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Mats, Maths, and Stiffness

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About twenty years ago I wrote a feature article for the now-defunct Ottawa magazine Trans FM about accessibility to local clubs for music fans. It was inspired by an advocacy group housed down the hall from CKCU where I volunteered as a DJ. It occurred to me, as a spun records, that the listeners the next room may not be able to go to see the same gigs I did. Small rooms, stairs, tiny toilets.

Fast-forward a couple of decades. A lot has changed. I’m spinning records, discs, and files at home now. I write for myself and edit for others. For sure I don’t go to as many gigs any more, largely because of time and money. And, after thirty years of concert going, I want to sit. Also, as you may have noticed from previous posts, I use a cane now so standing for long periods of time is out of the question.

Back in the late ’80s I saw an abridged version of the Replacements at Barrymore’s in Ottawa. They were a fantastic band who never quite got the credit (read: sales) that they deserved, drowned out by mediocre radio-friendly crap. After years of rumours and acrimony, the band announced a reunion tour as part of Riot Fest…with a Toronto date! Mine wasn’t the only heart that skipped a beat; most of my Gen X friends posted, cross-posted, and linked their middle-aged brains out on Facebook.

“You in?”

Well, was I? Let me check prices. The cheap seats had gone right quick so the remaining single-day general admissions were about $60 to $70. Not bad for the Mats, plus Iggy Pop, the Weakerthans, Dinosaur Jr., et al. I reached for my credit card.

Then the light went on. Where would I sit? The photos of previous fests showed an audience as a sea of standing bodies. OK, it’s a rock gig—well, a festival in a field, actually. I searched the website for accommodations for fans with mobility issues:

Those with disabilities are welcome to attend. We will not be providing parking to attendees, so those with disabilities should be transported to and dropped off at the main gates. Attendees with disabilities should inform security of their needs at the gates upon entry, they will assist you in accessing the festival. We will not have seating available, so those with trouble walking or standing should use an all-terrain wheelchair and/or attend with someone who can help them navigate the vast festival grounds. Onsite, there are many paved pathways to use, ADA accessible toilets will be provided in all parts of the venue and ADA accessible ramps will be placed next to the Front of House structure at a couple of the main stages. If you have further questions after arriving at the festival, head over to the Information Tent on the grounds, and they will be able to assist.

So no room for camp chairs. I’d need to rent a wheelchair for one day. Ok, fine, that starts at about $15, but for a Sunday and return the Monday? Sigh, call it $30. Then I’ve got to get it there. Hmm. The TTC’s Wheeltrans service is out of question as 1) I have to apply, 2) I’m ineligible, and 3) it isn’t used for just one day. Fine. So a cab…from my home in the East End all the way to Fort York: roughly $60 one way.

The tally so far: ticket $70 + wheelchair $30 + return cab $120 = $220 (plus tax) and I haven’t sipped a beer, nibbled a hot dog, or visited the merch table. A friend of mine suggested I get a VIP ticket as she did (thinking there would be more room) and we’d split the cab: ticket $120 + wheelchair $30 + cab $60 = $210 (plus tax) and I’m still parched and famished. Oh, and there’s no guarantee I’ll see the actual show; just the giant TV.

So because I have arthritis, going to Riot Fest would have cost me a minimum of $210 + tax.

Compare this with TURF, which cost me $70 all in. Why? Because I can bring a camp chair. It’s that simple.

Now some would say I’m too old. Uh huh. I’m the exact demographic who would see the Mats (Paul Westerberg, b. 1950, age 53) and Iggy Pop (b. 1947, age 66). Old? Me? Get outta my way, kid, let me see the show.

Oh, one more thing. I’m not alone. In the UK, young Paul Belk is trying to make fests more accessible.


Book Review: Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer by Chris Salewicz

There is truth to the adage that one shouldn’t meet one’s heroes. Not that Clash front man Joe Strummer is one of mine, but he and the band were big influences when I was a teenager. Musicians (and artists in general) are not saints; they are humans. That sounds trite, I know, but it’s naive to believe that someone who straps on a guitar and pens a two-minute pop song has more to say than anyone else. Yeah, but try telling that to a teenager.

In his book Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer (Faber and Faber, 2007),  veteran biographer Chris Salewicz attempts to do just that and generally succeeds: Strummer drank a lot of booze, did a lot of drugs, and didn’t treat the women in his life all that well. Standard rock fare, I’d say.

Salewicz opens with the news of Strummer’s death by heart attack, follows with the subsequent obituary, and describes the star-studded funeral. He then researches the family tree back about two generations, interviewing the man’s (born John Graham Mellor) distant Scottish relatives. Certainly background and heritage inform the artist and it’s important to know a bit about the Mellors, but I couldn’t help but think that many details were unnecessary. Fans shouldn’t see (nor want to see) dirty laundry, even it is no more soiled than anyone else’s.

Once we get past that rather long bit, we learn about John’s and his older brother David’s nomadic childhood and their time at boarding school (their father was a diplomat). This somewhat privileged background seems to rub Clash and punk fans the wrong way; we’d rather think of this bloke as a hard-scrabble, working-class hero, which is something that Mellor/Strummer wanted as well. And so in an attempt to achieve this status we move with him through various name changes and London squats.

As with most of us, his family hums along in the background, serving perhaps as a moral compass. His brother’s suicide in 1970 underscores the depression that seems to run through the family. David was shy and not well, apparently trying to find meaning by becoming a Nazi and joining the National Front. It would be ironically humorous if it wasn’t so tragic, and the incident marks Strummer for life.

From this Salewicz takes us straight on to the 101ers and the Clash, or what I like to call the “fun stuff.” It’s gossipy, juicy, and nerdy. Recording, song writing, touring, in-fighting, egos, hurt feelings, and confusion all give us a sense that the Clash earned their name.

When the Clash finally ended 1986, Strummer was unemployed. This is where musicians and the rest of us differ. When regular folks lose their jobs, they have a moan, polish their resumes, and get on with finding another job. Not quite so with musicians, or at least not with Strummer. Despite appearances, he did make quite a bit of money from music; not as much as some, but he was comfortable, which afforded him a bit more time for a moan before moving on to acting, movie-soundtrack work, playing with the Pogues, and forming the Mescaleros.

Overlapping this stage is Strummer’s love of music festivals, which seem to be more popular in the UK than they are in North America. It’s not a stretch that he was likely nostalgic for the communal feeling he experienced while living in London squats, embracing the festival campfires as a way to bring people together. He took this festival spirit and transplanted it to his country home.

Salewicz does a great job at hinting at other interesting stories and personalities, such as Mick Jones and Don Letts. To me, Jones comes off as a more musically interesting and less tormented guy. Letts was a filmmaker who shot the Clash in New York, later joined with Jones to form Big Audio Dynamite, and can now be found spinning discs for BBC 6 Music.

Great old photos and ephemera fill out this thorough book, bringing the words to life. Unfortunately, Redemption Song needed a firmer editorial hand. The content is too exhaustive and the text too repetitive. Perhaps the author didn’t take direction or perhaps none was given, regardless the result could have been tighter and more disciplined; at 619 pages, this book is far too long.

The book title Redemption Song is taken from the Bob Marley song of the same name. Strummer and Jones were massive reggae fans, responsible for introducing many white kids to the genre. Redemption is something I think we all seek. Strummer was particularly active in his quest, directly interacting with fans, getting involved with causes such as Rock Against Racism, and actively bringing disparate people together. This is why, despite the rock-and-roll trappings, his fans forgive him his many trespasses. Joe Strummer was earnest and his songs authentic in their yearning and urgency, remaining relevant to this day.

The Tao of Keef

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>From the New York Time blog Paper Cuts:

On May 5, just in time for Mother’s Day, Bloomsbury will publish What Would Keith Richards Do? Daily Affirmations From a Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivor. The author, Jessica Pallington West, writes in the introduction:

‘The Tao of Keith is one of humanity, of seeing with clarity and looking at the bigger picture of history and culture. There is a respect for the mystical and a reverence for the creative. … He’s rock ‘n’ roll matured, a visionary and a rogue: a prophet minstrel who’s walked through fire. … With Keith, we have a new form of guru: a modern, streetwise, urban guru.’

Funny, but why a book? Ok, rhetorical question, I know. I just want to know what Mr. Richards has against cheese! I guess the bit about him falling out of a coconut tree will be cut. Or maybe that’s what makes him an “urban guru.” Very zen, grasshopper.

Phil Spector Found Guilty

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>This is a few days old, but worth of posting here: Phil Spector was found guilty of second-degree murder!

From The Toronto Star:

Second-degree murder carries a penalty of 15 years to life in prison. The use-of-a-gun enhancement adds three, four or 10 years in prison, according to the district attorney’s office.

Defence lawyer Doron Weinberg said he believed the case was swayed by the judge’s erroneous rulings, particularly one that allowed five women from Spector’s past to testify. He said it would be the basis for appeal and a request for a new trial.

Spector’s young wife, Rachelle, sobbed as the decision was announced.

Rachelle has no idea how close she came…

My previous post: “Give’em Enough Rope.”

Art and Life and Death

Ike Turner died earlier this month. According to ex-wife Tina, he beat her up and abused drugs. He denied the charges. Regardless, he was one of the inventors of rock and roll.

Phil Spector stands accused of murdering Lana Clarkson. According to the State of California, he killed her. The defense called her death by a shotgun blast to the face a suicide. Regardless, he invented the “Wall of Sound.”

Music and art is full of men who are abusive and otherwise despicable. But I’d be a hypocrite if I said their art didn’t make my world a better place; indeed, I’d have to give up all my records and books if I wanted to absent their influence. Many years ago, I recall having a discussion with another feminist about how I could like many of the artists who behaved badly or criminally. How could I like John Lennon, for example, after he wrote “ Run For Your Life” for Rubber Soul:

Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or I won’t know where I am

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end’a little girl

Well you know that I’m a wicked guy
And I was born with a jealous mind
And I can’t spend my whole life
Trying just to make you toe the line

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end’a little girl

Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I’ve said
Baby, I’m determined
And I’d rather see you dead

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end’a little girl

I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or you won’t know where I am
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end’a little girl

Pretty scary stuff. Pretty evil. Pretty amazing that the same guy late wrote “Imagine” and was hailed as a peace-loving anti-war hippie. Perhaps Yoko, that bastion of feminist ardor, reformed the bad boy.

It doesn’t matter that Lennon changed his tune. That was up to him, the artist, to do so. Did he make good art apart from “Run For Your Life”? Yes. So did Phil Spector. I’d be a lying if I said I hated Spector’s influence on pop. The same holds true for Ike Turner. I have no doubt he assaulted Tina and abused drugs. But he made some great music. That doesn’t forgive him his trespasses, but music fans should not have to make a choice between good art and a bad person. That’s up to the individual. I’m not about to say I can’t like a record, but I can say I don’t like a person: I don’t ever want to be in a room with Phil Spector let alone have a beer with him.

If you really want to get angry about the war on women— and I do believe one rages—think of this: more women were killed by their spouses than US soldiers were killed in Iraq (see War on Women by Brian Vallee ). One teenage girl died in Toronto as a result of disobeying her father. Hundreds if not thousands of women are murdered by male family members because they “dishonour” the family by refusing to marry against their will. That has nothing to do with culture. That has everything to do with hate.

I read somewhere that women are a little safer now that Ike Turner is dead. What naïve simplistic shit: we are no more safe now than we were yesterday. And we won’t be safe for a very long time. There isn’t one cause that can be rectified to guarantee our safety. It’s complex and wrinkly and multifaceted. Like people.

I believe that Phil Spector killed Lana Clarkson, and he should be found guilty and locked up for life with no chance of parole. I believe that there must be more shelters for women seeking refuge from potentially deadly spouses.

And I believe that good, even great art, can be made by fatally flawed people. And I can still appreciate that art as a part of the human condition.


If you’re old enough to remember when the Beach Boys (minus Brian Wilson) released this crap single, then you may cotton on to what I mean by it: shit music made by has-been geezers to cash-in on nostalgia. Hawaiian shirts are optional.

Nostalgia is like tequila: fun in small doses, but know when to cut yourself off before it gets ugly. This goes for so-called 80s music as it does for 60s, but Generation X’s market share isn’t as big as the Baby Boomers’, who, it seems can’t hold their liquor.

To see that I’m not alone, check out Jon Fine’s media column in Business Week where he comments on David Brooks’ op-ed piece “The Segmented Society” in the New York Times.

Tony Wilson Dead

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From The Guardian:

Anthony Wilson, the Manchester music impresario who founded Factory Records and the Hacienda nightclub, died last night, aged 57, after a heart attack on Thursday. A leading light in the “Madchester” popular culture boom of the late 1980s and early 90s, he had been battling kidney cancer since early 2006.

The Salford-born journalist brought bands including Joy Division, New Order, the Happy Mondays and James to a wider audience. His record label’s pioneering approach to design and architecture also helped kick-start Manchester’s transformation into a European cultural centre.

From NME

[Creation Record’s Alan McGee]’Factory Records was the template for every indie label with its 50-50 deals [between artist and label] and I can honestly say without Factory there would have been no Creation. In fact if it wasn’t for his talk to us in 1985 I might have quit music all together.’

Good books on Wilson and what he did:
Mick Middles,From Joy Division to New Order: The True Story of Anthony H. Wilson and Factory Records, (London: Virgin Books, 2002).

Chris Ott, Unknown Pleasures, (New York: Continuum, 2004).



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