Music: Savoy – Velvet

I was introduced to the Norwegian band Savoy when I was a teenager, thanks to my friend Petter. They’re another one of those bands that I heard during my formative years, and thus, years later, I still pull out their CDs and listen. When I get tired of listening to NIN, Seigmen, or my various swing records, there’s always Savoy to accompany me as I write. My favourite album of theirs is ‘Lackluster Me’, though my favourite song is the one below, called ‘Velvet’.

Music: Mitsou

My first introduction to French music came when I was ten years old, in the form of Québécoise singer Mitsou, and the single Bye Bye, Mon Cowboy, as well as the album Terre des Hommes. Bye Bye, Mon Cowboy is the only French language song I can ever remember becoming a hit on the radio in English Canada. (There have probably been more since then, but I rarely listen to the radio.)

Is there any music from your childhood that helped to shape your adult tastes?


(This video by Mitsou was banned in Canada on its release in 1990, due to nudity. However, I watch it now and I think they have made too much of a fuss.)

Music: Anna Calvi, one of my favourite new artists

Prior to the shortlist of this year’s Mercury prize, I’d never heard of Anna Calvi. I downloaded her self-titled album and put it on while I was writing… and I had to stop writing and listen. Her voice reminds me a bit of PJ Harvey, and there’s something about how the songs slide into one another; you’re never quite sure where one ended and the next began.

It isn’t a long record; 10 songs and 40 minutes. At the moment it’s close to becoming the theme music for my work-in-progress, THE ORPHEUS.

Music: Bellewether ‘Finding David’

L to R: Graham, Oksana, Carol-Anne & Andrew of Bellewether

Last Saturday night at the Quality Inn (Airport), I was fortunate to be treated to an evening of music by Calgary band Bellewether, a quartet of talented musicians celebrating the release of their album ‘Finding David’. (Their opening act was singer/songwriter Christina Helen Marie, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how good her music was too. I hope she’ll release an album soon.)

Bellewether’s live show was fantastic. Lots of banter between songs (perhaps Oksana and Carol-Anne are thinking about alternate gigs as comedians? Maybe?) and great music. Vocally the group is fronted by Oksana and Carol-Anne, and the two have great harmony.

Their album is just as good as their live show. Split into two Acts, with instrumental tracks, it is (in the words of Oksana, during one bantering moment) based upon a dream. The tracks flow into one another and create an excellent listening experience. I’ve listened to it while writing, and  it’s just right. I’m already looking forward to the next album, and to the next live show.

Check out their website at bellewether.ca and listen to tracks at MySpace. Buy the album at iTunes.

Book Review: David Bowie – Starman

David Bowie: Starman, by Paul Trynka. (website)

I haven’t read any biographies of David Bowie in recent years, maybe because a lot of what I picked up in the early 90s could easily be classified as utter rubbish. Over-dramatic tellings of Bowie’s half-brother Terry’s mental illness, or the most dreadful example: Angela Bowie’s supposed memoir, which purported to tell the reader all about how she found Bowie and Jagger in bed together… if only you’d read till the end of the book. (By the way, don’t bother, it was quite the anti-climax.)

Even from the first chapters of Starman, I could tell the book would be of high quality, but I should note that while I am still a huge fan of Bowie, I’m less interested in what his background is and more interested in what material he’s putting out, whether it be music, art, or film. All I hoped when starting this book was to not be bored.

Paul Trynka has some good credits to his name: author of an Iggy Pop bio in 2008 and formerly the editor of MOJO magazine, to name but a few. At least a guy from the music biz would have a different outlook than other, non-music writers.

Now, about the book.

There’s more than enough detail to satisfy everyone, from the casual fan to the most dedicated, even me. (Though if you’re reading to find out what Bowie has for breakfast, keep looking.) Even as someone who has read a lot on Bowie, I enjoyed this book and found it informative. It’s exactly the sort of book that I would recommend to a new fan who wants to know (almost) everything.

There are quite a few biographies of David Bowie floating around, even recently, when the man himself hasn’t been as much of a force on the music scene. (Dear David, I would love if you’d put out some new material. Anything, even just an EP.) While I don’t know how complete some of the other recent material is, I’m especially impressed with Trynka’s extensive notes and acknowledgments. Notes for each chapter are informal (no footnotes here) but cover all the sources used, especially highlighting the main interviewees for each section. Far more readable than standard academic notes (and I’ve read a lot of those in my time.) I only wish that the book was available in eBook format so that I could stick it onto my Kindle and carry it around for easy reference.

Before I finish off, I must tell you that Trynka ends with the Fashion Rocks event, and in reading about it, I remembered that I hadn’t watched that performance in some time. So, I just had to find it on YouTube to share:

RWA 2011, Part 2: NYC

First the conference, now, New York City.

Though I could have spent my time entirely closeted in the hotel, overdosing on workshops and networking, I had to get out and see a bit of the city. My usual destinations when I travel: museums, churches, food, and music.

St Patrick's Cathedral

Churches included St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Malachy’s (the Actors church) in the Theatre District, and a quick pop into St Mary’s episcopal church (the parish church of midtown). I’d been to St. Patrick’s on my previous visit and I knew I had to go back. Located near the busy Rockefeller Centre and Saks, it’s nearly always crawling with tourists. Fortunately, the tourists are generally quiet and respectful. Stepping into the cool, incense and candle-wax scented air is a welcome break from the noise of people and traffic just outside the doors.

St. Malachy’s is much smaller. In the middle of the block, it’s the sort of church that you might just stroll by, mistaking its front for yet another theatre in the Theatre District. I popped in on my way back from a run to the grocery store for breakfast items, and it was one of the loveliest churches I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. If I lived in NYC, I could see myself going there regularly just to enjoy the peace and quiet. I have no idea of its history, but it is billed as the ‘Actors Church’. Given its location, I imagine that it is more likely to be attended by actors.

The Birdland.

I didn’t visit a lot of restaurants on this trip. However, there’s one that is now one of my favourite restaurants ever. Zen Palate. Located on 9th Avenue at 46 Street, it’s a vegetarian restaurant with primarily Asian cuisine. There was so much on the menu that I had a hard time deciding, but I finally settled on a Portobello mushroom burger with yam fries. (No, that doesn’t sound especially Asian, but most of the rest of the menu was.) I wish we’d been able to stay and sample more dishes, but we were running late, having to get back to the hotel to get ready for the RITAs.

My favourite evening out was on Wednesday, when I had the evening to myself. A bit of googling found the Birdland jazz club on W 44 Street just past 8th Avenue. They have early shows on Wednesdays and I got there just in time to catch the performance of the Louis Armstrong Centennial band. They played a selection of tunes, all classic jazz, from Armstrong to Duke Ellington, and more. After the crush of people during the first day of the conference, I couldn’t have asked for anywhere better to sit and unwind.

The interior of the Birdland.

It’s difficult for me to explain exactly what it is that music does to me. Sitting on that bar stool, sipping my drink and listening to the jazz, I felt the stress drain away. The music takes over.

A flute of kir royale (with a twist of lemon) led to another, and then a full meal, including a very delicious mushroom risotto. If I could have stayed there all night, I would have. The interior of the club is dark, with a red glow from the stage-lights, and the gleam of the neon that encircles the top of the bar. Framed photos of jazz legends adorn the walls and half the club is taken up with tables, spread with linen, in front of the stage. The other half, on the far side of the bar, is bar stools along the window, and several small high tables. The bar seats come with a cheaper cover charge, so I sat there. The bartender (whose name I never got, and should have) was friendly, and the service was excellent.

Art at the Museum of Sex.

I managed to visit one museum on this trip, taking in the Museum of Sex with some of the other RWA attendees, Daisy Harris, Tiffany Reisz, Monica Kaye and Andrew Shaffer. There were three floors and a gift shop. The first floor highlighted sex in film, from the early silent era, through the Hayes code, and into modern pornography. The second floor dealt with sex in comics, vintage photos, and featured an entire wall of Disney characters engaged in sexual behaviour. (I’d love to know why Disney hasn’t come down on them, but I’m glad they haven’t.) The third floor was an exhibit on sexual behaviour in animals, sometimes with video footage. We’re really not all that different from the bonobo monkeys, apparently…

The only thing that disappointed me about the museum was its very tight focus. I would have liked to see a display of sex toys throughout the ages (ancient dildos, etc.), and just some overall greater depth. However, it was worth the visit.

Most of my other wandering was around the Times Square area, during breaks between events, so I didn’t stray too far from the hotel. Popped into the huge Toys R Us, the Hershey chocolate store, a music store, and a few other places. On my last morning there, I had a chocolate croissant (pain chocolat, to the French) and a glass of juice at the Blue Fin (normally a sushi bar, but it had a breakfast menu) before I went to the airport. On my next trip to NYC, I plan to take in more museums.

Music: PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey

I love PJ Harvey.

The first time I heard one of her songs, it was a cover of ‘Rid of Me’ sung by Juliette Lewis in the film ‘Strange Days’ (1995). Shortly afterwards, a friend of mine sent me a couple of her songs on a mix tape. Her voice, so different from any other female musicians  I’d heard, utterly captivated me. Rough, sometimes shrieky, sometimes warm, sliding over me like a caress, but always compelling.

I have several favourite songs (if I had to choose), and ‘The Dancer’ (from the 1995 release ‘To Bring You My Love’) comes tops. ‘Angelene’ (from ‘Is This Desire?’, 1998) is a close second. Both are quieter ballads that showcase PJ’s dynamic voice.

I’ve only seen PJ live once, when she opened for U2 in Calgary, around the time her album ‘Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’ was released. I wished she’d been the headliner, as I could have watched her for hours.

(If you’re a movie fan, especially of Hal Hartley, check her out in the film ‘The Book of Life‘, where she plays Mary Magdalene to Martin Donovan’s Jesus Christ.)

Her latest release is ‘Let England Shake.’ Go, listen!

Link: http://www.pjharvey.net

Music: My Lithium & Me (You Can’t Hide the Beat)

Lithium & Me - You Can't Hide BeatThanks to a few friends on Twitter and Facebook, I listened to this fantastic EP at http://www.youcanthidebeat.com/ today. It’s billed as a Valentine to David Bowie, and contains cover songs of six Bowie tunes.

1. Criminal World
2. The Man Who Sold the World
3. Lady Grinning Soul
4. Sunday
5. Always Crashing in the Same Car
6. Breaking Glass

The album art is by Rex Ray, well known in the Bowie fan community for his work with DB. (If you’re unfamiliar with the photo on the album cover, the lead singer has done an homage to Screaming Lord Byron from the ‘Blue Jean’ music video, ’84).

I strongly recommend going to listen and download this fantastic EP. Even if you’re not a Bowie fan.

David Bowie is 64 today.

Not that this really matters to anyone, but I’ve been a Bowie fan for most of my life. Being a fan of his music and films has also led the way to learning about other artists and musicians: Brian Eno (see below), Walter Tevis, Catherine Deneuve, Mick Ronson, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, the Velvet Underground… the list goes on.

Not only have I learned about culture, I’ve also met many other Bowie fans from around the world. Some of them I have known for fifteen years and I consider them very good friends.

And that reminds me – if it hadn’t been for David Bowie and his Telling Lies single release online (Sept 11/96, the first ever downloadable single by a major artist, according to Wikipedia), I wouldn’t have been a denizen of the internet for so long.

Happy 64th Birthday David Bowie!