Monday, 28 January 2013

Freelance Whales on Life

Last week, I was lucky enough to experience Freelance Whales live in Toronto at the MOD club – an evening that easily pushed this band to the top of my favourites playlist (and, if there’s one thing I am outwardly proud of, it’s my musical collection…Which will knock the balls off yours. Trust me.)

After having my head blown off by the level of musicianship I encountered that night, I began to ponder over the lyrical genius also inherent in a Freelance Whales song, only the arrive at the conclusion that the writing is so far beyond an average intelligence level that most listeners would have great difficulty deciphering any subliminally encoded messages. Fortunately for you, the simple act of stumbling upon this page has granted an opportunity to bypass the ambiguous rhetoric and move into deep understanding…You know, because I claim to have superiority over your ability to comprehend the lyrics. Below, my easily confused friends, are 6 carefully selected excerpts from Freelance Whales song writing that will be forever framed in the light of pure truth via my thorough interpretations.

“Shut me up with your long tube socks, they don’t scream ‘Hey, let’s just be friends’”

Ah, yes, the perfect start to our virtual Freelance Whales guidebook: the opening lines to ‘Starring’, a band favourite if I do say so myself. While we find the writer taking the first-person perspective of a smitten, gleeful romantic that had radically changed their outlook on their lover-to-be, many other layers of lust are explained throughout the piece. Here, the subject participating in the mere act of wearing high socks has given the writer an erection. Clearly, someone is obsessed.

Let’s be frank here: tube socks cannot speak nor do they have sentience. On the other hand, seeing their crush in tube socks has left the writer speechless. Amazing is the power of socially-constructed axioms on the human mind, especially in the case of outward appearance. If tube socks are what get you off, then tube socks on that person you’ve been stalking is guaranteed to give you some bedroom material for a long, long time. 

“Don’t fix my smile, life is long enough, we will put this flesh into the ground again”

Let’s shift gears now and study the final words of ‘Generator: Second Floor’. What social implications are being discussed in this example? The cyclical nature of life on earth? The pressure associated with having the ‘perfect body’?

It is clear that Freelance Whales is quite anti-plastic surgery (at least in the case of aesthetic purposes). Honestly, at this point, they sound like hippies. But cool hippies, like the kind that still have jobs and are productive members of society. They preach a gospel that drives against North American values of body image and fake ba-jube-jubes, finding happiness in the natural and unscathed.


Found in almost every Freelance Whales song, it seems as through actual words don’t always cut it when you’re creating a masterpiece. Sometimes, it’s just better to bust out in some melodic non-sensical mouth noises instead of singing with real words.

“Do me this solid if you would, pretty lady – please grab your martini and meet me on the balcony”

Who doesn’t like a nice martini for those nights spent socializing on a balcony? Not ‘Hannah’, evidently, or this song wouldn’t be named after her. Hannah seems like a fairly awesome person if she partakes in these activities. 

Moreover, Freelance Whales have stayed classy by finding time to both compliment a female and feed her drinks whilst enjoying the outdoors. No need to worry about mislead intentions here – the song continues to explain how the writer desires to make a ‘light show’ and questions whether or not Hannah is ‘outside-in or inside-out’ (obviously not sexual references). This tots danceable musical creation is one of their best and most admired, if only to celebrate the fact that Hannah is about to endure one of the wildest and forgettable nights of her life (depending on what was put into that ‘martini’). 

“But oh, you caught me sleeping in the power sockets, you caught me mildew in the tiles of the bathroom.”

Yeah….I have no idea what’s going on in this one. Your guess is as good as mine.

 “..your cello bows, we stole your hair to make them…We’re sorry for the iron shoes we nailed to you and stuck you in the rain alone.”

Finally, we arrive at one of the most poignant selections in the Freelance Whales artillery: ‘Broken Horse’, a song about animal rights, human/non-human relations and a fairly mistreated steed. From near-skinning a horse for musical instruments to shoving a metal half-ring into its feet, Freelance Whales warns a desensitized youth of the perils in animal domestication.

Sifting through the deep-rooted words of Freelance Whales is a taxing but necessary process if one is to complete the circle of post-folk wizardry. I hope my simplifying of said works has helped you to establish a well-rounded picture of this powerhouse indie team. Please enjoy responsibly.

Safe travels,

Aaron Turpin

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

From Agony to Enlightenment: Extracting West Africa

I step out of the airplane and am immediately greeted by a violent wave of heat that begins to permeate every inch of my body; I am overdressed, heavily unprepared and immediately turn into a puddle of sweat on top of skin rashes on top of more sweat. I fight the overwhelming urge to make an about face and retract to the safety of the plane interior; it seemed too harsh the transition between the modernity of food carts and tray tables to…well…..this. My new cruel (yet totally self-subjected) reality: Ghana, West Africa.

Welcome to paradise.
It is dark when I arrive and there are no fancy elevated walkways to the main building at Kotoka International Airport in the capitol of Accra, just a narrow staircase leading me onto the invisible tarmac that steams from the aftermath of a disappeared African sun. On the other side of customs I am swarmed by locals looking to make a fast buck – I am an easy target: white, inexperienced and confused (to use a rather understated term). Finding a cab to a hotel costs me dearly after the posse of Ghanaians demand an honorarium for assisting me and my ridiculous amount of luggage across a parking lot. I hand out my only currency, a wad of American twenties, and feel instantly stupid for being so explicitly taken advantage of. Never mind, I am alone and I am scared shitless. I Vulcan Grip the strap of my hiking bag and stare out the window of the cab for the remainder of my night’s travels.

The Intercity STC was one of many such questionable
modes of transportation I encountered.
Nothing could be more terrifying than your first few steps into a third world country - unless, of course, you’re also doing this totally alone and unguarded. Such was my plight after an 18 hour overseas multi-flight trip from my hometown of Toronto, Canada to one of the poorest places in the world. After arriving, of course, I still had to make my way into the interior of Ghana – hours on buses that would eventually make their way into the Upper East District – and finally, my god finally, one last cab ride into the tiny village of Zwarungu where I was to set up camp for the next four months. If Africa is never what you think it is, I was certain I had found the perfect antithesis for every imaginable conception I had garnered previous.

I was thrown into the deep end without a paddle and had to navigate my way around what was an intensely new place to me. The NGO that had funded me worked under a philosophy of strict cultural assimilation via travelling alone while investing oneself completely into the community and, while the theory ultimately made sense, I still debate to myself whether or not the lack of support actually helped or hindered my experience. What I saw in fact turned me into a hard-wired pessimist.

Posing with the Bukere Women's Farmers Association
(I am the white guy, center stage). 
We had already partnered with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Ghana and it was my job to assess Zwarungu for its viability of adopting the “Agriculture as a Business” program, aimed at incorporating business models into the practice of growing and extracting food (this is, after all, West Africa’s largest industry). The goal, ultimately, was to intensify agriculture through microfinance programs and the forming of farmers groups – with the end result a transition from sustenance farming to revenue generating models. I ended up working exclusively with women’s groups (women account for close to 85% of the labour involved in farming in Ghana while the men dominate managerial and/or political positions) that produced everything from shea butter to various types of maize, ground nuts and even straw baskets.

At the end of my four month term, to be painfully honest, I accomplished quite little externally. We still had no idea whether or not Zwarungu could profit from the program, thanks in part to the fact that I think I was sick with Malaria or some other kind of parasite for close to half the time (and if you’re interested in learning more about extraction, this would be a completely new and kind of gross example). I walked away, however, not really caring about this. Instead, a rather unusual epiphany had actually changed my entire perspective of the experience: I was in Africa to help me. Yes, to risk sounding rather self-centered, the most important part of my trip became how much I could benefit from understanding true poverty, forming relationships with my host family or business partnering with the director of my office. If I was to actually make difference anywhere, it would be in Canada, after all of this was over.

And after every single kid received a  photo of themselves. 
I’m not afraid of admitting how happy I was to be back in North America after this trip, nor am I hesitant to tell you that I probably won’t ever do something like that again. But if you asked about regrets, I have none. West Africa is an incredibly beautiful place full of incredibly beautiful people who are happier than most of my friends and peers in Toronto, despite the fact that they account for one of the poorest demographics in the world. The word extraction takes on so many meanings in this context; extracting knowledge from endlessly meaningful experiences, extracting self-understanding through doing things I thought I never had the capability of doing, and extracting a new perspective of just how messy the world actually is but, conversely, extracting pure truth and hope and beauty from its center….All you have to do is tilt your head a little. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

What can we Learn from Pine Point?

An aerial of Pine Point before its 'removal' 

Google Map “Pine Point, Fort Smith, Unorganized” and prepare for a virtual trip to a faraway place. The location name is automatically proceeded by native script and you are taken to a remote section of Northern Canada, just below the Great Slave Lake and roughly two hours East of Hay River, Northwest Territories. A skeleton of small roads creates a grid between some small lakes beside a nearby rail line. The Fort Resolution Highway crosses to the South; just below that begins the massive Wood Buffalo National Park – further down, the Alberta – NWT border. You get the feeling that virtually nobody lives here.

And you’re right.

Hundreds of small settlements just like Pine Point line the highways and shores of Canada’s North, but what makes this one in particular a little different is its history as a once rural oasis turned desolate ghost town in a matter of days. So what happened at Pine Point?

Wikipedia, online knower of all things, has an entire page dedicated to Pine Point. In the true unapologetically frank style only Wikipedia could get away with, Pine Point is explained as a ‘single-industry town’ that closed when the local zinc mine shut down. Afterward, ‘All buildings were removed or demolished, and today the site is completely abandoned, although there is still evidence of the street layout.’ So, hey, total bummer. End of story?

Not really. What don’t you get from such a brash and condensed version of Pine Point’s demise is its story as a place where people once lived, went to school, worked and formed a community – however short this era may have lasted. Pine Point was the unfortunate product of a Federal social experiment designed to provide a group of people with cookie-cutter housing and a job all in the same place, and see what transpires. After the mine stopped producing, as mines tend to do when they extract non-renewable resources, there was no choice but to pull up shop. But by then, a strong community had formed: relationships, traditions, social circles….The end of Pine Point wasn’t only marked by the bulldozing of people’s homes, but the end of a life its residents would have understood deeply, many of whom were born and raised inside the small town.

A selection from the 'Welcome to Pine Point' website.
Today, little physical evidence exists to remind us of the once thriving village of Pine Point, but through the wonders of film and internet, the ‘lost mining town’ has been resurrected and re-formed through the voices of its ex-citizens. ‘Welcome to Pine Point’, an incredible interactive website dedicated to retelling the true story of Pine Point, is now fully accessible and complete with original pictures, sound, video and more. The website has since been maintained by Pine Points own Richard Cloutier, the same person who donated most of the material, while funding and technical production has been overseen by the National Film Board. A secondary website created by Cloutier, Pine Point Revisited, also includes information on his experience as part of this short-lived settlement.

With greater insight into the matters of Pine Point and the people who once called it home we can begin to see the mistakes of its very creation. Pine Point is not an isolated incident, but serves as an important lesson on how we build, and sometimes destroy, the places we live and the communities we nurture. Thanks to some dedicated individuals, we won’t forget Pine Point and what it has taught us: humility, sacrifice and the inevitability of time.

*Check out 'Welcome to Pine Point' here (click on the image below):

Monday, 7 January 2013

Happy New Fear

Ah, yes…2013 is upon us like the flabby and unwanted ‘beer baby’ obtained after a few too many holiday Tecates you smuggled across the border while on that ‘Mexican thrill ride’ fall vacation. Indeed, as we celebrate twelve new months of…well, whatever, it’s hard not to feel hope, promise, success and….fear?

Just like th...Wait, what?
I’m not a fan or maker of resolutions, but if I were to wish upon a New Year’s star my aspirations would probably seem more like basic living requirements instead of dreams of celebrity and healthier choices. At the top of my list: a job.

I, like many of my academic comrades, will graduate in the spring. When the classes finish and a degree finds its way into my palms that sweat in tense anticipation, I am released unto to the world and will attempt to navigate my way out of the supernovae of jobless graduates and young post-students who aren’t even remotely working in their field. It’s a scary prospect, so is it weird that I feel so excited about it?

Hence, by virtue of this post, my happy, new fear. Happy because I plan on enjoying life after university, and fear because I’d rather not also end up making a living by re-selling outdated couch covers at above market price from my parents basement. Today, more university graduates have been unable to find a job/ a job in their field than ever before. Apparently because everyone gets degrees nowadays. And a whole bunch of people who were laid off during something called ‘the recession’ are also trying to find a job. Super.

So…What’s my plan? I’ve got extra-curriculars, volunteer hours, an internship, work experience….but is it enough? Seeing as the job market currently operates on internal postings and something called nepotism , perhaps I should revisit my strategy and lower the bar (just a bit?). See, this would all be easier if I could just shape shift into my virtual Sim.

Enjoying the flowers of employment.
But sexy Sim Aaron only exists in my brain and not on my resume, so it’s time to buck up and face the reality that good professional jobs are hard to come by and seem to take a combination of luck and good fortune to obtain. As I try my dandiest to be an exception, I can’t help but feel my condolences for the other new grads that (unlike me) will be flung into the market with overwhelming debts and pressure to perform. Is this really how we want to treat our young ‘leaders of tomorrow’? Never mind changing the world; we’re still worried about paying next month’s rent.