Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Old Devil's at it Again

"I'll fix it so you get cheap drinks," the woman at the bar said. "What band are you with?"
Before I could stop myself, I was saying, "William Elliott Whitmore."
"Oh, of course," the woman said. She sold us our drinks at five bucks apiece was gone, disappeared into the back room.
"What just happened?" I turned to Omar.
"Ticketed people get cheaper drinks, I think," he said, sipping his Jack and coke.
"I don't think that's right," I said. I turned and looked at the poster of punk rock, bluegrass artist William Elliott Whitmore. "I think she thinks I'm in the band with him. Because I sound like an American."
"Oh," Omar said. "You might be right."
The woman emerged from the back room and handed me the owner of the Annandale's card, "Show this at the bar and all your drinks will be at the special price," and she was gone again.
"No, this isn't right," I said.
"You're probably right."
We waited for the woman to return and when she did I said, "Excuse me, I think there's been some mistake. We're not with William Elliott Whitmore, we're just here to see him."
"Oh, oh my goodness," she said, taking the card back as I handed it to her.
"It's just, I'm Canadian, so," I started.
"See, this is me being racist," she laughed. "Thanks for being honest."
"It's all right," I said. "It would've eaten at me all night. And you would suspected something when I didn't go up on stage tonight."
"I'd have found you and hurt you," she smiled.

The night promised many excellent things. The drinks, the excited buzz of the crowd, this was going to be good. So it was such a disappointment when, at 8:30, Nick van Breer went up first and was terrible. He awkwardly introduced himself and his song and began playing. The way he sang sounded like two things. One, as if he'd never been near a microphone before and two, as if it were still breaking at the age of 25. The writing of said songs was as if he wrote them at the age of fourteen and had never bothered to rework them. Over the din of the crowd that was ignoring him sailed the words, "she walked away" and "we can take on the world/like we always wanted to".
Sufficed to say, Omar and I were done with him, too.
Even when he brought up banjoist Dave and they dueled on banjos for a while, it was unimpressive and dry. The banjos were too quiet and the vocals too boring.

When his set finished at 9:15, we were not confident about the second opener.
"Let him be up and done," I said. "Bring on William!"
"Who knows," Omar said, finishing his Jack. "He could be really good."
"I doubt--"
And through my doubt blared a sound. The sound of passion striking a guitar with force and a blazing harmonica solo. A tall man, thin and bearded, was Lincoln le Fevre. He wore a sailor-style cap and beat on that guitar, brow-beating the audience into silent admiration. Then, after a blissful moment of passionate playing, he sang the song a Capella, right into our hearts.
"We're so bored, we're so bored of this," was his passionate cry.
And the audience sang it back.
The man knew what he was doing. This was what confidence looked like.
With power in his belly and fire in his heart, he sang to us stories of lost loves and drinking and home. Everything he said resonated. His meter and words were outstanding.
"All right," Lincoln said. "Here's the point in the show where I try to break your hearts."
"What have you been doing up until now, buddy?" Omar said next to me, his face a mask of awe, like mine.
"I haven't played this one live before," Lincoln said. "So it could be shit. Or not. Cool story, Lincoln, shut up."
People were listening to what this man said and for a reason.
When he finally finished up, Omar rushed like a speeding car out to the merch table and bought us each a copy of his CD Resonation. I recommend it.

"I met him at the bar," Omar said when he got back. "He's really nice."
"Hey," a voice from the stage said, "How's everybody doin'?"
After only a few minutes of wait and setting up his gear himself, there he was - Mr. William Elliott Whitmore.
"Can I start early?" he seemed to be asking us. "Or should I just go ahead backstage and get stoned?"
The bar staff seemed to say that he could start whenever he wanted.
"Well, all right then," he drank from his beer. "Let's do this then."
Then began a wonderful hour and ten minutes of musical joy. His songs were either played on guitar, banjo or just a Capella. He had a bass drum with which to add beat and force when needed.
He played with mirth and hunger and violence and passion. It was magical.
"I don't really like to do a set list," he said after the first three songs. "So just shout out what you wanna hear. I'm happy to oblige."
Although my cries of "I'm Diggin' my Grave" went unanswered, the set list was amazing, including "Hell or High Water" and "Old Devils".
"Getting arrested is one of the worst things ever," he said at one point. "As soon as those cuffs go on, it's the worst feeling. You feel like an animal. And they make an inventory of all the stuff you had on you at the time. One beer bottle, one dirty handkerchief, one empty chip packet in pocket. Why did they write that one down? Why did I even have it?" he drinks from his beer. "I told them it was for sentimental reasons. Anyway, this song's called Johnny Law."
He kept playing and we kept begging for more.
At one point, the man was handed a shot from the bar. Someone had bought him a drink.
"Why thank you," he said. "What's your name?"
"Well Josh, I'll pay you back," he said. And he meant it. "I'll sip this like a gentleman."
He shot the shot back.
"I'm so happy to be here," he said. "This is feeling so good. So close. I'm just happy to be anywhere. To be alive. Thank you all so much for coming out. Really, from the bottom of my heart, thank you."
The experience was beautiful as his songs washed over us. At the end, Omar and I went up and shook his hand. He was so genuinely pleasant and affable that it only added to how wonderful it all was.
I stopped by the merch table and said thank you to Lincoln.

Our buses had run out so Omar and I walked to Central station and then took the train home. It was one a.m. when we got to bed and we'd be tired for work tomorrow. But we didn't care at all.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Just a Recommendation

I wrote a rant not long ago about how video games don't cause gun violence. If you're still interested in the topic of gun violence and video games, I would highly recommend this article, also from Cracked, that illuminates some of the points I made and extends on them - especially the "video games as living out fantasies".


Monday, March 18, 2013

Stop it! Stop. It. Stop.

This can't wait anymore. I've been trying to avoid writing this for a long time, having just sort of skirted around it in polite conversation, but now I can't. I just freaking can't and it's because of a tabloid article I found through Buzzfeed.

I'm going to say this and I'm going to say it once; video games do not cause people to become more violent. Gamers are not some horrible, sadistic group of murderers just waiting for their chance to spring into rage-murder action all over the nightly news. We just simply aren't.

This topic has been breached time and time again and I think it was best summed up by Cracked columnist Robert Brockway.

"Americans are, and always have been, an incredibly violent society," Brockway writes. The first school shooting in this country happened before there was a country."

After Sandy Hook, Joe Biden sat down with a council to try and work out gun legislation and the "role guns have in today's society" with a bunch of video game designers. And now, the New York Daily News is on that trolley. This argument was put forward after Columbine and Virginia Tech. Worse is that Anders Breivik said he used Call of Duty 2 and World of Warcraft to help train himself. Luckily, the rest of that article is condemning the use of video games as the reason for mass shooting is unfair and in fact is being called racist. I recommend checking it out.

Here's the inside scoop, people who don't understand video games: we like them because they are fun, not because they are training us to murder people. What they can do is provide an outlet for rage fantasies.

And don't jump all over me for that because we all do it in our heads. Everyone had had that fantasy of pushing the slow-walking person down the stairs or punching the annoying person so hard in the face that their skull explodes or any number of other ridiculously-over-violent-for-the-situation fantasies. And anyone who says they don't have them is a liar. Video games allow some of us to act out those rage-fantasies in the safe confines of non-reality. Many times after a long day have I said to my roommate, "Excuse me, but I have to go shoot some stuff for a while." And proceeded to kill many, many faceless bandits in Borderlands 2 or zombies in Left 4 Dead and after about an hour of that I feel so much better.

In this vein, you can't have it both ways, America. You can't use video games to help train/recruit for the armed forces and then turn around and say that video games are evil and are making people more violent. People said it of violent films and yet look at films today! They aren't making people more violent, we just appreciate the pretty explosions or stylized violence or excess of blood splatter. Do you know why? Because we know these are fantasy and not reality.

You can bet your ass that if we were to see something that violent in reality it would make us sick. It's one thing to fire a fake gun in a game, it's quite another to fire one in real life. It's one thing to beat up on dragons with your fists (thanks, Skyrim, for that opportunity!) but it's quite another to watch someone being actually bullied and beaten. The internet and the gaming world can sometimes be filled with jerks - like any other world such as sports or business or acting - but we're not full-fledged demon spawn.

Video games don't make us violent. Stop making us villains. Learn what correlation and causation is. Just because they played video games doesn't mean that that's why they did the things they did. It only alienates us and makes parents more worried for their "gamer kids". My folks' only worry for me was that I didn't play outside enough - but that's because my skin is so pasty that I burned so easily!

We're not aliens. We're not monsters. We play them in games but then we come back to reality. We will not become killers because we play video games. We are not violent. More often than not we're the kids who are bullied. And don't argue that this causes us to snap and take out our violence on innocents. While that has happened, doesn't make it a characteristic of all gamers.

Don't let one bad apple spoil our very interesting bunch. We have a lot to offer and we are no different from you except that we have a hobby you don't understand.


Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm

In the week since it's release, I have seen surprisingly little from my friends about the new Zerg expansion to Starcraft 2, the Kerrigan-focused Heart of the Swarm. Probably because they're all so busy playing it. If you know any Starcraft franchise fans, you know that they're probably knee-deep in empty Coke cans whenever the newest game comes out - especially when this one has been so long in the making.

This new installment in the well-beloved series revolves around Sarah Kerrigan, freshly rescued from being the Queen of Blades by our well-known and lovable hero Jim Raynor. She wakes up alone in a cell under the scrutiny of Valerian Mengsk. They want to make sure she won't return to the Swarm. That she really has become human again.

First, let me just say that this game is beautiful. We've come to expect this from Blizzard - and games in general now - but still, it is definitely worth noting that this game is gorgeous to look at. I wish they made animated films that looked as wonderful as this. Dramas, action-thrillers, westerns - anything could look good with the animation they use in this game's cut-scenes.

What I also very much like is it creates more characters within the Zerg swarm, such as those on board Kerrigan's ship. Abathur, for example, who is the resident Swarm editor. He is terrifying and robotic and familiar and wonderful from his dialogue to the voice acting to the model.
And not to mention the veritable bevvy of named Hive Queens that Kerrigan meets.

What's even more interesting, is that by having these characters, it humanizes the Zerg somewhat, which I suppose was the point - especially in Kerrigan's "re-education" of a certain Hive Queen.

One thing that I fear is that the game will be all too short and perhaps even a little bit too easy, but then again I haven't reached the final missions yet, being too distracted with that time-consuming and money-providing endeavour called "work". 

The price was also right for this game, set at a nice $44 (AUD) which marks it as an expansion in the same vein as the old Brood War. If you liked Wings of Liberty, you'll like this. The only bad part so far, is they haven't fixed the whole "we don't do LAN anymore" thing. And also, the annoying thing that buying the game in hard copy doesn't mean you get to install the game from the disc, it just has the downloader on there so you don't have to download it. It still installs the game by downloading it from online. You've been warned.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Traildust Season 2 Part 1

He left the man bleeding in the mud. It had been a long chase but in the end, the fight had gone out of him. Thornton couldn't blame him; his horse had died and he'd run outta bullets. Not many would that would fight on after running two days through the desert and then still have it in them to grapple their pursuer. Thornton stood up and wiped the mud from his boots on the man's pants. The knife came smoothly out of its sheath and Thornton bent down to cut off the man's head.
No head, no proof, Thornton said. Ain't nothin' personal.
He always found it funny how easily a knife could cut through a man's flesh. Fragile creatures. Like to think we're invincible but a fella with a well-placed punch and kill you. The head made a sickening crack and squish as Thornton pulled it away from the sinew and bone. Thornton put the head into a hessian sack. He looked down and admired the corpse. The man had been fitter than hell. Big arms, broad shoulders, legs as strong as a horse's. At the end of them shone some nice, shiny boots, almost looking new.
Bad luck to take a dead man's boots, Thornton said. Shame to waste them. The buzzards'll have a hell of a time with ye, though.
Thornton climbed up on his horse and rode off. A heavy, hot wind was setting in and he knew that soon a sandstorm would make this ride impossible. Up a ways he remembered there were some caves set into a small outcropping of rocks. If he could just make it there, it would be fine. Then he could wait the storm out, hand over this man's stinking head and get his gold.
Just as the wind was picking up, driving the sand hard into his face and making his horse rear up in discomfort, he found the cave. He rushed inside, dragging the horse in through reluctant whinnies. He set the horse to eating its grain and made himself a small fire, cooking a small pot of road stew.
I wonder what ye did, Thornton said to the hessian sack. It sat opposite him across the fire.
Not many men, he said, could piss of a county as much as ye gone and done. A hefty fee fer bringing you in, y'know. Hefty even for a murderer.
Sorry fer killin' ye, he said as an aside, quietly as if not to rouse the man's ghost. They said they really wanted ye alive, but that was so they could hang ye in the streets. And to be honest bringing ye back alive was just too damn hard. If yer head's anything to go by, you'd have been a heavy bastard to carry back. That and all the flailin' yer sure to have put me and my horse through. And what would I have done with ye tonight? Putting ye over in the corner, hopin' ye don't escape, not gettin' any shut-eye. No, it was easier to kill ye. Better than hangin' in front a' all them people, all the anticipation and such.
Thornton took a spoonful of the stew and slurped it up.
Good, he said. Good stew.
The storm would die down by morning but for now it rung heavy and musical across the mouth of the cave and soon it lulled Thornton to sleep.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stories from Nothing: The Spies

This one actually got its inspiration from a Cracked article about games you should give a shot playing in your own head to make life more interesting. One of these was to have a look at people on the street or train platform or bus and figure out which one of them was a spy or assassin and who their target was.

She stepped down onto the platform and took up her place next to the air conditioning vent, to the right of the small conductors' office. Her mark was already standing there, as was her second sent by the Agency.
She threw a casual glance at the two of them. After a day or so of not being up close to him, the mark was much fatter than she remembered. And the agent was a short, handsome man with small glasses. Like they had organized, he was reading that free gossip newspaper they hand out at train stations.
The rumble from underneath the platform told her that the train was almost here. She put her bag down onto the air conditioning vent and dug around and found her black day planner. She opened it and began writing. Hopefully the Agent would notice. This was the signal that everything was a go. A chattering group of school children passed her and she watched them go. Made eyes with the Agent. She turned away. On the bench, the Agent put the newspaper into his satchel bag and took out a small black book of his own and had a look at something, nodded, and replaced it in his bag.
The train pulled up to the station. The Mark checked his watch. It was late. The doors opened and the Mark went on. She followed and right behind her, the Agent stepped onto the crowded train.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Are You Freaking Kidding Me?

Microsoft and really the whole gaming anti-piracy thing has finally crossed a very creepy, very 1984-y line. For a while, the story on everyone's lips was that the next Playstation and Xbox consoles would block used games but it seems that this may have been thrown out; which I'm thankful for because it just made already greedy-appearing companies appear even greedier.

I'm a dedicated gamer. I buy the games I want, used or new. I buy DVDs, too, rarely going in for downloads due to an obsession with physical copies of things lest the Internet collapse in on itself and my computer simultaneously explodes - at least I know I'll always have the hard copy.
And like anyone who owns a console, I use mine to watch films. Sometimes - shock! horror! - with more people than just myself and my girlfriend.

Well, looks like Microsoft is putting out a new patent which is going to make viewing films with 'too many' people more or less impossible, without buying an extra license. Yeah, that's right. In case you didn't click on that there link (you should), the article basically informs us that, well, here's a quote:

The abstract describes a camera-based system that would monitor the number of viewers in a room and check to see if the number of occupants exceeded a certain threshold set by the content provider. If there are too many warm bodies present, the device owner would be prompted to purchase a license for a greater number of viewers.From the abstract: “The users consuming the content on a display device are monitored so that if the number of user-views licensed is exceeded, remedial action may be taken.”
 This. Is. Ridiculous. While I may understand that copyright states I can't show a DVD on a jumbo screen in the middle of the city center, it is a whole different matter for it to tell me that I can't have a big group of over to watch it for a movie night. Now, admittedly, it doesn't say how many people is "too many" but still, I can't help but feel that this is just further shoving down our throats that we do not own the content we buy, we are merely renting it from the copyright owner, despite spending the money and being given a physical copy of the product.

On top of the legal mumbo-jumbo that's involved in this - which would make someone buy numerous licenses for one film/game/whatever as if it were a highly guarded piece of software like AVID or Adobe Creative Suite - I just simply don't like the idea of Microsoft having a direct camera into my living room without me knowing if anyone is watching at any given time.

Also, what's to prevent me from unplugging the damn thing when I watch a film? Will it not work? Will it be compulsory? Even worse. If it is, they sure won't be getting my business.


Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Year of Doing Things

A lot of people make New Year's resolutions. They make decisions that, in the new year, they will better themselves by quitting smoking, working out more, getting a girlfriend, losing a boyfriend, anything that they truly believe will shift the course of their lives. And to those people who stick to them, I salute you.

I don't like to make resolutions because I find that I don't really have anything to say other than "be better than last year". This year, however, is different. I've given my year a progress bar and a name. The Year of Doing Things. I am going to do things this year. All of them. All the things.

In the past, I've been either too lazy or too discouraged to go out and make the things I want happen. This year, I want to do things. I want to make at least two short films. I will post more music of my own creation to my YouTube page; maybe even poetry and spoken word readings. I will finish screenplays and work towards getting them made. I will get a literary agent. I will start acting again. I will go out to open mics and story nights and tell stories. I will become better at art. I will get my comic started up again.

I need to do these things or I will become lazy and fail. This will not happen.