Small Town Living

Going Home

There’s a neat conceit Zack Snyder & Co. use in the movie Man of Steel to get around the issue of Kryptonite: instead of being weakened by the radiation from the fragments of his homeworld, the cause is more environmental: General Zod and his crew maintain Kryptonian atmospheric and gravitational settings on their ship, which Kal-El is unaccustomed to, so when he ends up a hostage on there, it diminishes the powers that make him exceptional on Earth. It’s also a two-way street: when Zod gets his “breather” knocked off during battle, the sensory onslaught he receives from his superior abilities leaves him harmless as a puppy.

I spent ten days back home last week in an attempt to try and bash out the draft for my book. While it wasn’t a totally fruitless exercise, it left me feeling like both Kal-El and Zod: at times sapped of strength, overwhelmed at others.

It’s always been strange to me, going home. So much of my ‘second period,’ was defined by my seeming unwillingness or inability to leave the nest that every time I go back, I feel like the same trapped 25-year-old whose contrarian nature only left him more isolated as the people around him accepted the rules of the environment. This isn’t to say one approach was superior to the other, I could just never see any other way for myself.

Having been gone for almost seven years, not just from the nest but from the only place I’d known up to that point, there’s a cognitive disconnect there between me and my friends who never left, or left and came back. Again, I’m not saying one way is better than the other, it’s just that I was more acutely aware this trip than ever before that theirs is a lifestyle I stopped being accustomed to some time ago. I’d been seriously considering moving back there in the next couple of years [for reasons fiduciary and personal], but left there unsure if I ever could go back. There are definitely reasons that could entice me to return, and I know I would make a good life for myself there; but somewhere in the local news reports about iguanas on the loose and stolen prosthetic limbs I got that old nagging feeling of being a man out-of-place.

This is probably wholly my issue, and is something people usually chalk up to OoooOOOooh, Mr. Toronto’s too fancy for us, now! Which I would hope is obviously not the case. Most of the time when I’m in a room full of my friends who are now married and parents, I feel totally inferior, because I have not lived my life “according to plan,” and regretful that I’m usually pretty okay with that. My parents would like grandchildren, and while I always retain hope they might get them, I wouldn’t advise playing the over/under on that. And while my stance on children has gotten somewhat more fluid in recent years, my stance on marriage likely never will, as in, if she wants to, I’ll go along with it. But I don’t need any of that. And this is still an alarmingly rare position in small town Ontario.

I’m certainly not alone among people of my demo who find they have to click ‘remove from feed’ on Facebook with growing frequency to soothe the barrage of photos to children they have no connection to, but the sad fact is that you’re left with nothing but Game of Thrones memes and Zoosk ads as a result.

What’s all this mean, then? I don’t know friends. Toronto can feel painfully lonely, so much so that I often spook like a feral cat when friends back home call to say ‘what’s up?’, that’s how fully I’ve thrown myself into anonymity. But still, as I dragged my suitcase along Bay St, up to King to catch a streetcar, weaving through tourists and folks headed to the Jays game and bankers on their way home, I immediately felt more relaxed than I did that morning. Seated at my chair in my shitty apartment that I spend too much of my money to live in, I already feel more accomplished today than I did at my parents’ kitchen table.

Still. I once heard it said that a great life in a mediocre place is superior to a mediocre life in a great place. It’s always stuck with me. I would still love to force my will onto the culture of the Rose City. I just want a reason to go back.

A Little Night Music With RadioPFG

Well. I certainly let things slide there for a minute, didn’t I? Well no longer!

The latest episode of RadioPFG brings you songs perfectly suited for nighttime listening.  So wait until dark before you fire it up.

Pete Rock
Fat Jon
J.Dilla
A Tribe Called Quest
DJ Krush
DJ Shadow
Black Star
The Chemical Brothers
Daft Punk
Kanye West

And the video that kicked off the whole idea.

There Ain’t No Party Like a Rock-Afire Party

I have what could be delicately described as an….obsessive personality type.  For the latter half of my life, my leisure time has been dedicated to any number of irrational passions, including but not limited to:

  • Comic books [twice, as a preteen and as an adult]
  • Anime
  • Japanese horror/extreme cinema
  • Designer vinyl figures
  • Sneakers, fitted hats and the coordination of the two.

An expensive summer of wedding attendance and all around focus on increased fiscal responsibility has lead to the sale or removal of many of the items acquired in pursuit of these various fixations, but the mindset never goes away.  If anything, I’ve tried directing those energies into this blog, since I’m a little anxious to think of what I would do without some outlet to pour them into.

As an obsessive, I appreciate and am fascinated by the level of dedication other people bring to the things that capture their imaginations, and am the target market for the new wave of documentary films that chronicle these quests like King of Kong or Man on Wire.

But I don’t know if anything is as wonderfully batshit crazy as the fandome behind The Rock-Afire Explosion.

My Canadians might not know this, but in the 80s Chuck E. Cheese had some strong competition from Showbiz Pizza Place.  Each establishment followed the same formula: arcade games, pizza that I’m sure listed sodium as the second ingredient and animatronic, anthropomorphic animals.

Oh God, yes.

When I was a kid I remember being enthralled by the ads for Showbiz Pizza Place.  Like I’ve said before, kids who grew up in Windsor are bombarded by US advertisements for things we will never have, and the ads for Showbiz made it look like Shangri-La.  In a world of Xboxes and backyard skateboard parks, Showbiz and Chuck E. Cheese seem quaint by comparison, but for an 80s eight-year-old it was inconceivable that someone would put that much awesome in one room.  And the feature attraction for Showbiz was the stage show, starring a band of animatronic animals called The Rock-Afire Explosion.

Now times change, Showbiz got bought out, and the Explosion retired.  That should have been it. But if we’ve learned anything from the times we live in, friends, it’s that no one ever has to let anything go.  Memories lead to fandom, fandom becomes obsession, and suddenly a DJ from Alabama has it in his head that he’s going to buy up the remaining animatronics and rebuild the full band in his garage.  Of course this must be documented.

The documentary is out now, and I honestly can’t wait to watch it. I love how the music in that trailer perfectly captures the sad melancholy of missing something so insubstantial so much.

But the story doesn’t end there!  Once Thrash completed his set, he [and Rock-Afire creator Aaron Fechter] began reprogramming the characters to perform contemporary songs, filming the performances and putting them on YouTube. And this is where we move from weird pop culture fossil back around to….I don’t know what.

The fanatic in me can certainly appreciate the level of dedication that goes into something like this. I appreciate it so much I can overlook how goddamned creepy it is. So much more, including footage of a guy named Charlie who wanted to give his sister Amy the best 30th birthday party ever, can be found on The Explosion’s YouTube channel.

The saddest part is I can’t even make fun, because if I had the resources, I would totally have something similar in my backyard.  Salute, good sirs.

Day Twenty-Nine: A Song from Your Childhood

I’m old enough now to realize how fortunate I was to grow up in a house that valued art as much as it did.  My parents will be the first to deride their own tastes as ‘trash,’ ‘filth,’ or ‘junk,’ but the truth is, whatever the perceived quality of what they were into, I still grew up in a music-filled house that consistently valued reading, with parents who left me alone to be a weird little kid who holed up in his room playing out his petty private dramas, only rarely shoving me out into the sunshine and never enrolling me in organized sports.  I can never thank them enough for that.

I’ve frequently written about the moment when you first become aware of art,when you first claim it for yourself, when you realize that it pleases you on an aesthetic level, and all of us experience that moment through the prism of our parents’ tastes. As much as I would like to say we were grooving to the soul and RnB of the 70’s in the Ferguson household, we were a classic rock  through and through.  My parents would go to shows in Detroit all the time, and they always brought me back a t-shirt: John Mellencamp, Hall and Oates, Huey Lewis and the News…how cool would I be if I still had these?But there were few bands my mom loved more than Journey.

Journey might be going through a post-irony renaissance right now thanks to ‘Glee’ and ‘The Sopranos’ but what some of you young’uns might not realize is in the ’80s, Journey was fircking huge. Like, filled stadiums, lighters in the air during ‘Faithfully,’ the works.  And my mom had a serious love for Steve Perry.  Who wouldn’t, the man sings like an angel.  Not the pretty ones, the ones with the flaming swords coming to chop you in half.  If Steve Perry and Bruce Dickinson sang at each other, reality would collapse in on itself. The space-time continuum couldn’t handle that much awesome centralized in one place.

It’s kind of wonderful to see enough time pass that Journey can be appreciated as gifted pop-rock songwriters and not just schlock merchants [though they never lacked for schlock].  I feel like this song will be my next karaoke anthem.  I may even do it on a stage.

Honourable Mention: So, my one cat will do this thing where she inexplicably runs from the bedroom, through the living room, to the kitchen, leaps at the wall, then runs back to the bedroom at full tilt.  When I was something like three or four I would do the exact same thing whenever this song came on the radio.  No reason, just felt like it was a song you should run around to.  Probably the first example of me taking notice of a beat, that swing shuffle in the transitions, which I loved, then got bored during the actual verses and choruses.  But when that transition hit again, I took off like a shot. Plus, I think it made my mom laugh, so I did it for her as much as me.

Day Twelve: A Song From A Band You Hate

You know what? We don’t even have to make this a big long anecdote. Because the wording of the stipulation leaves no margin for error.  We aren’t looking for a song by my least favourite band, we are looking for a band I hate. And I have one.

I hate Lynyrd Skynyrd.  With a passion typically reserved for animal abusers and big oil companies.  This likely has more to do with the fans than the music or band itself, but it’s too late for me to distinguish the two.

We have a saying in this house: when you see Ed Harris in a movie, it doesn’t mean anything good.  You doubt me, check his IMDB file.  When Ed Harris shows up in a movie, he’s either a hallucination, taking hostages on Alcatraz, getting people stranded in space, ripping off a real estate office or some other shady business. I’m telling you, you see the man on the street, don’t even ask him for an autograph. Just run.

I feel the same way about ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ that I do about Ed Harris.  When you see Ed Harris, some badness is coming.  When you hear those opening string picks, you know some dumbass is about to start some dumbassery, usually assisted by an off-road vehicle of some sort.  I’m loathe to even post a link here, but rules are rules.

Honourable Mention: For God’s sake, Skynyrd has a song called ‘That Smell.’  I can’t make this up, friends.

Day Five: A Song That Reminds You of Someone

I know what you think I’m going to do.  You think I’m going to throw up some song that makes me think of the Lady, and of our time together.  But see, friends, that’s easy. I can pick any one of about at least half a dozen songs, from the whimsical to the romantic, to songs that are all hers to songs that take on meaning for us as a couple. But there’s only so many times I can tell that story, so let’s tell a new one.

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Shots from Home: Paranoia and Racism in Canada’s Deep South

Fetchin yo' bags, boss?

Fetchin yo' bags, boss?

If you’ve been keeping up with me on Twitter than you know I’m spending the week back in my hometowns. Plural because while Windsor, Ontario might be my spiritual hometown, the place where I became who I was, my geographical hometown is a town thirty minutes south of Windsor called Amherstburg. Lying on the eastern shore of the Detroit River, it really is the edge of the world as far as Canada is concerned.

Like most people who leave them, I have a complicated relationship with my hometown. Having been gone for three years only serves to remind me how out of step I was with the culture here. Or what passes for culture. That might be a topic for another post. What I want to talk about is that photo.

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