Thursday, September 30, 2010

Last Monday temperatures reached 113-degrees F. in downtown Los Angeles, 92 in San Fran.

Not as hot here, though we have had pleasant weather, beginning with clear blue mornings, the lawns awash in dew, followed by afternoons in the early-20s C.

I remember Mrs. Winter’s English 9/10 Canadian Literature class, on the south-facing third floor. That was a hot September too, baking in our new clothes, purchased with winter, not autumn, in mind.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Another strange dream last night, this one relating to yesterday’s post.

I am driving a lonely stretch of road, a desert, and up ahead is a tavern. Next thing I know I am inside the tavern. Running the tavern are deceased General Idea members Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal. This is a typical U.S. tavern, except for a neon sign promoting not beer but FILE Magazine. The truckers are irritated by the FILE sign, enough to unsettle me, though I am not sure what their problem is.

Behind the bar is a television set. A football game is playing. One of the truckers asks Zontal to change the channel, and he complies. We join a Harry Potter film in progress. The truckers stop their complaining and settle into the scene: Harry and his friends whispering under a tree. Now it is the characters that seem unsettled. They are waiting.

A horse-drawn carriage pulls up -- and out steps AA Bronson. He lays into the kids -- about their clothes, how childish they look, how it is “time to grow up.” They look away. Ronald Weasely starts to cry.

Bronson goes to the back of the carriage and removes a box marked “MASSAGE TABLE”. He asks Potter to help with the assembly and Potter tells him he has no interest in him or his box, and that he is “not welcome in these parts.”

As soon as he says the word “parts", Felix Partz turns into a bat and flies to the shoulder of Jorge Zontal who, upon contact with the bat, turns into an out-of-character “Rubeus Hagrid”, which is to say the actor Robbie Coltrane.

The TV goes black.

Outside the tavern, a horse-drawn carriage.

That’s when I wake up.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Surviving General Idea member AA Bronson proposed a master class for the Banff Centre for the Arts this past summer.

The announcement at bottom was taken from his website. It appears to have been rewritten -- in the past tense.

AA BRONSON'S SCHOOL FOR YOUNG SHAMANS (NEW)
at The Banff Centre (Alberta) May 10 - June 18, 2010

This master class was designed to revisit the sixties notion of the "free school" to construct an experiment in education and collaboration. Inspired by faerie circles, tea parties, queer rituals, group therapy, ceremonial magic, quilting bees, circle jerks, and other spiritual, psychological and social forms, the participants were to work with each other and with AA Bronson to construct a context in which to develop their individual projects. Readings and group discussion included diverse topics related to art, healing, ritual, sexuality, and spirit.

AA Bronson has canceled the master class: "Perhaps I was foolish to think that queer ritual and queer community could flourish in the institutional environment of the Banff Center."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Between 2-4PM Saturday I attended a panel talk entitled Contemporary Archiving: Issues Around Contemporary Art Practice and Histories at Centre A.

The panel, part of the gallery’s Let’s Twist Again series, featured a Skyped-in Fern Bayer, a Toronto-based art historian and author of the upcoming General Idea catalogue raisonne; artist and curator Lorna Brown; and the Western Front’s Executive Director and former Guggenheim curator/archivist, Caitlin Jones.

Fern’s presentation on the General Idea archive (now at the National Gallery of Canada) was both concise and informative. Here we were treated to ethical questions, such as What happens when an artist wants to extract ephemera to sell through private galleries? in addition to issues around maintaining the logic of an artist's archive in relation to standard nomenclature.

In one instance, Fern mentioned how the NGC turned down the Ian Baxter&/N. E. Thing Co archive because of its “disorganization.” Had Fern been there I might have asked if such “disorganization” was indeed strategic, given the tendency of certain artists to invent and/or back-date work that never existed in the event of a potential sale.

Lorna Brown’s presentation concerned the Ruins in Process: Vancouver Art in the 60s online exhibition/catalogue/archive, a project which she co-organized and I contributed to. Like Fern, Lorna’s presentation was spot on, focused as much on the content of the site as how it functions.

Finally, Caitlin told us about two projects she worked on as a member of the Variable Media Network, one of which involved David Rokeby’s The Giver of Names (1991-), where the artist invites viewers to place an array of toys on a plinth, where they are then analyzed based on colour and form and a corresponding text is produced. But better than that, Caitlin related how Sydney curator Lizzie Muller recorded audience interactions with these toys and, in another room, played them back to the participants for further comment. (Now this is a work I would be interested in seeing!)

At the completion of Caitlin’s talk, Lorna returned to Fern with a question based on her and Caitlin's presentations. Fern’s response, however, was not to the question but to the quality of the audio feed, which was so faint she missed everything Lorna and Caitlin had said. Rather than summarize, Lorna, who is always quick on her feet, began to formulate a new question. Unfortunately by then my meter had expired and I was out the door.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Below is from the Sumerian/Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, first published over four thousand years ago. The excerpt is a response to King Uruk's quest for immortality.

You will never find the eternal life that you seek.
When the great gods created mankind, they also created death.
And they held back eternal life for themselves alone.
Man is born, lives and then dies.
This is the order that great gods have decreed.
But until the end comes, enjoy your life.
Spend it in happiness not despair.
Savour your food.
Make each of your days a delight…
Let music and dance fill your home.
Love the child who holds your hand
And give your wife pleasure in your embrace.
That is the best way for a man to live.
For this too is the lot of Man.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The oldest rug in the world was discovered in an ice-filled tomb in Outer Mongolia by Russian archaeologists in 1949. The rug is of Persian origin and was part of a Scythian burial mound. It is believed to be from the 5th century BC.

According to Latif Rugs Blog, Persians are "the mother of designs, colours and weaving."

Persian rugs and tapestries were included at the last Documenta, weaving being one of the fair's organizational metaphors.

I have a Persian rug rolled up in the basement of our home. Though only thirty years old, the rug has seen so much over the years that it no longer unfurls, behaving more like a fire log than a surface in need of a floor.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I Googled "Andy Warhol Macy's" and the first thing to come up was area rugs.

Another click and I found this:

"In 1980 Andy Warhol visited Rosenthal AG in Selb accompanied by the gallery owner Hans Mayer and his manager Fred Hughes. The contact had been arranged by Dr. Peter Littmann, a senior manager at the company and keen art enthusiast, to arrange a portrait of Philip Rosenthal. He found his visit to Rosenthal inspiring, especially the atmosphere in Erkersreuth Castle. The later portrait of Philip Rosenthals was created in Warhol's New York 'Factory' Studio based upon the Polaroid shots taken in Selb.

From the year 2002 on, the Warhol Foundation has granted Rosenthal exclusive access to the entire body of Andy Warhol’s visual work. The images selected for the Andy Warhol Collection combine some of the loviest and rarest examples of Warhol’s genius with several of his best known portraits, such as Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. The translation into fine porcelain and crystal provide an utterly fresh and enchanting insight into this world-famous 20th century talent. Rosenthal didn’t just reproduce the images, but worked with them. The Warhol Foundation trusted them to adapt Warhol's masterpieces tastefully, and they were pleased with the work that Rosenthal designers achieved.

For the only definitive Andy Warhol d├ęcor available, place your trust in the designers at Rosenthal!"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The song in my head today, from his 2000 album The Ecleftic * 2 Sides II a Book:

KENNY ROGERS -- PHAROAHE MONCH DUB PLATE
(Wyclef Jean, Kenny Rogers)

[Wyclef Jean]
Yo I'm happy to be in the South
to set off my tour in the countryside
But who better to set it off for me than this man right here

[Kenny Rogers]
Yo this Kenny Rogers chillin on the country side
with men like Wyclef (uh-huh) Jerry Wonder (uh-huh)
Big Jack (mm-hmm) Big Beast (mm-hmm)
And we gon' do something like this for you

You got to know when to hold 'em (YEAH, YEAH!)
Know when to fold 'em (DJ's, DJ's!)
Know when to walk away (HIP-HOP, HIP-HOP!)
Know when to run.. (YEAH, YEAH!)
You got to count your dub-plates (GHETTO, GHETTO, GHETTO)
before you touch the turntables (ALL HOODS!)
Cause if you run out of big tunes
that means your sound is done (Y'ALL READY?)

[Chorus: Kenny Rogers]

You got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em (soundbwoys)
Know when to walk away
Know when to run.. (hey, hey, hey, hey..)
You got to count your dub-plates
before you touch the turntables (DJ's)
Cause if you run out of big tunes
that means your sound is done

[Pharoahe Monch]
Get the hell up!
'Clef said, get the hell up!
Now throw your hands in the sky (BO! BO! BO! BO!)
Brooklyn in the back shootin craps y'all whassup?
Ladies; lookin hot and pretty
Doin your thing in the club high saditty
WORLDWIDE - the gritty committee pity the fool that
act {shitty} in the midst of the calm, the witty
(You got to know when to hold 'em..)
Y'all know the name!
Same assassin from before, but the beat just changed a little
(??) who flip flows
that got women in they thongs gettin on but not Sisqo
Select your squad team and your itch
Bey know my flow muy caliente, fuego
No disrespect to soundbwoy, but you better step away from me
Easily defeat measley MC's and tease you
Ease back squeeze two in your wig and breeze through

[Chorus]

[Wyclef Jean]
C'mon, c'mon
(Get the hell up!)
Soundbwoys ('Clef said, get the hell up!)
(Now throw your hands in the sky) Yo
This combination gon' bust from Brooklyn to Shanghai
Feel the boogie boogie Henny got me tipsy tipsy
Kenny Rogers and Pharoahe Monch? No way, this can't be
48 tracks, country meets rap
Put this on full blast, I'm about to break all formats
My destiny is to lead while y'all follow
This is +Showtime+ and I'm +Live at the Apollo+

[Chorus Two: Kenny Rogers + Wyclef]

You got to know when to hold 'em (soundbwoys)
Know when to fold 'em (emcees)
Know when to walk away (yeah, yeah, yeah..)
Know when to run
You got to count your dub-plates
before you touch the turntables (DJ's)
Cause if you run out of big tunes
that means your sound is done

[Chorus]

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Globe and Mail (September 21) reports that Macy’s, the United States’s largest department store chain, has introduced its Heart of Haiti line of metal, ceramic and papier-mache objects d’art, vases and serving trays.

Brokered by New York-based Fairwinds Trading, a company that “specializes in connecting gifted artisans in ‘post-trauma’ communities with American corporations to build sustainable economic relationships,” this is Macy’s second “post-trauma” outing, the first being the retailer’s Paths for Peace line of Rwandan baskets.

Another player is the Brandaid Project, a Canadian non-profit “responsible for opening the channel between Macy’s and the artisan community.”

The Globe article, which appeared on the paper’s front page, is almost entirely positive, leaving only Jacmel papier-mache artist Onel Bazelais to sound the lone negative note: “My government has no plan for us.”

To hear that the Haitian government is not there for its people appears to justify the influence of U.S. consultants, financiers and retailers in determining the shape this country takes, something which does not seem to bother the artists in the article.

Croix-des-Bouquets sculptor Jacques Rony sees “a huge advantage” to working with “U.S.-based product designers,” those “who have exposure to seasonal trends.” Which leads me to ask, Since the 2011 spring season was plotted last summer, what can we expect from the western hemisphere’s second oldest democracy?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

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Monday, September 20, 2010

An enjoyable pair of readings last Saturday afternoon at ECU’s Charles H. Scott Gallery, where sixty or so turned out for Lisa Robertson and Eileen Myles. Playing host was Kathy Slade, principal architect of the gallery’s remarkable bookstore.

First up was Lisa, who read three poems, two of which were from her latest book, R’s Boat (U of C Press), a collection I am currently dating, impressed with the poet’s musings on the writings of those past (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) and those around her (Caroline Bergvall), and more.

In R’s Boat there is no sign of the paragraphic structures or bold proclamations found in XEclogue (1993) and Debbie: An Epic (1997); instead we have single, well-spaced lines that lean left to right like blown grass. The first poem, “Face”, displays an alternating system of the plain and the italicized, with repetitions crossing into opposing formats. The propositions are recognizable and unexpected, jewels in a lyric setting.

R's Boat has a quiet, almost interior insistence, and is capable of intense variegation, proving once again that melancholy is a spectral condition.

Eileen Myles, who has been described as a “rock star of modern poetry” (BUST Magazine), and behaves like a nice one, was her usual bust-a-gut self, giving us New York City in her “No R” BAH-stun accent, making more and less of her queer ID in her ongoing war against norms as expectations. Her new book is Inferno: A Poet’s Novel (Or Books), and she read from the very beginning and the very end. Like much of Eileen’s work, it is not about what happens, but what is happening – as only she can tell it.

Not much I could do after that, except take the long way home. A coffee at Caffee Barney, where I started the weekend crossword.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I am only now able to write about the amazing dinner I had last Thursday at the home of Basque chef and Nuba partner Ernesto Gomez.

This was less a sit-down affair than a roaming culinary jam session involving Ernesto and some of the chefs he schooled with in Galicia, all of whom, upon graduation, dispersed to various cities and opened restaurants of their own.

The evening featured experiments in clam, mussel, crab, sable fish and octopus, with the Manhattan-style chowder stealing the show. I have never eaten like this before.

Also on the bill was Victor, Ernesto’s partner in Nuba, who arrived on the heels of Ernesto’s Waldorf partner, Tom Anselmi. I have been seeing a lot of Tom the past month, helping as I have with the Waldorf’s (re)opening night program (October 30), but this was my first visit with Victor, who regaled us with stories of a jazz club he ran in Windsor, Ontario in the mid-1970s and, perhaps as a testament to its success, the year he spent in the Grand Cayman Islands.

I say I am only now able to write about (or is it around?) my dinner at Ernesto’s, not because the food took me out of myself (though it was, as I said, amazing), but because of internet problems, which I am happy to report have been fixed.

Is it me, or is the occasional suspension of home internet like an illness? Because I sure haven’t felt myself these past couple days. A long hard fall from those delicious seafood dishes.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The police outside
No one home
They wait to break in

Friday, September 17, 2010

A seasonal Basho haiku translated by R.H. Blyth. There is a semi-colon after "one," but I thought it detracted and replaced it with a period.

Along this road
Goes no one.
This autumn evening.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A police incident down the lane put an early end to my writing day. No one hurt, except for the rear door, which was kicked in.

A bookie? They only had five satellite dishes. A brothel? Never enough traffic. A grow-op? I walked by as they were fixing the door and couldn’t smell a thing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Last night Lisa and I drove to the Sylvia Hotel for the launch of Robin Blaser (New Star Press), a book of essays (two) by Blaser associates Brian Fawcett and Stan Persky.

Publisher Rolf Mauer kicked things off the way publishers seem programmed to do, and that is anecdotally: how it was not until he heard Blaser read that Blaser's writing made sense to him. We were also told that the first thing to come out of New Star’s first fax machine was a Blaser poem, though Mauer could not remember the title.

When it was Fawcett’s turn to speak, the co-author (and defender of Blaser’s pederasty) demurred, leaving the evening to Persky, who, in Persky fashion, complained about our shitty world before attempting to revive it with three Blaser poems, the titles of which I can’t remember, either.

Thirteen years ago, after a talk I gave to residents of the MacLean Hunter Arts Journalism Program at Banff, I was asked by two Montreal literary journalists (when there was such a thing): What’s the big deal with Robin Blaser?

I did not have an answer. In fact, I have often asked myself the same question. But because my talk concerned Vancouver poetry (based on a section from my book Kingsway that had titles derived from the lines of others), I did my best.

Rather than speak on the written influence of San Francisco Renaissance poets Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser on a generation of Vancouver poets, I talked about Blaser as a purveyor, a taste-making mystic at a time of mystics (Al Neil, bill bissett, Judith Copithorne), how Blaser was known to go into people’s homes and redesign their dining rooms, like he did at Angela and George Bowering’s, selecting a floral drapery pattern identical to the wallpaper surrounding it. Yes, yes, yes, said the journalists, but what about the writing? What’s the attraction?

During his introduction, Mauer told us how hearing Blaser read reoriented his approach to the work, insofar as the experience of a Blaser poem is not to find one’s way through it but to lose oneself. A rather disingenuous explanation, especially when the arrangement of elements, at least to my mind, incite neither pleasure nor pain.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

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Monday, September 13, 2010

After years of forgettable dreaming, why is it that I am suddenly having the heaviest dreams, ever?

Sure, I would have the odd dream now and then, but they were so banal, so poorly sketched, that they evaporated upon waking, and I would be left not with fear or love but the day’s chores.

I will not describe my recent dreams, only that they affect how I feel upon waking, allowing others things to enter -- like yesterday, when I awoke to those Chilean miners who have been trapped underground a month and may not see daylight until Christmas.

What is that like, to be underground so long, and in those conditions? I imagine it will get worse once the miners are freed, the world hounding them, studying them, forever sending them back into that hole.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

One of the artists in the exhibition I curated last January (to show, to give, to make it be there: Expanded Literary Practices in Vancouver: 1954-1969 at SFU Gallery) was Glenn Lewis.

Last night Presentation House Gallery opened a solo exhibition of Lewis’s early work. Among the twenty or so pieces were two films of the artist binding a city block with a single piece of tape and doing the same for an equivalent-sized section of forest.

Most notably, though, was the mounting of a ceramic mural Lewis made for the 1970 Osaka World’s Fair, a commissioned work deemed inappropriate by the fair’s commissioner, former World War Two tank commander and father-in-law to (wheelchair) athlete Rick Hansen, Patrick Reid. Last night marked the first time the wall work was shown as it was originally intended.

Lewis also reprised a 1970 cooking performance by donning chef’s attire and making kimchi, which I sampled and found rather tasty.

The 1960s and 70s were fecund times for Lewis. Like his fellow Western Front co-founder Michael Morris, Lewis made a lot of work in a variety of mediums. Not all this work is on display, of course, but the material and thematic tendencies are. That they can be experienced without clutter contributes to the show's success.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My second night at SWARM.

The evening began at 6:30PM. Gareth Moore had cultivated an installation amidst the ruins off Terminal Avenue -- wooden figures in the landscape, like the title of my Richard Jefferies collection: Landscape With Figures. Gareth had apprised me of the show the night before, so I went.

I was given vague instructions. Rather than get lost, I arrived closer to 7 than 5, knowing that the crowd would tell me where I was.

And there they were, gathered under Jimmy Pattison’s free-standing billboard, the kind our former premier Glen Clark places on behalf of Jimmy’s company. Gareth had supplied a tray that held a vodka bottle, plastic cups and cigarettes. The vodka was from a local distiller, the cups from China.

Still early for SWARM, I parked my car outside the darkened Or and walked to Holt Renfrew, where I purchased a pair of shoes. When I returned, the Or was buzzing -- a group show curated by Kim Nguyen, on love and its impermanence.

Jon Sasksi was at the newly-landed Access. His “pairs” parkour piece resonated. Artspeak was a crush; I could not see the installation. The Pitt has moved to Chinatown, and I like their new digs. Teagan Moore had work there, but I prefer her CSA show, particularly her window pieces. She is one to watch.

The night ended at Every Letter In The Alphabet, where fillip was launching a new issue. I purchased a copy and a year’s subscription. As a bonus, new subscribers will receive a nicely designed publication by Dexter Sinister, featuring Louis Brandeis’s 1913 essay “Other People’s Money”. And that was it for me.

Arrived home at 10:55PM, picking a tomato on the way up the stairs, which I made into a sandwich. Then to my computer, where Judith Hopf’s Hey Produktion (2001) waited to be un-paused.

Friday, September 10, 2010

SWARM last night. Not Swarm, or S.W.A.R.M., but SWARM. The eleventh annual.

What could SWARM stand for, besides an evening of openings organized by the Pacific Association of Artist-Run Centres (PAARC)? Based on last night, particularly the after party at VIVO, I have a few ideas.

Here’s one:

Seems We Are Rowdy Motherfuckers.

I started the evening at the CAG. Alex Morrison’s sign caught my eye. Then the onslaught of party-goers. So I hopped in my car and drove to the Belkin, for their annual grad show, the usual confusion over materials and methods, humanism versus aesthetics.

From there, more carbon as I made my way to the grunt gallery. An ambitious projection, or a software program that ran on time. Then the Western Front, for some social/formal sculpture. And then VIVO, where I spent seven dollars on a corporate hotdog and stared at Paul Wong’s rubber glove oil slick.

VIVO advertised their evening as SO WARM, yet the party left me cold, chilled by the aggressive enthusiasm of those I see every year at SWARM but never at another artist-run centre event.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My fifth meeting with Thomas Anselmi and Nuba’s Ernesto Gomez took place yesterday at the under-(re)construction Waldorf Hotel (1489 East Hastings St.).

Six months ago, when Tom mentioned that he and Ernesto had taken over the joint, I was skeptical. Their ambitions were huge. But with each visit it became clear that not only were they meeting their goals, in some instances they were surpassing them. Architect Scott Cohen’s extension of the titki-moderne concept into the restaurant is measured, without being kitsch. Ernesto’s menu plan is an example of what Nuba does best – healthy food, locally sourced. Tom’s programming is both expansive and inclusive. The hotel will also feature a three-chair hair salon, operated by Laure-Elaine and, potentially, an artist residency program. I am impressed.

Early on, Tom and Ernesto had asked if I might contribute to the curation, and I accepted. October 30 is opening night, and Rodney Graham’s band have said that they will play. We also have gallery interest in co-presenting a projection series on the hotel’s external west wall. Hopefully additional galleries, theatre and dance companies, literary and film associations, amongst others, will take an interest in what is turning out to be an amazing site for contemporary creative exchange.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

THE LAND OF COUNTERPANE
(Robert Louis Stevenson)

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Awoke to the marching armies of parents and children on their way to school. Today is the first day back for some, the first day -- period -- for others.

Funny watching these kids lumbering up the slope, moving stiffly in their new clothes -- jackets designed for January, not September, their knapsacks looking more like jet packs, or huge insects!

I remember my first day of Grade One. Quilchena Elementary. My mother walked me. We had just moved to our new house at Cypress and 33rd, and the uphill walk to 37th and Laburnum (only four blocks south, one west) was epic. How will I find my way home? How will I remember how to get here tomorrow?

Last week I mentioned this to my mother.

But I was there for you, after school.

I guess so. But how were you so sure I would find my way the next day? Weren’t you worried I might get lost?

Yes, I was worried.

But I didn’t get lost, did I? I said confidently.

No you didn’t. I made sure of it.

?

You don’t know this, but for the first three weeks I followed you.

I’m surprised I didn’t notice.

Well that was the funny thing -- from the moment you left to the moment you arrived, not once did you turn around.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Last Thursday a group of us threw a 60th birthday party for Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery director Scott Watson at the Western Front. Fresh seafood from Haida Gwaii, sourced and prepared by Brian DeBeck and Karen Tallman; art songs (Strauss, Barber and Leggatt/Shaw) performed by bass Lee Plested; a poem by George Stanley; a page of prose by Dodie Bellamy; an excerpt from Kevin Killian’s “House of Forks”, featuring Kevin, Scott, Cornelia Wynegaarden and myself; and closing the evening, a performance by Rebecca Belmore.

Food, music, poems, prose, plays and performance, the very things the Western Front was founded on when it opened in March, 1973.

While in town, Dodie and Kevin stayed in our guest suite. It was good seeing them again, hearing about the San Francisco art scene, which they contribute to and know so well. Dodie spent a night in Victoria, interviewing friends of the late Lawrence Braithwaite (she is writing a foreword to a posthumous Braithwaite publication), while Kevin had an exhibition at The Apartment, a grammatically laid out photo spread, portraits of friends and inspirations.

Dodie and Kevin left yesterday morning. Arriving later in the day (via a two hour border line-up), my SFU Writer-in-Residence successor Lisa Robertson, who will be with us through Christmas. Lisa came with Rosa, a hound/shepherd pound dog she met in France.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

On Monday Ditidaht carver John T. Williams, 50, was shot to death by a Seattle policeman for carrying a folding knife and a wooden board. Williams, who had been living in Seattle eighteen years, where he was known to many as a Pike Place Market carver, was asked three times to drop his “weapon,” but did not. After the final warning, he was shot four times in the chest.

How did this happen? According to police sources, Williams “made advances” on the officer. Four shots to the chest suggests the carver was indeed facing the cop, but whether he was moving towards him, or merely in the opposite direction, has yet to be determined.

I have seen situations like this before, where cops arrive in front of a “suspect”, stand their ground and issue demands. In this case, it was likely the cop had asked Williams to lie on his stomach and put his hands behind his back. Though deaf in one ear, Williams could see that the cop was working from a script, but chose instead to disagree with his “wild west” assessment of him -- as a savage. For that, John T. Williams is as important to us as Rosa Parks.

Some are saying that Williams’s murder is race related. It is. But knowing cops as I do, what is as dangerous as their racism is their refusal to have their authority questioned. That Williams’s murder happened in public, before a live audience, only heightened the drama, providing the cop-actor his motivation. Better to kill someone than have your narrative questioned. Gangsters do this all the time.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The first paragraph from “ROOMS”, the last entry in Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons (1914):

Act so there is no use in a centre. A wide action is not a width. A preparation is given to the ones preparing. They do not eat who mention silver and sweet. There was an occupation.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

When I was a little boy my parents would sometimes go to a supper club on Hornby Street called the Cave. Many, many people played the Cave over the years, including Gypsy Rose Lee, Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, Johnny Cash, James Brown and, more than the above combined, Ike & Tina Turner (no relation).

Recently, while cleaning my study, I came upon a box of cassettes, one of which I had never seen before, a homemade number marked “PHIL SPECTOR”. Because I was curious, and because I felt like a drive, I popped the tape into the car’s cassette deck and listened to what turned out to be a history of Spector’s musical productions, from Gene Pitney to the Ramones.

When “River Deep, Mountain High” (1966) came up I recognized Tina Turner’s voice but not the song, the Ike & Tina (re)recording being a straight ahead twelve-bar blues compared to the more ambitious Spector version, with its ascending diatonic scale and shifting time signatures.

In researching “River Deep, Mountain High” I learned that a) the song cost $22,000 to record ($20,000 of it paid to Ike Turner -- to keep him out of the studio) b) it was a worldwide hit -- except in the United States c) in response to the song’s U.S. failure (which Ike attributed to its “whiteness”), the duo rerecorded it, and had a hit d) Spector, either despondent over the song’s initial U.S. failure and/or Ike’s successful version, took two years off the music business and, by many accounts, began to display the behaviours he is known for today.

For those interested, YouTube carries an arresting black-and-white promotional "video" of the Spector version, one that, despite its underground parking lot setting and cop car (head)lighting, looks more like Paris than Philadelphia.

RIVER DEEP, MOUNTAIN HIGH
(Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Phil Spector)

When I was a little girl
I had a rag doll
Only doll I've ever owned
Now I love you just the way I loved that rag doll
But only now my love has grown

And it gets stronger, in every way
And it gets deeper, let me say
And it gets higher, day by day

And do I love you my oh my
Yeah river deep, mountain high
If I lost you would I cry
Oh how I love you baby, baby, baby, baby

When you were a young boy
Did you have a puppy
That always followed you around?
Well I'm gonna be as faithful as that puppy
No I'll never let you down

Cause it grows stronger, like a river flows
And it gets bigger baby, and heaven knows
And it gets sweeter baby, as it grows

And do I love you my oh my
Yeah river deep, mountain high
If I lost you would I cry
Oh how I love you baby, baby, baby, baby

If I lost you would I cry
Oh how I love you baby, baby, baby, baby

I love you baby like a flower loves the spring
And I love you baby just like Tina loves to sing
And I love you baby like a school boy loves his pet
And I love you baby, river deep mountain high
Oh yeah you've gotta believe me
River deep, mountain high
Do I love you my oh my, oh baby
River deep, mountain high
If I lost you would I cry
Oh how I love you baby, baby, baby, baby

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

After thirty-three years of hauling around my one hundred-year-old set of red leatherette Harvard Classics, I decided this week to commit them to wine boxes and drop them at the local SPCA Thrift Store.

It was not an easy decision. The Classics were presented to me with great fanfare by my late-father on the occasion my fifteenth birthday. But now, with much of their contents online (and my father, too, for that matter), I see no reason to keep them around. Each volume measures 5” x 8” x 1.5”. Multiplied by fifty, and that is a lot of mass.

Out of curiosity I spent yesterday morning calculating the percentage of space they took up in my study. Turns out the books came in at 5%, more if you account for the window.

Five-percent of anything is noticeable. But rather than replace the Classics with new books, non-online books, I purged further, hoping to add in their place a chair and a side table, one small enough to support an even smaller stack of books, a place to retreat to after all that online reading.