Thursday, October 25, 2007

Positively Unemployed

Like many Canadian youths aged 18-30, most of us here at The Daily Wenzel spent much of the 1990s underemployed at barely above minimum wage. Those days seem almost a lifetime removed from the current wage experience where high school and college students are being tempted to drop-out or delay graduation with the promise of high wages and plentiful overtime. One of the side-effects of this underemployment was a severe disconnect between working and identity; a common pop cultural theme in movies such as Clerks, or songs such as Gas Huffer's "You Are Not Your Job". It was also one of the touchstone's to Wilco's breakthrough Being There. Many of us would sit through the six and half minutes of ambient guitar feedback layed over a roots structure, just to hear Jeff Tweedy whisper the line "positively unemployed" because that's how we viewed ourselves. Overeducated, underskilled, and underemployed, developing hobbies and interests that filled up the vast amount of time we weren't in school or working. Many of these hobbies had creative manifestations that offered their own credible answer to that most boring of cocktail parties, "What do you do?". Did we park cars for a living or were we unpublished writers, artists, and musicans, bolstered by our formal membership in a conceptual arts organization?

We were paid to park cars, but we lived for other things.

Thus, Ivan Illitch's The Right to Useful Unemployment attracted us even before we knew his history as a radical educational thinker, questioning the roles of schools in society (see his most famous work, De-Schooling Society). Illitch's sense of "useful unemployment" mirrors our own, in that he calls for a more convivial way of life, in which wealth, income, and technological advancements, do not prejudice the enjoyment of basic living. His example here is the car. The prevalence of automobiles means that it is increasingly difficult to walk to all the destinations one needs to accomplish daily tasks. Anyone living as a victim of urban sprawl in Calgary will understand this.

However, this has more to do with notions of relative poverty, and Illitch links this somewhat weakly to the idea of "unemployment". In the second half, where he develops his idea of useful unemployment more fully, we find that it is more the professional classes that he takes argument with. Echoing the work of Michel Foucault and, to a lesser extent, Guy Debord, Illitch rails against the way the establishment of professions, doctors, teachers, even certified mechanics, allows for the creation of a priveleged body of experts free to set the agenda within their relative domains. They alone (or in conjunction with government and industry) decide on proper proceedures, adequate structures and precautions, necessary curricula, etc. In Illitch's mind forming a College of university-trained and government licensed teachers or doctors, renders the informally trained, or folk-trained, versions not only illegal, but unemployed.

Originally published in 1973, we are left wondering the extent to which the current information revolution, with info-on-demand, as well as the growing post-modern accomdation with Foucault's power/knowledge argument, has changed some of the basic structure's of Illitch's argument.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Sunday Matinee

The best music is evocative - it conjures within our minds some kind of mental image, whether it is a deeply personal moment of our lives, or else a specific impression of the particular time and place where the music was created. That's why people often don't agree on what constitutes "good music", because the same song does not evoke the same memory or feelings for everyone. Thus, when the Ipod shuffled Urban Waste's "Public Opinion" onto the stereo this morning, some of us in the Daily Wenzel offices, chugged along as if we were twenty years younger, chanting "I'm not into punk rock/ I'm not into hardcore", while others just stared dumbfoundedly.

Taken from Sunday Matinee, a 1994 compilation celebrating over ten years of all ages punk shows at CBGB's, it took us back to the all ages shows around town where we spent many of wasted weekend afternoon. Ahhh. . .

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Like a wolf at the door with a big bowl of milk.

We are listening to Radiohead. In Rainbows. 'Nuff said?

There seems to be dozens of blogs with song by song accounts and reviews of the album, so start with the fine folk at Pitchfork and google away. For whatever reason, we've never been able to decipher the metaphors of Radiohead albums or songs as quickly or easily as others. When Ok Computer was named one of the most important albums of the twentieth century according to one magazine poll, we were rather caught off guard (we would have been fine with "best" or "popular", but "important" forced some re-evaluation). So, for that reason, we won't talk about what the songs mean, since we never seemed to be really good at that anyways. It's like a giant blind spot in our cultural analysis apparatus. Perhaps we're too close to the fire on this one, since Radiohead has always had the uncanny ability to stand two paces away from where we wanted to be at any given moment.

In Rainbows catches your attention right off the mark by being far more listener-friendly and pop-oriented than anything Radiohead has put out in a long time. It probably falls squarely between Ok Computer and Kid A, but coming after the "difficult" and "challenging" Hail to the Thief, it sounds like a breath of fresh air. It also sounds like the band is having fun again for the first time in years. In fact, our first thoughts were to wonder to what extent Radiohead had already envisioned the delivery method of In Rainbows back when they were recording Hail to the Thief. It would be easy to imagine that they could have decided to make their last contractually obligated album excessively experimental, in order to facillitate a parting of the ways with their record company. Other artists have travelled that root. Of course, if this were true it probably wouldn't have taken four years for In Rainbows to be released.

Instead, it seems like the album finds Radiohead comfortable with its position in the world, and intent on glancing back at where they've been. Others have pointed out that there are a lot of older songs here, some which were considered for inclusion on Ok Computer. It seems that perhaps everyone is finally on the same page again, if one reflects on the stories of tension and miscommunication that emerged during the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions. Jonny Greenwood, for instance, thought that they were going to enter the studios to record a return to the three-minute guitar-driven pop song following the "experimentalism" of Ok Computer. Thom Yorke meanwhile was looking at the upcoming sessions as an outlet for his emerging interest in electronic music. The pressure to follow-up on their newfound status as musical innovators likely played a determining role in the shape of Hail to the Thief.

Four years removed now, and Radiohead is free to re-establish their musical identity and In Rainbows can be seen as a celebration of where they've been. Let's just hope that the songs aren't intended to be a pot of gold at the end of the Radiohead road, but rather prepping for a new stage in the band's development.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Get Joost.

Several months back we signed up to beta test Joost an online provider of television programming. At the time, we were intrigued by their rather extensive list of channels, but saddened to discover that, apart from MuchMusic, MTV Canada, and a couple of extreme sports channels, there did not seem to be much that could be licensed for broadcast in Canada. Now, as Joost has announced this weekend that they are officially open to the public, the list of channels seems far greater, including numerous animation and film options. We are sufficiently interested to be willing to return and explore more of what Joost has to offer.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Music Update

Awhile ago we intimated that despite all of the music that has come our way lately, not a lot of it is any good. Or rather, since most music is suited for a particular time and place, with intended to be listened to with a specific mind set, we just haven't been there. Such lukewarmly received albums include Wax Mannequin, Oxbow, Hex Static, Klute, Cobblestone Jazz, Kings of Electro, and even, the latest from Winnipeg, The Details (let's be honest, we're all waiting for the Weakerthans to arrive). Truth be told, even the new Broken Social Scene left us a little non-plussed at first.

Instead, our attention has been captivated by the new Stars album, the digital reissue of Suicide's first album, a tribute to David Bowie released by French record label, Naive Records. The album is stellar, but then, we've been Bowie fans all along, which makes it easy, anyways. Devendra Banhart has also enjoyed relatively frequent plays, but also encouraged us to find a digitial version of the lone A Bullet For Fidel album - a record that we only had, once, on vinyl and since lost. Oddly, another blast from the past that has been spending much time in our player has been The Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed. Finally, we've have been pleased and surprised by how much we've enjoyed the 1970s inspired retro pop of Saddle Creeek's Georgie James.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

For those keeping score at home . . .

Hot on the heels of our economic prediction turning out to be reasonably true, the Calgary Foundation released its report on Calgary living conditions today, barely passing the city. Chief among their criticisms was the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, made all the more complicated by the ongoing housing crisis. You can check out our original post on the subject: "Is The Boom Over?" .

All of this neither new, nor original, and stems from deliberate decisions to cut spending on social services and infrastructure starting back in the early 1990s. The corollation to this though, is that if Calgarians are serious about the complaints that they have, if Calgary is truly unlivable, as the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Foundation seem to be saying, then the political leaders who were part of the past decision making teams, clearly must go, regardless of whether their name is Ed Stelmach or Dave Bronconnier.

Local Cafe Spotlight

So, in-between our month long retrospective of French New Wave cinemas, we've been spending a considerable amout of time at Blends Cafe. Located on Edmoton Trail between 12th and 13th Avenue NE in a converted house, very reminescent of one of the houses we used to rent in Bridgeland during our college days. With rather sparse decor, though an abudance of art deco prints celebrating espresso, the true attraction to Blends is the outdoor backyard patio, and the fact that Blends roasts their own beans (plus they have wifi). Their espresso beans are some of the darkest we've seen with a captivating flavour, low acidity, and hints of nuts and chocolate.