"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Saturday, April 15, 2006

My Old School

Night view of the University of Waterloo Arts Library

Nice to see the kids at my old Alma Mater are as classy and inventive as ever. Hat tip to Maple Leaf Politics

Friday, April 14, 2006

Surf music is not dead

Move over Frank Sinatra, there's a new chairman of the board--the surfboard that is.

When thinking about surfing and pop music, the first thing that comes to mind is early '60s teenage beach movies and the twangy, energetic surf-guitar sounds of Dick Dale, the Surfaris and the Ventures, or the tight harmonies of the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. Then along came Jack Johnson and everything changed.

Johnson is currently riding a wave of popularity worldwide with his laid-back, feel-good, roots-based beach sound built around simple acoustic guitar melodies and gentle, reggaelike rhythms. This wave will bring him to the shores of Japan for a one-night stand at Chiba's Makuhari Messe on Saturday.

Born and raised in Hawaii, Johnson was a professional surfer from the age of 16 until he moved to the mainland to study film at the University of California's Santa Barbara campus. From there, he went on to make a pair of award-winning surfing films before his musical career took off in 2001 with the sleeper hit "Brushfire Fairytales." Subsequent albums On and On in 2003 and last year's Between Dreams both entered the U.S. Billboard charts at No. 3, and his latest Curious George: Sing-a-Longs and Lullabies for the Film debuted at No. 1.

Johnson's seemingly effortless rise to fame came about almost by accident. While he had been playing guitar since he was 14, Johnson had never planned a career in music. He played in a punk band in high school and at occasional parties and college coffeehouses in Santa Barbara and used some of his own music in the soundtracks for his films, but never expected it to become a full-time job.

In 1998, while editing his film Thicker than Water, he met G. Love, whose music he had used in a film. The two hit it off and Johnson was invited to hang out at the studio the next day.

His visit to the studio culminated in his teaming up with G. Love and Special Sauce to record one of his own songs, "Rodeo Clown," which appeared on the band's 1999 album Philadelphonic.

At the urging of friends, Johnson recorded a four-track demo, which caught the attention of surfing buddy J.P. Plunier--the right-hand man of singer-songwriter and guitarist Ben Harper.

Johnson signed with Harper's Enjoy Records in 2001 and Plunier produced his first album, which sold mainly on the strength of word of mouth starting in the surfing community, eventually moving 250,000 albums in its first year of release. U.S. tours with Harper followed, and by 2003 Johnson was headlining shows of his own.

No stranger to Japan, Johnson has been performing here since 2002, and his 2004 tour is the subject of a recently released DVD.

Johnson's success has helped launch careers among his surfing and singing comrades, notably Donavon Frankenreiter, whose debut came out on Johnson's own Brushfire Records label.

Saturday's show will be opened by Johnson's former U.C. Santa Barbara schoolmates the Animal Liberation Orchestra, an up-and-coming jam band whose 2005 independent debut Fly Between Walls--released last year in Japan--will be rereleased across the United States this month by Brushfire Records. The album contains a collaboration with Johnson, who provides the vocals on "Girl, I Want to Lay You Down."

Also on stage Saturday will be singer-songwriter Matt Costa, another artist debuting on Brushfire this spring in the United States and Japan.

Jack Johnson with guest Animal Liberation Orchestra will perform April 15, 6 p.m. at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, (0570) 08-9999; Animal Liberation Orchestra will also play April 14, 7 p.m. at Thumbs Up in Yokohama, (045) 314-8705.

(Apr. 13, 2006)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The sane people
Over at Liberal Catnip, there is some pondering of when the term liberal became a perjorative and what the heck a progressive is. Go read that.

I think some of the reluctance of many on the left/progressive/liberal side of the political spectrum (or "sane people" as I like to call them) to identify as "liberals" has to do with the marginalization of so-called liberals in the 60s by the more committed people in the progressive movement who had nothing but disdain for what some "progressives" and right wingers still refer to as "chequebook liberals" - people who give money to causes but don't really do anything to support them.

(see Phil Ochs' "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" )

There are still lots of these people around, in fact the vast majority of the population is liberal in orientation, but not really committed to full-scale activism. How many people do you know that recycle, but drive gas-guzzling SUVs or deplore the flight of the manufacturing industry from North America, hate slavery and sweatshops, but love to buy cheap crap imported from China at Wal-Mart. I don't want to point any fingers, since almost everyone on the planet is a hypocrite -- we all compromise, it's really just a matter of degree. (You're reading this, so you probably own a computer - do you have any idea how bad building computers is for the environment, you tree-killing bastard?)

Also in the '80s it became widely known (thanks to the demise of the FCC's fairness doctrine and the rise of Rush Limbaugh, the original oxy(contin)moron) that all "Libruls" had three eyes, fangs, ate Christian babies, wanted to take everyone's guns away and set up a one-world government under the communist-dominated United Nations and worst of all wanted to keep good, red-blooded Amurikins from calling women "broads" or African-Americans "niggers" and spend all our tax-dollars to rename manholes "personholes" (-- all which is true by the way, didn't you get the memo?). The end of the fairness doctrine sped the rise of the loudmouthed yahoo nativist school of punditry. That, along with the return of the worship of wealth and conspicuous consumption that took off in the '80s, and the reactionary culture of victimhood ("Change is always for the worst, bring back the good old days! What do you mean we can't do anything we want?) is what made old conservatism new again. You can blame Ronald Reagan for that - I certainly do.

In Canada, since the Liberal Party has been the natural ruling party for so long, it is part of the establishment, something that became more evident than ever when the party swung to the right in the 80's and 90's. As a result, those more who are more activist, left-oriented and anti-establishment (NDP voters and so-called small L liberals) have often called themselves progressives to set themselves apart for those who backed the big-business-friendly Chretien and Martin governments.

Call them what you want - liberals, progressives, leftists, radicals, revolutionaries, anti-fascists, socialists, ratfink commie pinko bastards - I just think of them as my friends, the sane people.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

First "Truthiness" now "Scienciness"
Cornell University drinks the "intelligent design" kool-aid and offers a two month long credit course.

I think Drew Curtis over at FARK said it best: "Two-month schedule starts with lecture on "Great Breakthroughs in Intelligent Design Research," followed by 59.5 days of lunch"

Maybe Cornell will eventually establish an ID faculty - it could go next to the School of UFOlogy, across from the L. Ron Hubbard Memorial Center for Theology and Xenobiology.

The ultimate treehouse
The Swiss Family Robinson's pad ain't got nothing on these arborial pod dwellings. Definitely a step up from the shipping skid, two-by-four and chipboard scrap lumber monstrosities of my youth.