Monday, July 27, 2009

Seattle for the sake of Seattle

I started my morning off grabbing a tall Americano from the first Starbucks ever established, across the street from my building. Wandered the Pike Market just because it was close by, determined not to fall into any of the tourist traps but found this cute shop where they sold some re-worked vintage dresses from material as far as Nepal and the Himalayas. it provoked an interesting question: a saree, reworked into a skirt. is it offensive to muslims or cool? i decided to leave that decision for another day.

one of the guys working at the hostel struck up a conversation with me that kind of continued in bits and pieces over the entire weekend. he told me that most people staying in Seattle are just passing through, either on their way north to Vancouver or south to California. He said nobody really comes to Seattle for the sake of Seattle. it's not an international city like New York or Paris or London.

this surprised me. i feel like there are plenty of reasons to go to Seattle for Seattle itself. it's a West Coast city, but with a much more bad ass vibe than, say, sunny Portland or hippie Vancouver. the entire grunge movement was homegrown here, in this one city. Jimi Hendrix was buried around here. a whole host of musicians passed through this city, where history was made. I think this is what i like about American cities, which, unlike most Canadian cities, have this amazing deep sense of history in it. Canadian cities, for the most part, are small and young, even for North America, and what is exciting about them is what is happening now, what is developing now, and the exciting promise of the future. American cities, on the other hand, have a past. they struggled through growing pains of war and race and a different ideology that Canada did not experience, and through that grew an arts culture that reflected on it.

i love to travel, and my favourite thing to do is to walk through a city that i've never seen before but read all about. i walk down and look at the buildings and i can practically smell and taste the history, the set of memories and experiences of someone else's life, another community, another world. i may never intend to move there but there is the feeling, the possibility that here i am in a new world and i have a new life. i love that feeling and i can never have enough.

i went to the Experience Music Project, which is probably one of the best places i could have gone to explore Seattle, simply because there was an exhibit devoted entirely to the development of popular music in the Northwest. Housed in its incredible Frank Gehry-designed building, there were pictures and videos and displays explaining the stories of the bands there, starting from jazz to r&b to 60s garage rock to metal to punk to grunge to Harvey Danger (hahaha). i loved it. i just drank it all in. i was disappointed that i couldn't take any pictures, because there were so many amazing things there. there was an entire exhibit devoted to the history of guitars: they had a Gibson from the 1800s.

what also won my heart was the Sound Lab. it's just a bunch of rooms set up to let you explore instruments. at first, i was like meh, i own like five guitars and already know how to play the piano. but i realized that it is a great opportunity for non-musicians to learn how to play instruments in a non-intimidating setting (like in a music store where some middle-aged ponytail will accuse you of not looking like a slide guitar player because you're a petite Asian girl). also, they had other stations set up so i acquainted myself with the basics of sampling, mixing, and turntabling - all things that no one has ever bothered to teach me before. that was pretty damn cool.

also: the Experience Music Project was connected to the Science Fiction Museum. i cannot express how much i enjoyed the science fiction museum. i had my notebook out the whole time, trying to write down the names of books i've got to check out next until i was forced to finally give up. there was a whole section on robots! yessss. everybody who knows me knows that i am a big nerd, but i was unnecessarily aroused at the science fiction museum.

the Experience Music Project had a Jimi Hendrix display, including the strat guitar on which he played the famous Spar Spangled Banner at Woodstock. I feel like you had to be there, or else have someone else tell you what it was like and you have to believe them. you know, that's the problem with being born so late. You spend half your life trying to catch up on what you missed. you chase after place after place and dream about what it must have been like to be there when it mattered: to be in Washington as the riot grrrl scene roared to life. to be in Woodstock when Jimi performed. to be in toronto, in that room when the concept of Broken Social Scene was born. to be in Montreal, during the explosion of post rock. i guess that's all right, as long as you remember to spend the other half of your life catching the scene that is happening right there, right then.

those that know me well know that i have a hard time staying in one place, doing one thing. nobody has ever asked me before what drives me, but there is is. it's the frustratingly finite physical limits of life. i can't do everything and be everywhere. there is so much to see and do and not enough time.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

green tortoise hostel

every time people ask me where i'm from, i give a different answer. sometimes i say toronto, sometimes i say vancouver, sometimes i say ottawa (if they seem like the kind of person who knows where that is. someone yesterday didn't recognize toronto).

i'm pretty impressed with Green Tortoise Hostel i'm staying at. maybe i'm not so old; i love hostel life. this one is particularly impressive. it's got free breakfast and free internet, and even a smoking room for the smokers. each bed has its own privacy curtains and its own fan and light. and the location just can't be beat, right next to pike place market and across the street from the first starbucks ever built.

last night, the guy at the front desk invited me to have a glass of wine with him, so i sat down and talked with him. he told me about how hé's spending his time going back and forth seasonally between the two coasts according to his needs. New York, for the money, and the West Coast for the awesome relaxation our mental health so badly needs. what a life. then i joined some other folks watching the Princess Bride in the lounge. that movie is *timeless*.

happy 50th birthday, Thurston Moore, i took a beating for you

going to a sonic youth concert is apparently a bit like having a thousand people make love to you at the same time. i don't mean it in the sense of a bunch of people simultaneously enjoying themselves, although i suppose that's probably true too. i mean it more in the sense, especially when you're front row and centre, a thousand people are pressing up against you and you find random (girls'!) arms around your waist for inexplicable reasons and you find your dress is being pulled off just from the sheer pressure.

and then i got kicked in the face. that's not normal bedroom behaviour i think, but i can tell you that it's swollen and it hurts like hell. i felt my neck go craaaaack and the next thing i knew, i was bleeding. after the (drunk) guy left i screamed a long string of curses after him with a vehemence that probably surprised all the people around me who thought i was a nice polite Canadian girl. the thought ran across my mind that maybe i'm getting old for rock concerts, but i look on the stage and remember that both kim gordon and thurston moore are older than my parents and still rocking out, so i refuse to accept that i at twenty-four am too old for rock. but maybe my rocking out is going to have to be restricted to either hanging out far back...or being on stage. because dammit, it hurts to breathe right now.

Friday, July 24, 2009


made it to seattle. it took all day. i am now in the land of freedom, and i just ate a freedom burger. McDonalds are the same everywhere you go, except here they have a slight flavour of liberty. i've been here like an hour and i've already been propositioned twice, and got to witness a fight break out in the McDonalds. I see my random outburts of feminist rants will probably not do well here, not that they went over well during my yoga classes on Kits beach at the random cat-callers.

i think i'm going to make it an early tonight tonight. i know i'm lame. tomorrow i'll explore this magical city where department store buildings look like hotels and botox ads are everywhere.

seattle today

i am so glad i wasn't planning to go by viarail.

i woke up this morning, heard the news, and had involuntary flashbacks of my time with the trenitalia strike in italy and that day long ride to nowhere. except, there is a difference between being stranded in Florence and being stranded in, like, White Rock.

these chords aren't so amazing to sober people

i am going to Seattle this weekend for my education in American indie music at the Capitol Hill Block Party, sort of the gay/grunge district (so Seattle). SONIC YOUTH. i am fully aware that Sonic Youth is playing in Vancouver the next night, but i am much much much more into going to a massive block party with the yankees. also, i hate the concept of V-fest.


today choo and i took our guitars down to Cafe Deux Soleils in the hopes of playing at the Open Mic, but the place was packed and we didn't get spots. unfazed, we wandered down Commercial Drive until we found some folks jamming in the park, clarinet, mandolin, fiddle, trumpet...we'd stumbled upon the vancouver Flash Mob Collective. we sat down with our guitars and joined in, as various street folks wandered by, and had a pretty pleasant time, until a fight broke out between two druggies over who stole whose drugs. ugh.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

explosions in the sky

last night, Choo and i checked out the opening night of the "Celebration of Light" fireworks competition going on here in vancouver. there's a similar thing in ottawa, except that i have to drive over half an hour to another province to see it. here in vancouver, i just walk to the end of the street, hang out at the beach playing guitars with Choo, and then the explosions in the sky come to us. it was pretty impressive. we didn't have a radio to sync music with the fireworks, but i was still thrilled. the show lasted a pretty long time too, much longer than the Canada Day ones in Ottawa, i feel. all bright lights....felt like drugs. i have a lot of good memories of fireworks. the fourth of july when my band played a show on top of the brad's roof in the kensington market, and the kids shot off fireworks into the toronto cityline. the time we set off dozens of explosions in the sky for eccles' birthday at his cottage, playing Explosions in the Sky in the backgruond, and the grass caught on fire, melting the plastic fence. that was the first time i had met Majewski.

seemed like the whole town had come out to catch the free show. there were teenagers passing beer cans back and forth under the volleyball nets, and entire Indian families sitting in the sand. cops everywhere. getting out of the beach after the show was pretty hectic. choo and i agreed we'll have to catch the next one.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

end of summer reflections

My stint in Vancouver is beginning to come to an end, and there were times when I thought I would be glad to finally leave, but as moving day looms closer, I can’t help but shaking the feeling that I am not finished with Vancouver yet, and I am sad to be leaving the West Coast. There is so much more that I wanted to see, and I’ve started compiling a list for the next time in the uncertain future that I come back. I never made it out to Olympia, home of some of my rock idols, nor Whistler (somehow!), nor the famous Okanagan wineries. I want to go to the Centre of the Universe near Kamloops, as well as the Top of the World, also near Kamloops. I’ve never been to Banff. Two bands that I like (Portico and the Rural Alberta Advantage) have written songs about Frank, Alberta. Some day I’d like to make it out to the Dawson City Music Festival. And then there’s the whole state of California, which I have not returned to in some twenty years.

I also want to go to the Lululemon warehouse outlet store off Commercial Drive.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Vancouver Quirks #3

there are no mosquitoes here, so there are no screens on our windows. however, an ecosystem still exists, and so there ARE other bugs, like wasps, and there is nothing keeping those from flying into my room through the window.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The ballad of the tragic theatre student

spending the weekend in the hometown of my good friend meg. Kamloops!Today may have started with me walking down a mountain, and it might have ended with us singing misty-eyed along to Chris Isaak in a bar during karaoke.

There really are deserts in Canada. Sadly, I did not find any spirit animals in the form of coyotes with the voice of Johnny Cash...but my weekend is not yet over.

Monday, July 6, 2009

the Rural Alberta Advantage

last night Choo and i saw a Toronto band singing about Alberta, performing in Vancouver. i've been a fan of the Rural Alberta Advantage for a while, but even i was surprised at the turnout for the Sunday night show. the Media Club was packed, totally full, and even Gene Simmons was there. you could tell that Nils was absolutely floored at the massive crowd, and the fact that everyone in the audience was singing along to all the songs. despite looking a bit overwhelmed, they put on an excellent show. Paul Banwatt is an insane drummer with an intensity in his drumming face that would slay a thousand swooning lovesick ladies. the audience dragged them out for two more encores, and they ended the night by bringing their instruments to the middle of the floor and singing a final good night song, acoustic, with the crowd gathered around them. a great show. it made me miss Toronto and the old band.

Hermetics opened for them. they are rapidly becoming my new favourite Vancouver band. It is impressive how a two-man band can be so rocking...and cute at the same time. they just need to put out an album soon.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

axis of conversation

i had another one of those nights where i went to see a band i never heard of with people i didn't really know...and was pleasantly surprised. i caught the Calgary band Axis of Conversation at my favourite venue Cafe Deux Soleils, and they were like nothing i have ever heard before. featuring a string section and some really fancy gadgets on top of the traditional rock band arrangement, they had a really eclectic style, a mix of Radioheady-rock/pop, Godspeed You Black Emporer sonic freakouts, breakbeats, rap verses, neatly arranged background vocals, and a few dance numbers as well. i really can't describe it.

four things i really like about the band:

1. where a normal band would carry around one synthesizer that makes many sounds, they seemed to carry the real deal. instead of using the strings patch on your casio, they had a cello and a violin. instead of using the vibes function, they had a real xylophone. and some pretty cool loop pedals and machines i can't even understand. also, the lead singer's one-year-old son's toy keyboard, about eight inches long.

2. the guitarist plays right handed guitars left-handed. not even re-stringing it. he just flips it over and plays everything upside down. this makes the normal chord you get on the downstroke inverted, a really interesting sound and style...

3. serious representation from Mother Asia. seeing an asian kid in an indie band is rare as a blue moon. seeing more than the one token asian person in the same something i have never seen in the toronto music scene. this band had three asian bros, that's half, all extremely awesome. the white people of the band were pretty cool too.

4. a very pregnant violinist. i hope some day i will tour across the continent carrying a baby in my womb. that baby will come out either really cool or really deaf.

on another note, i am meeting an awful lot of people from calgary here.

Friday, July 3, 2009

home and native land: wreck beach

I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much of my Canada Day in Vancouver. I come from Ottawa, that sleepy town that roars awake only twice a year: St. Patrick’s Day and Canada Day. The streets downtown are closed off from cars so young (drunk) people can fill up the streets with raucous lively partying. There are street performers and vendors everywhere. You wake up at 8AM with a breakfast beer and keep ploughing right through the day. You fight the 8PM hangover; you calm down a random friend freaking out from the fireworks because they took too many drugs; you lose your boyfriend in the crowd and figure you’ll catch up with him at the next party. You sit on the Hill with contraband booze and sing along to blue rodeo even though you hate blue rodeo. You find yourself in the supply closet of a hotel with your high school friends, and none of you can explain how you got there. YOU DO NOT RELIEVE YOURSELF ON THE WAR MEMORIAL.

Anyway, my roommate had warned me that Canada Day is not quite that wild here in Vancouver, so I thought maybe I was going to take it easy. Maybe go to the beach, see an evening show. As it turned out, the girl that is couchsurfing at our place was going to Wreck Beach with her friends for the day, so I invited myself along.

When I was seventeen years old, setting off to explore Vancouver by myself, my father warned me to avoid Wreck Beach, so of course I have been curious about the place ever since. I didn’t quite know what to expect. Certainly it was a trek just getting there; you have to commute all the way to the UBC campus, and then hike on foot through the forest down the bluffs for a while until the thick rainforest suddenly opens up wide to an ocean, beach, and a lot of naked men.

Wreck Beach, according to Wikipedia, is one of the largest, most popular nudist beaches in North America. It is the Vancouver that everyone thinks of when they think of Vancouver aka “Vansterdam”, land of the hippies. A naked old man that introduced himself to me as “I’m not gay, but I am European” told me that Vancouver is a big la-la land where everyone is on drugs and lives in their own world. Well, I spend enough time in the business district downtown and in Kitsilano to know that’s not quite true, but someone living at Wreck Beach could certainly get that impression.

do you remember the San Franscisco beach party scene in the Princess Diaries? A bunch of young people hanging out with their friends, shooting the breeze, carrying boards under their arms, playing guitars, looking cool? yeah, it's a bit like that, only everyone is naked.

Besides the scores of naked people of all ages comfortably hanging out, there is the open air black market that is quite characteristic of Wreck Beach. This ranges from pot cookies to scarves to beach-mixed margaritas to contraband American cigarettes.

I sat myself down right by a rainbow umbrella where a muslim woman wearing a hijab was tanning her bare bottom. I introduced myself to my couchsurfer’s friends, naked young guys playing guitars and a game of Go. I declined the chocolate covered mushrooms offered to me by a nice man wearing nothing but a backpack, finding that Wreck Beach was enough of a hallucination without psychotic drugs. But I did buy myself a yummy veggie hot dog from a brave man that was barbecuing naked.

The waves were fierce that day, so I didn’t wade in the water past my ankles. I was pretty content to lie in the sun, with the rare chance to tan parts of my body that don’t normally see sun.

Someone gave some kind of a signal, and suddenly everyone was rustling. Cops. They come around every once in a while for random raids. Everyone was hiding their drugs and booze, so I hid my bottle of ginger ale in my purse, only to remember that it’s not actually illegal to drink ginger ale in public.

after the cops left, looking awkwardly overdressed in their full uniforms, the party picked up again. Down the way, some folks had lugged along to the beach a full drum set, amps and guitars, and were started up a rousing chorus of Bachman Turner Overdrive, with crowds gathering around and singing along. Little kids ran around in the buff squealing. Our friends set off in inflatable rafts into the waters, led by Conrad, who had painted his face like a tiger, determined to make it down to Jericho Beach. The not-gay European man was right: this was a bizarre la la land, a land that normal social conventions forgot. but everyone was just having a good time.