Monday, May 30, 2005

Oh, But The Fire Went Wild

Cellphone buzz-dancing on the desk. I squint over at the alarm clock. Fat red numbers glowing hideously. 6:27. Blink. 6:27. Blink. Flip open the cell, see a brown-haired icon smiling at me. "Hello, Crystal," I say.

"My apartment!" she says, she's really upset. "You know, the one I'm moving into tomorrow?"


"It's burned down!"

It's morning, right? Early morning. I'm still tired, I just woke up. "What did you say?"

"Kelsi just phoned me. Her sister lives in the same complex. There was a fire. It's burned down!"

"You're kidding me!" I'm wide awake.

"I have the worst luck in the world," she wails.

"No, no," I reply. She has to move out of her current apartment by noon tomorrow.

"I do," she says, "Oh, I do."

Reading: Hydriotaphia, or, Urne-buriall + Sir Thomas Browne
"For Real" + Okkervil River

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Richardsons vs Clorox Girls

Friend of mine, James, is heading up The Richardsons as they open for the Clorox Girls down at The Shark Tank tonight. What? Again with The Shark Tank! Nevermind. There'll be a lot of other punk bait down there, too, bands like Panik Attak and The Knee Jerks. Read about them elsewhere, my googlers. I won't be down there, but you should go, because it's a dark Christmas-light lit basement, and there's a cheap foozball table (ask for the ball, please), and lots of punks and New Wavers crowding the couches between sets. The Richardsons are a classic punk band. There will be scissor-kicks; militant poses will be struck; circle-pit-fighting will be conducted in a not-very-disorderly atmosphere; and that goth chick in the corner will dance on the spot for a solid fifty minutes. If she can support, so can you. Check it out. Grab up one of the tasty posters, which are horrible and creepy and quite well lettered. And you know what? The Shark Tank might be closing. Because of thieves. The place needs a Jack-the-Giant-Killer giant to sleep in the back, so that would-be burglars should hear him muttering in his sleep and be scared away. "Fee fi fo fum." If anyone has a fold-out cot big enough to hold a large-bodied man with hands like pianos, or better yet, knows such a man, you could do worse than rent him out to The Shark Tank. So put on those black jeans, shrug into a corduroy blazer, struggle into that too-tight vintage t-shirt and high-step your way on down to Chinatown. It's going to be pop-punk 1979 on 102 and 97 Street tonight.

Reading: To Say Nothing Of The Dog + Connie Willis
Listening: "
Don't Take Your Life" + Clorox Girls

Friday, May 27, 2005

Oh, Pierre, Comb Your Hair

And then the National Post quotes Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew on Hamas's chances in the upcoming run-off in Palestine: "[Hamas]'ve done well in a few municipal elections". Which is not unexpected, surely. My question is, if the vote goes to the strongest man in the room, do you call that democracy or intimidation? Or, applying that concept to Canada, if the vote goes to the richest man in the room, do you call that democracy or sponsorship scandal/Adscam/the Liberals? No, no, that's just an aside.

Bear in mind, Hamas is on both the Canadian and American lists (and British, French, Italian, Spanish, etcetera, etcetera) of groups banned for terrorist activities. In other words, the government of Canada does not recognize the institution calling itself Hamas. They're persona non grata, right? Give them the old silent treatment. Pierre's response?

We'll see the kind of role that develops. The [Hamas'] political arm has been developing for some time. We'll see where it leads us.

Oh, Pierre, comb your hair. Is it possible that Hamas is establishing a political arm to carry out its platform by means other than machine-guns, mines, child suicide-bombers, grenade-launchers, ambushes, mortars, plastic explosives and good old dynamite? Yes, it's possible. They're not leopards, after all. But who among us of decent sense really expects a political party to deviate from its founding charter? Especially a party that claims Mohammed as an exemplar founding member? If the Prophet is for Hamas, why should the party change? And surely, violence is expected to arrive after the political machinery has broken down, not before? Hamas sure switched the rules around on that. But what does the minister believe the newly-politicized Hamas is trying to accomplish? A chicken in every pot, or a grenade? When the Irish terrorists refused to give up their weapons and murdering ways, its political wing, Sinn Fein, was revealed to be little more than a front for milking other nations' bureaucracies. Few fools will deal with the Sinn Fein now. Pierre, don't sit down. Remember what you learned about good and evil in the schoolyard. You're in a place where you need to distinguish between the two opposites. Show us you can.

Reading: The Bad Beginning + Lemony Snicket
Inches + Les Savy Fav

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Dan Brown vs Apollyon

One of the worst demons to be found regularly tempting the writing kind is the heavy-fisted apollyon known as The Adverb. He's a tempter, alright, but worse, he's a bully. The beast will NOT stay at home, and, unfortunately, he packs a very large punch. Some folk, however, seem to welcome his blows. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Nora Roberts, and most famously, Victor Appleton II are three of his most willing victims.

Now, there is bad writing, sure, but, then there's BAD WRITING. But, you say, beauty is in the eye, etcetera. And we all agree on that. I think (and Robert Louis Stevenson thought so, too) that Sir Thomas Browne is as high as the eye on the pyramid. I love Sir Thomas' baroque word usage, I love his O altitudo of concept and phrasing. But there are others who deride and despise him. I don't talk to those people, of course. They're loathly philistines. But, just as bad, there are even some who have openly dismissed, as obscure or ornate and pedantic, novels like Hadrian the VII and so, of course, have missed out on wonderfully picturesque sentences like:

1. "She openly had been accumulating combustability these five years"

2. "the dark man with the cruel face of a Redemptorist"

3. "he loathed the cad's Herkomeresque-cum-Cameraesque technique"

4. "anxious to sneer at unhaloed poverty"

I don't know what a Redemptorist does, but I don't want him doing it to me. And the technique of the cad! Why, surely only a cad would employ such an annoyingly-described technique? The obscurity of the term, I think, contributes to the image of the character so termed. Yes, a lot of Hadrian the VII is awkwardly phrased, but one would be hard put to say this or that sentence is actually bad. "Unhaloed poverty", for instance, strikes me, with the concentrated wealth of its connotations, as both descriptively concrete and satisfyingly ambiguous. But then, examine those above sentences again (and they're a fair sample of the novel in question): neither Sir Thomas Browne nor the author of Hadrian the VII ever gave much time to The Adverb.

One can still be a good story-teller and yet a bad writer. This is obvious. David Lindsay, for instance, throughout his (shall we say metaphysical?) novels, is consistently a nearly laughably bad writer. Especially in A Voyage To Arcturus. But the plot of that book and the ideas it insistently introduces are fantastic, even powerful, sure-fire hooks following sure-fire hooks, and the reader is drawn to the end of the story. Edgar Rice Burroughs is another terrible writer, but where is a more workman-like story-teller? His books have been selling better than Bre-X fraud for years now, not to mention all the movies and merchandising accompanying his stories. So it all comes down to personal taste, doesn't it? Still, there's no excuse for bad writing.

The worst example of such writing in these perilous times has got to be Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. You know the book I'm talking about, I don't even have to link it. Has there ever been a book with a more ridiculous plot? A book, that is, outside of the Boy's Own Adventure genre? But let's leave the plot behind, shall we? I mean, it's not really a plot in the first place, is it? More like a conspiracy theory, and like all conspiracy theories, completely unoriginal—which is fine, unless you're purporting to tell the truth, or a version of it, which Dan Brown does give his readers cause to believe he is doing. So it comes as no surprise that one can find the same plot in books like Holy Grail Across the Atlantic, or, Holy Blood, Holy Grail. What one will look for very hard before finding in those books, however, is the clumsy writing which seeps out of every paragraph of Dan Brown's most famous book. One example only, that's all I'll provide, five little words on the very first page of Dan Brown's novel.

a thundering iron gate fell

Do I even have to say any more? Why is this gate thundering? Has it heard about the soft-lumber situation in British Columbia? Did it finally figure out how to defeat the "Open Sesame" of that little Arabian brat? A gate can be permitted to groan, I suppose, but that's a stock cliché, and the reader will groan, too. But thundering? And it was thundering as it fell! This door has more personality and character arc than the Genuine People Personality doors on Douglas Adams' Zaphod Beeblebrox's The Heart of Gold. Those doors were a joke, of course. But so is this one. Dan Brown no longer exists, I think. Somewhere, a giant scaly Adverb is fingering clean pages of prose, little adverbs oozing from his soft-clawed fingers and leaving silvery tracks across the now-ruined text. Look! He is raising his eyes! We are all in mortal peril.

Reading: Sarah Binks + Paul Hiebert
Van Lear Rose + Loretta Lynn

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Mr. Vonnegut, With Alligator

The soft hair was white and tattered, cropped close to the fragile skull. He was unshaven. His eyes were closed, or twitching with memory. He was mostly memories, now, at the end of what had been a life: floating in distilled phrases and fragmentary recollections, half of them dreams and remembering of dreams. When he began to relate them in his desperate way the nurse would always say, "Yes, dear," (for the nurse always humoured her patients) and would tell Zenobia in the kitchen that the old man was wandering again. "Remember," she would say, "ease off on the medication when the nephew visits next week." And the old man would recover his mind for a couple of days and let go of the terrible things he had seen. But Zenobia always renewed the medicines after the kind nephew left and restored the old man's reveries to him.

On a pale afternoon, muttering restlessly in his bed, he remembered again the day he fled from the town of Chofas Griffon and stumbled across Kurt Vonnegut's mansion on a soft hill in the Florida marshlands. Not Kurt Vonnegut the famous up-and-coming author, but an unknown man of the same name who spent his days writing the history of his people since they rested on the banks of the Nile. For a while he had not even been sure Vonnegut would let him onto those enormous verandahs, much less offer him a cold beer. The old man (he was a very young man then, tall and thin and dark-skinned) actually thought Vonnegut might turn him away. The historian had not been pleased to see him come stumbling up from the stagnant riverside, the thick red mud coating the legs of his heavy twills, the dark hair streaked thickly backwards. The would-be author had rushed down the white steps toward him with a furious face and barked something he couldn't make out, waving his arms angrily. A dark hawk had stooped at the young man as he blearily watched Vonnegut come rushing towards him, swooped and fell from a height with violence. The compact triangular head angled forward, the broad-based beak with the wicked curve straightened, and the bird gashed him savagely, speeding like something out of hell past his head. He had caught the fast flash falling toward him from the corners of his eyes and had ducked reflexively. This probably saved his life. The little hawk pulled out of the dive four feet from the mud and streaked away, blurring out of sight. It had all happened in about five seconds, maximum, and he stood there, swaying, the blood swimming over his face like a live creature and soaking into his shirt-collar and down over his chest. Dazed, he felt his chest for a wound, a cut, whatever had let so much blood out, or sent so much blood into his beautiful white shirt. He could remember the exact price he had paid for it, fourteen dollars off the shelf, a beautiful shirt, and felt regret that it would never be beautiful again. His right knee, the one that felt as light as a feather, suddenly gave way, and he sloped awkwardly to soft earth, burying his face in the stiff grass and mud. As the sky had spun past him he had seen Vonnegut's face suddenly concerned at him, but it was silly, because Vonnegut's face had been upside down. Don't worry, Vonnegut, he said to himself as he lay in the mud, there is no need to be concerned for me. I am okay but you are upside down. And then he saw a beautiful lady bending over him, concern in her dark eyes. And, then, black heat.

There was a coolness, and ferns, and transparent green light beyond the white things, and a someone who hummed inaudibly, just the lowest murmur deep in the throat, who smoothed the heat off his forehead with a red and white chequered cloth. The young man saw wide swaths of mosquito netting looped high above him, twined over delicate dark slats, and he followed the slats down past the far bright window to his body lying on top of a narrow, sheet-covered mattress, and then the beautiful woman who sat on the edge of the cot. She was very beautiful. She was the first beautiful lady he had ever seen. When he was an old man, and had seen many wonderful women, beautiful and bewitching, he still remembered waking up to seeing her, and he thought her the most gorgeous woman he had ever known. Beautiful was just a word when he applied it to other women: for him, the definition of beautiful would always be her. She was dark, but not so dark that she was not light skinned. Like the skin of an apple can be dark and light, like the leaves of a plant can be shadowy and bright, that was her skin. And soft, he remembered that well. Her skin looked soft. She had brown eyes, bright, that burned when she was angry, and reminded a man of everything he could be. And she was slender. Like birds and cats are slender, because that shape best becomes them, like trees are slender, that they bend in storms, slender like the hieroglyphs of the Egyptians in the glossy yellow-bordered magazines at the barber. Of course he fell in love with her on the spot. He tried to kiss her, or just reach out to those touchable lips, but his body would not move, and he laid there, looking at her and the way her hair shimmered until she turned to him again, the cloth cool in a small hand, and she noticed his eyes were open.

"Good afternoon, sir," she said and smiled lightly. He watched her put the cloth down and leave the room, deliberate, not unaware that he was watching her.

Vonnegut entered a few minutes later and came over to the bed.

"As soon as you get well—" he had paused.

The young man gazed up at him, immobile and impassive.

"Soon as you're well, I want you out of here. You understand? Comprende?"

The young man looked up at the author, expressionless.

"Meanwhile," the man scowled, "you're my guest. Supper we never have, and breakfast is around eight. Lunch is two o'clockish, maybe three at the latest. There's always a bottle of bourbon hanging around, and I send Lembett into town once a month for beer. You touch the rye, you pack your bags. So to speak. There's not much to do around here, and if you don't find us much to your taste, nobody's pressuring you to lay up in this house till you get healed or whatever. Lembett will get the flatbottom fired up for you anytime you want. Are you going to rest up here or is there somewhere in town you would rather be?"

The young man closed his eyes. "What town?" he croaked.

"I don't know. It's the town. Probably doesn't have a name. If it's any help, you're about forty miles north of Chofas Griffon. Around a day's travel by flatbottom through the blackswamps and marsh."

"Chofas Griffon." The young man opened his eyes. "I don't know a soul in Chofas Griffon."

The man drooped a little. "Then you'll have to stay here." He stood up. "I can't promise to be a good host, but we'll get you back to full strength pretty quick." He turned and walked out the door. A minute later he was back. "By the way, my name's Vonnegut."

The next morning Lembett killed the gator.

Sometime during the night, the low-slung lizard had crawled up the soft hill, laboured up the white stone steps and entered the house. Dragging ten feet of weighty, swinging tail behind, it eased through the wide halls on its cushioned flat feet, scraping its heavy belly across the tile. Where the hallway split into a T, it chose the left branch. When the hallway ended in two doors, one on the right and the young man's on the left, it chose left again. The young man awoke early that morning and turned his head, looking straight into the glimmering yellow eyes of the monster, lamps in the dark grey skin. The thing gaped at him, great splayed teeth nesting in its mouth, the colourless tongue that lined the bottom of that cavernous hold rippling and twitching.

A great shocking roar filled his mind, and he thought his last day was come. The alligator twisted its giant head and collapsed, writhing fitfully on the floor. Boom! And it lay still. He looked up to see a man standing in his doorway, body holding back the torn screen door. A stubby rifle was held casually in his left hand. A big man with a fine head and somber brown eyes.

"My name's Lembett," said the negro. "I'll get this door fixed."

The young man collapsed back onto the bed. He had lost a lot of blood, and the grueling trek of the last two weeks had been hard on him. Much too hard. When he held his hand to the sun he could see the larger veins picked out in the light, curling around transparent muscles. It had been two weeks of steady advancement, of never letting his fear get the better of him, never letting panic set in. There had been the hounds at the beginning, big red dogs with lanky muscles and crystal noses, baying for hours until his ears were ringing; but he had shaken them by nightfall. In a way it been easier to travel by night, as the bright moon outlined every twig, every blade of grass, every bubble in the mud. Only the water was black in that silver light, smooth and impenetrable, and flowing freely between the larger trees. It had been the water that got him in the end. On his third night traveling generally south he had stepped into an outspread pool, supposing it to be as shallow as the others. It took him so much by surprise that the black waters had closed right over his head before he could act. He kicked frantically and dug forward with his arms, cresting the surface with a loud rush, spraying silver wash. Somewhere behind him a gator gave a crumpled grunt and he heard a large body slip into the water. Spurring forward hard, he crossed the pool and tried to get out, but the shore was bit of a ledge and the large tufts of grass simply pulled away from the bank. He raised himself up in the water and flung the upper half of his body onto the sloping bank, bending at the waste and digging into the soft sides where the roots of the trees slid out of the earth into the pool. Pulling his legs up he had twisted his right knee and fallen, gulping air. It had been a bad pull; his knee felt like smudged fire. But he had gotten up, he had limped forward. If it had not been for the lack of food he would have been okay. He was a strong man in his fashion, given to endurance. But three eggs and a snake over a week wasn't enough for any man and had made a weakling out of him. The dreams had begun then, the dreams which took to themselves the strange essences of reality, dreams of the black swamps around him, visions of alligators and ravenous ladies. Seeing that white mansion high across the river, molded into that lush green hill like a crown, that had saved him. He was a dead man else. And nearly then, too.

Watery sunlight filtered through the broadleafed plants. It was morning, early. Vonnegut was in the young man's room again, crying blindly. His short grey hair was rough and uncombed, matted on the left side of his head. The yellow tears filled up his face. His eyes were almost shut and his mouth was twisted and grey. "Not for you," he was choking, "Not for you, not like this. Not for a soft worthless swamp rat. Oh God—she was so kind, she was so good, and who are you, man? I mean, who are you? Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. You aren't worth the rotting hide off of a water snake." Vonnegut was holding an almost empty cut-glass bottle of rye.

The young man gazed blearily at Vonnegut. "Sir?"

"Oh God, she was so beautiful."

Someone coughed. Vonnegut looked up wildly, his eyes opening like lenses. "Lembett!" he rasped. "Murderer. Come here."

"Vonnegut, Vonnegut," said the large negro, almost amiably, "Who has the dominion? Who has the authority?"

"I am not inferior to you," muttered Vonnegut, hunching his back, "You murdering, cowardly black skinned, arrogant—" he groped for the word, "dictator! No, no, tyrant, despot, intimidator."

The negro chuckled. "Black skinned?" he said, clearly amused, "Who's talking about skin? Remember who you are. Behave yourself. Or you will end up like the female."

Vonnegut choked and stood up, his spine stiff and arched. "What?" he hissed thickly. The bottle of rye crashed unheeded on the floor. The thin amber liquid spread on and on. The young man watched the growing pool, fascinated. It spread between Vonnegut and Lembett like a heady lake. "You forget just what I am," sputtered Vonnegut finally, his jaw pulsing, his old yellow eyes bright and bulging. Dark veins in his head and paler neck grew thick and turgid. "I am of The Race!" he shouted, "My fathers ate yours daily. You were sacrificed to us and worshipped us as gods! I remember who I am, Lembett, you soft-bellied land animal!" His eyes tightened and he charged the negro, running stiffly across the wide planked floor.

The young man leaned forward, half out of his mind with fever and fear. "You are dead," he heard Lembett whisper softly, sadly. The big man lifted the shotgun and casually shot Vonnegut in the chest. The old man kept on coming. Lembett emptied the other barrel into him, a large room-filling roar. Vonnegut grunted and went down, his slack body sliding along the puddle of bourbon. Dark blood, almost black, trickled from the corners of his mouth. His eyes twitched back in his head. The young man saw Vonnegut's eyes twitch back. They met his. "River rat," mouthed the old historian, his lips curling up. Snaggled yellow teeth appeared briefly and he closed his eyes. The young man heard a double click and looked up to see Lembett closing his shotgun. The large man held the gun in one hand and sighted down the barrel at the motionless body of the historian. Calmly, deliberately, he shot it through the head.

The young man began to shiver. Lembett heard him and looked up. "This is none of your business," he said, his voice deep and rich. The young man nodded and couldn't stop. His head just kept on shaking. "Every beast must be ruled, especially the beasts that will not be ruled," the negro went on. "Otherwise all men will be overcome, and we ourselves become beasts, gluttonous, fecund, mindless rovers, without solitary will." Lembett lowered his rifle. "You can leave whenever you want," said the negro, "but now would be a good time."

"Are you going to kill me?"

"Not if you keep your mouth shut," said the large man. He prodded the misshapen corpse. "Besides, you're not an alligator. Not yet. Go, and sin no more."

The young man looked at the corpse, at first uncomprehending, and then shocked and uncomprehending. Across the rye-soaked floor lay the long grey heap of an alligator, dark dried blood crusting its snaggle-toothed mouth, a bloody hole blown through its back, a hole in its head.

"This one and his mate," said Lembett, "were supposed to use this place for a nest. For their children. They came to me a year ago as people, but they could not hide their animal nature from me forever. And as man was given authority over all creatures, so they were under my command. But they would not stay. Nor can you, until you determine your nature. You should leave now."

The young man fled, afraid he would turn into an alligator. The fever stayed with him all his life.

"Zenobia," said the nurse, "we must lower the morphine this week. His nephew is coming again."

Reading: Starlight And Storm + Gaston Rébuffat
Listening: "
Thoughts On Hold" + Eyes Full Of Stars

Monday, May 23, 2005

Cadence Weapon Sells Out Strong

But one thing I've noticed is how often the rest of the poster outshines the big zig-zag capitals scare-heading at the top. Which, for last night, was 7and7is. There was nothing wrong with the band—not the pink-polo-shirted eyepatch-wearer playing guitar, not the pork-pie hatted lead singer, nothing, nothing! Unless, that is, you count not being able to hear the lyrics above the unharmonius crash of sound. I know the man was singing because I could see his lips moving, his body jerking sideways with the force of his words. I know there were guitars up there—there was even a bass! And drums! But it was all hazy and foggy, I found my eyes glazing over, I looked for the soundman to ease my pain, but he was nowhere to be found, he was buried in the ground. And here's where Holmes steeples his fingers and tells Watson what the first clue was. Fold it, son.

But Cadence Weapon was great. He was solid, he locked it, he mocked everybody in the ring, himself more than anyone. He made friends with the drumloop and wouldn't stop talking to the crowd. "Here's where we do the generic hip-hop thing. Every time I say 'black hand', you move your arms like this." It was better than rock, scissors, paper. At one point he forgot a few lines, but straight out flagged it and freestyled the rap back hard. He was clever and condescending, but he brought the audience around to his end of the joke. Yeah, that's right, he had us pegged like Lite-brite. The man closed with a shot from his new weapon, a side-project-y thing called Silent Partners. The lead singer of 7and7is keened sadly into the microphone and did a little dance. The drum-machine lifted heavy boxes in the back. Cadence rolled out the sad/funny chorus, "I don't know WHAT to think, I don't know WHAT to think/I DON'T know what to think because the bar is out of drinks". If Cadence Weapon starts spreading his new sound around, people are going to forget Rollie Pemberton can rap. Instead, they'll all be talking about the incredible euro/disco/punk/hop sliding like furry lightning out of Edmonton.

But the other bands were solid, too. The opener, Illfit Outfit, have been been practicing for a few years, it seems, and are ready to lay down some sweet sounds. Bit rough, but the words are good, and the fun they had made up for anything anyone could complain of. The shaved pastrami in the middle, Eyes Full Of Stars, were also full of lots of guitars, and some straight-up plain-jane drums, and a young girl's voice canoodling with authority through the mix, a bit breathless sometimes, but always coming back, and keeping the audience coming back, too. Their newer stuff was better than the older stuff they played, for sure, but they say the same of Weezer, too, right? Yeah, I bandwagon with everybody else on that.

Reading: look below, you fans of the papal see.
Cadence Weapon Is The Black Hand + Cadence Weapon

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Shark Tank (Rough Cut)

Which I'm pleased to say, that tonight I'm swimming down to The Shark Tank on the dark end of 102 Ave, where the biggest fish in the water (that's a sly bait for the PJ Harvey fans) will be 7and7is. Which is not to say, so what? but what's really rolling down is Cadence Weapon. Which previous to the black-handed Weapon will be some female-fronted emo (I don't really know if they're emo, I just liked the sound of it) called Eyes Full of Stars, and opening, I've heard, some Birtle-less members of the Mark Birtles Project. Which is everybody, I believe, from the top down. Which, strike me David Brent for fake-friending all these names, I've got to come clean and say that 7and7is are just the odd mp3 rattling off my local shelf, and I'm prejudiced against the MBP just for the neverending coverage they get in the worst newspaper in the world. Which everybody knows is The Gateway down at the U of A, so bad I won't even link to it. Which I forgive that despicable rag for the good students working there, but despise for the rotten reactionary liberals who define plain low-down unreasoning ignorance in its flimsy pages. Which is a bit of a sidestep from 102 Ave, but I'm back on track, so stick with me, son, and put away your guns. Which it's going to be so good tonight, it's going to be better than girls, sir, it's gonna be origami! Fold it!

Which is a PS, nothing less, for Monday night, no, Tuesday night, nope, no, it's Wednesday, when I'll be posting another little story. Which'll be nothing fancy—spare prose and plain is what you get. Hey, it's what you get!

Reading: Hadrian the VII + Fr. Rolfe (Frederick Baron Corvo)
Monsoon Wedding soundtrack + everybody I never knew

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Another D—d, Thick Square Book!

Well, the thing is, I own a lot of books. Not, mind you, as many as Queen Elizabeth, dash it—but then, unlike her, I don't get a Christmas box of popular lit every year. Me, I have to erasmus my books from the miserable stacks piled in the hot sunlight in front of the Wee Book Inn on Whyte Ave or Jasper Ave, or, worse, squeeze another couple of slim Henning Mankells or a bloody Sabatini out of that flimsy club card Chapters passes around. Ten percent off is really only five percent once you remember the tax, folks. And, really, don't you think that Chapters should offer their bloody Sabatinis at some sort of discount before 7pm?

But what's it all about, you ask yourselves (I ask myself)? Because there is no end in sight, is there? In the early-morning dream-world between sleep and due preparation for work, I have promised myself that Ecclesiastes 12:12 should be the motto of my privately-owned publishing house. Either that, or something completely break-rock different. Whatever. There are too many good books. It once happened that I approached books shyly, wondering if the prose between the attractively decorated covers would be worth the space in the forest. But the literature I read these days, the worthy faces of these new authors. Everyone is fleshing out a masterpiece in prose! Meanwhile, Dickens moulders on the shelves of midwestern universities, Melville is regarded merely as a white elephant, and folks would rather down shandies than Sterne. And who can blame them? The novels out of Canada and India, the comforting fiction from England, fresh permutations of prose from America—surely these are worth our long and studied attention! Zoe Heller and Ian McEwan, Arundhati Roy and Alistair MacLeod, to name but one single worthy from each of those countries, nevermind the clouds of excellent authors around them, nevermind the rest of the English-speaking, English-writing world, have produced densely bright fiction. But these, also, will become fodder for university students and scholars of fictions, these also will become dust on a shelf. And where are the snows of yester-year? Timor mortis, conturbat me, etcetera, etcetera. All we have left, finally, are cliches and symbols. Not Dickens, but a boy asking for more porridge; not Melville, but a white whale and maybe shipwreck; not Conan Doyle, but a lean mind and a slender pipe. Is this all that books give us? No, we need more—we need more books to give us more symbols, types, expressions, measurements, oh always more.

For we need new books like we need new music. We need new words like we need new hearts. There is—I will not say salvation, hardly that, but—a certain grace, a certain look in the eyes, which only a steady stream of new and pure truth can bring. Not that we are Browning's demirep, thinking to save our souls in new books and attracted, as it were, by the brightness, the shiny fresh uncontaminated unworldly newness of the thing. Instead, we are looking to be travellers encountering large men and small, foolish things and wise, each new encounter a new view on the world, a further mapping of the personal globe, a little less "Here there be tygers" and a little more "E pluribus unum". Many books means much clarity. New books mean not new truth, but fresh truth for a fresh time. Therefore, we need many books. And, therefore, we need new books. So, stand up, Trollope, Carlyle, Richardson, all you classics! Show your palms, Carol Shields, Jonathan Franzen, Rohinton Mistry! We need more and we need it new.

Reading: The Chessmen of Mars + Edgar Rice Burroughs
Listening: You Are The Quarry + Morrissey

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Wolves & Tigers & Rams! Oh My!

Clear blue sky, cold snow crisp under hoof. The mountains are endless. Over the hollow KROCK! of two rams clashing curly horns together, the bearded man says to the little boy:

"Look, Lil Romeo, can you see the tree?"

"I can't see anything," the little boy replies.

"You can't? Alright, wait. You see that cliff right there? Look over by that tree."

"No, Dad, I don't see anything."

"Well, look again, harder! Do you see what's under the tree?"


"There! See? Do you see the tree? Can you see what's under it?"


"What is it?"


The smaller ram retires, defeated. The larger ram celebrates by shaking its head. The lesser male will not find his mate this season. A long spring of barren hillsides will be his only prize—such is Nature's iron law.

"No, it's not tigers, you little—useless! It's a band. We Are Wolves. See the wee lad on the organotronic bass, so mod! Check out those drums, that synth! Like their lowland brothers, Les Georges Leningrad, these wild no-wave Québécois are just too shy to venture very far from the woods without their drum-machines. Listen to the harsh vocals. Look how they wrap their claws around the microphone as if it was a tasty steak, how the lyrics nearly stick in their crooked jaws. This is good music, son. It's harsh strong stuff, but that's how it is in the wild, sometimes."

"Can we go home now, Dad?"

"Quiet, Lil Romeo."

Reading: Within An Inch Of His Life + Émile Gaboriau
Listening: "L.L. Romeo" + We Are Wolves

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Doctor! Doctor!

Fu Manchu's Bride, by Sax Rohmer. PF Collier & Son, 1933, The Orient Edition.

Dear diary: today this reader and I went down to the bay of Ste Claire de la Roche and saw the worm-man and encountered the Life Principle, which is male in orchids, but female in coal! There the words of Fu Manchu almost destroyed the world, but other words, timely phrases, saved us all. Now the reader and I are friends for life!

Fu Manchu's Bride (other editions are more pleasingly titled The Bride of Fu Manchu) is the sixth in a series by Sax Rohmer. This particular novel brings the exclamatory Alan Sterling to the caves and compound of the ruthless Doctor Fu Manchu. The Doctor has evil designs—of course!—upon the world and seeks to conquer nations by methods that would probably seem far-fetched to ordinary warmongers like Napoleon or Attila the Hun. The evil mandarin's power is his personality, diffused through resistless opiates and even more resistless words:

Some of the secret of this strange man's power lay in the fact that he never questioned his own authority, or the obedience of those upon whom he laid his orders. (130)

Who could prevail against a man like this? Moreover, to carry out his evil plans, Fu Manchu possesses terrible weapons to warp a man's heart, including fearful insects and monsters—"The head was hairless, and the entire face, trunk, and limbs glistened moistly like the skin of an earthworm" (132)—along with his secret organization, the Si-Fan, and the deadliest army the world has ever known: "An army of flies—carrying the germ of a new plague; a plague for which medical science knows no remedy!" (199). The cunning mandarin has acquired these weapons by forcing the many brilliant scientists he keeps imprisoned in his compound at Ste Claire de la Roche to produce destructive hybrids of malformed life.

Into this world stumbles Alan Sterling, looking to even a score with Fu Manchu for killing his friend, Doctor Petrie, the only man to have formulated a cure against the plague-army. Petrie's last words to Sterling were a warning, a groaning hollow voice crying against the machinations of Doctor Fu Manchu. Petrie's words saved Alan Stirling's life. Motivated also by by his protective love for Fu Manchu's innocent tool, the violet-eyed Fleurette, Sterling teams up with habitual defender-of-the-empire Sir Denis Nayland Smith to keep vigil against the evil superhuman. Sterling, however, is abducted by Fu Manchu and taken back to the doctor's compound, where he undergoes The Blessing Of The Celestial Vision. But The Vision in the syringe does not work. The drug does not enter Sterling's system. Fu Manchu's daughter, disagreeing with her father's plans, has replaced The Vision with a placebo. But no one can deceive Fu Manchu, no one can lie to the doctor (229), for when Doctor Fu Manchu speaks:

All that was me, all that I regarded as my personality, fought against [Fu Manchu's] command—for a command it was. Yet—the plain fact must be recorded: I stood up. (231)

Sterling, Fleurette and Fu Manchu's daughter are found out. Sterling is removed to a small subterranean apartment, and the caves and tunnels of the compound are suffused with monstrous insects. Sterling escapes, however, discovering that his uniform can isolate him from the deadly horde. Rejoined by Nayland Smith, Sterling hunts down Fu Manchu and rescues the previously-believed-dead Doctor Petrie in the process. Fu Manchu, however, escapes, because he always escapes, this man with a bloody mountain of crime behind him. Temporarily imprisoned in Nice, the large-skulled superman imperiously declares, "You have checked me. But you cannot hold back the cloudburst nor stifle the volcano" (313). Fu Manchu is replaced by a decoy, and disappears into the mysteries of the Si-Fan. "[Fu Manchu] was rather obscure," says Sterling (314), and is rebuked by Nayland Smith for his lack of understanding. Nayland Smith points out that Fu Manchu is never obscure, that the oriental genius always declares his intentions firmly and truthfully. Most men fail to believe the evil Doctor because they cannot see the incredible world around themselves. Fu Manchu, on the other hand, believes that fable is at least as true as fact (144). It is from the unseen world of the incredible that the Doctor draws his power and inspiration and he always returns to this fabulous universe, leaving behind only the promise of more terror to come.

We in the West follow our well trodden paths; no one of us sees more than the others see. But, under the street along which we are walking, at the back of a house which we have passed a hundred times, beyond some beach on which we sun ourselves, lies something else—something unsuspected. (305)

Sterling cannot see, nor Sir Denis Nayland Smith himself see, very far ahead. The most these men can do is watch, listen, spot the signs, hear the words, the terrible guttural voice of Fu Manchu promising doom to seven continents. That wicked personality will soon be abroad the age again, green eyes and hypnotizing voice encouraging world-wide submission. Whose warning words will wake the next Sterling, the next Nayland Smith, to the complicated plans of Fu Manchu?

Reading: The Demolished Man + Alfred Bester

Listening: History EP + controller.controller

Sunday, May 15, 2005

We Have Our Own

Kim pointed him out to me. In the corner, a little boy surrounded with bright cuttings. The boy was crying.

He hadn't known what to do with those scissors at first, his mother told us. She had to show him how to open and close the stubby blades. The ill-cut plastic parts were difficult to move.

In the beginning, she herself had only admired them from afar. Not to touch them, but to caress them with her round blue eyes—that was allowed. They were her mother's brass-handled pinking shears, which cut excellent zig-zags through flowers and balloons and button-eyed bears and little and big stripes and dark and light, which fashioned crisp drapes and shirts and denim skirts with equally sure chops of the heavy-bladed steel.

And then, one day, her mother brought her a pair of plastic scissors. One red handle and blade, one white blade and handle, and a dull plastic nub to pin the two pieces together. The blades were lined with hen-teeth and bent around everything they were put to, paper included.

Her next pair of scissors were made of an unidentifiable metal, dull and steely with plastic pink handles and blades like skates. She used them to stab her best friend in the shoulder. There was no blood. The scissors were very blunt, but they could cut soft paper and she snipped surreal collages out of many sheets of pink or yellow or brown or blue construction paper. She avoided the red sheets.

When she was twelve years old, her mother began teaching her to sew. The girl dropped the heavy shears several times, denting the linoleum, but her mother remained patient and the girl learned to hold the brassy scissors with her mother's iron-wristed grip.

Four years later, and many papery patterns, she began cutting elaborate nightgowns out of cheap waxy silk. The cloth remnants looked like pierced flowers. She was going with a particular boy back then. He had brown hair and many friends and talked carelessly. She cut herself on the shears one evening and found that her blood was red, and the line was blue. Her mother never said very much, but they both cried hard after the stillbirth.

She fell very much in love later on, and married a man several years older. They had a son. When he was five, his eyes like black pearls, she gave him a pair of plastic coral-coloured scissors. Red and white. She showed him how to open and close the handles to open and close the blades. He spent all day mangling soft construction paper, pasting together a mysteriously ordered collage of clashing colours, harsh lines and smooth lines, sad days and good.

The little boy began to cry. His grasp had slipped, he'd cut his thumb. We went over, Kay and I, and dried his eyes and then his mother arrived. The three of us talked a little. She wanted to get rid of the scissors and asked us if we would take them. We told her we had our own.

"I suppose everyone does," she replied.

Reading: The Moving Appeal + BG Ellis.
Listening: "I Still Cry" + Julie Miller w/Patty Griffin

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Elevating Trick

Of Montreal is squeezing a lot of listeners onto benches that were never really that empty in the first place. It's a crowded band-wagon, this. Every song on the band's new release is a twinkling single, and my favourite among them—well, for now—is "The Party's Crashing Us". The music rolls out quickly and without fuss, firm drumbeats folding up stray pieces of paper on the burgundy carpet. The singer's voice branches out confidently, his arms swing wide and he's bending at the waist, about to step out from his corner into the full crush of the party. He's been hurt by that woman over there, of course, but he's not in retreat. He'll be fine, give him time, listen: "Oh, we MADE LOVE like a pair of black WIZards," he recalls sonorously, stretching out the louder bits, and he's having fun with it now. There'll be no icing him down. The rhythm is always there, clear-sounding like it would have felt to walk in France in the 80's or maybe even New England, all fresh pale blue and strolling quickly between the birch trees. But then the chorus opens the door on a room full of afternoon light-like-piano-keys and fresh-looking people hold green fauxtinis, everyone playing their parts with zest. Remember Paul Hogan in the party scene in "Crocodile Dundee", the first movie? Hogan country-waltzes around the room like a teenager, charms everyone in sight, and inadvertently ruins the snuffly coke-head's high by showing him how to steam what Hogan thinks is a powder for the common cold. Something about the mix of the innocent and the jaded in that scene reminds me of this song, the rhythm of the music and fearlessness of the singer somewhat at odds with the lyrical content. This contrast provides a fresh elevation for the listener, sure, yet this song is for people who find their own highs, who've already learned the elevating trick. And just when you think the music is winding up, the spacy synth trails back into the piano and far-off voices, there's the quick splatter of drums and the chorus swirls back down out of the cool spring sky like a song for Saint Cecilia's Day.

"When Nature underneath a heap/ Of jarring atoms lay,/ And could not heave her head,/ The tuneful Voice was heard from high:/ 'Arise, ye more than dead!'"

Reading: The Shadow of the Wind + Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Listening: The Sunlandic Twins + Of Montreal

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Not Real, Not Yet

Music, of course (can one even think of the term "blog" without also thinking "music" or "mp3"?), and books. Or rather, words about music, and words, more words, about books. There is little else in life more important than these. The books, I mean, and the music, not the words. Oh, other people will tell you different, of course. These are fools, illiterates, tin ears pretending they have souls. They will say that music is an albatross, and a good book nothing more than a tedious lie. They will clamour about "real life" and "lasting relationships". You will not hear that garish nonsense here. Maybe these people are correct, but surely they are also wrong. Let us set ourselves against them (nothing shall bring us together closer than a common enemy). It is more likely than not that we are the wisest of our generation. You and I, we shall at least save our souls from the many black-helmeted firemen looming among our peers. We shall provide light to an admiring cast of contemporaries. We will build a railroad to mutual salvation. We will be heroes! And how we shall shine.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Friday, May 06, 2005

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Wednesday, May 04, 2005