The Magnetic Fields at The Sound Academy, March 30th 2012

“You can’t bring that in there.”

I resisted the urge to swear and turned around. The security guard shining her light into Dani Couture‘s bag was shaking her head. My ticket had already been scanned, but I turned and walked back to the doors. Despite the pleasant fog of four glasses of pinot grigio, which I’d downed during Prohibition’s “hooch hour” earlier in the evening, I accepted my responsibility for the trouble Dani was having getting in. It was at least half my fault.

“They’re chocolate chips. I was going to make cookies later.” Dani was trying to appeal to reason.

The security guard shook her head again. “No outside food or drink.”

In addition to the bag of chocolate chips, Dani’s bag was stuffed full of a hilarious assortment of groceries, including two trays of dim sum that I’d purchased (sesame balls and bbq pok buns) and a full box of panda cookies with strawberry filling.

We really did try and cram the whole world in there.

“Can we check it?”

“No, we don’t take bags. But you can hide it in a bush outside.”

“What?” This sounded suspiciously like a scheme I would have come up with.

The security guard nodded sagely. “Here, let me find you a bag.” She quickly returned with a yellow No Frills plastic grocery bag. Dani and I looked at each other shrugged. After tying our food as securely as we could in the bag, we ran outside, found the safest-looking shrub we could and stuffed the food under it.

“Thanks for the bag,” I said to the security guard as she waved us through.

“No problem. People do it all the time, and it’s cool enough out tonight that the buns should be fine.”

We conceded that she had a good point, and joined Grace, Evan and Cliff inside. They had been watching us drunkenly squirrel our ill-considered snacks away with the same expressions people wear when their blackout-drunk friends think talking to the cops is a good idea: with indulgent amusement, but also like they were prepared to say, “we’ve never met these women before in our lives,” if need be.

“If they hadn’t opened up terrible food stalls in this place, I would be holding a pork bun right now,” I grumped as we all walked in together.

“Ah, the stench of onion rings. Now I hate the Sound Academy even more.” Grace wrinkled her nose.

The venue was a little less than half full. Most of the room was standing, heads tilted and postures contrapposto, but a few tables were scattered about as well. On stage, Bachelorette sampled her own dreamy voice, creating loops of hums and trills over a poppy but slightly melancholy synth base. I wished the drinks were cheaper.

“The last time I was here I was roofied.” I wasn’t kidding. The urine test had recently come back, and traces of rohypnol were still in my system two days after I had suddenly felt dizzy, left the Sound Academy in a cab, and spent the rest of the night babbling incoherently.

My friends all grimaced. “Are you okay being here?”

I nodded. “I’m just drinking out of cans from now on.”

Bachelorette finished her set and left the stage. There was a general rush to the bar for refills.

“Let’s get closer,” Dani suggested.

“I got this.”

I barely needed to use my elbows at all to get the five of us comfortably situated in the third row. The hipster crowd was much more person-space sensitive that the average metal crowd.

I spend the vast majority of my time listening to aggressive music. There is something about heavy metal that moves me like most other music does not. There is a visceral charge, a palpable, very physical energy that makes the listening experience completely different, especially in a live setting. While I sometimes encounter a pop song or a bit of hip hop that briefly attracts my attention, it always ends up being a brief affair, a casual bit of flirting. When it comes to metal, I am happily married and will always come back home.


Ah, but then there are the Magnetic Fields. This is the one musical affair that I can’t seen to set aside, the one real bit of inconsistency in my taste. All the other weird things that I like made a kind of sense — sure, I like musical theatre, but I also love power metal, so it all sort of has an accord. But the Magnetic Fields don’t make the same kind of sense. They are gentle, melancholy, stalwartly acoustic and analog, winsome and whimsical, cynical but with hope. They play with emotional tones and textures, most of them romantic in nature, with the same sense of blithe experimentation as they apply to their choice of instrumentation (which range from cello to kazoo). Their subtle tenderness is something that I should sneer at — and yet, their hooks have a hold deep in my heart.

I could feel my throat closing a little as the crew set up the chairs for the ukelele strummer/vocalist, cellist and acoustic guitar player. Stephin Merritt’s multi-instrument station was set up, the mic carefully angled. Claudia Gonson’s upright piano and mic were adjusted lovingly. The last time I saw the Magnetic Fields, I went by myself and spent the night texting pictures to someone I wished fervently was sitting next to me, clutching my hand during the most romantic moments. That person is dead now, and I came to hate him long before. Suddenly, the huge room seemed coffin-close. I almost turned and wordlessly walked out.

But then, the band walked on stage, each member taking their place with a kind of easy humility, and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

The Magnetic Fields. If you look close, you can see us in the third row.

The Magnetic Fields band have an effortless kind of rapport, and related to each other with a kind of innate tenderness that seems on the verge of telepathic. Only Claudia Gonson and Stephin Merritt talked to each other on stage, Stephin making horrified faces at Claudia’s awful puns and as they discussed the origin of the Magnetic Fields as a Stephin Merritt cover band – Stephin himself was only convinced to join the project when he went to a show and realized how unhappy he was with how his work was being interpreted. They all played their instruments as though they were simply breathing, with a perfectly natural pleasure and ease. The chemistry they have is a beautiful thing to watch.

Stephin Merritt!

Earlier in the evening, while drinking too much wine in preparation for the catharsis I was expecting, Dani, Grace and I each made a list of our top three the Magnetic Fields songs. Each of us had one of our top three songs played. When my selection, “Book of Love” (I am a bit of a sap) began, I could not resist pumping my fist in the air in triumph. Merritt said that it would be the song they played at his funeral, that “it will be played like this,” and the rendition the Magnetic Fields treated us to was a much more down-tempo, minor-key version than I have heard before. Grace got “It’s Only Time” from her list as well, and Dani got to hear “You Must Be Out Of Your Mind.” They played a lot of newer material as well, as they are promoting their recently released record Love At The Bottom Of The Sea. The revenge fantasy numbers “Your Girlfriend’s Face” and “My Husband’s Pied-a-terre” went over particularly well with the crowd. I absolutely adored the more mournful, sinister piece “I’ve Run Away To Join The Fairies,” which showcased Merritt’s morbidity more effectively that I have heard since his work on the delightfully creepy soundtrack to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

After returning for an encore, the Magnetic Fields played “Busby Berkeley Dreams” as the very last song of their set. Stephin Merritt’s lugubrious baritone positively ached during the choruses. The tightness returned to my throat.

“Do you remember which bush it was?” I looked around vaguely, as though scanning a parking lot. Then one of us spotted a bit of yellow plastic poking out from beneath a shrub and we jogged over.

“It’s fine!” I ripped the plastic trying to get at my dim sum as fast as possible.

“I was sure a raccoon was going to eat it.” Cliff was watching us divide the groceries as though something slightly supernatural had just occurred.

I selected a sesame ball from one of the trays. The strangely glutinous exterior gave way under my fingers when I pinched it. The sensation of my teeth shearing the strange little dumpling felt uncomfortably like biting into flesh. Sesame seeds stuck to my lips.

“It tastes great,” I said, crying down the back of my throat.

Girls Don’t Like Metal


This week, I launched a new column called “Girls Don’t Like Metal” with Canada Arts Connect Magazine. This is an idea I’ve been turning over and over in my mind for a few months now, as a starting point for an even larger series of projects focussing on women and heavy metal.


Here’s a little bit more about the column:

Girls Don’t Like Metal is a  weekly column examines gender issues, feminism, and sexuality within heavy metal music. Each post will come in the form of of an interview with a member of the heavy metal community, including artists, writers, magazine and website editors, road crew members, merch folks, sound techs, and fans. Interview subjects may identify as female/femme/trans/ genderqueer or be allies, and share a deep love of and commitment to heavy metal. The column will also discuss heavy metal culture in general, and allow women who work in the industry or identify as metalheads the space to open up about their own projects.

The inspiration for this column came from the title of an article published on Metalsucks in October of 2011: “Public Service Announcement: Girls Do Not Like Metal!” The article was supposedly intended as a piece of satire, posited the idea that women don’t actually enjoy heavy metal, but rather pretend to in order to attract male attention. This column pokes fun at that egregious falsehood, and also allows women the opportunity to talk about their love of heavy metal and the significance that this music has played in their lives.

The very first instalment of the column went up on Monday morning, and features an interview with the wonderful and inexhaustible “Grim” Kim Kelly. Kim talks about her passionate love for heavy metal, what drew her to difficult music, and how it has become the keystone to her life and identity as well as her career. We talked about feminism and gender, acceptance and negativity, and the music that we both love.

And then, the internet exploded.

The column has attracted more attention than I could have dreamed of. The outpouring of support has been overwhelmingly wonderful. As a friend pointed  soon after the post went up, there was something about a dedicated column like this that has struck a nerve.

It wasn’t long before responses started to pop up.

The lovely PR and music journalist Biodagar  wrote a lovely blog post about it.

Metal lifestyle blogger Steff Metal wrote about it on her blog.

Toronto Metal Music wrote about it too, and I am looking forward to working with them on a pro-diversity show in future.

Then, most incredibly of all, the mighty Decibel Magazine weighed in to post that they like the column. I have no words to describe how pleased I am that this column has struck a chord with so many.

Like anything that attracts the attention of the internet, however, it was only a matter of time before the creepier denizens of the interwebs began to emerge. Initially it was just a few defamatory statements in the comments on the original article, but by this morning Stuff You Will Hate, the website owned by the original author of the Metalsucks column that started this whole thing found the Girls Don’t Like Metal column and posted about it. The comment thread is truly a thing to behold. I think my favourite part is when someone attempted to call me a cunt and mis-wrote “count” instead. Guess who has been doing the Count voice and talking about my vagina all day? Ah ah ah.

But those negative, trolling comments have been relatively few and far between. Most people have written and posted to encourage and support, and I feel completely buoyed up by everyone’s positive energy.

Thank you so much, and I can’t wait for the next post to go up soon!

Natalie Zed’s Top 15 Abums of 2011

At long last, here are my Top 15 Albums of 2011:

40 Watt Sun – The Inside Room (Cyclone Empire)

All Else Failed – Wouldn’t Wish This On Anyone (War Torn Records)

Atlas Moth – An Ache For The Distance (Profound Lore)

4. Falconer – Armod (Metal Blade)

Fuck The Facts – Die Miserable (Relapse)

Hammers of Misfortune — 17th Street (Metal Blade)

KEN Mode – Venerable (Profound Lore)

Leprous – Bilateral (InsideOut)

Today Is The Day – Pain Is A Warning (Black Market Activities)

 Flourishing — The Sum Of All Fossils (The Path Less Traveled)

Unexpect – Fables of the Sleepless Empire (Independent)

Tombs — Path of Totality (Relapse)

Primordial — Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand (Metal Blade)

Blut Aus Nord — 777 The Desanctification (Debemur Morti)

Falloch — Where Distant Spirits Remain (Candlelight)

And here are all of the other year-end features that I contributed to with my own lists, year-end highlights and blurbs about the honoured albums.

About Heavy Metal’s 2011 Heavy Metal Awards

Alternative Matter’s Top 15 of 2011

Exclaim’s 18 Best Metal Albums of 2011 

Hellbound’s Top 20 Albums of 2011

Hellbound’s Individual Top 10 Albums of 2011

The Wrecking Ball: A Scream UnFestival Event

A piece I originally wrote for Canada Arts Connect, discussing the origins of the Wrecking Ball hybrid performance series.

*                  *               *

A few short weeks ago, Bill Kennedy, the Artistic Director of the Scream, announced the Festival’s demise. This obituary came in the form of an open letter to the literary community — artists, administrators, volunteers —  who had supported the Scream during the 18 years of it’s vibrant, iconoclastic life. The announcement was also a call to action, a request to have the Scream go out with a bang rather than a whimper. We were all invited to host our own events surrounding the last Scream Mainstage, a kind of UnFestival, something that could rise up from the ashes of what has been the best literary Festival in Canada for nearly two decades.

I was absolutely furious when I heard the news. The Scream has been, for many young poets, something to strive for. The Scream combined intellectual ecstasy and straightforward debauchery like few other events. Scream parties are notorious, as are the quality of the readings. I was also angry out of a personal sense of loss. For years, a goal stood on my mind: one day, I would read on the Mainstage. One day I would face the crowd, standing on the Dream stage in High Park, and I would read, while the light faded and mosquitos attacked the spotlights. For me, and for a huge coterie of young writers, that high mark of achievement, that goal, that dream, was suddenly blasted off the literary landscape.

Anger is a fantastic emotion. Grief can paralyze us; fury spurs us to action. I could not let the Scream, something that had given and taken so much from me and so much more from so many others, pass away quietly. I wanted to scream. I wanted to pick up a sledgehammer. I wanted to create an event that was loud and angry, something that would serve as a call to action instead of a laying to rest.

And so, The Wrecking Ball was born. It’s a selfish event, in a lot of ways, as it celebrates my two great loves: poetry and heavy metal. I’ve been dreaming of uniting these disparate yet parallel art forms for a while now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do something as crazy as inviting poets and metal bands to perform together.  It celebrates everything that was wonderful about the scream: a creative challenge combined with a hell of a party.

Please come. Let out your energy. Sing, scream, listen. Help tear up the crumbling wreckage of The Scream and help build something new out of what is left.

The Scream is dead; long live the Scream.

The Wrecking Ball Facebook Event

What: A literary demolition derby, pairing heavy metal bands with experimental poets.

When: July 9th, 2011. Doors at 8pm

Where: The Hard Luck Bar, 812 Dundas St. West

Who: poets! angela rawlingsDamian RogersChris Doda, and Dani Couture

bands! SylvusVilipend, and Ein Traum

How much: $8


As I am sure you have noticed, has undergone a complete, glorious redesign. We had added a lot of new functionality, especially to the Zedlist. Take a look around, and let me know what you think!


I really have no words to express how overjoyed I feel in the wake of The Wrecking Ball. The event was a grater success that I had ever hoped for.

Thank you to the poets: Dani Couture, Chris Doda, Damian Rogers, and angela rawlings, who performed their poetry brilliantly and got a room full of metalheads clapping and howling along. Thank you the bands: Ein Traum, Vilipend, and Sylvus, who inspired poets to headbang and scream and do the death metal boogie. Thank you to the photographers and reviewers who came, and to the publications who gave us press before the event.

Most of all, thank you lovely friends, acquaintances, volunteers, metalheads, poetry fans, Scream folks, strangers-no-more. Thank you for coming, for providing a loving and enthusiastic audience, for drinking and making merry and making the night worthwhile.

Special thanks to Mike Crossley, who endured my endless questions with an inhuman amount of patience; to Christopher Gramlich, who listened to me fret for weeks; and to Dani Couture, who asked me if I needed help every five minutes and is the raddest door/merch girl out there.

I am overwhelmed with how good everyone is. I can’t wait to put on another event.

Wrecking Ball Media Roundup

So, the Wrecking Ball is happening in, let’s see, 48 hours or so (I am going to barf). While my anxiety disorder has been whispering all kinds of  doomsday scenarios to me, people actually seem pretty pumped about the event. Here’s some of the fantastic media coverage that we’ve received so far:

Out wonderful sponsors Canada Arts Connect published a feature on the event.

The lovely Mary Rajotte interviewed me for Toronto Writing Examiner.

And this morning, the Afterwords section of the National Post mentioned The Wrecking Ball in an article about the Scream.

If I’ve missed any press, please let me know!

Oh, and also: come to my party. I’m turning 28 a mere three days later, so you kind of have to. For my birthday.

The Wrecking Ball

The Scream Literary Festival, a Toronto institution for the past eighteen years, is closing its doors this summer. This will be this final Scream. Rather than the usual festival events, Scream supporters and alumni are throwing their own UnFestival in honour of the Scream, a celebration and a wake for a festival that has meant the world to us.

I am throwing The Wrecking Ball, a heavy metal/poetry hybrid event. It’s going to be a hell of a party, and you should come.

The event is also sponsored by Canada Arts Connect, which makes it even more awesome.


What: A literary demolition derby, pairing heavy metal bands with experimetal poets.

When: July 9th, 2011. Doors at 8pm

Where: The Hard Luck Bar, 812 Dundas St. West

Who: poets! angela rawlings, Damian Rogers, Chris Doda, and Dani Couture

bands! Sylvus, Vilipend, and Ein Traum

How much: $8


Poster by Matt Daley.

Come to my party.

Your BearShark And You: Bribery

Bearshark and Hippo

BearSharks can also be bribed with toys.

Your BearShark can sometimes be… stubborn. This contrariness is part of their majestic charm, but can occasionally be trying for even the most patient handlers. Luckily, there is an easy and straightforward solution that’s both humane to your BearShark and satisfying to the handler: bribery.
While BearSharks are fond of many things, such as naps and backrubs, food is by far and away the most effective bribe item. BearSharks regard hunger as a very powerful motivator, and a hungry BearShark is a grumpy BearShark. Offering something tasty is an absolutely surefire way to put your BearShark in a more accommodating mood.
Bribe suggestions: chocolate and peanut butter, cookies with honey, salt & vinegar Crispers, anything that contains caramel, small pieces of grilled meat (especially chicken and steak), bacon,and, for a healthy alternative, small carrots with ranch dipping sauce.