Tuesday, June 22, 2010

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things (in no particular order)

A long while back, a fellow blogger sent me an award that came with an entreaty to list fave blogs and fave things. I never got round to that, being busy with school and other favourite things. So fave blogs is still coming some dry day down the pipeline. But, here are a few of my favourite things.

1. 1912 Wilson Upright Piano. I once owned a piano. My at-the-time-wife and I found it in a burnt down house. I was up for just hauling it off, but she felt we were reformed from youthful shenanigans and contacted the realtor and the owners, who said have at it. Sadly, it had belonged to the man of the house who perished in the fire, and his kids didn’t want it. It was undamaged, sitting like an angel in the charred mess, with a bench full of songbooks, and sounded beautiful even before it was tuned. I took piano lessons and mauled the keys until my teacher, retracting his earlier statement that anyone could learn, told me to find a new hobby. I loved plinking it anyway. My infant daughter played at least as well as me. Oddly enough, it was the same year we found a violin in an apt we moved into. Good year for musical discord.

2. Cow’s Milk. We(milk and i) are currently enduring a separation, but my whole life, nothing has brought me the kind of comfort, joy and nutrition as milk has. Chocolate cake is pretty nice, but there isn’t really any reason to have it if you can’t wash it down with milk. Incidentally, I spent many years languishing in illicit substances, and without milk—the only thing I digested in a consistent and satisfactory way--I may well have died from malnutrition. So, without milk, I would have missed out on some of the weirder adventures in my life, as well as some of the more mundane times as well.

3. Jazz. Does anything need to be said? If I can’t have Jazz, I am packing up my toys and leaving the sandbox. And by sandbox, I mean life. When life is great, jazz is a perfect soundtrack to accompany it. When life is so terrible that you want to erase yourself so as not to make others uncomfortable, jazz is a survival tool. Jazz is everything. Too hot in the summer, throw some jazz on. Blue over a girl, throw some jazz on. Ace your finals and celebrating, throw some jazz on. Baby won’t sleep, throw some jazz on. John Coltrane's take on the song Favorite Things is definitely one of my favorite things. There’s a song in Grease, “Grease is the Word”. In highschool, someone told me it was the greatest song ever because you could substitute any word for grease and have a spiritual epiphany about life. Well, jazz is the word(preferably with milk).

4. My Sense Of Smell. I'm a heavy smoker, and by all accounts my nose should just be an ornament in the middle of my face(thank god it isn’t just that, as it is a big lumpy nose). But I have a hyper keen sense of smell. This sucks sometimes, when your passing that hepcat who fell into the vat of Old Spice, but more often, I have enjoyed the complex nuances I get out of life, from the smell of trees, foods, fabrics, papers, people. True, I pray for the death of the automobile which tries to commandeer the entire realm of smell. But, the smell of tomato stems, baby scalp, cumin, grapefruit, or a woman on a hot summer day, make all the grunge worthwhile. Perhaps my nose is even defective. When it rains, I would swear the wet apshault smells like corn husks.

5. Water. I can’t swim to save my life. Seriously, when I took swim lessons, I barely managed the dog paddle and turned treading water into the decathlon. And skinny as I was, I sunk instead of floating. I don’t go anywhere near bodies of water without a lifejacket. And why knock lifejackets, you can float at peace in any lake or ocean with them. But I have spent more time in the bath tub than some people do at work or in their marriages. I'm a music lover, and being in water is like making a song happen in your head. I believe, when I am told, that once, we crawled out of water. That water love is even before thinking of how nothing tastes better than water if your pale Scottish ass has been cooking in the sun, or you are recovering from a night of debauchery, or worse, both.

6. Opera. Some folk are middle of the road, some folk are extreme. Unfortunately, I fall under extreme. My moods are so volatile, I can’t actually keep up or keep track. Luckily I have opera to help out. I put some Verdi, or some Wagner, or some Strauss, or even some Glass on, and lo and behold, it tunes me in. Sometimes I need to cry, or I need to get angry, or I just need to fully grasp the holiness of sunrise, and opera guides me. If you don’t get opera, you are just taking up space in my sandbox.

7. Animation. I don’t know what to say here. Fleischer, Lantz, Disney. Rene Laloux, Ralph Bakshi. Japanime. Cheap Saturday morning animation from the 80’s. Love. Love. Pixar, Dreamworks. Love. Indie flash cartoons on the internet. Love. Much of life is tedious. Much of it is sad, often out of your control, sometimes sad of your own making. Animation is always there to help you on your way. As much as I love film, it is a pale substitute for animation. And I will go out back to share a can of whupp-ass with anyone who disagrees.

8. Curry. I’ve done a lot of mushrooms, and taken a lot of acid, but nothing takes you on a trip like curry. Some of the best dinner parties I either threw or attended were debauched in curry. My best personal recipes grew out of the local Indian food store. Sometimes, in the excesses of youth, my friends and I would boldly combine curry with the music of Klaus Schulze or early Tangerine Dream. We would gorge ourselves and leave orange peels strewn about and then float around the room on fire with the best spices, soundtracked by space music. To this day, when I get a dinner wish, I can’t ever diverge from Saag Paneer. It’s mostly spinach and bland cheese, but again, I'll duel defending it. I once had an exterminator swear to me that it was curry that attracted cockroaches. My only answer was, those little fucks have been around alot longer than us, maybe they are onto something.

9. Beer. Ahh, what needs be said. The great peaks in my life, and some of the dankest most regrettable moments are accompanied by beer. The best treatise on the fermented beverage was written by Jack London, simply titled, “John Barleycorn”. It details the heights and wells of that most Canadian of beverages. For all the ill, have you ever spent a long day in 30 degree temperatures painting a fence and then cracked open a beer in the fading light?

10. Books. Jeeze, that`s pretty vague, isn`t it? children’s books of faerie and myth. Scif-fi escapism. Political analysis. Physics. Biology. 19th century Russian literature, beat lit. Satire. Graphic novels. Psychology. Norwegian pastoral novels. Anthropology. Disdainful French lit. Pagan studies. History. Indulgent Canadian Literature. Philosophy. Grease thought grease was the word, but the word is the word. If it gots words, ahs a in. It really is a toss up for me which I would survive longer, a drought of water, or a drought of books.

11. Dogs. Everyone who doesn’t love dogs to death, raise your hands. OK, good, now get the fuck out of my sandbox. Dogs and humans have been living together and relying on each other for at least 40 000 years. Some people deride them for their slavish devotion to us, but you have to remember how slavishly devoted we are to them also. They protect us, they hear and smell for us. And we feed them and caress them far more than we ever do another human. They will always come and nuzzle you and offer companionship when you have been a complete ass and alienated everyone else from your life. And they understand the important things: food, frolic, fucking, and sleep. We could learn from our dogs: Live large and hard and bury your nose when you have been bad, and when all else fails, nap.

I have other favourite things, things that keep me going, but that is a basic list. Don’t ask me for the blog list, I read too much to narrow down a list.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fuck Those Fucking Fucks – Treme

I get sucked into lots of TV. It is the balm on the curse of a small life. Some of it is really terrible, like Smallville, yet I watch rabidly. Some of it is damned sublime, like the Shakespearean Deadwood. Some shows cut me to the bone: The claustrophobic dread of the Shield, the political knots in Rome. Yes, it’s “just tv”, not a real art form to be commented on like painting or literature. Though, if you step back from snobdom, tv is sort of like literature and painting combined.

I’ve been watching this show called Treme. I never checked it out, due to it’s unfortunate title that looks like a slang for extreme. I thought it was a cross between Fear factor and Jackass(and if you don't know what they are, then good on you for not being a slave to the boob tube). Turns out it is “Treah-May”, a neighbourhood in New Orleans steeped in history, energy and mystique.

At first, I thought of it as an ensemble drama, it does after all have a sprawling cast. I realised soon in that it only has two cast members, and they do such an intricate dance, it’s hard to tell who the lead is. One character is music, and the other is community. I suppose their union creates New Orleans. A ripe and debauched and crippled city of tight communities tied to the music that drives their identity.

Now, I am an obsessive jazz fan—needs to be said at the outset as it biases my view. So, let it be known, that if in between the musical segments all they had were sock puppets telling fart jokes, I would probably love this show. At least half of the show is musical segments, and they are glorious and diverse. Creole, oldie time jazz, bebop, zydeco, honkey-tonk, classical violin, bluegrass, hip-hop, tribal traditional. This show is like moving into the Smithsonian with a live band.

Some of the character seem chosen to remind you of real players. One character, a trombone player, is the absolute spitting image down to the haircut, of Cannonball Adderly(who played sax). Another character, a son who has abandoned new Orleans for greater heights and is torn about capitalizing on his roots, looks a lot like Wynton Marsalis. He has a bandmate on sax who needs to be chosen for the Coltrane biopic(please make one, he was a god and lead a cinematic life). Treme is also rife with real musicians, some of them famous, and some local celebrities, who simply play themselves. One really nice touch is Kermit Ruffins, a trumpeter, who sings with a voice like Miles Davis (and bears a passing resemblance).

While watching this show, I constantly have to pause and look up references to Creole language, bands and musicians as well as locales. learning what "second-line" means was fascinating. No, this not a distraction, but a joyous exploration and it lets me know that the writers did their work and the producers went whole hog with it. you can watch it without the research, but even if you are steeped in lore, you still benefit from research, that is how richly textured this show is.

Now, if all they did was present visually stimulating music, that would be awesome. If all they did was add to that some vignette/slice of life images of the people of New Orleans, that would make it that much richer. But no, they had to set the bar really really fucking high, and do the music so thick you can smell it, and characters so real, you might know them, and then on top of that all, they did in fact include a season reaching plot arc that draws everything together. It is, in fact very intense, if you are willing to watch through it all. It has to be viewed as a ten hour movie, rather than an episodic show. As a guy who cut his teeth on Russian literature, I can totally get down with a ten hour plot arc driven by a huge cast of deeply nuanced characters.

We all laugh at tv whether we watch it or not. We deride it, we complain that we are being spoken down to, we lament the end of culture. And then something like Treme comes along and sets us on our heads.

As I watched, enchanted, I kept thinking: I know this city, I know these people. It was absurd, I’ve never been deeper into the US than the “Canadian” states of Maine and New Hampshire.

There was something about the mood, the tone, the hijinx, the exuberance. Finally it came to me, it was something about the Joie De Vivre.

Of course I knew this city! Deep in culture and music, drowning in poverty and political corruption. It was Montreal during the deep depression that has spanned most of my life.

I was conceived in Montreal, family driven out by politics and circumstance, and I returned as an adult and lived through some of the greatest times anyone could know. Sometimes fate or economics drives a city under its heel, and cities die. Cities like New Orleans or Montreal throw a party, flip you the bird and keep right on thriving.

I feel tempted to bring out my most beautiful ghosts of a Montreal passed, but will save that for another post. This post was for television. Treme is cinema verite, I know this. Even if it wasn’t, it would still be theatre at its best. You smell the mould, and taste the rich cuisine. You can’t sit still, you have to dance, then you have to go out and find some smokey place to dance. You have to dig out your old albums. You have to dig up your old friends. You have to remember what is best about living.

I saw a trailer for what will most likely be a profitable bad movie based on a profitable bad book. It details a character who “used to have a hunger for life, and I want it back”. I understood the trailer, it twanged my rusty heart strings, but it was cheap pablum. Treme is the real thing. It reminds you about important things, passionate things, delightful things. And it doesn’t cheat you while doing it. It doesn’t take advantage of you or make fun of you, or make you a demographic.

It’s just raw fucking power of voice and song and narrative.

I don’t sling tv very often, despite being a junkie, but I will sling this one. I write this sitting under one of my very favourite possessions: a photo of Thelonious Monk sitting on a curb in an alley eating a plate of beans—part of his payment for playing some club somewhere, back in the day. I love Monk more than most anything and that one unassuming picture somehow seems to sum up my love. When I watch Treme, I get the same feeling I get when I look up at that picture.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

just a plug:

here's a post on the gulf oil spill by acclaimed sci-fi author, and marine biologist Peter Watts:


(there's nothing like being so lazy that I let someone else do my ranting for me)

and an even better one, more generally on governments, science and the environment from Peter's old blog:

no moods, ads or cutesy fucking icons

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Honest Junkie.

I will admit, I am a junkie. And I am far gone too, I will do pretty much anything to keep my shit flowing. And I will go major apeshit if anyone tries to stop or slow me down. Luckily, I'm hooked on oil, not smack, so very few people look down on me. It makes it way easier to go far off the deep end with one's habit. It helps too, that it is a common habit—we junkies all rationalize together. I feel bad for folk hooked on things where people think them weak or pathetic. I don’t have this problem.

I require 7 or 8 layers of oil 3 to 6 times a day just for the food I want. Seriously, from manufacturing farming equipment, to fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, and then processing and packaging and then trucking, not to mention storage and cooking, and then waste removal, a huge chunk of my habit is just food. That’s just the oil that keeps me alive to enjoy more oil.

There are other things. Half my clothes, most of the crap I buy for my house, lots of the shit that allows me to have a job is made of oil. All of it is made by oil. Fuck, I rarely touch anything that doesn't exist only because of oil. I can’t even shave without it.

Like any other addiction, it’s insidious. it pretends to be a small part of life while taking over your whole life, and i mean everything. I have a little rubber chimpanzee that sits on my dresser and reminds me that I am a primate, just another insignificant, self-preoccupied biologic organism. He’s important to me and my thought process. But he’s not really made of rubber though, like not from a tree. He’s pure mass produced petroleum, shipped lickety-split from china or some other Asian place I know little about. So, he seems like a grounding lodestone to me, but he’s just another rock in my addiction.

Even my words are oil soaked. An unimaginable amount of oil goes into keeping me up to my eyeballs in computers, hard drives, fibre-optics, servers, electricity. It also paid for my schools and the freedom from fields to allow me to learn to read and write in the first place. It makes the books I read. it gave me access to information about oil addiction.

Much of the healthcare and medicine I have required(or desired) in my lifetime simply isn’t possible without oil.

My childhood lunchbox was made out of oil, just like my toddler diapers that sustained me until i made it to petroleum clothes. My first record collection I ever owned and loved as some statement of my identity was made out of oil. My entire 20’s ramblings back and forth across one of the very biggest countries in the world, only possible because oil was so cheap even a degenerate bum could traipse about in ways even royalty couldn’t imagine for most of the last 10000 years of “civilization”. My alarm clock that gets me to my job is made out of oil, my paycheck is all electronic, which is another word for oil, i spend it all on oil and oil soaked products.

I collect all my favourite movies(made possible by copious amounts of oil) and they are stored on hardened oil. I love burning candles, but my candle “wax” is pure oil. I import endless supplies of random shit from all over the globe only because oil feeds my habit. After i have earned my oil, i have to spend it on other forms of oil. That's how it works. If I don't do that, the risk is all the oil will stop, the best of it and the worst.

I’ve had sex thousands of times and only produced one child, all due to oil based freedom.

I don’t think of myself as evil, it’s just all so seductive, and once you have a taste, how can you say no, if it is in front of you, available everywhere, no stigma? Crist, sometimes it is practically free, and when you are down on your luck, there are places everywhere to get free oil benefits. Can I say no thank you, oil makes me and my world sick, and then risk ostracization? Can I say, no, I’ve broken free? Come to think of it, how far would I have to go to break free? Might I get locked up because I broke some junkie supporting law?

Seriously, I am so far gone, I can’t think of a single aspect of my life that isn’t funded by, propped up by, made available by, sustained by, oil. I'm so far gone, I cannot imagine life without all the glory of oil.

That’s the important part of being an oil junkie today. Desperation. Every system I have is hooked in full throttle. Because I cannot imagine anything else, I am a crazed lunatic, a psychopath. If I am to be frank, I will pay any price for the stuff and its wonders. I will make a nation worth of strangers suffer just to get it. I will kill off hundreds of species a year to get it. In a pinch, if things were hard, i might kill you for it. Do you get the picture, I can’t be reasoned with, I can’t think in long term survival strategies. I can’t think of my children’s needs. I just want more oil today, and the thought that I might not get that, makes me desperate and fearful, and aggressive and stupid.

When oil burns for years in Kuwait, my only lament is the loss(oh, I might pay lip service otherwise). When the Valdez spilled its guts, it was the oil loss that freaked me out. I don’t give a flying fuck about the environmental damage. It was far away from me, and the repercussions were going to be delayed and diffused among all us junkies.

When my pushers said it had come to the point that they could only keep supplying me if we were perpetually at war with the suppliers and some of the competition, do you think I suffered a single moral blink? Fuck no! Bring it on, I said.

For years, whiny cry babies have been saying we will soon run short in supply, and some junkies will go hungry, and that all of us will go hungry in my lifetime. I listened patiently(it’s not hard, I'm stoned on oil all the time after all). When they were done ranting with all their scientific talk, and economic and sociological predictions, I answered the only thing a self respecting junkie can. Get the fuck off my lawn! It’s not my problem. I'm sated in oil and I want to be sated in oil as long as I can be. I like being fat and wealthy and satisfying my every whim and urge instantly. And as long as I can keep doing it, that is my right.

This most recent supply disruption, the Mexican Gulf “catastrophe” is a real fucking headache. My pusher says he has to make some cutbacks, and put some temporary pseudo policies in place, or else the junkies who maintain delusions will get uppity. Fine. I get it, I have to pay a little more for my fix, just shut the fuck up and hook me up. Oh I understand that it is a huge biodiversity issue, not to mention a new economic meltdown, I just don’t really care. I want roads, I want fresh produce from Africa every day, I want movie theatres, I want bug spray. It’s summer now, I definitely want air conditioning. So do whatever you have to do, fewest concessions hopefully, and keep my shit flowing.

And climate change, seriously, I wish there was a way to suck back enough oil to drown that noise out. I mean, I'm not deluded, I know it is real, that is here, and that we ain’t seen nothing yet. In that respect, I am in the same camp with all the scientists, politicos and military guys. Not to mention the insurance pimps. Yeah, we all know, and we all get it, we are on a collision course with a major extinction event, all of our own making. And I know we could have done things to avert it, or slow it, or cope with it. it’s only the sappiest rubes who read and argue in the newspapers who don’t get it. It’s moot. We were never going to get clean, dump the oil monkey off our backs. We all knew it. We all pretended otherwise. We even light-heartedly talked about all these ways we could get off and still get some comforts, rather than going cold turkey. But we all looked in each others eyes, eyes glinting with oil addiction and we knew we meant none of it. Underneath, we actually just wished for even more oil and wanted everyone to shut up.

I'd like to say this piece is a bitter satire, but it isn’t. It’s reality stripped of all the false fronts. I'm not “part of the solution”, I'm the source of the problem. I mean, seriously, raise your hands, who isn’t in the same junkie boat that I am? And why in hell should I go into rehab, get stuck with life the way it was before the industrial age if nobody else is going to get with the program? No, I'm just like you, I'm riding this dragon right to the end. I look around me and everything that makes up my life is oil, and oil splendour.

And I can live with that, I can face my maker and say I was foolish, psychopathic, greedy, drunk on excess, a lemming in the pack, hooked, a junkie. And I can say give me my just deserts.

The only thing I would like(because I never have enough) is if we could all be honest. We don’t have to be good, or brave, or self-sacrificing. We don’t have to get clean, don’t have to work toward a solution. I'm just an old fashioned junkie that likes honest junkies. I don’t want to have to read about distraught outcries when gas costs too much, or a spill destroys a major ecosystem. I don’t want to hear academic ethical polemics about unjust wars or oppression. There really is nothing worse than a whiny junkie who can’t take responsibility for their addiction. “ohhh, it is someone else’s fault”, “oh, won’t someone help me”, “aww it is my whole parents generations fault”. Give me a break.

I figure, we got the life we asked for, in full, overflowing. And how many people in the history of human beings can say that? So let’s just be honest and stop fussing over the cost of addiction, we all know the lengths we are willing to go, deep in our festering hearts. Can’t we just take the ball and run for the end zone?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Purdy Gift arrives back home after a long journey

Today, the postal truck drove up to my house and I was very excited to receive a huge hardcover edition of Neil Gaimen’s Sandman. I dashed right out, only to find a flat cardboard package. I knew without looking what it was. I walked slowly and quietly back to the house.

A long time ago I dedicated a picture I drew to Al Purdy, the Canadian poet who had played such an important role in my youth. I handed it over to him, and signed it at his insistence. That strange old man who carried chairs over the crowd, like he was a young buck before reading. I was grateful just to hear his voice. And then he accepted my gift.

I miss those glorious days of youth. During those days, I mixed with many prominent figures of Canadian literature. I arrogantly thought myself in the same boat. Don't you ever miss that youthful sense that you are on your way up. I felt so strongly about the matter that it was not until I had an invitation from Mr. Purdy to visit him at his farm that I paused to question.

And yet I still miss those days. So, today, the brown package that came for me was a sad sad symbol.

I was impressed though. Ms. Baird packed it flat for Ms. Purdy, in sturdy cardboard. My picture came home safe and sound, as pristine as when I handed it over to the great man himself.

I confess, I got all weepy opening it up. I felt wounded, knowing it had come home. No longer did my sweaty attempts at expression live with this hero. And it also seemed like a signpost of an era gone.

Then I looked underneath the charcoaled paper.

I do not know whether it was Eurithe’s idea or Ms. Bairds, but there was a carbon. Yes, a carbon from a typewriter, do you remember those? I do, all my old poems came out that way. There was an old carbon of a three page poem by Mr. Purdy.

I do not like suspense so I will dispense that I have not read it. I glanced through it, glanced through it a second time, glanced through it a third time. I tucked it back in with the picture. It is still sitting on my desk. I don’t even know if it was published or not. I don’t think it was, or at least I do not recognize it. I saw his own scribbling on the page, correcting his writing. I cannot bring myself to read it yet. I need to hold it for a while yet before I can do such a thing. What is important to me, and what Ms. Baird knew, is that these pieces of paper sat in his typer, he looked at them as he thought out his thoughts. He likely cursed them out. But they sat there in his typer.

What I wish to say about this mail, is a profound thank you to the sender.

I touched that paper. I smelled that paper. I rolled around delighting in it. I had been so sad to see this picture come home and then there were these carbons of a poem. A very specific poem.

My youthful dreams of creating art are long gone, and I may never be a colleague of the people I admire, but I have this reminder of the times I have had, and I have this precious paper. It probably doesn't seem like much, but then you haven’t read the poem.

None of this would have happened, except I happened to reminisce in my obscure blog. The whole thing is so unlikely and improbable, that the fact that it did is magical in itself.

So, here's to magic, to the poetry of Al Purdy, and to memories.

PWNED, Or Nature In The Internet: ;)

One of the things that bothers me about the internet is how fast it spreads things. Culture doesn't get to evolve naturally over time and space. In fact time and space are erased altogether. Things don’t get marinated, nor do they get weighed for value. They don’t sink into the skin or try themselves against generations.

What we get is the cheapest, shallowest memes. We get whatever is shortest, hits the brain fastest, and makes a mark on another instantly. It’s a normal Darwinian universe, allowing whatever spreads the fastest and easiest. Whatever fits the medium best. The cocaine of life.

In other words, instead of true organisms, we get viruses. Instead of flowers we get weeds. Again, nothing unnatural or improper as things go, just hideous and uninspiring. Lots of drek, very little to be admired.

I do enjoy the play of language and phrase that goes on, on the internet, but it is sometimes hard to find underneath the deluge of the instantly transmitted language virus. I wish William Burroughs could have lived to see his nightmares come true on the world wide web.

It’s odd too, because so many people that devote time to web chatter are highly literate, and computer literate(I'm talking all you college educated IT types). I'm neither, and I still fall prey to trying to fit in on my MSN chats, using the same phrases, words, and--we don't have a word for it--short forms--alphanumeric-typographic combinations--that transmit saccharine facsimiles of meaning. In fact, I feel proud and up to the minute when I properly absorb some strange meme and can transmit it to someone, thereby verifying that I am in fact normal and intelligible.

I enjoyed learning the weird language people use for those odd messages that accompany photographs of cats. Mostly I enjoyed it because until I did, I felt left behind, like a relic, or something doomed to extinction.

It really is the Twilight Zone. You clear your throat and pronounce something, and it is heard the world over. But unfortunately, what you say is maybe ‘pwned’. I'm actually still not sure what that means, but it does not matter as that life form has had its day. It has come and gone, just like the tens of millions of years of the dinosaur. I never have to say pwned to anyone, it is a dead word. Whatever it elucidated is now gone.

It’s not something we can escape from, it is as natural as foraging for berries in the woods or scratching to cover your pee. Doesn't mean we have to like it.