The Fahrt Ranch

A few years back I found myself in a situation where I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a spacious house for a reasonable price. I felt guilty in a way, as my generation is being slowly squeezed out of the housing market, but also extremely lucky. We just happened to have access to the money for a down payment on the first place we looked at in a central neighbourhood, where you can still buy a house and not be mortgage broke.

One of the appealing things about the house was the basement and living room. Both were plenty big enough to live in, but something I visualized almost immediately was their potential as small venues. Having played hundreds of shows in dozens of countries, the best venue for a band (and an audience I would argue) is by far a basement. When live music is added to a house, a change in context occurs: people meet their neighbours in a warm environment, as participants, and actual community building can result.

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Garrett Klahn

A bar is problematic for two reasons. The first is that in most cases (and especially in North America), alcohol sales almost always come first. As a band, you can’t help but feel bad when you haven’t brought enough people in to send the staff home with pocketful of tips. Or perhaps you’re playing to an uninterested crowd who just wants you to turn off your amps so they can chug beers in peace and play the slots. I’ve even played bars that take a cut of a band’s merchandise, after the band barely gets paid because the promoter didn’t do the work required to get people through the door. Therein lies the second problem which is, the band (re: humans with feelings that are often far from home) are often treated as a commodity, something to make money off of, and the music they’ve laboured over is tertiary. Of course there is always an exception to the rule, and there are exceptional people who go above and beyond to make a commercial establishment a welcomed place for a band, but for the most part, bars are a drag and totally disheartening places to play.

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Steve Albini

A house, on the other hand, is a magnificent place for a musical gathering. Since I don’t have any overhead to deal with, I don’t feel like the show really has to make any extra money at all. Promoting is not something I choose to do for work, so I’m happy to be able to say that I’ve never made a penny from our shows. Our shows are essentially crowd-funded with every dollar funnelled to the band, and most times I reach into my own pocket to top them up. Attendees, more often than not, do the same. Beer is sold out of a fridge using an honour system and folks always pay more than what they need to, which goes directly to the band. Merch is also sold in an environment that is less driven by the standard business paradigm. There is a different kind of an engagement between audience and artist (or between artists) at our shows. Conversations are sincere, people pay more for shirts, records are sold and nobody feels like they’re being had. But also, there is no (or much less) pressure for artists to try to hawk their wares, and the audience to be sold on them.

Another heartening thing is that people really keep themselves in check at our shows. There have been no problems with harassment, broken toilets and we’ve really appreciated people keeping our place clean (with respect to cans and cigarette butts), as well as being respectful of noise levels that could affect either our neighbours or sleeping baby. Not once have the cops shuts us down or has the baby woken up.

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Ted Leo and David Cross

 

I am thankful for gathering spaces all over the world that exist outside of the realm of capitalist economics and the surveillance state, in which we can freely exchange ideas and crank up the tunes.

I Like Dirt

It’s been a while since I’ve written, so as an exercise I’m going to just start and not look back or make any edits to this post. Apologies if it sucks, my writing chops are probably pretty dull right now!

Twelve months ago, I came home from tour to the news that I was going to be a father. Not a shock, but also fairly unexpected. Nine months later Ophelia took her first breath and I hit the ground running. I have no experience with babies. I don’t particularly like babies, but I sure have one living with me right now.

For the most part, I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants. The crying is still hard to deal with, but at times it’s more of a background noise and I can deal with it. The first six weeks were a hell of a thing. I joke with girlfriend about how they were the worst six weeks of my life. Maybe that’s not entirely untrue? Some people get way into the miracle of life thing and blah blah blah, but when you have a baby in your mid-30’s, once you’ve established yourself as such and such a person with these meaningless routines, it does throw a bit of a wrench into things.

Sleep is gone. Silence is gone. Staying out late and doing whatever I want all the time has gone bye bye, though not the worst thing that could happen I suppose. But there’s no magic. She’s like a little drunk roommate who’s needs must be catered to at the drop of a hat. She’s gross. She barfs everywhere and shits these disgusting mounds of fecal matter. Jesus. Drools all the time, farts louder than she cries and doesn’t like being put down.

Where’s the magic? Where’s the miracle? I mean, she also smiles and laughs, but that doesn’t make up for the unforgiving nastiness. BUT, she sleeps, and I’m thankful for that. Sometimes I wonder what my thinking process was when we started talking about having a kid, and I remember what it was with the utmost clarity: I was sick of the day-to-day. I was starting to feel like there was a lack of fulfillment in the grind. I was sick of getting wasted, waking up hungover and feeling sorry for myself. Did I think a kid was going to change this? In some ways, yes. Forced responsibility would ensure that I take better care of myself in order to take better care of her. But it’s boring, right now. I miss my life sometimes, and I miss the freedom.

I’m glad I have her though. The process has been pretty incredible. Watching her come out and helping her mom along the way, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The struggle is usually worth it, and that’s something that I’m into. Watching an infant, your infant, grow and develop isn’t something you’ll ever get to experience unless you go for it and in a world where we’ve been boiled down to consumptive machines who must contribute to economic development, giving a little person the opportunity to exist outside of the state in a caring and loving environment is freeing.

Anyways, enough about that for now. A funny thing happened at my place last weekend, and I’ll try to write (better) again soon.

Looking at the date of my last post, it’s quite obvious what a joke promising to regularly update this site is. So I’m never going to do that again….

Happy new year, and get 2014 outta here! So you’re probably (not) wondering what’s been up? After classes ended last June, I decided not to take another permanent gig at the school so we’d be able to tour the new album as best we could. We crossed Canada last summer, then again in the fall. It was a pretty great time filled with catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, and crashing on their floors. Let’s see… we ended up doing a run of shows with a band called Life in Vacuum, who are great for fans of the Rufused, played a show with Bane (who are still awesome and surprisingly, really dug us), played another one with Geddy Lee’s nephew, choogled with the Flatliners on a run out West (drinking all the PBR on their rider, every night) and sold out the Apollo in Thunder Bay, making up for 10 years of indie bands playing to the bartender and one miserable patron in said establishment. Pretty fun times. Next stop, Australia next month.

I’ve landed another job in the meantime. Grade 5/6 behaviour. No matter how hard I try to avoid it, it keeps pulling me back in. My first day was today, and it surprised me to see one of my old students in the class. He was not at all excited to see me and spent the morning griping about it. By the time we had gym, he was only able to keep it together for about two minutes before being sent back to class. Some things never change. No really, I had him for two years and his behaviour was exactly the same, but with more crying and screaming. I’m actually looking forward to having this group. They’re a little older and understand more of the subtleties in class. They’re even, dare I say, a little more rational. Though I’m not expecting to have to deal with any streakers in the next few months, nothing surprises me these days.

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As usual, it’s been a very long time between updates. Probably a while term if I think about it! The last couple of months have been pretty action packed. Between school and gearing up to put out the new record, I felt like I haven’t had a lot of time to myself. For spring break, I basically left my classroom and got in the van to play 10 shows in 9 days across Western Canada. Our new boat, an old Econoline, sailed West down the Yellowhead and East up the Trans Canada with very little hassle. I enjoy the spring break tour, I’m pretty sure this was my 10th. Sometimes I wonder how much of my life up to this point has been spent in vans, and it’s almost become meditation at this point. When I’m off the road, it always takes a few days to adjust as a routine of exploration, foraging and performing is replaced with one of comfort and banalities. The juxtaposition is (obviously) one of two completely different lifestyles. One is always moving, always on the look out for nutrients and culminates in celebration. The other, mostly sedentary and consumptive, where unloading the dishwasher is accompanied by feelings of achievement. But I digress. 

One of my students is currently obsessed with two concepts: ranking things and Polar Bears. Most of the time, these thoughts occupy different spaces in his brain. He will either approach my desk to ask me to put all genres of rock and roll in order from lightest to heaviest (the only answer for heaviest he’ll accept being Black Sabbath), or to pry from me every known fact about the northern apex predator. However, once in a while the two will intersect and he will need to know how bears rank (in order from smallest to largest), who could beat who in a fight while exhaust and dismissing every resource available. Who is tougher, the Kodiak or the Polar Bear is a question I field at least once a week. As a result, I now have dreams about bears. 

So of course with the recent announcement that AC/DC may be retiring, I saw it fit that we watch a couple of their videos during art class the other day. They are, after all, one of those bands that’s perfectly designed (both musically and lyrically) for 10 year old boys. Thunderstruck got them pretty amped so we watched some Long Way to the Top If You Wanna Rock and Roll, which gave me a chance to talk about how the Bon Scott era was the best (an opinion they neither shared nor really even cared about). We went back to the more recent catalog and I showed them a video from their most recent tour. Of course the video was loaded with shots of the crowd including one of two women, up on shoulders and in their bras. “Bikinis!” one of them yelled, and I shut it off and told them we weren’t going to watch a bikini video. But it was too late, from that point on they forgot about AC/DC and became obsessed with talking about bikinis. Passing notes about bikinis. Asking if we could watch more bikinis. It was chaos. I eventually had to pull a power move, telling the class they weren’t allowed to talk or leave their desks until the bell. So I’m sure they all went home and told their parents Mr.T showed them a bunch of bikini videos, so much for my lesson on rock and roll!

I take my kids swimming once a month. It’s a free swim, and basically a reward for good behaviour. If they don’t tow the line, they can’t come and the kids love it so most of them buy in pretty quickly. At the pool, I spend most of my time watching them to make sure they aren’t pissing each other off. It’s embarrassing when I have to remove someone from the pool for inappropriate behaviour, but most of the time they’re cool and I can just watch them from the hot tub. “Yeah sure, I’ll watch you go down the slide”. “Cool yeah, you swam two lengths!”. Gotta keep them busy, you know. Getting them changed is always a challenge, especially the younger ones. It took one kid 12 minutes to put his underwear on the other day. I’m not sure what he was doing in the stall, but I couldn’t wrap my head around how long it took him. With some of them, I don’t even let them near the stalls. I hold their towels, look away and give them 30 seconds to get it together. The other day though, I had this one.

He was messing around in the shower, being annoying to the other kids, so I told him that he had to get out. He got mad at me, went to his locker to get his towel and clothes, and ran back to the shower where he threw them all on the floor, just letting them soak there in a big saturated pile. I told him the bus was coming and he had ten minutes to get it together. He started crying, trying to tell me that he wasn’t leaving and was going to wait for his Mom. Being that this wasn’t close to the reality of the situation, and that the bus had to leave, I told him that he had to figure it out. Of course none of the other kids would let him use their towels, and he was starting to get really upset with them. But I have become a firm believer in natural consequences being the best way for them to learn. You can only employ so many preventative measures before it becomes apparent that something isn’t getting through, that their neurons aren’t connecting the consequences with their behaviours. So he got on the bus, in his swim trunks and wrapped in a damp towel, sobbing the whole way until we found him some dry clothes in the lost and found. But I really hope he learned a lesson about being a jerk, and that the world’s not always going to bail you out if you choose to act like one.

Teaching and Meniere’s Disease

Happy new year to ya. 2014, how about that? I remain both excited and terrified to continue living on this wee speck of a planet. Wrapping up holidays and reflecting on the year has brought me to the Macbook (purchased in ’06, and still running strong!). In the 12 months that have passed I managed to pay off a crippling student loan, helped some friends start a vegan food truck, my band was signed to a label and I transitioned from being a renter to a homeowner/landlord. Why mention it? They were all goals that I’ve been working towards for a very long time. Goals that I never thought I’d be able to achieve. But you put your ducks in a row, stay the course and sooner than later, watch some real freaky stuff happen.

It’s been rubbing off on my students as well as I’ve been trying to explain to them the importance of goal setting. I know, boring topic. OhmygodIdontcare. But it’s the only way to make things happen. For example, after the typhoon in the Philippines they really wanted to raise some money for the cause. We sat down and brainstormed how much they were shooting for, and what they were going to do to make it happen. To give a bit of context, I’m still at the school in a lower socio-economic area of town. Leading up to the Terry Fox run, the entire school was barely able to collect $150 in donations. Since the Canadian Government was matching donations up until Dec. 9th, we decided to shoot for $250. I told them if we could get that together in a week, I’d bake them some cookies. They asked what they’d get if they raised $350, I told them popcorn and a movie day. What about $500? Pizza day. $2,000? Field trip to the water park. So we made posters, wrote daily announcements, had a bake sale and wouldn’t you know it, our class raised almost $400. It was goal setting in action, tangible and they all had a stake in it. It was the most important lesson of the year.

*SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION*

Also on the donation front, SLATES are putting out a benefit EP of covers next week to help out an organization one of our buds recently volunteered with. There’s a little write up about it here, it comes six weeks before we drop the new record. 

2013 also marked a year where I struggled to get control of my Meniere’s Disease. For those unfamiliar with MM, it’s involves extreme vertigo attacks, the spins, nausea and vomiting. In other words, it’s a really fun time! The most frustrating thing about Meniere’s is that it’s idiopathic, meaning the cause is relatively unknown, and treatment is hard to nail down. The first time I remember it popping up was about 6 years ago, when I had to leave a party because the room started spinning and I couldn’t keep anything down. I wasn’t drinking, so naturally I blamed it on bad guacamole. But over the next few years, these events started occurring more frequently, to the point where I’d have to urgently leave work or could barely make a gig due to intense vertigo and/or barfing. What was worse than the symptoms was that MD’s/GP’s or ENT’s had no idea what to do with it. It is a scary situation, and a breeding ground for depression and anxiety. But I’ve got too many things to do and succumbing to it, in my brain, isn’t really an option.

I’m thankful for the omniscient and omnipresent internets on this one as I may have actually found something that treats the symptoms on a menieres forum. Yes they still have online forums. This John of Ohio dude (an old Bio teacher) has sorted out a naturopathic regime through his own research and systematic trial and error. For a full breakdown of it, check this out. I would strongly encourage anyone with MM symptoms to give it a go before resorting to invasive surgery. I’ve only been on it for a month, but I’ve been feeling better recently than I have felt in years. Through my research, I’ve also found out about a new form of chiropractic treatment. The theory goes that neck injuries can knock your atlas out of whack which can come back to haunt you 10-15 years later. NUCCA works to realign the offset bone in an effort to relieve the pressure on things like the inner ear and cranial nerves that pass through it. It just so happens I had an accident at 14 that damaged my neck pretty good and fortunately, there is a practice in town. Appointments booked, fingers crossed that this addresses the cause. 

Anyways, have you ever been to Maui? I just got back from spending xmas vacation there and I’ve got to recommend. It’s a bit American, what with the traffic and the huge portions of greasy food, but if you step off the beaten path it’s quite the place. Laid back, humid, hot and beautiful. Check it out before Fukushima melts down and ruins the Pacific ocean!

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Aside

I’m at the end of a much needed two month sabbatical from drumming in SLATES. Once every so often, after I’ve spent a lot of time with any band practicing or playing shows, I need some time off to recalibrate and think big picture. This time most it was dedicated towards trying really hard at being a good teacher. I figure, if this is my last year full time for a while, I’ll go out on top. I’ve also come to terms with taking a break from teaching next year, as a completely necessary thing in order for me to prevent teacher burnout (something common with folks in the behaviour discipline).

I love it, don’t get me wrong. I am incredibly fulfilled with my line of work. But day after day of dealing with the system and the kids who try to tread water in it can get you down. I’m sore today because I spent 45 minutes restraining a 7 year old yesterday who called my substitute educational assistant a motherf#cker and then tried to flee school grounds. Nice kid,  but he’s got a few triggers which keep me on my toes. The fall out of such an incident involves phone calls and meetings trying to coordinate efforts on both my side and the guardian to try to figure out ways to work together. That’s the thing about these high voltage kids. Not a lot of consistency there and establishing/maintaining it is often temporary.

So, big picture, helping the kids is more important then self indulgent music creation. Now, that being said, the latter is completely necessary to maintain sanity and now that I’ve been in the muck for a couple of months, I crave it to blow off some steam. Not just the do it by picking up a guitar type either, there’s something that comes with playing music with a group that is more fulfilling, more meditative than doing it solo. For me anyways. Wether it was a drum circle in West Africa, a singalong in Cuba or a rehearsal in Northern Canada, the mind was brought to a place of purity, a sort of spiritual connection was made and the palate was cleansed.

A lot has been said about why people play music, but I don’t think the tribal connection is given it’s due. Unfortunately, I think we’ve come to see a lot of music and performance through a lens of neo-liberal economics, and are used to paying to participate, or not. With the advent of smart phones, participating in many circumstances has become taking a video of a performance and posting it online. But the importance of getting together with a group of people for the sole purpose of the connection I feel has been sadly lost amongst a generation frought with desires to participate in a celebrity worshiping culture, or creating something unique. Their own take on a widget. How capitalist. It doesn’t matter. What does is strengthening the bond between humans, as it has for thousands of years. 

But seriously, I’m really trying hard to be a good teacher this year.

I’d buy that for a dollar!

It seems to me, that there is too much reliance on people’s critical thinking skills and high literacy rates. I would love to think that advertising campaigns aimed at promoting environmental responsibility or the well-being of the citizenry have much of an effect, but I think most of the time it’s just a cop out. You wanna change people’s behaviour, you gotta get your hands dirty and dig in. For example, I ride by these anti-idling signs daily, erected a couple years back when the city passed a bylaw to ban drivers from idling their cars near schools which nobody obeys. Signs on main streets warning smokers of the fine they’ll receive if they throw their cigarette butts on the ground. Again, who actually thought these things (which I’ve never seen enforced) would make much of a difference? Human beings need to be consistently engaged on a personal level, not treated as a target audience who you can just throw some money at.

For me, it harkens back to a social trend I’ve been noticing lately. That is, the movement of the market from the economy into our society. The idea that we assign things a value in dollars is ridiculous to begin with. How an apple can be worth X minutes of labour is absurd. However, this doesn’t concern me. What does, is that value has increasingly become assigned to necessities, the environment and relationships. Perhaps it even seems completely necessary, because people have begun to see these things through default capitalist lenses. Michael Sandal explores the idea of market morality quite extensively. Google him. Particularly of interest are the comments he has made on financial incentives for learning and market values dominating all aspects of our lives.

Of course this relates to how my work is impacted. The Alberta government essentially assigns a number to each kid that registers at a school. Kids coded with behavioural disorders are assigned more money which works to pay for the aids they require. Movement of kids between schools can mean a teacher is not affordable, or a cut to programming must be made. My class this year is much bigger than the previous years which is harder on me, but beneficial to a school that was impacted heavily by the conservative funding cuts this spring.

PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE ASSIGNED AN ECONOMIC WORTH. It’s shortsighted and not representational of their social capital. Likewise, there are some things that should remain outside of the market. You should not be able to afford hunting an exotic species, kids should learn for the sake of learning and not be offered financial bribes and Nestle shouldn’t be allowed to sell our own water back to us!

Anyways.

Thankfully I held on to my job and I’m happy to be back with the kids. I have many things planned for them this year, with some environmental and musical initiatives planned for the school. I don’t think I’ll be able to return for another year of behaviour instruction next year (in desperate need to hit the refresh button), so I might as well go out with a bang. I’ll try my best to post notable projects up on here. I haven’t forgotten about this blog, posting will continue at the same irregular pace. But with the house and new record being picked up by a notable record label, it’s easy for me to get sidetracked.

What else… oh! I (legally) downloaded the new SNFU record the other day. Ol’ Chi Pig may have seen better days, but he’s still trying to be creative so I gotta hand it to him. Musically, the album seems to fall a bit short and at some points the vocals sit clumsily amongst the jamz. The playing is competent, but misses that certain je nais se quoi that the Belke brothers brought to the table. But you know, scattered throughout the album are sniffs of the remains of a band that was once the flagship of prairie punk and that’s enough for me. In the end, I never thought I’d see another SNFU record and as John Peel once said (in a story related to me by Albini) “if I listen to a record and can’t find anything enjoyable on it, I’m doing something wrong”.