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Archive for October, 2012

“Time to break with long-standing tradition. No room for humility, maintaining artistic ‘Purity’ and all that bullshit. Gotta get with the program, boy! Right now, you have the profile of a blind mole and you gotta do something about it, capiche? So, let’s hop to it…”

That’s the publisher part of my brain, giving me a good dressing down. Lately that impatient, cigar-chewing entity has been making his presence felt, insinuating his way close to my psyche, whispering his poisonous advice.

Unfortunately, it seems I’m starting to listen to him. I’m behaving very much out of character and as evidence I offer up the following:

First, I’ve entered a couple of my books for literary prizes.

I know. Spooky, isn’t it? I usually have zero interest in such things—couldn’t tell you who won the last Pulitzer or Booker or what have you. But my publisher got his way and I popped four copies of The Last Hunt off to the judges of the Western Writers of America’s “Spur” Awards and a similar number of my New & Selected Poems to the folks behind the Saskatchewan Book Awards. Rather dubious bids to draw attention to my work, I thought, but those misgivings were completely disregarded.

Second point:  I’m submitting a tale to the annual “CBC Short Story Prize”.

Sherron sent me the guidelines for this year’s competition and my Muse, with uncharacteristic glee, supplied me with a 1450 word offering that I’ll be mailing later today (just ahead of the deadline). Weird. Not only am I sending them a tale, I’m also paying a $25.00 “administrative fee”, a practice I’ve always derided in the strongest terms. “Ripping off writers,” I snorted. “Isn’t it supposed to be editors paying authors, not the other way around?” Etc.

Something’s going on. The problem is, I’m an independent author and publisher. There are two sides of my personality to satisfy and right now they’re pretty much at war with each other. The writer in me has no interest in shilling his books, evincing a distaste for the kind of shmoozing some of his colleagues do, trying to curry favor with the Powers That Be. The publisher persona, however, insists these books we’re producing cost money and, besides, they’re good books, why not do what we can to get the word out? It’s not about greed, it’s about securing a decent readership for well-crafted stories of obvious literary merit…

Ah, he’s a clever bastard all right. And he’s been winning a few minor skirmishes of late, exploiting his new found sense of authority. He was delighted when I sat down at my desk and commenced a brand new tale for the aforementioned short story contest.

Until he read the final draft.

“It’s not…not…and too…there isn’t any…” Spluttering, unable to finish his sentences, incandescent with fury.

And the author in me rejoicing, enjoying the spectacle. Waving the printed sheets of paper teasingly, skipping away while his counterpart screams and gesticulates…

Another terrific short story in the can.

Too bad it doesn’t stand a fucking chance of winning.

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And, no, wise guy, I’m not talking about my naked body as I step out of the shower in the morning.

I’m referring to a recent post over at Mediabistro (why do I continue to subscribe to them, they only depress me) crowing that over 235,000 self-published books were released last year.  That’s physical books and their digital cousins.

Sturgeon’s Law would have you think 90% of those titles are complete crap but, based on my own investigations, I would say the actual figure is closer to 99.8%. Which means, according to my very rough calculations (I’ve detested math all my life), less than 500 of the aforementioned books are worth even glancing at.

Nearly a quarter million books, only 500 possessing any kind of literary merit.  Pretty grim, huh?

But when was the last time you walked through a Chapters or Barnes & Noble book barn? Of the thousands of books your eyes passed over, what percentage looked intelligent enough to warrant a closer look? I’m guessing it was a very tiny proportion. Crap is crap, whether it’s produced by a bad cowboy poet from Dubuque, or issues forth from Random House, with the full weight of their publicity machine behind it.

I’ve just about given up on the big box stores. This past week we were visiting Edmonton and I had the great fortune to spot Old Strathcona Books, a wonderful used book place on Gateway Boulevard. The selection was amazing and the two gals behind the counter friendly and welcoming, real book-lovers, with in-depth knowledge of their wares. My kinda joint.

Get out there and support first rate bookstores like Old Strathcona, marvel at the wide selection of titles they offer, hard to find tomes and marginalia that highlight the diversity of fine fiction available to discriminating readers, unheralded authors waiting to be discovered. Because despite the flood of offal being spewed out these days by traditional publishers and the self-publishing gits, superb works of literature are still being produced…you just have to dig around and search for them.

Don’t be discouraged, steel your nerves and have at it.

The reward, finding a book that changes your perspective, alters the way you think and look at the world, sends seismic shockwaves through your soul and soma, makes all those tireless efforts worthwhile.

Read on…

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Kafka Fuck

 

Once back at my place she plays it coy scuttling under the couch until I menace her with a can of Raid using it to steer her toward the bedroom antennae twitching in excitement crawling up the edge of my bedspread chittering as I run my fingers along her polished carapace stroking her thorax her withered ornamental wings fluttering mandibles dug into my pillow in insectile ecstasy while I prepare to mount her probing for anything resembling a vagina wondering if she uses protection and if not if the pupa will look anything like me.

 

* * * * *

Greenhouse Effect

 

I’m not going back to you. I’m gone. I’m outta here. You won’t find me. It’ll be like we never met. Just another face in the crowd. On a forgotten street. In a strange country.  One of the disappeared. Yeah. Lost in time and space. I wasn’t born in the first place.  Back to the womb. Stillborn. No. Aborted. A puddle of pink flesh. Gristle and blood.  Dumped in an incinerator. Reduced to ash. Floating in the troposphere. Burned by the sun. Ultraviolet radiation. A cancer on your body.

 

* * * * *

These are two of my favorite short prose pieces, excerpted from my recently released volume Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011).

For ordering information, please go here.

Photo credit:  Sherron Burns

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Memo to one and all:

You might be noticing a few changes to Beautiful Desolation—I’m streamlining, consolidating for the purposes of simplicity. Eliminating some pages, expanding or creating others.

The end result will be that you’ll be able to navigate around my blog more easily, find what you’re looking for in less time. The new look will also highlight the growing importance of short films and music in my creative life. Technology has allowed me to explore disciplines other than writing and for that I’m immensely grateful.

You’ll find tons o’ free material to download—novel excerpts, stories, personal essays, films, ambient music, spoken word pieces…hours of fun and entertainment.

But the idea, of course, is that once you fall completely under my spell, want to read everything you can get your hands on by this whacked out Cliff Burns dude, you simply visit my bookstore, follow the link(s) and drop a few shekels my way.  Because I gotta tell you, without the occasional sale, some actual coin in pocket, this indie guy finds it hard to pay the bills. The “freeconomy” is fine and dandy for some, but as far as creative artists are concerned, it’s also getting harder and harder to make a buck. And, like everybody else on this side of Heaven, sometimes we find it a real squeeze.

‘Nuff said.

If you notice any glitches or broken links, drop me a line (blackdogpress@yahoo.ca) and I’ll effect a fix ASAP.  Might be a few bumps in the road along the way but, when all is said and done, this blog will be more navigable and user friendly and that’s worth a little short term pain and frustration.

Thanks for coming by.

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“I don’t care if it was Bob Dylan,” one disgruntled fan snarled as we lined up to make our way out of the Credit Union Center, “I thought he sucked. He absolutely sucked.”

I didn’t hear anyone protesting, no apologists willing to leap to the great man’s defense.

Rarely have I seen an audience leaving a live performance so utterly listless. They’d come for spectacle, a chance to pay tribute to one of their heroes and here they were, shaking their heads, trying to figure out why a legendarily enigmatic artist would present them with such a haphazard, irritating evening of music.

Talent certainly wasn’t the problem. Dylan’s touring band—Donnie Herron, Tony Garnier, Charlie Sexton, Stu Kimball, George Recile—are top flight musicians but they were cruelly hamstrung by Dylan’s presence, subdued, seldom breaking out of the tightly controlled box he stuck them in. The positioning and body language was instructive:  the backing band remained huddled (cowed?) on one side of the stage while Dylan crouched behind an electric keyboard on the audience’s right.

Ah, yes. That fucking keyboard. A good place to hide, Bob, if you can actually, y’know, play the goddamned thing. Dylan, remember, started out on keyboards with his high school band back in Hibbing, Minnesota. Unfortunately, someone should tell him that his technique hasn’t improved since he loudly and tunelessly thumped out Little Richard hits fifty-five years ago. I know a number of fine harmonica players have taken him to task for his misuse of their precious harp, but what Dylan really needs is a classically trained pianist to come along and slam a keyboard cover on his fingers. Repeatedly. His inexpert noodling, amplified and isolated, evoked continual winces throughout the 90-minute show.

I can understand taking a fresh approach to old, stale material, but Dylan’s re-inventions reduced beloved favorites like “Visions of Johanna”, “Shelter from the Storm” and, yeah, even “Blowing in the Wind” to a discordant and indistinguishable mush.  Was there a single song off his latest (B+) album, “Tempest”? If there was, I didn’t hear it. There was a perfunctory rendering of “Man in the Long Black Coat”, an epic tune casually tossed off, a forgettable five-minute abridgement. I cannot think of one song other than the opener “Watching the River Flow” that worked all the way through.

On those rare occasions when the band finally did cut loose—during extended jams on “Highway 61″ and “Levee’s Gonna Break”—we got a hint of what might have been possible, had they, like the thoroughbreds they are, been given their head and allowed to run. I found it maddening to watch superb artists diminished and under-utilized to that extent.

Only one other recent experience in the arts left me as angry and disillusioned with a revered artist and that was a viewing of Jean-Luc Godard’s “Film Socialisme”. Like Dylan, Godard has what I think is an unhealthy contempt for his audience and, as a result, “Film Socialisme” is a futile mess, a blot on a distinguished, ground-breaking career.  This attitude that you can continually flip the bird at people who pay good money and come to your work expecting to be enlightened or entertained or just not bored, exposes artists at the end of their creative rope, an acknowledgement that if you can no longer provide the goods, you might as well sell the rubes lusterless trinkets and spent tailings from exhausted mines.

I think it’s a shameful stance, childish and self-indulgent. While Dylan was under no onus to play pre-packaged, excruciatingly faithful renditions of his classics, he was obliged to at least make them recognizable versions of the originals. And though he may think of himself the consummate iconoclast and contrarian for refusing to cater to the crowd, he also revealed himself as a man no longer able to rock and roll.
**********************************************************************************

I would be remiss if I didn’t sing praises of Zimmie’s opening act, the great Mark Knopfler and his stellar accompanying band.

Now this lad knows the score.

He avoided playing all but one of his “Dire Staits”-era hits (“So Far Away”), yet left those present cheered and enlivened by his musicianship, poise and presence. He teasingly responded to those dolts who like to shout out requests from the floor (do you people know how fucking retarded you sound to everyone else), and played his heart out, generously collaborating with his musicians, recognizing their virtuoso skills.

Some of us wondered ahead of time why Dylan would choose such a celebrated artist, a headliner in his own right, to take to the stage ahead of him. Both share a love of history, epic ballads, cinematic storylines—they could well be brothers in arms.

But unlike Dylan, Mr. Knopfler has never forgotten the folks out there beyond the footlights, the steep price they paid for being there.

As he left the stage, he blew kisses to the crowd.

Contrast that to Dylan’s coldly dismissive raspberries…

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Bob Dylan

the troubadour arrived unheralded
the mood sullen in the crowd
he had the reputation of trickster
hat and cape & concealing cowl

he played the part of wise man
tried to bend them to his will
but his magic was much diminished
it only made them ill

he rallied his most stalwart
minions to the King
the others were left abandoned
denied a song to sing

confused and upbraided
filing from the flickering hall
no one there to guide them
catch them should they fall

the troubadour was untroubled
he’d been paid in brightest gold
fools were they who lamented
he’d grown so tired and old

for our idols owe us nothing
evince scorn for our trusting ways
in their eyes we are dupes and fools
refusing to turn the page

put your faith in butterflies
follow their aimless flight
but beware of traveling minstrels
who vanish into the night

* Completed following the Bob Dylan/Mark Knopfler concert, Credit Union Center (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

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Bob Dylan

the troubadour arrived unheralded
the mood sullen in the crowd
he had the reputation of trickster
hat and cape & concealing cowl…

 
* Poem to be completed following the concert

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