Archive for the Americana Category

Remembering the Final Performance of the Lee Harvey Oswald Trio

Posted in Americana, Goddammed White People with tags , , , , , on November 24, 2013 by TheCanadian
Final Performance of the Lee Harvey Oswald Trio November 24, 1963 11:21AM CST

Final Performance
of the Lee Harvey Oswald Trio
November 24, 1963 11:21AM CST

As many of you are aware, today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the final performance of the Lee Harvey Oswald Trio. We’ve been coming up on this day for several days now, and the internet and television have both been full of reports, reflections, and adaptations of their story.

It’s important to remember, however, that while the accomplishments of Oswald and his band were many, their short time in the spotlight is what makes it possible to remember them so fondly, as being such a talented and gifted group. Perhaps, if not for the untimely death of their front man, we would have seen a band that lived long enough to have discussed the marital transgressions of the Oswald Trio and their drug addiction. We may have seen them fade away into irrelevance.

Like Billy Joel.

Those of us who love Billy Joel and admire the man for his gifts and his talents, those of us who would speak on his many accomplishments and contributions to music are thinking of Cold Spring Harbor, Piano Man, or maybe even Glass Houses. We’re far less likely to be talking about Storm Front or River of Dreams. We think of a young Billy Joel, clad in leather jacket and black jeans, not bald old drooling Billy Joel doing duets with other washed-up hasbeens like Phil Collins.

No, by virtue of their frontman’s tragic demise, we are able to focus instead on the meteoric rise to fame of Oswald, of his contributions to the world of his time, and his lasting effect on the USAmerican psyche. One might speculate that he would have become an irrelevance (like Billy Joel), or worse that he could have become a comic caricature of his former self, like Prince. Instead, we are left with a smaller body of work by which we judge him, and because his death came all too soon and in such a public and spectacular fashion, we will never examine closely enough his accomplishments to criticise them even when he may have fallen short.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to break out my turntable and some old vinyl memories of better days…


Happy Independence Day: Here’s Your Homework!

Posted in Americana, Essential Reading with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2013 by TheCanadian

First of all, a big ol’ happy Fourth of July to all of my USAmerican friends and family!

I’m really stoked and looking forward to my Fourth of July fireworks.

…which will be held on the fifth.

…because police are cheaper to hire when it’s not a stat holiday.


Anyway, I already addressed the idea of patriotism as bullshit on my Canada Day blog, and as this is sort of a continuation of that blog, I invite everyone who didn’t yet read that blog to do so now.

Go ahead.

Seriously.The rest of us will wait for you.


Okay, then.

So yeah: patriotism is bullshit, and you need to know stuff about your country other than what your flag looks like and how to vigorously wave one while maintaining a firm grip on your beer — or spliff, if you’re in Washington or Colorado, or if you have “glaucoma” in one of these 19 US jurisdictions. And the first thing that you need to know about the US is that you are not the greatest country on earth. Don’t believe me? Ask that guy from Dumb & Dumber:

It’s easy to be convinced of your greatness, though, when all you ever learn about the world is that your country is number one, even when it’s not. Your patriotism is then easily exploited to do terrible things to people, including your own citizenry. And some terrible shit has been done to the US by your government.

And no, I’m not talking about the non-scandals of Benghazi and the IRS targeting the Tea Party, I’m talking about the fact that since Nixon, politicians and the wealthy have slowly been turning the US into Pakistan.

I only wear this shirt ironically, but in a theocracy like the US everyone takes it at face value.

I only wear this shirt ironically,
but in a theocracy like the US
most people take it at face value.

But before we all jump up and start pointing fingers, there’s something that you need to understand: yes, the Republicans did this, and the Astroturf movement of the Tea Party are doing this, but Clinton did this too, and Obama’s doing it now. The fact is, Republican or Democrat, both parties are far more conservative than the majority of their membership thinks they are. This was confirmed for me recently when I ran into an old dude who identified himself as both a Tea Partier and as a Republican, and tried to claim that “Republicans aren’t against deregulation”, and in fact “are behind regulation for important things, like our health”. Though he knew that every Republican candidate who ran for the party’s presidential nomination for the 2012 election included dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency as a part of their platform, though he knew that his own state governor, a Republican, was deregulating open-pit mining, rolling back water safety standards, and allowing corporate donors to pave wetlands — though he knew all of this, he didn’t really understand it. Not any of it.

And Democrats aren’t (much) better. Looking at what President Obama has come up with as a solution for the healthcare crisis in the US, it’s hard to see it as anything other than the truly far cry it is from a public option. He still has the insurance companies running the show, healthcare costs are going to continue to run ridiculously high in the US, but he’ll manage to lower them a bit by stirring up a smidgen of competition. I’m not sure that this is the Hope that anyone was looking for when Obama ran in 2008, and yet when I look around me on teh interwebs, I see all kinds of progressives and liberals ready to defend this half-assed solution to a genuine problem. At least everyone in the US will be covered by some kind of healthcare, but still…

The cognitive dissonance of people backing both parties is pretty extraordinary, and this is why I’m not going to point fingers. Let’s all just acknowledge that shit’s fucked up and educate ourselves as to why that is.

There’s a lot to explain, and rather than try to take it all on by myself, I’m going to give the USAmericans some homework, just as I did for the Canadians three days ago. You have two books to read for your homework:

Your first read: it's about far more than food.

Your first read:
it’s about far more than food.

My brother cringes every time I mention Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, but that’s only because he thinks I’m going to go off on a rant about just how seriously shitty the “food” is at Taco “Just-add-Water-and-Heat” Bell. While the stuff that Taco Bell wraps in waxed paper (I’m sorry — “tortillas”) and throws at you through their drive through window is un-food at best, and while this book explains why that is so, its greater purpose is to offer an explanation as to why things are just so messed up in the US, and increasingly so in other western countries that follow the US franchise business model. The world of fast food is used merely as a microcosm through which the greater world and trends in business can be viewed. franchises are essentially the new feudalism, with big business not making money from how many burgers (or widgets) they sell you, but from the leasing of real estate to the middlemen who manage the business at the front of the house.

Yes, Fast Food Nation explains just what is so terrible about the food at McDonald’s and Pizza Hut (at the same time as it explains why the food at Jack in the Box is slightly better for you, even though Jack in the Box is known for murdering children), but more than that it describes the systematic lobbying of the US government by big business to make it legal for them to pay you — you, not just pimply-faced kids in paper hats, but YOU — less than ever even as they absolve themselves of responsibility for worker health and welfare at all levels of the foodchain in all businesses, and pocket record profits as a direct result.

(And it is unrelenting in its condemnation of Republicans and Democrats both. Clinton does not escape his ties to Tyson Foods and his role in the emasculation of the USDA and FDA.)

Your second piece of reading, also for homework.

Your second piece of reading,
this one with real nice drawings.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, is decidedly more progressive in its slant than Fast Food Nation, I will admit. But in spite of its clear political allegiance (which is less to the Democratic party than it is to principles even more progressive), there is nothing in the book that is not accurate. Hedges is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, and the man does his research. While Fast Food Nation is much more academic in its approach, Days… is not afraid to tell a good story in the course of its well-researched journalism, with graphic novel segments by Sacco adding to its strong sense of narrative.

Days… is an examination of what happens to a country where there is no greater allegiance than to that of unfettered capitalism. It puts to the lie the popular line of Libertarians that if government just stepped away from things, the system would take care of itself. It reveals instead the trail of destruction left in the wake of privitisation and the pursuit of profit. I concede the point that many who’ve reviewed Days… have made, namely that the book seems to lose focus toward the end, and its last chapter on the Occupy movement is not its best. I also see that this is because Hedges seems incapable of finding and creating a meaningful narrative on which to scaffold his arguments as he so skillfully does throughout the other chapters.

Though possessed of a clear agenda, and while the book has its weaknesses, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is essential reading if one to understand just what is so utterly frightening about the world whose development Schlosser describes in Fast Food Nation. The time was that, in order to make revolutions and revolts less likely, high-level politicians would set up corporations or governmental agencies as the immediate face of all of their most exploitive and inhuman policies. In this way, if a native American was being done wrong by government policies, they would see that as the action of, say, the Indian Agent or the railroad, and they would appeal to the government for assistance and intervention. If they were to revolt at all, they would often take their frustrations out on these institutions, cutting telegraph wires, destroying tracks, or even killing their Indian Agent. Through skillful misdirection, government ensured that they could insulate themselves from attack, and even set themselves up as the good guy in the end.

Today, government at all levels, right up to the White House, has become the stalking horse for business. Corporations and the wealthy have turned the tables and now use the government in their sleight-of-hand to divert attention from their exploitive, self-serving agenda — and we rail against the government! — when in reality those in government are not the ones with the power nor with the agenda. It’s not they who call the shots.

And no amount of patriotism, no amount of cognitive dissonance, no flag will protect you from the truth.

Government cannot set your country right. No politician will do that. Only those with the will to become educated, to figure out why things are messed up and act upon what they learn can do that.

And they can only do that after they set down their flag.

…and their beer.

Or spliff.

…if you have “glaucoma”.

Canada Day & Independence Day Double Feature: Watching Last Night (1998) and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

Posted in Americana, Canadiana, The Media Cart with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2013 by TheCanadian
Deja vu! We have been in this elevator before, no?

Deja vu!
We have been in this
elevator before, no?

So the other night, my wife sat me down in front of the TV. There was a movie she’d been wanting to see, and had saved it to watch with me. It was a Steve Carell movie, and I like him well enough, I suppose, so I was game. We sat down and started this up, but weren’t into it for more than about two minutes before a powerful feeling of deja vu overcame me.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, bears more than a passing resemblance to the film Last Night — and no, not the Last Night with Keira Knightley, but the Last Night with Don McKellar and Sandra Oh. And I know it’s not an accidental similarity in the same way that I know that Garden State is not coincidentally like Beautiful Girls. But while that piece of shit Garden State is clearly a rip off of Beautiful Girls, I’d view Seeking a Friend as something more akin to an homage, or an “inspired by” kind of a thing as the two films embrace similar themes and ideas in their respective narratives.

Our previous elevator.

Our previous elevator.

Last Night examines how a handful of people spend their final hours before a cosmic anomaly ends the world. It seems that the earth is being drawn into the sun, and there it’s only a matter of time before we all die as a result. Naturally, everyone takes the news a little differently. Widower Patrick Wheeler (Don McKellar) is looking forward to committing suicide as the song “Guantanamera” plays, but not before he has a final dinner with his parents and chats with his friend Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) who spends his final days ticking off all of his fantasies from a list. Meanwile, Randy Bachman leads a group of amateur guitar players in “Takin’ Care of Business“.

Contrast this with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. It’s less of an ensemble piece, focusing instead on the relationship between Steve Carell’s character, Dodge Petersen, and Penny, played by Keira Knightley. Dodge’s wife leaves him upon hearing the news that the Space Shuttle Deliverance has blown up in an attempt to save the world from an in-bound asteroid, and he finds himself on a roadtrip of sorts with Knightley’s Penny. While both films grapple with bigger issues each in their own way, Seeking a Friend concentrates more on overt comedy. Attempts to embrace any larger, philosophical and existential themes (such as William Petersen’s scene) are more subtle and are frequently used as plot devices and played for laughs.

Last Night is an independent, Canadian film (dare we say “art film”?) funded in part by a Canadian Arts Council grant, and written by Don McKellar in response to a friend’s challenge to write the best “millennial” movie. It was produced in 1998.

Seeking a Friend was written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, and was produced in the US in 2012.

Sitting as we are between the national holidays of two North American nations, with Canada Day now behind us and Independence Day coming up, I propose we sit down and enjoy a double bill that examines the Canadian and USAmerican takes on the end of the world. You may need to work a little harder to gain access to Last Night, but I have faith in your ability to be resourceful.