Tag Archives: will munro

Tea With Chris: Vazaleen for Every Stripe of Artistic Devadasi

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

Chris: Michael Comeau, who designed them, has begun uploading posters for Will Munro’s city-altering Vazaleen parties onto Tumblr every day (via). As DeForge says, essential Toronto archiving.

“Comics will break your heart.”

Carl: Whether or not your political align with his, Michael Lind did some useful work this week in his threepart series in Salon of breaking down the current language of economic populism on both sides of the ideological divide, and, one can only hope, restoring the term “rentier class” to our vocabularies.
In another analytical mode, Richard Nash provides a refreshing, historically deep examination of the state of literature and publishing that is an immense relief from the blah-blah-money-blah of the day-in-and-out digital-dread discourse. To spoil the ending for you: “Let’s restore to publishing its true reputation — not as a hedge against the future, not as a bulwark against radical change, not as a citadel amidst the barbarians, but rather as the future at hand, as the radical agent of change, as the barbarian. The business of literature is blowing shit up.”

In that spirit, Emily M. Keeler talks to former jail librarian and author Avi Steinberg about what writing means in prison.

Last week in TWC, I paid tribute to the late Jason Molina. This week his fellow songwriter and friend Will Johnson lays a beautiful mourning cloth over those bones.

This week it is the time to mourn Paul Williams of Crawdaddy! magazine fame, one of the inventors of rock criticism as the barbarian. He started when he was 17, and stopped too soon. May our own maverick wildings someday make up for his lost time.
Also in sequels, in this week’s Tuesday Musics, I presented some discoveries that came courtesy of a talk by Ian Nagoski. Here is one I alluded to but didn’t follow up, the Indian classical singer Kesarbai Kerkar, whose amazing story (itself an epic Indian tale of humiliation, pride, discipline, triumph and withdrawal)  is dwarfed by her actual art. (Thanks to Gabe Levine for the find.)

And for bonus points: Eraserhead-era David Lynch on new-wave public-access TV.

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Tea With Chris: Disorienting Pleasures

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

Margaux: B.F. Skinner, the villainized behavioral scientist, is the ghost behind the most recent issue of the Atlantic. I pulled B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” years ago from a random bookshelf scan because I thought the title was funny. All I knew about B.F. Skinner was that, as an experiment, he put his young daughter in a box. The title seemed appropriate for such a man. Though when I read the book, it was surprisingly thoughtful and interesting, and B.F. Skinner kind of seemed more like a friend than a comical monster. Since then, I’ve always had warm feelings towards Principal Skinner, the good-intentioned principle on The Simpsons who continuously gets abused.

The Atlantic‘s headlining article “The Perfect Self” by David H. Freedman is about how B.F. Skinner’s behavioral science is in the lead for the  figuring-out-how-to-combat-obesity race. David H. Freedman reminds us that B.F. Skinner was strongly against punishment in the area of behaviorial modification and that, to date, the most sinister manifestation of his findings is Weight Watchers.

B.F. Skinner’s main theory: “All organisms tend to do what the world around them rewards them for doing. When an organism is in some way prompted to perform a certain behaviour, and that behavoir is ‘reinforced’ – with a pat on the back, nourishment, comfort, money – the organism is more likely to repeat the behaviour,” is echoed in other neighboring  articles.

It’s a challenge to make your own positive behavioral boxes or to spot the boxes that others have put you in. The Atlantic explores some of these puzzles with an Editor’s Note from James Bennet, a short story on the evils of good students desperate for the right awards by Molly Patterson, “Honors Track”, and a short text on “Dumb Kids’ Class” by Mark Bowden, who discusses the benefits of being underestimated. Mark Bowden himself bounced back between dumb and smart class as did I and probably lots of kids do around the age of eleven – as you try to work out which is your more advantageous option (or your teachers try to work out which is their more advantageous option).

I always love  dumb or stupidity as a subject. Like in some of John Currin’s work,

or in this this exceedingly pleasing 2003 documentary by Albert Nerenberg, Stupidity. You can see the full documentary here. If I remember correctly the best parts of it were short interviews with the very few acedemics in the world who study stupidity – attempting to talk about it still seems to be a curse or a taboo, something that can get you in all sorts of trouble. During the interviews, when the academics made any mistakes in speaking, they would look around slowly and cautiously as though someone was about to accuse them of being a moron. Such disorienting pleasures!

Speaking of disorienting pleasures, I just went to the contemporary museum in Bentonville, Arkansas that Alice Walton of the Walmart family founded, Crystal Bridges.

Carl: I am going to use Natalie Zina Walschots’ prose-poem-like “Postcards from the Polaris Prize” (parts One and Two) to help me decide how to fill the final space on my ballot, because they’re the best things the Polaris ever made happen except for the prize itself.

Maybe I will vote for Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life, because Natalie wrote: “David fires a rock at the forehead of Goliath. David is seventeen feet tall and made of marble. David is willing to send a soldier to his death after watching a woman bathe. David is an award-winning environmentalist and broadcaster. David is sometimes called Ziggy Stardust, sometimes the Goblin King. David is married to a Spice Girl. David has been frozen, buried, and locked in a plexiglass case suspended above the River Thames.” Or maybe Marie-Pierre Arthur’s record, because Nat says, ” In every movie that ever brushes against the narrative of a young woman coming-of-age, there is a scene is which she is sitting in the passenger seat of a car, the window rolled down, holding her hand out in the wind like it is a smooth bird.” Though I think that might be a very subtle insult.

This week I discovered Jenny Woolworth’s Women in Punk Blog, which only has a post every four or five months, but one of those posts is an 86-page including interviews with Alice Bag and Liliput, and other posts are entire mixtapes. So quit yer complaining. Also, this is a good list. And so is this. And the Supreme Court didn’t strike down health-care reform, so Happy Canada and/or America Day, or neither if you prefer.

Chris: I’m always reticient to link to my B2TW comrades here, because it can seem a little too incestuous, but Margaux’s Paris Review advice column response to the misguided query “What books impress a guy? What should I read to seem cool, sexy, and effortlessly smart?” was so impious and wise: “The only way to be cool, sexy and effortlessly smart without just being seemingly so is to build your own stupid house of books. Feel free to use all the wrong books in all the wrong ways, but the house really has to be real and you need to know why the house is there, in that specific location, in that specific configuration.”

“I am going to write a poem about using Meryl Streep’s laugh as a ringtone. / I’ve bookmarked an LA Times article from 1989 / in which her giggle eruptions are explored with great amazement. / I’ve tweeted extensively on the tone and timbre of/ each particular laugh.”

Up here Canada Day shares its 24 hours with Pride, a happy coincidence indeed. I’ll be at Shame, wearing a Will Munro pin, and this week Sarah Liss explained why.

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Tuesday Musics: “Ode to Self-Publishing” (aka “Fear of Zine Failure”), The Hidden Cameras, 2001

by Carl Wilson

In preparation for my talk this weekend at the EMP Pop Conference, I’ve been sifting through a lot of archival imagery, music and documents from the vicinity of the moment formerly known as “Torontopia.” Here is a ground-zero kind of example – the Hidden Cameras (the band that birthed a thousand bands) at Vazaleen (the event that arguably birthed a new Toronto queer culture) in March of 2001. I am too busy coming up with things to say about it to say anything about it now. What happened? This happened. But what happened?

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Friday Pictures – Will Munro

 

Will Munro / No Tears for the Creatures of the Night / 2004

 

Will Munro and Collaborators / Junction Community Quilt / 2004

 

Will Munro / Silence=Death

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Tea With Chris: History, Glamour, Magic

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: If you live in Toronto and can spare the time between now and…March, I urge you to go see History, Glamour, Magic, a show at York University’s gallery devoted to the art and activism and life of the late Will Munro. We’ve written about Will here before, but this exhibition’s far broader context better demonstrates his importance. The underwear he lovingly reworked hangs suspended up above, as if awaiting the unrestrained denizens of some heavenly tenement; a further room houses pieces he made while the end was already approaching, such as those from Inside the Solar Temple of the Cosmic Leather Daddy (2010), which unite Tom of Finland iconography with the ancient Egyptian variety. There’s a wall of glorious posters silk-screened for his many parties and DJ gigs, nights with names like Peroxide and Moustache. The curators understood that these were equally integral to Will’s do-it-ourselves practice.

I actually missed the raunchy apex of his flagship event Vazaleen – it went from monthly to occasional when I was barely 18. The glass cases filled with vintage photos, flyers and press clippings emphasize just how radical it was at first: a queer bacchanal (with straight sympathizers) outside the traditional gay village, women making up half the throng, which played off loud, punkish rock and glittery dance music not as foes or strangers but kinky kissing cousins. If all that seems unremarkable now, in Toronto and elsewhere, it’s because his vanguard and their parties staged a revolution. I never knew Will very well, though he was almost impossibly friendly and encouraging whenever we met, but I feel so grateful to be one of its children. Looking at the piece below, I remembered the last time I saw him, at Vazoween ’09. Among the final songs in his final DJ set was that sexual liberation anthem George Michael smuggled inside an anti-corporate one: All we have to do now is take these lies and make them true / All we have to see is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me.

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Ad Austra

by Chris Randle

I was planning to write a real post this week, I swear. Then one of the people I wanted to interview for it came down with a nasty flu. Instead, like Carl last time round, I’m going to share a B2TW-friendly piece from parts elsewhere – my Toronto Standard interview with Katie Stelmanis. Here’s the intro:

“Many theological, mythological and esoteric traditions suggest that knowing an individual’s true name gives one power over them.

But the ancients never had to agonize over band names. Toronto’s Katie Stelmanis switched her stage moniker to Austra last year, and if that handle is less enigmatic than it seems — it’s just her middle name — the change corresponds with a greater musical one. The distorted keyboards and MIDI effects of her 2008 solo debut Join Us have given way to dark, atmospheric electro-pop on Austra’s upcoming Feel It Break, lushly produced and pledged to rhythm. […]

The final result was a little more formal than I might prefer, but that’s magazines for you, and most of them wouldn’t couple the Q&A with 22 minutes of Austra performing inside an artificial cave. Yes, I’m excited about this Toronto Standard business. Carl will be writing for it too. In the meantime, I leave you with a bonus question, ’cause blogs don’t have no word count:

CR: I know it’s not included on the album, but what drew you to cover that Roy Orbison song, “Crying”?

KS: That song…Whenever I choose cover songs, I always choose songs that are really fun for me to sing. And I think, also, songs that are different from the songs that I write. That song is 100% about the words, and about the melody, and the words are just as strong as the melody. I often don’t listen to words when I listen to music, but in that song they’re so potent and so strong that it’s really enjoyable for me to sing. I feel like I’m telling a story, and it’s…it’s a really emotional and beautiful song, and I always take pleasure in singing songs that are telling a story, because my songs don’t really do that.

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Tea With Chris: Sphinx and Pharaohs

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: It was written before Mubarak fell, but this analysis of the dynamics and forces in the upcoming power plays in Egypt is helpful and clarifying. Thanks to Jacob Wren.

Ever wonder what it would be like if someone tried to rap in that hardcore-punk growly voice? Wonder no longer. As Damian Abraham of Fucked Up showed this week in the second half of a duet with Toronto rapper D-Sisive, it would be awesome.

Margaux: Lots of good fun, love and art-for-the-buying tonight at * S P H I N X * Beaver-DJ Blowout Fundraiser Art Auction! A fundraiser celebration in honour of Will Munro’s birthday. The art will be sold through a silent auction from 6pm-10pm at the Beaver on Queen West. Art from Sholem Krishtalka, Oliver Husain, Deirdre Logue & Allyson Mitchell, Ed Pien and lots of others including me. All the funds will be donated to the Will Munro Memorial Fund for queers living with cancer. More information on the Facebook event page.

Claire Egan

Chris: In certain circles Richard McGuire is best known as a member of Liquid Liquid, the venerable NYC underground band slated to open LCD Soundsystem’s final show this April. He didn’t just play one of the great basslines, though – he also drew “Here,” a best-ever comic originally published in RAW. Now you can read it on the internet.

Meanwhile, here’s a story about what may have happened to the lost fourth issue of Alan Moore’s unfinished Big Numbers, featuring Sebadoh, Douglas Wolk and collage.

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Friday Pictures – Shaan Syed and Luc Tuymans

 

photo from Will Munro’s Memorial/ Celebration
photo by Shaan Syed (2010)

 

Luc Tuymans, Turtle, (2007)

 

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Working in Close-Up: Fiery Furnaces, Patti Smith, Will Munro, Tracy Wright

by Carl Wilson

When I first saw Eleanor Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces perform, I was (like many others) reminded of Patti Smith. But it’s in the angle of E.F.’s nose and the insolence of her mouth and the willfully untended hair, not in her voice really. E.F. has a well-bred, kids’-TV-meets-cabaret approach to singing a story, like a book on tape, her consonants so crisp it’s like they’re sweating little beads of tart apple juice. It’s more as if Edith Nesbit fronted a rock band, or Edith Wharton. Still, Smith and the Fiery Furnaces both build word-drunk narratives over a musical scaffold from the heavier end of classic rock (though in Smith’s heyday those classics were new); and they both depend on partnerships between a woman who sings and a guy who plays guitar. Smith’s most famous collaborator is Lenny Kaye, though there have been others. Eleanor Friedberger’s foil is Matthew Friedberger, her brother.

When you hear or see Patti Smith, you know that for all her generosity, she’s also a diva. The songs are her stories, the music the altar on which her words are burned and transfigured. It can be inflected, recharged, reframed by different partners, but its essence is singular. When I first heard the Friedbergers, by contrast, I imagined that the process of making music for them was like a couple of siblings goofing around with a tape recorder and making up stories.

Later, my impression shifted. Maybe Matthew was the controlling creative interest and Eleanor a performer/interpreter. But then on their most recent record, I’m Going Away, Eleanor apparently wrote the majority of the lyrics. Such a back-and-forth makes as much sense as any sort of specialization between a creative pair; my desire to get at the truth about their method – was Matt really some kind of Richard Carpenter figure, the music nerd exploiting his beautiful singing sister? – was my own problem. It was a compulsion to pin the artists in place. (The better to explain you with, my dears.)

I dropped in to see the Furnaces again last night at the Drake Underground in Toronto. The place was only half-full, surprising for a band that used to crowd much bigger halls. Their excursions into long-form suites, one of them based on recordings they made with their grandma, seem to have worn down the more fickle listeners’ patience, even though every record the past few years has been praised as a “return to pop form.” I hope it doesn’t make the FF’s feel that they’re on any kind of downward drift. They certainly don’t play like it. They must appreciate having an audience instead that’s mouthing along with every multisyllabic line.

The band (with Jason Lowenstein [Sebadoh] on bass and Robert D’Amico on drums) doesn’t make it easy for the would-be karaoke singer to follow the bouncing ball, the way it collages their recorded tunes together live into non-stop rolling medleys (I thought of Gilbert & Sullivan more than once, and Glee) that change from show to show. That element is, no matter who contributes what, perhaps the most fascinating outgrowth of this living study in collaboration. It’s difficult to know, but there seems to be no solid set list; Matt would just veer into another song at the tail end of the last, and with a practised grace, Eleanor would land on the first, wordplay-packed line as if she’d known what was coming and had already baked it a cake. Serve and volley; call and response.

Eleanor stands in the traditional place of the preacher, at the centre of the stage, to whom Matt plays choir director (or talk-show band leader); it’s not a role reversal in which second banana is secretly boss, because once he’s called the cue she once again has primary command (instrumentals are brief and gestural). It’s more like Lester Young and Billie Holiday, maybe – each power sovereign in its canton within the federated state of the song. Even on record Fiery Furnaces songs seem built like a collective of interconnected duchies or archipelagos, and the jumps between locations can weary. They’re a band whose albums can give you jet-lag.

It’s pure speculation but it seems like all these stratagems – and more I haven’t mentioned, especially an album coming out this fall called Take Me ‘Round Again, on which they cover their own songs but re-write each other’s parts – spring from the special nature of inter-sibling collaboration. Perhaps you have to play a lot of games to keep it seeming fair, like dividing up the ice cream evenly. You be the Nazi this time, I’ll be the Allies.

I’m fascinated by familial or romantic collaboration. It’s difficult enough to collaborate with friends, as on this new blog. I’ve been to the outskirts of that even-closer experience, but seldom deep inside. I was once in a band with two of my best friends, one of them an ex-, along with her brother. The interpersonal dynamics were one of the reasons we played only two shows in three years. I’ve been an assistant, a doorperson, a driver, a publicist for other intimates, but usually stayed a step back from the cauldron, kept my potions to myself. I’m not sure whether I think that a lover or family member would know too much about me to take my input seriously, or if I fear that they’d find out too much to go on loving me.

But the prospect definitely spooks and thus beguiles me. When I look at the McGarrigle-Wainwright family, or Toronto’s husband-wife Lullaby Arkestra, or the Furnaces, or any number of other such partnerships, it’s as if they have superpowers. I might over-mysticize the art that results. There’s a sci-fi aphorism that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Perhaps the same could be said of any art that is sufficiently free of fear.

This doesn’t require the conventional kind of family. I am thinking of two people that my city, Toronto, has lost, far too young and almost exactly a month apart, to cancer: One was Will Munro, an artist and party organizer and more, who managed to remap queer (and straight) life in this city. It looked like he was doing it just by getting people to dance in different places to different music. But that wasn’t it. Will was doing it by loving people’s differences more than their similarities; the effect just radiated out, and enabled others to do as he’d done. He died May 21.

Another is Tracy Wright, an actor who brought her sharp, soulful presence to all she touched, whether an experimental performance piece, TV series or movie. She collaborated with loved ones but she also made loved ones of collaborators, a category you could say extended to much of Toronto’s theatre community, as evidenced by the benefit performance of Brecht’s Galileo staged in her honour last month. She was meant to star in it, as Galileo, but then surgery was scheduled and she ended up watching over Skype from her hospital bed. She died this morning. Perhaps her talent was too sharp and particular to attract popular fame; as Galileo apocryphally said, “And yet it moves.”

These days it seems like divas, grand as they are, are too much with us. A sister playing an intricate game of musical catch with her brother shouldn’t be mistaken for and measured by Patti Smith because of her haircut. I hope that because of the way they shared their too-brief creative lives, like siblings or lovers, not bosses or stars, Tracy’s and Will’s spirits will still move and stir among us. Perhaps with enough circulation, enough give and take, this can somehow set to right what, at the end of a sad day, seems so very out of balance.

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