I think it possible that, on a practical level, the most useful book in our flat, the one to which, I think it is fair to say, I personally turn most often, is London at Dinner: Where to Dine in 1858. The restaurant recommendations are astute! But it is the recipes that really sustain me, and it is to them to which I return so often. Today it's Kedgeree. I love the taste of boiled haddock in the morning.
I worked one summer in the McGill University Archives. Their offices are in the basement, and underneath them, in sub-basements that could equally function as dungeons, are the physical archives. There’s accounting ledgers the size of small cars down there, tomes and tomes so ancient and enormous you understand that once when people said things like “weighty tomes” they meant it in the most literal sense because some of those books were easy 40-pounders, you had to be careful you didn’t strain your back. Every trip downstairs was like escaping to a dimly lit, Dickensian dimension; the air down there was still and seemed otherworldly—as though all that history emanated with energy and/or was casting a spell.
Upstairs in the offices, I worked in a common room with five or six others, including a man from Newfoundland. He had moved to Montreal as an undergrad, oh, maybe twenty years earlier, and never left. Although he harboured no aspirations to write books, he loved both to read and collect them. I found it curious that the books he liked to read and the books he liked to collect were not one and the same. He read genre fiction (fantasy and sci-fi), but he collected books based on design.
He was trying to complete certain series within the Everyman’s Library Collection, classical reprints published by Dent (London) and Dutton (New York) between 1906 and 1982. In particular, he collected books from The Ravilious Era (1935-1952), named after Eric Ravilious, the designer who gave the books their starkly simplified, modern design: a single colour decorated with an abstract wood knot. I guess my former co-worker, the bearded reader from Newfoundland, must have got through to me because I wouldn’t have noticed these books, if he hadn’t given me the spiel on why they were so special. The two pictured below are mine, and are the only ones I have. There's a whole subculture out there still hunting for these things, and they must do pretty good work because these things aren't always easy to find. The famous Everyman motto, printed on all of the books of this era, is (as above) "Everyman, I will go with thee, and be thy guide, In thy most need to go by thy side." I swear to God that, like the McGill archives, these books cast some sort of spell. They are just a bunch of reprints, but you can't help wanting to stare at them and you never really want to put them away.
Michael Jackson’s music may yet survive his reputation, but its meaning is forever changed. Michael’s ranch has imbued each of his solo records, and the Jackson Five’s, with an aura of moral repugnance that outweighs their artistic merits. Michael’s misdeeds are difficult to overlook: they have made it almost impossible for the ethical listener to derive any sort of pleasure from his music.
I feel the erasure of the Jackson 5, and Michael, acutely. To try and trick myself, I figured what I needed was to invent some sort of faux-Jackson product, and so I formed a new soul band. In reverse alphabetical order, may I present to you The 5 Jacksons.
Walter J, no relation, I have written about here before. His recording of “My Ship is Coming In” is a contender for best ever soul singing ever done anywhere by anyone. Walter J had polio and performed on crutches. He wasn’t born in Chicago, but that’s where he was made. Curtis Mayfield was a mentor.
Thelma was born a Jackson (but not a Michael Jackson Jackson), then became a Houston (but not a Whitney Houston Houston) through marriage. "Once a Jackson, Always a Jackson," as the Jacksons always say and even if this is not technically true, I am still counting Thelma Houston as a Jackson, ok? When Thelma released Sunshower (pictured) in 1969 it was her first record and she was 23 years old. Thelma Houston will not have a hit until she is 30, but it is a hit worth waiting for because "Don't Leave Me This Way," will become an international cultural sensation topping soul, disco and R&B charts everywhere in 1976, and not really ever going away since.
When Let me Tickle Your Fancy was released in 1982, Jermaine was not the biggest musical star in his family. His younger brother Michael released a record that same year and it was called Thriller. Motherfucker! Albeit minor, Jermaine was still a star, equipped with enough clout of his own to convince Devo, the Kent State New Wavers from Ohio, to play on the title track, a pairing so successful you wish they’d taken the concept and expanded it further: Tito Jackson with Talking Heads. Janet Jackson with the B-52s: now that's what I call a Love Shack! Marlon Jackson and Television perform Marquee Moon in its entirety, one night only. The new wave/post-punk Jackson genre is ready for revival.
Chuck J, no relation, was the male equivalent of Dionne Warwick: a big singer backed by slick, Burt Bacharach (and Bacharachesque) arrangements with lots of strings. He never caught on quite like Dionne, but he remained an urban delicacy, New York soul for the sophisticated set. The song “The Thrill Is Gone”, for instance, the stand-out track from Teardrops Keep Fallin' On My Heart (1970), the last of three albums Chuck J cut for Motown, pairs nicely with Armagnac, Armani and ennui.
One of North America’s most undervalued blue-eyed soul singers, Alan J, no relation, wears a mullet, has an exclusive line of consumer goods, called “The Alan Jackson Collection,” sold at Cracker Barrel stores throughout the United States, and sings a brand of country-soul that is, of course, in no way soul at all. The Alan Jackson Collection includes baseball caps, barbecue sauce, and an old-fashioned wooden walking chair with a metal plate containing Alan J's autograph for you to rest your head. Al(l)an Jackson is also the name of my old friend from Quito. He is hard to google as a result, but as far as I can tell he and his partner Pearl still run an orphanage in Manta, Ecuador.
The conservative (and also, even more depressingly, Conservative) tsunami about to hit the nation is unlikely to do the Canadian post-secondary sector a world of good. Already under siege (thanks in no small part to two Communications professors out in Ontario) expect funding to be slashed and the already untenably precarious situation of the Canadian professor to become even more grossly traumatic.
Canadian schools churn out a vastly disproportionate number of graduate students to jobs available. Heavily encumbered with debt, these students struggle mightily to get a break that mostly never comes. There are not even close to enough tenured positions to go around. Teaching in any position that is not tenured is almost never worth either the money paid or the punishing amount of labour involved. The whole idea is to burn you out and replace you as soon as you break down: you’re a replaceable part, and a cheap one at that, nothing but a drill-bit at the Rona.
Switching out full-time salaried positions for part-time bit work, where exactly the same work is paid at ¼ of the full-time wage, is legal, I guess, but it’s the post-secondary equivalent of electoral gerrymandering: you tweak with things under the hood where most people never look, you get the result you want.
If you’re one of the lucky few, and you snare a tenured position, that’s when the trouble really starts. You can check out any time you like (a lot of professors seem to check out while lecturing, an impressive trick if you can manage it ) but you can never leave (Don Henley sees all). You literally can never leave. There’s no job to leave to. You were lucky to get the one and you’re not to get another one, not ever. Under the column labelled “Things I Will Not Do to Keep My Job” there’s nothing but empty space. What surprised me about the stitch-up nature of my job interview was that no one else found it remarkable. Banality of Evil and all that, I guess. But it’s a tweak with consequences both wide-ranging and long-lasting: hiring professors not so much because of what they know, but because of who they know, or because they pose the least threat to your job security, deadens both the intellectual and collegial environment vital to healthy learning. Students, especially, benefit when institutions hire diversely and rigorously. They suffer the most when departments choose instead to dip repeatedly into the sycophantic friend-pool. Actions such as these further erode the public’s trust in its institutions and leads to the rise of populism. When you are perceived to be hiring for behind-the-scenes reasons, and not because you care about scouring the country to try and find absolutely the best and most interesting people to teach your students, people can tell, they can sense it. Universities get a bad reputation: all professors get tarnished with the same brush.
In many Communications Departments—this is true—professors place a studded black collar around their necks and chain themselves to a hook on the wall before turning on CNN, so instinctive and violent is their kill-response to images of Donald Trump on the TV. They would tear him apart limb by limb if they could, they’d eviscerate him before his own family in the name of all that is good and progressive. They seem entirely oblivious to the obvious correlation. Trumpism exists because the public has concluded that traditionally left-leaning institutions such as universities, such as the Liberal Party of Canada, operate like families, intimate and Mario Puzo-like. Everyone’s in it for themselves, and no one seems to believe what they’re selling. You take as much as you can for as long as you can, that’s it. In such a environment—whether actual or perceived—you can schedule as many lectures as you like about Trump, you can feel good when you thump that pulpit—I mean podium—and maybe you even mean it; the cumulative contribution of the North America post-secondary sector has not been to halt the rise of the alt-right, but to facilitate it. It's all just theatre of the well-paid, and short-sighted, self-righteous.
My job interview at Okanagan College was conducted by four tenured faculty members, a student, and the associate dean. I’d never met any of them before, of course. The associate dean didn’t show, and, I learned later, he never showed: he was completing his own PhD while the college paid his salary, and his own intensive studies claimed all his time. The four faculty members turned out to be two couples: the Chair had invited her husband, and her best friend, both faculty members in the same department, to represent the Communications department. To make sure they got their way, that they only hired people they liked, they stacked the interview committee even further; the external faculty member they chose was the husband of the best friend. The two couples didn’t declare themselves as couples to me then. I didn't know this about them until after I had accepted the job. There wasn’t then, and there isn’t now, any rule against nepotism at the college, nor against associate deans pursuing their own personal education while being paid a full-time salary to oversee the education of thousands of paying students, two goals which are not legitimately, or ethically, obtainable at the same time.
The development of cliques, coteries and factions, at institutions or organizations which lack either the political will or managerial acumen to enact and enforce polices that prevent them, is inevitable. You almost sort of can’t blame those four people, those two professory couples. They identified systemic weaknesses in the existing rules—weaknesses they could exploit to consolidate power—so they did. God help you if you ever decide to speak out against a well-entrenched nest of nepotism: people who have grown accustomed to bending justice in their own favour aren’t inclined to capitulation when challenged. They’re a gang. They’ll stomp you back into oblivion. They’ve had their way with hiring so long, that there’s no one left with the courage or political capital to take them on. Even their bosses have become afraid of them.
Hi, do I know you? Then stop using my first name. You're a stranger and this is a commercial transaction not a blind date.
My partner recently left a serving position because of how much she hated her bow-tie; it came to signify for her an oppression. She was working at an old, neighbourhood spaghetti house, which, before being re-opened, had sat closed and unused for a number of years. The new owners were serving upscale, haute cuisine Italian in a first-generation immigrants’ family restaurant, and they’d bought the space purely for the kitsch. It was dark and grimy inside, with home-made oil paintings still hung on the wall, and all the brass fixtures and heavy wood left intact. The servers were dressed the way the old place used to do it: black vest, white collar, black bow-tie. All part of the nostalgia trip.
Except the vest and bow-tie were cheap polyester, while the shirt was unshaped and elegant like burlap. The overall appearance created was that of an owner having chosen to humiliate his staff for the amusement of his largely large groups of affluent, multi-generational, suburban families driving into the city to remember the old days. People wanted service there the way they used to like it: a lot of finger snapping, boorish Goombah summonings and constant minor complaints over nothing. Getting to treat wait staff as sub-human seems to have been a lot of the appeal of going out in the old days.
My first year at the college I was at Orchard Park Mall in Kelowna with another professor. We got a coffee. We bought some sports gear. We shopped for dress shirts. At the coffee place, the server on till had a name tag so he said, “Hi Cassandra, and how are you today?” At SportCheck, the clerk working till had a name tag so he said, “Hi Brianna, how is your day going so far?” He made excessively meaningful and patronizing eye contact with each so that they would know that he knew that they were real individuals, special to God and him. The menswear store guy was not wearing a name tag, and neither was my former colleague. The sales associate asked if there was something in particular he could help us with today. My shopping buddy said, “I don’t know anything about this at all, Me I’m just white trash.”
It was a racially charged comment in the context: our sales associate was not Caucasian and the comment stopped him in his tracks. I also remained rooted to the ground. I had no idea what to say. This seemed to be the desired effect for my colleague sauntered from the store and, after a moment I followed.
My colleague was anything but white trash. He’d been born into a middle-class family, had enjoyed his entire life the security of a middle-class income, investment portfolio, educational opportunities and had never once known what it was to have to work retail or service because if you didn’t you didn’t eat. I think that he, like the clientele at the Italian restaurant, don’t mean to be rude, condescending, demeaning and offensive. But class is a real thing. And people not born into poverty and the serving classes have no idea what it’s like. Here’s a tip: no one wants to wear uniform. No one wants to wear a name tag. Seriously though, how do you not know the last one? Like, it’s such a truism, that forcing employees to reveal their names to anyone who can see, is an enforced violation of their personhood. A basic premise of the occasionally brilliant NBC sitcom Superstore is that the character named Amy (America Ferrera) wears a new name tag in each episode with a name that is seldom Amy. It’s one of the precious few tactics still available to working people trying to protect the remaining shreds of their dignity.
You will never understand
How it feels to live your life
With no meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go.
We went on a few road trips in Chile, the “ABCD” Snowsells—as my mom had branded us on prayer cards printed in the tens of thousands, maybe you had one on your fridge. They were ambitious trips, designed to cover as much of Chile’s comically long and narrow shape as you could in a week. Since my brother and I were not being educated in Chile, we knew nothing of it. Road trips were my Dad’s remedy. I still can’t sing the national anthem—which Chilean school kids sing each morning standing beside their desk: but I have been inside a Chilean copper mine, a volcano, a Space Observatory, a fishing village, on the deck of a Chilean Navy warship, on the Pacific Ocean in a rowboat turning green, and also in the home of Pablo Neruda. Everyone knows about Neruda. His bad-ass house is pretty famous, and rightly so.
I knew nothing of Chile’s cultural contributions in other areas of endeavour until I started buying classical music on vinyl in thrift stores. I paid a dollar for this record, and it’s still one I play all the time. It’s how I start a lot of days, especially when it is raining. The Emperor Piano Concerto of Beethoven, with Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau. He’s like the Chilean Glenn Gould, maybe. Or maybe Gould is the Chilean Arrau? I have a lot of other things I was going to say about liminal identity and the fragmentation of the self, but social theory seems so trivial when Arrau is playing Beethoven; and that is why I play it over and over again.
Porte Saint Monty is so called because we lived up from the Porte Saint Denis in the tenth arrondisement in 2014, when I was on sabbatical. The image underneath the words “Porte Saint Monty” is the view from our window of our flat there. Through it I watched Paris turn from night to day while I wrote each morning. The "Monty" in Porte Saint Monty is in honour of our late cat Monty, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 20. Monty the cat was, in turn, named after Montgomery Clift, with whom I was mildly obsessed in my mid-20s—enough anyway to get his face and name tattooed on my right shoulder.
I’ve been told, free advice, that getting his name AND face was stupid and overkill—pick one or the other. On occasions numbering more than one, handsome men have used the Clift tattoo as a conversational ice breaker with me: Clift is a gay icon and I have learned that flashing his face in certain public spaces sends a saucy sort of invitation.
Clift’s education was unusual. Although born in Nebraska, Clift never attended school. Instead, he was educated by private tutors across Europe and the United States. He became fluent in French and German. His mom wanted Monty and siblings to be able to belong to the aristocracy. She sheltered her children from the horrors of disease, poverty and common people with their stupid, stupid minds. Monty was a misfit for life as a result of his mother’s pretensions and/or good intentions. His siblings didn’t feel it so much. Both of them went to university and got on with their lives. Monty went to Broadway and started acting. He was good at it. Hollywood noticed. In The Search (1948), his second film, released when he was 27 years old, Clift plays an American soldier, a regular everyday G.I. His performance was so convincing that Director Fred Zinnemann asked, “Where did you find a soldier who can act so well?”
Clift is reported to have considered this the greatest compliment he ever received. Acting like a normal, everyday guy was the hardest thing for him to do since he had never been a normal, everyday guy. Humans are herd animals and they can sense in a million unnamed ways when someone from outside the herd approaches. Passing as a local and a normal is almost impossible when you’ve been raised in too much isolation, deprived of both stability and community. People sense when something’s off. I don’t know how he did it. I mean, he didn’t, right? Clift died young of alcoholism, addiction and loneliness. At least he got to feel normal when he was acting.
Most every large organization I’ve observed deploys its institutional depth in the same way football managers use their squad. You can’t let one individual do all the dirty work for you: the severity of the penalty is too onerous to operate so bluntly. You use your depth to spread the fouls around. Minor infractions from the many is the way to get things done.
And speaking of vanity, I have, of course, a vast range of personal experience from which to draw, having succumbed to its allure more often and more deeply than most. What motivated me to begin writing, however, was not ego. I was driven neither by ambition nor altruism: my adolescence was an infinite desert of loneliness I survived thanks mostly to words on pages. Whether or not I had, or have, any natural aptitude for writing I can’t say, and don’t think very important anymore. I wrote then because the attempt to create other worlds was the most effective way to escape the nightmare world I was actually living in. I wasn’t trying to write literature or change the world, but it was still a vitally important and useful endeavour, if only to me and my survival. There was always a point to it. Which is not something I could say about much of my writing these past ten years. My motivation was cloudy. I wrote about things I didn’t care about, but which I thought other people did. I wanted to see my name in lights. I am glad I seem to have gotten that out of my system. For a long time I wasn't writing anything at all. But that doesn't work either. I still need to write even if no one else likes to read my writing. I believe I prefer to write when I'm not trying to please people I don't know for reasons I don't like.
I’m not sure that an awareness of audience is as important or as benign as Aristotle makes out. I think a lot of the time these days that awareness of audience is the seed that spawns the ego. The self seeking for itself recognition of any sort seems inevitably to be the beginning manifestations of the pride that’s next going to trip you up. Wanting people to like my stuff ensured only that the stories I created in this mindset were impossible to like: it made my writing sycophantic and inauthentic. I have enough flaws as a writer and as a person not to need to add these two to the collection.
The urge to please others as a way of validating the self is pernicious. Indeed, conquering one’s ego is so rare and so difficult that those who do manage to go the full Mt. Baldy, inevitably earn our admiration and respect. People get curious. They start asking questions. How did I become so humble? Funny you should ask...oh, sure, once there was a time when I was a regular Joe, why no different than you--vain, selfish, a man going nowhere until… And then it begins all over again. I think the worst thing that can happen to anyone is the one thing that motivates everyone the most—fame and recognition. I think you think more clearly when you get your mind to a place where nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn either way.
My father, may he rest in peace, managed to weaponize both hugging and hand-holding. Nine months of the year I slept 2,500 kilometers from my dad, in a room in an building on a guarded compound run by religious fanatics, who believed God called Christians to give up their children. My brother was there, too. But my brother and I weren’t allowed to be my roommates. Blood siblings were separated by policy. We were all children of God.
My brother wouldn’t have wanted to room with me anyway. I was the geek of the dorm, the lowest of the low. Many nights I went to sleep with fresh bruises or scrapes. That was the kind of human contact I grew up experiencing. There wasn’t a male in my life I wasn’t physically afraid of those first two years at the dorm.
I started to shy away from physical contact, a lot like how a dog kicked too much begins to recoil from all outstretched human hands, even ones that are wanting just to give it a friendly pat. My dad, especially, I was afraid of. My dad didn’t like this. Any external sign of unhappiness, my dad interpreted as disobedience, not just to him but also to God. Hugs became mandatory and enforced. “Son, we hug each other in this house,” my dad would say. He had a look in his eye that was both a challenge and a threat. No one was going to tell my dad he wasn’t a loving father, especially not his sons. When my dad put his arms around me it was claustrophobic and sickly with triumphalism. I tensed up, held my breath, shut my eyes and waited for it to be over. It was like he knew his boys were terrified of him, and that’s the way he wanted it to be.
At dinner, those few months out of the year when the family was together, my dad made us all hold hands and bow our heads while he said a prayer. No one ate a morsel until we did. He liked to look up to make sure you weren’t looking up. If you tried to let your hand go limp, he’d stop and wait until the pressure was more to his, and God’s, liking. Later, we’d eat and if your elbows accidentally found your way onto the table, my dad’s hand would fly across the table and smack it off with extreme prejudice.
Back at the dorm, I took my meals wherever I could. Seating wasn’t assigned in the cafeteria. It was prison-style. When the bell rang for chow, you hurried downstairs and found an available seat. Out of the hundreds of times I ate in that horrible place, I doubt if I took more than five meals total—breakfast, lunch or dinner—at the same table as my older brother. He had disavowed me. I sat with the other losers and rejects of our Lord of the Flies ecosystem. It wasn’t fun, but after a year I came to prefer it to having to go home and eat with my family. My dad’s hugs were more hateful, and they hurt me more, than all the beatings and abuse to which he and his gi-normous ego had abandoned me.
I doubt if the Reverend Ebenezer Dadson, or any equally astute member of the Canadian clergy, could have conceived of a time when Christian churches were not everywhere across the land, many of them magnificent, all of them well-attended and respected. It simply could not even have occurred to Christians from the 1890s that even the most solid and famous churches would, in less than a century’s time, be sold and turned into condos, concert halls, nightclubs, torn down or left to rot.
It seems similarly fantastical to imagine today a near-future in which all of the country’s colleges, and all but the most sacred of our universities, sit empty, their buildings boarded up and in neglect. But, in the same way that cathedrals without congregations are difficult to maintain, lecture halls without students will be difficult to subsidize indefinitely. If the Catholic church in Quebec can get wiped out, there’s no reason to bet against the entirety of UBC looking like a Chinese ghost city in a few decades’ time. When people perceive that priests, professors or pastors are careerists looking for converts out of professional self-interest and not out of any real belief in the merits of what they’re teaching, there’s nothing to stop people from simply not coming anymore.
The collapse of academia will be a disaster for the country. Or, to clarify, it will be the conclusion to a disaster which seems already to have started. The Canadian post-secondary sector has already acquiesced, likely past the point of repair. The salaries of executives and administrators in this sector are as grotesque as the monstrous legacy buildings these millionaire former-teachers erect to prepare students to take their place in a society that has already failed them. People aren’t going to keep paying an institution that takes too much and gives too little in return indefinitely.
Continuing with yesterday’s themes of Peru and cool costumes, I direct your attention to the acting instructions issued to Harrison Ford, in preparation for his role as Indiana Jones, which recently sold at Sotheby’s auction, and are reported to read:
Rent Secret of the Incas, from 1954, wow, what a flick. Study Charlton Heston as Harry Steele, a noble yet wayward American adventurer grifting in an exotic foreign land. Imitate Heston.
See you on set,
P.S. Wardrobe has been copied. We are going to make you look like Harry’s spitting image, you know what I mean, Harry?—I mean, Harrison? haha Hope you like hats.”
Yma Sumac sings in the film, which is set in Peru, a lot of it shot at Machu Pichu.
If you click over to Strap Me In, you can find a newly posted short story about Mexican wrestling, Terry Fox, the expatriate experience, the Miraflores neighbourhood of Lima, spandex, shinny and chicken wings.
Jerry Lee Lewis is not the kind of guy you are likely to name when someone asks, “Which famous person, living or dead, would you most like to date your sister?” Jerry Lee was very bad—In the distinctive and predictable way of a white, Southern American singer from the first wave of rock ‘n’ roll: he was free in his use of overtly racist slurs; and, at the age of 22, Jerry Lee married his cousin, who was either 13 or 15 at the time. He is known for that far more than he for his musical contributions. Jerry Lee Lewis, nicknamed “The Killer”, offered few, non-piano related, innovations to the emerging genre.
Chuck Berry invented the sound of rock ‘n’ roll. The Chuck Berry sound and the rock ‘n’ roll sound are the same thing. Unlike Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee instigated neither cultural revolution, nor lust in the hearts of millions. Jerry Lee was rock ‘n’ roll’s first disgusting creep, that's his claim to fame. I hate Jerry Lee Lewis. But, if you are asking me to compile a list of my all-time favourite male singers--rock, soul, jazz vocal—motherfucking Jerry Lee always pops into my head, all sort of sneering with his slick, killer charm saying to me, “Come on now, son!—you and I both know I can sing the hell out of Al Martino.” And then it gets complicated and I scratch both of them and go: Bobby Womack, Jackie Wilson, Jon Hendricks, Eugene Record, Solomon Burke there, fine, are you happy?
And Jerry Lee just shakes his head and says to me, “Jon Hendricks? Name one song of his off the top of your head, then sing me the chorus.” Naturally, I refuse to dignify this sort of microaggression with a response, which Jerry Lee takes for proof that I can’t, and then I remember that Jerry Lee is also the first cousin of Jimmy Swaggart, the televangelist, who had a sex scandal of his own, and so I say to Jerry Lee, “Jerry Lee, is it true you married your cousin Jimmy, Jimmy Swaggart? Because that is what I heard and that is what people are saying and good golly but that must have been the scandal of the century back in the 1960s!” and Jerry Lee says to me, he says, “Say what now?” and I know that he has forgotten about the whole Jon Hendricks thing.
The Return of Rock (1965) was the last rock ‘n’ roll record Lewis made first time 'round. He switched to country after that, and stayed a country singer for a good long while. The cover of this album gets blamed a lot for the death of Lewis as rock ‘n’ roll singer. It’s not hard to see why. The four teenagers behind him are not dancing to the rocking beat. They are making fun of the weird pervert playing the piano and wishing he was The Beatles or in jail. I’m sorry Jerry Lee, but look at you! Good god, man, wipe that disgusting look off your face, why don’t you! Also, why is the entire head of one boy hidden? Why are the eyes of the first girl closed? I think The Return of Rock album cover is, pretty much, as close to a visualization of karma as we are ever likely to see in our lifetimes.
The stupid thing is, Jerry Lee Lewis maybe didn’t invent rock ‘n’ roll but he knows how to sing it as good as anyone else who ever did it. Especially as an interpreter of Chuck Berry songs Lewis kills it, and this record has three of them: “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Maybelline” and “Johnny B. Goode.” Chuck Berry himself eventually seems to have been won over by the sheer relentlessness of Lewis’s talent. If you can’t beat ‘em, tour together, I guess—which Berry and Lewis did, often. Lewis, who is alive and aged 83, knows his reputation. His penultimate album (to date), released in 2010, is titled Mean Old Man. Mean old man can sing. Lewis was hospitalized after suffering a stroke in March, 2019.
Floating above it all
I've crossed over
I’m never coming down
You can't catch me now
You can't catch me now
Absurd little world
Absurd little earth
From “Sunrise on Mars”, Trembling Blue Stars. Correspondence (EP, Elefant, 2010)
At the Whitecaps’ matinee against The Philadelphia Union this Saturday, April 27, we joined the protest walk-out organized by The Southsiders, and other supporter groups, at the 35th minute. It didn’t feel like a difficult decision to make. The allegations were serious, the organizational response lacked empathy, and a show of solidarity with the protest organizers cost nothing. In our section, we were among the few. The idea of protest, even at this most basic level, eludes most Canadians. Were those who stayed in their seats in favour of sexual abuse? I doubt it. No, obviously they were not. But they were way more in favour of keeping their heads down and minding their own business. Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing when the one thing you’ve been trained to do your whole life above all other things is to not the rock the boat, don’t rock the boat, baby. People looked at us with horror as we walked out,like they had suddenly been caught in the tear gas of democracy and they longed for someone strong, and armed with a truncheon, to swiftly restore order.
That same night, the 27th, marked the (delayed) start of Morrissey's Canadian tour. The former singer of The Smiths wasted no time dog-whistling to the alt-right, proclaiming, apropos of nothing, that he was a “Christian” and telling the audience he had “heard of Faith Goldy.” He then invoked Burnaby’s Marissa Chen--killed by a Syrian immigrant. Strange to do so in Toronto. The idea that Morrissey cares about a murdered, Chinese-Canadian from Vancouver outside of it supporting his oft-stated political stance--that immigration doesn’t work--seems implausible: mentioning it in a public concert offers no relief to Chen’s family, and serves only to agitate his audience against multiculturalism.
Much more topical in that city would have been a mention of Bruce McArthur. McArthur, a white guy, liked to kill recent gay immigrants of Middle-Eastern descent. They were easy for him to prey on: they had few friends and family to miss them. Took a minute for Toronto police to care about missing gay immigrants, I think that’s fair to say. Even if you’re one of the fortunate few to make it out of a war zone with your hide still intact, a place where you’ve been persecuted maybe for your sexuality, there’s still a shit load of tough sledding ahead; never mind that you’ve forever left behind everything you’ve ever known, and that the loneliness that waits for you is sublime, a whole bunch of polite people are going to treat you like you’re less than they are, and even when someone kills you, if he’s a friendly-looking white dude, the police are still going to take his side over yours. The “Murdering Gene” is not a trait of nationality or race. But when you mention Christianity, Faith Goldy and the murder of Marissa Chen all in a row that is precisely what you are asking your audience to believe.
Morrissey’s shows at the Sony Centre in Toronto were sold-out, euphoric affairs--despite a two-decades long record of the singer using his fame to promote intolerance and dangerously reductive ideas of race. I think that, at this point, even if Morrissey were to personally behead a gay Syrian in the name of cosmopolitan Christianity, he’d still sell out his shows in Toronto. As long as the beheading occurs to “Suedehead” the loyal are still going to swoon. The Whitecaps’ supporter groups were, and are, far more progressive than all the progressive alternative and indie people who know full well they shouldn’t still support Morrissey. But do. And will—forever. Because The Queen is Dead.
The Whitecaps’ lone goal of the game occurred during the protest: we saw it on tv, from inside the concourse where we watched with other fans who had walked out at 35. It was a header, off a set piece, scored by Doneil Henry, the team’s Canadian central defender. Morrissey played five songs from Viva Hate, his debut solo record. (Credit where credit is due, I guess: when Morrissey said Viva Hate he really meant it. Morrissey has been fanning the flames of racial hatred faithfully these past thirty years, as much as any other singer, musician or songwriter—not named Ted Nugent—you can name.) That album changed my life. I would have been thrilled to hear those songs played live, by him. There are definite advantages to keeping mum and not letting pangs of conscience impinge on your good times. In the eternal battle between doing what’s right and doing what feels good, it’s reassuring at least to know how many Canadians continue to place individual happiness, conformity and the pursuit of ephemeral pleasure above all else.
It's taken me only three months of Porte Saint Monty to establish a reasonably predictable cycle of iterations through a few themes. I offer the Willa Cather quote as both defense of this pattern and prediction that it will continue.
Cather calls the collection of essays from which the quote is pulled Not Under Forty to indicate that the themes she discusses will not appeal to people under the age of 40. Cather regards the generation after hers as fundamentally different, possessed of new biases and values. She writes that “the world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts,” with a tone of resignation very similar to how I regard, oh, 2007 or thereabouts. Change was no longer a continuation; it was a schism of worldview.
Possibly, regarding with queasy horror the generation under one’s own, is a universal manifestation of the human condition, triggered automatically by all who live to reach a certain age. Alternatively, Cather is simply saying that it’s difficult to say at 20 what the ghosts that haunt you at 40 are going to look like. Obsessions take time to form.
Taylor Kitsch, of Rutland, plays David Koresh, the guitar-playing, gun-toting messiah of the mullet and leader of the Branch Davidian Christian sect. Kitsch probably should have got nominated for a bunch of best actor awards, but when Harvey Weinstein is the guy who green-lighted your project, that is not going to happen.
Watching Waco, the 2018 Paramount TV mini-series, it’s difficult not to experience a massive sense of sadness and loss. The Siege of Waco, a 1993 stand-off between members of a Texas Christian sect, which called itself “Branch Davidians,” and various branches of American law enforcement did not end well. 76 Branch Davidians died, most of them women and children, many as a result of the fire which engulfed and destroyed the compound on the 51st day, after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) launched an assault, using military tanks to insert tear gas throughout the building. Mt. Carmel, the biblical name the Davidians had given their compound, caught fire and burned to the ground: of the people still inside, only nine came out.
The ATF was raiding the Branch Davidians because the Branch Davidians, they had heard, owned automatic weapons which were illegal. This was true. The Branch Davidians supported themselves with money they made trading and selling at gun shows. They owned about the same number and quantity of guns as most everyone else around them in those parts of Texas. They were meticulous with their paperwork. They had, however, unusually, forgotten to buy individual permits, which cost $25 each, which would allow them to buy the part/s necessary to modify semi-automatic rifles for automatic fire. With the permit, all those guns would be fully legal in the United States. Branch Davidians did not allow drinking or smoking or drugs on the compound—the only other two areas under the ATF’s purview. So, the ATF started an illegal, domestic military siege that killed nearly 100 American citizens, to recoup the equivalent of the cost of a couple parking tickets someone forgot to pay.
A country which kills its own citizens and then covers it up, Timothy McVeigh reasoned, has declared war on its own people. McVeigh, a veteran of the Gulf War, argued that the rules of engagement in all military conflicts are set by the aggressor; if killing innocent and law-abiding women and children was how the United States was going to play it, McVeigh reasoned that the government itself had pre-determined the sort of response it would receive. In a letter McVeigh wrote to the Buffalo News in 2001, he wrote that, “If there would not have been a Waco, I would have put down roots somewhere and not been so unsettled with the fact that my government … was a threat to me. Everything that Waco implies was on the forefront of my thoughts.” That same year. he told Fox News, “With Oklahoma City being a counterattack, I was only fighting by the rules of engagement that were introduced by the aggressor. Waco started this war. Hopefully Oklahoma would end it.”
Not so much, as it turns out. As “CrazyMan” Gore Vidal points out, Oklahoma City became just another excuse for the extreme militarization of American police forces, and a sharp curtailing of personal and civic freedom. McVeigh didn’t appeal his death sentence. He thought death preferable than life imprisonment. Nutbar Gore kept McVeigh company in his final hours, at McVeigh’s request. McVeigh’s last meal was mint ice cream with chocolate sauce. The final film McVeigh watched was the Coen brothers’ Fargo, on a small black and white TV. Whackjob Vidal reports that Fargo was not the right viewing choice for a man with only hours to live. "It's a great film,” Vidal said, “but bloody, a body is shredded and suchlike, and not quite what he wanted to see, poor fellow."
The woodchipper scene. Not as famous as I thought. I was talking about it with a fan of Fargo, the TV show, the other day and they didn’t know nothing about it. I don’t think most people today even remember Waco or McVeigh any better, and why should they? Catastrophic, mass-casualty events are so common they’re hard to keep track of, and they show no signs whatsoever of abating any time soon. “I don’t like it, but I guess things happen that way. Ba-doop-badoo. Ba-doop-badoo,” as Johnny Cash once said.
Gillette manages to wring out between $7,000 to $22,000 from each North American shaver who uses and buys plastic-handled multiple cartridge razors. The average lifetime shaving cost in Eastern Europe, where a steel-handled safety razor, which locks a single, replaceable, double-edged blade into place, is used is $400. North Americans believe that paying more for the new is a sign, not just of material wealth, but of moral virtue—only the best for me and my family.
It’s a 98% increase in cost. For a product that is both inferior, and which contain no recyclable parts. Gillette knows this. Gillette, invented the double-edged razor in 1903. It was—and is—a brilliant invention. Gillette continues to make and market most of the world’s safety razor blades. Each individual blade costs about ten cents, and you can get between two and five sharp shaves out of each. In the 1930s Gillette’s patent expired and a whole slew of competitors starting churning out cheaper razor blades. Gillette responded by buying all of those companies, shutting down all of those factories, and consolidating most of the rest of the world’s razor blade production into a single, very massive, plant in St. Petersburg, Russia. Gillette knows most of the rest of the world can only pay $400 a lifetime to shave. It still wants, and gets, most of that $400. Until they’re ready for the big step up—which is, of course, no such thing because...
There is no improvement, only more cost. The double-edged razor was the perfect invention. All subsequent patented multi-blade systems have been designed because Gillette figured that North Americans had more disposable income than they knew what to do with. Fixed cartridges cost between $3 and $5 per cartridge. Dragging five sharp blades simultaneously over your skin is a trauma for it. It’s an even bigger catastrophe for the planet. Razor cartridges cannot be recycled—unless you successfully disassemble each blade from the plastic yourself, which you are not advised to do. The old system, the metal does not get wasted; double edge razor blades are fully recyclable.
And, once you’ve made the switch over to fixed razor systems, Gillette takes you for a sucker. They never stop selling you on the next big thing. Whatever system you’re using today (Mach III, FusionPro Glide) is destined for obsolescence tomorrow. Gillette invented the strategic model of planned obsolescence to make sure that they are continually patenting new systems to replace old systems with expiring patents. Gillette figures if they whisper the words “best’ or “newest’ into the ears of any well-trained North American, you’ll know what to do.
The blades I’m currently using (pictured below) are non-Gillette made. There are still a few independent, safety razor blade manufacturers in existence. Shark blades are made in Egypt by Lord. Lord is the name the company chose for itself when it bought the plant back from Wilkinson Sword, amidst that company’s global restructuring in the late 1970s. Wilkinson Sword is long gone, but their former plant in Egypt is still churning out the sleekest, sharpest razor blades ever made and selling them to all those unfortunates in the world still too poor to be able to afford the worst.
Huey Lewis was playing harmonica and singing second lead vocals in a band named Clover, an American rock band signed to CCR’s Fantasy label. By the mid 1970s Clover had relocated to the UK, where they toured tirelessly as the support act on tours with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Graham Parker and Thin Lizzy, for its 1976 Johnny & The Fox tour. Clover’s lead singer was late for soundcheck one day and so Huey stepped in, sang lead for a few songs until he got there. One or two members of Thin Lizzy were out front and when they heard Huey they thought it was pretty clear who the real lead singer was. They told him he needed to start his own band.
Huey listened, left Clover and started his own band, which he called Huey Lewis & The News. Thin Lizzy took them out on the road again even though Huey was a total unknown. "We supported Thin Lizzy on their Live and Dangerous tour, and Phil Lynott took me under his wings and taught me how to run a band," Lewis later recalled.
Phil Lynott, "Let's do drugs."
Huey Lewis, "Alright, Phil-let's. Only, I want a new drug, one that won't make me sick. One that won't make me crash my car. Or make me feel feet, feet, feet thick. I want a new drug, one that won't hurt my head. One that won't make my mouth too dry. Or make my eyes too red."
Phil Lynott, "Let's do drugs."
In 1982, Huey repaid the favour. Thin Lizzy was done. Lynott’s solo career was stuttering. Still, Picture This, The News' second album, contains a cover of Lynott’s solo single from the album Solo in Soho (1980). It is an endearing gesture, even if Huey’s version draws attention to the obvious bizarreness at the heart of their friendship. Lynott was, perhaps, the greatest of all the drug fiends 1970s hard rock ever produced. Huey Lewis’s two greatest hits are “Hip to be Square” (1986) and “I Want a New Drug” (1984), which became an anti-drug anthem of sorts. Lynott and Lewis are polar extremes on the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll spectrum. Yet they enjoyed an intense two-person admiration society. They were buds.
Lewis’s cover, “Giving It All Up For Love,” exposes aesthetic incongruities as well. Lewis’s version is, like much of his oeuvre, high-energy, hard-driving, new wavish pub rock, alarmingly un-ironic yet somehow still vaguely fun like watching a corpulent infant stomp a flower bed to death. It’s an approach entirely unsuited to the original, “Tattoo,” which is a light and frothy concoction in which Lynott explains to the listener that:
It’s good information to have.
Now that Julian Assange is indisposed, probably forever, it falls to Julian Casablancas to fulfill the prophesy for, as it is written in The Book of Myra Breckenridge, by Vidal the Gore, some sort of radical named Julian will come to lead us out from the darkness, and we shall know him by his hair. Distinctive hair is not all they have in common.
Julian (Casablancas) shares many of the same cultural and political views as Julian (Assange). Casablancas reads Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges. Not only has Casablancas, the former lead singer for The Strokes, almost certainly also read Vidal’s Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, but he recently flew to Hamilton to interview Henry Giroux, the theorist, for Rolling Stone. In an interview with Vulture, Casablancas neatly summarizes the fatal harm caused by the unchecked proliferation of new communications technology.
Guilt by association knows no mortal boundaries. Just for being the guy who wrote the book Julian Assange clutched as he was getting dragged away, Gore Vidal has come in for the most shocking abuse. Terry Glavin, in Macleans, writes that,
"As he was pulled and more or less carried from the embassy, Assange was conspicuously clutching a book edited by Paul Jay, a sort of presenter with something called The Real News Network. TRNN is what you’d get if you wanted something that looked like a television news station aimed at high school students determined to give the impression that they’re more clued in to world events than their parents. The book, “Gore Vidal on the History of the National Security State,” consists in the main of interviews Jay conducted with Vidal in the once-famous novelist’s sad and deranged twilight years.”
The article is called "Deconstructing Julian Assange." Terry, you're playing pretty fast and loose with the concept of deconstruction. Deconstruction is a Derridean term. It as ridiculous to use it to describe your article, a hatchet job of conservative character smears, as it is to imagine that you have read Jacques Derrida.
Dick Cavett referred to Gore Vidal as “the best talker since Oscar Wilde”. In 2009—well into Vidal’s supposed sad derangement—the National Book Foundation awarded him the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. They bestowed the honour upon Vidal for being a "prominent social critic on politics, history, literature and culture.” The Los Angeles Times argues he has earned his right to be taken seriously—by all. “Love him or hate him, Vidal is one of the smartest, most provocative and productive writers in the country.” He was so right up until his death, in 2012 at the age of 86. He had no dotage. Gore Vidal did not slow down. His faculties did not ever begin to slip away. There is no part of Gore Vidal's life or career that merits the description of "deranged." Ok. Maybe Caligula, I give you Caligula. Caligula, the 1979 film about clearly deranged Roman emperor Caligula, for which Vidal wrote the screenplay, was the most shockingly hardcore thing to go mainstream ever, a record it no longer holds. Disagree with Vidal, by all means, but have an argument next time why dontcha. Glavin’s piece is the cheapest sort of hit job. So many ad hominens.
In Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace or How We Came To Be So Hated, (2002) Vidal writes, “Finally, the physical damage Osama and friends can do us—terrible as it has been thus far—is as nothing as to what he is doing to our liberties. Once alienated, an “unalienable right” is apt to be forever lost, in which case we are no longer even remotely the last best hope of earth but merely a seedy imperial state whose citizens are kept in line by SWAT teams and whose way of death, not life, is universally imitated.”
Yeah, because he was way off about all of that.
A policy of dechristianization was pursued most zealously in the early post-revolutionary days of the first French Republic. “Death is an eternal sleep.” All French cemeteries were ordered to display this motto at the entrance. A new religion, called “The Cult of Reason”, replaced Christianity. Only Reason could produce Truth and Liberty, and therefore Reason was really what the people needed to worship.
The apex of the nation-wide Festival of Reason was a ceremony at Notre Dame. All across France, churches had been converted into “Temples of Reason.” At Notre Dame this was accomplished by carving the inscription “To Philosophy” in stone over the front entrance. They lit a big candle on the altar to symbolize truth and then a whole bunch of young, Parisian women wearing togas danced in a circle around the flame. It was a scandal.
Even Robespierre thought the Cult of Reason was insane. To restore order, he outlawed the cult and replaced it with his own, much more normal sounding, cult, “The Cult of the Supreme Being.” Also, he be-headed all of the prominent Cult of Reason leaders. Never hurts.