When the Music Stopped

February 28th, 2017

HMV Canada is shuttering its stores and a musical era is ending. I don’t know how much money I spent at HMV, but certainly most of my DVD and Blu Ray collection came from there, usually during Boxing Day sales. I was still buying the occasional CD too, but usually from performers like Garnet Rogers and Doug MacArthur when I saw them perform live. So there’s still Amazon, and maybe a few used music stores will survive. But it won’t be the same, as Shlomo Schwartzberg points out in this Critcs at Large piece.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote an impassioned post about the closing of a branch of Queen Video, one of Toronto’s few remaining DVD rental outlets, and how that limited rental choices further for film buffs. Since then, another multifaceted DVD store, 7-24 Movies & More, has bitten the dust. It had a weekly 3-for-$8 Monday-Thursday special rental price, which beat its competition but, alas, it had to move because rent at its location had gone up precipitously and its (supposedly) loyal clientele didn’t follow it to its new location. Now HMV Canada has gone into receivership and all 102 locations of the chain (which sells CDs, DVDs, vinyl and collectibles) will be extinct, officially as of April 30, but likely sooner. Coming on top of other recent closures of fine music outlets in Toronto – Sunrise’s two downtown locations in 2014 (it still has ten stores in the province of Ontario, but only one in North Toronto); Vortex Records, one of the city’s best used emporia, in 2015; Refried Beats, the other great used CD (and DVD) shop in Toronto, in 2016; and now HMV – it’s clear that for fans of CDs, and the vast repository of music available in that format, the future is going to be very different than it is now. And not in a good way.

Update: Yesterday, it was announced that Sunrise Records would be taking over about 3/4 of HMV’s stores. This is good news and I hope it goes well for them.

Climate Change as a Soft Apocalypse

February 27th, 2017

A few years ago, I read Will McIntosh’s Soft Apocalypse, which describes a gradual apocalypse made up of many small disasters that just keep happening, one after the other. It’s a terrifying book and all too plausible. Now The Baffler has published a long article, The Slow Confiscation of Everything, that examines climate change as a slow, soft apocalypse. It’s an important article.

Of all the despicable things the runaway ghost train of the Trump administration has done in its first ferocious weeks, the attempt to utterly destroy every instrument of environmental protection is perhaps the most permanent. The appointment of fossil fuel tycoons and fanatical climate change deniers to key positions in energy and foreign policy, the immediate reinstitution of the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines, the promise to pull out of the Paris Climate Pact—all moves crafted to please the oil magnates who helped put him in power—these are changes that will hasten the tick of the time bomb under civilization as we know it. Racist laws can eventually be overthrown, and even a cultural backslide toward bigotry and nationalism can be slowly, painfully reversed. We don’t get a do-over on climate change. The vested interests agitating to strip the planet for parts know that, too—and they plan to profit from this particular apocalypse as hard as they can.

They’re not the only ones eagerly anticipating the end times. Apocalyptic thinking has a long and febrile history in Western thought, and it is usually associated with moments of profound cultural change, when people found it all but impossible to envision a future they might live inside. The notion of armageddon as something to look forward to crops up time and again at moments of profound social unrest. Today, that includes legions of lonely alt-righters celebrating the advent of a new post-democratic, post-civilizational age where men will be real men again, and women will be really grateful. This “dark enlightenment” rumbles alongside a massive revival in millenarian end-times fanaticism among the Evangelical Christians who overwhelmingly voted for a man some of them believe is the literal antichrist who will hasten the final return of Jesus and his arse-kicking angels to sweep the righteous to their reward. There are many millions of people, especially in the United States, who seem to want an apocalypse—a word whose literal meaning is a great “unveiling,” a moment of calamity in which the murkiest and basest of human terrors will be mercifully swept aside. That gentle armageddon, however, looks unlikely to be delivered. Frightened, angry human beings have always fantasized about the end of the world—and institutions of power have always profited from that fantasy.

Lost Walt Whitman Novel Disovered

February 22nd, 2017

I posted last year about a grad student who discovered a hitherto unknown long article by Walt Whitman. Now he’s done it again, discovering an even more significant lost work, a novel.

Zachary Turpin was propped up in bed with his laptop in May, his wife and newborn son sleeping beside him, when he made a discovery that stands to rock the literary world.
There on his screen, he saw a small ad in an 1852 newspaper. The ad promised “A Rich Revelation:” A six-installment piece of fiction called “Life and Adventures of Jack Engle” was coming soon to the Sunday Dispatch, a three-penny weekly published in Manhattan.
The short novel, like the newspaper that published it, was all but lost to the ages. But the author, Turpin believed, was Walt Whitman, one of America’s best-known and most beloved poets.
Now, Turpin, a 33-year-old doctoral candidate in English at the University of Houston, has found the novel itself – a discovery that upends what previously was believed about the 19th-century poet’s early career. Published anonymously as a serial in 1852, “Life and Adventures of Jack Engle” reveals much about Whitman’s early life and work that the poet later tried to hide.

2016 Nebula Award Nominees Announced

February 21st, 2017

SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) has announced the nominees for the 2016 Nebula Awards. They’ll be awarded at the Nebula Conference in Pittsburgh over the May 18th weekend. These awards are voted on by SFWA members, in other words, authors. Many of the stories are available online if you want to check them out. These are the best novel nominees.

Pictures of Northern Ontario

February 20th, 2017

I grew up in Sault Ste. Marie and part of me has never left; there’s something about the landscape that just feels right and I don’t find it here in Southern Ontario. I came across a Flickr photostream by twurdeman that has some of the best pictures of the Sault and Northern Ontario that I’ve seen. Do have a look – you won’t regret it.

2017 World Press Photo Contest winners

February 15th, 2017

The winners of the 2016 World Press Photo Contest have been announced. As always, there’s some striking photography here – some of it beautiful, some of it inspiring, and some of it depressing.  The Atlantic has a selection of some of the winners, which might be easier to view than the official contest site.I am hardly surprised at the choice for overall winner – a photo of the assassin of Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey, on December 19, 2016.

Turkish assassination

The travelling exhibition usually comes to Brookfield Place sometime later in the year. It’s not on the exhibition schedule yet, but if I find out the dates I’ll let you know.