Monthly Archives: April 2011

Tea With Chris: Florizona –> Torontopia

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: Back in grade school, the George Grosz drawing that I came across in a textbook rattled me more than anything this side of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The sheer ferocity was disquieting. I mention it because a Grosz design is featured in this arresting collection of Weimar-era book covers, images of industrialism, intrigue and distorted forms from a world on the cusp of annihiliation.

Bill Blackbeard, who passed away last month, saved innumerable pieces of comics history from mouldering decay. Here’s how, and why.

This is not Vince Foster. This is not Swiftboating. This is the dude who passed health care reform as ‘the biggest Affirmative Action in history.’ This is the whitey tape. This is ‘you are an Indonesian welfare thug.’ This is the host of ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ questioning the intellect of the past editor of the Harvard Law Review. This is the scion of inherited money as populist, and the scion of a teen single-mother as elitist. This is, if you were white, you and the black dude who came before wouldn’t be here. This is we don’t believe you. In other words, this is a racism of the bone.”

Carl: It’s a bit ridiculous how often I bring Ann Powers to tea, but she’s now officially writing and broadcasting for National Public Radio now, and she’s had an especially prolific week. But her fine piece about “lifer bands” – the ones you stick with for decades – stands out especially because it’s about the ever-underappreciated Silos, who’ve got a new album out called Florizona, with this lead single, “White Vinyl,” which is simultaneously hilarious and genuinely sexy in a way that’s very tricky to pull off:

That video confused me a little, because the level of artwork done for it seemed to be disproportionate to what one does for a video, especially for an indie band. But then I discover it was actually a wholesale import of the art by photographer John Eder (who actually cowrote the song), from his book, Florida House (that link on the title should get you to an online flipbook of the whole thing – if it doesn’t work you can get there through the “Portfolio” link on his site), which tells plainspoken tales of growing up in south Florida in the 1970s, with tons of Eder’s work in a vein that I might classify as Googie-Photoshop Expressionism or something. Checkitout.

Type Books, which is just short of being the only remaining independent bookstore in downtown Toronto, is having a birthday party featuring “pop-up” readings from 18 writers tomorrow. You should pop in.

Simple idea but the execution is perfect: Way funnier than I expected.

But the main thing I did this week was write this piece, primarily of local interest. You may want to avoid if you acquired an allergy to the term “Torontopia” in the past decade, but I am hopeful that it recharges and redirects the conversation on some level. Maybe more to follow in the future.

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Weird Little Lines

by Chris Randle

Earlier this week I profiled the scary-talented young cartoonist Michael DeForge, who’s up for three Doug Wright Awards on May 7. But our interview ran long, and got nerdy, so I thought I would share a couple of the more illuminating excisions here.

CR: You recently posted a few pages from The Seed Stirs, a graphic novel that you started drawing last year before abandoning and pretty much destroying it. Why did you finally give up on it? Do you ever worry that something like that might become some fabled lost comic, like Al Columbia’s issue of [the unfinished Alan Moore miniseries] Big Numbers?

MICHAEL DEFORGE: I don’t think anyone’s keeping track of my projects very closely [laughs]. That one went through a few false starts. At first it had a premise that ended up – it was more about a kid’s relationship with his father, and that ended up being the bulk of Lose #3. Then as I kept rewriting it and reworking pages I ended going through three different revisions. Each time I got a few pages in…the final one I got about 17 pages in, I think. But there’s all these things I thought were wrong with the pacing and needed retooling, and some of it was just down to – I realized that I needed to draw it on bigger pages to do what I wanted with it. I just couldn’t use it anymore. And since then…I’d like to return to it, but I feel like I exhausted a lot of post-apocalyptic imagery in Lose #3, so I might want to wait a bit before I immediately return to that. The other thing is that post-apocalyptic literature is really in vogue, moreso than that comic is actually about the logistics of it. Lose #3 takes place in this wasteland, but it’s not a post-apocalyptic thing–

CR: It’s almost a subversion of it. It takes place in this wasteland, but nobody actually seems to notice or care that it does.

MD: Right. Which is a part of it, yeah, but The Seed Stirs was more about these kids living there. So I was afraid I’d be too influenced by a lot of the other stuff that’s happening right now with that. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to wait a few years and decide if I still liked the story.

CR: I guess you could always have chopped up the pages and turned them into a record cover, like Al Columbia apparently did.

MICHAEL DEFORGE: Oh, right, yeah. That’s a horrifying story.

CR: Tell me about the porn anthology that you’re co-editing.

MD: That’s with Ryan Sands, and the first issue will feature Johnny Negron, Derek Ballard, Katie Skelly…That’s been fun to work on. I don’t do a lot of work on that. Anything like that, I always feel like I don’t really earn the title of co-editor, because I’m so passive about everything. But I’m excited about that. Hopefully in the course of the two issues we’ll have a range of sexuality represented there.

CR: I was going to ask about that, actually, if there’s going to be female contributors, because it is great to have a mix of – to not just have boys doing it.

MD: Yeah. The first issue has one female contributor – we might have a second, but as of now it’s not confirmed yet [laughs]. And the second issue, I’ll be the only male contributor. We have less gay material than we might have hoped, but we’re not trying to include one of everything – a lot of the artists that we pick, we pick for aesthetic concerns too. We haven’t been super prescriptive about it, so we’re kind of just seeing how it goes. We’ve been picking artists who we trust and we think would make a diverse mix and seeing what the end result will be.

CR: You should totally approach Gilbert Hernandez [best known for Love & Rockets, but also his bizarre XXX miniseries Birdland].

MD: That would be a dream. That would be amazing.

CR: I think Birdland and maybe Colleen Coover’s Small Favors are…the height of porn comics.

MD: This year was the first time I read Birdland, which is a pretty crazy one.

CR: How everyone changes gender in the middle of it?

MD: Hernandez might be – he’s someone I came to way later, too, but he might be my favourite working cartoonist right now. I don’t know, tied with Clowes or Ware or something, but he’s been a huge influence on me despite my having only come to his work two years ago.

CR: I think he might be my favourite as well, just because we share more of the same cultural touchstones or aesthetic fixations. And I like how…rough his work is, especially in comparison with his brother. Even his clouds look like they’re from another world.

MD: Yeah, the amounts of weird tiny little lines that make up his textures are just amazing. He does my all-time favourite page layouts, I think.

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Beyonce, “Run the World (Girls)”

by Chris Randle

Stephen, Michael, Jack, Gilles: Who cares? We’re done with parties now (though not partying). Oh, we still have elections, but they tend to be foregone affairs. Piping “Say My Name” into a darkened booth does wonders for voter turnout. And Beyonce’s is the only name on the ballot. B demands your X.

It happened a few years ago. Some people started calling the fateful morning B’Day, but that was swiftly proscribed for being unfunny. A bloodless coup – is “bloodless” the right word for Beyonce marching on the presidential compound in a black catsuit? It was nonviolent. Those images have entered official iconography, like the old press photos revamped as revolutionary posters, with her jaw set anew. Or the gold records blown up to Stalinist scale. Clocks don’t strike a bell anymore – they hit hi-hats.

There’s patronage, of course, but we had that before. Jay-Z, no longer too interested in rapping, got the finance ministry. Tina Knowles runs the state investment company. Diplo was made Minister of Snare Drums and Horse Noises. The House of Deréon spreads its royal jelly across the globe: Canada being one of the more reluctant colonies, with anti-pop partisans dug in deep, our current legate is Solange. It beats the Windsors.

The new regime isn’t always so benevolent in its dictation. Beyonce meets Angela Merkel and Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir for talks, receives ambassadors from Mu Mu Land and Rhythm Nation, negotiates with Gaga and Rihanna, but does she still care about women who don’t run the world? It’s like pledging allegiance to a hedge fund, opaque, mercantile and brilliant. For two minutes every day, we citizens are enjoined to post haterish comments on Kelly Rowland clips (it got easier after she began collaborating with David Guetta). But muchness and militarism look better on Beyonce than they do on the old boss. And nobody even dares to suggest defunding Planned Parenthood.

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Little Boxes #43

(from Louis Riel, by Chester Brown, 2003)

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Tea With Chris: Jonathan Franzen Needs a Weed Carrier

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Carl: My tea for Easter Weekend will just be this simple, inspiring urban parable – classify under the Hipster Bogeyman/“What If God Was One of Us?” Suitable for downtown sermons and bar mitzvahs.

Chris: Seth, fashion designer.

Biggie, charming gentleman.

Elif Batuman, funny lady.

Emma Healey, resonant Gramophone.

Margaux: All happening in Toronto tonight:  Godspeed You! Black Emperor plays at Lee’s Palace, Tomboyfriend plays at The Garrison and Sherwin Tjia’s Strip Spelling Bee is taking place at Buddies in Bad Times.

David Rakoff writes about illness and we think about communication and a person’s life, and our eyes get wet – (thanks to David Berlin).

A good time to look at some snowflakes under a microscope.

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Friday Pictures – Malcolm Katt

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Little Boxes #42

(Pierre and Margaret Trudeau, by Kate Beaton, 2008)

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Tea With Chris: A Secular Hymn to Atoms

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: This clip has already gone viral, but that doesn’t make it any less charming. Who knew that Waka Flocka’s bitterly reflective line about saying “Fuck school” could be repurposed for kindergarten adorableness? (Okay, different songs, but still.)

The Singles Jukebox righteously tears apart Katy Perry’s “E.T.” in the process of giving it a 2.45: “Then you start singing lyrics about wanting to be with an alien, a time-tested metaphor for race even if you hadn’t clarified that he was ‘foreign.’ And then you sing about wanting to be a victim and being abducted. In other words, you’re spouting some really fucking racist bullshit, Katy Perry.”

Margaux: Toronto’s best friend Becky Johnson has launched a kickstarter campaign to raise money for her 2011 summer tour. There are rewards. The campaign closes April 27, 2011. Here is the link if you would like to know how Becky usually makes money.

Carl: Lots of tea from me to try to compensate for my lack of posting:

This beautiful and popular YouTube video, a Japanese ad for a wooden cellphone, glorifies nature not just in its cinematography but in its reversal of the abstraction of music – taking the mathematical mysticism of Bach’s praise cantata, and turning it back into one piece of matter striking another and producing a tone, over and over again. The materiality of the forest encounters the materiality of the ball rolling down the ramp and both are mediated by the materiality of vision, making it all a secular hymn to atoms. And yet there’s the underside: Seeing this enormous wooden ramp built in the middle of the woods, for an elaborate lark whose pleasure is ultimately comercially motivated, can’t help conjuring up the reality that forests are vanishing, that we’re wasting a shitload of wood all the time and emperiling the very natural beauty the ad celebrates. And it’s all for a wooden cellphone, an object that’s itself a punchline to a bad joke about technology and luxury and human (un)nature. It’s perfect, and also perfectly ridiculous.

Montreal journalist Eric Rumble has a newish site called LPWTF, where he looks into the story behind Canadian record covers. I like this entry about the above-reproduced cover of Colin Stetson’s amazing sax-barrage set New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, in particular, because all the little joints and bends in it articulate so much about the artistic process: how it often proceeds very haphazardly to the retrospectively inevitable. Stetson had one idea and the artist took it completely another way, then found out her idea had already been done, and so came up with another version, which she then realized by finding a company in China that made something she didn’t know existed… And the result was much better than anything anyone would have conceived in the absence of all the accidents. It’s a nice way to write about art, although artists aren’t always willing or able to be so transparent and helpful.

I read quite a few poems this week by Noah Eli Gordon. A few years ago he published a book called Inbox made up of emails he’d gotten, stripped of context, over a period of time. His latest book is called The Source, and it’s composed of texts he found in thousands of books in the Denver Public Library, always on page 26. The results are tender and philosophical while also, appropriately enough, a little bit stubborn and elusive-feeling. I like this conceptual-writing thing, but I wonder about its emotional limitations that way, and also whether the people who stump for it are concerned about those emotional limitations, and if not why not.

And then I become very glad that Ken Babstock has a new book of poems called Methodist Hatchet – I am glad both that it exists and that it’s called that. (Along the LPWTF lines, Bill Douglas explains how Methodist Hatchet‘s cover was designed).

Here, as part of a project by How Pedestrian of people reading poems in public places, someone named City T at the DMV in North Miami reads a poem from the book (text here) called “To Inflame the Civic Temper.” Its first line is, “Hey, Assface in the Hydroplane!” All the nouns in the poem are capitalized, a nice Victorian touch to balance out all the cursing.

And here is Ken himself reading in front of St. George subway station in October. His book launches as part of the annual Anansi Poetry Bash, Thursday, April 28, 8 p.m., upstairs at LeVack Block, 88 Ossington St., Toronto.

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Friday Pictures – Alika Cooper

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“The Perfect Lullaby,” by Nguzunguzu (2011)

by Chris Randle

The trouble with Nguzunguzu being so great? Their name is still hard to type. (Can we call this the Merrill Garbus Problem?) At least that mouthful of a moniker, inspired by carvings from the Solomon Islands, suits their whorled rhythms. The DJ duo have a monomaniacal side: their “Moments in Love” mix unites 20+ remixes and edits of the old Art of Noise single. But my favourite thing they’ve ever done is the recent “Perfect Lullaby” set, and it moves across a larger, more expansive canvas. Merging gauzy, feather-light reworkings of AAA R&B (Ciara, Amerie’s “1 Thing,” The-Dream) into a carefully assembled whole, the mix is 48 minutes of unrelieved loveliness.

Nguzunguzu’s approach to R&B diverges from the lo-fi, indie-friendly, highly controversial aesthetic of How to Dress Well or the Weeknd. The former sounds as if he’s recording inside a drainpipe, while the latter prefer their tracks listless, washed-out and Beach-House-sampling. But hey, I like a lot of songs that might have been captured on equipment found curbside, and not in spite of that. It’s just that the production of “Perfect Lullaby” better amplifies its borrowed vocals, remains sensitive to their emotional nuances.

In the Weeknd’s alienated lyrics, sex and its catalysts are oppressively constant, the bottle service of the damned. This transcendent Nguzunguzu remix of Ciara’s “Deuces” remix (more tongue-twisting) conjures up a different vision of the party’s end: Thought that it was perfect, hope that it was worth it / But I’ll be okay, no more stress, no more pain / I’ll be straight, I’m chucking up them deuces.

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