Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dan Mangan CD Release Party

Makes moving seem less sucky.

Full review soon.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Summer Songs Pt. 3: The Final Edition

Okay. So. Summer is this close to being officially over. Classes start again in a couple of weeks, and in those couple of weeks, I am going to be doing massively unpleasant things like moving and attempting to build IKEA furniture. But, hopefully, armed with this arsenal of tasty, tasty tunes, I'll get through it with a bit less fussiness than I otherwise would.

5. "Miss You Now" by Elliot Brood

(I couldn't find a YouTube video with this song on it, but click on the photo above to link to a blog where you can stream it for freeeeeeeeee. I suggest that you do so. Also, the album that this song is on, Mountain Meadows is nominated for Polaris this year and totally deserves it. It's wicked.

4. "Pine for Cedars" by Dan Mangan

(Same deal as above- I couldn't find a YouTube'd version of this song as it's just been released, but click on the photo to link to a page with a free stream of this tune, which reminds me of all the things I'm moving for.)

3. "60 Feet Tall" by The Dead Weather
(Kicking song from a wicked album. For me and Jack White, the third time was the charm)

2. "Hang Me Out to Dry" by Cold War Kids
(Please ignore stupid video. The official video has embedding disabled. Weak.)

1. "House of Cards" by Radiohead
(Ultimate song for patio chill time).

And that's it for this summer. That's probably a lie, but whatever. Enjoy! Happy impending-autumn, I guess?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Trading on Health: The Problem of Marketising the Body

**Possible Spoiler Warning

Last night, a friend and I went to see the new Neill Blomkamp film, District 9, a sci-fi thriller ostensibly about the interaction of humans and aliens in near-future Johannesburg. The film opens by giving a brief background of how the extra-terrestrials that become the focus of the film's two-hour running time found themselves in the slummy shanty town of "District 9" in the middle of the South African city. Twenty eight years before the film begins, an alien spacecraft arrives above Johannesburg. Following the expectations created by decades of invasion movies and fantasies, the humans on the ground formulate two possible outcomes of this strange floating residency. First, the aliens are here to declare war, and will soon annihilate the city below them. Secondly, they are here on friendly terms and our interaction with them will herald a new dawn in technological advancement as we gain access to their weapons and advanced computer systems. Neither of these scenarios materializes. The aliens do not attack, or make any gesture as to their demands. Their weapons cannot be operated by humans, as they require a genetic match with their user. Only aliens can operate alien machinery. The aliens, pejoratively referred to by the citizens of South Africa as "Prawns," become refugees. They are given shelter in a tent city below their hovering mothership, and quickly settle into a long residency as the tents rapidly give way to clusters of clap-board shacks and improvised economies built on theft, murder and exploitation.

The film, outside of being remarkable and very fun, clearly treads on some very thin ice and allegorically addresses a number of social issues, perhaps most notably, the legacy of apartheid and segregation that haunts South African political and racial relations. However, the theme that kept rearing its head most clearly to me, was that of the marketised body- the transformation of health, blood, flesh, and bone into commodified business objects. Wikus van der Merwe, the film's unlikely and highly conflicted protagonist, is an agent with Multi-National United, a private company established to monitor and administer the many complex operations that take place in District 9, including handing out eviction notices to the Prawns, and organizing the efforts of mercenary troops and personnel during such eviction episodes. On one such occasion, Wikus accidentally comes to be a carrier of certain alien genetic sequences, and thus becomes capable of operating all the weapons and machinery that the international arms market is desperate to obtain for its own use (including MNU, itself- it's one of the world's largest arms manufacturers and distributors). As one of the characters in the film notes, Wikus instantly becomes the most "sought-after business object" on the planet.

Perhaps it's simply my own busy mind churning too hard, or perhaps its the furor developing in the United States currently over the issue of healthcare reform, but this issue of health and physical state as potential capital struck the deepest nerve with our current reality. Being Canadian, I struggle to comprehend the debate raging in the United States at the moment over President Obama's attempts to reform and nationalize certain elements of healthcare. Millions of Americans struggle daily with meeting their basic medical needs. A close friend recently moved to California, and still travels back to Canada for medical procedures. The travel expenses are less than simply being treated in the United States. And yet, any attempt that the White House makes at reforming the health care system is immediately lashed and struck down by moronic complaints of communism, socialism, totalitarianism, and occasionally, Canadianism. And so the status quo is maintained: Private insurance companies extending tenuous coverage to those who are most healthy, and denying care to those who need it most because they are liabilities in a system that demands maximization of profits, low-risk investing, and cutting your losses before they materialize. Charging citizens "market price" for medical services, giving monetary, discrete value to abstract, amorphous concepts such as the body, health, well-being, and survival.

There is a violence in marketised health care. It's not a literal, visceral, bodily violence (although in some cases, it may well be), but it is a symbolic violence. Unregulated capitalist industries place value on certain practices and behaviours. The tend to 'rationalize' their actions and duties. That is, they break whole entities or concepts down into manageable and quantifiable stages, then arrange those stages in such a way as to maximize production, minimize inefficiencies, save money, and make everything understandable and manageable at the most micro-level. This is what the car industry does. This is what the consumer goods industry does. This is what the garment and clothing industry does. And unfortunately, this is what the health care industry does. It extends the rationalize-quantify-maximize logic of the market (a decidedly violent, dissociative logic) to those spaces and concepts which are not easily quantifiable, things like the body and health. The body becomes systematically dismembered by the market forces that run American health care. Insurance companies put a price on your immune system by refusing to pay for certain prescription drugs. Hospitals put a price on your organs, on the help you need to stay healthy. Ultimately, your body becomes priced, and traded as a commodity. Your kidneys have a certain price and risk. Your eyes. Your skin. Your heart. All things that can be evaluated, understood, and risk-managed by an economy based not on well-being, but on the exchange and accumulation of capital. Those who represent the lowest risk to insurance companies and care-givers (that is, the healthiest and wealthiest of all citizens) are most likely to receive insurance plans, and most likely to be able to obtain care, should they ever need it. Those who are most sick, those who need the help of prescriptions and hospitals, though, are too much of a liability. They are a bad investment, and are left to fend for themselves.

Wikus van der Merwe in District 9 is this marketised body incarnate. MNU pays no attention to the physiological, emotional, social, or psychological trauma that Wikus becomes burdened with upon being exposed to the alien genetic material. He begins (literally, in some cases) to fall to pieces as he is pursued by war-lords, underground arms dealers, government agents and private mercenary soldiers. His suffering body, and the suffering mind that accompanies it, represent capital, and nothing more. The film is gory and at times very unpleasant to watch, and I can't help but feel this is something more than Peter Jackson (producer) having a real penchant for making viewers squirm in their seats. The violence carried out by marketised and private health care systems in the West is highly symbolic- it exists in the realm of rhetoric, economic jargon and the sly actions taken by those behind desks. It is, nonetheless, tangible. However, when we hear stories of things like underground organ trades in other (mostly third-world) countries, we cringe. We simply can't stomach the fact that something as sacred as the body can be literally carved up, doled out, and sold for passports, work visas, and the like. We judge the people who commit such acts as less-than-human, as violent, as criminals of the worst kind, all the while ignoring the fact that these organ traders are simply making physical the symbolic crimes and injustices that our insurance and health companies commit every day. Wikus' failing body, and the attempts to harvest its secrets for monetary gain, represent both the symbolic violence of marketised health and the physical violence of the commodified body. He is at once a representative of the private sector impinging upon abstractions such as "home" and "self," and a victim of this very system- a manifestation of the body disrupted by a relentless drive for capital and competitive advantage.

It may seem silly to discuss such important issues through something as apparently menial as a sci-fi thriller, but District 9 is a remarkable film, and one that pushes the boundaries of its own genre, and could not have been released at a more timely juncture. It makes visible the problems of bodily valuation and disrobes the problematic and disturbing truth of the violence of the marketised body

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Worst. Blogger. Ever.

Guilty as charged. I'm sorry about the shoddy posting, lately, friends. I have worked 13 of the last 14 days, and in between that, I have been running around the city like a mad man, usually with oodles of audio equipment in tow, between band practices, guitar shops, and venues. I suppose things could be much worse. But in any event, I do apologize for the lousy summer of boring posts. They do say, however, to write what you know, and in a pinch, I suppose that's what I'll do.

I have had a fairly rough few months since returning from the land of Baguette and Cheese on everything in sight, and while my vacation was indeed excellent, it doesn't do much to soothe the bruises of a lousy economy and numerous family-type struggles. I've been struggling with money for some time now, as many of my friends are, and when you're under the gun for things like school, living expenses, rent and gas in the coming months, things can be stressful. This summer has seen many sleepless nights and long phone conversations with those I care about in an attempt to ally one another's fears and stresses. Even so, I have been lucky enough to have made wonderful friends and carved out amazing spaces of support in trying times. Much of it I owe to the magic of music and performance. At the beginning of the summer, I began regularly attending a couple of weekly open mics around the city, not expecting much out of myself or the people I was playing for. After all- I'm about as amateur as they come when talking about musicians. Much to my surprise, though, I've discovered that music in these sorts of environments is less about "win over the crowd" and more about "share in the experience." The strangers who I once played for back at the beginning of the summer are now good friends that I look forward to seeing each and every week. The guy who sold me my newest guitar and once seemed like any other salesman is now a buddy, and someone I can rely on for musical-type help whenever I need it. People now ask me to play certain songs- both original and covers; People know my songs well enough to request them! I've been given the opportunity to collaborate with old friends, play featured and promoted shows, and open for immensely talented artists. These are the spaces and people I will miss the most when I return to my studies and to my new home this fall.

The way the chips have fallen over the past couple years have left little for me to look forward to when it comes to visiting the place I grew up. So spending 4 months here seems, at times, trying. But it's these little nooks and crannies carved into the edifice of a modern, corporate city- the little shelters and caves I've chipped out of the steel and glass- and the people that inhabit them, and the melodies they sing out with such conviction, that have made it all worth while. Music, I've always thought, has a magical ability to bind people and give them power, identity and a sense of belonging when all else fails. After all, how many times have you been in an awkward conversation with a stranger, only to find common ground through a musician, song, or band that you both love? But I don't think it's ever been so obvious to me as it is now, that, first and foremost, music is a way of supporting and finding others in a big, anonymous crowd. I never expected myself to get so far into the whole music thing as to be talking to producers, opening shows for people I admire, etc. But here I am, purely through the support and encouragement of others I now happily count as friends and allies.

So here's to looking forward to big, important, fun things happening this fall, more and more music all the time, and lots of new places to feel comfy when everything seems like a bit much. Night, friends.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Songs of the Summer, Pt. 2

A while ago I posted a list of my top 5 songs of the summer. Unfortunately, at that point it was still May and not even really summer yet. But, at the time, I said I'd probably make another one of those lists as the summer went on, and here we are. There's only a little while left in the summer, so do your very best to sit out in a park, or out on a friend's deck with a glass of something cold in your hands and some good tunes playing in the background, because in Canada, those days will soon be resigned to a long, stubborn winter. Cheers to August!

5. "A Thousand Suns" by Hey Rosetta!

4. "My Girls" by Animal Collective

3. "Anonanimal" by Andrew Bird (I've posted this song before, but whatever)

2. "White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes

1. "Road Regrets" by Dan Mangan (Not to be too predictable...)

And there you have it! Enjoy the remainder of your summers, and, to my coastal friends, please don't roast alive before I have a chance to see you in the Fall. (Also...I'm seeing Dan Mangan at the end of the month. EEEEEEEEE. NEW ALBUM AUGUST 11TH.)