Monday, August 20, 2012

Bobby Hurley and Me

Back in early July, I had my first ever submission for publication successfully published by the Burnside Writers Collective (which was initially started by Donald Miller, he of Blue Like Jazz fame). It was called 'Bobby Hurley and Me' and can be found here.

Monday, May 14, 2012


I scribbled this down in my notebook when recently on holidays:

The ocean is in my blood and in my bones. Though I’m not a sailor, a surfer, nor a fisherman, I feel a connection to it with its salty redolence, its sounds. It wasn’t until I spent time living away from the coast that it dawned on me just how imprinted was its influence on me. It is a thread sewn through from some of my earliest memories, a constant I always took for granted. When I returned to the West Coast to visit for the first time after having moved away, I remember the smell of the salt in the air, something that had been forcibly removed from my memory through living in a landlocked area of the country, where the air is stale and empty. That scent hit me full force, waves of feelings and recollections that startled me in their number and intensity.

As I spend a weekend at a condo on the beach with my family and friends, I have been pausing to reflect on how much the ocean has shaped my life and I’d even go so far as to say, my faith. Being by the ocean is when I am most relaxed, where I am most in awe of creation and aware of God’s goodness. I feel Him tugging at me, telling me to come and rest from those things that constantly trouble me. As I write at the kitchen table overlooking the swath of beach, the wind blows, suspending the sea birds as they cry over the rolling whitecaps. I love the gray tinged with hints of navy and aquamarine blue; the water hides so many secrets. What I love most about sea is its constancy, the seemingly eternal nature of it; I find it comforting that it will be doing what it has always done long after I have returned to dust.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Matty's Playlist EPs vol. 11

'Animal' - Pearl Jam (Vs): A perfect slice of funky metallic rage, this is one of the first riffs I ever learned to play on the guitar and is definitely one of my very favourite Pearl Jam rockers. I always loved the "one two three four five against one" intro and Mike McCready delivers one of his most searing solos (live, his solo on 'Animal' is often totally unhinged and often one of my personal highlights from any Pearl Jam set that features this song). And of course, Eddie Vedder sounds more than a little annoyed as he delivers his opening line "Torture from you to me/abducted from the street.." There is a reason why I used to come home and listen to this song almost every day after working a job I totally loathed. I found it very cathartic.

'Older' - Band of Horses (Infinite Arms): This track is a lovely, loping, somewhat ramshackle country song that reminds me feel-wise of Neil Young's 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere', except with far tighter harmonies. I don't even know the lyrics but it's the sound of this song that I immediately fell in love with, as it reminds me of the best that roots-rock has to offer. I started listening to Band of Horses in 2006 or 2007 with Everything All The Time, but it's only relatively recently that I truly fell in love with them; I've been playing Infinite Arms on repeat for the last couple of weeks!

'Black Eyes' - Gary Louris and Mark Olson (Ready For The Flood): Louris and Olson's vocal harmonies are amongst my favourite in music--I'm a huge Jayhawks fan. So, when the two of them got together and cut an album for the first time since Olson left The Jayhawks in 1995, I was drooling. The resulting collection, Ready For The Flood, was great and set the stage for the return of the original lineup of The Jayhawks this year with Mockingbird Time (going to see them here in Victoria in February!!). This song is just a lovely fingerpicked acoustic ballad with gorgeous harmonies. That's really all there is to say. So good.

'One Sunday Morning' - Wilco (The Whole Love): It's very rarely that I'm absolutely gobsmacked by a song on first lesson, but this 12-minute slow burner absolutely astounded me. It seemed to embody all my sorrows and my yearnings--if great music should make you feel something, this track accomplished that in spades. It meanders and builds, with a lovely, catchy, repetitive riff accompanied by hushed piano and brushed drums. Jeff Tweedy's voice is right up front in the mix, filled with quiet melancholy. I can't really do justice to this track with words. You just need to listen.

Listen to this playlist here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Taxpayers vs. citizens

I'm generally not one given to political commentary, other than believing most politicians to be snakes, liars, and cheats. However, the following article struck a chord with me and essentially echoed something I've been thinking for a long time and something that is somewhat near to my heart. This originally appeared in the Toronto Star on September 15, 2011. 

Taxpayers vs. citizens

The suffering hero of our times is, we are told, the tormented taxpayer. Politicians mount campaigns to protect the taxpayer, editorial writers evaluate politicians and their policies on whether they will increase or decrease the “burden” to taxpayers, and some self-described taxpayers have formed organizations to plead their cause and lament their plight. Thus, you have the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition, to name only two. The latter recently offered an essay contest confined to the simplistic anti-visionary insipidity, “Lower taxes are good for Toronto because . . .”
Over the past few decades, Canadian citizens have been reduced to “taxpayers,” as all sectors of society have increasingly adopted “taxpayers” as the preferred term for the designation of its citizens. Why is this the case and does it matter?
While everyone who pays taxes is obviously a tax payer (two words), the term “taxpayer” (one word) denotes something much more. “Taxpayer” is an individualistic and self-centred definition that imagines taxes as a transaction in which a levy or a tariff is borne and paid by an individual in exchange for specific personally-realized services. Hence, all evaluations and calculations of government actions and community development programs are based simply upon their monetary “cost” to an individual “taxpayer,” without any reference whatsoever to social benefit or community value. As Daniel Kemmis, a thoughtful mayor in Montana, pointed out, taxpayers do not see themselves as citizens of the community engaged in democratic and communal self-governance, but rather as individuals paying tribute in exchange for services. Or, as summed up by American journalist Robert Herold: “Taxpayers seek always to reduce public life to a balance sheet.”
From this perspective, proposed programs and projects of the community are not evaluated on the basis of whether they provide value to the community, but solely and simply on the basis of individual cost in exchange for services to a particular individual, known as the “taxpayer.” The relevant question thus becomes: How has this benefited me personally? Similarly, the highest social good, the preeminent political goal, is simply reduced to one element: lower taxes. Benefit to a neighbour without equal benefit to me is seen as poor value for my tax dollar.
In marked contrast to taxpayers, citizens understand that they are important participants in and responsible for the democratic governance of their society. Citizens are rooted in their community and evaluate all of their contributions from the perspective of contributing to the building and well-being of the total community — of which they are an important part. A citizen seeks to work at building a community founded upon pro-social (as opposed to anti-social) communal values. The operative question for a citizen thus becomes: What contribution am I making to build and strengthen the community for my family and for my neighbours — for my fellow citizens? Citizens will see taxes as a positive contribution to broader society, whether city, province or country.
Taxpayer language has long been the preferred term of the neo-conservative movement and has gained currency in our society due to extensive utilization of this term by some political parties (although increasingly employed by all political parties) and lobby groups. The destruction of social linkages that create a community and the dissociation of citizens from social programs that benefit the whole of society are the direct by-products — and perhaps the intended goals. If everyone is an individual paying their own way, whether in health care or other social services, taxes will always be viewed as a burden, not as a contribution to the communal good. The socially destructive agenda of taxpayer language is clear.
Citizens see their role in society as consisting of both rights and responsibilities. It is not only my right but my responsibility as a citizen to speak out on issues that affect my neighbours and fellow citizens and to ensure the well-being of all in society. Taxpayer thinking is surely what caused Toronto Councillor Doug Ford to erroneously assert that Margaret Atwood should be elected to public office before daring to speak out on civic issues. A citizenship orientation maintains that it is not only Atwood’s inherent right but her express responsibility as a citizen, like it is for every citizen, to speak out and agitate for the well-being of their society.
Our future as a society rests not only on calculations of financial cost to individual tax payers, but on the assessment of communal value. Of course, a civic community’s “balance sheet,” like that of a province or a country, is vitally important, but that balance sheet must also embrace social, community and environmental values. We need health care, education, the arts, care for those who need assistance, and much more. We need a strong community that provides the full infrastructure for a healthy communal life. In short: we need to view ourselves and each other as citizens.
So, next time a politician addresses you as taxpayer, correct him or her and assert your status as a citizen. Then speak out for your community.
Edmund Pries teaches in the Department of Global Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University

Friday, September 09, 2011

Pondering Pearl Jam

This article originally appeared here in the Buffalo News. One of the best articles on one of my favourite bands that I've ever seen.
Pondering Pearl Jam
A few weeks back, Pearl Jam marked its 20th anniversary as a band with a two-day festival in East Troy, Wisc.
What did this occasion signify, beyond a two-day pass to party for the thousands who filled the Alpine Valley Music Theatre that weekend? Nothing short of a victory for the conception of rock ’n’ roll as a communal entity, one that can simultaneously encapsulate and enrich the lives of both musicians and their fans.
That’s a tall order, one that most bands of Pearl Jam’s generation — or any other generation, for that matter — didn’t even bother attempting to fill. The fact that this five-piece ensemble — birthed in Seattle, cast ashore on the tidal wave of grunge and left all but alone as much of its peer group died, fell asleep, rusted or simply faded away — not only attempted to do so, but succeeded with integrity intact, is a decisive win for popular music.
It’s also a victory for my own generation, the one the demographic study groups called “Generation X” in hopes that they could market overpriced flannel shirts and imitation Doc Martens to us at the same time they kept the doors of economic prosperity shut tight and double-locked. We weren’t really supposed to make it in any enduring, meaningful way. The choice was sell out and get cynical, or accept working in a coffee shop for the rest of our lives.
Pearl Jam made it. But it didn’t succeed in the way we are conventionally taught to interpret success. The band endured because it turned its back on the very materialist, and overtly American, notion that more is always better, bigger always best. By insisting that the ability to control the framework through which its art was presented was more important than money, Pearl Jam wrested rock ’n’ roll back from the corporate forces that were attempting to ruin it through cynical commodification.
No, Eddie Vedder, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and Matt Cameron didn’t save rock ’n’ roll. Rampant corporatization did its work, and what it couldn’t handle itself, a scourge of drug abuse took care of. Many of the brightest stars of the era—Andrew Wood, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley — fell to heroin. And then came a plague of groups like Creed, cookie-cutter imitations of the Seattle sound that offered a dumbed-down and soulless version of “grunge” for mass consumption. Before you knew it, that vibrant blend of punk, hard rock and folk that defined that Pacific Northwest musical movement had given way to rap-metal, Limp Bizkit and a thirst for fame-over-substance among musicians that turned the clock back to the pre-Beatles years.
While all of this was going on, Pearl Jam turned from “grunge poster boys” into the finest and most consequential American rock band extant. Which is why, at Alpine Valley in August, the assembled hadn’t come to celebrate some misguided notion of ’90s nostalgia, but rather, to commune with a band at the peak of its collective power, to embrace a tribe of musicians who had transcended their immediate milieu through willful determination.
How did they do it? Well, whether they meant to or not, the guys in PJ followed the blueprint established by the Grateful Dead a few generations earlier. Just like Seattle, the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco was overrun by suits looking to cash in on “hippie bands” on one hand and people who confused “expanding their consciousness” with drug addiction on the other. The Dead decided to drop out, focus on the music, build a community based on live performances, stay true to themselves, become better musicians and writers, and go their own way. Sound familiar?
Pearl Jam did pretty much the same, shunning interviews, refusing to do videos and taking on a host of causes its members deemed worthy. In frontman Vedder, PJ could have had a major sex symbol, a rock ’n’ roll Johnny Depp. Vedder found the idea horrifying and refused to play the game, insisting that Pearl Jam was a band and himself simply a fifth of that band. This was a bad business decision. It was also the right one. For once, someone had refused to take the bait, for once someone had the audacity to suggest that more money and fame and all that they entailed were not the goal. It was the music, and the protection of what that music represented, that mattered.
Next week, “Pearl Jam Twenty,” a documentary film by writer, director and longtime band friend Cameron Crowe, will be released in conjunction with a book of the same name (Simon & Schuster). Just as this is happening, Pearl Jam performs a pair of dates at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto (Sunday and Monday) and a single show in Hamilton (Thursday), the band’s only area appearances this year. No need to worry if you can’t make it, though. Pearl Jam will be back. And the band never blows off Buffalo.
In “Pearl Jam Twenty,” the book — it’s a must-have for fans, be assured — Vedder sums up the unshakeable ethos that defines Pearl Jam as a singular entity on the modern music landscape.
“We set out to make music to satisfy ourselves. . . . Something we would never have imagined is that people have made friendships, shared ideas, and shared their humanity with each other through the music. . . . That’s all outside of us. All we did was play music, you know? The fact that it’s happened is semi-overwhelming and humbling, but it’s great to know it’s there. It’s a big thing.”
Yeah. It definitely is.•

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Choice Anxiety

My buddy Jimmy the K made me aware of this great post on 'choice anxiety' by James Shelley and I enjoyed it so much and it got me thinking to such a degree that I thought I should share it.

Hope y'all are enjoying your summer so far!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Matty's Playlist EPs vol. 10

It took a bit longer than I had wanted, but finally here is volume 10 of my playlist EPs. Who knew that babies were so time consuming? I thought they just ate, pooped, and slept...

'No Sleep' - Sam Roberts (We Were Born In A Flame): How good is this song? I love the keyboard intro, the vocal harmonies, and the part where SR decides to sing en Francais, being a born and bred Montrealer! I've been fortunate enough to see him 4 or 5 times in concert and every time he's been such a dynamic performer. It's not cerebral music, by any means, but it's happy and fun and has great hooks! 'No Sleep' is one of my favourite of his many great songs, though not one of the big singles from this classic album.

'Thugs' - The Tragically Hip (Day For Night): Another deep album cut from a band that needs no real talking up from me, as they are national legends. The Hip are a phenomenal album band and have many great cuts that never get played on the radio. Thugs is one such song, with a deep funk and crytpic, off-kilter lyrics (ask me what the song is about and I'll tell you I have no idea whatsoever). I heard the band play 'Thugs' the last time I saw them and it was the highlight of the show for me, hands down and was even more cool and funky in a live setting. This is a cut to sink your teeth into!

'Falling' - The Civil Wars (Barton Hollow): The Civil Wars are everywhere. All of a sudden, they're just huge and everyone is falling all over themselves to proclaim their brilliance, including Adele and (the utterly atrocious, in my opinion) Taylor Swift. When you listen to 'Falling', you can see why the dynamic due of John Paul White and Joy Williams is getting so much attention: the harmonies and the chemistry between the two are undeniably breathtaking. Some may prefer 'Poison and Wine', but for me, 'Falling' is perhaps the standout track on their album, Barton Hollow. There aren't really enough adjectives to describe how well these two sing together. Let the evidence be in the hearing...

'Keep No Score' - Sleeping At Last (Keep No Score): Oh Sleeping At Last, you baroque chamber pop geniuses, you! This is the quiet closing track from their 2006 album of the same name. Quite simply, it's a beautiful acoustic ditty that's the perfect way in which to close an album. These guys really speak to my heart and I've loved everything they've put out, their albums proper and the highly ambitious Yearbook project. I love great indie music and this is a band that myself and my peeps champion and talk about with others at every opportunity.

Listen to this playlist here.