Poor Performance

The 2015 PFG Playlist

*pulls tarp off of website, shakes out the cobwebs*

Hey. How was your year?

I meeeeeaaaan, look. I’m not going to defend the lack of activity here. I work nights, I’m not perpetually tired, but I’m pretty tired a lot of the time. I wrote some stuff for some people, but a lot of where my non-day job hours of consciousness ended up was on the retooled RadioPFG. What was once a semiregular directionless podcast has now become, on the strength of the two years I’ve spent as a junior-intermediate crate digger, a weekly hourlong show I produce myself live every Saturday at 2:00 pm. I broadcast it on Mixlr every week, then toss the newest episode on Soundcloud for the following seven days. I’ve really enjoyed doing it, and the feedback from the friends who are listening regularly has encouraged me enough to keep  working on it from week to week.

If there’s one thing working on the show has done, is that it’s allowed me to re-engage with music on a deeper level than I have in a few years. After years of writing these preambles and lamenting that music was boring me or that I couldn’t find 20 songs that I loved in any given year, I had more music than I could handle in 2015, and what’s more, I was actively seeking it out, which is new. Record collecting and programming a show has made my tastes weirder and (no surprise here) more global. Let’s take a stroll through the songs that blessed my ears the most this year, not the objectively superior, not necessarily the most innovative, just the ones I liked the best, in no order.

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Step Right Up

If you were to guess that the flurry of activity around here lately had to do with me getting the itch again now that the draft has finally left my grubby hands and flown overseas to people like designers and copy editors, you would be correct.

You don’t need me to tell you that writing is like running, or weight lifting or whatever other questionable endurance sport you might partake in. Use it or lose it, and I took my damn sweet time recovering from the process of writing the book (Level 56 on Grand Theft Auto Online, email me for my Gamertag. Get at me, dog). But then ideas for things to write about start to percolate and the longer they stay in there the longer they fester until the process of expelling them from my brain is lacklustre and disappointing. Not unlike passing a bowel movement.

As for how I’m feeling now that it’s out of my hands, the wonderful Julieanne Smolinski summed up that feeling with more precision than I ever could.

Yup.

None of this is to say I’ve been completely slovenly the last couple of months. I continue musing about whatever nerdery comes to mind over at 22 Pages for the University of Toronto (latest are here and here) and I also branched out a tad by tossing some pieces to the folks over at The Same Page on, oddly enough, the 40th Birthday of Hip-Hop and the release of Grand Theft Auto V (do you think I’m developing a niche here?)

As well, my friends and colleagues at 22 Pages Khaiam Dar and Alex Correa have collected the first volume of the webcomic they started in 2011, Smells Like Maturity. If you’re in the Toronto area, swing by Red Nails II at Jane and Bloor for their release party on November 15. I wrote the introduction, so if you’re a Ferguson completist, you’ll want to pick that up. Writing it turned out to be a bigger deal than I was expecting it to be, but I’m really happy with the piece, and for the opportunity to toast those two jerks on the occasion of making their longtime dream come true. Of course they’d release their book six months before mine comes out.

So that’s what I’m staying up to, friends. It’s a moment of respite from book madness as it moves to the production phase, but I’m sure you’ll be inundated with Dilla-related content as the book nears release. For the moment, I’m just enjoying the relative peace and trying to figure out how to stumble my way into being a quote-unquote “writer” instead of someone who wrote a book once.

Kind of weird to think now about how that struggle is what this blog was meant to document in the first place. .

The Return of the Mighty RadioPFG: Now on The Wheels of Steel

I can has beats?

Well. This took far longer than I was expecting it to.

The first application I bought from the Mac App Store after I bought the MacBook was Algoriddim’s djay, a sort ‘My First Program’ for guys like me who wanted to learn something about DJ’ing but didn’t want to toss out a few grand on turntables and a Serato rig.  The ultimate goal was to get some practice in and change RadioPFG from something that sounded like a campus radio show [Dead air…umm…dead air] and make it more of a live mix set.  I could play more music in less time that way, which greatly appealed to me considering the last few episodes only got about ten songs in and ran an hour [I’m chatty, what do you want?].

What they don’t tell you about DJ’ing: it’s haaaaaardI mean, this is the most basic of the basic, with the software doing all the lifting, I can only imagine what it was like pre-laptop for all the cats who were dragging record crates to gigs and had to beatmatch by ear.  I salute you. All things considered, I don’t think it turned out too bad.

Also the first time I tried using Soundcloud.  The easy integration with WordPress made it a no-brainer, but who knows how long I’ll be able to keep it up for. Promotional purposes only, lawyers. Setlist!

DJ Jazzy Jeff – Passin By Me
Common – Nag Champa
Ayah & DJ Jazzy Jeff f/ Kardinal Offishal, Skillz and Shad – Notorious
Childish Gambino – Fire Fly
De La Soul – Much More
Project Move – Make it Fresh [Remix]
Slum Village – Raise it Up
Q-Tip – Let’s Ride
Freddie Joachim – Strawberries
J-Rawls f/ Jonelle – Miss You [Bring it Back]
Project Move – Butterfly Theory
Alliance Ethnik – 5 Heures du Mat
A Tribe Called Quest – Award Tour
Pase Rock – Grey Matter
Beastie Boys – Shadrach

Exposing the Business

The kids love graphs.

The best thing about blogging with WordPress [and there have been some bad things about it lately, infinite scrolling!] are the statistics they keep, allowing me to obsess over every visit, read post and clicked link. There really is nothing better than seeing the bars on the graph grow taller, charting the increases in engagement with people who swing by to read the site.

I have a pretty basic [as in, one step above rhesus monkey] understanding about building that engagement: more content = more views. Consistent voice, consistent posting, the two primary tenets of blogging, an idea so basic at this stage in online content creation it seems inconceivable anyone could screw it up.

I posted three entries on Monday, each occupying a different lane on the content freeway that is Poetry for Gravediggers: a Wrestlemania wrap-up in the morning, the next installment of Thirty Days of Stories and a rare personal post later in the afternoon discussing what I wanted for the site. No surprise, I had a good day for traffic. But I noticed something when I started looking at the numbers a little more closely.

The post on the short story got zero views, while the laid back, freeform, ‘personal’ entry received far more than I was expecting. It gave me pause, since I go out of my way, and have explicitly stated that I’m kind of over talking about the ins and outs of my own melon; I’ve done that so much in blogs, with PFG I was trying to connect with something bigger than myself. I’m fricking boring, people.

But the numbers yesterday have me reconsidering. They would seem to suggest people prefer when I’m blathering on about myself, and could care less about the aspiring writer’s journey or the musings on hip-hop or other pop culture commentary. You’ve piqued my curiosity.

This is very informal, I’m not about to say I’d actively change how I do things around here [I’m finishing those 17 other stories whether you people like it or not], I’m just interested. The stats for yesterday would suggest people would prefer I natter on about myself, which seems dreadfully boring and the sort of thing you can get from at least fifteen million other bloggers, some of whom are not averse to posting photos in varying degrees of undress. I’m not that dude, will never be that dude. But if the response was overwhelming, I might consider it. To an extent.

Click away, friends. Let me know.

Hey, Internet.

August is a cruel month...

It’s never been my philosophy to take the Neil Gaiman approach to PFG, serve up some personal details of what I’ve been up to along with some links to where you can find pieces I’ve written. Mostly because I’m old enough I don’t think my life is interesting enough to warrant detailed description [says the guy with a blog/Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr, etc], but also, sadly, because there’s never really anything to tell, especially on the ‘stuff I wrote,’ frontier.

But no longer!  A couple of opportunities recently came through for my “talents,” where you can now find my writing and ramblings.

Over on the blog for Chapters/Indigo I wrote a piece recommending some essential hip-hop non-fiction titles in celebration of the art’s 38th birthday.  Longtime readers will be familiar with a lot of what’s over there, but there are some new titles I’ve never mentioned before.

More interestingly perhaps, a friend of a friend started up a comics fandom site targeting students at the University of Toronto and asked me to contribute. So I did.  I’ll hopefully be contributing to 22 Pages twice a month, hopefully. Head over there now to read my begrudging appreciation of FanExpo, Toronto’s premier pop culture exhibition.

Still, even with these side projects, there’s no reason to deny you the PFG experience you know and love.  August was busy, but still had enough time to blog if I really wanted to.  That thousand word piece on Final Fantasy I threw up this week should be enough to suggest how I’ve been spending my free time lately.  Speaking of which, I can hopefully get an hour in before bed if I go riiiiiiight, now!

On Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!

Much less fun than image suggests.

Some books arrive in a hurricane of hype, and once you read it, you understand why. Other books arrive in a similar tsunami and you either have to concede that the book’s unworthy of such praise, or acknowledge that you just might not be smart enough.

Franzen’s Freedom is the former type. Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! is decidedly in the latter camp, I just can’t figure out which reason why. A promising premise ultimately crumbled for me under the weight of overwriting and a frustrating narrator [SPOILERS AHEAD].

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The Dissenter’s Notebook: Nuit Blanche

Your Assertion is Being Challenged. Also: Future Book Jacket Photo

Oh, sorry, I meant Scotiabank Nuit Blanche.  I had no intention of going, friends.  Too many people, for one: anything worth looking at is woefully overpopulated [a lesson learned trying to get a peek at the Dumpster Hotel a few years ago].  For two, I was working til 11.00 pm and had to be back at 9.45 the next morning, so it didn’t leave a lot of time to experience the annual ‘all night art thing,’ as they call it.  But I had a moment as I got ready for work that afternoon, reading the TO Twitterati and blogs start to get amped up for it. I turned to the Lady and asked if she had any interest in going.  She said she kind of did.

“Then eff it!” I declared. “I live in the best city in Canada, dammit, and how many times do I intentionally skip things because I’m tired or because I’m working and because I take it for granted that I live here and something else cool will come along next weekend.  Eff that!  The whole city’s going out for this, and I’m going to miss it so I can come home, watch SNL and get a good night’s sleep? I’ll sleep when I’m dead, dammit. We’re going!”

So we made plans to meet at Sneaky Dee’s for a few drinks and some nachos before heading out into the streets with the rest of the city to see what we could find.

Lesson learned: I’m not much interested in hanging out with the whole city, am very interested in hanging out with my friends, and that an all night art thing is not necessary for that to occur.  Actually, its absence is preferable.

Nuit Blanche has become pretty bloated in the last few years, with over a million people descending on the city’s downtown core from Yorkville to the Distillery District to West Queen West.  If you don’t have a plan, you’re kind of screwed.  We did not have a plan.  Everything we might have wanted to check out was either too far from us [mourning your own death at St Clair West] or too high-profile and swamped with people [the Dune project in Lower Bay Station].  The all-night TTC service, much touted though it was, totally shit the bed the one time we tried to use it, with a northbound train pulling into Dundas after a ten minute wait, bursting with people while the car we ended positioned near was unlit and out of service.  We had to wait another seven minutes for the next train.

Really though, it comes down to the number of attendees along with the quality and locations of the installations.  Was there really nothing in Kensington this year? Someone tell me I’m wrong about that.  We walked from College/Bathurst to Queen/Spadina and didn’t encounter one thing connected with the event, aside from some lovely people inviting us to have some free popcorn and check out the Toronto Underground Cinema [verdict: nice space, though I wasn’t about to watch a short black and white silent film about undersea crabs].  And once we hit Queen West, the thing turned into one giant pub crawl, with drunk and stoned revelers wandering into the streets never quite understanding that only Yonge was the only road closed to traffic.  What we did walk by was underwhelming: a lot of things on fire, Daniel Lanois’s  nightlong jam session at Nathan Phillips Square, and some guys sitting on a couch doing nothing while a video montage set to Kraftwerk flashed behind them.  From the reports the next morning, a lot of the events lost steam or flat-out shut down long before sunrise, so who knows how things looked around 8.00 or 9.00 in the evening.  But it sort of betrays the event to look one way during primetime and another in the later hours.

And then, the people.  I saw enough snotty tweets blaming tourists and 905’ers for less than stellar experiences during the event, but if you a bad time, you probably need look no further than your beloved 416’ers. The weed smoke, the energy drink cans littering the sidewalks, the domestic arguments breaking out every block and a half, that was all us.  Don’t put that on the suburbs.

When we finally got on a streetcar home, the Lady remarked that we while it was nice being out and about, we probably would have had a better time had we stayed at Dee’s splitting pitchers.  I said no, we definitely would have had more fun.  After living here long enough, you realize of all the annual events that get hyped to the moon by tastemakers and such, you should check them all out, but there are a lot that you don’t need to do more than once [Word On The Street got the axe this year under that very logic]. Can’t say for sure we won’t try it again next year, but if we’re having that much fun at the bar, it’d take a lot more than Nuit Blanche to remove us from it.

Wrapping Up the Day With The Roundup

Since Glee’s over, figure you can have a few literary links for a nightcap.

Finally, intelligent discussion of one of the major issues of our time: how not dumb is Lady Gaga?

Haruki Murakami’s latest is a certified blockbuster.

Yann Martel’s reviews continue to be hilarious. If you’re not a fan of Yann Martel. Though as the quoted review from the National Post reminds us, people who have flipped through Martel’s other works already know Life of Pi was sort of an exception than the rule.  Ask anybody who read his first novel, Self.  If you can find someone who read it. ba-dum-pssshh!

Ian McEwan grounded in Toronto thanks to Icelandic volcano eruption. He’s cool with it.

Speaking of Eyjafjallajokull, some of the stranded are trying to put their time to good use by throwing together an online magazine.  It’s good to keep busy.

My Lady will be interested to see This Side of Paradise has been given the off-Broadway musical treatment.

And because nothing’s better than when author’s fight: The 50 best author vs. author put downs.