Monday, November 24, 2008
McGill Centre for Research and Teaching on Women
School of Fine Art and Music
University of Guelph
Naked Intimacy: Improvisation, Eroticism, and Gender
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
4:00 – 6:00 pm, Leacock 927
Eroticism is the realm of our most urgent desires that leads to the transgression of boundaries, ecstatic identification with others, and ultimately a confrontation with the self. Creative improvisation is an experimental and collaborative form of musical performance. What do these domains have in common? Both are characterized by an incessant confrontation with now that leads to the “naked intimacy” of intense communication. What are the roles of bodies, instruments and performance spaces in constructing representations of the erotic, and how are they articulated through improvisation? How do musicians negotiate representations of the erotic in their work? When and how are these representations gendered – and with what effects for musicians? Drawing on dissonant theories of eroticism by Luce Irigaray and Georges Bataille, this presentation explores a “feminist erotics of creative improvisation” through the fascinating music of violist Charlotte Hug.
I love when the topic of sex becomes completely intellectualized. It makes me think of the first cinematic collaboration between Dudley Moore and Peter Cook - the little known "Bedazzled". Here is the scene that never fails to crack me up. I think we've all been there:
I have to admit; the Dudley Moore of the swinging 60's in England seems infinitely more impressive than the slapstick comedian who would become famous in movies such as "10". I guess the Brits were a little more sophisticated, given their penchant for witty comedies. A nice take on the tale of Faust, that most people probably missed. Ignorant as I am, I can't place the Irish intellectual Moore is imitating, but I imagine it to be an amalgamation of several authors, poets and academic types. Such is life on a busy Monday after an active weekend, when I am looking to revamp the glib devil in me.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I still remember this e-mail address, fifteen years after using it for the first time. In 1993, the World Wide Web as it was known, was a new phenomenon. In the basement of the bookstore where I worked,my fellow luddites spoke of the new techniology that would allow for communication from computer to computer, adding a sense of dynamism to what was viewed by most of us as a dull, static piece of office equipment. I would soon change jobs and have a chance to use this new tool, and Emru Townsend was the first person I knew to have his own e-mail account. We were never close friends, but I saw him on occasion until marriage and fatherhood pushed us closer to our families and closest friends, and further from people in our single male periphery who would be great to have a beer with.
I remember a night on a Bishop Street bar, when Emru and I spoke of past loves and current interests, and the remarkable anarchistic personality of Bugs Bunny. He was funny and brilliant, and his enthusiasm for the technological world helped to spread the word to those of us who saw it as the domain of cybergeeks, computer programmers, and isolated gamers. He made "tech" cool in a lot of ways, largely with his enthusiasm for the subject, which he expressed with candour, knowledge, and an understanding of his less well informed audience.
In the past year, I followed Emru's fight to receive a stem cell transplant closely, receiving weekly updates from a Facebook group run by his sister Tamu, someone I had also fallen out of touch with this decade. There was so much drama, as he beat the impossible odds to find an appropriate donor only to have Leukemia claim him last night at the age of 38. Thirty-eight. It is ridiculously unfair to take such a smart, funny, decent guy and loving father, not to mention husband, son and sister away from us. I think of his wife and child and all of the people he touched over his short life. I think of Tamu and all of her efforts, and the number of people who signed up (and still can) to be potential donors of stem cells because of the campaign "Heal Emru".
I also think of the Bush administration and the roadblocks they placed in the way of research in order to satisfy the evangelical zeal of many of their supporters. As they are ready to leave office, I hope only that their influence fades with the end of a disastrous legacy, while Emru's memory lives on. Thanks for the time, even if it was ever so brief.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
With a new Quebec school curriculum promising courses in world religions, ethics, and culture, ADQ leader Mario Dumont has decided to reopen the aforementioned debate by challening the effect it will have on children who will be deprived of an understanding of their own origins.
"The people who thought up this course are the same people who fight through all kind of roundabout ways to ensure there aren't any Christmas trees in the classroom," Dumont let fly to a room full of parents opposed to the new course.
"Children in primary school must first forge their own identity. You must learn about yourself to then be open towards others."
Funny, this never worked in the past. Many people who had a wonderful sense of their own history and culture used this as a springboard to destroy those who they felt did not belong. On November 11, we honour those who have died in past wars on Rememberance Day. Wars are often fought for money and power, but also to vanquish a perceived enemy who does not share cultural and religious values. It is also the anniversary of Kristallnacht , another example of how a dominant people, despite having a perceived strong sense of their own identity, used this as a conduit to destroy a minority whose religious and cultural values differed from theirs. Identity is not the issue - I would bet self-esteem has a lot more to do with it. Monsieur Dumont should concentrate on examples of how Quebec has demonstrated tolerance and acceptance in the past as a sprinboard to understanding how the knowledge of other cultural and religious norms should be part of a sense of being truly "Quebeçois". Funny, for a man who attended the wonderfully multicultural Concordia University in Montreal, one has a sense that his politics of division reflect less his own experience and personal view, and more the cynical vision of a power hungry politician who feels his unsophisticated electorate cannot handle anything else but the tired old "us vs.them" scenario. Sadly, I have met many West End Anglophones with the same ideals, not to mention English Canadians and their view of Quebec in general. I think we all need to take the new course in question - it might help us to understand how our collective vision of ourselves and the world is fundamentally the same.
Monday, November 3, 2008
A political junkie, I can't keep away from this election, checking Google every now and then, fivethirtyeight.com
I am full of hope for a change in government that will affect the world profoundly, and envision myself walking through the streets of NDG, looking at smiling faces, happy to see the end of both Republican and white hegemony in American politics. I am trying not to be subsumed by paranoia and fear, knowing that political abnormalities appeared in the 2000 and 2004 election results. I am also trying to get a grip, knowing how elections can be compromised. I remember voting in the Quebec referendum in 1995, watching as voters in my federalist riding waited in line for hours as poll clerks took their sweet time stuffing ballots, finding a loophole (speed) that was not mandated by their job descriptions or electoral law. I am glad at least that many Americans - canny voters used to intimidation and inefficiency - have voted early. Let's hope it works and regardless of the result, it was a real consensus. I also hope the percentage of those who vote increases, as more people feel that their voice can count.
On the weekend I saw "Scorched" a play about the horrific results of civil war and how lives are destroyed for generations. It was riveting, so much so that many sublime, grey haired patrons of the Centaur Theatre left at the end of the first act. This was not a play to be celebrated with tea and a sandwich at a quaint Old Montreal cafe afterwards. My wife and I drove home somewhat relived that our son will hopefully never raise a machine gun in anger, or commit acts on a woman or child unbearable horiffic to contemplate. We also felt eternally grateful that circumstances led our respective families to settle in Canada, where we enjoy the democratic freedoms of our neighbours in the US. Many aspects of true democracy have been compromised no doubt, as there are voices in both countries that are condemned to the silence that comes with a lack of political or economic power. Still, there is much to appreciate and one hopes tomorrow's results will be a testimonial to that. I can't wait.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
This is probably my favourite scene from just about any movie I've ever watched. In 1969, "Five Easy Pieces" was partially an attack against the rules of a dysfunctional society that was plundering its people into a violent conflict overseas, and a call to a young generation to stand up to the opressiveness of parents, professors, and the establishment, otherwise know as "The Man. In 2008, it looks more like a reality tv show. In the past few weeks, a number of friends and I have been astonished by the bad service we are experiencing in restaurants. In particular, staff who ignore people waiting patiently to order, waiters who act dismissively towards parents and their children, and dolts at front counter receptionist positions - lucky enough to have a job in my opinion - who feel the need to cross examine visitors as if they are B-movies actors in a legal thriller that isn't too thrilling.
Here are some examples: On Saturday, my wife, son and I, accompanied by two other couples and their children, went to the Pointe-A-Caillere museum to see an exhibit on the history of Halloween. A pile of propagandistic rubble at its best - the opening film on the history of Montreal paints a ridiculously rosy picture of aboriginal/French relations - the Museum features one restaurant on the top floor. Anxious for our children to eat, we walked the four flights only to be greeted by an obnoxious waiter who smugly told us that we had not stumbled upon a cafeteria. The other parents - respectable, humanitarian professorial types - were well above the comments that lowly me was prepared to make. I place my hand on the waiter's shoulder, and politely told him to have a good life, since he clearly had not had one up to this point. I left in triumph.
As luck would have it, it took only twenty-four hours to be ignored at a take out spot in my neighbourhood, where a father and son combination rudely pushed in front of me, and were served after I had been waiting for about ten minutes while the owner answered his phone. Frustrated, I swore angrily at the staff, slammed the menu on the table, stormed out, and closed the door with enough fury to lift customer's heads from their Pad Thai and Kung Pao chicken. I guess I will be placing phone orders with an ambiguous accent for the next little while. I reacted like a spoiled child, but I am quite frustrated with type of service that had poor Jack in such a rage two generations ago. People are worried about a lot of things these days - the economy being a major preoccupation. Still, with restaurant attendance dwindling, each customer should be seen as a valuable commodity not worth pissing off!
I managed to hold my temper yesterday, as I was dropping off an application for a job for my wife. The receptionist, possibly on some heavy medication I hope I am never prescribed, proceeded to lecture me on where I was (Where the hell are you lady, Mars?), but I politely told her that I was aware of the address and merely wanted to penetrate the fortress like barriers preventing me from seeing the Area Personnel Officer. Trust me, if they hired her, there isn't that much need for security. Christ, I sound like such as asshole right now, so maybe I had best move on with my day.
Monday, October 20, 2008
This past weekend was a somewhat morbid one. I was shocked to learn of the death of the son of a local used bookstore owner. Fit and healthy looking, he died reputedly of a heart attack, but rumours persist that something more suspicious is afloat. He was only 52, and seemingly in good shape otherwise. Drugs could have been involved, a lifestyle I could associate with NDG, but not with a guy who was slim and rode a neat bike. I also learned of the death of another 52year old, Frank Kerr, A.K.A Frankie Venom, of the Canadian punk band, Teenage Head. I only saw them live once, at a Concordia University beer bash in the mid 80's, long after they had seemingly missed the boat to punk superstardom. I remember there being about fifty people left after five bands had performed on the sixth floor cafeteria, and I was likely nursing a warm beer and some sort of personal insecurity. For some odd reason I was also wearing a fedora, and our rather poor slam dancing skills(as moshing was known then) aroused the ire of the local Concordia press. Still, it was a great show, and Venom was the consumate performer, putting as much energy into a gig in front of a small bunch of posers as he would have on Queen St. in Toronto.
There were a lot of rumours surrounding Head's failure to break into a major market, but they could have been as much heresay as the stories I hear about the guy from the bookstore. One had them missing a big concert because of a major car accident, that would have exposed them to a larger audience. Another told of their reluctance to change their name to "The Teenage Heads" to avoid the sexual connotation of the original name and allow them to break into the American market. Both are likely apocryphal to a degree. Punk music was never mainstream in the late 1970's, even if aging vocal proponents of it talk endlessly about its influence on popular culture. Essentially, these are the young rock critics of student newspapers then who have grown up and still find music meaningful to them. I love it, and hope to send my son to an artsy elementary school with parents of kids just like this. Those who didn't care then, and bought albums by Foreigner and Michael Jackson, still don't care about music now and are hence, silent. You don't see them writing books or blogging about the relative merits of the Ramones minimalism or the world music perogatives of The Talking Heads. Besides, influences are much easier to see in retrospect, right? Still, the death of someone I would emulate in the privacy of my air guitar/vocalist fantasies is a reminder that time passes in the most obvious of ways. To be fair, the band was more "punk" in attitude than in style. The Chuck Berry guitar riffs and party hard lyrics were as common to a typical bar band as the long feathered hair of the guitarist and bass player. Pub Rock is more of an appropriate name, referring to the music from England that laid to rest the notion that fifty-seven musicians needed to appear on one track to make a song worth listening to.
Friday, October 17, 2008
My group of advisors and assistants, minus the man behind the cellphone camera. We are a very diverse group, albeit all white, which has only dawned on me as I write this. Nonetheless, we have managed to put aside ideological differences to create a team that works extremely well together through periods of frequent change and tremendous amounts of stress. We also collectively have demons too intense to discuss in this arena, but it has left us with a collective compassion for each other and the students we serve. Sometimes, there are glitches however. Recently, my boss asked us to support one of my colleagues for a remunerative university award. She is an incredible person. Her life has not been easy, as she has had a number of parenting challenges many people would, if given the chance, completely avoid. Without providing too many details, I need only look at the number of abandoned children with disabilties in the halfway houses in my neighbourhood who have grown to become abandoned adults. In any case, I have worked with her for ten years and she has been an incredibly hardworking, efficient, and reliable person who has often taught her superiors the rigours of their jobs without ever complaining. In fact, she rarely complains about anything, even though there are times when I am well aware that things piss her off.
Having said this, my reaction to my boss' e-mail - albeit after a long day and only four hours of sleep - was less than stellar. In the comfort an isolation of my own home, I pouted, brooded, and plotted my annual escape to a mythical job and place that would offer me esteem and satisfaction. It didn't last. By the following morning I was feeling better and wrote a passionate letter which I hope will help her beat the other nominees. The question remains, why did I react that way? An interesting article, one of several citing Management theorist Robert Vecchio, ties it into self-esteem. Knowing that I have the reputation as a great academic advisor who is loved by his students should be enough, no? Well it seems like it cuts a little deeper. My salary is meets the average for a university educated man in Quebec, but many people make a lot more money and I am frequently reminded of this by friends and family. I am forever battling the "potential monster" that pegged me as a genius with an unlimited future at around the age of five, when I declined an invitation to finger paint on newspaper, preferring instead to read the articles. Somewhere the brain train stopped and I am not sitting in a legal office with a six figure salary, or sipping cocktails with a trophy wife in Maui. However, I love what I do and am lucky to be working in a great environment with great people. Maybe it's time others stopped associating potential with monetary value that results from jobs traditonally associated with success. It would save a lot of my students disappointment when they do not get into law or medical school, and would push a lot more intelligent, creative people into "average" professions. I hope my colleage wins the award, and I hope I can also look more at the positive aspects of my life in the future. I have alot to be thankful for.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
At least the campaign was relatively civil. Down South, things are starting to become rather ugly. The Republican party, behind in every poll with one month to go before the election, are using the race card in a very subtle, but ugly way. Knowing that a large number of Americans hold prejudicial views on race that simmer just below the surface of a society committed to brother- and sisterhood, using every possible reference to associate Barack Obama with people of the same skin colour who have carried out objectionable acts is a reckless and nasty replay of the old "red menace" politics of the 1950's. Using his middle name - Hussein - as an indication that he really comes from "somewhere else" panders to the xenophobia implicit in American politics, most recently since the events of September 11, 2001. It's all pretty disgusting, and given a legacy of racial tension and violence associated with it, the Republican candidates are clearly willing to sacrifice social peace to extend the reign of their "kingdom" a little longer. Imagine what will happen if this tone continues in the campaign and the Democrats win by a small margin? Will there be an angry backlast amongst voters ressentful that their country was taken away from them? One hopes not.
Cynics could tell me that since all candidates in the current Canadian election are white and Christian, no such rhetoric is possible. They could also point out the animosity between French and English over the past century and beyond. Still, there was a dignity in the discourse over the past campaign that never ventured beyond the political, and even in the course of history, a candidate's personal life and affiliations have only been used if they were relevant to statements they may have made about the economy or their political integrity. Pierre Elliot Trudeau at the height of linguistic tensions was never called more than a bicultural person letting his English side dominate. One could also argue that the comments made by Jacques Parizeau after the 1995 Referendum on Quebec sovereingty were similary volatile. It seems innocent compared to what we are hearing today from Sarah Palin and John McCain, especially in the context of the relatively low body count due to political rhetoric in Canadian history.
As I sit here impatiently waiting for my boss to finish voting - the polls opened at 9:30 - I am thankful for the inconvenience, and thankful that neither of us, nor the people in our riding, will be casting a ballot out of hate for the the colour of someone's skin.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Montreal, 1936. In the far corner of this gathering of the Montreal Russian Jewish community sit my grandparents, refugees from the hell of Czarist Russia thirty years earlier. My father's parents were a mystery to me. I never knew my grandmother, as she died before my parents even met. I knew she was an actress in the Yiddish Theatre, spinning tales of betrayal, tragedy, and exaggerated pathos amidst the smell of salami and hard boiled eggs in a building brimming with what was then a vibrant language for people starting a new life in North America. My dad made his debut at the age of one, urinating on stage and therefore literally making a local splash on the theatrical scene. My grandfather died when I was two, so there are no memories of me bouncing on his knee, something apparently he delighted in doing. Small and tempestuous, he was at various times a Communist, a grocery store owner, and a dry cleaner who specialized in "French Pressing", which usually required my father to take customers' clothing out the back door to another shop for better service. His legendary temper apparently cost his uncle a finger, and my father almost his life. Still, they seemed to make the transition to a new life in Canada with the same hardships as their peers, and my dad would speak of them fondly.
As I sit here writing this, my mom is visiting, talking eloquently about "Ghost Town" and the newest Woody Allen film, interest rates, and the passage of time, pretty much covering all four topics simultaneously. An hour ago it was the life of Jesus, and why a vote for the NDP is a wasted one. At eighty years of age, she is still sharp and lucid, articulate and intellectually curious, and I expect her to be around for a while yet. I'm lucky to have her. She has also taken to writing poetry, reflecting on a life unadventurous, but virtuous. A true performer like the mother-in-law she never met, she will always remain an enigma to me, keeping her real feelings hidden, and only allowing them to surface in times of great joy or anger. Living in Montreal during the Depression and suffering through both poverty and prejudice left her with an unwillingness to talk about the past, volunteering only the odd, angry snippet of a young person dealing with a lot of uncertainty and anger.
I often wonder how my son Jake will one day speak of me. I wonder if he will remember the jokes I tell him, the endless piggybacks I have given and the awful fast food meals shared. I hope he won't remember the volatile temper and criticism that he has already experienced at the age of four. I am not a saint. As I stumble upon old friends and family on Facebook, I realize that a lot of bridges have been burned, in some cases irreparably, owning more to impulsive behavior and immature folly than true maliciousness. I was a jerk for a good part of my life, selfish and self-centred, caring little about anyone who would not be useful fuel for my endless vanity and insecurity.
Age has mellowed me somewhat, and the fact that I have a job that requires me to help people has made me realize the importance of charity and self-sacrifice. I can't get the "lost years" back, but there are many more to look forward to, and I hope to be around when Jake introduces me to his first love interest, has his first beer with me (mopping up small stains with his sleeve as I do), and decides to parade me to his employers one day as the cute, raunchy old fool that taught him to tie his shoes, shake after a pee, and flirt harmlessly with the opposite sex.
Monday, October 6, 2008
Tomorrow will mark the eight anniversary of my marriage. As I sit here typing with my son Jake seeking my attention, it is clear that I have much to be thankful for.
It hasn't been easy. Both of us are headstrong and stubborn, opinionated, and damaged to the extent that the chips we carry on our respective narrow shoulders will be there indefinitely. We have had joyous moments and have also left bars in separate cabs, vowing never to speak to one another again. And this was after seeing a joyous, romantic film, designed to inspire what a student once called "The precoital, seductive, mating, coupling dance." There has been great conversation amidst wine and candles, and loud arguments soaked in beer and garnished with the sight of two fourtysomethings dualling verbally in their underwear. Still, we will celebrate our eighth in traditional bronze and lace tomorrow, and will recount hopefully the best of times instead of the worst. Marriage and fatherhood are huge commitments and I have not always been up to the task emotionally. To my credit, I have changed a thousand diapers and have been knee deep in everything from snow to vomit and shit. I worked two jobs at one time, forsaking my business casual clothes for the uniform of a bookstore clerk, humbly answer questions about mediocre authors and selling bad romance novels to pleasant but lonely people. I have read stories, given baths, and watched hours of children's television programming aimed at primitive preschool Id-driven philosophy and geared to satisfy governments who want to leave no child behind. Still, I realize I could be a better husband and father. I wish I made more money and had fewer tantrums. I wish I could listen to my wife a little more and not provide advice she may not want in the first place.
I guess I am a product of my time, a man not raised to be loyal to King, Country, or even the company I work for. Raised during the "me generation", I have spent years worshipping at my own alter, seeking nirvana at the expense of the other monks around me. I am not alone. I am surrounded my many who are divorced or still single, holding their ideal mate to standards they would not ever meet themselves.
I see them in cafes, copping free internet time while their lattes cool, hoping their chat buddy is really only thirty-five, has no current attachment, and whose "few extra pounds" does not mean they need two seats on a flight. I hear stories of dating nightmares and boyfriends more concerned about the size of their pectoral muscles than imagining their significant other romantically naked in the moonlight. I see little sacrifice and a lot of self-justification, with an entire culture of magazines and films set to capitalize on those lonely people who need to be reinforced that their choice to go solo can be hip and cool, and will not lead them to be found ultimately sprawled dead on a couch surrounded by two dozen well-fed, indifferent cats in a filthy apartment.
I guess it all comes down to a willingness to abandon the status quo. Two people can remain perpetually interesting to one another if they allow themselves to grow and take on new challenges. In the past few months I have started this blog, lost seventeen pounds, and am learning how to juggle plates, albeit not successfully. I am watching my son learn how to swim and understand the rudimentary rules of music. My wife for her part is planning to return to school and has made a short film. It may not cut down on taxi cab rides and beer runs at the depanneur, but the ensuing conversation, once sobriety reappears, will be certainly more interesting.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Like most Canadians, it is difficult to follow a homegrown election campaign in the same year as a simultaneous American one. Like most people with a remote control, I spent yesterday evening switching between the American Vice Presidential debate and our very own, and before the theatre of it became horribly dull, I made a few curious observations.
At one point, while flipping channels rapidly like a late night seeker of dull talk shows, competitive poker or sexy infomercials, I almost convinced myself that all seven participants were in the same room, although this was clearly impossible for more than geographic reasons. Canadians don't handle sloganeering well. Could you imagine Elizabeth May talking about "Joe Six Pack" or being a "soccer mom"? Or imagine Jack Layton or Stephen Harper prattling on in an evangelical tone like Joe Biden, endlessly self-serving while showing their artifically whitened teeth like a cornered zoo animal protecting his food? No, we do things differently here. Canada is a place for the ironic, where no one is caught up in a nationalistic vision so Canadian that it would allow them to sound corny or unselfconsciously vapid. Jack Layton sounded committed if slightly obnoxious, Stephane Dion was hesitant but earnest and professorial, and Gilles Duceppe was like the unwanted relative who married out of his faith and has to come to a family dinner during a religious holiday. The newcomer, Ms. May, was truly refreshing, asking pointed questions and seeming to like the political process she knows she is barely part of. Mr. Harper was to his credit, as consistently calculating as he always is - chiding the others about spending too much money like the head of a household wondering why his credit card is at its limit. The roundtable discussion last night was really more reminiscent of a heated chat among Political Science undergraduates at a university cafeteria, save for the absence of coffee stains, trendy clothing, muffin crumbs, and ideology.
Down South it's another story. The two Vice Presidential candidates delivered their sermons with enough zeal to inspire mass conversions or speaking in tongues, while curiously not saying anything substantial. "Where's the Beef", I thought, remembering a failed campaign slogan from the past. Joe Biden gnashed his teeth to avoid looking like an intellectual bully, surpressing every attempt to appear condescending towards his opponent. For her part, Sarah Palin, head unencumbered of any silly confusing things like ideas, stuck to her pronounciation of world leader's names brilliantly, casting the odd "Would ya do me?" wink at an audience she was aiming to appeal to or bring around to the GOP. While both surely benefitted from the exposure - the Democrat avoiding hyberbole and the Republican avoiding looking horribly dumb, it served more to reassure convinced voters that somebody will do something sometime somewhere, and not to worry. The undecided voter likely went to bed still confused, wondering why nothing remotely ressembling a political platform was revealed in either case. At least both countries have something in common.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
A self made woman and former biker from the tough Ville Emard section of Montreal, Julie was the love of Mr. Bernier's life for a short while. She was no doubt drawn to his power and good looks, he seemed to be drawn to her low cut dresses and the fact she was the kind of woman his mother would have warned him about. When their relationship ended, it was revealed that he had left top secret documents in their apartment - likely under well-thumbed copies of Harley Davidson magazines and Ici - and he was forced to resign. A convenient escape and far more appealing to the local electorate. Certainly the thought of a Quebec man being undone by love was in keeping with our concept of "Joie de Vivre", and far less embarassing than the revelation that a Quebec education, no matter how good, cannot prepare someone for the post of Foreign Affairs when they have been brought up thinking Dollard Des Ormeaux was a more important historical figure than George Washington.
Now miss Couillard is launching a literary career with her first book, "My Story". Rushed to publication before the October 14th election, this junk is a thinly disguised ploy by the opposition parties to further undermine the chances of a Conservative majority. It won't serve to do much more than tittilate those who would otherwise spend their $29,99 on a bad romance movie and greasy popcorn. In the greater sense, it illustrates the notion that if literature is art, perhaps the Tory policy of keeping real artists starving will undermine them just a little bit more.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I couldn't help but love Paul Newman. I loved his politics and humanitarianism, never cared much for his salad dressing or tomato sauce, but as an actor he was almost beyond reproach. He was one of the most compelling screen personalities of his generation, the type of presence that would captivate you from the moment his character was introduced in the dozens of films he made. On screen he was the type of man you wanted to be - seductive and cool, smart and worldly. In movies like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "Cool Hand Luke" and "Hud", he personified the anti-hero, long before it became a cinematic cliche. Whether playing a criminal, washed up hockey player, drunk lawyer, pool hustler, or cowboy, you sensed he was right - the world was corrupt and oppressive and his existential dilemna was an unwillingness to comply with the dishonesty and corruption around him. You respected his cynicism as the product of the rugged individualist, not that of a crusty underachiever. He was part of the generation of American actors who perfected a new,natural style that could reflect insecurity and volatility, tenderness and ambivalence.
Paul Newman was born in 1925, more than a generation before my friends and I. Despite the gap in age he was a role model - the kind of person we wanted to emulate during invented battles on the playground, and the man we hoped to become when we stumbled into puberty and its pleasurable and playful offshoot-dating. I loved his portrayal of a man struggling with his sexuality and failure to live up to his potential in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". Despite the sexual chemistry between his character and Elizabeth Taylor's it was clear he was confused - and portraying "confused" in 1957 Hollywood and anesthetized America was not easy. Fifty years later it is also hard to say goodbye - recent photos of him looking ill in public were difficult for his fans to reconcile with. We wanted his blue eyes and sly grin to endure forever, luring criminals into jail and beautiful women into bed. Hopefully, despite the instantaneous and disposable celebrity of contemporary popular culture, it will.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Slim Gaillard, some time in the mid-1940's. One of the most interesting music personalities of the time. He invented a bizarre form of scat singing with nonsense syllables, played the piano with the backs of his hands and sang songs about cultures seemingly foreign to him. In this video,it is refreshing to see African American and Jewish American culture not at odds with each other. He had a song called Yip Roc Heresay, which was based on a dish he found at an Armenian restaurant. Almost eight, he finished off his long career appearing on rap songs in the late 80's. He also teamed up with Slam Stewart, a remarkable personality who would sing along with his bass and dance between breaks:
Where the hell are unique performers like this now? I have beaten the whole "It ain't like it used to be" critique of music to death, but I would sure like to listen to the radio and not hear recycled Clash filtered through recycled Green Day pass for alternative music or punk, or self indulgent singer songwriters who have traded in the profession's socially conscious mantle for endless navel gazing and ruminations about relationships that fail. Maybe you split up because emo boy and girl are a little narcissistic, no? Well I guess the accountants in the music industry won. A good tattoo and endless music lessions triumph over individuality every time. Every reality show features the same R & B "stretch every note so I can be heard" vocal intonation, designed to make mama and daddy in Kansas or Texas proud. Pretty, but much like breast implants. Despite the subjective aesthetics, the real thing, flaws and all, is so much more pleasurable to the touch. To be fair, Slim and Slam died poor, and Frank Sinatra rich, so the same thing happened then. It just seemed as though entertainment existed in the purest sense. You just have to look around at the endless nostalgia that exists among the youth for the music of the 60's, 70's, 80's and now the early 90's. Since that time, I can think only of Beck, Fatboy Slim, The Hives and the Dandy Warhols as a last stand for some sort of defiant indivuality, albeit ironic. There are other groups out there surely, but I'm not really listening anymore.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I "confess" to having used the office confessions site on more than one occasion and you know what, it feels good! Sometimes you just have to push your inner thoughts out. It's actually a cathartic experience. Posters have admitted to using their workday for everything from masturbation to childish pranks, and some of the declarations on both this and the other sites are funny but often painful to read, especially if they ring true personally. There is talk of discontentment, disappointment, resentment, and infidelity, and the end result is not judgement, but that we are merely human, trying to make sense of a society that places constraints on our behavior that act in conflict with human nature and primate behavior. Others reveal with honesty the dilemna of the modern person- from Dr. Spock to Baby Einstein, parenting over the last 50 years has created several generations of selfish and self-absorbed kids who don't grow up, but still have to share their lives with families, friends and co-workers who have the same problem. It's likely the reason why so many people I know are single and so many couples I knew are now divorced. We don't worship God, or our country anymore, we are devoted entirely to self-love. How many times does the average Canadian say in a day "I do so much for them and they don't appreciate it." How can we when we don't think of anyone but ourselves? I shouldn't be blogging right now - I should be upstairs with Jake reading to him or watching the awful kids movie I allowed him to see. I just can't help but wish I was out in the sun going for a long walk and taking a few photos of the early Fall we seem to have in Montreal this year. Ok, the movie has ended and he wants my attention. I can't resist his smile.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
It doesn't take a Sociologist or Psychologist to understand that people with a history of subsistance living do not know how to save money. It is analagous to leaving your dog with a plate of food for each day you are on vacation, assuming he/she will ration their eating. People are not dogs, but there is a serious problem with capitalizing on people's dreams (like the right to own property), while setting them up for failure. It ties in with a culture of immediacy that encourages us to consume rapaciously without the thought of how and when we are going to find the money to pay for it. I see it as an analogy to the awful state of Montreal's roads. After a century of amusing ourselves to death, someone looked beneath the beer bottles, concert tickets and used condoms and found out that our plumbing is about to disintegrate. What a drag on the party scene!
While I don't expect the world to divest itself of interest in the American economy (afterall, other investment companies were bailed out to avoid the financial repercussions associated with their demise) it would be nice if every Economics program in North American universities featured mandatory courses on ethics and consumer behavior in relation to socioeconomic status. Ah, I'm so naive!
Saturday, September 13, 2008
As painful as this is to say, the reviews for the new Coen brothers movie "Burn After Reading" are surprisingly bad. The follow up to the Oscar winning "No Country for Old Men" was supposed to be a return to comedy for the remarkable team that brought a litany of laughs to discriminating film goers and the odd smirk to the faces of film snobs with movies such as "Raising Arizona", "Barton Fink", "Oh Brother Where Art Thou", and my favourite, "Miller's Crossing". I am wondering what went wrong and have a small theory or two. Brad Pitt and George Clooney are accomplished actors and have proven that handsome features are no impediment to comedy. However, we see them all too frequently, whether it's the latest sequal to "Ocean's 11" (are we up to 16 now?) or as fodder for the Sarah Palin set, on the cover of terrible gossip magazines, like "The Star" and "Entertainment Weekly". It's kind of like being in a relationship for too long. The things you find adorable about your partner when you first tickle their toes under the sheets are later found to drive you crazy when you are both painting the bathroom in your underwear. There are other problems with familiarity too - how many stories featuring CIA operatives must we see on the screen? Answer-plenty. Since the Central Intelligence Agency is well, involved in clandestine activities, their very essence of mystery leaves them wide open for the creative minds of screenplay writers with a couple of espressos in them. Still, like Brad and George, the genre may be getting tiresome.
I guess I should see if first - after a long day of student advising and attempts at personal growth, I many not be all that discriminating.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
George Bush, circa, 1992, at a time when he was about to unseat the popular Governor of Texas, Anne Richards. Whether his sense of humour and rather odd eloquence is the result of his beverage or not is still a source of conjecture, but as "W" prepares to leave office after eight years of questionable judgement and logical flaws, it is clear that a very strong and poweful public relations machine was behind getting this underachieving son of privledge into office.
It's 2008 and we are about to have two elections, one Canadian, one American in the next two months. The former is significant because, hell, we live here, and the latter is important because, hell, they run the world. Four frontrunners are offering themselves up to public scrutiny and the numbers game, and it's the first time in a long while where I don't really like any of the candidates. My brief analysis follows:
1) Barack Obama - Surely me, liberal leaning bleeding heart lover of minorities and embracer of change should be bowled over with enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate in the United States. Unfortunately, I am not. I have not heard Mr. Obama say anything concrete in almost a year of campaigning, and he seems to be better at spewing Oprah like feelgood slogans than actually putting forth daring ideas that will shape his political future. It seems a little bit like cowardice to me, or at worst very superficial. Not good when you are up against other politicians/thinly veiled dictators, who are not particularly forgiving of your inexperience. He is smart, and knows he cannot take the troops out of Iraq or reform health care to any great degree. His dynamic aphorisms provide a veil of hope, but are really just icing on the cake that is his candidacy, which is remarkable, but sad considering this is the 21st century, and he should not have to be the first anything at this point in American history.
2) John McCain - How can you not like a war hero? Well, there are plenty of reasons. Did you ever go to a friend's house and meet their father who made you instantly uncomfortable and tense? This is how I seen Mr. McCain. There is a sense of volatility about him, as if he would crack under the pressures of the Presidency and make statements and decisions that would undermine whatever program his party still has. Given his age and health, the prospect of his Vice Presidential candidate assuming the Oval Office would truly be the final anti-intellectual nail in the American coffin. I can't wait to meet "Levi", her future son-in-law, who didn't even see fit to cover his dick.
3) Stephen Harper - In every way, our current Canadian Primeminister is the ultimate strategist, from repackaging himself as a Westerner to his attempt to win over Quebec with his acknowledgement of their distinct society status. He represents the triumph of the technocrat - strip Canada of everything that will hinder its ascent to fiscal success that is unnecessary, such as funding for the arts and cultural and political sovereignty - so long as the economy improves to the extent that we can buy a better hybrid (forget about signing the Kyoto Accord), and an extra cell phone. Unlike blowhards in the past (Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien), he is not likely to say anything to undermine his party publicly, which is not a problem since he avoids the press anyway.
4) Stéphane Dion - Uggh, the intellectual. Maybe I am surrounded by too many professors at work, but there is nothing aesthetically appealing about this guy. He delivers his political agenda with all the charisma of a bored lay priest, and his experience as leader has consisted almost solely of avoiding the vote on key issues that would force and election. Now he is stuck, as he actually has to campaign knowing that he is not popular in his own province (Quebec), and is seen by the rest of Canada as the adult version of the kid who was bullied in the schoolyard and went directly to the teacher. A debate between him and Stephen Harper will be as lively as listening to your most embarassing cousin recording a rap video.
There you have it, the men who may form your next government. I am saddened that there isn't a choice who is dynamic, courageous, and intelligent, but with age comes diminished expectations.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Montreal, 1975. I was 11, not even in puberty, and only beginning to see signs of the nose that would define my insecurities for the next six years. I lived for the Montreal Canadiens and "Welcome Back Kotter". I love the people in this video - they are so unassuming and unselfconscious. There seemed to be a freedom of spirit that I don't see in young people anymore, as the pressures to conform to a standard of acceptable behavior are so culturally legislated, it is hard to stand out. I know a couple of young twentysomethings who do, and they are special to me.
I'm feeling pressure too. 1975 was 33 years ago, and I am now 44, likely having lived the first half of my life. I took a walk at lunch today and seemed to be ultrasensitive to the presence of elderly people around me. I know I will get there one day, and it is hard for me to accept it. This is the first time I've been hit with a sense of a midlife crisis. I met someone after work today and could barely talk, everything sounding trite and awkward. I was forcing out words to keep a conversation going when I really just wanted to reach out and confess my sudden insecurity, but was deathly afraid to drop my guard for fear of looking foolish. Ridiculous, ain't it. 44 and so much more! 44 is the new 35, or is it 33! Brad Pitt is 44, and so is Lenny Kravitz, if the latter doesn't actually fall into a category more embarassing than praiseworthy. I feel great, healthy and fit, and am happy with many aspects of my life. I know some wonderful, incredibly talented people. There are other things I must work on, as the secret to staying young inside is to always try to develop and as I like to say in office meetings "embrace change". Well, maybe it's time to take that envigorating walk. Meanwhile, I hope the kids in the video have dealt with this already and are doing well, looking back on this period and smiling. Afterall, it's a great city!
Postscript next day: A walk 'll do ya good!
Monday, September 8, 2008
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Two generations later, the university I work for has its own Frank Serpico. I have had the pleasure of knowing Jeremy Cooperstock for a couple of years. Both of our boys share a class at the McGill Childcare Centre, and I become friendly with Jeremy and his family. A professor in the Faculty of Engineering, this guy is brilliant, almost to the point of intimidation. He is the type of person who will analyze almost any statement - not to criticize - but merely to see if it makes sense or whether or not another solution is possible. As a professor, he is a hard ass, and students are expected to work a fair amount for a decent grade. They are also expected to do honest work. I know little of the Faculty of Engineering, except to say the students are for the most part, conservative and bland, and will be staunchly successful, managing projects to develop the type of bedroom communities that will enable them to live in peace with their efficient, sensible, and equally bland partners. There, prejudices revealed. In any case, it appears that the definition of honest work varies somewhat from faculty to faculty, and there appears to be a "define what you mean by zero" tolerance in his own. After seeing cheating students threaten to sue the University and succeed in passing (a new concept of extra work for a grade), my buddy has had enough. He has launched a website http://www.degradingmcgill.ca/ to take on what he feels is an administration that claims to take a stance on academic integrity, but really uses this term for a little public relations exercise. It will be a tough fight, as the Goliath in this case is powerful, and the David is virtuous, but not.
Despite having worked at McGill for 18+ years, I am not the type of employee who would have the University Martlett symbol ( a fictitious bird, much like the aformentioned concept of integrity) tattooed on my ass. I have an attitude problem. I love my job, advising undergraduate students. I try to help them work around an administration that is often disorganized, ill-informed, or apathetic. If I have a run in with a student, they should seriously examine the flaws in their personality that led them to piss me off. If I have a run in with an employee - its because I think they may be taking themselves a little too seriously or they are unfairly contemptuous of students whose youth and potential they envy. With that attitude, if I am forced to work with you, I will not do so quitely.
I wish Jeremy the best of luck in this campaign. While I am morally indifferent to the concept of cheating - we all bend the rules in some way - the idea that a student can use their finanical or political power to threaten an institution and win is disgusting, and if rewarded, is just another example of one bully protecting another. When they make the movie, I can see a role for Jon Cryer as Jeremy Cooperstock. It will allow him to escape having to share a sitcom with notorious rule breaker, Charlie Sheen.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Well, in a state of blissful semi-relaxation, I thought of ten good memories - ten being a standard number for any kind of list. In this case, they are ten films that, no matter how tired I am, I could not resist sacrificing a night's sleep over. Here they are:
Shadows – John Cassavetes - The great director's first -largely improvised with amateur actors. A take on race relations and the concept of the "one drop of blood rule" and "passing for white" in America. Three siblings deal with their various shades of colour. Very hip, with a New York jazz aesthetic, before that became a cliche.
Repo Man - Alex Cox - Punk meets nuclear war paranoia. Likely dated, but wonderful for its subtle mocking of the middle class punk scence, and some great performances by Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, and Jennifer Tilly.
After Hours – Martin Scorcese - My favourite Scorcese film and one of his few comedies. I identify with Paul, the ordinary guy caught in the artsy Soho neigbourhood in New York because of a pretty woman, and the need to disrupt his mundane daily life.
What Happened Was – Tom Noonan - Noonan, a bit part player in some action films, made this serious two person drama about the awkwardness of dating, the pain of being single and lonely, and remarkable shift in power than can occur when levels of education and self esteem clash.
Watermelon Man- Melvin Van Peebles - Great satire on race relations. The bigot's nightmare - waking up one morning to discover that you have become black.
Tampopo- Juzi Itami - My first Japanese comedy. Noodles meet old spaghetti westerns. Great parody of American machismo, with a nod to the trucking industry, who afterall, put food on the table. I would come to love ramen noodles a decade later though.
Amarcord – Frederico Felini - Ok, so I did not come of age in Facist Italy in the 1930's, but what boy hasn't fantacized about a teacher or tried to make sense of chaos around him?
El Norte – Gregory Nava - Probably the most serious of the lot. Two teens from Central American try to make it as migrant workers in the US. Heartbreaking and very real, and the protagonists' journey is exciting and exhausting. Not as emotionally manipulative as it could have been.
Down By Law – Jim Jarmusch - A satire on the prison break film and male bonding. Great soundtrack from Tom Waits, who demonstrated reasonable acting skills, although his fight scene was more reminiscent of a Martha Graham than John Wayne.
Men- Doris Doerrie - Julius is 40, successful, but his wife leaves him for a hip artist. Shattered, he reinvents himself. Since the film is German, there is some deep seated reflection of how the baby boomer generation saw its ideals become corrupted. Very funny.
Quite a diverse list, and an extraordinary number of these films are from the 1980's, when I started to take movies a little more seriously as a form of entertainment. Pretentious as all hell, but I will talk hockey at some point too.
Friday, September 5, 2008
So I am on my way to work this morning and the song above blares over the oldies station designed to trigger nostalgia and good feelings. In this case, there was that odd feeling of Deja Vu. As I looked at Jake
I realized that I was the same age when this was the most popular song in North America, or likely behind some Herb Alpert instrumental on the charts. I was transported back to 1968, sitting in my sister's room as it was slowly transforming from the child's chamber of opression to an assertion of her own unique and rebellious personality. It was one of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio and it sounded a lot tougher than "All You Need Is Love" and "Mrs. Robinson".
I used to loathe 60's nostalgia, largely because I was too young to appreciate it. Now that the baby boomers are looking old and reflective, I can claim the music of this period as my first foray into musical appreciation, although my man crushes on The Rolling Stones have dissipated somewhat. It would also help if the music industry could produce something somewhat interesting. To quote Frank Zappa:
"Modern music is people who can't think signing artists who can't write songs to make records for people who can't hear."
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Since I am not a gun nut or prone to violence, let's just say I substitute gun shots with food groups I am trying to avoid: One shot for cake, one for Coca Cola, one for french fries, and several for the product that has been the undoing of my families waistlines for generations - bread. I've lost 12 lbs already and have 3 to go. There, said it, no need to bother my friends.