aimed at Phoebe.

Now David wasn’t usually one to lose his temper, but that sneaking suspicion had bubbled up into rage. Without even thinking, he threw a punch at the guy, knocking him clean over. David shook his fist after the punch. He didn’t really know how to make a proper first.

“What the fuck is your problem?” the blonde-haired guy said. Rather than punch David, he stood his ground and clasped his hands together. David stared, bewildered. What was going on? He could feel the temperature rise and get warmer, slowly but steadily. Phoebe looked afraid at the clear rage in the man’s eyes.

Then the brown-haired guy got up and put a hand on the other guy’s shoulder. “Aurum, don’t do that, not here,” he said.

“But…”

“I said no. You know the rules.”

“Fine.” Aurum shrugged. The temperature suddenly fell back to normal. What the hell was that? Was David going crazy?

“That was uncalled for,” the guy who wasn’t Aurum said. “I apologize. We’ll be leaving now.” The two walked off toward the beach.

“What the hell was that about?” Phoebe said, almost yelling. “I don’t need you to be my fucking bodyguard, David. They weren’t going to hurt me or you.”

“I’m sorry,” David said. “That was really stupid of me. I was just… well… He’s pretty handsome and…”

“Oh shut up,” Phoebe said, wrapping her arms around him and kissing him on the cheek. “If I wanted to leave you I would have done it already.” That made David feel a lot better. But that nagging suspicion didn’t dissipate completely. Much as Phoebe said she wouldn’t be leaving, she didn’t agree or disagree with David’s assessment of how the guy looked.

Strange days in Toronto, David thought.

Game of Thrones Season 2 review (SPOILERS AHOY)

ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: If you haven’t seen the entire second season of Game of Thrones, DON’T READ THIS ARTICLE.

I’ve just finished watching the second season of Game of Thrones, which is a series set in an alternate-world Middle Ages setting. In case you’ve been living under a rock, this is a series that people look forward to fervently every season, both new fans and book readers alike.

I was amazed by the scope of season one of the show. It followed the book so, so closely, better than most book adaptations do. I could, of course, point out every single scene that didn’t happen in the book, but such is TV. Too literal an adaptation can also be a bad thing.

I had heard from people who were far ahead of me in the series that this one deviates from the books a little more, and that’s certainly the case. There was never a point in A Clash of Kings where Daenerys had her dragons stolen, nor did Jon Snow side with the wildlings before killing Qhorin Halfhand.

Gripes aside, this was another pretty great retelling of the series. It’s great to finally be able to visualize some of the world’s characters including the super-creepy warlock Pyat Pree, the Lord of Bones himself, Rattleshirt, and the biggest dick in Pyke, Balon Greyjoy. Joffrey continues to be the most hate-able character in the Seven Kingdoms, and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion is an absolute joy.

To expand on Tyrion for a second, I’m glad that the series emphasized him as much as they did. The dude won an Emmy, for god’s sake, and A Clash of Kings truly is the book where Tyrion shines. Seeing him outwit Petyr Baelish and Grand Maester Pycelle is so much fun to watch.

The CGI seems to be a little hit and miss, with the Starks’ direwolves not looking all too realistic or menacing. Daenerys’ dragons are kind of cool-looking, I guess. But the wildfire scene from “Blackwater” was absolutely beautiful to watch, even if it did mean seeing Stannis’ fleet all but obliterated.

The makeup for some of these characters is fantastic as well. The best example is right at the season’s end as Grenn, Edd and Sam hear the three horn blasts, signalling an attack by the Others. Sam is left by himself as a huge horde of white walkers, led by a truly terrifying-looking older guy on a dead horse, charges toward the Wall.

If there’s one trope the show relies on a little too heavily, it’s the monologues. There are several instances per episode where a character reveals his or her character a little more through a speech. After a while I did really tire of hearing all this (especially because I knew most of this stuff already) though I admit the monologue Yara (Asha in the books) gave to Theon before she left Winterfell was actually pretty touching.

No matter how much I might grumble about the show straying away from the books (um, Xaro Xhoan Daxos doesn’t get stuffed in a vault, especially because he actually visits Daenerys in book five) the show is still a huge treat to watch, even if I can’t watch it as it’s premiering.

So whenever I get the chance to watch season three I’ll be pretty happy again.

That murder trial

If you’re in Toronto, you know which one I’m talking about. Just yesterday, the verdict in the trial of Richard Kachkar came out. In case you’re unaware, Kachkar is the man who killed Sgt. Ryan Russell, a Toronto police officer, a few years ago. Russell’s death was hugely covered in the media, him being the first officer to die in the line of duty in quite some time.

Kachkar ran over Russell with a stolen snowplow. The verdict, by the way, is that he is not criminally responsible for his actions.

Now, if I were writing about this story when I was, say, even two years younger, I’d probably have a very different tone while writing this post. I’d be outraged. I’d demand that Kachkar be brought to justice and that he deserves to be in jail for what he did.

But here’s the thing: Kachkar was found not criminally responsible due to insanity. More on that in a minute.

But now a disclaimer: I am in no way trying to defend Kachkar. There is no possible way I could ever say that what he did is something worth defending. But what I am saying is that, unfortunately, there’s way too much “lock them up forever” mentalities out there.

My eyes really opened to this last year, when I took a journalism ethics class. We learned a lot about things like libel laws and when it’s okay and not okay to record conversations. The piece of info that will stay in my mind for a long time is one about the term “walking” and about lawyers.

Many a newspaper will use the term “walk” when someone alleged to have committed a criminal act is able to avoid being punished for the charges against them. The very use of the word “walk” is loaded; it implicitly says that the alleged criminal deserves punishment but isn’t getting it. It betrays a sense of disgust that “criminals” are being set free.

What this phrase also ignores is that everyone has the right to a fair trial and due process under the law. People ask why lawyers defend criminals. When it comes down to it, the lawyer is making sure that the alleged is able to secure their right to a fair trial.

And then there’s the Kachkar trial. He got his due process and he was found not criminally responsible because he was mentally ill at the time. I don’t remember where I read this recently, but someone said that things will be a lot more productive when we as a society start to treat the mentally ill as sick people as opposed to bad people.

There’s a huge stigma attached to mental illness, and so many people seem to want to shut their eyes to the fact that mental illness is real, and can’t just be talked away or drugged away. Rosie DiManno in the Star today mentioned another case that fits well here. Several years ago, a man beheaded another man on a Greyhound bus.

The man was also mentally ill and was therefore not criminally responsible. A few years ago I remember reading an interview with the accused. This was long after the beheading incident. I was fascinated to read that the man was suffering heavily from schizophrenia and he said that a voice told him to kill the man he killed. He no longer hears that voice and seemed genuinely repentant for what transpired.

Again, I am not trying to say that what happened is in any way fine, but I am trying to say that we need to look a little more seriously at mental illness and try to do something to help get rid of it as opposed to punish it.

Don’t Get Too Grand

The title of my post today is inspired by the name of Donovan Woods’ new album, which is in turn a quotation from Richard Ford. (If you have stumbled onto this article looking for Woods’ album, here’s a link as to where you can get it.)

But naturally the post is not about Donovan Woods’ album. The title seems perfect for a train of thoughts I’ve been having really recently.

A while back I read on article on Cracked entitled “Why you are accidentally making everyone hate you.” The things the author talks about seem strange at first, but the more you read into it the more things start to make sense.

Of those five things, the one thing that really stood out to me was #2, which is about asserting power over someone else. For example, I could go and tell someone “Oh man, I just met Thom Yorke yesterday and we had dinner together, only during dinner I accidentally spilled spaghetti all over my shirt! I was so starstruck!” Despite the fact that I in this situation was trying to tell an embarrassing story, it’s very likely that I’d be pissing off whoever I talked to.

The reason is simple; this someone did not probably ever get the chance to meet and have dinner with the frontman of Radiohead. Just by telling him that story, I’m implicitly saying “Guess what? I’m so much better than you.”

And I find people do this all the time, even without meaning to. As you may know I’m in a journalism program, and sometimes I’ll see a friend talk about the wonderful internship they’ve scored for the summer, or a job they have lined up. I immediately feel a pang of jealousy and annoyance, but at the same time I want to be happy for my friends who have found their way.

And I know, I know, that if I find a decent job after graduation the first goddamn place I’m going to go is Facebook. There’s this weird conflict that always bubbles up inside me; on the one hand I want to be able to proudly say “I got a job at so-and-so” but on the other hand, I don’t want to, as the title says, get too grand. I don’t want to look like someone so vain that I have to trumpet my every win.

Even though it would be a horrible idea and would make me lose friends, I wish I could just start commenting on people’s Facebook bragging with “Don’t get too grand.” And then I wouldn’t comment further.

Michael’s thoughts on egotism, everybody. See you tomorrow.

The home stretch

I have just about two weeks left of school before a huge lull, and then I have a final exam. It’s hard to believe the end of term is so close at hand.

Between now and the end of term (for me which is April 10, April 12 for those who have Friday classes), I have two major assignments left. Both are running along smoothly, and let’s hope they stay that way.

Today I’ll be meeting with Michael Wexler, the lead singer of Inlet Sound. And no, I’m not interviewing him about his music, though I suppose I am in a weird way. I’m going to be interviewing him about his tour van. See, for my radio documentary class, our second assignment has to be a six-to-eight minute piece on someone and their car.

At first I gave my professor a blank stare and then realized he was serious. I really wanted to do something music-related so I figured I would give this a try. I’ll be talking to my professor this morning to make sure that everything is okay with it (and it will be; no way in hell I’m giving up the chance to get everything recorded today).

Then, of course, will come the editing part. I’m going to have devote some good time to doing so, and I’m not quite sure when that will be. It will probably involve me coming in earlyish on Friday or even Thursday to do so. But I’ll do what I have to do.

In addition, I’ve got to do a feature (about 1,000 words) on an arts-related topic. I’m going to be writing about the relevance (or not) of album reviews. I’ve already spoken with Ben Kaplan from the National Post, and later this week with Ben Rayner of the Toronto Star. I’m also going to aim for NOW‘s music editor, who also happens to be named Ben. It’s going to be so funny when I write my article and all my sources are named Ben.

Once I’m done those two big(-ish) things, I’ll be able to take a breath and relax for two weeks until I have to write a Friday early-morning exam on April 26.

And then, holy shit, I’m going to be technically graduated. Convocation officially does so in June, but I’ll no longer have school to worry about.

Scary.

The alternate realities of music festivals

In just under a year, I’ve done four music festivals in full. In June of 2012 I did NXNE, in August, ALL CAPS!, in February of this year, Wavelength 13, and just last week, Canadian Music Week.

What I’ve noticed every time is that while I’m doing these festivals, I’m part of a different world for as long as they’re happening. For Wavelength 13 it was to a lesser extent, but that’s only because I was able to sleep in after three out of the four shows. I wasn’t running around Toronto doing day shows and interviews.

ALL CAPS! was a particularly fun experience, as it was like a peaceful weekend getaway even though Toronto Island is fifteen-minute ferry ride from the mainland. For two days, I was blissfully sealed away in a music-and-art landscape, and when I emerged from it on the Sunday evening I didn’t really feel like I had missed anything in the “real world.”

NXNE last year was definitely the first time I felt that feeling of alternate realities. For the first time in a while, I had an extremely busy schedule that had nothing to do with my part-time job. It was five solid days of meeting for interviews, attending day shows when I could, and of course attending the evening showcases.

If it was even possible, Canadian Music Week had me even busier than NXNE last year, but that was because of several reasons; 1) I had school, 2) My workplace scheduled me to work for a few hours on 3/6 CMW days, 3) I had more interviews and day things to attend. In other words, I had barely any time to do anything. I would usually end up at home somewhere between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m., at which point I would write my review of the day. Then I’d sleep for five hours, maybe, and the day would start again.

While in these bubbles of alternate reality, I am betraying my journalistic traits (ie seeking out the news) so much that I feel like I’m in a cave. I just realized today that I haven’t really read a newspaper since last week Monday, so I felt weirdly disconnected from the world. It’s good to start knowing what’s happening.

As an unfortunate side effect of being in music land for days on end, I seem to also get sick from it. Right after NXNE, I came down with a really awful cough (and maybe cold, I forget) which later turned into pink eye. I’m now suffering from a bit of a runny nose, even though I just had a cold last month (or this month, timelines aren’t working too well in my head right now).

It’s nice to get away from the world for a while, but it’s also just as good to return to it. And that’s what I hope I’m going to do today.