Canada, I love you and your many artistic wonders. I always have.
Growing up, I came to rock music late, but it was Gordon Lightfoot (Mom was a big fan), then Joni Mitchell and The Guess Who. I discovered Rush, a permanent fixture on my musical psyche just as I started high school, then Triumph and Saga. SCTV overshadowed every other television show. In rapid succession, I realized most of my favorite media was of Great White North origin.
There were painters like Philip Guston, Agnes Martin, comics like Cerebus, more comedy from Kids in the Hall, and too many bands to name them all here, like Big Wreck, Our Lady Peace, Sam Roberts, Joel Plaskett, The New Pornographers, Tegan and Sara.
Never mind hockey, the only pro sport I follow.
You have my admiration and my heart, neighbors. May it always be so.
He finally went and did it. Died. Deshuffled the most mortal of coils. A fiery, arseaholic ball of emotion and invective with an Edisonian ability to invent new tales burned out and went forever silent. He wrote amazing things, and I considered him a hero for a long, long time.
Then I started hearing about his sexist behavior. Odd, I thought, since he was such a fierce advocate of the ERA and feminist ideals. But sometimes the people we admire do awful, hurtful, damaging things. We can’t shy away from talking about that part of our erstwhile heroes, if we talk about them at all, and sometimes if we don’t want to. Harlan shamefully groped Connie Willis on stage, and was reportedly grabby with a lot of women through the years. This is unacceptable sexual assault, and he should have been called out on it a lot more than he was. He apologized to Willis, who accepted. That’s to the good.
He inspired millions of us to write and to create new worlds and to never give in to the powerful who wanted to crush or steal our dreams. But he hurt people and sparked fear in some innocents he denigrated, and womenthe woman he touched inappropriately, and that will shadow his brilliant work forever, as it should.
Here’s my Ellison story:
I was attending Comic-Con in 1995 or ’96 as an exhibitor for my comics series Greymatter. I saw that Harlan was going to be meeting and greeting at a booth in the middle, somewhere, and even though I was terrified at the thought of confronting such a fierce and forward man, and the real possibility that he’d excoriate me and my work, I had to go get in line.
I waited, I walked up, I handed him a pile of books. He was delighted, and gracious, and welcoming. He said, “Ack! You waited in line to give me comic books?!” with a giant grin and slight head shake. He accepted my fanboying with tolerant good humor and thanked me. And I left, exhilarated I’d met yet another of my favorite creators.
Cory Doctorow wrote a better obit than this one, about HE, and how to think about someone we admire who does bad and good things and it’s here, and it’s worth reading.
I was always a fan of the Friday 5 meme, so here’s a past-blast redux, why not.
1) Austin Kleon gave a wonderful talk at the Bond conference last week, on maintaining your creative momentum and such.
2) Since the beginning of hockey season, I’ve been trying to be less a fan of any particular team and enjoy the game and the players I admire more. Still, there’s beauty in the way fandom wears its collective heart on its sleeve, and if you’re outside it you don’t feel the same impact. And since my former fanning was done in support of the Vancouver Canucks, I couldn’t help but be caught up in the last home game the fabled Sedin twins will ever play. Not only was it touching to see such affection pouring from the fans and other players (on both teams), it was also a thrilling nail-biter of a finish in overtime. It embodied the best of what pro sports can offer.
Still so often seen as a sign of weakness, niceness and kindness can be helpful to your artistic work. The idea that you have to be ruthless in some ways, or visibly tough, or relentlessly claw your way to the top is becoming outdated, too. Being generous of spirit isn’t just for other people, either, it’s potentially helpful for you, too.
Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful; it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.
— Annie Dillard, The Abundance: Narrative Essays, Old and New
In that vein, I’ve been thinking about my feelings for and of Ready Player One in anticipation of the upcoming film. There’s plenty of hate out there for it, as well as slavering affection, and it’d be easy to take a haughty or dismissive position for the things I found . . . less than ideal. Chris Isaac, writing for Tor offers a thoughtful perspective.
Reconsider how much we should trash works that we don’t resonate with, rather than considering why they work—or don’t—for us.
The zeitgeist is telling me the world has been moving in a meaner direction (by which I think I mean the structures of power) for some time, and it seems right to be part of the wave pushing back against it.
Surfing used to be my church. I went more often than once a week, but that’s nothing unusual to many. Muslims would rightly say, “… yeah? And?” But for a non-religious person, I still enjoy and get tangible benefits of viewing some parts of my life as sacred. More often these days, they’re moments, not necessarily entities or institutions.
Today was one of them. I’d had Mark Hollis’s sole solo album (eponymous, 1998) in my collection from about 2004. I was—am—a big fan of Talk Talk, having rediscovered them after I lost track for several years after they released The Colour of Spring. Theirs was one of the most rapid and far-reaching evolutions in all of popular music, going from a synth pop dance band through post rock over the course of five albums. They didn’t do it as fast as The Beatles, but they went much further, stylistically. Mark Hollis really was the driving creative force behind the music, and I wanted the final chapter in his oeuvre to be special. From what I’d read, the album was relatively quiet, so I wanted to experience it alone in a room on a quiet day. As quiet as one could get in the city, of course.
The problem was, I was trying to create a perfect moment, and I don’t think they can be manufactured. What I needed to happen was a sacred moment. An amazing experience can happen more easily with that intention and setting, but you don’t need perfection to experience the sublime. But I made sure I’d be alone for a while, opened the blinds to the sunset, and started the album.
It wasn’t a perfect moment. But it was profound. I’d been putting off a really nice experience so I could try to make it perfect, but really, I’m not sure that’s good for me. For us. It was certainly unfair to put the expectation on the artist to have made the perfect thing, even if that turned out to be true.
We need more of this sacred time, I think. I unreservedly recommend you take 45 minutes, or an hour if it’s long, to just listen to a single album you’ve never heard before in a devotional way—doing nothing else except perhaps look out at the trees and skies nearby.
I feel like an old man, sometimes. It’s not new, but as Gen-Xers, um, inexorably slip into the trick-knee-bad-back zone, I expect the frequency of this feeling will, irritatingly, increase.
But this is okay. Every generation—in addition to blaming the one before1—inevitably succeeds the previous one, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. No amount of kicking and screaming will prevent Baby Boomer influence from subsumation. For example.
What I’m also aware of in me regarding Millennials, specifically, are feelings of admiration, desire to protect, and inspiration to act. Every generation also trashes the one after them. They’re always wrong. No millions-strong group is any one thing, and there are plenty of conscious, engaged, competent people among the next generation. I’m so unworried about the future. At least, not where the capabilities of the young are concerned.
The Parkland student protests and activism is one of those inspirational zeitgeist markers, and it edges into post-Millennial/Gen-Z territory, even.
And I was again thinking of David Bowie, who was always thinking about what was happening “now,” and searching for the pulse of history as it moved through. Immune to your consultation, old folks. raises fist like John Bender
Almost 50 years ago, Blood, Sweat & Tears released a song about how culture goes in cycles like a wheel, swinging left to right and back again. It’s natural to feel stuck, sometimes. It’s harder to know at those dark moments that I won’t be there forever. It’s a big picture perspective that serves me well, when I can remember it.
Another idea I’ve tried to keep in mind is that of Taoist or Zen balance, that what may seem good or bad or fortunate or tragic today can easily become the opposite tomorrow. So it isn’t worth the emotional capital it takes to dwell too intensely on any particular event in our lives.
Of course, we’re only human, and not very good at a wide or long perspective on existence. It’s easy to become roiled by life, politics, and customers.
We need these little reminders that life is never on rails, nor traveling in one direction, forever.