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Interviews

Out of the Living Room: An Interview With the Generations Frontman, Petie Ronstadt

Petie Ronstadt (far right) with The Generations

Ronstadt sees his band at the precipice of a major shift on the promise of festivals and national tours, but he's never forgotten his roots.


Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses

In the Land of the Setting Sun

Label: Ronstadt
US Release Date: 2016-05-20
UK Release Date: 2016-05-20
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In Southern Arizona, Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses are an establishment. Both Generations and its “Tucsonenses” subset represent the traditions of the American and Mexican West in music, and not unlike Petie (vocals, acoustic/electric guitar, banjo, tuba, stomp box) and Michael G. Ronstadt’s (vocals, cello) famous aunt, Linda, they do so often with a modern twist of their own.

Notably, the band joined forces with then-frontman, Michael J. “Papa Mike” Ronstadt, to release In the Land of the Setting Sun during May of last year -- just three short months before Mike’s death on 7 August 2016 as his battle with liver cancer came to an end. Since then, the album has received a bevy of nods from critics across the music world, including here at PopMatters in The 15 Best Americana Albums of 2016.

By all means, the band is finally receiving the attention is arguably deserves -- and at such a cornerstone of their career, too, as Petie takes the reins from his father as band leader all whilst becoming a father himself. When PopMatters sat down to chat with the Tucsonan folk artist at a local coffee shop, his adorable seven-month-old daughter Annabelle was there with him. “She comes with me everywhere I go,” he says with a smile.

Our conversation covered a range of topics, from Petie’s upbringing in one of America’s first musical families, to his father’s influence, the past album, where he is now and where he and the band are going next.

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Please give us a brief retrospective on Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses, what they stand for, and their evolution over the years.

Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses began as just Ronstadt Generations, and it was an exploration of the family’s musical history meant to be brought to a performance setting. We aimed to take music that was performed in our family’s living rooms and present it to people in a way that was worth listening to during a concert.

Through the lovely Tucson musical community, we grew with a rhythm section and we called them Los Tucsonenses in tribute to my great-grandfather’s band. This band that he started was the first philharmonic band in Tucson, and it was this kind of souse-styled brass band called Club Filarmónico Tucsonenses, or the Philharmonic Club of Tucsonans. So, we threw that in as a tribute to them and the band expanded from just being my father, my brother, and myself on guitars and cello and various other instruments to having a drummer, a bass player, and a sax player. It’s a different color pallet, but a fun one to play with, for sure.

In the Land of the Setting Sun is the last record featuring Papa Mike’s work before his death. What sort of dynamic did your dad bring to the fold? What elements of that dynamic still exist with his passing? How has the band changed, or how is it changing, moving forward?

Well, he conceived the idea of the band so it was kind-of his brainchild. His original conception was a show, and not necessarily a band, called the Ronstadt Generations Project. It was a show highlighting the history of our family’s musical evolution, going back in time. The show almost materialized a couple of times, but it eventually conceived itself as a band. So, he was the driving force and somewhere along the way he let me -- at least in our stage presence -- take charge of our show and form the sets and what we were doing.

He was a good mentor, and it’s definitely been a change, not having him around. I ask myself, “What now?”, and the first call that I want to make is to him to ask how to go about what I’m doing next and I can’t make that call. But, you know, he’s still very present. We’re still doing a lot of his music and he lives through that, and he lives through all of the things he taught. Even the Mexican songs that he sang, songs that my brother and I are trying to learn and sing now -- you know, I thought I would have more time with him to learn that. There’s nothing like being tossed into the deep end and learning how to swim, so, that’s good. I still think the band has the same soul, but it got younger without him there.

Sometimes, as young people do, we like to get a little rambunctious and that’s kind of fun testing that new dynamic. Our listener base includes a wide range of ages, but my dad’s followers are all very prevalent at our shows and they still are. What we’ve noticed is that as the band has shifted younger with its age, so has our audience a bit, and when you’re a 30year-old, sometimes it’s nice to play to other 30-year-olds. [laughs]

The great thing about the older listener base is that a lot of them are retired, and they’re very supportive. They come to every show, they support and buy records and we definitely appreciate them as much as we always have. It’s just nice to see people your age out there dancing and having fun and enjoying what we’re doing. I think with music in general, especially with older styles and genres -- and even just music that’s influenced by older genres -- there’s a newfound appreciation amongst Millennials and the generation just a step above them, so that’s neat to see that evolution and that appreciation for what we do in them.

With that said, I love our older generation listeners, too. One of the things that my dad had always thought is that radio segments our audiences by genre, by age, by everything. Hearing his stories about being a kid and, in the evening, having his parents, grandparents, and siblings gather around the radio show to all enjoy this same thing through a common musical identity, I’ve noticed that it’s something that’s lost in today’s world.

Hopefully, with this re-popularizing of older genres of music, it’s something that the younger generations can grab on to and older generations can say, “Wow, our kids are listening to stuff that we listen to!” Maybe that’s something that will get everyone gathering back around that radio again, at least figuratively speaking.

Your band has performed a bountiful mix of covers and originals on their releases thus far, and when choosing between such a broad selection as influential American and Mexican songs, there’s a lot to work with. Has there been a process that you go about with when choosing songs—both covers and originals—for an album to set a certain mood or to develop a particular theme around?

The albums all came together in different manners. Going back to Prelude, which was the first album with all of us (Los Tucsonenses) on it, the band just all kind of culminated at the Chicago Bar here in Tucson. So, we were just throwing everything to the fridge and seeing what stuck.

When I choose covers to sing -- and I’m sure this was similar with my dad -- there were two stipulations. One, it has to be a song that means something to me, otherwise there would be no point in singing it. Two, we knew it had to be something that we could do something different with than what’s already been done. If I sing a song like somebody else, I feel like I’m not adding anything to it and there isn’t a point in doing it. We’ve had songs that we’ve included in our sets before that we’ve dropped because we didn’t think we could do something differently enough that it became our enough.

That was something about my aunt, Linda's, career that was so great. She wrote very few songs out of her catalog, but all of the songs that she performed were iconically Linda Ronstadt songs. Even if they were a Buddy Holly song, or a Jackson Browne song, or whatever, if you heard that song, you knew it was a Linda Ronstadt song, too, because she did something so uniquely her own with it. So, that’s something that has definitely been a goal.

When you’re playing four hours every Monday night at Chicago Bar and you have two and a half hours of original music, sometimes you just have to fill in stuff. Another big deciding factor in doing covers and originals, though, has to do with when I was in an indie band prior to Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses and we were doing just originals. You can win one or two people at a time if they haven’t heard you before and you’re playing at a new venue, but if you sneak in a cool version of something that they’ve heard before, it makes ten or 15 people turn their heads and go, “Hmm, interesting. I wonder where they’re going with this.” Then, you can sneak in more originals and have them stick around for them.

That was part of the process of playing at a bar and not wanting to become a bar band, but wanting to do something still that people could come out to see and relate to. With a catalog that just grew when we did Prelude, we just went into the studio and said, “Let’s record everything we can record in a couple of days.” So, we just blasted through twenty songs, or something like that, and picked twelve or thirteen of them to be on the record. The rest of them became the follow-up, Epilogue.

So, there was no real huge thought process that went into that beforehand, except for the originals. We figured that we had to put in some originals, we had to study some Mexican stuff, but beyond that, it was just saying, “Let’s do a bunch of stuff and see what we can fit into a record!”

With In the Land of the Setting Sun, that was much more of a concept album. I had two concepts, actually, for In the Land of the Setting Sun and a follow-up record called We’ll Meet Again Someplace Sweet (named after his song “Bowl of Dust”). We went into the studio to record two records and ended up not having time to do that, so we just went for In the Land of the Setting Sun.

The concept behind that record was to bring together songs that define Tucson and define us, leaning on what the band had become over the years in its evolution with original material that was becoming the shape of the band while still peppering in some traditional Mexican music. Technically there are still covers on that album with the Mexican stuff in mind, but all-in-all, that record is very much uniquely us and not anybody else.

It’s really cool and it lends itself to be a journey through the Southwest -- a tapestry of sound made of the southwest. There’s an old Tucson sound, and there’s a lot of music that represents a new Tucson sound, like the Gabe Sullivans and Brian Lopezes of the world. They’re definitely the pioneers of the new Tucson sound, while we’re trying to make the old new again, as cheesy as that may sound.

How were you introduced to musical performance? You come from a musical family. Was it just something in your lifeblood to take on this Americana band with your dad and brother, or was it more of an evolutionary process to reach where you are now as the Generations frontman?

It was an evolution. Growing up, there never really seemed to be any sort of separation between music and performance and music and family congregations. You sit there and listen to the family sing -- and I did a lot of listening when I was younger, not a lot of playing -- and it always seemed like a performance. It always seemed like something that was theater worthy that was happening in the living room and that was always pretty amazing. There was a seed planted then.

When I started playing on my own, I started playing violin in elementary school before eventually moving to upright bass and electric bass. That took me through middle school and into high school, with a little bit of tuba thrown in there too. I got a lot of my performance experience then, and with school bands and stuff like that. When I started playing bass, I was also playing with a church youth band that gave me a lot of experience. We did a bit of touring to perform at churches and youth camps and stuff like that, which was fun and helped introduce me to the more “show” side of things.

When I started my own band, Goodbye Kiss, it was the first band I was ever really a frontman for. I didn’t really look at myself as a frontman even though I lead the band, though. I rejected the notion of being a frontman like a lot of indie rockers try to do -- “It’s about the music, not about the people!” You know, that kind of thing. [laughs]

That gave me some good experience with how to lead a band, though. We did some traveling, mostly very unsuccessfully. We were going to places to thirty people and making $50 to put in the gas tank with six guys crammed into a van -- that kind of deal. It was what I did instead of college, so that was a good education in a way.

Going from there, everyone became an adult and wanted to have adult lives with jobs and stability while I was still trying to find stability in the music world. Then, the opportunity came along after realizing that it’s really hard to get together to play music out of high school and to perform with my dad in the Santa Cruz River Band with Ted Ramirez. I still played gigs with my dad and brother here and there before that time, so I was immersed in that music too, but I got the opportunity to study traditional Southwestern music.

Being one with the upright bass is such a foreign concept with most rock music, so being able to study that in traditional Mexican music was so unique to me, in the form of that rejection of being one with the bass in contemporary music.

Ronstadt Record Co., that’s your label, your studio. When was it established, and how? When did you first establish interest in a producer role? What has your role as a producer taught you? Has it enhanced who you are as a musician in any way, or vice-versa?

On paper, Ronstadt Records became a thing in 2012 with the release of Prelude, but -- and this is going to sound weird -- it only became a thing because I was designing a t-shirt with a Kickstarter campaign. On that first Kickstarter of ours, one of the incentives was a t-shirt. I was trying to design it, and I took our old Ronstadt Hardware logo in an attempt to make it say Ronstadt Generations. It was too hard to make “Generations” look right, so I went for Ronstadt Record Co. instead with a few other modifications to the original hardware logo.

When I went to do the disc design for Prelude, I decided to use it there too since it looked almost like a vinyl record and could look really classic. So, that’s where the whole Ronstadt Record Co. thing started, but then the logo was put on all of our CDs from there. From there, my buddy and I have a studio in town called LandMark Sound Recorders, so I had the means to record for the many bands that ended up culminating under the Ronstadt Record Co. name.

We were going through Ohio a lot, and every time we went through we would play with Serenity Fisher and the Cardboard Hearts. Serenity is now my brother’s girlfriend, they’re a couple, but even when they weren’t, I always liked the band but always thought that the CD that they had out at the time never captured the music of their live show. So, I said, “If you’re ever out in Tucson, I can make you guys a record!” When they finally said, “Okay, we’re coming into town. Let’s do this!”, though, I said, “Oh, crap!” I realized I actually did have to do this now. [laughs]

When they came into town, though, we recorded that dream pop-esque record and it turned out really well. We always had the ambition to record more on the label, even just as a family with Ronstadt Generations, but life happens and my dad passed and things kind of went into a lull. So hopefully now that some time has passed, we can pick that back up and someone can tell me what I need to do -- someone to manage me a little bit!

[laughs] Maybe Annabelle will do that in a few years. She’ll be my taskmaster.

We still have plans, though. Don Armstrong and I are recording something for him, coming up soon! But, you know, Ronstadt Records needs a new manager, so I can just produce stuff. That would make me happy. [laughs]

What’s up next for Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses? Are there any particular goals you’re hoping to meet over the expanse of 2017?

We’re trying to make a road band out of the full band. We’ve toured a lot as a three-piece and as a four-piece, and even as a smaller group, in theaters and in folk venues and restaurants and all sorts of places. We’re more of an acoustic group, and I think that now Aaron Emery (drums) moved to L.A., and my brother lives in Cincinnati and it’s just Alex Flores (sax) and I in town, the band as a whole will become more of a road band. We’ll be getting together to go out and perform as a full band.

It’s nice in the sense that it’s a great excuse for us all to come together. When Aaron moved, it was bittersweet. We know that he has great things to accomplish as a drummer and L.A. is probably a great place for him to accomplish those things, but on a selfish note, he’s the best drummer I’ve ever played with. It’s been a bummer to not have him around here to play with all the time, but it makes for a nice excuse to get together and book a bunch of shows to go hang out, play music together, and make art. That’s always a fun thing!

Hopefully, 2017 will launch us into that world, and we’ll be playing a lot of festivals, with concerts here and there and all around the place. Aside from making great music that we’re proud of, we just want to do that and make a living doing it. Hopefully, we’ll put another record out sometime this year, too. We just want to show the world what we can do.

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.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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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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