Virginia McKendry - Art Bergmann & Gore Vidal's Messiah
Monday, February 05, 2007
With Les Wiseman I followed the alternative music scene in Vancouver in the 80s and into the early 90s when it all but disappeared. In those years taking pictures of a band in my studio was a chore. The band members would arrive late, some would not show up. Others would arrive drunk or high on drugs. It was a job that I soon abandoned for boring but predictable ones.
I always went to any concert by Art Bergmann, our very own Johnny Thunders
. There was always brilliance and virtuosity even if for a few minutes. But his passion (when he played his guitar) was full-time. Interesting people went to Art Bergmann concerts. A few were junkies and others lived with them. But all were gentle and always treated me with respect. I remember taking my daughter Ale to several Bergmann concerts and I even took her to recording sessions in underground studios. Ale came to appreciate what I saw in Art Bergmann's music.
In one occasion that I remember with fondness, I went to see Bergmann at the Town Pump. I was accompanied by a beautiful brunette. The next day I received several phone calls from my friends telling me they had finally caught me cheating on my wife. With glee I had to point out that the brunette was my 20 year-old daugther Ale!
One of my favourite persons at Bergmann concerts was the classy Virginia McKendry. In the late 80s, before smoking became verbotten, watching her smoke her cigarettes, which she held with gloved hands, was magic. I finally went to her house to take her pictures. At the time I was trying to master George Hurrell's glamour lighting. In many respects I didn't rise to the situation and my photographs were not as good as they could have been. I remember that at the time Virginia lived with a beautiful but very sad looking man, Mick Joy who always dressed in black and accompanied Virginia to Bergmann concerts. Virginia was a well read young woman and when I pointed out Gore Vidal's early novel, Messiah
she told me, "You can take it home if you want to." I had enjoyed the novel in my youth when Vidal, and Vonnegut were both considered science fiction writers. Messiah
is about an undertaker who becomes the messiah helped by the wonders of advertising.
It was published in 1954. One of the protagonists is reading all he can about Julian the Apostate as he plans to write a biography on the man who tried to bring back pagan gods to Christian Rome. In 1964 Vidal wrote a historical novel, Julian
I have lost track of Virginia but I always remember her when I notice Messiah
in one of my bookshelves. My photograph of Art (left) is the image I always have in my head in the last couple of times that I reread Messiah
Bleeding Heart - Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba'
A Canticle For Leibowitz - Or: How We Learned To Love The Bomb
Sunday, February 04, 2007
My friend Howard Houston
in Texas and I have been discussing Edward Rutherfurd's novel Sarum
particularly its section on Roman Britain. Howard is most interested in things Roman and in his last communication he wrote:
"One of the things that I found most interesting about Sarum was the tracing of the one family (the first Roman landowners) who managed to stay the leading family in the area for going on a millennia. That a society as advanced as that of the Romans could be brought down to the point that basics like how to make concrete were lost for 1000 years is a warning to us today.
That set me to thinking about a novel that is one of my favourites and which I first read while boarding at St. Edward’s High School at Austin, Texas. The novel is Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle For Leibowitz
. I read its sequel, Saint Leibowitz And The Wild Horse Woman
in 1997 when it came out. At about the same time I read Don DeLillo’s Underworld
. Those three books and Howard’s communication have lead to this:
And the story said how Dr. Teller feared the immediate effects of the blast at his viewing site twenty miles from zero point and how he decided it might be helpful to apply sun tan lotion to his face.
--Don De Lillo, Underworld, 1997
“Te absolvat Dominus Jesus Christus: ego autem eius acutoritate te absolve ab omni vinculo…..” before he had finished, a light was shining through the thick curtains of the confessional door. The light grew brighter and brighter until the booth was full of bright noon. The curtain began to smoke.
---Walter M. Miller Jr. , A Canticle for Leibowitz, 1959
Sometime in 1960, in a neo-Gothic chapel at St. Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas (Illustration above by H.N.Pharr II from the inside cover of the 1961 Edwardian), monks of the Catholic Order of the Holy Cross and their wards were chanting the Tantum Ergo. The evening’s benediction was interrupted by air-raid sirens that echoed off the walls and the high ceiling. At Bergstrom, the nearby Strategic Air Command base, B-52D bombers with atom bombs on board took off. We were herded into the basement shelter. Brother Peter Celestine C.S.C. said to us, “Sursum corda; oremus.”
To those of us who lived the day-to-day fear of mass vaporization during the dawn of the Atomic Age and the subsequent Cuban Missile Crisis, the ultimate pean to nuclear destruction was Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz
. This 1959 science-fiction novel peppered with untranslated Church Latin – about monks who lovingly preserves the remnants of our 20th century civilization, including a delicatessen shopping list by a Jewish nuclear scientist’s wife – has never been out of print. In 1997 Miller’s posthumous Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman
(Miller committed suicide in 1996) is a sequel of sorts. Both it and Don DeLillo’s Underworld
are about Americans coping with nuclear war – in the former, with the actual aftermath of such a war, and in the latter, with the terrible fear of the spectre of such a war created.
Today the fear of A Canticle for Leibowitz ‘s
“Flame Deluge”is gone. The Berlin Wall is dust and Mikhail Gorbachev filmed a commercial endorsement for Pizza Hut, before sinking into oblivion. Martin Amis called Underworld
“Don DeLillo’s wake for the cold war.” Now that Bacillus anthraci
s is our weapon of mass destruction of choice, some of us might find an odd comfort in the familiarity of the nuclear blast and its fallout. But it all seems like many lifetimes ago, now. I would not be surprised if any contemporary reader of Underworld
might not understand a number of DeLillo’s Cold War references, such as, “He stood looking at the strontium white loaf that sat on a bed of lettuce inside a cake pan in the middle of the table.”
For those like myself who have been rereading A Canticle
every few years its sequel (not really a sequel, as it fits in between Canticle’s Chapter 1, “Fiat Homo”, and Chapter 3, “Fiat Voluntas Tua”) and DeLillo’s Underworld brings more of that comforting, familiar stuff. It’s kind of like seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show
again. But just as we cannot ignore the Dakota, we can’t read DeLillo’s “Clyde Tolson, known as Junior, was Edgar’s staunchest aide in the Bureau [FBI] his dearest friend and inseparable companion” without knowing what’s coming. And that is the loss of innocence – the end of an era when G-men, the good guys battled crime, and criminals who had a face. Underworld
is about what happened to Americans when the Russians exploded their own bomb and how the wonder of Kelvinators, Cinemascope movies, and Ford-O–Matic drive could not take away the fear of an unknown, the static beeping fo that Russian grapefruit, Sputnik. Underworld is more thematically fuelled than plot-driven, and it is populated by myriad characters. There is no single protagonist, except, perhaps a baseball that changes hands several times over the course of the novel’s four decades.
In Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman
, Miller plunks us down in a 32nd century post American Southwest where remnants of a previous post nuclear civilization, now horse-bound like Plains Indians, fight off the tightening control of the West by the Misery River Texark Empire while embroiled in numerous papal conclaves. We get to meet all kinds of unlikely popes, who die off with more regularity than victims in a serial-murder novel, while realizing that this future, with its papal schisms, interdicts, and marauding warlords, is no different from our own Avignon past. The Borgias would have relished this book.
gives us delicious glimpses of what might happen in the future, such as the rediscovery of “electrical essence” and its first use (by means of a people-driven dynamo), not for lighting, but for the dispatching of criminals in an electric chair. There is an interesting parallel in Underworld.
During the 70s, in a scary Bronx neighbourhood that could be a Leibowitzian ground-zero (when that word meant something that it no longer means to those who have lived 9-11), I read about a little kid seated on a stationary bike and pedaling frantically – but not for exercise. The bike is linked to a Second World War generator, and “there are cables running from the unit up to the TV and there is a wheezing drive belt connecting the the generator to the bicycle… the generator ekes out a flow of electricity to the television set – a brave beat-up model that two other kids dug out fo the garbage pits, where it was layered in the geological age of leisure-time appliances.”
Both books are complex reads and backwards page-turners. You come upon sentences with a sense of déja vu, knowing you have already read them somewhere in an earlier chapter. Each novel makes good use of repetition techniques. Miller uses the recurring themes of buzzards and a seemingly immortal wandering Jew. In Underworld,
some of the sentences and paragraphs reminded me of composer Steve Reich’s 1975 composition Six Pianos
–deceptively simple and repetitive music that evolves into a mesmerizing pattern. DeLillo also manipulates time. He writes as if he were working with electronic hypertext rather than words fixed on paper. And he brings to his novel such apparently unrelated topics as garbage, B-52 bombers in the desert, a single famous baseball, a martinet nun, and Lenny Bruce. Only at the end do all of the links become manifest.
Miller, a decorated Second World War hero, was a gunner in the bombing of the Benedictine monastery in Monte Cassino. Fittingly each chapter of Saint Leibovitz
begins with one of Saint Benedict’s rules for monasteries. Chapter 20 begins, “We think it sufficient for the daily dinner, whether at the sixth or ninth hour, that every table have two cooked dishes, on account of individual infirmities, so that he who for some reason cannot eat of the one may make his meal of the other.” DeLillo’s Underworld
is certainly fitting but in Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman
I don’t see anything but a splendid dessert. That two course meal would have to include A Canticle For Leibowitz.
And Howard, if you happen to read this, none of the above mention Roman concrete.
Edith Iglauer & Valerie Gibson
Saturday, February 03, 2007
In 1981 American writer Edith Iglauer wrote Seven Stones - A Portrait Of Arthur Erickson - Architect.
Not known by many is that Vancouver Magazine
gossip writer Valerie Gibson had helped Iglauer in her research for the book. At the time Gibson knew more about most of the people in power in Canada, BC and Vancouver than anybody. And Vancouver Magazine editor Malcolm Parry knew this. So Gibson wrote a monthly column that was the most popular column in any magazine in our city at the time. Mac knew that she had other talents and it was her 1978 cover article on 6 very old and brilliant Vancouver old timers (including Jessie Richardson) that was my first magazine cover. For many years she insisted that I take the pictures for her column, as she explained to Mac, "Alex knows who my people are and I don't have to tell him whom to photograph." It was amazing to see Gibson work a room. She would occasionally whisper in my ear, "My! That's the third time Elini Skalbania has worn that dress!"
In 1987 I went to the Sunshine Coast to photograph Edith Iglauer at her home. I was particularly excited as I had read and thoroughly enjoyed (even though I hate fishing, fish and I get seasick on any boat) her book and part memoir, Fishing With John
. It was there that I also first met her son Jay, by a previous marriage to Philip Hamburger of The New Yorker
fame. I don't think anybody else would have been so gracious and delighted as she was when I gave her as a gift (I was told that she was going to insist I stay for dinner) a large tin of Russian Caravan tea. The meal was one of the best I have ever had in my life. At dinner she told me that Valerie Gibson had a special gift for writing and she only wished she (Iglauer) could push Gibson to take her seriously and write.
I have not seen Gibson for at least 8 years and I last saw Iglauer and Jay a couple of years ago at a party at Arthur Erickson's
garden. Every once in a while (it is usually a Japanese restaurant or a theatre) that I delight in being able to loudly yell, "Hey, Hamburger!" and Jay comes over to where I am and he updates me on the status of his mother and the state of his plays. He is a playwright.
Today editor/art director Bob Mercer told me that during his short tenure as editor of Vancouver Magazine, Valerie Gibson won the magazine an award for a profile on John Turner.
Pancho El Esqueleto
Friday, February 02, 2007
I saw this forlorn guy (he is both a candle stick and a bell) at a Comercial Mexicana
near our home in the Estado de Mexico (outside Mexico City) 34 years ago. The company, which had a chain of large Save on Foods type stores in central Mexico was owned by the gracious, beautiful and very Spanish Mrs. Gonzalez. I had recently taken her family photographs. Rosemary and I liked her stores because she also sold fine Mexican crafts. I had spotted this 10-inch-long guy many times but nobody had bought him. Someone had written in bold black marker Pancho El Esqueleto
(Pancho the skeleton) at the bottom. I felt so sorry for him that I finally brought him home. He has been part of our family all these years and all that remains of the graffiti is that black sweap at the bottom. Inside the bell his maker signed Josefina Aguilar
. While there is no connection between death and Christmas we light the candle on Christmas Eve and Pancho shares space at our Christmas Eve dinner table.
Rebecca is always scoffing at me for saying stuff, "When I am dead, Rebecca...." She is beginning to understand me. After all we had a great time looking at every momia (mummy) in Guanajuato. They are frozen in death with horrible expressions on their faces. She is still suitably impressed by the final scene in Navigator - A Mediaeval Odyssey
we saw a few weeks back. The little boy's coffin is gently pushed into the sea at the end. I think it is important to recognize the existence of death at a young age.
When I was 11, or two years older than Rebecca the big orange Colegio Americano
bus picked me up at my house in Mexico City. On its way to the school in Tacubaya I always anticipated as it passed by the Panteón Dolores
which is a huge old cemetery in Mexico City. The long walls, all in the shade of the thick growth of trees, were full of moss. I could see the statues and crosses of the grave monuments peeking over the wall at me. I was never curious enough to visit. And of course, if I had my chance, I would go back to Mexico City just to "do" the Panteón with my cameras.
1/5 Of The Perfect Breakfast
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Since I can remember I have enjoyed tea. By tea I mean the stuff that Yankee Clipper ships carried while braving storms around Cape Horn, racing to get it home first from the Orient, to fetch the best price. I mean the kind that comes from fermented leaves of Camellia sinensis
. I am very subjective about tea. I think Japanese maccha (matcha) is glorified swamp water, no matter how many oxidants it may have. I will drink Japanese tea, so similar to celery broth, only with Japanese food. I love the taste of tea sweetened with a sweetener (white sugar) that does not add any taste. And, like Dr. Samuel Johnson I put enough milk (very little) to allay the bite of the tannin. My tea has to be the colour of Coke so I use two heaping spoonfulls in the teaball seen here which I steep for at least 5 minutes in my Ken Edwards mug from Tonalá, Mexico.
In Argentina I tolerated the excellent Taragüí that is grown in Corrientes province. In our years in Mexico (the importation of tea was prohibited) we treasured and re-used smuggled American Lipton Tea bags. The worst tea I ever had was at the fashionable Kinneret Café at the Zona Rosa. I asked for a té con leche
. I was served a cup of boiling milk with a tea bag. When we moved to Vancouver I swore I would always drink the best tea.
I purchase my favourite tea (with the exception of the wonderfully strong Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold at the Gourmet Warehouse
) at the Granville Island Tea Company
. They sell the perfect, strongest and most fragrant Earl Grey. If you look closely at the above image you will note the blue filaments and flower buds. Since I am supposed to know so much about tea I have been ashamed to ask them what they are! Their Organic Assam and their Rwanda Rukeri are equally strong.
On my two visits to London what I missed most about Vancouver was a decent cup of tea. Unless a hotel used bottled water (they didn't) London tea is made with some swill the English call water. Their tea is terrible. But it was in London where I purchased one pound of Saint James Fannings for £85. I nursed that tea for six months back in Vancouver and this was the most complicated, interesting and flavourful tea I have ever had. In the best book about tea ( alas! a French book called The Book of Tea
) this is what it says of Saint James Fannings:
Betjeman And Barton
23 Boulevard Malesherbes
This shop is regularly visited by tea lovers. Every day, a cup of one of the hundred and twenty teas stored in either red or green canisters is offered to customers - with any luck you may drop in on a day when a Saint James Fannings or a Castleton G.E.O.P. second flush is being brewed.
But tea is only 1/5 of my perfect breakfast. For 12 years Rosemary (2/5) and I have had our breakfast in bed (3/5) every day of the week. In leaner times we used to celebrate Sundays with bacon. But that is no more. Our perfect breakfast is her coffee, my tea, her toast with honey, my (two) Venice Bakery Brown & Serve Original Scissors (4/5), and a copy of our daily delivered New York Times (5/5).
Modern technology has changed the routine a bit. Since I read the Sunday New York Times at 10pm on Saturday, when it is delivered, Sunday is back to 4/5 perfection. It becomes 3/5 when our grandaughters have a sleepover (four for breakfast in bed was much too messy). But sitting at the table on Sunday with Lauren and Rebecca is 4/5 again and with the thin homemade pancakes it's a perfect breakfast again! Unsalted cultured butter and confectionary sugar on pancakes accompanied by an Earl Grey is as perfect as perfect is.
Granville Island Routine
Joey Shithead, DOA's Consumate Gentleman
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Sometime in 1979 0r 1980 I went to see the band Devo (Are We Not Men?) at the Commodore Ballroom. I was completely turned on by the sound of their guitars. The only reason I was there is that Les Wiseman (right between Joey and Joey's first wife Cheryl whom Mac Parry always addressed as Mrs. Shithead), who wrote a rock column (In One Ear) for Vancouver Magazine
had told me we had to go. I knew nothing of rock and roll and much less anything related to punk or new wave music. Five years before when I lived in Mexico City I liked listening to the happy music of Ray Conniff. It was the Devo concert and a previous experience listening to Art Bergmann and the K-Tels at the Smiling Buddha that had awakened my enthusiasm for the raw-short-loud-primitive sound of punk. Leaving the Devo concert I will always remember seeing this scary, loud and angry man who somehow had not liked the Devo concert. That was my first glimpse of Joey Shithead (a.k.a. Joe Keithley In my long association with the lead singer of D.O.A. I learned to quickly realize that he was a gentleman (with an emphasis in gentle) but who will always be Vancouver's best spitter. Shortly after the Devo concert I took my first picture of Joey at the Buddha seen here with Simon on bass.
It was in 1984 that he knocked on my door in Burnaby, and said, "Alex we need a band photograph that is going to be published in Interview Magazine.
. I remember that for this elaborate photograph, above left, I used many lights and I got paid very poorly but this was my first published photograph in a New York publication.
Through the years Joey has been so pursuasive that I even photographed his wedding. Note, Wimpy Roy, a.k.a. Brian Goble (Subhumans, D.O.A.) feeding his baby at the ceremony.
Below you will see a picture of D.O.A. at the Smiling Buddha shaking some beer.
Note the picture at Gary Taylor's Rock Room with Joey on stage Taking Care of Business with Randy Bachman.
And the pictures all make me smile even the one I took in an 80s Yaletown.
I borrowed a fire hydrant from the city and carrying it in my Fiat I managed to break the seat. My favourite ever configuration of D.O.A. is this one seen below. It featured from left to right, Wimpy, Dave Gregg, Joey and Dimwit. It was Dave Gregg's fantastic guitar in tandem with Joey's that made any D.O.A. concert an exciting sonic experience.
To be safe from all the pogoing and other near and on stage shennanigans I always positioned myself on stage right, right under that other gentle soul, Gregg who always made sure nobody ever bothered me and my photo gear.
one of D.O.A.'s biggest and most generous fan was pioneer music video
maker Brian Ross who appears here with Joey. I remember having to go to
Granada Television who gave me the TV cabinet for the picture. I also
had to rent a smoke machine from the CBC for the shot. Ross made the
video on a rock bottom budget.
In Praise of Terry David Mulligan
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
In my 32 years in Vancouver I have photographed many people and the list is getting longer and longer as I have yet to stop. But few people I have photographed through those years were as gracious and as pleasant as Terry David Mulligan. No, Mulligan is not dead. I remembered him this morning as I was driving Rosemary to work. On 1st and Columbia I stopped to let a black unmarked Vancouver Police cruiser pass by. The man at the wheel (he had no passenger) seemed to be very busy with a cell phone in his left ear.
At least 11 years ago (in one of the many times I photographed Terry David Mulligan) I was riding in Mulligan's van. We were going to pick up his dog at the dog groomers for a photograph for TV Guide. The phone rang in the van and Mulligan pressed a button. He had his cell phone connected to his van's sound system and he did not have to let go of any of his hands to talk.
It would seem to me that Mulligan's early years in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police served him well and he knew all about driving safely. If only our Vancouver's Finest would follow his example!
It is always good to find a reason for writing about Terry David Mulligan as I can show off some of the many photos I took of him. He has always been a ham and a good sport. Here he is with his personal trainer.