Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Skookum Wawa (1975)

For travellers who find reading and writing an essential service, I’m sure there is at least one anthology in your past whose gates you opened and explored its pages, finding yourself at home in some of its writings, losing yourself in others. Sometimes indifferent to voices that sounded like yours, other times attracted to those that did not. Sometimes, too, a neighbourhood of writings -- if not the entire town  -- whose collective resonance rang greater than the sum of its parts. To the point where you might have wondered who it was that brought together and arranged these writings, and thus returned to its gates, to see who was responsible.

Poet-editor Gary Geddes's Skookum Wawa: Writings of the Canadian Northwest is a textbook that came out the year I entered high school, and by all accounts hung around for years after. (The words "skookum" and "wawa" belong to a Northwest pidgin trade language known as Chinook Jargon, and translate into English as "good" and "talk", respectively.) Rather than divide itself by genre, Geddes intermingles lineated poetry with paragraphic prose, non-fictive exposition and photography.

I thought little of Geddes's anthology when it was assigned to us in Grade Eight -- more an imposition than anything else -- but when I looked through it many years later (while waiting to do a library reading in Smithers), I appreciated the arrangement of its writings, despite the fact that all of it is by white settlers. Would renaming the anthology change that? No. Nor would adding to it Indigenous and diasporic writing. In this case, best to start again -- beginning with an Indigenous editor and the writings of Indigenous authors. As for the inclusion of writing by white settlers, I can't think of an Indigenous editor who has done such thing. Is it too early to do so? Never too late?

The opening (italicized) paragraph of this post is the opening I wrote for my review of SFU's Writer's Studio emerge 21 anthology, as commissioned by the Ormsby Review. (I abandoned my previous Ormsby review of Gregory Betts's Finding Nothing: the Vangardes, 1959-1975 once I realized I was writing -- and could only write -- a book-length response.) Although largely impressed with the quality of writing in emerge 21, I was critical of the editors' decision to organize it by genre, and it is in my review that I mention the example of Skookum Wawa, how it blended genres, as opposed to keeping them penned in, imprisoned, in chapters.

Monday, November 29, 2021

A Hedge

The west side of Clark Drive looking north, before the dog leg behind me turns it into Knight Street. The laurel hedge juts from a yard and has been shaped by the rigs that pass under it. This is a sight to see, because the difference between the top of these rigs and the bottom of the farthest expression of that laurel is an inch, give or take. The width of the hedge couldn't be more than three feet. The light standard is a sundial: 11:30 a.m. (November 17).

Sunday, November 28, 2021

What's Old on Kingsway

Now that the rains have passed from sweet music to claw scratchings, I do my best to get outside during its silences.

Yesterday, while walking back from Famous Foods, I noticed an excavator's bucket rise up from the middle of the 1200 block Kingsway, north-side. Could it be that, after all these years of boarded windows and metal fencing, these low-rise buildings are finally coming down? Sure enough. The building that once housed the Kitsch's Brew coffee house is now gone, as is the one just east of it, where a meth lab technician was blown out of its upstairs window and found sprawled on the sidewalk, laughing.

As for the building where Kitsch's Brew moved to -- that stimulant complex known as the Cedar Cottage Pub at the southeast corner of Kingsway and Clark -- it is currently in the asbestos-removal stage, after everything of value was salvaged by contractors and the copper wire miners who roam our streets and alleys.

An advantage to tearing down wooden, stucco-clad buildings during rainstorms is the absence of dust control devices, like those fountainesque hoses that have become a fixture at demolition sites. But these buildings were likely coming down on these days anyway, so I suppose it's more a cost-saving coincidence than anything else.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Witnesses Needed

The rains of two weeks ago were so severe they wiped our utility poles clean of notices and this one I found blowing across Clark Drive. Every time I leaned down to photograph it, the wind pushed it a few feet further, where it momentarily recomposed itself before resuming its journey. This is the last picture I took of it before a minivan screeched to a stop behind me. The driver, incredulous, asked I was trying to get myself killed, and I said I was trying to help a fallen cyclist.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

John Malkovich has a fascinating screen presence that has as much to do with the roles he plays as the looks and voice God gave him. Like Marlon Brando, both possess oddly contrasting features -- strong brows and dead eyes, winning chins and lisps. It is qualities like these that allow their characters' their powers of ambiguity.

In Stephen Frear's Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Malkovich plays an 18th century aristocrat and sexual predator, and that should be enough (Malkovich recently played a Harvey Weinstein-like character in David Mamet's Bitter Wheat, 2019), but there's more. Check out Roger Ebert's review. Ebert writes like he's read the DL source book and seen its stage adaptation. For more on Malkovich, here's a recent lockdown-era profile in The Guardian

After watching DL the other night I awoke the next morning from the dream it inspired. For there I was, my ten-year-old self drawn once again to the energy of the paper shack, those 6'x8' pitch-roofed British Racing Green painted huts on skids that the Vancouver Sun dumped in back alleys, where paperboys gathered after school to collect and fold their papers. The shack I remember best was in the dusty alley behind the Big Scoop at West 41st and Balsam. Among the older paperboys was a mincing, drippy bully who dominated the scene while at the same time appeared indifferent to it. I wonder who, what and where he is today?

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Be True to Your Stool

It's the rule, there's a stool, there's a stool

Barrow is the name of the small town in André Alexis's Pastoral (see yesterday's post), Blaine in Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman (1996) -- the story of a former off-off-off-Broadway hopeful (Corky St. Clair) who helps a small Missouri town produce an epic musical for its sesquicentennial. Among the highlights in Blaine's history is furniture production; stools in particular after someone gave President McKinley one while he was passing through town, and he liked it. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Pastoral (2014)

Toronto-based writer André Alexis is an ongoing presence in Canadian writing, someone whose books (usually Childhood, 1998 and Fifteen Dogs, 2015) appear on the shelves of homes I have visited, yet a writer I have never read in book form until recently, when I saw a copy of his 2014 Pastoral in a box at AA Furniture & Appliances and thought, Okay, this time. 

As it turns out, Pastoral is the first of Alexis's Quincunx series, a configuration of five books, the most recent, Ring, was released in September, 2021. I am now 50 pages into Pastoral, and I have to admit, the going was slow at first, for no other reason than my aversion to young Catholic priests coming to town. But as there was something not quite inhuman about this servant of God (he was hoping for something larger than the town of Barrow), and because his butler brought to mind Georgia McKinley's Leroy from her short story "The Crime" (1959), I stuck with it.

The first turn comes in the second chapter ("May") with the sudden death of what had appeared to the priest as a potentially problematic parishioner, the unpopular Tomasine Humble, whose passing sets off a chain of events that gives the town much to talk about, wonder about, and this talk and wonder has consequences, too.

Here's the paragraph that turned me around, that reminded me I was reading a pastoral:

"After Tomasine's death, the ground in the graveyard was more dense than it had been, with another body -- the cold, curdled earth -- to digest. The currents of air that visited Barrow had one less person to circle or caress. And the wind as it blew through town made a sound ever so slightly altered. The ants had one less hazard, the birds one less predator, the worms one more meal. The foxes and coyotes could now go about their business without Tomasine Humble in mind. The fish -- carp, bass, minnows and catfish, mostly -- would have been very unlikely to feel anything at all, save that, in spring and summer, it had been Tomasine's secret pleasure to put her feet in the Thames from time to time, to feel the cold water run gently over them. No more of that hazard for the fish." (38)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

HANS: My name is Hans. I'm from Germany. And now I live in America.

So writes director Gus Van Sant in his second feature-film, My Own Private Idaho, after the attention-getting Drugstore Cowboy (1989) made him palpable to audiences too puritan for Larry Clark and too impatient with another William S. Burroughs devotee, David Cronenberg. The controlled chaos that is Idaho is testament to a director who allows his actors a physicality not often encouraged by book-minded, words-first directors, from the halting explosiveness of Idaho's Keanu Reeves (below, left) to the ludic tics of his co-star River Phoenix (above, left).

I had not seen My Own Private Idaho since its first theatrical release, and after seeing it yesterday I realized I had never seen it with honest eyes, distracted as I was by my attempt to track its borrowings from the opening acts of Shakespeare's Henry IV

Uno Kier appears in three of Idaho's scenes, and that's the right amount of time for this viewer. Not that I'm impatient with him -- I love Udo Kier, especially his performance as Little Brother (Riget) in Lars Von Trier's Kingdom (1994). I guess what I'm saying is I prefer him in small doses, like a mid-paragraph semi-icolon. My introduction to Kier came in high school, when a group of us attended a midnight screening of Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (1974) -- on mushrooms.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Shoreline Entertainment

By now everyone knows about the minimalist sea monster that terrorized Vancouver waters last week. When I heard this man-made creature came to rest on Sunset Beach, I wondered if it was the same spot where the fictive whale beached itself in the Douglas Coupland-scripted Paul Fox film Everything's Gone Green (2006). Turns out the sea monster landed just west of it. But what if it was the same spot? Things are still coming ashore

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Last Days (2005)

Because maybe it is Kurt Cobain that those interested would follow the singer-songwriter's every move, muttering and interacting over the course of a ninety minute film that such a film could be made. A film whose focus is not on this singer-songwriter, but the camera that tracks him, pulls him, stops when he stops, lingering like a stray awaiting a treat, or a viewer inspired by what amounts to a cine-poem.

I was prepared to file this film under "Get to Later" at the thirty minute mark, but just before then I began to care about the director's decisions, even though we know how things turns out. The singer-songwriter's compound doesn't hurt either: an old, grungily furnished wood and stone mansion in the Pacific Northwest, on whose grounds is a studio that looks like a submerged house, with only the attic showing. Tip of the iceberg, so to speak. The rest is up to us, what we bring to it. Us and our imaginations.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

What Does BCAA Really Stand For?

The fall/winter issue of BCAA's magazine arrived the other day. On the cover, a gorgeous blanket pattern by Musqueam artist Debra Sparrow and the words "The Push for Progress" tucked into it.

On first glance, it appears the magazine has returned from its vacation in the monocultural 1950s to join the world we know today. Leading off the issue are two articles: "The Push for Progress," where "[f]our community leaders talk social change," and "How to Be a Better Ally," where those who travel the privileged path are told that "[s]upporting marginalized communities is easer than you think."

Some time in the unarchived 1990s I remember reading a newspaper story of a BCAA member who spent hours trying to get BCAA to address her as "Ms", not "Miss", and the lengths BCAA went to keep this from happening, without saying why. The inference here is that BCAA likes to maintain the illusion of the un-"Mrs"''ed woman -- this "Miss" -- as defenceless, and therefore in greater need of their service. 

The member of our household who took out the BCAA membership is a woman who has never answered to Miss in her life. If BCAA truly wants to be "Progress"-ive, they might offer the "Ms" option to its members, or better yet, do away with gendered addresses altogether. The arrival of BCAA in an emergency is not a knight in shining armour, nor are those waiting for their trucks damsels in distress.

Friday, November 19, 2021


It's cute to say I can never remember where I was when I first I learned about retention.

On East 20th, just east of Commercial Street, an instance of mixed-media retention, though the wood feels more decorative than practical, and of course is more short-term than rock. 

The last time I was in Paris (ten years ago?) I woke up early one morning and walked through Vincennes. Eventually I found myself in an alley, below an elevated stretch of something (a rail line?). The bank of land between the alley and this something was about eight feet high and severely-inclined. Shoring it up was a system of cinder block-like structures arranged in a way that left triangular (scalene) pockets of about eight inches on their longest side, inside which were contrastingly delicate plantings (coryadalis, dicentra). As Rickie Lee Jones says in "Little Fluffy Clouds" (1990), "They were beautiful!"

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Happening (2008)

I had never heard of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. So when I saw a DVD of it at the East Hastings Street Sally Anne I googled the film and found its online presence consisted largely of articles stating why it isn't as bad as critics made it out to be when it was released in 2008, when everything, not just the American economy, was on a downturn. 

In a sentence, The Happening is the story of breeze-induced suicides that result from trees and shrubs ganging up on those responsible for ruining the planet; namely, human beings. These breezes begin at the site of all our woes -- New York City -- and stick to the northeastern U.S. seaboard, presumably because that's where the bulk of the carbon is coming from.

Leading us out of NYC is a very reasonable high school science teacher (Mark Wahlberg), his strange-by-contrast co-vivant (Zooey Deschanel), their equally strange friend (John Leguizamo) and his eleven-year-old daughter (Ashlyn Sanchez). Eventually the science teacher figures out the plants' strategy and reasons that we, as human beings, should modify our behaviour. The scene where the off-grid hermit crone who takes in the science teacher, his co-vivant and their friend's daughter succumbs to one of these breezes is left to the viewer to infer: that it was her angry selfishness that killed her. Thus, the key to survival is not simply lowering our carbon output, but taking it easy while doing so. Blah, blah, blah.

The screen grab up top comes after we cut from NYC to the breeze's second site of attack: Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Park. Rittenhouse? Rittenhouse? Where have I heard that name before? Ah, the kid with the legally-acquired assault rifle who drove from his home in Illinois to defend a used car lot in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The one who drifted from that too-quiet lot to go where the action was (a gas station), inciting through his armed presence a man with mental health issues, who this kid shot and killed, and when confronted for this killing, killed one more and wounded another -- all in the name of self-defence.  Blah, blah, blah.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Hilary & Jackie (1998)

It is the late 1960s. Hilary and Kiffer live happily with their children in a great stone house in the Hampshire countryside. One day Hilary's sister Jackie shows up and, though the two are close and happy to see each other, tensions arise after Jackie asks Hilary if she can sleep with Kiffer, and Hilary says no. 

The scene above comes the following day, after Kiffer emerges from the house to say he is going to town to pick up something and asks Hilary if she wants to join him. Hilary says no, and Jackie, who's been sulking after Hilary refused her request, brightens; says she'll come. Hilary then suggests that she and Jackie will go, and Jackie changes her mind. Kiffer, who is oblivious to Jackie's desires, is perplexed and ends up going into town alone.

The scene is from the film Hilary & Jackie, which is based on Hilary and brother Piers's biography of their sister, who is best known as the cellist Jacqueline du Pres and whose recording of Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor, under the musical supervision of John Barbirolli, is a thing of beauty (here is a version recorded with Jackie's husband, Daniel Barenboim, conducting).

Where was I? Ah, it's a very good film! It begins with the two sisters as children playing on a lonely stretch of beach, and from there we get a taste of their prodigious lives together, until their later teens, when suddenly a card comes on screen that reads "Hilary", and we see their lives from Hilary's eyes, and then later"Jackie", which overturns whatever negative impressions we have of Jackie as a self-centred brat who is not so much competing with her sister Hilary, but in desperate need of her approval.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Accessing a Public Education

Crops thrive, animals multiply, and those removed from hunting and gathering, nomadism, eventually build schools so their children can gain distance from the religions that perverted their parents. It is not that easy, nor accurate, only something endemic to prolonged bouts of human settlement, which results in social stratification, chiefdomships like those that characterize parts of pre-contact Pacific Northwest coast life since time immemorial, where, according to the archaeological record, power was centralized, rights to resources unevenly distributed, and people kept slaves, if they weren't slaves themselves. 

A free, taxpayer-supported public education is a relatively recent phenomenon. Unfortunately there remain impediments to those eligible, making access the bigger question. Access is not simply having a school in your neighbourhood, but a full stomach to bring to it, eight hours sleep the night before, clothing that keeps you warm on cold days, clothing that won't have you laughed at by your classmates. When a classroom door is unlocked, it is left open until the room fills up, then it is closed for the duration of the class, hallways being cavernous places where a janitor's sneeze can sound like a gunshot. If someone should knock on a door during class time, all a teacher needs to know before opening it can be accessed through 2"x30" window.

Monday, November 15, 2021

1549 East 19th Avenue

My eastern walk, when I walk the northern portion first, involves climbing the hill on East 19th Avenue between Dumfries and Fleming. Helping me on my climb (the grade is about 9%) is a house halfway up on the left, a south-facing grey stucco bungalow with an entrance design that begins with a perfectly splayed three-part pillar system and a blonde wood door with an even bigger sidelight beside it. The sight of this house pulls me up its slope like a T-bar at a ski hill. I love this house and would love to know who designed it.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Some Number of Things

"Some" as opposed to "Any", which is how we hear it: "Any number of things." Or "reasons" if not "things," as in, I don't know what motivates the anti-vaxer; could be any number of reasons, though the artist known for his lapidarian ruminations has reduced the exhaustive unimaginabilty of "any" to the smoothly turned out certainty of "some," as in some (eleven) recent works that make up his current exhibition, Some Number of Things, at Catriona Jeffries Gallery.

The work atop this post is applied directly to the gallery wall and is called Always Some Number of Things (2021). In the corner to the right is the stylus used to render it, the medium as it were, which is aluminum,  a smelted metal, but in the form of a can, a beer can as opposed to a pop can, a lager as opposed to an IPA, a can of Lucky Lager, which, like Sportsman cigarettes, is a northern B.C. brand (not to be confused with Northern B.C.). Once applied to latex, the mark made is in fact a scuff, the kind we don't generally value for its arbitrariness and that, as damage, can be miraculously erased with those Mr. Clean (M. Net, en francais) Magic Erasers, a "cleaning" device so thorough it would have made a mess of Rauschenberg's unofficial collaboration with De Kooning.

So yes, you have to back up (to the north wall opposite) to begin to appreciate this work, I think. It keeps unravelling. And yes, it's okay that backing up doesn't make the text any less illegible, because it's not meant to be deciphered as (booze-bleary?) information, only tussled with, as art (a murmuration?). But it is worth the struggle, because in trying all sorts of things come to mind, some of them generative, as in, I will visit this show again. It has asked so much of me. The least I can do is provide it.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

"With the Partial Use of Ideas By"

Last night I watched the Sound of Music (1965) and noticed some dampness on my sleeve by film's end. There is so much to cry over these days, and this film is a plumber's wrench when it comes to opening the taps.

I was a teenager the last time I saw the Sound of Music, and likely stoned enough to find it hilariously offensive. Organized religion, family. The Captain was crazy not to marry the Baroness, put the kids in boarding school and move to Vienna. Ha, ha, ha! we laughed.

On this recent go-around I noticed a screen title I'd never seen before. Screen titles were devised and upheld by Guilds and Academies, and are often fought over in hotel lobbies with lawyers who work for free in exchange for special titles like Associate Producer.

Who was Georg Hurdalek? Turns out he provided the Sound of Music with a lot more than "ideas." He wrote the script for Die Trapp-Familie (1956), which Paramount Pictures optioned for parts, but stuck to for large stretches with respect to scene chronology. More than "partial use," by my estimation. 

Friday, November 12, 2021


Every now and then I like to drive by the four small houses just south of East Hastings Street, on the east side of Salsbury (not Salisbury) Drive, to see if they are still there. I lived in one of these houses for a few months in the mid-1980s after a spell in Los Angeles, where I lived on another "misspelled" street -- Wilshire (not Wiltshire) Boulevard. Sometimes there's parking out front, and when there is, I take it, as I did yesterday around 11:30 a.m.

Up the lane to Victoria, where I thought of visiting Attila's studio, but no, I kept walking east, eventually to Slocan where I like to peek in the window of the Slocan Restaurant and count how many people are eating pancakes.

Just before crossing the street I noticed an odd formation that I thought might frame nicely, and that is the picture atop this post, which carries evidence of the untamed land beneath where this building was built, and how attempts at preserving the curve of that land sometimes get "paved" over with slabs of concrete, thus providing a surface for graffiti and, for a time, its white-washed redaction.

On my return I stopped at the East Hasting's Value Village and found in its Books Section Michel Foucault's The Courage of Truth: the Government of Self and Others II: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1983-1984. Unfamiliar with the book, I opened it and skimmed its "Foreword" (by editors Francois Ewald and Alessandro Fontana). Funny, Foucault's sabbatical year (1977) was the same year Roland Barthes led a lecture/seminar course there. Was he subbing for Foucault? Barthes the sessional?

This from an extended passage from journalist Gérard Petitjean:

"At 1915hr Foucault stops. The students rush towards his desk; not to speak to him, but to stop their cassette recorders.  There are no questions. In the pushing and shoving Foucault is alone."

Thursday, November 11, 2021

For Sale: Fire Resistant Kickstand

This neighbourhood garage fire happened a while ago. Maybe pre-COVID. Certainly pre-"heat dome". The house to the south of it, and the one to the east of it, were also affected, but not enough to burn down. As for the motorcycle, it stands like Shelley's Ozymandias: two round and tire-less rims of steel.

In most parts of the world, the motorcycle is a work vehicle; in the United States and Canada, it is more commonly associated with leisure, escape, a symbol of youth. The Wild One (1953) is an unremarkable picture in terms of story, character and cinematography, but it is fun to watch for its choppers and costumes. 

Marlon Brando's character (above) signifies as butch gay in his jacket and cap, which of course is where that look came from (hello Tom of Finland), but Lee Marvin's character (below) has the artier look. The horizontal lines of his sweater! Who in the Art Department came up with that? I looked on IMDB and found the name Walter Holscher (1901-1973), a Hamburg-born art director whose last gig was in 1965, when he worked on 12 episodes of the Andy Griffith Show, including my favourite episode of that series: "Aunt Bee Takes a Job". 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021


Recently I attended an awards luncheon and was seated at a table of friendly not-quite-strangers, all of us in possession of the small talk gene, when I was asked, presumably because I am a writer, "What are you reading?" Rather than the truth, I mentioned a 2018 book that I had read when it was first published that was not unrelated to our previous conversation on contemporary Indigenous art, of which the couple seated across from me are collectors.

"Is there audio book?" the person seated next to me asked, and I said I didn't know. The person then went on to say that she prefers audio books because "listening allows me to do other things," to which I said I can't because in listening I am beholden to my imagination of the text and its layout, how it is punctuated, etc. Silence. "What I mean is, I am attracted to words on the page, like I am attracted to marks on a canvas." 

"You were a musician once," said another, "so I presume you read music?" I said I can, and still do, and "that might be a better example than marks on a canvas."

"No," said the she-half of the couple, "I like your example -- words on a page like marks on a canvas. What is the title of the book again, and its author?"

"Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot."  

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

You Had to Be There

Apart from its picture, I purchased the puppy sight unseen. I told this to my mother on the phone this morning, talking while dressing as she pondered the picture I'd texted her, the one I saw before I clicked PURCHASE, the one she is commenting on. "There's some Crested there," she keeps saying. And for my part, "We'll see when she gets here." Because that's all we know of her: the same dog to both of us until she arrives, when she's more mine than hers. An audience of one, a loneliness of millions.

Monday, November 8, 2021

OG Punk 2

Another picture has been added to photographer-artist Dina Goldstein's OG Punk exhibition since I saw it the day before its official opening (see my previous post). The picture (above) is a double portrait of punk chronicler Bev Davies and her son Keif, whose childhood self appears on the cover of DOA's 1985 album Let's Wreck the Party. In the meantime, I have produced a first draft script to be read and recorded for the exhibition podcast.

Here it is:

OG Punk Podcast Script


OG Punk is an exhibition of sixteen recent pictures by the artist-photographer Dina Goldstein. The pictures are portraits of thirteen people, though one portrait features two people, and the unpeopled portrait is of a black leather motorcycle jacket, on the back of which is a painted portrait of a skull and cross bones. Backgrounds for the portraits are in either black or white. All but two of the portraits are in colour.


The portraits are displayed at North Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery, in an area known informally as the “main floor gallery.” I like this space because its south facing wall is transparent, made of glass, through which passers-by can get a taste of what the Polygon is and does. It’s a little like a TV in that way, or in the way people once stopped to watch TV when they were displayed in furniture store windows. This was still common when Punk first appeared in the mid-to-late-1970s, before larger screens were installed on downtown buildings, or the smaller screens we now carry in our pockets.


It is from the main floor gallery that I am making this recording, sitting by the window dressed in a dark grey suit, in an effort to make myself incidental to those outside who are slowing down to take in Goldstein’s model-collaborators, all of whom identify as Punk, almost all of whom as original -- or OG -- punks. And of course we know them as such, not only by their regalia and body modifications -- leathers, metal studs, patches, tattoos, scarifications and hairstyles -- but by their ages, almost all of them born in the 1950s and 60s.


When Goldstein embarked on this project, her focus was on those who were part of the early Vancouver and Victoria punk scenes. Punk emerged while I was a high school student at Kerrisdale’s Point Grey Secondary, and in 1978 a group of us, inspired by sensational news coverage of the British punk scene, entered the school’s Gong Show to perform a punked up version of T. Rex’s “Baby Strange”. This was a year before The Subhumans performed a lunch hour concert there -- what amounted to my first punk show. Though not really, as some have argued, because to see a punk show you have to see it in its own milieu, like Vancouver’s Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret, to which I disagree, given punk’s brave power to intervene and reveal, if not upend, values that the status quo assumes are universal.


Apart from that Gong Show performance, I have never signified as Punk, but I could relate to its critique, its burlesque of mainstream cultural norms. Aesthetically because popular music had become bland (SoCal soft rock), metronomic (disco), pretentious (prog rock) or sexist/racist (country & western) -- and soon enough politically because those holding power maintained that power by wielding atomic bombs or extracting resources without regard for those whose land they were on, to say nothing of what unsustainable extraction has done to the planet. Just as climate change is today’s slow boat to extinction, the threat of nuclear proliferation in my youth meant the planet could be cancelled before I could make it home to kiss my mom goodbye.


Aspects of this critique are carried in the responses to the questionnaire Goldstein distributed to her model-collaborators. Not directly, in the academic sense, citing Marx, Hannah Arendt or Guy DeBord, but in a manner that became increasingly popular in postwar North America: through the body, the presentation of self in everyday life. The beats and the hippies performed their critique through styles of dress and gesture that reflected their attitude towards the status quo, and many of the punks responding to Goldstein’s questionnaire seem to recognize this through their own form of cultural self-expression. Here’s how Unnatural Silence band member Myles Peterson responded to the question, “Has punk changed much since the 1980s?”:


“Punk isn't a thing or fad or a movement. It's attitude and it's a way of life. It's always been there. It will never die. It doesn't matter how you look or what music you like, it's about not taking shit from anybody, standing up for [your]self and looking after people who are less fortunate, and not buying into corporate monsters that are destroying the planet, people, culture and everything that we care about.”


The reader need only substitute “punk” with “beatnik” or “hippie” and the comment would stand -- the only difference being one of tone and intensity. Death Sentence drummer Doug Donut, who is of Sioux ancestry, tells us at the outset that he was raised by activist parents, and later, to the question “Is punk here to stay?” he replies:


“Counterculture is. And it sure as fuck ain’t ''Princess of Punk'' [Zandra Rhodes] on Leno. No offence to the Princesses of Punk,” but Bad Brains is punk. NWA was punk. Public Enemy. D.O.A. Its fuck you and 100% no kissing babies for the music biz machine. Get mad. Theres Neo-Nazis rolling around. And Im gonna sell PERFUME? Nope.”


Here is skater and Dayglo Abortions affiliate Lisa JAK on that same question:


“I think that ‘Punk’ has always and will always be here. Anywhere and anytime that there is oppression, ignorance, intolerance and fucking stupidity, some punk will be there to question and fight it!” 


Goldstein gave her model-collaborators little instruction on what to bring to their shoot, apart from their "leathers". As for poses, these too were left to the model-collaborators, though it should be noted that the poses chosen for display, as portraits, were decided by Goldstein and exhibition curator Helga Pakasaar. Strangely, none of the portraits reprise the wild-eyed, teeth-baring, nostril-flaring intensity I associate with punk’s early days. Nor the sneering contempt of Johnny Rotten, Billy Idol or Lydia Lunch. Not even the leave-me-alone indifference of Patti Smith or Exene Cervenka. While the portrait of music manager wendythirteen has its subject standing chin-out, hands on hips, many more appear sad, pensive, tired, humbled, tentative or lost. The Black Haloes’ Billy Hopeless almost seems repentant.


The most arresting portrait in the exhibition, the one that links nicely to the Steven Shearer exhibition in the upstairs gallery, is that of Murray “The Cretin” Acton, frontman for the Dayglo Abortions. The Cretin, who is 61, appears naked from the waist up, the buckle of his low-slung trousers appearing just below the top of his pubic bone, the deep lines of his groin capped by the arching banner of his lone tattoo: FUCK YOU PIG. The Cretin’s torso and arms could belong to a thirty-year-old, while his weathered-face and sea hag hair puts him closer to eighty. As for his expression, his eyes are dead, but he is clearly looking at something, not for it. Yet like everyone else on the walls of this main floor gallery, Acton knows who he is, in all his contradictions, otherwise he wouldn’t be here.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Alentejo Blue (2006)

Moving through the shop when someone suddenly steps in front of you, and when you stop to let them pass, a book catches your eye, for no reason other than your eye is perfectly focused on it, and yes, you have to ask it why.

You take the book from the shelf -- Monica Ali, yes, I've heard of you -- and you read the first two pages, lost in its lyricism, but knowing that an old man discovers the body of his old friend hanging from a tree (like "a scarecrow"), and he cuts him down to tell us the story of their lives.

Four pages later, on Page 6:

"Excuse me," said a little vole of a man sitting by the window, "but do you accuse Salazar of fascism?"

"Accuse?" said Rui. "I certainly accuse him of nothing. In 1945, when he decreed all flags fly at half mast as a sign of respect for our dear departed Hitler, I saluted him. We supported the Germans, so of course it was a sad day for us all."

"But no," cried the little man with his lip aquiver, "we weren't with anybody."

"Oh," said Rui, stroking his nose, "I forget. But nevertheless I am sad when I am told to be sad."

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Space Exploration

Events are organized in narratives and form stories. The story of the Space Shuttle is an example of government (NASA) looking to private industry (communications, travel, manufacturing) to support the U.S. colonization of outer space. Every launch was an event that contributed to the "exploration" narrative, with the January, 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger a real-time teaching moment. By then, most knew the shape its launch would take, only this time our children would hear about it from an on-board high school social studies teacher named Christa McAuliffe. But when that second O-ring blew, due in large part to an unseasonably cold day, disaster took hold of the pen and split its line in two.

Friday, November 5, 2021

VAG Notions

Now smothered in money, the Vancouver Art Gallery will do all the right things under its current administration, yet it remains to be seen if it can transcend itself, become more than the sum of its line items. When art galleries set out to build new buildings, it's often less about art (ambiguity) than it is about business (certainty). This will go on for a while.

We are told that if all goes according to plan, the new and recently revised VAG (above) could open as soon as 2026. But by then we might have achieved Adorno's prophecy and find that what once went by the name of Art now goes by a different name -- and as McLuhan suggests, what wasn't considered Art, now is (a historic VAG example could be Paul Wong's Confused: Sexual Views, 1984).

How weird to be living in a city that, according to its boosters, claims to be a world leader in contemporary art, and therefore deserving of a proper building to display it; and yet having this declaration come at a time when Art, as we are beginning to know it through its gestures and relations, has left the building to Art as it was, as objects, once upon a time.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

OG Punk


Just opened at the Polygon Gallery main floor space is OG Punk, an exhibition of fifteen photographic portraits by Dina Goldberg.

Of the fifteen portraits, three are of women, eleven are of men, and because that adds up to fourteen, the "missing" portrait, as it were, is of a decorated black leather motorcycle jacket that carries its own portrait: a painted skull and cross bones. For those unfamiliar with the embodied practice of punk, the jacket is the third surface upon which its wearer displays their art. Beneath that, the t-shirt, and beneath that, the wearer's own hide -- our god given skin.

The array above features members of Victoria, B.C.'s punk scene. On the left is The Cretin, aka Murray Acton, graduate of St Michael's University School in Victoria and frontman for that city's longest-running punk band, Dayglow Abortions (1979-). Moving right (above), Lisa Jak, (below) Spud and, finally, the portrait bearing jacket, whose attribution I am waiting on and will supply in an upcoming Polygon podcast.

OG Punk is curated by Helga Pakasaar.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Two Little Houses

I love these two little houses on the west side of Dumfries, just north of East 30th. Not just the houses -- war houses built for young families after WWII -- but how they sit next to each other on the slope, as well as the plantings, in particular the pine that curls into frame. Or maybe it's how easy these houses are to picture that I like best about them, actors in my drama, which more recently feels like a comedy, if it could be said that Beckett and Melville were writers of them. Waiting for Bartleby? Imagine that. But this time Bartleby shows up, despite his preference.

I could stare at these houses all day long, I think to myself when the sun is out, the morning sun, in October or April when it's not so high. Everyone should have a house to live in. It is insane to me that, given the world's wealth and our technological advancements, we should have to enter a system of servitude in order to protect ourselves from the elements that contribute to that wealth. How can we change this? Is it as easy as knowing who to shame? There are many who no longer feel shame, nor are positively motivated by it. Same with pride. Looking at these houses, I can't imagine rage living inside them. Nor self-loathing, envy. It they did, it would show. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Sunday's Walk

Sunday's walk was slow and drawn out. This time I reversed the usual route, beginning at Knight and King Ed, not ending there. Had I gone the other way I might have missed the "no parking" marker at 30th and Gladstone: a plastic container with a drawing on its side (see above). The marker was on the boulevard, a car in the space beside it. I assumed the person who relies on this marker was inside the house to the right of the picture. I would have been uncomfortable if it were otherwise. 

Monday, November 1, 2021

Boss Bodies

Opening this week at CSA Space is Rowan Melling's Boss Bodies, an exhibition of 16 painted portraits of 16 disembodied heads. Applied to these decapitations are faces that many Vancouverites look to -- or away from -- for cues on how to appreciate a city that these bosses of construction, real estate,  secondary manufacturing and retail claim to be building, beautifying, writing, empowering ...

Of these faces, not all of them are men. Nor are all of them white. Nor are all of them heterosexual. All of them have some form of disability that allows them to do their work without losing a night's sleep. All of them believe that what they are doing is good and right, and that goodness and righteousness are measured not by humility but by financial profit. Those who disagree have been, in some instances, encouraged to move to the suburbs.

Most remarkable about these portraits (apart from the absence of their "entitled" bodies) are the bodies "playing" them. For example, when I look at the face of Bob Rennie (above), I see Bob, but I also see Jim Carrey (with a hint of former Social Credit MLA Pat McGeer thrown in). Same with Ian Gillespie, as played by Matthew McConaughey 

and Michael Audain, as played by a Paper Chase-era John Houseman.

Whether inhabitations like these are the intention of the artist, I don't know. What I do know is that the evocation of these actors and their styles stands in for the absence of the bodies these bosses have been removed from, enlivening them in ways that are not inconsistent with how they appear IRL (the ludic Bob, the laconic Ian, the patrician Michael), but also underlining the ongoing performances they are engaged in in their effort to exact the same of those living in "their" city, where the best advice to those trying to survive that city is to be anyone other than yourself.