Month: April 2010

I may not be avian in nature after all, but I’ve yet to discover just what I am. Maybe this film will help.

I’ve just finished watching the final edit (and the first edit I’ve seen) of I Am Not a Seagull. “Surreal” is the only word I can come up with to describe the experience. It’s difficult to explain what it feels like to watch a film about yourself. There shouldn’t be any surprises, since it’s about me and I think I know myself pretty well, but it was still unpredictable.

What was meant to be a ten or fifteen minute film is now about forty-five minutes long. Feels like it’s just about the right length for the amount of ground it covers. It takes its time without getting too languid.

There’s a whole lot of talking. More than I was expecting, really. But the people who are speaking have interesting things to say and interesting ways of getting their ideas across. A lot of what they say is pretty insanely flattering. I think my head inflated to the point of near-explosion more than once. I thought it would be strange to see and hear people talking about me like I’m someone worth talking about, but I’m not sure “strange” quite cuts it.

There’s a lot of me talking in there too, and I make a bit more sense than I thought I did at the time. A lot of things I don’t even remember saying. One moment came out of nowhere and caught me completely off guard. It’s insane, but it feels like it fits somehow. If you see the film, you’ll know what moment I’m talking about when it happens. All I’m going to tell you is I’m seated behind the drums.

After all the strange and inaccurate things people have written and speculated about me, it’s nice to watch a film that touches on the mystique while ripping it to ribbons and concentrates on just telling you about who I am and what I do. You even get an explanation for why I play guitar the way I do. Anyone interested in the man behind the hair would do well to skip most of the shit that’s been written about me and watch this film instead. It’s infinitely more informative, in-depth, and accurate, and the people on the screen know what they’re talking about. Except for that bearded guy with the ponytail. I’m not so sure about him.

If I have a criticism, it’s that you don’t really get to hear my music at all. And that’s kind of the reason all these people have anything to say about me in the first place. There are plenty of songs in there, but they serve as background music most of the time, operating at a very low volume beneath the talking. Given all the music I sent Josh that pretty much no one has ever heard, that seems like a pretty big missed opportunity. I mean, you come away from the film knowing more about me than you probably did before, but if you weren’t familiar with my music you’re not going to have a much better idea of what it sounds like or whether or not you’ll like it after seeing this.

Still, thanks to Josh for coming up with this idea and for putting it all together. And thanks to Matt and Luke for taking on sound and camera duties, respectively.

Thanks also to Johnny Smith, Angela, both Adams (Fox and Peltier), Travis, Tom, and Bob for donating their bodies/voices/time to the project and saying some unbelievably nice things in the process. There are others I also think would have made interesting talking heads and might have had some interesting insights to contribute, but you can only fit so much into one forty-five-minute film.

And we can’t forget to thank Dominic West, for creating one of the most strangely likeable antiheroes I’ve seen on the small screen in quite some time. Why do British actors seem to be three million times better at nailing an American accent than American actors are at getting a handle on a British accent? I can think of several Brits who could fool you into thinking they were American if they really wanted to, and very few American actors who have ever turned in a British accent that sounded even halfway authentic.

It’s one of the great mysterious of this thing we call life.

A pen exploded in your mouth; it’s written on your face.

In just over a week I managed to burn through all five seasons of The Wire. I feel like I just finished reading a gigantic book I didn’t want to end.

I didn’t feel the final season was quite as strong as the first four, but it was still better than just about anything else on television, and I think the ending was as perfect as anyone could ask for it to be in an open-ended “life goes on” kind of way. Not everyone got what they deserved, and not everyone got out alive, but it felt like things ended just as they should have.

I’m realizing most other TV shows are now going to seem pretty one-dimensional, shallow, and mediocre in comparison. You just don’t come across many shows — or films, or works of art in any medium — with that kind of scope, ambition, complexity, realistic character development, and attention to detail. I don’t say this very often, but in this case the hype was justified. I’m glad I waited until the whole thing was available on DVD, though, because I’m not sure I could have handled having to wait a week to see a new episode.

Headaches are still coming every day, but some days aren’t as bad as others. The ominous black box of Johnny West CDs survived the move to Dr. Disc’s new location and is now once again stocked up with copies of the last five albums. I Am Not a Seagull is almost finished, and there should be DVDs available before too long. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’ll post my impressions when I do. Work also continues on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE in fits and starts.

Here are bits of a few things that are hanging out on the mixer right now in various stages of completion, all (or most) of which will probably end up on the album somewhere. I threw in a piano idea at the end for no particular reason. I came up with it a week or so ago but had already forgotten about it when I found it on the little Flip camera today while cycling through videos in search of something I could delete to make more recording space.

And here’s a brief look at a few of the documented ideas that have built up just over the past two years or so, or rather the MiniDV tapes some of them live on. There are also quite a few ideas on the computer that got there via the little Flip camera, though it would be difficult to give you a quick look at those (for obvious reasons).

If heads were hands, surely they would be screaming too.

My hunch about the box of CDs at Phog being empty was wrong. It’s still pretty full. So if there happens to be anyone left out there who wants a copy of the newest album, Phog is the only place to get it for the time being, at least until Dr. Disc reopens at their new location on the weekend.

Four days in a row now I’ve been getting these terrible headaches. I don’t ever get headaches unless I oversleep to the point of absurdity or wake up with a bad hangover. And neither of those things tend to happen anymore. They’re not quite migraines — no nausea, for one thing — but they’re the kind of pulsating headaches that prevent you from doing much of anything until they pass. So I guess they live in the hazy middle ground between “normal headaches” and “earth-shattering migraines”. They always seem to come on at a particular time of day, and they’re always the same in terms of location/severity. The only variable is how long they stick around for. It varies from a quick little love tap to hours of misery. Strange.

The only other time anything like this happened to me was about six years ago. For a month, or maybe a little longer, I got these daily headaches that put me out of commission for as long as they lasted. They came out of nowhere. I went for specialized eye tests, had a CT scan, saw doctors, had x-rays done, and no one could figure out what was causing them. After a while I started thinking I had a brain tumour.

The only explanation anyone came up with was tension headaches, and yet this was one of the most stress-free periods of my life. I was working on GROWING SIDEWAYS and enjoying the music I was making more than I had in a very long time. This was before the crack house hell of 2007, so my sleep wasn’t yet a problem, and I was working regularly. I liked the work I was doing. I was completely at peace with the unusual lack of any sort of romantic ambiguity in my life.

There was no tension to speak of.

There wasn’t much for me to do but keep popping over-the-counter pain relief medication and try to ride it out.

Then one day the headaches just stopped coming, and they never came back. Until now.

These headaches are the same as the old ones. The pain is in the same place. If anything, they’re worse this time around, and they tend to last longer. And just like before, once they come on, doing much of anything aside from going to bed and trying to get as comfortable as possible isn’t going to happen.

I wonder what causes these things. I’m not eating or doing anything out of the ordinary, and my sleep is in pretty good shape right now, as far as it goes. Maybe it’s some higher power’s idea of having a bit of fun at my expense every six years or so, giggling while I claw at my face and swear. Maybe it’s a side-effect of having so much music in my head, and my brain’s way of saying, “Get it out! Get it out now!”

Progress on this multiple-CD set slowed down a bit because of this (how’s that for a brain shooting itself in the brain?), but today’s headache was a bit more merciful than the last few, allowing me to get some work done on yet another new song. Right now it exists as acoustic guitar, bass, drums, some rough vocals, and a bit of harmonica. Still needs some more meat on its bones, but it’s getting there. I’m thinking it might be time to break out the old scrap metal again for some percussive accents. It’s a pretty catchy, hook-filled song, so it’ll be interesting to see how I can fracture and fragment it a bit without losing the catchiness. I thought I’d experiment with recording the drums using one LDC at a bit of a distance and then double-tracking it. While it was an interesting sound, it didn’t feel like it worked very well for this song.

Somewhere in there I’ve also managed to devour the first three seasons of The Wire in spite of those headaches. Only two more to go and then, sadly, it’ll all be over.

More news a-comin’ soon.

You gotta help me keep the devil way down in the hole.

Things are heating up in the jungle. The documentary, which now has its own little page on the sidebar there, is nearing completion, and I’m itching to see it. It’s an itch no nails can scratch. A cinematic itch.

I’m beginning to realize just how much work is involved in putting this multiple-CD set together, but I’m still confident I can pull it off. It’ll just make me feel that much more like i’ve accomplished something when it’s finished.

The box of CDs at Dr. Disc is practically empty. Again. I imagine the box at Phog is depleted as well. I need to re-stock both of those. Dr. Disc may have to wait until next weekend, since they’re going to be closed this week in preparation for their big move, but I should be there on Saturday to refill the black box. When did my CDs start going so fast and decide to…keep going? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s far past the point now at which a new CD would normally start moving a lot slower, but things are still showing no signs of dropping off, and I imagine this documentary might fan the flames of interest a bit more.

And now, a TV-related digression.

After hearing good things about it for a few years, I thought it was time for me to check out The Wire. Even if HBO is (in my opinion) taking a steep nosedive into mediocrity these days, at one time I did like several of their shows. Deadwood is a strong contender for my favourite TV show of all time, with Six Feet Under not far behind (at one point it held the title). I always enjoyed watching Oz. And The Sopranos really got its hooks in me good after a while.

There were also a lot of shows I never got around to catching, and The Wire was one of those. From what I read, it was critically revered while not a lot of people were bothering to tune in. I was one of those people. I have a rule, though. I almost never get into a show halfway through. I start at the beginning, or I don’t start at all. I think The Wire was probably in the middle of its third season by the time I knew about it, and it didn’t make sense to me to dig into something like that with no frame of reference for what was going on.

Knowing more about the show now, it seems I was wiser than I knew. This is one show where picking up halfway through would leave you completely clueless as to what was going on and why, with little hope of piecing it together. Kind of like starting a long, dense, complex novel at the halfway point.

I’m pretty much at the end of my X-Files kick now. I still intend to watch season seven, but after that I’m done. It doesn’t sound like the last two seasons are even really the same show anymore, and without Mulder it would lose a lot of its appeal for me. I noticed The Wire on DVD at HMV a few days ago. The price was a little steep, but I caved in and bought the first season in a “what the hell” moment. If I didn’t like it, I’d give it to someone else who might.

The next day I was up pretty early (I’m back on daylight hours), so I thought I’d pop in the first DVD and see what all the fuss was about. I ended up watching three episodes in a row and buying the next two seasons later that same day. I already knew I was going to need them.

People have described it as being more of a visual novel than a TV show, and I think there’s something to that. This is not a cookie-cutter hand-holding show where everything is spelled out for the viewer and all is resolved by the end of an episode. All isn’t necessarily even resolved by the end of a season. Things take a long time to unfurl. Something that’s mentioned in one episode might not fully make sense until a dozen episodes later. You have to pay attention. You have to use your brain.

There isn’t just one main character to latch onto, but several. There’s no clear protagonist or villain. Every “good guy” has a bit of bad in them, and every “bad guy” has a bit of good in them. Some of the most interesting, sympathetic characters are criminals. Some of the most corrupt, unappealing characters are those who are supposed to be the good ones. There isn’t a single sexy big name actor anywhere. I’ve watched a lot of TV and movies (even if I don’t tend to watch a whole lot of the idiot box these days), but a lot of the actors and actresses I’ve never seen before in anything. The only reason I know some of them is because several Oz luminaries make appearances.

I can see why it was difficult for the show to find a large, broad audience. It isn’t for everyone. It takes a bit of work. But the work pays off. At the same time, there are moments that are incredibly entertaining, hilarious, touching, violent, disturbing, and surprising. Moments that seem almost too good for television.

There’s a short scene in an early episode in which a drug dealer summarizes the game of chess for two of his underlings, explaining the different pieces and what they do. He couches it in terms of the chain of command in their organization. In two minutes it made more sense of a game I’ve never understood than anything else I’ve ever seen or heard.

There’s a scene involving partnered cops visiting the scene of a murder that took place months ago. They piece together how someone was killed using only various permutations of the word “fuck” for dialogue. It’s a ballet for profanity that perfectly demonstrates how they work together, the rhythm they have, and how they discover still-lingering evidence that was never uncovered at the original crime scene investigation. The first time I watched that scene, I laughed about five of my seventeen asses off. The second time — because I had to see it a second time — instead of laughing I found it quietly fascinating.

I’m only halfway through the first season, and meanings are already shifting on repeat viewings.

There’s one episode where a subplot has detective Jimmy McNulty (arguably the main character, if there had to be one) trying to see his kids for the weekend. He has an argument with his ex-wife over the phone about whether or not he has a place for them to sleep, and he tells her a lesser man would call her a very dirty word. A bit later, there’s a brief scene of him trying to figure out how to put together bunk beds while getting drunk, failing miserably. Later still, he shows up at his ex-wife’s house to pick up his sons only to find no one home. Near the end of the show he’s seen sitting on the bottom bunk, alone, defeated.

That he managed to put the beds together after all and made up a nice room for his sons to sleep in came as a shock. It was an unexpected humanizing moment in a sea of many. Those little pieces say more about that character and the state of his relationship with his ex-wife than any long-winded monologue ever would. So much art wants to show without telling, but so little is able to accomplish it so effectively.

Those are just a few bits that stand out for me so far. One interesting choice (and an unusual one for a TV show) is the almost complete absence of a conventional soundtrack. There’s a beginning theme song and an instrumental end theme that plays over the closing credits, but every moment of music in-between is nearly always a “source cue”. Music is only present if it comes from inside of the scene itself in an organic way — a bit of a song that’s playing in a club, or in someone’s car, or on a BoomBox. You don’t get sappy or dramatic music creeping in at pivotal moments, beating you over the head with what you should be feeling.

Still, in its own subtle way, the music finds ways to be effective. At the end of one episode a character is listening to a song on a radio or CD player while the final scene plays out. It just kind of hangs there in the background, never rising in volume but adding a certain bittersweet something, the way it would in real life. I smiled when my ears recognized it as “Fleurette Africaine” from the album Money Jungle, a Duke Ellington/Charles Mingus/Max Roach trio date from 1962, and a great album. Now there’s a music supervisor with some good taste.

In case you can’t tell, I dig it. With a shovel. I think it might even find a way to slide on up next to Deadwood for me in the pantheon of “best things I ever did see that were once on TV”. I should really stop reading anything about shows or movies I’m interested in before I see them, though. I had the bad luck to stumble across a few spoilers. And I hate spoilers. Why more people don’t at least warn you of a huge surprise they’re about to ruin with “SPOILER COMING, I’M GOING TO SPOIL SOMETHING FOR YOU BECAUSE I’M A FUCKING DOUCHEBAG FUCKNUT ASSMONKEY, SPOILER COMING”, I don’t know.

Even so, I get the feeling there are enough surprises in store that a spoiler or two won’t matter much. I’ve already learned an unexpected but important lesson because of this show: shit rolls downhill, but piss trickles.

It’s true.

Oh happy dog.

I now have two more overlooked Paul McCartney albums to add as a postscript to my thoughts on the subject of overlooked McCartney from a little over a week ago. Wasn’t expecting that.

I have quite a few McCartney and Wings albums, but somehow I’d never heard Ram before. I saw it at Dr. Disc and thought I might as well pick it up just for something to do.

Jesus Christ is it good. What a wonderfully weird little album. It’s immediately become one of my favourite things the man has done post-Beatles. It’s that tasty. The critics crapped all over it at the time, but the critics can suck my Czechoslovakian sausage.

I was inspired to start digging through some other Paul McCartney albums I haven’t heard in a long time, wondering what else might reveal itself, and Tug of War is second on the list. I don’t think it’s as great as Ram, and it’s a bit on the slick side (I prefer it when Paul gets more ragged and organic), but it’s a far more interesting album than I thought it was the last time I listened to it about thirteen years ago. It’s all over the place, and there are some great songs. I had no idea the gorgeous “Wanderlust” was about Paul’s marijuana bust a few years earlier. I’ll never hear that song quite the same way again.

Another interesting tidbit: Ram marks the beginning, more or less, of the feud-through-song thing John and Paul had going for a while, which culminated in John’s venomous “How Do You Sleep?”. Here Paul takes a shot at his former musical partner in the first song, though he isn’t too nasty about it. The real shot comes in a picture on the back cover that shows one beetle fucking another.

For anyone who still thinks Paul is sappy and has no edge, I direct you to this harshly funny insect-driven metaphor.

Elsewhere, I believe today is the last day to vote for CJAM’s Jammy Awards. Though I don’t even remotely expect to win the “best local artist/band” award (I’m still kind of surprised I was even in the running last year), I’d like to thank anyone who may have voted for me, for whatever crazy reason. I can’t even remember which shows I voted for anymore, but I’m sure they were good ones.

I’ve been mixing some things, and tomorrow I will be recording some things. The excitement! There’s nothing like committing to completing a gargantuan project on the internet to get things moving.

I am sitting quite comfortably on a sanity train.

Travis pointed out to me the other day that I haven’t gone off on an angry tirade in a while. This is troubling news. As it happens, I don’t really have anything I feel a need to rant about right now. Sure, my sleep is a mess and I’ve just committed to the most insanely ambitious album I’ve ever attempted to make, but the sleep thing is old news by now, and I’m kind of excited about the ridiculous task I’ve set for myself.

Fret not, my friends. I’m sure Psycho Johnny will return one day to regale you with various profanities and ass-destroying metaphors.

I did come close to posting something of a tirade a week or so ago, but I thought better of it and instead decided to edit the Who the Hell is Johnny West? page a little to reflect what was on my mind (if you’re interested, my mini-tirade is in the last few paragraphs of my response to “Absurdly Inaccurate Myth #1”). Sometimes I wonder if it makes sense to have a not-quite-FAQ page that’s essentially one long rant that quickly turns into a series of responses to the myths and misconceptions that have been formed about me. But I think the pictures amuse me too much to cut it down to a more typical, concise bio. I reserve writing about myself in the third person for those times when I’m speaking to people in a faux-russian accent while drinking imaginary martinis. It’s something to see, let me tell you.

I am now in the process of augmenting, finishing, mixing, and in some cases remixing eighty-five songs set for potential inclusion on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE, all of whom (yes, songs can be people too) are languishing in various stages of completion. Some of them just need to be mastered a little bit differently, while others need a lot of work and haven’t even been given a rough mix yet. At the same time, I want to record a few dozen more songs for the album, and then shave things down to the best hundred or so.

You think I’m nuts, but this is me keeping things small. It could easily be twice as many songs. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve been holding back for this album, and piles upon piles of songs have yet to be recorded.

Some song titles include:

  • Feed an Enemy, Starve a Lover
  • Squirrel Running with a Piece of Wood in Its Mouth
  • An Avalanche in Hell
  • I Think My Boyfriend Is a Terrorist (sung entirely in French)
  • The Only Figure Skater I’ve Ever Been Attracted to Is Now a Meth Dealer
  • The Fish Who Thought He Could Fly
  • The Rise and Fall of Steven Seagal

And on it goes.

I’m already unearthing some unexpected surprises. I dumped a song from the summer of 2008 back on the mixer to give it a once-over and discovered two things: a cool guitar idea I forgot I ever came up with at all, and a recorder coda I never used and also forgot all about. It must have seemed out of place at the time. Now i kind of like it as an irreverent curve ball, so I reinstated it.

Then I dumped some instrumental improvisations recorded with Martin Schiller (aka 87 things for he future) from around the same time back on the mixer too. Most of these were recorded with both of us playing electric bass, and I enjoyed the process at the time, but listening again after almost two years away (I never even mixed this stuff) I immediately thought, “This is cool! Why did I wait so long to mix this stuff?” Martin made some pretty wild sounds with his pedals, I “treated” his bass as well to make it sound even more messed-with in some places, and some of the licks I played are surprisingly funky and busy. If Martin is alright with it, I’d like to work these things into the fabric of the album somewhere.

I recorded drums for all of the improv tracks yesterday, which was fun, and added a few other things while I was at it — some additional bass to one track, and some processed electric guitar noise to another. I’m really digging the first song of the bunch. It’s the only one I’ve really finished and given what feels like a final mix so far. It sounds like some sort of weird ambient fusion electro-funk (though no synths are involved), with the rhythm coming and going at odd moments. There’s also a nice laid-back Wurlitzer-driven piece I was able to get more spacious and jazzy with, and a more ominous two-bass-driven track I broke out the mallets for. Sometimes that muffled drum sound is just right.

I like hitting the record button and improvising drum performances on top of songs with no idea what I’m going to play, working off of only the music and my immediate response to it. Pretty much all of my drum parts are recorded like this, but it’s made more interesting when the songs follow no predictable structure, forcing me to wing it even more than I usually do.

Another interesting thing is “finishing” a recording almost two years after the fact, after not quite forgetting it existed but definitely neglecting it. If these kinds of surprises are falling out this early in the game, it’s anyone’s guess what else is going to be revealed along the way…

I think I’m going to shoot for a June release. We’ll see how that goes. I’ll be especially curious to see how people react to this big beefy thing. If I can pull it off, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something enormous. And then it’ll be time to move on to the next album.

You know what they say — no breasts for the wicked. I mean, no rest for the duck farmers. I mean…well, you know what I mean.

Here I come to shave your clay.

I’ve been waffling a bit lately. I keep writing songs but not recording much of anything, because I have no idea what direction to head in. This means more and more songs keep building up, and I become even less sure of what direction to pursue. Vicious cycle, ahoy. Too much inspiration is a wonderful problem to have, but right now I feel like I need a little something concrete to work off of, as opposed to just blindly heading down another dark musical alley to see were it takes me. I don’t know why I feel this way, but there you go.

Even so, yesterday I felt I needed to do something. I ended up working on the last song I had any interest in, and by the time I was finished with it I liked it a whole lot more and had figured out exactly what I need to do. So it’s settled: I’m going to commit once and for all to finishing THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE and, goddess-willing, get it out there by the time summer rolls around.

That right there is my idea for the front cover. It’s a collage of some of the many random photos I’ve taken of myself and other things over the last year or two. It was something I threw together for fun, because I’d never really tried to make a photo collage on the computer before. Then I had some more fun with it and realized it had to be the cover. Yes, that’s a picture of my bass drum when it was unbelievably dusty, with the word “penis” written in dust with my finger. You need to capture these moments for posterity. There’s also a picture that captures part of the “studio” back when it was a lot less cluttered, before the piano arrived, and before several other things had come along. There will be several more photos and collages in booklet form (it didn’t really hit me what a large collection of random photos I’ve built up over the past year or so until I started digging through them all).

This is an album I have been working on sporadically (very, very sporadically, “off” more often than “on”) for the past three years. Some people call such things a “labour of love” or a “pièce de résistance”. I’ve taken to referring to it as my White Album on growth hormones. I’m not even beginning to compare myself to the Beatles…that’s just the best descriptor-and-point-of-reference-rolled-into-one I can come up with. In other words, it’s Deep Johnny West.

It’s going to be at least a triple CD set (that might end up getting bumped up to four depending on how long things get and how the sequencing works out), and roughly a hundred songs long. That’s going to come out to over three hours of music. I figure a lot of people won’t have the patience to dig into it, but I feel that these are some of the best songs I’ve written over the past few years. It will basically be the be-all and end-all in terms of what to give to someone when they ask, “What kind of music do you make?” because it’s a little bit of everywhere I’ve been over the past little while and then some.

There’s a whole album’s worth of have-a-coughing-fit-and-you’ll-miss-them tiny songs. There are a number of songs that sound like they belong on a sequel to CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN. There are some unexpected one-off collaborations that have languished for a while and will probably find a home on this album at last. There are thirty-second jokes and ten-minute workouts. There’s electronic stuff that was too weird for CREATIVE NIGHTMARES, along with some of my catchiest, most accessible moments that weren’t deemed weird enough. There are songs that were recorded both before and after I got a real piano, illustrating just what a huge difference that beast has made. There are a few sketches I liked too much to actually develop into full songs, feeling it might cheapen them somehow. Several songs were recorded while living attached to a crack house (all of those are short acoustic songs, since I didn’t have time to do much else with the brief periods of respite I got from the nonstop hip-hop-and-crack parties raging over there everyday).

This is not another MISFITS compilation. Not by a long shot. These songs are not out-takes or cast-offs, and the few tracks that sort of do fit that description were only left off of a particular album because they didn’t feel like they fit — not because they were deemed subpar. The true out-takes will show up eventually on another collection of odds and ends, I’m sure. This is a real album that just happens to be the most ambitious, far-reaching thing I’ve ever done, and it’s been a more long-range project than is usually the case for me. The people who think I’m crazy and pretentious will have a field day with this one, but it’s not designed to get anyone’s attention, though on some level I suppose it’s a little bit of a musical middle-finger to the people who feel that way about what I do. It was an ambitious project from the start, because that was the way I felt it had to be, and there’s no sense in ever finishing it unless I’m going to let it be as sprawling as it wants to be. I’ll delve into the backstory in more detail on the appropriate album page once the thing is finished.

The meat and potatoes of it is that I was brainstorming and chipping away at this thing before CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN was even a twinkle in the eyes of your domesticated animal of choice, and I know if I don’t put some serious effort into finishing it now it’ll just stretch on forever, getting more and more bloated until it collapses under its own weight and I give up and sweep it under the rug. That ain’t gonna happen. There’s a lot that needs to be done, but I’m confident I can do it. I’m digging in my heels, and this time…it’s personal.

That’s right. I just turned into a cheesy voiceover for an action movie trailer.

I guess I should also tell you a bit about the song I recorded. I’ll let the video do the rest of the talking. Sorry about the high-pitched whining sound. I forgot to turn the mixer’s built-in fan off. It’s tricky setting up a static shot that has my head and the mixer in it at the same time, so this time I opted for my head, which means you can’t see what my fingers are doing on the mixing board. But you can hear them. And isn’t that the most important thing?

Doesn’t that bear look a little…too happy?

The CDs at Dr. Disc seem to be going faster than ever before. I’ve gone through at least two hundred-and-fifty copies of the new album now, and it’s still going. Usually by this point things will slow down, since most of the people around here who want the album seem to have it. Not so this time. I just refilled the box of CDs not much more than a week ago. It holds almost thirty, but it was almost empty again when I checked on it yesterday.

Instead of just filling it up with copies of the newest CD again, I thought I’d put copies of all five of the most recent albums in there. We’ll see how long those last. I just had to order some more CDs again, because stock is starting to get low.

I know I’ve made a few offhand comments about re-releasing old albums over the past little while, but I’m starting to give some serious thought to reissuing quite a bit of old stuff from the back catalogue, and not just so people will believe me when I say, “I’ve recorded more than sixty albums over the past eleven years! Goat cheese!”

It might be an idea to take some of the best albums from the Papa Ghostface and Guys with Dicks days (along with some older solo work and a few other things) and try to assemble some sort of box set. Right now my shortlist has twenty-five albums on it. And that’s only covering 1999-2002, after cutting several things out. Putting together album art/packaging for all of that would be a nightmare (not to mention expensive), but I’m not sure how much more I could shave it down. Maybe I’ll start slow, figure out the packaging one album at a time, and see how it goes.

It’s hitting me now that I missed my chance to post something completely ridiculous here for April Fools’ Day. This hurts me more than you know. I was going to just recycle what I said on Facebook, which was something like: “I’ve decided from now on I will charge money for my CDs, and I will only release an album once every two years or so. Each album will only have about ten songs on it, and all of them will sound more or less exactly the same. I will play live gigs on a weekly basis. I will stop being so weird and self-indulgent, and concentrate all of my energy toward prostituting what remains of my soul in an effort to experience the wonderful emptiness of fame and fortune.”

Of course, it was obvious right away it was an April Fools’ Day joke. I thought it was amusing, anyway. I ended up forgetting about saying anything here, and the next thing I knew it was April 2nd. At least you know the thought was there.

I’m gonna sit at a makeup table on a pile of dirt, just like the singer in Quarterflash.

Four random bits of news:

1. I’m a movie trailer!

I like how the song Josh chose to use for most of the trailer is kind of ridiculous (the song itself, not the choice), and yet it somehow feels like it works better than anything I might have thought of. I think it does what a trailer or “teaser” is supposed to do. It teases you, gives you an idea of what’s coming, and leaves you wanting more. I’m sitting here excited and anxious to see the finished project, and I already know who Johnny West is. At least I should know. After all, I am him.

I’ll keep you posted on when/where you can see the finished film when it’s released, and all that salsa. I like the moment where Jay says something and kind of pats me on the shoulder while I’m seated at the piano at Mackenzie Hall. I don’t even remember that happening. If a ninety-second trailer can throw surprises at me (like, for instance, the revelation that the camera doesn’t seem to want to destroy itself at the sight of me), imagine how cool the actual film will be. Imagine! Are you imagining?

Just don’t imagine me doing a striptease in a Spider-Man costume, and you should be fine.

For anyone who wants to be frightened, the number of albums I’ve released on CD since 1999 is not twenty-nine. That’s just the number of “official solo albums”. It’s sixty-three if you count the GWD and Papa Ghostface albums, along with a few other things. And you should count them, because those too are Johnny West albums as much as anything else. That number gets bigger if you add some compilations and out-takes collections. Most people still haven’t heard much of that stuff, which is probably why it gets short shrift, but my evil reissue campaign will change all of that.

2. LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS seems to have received more airplay than I realized. In the new issue of WAMM it’s at #1 on the CJAM charts tabulated according to stats covering the most recent four weeks leading up to press time. Even more surprising: it shows up on the March 2010 Earshot charts over here at #143. These aren’t the CJAM charts, but rather the charts that combine all national campus and community radio stations. And I only ever get airplay on one of them. That tells you something about the kind of support CJAM gives me. It kind of blows my mind.

Imagine what might happen if I ever sent CDs to other campus radio stations. I’m not sure we could handle that kind of insanity.

3. I don’t think I’ve ever called attention to it before, but there’s a page here where I like to gather the more interesting and ridiculous search engine terms that have somehow led people to this blog for unscrupulous pelvis shakin’. If you’re in the mood for a laugh (and more than a few “what the hell?” moments), feel free to hop on over to a page I like to call How Some People End Up Here. Newest additions are at the bottom, and though in the beginning I let some less interesting search engine terms sneak in (mostly recording equipment references), I now make sure to bring you nothing but the best.

4. Tomorrow my plan is to get down to business and begin recording the next album, for realsies. It should be an adventure. Or the beginning of one. This time I have no game plan at all and no idea what you should expect to hear. I’m thinking maybe some more electric guitar-based stuff, but that could change in an instant.

In an effort to find an answer, she found herself in the old UK.

Happy Easter. I hope everyone has been having a good long weekend. Mine has been pretty spiffy. Hooray for spending bunny-related holidays with your partner in smoo, I say. Hooray!

My Easter present to you has nothing to do with Easter at all. Shocking, I know. Instead, it has to do with two albums I feel have been misunderstood, underrated, and unjustly neglected.

Anyone who knows me probably won’t be surprised to learn that my favourite Beatle is John Lennon. I’m not in love with everything he did post-Beatles. Mind Games and Sometime in New York City contain as much filler as greatness, and there’s the matter of those experimental albums he made with Yoko Ono. But the guy was always honest in his music and did whatever he wanted to do, regardless of popular opinion. Beyond all those great Beatles songs, Plastic Ono Band will always stand as one of the greatest albums ever recorded in my book. Try to find something anywhere near as raw, powerful, visceral, and yet still melodic and strangely accessible within the pop/rock pantheon — and when you can’t, check out Ringo’s drumming and Klaus Voorman’s bass playing, and marvel at one of the tightest rhythm sections anyone ever had. Imagine isn’t far behind. Walls and Bridges has some great stuff on it. Even some of the man’s tossed-off home demos are better than most people’s A-level material.

He also had a distinctive voice that you can’t really confuse with anyone else’s, and one of the best screams in the history of recorded music. Anyone who can write something as simple and beautiful as “Love” and something as vicious and cathartic as “I Found Out” (which, along with “Well Well Well”, kind of sounds like proto-grunge), and then put them both on the same album, is not your average artist. He was a very imperfect man, but he was honest about that too, and how many rock stars can you say that about?

I think we need John now more than ever. He’d have some wonderfully blunt and on-target things to say about the state of the music industry if he was still alive, and I’d be willing to bet he’d still be making some pretty great music, even if we’d have to wade through half an album of Yoko Ono songs now and then.

Nothing against anyone who’s a Yoko Ono fan. I just can’t get into most of her stuff, though I do think “Walking on Thin Ice” is pretty wicked, not to mention way ahead of its time. John’s lead guitar playing on that track — said to be the last thing he recorded before he was killed — is skull-shaking, unhinged, and unlike anything he’d ever done before.

I’ve been meaning to pick up some of Yoko’s early albums, to see if maybe I haven’t given her a fair shake. They’re supposed to be pretty out-there and interesting, and John’s guitar-playing is supposed to be similarly daring. Someday I’ll get around to it. I read a quote once from John where he said something to the effect of, “I’m not a very skilled guitar player, but i know how to make a guitar speak.” For me, that’s the stuff that makes a real musician. He may not have played like Joe Satriani, but he was able to make the guitar say what he needed it to say.

Having said that, this isn’t about John. It’s about Paul.

I don’t think anyone can argue against Paul’s work with the Beatles being pretty mind-boggling. John and Paul kind of completed each other as songwriters, even when they weren’t writing songs together anymore. They needed each other. I’d wager that there isn’t a single bad Beatles album. They just live in different ranges of greatness.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fanatic who goes around telling everyone, “The Beatles are the best band evarrrrr, and UR stupid if you disagree, OMG LOL Oasis R such playjerists.” The Beatles are not my favourite band in the universe (I don’t even know what my favourite band in the universe is, to tell the truth). I just don’t think there’s a bad Beatles album, and after Help! I don’t think there’s a Beatles album that isn’t great in one way or another.

Paul’s solo career is another story altogether. I think this is where he gets the reputation for being the “sappy” Beatle who wrote and goes on writing trite, cloying love songs and little else. Yes, he’s made some pretty foul albums. But so did John. So did George. So too, for the love of yellow submarines, has Ringo. No solo Beatles career could match the consistency or invention of what they did as a group.

Still, I think a case can be made for Paul’s post-Beatles career being the most diverse and rewarding. You couldn’t want for variety. He’s gone just about every musical place you can imagine at one point or another, short of death metal and countrified hip-hop (and there’s still time).

Some of the albums — both solo and with Wings — really are too sappy or middling for my taste. But the guy spent three decades married to the love of his life after losing his mother to cancer when he was still a young man. I think he had every right to be happy and write love songs. He also had every right to use his music as therapy when he lost Linda to cancer too. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose the two most important women in your life to the same disease. Just because he didn’t release something as confrontational and nakedly cathartic as Plastic Ono Band in the aftermath of the emotional trauma doesn’t make him a lesser artist. Everyone grieves in their own way.

After a bit of a fallow period Paul has bounced back in a very big way, releasing some of the best music of his long career over the last little while. I thought Flaming Pie was a great album that got a bum rap with some critics who didn’t like the idea of a former Beatle writing songs that sounded like they were trying to be Beatlesy. Give a critic what they want and it isn’t what they want anymore. Some of them seem a whole lot like bitchy children to me.

But Paul lost me for a while after that. What I heard of Driving Rain didn’t do it for me, and the classical stuff was nice, but I didn’t find it all that compelling. Run Devil Run, with all those full-throttle old rock and roll covers and a few originals thrown in, seemed to be something of a cathartic release for Paul, and there’s some good high-energy stuff on that album, but I think where he really shines is in the quieter moments. On “No Other Baby” and “Lonesome Town” you can feel the weight of Paul’s loss in his vocal performances.

For me, Chaos & Creation in the Backyard is where he really hit his stride again, and it can’t be a coincidence that he returned to playing pretty much every instrument himself for the first time since Flaming Pie. It’s an approach he’s taken on some of his best solo work, including McCartney — his first post-Beatles album, full of homespun charm and proof that Paul has the same knack John did for taking a tossed-off song fragment and making it more enjoyable to listen to than most people’s fully-fleshed-out material — and Band on the Run, which has long been considered the best and most Beatles-like Wings album, though I’m not sure it’s Paul’s greatest work even though it is a great album (and I’ll explain why in a minute).

Something about Paul being responsible for every musical spoke in every wheel, or close to it, just seems to make the music seem more personal, more interesting, and better. Or maybe that’s just me.

Chaos & Creation and its followup Memory Almost Full are both arguably the most engaging and consistent McCartney albums in years. But Electric Arguments, released under the alias The Fireman in collaboration with Youth (aka Martin Glover, a founding member of Killing Joke) ups the ante and blows them both away.

I read some reviews when first came out and found myself getting more excited about a new McCartney album than I’d been in some time. Then I heard some online samples and my jaw just about hit the floor. He was experimenting again and making music for himself, just for the hell of it! He wasn’t trying to please everyone or make things as palatable as possible! He was taking chances! And he was still playing pretty much everything himself!

And then I bought the album and jumped for joy. It’s like a huge pulsating middle finger in the face of every critic who ever wrote Paul off as a hopeless romantic incapable of scaling the musical heights he once did when he was a Beatle. It isn’t trying to be a Beatles album. It isn’t even trying to be a Paul McCartney album. It sounds like he’s just having fun and challenging himself to try new things. It also happens to be one of the best things he’s ever done, in my estimation.

There was a self-imposed rule that no song could take more than a day to write and record. So the whole album was written and recorded from scratch in thirteen non-consecutive days. I think that feeling of abandon and improvisation is part of what makes it so good. “Nothing Too Much Just out of Sight” rocks harder than anything Paul’s done in ages, and is proof that he can belt it out in his mid-sixties better than most people less than half his age can. The guy’s still got some serious pipes.

“Two Magpies” comes from somewhere else — a playful acoustic strut with brushed drums that might have fit onto the White Album in an alternate universe, or maybe McCartney. “Sing the Changes” is so unlike anything you expect to hear from Paul it’s a little jarring, but in a good way. It sounds more like a U2 song with Bono relinquishing the mic. It also feels unguardedly optimistic in a more meaningful way than anything U2 have done in years. If it wasn’t a hit single, it should have been.

And those are just the first three songs. It’s the most diverse and adventurous thing he’s done in a good two decades or more. I always find it heartening when an artist in the so-called “twilight” of their career keeps finding new ideas and manages to do some of their best, most interesting work at an age when most of their contemporaries are either dead, spiritually and creatively bankrupt, or they’ve chosen to prostitute what remains of their souls and integrity for the unyielding emptiness of fame and fortune (cough Rolling Stones cough).

I think Scott Walker belongs in this category of battle-scarred veterans who remain vital, along with John Cale, Polish jazz musician Tomasz Stanko, and Tom Waits. Springsteen is getting up there in age as well, and though I don’t rate his last few albums with the E street band (or the way they’re produced) as highly as some do, there are some good songs there. I think Bruce still has some good work left in him.

Bob Dylan may not be reinventing the wheel, but I’d say his last few albums really do stand toe-to-toe with his best work. Bob doesn’t sound like he did in the 1960s and ’70s, but that’s the whole point. He isn’t trying to write or sound like the man he was half a lifetime ago. He sounds like the self he’s grown into. He’s finally found the right musical backdrop for the gravelly “old Bob” voice that’s been developing over the past twenty-five years or so, and Modern Times is one of my favourite Dylan albums ever. I’m sure a lot of people disagree, but I think in some ways I prefer Bob when he’s not trying to be the voice of a generation. On these last few albums he sounds like he’s having fun, making music for himself. It’s a great thing to hear.

Which brings us, with no proper segue at all, to the two Paul McCartney albums I feel are the most misunderstood and unappreciated.


Wings could never hope to live up to the Beatles no matter what they did. In a 2001 interview, Paul admitted as much.

“In a way the story is a little more dramatic,” he said, “because it was this daunting thing of following the Beatles. In the Beatles, we used to be quite pleased when anyone tried to follow us. We were like, “Take your best shot! You want to do better, be my guest! Haha!’ So, when the Beatles broke up it was like, ‘Uh-oh. My God! If I want to continue in music I’m now in that position of these wannabes.’ Plus, [there was] the loss of these guys as my friends. But it was all offset by Linda and I getting married and having the babies, and starting to go that route. Whereas the Beatles were like a phenomenal success story with four guys, [Wings were], like, follow that and raise a family at the same time.”

The popular consensus seems to be that there are some good Wings albums, but Band on the Run is the best by far and the only one that really holds a candle to what Paul did with the Beatles, while the rest run the gamut from middling to mediocre.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the very last Wings album Back to the Egg (Paul’s way of saying “back to basics”) is at least as good, and maybe better. It was intended to be the beginning of a new, more rock-oriented direction as opposed to the swan song it became. Of course, it was hammered by critics who called it slight and unfocused, and it seems more or less invisible today to most McCartney fans. It’s a shame.

Anyone who thinks Paul is only good for ballads (apparently they don’t own the White Album, or much of Paul’s discography in or out of the Beatles) should give it a try. Songs like “Spin It On” and “Old Siam, Sir” rock pretty damn hard, and when Paul’s fired up he can scream with the best of them. Some things are almost punk, at least in their furious energy. But the album is all over the place, which is probably part of the reason I like it so much while others dismiss it as unfocused.

One man’s “oh shit…every song doesn’t sound the same…turn it off!” is another man’s “oh shit…every song doesn’t sound the same…turn it up!” Sure, you’ve got the snarling rockers like “To You” (with Paul howling, “You’re stepping on my toes! Keep it out of my nose!” followed by a bizarre, atonal guitar solo), but then there’s a dreamy interlude like “We’re Open Tonight”, a soulful ballad that segues into a completely unexpected accordion coda (“After the Ball/Million Miles”), an old-time big band jazz homage (“Baby’s Request”), a typical McCartney-ish “soft rock” ballad with a mellow R&B flavour and chord changes Barry Manilow would have killed for, but warped into something more interesting through some synth touches and a strange recurring off-time horn line (“Arrow Through Me”), and more.

The “Rockestra Theme” is sometimes singled out as a missed opportunity. It features the likes of Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, John Bonham, Ronnie Lane, Morris Pert, Ray Cooper, and several others. It sounds like a huge jam on a simple musical idea instead of some pyrotechnic-drenched supergroup behemoth. This is only speculation, but maybe — just maybe — the whole idea was to get a bunch of people together for a fun jam session, with no ambition to do anything earth-shattering.

The best stuff, however, just might come after the album proper is finished and you get to the bonus tracks. “Daytime Nighttime Suffering” has to be the best McCartney song no one has ever heard. I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the best, period. Paul himself has called it one of his favourites more than once. I imagine most people who’ve heard him say that have no idea what song he’s referring to or where it comes from.

It was relegated to B-side status, tucked away on the flip side of “Goodnight Tonight”, but in this case the B-side was a far, far better song. The way it’s structured and produced is kind of audacious for a “pop” record, if you really listen to it. That a cappella breakdown before the climax is something few people would have the guts to attempt, but I think it works beautifully, and there’s a brief moment of harmony between Paul and Linda (or maybe it’s Paul and himself?) right near the end on the last repetition of that would make my list of “favourite musical moments ever” if I ever wrote such a list. I don’t know why. I just dig it a lot.


And then, in short order, came something a little…different.

I imagine most people who were following Paul’s solo career at the time this album was released said, “What the fuck is this?!” not long after they dropped the needle on this one, wondered if their turntable was broken, listened to a few songs, and then chucked the record out of the nearest window while screaming. This ain’t your grandpa’s Paul McCartney. More than a few people believe this is the nadir of Paul’s discography.

I’d suggest they listen to Press to Play and think about which album has aged more gracefully. Press to Play sounds like a product of its time, and painfully so, with every single dated mid-80s production touch you can think of. There’s no creative fire there, and the songs sound like empty bids at mainstream success. Paul himself has admitted it’s probably his weakest album. Even his life-long gift for easy melody seems to be on vacation on that one.

McCartney II is completely bonkers and doesn’t sound like anything else from any era. I’d be curious to know what Paul thinks of it today, in spite of all those who say “nay”.

I bought McCartney II on CD around 1997. At first I thought parts of it were hilarious, while some songs just didn’t make any sense to me. This wasn’t the Macca I was used to. I think my brain hadn’t absorbed enough music or expanded enough yet to know what to make of it.

I still think parts of the album are hilarious. But there are also moments that are quite pretty, surprisingly bluesy, funky, and just plain demented. Most people’s least favourite McCartney album by far has become one of my favourites over the years.

I’m not sure I could tell you why. Maybe I like that it’s more or less the sound of Paul smoking a lot of good pot and having fun with synthesizers, drum machines, and some non-synth-related instruments as well. Some things here sound pretty far ahead of their time. “Secret Friend”, a B-side that didn’t even make the initial issue of the album, seems to point toward trance and ambient music before there was a name for it. “Temporary Secretary” sounds awfully contemporary as well, and while some find it annoying, for better or worse it’ll stick in your head. Things like “Bogey Music” and “Darkroom” are just bonkers, and they’re a lot of fun to listen to if you’re tuned in to Paul’s oddball sense of humour.

“On the Way” is a great sleepy bluesy number that ends up sounding like one of the strangest things on the whole album because it’s so normal compared to everything that surrounds it. There are a few instrumental tracks that could qualify as filler, and “Frozen Jap” comes off as a somewhat racist jab at the Japanese drug bust Paul experienced just before he began recording the album. Now there’s something that doesn’t really wash with the drippy romantic image everyone has been saddling Paul with all these years. But only the man himself knows what the truth is there.

“Waterfalls” and “One of These Days” are just about the only things on the album that sound like the Paul McCartney of yore. “Waterfalls” in particular has to be one of Paul’s better ballads from any period, with some great singing, lyrics that are somehow silly and touching at the same time, some nice atmospheric synthesizer washes, and an unintentionally hilarious music video to go with it.

One thing that’s a little odd — the bonus tracks on the CD releases of these two albums are a little funky and confusing. “Goodnight Tonight” is on McCartney II as a bonus cut, but it was recorded during the Back to the Egg sessions and became a hit single under the Wings name. I guess since Paul played all the instruments on it (nice synth bass line and guitar harmonies, Macca!) whoever produced the CD reissue decided it made more sense here, since it was technically a solo performance. That’s fair enough, and the other bonus tracks really were recorded during the relevant sessions.

But then on Back to the Egg you’ve got two songs that sound very much like they’re from the McCartney II sessions: the ridiculous “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reggae”, and “Wonderful Christmastime”, which (love it or hate it) has become a staple of the holiday season. No Christmas is complete for me without hearing it at least once or twice. How can you not enjoy Paul overdubbing himself into a choir of children?

Why someone didn’t have the foresight to keep the bonus tracks on the proper albums is beyond me. It’s not a huge deal. It’s just strange. Then again, so are the albums, and the recording dates are close enough that I guess it makes sense. Sort of.

Anyway, there’s your easter dose of overlooked Paul McCartney. You can thank me after you finish scarfing down all those Mini Eggs.