November 30, 2012

finally... a city with (musical) importance...

It’s been a while since I lived in a city that loves music as much as I do… haha… who am I kidding, I have never lived in such a city. I lived fantasizing about such places (in Canada those cities would be Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver). Growing up I woud drool whenever Much Music would play their concert listing ads (MuchMusic = MTV = same same). These were really flashy adverts telling you which awesome bands were coming to ‘a city near you’. Yes, I highlighted something in that statement, they would also say coming to ‘a city NEAR you’, after this a list of days/places said concert would scroll onscreen. To bring an end to the suspense I can tell you that Calgary rarely had a day set aside, and only if you considered 1000km close could you believe their ‘near’ tagline. Instead my body’s liquid reserves would switch from the drool of eager anticipation, to melancholic tears.

As you can probably imagine I grew up rather stinted in my concert development. Luckily, recording devices were invented long before my birth, and the recorded sound had an easy to collect medium, and collect I did, why? I did it because I was raised in a house by parents who had a love for music. I was raised with dates,  names, and genres that allowed me to explore all that music had to offer. My parents also had an organized love for music, it had a role to play in our lives. There was music to relax to (Stevie Ray Vaughn – The Sky is Crying), to drive to (Pink Floyd – Pulse or Momentary Lapse of Reason) and, even music set aside to clean to (Billy Idol- Vidol Idol). I can even tell you my musical firsts with genuine enthousiasm; My first tape: Weird Al Yankovic’s Bad Hair Day (the one with Amish Paradise on it!). My first CD(s): (given) Chumbawamba’s Tubthumper (still awesome, I listened to it yesterday…seriously), (bought) Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe. My first concert was Colin James at the Calgary Stampede, but it was so horrible that my Dad and I credit my first experience to our next concert together, AC/DC.

My love for music spread into all facets of my life in fact I even wrote about my narcissistic obsession for music in a uni paper, aptly entited ‘music is my consumerism’. I got an A (or 1.3/4.0/93% depending on your grading scheme) justifying my obscure view of music, fucking eh! I would later go on in Uni to achieve a 95% overall average in a year long (two semester) History of Rock & Roll course (side-note, I would work at Blockbuster during the scheduled lecture periods). Before you switch off, and stop reading, I don’t include these facts and figures to brag comrades! I include them to demonstrate and numerically prove my love/fascination/obsession for the art of sound.

To bring cities and live music back into play, I consider them vital in terms of gauging a love for music. The recorded sound can undergo numerous changes after the fact; live audio can rarely pull of this deception. I gauge how good bands are based on live performances: Example a positive case; At the first (and only) White Stripes concert I attended, onlookers described me as a retarded 5 year old flailing around in my seat, my gf at the time was a tad embarrassed, but mostly laughed (I have little recognition what I did, it was the closest I have ever come an out of body experience) It can also have a negative effect; When I first saw Metallica perform (the dreadful St. Anger Tour) I didn’t pick up, or turn on another song of theirs for over a year! (lucky for them they came back to Calgary and they totally redeemed themselves)

The only way that I would ever be able to make up for the lack of live music in my life was to see basically everything that came to Calgary. With such an approach I had a lot of repeats, Finger Eleven 8 times, Matthew Good (including MGB) 8 times, Thornley 5 times and Our Lady Peace 6 times. Most would not recognize these bands, because for the most part they are small Canadian bands, the exception would be Our Lady Peace who was a big Canadian band. Calgary either got smaller-medium sized Canadian bands or relatively larger International acts, which would come on the 3rd or 4th leg of tours (rarely at the beginning). Calgary was not a great market for emerging acts.

There are two reasons this happened in my opinion, firstly while I was growing up Calgary didn’t have a great population base or enough wealth to draw acts there in the first place. Calgary often had to be combine it’s market with Edmonton’s (300km away) to attract bands. This actually created sub-scenes that thrived based on acts, example! Edmonton had the hardcore punk scene, Calgary had the metal scene, and this was reflected in bands choosing cities to perform in (AFI (pre emo)- went to Edmonton, Avenged Sevenfold – came to Calgary). This fact leads to the second reason: Alberta was geographically isolated, often emerging acts travel by shitty van, and with only one city to choose from, and little else there to justify the travel costs, they would say fuck it.

Unfortunately for me Seoul was an even more desolate musical marketplace. K-pop reigned supreme, and even if I did like K-Pop the music was so overly produced the acts rarely toured. In my two years in Seoul I only saw one act of any notoriety whatsoever (That act happened to be Eric Clapton, stadium picture above). I always felt that major cities in the world got better musical acts; Seoul proved me wrong. It is one of the largest cities in the world (#3 by population) and boasts few acts. It wasn’t the population draw that was the issue, it was the fact that Seoul is not near shit (geographic isolation), and bands would incur massive logistic costs to play there. Most bands play the summer music festivals because they can also play the Japanese music festivals either before or after.

 During my hiatus from Canada, Calgary proved to become more relevant to bands. The reason has to do with the population base. Alberta is a growing province; it has an increasing population but more importantly increasing wealth (because of Oil). The factor that bands really care about is the wealth increase, and the geographic isolation factor become overruled because the two markets split their dependence on each other. Back to my prior example, the dominance of the Edmonton hardcore scene, and Calgary Metal scene became irrelevant because both markets had created enough wealth to attract bands to both cities. In the short time I was home this summer I saw Coldplay and the Black Keys. Also demonstrating the shift, Coldplay (pictured at the top) started their North American Tour in Edmonton, and the Black Keys (pictured above left) came to Calgary on the second leg of their North American tour (before they went to Europe).

Finally reaching my conclusion, I’ve moved to Europe, a historical mecca for music. Hamburg in particular has an amazing history in terms of live music. The Beatles made a name for themselves here playing countless hours between 1960-1962. These years are viewed as crucial in their development due to the fact that they would often play 3-4 sets a day for weeks on end. There are several outstanding live venues around the city where you can catch musical acts in all stages of development; I checked out the Alabama Shakes (who I believe deserve to break into the big time) in a venue of 400 people. Hamburg also has the Large acts covered; Muse will be here in December on the first leg of their tour (also going to Calgary on the first leg of their N/A tour).

Hamburg is in an opium den of music, a place where ear-gasms should be a regular occurance, but I currently live under the fiscal constraints of student life. The city is alive with the sound of music, but I’m held to a tight budget that creates the question, dinner or concert? Do I eat? Or do I see so and so? It’s a question that would enrage many starving people in the world, and perhaps my mother (I swear I eat green vegetables everyday mom!). I should be brought to tears, and film a panning ‘NO’ sequence in the pouring rain (which would be easy cause it rains a lot here!). Finally I live in a city of musical relevance, but I lack the funds to actually partake. It’s like salt on a wound, kicking a man while he’s down, or any other cliché attempting to convey meaning of a shitty fucking situation. However! There is a catch my friends; I’ve been lucky enough to meet, rent the couch of and, befriend a concert promoter. Everyone can say they are on a concert guest list, but the difference is that I can add to my addiction by actually knowing someone who is, VICTORY!!!!

November 28, 2012

a man on the street holding a magazine...

Homelessness is not an issue that I really have that much exposure to. For the most part I grew up in a province of Canada without a large homeless population, and with a premier who, while actually in elected office, walked (drunkenly) into a homeless shelter where he berated and threw money at them. Or, there was this other time he told them all to move to Vancouver, because he ‘heard it was nice there’. While these references may seem barbarian, it represented about as close as I got to homeless people, after all, I lived in the burbs.

In late spring this year I found myself in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a starting point on a 860km drive south to New Orleans, and a stop I honestly only made to visit Third Man Records (Jack White’s record store)(If you don’t know who Jack White is, or the relative importance he has with me… sigh… Don’t worry; he is not the focus of this entry) 

(Back to Nashville) I was lucky enough to be picked up from the airport by a great friend, who shall remain anonymous, let’s refer to him as Bam. Anywho, Bam and I were talking as we struggled to find the interstate, and to pass the time Bam spun a yarn (one of many talents for the man). He stated that Nashville (aka the music city) has a contract with the homeless people, wherein they are not allowed to beg for money. They must play musical instruments for donations. There is also a stipulation that they must sing with a twangy voice (a la country and western stars) and only play instruments of taste (no toilet seats, and such). Fine details, and thematic approach aside, it was an example of giving the homeless legitimate sources of income. Something I thought was amazing and revolutionary! Yet in reality was a practice I was totally unaware actually occurs (not the Nashville singing thing, that is fictitious).

One example of such occurs in Hamburg, where I currently live. Hamburg isn’t a city with a large amount of street vendors at subway exits, but you will actually see a fair amount of men and women selling magazines. I always thought it to be strange though; they were only selling one magazine, Hintz & Kunzt. It wasn’t until I said something totally naïve, and probably regrettable (if I could remember what it was), when a German roommate told me the magazine was published solely for the homeless to sell. 

Since this earth-shattering day, these people, and this process have fascinated me. Not specifically because I like the magazine, despite the fact I have never bought it (it’s in German, although that’s a thin excuse, call me an ass if you must), I find process around it, which is interesting. If you want become a ‘merchant’ for the magazine you must register with the company, and are given a sales kit, including a vest, which serves as a uniform of sorts and, a photo id card (which also served to confuse me in correctly identifying these people, as I never would have figured that homeless people would have photo id cards. Hell, there are massive problems in the US with non-homeless people not having valid photo ID) Once approved as a merchant, the homeless venture around the city and distribute the magazine, giving themselves a legitimate source of income. As I looked more into the process, I stumbled upon more information that makes me look even more like a naïve dumbass. 

Hamburg is not alone in this practice, in fact there are several publications like this around the world, originally starting in New York and the UK, spreading outwards from there. Shockingly (from my perspective) Korea is on the list of cities with such a publication. I recognized the name immediately ‘The Big Issue’ I remember people selling these magazines outside movie theatres, and in busy city intersections. I always thought it was an entertainment magazine that the theatres were hocking; I never purchased this magazine (again for whatever reason). But, the fact that it exists and is noticeable actually brings to light an issue I felt was for the most part invisible in Korea due to their shame culture. 

Why did I noticed this phenomenon in Germany and not in Korea? I feel the answer to that has to do with the lack of visual overload occurring at any given moment. In Korea there are hoards of people (who don't walk in straight lines), street food carts, and layers of neon signs crisscrossing buildings. In Hamburg little of this exists; there are fewer People (who walk normally), no street vendors (except for the Christmas markets, but these are new, and not permanent) finally the buildings are just old and not emblazed with signs (with some graffiti though). Yet in the last few years I have tried to pride myself on being open and aware of the situations and goings on around me. I have tried to look past stereotypes and be a progressive person, I usually feel for the most part that I succeeded although this is something that I glaringly missed. 

My exposure probably has something to do with it, I have only given money to one homeless person in my life, it was a drunken exchange in Montreal, where I loved the fact that he had a sign that read “I’m gonna spend your money on booze”. It was a stereotypical example, and while that is probably how he evoked a cash response from me, it just served to reinforce that stereotype. I figure this new revelation will help create a better perception for me I'm left with a thought: I really like that these initiatives exist in reality, and not only in tales spun to bide the time in Nashville. 

November 27, 2012

onto the ja...

(I am the only native speaker in the photo, I'm wearing red)
*** Written in September 2012 ***

Germany is full of white people, yep, I said it and I’ll let that sink in… call me whatever you’d like… observant perhaps? However, it is a necessary blanket statement that needs to be made, partially said to help differentiate you, the hopeful longtime reader, from my last (blogging) country of residence, Korea, where I was a visible minority, and in order to give you a proper mental image of my surroundings.

Anywho, Visible minorities stand out, whatever their height may be. For example, I was able to stand out amongst a crowd of Koreans. I was easily recognizable not only because I was taller, but also because I was naturally whiter than my surroundings. Well my friends I don’t stand out anymore. Neither my height nor skin colour help to differentiate me from the German populous. I’m as white and as tall as the Germans around me. I wasn’t naïve when I stepped of the plane a few weeks ago in believing this wouldn’t be the case, but after living abroad in Asia for two years being seamlessly integrated into my new surroundings, and still a foreigner, feels odd.

 While it’s cool to blend in, I enjoyed several of the benefits of being a visible minority in Seoul. It was for the most part accepted that my level of Korean would not be that great, or non-existent, and extra effort would be required in basic communication. Though this was a fact that became annoying as hell towards the end of my time in Korea, a visible language barrier did exist.

As you can imagine, and correctly assume, there are no visible clues that I don’t speak German. I’m tall, and white, and don’t give of f a foreigner vibe. Basically every conversation starts off with a German talking to me (in German), and me mumbling a response. It probably has something to do with the fact that I’m merely trying to produce a phonetic pattern that pleases them. I have no bloody clue what I’m saying, despite the fact that several words are very similar in English.

I almost feel like I am letting people down, they have hopes that I’m German, and can communicate with them. Then a realization hits that I don’t, there is even a look! I call it the ‘oh, he’s a foreigner’ look. You can practice this by talking to small children about sports, or any topic prominently lost on children, which for me as a child was anything but Lego, and action figures. First, rattle off (quickly) some terms, and then stare at the child with large, wide eyes. Repeat yourself, and then wait… as you realize that you’re not getting anywhere, RIGHT as you feel your chin start to lower, grab a mirror (look at yourself, no duck-face or you'll ruin it! it's not a vanity check).

It is strange, but I feel that a small part of these people gives up hope in humanity, and like most things in life, we are only given a limited amount of hope in humanity. Because of this I feel a lot more of a social pressure to reply (properly), and not let down the coffee shop and bakery workers I’ve constantly been depressing.

 One major hurdle in my path is the written language. I can recognize what’s written down, but I am horrible as fuck in pronouncing it. The ability to at least come into the country with knowledge of a kindergartener ( A German word I can correctly pronounce) is more than I brought with me to Korea. Right now my pronunciation problem occurs because I speak in a Konglish accent. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s basically a vowel exaggeration, and adding vowels to the end of words, that have never, ever, had vowels there. It’s as if my mind seems to believe that any culture that doesn’t speak English, understands Korean. I have had several occurrences where I have replied to Germans in Korean. I think it’s my body’s panic reflex, and like a muscle I could wean myself off the 네, and onto the JA....

April 04, 2012

so long and, thanks for all the kimchi...

*for those who can read Hangul, I'm aware that I'm missing the first syllable of Starbucks, and the sign actually reads 'Tabuckse Kopi'*
At around 5am, I stumbled up to the Starbucks counter and ordered my coffee. The situation was rife with problems, the least of which being my phone not responding to my gentile touch. While I was only slightly distraught about my current disconnect from KakaoTalk, I was more perturbed that my Grande Americano was not being rung in. Through half open eyes, I simply repeated my order, slowing down hoping to properly annunciate the already hard to annunciate Korean syllables. I really didn’t understand why this strangely large woman didn’t understand my order. It wasn’t until another beloved, albeit elongated Starbucks employee, behind the cashier leaned over and whispered “He’s speaking Korean.”

 In a sudden panic, I did a quick inventory. The woman behind the till wasn’t a large Korean, she was a large African American lady, and her companion was a tall Middle Eastern woman. In the moment I cocked my head to the side, and my heels together. Something was wrong, and no heel clicking could revert my current footing. Not in Kansas anymore I remembered I was standing in the Vancouver Airport, freshly squeezed out of an aging airplane (the plane’s bathrooms had ash trays). I’m not sure if it was the whirlwind of the previous weeks or the lack of sleep that created my confusion.

For those of you also confused, I did expect to stay another six months in Korea. However, that didn’t end up being in the cards, and I returned home. I’m also well aware that I haven’t been the best at keeping this site updated over… well over the past year. I haven’t really had much time to complete the dozen or so entries that I’d started. Now that I’m living at home (and unemployed, YAY me!) I finally have some free time! And plan on finishing several of the posts. So! Stay tuned (whoever is left reading) there is more to come on my experience in Korea.

January 09, 2012

the war on christmas: civil war...

In my second Expat Christmas I have learned something that I didn't fully realize in my first year. Last year, I wrote about Christmas as a niche product and something that Koreans embrace the materialistic qualities of. I can seek out Santa (who I found this year, in the form of a parking lot attendant at an expensive apartment tower) all I want, but unless I make an effort to bring the holiday spirit into my own household, any search for Christmas will prove futile. Korea doesn't care if I celebrate Christmas or not, and the War on Christmas doesn’t really exist on any front besides the one that I create.

In North America you can easily celebrate almost any 'western' holiday with great ease. The constant barrage of Christmas even the laziest people are spurred into action at some point. Being surrounded by the holiday in all its often annoying glory will eventually bring the majority of souls on the band wagon. However, the situation changes when you leave that sphere of influence.

Again, I don’t know why I write that as some sort of light bulb moment. When I arrived in Korea two years ago I was aware that I was leaving western culture, and therefore leaving most of the pomp that goes with it (please nod your head those of you who agree). I believe that much like my sheltered experience of culture shock (which I know that I wrote about, but can't find the article, help?) that my first year in Korea gave me a distorted perception of this thought.

Let me explain, last year I unknowingly created a small version of Christmas for myself. I awoke beside a person that I loved; we exchanged presents, and even opened ones sent to us from abroad. All while sitting under blinking Christmas lights, listening to Christmas music, and drinking imported German beer (for those who judge it’s a family tradition to drink while opening presents). It was a micro level Christmas, but held true to most of the values and spirits I’d grown accustomed to, just with a change of continent.

This year was almost the complete opposite. I woke up alone, with no presents and without any music present from my Mother’s impressive Christmas music collection. I’m not seeking pity, these are simply stated facts. I did sweet fuck all to reproduce the Christmas feeling in my house. For example, at one point I did entertain the idea of dressing up my mannequin legs with Christmas lights, but the only string of lights I own burned out. Basically, the situation I was in couldn’t have been more different, Christmas morning was just another Sunday.

If you want to celebrate a tradition that holds any importance to you as a foreigner it is something that you need to work towards. Living abroad has allowed me to fully experience and embrace a foreign culture, and become involved with ideals and beliefs that do exist in Canada, but go mostly unnoticed because I'm not aware they are being fought for. A good friend of mine put together a thanksgiving dinner, and put in a lot of effort in doing so. His exuberant efforts, and any headaches he acquired in the process was above the usual requirements in the N/A. In that (extra) effort he was able to compile an approximation of Thanksgiving.

The conclusion is pretty simple, and rather anticlimactic. It’s more of a call to order, Holidays abroad require more active participation; there is no sleigh to pull you through. That is if you actually even want to celebrate Christmas, if you’re not into celebrations it’s easy to avoid the yuletide commotion.