Saturday, June 8, 2019

Henry and Me

I first heard of Henry Miller, perhaps fittingly, when I lived with two other guys in East Vancouver. One of the guys had a friend who was a postman, the other guy was having an affair with the postman’s wife. There were a few awkward moments when he snuck her in for a night or an afternoon quickie, but, all in all, things went well and I saw a book which the postman had lent to his buddy, my housemate. It was a compilation of the letters between Henry and Lawrence Durrell. I became interested and then obsessed with Miller’s writing, read everything of his I could get my hands on. I still have a worn copy of Tropic of Cancer by my bedside along with Flann O’Brien’s, The Poor Mouth. For some reason which I don’t want to analyze, both books are places of refuge for me when I just want to relax and enjoy the language. At times like that I don’t think as much about the content of what I’m reading as much as how the words are strung together. Finding Henry’s writing was like the moment when Shakespeare made sense to me in high school: a light bulb shone. In all my travels after that I kept a sharp eye open when books by Henry were displayed. Krishnamurti, Durrell, Arthur Rimbaud, Anais Nin and others were introduced to me by Henry’s writing and their books were ones I watched for too. Of course, I was watching for cheap versions of their works. When my friend, Robin, arrived to visit me in Crete he brought a copy of The Colossus of Maroussi, written when Henry visited Lawrence Durrell and his wife in Corfu. Surviving in a tiny room in Paris on croque monsieurs, cheese, baguettes and red wine, I planned a novel using the Paris metro map as structure. Needless to say, the novel became as confusing and mixed up as my understanding of the Paris subway system and was abandoned. I made a pilgrimage to the street where Anais Nin lived when she and Henry were having their affair. Their conviction that analysis was necessary and their visits to Otto Rank, a student of Freud, revealed the notion that psychoses are the products of frustrated or blocked creativity. Frustrated writers can take comfort in the idea that writing is at least healthy if not profitable. By the time I was there, the bars mentioned in his books were too expensive for me to patronise but I lingered outside the Coupole and the Dome. I walked endlessly around Paris, imagined what it was like then, wondered why Henry was never mentioned in the list of writers who lived in the city in the 30's. There was irony in the thought of him existing from meal to meal as he worked on Tropic in the arts capital of the Western world, poor, reviled and rejected. I didn’t know then that he and Anais Nin wrote pornography for the money of their rich patrons but I knew there had been an overwhelming rejection of him in the States and that he was involved in the debate about pornography and obscenity. It looks like the descendants of those moral Americans who banned his books for so long have, seventy or eighty years later, taken over the government of the USA. He described his trip across the states in The Air Conditioned Nightmare. The title pretty well demonstrated Henry’s attitude toward the system. It gave me hope. Here was a man with great curiosity about the world and other people and sex who ignored all the warnings and temptations which were placed before him and followed a singular path of his own. It led him to another continent, through years of poverty and piles of rejection slips. But he kept going and kept laughing. “Always cheery and bright” was his motto and the most depressing situations could be changed for the better just by reading his books. I know that a generation who thinks the 60's is ancient history has a hard time understanding his relevance now, but then he was like a beacon. He personified the rebelliousness and questioning which was rumbling underground. I often wonder what he would have made of this internet, instant world. I like to think he’d revel in it. It would be so much easier to spread his subversive ideas and plead for sanity. A literary website reminded me of him when they put out a call for submissions on “money”. He had written Money and How It Got That Way years ago though I don’t know where I saw it. He would enjoy, as Kurt Vonnegutt Jr put it, “Poisoning them with a little humanity”. Henry believed that the best education it was possible to get was available to anyone with a library card at the same time as he relished the quote ,“When I hear the word Kultur, I pick up my pistol”. Henry wasn’t published until he was almost forty and that was always a prod for me when I started feeling sorry for myself. He’s been called racist and misogynist but, in my opinion, almost always by someone with an axe to grind. After all, Anais Nin’s lover must have been more than just a male chauvinist pig. The worst was online when a critic (critics are paid to criticize, we shouldn’t forget that) said he was boring. Of course, the critic, who seems to be trying to make a name for himself by attacking famous writers, used much of the language which Henry and others like him forced into literary acceptability. He couldn’t express himself without those words but he seemed to have no idea that the very words he used were allowed in the English writing world because of legal battles fought over Henry’s books. I don’t know what the penalty was for getting caught with a Tropic or a Rosy Crucifixion book in the 60's but that there was a penalty at all seems ridiculous. As ridiculous as excoriating Elvis, The Beatles and The Dixie Chicks. Sex was the same then. It hasn’t and hadn’t changed. He had the audacity to describe the act itself and men and women’s bodies without apology and, many times, with great humour. He didn’t gloss over the sweaty, intimate details which weren’t supposed to be mentioned in polite society. It’s not just that Henry wrote about sex like no one else. He described it in the first person often and didn’t avoid branching off into other personal thoughts which occurred to him while he was engaged. His style of using his own personal experiences for the creation of fiction and nonfiction became the roots of my travel writing. Henry seemed to be painfully honest even when he was making things up. I was working on the rigs in Alberta, living in Edmonton, when Henry died. I happened to be in town and not in the bush on that occasion and made my way to the nearest hotel. The bars in Alberta are huge and busy. Others at the table had no idea who Henry was and why I should be there to drink a farewell toast to him on the occasion of his death. I did the same at the same bar when John Lennon was shot. They didn’t know, any more than I did, that I would carry around his books and lean on his inspiration for many years. Here is Henry’s description of one of the many jobs he took to survive in France. “Here was I, supposedly to spread the gospel of Franco-American amity- the emissary of a corpse who, after he had plundered right and left, after he had caused untold suffering and misery, dreamed of establishing universal peace. Ffui! What did they expect me to talk about, I wonder? About LEAVES OF GRASS, about the tariff walls, about the Declaration of Independence, about the latest gang war? What? Just what, I’d like to know. Well, I’ll tell you-I never mentioned these things. I started right off the bat with a lesson on the physiology of love. How the elephants make love-that was it! It caught like wildfire. After the first day there were no more empty benches. After that first lesson in English they were standing at the door waiting for me. We got along swell together. They asked all sorts of questions, as though they had never learned a damned thing. I let them fire away. I taught them to ask more ticklish questions. Ask anything!- that was my motto. I’m here as a plenipotentiary from the realm of free spirits. I’m here to create a fever and a ferment. ‘In some ways’ says an eminent astronomer, ‘the universe appears to be passing away like a tale that is told, dissolving into nothingness like a vision’. That seems to be the general feeling underlying the empty breadbasket of learning. Myself, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe a fucking thing these bastards try to shove down our throats.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Planet Waves Considered

PLANET WAVES CONSIDERED “In this age of fibreglass I’m searching for a gem” Planet Waves B. Dylan I don’t know who started it or how it started but it became a tradition and a ritual. We (Dave, Robin, Frank, Norm, Paul, Al and Mike to name some of the main participants) lived in a house on the corner of 4TH Ave and Balaclava in the Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver. They say it has become very exclusive and expensive there now. Then we had a single mother with an almost teenage daughter living next door to us. She was convinced that the RCMP (she called them “The Horsemen”) had killed her husband who had been a heroin dealer. The tradition was turning a Saturday (if we were working or any afternoon if we weren’t) into a Tequila Sunrise or Bloody Caesar or Harvey Wallbanger day. We all supplied the ingredients if we could plus whatever beer and smoke were available, threw open the doors and windows and cranked up the stereo. It is incumbent upon residents of Vancouver to take advantage of every sunny day there. Even the British climate doesn’t seem as depressing as the long, grey, cold, wet stretches of days and weeks which occur in Vancouver winters. Maybe it’s not so bad for natives but we weren’t natives and knew very few. Everyone was from somewhere else. I remember Meddle and Band on the Run and Peaceful Easy Feeling blaring out across the postage stamp lawn as we played frisbee or catch with a football. The one which was played the most on those days was Planet Waves. It was the last time Dylan recorded in a studio with The Band. They had already toured with him as The Hawks and they toured again in support of Planet Waves. Not a bad backup band. They honed their chops in Toronto backing up Rompin Ronnie Hawkins, The Hawk. In The Last Waltz (1978) Robbie Robertson describes Ronnie Hawkin’s pitch upon hiring the talented teenagers as something like, “the money ain’t great, but you’ll get more pussy than Frank Sinatry”. The Hawk was from the southern US and had plenty of experience in small bars there where the band onstage was separated from the audience by chicken wire to protect them from missiles like beer bottles thrown their way. He says he was a hard taskmaster. He didn’t want a backup band which learned songs on stage or made a lot of mistakes. He made them practice and practice hard. The Hawk was recently interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulis on Canadian tv about his miraculous recovery from pancreatic cancer. A young healer (an underground healer, one not recognized by the established system) heard of his plight and helped him recover. Now he’s still laughing about the miracle and, as he tours, sharing his joy. The best known song on Planet Waves is Forever Young. It’s obvious when you listen to the lyrics why Rod Stewart covered it. I don’t know whether he added some words of his own, but every parent, rock star or not, can understand the sentiment behind the lyrics of the song. On side 2 of Planet Waves The Band whipped up one fast version with their electric jug band style, but the slow version on side 1 with Robbie Robertson’s tasty licks is one of the best rock songs ever written in my opinion. I know some people can’t stand Dylan’s music and his voice even though it’s on key and timed properly, but anyone who admires the power of the English language has to, at least, respect him as a writer. “Twilight on the frozen lake, North wind about to break...” are ten words which open Never say Goodbye and an instant image is conjured up in the listener’s mind. Planet Waves also contains Going, Going, Gone which is another song created with great lyrics and the collaboration of musicians which doesn’t overpower the lyric content. It is a good example for all bands who have realised that the most beautiful music is created by individuals contributing to the song, not trying to stand out from everyone else. There were a lot of women around that house but, unfortunately, one look at the state of the kitchen and bathroom discouraged most from living there. I have to admit that someone only making it to the kitchen sink before they threw up on a Tequila Sunrise Day was a little much. Naturally, none of us had washed any dishes for a long time and that made it worse. The sunny days got fewer when Fall hit and gradually petered out. The occupants reached a low point in January when we watched the Superbowl on acid with no food and the sound turned up to drown out the sound of the wind and rain lashing the street outside. Then someone got out of jail and landed there, bringing quick visits from cops when he ran outside and threw beer bottles at motorists passing by on 4th Ave. The carefree, sunny days of Planet Waves were gone. “My dreams are made of iron and steel, with a big bouquet of roses hanging down, from the heavens to the ground” Planet Waves B. Dylan

Monday, May 20, 2019

Zero Toleration

I firs met Bubba an Stone one midnight when dey was gettin chased across de Interprovincial Bridge by Andre St. Pierre an is karate club. Dey flag me down an I elp em out, giv em a lif. I booted er to Ottawa, lef a buncha drunk black belts pantin an cursin at de moon. What dey did in de tavern to piss off de karate club, I dunno, but I seen St. Pierre an is boys get some guys, after a few beer one night, an it weren’t no pretty sight. So I give em a lif an we ad a few beer in de Market. I never see em again till las mont when dey come in de club on Elgin Street where I work behine de bar. “Frenchie!” Bubba roar an crush my an like a big, drunk bear. E’s even bigger now dan den. Stone, got a black eye but, as usual, e got a good lookin girl wit im an cement on is boots. I don tink Bubba an Stone learnt much in school excep ow to drink an fight an play football. Dey could play football cause dey were real tough an Bubba strong like a bull an mean when e put on de pads. Stone, e was jus mean alla time. After dey cripple some guys in university ball an fail all deir courses, dey end up in de construction business. Stone learn ow to build ouses from is fadder, got is own company. Bubba started out as a labourer for de city. Now dey give im is own truck. Dey’re bot pissed off at de wedder dis winter an, like mos people, dey’re about to crack aroun de end of Fevrier. Dey want to go to Florida an look up an ole football buddy. Dey invite me along dat night at de club. An I say yes. Tabernac. Stone, e bin through a couple marriages an lotsa udder women an got some kids scattered aroun. E says e can handle everyting excep women. Bubba got no kids an e’s fightin wit is girlfrien. De one Stone call “de douche” when Bubba can’t ear im. I shoulda known better when Stone tole me to bring an extra suitcase. One of is wives got all deir luggage an Bubba’s girlfren got de cops to keep im away from de apartment. My brudder, Guillaume, e’s smart, but e’s stupid. Smart wit money, stupid wit women. E always know ow to make a buck but insteada bein appy wit a nice little business in ull, e get tangle up wit a good lookin woman from Montreal. E moved down dere an got busted wit six keys o toot. I figured my brudder won’t be needin is suitcase for a while. I get it from my mudder’s an bring it along. It was a Monday mornin, not too early. We bin on a tour of de otels upriver in de Pontiac since we lef ull some time Saturday mornin. So our stomachs not de bes when we jump in Bubba’s new Corvette an ead for de border. Wit me an de suitcase in de back seat. Bubba, e’s big and tough, but e loves is Corvette. Is girlfren’s mad at im cause e spent money on de car e was spose to spen on er. He yell an take a slap at me an Stone if we spill somethin in de Corvette. Bubba can eat tree family size bags o chips, while e’s drivin, witout spillin a crumb. E takes a big paw fulla chips an stuff de whole ting in is mout while we ‘re bootin it outta town. De boys are ungry when we get to Kemptville an we all need a beer so we stop at de otel dere to join de farmers an rednecks in de tavern. Dey make de good meatball sandwich in de otel in Kemptville. Pretty soon, Stone gets inna game a pool wid some rednecks. De waitress, Katie, she’s stoppin longer to talk to me at de table, every time she bring de beer. It ain’t so bad bein small an French wit de long eyelash. Women love de long eyelash an get real mudderly when dey’re bigger dan you an tryna speak French. So dey usually come onto me firs. Sometime, it work, sometime, it don. Dis one came onto me firs. Definitely. Me? I’m small, but I’m wiry. A lover, not a fighter. I never tot trouble would start in Kemptville. I get up to go for a leak an ear bullfrog noises. I look aroun to see Katie arguin wit some rednecks. By de time I see it’s me dey’re talkin about, a bottle’s comin my way an de fight’s on. A couple jump Bubba from behine, but dey’re flyin over de pool table in a urry. I kick one guy in de back, Stone breaks is cue on a guy’s ead an we make it to de door. Bubba spins dat Corvette tru de gravel a few extra times to spray dose farmer trucks an we boot it for de border. We stop at a gas station to clean out de car, ave a piss, get ready for de USA. When we pull up to de border crossin, Stone sees some guys over to one side watchin guards tear deir truck apart, an laughs. We answer all de questions from a young guy in a uniform an e says to wait a minute an goes to get an ole guy. Dis guy looks like a state trooper from Texas, almos big as Bubba, wit de gun an de badge an de sun glasses. E takes one look at Stone’s black eye, wants our i.d. I tink we woulda bin o.k. if Bubba din take off is sun glasses to look in de glove compartment. Dunno why e’s wearin em anyway, it’s almos dark. I’m watchin de ole guard examine de i.d., but I see e’s really lookin over top of dem at Bubba’s eyes, in de side mirror. I could see is eyes too. Dey were red, real red. In fac, dey look like dey avin internal emmorage. De ole guard put is big, fat ead in de window, smell a real deep breat an tell Bubba to pull over beside de guys Stone laughed at. Bubba takes one look at de guys’ truck gettin torn apart an de back of is neck gets red as is eyeballs. We’re all pretty cool cause we know we’re clean. We go into de office wid de president’s picture on de wall beside all de wanted posters an answer more stupid questions. Bubba’s lookin out de window while some guards look unner de Corvette wit mirrors, open up de ood. De ole guard keeps smellin real ard while dey ask us who we gonna visit in Florida an if we ever take drugs. He stops sniffin so ard when Stone rips a real loud beer fart. Finally, jus when I tink we’re finish, de young guard march into de office wit Guillaume’s suitcase an a look like e jus won de lottery. E pull de plastic on a little panel in dere I din even know about. De ole guard reach in wit is big, fat fingers an pull out a baggie wit is udder han on is gun. E looks at us wit a big, ugly grin an opens de baggie. Ten seeds fall out on de counter. Couple udder guards, in de room behine us now, got deir hans on deir guns. Bubba turns red, Stone turns to me. Everybody looks at me. I try to give em a shrug like Trudeau, tell em it ain’t my suitcase. De guards smell blood now. Dey take me an Stone to one room, Bubba to an udder one. De young guard gives us some pamphlets an leaves us alone. Stone’s blamin me. I can ear Bubba roarin. Stone looks at is pamphlet, looks at me. “Uh oh” Dese pamphlets about some new law dey made in de States, ‘Zero Toleration’ I agree wit Stone when e say, “Uh oh” Dis new law means dey can take Bubba’s new Corvette an keep er cause of ten ole pot seeds even my brudder forgot. Collis. I never knew my brudder could write. It never come up. I guess everybody can write deir name an address dese days. Dat’s what saved us. Guillaume wrote is name on de tags an inside de suitcase. Dey ask more questions an finally fine out dat my brudder’s in jail in Montreal. Dey bring us all togedder in a room to tell us what we gotta do to get Bubba’s Corvette back. Bubba’s real red an starin at us like e’s gonna explode so I stay behine Stone when we go in. I feel better when I see some guards wit deir hans on deir guns. Dey probably woulda let Stone and Bubba go back to Ottawa cause it was my brudder’s suitcase, but Bubba explode right dere. “You idiots” e yell an make a dive for us. E knock alf de guards down an roll aroun on de floor wit de fat one till one young guard it im on de ead wit a night stick. Stone jumps in an pretty soon dey’re cuffin dem an draggin dem away. Me? I jus stan dere. A young guard notices me an point is gun at me. “Resume dat position” e say. Stone uses is phone call to get a ten tousand dollar bond on de spot. I gotta go, according to Bubba’s call, back to lawyers in Ottawa to get affidavits signed dat we don know nuttin about drugs. Maybe it weren’t fair, in a way, but me, I was appy to catch de nex bus dat came tru de border to get away from Bubba till he cool down. So de nex day is Tuesday. Instead o bein alfway to Florida, I’m gettin off de bus at de station in Ottawa an lookin for dis lawyer, Kenny Nelson, who use to play ball wit de boys. Turns out, is office is in a big, new building on Elgin Street wit igh speed elevators an lotsa plants. My brudder, Guillaume, e don like lawyers an e always say be careful wit dem, but dis setup looks o.k. to me. Dere’s lotsa good lookin women, all dressed to kill. I talk wit a sweet, blonde receptionist till Kenny Nelson shows up. E takes me to is office an I tell im de story. E asks me some questions. E’s laughin so hard, e’s almost cryin. E phones some udder lawyers oo played ball wit de boys. Dey all laugh an finally e tells me to come back tomorrow morning, de papers will be ready. Me? I’m tres fatigue by now an dis blonde got me tinkin bout some relaxation. I go for a breakfas special in de unnergroun fas food joints where Theresa works. Theresa, she’s big, wit lotsa poing. She love de long eyelash an take real good care o me from time to time. Theresa got a real good job in de government building on top o dese fas food joints. She comes down for a coffee wit me an gives me de key to er apartment. I got to know er about a year ago when she came into de club wit er government friens. So I go up to er place after I pick up a few grams from de stash. I ave a sauna an a swim in er pool, get some relaxation till she comes home an we hit de sack. She cooks a nice Italian supper an I feel guilty when we’re sittin in fron de fireplace wit de wine an smoke an listenin to er jazz records. Guilty about de boys, I mean. Me an Theresa ave a good time an she ‘s tryna talk me into movin in wit er like she always does. I don tink she really wants me to move in, it’s jus sorta a game we play. We bot know it would spoil all de fun. In de mornin I see Kenny Nelson an e’s still laughin an phonin more guys oo played football wit de boys while I sign papers sayin I don know nuttin about seeds or dope. Finally, e gives me all de stuff we need an I get a bus back to de border. We musta got lucky cause one a de young guards was a Corvette freak like Bubba an dey spen lotsa time talkin bout em. Bubba’s mellowed out, but e’s still mad. E lets us in de Corvette when we get everyting straightened out. Pretty soon, we’re bootin er sout on 87, lookin for six packs. De boys jus don feel right widout a cold, American beer between deir legs when dey’re drivin in de States. De only words Bubba says to us, excep “Put on Van Halen”, was “You idiots!” Every so often, while e drink is first six pack, he looks across at Stone an in the mirror at me an shakes is big ead. After de firs couple o six packs, Bubba let Stone put on Dire Straits. I don pay much attention anymore. Since I met de bands at de bar, seem to me de guitar players are jus as crazy as ousepainters. Well, de trip goes pretty good after dat. By de time we get to de sout, we figure out dat we only got one day to stay in Florida if we’re gonna make it back to Ottawa on time. “No way!” Bubba says. “Red says toot’s thirty five a gram in Miami. We’re stayin for a vacation. We deserve it” Red’s deir football buddy. E runs some kinda tourist resort where dey specialize in parties. We ad a real good time, stayed for two weeks, till we ran outta money. Guillaume always says dat de only people dat party like Quebecers, is Americans. I believe im now. We end up alfway to Cuba wit dancin girls an gangsters an almos get shot outta de water by de coast guard, but dat’s anudder story. My brudder, Guillaume, he’s comin into de club for a drink tonight. Is woman in Montreal got im a good lawyer an dey trew de whole ting outta court. E’s comin in to pick up is suitcase, too. Nex week, e’s goin on vacation.