Wednesday, December 07, 2011

El Camino

I picked up a copy of El Camino, the new CD from the Black Keys. I do emphasize that I purchased the CD, rather than than the digital tracks. The CD packaging is really fine and you would miss that with the digital version.

My initial impression is that the Keys have lost the blues. It's gone, and it made me think about The Police who abandoned reggae with Ghost in the Machine. That was a tragedy and The Police were never the same again. It heralded a decline into commercial mediocrity, leading to Sting's equally mediocre solo career, though I will allow that Dream of the Blue Turtles is a fabulous record.

I like the energy of El Camino, and on third or fourth listen, it is growing on me. Dan's guitar sounds awesome, I appreciate the more complex arrangements, and the overall sound of the CD is excellent. But, I do miss the blues.

"Just got to Be" From Magic Potion:



"Lonely Boy" from El Camino:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Scientology

Two guys were just prostrating themselves outside my door in deep prayer to their g-d. On the topic of religion, I defer to Christopher Hitchens: “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.” Amen, so to speak.

Coincidentally, I am reading Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman. I already knew that scientology was a huge steaming crock of shit, and possibly a cult, though I will leave that assessment to the experts. What is clear from reading this book is that scientology is less a religion and more a self-help organization.  It is a self-help organization that will help itself to your bank account if you are not careful.  Making scientology a religion had everything to do with tax-free status and zero to do with anything spiritual.

There is nothing new about religions making money. Just look at the obscene wealth of the catholic church. I am not against the accumulation of capital, so long as the accumulators pay taxes, and scientology managed to weasel out of it. Revoking that status would be a good first step to eradicating this nefarious organization. And, if you want to accuse me of having some bias against scientology, I should add that I am in favour of eradicating all religions everywhere.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cover Songs

As I was listening to Johnny Cash sing Personal Jesus last weekend, I said to C that this song makes more sense in this arrangement. I didn't mind some Depeche Mode songs back in the day, but I was never a huge fan, and I didn't really like Personal Jesus, until I heard Johnny Cash sing it. On the same note, I have to say that Johnny's version of Hurt is fantastic and maybe even better than the original, though I personally do not like the distortion at the end of the song.

This made me think of some other cover songs that are better than the originals. I don't think Dyan would mind me saying that Hendrix does a better version of All Along the Watchtower.  Still, we have to give credit to Dylan for writing such a great song.

And then, I was forced to think of all of the cover versions that are worse than the original, like Knockin' on Heaven's Door. In my humble opinion, Guns n' Roses ruined this song, but I guess it had the benefit of introducing the song to many people who had never heard it before, though now they probably assume that it was written by GnR, which I guess has happened many times with cover versions.

Although I am a huge Bowie fan, I was less than impressed by his cover of Cactus. I don't think it's possible to improve on the Pixies recording. I feel the same way about Bowie's cover of Jonathan Richman's Pablo Picasso. On the other hand, John Cale's cover of that song is awesome. And, speaking of Cale, I just picked up his new EP, which is OK, but I need to give it a few more spins to be sure (yes, spins: I still buy CDs).


Friday, November 25, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Plumbing

Too bad I didn't go to plumbing school. How is it possible that 10 minutes of work costs a tad over $200? On an hourly rate, that's extortionate. I recall years ago paying $250 for a plumber to replace a two foot length of copper pipe. It took about 15 minutes. Of course, they sometimes have to deal with rats, roaches, and poop, so I guess there's that.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Electic Bikes

But, before I get to ebikes, I have to report that I came within inches of being splattered on the asphalt on my morning commute when some numbskull in an SUV made a right turn without shoulder checking. So, I followed him into the parking lot, where he kept driving, clearly aware that I was tailing him. Finally, he had no choice but to stop, and when his passenger opened the door, I explained that he needs to shoulder check before making a right turn, after which she apologized (the driver refused to look at me), and then I said, "well look next time." And, now, ebikes...

I appeal to the lawmakers of this province to review the licensing requirements for ebikes. Currently, the requirements are:
  • No driver's licence is required
  • No written test is required
  • No vehicle registration or plate is required
  • No motor vehicle liability insurance is required
(from: http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/dandv/vehicle/emerging/e-bike-faq.shtml#a9)

Having been forced to share the road (and by that I mean bikes lanes) with ebikes, I'd say it's time for a review.  I realize that what I am about to say will strike some as hypocritical.  Or, what's worse is that I might end up appearing as ignorant as Jacob Richler.

If there's one thing I cannot stand it is those who argue that all cyclists are law-breakers and dangerous, and that's simply not true. I know that there are lots of law-abiding cyclists out there who stop at traffic lights and don't ride on sidewalks. And, of course, there are lots of responsible ebike riders, but many of my interactions have left me angry and feeling like I am in danger when riding my bicycle.

The aspect that most concerns me is having to share a bike lane with a motorized vehicle.  According to the website referenced above, ebikes would seem to be welcome in bike lanes:
E-bikes are allowed to travel anywhere bicycles are permitted to travel.  Any municipal by-law prohibiting bicycles from highways under their jurisdiction also apply to e-bikes. Municipalities may also pass by-laws specific to e-bikes that prohibit them from municipal roads, sidewalks, bike paths, bike trails, and bike lanes under their jurisdiction.
And, indeed, the city of Toronto bike lane bylaws state the following: "According to City of Toronto bike lane bylaws, bicycles must be propelled by muscular power."(http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/). So, if you are driving an ebike, please GET OUT OF THE BIKE LANE! You are breaking the law.

I have been honked at, passed very closely at high speeds, and cursed at by ebike riders. Last year, I had an altercation with an ebiker who repeatedly honked at me, and then sped by so close that her useless pedals almost clipped me.  I'm all for sharing the road, but bike lanes in Toronto are reserved for non-motorized vehicles.

Yesterday, on my cycle home, an ebike came screaming up beside me at what must have been the maximum 32 km/h. He cut in front of me and then drove up onto the sidewalk where he continued for about 50 to 75 feet before stopping. I worried that anyone exiting a store would have been hit.

I fail to see why these bikes are exempt from licensing laws. They are motorized. They travel at generally faster speeds that bikes. Someone will be hit and injured by one of these things in the future. That's a given.

Most of these things look like electric scooters, so even the name is perplexing. All riders ought to be required to take a safety course like those for motorcycles. I am opposed to the licensing of bicycles because they are non-polluting. Ebikes are polluting. The electricity most likely comes from coal or nuclear power, neither of which are green.

Accidents Waiting to Happen

So last night I experienced one of those infuriating dreams where the protagonist is unable to complete a task or do something that ought to be simple. In this case, I was sent back to high school (I have no idea why) and I had arrived late to school owing to the fact that my mother drove me in a rather circuitous route.

My mother, I should point out, never ever drove me to school. I should also add that she was probably the world's worst driver. The walk from our house to the high school was one kilometre, so there was no need for a ride anyway. But, we were late, I think because we also stopped to pick up my brother and then we witnessed a strange tire-changing accident near the school.

Once inside the school, I could not manage to find where my classes were, and that was frustrating. So, perhaps the interpretation is that something is frustrating me lately? Who knows?

Anyway, I was cycling to work today, as I have done for years. I see lots of screwed up things during these rides, like people applying makeup and shaving while driving. This morning, I looked to my left and saw a women in a white Smart car eating a bowl of cereal while she was driving. That doesn't seem very smart to me. Between traffic lights, she held the tupperware container in her right hand while she steered with her left. At a traffic light, she dug in, filling her face with Corn Flakes or whatever the hell it was. I once saw a guy eating cereal while walking down Yonge Street, but this was the first time I ever saw someone driving and eating cereal.

Just to review, it is now illegal to use a handheld device (such as a cell phone) while operating a motor vehicle. Someone please tell me that's it's illegal to eat while driving. It has to be. The woman is an accident waiting to happen, just like my mother, though she managed never to have had an accident, but I think she caused lots.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A look at my CD collection, part 5: the Boss

I was infatuated with Bruce Springsteen when I was a teenager.  I had all of his albums, and I went around proselytizing to anyone who would listen, and even those who wouldn't.  K and & saw him in concert at the Ex in 1984 during the Born in the USA tour.

Oddly, I abandoned the Boss right after this, mostly because I was in the midst of a musical education, the likes of which brought to me to some wild and interesting destinations.  Even without the exposure to new and interesting music, I would have abandoned the Boss anyway. Although I recall liking Born in the USA upon release, I quickly tired of it.  I have a more favourable attitude to this album 27 years later, but I wouldn't rank it among my favs.

Upon hearing some tracks from Devils and Dust, I began to reacquaint myself with Springsteen's music.  Currently, I would characterize myself as a fan, but not a rabid one.  I recently picked up a ridiculously cheap copy of Tougher Than the Rest - 100 Best Bruce Springsteen Songs by June Skinner Sawyers.  I have to say that I am perplexed by some of her choices.  I really can't take anyone seriously who would compile such a book and leave out Streets of Fire or Candy's Room for example. I am willing to accept her conclusion that Jungleland is overwrought, even though it was once my favourite Springsteen song.

There are other peculiarities as well in this book.  Why include all but one of the songs from Nebraska?  If you ask me, Used Cars is a better song than State Trooper.  And, the inclusion of so many songs from Tunnel of Love, one of Springsteen's weaker albums, amazes me.  Why include any songs at all from Human Touch or Lucky Town?  These are minor albums that do not impress me at all.  And, what about "It's hard to be a Saint in the City", "Does this Bus Stop at  ....."

But, by far the most peculiar thing about this book is the omission of Long Time Coming, a song that ranks as my second favourite Springsteen song of all time, right after Backstreets.



On my CD shelves you will find lots of CDs from the Boss and if you dig into my vinyl you will also see some interesting stuff, like bootlegs, EPs, 45s, and coloured vinyl.  Perhaps my return to Springsteen says something about my age, or maybe it says something about the direction Springsteen has taken recently. I really can't say.






Monday, November 14, 2011

The Funeral

I sure hope that was my last funeral for a while. Three funerals in one and a half years is too many, especially since the last two were so close together.

I had seen my mother the day before she passed away, and so I had to make a return trip to the town of my birth the next day to meet with my sister (as co-executor) and plan the funeral, write the obituary, call relatives and friends, meet with the bank to start the estate process, order flowers for the funeral, and meet with the minister. All of this, I have mentioned before.

I went back three days later to meet with the lawyer. He was in the midst of handling my grandmother's estate, and now has this to do as well. Essentially, money is being passed from my mother's estate to hers, where it will be divided into quarters and then doled out to the four children.

My brother (the one who suffered the debilitating stroke) came with us. All of this planning and legal red taps is not fun. I will have to make three to four return trips to meet with the lawyer as the process rolls along, and to go back to the bank when we set up an estate bank account. I think I'd rather not have been named an executor. But, it could be worse: I could be much farther away. It's about a 1.5 hour drive, so I guess that's not too bad.

The cost of funerals is alarming to me. When you add it all up, we are almost at $15000. That's just crazy.  I sure hope no one spends that amount to burn me. Just give me a pine box. These elaborate caskets seem so wasteful to me, as does using arable land to bury people.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

23 Days

Twenty-three days after her mother died, my mother passed away. I have lost a grandmother and a mother in the space of three weeks. I think one can safely assume that my mother gave up on life after her mother passed. She went into an immediate and steep decline, refusing food and collapsing in on herself.

It can't be a coincidence. Mother came to the funeral. She was alert, made off-colour remarks, as she has always done. True, she was confined to a wheelchair, but she looked nowhere near death, so her passing was a tremendous surprise to us all. Now, the usual suspects are gathering on Friday for another funeral, my third in one and a half years.

As co-executor of the will, I helped my sister with the funeral arrangements, flowers, announcements, etc. We also visited the bank to get the estate paperwork underway. We have an appointment with the lawyer later this week. Late yesterday, we met with the minister, the same person who did the ceremony for my father's funeral last May.

Let me say for the record that if I die after a long life, I want a party, not a solemn affair filled with references to imaginary beings, such as my mom would prefer. She was a church-goer. I suppose some of us like being told that they are sinners. I know it, but I also know that this is who were are, that this is how we evolved. Also, I have a very liberal definition of a sin, and I would prefer to use a term other than sin. Killing is not a sin - it's a crime, unless you are at war, or maybe it's still a crime, but not a sin in that case. I would like to go on record as saying that I have coveted a neighbour's wife, probably more than once. His ass, on the other hand, not so much. But, cars and houses have all been coveted by me over the years. But, enough of gods. But, wait, perhaps it would be fun to have someone presiding over my funeral  who could make references to Jupiter and Zeus. Maybe he could suggest that I angered Zeus, and he cut me down, after first summoning a thunderstorm or two to show his displeasure.

The minister asked us to come up with things that she (or one of us) can share with those assembled, With my dad, this was an easy task. When I think of my dad, I think of laughter. When I think of my mom, I think of depression, stubbornness, and a general disinterest in life. So, on some levels, it's amazing that she lived as long as she did. It's a real struggle to talk about someone whose only pleasures were Nescafe, Macdonald Menthol cigarettes, and romance novels.

I will be struggling with unearthing good memories of my mother for the rest of the week.

Friday, November 04, 2011

14 Days

Another depressing post ...

Doctors are often wrong. There were wrong about my brother, and they may well be wrong about my mother. They give her 10 to 14 days. She is not eating and can't use her hands, so is only having water fed to her through a straw. How long can she go on with only water to sustain her? We don't know yet if she will refuse her dialysis treatment, but now that she is no longer receiving anti-depressants, this is likely.

Of course, I am left to think about my father and my mother, because I will soon have no parents. I was always closer to my father. He was the gregarious, funny, joyous one in the family. He loved to have a good time and he liked to laugh and make jokes. He liked traveling (to beaches, mostly), making wine, operating the BBQ. My mother, on the other hand, was always quiet, reserved, and--let's face it--depressed. If I try to summon up a visual image of my mother, it is this: she sits at table or in a living room chair with a cigarette smouldering in an ash tray with a cup of instant coffee, reading either a Harlequin novel or a magazine such as True Romance. 

She never got any exercise, never had any hobbies (aside from a short-lived effort at numismatics, cut short by my brother's thievery), and a brief foray into the bizarre world of liquid embroidery. She did accompany my father on trips to the Caribbean, but I really have no idea if she liked these excursions. Other than that, she was a couch potato, but she did read, unlike my father.

She once told me that she first became aware of her depression when was was a teenager, which might explain why she took up smoking at age fourteen. I have read that there is a link between smoking and depression. She also told me that she was careful never to reveal her depression because she legitimately feared that she would be placed in a psychiatric hospital, something she did have to face as an adult when I was away at University. One of the things I am grateful for is not having inherited her depression. I think I am clear of that one, but I do worry about Alzheimer's, which afflicted her mother, and is creeping into my mother's brain. I hope I dodge that one too.

Anyway, the plan is to head out to the far reaches or rural southern Ontario this weekend and visit with her. It's not going to be pleasant.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

Mother

My father passed away a year and a half ago. My grandmother passed away a couple of weeks ago. Now, my mother is apparently in her last days. She has been on dialysis for years, has low blood levels, can no longer walk, and is now confined to a bed (under a restraint order) lest she should try to get out and collapse. She has a mass of fluid on her lungs that might be cancer, but the doctors fear that she would not survive the invasive cancer testing procedure.

She yells out frequently, and there is a suspicion that the drugs are contributing to this behaviour. She asks to be let out of there and howls in pain. So, the doctors are reducing her drugs: no more anti-depressants, no more meds for high cholesterol. But, she is on Oxycontin and antibiotics and a medicated inhaler.

The doctors believe she is dying and now there is a DNR order. It's odd, because she came to my grandmother's (her mother's) funeral recently, though it was nearly impossible to get her in and out of the vehicle. Her legs are useless and she screamed with pain, complaining that she was being abandoned, even as three of us were trying to stuff her into a mini van.

I know that she is lonely in that nursing home. When my dad passed, she didn't really react, but he was someone she knew for years--most of her life, in fact--and I think that had an effect. And now, her mother is gone and, although she has always claimed to have hated her mother, she must miss her. After all, she lived with her for years and years until she was admitted to a nursing home, years before her mother met the same fate. It seems like her mother was her only friend.

She mumbles nonsense in between asking to be set free from the nursing home. Perhaps she has given up? On the other hand, she may hang on for years. You never really know, I guess, but at present, it seems grim.

Sprawl II

I love this song, and I really like this new arrangement.