Careering down an incline. Leaves at my feet. Vamonos.
I took a little trip to Berlin in March to visit with some friends. I've wanted to write about it for a while, but haven't made it around to it until now. And so it's worth noting that this is hardly a fresh account, and more like a picture of a photograph.
In my head this piece was supposed to be sharper and fresher- full of wit and pith. But without a plan one wields empty words. Compound this with a poorly wound roll of film that I lost as I went to rewind on the second day. This meant that my best exposures - at least in my head - ended up overexposed. Light gives just as it takes away.
A catalogue of frames lost that I was excited to see:
1) Two beautiful sisters at the Stasi Museum. They must have been in their late twenties. Despite their surprise (and mine) at my request for a photo, they agreed to pose. I duly arranged them and took the photo. Perhaps our accents fancied each other; perhaps it was the fading light.
2) A lower leagues football ground nestled in an upmarket neighbourhood. This one wasn't as interesting as the girls mentioned above. There was nothing spectacular about this place beyond the comfort, to me, at least, of a little stadium in the middle of a city. It reminded me of something Hans Van der Meer might shoot.
A second roll, shot halfheartedly the following day offers a meagre record- I was past caring about photos after the effort and loss of the day before. What I'm left with is this collection of a few ok snaps, plus an inventory of things, shot the afternoon I got back to my house, that I used on the trip or found in my pockets- things that I brought, found and used.
All told it's slight evidence of a trip I wasn't supposed to take, but I find hard to forget.
What I remember was a cramped, solo flight to a country I'd never visited; It was a good feeling. These days, doing something for the first time, and by yourself, is a bit of a novelty.
I got off the plane at at around 10 in the morning and made my way to a cafe on the airport's 2nd floor. There was a group of travelers toward the front that had already started drinking. They were five or six guys and one girl- a group clearly bound for the football, there was no other explanation. In support of their endeavour I considered a beer, but in the end stuck with a short black coffee.
The train ride into town I spent casting my mind into the worlds of houses and apartments rushing past: Berlin and its outskirts at speed. Are you lonely? It's a sunny day. Time for gardening. Time for tennis. Time for some lunch. Nothing about what I saw felt fantastic. Yes, it felt foreign, but I could feel the day-to-day in what I saw. It didn't used to be that way with me. Maybe I am getting too old for the surprises of somewhere new. Maybe I was just half awake on a train.
As our group's advance party I secured our digs (via fraught exchange with an ancient woman resembling a gatekeeper), claimed a room and stuffed a box of beer into the fridge. Before long my friends rushed in, bringing with them our shared history: our jokes; our winks; our looks; our tunes. It was several drinks before I remembered I've shared 25 years with these guys. We don't see each other much, and it was odd to reconnect with so many of them on the streets of this famous city.
The rest of the trip wasn't one of days, but of hours. Our group wandered in a dense pack, unsure of whether to idle with beer in parks we discovered, or accelerate toward tourist hubs in search of experience. Mostly we stood around, waiting for someone to do, find, or otherwise capture something. Stop and start. "I need to charge my phone." And no one cared, really. The sun was bright in the sky, and all of the good reasons to be alive crashed our addled minds. I remember hopes for the future mixing with thoughts from the past.
An unexpected highlight, beyond the nonsense of male camaraderie, was closing a little bar with an old girlfriend, smoking roll ups and hashing out a collective 10-years-due apology. At the end we smiled, hugged and sent each other home.
A few days later my friends and I woke from our final fraught sleeps, primed (somewhat) for the desperate commute back home together. I spent the two shaky flights with a magazine and a third of a borrowed book, before touching down and making way back to my house. I still have the book I borrowed on the plane from my friend. He texted me several times to ask when I would send it back. You can't keep things anymore, it would seem, so I will keep this trip here, and figure out when we're all going to see each other like this again.
This little EP, Rave Mates, is the latest release from Van der Saar, a home recording project I've been doing for around 13 years, now. Rave Mates took a long time. Eight months for three songs? That's too long, and we're not exactly in Kevin Shields territory, here.
So what territory are we in, then? Who knows, really. Accessible, maybe? The music isn't angular, or mystical, or inscrutable, it's just what comes out, I suppose.
Anyhow, here's how it went: a bit of guitar to kick things off and guide things along. Guide guitar, they call it. Guide vocals sometimes, too.
The drums came next - on a rare weekend when I was alone in the house - and they took a while cos I SUCK at drums. I promise you: drums are hard. Another promise: I SUCK at drums.
That weekend (sometime in August) I holed up in the basement next to the laundry machines. I wrote some parts, practiced them, and then recorded them. After that rode my bike around town and took some pictures. I came home, made myself a baguette sandwich, and went outside to sit on the porch and drink with my neighbours. It was a nice, quiet weekend, save for the drumming (and you can't save enough, in my case).
After that, a long break set in because of life. My wife and I had a little boy, Felix, who's ended up being about as delightfully time consuming as we'd expected. His arrival, mixed with everything else in life, made making the effort to create things a colossal fucking challenge. It's still that way. Writing a song, never mind sitting down to properly arrange and record it, takes mental energy and some uninterrupted time (realistically this is just a couple of beers and a Raptors game on mute, but still).
I don't remember recording the bass. I find it's best to just lay it down and fuck off as quick as you can.
The guitars came in fits and starts. The main thing to know is that I recorded them loud. I pretty much insist on recording guitars loud. It's the only time I get to crank the amp and let it do its thing. I struggled to get a second rhythm part with Rave Mates. The song's in a weird tuning, and keeping the one guitar in tune was a nightmare. Don't Come Find Me was more fun. There's not much to that tune. You just blast away at a few barre chords. I ended up putting the guitar through my bass stack. It made a horrible noise with all the pedals on. I recorded a little skit that involved me opening the front door, waking into my house, and heading downstairs toward the noise. It was cool, I guess, but a little too long in the end.
I wrote and recorded the guitar leads upstairs in the house on an afternoon I had free. Those tracks were loud, too. Oh man, the guitar was screaming. After that there was some singing in the basement at Pine. I haven't recorded there in a while. The basement there is weird, but I always find myself in basements, and comfortably so, so I guess that's weird, too? I did a bit of hollering that gets buried in the mix. Nothing to worry too much about.
Little Felix helped me record the piano part for Holland Call. He sat on my lap while the tape (so to speak) rolled.
Lastly, here's a weird prop-hand that my father in law left us once. His name (hand or in-law?) is Mitch.
If I could press you into a book, like a famous photo or a leaf from the fall, I would.
It seems like we'll have had barely the time to negotiate the terms of your stay before you plan your departure. And that's okay.
There is something about you - a light, a madness - that I do not wish to contain.
I love you, little girl.
I ride my bike a lot since I moved to London- mostly to and from work. It's a nice little arrangement: joggers, geese and passersby, a river, and some paths- the whole place largely paved.
Riding around and still relatively new to town, every so often I come across a new street or road that offers a different vantage point on the city. There aren't that many of these, mind you. London is a bit of a... limited place.
The view in this photo is rare for London. The city doesn't have many overpasses that don't accommodate train tracks, and so, without context, the picture may give the sense of being somewhere more... grand, or busy, or built up.
And that's all anyone wants, really. Not the London, part, but the "more" part, the "better than" part. A difference; a change; an adjustment. Something new. Something not on paper. Something else. None of us are "better off" than we'd like to be. We are where we are, which for most is neither particularly amazing nor terrible.
There's a great Blur song on Parklife called London Loves that describes a speedy, sexy life of unhappiness in the big city. Its lyrics message "the mystery of speeding car," and then later, "the mystery of a speeding heart," in a clever little turn, if you know the song's structure (as a sidebar, Graham Coxon's riff in the traffic report outro is one of my favourites of his).
London Loves has nothing to do with London Ontario, except that a speeding car is what you may sense from this photo, and that a speeding heart looking elsewhere for something more, or something better, is, more than likely, behind the wheel.
They all came out dashing and dancing, high and fancy. They'd just seen the lord.
They sang. They communed. They renewed their daily commitment, and then skipped to their cars, returning to the day.
The wind picked up. The lord was there. A rain started to fall. The lord was there. The sky cracked bluer than blue, throwing light and shadow everywhere. The lord was there.
Now they're home. They've had something to eat. Maybe a little drink. One of them lingers at the table. Another stares idly out the window, waiting for the afternoon.
A cyclist rides past, then a car or two. The television goes on in another room.
The flow of things is all so normal, and yet all of this detail is managed by something else. It would be nice to know what that something is doing, and what its plan is.
There's something about this photo that I like, despite it not being a great photo (ha!). It's too soft, too dark, too busy, and awash with shitty light. There are no faces to grab hold of you, just figures. But absent expressions in the faces of these figures there's expression in their bodies. One of them has shoulders that are slightly hunched, the other tucks their hands into coat pockets in defiance of the cold.
It's an intimate moment between two people setting out for home after a gig. His instrument, without its case, a casual expression of the austerity of punk and youth. Her black leggings and sneakers a nod to the trappings of their social set.
As a pair they're maybe just a little too far apart from each other to be a couple. Did they stay arranged like this for the remainder of their walk? Did they hold hands later on? Did one of them stop to send a text or light a cigarette?
I'm terrible at knowing. What about you?
A town like London late at night is a lonely place. Everyone leaves after work and doesn't return until the morning. At least these two have company in the wilderness. And no doubt the embers of a few victorious moments onstage earlier in the evening are enough to keep them warm on their trudge home. I sense that in the steps of these two: a quiet victory.
-Oh, hey, man, how's it going?
- Ok. Yeah. Are you driving right now?
- Yep. What are you doing?
- Just out.
- Ah. You busy today? Where are you?
- We're at the Indigo in Richmond Hill. Dana saw a sale.
- Dude. That's rough.
- Does Peg want a skateboard for Christmas, do you think? Dana's asking.
- I don't know man, it's September. Richmond Hill? What are you doing up there?
- Dana saw the sale. And you know, for the girls.
- That's rough, man.
- Where are you right now? Are you working?
- Nope. I'm Vulcan. Southern Alberta, man.
- Whoa. What? Oh, that's right. Ann said you had that trip this weekend.
- That's it, yeah.
- Why are you there, again?
- My aunt lives in Lethbridge. Vulcan's on the way, so...
- Oh. Yeah. No, but, why are you THERE, in... what is it? Vulcan?
- Vulcan. Yeah. I don't know, man. They have a sign here with the same font they use for Star Trek. They're playing it up a bit. It's a county, too, Vulcan, which I didn't know. Did you know that? It's empty here.
- Oh. Yeah. No, I didn't know that. Star Trek?
- Yep. It's on the way to Lethbridge. I'm gonna stop and have some lunch.
- Oh yeah. I guess it's still morning there.
- So, do you think Peg would want the skateboard? It's one of those little ones. The plastic ones.
- A banana board? I don't know, man. Maybe? Do they still call them banana boards?
- The package looks more serious than that.
- What do you mean? There's a package?
- This one has one, yeah.
- For a banana board?
- How long are you out for?
- Just the weekend. How are the girls?
- They're good. They've both been sick. Summer colds. Daycare. You know.
- Yeah. Daycare's the worst...
- Yeah. Always gets them. Is Ann going to the lake while you're away?
- No, she's going to your parent's place. There's some park festival your dad wants to go to?
- And then you're meeting Dave in Calgary?
- Yep. That's the plan.
- Well, I should probably go. Dana's in line.
- Mmm, she buying a lot of stuff?
- Yeah. Just shopping for Christmas and everything. You're sure about the board for Peg?
- Yep. Should be good.
- Alright, well, have fun on your trip, I guess. Drive safe.
- Thanks buddy. Yeah, same here, man. Say hi to the girls.
-Ok. Happy Holidays.
I came up here by myself for five or so days to finish recording Red Circle. I was alone, recording, drinking, eating, reading and watching television: the 1st season of LOST on a laptop. I was recovering from some things, and anticipating a few others. It was an interesting few days. I barely spoke to anyone.
This frozen Huron landscape, as it does every winter that is good and cold, was just starting to take shape. Snow and sand and dust sprayed from the water, altering the shoreline. Water buffeted the growing ice slab, landing on its surface, complicit in building this little winter continent.
I walked down to the beach from the house just before midnight with some whisky and a tune in my head. I stood on the beach and watched what I could see of these formations coming to be in the darkness. I toasted myself. I toasted my parents and friends. And I toasted this beautiful place.
I've lived here for 32 years. Whenever a cold winter comes the landscape changes completely. It never gets old because it's never the same; its potency doesn't seem to diminish. Part of this place is mine, much as I am part of it.
Sunshine or cold, your red hat would catch my eye anywhere. Your signature.
Today we're in a park out of the way from the places you normally go. I run here when it's dry and I can follow the trails through the woods and fields. It's peaceful and quiet. I come across people here and there, mostly with their dogs, but it's still easy to get lost.
Did you like it when we came here? The four of us? You said that you did, but I'm not so sure. Was it the ice from the flooding? The dog that was a little too big and moved a little too quickly?
I don't think you were comfortable. Doing, exploring, adventuring: these things aren't as much for you as they are for me.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. We ought to try the walk again. We'll take a different route, this time, because maybe I'm wrong. Surely I have as much stuck in my head as you have in yours. Surely I have work to do, too.
I could hardly contain my delight this weekend at watching Arsenal succumb to a very unlikely Nottingham Forest side. The latter were easily the better team. Arsenal, for all of their tattoos, fitted jerseys and straightened hair, lacked their usual class. And I'm always on the lookout for class, especially when folding my family's laundry by myself.
That aside you couldn't have asked for a better prelude to a Sunday night house show than the snowstorm I waded through to get there. Driving wind mixed with hard, compact flakes, as I recall. There wasn't a soul on the road save for someone attempting a brave, if foolish, ride of their bike. Perhaps the machine hadn't been used in a while and its owner harboured feelings of guilt. If so it was a less than sensible night to begin to atone.
The evening collected an odd mixture of bohemia, pop punk and hardcore. The only real takeaway from the show is that there appears to be a musical subgenre called 'easycore' (hence the title), which suggests 'pop punk' to me, which finally suggests that I may be writing in circles.
I also saw what looked like a juggalo (am I still allowed to use that term?), which was a pleasant surprise. I don't have photo, sadly, which owes mostly to the surprise I felt at the time.
Fading youth be damned, my car always picks up speed whenever this one hits the deck.
Oh my god.
This is a moon photo. I took it at about 6:45PM on January 2, 2018 in London, Ontario, where I live. It was very cold out, and I was just in a shirt.
My daughter and I spotted the moon while eating dinner. Not for the first time, of course, but incidentally, as we chatted. Upon seeing the moon we agreed that it was full, and not of food, but of phase (the latter insight being more mine than hers- she's young, after all).
It had to be full. Look at it. Look at the moon.
It turns out that this moon is not full. The Internet tells me is that this moon is 98.3% full and in waning gibbous phase, which is an excellent term for a moon that is nearly full.
"Tell me how to wax when you're on the wane," an old song of mine goes.
It turns out that the full moon occurred the day before - January 1, no less - and more to that was called the Super Moon, or Wolf Moon: beautiful names for something as beautiful as the moon. I will have to share them with my daughter, as she comes quite close herself.
It was a hot, trashy day at the fair. The kind of hot that leaves you with a headache. A concrete, sugary, carbonated hot that burns your skin and dulls your mind. Across a few weeks the fair manages, at best, a sticky, dirty version of its opening day polish: trash everywhere; cables hanging loose where they were once taut. The eyes of its visitors vacant and tired, their skin tight and clammy from soda and pizza.
The fair is aimed at the young (I believe), and for this audience the facade remains barely intact . I walked past a talent show. Let's get this hashtag going. I walked by the Euroslide, its hot plastic squeaking against the skin of youngsters not covered by the rubber mat. The tilt-a-whirl goes up and around, through the day and into the night. The occasional scream. Laughter and tears mixing together. Happy or sad, this all becomes part of people's memories. Happy, or sad, a hot, trashy day at the fair will stick with you for a very long time.
I woke up in a small plane speeding down a runway in take off mode. At first I saw the whole scene in profile view, and then I was inside, facing backward in the front seat on the left-hand side.
The plane lifted away from the ground- a strange, shaky feeling. Who was the pilot? I tried looking over, but with those fuzzy, dreamy eyes, I couldn't see anything. I could only hear.
-Relax, kid, the pilot said.
I was uncomfortable. I wanted to turn around.
-Can I turn around? I said
-Wait til after we hit the clouds. It'll be bumpy just now.
-Ok. Dude, I'm cold.
-Yeah dude. Just give it a few minutes.
And so I waited. It was bumpy. I was frightened.
-Ok dude, he said. Turn around. It's fine now. Grab your coat and get warm.
And then I turned around and I could see. I put my coat on. And it was fine, just like he said.
It was Dale. I was with Dale, so I wasn't worried.
This doesn’t happen very often: a few days together, spaced apart by a few years. We do what we want in the humid air of this outback. Racing, lazing, laughing and gazing back at the potent past. We revert and move ahead, fueled by booze, love, and the certainty that an off-season of a few more years, looming large on the ride at dawn, begins to shrink the moment we step off the plane and back into our homes.