Friday, December 31, 2010

Rainy New Years Eve

Rain? In January? In Canada? Oh man, I am feeling extra lazy/basic today, so I am just going to post the same thing I posted last Dec. 31. I'm going to get drunk and see The Sadies tonight! Whoo-Hooo!

Have a great night people! And thanks so much for indulging my vanity and reading my blog!

Todd Snider - Happy New Year/All That Matters.mp3
From: Live at Grimey's (2007, out of print)
I want to be Todd Snider when I grow up. I have never seen him live! That will change in February. I cannot wait! Also, Snider has a live album coming out in February called The Storyteller. If that doesn't get you excited about 2011, I don't know what will.

The Mountain Goats - This Year.mp3
Buy: The Sunset Tree (2005)
I love this song. I love this entire album! The Mountain Goats also have a new album for 2011 called All Eternals Deck which will be released in March.

NQ Arbuckle - Good Night Irene on New Years Eve.mp3
Buy: Last Supper in a Cheap Town (2006)
My favorite New Years song, from my second favorite Toronto-based band (the first being The Sadies). I don't know if NQA are planning a 2011 release, but I sure hope so.

Lightin' Hopkins - Happy New Year.mp3
From: Sittin' In with Lightnin' Hopkins (1993, out of print)
And we close with some classic blues. Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, December 27, 2010

My Favorite Albums of 2010

My normal year-end favorite albums list usually tends to favor the bands/artists who I saw live in that year. This is only somewhat true for 2010. While The Hold Steady, The National, Drive-by Truckers, and Justin Townes Earle all had killer live gigs in Toronto this year, I just couldn't get into their 2010 releases (I didn't write a review of The National at Massey Hall on June 8 because every other blogger in Toronto did). Turns out that I tended to like some of the opening acts better than some of the headliners, which makes me sound like an even bigger music snob than I already am. And this list makes me sound worse! Only three pseudo mainstream indie records made the cut. I also noticed that the albums I favored this year leaned towards the Bruce Springsteen/Tom Petty-style of rock. I'm not sure why, but that's just what tickled my fancy, or something, in 2010. If I could, I supplied links to buying the albums directly from the band's/artist's web site (more $ for the band). Go buy these records! Most have cheap shipping, and it's only like $1-2 more to ship to Canada. All of these records are worthy of being in you collection.

1. The Fox Hunt - Long Way to Go

This modern bluegrass quartet out of Martinsburg, West Virginia, put out the best album in 2010. From my original review posted in September: The band has two primary songwriters, John R. Miller and Matt Kline, who both cover a range of human emotions in their music. Women, sinning, drinking, misery, temptation, you know, the happy subjects, are covered in depth in their lyrics. Their music is mostly uptempo country/folk, filled with vocal harmonies, and lots of banjo and fiddle, rounded out with acoustic guitar, mandolin, and upright bass. And the musicians frequently rotate instruments and share lead vocals. Now that's talent!

Long Way to Go spans an entire range of roots music, with a mid-tempo opening track called "Screw Me Up" which is about a woman messing with a dude's head. Later, a snappy song called "It Suits Me" which is ostensibly about a one night stand (the instrumental outro kills me). One of the best songs on the album, "Four Horses" is a slaying meditation on life and death. "No one said that life was easy. No one said that life was fair." Gulp. One of my favorite songs on the album, "I'll Drink Cheap," is about breaking the bank to please your lush of a woman. I listened to and enjoyed this album more than any other record released in 2010. You should be doing the same.

Third runner up to song of the year:
Four Horses.mp3
Buy: Long Way to Go

2. Glossary - Feral Fire

Remember when The Hold Steady released their first few albums and everyone, including me, said they were the second coming of Thin Lizzy? Wrong! Ladies and gentlemen, I present Glossary. Feral Fire is such a killer rock album. It takes its name from a line in the Cormac McCarthy book, The Road. Apparently this is their sixth album, but I am just hopping on the bandwagon now. Can't wait to listen to their back catalog, some of which is free on their web site. If you like Bruce Springsteen/Tom Petty/Drive-By Truckers kind of rock, then get this album pronto.

Second runner up to song of the year:
Save Your Money for the Weekend.mp3
Buy: Feral Fire

3. Matthew Ryan - Dear Lover (electric and acoustic)

I got a copy of Matthew Ryan's Dear Lover back in October 2009, and I have been dying to put it on my top 10 list for the last fourteen months. From my original review from February: The entire record revolves (evolves?) around the theme of a romantic relationship. Relationships are complicated, wonderful, confusing, stressful, exhilarating, scary, empowering, and even lonely, sometimes all at the same time. "I could be your super hero. I could be your biggest disappointment." Ryan is telling stories in his songs, but the stories are vague enough where each listener can interpret the song in his/her own way. The mark of a great songwriter is the ability to let his audience decide what the song is about, and Ryan thrives in this aspect of musicianship.

The songs on Dear Lover are power pop anthems, indie rockers, soft ballads, and electro/synth tracks you could hear in a Manhattan martini bar. Some people may be turned off by the ambient/electro-sounding songs, but I think they really add to the overall feel of the album and show Ryan's willingness to experiment with diverse sounds. In fact, one fan called Dear Lover "Matthew Ryan's synth/techno/electro Nebraska."

Later in 2010 Ryan released Dear Lover as an acoustic album, with a different track order, and one new track, which makes it a completely different album. I haven't heard of an artist doing this before, except in the context of a live album or something. This approach may be a new way for indie/DYI artists to get more mileage out of one record. Screw that iTunes "exclusive" or iTunes "sessions" crap. I may be old school, but I like the physical disc in my hand, in both electric and acoustic forms.

City Life.mp3
City Life (acoustic).mp3
Buy both: City Life (electric and acoustic)

4. Joe Pug - Messenger

I saw Joe Pug open for Justin Townes Earle back in March, and I was totally taken with Pug. At the time I didn't own the album Messenger, but after subsequent listens I was enamored with his work. This is a solid singer/songwriter folk-ish, country-ish album, with brilliant lyrics and great storytelling. I don't have a lot to say about this album. The music speaks for itself.

Fourth runner up to song of the year:
Not So Sure.mp3
Buy: Messenger

Pug has a free EP out right now. You can download it for the cost of your e-mail address.

5. Tim Barry - 28th & Stonewall

I had the pleasure of seeing Tim Barry in concert twice this year: once opening for Chuck Ragan in February and once opening for The Gaslight Anthem in July, both times solo acoustic.

Barry is intense, and pissed off, but also deeply sincere and forthright. He has deep convictions, and he stands by them. You don't fuck with Tim Barry. You also don't fuck with his album 28th & Stonewall, an intersection in Barry's home town of Richmond, Virginia. I would love to know about the significance of this particular corner. This album continues with Barry's style of simple storytelling about complicated people. The characters in Barry's songs are presumably semi-autobiographical: they are fucks-up who are trying to do the right thing, but keep stumbling into people who are constantly letting them down. In addition, he's also very self-deprecating and self-aware. 28th & Stonewall is Barry's most well-written solo album, with vibrant lyrics boosting his powerful voice. But, this album is not for the timid. You may be offended by some of the content, but Barry doesn't give a shit, and neither do I.

(Memento Mori).mp3
Buy: 28th & Stonewall

6. Two Cow Garage - Sweet Saint Me

The fact that Two Cow Garage hasn't cracked the indie rock glass ceiling completely baffles me. Sweet Saint Me is their fifth album, and as I said in my November review, this album as a whole is their strongest one yet. Sweet Saint Me is nearly a pure rock album, but this time the lead singers, mostly Michal Schnabel with a few tracks by Shane Sweeney, seemed to have really concentrated on honing their songwriting technique. The entire album seems more mature and focused. But don't worry, "mature and focused" can also kick fucking ass! Take my favorite track, "Lydia;" "Lydia, you're much too young to have your teeth on the tip of my tongue. If your lips were just a little bit older…" I heard through the twittervine that when Schnabel premiered "Jackson, Don't You Worry" at SXSW, a song dedicated to Sweeney's baby son, grown men were weeping. Indeed, I took a hard gulp the first time I heard it. And I'll be damned if Schnabel didn't steal the "Insolent Youth" lyric "just because you can doesn't mean you should" from me, cause I've been saying that for years. Sweet Saint Me is peppered with hard rock anthems ("My Great Gatsby"), love songs ("Closer to You"), and stories ("Lucy and the Butcher Knife"), with the occasional lyric borrowed from Bruce Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, and Bob Dylan. To paraphrase my reader Ron from Buffalo, Two Cow Garage has written better individual songs ("No Shame," "Swingset Assassin," "Humble Narrator," "Mediocre," "Saturday Night," "Come Back to Shelby") but this album is solid everywhere.

Buy: Sweet Saint Me

7. The Sadies - Darker Circles

A few months ago I was listening to a podcast of the CBC radio show Q where the host was interviewing The Sadies lead guitarists/singers/songwriters brothers Dallas and Travis Good. One of them said that after their mom listened to Darker Circles she called them to make sure they were OK. You know you've made a good album when you freak your mom out.

Per my May review: Darker Circles is a very different album from their 2007 release New Seasons, although both were produced by Jayhawks member Gary Louris. Darker Circles is, well, much darker than New Seasons, with lyrics like, "it won't be long 'til all your hopes and dreams are dead and gone," ("Another Year Again"), and "I turn to oblivion night after night," ("Tell Her What I Said"). The songs have themes of isolation, regret, remorse, and ponderances of "what could have been." There is even a country-rock killin' song ("Violet and Jeffrey Lee," not quite a murder ballad). The entire album has a very psychedelic feel to it, like a 2010 version of The Byrds. Especially my favorite track "Postcards," (listen below) which sounds like it could be straight out of Roger McGuin's 1960s catalog.

This is not an album that will cheer you up on a bad day, but it is a killer country-rock psychedelic folk bluegrass record (its damn impossible to categorize The Sadies). As my friend Whiskey Devil said, "Dark Sadies might just be the best Sadies."

Buy (Maple Music): Darker Circles
Buy (Amazon): Darker Circles

8. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

I was apprehensive about The Gaslight Anthem's newest release until I saw them live back in July. They totally lived up to the hype. Blew me away actually. They blasted into the title track "American Slang" and never looked back.

American Slang and The Gaslight Anthem are filling in a much needed niche in music right now: they are a solid rock band. They don't fart around with pretentious new sounds, or have weird outfits, or feel the need to do namby-pamby acoustic folk songs (and I like namby-pamby acoustic folk songs). American Slang is essentially following the same Tom Petty/Bruce Springsteen rock formula that they have been using since their 2008 debut album Sink Or Swim, except that they have become better singers/guitarists/musicians in general. I'm hoping that the Gaslight Anthem will get today's teenagers interested in rock and roll. God knows that popular music needs it.

Stay Lucky.mp3
Buy: American Slang

9. Kasey Anderson - Nowhere Nights

Nowhere Nights came out in early 2010, and as I predicted in February, it set my standard for the year in rock music. It contains eleven tracks of solid rock songs: some slow, some fast, some you can dance to, some that will make you think, and some that will just make you rock out.

Anderson's rock influences are all over this album. You can hear Tom Petty in "Sooner/Later," Bruce Springsteen in "Leavin' Kind," and Mike Cooley-penned Drive-By Truckers songs in "All Lit Up." "Real Gone" is an obvious nod to Tom Waits, but it also seems like it could be Anderson's "Desolation Row."

"I Was a Photograph" is the song of the year. Anderson wrote this song about Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller after reading an article about the Iraq veteran in Rolling Stone. You can read Anderson's thoughts on the song on a post he did for

While the album is largely autobiographical, the themes and stories easily resonate with everyday folks (in other words, me). Two songs specifically hit home for me. The first track, "Bellingham Blues," reminds me of never feeling at home in the town where you grew up. Similarly, the song "Home" reminds me of my home town. I'm assuming that this song is also about Bellingham, a city similar in population to my home town. "That's how it goes in a town this small. You either play your hand a little closer to the vest, or you don't play at all." Great lyrics, and so true.

Song of the year, easily:
I Was a Photograph (Blake's Song).mp3
Buy: Nowhere Nights

10. The Black Keys - Brothers

The Black Keys do it again with a killer blues-based rock album called Brothers. This album makes me want to tap my feet, shake my ass, and drink hooch like an old blues man on Maxwell Street. Some have compared The Black Keys to The White Stripes in terms of a blues-based rock duo, but The Black Keys has a deeper, more restrained and disciplined sound, as opposed to blues-spaz-rock and bizarre lyrics that sometimes spews from Jack White. For Brothers itself, the recording is raw and uncomplicated, but you can also hear a bit of punk rock and hip-hop influences throughout the record. The songs are catchy, fiery, and sexy, and will get stuck in your head. This is a good thing.

Brothers also has the worst/laziest album art of 2010.

Apparently The Black Keys are driving some of my US peeps crazy because several of songs are licensed for TV commercials. But those licenses didn't reach Canada, so I can't complain!

Next Girl.mp3
Buy: Brothers

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Feel Bad For Santa

I took this photo on Queen West in Toronto. Someone is getting coal in their stocking....

From the forum members at Merry Christmas, Dammit!

1. Brave Combo - Must Be Santa.mp3
Buy: It’s Christmas, Man! (1992)
Bob Dylan used Brave Combo’s arrangement of this song for his 2009 Christmas album.

2. mojochronic - Rudolph (You Don't Have To Put On The Red Light).mp3
From (free download): Santastic V: Snow, Man! (2010)
The video makes this song extra awesome.

3. Easy-E - Merry Muthafuckin' Xmas.mp3
From: 5150: Home 4 tha Sick (1992, out of print)
If this doesn't warm your heart this holiday season, you better add some sizzurp to your eggnog!

4. John Fahey - Joy to the World.mp3
Buy: A New Possibility - John Fahey's Christmas Album Volume 1 (2000)

5. Titán - Spiritual Guidance.mp3
From: It's a Cool, Cool Christmas (2000, out of print)

6. Jeff Richardson & Steven Drozd - Do They Know It's Christmas?.mp3
From: Nice People Holiday Single (2009)

7. Banjo or Freakout - White Christmas.mp3
From (free download): Xmas Album (2009)

8. The Ventures - White Christmas.mp3
Buy: The Ventures' Christmas Album (1965, reissue 1995)
This is cool with like a High Chaparral break.

9. The Surfaris - A Surfer's Christmas List.mp3
From: Rockin' Little Christmas (1986, out of print)

10. Dick Dale - Silent Night.mp3
From: Spacial Disorientation (2002)

11. Daniel Johnston - Rock Around The Christmas Tree.mp3
Buy (mp3): Lost & Found (2009)

12. David Bowie with Bing Crosby - Peace on Earth - Little Drummer Boy.mp3
From: The Singles Collection (1993, bonus track on US release, out of print, read about it here.)
One of the weirdest collaborations in history, but it actually works!

13. Ox - Xmas in the Jailhouse.mp3
From (free download): Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada Deux: Part One: (Not So) Silent Night (2010)
This and the below track are from The Line of Best Fit blog. This year put out a killer double album of Canadian indie artists doing original and classic Christmas tunes.

14. The Wilderness of Manitoba - We Three Kings.mp3
From (free download): Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada Deux: Part Two: Frozen Outside / Warm In (2010)
Beautiful arrangement of this traditional classic. Also check out their 2009 Ho! Ho! Ho! Canada comp.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

December Feel Bad For You

The monthly comp from our friends at Plus a non-paid advertisement for Beard Head - from the above photo, just because it's awesome.

1. The Sadies - “Strange Birds”
iTunes Session (2010)
The Sadies originally recorded this track with Jon Langford for his 2003 album The Mayors of the Moon.

2. Left Frizzell - “Long Black Veil”
Look What Thoughts Will Do (1997)

3. Nine Pound Hammer - Sundown.mp3
Buy: Country Classics (2010)

4. TimG - “Voodoo Problems”
(Jay-Z vs. Jimi Hendrix) (2007)
Plus a killer video!

5. DJ Topcat - Folsom Prison Gangstaz.mp3
(Eazy E vs Johnny Cash)
From: Feb 2010 Mashups & Remixes (2010)

6. John Moreland - "Stoned"
Hope Springs Ephemeral EP (2010)

7. The Secret Sisters - “Tennessee Me”
The Secret Sisters (2010)

8. Tame Impala - “Lucidity”
Innerspeaker (2010)
Pretty good hard psych, like Love with Lennon.

9. Roky Erickson - Think of as One.mp3
Buy: True Love Cast Out All Evil (2010)

10. Duane Jarvis - "Good On Paper"
D.J.'s Front Porch (1994)

11. Ranchero Brothers - “Won’t Be Home No More”
Demo (~1993?)

12. .357 String Band - Lightning From the North.mp3
Buy: Lightning From the North (2010)

13. Jim Bryson & The Weakerthans - “Wild Folk”
The Falcon Lake Incident (2010)

Thursday, December 16, 2010


"Christmas isn't about presents and lights and stress and shit. It's about getting drunk and stoned with your friends and family, the people that you love." -Ricky, Trailer Park Boys: Xmas Special (2004)

What goes together with the Christmas blues? Christmas BOOZE! I promise that this mix is more upbeat than the last two. Mostly.

1. Better Off Dead - Alcoholiday.mp3
Buy: A King Family Christmas (2006)

2. Adam's House Cat - Santa's Out of Rehab by Christmas.mp3
From: Town Burned Down (1990, out of print)
Adam's House Cat is Patterson Hood's and Mike Cooley's band before they formed the Drive-By Truckers.

3. The Hot Rods - Santa's Too Drunk to Drive
Buy: Christmas (2003)

4. The Dwarves - I'm Drinking Up Christmas.mp3
From: Greedy Boot 1 (2005, out of print)

5. Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison - Please Daddy, Don't Get Drunk.mp3
Buy: Happy Holidays (2006)

6. The Iguanas - Reindeer n' Whiskey.mp3
From: It's Midnight Xmess Part III (1987, out of print)

7. The Minus 5 - Your Christmas Whiskey.mp3
Buy: Oh Santa! New & Used Christmas Classics (2007)

8. Monkhouse - Guinness and Wine.mp3
Buy (mp3): A Damaged Christmas Gift To You (2009)

9. Paul Sanchez - Drunk This Christmas.mp3
Buy: Sonoma Valley (1999)

10. The Rimshots - Santa Stole My Whiskey.mp3
From: You Can't Stop the Christmas Bop Vol.2 (1997, out of print)

11. Sherwin Linton - Santa Got a DWI.mp3
From: Bummed Out Christmas! (1989, out of print)

12. Sonic Youth - Santa Doesn't Cop Out on Dope.mp3
From: Sleighed: The Other Side of Christmas (2000, out of print)

13. Tiger City Jukes - Watch Out! Santa's Been Drinking.mp3
From: Christmas in Bluestown (2002, out of print)

14. Dalhart Imperials - Old Man Spivey's Egg Nogg.mp3
From: You Can't Stop the Christmas Bop Vol.2 (1997, out of print)

15. Elmo and Patsy - Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.mp3
Buy: Dr. Demento Presents the Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of All Time (1989)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Toronto, I am Breaking Up with You

Toronto, it’s over. I’m dumping you. We had a good run, but it’s been nearly nine years and one of us has to get on with it. As Jay Farrar says, “When in doubt, move on.” I gave you most of my 30s, and you gave me a lot of affection, contentment, and high jinx, but also a lot of heartache.

Son Volt - Drown.mp3
Buy: Trace (1995)

We got off to a rough start, Toronto. Your big brother Canada didn’t help at all. On my third day here in March, 2002, on my first day of work, my manager pointed out that Canada had listed me, Amy Diane, as man on my official Canadian work permit. I had to truck back to my port of entry and change my sex.

Within days of solving that fiasco, your other big brother, Ontario, did me no favors my going on strike for eight weeks. I couldn’t get a diver’s license, a health card, or register my car. Not that it mattered that much, since as soon as I tried to get my car to pass all of Ontario’s various inspections, I had to put $1200 worth of work into it. Was my 1993 Mercury "Speed" Tracer even worth $1200 in 2002? Doubtful.

But all of these family issues notwithstanding, Toronto, my living conditions were not helping anything. When we got together I was fresh out of grad school, beyond broke, so I took a cheap apartment in the Mimico area of Etobicoke, sharing it with a dude who would say things like, "I’m not racist, I just don’t like Blacks or Jews," which was ironic to me considering that he was Latin.

And the commute from Etobicoke to your downtown was murder. How many times did I wait in the rain and cold for over 50 minutes for your streetcar that was supposed to come every ten minutes? And the brutal heat that summer in your putrid non air conditioned streetcars. Then you, Toronto, went on strike! The "Garbage Strike" of the summer of 2002, sixteen days of mid-summer misery, where I couldn’t stand the stench anymore and would get off of your streetcar at Queen and Bathurst for some "fresh air," and walk the rest of the way to my job at College and University. By the beginning of fall I gave my 30 days notice to my racist roommie, moved downtown, doubled my rent, and tripled my sanity.

Sun's Hanging Low

50 Stephanie Street: a concrete slab of all that was wrong with 70s architecture. Also, my home for nearly six years. 50 Steph and I got off to an auspicious start. I moved in one week before my 30th birthday, and I informed my new roommate Kirwin that we were going to celebrate by having a pub crawl on your streets, Toronto. My first step into the Horseshoe Tavern was that night, and I recall Kirwin buying me a shot of something that was on fire. I ended the night vomiting all over your Queen West, and for that I will apologize Toronto. But God knows that it wasn’t the first time, or the last.

You got your revenge on me the next day. Since I had just moved in I hadn’t installed curtains yet, and you made sure that the sun blared into my south facing bedroom window all day. I had to actually crawl under my bed to keep the light out of my hungover eyes. When I finally got out of bed at 6 pm, Kirwin said, “Dude, I’m so glad you are finally up. So, Bishop hooked up with.....” Turns out that while I was passed out all of my work friends had hooked up with all of Kirwin’s friends. I couldn’t deal, so I went back to bed.

Since a few of Kirwin’s friends lived in the building, 50 Steph turned out to be like a bad episode of Friends, only with sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and enough booze to drown a small country. And we had none of this cutesy shit like “OMG! Rachel likes Joey!” We had real problems, like being broke and unemployed, having disastrous relationships, having our cars broken into, our apartments being infested with mice, and having no heat in the winter. It was nearly identical to Sarah Harmer’s song “Basement Apt,” only in a high rise. “We live out where John Street ends, in a high rise apartment with all of your friends.” We did throw some killer parties though, and I think your cops, Toronto, only showed up twice. At least we had a killer view of your downtown.

Sarah Harmer - Basement Apt.mp3
Buy: You Were Here (2000)

Things were good for a while, until you decided to kick my ass in 2003, Toronto. First, in the spring you infected Mt. Sinai hospital, where I worked, with SARS. No one knew what was going on, so we all got sent home for two weeks as “non essential employees.” Some of my friends even got quarantined to their homes. It was surreal. It was like I had a snow day for two weeks, but no one else in the city did. Most of my work colleagues were from Ontario so they went off to visit family until the crisis cleared up. My family was far away, so I sat at home, lonely, bored, with dial-up internet, watching Days of Our Lives and other bad TV.

Later that summer, you got nailed by a blackout. Although, to be fair, that was the fault of your cousin to the south, Ohio. I crawled up 18 flights in the dark to get to my apartment only to find that a party had broken out on my balcony. Cool! Everyone was hurrying to drink all of the beer before it got warm. I made peanut butter sandwiches for dinner.

We all got destroyed in late August when Kath died. Fuck, how does a 31-year-old die from a cancer that usually appears in old men? For all of her short life, Kath lived and breathed you, Toronto. She should have been given more time. Fuck you cancer. Fuck you.

Finally, on Halloween, I landed in the ER with what turned out to be a small bowel obstruction. I had to have major surgery, and spent 17 days as a patient at Mt.Sinai Hospital. My mom and I watched your damn Santa Claus parade from 14th floor lounge. After I was released from the hospital, poor Kirwin had to put up with my mom living with us for two weeks while she took care of me. It was one of the most miserable times of my life. I have had continual complications and GI episodes since then, leading to 17 different ER visits and hospitalizations over the last seven years. I unfortunately know the inner workings of both your Mt. Sinai and St. Michael’s emergency rooms. But I do have to acknowledge that your socialized medicine rules, and I never had to wait more than an hour in the ER. You at least got that right.

Why I didn’t dump you Toronto after 2003 I will never know.

Outside the Stars

But things got better between us, Toronto. I took up a bunch of sports. I paddled a dragon boat in races from your Toronto Islands all the way to Sudbury, and everywhere in between. I played softball in parks all over the city, like Coronation, Riverdale, Downsview, and Centennial, and even won a few championships. I joined a soccer team and learned about muscles that I didn’t that know I had. We frequently played at Sunnybrook park, a gorgeous semi-secluded park that I didn’t even know existed until I got my city-slicker butt north of Eglinton Ave.

I took up curling. No, I became obsessed with curling. I would watch the CurlCAST on my computer at work. I would spend my Sunday afternoons fixated on CBC during major tournaments. I even road tripped to the Brier in Hamilton in 2007. I bought curling shoes, and a broom, and gloves, and a powerful curling kilt. I curled at East York, High Park, Leaside, Brantford, Tam Heather, and Avonlea (which you, unfortunately, turned into an indoor soccer arena in 2006). Once on my way to a league game, while walking down Spadina to catch the Queen West streetcar, a man stopped me and said, "I’m from Regina and I never thought I would see a curling broom in downtown Toronto."

During the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, I arranged my work schedule around specific matches. One of my favorite curling Canada moments came during the 2006 Olympics. My brother and future sister-in-law were visiting from Detroit and I took them out to the Firkin for beers on the Friday night of the men’s gold medal game featuring Canada and Finland. Since the men’s hockey team had sucked and lost early in the tournament, the bar was showing the tape-delayed curling match on all of it’s TVs. The bar was packed, and everyone was riveted by the curling action. The dude next to me poked me and said, "Do you know the outcome?" I did, since I had skipped out on work that morning to watch it. The dude fist pumped and said, "Fuck Yeah!" Yes, Toronto, even you can get excited about curling.

And since I was finally relatively healthy and active, and finally getting to know your downtown, Toronto, I started going to concerts. Lots and lots and lots of concerts. I estimate conservatively that I went to 150 live music shows in the last seven years, and that doesn’t include festivals. I saw a mediocre Bob Dylan gig at the Phoenix (capacity ~800) in 2004. I saw Dylan rip the fucking roof off of the Air Canada Centre (capacity ~19,800) in 2006, with the Foo Fighters opening with an acoustic set. Awesome. I was at Massey Hall in 2006 when Jeff Tweedy of Wilco called us all "motherfuckers" because no one was dancing (who dances in Massey Hall?). I saw the Drive-By Truckers for the first time in the fall of 2006, and was so keyed up and blown away after that gig that I didn’t sleep at all that night. I saw dozens and dozens of small local acts play their hearts out at the Cameron. The first time I saw The Sadies was at their annual New Years gig in 2006. I subsequently saw The Sadies live roughly 17,345 times after that, and I never saw my hot date from New Years 2006 after that night. Hot dudes come and hot dudes go, but The Sadies are forever. I will never forget January 2007, and James McMurtry singing the last verse of "Holiday" a capella on a bitterly cold night at the El Mocambo where the heat was barely functioning and the ticket girl at the front was turning blue because it was so cold. I didn’t even remove my toque for that show.

In 2008, encouraged by some fellow alt country/rock music lovers, I started a music/mp3 blog. Despite it being a total vanity project, my blog netted me some “press” passes to gigs, and got me on some guests lists. I also got to meet some incredibly cool people along the way. Toronto, you have an enthusiastic but tiny community of alt country fans, and this blog helped me get to know many of them, including some of the bands and artists.

Toronto, we did so many things together. We got drenched by super soakers at the Pride parade. We waited for rush tickets at the Film Festival. We wandered around aimlessly during Nuit Blanche. We sat on the 50 Steph balcony with our cocktails and watched the air show and various fireworks displays. We did Summerlicious and Winterlicious. We got stuck in soccer parties and traffic during the 2002, 2006, and 2010 World Cups. But I got the hell out of town during every Caribana weekend.

I adopted Queen West as my home. I cursed at Nickelback and other awful pop bands when they polluted my Queen West with their music during various outdoor Much Music shows. I inhaled deeply while walking through the perpetual mushroom cloud of weed smoke in Grange Park. I did tons of volunteer work. I raised funds for the Terry Fox run. I never went to Honest Ed’s cause that places freaks me out. I survived two transit strikes (‘06 and ‘08) and another city services/garbage strike (2009). I cursed your YYZ and adored your YTZ. I supposedly developed a Canadian accept, although my hometown is farther north than Toronto, so I suspect that I already had one.

I got to travel all over your cousin provinces, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Vancouver, British Columbia (but I sort of skipped everything between Sudbury and Calgary). I took a 12 hour ferry from North Sydney, NS, to Argentia, NL. I skied Lake Louis and Mt. Tremblant. I got lost in an area of Quebec where no one spoke English. I bought a used copy of Mule Variations at some run-down CD store in Calgary. I ran a 10K in Vancouver, then stupidly took the red eye home that same night (oh the pain). I spent the night in my car somewhere near Edmundson, New Brunswick.

In Another Time

Toronto, you can be hard on people. Sometime in 2007 Ryan saw an opportunity that you couldn’t provide, and up and moved to Vancouver. Somehow, that caused all of us to grow the fuck up and leave 50 Steph. Bishop bought a condo. I interviewed for a job in New York and when I didn’t get it, I “divorced” Kirwin and moved into swanky condo. Kirwin bought a condo. Grelly bought a house and got themselves hitched.

And you really started to kick my ass in 2009, when I got a 20% pay cut, even though I hadn’t had a raise since 2006. All of the noise and construction and sirens near work started to fray my nerves. The elevators at work were/are always broken, and some days it took me longer to get from the first to the 10th floor, than it did to bike the 2K to the hospital. The same lady still sat in front of the church on McCaul and asked me “for change for her son.” She’s been there since 2002. The heat/smog wave of 2010 almost killed me. And I nearly had a goddamn nervous breakdown as rioters came within a few blocks of my home and trashed my Queen West during that great fucking G20 fiasco. And more recently I had a big run-in with your Canadian immigration system. Or, I should say, had yet another run-in with Immigration Canada. I can take a hint.

Before moving to Toronto I lived in Chicago (‘91-’95) and St. Louis (‘95-’02). Unlike those cities, there was never a time with you, Toronto, where I didn’t feel safe. When I moved here it took me a long time to get over the fact that it was OK for me to walk alone after sunset without having that nervous feeling that someone was going to jump out of the bushes and murder me. I would ride my bike at midnight through the so-called “bad” neighborhoods of Toronto, where there were certain neighborhoods in Chicago and St. Louis which I wouldn’t even drive in during bright daylight with the windows rolled up and the doors locked. I scoffed at people who moved to Ottawa because Toronto had become “too dangerous.”

But Toronto, you lack on some things these other cities offer. For example, I never got really excited by a local professional sports team. Getting to your main airport was always a total nightmare, or it cost me an arm and a leg. Your beer and liquor stores close too damn early. Your job market was and is totally brutal for my field, and even many of my colleagues who are Canadian citizens had to leave you to get jobs in other provinces/states/countries. Your public transportation system is terrible. And during my tenure with you Toronto, I never fell in love. Except maybe with the city itself.

But it’s time Toronto. Fish or cut bait. Shit or get off the pot. I’ve dragged this on too long and it’s time for me to go. It’s not you, it’s me. It wasn’t meant to be. When one door closes another one opens. Cliche, cliche, cliche. To paraphrase James McMurtry, I’m onto some bright future, somewhere down the road to points unknown. I’ll send post cards when I get there, wherever it is I think I'll go.

James McMurtry - I'm Not From Here.mp3
Buy (mp3): Live In Aught-Three (2004)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blue Christmas

Looks like I'll be drinking Christmas dinner alone again this year.

These songs are for the those of us who think that Christmas is the saddest, loneliest, most depressing time of year. This mix will make you cry. Consider yourself warned.

1. Elvis Presley - Blue Christmas.mp3
Buy: It's Christmas Time (2000, orig. 1957)
Gotta start off with a classic.

2. Okkervil River - Listening to Otis Redding at Home During Christmas.mp3
From: Golden Opportunities Mixtape (2007)
This song slays me. I like this version better then their studio recording because the string part is killer and lead singer Will Sheff's voice is so much more mature than on the 2002 release.

3. Jim White - Christmas Day.mp3
Buy: No Such Place (2001)
Christmas at a bus station. Gulp.

4. Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - Cold White Christmas.mp3
Buy: Etiquette (2006)
You can imagine the young lady in this song listening to the Replacements, scowling about the Minneapolis weather, and cursing her irritating family over the holidays. In fact, if this song took place in Wisconsin, that might have been me.

5. Red Star Belgrade - Xmas Day.mp3
From: Fractured Hymnal (1999, out of print)
The most depressing of all the depressing Christmas songs. Listen at your own peril.

6. The Emotions - What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?.mp3
Buy: Sunshine! (1977)
You can actually hear their hearts breaking in the soul ballad.

7. Little Johnny Taylor - Please Come Home for Christmas.mp3
From: Christmas in Soulsville (1989, out of print)
This song may sound familiar to you as both The Eagles and Bon Jovi did popular radio versions of it. It was originally written by Charles Brown in 1960. Little Johnny puts slightly more soul into it than Don Henley does. Slightly

8. Over the Rhine - All I Ever Get For Christmas is Blue.mp3
Buy: Snow Angels (2007)
This one has a bit of jazz flavor to it. Whether it's rock, jazz, country, or soul: Christmas is depressing.

9. Asleep at the Wheel - I Hate Christmas.mp3
Buy: Santa Loves to Boogie (2006)
What's Christmas without a little alt country heartache?

10. Buck Owens and Susan Raye - All I Want for Christmas is My Daddy.mp3
From: Merry Christmas from Buck Owens and Susan Raye (1971, out of print)
If Red Star Belgrade's "Xmas Day" didn't make you cry, this one will.

11. Red Simpson - Blue Blue Christmas (For this Truck Drivin' Man).mp3
Buy: Trucker's Christmas (1973)
As if working on Christmas didn't suck enough, working away from home is even worse.

12. Terry Fell - >Let's Stay Together Until After Christmas.mp3
From: Truck Driving Man (1993, out of print)
Yes, let's keep this toxic relationship going through the holidays, and then you can break my heart!

13. Paul Kelly - How to Make Gravy.mp3
From: Songs From the South (1997, out of print in North America)
One of my favorites. Not only does it suck to be in jail on Christmas, missing your kids and the family gossip, but in Australia Christmas is in the summer, so you also miss a day at the beach.

14. Emmy the Great and Lightspeed Champion - Christmas in Prison.mp3
Buy (MP3: It's Not Like Christmas (2006)
I have about a dozen covers of this John Prine classic, but this one is fun as it's told from a female perspective.

15. The Carpenters - Merry Christmas Darling.mp3
Buy: Christmas Portrait (1978)
If Karen Carpenter's voice doesn't melt your cold, black heart, then you are a Scrooge (like me).

16. Joni Mitchell - River.mp3
Buy: Blue (1971)
And we end with a classic, "a river to skate away on." Mitchell obviously wrote this song after leaving Canada for sunny California. Now go get a hankie and dry your eyes!