Category Archives: music

Hawksely Workman: The God That Comes

Hawksley Workman. Photo from his site.

Hawksley Workman. Photo from his site.

I meant to write about this right away but I’ve been busy. Last week, I got to see Hawksley Workman in The God That Comes, part of Vancouver’s PuSh Festival. It took place at Performance Works on Granville Island. When I bought the (very reasonable) tickets all I knew was that I liked Hawksley Workman’s music. I have two of his albums (For Him and the Girls, Between the Beautifuls). But I didn’t know if the piece at the festival was music, or a play or both. And in a way, it was indeed both, a work in progress.

I was surprised to see how intimate the performance space was, set up like a lounge or cabaret. The venue also doubled as Club PuSh where you could hang after, drink and dance to DJ tunes. The show was introduced by a drag queen, who I believe called herself the Queen of East Van. She was done up with a wild black mop of hair and a slinky, leopard print shiny, long gown. As the show began I knew exactly why a drag queen opened this show and why she was dressed as she was.

Workman’s show is described as:

Hawksley Workman, Bacchus, Dionysus, wine, music, maenads

Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, theatre and madness.

It tells the story of a king whose subjects revolt against his oppressive rule to worship the Greco-Roman god of wine Bacchus (aka Dionysus) in a hedonistic spiritual revolution. This concept album for the stage, created with 2b Theatre Company’s Christian Barry is a work-in-progress that fuses the chaotic revelry of a rock concert with the intimacy of theatrical storytelling.

Hawksley Workman began by coming out on a stage festooned drums, a keyboard, various stringed and other instruments and three sytrofoam wig heads on stands. One wore an ash-blonde flip-style wig, one a red boa, and one a military hat. There was also a white, headless mannequin in a red strapless dress. Hawksley was wearing a jacket with military style in its lines.

He first read a story, with a glass of wine in hand, about a king who is suspicious of his people frolicking in the hills with a new god. Even his mother is going, so he dresses up as a woman and, unrecognized, is torn apart. This is the short version of The Bacchae, an ancient Greek play by Eurpides, about the mythological King Pentheus who meets the new god Dionysus and his followers, the women who become maenads.

Maenads were to be feared. These followers of Dionysus embraced his divine madness and were rumored to tear apart animals and mortals in their ecstatic, wine-induced frenzy. While there is no evidence of the dismembering of humans or animals ever happening  the maenadic and Dionysian rituals did indeed take place.

Workman’s one-man show included songs that covered the king’s feelings, his military might, his curiosity and fear, his demise. It also covers the ecstasy of Dionysus and how Dionysus was viewed. Unlike the twelve Olympian gods or the Titans before them, Dionysus was originally a foreign god, chthonic and believed to have come from another culture. He was depicted with ivy and grapes wound in his black hair, often wearing women’s dress, which, in ancient Greece, meant a different cut of chiton to the men’s chiton, and effeminate of feature.  He was the androgyne that women followed. For a culture that constrained women, this appealed to their wild side and they were allowed to indulge it during his festival. Dionysus’ myth includes being torn apart himself by the Titans and ingested and reborn. In fact, he is one of a long string of dying and reborn gods and precedes Jesus. Now it begins to make sense why the drag queen was perfect for introducing the show.

maenad, gods, Dionysus, Hawksley Worrkman, frenzy, divine ecstasy, mad god

Maenads were female followers of Dionysus who celebrated in ecstatic frenzy.

Hawksley Workman’s songs ranged from impassioned and tragic to hysterically funny as when he sang Ukelele Boy, about Dionysus. For another piece he picks up the top half of the dressed torso and then plays a harmonica positioned beneath the dress so that it looks very sexual to the audience who see’s his head at the level of the genitals. When Pentheus discovers the maenadic orgy, Workman takes a well-known line “my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord” and tosses it  on its side, giving more meanings to what type of coming is happening.

For the ecstatic ritual he sings, “Won’t your ride with me…our feet pound the earth with pleasure so deep…won’t your ride with me.” This lead into Workman stomping out a staccato rhythm with his feet and two poles in his hands. Very deep, very visceral. After the maenads realize they have torn apart the king, Hawksley’s lines include “Can you believe that his blood came out red?” and “salt in his tears.” Note that I was mesmerized and writing notes in the dark so these lines could be off a bit.

Hawksley Workman used the heads as props, sometimes wearing the boa or the hat, sometimes talking to the head. Under his modern vest he wore a purple shirt and one of his instruments had a leopard skin patterned strap. All of these small details, including that glass of wine, were significant as they are symbols of Dionysus; red, purple, leopards (Dionysus is almost always shown with a leopard skin across his shoulder), wine.

The performance was wacky, invigorating, funny, sad, and extremely original. I’ve liked Workman’s music before because of the originality of the tunes and the lyrics. The God That Comes blended this well, and showed his creative genius. He definitely researched Dionysus and the Maenads and embraced them to write such a powerful show. This touched me on several levels. I intimately know the tale of Dionysus and the maenads. I do hope this comes out as an album, but I wished I could have seen the show again. I’ve already told several friends to watch for Workman if he’s come to their city. He’s worth seeing and I very much appreciated being close enough to feel part of the show. I raise ten glasses of wine to Hawksley Workman. And I can say that I may have been the only person sitting there that night who has been a maenad. Io Dionysus.

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Can Writers Be Rockstars?

Rock stars and movie stars and known for their blowouts, the drug and alcohol abuse, their indiscretions mostly because they’re so rich and famous they’re always in the limelight. Over at Terrible Minds Chuck Wendig argues/pokes fun at the image and says we need writers to be rock stars. But have we ever had them, those memorable characters known more for their antics with drugs, alcohol and sex than for their writing (almost), or those with personalities that would have them locked up if it weren’t for their mad genius?

Wendig names Oscar Wilde, Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway as characters in the past that had that crazed star image. William Burroughs would also enter that arena. Phillip K. Dick and Thomas Disch had a legendary hate on of each other. Dick, paranoid and spaced out on some substance hated Disch who was gay and reported him to the FBI (or maybe it was the CIA). I only learned this though reading Disch’s last book The Word of God. Disch got his last digs in at Dick in the stories (part fictional/part autobiographical) in the end. But these guys are all dead guys so they don’t count.

writers, rockstars, movie stars, assholes, prima donas, drugs, sex, bad boys

Creative Commons: Drew Coffman, Flickr

Who are our living writing rock stars, the bad boys and girls of the literary world, the ones whose pens drip a venom that pales to their verbal vitriol, their nasty antics, their crazed abuses of the body? Someone pointed out that perhaps it’s because rock stars are younger and writers older when famous that age tempers these antics, but what can we say about Keith Richards then, though the Janis Joplins and Amy Winehouses definitely fall early in the realm of substance abuse. Perhaps it’s because we don’t look at authors whereas we watch movie stars and listen and watch rock stars, that makes a difference. Writers create characters and your imagination takes over. Who wants to find out they’re an elderly housewife of three or that they’re old and fat and greying? Just doesn’t live up to the glamor, does it?

Wendigs subcategories are: Erratic Author Appearances, Intensely Weird Drug Habits, …Making Rock Star Demands, Insane Hobbies on Display, Jack Up Our Books With Rockstar Juice, Groupies+Entourage=Awesome, …Writer Cribs, …Hookers, …Public Urination. Hmm, granted this piece is high on irony, I guess this might be considered a primer for the famous on what not to do. For writers, maybe we live out all that through our characters so we’re less likely to act it out. The TV show Californication  probably comes closes to the fantasy of a rockstar writer. Of course it’s Hollywood so everything is skewed there.

So who is alive who might be considered a writing rock star for wacky habits? Harlan Ellison is definitely one. Not that he’s defecated in anyone’s mailbox (that we know of) but he’s more than spoken his mind, trounced people verbally and on the page and been known to do a few “rumored” deeds such as signing a woman’s breast or leaving the garden slug dessert (search my posts for more on this). Samuel Delaney was known for his erratic author appearances. Neil Gaiman is mentioned as someone who should be a bad boy but is relatively tame. Wendig did miss that Gaiman has an entourage. If you’ve seen if at a convention there is usually a contrail of black-clad gothettes following him about. Sadly, I cannot think of any bad girl writers.

I tried once to tell the writers group I belonged to that we needed to hang out in bars and perpetuate a lifestyle that could be more infamous than our writing. No one went for it though. Maybe I’d be better known if I had. 🙂 But the piece is right; overall we’re not the same prima donas as rock and movie stars. Check out Wendig’s article, and If you can think of a living writer known for strange, bad, erratic or aberrant behavior, post here so we can start a list.

 

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Review: Hard Times Hit Parade

Hard Times Hit Parade

It’s too bad I didn’t see this show earlier, to give a review that would have been more timely. The Hard Times Hit Parade is performed by the Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret and consists of 25-30 performers. Hard Times Hit Parade This extravaganza is set around a Depression era dance marathon and begins the moment you walk in. In fact there were signs outside the building that I thought were part of the Russian Community Hall’s edifice but turned out to be the theme of the show. Entering the auditorium, we saw bleachers set up with strands of pennons coming out from a large central chandelier. As well, there were signs of the era and advertising around the benches setting the atmosphere.

Behind the bleachers was a little bar with servers dressed in 1930s clothing. Many audience members came dressed, adding to the theme. The show begins with old B&W films and the narrator talking of the times and the dance marathon that has begun. The performers, couples coming out with numbers attached, do an opening swing number to a live band that had at least six people playing saxophone, violin, cello, banjo, etc.

There are different dance numbers, scenarios that go from the emcee and the referee, the anal rulemaker who adds comic moments, to the band and all around. There were even popcorn girls in the aisles selling popcorn, beer and wine. If someone dropped their plastic cup (reusable) under the bleachers, they would incorporate a scold or a scornful look into the show. The emcee or barker was appropriately over the top and the band was excellent, with the main singer/saxophone player also doing a number in drag.

The marathon dancers consisted of about six couples and as the show progresses, various people drop out after having hallucinations or or other events that make them quit. One hallucination is a cabaret style dance sequence. Another is a man being pressured to give his dance partner a ring. He then does a spinning acrobatic maneuver in a giant ring. There is a marionette sequence as well, and when the dancers go backstage for their rest break we see silhouettes on the screen which may include kissing, sleeping. changing, washing. These are accented with shapes on cellophane to represent tears or showering or birds. Another dance number is more the contestants dragging themselves about as the dance marathon moves into its fourth month; it involves a nurse checking the exhausted dancers and focusing a light on them. This projects a large silhouette on a screen that is accented with images such as hearts or lace or fields, representing the inner workings of these people.

It’s actually quite difficult to put into words the full scope of this multimedia performance. At $25 (at the door) and three hours the performance was well worth it. I laughed, I was mesmerized. There was so much to see. There is an intermission where the audience can mingle in a party atmosphere or get more drinks. And after the show, everyone can continue to dance. I loved the creativity, the depth and the energy of this show. It was so inspirational that I think I might see how I can help out at the Dusty Flowerpot Cabaret. If you can get in (last day is March 18) go and see Hard Times Hit Parade. Advance tickets are sold out but some are available at the door. This was so fantastic that I’m going to try to stand in line and see it again. Five stars!

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Cthulhu Who?

Last Friday I went to Cthulhupalooza, thinking, why not? Let’s try something new. Although I know of Cthulhu I can’t say I’m on intimate terms with it…him. But what, you’re asking, what the heck is a Cthulhu? Pronunciations differ but “kathooloo” is the most common. “He” is an Elder God or perhaps a Great Old One and is the creation of H.P. Lovecraft who was writing at the advent of the fantasy/horror genres.

Lovecraft doesn’t seem to have been a particularly healthy person and his parents were both committed for different forms of madness, brought on by a syphilitic disease in at least his father. Lovecraft wrote in the same style as his predecessors of the gothic age, Mary Shelley, and especially Edgar Allan Poe who was a strong influence on his writing. Cthulhu was created in the 1920s and though one of many “unspeakable horrors” has gained much fame and cult following after the fact. Cthulhu is often portrayed as greenish, with tentacles dangling from its mouth, great batlike wings at its back and talons gracing its hands. He is a god so alien that humans barely matter and Lovecraft’s writing is rife with the insignificance of the mere human mortal in the great scheme of things.

I don’t know if I’ve ever managed to read a complete Lovecraft story. Even for his time he wrote in an archaic style and I’ve found it very hard to drag myself through the prose. But…being a writer of science fiction and fantasy I know of the mythos and I know of the beast. Many of the stories describe the indescribable horrors in long melodramatic, as only gothic can be, prose. Often the writer has read an ancient book, maybe in Sumerian and the horrid tales work an insidious change and captivation on the mind.

So, when I was invited to Cthulhupalooza II on Facebook I decided what the heck. There were to be short films, a couple of bands, a few tables of geek paraphernalia and a burlesque act, Little Miss Risk being sacrificed to Cthulhu. I went with two friends and we dressed up in semi Victorian clothing. Only a few people were dressed likewise with the majority in jeans and heavy metal hoodies. The venue was the Rickshaw, an old theater in Vancouver’s E. Hastings St. Not the best area of town and I had a vague recollection that the Rickshaw hosts heavy metal bands. It was the scariest part for me because I’m not a heavy metal person.

The venue had a stage and theater seats. We missed the short films so I don’t know if they were snippets of Lovecraft inspired stories or not. Scythia, the self-titled folk metal band was funny, at least with the head banging, hair tossing antics and the lead singer changing his accent from German to English between songs. If there were discernible words I couldn’t tell but that might have been issues with the acoustics or the way of heavy metal bands because when Darkest of the Hillside Thickets came on stage they were just as incomprehensible. In between these two bands they showed films of…bands including Hillside Thickets. So we saw them in film and live and probably could have avoided both. I never thought I’d see head banging, heavy metal fans just sitting in seats, or doing that thing that I call the zombie adoration of standing  on the dance floor (not dancing or head banging) in front of the band. I also never thought that heavy metal would be…well, boring. But it was. I’m no connoisseur but I didn’t find the tunes that catching. Not like Cthulhu would be. Who knew that Lovecraft attracted heavy metal? Maybe it’s all that doom.

An example of the kitschy cult of Cthulhu

The “bar” consisted of a motley mix of canned beers, rum, vodka, Jack Daniels and one or two other elixirs. They only had white wine to which I said, “Cthulhu wouldn’t drink white wine! No red?” When I asked if the rum was dark I was told it was white, to which I replied, “Cthulhu wouldn’t drink white rum!” Oh well. We did see the burlesque act and I regret that we missed the first dance. Little Miss Risk came out dressed in 1930s style reading a great tome, the ones that lure the reader into a Stygian nightmare they cannot escape. She did something so one eye looked closed and one was open but nearly white. Creeeepy. As she crawled onto the Cthulhu altar, wearing the ubiquitous pasties, furry tentacles appeared and writhed; then she stood and spit green blood.

The burlesque was well done and the best part and I’m sorry I missed the earlier one which might have made the $15 price almost worthwhile. Still, we did have fun and found it an amusing, if limited in events, mini-con. As it was, we escaped the creeping horror…or boredom… and went back to my place to drink wine as Cthulhu would.

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The Work Less Party Works Less

In BC, the Work Less Party was a group of slightly organized people who wanted to move the work week to 32 hours. They began in 2003 and actually had a few candidates in 2005, but after that the Party dwindled. Part of the party’s mandate was to have more fun. And like our Rhino party of yesteryear they were never taken that seriously, even by themselves. They were de-registered this summer and no longer exist as a political party, but the party goes on.

It is now a big party. If you check out the site with the lofty ideals, it hasn’t been updated since 2008. http://www.worklessparty.org/ And if you find the party site, it hasn’t been updated since March. Considering they just had a party this weekend you can see how working less doesn’t always work. http://www.worklessparty.org/party/party.htm I imagine there is a Facebook page, with most of the details but I try to avoid too much FB as being a great resource suck when it comes to parties.

I had gone to two parties before and they were definitely an excuse to dress in wild costumes or work on your Hallowe’en outfit before the big weekend. But what do you get? They take place in a giant auditorium–you know the style, from your school days–with a stage and a big empty hall. There are no chairs so don’t dream on sitting down. There are usually a few completely lame booths that nobody seems to attend. I’ve seen the hugging booth, the spanking booth, the chillout booth, etc. You must buy tickets to get your booze and then get in the lineup and hope there is any.

There is usually a costume and body painting contest, and  while this is on the stage, if you’re not six-feet tall you’ll probably only see the back of someone’s head or glimpse the outfits. What I have seen of the body painting is quite stunning and may involve dancing, skits or acrobatics. There is also an upstairs area that is smaller and more festive in look, with a DJ.

I found after two of these parties with 500 plus people that it was just a crush of incredibly rude and self-serving party-goers. There are  stairs to the other floor and people stop and chat or just get stuck in the jam. I said excuse me as I tried to squeeze past the people coming down. I mean, it’s what people do, right? Try to be polite? But no, I was dissed for doing so and someone said nasty things that I won’t repeat.

As for the alcohol, if you drink only beer, you’re okay. But last time they ran out of wine and cider by 11:00 pm. The lineups are long and everyone is out for themselves, suspiciously eying the person behind them who is pushing forward. Most of all you can expect a crush of costumed humanity at this party. After two of them I left feeling quite bored. I swore off of going to the giant cattle pen.

However, a friend was having a birthday and she really wanted to go with a group of people. There were probably about 15 of us and I finally buckled and went. I made the mistake of wearing a dress that had a train, and even though I had that pinned up it began to drag through the night. The floor was a morass of slimy mud from the rain. Slippery and treacherous, so one had to be careful moving through the crowds. And crowds. There is this narrow hallway that you must enter through and as we first arrived, we stood off to the side as many people do. But that did not stop people from bulldozing us down. I had to fix the pin on my dress and someone pushed me. I said hey, and the guy told me I was taking up too much space. Really, I can only take up the space that my body requires. Not even five minutes into the place and the attitudes began. I called him an asshole and pushed him out of the way telling him that he was too tall and taking up too much space.Yeah, I gave it back but I’d already been pushed five times.

That’s one reason I hate the Work Less party, because any thin excuse for manners goes out the door. To complicate matters, the disorganizers chose to put the ticket sales on one side of the entry door and the tables for getting your alcohol on the other, causing long lines that people must push through. When I got to the alcohol , I stood there for almost ten minutes with a whole bunch of people as every server was juggling getting drinks. Granted those poor folks are volunteers but some foreplanning would have helped, like a couple of people pouring and others serving. And when I asked what else there was besides beer there was only rum or vodka, with no mix, served in giant cups. Very mickey mouse.

The dancing was fun with pretty good DJ action, and we planted ourselves in one spot to help avoid the giant crush of people. But some doofus must have thought it funny to pull the fire alarm. Try to get over 500 drinking people out of a hall where at first we couldn’t hear the alarm. But we had to exit, with no place to put your drink. The bouncers said, you have to exit but you can’t take your drink so chug it. Pure rum or vodka? No thanks. Then the alarm went off and everyone went back in but the firemen had not been through, so then we got to exit again. Good fun, that.

I can’t say that the lack of adequate alcohol, the more and more disorganization, the giant crowd (and I hate crowds) and the uber rudeness encouraged me to ever go again. The Work Less party could do with a bit of working better.

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Jess Hill: An Upcoming Star

I’d actually say she’s already arrived but there are still peaks to rise to. Jess Hill is one of Canada’s (and Vancouver’s) hot new singers and songwriters. I’m no expert on music but I know a catchy tune and can relate to a well modulated voice, and the beautiful chanteuse has both. Not only that, but her songs have lyrics that spin you into an atmosphere and mood as well as any tale.

Jess has been featured on CBC radio, at the Folk Festival and at various venues across western Canada. She’s just cut her second album, Orchard, which is sure to be even greater than Road. Her videos (check out the you tube below) are whimsical and fun, and sultry. http://www.youtube.com/jesshillsorchard And like many artists of East Van, crows feature in her songs. They are our ubiquitous bird and they grace songs, painting, sculptures and poems.

Until Oct. 18th people can vote at 100.5 The Peak for their top artists. Jess has made it into the top 20. You can listen to each performer there and make up your own mind. But vote now before the deadline. http://www.peakperformanceproject.com – to vote see the top right corner of the page. The winner receives $100,500 toward their music career.

http://www.myspace.com/jesshill

http://www.jesshill.ca

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Faerieworlds: A Realm in Review

A week ago I took a break from the daily toil and went to Faerieworlds in Eugene, Oregon. What is it? It’s a three-day camping event involving many bands and fairies, of course. Why do this? Because I can. I can dress up, have fun, camp, sleep in, dance, party without worrying about anything more than where to eat and when to shower.

The drive was long with an accident on the other side of the highway which had the looky-loos slowing down. We went 10 miles in an hour. And it seems that regular summer volume on the I-5 also slows down to a crawl. After many hours we arrived in Eugene at Buford Park where Faerieworlds took place. This event has been going eight years according to the website and there are a few things that could have been better laid out, such as where to park when registering, or picking up registration. There was one table with a guy yakking to two people and instead of one of them serving us they continued to listen to him so I went to the vendor registration instead. We received a wristband (not to be taken off) and a laminated tag, and it was unclear if both had to be worn. I never wore the tag. There was no list of events so knowing when a band was on could only be gleaned from catching the emcee, and things like the costume contest, well, I never knew about it at all. There was an event guide but it seems the $110 membership fee didn’t cover even a photocopy of the scheduled events.

The site is a big field, like a pasture, with trees only at the perimeter, and a mixture of grass, hay and blackberry brambles mowed down and removed, but there were still scratchy snags and very uneven ground. You wouldn’t want to go barefoot. Faerieworlds (or the park people) wouldn’t let us drive onto this field with our camping gear, which seemed odd because the ground was hard and there wasn’t any nice foliage to protect. In fact, they did let us drive on to pack up so it makes no sense. Luckily for us, we were near the road and didn’t have far to cart things. Another bizarre Faerieworlds rule was no glass or campfires of any kind, including camping stoves, yet I saw one fire that people had started up for something and obviously all the food vendors used stoves of varying types. Plus the taverns had glass bottles (though they served in plastic). It’s one thing to control fires but I’ve been to some very large camping events where campstoves are never a problem and people have never tipped one over and started a fire. So this rule was just dumb and inconvenient. A friend who went last year with her two kids didn’t have a good time because she had to go elsewhere to cook and didn’t find people friendly at all. Luckily we got by on cold food.

We camped in inner circle camping, which is noisier and nearer all the vendors and stages (there was the main stage and a smaller more intimate stage in the food area). Portapotties were banked out on the road and another set on one side of the camping. Adequate number for the bodies there but they only flushed them in the morning which meant by evening there was no water or paper towels in the cleaning stations and the toilets were becoming disgustingly full and devoid of toilet paper. In the dark that’s scary. A shower trailer was also on site and though they had odd hours of operation (7-11 am and 9 pm-1am) there seemed to be little in the way of  lineups.

At least six bands played on the main stage. Faun, a German band, highlighted Saturday night with Delhi to Dublin from Canadaplaying beforehand. Other bands included Stellamara, Woodland, Gypsy Nomads, Telesma, and smaller groups on the more intimate stage called Neverworlds. What was extremely nice about the setup was that we could be at our camp and still hear the music clearly. Or we could go around the vendor area, dance anywhere or be up in front of the stage. The music was great and well worth the money. However, many people did not enjoy being woken up to the Faerieworlds alarm Saturday morning which consisted of very loud German techno. I’m not sure why they thought they needed to wake fairies up at 8:30 anyways. I just wonder why the bands ended at midnight on Saturday when it was the main day of the event. Having music go later (everything seemed to close too early that night) would have been better.

There must have been about 100 vendors and the quality was verygood. Not a lot of original jewellery but enough, as well as some supremely amazing masks out of leather or formed plastics with feathers or fibers. As well there were several vendors selling wings of course, either one of a kind, handmade or mass produced. There were two taverns. There was clothing from silk fairy tatters to steampunk, accessories, and little magical things to go along with wings. Next year I think I’ll save up to buy one of the masks. They weren’t cheap but they were beautiful pieces of art. The vendor area also included some games, courtesy of a local Renaissance faire and was a maze of colorful items. Unfortunately some vendors only took cash and the official table selling the bands’ music only took cash because they divvy the money up to the bands. Still, I could have worked out a system for having credit cards and paying out each band.

What was probably the most fun besides the music, were the costumes and spontaneous performance art. There were numerous styles of wings and costumes that people had made. There were trolls and goblins in a tug of war, satyrs and wizards, dryads and Na’vi, steampunks and purple fairies, and all sorts of people just doing their thing. Some did spontaneous performance art, like the caterpillar and the dryad pictured here and I loved that. It’s inspired me to go back and listen to more music next year and maybe try a few more outfits for fun.

http://www.faerieworlds.com/

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Modern Bands and Zombies

A new phenomenon has cropped up in the last five years that I hadn’t seen before. Maybe it was slowly oozing up through the groundwater of culture before this but I never noticed it. True I don’t see a lot of live bands…well okay that’s not true. I go to one place that often has a live band that plays while people drink and socialize. They often talk through the music. There are no vocals (usually) because the band is meant to give background atmosphere.

Now bands that play in pubs, cabarets and other music venues might have vocals and the people most assuredly are drinking but the crowd could be mixed as to being there more to socialize with others or more to listen to the band. But even if the band is one for dancing to, I’ve noticed this new trend.

Zombies. Yes, zombies watch bands. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a venue with tables and/or with a dance floor, the zombies move to the front of the stage, effectively blocking the view for anyone who is sitting at a table. The zombies, in their mindless absorption and idolization, stare at the band, unmoving, often lacking any facial expression or  emotion, a drink forgotten in their hand. That’s all they do. Stare. You might see a foot tapping like some latent nerve twitch that can animate a body after death, but that’s it.Their slowly rotting brains must think they’re at an outdoor concert or perhaps they’re all on zombie drugs. It doesn’t matter if the band just crawled out of the garage or is a big name. The zombies don’t move.

Where did the zombies come from? Obviously they were animated out of music culture, some assortment of eldritch notes coming together in a way to draw the bodies close, like a Pied Piper’s enchanted flute. But there the animation stops. It’s not enough to spur these bodies (usually young and in their 20s) into actually dancing. Perhaps there was a shyness or ineptitude in movement during the zombie’s half-life that translates into the barely animate.

Perhaps there is some perceived notion still firing sporadically in the zombie brains that says it’s not cool to dance. Perhaps the band emulates some aspect of zombie worship and the sounds that emit and marry in the air are like honey to zombie bees. I really dont’ know and can only speculate. Once in a while, later in the evening, when alcohol seems to have worked some reanimation charm, some of the zombies will start to emulate human beings, leaving only the most inanimate standing vacantly in front of the band.

It used to be that it wasn’t cool to show such mindless adoration but in the absence of modern gods, this is where the zombies go. But don’t worry, they won’t clutch at your head trying to gnaw your brains and they won’t drop gory body parts all over. They lack the life to do that, even in front of a hugely noisy, raucous punk rock band. Yes, I saw zombies in front of the Little Guitar Band, which really only hurt my ears and left me guessing at lyrics that could not be heard by anyone. At one point I think they sang, “I have a hernia and lost my shoe,” which oddly might be appealing to zombies. But the zombies never moved.

The most these zombies will do is annoy you. After all, zombies aren’t really alive and no longer have the common courtesy that might have been exhibited in live humans. They’ll stand in front of you, disregarding that perhaps you arrived early enough to get a seat and a view. They’ll take over the dance floor, not understanding that perhaps you want to dance. Zombies after all, aren’t exactly models of society and they sure don’t exhibit culture.

Will they go away? I doubt it, until the next wave of animated humans realizes zombies aren’t dangerous and sweeps them off the dance floor with…well, dancing. I do wish, however, that zombies would go back to the graveyards and gnaw brains like they’re supposed to. There, the rudeness of zombies doesn’t matter.

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Hive: What’s the Buzz?

Sometimes I live in a cultural wasteland. Not that things don’t happen here in the Shangrila of the West Coast. They do, despite the provincial government thinking that it’s good to support sports but bad to support the arts. But we all know that rant of mine.

One of the events that seems to have happened for the last two years, and this year being it’s third, is Hive 3, a performance extravaganza all under one roof.  Set up at The Centre for Digital Media (and this year part of the cultural Olympiad) it was a bit of an Alice in Wonderland quest, with 14 performances in various little cordoned off spaces and rooms. The rooms might have sliding metal doors, a normal door on hinge, a sheet, or… This event took place from March 11-20.

Each piece was no longer than 15 minutes and ran from 7-10:00 pm each night. It was set up as a bit of a quest. To get into Theatre Conspiracy/Gasheart Theatre’s NAPathy, you just had to line up. To enter “At Home With Dick and Jane” by Electric Company, you put your name in a draw and five people were drawn each hour. For Boca Del Lupo’s “The Interview” you found the man with the clipboard and answered his questions, to be given a piece of a picture as your ticket in. “Skunked” by Felix Culpa had me searching out the woman with a basket of Teddy bears. And “Ana” by November Theatre meant you needed to be holding an LP to get in.

Other venues required a person getting a keychain or a special slip of paper, or a sticker. However finding these people was a bit hard and not having done this before we weren’t sure what the cryptic messages meant for both, such as “Sugar” which said you needed an apron. There wasn’t anyone wandering around with aprons; you just lined up and the first ten received an apron.

Feasibly, if you were organized and moved fast you could do 12 venues in three hours but many of the venues were small and limited and LPs, keychains or other ticket items disappeared very early on. We managed about four in two hours. With tickets at $25, it would mean coming back again to catch everything but you have to pay again. There was a band that started at 11 pm and people could come just to that for $5 but I went on a week night and had to work the next day.

However, I did love the whole quest aspect of it, or as one friend put it, it was like a Fringe Festival under one roof. And even if you didn’t like a piece, it was only fifteen minutes so you could go on to see something else. The shows I mentioned above were the ones I managed to see except for “At Home With Dick and Jane,” which my friend’s name was drawn for but not mine. NAPathy was very intense and well acted, if a bit on the bizarro side, but the more I think about it, the more I liked it. I’m still not sure if I got the nuances of what it was really about but lets say cupcakes feature largely with a strange love and devouring in a Canadian context.

“The Interview” was interesting but I felt it was a little flat and maybe suffered from the shortness of the performance. I couldn’t get into the dram of it but it was competently done and had some interesting out of the room filming techniques. “Skunked” was a kooky little piece that slowly evolved (or devolved) through the psychosis of a 12-year-old into an ad for psychological interventions, I think. It was okay but a bit of a aha joke at the end.

“Ana” involved taking the LP as a ticket and turning it in,then entering a room, with a round carpet and a very old record player in the middle, with one woman standing there. She then talked about records and their making and lifespan and memories tied to her parents and life. She moved around the circle, talking to each of us, having one person hold the album of her parents’ anniversary and then putting the song on, dancing with another participant. Of the four I saw, it had the strongest storyline and was the most moving in its simplicity.

All in all I thought the actors were pretty good to very good. The stories/pastiches to me didn’t seem to quite his their full potential. But I wonder if I’m not used to such a short performance. The show is pricey and next year I’ll get there as soon as it starts and try to organize my venues instead of milling about trying to figure out what to do next. I’d love to see more of this kind of thing though; a quest mixed with acting, and music and audience involvement.

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The Importance of Art

There has been some brutal slashing of arts funding in BC, not to mention Canada. However, the BC government slashed funding quietly, in the background and almost to nil for most things. Magazines and performance groups that have continued for many years have suddenly found themselves out of business. We already know that Prime Minister Stephen Harper believes artists stand around at elite galas sipping champagne and hobnobbing.

Well let me put into perspective why art is important, and to do that for our local governments I’ll talk about it in a way they can recognize.

First, why does Canada subsidize the arts and have arts grants that other countries scoff at or are jealous of (let’s just say the US)? Because it costs the same to produce a movie (renting equipment, paying actors and crew), or produce an album (studio and recording fees, paying musicians), or publish a book (printing and layout costs, staff, distribution), etc. For every form of art there are costs and they are similar no matter which country one is in. However, Canada’s population base is much much smaller than the US’s. To make any profit from the expenses that go into producing anything from a stage play to a picture book requires a certain number of sales/patrons attending or buying. Canada’s population tops out around 33 million to the US’s 304 million. Even ten percent attendance/sales is a big difference between these two countries.

Of course, if we want to just dismiss Canadian culture and say we are a cheap facsimile of the United States, well then it won’t really matter and Canadian art be damned. Yet that is only part of the picture, Mr. Premier and Prime Minister. There is far more that makes art than sales.

Without art you would not have those campaign speeches, nor the speeches you give throughout your term in office. Speechwriters learn their craft and writing is an art. Without art you would not have campaign posters or brochures or pamphlets without which it would be harder to influence the voting public. Graphic designers go to school to learn the elements of design, composition, color, effectiveness, etc. and that is an art. Without art you would not have those televised moments of your promises or the carefully crafted ads to make you look good and to make your opponent look bad. TV ads are done by camera men, directors, writers, and a host of people. Putting together a good ad is an art.

Without art you would not look so good in your suits. Clothing is designed by people who go through school to perfect their craft. You’d be wearing handcrafted burlap of a similar design to everyone around you. Clothing design is an art. Without art you might not have a national anthem. Musicians and songwriters go to school and work to hone their skills, and music is an art.

Without art you would have a world of unhappy people with no entertainment except for the elite rich who could pay the high prices. There would be no music to listen to, no books to read, no shows to watch, no beautiful pictures or dances to see. Without art you would enter a dull policelike state where unfortunately even the signs would have to be done by some artist but where the voice of knowledge would be silenced. Yes, knowledge comes with education. Knowledge of the history and depth of a discipline whether it be music, dance, writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, designing. Without these skills we will enter back into the simplistic drawings and songs of children. Without art challenging boundaries and perspectives, we cannot grow as a society or reflect on our deeds.

Next on the chopping block will probably be literacy. I’d think that the ministers of culture in the respective levels of government might be doing a nervous dance right now. After all, without art and culture that the BC government has almost wiped out, we won’t have very much and those ministers won’t have a job. So, Gordon Campbell and Stephen Harper, have you yet figured out which part of art is part of every day life and keeps you in your jobs?

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