Being There

Ruminations on Music, Film and Culture


Archive for the ‘Editorial’ Category

Just Like Starting Over


Back in the summer of 2004, some friends and I were equally keen on starting a music and film magazine aimed at what we called “literary minded” readers.  Most of us were fresh out of college or university and eager to express ourselves in writing, photography and design.  Growing up we had pored over the pages of Rolling Stone, Mojo and Uncut, but felt as though the blockbuster artists like U2 and The Beatles deserved the same amount of attention as smaller bands like the Fleet Foxes and Cat Power.

And so, we set off to create a monthly magazine called Being There.  We put a lot of effort into our first issue, which contained features on Joel Plaskett, the Coen Brothers and Stephin Merritt, not to mention a decent number of reviews of new albums by Feist, Loretta Lynn and Ron Sexsmith and some of the latest films and DVDs.

Even at these early stages, we were bowled over by the support of a few important record labels.  Our contact at Anti- landed us an interview with Jolie Holland even before we had anything to show for ourselves, and the promos started to roll in.

Of course we knew our limits.  We decided right away that an online format would make more sense to us than a print magazine.  After all, we were doing this entirely out of pocket.  Little did we know at the time that the print magazine industry would have a hard time staying afloat.  A number of the music magazines I turned to for inspiration, such as Harp and No Depression, have since either moved entirely to online or have closed their doors.

We wanted to keep our online format consistent with that of a magazine.  A certain percentage of each “issue” would be devoted to features, columns, reviews and editorials and we would do our best to update everything with a fresh slate of new content every month.

What we didn’t take into account was the number of people involved in keeping a magazine going and the number of hours it would take each of those people to keep up our momentum.  When the strain of balancing Being There with our personal and work schedules we realized a bimonthly schedule might be more suitable.  Eventually we shifted to even more occasional updates, but even that didn’t seem to solve our problems.

And then it just kind of stopped.  We never announced a Being There hiatus because none of us really wanted to accept it, but if you’ve visited at any point over the last two years you’ve noticed that very little about our website has changed.  But then it finally hit me.  Why did we get into this in the first place?  Because we wanted to share our love of music with whoever was listening.

So with that in mind, I’m pleased to announce the arrival of a whole new Being There.  We’re going to be doing things a bit differently this time around and hopefully the results are even more compelling than what we had offered before.  We’ll still provide you with interviews, reviews and lists galore, but we’ll hopefully do so in a much more engaging and interactive way.

Ultimately, Being There is a blog – which is probably what it should have been in a first place.  We look forward to winning back those of you who may have first stumbled our way before, and keeping you involved in a way that just wasn’t possible with our previous formats.

Commercializing Death

Elliott Smith, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Elvis Presley, George Harrison, Johnny Cash, and most of The Ramones… A personal world changes with the death of a beloved musician and songwriter. It also becomes a time to make money. We’re guilty of it too. Writing an article about Elliott Smith to be published almost a year to the day of his death. It will probably help us earn more readers and at the same time it is a subject that we love. Great timing to release From A Basement On The Hill, Smith’s final album.

The entire world changed when John Lennon was shot dead. Single after single was released from his final album Double Fantasy. Lennon split the album with his wife Yoko Ono, and nearly all of Lennon’s tracks were released as singles, charting shortly after his death, as were portions of his back catalogue. Death is good for business.

George Harrison’s Brainwashed album and Dark Horse Years box set. He was a sad but expected loss. Harrison’s wife and son took great care to piece together a final album as Harrison would have liked himself. Amazingly they were able to do this and as a result, Brainwashed is a great album. It was made available in many variations, the album, the single (“Any Road”), and deluxe set with a bonus DVD, stickers, a guitar pick, poster and more. Well, I think you can guess which one most fans bought. How many times do you think they watched the bonus DVD? Once? Twice? They paid more because they had to have it.

Nirvana’s In Utero was not selling as well as Geffen was hoping. Sending the band to MTV to perform live was a tactic to help boost sales and Nirvana recorded a great show. Kurt Cobain’s death hit fans hard. To help cushion the blow, Geffen released MTV Unplugged In New York City, which topped the Billboard charts.

Almost all musicians who die will have their unfinished work released. It will never be how they saw the piece because they weren’t there to finish it. The business of death is an odd one, with the music having been taken over by business interests. The world will forever capitalize on any death tragic enough to hold onto the memory.

John Tesh Fills My Nightmares

Have you ever been stuck in a public place with terrible music playing? Shania Twain? John Tesh? I sit right now in a hospital waiting room as terrible music is being played. Why can’t I unplug the radio and hook up my iPod instead? The world needs more rock and roll. Unfortunately soft pop is what they want us to hear. Apparently it’s soothing. What’s soothing about Lionel Richie? I watch the employees and wonder how they can handle listening to this for as long as a 12-hour shift. Maybe doctors would care about their patients more if they weren’t surrounded by cheesy elevator music. Though I did learn something from the bad radio, apparently thousands of people send John Tesh emails weekly. I wonder how many are positive.

Anticipation Runs High

I saw Before Sunset just after sunset. The entire night was memorable.  Early evening, I met up with an old girlfriend in Toronto’s Yorkville district.  We found a hidden stone ‘hole in the wall’ by a closed lawyers office, and drank up a six-pack.. Fantastic conversation and sharing great new experiences. When the sun set, we got a pint at Gabby’s on Bloor.  On to the Cumberland, we were transfixed by the movie and emotionally carried away.  Time for a few more drinks at Spirits on Church St..  We had a blissful ‘heart-to-heart’ conversation.  Inspired in part by the movie and the mood we were in, we really reconnected.  I’m a big fan of that.  A hopeless junkie.

In the bathroom at Spirits, I was busy scribbling on the wall when I was rudely interrupted.  Some guy burst into my stall and starting screaming "THEY’RE COMING!  THEY’RE COMING!  PREPARE YOURSELF FOR THEY ARE COMING!"  He slapped me on the forehead and ran back out to the bar.

At first, I didn’t make anything of it. But after I finished promoting our cause and looked into the mirror, I noticed this strange sticker on my head. I tracked it down to this enigmatic web page:

I don’t know what it means, but I felt I should warn my fellow audio/cinephiles.

The Politics of Fear

There is so much to be afraid of these days that sometimes I find it helpful to keep a list. An ongoing war in Iraq, possibilities of nuclear war, widespread terror attacks, road rage, SARS, mad cow disease, and the significant threat of allowing gays the right to marry each other are just a few of the things vying for your attention. With all that’s going on, it’s hard to know what should scare you more. But fear not, my fellow Americans! For you can always count on the utterly dependable Bush administration to let you know when and what you should fear the most.

For starters, there is the ever-helpful terror alert level to keep you informed on what color your fear should be as you cower in your home behind your plastic sheeting and duct tape. And if that isn’t enough, President Bush is committed to making frequent public statements to reassure us all that “Americans are safer” since the United States invaded Iraq. This despite reports from the State Department that worldwide terror has actually increased since the war began. But then, George W. Bush has never been one to let himself be refuted by irrefutable facts.

But lest you start to feel too reassured, there’s always the evening news to scare you back into submission. It is interesting to note how in this election year news that is damaging to the Bush campaign is quickly followed by an increase in the terror alert, or an announcement of al Qaeda’s “almost completed” plans to attack the US . . . somewhere … at some time . . . in some way.

John Kerry announces Edwards as his running mate, Ken Lay is taken into custody by the FBI, and the 9/11 Panel disputes any actual link between Iraq and al Qaeda, and almost immediately we have Tom Ridge telling us of “a large-scale attack” being planned by al Qaeda, but offering no specific details and no plans to raise the terror alert level. But let us take this opportunity to remind you to vote for President Bush in four months, because he is both committed and able to keep you safe from attack. Not like that John Kerry who wants to leave you to the mercy of that . . . guy, that al Qaeda guy . . . what was his name again?

September 11th threw the country into a panic, as we realized for the first time since Pearl Harbor just how vulnerable we really are. That despite being the world’s leading superpower, we are not invincible. Within months, this heightened fear had brought us the Patriot Act, and with next to no opposition, the biggest setback to the Constitution in US history was put into effect. If it was ever true that the terrorists “hate our freedom,” they have less and less to hate with each passing day.

Decisions made out of fear have a disturbingly ubiquitous and deleterious place in our nation’s history. Sweeping, unfounded panic during the Salem witch trials, before we were even a nation to ourselves, resulted in the deaths of no less than twenty innocent people. In the 1950s Senator McCarthy used the country’s intense fear of communism to persecute and, in effect, ruin the lives and careers of any number of American citizens, many times without anything as justifying as actual proof. There are times when fear is overpowering enough to make people overlook even the most atrocious and obvious violations of civil and Constitutional rights.

George W. Bush and his administration know this and they know that they can exploit the reasonable fears of Americans to push things like the Patriot Act or their own re-election. As Jon Stewart satirized recently on The Daily Show, “basically we want you to be afraid enough that you don’t vote for John Kerry. But not so afraid as to not go out and vote for Bush.” But Americans should be voting based on who they feel would better lead this country. Fear causes people to overlook important issues, and sound, informed decisions are not those made under duress. Let us take the time before this election to look into the issues, to examine everything that is at stake, and to research the candidates’ voting records. Let us cast our votes out of solid, unimpeachable conviction, rather than the fear of thinking for ourselves.

Big Sounds for Little Ears

I have a vision. In this vision, I am hovering over a brood of children, providing warmth, food, shelter, clothing, comfort. This vision takes place maybe ten years from now. The person at my side is sort of a blurry form at this point, but that bit is currently unimportant. The real import of this cozy domesticity isn’t so much that I crave children – I am happy to not be drowning in anklebiters until I have declared myself satiated on binge drinking, shared student housing, and spending exorbitant amounts of cash on long brunches. It’s not the kids themselves I long for, it’s the awesome upbringing I intend for them that I can’t wait for, one that I often excitedly and nerdily describe to my bewildered friends.

I have two older sisters who have, at last count, produced four small lovely children for me to play with. As the young and self-described “cool and favourite” aunt, I have taken it upon myself to culture these children. I realize they aren’t mine, of course, but they’re enough mine that I feel generally within my rights to do so. While my sisters and their spouses aren’t entirely cultural ingrates, they do have a terrifying predilection towards Too Much Dave Matthews. I fear for the impressionable ears of my nieces and nephews! I fear that in such households they will be, as the generations are wont to be, initially educated in Parents’ Music, and not Normal People’s Music. Surely, yes, there are many people who are – pre and post birth of their offspring – interested in challenging and quality music (said quality is, for the purposes of this editorial, decided by me. Quick Primer: Pavement, Built to Spill, Wrens, Bjork = good. The aforementioned Dave Matthews, Evanescence, The Tragically Hip (sorry), Nickelback = bad). A friend of mine had a science professor who explained how playing Captain Beefheart alongside Britney Spears for his young daughter has caused a truly astounding ability in her to enjoy a variety of music that is not entirely dependent on the number of glitter bracelets a given performer wears.

Certainly, most kids grow up to be exposed to the gamut of genres and styles. Some make the right choices, some do not (refer again to above description of rightness and wrongness). But! Wouldn’t it be incredible if these kids were led along the right path from the get-go? If my sisters actually played the They Might Be Giants and Modern Lovers albums with which I have gifted their offspring? (Both bands are, by the way, perfect for young sprouts). Think of the possibilities. In my personal vision of such musical guidance, I would have a whole hippie brood of critical listeners, which would obviously, as this is my vision, extend to their critical capacity in terms of books, the media, politics, and the rest of their existences. And, of course, there is something totally, inherently cool about kids who know about and dig good tunes. Wouldn’t you rather have a Rachael Trachtenberg wannabe for a kid than, say, an Avril clone? Think about it, informed masses, and bestow upon the lucky wee beasties in your life the wonderful gift of music that isn’t Raffi.

Blue Chair


Oh, I’ll Touch You All Right

(This is a long-standing beef, however trite. I was reminded of it this morning and I’ve been in a particularly foul mood all day. Stay with me, as it has.)

I do NOT have personal spaces issues.

Honestly. You can ask anyone who knows me, I’m not a touch-me-not. I have no problem being hugged, or poked, or affectionately cuffed, or what have you. As a matter of fact, I have been known to wrestle hesitant people into my space.

Even if I had issues with closeness, I’m pretty sure I’d easily recognize the situations that don’t accommodate this hang up. Unless you’re allergic to the actual dermis of another human being, you just have to deal with them sometimes. Like on the city transit, you know?

When you ride the subway, you may find yourself in extremely close proximity with another human being. Now. This person may brush up against you, or nudge you with one of their belongings. They might even fall into you during one of those graceful glides into a station, or impulsively reach out and grab you to steady themselves (wee old ladies do this from time to time). I was on the streetcar once, not all that long ago, and the driver came to a screaming halt in the middle of an intersection. I caught a woman in one arm (it’s either that, or clean her off the back window). And sometimes, like during rush hour, it gets really cozy. I joked once, in a group of five guys, that if we all got any closer, I was gonna give them all a kiss. They just smiled, more or less. I got off at the next stop so as it turns out I didn’t have to get that up-close with any of them. It happens.

And when it does? Don’t fucking panic.

You’re irresistible, yes, but I’m sure most people wouldn’t try to cop a feel in broad daylight, you nit. I stood beside a couple once, not all that long ago, and I think my umbrella brushed her ankle. Wide-eyed, she turned to her husband and whispered, “Someone just touched me.” Of course, Love Machine, it was me. I couldn’t help myself. I’m bouncing around this wreck of a tin tube, on my way to a long grinding day at the office, and all I can think about is how I’m going to find a way to touch your hide. My bad.

I wish I could figure out how so many people go from sticking their tongues in strangers’ ears on the weekends to being terrified of unknown pantlegs on a Monday morning. I’d like to be able to blame it on alcohol, but I know plenty of Saturday Sluts who don’t drink. What gives? I don’t get it.

I understand we all have our little fuck-ups and freakouts now and again, but for the love of all that is holy, try to pick one little quirk you can consistently maintain. It’s easy, for instance, to be afraid of mice. We’ll never learn to love our neighbors if we figure every single one of them has shingles.

So lighten up, jerks.

Love Without Borders

Have you ever had to prove a serious romantic relationship in your life exists? That’s exactly what I’m in the process of doing right now for immigration purposes, and it’s been a very interesting process. It not only involves telling the tale of how you first met, but also including proof of how and where you met. We have had to provide proof of every trip we have taken together, and how we have communicated while apart by printing out old emails, and copying letters and phone bills. And the most complicated of all – we are to prove that we are in a “serious and committed relationship.” Sure, we have emails. We have letters, and yes, we have lots of phone bills. We even have a joint bank account. But how do you go about “proving” your relationship is serious? Can anyone ever really do that, unless you truly know two people and what they are feeling? It seems like such an absurd duty to me, that a government agency can somehow dictate who is and who is not in a serious and committed relationship. True, some people would simply get married to avoid the hassle of proving it, but marriage for the sake of immigration purposes seems similarly absurd. Marriage is not something the government should force (or forbid, for that matter) to prove something as abstract as love. And besides, who says that everyone who is married is in more of a “serious romantic relationship” than everyone who is not? You can’t prove love.

Now by no means am I suggesting that I don’t think the government should have immigration options for situations such as ours – we realize how lucky we are to even have it as an option. What I’m suggesting instead is that a romantic relationship is so impossibly intangible that it cannot be proven with such minimal things as emails, letters, or phone bills. Bureaucratic barriers to keep people apart are rarely a good idea.

Joey Who?

If, like me, you were shy throughout much of your high school and university career, you get to know very little about your classmates. Occasionally, you might exchange a word or two about an upcoming assignment or the weather with those seated nearby, but there are certain people who you simply don’t get around to meeting. Such is Jane Doe, a girl I had Intro to Film with in my first year of university. I never knew her name, or anything about her. I just know that on one fateful autumn day, she entered the tutorial wearing a t-shirt depicting the classic photo of Iggy Pop on the cover of Iggy & The Stooges’ Raw Power. I was immediately smitten with this girl I had never exchanged a word with, simply because she liked Iggy Pop, who isn’t even one of my favourite artists! Much like others might get excited when seeing someone reading Robert Frost or Raymond Carver, simply because they fall inside their cultural nest.

I grew up feeling that the clothes we wear imply a lot about our personal identity. I invested in a pair of cowboy boots in my final year of high school, as I was beginning to obsess over Gram Parsons, and explore the good that country music had to offer. Shortly after the theatrical release of High Fidelity, I felt I identified with the main character, Rob, because I too sported a black leather jacket and listened to Elvis Costello. I began forming imaginary conclusions about the people around me based on the clothes they wore. In recent years, I have come to understand just how foolish it was to do so.

Much like my cowboy boots and leather jacket could have just as easily conveyed Alan Jackson and Keanu Reeves, the Mod-ish fashions I saw on classmates did not necessarily mean they collected Stax and Motown forty-fives. In recent years, it seems, that even wearing a shirt depicting a band, film, or cultural artifact, does not necessarily mean you are a fan, or have even heard of that band, film, or cultural artifact.

I recently accompanied my mother and father on a visit to a summer camp where my sister was working as a counselor. When she arrived to greet us, I noticed that she was wearing a pink Ramones t-shirt. I couldn’t help but ask my 17-year old sister, “do you even know who the Ramones are?” She replied with an obvious, “no!” Obviously, the pink should have clued me in. Authentic Ramones t-shirts have always been black. I highly doubt Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy ever graced the stage in purple or lime green. But now that The Strokes are a hit and retro fashions are being bought and sold at relatively high prices, this is a growing phenomenon. There is no law that says “Thou shalt not buy a CBGBs t-shirt unless you can a) identify it as a historical punk rock venue, and b) name five bands that performed there in its heyday.” Because of this, child stars can appear on television wearing the Velvet Underground & Nico t-shirt you desperately wanted in high school.

The moral of the story? Always quiz that girl or guy in the ripped jeans, Doc Martens, and Clash t-shirt before committing to any long-term relationships.