Wednesday, December 28, 2022

RIP Tom Harrison

I got to talk briefly to Tom Harrison a couple of years ago when I was writing my article, "That Time the Clash Played Soccer with a Bunch of Vancouver Punks." I didn't actually use much of the conversation,  but I did run a photo of the young Mr. Harrison with Mick Jones, and the sentence of Tom's that I did incorporate seemed crucial to the article (which I hope y'all will go read). I had considerable respect for Tom Harrison, even though I never actually went the next step to see or hear Bruno Gerussi's Medallion, the band he fronted; but he was a stalwart champion of local independent musicians, a good friend to NO FUN, and an engaging writer -- a man of wit and taste; I used to also enjoy watching him review records live on Soundproof, when I was a kid out in Maple Ridge, though all I really remember of that experience is that he liked Lou Reed's Mistrial more than I did. I have not read an obit for Mr. Harrison, do not know the details of his passing, but all my music-oriented Facebook friends are posting their respects, so it seems apropos to say something here, as well. The world is lesser for your absence, Mr. Harrison. Condolences to those who knew you better than I...

Update: check out this great John Mackie article about Tom... 

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Back to work...

 So my disability leave is over, I am back to work, aaand I am having computer issues again. Plus Erika and I got hooked into Gareth Evans' Gangs of London, which is great, if very brutal at times. No one films violence quite like Gareth Evans.

I will have other stuff to say here at some point, but I won't be quite as active as I have been. Plus: Christmas!

But I am doing well! Happy holidays, see ya at the Black Halos or Bison or Yob or something... 

Monday, December 05, 2022

Thinking more on Robyn Hitchcock

I've been listening a lot to Robyn Hitchcock lately, while I still wait for Shufflemania! to land in Vancouver shops (which I wrote a bit previously about here). I nabbed Invisible Hitchcock the other day at Red Cat, in fact, on CD, because I'd never seen it on CD before and because there were four bonus tracks on it, all of which I probably have somewhere else but perhaps not in the same version, who knows? ("Eaten By Her Own Dinner," I think, is the best known, and very Soft-Boys-esque, enough so that it's a slightly weird fit for this record, in fact, but what the heck). The LP of this was the first Robyn Hitchcock I ever purchased, probably getting it when it was brand new at Odyssey Imports, circa 1986, when I was 18. As such, I have quite a bit of attachment to it; there are some very fun songs on it, some very catchy ones, some very pretty ones. And even the cover speaks of Robyn's weirdness: why is he holding that radish and looking at you like that? It was one of my best blind or near-blind buys ever, perhaps fueled by my having read about Hitchcock in an early issue of Spin, but perhaps simply because I had to know what kind of music went with a photograph like this. I think that first version I had was the US pressing with "Grooving on an Inner Plane" on it; since I sold off my record collection when I moved to Japan, then re-acquired it, I ended up with the Glass Fish UK version, with "It's a Mystic Trip" - the better song, really, though both are fun. It always amazed me that the album is basically a collection of outtakes, demos, and non-LP tracks, because it's just so cohesive - can something be "consistently eclectic?" - and enjoyable to listen to; if I were assembling a Desert Island Hitchcock collection, this would be in the top 5 must-keeps, beating out such worthies as Element of Light (which the Glass Fish CD represents on the Invisible Hitchcock disc as the title of the album, for some reason) and Fegmania! and... well, lots of other Hitchcocks that I love less.     

And yet, as well as I know this album, having purchased in now three times in three different versions, having to listened to many songs off it as repped in the While Thatcher Mauled Britain anthology, it still yields secrets. Because I knew nothing of the Soft Boys' anthology Invisible Hits at the time I bought this record, it never occurred to me until YESTERDAY (26 years late, basically) that the title is punning on the other record's title, in the spirit of Groovy Decay, Groovy Decoy, and Gravy Deco (an example of a Hitchcock I don't even have or want - I had the Decoy version for a short time and sold it, deciding it wasn't bad but that I just didn't care; it has very little of what I'm interested in in Robyn Hitchcock's music, is more of a straight pop album. I see that one track on one version of it, "Falling Leaves," is now back in my home on my new Invisible Hitchcock CD).  

Which brings us back to "The Sir Tommy Shovell," previously written about in that aforelinked blogpiece. Robyn's love of witty wordplay is evident at least from the days of the live side of the 1981 release Two Halves for the Price of One, Lope at the Hive (recorded live at the Hope, get it? It's a venue I do not know, but which is also namechecked on Invisible Hitchcock, rhyming with "dope" in the withering put-down "Trash"). Despite being long aware of Hitchcock's propensities here, I didn't put it together that "Shovell" might be a pun on "Shuffle," since I was distracted by trying to figure out if there was anyone who actually has that name. It also occurred to me, in listening to the song for the dozenth - is dozenth really a word? - time that the lyrics might be more complex and subtle than Hitchcock merely crafting a fantasy pub, where one finds like-minded individuals, good beer, vegan food, and none of those "racist losers" he pokes at at the end. He might actually be subverting his fantasy a little, in that he sings about wanting to find people who "agree with everything you say/ every single day," which immediately reminds one of the echo-chamber effect we get on social media: if people disagree with you, if they have different ideas or values, it's become somehow socially appropriate to belittle them, insult them, craft ad-hominem arguments, misrepresent their views, and/or block them from further interacting with you. Maybe there's some slight commentary on that, and on the tendency to demonize your opponents (calling them a racist is certainly a popular way, these days). 

Anyhow, that song has been on my mind, while other songs - "The Feathery Serpent God," which has resonated against my recent Graham Hancock binge and the restrained, bluesy near-rocker "The Midnight Tram to Nowhere" - have risen in prominence since I first heard them (that latter has a stellar bit of wordplay in it, involving a recontextualization of the cliche that "it takes all kinds of people," but I'll let you discover what he does with that for yourself.) The climactic track on the album, "One Day (It's Being Scheduled)" also has some uncharacteristically (but apparently sincere) heart-on-sleeve, emotive writing in it, but I haven't really come to terms with it yet, so... The album continues to grow on me, as does Queen Elvis, which is by no means a recent album, but which I've been happily re-exploring, since it contains plenty of mysteries that I have not yet unravelled and gave me a nice Hitchcock to trade off listenings of Shufflemania! with (I've also been re-exploring Eye, which I like much better than when it first came out). ...

But sticking with Queen Elvis, a lyric on a song off it really hit me in an unusual way the other day: "Freeze." It would be folly, perhaps, to take any of Robyn Hitchcock's lyrics too personally - as I say in that other piece, he seldom asserts a value with undermining or at least complicating it - but, as people who follow this blog (or my Facebook posts) know, I had a tongue surgery last year that left me with a speech impediment and problems swallowing, which means that sometimes I have excess saliva in my mouth. So there I am, walking to Metrotown Skytrain, Queen Elvis on my headphones, and I encounter THIS lyric:

I know who wrote the book of love
It was an idiot
It was a fool
A slobbering fool with a speech defect and a shaking hand
And he wrote my name
Next to yours
But it should have been David Byrne or somebody

Hey, wait a second there, Robyn! I'll leave the issue of whether I'm a fool or not open - I mean, maybe, but jeez, just because someone is slobbering and has a speech defect, it doesn't mean that they're an idiot! Ableism! Ableism! 

It gave me a moment's pause, but mostly amused me, to discover a lyric that would have blown by unobserved and unremarked-upon in any of my PREVIOUS 53 years, but now in my 54th is suddenly kinda fraught. 

It's true, you know, we judge people, especially their intellect, by the sound of their voice. Come to them with a stammer, a slurp, a lisp, a cleft palate, or just some goofy-sounding, imprecise mumbling, and you will likely be deemed mentally deficient in some way, until you prove otherwise. I used to do it, too, never thinking to question it. It's been a surprising discovery!   

I didn't write the fuckin' book of love, either, there, Robyn. It ain't me, babe. 

I do wish Shufflemania! would hurry up and get here, but then again, I can't really afford to buy it right now anyhow, and I can hear the whole thing online, so...

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Ad Astra: existentialist SF with a nod to Apocalypse Now (or Heart of Darkness)

Watched an exceptionally interesting SF film that I had missed theatrically: Ad Astra. Was first struck by the narrative similarities to Apocalypse Now (and/or Heart of Darkness, if you prefer), insofar it offers an impressionistic journey narrative whereby a younger man voyages, not up river but to Neptune, to find an older man (in the case of Ad Astra, the younger man's father), who has apparently gone insane (he is, in the case of Ad Astra, devoted to his mission of finding intelligent life in the universe to such an extent that he has, perhaps, become dangerous, though the less said about how, the better). The voyage gives us, perhaps, some insight into why the older man has gone insane, if that is what, indeed, has happened, as do occasional transmissions that have been recorded (I believe that one includes mutterings about "moral clarity," which is about as "Col. Kurtz" a phrase as one could wish, surely offered as a deliberate, explicit nod to the earlier text); and the climax of the film, the purpose of the secret mission, may or may not involve - what's the phrase from Coppola - terminating his command with extreme prejudice?

There are all sorts of pleasures in the film, from watching a never-better Tommy Lee Jones actually stepping outside his comfort zone as an actor to create the scarred and profoundly sad father, some subtle work from Donald Sutherland, and some surprising moments of suspense. There is a feeling that perhaps the film has been simplified a bit in the process of development - that perhaps initially there were more complex plot points that got trimmed, leaving a few inessential questions unresolved - but overall it's pretty darn thought-provoking and satisfying, especially when you do get to the end of the film, which is - I'm going to use a word I dislike - profoundly existentialist.

That's a frustrating term for me, I should note, and I don't use it lightly, because I have read just enough existentialism to feel like I have a firm toehold on what it means, but not enough that I feel confident asserting that this person or that is using it wrong, though that is what it almost always feels like when I encounter the word in popular media. Half the time one sees it, I think of it like I think of asafoetida, in Indian cooking: an expensive, exotic spice that one adds to a curry to elevate its status, make it seem more "authentic" and highbrow, which apparently also does something to the flavour of a curry, except good luck determining what, exactly (I was most non-plused when, after reading about asafoetida in Indian cookbook after Indian cookbook, I finally acquired a small bottle of the stuff, and added some to curry I was making, which I found to be entirely unchanged as a result, at least that I could tell. Subsequent uses of the stuff have been no more enlightening. Maybe I am using it wrong, but thus far, it seems the Naked Emperor of spices). 

Anyhow... to me, the concept of existentialism has to do with the denial of a transcendent realm: if there is value in life, it owes not to some Godlike, heavenly force to which we must answer, is not due to some beyond out there, drawn to it though we may be, but inheres entirely in how we treat each other, how we make meaning in this, the only life we have evidence of. The question becomes not one of answering to a deity or fulfilling a cosmic quest or achieving something in "the beyond," but living in an authentic, reality-based way in the here-and-now, even though it may seem inadequate. If that's all there is, my friends - then how, really, are we to live? 

These ideas are all very germane to Ad Astra, though it will be best for people who have not seen it if I do not elucidate how (if you haven't seen the film, it may be best not to finish this, in fact, but go watch it, then come back for the rest). Despite my earlier observations, once you finish it, the film ultimately does not read as a riff on Apocalypse Now, which leaves us embracing a sort of violent, quasi-fascist, and likely immoral realpolitik ("exterminate them all," and while you are at it, call in the airstrike and sacrifice that cow!) as a response to the horrors of life - which is the sort of thing that the word "existentialism" seems to correlate to most times, when I feel like people are using it wrong; nor does it read as a riff on Heart of Darkness, which ends on Marlowe embracing a lie (the-last-words-on-his-lips-were-your-name shtick) to protect others from encountering the horrors Kurtz whispers about. Neither option would appeal to Camus or Sartre or Kierkegaard much. The first approach, in the film, seems to stem from a sorta undergrad-level anger at discovering that meaning in life is not what we've been taught as kids - the pissed-off punk who uses the non-existence of God as a pretext for acting out and/or indulging an "everything is permitted" way of life; the second alternative, found in the book, is just a retreat into inauthenticity, a shameful cop-out, a dodge. 

You will, alas, have cause to feel a brief flicker of fear in Ad Astra that things will end tritely, in a variant on that dodge, but there is, in fact, a very nice little "psychological examination" that ends the film, that resolves a lot of the thematic-and-philosophical tensions, gives you a richly philosophical (truly existentialist) takeaway, and does some pretty nice things with language, to boot, ending on a word that - while used elsewhere in the film, since Brad Pitt's main character takes several psychological examinations as part of his job as an astronaut, decompressing to a computer at the end of missions or after upsetting experiences - takes on a new, profound meaning. It was nicely handled, an ending that makes a really good film into a great one, confirms that the movie is even smarter and more self-aware than you realized, that it isn't even really an SF movie, but a disguised philosophical investigation. I think Camus and Sartre and Kierkegaard would have loved it.  

About that one-word kicker, actually - it reminded me of something that I once heard Mickey Spillane say on a talk show, about wanting to have a novel where everything hinged on the last sentence, or even the last word, which makes you go back and re-evaluate everything you've read previously. I haven't read Spillane, in fact, but Charles Willeford did something like that in his novel Pick-Up, with the final sentence. Ad Astra would have probably pleased Spillane quite a bit, too, then, because hitting that final word at the very least makes you kinda want to play back the whole evaluation scene and apply it to yourself. What is this ending teaching us about how to live? What is it to be mission-ready? Am I?

That's how it seemed to me, last night, anyhow. I liked it. (A side note: I'm not 100% confident of the SCIENCE of the film - there's a few things that happen that leave me wondering - but nothing that interfered with my suspending my disbelief, which is really all I ask). 

Thanks to David M. for facilitating the viewing of this film! (Erika liked it, too). 

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Graham Hancock rabbithole: What's wrong with Ancient Apocalypse?

It was Erika who wanted to see it: Ancient Apocalypse, the new Netflix "speculative archaeology" series. From the title itself, it sounded like one of those bullshit Discovery (or History?) Channel docs postulating that UFOs built my carport, or such (I don't even have a carport). As the trailer played while I was making our evening tea, I rolled my eyes and said something dismissive and asserted some other movie at her. But the next night, the "whattaya wanna watch" conversation came around, and she mentioned it again, so I looked the series up and saw that it was hosted by Graham Hancock. That fact changed my mind, so down the rabbithole we went.

It's not that I'm a Graham Hancock fan. But as someone who has occasionally worked in the used book game - minding the till at Albion Books for awhile in the 1990s and Carson Books in the 2000s - I am familiar with Hancock, have even made money on a couple of his books. His writing kind of had its day before this Netflix series premiered (which presumably will re-invigorate interest in it: take heed, thrifters!). I wouldn't actually ever make time to READ one of his thick tomes, but it's not like I'm not curious about the books that have passed through my hands. If I encounter a Fingerprints of the Gods on the shelf, I occasionally flip through and check out a few pages with idle curiosity: "So what's this guy on about?" Unfair or not, based on very little exposure, I quickly came to associate Hancock with other fringe stuff, like the Krishna fave Forbidden Archaeology or the works of Zecharia Sitchin or Erich von Däniken or - because the angle at which I'm coming at this is books one encounters fairly often - James Churchward, whose book on The Lost Continent of Mu one crosses paths with regularly, if you're a book guy. If this were my bookstore we were talking about, I'd put all of this stuff in the same place. With the possible exception of the (Hindu Creationist?) first book, these authors all posit that there was an encounter between early humans and some sort of now-forgotten civilizing influence, whether from outer space (Sitchin, von Daniken) or the diaspora of a now-forgotten civilization destroyed by a cataclysm (Hancock, Churchward, and anyone who has written on Atlantis, apparently). Anyhow, I figured that the series would at the very least be an easy way of getting a grasp on Hancock's ideas without having to read a three-inch thick book. It might also help me determine if there were anything in Hancock's work that might give me pause about the buying and selling of his books, or if (less likely-seeming) there was any merit to his ideas.  

Understand: as an adult, I've never much paid attention to this sort of fringe stuff, but I never really thought of it as problematic, either; even in a post-9/11 world, an Alex Jones world, a Donald Trump/ Fake News world, where conspiracy theory has been manipulated, weaponized, and used to undermine confidence in democracy, legitimate scholarship, and journalism, I would be no more disturbed to sell any of the books these people have written than I would be to sell a book about bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. What does it hurt? It's the intellectual equivalent of watching episodes of In Search Of..., which I used to devour as a kid, or reading The Fortean Times (which I used to look at online every week; thanks go to Robin Bougie for reminding me of that magazine). And anyone who has worked at a bookstore knows that, while you may judge people inwardly for the stuff they buy, and you may have a line that you won't cross, for the most part, if your living in any way correlates to the selling of books, when a customer brings crap to the counter, you take their money and ask if they want a bag and let them be their own judge of the ideas they encounter. What you DON'T do is roll your eyes and say, f'rinstance, "What the fuck do you want to read Dan Brown for? At least buy Holy Blood, Holy Grail or, here, have you read Robert Anton Wilson? Dan Brown is just that stuff for dummies, for fucksake. Put it back!" (I haven't actually read Dan Brown, either, but I saw a movie once...). 

Brief digression: it's actually interesting to note what lines bookdealers WON'T cross. I once found a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that ancient, malicious, and incredibly damaging anti-Jewish conspiracy theory tome, which I liberated from a "free book bin" on a rural road in Vancouver Island, of all places, because I thought the ideas in it are dangerous enough that it shouldn't be left somewhere where any kid could stumble across it and get polluted or confused or led down a toxic road. But then, with the book in my possession, I had to figure out what to do with it. I think it's entirely valid to read it, if you're researching, for example, the causes of the Holocaust or the history of anti-Semitism, but was shocked at how many of my friends told me I should burn it (Erika's dad, into whose house I briefly brought it, suggested the fireplace for it himself, while noting that there IS a contradiction between burning a book that inspired people - the Nazis - who themselves burned books). Most of my Facebook friends, liberal sorts all, were on that page as well, but I don't burn books... especially not when I figured a bookdealer might take it off my hands for a few bucks. I mean, I read a bit of it myself; it's not like the minute you open it, it infects you and corrupts you and you start listening to Burzum or something. (I mean, even viruses are worth studying, as long as you don't spread them; at least The Protocols has historical import, unlike, say, the crap put out by David Icke, whose books I feel vastly less comfortable with than Hancock's). However, I made a couple calls and was kind of impressed and surprised that no one - even bookstores that will stock Mein Kampf, which also has similar historical import - wanted anything to do with it. Unable to find a buyer, unwilling to burn it, and not wanting to put it back into general circulation at a thrift store or free bin, I ended up giving it to a buddy with an interest in the history of conspiracy theories, whose ability to bullshit-detect I have utter faith in; I believe he read it and then destroyed it himself, which is fine with me. 

Now: it might not occur to people who watch Graham Hancock's series that there is anything problematic about it at all. Erika and I are now six episodes into it, and I must confess, Hancock has tickled that part of me that used to LOVE my weekly fix of Leonard Nimoy musing about cryptids or creature storms or the lost colony of Roanoke (the actual In Search Of... about that is on Youtube! Whoa! I watched that when it aired, I believe - on October 25, 1979, when I was 11). Ancient Apocalypse is spectacularly well-made, with neat photography of ancient historical sites around the world, fun computer graphics that show how these sites might have looked when they were active, nifty observations (presumably in many cases quite trustworthy) about how ancient astronomers plotted the layout of the temples and mounds to correspond to events in the heavens, and Hancock himself, who seems sincere, if a bit of a character, as your host. It's amusing how his indignancy over how archaeologists exclude him and will will not listen to his ideas is tellingly mirrored by HANCOCK'S OWN REFUSAL TO LISTEN TO THESE ARCHAEOLOGISTS. If he's hell bent on advocating his own non-conforming version of ancient history, no matter what anyone might say to the contrary - if there is no sense of a free debate of ideas within his show - he's still engaging and funny and articulate and passionate. You kinda like him, and don't sense that he's, for instance, a dangerous hustler or utter fruitcake; he's just an eccentric non-conformist making a case for a pet theory of his, which on the surface seems no more dangerous than believing that nine foot tall ape men stalk the remote forests of British Columbia or that Kubrick's The Shining is about the faked moon landing (which also was an entertaining idea to, uh, entertain in that Room 237 documentary, so what the hell?). 

There may even be educational value in the series. Maybe it's not the kind Hancock intends, but, y'know, if I had kids, I would happily share the show with them, in the hopes of sparking wonder about the world and the past. I'd probably try to guide their viewing a little, mind you, because the real value in the series to me is that it is an object lesson in the dangers of confirmation bias: because with only a couple of tiny exceptions, Hancock only includes people on his show if they are willing to entertain (or themselves believe) his central premise, that the survivors and descendants of a forgotten lost civilization that pre-dates any known civilization by thousands of years, after an apocalyptic event some 12,800 years ago, brought their ideas about architecture, astronomy, and agriculture around the world, teaching hunter-gatherers about pyramid construction and so forth, which explains common features in the mythologies and construction principles of these people. Since it is not Hancock's purpose to find the truth about these ruins, but rather to defend and expand his own hypothesis, if you are an archaeologist who says anything that disputes this theory - unless Hancock changes his tune in the last couple of installments, which seems unlikely - you will not be included in the conversation. He's not interested in objectively unravelling the very real questions that might be asked about, say, Gunung Padang, one of many fascinating locations he visits, unless they are answered by his pet theory. Still, I'd be just fine with children of mine learning about Gunung Padang from Hancock, as long as their next step was to get onto the computer and look it up themselves and fact-check his claims. Teachable moment, eh? 

Of course, I would also hope that kids watching the series would ask the obvious question (which I am guessing Hancock doesn't get around to): if we need to posit the existence of some sort of prehistoric super-civilization (possibly Antlantean) to explain how different ancient societies came up with pyramids, learned about astronomy, and so forth - well, who taught that stuff to the prehistoric super-civilization? It's not that far off the standard refutation of the Christian argument from design: if we need to posit a God to explain the existence of the universe, then how was God created? (He wasn't, he's eternal, is the standard reply, which you then rebut with, "but if something can itself be uncreated and eternal, why can't that be true of the universe itself?" Checkmate, end game, seeya later).  

...which leads to the next obvious question: WHY might we need to explain how ancient societies built such structures? And this is where people are jumping up and down on Hancock, online, slurring him as a white supremacist - on Boing Boing, say ("Archaeologists reveal the the white supremacist nonsense behind Netflix's 'Ancient Apocalypse'), Slate ("The Ancient Absurdities of Ancient Apocalypse") or The Guardian (which calls the series "The Most Dangerous Show on Netflix"). The problem behind many of these "ancient civilization taught the hunter-gatherers everything they know"-type postulations - which is actually laid out most clearly in this article about the history of Atlantis theories, which doesn't even mention Hancock - is that Atlantis has historically been used to erase the accomplishments of the (mostly brown-skinned) people who built the pyramids, temples, and mounds that Hancock visits. Quoting from that last linked article - "The Harmful Pseudoarchaeology of Mythological Atlantis" by Stephanie Halmhofer, who chronicles the evolution of the concept through the late 19th century - we see that 

Atlantis became intertwined with human evolution and the idea of superior (those descended from Atlanteans) versus inferior (those not descended from Atlanteans) nations. In 1888 Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, published The Secret Doctrine, which was inspired by Donnelly’s arguments with an added splash of esotericism and spiritualism. In The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky discussed her theories of evolution and what she called the “root races”, in which Atlantis was considered the fourth root race. She believed Atlanteans were the ancestors to the fifth and most superior race – the Aryans.

Further, she writes that Atlantis

played a large role in 1930’s Nazi Germany when Heinrich Himmler and Herman Wirth founded the Institute for the Study of Atlantis. The institute’s purpose was to find proof Atlantis had once existed to prove the superiority of the Aryan race, because Himmler believed Blavatsky’s claims about Atlantis. Today, Atlantis and the idea of hyperdiffusion is still continually brought up in both discussions looking for explanations of the achievements of people in the past and discussions of nationalistic superiority.

That's all interesting and worth noting and very relevant. Perhaps Hancock is doing a grievous injustice to the hunter-gatherers he seems unwilling to believe might have come up with the complex architectural knowhow and astronomical knowledge that, say, the builders of the Serpent Mound in Ohio might have had? It still seems like it's not a fair game to call Hancock a white supremacist, though. The author of the Slate article, Rebecca Onion, quotes an archaeologist named John Hoopes on this point (which is also quoted on that Boing Boing piece):

If you research Graham Hancock and look at his books over time, as I have, one of the things that you discover about him is that he self-edits. He doesn’t use the word Atlantis now except very sparingly. He has also edited himself since 1995, when, in Fingerprints of the Gods, he came out and said that it was an ancient white civilization. He no longer says the “white” part in the series. If you pay careful attention, he does talk about “heavily bearded Quetzalcoatl” who arrives, according to myth, to give the gift of knowledge, but he doesn’t mention the other part of that trope, which all of us know about, which is that this visitor supposedly had white skin.

It’s similar to the way that Donald Trump operates. He will get to the edge of something, but he won’t say it, because he knows that his followers already know it. He can say, “I didn’t say that,” and he didn’t say it, but everyone knew what he said because it was already known, right?

There's a more charitable interpretation: perhaps Hancock doesn't mention that his ancient superior race was white (if he ever in fact said this - I wouldn't know) because he no longer believes it? There is certainly no mention of it in the series; should he be criticized and tarred as a white supremacist for NOT asserting that his proposed "master race" was white? (Maybe in Hoopes' circles everyone knows this aspect of the theory, as he says, but watching Hancock, I was assuming that his probably fictional super-civilization was ALSO brown-skinned, since most early civilizations were!). Of  course, there IS mention of the seafaring explorers who came ashore to offer lessons in pyramid-building being hairy, and being "giants," compared to the people they encountered, which COULD be code for "white" or something, I guess, but there is no mention of their skin colour anywhere in the show (that I've seen). The only relevant feature of this purported lost civilization is that it is more advanced than that of the hunter-gatherers its survivors/ descendants encountered. And while there may still be some troubling similarity between what Hancock offers to the racially-motivated history of Atlantis theories discussed in the article by Halmhofer, there's an easy way of clearing Hancock of all charges: would it still be white supremacist to argue that pyramid builders got their knowledge from a  - let's say it - earlier white civilization, if, in fact, it was historically correct? 

No. If Hancock could actually prove his claims, it would just be history, not white supremacy, that he was offering. And in the absence of that proof, while we might find the desire to ADVANCE such claims suspect - because Hancock's desire to believe this stuff does seem to come from somewhere OTHER than the evidence - if we wanted to say that all such theories are rooted in some neurotic need to believe that "whites were first" - it seems kind of unfair to read quite THAT much into the show, all things considered. The problem isn't that Hancock is racist or white supremacist; I see no reason to slur his name with that particular association, at least not based on the six of the eight episodes I've seen. The problem is, he's not in any way objective (Hoopes connects him with mystical/ New Age beliefs and gets into Hancock's history with cannabis and ayahuasca, all of which seems more plausible as a starting point than some sort of white-race neurosis). Why call someone a racist, when all you really need to do is note that he's a fringe figure who won't let go of a probably untenable theory regardless of what anyone says? Isn't that invalidating enough? 

Anyhow, though I disagree with Hoopes, above, the Slate article is fascinating and enlightening. There's also a review linked in it from Archaeology Review, written by a professional archaeologist, which makes the worthy claim that far from wanting to suppress Hancock's "discoveries," "every single archaeologist I know would be elated to discover any previously unknown civilization of the Ice Age. Or any age for that matter. Whatever their advancement is."

It's probably not the rabbithole Graham Hancock would have me go down, but I'm getting even more entertainment value reading the debunkings of his series than I am from the series itself. Value-added, eh? I'm having a damn good time with all this. And, you know, the places he visits in Ancient Apocalypse are fascinating and worthy of contemplation, even if the host is less than trustworthy. 

Thanks, Mr. Hancock! Good show. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Snow day at the schoolyard

 Living across from a schoolyard is sometimes quite charming. When it snows, for instance, there are often kids making snowmen. Given their transitory nature, I went downstairs last night to document a couple of them (the best one is already headless, this morning, so it was the right call). Took a few other photos, too...

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Rodney DeCroo on weathering the pandemic, Lucy, and Dr. Fishpants' Poems About Magical Creatures

Rodney DeCroo is a fairly intense fellow. Those who saw Didn't Hurt - his one-man theatrical piece about his troubled relationship with his father, his PTSD, his self-destructive tendencies and the healing value of Brazilian jiu jitsu - which Rodney and I spoke about here - were vividly struck by his capacity to lay his soul bare; there was a quality of self-exorcism to the proceedings, at times, with Rodney trusting his audience to travel with him into some of his darkest spaces. Seeing the show left you impressed by his courage, moved by his journey, and with a footnote-to-self to never make him angry (his performance bordered on the harrowing at times, as Rodney re-inhabited some of his past traumas, albeit in a controlled, actorly way).  

There's plenty of intensity to be found in his music, too - we spoke about his most recent album, 2017s Old Tenement Man - on this very blog. (We also spoke about Al Purdy, Charles Bukowski, and poetry for the Georgia Straight). But DeCroo's songs don't rip open the doors quite so violently as Didn't Hurt, even when its subjects are autobiographical. Maybe it's just that songs about painful experiences are by their nature gentler, easier to take in, than having someone telling you, live and in person, about the violent beatings they received as a child...?  

Street photography by Rodney DeCroo

For most Vancouverites, Didn't Hurt and the shows that clustered around the release of Old Tenement Man - and the performance discussed in the Straight piece - are the last we've heard from Rodney DeCroo, who wisely stepped away from live performance during the first couple of years of the pandemic, though he remained active on social media, posting poems and street photography, and has several projects coming to light over the next while. These include a book of poetry (in his usual mode) called Fishing For Leviathan, upcoming on Anvil Press, and a play called In the Belly of the Carp ("a big production with a live band onstage and several actors"). More relevant to the current post, however, he wrote a book's worth of playful rhyming verse about magical creatures, as described by (channeled through?) a fictional character, that eccentric pretender to the academy known as Dr. Theodore Fishpants, some of which he has adapted for a web series. (I did not realize that all three of Rodney's current projects had fish references in their titles, or I would have probably asked him about it, and put a fish in the title of this: Rodney DeCroo Gets Fishy? Maybe it's just as well). 

The Fishpants poems (and web series) - which will be the first of his COVID projects to see light, as of next week - are a bit of a departure for DeCroo, to say the least. There is still definitely emotional content to Dr. Fishpants' Poems About Magical Creatures, but I doubt anyone would describe them as harrowing. There is a temptation, even, to describe it as a children's book (see below on this), though Rodney does not see it that way ("It's a book of poems about magical creatures so it's meant to be fun but it's not entirely light. There is some violence in the poems. I like to think of it as a modern day Grimm's fairytales but as poems," he tells me). I wouldn't necessarily bring an eight-year-old to see them performed, or such - unless it was my "inner eight-year-old" - but nor would I append a footnote warning parents about the content, if that's what they were planning to do. 

But parents out there can make their own call, since on December 8th at the VIFF Centre, Rodney DeCroo will debut the web series that has been built around Dr. Fishpants - perhaps the most charming and unexpected alter-ego DeCroo could have concocted, which he did at the urgings of his friend Lucy (you'll remember her from Didn't Hurt, but if you don't, there's more below). The screening will be accompanied by a live performance from DeCroo, featuring new songs (and presumably some old ones) as accompanied by totally different instrumentation than you might be used to, including Roisin Adams on the piano and Clara Shandler on cello. While kids might enjoy the web series, there IS a footnote appended to the VIFF Centre listing about the concert ("Live performance portion contains mature subject matter; parental advisory is in effect"). But fans of Rodney DeCroo's songs will also find the series interesting and rewarding (don't just come for the music!). 

Rodney answered some email interview questions about Dr. Fishpants and DeCroo's other projects over the last couple of years. I'm in italics, Rodney is not. 

I realize you've explained this many times, but I would rather have it in your words, for people not familiar with your work: who is Lucy, and what's her hand in the series? Her name has come up in some of your concerts and in
Didn't Hurt - but is this series the first time she's been a direct inspiration for something you've done? Did any of the content of the poems or the web series come from her (did you run anything by her, accept any suggestions, or did you create the series to amuse her, without her input?).

Lucy is Kate Wattie's daughter. Kate manages artists and runs Tonic Records. A decade ago Kate became my manager and Tonic Records released my albums Campfires on the Moon and Old Tenement Man. Kate knew of me from the local music scene and we had friends in common like producer, guitarist, singer-songwriter Jon Woods who also worked at Not Just Another Music Shop which Kate managed. Mind you, Jon and I weren't on good terms after having worked together musically for several years. But hey, at least I was consistent because I wasn't on good terms with anyone in the music community after having burnt my life to the ground through untreated Complex PTSD. It's no secret that I was a volatile and unpredictable person. I pretty much fought with everyone I worked with and did not mix well with people in what they called the music industry- whatever that is. Jon said to me once "I know I'll cross a line with you someday and you'll turn on me." Unfortunately, he was right.

When Kate started working with me ( much to my surprise),  I'd been focusing on trauma therapy and recovery for a few years. I'd stopped touring and would only do the occasional local show, though I'd published a book of poetry Allegheny, BC with Nightwood Editions and wrote a play called Stupid Boy in an Ugly Town that toured western Canada. I was focused on staying clean and sober, learning to manage C-PTSD, cleaning up the wreckage I'd created and healing. God, I still cringe when I write or say the word healing, but that was what I needed to do. I guess I still to some extent internalize my Marine Corps father's macho code! I can hear him in my mind asking "Do you want a warm glass of milk with your healing, sweetheart?" Mind you, my father softened a lot near the end of his life. He was just a kid when he joined the USMC and went to Vietnam and it warped him and our family. I've been lucky because I found help. There wasn't much help for him.

One night early on in our artist / manager relationship Kate had me over for a working dinner. We were putting a grant application together. She lived with her daughter Lucy in an apartment just a couple blocks from where I lived on Commercial Drive. I was sitting in the living room when I met Lucy. She was nearly four. She was tiny and had big blue eyes. She stood next to where her mom was sitting on a sofa and stared at me for what seemed like a long time. I was extremely uncomfortable. Kids terrified me. Their presence often triggered the trauma I carried from my childhood which was painful. You have to remember I'd been an extremely reactive person for a long time. If something triggered me and I was flooded with traumatic emotions I often reacted badly because I didn't know how to deal with flashbacks. I didn't want a kid to be around me when I was like that. Eventually Lucy tugged her mom's sleeve and Kate leaned down and Lucy whispered something in her ear. Kate said "You'll have to ask him." Lucy came over to me and asked "Can I sit on your knee?" I don't know how to explain it, but what happened next changed my life. This was basically my worst nightmare. I didn't want to pick her up but Kate was smiling and nodding her head, so I picked her up carefully and set her on my knee. She was so little and I was afraid I was going to break her somehow. I felt like my body turn to stone. I was so tense. She turned around and smiled at me and said "Hi!" I was stunned by how easily she seemed to trust me. My childhood had conditioned me to distrust everyone. But it seemed very important in that instant that I was worthy of her trust. I didn't know what that meant, but I definitely felt like that was something I needed to earn. And at the same time I wanted to get as far away from her as I could!

The next morning Kate called me. She asked me if I was doing anything that afternoon. She had woken me up and I wasn't thinking clearly so I told her the truth - that I was free all day. If I'd been actually conscious I would've sussed out what she wanted before answering her. She replied "Great. You can watch Lucy then!" So that's how I found myself later that day responsible for this little girl who talked a million miles an hour and wanted to play, play, play! I was EXHAUSTED and needed a break, or that's what I thought. I gave her some paper and crayons and told her to color while I worked on the computer. As I was looking at my Facebook page she walked over to me and said "You don't want to play with me." I felt horrible and for some reason I told her the truth. I said "I don't know how." And I'll never forget this. She grabbed my hand - well, a couple of my fingers - and said "Come on, I'll show you. It's easy!" And so basically that's what I've been doing for the last decade. She tells me what she needs or wants to do and I make it happen if it's in my power. And she was right. It's easy. When I'm with her she has my full attention because she's important to me. I get to stop fixating on myself.

You know, for many years I had this emptiness inside me. I call it an emptiness or a hole when actually I was full of pain, but it was a pain that came from a sense of emptiness that I had known from my childhood. I mean, I was terrified often as a child and felt utterly alone and unloved. As an adult I tried to get girlfriends, friends, drugs, acclaim etc to make it go away but I couldn't get rid of it. It doesn't work that way. One night I returned home after spending the entire day with Lucy. I felt calm, whole and tired in a good way. The pain wasn't there. I realized the pain hadn't been there for a while. It didn't dominate my life anymore. It had started to heal because I was caring for Lucy. This is old news. People have known this forever, but I didn't. And I wouldn't have figured it out on my own because my nature is to be self-centered. I had to be ambushed by Kate to become part of Lucy's life. Lucy is the best thing that ever happened to me. I see it as my job to be there when she needs me. I think this poem sums it up well. By the way, this isn't a Dr. Fishpants poem. It will be in my next book Fishing for Leviathan which Anvil Press is publishing in 2023.

The Hug

Since she was five

Lucy likes to give me

a hug by positioning me

on one side of the living room.

She retraces her steps

to the opposite side

then turns to charge at me.

When she gets a couple feet

away she launches herself into the air

like a human projectile.

It’s more tackle than a hug

except I’m expected to remain

standing to catch her. For which she’ll

give me a quick squeeze

like a reverse Heimlich maneuver

and abruptly let go. There.

she’ll say with a nod of her head

as if she’s conferred upon me

an enormous favor.

You can go home now.

But at thirteen it’s getting

harder to catch her.

Last week she caught me

flat footed and I stumbled

backwards onto my ass.

When I held out my hand

for her to help me up

she shook her head

and marched back

across the room.

You need practice. She said

and charged.

Dr. Fishpants' Poems about Magical Creatures came about during the isolation stage of the pandemic. Lucy and I would get on Zoom a couple hours a day to write silly poems about magical creatures. Lucy thinks my poems are a bit depressing, so she urged me to write my own collection of poems about magical creatures. I told her I wasn't a children's author and she told me to write them for grown-ups because they need magical creatures too. So the poems - and the web series - weren't written specifically for children. They're for adults mostly, but as Lucy says "Some kids will like them too."

I created the world of Dr. Fishpants for myself principally, but always in the back of my mind I was hoping that Lucy would enjoy them. I frequently ran poems by her and asked for her opinions. I changed the odd thing based on her reactions. But it was very much a healing project for myself. It was important for me to enter into this world that mingled mundane scenarios like working at a 24hr convenience store with the lives of these absurd and passionate magical creatures. I couldn't have written something like this before I met Lucy. She regularly shared with me her love for faeries, dragons, monsters, magical creatures of all kinds through books and movies like the Harry Potter series and others. When I emailed her while I was in Scotland that I was searching for faeries on my walks in the Highlands she contacted me to warn me that faeries could be dangerous especially for adults and if I met any I should immediately mention that Lucy was my friend because faeries like children and knew her. She wasn't joking around. She was serious. Her imagination was so rich and alive that she helped me recover that part of myself. I had shut myself off to those things as a child. People used to call me a the-forty-year-old-midget when I was a kid. I was so shut down and serious. I had no sense of wonder. I don't know why I needed to experience that as an adult, but I did.

Who came first, Dr. Fishpants or his poems? Is there any history to the name, "Theodore Fishpants?" Is there any aspect of yourself you are presenting (or poking fun at) in him? Did your relationship to him change over the course of working on the series?

I wrote a couple of the poems first. A character was clearly speaking so I started asking myself who is this guy? The name Dr. Theodore Fishpants came to me while I was on a junk food road run at Super-Valu at 2 AM ( I couldn't sleep) and it made me laugh. I mentioned it to Lucy later and she said it was "Not bad." so I used it. As I wrote the poems I became more interested in him. His backstory is pretty tragic actually. In order to live with the trauma he endured he's become delusional. I'm not going to give away the backstory because I'm writing a play with my friend Gary Jones ( he co-wrote the web series) about Dr. Theodore Fishpants and his niece. Gary and I have talked about him a lot. Because of trauma he became this other person Dr. Theodore Fishpants who is - or so he claims - a formerly world famous sociologist renowned for his studies of magical creatures which only he can see. But he was chased out of academia because of his colleagues' professional envy which motivated them to accuse him of being a fraud. So in his mind he is one of the few true academics; he's a pure scholar concerned solely with truth and beauty while the others are the real frauds, mediocrities, careerists and the like and he despises them. And so he's been living in seclusion in Nelson for twenty-five years writing his poems, which is where we meet him in the web series. In reality he's an alcoholic, shattered, deeply traumatized man hiding from a pain he can't cope with by living in a fantasy world of his own creation. He can't handle reality. But I would argue he has some wisdom to offer in his musings about the imagination (which has saved him in a way) and there is some value in the poems he's created about the magical creatures he claims to study.
And yes, there's a lot of myself in him. I mean I wrapped myself up in this ridiculous fantasy that I was a "true artist" creating songs and poems of genius that few people appreciated. I was a martyr for my art. I was pretty damn delusional. But that fantasy helped me to avoid the truth which seemed too hard to look at it. I was carrying all this trauma and pain and I was constantly making things worse by continually hurting myself and others, but anything was better - or so it seemed - than dealing with it because I'd have to look at what had happened to me. I had to nearly destroy myself before I was willing to do that work. Fortunately my art did have some merit. People did connect my songs and poetry. Maybe that's partially why people put up with me for so long. Maybe they had empathy for me and hoped that I could change. I don't know. I've been lucky because many people have been patient and have helped me. So yeah, Dr. Fishpants is based on aspects of myself. Also, two of my favorite characters in literature are Don Quixote and Sancho Panza - I like to think there is a bit of Don Quixote in Dr. Fishpants. My relationship with him has constantly changed and I'm sure it will continue as I write the play and edit the book. Well, I should say manuscript because I haven't found a publisher for the book yet. Oh, I should also mention that the poems are illustrated. My friend Rosie Schinners is a brilliant collage artist and she has created beautiful illustrations!

From the manuscript for Dr. Fishpants' Poems About Magical Creatures, illustration by Rosie Schinners. Click on the image for a larger version!

Some of the poems NOT in the web series seem to have a bit of a moral/ instructive quality to them - Fred the Dragon, for example, compensates for a lack of "fire" by compensatory acting out; I could see that as a useful psychological insight that someone might want to share with a younger audience. Curious what comes first in such cases - do you start with a lesson you want to teach or a theme you want to explore, and create a character who embodies it? (I kind of feel like JK Rowling works that way, for example). Or do you start with the character, with meaning emerging as a bi-product? (Do you feel more drawn to one style or the other, if you see what I mean - "meaning first" vs. "character first?")

Okay, so you encouraged me to argue with you if I wanted to, so now I'm going to! You observed in the above question about Fred's acting out behaviors "I could see that as a useful psychological insight that someone might want to share with a younger audience." First off, I didn't write the book for kids. I wrote it for adults hoping that kids could also enjoy them. But your statement contains a bit of an attitude towards younger people that Lucy dislikes. Trust me, she's called me on it many times. Why do you assume that younger audiences have something to learn here and not adults? When Lucy told me that adults need magical creatures as much as kids she wasn't being cute. If there is a lesson to learn- which is not what I necessarily aimed to do - I'd say it's more pertinent for adults. I see adults "acting out" all the time. And sadly, I see kids having to deal with the consequences. Much of the violence in my home as a child resulted from my parents and their friends "acting out" unresolved stuff they were mostly unaware of and a lot of it was directed at me because children don't have the power to hold adults responsible. That's the sad truth. Adults take out their stuff on children because they can. I have witnessed parents, teachers and authority figures lecturing children while being absolute hypocrites. If they think children can't see this they're out of their minds. Children often take away a totally different lesson than the one the adults think they're teaching them. They pay way more attention to what the adults do than the things they talk about.

I am chastened! Great points. But to return to the question, do you start with an image, a character, an intended meaning...? 

I mostly write poems and songs without much forethought. A line comes to me and I write it down and I wait for the next one. So any meaning people might pick up on is a bi-product of me following a thread. I'm not saying it's unintended. Obviously some part of me needs to say whatever the poem or song or character is saying, but I don't consciously predetermine the content or themes and I'm not fully aware of what's going on in my work as I create. I know enough to get it on paper so to speak, but that's it. These things are more like downloads. I'm just receiving the content. But writing a screenplay or a play is different. They have a lot of moving parts and the structure is more complex than a poem or a song, so it's easy to get lost. Gary and I talk a lot and create outlines etc before we write. Gary thinks a lot about themes. I find that helpful, but for me it's more about developing the characters, learning who they are, their backstory, and what drives them. Knowing that stuff helps the plot fall into place for me. Well, Gary is really into this process too, I should be clear about that. It's a new process to me - to spend tons of time thinking about these things before writing - and it's fun. But I realized recently most of what I learn about them comes to me the same way a line comes to me. I don't plan so much as open myself to listening and discovering.

Do you have any history with the cast (Dean Paul-Gibson, Lili Robinson, and Camille Legg), or are they professionals you hired? (I see you are credited with "casting" - curious to hear how that was done). Is there any history between yourself and the other co-creators of the project that we should talk about...?

Dean, Lili and Camille are professional actors and attended the same theatre school I attended - Studio 58. The director, Cheyenne Rouleau, also went to Studio 58 as well as two of the designers Stephanie Wong and Naomi Lazarus. I didn't ask them to work with us because they went to Studio 58 though. A lot of indie projects work this way in that you know artists through the community and previous projects. I don't think I could audition people I'm not familiar with. I need to know them first. I met Lili and Camille during a workshop for a new play I'm hoping to finally mount in 2023. David Bloom was collaborating with me on that project and he recommended them. Dean was part of that workshop too. During the workshop they blew me away with not only their acting chops but their insights into the script and the suggestions they made. They're all such gifted artists. Fortunately they saw something in the project that appealed to them because the money on an indie production is not great (Mind you in Dean's case I suspect he did it mostly because we're friends). Plus, because they're so phenomenally talented they all have lots going on - they're busy people. I think having Cheyenne Rouleau as the director and Annette Delmage co-producing really helped. It's all about the team. If good people are involved then other good people are more likely to join in.

Dean and I go back nearly thirty years. I met him during the Langara Faculty strike at Langara College and we walked picket lines together and protested against the provincial government. We became good friends through those experiences. I lived in a basement suite below him at one point for a year. I was drinking heavily and using a lot. I knocked on his door the morning after an awful binge. I had a horrible hangover and I was also in trouble. I expected him to invite me into his cozy kitchen for a cup of tea and a reassuring visit. I often turned to him after my binges for his kindness. Instead he looked me up and down and told me he couldn't do it anymore. He said he loved me but he wasn't going to help me kill myself and shut the door in my face. I sobered up shortly after that for a few years. When I was released from the hospital several years later after an overdose he barged into my office - I was working as a stock promoter on Howe Street - and he told me I needed to straighten up. So, I got clean again and sought help. Dean has been the person who could call me on my stuff when I needed it most. But he's also a warm, generous and caring friend. Not to mention insanely charismatic and talented. His work as an actor and director is respected across the country.

Street photography by Rodney DeCroo
Trivial detail - Dr. Fishpants' chair looks very comfortable and PERFECT for his character, but also old, heavy, an antique - probably not easily moved. Whose chair is that? Did it come with the location? (I have an uncle with chairs like that, but they're badly worn, being over 100 years old - Dr. Fishpants' chair seems to be holding up okay by comparison!).

Ah, the chair is deceptive. It's a nice old leather chair that Gary Jones gave me several years ago. I still have it. I've probably read a couple hundred books while relaxing in that chair. It's not an antique though and it's not that heavy either. Whatever impressive attributes it seems to possess on screen you can attribute to the movie making magic of DOP Belen Garcia , set designer Stephanie Wong and the director Cheyenne. I guess I get a little credit too because I suggested we use it. It seemed like the perfect chair for him.

There is a sort of narrative arc to the webisodes that seems to connect to the themes that emerge in the poems. Did you pick specific poems to build the story around? How? (Was anyone else involved in selecting which poems to use?). It seems like all the poems in the webisodes deal with characters who don't fit in and have hopes beyond their given roles - a boogeyman who wants to make cookies, a Sasquatch who wants to sing like Michael Buble - but that that's not the only kind of character in the book - did you choose which characters to put into these mini-movies to highlight this theme, or was there another criteria?

Yep, Gary and I went through all the poems and chose the ones that felt right. In the introduction to Paradise Lost, Milton writes that his goal is to "justify the ways of God to men." Well, as Gary and I discussed Fishpants' backstory, we realized the poems are all attempts by Dr. Fishpants to justify / explain to his niece (who is now an adult) why he abandoned her as a child when she needed him most. Again, this is backstory and not discussed in the web series, but it will come up in the play. The magical characters all deal with elements of himself or the people who impacted him, but of course, he's not aware of that. Also, the poems are metaphorical not literal accounts of his life. For example, the boogeyman is about Dr. Fishpants himself. He wanted to be there for his niece when she was a child like he promised to be, but the abuse he experienced as a child and the intergenerational trauma in his family resulted in him abandoning her. He didn't mean to hurt her ( See, not all boogeymen want to be mean / Larry feels bad as he makes you scream.) The whole reason he's filming the poems for the internet is that deep down he wants to reconnect with his niece. He thinks that he's decided it's time to break his silence because he has an obligation to share his knowledge with the common people as he puts it. So again, he's not consciously aware of his true motivations. Which I think is often the case for artists and the work they create. Hell, I think the same could be said for most of us and the choices we make in our lives. I'm not sure we actually know why we do the things we do. So in the end the poems we chose were more of a gut thing. We agreed that they felt like the right ones. It's a funny process. We spent a whole bunch of time discussing why he has decided to make these recordings and what they represent to him on a conscious and a subconscious level and we dug into his backstory, etc. But our final choices were intuitive.

You give the Sphinx poem to the character of Lucy. Was it written by the real Lucy (or anyone other than you?).

The Sphinx poem was written by Lili Robinson. I asked if they would be willing to write their character's poem and they agreed. Lili is a playwright as well as an actor. Their debut play Mx received a lot of praise and was awarded the Fringe New Play prize. The Cultch picked it up for part of their season.

Who plays the Sasquatch? Same actor in episodes two and four? (I hope you won't mind - I thought that the Sasquatch in episode four looked like it could have been played by you! Great mask...). 

Mike Klemak played the Sasquatch. He was our Set Dresser and he volunteered to be the Sasquatch.

Curious - in the webisode, Dr. Fishpants gets Michael Buble's name wrong, pronouncing it like "Booblaze." But it's spelled right in the book. So was that a happy accident that you rode with, or were you looking to undermine Dr. Fishpants' credibility, or...?

It was a happy accident. Dean said it during a take and it made me laugh. So we kept it. I'll probably change it in the book too. Everyone will get who Michale Boo-blaze is I think. I love stuff like that. But also yes, it helps undermine Dr. Fishpants. He is an autodidact and eccentric. He's no dummy, but he does get things wrong a lot in his attempts to appear professorial. He often uses quotes out of context or mispronounces words and so on.
Talking about the new songs and the concert, is "Strippers" autobiographical? (Are you describing a real bar?). Was it written to accompany this series? (Is the effect of making the strippers themselves seem like "magical creatures" an accident of the context in which I'm hearing the song?).

Yes, it's autobiographical. It was a place I frequented regularly in Clearwater, Florida. It was a black cinder block building on Interstate 19. It was a pit of total despair, but that appealed to me at the time, strange, right? Everything in Florida was shiny and corporate and soulless, but there were these seedy strip joints. They felt like bizarre portals into hell, but at least they had some soul and I felt like I could relate to the people there. You have to remember, I was a young addict and alcoholic paralyzed by trauma who felt completely alienated from "normal" society. The dancers were prostitutes and the strip joint owners were pimps and drug dealers. I'd buy meth, do it in the bathroom and then sit in the dark to drink and watch the dancers until the place closed. I talked to almost no one. Man, I hated Florida. I was working at an Albertson's SuperMarket when I was going to this strip joint. I had been a waiter at The Brown Derby but I got fired after showing up for work both drunk and visibly beaten up. Apparently tourists dislike being waited on by inebriated waiters with black eyes! Who knew!? 

Anyhow, I spent my days cutting a variety of fruits into bite sized pieces and keeping the salad bar stocked and tidy. I was paid $3 an hour. I had a boss who would come into the work area and scream at me for sitting on a stool while I cut fruit. For some reason he felt I was slacking off if I wasn't standing while I worked. One shift I snapped a rag at a young woman's butt who worked in the produce department. She was from Tennessee. Later on that day she came up behind me and held a knife to my throat and said if I ever touched her again she'd stab me. No shit. Weirdly enough we became friends after that. I liked her. We'd load cases of beer into the garbage buckets and wheel them outside and stash the beer so we could get drunk after work. Anyhow, the song has nothing to do with the series or anything to do with Fishpants. The concert is meant to be its own thing. Canada Council gave me a grant to explore other artistic projects outside my normal stuff, so it's a nice way to bring together different elements of my work in one event. Plus, we had to make a full night of it.

You mention that "Strippers" is a "stage/ performance piece" - are there cast members, sets, etc? What should we expect at the VIFF Centre performance, and will this apply to other songs? Do you HAVE any set decoration or such in mind for the performance?

No, there's no set decoration. It's a regular concert. I said some of the poems were performance pieces because they're not strictly songs; they're poems set to music but I don't like the term spoken word. The poems were written for the page, but because my poems are narrative poems they can also be performed.

Why the change in band/ music? Will you be adapting any of your previous material to the new instrumentation, or will the concert consist of material written with Roisin and Clara in mind?

I've always changed up my approach from album to album. My last three albums Campfires on the Moon, Old Tenement Man and Queen Mary Trash are all very different albums. And over the years I've made a habit of playing with different people and incorporating a variety of instruments and sounds. It helps to keep me interested and inspired. I like playing with Clara Shandler and Roisin Adams. They're great musicians and also lots of fun to be around. I don't necessarily become friends with everyone I play with, but they've become good friends. And they're great storytellers. Not all musicians care about that because they're exploring other artistic choices, but Clara and Roisin are good storytellers. And whether it's poetry, music, theatre or film, I'm a storyteller at heart. And I'm also really feeling the piano and the cello. I think those instruments allow for an intimacy and expressiveness that these new songs and poems require.

Do you have any observations you want to make about COVID, the government response to it, or so forth? How has weathering the pandemic been for you? (We would not have had Dr. Fishpants without the COVID lockdown, correct?).

The pandemic was a strangely productive time for me. I wrote the Dr. Fishpants manuscript, I wrote my third collection of poetry Fishing for Leviathan that Anvil Press has agreed to publish in 2023 and I wrote tons of songs for an album which I plan to record soon with my friend Adrian Mack. But that's how I've always dealt with hard times in my life. I write and make stuff. Canada Council created the PIVOT grants because they wanted to provide artists - especially performing artists like myself who weren't able to perform - an opportunity to create work they wouldn't necessarily do otherwise. So yeah, for a number of reasons the pandemic was responsible for bringing about Dr. Fishpants. I think as a person with C-PTSD and as a former addict/ alcoholic I'm quite used to isolating. I've lived with a lot of stress and uncertainty for most of my life. Also, I'm used to being poor. That's just business as usual. So the pandemic, while it was disruptive, wasn't as hard for me as it was for a lot of people. I think collectively though we kind of went crazy during the pandemic and people were often pretty cruel to each other. I think it's going to take years before we can look back and see this whole period with any clarity I think.