Monday, July 06, 2020

Independence/in dependence

When I was a five-year-old I wished our family was American.

I told my father. He said: “We are American — we’re North American!”

Hogwash. America had a beautiful flag. Ours was weird. The Maple Leaf? What was that supposed to mean to a kid parked in the butt-end of Manitoba? The only Maple we had was Manitoba Maple — a weed more than a tree, really.

America had a great national anthem. Canada’s paled in comparison. “With glowing hearts we see thee rise” — those words didn’t make a lick of sense to a five-year-old. “But the rocket’s red glare/The bombs bursting in air” — that was more like it!

Five-year-olds in 1970 were well aware that America had all the good television. Before we got to the spectacular razzle-dazzle of Sesame Street we had to sit though Chez Hélène, The Friendly Giant, Mr. Dressup. Canadian five-year-olds didn’t have to take a nap in the afternoon — we’d been snoozing all morning.

Even sliced bread was more interesting in America than Canada. They had Snoopy on the bag!
Now, more than ever.
And although I did not understand precisely how this could be the case, I knew the reason why America was so snazzy in contrast to pallid Canada — they’d declared independence from Britain. Canada hadn’t. In fact, it wasn’t clear just what Canada’s relationship to Britain was. Except it was weird. In a boring way.

In 1970 the Kindergarten half-day began with us singing “O Canada” and concluded with us singing “God Save The Queen.”

“Mom, why does the Queen need saving? Is she sick in the hospital?”

“Well, that’s not really what ‘save’ means in this context . . .”

“Is it dangerous for her to live in Canada?”

“The Queen doesn’t live in Canada. She lives in London, England.”

“Then how is she the Queen of Canada?”

“She’s not the Queen of Canada, she’s . . . it’s complicated. You’ll understand when you get older. Say, isn’t it almost time for Mr. Dressup?”

Complicated? Actually, it was just plain weird. That was Canada, all the way around — weird, in a boring way.

Fifty years later our nation’s relationship with “Mother England” is still weird, but the history of it makes damnable sense. In 1870 my forebears understood the British were the ones making Canadian soil available to them for our families and farms. When they sang “God Save The Queen” they meant it. But Mennonites also have a long history of being driven off land that’s suddenly valuable to people with armies. 150 years later we’re coming round to the realization that perhaps Britain’s claims on our behalf and benefit were just a touch presumptive.

Americans gained independence. That’s clear thinking. I envied that.

But what are we ever, finally, independent of? What does manifest independence even look like, except an open grave? To be alive at all is to be in dependence of a dynamic network vastly beyond our capacity to ever fully apprehend.

“The digital age is built on the backs of runaway systems” — Jazzman Ted Gioia reflects on the wisdom of Gregory Bateson, extoller of the feedback loop.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Rattling in my brain pan

  • Emasculated: The problem of men writing about sex by Luke Brown (at TLS, here) has me mulling. 
  • “It is precisely because of my attachment to the power of data collection that I’m unconvinced video footage can solely, or even primarily, lead to meaningful change.” I am also mulling over Mimi Onuoha’s When Proof Is Not Enough: Throughout history, evidence of racism has failed to effect change at FiveThirtyEight, over here. I was struck by the phrase “meaningful change.” Hardly the first time I’ve encountered it, but it has me speculating just where meaning is to be found, or best cultivated, in these matters.
  • Shifts in consumer behavior have been gnawing away at the classic enclosed suburban mall format for many years; then the pandemic completely upended in-person shopping. Converting commercial real estate to housing may be the best use of land in such an over-retailed country. Big shopping centers tend to be centrally located and connected to transit.” The Dying Mall’s New Lease On Life: Apartments is Patrick Sisson’s proposal, at Bloomberg CityLab, here. Hey, maybe we can repurpose a few empty churches that way too?

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Jay Scott’s Vietnam

Re-reading Jay Scott nearly 30 years after his death in 1993, it is striking to see how forcefully he grappled with the Vietnam experience he saw depicted in the movies. It was, he acknowledged, invariably the American experience in Vietnam — and he sounded the alarm, again and again, on this reflexive solipsism, even as he recognized and applauded the necessity of its expression.

From my 2020 vantage point — as a man whose life now exceeds my role model’s by 11 years and counting — the intensity of Scott’s focus on these movies reads as the painstaking formation of a moral core, one which will not absolve Scott or his readers of guilt, but which nevertheless insists on an informed sense of mercy as well.

I currently do not see any of the remaining big critics writing at this level of ambition, with this degree of acknowledged shared humanity — though I am happy to be directed and corrected in this proclamation.

The text from the above photo:
To judge The Deer Hunter solely as a movie is to judge it an honourable failure with redemptive sequences of great power. But to judge it as part of a cultural process is quite another matter. 
As I watched the “God Bless America” conclusion, feeling slightly sickened by Cimino’s avoidance of a moral statement, I remembered a high school friend who left home the same time I did. I went to college. He went to Vietnam. We were friends, but we had argued — I enthusiastically, he reluctantly — about the war. I came home at Christmas in a jet. He came home in a shoe box. Hank was serious in his support of what we called the U.S. involvement. He has been dead for ten years. Now, a movie is weeping for him and for the thousands like him. It weeps in a way he, and they, would understand. One does not have to agree with The Deer Hunter to sympathize. One does not have to like it to recognize its value.  
February 17, 1979 

Friday, June 26, 2020

“When they said ‘repent’/I wonder what they meant?”

“I’ve seen the future, brother/It is murder.”
Paul gives consideration to a change of concerns, as he has experienced it, and casually flips-off the Gray Lady by conclusion.

I read it several times. Before I went to bed, I wrote down, “Jay Scott was the first celebrity death to hit me hard.”
What can I say? I'm a sucker for smoking jackets and turquoise jewelry.
When I got up this morning I expanded on that for a few pages. By the time I turned on the computer I realized one reason why Paul and I seem to be talking at cross-purposes is I am more reflexively prone to sentimentality, which might not be very helpful.

But let’s get it out and see what happens.

Thirty years ago Jay Scott was the chief reason I bought The Globe & Mail on Fridays and Saturdays. The chief reason, but hardly the sole reason. The Arts & Books section also ran weekly columns by Stan Persky, Robert Fulford, John Bentley Mays. Those are just the names I immediately recall. It frequently ran pieces by Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, John Irving, Timothy Findley — etc. The kids in short pants included Russell Smith, Lynn Crosbie, Mark Kingwell, Leah McLaren.

Scott stood out as a sensualist with a piercing intellect — a near perfect balance for a film critic. I wanted to write like Scott did, and not just about film — about everything.

Anyway, here we are. I won’t comment on my own writing except to say the stuff I’m proudest of feels to me like it attains something of what Scott was about.

This won’t be that. But I miss settling into my IKEA Eames knock-off, fresh coffee in one hand, newspaper in the other, positioning myself in the morning sunlight and perusing every single page of the Globe & Mail’s other sections before unfurling Arts & Books at the very end. All the other pages in the newspaper felt like a warm-up run for the main event.

I still have an Eames knock-off. Coffee is still a habit, and the Saturday Globe & Mail still has a section devoted to arts and books and tchotchkes and shit. They call it “Distractions” or something like that. Needless to say, it’s an emaciated version of what used to be.

If it were to fold, would I miss the Globe? Well ... kinda. My wife likes the crossword puzzle, and I enjoy pulling the page out of the newspaper for her, just before I bin the rest of it. But otherwise, no. Reading it just depresses me, and not only because it’s a shadow of its former self. I can tell where its writers are going within just a few sentences. The element of surprise is long gone, the potential of revelation rare to the point of near-extinction.

The truth is I already miss the Globe.

And I’m increasingly missing the New York Times.

The Globe, the Times — in the 90s it felt like I’d left the Sunday School classroom and arrived in another chamber where I could more freely explore what it felt like, and what it meant, to be alive at that particular moment. That earlier list of names — obviously the preponderance is largely male and entirely pasty-skinned. But it is also remarkably Queer, and seems at least pointed in a promising direction.

In this moment, to be alive is to feel the inexorable pull not to the Sunday School classroom, but someplace considerably less forgiving. And maybe that is where humanity is required to be at this particular moment. Our home and host has an astonishing capacity to forgive our transgressions against it, one we have long taken criminal advantage of. And this doesn’t begin to address people we have held in similar contempt. Humility, contrition and repentance are unfashionable words, but they seem to be what is called for.

Reading the newspaper pages, or social media blurts, I am not at all confident we have the foggiest idea what humility, contrition and repentance even look like. Never mind forgiveness. Or atonement — one of Madeleine L’Engle’s favourite words. At-one-ment,” she would stress, again and again.

Atonement. Maybe it looks like this?

Monday, June 22, 2020

Re: consideration of The Liberal Imagination

Bowman has nudged me to apply a little more rigour to the question of “Wither (sic) Liberalism?” To that end I’ve opened Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination with pen in hand, and begun filling the margins with all manner of 21st Century yap-back. I hope to post short, less yappy, considerations of Trilling’s critiques.
Lionel, amidst the detritus of neoliberalism
But let’s start with Louis Menand’s 2008 introduction to Trilling’s book (The Liberal Imagination was originally published in 1950). Menand makes note of Trilling’s intellectual dodge — Trilling never defines “liberal” or “liberalism” in any of the essays collected here. Menand reaches for Isaiah Berlin:
There are, as a matter of political theory, radically different types of liberals. There is, in Isaiah Berlin’s famous distinction, the liberal who believes in negative liberty, “freedom from,” and the liberal who believes in positive liberty, “freedom for.” There is the liberalism of markets and individualism, and there is the liberalism of planning and the collective.
Interesting to note how quickly Menand skates straight to the thin ice in that last sentence. When he wrote it, the '08 market crash had not yet happened — in fact NYRB’s reissue of The Liberal Imagination preceded the crash by exactly one week. Not a moment too soon. It’s 12 years later and “neoliberalism is DEAD!” is common parlance in the broadsheets. Personally, I’ve long had a firmer grasp of the “neo” than I ever did of the “liberalism” it commandeered and stripped for parts.

So the hat-tip to Berlin is helpful — the “freedom from”/“freedom for” dialectic still frames well, in my own experience, as you can see in my meandering conversation with Paul, both here and here.

Knee-jerk thought: Kids These Days, particularly the ones taking over the dying newspapers — to what degree are they conscious of this dialectic, if at all?

More anon. But if you’re the impatient sort, or if you’d rather pass on my artless treading of water and head straight to synchronized swimming, check out The Christian Humanist’s exploration of Trilling’s 1961 essay, “On The Teaching Of Modern Literature.”

Friday, June 19, 2020

Post-post-Bloom-script

June 19, Post-post-Bloom-script: now that I’ve read the three posts and followed most of the links included, I’m quite a bit cooler toward the project. Bloom’s audience and the ground they presumably share are somewhat at a remove with regards to my own concerns re: critical theory, etc. Still, my posture is why be choosy about the help you receive, if it is, in any way, actually helpful? I'll keep an eye on “Ay-Jay” and meditate further — maybe publicly! — on this piece.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Alan Bloom vs. Que Sera Sera

Further to my fretting over the health of the North American Liberal Tradition:
“You ever ask yourself, 'Just what is the freakin' point"??”
Alan Bloom is helpful.

“Critical Theory” is a dog-whistle that tends to get my fur up — as I was finishing up my undergrad I was made to understand this would increasingly be my focus were I to proceed any further. Buh-bye. I’ve subsequently blamed the academy’s failing health on its blind adherence to a po-mo hash of CT dogma.

Bloom’s consideration of CT and the problem with such generalizations dispels much of my long-held prejudice toward it.

Similarly the en vogue media concern with intersectionality. I could not articulate quite why I was uncomfortable with the model, aside from it placing me (as a SWM in his mid-50s) squarely in the locus of maximum culpability. Bloom notes, “The doctrine of intersectionality tends ... to focus on intersections that intensify but to ignore intersections that cancel each other out.” That is hardly the last word on intersectionality, but again — it’s helpful.

And, of course, he’s got this thing for demons. Man, that’s not a dog-whistle — that’s catnip!

More anon, I am sure...

Post-script: Bloom, being firmly in the “code or be coded” camp, constructed his very own blog template. Alas, it isn’t particularly great at archiving in sequential order. He’s got a lot on his plate, so with regards to his thoughts on critical theory I’ll go ahead and archive it myself over here: Post 1, Post 2, Post 3.

Monday, June 15, 2020

I read the news today. Oh, boy...

I read Ross Douthat on occasion, to give my liberalism a bit of a gut-check. I've never been much tempted to link to anything he's written. That changes today. The Tom Cotton Op-Ed & The Cultural Revolution: How Liberalism & The Liberal Media Are Changing Before Our Eyes is a cogent, even sensitive argument for the return of genuine liberalism to the newspaper page.

Matt Taibbi, on the other hand ... I have to reflexively check my impulse to link to just about everything he writes. Unlike Douthat, Taibbi isn't soft-shoeing around the issue. The American Press Is Destroying Itself, he says.

These two diverse voices seem to be in agreement. And I agree with them both.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The Great Emergence, Hiding In Plain Sight?

Like many other things we have noted, the tension toward changing things externally into new forms, as opposed to reworking them internally into what should be, has been a major characteristic of each of our previous hinge times and will continue to be part of our present one. The imperative for us in the twenty-first century, therefore, is not to fear either of the two coursings, but to fear with all our hearts and minds and souls the pattern of bloodiness that in the past has characterized the separation of innovators and re-traditioners from one another. 
Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why
‘People involved in Uzbek politics are accustomed to rumour and lies. It’s common practice to assume that all information is unreliable and all sources biased, which ensures that all rumours are taken seriously. Rumour is not automatically believed, of course, so much as it is shared, parsed, and discussed — sometimes far beyond what its dubious origins might merit. The result of ubiquitous paranoia is not disbelief. It is credulity. 
‘When all information is assumed fraudulent and all sources suspect, when your worst suspicions about your government are routinely confirmed and denied, when on-line communication — itself nebulous and malleable — is your only means of interaction, what do you do? You follow your principles . . . . But in Uzbekistan, following your principles often gets you nowhere. And there’s not much you can do about it.’ 
When I wrote this passage in 2011, I did not know that eight years later, I could substitute “America” for “Uzbekistan” and it would serve as an apt summary of Trump-era politics. 
Sarah Kendzior, Hiding In Plain Sight: The Invention Of Donald Trump & The Erosion Of America
It is a curious experience reading Phyllis Tickle’s charting of Christian response and re-formation in the 21st Century in concert with Sarah Kendzior’s charting of the US decline into gangster autocracy and civil dissolution.

Tickle is, as every person of faith is required to be, an optimist — albeit with an ability to acknowledge blunt realities. Kendzior is a flinty realist who cheerfully admits she’s lost all hope.

I’m midway through both, so commenting now is foolish of me. But you don't expect wisdom from me! So here I go.

I will admit I am more easily persuaded by Kendzior’s pessimism for the future of American democracy, or any possibility of democratic reform (forget about justice), than I am by Tickle’s sense of what shape the “emergent” Christianity might take.

What if this emergent Christianity simply . . .  doesn’t? Emerge, that is.

Repeat caveat — I am only halfway through Tickle’s book. But at this point she focuses almost exclusively on the corpus of Western Christianity. Maybe she delves deeper into other embodiments later, so bear with me.

Tickle says the Christian church holds a “garage sale” every 500 years or so to get rid of the arcana holding it back from properly addressing the concerns of the present. But what if the every-half-millennium “garage sale” — which jettisons modes and conceptual memes that no longer work in correlation with our species’ relation to its technologies and natural habitat — what if the current “garage sale” being organized sorts out the superfluousness of . . .

. . . Western Christianity?

Western Christianity has moved in lockstep with — and has largely aided and abetted, wittingly or no — the materialist mercantilism that has eroded our planet’s communities and ecosystem to the point of mutual ruination and collapse. Do we even have a coherent understanding of “community” or “stewardship” we could articulate at this point in our history?

My guess is (optimistic bastard that I am) there are other forms of Christianity more likely to emerge into something fungible for humanity at large. African and Chinese Christianity, to take just two examples, are, for starters, both more robust expressions of Christian community than anything you’ll find here — due in no small part to oppression and persecution that has occurred within living memory of these communities.

Anyhoo — thoughts that occur as we collectively chart the ever-widening gyre. More anon, I hope. Be well.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Meeting writers!

“You’re doing it anyway. Why not get a credit for it?”

This was my friend’s encouragement to go ahead and take the university’s sole Creative Writing class. The professor was Al Reimer.
1986, pretty much the way I remember him.
I had to submit an application. Our first meeting in his blue-carpeted office, Al quickly dispensed with how we were related (distantly, but definitively) then tucked into the pieces I’d dropped off. I was in.

The class took up an entire afternoon, one day a week — the longest class duration I’d experienced to that point. We needed the time, because that man was born to expound. If I approached him in his office for some between-class advice, the rest of the afternoon or morning disappeared. He’d ask a few questions about my larger family, then explain where they fit in with our village’s history. History was just a lofty name for gossip, he assured me. And boy, did he know history.

I recall the office visits with more clarity than I do his classes, to be honest. But he was adamant on one bit of instruction: introduce yourself to the Writer in Residence. Attend their readings, submit something you’re working on and book an appointment to discuss it. This wasn’t a course requirement, mind you. Just the best piece of advice we were likely to get that year.

The Writer in Res the first semester was poet Tom Wayman. My mates and I were in awe of the man before he even set foot on campus. Wayman — not merely a published poet, but an accessible one. With a sense of humour! How was this guy not a regular in the New Yorker?, etc etc.

I arrived early to Wayman’s first reading, and took a seat near the wings — close enough to observe him carefully, as if he were some exotic egret in its natural habitat, but also within range of the exit, should any need arise for either of us to flee the scene.

Al walked in a few minutes later. Before he could introduce himself to Wayman, the poet bounded over with outstretched hand, effusively praising Al’s newly published novel, My Harp Is Turned To Mourning. Al stammered a thank-you, then collected himself to return compliments for Wayman’s most recent collection. Exchange completed, Al surveyed the room, then sat beside me. “Well,” he murmured, “I was NOT expecting that!”

My eventual meeting with Wayman was a happy-enough occasion. As is the way with these things, the younger disciple approaches the master, and within a few minutes it becomes evident to both that this will not blossom into a lifelong epistolary friendship. When we settled to discuss the piece I’d dropped off, his opening statement stuck with me. “The first thing I want to say is, when I started this piece, I was in — I wanted to see where you were going, I wanted to finish it. You know what I’m saying? At no time did I ever NOT want to be reading it.

That struck me then, and still does, as remarkably high praise. This was my second year of university, and I was just beginning to discover a boatload of stuff I did not want to be reading.

When the year was over I bought Al’s novel. And at no point did I ever not want to be reading it. But I puzzled over how a guy like Wayman, a hippie-type from (to my eyes at that time) indeterminate ethno-cultural origins, could muster any interest whatsoever in a patently Mennonite novel. I finally figured, Wayman’s a savvy guy. He’s not just interested in Writing The Thing Itself, he’s keen to keep as many potential publishing doors as wide open as possible.

You never know where the next paycheque might come from, so you read, you compliment, you insinuate yourself as closely as you can to what could potentially be the next paying gig.

I was beginning to get an idea of just how much work was involved in “Being a Writer.”

Friday, May 29, 2020

Rattling in my brain-pan

  • Over at Sojourners Courtney Ariel lays down six things we can do to be stronger allies.
  • By all accounts, even revisionist ones, Ishi was a mensch: patient, friendly, curious, upright. He weathered the sort of radical and traumatic change that would destroy most of us, and he did so with an unflappable calm that, as his joking and frequent delight suggested, had nothing to do with stony-faced stereotypes of native imperturbability. There was a charm to the man that radiates throughout his story, throughout time even, which is partly why print-outs of his image are now stapled to that signboard at Grattan.Erik Davis has a newsletter — even if you choose not to subscribe, do yourself a favour and read his latest.
Ishi Obscura
  • Lefsetz interviews Kendziorfor two hours. I haven’t heard it yet, but Sarah Kendzior is a terrific interview with anyone. Her book is waiting for me at Blue Heron, so I will give this a listen there and back.
  • Jonathan Haidt is trying to heal America’s divisions — I read Peter Wehner’s profile of his psychologist friend earlier this week. Hard to believe five days ago seems like a more hopeful time.
  • “How did I meet Larry? He called me a murderer and an incompetent idiot on the front page of the San Francisco Examiner magazine” — Anthony Fauci reflects on his beloved friend and nemesis Larry Kramer.
  • “I have to say that my better judgment does not get a lot of exercise these days” — surprisingly, shock-novelist and inveterate pot-stirrer Lionel Shriver proves capable of understatement.
  • Finally, a little over a month ago I nervously linked to David Cayley’s contemplation of what Ivan Illich might have made of the pandemic response. A week went by and nobody commented on it. I breathed a sigh of relief. Alas, a week later Paul Bowman informed me that the wags at Solidarity Hall were gettin’ into it, big-time — enough so to coax Cayley out of the study and into the square to deliver further rumination on the matter. My thoughts, yet again: a hot-take on what has, possibly, been sacrificed from human community in our hasty embrace of the atomistic contemporary is maybe not the best way to determine, “What is to be done?” But, hey — for them what’s got to contemplate on it, keep on it contemplatin’.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Lesson 3: Maybe DON’T write what you want to read...

I don’t recall writing assignments from my early days in school — it is safe to assume they were a tortuous requirement. By sixth grade, however, I was enjoying writing and illustrating short adventures that riffed off the book descriptions I read in Scholastic Book Club flyers.
Actually, this one I still have a copy of. Somewhere.
The 'rents were cool toward this outfit — likely for the same reason they were cool toward television (worldly influence). Since I rarely set eyes on the advertised product, necessity dictated I conjure up these forbidden adventures on my own. I also did this in the family back yard, physically elaborating plot elements gleaned from the TV guide, energetically spilling rivers of villainous blood that would have made Conan the Barbarian recoil in horror.

Lotsa fun, lotsa fun...

English classes were dubbed “Language Arts” in those days of Trudeau-and-all-his-hippie-cronies-playing-the-pipe. Mr. H__, my grade 7 LA teacher, required a creative one-pager at the end of every month. On Friday he’d take the collection of foolscap pages home, and on Monday he’d read his favourites to the class. To my astonishment my pulpy descriptions of starships eliminating hideous alien threats, or MENSA teens exacting poorly-conceived revenge on their jock tormentors, were frequently read aloud to my less-than-ecstatic classmates.

This is a good time (for me, at least) to tip the hat to Alan Dean Fosteryou were my Proust, sir.

By grade 8, coinciding with Joe Clark’s brief tenure as (Conservative) PM, “Language Arts” was bluntly reduced once again to ENGLISH. Mr. L__ — a man of very different temperament to Mr. H__ — announced in September there would be only one “Creative Writing” assignment, due in January. The rest of the year would be devoted to sober discussion of serious texts, and disciplined mastery of spelling and grammar.

Needless to say, Mr. L__ was nowhere near as moved as Mr. H__ might have been, had the latter been given opportunity to read my crackling story of an international team of space agents dispatched to assassinate an evil genius in his orbital station.

The winning story that year was an account of a girl who, against the wishes of her caring but religiously austere parents, gets her long, lustrous hair cut to a more fashionable length, then comes home to face the consequences. As Mr. L__ read it aloud to us, I was surprised to find myself actually quite moved by what I initially thought was a rather pedestrian struggle common to us all, really, in one form or another. I also couldn’t help but notice the author was in possession of a well-brushed, cared-for, and very lengthy mane of hair.

Lessons learned: 1) make it personal; 2) KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Research vs. "Research"

My godson is a stand-up guy — he does good work, building houses in the DR, among other things.

Last summer he told me about a weird encounter. During one of his “let’s help” projects a pair of American dudes from the midwest joined the team for a day. They kidded and kibbitzed with the larger group, but mostly committed to a back-and-forth with each other, extolling the virtues of the 45th POTUS, who according to their narrative was accomplishing one outlandish feat after another — feats that even Fox News wasn’t covering, never mind the MSM.

Dude 1 grinned at the godson. “We freakin’ you out yet?”

Godson: “Well, I’m just wondering: what do you make of 44?”

Dude 1: “Obama? Great for the gays!”

Dude 2: “Had to be, if he was going to get his own marriage legalized.”

Godson: “What are you talking about?”

Dudes 1&2: “Michelle’s a man!”

Godson: “... ... Wheeeere do you get this stuff?”

Dude 1: “Do the research, friend. Do the research.”

A part of me died when I heard this story, a part of me I did not know was still at that point alive. I realized then that we were collectively treading very deep and dark waters.

One year later I’d rather not meditate on what might have changed in that time.

The thing is, I believe in conspiracies. It’s just that I think the way conspiracies actually work is not through cunning (although a little goes a long way) but through adept on-the-fly improvisation. The Bezoses and Zuckerbergs and Gateses and Cooks and Pichais of this world are finally, for all their conceptual thinking, rapidly fluid responders. I won’t ever buy that they’ve initiated the COVID Crisis. But will they capitalize on it in potentially de-humanizing ways? That’s where the smart money is, you might say.

But none of those guys can capitalize on a chaotic situation quite like 45.

“Do the research.” Well, there’s research, and then there is actual research. I prefer the latter, though I am as lazy a sod as any. If this is the standard, I’d say I’m up for the second tier, but rarely the third, and never the first.
"Reception's bad... better in the theatre, maybe?"
But I will defer to those who manage all of the above — to wit Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa. Lefsetz turned me on to them — here and here. Now I’m catching up on Gaslit Nation, and I’ve got Kendzior’s latest book on order with my (gratuitous virtue signalling alert!) favourite local independent bookstore.

On the matter of scary reading

“You know, if you’re having troubles sleeping, you might want to take a break from scary books.”

Dad gave me back my extracurricular reading, and I headed off to school.
Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators did not make for scary reading. The plots were variations on the Scooby-Doo template. An extraordinary phenomenon was, more often than not, generated as a smoke-screen for nefarious doings. And three pre-teen lads from an unnamed suburb of Los Angeles solved the crime before true harm was done.

The truly scary reading I was engaged in was in the pages of the Holy Bible. Pop took several attempts at helping me sort it all out. But when all was said and done, the element freaking me out was the terrible uncertainty of life. And nobody escapes that.

So he pointed me toward the volume of Martyrs’ Mirror in the church library, and suggested I start with Elizabeth’s martyrdom. I read her story, and a few dozen others. Horrible stories, presented in sombre, yet triumphant tones.

Elizabeth got off relatively lightly.

Re-reading it now, it almost seems like her inquisitors have something approaching affection for her. Even Hans the executioner is rooting for her to do the right thing and recant.

She has a Latin Testament so she must be a woman of considerable learning. Perhaps Elizabeth is a refugee from the convent, as many of the early Anabaptist women were. She has a keen intellect — her inquisition is a verbal sparring match in which the reigning Lords are entirely out-gunned. Perhaps this inflames their concern for her. C’mon — you’re smart. Surely you can make some superficial concession and get yourself out of this. Help us help you!

This isn’t Anneken Heyndrix, who had a hateful enemy in her murderous neighbour, the underbailiff Evert.

Anneken, Elizabeth, scores of others. Their stories as predictable as the Scooby-Doo adventures I consumed during recess. The martyrs were to a person resolute in their devotion to their understanding of Scripture, surpassing all tortures and hideous means of execution.

I still don’t know what to make of it all. It strikes me that these creatures demonstrated a greater faith in God than He did in them. But then who am I, that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?

Anyway, dad’s parental instincts on this matter proved to be correct. Coupled with mom’s own, I eventually calmed down and regained a capacity for a better night’s sleep.

Further reading:
  • “Even now I can hardly bear to open it. I know too much and too little about the big book that always leaves me feeling small.” Julia Spicher Kasdorf’s Mightier than the Sword: Martyrs’ Mirror in the New World is an excellent contemporary meditation for The Conrad Grebel Review.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Martyrs' Mirror: Elizabeth, A.D. 1549

Back when I was losing sleep over the Revelation of St. John the Divine, my father pointed me toward Martyrs' Mirror, and the account of Elizabeth:
Elizabeth was apprehended on the 15th of January, 1549. When those who had come to apprehend her entered the house in which she lived, they found a Latin Testament. 
Having secured Elizabeth, they said, “We have got the right man; we have now the teacheress,” adding, “Where is your husband, Menno Simons, the teacher?” 
They then brought her to the townhouse. The following day two beadles took her between them to prison. 
She was then arraigned before the council, and asked upon oath, whether she had a husband. 
Elizabeth answered, “We ought not to swear, but our words should be Yea, yea, and Nay, nay; I have no husband.” 
Lords: “We say that you are a teacher, and that you seduce many. We have been told this, and we want to know who your friends are.” 
Elizabeth: “My God has commanded me to love my Lord and my God, and to honour my parents; hence I will not tell you who my parents are; for what I suffer for the name of Christ is a reproach to my friends.” 
Lords: “We will let you alone in regard to this, but we want to know whom you have taught.” 
Elizabeth: “Oh, no, my lords, let me in peace with this, but interrogate me concerning my faith, which I will gladly tell you.” 
Lords: “We shall make you so afraid, that you will tell us.” 
Elizabeth: “I hope, through the grace of God, that He will keep my tongue, so that I shall not become a traitoress, and deliver my brother unto death.” 
Lords: “What persons were present when you were baptized?” 
Elizabeth: “Christ said: ‘Ask them that were present, or who heard it.’ John 18:21.” 
Lords: “Now we perceive that you are a teacher; for you compare yourself to Christ.” 
Elizabeth: “No, my lords, far be it from me; for I do not esteem myself above the offscourings which are swept out from the house of the Lord.” 
Lords: “What then do you hold concerning the house of God? Do you not regard our church as the house of God?” 
Elizabeth: “No, my lords, for it is written: ‘Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them”’ II Corinthians 6:16.” 
Lords: “What do you hold concerning our mass?” 
Elizabeth: “My lords, of your mass I think nothing at all; but I highly esteem all that accords with the Word of God.” 
Lords: “What are your views with regard to the most adorable, holy sacrament?” 
Elizabeth: “I have never in my life read in the holy Scriptures of a holy sacrament, but of the Lord’s Supper.” (She also quoted the Scripture relating to this.) 
Lords: “Be silent, for the devil speaks through your mouth.” 
Elizabeth: “Yea, my lords, this is a small matter, for the servant is not better than his lord.” 
Lords: “You speak from a spirit of pride.” 
Elizabeth: “No, my lords, I speak with frankness.” 
Lords: “What did the Lord say, when He gave His disciples the Supper?” 
Elizabeth: “What did He give them, flesh or bread?” 
Lords: “He gave them bread.” 
Elizabeth: “Did not the Lord remain sitting there? Who then would eat the flesh of the Lord?” 
Lords: “What are your views concerning infant baptism, seeing you have been rebaptized?” 
Elizabeth: “No, my lords, I have not been rebaptized. I have been baptized once upon my faith; for it is written that baptism belongs to believers.” 
Lords: “Are our children damned then, because they are baptized?” 
Elizabeth: “No, my lords, God forbid, that I should judge the children.” 
Lords: “Do you not seek your salvation in baptism?” 
Elizabeth: “No, my lords, all the water in the sea could not save me; but salvation is in Christ — Acts 4:10  and He has commanded me to love God my Lord above all things, and my neighbour as myself.” 
Lords: “Have the priests the power to forgive sins?” 
Elizabeth: “No, my lords; how should I believe this? I say that Christ is the only priest through whom sins are forgiven. Hebrews 7:21.”  
Lords: “You say that you believe everything that accords with the holy Scriptures; do you not believe the words of James?” 
Elizabeth: “Yea, my lords, why should I not believe them?” 
Lords: “Does he not say: ‘Go to the elder of the church, that he may anoint you, and pray over you’? James 5:14.” 
Elizabeth: “Yea, my lords; but do you mean to say that you are of this church?” 
Lords: “The Holy Ghost has saved you already; you need neither confession nor sacrament?” 
Elizabeth: “No, my lords, I acknowledge that I have transgressed the ordinance of the pope, which the Emperor has confirmed by decrees. But prove to me that I have transgressed in any article against my Lord and my God, and I will cry woe over me, miserable being.” 
The foregoing is the first confession. 
Afterwards she was again brought before the council, and led into the torture chamber, Hans, the executioner, being present. The lords then said, “We have thus long dealt with you in kindness; but if you will not confess, we will resort to severity with you.” The Procurator General said, “Master Hans, seize her.” 
Master Hans answered, “Oh, no, my lords, she will voluntarily confess.” 
But as she would not voluntarily confess, he applied the thumbscrews to her thumbs and forefingers, so that the blood squirted out at the nails. 
Elizabeth said, “Oh! I cannot endure it any longer!” 
The lords said, “Confess, and we will relieve your pain.” 
But she cried to the Lord her God, “Help me, O Lord, Thy poor handmaiden! For Thou art a helper in time of need.” 
The lords all exclaimed, “Confess, and we will relieve your pain; for we told you to confess, and not to cry to God the Lord.” 
But she steadfastly adhered to God her Lord, as related above; and the Lord took away her pain, so that she said to the lords, “Ask me, and I shall answer you: for I no longer feel the least pain in my flesh, as I did before.” 
Lords: “Will you not yet confess?” 
Elizabeth: “No, my lords.” 
They then applied the screws to her shins, one on each. 
She said, “O my lords, do not put me to shame; for never a man touched my bare body.” 
The Procurator General said, “Miss Elizabeth, we shall not treat you dishonourably.” 
She then fainted away. They said to one another, “Perhaps she is dead.” 
But waking up, she said, “I live, and am not dead.” 
They then took off all the screws, and plied her with entreaties. 
Elizabeth: “Why do you thus entreat me? This is the way to do with children.” 
Thus they obtained not one word from her, detrimental to her brethren in the Lord, or to any other person. 
Lords: “Will you revoke all that you have previously confessed here?” 
Elizabeth: “No, my lords, but I will seal it with my death.” 
Lords: “We will try you no more; will you voluntarily tell us, who baptized you?” 
Elizabeth: “Oh, no, my lords; I have certainly told you, that I will not confess this.” 
Sentence was then passed upon Elizabeth, on the 27th of March, 1549; she was condemned to death, to be drowned in a bag, and thus offered up her body to God.

The drowning of Mattheus Mair (not Elizabeth)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The bloodless Bible

My children were churched by the United Church of Canada. This means the subject of Jehovah’s murderous rages was touched upon lightly, if at all. Nor was there much attention devoted to the river of blood and viscera that runs from Genesis to Revelation, all spilled by human hands, from Cain to Saul of Tarsis.

I am not sure what I think of this gentle approach. I suppose it strikes me as a deficit, if not an impoverishment, though I find it difficult to locate exactly why.

If I reflect on my childhood, these were the stories that made me want to attend Sunday School. The book of Judges had an especially direct appeal. You can deny me G.I. Joe, but you cannot deny me Samson and his Action Team.
Judy Garland in the time of Judges: commission by "Uncle Arthur"
These were all rotten people who deserved to die — horribly. Surveying the general assembly of children around me, it didn’t take much imagination to discern there were probably a few meanies in the older grades fated to a similar course correction.

Right — a child will skew any story told to fit their particular self-prescription. As will their parents. Or any thinking adult, really. But I think the Bible and its fabulously bloody messiness offers a particular challenge for anyone with ears to hear. These are ancient, difficult stories to get any sort of grasp on at all. But you’ve got to take a stab at it — 'cos like everyone named in the Bible, yer gonna die, too, and you know it.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Bible vs. Walt Disney: my Scylla and Charybdis?

"First, we take Manhattan..."

Walt Disney:
Have you ever been to Kansas City, Mrs. Travers? Do you know Missouri at all? 
P.L. Travers: I cant say I do. 
Walt Disney: Well, it's mighty cold there in the winters. Bitter cold. And my dad, Elias Disney, he owned a newspaper delivery route there. A thousand papers, twice daily; a morning and an evening edition. And dad was a tough businessman. He was a "save a penny any way you can" type of fella, so he wouldn't employ delivery boys. No, no, no -- he used me and my big brother Roy. I was eight back then, just eight years old. And, like I said, winters are harsh, and Old Elias, he didn't believe in new shoes until the old ones were worn through. And honestly, Mrs. Travers, the snowdrifts, sometimes they were up over my head and we'd push through that snow like it was molasses. The cold and wet seeping through our clothes and our shoes. Skin peeling from our faces. Sometimes I'd find myself sunk down in the snow, just waking up because I must have passed out or something, I don't know. And then it was time for school and I was too cold and wet to figure out equations and things. And then it was back out in the snow again to get home just before dark. Mother would feed us dinner and then it was time to go right back out and do it again for the evening edition. "You'd best be quick there, Walt. You'd better get those newspapers up on that porch and under that storm door. Poppa's gonna lose his temper again and show you the buckle end of his belt, boy." 
[Travers looks noticeably unsettled by his story] 
Walt Disney: I don't tell you this to make you sad, Mrs. Travers. I don't. I love my life, I think it's a miracle. And I loved my dad. He was a wonderful man. But rare is the day when I don't think about that eight-year-old boy delivering newspapers in the snow and old Elias Disney with that strap in his fist. And I am just so tired, Mrs. Travers. I'm tired of remembering it that way. Aren't you tired, too, Mrs. Travers? Now we all have our sad tales, but don't you want to finish the story? Let it all go and have a life that isn't dictated by the past?
I don’t know if the real Walt Disney spoke a single word of this monologue — it’s from Saving Mr. Banks, screenplay by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith — nor if it holds any semblance of his lived life. I haven’t read so much as the Disney Wiki (will amend that oversight once this is posted, I promise). BUT. It does a great job of summarizing the Walt Disney World View I absorbed as a child.

Anyhow, I’m having trouble wrestling a post into submission, so I will break it down into (hopefully) digestible chunks. Some more Disney related thoughts:

Thursday, May 07, 2020

I read the news today...

...oh boy.

Two bits:
"Conjecture! Your Honour, this is PURE CONJECTURE!"
  • I posted this link on FB, checked out some of the author’s other work, then went back and deleted my post. His obvious passion informs the writing, you might say (and I do). I am happy enough to let it have its way with me in Tinker, Tailor, Mobster..., (reads like James Ellroy when he’s on a roll) but much less inclined when he gets excited by, say, a lead-pipe-cinch Biden victory. I just do not see the latter happening.
  • “Covid 19 is showing us what a real First-World problem looks like,” says Colby Cosh. Mark Twain springs to mind in retort, but who knows? Might be so, might be so...

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Whither “THE Culture”?

This is the question I’ve probably asked for as long as I’ve been a story-telling entity, though I could not have framed it so until quite recently.

Andrew Unger at The Daily Bonnet gave me yet another nudge in this direction, when he posted The Mennonite Literature Quiz!
It all looks so ... good ....
My results were about 70%, which is too good to be true — there were questions I took a lucky guess at, since “I honestly do not know” was never an option.

I mulled over the results, then shared it on FB, with the following comment:
  • FOR THE MOST PART THE WRITERS IN MY TRIBE PRODUCE WORK I WOULD RATHER AVOID.
This immediately netted me the expected “What about Miriam?” grenade. I dodged it, or tried to, by saying she was the exception to most of the others mentioned in Andrew’s piece insofar as I’ve never had trouble finishing a book by her. She writes well, in other words. But if you seek further explication, go here.

Then Christian Humanist Michial Farmer weighed in with an anecdote of having an appreciation for Julia Kasdorf rejected by an academic rag on grounds that he CLEARLY did not have a firm enough grasp of Mennonite literature “as a whole.”

To which I replied, “I can sum up Mennonite Literature in four words: ‘We’re Not That Good.’

I posted, but meditated on it afterword. My response seemed a bit half-baked to me, so I created a new post and laid down the challenge for others:

SUMMARIZE MENNONITE LITERATURE IN FOUR (OR FEWER) WORDS:

I threw down four examples to prime the pump:
  • We’re not that good.
  • We’re actually really mean.
  • There is no God.
  • God’s actually really mean.
Summaries from others include:
  • Trauma, dysfunction, pain, buns (for memoirs)
  • Trauma, persecution, pain, buns (for history)
  • Life consists of suffering.
  • Difference, shunning, leaving, life.
  • Village, university, arrogance, publish. (It should be quietly noted the submitter of this one has a family member who features in Andrew’s parade of literatischje).
And finally my favourite. My conked buddy in the north (NOT a Mennonite) weighed in with an Office meme:

Seems about right.

So many different ways to shun, of course, and we all have to figure out who or what we’re about to build the wall against in order to retain those properties and qualities we deem essential.

I said goodbye to an academic career nearly three decades ago, and a literary “career” some two decades later. There are reasons for both, but the main one — for both — is: I don’t want to read shit I don’t want to read.

More anon.

I’m sorry

It’s a conviction I’ve had since at least this past November, but I’m putting it out here for the record today: I cannot imagine the 45th POTUS not getting a second term. What happens four years after that, I cannot imagine — period.
I'm sorry.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

10 albums 10 days, day 10: ObZen, Meshuggah

In the fall of 2008 I answered the door. My friend handed me a small paper gift-bag. Inside it was this CD.
“This drummer,” he said, “I’ve never heard ANYTHING like him.” (← language warning (sorry dad!))

“As good as Neil?”

“Even Neil isn’t doing this.”

We said our goodbyes. I went to the computer, inserted the disc and put on my headphones. And . . . wwwwwow.

Wowwowwowwowwow. . . .

Not my last concert, but certainly one of the most memorable.
Ancient history...
There is no equivalent to this band anywhere, though I’m curious enough about the metal scene in general to track various acts, particularly those fronted by women. Our digital overlords have taken note, and yesterday my newsfeed included word that two of the three women fronting Nervosa, a thrash metal band from Brazil, have called it quits after 10 years.
"Who here's ready to go SOLO?!"
Nobody’s said anything about why this happened now, so the mind goes all sorts of places in conjecture. The reasons are surely pedestrian — bands break up all the time, as is their wont. The ones that last for decades are the true wonders.

Then there are the bands that make a splash, and break up, and reunite in various forms, only to break up again and establish a cycle particular to themselves. Case in point — X, godparents to the California punk scene. Again, in the news: X releases a new album, their first new material in 35 (or 27, depending) years, surprising everyone who thought the original line-up would never reunite. Unusually, the band members are keeping mum as to how this reunion was made possible, never mind desirable, to the various individuals on-board.
They look happy enough for now.
So long as the music gets made and played, I don’t need to know the why nor how. John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebreak — keep on rockin’ in the free world.

Monday, April 27, 2020

10 albums 10 days, day 9: The Future, Leonard Cohen

1992
My first Leonard Cohen album.

Listening to it produced a bundle of mixed emotions for me then — still can, sometimes.

Buying it seemed necessary, at the time. It wasn’t getting much airplay on the radio, except for CBC. Television seemed to love him — not just the Corporation (predictably enough) but Much Music and various music video shows. So did magazines, particularly the hippest of the hip — GQ landed Mordecai Richler as a contributor, but Details landed Leonard Cohen. He looked good — no, he looked great, especially for a 58-year-old.

And he wore 31-year-old Rebecca DeMornay like an exquisite silk tie.
That’s where my problems started.

The 90s were a crappy time to be in your 20s. “Just say ‘No!’” was Official Policy, extended to an increasingly wider purview of activity. So if I was making Sunday morning scrambled eggs, and Leonard was singing, “She comes to you light as the breeze” my only reasonable response was to regard my flatmate’s bloodshot eyes through my own, and roll in chorus. Whatever you say, Leonard.

Under those conditions listening to The Future could feel like a protracted session of “I’m Leonard Cohen — and you’re not.”
All the lousy little poets coming round
Trying to sound like Charlie Manson
The truth was THIS lousy little poet was trying to sound like Leonard Cohen, but — gormless and luckless at 26 — whingeing like Mark David Chapman instead.

Yep, I was jealous. But let me say this about that: if, in three years time, you spot me looking like the cat who swallowed the canary while a lovely 31-year-old gal fawns over me, you have my full permission to let me know exactly what you think.

And yet.

Seeing Cohen perform the following year seemed necessary at the time, as well — particularly since the concert landed on my 27th birthday.

The light-show, the sound, the poetry and song were all a carefully curated affair. “Anthem” was his third or fourth song on the setlist. Cohen took the mic, confused the third stanza with the second, registered the mistake midway but finished the verse regardless. He crept out of the spotlight and stood in the shadows while the band and singers played on and brought it back to the intro again. Then he walked back into the spotlight, and the song was sung as written.

When it was over he quipped, “I will leave that for the scholars of my work to figure out.”

At that moment I realized I did not want to be Leonard Cohen, not really. And I figured at that moment he probably didn’t want to be Leonard Cohen either.

There were probably a lot of moments like that in his life — though I doubt he held any moments when he wished he were me.
Living long enough to enjoy medical cannabis, and other consolations of late-in-life frailty.
Female counterweight: Cohen’s (relatively) early paramour Joni Mitchell released an album in '94 that was well-regarded. I enjoyed it, but will opt instead for her most recent album — 2006’s Shine.
"More timely and apt than ever."

Sunday, April 26, 2020

10 albums 10 days, day 8: Porgy & Bess, Miles Davis

It’s an old, old story. Boy-meets-girl/Boy-loses-girl/Boy-spends-the-next-two-years-in-a-miserable-state-and-can-no-longer-abide-the-music-from-his-past-life-so-he-borrows-jazz-albums-from-the-public-library-until-he-regains-equilibrium — it’s almost a cliché, isn’t it?

C’est moi, in the mid-90s, and I am grateful to have made acquaintance with the Jazz Giants. I recall the afternoon I first played Miles Davis’ treatment of Porgy & Bess. “Summertime” was one of those transcendent revelations that happens all too rarely in life. I can still smell the air pouring through the open window.
1959? Or 1995?
Corresponding Giantess: I’m going to have to go with Ella, even though she protested she was never a “jazz” singer (by which she meant she did not improvise — although...). She is a jazz singer to my ears, and what she uncovers while delivering The Cole Porter Songbook is endlessly revelatory.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

10 albums 10 days, day 7: The Name Of This Band Is, Talking Heads

1982
More about that here and here.

Alternatively: Home Of The Brave, Laurie Anderson.
1986
I first saw this at a Winnipeg rep cinema, double-billed with Stop Making Sense. The live version of Sharkey’s Night gets regular inclusion in current playlists.

Friday, April 24, 2020

10 albums 10 days, day 6: Doppelgänger, Daniel Amos

1983
I struggled choosing between this album and its precursor, ¡Alarma!. Both are installations of a four-album(!) cycle that elevates “high concept” into the heavens.

The albums chronicle a surreal Pilgrim’s Progress through late-20th Century Evangelical culture, albeit a pilgrim who quotes T.S. Eliot, William Blake, Czesław Miłosz and other luminaries estranged from the Christian Bookstore. As an earnest kid experiencing the first pangs of disaffection within the Evangelical fold, I found the first album terrifically inspiring. I encountered the second album as a Bible College failure. It felt like an encouragement. Shake the dust off your shoes, kid — there’s quality to be discovered!

That’s not quite the message DA frontman Terry Taylor meant to impart, of course. But this album’s admixture of gimlet-eyed gut-checks and bizarre-o hijinx, all bent purposefully to a lofty theme, laid the groundwork for my appreciation of They Might Be Giants, Timbuk3, Steven Wilson, Devin Townsend and many, many others.

Female equivalent: are you kidding? Do you think a robustly chauvinist industry and its milk-sop constituents, who subsequently piled-on everything Taylor tried his hand at ever since, would EVER permit a woman to explore the perimeters on their watch?

At the time a talented young woman named Leslie Phillips took a stab at it.
1984
Her CCM catalog shows flashes of edgy brilliance, only to be horse-whipped into reassuring banalities by CCM A&R hacks. Still, her voice steadily gained confidence, as did her sense of thematic direction. Then she landed T Bone Burnett as a producer for an album she called The Turning — which proved to be a turning-point, alright.

Burnett became a husband, then not; she changed from Leslie to Sam; said goodbye to CCM and home permanents; and continues to build a catalog that has become exceedingly impressive indeed.
1987
Other words: I enjoyed Jed Ward Keyes' snappy take on Doppelgänger, over here.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

10 albums 10 days, day 5: Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, AC/DC

This was one of those arguments with my mother.
1981, in Canada.
I first heard it in my buddy Carl’s attic, a week before it was released in North America. It was a Sunday night, we were playing chess and listening to 92 CITI FM. CITI had just been given this “new” album by AC/DC, the band that’d made a name for themselves singing cheerfully about Hell, so they were obviously devil worshippers. This was a station exclusive, and they played the album in its entirety.

Carl patiently dismantled my chess game until I was nothing but a king limping around behind three pawns. I’ve never been much of a chess player, but honestly, he had a considerable tactical advantage with the music being played. How was I supposed to develop a strategy while these songs were unfurling? As I argued with my mother once I finally mustered up the courage to buy my own copy, these songs are perfect, and you can’t argue with perfection.

Perfect, as in: you will find no truer marriage of direct, brute lyricism to a direct, brute musical modality.

And if you try to marry something else to those same three chords chopped out of a Gibson SG and fed through a Marshall stack — say, an evocation of Christ’s salvific grace extended freely to all sinners, perhaps — you’ll sound ridiculous.

No, these songs all attain their Platonic ideal — even, especially, “Squealer.” You can no more argue with a song like that than you can argue with “Folsom Prison Blues” or “Spiel Ich die Unschuld vom Lande.” It simply is what it is.

But, you know, if that’s the only music you can be bothered to listen to you need to stretch out just a bit.

And you can start by listening to The Muffs.
1993
Kim Shattuck isn’t the only rock ‘n’ roll singer/songwriter to explore female id-prompted horniness and (“Hold the letters folks!”) toxic femininity. Nor was that her sole preoccupation — not by a long shot — but when when she mined it, her commitment to its expression was utterly fearless and completely infectious, qualities she shares with Bon Scott.

Taken from us way too soon.