Music

Neil Innes on Tour - A Legend That Will Last a Lunchtime

You may know Neil Innes’ name, or perhaps some of the seemingly endless list of classic music, film and television pies he’s had his talented fingers in over the decades with Monty Python, the Bonzo Dog Band, and the Rutles, but he’s by no means a celebrity, and that’s perfectly alright with him.

You may know Neil Innes’ name, or perhaps some of the seemingly endless list of classic music, film and television pies he’s had his talented fingers in over the decades. But he’s by no means a celebrity, and that’s perfectly alright with him.

“There’s no hysteria, there’s no Innes-mania out there,” said Innes. “And that’s good, because I can’t stand all that. I’m not really a show business creature. I want it all. I love playing with all the toys, I love filming, I love playing with musicians, but the fame thing I just can’t hack at all.”

Innes was speaking prior to his Tuesday night one-man show at B.B. King in the heart of Times Square, nearly at the midway point of a tour which sees him mixing favorites from his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Monty Python and the Rutles with new material that shows he’s still got the innate knack for a clever turn of phrase and melody. The performance thrilled a crowd which included Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová of Swell Season, with the former in stitches and the latter bobbing her head while wearing an Innes t-shirt throughout.

Innes is in no danger of losing his steam, both because he claims to be attacking his career with vim, vigor and vitality, and also as his work sees him picking up new fans every single day. My daughter, who recently fell in love with the Rutles and subsequently added various Innes-associated songs to her iPod, made me swear to tell the man who brought Ron Nasty to life she said hello. And even Innes’ own family is on board.

“My grandchildren quite approve of what I do,” he said. “I have immature themes like blowing raspberries, you know.”

For the duration of our interview, Innes was generous both with his time and memories, starting the story, fittingly, where the music all began.

“It was kind of thrust upon me at the age of seven,” he said. “I expressed an interest in the piano, and they got me some piano lessons. I lived in Germany, because my father was in the army after the war. I had a German piano teacher who was the most gentle-voiced German you’ll ever meet. He wasn’t brutal at all.”

Innes’ musical education took a comparatively complex turn early on, as you young boy was asked to do something that would soon become de rigueur.

“The day came when I had to do something different with my left hand than my right hand, and at the age of seven I held myself up to my most pompous height and declared it was impossible,” Innes recalled. “And he said, ‘Well, Neil, I think if you’ll observe what I’m doing now, you will see that it is not impossible.’ And he did something different with his left hand than his right hand, and I knew that I was wrong. The challenge was down.

Innes continued playing music, though in his early teens realized he was on a course of learning that wasn’t likely to ever end, which as with so many who’ve stumbled their way into rock & roll, led to the guitar.

“I suddenly said, ‘Who am I working for?’ Every time I’d finish a piece, they’d give me a harder one,” he said. “I rebelled and taught myself the guitar and fiddled around with that.”

Innes attended Goldsmith’s School of Art in the mid-’60s, a fortuitous choice which would ultimately determine the course of both his professional and personal life. He met his wife, Yvonne, there, and the couple recently celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary. And Innes also met the fellow musicians with whom he’d share his first heady taste of musical success: The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (changed from the Bonzo Dog Dada Band, eventually becoming the Bonzo Dog Band, and affectionately referred to in this interview by Innes as simply, the Bonzos.)

The Bonzos, who also included Vivian Stanshall, Rodney “Rhino” Desborough Slater, Roger Ruskin Spear and “Legs” Larry Smith, were something of an anomaly in London, mixing avant garde and traditional jazz, wry humor, music hall and rock & roll. Somehow, they managed to tap into something special, first among their fellow art students, and then to an exponentially increasing fan base which grew to include some of the music’s most legendary names. But first, the relatively humble beginnings…

“We used to play at the college every Tuesday night just for fun, and then we realized we could probably play at a pub and get some money by passing the hat around,” Innes said. “And it became immensely successful, which it shouldn’t have done, because musically it was a terrible racket. It must have been good drinking music.”

The clear joy in chaos the Bonzos felt on stage was just a small part of what was happening all across the city at the time.

“Swinging London,” Innes recalled. “It was a great time to be young. And I think we actually kind of knew that at the time. Everybody was off on a similar confident vibe. We’d just been through a World War, and it was possible to do something about it, to cheer you parents up, who hadn’t had any kind of counseling. They’d gone through hell. I don’t think we were as cool as some of the later generations were to their parents, because they kind of half understood what they’d gone through. Just growing your hair and playing Beat music was enough of a thing to shock them. You know, we didn’t want to shock them too much. It was a good time. Economically it was good. My generation only missed National Service by a year or two. So we were at college or leaving college, and it wasn’t a question of finding a job; any job will do. Just how lucky can you get as a generation?”

It was during a long stretch of short stays in everywhere from small towns to big cities across the country that the Bonzos first found themselves on the radar of the Beatles, who would eventually cast them to perform in the Magical Mystery Tour film.

“The Bonzos were on the road, and we kept bumping into a group called the Scaffold, who weren’t really musical as such, they were more a revue and poetry group,” Innes said. “It was Roger McGough, who is a well known poet in the UK, anyway. One of the members was Mike McCartney, going out as Mike McGear, and he was Paul’s brother. When Magical Mystery Tour came up, the Beatles already used to come and see us because we were sort of the darlings of the hit parade. All the people who wanted to muck about, but couldn’t. Most musicians have a great sense of humor, and so they’d crack up and come see the Bonzos. When Mike suggested to Paul, ‘Get that daft band in there,’ he thought it was a good idea. We couldn’t go on the bus, because we were too busy, so we just did one day’s filming in the strip club, and we did ‘Death Cab for Cutie’ from the Gorilla album.”

Innes’ show on Tuesday was filled with similar memories from across the span of his career, including an earlier Bonzos moment when the band was recording their debut at Abbey Road. Innes wandered down the long, narrow hallway which separated the studios and heard the Beatles recording the distinct piano line from George Harrison’s “I Want to Tell You,” one of three the guitarist wrote for 1966’ Revolver.

“Oh, right,” Innes remembered thinking. “They record here, too.”

Later, when the Bonzos and Beatles’ paths crossed, there was a sense of respect and camaraderie between the two.

“They’d all heard the album, and were very excited about it,” Innes said. “We felt, you know, like contemporaries. Of course they were the magic Beatles, but they weren’t at all snobby with it. They were funny guys.”

Around that time, the Bonzos’ path also crossed with another group, one which would again help shape Innes’ career direction.

“While the Bonzos were still the Bonzos, we were asked to do a children’s television show called Do Not Adjust Your Set with Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and also Terry Gilliam in the second series,” Innes said. “That program was a kind of dress rehearsal for Monty Python in so many ways. And Terry Gilliam kind of replaced the anarchy of the Bonzos, and they learned that they didn’t have to finish a sketch, they could go into something else. It was all part of playing with the toys of show business and trying to deconstruct television.”

While Gilliam’s animation replaced the Bonzos’ spirit of anarchy, the music was still a missing piece of the Python puzzle. As Monty Python’s Flying Circus began taking shape in the late ‘60s, Idle asked Innes to be a part of the process. Soon, Innes was joining Monty Python on tour, giving him an eventual sense of familiarity.

“They were all in each other’s pockets, and the fearful arguing that went on in the Pythons was just as bad as the Bonzos,” Innes said. “Part of the reason the Bonzos broke up was people stopped arguing. I was sitting on a train being quite shocked as they were verbally lashing at one another. John (Cleese) saw my furrowed brow and came to my rescue. He said, ‘Neil, don’t worry. This is what we wall stick.’ And that was the game. I realized they were a similar outfit to the Bonzos; everybody knew the sum of the total was greater than the individual. The chemistry was such that it was pushing and pulling it out of everyone’s control, but was somehow much better than any of us could do individually. I was kind of the agony aunt. Quite an important job, really.”

Later, Innes and Idle continued their collaboration with Rutland Weekend Television, a comedy show built around a fictitious TV station.

“Rutland is the smallest county in England, so the idea was, if they had a television station, it wouldn’t have much money, and all the programs would be cheap and nasty,” Innes laughed. “And this is the only reason BBC 2 agreed to the program, because it was an opportunity to make cheap television jokes. At the end of the first series, I overheard an executive saying to another one, ‘Do you know the whole series costs less than one Lulu show?’”

While Rutland Weekend Television stuck around for two British-standard short seasons in 1975 and 1976, a brief musical number eventually became one of Innes’ most popular projects: The Rutles.

“It was only ever a one-off thing as far as we were concerned,” Innes said. “The idea of parodying A Hard Day’s Night, I came to Eric with it. I said ‘This is cheap, black and white, speed it up, four guys in a field, wigs, running around.’ He said, ‘Yeah, that’s great. I’ve got this idea for a documentary maker who’s so dull the camera runs away from him.’ We put the two together, and basically that’s the whole plot. It was just one of those things that just happened.”

When Idle was booked to host Saturday Night Live in 1976, he brought the Rutles clip from Rutland Weekend Television’s run. It proved successful enough that Innes appeared with Idle a year later, performing “Cheese and Onions.” The show was a smash.

“The timing was right,” Innes said. “The joke was happening over here (in the U.S.) that somebody was offering the Beatles $20 million each to get together. And Lorne Michaels and Saturday Night Live were running with this gag by getting George Harrison on the show and saying, ‘Look, here’s $3,000, George,’ which was the going rate for four musicians on live television at that time of night. And George would be saying, ‘All of this for me?’ and Lorne would snatch it back and say, ‘No, no, you’ve got to share it.’ So they said Eric could host the show, because he said he could get the Beatles back together for $300, and then they made up this thing about it being a bad phone line, and he hadn’t got the Beatles, he’d got the Rutles. And they showed the clip from the BBC Television thing, and the mailbag was just ridiculous. Lorne had no choice but to go down and say, ‘Can we have the money to make the whole story?’ And they said yes.”

Innes still marvels at how quickly The Rutles film came together, especially as it quickly became clear that his role was even more important than simply reprising his role as Ron Nasty, the group’s John Lennon-based character.

“You couldn’t pitch a program like that these days,” Innes said. “I was in New York, and I’d done Saturday Night Live with Eric. And when Lorne had gotten a budget, I was aware of everyone looking at me. And they said, ‘Do you think you can write 20 more Rutles songs by next Thursday?’ and I said, ‘I’ll try.’”

Innes spent three months putting together songs which would cover the vastly changing musical styles the Beatles - and by proxy the Rutles – realized over just a handful of years. The eventual recordings included an updated version of “I Must Be In Love,” the song which featured in the original BBC Rutles clip.

“I’d managed it by not listening to any Beatles songs, but by just remembering where I was when certain signature Beatle moments happened, like ‘All You Need is Love’ or ‘Penny Lane.’ I’d think, ‘Where was I, what was I doing, what was life like?’ And once I’d written the songs for guitar or piano, if they sounded alright with just the voice, the lyrics, the melody and the chords, if you could carry it with one instrument, then I knew we could do anything in the production.”

Though Idle didn’t actually perform any of the music as McCartney-lampooning Dirk McQuickly, the other Rutles in the film were involved in the music-making process. Rikki Fataar (Stig O’Hara) and John Halsey (Barry Wom) were joined on record by fellow musician Ollie Halsall (who briefly appeared in the film as Leppo, the fifth Rutle). The sessions were intense, intimate and thoroughly enjoyable.

“We lived in a house for weeks, just us and a guy called Alistair who had two-track recorders,” Innes said. “We rehearsed and recorded, and it happened to be Wimbledon week, so we’d watch a bit of tennis, then go back and rehearse and record. And by the time we came out, we felt like a band, and we went straight in the studio. The whole album took 10 days to do, including orchestration and mixing.”

Harrison appeared in the film, which predated This is Spinal Tap in the mock rock doc genre by six years, as an interviewer speaking to Eric Manchester, as played by Palin. Also appearing alongside members of the Saturday Night Live cast were Mick Jagger and Paul Simon as themselves, and Ron Wood as a member of a motorcycle gang.

Innes continued recording music in the decades following The Rutles, as well as branching out into children’s television as both a host and voiceover artist. He carried on touring, both on his own and with various reunions of his past musical endeavors proved successful as well, and his life and career were honored in the documentary, The Seventh Python.

Which brings us to the present, with Innes performing career-spanning solo shows on his A People’s Guide to World Domination tour like the one in New York City this week; despite his aversion to fame, Innes is clearly comfortable on stage, whether rolling through a medley of Rutles tunes or airing new material, he’s absolutely in his element.

“I’m actually really enjoying this one man show at the moment,” he said. “Something’s happened earlier this year, and I’ve got all my publishing back. And I didn’t realize what a dark cloud it had over me. But for 10 years, I’ve been deliberately keeping my profile down just to get out of this robber baron situation. Now I feel like doing things again. I’m going to be doing things on the website, podcasting. And I’ve got a new album (Innes Own World), which is part radio, which I’m making, doing all the voices and bits, sending up the 24 hour news. I call it ‘emotional engineering.’ It’s got adverts for nonexistent products. It’s a satire of the world we live in, really.”

“I’m on a high at the moment, rolling along and enjoying it a lot.”

Innes’ grandchildren would be pleased to know that the aforementioned blowing of raspberries went down an absolute storm at B.B. King’s, as did their grandfather’s entire set. Innes peppered his set with anecdotes, jokes and song after song of impossibly catchy tunes. Whether you’re a devotee or a marginal fan, seeing Innes is more than worth the effort.

Culture

Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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