Saturday, March 29, 2008

Goin' Out West Where They Appreciate Me...

The bitch of it is this photo was taken in June, man...

As I've explained ad nauseum, being an immigrant in Japan is an exercise in Otherness. In a country so homogenous, there's no need to emphasize your foreign-ness; your very presence is enough. Living in Germany, on the other hand, that I'm not German is a constant source of surprise and (often) frustration to those I encounter. An English friend remarked, "To be fair, you do look kind of Kraut-like... and the moustache certainly doesn't help."

In fact, the moustache is one manifestation of an ongoing self-delineation. My unemployability does little to imbue a sense of stability. Moreover, the language barrier has created enough friction that aroused my ugliest knee-jerk rebelliousness. As a result, I've been revisiting my redneck roots. It began with re-watching Twin Peaks on loop over last summer. This extended into an odd preoccupation with old rockabilly and Rocky Mountain-region stoner rock records. Then came the moustache and, finally, obsessive consumption of North American Gothic cinema and sounds.

Mercifully, now I have a chance to flush this odd identity crisis out before I start carrying around a gun and drawling monosyllabically. I'm off to the chilly climes of my native Alberta, home of the new black gold rush. There are few better places than the vacuous Canadian prairies to clear one's head. Hopefully I'll come back revitalized, remembering why I'm grateful I ain't a grain farmer, and without this damned moustache.

Click on the mix title to download.

The Occidental Tourist

1. Tom Waits - "Goin' Out West" (00:00)
2. The Constantines - "Arizona" (03:18)
3. Gordon Downie - "Canada Geese" (07:31)
4. Meredith Monk and Robert Een - "Long Shadows I" (9:50)
5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "Night of the Lotus Eaters" (12:03)
6. Lungfish - "Constellations" (16:45)
7. Duane Eddy - "Rebel Walk" (18:21)
8. Tomahawk - "Narcosis" (20:32)
9. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - "Rachel" (23:01)
10. The Kills - "Kissy Kissy" (25:25)
11. The Billy Nayer Show - "Shaving" (30:26)
12. The Tragically Hip - "Locked In the Trunk of a Car" (32:10)
13. The Fall - "Guide Me Soft" (36:40)
14. The Desert Sessions feat. PJ Harvey - "Crawl Home" (38:54)
15. The Jesus Lizard - "Then Comes Dudley" (41:51)
16. Earth - "Rise To Glory" (46:10)
17. Wall of VooDoo - "Call of the West" (51:52)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Last-Minute Temptation

I've never understood Easter - not the least because of the non-sequitorial celebratory customs. Perhaps it's just because I've never had a loved one die in some unjust or gruesome fashion, but marking & observing the murder of someone is... ghoulish creepy. Lemme put it this way: I don't trust the American gov't at all, but if I met a libertarian who marks the assassination of JFK by wearing a rifle pendant and conducting elaborate rituals involving, say, a woodchuck using marshmallows to mark the possible locations of multiple assailants, I'd have to seriously question this person's sanity.

Anyway, the Germans have an interesting twist on holidays that mark someone's death: whereas Americans celebrate with door-crashing sales, Germans close up shop... leaving me with nothing to do and half the groceries I need to survive the weekend. So I had the time to throw together this last minute MP3 mix, based upon the narrative of The Last Temptation of Christ. Click on the title to download it.

The Cross Roads: Last Temptation

1. Brian Jonestown Massacre - "Jesus" (00:00)
2. Soul Coughing - "Blue-Eyed Devil" (06:26)
3. The Harvey Girls - "Your Evil Man" (10:26)
4. The Desert Sessions - "Creosote" (13:16)
5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "Up Jumped the Devil" (15:40)
6. Cave - "Hunt Like Devil" (20:56)
7. Johnny Temple - "Evil Devil Blues" (30:42)
8. The Smiths - "Headmaster's Ritual" (33:47)
9. Sonic Youth - "Kill Yr. Idols" (38:32)
10. Soundgarden - "Jesus Christ Pose" (41:07)
11. Laddio Bolocko - "The Man Who Never Was" (46:56)
12. The Skull Defekts - "White Lights Burning Eyes" (50:51)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Catholicism: Now with double the damnation!

Emperor Palpatine's got a brand new bag!

Evidently, someone in the Vatican watched Dogma and got spooked that the Church is perceived as "a passe, archaic institution; obtuse... even hokey." Which isn't an unfounded fear: possibly the only thing more outdated than Roman Catholicism is intellectual property & copyright law.

Well, he may have that patina of organic decay for which Lon Chaney needed makeup, but who says Pope Benedict XIV ain't a baller & shot-caller, a dynamo of papal decrees? Just in time for Easter, the Vatican has found a way to induce extra guilt that Jesus died for YOU, motherfucker: seven fresh categories of deadly sin! That's right, folks, seven brand-new, cutting-edge classes of one-way tickets to the Inferno. A Vatican spokesman explained that, “While sin used to concern mostly the individual, today it has mainly a social resonance... due to the phenomenon of globalization.” The new official list of the Fourteen Deadly Sins is as follows:
Old & Busted

1. Lust
2. Gluttony
3. Greed
4. Sloth
5. Wrath
6. Envy
7. Pride

New Hotness

8. “Bioethical” violations such as birth control
9. “Morally dubious” experiments such as stem cell research
10. Drug abuse
11. Polluting the environment
12. Contributing to widening divide between rich and poor
13. Excessive wealth
14. Creating poverty
Perhaps this is my soulless, heathen frivolity talking, but I'm actually kind of excited about this new list, because based on this criteria, everyone is going to Hell. At least there's an admirable kind of consistency to this level of vindictive judgement that would doom itself as direly as anyone else. Think I'm kidding? Well, let's take a look at who might fit into the Church's newly-renovated Rogue's Gallery:

Bioethical violations

If not your mother, then your sister, your girlfriend, your wife... at any rate, a lot (hopefully MOST) of the women you know & love.

Morally Dubious Experiments

Yeah, bet the fundies never thought Saint Ron would've gotten behind stem cell research. (This is to say nothing of everything else the festering meatsack did to merit a permenant vacation to Hades.)

Drug Abuse

Dude, Hell is going to rock so hard if this who's gonna be there... well, except that last guy.

Polluting the Environment

Widening the Wealth Gap


Excessive Wealth

Double boo-yah!

Creating Poverty

She had it coming.

And on that note... happy easter, everybody.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Wood Anniversary

So... there's a succinct and straightforward question I want to ask, specifically of those who thought the invasion was morally justified, strategically sound, in anyone's best interests, would pay for itself, etc.

...How's that working out for ya?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Spring Cleaning Out My Closet: Cinema of Moral Anxiety

The problem with being a pack-rat is the same that faces staunch anti-abortionists: congratulations, you've got a kid; now what the hell you gonna do with it? Part of my ongoing effort of to unburden myself of my musical backlog is occassionally to give away archival recordings online. This month, I dug deep into the darkest bowels of my closet to unearth the Cinema of Moral Anxiety EP, the beginning stages of an identity crisis committed to tape. (Click on the title to download.)

The songs were recorded between August and October of 2001, during which time I moved to Toronto, began my higher education, watched the Twin Towers collapse live on TV, dropped out, entered one of Canada’s most competitive job markets with no marketable skills or experience, and found minimum-wage work at a company that went bankrupt three weeks after I was hired. In that order.

Consequently, the EP is a little overwrought - so much so that I cut a couple of particularly vindictive pieces from this edition of the EP. It also marks my first foray into the digital recording medium, as I began toying with simple wave editing programs. Thus, the EP is split fairly evenly between my half-assed stab at drum 'n' bass and 4-track shitfits.

But hey, it’s almost springtime, so better to get the junk and skeletons out of the closet - right, Eliot?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why Gaijin?

Yeah, just TRY and integrate, bitch

Recently, I was quoted by the incisive bullshit-callers over at my favourite foreigner-in-Nippon blogs, Westerner's Fear of Neon Sign. Specifically, an anecdote of mine was relayed in a post detailing "The Seven Stages of Gaijinhood." I've become a dedicated reader of WFoNS because few other bloggers as honestly appraise the unusual circumstances of being a foreigner in the most homogenous of developed nations; WFoNS maitre d' Calligraphy Kid is far from a fawning Japanophile, yet he resists the easy temptations of reactionary cynicism or softcore racism to which so many foreigners succumb.

Particularly impressive is that WFoNS dances along the knife's edge of writing objectively about gaijin while being gaijin. This is akin to taking judo lessons with vials of nitroglycerin stuffed in your pockets: not even a closeted homosexual raised as a Southern Baptist can compete with the self-loathing mustered by your average gaijin. To wit, this post from last fall describes the Western expat community in Japan as
that most mutually hateful and backstabbing of tribes... On an intellectual level, knowledge of things Japanese decreases in value the more people share it. On another, more carnal level, the attraction of Japanese women diminishes as more men partake of it. It goes without saying that foreigners in Japan, or gaijin, are natural rivals and have rarely produced anything of worth in collaboration with one other... Better reserve ‘we’ for strictly rhetorical use among foreigners in Japan.
...Which pretty much nails it on the head. What kind of a community coalesces around the mutual fear that you're all giving each other a bad name? The paranoia and self-policing inherent in being an Occidental is painful: everyone who sports a similar accent, appearance, or attitude could be totally ruining it for you and should be regarded, at best, with suspicion or, at worst, understated contempt. (I developed an especially icy regard for Australians, who I pinpointed as the prime offenders - but can you really blame me when I worked for this guy?)

What you'll also notice about the logic behind the gaijin's self-alienation is that it's total bullshit. Competition for social supremacy & cultural authority? As a foreigner in a country famed for its isolationism and xenophobia? Are you joking? Yet this Orientalist pissing contest is at the fore of a foreigner's thoughts at all times. Which is bloody stupid. Suffice it to say: not once when I've been in Vancouver have I seen two Chinese guys decked out in flannel shirts, tocques, and Sorels cattily correcting each other's Canadian raising over a can of Molson. Why? Because that's fucking ridiculous.

Now, counter to behavioral trends, I actually did produce works of worth with fellow foreigners (among others) during my tenure in Tokyo. In fact, this was largely because - at present - integration isn't an option: I was liberated from the quotidian responsibilities of the citizenry. I was afforded the objective distance that allowed me to focus on my particular curiosities & enthusiasms.

Which is why I unabashedly apply the word to myself. I incorporated "gaijin" in this blog's domain name, and into one of my e-mail addresses, not in a fit of Japanophilic flag-waving (I don't live there any more), but because the word distills a certain estrangement that is fundamental to how I relate to my surroundings. I choose the word not for its novelty, but because of its delicate suggestion of anti-socialism and self-imposed seperation. My nickname in North America is "the Old Man," which I enjoy, but that denies a certain vigor with which I still attack my endeavours. Similarly, I'm not vicious enough to feel comfortable self-describing as "Schadenfreude Seb." No sir; I'm afraid only the flavour of "gaijin" pleases my palette. Besides, there's an enjoyably Moebius-like logic that applying the word "gaijin" to myself will alienate certain people with whom the word identifies me.

The great irony to the gaijin's self-loathing is that it's as lazy & unsophisticated as any other prejudice: after all, gaijin frequently have nothing in common and, ergo, are of no threat to each other. Ah ha, but then isn't the resentment justified if so many dissimilar entities are clumsily lumped under the same umbrella? Well, shit, you got me there. But as long as people still debate whether label appropriation is positive and are unsure if "Bitch" is the new black, the war over the word shall rage on.

Postscript:: Rereading Tokyology's "I, Gaijin?" post (quoted above), a particularly backwards bit of logic had previously slipped by me. Personally disavowing use of "gaijin," Tokyology elaborates on acceptable social parameters for the word:
I don’t object at all to Japanese use of the word gaijin. I think it’s charming evidence of the time lapse in identity politics between Japan and multiracial nations. In a reversal of positive label appropriation, gaijin only sounds derogatory when I apply it to myself. I don’t want to refer to myself as a gaijin and I can’t understand foreigners who do. The word reeks of slow-burning underachievement.
Let that stew for a minute. It's okay for the people who originated the word (as a racial slur) to continue using it, in whatever tone they like, because it betrays their quaint lack of sophistication. But for those to whom the word applies, to use it is demeaning and ghettoizing.

Wow. Now that is spectacularly ass-backwards. Hey, how about all the white people start tossing around the N-word because (the fools!) it reveals how socially unhip those crackers are, but under no circumstance shall the word be used by, or among, African-Americans (or -British or -Canadians) because it is a shamefully derogatory term, and its use a confession of inferiority. What the hell.

The truly telling moment within the above passage, though, is that last sentence: "The word reeks of slow-burning underachievement." This is not the first time that a confession of brutal self-doubt and second-guessing of purpose has passed for social commentary on WFoNS. The problem is that this existential panic is projected onto every other foreigner in the Far East. There may be a significant number of emotional refugees and self-defeatists living in bottles around Japan - but they're everywhere else too.

Perhaps The Problem is rooted in the way white middle-class language teachers monopolize the word, much the same way the United States has ruined "America" for a whole hemisphere. Typical, innit? How people use a word betrays more about their sense of self than social conventions. If only they were as concerned with how other people relate as they are with publishing & maintaining their self-image. Smack me if I ever don't include myself in that admonition.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Idiot Video Idiom

Allow me to canter about in the saddle of my ex-pat high horse for a bit, ladies & gentlemen. While I'll admit to frequently knowing little about a country before moving there beyond its music, I'm not naive enough to believe that, say, Japan was going to be a land of purely iconoclastic sonic experimentation. I knew that Zeni Geva and Koenjihyakkei would be the exception, not the rule. That being said, I could also rest assured that, by virtue of how much of this manic post-hardcore skronk had drifted across the Pacific, there was enough of a scene/movement/stylistic consensus/Insert Loathesome Buzzword Here that I would remain engaged.

And so it was. Similarly, I thought that Germany's rich history of convention-smashing rock would guarantee a certain ratio of avant-garde mindfuck within its contemporary music. After all, any culture that birthed the major works of Stockhausen, Can, Kraftwerk, and Einstürzende Neubauten within a twenty-five year period would surely have something to offer beyond Rammstein or this guy.

Thus, I came to Deutscheland with grainy dreams of recapturing the spirit of '72, as embodied by the following list of boundary-breaking creations from that year:





Some Head-Nod Shit

And it is with a blend of trepidation and disgust that I report that, eight months into my research, contemporary German music doesn't have anything to offer beyond Rammstein and that Technoviking guy. To wit, I present Exhibit 2008:





Some Head-Nod Shit

So this is what happens when there is One World, when a country is reunified under the aegis of a single pancultural (rather, acultural) philosophy. This is what happens after twenty years of market economy, ecstasy, midi sequencers, and MTV. Not that I'd advocate for the reconstruction of the Wall, the reignition of old tensions, or a return to an national existential tightrope-walk... but if I may cite a fine film about the friction from which art is sparked:
Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I Drank Japan's Milkshake

Jetlag is a harsh mistress (though certainly not as harsh as it could have been), so right now my trains of thought are truncated, but I'm due to check back in. So forgive the bullet-pointedness & stunted structure of the conversation, but some communication is preferable to none, am I right?

So how can I account for my February?
~I do not recommend spending over 20 hours in airports or -planes whilst burdened by 20kg of audio cables and microphones on your person in an attempt to avoid excess baggage fees. Then again, I've met racketeers less extortive than the excess baggage fees, so it's worth it in the end.

~I happened upon some groovy new tunes.

~I earned a new affiliation, which is rather exciting - if only because now the donkey work is not mine alone to address. Details to follow as they become available.

~The explicit purpose of my trip to Tokyo was a success. I'm currently knee-deep in post-production, but I love the laboratory phase following the field work.

~Connecting the dots betwixt the three previous items! In an odd moment wherein the world shrank, the drummer realized that one of my recent musical discoveries (and now labelmates) recorded their EP with an old friend of his. This planet's too bloody small.

~I visited a wax museum that has figures of both Mishima Yukio and Manuel Göttsching; I purchased some food products with hysterically unfortunate names; I surveyed the latest layers of graffitti shellacked to the streets of Tokyo; and I grabbed a lot of snapshots along the way.

~The absolute coup-de-grace of the whole trip, however, is that I went to Japan to track one record and came back with two: the EP for which I was hired and went, and then a never-before-heard album's worth of my own material. And I can say with no ego that this album is going to melt people's goddamn faces. Ah ha, but I must remind myself: I already have two items in queue. Better to be burdened by too many ideas than not enough.

As predicted in my last post, the actual coming-and-going of my sojourn was the worst of it. And yet even the endless lines and thuggish security officials were made bearable by one feature of my flights: those little TV screens in the back of the chair from which you can select your own entertainment. Hot diggity dog, I've heard of these dream machines for years but had never actually seen one. I was inclined to believe that you were all a bunch of lying bastards trying lump resentment atop the hot rage sundae of negative emotions I ingest during air travel. Turns out that custom-tailored in-flight entertainment and riding a pegasus are in different realms. Consequently, I was finally able to catch up on all those movies I've been too broke or unmotivated to see:
Superbad: Better than I expected, but still a bundle of nostalgic wish-thinking. I'm perennially flummoxed by why North Americans are emotionally incapable of leaving their high school years behind. (And why was this adolescent romp trying to break the Scarface record for per-minute profanity?)

Juno: Cute, clever, achingly hip, self-aware without coming off as smug, and a fittingly funny embrace of unconventional family values (while still reaffirming that abortion is, like, totally not cool). I couldn't stand it, and I think for the same reason that my Dad reviles Wes Anderson: gee, it'd be pretty cool if life was more like this, but sorry, it ain't, so how in the hell can I relate to this contrivedly quirky study in affectation?

The Kingdom: Alternate title - Mad Foxx: Beyond Thunderdome. The bookend hat-tips to liberal critiques of US foreign policy & energy dependence hardly made up for the interim of racial caricatures and mediocre action. I drank myself to sleep on cheap red wine during this one.

American Gangster: This semi-miraculously failed to engage me on any level. The fact that I was voluntarily nodding off on a plane without being plotzed absolutely flabbergasted me. I ended up drinking myself to sleep for this one, too - with white wine. That's some weak shit.

The Simpsons Movie: Eightteen years later, we get a triple-length episode. *Yawn* Lessee, do they have Ratatouille on this thing... ?

I also scored screenings of this year's Oscar-dominating triple-crown of American gothic cinema: The Assassination of Jesse James, No Country For Old Men, and There Will Be Blood, none of which I can say enough good things about. The genuine surprise was that, of the three, my favourite wasn't the Coen Brothers' film - it was the one by P.T. Anderson, that gaseously self-inflated dauphin whose previous work I found beautifully shot but cloying at best. Maybe I'm just a sucker for scenery-chewing and Penderecki-checking string music. But I'll be damned if that movie didn't just drink it up.

Speaking of drinks, more coffee is desperately needed before my synapses misfire. Greater detail and further discussion to follow shortly.