Saturday, October 31, 2015

Video Of The Week: The Secret Storm

The Secret Storm is Lauren Hoffman's latest musical identity, which reflects the fact that she now tours with additional musicians (Hoffman only singing and no longer playing guitar, Cathy Monnes on cello and electric violin, Tony Lechmanski on guitar, Jeff Diehm on bass, Jordan Marchini on drums, and Ethan Lipscomb on keyboard), and her songs are more universal and somehow more personal now that we can separate the artist from the person, as they no longer share the same name (though I still think Broken, which I have covered live and as a fan club single a decade ago with the gender/storyline reversed, remains her best work).

In her own words:
I’ve never felt good about recording under my own name. The ‘Lauren Hoffman’ that shows up on the credit card receipt at the grocery store and the ‘Lauren Hoffman’ who shows up on Spotify just felt like two very different things. I’ve also never really identified with ‘singer/songwriter’ as a genre, even though I am technically a singer and a songwriter. There is this folky connotation that never quite sat right with me. But the main reason for the change is that working under the name The Secret Storm creates this a psychological distinction between me as a person and the work itself. It’s liberating.
In addition to being a long-time fan of her work, there are a few career path similarities between she and I: she was signed to Virgin Records in 1997 and I signed with them in November 1998; she asked out of her contract in 1999, and I was terminated from mine (along with pretty much everyone else not named Lenny Kravitz or Smashing Pumpkins from the Virgin/EMI stable), and since then we've been honing our respective crafts to the best of our abilities - and hers far outrank mine, obviously.

Earlier this summer, The Secret Storm released the In The Sun EP, of which this is the title track, in a video directed by Thomas Smith:

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Video Of The Week: The Strokes

I couldn't think of a better way to sum the week up than saying it's Hard To Explain, as The Strokes so aptly put it in on their seminal 2001 album Is This It? (also their first ever single).

NME, Rolling Stone and Spin were among the band-wagoners who named this either in their top 10s of the year of top 40 of the decade, leading average music listeners to think the band never put out anything else worthy of attention later when, in fact, Juicebox stands as their best track - and one that can favourably be compared to almost any other song put out this millennia.

Still, the video, directed by Roman Coppola, Johannes Gamble and singer Julian Casablancas using mostly found footage was a nice calling card that kept just enough mystery to grab the attention and ask for more, which I guess to some extent, the early-2000s rock scene really did.

I'm of the school of thought that claims The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Jack White saved us from even more Nickleback being thrown at us, and possibly longer reigns for bands like Limp Bizkit. We dodged a bullet, folks, and it started with this:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Canadian Elections 2015: The Fix Is In

In years past, I would have followed the 78-day campaign on an almost daily basis, commented on it, shared my ideas, work towards change. Good change. Decent change. So many ''progressive'' website clamoring for change, working towards ousting Stephen Harper from his position as Prime Minister, and The Man obviously seeing His opportunity to take the power back... and leave the common man out in the cold again.

This is what LeadNow had to show people where the main five parties stood on key issues:
Even through this simplistic graph, you can tell the so-called Liberals are still the closest to the Conservatives on what they stand and promises they're making- and that's pre-election, when their motto is usually ''run on the left, govern on the right''.

The Liberals also usually have the press on their side, because half of their campaign money comes from the media, from Power Corporation (La Presse) to the big Ontario papers to the CBC. Their leader, Justin Trudeau, voted with Harper (despite his and his party's votes not actually counting because, as a majority, the Cons could get all their projects in anyway) a stunning 73% of the time. Which means they agree on 73% of issues at heart, and not for the least:
- C51 is a law that allows the government to spy on its people without warrants (and makes the Patriot Act look tame in comparison)
- the TPP stands to make us lose potentially all our jobs to overseas markets while sending all our (dirty) oil away, while ending regulations in many sectors of industry and farming
- they want to continue to push Canada away from peace-keeping military missions and instead send soldiers to actual war
- they give their friends cozy jobs and pensions and cut down on legislation in the sectors they tell them not to have any
Essentially, it's ''meet the new guy, same as the last guy''.

The other party thought to have a ghost of a chance at the beginning of the process was the New Democratic Party, who had formed the official opposition these past four years. Well, the NDP as a whole didn't do much at all. Ruth Ellen Brosseau took every opportunity to stand up and voice her opinion at the Chamber, despite it being for naught, and leader Thomas Mulcair tried to act as the voice of reason, every day, on TV, taking light stabs at both Harper and Trudeau. Hélène Laverdière did a nice job in the streets of downtown Montréal, but her impact in Ottawa was even more limited than Brosseau's. None of their other MPs had been ready to take on their job, and they all crashed and burned early in the campaign. They were a disaster waiting to happen, and it did.

While we're on the topic of ''same as the old guy'', I'd like to point out Mulcair's previous political record. On the provincial scene, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he'd been the lawyer for activist group Alliance Québec, nutjobs who compared the francophone provincial government to the Nazi regime on an almost daily basis.

Later, he became the environmental minister in Jean Charest's Liberal government (yep, he's of that school as well, and Charest was a former Conservative party leader at the federal level...), and while he can be praised for stepping down from his position in protest when the government tried to sell a protected mountain to condo entrepreneurs, he also oversaw the dumping of raw sewage by the city of Longueuil into the St. Lawrence river, an issue that came reflected in this election with Montreal having to do the same for a week while it underwent emergency repairs to its infrastructures.

Among the rest, two stand out the most. The Bloc Québécois once had an impact, and formed the official opposition a lifetime ago, in the 1990s. Unfortunately, they used to be the party that was most to the left and have now become a coalition of all sorts for people hoping for Québec to secede from Canada at pretty much all costs, including the one that comes with abandoning your social-democratic roots and moving towards the right on the wrong issues.

Look at that graph again, you'll notice they're still on the right side of most issues; but the xenophobic element that is a small minority of what they need to get their message across has become too loud a voice to ignore (à la Tea Party for the Republicans in the U.S. circa 2008), not realizing they need to include people of all creeds and origins and walks of life to make their dream of starting anew on a land where all are equal a reality. So, honestly, at this point, fuck them.

The Green Party may seem like the party who has Canadians' interests most at heart, but they'll be lucky to get five people elected. Why? Because although their leader, Elizabeth May, is absolutely delightful with her Maritime charm and honest-to-goodness good values that would make her the best grandma in the world, they don't have a platform, just pipe dreams.

GREEN! TREES! NO FOSSIL FUELS! PEACE AND HARMONY! - it's all fine and dandy, but no plans on foreign policy. No plans on defense - not even abolishing it. No plans on getting the economy back on its feet after Harper took a tar sands-sized shit all over it and deregulated the banks.

Which leaves us with a grand total of zero good candidates.

The lesser evil would still be Mulcair, because he's such a careerist that he'd have to listen to the will of the people when they protested his bullshit.

But no. The fix is in. The media have been on it since the very first week, shoving our ''choice'' down our throat: it's Baby Justin, or Evil Harper. Even though they're the exact same fucking right-wing sell-out puppet 73% of the time (that's not entirely true: Harper actually believes he's doing the right thing; Trudeau gets to that conclusion by thinking it's the ''lesser evil'').

They told us on TV, they told us on their front pages. They bought ads online and on billboards.

They gave us a face we didn't mind looking at, they gave us a name that still rings in English-speaking Canada. They even gave us Brian Mulroney's - a former Conservative Prime Minister - fucking endorsement.

And Canadians ate it up, all that chocolate-flavoured soft-serve bullshit dripping on their fucking chins.

And now I know why I've never felt entirely at home in that stupid, insane fucking country. Why I supported independence when it made sense. Why I moved to NYC. Why I always feel so damn alone.

The fix is in. It'll be a landslide. And it'll fuck us good.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Video Of The Week: Pearl Jam

As I'm nearing the end of a streak of sadness, I decided to cap it off with Pearl Jam's ''official video'' for Just Breathe from their 2009 record Backspacer, which is actually taken from a TV broadcast of their appearance on the 2009 Austin City Limits show. It's fitting, though, as the band has always preferred either live videos or not appearing in them at all - they have a bit of an issue with any type of middle ground or compromise when it comes to their art and public appearances, and become intense when both get combined.

If it sounds reminiscent of Eddie Vedder's 2007 soundtrack for Into The Wild, it's because it it: there was a chord in the song Tuolumne that he decided to play with and expand on two years later, which became Just Breathe, which is one of the many PJ songs dealing with death and cycles ending. Many people deem it the best at conveying that message, while I'm partial to Man Of The Hour from the Tim Burton film Big Fish.

Still, Just Breathe has now replaced Yellow Ledbetter as the sad Pearl Jam song playing in movies and TV shows that want to end on a teary note.

It was covered by Willie Nelson on his 2012 album Heroes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Making Her Mark Marking Her Territory

There's no question we're in the age of trolling, from people voting with potato sacks on their heads to a basketball player's fiancée texting all of his ''side chicks''... all 200 of them.

Now, I don't know anything about basketball except that there's a guy named LeBron James, there used to be a guy named Carmelo Anthony, and that Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, ''Magic'' Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain used to play the sport, when they weren't busy scoring off the field.

Which is admittedly what Victor Cruz seems to be doing as well. Good on Elaina Watley to mark her territory, though. I guess.

Here they are in, presumably, happier days:
Here's the group text she sent:
Touché. Literally.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Game On!

Two years ago, at the draft table of my Hockey Keeper pool (which I win every other year), I made the bold prediction that within ten years, a woman would play in a regular-season NHL game. My reasoning behind this was that with today's defensive systems being so advanced, elite players have seen their points production drop 20 points (the league leaders no longer factor into the high 100s but hover around the mid-80s instead), while goal scoring in general hasn't actually gone down, meaning the very good players' production (i.e. ''the middle-six forwards'' and ''3-4 defensemen'') have instead stabilized their production and are now closer in range to the best of the best.

And the very best women aren't very far from the very good men skill-wise. And they can also play the system that will maximize their potential, like their male counterparts, and keep up; the only knock is their size (at times 20% smaller), meaning their endurance in a grueling 82-game schedule would test their bodies - but that's the case with the smallish men and many rookies as well.

Also, factoring in the salary cap (currently at $71.3M per 23-man team) and the fact that superstars are now getting paid in the $10M range (Patrick Kane earning that with his point-per-game production while Jonathan Toews gets his 60 points while shutting down the opposition), players with ''low'' salaries are prized by general managers throughout the league.

The NHL's minimum wage currently stands at just under $600,000.

There is a Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL), and while many of its teams are supported by their NHL counterpart (particularly the Montréal Stars with the Montréal Canadiens and Calgary Inferno with the Calgary Flames), most of those deals just help compensate the teams' financial losses and pertain to using the NHL's teams' facilities and marketing tools and personnel. The players themselves do not yet get a salary.

Enter the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL), which I referenced last June, based in the U.S. and who will pay their players starting this year, with an average salary of $15,000. Of note that many of these athletes played College hockey and have degrees and can have ''day jobs'', ranging from teachers to engineers. But that still relegates the sport as something of a hobby rather than a job or a career, despite the Olympic medals they likely all have.

There's a world of difference between $15K and $600K. There isn't one between a 25-year-old Olympian woman and an average NHLer, be it of the veteran (a 35-year-old slowing down) kind or rookie type (so young that a year or two in the minors might be beneficial), let alone for the few who have tons of heart but little offensive or defensive skills.

It's a question of math, on both sides: if you can get 80% of the production at 60% of the cost, or even the same production at the same cost, general managers will have to one day decide that women are worth what they can bring. And on the players' part, earning 30 times your salary might be a good reason to put that teaching career on hold for a couple of years.

But first things first, the NWHL played their first games last night. Manon Rhéaume, who played an exhibition game for the Tampa Bay Lightning 25 years ago, proceeded to do the ceremonial puck drop:

Game on!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Video Of The Week: Miranda Lambert

I used to think of Miranda Lambert as a boring, new-country singer who may have been a puppet not just from her managers but also the industry; she was married to a rather beige performer (Blake Shelton) who is so into prefabricated crap that he is a judge on The Voice, and I thought it reverberated on her as well.

That was until I heard this week's featured song, Mama's Broken Heart. The 2013 single from her 2011 album Four The Record didn't sound as generic to me as many of her other stuff; in fact, it reminded me of what Nikki Lane does, it had a real sense of danger that was fueled by pain and anger, but also a lust for life.

The song would also work as a ballad, but with its upbeat tempo really is reminiscent of Nikki Lane, especially with the overblown pseudo-rock chorus. It also works really well in light of Lambert's alleged extra-conjugal affairs... (beige never keeps the girl).

The beautiful, light-coloured video was directed by Trey Fanjoy, a regular nominee at country music award shows who has also directed videos for Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack, Keith Urban, George Strait, Lonestar, and Reba McEntire, as well as pop act Atomic Kitten, singer-songwriters Jewel and Sheryl Crow, renegade Steve Earle and whatever Aerosmith's Steven Tyler does now that he's a solo artist.

Friday, October 2, 2015

R.I.P. Angie

The smallest and youngest of my two cats, Angie, left this realm today, at the ripe old age of 8. She had cardiac issues and a blood clot had formed near her aorta, and it paralyzed her hind legs. This is her, earlier tonight, in that picture.

I spent the day crying alongside her, whether it's when we lay on my kitchen floor in between going to veterinarians' (three times), or at the last animal hospital where they, too, told us it was time to let her go. I use the ''us'' pronoun because at that last place, I called her former human, my ex-girlfriend (i.e. Former Lady Of The House) to join us. It was she who held Angie as the doctors gave her the anesthetic and performed euthanasia. She was hers at first, so it felt like a circle had been closed. It made sense.

And that's where my brain reacted in ways I wasn't used to. We're conditioned to want to avoid death, to see it as ''wrong '', and euthanasia on humans is illegal in many places but tolerated on animals and pets. And I know it would have been selfish to keep her with me for another day because of the inhumane level of pain she felt, even though she only expressed it when she wasn't in my arms or sleeping next to me.

Then I wrestled with my memories of her being louder than usual when she would talk to me these last few months, and wondering if there was anything I could have done differently for her to have a better quality of life; the doctors say her condition couldn't be cured, and even if it had been controlled by medicine, in cases like hers, the inevitable eventually happens anyway. I might not have even bought her more time.

But there's always that ''what if'' in the back of a human's mind. And although your mind knows right from wrong, truth from fiction - it still tries to play you.

Mine was telling me I was her protector, and that I had failed; but not only is death the only inevitability in Life, disease is the one thing no bodyguard can prevent, even the best ones.

I chose to cry to let my sadness out, and I chose to do it in front of her. With her. Towards her.

And I choose now to remember the love I gave her and the love I felt back. The good times we shared, and the bonds and closeness we had.

It'll be a while before I fall asleep easily without her sleeping either on top of me or with her back to mine, exchanging heat. And my other cat - who isn't the healthiest beast out there, I fear - will probably go nuts.

But she remains with me in thought. I treated her like a daughter, she treated me like a husband. I miss her like a sister.