Saturday, April 25, 2015
If Jim Guthrie wrote and recorded a thousand songs, I’d probably give a reasonable go at passing them all through my earholes. This is a lo-fi-ish way of saying that I’m an enduring fan of the breadth of periods, fidelities, moods, genres, and projects he’s spanned as an independent Canadian musician and I don’t need much external convincing about the importance and quality of his work. But inevitably, from song to diverging song, I have wondered on the idea of the person behind this impressively wide and restless array of music. Not big on giving into the amorphous and self-serving bloat of such imaginings, I was relieved to fix my eyeholes on Andrew Hood’s Who Needs What (the 5th entry in Invisible’s Bibliophonic series), a just-released biography about Guthrie and his community of musical careers. Deft at covering a lot of history and a tangle of personal trajectories in a dash of time (106 pages), Hood contributes a wryly reflective and seriously well-researched document to the under-stocked library of Canadian music writing. Importantly, his inclusion of a multitude of voices centers the book against the mad forays into intentional fallacizing that mar much biographical work. Personal interviews with Guthrie, his friends, collaborators, fans, and critics create a happily roving narrative space within which many dimensions of character sound. Still, I wondered what Guthrie would think of the various personae that oscillated between song and page. Curious to get a better sense of biography as a splitting whole, I asked him.
Brad de Roo – who is pleased to let you know you can be a centering voice in the matter by attending the launch at the eBar on April 29th @ 7:30 and asking Andrew who needed what.
Did you learn anything about yourself through being biographied? Did people remember things differently from you?
I struggled with the idea of a bio at first. Mostly with fear of what it might reflect but also with the insecurity of “will anyone give a shit?” Everyone creates their own version of any past event but there wasn’t anything that popped out. The most overwhelming aspect of all of this was how much good nature was thrown my way. It was a huge reminder of how important people, music and community is to me. I was also very impressed with how well Andrew connected all the dots. I’ve known and worked with so many people over the years and I’m very thankful for this document.
You've re-released A Thousand Songs on vinyl with a digital bonus of re-recorded originals alongside the release of Who Needs What. Did the biography, and all it conjured, influence the process of selection and expansion?
This certainly wasn’t the intention but at some point during all of this I realized the book is basically an ad for the album. I’ve been meaning to release A Thousand Songs on vinyl for a long time. The book would give this album greater context and it was sort of “now or never” moment. When recording the cover versions of my older stuff for the digital side of the reissue I was sort of blown away by how well these 15-year-old lo-fi experiments translated to the band in the studio. We didn’t rehearse for the sessions and the idea was to try and be a little spontaneous with arrangements and feel etc. Most of them are straight covers but some of them got a dramatic overhaul and I’m thrilled with how it all turned out.
Andrew quotes a passage from composer/writer R. Murray Schafer at the onset of his book that you’ve referenced in some of your work. Schafer at one point writes: ‘We have split the sound from the maker of the sound.’ Do you feel split from your sound(s) in changing ways?
I’ve always loved this quote/idea. I still find it strange that I can listen to a performance trapped in time years after it took place. Capturing vibrations as they travel through the air seems like something only insects (or aliens) should have the power to do. It’s really insane when you think about it and to this day I still don’t really understand it. I definitely feel split from my recordings. I record so much that I have no memory of recording certain things. It’d be like trying to remember every piece of clothing you’ve ever worn. You can remember a bunch but there are so many favourite pants you’d totally forget about if it wasn't for that class picture or some other visual document of you wearing them, ya know? My recording habits have been much like putting on a pair of pants. It’s just something I do everyday.
Many musicians I know or have read about often have an ambivalent relationship to music writing. Steeping in the music history of the artists they admire is fun, inspiring, and contextualizing. Reading assessments or explorations of their own work is awkward, painful, and frustrating. Do you read much about music? Do you have favourite texts, whether theoretical or autobiographical or some panning swirl of the two? Have you ever had a hard time with journalistic or critical accounts of your work? Or is this one of the unavoidable dimensions of splitting sound from maker?
The Tuning of the World was a big one for me. Man, so many others. I’d have to be in front of my bookcase to jog the memory. It’s been a while since I’ve really read anything (not counting instruction manuals, recording tips and tricks or reviews of gear). So much music journalism (and music in general) is such a pissing contest. There was a year or two in my career where I tried to piss further than the critics but it’s such a waste of time and energy. It’s tough to make a living with your music if you’re unwilling to piss (or at least drink the Kool-aid) but it’s possible. I’ve always thought it’d be more interesting if we could thoughtfully write about the experience of hearing a song outside of all the “is it hip or cool enough” trappings so many recordings fall fate to. Like, writing about how a piece of music you love effected you as it passed through your earholes instead writing a grumpy, misinformed paragraph about a record “you had to review for your job”. I always felt sort of bad for bands that get bad reviews. It can be heartbreaking. It’s like feeling bad for a goalie that gets scored on a lot or something. You just want to give them a hug.
In the book, the whole Guelph Home Rock scene seemed like a good balance between interviewing aesthetic responses together and holding up pals for the odd fragile, fleeting pissing contest. What do you think of current avenues for Home Rock, DIY musical expression? I've dribbled a bit in the waters of SoundCloud, Bandcamp etc and found some very awesome stuff to respond to, but have often felt like it was an infinite library devoid of a community. How's the current internet set up changed the face of getting recordings out there?
The internet is a tremendous resource. It’s the best and it’s the worst. A person’s ability to create and connect has never been more easy but it’s only one side of a cassette, if you will. In my experience you have to try and counter it with a real-life community because the internet can be a dark and lonely place. And you’ll meet the worst critics in the comments section so you have to have a lot more going on in your creative life in order to have a healthy outlook. I’m super glad I lived for a good hunk without the internet because it makes me appreciate both worlds more.
Do you ever think of your music as autobiographical? Is there a difference of/in personal inclusion when you write albums that are not for film, ads, or video games? Does the score or ad music (or music to fit with visuals in general), ever feel like the aural equivalent of writing a character's, world's, product's, object's, or scene's biography?
My music is a lot of things to me. It’s mostly a form of therapy and escapism though. And yeah I totally get into character when coming up with a piece of music. One of things I learned early on is I have to treat all jobs / songs with as much care as I would anything else. I used to try and hold back when doing ads. Like, be less of a musician or something, ya know? But that’s when you feel the dirtiest. That’s sort of the definition of selling out to me, when you phone it in and create with the intent of doing a worse job than you normally would. You sell yourself short and that’s a bigger crime. I’m not saying I have to be in throws of ecstasy when writing a diaper jingle but I’m I’m still gonna "bring it" and try and write the best damn diaper jingle anyone has ever heard. You should always try to do your best work or just do something else. Anything less is a bummer.
In the book you talk about getting involved in art as being a form of therapy too. What therapy does music provide for you?
I guess it’s therapy in the sense that it puts me in a focused state and keeps me from doing / thinking whatever counterproductive things I might get into otherwise. It also ties into what I was saying earlier about always bringing your A game. A lot of healthy things go on in your head when you set out to do good and succeed. It makes me a better person. Too many head games otherwise. I’m sure there’s a motivational poster out there that with a cat or a sunset on it that says “When you do good you feel good” but it’s true.
Does a biography threaten this productive flow of time with a sense of finality?
Time (productive or otherwise) is threatened by nothing. Only my time is threatened by time… If ya feel me.
Lastly, is there anything you've always wanted to be asked about that no one has asked? Revealing the question or not, could you answer it?
You’ve just asked the question I’ve always wanted to be asked... So I’m not sure how to proceed.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
In a monthly showcase, Troy Caplan from Troy Boy Entertainment has for a few months now been bringing drag to Guelph with That's My Drag! I talked to Troy ahead of April's iteration, The Show Must Go On!, happening in the eBar on Saturday April 25th at 7:00pm. The Pride Edition will follow on May 2nd and the 3rd annual Mr and Miss Guelph Pride Pageant will be Friday May 8th.
How did you come to drag? Can you recall what your first show was? Do you feel like your own experience is common, and if so is there any advice you'd give to someone who's just taking an interest or just starting out?
I first fell in love with the craft of drag at 19. I was new to going out to gay bars and events, and stumbled upon drag shows at Kitchener's Club Renaissance. My first drag show was a casual Thursday Night All That Glitters Is Gold show hosted by Legendary Miss Drew. My experience for a queer-identified individual is not at all uncommon. The majority of gay bars host weekly, sometimes nightly, drag events with some of Ontario's finest queens. A lot of heterosexuals usually end up at a drag show in support of a friend in the show, or supporting a gay friend in general. With That's My Drag! I am trying to break the stereotype that drag is just for gays.
For individuals starting to take an interest, I'd say enjoy the show, move past the fact that it is a man dressed as a woman. It's real raw live entertainment. For anyone interested in starting in drag, either as a queen or a king, believe in yourself! Also; Come see me ;)
You're curating these eBar shows with performers from all over Ontario. Could you fill us in some of the performers you're bringing into Guelph? Any performers you'd really like to get on board?
Right now I have a roster of 25 queens that I work with. Some are seen more often than others, but this does not mean they are my favourites, I have entertainers who come in from Oshawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Tri Cities, Brantford.
Victoria Parks is the host to That's My Drag! She has been a drag queen in the Kitchener area for 20 years and a good friend of mine for almost a decade. She is hilarious on the microphone and is, what we call in the industry, a well seasoned queen.
Nadia Diamond – currently Miss Guelph Pride – has been performing for 10 years and has held almost every title in the 519 area. She is a consitent performer that constantly is playing with her look and costumes to ensure she is able to stay on par with some of the younger queens coming into the scene.
Rachael Temptation is a travelling show girl, best known for impersonations of Cher, Lady GaGa, Britney Spears just to name a few. Started off in Guelph - moved to Kitchener - and is now in Toronto. Rachael is an all around good queen. She makes the majority of her costumes and is forever trying new looks and music to evolve her own craft.
Athena McQueen is our Guelph native. She will be making a comeback appearance this April 25th show, after taking 6 months off. Athena has been performing for three years, but only consistently for two. I took Athena under my wing as a 'project queen'. When I first met Athena she was struggling to put herself together in a very critical industry. Since partnering, she has blossomed, probably one of my greatest accomplishments was helping her to get up and started. She is campy and fun and definitely a crowd favourite here in Guelph. You never know what she is going to bring to the stage.
My spotlight entertainers are generally big names in Toronto. Guelph doesn't yet understand the drag community, but Toronto does. I bring atleast one of Toronto's biggest stars every month, working with big names like Nikki Chin, who was an international sensation within her first year of doing drag. Going to other countries like Japan, Bermuda, and all across America. She has entered prestige pageants in the states and has represented Canada well! Xtacy Love is a starlet originally from Hamilton making a big splash in the Toronto scene. She was Crews & Tango's Drag Race Star 2013 and is just stepping down as Miss Crews & Tangos this April. These are two of the most prestige titles you can have in Toronto, with first place prizes $4500 worth of cash and gifts. And Scarlett BoBo is a circus freak. Stunning and beautiful, she plays with and eats fire, is trained in acrobatic silk tricks, sings live, produces music, so much more.
I could go on speaking about the entertainers for hours. With a roster of 25 queens I am slowly putting Guelph on the map in the industry, with other big names to come to Guelph in the near future!!
More than a few booksellers are huge fans of RuPaul's Drag Race. I assume that if something's on TV it means that there's there's a healthy audience for it. Do you have a sense of how drag's place in culture has changed in the past, say, 20 years?
Drag in the last 20 years has gone through drastic changes, which was needed. Even 20 years ago drag was a lot more frowned upon. Very underground and hidden. It was more a craft: men would dress in drag on a weekend, but come the week it would be hidden away. I'm sure some of the queens are still like that today. RuPaul has broken down so many doors for not even just drag queens but drag culture and gay culture. She helped take drag from the shadowed gay nightlife industry into mainstream. Now drag queens are everywhere: television, parades, sponsorship adds. There are countless pageants, awards, titles to be won. Drag queens can and do make a full healthy living off their craft. I have friends that can still tell you, even 10 years a go, drag queens were a huge target. Gay clubs even within my life time have been a huge target. Gay bashing, queen bashing, homophobia, transphobia. We as the queer community have come so far, but there is always reminders of how much further we need to go.
Misconceptions or assumptions about what drag is, about what drag shows are, must run rampant. No doubt you might be a little tired of correcting people (or maybe "better informing people" is a better term) , but what would you say to someone who's maybe a bit hesitant about a drag show?
Common misconception: NOT ALL DRAG QUEENS WANT TO BE WOMEN! In fact, most of them DO NOT want to be women. A lot of drag entertainers are exactly that! Entertainers! They live their lives like men and hit the stage as a woman.
Secondly: DRAG IS NOT JUST FOR QUEERS! I have just as many straight people in my life who enjoy the craft of drag as I do queers. And I know just as many queers who cant stand drag as I do heteros.
I'd encourage people to look past the fact that its a person dressed as the opposite sex. Does it hit an interest when they perform, does your draw drop, do you cheer and holler, do the entertainers leaving you itching for more? It's all just entertainment! Give it a try! To the straight men: it does not make you gay to find a drag queen attractive. It means the drag queen is really good at what they do!
Proceeds of your upcoming shows will be going to Guelph LGBTQ community. Do you have an idea what the shows themselves contribute to the community, or at least what you hope they'll contribute?
I am blessed to bring a show like 'That's My Drag!' to the city of Guelph. I am born and raised here. Growing up queer, there was next to nothing in this city for me. I myself only found out about the Guelph Pride Committee three years ago, after being involved as a volunteer for both the Tri-Pride & Toronto Pride committees.
I hope that my shows bring people together. Not the gay community, not the straight community; my focus is the community at large. Yes, I make all of my events queer identified, not because it's exclusive to the queers, but because the queers don't have anything in this city targeted towards them. I truly hope that my show touches people, all people, whether it's as simple as making it queer identified for some, or putting a smile on an older generation's face. My show brings out such a wide spectrum of individuals, people between 19 and as old as 70 have walked through the doors. They all have two things in common: open minds and positive attitudes!
I feel having the Drag Show will help the queer community have a little bit more of a growing stance in the city. With more and more straight people coming each month, the drag show is helping for Guelph Pride & Out On The Shelf to be more visible. It's important for individuals to have a sense of belonging, and I feel the Drag show continues to be an element for that each and every month.
Monday, April 20, 2015
In Clifford Jackman's The Winter Family, the last half of America in the 19th century is stitched together by a roving band of killers for hire. The stitching is almost battlefield surgery, all blood and pain and booze and urgency. Named for their leader, the stoic, pale-eyed, and seemingly amoral Augustus Winter, the titular Winter Family is an odd bunch made up of a military general, an unnatrualized German, a freed slave, and a booze-ruined Cherokee, all leftovers from the Civil War who aren't convinced that wars are the sort of things that are actually won or lost, let alone ever fully end. With a melange of violence, humour, and pontification, they attend and assist the awkward, sometimes excruciating, growth of a nation trying to define and secure its vision by any means necessary. They punish slave owners in Georgia, tamper with a still struggling democracy in Chicago, and remind a Phoenix lawman that lawless remains the law of that land.
I sat down with Clifford, a lawyer by day who who recently moved to Guelph with his family, to talk about genre, history, and the daily grind of writing.
How'd you come to writing?
I've always wanted to be a writer. I was a writer when I was a little kid. And I was always a big reader, relative to the other kids my age.
What kind of stuff were you reading?
I read pretty broadly. I was an ambitious reader. I wanted to read things above my age level. If I was in Grade 9, I’d be reading stuff the Grade 12s were supposed to be reading. I was under the mistaken impression that it made me cool. Which, in fact, it did not.
Were you reading and understanding?
I would read first and the understanding would come after. When I first read, say, Heart of Darkness when I was 14 years old, I literally had the CliffsNotes there. I would read a page of the book, and then read a page of the CliffsNotes to figure out what I just read. But I always found that once I read one book by a writer, whether it was Joseph Conrad or Charles Dickens or Dostoevsky, I could crack the code [of that writer], and then I was understanding.
I should say that I didn’t just read the classics. That was one half. The other half was fantasy and sci-fi, and I was a huge Stephen King fan. I loved the Dragonlance novels. I was all over Dungeons and Dragons, all over space, all over Lord of the Rings.
If this is 1995ish, the stuff you were into – oftentimes called "genre" – was generally considered low entertainment. But if you’re reading that stuff next to Conrad, who himself was writing for entertainment – I mean, those were the entertainment stories of the time – it must have created a personal context. Did you seeing those connections then?
Definitely. After high school, I went to York University thinking I was going into creative writing, and it was a shock. I took this course, Introduction to Literary Genres, and I thought we’d do mystery novels and science fiction novels and stuff, but they took a pretty different approach to what “genre” was. So we were reading people like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. And for me there was a fair bit of resistance to that. I wouldn’t say I hated it, but at the time I was like, Oh, man. These people think they’re cool. But then I went on to get my master's and came to love Woolf, and Joyce, and Faulkner.
I’ve never really believed in the division between "literary" and "genre" fiction. But I get the feeling that that gap is starting to shrink down again. I vividly remember in the 90s Margaret Atwood denying up and down that she was a science fiction writer, or that Handmaiden’s Tale was a science fiction book. As a guy who liked science fiction then, I remember that. But people aren’t nearly so fussed about that I don’t think now. "Genre" was sort of the kiss of death back then. People treated you like crap.
There was a shift in the 90s, I think exemplified by authors like Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon. Chabon especially became vocally bored with the suburban, domestic literary stuff that he had earlier made his name with. I especially remember him pointing out that "literary" is as much as a formula as anything else.
I think that’s the thing.
I get the idea that around that time authors got bored and readers got really bored.
I think fundamentally… And I don’t want to be rude to anybody because I know everyone’s trying really hard. Writing really hard to do. But fundamentally, when, as a writer, you’re making your list of things to do, you can forget about the reader to a certain extent. Books are a commitment of the reader's time and mental energy in a way you don’t when you just click on shit on Netflix, or when you play Candy Crush or something. If I’m gonna bore a reader… There’re writers I really respect who were boring on purpose. Like The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, which I read in school. I like that book and Sterne makes jokes about how he’s boring you on purpose. At the end of the day if that you want to do, fine. But make sure you think about it.
Ask yourself, Who’s reading this book? Why are they reading it? To me, it seems like that sometimes gets lost. It's easy for a writer's audience to become juries for prizes, or reviewers, because that’s a way to get sales. It’s same if you’re at a convention and there’s a book with a cool dragon on the cover – I’m not saying they’re equal, but they’re similar. They’re a way of selling the book.
You were writing while you were at York?
I was. It took me a long time to finish my first novel. I got pretty far into one, then gave up. It was a retelling of the Hercules myth basically. I got pretty far in another one, a fantasy story again, about a world of two races on it who fought each other. I got stuck and it took me years to finish. What happened was, my second year at York they went on strike. That one lasted 10 weeks. All that time, I did no writing. All I did was play video games. Baldur’s Gate 2 – another nerdy Dungeons and Dragons game.
When I went back to school, I decided I was never going to finish a book ever. I’d had 10 weeks, had nothing to do, and had done nothing. I was 21 years old, so I’m basically old already – that was my thinking process. But then my philosophy changed. I made sure I put down 1 000 words a day no matter what. And I made sure to cut out everything boring. And then, lo and behold, the book got finished, and that was a big moment for me because I knew I could do it. I went on to write a bunch of stories and actually became very productive at school and at work. I got my 1 000 every day for some time.
Then I did my masters [in English Literature] at Queens and struggled on and off with a story there, then took a year off, then went to law school. I had these projects that were sorta fun projects, like science fiction stuff, but then other projects that would be The Thing, would be more publishable. And a lot of the time that stuff wouldn’t go the way I thought it would. It wouldn’t get finished.
What was your idea of publishable?
I had one idea set in the 1980s around this scandal: basically, the CIA cooked up this deal with justice department to not prosecute contras that were smuggling cocaine into the US, and the contras eventually hooked up with this guy, Rick Ross – who, I believe, the rapper got his name from – who was the biggest cocaine dealer in the universe and that fueled the crack-cocaine boom in the 1980s that was devastating to a lot of American inner-cities. So I did all this research and got about 120 pages in and it just died on me.
Then I had another idea about a lawyer set in Toronto and I thought, Oh, now I’m writing from what I know. That’s what you’re supposed to do. This’ll be good. Up to this point a lot of books had failed for me, and this was the first one that ought to have failed, but I technically, on paper, finished it. I had a lot of issues with it, but it was still a big moment, knowing I could finish anything if I have to.
The Winter Family was something I wrote for fun. It wasn’t something that was supposed to be publishable, it wasn’t supposed to be anything. I sat down and, in four days, wrote a much longer version of [the chapter in The Winter Family] "Oklahoma 1891", and I put it aside thinking, That was fun. But at the time my friend had a store in Toronto, Article 8, on College and Bathurst, and we decided to self-publish Oklahoma 1891. His store closed before the book was done. It ended up at the Modrobes store – which is closed now too – and we had the party there. A lot of people came out and I started getting positive feedback to my writing for the first time. This would have been 2008, 2009.
What on earth’s a Modrobe?
I never owned a pair, but they kinda looked like this hospital pant-type things, very popular in college dorms and people would I guess wear them to raves. But then the inventor of them went on Dragons Den and got a bunch of money and opened a store, and that’s where I launched Oklahoma 1891.
That story was supposed to be a standalone. Spoiler alert: there’s not much left after 1891. But I ended up writing three prequels and a sequel to it. Eventually, in 2010, I randomly went out to an event in Whitby called DarkFest. One of the events was a PitchFest, where you have 10 minutes to pitch your book. So I pitch my book, saying it’s a western, and here’s who I am, and that’s eventually how I got my agent, Carolyn Forde. But that was, what? Five years ago? So it’s still a very, very long road to where we are today.
That actually worked? I’ve never heard of anything coming from those pitch things.
I think it’s very rare, but it does happen sometimes. The thing is, it’s hard to break into this industry. It’s so hard. And it’s so hard even after you get your deal. There’s so much competition out there. It’s unreal. You put your book on the shelves next to something that was written 2000 years ago, not just the new stuff that came out that month.
Have you guys been talking about the market for The Winter Family?
There’s definitely a market. Cormac McCarthy is the name that always comes up, but this Grit Lit stuff is a sub-genre. I hadn’t heard Grit Lit until people started calling my book that. But The Winter Family is also supposed to be a fun book. This has been one of my concerns when I started seeing some of the reviews was that everyone was talking about the violence, but it’s also supposed to be fun. Quill and Quire got that.
It seems now that anyone with a book set in the past, in the desert, with people getting shot, gets hailed as the new Cormac McCarthy.
It sucks. Cormac McCarthy owes a lot of William Faulkner, but no one says he’s “William Faulkner, but not as good” every time he puts out a book. It’s a tough comparison. The Winter Family’s written nothing like McCarthy, although I’ve read all his books, he’s maybe my favourite writer.
I assume Augustus Winter will get compared some to The Judge in Blood Meridian. And probably the way you describe a human being’s ability to come apart will garner similar comparison to McCarthy's famous gore.
But that was a thing I did when I was a kid. We used to do that for fun. My friends and I would get a writing assignment and, because we were horrible… People talk about kids these days being terrible, but the kids in our day were so much worse. Kids today are maybe a bit soft or whatever, but they’re not dickheads like we were back in the day. We'd get creative writing projects, and it would turn into a contest to see who could be the most disgusting. You’d get an assignment about what you did in the summer, and everyone’s head would be getting cut off, or their guts ripped out. It was all a contest between me and my five friends to see who could be the most disgusting. If you did this today, you’d be sent to see the school psychologist. Back then our teachers were just like, “B. B+. B.”
Is it hard for you then, considering that gory glee, to also start bringing in questions about morality?
The theme of the book is caught in that anecdote of Alexander and the Pirates, how these guys aren’t the last breath of freedom before civilization, they are civilization. That’s not necessarily the thesis of The Winter Family, but that’s the question it’s asking.
In terms of the morality of the book, I think, whether we live in a universe with any objective morality, or whether we live in a universe where it’s just whatever your personal prejudices happen to be, and the universe is nihilistic and uncaring. I don’t know if the book comes down on those questions so much as it deals with individuals’ fears and beliefs towards those questions. It was important for the book to not sugarcoat the world outside of civilization. The point isn’t, These guys are terrible and if only we were in a state of nature like Jean-Jaques Rousseau imagined and we're all naturally good. No. Everyone is violent and at the end of the day you have to make a choice, and it’s a tougher choice than you might think.
A character in book I like, that people don’t talk that much about because he was in just the one book, is the city councilman in the Chicago chapter.
I was just going to mention Chicago. I love that these Western outlaws get inveigled in Eastern politics. In Chicago it's community-minded gangster Micky Burns against industry-minded Noah Ross, the brother of one of The Winter Family.
The party in Chicago were oppressed Irish immigrants. They had their own code, too. It’s easy to forget because they’ve now integrated so well, but people like the Irish, Italians, and Germans were horribly discriminated against. Not as bad as other people, but bad. If you go back and read what people were saying about the Irish, their being naturally stupid, inherently criminal – basically racist screeds. So this councilman, Micky Burns, had the philosophy, We stick close to our friends, and yeah we’re stealing our faces off, but paying for funerals and handing out Christmas turkeys and stuff. Of course you can’t just steal all the time, but he saw himself as a big man in the community. There was more to it than just being a thief. He was the head thief, and there’re responsibilities that come along with that.
On the other hand, you have Noah Ross and his pig factory, stripping everything down to efficiency so no one will really benefit, who doesn’t care if the people working in his pig factory are living in disgusting shanty towns by rivers so full of blood they could crust over. But at the end of the day, he’s also not wrong, right? That kind of corruption meant economic growth, and that growth in these cities hauled people up into the middle class.
And then Winter comes along and he doesn’t care. The book doesn’t really have an opinion about what’s right or wrong, but looks at the consequences of certain lifestyles.
The idea of Manifest Destiny is interesting as hell to me, inasmuch as it’s still going on, that there’s this stain in the national cloth, this indelible feeling of rightness, even in the face of what's certainly morally incorrect. We’re reluctant to talk about the amount of violence and deviance that brought us to where we are now. Similarly, the people who use Augustus Winter never seem to know what to do with him once his directed amorality has given them a boost.
To me, I don’t know how useful The Winter Family ever was. People thought they would be useful, but they mostly made things worse everywhere they went. But they get replaced by The Winter Family 2.0, The Pinkerton Detective Agency, who’ll shoot whoever they’re asked to, but honor their contacts as well. To me, Manifest Destiny was opening Pandora’s Box. That’s all in Blood Meridian. You tell people, These Apaches are pissing us off and we’ll pay you for their scalps, everyone runs out and starts scalping anyone they can catch. Then they take all your money until the treasury’s dried up and shoot up your town. You hired horrendous human beings to help you with this problem instead of dealing with it in a human way, you hired mercenaries. That was the thing with The Winter Family. They were tools, but they weren’t very useful tools. It’s not that civilization got to a point where they didn’t need them anymore, they just realized they were never that useful in the first place. That’s civilization learning. These people don’t help us achieve our ultimate goal, which is to reformulate the entire continent basically.
Probably every human being has to be a hypocrite of some sort. Maybe we need to be just a little bit full of shit some of the time. You can’t take every idea to its logical conclusion. Dostoyevsky dealt with these problems. Arthur Koestler talked about them in Darkness At Noon, the idea that logical things brought to their conclusions become absurd.
I hate to be that guy who asks you if you’ve ever seen The Wire, but have you ever seen The Wire?
I love The Wire.
The Winter Family really has a The Wire feeling, inasmuch as it goes up the rungs of power, understanding how corruption and hypocrisy goes all the way to the top. I’m trying to think of other westerns that visit the city the way you did the in the Chicago chapter. There’s this romance of the west – maybe the same way there’s a certain sort of cultural romance to a kind of street life now – that turns that place into a kind of bio-dome, which ignores the fact that the railroads and economy are keeping even the most far off place connected to civilization.
For me it’s important that the Winter Family wasn’t just on the frontier. It’s important to say that people are shooting each other in Tombstone, Arizona as much as they are in Chicago. It’s all a democracy that, fundamentally, is unrecognizable by our current standards. Ballot box stuffing, gangs rushing around and battling on the streets. There’s craziness on the fringes, but there’s also craziness as the heart of democracy.
So you wrote "Oklahoma 1891" in 2008. You were gradually expanding the history since then?
I wrote the Phoenix chapter, then I wrote California – which has been cut out of the book, but will apparently be released as a digital short. Then I wrote Chicago and Georgia. They were in different orders and there were a lot of edits to make it to the book that’s getting released.
I edited a ton before sending it to my agent, and then we retained an editor to keep at it. Then we sent it out to all the big Canadian publishers, and were rejected everywhere. Then I redid the whole thing and we submitted it to New York, about 10 places. Everyone rejected it. I was devastated. But Melissa Danaczko at Doubleday liked it enough that she offered to work on it in her spare time. Then Anne Collins got on board in Canada and decided to put me up as the New Face of Fiction, which is obviously huge.
How does this experience match up with how you thought it’d be when you started slugging it out with your first novel back at York?
This is a lifelong dream for me, and I’m happy, but it feels weird. If the book's a big hit, that’s one thing; if it’s not, that’s another thing. I guess I’ll always be a writer. You just go on.
One thing I wrote during all those years was a screenplay of Beowulf. I thought I was so smart because I was ahead of the curve, but then three movies came out. They kill Grendel, but the next day Grendel's mother comes around, so I had this scene where Beowulf killed the monster and they’re like, Why aren’t you happy? You killed Grendle who’s been tormenting us for decades. And Beowulf’s like, This is a happy time, but the sun’s gonna come up the next day, and the next day, and other shit’s going to happen. I think that’s how I feel with the book.
I have always wanted to be a writer. There’s one quote from Hemingway where he’s talking about aspiring writers, which he calls "mice." The mouse asks him, When did you start wanting to be a writer. And Hemingway says, I have always wanted to be a writer. There was no when. I’ve always written. I have eight novels that will never get published. And to be here, it just feels weird. I hope that doesn’t sound too negative.
That’s the shit people don’t talk about. You start out writing towards this dream of publishing, but even if you've written the best book ever, it doesn't mean anyone cares. I remember getting my first book published and it sort of dawning on me that, as awesome as that is, and as awesome as it feels, I've got to go back to the same place at the desk regardless. Succeed or fail, you've got to get up the next day and just continue.
It’s so much work to be a writer...
Actually, no. It’s not hard work. Writing's like going to the gym. If we could all be totally jacked and ripped by doing something horrible over a short period of time, say 48 hours, and afterwards we walk out of there and we’re cut, everyone would be in good shape. It doesn’t matter how horrible that would be. But if you have to do something that’s not all that bad, but you have to to do it today and tomorrow and the next day, and you don’t really see any progress – and even when you do see progress it’s so slow you don’t notice it on a day-to-day basis – that kind of process takes more than hard work. It takes some other quality of craziness.
Maybe that's the true grit they talk about.
Okay, true grit, if you like. Basically, if you don’t love doing it, you need to do anything else. Because there’re easier ways to get rich. As a lawyer, I assure you there’re easier ways to get rich. If you’re going to do something you don't love, you should at least be getting rich so you can buy a boat or something. What’s the quote by Oscar Wilde? Something about the only reason to do a useless thing is you admire it intensely?
Clifford Jackman will be launching The Winter Family along with Lori Lansens and her new novel The Mountain Story in the eBar, Wednesday April 22nd at 7:00pm.
Sunday, April 19, 2015
Awaiting the advance copy of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Dancing in the Dark, the 4th volume in his autobiographic novel My Struggle, I wondered, “Can he do it again?” The first three volumes deal individually with the death of Knausgaard’s father, his own second marriage, raising three children and struggle to mesh familial responsibilities with his writing passion, and lastly childhood in rural Norway. They have been greeted with international acclaim, termed addictive, selling ½ million copies in Norway alone and translated into 22 languages.
Dancing in the Dark is a story of adolescence. It focuses on a year as a temporary teacher in northern Norway, when Knausgaard was eighteen and fresh out of the gymnasium, taking his tentative first steps as a writer. To make the life of a teenager enthralling to others is a tall order indeed. And yet he does it – brilliantly and seemingly effortlessly.
The volume will no doubt draw comparisons to Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Karl Ove is the quintessential, angry and introspective teenager, self-consciously flouting society’s norms and standards, propelled by his hormones, lacking in self-understanding despite perpetual self-absorption. He details the primary preoccupations of existence, losing his virginity and changing his consciousness with alcohol. Obsessed with female attraction, each passing glance gives him a stiffy, but at every intimate moment, and there are many as Knausgaard is a handsome lad and the girls are willing, he is betrayed by the classic specter of male desire – premature ejaculation! So twisted does his sexuality become, that he rejects those for whom he feels most strongly. At the same time we witness his parent’s divorce and his father descent into alcoholism. The author’s own drunken blackouts take on a darker reverberation. Above all, Karl Ove is alive and perhaps learning too. Many will find it uproarious; every male will be touched by its authenticity.
Knausgaard has smashed through the boundaries of the autobiographic novel. He simultaneously answers David Copperfield’s question, “Whether I should turn out to be the hero of my own life…” with Flaubert’s novelistic injunction, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” His style is unique. The present is continually unfolding, approaching stream of consciousness, with obvious access to the author’s internal experience, but with detachment. Knausgaard remains an outsider, an observer especially of himself.
I wouldn’t recommend starting Knausgaard with Dancing in the Dark. These tales of a randy teenager, while a faithful depiction of Norway in the 80s with an ending worthy of Tom Jones, have greater resonance when placed beside other events in a life scrutinized and turned into art. I can’t wait for the next installment!
Monday, April 13, 2015
Dear Canadian Booklovers:
Let’s do something wonderful together on Saturday, May 2. It’s called Authors for Indies Day. That’s when authors across Canada support independent bookstores by volunteering as guest book sellers.
Independent bookstores enrich our communities. They provide gathering places for discovering new authors, sharing favourite books, and expanding our horizons. Store managers are thoughtful curators, bringing in books they know customers will love. Our neighbourhoods would be much diminished without our local bookstores.
So come out to the bookstores listed on your province’s page (see above) and meet a local author or two. Bring the family. Chat with us, reader to reader, about the books and authors you love and we’ll tell you about the ones we love. Most of all, come and get to know your local bookstore.
This year we're thrilled to be participating with a cadre of authors for Author For Indies Day. Check out the list of the scribes who'll be swinging by the store on May 2, 2015. If you identify as an Author – whether published or not – we'll be offering 30% off books to you.
Kathy Stinson @ 10:30am
Barbara Kyle @ 10:30am
Charmian Christie @ 11:00am
Jean Little @12:00pm
Tom King @ 1:00pm
Douglas Davey @ 1:30pm
Stephen Henighan @ 1:30pm
Pam Mordecai @ 1:30pm
Clifford Jackman @ 1:45pm
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Since 2006, Kazoo! has been importing the bands and artists you love and the bands and artists you didn't know you love into Guelph, whether as one-off shows (the tally of which is reaching the 200 mark) or within the cornucopia of Kazoo! Fest. From its humble begginings to it's current and growing status as force-to-be-reckoned-with, Kazoo! has always run on a tank of genuine, generous excitement for the acts it attracts, propelled by can-do organizers and volunteers.
Emboldened by a mutual interest in Guy Fieri, I bugged one such Kazoo!er, Mike Deane, for the inside scoop on this year's festival – you know, really tried to get an idea of the wax paper in the kazoo that makes the thing hum.
Who on earth are you and what on earth do you do with Kazoo!?
Mike Deane, I am the Secretary and Treasurer for Kazoo!, as well as one of the programmers for year-round events and the Kazoo! Festival. I do some of everything for Kazoo! from the overall organization and booking bands to stapling Kazoo! Fest pamphlets to driving around and picking up gear to doing sound to letting bands sleep on my couch. The only thing I don't really have my hand in is the visual arts programming, because I know very little about it.
How'd you get mixed up with these guys? Maybe you could mention the other kids rowing this boat – if you leave anyone out, don't worry: they probably don't deserve mention in that case.
I moved to Guelph from Edmonton with my partner Kathy about 2.5 years ago. I grew up in Caledon, and after spending more than a decade in Montreal and Edmonton, we decided it was time to move to Ontario, but didn't want to move to Toronto. Honestly, we didn't know much about Guelph's arts scene when we moved here. Kathy had a good gig with the Waterloo School Board and I worked from home, and it just seemed like a nice place to settle down. Our good friend Todd lived here, and I knew Bry Webb from Southern Ontario punk days in the early 2000s, but other than that we were starting anew. I first heard of Kazoo! when I saw flyers around town for the U.S. Girls/Slim Twig/Legato Vipers/The Furys show at the ANAF shortly after I got here. I went to that and was blown away by how good it was and how many people were out there supporting it. It was a really great thing to witness, as I'd been involved in music in Montreal and Edmonton, but didn't know anything about music in Guelph.
Shortly after that I met Brad through my friends Marie and Aaron from Weird Canada, who had recently moved to Waterloo and were in town discussing something or other. I figured Kazoo! was some sort of established money-making concert promoter and figured if I wanted to bring bands to town I should do it on my own. I slowly figured out that Kazoo! was actually an artist- and volunteer-run promoter that literally made no money (all goes to bands and expenses) when I volunteered to help out at Kazoo! Fest in 2013. At this time I got to know Brad and Eihab a bit better, and understood more about the festival and the organization's mandate. I booked a few shows on my own the summer following Kazoo! Fest 2013, and Brad, who had been running Kazoo with Eihab for years (with a strong volunteer base for the festival), decided it was time to bring in some new blood to grow the festival, and essentially make sure he didn't burn himself out by single-handedly trying to do everything.
I joined the Kazoo! crew with David Lander, who had just moved back to Guelph from St. John's, and Brian Schirk, we got a board together (with the amazing and generous Danica Evering, Steph Yates and Scott McGovern), and we did some regular programming and Kazoo! Fest 2014. The festival was amazing, and was bigger and more celebrated than any of us thought it would be, with Danica and Scott handling a lot of the multimedia and arts programming, while Steph took the reins of volunteer organization, Audrey King handled a lot of the hospitality, and Brad, Dave, Brian and I contributed to the nuts and bolts, like dealing with contracts, renting gear, running shows, marketing, etc, etc etc. We worked on some shows throughout the year, and then started putting together the 2015 festival in October of 2014. Brian moved to Toronto and kept us informed of what was going on there. With all of us having input on music and arts programming this year, we put together dream-lists, contacted bands, Danica headed up the art curation, Steph took on the volunteer coordination, and we met every week for 6 months to make it happen. I would also like to point out how hard everyone on the team works. Dave and Brad have a drive I could only hope for, and are tremendously skilled with organizing, arts administration, and working like crazy to make things happen. Danica and Steph spend countless hours organizing, contacting bands and artists, reaching out to volunteers, hanging shows, finding venues, and together everyone's individual skills and output make the festival work.
Kazoo!'s been a "thing," putting on shows since 2006, right? How the hell do you stay cool and edgy after almost a decade? Especially since what's cool has changed at least seven times since then.
I can only speak for having been part of it for a few years, and I think a big part of keeping the programming relevant is having so many people helping make the decisions for programming at this point, and Brad's tireless community-mindedness and arts obsession over the past 8 years. I do a radio show at CFRU, which forces me to keep on top of lots of new music, and everyone else is a genuine music and art fan, so it's essentially about trying to find amazing bands that you want to see play in Guelph. I think we all have different tastes when it comes to music, so with Brad, Dave, Danica, Steph, and Brian's input, we get a very well-rounded list of bands we want to play. We also try to ensure that there is a good mix of genres and backgrounds represented, with bigger touring bands being paired with new and emerging bands. We essentially just want people to love the bands we love, and the art that was love, and be exposed to the amazing talent that may not be something you'd normally happen upon.
Do you kids approach each new Fest with a game plan or thesis? Or do you just throw darts at Bandcamp?
I think for the festival, the only guiding thesis is: Bring great music and art to Guelph for five days. There are definitely other considerations, like making sure the line-up is diverse, with something that will appeal to everyone, but other than that it's about talking to people, finding out what people love, figuring out what we love, and then trying to plan how all this will make sense over 5 days. There's not a "theme" every year, it's really all about quality, challenging, and amazing art making its way to Guelph.
Do you have a sense of the reputation Kazoo!'s establishing outside the blast zone of Southern Ontario? Are kids buying plane or train tickets to hit this thing up? Do you expect a line of cars wending off into the distance like that final scene of Field of Dreams?
Though it would be wonderful to enter into a Field of Dreams scenario (or, heck, I'd even take a situation like the end of that modern classic Pay It Forward), I think Kazoo!'s momentum is still building to that point. People come from Toronto, London, Hamilton, KW to see Kazoo!, but I don't know if we're at the plane ticket level yet. We try to expand our reach every year, and try to make it bigger and better every year to make sure that it draws people to Guelph. Last year was especially great, as you could walk around downtown Guelph and see people from all over Southern Ontario, going to local businesses, jumping around between shows, staying with friends, getting Air BnBs, just to come for five days. We're hoping for the same thing this year.
While Guelph's nowhere near the no-dancing town from Footloose, there's inevitably some chafing between the community and kids with electric instruments. But in its 8th year (correct?), Kazoo!'s starting to feel like its being a bit more seriously accepted by the city – something that the city's full-on proud of, something people will cite when they explain to their friends why they haven't moved to Toronto. Are all y'all Kazoo!ers feeling a bit more accepted?
I don't know if there's ever been any chafing with the local community (again, only been to two Kazoo! Fests). I've always found people of all walks are very accepting and encouraging of Kazoo! People in Guelph love Guelph, and they are usually excited by something that shows off the city to people outside. Also, I think there are enough genres represented (punk, indie, folk, experimental, electro, free jazz, hip hop, whatever), and enough free shows, all ages shows, family friendly shows, and accessible shows that people in Guelph understand we want them to be a part of this too. We want everyone to come out to shows, galleries, dance performances, pancake breakfasts, and experience music and art that would not be in Guelph without Kazoo! I'm really happy that you say that the people of Guelph are "full-on proud" of Kazoo! because it's something that we are hoping will enrich people's lives and make the place they call home more interesting and exciting.
Any advice on how a body can be in more than one place at a time? I assume you guys wouldn't have overlapping shows unless you knew about some sort of duplication device. I mean, you're not jerks, are you?
The organization of running shows is insane, and thankfully we have a ton of amazing volunteers that help out with everything. From volunteers running shows, doing merch, selling drinks, loading gear, cleaning up, doing sound, and more, there is so much support that allows us to make it happen. This is not to say that the whole Kazoo! crew will not be tired wrecks by Sunday morning, but at least we'll make it to Sunday morning without totally burning out.
Let's say I'm one of those people who peruses a Kazoo! Fest poster while waiting to get my coffee and am all like, "I've never even heard of any of these bands." Any advice for me? And don't just tell me to chill out.
First off: Chill out. After you're thoroughly chilled, read through the whole pamphlet, there are descriptions of every band, hopefully informing you of what to expect. We definitely try to include genre signifiers so that people who have never heard of a single band will still be interested in digging deeper into the line-up. As well, our site Kazookazoo.ca has links to music for every band. I also want to put it out there that I stand behind every show we've put together this year. I would be happy to go to any one of these shows, and the fact that there are 20 different music and dance performances, art shows, the print fair, and multimedia events to go to, there will definitely be something you enjoy. So, read the descriptions, get on the net, and just take a chance on anything you think might be interesting. All of the shows are affordable, some of them are free, some of them are Pay what you can, and most of them are all ages.
Why no alt swing bands on the bill? I didn't take all those swing dance lessons back in '97 not to see and enjoy alt swing bands in Guelph.
I was in direct contact with Big Bad VooDoo Daddy, The Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and even Royal Crown Revue this year, but none of them could fit the festival into their very busy tour schedules. Don't throw out the fedora and watch-chain just yet, though. Next year there may be some zoot suit worthy bands.
Find a physical copy of this year's festival around town or get acquainted with the online version. Between rock shows, dance shows, art shows, and print shows, you can't throw a rock without hitting something worth checking out this year. The Bookshelf is getting in on the action, hosting a trio of shows:
April 8 - Absolutely Free/Tyvek/Badminton Racquet - $10 door/all ages
April 9 - No Joy/Last Ex/Masques - $10 door/all ages
April 10 - Homeshake/Jon Mckiel/Bass Lions - $10 door/all ages