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Review: The Gods of Lovecraft November 25, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Lovecraft.
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(Review based on free advance copy from the publisher in exchange for a review.)

I first heard about Lovecraft in 1975, thanks to a discussion of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath in Lin Carter’s book Tolkien: A Look Behind the Lord of the Rings. I read more about him in the
introductions to various Robert E. Howard collections two or three
years later. I picked up the October 1979 special Lovecraft issue of Heavy Metal, and in December of 1979 I picked up my first Lovecraft book (The Doom That Came to Sarnath and Other Stories) and my first collection of Lovecraft-inspired mythos tales (Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos Volume Two).

So, I’ve been reading Lovecraft-influenced (or Cthulhu mythos, if you prefer) fiction for a long time. I have a bookcase full of Lovecraft and mythos material, and a significant amount on my ereaders as well. I can safely say a fair number of mythos anthologies are amateurish, uninspired exercises in nostalgia. This age of self-publishing, micropresses, and ebooks has generated more of these than ever. Fortunately, The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft, edited by Aaron J. French, is not one of them.

For a start, there are some good and well-regarded writers here,
including Martha Wells, Seanan McGuire, Joe Lansdale, and others.
There’s also a concept that shapes the book without limiting it: each story focuses on a particular entity or group from Lovecraft’s fiction and is followed by a few pages of lore on that entity or group, as if excerpted from the Necronomicon or some other dusty tome of forbidden knowledge. These bits of commentary are written with the occasional touch of macabre humour by Donald Tyson, who’s written a version of the Necronomicon, a biography of its alleged author, Abdul Alhazred, and other mythos works. Each story also gets an illustration, which explains the ebook’s large file size.

Adam LG Nevill starts the book with a story that I found a little
oddly written at first. It snapped into focus for me when it occurred to me that it read very much like a mythos tale as written by JG Ballard, in the style of his stories about damaged people in unexplained postapocalyptic settings. I don’t know if he was going for that, but it works.

A few of the other stories read as though they might be adventures of characters and settings the authors have used elsewhere. The stories aren’t all set in the word as we know it; there are hints of steampunk or alternate worlds or fantasy here and there. More importantly, though, the authors all seem to want to avoid the cliches of mythos fiction, and by and large they succeed. There’s a lot of fresh takes on Lovecraft’s gods and monsters.

Overall, this was a good, entertaining anthology, one I’m glad I gave a chance.


Jr Gone Wild revisited: whys and wherefores November 11, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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When I first listened to Less Art, More Pop, I remember being happy and relieved that friends of mine had an actual and for real LP and it was really good. Well, it wasn’t that much of a surprise; Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs/the Malibu Kens might not have had a lot of fans, but they had some pretty good songs on the tapes I used to get.

And then they started touring regularly, part of a great Canadian music scene (go read Have Not Been the Same — no, really, I insist, there’s a few good pages on Jr in there). I saw them do a lot of Ottawa gigs. They were always fun gatherings of old and new friends, great music, some pretty cool band t-shirts, and eventually that big Alberta flag behind them as they played that brought me back to my years out west. Helped get me out of the house. And I think it might have been Jr who told me to come and see Ottawa legend Lucky Ron at the Downstairs Club for the first time.

I didn’t make it to Edmonton for the first few reunion shows, but Anthony Fulmes, Sue Porter, and I made it to Toronto for a storming and utterly convincing showcase set at the Horseshoe Tavern. There was some nostalgia, sure, we all saw Jr plenty of times back in the day, but this was not some old guys coasting on memories, they kicked ass. Earlier this year I flew out to Edmonton to see the Dead Venues documentary and a full, longer Jr set, which showed the Toronto set was no fluke. I got to hang out with some familiar faces, too.

Anyway, the Dead Venues guys are working on a Jr documentary, as I mentioned before, you can help fund it, and I just want to see this happen, along with more new music, more shows, and maybe a new t-shirt. The old ones got kind of worn out. So maybe someone will stumble across this and follow some links and help make things come together. And that’s why I spent the evening reviving old memories and new.

Jr Gone Wild revisited: the expanded universe November 11, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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I had a page on the website linking to concise entries on non-Jr recordings that featured members of Jr and the Mike McDonald Band. This probably wasn’t even a complete list in 1995. Too bad there was nothing like discogs (wow, does that need a lot of work) or wikipedia back then. Wasn’t easy to track some of these down, either — no mp3s or iTunes yet. Hell, some of these are actually cassettes or LPs. From before vinyl needed a comeback.

Various artists: Edmonton Rocks Volume One
Various artists: It Came From Inner Space: The Edmonton Compilation
Various artists: Live From the Great Western Ballroom Volume One
Santa by Agent Bumbo
Strange Feelings by the Alien Rebels
Galvanism by Capt. Nemo
Hooked on Mnemonics by Capt. Nemo
Snapperhead by Dead Beat Back Bone
The Black Spot by D.O.A.
Demo Dog by Greyhound Tragedy
Demi Dog/Oh… Those Poor Dogs cassette by Greyhound Tragedy
Demi Dog CD by Greyhound Tragedy
As We Walk on Thin Ice by Jane Hawley
Letters to Myself by Jane Hawley
Spine by Veda Hille
Oh Hut… by Hookahman
Hookahman by Hookahman
Looking Back by Jerusalem Ridge
Road Gore: The Band That Drank Too Much by Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra
Battle Hymn of the Apartment by Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra
Be My Barbie by the Malibu Kens
Theresa’s World by the Modern Minds
Meconium by Ford Pier
Fully Loaded by Rustbucket
Let’s Have a Talk With the Dead by the Show Business Giants
Con Troupo Comedius by Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie
Wing Night by the Vinaigrettes
Gross Negligee by the Vinaigrettes
Redeemer by the Wheat Chiefs

Last updated February 5, 1998.

Jr Gone Wild revisited: the music November 11, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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Here are the comments for the Jr releases from the website.

Less Art, More Pop is a classic mid-’80s album. Its guitars-and- harmonies approach clearly owes a great debt to such bands of the 1960s as the Byrds, but also reflects a lot of what was happening in the independent music scene of the time. REM and the Smiths had inspired innumerable jangly guitar bands, and other bands like the Dream Syndicate, Rainy Day, and the Long Ryders drew from the ’60s for inspiration.

This album fits well in that company, incorporating touches of folk, country, and punk into its pop aesthetic. There’s variety, but also the clear beginning of a unique sound and attitude. A few songs are lighthearted and goofy, like the fiddle-driven country stomp of Martha Quinn and the Carl Sagan- inspired pogopop of Cosmos. Others, like Fine Scotch, take a darker look at life, though not a hopeless one. Mike’s voice helps distinguish the band, whether he’s doing lead or backing vocals. The band starts to forge an identity that remains through the coming years of drastic lineup changes.

Folk You: The Guido Sessions is an assemblage of material from various sources, including demo tracks and live songs. The music ranges farther afield than before, due in part to the departure of Dave Lawson and the arrival of new guitarist Steve Loree. Although a number of songs from this album have since been rerecorded for later albums, this tape is well worth having and hearing, especially for songs like Steve Loree’s strong opener One Gun Town, the upbeat Dumb in the Summer, the old crowd pleaser What’s Going On, and Dove’s goofy contribution, Six Pack (no relation to the Black Flag song).

Too Dumb to Quit is the first really professional release from the band, produced by Bill Henderson of ’70s rock band Chilliwack and released by a label that also features albums by Ian Tyson and Steve Earle. Four of the songs from Folk You are reprised here, and though the sound quality is obviously superior to that of the cassette, there are similar forays into hard rock (the slow grind of The Bachelor Suite, tempered by steel guitar, and the urgent, propulsive sound of Akit’s Hill), lighthearted pop (The Cliché Song), and slow, soft country folk (Poet’s Highway and Sleep With a Stranger). This is a damn good album by any standard.

(Pull the Goalie doesn’t seem to have a review. I don’t remember why, because it may be my most frequently played Jr album. There’s some of their countriest music here, and absolutely classic tunes like Just the Other Day. There are some different names in the songwriting mix this time, with Steve Loree and Ed Dobek, who each contributed songs to some previous albums, no longer in the band. But Dove contributes again and so does this album’s new guitarist Chris Smith.)

Live at the Hyperbole got a bit of background:

It’s August, 1995, and I’m in Edmonton for the first time in ten years. Anthony Fulmes (a.k.a. Guido, of Guido Sessions fame) is getting married to Tamara Sapach. But that’s still a few days away. Everybody’s gathering at the Rose Bowl, the pizza joint and lounge immortalized in various Jr. Gone Wild videos and publicity photos. The Bowl has a great CD jukebox. As you flip through it, you see CD covers; you can pick any song from any of dozens of CDs. Pretty good selection, too. Some familiar Jr. CD covers go by, along with other local faves like Jane Hawley. And then I see a Jr. CD I’ve never seen before, never even fucking heard of. Jr. and Three Dead Trolls. I knew I must own it, but there was no chance to go somewhere and buy it that night. Dove told me to relax, that the band had plenty of copies. So before I left Edmonton I bought a copy, at Sound Connection or maybe the West Edmonton Mall. It was a damn good investment.

There are probably a lot of Jr. Gone Wild fans, and Three Dead Trolls fans, who don’t know the CD exists. Well, now you do. You have no excuse. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors.

What is it, you ask?

This is a live recording of a musical comedy revue by the band Jr. Gone Wild and the comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie. There are humorous songs, sketches, a good live version of Just the Other Day, and the ultimate Irish drinking song, A Dublin Lullaby. And for all the bitter and broken-hearted, the song She Thinks You’re Ugly explains a lot. Umm… or so I’ve been told by bitter and broken-hearted people. As entertaining as the CD is, it’s clear that attending the live show, in person, would be even more enjoyable.

Simple Little Wish garnered considerable positive press, from the Edmonton Journal to the Globe and Mail, much of it dealing with the fact that Mike quit drinking prior to this album, the subject of the first song. The critics weren’t interested only in Mike’s private life, though; they praised the songwriting and the music.

As usual, there’s a lineup change, and this time there are appearances from some old familiar names, notably Ford Pier and Jane Hawley. There’s also a song by Steve Loree, although he doesn’t play on the album. This is also the first Jr. album to include a bonus track after a long period of silence (on the CD, at least).

Jr Gone Wild revisited continued November 11, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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I knew Mike McDonald and Ed Dobek from a precursor of Jr Gone Wild when we were all in high school, so I was there for the very beginning of the whole thing. And then my family promptly got transferred a few thousand km across Canada. But a bunch of us stayed in touch by mail, and I got records and tapes in the mail occasionally, so I survived. (This is 1980 and shortly afterwards. Travel across the country is a big deal. Long distance phone calls are horribly expensive. Next to nobody has a computer or a way to communicate with other computers.)

Anyway, I wrote this in 1995:

The Jr. Gone Wild story is a long one, but with a few constants over the years. Mike McDonald, for instance. He’s the only original member of a band that has, according to rumor, at least thirty former members. His core influences have also been constant for the last fifteen years: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, punk rock, folk, and country music.

The Jr. Gone Wild story begins a few years before the band came into existence. It’s hard to pin down the real beginning, because there were several. Here’s one beginning moment that stands out.

It’s a sunny afternoon in the spring of 1980. A teacher and a dozen or so students walk a few blocks east of Archbishop O’Leary High School in north Edmonton, Alberta to the home of Ed Dobek, one of the students. On arriving, they head en masse for the basement, where four of the students gather around some musical instruments. The others sit on an old couch or lean against a foosball machine. The teacher, a “show me” expression on his face, stands and watches.

Ed Dobek sits behind his older brother’s drum kit. Dennis Lenarduzzi straps on a bass guitar, as Scott Juskiw readies his electric guitar. And Mike McDonald stands in front of the microphone.

The band, Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs, starts pounding out a primitive punk rock racket. Ed is, arguably, the only one who knows what he’s doing, but to the friends gathered there, it doesn’t matter. It’s close enough for rock and roll. The teacher can see enthusiasm in the band, and in their friends. He doesn’t quite get what’s going on, it’s obviously not his kind of music. But the small audience is clearly enjoying the racket, some nodding heads, some pogoing. So the teacher, Sam Posteraro, teacher liaison with the school’s Student Union, makes the announcement: Joey Did can do one of the lunchtime concerts during the school’s upcoming Rock Week.

There were other beginnings, too. The band was formed out of a group of students who were working on an underground magazine to be called the S.T. Their first sonic endeavor occurred weeks earlier, when someone brought a tape recorder to 266 1/2, their school storeroom hangout. 266 1/2 had an old piano, empty pop bottles, a typewriter, metal cupboard doors, and maybe a dozen teenagers inspired by the DIY message of punk rock and the Flying Lizards’ cacophonous version of the old song, “Money.” Everything was in place for a horrendous and joyful racket to be made, “songs” of banging, pounding, clinking, typing, bits of melody from the piano, and occasional screams of “The peasants are revolting!”

Another beginning: three or four S.T. students killing time in 266 1/2 making up fake band names, inspired by the likes of New York City’s Richard Hell and the Voidoids and the supposedly real Sid Snot and the Greenies. One suggestion: Joey Dead and the Necrophiliacs. Later, when the band formed, the name was changed, to make it a bit less of a joke.

And yet another beginning: Rock Week at O’Leary. Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs are on the stage of the O’Leary gym. A friend of the band stands before the mic and yells, “Ladies and gentlemen, Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs! 1, 2, 3, 4!” And the band kicks in. Maybe a hundred of the school’s 1800 students are there for the spectacle, but the number dwindles steadily through the lunch hour.

Over the course of the year, the band plays in public a few times, breaks up at least once (Mike briefly starts a new band called the Tory Dinks), reforms, and in December changes its name to the Malibu Kens. Late in 1981, they release a single, Be My Barbie, on an independent Edmonton label. There are two songs: “Crude City” and “Wednesday Morning…” Trivia: the band’s co-producer for the single is Kim Upright of local faves the Modern Minds; also in that band was Moe Berg, best known for his band The Pursuit of Happiness. There’s a poster/lyric sheet by Edmonton punk poster genius Kenny Chinn, soon to go on to greater notoriety with his hardcore band SNFU.

The months following the release of the single see a change in musical direction for the band. Improved musical skill and the influence of bands like the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Go-Gos, among others, result in a pop sound. After they’ve been doing that for some time, in 1982 the band records a limited edition cassette under their old name, a cleanly recorded and well-played selection of their old punk tunes and some odd musical departures.

By 1983 there had been frequent disagreements within the band, personality conflicts, occasional breakups, and at least one change of lineup, as Dennis Lenarduzzi left to start his own band. There were also money-making headlining gigs and occasional press coverage in the city’s major newspapers. A demo cassette recorded that year demonstrated the band’s musical growth, ranging from slow acoustic songs to fast rockers to forays into weird pop. There’s also a song that has an early folk/ country influence, Mike’s “High Plains Drifter.” But despite the progress, the end is near.

The Malibu Kens were one of the bands featured on an album called It Came From Inner Space: The Edmonton Compilation. There’s a booklet with the record with bios of the bands, and the Malibu Kens’ bio pretty well indicates that the band is history. The bio, written by guitarist and frequent songwriter Scott Juskiw, doesn’t mention Mike by name; he’s missing from the band photo. But Scott writes, “The Malibu Kens are 3 conniving money-grubbing tunesmiths and 1 grade A, card-carrying, government inspected hog.” The first page of the booklet, written by the album’s compiler, simply mentions in passing that “Mike Sinatra [McDonald] sings lead vocals on ‘Party’s Over’ and ‘421-1111’.”

The Malibu Kens were history. For Mike McDonald, it was time for a new beginning.

Jr Gone Wild revisited: first, an introduction November 11, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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Their reunion’s been going for a year or two now, there’s new music, there’s a documentary in the works. This is all good news. Shame I got rid of my Well account because now you have to go to the Internet Archive to see my JGW website from 20 years ago. So, for the hell of it, I’m going to post one or two items from that old site. I don’t even remember writing this one, but apparently I did.

Jr. Gone Wild, 1983 – 1995

They’ve been called “the Sex Pistols meet Hank Williams.” Lead singer and songwriter Mike McDonald once joked that the band had progressed: they were now a cross between the Clash and George Jones. The opening minutes of the new album, Simple Little Wish, make that more obvious than ever: a sample of the marching sound from the Sex Pistols’ “Holiday in the Sun” fades into the definitely country-sounding “The Guy Who Came in From the Cold,” Mike’s song about the joy of not drinking, and the pleasure of knowing he’ll still be alive five years from now.

The band’s history begins in 1983. In 1993, the Edmonton Journal interviewed Mike on the eve of a tenth anniversary concert/party. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“My very first band practice with Jr. Gone Wild was on my 20th birthday – June 26, 1983,” McDonald said in an interview this week at his “office” at Rose Bowl Pizza on 117th St.”That’s how come I know I’ve been in the band for 10 years, because I’m going to be 30 next month.”

The band’s first incarnation included St. Albert musicians Graham Brown, Kim Upright and Mark Brostrom.

McDonald said he and Brown went into the group heavily under the influence of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and The Byrds.

“But what happened was for the first year or so we ended up sounding like a drunk Buffalo Springfield.”

The American alternative music magazine Option named Jr. Gone Wild a promising new band eight years ago, and the promise has been fulfilled for several years. Nationally the band is not as high-profile as, for example, the Barenaked Ladies, but their albums, live shows, and tenacity have earned them a growing core audience.

In Edmonton the band seems to be popular enough: they played the national anthem at an Edmonton Eskimos football game. They’ve been mentioned in the Edmonton Journal dozens of times, often profiled in depth. When Simple Little Wish was released, the paper devoted most of the front page of the entertainment section to the band. And last May Jr. Gone Wild won an ARIA award (an Alberta music award) for “best rock/heavy metal artists on record.” (Apparently there’s no cowpunk award.)

And their fame is steadily increasing outside of Edmonton. Canada’s “national newspaper,” the Globe and Mail, has glowingly reviewed their last two albums. As if that’s not enough, reviewer Chris Dafoe criticized alternative rock gods Pavement by saying “Pavement’s perversity wears thin. In the words of Jr. Gone Wild, Less Art, More Pop please.” And the Globe‘s Arts Ink column reported a recent band mishap. As columnist James Adams says, “While walking to Toronto’s MuchMusic to promote the band’s fifth recording, Simple Little Wish, bassist Dove (a.k.a. Dave Baker) slipped on the ice in the Much parking lot and broke his left hand. As a result, Jr. Gone Wild has had to postpone its national tour and Mr. Dove is sporting a T-shirt that reads ‘I Got My Big Break at MuchMusic.'” (For the record… Dove’s last name is Brown, not Baker, and he says the t-shirt is apocryphal.

Jr. Gone Wild is very much Mike McDonald’s band. In fact, he’s the only original member still in the band. Bass player Dove joined before the first album. Guitarist Lance Loree and drummer Larry Shelast have been around for a few years. (Of course, by the time of the last Jr. tour, Lance was gone, and Anne Loree was in.)

A number of musicians must be getting used to being described as former members of Jr. Gone Wild, including Chris Smith, Lance Loree’s predecessor as guitarist, who has a new album out. Country singer/fiddler Jane Hawley, who toured with the band a few years ago, also finds the Jr. connection popping up when she gets some press coverage.

But it isn’t only former members of the band who have a burgeoning musical careers. Mike himself keeps busy in a variety of contexts. Just as he served his muses in different ways in the early ’80s by playing in a punk band and doing Neil Young songs as a busker, he continues to explore new modes of expression.

In February, the Edmonton Journal‘s David Howell reported on a band called Hookahman, a band that plays ‘”post-industrial folk- fusion acoustic-nebulous trouser rock.’ […] Hookahman’s lineup,” Howell continues, “includes Joe Bird and Wes Borg of the comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie plus Jr. Gone Wild members Larry Shelast and Mike McDonald. Other members are Page, Jason Kodie, Frank Bessai and Joel Finnestad. Rootsy songwriter/guitarist Bill Bourne is Hookahman’s musical guru and frequent sit-in guest.”

This band, which has released an album, doesn’t represent the only Jr. Gone Wild/Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie crossover. The band has done music for several shows by the comics, including one last Christmas called Messiah. The Journal headline read, “Un- immaculate Messiah radiates daffy good nature; Musical’s rock band at least as funny as comedy troupe.”

Mike also often does solo acoustic gigs, like the Saturday afternoons at the Black Dog pub. Not living in Edmonton, I don’t know whether he’s still playing there, but I’ve heard that it’s not too difficult to catch a Jr. show or a solo Mike show in Edmonton. (Well, a Jr. show would be pretty difficult to catch now.)

And of course there’s the Rose Bowl Pizza, a Mike hangout for a good fifteen years now, and the place where Mike anchors a Sunday night acoustic session, but the Bowl deserves its own page. It’s appeared in Jr. videos, and it was where Mike was interviewed five years or so ago by CBC Midday.

And now to close with some words from Mike. On Saturday, November 5, 1994, the Edmonton Journal asked a number of local luminaries the question, “What is the most important thing you’ve ever learned?” Answers came from Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, Company’s Coming cookbook author Jean Pare, convicted murderer Colin Thatcher, millionnaire philanthropist Francis Winspear, University of Alberta Hospital director of dermatology Kowichi Jimbow, and Mike McDonald.

Mike’s response:

– “The most important thing that I learned is to analyse information that you receive, be it things you see or what people tell you… any input, before responding to it, just make sure you know what you’re talking about.”

“I learned this through many, many, many horribly embarrassing situations I would like to go back and fix.”