Saturday, January 23, 2016

I'mma take you home... take your passport and shoes.

full album

It’s Sunday. I’m home alone and I cannot for the life of me figure out where the smell of roses is coming from. Besides being the dead of winter, there are no roses in the house, and I don’t wear perfume. The dead poinsettia from this recently departed Christmas has gone crunchy, dropping its leaves and petals to the table. That must be it. I give it a sniff. It smells like a void.

In case I’m about to have some kind of seizure, I google “sudden smell of roses in the air” and roll my eyes at the results. I try to ignore it and go on with my day, but the aroma is overpowering and distracting. I have to get out of here. So I go for a walk.

The newly fallen snow is pretty. It won’t last long, with all the unseasonably mild weather we’ve been having. As I step away and further away from my house, I realize that the floral smell seems to be getting even stronger. With it, a sadness pours into me from the bottom up. My legs start to feel sort of heavy, my stomach feels like there’s a 20 lb rock in it, and then oh… what’s this heartsick feeling all about? My head hangs low, like I’m unable to bear the weight of it on my neck.

I could just fall to the snowy ground, lay my head down among the snow-covered remains of lifeless stems in the flowerbed before me, and bury myself in a fluffy white blanket. Except… hang on. Not all of the flowers are dead. They should be, this time of year. But curiously, one remains in bloom. Black, but supple, with a strange aura surrounding it. This must be the source of the smell. But how…?

The flower seems to have called me here, and I’m sort of questioning reality, wondering if I’m in some kind of dream. I’m not. Dreams don’t feel like this. Answering the flower’s call, I bend down to take a whiff of the pungent aroma. And suddenly I’m falling with rattling speed. At least I think I’m falling, but it’s hard to tell when you’re surrounded by abyssal blackness.

The falling motion suddenly stops. I don’t hit bottom, I don’t feel any surface beneath my feet or around me – it’s like I’m dangling, suspended by an invisible rope. Millions, billions, trillions of shapes are floating around me. There’s something very special about these objects. They seem to exist in more than three dimensions… dimensions that I can’t describe. I can't see these other dimensions, but I know they're there. And without even touching the objects, I can feel them. They’re soft like kitten fur, cold like ice, hot like fire, and hard like steel.

 I can hear them, too. Whispers, musical notes, explosions, and giggles, all layered over one another. Words in all of earth’s languages, and some that sound completely alien. You’d think it would all produce an overwhelming cacophony of sounds, images, feelings… but it doesn’t. It’s like there is some kind of underlying rhythm or story that ties them all together in a way that makes sense.

The shapes -- what I now understand to be ideas, concepts, pieces of inspiration, thoughts and memories of everyone who has ever lived in the past, present and future –- move around the infinite space in layers, forming pictures... even entire scenes that are recognizable to me. But their movement is constant and the pictures are fleeting, like clouds in fast forward motion.

I reach out to touch them, but the gentlest tap forces them away. In my attempt to catch one of the objects, I seem to have accidentally torn a hole in the layer of space surrounding me. Ain’t that just like me. I feel an awful sense of regret, like I’ve gone and mutilated an essential piece of the universe. 

I wonder if I’ve permanently damaged this place. I wonder if people on earth are suddenly forgetting treasured memories, or are now experiencing collective creative block due to my carelessness.

Then I see a hand reach through the hole. The hand tears the hole open even further, and I can see there are more layers in behind, a whole other world of beautiful shapes, sounds, words, and feelings. I reach in and pull myself through the gash. The membrane is so thin it’s like moving through air. On the other side of the membrane I see a familiar face. All my fear and regret washes away as the face smiles at me, and now it is not only the face that is familiar, but I feel like I’ve been here before, somehow.

Not deliberately, of course. I fleetingly remember it from my dreams, but also from my waking life… there is a familiar sense of purpose, of drive, of something that isn’t quite me but is still mine, steering me to a place I was always supposed to go. I remember that feeling. It lit me on fire once, and I let it take me to its fated conclusion. And when it left me, I cried, and begged for it to come back.

A shape… a concept, suddenly presents itself to me. Automatically I reach out to grab it, but then I pull back, remembering that this place is delicate and easily injured. The scene before me dissipates and everything goes dark… that is, my vision, my hearing, my thoughts, all turn to nothingness.

I wake up on the snowy flowerbed next to the city street, staring at the swirling sky above me. Something tells me I need to get up, but I’m groggy and oddly comfortable here. But the longer I lay, the more aware I become of the cold wetness seeping through my clothes. With the intention of moving into a standing position, I look at my feet. I’m suddenly aware of skull designs upon my shoes. They weren't always there, were they?

I check my phone for the time, and I’m shocked to discover it’s Tuesday. Where the fuck did Monday go? I shake off my snowy blanket, rise to my feet and hurry in the direction of home. The floral smell is gone, and I feel happier, lighter on my feet. As I walk toward the light of the sun, a bluebird swoops and glides like he's doing some elaborate dance for his own personal amusement. As he flies away, I notice that if I squint just the right amount, I can just make out an orderly chaos of shapes swirling about in the wind.


Blackstar is a marvelous work of art. It really is. As a whole, it takes the best things about everything Bowie did throughout his career, and smooshes them together into something that encapsulates him as an artist.

This album took me to a different place from what I was expecting. And I'm glad about that. Because two weeks ago I was not exactly in the happiest of moods, as you can imagine, when the news broke that Bowie had moved on from the physical world. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings swirling around, and the words to express them didn't exist.

Of course, I was looking forward to listening to Blackstar. I pre-ordered my vinyl copy back in November, and had been anticipating it since it was announced. But then its context changed entirely mere hours before I was about to embark on my Blackstar listening journey. And while I was committed to giving it the same type of treatment I gave to all of Bowie's other albums, I wasn't sure I would be able to transcend the sadness I was feeling. The first few listens were rough, indeed. But when I finally allowed the music to start to carry me away, as I had done with all his previous albums, it took me someplace kind of miraculous.

But this is also where things get a bit weirdly personal. I've been debating whether I should write about this, but I need to get it out, because it's kind of bothering me. Bothering is maybe not the right word... but okay, here it goes. I promise I'm not crazy.

A year ago, in January 2015, I designed this. It's the self-publishing imprint for a book that I spent 18 months writing, illustrating, and designing. It was self-published in print format in April 2015. To me, it's an odd coincidence that at the same time, Bowie was working on Blackstar, though at that time it had not yet been announced. I didn't know, and could not have known that he was even working on another album.

I believe 100% that the similarity between the two is a coincidence. Of course it is. It's even kind of funny. But there is another layer to the story, and this is the layer that has informed the journey on which this album has taken me.

The entire time I was working on my Plaidstar Publishing project, I felt as if I wasn't completely in control of it. That some unseen force had tied me up, duct taped my mouth, locked me in the proverbial trunk, and had taken the proverbial wheel. I remember making decisions about character names and the colours of the images. That was me, definitely. But in a way that I can't explain, I just didn't feel like it was really me who was responsible for the thing. From the concept, through writing, drawing, inking, designing the book and then finally printing, some unknown force was driving me. I think it's pretty safe to call that force inspiration.

Before this, inspiration always sort of seemed like a fictional character to me. Just a word to express the concept of creating something. But the feeling of possession that I experienced... that must be what inspiration really is. It's unfair to give inspiration the credit for good ideas while we take the blame for the bad ones. It didn't matter to inspiration if the idea for the project was good or bad. It didn't matter to inspiration if the words I wrote and the pictures I drew were good or bad. All that mattered to inspiration was that the project got finished.

I was there, I remember the whole thing. I remember the high moments of loving the character I had created so deeply as if he was my own son. And I also remember the low moments where I laid in bed at night in tears, believing that what I was creating was utter crap and should never seen by anyone, ever. But there was never a moment where I thought I wouldn't finish it. Not finishing it was not an option. 

I finished the shit out of the project. At every stage, when I didn't know how to do something, inspiration made me figure out how to do it. And when the end had arrived, and the book was finally printed (funded by yours truly -- sadly, inspiration doesn't pay for printing), I held a copy of it in my hands and sobbed with an aching heart, because it was over. Suddenly the force that had possessed me for 18 months and made me do this thing was just gone. I'm now left with a finished project that I'm immensely proud of, whether it's good or bad. But I can't take full responsibility for it.

And it's to the source of that force -- inspiration -- that Bowie's final album took me. Because it helped me to understand that the place where inspiration comes from is the same place our energy goes when we eventually shed our corporeal containers. You can call it Home, you can call it Heaven, you can call it Tralfamadore. You can call it Quantum Universe Quadrant 56. I don't really have a name for it. But we are all connected to it.

We go there in our dreams, and it comes to us when we're not expecting it. But its ephemeral nature means we don't get to hold on to it. At least not while we're here. Still this vast pool of energy... particles... concepts is available to all of us. That thing you made, whether it was a song, painting, a house, a meal, a business, a birthday card, a software application, or a hand-knit sweater... Regardless of how it turned out, if you felt compelled to make it, then it came from the same place as the greatest things that were ever made.

Yes, it's a coincidence that I named my publishing imprint Plaidstar when Bowie named his final album Blackstar, and that both feature an image of a single large star. But I feel honoured to have been touched by the same force that made both things come into existence. I'm heartened by that idea, and I feel like I have Bowie to thank for helping me find it.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Ashes to ashes, stardust to stardust.

I hate that I'm writing this.

By now you've gotten the terrible and sad news about our hero, Mr. David Bowie. I've spent the day processing it with tear-stained cheeks, trying to corral my thoughts and find the right words. A lot of beautiful tributes have been paid today, and I in no way believe I have the ability to say how I feel as perfectly as has already been done.

I may have come late to the Bowie party, but that does not diminish the heartache and the heaviness that has taken me over today. I'm grateful to have shared the same planet with him, and to have been able to experience so much joy in the gifts he gave to us all.

Tonight, I'm thinking of his family and dearest friends and hoping they'll find peace. I'm thinking of the cast of Lazarus and the monumental task ahead of them, performing his songs this evening. And I'm feeling the loss myself.

I haven't yet begun listening to what is now the final installment of David Bowie's creative legacy. I had planned on starting that today, and giving it the same two weeks I gave to all of his other albums before writing about where it takes me. Obviously, we already know how this story ends. But I don't know how I will arrive at the inevitable ending, and so I intend to take this journey in the same way I did all the others.

My first listening of Blackstar will be tonight at 9:25.

I look at my watch, it says 9:25, and I think, "Oh God, I'm still alive" - Time, from Aladdin Sane, 1973.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I've got drama, can't be stolen.

Well hello! It's good to be back. It has been too long. I've been keeping busy with another music-based blogging project which I shall not say anything more about because it doesn't belong here. 

Anyone who is following David Bowie news lately knows that we shall be having a new album from him in the new year, which is exciting, to say the least! And you are also probably aware of the New York Theatre Workshop's production of Lazarus, for which Bowie is largely responsible.

Well, I don't want to brag but... yeah, I went to see it! I feel absolutely lucky that I was able to get tickets for what was originally supposed to be the last day of the show, before the extension was announced. And while any reason is a good reason to visit New York City, I have to say, that this show made it probably my most favourite trip to NYC ever.

Now, December 27 from 2-4pm is quickly fading away into the past, so I need to write about this while it is still fresh in my mind. 

Written by Bowie and Enda Walsh, the production incorporates songs from Bowie's established musical catalogue as well as new songs written for the play that shall appear on his forthcoming album (Blackstar). The songs are used in Lazarus in a similar fashion to the film Across the Universe, in which Beatles' songs are sung by the characters to convey the story.

The story is a future continuation of the life of Thomas Jerome Newton, from The Man Who Fell to Earth. You may remember my write-up about that film, which basically has one of the saddest endings ever, leaving Newton trapped on Earth, alone and suffering from alcohol and TV addiction whilst his family perishes in a drought on his home planet.
So it was good to see him get a new, less depressing ending. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


The story focuses on Newton in his drunken stupor, unaging and unable to die, as he pines for his long lost love MaryLou while simultaneously wishing he could just go home to the stars. A parade of characters punctuate his existence... some with the intention of helping him, while others intend to help destroy him. Not all of them are of the physical world.

The show begins with Mr. Newton (played by the lovely and talented Michael C. Hall of Dexter and Hedwig fame) passed out on the floor of his apartment, a bottle of gin within arm's reach. (On a theatrical production sidenote, he's already laying there when you enter the theatre, so the show sort of begins from the moment you walk in, before you even find your seat. It makes me wonder what random bits of conversation Michael C. Hall has heard while laying there waiting for the house to fill and the lights to go down).

Newton is helped up by a young woman who is his newly hired personal assistant, Elly (Christin Milioti). Elly is immensely dissatisfied with her unexciting, directionless life, and finds herself attracted to Newton, to her husband's dismay. When she discovers that Newton keeps a box of women's clothing under his bed, she becomes obsessed with becoming the woman who once wore them, MaryLou. Singing Changes, she dons MaryLou's clothes, makes herself up in MaryLou's image, and insists she be called by MaryLou's name. 

She is consumed by madness, addicted to the titillating joy of being someone else, while knowing in the back of her mind that her behaviour is dangerous and destructive. Her husband fights to keep her, while Newton recoils from her advances.

While Elly is transforming into MaryLou, a new person suddenly appears in Newton's life. She's a nameless angelic girl on the verge of womanhood, and it turns out that only he can see her. A vivid version of The Man Who Sold the World sung by Newton hints that she's not the first person to appear in his mind. She soon learns that while she doesn't know who she is, her purpose is to help Newton, to save him, somehow.

The girl and Newton become close -- she resembles his long dead daughter, and the girl becomes a daughter-figure for him as she tries to figure out how she is going to fulfill her destiny to save him. One day it comes to her: she shall build him a spaceship and send him back to the stars.

The girl is the embodiment of hope. She gives Newton something to look forward to, even if he's not entirely sure she is capable of building a rocket ship that will send him home. After all, he tried that once himself. The hope that she brings is palpable, but we soon learn that once her mission is complete, that she will disappear from his life, and the thought of that brings Newton despair. It's inevitable, because she is actually a dead girl, caught between two worlds, taken before her time. Her name is Marley, and she too must find her way home.

And because all things exist in relativity, the hope that Marley provides is battled by the hope-stealing force that is the character of Valentine. Valentine is a charismatic psychopath, a man who charms everyone he meets into letting him in, so that he can take whatever joy, whatever hope, whatever love, whatever happiness they have. He feeds on it, like a dementor. Valentine is an interesting character in that he seems to exist in more than one dimension. He's here on earth as much as he is in Newton's head. He is the only other person who can see Marley. And his goal is burst Newton's bubble as violently and as diabolically as he can.

Eventually, Elly realizes the damage she is doing by taking on the persona of MaryLou, and while the thought of going back to her normal, joyless life pains her, she changes back into her t-shirt and jeans, and goes home to her husband.

Marley, meanwhile, begins building Newton's ship. She constructs the vessel out of white tape on the floor of his apartment, just large enough to contain his corporeal being. I have to say, this was my favourite moment of the play, the moment where it all fell into place. It took everything I had to not cry out. I do believe I sighed aloud.

Enter Valentine to take it all away. The stage is flooded with a sea of black balloons which are violently stabbed to death by the chorus, leaving behind a mass grave of lifeless black balloon corpses on the stage. Valentine reveals that it's time for Marley to go, and to do that, Newton must kill her. Since Marley is already physically dead, he must kill her in his mind so that she can move on to her final resting place, wherever that may be.

Newton fights this, of course. How could he possibly kill the girl who has given him hope, who has become like a daughter to him? Marley tells him it's okay, it's what he must do for both of their sakes. A fight between Newton and a knife-wielding Valentine ensues, and eventually, Newton succumbs to Valentine's strength, and the knife pierces Marley's body. A pool of white blood floods the stage from beneath her body. Newton is overcome with grief as she bleeds out in front of him. But she wakes out of her deathly slumber long enough for the two of them to exchange a good-bye song together ("Heroes").

The ensuing interlude is a playful dad-and-daughter moment, the two of them slip 'n' sliding across the floor through the white liquid, swimming like dolphins, as it were. If Marley building the rocket ship is my favourite moment, this is a close second. With that, Marley's mission is complete and she vanishes from Newton's mind, and he is now able to crawl into his spaceship, bound for his home in the stars.

Lazarus exceeded all of my expectations. Of course I expected it to sound great. That was never in question. Using Bowie's music to tell the story of a character he once played himself? Just brilliant. But that music didn't just appear out of nowhere from offstage speakers, no. It was played live by a band that was situated on the back part of the stage, behind windows that allowed us to watch the music being played. Top that off with epically beautiful performances of the songs sung by the cast. I knew Michael C. Hall could sing... but Sophia Anne Caruso in the role of Marley? That girl is going to go places. I want to hear her sing ALL THE TIME.

But that wasn't all. It was also visually stunning. The entire stage area was used as a projector screen, displaying a collage of imagery on and off throughout the show. A large vertically oriented flat screen TV in the middle of the stage acts as another character, kind of. It's where we get glimpses of MaryLou. It shows the state of Newton's TV-addled mind. It provides an entry and exit point for disembodied characters. It interacts with the corporeal characters on the stage in the most brilliant way.

If I was worried about any aspect of the show, it was the story. A live-action, theatrical sequel to a cult sci-fi film already adapted from a novel... that's a challenging endeavour, and not necessarily a recipe for success. And while it was definitely not a narrative in the traditional sense, I was relieved to find that the characters were created with care and dimension. 

The story is abstract, definitely, but it is told with wit, humour, and tenderness.  Any fan of surrealist and abstract expressionist art will appreciate the symbolic elements of the production. Often ambiguous and totally surreal, the story is counter-balanced by some endearingly on-the-nose moments. What does any of it mean? Like any piece of art, that's sort of on you to decide.

And while the temptation to explain Newton's voyage back to space as suicide is strong, that remains a sensitive subject for me and an ending I don't want to accept. And so I have decided to go with a literal interpretation of that moment... for this play was a kind of weirdly beautiful magic, and there is nothing more magical than travelling to the stars in a spaceship constructed of white tape by an ephemeral angel.

Here is a list of the songs performed, excluding the new songs written specifically for the play:

·         It's No Game (Part 1) - from Scary Monsters and Super Creeps
·         This is Not America - from the soundtrack to the movie The Falcon and the Snowman
·         The Man Who Sold the World - from The Man Who Sold the World
·         Love is Lost - from The Next Day
·         Changes - from Hunky Dory
·         Where Are We Now? - from The Next Day
·         Absolute Beginners - from the soundtrack to the movie Absolute Beginners
·         Dirty Boys - from The Next Day
·         Life on Mars? - from Hunky Dory
·         All the Young Dudes - recorded by Mott the Hoople
·         Sound and Vision - from Low
·         Always Crashing in the Same Car - from Low
·         Valentine's Day - from The Next Day
·         "Heroes" - from "Heroes"

The song Lazarus, from the forthcoming album Blackstar was also performed, as well as a few other new ones. This list will be updated when I find out what they are called.

End transmission.

PS - Unbeknownst to me, my husband went and swiped some black balloon bits off the stage for me. Best husband ever!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

And the next day, and the next, and another day.

I'm in a movie theatre. Thankfully, I seem to have appeared here at the end of the long run of commercials. The theatre is well packed with popcorn-munching spectators, their eyes all trained up at the screen. I wonder if they all made a conscious choice to be here today, or if they suddenly appeared here, like me. Regardless, we all know the drill. All hush up as the movie begins.

I've got an empty seat on either side of me, no one sitting directly in front of me, and a full bag of hot popcorn in my lap. I've found myself in some pretty strange adventures throughout this journey, so I'm quite happy to sit back and watch the story unfold before my eyes this time.

The movie opens with a split screen. Not a technique that gets used a lot in modern filmmaking. Both sides of the split show only a close-up of a face. The man on the left is crying. He's older, maybe in his 70's. He's thin and disheveled and not looking particularly well. Behind him, darkness with a blue flickering light off to one side... television light.

The crying woman on the right is about the same age, but her appearance is stunningly beautiful. Her tears shine  brightly as they fall from her eyes. Behind her, golden light. Flashes of light illuminate her face from different directions intermittently and then all at once, in random bursts... camera flashes.

The camera pulls back on both sides of the split simultaneously. He's alone in the living room of a modest looking but unkempt house, sitting still as a statue except for the tears that roll down his lined cheeks. There is no sound coming from the TV at which he gazes.

On the other side of the screen, the camera pulls back to reveal that she's standing amid a sea of people, all as beautiful as she is, all dressed in sparkling finery of the highest quality. Her glowing golden curls match her shimmering golden gown. Her red lips match the red carpet. The camera flashes continue unabated, and she appears numb, blind, and paralyzed in the frenzy that surrounds her.

What connects these two people?

The split screen widens from the middle, pushing the crying woman out of the way, showing us more of the crying man. Flash back. A small boy is running to school. The bell is ringing and he's late... again. As he enters his classroom, the teacher looks at him with a disapproval that is soft and gentle around the edges. The boy takes his seat, and we can see how much smaller he is compared to the other children. The desks all have hand-drawn nameplates on them. The nameplate on the small boy's desk says Valentine. Valentine is the runt of his class.

Everyone calls him Val for short. Val gets bullied in the way you expect a boy who is smaller than the rest to be bullied. He knows he's small and he avoids getting into scrapes. He prefers to get by on his charm. The girls like him, though they won't admit it. He tries hard and his teachers are sympathetic to him. He has a few friends, but his status in life seems secure: he's not going to amount to much. But Val has other plans.

Val eventually goes on to high school, and chooses a different school from his primary school classmates. In his freshman year, Val decides to drop the sweet, charming runt act. The girls are nice to him, but no girl wants to date a boy who is smaller than she is. Val realizes that he can't do much about his height, but he can make himself strong. Lucky for Val, he puts on muscle easily, and he's a fast and agile runner. He spends his spare time working out and training, and he makes the football team as a running halfback.

Val's popularity reveals a bit of a dark streak, however. He falls in with a crowd of misfits from a neighbouring rival school. He begins living a strange double life. By day, Val is a much-lauded member of his high school football team, popular with just about everyone, making everyone proud. By night, he smokes dope, smashes mailboxes, and eggs houses with the greasy-haired loser kids from the other school. Somehow, he manages to keep both lives completely separate.

By the age of 16, Val has managed to get a few dates under his belt (if you know what I mean) but has yet to have a serious relationship. He's nominated for Homecoming King at the prom, but he has zero interest in the buxom, air-headed cheerleader who will likely be crowned Queen (been there, done that, fears her teeth). He attends the dance solo, expected to put in an appearance. He's got plans to get drunk and partake in some mischief with the St. Joe's boys later.

Then he meets Sophie. She's slightly shorter than Val -- five foot nothing to his five foot two. Immediately drawn in by his broad, charming smile, Sophie -- not from this school, or the rival school either -- exuberates a quality that you don't often see among the masses of regular folk. She seems to have an inherent glow about her... a star quality.

Like a magnet pulling them together, Val and Sophie spend the evening getting to know each other, inside and out. He's absent for his homecoming coronation, choosing instead to lay with Sophie on the top of a car in the parking lot behind the school, gazing at the stars in each others' eyes.

Sophie is from the country. She's spending the weekend with her cousin Christie who goes to Val's school. She doesn't get to come to the big city often, and her cousin invited her to the dance as a "girl date", which she happily accepted, because she adores dressing up in fancy attire and getting her hair done up. She's going to be an actress one day, and plans to own an opulent collection of award show gowns and jewels.

Back in the gym-turned-dance hall, Christie spies her dear cousin with Val, and she takes her aside to offer a warning: Val seems sweet, but he's got a dark side. He thinks no one knows that he hangs out with the bad boys from the Catholic school around the corner, but everyone whispers about it behind his back. He wants everyone to think he's good, but he's really a bad boy, Christie tells her. But this information only heightens Sophie's attraction to Val.

Sophie goes back to the country, but she and Val keep in touch until the summer, when she decides to move to the big city to be with him, and also to pursue her dream of becoming a movie star.

Sophie has focused her studies on the arts, namely drama. She has always played the female lead in the annual school play. In the big city, she's begun auditioning for theatre companies, and her inherent star quality does not go unnoticed. Sophie explodes into the local acting community, and finds herself being approached by theatre and film directors. She's not just a pretty face after all... the girl has talent.

With Sophie becoming the talk of the town, Val begins to find himself somewhat playing second fiddle to her. With high school graduation looming, Val is thinking about his future. He's not likely to become a professional football player -- he's just too small. He's neglected his studies and his grades are proof of that. Val reveals to Sophie that he's thinking of joining the military. She is, of course, not in favour of this, and tells him so on no uncertain terms.

To keep her happy, Val applies to college, but his heart's not in it. He's done with school, he decides, and he tosses away his acceptance letters without even opening them. Sophie is so busy with her acting career that she barely notices him anymore anyway. He serves as arm candy for her at the opening of her wildly successful indie film, but the spotlight is all on her, and Val feels like she's stolen something from him.

Despite her protests, he enlists in the armed forces anyway. At the age of 17, Val breaks up with Sophie and leaves for boot camp, and then immediately ships off on his first tour to the Middle East. Sophie appears devastated by the break up, but she's a good actress, and Val's not convinced that she'll really miss him.

At first, Val feels satisfied with his decision. He feels at home as a soldier, exercising his physical prowess through sanctioned violence. But as the days wear on, he begins to feel that something is not quite right inside. Barely a man, the hard, cool exterior that he has spent so much time cultivating as a boy, begins to crack. His initial excitement has worn away to fear and dread.

And something else... he misses Sophie. Val remembers the girl before she realized her dreams of fame and stardom, and he pines for her. He wonders if she misses him too.

If Sophie misses Val, she's hiding it in the deepest recesses of her heart. Her latest movie is being touted as an Oscar contender, and she and her co-star, Lev Moritz, are rumoured to be up for best actress and best supporting actor as a result of their steamy on-screen chemistry in the film. Of course, that chemistry comes from a real-life source. Sophie and Lev are the hottest couple in Hollywood, where they've just bought a multi-million dollar abode together. Tonight, they adorn the red carpet, arm in arm, sparkling and shining and beaming like two golden balls of light fallen to earth.

(Note: the opening number in this video is the song Plan, also from The Next Day)

Val would know this if he was plugged in to pop culture, but he's too busy shooting people and running for his life. After a particularly bloody day that has debilitated and maimed his squad, Val settles in for a night of much needed sleep.

He doesn't talk much about his life before the army. His squad members could be forgiven for thinking that Val was born all grown up, wearing camo and brandishing a rifle. As the rest of the squad joins Val in their makeshift home for the night, one of them reveals that he no longer has a reason for living. He just heard that his movie star crush, Sophie Jensen, is engaged to that fake Hollywood cad, Lev Moritz. She could do so much better. She has, Val thinks, and rolls over to nurse his aching heart.

The years have passed and Val has dutifully continued his military service in tours across the Middle East and Africa. He's seen some things. So far removed from his old life as a high school football star and arm candy to a rising movie star, Val doesn't know who he is anymore, and his world view has become dark, cynical, and packed with nightmarish realities.

Hope arrives in the form of a Christian missionary named Jackie. She's working in the small African village where Val is currently stationed. For the first time in years, Val begins to feel something other than the daily fear, dread, and anxiety he has come to know. Jackie's there to convert the locals to Christianity, which Val thinks is ridiculous. But her sunny cheerfulness and optimism make Val feel all a flutter, like a little boy chasing butterflies in a vast green field.

He visits Jackie just to see her smile. She offers him an ear and a shoulder, but he refuses to talk. He just wants to be near her. Eventually, Val's innocent fascination turns to lust, however, and his attempts to get Jackie to sleep with him lead her to distance herself from him. She's not that kind of girl.

Val probably should have availed himself of the body parts Jackie did offer him - the ear and shoulder, namely - for the body parts she has withheld leave him deeper in despair than he was before they met. No longer able to focus on the task at hand, Val makes a poor decision on his next mission, rushing in too early and getting him severely injured. He is sent home with an honourable discharge for medical reasons, having won no particular medals or awards to speak of.

Val returns to his homeland, broken all over, inside and out. Ravaged by war, and with no other discernible skills or education, he takes a series of odd jobs to try and earn his living. His recently acquired short temper takes the wheel often, and when he douses a customer in hot coffee at the Starbucks where he works, he is immediately let go from the job and arrested for assault. The charges are dropped when the victim learns that Val has recently returned from military service -- her own father suffers from PTSD.

But Val is unable to find more work after the incident, and he eventually finds himself living a meager existence on social assistance, lonely and forgotten.

Decades pass. Val thinks of Sophie, and in his mentally broken state, believes that she is his only true friend in the world, that she misses him as much as he misses her. She's trapped in a world from which she can't emerge, just like he is. They belong together, he knows it. But Val's attempts to contact Sophie, who has achieved a level of stardom so great that she has become untouchable and unknowable except to those within her tight inner circle, go unanswered. It's not her fault, he thinks. They're keeping us apart.

It's not stalking if it's true love.

Restraining orders follow. But Val knows that it's only her people, her handlers who are keeping them apart. He's a man of limited means, but Sophie can break free. One day, she will. She'll escape her captors and she'll find Val and they'll elevate each other to the very heights of admiration by all. Until then, he vows to stay connected to her by watching her on TV and monitoring her online social media presence. He's forbidden from contacting her, but no one can stop him from lurking.

On the evening of Val's 70th birthday, he is glued to the TV, as usual. It's Oscar night. Sophie has long since divorced Lev and has been involved in a number of relationships, but has kept them private -- a difficult feat for someone in the public realm.

Sophie has had a long and varied career, lauded as one of the best and most talented actresses of her time. She has no plans to retire, and this year she is up for Best Actress, yet again, for a career defining role. She has the satisfaction of knowing that she is a living legend, and will take the title of legend with her when she goes.

Sophie steps out of the limousine, gold shoes gracing the red carpet, the long gown cascading around her as she smiles for the cameras, beaming and waving to her colleagues and fans. She looks right into the camera and blows a kiss, which Val leans forward and accepts from the darkness of his living room. That was for me! His heart expands with golden sunshine and tears of joy well up in his eyes.

Suddenly, a commotion ensues on the red carpet. A long-established jewelry designer exclaims that the opulent bib necklace constructed of gold and diamonds around Sophie's neck went missing decades ago -- last worn by Sophie herself to another awards ceremony. A file photo of Sophie wearing the jewels has been located, and an expert declares that it is, in fact, the same necklace. A record of its disappearance was made, but Sophie was cleared of the charges after a series of burglaries occurred in Beverly Hills.

So many years ago. Sophie didn't think anyone would remember. The necklace was the right piece for this occasion, this dress. She had to wear it.

The world watches with slack-jawed shock and awe as a police officer places handcuffs on Sophie's elegant wrists. Cameras continue rolling and flashing, and for a moment, she looks right into the camera as tears of regret fall from her stunning, sparkling eyes.


The Next Day is such a great album. Of its' 18 songs, there is only one that I don't dig (and I didn't include it in this story because it just didn't fit). Some of them have this "Dance Cave" vibe about them (back in the mid 00's when I used to go dancing beneath Lee's Palace in Toronto, some of these songs could easily have been in the mix, had they existed at that time). The writing and the singing is just as strong and chills-inducing as ever. I have really enjoyed spending my time with this album.

I took a little extra time with it, for a few reasons. First, like I said, the album has 18 songs on it. Two weeks was just not enough time to fully absorb it. Second, I went to New York City last weekend, and had too much fun to be worried about meeting my regular two-week posting schedule. Finally, Bowie fans waited 10 years for this album. So taking a bit of extra time with it seemed only fair.

Admittedly, there might also be one more reason. Since The Next Day is Bowie's last official album of all new songs, I've reached what you may want to call the official end of this project. Of course, that may not be true at all. I hope to be back with more adventures in the near future, but that depends on the man himself.

Whether Bowie graces us with future albums or not, I'm not willing to say that this is the full-stop end of The Bowie Project. I achieved my initially stated goal -- to listen to all of his studio albums. But there are a lot of things I've missed along the way... collaborations with other artists, films I've yet to see, and little bits and pieces from across the decades that aren't full albums but are worthy of mentioning (Sue... {Or in a Season in Crime} for example). I expect to be back... just maybe not at regular intervals.

Until then, I hope you've enjoyed this journey as much as I have! It has certainly transported me to some fun places, some dark places, and some utterly confusing places -- all of them worthy adventures. I can honestly say that my life is better for having done this project. I've been inspired in so many ways to be more creative in my own life, and to embrace the idea of putting new things out into the world for others to enjoy. Thank you, David Bowie! I'm so glad I finally took the opportunity to get to know you.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Feed me no lies (I don't know about you).

I'm  on Facebook, drafting my latest status. It's going to comprise the following elements: Sunday, mild weather, hot chocolate, and listening to records, and it's going to be accompanied by a picture of my new record shelf, which sadly looks less populated than I thought it would with all my records on it. I'm a little uncertain of posting evidence of my less than spectacular record collection. I often think about what people think my life is like versus how it really is, based on how I carefully craft my online persona. I'm proud of my creation, I think. To look at my photos, you wouldn't think I'm a day over 25.

I try not to whine too much in my statuses. I like to check in when I'm at museums and galleries, or out with friends at swanky joints. I try to avoid posting too many pictures of meals, but I do post pics of drinks, whether we're talking a $4 domestic beer or a $12 cocktail inspired by a Stanley Kubrick film.

I respect my audience enough to edit my posts if I make a grammatical or spelling error. Maybe most people wouldn't notice, but for the few who would, I abhor the idea of disappointing them with English language fails.

And yeah, I get jealous of people who post about their travels, even though I've done my own fair share, and they usually go to Cuban or Dominican resorts and I can think of a million other places I'd rather be than those. There's that meme that keeps going around about comparing everyone else's highlight reel to your cutting room floor, or something like that.

I've spent a good 20 minutes editing and rewriting my status, and I'm finally about to hit "Post" when I get careless and instead of hitting "Enter" I hit a random assortment of keys on my laptop.

But instead of having to delete some extra keystrokes on the screen, or having to manually restart my frozen computer, I'm the one who freezes up. My hands are resting on the keyboard, and all I can do is watch with horror as the flesh converts into scripts of code. The code conversion quickly moves up my arms, and I see that the code is now getting sucked into the monitor.

My head is the last to transport, and I travel through a space odyssey warp of light and colours and shapes and sounds and characters until I finally arrive on the other side... inside the web.

It looks nothing like I thought it would. I kind of expected there to be green matrixy code oozing down the walls. But nope. I'm kind of still in my living room, but the walls flicker with the images of my Facebook feed updating in real time. Everyone who is actively typing or posting images... I can see them behind the scenes, editing their own typos, or not... choosing a photo, then deleting it... Wow. This is the digital equivalent of watching all my friends and family in the bathroom. I think I need to get out of here.

The floor under my feet displays a browser. Tapping my foot in the browser search bar, an electronic keyboard appears. I dance across the keyboard, typing characters into the address field. Where shall I go? If I can go anywhere in the Internet universe, where would I like to be? I know. My favourite place in the world. An art gallery, any art gallery.

Whenever I'm at a gallery, I get this daydream about moving in. Setting up my bedroom in one of the modern art rooms, so that I can gaze upon works by Van Gogh or Picasso or Kandinsky or Monet from the comfort of my bed. If I remember correctly, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is part of MoMA's permanent collection. I think I'll go there.

I waltz along the floor to enter MoMA's URL and then foxtrot in the site's search bar to find what I seek. And there I am, admiring Picasso's work. Outstanding. I'm quite enjoying this trip into the digital world after all. It's like that daydream I used to have as a kid, where I was living in a department store, and after the store would close at night, I would jump on the beds and play with all the toys and eat a bunch of candy, before falling asleep on a big comfy couch in the furniture section.

Sadly there are some limitations in the virtual world. I can't just conjure up a bed next to Desmoiselles or any other work of art for that matter. I still can only see it the way it has been established virtually. Because of that, I'm the only one here. Well, really I'm not. Thousands of people are visiting the site via their computers, but I'm the only one inside the digital world, seeing things the way no one else ever has.

And then he comes around the corner. The man whose name I never learn. He's about my age, but has a lonely, dejected look about him. He has terrible posture, sad grey eyes, downturned mouth, worry lines on his forehead, and a tripping sort of gait, even across the smooth floor. He is absolutely startled to see me. He gasps loudly and steps back, staring at me. Finally he stutters his way through the words "What are you doing here?"

"I accidentally uploaded myself to the Internet", I tell him. I ask him what he's doing here, and he tells me he made the choice over a decade ago. He found life in the real world to be intolerable. Life on the Internet was far more enjoyable, and he found himself spending all of his waking life in virtual worlds anyway. He arrived via Second Life, having deliberately figured out how to get in. He's been here ever since.

He hasn't actually spoken face to face to a real person since he got here more than ten years ago, he tells me as he stares at the floor. I ask him if anyone in the real world might be missing him, but he assures me that's not the case.

I ask him if he wouldn't mind showing me around the virtual world a bit, since he's obviously familiar with the place, but he declines, telling me that he's on a caper at the moment and really shouldn't have stopped to talk to me at all; now he'll have to erase his browser history in order to delete me from his virtual memory.

Using the floor browser, he navigates himself away from me, leaving me on my own again.
I really could spend the rest of my life in here too, I think, but unlike the sad man, I know I would be missed. I wish I had thought to ask him how to get home. And just because I'm thinking about potentially being stuck here, suddenly it occurs to me that I'm lonely. I really wish the sad man hadn't been so repelled by the idea of hanging out with me. It sure would be nice to take this trip with someone.

Alas, it is not to be. I suppose I could navigate to someplace with lots of "people", but they wouldn't be real, they'd just be the coded versions of themselves, their bodies and souls photoshopped to beyond perfection. Liars, all of them. I begin to ache for home, to be back in the tangible world where at least the coffee table I stubbed my toe on this morning delivers some form of truth.

And with that, it occurs to me that I'm thirsty.

I'm not quite sure where I might find something to drink here, so I simply Google "water" and scan my options. I find a Wikipedia entry which isn't of much use, several articles about contaminated water which will obviously not do, and a link to a water-themed amusement park, which promises to be chlorinated and unpalatable, filled with human detritus.

I try to search virtual MoMA for the bathroom where I might find a fountain or a tap, but of course, these things don't exist in MoMA's website.

I decide to Google "Lake Superior" - the largest source of fresh water in North America. Even if it hasn't been purified, it'll wet my kidneys. I click on a beautiful image of a sandy beach surrounded by deep blue water, and I'm transported to the virtual location, relieved to find the lake water lapping deliciously upon the shore. And even though it's winter in the real world, it's nice and... not warm exactly, but comfortable in the virtual world.

I dip my cupped hands into the lake to take a sip, but suddenly I'm shocked to find that instead of actual water, my hands contain a liquid form of code. Can I drink code? I myself am now comprised of it, am I not? Will this quench my thirst?

Oddly it does. I assume that's how the sad man has been able to survive over here for so long.

My thirst quenched, I feel a desire to lay on the beach and enjoy the serenity of this peaceful place, but also conflicted with a need to see as much of the virtual universe as possible. I have at my fingertips -- rather, my feet -- access to the myriad places, people, and things I have always wanted to see and experience for myself, but I assume I only have a limited amount of time in which to satisfy my curiosity.

And I do have to work tomorrow...which presents the problem of how exactly do I get home?

As I turn around to look at the forest behind me, I'm suddenly bombarded with ads, right up in my face, whizzing through space and stopping mere inches from the end of my nose. I stumble back a bit. The ads are for flights to "Home" -- several offers at competing prices, from different companies.

I consider these options. I suppose I could navigate to my bank account online and buy one of these flights. I have to admit, I'm kind of dying to look out the window and see what it looks like traveling across the border between this virtual world and the real world. But despite the competitive pricing, it's still way more than I want to pay. At $174, 691.82, flying form "virtuality" to reality is pretty damn expensive, and also sadly exceeds my bank account balance and credit limit combined. There has got to be a better way.

Suddenly, the clouds move in overhead, and it begins to rain. But this isn't just any rain from just any cloud. I'm being showered with data and images... old files and pictures are falling from the sky, littering the beach, hitting me on the way down. Some of them are only a kilobyte or two, but others are much heavier and hurt when they hit me, even leaving bruises. Not knowing what's in the forest ahead of me, I decide to  navigate away from here.

I Google my address and navigate to street view. Magically, I am transported to my house... but something's wrong. I'm standing outside on the green grass of my front yard by the tree swing, and it's a beautiful, warm sunshiny day... in the middle of January. Then I realize that I'm still in the virtual world, standing outside my virtual house. It's winter in the real world, but there is no snow here. I have arrived here via the photo taken by Google Earth at some other point in time, back in the past before I moved here. That's not my cat in the window or my car in the driveway.

Sigh. Well at least I'm no longer getting rained on by old files from the cloud. But there's not a lot I can do here.

I sit on the swing for a moment and ponder my next move. I'm finding it a bit depressing that I could literally go anywhere I want, and all I want to do is go home and spend the rest of my Sunday evening in the comfort of my home, drinking hot chocolate and listening to records, just like I said I was doing on Facebook. What does it say about me that I feel like a liar that my current status doesn't actually match my Facebook status?

And that's when I realize that since I've uploaded myself to the Internet, the only way I'm going to get home is by downloading myself back into the real world.

I jump off the swing and run out to the road. Thankfully it's a quiet street. I tap the pavement with my foot and the browser appears. I tap the search box to bring up the virtual keyboard. I dance clumsily across the keyboard, spelling out the address for my email provider. I log in and compose an email to, wait... how can I download the attachment if I'm not there? I change the recipient to Chad, and type the subject "Open when you are home". I add myself as an attachment and hit send. And I wait.

I'm bored here on the swing, when there is so much else out there... and but I know that if I move from this location, the attachment link might get broken, so I sigh and continue swinging. Suddenly, I begin transforming into code once more, and within seconds, I am home.

Chad leaps out of his seat as I appear in the living room. His exclamation of "what the fuck?!" is soon followed by a knowing look. This project has taken me to some crazy places. Remember that time he pulled me out of the TV and saved me from the zombies? There is no need to explain, so we settle down on the couch and he starts The Grand Budapest Hotel over again from the beginning.

I'm not entirely sure I know what to say about this album. There are a few warm spots, but overall it left me a bit cold. Having said that, the appearance vs. reality theme is evident throughout, and I started thinking about the realities that we manufacture for ourselves on the Internet, the way we tell our friends and loved ones half-truths about ourselves, the reality we would like them to believe... that we ourselves would like to believe.

And yet, in the choice between living in a virtual place where you can have anything you want versus a real one where you can't, reality seems like the better of the two.

I suppose this album has put me into an introspective state, but the thoughts are not the kinds of thoughts I want to put out there for all to see... and I'm sure they're the kinds of thoughts no one wants to read. Self doubt and fear of failure and giving way too many fucks about way too many things. So instead...