Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Musical Insanity

It must be the summer, and there is not much going on in the reviewing world, I am completely out of books, and let me tell you, that is something that I never thought would happen. At one point I had over a dozen volumes in my to do pile. I do hope it picks up again soon because I was hoping to break the 100 books in a year barrier! This may seem like a ridiculous number of books for anyone to read, but in actual fact it is only 2 a week.

Anyway in view of this lack of books I am forced to look elsewhere for stuff to do. I was pretty hopeful that the DVD distributor would keep me busy, they release at the rate of about one a day. Well, the last big box of goodies I got from them certainly has plenty to keep me busy, but, who the hell knows anything about Cuban musicians from the 60's and 70's! It all sounds like bad Mariachi music to me. I tried one review, and extended my limited knowledge of Cuban music to it's limits. Unfortunately I have 5 more!

I decided to put them all back on the 'pending' list.

I was pretty excited yesterday when the latest Dave Cousins album arrived, he sings in English, and has been around for 300 years. In his multi generational career he has only produced 2 solo albums, and number 1 was Two Weeks Last Summer, and that was over 20 years ago. I ripped the plastic off this new one The Boy In The Sailor Suit and put it in the player. It was not the Dave Cousins I wanted. Somehow 20 years of writing and touring has changed him.

So I have decided to do something completely off the wall (even by my standards). This morning I received a press release from a company they specializes in classical music. And yes, I do like it on occasion. I have gone for an Opera, but not just any Opera, this one was composed in 1697, and features the harpsichord as the lead instrument!

I hope fall gets here soon, I am not sure how much more I can take of this.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

More Johnny

Whats not to love about Johnny Cash, the 'Man in Black'? As I said in an earlier post this guy has more CD releases now that he is dead than he ever did when he was alive. This latest offering The Great Lost Performance is from a concert in 1990. I do not yet have the CD in my hot little hand but I do have a couple of sample tracks (Oh, and before you ask, they are legal!).

So why not try Ring of Fire and Walk the Line.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Week In Review(s)

Wow I was lazy this week, I Wonder if I was on vacation?

I did manage to read two more Damien Lewis books though. Bloody Heros has just been released in paperback, and has also been optioned as a movie. The book follows a group of the elite British Special Boat Service (these guys are meaner than the SAS!) and their adventures in the early days of the latest Afghan conflict. This book is based on actual events, and somehow Damien actually got some of the people involved to talk to him. Generally speaking these are folks that are meaner than rattlesnakes and very reluctant to talk about the missions that they have been involved in. It was a great read, and I think it will transition nicely into 120 minutes of non stop action on the 'Big Screen'.

Damien was invited to participate in World Book Day - 2006, 20 leading authors were asked to produce a short work that would appeal to 'emerging' readers. Being involved in the world of adult literacy, I was very interested in this book. Desert Claw lives up to its billing as a 'quick read', in 125 pages Damien packs 800 pages of Tom Clancy novel. This is a wonderful read, quick it may be, but a lot of fun it sure is.

I was a little concerned that Damien was pissed off at me when I did not get any response to a couple of emails. But the puzzle was solved this morning, he has been away on vacation, now most of us go to somewhere nice and relaxing, not so for Damien, he took off to climb Mont Blanc! As I recall this is the highest mountain in Western Europe.

All I have to say is..... There is no accounting for personal taste. Me, I would prefer a nice warm place together with a nice cold beer.

Who the hell climbs mountains covered in snow while wearing shorts and t-shirts? Only the Brits!

The Contract hit the streets a couple of days ago. I snagged a pre-release copy of this movie and I was most impressed. I was shocked to find Morgan Freeman playing the bad guy, he just isn't the kind of actor that does that kind of thing. But he does a magnificent job! This is a movie that you will want to pick up the next time you are in Blockbuster.

In the music DVD world I tackled All My Loving which was an interesting documentary that contains some unique video clips. We also took The Country Joe band out for a test drive, you might know him better as Country Joe And The Fish. I would not say that this was earth shattering music, but I was amazed at how young this 60 something guy looks!

What would a week be without some good old Doo Wop music, and we got that with an upcoming release of The Drifters. Jan was Groovin an Movin to the tunes!

Have a great weekend!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

So What Did You Do Today?

It's been too stinking hot to sleep here for the past week, so I was not really surprised to find myself up at 2:30am. But what to do? Well we ripped off a couple of DVD reviews, and I had a beer or 5. With daylight creeping up on us I had one of those 'Eureka' moments! Lets have a yard sale.

We have lots of junk, oops, good stuff, that someone else would love to own. So as the sun was rising I started hauling 'good stuff' outside. 16 typewriters, a couple of laptops, a Commodore 64 (with external diskette drive), etc, etc.

Jan and I relocated to the great outdoors around 7:30am, put the tunes on, and sat back to watch the fun. Around 10am we had some old lady who probably is suffering from dementia wander through. She was looking for some other yard sale! And she showed scant interest in laptops or typewriters.

Around 11:30 I was getting a little concerned, low on beer, low on cigarettes, it was time to call it a day. So we packed all the good stuff back inside and took a nap. In total we made exactly $0, and got to meet one geriatric lady. I now know why I don't do yard sales more often.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Flower RIP

I heard some disturbing news today, there is going to be no skunk jerky this year! My good friends Faye and Gene have been feeding the local deer (not because he wants to be nice, he wants to shoot em and make jerky out of them when they grow up). An unexpected friend that they made during this time was 'Flower' the skunk.

Flower became a part of the landscape, sometimes even taking on center stage.

Alas, poor flower is no longer with us. I don't know the exact details, but apparently it involved a tarmac surface with yellow lines painted on it, a grumpy deer (Flower was eating all the peanut butter), and a car! According to reliable sources this awful accident occured at 4:30am! I hope they get the guy that was driving the car! In my book that was a 'hit and run'. If the cops get on it right away it should be easy to track this criminal down, because his vehicle must smell pretty rank!

Flower may be gone, but apparently she is not forgotten, according to Faye and Gene, the car squished the smelly bit, and you can smell Skunk for miles!

The Week In Review(s)

I guess summer must be upon us, because it seemed to be a remarkably light week, in fact something happened that I thought could never happen, for two days I was actually out of books to review. This is pretty much unheard of!

I rooted around and eventually had to relieve Jan of a book that she has been 'reviewing' for the last couple of months From Hearst To Hughes by Donald Lunde. This is the memoir of a forensic psychiatrist and in it he details some of the high profile court cases he has been involved in, Patty Hearst, Howard Hughes, The Hillside Strangler, etc. This is a fascinating book, I was really impressed with it. Dr Lunde makes a very convincing case that Howard Hughes was 'a couple of slices short of a loaf' in his later years. I have not actually written the review yet for this book, guess I really should.

Damien Lewis of Cobra Gold fame sent me two more of his books mid-week. I am a little over half way through Bloody Hero's and a cracking read it is. The original version was released in 06, late last month the paperback version came out. This book details some of the activities carried out by the British special forces in the early days of the Afghan war. Damien is relatively unknown in North America, yet is a best selling author, and well known war corespondent in the UK.

Bloody Hero's has just been optioned by a movie house so keep your eyes peeled for this one at your local theater in a year or so. In fact I believe that Cobra Gold is also destined for the big screen.

I had a great interview with Gerrie Hugo about Africa Will Always Break Your Heart. If you have not read this book, you should. It sheds a very interesting light on South Africa during the apartheid era, and maybe just as important the post apartheid years. Although this may seem distant history to most of us, Gerrie shows that although it may be gone in practice, it is still alive and well in mentality. I normally try to keep an interview under 1200 words, this interview went 4000! I ended up having to split it into two parts, part 1 and part 2.

On the music scene I managed to score a copy of The Strawbs latest CD. This may not be a band that is very well known this side of the pond, but are well worth seeking out. They have their roots in the electric folk movement of the early 70's and then transitioned into prog rock. This was one of my favorite bands of that era. Although they are somewhat older now, they are every bit as good as I remember. The leader of this merry band is Dave Cousins, and it transpires that he is just about to release a solo album which I am trying to snag a copy of it.

On the subject of prog rock, who contributed most to this genre of music? Well in my mind it would have to be Robert Moog, the inventor of the Moog synthesizer. This wonderful piece of electronica was at the heart of all of the best prog rock. Alas the veritable Moog is now just a museum piece, but it's proponents still celebrate by holding an annual MoogFest. Without doubt the high spot of this DVD was seeing Keith Emerson (as in ELP) do his mad scientist impression on a full size tricked out Moog.

What would a week be without yet another Johnny Cash DVD, I swear that there is more Cash now than when he was alive! The Man - His World - His Music is a most entertaining documentary. When Jan opened this package her eyes glazed over and she muttered something like "....oh good, another Johnny Cash DVD, I think I'll go lay down....".

I rounded out the adventures in music with some classic 80's, Echo And The Bunnymen. There is a new DVD of one of their concerts, Dancing Horses is a lot of fun.

Well, that's it for the week folks!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Johhny Cash, This Guy Rules Even In Death!

I swear there are more CD's and DVD's coming out now that the 'man in black' has shuffled off this mortal coil than there were while he was alive. This whole Johnny Cash thing is pretty amusing. Before I met the lovely Jan my entire knowledge about the guy was the punchline of a joke about the 'next morning' effects of a really good Vindaloo Curry, and I can assure you that the result is indeed 'A Burning Ring Of Fire' (and you really do need that super soft tissue!).

The huge joke though is Jan doesn't even like Johnny Cash! I on the other hand seem to have become a bit of a Cash reviewer. In the last two days alone I have received press releases for two more upcoming releases. A CD of a 'lost' concert from 1990 that universal is putting out, and a TV documentary of his gospel days (hehehe and I get it on DVD before it airs).

I am amassing quite the Johnny Cash collection! Obviously some people like the reviews because I noticed that they all seem to end up on 'The Unofficial' fan page http://maninblack.net/

The only disappointment I have had on this Cash quest has been that I am still waiting for 'John Carter Cash' to get back to me about an interview, so if you read this John, reply to the email!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sunday, And No Panic... What Am I going To Do?

For the past couple of months Sundays have been a scramble, and about this time on a Sunday afternoon I am in full disaster mode. I realize that I need to get out the next weeks Sundance Channel review, and discover to my horror that the press package supplied with the DVD are useless, and have no usable photo's, it is also right about now that I discover that whoever I am interviewing has not answered my questions!

With the blood pressure rising, and my language getting to the xxx rated stage I head off on a frantic search for usable material. Somehow I almost always managed to get everything in place for a Sunday night launch.

But not this week! The show is done for the season, so the pressure is off. I actually enjoyed Big Ideas For A Small Planet a lot. It was a lot of fun to do, and hope that I will be invited to do next season.

So today is a day of rest. Well hardly, I have a huge pile of DVD's that need addressing. I have been trying to keep on top of the pile, and tried a few yesterday. Unfortunatly that resulted in an aurgument with Jan, I hated a Tanya Tucker DVD, and of course she liked it! So my sarcastic and somewhat caustic review got a pretty hostile reception from her. All I can say is... You can't win em all......

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Jerky Anyone?

My good friend Cad is looking toward next years jerky. Which one do you fancy?

Outer Mongolia Spam Update

I have been deluged with requests for an address to send the cans of Spam to. This is in order to fix the serious Outer Mongolia Spam shortage. I have Emailed the UN, President Bush, and whoever is running England this week. I will confess though that I have not yet heard back from any of them. Somehow Al Qaeda seems to be taking precedence over this Spam shortage. While the politicians want a “War On Terror” I believe that “Peace through Spam” would be a better solution.

Mark has opted to be our ‘Peace through Spam’ diplomat in Outer Mongolia, I feel that we should do all we can to support this mission. Mark has set up a great infrastructure in Oolon Kaloofid (oops sorry, that was a character out of the hitch hikers guide to the galaxy), I meant Ulan Baatar, and all we need to do is get him Spammed!

You can Spam Mark at:

C/O Erdene-Oyun Mashbat
Central Post Office Box #2951
Ulan Baatar, Mongolia

I think the only aspect lacking in this great campaign is a slogan. I have tried a few, ‘Make Spam Not War’, while it is quite catchy, it does not quite hit the spot. ‘Spam Hunger!’ I also think has some potential, or even ‘Can Hunger with Spam’.

The biggest question tho, is. “Have you Spammed Mark today?”

I was going to also sugest a PayPal solution (on the right side of the page), but, I have found that there are some issues with PayPal. My personal experience has been that whatever I have in my account, my wife weasels out of me, and then in turn, Joey her 16 year old son weasels out of her! And I don’t think Joey even likes Spam!


One of the great joys of being a reviewer is that you never know what DHL are going to deliver at 8pm on a Friday evening. I must admit that I did not think DHL or anyone else for that matter made deliveries at that time of day. However I will make an exception in the case of DHL, they are so bloody incompetent that no doubt the driver had been randomly driving around Calgary for 12 hours looking for my address. My feelings about this company are inspired by a 'close encounter' of the incompetent kind that occurred a while ago, you can read the gory story here.

I digress! Last night Jan and I were relaxing in bed having spent a productive day bull shitting and drinking beer (well I had anyway), when the door bell rang. I tried to get Jan to go deal with it, but she refused to get out of bed, so I was forced to get my lazy ass up.

What could be in the box? Well it was swag. I have been doing some TV reviews for the Sundance Channel, and we got Sundance swag!

A bag, a hat, a tee shirt, and a spiffy notebook. This is the big payoff for hours of watching preview DVD's. I'll just bet you want to be a reviewer now!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Outer Mongolia - A Spam Free Zone!

Hell I don’t even know where ‘Inner’ Mongolia is! All I know is that this is the place where they herd Yaks, and in times gone by they were really good at rape and pillage, tho I think the Vikings were better at it. The Mongolian Hordes tended to be more land based which obviously slowed them down. Maybe the lack of sea front property in Mongolia was a factor? Either that or Yak skin leaks and so is not good as a boat covering.

Anyway, I have digressed, Mark finds himself in Outer Mongolia, and has discovered that he is in a Spam free zone. NO! not that type of Spam, we are talking about the yummy ‘processed’ meat bits in a can.

I think we should start a ‘Lets Spam Outer Mongolia’ campaign. We all need to send him a can of it. I am pretty certain that the import/export of food stuffs is illegal. It took years to get some Primula Cheese spread into Canada, so I can only assume that Spam smuggling into Outer Mongolia is going to be a tough nut to crack!

A quick perusal of the CIA World Book reveals that English is not their first language. So I suspect that if you write on the customs declaration ‘Yak Vitamins’, or, ‘Horde Repair kit’. I think either would work well.

I feel sorry for Mark, no-one should be stuck somewhere without Spam! I am happy to act as Spam Coordinator, but please don’t send them to me.

I will get a street addy. And we can swamp Outer Mongolia with this delightful treat!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Week In Review(s)

Well no one died, so I guess it was a good week. I did battle with a 'business' book, this genre is not my absolute favorite. You know the sort of thing I am talking about, how by wisely inverting 5 cents at age 2, you will be richer than Bill Gates when you are 487 years old, all through the wonders of 'Compound Interest'. Well anyone that needs to become a gazillionare you can try 'Rich By Choice' by Erland Peterson.

On the up-side I did have a really interesting interview with Gerrie Hugo about his book Africa Will Always Break Your Heart. It is a fascinating book, and Gerrie certainly is an interesting character. The total word count was about 3 times what I normally use for an interview and ended up having to split it into two articles. You can check out part 1 and part 2 at your leisure.

Shock and horror! I ran out of books! Well, I almost did, I had to relieve Jan of the book that she has been reading for the past decade, and had managed to get to page 45! From Hearst to Hughes is a cracking read. Dr Lunde is a forensic psychiatrist and he discusses some of the high profile cases he has been involved in.

In TV world I did the last episode of this seasons Big Ideas For A Small Planet, I have to say that this Sundance Channel series has been a lot of fun. I have got to interview some really interesting people. The focus this week was how spirituality and being ecology minded can come together. This weeks interview 'victim' was Judy Bonds, an activist from West Virginia who is trying to stop a type of coal mining known as Mountain Top Removal. And that is exactly what they do, they blow up the top of mountains, remove the coal, and dump the rest of the waste rock into the surounding valleys. I was horrified! I am not much of a tree hugger by nature, but I hate to see wanton destruction. I am planning a 'hard' news story on this one.

In DVD land I scored big time! Acorn are a distribution company that specializes in Brit TV. I managed to get my hands on 'Porterhouse Blue', this is a 4 part mini series from 1987, it is the very epitome of Brit humor. This is well worth picking up if you see it at your local megamart!

MVD have a couple of interesting releases coming up, Apollo XIII using vintage footage reveals the story behind the failed moon mission. They also are about to launch a new DVD about Johnny Cash, this is so well done that if you are a Man In Black fan, you will want this in your collection.

Pet Peeves #2 - Damn DVD Cases

Of course if you only buy one DVD a year this would not be much of an issue. You have handed over your $25 and a little agro to get into the packaging probably just increases the great anticipation of watching whatever it is.

Unfortunately when you get box loads of the things, the novelty of breaking nails wears a little thin. It is never a problem getting the outer plastic cover off, it is that white tape they put in the top of the case.

I get so frustrated with it that I have put my Personal Assistant in charge of this task. But that comes at a price, Jan ruins her nails doing it, and I get to pay $40 to fix em!

Even once you get the stinking white tape off your woes are not over. The idiots that designed the box make it so that it is next to impossible to actually extract the DVD from it's plastic mount. Jan assures me that all you have to do is 'press in the middle' and it will pop right out. Well that never works for me.

I prefer to use an 'Exacto' knife, if you have a nice new blade, and a steady hand you can surgically remove the offending little nub of plastic. It is then easy to grab the disc whenever you need it.

I will give a word of caution here, using the 'Box Cutter' approach should only be used on DVD's you know you want to keep, because once you have 'modified' the packaging you will have trouble trying to return it to 'Best Buy'.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Pet peeves #1

It is easy to find things that piss me off. People that just step out into traffic and cause everyone to stop. People that want to do a lifetimes worth of transactions at the ATM. Oh, and the people who bang on my door at 1pm every stinking day asking if I am open yet, I open at 1:30. Day after day I explain this!

These are just minor irritations when compared to the big one, bags of charcoal! In the US $10 buys you a lifetime supply of Kingsford, well maybe not quite that much, but a whole bunch, certainly enough to survive a long weekend of BBQ’ing and beer drinking. Here in Canada you need to take out a second mortgage to buy one briquette. Odd really, we have so much lumber and so much waste lumber, yet we pay top dollar to have it burned elsewhere and then import it back in.

I was ‘grousing’ oops sorry, my theories are not necessarily everyone else’s, but that’s besides the point. If us Canadians are not smart enough to make our own burnt wood, we should not point fingers.

What really ticks me off though is the way they seal the bags. They stitch em shut, and the theory is you pull the string and the top opens. Now I do not have exact statistics, but my success rate is about once out of every 50 attempts. Inevitably I end up using sharp knives or tire irons, or just about any other implement I can lay my hands on. In this day and age of high technology why is it so difficult to open a stinking bag of charcoal!

Why is this? And why do they have to make the bags this way? My personal theory is that Kingsford hate Canadians, and this is their way of getting revenge.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Week In Review(s)

I kicked off the week with a fairly uplifting book, Song For The World by Frank McGee, this is a fascinating look at the lives and careers of the Colwell Brothers and Herb Allen. It is a sad but true fact that these musical peace ambassadors remain relatively unknown in their native US, and yet are adored by millions in other parts of the world. They have played in just about every country, and during every regional conflict in the past 50 years, and have never had a top 10 hit!

On a much darker note I read Africa Will Always Break Your Heart by Gerrie Hugo. This is a book about South Africa during and after the apartheid era. Gerrie was one of the very few people involved with the white armed forces that could see the rampantly immoral and inhuman treatment being afforded to the black majority. I recommend this book highly. It is well written, it is in places side splittingly funny, and also conveys a very dark and dangerous message. By writing this book Gerrie has lost his friends and family, in fact he has lost his homeland as well. He now lives in Sweden. I am looking forward to interviewing him, it should be a very interesting experience.

My weekly TV gig Big Ideas For A Small Planet was interesting, I got to interview Mathis Wackernagel, co-creator of the Ecological Footprint, a By area company that helps businesses reduce their impact on the planet in terms of resource usage and abusage.

If you are a space history fan I can recommend Apollo XI, it is a great documentary about the early years of spaceflight. The title is deceptive, the DVD actually ends with the moon landing, 90% of the documentary covers the programs leading up to Apollo.

I took in a couple of music DVD's as well, one very interesting look back at David Bowie during his Plastic Soul phase, and one spotlighting Greg Lake (of Emerson Lake and Palmer fame). I enjoyed both of them.

On regular CD I also took in Headspace by Stratospheerius, who the web describes this genre of music as ‘psychojazz trip funk’!

Of course there is a downside to all of this reviewing fun. And that became abundantly clear when I got up at 3am this morning. Friday is one of my big reviewing days of the week, and I try and clear whatever the backlog is. There is no chance of that happening this week. We run what could be loosely called a filing system, we have 'the done pile' which is basically a series of cardboard boxes where I dump stuff that is 'done', everything else is in the 'To Do' boxes. Right now there are over 20 DVD's in the 'To Do' boxes!

The other big downside is when the hell do you ever have time to re-listen to stuff you really like? I'd love to spend some time revisiting the ones I really like, but I never have time. One watch or one read, or one listen, and it is done!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Canada Day (AKA July 1)

In order to take full advantage of a day off, Jan made me get up at 4am! I value my sleep time, but I live in fear of Jan, so I got up. I was still sleepy, and trying to wake up, but she would have none of it, and forced me to drink beer. Now don't get me wrong, I love this woman, but to be forced to drink beer before the sun comes up, well I was shocked!

(Oh, and I am pretty certain that I'll be up for a good beating when she reads this)

Against my better judgement we headed downtown to take in a concert that my friend Dan's roommate's daughter was appearing in. Yup, I know that sounds odd, but that's what we did. Luck was on our side, and I discovered that we were 2 hours early. Jan and I decided that this would be a good opportunity to renew our wedding vows, yup, we went to the Regis and had a cocktail.

I hate crowds, and crowds were what we faced as we battled our way to Princes Island. Well we got there, and found NO chairs, and NO beer. I was happy to stay, but Jan was insistent that 'no f'ing way were we doing this'! She can be quite convincing at times.

So skillfully avoiding what was shaping up to be a horrible Sunday we set off for home. And what waited for us? Outside our door was a large cardboard box. Now I know that most people are not scared of cardboard boxes, and rightly so. The average cardboard box will not hurt you. The cardboard boxes I receive have a tendency of having 'stuff' inside them. And sure enough this one was brimming with 'Stuff'. Another 19 DVD's and CD's for our listening pleasure!

I am sure that the regular 'Joe' would think this is just great. Free stuff. Well it is great, except for one eensy weensy problem, I have to review them all!

I did the only sensible thing, I got a beer and pretended nothing was wrong! hahahahaha