Coming up in Saskatoon, a night featuring original, innovative performances, courtesy the Free Flow Dance Theatre Company.
One of the pieces will incorporate some of my strange ambient music—it will be fascinating to see what Jackie Latendresse and her troupe have come up with. I’ll definitely be attending and hope there will be a good turn-out for what promises to be a remarkable evening, an audio-visual feast:
Well, since my last post, I’ve been a busy lad, working hard on the novel-in-progress, kicking PayPal’s ass and—
What’s that? I haven’t mentioned my on-going dispute with those lovely folks at PayPal/eBay, have I? Here’s the poop:
Three years ago I filed a formal complaint with the Privacy Commission of Canada. PayPal brusquely informed me that my on-line transactions had reached a certain (arbitrary) limit and I could no longer use their services until I allowed them to link to my bank account. Ahem. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am touchy about my security and privacy almost to the point of paranoia. There was no way I was going to give those corporate scum-suckers that kind of potential access to my personal banking information.
So I ratted PayPal out to the Privacy Commissioner. Insisted that I was being denied services and my rights as a private citizen were being violated.
After several years of investigations and submissions from both parties, the Privacy Commissioner has concluded that my complaint was “well-founded” and I have had my PayPal account fully restored. Not only that, Paypal has agreed to change its practices and fully implement the Privacy Commission’s recommendations regarding on-line transactions by November 30, 2014. These “corrective measures” will provide PayPal clients with more information and an “alternative solution”, other than the illegal and unwarranted collection of personal banking information.
My thanks to the folks at the Privacy Commission for pursuing such a lengthy and complex case and for holding PayPal’s feet to the fire until they were forced to acknowledge the legitimacy of my concerns.
Vindication! This is what happens when you refuse to be one of the dull-witted, simple-minded “sheeple”. As consumers and citizens of a free country we have rights and must make every effort to ensure our private data isn’t being collected/mined or our financial security rendered vulnerable by greedhead corporations and/or overly nosy, inquisitive government agencies.
So stay vigilant.
What else? The novel…ah, yes, the novel. What can I tell you—very little really. It progresses, slowly but surely. Still anticipating an early 2015 release date…other than that, I have nothing to add. Cautiously optimistic but unwilling to go any further. How’s that for unhelpful?
When I’ve not been writing or editing, I’ve been watching a number of good movies, some of which I’ve reviewed over on my film blog. You did know I had a film site, right? Oh, for Heaven’s sake…well, you’ll find it here. I post infrequently (surprise, surprise) and refuse to have anything to do with silly popcorn movies, rom-coms or abominations by the likes of Michael Bay, JJ Abrams, Zack Snyder or (saving the loudest retch for last) James Cameron. I try to champion obscure or forgotten movies, doing my bit to enlighten contemporary cinema-goers, many of whom haven’t seen anything older than “Jaws”. Hands down, the best film I’ve seen so far in 2014 is a Czech film Sherron gave me for Christmas called “Marketa Lazarova”. Nothing else has come close. Set in the Medieval era, complications involving two warring clans…strong intimations of Bergman’s “Virgin Spring” and Kurasawa’s “Throne of Blood”. I intend to watch it again before I sit down and write my review. So much to take in—there is greatness in that film.
March 8th, Sherron and I attended a performance by the Saskatoon Symphony. Not a regular occurrence, I’m shame-faced to admit, but this time around the bill was too good to resist, featuring two of my favorite 20th Century composers, Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams. After the intermission, three different choirs filed out and added their voices to Vaughan Williams’ “Sea Symphony” (the text derived from poems by Walt Whitman). Two solo vocalists, Monica Huisman and Peter McGillivray, were also highlighted and the evening concluded, as conductor Victor Sawa promised in his pre-concert chat, not with a huge flourish, but a gentle exhortation to sail on, ever onward, risking everything, abandoning safe anchorages and familiar stars:
“O my brave soul!
O farther farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail! …”
Lots of reading and music in the past few weeks—some titles that stand out, Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke (recommended by Penn Gillete on one of his “Penn Point” podcasts), Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Reza Aslan), as well as lots of poetry by the likes of Ted Kooser, Tom Hennen, Donald Hall and W.S. Merwin. In terms of tunes, I’ve been enjoying everything from a compilation of Simply Saucer songs I picked up in a thrift shop, to the Foo Fighters, Airbag, Radio Moscow, Bob Mould, Hayes Carll, Spiritualized…how am I doing?
And I want to take a moment to give a shout out to some individuals deserving of special mention, this month’s Roll Call of Honor:
First of all, a huge “Thank You” to Jason Brock for surprising the hell out of me with a couple of first edition Richard Matheson books. Gifts that arrived from out of the blue (an act of generosity I’ll remember a long time).
A big hug to my sister, Colleen, who recently retired from her longtime position with Viterra and, I hope, will now sit back and smell the roses for awhile—God knows, you deserve it, gal!
And, finally, a sad but fond farewell to a man who often represented the conscience of his nation, Tony Benn. One of my colleagues on LibraryThing posted the following quote, which sums the man up perfectly:
“Ask the powerful five questions:
What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you exercise it?
To whom are you accountable?
How can we get rid of you?”
Tony Benn (1925-2014)
I was one of the invited guests at the launch of the second installment of the Battlefords’ only homegrown arts magazine, Feed the Artist. I contributed a brief essay to this latest issue and was impressed by the quality of the work (prose and visuals) I found throughout. It’s quite gorgeous; make sure you check it out.
Congratulations to everyone involved with Feed the Artist, the editors and artists who worked so hard to bring a dedicated arts and culture publication to the citizens of this region.
Here’s what I said to the sixty or so people who assembled at Crandleberry’s to give the magazine a grand send-off.
Thanks to everyone who attended. It was a magical evening.
* * * * *
I think it’s appropriate that we’re launching the new issue of “Feed the Artist” here, in a very public venue as opposed to a more formal setting. While there might be benefits to holding events in clean, well-lighted places, featuring all the latest bells and whistles, there’s also something cold and antiseptic and, let’s face it, increasingly corporate about these fancy-shmancy new galleries and performing arts centers.
Some of you either participated in or were witnesses to the “Tree” piece that was conceived and created around a locale in Battleford. The natural setting became an important element within the performance. I’m also thinking about the “Flash Mobs” that have broken out in this region of late, people congregating in public places and singing and dancing while startled spectators try to take everything in.
All of this is happening outside the rarefied air of institutions and brick and mortar facilities. Because art, after all, is portable, not confined to designated areas and “safe” zones. Why not utilize non-traditional locations to tell stories and highlight the rich history and culture of this region?
Time for artists to escape museums and galleries and theaters and bookstores and re-enter public spaces, remind the citizens of our communities that we have something to say about life, the universe…and the human condition. Something essential, something they need to know if they’re to stay sane in an increasingly frantic and chaotic world.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Populist Manifesto” addressed some of these points nearly forty years ago, so I’ll conclude by reading an excerpt from that work (what’s an arts gathering without a manifesto?).
Populist Manifesto (Excerpt)
Poets, come out of your closets, Open your windows, open your doors, You have been holed-up too long in your closed worlds. Come down, come down from your Russian Hills and Telegraph Hills, your Beacon Hills and your Chapel Hills, your Mount Analogues and Montparnasses, down from your foothills and mountains, out of your teepees and domes. The trees are still falling and we’ll to the woods no more. No time now for sitting in them As man burns down his own house to roast his pig No more chanting Hare Krishna while Rome burns. San Francisco’s burning, Mayakovsky’s Moscow’s burning the fossil-fuels of life. Night & the Horse approaches eating light, heat & power, and the clouds have trousers. No time now for the artist to hide above, beyond, behind the scenes, indifferent, paring his fingernails, refining himself out of existence. No time now for our little literary games, no time now for our paranoias & hypochondrias, no time now for fear & loathing, time now only for light & love.
-Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Copyright, 1974)
At long last it’s done.
My son Sam completed final edits on the film he shot of my reading back in October, 2012. The official launch of New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) and Stromata: Prose Works (1992-2011).
It was a huge file and he had to combine footage from a couple of cameras, synch sound, touch-up glitches and try to make an author reading as visually interesting as possible. No mean feat. But he’s done a fantastic job. The kid has an amazing eye and even if you don’t think much of the prose (or performer), I think you’ll agree that this effort is striking to look at, cut and trimmed and shaped with precision. All credit to my son, Sam Burns.
Here’s the reading, in its entirety.
Sit back and hit that play button…
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…
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)
A memorable evening last night: we launched my two new collections, New & Selected Poems and Stromata to an enthusiastic audience and, I add (much to my relief), there were no glitches or screwups on my part. I read for just over 35 minutes and then took questions from those in attendance. Great questions too, folks seeking clarification on my status as an independent author and also asking me about the changes in my writing over the past 25 years, among other things.
I’ll post some pictures ASAP but we also had two cameras running so in the next couple of weeks we’ll be uploading the entire reading on to YouTube where people can tune in and see me in action.
Without a trace of humbleness, I can tell you that there aren’t too many authors in this country who perform their work as well as I do. I take my responsibilities as an entertainer very seriously; I have been to too many readings where the authors have forgotten that they must also be performers. When I hit that podium, it’s my intention to blow people away, destroy their preconceptions, make it a night they won’t soon forget. And usually I succeed.
Thanks to everyone who came out on a chilly autumn night and an especially big THANK YOU to my production crew—Sherron, Sam, Sean, Micah—for their hard work.
Watch for the finished film, I really believe it captured one of the best readings I’ve ever done.
Man, was I hot…