Friday, December 31, 2004

au revoir 2004, bonjour 2005

Another year gone by. Hoo-hah.

Haven't had time to go into reflective mode, but I will say it was an interesting 12 months that flew by fast. Snowstorms in the Big Apple, designing theatrical posters, further dating attempts, having fun with total strangers, etc. A lot of opportunities to use my creative abilities that leave me yearning for more, like a drug.

I'll be winding down the year with the gang in the Annex tonight. It was a hard choice between there and an invite from Guelph. It's one of those times I wish teleportation was possible to jump back and forth between the two. I opted to stay here because of some folks who may be there that won't be around much longer, possible plans with Amy for tomorrow and the lingering fatigue I've felt throughout the week. I've also seen enough zany drivers on the road today to discourage me from venturing afar, making me wonder if some folks decided to party early.

Last discovery of 2004: the much-hyped Vaughan Mills is a joke. Amy and I headed out this afternoon and couldn't wait to leave. Compared to similar centres we've been to south of the border, a droopy disappointment, even though I found a shirt. Too many stores you've never heard of with too-trendy or too-cheap looking clothing. Large retailers with stores that aren't true discount outlets. You know there's something not quite right when the attached bowling alley has a large sign about "proper dress". I wonder if the mall's bubble will fizzle as quickly as Krispy Kreme donuts (it's on the way out in Windsor, and the one in the Superstore near me always looks like a ghost town). Viva downtown shopping!

As for 2005...looks like it will start with many hours in front of the boob tube. In addition to the box sets that Santa delivered, I used some HMV gift cards to pick up three ludicrously cheap discs (In The Heat Of The Night, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and The Thing With Two Heads) and the second Chaplin Collection (The Kid, The Circus, City Lights, Monsieur Verdoux, A Woman Of Paris, A King In New York, plus his First National shorts and a documentary). While wandering the city yesterday, also found Walt Disney On The Frontlines (WWII-era cartoons), Hitchcock's next-to-last film Frenzy and Chaplin's Limelight.

Also coming up...several weddings, a new brother-in-law, birthday #30, new living quarters, more graphics work for friends, a chance to turn around my recent mediocre performance at work, forging more links with people I hardly know now.

Turning 30 is not the end of the world. It's the beginning.

Bring on 2005 - happy new year everyone! - JB

Sunday, December 26, 2004

twas the traffic jams before christmas

...and all through the town, no cars were moving, not even a Crowne.

Started with a half-day at work, where one of our longstanding Xmas traditions met its demise. Since it's quiet, a good chunk of those remaining in the building go down to the Jukebox Diner for breakfast. The place recently changed hands and it was obvious they weren't prepared to handle the Xmas Eve deluge. Groups went in and out, sitting around for 20 minutes until they figured out they weren't going to receive service anytime soon. We followed suit, ending up at the Pickle Barrel across the street.

Left around noon, walked home, resumed cleaning the bunker. Still not quite int he shape I wanted it to be, but time only allowed for so much. It'll make do for now.

Finally hopped on the road around 3. The fuzz must have counted on a few office tipplers, as there was a RIDE check on northbound Mt. Pleasant just pass the Bloor overpass. Had no problems getting into downtown to drop off a DVD at Queen Video. Getting out was a different story...

At first, thought about heading along Lakeshore. It looked ugly, so I cut across the Ex to Dufferin. Crawled up to College, when I figured it'd only get worse with last-minute shoppers at Dufferin Mall. Cut across to Lansdowne, which also crawled. Didn't help that people decided to block traffic in both directions at side streets, or cabs narrowly missed scraping me while driving through snowbanks. Turned onto St. Clair, which looked OK until I saw a steady stream of red to the horizon, with cars in no discernable lane pattern (there's another good argument for an improved streetcar line along there - it might solve the problem of lanes that appear and disappear with little warning.

I noticed several vehicles whizzing to my right, turning up a northbound side street. I followed suit, figuring that at least I was headed in the right direction. Bad idea - due to cars parked on both sides of the street and large drifts, it was a two-way street barely one lane wide...that hadn't been plowed. Cue gutsy drivers not letting others by, nearly skidding into other vehicles in their haste. Cue my life flashing before my eyes.

Once on Old Weston, traffic finally moved at a near-normal pace. Weston and Eglinton were even better. There were still reports of major problems on 401 through all of Mississauga, so I had to find an alternate route fast. Matheson Blvd came to the rescue. Few drivers, well-plowed, no stress. Finally hopped on 401 at Winston Churchill, only to run into a slowdown by Milton. By 6, I was in Guelph.

One surprise when I hit Guelph: no sand on the roads. Used to drive my parents bananas when they'd visit in the winter, even if it was ultimately friendlier to vehicles and the environment than salt. Made quick stops at Dayna/Owen's and JD/Elizabeth/Brad's to drop off cards. Too bad there wasn't more time to hang out...

The rest of the trip back was uneventful. The only hitch were a couple of fussy, superstitious lottery-ticket customers when I gassed up at a 7-11 in London. You know, the kind who examine every ticket under the glass, ponder a few minutes, touch them to feel which one is the lucky one, all in between requests for DuMauriers that the store doesn't carry. The line streched through the store, so somebody who looked like they had just gone off shift ran behind the counter and quickly took care of everyone else. After that, smooth sailing down 401, though several jacknifed transports remained stranded at the side of the highway. - JB

Saturday, December 18, 2004

warehouse music annex: you keep me hangin' on


The Supremes performing You Keep Me Hangin' On and Somewhere on The Hollywood Palace, 1966.

I usually can't stand listening to the Supremes - I've never warmed up to Diana Ross's voice or the smoothness of their repetoire. The only Ross-era Supremes tunes I can listen to tend to be those where the Funk Brothers were allow to play more freely than usual (this tune) or production tricks dominate the song (the special effects on Reflections). Otherwise, I prefer the singles the group cut after Ross left (Stoned Love, Up The Ladder To The Roof, etc).

Here's what rock critic Dave Marsh had to say in The Heart of Rock & Soul:The 1,001 Greatest Singles of All Time (it was #808):
Worth hearing not so much for Diana Ross's ultra-airhead vocal (it does have a certain charm, if you can't resist shouting "Why don't you just tell him to f@#k off, then?) as for the Morse code guitar, one of the definitive Motown tambourine bits and a deep, dark drum and bass pattern. The music can't elevate Ross's minor discomfort into the realm of tragedy, but thanks to the Funk Brothers band, at least it approaches the region of melodrama.


Vanilla Fudge performing You Keep Me Hangin' On on The Ed Sullivan Show, January 14, 1968.

Like most Motown hits, it was inevitable that cover versions would soon roll along. Not sure who would have covered this song first, but Vanilla Fudge's version was certainly the next best known. They came from Long Island, where they latched onto a formula of taking the songs they covered, slow them down, then slow them down more. They soon caught the attention of producer Shadow Morton (responsible for several moody hits through the 60s, from the death epics of the Shangri-Las to Janis Ian's Society's Child). Cutting out a verse and adding long stretches of Carmine Appice's drums, they stretched the song out to triple its original length. I've included the single edit, which nicely compresses the tune. The full version has a reverb section near the beginning that sounds like the heater we had in our bathroom as a kid (that I once learned not to get too close why drying myself off). Other covers never quite caught the public imagination, mostly because they drag on...and on...and on.

Most cover versions over the next few years took their cues from the Fudge version, including the Box Tops (where the opening organ has church overtones) and Wilson Pickett (who combines the slow tempo of Vanilla Fudge with typical southern soul ingredients - horn section, backup singers, soulful vocals). In Quebec, a version by Les Hou-Lops replaced the organ with wandering guitar runs, switched to English with different lyrics for one verse and used tape reversal trickery at the end (this version may also be the least energetic rendition of the song I've ever heard).



Kim Wilde's chartopping mid-1980s rendition was closer in tempo to the original, with a layer of 1980s dance gloss added on.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

who gives a hoot about figgy pudding?

Got an email from a friend about ther meaning of Xmas song lyrics, specifically I'll Be Home For Christmas. Not a subject I've ever thought long and hard about - I can never quite get into the Xmas music mood, with odd, usually jazzy exceptions. Still, it got me thinking about other tunes we're all subjected to over the holidays...

The one that always bugged me was the full version of We Wish You A Merry Christmas. Most people stick to the first verse, a simple greeting wishing everyone well. So far, no problems.

Verse two suggests your guests have ulterior motives in coming over to greet you. No poignant words about brotherhood and peace on earth, no religious or secular allusions. Nope, it's a flat out demand for figgy pudding. "Bring it right here". You'd think it was trick-or-treaters at the door.

By verse three, the once-merry carolers have turned into the Things That Wouldn't Leave! None of the intruders on your premises are willing to leave until they get some durned puddin'. Sure, they keep saying they're bringing glad tidings, but they're singing those lines softer than the increasingly shrill demand for figgy pudding.

Have mercy on the hapless person who doesn't have a piping hot figgy pudding ready when the happy horde descends on them. It could turn into a standoff. I can see the news reports now...

BREAKING NEWS: Toronto police report a standoff between a group of angry yet determined carolers in the Yonge-Eglinton area. Reports indicate that the carolers are refusing to vacate the premises of John and Jane Merry until they produce a figgy pudding. Police have closed off several streets near Eglinton and Mt. Pleasant as there are unconfirmed reports of similar incidents in the neighbourhood. Police will hold a press conference in half-an-hour. They recommend that residents in the area to beware of any group of carolers singing We Wish You A Merry Christmas. More on this story as it develops...coming up next, the latest on Britney Spears' latest breath of air...

Meanwhile, in case you have anyone hammering at your door demanding figgy pudding, here's a recipe. - JB

Thursday, December 09, 2004

warehouse music annex: torgo's theme

Torgo's Theme (for lack of a better title) - Russ Huddleston and Robert Smith Jr. (composers)
from movie "MANOS" THE HANDS OF FATE (1966)



Another mystery from the past solved.

Back when my sister Amy first got a computer in the mid-90s, she immediately loaded it with all sorts of crazy screensavers. One of them featured a slow-shuffling animated dude in cheap Indiana Jones hand-me-downs named Torgo. He said a short schpiel, then over the repetitive music you're listening to today, shuffle across the screen. We thought it was goofy, used it for a short time, then moved on.

I'd nearly forgotten about it until I rented Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Essentials last week. It's a two-disc set, featuring their jibes at Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (likely the only Xmas movie I'll see this year outside of A Christmas Story) and a film Amy had always wondered about, having constantly seen it listed near the top of IMDB's 100 worst-rated movies, "Manos" The Hands of Fate.

Did it ever live up to its reputation...compared to this, Ed Wood deserved the Best Director Oscar several times over. I wondered if the opening camera-stuck-out-of-the-car window footage was ever going to end. The fun didn't really start until Torgo and his theme made their entrance...and solved the mystery of that old screensaver.

Jay Bob says go see it.

LINK-O-RAMA
Lots of stuff about Torgo, the Master and their buddies lurks throughout the web. A good starting point is All About Torgo, complete with clips and screensavers. For technical details about the film, there's always the IMDB.

Monday, December 06, 2004

snow-free picture zone


Today was the first significant snowfall of the season, making a mess of the city. It was slip slidin' away fun for the cars I passed while walking to work. The kind of day to make one yearn for warmer, sunnier days and places like this isolated ice cream stand in Saskatchewan.

Picture taken near Saskatchewan/Alberta border, along the Trans-Canada Highway, Aug/03

Friday, December 03, 2004

random notes

A Really, Really Nice Meal
For awhile, I've been checking out the Toronto board at Chowhound, where people provide tips on places to eat in the GTA. Sometimes the commenters fall prey to snootiness, but the site is often a fun read that has lead to a few discoveries.

A few posters decided to set up monthly dinners, which sounded interesting but I could never make due to other commitments. There was a hole in schedule for the November outing, at Gio Rana's Really, Really Nice Restaurant, an unmarked former bank down in Leslieville.

Arrived at Queen and Leslie at 7 sharp. Walked nervously by the restaurant a couple of times, then wandered in. Found the table quickly, grabbing a seat at the end. About 7 showed up, mostly female. I was a little shy/nervous, but soon relaxed - most of the table didn't appear too far from my age.

Gio's serves food in small. multi-course servings. After several debates, here's my selection:
Opener - risotto with sun-dried tomato and chicken
Main - veal
Side - eggplant in tomato sauce
Dessert - tiramisu

Most of us traded bites back and forth, all of it delicious (though the chicken in my risotto was a touch rubbery). The goofiest-named dish was "sexy duck", whose taste lived up to its name. The tiramisu was one of the best I've ever had, light and creamy, garnished with hot chocolate sauce on the edges.

Possible sites for the next dinner in January were mentioned, with a Brazilian BBQ emerging as the strongest candidate. Apparently, it's a vegetarian's nightmare. This I've got to try.

Meanwhile, looks like my next activity with total strangers is the GTA Bloggers Xmas party tonight. Should be interesting to see if my increasing comfort level at gatherings where I don't know anyone continues to grow.

***

Home For A Rest
As November grew greyer, the travel bug hit. I needed a brief change in scenery to recharge my batteries before diving into holiday-related events. I originally considered a trip to Montreal, since I always have a good time there, could find some oddball Xmas gifts and hotel rates were attractive. Started to reconsider when I crunched numbers on how much such a trip would cost, then dropped the idea when Amy decided she wanted to come down to Toronto earlier than usual over New Year's. A trip back to A'burg would take the same amount of time as the days I wouldn't be spending there. Getaway destination solved.

Amy and I spent Saturday in Ann Arbor, hitting our usual haunts. Started at Encore Recordings, still stuffed to the gills with music. Oddball buy: Bummed Out Christmas, a fine collection of unhappy holiday songs from the likes of the Staple Singers and George Jones from the folks at Rhino. One of my all-time fave holiday tunes is on this disc - Christmas In Jail .

Next, we filled ourselves up with Indian food up Raja Rani, an old house that's now home to a great restaurant with an eclectic lunch buffet. It's the only one I've been to that includes small dosas and an urn of chai. Didn't see Dad's favourite dish - whole hard-boiled eggs swimming in curry sauce. Headed to Afterwords next, where it was one of those days we had to toss books back (it's a higher-end clearing house).

Next, headed over to Stadium to check out all the fuss about Trader Joe's, home of cheap organic/gourmet food and "Three-Buck Chuck" wine. Didn't take long to fill a shopping cart with cereal and sauces, though Amy accidentally left some fruit bars in it (oops). So far, I've tried a box of Cherry Almond Crunch, which I'll be running back for more.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

ranting about cabbies

I should start a count of how many times per week my life flashes before my eyes due to the talented cab drivers in our humble burg. Two such incidents yesterday morning:

1) I was about to hop in the car, to move it closer to Yonge so that I could make a quick getaway later for an employee sale in North York. As I'm walking to the car, there's a cab honking to whoever ordered it. Just as I'm about to open the car door, the cab suddenly fires up, just about knocks me over, then stops in front of the car and honks some more.

2) I'm a block south of the office, crossing Hillsdale, when another cab comes out of nowhere to make a fast left off Yonge, nearly knocking me and two other pedestrians down. Two more steps and it would have been curtains.

The last time I rode in a local cab was from Union Station to my place when Amy and I returned from New York. My spider-sense compelled me to clutch the seat, as our driver speedily wove through traffic on Jarvis and raced up the Mt. Pleasant speedway. I wanted to yell "take it easy!", but my brain had shifted to another part of the body.

And don't get me started on dealing with them while driving...meanwhile, I should start reviewing the script for the next time my life flashes by. - JB