Morlock’s view

I’ve got a strange pantheon of heroes, not just scientists and science-fiction writers – but also poets, mad-philosophers, artistes and engineers  – but HG Welles has been right up near the top for me from very early days – not only because he was brilliant, prophetic and deeply compassionate (and single-handedly invented war-gaming) – but also because he found extremely fun-to-read ways to say things that were very hard for people to hear at the time.

I much admire the very particular balance of the Simpsons (during glory days with Conan O’Brien powering the writer’s room).  They put extremely perceptive insights about American politics into Lisa’s mouth, and as long as they followed that spiel with a Homer prat-fall – everybody was happy!  Rare synthesis.

What Dickens did for humanizing the poor (turning them from ‘the misbegotten’ into ‘the unfortunates’) – Welles might be said to have done for challenging the common democratic citizenry to responsibly consider the future (extending the tradition, one must acknowledge, of the brilliant Jules Verne).

When Verne treated a dystopia (as he did in his hilariously-youthful rejected novel – Paris in the twentieth century).  He had union-men cutting power to concerts one minute past their allotted time, supervisor-supervisors – a creepily familiar nightmare of stifling bureaucracy.  Emotionally, a stirring call to the teenage spirit of proletarian revolt – even though his tone was very ‘aspirational.’

But Welles, who became the first great master of the dystopian genre, takes the approach I favour – not just rebel from-what – but TO-what?  Psychology has long recognized that there is little to be gained by destroying a load-bearing idea – even if delusional, until something equally robust has not just been offered, but also taken out for a spin and accepted for purpose.

Since we can expect the madmen to keep being madmen (long precedent for such idiots occupying most castle-like structures) what are the rest of us, who they are trying to bully, manipulate, scare and squeeze, going to do about it?

In “The Time Machine” – Welles has his protagonist travel to a distant future populated by two classes of humans.  The worker grunt Morlocks, stuck living out their days in the grim lightless soot-tinged under-city, who did all the work, and the cheerful and charming Eloi, who did nothing but frolic and play happily in a manicured topside park, except that is, when they were being hunted down by Morlocks for food!

Of course we are horrified by such a dichotomy, and again challenged to revolt – but this time it’s from BOTH joylessness and impracticality.  Ultra-rare synthesis!

I’ve already mentioned my nostalgia for Marxist feminists a few times – that used to be the place I could go where I knew we weren’t just thinking about equal shares of the same shit-pie, but justice – including for those in far-off places, who we are now casually harming in ways so grotesque, it hurts the caring soul, deeply.  (Maybe there is an objective reason so many of us Eloi are depressed!)

We’ve lost sight of this, but we aren’t the point, folks – those to come are – always!  And yes, our great grandchildren actually do have more of a right to a forest, than we do to burn dead dinosaurs, obtained through the bayonet-imposed denial of political rights to many millions for a full century and counting.  D’oh!

Not a point but a process

I can also do simple – and admire the aesthetic greatly.  Here I’m treating one of my most important recurrent themes for poetry and essays both – the idea that we aren’t frozen-mass sculpture, but always-changing and dynamic music.

So many things that are scary for a rock, mean nothing to a breeze!

Shy building syndrome

More Yonge-St wrecking-ball mayhem (near the much-missed Uptown theatre)

I lost my chance to buy a proper Aquascutum pea-coat at Stollery’s (the very last place in town with a decent Haberdashery counter – dammit), and the ever growing tower on the opposite corner has finally stopped growing and is almost skinned now. (Hope the glass holds, right? – that’s a LONG way down).

But amidst all of the mega-disruption, there are also small signs of progress.

Back in the old days, the fine people at Teperman’s demolitions wouldn’t have shown any sensitivity at all to the shyness issues of this poor unfortunate beauty, once very comfortable as one of a whole row of friends, now singled-out – suddenly a middle-aged soloist, without ever having sought the title.

We fully expect this beauty to return again to new glory, set as a singular gem within a dispiriting tableau of burnished steel and wrong-scaled tinted panes.

But in the meantime – why not preserve a bit of modesty? It’s not much to ask.

Bring your own rainbow

So much for the American state making any social progress advancement for awhile – back to rebel-mode for every subculture that was feeling rare hope.

Which means it is now a time for all of us to stand up for our friends, whenever the new limits of acceptable bullying are being tested (and this, I’m afraid, is a very predictable outcome).
We need to help keep safe spaces safe, and help make sure that the many who have made gains, know they still have loyal allies everywhere, even if the jerks are feeling empowered just now.

Bring your own rainbow seems a good starting concept – just in case there isn’t already one going in the space we’re entering.  One more vote for sanity.

Let’s keep it built, until official support returns.  Important daily work.  Yes?



As mentioned in my last post about the demise of the Brunny – there is good news on Bloor as well.  This building, the former Hungarian Palace, was empty and abandoned not for years, but for decades.  When I was a small boy (and lived up the street) the entire ground level was not only completely boarded over, but covered in chicken-wire as well.  Above that was flaking black paint and the two rows of emblazoned shields I mentioned.

Cool to a kid – but not to the neighbours (pest control is impossible if your next door tenant is practising demolition by dereliction) – and of no use at all to the area in which it sits.  Prime commercial real-estate, too – Bloor in the Annex area has fantastic ‘foot traffic’ – tons of non-drivers and bicyclists reside nearby and there are plenty of hip eateries and bars to get people down there already.

I can only imagine how many schemes were floated over the years, by combinations of planners and investors – many of which must have involved knocking the old structure down and rebuilding.  Thankfully, all flopped.

It was only a couple of years ago that the wunderkinds of the BMV chain finally resurrected the store (I heard it cost them four million to renovate) and turned it into the beauty you see before you.  Lovely original brick detail – new steel joists!

I’ve got sort of a crush on this business – these BMV folks have managed to beat Book City (also much-beloved) at it’s own game, and have fought the big box stores with impressive verve.

In fact, the giant Indigo chain built a massive two story location right across from BMV’s busy Yonge St. store to try to kill it – fast forward a few years – that BMV is thriving (so busy, you can hardly get in there sometimes) – whereas the Indigo has cleared out most of the main floor to sell pillows and candles, cafe upstairs.

It’s funny how the bourgeoise always consider themselves the rightful custodians of culture – since they make almost none of it.  Perhaps they believe that since money motivates them, it must motivate everyone.  That would be an understandable comforting delusion for them to enjoy.  Pathetic, really.

But please can we get investor conglomerates out of art and culture, and get the lovely folks who really do care back in?  I mean people who love books, sell books – painting, likewise.  ARTS ARE NOT A PROFIT CENTRE!

Don’t mean to be at all discouraging to my young artist friends – I do of course hope that each and every one of you become breakout superstars – but I would like the ones of you who don’t to also have dignified and stimulating careers – building your skill and insight, so you can share, reach, see and say ever more.

Being, Meaning, Validating – right?
Else what’s the durned thing for, anyhow?  ;o)

Brother Martin at Birmingham

Nada and I saw an extraordinary show today at the Ryerson image centre – which (I repeat) is free and awesome, so if you don’t go, you stink! (so there)

Their latest exhibition (on ’till Apr 9th) – contains optimal black-history energy – a series of photographs from Birmingham, among the most important and transformative images ever entered into the public consciousness – and an equally bracing exhibit about the Black Panthers and the Attica riots.

I will share a few more pieces later (they allow flash-less photography – because they are true photo keeners – and want you to be enthused too!)

But for today – this one piece is striking enough to meditate upon awhile.

I had the strangest feeling, looking at it – like looking at light that actually bounced off Jupiter and came into your eyeball through a telescope, it felt more truly connected to the man than any artefact I’ve yet seen.  Hit me hard.

Also made me think about the difference between analog and digital, in terms of that very sense of personal involvement and connection to the event.

I am convinced of the powerful utility of digital media – don’t get me wrong – but the analog process remains distinct, for it’s lack of numerical abstraction.

A friend who ran a recording studio for many years put it best.  “When I record vocalists on analog tape they come out of the booth thrilled and triumphant.  But when I record them on digital, I feel like I should have hot cocoa and a blanket ready for them after.  I have to reassure them they can still sing.”

Facebook news seems to be an even more extreme(ly) detached and abstracted way of relaying data than news sites, which were already flakier than old-school journalism (for all it’s unresolved flaws).  Suddenly, I feel like printing physical pamphlets and selling them on the street-corner for physical nickels (while they still exist) just to have evidence of actual human contact!

Which brings me to this – How are we going to move people next – people?

As artists, writers, photographers, designers and brilliant maniacs – if my crazy friends don’t have a few of the clues, the asteroid is even closer than I think.

Brother Martin found a way that required incredible courage from thousands.
But let’s remember he found a way to inspire those thousands too.

Our job now.

Worst job, best attitude

Came across this rather lovely double-Aesop the other day.  First we have the “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet” thing, in terms of jobs – no matter how frustrating your gig, it has to be better than being a walking lottery-ball in winter.

But then we’ve got the huge bonus – the one person in the bunch who doesn’t get stuck on the (true) fact of the stupidity of the job, but remembers instead – hey, this is still a moment in my life, even if I am selling it for something silly – and I have enough respect for my own moments to have fun anyhow!

Such non-linear wisdom is actually one of the greatest secrets of life, and learning to feel and work whimsy along that line is a skill very much worth building into all our days, so we can use it often, naturally, with finesse.

I keep getting frustrated listening to arguments that completely ignore reason – and also arguments that pretend reason is everything a person requires.

Both cases are fatally imbalanced.  Reason does likes to think itself all, of course – because it is, in effect, the spotlight that focusses moment to moment (seven-second wide?) consciousness, most clearly.

But that is like a particular part of our mind getting too big for it’s britches, swollen with vanity.  The other stuff – the part that includes empathy, hilarity, absurdity and purest wonder, is no less critical, nourishing, or necessary – it is, in fact, that non-rational but essentially life-affirming stuff (like LOVE) that makes all the reasoning we do more than just a clever exercise.

I know, how rude.  Still I insist – there actually is such a thing as purpose left in the world – and reason, skill and determination aren’t here to serve purposes like greed and competition (fundamentally alienating, even as victories).

Not when there are so many good works still to be done.  Good moments to have, too – even if we are in for some pretty concentrated-stupid for awhile.

The Zanzibar

Lest my fellow Torontonians think I’m trying to portray a sanitized version of scuzzy Yonge St to my far-away friends, here’s a cultural landmark far more typical of the part of the downtown strip where Elm (Arts and Letters) intersects.

Coming up on it’s sixtieth anniversary in 2020, the Zanzibar once featured live music (The Guess Who played there) and then introduced topless dancers and burlesque, before finally going full strip-club in the seventies.

As a sixteen year old idiot in the early 80s, I worked at the Papaya hut (last of the soda-jerks!), right across the street from both the Zanzibar and it’s much-missed neighbour – Sam the Record man – which was a great temple for recorded music (featuring geeks with encyclopaedic knowledge in every department – classical and jazz had especially awesome collections of niche-wisdom – and so many truly great ‘sides’, everywhere you dug).

We had the best and fastest (least break-wasting) coffee – so the strippers all came in, the music geeks from Sam’s came in, and the speed-chess maniacs from just around the corner on Gould also came in quite regularly – and still populate my head as most-memorable characters to this day.  They’d give you ten minutes on the chess-clock to their own two – honestly – and then kick your ass in one and take your fiver anyhow, just by sheer dint of practise – along with highly effective (sublimated) intellectual blood-lust.  Exhilarating – even to lose!

Thanks to very steep discounts, the beat-cops would always stop-in too – and the hookers who hung out at Ford drugs across the street preferred our food.  By the time you have a three hundred pound accountant in a cheap grey suit arguing politics with a male stripper (and proselytizer for certain techniques which I won’t go into here) a wall-of-garlic chess master, a brilliant saxophonist lost to the bottle, a smart-ass jockey and a couple of cynical working girls, you have got yourself a true Yonge St. Quorum – as of 1981, anyhow – and just wait ’till the Leafs game gets out at ‘the gardens’ just up the street.

My role?  The idiot who carried all the juice, pumped rolls of quarters into video games at the 24hr arcades, had a crush on every single girl at work, and wrote horrendous songs at the drop of the hat (sung them quite shamelessly, too).

Like I said, sixteen.

Purloined Aquifer

Again we have a large foreign corporation doing to us comfortable Canadians on a relatively small (but still incredibly infuriating) scale, the same sort of things that Canadian corporations have been doing overseas in poor countries where the people have way less power to resist, for decades.

Please don’t think I’m saying I don’t mind this nonsense – I don’t think things like aquifers should be for sale at all – the very idea is crazy – increasingly precious fresh water is a clear matter of public interest and regulation for all (and I mean all the world, not just the local ‘hood), if ever there was one.

But this is a spot where it’s very easy to see that there’s a second level of reality we leave out, which is actually quite important.  Where did these bozos get the money to screw us?  Not which institution leant it to them, but why?

Because we all collectively said – “Tap-water with ADDED PHTHALATES – why yes, I’d be very happy to pay more for that, than I would for juice in glass.”
(Please don’t ask me why, thinking about that makes my head explode!)

I’m serious here – yes we can say “Those big icky people are being mean to poor us”  But they absolutely could not do this if we weren’t ENABLING them.

Banks don’t lend money where there’s none to be made (they’re very fond of their capital, as a general rule), our stupidity is what proved the profit real.

Yes let’s regulate water better anyhow, pass some legislation by all means, and also rail against institutions which irritate us (and then hopefully not go back to forgetting about our own scumbags, once we’re back to dozy comfort).

But please – can we also stop being stupid and voting for destruction and voluntary toxicity with our damned wallets?  Pretty-please? (with stevia on it?)