Rating: 4/5

This Book Is Broken, written by Toronto-based music journalist Stuart Burman, is a first-person account of the roots, formation, and evolution of the great Broken Social Scene.  Built upon piles of interviews with all the people involved with the band from day one (and if you’re familiar with the band, you know that is a TON of people), the book starts off in mid-90’s Toronto and gradually explains how the many members came together over the next few years, climaxing with their excellent 2002 release You Forgot It In People and the messy-but-good Broken Social Scene in 2005.  The book explores each band member’s recollections and thoughts on the band, along with explanations on how such an ambitious and huge project has remained on its feet while maintaining success for such a long time.  With so many people involved and revolving line-up, one can see how it would be easy to blunder.  Speaking from personal experience, it’s hard to play in a band with more than 4 or 5 people at once.  For about a year I played in a band called Our Nation, which was somewhat similar to Broken Social Scene in that in our relatively short one-year span, 15 people were involved.  Whoever could make it out to play the show could play the show.  However, as the songs took on a life of their own, it was kind of hard to keep it together with so many people involved, and for that reason, Our Nation imploded into itself.  This Book Is Broken shows how you can make it work.  The book also goes into great detail on how the band and its label, Arts & Crafts, revolutionized the Toronto music scene, transforming it into a thriving musical community recognized globally.  When you think about it, before 2003, not a lot of Canadian indie rock bands had achieved much success out of Canada.  Obviously, Broken Social Scene did not make this happen singlehandedly, with the Internet making it easier for these bands to be known outside of their own radius.  However, because BSS is a band that incorporates so many people who have bands or solo careers of their own, it’s that element of cross promotion that has made it work on such a large scale.  This Book Is Broken ends on an uncertain note.  Stuart Berman admits he has no idea where the band will go from here and if it will ever be the same as it once was, as BBS was becoming more of a vehicle for founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning’s solo material.  Well, he wrote those words in 2008.  2009 saw Broken Social Scene-proper come out of its shell once again.  It was announced they were recording a new album.  In July, I saw them play in Ottawa as part of Bluesfest, where they performed several new tunes.  The night before, they performed a show in Toronto at the Harbourfront Centre in which almost everyone who has ever been involved with the band showed up.  So the future looks bright for Broken Social Scene, and in another 10 years, Burman might have to write a book entitled This Book Is Still Broken.

In my last post, in which I summarized my 25 favorite albums of 2009, I mentioned that over the next “few” posts I’d be discussing some of my other favorite things of the year.  I’ve decided to shave that few down to just one post.  Enjoy!

BEST FILM OF THE YEAR

“Inglorious Basterds” (Directed by: Quentin Tarantino)

I have to admit that I didn’t really get out to see a lot of new films in 2009, but out of my few ventures to the cinema, Inglorious Basterds was the one I enjoyed most.  A fictional WWII-based story, Inglorious Basterds consists of two storylines: one follows a group of Jewish American soldiers that ambush, kill, and de-skull Nazi soldiers, while the other follows a Jewish French girl who has now taken on a new, non-Jewish identity after her family is killed by Nazis.  Both storylines slowly interlock as the film goes forward, resulting in an incredible climax.  There are things that Tarantino does in the film that make it very much his own, such as his classic use of “chapters” to separate parts of the story.  However, with that exception, it doesn’t really resemble any of his past films.  One of the things that has always made his films stand out is the dialogue, which Tarantino has a gift for writing.  Large chunks of Inglorious Basterds are in French and German, and it’s interesting to see how he has allowed his skill of writing dialogue to be placed within another environment.  The cast is impeccable, especially the roles Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz, who are both extremely entertaining throughout the film.

BEST FILM I SAW THIS YEAR THAT DIDN’T COME OUT THIS YEAR

“The Sugarland Express” (Directed by: Steven Spielberg)

Released in 1974, this is Steven Spielberg’s first feature-length film.  It shows that even then he was a strong filmmaker.  It stars a young Goldie Hawn and William Atherton as two parents on the run from the cops.  Lou Jean Poplin (Hawn) breaks her husband Clovis (Atherton) out of prison in order to save their son, who is currently in care of a child-care center, soon to be put into the custody of Lou Jeans’s mother.  This is obviously not something these two parents want, and they go as far as taking a Sugarland, Texas state trooper hostage during the journey/chase from the prison in order to get to their child.  The Sugarland Express had my full and undivided attention for its entirety and was by far the best film I saw all year that didn’t come out this year.

BEST CONCERT I ATTENDED

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, (Manchester, Tennessee – June 10-14)

One of the greatest things that has happened in the US over the last 10 years has been the arrival of annual music and art festivals, such as Coachella, Sasquatch!, and Bonnaroo.  In 1999, the experience of the disastrous third Woodstock festival showed that America wasn’t doing it right.  What began to happen then was something modeled on what had been happening in Europe for over a decade.  Throughout the 1990s, three-day festivals including live music, art, onsite camping and food such as Glastonbury and Reading in England, and Les Eurokeenes in France were very common.  These sorts of festivals didn’t begin to appear in the US until the beginning of this past decade. I myself have been to three of them: two Coachellas, one in 2004 and the other in 2007, and this past year’s Bonnaroo.

It was a hell of a time.  Keep checking back to this blog, as I intend to post full documents on each of my festival journeys, but for now, here is a list of the top 5 acts I saw at Bonnaroo this past year:

1-DIRTY PROJECTORS

2-BAND OF HORSES

3-BEASTIE BOYS

4-THE DECEMBERISTS

5-ELVIS COSTELLO

BEST TV SERIES

Dexter

After a shaky third season, the fourth season of Dexter regains the title of my current favorite television show.  John Lithgow is the guest star, playing the Trinity killer, a fellow serial killer.  It was a phenomenal season, perhaps the best so far.  The way the season ends is also perfect because it leaves open a crazy plot for the fifth season, which is not something that has happened on the show before.  On all the previous seasons, the storyline which ran throughout would end completely at the end of that particular season.  There would be references to past seasons, but within new storylines.  This will be one that continues into the fifth season, and frankly, I can’t wait.

BEST BOOK I READ THIS YEAR

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” (Mark Haddon)

This is not only the best novel that I read all year, but one of the best I’ve ever read.  The way this book is written in endlessly fascinating and totally original.  It tells the story of Christopher Boone, an 11-year old boy with perceived Asperger’s or Autism, who finds a neighborhood dog murdered.  Christopher decides to try and find out who killed the dog, which sets forth a quite a story, one that I would recommend to anyone.

BEST THING I DID ALL YEAR

Kicked the butts!  No more smoking for me!

WORST THING I DID ALL YEAR

Lost 19 pounds, then put 10 pounds back on again.  On a related note, quitting smoking can lead to weight gain.  Word of advice: don’t try and quit smoking and lose weight at the same time.

2009 CELEBRITY DEATH WHICH I FOUND MOST SIGNIFICANT

There really seemed to be a lot more famous people dying in 2009 than usual.  Although there was much fanfare made about the death of Michael Jackson, bless his first two albums, on August 26 we lost one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, Ellie Greenwich.  In the 1960s, Greenwich wrote and co-wrote songs such as “Be My Baby”, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, “Leader of the Pack”, “Then He Kissed Me”, and “River Deep Mountain High”.  Now, I realize that some of you may not know these songs by title, but unless you have never turned on a radio your whole life, you have heard at least two of them.  These songs, along with many others she wrote, pretty much set the benchmark for most of what came after them in pop music, and are more or less some of the best pop songs ever written.  Although her prominence as a songwriter faded towards the end of the 60s, as most bands and artists were starting to write their own material, the contribution she made to music cannot be overlooked.  RIP Ellie.