Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jordanian Sunrise

Time-lapse sunrise, with time-code.

Monday, December 30, 2013

"holes of cultural experimentation"

As mentioned in yesterday's post, "One" was written by Harry Nilsson. Though an accomplished songwriter, Nilsson was also a great interpreter. One of his biggest hits was his rendition of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'", which was the signature song for a film I have posted on in the past, Midnight Cowboy (1969).

Before it was a film, Midnight Cowboy was a novel written by one James Leo Herlihy (1927-1993), a lesser known figure (at least these days) who lived a remarkable life and whose Wikipedia page is a start. 

Something I learned about Herlihy was that during the 1960s he spent six months travelling the United States visiting communes, from which he concluded that the "holes of cultural experimentation" that the communal experience provides would one day "bring forth new cities and the state will become servant to the communal structure."

This augurs with some of what I have been thinking about lately concerning the impossible city of Vancouver, which is cruel to its youth, particularly those interested not in (market) certainty but in (cultural) ambiguity. If these people were to leave Vancouver for its forested edges, might they be the ones to lay the foundation for the cities Herlihy is referring to? I hope so. Because as things stand, something's got to give.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

One (1968)

"One" was written after its author, Harry Nilsson, made a phone call to a friend and found the line to be busy (hence the repetition of the opening note). Like the song in yesterday's post, "One" has been recorded by numerous artists, but the version most of us are familiar with is by Three Dog Night.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

One Tin Soldier (1969)

This song was written two years after Steve Marriott and Denny Lane wrote the song from yesterday's post. Although "One Tin Soldier" has been recorded many times, it was Coven's version that appeared in the film Billy Jack (1971), whose titular character, played by the remarkable Tom Laughlin (who also co-wrote and directed the film), passed away sixteen days ago at the age of 82.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Tin Soldier (1967)

At the 102:18 mark of the film I posted yesterday a younger member of the town says to the matriarch, "Old One, I am coming into your mind," and in that moment I was reminded of what Small Faces singer/songwriter Steve Marriott once said of the song "Tin Soldier" (1967):

"The meaning of the song is about getting into somebody's mind - not their body. It refers to a girl I used to talk to all the time and she really gave me a buzz. The single was to give her a buzz in return and maybe other people as well. I dig it. There's no great message really and no physical scenes"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The People (1972)

I love the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Regular patterns disintegrate, time slows.

As a child, my parents and their friends hosted open houses at Christmas. While the parents partied, the children gathered in the den to watch the films the networks showed at that time of year -- The Wizard of Oz, Lawrence of Arabia, A Christmas Carol (the one starring Alastair Sim as "Scrooge").

Nowadays we are free to construct our own schedules, and for my part I search the internet for the made-for-TV films I watched (or begged to watch) on school nights, in particular those presented by the American Broadcasting Company through their ABC Movie-of-the-Week series.

The film above is one that has stayed with me all these years -- The People.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Song

One of the many singles Jethro Tull recorded that found its way onto their Living in the Past (1972) double-album.

"A Christmas Song" is followed by the album's title track, one of the few songs in the time signature of 5/4 that found its way onto the popular charts.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cheryl Siegel

For the past couple of Christmases I have posted a picture of the seasonal tree that librarian Cheryl Siegel displays at the Vancouver Art Gallery library from Hanukkah into the New Year.

But this year I wanted to post a picture of Cheryl, and in doing so scanned the web for something that might give a sense of her grace, wit, intelligence and beauty. (Oh, but if you could hear her voice! Her low and slow contralto! Cheryl Siegel is to my mind the sexiest person in Vancouver.)

Here is Cheryl working her magic with 100-year-old artist John Koerner at the Burnaby Art Gallery for the launch of his latest book, Now & Before: John Koerner: Drawings & Observations (2013).

Seasons Greetings to you both!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Five-Letter Word for a Unit of Snow

Yesterday marked the first snowfall of the year.

(No two crossword puzzles are alike.)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Walter Scott

Literary representations of the contemporary art world have been with us awhile now. For my generation it is Tama Janowitz's novel Slaves of New York (1986); for those born in the 1980s it is Walter Scott's comic series Wendy (2011-).

Earlier this year I was introduced to Walter at a VAG opening, where I learned he had recently moved to Vancouver and was preparing an exhibition that opened this fall at Macaulay & Co. This too was a notable show.

Comprised equally of spare free-standing sculpture and wall works that mix minimal and figurative motifs, Scott's show bears little resemblance to the shallow cartoon art world he is not so much satirizing but "relocating" from reality to the illustrated page. But what stood out first, at least for this viewer, was the recurrence of a safety colour we associate with traffic control: orange. (Walter is Kahnawake Mohawk and grew up amidst the Oka Standoff.) Also in evidence are shapes and textures that conspire to form masks and screens, most of which are, in some form, open (or opening).

Perhaps it is the relative openness of these objects that has allowed the gallery artist to emerge from behind the comic book author who depicts those anxious to engage in such a world -- fictive artists like "Wendy". But whatever the case, I expect we will be hearing more from Walter in the coming years.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Best Ofs

Normally I shy away from participating in year-end "Best Of" lists. But because much of what I see throughout the year does not make it into my writing, "Best Of"s (at their best) allow us to revisit notable events in what has become a genre all its own.

Three exhibitions I did not write reviews on, but felt worthy of attention, were posted today on Canadian Art's online joint. Another exhibition I enjoyed very much was Isa Genzken at Galerie Buchholz in April.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Crowds and Flowers

Molly (Lamb) Bobak was born in Vancouver in 1922, the daughter of the ineffable Harold Mortimer-Lamb, who is the subject of a current exhibition at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Bobak studied with Jack Shadbolt at the Vancouver School of Art before eventually settling in New Brunswick, where she took a teaching position.

Crowds and flowers are two of Bobak's favourite subjects. I have always believed that her poor eyesight might have contributed to her seeing in these subjects more similarities than differences. For example, I too have looked down at certain kinds of crowds and seen flowers, just as I have looked down at certain kinds of flowers and seen crowds.

The painting above is entitled The Rink (1960). Although a static view of skaters, Bobak is skilled enough to convey the sensation of something turning. This is all many of us aspire to in life -- to "feel to be a cog in something turning," as Joni Mitchell once sang in her effort to describe a rather crowded event she skipped in favour of appearing on a more flowery television talk show.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I am not disposed to the post-1970s paintings of Gordon Smith, but I will look twice when I come upon one, particularly those whose season is winter.

Although Creekside Grasses, #1 (2009) does not have its season in its title, we know it is winter, just as we know that the artist is in the winter years of his long and remarkable life.

For me this pairing of age and season is a resonant one, just as a child's drawing of a flower will sometimes have me turning the paper this way and that, in search of the flower that I am told is there.

Below are two drawings by children, both of which have flowers in them, both of which come from an essay on childhood grief that was published in the American Medical Associations Journal of Ethics.

The first drawing is by Sienna. The accompanying inscription reads:

Ella in heaven giving flowers to God next to a rainbow, with the sun and clouds in the sky and a big yellow and green flower. Ella has wings and a halo and is wearing slippers!

The second drawing is by Dawson.

Ella in heaven with a big, hot sun, 2 (red) clouds above her, with grass, a black flower, and a red tree below her. Ella has wings and a halo and toes!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Moth in the Woods (1975)

Jack Shadbolt is one of British Columbia's great moderns, a link between Emily Carr and the abstracted landscape painters that have survived him, a group that includes Gordon Smith, who is still painting at 94 years of age.

Shadbolt's Moth in the Woods (1975) is notable for its inclusion of the northwest coast formline motif in the wings of its insect. In another Shadbolt painting, the triptych known as Leopard Moth (1977), we have evidence of our province's other most enduring motif -- the geodesic.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


In the early 19th century, the dominant moth in Northern England was the peppered moth. In 1848, a black moth was discovered in Manchester. By 1895, all but 5% of Manchester's moths were black.

In 1956, British Parliament passed the Clean Air Act. In the years that followed, black and peppered moth populations declined, while the white moth population grew.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A small room inside 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.

All morning long I watched a moth on the wall above the door, waiting for it to move. Eventually I drew the blinds, turned off the light and counted sixty seconds in my head before turning on the light again.


Nothing but time passed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Language and Communication

In September of 1983 I returned to Vancouver from Port Edward, B.C., where I had for the previous four summers slung fish at a Skeena River salmon cannery. Rather than proceed from there to Victoria, to resume my studies at UVic, I decided to take a half year off and give more thought to my major, which had me leaning towards the Faculty of Human and Social Development, and from there to UBC to pursue a Masters of Social Work.

Jobs in social services were difficult to come by in those days, but because my summer cannery job staked me, I was open to volunteering. And that's what I did -- taking an "Auxiliary" position at The Lookout emergency services shelter on Alexander Street, where I was tasked with chaperoning residents to Vancouver Canucks hockey games at the Pacific Coliseum.

Something I noticed between my time at The Lookout and my time living around the corner at 441 Powell (1987-1994) was an increase in the number of people with mental disorders, a situation that was exacerbated by a provincial Social Credit government that, like the Reagan administration in the United States, had closed public institutions that cared for the mentally and physical ill -- not because these institutions were inhumane (as they said they were) but because they were costly. While it is fine to close down institutions because they are inhumane (they are), it is not fine to do so without supplying community support, something the SoCreds and the Reagan administration grossly underfunded.

Mental illness was on my mind this morning after reading about the fellow who provided sign language at the Nelson Mandela memorial. As reported in the Daily Mail, the signer was "a fake;" his movements, according to South Africa's Deaf Federation, had "no meaning." When this fellow was asked to account for himself, he replied that he had suffered a "schizophrenic" episode, and was sorry. Is he worthy of our forgiveness. Of course he is. In fact, my forgiveness comes in the same breath as my forgiveness of Nelson Mandela's great-granddaughter Pumla, whose preference for "disorientated" over "disoriented" reminded me why I chose linguistics over social work, and my eventual major -- anthropology.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Oppenheimer Park

On the south side of the 400-block Powell is Oppenheimer Park (the picture above looks northeast). Opened in 1902 on land donated by Vancouver Mayor David Oppenheimer, the park served most notably as the home field for the Asahi baseball team (1914-1941), as well as a congregation point for those protesting police brutality (Bloody Sunday, 1938). After World War II, the park became the home of Vancouver's longest-running community celebration (the Powell Street Festival, 1977-), but also a launching point for the city's crack cocaine trade (1987-).

Last spring I was invited by artist Juan Manuel Sepúlveda to view some of the remarkable footage he shot at this park, towards a video he is making as a Master of Fine Arts candidate at Simon Fraser University's School for the Contemporary Arts. Though Sepúlveda's video is not yet complete, it will eventually join a growing number of recently-produced long-form videos made by Vancouver artists such as Isabelle Pauwels and Dan Starling, all of whom enlist the city not as a generic location, but as a specific place in time.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Crossing Powell (1984)

The picture above was made by Fred Herzog and is entitled Crossing Powell (1984). The section of Powell Street is the 400 block, at the northwest corner of Powell and Jackson.

Crossing Powell is among Herzog's finest pictures (the shadow cast is from sunlight reflected from the building behind the crosser) and was supposed to provide the cover image of the book that Grant Arnold and I helped to make for Herzog's 2007 Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition, but was vetoed by those in sales. Instead, we have a picture of this Granville Street chicken hawk, what is comfortably known as Flaneur (1959).

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Kidnappings

Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave (2013) has just ended its first month in wide release. Much has been written on this film, with more writing to come, I am sure. The same might be said of its viewership, which will only accelerate once the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences releases its 2014 award nominations.

I am relatively late to this film and had not read much about it prior to seeing it on Saturday. That said, I am familiar with McQueen's work, though less as a feature film director than as a visual artist who places his film-based works in museums. For those who have seen McQueen's feature films and are curious about his museum works, consider the scene where "Solomon" is left on his tip-toes with a noose around his neck as the kind of looping film-based installation you might find under McQueen's name in a museum.

Another example of what a visual artist like McQueen is capable of, as opposed to a feature film director like, say, Martin Scorsese, takes place in the cotton fields, where we see the hands of slave pickers and the cotton they have been ordered to pick. For it is here that the hands of "Patsy" reveal her to be not necessarily a harder worker than "Solomon" (whose hands have been trained to play the violin), but someone in possession of a greater skill than the men and women she picks with.

This detail functions as a seasoning in 12 Years a Slave, particularly when we step back from the close-ups to see "Patsy" standing with the other slaves at the end of the working day, where her totals are always the highest (and growing higher), with the lowest taken outside for a whipping. This same motivational method is employed by our province's wealthiest businessman, Jimmy Pattison, who, as a used car dealer, would fire his lowest-selling salesperson at the end of each month -- and boast about it.

When it comes to cotton-picking production, "Patsy" never receives a whipping -- her skill protects her from that. But could it be said that it is this skill that transforms her from a rather plain-looking woman into an object of desire by a slave-owner whose reputation is based on his ability to get the most from his slaves? This is something I wrestled with upon leaving the theatre, something that kept me dumb while others in the lobby were attempting to verbally trace the complexities of this most extraordinary film.

In order to answer the question of the slave-owner's obsession with "Patsy", I returned to the question of the slave-owner -- who he is and what he wants. If it is not "Patsy"'s skill, is it her skill's negation of his prowess as an accelerator of slave productivity that has him not only sexually penetrating her every night but strangling her within an inch of her life as well (to say nothing of the whipping she receives later for telling the truth, where "Solomon", on the other hand, has avoided his by lying)? Is this man's motivation based on sexual gratification or protecting his reputation as a slave labour innovator, or are the two conflated to the point where they are one in the same? 

What drives men of industry? What do they want?

Tonight I will be responding to visual artist Dan Starling's The Kidnapper's Opera (2013), a feature-length video that will be screened at the Pacific Cinematheque at 7PM. Like McQueen's film, The Kidnapper's Opera is structured more like a book of lyric poetry than a narrative fiction novel. Both are based on a kidnapping: in 12 Years a Slave, "Solomon" is kidnapped in the (free) North and sold in the South, while in The Kidnapper's Tale, it is the 1990 kidnapping of Pattison's daughter that provides Starling's title its singular possessive noun.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

441 Powell Street

On Friday I attended a press conference regarding the City-ordered demolition of a 122-year-old building at 441 Powell Street. The conference was organized by Instant Coffee, a "service-oriented artist collective," who, at present, rent the building's storefront and a portion of its rear space from the Ming Sun Reading Room, a benevolent society who, among other things, operate in the upstairs portion an eight-room boardinghouse for recent immigrants.

What has hastened this demolition is concern that the building is unsafe and could collapse at any moment, much like the building that once stood directly to the east of it (451 Powell), which was torn down rather quickly this past summer based on a structural problem that the City, in a fit of operative hysteria, deemed irreparable. Of course another version has it that the City is eager to get rid of these two-storey non-profits so that it can issue building permits to developers who will build in their place a larger denser form of market housing, and thereby supply the City with wealthier tenants who will presumably consume more high end products and contribute more money to the local economy.

From 1987 to 1994 I lived in a somewhat comfier version of the space that Instant Coffee currently occupies, and from my doorstep saw the neighbourhood through a number of changes, from an area shared by small Asian-Canadian businesses, seasonal resource workers (mostly men in SROs) and social service agencies, to one increasingly populated by those at risk (mental illness, drug addiction), to say nothing of those who prey upon them (pimps, drug dealers). Throughout this time the area also attracted artists and activists who, because their work is undervalued in our market society, cannot afford to live anywhere else.

Although much was conveyed at this one hour press conference, something that stuck with me came from current Ming Sun Reading Room member David Wong, who spoke of the cultural services that his organization and its building provide, which he likened to a "museum," one that, through below-market rent, "subsidizes" those who live and work there. Indeed, it was in this building's storefront that the artist Alan Storey devised what is arguably one of the most popular works of publicly-accesible art this city has ever known: Broken Column (1987). For my part, it was in this same storefront that I wrote my first two books, the first of which, Company Town (1991), is the story of a dying salmon cannery town on the northwest coast of B.C.; the second, about a punk rock band called Hard Core Logo (1993).

But of all the artists who have occupied this space, I am thankful that it is Instant Coffee who are there now. For I cannot think of anyone in the artistic community with the means and the wherewithal to bring to light what this building has contributed to the local ecology, but also to make a case for its survival and continuation in the face of a municipal government (regardless of its political stripe) who, like the provincial Social Credit government of the early-1980s, seem intent on transitioning Vancouver from a place where people live (a city) to one where people visit (a resort). 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A small room inside 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.

The racket outside is a musical figure, part of a larger work. A hammer pings until its nail is flush. Then it makes a deeper, more painful sound. From another source: the crunch of wood. Destruction.

A house gets a dormer, while the one beside it -- a better example of its kind -- is razed. In its place, two larger houses with a front lawn the size of a doormat.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Renovation Conversation

FRIDGE: What do you make of the reno?

STOVE: What does it matter, they're getting new appliances.

FRDIGE: Fom an aesthetic point of view.

STOVE: As opposed to what, a personal point of view? A stove's opinion?

FRIDGE: The ceiling came out well. 

STOVE: The ceiling can go to hell for all I'm concerned.

ESPRESSO POT: I'm staying. 

STOVE: No one's talking to you.

ESPRESSO POT: Yes, but I'm staying. They said.

STOVE: The only consolation in all this is that what they once did in the kitchen, they are now doing in the bathroom.

FRIDGE: When your bathroom becomes your kitchen, is it a "kathroom" or a "bitchen"?

ESPRESSO POT: It's a bitchen!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Everything included, no contra[c]t"

From eBay Classifieds comes this bedsit in Hialeah, Florida, a densely-populated, largely Cuban municipality within Miami-Dade County. Here is the description:

PROMOTIONAL RATE: Deposit- $55-$65 Daily Rent- $55-$65 Weekly Rent- $195- $295 Monthly- $645-$795 We have 3 locations: 100 E 17 St Hialeah, FL 33010 903 W 1 Avenue Hialeah, FL 33010 508 W 1 Avenue Hialeah, FL 33010 PLEASE CALL: 786-370-3394 786-370-5074 786-355-2817 Stay as long as you like, no contracts, everything included. Please call 786-344-2546 or 786-370-3394 or 786-370-5074

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"You Just Gotta Listen"

From the bedroom to the boardroom. Or in this case, command control. Tom Cruise busting a move in Tropic Thunder (2008).

Monday, December 2, 2013

"Look At My Shit"

In this instance of actor improvisation, James Franco bursts from a feature-film with his bedside poem about violence, accumulation and "looking":

This is my fuckin' dream, y'all.

All this shit.

Look at my shit.

I got -- I got shorts. Ev'ry fuckin' colour.

I got designer t-shirts.

I got gold bullets.

Motherfuckin' vampires.

I got Scarface on repeat.

Scarface on repeat -- constant, y'all.

I got "Escape". Clavin Klein "Escape".

Mix that shit up with Calvin Klein "Be" -- smell nice. I smell nice.

And a fuckin' bed that's a fuckin' art piece.

My fuckin' space ship. U.S.S. Enterprise on this shit. I go to different planets on this motherfucker.

Me and my fuckin' Franklins here -- we take off. Fuckin' take off.

Look at my shit. Look at my shit.

I got my Blue Kube.

I got my fuckin' nunchuka.

I got shurikens.

I got different flavours.

I got them -- I got them scythes.

Gimme that shit -- I got scythes, I got blades.

Look at my shit. This ain't nothin'. I got -- I got rooms of this shit.

I got my dark tanning oil. Lay out by the pool, put on my dark tanning oil.

Machine guns.

Look at this, look at this motherfucker here. Look at this motherfucker, huh?

A fuckin' army up in this shit.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"I pose in loving memory"

Between 1940 and 1980 (roughly the life span of John Lennon), Quentin Crisp (1908-1999) lived in a bedsit at 129 Beaufort Street, London, after which he moved to New York City, where he lived until his death in 1999.

Crisp was amongst a growing legion of effeminate men who appeared in the popular media when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, a group that included Truman Capote and Andy Warhol, both of whom came to attention through their artistic accomplishments.

But apart from a popular memoir, Crisp spent most of his working life as an artist's model, until his arrival in New York City, where he performed one-man shows and made himself available to whomever wanted to buy him dinner.

Crisp's Wikipedia entry is a good one, and if you click here, you will come upon observations like this:

I always thought Diana was such trash and got what she deserved. She was Lady Diana before she was Princess Diana so she knew the racket. She knew that royal marriages have nothing to do with love. You marry a man and you stand beside him on public occasions and you wave and for that you never have a financial worry until the day you die.

And then upon word of her death:

She could have been Queen of England – and she was swanning about Paris with Arabs. What disgraceful behaviour! Going about saying she wanted to be the queen of hearts. The vulgarity of it is so overpowering.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Trailers for A Room of One's Own (2012)

Above is a trailer for Hee-Seung Choi's A Room of One's Own (2012). Another trailer can be found here.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Cooking in a Bedsitter (1961)

Have we forgotten Katherine Whitehorn? Did we ever know her? Not really. Not in North America.

The picture up top is of Whitehorn sitting before the fireplace of her London bedsit. The year was 1956, when Whitehorn was working as a magazine subeditor.

It was at Picture Post (the Life magazine of the U.K.) that Whitehorn met photographer Bert Hardy, who asked her if she would pose as a model for a story on loneliness. Hardy took a number of pictures, but this one ended up on the desk of advertising executives, who used it to sell an energy drink called Lucozade (the Gatorade of the U.K.)

In 1961 Whitehorn published a book called Kitchen in the Corner: a Complete Guide to Bedsitter Cookery, which was quickly re-named Cooking in a Bedsitter. Like Bridget Jones's Diary (1996), the book chronicled the changing roles of women in contemporary society, and was a sensation.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Three Bedsits

The picture above is from a blog by Dave Ross. I found it within the text of a play he wrote about twenty-something Brits in the late-90s.

A bedsit in Verona, Italy.

A bedsit in Cape Town, South Africa.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A small room inside 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.

In yesterday's mail came a handwritten letter from someone I had not heard from since high school, someone I barely knew, yet someone who writes with a familiarity that makes me miss her.

How is it that writing can do that? Not just writing, but reading.

The person who wrote this letter has read everything I have ever published -- my books, my essays and articles, and this blog. She gets it that the room from which I write is a fictive space, based on a British bedsit.

Near the end of her letter she mentioned that her daughter, who is studying architecture, has collected every post that begins with "A small room..." and is building a model based on their contents. How timely, because today I am adding a full length mirror to the inside of the closet door.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cloud Study (1830)

The English painter John Constable (1776-1837) was a "poet of the skies."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Beard of Stars (1970)

T. Rex's The Slider (1972) was among the party records in rotation at our rec room in the mid-1970s, but it was the band's Beard of Stars (1970) that I would put on after everyone left.

Beard of Stars opens with an instrumental track, the appropriately titled "Prelude", followed by "A Daye Laye". The album concludes with an uncharacteristically long song called "Elemental Child".

Listening to T. Rex today (or Tyrannosaurus Rex, as they were known until the album that followed Beard of Stars), I am reminded of the vocal stylings of poet bill bissett, who turned 74 yesterday, but also Rufus Wainwainright, whom I met while my band was performing at the Edmonton Folk Festival in the early 1990s, where he and his sister Martha, both in their teens, sang back up for their mother and aunt.

Here is an outtake from the Beard of Stars album sessions, a song I had not heard before constructing this post. "Poets of the skies look long and hard" indeed.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

"Ride My See-Saw" (1968)

My parents entertained a lot when I was growing up. Families would arrive at the house, and the kids would be sent to the basement while the adults ran amok above. Occasionally one of us would venture upstairs, then return with a report. We were not impressed.

As we grew into our teens, the situation reversed.

Among the occasional visitors we received was a father who worked in broadcasting. I can still recall his entrance into the cigarette haze of our shaggy, wood-panelled rec room, waving his hand in front of his face, as if to say, Too smokey! even though he was known for his three-pack-a-day habit.

"What the hell are you listening to!" he demanded.

"Stones," said his daughter, not looking up.

"The Rolling Fucking Stones! I met those cocksuckers when they were here in '65. They're midgets, you know. Same with the Beatles. None of them are over five-foot-eight, ninety-seven pounds."

And he went on like this, calling down these bands as if their worth is based not on what can be imagined, but on their height and weight.

Because we knew everything about the musicians who serenaded us during our teenage years, we knew not only the years they were born, but also the days. Something that occurred to me years later is that most of the British musicians we listened to were born during the Second World War (1939-1945), conceived under stress and weened on mother's milk derived from bad diets.

Of course something similar could be said of the man who descended on us that day, who often boasted that whatever success he achieved in life was based on what he learned growing up (rich) during the Great Depression -- an economic situation that not only preceded the Second World War, but in many ways brought it into being.

Friday, November 22, 2013

"Before They Make Me Run" (1978)

This is still my favourite cover of a Rolling Stones song -- Sherry-Lee Wisor singing "Before They Make Me Run" from Some Girls (1978).

Thursday, November 21, 2013

From Clay to Stones

When I was a boy, my mother always made sure I had something to do. If it wasn't Cub Scouts at St. Mary's Church, it was whatever was on tap at the Kerrisdale Community Centre, where I swam, learned to cook, took golf lessons and, when I was eight, attended a ceramics class led by a hippie named Victor.

Because most of us were under twelve, it was felt that the potter's wheel would be too demanding on our childish frames. So while Victor sat at the wheel and made pots, we made the coiled version.

At the other end of the room from the wheel, away from the sinks, slips and glazes, was a turntable. After Victor helped us get started on our assignments, he would put on a record. Of the records he brought in, the one I remember best was the U.K. version of the Rolling Stones 1966 album Aftermath.

To this day, every time I hear Side Two of this album (my favourite Side Two, ever), I am returned to the basement of the Kerrisdale Community Centre, where my most enduring visual memory is sitting at a table equidistant from the turntable, to my left, and Victor's wheel, to my right. Spinning, spinning, spinning...

Here is a link to the U.K. version of Aftermath (Side Two begins at 26:40). At bottom are the songs from Side Two, performed (or contributed to) by others (except the last track, because I couldn't find a cover). None of these songs are considered part of the Rolling Stones canon, but songs that run the gamut, from 12-bar blues to off-beat ballads, from experiments in instrumental composition to lyrics dumb and stupid. 


"Flight 505"

"High and Dry"

"Out of TIme"

"It's Not Easy"

"I Am Waiting"

"Take It or Leave It"


"What To Do"

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Three Jugs Full

On the topic of "thingness", Heidegger gives the example of the ceramic jug -- how the jug shapes the void inside it and how the void in turn shapes the jug.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A small room inside 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.

Atop my table is a hollow rock that I keep meaning to smash open so I can see what it looks like inside. All I know is that it is a geode, and its mother is a volcano.

Rocks are not supposed to be hollow. What is the expression -- solid as a rock? But even "hollow" is not nothing. Or so says Hiedegger's jug.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Blame Government

Back in January 1990, a videotape surfaced of then-Washington DC mayor Marion Barry smoking a crack pipe. As a result, Barry was arrested by the FBI on drug charges.

An arrest such as Barry's would never happen in Canada (or to Toronto mayor Rob Ford) because, as Barry suggests, videotape carries no evidence of drug substances, only drug behaviour.

As for the contents of Barry's crack pipe, all we know is that it was, in Barry's words, "not factual" but a "set-up" by "the United States government."

Comparisons between Barry, a Democrat and prominent 60s civil rights activist, and Rob Ford, an unapologetic libertarian, have been making the rounds of late. Something missing from these reports, however, is how both men, regardless of their political stripes, have used government to extricate themselves from their situations -- with Ford wanting to get back to work so he can cut more of it, and Barry blaming it for his disgrace.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Lost Weekend (1945)

We are given superlatives plucked from reviews of the book upon which this film is based, but nowhere in its trailer are we told of the substance that motivates this lost weekend, nor of the disease behind it. A case of a promotions department building interest, or one where certain words could not be spoken?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Public Office

Holding public office can be stressful, as we have seen most recently with the behaviour of Toronto mayor Rob Ford, whose aggressive "apologies" indicate a man in pain, but also a man in denial of that which ails him. Situations like Ford's never end well, and I feel sorry for this man and his family.

The last time a big city Canadian mayor behaved like this was in 2001, when an inebriated Ralph Klein made a late night stop at an Edmonton homeless shelter and berated residents for not working hard enough at finding jobs, ultimately throwing money at one of them.

The difference between Ford and Klein is that the latter woke up the following morning contrite and immediately sought help, while the former, a bully by nature, has grown more defensive. If there is a bright side to Klein's bad behaviour, it lies behind this link. As for Ford, let us treat this man with compassion, not derision.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

War Artist

"Universal Soldier" (1964), "Soldier Blue" (1971) and "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" (1990) are three of Buffy Sainte Marie's better known songs. Each deal with armed conflict, the latter two related to a film and a book of the same name, respectively.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Sunday, November 10, 2013


The latticed arbour tenderly
hides our joy which the rose tree
fans and colours with pleasant air;

the languid fragrance of the rose,
thanks to the summer breeze that blows,
blends with the perfume that she wears;

her eyes' promise has been kept:
she is fearless and the favours
of her lips are exquisite fevers;

Love having sated all, except
Hunger -- sherbets and preserves
kept intact our bodies' curves

Friday, November 8, 2013

Painting and Collage

Looking through Alber's Interaction of Color brings to mind the paintings and collages of local artists, from Michael Morris (above) to Elizabeth McIntosh (below).

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Homage to a Square, Gained (1959); Tropism XI (1939); and "fluting effect" (1963)


She had understood the secret. She had scented the hiding-place of what should be the real treasure for everybody. She knew the ‘scale of values.’
No conversations about the shape of hats and Rémond fabrics for her.  She had profound contempt for square-toed shoes.
Like a wood-louse she had crawled insidiously towards them and maliciously found out about ‘the real thing’, like a cat that licks its chops and closes its eyes before a jug of cream it has discovered.
Now she knew it. She was going to stay there. They would never dislodge her from there again. She listened, she absorbed, greedy, voluptuous, rapacious. Nothing of what belonged to them was going to escape her: picture galleries, all the new books… She knew all that. She had begun with ‘Les Annales’, now she was veering towards Gide, soon she would be going to take notes, an eager, avid gleam in her eye,  at meetings of the ‘Union for Truth’.
She ranged over all that, sniffed everywhere, picked up everything with her square-nailed fingers; as soon as anyone spoke vaguely of that anywhere, her eyes lighted up, she stretched out her neck, agog.
For them this was unutterably repellent. Hide it from her – quick – before she scents it, carries it away, preserve it from her degrading contact… But she foiled them, because she knew everything. The Chartres Cathedral could not be hidden from her. She knew all about it. She had read what Péguy had thought of it.
In the most secret recesses, among the treasures that were the best hidden, she rummaged about with her avid fingers. Everything ‘intellectual’. She had to have it. For her. For her, because she knew now the real value of things. She had to have what was intellectual.
There were a great many like her, hungry, pitiless parasites, leeches, firmly settled on the articles that appeared, slugs stuck everywhere, spreading their mucus on corners of Rimbaud, sucking on Mallarmé, lending one another Ulysses or the Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge, which they slimed with their low understanding.
‘It’s so beautiful,’ she said, opening her eyes in which, with a pure, inspired expression, she kindled a ‘divine spark’. (34-5)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Approaches to Writing

Last week I visited the University of British Columbia, curious to see the recently completed Audain Art Centre, which, like everything else that is new on campus, is taller than it is wider.

While en route I popped into the under-reconstruction UBC Bookstore, where I looked in horror at the Creative Writing Program's assigned titles. But then, what did I expect?

Despite founder Earle Birney's mid-60s forays into concrete poetry, and Robert Harlow's curiosity about the postmodern novel, UBC Creative Writing has never been a place for formal innovation, certainly not since George McWhirter and his deans made it a "success-oriented" program, as opposed to a site of experimentation. (At least the University of Victoria had the good sense to drop "Creative" from their Department of Writing.)

As I neared the exit I saw in the discount bin a book I had lent out years ago, but never saw again: a "50th Anniversary Edition" of Josef Albers's Interaction of Color (1963). Needless to say I scooped it up and am happy to report that the colo(u)r plates are, as one might expect with today's technology, most excellent.

Those familiar with Albers will know that the artist left Germany for the United States in 1933, after the Nazi's effectively closed down the Bauhaus. It was around this time that Nathalie Serraute began to write her first "tropisms".

Recall what Serraute says in yesterday's post about perceptions of the "Nouveau Roman" writers (of which she was associated) as "cool calculators who began by constructing their theories, which they then decided to put into practice with their books. This explains the fact that their novels have been described as 'laboratory experiments'."

Here is Albers (from Page 1) on that same subject:

This book, therefore, does not follow an academic conception
of "theory and practice."
It reverses this order and places practice before theory,
which, after all, is the conclusion of practice.

Now consider these writings in relation to the writings of visual artists associated with the Conceptual art of the 1960s and 70s, many of whom (such as Dan Graham and Douglas Huebler) are included in the inaugural exhibition at the Audain Art Centre's as-yet unnamed gallery, an exhibition which itself is an anniversary "re-issue" of an exhibition that happened at the UBC Fine Arts Gallery thirty-four years ago.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Moving Foreword

Nathalie Sarraute's "Foreword" to a joint publication of her Tropisms and The Age of Suspicion (London, John Calder, 1963. Translated by Maria Jolas), 7-11

THE PUBLICATION in one volume of a work like Tropisms – which some considered to be a collection of prose poems – with what, quite obviously, is furthest removed from it: a series of essays on the novel, may cause legitimate surprise.
And yet this proximity is justifiable.
The great interest shown today in discussions of the novel, and especially in the theories advanced by the supporters of what, in France at present, is called ‘Nouveau Roman’, has led many to imagine that these theorising novelists are cool calculators who began by constructing their theories, which they then decided to put into practice in their books. This explains the fact that their novels have been referred to as ‘laboratory experiments.’
If this were the case, it might seem plausible that, one fine day, after having formulated certain opinions on the evolution, content and form of the present-day novel, I sat down at my table and undertook to apply them by writing Tropisms, and the books that followed.
Nothing could be more mistaken than this supposition. For no literary work can be a mere illustration of principles, however convincing. And, in fact, these articles, all of which were written in 1947, are far removed from the conception and composition of my first book.
I started to write in 1932, when I composed my first Tropism. At that time, I had no preconceived ideas on the subject of literature and this one, as were those that followed it, was written under the impact of an emotion, of a very vivid impression. What I tried to do was to show certain inner ‘movements’ by which I had long been attracted; in fact, I might even say that, ever since I was a child, these movements, which are hidden under the commonplace, harmless appearances of every instant of our lives, had struck and held my attention. In this domain, my first impressions go  back very far.
These movements, of which we are hardly cognizant, slip through us on the frontiers of consciousness in the form of undefinable, extremely rapid sensations. They hide behind our gestures, beneath the words we speak and the feelings we manifest, all of which we are aware of experiencing, and are able to define. They seemed, and still seem to me to constitute the secret source of our existence, in what might be called its nascent state.
And since, while we are performing them, no words express them, not even those of the interior monologue – for they develop and pass through us very rapidly in the form of frequently very sharp, brief sensations, without our perceiving clearly what they are – it was not possible to communicate them to the reader otherwise than by means of equivalent images  that would make him experience analogous sensations. It was also necessary to make them break up and spread out in the consciousness of the reader the way a slow-motion film does. Time was no longer the time of real life, but of a hugely amplified present.
These movements seemed to me to be veritable dramatic actions, hiding beneath the most commonplace conversations, the most everyday gestures, and constantly emerging up on the surface of the appearances that both conceal and reveal them.
The dramatic situations constituted by these invisible actions interested me as such. Nothing could distract my attention from them and nothing should distract that of the reader; neither the personality of the characters, nor the plot, by means of which, ordinarily, the characters evolve. The barely visible, anonymous character was to serve as mere prop for these movements, which are inherent in everybody and can take place in anybody, at any moment.
Thus my first book is made up of a series of moments, in which, like some precise dramatic action shown in slow motion, these movements, which I called Tropisms, come into play. I gave them this name because of their spontaneous, irresistible, instinctive nature, similar to that of the movements made by certain living organisms under the influence of outside stimuli, such as light.
This analogy, however, is limited to the instinctive, irresistible nature of the movements, which are produced in us by the presence of others, or by objects from the outside world. It obviously never occurred to me to compare human beings with insects or plants, as I have sometimes been reproached with doing.
The volume entitled Tropisms appeared in 1939, under the imprimatur of Denoël. The present edition, source of this translation, was published by the Editions de Minuit, in 1957. It is a corrected re-edition of the 1939 volume, to which have been added the six last texts, written between 1939 and 1941.
This first book contains in nuce all the raw material that I have continued to develop in my later works.
Tropisms are still the living substance of all my books, the only difference being that they now play a more important role, the time of the dramatic action they constitute is longer, and there is added complexity in the constant play that takes place between them and the appearances and commonplaces with which they emerge into the open: our conversations, the personality we seem to have, the person we seem to be in one another’s eyes, the stereotyped things we believe we feel, as also those we discover in others, and the superficial dramatic action constituted by plot, which is nothing but a conventional code that we apply to life.
My first books: Tropismes, which appeared in 1939, and Portrait d-un inconnu in 1948, passed practically unnoticed in the post-war literary atmosphere, which was dominated by the Behaviourist tendency and by a metaphysics of the ‘absurd.’
As a result, if for no other reason than to seek justification, reassurance or encouragement for myself, I began to reflect upon the motives that impelled me to reject certain things, to adopt certain techniques, to examine certain works of both past and present, and to anticipate those of the future, in an effort to discover an irreversible direction in literature that would permit me to see if my own quest was in line with this direction.
Thus it was that, in 1947, I was prompted to study the works of Dostoievski and Kafka from a particular angle. In the article entitled L’Ere du soupçon, which appeared in 1950, I tried to show the results of the transformations of characters in fiction since Balzac’s time,as exemplified in the contemporary novel. And in Conversation et sous-conversation,  published in 1955, I called attention to the out-moded nature of dialogue as practised in the traditional novel.
In connection with the latter article, I should like to stress the fact that when I spoke of the old-fashioned nature of the works of Joyce and Proust, or the naïveté of Virginia Woolf’s ideas on the subject of the novel, it was quite obviously to poke fun at those who had expressed themselves in this manner about these writers. Taken as a whole, it seems to me that this article is perfectly clear; I insist on this point, however, because it has been a source of occasional misunderstanding.
Lastly, in the article entitled Ce que voient les oiseaux, which appeared in 1956, I tried to show, among other things, the academic, formalist features of a certain type of ‘realism’.
Some of the ideas expressed in these articles have contributed to the essential bases for what, today, us called the ‘Nouveau Roman.’
And so, it seems to me that the present volume, to which two such dissimilar works asTropisms and The Age of Suspicion may give an appearance of incongruity, by virtue of this very juxtaposition, gives a fair account of my endeavours, as they progressed from my first Tropisms to the theoretical viewpoints that derived from them.
Paris, 1962

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Second Narrows

Just east of the Second Narrows Bridge, on the north shore of Burrard Inlet, lies the Maplewood Mudflats, once home to counter-culturalists like Tom Burrows and Paul Spong -- until 1970, when the District of North Vancouver showed up with bulldozers, intent on making the area safe for a shopping centre (which was never built).

Further east of the mudlfats (at what is now Cates Park) stood a row of shacks where Malcolm and Margerie Lowry lived in the 1940s and early-50s, before they too were dispatched. A decade later, on this same ribbon of beach, Al Neil took up residence in a nightwatchman's hut, which he and his partner Carole Itter have since brightened.

Lowry was an early Vancouver collagist. Same with Neil, a jazz musician who gave up the piano in the early 1960s to compose not with sound but with flotsam.