Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Me! I connect with you

Sunday I went to my first rock concert.

Yeah, that's kind of sad to admit when you're over 40. But it's true. If I don't count the couple of dozen punk shows I went to in my early 20s basically to keep up with the guys, then this was really my first.

Gary Numan was in Toronto. Opening for him was our own Nash the Slash, a long time friend and occasional musical collaborator of Gary's. My friend Kaid is one of the first rank of Gary Numan fans, and he managed to get us VIP tickets to the show. I've been looking forward to this since last summer. Really, for years.

I can actually remember the first time I heard Cars. I was 10 or 11 and lying on my bed one evening, reading Peanuts books by the light of my night table. I had a clock radio with glowing green LED numbers (I felt so futuristic), and it was playing one of the local stations when the inimitable synthesizer idling motor that opens the song began. And I just had to sit up and listen to it. It was, literally, like nothing I'd ever heard before.

A year or two later a new friend of mine (a guy I've known now for 30 years!) was playing some music he'd recorded open-air with his tape recorder from Toronto's 1050 CHUM station. One of the songs that really fired me up was called Me! I Disconnect from You. My friend told me who it was by and connected the dots to that Cars for me. It was one of my favourites for years but I wasn't much of a record-buyer at the time so I didn't really follow up on it, except to bug him to play his Pleasure Principle album for me when I'd visit.

Quite a bit later, just after I started university, a friend of mine who'd started working after graduation dropped by and convinced me to cut class (my first time; sadly, hardly the last) and hang with him while he made his deliveries and pick-ups around town. He had a tape of Orchestra Maneuvers in the Dark's greatest hits and some of the songs caught my imagination, so towards the end of the day he suggested we head downtown and visit the lost, lamented Sam the Record Man's flagship store. I didn't find that tape that day but what he and I both latched onto was Gary Numan's just-released two-disk set, Exhibition. I bought the vinyl, but a friend of ours was eager to sell me his portable CD player to finance a better one, so the next day I cut class again and took the unopened LPs back and traded up to the CDs, which had bonus tracks... first I'd ever heard of that. And that was when I really started to appreciate Gary Numan's music beyond just a few tunes.

I did a lot of writing in university and back then I seemed to be able to write and listen to music at the same time (can't do that anymore; too distracting). One of the artists I listened to a lot while doing that was Gary Numan. I bought most of his collection up till that point and his music carried me along. Oddly enough, as cool as I thought his themes were, I didn't depend on them much for inspiration; what did inspire me about his work was how deft he was, and is, at simply dropping his listener straight into a story in the middle, without feeling the need to supply a lot of back story. Just start telling it, and let it carry the listener along, like jumping into a mighty river on an inner tube. The only other artist I'm aware of who's Gary peer in this regard is Stan Ridgway. Anyway, I have a strong inclination when I write fiction to want to plaster up a complete background (as you can probably tell from this blog entry), and I can't count the number of times I've lost interest in a story because I got too bogged down in the detail and lost interest or convinced myself it wasn't interesting after all. At least a few times, Gary Numan's plunge the sword in the water white-hot style of storytelling has given me the confidence to just start where my idea actually starts, and let the reader supply the rest. What a liberation.

So. Twenty years and change later, I'm heading down to the Beaches to a Gary Numan show. I met up with Kaid at a nearby pub and he talked excitedly of having passed Gary Numan and his wife on the street and greeting him by his actual last name (rather than "blowing his cover", is how he put it) and simply passing along his good wishes for the show. I admired that; I doubt I would have had the courage to even say hello. I saw him pass on the street by while we sat in the pub; my first glimpse of the man in person.

Just before four we were let in with the other folks who'd paid for VIP admittance. We were issued a tour shirt and DVD (I'm waiting till the weekend to watch it), and we milled around and watched things get set up on the stage. I got to see Gary come out periodically, make some notes, parlay about things, and disappear back stage again. We also saw Nash the Slash, in 'civilian' garb (that is, less the iconic bandages), getting set up as well. Eventually, Gary started checking out the sound and so we were all treated to three or four songs the hoi poloi weren't privy to, which was really cool. One thing I noticed about Gary was that he seemed to be conferring with his band mates and engineers rather than just instructing them. That impressed me. I've always admired his music, but seeing this as an aspect of the artist added more luster to him in my eyes.

Part of the VIP package was a chance to meet the man. We lined up, and he greeted us all one by one. It was an impressive array of souvenirs people brought in hopes that he'd sign them (part of the package was to sign our DVDs). Some fellow had some kind of gold record behind glass. I wish I'd been able to have a look at that! Kaid had his copy of Gary's autobiography, Praying to the Aliens, which is scarcer than hen's teeth now and nobody on eBay will part with for under $200 or so. Kaid talked fast, having 30 years of things he'd imagined saying going through his mind. Gary really lit up when Kaid told him that his music had helped him through his awkward teen years; spontaneously and with utter sincerity, Gary told Kaid that the music had helped him through exactly the same thing. Whether he meant his own music or music he found likewise inspiring wasn't clear to me but I expect if you asked him, he'd say both. Then it was my turn to meet him. I simply told him that it was a genuine honour to meet him, and I asked if he would sign the centrepiece from my copy of 23-year-old copy Exhibition. He did. It had great sentimental value to me before. Now it's virtually priceless to me. But he was polite, kind, cheerful, and down to earth, just like hoped he'd be. You couldn't ask for more from a guy who's meeting two dozen total strangers who all want to tell him how great he is.

Not long after that, the show got started. Nash came out to open, now property attired for his role. His stuff was fantastic. I mean, I know enough of his work to know I like it, but he was really, really good — to the point he made me feel proud to be from Toronto. He put on a great one-man show. From what I understand, Nash plays all his own instruments and plays back the arrangements while, in his stage persona, sings and plays either the mandolin or violin: not your traditional rock and roll axe work by any means, but it works. His music isn't just unique, it's iconic in this town. The crowd was with him, and when his set was over, he made a gracious bow out and gave Gary Numan a sharp, classy intro. What a pro.

And then it was Gary Numan's turn. He came out in boots and black suede or leather (couldn't really tell which). He's aged to fit the music, it seems to me. He has an air of more gravity now than he did when he was younger and it suits his style and theme nicely. The volume of the music was set to 11 but it was a soft 11: I was near the speakers and while the music was gloriously loud, it was never piercing. At the end of the night, my ears weren't ringing and could still hear (mind you, it did overwhelm my cameras, as you'll hear below). These guys have figured it out. The light show was amazing. One of Gary's guitarists was constantly cast as a living shadow, dancing, playing his heart out in a sea of white and red. Watching him was mesmerizing; he looked like the soul of rock music come to life to jam with Gary Numan.

The set that night was about two dozen songs. This tour celebrates the 30th anniversary of the release of the Pleasure Principle album and so the songs from that album were presented to us, punched up a bit and given a little more edge, I think, while remaining completely recognizable. We were also treated to one or two old standards from other albums, as well as some of his more recent work. I kind of lost track of Gary's newer work after Outland but given what I heard Sunday, I'll have to rectify that. What a great evening it was, though, to see Gary Numan performing songs I've heard hundreds of times and know by heart, and in the company of a so many other people who feel the same way.

So to Gary and Nash and everyone connected with them, thanks for the... exhibition.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Scott's right, democracy sucks

A fellow blogger and correspondent recently opined that "Democracy is a crock". Yesterday that was borne out in spades here. Toronto's next mayor is Rob Ford, a man I find loud, overly emotional, and akin to former Ontario premier Mike Harris in his uni-dimensional philosophy that cutting taxes, public transit, and services somehow improves a community. Sadly, the city itself has bought into the idea. "Tax fatigue", we're told, gave Ford nearly half the vote. Ford's talking about killing off streetcar lines and apparently half the city, having their heads so far up their pampered asses that they can gaze longingly at their own navels from the inside, think voting for anyone espousing this warmed-over canned wisdom from 1958 is a good idea.

My street was torn up last summer for storm sewer work. To say that it was repaved is to claim that Luxembourg is vast. I'm not joking in the least when I say I've driven smoother gravel roads fifty miles out of town. One's tempted to speculate that the contract went to the mob or something, and wonder if the work on the surface is this poor, what are we in for below the surface during the next heavy rain? I'm not one to harass the bureaucracy but politely raised the issue with the councilor for my ward. I heard nothing back from her, not even the copperplated "Like you, I am very concerned about [your issue here]..." Nothing. So I voted against her and for a candidate who actually mentioned that issue as part of his platform. The sheep in my ward returned the incumbent anyway, by a huge margin. What's the point of voting if the people around you don't even notice the condition of the streets they drive on; if they're just voting for a name the way they vote for a comfortable pullover?

I'm increasingly fed up with the City of Toronto proper. More and more, it's principally peopled by lefties who don't give a shit about anybody outside of a three-block radius and right-wingers who don't give a shit about anybody outside of a  three-block radius; all of them pompously demanding to know why so many businesses these days would dare to locate themselves outside our glorious (and utterly arbitrary) municipal boundaries. Nobody wants anything built in their neighbourhood. Nobody wants to bear any onus for the greater good anymore. Yeah, it's not much better in the outer colonies... but at least you don't have to pay to park there. :/

The gentle art of leafing

P-Doug and I have gotten together to take a couple of leafing walks in the last few weeks. It's a particular time of year and it's relatively brief, so you make hay (etc., etc.)...

The first trip was to Eldred King Woodlands in York Region. It was kind of a revisit. We'd hiked there in mid-September on a rainy day along a closed section of St. John's Sideroad. The area is very sandy and the province quickly realized that it wasn't suitable to farming. The soil was exhausted quickly and there was a danger of the whole place turning into a badlands. Around a century ago, the province turned it into a wooded area to try to hold onto the soil. The effort was successful. It became a logging area and is crisscrossed with abandoned roads in and out; railroad clearances with the tracks pulled up... all of it turned over to forest trails now. St. John's Sideroad itself is covered with sand for much of its length; so much so that I swore someone must have brought it in. It's literally like walking the beach; it's hard to get traction because your footing offers little to push against. But there were firmer trails through the forest; we got away from the road and wound up a long way from where we thought we were.

The second time we were there, earlier this month, it was comfortable but not quite barefoot hiking weather in my estimation, so I kept to the sandals. The place was crawling with other leafers that time; scores of people. We were rarely out of sight of someone else. But it was a bright, clear day; we took a lot of HDR shots and I worked in infrared as well... stuff I still haven't processed yet; hopefully you'll see it here but as I write this it's not prepared [N.B. Okay, now they are, obviously]. But what I principally remember was spotting a pump on a well. One of the cotter pins was missing, but P-Doug improvised something with a stick and managed to ascertain by the resistance that yes, it was still a functioning well, though he abandoned the effort to bring water to the surface just on principle after a minute or two. Didn't blame him.

This weekend just past I suggested a place we'd been before, almost exactly a year ago: Huntington Road, another abandoned stretch of an otherwise ongoing concern. Southern Ontario seems full of roads that suddenly close for just one concession or range and then resume again on the other side; most of them decades ago. We were on the same path last October and walked as far as the little bridge over the muddy creek, encountered people walking dogs, and so on. I had hoped to get into the glorious stands of golden-leaved trees but P-Doug wasn't feeling well and we simply headed back to the car and spent some good time at a local pub we frequent in the area. It was, as I expected, the last barefoot hike of the year.

As I imagine was this last trip to Huntington Road. Fortunately we've had a nice upswing in the temperature and it's quite comfortable again. This time, we headed into the forest rather than going to the bridge. The views were magnificent. The forest floor was carpeted with leaves two or three inches deep; it was like natural shag carpeting. The day was overcast and intermittently sunny; there was hardly a breath of wind. This year, we didn't see anyone else on the trail; I was surprised. At one point we sat on a promontory over the Humber valley and the silence was profound. We could hear a pile driver working on some farm, miles away. I honestly wouldn't have thought that kind of stillness was possible in the GTA anymore and it was wonderful to experience it, especially at a time when the forest floor was dry, the mosquitoes were gone, and the air was just exactly the right temperature. We both wondered what the place is like in summer. We're talking about going back next year and having a look.

Afterwards we went to Oakville to visit my friend Bolt, whom I have acquainted P-Doug with in recent days. Bolt's dad passed away in September and as P-Doug knows something of the human side of probate, I thought it would good for them to talk. Bolt's been having some trouble with his sister who seems to think that since their mother has Alzheimer's, the money is now effectively theirs since they manage it. He's been trying, without much success, to rein her in. At least we can be there to bolster his courage and offer a sympathetic ear, if little else.