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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Television events, as I recognize them, are rare these days. My first was the 1969 moon landing -- not Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” but the waiting (“Mom, are they there yet?”). Last night’s Chilean mine rescue was the latest.

I was cooking dinner when the radio announced that the first miner would be “freed” at 9PM (PDT). The stove clock said 7:30PM. I went to the living room and turned on CNN.

What was I looking at? What was I looking for? A hand-held camera trained on a monitor revealed the trapped miners and a lone rescuer. The staccato movements indicated a web-feed. Every time the image seized I thought of the paintings of Steven Hubert and Brad Phillips. The Chilean flag was fixed to the wall, the company logo absent.

The rescue capsule looked like our old hot water heater, the one that blew up on Boxing Day. The first miner was loaded in. The audio commentary was in English, a simultaneous translation of what was being relayed below. With the miner secured, the voice announced that the ascent would begin – and would those remaining “please keep clear of the camera.”

As the capsule began to move, CNN cut back and forth between it and the winch above. The cutting technique was right out of Jodorowsky, something Dennis Hopper paid homage to in his film Easy Rider (1969). The winch, brightly lit against a jet-black sky, looked like a train set decoration. I thought of the moon landing. I wondered if this was fake too.

The first miner emerged at 8:15PM (PDT). As I watched I could hear someone on the radio talk about the order in which the miners would be freed -- the most psychologically fit, first; the most physically capable, last. The reasoning here was that if something went wrong, it would go wrong early. We were not told why the most physically capable would be last, nor a peep about those in the middle.

Later, while at my local, the bartender switched two of the pub’s thirty-five monitors from Irish hurling to the rescue. Naturally the conversation shifted. Kevin likened the rescue to the reverse of British Petroleum’s oil spill, while Reid suggested that the presence of the Chilean flag and the absence of the company logo was a deliberate act of branding. As the camera zoomed-in on the glossy red device at the opening of the rescue hole (what was likely a brake), Kevin, in that easy way of his, said, “You know, if this is Mother Earth, and the miners are her children, then that thing at the opening, that has to be her clit.”

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Like many musicians, Jimi Hendrix was self-taught. He could not read music.

As a composer Hendrix worked in colour. But his colour associations, as implied in “Bold As Love”, were not received but based on synesthesia. Blue is not sadness, it is “life-giving waters”; while Red is not anger but “confidence.”

That said, you would think Purple, for Hendrix, would be a mixture of “life-giving waters” and “confidence.” Maybe it is. Though for Hendrix, Purple is “anger." Both Neptune and Poseidon, being water gods, were capable of great storms.

Looking at Hendrix’s astrological chart I see that his Moon is in Cancer, a water sign, while in Chinese astrology, he is a Water Horse.

Monday, October 11, 2010

This is my favorite Hendrix song:

(Jimi Hendrix)

Anger! he smiles
Towering in shiny metallic purple armour
Queen jealousy envy waits behind him
Her firey green gown sneers at the grassy ground

Blue are the life-giving waters taken for granted
They quietly understand
Once happy turquoise armies lay opposite ready
But wonder why the fight is on

But they all bold as love
They all bold as love
They all bold as love
Just ask the axis

My red is so confident he flashes trophies of war
And ribbons of euphoria
Orange is young full of daring
But very unsteady for the first go 'round

My yellow in this case is not so mellow
In fact i'm trying to say it's frightened like me
And all these emotions of mine keep holding me from uh
Giving my life to a rainbow like you

But i'm uh yeah i'm bold as love
Yeah yea-ah
Well i'm bold, bold as love
Hear me talking girl
I'm bold as love
Just ask the axis
He knows everything

Yeah, yeah, yeah

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In 1841, Francis Henderson, 19, escaped from a slave plantation outside of Washington, DC. This was what he left behind:

"Our houses were but log huts- - the tops partly open- - ground floor- - rain would come through. My aunt was quite an old woman, and had been sick several years; in rains I have seen her moving from one part of the house to the other, and rolling her bedclothes about to try to keep dry- - everything would be dirty and muddy. I lived in the house with my aunt. My bed and bedstead consisted of a board wide enough to sleep on- - one end on a stool, the other placed near the fire. My pillow consisted of my jacket- - my covering was whatever I could get. My bedtick was the board itself. And this was the way the single men slept- - but we were comfortable in this way of sleeping, being used to it. I only remember having but one blanket from my owners up to the age of nineteen, when I ran away.

Our allowance was given weekly- - a peck of sifted corn meal, a dozen and a half herrings, two and a half pounds of pork. Some of the boys would eat this up in three days- - then they had to steal, or they could not perform their daily tasks. They would visit the hog- pen, sheep- pen, and granaries. I do not remember one slave who did not stole some things- - they were driven to it as a matter of necessity. I myself did this- - many a time have I, with others, run among the stumps in chase of a sheep, that we might have something to eat....In regard to cooking, sometimes many have to cook at one fire, and before all could get to the fire to bake hoe cakes, the overseer's horn would sound: then they must go at any rate. Many a time I have gone along eating a piece of bread and meat, or herring broiled on the coals- - I never sat down at a table to eat except at harvest time, all the time I was a slave. In harvest time, the cooking is done at the great house, as the hands they have are wanted in the field. This was more like people, and we liked it, for we sat down then at meals. In the summer we had one pair of linen trousers given us- - nothing else; every fall, one pair of woolen pantaloons, one woolen jacket, and two cotton shirts.

My master had four sons in his family. They all left except one, who remained to be a driver. He would often come to the field and accuse the slave of having taken so and so. If we denied it, he would whip the grown- up ones to make them own it. Many a time, when we didn't know he was anywhere around, he would be in the woods watching us- - first thing we would know, he would be sitting on the fence looking down upon us, and if any had been idle, the young master would visit him with blows. I have known him to kick my aunt, an old woman who had raised and nursed him, and I have seen him punish my sisters awfully with hickories from the woods.

The slaves are watched by the patrols, who ride about to try to catch them off the quarters, especially at the house of a free person of color. I have known the slaves to stretch clothes lines across the street, high enough to let the horse pass, but not the rider; then the boys would run, and the patrols in full chase would be thrown off by running against the lines. The patrols are poor white men, who live by plundering and stealing, getting rewards for runaways, and setting up little shops on the public roads. They will take whatever the slaves steal, paying in money, whiskey, or whatever the slaves want. They take pigs, sheep, wheat, corn- - any thing that's raised they encourage the slaves to steal: these they take to market next day. It's all speculation- - all a matter of self- interest, and when the slaves run away, these same traders catch them if they can, to get the reward. If the slave threatens to expose his traffic, he does not care- - for the slave's word is good for nothing- - it would not be taken."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

IMDb’s “Plot Keywords” for Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)

Run | On The Run | Prostitute | Police | Black Panthers

See more>>

Hell's Angels
Music Score Composed By Director
Dead Dog
Exploding Car
Biker Chick
Underage Sex
Male Frontal Nudity
Oil Well
Female Nudity
Experimental Film
African American
Black Activist
Sex With Minor
Black American Culture
Lounge Singer
Black Film
Biker Gang
Nude In Public
Sex Lesson From Prostitute
Black Militant
Mexican American Border
Biker Babe
Dog Killed
Self Defense
Urban Violence
Sex In Public Area
African American Woman
Racial Violence
Oil Field
Box Office Hit
Black Director
Sex Show
Racial Slur
Black Independent Film
Race Relations
Interracial Sex
African Americans
Female Rear Nudity
Black Filmmaker
First Time Sex
Biker Women
Male Prostitute
Los Angeles California
False Accusation
Shot To Death
Explicit Sex
Public Sex
Avant Garde
Sexual Attraction
Police Violence
Black American
Male Nudity
Sex In Public
Police Corruption
Black People
Cult Favorite
Man On The Run
Loss Of Virginity
Social Commentary
Motorcycle Gang
Police Brutality
Sexual Desire
Anti Racism
Police Commissioner
African American Child
Independent Film
Character Name In Title

Friday, October 8, 2010

"Follow the Drinking Gourd" was a standard during the folk music "boom" of the 1950s and 60s. I remember singing it in my Grade Two music class (1969-1970), and of course I found it puzzling. What is a gourd, and how do I drink from it? And if it is a ladle, like the one hanging above the stove, how do I follow it?

Like many folk songs, particularly those that came out of the southern United States, "Follow the Drink Gourd" is encoded, or in this instance, a map for escaping slaves. The "Gourd" is the Big Dipper (which contains the North Star), and if you travel towards it, staying close to the "riverbank," you will meet "Peg Leg" (a conductor for the Underground Railroad), and he will guide you to "freedom" (Canada).


When the sun comes back,
And the first Quail calls,
Follow the drinking gourd,
For the old man is waiting
For to carry you to freedom
If you follow the drinking gourd.

Follow the drinking gourd,
Follow the drinking gourd,
For the old man is waiting
For to carry you to freedom
If you follow the drinking gourd.

The riverbank will make a very good road,
The dead trees show you the way.
Left foot, peg foot traveling on,
Following the drinking gourd.

The river ends between two hills,
Follow the drinking gourd,
There's another river on the other side,
Follow the drinking gourd.

When the great big river meets the little river,
Follow the drinking gourd.
For the old man is waiting
For to carry you to freedom
If you follow the drinking gourd.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Last month, while cleaning my study, I had hoped to find my copy of Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter, eds., Opening Doors: Vancouver's East End. Sound Heritage Series. Victoria, BC: Aural History Program, 1979, much of which focuses on Strathcona. But alas, like everything else I was looking for, it was nowhere to be found.

Among the many historical portraits in Opening Doors is a recollection by Jimi Hendrix's aunt, who spoke of young Jimi's frequent stays during the 1950s and 60s. If ever a literary tour of Strathcona is organized, I would hope that, along with visits to the homes of Wayson Choy, Stan Douglas, Roy Kiyooka, SKY Lee, Goh Poh Seng and Jim Wong-Chu, not to mention those in recent posts, a stop at Jimi's aunt's be added.

"Stone Free" is the first song Jimi Hendrix wrote after landing in England in 1966, where the Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded Are You Experienced? It is not my favorite Hendrix track, but one written with the exhilaration that often comes with change.

(Jimi Hendrix)

Everyday in the week I'm in a different city
If I stay too long people try to pull me down
They talk about me like a dog
Talkin' about the clothes I wear
But they don't realise they're the ones who's square
And that's why
You can't hold me down
I don't want to be down I gotta move
Stone free do what I please
Stone free to ride the breeze
Stone free I can't stay
I got to got to got to get away
Listen to this baby
A woman here a woman there try to keep me in a plastic cage
But they don't realise it's so easy to break
But sometimes I get a ha
Feel my heart kind of runnin' hot
That's when I've got to move before I get caught
And that is why, listen to me baby, you can't hold me down
I don't want to be tied down
I gotta be free
I said
Stone free do what I please
Stone free to ride the breeze
Stone free I can't stay
Got to got to got to get away
Yeah ow!
Tear me loose baby
Stone free to ride on the breeze
Stone free do what I please
Stone free I can't stay
Stone free I got to I got to get away
Stone free go on down the highway
Stone free don't try to hold me back baby
Stone free oh yeah baby
Stone free got to got to get away
Stone free goodbye baby

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On the back cover of Henry Pepper is a text by another Strathcona author, Lee Henderson, who describes the book as a “head-down portrait of a broken man” and sees in Pepper’s Strathcona a “latter-day Montparnasse, full of flop houses, artist grottos, bedbugs, organized crime, and capitalist landowners all fighting to make the place their own.”

Though I understand the purpose of a jacket text, Lee’s characterizations feel two sizes too big. For me, Pepper is neither "broken" nor complete but a force on his own terms, less a solid form than an ephemeral gesture, a proprioceptive subject open to inhabitation. As for the site – Strathcona – I see it less as a “Montparnasse” than an equally faint locus of public (utility poles) and private (disposal bins), the warp and weft of the contemporary urban experience.

Lee’s own warp and weft strategies are evident in his engaging and well-researched novel The Man Game (2008), where the weave is temporal, not spatial. This book, also set in Vancouver, has at its centre an activity that pits man against man in a conflation of fight and dance, a “game” rumored to have occurred in the nineteenth century that, like the faux Edwardian architecture so common today, has been revived by those in the present.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Around ten years ago I was hired by Capilano University (then College) to teach in what they were calling the Writing Practices Program, “a tonic,” as instructor Ryan Knighton put it, to the "success-oriented" college and university creative writing programs proliferating across Canada and the United States.

There were ten of us, a group that included George Bowering, Stan Persky, Lisa Robertson, George Stanley, Sharon Thesen and myself, and approximately twenty students. The idea was that each of us would devise a three week mini-course and at the end of the day the students would know more about writing.

Problem was, the program had advertised manuscript evaluation, something none of us were prepared for. By the time my turn came, after Christmas, the students were ready to revolt. In fairness, I allowed them to vote on the exercise approach, based on my laboured-over custom courseware package, or manuscript evaluation. The result was overwhelmingly the latter.

So now I was faced with forty one-on-one, before-and-after meetings, and a thousand pages of reading. But it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I learned a lot.

Many of the students were older, with specific stories in mind. I helped them as best I could. Of the younger students, all three were promising and continue to write. Lindsay Diehl has just completed a Masters in Creative Writing at UBC Okangan and is a regular contributor to Geist Magazine; Camilla Pickard, the most Ondaatjian of the group, is closing in on a novel-length manuscript; and Justin Lukyn, whose Program-era manuscript showed Melvillian tendencies, self-published an intriguing suite of poems entitled Henry Pepper, which was reissued by New Star Books in 2008.

Henry Pepper employs a spatial conceit based on the telephone poles and garbage bins that line the alleys between Strathcona’s Clark Drive and Gore Street. These are tight little poems, carefully wrought, mostly in single stanza blocks -- like the blocks between Clark and Gore. Pepper patrols these alleys, watching, following, shrinking and hiding.

This is a book I recommend to anyone interested in a poetry that comes out of the ordered nowheres many of us take for granted – and rarely see as sites of creative expression.

Here is one of them:


From on top of the Heatley hill
he looks out beyond the city limits
to Burnaby. Henry Pepper has a
Burnaby heart. In his left rib cage
there is a ticking, nondescript
municipality. The heart of Burnaby.
Up and down the alley hills, he who
hates to move, who only likes to
stand in puddles, passes like other
alley people through the telephone
pole structures entirely dominated
by thoughts of Burnaby.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Another artist familiar with Strathcona is Ken Lum, who, along with his brother, parents and grandparents, occupied a crowded house not far from Al and Carole.

Lum's paternal grandfather, Lum Nin, came to Canada as a teenager, in 1908, one of many Chinese men lured by the promise of "Gold Mountain" -- in this case, a chance to work on the railroad, something Ken did as a young man. Not on the track, like Lum Nin and the other "coolies", but as a third cook on the passenger line.

While en route to Al and Carole's I passed Ken's forty-foot EAST VAN cruciform at the northwest corner of Clark and Great Northern Way. I remember Ken talking about this piece years ago, when the desired site was Kingsway and Main. As for the motif's origin, no one knows; it has been around forever, long before the punk band EAST VAN HALEN used it in their logo.

I have passed Ken's piece a number of times since its erection last year, but this time was different. At the base were a series of formal variations, rendered in spray-paint and marker, my two favorites being BALD DAD and HOT MOM. Ken would love this. Anything to get the ball rolling.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

This morning I paid a visit to the Strathcona home of Al Neil and Carole Itter. The purpose of my visit concerned Al’s piano, which, owing to new landlords, has to be out by June.

Along with Al and Carole.

Visiting Strathcona, no matter how quickly, can take time. There is always someone to bump into, catch up with. One person I often see between my car and the doorstep is CBC writer-broadcaster Bill Richardson.

Bill began his Vancouver years soaking up the West End, but for the past ten has lived in Strathcona, where he greets you as if it was he who drove the first nail. This morning was no exception.

“Welcome to our neighbourhood!" he extolled, arms outstretched.

Such pride.

If Strathcona should have an honorary mayor, it shouldn’t.

Al and Carole have lived on Hawks Street since Al was a year into his first Canada Pension cheque – twenty years ago (Al was born the same year as architect Arthur Erickson). In that time they have seen the neighbourhood shift from a predominantly ethnic Chinese population, many of them descendants of immigrant railway workers, to one funded by the film industry. Of course with that shift came displacement.

Today was my first visit to Al and Carole’s. What a treat to see their Edwardian walls, covered with the art of their time; the well-maintained rooms, each with its own purpose; the biggest claw-foot tub, ever; Carole’s roomy attic studio; and of course Al’s Bush & Gerts upright, which, if all goes well, will have a room of its own at the Waldorf Hotel, six blocks east on Hastings.

As for Al and Carole, there are leads. Even Bill Richardson is keeping an eye out.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

But then it is her eyes that come forward out of the vulgar disembarkers to reassure me that the bus has not disgorged disaster: her madonna eyes, soft as the newly-born, trusting as the untempted.
-- Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945)

Friday, October 1, 2010

She had carefully planned the moment, early enough to arrive, too late to be seen, recognized, followed, and found.
--Ethel Wilson, Swamp Angel (1954)