Stompin’ Tom Connors was a true Canadian patriot of the old school, and he celebrated the things about Canada that others dismissed. RIP, Tom.
Here’s your Superbowl-and-circuses, Citizens™! Please enjoy the clash of these broken, opiated gladiators we have assembled for your pleasure. You will also enjoy these messages exhorting you to buy more products and services. Because the awareness that you have no value as anything but Consumers may upset, you are encouraged to treat our crass blandishments as entertainment. More entertainment to entertain you! We have been assured that there will be no shortage of websites that will fall all over themselves to give you a chance to watch our ads online, just in case, heaven forfend, that you were unfortunate enough to miss the opportunity during the game itself. We aim to please, as long as pleasing means you’ll like us more and buy more of our useless garbage.
Oh Oracle Google! Consort to the Apple-onian godhead, second among our modern pantheon, the smoke of our ad-view offerings wafts skyward, and your powerful limbs engorge with ad revenue. It is a mere 4% of your Olympian might that does not spring from selling us Product, and we in turn swell with pride. Even Facebook, so unloved but so tightly wound around our lives like the snakes on fleet Hermes’ staff, even Facebook is an ad-revenue eyeball-offering 85%-er.
Our Dionysian rites, on screens big and small, are littered with more Products more!, sometimes so risibly over-the-top as to temper the bite of tragedy with some welcome if undeliberate corporate comedy. And music — oh terpsichorean muse — we enlist your aid in winging ever more goods into our hands. Goods, I say, because goods and products are the same, and they are Good!
OK, enough faux-classical silliness. Yes, the cranky old man has a wild hair up his butt again. But all of these things and more boggle me right upside my head.
I love books. I love to hold ‘em, I love to smell ‘em. I love taking them into the bathroom and having a long, relaxing poop. I love riffling through their pages and letting the gentle dusty breeze of received wisdom waft across my face. I grew up with three or four paperbacks splayed open on the floor beside my bed at any one time, and shelves and teetering stacks of them all around my room. As much as anything else in my life, the books I’ve read form the threads that link who I am today back to the boy I was. Reading has, for nearly 5 decades now, probably been the one unalloyed pleasure I have had, and the pleasure is undiminished today, even though there are so many more things to invade and occupy my mind. I’ve always said, half-jokingly, that I felt uncertain if I could trust someone until I drank with them, but I think my real Voight-Kampff test is whether someone is a Reader or not. I need to read.
When left Canada in my 20s, there was no public internet to speak of. Laptops weren’t — unless you count the suitcase-with-a-7-inch-CRT luggables. If you were a reader, you read printed words on paper. At any given time during my wander years, I was lugging around a few kilograms of books in my backpack, and I read whatever I could trade with other backpackers in hostels and bars. Hell, I picked up a copy of the Bible in Glencoe, Scotland, when I was there, to read through it again, even though I was (and remain) utterly uninterested in being a Christian. (Well, with one brief and odd exception, which is a tale for another day, perhaps.) Back in the day, when you were a wanderer, what you read was a matter of serendipity, and you learned to feel a deep love and gratitude for people who had left behind Actual Good Books in whatever tatty hostel common room you’d washed up in.
I’m coming up on 50 years old. Well, it’s a couple of years off still, but the corner is definitely in sight. Music remains something that makes my life better, and somehow, even though I still love to revisit a lot of the stuff I listened to during my formative rock and roll years, I still take great pleasure in finding new things to love. Music is the fuel for some chamber of my heart, some mutant ventricle that only pumps when it gets that fuel.
Rock and/or roll has lost its cultural heft and sweaty eldritch power to fire up much of the deranged, half-human youth of today, sadly (a situation ably traced in this recent, many-part opus on Grantland called the Winner’s History of Rock and Roll, which I highly recommend [Part 1: Led Zeppelin, Part 2: Kiss, Part 3: Bon Jovi, Part 4: Aerosmith, Part 5: Metallica, Part 6: Linkin Park, Part 7: The Black Keys]), but it’s far from dead, and there is still a lot of rock music coming out — little to none of which gets heard by the Greater PopCulturaltariat these days — which just fills me to the brim with feels.
One of the bands I’ve discovered in relatively recent times is The Rural Alberta Advantage. I have no idea how well-known they are, but they are Canadian (hooray!), so my guess is: maybe not so much, outside of Canada at least.
It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant…
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…
And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply PREVAIL. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave…
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back.
Hunter S Thompson, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
[Crossposted from Full Glass Empty Clip] It’s 1977. I’m 12 years old. It’s a gorgeous Northern BC summer day, one of those glorious fleeting perfect days that are all the sweeter in the frozen north, because the memories of mud and slush barely fade before the leaves have already begun to turn again. Utterly pure blue sky, sun warm on the skin, grass a deep impatient green, a light breeze off the lake that is so invigoratingly packed with oxygen and piney perfume it might as well be aerosolized cocaine. I’m playing third base, it’s what we’d call little league if we called it that in Canada back then, I’m just beginning to feel the awkwardness of adolescence, but the sheer pleasure of being alive and standing on that dirt under that gigantic bowl of sky on that day is more than enough to let me ignore my self-consciousness. I’m a big, strong kid, and even if I’m more bookworm than jock, I enjoy sports.
One of the kids on the other team strikes out, and our gang begins to jog back to the chickenwire fence behind home plate for our time at bat, where there are a few parents hanging out, maybe drinking a beer or three in the sun. I get about three or four loping steps along the baseline before my left leg folds up, with no warning whatsoever, and I go down into the dirt. I try like hell to get up, but my leg just doesn’t seem to want to bend correctly. I don’t remember it hurting as much as I remember being confused, trying to figure out why my leg suddenly didn’t do what I told it to do any more, and then horrified and embarrassed, when my stepdad came out onto the diamond, picked me up, and carried me off.
Turns out that I had Osgood-Schlatter syndrome. I was just growing too damned fast, apparently, and bits and pieces of me couldn’t keep up. The dumbass semicompetent smalltown doctor told us that I’d have to have the left leg put in an ankle to hip cast for six months, and then the other leg — once again, ankle to hip — for another six months after that.
That was pretty much the end of sports for me, at least team sports. That was the beginning — after that long, itchy year, when my first my left and then my right leg emerged, atrophied, pale, and, to my horror, looking like a limb grafted on from a much smaller, sicklier young man — of my lifelong habit of riding bikes with my headphones on down empty highways. And that summer, when the doorway to baseball and swimming and many other things I loved closed, at least temporarily, that the door into computers and the games you can play on them opened. When I learned that it was possible to go places without actually going anywhere. That was the summer my parents bought me my first computer, a TRS-80 Model III.
One of my few brushes-with-famous-people was with David Bowie.
It was the second week of September, 1983, and he was playing at the Coliseum in Vancouver. I’d just started at UBC, and was drinking rather a lot, as was my wont. One night there was a mixer at Place Vanier with free booze, and me and a friend of mine who I’d graduated with and who was also a freshman at UBC took great advantage of the freebies (white wine, for some bizarre reason, as I recall, something I’d never really gotten inebriated on before).
It was pouring rain that evening, as usual, and when the mixer shut down, I was, in young wonderchicken style, just getting geared up. But being underage, finding more booze was going to be a challenge, so we decided to make the trek across campus to Gage Towers to find her older brother, the theory being that he could hook us up with some more grog.
As we passed in front of the computer science buildings, I got it into my head to do the Gene Kelly routine from Singing in the Rain, and sing and splash and swoop around the light poles a bit. Predictably, my blood-alcohol content rendered my swooping a little less graceful than it should have been, and I ended up breaking my ankle.
Next morning, I woke up in my dorm room in my clothes with a monumental wine hangover and a somewhat hazy recollection of the night before. Reeking, disoriented, with a throbbing right ankle that felt about the size of my head. My mother, who was visiting Vancouver to see I’d settled in, and her sister, who’d come to visit with my mom, were knocking on the door. I can’t say they were all that surprised. At least Mitzi — yes, my friend’s name was Mitzi — wasn’t there in the bed with me, too.
We went to the campus hospital, I got strapped up and given a pair of crutches, and we went to the Bayshore Hotel, where they were staying, for breakfast. I was feeling about as physically bad as an 18-year-old can.
The elevator stopped on our way up to my mom and aunt’s room. I could smell myself, and it wasn’t pretty. I was staring at the carpet, swaying, sweating, and trying desperately not to throw up, but noticed more or less in my peripheral vision two very large black-suited men and one much smaller blond man get on.
We got off on my mom’s floor, and as we did, I realized that the little fellow was David Bowie. The realization took long enough to percolate through my hungover brain that all I had time for was a double-take, wobbling on my crutches, enough to turn and meet his eyes and smile, and get a smile back.
I believe that he was a nice fellow because of that smile, ’cause man, if I’d had to stand in an elevator with my sodden, reeking self that morning, I’d have been rejoicing the moment I got off.
This first, memorable experience of my university career turned out to be emblematic of the next 5 years. UBC was a lot of fun.
I was tightly wound when I was a teenager. I’d been a fat kid in early days, which kind of ruined my self-confidence back in the days when that wasn’t as common as it is these days, and I had a step-dad who had his own problems and wasn’t really a subscriber to the self-image boosting regimen. And I had acne that literally scared people, I think, at least until years later, when the docs put me on accutane and damn near killed me with the stuff.
But I was big and strong and well-put-together, smart and funny and creative, sociable and athletic and geeky all at once. I really should have gotten laid a lot more than I did, looking back on it.
I say this as a once-proud Canadian: fuck you, Canada. Stephen Harper and his brigade of destroyers, again? A fucking majority? What could you possibly have been thinking, Canada? What the hell is wrong with you?
I know you’re not completely stupid, Canada. In the half of my 45 years that I lived there, I met lots of people who weren’t stupid. My mom, who’s mayor of my hometown: she’s one smart lady. But I’m not going to ask her if she voted Conservative. I fear her response would break my heart.
I don’t want you to apologize to me, Canada. That would be silly. But it will be heartbreaking when you come to me weeping, with fresh bruises across your face, because you believed him when he said he wouldn’t hit you any more, and you went back. Again. For the sake of the kids.
I don’t want to feel a tingle of schadenfreude when I see the smoking, cratered economic wasteland after the Great Real Estate Disaster that is coming, Canada, your people shambling and blistered, draped in scorched rags, clutching the tattered paperwork for your 40 year mortgages, or for you to learn a lesson about greed from that.
I don’t want you to be the nation I so loved when I was a boy, the country I was so proud of.
I don’t want you to wake up and realize that by emulating the worst, you become the worst. America’s so exciting, so vibrant, they have the best drugs and the shapeliest fake tits, the shiniest teeth and the porn, have you seen some of that crazy porn they make down there? And the great big servings of curly fries? Holy shit! Everybody loves America, except that Bin Laden creep, and hell, they finally took him down Rambostyle, right? So all aboard the USA train!
Those boring frigid Scandinavian countries, where they have the highest standard of living, the best education and health care, the lowest infant mortality rate, even — who needs all that? Who wants to be like them, all dour and shivering and strong and secure and beloved, when America! is just next door and has that flashy car and gold tooth?
I don’t want you to look in the mirror and realize you’ve become a disappointment, an also-ran, a minor-key sidekick to a lumbering misguided giant, a mockery of the great men and women who built you. I don’t need you to understand that the toxic Network News American Political Buzzword Culture that has colonized your media and infected your discourse has distracted your people and corrupted your leaders and is destroying you. I don’t want you to embrace the principles that made you great. I don’t want you to take a step back and think about what kind of nation you want to be, and then live up to those principles.
No, wait, what the hell am I saying?
I want all of those things.
But it looks less likely with every turn of the screw that I’ll ever be seeing them.