Andrea Reynolds with Richard Pope, owner of Northwood, Toronto. Richard Ragany, godfather of rock. The two Richards don't know each other. But both Dicks operated in Toronto from, at least, 1997 to 2001, both Dicks danced to Britpop at El Mocambo, and there's even a good chance they were doing Jagermeister shots at the Bovine Sex Club at the same time, just opposite ends of the bar.
With UBC set to host the grating “Learneds,’—you can call it “congress,” too, if you prefer your pretension more modern—my mind returns to the last time UBC hosted, in 2008. I gave a paper on Morrissey. Call if what you will but congress is just a convention, a shitty convention with a sizeable percentage of all presentations given to empty room by hung-over career-intellectuals.
I ran into Richard Pope that year. We had attended grad school in Montreal, and got along well. Pope and I knew people in common from the imbricated Toronto Britpop/ Glam scenes. We went out indie-discoing together in Montreal for a couple of years. In Vancouver, back in 2008, we got away from UBC in a hurry and go ourselves to an izakaya, away from ugly professors and all conversations about the travails of the sessional lecturer. We talked about maybe releasing a series of Youtube videos explaining critical theory in a more accessible way, inject some life into a dying profession. That didn’t happen. What did happen is more common. Pope left the profession. Pope now runs the best bar in Toronto. Bars plural, I guess: he’s got a few, and they’ve all been hits. I haven’t been to Toronto in ten years, so I haven’t been to Pope’s places, but my favourite bar in the city is run by a guy who reminds me of Pope. You'll have better conversations any night, you'll learn more at Trans-Am, than you will at "congress" this year. Pope's place, too. The best and smartest Canadians of my generation generally are too good and too smart to stay in a post-secondary sector so obviously beyond repair. Down the road from Trans-Am, one building over, is The Princeton, an old hotel, with a pub downstairs. Great building. But past it. Bright lighting, warm beer, no character. It’s like that with the Canadian academy: those days are done. Most urban bars and restaurants are owned and staffed by the same sort of kids that should have become professors, but had too much dignity to do the things the profession now obliges you to do.
Richard Ragany, my old friend from Calgary, after successful spells in Toronto and NYC now resides in London, England where he has emerged as a sage godfather of rock. He started working at the 12 Bar on Denmark Street in 2008. He’s got a new record out now. The official record release party is on January 25 at London’s The Black Heart. If you really wanted to learn about the music industry, life in the city, or just how to live a good and successful life, find either one (maybe both, if you’re ambitious) of the Richards, buy them a drink, sit down and listen. You’ll save yourself thousands of dollars you might otherwise have thrown away on tuition to study with a bunch of past-it professors with not much to tell you at all.
The Princeton on Powell, Hastings-Sunrise, Vancouver. Same as the Canadian post-secondary sector. Nice architecture, lot of history. Totally fucking past it.
For a year I tried to replace music, which no longer thrilled me, with perfume, which I thought might. I hadn’t worn any cologne or fragrance since a disastrous incident with The Body Shoppe’s Sandalwood essential oil and a long ride on the C-Train Calgary. Throughout the course of that fateful journey, five people—five—came in, sat down beside me, and moved on, unable or unwilling to hide their dissatisfaction with the intensity of the stench I wafted, and that scared me off ill-conceived projects of personal scent enhancement forever. Or so I thought.
But I guess even horror fades with time, and without any idea why I did so I began reading reviews of perfumes, especially those at Fragrantica (and to a lesser extent on Basenotes as well). And then I began teaching myself the history of perfume. And then I’d booked a tripe to Grasse. And then I’d booked an appointment to create my own scent at Molinard. I acquired a collection. I contemplated taking courses. I dreamt of amber. I wrote reviews online and sought out rare vintages. I bought a half-full bottle of weird, purple 1970s juice from a guy in Milan named Giovanni, but who writes online, probably the best out of all the reviewers, under the name “Colin Maillard.” When the fever finally broke, I expected to learn that that last part was just a dream, but no, it was real, all of it was: if cologne becomes a coveted scarce commodity currency during the coming apocalypse, as obviously it must, we will be kings.
The French perfume industry, in the end, wasn’t all that different from the music industry: it had a golden era when the big houses were brave and spared no expense to create scents that people would experience as art. Then conformity set in, a desire to focus on the bottom line, and the big houses only released blockbusters—overwhelming, nose explosion scents, perfumery dumbed down to Die Hard levels. Then nostalgia for the previous era set in, and houses began releasing scents that referenced pre-WWII ideals, when masculinity wasn’t all a Chuck Norris, Drakkar Noir roundhouse to the esophagus.
Troisieme Homme was released by Caron in 1985. It smells like an intentional rejection of all of the male-targetted scents of its time. Its ad campaign is equally a rejection of the male/female divide that continues to plague the industry still. It is named as an homage to the Orson Welles film of 1949, but the masculinity it references is more Fred Astaire. It smells so heavily of florals that, in the taxonomy of the time, not only is it gender neutral, it smells significantly more feminine than many scents marketed towards women. Even the original bottle, designed by Pierre Dinand, is elegant in a way that seems clearly an intentional critique of the crude standards of masculinity pervading not just the perfume industry, but the whole world. As with the music industry presently, the major French houses now release bland and formulaic scents designed to appeal to all and offend none. All of the exciting work comes from the independents, except such perfumers are referred to as niche, not indie.
Drakkar Noir, purveying dense clouds of foul masculinity since 1982.
Mookie passed away last week. We adopted him from the Vernon SPCA eight years ago: they guessed his age at 8. He had been there the longest when we met him, six months, but he didn’t complain about it. Captivity hadn’t made him desperate or angry or skittish. He always handled himself with dignity. Mookie kept his composure throughout, right until the end.
He used to sit on my lap as I wrote in the early morning. He never missed a day, since he started—the day after Monty died two years ago. It’s only Larry and I in the morning now. Larry is not a lap cat: he sits on a chair in the middle of the room and contemplates with equanimity the futility of my endeavours. Or he sits in his crow’s-nest by the window watching the sun come up over the port of Vancouver. Larry searched the house frantically for Mookie after we returned from the vet, cried for him for three days. I mean, he was not the only one crying. He wasn’t even the only one confused. Death remains as baffling to me as it does to Larry. I mean, who’s to say Mookie isn’t in the front closet, the ghost of him anyway? The front closet seems a supposition no less reasonable than heaven. Forever in our hearts, I guess, that’s all you ever can do. Mookie, wherever you are, we love you until the end of time.
I found this the other day in my e-mail. It’s always strange to come across a personal correspondence from a dead person. Their e-mail is still intact. Their avatar is still the same. You can still click Reply.
Can (John) Cibelik was born in Istanbul and raised between there and Milan. When he took a class (The Culture of Television) with me at Okanagan College he was 27. Why was he in Kelowna? It was the farthest, most remote place he could find, so culturally distinct that no one he knew would even be able to imagine his new life, even when they tried. He didn’t need me, or any professor at the college, to teach him anything. He was wiser than all of us. This is the last e-mail I ever received from him: October, 2012.
“Ha, yes fantastic Hegelian theatrics by Sorkin in the first minutes of that episode -- negation FTW! I meh'd at Vegas. Too much Vegas for me -- I haven't been able to take Quaid seriously ever since GI JOE either. And with Kane going down nowadays -- I guess they told the writers to wrap it up, you know, just in case -- I'm left with nothing but the Walking Dead. Besides the katana sporting black chick and her zombie 'slaves' -- good one right there -- the new season doesn't look promising either. There is still Treme, I guess.
I'm starting to feel that there is never going to be a good TV series anymore, maybe a couple diamonds in the rough in the next few years, but nothing more. It just seems so... hopeless. Or is it just me, I don't know?
Godard announced the death of cinema. I think Honey Boo-Boo announced the death of TV, of course, unknowingly. Everything just seems so shamelessly filthy and bad.
I mean there are no good films anymore either. Back in the day, I could watch a couple good films every week; nowadays maybe one in every couple months. Even Europe -- thanks to Merkel and her EU -- hasn't been producing good films. It's just so silent. It's as if people are giving up, finally.
Had high hopes for On the Road and that was disappointing as well. Hedlund as Moriarty is pretty good -- or maybe he is just really good looking -- maybe a tad too melodramatic, but solid. Viggo as Old Bull is spot on -- the best part of the film -- but Sam Riley is catastrophically miscast as Sal. He tries, at times very desperately, but fails to carry Sal's ennui on his shoulders. One good thing about the film, however, it will probably make Proust incredibly popular as there are 29 excruciatingly long closeups of Swann's Way. Not to mention there is a photo of young Proust in Sal's room. If you see a dramatic increase in Remembrance of things Past sightings -- it's because K-Stew of the famed Twilight series read it in "On the Road"
Here's a suggestion by the way. You may have heard of him, or possibly read him, if not -- read "The Book of Disquiet" by Fernando Pessoa. He's something else. If you can't find a decent copy -- Penguin translation is the best -- I'll send you the e-book pdf file.”
We had been working on a screenplay together. He used to drive out from Kelowna to my house in Vernon every Friday, just to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and talk movies together. Then one week he didn’t come, and he never came again.
He died in a solo motorcycle accident in Westbank, B.C., in 2015. He was 31 years old, and a long way from home.
Rest in Peace, Jon. You are loved and missed, and I am sorry I never had a chance to tell you goodbye, and that the world never got to see your films.
O Death, old Captain, it is time. Weigh anchor!
To sail beyond the doldrums of our days.
Though black as pitch the sea and sky, we hanker
For space: you know our hearts are full of rays.
Charles Baudelaire (The Voyage, VIII) (translation by Roy Campbell in flowers of evil: a selection. New York: New Directions, p. 145)
How dare you Steve McQueen, how dare you.
“They disappear on November 7th—'the day Steve McQueen died,’ we are wistfully instructed, as if called to observe a moment of silence for expired masculine ideals.”
I wish people wouldn’t throw around lines like this without offering any sort of specifics or evidence. Which expired masculine ideals in particular is Troy Patterson, reviewing the new season of True Detective for The New Yorker, discussing? How has Steve McQueen come uniquely to represent this?
The only masculine ideal McQueen introduced, that I can think of, is sweaters. Cable-knits, Arans, Guernseys, Fair Isle. Has Troy Patterson, or any one of his New Yorker colleagues, worn a thick, wool sweater to combat the wintry, East Coast winds? No one did, before early adopters like McQueen used their stardom to wear sweaters publicly, thereby creating a manufacturing boon in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Sweaters were working class wear before this. Unless you were on a boat, proper people didn’t do it. I can’t do Season 3 of True Detective after Vince Vaughn in Season 2: None of us deserved to be subjected to that. I’d rather read Laird Barron for my masculine cliché genre fun. But sweaters live forever, just like Steve McQueen’s memory deserves to do, untroubled by posthumous cheap-shots aimed, in any case, at the wrong target.
Thank God no one dresses like this anymore. So expired.
I went to see Louis de Bernieres read once in Calgary: it was the first reading I ever attended.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin had created a rift between my father and me. A few months earlier, in a bonding exercise, my dad asked me to recommend him a book. Something I’d really liked. Get to know me better, give us something to talk about. I thought about it a good long while. I had a ton of books in mind and on hand, but it wasn’t simple as all that. My dad walked out of movies at the first F-bomb. Show him tit, and he’d moral outrage towards the nearest exit. Seriously, if you even said the word “Madonna” around him, he would actually quiver with rage. After wrestling with his conscience, he finally submitted to God and gave away all his Julio Iglesias records. To all the girls I’ve loved before? May god have mercy on your Enrique-producing soul.
After a few months in hospital, the doctors figured my dad’s pancreas had stabilized enough that he may as well go home to wait out the final week before surgery. It was a big deal. My dad wanted to celebrate with a special movie. He chose Das Boot, a well-regarded war drama set on a U-boat. It was the last film he saw: his pancreas was not stable. He was back in the hospital before sun-up, and, very shortly, that was that. I wasn’t surprised to learn my dad chose Das Boot. World War Two, you know? It claimed his dad, it wrecked his family, and it wasn’t ever a topic very far from his mind. I was thinking along those same lines when I selected Captain Corelli’s Mandolin for my dad to read. Sure thing the way I had it figured: classy war novel, bad (yet good) Germans, the human spirit, things blow up. Except that: Too gay. Because he loved God so much, my dad told me when he returned the book, he couldn’t continue. God didn’t hate the sinner, but he sure did hate the sin, and homosexuality was a biggie.
I’ve thought about this Louis de Bernieres anecdote now and then, whenever I try to figure out what caused the decline of the North American evangelical movement, which occurred between, say, 1970 and 2000. Their descent into irrelevance was spectacular: it’s actually a sweet trick to pull off in a mere 30 years. The Jesus Freaks, countercultural renegades plugged into the zeitgeist of a culture fatigued of war, drugs and polemics, had somehow managed to transform themselves into loud-mouthed, judgemental prudes without the slightest clue about anything. What can you gain by refusing to engage with the world around you, by abstaining from the cultural contributions of your contemporaries?
Michel Houellebecq’s Submission sits on the table beside me. If I was still employed as a professor, I would not admit this. That dude is so fucking cancelled. It’s now a virtue not to read Margaret Atwood. I once lurked a twitter thread where several progressive activists denounced Woody “Allan,” explained why it was obligatory to cancel him, and tore into anyone who didn’t do so—and with sufficient glee. A former colleague scolded me for showing clips of Mr. Robot in my class. Its damsel-in-distress trope was problematic. I protested that the trope is employed intentionally-- to subvert and ridicule. The damsel dies because the hero is inept. None of this matters. The show, the show that exists as a visionary critique of the ascendance of communications technologies? So cancelled. The new mark of virtue among the academic left, and all of us educated by them, is gained by shaming your social and cultural inferiors into no longer liking the things they like. Keep this shit up for another twenty years and the university will be the next institution to descend into irrelevance; it’s already circling the drain. Most everything orthodox, conformist and mediocre started its life seeming revolutionary and radical. Stasis is not the natural order of things.
Anyway, so, like I was saying, when I went to see Louis de Bernieres give a reading in Calgary, it probably wasn’t even all that much to do with Louis. It was just another way of showing my dad that I wasn’t on board. Not only was I not yet a professor, I wasn’t even a university student back then. Readings were definitely not my thing. I attended as John Q Reader, member of the general public, and, together with my friend, Todd, who came with me, that made two of us. First reading and all, hadn’t really known what to expect, but, yeah-super awkward. The front, centre rows were occupied by MFA students. Louis directed himself towards them. He knew several of them by name. I’d never before attended a public event so proudly exclusionary. Like stumbling into the wrong party.
The last reading I attended (a few years ago)—the last one I aim to ever attend— two charismatic professors went around the room forcing each member of the seated audience to shake their hands, and introduce themselves, as though they’d never met. They kept saying their names over and over again. It was performative. It was uncomfortable. I tried to think when I last felt such acute social anxiety, and it wasn’t the Louis de Bernieres reading. Louis wasn’t fun, but at least those kids left us alone. No, it went way back before then. To a thousand Sundays when, maybe a hymn or two in, maybe just after some sort of benediction, the inevitable wide-smiling pastor tells everyone to turn around and introduce themselves to at least two people in the row behind them. Forced institutional participation: if you’re an introvert, this is somewhat unpleasant. If you’re also afraid of men in polyester suits with wide lapels, this is macabre derangement. I’d travelled so far to get away from all of that. And yet here I was, and here we are. Youth pastors and Arts professors—you can hardly tell them apart anymore.