Why Do You Hate Me?

What did I do to earn your wrath?
Why are you walking this hateful path?
Your contempt for me is shocking and sad
Not enough love from Mom and Dad?

It’s puzzling and strange to say the least
I’m being attacked by an invisible beast
I know your name and where you’re from
Your desperate insults are incredibly dumb

You live in the dark, I’ll stay in the light
I’ve never met anyone so full of spite
The only solution was to put you on block
Now I’m immune when you maliciously mock

It’s been 10 years since you launched your campaign
Are you still disgruntled and full of disdain?
You lack decency and a reason to be
Everyone in that room would not disagree

You’re a coward and a fraud, a tiny little man
A one-note hack who’s not in demand
You’re so ashamed of your first given name
You changed it to Chalupa. How fucking lame.

You said I had herpes and should shut the fuck up
I won’t stay quiet and I’m clean, buttercup
Repeating the same lie will never make it true
How eternally grateful I’m not pathetic like you

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
5:17 p.m.

Published in: on June 27, 2018 at 5:17 pm  Comments (2)  

Festival Express

In the summer of 1970, a concert promoter who successfully brought John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band to Toronto had a crazy idea.  What if I rent a train, fill it with big musical acts and travel to five Canadian cities to play outdoor stadium shows, all within a week or so?

The result was the Festival Express tour.  Towering influences like Janis Joplin & Buddy Guy and notable groups like The Grateful Dead & The Band eagerly climbed onboard a CN train and had way more fun riding the rails than they ever did on stage.

A film crew was hired to cover the entire experience but a lawsuit kept the footage out of public view for years.  It wasn’t until the 90s when some 30 hours of film was re-discovered in huge piles of silver cans.  But it would take another decade for some of that material to finally be screened in theatres.  (Additional footage would surface as bonus features on Blu-ray.)

Finally available in 2004, Festival Express the movie marries some of the previously unseen footage with contemporary interviews of some of the key, surviving players.  With the exception of the promoter, everyone has positive memories of the experience.

In between stellar live performances captured during all-day shows in Toronto, Calgary and Winnipeg (planned stops in Montreal and Vancouver never happened), we witness numerous performers bonding on the train through drinking, puffing, laughing and jamming.  In one scene, The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia declares his love for Joplin after The Band’s Rick Danko leads a sing-a-long.  Afterwards, Joplin flirts with Danko.  The party never stops until there’s a show to perform.  There are no arguments, no visible tension (although Kenny Gradney, who looks like a young, late 70s Prince, is the only one who raises his voice).

There were also no showers on the train and there was hardly any sleep but no one wanted the tour to end.  You get the feeling all the bands would’ve been perfectly happy to never leave the bar car.  But at one point, they have to.  They very quickly run out of booze.  The hard-nosed promoter orders the train conductor to make an unscheduled stop at the nearest liquor store.

During the Toronto gig, however, there’s trouble.  A small group of cheapskates protest the $14 ticket price for the show demanding it should be free.  They even attack a police horse.  Today’s concertgoers would probably laugh at such whining considering the hundreds of dollars they spend on current festivals.  To try to calm them down, The Dead perform a free concert in a nearby park.  There is deep irony in the scene where these normally anti-authority hippie performers, angered by the backlash, defend the police.

By the time the tour reaches Winnipeg, even the mayor of that city is demanding the impossible which leads to a remarkable anecdote by the promoter.  When the mayor insisted on no cover charge, he punched him right in the face.  Too bad that scene isn’t in the movie.

Festival Express runs briskly at just under 90 minutes and as a result, feels way too short.  There are no bad songs.  Even the train jams are cool and unique.  How often does Buddy Guy’s fly bassist get to scream out a vocal take?  Never again would all of these musicians find themselves in the same place at the same time enjoying the freedom and luxury such an event would afford them.  Janis Joplin would tragically die a few months after its conclusion.

Because the Festival Express was riding through Canada, Toronto’s Ian & Sylvia Tyson are invited to participate.  Sylvia looked like a young Linda Ronstadt while echoing Grace Slick’s hiccupy vocals.  Despite not being nearly as famous as their American counterparts, their folk-country rock fits right in.  The free-spirited train jamming spills over onto the stage as certain acts cheerfully blend together for specific songs.

Of all the stage performances, none tops the Buddy Guy Blues Band.  During his riveting riffing on Barrett Strong’s Money, you understand immediately why Hendrix worshipped him.  At one point during his impeccable soloing, he’s lowered down to the crowd’s level where he wails away next to a security fence.  While other acts are featured more than once, the film should’ve included a lot more of his performances.  (The Blu-ray features a very good outtake of Hoochie Coochie Man.)

Beyond Touch Of Grey, I’ve never been a Deadhead but Jerry Garcia and company’s performance in this movie has made me expand my appreciation for their legacy a little bit more.  Forgoing the endless jams of their psychedelic origins for more tighter arrangements, based on the three songs they play you can see why they were a popular live act.  The Band does a fine take on their best known song, The Weight, while also offering decent covers of Bob Dylan’s I Shall Be Released and Little Richard’s Slippin’ And Slidin’.  And it really doesn’t matter what Janis Joplin sings, she’s always compelling even if she’s a little pitchy on the chorus of Cry Baby.  All the lesser-known acts hold their own, as well.

When it all comes to an end, because of the protests, the Festival Express tour is a financial disappointment.  Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t get into specific numbers so we don’t really know how much money was actually lost (Wikipedia says it was a half a million) and it avoids getting too deep into the lawsuit dilemma.  Still bitter decades later, the promoter grumbles that the people didn’t really deserve to see all this talent in one show.

But Festival Express the movie doesn’t want to bum you out, it wants you to join the party.  It wants you to understand firsthand why this was such an enjoyable experience for the musicians.  (Too bad Traffic, Mountain and Ten Years After, who also appeared on the tour, are kept off-camera.)  It captures a loose, carefree period in rock history before greedy, sanitized corporatization would start to ruin it.  There is welcome comraderie among the performers that begins on the train and continues on stage but sadly, would immediately dissipate as all went their separate career paths.

Two shots by the original crew perfectly capture the metaphorical spirit of the times.  One shows the train whipping by so quickly it’s a blur.  And the other shows a track that looks like the longest four-string bass guitar you’ve ever seen.

The impression is unmistakable.  Now how about a sequel?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, June 21, 2018
5:57 p.m.

Published in: on June 21, 2018 at 5:57 pm  Comments (2)  

Kung Fu Panda

Of the many problems plaguing the overrated Kung Fu Panda, this one hurts it the most.  We don’t really hate the villain.  How can we when he’s been so horribly mistreated?

First of all, he’s abandoned by his family, dropped off as a cub at a dojo run by a rat and a tortoise.  Second of all, after being thoroughly trained in the martial arts by that Splinter wannabe who adopts him as his own son, he is refused the sacred Dragon Scroll because the tortoise has a bad feeling about him.  Up to this point the cub (now a full grown leopard) doesn’t express any villainous tendencies.  But to be fair, after being denied the Scroll, he does take out his frustrations on the local population in this otherwise peaceful Chinese valley.  I don’t exactly blame him, though.  I’d be royally pissed, too.

For the next 20 years, without being convicted in a trial by his animal peers, he is locked up in steel and chains in a gulag heavily guarded by armed rhinos.  He is the only prisoner here.  A floating bird feather begins his vengeful journey back home.

Meanwhile, there’s another big problem with Kung Fu Panda.  The hero is lame.  He’s a clumsy, overweight, kung fu-obsessed panda bear who appears to be the last of his kind.  (His dad is a goose who runs a local noodle shop.)  In the opening scene, one of many thoroughly predictable moments in this completely laughless animated comedy, the panda dreams about being one of the Furious Five, which sadly doesn’t include Melle Mel or Grandmaster Flash.

They’re a group of highly respected animal fighters trained by the rat.  (The panda has their action figures.)  Worried that the pissed off leopard could still escape from that heavily fortified prison (not an unreasonable concern, as it turns out), a public ceremony is held to find the Dragon Warrior, someone worthy of that Dragon Scroll.

The title gives away who that Dragon Warrior will be.  And of course, he has zero athletic ability to work with.  But he has a boundless hunger and after the ancient tortoise suddenly transforms himself into stars in the sky, the rat, initially pushing him hard to quit, eventually uses food as a way to prepare him for battle with the leopard.  The goose would prefer it if he went back to working tables.

The Dragon Scroll turns out to be a MacGuffin.  It reminded me of when Time Magazine put a mirror on its cover and declared “You” the Person Of The Year.  It merely exists as an excuse for animated characters to engage in violence and for one certain character to Hulk up.  Despite the much needed energy that arises from those sequences, the outcomes of all the battles are never in doubt.  (The leopard’s escape from prison is the best one in the film.)

And that’s another significant problem with Kung Fu Panda.  Very little of it is surprising.  It’s essentially a two-joke movie.  How many times can we demonstrate how fat and klutzy the panda is and how many times can we torture him?  I’ve heard dad jokes that were less stale.

Then, there’s the issue I have with the voice cast.  This is supposed to be a movie about Chinese animals.  But I could only count less than a handful of Asian voice actors, most notably James Hong (“Seinfeld!  Four!”) who plays the goose.  Everybody else is either Caucasian or not Asian.

In one way, animated films are like horror movies.  You don’t necessarily need big names to fill the roles.  And unless they are brilliant like Jim Carrey’s Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, their famous voices are distracting and take you out of the story.  I have always liked Jack Black for his genuine enthusiasm and everyman likeability, but he’s not funny as the panda.  Why is the decidedly white Dustin Hoffman voicing the rat when an Asian actor would clearly have been a more suitable choice?  Seth Rogan’s famous laugh (he voices one of the Furious Five) gives him away every time.

As for the animation, it isn’t until the second half that you really start to notice it and that’s only because the action scenes jolt you out of your coma.  Blu-ray rewards colourful visuals.

What it doesn’t reward is formula filmmaking.  Right from the opening sequence, Kung Fu Panda has no intention of being different or interesting.

Imagine if it did.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, June 10, 2018
7:50 a.m.

Published in: on June 10, 2018 at 7:50 pm  Comments (2)