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A Letter to Meg

Meg is a friend and former Canadian Tire co-worker from back in the Windsor/Amherstburg days. We hadn’t spoken in the better part of five years when I get a message from her via Facebook, asking me if I blogged.

I swear, people, I wonder why I even try.

Anyway, Meg was interested in writing regularly and wanted to start a blog to do it. Sounds familiar. She wanted to check out mine, if I had one, to see what it was like. 

“Blogging is so super strange,” she wrote. Yeah, it is.  But it can also be kind of fun and amazing. I thought I would reply to her in public, as a chance to wax poetics on everything I know about blogging, which ain’t much.

Meg,

I was pleased to get your message, if a little surprised, given how long it’s been since we last spoke. I’ll admit, somewhat shamefully, to having you and the rest of the former CTC crew on the Facebook chopping block not too long ago.  I’m glad I didn’t drop the axe.

So, you’re looking to start a blog to keep the chops up.  That’s actually the very reason I started this up in the first place.  In 2009 I’d long been downsized from my position as Chief Blogger/Onine Editor for the University of Windsor paper, cranking out a couple of entries a day eight months a year. Suddenly I had a surplus of free time on my hands. Working at the bookstore had put me in a more literary frame of mind, as did the friendships I formed with a number of my coworkers there.  By that point I’d been blogging since 1999 or so, writing mostly in the style of emo, though we didn’t have a name for it then.  Writing for The Lance had scrubbed most personal details from my writing in favor of news and opinion, with the occasional reference to the persona I’d constructed to stand in for me.

What became PFG’s been a bit of an amorphous beast since then, moving from the story of a guy who wanted to finish some fiction and try to get it published, to pop culture commentary, to something that’s now spun out into the occasional podcast or video and now sort of back to a fiction focus [though results in the recent poll suggest that’s not what people want from me].

I’ve thought a lot over the years about what blogging means to me.  I still, despite the bile most Internet-famous writers push into my throat, believe blogging and the ease of access to content creation for most people is one of the most important developments in recent memory.  Yes, a good number of blogs, including some of the more famous ones, are little more than vanity projects or single-topic stunts trying to spin into a book deal, it’s still an amazing tool with an infinite number of uses [something I had the amazing fortune to speak about to a group of students at the Queen’s Fac of Ed years ago. It was a simpler time].

Anyway, advice.

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Deep Into February. Or: Hating What You Are

Scene.
There’s one guy who frequents this Starbucks more than I do [and I’m the Mayor, son. Foursquare official].  Our paths rarely cross since I like to post up on the first floor at a table where I can space out watching the traffic and he likes to clickety-clack with his laptop on his knees.  I know he’s working on some sort of book because the manager here is extremely friendly in an obnoxiously loud and overfamiliar way, meaning he wanders through the cafe asking everyone what they’re reading/working on/studying for [the surliness that typically oozes form my pores being the only thing that keeps him from talking to me.  It’s a gift].

The author is an Eastern Religions type; I can hear the sitar music blasting from his earbuds, his pants are made of hemp, his ponytail has that telltale vegan frizz. From what I’ve overheard from his conversations with the manager, his project is a self-help type of book on finding meaning in your life.

“So do you have a publisher? Where can I read it?” the manager asks in that booming voice of his that seems incapable of modulating its volume.

The author reties his ponytail. “Well, initially the first few chapters will be published online…”

It’s like I can hear the air get sucked out of their conversation.

Scene.
At the Starbucks again, a pair in their early twenties come in, weathered Moleskines in hand. They post up at the table in front of me, scribbling away, reading their lines back to each other. The hope in their faces, the affirmation they’re giving each other, only reminds me of just how hopeless this all is.

Writing is possibly the most sinister endeavour you can try, because it’s so easy to fool yourself in to thinking you’re more skilled than you are.  If you can’t skate, you’ll never develop delusions of being a professional hockey player. If you can’t hit a lay-up, you can’t trick anyone into thinking your future lies in the NBA.

But art, ohhh, art. Art is something different. If we make art, we can always comfort ourselves with the public’s misunderstanding as the reasoning for our own failures.  If we’re not recognized as the visionaries we are, it’s never because we suck, it’s because other people didn’t get it.

What that couple at the table next to me didn’t know yet is that we are a dime a dozen.  There are millions of us, we are crabs in a bucket and hell yes we will claw each other down the side in our own feeble attempts to make our way out.  And I’m not trying to suggest I’m better off than them for knowing this. I would trade places with them if I could.

Scene.
Once when I was back at the office, a woman I knew from the floor but not well mused how great it would be if we did something for National Novel Writing Month. “We could be like, your NaNo headquarters, and we could showcase all the novels that started as NaNos!” she said.

“All…two…of them,” I muttered, before announcing I couldn’t stay in the conversation anymore and had to leave.

“But Trail,” my boss yelled over the cubicle wall as I grabbed my bag and jacket, “you’re a writer, aren’t you?”

I shuddered as I hung over the side of the partition between our workspaces.  “I don’t…I don’t really like to label like that,” I said. My boss looked bemused and puzzled.

“What does that mean?”

“I just…I haven’t earned it.  I don’t think I’ve earned it, so I don’t refer to myself like that. It’s always been that with me.”

“But you write?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re not a writer?”

“No.”

“What are you, then?”

“I’m a guy who writes.”

“Huh,” said my boss, smiling. I didn’t need to say anything else. He drew his conclusions.
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The 2010 PFG Playlist

The Lady peered over my shoulder yesterday as I was surveying an early draft of this list. She inquired why I looked puzzled, disappointed even.

“Did I really not listen to any white people music this year?”

She gave me a sympathetic smile and put her hand on my cheek, “No,baby.”

“Should I call it ‘Music for Race Traitors?'”

She sighed.”Yes, that is an absolutely fantastic idea. Idiot.”

Okay, the last part didn’t happen, but it may as well have. While a few rock acts
did end up making their way on my list of loves this year, theywere very few and farther between, suggesting just how far away from the bearded plaid set my tastes have moved, a fact further confirmed over the holidays by hanging with friends who still find excitement in the rock and roll. The Black Keys? The Heavy? Sleigh Bells? Yeah, they’re cool, and I don’t hate the music. But I don’t care if I hear it or not. I don’t want to hear it.

Not the way I want to hear these 20 songs. The epic list, in no specific order, is behind the cut.

Note: Originally, this post had videos embedded, but since the labels won’t allow the videos to play on outside sites, it’s proven easier to just use links. Eff me for trying to promote their products, I suppose.
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The PFG Gift Guide (Extended Cut)

Because there’s always more to discover when out trolling the internets.

You! Do you have a slightly arty, hip-hop loving booknerd and gamer in your life that you need to find gifts for?

No? Yeah, probably not, it’s a specific sort of demographic.

Whatever! I like cool stuff, you like cool stuff, you know people who like cool stuff. Behind the jump, a selection of items for the cool people in your life.

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Another Meeting of the PFG Book Club

These Are the Breaks

It wasn’t too, too long ago that I offered some suggestions for anyone looking for books on hip-hop.  The past couple of weeks have brought us two more, both looking to accomplish somewhat similar things with varying degrees of efficacy.

The Yale Anthology of Rap was released earlier this month with no small amount of celebration. Hip-hop has been examined academically for years as a historical or cultural phenomenon, but for the first time the poetry of rap, the compositional skill was getting the graduate treatment, like a hip-hop Norton Anthology: an 800-page doorstop of a book jammed with rap lyrics, organized by historical period with introductory essays providing contextual perspective and brief biographical notes on each lyricist, it should be a gift from the gods to everyone who bobs their heads to the booms and baps.

But it’s nooooottttt quite.

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The PFG Social Club: DJ Shadow Live From the Shadowsphere!

You Can't Go Home Again

DJ Shadow at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, Nov. 12.

It’s the conundrum that’s plagued deejays since time immemorial: how to approach the live show? You can go the ‘no tricks, play it like the album,’ route, which works fine (might be preferred) for a live band, but not so much for a genre built in the studio.  Your other option is to go the ‘complete redo’ option, which would abandon the studio arrangements in favor of new ones unique to the live experience, which then runs the risk of alienating an audience that has an intimate familiarity with the recorded versions of the songs.

For his 2010 tour, the man born Josh Davis and better known as your Favourite DJ Saviour took the latter route, an ambitious decision that may have ultimately left me a little colder on the experience that I would have expected.

Not going to the show wasn’t ever an option.  My love has been well documented here and I’ve stuck by him for all of his zigs and zags his career has taken in the years since he invented a genre.  Having seen his live DVD, I thought I was prepared for what I would see last Friday, but if there was one message Shadow wanted to get across it was, ‘Trip-Hop is dead. Long live…..jungle…?’

After introducing the proceedings by stepping into the sphere (details on that in a bit) and playing a musical introduction I can only pray is featured on his upcoming album, the familiar ‘–roducing’ dropped followed by the familiar piano tinkling of ‘Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,’ a move the capacity crowd at the Phoenix enthusiastically supported.  Those piano tinkles were the only element that stayed familiar, as an alternate beat escalated into a hyperkinetic jungle rhythm, a tempo the show averaged for the rest of the night. Which, frankly, was a little disappointing.

I agree with Shadow’s thinking that playing the songs straight would have been a little lame.  But having seen the performance on his ‘In Tune and On Time‘ DVD, that’s what I was expecting, more of a mashing up of his catalog, taking familiar elements from songs, chopping them up and reorganizing them into something new.  I wasn’t prepared for such a wholesale reconstruction of his music.

Despite whatever quibbles I might have with the audio component of the show, the visuals were unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Shadow is clearly someone who knows a DJ has to step his game up to keep the visuals from being some guy standing at the decks, regardless of how prodigious the cutting and scratching may be, and he’s always gone above and beyond to turn a DJ set into a full-on mixed media experience.  The Shadowsphere is like nothing he’s attempted before, as he performs the bulk of the show from inside a six-foot ball, occasionally rotating it to let the crowd see the workings taking place inside.  When closed, the sphere becomes everything from a space shuttle (complete with customized images announcing it’s Toronto landing, nice touch); to a static ball from a science center; to basket, base, soccer and billiard balls; to a human eye (a moment I’m sure freaked the shit out of the more narcotically inclined members of the audience) to the freakin Death Star.

At times the backdrop and the sphere interacted independently of each other, giving the illusion the ball was being chopped in half by a chainsaw or laser engraved by manufacturing robots, all flawlessly in time with the audio components of the show, making for an experience that was never just a guy playing records, however they were remixed.

Interestingly enough, after the first hour or so of the set, closing with a fairly straight reconstruction of ‘Organ Donor,’ he came back for an encore of ‘High Noon,’ ‘Six Days,’ and ‘Blood on the Motorway’, still chopped up and reorganized but closer to the originals than anything played before them. It was like he was rewarding the crowd for staying with him through the chaotic hour that preceded it.  And it was in those moments that despite how shocking it might have been to have the music presented to me like that, at the end of the day I was watching one of my favourite artists of all time scratch his fucking ass off as one of my favourite songs by him threatened to cave my skull in.  I really had nothing to complain about.

But damn, dude.  No Number Song?!

A Toast for the Douchebags

I’m not going to say I was on board from Day One.  I liked his production work, even though I didn’t know he was responsible.  ‘Slow Jamz’ somehow went right past me, even though I heard and smirked at the line about light and dark skinned friends who both looked like Michael Jackson.  Even the singles from that first album didn’t really resonate with me.  I thought Through the Wire, and All Falls Down and Jesus Walks were okaaaaaay but not super awesome.  But then I found a copy of the album around the offices of the college newspaper I was working at and imported it to my work computer.

If you read The Lance between 2004-2006, the News section was laid out to the sounds of The College Dropout by Kanye West.  And for the next six years he’s made the exact sort of music I want to hear at the time in my life he’s released it, a tradition he continues with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. With this album, he’s re-embraced everything that makes hip-hop what it is while simultaneously moving outside of it.  This is the definition of next level shit, he’s gone beyond all of us with this one, and whether you like the album depends on if you can hang.  If you can, MBDTF rewards like none of his previous efforts.

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