Update from New Mexico

I’ve been meaning to write something here for the past week. At night, after the shows I’ve been making notes to myself; things I’d like to remember, tapped into my blackberry before I drift away. I’ve been so tired lately: this has been our first headlining tour with Neptune as a toddler: and while she sleeps very regularly, she is in bed before we go on stage, and crawling into my bunk wanting to hang out by 8AM. Needless to say, running on 6-hours sleep catches up. For example, last night I typed this: “Murrays frunk dtanp.” I have no idea what this means: I’ll ask around, but I think he was doing something silly that I wanted to remember…ah well: fail that.

I had started a post that was led-off by a live photo I saw online of myself with total crazy eyes. Not very flattering, more comical than anything else. But I can’t find it anymore…it was taken at one of the shows the first week of this tour…I’m looking down with a totally intense look at my keyboards. Like if you photoshopped out my keyboards and replaced them with, say, lightning bolts or some other energy beam of wizardly origin, it would be A) really funny, and B) totally appropriate. So if anyone sees that on the ‘net let me know…

Best reasons I’ve actually been given for shows not being completely sold out: recession, Monday night, tornado warning, rain, hailstorm, swine flu, graduation, competition from The Killers, seniors bingo night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, etc, etc. Dealing with promoters is like dealing with record labels: they are the conduits that translate music into dollars. They feel badly when things aren’t making gobs of money. For me, the shows have been really inspiring, really great. Their measure of success is quality, not quantity. The people who are coming out are incredible: bringing the show to the hardcores is important, and the gratitude of all the people I’ve met after the gig or whenever is more important than money; they make it all worthwhile.

Anyway, some might call this attitude naïve. I call it realistic. I expect to endure, and you can’t burn the brightest forever. I’d rather glow for a long time than burn out.

Suddenly All Growed Up

Do you remember when it happened to you? Those years when you suddenly stopped being a child? It’s hard to recognise it when it’s actually happening: you only see it when you’ve fully grown and start to feel somehow redeemed as an adult human. My moment – triggered by the responsibility of a ‘zine – would mark the beginning of the end of innocence: no more Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Street Cents (back when it was hosted by Jonathan Torrens) after school. Then I would retreat to my room to listen to Vauxhaull and I, The White Album or Dark Side of the Moon on headphones. I would draw in ink and markers, urging out my teenage frustrations onto paper.

So what? Do I even know what I’m talking about? That is, am I that “redeemed adult human” I claim to be? Probably not. I mean, I fill empty hours playing video games and visiting perezhilton.com. I contemplated us adults, the grupsters, if you will: in following Wired.com coverage of the SXSW Interactive conference, I’ve realised how pervasive nerdiness is in our generation. We are attached by the hip to our gadgets and laptops, and we are suddenly crippled without WiFi or at least some kind of internet connection. I mean, during the last snowstorm here in Montreal, I considered the risk of a power outage, and that I’d might as well throw my iBook in the garbage should our wireless network go down. What am I going to do…organise my photos or edit a document? Actually, I wouldn’t be able to even do that since I started using Google Docs instead of shelling out for some bogus Microsoft software.

And the kids of today are just getting deeper into it. We joke about how Neptune will mock us when we mention cassette tapes: her music will just get downloaded directly into her brain or something like that. Preteens have mobile phones and have figured out BitTorrent. Neptune is surprisingly quick at learning how our gadgetry works: she can play games on my DS, un-hold and use the iPod, scroll through photos on my BlackBerry, put DVDs into and turn on the PS3, and click my laptop’s trackpad to start playback of funny cat videos on YouTube. And she’s only been here for 30 months.

This blog post doesn’t really have a thesis or point, so I will end my ramblings here. Maybe that’s what adulthood grants: long, rambling, roundabout thoughts in lieu of a youthful stroboscopic bombardment of media.

Quit Gawking!

Since I apparently am done with poetry, writing — and therefore poets and writers, including, but not limited to, myself and all my friends — books and reading, I thought I would provide some personal background on the topic:

Towards the end of a blog entry about writing, I mentioned my zine called Quit Gawking. Back in September, Amanda (not the same Amanda…let’s call her New Amanda) randomly asked me if I’d once had a zine. It was so out of context that I was hesitant to admit to it. Anyway, apparently she had submitted a poem that we had printed! Now this is a pretty small world occurrence, since in total we probably only printed like four poems by people we didn’t know (almost everything else came from our friends). Now what are the chances of our paths crossing over a decade later?

As if an omen of what I was to face with critics and The Dears, Quit Gawking got this review from Broken Pencil (the Canadian zine directory):

“Quit Gawking: zine / issue 4, 20 pages / no known publisher / main creators: Natalia Yanchak and Heather / free

Submissions for this are welcome. Send them stuff, poetry, artwork, fiction, opinion, questions for Marijuana Mickey, nifty images and the like. Send this stuff so the next issue will be fuller, since this one left us feeling we hadn’t even started gawking when they up and finished. There was a good story, lots of white space and cool images, but not enough heft, except for the text page that overlapped itself and looked cool and would have been great if it weren’t visually painful to actually try to read.”

So classic. Basically we busted out of the traditional overstuffed, cut-and-paste zine trend that was the style at the time, and got bashed. Sorry, everybody: we used a computer for our layout instead of a glue stick and crayons. The lesson, that I realise now, but that began so long ago? Normal is boring because it’s what everyone else is doing, but it’s also what everyone else takes to easily. So the less normal you do things, the more time it will take for people to like you. Anyway, my zine (co-founded with BFF, Heather) had a printing of I think 200 which we would photocopy and hand assemble in the conference room at my dad’s office on Sundays. We even bought one of those long-armed staplers to bind the folded legal-size pages. I think we made 8 issues, and I took it pretty seriously. I hand delivered copies to a few shops in Toronto, made stickers, and filled mail orders (free with stamp). I even networked with other zines, (my fave was .tiff, about the slacker’s casual love of computers, technology and art. Also, .tiff was borne of my old stomping ground, Roncesvalles Village.

In 1994, my friend Carly and I went to one of the first CanZine festivals, held at the perpetually seamy Spadina Hotel. There were bands and tables with the A-list of zines upstairs and like five tables downstairs where I guess the B-list zinesters were. It was kind of pathetic and boring, actually. Our only entertainment was provided by Gavin and Shane who were at the next table.

And so that is the story of my zine, and the beginning of the end of, well, many things. Back then, writing, drawing and making music were my artistic outlets. I have a lot of embarrassing, high school poetry, prose, comics and demos archived in our basement, and I would encourage every teenager to start working on their personal collection of self-conscious musings immediately. The creation of art, music and poetry should be free and unfettered. Just not everybody should be allowed to do it for a living.

Poetry is Dead

Why does poetry still exist? I mean, really, it’s an archaic art form that had it’s revival during the heyday of the Poetry Slam a few years ago, and now should just go away. Like Netscape…not because they are useless or redundant, no: far from it. Literature would not exist without poetry, and the Internet would be reserved for those who knew how to decode HTML without Netscape. For whatever reason, their time is just done.

Seriously. Think about it: when was the last time you read a relevant and new poem? Poetry has metamophosised into a new creature: lyrics, rhymes, spam poetry…we just don’t do poetry like they used to. And anyone who calls themselves a “poet” is either 76 years old, or completely delusional. It would be like:

“So what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a telegraph operator.”
“But nobody uses the telegraph anymore.”
“Yeah, but that’s what I do.”
“Who cares?”
“I’m not sure.”

All the other avenues of art have evolved, why hasn’t poetry?

Now this thread is entirely inspired by listening to the CBC. The other day, they just had someone reading some contemporary, racially-charged poetry over the air. I was like: “How does this speak to anyone?” And DO NOT even get me started on the topic of spoken word. I can not and will not, deal.

I majored in creative writing at uni, and the idea today of being assigned the task of writing poetry is maddening. I would protest. Actually, I would not take that course to begin with. I do encourage, however, the study of poetry. There is much to be learned about our language and English culture through all art. Which brings me to the next idea: How can classical music, written hundereds of years ago, be interpreted properly? How can a player today possibly know how to play a composition when their existence was not informed by the appropriate culture? It’s like giving a Neanderthal a PS3 controller and expecting that he would know exactly what to do with it. Why do we try and force intuition? Is it merely in the name of preservation and tradition? Or is it rooted in something far deeper than that?

Please, I invite my readers to prove me wrong. I figure, since nobody is allowed to buy books anymore, that most youngsters don’t even know what poetry is anyway…

Blogs Long Gone

I was trying out this Google Docs online app to see if it really worked so I randomly opened an old tour diary file (Guess what? The app works!). I was laughing my ass off at some of the stuff I’d wrote, and so checked to see if the posts were still online. Sadly they have been taken off the Pop Monty site (its about time, really), and I was debating whether or not to repost them here. I don’t think I will, probably because being the purist that I am, I would not be satisfied to have anything listed out of chronological order, and then they would just be buried beneath layers of blog. I will save it for later; surely it will be useful one day. Anyhow, the links have been removed and now my “Blogroll” is basically useless. Maybe I should instead use it for what it is meant for…

The Powder Keg

I was thinking recently about the dawning of the internet and also my early days as a writer, which led me to the memory of a BBS I sort of belonged to called The Powder Keg. It was a pretty small group of Toronto-based writers that somehow I got hooked into. I think at the time I was one of the youngest and least experienced writers on the BBS. But seeing as how I thought of myself as perhaps a writer, the confidence of youth propelled me onward.

Wikipedia mentions some interesting facts in its description of the BBS: “The BBS was also a local phenomenon, as one had to dial into a BBS with a phone line and would have to pay additional long distance charges for a BBS out of the local area, as opposed to less expensive local charges. Thus, many users of a given BBS usually lived in the same area, and activities such as BBS Meets or Get Togethers (GTs or GTGs), where everyone from the board would gather and meet face to face, were common.” Seeing the letters “GTG” makes me remember the occasional Powder Keg poetry night held at a local restaurant called Cafe May (now defunct) on Roncesvalles. I never went: I was too young, too shy, and besides, the aged cedar facade of Cafe May, and cavern-like lighting made it intimidating from the outside. The Powder Keg members/writers would do readings, peddle chapbooks, discuss each other’s work. I think the ringleader (SysOp) was named Ian, but it’s so long ago I can’t remember. He also might have had a beard and wore Birkenstocks with socks, and I probably had a foolish teenage crush on him. But remember, it was the early 90’s.

A few years ago, in the midst of some Dears media broo-ha-ha, The Powder Keg – which had before this moment had faded almost completely in my memory – made its reappearance. I received an email from a fellow Kegger,
James McNally. I recall we’d connected beyond just the BBS, we’d met at a vernissage or something poetry-related, and I think he was my only real BBS friend. Completely by accident he stumbled onto The Dears, then noticed my name in the credits. You can read the whole story on his blog. He reminded me of some 4-track demos I had made, and basically how I was so explosively creative in those days. That was before I grew up, which I hope to explain here on my blog over the next few…years?

Anyway, the topic of the past few weeks seems to be “Blasts From The Past.” I had another one explode in my face at Neptune’s 2nd birthday party this weekend, which I will save delightlfully for later…it’s related to my zine years. Yeah, that’s right. I had a zine, but that is another tangent to take on the story of my life.

High School Poetry

Since most of us are closet megalomaniacs, we are sometimes tempted to Google our own names. Out of equal parts boredom and curiosity, I find this little secret search entertaining, especially when I discount everything Dears-related and Blog-related. What I’m left with is a handful of old things I wrote, mostly from when I was among the first-generation of the now rampant “bitter music journalist.” But then there’s this nugget, this little, mini scrap from my past: high school poetry. I will have you know that “Bowl of Trail Mix” was selected as the “Cool Poem of the Week,” but really I can’t think of anything less cool than being the author of a poem deemed cool by teachers.

I have a philosophy that I stand very strongly by: that we are all forgiven for everything we did from birth to the age of 18, with an emphasis on the period that spans across the teen years. At any rate, my grade 12 English class, taught by Mr. Pendergrast, participated in some kind of electronic writer’s workshop, back when computers were just invented and class handouts were still being printed by hand-operated mimeographs in the teacher’s room. Ok, not that far back, but, seriously: almost. So a few of us major nerds in English class would bring in our poems, and give them to Mr. Pendergrast. He would then type them up and actually send them by EMAIL to this Writers In Electronic Residence (WIER) message board (or BBS, as they used to be called). Other students from across the province (Ontario) would then read and comment on our poems, and we would do the same for our peers. Anyhow, I remember I thought it was so amazing that, in addition to other students, real, published authors would read and comment on my work! So I basically felt legitimised as a writer, and sailed out on a downward spiral of romanticism. I mean, really, aside from a career in academics, what the frig are you going to do with a degree in English/Creative Writing? What, become an author? Undergrads, listen now and listen hard: other than a valid reason to drink heavily, a degree in Creative Writing will only make you want to put down the pen and never write again. Who needs a bunch of middle-class ding-dongs critisizing your art? I mean, that’s what Pitchfork is for…YEOUCH!

But my bad high school poetry story doesn’t end there. August, 23, 2007: it was a rainy night on the patio of a Toronto hipster bar, where my friend Amanda unveiled the dark secret that was not meant to leave the realm of Google search results: she had stumbled upon a fellow WIER writer, who remebered my crappy poem. So my next project is to somehow reconnect with this person, who I recall conversing with a decade ago, via a strange, pre-internet medium.

To Be Continued…

Pop Monty: Bio Writing

I’m in the middle of writing bios for the Pop Montreal schedule. I’ve been doing it every year for a while, and I actually really enjoy it. It forces me to listen to new bands, old bands, bands I’ve “heard of” but never actually heard. I hardly ever listen to music at home, so I like the opportunity…then I can make my hardened, jaded comments about the music industry (indie and otherwise) with at least some element of validity. Anyhow, I realise that all I do to get my info on bands is check their MySpace, Wikipedia and CBC Radio 3 websites. I was just noticing it, because just like five years ago, that wasn’t the case: I’d actually have to scour the web, hope a band had their own website or at least a CBC page. Now it seems bands don’t even have their own websites anymore, or those sites have become a static, secondary source. MySpace basically formats a band’s web identity, the same was Facebook formats a person’s individuality. But this isn’t a complaint, this is just how it is, how things have become. It’s like Jennifer Aniston’s waitress character from Office Space: we all have to wear the same uniform, but are encouraged to add pieces of “flair” to distinguish ourselves from one another. Weird…