Friday, December 31, 2010

A number of editors have asked for my year-end "top ten". As I despair top tens, I declined. In the spirit of play, one editor responded by asking for my top ten reasons for not liking top tens, and in the spirit of play I offered a ten-item piece I wrote for a literary textbook designed for at-risk kids in Canada.


The first rule is stated

The second rule is less important than the first

The third rule is, grammatically incorrect

There is no fourth rule

The fifth rule is new

The sixth rule CONTAINS upper-case-letters

The seventh rule does not discriminate

The eighth rule was not arrived at through consensus

The ninth rule prohibits

The tenth rule strictly prohibits

Thursday, December 30, 2010

More from Lydia Davis.

From her story “New Year’s Resolution”:

“My New Year's resolution is to learn to see myself as nothing”

And later:

“Maybe for now I should just try, each day, to be a little less than I usually am.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

For years the word “piracy” was most commonly associated with home taping. Who would have thought back in the 1970s that the word "piracy" would one day return to its high seas roots -- like today’s article by Geoffrey York in the Globe and Mail: “Pirates more dangerous than ever: World’s armada failing in massive campaign to defeat barefoot Somali buccaneers.”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Monday, December 27, 2010

Another local independent bookstore is Pulp Fiction. Located in the triangle that is Main, Kingsway and Broadway, Pulp Fiction began with used books (and vinyl records), but over the years has made space for new titles, three of which I purchased last week – Alain Badiou’s Five Lessons On Wagner, Thomas Bernhard’s My Prizes and The Collected Short Stories Of Lydia Davis. I bought these books with the intention of giving them as gifts, but as I had not yet read all of Davis’s stories, I kept her Collected for myself.

Davis is associated with contemporary United States literary vanguardism, and as such writes a lot about middle class relationships, most notably between a first-person woman and the men in her life. In reading Davis’s book I could not help but wonder had Ingeborg Bachmann lived longer than her 47 years, would she be writing similarly?

Here is a paragraph from Davis’s “Cockroaches In Autumn”:

After a week, I take a forgotten piece of bread from the oven where they have visited – now it is dry, a bit of brown lace.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

It is the boxes we will miss, not the books.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The song "Barbara Allen" is first mentioned in Samuel Pepys's diary on 2 January 1666. Many have covered it, including yesterday's mention, Bob Dylan. The song also appears in the 1951 film version of A Christmas Carol, the one starring Alastair Sim as "Scrooge".


In Scarlet Town, where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwellin'
Made every youth cry well-a-day
Her name was Barbara Allen.

All in the merry month of May
When green buds they were swellin',
Young Jeremy Grove on his deathbed lay
For love of Barbara Allen.

He sent his man unto her then,
To the town where she was dwellin'.
"You must come to my master dear,
If your name be Barbara Allen,

For death is printed on his face
And o'er his heart is stealin'.
Then haste away to comfort him,
O lovely Barbara Allen."

Though death be printed on his face
And o'er his heart be stealin',
Yet little better shall he be
For bonny Barbara Allen.

So slowly, slowly, she came up
And slowly she came nigh him,
And all she said when there she came,
"Young man, I think you're dyin'."

He turned his face unto her straight
With deadly sorrow sighin'.
"O lovely maid, come pity me;
I'm on my deathbed lyin'."

"If on your deathbed you do lie
What needs the tale you're tellin'?
I cannot keep you from your death.
Farewell," said Barbara Allen.

He turned his face unto the wall
As deadly pangs he fell in.
"Adieu! Adieu! Adieu to you all!
Adieu to Barbara Allen!"

As she was walking o'er the fields
She heard the bell a-knellin'
And every stroke did seem to say,
"Unworthy Barbara Allen."

She turned her body 'round about
And spied the corpse a-comin'.
"Lay down, lay down the corpse," she said,
"That I may look upon him."

With scornful eye she looked down,
Her cheek with laughter swellin',
That all her friends cried out amaine,
"Unworthy Barbara Allen."

When he was dead and laid in grave
Her heart was struck with sorrow.
"O mother, mother, make my bed
For I shall die tomorrow.

Hard-hearted creature, him to slight
Who loved me so dearly,
O that I had been more kind to him,
When he was live and near me!"

She on her deathbed, as she lay,
Begged to be buried by him
And sore repented of the day
That she did e'er deny him.

"Farewell," she said, "ye virgins all,
And shun the fault I fell in.
Henceforth take warning by the fall
Of cruel Barbara Allen."

Friday, December 24, 2010

A couple months ago, on my way back from UBC, I stopped into Kitsilano to check out the recently opened Sitka Books & Art -- as curious about the “Art” part as I was about the larger store (a union of former Duthie’s employees and the fellow who started Book Warehouse). The sun was out, and the shop, which faces south, was filled with light, a small table of crafty knick knacks glistening in the window.

I picked up a number of books that day, one of which was Keith Richards’s Life, a know-it-all title if ever there was one.

Although only a hundred pages in I can report that Richards’s Life is faithful to the voice we hear when its author appears on television or the internet, a combination of aw-shucks modesty and fuck-'em dismissals, always charming, full of fun, though nowhere near the read of another music legend, Bob Dylan.

I was late getting to Dylan’s bio. However, once in, I was hooked. As someone who appreciates North American folk music, I know something of the world Dylan describes -- but not the details. If Richards’s book is laughs and attitude, with equal parts British reserve, Dylan’s book is unexpected honesty and understated insight. I love it.

Below is a paragraph from Dylan’s Chronicles Part One -- the contents of a room in a friend’s Greenwich Village apartment. Reading it I am reminded of another early-60s bricoleur, Vancouver’s Al Neil, someone Sitka Books & Art might consider giving window space to if their deal with the Craft Council were to expire.

“There was other stuff in the room, other delights. A Remington typewriter, the neck piece of a saxophone with a swan-like curve, aluminum constructed field glasses covered in Moroccan leather, things to marvel over – a little machine that put out four volts, a small Mohawk tape recorder, odd photos, one of Florence Nightingale with a pet owl on her shoulder, novelty postcards – a picture postcard of California wtih a palm tree.”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A poem by Rae Armantrout:


Thus the palm is rakish

and the philodendron

Only using such rare words
will justify

my writing this,

my writing "my"
or now


Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Not unrelated to Vision Critical's motto is a line Jeff Derksen borrowed from a television commercial to introduce his essay "Sites Taken As Signs: Place, the Open Text, and Enigma in New Vancouver Writing" (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1994). The commercial is from a now-defunct mining company. It reads:

"Jeanine is a living example of Noranda's attitude to employees."

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Globe and Mail was heavier than usual this morning. A year-end review of federal government policy? A five-page feature on Alberta’s dirty oil? No such luck. Instead, two 28-page issues of the Western Investor: one focused on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, the other on the prairie provinces.

The lead story in the B.C. issue reads:

Experts say everything is going to be all right.”

Everything is going to be all right.

Why does that sound familiar?

Over the past couple of years the City of Vancouver has approved a number of text-based public art works, the best-known being Ken Lum’s EAST VAN cruciform at the north-west corner of Clark and Great Northern Way. Another, commissioned by real estate agent and art collector Bob Rennie, runs along the south face of his downtown eastside bat cave: Martin Creed’s “Everything is going to be alright.”

So who’s right? The Western Investor (“all right”) or Martin Creed (“alright”)?

My favorite piece of public text hovers at the north end of the Cambie Street Bridge, lit up in bright white letters: VISION CRITICAL. Recently I went looking for its author and found it to be the name of a market research company. Their motto? “Technology Inspired, Research Driven." Following that: "We help you see trendsetting customers for what they are: a wealth of winning strategy waiting to be tapped.”


Sunday, December 19, 2010

As part of its "Postscript" series, Artspeak Gallery commissioned me to write a response to Julia Feyrer's exhibition The Poodle Dog Ornamental Bar (see below). For those interested, Julia is scheduled to give a public talk on January 8th, the last day of the exhibition.


Cuts to public funding bring to mind institutions reliant on public funds. When threatened, these institutions remind us of their relevance by highlighting past accomplishments. As applied to the visual arts, rarely do public galleries and museums speak of themselves as anthologies of past cuts, nor do they script their futures with the expectation of further subtractions, be that the loss of an exhibition publication or the exhibition altogether.

Looking to the future (at the expense of the past) is a Vancouver behaviour that began with the fur trade (followed by mining, fishing, forestry, and, most recently, real estate speculation). Yet in looking to this future, this subtracted future common to public and private institutions alike, what do we make of that which will no longer happen? What methods are not in place to archive such subtractions? And why is it that when galleries and museums are threatened, the first line of defense is more often than not what these galleries and museums have already contributed, as opposed to what they propose to do?

Though I am writing on the occasion of Julia Feryer’s exhibition at Artspeak, I am doing so at a time when the British Columbia government has not only cut public funding to the arts, it has erased the word “art” from the ministry responsible for its health and welfare. Meanwhile, the commodification of art continues, as does the trend towards artist collectives, relational practices, alternative spaces, and, dare I say it, indifference by emerging artists towards state-supported artist-run centres (ARCs). I will try to address these concurrences in the context of this essay. Not at the expense of Feyrer’s exhibition, but to show how the content and production of this exhibition relates to our present condition.

* * * *

Julia Feyrer’s The Poodle Dog Ornamental Bar (2009) is a 9-minute film and was, at one point, an installation based on a recreation of a late 19th century Vancouver bar on the 300-block of West Cordova Street. Put another way, The Poodle Dog Ornamental Bar is a continuum that began with the enigmatic (and seemingly ironically named) 1890s bar, and was brought into focus over a century later by Feyrer who encountered an archival photo of the bar’s vacant interior and imagined a stage and a script, both of which were made, one of which was subtracted.

In constructing her bar, Feyrer was true to the materials of her source image, using “cedar bark, vine maple twigs, moss and fungus,”1 just as the proprietors of the first Poodle Dog Ornamental Bar had done. However, whereas her predecessors had likely sourced their materials from nearby Hastings Mill, Feyrer, who had chosen to site her bar in a residential backyard between Main and Fraser Streets, travelled as far north as Squamish, a journey that tells us a lot about how the city’s economic base has shifted from primary to tertiary industries. What she could not find in Squamish she found on Craigslist.

Once built, the bar came to life as a gathering place for consumers of Feyrer’s wine (made from the yard’s apple trees), musical and literary performances, and, eventually, the setting for her film. Although the film was shot, Feyrer was indifferent to the result. My attempt to pursue her indifference was met with further indifference, something I am grateful for. To have settled on a definitive response might have ended a line of inquiry that had me considering whether the activities that occurred in advance of the shooting had transformed the site from an artificial setting to something organic, much like Pinocchio, who became a boy not because of an artist’s love of his puppet creation but through the puppet’s accumulation of moral lessons. The transformation of the site from film set to medium enacts its own narrative. Why supply another?

Feyrer’s script is the apocryphal center of The Poodle Dog Ornamental Bar, what the future of the work was supposed to look like upon seeing the archival photo that led to its inspiration. It is not important that we know this, and yet it represents a stage in the development of the work. A parallel can be found in the materials used to construct the first Poodle Dog: that which was deemed extraneous to the commodification of “forest products” (whatever could not be sold to city builders) and how these “waste” products supplied the bar its “finished” surface, an inversion I find intriguing. Indeed, what behooved the proprietors to use these materials allows for new narratives, such as the ones Feyrer might have considered when inspired to write her script.

If the original script was conceived as a narrative, the resultant film owes more to the work of Stan Brakhage, Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses (1966), and, in its “failure” as a narrative, Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie (1971). From the start we are made aware that the subject of the film (as with any film that begins and ends with credits) is its production, with the artist and her camera appearing in one of the bar’s many mirrors (some hanging, some held, others in fragments upon the ground), a gesture that is repeated throughout. Focal tests are also included, as are explorations of multiple exposures relative to light and shadow. The deliberately out-of-synch audio track is supplied by sounds generated on site, whether “live” or pre-recorded, musical or spoken, Edwardian or modern, exotic or banal. The editing is reminiscent of the collagist strategies associated with “experimental” film.

Occasionally, one gets the sense that certain sequences are related to the film Feyrer had intended to make, with actors waiting by light stands, their lines and actions memorized, internalized. These scenes do not last long, but they recur often enough to remind us of something other than what we have been seeing. Though concealed from the viewer, the actors’ lines and actions are assumed based on the presence of cinematic tools (props, those aforementioned light stands), a presence that allows us to speak of these unavailable “scenes” as being “earned”, as they say in screenwriting workshops. For me, these unseen “scenes” also belong to the subtracted future.

* * * *

As a continuum, Feyrer’s The Poodle Dog Ornamental Bar is evocative of two earlier independent (non-institutional) activities set in the Lower Mainland: Michael Morris and Vincent Trasov’s Colour Bar Research (1967-1971) and Jacob Gleeson and Gareth Moore’s St. George Marsh (2005-2006). Colour Bar Research was a back-to-basics project that had interdisciplinary artists painting rainbow-coloured wooden blocks in the pastoral setting of Robert’s Creek’s “Babyland”, while St. George Marsh was a non-funded concept shop and artist studio situated in a residential neighbourhood in East Vancouver. Over time, these projects expanded to include new forms. St. George Marsh shipped its “inventory” to the loading dock of a private gallery (Catriona Jeffries Gallery), where it was offered for sale, then to a university gallery (the Belkin Satellite), where the contents were reconfigured into an inhabitable work of sculpture, while Colour Bar Research came to include a non-narrative 8mm film, notable for arcadian merriment and Morris’s difficult-to-decipher monologue set to booms of floating bars. Although distinct from these works, Feyrer’s The Poodle Dog Ornamental Bar resembles St. George Marsh, in the first instance, and Colour Bar Research, in the second.

Feyrer’s project, like Gleeson and Moore’s, began as a node of social exchange, where you could take in a performance, contribute (to) one, or buy things. In visiting these sites, I was struck by the number of younger artists I met who did not directly participate in state-supported artist-run culture. Indeed, not only were these young men and women indifferent to artist-run centres (seeing them as remnants of an older generation, an older agenda, with no room for their futures), many had never even heard of them. Reid Shier alludes to this in his 2007 essay “Do Artists Need Artist-Run Centres?”2 in which he talks about the directors of three ARCs coming not from studio practices but from backgrounds in art history and curatorial studies. Perhaps most relevant to this discussion, Shier cites White Columns’ Director/Curator Matthew Higgs, who, when speaking of younger artists “sucking up” to the mainstream art world (which, for him, includes ARCs), has this to say: “[I]f they were really smart, they would create their own.”3 For a time, The Poodle Dog Ornamental Bar and St. George Marsh appeared to be doing just that.

Although Feyrer’s bar was built for her film, the film produced by Morris and Trasov was less an outcome than a parallel expression of colour bar activity, a screen test not for the bars as subjects but the film medium’s (in)ability to represent the painted colour spectrum, where form, not content, takes centre stage. This privileging of cinematic form over narrative content is evident in Feyrer’s film, for instead of pursuing a script based on her narrativization of the original Poodle Dog Ornamental Bar, the artist chose instead to focus on the spontaneity generated by her bar as a forum for the practices and interactions of artists inside and outside the established venue system. Feyrer emphasized a compositional regime closer to the synaptic exchanges of the brain than what is made visible through the actions brains excite, like the writing of scripts (or participation in state-supported artist-run culture). If the passage of St. George Marsh from corner shop to gallery installation implies an unfortunate subtraction (the loss of the shop as a social nexus), the subtraction of Feyrer’s narrative script from the resultant film achieves the opposite effect: one attentive to its present, yet inspired by its past.

* * * *

Is it important that we know the histories of what did not happen? In consideration of such histories, in this box-set added-features world we live in, is it important that we know the nature of Feyrer’s script, or is it enough to know that it existed and, perhaps as a result of what it did not contain, had bearing on the artist’s decision to kill it (and thus provide The Poodle Dog Ornamental Bar its guiding spirit)?

Although every gallery and museum has stories of what had been planned but did not happen, I have yet to hear one. This is not to say that such stories are never told, only that they are not part of the conversations I find myself overhearing (which is how I came to hear of Feyrer’s script). But if there are histories of that which did not happen, one might find evidence of them on Artspeak’s backroom bookshelf, where there stands an editioned series based on artists’ ideas for unrealized art works, a revenue generator instigated some years back by Director/Curator Lorna Brown and reprised more recently by her successor Melanie O’Brian. Some of these ideas are impossible to realize, while others might still be in development, ideas whose time has not yet come.

Michael Turner


1 City of Vancouver Archives AM0054.013.06565 (description of the Poodle Dog’s construction).

2 Reid Shier, “Do Artists Need Artist-Run Centres,” Vancouver Art & Economies, ed. Melanie O’Brian (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press/Artspeak, 2007): 189.

3 Ibid., 200.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Friday, December 17, 2010

According to

"Budgerigars can be taught to speak and whistle tunes. In fact, they are believed to be the best talkers of all birds. They can learn to pronounce hundreds of words and phrases. In fact, one California budgie is said to have had a vocabulary of 1,728 words by the time he died in January 1994. Another budgie called "Sparky Williams" had a repertoire of eight nursery rhymes, 360 phrases, and a vocabulary of over 550 words. In fact, this little budgie became a star and 20,000 copies of his records were sold by the time he died in 1962."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Carmel is pretty, as is most of the Monterey peninsula. Since its founding in 1902, Carmel has attracted artists for whom "pretty" is a source of inspiration. (Readers of yesterday's post will recall that Jeffers used the word "beautiful.")

What I did not know about Carmel is that a permit is required to wear high-heeled shoes. Apparently this is due to the high incidence of lawsuits filed by those tripping over uneven pavement.

Strange laws are often the result of high incidences. That and an angry insurer. I imagine there was a time when visitors saw in Carmel's pavement a chance to live happily-ever-after.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A proprioceptive thinker, poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) spent much of his life on the California coast, where he espoused "inhumanism". Carmel sits just north of Big Sur.


The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of surburban houses-
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads-
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.-As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Residents of the North American west coast will know that the Spanish left many names behind when they passed through over two hundred years ago. Valdez, Malaspina, San Francisco, Monterey and El Sur Grande, which, over time, became known by its Spanish-English hybrid, Big Sur.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My current bedside book is Henry Miller’s Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymous Bosch (1957). Although not the book I was looking for last week (that would have been The Air-Conditioned Nightmare [1945]), I am enjoying it, in the way Miller enjoyed Big Sur after growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (“the sky which was always hacked to pieces by roof-tops and hideous smoking chimneys”) and all those years abroad.

It was George Orwell’s 1935 review of Tropic of Cancer (New English Weekly) that got me thinking of Miller again, someone I read quite a bit of while bumming around Europe and North Africa in 1980. I had read the bigger books (Orwell liked Black Spring [1936] best), but this time I wanted the author’s thoughts on the country that spawned him. Big Sur seemed like the second-best place to start.

Last night I reread a passage that reminded me of a place I visit two or three times a year, a forty-three-year-old artist colony at Downes Point, Hornby Island, co-founded by Tom Burrows, Wayne Ngan, Gordon Payne and the colony’s most senior artists, Doris and Jack Shadbolt, in whose former home I stay.

“Almost every art colony owes its inception to the longing of a mature artist who felt the need to break with the clique surrounding him. The location chosen was usually an ideal one, particularly to the discoverer who had spent the better years of his life in dingy holes and garrets. The would-be artists, for whom place and atmosphere are all-important, always contrive to convert these havens of retreat into boisterous, merry-making colonies. Whether this will happen to Big Sur remains to be seen. Fortunately there are certain deterrents.”

Not sure Downes Point could ever be described as “merry-making,” given its many conflicts over water consumption, broom plantings, and the erection of out-buildings, but the "colonists" have learned to care for one another, and as a location it is “ideal.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010

There are numerous online guides to budgerigar (budgie) mutations. Here are the four main categories (according to Colouration Mutations, Striping Pattern Mutations, Pied Mutations and Rare Mutations. Each category is comprised of numerous subcategories; the first under "Colouration Mutations" is "Base Colour":

"All budgies fall into one of two basic varieties. Either they have a yellow pigment base (dominant) or they lack a yellow pigment base and are therefore white-based (recessive). In general, the base color is visible in the mask feathers and between the black stripes of the head and wings. (The exception is the yellow-face variety.) Normally, the body feathers are structured to reflect blue. In yellow-based budgies the blue in the body feathers combines with the yellow base pigment, which results in a bright green, the most common variety. In white-based budgies there is no yellow base pigment, so the blue structure of the body feathers results in bright blue coloration."

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Friday, December 10, 2010

A small room above a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

While cleaning one evening I came upon a box of chopsticks. Rather than toss them out I thought I might play with them, make them into something, and a couple hours later a bird cage emerged.

The following morning I paid a visit to a pet store, where I purchased a light blue budgie, a cuttle bone, seed, and two plastic dishes, one for food and one for water.

I have had my budgie two weeks now, and every time I look at her she sings.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

When word of a sequel to the film Hard Core Logo was making the rounds, a common response was: How do you make a sequel after the lead character (“Joe Dick”) has killed himself? Not the first thing that popped into my head, but one that told me a lot about what those who enjoyed the first film expected of the second.

Five minutes into a heavily packed first quarter it is clear that Hard Core Logo 2 is less about Joe Dick than its director, Bruce McDonald, and his attempt to deal with Joe’s suicide. Initially, this involved Bruce taking his family to Hollywood, where he produced a hit TV show called The Pilgrim. But after that blows up, Bruce, now tainted by scandal, flies across the country to begin a documentary on a singer who claims to have channeled Joe’s spirit.

Much of the film is set in rural Saskatchewan, with many of the scenes shot at a place called Danceland, the kind of community music hall one sees less of these days. Danceland is also the site of the singer and her band’s latest recording session, an off-the-floor job that seems more intent on blowing down walls than crafting a decent tune. Overseeing the recording is Joe’s idol, Bucky Haight.

What I enjoyed most about the sequel is that it is less a linear extension of the first film than its parallel. Further to that, some of Bruce’s metaphysical musings, which, at their best, alternate between a Werner Herzog-style director's commentary and an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. As for the ending, it is as shocking as the first, but quieter. Whether it is strong enough to right the film’s at times perplexing opening moments, I’m not sure. But it is a clever ending, much more so than its predecessor.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

As a teenager I spent many a winter weekend skiing at Whistler. My family and another family had a house at Emerald Estates, and we would rotate.

In those days (mid-70s) Whistler was not the corporate play station it is today but a series of upstart developments amidst a waning ski bum culture. The biggest change between Whistler then and now is Whistler Village, built on what was once the town dump.

Thoughts like these were on my mind as I made my way along "The Stroll”, killing time before a dinner hosted by the local bourgeoisie and a screening of Hard Core Logo 2, Bruce McDonald’s sequel to a film based on my book, Hard Core Logo.

It was a pleasant dinner, served buffet-style in a log cabin mansion, the kind of architecture Whistler is known for. Something else the town is known for: ex-Albertans. Had I more time I would have asked them what they did, and what brought them to a mountain like Whistler.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

(John Flansburgh and John Linnell)

Where was I? I forgot
The point that I was making
I said if I was smart that I would
Save up for a piece of string
And a rock to wind the string around

Everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around
Everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around

Throw the crib door wide
Let the people crawl inside
Someone in this town
Is trying to burn the playhouse down
They want to stop the ones who want
A rock to wind a string around
But everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around

Throw the crib door wide
Let the people crawl inside
Someone in this town
Is trying to burn the playhouse down
They want to stop the ones who want
A rock to wind a string around
But everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around

If I were a carpenter
I'd hammer on my piglet
I'd collect the seven dollars
And I'd buy a big prosthetic forehead
And wear it on my real head

Everybody wants prosthetic
Foreheads on their real heads
Everybody wants prosthetic
Foreheads on their real heads

Throw the crib door wide
Let the people crawl inside
Someone in this town
Is trying to burn the playhouse down
They want to stop the ones who want
Prosthetic foreheads on their heads
But everybody wants prosthetic
Foreheads on their real heads

Throw the crib door wide
Let the people crawl inside
Someone in this town
Is trying to burn the foreheads down
They want to stop the ones who want
A rock to wind a string around
But everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around

Monday, December 6, 2010

A gorgeous Saturday afternoon drive up the Sea-to-Sky for the 10th anniversary of the Whistler Film Festival. Riding shotgun, what remained of my Gibsons cassette purchases, one of which, They Might Be Giants’s Flood (1990), provided accompaniment. Although the album got a lot of play upon its release (at parties and at night clubs), it wasn’t until this past weekend that I gave it my full attention, twenty years removed.

Besides its polished production, Flood is notable for its encapsulation of almost every popular musical genre to have taken root in the United States since the end of the 19th century. Blues, ragtime, vaudeville, old time, country and western, rock ‘n’ roll, calypso, zydeco, Muzak, raggae, power pop, dub, all are in evidence on this album. The same could be said of songwriters – from Stephen Foster to Captain Beefheart – not to mention literary modernists Gertrude Stein and Samuel Beckett.

As for the influence Flood might have had on those emerging, I can sense it in the music of the Barenaked Ladies, the angry sincerity of author Dave Eggers, the Beatrix Potter redux of visual artist Marcel Dzama, and the quirk-driven vignettes of filmmaker Miranda July.

Flood is too sophisticated to be filed under Conservative Postmodernism, concerned as it is with the environment, race relations, gender and class, all of which were in play, to varying degrees, at the festival.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Every word, every letter in every word, every word in every sentence, so perfectly placed, like this one.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Once again I found myself in the company of the Thursdays Writing Collective, this time on the Third Floor of the Carnegie Centre, where the group regularly meets.

As with all guest writers, the sessions kick off with a writing prompt supplied by the guest in advance of their visit, after which members read what they wrote. From there, a talk and a reading by the guest, then more writing and reading.

The line I supplied was: “The sun rose like a headless pair of shoulders.” Some were “uninspired" by the line and wrote what they wanted, while others accepted it as a point of departure. Still others rewrote it. The prescribed time was five minutes.

Because guests are asked to participate, I came up with this:

The sun rose like a headless pair of shoulders. Without me. The sun rose without me.

For the past week I have been living at my sister’s. She and her husband have a farm in the Fraser Valley and sometimes I look after it while they are travelling. They travel a lot, my sister and her husband. Sometimes I wonder what they are doing with a farm.

My sister and her husband are doing nothing with their farm. Once upon a time someone grew corn there. After them, hops. When my sister and her husband took over, it hadn’t been farmed in decades.

Last year a man knocked on their door and asked if he could rent their land for three months. He was a film producer and he wanted to make a war movie.

The movie required a network of muddy trenches and originally my sister said no. When he offered her thirty thousand dollars and compensation for their lost crop, she said Yes, poppies.

So my sister and her husband are liars. Liars who travel. And have a farm.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This just in:

James Joyce was a synthesizer, trying to bring in as much as he could. I am an analyzer, trying to leave out as much as I can.
-- Samuel Beckett

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An enjoyable trip to Sechelt -- first to the home of Helen and Dave Ible, in whose guest suite I stayed, then Anne and Geoff Carr’s, who hosted a potluck in my honour.

The event took place at the Doris Cowan Gallery at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre, where I read from 8x10 as well as the paper I gave last August on gardening and Northwest Coast motifs at the Tlell Fall Fair, Haida Gwaii. Talewind Book’s Bev Shaw “manned” the book table while Susan Telfer from the Live Poets Society drove up from Gibsons.

Thank you to everyone who came out, and for your many thoughtful questions.

Monday, November 29, 2010


From the Free Meriam-Webster Dictionary: 1) an exhibition of optical effects and illusions; 2a) a constantly shifting complex succession of things seen or imagined; b) a scene that constantly changes; 3) a bizarre or fantastic combination, collection, or assemblage.

From the Free Dictionary: a type of magic lantern show in which rapidly moving images blend, change size, etc.; hence, any series of images that move and change rapidly, as a dream.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My punctuality habit shows no sign of abating. Afraid I might miss yesterday's 1:20PM ferry, I left the house early enough to find myself on the 11:20AM. Now five hours ahead of schedule, I stopped into Gibsons for a tour of the shops.

First up was the Gypsy Cove, where I purchased four magic lantern slides ($5 each), a January 9, 1968 issue of Look Magazine ($15) and a 2.5"x4" photo of a late 19th century English Bay ($2). From there, a couple of craft co-ops for soaps and a very odd Hwy 101 mug produced by

Giddy with my purchases, I crossed the street to the Salvation Army in search of a good driving tape. I thought I found one in David Bowie's Station to Station (1976), but the cassette, no doubt issued at the time of the album's release, began slowing during the first of the "It's too late"s, giving out altogether after the second bar of the next track, "Golden Years".

(David Bowie)

The return of the Thin White Duke
Throwing darts in lovers' eyes
Here are we, one magical moment, such is the stuff
From where dreams are woven
Bending sound, dredging the ocean, lost in my circle
Here am I, flashing no colour
Tall in my room overlooking the ocean

Here are we, one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth
There are you, you drive like a demon from station to station
The return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lovers' eyes
The return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lovers' eyes
The return of the Thin White Duke, making sure white stays

Once there were mountains on mountains
And once there were sunbirds to soar with
And once I could never be down
I got to keep searching and searching
Oh, what will I be believing and who will connect me with love?
Wonderful, wonderful, wonder when
Have you sought fortune, evasive and shy?
Drink to the men who protect you and I
Drink, drink, drain your glass, raise your glass high

It's not the side-effects of the cocaine
I'm thinking that it must be love
It's too late - to be grateful
It's too late - to be late again
It's too late - to be hateful
The european canon is here

I must be only one in a million
I won't let the day pass without her
It's too late - to be grateful
It's too late - to be late again
It's too late - to be hateful
The european canon is here

Should I believe that I've been stricken?
Does my face show some kind of glow?
It's too late - to be grateful
It's too late - to be late again
It's too late - to be hateful
The european canon is here,
It's too late
It's too late, it's too late, it's too late, it's too late

The european canon is here,
And yes it's too late
It's too late, it's too late, it's too late, it's too late

The european canon is here,
And yes, it's too late
It's too late, it's too late, it's too late, it's too late
The european canon is here,

The return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lovers' eyes
The return of the Thin White Duke, throwing darts in lovers' eyes
The return of the Thin White Duke, making sure white stays

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Friday, November 26, 2010

For those living on the Sunshine Coast I will be reading and talking tomorrow at the Doris Crowston Gallery of the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt, 8PM. Still not sure what I will be reading from, or talking about, but it will likely include a selection from 8x10, as well as some odds and sods I uncovered during fall's spring clean.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A small room above a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

Time to change the flowers. Some flowers look good dead, but not these. Or maybe not flowers but some of that tissue paper I bought at the dollar store -- robin's egg blue, police-tape yellow, fire-cracker red -- crumpled into shapes.

There, that looks okay. A shame about the vase though.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

There are a number of worthwhile exhibitions up. Brian Jungen at Catriona Jeffries, Julia Freyer at Artspeak, Robert Linsley at CSA Space, and this from my notebook:


Paintings and collage. The artist’s ongoing battle with colour, form, harmony (see Stravinsky). A battle because the easiest thing for this artist is to make that which everyone agrees is beautiful, and that bothers her, I can tell.

So up it goes, this beauty, and then the arguments start, the rearrangements. How would this colour behave in this shape next to this colour at that scale? I have visited the artist's studio and have seen paintings that appear near-finished, only to be completely reworked days later.

Jack Shadbolt never stopped doing this. Once, while dining at a friend’s, Shadbolt, who had been distracted all night by a painting of his (purchased by his friend from Shadbolt's dealer), asked if he could borrow it so that he might “fix” it. The friend said yes. A month later Shadbolt returned with the painting, and of course it looked nothing like the “original”.

Of less interest to me was the collage room, if that’s what it could be called, given the right-angle application of unrolled bolts of construction paper to the free-standing U-shaped walls inserted within. Yes, yes, yes, I know the artist does not want to work with this window-interrupted room, but I felt little from it, at least not what I felt from the paintings.

Outside, in the gallery’s glass cases, a horizontal stream of stratified blues and greys, evocative of our sea to sky landscape. Nature staring back at us, Culture warm within.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The excerpt below is from "Wanted" by Clarice Lispector (translated from Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero):

"This is the ideal newspaper for classified advertisements and, as I scan the items under "Wanted" or "For Sale", my eye catches on the following advertisement printed in bold type:

'Man or woman wanted to help someone remain contented. I am so contented that I cannot keep all this happiness to myself and must share it with others. Exceptional wages offered: the right person will be repaid minute by minute with happiness. Apply at once because my happiness is as fleeting as those falling stars one only sees after they have fallen; I need this man or woman before dusk because once night falls no one can help me and it is much too late. Applicants must not expect any free time until the horrors and dangers of Sunday have passed. Anyone who is sad may also apply because the happiness promised is so great that it must be shared before disaster strikes. ... There is also a house on offer, all lit up as if a ball were being held. The successful applicant will be allowed full use of the pantry, the kitchen, and sitting room...'"

Monday, November 22, 2010


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Maybe "the one for" Lorine's "me" flattened his pay-check against this Walt Whitman poem:


For him I sing,
I raise the present on the past,
(As some perennial tree out of its roots, the present on the past,)
With time and space I him dilate and fuse the immortal laws,
To make himself by them the law unto himself.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jenny Penberthy posted a selection of Lorine Niedecker poems on SUNY Buffalo's EPC site. This is one of them:

I knew a clean man
but he was not for me.
Now I sew green aprons
over covered seats. He

wades the muddy water fishing,
falls in, dries his last pay-check
in the sun, smooths it out
in Leaves of Grass. He's
the one for me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A small room above a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

Someone replaced the flowers -- with dead ones. More dead flowers. But they were dead when I bought them. A fish still cooks when you take it out of the oven.

I have new books. Two of them. New as in recently published. In English. David Homel's 2010 translation of Dany Laferriere's I Am a Japanese Writer. Or: Je suis un écrivain japonais (2008) by Dany Laferriere, translated into English by David Homel.

Laferriere's best known book is How To Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired (1985). Or: Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer. Which is close.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Awoke in a panic after having dreamt that a week had passed and I had forgotten about Rosa. Threw on my jogging clothes and went downstairs to check on her, fourteen hours after I had last let her out.

Rosa reminds me a lot of our old dog, Lulu. Like Lulu, Rosa is part whippet, and that was most apparent this morning in the way whippets come out of their dormant curl, a leg at a time, stretching, vibrating. Watching this I thought of Lulu, but also the monster in Alien.

Lisa was curious to know if Rosa would behave for me while I took her on my morning run. She did.

Below is a second excerpt from Lisa's instructional email:

Apart from rat poison, this is what she eats. Apple cores. The skin from baked squash and yams. The oil from canned fish. Leftovers. Broccoli stems. Two meals a day. One after her morning walk, if she is going to run off-leash at the park. Before the walk is ok if she's not going for a run, just a leash walk (she just shouldn't exercise vigorously on a full stomach).

The meal consists of half a package of the frozen raw dog meat concoction (thawed of course) and a good cup of rice. I'll cook a pot of rice so it's set to go, and leave you extra rice so there's more if you run out. She digests white better than brown. At supper time (5 or 6PM) a second meal. More rice, and a chunk of chicken (the bones are part of her diet, but raw only, never cooked bones!) If the chicken runs out, an egg on her rice. The dinner meal is a little smaller. She would eat absolutely continuously but it's best for her joints if she stays slim.

I'll get her some more treats. I give her a few a day-- like when I get home from an outing, or whenever she is particularly cute. Never leave treats in a coat pocket. She will chew through the coat to get them. In fact, after she chewed through a lovely new pendleton plaid jacket. I never put treats in any pocket any more, and just give them to her at home. Along those lines, keep your pantry door shut. I could imagine her getting into a bag of flour or something, and wrecking your afternoon schedule. She was once a street dog in Poitiers, and foraged for a living, and she has lost none of the impulse. I'll get her some gnawing treats, to keep her busy.

I'm sure you know that dogs can't ever eat chocolate, or any human painkiller.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Up early this morning, 7AM PST, eager to run off what remained of the Banff Centre’s food and booze menu. Lisa’s flight was at noon, so I would have ample time to get her to the airport and ask her a few more questions about Rosa’s needs.

Complicating things was Lisa’s Monday email: Rosa had ingested some bacon-flavoured poison laid out by a neighbour who has rats.

I like Lisa’s description:

I was alerted to this deed by the appearance of an emerald green poo. The poison makers dye the bait so that dog owners will know it's time for the antidote-- Vitamin K1, which causes the blood to clot. The poison works by blocking K1 production in the liver, for as long as 6 weeks, so the blood can't clot. Then the animal bleeds to death internally. Nice. So Rosa, after two days at two vets, has been thoroughly monitored, and has received monster shots of K. Apart from the poo, there were no symptoms, so I caught this early enough to prevent any hemorrhage, and she will be just fine.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Left the Banff Centre on the 12:30PM shuttle bus for the 4:10PM flight to Vancouver, which we made, arriving home just before six.

Still numb from the endless panel talks and keynote speeches, not to mention the social activities that go with them. (How is it that curators are expert at working with spaces, yet when it comes to presentations, and the temporal walls they have been asked to abide by, they go over?)

As I said last week, I will be posting on the Banff conference at Lemon Hound, but right now it is all I can do to stay awake and wait for Lisa to return so we can finish my workshop on how to look after her dog, Rosa, while Lisa is back east.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Banff conference continues...

(Cindy Walker)

In the blue Canadian Rockies
Spring is sighing through the trees
And the golden poppies are bloomin'
Round the banks of Lake Louise
Across the sea they call me
And I'm lonesome and so blue
For the Blue Canadian Rockies
And the girl I love so true

In the blue Canadian Rockies
Spring is sighing through the trees
And the golden poppies are bloomin'
Round the banks of Lake Louise
Across the sea they call me
And I'm lonesome and so blue
For the Blue Canadian Rockies
And the girl I loved so true.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Friday, November 12, 2010

Clear skies as we descended into Calgary. A familiar sight: sprawling homes set against a faded doormat of lawns and fields, then the runway.

The last time I was at the Banff Centre for the Arts was in 2008, a guest of the artist Janice Kerbel, who led a science fictive residency here. Studio visits, then my talk, which began with an assigned essay (a chapter from Jacques Larrain’s 1979 book Marxism & Ideology) paired with a screening of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).

At the time, the Kinnear Centre for Creativity & Innovation had only just broke ground; now it is bulging with libraries and meeting rooms, and the Maclab Bistro on the main floor. That they chose to deposit this four-storey square at the circular centre of the Centre’s expansive middle is unfortunate. (A public space I miss entering, either on my way to a meal or to join in on a conversation.)

When I mentioned this to one of the administrators, I was assured that the space was only being “moved” -- in this instance, to the site of the old dining hall and tuck shop, where the mountain view (Nature) is even more spectacular.

Nature versus Culture has long been a battle in this country, one that is clearly not lost on the Banff Centre. But this is the new Banff, a place devoted as much to 12-tone scales and comma splices as “Mountain Culture” -- a Centre in its own right.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Writing from Gate C-50 at YVR, awaiting flight AC210 to Calgary. A 78 minute hop followed by a slightly longer shuttle bus to the Banff Centre, where I have been invited to participate in the Are Curators Unprofessional? conference.

Banff changes with every visit, especially the Centre’s dining hall, the ever decreasing ratio of artists to corporate employees, whose company’s have sent them there for conferences of their own. Did I read recently (e-Flux?) about a conference about conferences?

Sina Queryas has invited me to post on her Lemon Hound blog, so next week I will begin with a report on the catalogue writing panel I have been asked to moderate.

Catalogue writing is something Vancouver poets have always engaged in, writers such as Peter Culley, Jeff Derksen and Lisa Robertson. Not (only) for money, as Clint Burnham suggested at the Vancouver Art & Economies talks some years back, but because many of the country’s literary journals (Malahat Review, Prism International, Prairie Fire, Descant, the Fiddlehead, etc.) were not interested in the critical writing – on any topic – of poets for whom language itself is as ideologically saturated as the landscape Margaret Atwood charted in her 1972 book Survival: A Thematic Guide To Canadian Literature.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

There are two catchy songs on Sonny & the Sunsets' Tomorrow Is Alright (Fat Possum, 2010): the first track, "Too Young To Burn", and the second track, "Death Cream" (see lyrics below). The rest of the album has yet to settle in, though from what I have listened to so far, the songs tend more towards a Jonathan Richmond kitchen party than Doug Yule standing in for Lou Reed.

(Sonny Smith)

And I find a strange tube
On the seat of my car
Full of cream
So I put it on my arm
And I went downtown
All the way downtown
And I took my tube
And I spread it all around
D-D-D-Death Cream
D-D-D-Death Cream

And I went to your house
Saw your mother on the porch
She says, Hand me my wig, Boy
My head is kinda sore
And I didn’t say nothing
Nothing more was said
But I gave her some cream
For her head instead
D-D-D-Death Cream
D-D-D-Death Cream

And I see your sister
She says, What’s new?
So I showed her my tube
She says, Woo-hoo
Well I tried to leave
She wouldn’t let me leave
I said, You’ve got to take a squeeze
You’ve got to see the cream
D-D-D-Death Cream
D-D-D-Death Cream

And I got to her room
We were eating pills and drinking booze
You said, What’s new?
So I showed you my tube
And I put it on you
And you put it on me
When they found our bodies
All they said was Death Cream
D-D-D-Death Cream
D-D-D-Death Cream
D-D-D-Death Cream
D-D-D-Death Cream

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It is so violent out there, the rain just tearing at the leaves.

Someone in a pink slicker running down the alley yelling “Nelson, Nelson…”

(Nelson was the name of our second dog, an English Springer Spaniel.)

I have meetings this afternoon that require me to leave the house.

It is so violent out there!

Monday, November 8, 2010

A day of errands.

I needed to see The Bitter Ash (1963) again, as well as check on the availability of two other films for my contribution to the Vancouver Art Gallery’s February 2011 We: Vancouver exhibition, so off I went to Videomatica, where I was told that both That Cold Day In the Park (1968) and Skip Tracer (1977) are unavailable, but we have The Bitter Ash, Mr Turner, plus your membership has expired.

Since I was in the area I walked the two blocks west to see what was happening at the newly-opened Sitka Books & Art, curious about the art part, and whether they had a copy of the new Keith Richards auto, Life. As for the art, I asked the clerk where it was and he pointed to a small window display, “courtesy” of the Craft Council of B.C. Yikes! If they want to make an art statement, replace the knick knacks with Linda J. Barry.

While walking back to my car I spied a couple of Zulu Records employees staring dispassionately out the window, their faces dead to everything but their own impeccable taste. Rising to the challenge, I walked across the street, eventually settling into their Top-Ten listening post. There, I sampled new music by Brian Eno, Kathryn Calder, Neil Young, Arcade Fire, before deciding on two discs, the first by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti (Before Today), the second by my new favorite band, Sonny & the Sunsets (Tomorrow Is Alright).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Contemporary Art Gallery held their annual dinner/auction last night, their 39th for those counting. As in recent years, the event was held at Vancouver’s version of the Overlook Hotel, the Vancouver Club, where the dining room’s Doric columns have been painted the colour of tree bark and the club’s paintings look like inferior versions of their equally inferior referents. Or maybe it’s the lighting, as my tablemate Cathy Sousloff pointed out.

There are twenty tables in the VC dining room, each supporting ten seatings. Our table was “purchased” by long time arts patron and builder Rick Erickson, who could not make it but wanted us to have a good time. Which we did, I think, Attila grabbing the Etch-A-Sketch that held our table number, turning the 4 into what the more apologetic of us were calling a “svastika” (from the Sanskrit), as opposed to what Cathy saw.

An endive salad was followed by the vegetarian option (risotto), and then suddenly the "live" auction. Nothing outstanding from where I sat (not that I could afford to feel otherwise). The "silent" auction was more to my liking. I entered bids on an out-of-focus Trips Festival poster and a Khan Lee sculpture, but these were not maintained. Artist/educator Yunhee Min, who quietly teaches at Emily Carr University when not being an L.A. artist, contributed an energetic bit of 2D colour and form. Had I the night to sleep on it, I might have bid harder.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thank you to everyone who came out to Write to the City: Adventures in Social Writing at the Brickhouse on Thursday, and a special thanks to those to who, after each exercise, read their work aloud. For those who wanted a copy of the evening's exercises, here is what Elee and I drew up:

1. Illôt-Mollo

A dadaist exercise from the literary salons of the 1920s and 30s. Begin writing. Do not stop, even if you have to repeat the same word until you can think of a new one. Every thirty seconds someone will call out a word they have written and each writer must incorporate that word into their next sentence. The calling out of words will flow in order around the room. For example, if you have just written, “I made my way downstairs and tripped on the rug…” and the word “mermaid” is called out, you might continue, “…and landed on a mermaid.”

The exercise will begin with: “If Vancouver…”

2. Acrostic Acronym poem

Using the four letter acronyms lifted from Your Welfare Rights: A Guide to BC Employment and Assistance create a four-line poem, each line beginning with one of the letters. Or, if another acronym comes to mind, use that.

CIHR Child in the Home of a Relative
MHSD Ministry of Housing and Social Development
PLMS Prevention and Loss Management Services Branch
PPMB Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers
RDSP Registered Disability Savings Plan
RESP Registered Education Savings Plan

3. Directions

Using directions, write about the metaphysical trip, “from here to eternity,” “hand to mouth,” etc. Or use other oppositions (black to white, richer to poorer) and describe how to travel from one to the other.


4. Phone Number Poem

Some poetry forms, like haiku and tanka, invite the writer to come up with a specific number of syllables for each line of a poem. We’ll use Vancouver’s by-law fines phone number to determine how many words each line of your poem requires. For example, if the phone number is 555-1212, your poem will have three lines with five words on each, followed by four lines that have a one followed by two words on the next line, etc.

The By-law Fines telephone number is 873-7642.

5. 3D Narrative

Link the three objects on display in a narrative.

1) measuring tape
2) jaywalking ticket
3) BandAid

Friday, November 5, 2010

According to Wikipedia:

Butterfly is a 1982 film directed by Matt Cimber, based on the 1947 novel The Butterfly by James M. Cain. The starring cast includes Stacy Keach, Pia Zadora, Ed McMahon, and Orson Welles. The original music score was composed by Ennio Morricone. The film was financed by Pia Zadora's husband, Israeli multimillionaire Meshulam Riklis, at an estimated cost of US$2,000,000.

The movie was almost universally panned by film critics. The film received 8 nominations for the 1982 Golden Raspberry Awards, with Pia Zadora winning "Worst Actress" and "Worst New Star", and Ed McMahon winning "Worst Supporting Actor". Nevertheless, Pia Zadora won "Best Female Newcomer" at the Golden Globes for her role, over Elizabeth McGovern and Kathleen Turner. This occurred after her husband flew members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to Las Vegas to watch Pia sing, producing accusations that the award had been "bought".

This English language movie was filmed in color and ran for 108 minutes. It received a MPAA rating of R.

Plot summary:

In 1937, Jess Tyler is a desert hermit who has spent years guarding an abandoned silver mine in Goodsprings, Nevada. Suddenly, Jess is confronted by his very grown-up and sexy daughter Kady, who had been taken away from him at her birth by his wife, Belle. Kady, it so happens, has not come home for a family reunion - she has just been dumped by a rich young man who is the father of her illegitimate child Danny, and whose family owns the very silver mine that Jess is guarding.

Kady hopes to use her feminine wiles to seduce Jess and reopen the mine and extract the money from the earth that she feels is due her from the family. As if his seductive daughter walking around bare-breasted in front of him is not enough, Jess must also deal with the sudden return of his older daughter, Janey, who appears with Kady's son; Belle, who comes back to Jess dying of tuberculosis; and Moke Blue, the man who stole Belle away from Jess years ago. Also squeezing his way into Jess's shack is Wash Gillespie, the father of Kady's child, who now wants to marry her.

Main cast:

Stacy Keach - Jess Tyler
Pia Zadora - Kady Tyler
Orson Welles - Judge Ranch
Lois Nettleton - Belle Morgan
Edward Albert - Wash Gillespie
James Franciscus - Moke Blue
Stuart Whitman - Reverend Rivers
June Lockhart - Mrs. Helen Gillespie
Ed McMahon - Mr. Gillespie
Paul Hampton - Norton
George Buck Flower - Ed
Dylan Urquidi - Baby Danny

Thursday, November 4, 2010

As my father used to say, “There’s nothing worse than yesterday’s newspaper.” But I can think of something: yesterday’s Metro newspaper.

In his “Just sayin’” column, Paul Sullivan devotes 400 words to the “Phenomenon of ‘fake’ celebrities.” Under that: “Who is Kim Kardashian and why is she famous?”

From there the reader is taken on a tour of Kardashian’s life, beginning with her ubiquity, the Rolls Royce she bought on her 30th birthday, the fragrances she endorses, until the columnist “decide[s] to find out who she is and what she is famous for.”

In the following paragraph, he writes: “ After extensive research, I can report with some authority: Nothing. Kim Kardashian is famous for nothing.”

And that’s a bad thing? Or more to point: Is this so unexpected in an age where publicity has supplanted critique? Where in-depth news reportage (“extensive research”?) is largely a thing of the past?

What drives Sullivan’s incredulity, aside from journalism’s addiction to polemic, is news that Kardashian wants to record an album. Has he heard her sing? No. At least not that he lets on. But that doesn’t stop him from writing: “There’s no talent for acting or singing.”

Why is Sullivan so down on Kim Kardashian? What has she ever done to him? One thing she has done is allow the columnist to reveal himself to be someone who does not care about anything other than generating a polemic.

For years now we have had people whose medium is the media itself (when I was a teenager it was Pia Zadora). What Sullivan is not communicating in his column (at least not directly) is how the media is being turned inside-out, from an ostensibly objective profession, one that delivers the news and brings cultural achievement to the fore, to something an artist like Kardashian can make meaning with.

So yes, the media is the medium, like pencils and pens, paint, cameras, computers and (thank you, Kim Kardashian and Paul Sullivan) performance.

Maybe this is something Sullivan might make meaning with as well. Or at least accept as his collaborative role. Anything less is just hatred.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Below is the press release for an evening of social writing devised by myself and Thursdays Writing Collective's Elee Kraljii Gardiner. Please come. Elee and I will be supplying the prompts, as well as the paper and pens.


Write to the City: Adventures in Social Writing
Thursdays Writing Collective, featuring guest author Michael Turner

Date: Thursday, November 4, 2010
Time: 8:30-10pm
Place: Brickhouse Bar, 730 Main St.
Entry: Free

Numbers, acronyms, forms: how can we repurpose these constraints and social controls into an act of creative liberation? In 90 minutes of writing prompts, pencil-chewing and laughter we will push the phrases and numbers that determine how we navigate Vancouver into a creative realm.

The evening, held in a community atmosphere at the Brickhouse Bar, will question the right to move freely through the city and explore the barriers we have come to accept. Do we recognize to what extent we are determined by constraints, architecture and the urban plan? How can we leverage restrictive regulations to open creative discovery and change the way we experience civic space? Pencils and paper will be supplied and participants will have the opportunity to share their writing.

Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based author of fiction, criticism and song. His books include Hard Core Logo, The Pornographer¹s Poem and most recently 8×10.

Thursdays Writing Collective, directed by Elee Kraljii Gardiner, has been called, “the biggest, boldest, and by far the most vital conspiracy of writers operating in Vancouver at present,” by Geist magazine. TWC meets at Carnegie Community Centre every Thursday for drop-in creative writing sessions.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

From the Caramilk Wikipedia site:

Cadbury Caramilk is a caramel-filled chocolate bar made by Cadbury Adams in Canada. It was first sold in 1968.

Variations available, some of them limited editions, include Caramilk made with dark chocolate maple, chocolate, or cappuccino. "Chunky" (thicker) versions called Caramilk "Thick" and cylindrical versions called "Caramilk Rolls" (similar to Rolo) have also been introduced.

One of the advertising campaigns for Caramilk bars revolved around the question of how the centre of the confection was put into the chocolate exterior. This theme led to the production of more than 15 separate television advertisements since the candy was introduced, making the series one of the most productive advertising efforts in Canadian history. The `Caramilk Secret`ad campaign was conceived by Gary Prouk when he was at Doyle Dane Bernbach. When Prouk left DDB to join Scali McCabe Sloves, the Cadbury account went with him. One notable advertisement involved two conehead aliens who were complimenting each other on creating some of earth`s long-standing works of wonder (e.g.- the pyramids, etc).

Another ad, featuring Leonardo da Vinci drawing the Mona Lisa as she eats a Caramilk has won a Clio award.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hallowe’en was a last minute affair this year.

On Sunday afternoon I purchased a smaller-than-average pumpkin to go with the three 50-piece boxes of inch-long chocolate bars acquired at the drugstore the day before, a format that included the Caramilk (reduced to two sections), the Wunderbar (note diversity’s German spelling), the Crispy Crunch and the oxymoronic Mr Big.

While last year’s pumpkin featured the Mandarin character for “evil” (well-received by my Chinese neighbours), this year’s face was all of eight cuts: three for each eye and two for the grin.

No sooner had I placed the candle inside, when night fell. Sadly, it was a good hour before my first trick-or-treaters, not that it picked up much after that. Not sure how many times I peeked outside to check on the candle.

At 8:30 PM, an hour after my last caller (a three-year-old Vietnamese princess wrapped in her father’s down jacket), I counted the candy and saw that I had over a hundred pieces left, making this my quietest Hallowe’en, ever. At least for trick-or-treaters.

Things were not so quiet after 9 PM, when I went for my evening stroll. Whereas in past years I heard a firework every three minutes, last night’s action was non-stop. Not quite the beach landing in Saving Private Ryan, but close. Never before have I heard such thunderous explosions. And those whistling things. I found those particularly annoying.

As I awoke this morning the radio was reporting on how out-of-hand things were, with numerous instances of fireworks being shot through schoolhouse mail slots. But the one story that blew my mind was the building fire at the 1400 block of Venables: the same florist/firework shop I mentioned in yesterday’s post!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Last night’s reopening of the Waldorf Hotel was a grand success, with terrific performances by Rodney Graham Band in the Cabaret, Paul Wong’s “Hotel” installation in the rooms, DJ sets by Stan Douglas and David Wisdom in the Tiki Bar, and Ryan Moore’s Twilight Circus Dub and Phil Western in the Library downstairs. The only setback, as far as I could tell, were the lineups.

For my part, it was a pleasure working with Tom Anselmi on the opening night program, and through him, meeting restauranteur Ernesto Gomez and Nick, the general manager, as well as being reacquainted with Brand Manager Daniel Fazio, who, as the bassist for Flash Bastard, makes a brief appearance in the film version of my book Hard Core Logo. A great team. I wish them the best in this extraordinary endeavor and look forward to future events.

As for the nature of these events, I would encourage anyone with an idea, be it a one-off or a series, to contact the hotel through their website. I will remain a “friend” of the Waldorf, assisting in the development of thematic programming, but after all those years curating the Reading Railroad (Railway Club), the Malcolm Lowry Room (North Burnaby Inn) and last February’s Candahar Bar (Cultural Olympiad), I have little left in the tank.

While driving home last night I passed A-Plus Florists at the 1400-block Venables. What is for fifty weeks of the year a flower shop (“A dozen roses for 10 dollars”) turns hybrid for the last two weeks of October, when fireworks -- and their "for sale" signs -- are added. It is quite the sight: that which blooms quietly compared to that which goes off with a bang.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Friday, October 29, 2010


Thank you for your report on the Omar Khadr trial. I followed up on what you wrote but found little in the way of corroboration, leading me to believe that you either invented it or are there, at Guantanamo (though unlikely given your tone).

The trial has once again made the front page of our country’s “national newspaper.” Not the central story (that belongs to the Congo), but a twelve-inch strip along the right-hand side of the page.

At the top of the story is a picture of Tabitha Speer, widow of the U.S. soldier who Khadr was convicted of killing. What at first looks like a Hilfinger purse is in fact one of those carefully folded U.S. flags given to the family of deceased U.S. military personnel. That and her veil suggest the photo was taken at her husband’s funeral.

The article has two headlines. The first is from Ms Speer: “You will forever be a murderer in my eyes”; below that, from Khadr: “I’m really, really sorry for the pain I’ve caused you.” Ms Speer’s headline was extracted from a fifty-minute courtroom statement. Kahadr’s statement was four minutes long.

In reading through the article, nowhere does it say who spoke first. We get a lot of information about how much Khadir’s body has changed in the nine years since his fifteen-year-old self threw a grenade at the Special Forces medic, mortally wounding him, and the cold looks sent his way by Ms Speer, but nothing of the order of events.

Is it important that we know how the trial proceeded? And if you were there, Slobodan, could you tell us?

Michael Turner

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I am sorry to hear that you are unsatisfied with my response to what is becoming an increasingly oblique email about ethnographic research, my education, and why. I feel I gave it my best, given what I was given.

Yes, the poetry collection and ethnography are, for me, important book forms. I made something of this in American Whiskey Bar (1997), which you say you have read and have offered to rewrite, as a sequel. Not sure that is necessary, but…

If I were to return to Kingsway (1995), I might do so as Daphne Marlatt did to Steveston (1974), or as William Carlos Williams composed Paterson (1963), a book (of books) that has remained with me since I first came upon it at a White Rock thrift store thirty years ago.

Sorry I cannot answer the last question. I have never heard of the author, nor can I find anything online.

Michael Turner

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Thank you for your email. I am not sure why you insist that I post my response without the benefit of the message that asked that I do so, but I have had stranger requests of late and I want you to know that.

Simply put, an ethnography is the study of a single culture, while ethnology is comparative, the study of more than one.

According to his biography, filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard studied ethnology as an undergraduate at the Sorbonne. In 1952, while travelling in South America, he attempted to make a first film, but never got beyond a series of tracking shots taken from a moving car. Claude Levi-Strauss worked similarly when conducting fieldwork in Brazil.

My undergraduate degree is in anthropology, a BA from the University of Victoria, British Columbia. I went to UVic because I was interested in the Northwest Coast. Part of this interest came from contact with the Tsimshian and Tlingit peoples while growing up in the Skeena River salmon fishery. Unfortunately UVic’s program (at the time) emphasized quantitative methodologies and an aversion to looking critically at its discipline. The one mandatory 300 level course – 300A -- was called Kinship. I did not enjoy my time there and, though I have few regrets, consider it a waste.

But I did take some interesting electives, such as the social and political theory courses offered in Political Science, as well as a film theory course in English. I also took courses in Linguistics, Sociology and at the Faculty of Human and Social Development, where I wrote and published a critical survey on regional correction facilities with a former inmate of William Head Institution. If asked to sum up what was best about my education, I would describe it as a convergence of Marx and Foucault.

Michael Turner

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I have not heard much from the Chilean miners of late. But maybe it's me. Only when not looking for something is it everywhere, and I have been looking.

Last I heard the miners had hired a lawyer. Their agreement was to split everything equally. I wonder if this is at the root of their silence: how the decision to share in the riches (book deals, movie deals, endorsements, etc.) applies to the process by which those things are negotiated.

A week ago I saw an image of one of the miners in a suit. He looked like every other man who does not wear a suit to work. Nor did he have the glow of the man who emerged from that mine. Recall the scene in Antonioni's Blow Up (1966), after Jeff Beck tosses his malfunctioning guitar into the audience and David Hemmings grabs it and is chased outside, how meaningless the guitar is once removed from its context.

Something else I heard was that the miners have agreed not to talk about their first week in the collapsed mine. What happened down there that no one wants to talk about? Years ago I read an ethnography about Bolivian tin miners called We Eat the Mines and the Mines Eat Us by June Nash. In it she talked about the lighting of the dynamite fuses, how in waiting for the explosion some miners were so overcome with anxiety that they pulled out their wick knives and castrated themselves.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Suggestions on how to make a poem, from Tristan Tzara's "Dada Manifesto On Feeble & Bitter Love":

Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are--an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

(Translated from the original French by Barbara Wright)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Another book where the writing bears a physical resemblance to the lives portrayed within it is Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son (1992).

I did not think much of this book when it came out, having bought it on the recommendation of a friend who claimed to have lived it. But because I was interested in this person, and how they came to be, I read on, annoyed by the writing, which felt like a bunch of broken sentences, or sentences that did not break in the right places.

It was only later that I would appreciate this book for those very reasons, finding in it a poetry that felt closer to my moment than the Kerouac she had likened it to.

As for my friend, we lost touch. She was a party friend, someone I would see at a certain kind of party. When I stopped going to those parties it was as if she had disappeared.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

If award nominations are all that is left of a book’s merits (critical journalism having gone the way of the typewriter), it has been a good year for Toronto’s House of Anansi Press. That said, of their current crop of fiction, two books that failed to make the shortlists are those that dare to ask questions as their titles – Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be? and Douglas Coupland’s Player One: What Is To Become Of Us. (Though the latter lacks a question mark, the reader cannot help but supply it.)

Have I read these books? I have tried, but the writing kept getting in the way. By that I mean the act of reading had me so hobbled by the inconsistently considered surface of the prose that I had to abandon their content and consider their questions through the form their writing takes.

Are these books badly written? I do not believe in “bad”, certainly not as a critical category. As a connoisseurial category, that goes without saying. But as a critical category, if “bad” can be conveyed on a perceptual level, as Houellebecq did with Platform (2001) and DBC Pierre with Vernon Little God (2003), then yes, it is operative. A material to work with, like a dry brush to a painter.

In Houellebecq’s book, “bad” writing is in itself a critique of a bourgeois French culture that prides itself on virtuosity in all endeavors. In his attempt to reveal the contradictions of (neo-)liberalism, Houellebecq has implicated language as an ideological lubricant. By placing gorgeous prose (not) on the level of the perfect holiday (not), Houellebecq achieves overtone. Pierre’s book manages a similar effect, where “bad” writing is analogous to the systemic failures that plague the United States, particularly her youth.

Is it disingenuous to make such an argument? I brought the question up at a dinner party composed largely of writers, musicians and visual artists. The writers would have none of it, their leader denouncing me for not accounting for the writer’s intentions (a Bostonian, he was unfamiliar with the term “unintended irony”, to say nothing of the writings of Roland Barthes). The musicians were split: in favour, the New Music composer, a proponent of tone clusters; against me, her son -- the emo folkie. Of the visual artists, there was neither agreement nor disagreement but a promise to think about it, which a few of them did, the prevailing belief being that the rhetoric of (written) language has exhausted itself and it is time to (re)explore its more opaque qualities. In a word: collage.

How should a person be? and What is to become of us[?] Are these worthwhile questions? To the first I would start with Socrates’s line about the unexamined life (that it is not worth living), and proceed from there. Not as a buzz-crusher, but as someone open to seeing things beyond the heart and head -- in short, a more lymphatic approach. To the second (assuming “Us” means human beings), there is already too much undiscovered future in the past for us to spend our present looking ahead.

For too long the future has belonged to religious fanatics and market speculators, and I would much rather dig through the rubble of what is unknown than strive for something described to me. Is it important that we know where we come from? Yes, but that is not the question I would add to Sheila and Doug’s. That would look more like this: What have we done to get where we are?

Friday, October 22, 2010

I have been to New York City maybe a dozen times since that first trip. Judy was accepted into the Bard MFA program, so that meant the next three summers were spent between Tivoli and an un-air conditioned house swap at Brooklyn’s Fort Greene, followed by reading tours, openings, reviewing, collaborations…

During those years I witnessed the relocation of private art galleries from SoHo to Chelsea, with some of those galleries growing to monstrous proportions, while others, like Murray Guy, remaining small and integral. When Dia closed (or relocated to Beacon) I, like many others, sensed a shift, with Chelsea suddenly an industrial park, too big for the artist studios that put it on the map.

Another rise and fall was Brooklyn’s Williamsburg. Like Silverlake in Los Angeles, Williamsburg emerged organically, an alternative to hegemonic Manhattan, only to fall prey to its success with the arrival of speculators, franchises and juggernauts like the expansionist New York University, one of Manhattan’s biggest landlords. But with gentrification came “new” neighbourhoods, one of which was the once untrendy (at least when I was there) Fort Greene.

My best visits to NYC included stops at Scotty Hard’s, his apartment at Kent Avenue, in Williamsburg, and later the one at Long Island City, across the street from P.S. 1. I loved those visits – the two of us shopping and cooking dinner, meeting at his studio in SoHo, where he recorded bands like Madeski, Martin and Wood, before decamping to his friend’s Metropolitan Avenue bar, Black Betty’s.

It has been three years since I was last in NYC. Not sure why that is. There have been opportunities, but they always conflict with what I am up to. One reason could be that the very things I liked about the city have ceased to exist. Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg have had a hand in that, giving corporations, not people, the keys. Another might be a change of habit, like when someone quits drinking. You only get one chance to visit New York City for the first time.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The faces of the cleaning crew, the wheelchair and the customs official remained with me as the cab sped west on Van Wyck. Everything on the Expressway seemed five-percent faster than other freeways I had known. As we slowed towards the Midtown tollbooth I thought we had arrived at a rave -- for cars.

Our lodgings were at 11th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues. The Larchmont describes itself as “European Style” (the U.S. American version of a “pension”), which meant shared shower and toilet, something we were fine with, given our budget. Once settled, we set out for a bite. Washington Square, then east along 4th to Avenue A, up to 12th and, because Judy had to catch a 7AM train to Annandale the next morning, home.

Being spring break, the streets were teeming with college kids, though there were enough stereotypes to remind me of the city’s endless representations. Everywhere I looked was an episode of That Girl or Rhoda, a Woody Allen film or Law & Order. People seemed hired to live there. At the same time I wondered how they could afford it. Only London was more expensive. Only then did Andy Warhol make sense to me.

As I said, Judy had an early train to catch, so when I rolled out of bed at 8AM, I was alone. The view from our window was of the rear of the building behind it. Just above that, a thin strip of sky, hard and blue and pure (which I have since added to my collection of indelible images). A half-hour later I was out the door, vowing to walk wherever my eyes took me. Nine hours later I was back at the Larchmont, in time to meet Judy for dinner.

Your shoes, she said. What did you do to them? I looked down; they didn’t look right. I don’t know, I went for a walk. What did you walk in? Nothing. I took them off, turning them in my hands. These were leather Dayton Oxfords, a workingman’s shoe, but somehow I had walked them into a state of permanent disfiguration. I’m serious, she said, they look broken.

And she was right. Alphabet City, Little Italy, Chinatown, Wall Street, TriBeCa, The West Village, all the way up to Columbia University, over to East Harlem, down again, around again. I must have walked 25 miles that day. I had never seen anything like it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I was 35-years-old the first time I visited New York City. When I mention this to people, I am often asked, What took you so long? Truth is, I never had reason to go until I went that time I went with Judy. She was there to interview for the Bard College graduate program. This was March, 1998.

We arrived on the Cathy Pacific flight, the one that got in at 8PM. As we approached all I could see were the lights of Manhattan, the outlines of buildings I had grown up with on television and in magazines. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building… We were travelling hundreds of miles per hour, but everything felt so slow.

Disembarking, the first thing I saw was a tired-looking South Asian family waiting to clean the plane. Beside them, a broken wheelchair against a smudged yellow wall. Things intensified after that. The line-up at customs reminded me of pictures I had seen of Ellis Island, 1903, except the people around me were better dressed.

The customs official was a heavy-set man, white, and in his fifties. He looked tired too. Thumbing through my passport he wanted to know why I was there. Pleasure, I said. What do you do for living? I’m a writer. This time he looked me in the eye. You like your work, Mr Turner? Sometimes, I said. I thought he might smile at that, because in making eye contact, in saying my name, I felt a connection. But no. He stamped my passport, handed it back to me, then turned off his wicket and stepped away.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Allison Jones is a blogger. On May 12, 2008 she posted this:

I guess I’m a rare breed. I’m a New Yorker who understands why people don’t like this city.

I’m moving back to NYC because I need the social support of my friends and family and the opportunities that I have to develop myself professionally are unparalleled (seriously, I'm 22 and I'll be a Director of Development and Marketing). I do believe that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

On the other hand, NYC isn’t for everyone. Many of my family members have left the city with no plans to return. And as I prepare to move back, I’m reminded of some of the reasons I left in the first place:

1. NYC = Racism’s 9-5: The biggest selling point about NYC is that it is so diverse. Let me tell you something, my neighborhood was all black. Next door all Jewish. A few blocks up, all Hispanic. We didn’t hang out and we didn’t play nice. It was an antagonizing experience. And that’s just on a personal level. Sean Bell and Amadu Diallo show racism on an institutional level. And in case you missed it, a black high ranking off duty police officer was stopped by white cops. That should tell you something…

2. Back off—that’s mine! You’ll see this kind of attitude related to damn near everything: jobs, items at the store, and seats on the train. It’s one big competition for even the smallest things.

3. I hate my life. People work too hard and love too little. I’m generally a happy person. While in New York people have assumed that I am from another city because I’m so cheerful. What does that tell you?

4. “Like, omg, the oppression of today’s modern societies…” and other hipster/yuppie nonsense: They’re coming—and fast. Talking about shit no one cares about and raising rents while pretending to be low maintenance and *down.* Not to mention being, yawn, booooooring. If you are going to change the city at least be interesting.

5. We own the city so deal with it! This should be the transit motto. I’ve yet to have a weekend of efficiently running trains. Politeness and great customer service from a transit worker? HA! That’s funny. This coupled with increasing fares pretty much means transit will continue to screw us over. And there is nothing you can do about it.

6. Guns and brawn: There is nothing remotely peaceful or pleasant about seeing cops and troops on trains and streets. Yes, I know it’s to “protect our freedoms” but it’s stressful, especially since I was here on 9/11. The greater the cop/troop presence the more real the threat feels. It’s scary. I don’t want to stay in a place that’s at the forefront of the Holy War.

7. Achoo! Oh, I sneezed on you? Well stop standing under my nose! New Yorkers live up to the rude stereotype—and proudly. I’ve never met people who view rudeness as a positive attribute (well, except in Philly—I hate it here too). And I have never seen so many people at one time. In fact, often times you will be standing under someone’s nose. It’s terribly crowded.

8. Awww look at the cat…wait…that’s a rat! Yes. They are that big.

…and dont get me started on the roaches.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Bering Strait separates Alaska from Russia. It is 53 miles wide, and was first crossed in 1648 by the Cossack Semyon Dezhnev, though it is named after Vitus Bering, a Dane, who crossed it 80 years later. Had Dezhnev a better publicist, it might have been called the Dezhnev Strait.

According to Wikipedia, Lillian Alling was “last heard bartering with the Eskimos for boat passage across the Strait to Asia.” Given the short distance, and the “Eskimos” willingness to negotiate, I assume she crossed the Bering Strait and returned to her native Estonia.

I find it hard to believe that there is no evidence of Alling on the other side of the Strait. Has anyone tried to find out? I realize it might make a more compelling story not knowing, but that is not the story. Does one have to be looking for something (a child, a fiancé ) because they are dissatisfied with their visit to North America?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Last night I attended the world premiere of Vancouver Opera’s Lillian Alling.

For those unfamiliar with Alling’s story, in 1927 a young Estonian émigré arrives in New York City, hates it, and decides to walk home, a trip that takes her to Chicago, Minneapolis, Winnipeg, northern BC, the Yukon, then finally the Bering Peninsula, where she is never heard from again (at least not in North America). There are sightings along the way, from telegraph operators and the occasional employer, but little else is known.

In 2007 Amy Bloom attempted to fill in the gaps with her novel Away, which imagines Alling in search of her lost child. John Murrell’s libretto takes a similar tack, though in this instance, it is a lost fiancé. The result, at least from the Murrell version, is a story so neatly sutured, so mawkish in its weaving of words and John Estacio's music, that you are left with little more than a wet hanky.

Stories like Alling’s are attractive, not for their (epic) scale but for that which is unknown. What happened along the way? What did Alling make of her experiences? What did others make of her? That is for us to imagine.

To dismiss the Vancouver Opera commission as “bad” is to miss an opportunity to talk about where it could have gone. Instead of a story within a story, one that begins with a middle-aged man taking his elderly mother from her wilderness home to an assisted living facility while she recounts the life of Lillian Alling (a recounting that predictably has the mother turning out to be Alling), why not approach the libretto along the lines of Agnes Varda’s Vagabond (1985), where the focus is not on the life of our hero but on those she meets along the way? For me, the projections of those on an unknowable subject are far more interesting than an author's imposition on that same (singular) subject. Especially when the imposition, in this case, is all about motive and sentiment.

An inversion like this might seem unfriendly to audiences eager to penetrate Alling’s inner world, those whose preference is to hang out with one person over those who come and go. But to argue that this is the life we aspire to is to deny art. What debt does art owe life? Why can’t I have an experience other than the one I am expected to have? Only when Gertrude Stein flew over North America did she understand cubism. Had Vancouver Opera made more of its Mondrian screen divisions and rustic platforms, they could have explored similar terrain. Instead we get Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

Although I applaud Vancouver Opera’s ambitions (the budget for Lillian Alling is 1.6 million dollars), I cringe when I think of it touring. The depictions of Vancouver resort to the usual clichés of a rain-soaked people praying for sun. As for the prison scene, though it provides an effective “First Act” finale, it feels more like Oklahoma than Oakalla.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The song in my head today was first recorded in 1959 by right-handed guitarist Lefty Frizell.

(Danny Dill, Marijohn Wilkin)

Ten years ago on a cold dark night,
someone was killed 'neath the town hall lights.
There were few at the scene, but they all agreed,
that the man who ran looked a lot like me.

She walks these hills, in a long black veil.
She visits my grave, when the night winds wail.
Nobody knows, nobody sees, nobody knows, but me.

The Judge said "Son, what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else, then you won't have to die."
I spoke not a word, though it meant my life,
for I'd been in the arms of my best friends wife.


Now the scaffold is high, and eternity's near.
She stood in the crowd, and shed not a tear.
But some times at night, when the cold wind moans
In a long black veil, she cries over my bones.


Friday, October 15, 2010

I am trying to imagine how U.S. radio programmers felt upon hearing a then-unheard-of Englishman’s dirge about a space mission gone wrong while Apollo 11 was racing to beat the Russians to the Moon. Clearly they had no problem with an Australian band’s April 1967 song about a mining disaster in the wake of the January 1967 explosion that killed 3 miners in Grundy, Virginia.

The protagonists in “New York Mining Disaster 1941” and “Space Oddity” both mention their wives. “Have you seen my wife, Mr Jones?” asks the miner (Bowie's birth name was David Jones), while astronaut “Major Tom” instructs ground control to “tell my wife I love her very much” (even though “she knows”).

Not common to see the word “wife” in critically-oriented pop songs like these, especially when youth culture was questioning institutions like marriage, private property... Also of note: the word “wife” does not appear at the end of any lines.

Words that rhyme with “wife” are:


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mine rescue/moon landing comparisons abound.

At bottom are lyrics to two songs. The first, released in 1967, was written and performed by Australia’s the Bee Gees; the second, released five days before the July 16, 1969 Apollo 11 lift-off, by England’s David Bowie.

For both the Bee Gees and Bowie, these songs were their first U.S. singles. The Bee Gees's "New York Mining Disaster 1941" was a top-10 hit, while Bowie's "Space Oddity" hovered at #124.

(Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb)

In the event of something happening to me
There is something I would like you all to see
It's just a photograph of someone that I knew

Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones?
Do you know what it's like on the outside?
Don't go talking too loud
you'll cause a landslide, Mr. Jones

I keep straining my ears to hear a sound
Maybe someone is digging underground
Or have they given up and all gone home to bed?
Thinking those who once existed must be dead?


In the event of something happening to me
There is something I would like you all to see
It's just a photograph of someone that I knew


(David Bowie)

Ground control to Major Tom
Ground control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
(Ten) Ground control (Nine) to Major Tom (Eight)
(Seven, six) Commencing countdown (Five), engines on (Four)
(Three, two) Check ignition (One) and may god's (Blastoff) love be with you

This is ground control to Major Tom, you've really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare

This is Major Tom to ground control, I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
Here am I floatin' 'round my tin can far above the world
Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do

Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles, I'm feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows
Ground control to Major Tom, your circuit's dead, there's something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you...
Here am I sitting in my tin can far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do