Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In which Jello meets Chris Towers (and an East Van drunk tries to save my soul)

I arrive at Chapel Arts, on Dunlevy - a few blocks from Main and Hastings - shortly after five PM. I've been in the city, staying at the highly affordable St. Clair Hotel, for two nights -
seeing the Legendary Pink Dots at the Biltmore on Friday and Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine on Saturday - but this is my final evening; as soon as I complete my mission, I'll be loading my gear back home - a backpack of books, DVDs, and dirty laundry, a copy of Pere Ubu's Terminal Tower on vinyl and some other goodies in a Zulu Records cloth tote (tho' I actually bought the record at Dandelion). I'm also packing my CPAP machine, looking conspicuous in its carrying case, like there might be a camera or something else expensive therein. (CPAPs aren't cheap but probably not so easy to pawn; I'm worried that someone will nick it on the assumption that it is something more easily sold). I sit outside the disused funeral chapel on the cold pavement, a protective arm around my pile o' stuff, and wait for others to arrive; who knows who is inside the building, or how many people are coming - but I'm meeting Chris Towers at 6, and want to be sure to be first in line for this event.

At some point, Nardwuar comes by - he's the first person to arrive after I get there - and we chat briefly; I explain my mission - to introduce Jello (Christian outsider music enthusiast and former Ty Scammel customer) to Chris Towers (Christian outsider musician and member of the New Creation, the band Ty brought back from oblivion, their CD coming out shortly before his death). I explain the plot to a few other people, too, as people start going in-and-out, including Susanne Tabata. She seems to have other things on her mind.

A car pulls up and suddenly there's Jello, approaching the cluster. I remain seated, more or less out of earshot, though I catch a few things - like Jello explaining that he runs "on Biafra time," which is a pretty entertaining turn-of-phrase.
Widower director Marcus Rogers, Susanne, and a few other people are standing in the doorway talking with Jello, when suddenly a guy in his 30's, walking by on the sidewalk, says, "What the fuck!?" and stops. Everyone looks at him, and by way of explanation, he rolls up his t-shirt sleeve to reveal an Alternative Tentacles logo on his upper arm. "I got it when I was 17," he says, explaining that he's just walking through the neighbourhood on his way to or from work - he wasn't expecting to run into Jello Biafra. Well, who is, really? Jello takes an interest in the tat - the border has been altered and he takes a closer look - and then the door opens and the group hustles inside, leaving the guy standing on the sidewalk, and me. He looks at me, still a bit dazed. "That was random!" he says, shrugs, and continues on.

I maintain my vigil. I'm not entirely thrilled to be seated outside, but Chris isn't here yet. A few decimated locals pass by - the "People of the Plague," whose personal damage is really far scarier than any threat they might pose. Susanne comes out, organizing something, when one drunken, scrawny fellow, carrying on his shoulder a sort of improvised tote made out of a plastic wastebin with a strap attached to it, suddenly stops and turns to face her in the street, observing that he knows where her Indian sweater comes from; he turns out to be right. I watch from a distance as he continues asserting himself at her - he wants to tell her a joke. She indulges him, and I hear him offer some sort of cornball thing involving the Pilsbury Dough Boy. I miss the punchline, but Susanne smiles and rolls her eyes and moves to step away. Suddenly he's on Phase Three, praising her beauty and comparing her to Sophia Loren, and she shoots a worried glance over my way. I'm watching, but not intervening yet, since intervening can cause further problems; but as she takes a cellphone call, it's clear that buddy has no intention of walking away from her, and is saying things like, "Thank you for being so beautiful." He's got a tension in the way he's addressing her - he's too still, as if he's holding himself back - that doesn't bode well. So finally - leaving my pile of stuff unguarded - I walk over. "Hey, buddy, listen... I think she's got other stuff to do, but I want to hear the joke you told her."

He doesn't acknowledge me, continues to stand in address of Susanne, but I persist, and she takes the moment to walk away, leaving me with my new friend, who is not pleased that I've interrupted. "I'm harmless," he tells me, somewhat defensively, and I hustle to keep it real, keep it calm, keep it positive: "Yeah, I believe it, but she doesn't know that, and it looked like she wanted to extract herself and maybe didn't know how to. You know, you could be anyone, and she's someone I know. I had to step in. Sorry, man - no offense."

He takes it in and continues briefly to defend himself - there's a slight sense that he's pissed off that I "let her get away," or such - but I hustle to refocus him. "Besides," I tell the guy. "I really do want to hear your joke. I heard part of it - something about the Pilsbury Dough Boy? I couldn't make out the punchline."

Buddy and I are standing over by my stuff, at this point - I've negotiated him to a position where I can continue to keep an eye on it and still interact with him. He tells me the joke, which is about how the Pilsbury Dough Boy won an Academy Award for Best Performance in a Dinner Roll. He asserts three or four more jokes at me, and suddenly I realize that he's not going to go away so easily. I've got a good half-hour before Chris is supposed to get here. I've got absolutely no excuses to shuffle him away, and - I didn't mention this - I took the liberty of smokin' a bit o' herb when I first arrived, so my mind is not entirely up for the task of brushing the guy off; I feel, if anything, friendly and distractable, which means I'm probably easy pickin's for this dude. I mean, his jokes are actually making me laugh, corny as they are. My father would have liked them.

He smells of alcohol. When I ask him what the wastebin strapped over his shoulder is about, he reveals that he's a binner, and shows me, further, that it's a good place to hide his beer - he has an open can tucked inside, held tight in his right hand, though at no point, as we talk, does he sip from it. Two things occur to me about him physically - that his mustache and goatee aren't that different from Ty's, and that he has some serious need of dental work. The rigidity of his stance, I think, is mostly because he's drunk - he's compensating.

He explains to me that he's slept with all sorts of beautiful women. "I mean, look at me, I'm no prize," he says, "but you want to know my secret? I just memorize a shitload of jokes. Keep them laughing!" he explains. He tells me another - none remain in my memory. But there's more to his approach to females than joking, it becomes obvious - he has all sorts of strategies up his sleeve. For example, when a hardened local prostitute/ addict type walks by, he booms at her, loudly, "Do you know something?" She turns, skeptical, bracing herself slightly in case abuse might follow, and he says, "You're beautiful! We were just talking about you!"

Where Susanne seemed worried and tense to be receiving dude's attention, the hooker's face lights up and she smiles and thanks him. (And, thank God, keeps walking; I'm blushing furiously and trying to be invisible). He is entirely satisfied with this as a response; and he does some version of this routine with every single woman who walks by while we stand there. He thanks them for being beautiful. He asks them if he knows how beautiful they are. He surprises them - asserting himself loudly like he might say something nasty and then turning it into a compliment. One is cynical - "Yeah, right"- but most respond with smiles and thank you's, and there's a little exchange of positive energy between locals, taking care of each other; while he seemed potentially creepy directing his unwanted attentions at Susanne, he now seems like he's on a mission to boost everyone's self-esteem just a little (or to make me uncomfortable as fuck - maybe that factors in, too, though I doubt it; I expect that what I'm witnessing is a shtick this guy has refined through long practice). Then a thin black girl in pink track pants comes by, looking about 40, but quite possibly a teenager. Her system seems absolutely destroyed by crack - she walks with a stooped shuffle and a dazed sort of focus, all her being seemingly aimed at her next rock. She doesn't react much when he complements her, but finds an interesting crevice between the sidewalk and the building to explore with a stick, looking, against all odds, for a dropped rock. She makes me nervous - though it doesn't seem like she's in any state to try to grab my stuff and run, she's slowly working her way closer to it in her crackhunt. I don't know what to expect, and I step a little nearer my pile.

She shuffles off down an alley. He tells me that she's crazy, or somesuch - I forget his exact words - but he doesn't once mention drugs. Does he not realize what her problem is, or does he think I might not? He starts to talk about religion, about how he doesn't need it - it's just a way of keeping people divided - but this is simply a lead-in to his discourse about God.

Suddenly the black girl is back, attentively exploring the sidewalk. (I wonder - does anyone actually ever find dropped rocks of crack this way?). I resume my seat by my stuff, letting buddy address me from above. Where's Chris? How will I get out of this? When she shuffles off towards Oppenheimer Park, a few minutes later, buddy is still with me, telling me that I'm a stand-up guy. He's thanking me for being such a good person. And at one point, he says something utterly remarkable that somehow cuts right into me. "Don't ever disparage yourself for bad things you feel you might have done," he says. It comes out of the blue, but somehow, it immediately connects with my feelings that I could have and should have done better and more when my father was dying, my guilt that maybe Dad never really understood that I did love him - that I didn't make sure he knew that. "Whatever you've done, you forgive yourself and you be humble and grateful that God loves you and forgives you. Know that you are a beautiful and unique human being. But don't give yourself too much credit - because its not you."

He's like some sort of drunken combination of comic and preacher, a holy fool staggering about, addressing himself to whoever will listen - and it's a good pitch; you go around telling people to forgive themselves and accept love, and chances are, they'll like what you're saying, at least in this neighbourhood. He continues to thank me for being a stand up guy. I thank him for his good-heartedness and his jokes. There is a prolonged leave taking and I eventually have to resort to telling him, "look, my brain is full, I can't take anymore" - which is something akin to what my father used to say when I tried to explain to him how to use his computer. (He only ever really got good at betting on races). When he finally moves to walk away, he suddenly starts to stagger drunkenly, and laughs at himself for saying all this profound shit but being barely able to walk. When Chris pulls up across the street, I babble at him an abbreviated, still-stoned version of the above.

It takes awhile, once we get inside, to put Chris and Jello together. There's a sort of informal meet-and-greet going on inside; Bill Mullan, Marcus Rogers, Ani Kyd, Nardwuar, and who knows who-all else, are talking in clusters.
Nick and Regina from Gnash Rambler - Nick also from Little Guitar Army and Aging Youth Gang - are there. Pockets of conversation are happening everywhere, and Jello joins a few, but he doesn't know me at all, though we spoke, and when I attempt to linger in his peripheries, he glances at me like I'm "someone who wants something," which is not looking promising. It's Nardwuar that finally finesses the introduction (thanks, Nardwuar!). In my minute with Jello, I quickly explain to him about the New Creation and remind him of Ty's role in their resurrection, note that a copy of their LP sold for $1700 to a Belgian collector, give him a brief intro to Tunnel Canary ("contemporaries of the Haters, who opened for the Dead Kennedys when you played here in 84 or 85"), give him the Tunnel Canary doc and a copy of Jihad, thrust The Animal Lovers Book of Beastly Murder at him ("a book about pets eating their masters" - looks like he doesn't know it!), give him two printed-out articles of mine on Tunnel Canary and the New Creation, and then, turning back to the two New Creation CDs that he is now holding, point at Chris on the cover of Troubled and say, "and see this guy here? That's this guy over here," which is Chris' cue...

Jello's "hello" to Chris is warm, interested, and laced with that inimitable Jello twist; his attention, laserlike, shifts in an instant; it's like I've disappeared, but that's fine with me. Chris (who has been doing his homework for the encounter; he's not so versed in punk) shakes his hand and says, "You've led a very interesting life!" I slip away and let them talk: mission accomplished.

The Widower, by the way - the film with the lesser rep - is terrific fun, a very interesting work, in which all the characters are so locked in their private obsessions and peccadillos that the social fabric has come unglued and is peeling back from the floor. I read it - granted that my state is still a tad altered - as being about cultural disintegration under capitalism, where individuals' private desires and fantasies only tangentally connect with the bigger picture and all sorts of craziness can occur in the private zones. It's less chaotic than Terminal City Ricochet (which I don't have time to stay for, but snag the DVD of); that doesn't necessarily make it the better film, but it sure is a lot easier to watch. I enthusiastically recommend it. I slip out at intermission - Chris gives me a quick ride to the Skytrain - since I have to commute back to Maple Ridge now; leaving at 9 means getting home at 11 or later...

Now if only I'd had the guts to say hi to Ani Kyd... I could have told her a joke...

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission (all cellphone photos above taken by me: Legendary Pink Dots, Jello in the pit, Subhumans, Little Guitar Army gig poster for their October 30th show... plus there's a Widower still in there).


Ani Kyd said...

Hello there :)

Ani Kyd said...

Hello there :)

Allan MacInnis said...


So this termite walks into a bar, looks at the other patrons, and says, "Excuse me, but is the bartender in here?"

(end joke)

I'm working on something for another site where you might actually get to see Bev's photo of you and Jello... I'll post something here if and when it makes it online...