Degrassi Junior High (Song Parody)

“Wake up in the morning
Feeling shy and lonely
Gee, I gotta go to school
I don’t think I can make it
Don’t think I can take it
I’m wondering what I’m gonna do
But when I look around and see
That someone is smiling right at me
Wait!
That someone’s talking to me
Hey!
I’ve got a new friend
Everybody can succeed
All you need is to believe
Be honest with yourself
Forget your fears and doubts
Come on, give us a try
At Degrassi Junior High”

Nostalgia can hit you with the force of a tornado when you least expect it.  Last week, for the first time in so many years, I started watching Degrassi Junior High again.  (MTV Canada airs it weekdays at 1:30 p.m.)  I accidentally caught the middle of an episode where the girls’ swim team challenge the boys’ soccer team to a swim-off.  (The girls win.)  Almost instantly, a torrent of teenage memories came flooding back into my brain.

While getting reacquainted with the likes of Lucy, Caitlyn, Joey, Snake, Wheels, Spike and Stephanie Kaye, after not thinking about them in decades, a very silly thought popped into my head:  what would it sound like if Axl Rose sang the Degrassi Junior High theme song?

Well, I would hope it would go a little something like this.  You’re welcome:

DEGRASSI JUNIOR HIGH
(To the tune of Live And Let Die)

When you wake up feeling shy & lonely, too
Do I have to go to school?
(You know you do, you know you do, you know you do)
I can’t make it, I can’t take it, what will I do?
Come on, give us a try
At Degrassi Junior High
Degrassi Junior High

All you need to succeed now
Is to believe in you
Forget your fears & doubts
Just be honest with your fuckin’ self!

Who’s that smiling right at me?
(It’s a new friend, it’s a new friend, it’s a new friend)
I look around, they’re talking to me, what will I do?
Come on, give us a try
At Degrassi Junior High
Degrassi Junior High

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, June 25, 2015
1:42 a.m.

Advertisements
Published in: on June 25, 2015 at 1:42 am  Comments (3)  

Nobody’s Type

Walking around completely undetected
Collective indifference strongly suspected
Always invisible amongst the crowd
Their silent rejection so incredibly loud
No reason to listen, no desire to talk
A sobering reason for me to take stock
Maybe it’s true that I’m not worth the hype
I guess I should accept I’m nobody’s type

How can I be when I’m thin as a rail
Underdeveloped with skin so pale
Stuck in a pattern that’s hard to break
Sometimes “the truth” is too tough to take
Unwilling to challenge this faulty thinking
Weaker minds would contemplate drinking
Perhaps it’s foolish to publicly gripe
I guess I should accept I’m nobody’s type

It hasn’t always been the best of times
Too many examples to list in rhymes
Bullies & intolerances top a long list
Problems that can’t be solved with a flick of the wrist
You keep hammering yourself on a daily basis
Wondering if you’ll ever locate that oasis
I’ll never be as cool as Michael Stipe
I guess I should accept I’m nobody’s type

I’m just not seen in a sexual way
Guys like me aren’t invited to play
We lack definition and the talent to excite
That’s why we call it an early night
We’re not on the cover of a best-selling book
We just aren’t given a second look
It’s a wonder I don’t ever reach for a pipe
I guess I should accept I’m nobody’s type

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
2:57 a.m.

Published in: on June 23, 2015 at 2:57 am  Comments (1)  

Original Holy Holy Single Finally Makes CD Debut In New David Bowie Box Set

On September 25th, David Bowie will release a massive new box set covering the first successful phase of his long, highly regarded career.  According to his official website, Five Years 1969-1973 will feature six studio albums, two live records, and a two-disc collection of single mixes, B-sides and rarities.  It will be available in a 12-CD package as well as a separate 13-LP collection.

Space Oddity (AKA David Bowie (1969) and Man Of Words, Man Of Music), The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane and the covers album Pin-Ups have all been remastered once again specifically for this set.  The 2003 stereo remix of The Rise & Fall Of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars, only previously available on DVD, will also be included.

On top of that, Five Years will also feature the double-disc Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture soundtrack and Live Santa Monica ’72, a Ziggy-era bootleg that was first released officially in 2008.

Finally, there’s Re:Call 1.  Sadly not available as a separate stand alone release, this exclusive two-disc compilation will feature 24 additional songs, many of which appeared as bonus tracks on previous studio album reissues as well as being a part of earlier box sets & greatest hits compilations.  Far from comprehensive (not all the extra songs from the Rykodisc & 30th Anniversary versions are restored here, unfortunately), it does showcase most of the non-album A-Sides & B-Sides from the era.  (The UK single edit of Space Oddity is on the track list, but neither of the two US single edits made the cut.)

Amongst a lot of familiar hits & flipsides are several genuine rarities, the biggest of which is Holy Holy.  Originally a three-minute single issued in 1970, only the two-and-a-half minute 1971 re-recording (a Ziggy Stardust outtake eventually issued as a B-Side to Diamond Dogs in 1974) has ever made it on a Bowie CD, including this box set.  Now, for the first time ever, the original three-minute version can be heard digitally, as well.  It was only previously available officially on 45.

Also making its debut on CD is a rare, unreleased single mix of All The Madmen from The Man Who Sold The World and the German single edit of Drive In Saturday from Aladdin Sane.

Fans of John, I’m Only Dancing will be happy to know that the original mix and the sax version are included on disc two of Re:Call 1, marking the first time that both have appeared on the same release.  Other highlights of the collection include the Arnold Corns versions of Moonage Daydream and Hang On To Yourself (but not the rare vinyl-only B-Side The Man In The Middle), the Italian version of Space Oddity (Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola), the single edit of Time from Aladdin Sane and Velvet Goldmine.

Five Years will also include a new book filled with rare photos, new liner notes written by Bowie producers Ken Scott and Tony Visconti, plus a foreword from The Kinks’ Ray Davies.

According to the official press release on davidbowie.com, this is only the first “in a series” of box sets to cover the six-decade career of The Thin White Duke himself.

Furthermore, regarding Five Years, the website promises “updates, pre-order links and more shortly.”  Hopefully, one of those updates will note whether this box set is coming to Canada.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, June 22, 2015
11:19 p.m.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 11:19 pm  Comments (2)  

America’s Self-Interest Always Comes First

Embracing the hatred to make a quick buck
Ignoring the warnings so now they are stuck
Fooling themselves into thinking they’re right
Hounding their critics just out of spite
Compounding their problems by doubling down
Dropping their bombs in town after town
Incredibly surprised when it all goes wrong
Continually angering the growing throng
Their deals with these devils are really the worst
But America’s self-interest always comes first

Abuses and violations are hardly worth praise
But their super loyal puppets must get their raise
As the temperature rises to an uncomfortable boil
All that really matters is the price of oil
Suffering and death are secondary concerns
They don’t give a fuck if the whole world burns
It’s all about profits “earned” through war
They’re like hopeless addicts so eager to score
As their victims despair, slowly dying of thirst
America’s self-interest always comes first

Defending the wicked for the sake of control
Forsaking the fallen while maintaining their goal
Of total domination and awareness of thought
Liars and crooks are so easily bought
Torturers are protected with excessive redactions
Ignorant Republicans are welcome distractions
Truth tellers are harassed and imprisoned for years
Especially journalists who discredit their fears
The time has come for their bubble to burst
America’s self-interest should never come first

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 21, 2015
7:01 p.m.

Published in: on June 21, 2015 at 7:02 pm  Comments (1)  

Curtains (1983)

It is the role they all want.  It is the role they all covet.  It is the role they all desire so badly they would do anything to secure it.  The question is how far will any of them actually go to make it happen?

The role is Audra, a mentally unstable woman so completely pissed off at her constantly cheating lover she wants to kill him.  In the opening scene of Curtains, British actress Samantha Sherwood (Samantha Egger) auditions by delivering Audra’s penultimate speech in front of the film’s watchful, Machiavellian director, Jonathan Stryker (John Vernon), while standing on stage in an empty theatre.

After she pulls the trigger of her prop gun, from the balcony he is coldly dismissive:  “I don’t believe it.”  (I didn’t, either.  Some of her dialogue feels overwritten and she lacks true intensity.)  “Audra would never pull the trigger.”  Sherwood is amused but not hurt.  She just thinks he doesn’t understand women or love or even herself.  (They have a complicated history, you see.)  Despite her being willing to improve her own performance with the added benefit of lighting and camera tricks he suddenly shuts off the spotlight from the balcony, gets very quiet and disappears.  (Well, alright, then.)

A fitting moment since that’s when this movie goes completely off the rails.  Desperate to land Audra, Sherwood cooks up a ridiculous scheme with Stryker to get herself institutionalized so she can study the cartoonish, one-note patients who live there.  (Is this really necessary?)  After signing the official papers to make this doomed idea a reality, she lamely tries to stab Stryker.  While fighting her off, she is ultimately restrained by several hospital workers and put in a strait jacket.  (Why is she even doing this when she’s already in?)

Stryker absurdly requests a private moment with his potential leading lady after everything settles down.  Incredibly, he’s granted one.  (Guys, she could still kick and bite him if she really wanted to, you know.)  He gives the giddy Sherwood (who looks like David Bowie and sounds like Joan Collins) an undeserved rave review.  She’s clearly wrong for Audra.

Sherwood’s experience in the mental hospital, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a nightmare.  She can’t sleep thanks to the screaming weeper in the bed next to hers.  She can’t do a jigsaw puzzle in peace.  She can’t escape the clutches of a humming, tickling giggler while another hummer strokes her hair.  And she can’t even watch herself in a old movie on TV without being laughed out of the room.

Despite kissing up to her during repeated personal visits (Sherwood sees right through his blatant flattery on one particular occasion), Stryker completely screws her over by ultimately abandoning her.  (That’s the thanks she gets for buying him the rights to film Audra, originally a novel, in the first place.)  Thanks to a mysterious friend whose face we never see she learns in Variety that he’s moving on without her.

With understandable vengeance on her mind, her mysterious friend helps her escape the mental hospital (are the real ones as lax as the fictional ones in horror movies?) and makes her way to his secluded mansion where he’ll be hosting a most unusual weekend casting session.  An awful stand-up comic, an ok figure skater, an ok interpretive dancer, a musician and an insecure, looks-obsessed Brit all hope to replace Sherwood as Audra in a bizarre, highly manipulative two-day endurance test that is more fishy than sincere.

A sixth contender never even makes the trip.  Before she’s stabbed to death in her own apartment there’s a horrifying scene where she’s being stalked by some creep wearing pantyhose over his head.  He eventually breaks in and rapes her.  Or so we think until we’re shocked to learn this is just a bored couple role playing. Oh, you wacky kids!

How the deadpan, deep-voiced John Vernon maintains a mostly straight face in all of this ridiculousness is a testament to how good he is as the unethical Stryker.  Clearly and calmly in control at all times he seems far more interested in screwing with his actresses, both mentally and literally, than making an important casting choice for his movie.  (When the annoying stand-up comic jokes about giving him a blowjob to get hired, he smoothly responds, “That shouldn’t be necessary, but I’ll keep it in mind.”)  When he’s not putting them through completely pointless exercises (Wear this hideous hag mask and seduce me only with your eyes and mouth!  Touch her breast like a man would!), he’s taking complete advantage of their collective vulnerability.  The powerful creep ends up bedding two of the more desperate contenders, which doesn’t go unnoticed by Sherwood.  Call me crazy but sometimes you wonder if making a movie is his real priority here.

Meanwhile, someone in that hideous old lady mask is eliminating the competition one by one.  Circumstantial evidence clearly points to Sherwood who has two very strong motives.  But considering how at times the film challenges the audience’s expectations (the surprising rape fantasy sequence, for instance), Sherwood’s possible culpability seems a bit too obvious to be accurate.

Curtains is one of the strangest, most confusing slasher films I’ve ever seen.  (Even a rare, second screening didn’t answer all my questions.)  Shot and reshot over two years with two different crews and directors plus one notable casting change, there were so many alterations made that when it was finally completed the finished result bore very little resemblance to its original story.

Essentially, it’s two seemingly incompatible ideas (a deliberately slow paced, pretentious, twisty psychodrama and a standard slasher thriller) merged into one rather screwy whole.  It isn’t particularly scary (the hag mask gimmick, complete with the killer’s heavy breathing, is a blatant, uninspired rip-off of Halloween’s Michael Myers) and there are many unexplained moments.

Consider Michael Wincott.  During the dinner time sequence where Stryker introduces himself to the five contenders, in walks Wincott looking a lot like the love child of Sid Vicious and Keith Richards.  After ogling one of the women, he ends up fooling around with her later that winter’s night in the outdoor Jacuzzi.  (He has exactly one line of dialogue:  “Hey!”)  Then, while gathering firewood, we see him watch the figure skater walk to the frozen pond for a fateful training session (even though she left a note for Stryker saying she was leaving the mansion for good) and later, he drives away on a snowmobile for some reason.

We have no idea who he is and why the hell he’s at Stryker’s mansion.  Is he a friend?  His son?  Hired help?  Personal assistant?  Secret gay lover?  It’s never explained.

Meanwhile, there are other unresolved matters.  Did Stryker have Sherwood institutionalized because he never really wanted her for the part in the first place and this was the best way to squeeze her out?  Since the ruse, if it was one, didn’t exactly work why does he allow her to participate in the mansion casting sessions anyway?

How the hell did the killer a) retrieve that decapitated head from the toilet without leaving a mess (and where did it go?) b) squeeze through that tiny bathroom window without getting caught while the insecure Brit is doing her nails?  c) find another way into the prop room vent to murder one of her cowering competitors? d) manage to drag the body of one of the victims to hang in the prop room undiscovered? And e) not immediately execute the most obvious threat to her professional future?

In the years following the film’s forgotten, short-lived theatrical release (despite being filmed in Toronto with a mostly Canadian cast it was curiously released here a year after its American debut) it has grown in popularity thanks to home video & Television re-airings, much to the surprise and amusement of some of its surviving cast & crew who appear in the entertaining DVD documentary.  (Most were embarrassed and disappointed by it.  I don’t blame them.)

Despite its resurgence as a cult film, Curtains never really had a chance to be a good movie or a logical one, for that matter, thanks to the constant tinkering of the story and the endless reshoots.  I will say this for it, though.  It’s a bit more ambitious than your typical 80s slasher movie, thanks to the considerable portion uncredited Belgian director Richard Ciupka was responsible for (the middle 40-50 minutes (it runs 89), he says on the DVD).  Strangely, instead of using “Alan Smithee”, the film credits “Jonathan Stryker”, John Vernon’s character, as the official director.

In between the usual horror clichés, it tries to be surprising during other scenes, setting up our expectations for predictable resolutions only to throw in unexpected curveballs at the end of them.  The problem is most of these swerves don’t work or leave you shaking your head like that bizarre rape fantasy sequence that really perturbed me during my initial screening or Sherwood’s needless, fake murder attempt on Stryker at the nuthouse.

Speaking of Stryker, it’s a testament to John Vernon’s much missed professionalism (he died in 2005) that his performance as the manipulative, shady director is the best one, even though he’s not always written smartly.  Surely realizing the silliness of his character’s often questionable antics he nonetheless plays him absolutely straight.  Even though I laughed when he convinces the eavesdropping, naive figure skater that the very real fight he just had with Sherwood in her old bedroom was merely a private audition, he never betrays his remarkably good deadpan.  As the wise Costanza once observed, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

As an aside, it’s refreshing to see so little gore and hear no misogynistic dialogue here, two unwelcome, longterm elements of the genre I’d love to see retired for good.  That said, the women hungering for the role of Audra aren’t exactly feminist or sympathetic or bright.  Before they even meet Stryker, they ponder numerous ways in which they’d sell out for him.  It sounds like they’re half-joking but as the movie progresses, it’s clear some of them are not.

In the end, Curtains is a curious mess, a meandering mishmash of conflicting approaches that only hint at more compelling possibilities.  Instead of burning all those head shots until they pop, the filmmakers should’ve torched this movie instead and start all over again.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, June 20, 2015
3:49 a.m.

Published in: on June 20, 2015 at 3:50 am  Comments (2)  

From The Published Archives: Breaching Vista’s Vera City

For three years (2009-2012), I submitted reviews to MonkeyBiz.ca, a website that provided a free platform for local, independent writers.  (Today, it’s just a one-person blog.)  In the end, the site published all of my proposed pieces:  twelve CD reviews & three movie reviews.  Fourteen have since been reposted in this space.  Here’s the story behind number fifteen.

Shortly after the long delayed publication of my positive assessment of Keane’s Night Train EP in July 2011, the editor emailed me asking if I would be interested in doing another CD review right away.  Of course I was.  So I went down to their office downtown and picked up the disc.

Like most of the acts I assessed during that period, I had never heard of Breaching Vista.  Based out of Kitchener, Ontario, they were completely off my radar.  Having only previously released an EP (which I’ve never heard), Vera City was their first proper album.  As the editor pointed out, the band actually autographed the center spread of its liner notes which kinda freaked me out a little bit.  I was worried the gesture would unduly influence my critique.

As it turned out, my concern was misplaced.  Although I did praise the album (because I legitimately liked it), there were a few songs I didn’t care for.  After the review was posted, Breaching Vista frontman John Maksym personally wrote two emails to the editor of MonkeyBiz which were then forwarded to me.

The first one simply expressed appreciation for my review (“It’s a nice honest perspective of the record.  I can tell he actually took the time to listen to each song carefully, and that’s exactly what we’re looking for in a review.”).  The second went on to explain in considerable detail the inspiration for two of the three Vera City songs I panned.

Nervous, which I found uneven and confusing, is about Maksym’s miserable experience in one of his previous bands which he doesn’t name.  (“In order to keep another member content, I excused myself from the front-man/lead vocalist duties, and allowed for them to take over.  It was never a move I was comfortable with, but went about it for the sake of keeping the original line up together.”)  Like Edwyn in I Mother Earth, Maksym claimed that he “was completely left out of the writing process” when this unnamed band decided to do some recording.  When informed that he “wasn’t needed in the studio”, he “voluntarily walked out”.  Nervous was originally written in 2006, months after his departure, during his brief solo period before the formation of Breaching Vista.  It was rearranged a number of times before being recorded for Vera City.

Forgive You was “loosely based on an article” Maksym read by Susan Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters.  It appeared in Oprah Magazine back in 2009, a decade after the infamous high school massacre.  Deeply affected by the tragedy as a Grade 10 student, years later Maksym wrote the song from her point of view as an answer to this question: “In the most tragic and devastating events, could unconditional love warrant forgiveness and trump the darkest of evils?”

Makysm never references Columbine or the Klebolds directly in the lyrics (“I had hoped the song had enough substance to leave it open for interpretation, without directly linking it to any one circumstance in particular…”) but even if he had, my dim view of Forgive You wouldn’t have changed.  (I didn’t care for the arrangement.)  That said, the fact that he took the time to explain the reasoning behind every verse & chorus of it was much appreciated and revealing.  In all my years of writing reviews in various spaces, that has never happened before or since.

My mostly positive review of Breaching Vista’s Vera City was posted by MonkeyBiz on August 29, 2011.  I was quite happy with the final edit (very few changes were required before posting) so I’ve left the original review intact.  Because MonkeyBiz renovated its website a while back, all fifteen of my pieces are no longer there.  You can only find cached versions now.

As for Breaching Vista, according to this January 2015 interview with the Canadian Beats blog, they’re still working on a follow-up to Vera City.  Good luck to them.

Breaching Vista’s Vera City: An Album Review

Posted on August 29 2011 under Arts & Entertainment
By Dennis Earl

Is emo still a viable genre?  Breaching Vista sure hopes so.  According to their Facebook page, this ambitious Kitchener quartet has been kicking around the independent scene for almost half a decade waiting for a breakthrough.

Three years after the release of their first EP, Breaking the View, comes Vera City, their entertaining debut album.  And yes, that’s a play on veracity which would’ve been a better title.

Imagine Johnny Rzeznick of the Goo Goo Dolls fronting Jimmy Eat World and you’ll have a basic sense of how they sound.  Their unoriginal yet slick musical presentation convinces you they may not be independent for very long.

The album begins well with a tight, mostly instrumental number called We Are the Way.  Is the background vocalizing of the title an unsubtle, prematurely cocky declaration to the world? Definitely.

There have been numerous rock songs about the pleasure of a deep slumber but Breaching Vista manage to add another good one to this long list.

Sleep extolls the virtues of resting over the persistent danger of drug-taking: “Give me something that my body needs/Not those chemicals that make you crazy.”

Singer/lyricist John Maksym is unabashedly open about why all of this matters so much to him:  “Are you aware, of the life that I’m trying to lead?/The success that I need to achieve/Aspirations that I have conceived/Just let me get some sleep.”

A refreshing attitude, so different from most alt-rockers who pretend not to want to be famous and successful.

Run With the Punches continues the ambition theme by portraying the band as masochistic underdogs determined to make it despite constant struggles.  Like all the full-on rockers here, it has good energy and thoughtful lyrics.

Romantic torment is fairly common subject matter for an emo band and Breaching Vista offer several such songs.  Goodbye, So Long focuses on two quarrelling lovers who have very different views of their relationship after an exposed dalliance.  It’s skillfully familiar.

Far less successful, though, are Nervous and Forgive You.  The former suffers from confused lyrics and uneven music.  The choruses are catchier than the verses.

Despite the use of strings, African chanting and Maksym’s usual anguish, the latter lacks an emotional pull.  It also doesn’t help that it’s not entirely clear why this particular relationship died.

Was it because of an external affair?  A cruel prank?  The lack of revelation robs the song of a heartbreaking payoff it needs to work.

The best of all these numbers is Wrath of Nyre.  Featuring a killer hook from lead guitarist Al Malnar, paired at the start with an effective acoustic counter lick, you can file this one under “can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.”

The sly use of violin and cello during the choruses really brings out the emotional ache of the lyrics.  The Radiohead-style ending is a nice touch, too.

Tonight is the only love song here not dripping with bitterness and disappointment.  Malnar’s guitar work, from the riff to his solo, noticeably strengthen the arrangement.

When he’s not singing about relationships and his career aspirations, Maksym’s worried about the apocalypse (the engaging Give Me a Reason), supportive of the military and their families (the underwhelming Letters) and confronting an unrepentant pedophile (the insistent W5).

Vera City concludes with Little Thoughts, a typically catchy rocker about forging ahead despite the stranglehold a traumatic past can have on your personal development: “On the brink of self-destruction/We’ll let our diligence unfold.”

Like W5, it’s as close as the band comes to sounding like the Goo Goo Dolls. Nonetheless, it’s a fine way to end an album full of polished indie pop.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 14, 2015
4:52 p.m.

Published in: on June 14, 2015 at 4:52 pm  Comments (1)