Sunday, August 30, 2009

Born in a bad time.

Lately I've been reading books that leave me incredibly pissed off that I wasn't born at a different time. Case in several points:

1959: The Year Everything Changed, by Fred Caplan. I'm not sure what I find so appealing about living through the early stages of the Cold War. Maybe it's just the numerous references to the RAND corporation that make me envious. Fun fact: I learned about this book from a paparazzi photo of Renee Zellweger in which she was using it to shade her face from the camera's glare.

The Road To Woodstock, by Michael Lang. I could probably talk about this book all damned day, because as many of you know, I am a big fucking hippie and moving to Kingston has only made me embrace this aspect of my personality moreso than ever before. This book is full of amazing anecdotes about the festival and the days and months leading up to it and also includes full set lists and a timeline of performances. Every little side story seems like the best one yet, and I'd like to synopsize them all for you, but I'll leave it with this: I really, really wish I could have seen Pete Townshend smack Abbie Hoffman in the face with a guitar when he tried to commandeer The Who's set.

Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, by Dervla Murphy. Dervla Murphy started cycling the world on her own in the 1960s, and she is TOUGH. Within the first twenty pages she gets attacked by wolves and totally fends them off with a pistol she's carrying in her saddlebag. She goes on to get in a fight on a bus in Afghanistan and basically tear things up across the globe, and she writes about these crazy things that happen to her on the trail with typical formal UK prose, and it is awesome fun to read. The copy I borrowed from the library is clearly an early edition, and has the publication values of an original Bobbsey Twins book, all cute line drawings of a lady on her bike passing camels and following a dotted line across a pre-USSR map of the mid-eastern world. I'm so glad no one threw this one out of the collection before I got to it.

Unrelated: I was listening to Cross Country Checkup on my drive back to Kingston today. It was all about the purported end of the economic crisis, and every caller had a sometimes absurd, always poignant anecdote that called bullshit on the notion that we're all on the mend. All that talk of mills shutting down left me with this song stuck in my head.

I have such a schoolgirl crush on early 70s Rick Danko.

Monday, August 24, 2009

they don't write them like they used to.

Karla Kuskin died late last week. As a kid, I was extremely obsessed with two of her books: The Philharmonic Gets Dressed and The Dallas Titans Get Ready For Bed. They're picture books, illustrated by the inimitable Marc Simont (also the genius who brought Nate The Great to life), and they are exactly what they sound like: spare but poetic accounts of musicians getting ready for the night ahead and football players putting on their pajamas.

Her LA Times obit sums up the boring glory of these books: they "celebrated mundane routine." The New York Times does it even better, noting the way the books describe the things that happen when we're not around to see them. That's exactly what I loved about both books when I was a kid. Reading about the absolute pettiest details of people's daily ablutions was so satisfying and comforting. It felt cozy. I also loved the voyeurism of each story; reading these books was like peering through a hundred dilapidated keyholes, and helped fuel my childhood nosiness (which I still prefer to think of as curiosity). These are pretty simple books, but they opened up this incredible adult world to me, the secrets of the musician's boudoir and the sight of a soaking wet football giant, the clumsy cellist hailing a cab with an instrument in tow, the exotic notions of other people's lives.

It's so sad when we lose a great artist, but I love that I spent this afternoon revisiting a chapter in my literary education.

And now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to enact my own tribute to Karla Kuskin: the librarian passes out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Did you ever know that you're my hero?

Two things happened to me last week to get me thinking about heroes.

1. A colleague came back from a Loretta Lynn concert with reams of awesome pictures, which she ecstatically shared with me, talking about how frigging unbelievable it was to see her up close after listening to and loving her for so many years.

2. I read I Met The Walrus, by Jerry Levitan. The book is actually a follow-up to Levitan's Oscar-nominated short film about his surreal encounter with John Lennon in Toronto, just a week before the Montreal bed-in. Levitan was a ballsy, Beatles-obsessed fourteen year old whose risky move--stalking John and Yoko at their hotel--paid off with the opportunity to interview the couple and record the experience. (He also scored free tickets to Englebert Humperdink at the O'Keefe, but that's less short-film-worthy.)

I haven't seen the movie, but after reading the book, I want to. This is such a sweet, lovingly-told story of a kid like so many other kids who loves the Beatles so much his heart nearly bursts when he hears the White Album for the first time. I was that kid once. I remember a rainy summer morning at the cottage we used to rent, sitting on the floor in the living room and listening to a scratchy old tape of Beatles songs my dad had recorded of his LPs. That might have been the first time I ever heard If I Fell. I also remember another summer at that cottage a few years later, then in my pimply, chubby, misunderstood teen years, lying on that same floor and listening to Helter Skelter on repeat, feeling so motherfucking badass. (I also listened to I Will no less than a million times that summer, to redeem my reluctantly sentimental heart.) And I spent most of the second year of my masters listening to Abbey Road more than any other album, partly because I believed--and still do believe--that You Never Give Me Your Money is the greatest song ever produced. The Beatles have always occupied a huge space in my musical soul, partly because they remind me of my youth, my family, my parents passing on their musical legacy, and partly because they were just so timelessly cool, political and weird and otherworldly compared to the other bands who meant so much to me.

But all that is kind of beside the point. Reading I Met The Walrus, especially the parts about the sheer dumbfoundedness that comes with meeting one's greatest hero, I paused and thought about my own heroes. I realized that unlike Jerry Levitan, I don't really have a hero, not someone someone I'd risk my life or my reputation to meet, anyway. Levitan also talks about Trudeau, another of his personal idols whom he also got to know, and I felt this incredible envy, that he came of age at a time when public figures in this country were actually worth admiring. I can't say that I've ever been truly inspired by a politician. And I've certainly been inspired by a million artists, but I don't know if I'd ever really sell my soul to see them face to face.

Maybe Joni Mitchell, although I bet she'd be a crank. In fact, I want her to be a crank. Or maybe Dylan, although I bet he'd seduce me and never call me back. In fact, I kind of want that too. Maybe Douglas Coupland, because it was his writing that made me want to write even more when I was a teenager. I don't think he'd be a dick, although I'm sure I'd freak him out like most fangirls do.

Maybe we're in a post-heroic era. What do you think?

Also, tell me this song isn't amazing. I DARE YOU.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Here's to the happy couple.

I've been stewing and stewing over how to address the sad and extremely deeply felt event of John Hughes' death all week, to the point where I've given myself writer's block in the process. Not good, friends. Not good. So instead I'm putting those feelings on hold for now, because this weekend is pretty much going to be the best weekend of all time. Saturday is my best friend's wedding. I never get tired of saying "my best friend's wedding," partly because it is the name of one of the goofiest movies ever made and no pop culture reference could be less apt. But mostly I never get tired of saying it because it is going to be so frigging fun, and because I love the happy couple so frigging much. There's nothing I enjoy more than tripping out in my head about how fast life moves and how much things can change and stay the same all at once. This party's going to be a big old object lesson in that very thing, with a side order of spinach dip and love.

This morning when I woke up, my mind was on this funny channel-surfing kick where different ridiculous Freya moments kept passing through my head--the time I played After the Gold Rush and made her cry, the time she wrote out a whole Gord Downie poem in a letter to me from a tree planting camp in Alberta, the time Greg, then only a casual twinkle in her eye, showed up on our Walmerhaus doorstep bearing Balderson cheese for one and all, the time I came home to find her curled up watching one of my My So-Called Life videos proclaiming, "Cait, this explains so much about you." So much has changed in the last ten (TEN!) years, and yet so much is still exactly the way it always was, and either way it's all the way it ought to be.

Which probably makes this next thing fitting. My favourite love poem, and maybe my favourite poem, is "Departure," by F.R. Scott, which maybe isn't even a love poem at all, since says goodbye more than it says hello. But more than that, it's about the vast landscape that becomes a part of every relationship when you live in this snowy minefield of a country, the eternity of the natural world and of the love you could find there, knowing it might not last forever but hoping that it does.


Always I shall remember you, as my car moved
Away from the station and left you alone by the gate
Utterly and forever frozen in time and solitude
Like a tree on the north shore of Lake Superior.
It was a moment only, and you were gone,
And I was gone, and we and it were gone,
And the two parts of the enormous whole we had known
Melted and swirled away in their separate streams
Down the smooth, granite slope of our watershed.

We shall find, each, the deep sea in the end,
A stillness, and a movement only of tides
That wash a world, whole continents between,
Flooding the estuaries of alien lands.
And we shall know, after the flow and ebb,
Things central, absolute and whole.
Brought clear of silt, into the open roads,
Events shall pass like waves, and we shall stay.

--F.R. Scott

Here's to you, Tony and Lily. I searched the annals of YouTube for "We're Hardcore" but clearly Gord hasn't left the digital footprint one might have hoped for. Anyway, this one's just as good, and just as true.