Oh How Much I Love Your Solitariness - John Dowland
Saturday, October 04, 2014
And when he saddest sits in homely cell,
He'll teach his swains this carol for a song:
Beauty, strength, youth are flowers but fading seen;
Duty, faith, and love are roots and ever green.
|Helianthus annuus September 28, 2014|
His Golden Locks, John Dowland.
sings His Golden Locks
with detailed view of shruti box being played!
My mother played the
piano very well and was a good accompanist. Because she had been born in Manila, women did not
become concert pianists and her mother a soprano coloratura only sang in
churches. Opera singers were deemed ladies of the night.
In spite of all that I
was raised in what was a musical household. I was taught a few things that in
retrospect were a product of the times when recordings (40s and 50s) were
limited. Research for facts involved going to public libraries. And so I
There was Renaissance music
which was all about genteel French dancing while men ate with their hands and
threw bones to the dogs. There was baroque music and classical music and
in-between a God called Bach. I never asked my mother if Bach’s music was
baroque. My mother liked the romantics so I heard a lot of Chopin,
Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and Grieg. I had no idea of the existence of anybody
who had composed music beyond Debussy. I was never able to ascertain why my
mother told me that the music of Mozart proved that he was impotent!
|Grégoire Jeay, Sylvain Bergeron, Amanda Keesmaat, Michael Slattery, Seán Dagher & Alex Kehler|
My mother told me that
Henry Purcell was the sole English composer of note. There was nobody before or
after him of any note. I once told this to David Lemon (very English and who
loves English music and has an extensive collection of William Blake etchings)
this and he returned with a most sour expression.
My first exposure to
baroque music was the German Archiv recordings of the early 60s. These
recordings started a trend in authentic reproduction of baroque music. Modern
violins were un-beefed and fitted with gut strings. The sound was less loud and
That trend has
resulted in a sort of niche placement of baroque music where a baroque violin
virtuoso like Monica Huggett is unknown by a Vancouver crowd that might revel
at listening to Anne-Sophie Mutter playing her violin with the Vancouver
Some of these baroque
musicians and enthusiastic baroque concert goers may even show disdain at
cellos with spikes and violins with chin rests and non gut strings.
It does not take too
much thought to figure out that people who listen to “serious” music are snobs
and are ready to lambast performances that do not meet their requirements for
I must admit that I
have been a culprit of all the above and noticed how a baroque performance of
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was more satisfying to me than one by my friend, violinist Cory
Cerovsek with the Vancouver Symphony.
|Michael Slattery's shruti box|
This kind of personal foolishness has even
made me think that beyond the inventive early baroque of the 17th century there
was no room for that pseudo-hippie renaissance stuff with all those formal
dances and handkerchiefs (not to mention the throwing of bones).
Al that is reference and
proof of my late-in-life sudden appreciation that renaissance music was music
of the Renaissance. Even a cursory knowledge of history tells us that the Dark
Ages awoke in that period and brought us cathedrals and glorious art. I
therefore had to re-think and abandon my mother’s sage advice.
My wife Rosemary and I
went to the Orpheum Annex (they refuse to accept tips if you buy stuff a the bar)
on Friday night to an Early Music Vancouver presentation of Dowland in Dublin
with tenor Michael Slattery and Montreal’s La Nef headed by lutenist Sylvain
I coaxed my wife
Rosemary to accompany me by telling her that Sylvain Bergeron was a matinee
idol. I told this to Early Music Vancouver Artistic Director Matthew White who
with a broad grin on his face told me, “Sylvain is too old to be one.” Here is
the Wikipedia definition of a matinee idol:
Matinée idol is a term used mainly to describe
film or theatre stars who are adored to the point of adulation by their fans.
The term almost exclusively refers to male
actors. Invariably the adulation was fixated on the actor's looks rather than
performance. It differs from "sex symbol" (and is also faintly
derogatory) in that it suggests the star's popularity came from the afternoon
matinée performances rather than the "big picture" evenings and,
hence, a less discriminating audience.
During the 1920s, three actors Rudolph
Valentino, Ramon Novarro and Ivor Novello were considered leading Matinée idols.
After the nights
satisfying performance (more on that below) my wife told me that I was right
about Bergeron (take that M. White!) and particularly was attracted to Bergeron’s
elegance and his beautiful hands (take that again M. White!)
Now to the “critical”
aspect of the concert with first a description by Bergeron of the concert’s
To my loving
Country-man, Mr. John Forster the younger, Merchant of Dublin, in Ireland.”
In thus dedicating the
song ‘From Silent Night’ in his collection A Pilgrim’s Solace (1612), John
Dowland reveals his possible Irish origins. Was Dowland, often considered the
first great English composer, actually Irish? He may have belonged to an old
Irish family, the O’Dolans, who settled in Dublin in the middle of the 16th century. The
hypothesis that he was Irish seems strengthened by the fact that he was a
Catholic, and had an honorary diploma from Trinity
College in Dublin. And what makes the hypothesis
seductive is the fact than many of his melodies, if stripped of their complex
accompaniment and counterpoint are, in their simplicity and flavour, very
Celtic. When an Irish flute, violin, cittern, and percussion join the lute in
playing them, they sound indeed like real Irish airs.
Dowland is mainly
known today for the expressiveness of his Ayres, and for the somber melancholy,
even depressive, mood of his music. His motto, Semper Dowland, semper dolens
(always Dowland, always down), seems to proclaim an aspect of his personality,
but it may just be a cliché. We should not forget that, in his time, the time
of Shakespeare, there was a cult of melancholy. Dowland, in actual fact, was a
pleasant and cheerful chap who spent his days making jokes! He seems, as well,
to have had very good relationships with women; the fact that a significant
number of his dedications are to women testifies to this. In his music, and his
choice of titles for it, Dowland clearly reveals himself as a split
personality. On the one hand, he is a man of melancholy, the man who wrote so
many weepy works: ‘Lachrimae’, ‘Flow my tears’, ‘I saw my Lady weep’, ‘Go
Crystal tears’. On the other hand, he is a man of lightness, wit, and satire:
‘My Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe’, ‘Mistress Winter’s Jump’, ‘Mrs. White’s Thing’. In
putting together tonight’s program, we have chosen to concentrate on the
latter, light-hearted Dowland.
Though he was admired
throughout Europe as a composer and lutenist,
Dowland was not engaged by the English court until very late in his life. This
was probably because of his religion, and because of his forthright tongue —
Queen Elizabeth could not tolerate plain speaking. So the virtuoso lutenist
traveled all over Europe, playing for the great princely courts, and winning
fame as the composer of the greatest international hit of the day: the pavane
‘Lachrimae’, which he turned into the song ‘Flow my tears’. After having been
rejected several times by his sovereign, Dowland must have felt resentment and
a deep sense of injustice. Finally, at the end of his life, a British
sovereign, King James I, hired him. But this was but slight consolation; the
great musician found himself in a lute ensemble with hacks of modest talent,
who had obtained their jobs at court through schemes and flattery.
Tonight we celebrate
the Irish Dowland by imagining how some of his tunes would have sounded if
played by traditional instrumentalists and singers in a 16th-century pub.
An early music purist
would have noted that Amanda Keesmaaat’s cello had a
spike and Alex Kehler’s violin had a chin rest. This would alert the purist
that the instruments were modern instruments. He would have been in doubt about
Seán Dagher’s cittern but would have sighed in relief at the sight of Grégoire
Jeay’s flutes (ignored his playing of a triangle) and Sylvain Bergeron’s tall
That tenor, Michael Slattery also played an
Indian origin shruti box (it looked like a multicoloured compact filing folder)
would have left the purist in apoplexy. But it would have fascinated my friend sound man and piper Don Harder.
Fortunately for all of us (me at least)
Bergeron’s explanation that he wanted his group with Slattery to sound like
Irish airs in a pub (a 16th century one!) came to the rescue and I
threw my purist political correctness out the window. But I must point out that
a 16th century Irish pub and the 21st century Orpheum
Annex both did not have any Guinness.
It is my feeling that Matthew White’s
direction (being a less purist one) will open Early Music Vancouver to a new
fan base as will Early Music Vancouver’s pairing with David Pay’s Music on Main
to present intimate little concerts with a bar setting.
Since I am no music critic, I cannot go beyond
writing here that the music was grand, intimate in the setting with cabaret-style
tables (no Guinness!). I can add, though that it was not too hard to see where
Irish folk music came from. At many points I wanted to dance.
Watching Michael Slattery, smartly dressed with a narrow tie and patent leather dress shoes, he seemed to be someone you might run into in Silicon valley (Slattery sort of looks nerdish in a young and good looking way). His singing to this amateur was not effected in any way. I would almost say it was down-home pleasant and his diction meant I did not need to read the program lyrics.
The true moment “on the road to Damascus” was to realize
that John Dowland the consummate lutenist and composer was a wonderful poet who
perhaps as a contemporary to Shakespeare suffered for it. Or perhaps he was
well known in his time (the Danish court paid him handsomely) and his Lachrimae
Pavan was almost as popular as that Louie-Louie of his time, La Folia.
On Saturday morning I called up my friend
Dublin-born and former Vancouver Poet Laureate George McWhirter to tell me more
about Dowland’s poetry and the lack of a general awareness of his excellence. McWhirter
angrily blurted out, “Don’t get me started on how music seems to trump lyrics…”
I was astounded by the repeated lines in Say
Love If Ever Thou Didst Find:
She, she, she, and only she,
No, no, no, no, and only no,
So, so, so, so, and only so,
McWhirter called this a song repetition (even
if it were only a poem and not also a song).
I inquired on the beauty of the word
solitariness in O Sweet Woods
O sweet woods the delight of solitariness,
O how much I love your solitariness
McWhirter tried to explain the difference
between it and solitude. I could not understand so I have come to believe that
had I taken any of McWhirter’s courses at UBC I would have failed!
Dowland in Dublin for me was a satisfying poetry reading
that was accompanied by stupendous music played by musicians who define the old
term Renaissance men (and women). They have their fingers in all sorts of pies
(Slattery is a visual artist and a writer)and I cannot wait to see what they
will do next.
And a hurrah for Early Music Vancouver’s
I wondered about the
meaning of that word in the instrumental work My Lady Hunsdon's Puffe. My
only conclusion is that he meaning of
the word puffe is uncertain and the cause of much speculation.
Jack Palance - The Big Knife
|Jack Palance circa early 50s|
It only takes one film
to remind us of an actor’s talents; to send us on a quick search through a
forgotten filmography and confirm that, yes, he was that good. This happened
recently to my friend Alex when he screened director Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (1962) and encountered Jack
Palance. In fact he was so impressed with Palance he asked me to write a short
appreciation. Thanks, Alex.
Jack Palance was born
Volodymyr Jack Palahniuk in 1919. Like fellow tough guy Charles Bronson he grew
up in mining towns in Pennsylvania,
and like Bronson, Lee Marvin, Richard Boone and Lee Van Cleef, Palance fought
in World War II. His career paralleled Marvin’s in many ways: both gained fame
as villains (The Big Heat, Shane), played cops in series television
(M-Squad, Bronk), and eventually mocked their personas in later-career comedies
(Cat Ballou, City Slickers). But Palance’s sharp, oddly angular features and
brooding screen presence parked him in exotic, often ethnic parts and unlike
Marvin, he never quite became a star. He disappeared during most of the
1960s-70s in Euro-junk (The Mongols, The Barbarians, Sword of the Conqueror)
and domestic VHS-fodder (Portrait of a
Hitman and Hawk the Slayer).
|Left, Jack Palance & Ida Lupino in The Big Knife, 1954 - Right, with Buddy Ebsen in Attack, 1955|
But it only takes one
film, and Jack Palance made more than one. Western enthusiasts admire Palance
in The Professionals, Monte Walsh and Chato’s Land; film noir completists wisely cite his work in Sudden Fear! and I Died a Thousand Times. For me—and this is hardly an original
observation—Palance was never better than in The Big Knife (1954) and Attack
(1955) two films directed by Robert Aldrich with his ruthlessly blunt sense of
outrage. He plays an arrogant actor in Knife, a tough WW II Platoon Leader in
Attack, and unburdened by not having to play good guy or bad guy Palance is
threatening but also tormented; haunted and oddly honorable.
I knew that my friend Rick Staehling would dig up stuff and put it succinctly as he has here. For years I had to listen, and thoroughly enjoyed him on CBC Radio as "Our Man of the Movies". I loved his identifiable Michigan accent which was almost deadpan but full of insight.
My first knowledge of Jack Palance came from an awful film, The Silver Chalice (1954, Victor Saville) that almost killed Paul Newman's early career. The film was based on a novel, same title as film, by Thomas B. Costain a favourite of my mother's. She took me to see the film in 1954 explaining to me the revolutionary fact that in the novel Christ was described as not having a beard. Palance plays Simon the Magician who is out to prove that Christ and his miracles are all phony. He then tells Rome, and Nero that he, Simon the Magician, will fly. He arranges for a system of pulleys and wires to make it seem like he can indeed fly. At the last moment he believes his own words, that he is the Messiah and decides to fly without any of the paraphernalia. He jumps off a balcony and goes straight down. I think I can still remember the thud.
Rita: Did you bugger the Bursar? Frank: Metaphorically.
Friday, October 03, 2014
You see a very good
play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Bard on the Beach in early summer. You are
wowed by the actor playing Nick Bottom, complete with buck teeth and a donkey
mask. It is almost impossible to recognize the man behind the getup but you are
still amazed by the performance. He steals the show. You read in your program
the man in question is Scott Bellis. You store the info in your head for future reference. Future reference happens quickly.
|Scott Bellis as Nick Bottom- Bard On The Beach June 2014|
What are the chances
that not too long after, in fact on Wednesday, October 1, on the opening night
performance of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita at the Arts Club Theatre Company’s
Granville Island Stage you might be wowed again by the same man? And this time,
Scott Bellis playing the professorial Open University Frank was wearing no masks. In fact with his longish gray hair and
refined British accent there were shades there of Colin Firth.
From the horse’s
mouth, the un horsy and dashing redhead director Sarah Rodgers and with
Vancouver Courier theatre critic Jo Ledingham asking the relevant question (I found myself between them on the theatre aisle during the intermission) it
would seem that this play went through four Franks (no connection but I cannot
ignore from my mind the knowledge of having seen a local alternative band
called the Frank Frink 5!).
On this opening night
of wonder we find out that Scott Bellis is Frank only until October 3. He will
then be rehearsing for the George Bernard Shaw play St. Joan (directed by Kim
Collier and with Meg Roe, Shannon Chan-Kent, Bob
Frazer, Dean Paul Gibson, Daren Herbert, Tom McBeath, Kevin MacDonald, Gerard
Plunkett, Christine Quintana, Haig Sutherland, John Emmet Tracy, Nigel Shawn Williams
opening on October 23. Bellis will be replaced by Ted Cole. Cole’s performance
is bound to be excellent but surely it will be different.
|Allan Morgan & Sarah Rodgers|
Like many others (with the exception of
those who saw a production with Bellis produced by Western Canada Theatre
Company in Kamloops
last year) my introduction to the play came via the Lewis Gilbert 1983 film
with Michael Caine and Julie Walters. Of the film I remembered next to nothing,
not even that in back of one of the books in Frank’s university sudy there was
booze. In this modernized version (brought to date by Willy Russell himself)
the booze is there behind Dickens, E.M. Forster and Chekov. But according to my
NY Times film review in the film there was booze behind Charles R. Jackson’s
novel The Lost Weekend.
Few in 2014 might remember the 1945 film version of The Lost Weekend
directed by Billy Wilder and starring Ray Milland. But without having to know
about Milland’s commanding performance (getting on a stool to look for
forgotten hidden booze in the chandelier) Bellis’s going from sobriety to not,
was convincing, too.
Holly Lewis, playing the married
hairdresser Rita, wanting more from life at age 26 than boozing with husband at the pub has a thick low-class accent
that had my wife lost now and then. We were wondering if we were watching the
North American BBC news channel where the British Empire
is still on judging by the multiple accents, uttered by anchors of every race
known to us and sometimes all but undecipherable. It was Holly Lewis coming
from that not yet oiled (and then well oiled door) were we were pleasantly
subjected to one costume change to another. We even noticed that her level of
sophistication rose to the point where the raccoon eye make-up disappeared.
Lewis’ costume changes contrasted (but were
equally as exciting) with Bellis’s costume changes (a sweater on or off, a jacket
on, or off, etc) all done on this side of that door and from a clothes rack
Bellis’s moves looked wonderfully
choreographed. And when he succumbs to the evil alcohol his moves degenerate
convincingly. Director Sarah Rodgers explains the process of at the bottom of this blog.
What I particularly enjoyed about this play
was in the way both actors made it patently obvious that there were no
intimations of any hanky panky. Bellis’s Frank tried to keep Holly Lewis’s Rita
authentic without wanting to (at first) changing her from the subjective and
emotional woman that she is to a cool, objective woman who would then not be
the Rita of the play.
Soon the Rita of the play converts herself to
the Susan of the play, without abandoning the Rita of yore thanks to Frank’s deft teaching.
Rodgers brought music from (and I quote
her), “Today’s current strong British female bands – the many Ritas speaking
today.” Except for the occasional deep voiced mezzos they all seemed to be
I expected a play that would be one of
those “feel good"(ugh!) plays of the year with nothing to teach me and nothing to
challenge me. I was wrong.
Having the unpleasant experience of having
to deal at this moment with a 17 year-old teenage granddaughter from hell,
Educating Rita (this modern version of the play) gave me hope that soon enough
that granddaughter will be ready for a change. While I may not have all the
moves, accents, and hair of Scott Bellis’s Frank I hope that with my lessons
learned I will be around to help.
As Rosemary and I were driving home I
thought to myself that it was coincidentally interesting that Educating Rita is
really a variation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. In Rita there is no
wager made by Professor Higgins. The wager becomes Rita's ability to pass
her examination. If anything Educating Rita is a delicious hors d'oeuvre which
will be followed by Shaw’s St. June on October
In spite of the Four Frank Affair and a
busy schedule director Sarah Rodgers did comply on late Thursday evening with
my request to some words on Frank's clothing transitions. Here it is:
Here I am ~ first
chance I have had as I rehearsed all day then was at a Tuts Gala tonight.
started from a practical place where we needed the character Frank to change
his costumes on stage. We created an
interesting path for each scene and once the music was added my actor Scott
Bellis instinctively started to time the business and movement to the musical
phrases. As we worked through Act 2 I
suddenly realized that my actor couldn't drop out of character ~ if he had been
playing drunk in one scene then it was strange to have him drop out of
character to move through the scene change.
Scott Bellis as Frank stays in his current place of emotion and
drunkenness throughout the transitions ~
the gift of this is that Frank's journey is even more vivid and heartbreaking
as we follow his every moment in between the scenes.
Cheers ~ always great to see you.
Sent from my iPhone
The Clematis, The Clitoris, An Ostrich & The Spotted Hyena
Thursday, October 02, 2014
Just this past week I
listened to poet Alastair Reid, who died this past September 21 read his
beautiful poem on cats (and dogs) Curiosity. I listened to how he pronounced
idyll in the line below:
|Clematis ternata, October 1, 2014|
where living is an idyll
It was as surprising to me as many years
ago when I was listening to the BBC as young man in Mexico City and the announcer uttered
Himaaleeas. It seemed that he was talking about a chain of mountains bordering Tibet, Nepal
Another favourite of mine is the strange
aroid, Arisaema which we might pronounce A-ree-sa-ee-maw. But then I listened
to an English botanical judge say: Arí-si (as in Sicily) –maw. If you pronounce it that way
while lifting your nose up into the air, the plant sounds so much more exotic. This
particular aroid has family members that can raise the temperature of their
spadix (aroid flowers are called inflorescences) from the surrounding
atmospheric temperature, so they can disseminate its often foul odor and
attract insects like flies. So much for some vertebrates being the only warm
blooded specimens in nature.
I will now persist in my narrative
involving sexual organs. My fave (in reference to its history and nothing
else!) is the clitoris via the clematis. More on that somewhere at the bottom.
My wife Rosemary and I both garden. We each
have favourite plants. Most of the time we keep civility in check when her
plant or my plant becomes invasive or is a pain in the neck in some way.
Rosemary loves the clematis which is given
the botanical epithet “Queen of the Vines”. When you think of the beauty of the
passion flower (Passiflora) I would in less diplomatic inclination to argue
The clematis is a fragile vine; its stems have
to be treated with extreme care. If you bend the stems, like folding a paper, you cannot unbend them and they will
die. But that is where fragile side of the plant ends and in many varieties you have an invasive
variety that in some cases, like that other thug, the wisteria, can bring down
To keep them in check and to have them
properly bloom there are three (perhaps more and I don’t want to dwell on that)
types that require pruning at different times of the year. Many of these
Rosemary faves do not have any scent (but some ,yes!, and do so quite
sweetly). Like many camellias and hibiscus their beauty fools you. You get
close to the wonderful flowers and you get nothing.
But right now, October 1, there is a
wonderful, white and fragrant clematis, Clematis ternata blooming on our
boulevard fence. It has managed to climb up the very large Thuya plicatta (Western
Red Cedar) and if I don’t prune it, it could possibly drag down the tree (not
really, I am only exaggerating).
Scanning the flowers is an almost
impossible job. If you place them on the scanner glass the white flowers
over-expose. If you hang them over the glass then only the closest will look as
they do on the vine.
I will have to admit here that Rosemary’s
clematis (no idea of the plural form) have their moments.
Now to the connection between clematis and
clitoris. The connection is that both words have etymological routes in Greek
and both words in Greek are accented on the first syllable. Thus:
Clém – atis and Clít- toris (clídoris)
I love going to the desks of elderly master
gardeners ready to answer your questions at garden centers during the growing
season. I like to ask them, “How do you pronounce c, l, e, m, a, t, i, s?” If
they pronounce it the non Greek way, I then ask them, “How do you pronounce c,
l, i, t, o, r, i, s?” I am usually sent packing.
I cannot resist here to quote that handy
Wikipedia on a hitherto known fact about the clitoris, the ostrich and the
spotted hyena. Here it is:
The clitoris is a
female sex organ present in mammals, ostriches and a limited number of other
animals. In humans, the visible button-like portion is near the front junction
of the labia minora (inner lips), above the opening of the urethra. Unlike the
penis, the male homologue (equivalent) to the clitoris, it usually does not
contain the distal portion (or opening) of the urethra and is therefore not
used for urination. While few animals urinate through the clitoris, the spotted
hyena, which has an especially well-developed clitoris, urinates, mates and
gives birth via the organ. Some other carnivorous animals, or mammals in
particular, such as lemurs and spider monkeys, also have a well-developed
In Search Of A Style With Siouxsie & Budgie
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
|Siouxsie & Budgie - circa 1981|
When Colt introduced
its single action Colt Army Peacemaker in 1873 it revolutionized the “art” of
killing. If you had the money to buy one (and many did) you could compete with
anybody and more so if you knew how to use it. I see that gun having a parallel
with the proliferation in the 21st century of good digital cameras.
I believe that the Colt evened out the playing field in the 19th
century and now in the 21st century the same has happened with
cameras and how they affected photographers who use them.
When I began to work
for Vancouver Magazine in the late 70s and Les Wiseman (the writer) and yours
truly (the photographer) started covering rock concerts (local and from abroad)
for the In One Ear column, we discussed how we could do it differently.
happened at the Commodore Ballroom, the Smilin’ Buddha, Gary Taylor’s and UBC’s
We quickly figured out
that even though we were given access to shoot in what we called the media pit
(right next to the stage floor) my pictures looked like anybody else’s or not as good.
At the time there were
two choices. You either used what we called a head-on flash (like the one in
the picture here) or you shot very fast film that was pushed to higher ratings.
The problem with the
above is that the methods used to place photographs in a magazine or newspaper
was photo-mechanical and not digital. If there was no separation between a
musician’s head and the black background the picture could not be used. In fact
pictures surrounded by black were editorial no-nos. Art directors loved low contrast.
The flash up close
minimized the dark background. But it was difficult to impose a personal style. The
only style involved was how important your magazine was so that access became
the style. I attempted to use slow shutters (1/8, ¼ and slower) when using the
flash so that I would get some sharpness but some ghosting blurs at the same
|Les Wiseman & Siouxsie Sioux|
Soon even that was
passé and Wiseman and I narrowed our approach to personal interviews with the
band members or the lead member either in their hotel or at sound check in
their dressing rooms. I would bring a very heavy studio flash (it was a
QC-I000) and a couple of heads. This plus the light stands and a seamless paper
were all heavy and Wiseman had to help.
At the time the record
companies were all powerful and one had to kowtow to the “Record Rep”. We were
nice to them and they soon liked our exclusive coverage which involved Wiseman’s
exceptional writing style. Wiseman believed in doing copious research (an in an era before
Google) this meant many trips to the library. Soon we were sort of able to call
the shots. We would, “If we cannot get access back stage or at the hotel,
The bands that Wiseman
picked were all based on his extremely snobbish (thank God) tastes. Many times
nobody knew about them and after the In One Ear Column was out we garnered lots
of hip prestige in knowing before anybody else a band’s rising fame.
The pictures you see
here of Siouxie Sioux I believe I took in 1981. Wiseman says the hotel shots
were taken in the concrete one on the corner of Granville and Helmcken which I
believe is now called the Chateau Granville. He reminded me that somehow we had
to go up stairs with my heavy equipment.
The lights were
expensive but the camera I used was the one you see here and or a more modern
one called a Pentax Spotmatic-F. At the time I liked to use extreme wide angles
and got close to my subjects. I particularly liked a 20mm. The film was Kodak
Technical Pan which was slow (25 ISO).
For the concert shots
I still used the slow film and a slow shutter. My lens would have been the 55mm
here or an 80mm Komura.
Until a recent past I
taught at Focal Point and did two years at VanArts, downtown. The former closed
its doors three years ago and VanArts fired me as they said that I was not a
good fit for their school.
I remember once when I
told my students that it was virtually impossible to shoot band at concerts in
an original way. One particular female student was extremely aggressive and
told me I knew nothing and had no experience. She told me that my rock swirls
(the slow shutter ones) were simply bad photography.
I tried to stress that
the single most important aspect in personal photography was to develop a
personal style. I called the personal style the Holy Grail of photography. But
it was to no avail and I see now, more than ever pictures of performing bands
(sharp, well exposed, bright colours, etc) that are boring, banal and all
pretty well look the same. In fact if you are in front of a band at a concert
with a very good camera I guarantee that the pictures you will take will look
like somebody else’s. In 1982 having the pictures "turn out" was not a sure thing. It is now a sure thing but that does not necessarily include style.
In the group of
pictures here you can see the descent from the interesting (Siouxie playing the
devil with her hands) to the sofa shot with her drummer Budgie to the ordinary
concert pictures I took at the Commodore. You might note that I had access to
one side of the stage so I got profiles. To me the only saving grace of these
pictures is Siouxie’s fishnets.
A Goth Banshie
The Western Canon, The Travails Of ESL & Money Laundering In Real Estate
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
|The Western Canon|
October of 2008 veteran journalist and editor, Paul Sullivan, while not coining
the expression citizen journalism, wrote and spoke of its new found virtues and
hired (at no or little pay) professionally unqualified (and thus qualified) people,
including two “ladies of the night” to write (subjectivity not objectivity was their
mantra) about city events, in particular about the women who had been
terrorized and brutally murdered by Robert Pickton. The website was called
Sullivan was vaunting
the virtues of everyman (person) journalism.
I have never been
inclined to seek the opinion of the woman or man on the street as I grew up
listening to Walter Cronkite or laughing at the acute humour of Nicholas von
Hoffman. I prefer to listen and to watch
on MSNBC the likes of Rachel Maddow who is smart, articulate and has the
credentials to match those rare qualities in this day and age.
Perhaps my views are
to be expected, they come from someone who was born in the first half of the now terribly
defunct 20th century.
The wonders of this
century have brought citizen journalism and opinion to the on-line versions of
paper magazines and newspapers. These unadulterated comments in articles and
essays often bring the worst and most caustic side of human beings. In fact I
was finally turned off from the many pleasures of reading The Tyee, were those citizens, with time in
their hands, and with agendas to chew on, ranted with no tact or diplomacy and spoiled my experience.
The alternative (I am
reluctant to pluralize that word) to that excellent web news magazine The Tyee
with its liberal tendencies (and I am a liberal) is slowly decaying into
redundancy (a fave Brit word for what ails so many of us in this modern world).
Not too many weeks ago
I read one of the best essays I had read in years in my city newspaper, the Vancouver Sun. It was
written by Rick Ouston and I blogged about it here. To my dismay I ran into two
former Sun Staffers and one active one recently. None had read it. If you
consider that in the essay in question Ouston writes about a blundered suicide
attempt a year ago you wonder what happens in the Vancouver newsroom in this age of communication.
I talked to a staffer
today and told him, “I went to the Sun newsroom on Saturday and I saw a paper
tacked to the newsroom door. It said, ‘Please do not declare WWIII or if you
are a famous person don’t succumb until Monday. We are closed on
When from a facebook
posting (note it must be written in lower case) I found out on late Sunday that
Drew Burns had died on Saturday I was not able to confirm his death by any
media mention. I do know that the Vancouver Sun will have a hard copy obituary
on the Tuesday edition written by perhaps the only man working at the Sun who
knew Burns and dealt with him as John Mackie was a punk band manager at one time
when phone booths were a dime a dozen.
Consider that the Vancouver Sun staffer to
whom I told about the newsroom-door-pinned-bulletin seemed to believe my
statement. Surely he did not believe it to be more than a a prank. Perhaps it is true and our only real city newspaper is out to lunch
on weekends. Obituaries have to wait for Tuesdays.
By now many reading
this will think, “When is this idiot going to get to the point?”
Remember I am
one of those Paul Sullivan citizen journalists.
I have not been trained to get
to the point or to write well. I am one of those former photographers that in those
days, in that other century, were collectively thought to be
stupid. What follows will have to do. And what follows I hope nobody considers to be a “The-Tyee-comment-ranter”
particularly those who imitated coyotes and other vermin of the hinterland of
In the last couple of
months well regarded columnists of the Vancouver Sun have written prominent
articles on the expensive state of our real estate, the ruining (by the influx
of people unwilling to speak English) of
ESL (English as a Second Language) in our public school system, and how:
Asian grip on the
Western Canon – Musical arts: Caucasian students playing piano at a high level
are few and far between.
This last opinion
article published in the Sun on Saturday September 20 and written by Pete
McMartin was followed by another by him on Saturday September 27:
Too much of a good
thing? Theory: Vancouver’s
attractiveness could one day be its undoing.
The crux of this
latter essay drew from a NY Times Sunday Magazine (two Sundays ago) that was
about how people in the US
want to go to live in Portland
because of its beauty, weather and social milieu. McMartin finds that the
so-called Amenity Paradox (people go to Portland
but find few jobs and real estate is becoming more dear) has parallels with our
Vancouver. In Portland we have a
gravitational pull of young college graduates. Who gravitates to our Vancouver is left blurry.
In this article McMartin quoted the noted urban planner Lance Berelowitz. My beef is that I want
to read in a newspaper essays that address in a fair manner how the growth
can be explained and how solutions to perceived problems by our city rapid
expansion can be found.
When an article (the
one on the Western Canon) prominently uses large type on the word Caucasian
there is some sort of weird reverse racism involved. Somehow when McMartin uses
Asian that term seems milder in my view than Caucasian. When the “red Indian”
ruled the plains in the 19th century (and before) the term Caucasian
was probably not used. Except for the Chinese (not called Asian then) were
building railroads, people in our neck of the woods were either white or were
not. Only now is that NFL team, the Washington Redskins trying to navigate what
really is a losing battle of the insult their name represents to Aboriginal
Americans. Can any future team be called the Dallas Caucasians?
Somehow Caucasian has
a troublesome ring to my ears. I hear it more often from the lips of Chinese
people that I know. They never say, “white”. Caucasian is the politically
correct epithet but to me it grinds and almost offends.
Few know that not too
long ago the inhabitants of the Indian Subcontinent were listed as Caucasians
by scientific journals. Caucasian had nothing to do with skin colour but with
facial features. As far as I can tell India,
Pakistan and Bangladesh are
South Asian countries.
Those Asians who are
not tickling the ivories in our local music schools, are they Filipino,
Indonesian, Indian, Bangladeshi, Borneans, or even Japanese or Korean? Could
Mr. McMartin be skirting the fact that many of them are Chinese? To write that
they could be Chinese, would that be offensive? Would it be racist?
Not too many weeks ago a local
architect of Chinese origin told us at an Abraham Rogatnick memorial lunch that a full time project of
actively trying to keep the flavour, spirit and look of Vancouver’s
China Town alive was most difficult. I could not tell the noted architect (age is
making me polite) that our Chinatown, and many
more in other cities are former ghettos. The inhabitants of those ghettos were
not allowed or could not afford to live anywhere else. Now we have different
China Towns. And they are not ghettos by the old definition.
I would like to read
in the Vancouver Sun balanced articles in which experts such as Vancouver urban
planner Lance Berelowitz (note Vancouver Sun fact checkers that there is a
second e in that surname) and others tell us about our urban problems and offer
solutions. I have been told by two prominent real estate agents that many
houses that change hands in Vancouver
are all about money laundering. Why not bring back the unflinching David Baines
to explore that topic? Rick Ouston, a professional and qualified journalist
could write with objectivity about this Caucasian/Chinese thing we are so
reluctant to discuss. I wonder about those small signs stapled to posts on Granville, Cambie, etc that say, "Quick cash for your home."
To be fair I do believe that Pete McMartin's efforts are laudable in that they are indeed an effort to tackle the issues of our city. I remember with warmth, affection and respect the scion of the Southam newspaper empire, Harvey Southam how in his sorely missed (at least by yours truly) his business monthly Equity Magazine in which he featured two prominent city columnists on adjacent pages (left and right!). One was called From the Left and the other From the Right. They always wrote about the same issue but from a different point of view. I want balanced objective reporting without forgetting what one of the sailors on board Thor Heyerdahl's expeditions Ra I and Ra II, Santiago Genovés once said at a lecture I attended in Mexico City in the early 70s:
"We must remember that objectivity is a subjective invention by man."
If we persist in this
reluctant direction the flames of racism will surely be fanned. I might just
decide to move to Portland.
Or as a friend of mine likes to remind me of something I said to him some years
ago, “Let’s go to White
Town. Let’s see how we maneuver
around our food with one of those forks and knives.”
Drew Burns' Commodore Ballroom
Monday, September 29, 2014
Not too long ago I had
to photograph a couple of composers for the Georgia
Straight. I decided that taking the picture on Granville by the Orpheum and the
Commodore Ballroom was the right place. I was prevented from taking my
photograph by some tough guys who said that the Commodore Ballroom had all
rights to pictures not only taken inside but outside on the street. I sort of
sweet talked them into inquiring about getting permission from those involved
in running the Commodore. The permission came and I took my picture days later.
This would not have happened in times gone
by; the times when Drew Burns was in charge. In the 70s and 80s when I took
many pictures of bands performing there Burns always accommodated my needs which
sometimes were requests to take photographs backstage. Burns always invited me
into his office (a messy kind of office) and I remember he had a penchant for
shirts with polka-dots.
Such was my reputation, courtesy of
Vancouver Magazine, that the security staff played protective wall for me from
punks (the punk band punk variety punks) who liked to push and shove for fun but my cameras were more fragile than I was. These security guys would stand in front of
me and marched to wherever I wanted to take my shots. One security man, while
walking on Granville (he may have been involved with some motorcycle gang. His last name was Paisely.) was
shot in the stomach. In spite of the pain he ran after the gunman and wrestled
him to the ground.
Les Wiseman who wrote his crafty words for
Vancouver Magazine’s In One Ear was a snob. This meant that we sometimes
skipped the warm-up acts. In some rare occasions we skipped the headliners
(probably Images in Vogue) and left after the warm-up bands finished.
In one special evening that I remember
vividly we left for a cheap beer at the Dufferin before the headliners were to
be on. We ran into one of my fave exotic dancers, Miss Mew, AKA Fleen. We told
her where we were going. She warned us, “The place has changed.”
I never really imbibed but I
sort of enjoyed the second-string lineups of exotic dancers of the bar. One of
my fave sights was a waiter who looked like Laurence Harvey.
We sat down and Wiseman ordered his beer. I
ordered my coke. I noticed two men holding hands at another table. “Les, I
believe this bar has gone gay.” It had. In one of those strange, unexplainable
events of our city of the time someone had decided from one day to the next for the change, as
if there were a switch that went from straight to gay. The owner flicked the
switch and that was it.
To me the Commodore that was will never
again be that Commodore. It ceased being so when Burns, a gentleman, retired 15 years ago.
Some sort of mafia has taken over.
Somehow my memory of the Commodore Ballroom
had something to do with the many chandeliers and the tacky and elaborate red
wall paper going up on the stairs.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
|Helianthus annuus September 28, 2014|
Today Sunday after a
night of insomnia I went finally asleep and woke up with deep melancholia.
My female cat, Plata
is now 16 years old and she is obsessed in wanting to eat all day. She nags me
constantly. She may have some version of feline dementia as many times there is
still food in her dish. I pick up the dish and stir the contents around with a
spoon. Plata eats. Sometimes, I have to admit I get very angry at her nagging
and I say (sometimes in a raised voice) to her, “Plata, if you want more food
ask your mistress. I’ve had it with your constant begging.”
This morning Rosemary
said something close to this, “Our cats are two faithful remnants of our life
and we should appreciate and care for them. They really don’t expect nothing
and give all.”
Rosemary left for a
Master Gardener clinic at Garden Works in Lougheed Highway. It is a sunny day and I
must finish pruning and shaping our very long laurel hedge.
I decided to postpone
that to perhaps later in the afternoon. I made my breakfast and brought the
tray to bed where I finished the last of yesterday’s (the Sunday Times is
delivered on Saturday night) Sunday Review. I prevaricated (that sounds better
than that term dithering now associated to Obama even by his followers). I
With me, by my side
was Plata stretched out so elegantly as only cats can, having learned in their
past from the dancers in the courts of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs.
My mother and
grandmother, two very Roman Catholic women prayed to the many saints connected
with problems encountered. St Anthony of Padua
was promised funds for charity should he help them find a lost earring or other
trinket. When things became desperate they turned to St. Jude Apostle, the
patron saint of impossible things (and situations).
One day my mother
whose name was Filomena arrived from school desperate. “Alex, the pope has
de-listed St. Philomena. She never existed. I no longer have a patron saint.” Years
later, no scandal in England
as far as I can tell, the Roman Catholic Church asserted that St.
George, had never existed so he could never have slain that dragon.
With no internet and
Google to check out useless facts my mother and grandmother never knew of an
Armenian centurion Expeditus who was martyred when he converted to Christianity
in 303 AD. It seems that while pondering
on his decision a crow appeared and squawked “Cras, cras,” Latin for tomorrow.
Expeditus not only ignored the bird but he stomped him and promptly converted.
Not clear in my
investigation of Expeditus is my confusion of exactly what he intercedes with
God for us. Does he help us not to dither? Does he justify our act of prevarication?
Is he the long lost saint of that 60s mantra that we were going to be showered
with leisure time? Obviously St Expeditus
could have never predicted the rise of the iPhone and how that gadget keeps us
from true, substantial, melancholy, a meandering of thought, inspirational and
even artistic daydreaming.
I believe that St.
Expeditus and St. Jude should get together and
decide with precision and without delay to intercede for us and help us achieve
While I have been
scanning my garden roses now for some ten years, this year I have become enamoured
with my Lillooet daughter’s sun flowers. In early spring she brings these
plants in big black pots. I help Rosemary plant them in our back lane garden
and wherever else we can find a sunny spot. I have been delighted with the long
span of this annual. From beginning when I can note their buds to the end of
the cycle when the plants droop and the flowers become untidy I have noted a
beauty that while not competing with my roses, have an elegance, an ordinary
elegance that can almost, as today, almost wipe out my late summer melancholy.
Rosemary is right. I
shall attend to Plata and give her more love and less shouting. I will try to
ignore her nagging and just feed her. With so many of my human friends
disappearing (do they dither?) it is comforting to have a friendly allegiance.