Tagged: Queens of the Stone Age

Looking back…and ahead

Abstract 1“Out with the old, in with the new”, that seems to be the sentiment around Casa Burns these days.

Our youngest kid has now flown the coop and we are, officially, empty nesters. The house seems damn strange without our boys pounding up and down the steps, blasting music or bellowing at their video games in their basement hidey-hole. The silence, as they say, is deafening. But they’re both ready to be out in the world, anxious to be on their own. They’ll have their tough days, intervals when it seems like the whole universe has lined up against them. But they’ll make it. They’re tough and resourceful and bloody smart. Which gives them a leg up in any society.

So we begin 2014, Sherron and I, somewhat sorrowful, missing the lads but eager to get on with the next phase of our lives; back to being a couple again, exploring the world together, seeing where our dreams take us.

I’m fifty years old, as of last October, and that’s also made a difference. I thought any change or transformation would be largely symbolic but turning fifty combined with our sons’ departure has put a whole new slant on things. I feel like another man.

To start with, I realize that more than half my life is gone and if I’m lucky I could have twenty or twenty-five healthy years ahead of me (with my genetics, that might be pushing it).  That’s not a lot of time. As a result, I’m not going to waste any of it on stupid discussions, movies, books, music, feuds or anything that doesn’t further my pursuit of wisdom, joy and matters relating to the spirit.

I did a considerable amount of writing in 2013 (not unexpected) but I also found myself exploring other media, employing a variety of means to express myself. As a result, I created more visual pieces than ever before: acrylic paintings, charcoal drawings, lots of photographs, ambient soundscapes, even a short film. Will this trend continue in 2014 or were all these non-literary ventures merely an aberration? Experiments, nothing more.

We shall see.

I know that for some time I’ve occasionally experienced a certain amount of frustration with the limits of language and wish to communicate via non-narrative, non-Abstract 2linear means. Abstraction invites collaboration, interpretation, input from the audience/viewer. The vast majority of my visual work frustrates literal-mindedness—the equivalent of Rorschach Tests, shapes demanding speculation and discussion.

Not for everyone.

Obviously, one of the high points of 2013 was the release of my short story collection Exceptions and Deceptions. The book features what I think is our best cover thus far and includes a batch of stories drawn from the past fifteen years, a couple of them previously unpublished and available nowhere else. Every time I glance up and see it on my shelf, I get a tingle. Fans of Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Jonathan Carroll, Neil Gaiman take note: this one’ll rock your socks off. Trust me.

Another fun experience was collaborating with my son Sam on an instrumental number which he then incorporated into a short film for Sherron’s “Agassiz” mask/puppet production, debuting later this month. Sam’s film is a gem and as soon as he uploads it to YouTube or Vimeo, I’ll post a link.

Let’s see, what else…in November I was astonished to learn my volume New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) was shortlisted for a ReLit independent press award. My bizarre verse? Really?

Managed to read one hundred books in 2013, though at one point I didn’t think I’d make it to #80. A big surge in November-December put me over the top. The 100th book, completed December 30th? Italo Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun. What a way to finish off the year.

I’ve been noticing how much my reading tastes have changed over the past number of years—hardly any genre stuff these days, except for a bit of SF and the odd mystery/thriller by LeHane or Philip Kerr. Much less fiction, overall. Gimme a fat, juicy history book any day.

We don’t have cable, so we don’t watch television. Have no idea what shows are popular on the boob tube and couldn’t care less. Ditto with movies. By far the best movie I saw last year was Peter Strickland’s “Berberian Sound Studio”. Haven’t heard of it? Tsk, tsk. Grab it off NetFlix, buy or rent it from Amazon, do not miss this flick.

Music?  The new Queens of the Stone Age, as well as Nine Inch Nails (live), Steven Wilson, Mogwai, Benjamin Britten and Gene Autry’s Greatest Hits. Keepin’ it diverse.

Looking ahead: I’ll be working on my new novel, as well as prepping…ah, well, mustn’t give too much away. Let’s just say that Black Dog Press has a number of releases pending in the next eighteen months and there will be further information announced in the days to come.

All the best in 2014.

Thanks, as always, for dropping by and hanging out awhile.


Queens of the Stone Age–Live in Saskatoon (May 5, 2008)

A rare night out for me.   As regular readers of this blog know, it’s next to impossible to pull me away from my desk.  A workaholic agoraphobic, that’s me.  But when Laird called back in March and asked me if I was on for the Queens, I immediately said, “grab us some tickets, old son, but queek”.

Jesse accompanied us and so my usual qualms about being surrounded by a mass of sweaty strangers were much diminished—these lads make me feel comfortable and safe.  The weather was beautiful and we stopped off at O’Shea’s Pub, across the street from the Odeon, fueled up on Guinness and invective and hurried over once we heard the music pounding out through the open doors.

Glad we caught the opening act, Mugison, because they were amazing.  Unbelievably good.  They’re making big waves in their native Iceland and I can see why.  These boys weren’t just putting in time (a la Trans Am, the trio who opened for Tool), they fucking worked for their dime.  And completely won over the crowd by giving it their all.  Afterwards the lead singer and creative centre of the band came out and signed copies of the CD “Mugiboogie” (playing on my stereo as I type these words).  Check out some of their music on YouTube because, I’m telling you, the three of us were in full agreement that we’d love to see them play a full set as headliners and would pay dearly for the privilege.

But, clearly, the evening belonged to the Queens.  Josh and the boys were on and from the distinctive opening bars of “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” to the final encore number “Song for the Dead”, they absolutely owned the joint.  The fact that they were playing a relatively small venue in Saskatoon, Sask-at-chew-wan never seemed to occur to them—they rocked as hard and long as if they were playing to a crowd the size of a city at a Lollapalooza gig.

Over the past couple of years I’ve conquered some of my fear of big gatherings, constricted spaces and, as a result, have been present for some fucking amazing concerts.   Tool, the Pixies, Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, the oneandonly Buddy Guy.  There’s something about the live experience that you just can’t capture in a recording, ripples of electricity surging through the crowd, the band feeding on the energy and then sending it back, a circuit of power and intensity and, yup, love that is as intoxicating as anything I’ve ever experienced.

I had been a fan and admirer of the Queens before the show last night, own at least five of their albums but now I have a renewed and enhanced appreciation for their technical skill, their passion for music, the extraordinary chemistry that unites the band, creating a perfect fusion of minds and talents.  They took their repertoire to a whole other level last night and afterwards I was at a loss, trying to put into words what I had just seen and heard.  Superlatives, as they are, are insufficient.

One quibble, and this has nothing to do with the band. People would not stop fucking moving.  And I don’t mean dancing or pogo-ing to the beat, I’m talking about restlessly roaming about like dumb animals, fucking morons jostling me, coming and going.   The sight lines at the Odeon aren’t good and the air circulation practically nonexistent and these idiot fucks couldn’t make up their minds where they wanted to be.  Very few people excused themselves and in some cases just plowed right through, figuring the forty bucks they paid for their ticket entitled them to behave like a horny bull moose.  One was sorely tempted to hook the feet out of the shithead who was making his third trip past, holding two sloshing glasses of beer and determined to get…somewhere.  Eventually I pulled far enough back so that I could hear the music without being disturbed by an eighteen year old with the manners, personal hygiene and I.Q. of a pot-bellied pig.


But, really, it would’ve taken a lot more than meandering teenagers to spoil an incredible evening of music.  Everything wrapped up before eleven and afterward we stood outside awhile, ears still humming, grinning stupidly at each other.  Two great pals o’ mine and I, sharing a a magic moment before going our separate ways.  A quick, rough embrace for Jess, soon to be heading off to Edmonton for a summer job and then on our way home.

Eighteen hours later and I’m still smiling. Örn Elías Guðmundsson (aka “Mugison”) is wailing away in the living room and when I check the lyric sheet, I get a funny tingle:

“I’m in control,
It’s worth it,
I’m in control,
It’s worth it…”

One of those “holy shit” moments, too uncanny to be a coincidence.  I’ll take it at face value.

More than a message, closer to an imperative.

I hear…and obey.