Sunday, December 29, 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — first take

No spoilers.

At the back end of the latest Star Wars movie, a character walks listlessly through the crowd of survivors. The camera focuses on the face, a mien of PTSD — until the eyes spot another character, who has also miraculously survived. The face breaks into surprise, relief, joyous tears.

And yes, I was suck-sobbing as loudly as anyone in the theatre.

I mentioned the scene to my wife, and said, “George would never have allowed that moment of unfettered humanity.”

My wife agreed, and added, “But George made those movies for 12-year-old boys.”

So many complications. As with the politicians we elect, we the fans get the Star Wars we deserve. And if we are truly that determined to drag a property geared to 12-year-old suburban males into the province of “Wait: how’d we get here?” late-life adulthood, this is the sort of Star Wars we will get.

But is it any good, Prajer? No, not by a long shot — unless viewed as a PGified version of a Jodorowski/Moebius fever dream.
"Blues are good, Jean, but we need more red."
All I can say is, I sat back (the recliner chairs helped), let myself go where the film insisted it take me, and left the theatre satisfied I’d wasted neither money nor time.

Your results may vary. Were I younger and capable of greater investment I would likely be on-board with everything Jim Vorel says in his Paste piece, “It was a total lack of planning that killed Star Wars.” 

Or maybe I would rediscover optimism and side with the rebuttal: “Lucasfilm and Disney are now in a perfect spot: The Mandalorian is a success, Star Wars is ripe for more experimentation, and Disney+ is a new sandbox that will allow for similar experiments”Julia Alexander at The Verge.

In any case I will get a second look at the movie, possibly tomorrow, and post a list of what I picked and panned from Abrams’ post-Lucas smorgasbord.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Vintage Christmas Collection, David Ian

Last year Doug Ramsey recommended David Ian’s The Vintage Christmas Collection. I’ve usually done well by Mr. Ramsey, so I gambled the stamp. Twenty-five songs for mere pennies? I was in.

I gave it a listen. Huh. I gave it another. Still no connection.

Ian and his trio are proficient, as are the vocalists. Everybody involved approaches the material with a light touch. There is no mischief, nor aggrandizing earnestness — just a devotion to bringing the music across respectfully.

No whopping surprises, then — although Acacia’s unusual vibrato is a quiet revelation.

I have my Christmas favourites (including), and they continue to receive the most plays. And this year David Ian’s album joins them.

Sometimes a person gets weary of surprises, and is grateful for the light touch.

Merry Christmas — WP/dpr
Post-script: we have tickets to Star Wars on Boxing Day — so no spoilers until then!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Scott Timberg

This past weekend I was shocked and saddened to learn that Scott Timberg had died, Tuesday December 10, by his own hand.

Timberg was among the more robust bloggers featured on the ArtsJournal frontpage. There were three I made it a point to never miss. Of the three, only Timberg was always worth reading — Scott Timberg batted 1.000.

I did not realize until that announcement just how deeply I valued Timberg’s work on the beat. I tend to cast a jaundiced eye over 95% of what AJ links to — “So this is ‘The Culture’ then, is it?” AJ’s focus of concern whipsaws from covering beleaguered heritage art scenes to playing catch-up with the passionate young progressives. Out of everyone who contributed to AJ, Timberg was the only writer who seemed truly aware, from harrowing personal experience, that the AJ raison d'être — equanimity of coverage between Youngs and Olds making the scene — was now a dust-binned relic from an antiquated past.

Everything Timberg wrote acknowledged this reality and placed itself in considered opposition to it. The artists he interacted with were people invested in the historical long-view, whose perspective he passionately engaged with. His interviews are never less than revelatory, whether it’s Rhiannon Giddens explicating the banjo’s subversion of colonial presumption, Billy Bragg on Skiffle’s world-changing power, Patti Smith on the literary pretensions of the New York punks, or Richard Thompson acknowledging the inescapability of Robbie Burns — among so many others.

Suicides occur for reasons that are not always — and perhaps can never be — reducable to mere words. Still, I find myself wishing he and his family had escaped Los Angeles. Or that he’d meditated further on what Giddens was saying about the banjo’s spiritual impact. We may not (yet) be captive slaves, but we are all well and truly indentured. It behooves us to reach for the nearest “banjo” we can find, to issue the subtle “fuck you” to the Powers intent on our complete acquiescence — to keep singing, despite it all.

Links:
Let us be kind.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

I'm listing!(?) My 10 most-played albums, purchased this year

Here is (probably) the only top-10 list I will post this year: the most-played albums I purchased this past year. The listing will be, kinda-sorta, in ascending order of current preference.
#10. DIAMONDS & DYNAMITE, DONNA GRANTISGrantis’ (“GRANTIS”?) playing swings from meditative to off-the-charts-killer. Had this album been all-meditative it would have scored higher with me, but that’s just me admitting the mood I am mired in, and is in no way a dis on a very fine album from a prodigious talent.

#9. Daylight, Grace Potter Potter’s most powerful album to date. My elder daughter is especially taken with it and I’m enjoying the conversation that has opened up.

#8. Inscape, Alexandra Stréliski — the Montreal artist was a recommendation from an unexpected source. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard one or two of these tracks in movies or television shows, which tends to distract me from slipping into the album’s depths. “Where the HECK have I heard this?” is a recurring question of increasing frequency, alas. Ignoring its seeming urgency is a skill I’ve yet to acquire.

#7. ‘87, The Bros. Landreth — if you haven’t yet seen ‘em, The Bros. put on an infectious, jolly show, so much so that I tend to associate them with lite, good times. Lo and behold, this sophomore album plumbs unexpected depths! Not only that, the physical packaging is the finest “rock ‘n’ roll commodity fetish” I have encountered all year.

#6. Periphery IV: Hail Stan Periphery has melodious djent nailed down, plus a few other surprises. Great fun. Erm, that is to say . . . crushingly brutal! Speaking of which . . .

#5. Tower, Irata — I can’t help noticing this year’s top 10 Metal lists include all the usual suspects and very few surprises. Not to take anything away from the accomplishments of those who find themselves thus elevated, but c’mon: this killer album from this scrappy band should have made everyone’s top 5.

#4. Don’t Give Up On The Blues, Giles Robson — Robson’s best album to date, and that is saying something. As for what Giles Robson brings to the table as a blues player, my friend Darko said it first and he said it best, “Robson’s band is this generation’s J. Geils.” And people — that is yooj.

#3. Joy In Spite Of Everything, Stefano Bollani — my record store must have ordered a surplus of this 2014 album, because its preeminence of display could not help but catch my eye. Joining Bollani and his usual bandmates Jesper Bodilsen and Morten Lund, are Mark Turner and Bill Frisell, and how can a listener lose with a line-up like that? Five years after its release I am grateful to finally catch up with it.

#2. The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space, T Bone Burnett — kinda gets played by default, really. If I am alone in the car, and I am in the mood I'm in, this is the music I reach for.

#1. Little Big, Aaron Parks — I picked this up last January, after I saw it mentioned here. Little Big is one hour and twenty minutes long, the exact amount of time it takes to drive to the care home where my mother-in-law currently resides. My wife and I have listened to this album for many if not most of those Saturday morning trips, and neither of us has tired of it yet. Far and away the most-played album in 2019.

And finally, THE ONE ALBUM that came out of left-field and captured my enduring affection — NO TOWN NO COUNTRY: EPs AND RARE RECORDINGS 1981-1984, DUB RIFLES.
As our family sorted through the details and arrangements set in play by my mother's death, I managed to catch a fifteen-minute break at McNally Robinson’s, where I set eyes on this oddity.

I never caught a Dub Rifles concert — they broke up shortly after I graduated high school. But they sat on the periphery of my consciousness as the very pinnacle of Winnipeg cool. An edgy group of guys who threw down edgy, infectious beats and bops.

Thirty-five years later it’s a pleasure to bring them into my living-room or car and let them rule the airwaves for 80 or so minutes. The music is surprisingly tight, and founder Colin Bryce’s liner-note recollections are clear-eyed and remarkably free of either treacly nostalgia or acrid bitterness. A personal treasure, delightfully evocative of a time and scene and frame of mind I was losing touch with.

Post-script: further Dubs:
The band was packed into the bay window of a large double front room, which in dim hazy Victorian times might’ve been the parlour and dining room – I’d come along with my gang of friends, not really knowing what to expect, having had virtually no exposure to actual punk bands at the time. There was no lighting set-up, just the harsh white overhead clangor of fluorescent tubes. I examined the impressive stacks of monitors set up on either side of the bay windows, and the enormous drum kit in the middle. While I was standing there, a finger curled around the neck of my beer bottle, a skinny, long-jawed guy climbed into the drum kit like a gunner climbing into the turret of a tank. A lean, inward-looking guy with close-cropped blonde hair stepped up to one of the mics, electric guitar at the ready. Then the sax players and the bassist stepped up. The guitarist nodded, the drummer counted down by banging his sticks together, and the band exploded in our faces.
Vince Tinguely unpacks the Dub Rifles in a most delightful way. Also check out Boo Eyeplug’s track by track appraisal of No Town No Country over here.

Friday, December 06, 2019

“Well we know where we’re going/But we don’t know where we’ve been”

When I was almost 20 I nudged a buddy from my old hometown into taking a shot at winter camping. Over the past three years we’d each talked a big game about being woodsmen. It seemed time to give it an honest try. It probably goes without saying we were both recovering from failed romances.

"It'll be bucolic, trust me."
In January we drove off to the Sandilands, tied on the snowshoes and hiked to a remote spot by a frozen lake. We built a quinzee, then a fire, warmed up some tinned stew and finally retired to our snowy dome. Four hours later I shook him awake and said we were done. It was minus 40 outside and not much warmer in the dome.

The next summer he called me down again. “There’s some new places outside of town you need to see.” I drove down on a Friday evening, picked him up and took direction.

We went up one gravel road and down another. “Over here,” he said. “On the right.”

In a thicket of ever-present poplar trees was a large log-based dwelling, looking surprisingly modern — sehr schmaak. The sun was just setting, the Evening Star was out. A woman came to the front door, cradling a baby.

“What are you boys doing here?”

“I just wanted to show my friend your place. You’ve done amazing work.”

“Well, thank you. But I’d feel better if you left. Now.”

We quickly climbed back in my car and backed out the driveway.

“Any other bright ideas?” I asked.

“You should meet my friends,” he said. “Not so fancy a place, but they’re really good people.”

More gravel roads, more poplar. It was now dark.

The drive through the wood was surprisingly smooth. We arrived at the house — a three-storey affair with unusual angles — and got out of the car. This time a man came out the front door. He couldn’t have been more than three or four years older than we were. My friend greeted him.

“Oh, it’s you! Come in, come in!”

We met his lovely wife. The kitchen was large. The floor was strictly plywood subflooring — the house was clearly a work in progress. She gestured toward the circular pine table.

“You boys want some orange tea?” She set the kettle to boiling while he retrieved a cookie tin from over the fridge, pulled a handful of dried orange rinds from within, then dropped them in a tea pot and bade us sit while we waited for the water.

“Boys, how about some iess-schmaunt? Come!”

With cereal bowls full of ice-cream and steaming cups of rind-steeped water before us, we began to talk.

It was mostly my friend’s affair. He and his friends talked about prayer, searching and longing and the inscrutable ways of God. When the tea and ice-cream were gone, and people’s energies were on the wane, his friends reached for his hands — the fellow his left, the woman his right — and assured him his was a true heart, that he was a valued servant of Christ, doing God’s work, and more than that they loved him.

Back in the car, my friend said, “I needed that.”

I did not know these people. And at that moment I realized there was a great deal about my friend I did not know, either — depths unavailable to me. I did not know what to say to my friend. In a weird way, I needed that late-night encounter also.

Three years later I was back in the big city, and that winding drive through the struck was a memory fading into a twilight of its own.

I had no shortage of friends, from a wider array of ethnic backgrounds. We’d all been born Canadian, but our lineage was not that far removed from the boats that brought us.

One — the college guy with the music — was Dutch, his mother a survivor of the Nazi occupation. Another, a co-worker, was Ukrainian, two were Greek (“We’re the real oppressed minority here!”), two more were Czech. Two other buddies from that Bible college were of Scottish stock. A fellow somewhat smitten with me had a Portuguese pop and British mother. And so on.

If anything, the conversations were more feverish. But there was a HEFTY layer of irony applied, at all times. The days of someone reaching for my hand and assuring me I was precious to God were over. And to be truthful, I was no longer responding well to such entreaties.

Be that as it may, irony was shit — we were in more desperate straits than we’d anticipated. We figured we’d changed in ways our parents were incapable of recognizing, but could not quantify those changes in any meaningful way ourselves.

The changes around us, on the other hand, were another matter. No litany from me — the common challenge was discerning which buggy-whip job might outlast the one being left behind.

Anyway, here we are. Stephenson’s dialogue cannot be legitimately compared to Dostoevsky, even at the Russian bard’s most rambling and incoherent. But the yack-fests between Hiro and Da5id and Y.T. and the Librarian were quite similar in tone and content to the conversations we kids were having amongst ourselves between evenings of wrestling with javascript (which gave me a skillset on par with those I now bring to the job of church custodian).

Re-reading Snow Crash I was struck by the depth of Hiro’s ignorance of the socio-ethno-religio-philosophical history that brought forth the gibbering present he inhabits and is scrambling to understand. Just one example, his glib assumption about the Biblical account of the early church — “The Jews ... were still running the country, right?” — reveals not only Hiro’s galling ignorance of the biblical narrative (his frame of reference is Andrew Lloyd Webber), but also the subtle anti-Semitism that takes root in rapidly shifting neo-tribal landscapes like the one Stephenson describes (when you’re struggling with the exigencies of ad hoc tribalism, the features of an honest-to-God actual tribe start looking very enviable indeed — they’ve succeeded as a tribe for 3000 years; they must be doing something sneaky). To gain any worthwhile purchase on the roiling present, Stephenson-via-the-Librarian has to drag the digitally proficient but otherwise utterly abject Hiro all the way back to civilization’s Sumerian origins.

Re: the wiki: I’d forgotten Richard Rorty’s dis-ease with the book. People who read his criticism as if it were a book review scorned him for the proscriptive thrust of his concerns. But Rorty was too subtle a reader to be that reductive — it seems to me he recognized Stephenson was not describing (let alone endorsing) some crackling “future” in which a beleaguered individualist maneuvers into a position of relative safety, but rather an overwhelming present from which little could be expected. Rorty rightly recognized the horror of this situation and called for some authorial engagement, with others, with hope. It could be argued, I think, that Stephenson’s body of work since Snow Crash has grown, possibly unconsciously but I doubt it, into an articulate response to Rorty’s concerns.

Alright, nuffadat. Hey, look — CBC’s Ideas is connecting with the bearers of Rorty’s flame. Podcast available here. Neal Stephenson is still an interesting guy, but his current interviews are muted affairs compared to days of yore. It happens to the best of us, sir.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Youth and young manhood: the Dostoevsky connection

“We read to know we are not alone.”*

We read for all sorts of other reasons, of course, but when I was in my 20s this was a sentiment I largely ascribed to.
One of these books is not like the others...
For a number of years Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales From An Accelerated Culture fit the bill rather neatly. The conversation among the characters was recognizably akin to the conversations I was having with my contemporaries. Certainly the concerns were identical. I’ve lost track of how many times I read that book, or gave it away to friends. My friends seemed to dig it too.

It’s been a bunch of years since I last read it, and I think the copy I currently own was purchased in a used book store. I gave it a glance before writing this. It’s fair to say my relationship to the book has changed. There is a self-conscious performance aspect to the writing that gets in the way of my entering the story anymore.

***

I also read Dostoevsky in my 20s (full disclosure: only Crime & Punishment and The Karamazov Brothers). The narratives seemed taffied into existence from a primordial present. I loved the interminable nights, running from house to house, encountering a lit lamp on a table, feverish conversations in a parlour or back alley, passions that could hardly be contained or expressed through words alone. I could recognize those nights from my youth. I knew my parents were familiar with those nights, as were my grandparents and generations more. I knew I was not alone.

***

This past weekend I retrieved my old copy of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. I worried I might experience the sort of disappointment I felt with Generation X. Weirdly enough, although Stephenson’s writing is arguably “cooler” than Coupland’s (how deep is a reader’s emotional attachment to the protagonist hero likely to get when the guy is named “Hiro Protagonist”?) I felt more at home re-reading Snow Crash than I did re-reading GenX.

And I think it’s because Stephenson’s old book shares an unexpected kinship with Dostoevsky.

More anon — hopefully soon.
An uncanny resemblance?
*Man, this is one of those “So-and-so sez” quotes. In this case it’s usually attributed to C.S. Lewis, but nobody bothers to indicate just where he wrote or said these words. That’s because “C.S. Lewis” says them in Shadowlands, the fictional play and film loosely based on Lewis’s marriage to Joy Davidman. And in the film the sentiment doesn’t even originate with Lewis — a young man he encounters says, “My father says, (etc)” and Lewis repeats the line later in the movie. When I first saw the movie in '93 I was pretty sure I’d heard the line before, so I went to the Metro Reference Library and spent a lunch hour trying to track it down. Bartlett’s and Co. failed me, so until someone corrects me attribution goes to playwright William Nicholson.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Promissory notice

“When I was nineteen I shared an apartment in Manhattan with jazz singer Annie Ross, and it led to my doing something I now wish I hadn’t”Artist in Residence by Lawrence Levy is the best thing I’ve read this week.
Count Basie and Annie Ross, twistin' the night away in '62
As for me, the words were simply not cooperating. I’m hoping to do a shallow dive through some of the books that spoke to me in my 20s, so please — don’t touch that dial!

Friday, November 15, 2019

Option paralysis vs. three knobs that work

“Option paralysis” is a term I first heard in the guitar world. It’s usually applied to digital amplifiers with enormous “under the hood” menus — menus that don’t just include the usual knobs you’ll find on most amps, but also EQ parameters, noise-gates, pedal models by the dozens if not hundreds, and a whole lot more besides.
"Kay, um ... 'power on'?"
My brother adroitly navigates these fields and gets sounds exceedingly pleasing. But boy oh boy — not me. When I start monkeying around in these fields I get tones that don’t appeal to anyone.

And I can recognize what’s happening. It’s similar to when I started making soup, in my 20s — I threw in WAY TOO MUCH STUFF. The trouble was, when the broth started tasting “off,” which it did from the git-go, I kept adding things until it gelled into a sludge of indigestible goo.

A friend finally invited me to his kitchen and gently straightened me out. “Pour a pot of water. Then start with three ingredients, and work your way up to five,” he said. “Salt and pepper don’t count, but other herbs and spices do.”

I have two amps — a small digital plug-and-play practice amp (with an “under the hood” menu I do not touch) and a 50 watt performance amp with three dials. Should I finally be made bold to perform with others I may add a pedal or two to the latter.
Decisions, decisions...
Currently Amazon, Apple, Disney and HBO are keen for my attention. Most days I’d rather sit with my wife and watch The British Baking Show, some basketball (her preference) or hockey (mine), maybe a little baseball. When we resort to separate screens I warm up a video game. Hey, I will admit Amazon’s The Man In The High Castle piques my curiosity. But it can’t possibly compete with The Outer Worlds.

The Outer Worlds — kinda works against my “you only need three knobs” rule, I realize. But I wonder what the “three knobs rule” looks like in this age of media option paralysis? On Netflix, which we finally subscribed to for the family, it boils down to Brooklyn Nine Nine, Star Trek TOS and Jeopardy (because we want Alex to make a full recovery).

BNN is, really, the only “new” content in the bunch. The elder urchin introduced us. Lite, affirmational, funny — to my delight it is, as she claimed, the Get Smart for the current millennium.
Three knobs at work.
I meander. Be well. And if you’ve got three knobs working well for you, lemme know woncha?

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Coach is cornered

Well . . . he painted himself there, more like. If only someone — a concerned fan, maybe — had said something sooner. Related: broadcasters — right across the spectrum — who bet on hockey are hemorrhaging money.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Link-love

Let's start with the fun!
  • The Church of Roger Ebert presents The Best Films of the '10s. I'll admit at the outset that I am ambivalent about most of the entries (at least, the ones I've seen for myself). The inclusion of Mad Max: Fury Road probably best embodies my dis-ease. I was initially blown away by it, but on subsequent re-viewings have become a bit more circumspect in my opinion.
  • Choices I would fervently second include Inside Llewyn Davis, Under The Skin and The Wolf of Wall Street, this last if only because of its profound influence on Millennial lads (to Scorsese's apparent chagrin).
  • Grievously overlooked: Denis Villeneuve's Sicario, a wildly uneven and super-preachy B-movie that slipped in some deeply visceral thrills, thanks in no small part to the late Jóhann Jóhannsson's disturbing soundtrack. I think up-and-coming film-makers will be borrowing from this movie in the same way kids aped Saving Private Ryan, back in the day.
  • That's right. Sicario. One of The Best. I am willingly going on record with this sentiment. Know why? Because Phil, that's why.
  • Alright, more seriously: Constanze Stelzenmüller recalls November 9, 1989 and the subsequent decades. A long read, which left me deeply moved.
And finally, Joel informs me that 'How do you do, fellow kids' has become the 'How do you do, fellow kids' of memes. Back in 2017! Silly kids! Don't they know:

“Meme Wars, nothing but Meeeeeeeme Wars...”

My friend works around the corner from a BMV outlet. I’m green with envy, I love those stores. Anyway he’s become tight with the guy who manages this particular outlet. He commented to the manager on the apparent overabundance of Chomsky titles on the shelves. The manager said, “Yeah, I’ve stopped taking them in trade.”

“Nobody reads Chomsky anymore?”

“It’s more like Chomsky’s been integrated on a cellular level — at least where his theories on politics and the media are concerned.”

Critical Theory Osmosis, in other words.

I think that’s about right. Kids have a complete distrust of any media in which they are not active participants. But critical osmosis, like religious/philosophical osmosis, is a very instinctual working-with-primary-colours business. So where Chomsky tirelessly collated data to support his sustained critique of western geopolitical power plays, the kids reach for the memes.

A blanket over-generalization. Shame on me, Prajer.
Funny because it’s “true”?
I am dissatisfied with last week’s post and disappointed with myself for posting it.

It is wishy-washy and vague in its endorsements, and gestures breezily in the direction of closure, where in fact none exists. My best defence of it is the only one, which I gave to my wife — I posted it to keep track of how and why I am thinking the way I currently do.

Personally, the most distressing change under the aegis of 45 is the deterioration of public discourse — his game brings down everyone else’s. Just one example — Ron Rosenbaum.

The influence Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler has had on me is incalculable. Here are two ways to frame it: 1) when I finished the book my hermeneutics of suspicion, which after 500 years of watching Anabaptist family getting burned at the stake and worse is pretty freakin’ deep, got just a little deeper; 2) Rosenbaum helped me appreciate anew just how tenuous a proposition it is for the little guy to take a principled stand in the roiling, bloody tides of history.

He wrote a terrific book, in other words. He layered historical record with anecdote and personal observation to deeply persuasive effect. Vanity Fair, LARB, NYT, Lapham’s Quarterly, etc — the prestige press loved to print him, and for good reason.

Cut to a quick Google search, and it looks like he hasn’t had anything published by these people in the last two years. I’ve got the bad feeling he’s too busy on Twitter. ALL CAPS, spelling missteaks . . . O Captain! My Captain! Your game, sir — your game.

Alright, back to last week’s post.

This link and this link (followed by this interview) were ultimately dissatisfying for the same reasons my post was (see above).

This link, on the other hand, achieved penetration and has me cogitating, hopefully in helpful directions.

It’s what I’d like all my posts to achieve. Can’t be done, of course. The best I can manage — or try to manage — is to keep track of my own thoughts and feelings, while keeping my head in the game.
Along with posting the occasional Wittgenstein meme.

Friday, November 01, 2019

“As we deal with this distressing reality we need to remember who we are and where we come from.”

Keeping track of who is wringing hands over what is becoming an increasingly fraught and splintered concern. Moreover, my impression of The Youngs is they view any “Hey, wait a minute(s)” as gauche posturing, at best. But hey — I’m 55, and I’ve been too clever by half for most of those years.  am wringing my hands, and here is who I am keying into for some perspective on this fact.

Let’s start with the whopper: Eric Weinstein yacks with Brett Easton Ellis, here.

Alright, now the caveats: this is where I have always been re: BEE. As for Weinstein I knew little about him going into the conversation, but reflexively consider anyone tight with Peter Thiel as guilty by association (we all have our prejudices).

Right out of the gate I found them both insufferable — I can be polite to cats like this, but cultivating any sort of friendship would take some doing. And yet I invited them along on a two-hour drive, and never kicked them out of the car. Short version: they circle around some of my own ambivalence with the current cultural roil, without landing satisfactorily on how best to discern a path that might lead through it. Money quote goes to Weinstein: “I am anti- anti-anti-Trump.” Well, there we are, then!

This is the larger provocation: Jon Baskin yacking with Justin E.H. Smith, over here. Although I should back up a bit — larger than that is the piece that led up to it, JEHS’s It’s All Over. But this early quote from Off the Wave is what launched me into them both:
In 1968, student activists had occupied the facilities of the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt. Theodor Adorno was corresponding about this with his colleague Herbert Marcuse, who was in sunkissed Californian exile, and Marcuse was saying, Come on! Let the kids express their political will, it’s good to have this sort of turnover. And Adorno was like, What are you talking about? I spent my life building this Institute up, it means everything to me, and these kids don’t value it, they think I’m just some old man. And how can you, my old friend, tell me that that’s something I should just bow to, as if all of our work meant nothing. 
It’s so poignant, and what I found shocking when this correspondence between Adorno and Marcuse was circulating recently — it was before I left Facebook so it must have been three years ago now — was that all of my academic colleagues who were roughly my age were at least publicly saying “yeah, Marcuse!” To a person, the Facebook crowd at least pretended to gather under the banner of Marcuse and to disdain Adorno’s stance and in general his whole old-man vibe. 
One doesn’t want to share in that old-man vibe and die of a heart attack after a student protester shows us her breasts, or whatever the contemporary equivalent would be, but one also doesn’t want to abandon years of work and a whole critical-theoretical framework just because it’s fallen out of fashion. So, how to navigate between those two hazards?
I initially read the exchange and thought Smith was misrepresenting Adorno as some variety of conservative. I am only glancingly familiar with Adorno, buuuut (checks the Wiki one last time) let me make one thing perfectly clear — Nixon hated Adorno. Or he would have if the prof was anywhere on Nixon’s radar (no member of the Silent Majority, he).

After reading It's All Over I am committed to re-reading Off the Wave. Smith is unquestionably better versed in Adorno than I will ever be, so “conservative” cannot possibly be what Smith is invoking. Still, was Adorno truly gored by one horn of the dilemma while his buddy Marcuse jauntily leaned against the other? It seems to me that Adorno was desperately searching for the elusive Third Way, much the same way Smith seems anxious to find his own in these perilous times.
In either case, kudos for introducing me to this GIF.
The answer, as my late mentor/SF-superfan/friend to my father was keen to say, lies in further study. The letters between Adorno and Marcuse evoke a remarkable moment of drama from the past well worth digging into, and I am grateful to Smith and Baskin for the introduction.

More than that, if you have not yet read It’s All Over please do so — it’s not too late (or is it?).

The blog-heading is the conclusion to T Bone Burnett’s anecdote from this post. His particular mode of remembrance takes the form of dour Episcopalian renunciation set to a sonic invocation of his beloved Skyliner Ballroom of yore. His truest self-expression might be The Invisible Light, but I think his very best is Gregg Allman’s penultimate studio album Low Country Blues.

“Remember who we are and where we come from” — an injunction that once again gets me queueing the voices of René Girard and Ivan Illich. During the 90s, the mandarins of Academia robustly dismissed both as pig-headed conservators of the patriarchy. Girard seems not to have lost much sleep over the matter, while Illich retreated in wounded silence. Both insisted they had been grievously misread. If Peter Thiel is any indication, that particular tradition continues apace.

Forward in all directions, then.

*Thiel is an interesting guy to contemplate. His reverence for Girard and Tolkien seems acidly ironic — both, I believe, would be appalled by some of the directions he took while ostensibly under the influence of their theories and narratives. Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein, on the other hand, not so much.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Letter to Alberta, plus a few others who might be stewing over last night's results

The election results were pretty much what I expected. The good news is everyone is disappointed. The bad news is Alberta is REALLY disappointed.
"Ontario? AGAIN?? I gotta mulch leaves, get my mind off things..."
So this, for my hurtin’ Albertans, is my gentle attempt to explain why things went the way they did.

Your guy — that would be Andrew Scheer, the Conservative who did the expeditious thing and spoke frankly about matters of religious conviction, just minutes before the clock struck midnight and white Canadian voters realized, “Hey, I’m actually a ‘None!’” — torpedoed his own ship in Quebec when he spoke frankly about matters of moral and legal conviction and announced he would launch a judicial inquiry into allegations of graft and corruption regarding SNC-Lavallin.

The rest of Canada thinks this is important; Quebec voters think so too, 180 degrees differently from the rest of Canada.

But just meditate on that before you get your tits in a twist over how blindingly obvious it is that Quebec voters are delusional idiots. For them it’s about jobs and the local economy. Similarly, there is a matter about which Albertans think 180 degrees differently from the rest of Canada, and it relates to Alberta’s jobs and local economy. So please bear in mind that even Elizabeth May’s Alberta stumping never included the words, “I will launch a judicial inquiry into the unseemly influence the oil industry has over politics in this province.”

Scheer should have known better. I have to believe that someone in his entourage DID know better and flagged it before he took the podium. If Scheer is smart — i.e., if he can learn — he will promote that person and send everyone else to the doghouse.

With Quebec effectively removed from Tory support, it was left to Ontario’s 905 to swing the vote Scheer’s way. The needle moved — a bit, but not in any way that Conservatives should construe as “promising.”

I’d call it a soft stonewalling. And Albertans can thank the Ontario Conservative Party for the results.

I have a friend from the 905 — a woman, about my age — who became a member of the provincial Conservatives during the last leadership run. This was a first. She did it because a) she was passionate about removing the Ontario Liberals from power, b) the front-runner in her team was a competent politician of long-standing whom she could get behind — who was also, it just so happened, a woman; and c) most importantly, there were rumours Doug Ford was crouching in the wings, waiting to jump in at the last minute and take leadership, and to her this was absolutely unthinkable.

We all know how that turned out.

Ever since then my friend gets daily emails plus loads of high-grade paper stuffed into her mailbox haranguing her with #TrudeauMustGo. And every single one of those missives is an airhorm blast to the face reminding her just how pathetically her party’s elite regard her actual participation and concerns. Yesterday the options for her were — once again — hold your nose and vote for the party lummox, or just stay home.

And so, my Albertan friends plus my dozen or so chums who habitually vote PC, until the Tories sit back and collect a clue or two, the bull-headed louts you put forward for voter consideration will have trouble defeating Trudeau fils. My ten cents? Book Rona Ambrose on the speaker circuit tout de suite and clean your ears before you attend.

As for the rest of my tree-hugging-anarcho-commie-mealy-mouthed-Liberal-sex-positive coterie who accuse me of giving ammo to the enemy — this is about raising the entire game. If you can’t understand why people find your opponents appealing while you only see them as appalling, then you are just a pawn being played.

Which, you know, is fine — I guess. People sure do seem to enjoy that sort of thing.

Post-script: the inaugural Whisky Prajer Pulitzer for coverage of Canadian politics goes to the New York Times, which has done a much better job of covering our politics than they are doing covering their own.

P.P.S.: I have Albertan friends who don't vote PC. I'd apologize to you but you don't need me to, so: thanks!

Friday, October 18, 2019

High Weirdness, take 1.5

Take 1.
When I was a teenager I had a recurring nightmare. I was in the parish hall of our episcopal church. We were all lined up around the wall, and at the far end of the church I could see these men all dressed in black. They were removing everyone’s right hand and putting on an electronic hand that would be everyone’s brain. I’d wake up from that dream petrified, in a cold sweat. I didn’t know what it was about, until a few years ago — I walked into a coffee shop and saw everybody staring into their hands. And I realised, oh, they didn’t have to cut off our hands, they just put it into our hands... 
T Bone Burnett, in conversation with Tom Power
Back in '97 I was a purchaser for a deceptively staid-looking independent bookstore (during that almost forgotten era when “independent bookstore” weren’t words that needed saying). I sat with publisher reps and went over their catalogues, tagging stuff I thought might be just off-beat enough to escape notice among the neighbourhood competition but still close enough to this side of the edge to catch the discerning eye of our regular customers. A super-fun gig, needless to say.

My favourite part was always the close, when the rep would say, “So was there anything you’d like a closer look at?”

One title that caught my eye had been in the seasonal catalogues for quite a while, its publication date perpetually TBA. “Any chance you could get me the pre-pub of this?”

The rep looked where I was pointing and raised an eyebrow. “Oh — you like the weird stuff.”
If you say so.
When Davis’ book finally arrived I tucked in. I thought he did a terrific job of deep-diving into some of the more disturbing possibilities Neal Stephenson had raised in Snow Crash. Techgnosis was, I thought, the most tuned-in guide to our immediate present and near future. Time has only reaffirmed this belief.

Last night I finished High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies, Erik Davis’ most recent book.

I was in an office waiting room. It was the end of the day. The building custodian came in, made the rounds and locked various cabinets and doors. Then he left and I was alone.

At the office’s sole window I stared into the night sky, then down at the city street below. I felt grateful — for the book, for Davis. In fact I was having some trouble keeping the tears at bay.

It seemed to me that at some point during the making of this book — essentially Davis’ doctoral dissertation given a haircut and a touch of lipstick — the realisation that he was performing an elegy must have sunk in and gutted him.

During the late 70s and early 80s the figureheads Davis explores — the McKenna brothers, Robert Anton Wilson, and Philip K. Dick — wrote the sort of stuff you had to send away for (money orders only!). The whole ritual of entrusting the postal service with your paper-route money added to the pulp exoticism on offer.

When Blade Runner came out in '82 it was evident Dick was in the ascendant, while the other two waited in the wings. In the 90s Terence McKenna surfed into GenX awareness via the rave scene. And although RAW died in relative obscurity, his fame/infamy is growing exponentially in the current memetic yeast infection we're enduring.

We are no longer talking about the fringes.
Wilson’s largely optimistic visions are still going concerns for transhumanists, as well as some of our Silicon Valley overlords. For most of us, however, such talk has become about as inspiring as a styrofoam cup of Soylent. These days it is Wilson’s earlier portraits of warring conspiracies, memetic mind control, and chaotic reality breakdown that are proving, if anything, more prophetic. The sort of hard pranking represented by Operation Mindfuck has now become an ordinary tool of politics, publicity, and self-promotion. With their deployment of Pepe the Frog in the run-up to the 2016 election, the alt.right promulgated “meme magick” with a familiar Discordian mix of tactical nonsense, anonymous authorship, politicized media, and arcane esotericism. 
Today, as memetic noise eats consensus reality, and conspiracy thinking is weaponized by parties across the political spectrum, a sort of existential vertigo has opened up beneath our feet. What once felt like “the world” has shattered into an incompatible chaos of contradictory, engineered, and disturbing reality tunnels. Ontological anarchism increasingly seems like a pragmatic response, weird realism that keeps you on your toes  Erik Davis
You wanna visit Chapel Perilous? Check your right hand — you're already soaking in it.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog by James Sire

Another book I binned, probably about ten years ago. But I kept it close when I left Toronto in '84.

It was required reading in a required course — Western Thought and Culture, or “Western Cult and Torture,” yok-yok — that was slotted first thing Monday morning. A triple strike.

I fared as poorly in this class as I did in the others, but I tried a little harder. The subject matter was of interest, and professor John Franklin was a gently engaging sort whose egalitarian approach to all questions asked was somewhat at odds with the Evangelical culture that surrounded and employed him.

My recollection of those classes is very hazy, but one morning stood out. A student managed to sidetrack discussion of what we were supposed to have read by asking how best to divine the will of God for one’s life. Franklin responded that he believed the will of God was the same for all people — to do justice, seek mercy and and walk humbly. Matters like “Whom should I marry?” or “Is God calling me across the seas?” were best decided by applying as much common sense as people could muster in the given circumstances.

Applying common sense — what a thought.

For some reason I kept Sire’s book at hand, even after tossing all the others. I’d struggled with it originally, then just gave up. It was my first encounter with dialectic philosophy, and frankly I wasn’t up to it.
Other titles from that era: honestly, how could either dialectics or piety
possibly compete with the capers of Tarzan and Queen Nemone?
After my year among the girls (sic) I figured I was done with post-secondary. A friend got me a job at a camera store. It was menial work with fun people, and it gave me some hope that this business of being an adult might actually not suck.

I was done with post-sec, but remained keen on self-improvement. It behooved me, I thought, to read difficult books. Sire’s book had been difficult — I’d fallen off the bike once; it was time to get back on.

I read him while taking the bus to and from work. And for whatever reason, this time the book clicked. “A basic worldview catalog” — yes, that was it exactly. All these inexplicable, yet common, points of view made explicable — and set in clarifying contrast to my own. It really did feel like the windows of perception were opening on “the universe next door.”

Reading Sire gave me such a jolt of confidence in my newly discovered capacity as a critical reader, I abruptly changed my mind about post-sec and at the last minute re-enrolled in university. This time I eschewed both the religious and the practical and opted instead for critical — literature, philosophy, some theory. And for the first time in my life I earned grades I was proud of.

Eight years later, back in Toronto, a friend visiting my suite noticed the book. “James Sire,” she said. “I’m interviewing him next month!” She worked the religious-journalism beat on a cable TV show. Sire’s title was then in its third or fourth edition, with bonus material on the then-prevalent New Age movement, and he was coming to town to bang the gong.

“Could you get him to sign my copy of The Rebel?” I asked.

That got a laugh. In fact I was giving my proposition serious consideration. At the conclusion of her visit, though, both Sire’s and Camus’s books remained on the shelf.

It was meant to be a soft interview. Sire was not someone who needed rocking on his heels, and asking him to sign for Albert Camus could only have been seen as a pissily ironic gesture on my part.

But Sire had indeed pointed me toward Camus — the Absurdist philosopher was one of many whom Sire attempted to call into account in his brief “catalog.” In the summer of '85 I thought, hooray, Sire wins the argument! But Sire concluded his book by saying not only that he was under no delusions he’d settled any arguments, but that he hoped his readers would follow his example, roll up their sleeves and engage in deeper study of the matters he’d raised.

James Sire’s catalog lit the fire within at a time when the spark was beginning to fade, and for that I am in his, and John Franklin’s, debt.

Friday, October 04, 2019

TRADITION! (It's kind of a big deal)

An Anglican aquaintance of remarkably good humour once related his frustration with serving on the board of a local “Non-Denominational Bible College” (NDBC). “We were spending all this time talking about bringing in more students by broadening our appeal. And I finally spoke up and said, ‘You can’t. It’s already too broad — you’ve got no specificity of direction. You’re not offering any particular theological or intellectual tradition for potential students to integrate and build from. At best all you’ve got is an emphasis on piety, and that’s less a tradition than it is a posture. You need something with a deeper historical embeddedness to offer students, otherwise all you’ve got is a vague offer for a parentally sanctioned finishing school. And it reads.’”

I thought back to my single, academically disastrous, year at a NDBC in Toronto. Piety as posture, in the absence of an integrated intellectual tradition — I could not have come up with a more spot-on summary.

Not that I could have identified any sort of intellectual tradition had it bit me on the ass.
Now this is more like it!
The deal with our parents was, upon graduating high school, one year in a Christian post-secondary school — geographical and denominational concerns were moot.

My siblings and I focused on geography. Our choices as 18-year-old kids offer a surprisingly enduring thumbnail of our temperaments. My sister flew to the UK, my brother to a remote island off the west coast. In 1983 Toronto still had the remnants of a punk scene, so I went there.

I didn’t see a single punk concert. But my intellectual tradition took root in Bakka Books and Silver Snail Comics, and an independent record store whose name I no longer recall. As well as my aunt’s basement — she and her husband, a United Church minister, had a VCR and encouraged me to charge movies to their account at the local video store.

I don’t know what else to say about the school, except that I felt like an alien there — a feeling that went away, temporarily, on Saturday mornings when I had a dormitory lounge to myself where I could turn on the b&w TV and watch Star Trek reruns.

Toward the end of the year I came to know a guy down the hall from me. We shared an appreciation for Talking Heads. He returned from a weekend at home and presented me with a tape recording of The Name Of This Band Is. He became That Guy In College Who Introduced Me To Music. David Lindley, Ry Cooder, Laurie Anderson, Weather Report, T Bone Burnett, and a reconsideration of Steely Dan that flipped the switch for me.

A lifelong friend who introduced me to other lifelong friends.

Anyway, courses were failed, and home summoned. I boxed up my belongings, said goodbye to the roommate, and returned to the prairies, leaving my textbooks behind — except for one.

Friday, September 27, 2019

“There’s somethin’ happening here...”

Depressed resignation: more common among Gen-X than Millennials.
My daughters will be involved in today’s proceedings.

Toronto is an absolute pass for me — just watching coverage of the Raptors’ victory parade was enough to trigger my agoraphobia. I am giving the local happening some consideration. We will see. I am increasingly chary about groups of any sort — to my own substantial detriment, I’m sure.

I marched when Reagan ramped up rhetoric and ICBM production, and again when Trudeau Senior permitted cruise missile testing in our hinterlands. Both gatherings reminded me so viscerally of the revival meetings of my youth that I declared my second march to be my last.

I was also taken aback by the extraneous agendas being brought to the protests. On the face of it the thousands who showed up were united in one common concern — no nukes. But the group ahead of mine was carrying a large “Pro-Choice” banner, while another banner further back read “Pro-Life.” I wondered what it might take for everyone to at least admit reproductive control is a variegated concern? Then I wondered, why is this a front-of-the-queue question at a no-nukes rally?

Any club that will have me...

*****

Last week my wife and I threw out a bunch of books. Among them was her late father’s copy of My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers. We gave it consideration, as we do all books facing the bin. But c'mon: neither of us was ever going to refer to it. The title alone conjured sawdust floors, sweaty faces and disturbed sleep patterns — and for what? Buh-bye.
Like many of his contemporaries, Chambers was obsessed with the question of the individual’s autonomy and power. He was full of the 19th-century complaint against modernity, a complaint focused on the Industrial Revolution, which, in sending people en masse into factories and offices, had reduced them to “cogs in a machine.” He bemoaned the “commercialized” existence of modern men, for whom money seemed to determine worth. He distrusted the various political and philosophical ideologies that seemed to demand total allegiance from their followers — ideologies like nationalism, capitalism, socialism, communism, Darwinism, positivism, progressivism, rationalism, and scientism. 
Also and equally, he was against the religious ideologies that seemed to shut out science and rationality in the name of blind or unthinking faith. As a student of philosophy, he had an acute awareness of the mind’s tendency to be led astray by its own ideas and perceptions, to “believe its own beliefs,” and he was suspicious of the kind of charismatic leaders who, through “propagandistic” teaching or preaching, sought to win converts to their agendas. 
In short, Chambers’s vision of the individual was of a creature who was all too easily enslaved, by forces both external and internal. His vision of society was equally harsh: It was “civilization, organization, and Churchianity,” and it needed to be “smashed.”
That’s Macy Halford, who cultivated her consideration of Chambers' book into one of her own — My Utmost: A Spiritual Memoir. Halford's book received a glowing NYT review from Carlene Bauer, whose final paragraph appeals directly to my own sensibilities:
Halford acknowledges that growing up evangelical can make one feel that one has inherited a traditionless tradition. With “My Utmost” she reminds those of us who might have once dismissed Chambers as just another bewhiskered eminence that in this traditionless tradition there lives a man who read Balzac, Emerson, Nietzsche, Wilde, Dickens, Darwin and others with ferocity and humility, confronting dissent rather than hiding from it. “I begin to notice with astonishment that I do not read in order to notice what I disagree with,” Chambers wrote in the last year of his life. “The author’s conclusions are of very little moment to me, what is of moment is a living mind competently expressed, that to me is a deep joy.” Such generosity of mind is just as worthy of celebration as unshakable faith.
Hey, was that the recycling truck? Wait, waaaait!

*****

I was clued into both links via Matt Cardin, who I was clued into via Erik Davis (“horror theologian”? Whut dat?), who linked to this interview. In one paragraph Cardin riffs off so many shared seminal influences — Peter Berger, Mircea Eliade, Lovecraft, Huston Smith, Alan Watts, RAW plus sleep paralysis? — it felt like I’d caught a glimpse of “my best life” being lived by someone else in the very same cosmos.

Not at all so, of course, but I am grateful for the introduction and look forward to reading Cardin’s latest, To Rouse Leviathan.
I hope to continue a little public thinking on ed-yoo-mah-CAY-shun. Until then, please reduce, reuse and recycle. And don't be too quick to throw out that old book.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Nudged to reconsider: the film criticism of Scout Tafoya

I am enjoying the film criticism of Scout Tafoya, posted largely (but not exclusively) at RogerEbert.com.

Tafoya is doggedly contrarian, though not (for the most part) out of principle but out of emotional conviction. He seems to sincerely dig the grottiest material — e.g., standing up for It Chapter 2, or favouring the films of Rob Zombie to the current critical darling Ari Aster.

Similarly, long after I thought I'd given up on director Walter Hill (a youthful fling in my early days as a cineaste), Tafoya nudged me to give The Assignment a viewing. Were I to adopt the five-star rating system of the RogerEbert site, I'd say The Assignment struggled to make it to "3." Still, I don't begrudge the viewing — Tafoya makes excellent points and properly assays the intellectual integrity of Hill's contemporary efforts.

In other words, unlike most of what the web throws at me, Tafoya persuades me to reconsider. Now go on and put a price on that.

Post-Script: I do feel compelled, like my friend Joel, to stress that "reconsideration" does not equal "conversion." Just one example: I will agree with Tafoya (and Ebert before him) that Rob Zombie's aesthetic is uniquely effective. But I can't say I get anything like the sense of release and catharsis that Tafoya experiences. More than that, I greatly prefer Aster over Zombie. And if that makes me a snob, what accounts for Zombie's music on my Infernal Device?

P.P.S.: while I'm on the topic of dogged contrarians: another alternative review I appreciated was Fabrizio del Wrongo's dismissal of Jordan Peele's Get Out, a film that seemed to garner universal adoration. Also: here is John Doyle encouraging us, "Don't be afraid of 'the worst show on Netflix'" (Neil LaBute's latest project, The I-Land).

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Link-love

Hey, if you enjoyed my thoughts on Arthur S. Maxwell’s The Bible Story (and even if you didn’t) speed over to Phil Christman’s thoughts on The Hebrew Bible: Translation and Commentary by Robert Alter. I have linked to this before, it is just that good.

And while you’re at it, here’s Phil on writin’ — a piece that has received, deservedly, a LOT of link-love. Oh, and buy his book! Phil’s a guy I first encountered during the halcyon days of Peak Blogging and I am yoojly chuffed to see his current work receiving excellent attention. Excelsior, dude!

Also:
  • “Perhaps I was conditioned by that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood trailer (did Hanks’ Mr. Rogers really have to sound so much like his Forrest Gump?)” — Juxtaposing Forrest Gump with Once Upon a Time ...in Hollywood, Kevin Dettmar delivers a review I wish I’d written.
  • Jacques Levy was, without question, a critical element to the phenomena of Bob Dylan’s The Rolling Thunder Review. And yet the Netflix/Scorsese “mock-u-rock-u-mentary” completely ignores him. Son Julien Levy puzzles over this — the sixties and seventies were a scene, man; due diligence to the scenesters, please! — and fills in some of the gap.

The Bible Story, by Arthur S. Maxwell, illustrated by various artists

I was recently tasked with clearing out a Sunday school shelf laden with teaching resources from generations past. Fated for the bin was a “display copy” of Arthur S. Maxwell’s The Bible Story, Volume One common to North American doctor’s offices in the mid-60s to early-70s. I took it home, snapped a few photos of the illustrations and posted them behind the blue-and-white velvet rope.
Below is the first picture I posted. Not sure who the artist is (illustrations are only occasionally credited), but I suspect it’s Herbert Rudeen. I captioned it, cheekily but not dishonestly, “My favourite page since I was a kid!”
"Whoa -- let there be Lights Out!"
Where Rudeen is rough, almost impressionistic, fellow painter Russell Harlan favours a velvety smoothness. Also, Harlan’s Eden clearly includes hairbrushes and safety razors.
Upon posting, a friend snarked, “Reassuring white children that the first two humans were white.” Very true — certainly that was my POV on the matter when I was a sprat. Once the narrative leaves Eden, however, the Maxwell biblical characters take on skin-tones and garb that are roughly approximate to the ethnicities that originally produced these stories. It’s a curious juxtaposition.
Nor does Maxwell stint on any biblical violence.
Perhaps the white-washing of Eden is an unconscious outcome of the story's intrinsic appeal? Certainly the Eden story is something children insert themselves into quite naturally. From the giddy joys of scampering around without a stitch of clothing, to doing something you were expressly told not to do, to suffering the consequences — this is every child’s origin story.
Including those whose skin-pigment renders them the colour of margarine.
But the biblical narrative slides into trickier territory pretty quickly after that. Noah’s Ark — another story kids love. Put all the animals in a big wooden boat, keep them safe! But the sons of God coupling up with the fairest of human women — how do you explain that?

On this matter and many others, Maxwell performs a parental dodge:
It is hard to understand how such things could have happened such a short time after creation, and such a little way from all the peace and harmony of Eden. Yet it is not uncommon even today for boys and girls to be cross and unruly right after church. Some can become real little pests just as soon as a nice picnic is over. It doesn’t take long for some to forget kindness and love that they should remember forever.
Maxwell strives always to keep the moral of the story (as he perceives it) clear, even during the Bible’s most viscerally irregular moments. Jehovah’s smiting of Aaron’s two sons during the first sacrifices in the brand-new tabernacle, for instance, falls under the heading “Two naughty boys.” Kids, be grateful for your spankings!

Returning to the visual contrast — though Maxwell endeavours to make the narrative relatable to his young listeners/readers, there remains a historic and aesthetic distance to bridge, to say nothing of culture. The aesthetic results are, to modern eyes, uncomfortably superficial. In effect the pictures declare, The sandals and bathrobes and tea-towels — are we not all victims of fashion, finally?
Approachable, sure -- but would it kill him to try on some pants?
We return to the opening pages of Maxwell’s tomes, to the present — in this case, 1954.
Blue-jays! Even better than the lowly sparrow!
Bucolic kitsch, not that far removed from Harlan’s depiction of Eden. Except — the “present” appears to be more integrated than our shared biblical past was. And remember — we’re talking 1954.
The neighbours!
Or perhaps I am getting ahead of myself — judging (again) by fashion, some illustrations appear to have been inserted a decade or two after the initial release of Maxwell’s The Bible Story.
Skirt-lengths will vary, but the kimono transcends all eras.
"Erm, that's right, little brother -- the Bible does say 'Scram!'"
Anyway, thus began my education. From the age of five to nine I heard these stories told this particular way on a near-daily basis at home, at school and at Sunday School.

And I dug the pictures — some more than others.
...say, she kinda looks like our Sunday School teacher...