Saturday, September 30, 2006

On My Music

Last night, my friend Amanda came over with three CDs and a bottle of gin. We poured drinks and she placed one of the CDs, which contained Windows XP, into the CD drive of my computer and proceeded to format my computer and reinstall the program. In the process, I lost all the music I had been collecting on the machine for the past five years.

All of it. All eight thousand songs. All of it. It's all gone.

I knew it would happen. My computer was so infected with spyware and viruses that I had no other option, and since the viruses had taken over my CD-burning program, I couldn't save any music (though I managed to save my pictures and documents earlier in the process).

Most of the collection was downloaded illegally - the remaining chunk was ripped from CDs I own. (I won't pay to download music. If I pay for music, I want to hold it.) It included albums that I have pulled every track off of for mix CDs, and albums I had never listened to. And now it's all gone.

Today, it feels like that collection never truly existed. Unlike my CD collection, which sits organized alphabetically in the upstairs family room of my parents' house in Toronto, the My Music collection had no material properties. It was just data. And sure, CDs only contain data, but I can hold them in my hands. They can't be wiped away with the click of a mouse.

We, as a civilization, have invested so much of ourselves into computers. But should our civilization come to ruins, it's possible we will lose everything that exists only in cyberspace. Wouldn't that be a shame?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On the Cook Street Village

When Carley and I were searching for an apartment in Victoria, we knew little about the city and its neighbourhoods. We wanted a place that was furnished, affordable, and available. Anything else would be a bonus. We got a lot of bonuses.

Our apartment sat at the corner of Vancouver and Humboldt. The building was a two-storey pink character place that a friend said reminded her of a French villa. The apartment itself was larger than we expected, and despite the very studenty furnishings, we fell in love with it.

We also fell in love with the neighbourhood. Whenever I told people that I lived near the Cook Street Village, I got the same response: “That’s a really cool area, hey?” (Many British Columbians say “Hey?” instead of “Eh?”.) I always nodded and smiled in agreement.

Very few tourists come to the Village, a major plus in a city overrun with loud Americans and snotty Brits looking for the cheapest whale watching deal. Elderly locals do come to the Village, but they don’t travel in packs like the elderly tourists, and will often smile or say hello as you pass them by.

The Village has two landmarks, and this being Victoria, both of them are coffee shops. Past the old folks home, the Mac’s convenience store, and the Pic-a-Flic video store, on the West side of the street, sits Starbucks. Directly across from this particularly charming version of the corporate coffee chain sits Moka House. The coffee is better at Starbucks, the people are better at Moka House, but both joints are usually packed from early morning until late at night (late at night here being 11 p.m.).

The Pic-A-Flic video rental store is also always packed, though the flow of customers is more fluid. Pic-A-Flic has a huge stock of DVDs and videos, from classic Westerns to the latest HBO series' to German art films, and charges $2 for most rentals. Carley and I ended up watching a lot of TV-on-DVD this summer because of this place - Freaks and Geeks (tragically short-lived), Undeclared (thankfully short-lived), Deadwood (deeper and more entertaining than most of the films and novels being released today), and Six Feet Under (a second viewing of the series helped me better appreciate the later seasons despite their glaring flaws). We also rented a lot of movies, though none of them stick out right now, except Dig!, a remarkable music documentary about The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols.

Down the street, past the coffee shops, a drugstore, a health food store, a wonderful bakery, a lame pub, and some other little shops, two grocery stores sit directly across the street from each other. We still do most of our shopping at the one on the West side of the street, which looks cleaner and has better produce. (Our new place is on Cook Street, just north of the Village.)

At some point this summer, we found a little shop tucked just behind Starbucks, off Cook Street, called Il Posto. It sells Italian foods. The couple who own the shop is half Italian (the husband) and half Portuguese (the wife). During the World Cup, the wife covered the store in Portuguese flags and signs, and one of the local news stations did a story on “the battle” between husband and wife (the local news stations here being crappy). This woman has amazing energy – she’s always chatting with the pace of an F1 racing car as she rings in customer purchases. She knows Carley and I now, and always has something to recommend whenever we're there.

This old-fashioned community quality makes up for what the Village lacks in urban edge. So when people say “That’s a really cool area, hey?” they’re not exactly spot on. The Village isn’t that cool. There are too many old people and too few places to drink. It’s just very nice. It’s also a five-minute walk from an ocean view that overlooks the mountains of Washington state and in the capital of British Columbia, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Except for maybe Beacon Hill Park. Which is also five minutes away.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

On summer music

The Grateful Dead American Beauty
In the final episode of the short-lived NBC series, Freaks and Geeks, Lindsay Weir, the super smart former mathlete who has taken to hanging the not-so-super smart “freak” crowd at her high school, befriends a group of hippies who are planning to follow The Grateful Dead tour around the country. They rave to Lindsay about American Beauty, one of the girls saying, “I wish I’d never heard it just so I could hear it again for the first time.” Lindsay takes a copy of the record home and absorbs herself in the front porch harmonies, summer sun arrangements, and homespun lyrics about boxes of rain, truckin’, and the devil. I did the same thing many times this summer. The longstanding connection between psychedelic and roots music might seem like a weird one, but it isn’t so surprising when you consider how deeply rooted in Americana both ideas are.

Brightblack Morning Light Brightblack Morning Light
The Rhodes electric piano is one of my favourite instruments, an instrument you will recognize from countless soul, rock, and pop hits, including Ray Charles’s “What I’d Say,” 54-40’s “Since When,” and Beck’s “Where It’s At.” Brightblack Morning Light, a couple of Deep South expats who’ve relocated to the West Coast and embrace every stereotype about coastal life, use this soulful, resonant instrument throughout this amazing album, blending it with sleepy slide guitar, whispery vocals, and woodlands percussion to create the most beautiful album in recent memory. Perfect for early morning walks, bedtime listening, and getting stoned.

The Dears Gang of Losers
Critics seem hesitant to use The Arcade Fire as a reference point these days, and not without good reason – the Montreal orchestral-pop group’s influence on today’s indie music is so complete that comparisons to them are as redundant as comparisons to The Beatles. But it’s impossible to talk about this brilliant new record by The Dears without acknowledging their influential Montreal contemporaries. On Funeral, The Arcade Fire sang about the desperate, sad, and chaotic nature of modern existence in a celebratory way. Murray Lightburn, The Dears frontman, has always sung about desperation, sadness, and chaos, but on earlier records, this dark vision, while full of ringing truths, overwhelmed the music, which suffered from overproduction and self-absorption. On Gang of Losers, Lightburn has rinsed and cleansed this sound, writing the most focused, energized songs of his life and leading The Dears to the most fully-realized, powerful album of their decade-long career.

Zero 7 The Garden
The British duo of Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns take 21st-century soul to new heights on their third full-length album, introducing both Kraftwerk and The Beach Boys into their deep well of sound.

Patti Smith Horses
I don’t really know this album, but I get it.

Islands Return to the Sea
There are so many ideas in this album that it’ll take you months to digest the whole thing, but the whiny indie-boy vocals will grate after a while.

Billy Bragg & Wilco Mermaid Avenue Vol. One
Setting Woody Guthrie’s unfinished words set to newly written music by an old British punk and America’s best American band sounded like a brilliant idea at the time. And it was.