Tag Archives: literature

Dusting Off: King Dork, the novels

(An occasional series in which we dust off some slightly older but relevant material that has been sitting on the shelf, metaphorical or otherwise)

The (notionally) youth-oriented King Dork series is an example of art imitating art. Author Frank Portman is (slightly) better known as “Dr. Frank” of long-running punkers MTX (aka The Mr. T. Experience), a band (mildly) famous for blending romantic angst, pop culture references, witty wordplay and breezy, loudly anthemic musicKing Dork and King Dork Approximately feature angst-ridden young rebels who favour anthemic music told via a snappy mix of pop culture references, witty wordplay and breezy prose. These are entertaining stories that also happen to be smart interrogations of youth culture and the art it is based in. Throughout the books, our anti-hero, Tom Henderson, tries to make sense of his world and Western youth culture while looking at, but not necessarily using, best practices from classic rebellion-based books (Catcher in the RyeBrighton RockNaked Lunch), and a large ‘desert island disc’ list of music (from at least AC/DC to Nirvana). It all sounds ordinary enough, but Portman brings just the right mix of irony and earnestness to the production to offer something to those of the younger demographic who are navigating adolescence (a bit too seriously), and those of the older set looking back at those days with some (undue) nostalgia.


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A Few Liner Notes to Home Street Home

Home Street Home: Original songs from the shit musical

Written by Fat Mike and Performed by Various Artists

18 Songs

Fat Wreck Chords


If theatre is a classic, foundational world literature, and the contemporary musical is a pop culture lite version, then a punk musical might be either lite lite lit; an artistic accident waiting to happen; or a witty subversion of a number of ancient and modern artistic modes.

Home Street Home the musical, or at least the legacy soundtrack version, may be all three.

The Cast:  We’ve got the Innocents (Sue-icide, PD, Special Ed), the Villain (the Father), the charming rogues (the “Urban Campers”), and various other punk scenester-types and one-offs. All the basic support needed to let the story bump rowdily along like a crowd surfer riding a wave of raised fists.

The Storyline: Teens run away from abusive home situations and/or suburban ennui, live on the street, meet and try to survive in gritty environments through illicit means. Plenty of basic struts upon which to brace the punchy, funny, melancholic, sometimes lyrical and confessional, sometimes narrative and expositional, cycle of songs.

The Piano Songs: Several of them, and essentially, sparse musical underlay for very basic narrative exposition. A more subversive Punk Rock take on the classic “Musical” mode may have been, say, to employ black metal grunting (although a few ukelele-driven folksters do add appropriate cheek).

The Fool: NOFX (Fat Mike’s day job) is a band that is expert at musical pastiche and parody, so while there is an earnest element to Home Street Home, the listener might have a hard time sorting the slashing satire from serious sentiment. Best lyrically are songs that play to that band’s strength, such as “Safe Word”, that showcases Fat Mike’s edgier, literate, scatalogical wordplay, or “Three String Guitar” that takes the piss out of artistic pretension. Such songs also do an effective job of populating the streetscape of the drama with appropriate character and characters (although both of these examples could just as easily be stand-a-lone NOFX singles). Otherwise, there is a bit of satire of street punks vs. suburban faux punks, but this potential class-conflict thread is not woven enough throughout the whole to tighten the satire.

Punk’s Not Dead: A few straight-ahead, buzzsaw rippers in the playlist create the proper grating texture and remind us that the main characters probably feature razored haircuts, homemade tatts and multiple piercings.

So what?: Separate from the dramatic elements that take place on stage, Home Street Home: songs from the shit musical is essentially (and logically) a concept album; a multumedia Folio of the stage production. But with a variety of voices, textures and moods, it is still a bit more faceted than, say, American Idiot. Fat Mike has noted that there are more songs in the live performance than in the soundtrack, and some on the soundtrack no longer appear on stage, which confuses matters and modes more. But hey, it is that dervish of anarchy that makes things punk in the first place, an ethos accentuated here by the wide variety of music, from thrash to pop to folk, delivered by the variety of underground musicians Fat Mike has enlisted to help scarred-flesh out his vision.

But is this anything like lit? Even lite, lite lit? Home Street Home the album represents those living at the extreme edge of society whose stories aren’t usually told. (Well, certainly not on Broadway.) And Fat Mike is their poet. (Or at least their Feste.)

Sing along here.

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A Flip of Selected Poems by Indie Rock Stars

Selected Poems by Indie Rock Stars
Various Artists
Yellow Bird Project
51 pages

When it comes to the academia of the pop world, “indie rock star” is a classification that has long tuned up images of hipsters, witty, self-aware and literate lyrics, and music (just slightly to the left of a number of mainstream styles) swaggered through in fashionably dumpy campus bars. Even today, when “alternative music” has long been regarded a contemporary pop norm, the indie rock sub-bullet retains some outsider cred; though we are talking less about the anarchic self-destructive tendencies of G.G. Allin and more about the cheeky tattoos-and-bowtie ensembles of Dallas Green. Sure, your parents, or even grandparents, might not fear and loathe the stuff, but they won’t go out of their way to download it, either.

That said, there has never been high demand to hear, say, Stephen Malkmus recite his lyrics in a cafe. Paired with the post-post-punk of Pavement, or slanted pop of his more recent work with The Jicks, Malkmus’ ideas and phrasing come across as clever and compelling. Acapella, they would lack that extra instrumental wit. Still, because of his creative and intellectual pedigree, one could imagine that, challenged to work with bare essentials and come up with some proper literature, he would kick up an interesting and cool strategy to get past the lack of a guitar to scrape his muse against.

Such is the impetus behind Selected Poems from Indie Rock Stars. They might not be “selected” due to the existence of several milkcrates worth of manuscripts for the publishers to throw themselves at so much as, maybe, the need to weed through the mass of budding Baudelaires who suffer day jobs hawking t-shirts and coloured vinyl collectibles while literary immortality beckons. Take a bunch of musicians from the vicinity of the cutting edge of contemporary hip and see what they can fashion with the tools of Cool past. The question is, what will the hybrid bring? Will you get Leonard Cohen (see: Spicebox of Earth) or Billy Corgan (see: Blinking with Fists)?

The successful poems here are crafted by the authors who take the same wit, daring and effort to the pen (or keypad) as they do to their day instrument. Dan Mangan’s “A Haiku” jumbles a slacker’s zen musings with a rudimentary sketch and other notebook jottings to create a playful little concrete poem-type work; one that keeps with the general character of the free-spirited singer/songwriter. Folkish artist Emmy the Great shapes up a found poem in “What Happened” from an email that seems just tweaked enough to deliver the appropriate degree of understated drama. While not echoing her musical aesthetic, it certainly reflects an artistic mind aware of, and willing and able to bend, convention. “An Excerpt from ‘You Can Dress Me Up, But You Cant Take Me Out'” by Micah P. Hinson is prose poetry that trods a Beat/Bukowski strip but with enough street smarts of its own to never get lost in the shadows.

Many of the poems, though, lazily fall back to default sing-song Classic Book of Nursery Rhymes verse schemes or obvious, Slam Poet cadences. Sometimes it does work, as with Robyn Hitchcock’s dreamy “Lost Cat” that weaves the reader through a slightly surrealistic scene where “As dawn melts shapes from nightcap/As daylight melts the dark/We loom between two silent worlds/The houses and the park”. The mode matches the man matches the material in a charming piece about lost innocence. But Hitchock is the wise, older, slightly-skewed sage of the intellectual musical clique, so this type of practiced playfulness and child-like charm from him is to be expected. However, the slavish dedication to rote forms displayed elsewhere shatters the delicate conceptual frame, reminding you that these are voices more used to accenting words with sounds from other tools and not nearly so experienced with the vast possibilities, musical and otherwise, inherent in the words themselves.

But even these less creative efforts are still evidence of the artistic mind at work. The could-be poets have all certainly tried to structure a bit of artifice atop their ideas, showing more rigour than, say, the afore-mentioned Corgan, whose Blinking with Fists was a rush of spontaneous meanderings – kind of like Monty Python’s 100 Yard Dash for People With No Sense of Direction – and flush with a church bazaar’s worth of imagery and phrases.

“We’re talking about musicians here,” Greg Kihn wrote in his introduction to the 2003 collection Carved in Rock: Short Stories by Musicians, “people who express themselves in a completely different way from ordinary writers. The creative process, however, is more or less the same. Just as the same three chords of life resonate through rock, blues, country, jazz, reggae, rhythm and blues, classical, and every other form of music, so do they resonate through the printed word. Three chords on paper.” It’s a quaint notion, catchy as a power pop hook, but about as substantial as Howard Jones. Whereas music is, at base, about emotions, literature and words reside in the mind. The twain certainly can and do meet, but they aren’t interchangeable. Of course, we often see the reverse, where writers drop the pen for the guitar (although the success rate is unfairly tipped in their balance thanks to Jim Carroll’s unassailable “People Who Died”).

Weighty notions aside, this type of popified literature is all just a bit of fun. We don’t necessarily need the Collected Works of Indie Rockers, but a selection can provide a little entertainment and diversion, like an old school compilation of ‘B’ side curiosities.

Drop the stylus at Yellow Bird.

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More Than Fifty Reads of paperplates

paperplates has been an on-going literary concern for well-over a decade, and has earned esteem above its tag-line of a “A Magazine for Fifty Readers” for a number of reasons, including the scope of its potential appeal. This is not a lowbrow, highbrow, or middlebrow publication, nor one that can be tagged with the limp “general interest”. Each issue just simply contains a range of good reads, whether the pieces are pedagogical, theological or a bit more scatalogical.

The latest issue (vol. 8, no. 2) contains personal essays that are as accessible as, say, those on the Globe and Mail’s Facts & Arguments page, but that also take deeper dives into universal experiences (look at the witty and touching “Brownies or Jazz”). There are short stories that can echo at emotional depths (the upturned immigrant family-focus of “After everything”) or take the piss out of the literary culture itself (the slashing self-parody of “Cutting Edge”). There are poems that meditate with controlled lyrical reflection, while others are soaked in booze as they scrape the grit off the bottom of the ashtray at the end of the night.

Variety + quality provide the gravity here.

Add to the count at:  www.paperplates.org

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Literary Archaeology Pt. 1

What a disappointment. You’ve clicked through to a great looking site that has gobs of reviews, links, news, free e-chaps and more. But the links don’t work. The .PDFs have evaporated into the ether. The last issue from the RSS feed went out 17 months ago.

Such seems the case with The Agora Review, an electronic journal with a sparse but compelling green-o-chromatic schematica layout and linked full of interviews, reviews and printable broadsheets and chapbooks.

Well, the reviews, essays and interviews are still accessible. Check out “The blort of the Matter”, an entertaining poetry/essay hybrid by Clare Lacey, for example. Or dig through the big archive of small press reviews to discover buried treasure from the last three years or so.

Unfortunately, promised broadsheets and chapbooks now only get you a 404 page, and the last addition to the site of any kind seems to have been from June 2010.

Still, worth (slightly) dusting off at:

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