Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When I was a 15-year-old boy, Queen had less to do with Elizabeth II than what was, in those days, a very unusual English rock band.

News of the World (1977) was the Queen album that year, giving us songs like “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”, songs the band played at sports stadia, where they have remained ever since – every time the home crowd needs a lift, every time the home team wins.

I liked Queen until that record came out. "Bohemian Rhapsody", from a Night at the Opera (1975), was like nothing else I had heard on AM rock radio, maybe the closest thing, in my day, to what "Strawberry Fields Forever" (1967) was to someone eight years older.

Below is the first Queen song I heard, from the album that preceded A Night At The Opera, Sheer Heart Attack (1974):

(Freddie Mercury)

She keeps Moet et Chandon
In a pretty cabinet
'Let them eat cake' she says
Just like Marie Antoinette
A built-in remedy
For Khrushchev and Kennedy
At anytime an invitation
You can't decline

Caviar and cigarettes
Well-versed in etiquette
Extraordinarily nice

She's a Killer Queen
Gunpowder, Gelatine
Dynamite with a laser beam
Guaranteed to blow your mind

Recommended at the price
Insatiable an appetite
Wanna try?

To avoid complications
She never kept the same address
In conversation
She spoke just like a baroness
Met a man from China
Went down to Asia Minor
Then again incidentally
If you're that way inclined

Perfume came naturally from Paris
for cars she couldn't care less
Fastidious and precise


Drop of a hat she's as willing as
Playful as a pussy cat
Then momentarily out of action
Temporarily out of gas
To absolutely drive you wild, wild
She's out to get you


Recommended at the price
Insatiable in appetite
Wanna try?
You wanna try.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Here is another confession: I read newspapers for poetry.

Yes, there are poets with columns, like Lynn Crosbie, a weekly contributor to the Globe and Mail, and society scribe Malcolm Parry, who, though he does not identify as a poet, enjoys similar syntactic freedoms with the Vancouver Sun. But this is not what I am talking about.

For me, it is the inadvertent poetry.

Below is one such gem I found on Page A2 of today’s Globe concerning Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II’s 22nd visit to Canada, as reported by Oliver Moore. This, to me, is as resonant as Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” (1913).

“’How often do you see a Queen?’” asked 15-year-old David O’Shea, clutching a handful of pink peonies sodden after a three-hour wait.”

I'll leave the line breaks up to you.

Monday, June 28, 2010

One of my larger promotions was a tour I co-organized called Screaming from the Barrel (I did not choose the title), an evening of readings by Don Bajema, Exene Cervenka and Professor Griff. This was in February, 1994. A couple months earlier, Exene read at my club, the Malcolm Lowry Room. Because the MLR show went well, her agent approached me with a more ambitious proposal (he was the one who came up with the title).

I was offered what became the Vancouver and Victoria leg, which began in Bellingham, Washington, where co-promoter Jason Grant and I drove to in a Chrysler station wagon so we could escort the writers over the border. Because customs fees were the same for bands as they were for soloists, we decided it would be cheaper to treat the writers as a band. This is where the problems started.

While Exene remained a member of X, Professor Griff was no longer a member of Public Enemy, having faded from the group after comments he made in the Washington Times (comments he said were taken out of context – and for which he later apologized). Griff, who by then was working as a bounty hunter in Atlanta, did not take well to his induction into the “Screaming from the Barrel Band”, insisting that it was “critical” he not be “organized” that way, an issue he raised with customs officials.

How we got across the border, I‘ll never know. Suffice it to say, if this were today, we might still be there.

Because the Malcolm Lowry Room (cap. 99) was too small for our event, we booked the Starfish Room (cap. 300), formerly on Homer Street. In securing the date – February 14 -- we imagined a room full of lovers, which was the case (though not as full as we had hoped). As for love, it was all around, some of it on-stage -- but of the “tough love” variety.

Bajema kicked things off with a reading from his book, Boy in the Air, published by Henry Rollins’s 2.13.61 imprint. A wiry dude indisposed to small talk, Bajema, by virtue of his age and sensibility, was closer to what preceded San Francisco’s hippies than Exene’s post-Three Dog Night L.A. This came out in his reading. I cannot remember what he read, but I remember his tone. Picture an I-told-you-so prison guard reading a bedtime story to a third-time-unlucky pedophile.

Exene was next, and if she was angry, it was with her country’s foreign policy. But there were other works she read from, poems that spoke of her interest in gender relations, social class and depersonalizing technologies -- a theme taken up in her first book, Virtual Unreality (also with 2.13.61).

As for Griff, there was no book, per se, but some rhymes and informations he kept in a battered scribbler. Nothing near the content of the Washington Times quote, but just as pointed.

Of the three readers, Griff seemed the most uncomfortable. Not for lack of experience but what I took to be an uncertainty towards what he was doing in relation to Bajema and Exene -- the privilege that comes with whiteness.

I am tempted to tell the story of our second-stop, because there were some funny (and disturbing) things that happened on the way to Victoria (including Griff’s refusal to eat at a restaurant owned by a couple of the same faith he spoke of in the Washington Times). But because this remembrance came as a result of my previous post (X’s “Los Angeles"), I want to speak to the song’s content as it relates to Exene’s passage from L.A. to Sandpoint, Idaho, where she moved with her then-husband Viggo Mortensen.

Back in the 1980s a friend who grew up in Cranbrook, B.C. told me how the Aryan Nations had been building their headquarters across the line in Hayden Lake. When he heard that Exene had moved to Sandpoint (37 miles away), he was convinced that the “she” who “had to leave Los Angeles” was none other than the song’s co-author.

This was something that never came up during our leg of the tour, overshadowed as it was by Griff’s Washington Times quote and the controversy that dogged him. But it was, and remains, on my mind. Why have I waited so long? Was it my admiration for Exene Cervenka, artist, or was it something that preceded the previous post (Brecht’s departure from Nazi Germany)? That’s the best I can do – for now. What was once a question is suddenly a confession.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

From X’s 1980 album, Los Angeles:

(Exene Cervenka, John Doe)

She had to leave
Los Angeles
All her toys go 'round in black and her boys had too
She started to hate every nigger and Jew
Every Mexican that gave her lotta shit
Every homosexual and the idle rich
Idle rich
She had to get out
Get out
Get out
Get out
Get out

She gets confused
Flying over the dateline
Her hands turn red
Cause the days change at night
Change in an instant
The days change at night
Change in an instant

She had to leave
Los Angeles
She found it hard to say goodbye to her own best friend
She bought a clock on Hollywood Boulevard the day she left
It felt sad
It felt sad
It felt sad
It felt sad
It felt sad

She had to get out
Get out
Get out
Get out
Get out

She gets confused
Flying over the dateline
Her hands turn red
Cause the days change at night
Change in an instant
The days change at night
Change in an instant

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Brecht spent much of the Second World War on the move. In 1941 he and his family arrived at the Los Angeles port of San Pedro, via Vladivostok, where he connected with other German exiles, such as Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Fritz Lang, Thomas Mann and Arnold Schoenberg, who lived across the street from Shirley Temple. I suspect it was around this time that he wrote the following poem:

(Bertolt Brecht)

Contemplating Hell, as I once heard it,
My brother Shelley found it to be a place
Much like the city of London. I,
Who do not live in London, but in Los Angeles,
Find, contemplating Hell, that is
Must be even more like Los Angeles.

Also in Hell,
I do not doubt it, there exist these opulent gardens
With flowers as large as trees, wilting, of course,
Very quickly, if they are not watered with very expensive water. And fruit markets[/]
With great leaps of fruit, which nonetheless

Possess neither scent nor taste. And endless trains of autos,
Lighter than their own shadows, swifter than
Foolish thoughts, shimmering vehicles, in which
Rosy people, coming from nowhere, go nowhere.
And houses, designed for happiness, standing empty,
Even when inhabited.

Even the houses in Hell are not all ugly.
But concern about being thrown into the street
Consumes the inhabitants of the villas no less
Than the inhabitants of the barracks.

Friday, June 25, 2010

In 1998 I was cast to play the “The Caller” in the (short) film version of Michael Ondaatje’s (long) poem Elimination Dance (1978). The film was written and directed by Ondaatje, Bruce McDonald and Don McKeller, who played the male lead. Playing opposite Don was Tracy Wright.

Shot in a single day at an old hall on Toronto's Queen Street West, Elimination Dance was a pleasant experience. Among the dancers were musician Carole Pope, filmmaker Clement Virgo and actor Valerie Buhagiar.

As with most film productions, there is a lot of waiting. During these waits I spent time with Carole, Clement and Valerie, but also Tracy, who reminded me that acting is not just a craft but an intellectual proposition, a debate concerned as much with the history of theatre as the method(s) one draws on when approaching a part.

Since that time I have had numerous conversations on theatre and theatricality, in part because the person I live with, Judy Radul, explores these things in her work as a visual artist. I have also had further visits with Tracy, and after each one have come away richer for the experience -- charmed by her intelligence and wit, but also impressed with her integrity.

Last week I received an email saying that Tracy’s health, which had been in decline, had taken a turn for the worse. Then on Tuesday, news of her passing.

Tracy’s oeuvre, though not huge, was carefully constructed (like Terrence Malick, she believed “there is something to be said about not making a movie”). Regardless of the production, be it stage, film or TV, Tracy shone, such as her scene in Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005), where she meets the fellow she has been dating online. A fine example of interior acting. (This scene, along with Elimination Dance, can be found on youtube.)

In closing, I would like to leave off with a line from Bertolt Brecht, whose Life of Galileo (1939) Tracy once took part in. These words speak to what Tracy taught me about being an artist -- and a person too.

Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Once life is finished it acquires a sense; up to that point it has not got a sense; its sense is suspended and therefore ambiguous.
--Pier Paolo Pasolini

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Last week the Main Branch of the Vancouver Public Library held a reception in honour of the Broadsiding banner project I did with Geoffrey Farmer. The first banners featured my lyric history of the new library building, from Safdie’s philistinism to a critical epilogue, while the second set borrowed from the writings of Roman emperors, philosophers, poets and businessmen. As much as possible the texts in the second set were selected in relation to their predecessors.

Because Geoffrey and I had hoped to make more of the reception than canapés and dip, we asked University of British Columbia art historian John O’Brian to don a toga and announce the banners from the atrium floor. Like any good orator, he rose to the occassion. Gratias tibi ago, John.

Below are the six banner texts from the first series, followed by their attributed (in this case) responses:









--Marcus Tillius Cicero (106BC-43BC)

--Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65BC-8BC)

--Epictetus (55AD-135AD)

--Titus Lucretious Carus (99BC-55BC)

--Marcus Aurilius (121AD-180AD)

--Marcus Portius Cato Uticensis (95BC-46BC)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Monday, June 21, 2010

Hungarians in Vancouver.

B.B. Gabor was an "alternative" niteclub act in the 1980s. I remember seeing him at the Commodore, performing songs like "Moscow Jewellery (Nyet, Nyet Soviet)", "Consumer", and "Metropolitan Girls", after which he could be found outside, busking. B.B. dated a friend of my mother after moving here from Toronto to work with producer Todd Rundgren. Does anyone know what became of those sessions?

Another Hungarian is Elizabeth Fischer, who led bands such as Animal Slaves (1980s), Murder Museum (1990s) and, most recently, DarkBlueWorld. Like B.B., Elizabeth's bands fused numerous -- and sometimes contrasting -- literary and musical styles. She remains one of the greatest singers I have ever seen.

But the Hungarian I am closest to is my godfather, Mano Herendy. Mano came to Vancouver in 1956, where he worked as a couturier, acquiring the Leslie Lane House (now at Mole Hill) and the house that served as Umberto Menghi's first restaurant, the Yellow House on Hornby Street. With his wife Olive (Puddifoot), Mano produced thousands of confirmation, bat mitzfah, graduation and wedding dresses, some of which continue to be worn by the daughters and granddaughters of the women who stood for them.

Mano was someone my father befriended and brought into our lives. Gregarious, mordant, effusive and sullen are words that come to mind when I think of Mano Herendy.

B.B. and Mano are no longer with us. But Elizabeth, who is ageless, is.

From her Murder Museum period:

(Elizabeth Fischer)

Stay up all night in rose coloured shadows
Too many times not in love but in grief
Blue blood boiling there is no tomorrow
You have lost the power of flight

Little wild rooster do the unspeakable
The unbearable leers from the storm
Demand a miracle from a comatose oracle
A good luck charm and you still come to harm
jump into the fire

Dancing with phantoms the walls dripping shadows
Living in a room full of sticks and stones
Twin sins in mirrors snake skin burning
Hot and bright on bathroom floors

Stay up all night in a busted balloon
Skin crawling goose bumps sand dunes
Suspended in light little wild rooster
Pillowed in air feathers and pride
jump into the fire

You're a lucky lucky boy, you've found the get-well toy
Anything's better than a much-thumbed letter
Home is the hero, he's stainless but broken
And left as a token
Is a wild, wild heart.

Buffered by thorns and the smell of roses
Little wild rooster crows and poses
Thick thieves thumping on a tin dream drum
Strumming the rungs of the ladder to fire
jump into the fire

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I had problems finding English-translated lyrics to Hungarian folk songs online. The only lyric I could find appeared on a site where someone was looking for the origin of a Hungarian song called "Company".

The theme taken up in "Company" is common to the Hungarian folk songs of Bartok's era. I have no idea if "Company" was one he worked with.


All my dreams go back
Where my sweet country is
Green woods, flowery meadows
And stands my old, old country home

I know I shall return
Return, return
My wanderings will end
I'll be there again
In my beautiful country.

No faraway lands lure me
No glimmering cities
I am free of temptations.

Finally I am home I know
Finally, finally
My wanderings are over
At last I am here
In my sweet homeland

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bartok was fond of Hungarian folk songs, and drew on them for inspiration, variation. Barber wrote songs too, using texts by Robert Graves and James Joyce.

One Joyce text, from Ulysses, is called "Solitary Hotel", and belongs to a suite of five songs Barber wrote between 1968-1969, called Despite and Still.

"Solitary Hotel" is the fourth in the suite. It is described by the composer as "a rather fast tango."

(James Joyce, arr. by Samuel Barber)

Solitary hotel in a mountain pass.
Autumn. Twilight. Fire lit.
In dark corner young man seated.
Young woman enters.
Restless. Solitary. She sits.
She goes to window. She stands.
She sits. Twilight. She thinks.
On solitary hotel paper she writes.
She thinks. She writes. She sighs.
Wheels and hoofs. She hurries out.
He comes from his dark corner.
He seizes solitary paper.
He holds it towards fire. Twilight.
He reads. Solitary. What?
In sloping, upright and backhands:
Queen's hotel, Queen's hotel, Queen's ho . . .

Friday, June 18, 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.

Across from the bed, a brick-and-board shelf. On the top shelf is a hot plate, and on top of that, a pot. A soup made from scratch simmers inside. A cup stands ready, itching to be filled.

There is music from across the hall. The Allegro from Bartok's Violin Concerto No. 2 (1939). Or is it the Allegro from Barber's Violin Concerto, Op. 14 (1939)? (Barber was in Europe just before the outbreak of the Second World War. He might have heard Bartok's concerto while composing his own.) No, it's Bartok.

According to Malcolm Gillies's Bartok Remembered (1990), Bartok wanted to prove to Schoenberg that he could "use all twelve tones and still remain tonal" (something Barber would never do). Bartok attempted this in the Allegro's second theme.

I enjoy both Allegros, for different reasons, and have listened to them often. So often, in fact, that I sometimes I can't tell them apart. How does that happen?

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hard to imagine Schoolly D. pulling a Cure.

From his 1991 album, How A Black Man Feels:

(Schoolly D.)

(The spick pulls a razorblade on ya

And you got no ?mop ring? in your hand, run

You have any static with a nigger

And there ain't no whites around

You can get a spick to watch your back

You may stand a chance, but that ain't no guarantee

You have any static with a spick

Don't get no nigger to watch your back

Cause you ain't gonna have none

- Ha - you can say that again)

(Base) --> Chuck D

(Ah yeah)

Once upon a time in the ghetto

Lived a nigga, kinda rough, kinda mellow

From the gang called the Parkside Killers

Smoked a lotta j's, drunk a lotta Millers

On the corner sellin lleyo with the boys

Holdin his dick, fuckin with the young whores

You say, "Yo nigga, what's your name?"

He say, "Suck my dick, tell your mother do the same"

His mother and his father said fuck him

All the bitches on the block will suck him

If a nigga owes him money, better duck him

Because he just might buck-buck-buck him

On his head is a muthafuckin bounty

If he caught, he go straight to the county

Be another young brother in jail, yo

For standin on the corner, sellin that lleyo

(Ah yeah)

Just another killer

(Ah yeah)

Just another killer, baby


I tear the roof off any muthafucka

Damn right, I could never be a sucker

Schoolly-School back on the sneak tip

Fuck the niggas that's talkin that bullshit

One-two-three-four, lookin at my Gucci

Meet a fly bitch, fuck up the coochie

I do shit you never were conceivin

I'm Schoolly-School, the nigga you believe in

Hold up, nigga, what the fuck was you thinkin?

Who's the nigga that you think that you're gankin

In my eyes you can see all the anger

That's why I'm a fuckin gangbanger

What the fuck did you expect me to wanna be?

When every time that I turn on my TV

And every bit the drug dealer look like me

It's alright for me to pull the trigger

Just as long as I pull it on another nigger

Fuck it, I keep you dancin like James Brown

Alright boy, if you want it, here's the breakdown

I don't care how rough you think you is

I beat you down in the muthafuckin midst

I ain't tryin TO be your sister or your brother

I kick your ass like if I was your mother

I'm gonna make their minds so muthafuckin simple

To the rhyme Schoolly is a nympho

Or like a crazy muthafucka on cocaine

I'm the nigga that's fuckin up yo brain

To the niggas that's talkin that bullshit

The only thing that you're gankin is my dick

There'll never be another muthafucka like me

There ain't another brother ever will excite me

Inside my black Lee's a muthafuckin weapon

You don't dig it, keep on steppin

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

From the people who tried to bring you “Let’s spend some TIME together” (succeeded) and “Girl we couldn’t get much BETTER” (failed)…

On their controversial song “Killing an Arab” (1980), The Cure’s Robert Smith had this to say:

“It was a short poetic attempt at condensing my impression of the key moments in L’Etranger (The Stranger) by Albert Camus” (Cure News Number 11, October 1991).

In 2005, The Cure began performing “Killing an Arab” with “kissing” in place of “killing”.

In 2007, a new first verse and this refrain: “Killing another.” (“An other”?)

(If the lyric is such a problem, why not drop the song’s “live” performance altogether?)

With Smith’s atonement coming in the form of safer and safer revisions, I wonder what he makes of his earlier explanation – specifically, the novel’s “key moments.” Are they? Either way, if they were then, they aren’t now.

(Robert Smith)

Standing on the beach
With a gun in my hand
Staring at the sea
Staring at the sand
Staring down the barrel
At the Arab on the ground
I can see his open mouth
But I hear no sound

I'm alive
I'm dead
I'm the stranger
Killing an Arab

I can turn
And walk away
Or I can fire the gun
Staring at the sky
Staring at the sun
Whichever I chose
It amounts to the same
Absolutely nothing

I'm alive
I'm dead
I'm the stranger
Killing an arab

I feel the steel butt jump
Smooth in my hand
Staring at the sea
Staring at the sand
Staring at myself
Reflected in the eyes
Of the dead man on the beach
The dead man on the beach

I'm alive
I'm dead
I'm the stranger
Killing an Arab

Monday, June 14, 2010

The opening sentences from Albert Camus’s L’Etranger (1942):

"Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas. J'ai reçu un télégramme de l'asile: Mère décédée. Enterrement demain. Sentiments distingués. Cela ne veut rien dire. C'était peut-être hier"

Below are three translations -- the first two by Brits, the third by an American:

"Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home says: YOUR MOTHER PASSED AWAY. FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday." (Gilbert, 1946)

"Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know. I had a telegram from the home: 'Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely.' That doesn't mean anything. It may have been yesterday." (Laredo, 1982)

"Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know. I got a telegram from the home: Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours. That doesn't mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday." (Ward, 1988)

As far as I know there has only been one English translation of Michel Houellebecq’s Plateforme (2001).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Morocco did not qualify for this year’s World Cup, but England and the United States did. Yesterday I watched them play.

A lot has changed since the last World Cup, not just the additional camera treatments, but sonically too. This year the stadium sounded more like an apiary than the choral competitions of ere, with South African vuvuzelas trumping anything resembling a human voice.

In 2007 Phillipe Parreno and Douglas Gordon released Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, a game-length scopic interrogation of French mid-fielder Zinedine Zidane (whose last World Cup appearance was marred by his attack on an opposing player, after that player had insulted Zidane’s family). Unlike the Zidane portrait (shot during a league game), yesterday’s coverage intercut real-time play (a follow-the-ball master-shot of dot-connection) with replay (where slo-mo close-ups ran the gamut from pornographic “money shot” to Zapruder-style assassination documentation). While the real-time coverage allows us to see the structural set-ups of attackers and defenders, the replay is a lyrical eddy made up of players, equipment, coaches and referees – with every grimace, every billowing jersey approximating the interior workings of its participants.

Presiding over yesterday’s match were ESPN narrators Martin Tyler, a Brit covering the play-by-play, and colour commentator John Harkes, a former player and the first American to participate in an English Premier League game. As much as I enjoyed the visual intercutting, it was the audio coverage that drew me in.

Tyler was most poetic. In reflecting on his countrymen’s fast start, we were told that “England got off to an absolute flier.” Of a particularly aggressive tackle, “right on the margin of what’s permissible.” When a player was carded for spirited play, Tyler summarized the offense as a result of “persistent infringement.” Not to be outdone, and no doubt related to his time in England, Harkes, who occasionally pronounces his “ers” as “ahs”, said of an Englishman’s errant pass: “his touch was too big.”

Ice hockey has its own broadcast language. From Foster Hewitt’s “He shoots, he scores” to Danny Gallivan’s “cannonating drive” to Jim Robson’s “Hello to all hospital patients and shut-ins, those who can’t make it out to the game.” It is doubtful I will ever make it to a World Cup match, not because I dislike crowds but because I am more comfortable at home, with its poetry.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In 1966, Graham Nash, then a member of the UK pop group The Hollies, visited Morocco, where he booked first-class passage on a train from Casablanca to Marrakesh, eventually leaving his compartment for the cheap seats.

Inspired by the experience, Nash wrote a song, which, though recorded by the band, was never completed due to concern over the tune's lyrical content, especially in relation to Nash’s emerging hippie aesthetic. Shortly after, Nash would leave the The Hollies and travel to the United States, where he co-founded the band that was not a band, Crosby, Stills & Nash.

From their 1969 debut album, and the road not taken:

(Graham Nash)

(Whoopa, hey mesa, hooba huffa, hey meshy goosh goosh)

Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes
Travelling the train through clear Moroccan skies
Ducks and pigs and chickens call
Animal carpet wall to wall
American ladies five-foot tall in blue.

Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind
Had to get away to see what we could find
Hope the days that lie ahead
Bring us back to where they've led
Listen not to what's been said to you

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
They're taking me to Marrakesh
All aboard the train
All aboard the train

I've been saving all my money just to take you there
I smell the garden in your hair

Take the train from Casablanca going south
Blowing smoke rings from the corners of my m-m-m-m-mouth
Colored cottons hang in the air
Charming cobras in the square
Striped djellebas we can wear at home
Well, let me hear ya now

Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
They're taking me to Marrakesh
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
Wouldn't you know we're riding on the Marrakesh Express
They're taking me to Marrakesh
All on board the train
All on board the train
All on board

Friday, June 11, 2010

Yesterday’s post generated more than a couple emails regarding the “true” nature of my visit to Morocco. If I was not accused of making it up, I was asked why if in my June 6 post I could only recall two things that happened in Tangier did I supply a third one yesterday?

My response to that is not unlike what happens when we wake up in the morning and write down our dreams – how the more we write, the more we remember. Also, what I wrote in my June 9 post, where I spoke of returning to past songs, how in doing so it is not the words and musical structure that enchants but the songs’ colours. In reflecting on my trip, in retracing it as writing, a number of colours came to the mind, one of which was my chat outside the café.

Here’s another.

When checking-out of my hotel to catch the ferry back to Spain, the deskman, the owner’s dour teenage son, said, Make sure you give the Moroccan coins you cannot spend to those who ask for them, for they have little, yet contribute so much to our beautiful country.

I said I would do so.

Then he asked for my coins.

But your family owns this hotel.

Yet I have little.

Charmed, I reached into my pocket and gave him everything but a ten dirham piece.

He received the coins, but kept his hand outstretched.

I’m saving this one, I said of the coin.

It is forbidden.

I knew that it was illegal to take Moroccan money out of the country, but I had grown attached to Hassan’s profile, arguably the meanest scowl I had seen on any currency. So I returned it to my pocket.

You will pay for that, he deadpanned.

An hour later, as I was making my way down Avenue d’Espagne towards the ferry terminal, who should I see at the gates but the deskman. Standing beside him, one of Morocco’s towering police militaire.

You want the coin? I asked him.


I looked at the cop, the cop looked at me.

Why? I asked the deskman. Why are you making such a big deal out of this?

Because Hassan is our king, and I don’t like it that you think he is ugly.

I didn’t say he was ugly, I said he looks pissed off.

The deskman turned to the police militaire and told him, in French, that I thought the king a “violeur” – a rapist.

At this the police militaire laughed and sauntered off.

I suppose I could have done the same, but this young deskman, who was more or less my age, was suddenly the most extraordinary person I had ever met, and for him to have come all this way to see me off meant more than any 10 dirham coin. So I gave it to him – at which point he threw his arms around me and, his eyes to the sky, implored Allah to watch over me and deliver me to heaven.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Phosphorus is part of all living things. It is also used to kill things.

In 1980, Morocco was at war with the people of the Western Sahara, some of them proponents of the Saharawi Democratic Arab Republic. Backing Morocco was the U.S. government. Backing the U.S. government was Westinghouse.

The morning after arriving in Tangier I took my coffee at the café where the Englishman took his lumps the night before. Sitting down next to me was another middle-aged man, handsome in his black leather bomber and tinted aviators, which he donned to say hello.

Ca va? he said, his accent American.

Pas mal, et toi?

Can’t complain. What do you think of Morocco?

I told him I liked it, but the street hustlers were driving me crazy, always asking if I need a tour guide.

Look on the bright side, he said -- last year there were twice as many.

What happened?


They were drafted?

He chuckled then leaned over to tell me how every night young men are rounded up, fed into trucks and delivered to induction camps. From there they are tossed into the Western Sahara and told to kill Polisarios, the military arm of the proposed Saharawi nation. Less than half return.

Put off by his smugness, I responded aggressively: I see nothing wrong with a country defending itself.

Yes, he shot back, but this isn’t about sovereignty, it’s about phosphorus.

For the next half-hour I was lectured on phosphorus, how it is an essential ingredient in the formation of cell membranes, as well as fertilizers, detergents, pesticides, toothpaste and explosives -- and that there is not a lot of it, or that some places have it, while others have none. The Western Sahara has a lot of it, and that’s what people are fighting for.

At that point I thought he was a scientist. And he might have been, at one point. But that wasn’t why he was in Morocco.

Your queen was just here. A guest of King Hassan.

I told him she was not my queen.

If you were from Quebec, I might grant you that. But because you sound like you’re from Western Canada, probably the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, I’m afraid she is.

I didn’t know what to say. Technically he was right.

Last month the King invited her to a picnic, out in the desert. He made her wait three hours under an umbrella in 90-degree heat while he sat in his air-conditioned tent and played backgammon. When he emerged, it was to announce the day’s festivities: a series of falcon attacks on decommissioned carrier-pigeons.

Are you CIA? I asked.

Another chuckle. Just remember what I told you -- phosphorus.

And with that he got up and disappeared into the back of the café.

(Liz Phair)

He's just a hero
In a long line of heroes
Looking for something attractive to save
They say he rode in
On the back of a pickup
And he won't leave town
Till you remember his name

He's just a hero
In a long line of heroes
Looking for some lonely billboard to grace
They say he sprung from the skull of Athena
Think about your own head
And the headache he gave

He's just a hero
In a long line of heroes
Looking for action at a price he can pay
They say he's famous
But no one can prove it
Make him an offer just to see what he'll say

Check out the dashboard lights
Glowing all green and white
He feels safe in the dark
He wears his bluejeans tight

He's just a hero
In a long line of heroes
Looking for something attractive to save
They say he rode in
On the back of a pickup
And he won't leave town
Till you remember his name

Check out the thinning hair
Check out the aftershave
Check out America
You're looking at it babe

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My favorite album of 1982 was a gift from a friend visiting from Los Angeles. I was living in Victoria, and my friend, in an effort to cure me of my need to re-imagine the blues, gave me The Gun Club’s Miami.

Jazz pianist Al Neil once told me that the first time he heard Miles Davis’s Almost Blue (1959) he heard both a brilliant record and the end of modal music. With Almost Blue, the idiom had been perfected, so he quit piano and took up collage.

Miami had a similar effect on me. However, listening to it today, the record says more about what I thought I knew than what I knew I didn’t. Which is to say my conception of the blues was, in jazz parlance, square.

Funny what happens to songs when we return to them years later, how their colours can be more interesting than their words and musical structure. Rolling Stones multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones, who did not receive credit for any Stones compositions (and spent time in Morocco recording the Master Musicians of Jajouka in 1968), was a great musical colourist. So was his successor, Mick Taylor. For The Gun Club, that person was Ward Dotson, slide guitarist.

A final note on the album. Only this instant did it occur to me that Miami is by a band from the American southwest (LA), recorded in the northeast (NYC), named after a city in the southeast (Miami), that came to me in a place as close to the American northwest as a Canadian can get (Victoria, BC). Now how square is that?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Also released in 1982 was Juju Music by Nigerian band King Sunny Ade and His African Beats, an album the New York Times credited with launching the World Beat movement in the United States. The album’s first track, “Ja Fun Mi”, means “fight for me” in Yoruba.

Three years later, in 1985, Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie wrote “We Are The World”, a song about wealthy U.S. musicians (putting the “we” back in “wealthy”) and their desire to make a difference.

(Michael Jackson/Lionel Ritchie)

There comes a time
When we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one
There are people dying
And it's time to lend a hand to life
The greatest gift of all

We can't go on
Pretending day by day
That someone, somewhere will soon make a change
We are all a part of
God's great big family
And the truth, you know love is all we need

We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let's start giving
There's a choice we're making
We're saving our own lives
It's true we'll make a better day
Just you and me

Send them your heart
So they'll know that someone cares
And their lives will be stronger and free
As God has shown us by turning stone to bread
So we all must lend a helping hand

We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let's start giving
There's a choice we're making
We're saving our own lives
It's true we'll make a better day
Just you and me

When you're down and out
There seems no hope at all
But if you just believe
There's no way we can fall
Well, well, well, well, let us realize
That a change will only come
When we stand together as one

We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day
So let's start giving
There's a choice we're making
We're saving our own lives
It's true we'll make a better day
Just you and me

Monday, June 7, 2010

Toto’s “Africa” is a song that, if holed up like Manuel Noriega after the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama, I would not want blasted at my window. But here I am, reading about the song and how the band almost excluded it from their Toto IV (1982) album, thinking they had polished it to death (yes), and how different it sounded from the rest of their oeuvre.

On the official Toto website, co-author David Paich relates how the song’s inspiration came from watching "a late-night television documentary" (infomerical?) on “all the terrible death and suffering of the people in Africa…how I’d feel about it if I was there, and what I’d do.” Reading the lyric against The Sheltering Sky, I have my own thoughts. For example, when considering the line “There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do,” why does Sebastian Venable come to mind?

(David Paich/Jeff Porcaro)

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She's coming in 12:30 flight
The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way,
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say, Hurry boy, It's waiting there for you

It's gonna take a lot to take me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never have

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become


(Instrumental break)

Hurry boy, she's waiting there for you

It's gonna take a lot to take me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa, I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa, I bless the rains down in Africa
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never have

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tangier was not a stop on my original 1980 itinerary. Nor did The Sheltering Sky convince me that I should go there. From Barcelona I travelled to Valencia, Madrid, Cordoba, Granada, and somewhere around Sevilla I got it in my head that I would take the ferry from Algeciras to Tangier, despite what I had heard about the city and its dangers.

The ferry was smaller than I thought it would be, everyone crammed together on the foredeck, hanging on for dear life as the ship fought its way across the Straits of Gibraltar (indoors was less an option than a wind-protected vomitorium). I remember the mountains dead ahead, all purple, green and grey, and the music blasting from the PA: an endless succession of Rolling Stones songs. Not until “Happy” did it occur to me that the songs had been arranged in alphabetical order.

Whenever I tell people I was in Tangier at least half of them ask if I met Paul Bowles? (Apparently Bowles led an active café life and made himself available to whoever wanted to chat.) I don’t remember much during my visit, other than an intense walk through the medina and an unpleasant scene at an outdoor cafe, where a Moroccan boy approached a table of middle-aged British couples and accused someone’s husband of standing him up, demanding payment for an unexecuted sex act.

Years later, while writing a film script on the photographer Wilhelm Von Gloeden, it occurred to me that the last site of Indo-European sex tourism (impoverished version) might have been Taormina, Sicily, where Von Gloeden spent much of his life, and many more – like Oscar Wilde, Douglas Fairbanks and Isadora Duncan – came to visit. I mentioned this to a film producer from Milan, and she scoffed. For her, Sicily is so foreign to the “real” Italy that it "might as well be Africa."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The third paragraph in Chapter VI of Paul Bowles's The Sheltering Sky (1948):

She was no more disturbed by other people as such, than the marble statue is by the flies that crawl on it; however, as possible harbingers of undesirable events and wielders of unfavorable influence in her own life, she accorded other people extreme importance. She would say: “Other people rule my life,” and it was true. But she allowed them to do it only because her superstitious fancy had invested them with magical importance regarding her own destiny, and never because their personalities awoke any profound sympathy or understanding in her.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The second paragraph from Jane Bowles's Two Serious Ladies (1943):

As a child Christina had been very much disliked by other children. She had never suffered particularly because of this, having led, even at an early age, an active inner life that curtailed her observation of whatever went on around her, to such a degree that she never picked up the mannerisms then in vogue, and by the age of ten was called old fashioned by other little girls. Even then she wore the look of certain fanatics who think of themselves as leaders without once having gained the respect of a single human being.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Because I am chronically early I keep a small library of books in the trunk of my car. Most of these books I have read before, like the copy of The Sheltering Sky (1948) I picked up last month at a North Vancouver thrift shop, the NDP paperback edition with the Roloff Beny cover.

The first time I read The Sheltering Sky was in October 1980. I was on a train from Port Bou to Barcelona, on the last pages of John Berger’s G (1972), when a young woman from Auckland sat down opposite. When I shut G she asked, “You done with that?” I told her I was. “Here --” she said, reaching into knapsack, “you might like this.” And so we traded.

I was ten minutes early for my dentist’s appointment when I started Chapter VI. Chapters IV and V often came to mind when I thought of The Sheltering Sky, but Chapter VI is the one I will read again and again, for it is Kit’s story (as told in the third-person by its author, Paul Bowles).

Reading Chapter VI reminded me how happy I was to have kept Two Serious Ladies (1943) from the rummage box -- and how eager I am for my next appointment.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

While walking back from the grocery store this afternoon I noticed a new cafe at 3919 Knight Street, the former site of the Kensington branch of the Vancouver Public Library. The sandwich board said The Mermaid Cafe, so, being neighbourly, I poked my head in to say hi.

Behind the counter was an energetic clean-cut guy, early thirties, who greeted me with a million dollar smile. I welcomed him to the neighbourhood, but not before noticing a garish orange-and-black interior, the place devoid of customers.

Moments ago, the daily neighbourhood list serve arrived in my in-box. Privacy regulations forbid me from quoting from our service, but someone had seen the Mermaid's site and, though initially enthusiastic, expressed concern over the cafe's ambitions.

Here is what I found on the Mermaid Cafe site:

coffee, muffins, sandwiches, treats, special events!

Rat Pack and Showgirl Party!
2 nights: Friday May 28th and Sunday May 30th

Clicking deeper:

Proudly serving Nespresso Gourmet Coffee, Homemade Sandwiches and Soups, Delicious Baked Treats.
Let the Mermaid Host your nest Event!
Parties Tail-ored to your needs!
Options can include:
Live Cabaret or Burlesque Entertainment, Appetizers, Beverages, Cupcakes
Cash Bar available with Advance notice
School of Tease Burlesque, Instruction Parties also available.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010