Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Village Podcast Vol. 3

Welcome back listeners! Thanks for all your great comments on our first two episodes. We'd love it if you'd share us with the world. Please head to our iTunes page and rate and review us. It would be great if you subscribed to us, but we know not all of you use iTunes for listening, so load up our RSS feed into your favourite podcatcher and never miss an episode.

It's December now and there's no getting away from the seasonal cheer and holiday shopping so we face it head on.

We share some of our December traditions, their favourite seasonal music and movies. And because we can't play it in the episode, head to YouTube and have a listen and watch of Chris de Burgh playing A Spaceman Came a Travelling. The Rankin and Bass animated collection of films get their annual mention, along with other classics like Die Hard, Home Alone and It's a Wonderful Life.

We also cover a few board games which would make nice gifts for groups of friends or family to play while visiting, including Angry Birds, Crib Wars, Pandemic, Anomia and Catan.

Which leads us to writing in books, whether they are meant to be written in, like The 52 Lists, or Wreck This Journal, or not, like that new hardcover book you received as a gift from your grandmother. Do you do it?
You've gotten this far in listening, or at least in reading, so now I can tell you that we have two gift certificates to give away this month. We have one $25 gift certificate to The Bookshelf and one $25 gift certificate to Miijida. We will draw two winners from the entries.

And to enter all you need to do is head to our iTunes page and give us a rating and review! Then grab a screenshot of that baby and email us at and let us know your name and phone number.
Follow the Bookshelf on Twitter and Facebook. Stay up to date on what's happening around the store at and join the weekly newsletter.
Theme music from the Free Music Archive, by The Underscore Orkestra

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


We see so many great books come into the store throughout the year that compiling a true "best of" would be near-quixotic. And if there's anything we miss, our customers usually point them out to us. Still and all, here's a queue that stood out to our booksellers over the year!

by Rachel Cusk

An alienated female writer comes to Greece to teach a writing class. Not only does she spin enchanting lucid prose but she also meets a cast of characters that show what fools we humans be! This philosophical novel with a very European feel made the Giller shortlist.

Fifteen Dogs 
by Andre Alexis

Alexis, in his writerly power as God, has given a few dogs the characteristics of humans while retaining their dog-like senses. This novel has been described as thin and yet epic, much like Greek myths. We engage with his characters and super-charged senses of smell and overwhelming desires for either domination or submission. You'd be surprised at how directly his characters woof their talk about the human condition. Quite a feat for Alexis!


by Ian Brown

Did I really need to read a book about a sixty-year-old guy who wanted to be 40? This is what I thought when the book came in, but because Ian Brown had written such a heart opening book called the Boy in the Moon about his severely disabled son, I decided to give it a try. Brown writes in such a conversational way that it is relaxing to read, even though some of his "hang-ups" drove me crazy (like is he still attractive to women...particularly young women?), I was moved by the breadth of his knowledge. His reading life has made him the thoughtful man he is!


The Road to Little Dribbling 
by Bill Bryson

The Daily Telegraph describes this as splendid and claims it is the best travel book of the year. Its subtitle is More Notes from a Small Island, banking on the fact that Notes from a Small Island has been the bestselling travel book ever. But that was 20 years ago and with this latest wandering of the British psyche and geography, Bryson gives us the best and worst of Britain today.


The Art of Nature Coloring Book

A colouring book for historians and nature enthusiasts, the plates that you are asked to colour were crafted in the 18th and 19th centuries. Of course, this is when there were no cameras, just the naked eye and pen or pencil. They are stunning and you can style them your with your own colour interpretation. Check out our great selection of colouring utensils!


What’s Happened to Politics 
by Bob Rae

If you were disturbed by the state of Canadian politics under Stephen Harper, this book will affirm that you had every right to be! It offers prescriptions to get Canada back on track on a community, national and international level. A very refreshing look at the future of Canadian politics. Essential reading for politicos.


Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better 
by Pema Chödrön

Ah, the power of Pema. You could finish this book in the bath or savour it over the year. Fail, is actually a commencement lecture on ones best possible relationship with failure. Very readable and very relevant.


A Brief History of Seven Killings 
by James Marlon

You will never listen to certain Marley songs the same way again. A bumping multi-narrative ranging from gangsters, to Cuban revolutionaries and ghosts. James has recreated the time leading up to and after the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976. Winner of the Man Booker Award! A difficult read but incredibly compelling and creative.


A Japanese Lover 
by Isabel Allende

This is a story with many threads – Japanese internment during the second World War, the impossibility of family, aging, well worn secrets and death. Allende has the knack of making something seemingly improbable a great read.


Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words 
by Randall Munroe

Munroe, author of What If? enlightens us this time with a series of simple blueprints of everything from nuclear reactors to the big flat rocks that we live on. A great book for nerdy people of all ages!


Death and Life of Zebulon Finch 
by Daniel Krauss

Zebulon Finch is a small-time hoodlum living a self-involved, violent life in turn-of-the-century Michigan. After he is murdered by an unknown assailant, it would appear that Zeb's unscrupulous existence has ended, until he finds himself mysteriously resurrected. This excellently-paced horror novel is the first of a two-part epic, following the teenaged criminal through several decades of American history as he tries to solve the puzzle of his murder, and discover the purpose of his unexpected revival.

Star Wars: The Adventures of Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight 
by Tony DiTerlizzi

The Star War franchise has spawned its share of book titles over the years, but this stands as the most definitive children's book focusing on the first three films. Tony DiTerlizzi's text perfectly captures the excitement of the action sequences, and skillfully incorporates the most famous catchphrases from the movies. An excellent intro for soon-to-be fans and their already-there parents.

Why We Live Where We Live 
by Kira Vermond

Guelph writer Kira Vermond has won the Norma Fleck award for this thought-provoking picture book exploring the historical path of human civilization. Curious kids will love the often-silly illustrations, which complement informative text on the influence of everything from cultural shifts to climate change.


by Kevin Sylvester

12-year-old Christopher and his young crew members are sent to the planet Perses to mine rare minerals for a resource-deficient Earth. After the crew lose contact with their home planet, they must band together for survival; frightening circumstances that are made worse when Perses suddenly comes under attack by an unknown assailant. Excellent actio12-year old Christopher and his young crew members are sent to the planet Perses to mine rare minerals for a resource-deficient Earth. After the crew lose contact with their home planet, they must band together for survival; frightening circumstances that are made worse when Perses suddenly comes under attack by an unknown assailant. Excellent action-adventure for 10-14 year-olds. n-adventure for 10-14 year-olds.

The Good Little Book 
by Kyo Maclear

After being sent for a time-out, a small boy finds himself caught up in an unassuming, but life-changing, book. The "good little book" quickly becomes the boy's constant companion, until the day that the treasured tome goes missing. A heartwarming depiction all of the wonderful ways that reading can shape our lives.


The Winter Family
by Clifford Jackman

Though it might seem surprising to anyone taking a passing glance as it as a "genre" book, no one who's read Clifford Jackman's "The Winter Family" was surprised when it was long-listed for The Giller Prize, short-listed for the Governor General's Award, and is now starting to pop up on everyone's year's best lists. About a "family" of outlaws/mercenaries in the twilight of Manifest Destiny, Jackman's novel isn't just gory gritlit, but amounts to a studied look at how lawlessness begets law, and what happens to the agents of change once they're no longer needed.


by Kevin Hardcastle

The fringe grittiness of "Debris" – shotguns and fistfights and lawns strewn with debris and detritus – will likely be the dominant talking point with Kevin Hardcastle's first collection. Yet the refinement and delicacy of the seeing and telling that goes on makes for a stoic beauty that's the real success here, is what seriously sets the work apart from whatever generic comparisons it will inevitably attract. Harcastle's characters are not simply brutish dumb misfits, but men (mostly) and women driven by love and loyalty and duty in such a clear, unconflicted way that conflict is inevitable and intense. You'd be hard-pressed to find stories this loving, hurt, and alive in anything else coming out lately.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy
ed Joe Hill

The most far out thing about this collection is that it's the first time the Best American series has tackled Science Fiction and Fantasy. This flagship installment, edited by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), displays the strength and merit of once-marginalized genres that are now beginning to dominate literature. As with the other Best American series, this one's a great introduction to your new favourite authors, the majority of which happen to be women here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Ever since I can remember its existence Greg Denton has been happily enframed by the renewing people and places of Guelph’s arts and culture scene. Known downtown as longtime musician, bookseller, and painter; he is also a painting instructor on campus. His practical and theoretical know-how combined with his daily commitment to the overlapping and busy fields of local artistic expression made him a natural choice as this year’s City of Guelph Artist in Residence. According to the city’s description, the residency ‘is a cultural initiative that embeds artists in a variety of public spaces’. Each year

artists are asked to engage the community in creative experiences. Engagement may include hands-on creative activities, collaborative creation of temporary works or exploration of broader community stories. The public space selected for 2015 is the core area of Downtown Guelph.
This year’s applicants to the position were asked to ‘draw inspiration from Lt.-Col. John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields, and the theme of remembrance’. Correspondingly, this summer Greg submitted, then swiftly completed a ‘100 portrait paintings in oil, depicting living military personnel, cadets, and veterans from the Guelph area, in uniform and wearing a poppy on their lapel’. Entitled ‘100 Portraits/100 Poppies: Sitting in Remembrance’ Greg’s work begin its exhibition on Nov 2 at Boarding House Arts and shows until Monday Nov 30th.

Having barely any knowledge of painting, and thankfully not having any direct experience of war, I was eager to get a civic understanding of how paintings inform the public remembrance of such a complex, even controversial topic. The following is an excerpt from the recording of a conversation I had with Greg at the Boarding House on Nov 1st at a solid wooden table facing his paintings. For what words are worth, it’s a single sitting portrait of a bigger picture.

- Brad de Roo, who after watching Greg paint one of 100 poppies last few portraits during his final stint painting in City Hall, was surprised to learn that the uniformed gentleman Greg was painting had been part of liberation of the Netherlands in WW2, thereby helping to spare Opa & Oma de Roo any further formative hardship.

Could you describe how you paint?

There is a process that I think I go through as a painter. And there is a process as representational painter. I have an interest in light and shadow and how that’s constructing the form. I have an interest in how colour works within the field of light that I’m painting. I have interest in the space of the painting. You know, I tend to work technically, so that I am usually working with a rough gestural sketch to try to get a sense of scale and placement. And then I’ll tend to start mapping in warm and cool colour relationships and tonal relationships. And then I’ll start to elaborate from there on more particular things. And I tend to work as a single session painter. I’m working wet in wet and with a fairly direct painting style, and with a fair amount of body and brushiness to the paint. I mean, it’s not the way to paint. It’s one way and it’s the way I tend to approach the construction of things.

Is this style of painting prone to any mistakes? Does it allow for surprises?

Oh absolutely. One of the formative things for me in painting was thinking that they’re improvisational. Being a single session painter, there’s somebody sitting in front of me and I am trying to look at it in the here and now and make a painting. The painting is a record of those decisions. I used to love Francis Bacon, a British painter, and he talked about painting as a process of courting accident. And he was interested in also subverting what he called the illustrative aspect of the painting. So he would be trying to find ways of realizing the representation through the process and through the paint and in a sense have the paint itself invent the image, rather than the painting be a material through which you render the image.

So it’s almost like there’s a greater texture to it?

Yeah, well texture or surprise. Or accident, right? I tend to think that’s what’s really interesting about a painting and I often will argue that these are fictions, rather than representations of people. I’m usually pretty critical about the role of portraiture as the idea that I’ve interpreted somebody’s personality, or tried to distill it, or represent it. You know, I’m looking at somebody. I’m looking at their face. I’m aware that there’s a psychology in action and I think a psychology gets enacted any time you see something that looks like a face. You know, like the front of a car looks angry or placid. So I am looking for readable psychology in painting, but I tend to think that there is so much accident in process; the paintload, the contrast that happens – you didn’t cover something adequately or the edge of the paint rolled of the brush in a funny way and it will create a kind of mood and expression and in fact likeness and I’m really interested in that. One of my other projects was the three hundred and sixty five self-portraits and that was an attempt to track however many different likenesses of the same person that process could generate. And in a sense when I do this sort of ensemble projects they’re often narratives of that process.

This one effected that narrative because I think there was a higher demand on it as likeness, on not giving myself permissions. I was working to a set schedule.

This would be somewhat of an emotional experience. People are coming in representation of someone or embodiment of someone etc. Did the emotional side of the project ever come to the fore while painting?

Absolutely. One woman started crying when I painted the poppy. She didn’t expect that. She didn’t expect it to be such an emotional punch. The symbolism of it hit her. Some people seemed to be very proud and some people seemed to express a lot of gratitude that the culture they are apart of us is being honoured. I was painting a lot of living veterans. There was a lot of emotion. There were times when I teared up.

People were probably telling you stories too…

That’s it. I’m painting some 96 year old guy who was 17 years old and on the frontlines going into Holland in the war or on Juneau beach on D-Day and you think about who you were as a 17-year-old and you realize the history of this person – the history that they embody.

Has this project changed your understanding of remembrance or memory?

This project allowed me to address something that I think has been happening over the last few years. I’m getting older and meeting older people and have more friends who have passed away and mortality and the images I have of these people in sketchbooks and paintings bears a different meaning to me now than it did when it was more of just a chance to do a formal exploration.

The likeness and recognizability of a person, and the portrait as an emblem of that became something more significant.

How do the individual portraits interact with your piece’s overall form?

I was interested in meeting them as people, rather than symbols. But also this was a chance for me to take what I do in terms of a repetitive form and in terms of trying to find a motif that repeats in the painting that isn’t the portrait but ascribes a different meaning to it.

The idea of a hundred people wearing poppies and the chance to make that a field of poppies appealed formally to me. Military I think of as a predominantly green culture, if I had to ascribe a colour to the idea of the military. So it seemed this was a real opportunity to make a green field with red poppies, which are contrasting colours and would give a chance for the poppy to be vivid. I realized if I am gridding them on a wall with spaces between them than I will want a white wall because it will make white crosses and that will extend the field as well.

I was also looking for a certain scale. I had to decide what size to make the paintings in order for the work to be sizeable and I wanted something mural scale.

Something that you cannot necessarily take all in a field of vision?

Yeah. Something that’s going to fill a wall. It’s 15 feet long and that seemed like a reasonable expanse. And I think there is an allusion to colour field painting. Barnett Newman, and that sort of thing; in terms of the scale and the fact that your vision is absorbed with colour. It fills your periphery. You’re not looking at it as a picture - it really is a field that you are absorbed in. It’s a green field. It can be seen as an allusion to colour field abstraction or an allusion to landscape.

Did the political landscape around the time of painting this complicate things?

It wasn’t ever an explicit part of this. There was a huge diversity of opinion in the people who were sitting. Some people very supportive of the Conservative Party.

There’s always this debate around Remembrance Day when people complain that its celebrating war and you’re always trying to position how you feel about that – are you celebrating war or are you honouring sacrifice and remembrance and what exactly that role is and I think this project sits in that territory. I think it can generate that debate, but I don’t think there is anything about it that is politicized in terms of taking a position on that.

Your piece is illustrative of the space of remembrance, rather than divisive?

What I think is really interesting about it is that when I’ve encountered military portraits historically I’ve often thought they are paintings of the uniform, paintings of the idea of valour, of dignity. I was focusing on their faces in a public space.

I tend to think I painted these people as people and as vulnerable people.

What would you like to be asked about your artwork that is normally overlooked? Are their every any misconceptions about it?

People get engaged with what I do in terms of an individual portrait - and I am interested in these as individual portraits - but I think that my work comes at it from two angles. I feel like people aren’t adequately engaging in what I do as a format and as a form and may not see they colour-field references or the fact that this is a representation, that it’s an ensemble.

They are interested in the figurative side of it more. I’m interested in context.

I’m up against a tradition of figurative painting. People can look at it and understand what I am doing within a set of readymade standards, and what I think I am doing is actually trying to reframe that and shift that, so that it's put into a context and seen as a kind of contrivance that establishes it as being a portrait rather than a figure painting. People see that I am portrait artist, but they don’t see that I am an installation artist.

What books would you recommend to get a fuller view of painting?

Frank Stella’s Working Space. A phenomenal study about the idea of what space is in a painting, and what pictoriality is, and looking at it from a historical viewpoint. I think it’s a beautiful book for his lucidity and his knowledge as a practicing artist.

Francis Bacon’s interviews with Sylvester were huge for me as student, even more so than his paintings.

Clement Greenberg, always. Even though he can be really prescriptive and problematic.

Ross King’s book on The Group of Seven, Defiant Spirits.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


There's an old saying where I come from: You can bring a bud to Ween, but you can't make them dig it. It was a lesson that took me a while to learn. Between the ages of 15 and 25, I did my damndest to buffalo friends and partners into listening to the New Hope, Pennsylvania duo: cranking up albums during parties, monopolizing the tape deck on road trips, striving to put the perfect song in the perfect context on a mix tape. After years of reactions ranging from the confused, to the disinterested, to the offended, I gave up. To retrofit a line from Bruce McCulloch's "Doors", Ween fans aren't made – they're born. Ween made sense to me immediately. I was on board with their pitched up or down vocals, their sometimes-sacred, sometimes-profane, sometimes-bonkers lyrics, and by their donning and doffing of any genres and the denizen narrators of those genres. I didn't sweat whether or not they were a joke band, because I got that – to boost another line, this one from Lorrie Moore nothing is a joke with Ween. It all just comes out like one.

The point people seem to miss with Ween is how ironic they're not. When they dally in one genre or another, they're not making fun of, say, Prince or Billy Joel or The Beatles. They're a pair of weird dudes with major roots in punk and DIY and lo-fi and small town idle redneckness and when they fool around with whatever style, with whatever points of reference, what comes out is both familiar and sui generis. 

The catalog Dean and Gene Ween accrued over 25 years is, by turns, far-reaching, far-flung, and far-fetched. Ideally, there's something in there for everybody. Bookshelfer and citizen Brad de Roo certainly hoped so when he challenged local musicians to try their own hands at songs of their choosing. The result, GUELPH WEEN SATAN, is available now for download. The cassette release of the compilation will take place Friday November 20 at 8:30pm at the ANAF Club, featuring a Ween open mic, followed by karaoke.

- Andrew

What about Guelph jibes with Ween? Why not a compilation of Guelphies pulling off Spin Doctors or Jesus Jones?

I don’t know how much Guelph is a paradigmatic Ween-town. It definitely has its share of oddly pitched voices and lyrically unsettling characters. I imagine there are maybe more Weenish places in Canada that have yet to compile their Weenishness. What Ween lurks in Stephen Harper’s backyard, I wonder? Or in some of our other post-industrial wastelands?

But there is a long history of home recording in Guelph, and there continues to be a splattering of cool home studios and bedroom projects. Some of these sweaty setups and close-knit relationships remind me a bit of what I’ve read of Ween’s early days making tape upon tape of lo-fi music in shacks. There is also an interest in lots of different genres of music in the Guelph indie scene (for a lack of a better thing to call it). There is a jumbling spirit which associatively calls to mind Ween’s genre-shifting ways. It is not strange to find musical-minded folks I know playing in garage rock bands while making homemade hip hop beats between participating in a free jazz improve sessions and crooning standards on karaoke nights.

Compilationally, Tyson Brinacombe (my co-conspirator on GUELPH WEEN SATAN) and I had the initial plan of putting out a Spin Doctors/Jesus Jones split tribute LP, but it seems we don’t live in the right here, right now as much as KW - in some circles known as the Two Princes of Ontario – who’d already beaten us to this poppy punch. I haven’t searched for the Bandcamp yet, but I’ve heard it’s not quite heavy enough on the funk rock.

What sort of Guelph sampler does GUELPH WEEN SATAN amount to?

I think it is an intriguingly incomplete one. This being my first kick at the release can (with the absolutely necessary/awesome technical and organizational help of veteran releaser Tyson), I underestimated a few things. I attempted Liberal-style gender parity of the recordings early on, only to be politely denied songs by almost every woman I asked, thereby underestimating how many women in Guelph that I know would want to cover Ween for free. I attempted to stay out of the way of the song selection process almost entirely, underestimating that certain representative albums would be missed. The comp features 4 songs from The Pod, 4 from Pure Guava, 2 from Chocolate and Cheese, 1 from The Mollusk (one of the best named & designed psychedelic albums in my mind), 2 from White Pepper, 2 from Quebec, 1 from Shinola Vol 1., and 2 from La Cucaracha. This unfortunately leaves both GodWeenSatan: The Oneness (from which this comp steals its name) and 12 Golden Country Greats (their Nashville country album) totally untouched (as well as some early recordings, collabs, EPs, and demos). Ween simply have too many songs that would be fun challenges to cover. Lastly, I attempted to console myself along the mishap-laden way by thinking that this was just Volume 1 and a future Volume 2 could rebalance the musical scales with an almost all-women compilation of what was here missed. I underestimated how much work it was getting this done in the first place, and how much I’d be listening to only charting early nineties funk rock by the time GUELPH WEEN SATAN was finished.

Having grieved so, I got to meet some new nice people, I got to chat with some old pals, some new collaborations were born, and some cool sounds were created for a good time in a home-made fashion.

How would you describe Ween to some jerk who'd never heard them?

Immediately lapsing into clichéd music hybridizing, I’d say that Ween sound like a better-voiced, worse mannered "Weird" Al teamed up with your somewhat jocky high-school buddy who can play anything on guitar, both Al & Buddy boozed up and high and backed in a fit of surreal reference by all the (usually classic rock) bands they are parodying, who are slightly misplaying, often rewriting, and consistently adding piss-taking, exaggeratory flourishes to their own songs. Ween are all these things while being willing and able to burst into sudden noise or break into genuinely beautiful love songs. Maybe they are also a slacker Zappa clone split into two mysteriously compelling, temporarily co-balancing figures – with much catchier songs than their imaginary sci-fi forebearer. Alternatively, you could say they are the weirder cousins of Prince & Beck and have spent some odd times trying to inject the alien tone of the Residents into rich melodies. They are also, at times, troublingly politically incorrect (a fact worth further study and criticism).

A lot of Ween is deceptively simple. What challenges does a musician come up against when attempting to make a Ween track their own?

I can’t speak for everyone else on this comp, but my challenges were many. From a technical side, some folks here play some pretty complicated guitar (see "Ocean Man") and do some layering, multi-instrumental playing and singing (see "Falling Out" by Matt Monoogian, as well as too many others to list) that is far beyond my limited musical know-how. I found it tricky to get the Weeness into the song without being weird for weirdness sake. Ween’s recordings, especially a lot of the early recordings from GodWeenSatan, The Pod, and Pure Guava have very strange tones, odd pre-programmed rhythms, and manipulated vocals (whether acoustically or via pedals, tape manipulation, mic effects etc). So even if the chords and melodies are simple, the textures, tones, timbres are distinctly askew. It would be hard to mistake these recordings for another band. So the run on question becomes how to capture this unsettling quality while understanding the element of parody in their genre recreations (that you find on songs like the Thin Lizzy sounding "Gabrielle" awesomely covered here by Gregory Pepper and his Problems) and reworkings (like "Fiesta"’s cheesy electro mariachi, covered in fully midi glory by AM Brooks) and touching on the unseemly characters or personas that seem to come out in some of vocalizations and lyrics - all while trying not to overthink it.

For the songs I sang, I tried to select songs (with the help of my collaborators) in a style that I could see myself attempting to vocally replicate (I could never belt out "Captain Fantasy"), but that also had room for some of the dissonance I favour as a distorting accomplice to melodic sweetness. I also found it helpful to interpret the song like a text and to try to pick up latent themes to sonically and lyrically reframe. "Lullaby", for example, which is a stripped down piano and orchestra ballad in the original recording, seemed lyrically and melodically ripe for a psychedelic, cultish remake. The New Agey lyrics about ‘floating’ and ‘life flowing’ combined with the religious images of infants and the Rapture to me called for a bit more chaos and disorientation which I naturally tried to communicate via phasing, disembodied vocals, and a swallowing noise loop followed by a sample of a Jim Jones’ recording from the final moments of Jonestown. Jessy Bell Smith, who collaborated on the song with me (and contributed an awesome version of "Sarah"), added churchy yet distorted organ and layered spectral choir-like harmony vocals, which I felt further developed my cultish interpretation. The original song also has hard to make out (maybe intentionally ambiguous lyrics) which I maybe sacrilegiously sang as ‘friends’ and ‘utopia’ to bolster my fictional cult view. I also liked that "Lullaby" was a lesser known coda-ish song that wouldn’t have too many ideas about it from the get-go. I also liked the idea of recording lo-fi with a Mac and some snacks in my robe. I also liked the idea not fixing the vocals parts I did not sing quite right. These things all felt Ween to me. Considering everything, I’m sure I fucked it up.

"Hey There Fancy Pants" I did with Tyson (smoothly playing most of the instruments –banjo, bass, drums, percussion – as well as recording) was mostly just fun to old timey sing. It was also fun to try to replicate an impossible Les Paul-style guitar solo on a kazoo and to rip some noise guitar for no good reason other than further shadowing "Fancy Pants"’ hoping for ‘sunny days’ (to riff off the silly lyrics and peppy tone of the tune some). It was also fun to try a song that sounded much less serious than my previous selection - to get to explore a fuller sense of the kaleidoscopic chimera that is Ween.

I look forward to discussing how all the contributors approached the finer details of their songs over drinks. I’m seriously interested in exploring how members of a community interpret sound in very different ways over drinks.

Anecdotally, "Freedom of '76" by Encyclopedia included on GUELPH WEEN SATAN references Ween’s love of reference and randomly samples a small a part of every song on the compilation (if anyone wants to play spot the sample). It also destroys a perfectly good straight ahead reading of the song by Tyson. For comparison sake, we’ve at this very moment added Tyson’s original version to Bandcamp for free (along with a scrapped demo recording by "Demon Sweat") as an audio bonus to your curious readers.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Mass Disruption: Thirty Years on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution by longtime journalist and onetime editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail, John Stackhouse, offers an immersive look into how newspapers have had to adapt to the cultural, technological, and financial conditions of the digital age. Using his time at the Globe as a narrative pivot, Stackhouse moves between case studies of classic print powerhouses (like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, & The London Times), and explorations of popular digital models (from BuzzFeed to Facebook to Twitter). Run-ins & sit-downs with Harper, Bono, and Ford make fascinating interludes, while assignments in Russia, Ethiopia, India, & Afghanistan provide a global heft. Through all the sights, diversions, innovations, and inevitable editorial controversies, Stackhouse makes the survival of serious journalism his business. Only, he argues, by balancing flexible fiscal and digital models with factual, well-written, accountable (often long-form) stories will the fourth estate remain a reliable source of democratic disputation.

- Brad de Roo, who would often get the urge to yell ‘Stop the Presses!’ as he passed by his local paper in production, not knowing that in his lifetime he might be better received if he texted ‘Delete the Posts!’ 

Was it at all strange to apply journalistic practices to a book about journalism?

Any book about journalism, by a journalist, faces a few inherent challenges. First, and this is pretty obvious, there should be no pretense of objectivity. I tried to say, up front and actually in the title, that this book is a single person's perspective. I set out to write the book because I felt I had been given a ringside seat to a critical moment in journalism's history, and had both an obligation and desire to share that with current and future readers and producers of journalism. There were more nuanced challenges, though, stemming from various topics that aren't central to journalism, or at least weren't until recently. Digital reading habits, mobile advertising, technology platforms – these forces are reshaping journalism in profound ways, and I wanted to understand them, as a journalist and as a user. For some of those questions, I put on my reporter's hat and explored new fields and other companies. But again, it had to be woven into a narrative structure that was both chronological and first-person.

What are the biggest challenges ahead of newspapers?

The biggest challenge is advertising. The controlled model of advertising that dominated media when I entered the business in the 1980s has been shattered. Newspapers, magazines and broadcasters simply cannot guarantee the sort of consistent audience that they once were able to deliver to advertisers. Ironically, most media have bigger audiences than ever, in raw numbers, but most of us spend fraction of the time each day with a particular news source - and so, advertisers won't pay the big dollars that media used to charge for access to those audiences. I'm a paying subscriber to the Economist, for instance, and I love it. But instead of an isolated hour of immersive reading that I used to spend with the magazine, I now visit its mobile app and email feeds every morning for 5 minutes or so. So they still have me; they just don't have as much of my attention.

Throughout Mass Disruption, you note that many big newspapers almost willfully ignored the digital changes and challenges to come. Is there something inherently careful about the newspaper industry?

The Harvard management guru Clayton Christensen wrote The Innovators Dilemma in the 1990s, and it holds true today. In any industry, established firms - the so-called legacy operators - find it very challenging, perhaps impossible, to disrupt themselves. They're usually making good money off the old model, and therefore have a strong incentive not to blow it up. That's been absolutely true for newspapers. Perhaps a few papers, entering the 21st century, might have said, 'Look, it's obvious we're moving to a purely digital media world. Let's catapult ourselves into the future. Shut down the paper. Go all digital.' But we were all making money off the newspapers, and not off our websites, at least back then. Thus, the innovator's dilemma. There's also a mindset. Newspaper operators - owners, publishers, editors - tend to have ink-stained fingers. It's harder for them to become digital pioneers than, say, for a 25-year-old with a new concept and some venture capital to play with. And then there's the question of caution, which is raised pointedly in the question. Yes, newspapers tend to be cautious. I've wrestled with that question for years, because on one level newspapers - and their journalists - take heroic risks every day. They go to war zones. They print stories that may incite lawsuits. They run columns that infuriate loyal subscribers. That all takes courage. And yet, they stick to the same format, most of them at least, year-in, year-out. Most subscribers and advertisers want that predictability. Perhaps it's because the daily newspaper is one of the last constants in a widely variable world. And as a result, a lot of newsrooms tended to stay close to home in the early days of digital disruption.

What do newspapers offer readers that new media formats like Buzz Feed, Huff-Post, and Vice do not? Do newspapers increasingly run the risk of becoming what they are trying to differentiate themselves from? How will newspapers attract the younger audiences that these outlets boast? 

The book explores a few case studies of newspaper journalism - lively ones like the Rob and Doug Ford stories - to show some of what is required to produce significant journalism. These kinds of stories take a team: reporters, of course, but also handling editors, lawyers and, most critically, sources who trust the newsroom. Purely digital outlets can do this, and a lot of them are. But most serious journalism still comes from traditional outlets, newspapers in particular. Despite their challenges, they have the newsrooms, the trained, professional reporters and legal resources to carry out and defend critical work. There's a lot that new media outlets can learn and borrow from that model. This is not all about the old adopting the new; there's a great need for the new to adopt a bit of the old, too.

You mention the growing role that social media companies like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have had in shaping, reporting, and disseminating stories. How would stories like the G20 protests, the Parliament Hill shooting, and the Ghomeshi affair have been covered differently had they happened when you entered journalism?

What a great question! In the book, I explore our own coverage of the G20 debacle in Toronto, because it was apparent, in hindsight, that social media played a critical role in shaping the media's coverage and the political consequences of that riotous weekend. We all witnessed the beating of civilians by police - on the grounds of the legislature! - thanks to citizens with smart phones. The story also shifted from a focus on anarchists to one on police tactics in part because that's what millions of people were talking about online. Would that have happened in the 1980s? I think police tactics would have become the story but in a more measured, and perhaps slower, way. Then there's the case of the Parliament Hill shooting, which I explore in the book. Many of us were able to follow that news live via Twitter. I think, in the main, that's good. But there was also a lot of inaccuracies circulated via Twitter that morning, and that's not good. To me, it shows the need for moderating.

Have any of these technological developments improved reporting? 

Reporting today, generally, is better than a generation ago. Reporters have access to more information and more sources than ever. And they can work with informed audiences to develop their coverage. Journalists no longer have to work in isolation. Twitter is like having your own newsroom - a cast of many who want to help explore, build and test ideas. Social media also holds us all to account, more effectively than ever. Reporters can't hide behind the walls of a newsroom, nor can editors or publishers barricade themselves behind the printing press. Power has been diffused. For journalism, ultimately that's good.

In your career as a journalist, were there any stories that you had to shelf or couldn’t cover? If so, what about not getting these stories most bothered you? 

I always regret, as do a lot of correspondents, not being able to get closer to Osama bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. I spent a fair bit of time in Pakistan in 1997 and 1998, and developed a pretty good sense of what was in the works, in terms of a jihadist movement. Of course, I had no idea that the movement was as big as it was, or determined as it was to attack the West. I spent some time pursuing the Khadr family, following their tracks to Peshawar, after I met and interviewed the father, Ahmed, in a Pakistani hospital. But I never again found them - they had crossed the border and lived in Jalalabad - and regret that. It had just become too dangerous for journalists in Afghanistan in the late '90s. We soon learned why.

You’ve played hockey with Putin, provoked the sensationalistic ire of Doug and Rob Ford, and lived for a week as a homeless person on the frigid streets of Toronto – has your position as a journalist ever make you fear for your personal safety? 

There were times when I feared for my safety, but those were mostly when I lived and worked overseas. I was with group of journalists in Lahore, Pakistan that was attacked by an angry mob following a court decision that favoured a Christian. We had to run for our lives, down some dark alleys, and were saved and sheltered by some very decent Pakistanis. Probably my gravest concern came when the Tamil Tigers killed a friend of mine - the human rights lawyer, Neelan Tiruchelvam - in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in the summer of 1999. I wrote a critical piece about the Tigers following that assassination, and was told by one of their sympathizers to be careful.

In the book, you reflect on being central the Globe and Mail editorial board that endorsed Harper for the 2011 election. What do you make of recent controversies around such endorsements - like the Globe’s support of a Harperless Conservative party this election or Andrew Coyne’s resignation as editor at the Post after he disagreed with their political stance? Considering the results of this election, do such endorsements have much sway these days? 

It's intriguing that newspaper editorials continue to ignite so many political passions. Whatever their position, it gives me hope that people see the institutional view of newspapers as important and worthy of debate. It would seem their influence on voting decisions, however, is limited. I don't think that's bad. Editorials should not be seen as a newspaper trying to instruct readers how to vote. I see them as a position - well-argued - against which people can form their own decisions.

What did you think of this election’s coverage, in general? 

I thought the coverage was generally quite good. A diversity of professional news outlets covered all three major campaigns from tape to tape, and provided important and valuable fact checking and criticism. If there was a gap in the campaign coverage - and the blame for this rests with the Conservatives - it was in a more thorough exploration of the government's record and platform. There were important policies, from taxation to immigration, that were reduced to divisive sound bites. But I don't blame the media for that; the Conservatives didn't provide a very thoughtful or engaging explanation of their polices, and obviously paid the price. It's a healthy reminder that, whether you're a political party or corporation or citizen movement, you need to engage the mainstream media.

What personal attributes does a journalist need to thrive today? 

The most important attribute for journalists continues to be curiosity. No algorithm has yet to supplant the art of questioning. Added to that ancient skill, journalists today need to understand digital audience behaviour - how we all move around the Internet and mobile apps, and how to engage this new world of digital nomads. Social media is a major part of that. And I'd suggest that journalists who understand revenue will have leg up. That doesn't mean selling your soul. It simply means understanding how new revenue sources like events or customized publications can help pay the freight of journalism.

Would you ever consider making a return to the field? 

I was incredibly lucky to be a reporter, foreign correspondent and editor during some of the most remarkable moments of our time, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to 9/11 to the Rob Ford phenomena, and to wrestle with how media approached those moments. I'm now lucky to be working for the chief executive of RBC, helping the bank, its clients and, to some extent, the country understand the big social, economic and technological forces around us. And I'm still writing for media, including the Globe, and will continue to write books. So I haven't left the arena; I've just moved seats.