Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Unit of One

"Jiang Qing was an extraordinary person. She believed in nothing except the power of her will to shape reality."
                       -- Adam Curtis, Can't Get You Out of My Head (2021)

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Poem by Wanda Colman (1946-2013)


FEBRUARY 11th, 1990

                          for Dennis Brutus

This year the leaves turn red green black
freedom colors each leaf
each stitch of grass. I am amazed
at my sweet harvest. The prison door has opened
and a nation’s heart is released. I am full
having spent my greediness in a ritual of joy.

photo: Rod Bradley

Friday, February 26, 2021

Against the Grain (1974)

Opening old boxes and finding books I never knew I had. Against the Grain: the Woodcuts of Antonio Frasconi (1974), a selection of portraits (Sitting Bull above) by the great carver printer. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Years (2008, trans. 2017) 2

"One might almost say they are posing for a photo that will not stop being taken." (112)

There are no proper chapters in Annie Ernaux's The Years, only spaces that fall into place after a run of paragraphs. Instead of numerical, bold-titled chapter breaks to set off her sections, Ernaux uses descriptions of photographs and, in the early 1970s, 8mm films (see quote above) her husband shot ("It is always he who does the filming"). 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Who Is Moses Bruce?

"Ms. Musgrave takes her readers from the strawberry fields of England to the West Coast of Vancouver Island and shows a rare capacity for myth-making. The British Columbia coast has its own mythology but Ms. Musgrave has chosen to take only a hint of it as her basis for construction. She has invented an Indian poet Moses Bruce to speak for her and in this way allows herself a brand new voice to express concepts that might not otherwise have been allowed to surface."                           -- Bill Thomas, The Martlet, November 9, 1973

While researching my as-yet-unfinished book review of Heather Jessup's This Is Not a Hoax: Unsettling Truth in Canadian Culture (Waterloo: WLP, 2019), I went looking for more information on some of the hoaxes I have carried with me since my undergrad days at UVic (anthropology).

Among these hoaxes is "Moses Bruce," an Indigenous man and resident of Kiskatinaw, whom Susan Musgrave and Seán Virgo conjured in 1972. As if to justify their magic, Musgrave and Virgo granted "Bruce" authorship of Kiskatinaw Songs. For his part, Virgo included some of "Bruce"'s poems in his book Deathwatch on Skidegate Narrows and other poems (Victoria: Sono Nis Press, 1979).

Something I could not find (online) is any mention of Musgrave and Virgo speaking on their "Bruce" project. I wonder how they might talk about "Moses Bruce" today?

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

2127 Kingsway

The 2100-block of Kingsway is getting picked apart. Not sure what's happening at 2127 today, or if it exists anymore, but a few months back this bed fit its door perfectly.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Signs of Aging

Robson Street's Greenbrier Hotel is, as always, open -- but to what? Not tourists but locals returning to town in need of isolation from those they share apartments with? Is the Greenbrier on the federal government's list of pre-determined hotels, or are these hotels restricted to those who lobbied for the business?

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Wanda (1970)

WANDA: I don't have anything, never did have anything, never will have anything.

MR. DENNIS: You're stupid.

WANDA: I'm stupid?

MR. DENNIS: You don't want anything, you won't have anything -- you don't have anything, you're nothing. You may as well be dead. You're not even a citizen of the United States.

WANDA: I guess I'm dead then.

This dialogue (from Barbara Loden's 1970 film Wanda) happens later in the film, after the scene where the man who pays for Wanda's beer (above) dumps her after taking her to a hotel, and after she goes to another bar, where she is picked up by Mr. Dennis, a robber, who has tied up the bartender (hidden from Wanda) and is pulling bills from the till.

Saturday, February 20, 2021


Wood planed thin enough to picture its spirit. My future lies in sconces.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Miscellany Finds

Miscellany Finds bills itself as a "thrift store for social change." I have made it my turnaround (warm up) point for walks to Commercial Drive and back.

Earlier this week I stopped in to peruse its DVDs and CDs (Strauss's Der Rosenkavaler, Herbert von Karajan conducting) and noticed in a knick-knack box this 1.5"x2.5" ceramic object that says everything I want in a cup of tea. 

"How much?" I asked the clerk, placing the piece on the counter before her.

She took the piece in her impressively long-nailed hand, turned it this way and that, her brow furrowing, the corner of her mouth lifting slightly. "Four dollars," she said to the piece, returning it to the counter.

"A bargain," I said, though I would have paid twice that for the way she looked at it.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Dead Name Poet

The opening stanza of Amiri Baraka's "Duncan spoke of a process" (1964):

And what I have learned
of it, to repeat, repeated
as a day will repeat
its colour, the tired sounds
run off its bones. In me, a balance.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Years (2008, trans. 2017)

I was just finishing Marguerite Duras's The Lover (1984) when a friend lent me her copy of Annie Ernaux's The Years (2008). Unlike Duras's book, which was translated into English by Barbara Bray almost immediately after it was first published in French, it took nine years for Alison L. Strayer's gorgeous and thoughtful English translation.

The Years has no proper beginning but a series of notes that could be things overheard by a child under-six who would not have a context for them (Ernaux was born in 1940). Thus, notes as a kind of kindling gathered to start the fire that is the child's conscious life, a life whose first enduring memories are grounded in the ordered recurrence of state schooling.

On Page 26, Ernaux writes:

"Memory was transmitted not only through the stories but through the ways of walking, sitting, talking, laughing, eating, hailing someone, grabbing hold of objects. It passed body to body, over the years, from the remotest countrysides of France to other parts of Europe: a heritage unseen in the photos, lying beyond individual difference and the gaps between the goodness of some and the wickedness of others."

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Pam Nestor (1948-)

I would not have heard of Pam Nestor (left) had I not been a fan of Joan Armatrading (right). The inverse is also true: I would not have heard of Joan Armatrading if not for the hustle of Pam Nestor. The story of their partnership (as friends, co-writers, bandmates) is common to those involved in what we once called the "music business", where one is chosen over the other, and the other is edged out. 

But let's not dwell on that (there's already enough of this bio-pic worthy material online). Instead, let's celebrate Nestor as a talented singer-songwriter who, according to some industry dudes, probably sounded too similar to a rising Kate Bush (and a by-then falling Desmond Dekker) when she went into the studio to record "Hiding and Seeking (No More)" in 1979.

Monday, February 15, 2021

"When I Get it Right" (1981)

Oh, the humiliations they put artists through in the name of record promotion. Bad enough to be contractually obliged to stand there (super-imposed or otherwise) lip-syncing your song in a neighbourhood where you buy your groceries, but to have a mob of uniformed English schoolboys caring more about your record label's camera than you and your song, well, it was the height of Margaret Thatcher's England (1979-1990) when this video was shot, and we don't know much about 1981, do we?

Sunday, February 14, 2021

"... an instinct for his own convenience ..."

"Come Out of the Wilderness" is a story from James Baldwin's Going to Meet the Man (1965). It is to be confused with Lou Reed's song "I'm Waiting for the Man" (1967) -- "the Man" in Reed's case being his Harlem drug dealer; "the Man" in Baldwin's case being a woman's addiction to what many confuse for love.

"Come Out of the Wilderness" centres Ruth, a Southern-born-and-raised NYC Black woman doing well at a "sufficiently progressive" life insurance company. Ruth is in an addictive relationship with a white painter named Paul, whom she feels something for, but of whom "she wishes she was never touched by his whiteness." Baldwin goes on at some length about "touch" -- how "it would never release her," how "it had power over her not because she was free but because she was guilty." And this too: 

"To enforce his power over her [Paul] had only to keep her guilt awake. This did not demand malice on his part, it scarcely demanded perception -- it only demanded that he have, as, in fact, he overwhelmingly did have, an instinct for his own convenience [aka privilege]. His touch, which should have raised her, lifted her roughly only to throw her down hard; whenever he touched her, she became blacker and dirtier than ever; the loneliest place under heaven was in Paul's arms."

Saturday, February 13, 2021

What's My Line?

Didn't want to be part of any TV show that would have him as a panelist. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

"Didn't It Rain?"

A song that originated as a work song of no particular authorship performed in 1964 by a 49-year-old bisexual Black woman and rock 'n' roll pioneer in her good coat and Gibson SG guitar. Last year I read that Baz Luhrmann was casting Yola to play Sister Rosetta Tharpe in his upcoming Elvis, but still no word on who will play Tharpe in a film about her life, let alone that film's announcement. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Lover (1984)

On Page 32 of The Lover, Duras recounts a vision of the French girl's mother shortly after the death of her father -- her mother's father:

"I remember a shriek, a call. She woke up, and told us what happened, how he was dressed, in his Sunday best, grey, how he stood, how he looked at her, straight at her. She said, I wasn't afraid. She ran towards the vanished image. Both of them died on the day and at the time of the bird or the image. Hence, no doubt, our admiration for our mother's knowledge, about everything, including all that had to do with death."

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Modern Gridded City

In the modern gridded city there are only four directions to set out on when setting out for a walk (360 if you are up for parkour). For me, walks are usually westward, sometimes eastward, occasionally southward and rarely northward, unless I'm walking to my dentist.

The eastward walk quickly crosses Knight Street, passes through the Tyee school grounds and up a short steep hill that looks like it ends in a cul-de-sac but is in fact a community-maintained garden path. On the other side of the path is Fleming Street. Here I turn right a half block towards Gathie Falk's French-style country house, then left for two more, where there's a bustling cafe on the northwest corner and Equinox Gallery at the southeast corner.

The walk continues onwards, eastwards, though sometimes I stop at Equinox to see what's new in Herzogs, and to chat with Sophie, who is honest and funny for a Russian.

Fred Herzog (1930-2019) was a Vancouver photographer who worked as a medical photographer by day and a street photographer on weekends, shooting mostly in colour slide film. Sometimes Fred would see something in one of his slides and place it under his work microscope and re-photograph it, as he did most famously with that seaplane framed by the West End's Ocean Towers.

The picture up top is a crop of an accidental picture I took of a Herzog. I kept it (cropped) because I like the cut of the man's clothes, and because when I sent it to my mother she thought I looked tired.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

A Cochinchinese Childhood

In Marguerite Duras's autobiographical novel The Lover (L'Amant,) the 15.5 year old protagonist tries on a silk dress, gold lamé shoes and a pink hat before declaring:

 "I already know a thing or two. I know it's not clothes that make women beautiful or otherwise, nor beauty care, nor expensive creams, nor the distinction or costliness of their finery. I know the problem lies elsewhere. I don't know where. I only know it isn't where women think." (18) 

Monday, February 8, 2021

"Giving my life to a rainbow like you"

I was always curious about the album cover of Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold as Love (1967). Were Hendrix and his bandmates interested in Hinduism? Many boomers were. So imagine my surprise when I read Hendrix's comment in Johnny Black's Jimi Hendrix: the Ultimate Experience (1999): "The three of us have nothing to do with what's on the Axis cover." Hendrix is also quoted as saying that, if anything, the cover could have made reference to his American Indian ancestry.

Having spent a year or so involved with an major record label (in the early 1990s), I can understand how the Axis cover made it through the production chain. Hendrix was proud of his American Indian heritage, enough that it was likely mentioned in his label's A&R file. One could easily see how someone in the art department interpreted "Indian" as South Asian and came up with a concept that had the band superimposed over a mass produced (out-of-copyright?) poster of the three deities of the Trimurti avatar.

Prior to the interweb, I never read any negative comments on the Axis cover. More recently (2014) the Malaysian government banned the record on the grounds that some might find it offensive to their faith.

Here is the title track, in all its gorgeous colours:


Anger, he smiles,
Towering in shiny metallic purple armour
Queen Jealousy, envy waits behind him
Her fiery 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're all bold as love, yeah, they're all bold as love
Yeah, they're all bold as love
Just ask the Axis

My red is so confident that 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
Giving my life to a rainbow like you
But, I'm bold as love, yeah, I'm bold as love
Yeah, yeah
Well I'm bold, bold as love 
I'm bold as love
Just ask the Axis (he knows everything)

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Untitled (Asiatic Head), 1958

The sculpture below is Otto Fischer-Credo's Untitled (Asiatic Head) (1958). For over sixty years this head stood, as heads will do, within a stone's throw of the Frederic Wood Theatre at UBC.

The City of Vancouver Public Art Registry lists the scultpure's status as "cancelled," yet retains this description: 

This classically beautiful face with Asian characteristics was exhibited as part of an exhibition of outdoor sculpture organized by the Northwest Institute of Sculptors and later donated to the University by Mrs. Astrid Fischer-Credo. In 1977 a replica was made by Gerhard Class.

Here is a link to a slow-moving, slow-clapping response to the sculpture prior to its deinstallation.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Celtic Shipyards

My first job was delivering the Kerrisdale Courier, which became the Vancouver Courier before ceasing operations a couple years ago. My second job was caulking fishing boats at Celtic Shipyards at the southern end of Blenheim Street.

Today's Globe features a story by Kerry Gold concerning a redevelopment proposal for the former Celtic site. Here's a paragraph from that article, in the words of Roy Uyeda (above, second from left), who was born in Celtic Cannery in 1933:

“We took our boat across the river to parts of Sea Island to trade with the Chinese farmers there, and we would take some salmon and trade it with them, and buy corn and apples. I remember the Indigenous people coming around and they sold Cowichan sweaters and heavy socks, and the Japanese fishermen would buy them. They helped. We were not strangers with one another.”

Friday, February 5, 2021

Kitchen Counter-Intelligence

These le Carré novels I'm reading have me saying more than less in my daily exchanges -- counter-intelligence being what it is.

"Paper or plastic?" the cashier asks, and I say "Paper" even though it is plastic I use to line my kitchen bin. All in an effort to keep the supermarket from thinking I have a kitchen? 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)

London. Autumn 1970. Human resources counsellor Alex Greville (mid-30s) negotiates London traffic en route to the home of Alva and Bill Hodson, where she and her boyfriend Bob (mid-20s) have agreed to look after the couple's four children while the Hodsons and Professor Johns vacate for the weekend. On the car radio, and throughout the film, news of an economic crisis, rising unemployment, job losses, restrictions on loans ... but Alex doesn't care; all she wants is Bob.

Bob (mid-20s, above) is an artist who makes sculptural fountains. These are not splashy, expressive fountains, but those whose coloured water is organized vertically in narrow plastic tubes that is pumped up and down like the notes of a Bach fugue -- not unlike Bob himself, who, in contrast, sees himself as wilder, less predictable, as evidenced by a lifestyle that has him also seeing Daniel (early-40s), a middle-class Jewish homosexual who has a successful medical practice and who is aware and grudgingly consenting of Bob's relationship with Alex, as Alex is of Bob's relationship with Daniel.

Sunday Bloody Sunday was written by London-born Penelope Gilliatt, a novelist and short fiction writer best-known as the late-spring to early-fall film critic at the New Yorker between 1967 and 1979 (the late-fall to early-spring film critic was Pauline Kael). Gilliatt was fired from the New Yorker by the man who hired both her and Kael, William Shawn, after it was found that she had plagiarized parts of Michael Meshaw's Nation magazine profile on Graham Greene for her own profile on a Greene, a profile that Greene denounced as "inaccurate," its author someone who has a "rather wild imagination."

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Tonight Show 1/20/76

JOHNNY CARSON: Do you ever miss those days? Those silly, nutty ...

JONATHAN WINTERS: No, I don't because I, um, I tell ya -- I like it better the way I am now because when I see something in the zoo I recognize it.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Bedsit Conversion

A detail from DesignArch's conversion of bedsit apartments in a Victorian terrace house. 

Do the potted conifers soften the privacy barrier, or is a fence a fence?