Monthly Archives: September 2012

Tea With Chris: Don’t Go To (Private) School

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Carl: While I’m impressed with Quebec’s CLASSE for continuing on from their limited victory to a wider goal, ultimately the education problem in North America isn’t mainly at colleges and universities. When I was in New Orleans earlier this year I was shocked to discover that ever since Louisiana schools were desegregated in the early 1960s, most white people there abandoned the public school system altogether, and with them went the state legislature’s financial support for the most part. Now we have the Chicago teacher’s strikes and the recent Ontario law preventing teachers here from striking. Elite disinvestment in public schooling is part of each of these stories. It’s not as bad in Canada remotely as south of the border, but it’s not headed in the right direction. I was surprised to find on Gawker, of all places, a straight-argument for something that used to be a fundamental progressive stance but has come to seem weird and radical: Abolishing private schools.

Early this month I mentioned here that I’d had my first election-season argument with a leftist friend over whether there is a significant difference between Republicans and Democrats, whether voting matters, etc. (This led some people to call me as a Democrat, which a bit odd since, a., I’m not even an American, and b., as a Canadian think the NDP is too conservative.) The author Rebecca Solnit has apparently had that conversation a few too many times. If you’ve ever read her brilliant “Men Explain Things to Me” (the ur-source on mansplaining), meet its sequel, subtitled “Leftists Explain Things to Me.” A highlight:

“I don’t love electoral politics, particularly the national variety. I generally find such elections depressing and look for real hope to the people-powered movements around the globe and subtler social and imaginative shifts toward more compassion and more creativity. Still, every four years we are asked if we want to have our foot trod upon or sawed off at the ankle without anesthetic. The usual reply on the left is that there’s no difference between the two experiences and they prefer that Che Guevara give them a spa pedicure. Now, the Che pedicure is not actually one of the available options, though surely in heaven we will all have our toenails painted camo green by El Jefe.”

All that said, I do wish Barack Obama would say a few of these things (again). Tell Mitt Romney, “Sorry ass motherfucker ain’t got nothin on me!”

N+1 has done a fine service in rounding up these memories of the late radical feminist pioneer Shulamith Firestone.

Ok, enough politics. Jody Rosen introduced me to the most compelling new voice in country music, Kacey Musgraves. And with Taylor Swift seeming to regress rather than progress into adulthood, Musgraves has arrived just in time.

Five videos by Yoko Ono. Thanks, P4K.

Gram Parsons’ notebook.

This is for fans only, really, but the great songwriter (ex-American Music Club) and mesmerizing Oscar-Wilde-as-a-gloomy-slacker performer Mark Eitzel, having recovered from a heart attack last year, has a funny series of trailers for his upcoming album, Don’t Be a Stranger, in which for example he meets with Lady Gaga’s style consultant.

And I couldn’t finish without mentioning this. I had nothing to do with it, I swear.

Chris: Maddie (from indispensable K-pop blog My First Love Story) is visiting South Korea for the first time, imagining herself as the white protagonist in the Wes Anderson film and reflecting on what she’s heard in public, from snippets of “Gangnam Style” to mass Wonder Girls karaoke.

Margaux: I love this chart of specific words and phrases used at the U.S. national convention by the Republicans and Democrats. The only phrase present that Democrats don’t use: Red tape, the one Republicans don’t use: Millionaires.

Speaking of charts, this periodic table is much better than usual. Also from Brain Pickings, John Steinbeck gives some falling in love advice. Would be good section in Rookie next to “Ask a grown man”. Could be “Ask a dead man”.  And hell, why we’re there, why don’t we let Richard Feynman Explain Where Trees Come From.

Just what I’ve always suspected – hash is not so helpful for the artistic process

I’ve got this Bob Dylan song in my head today.

And also this Rihanna song, but my head only knew that chorus.

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Friday Pictures – Kehinde Wiley


After Pontormo’s “Two Men with a Passage from Cicero’s ‘On Friendship'” / from the series “Black Light”



After Sir Joshua Reynolds’ “Miss Susanna Gale” / from the series “Black Light”



The Virgin Martyr St. Cecilia / from the series “down”



Equestrian Portrait of the Count-Duke Olivares / from the series “Rumors of War”


Encourage Good Manners and Politeness; Bright Up Your Surroundings with Plants / from the series “China”



After Giovanni Bellini’s “St. Francis in the Desert” / from the series “Black Light”




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Tuesday Musics: Masters of the Obvious, “I Hate My Fucking Job”

Founded in 1981, the New Orleans punk band fronted by Paul Caporino performs on Vieille Montagne, the punk-rock party barge moored in Stockholm, apparently in 2008. … Can I get an “Amen”?

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Little Boxes #109: Tiny Little Bows

(by Michael Deforge, 2012)

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On the Genre of “In Conversation”: David Byrne and Cory Doctorow, Authors at Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, Sept. 19, 2012

(Picture swiped from Hazlitt.)

by Carl Wilson

There were some high points to the staged discussion this week in Toronto between musician/much-else David Byrne and author/Internet activist Cory Doctorow, on the occasion of Byrne’s tour for his terrific-sounding book How Music Works. But they didn’t stop the feeling that this conversation shouldn’t have taken place in this form  at all.

For example, Byrne recounted a conversation with his 22-year-old daughter about copyright, in which he said that under current rules his work would go on supporting her financially long after he was ­dead, and that he thought this was kind of a bad thing, both for the art (which would not join the public domain as it should) and (he implied) for her own autonomy. Sorry, honey!

For his part, Doctorow passionately made a case that the business model that evolved in the 20th century for musical cover versions – the original creators can’t prevent anyone from covering their songs as long as they’re paid a royalty – should in fact be a model for how all copyright, especially online, works. He elegantly argued that music as a human practice long predates the existence of commercial markets for it, and that the only sane way to develop systems of regulation is to make them true to the spirit of the historical norms that surround it, such as that anyone ought to be able to sing any song, in public, and that any reasonable definition of public in the 21st century includes, for example, YouTube.

But there were assymetries in their conversational style that made for an uncomfortable evening, and not in a particularly enlightening way. Byrne is an artist whose social awkwardness (although much mellowed by age) is part of his essential makeup, as is his logical but lateral thinking, and his kind of savant-ish gift for deriving abstract proposition from experience via free-associative rumination. (It’s how he finds himself a city, picks a building that he wants to live in – it’s over there – water flowing underground, into the blue again.) And while he’s a very savvy user of technology for someone of his generation, I don’t think he has immensely much to tell us about the Internet that any intelligent person who’s been paying attention doesn’t also know.

Doctorow, meanwhile, is a professional opinion-giver, a whip-smart advocate for strong positions on contemporary technology and society. Where Byrne conversates a bit like a chickadee lighting from twig to palm with a beakful of seed, Doctorow expounds like an eloquent atheist preacher at the digital pulpit.

Guess which one took up most of the verbal space? Not the person most of the audience was there to hear. As I joked afterwards, when a lot of the audience heard the publicity for a conversation between David Byrne and Cory Doctorow, they heard, “David Byrne and Mwah-mwah-blah-blah-blah.” (Insert Peanuts teacher voice/Far Side “Ginger” cartoon here.)

That’s no slight against Doctorow. The situation did him the greater disservice, making much of the audience turn against him, frustrated they weren’t hearing more from the better-known personality (at least in the demographic that is likely to attend a $25-ticketed literary conversation). No one was going to hold it against David Byrne.

Much beyond the specific miscasting of these two as conversational partners for an audience (I’m sure as conversational partners on their own they’d have a great time), there are general lessons here.

A while ago, I was very kindly brought out to Portland to do a presentation about my work to a university audience. Even more kindly, the organizers thought that since I’d come all that way, we should put on another public event in town. Who else should be on the bill? Portland has a lot of interesting personalities, and to my surprise after some casting about, Frank Black (aka Charles Thompson, aka Black Francis of the Pixies) agreed to participate.

Come that night, even though the themes of our conversation were organized around my book, of course most people who came to the show were there to see Frank Black (in the Q&A they kept trying to get him to sing songs). I was the “Mwah-mwah-blah-blah-blah” on that bill. The only real option for the relatively obscure critic-author on stage with the famous musician was to fall into the role of his interviewer. Charles was extremely gracious and I really enjoyed the experience on many levels, but ultimately, as an event purportedly about my book, it didn’t make much sense.

Let’s derive a few rules of thumb from these stories. (I’m indebted to post-show conversation partners, Misha Glouberman, Chris Frey, Rebecca Payne, Emily Keeler and Charles Yao.) They may even apply to life beyond staged events.

a) When two people are going to be “in conversation,” in public, they ideally should be about equally familiar to the audience. Or something about the situation might mean that they each attract half a crowd, to whom one is familiar and the other is obscure and vice-versa, and your goal might be to introduce these two publics to one another.

b) The subject matter should be something in which they’re both fluent, though hopefully from different angles. (It also should be neither unhelpfully general nor smotheringly specific. A pointed question is a good starting point. The Harbourfront event’s question was “Wassup Internet?” Enough said.)

c) When that’s not possible or desirable for some reason, don’t play the less-well-known person for a patsy. The simplest thing might be to say upfront that they’re interviewing the better-known person. Bonus points: A very good trick can be to have the better-known person be billed as interviewing the less-known person. This can bestow a glow of generosity to the whole proceeding.

d) If that’s not what you want, there is a solution: a moderator, who relieves the speakers of visible responsibility (and blame) for guiding the conversation. A good moderator will help keep the share of time in balance. A really good moderator can also lend shape to a conversation that might otherwise ramble on endless tangents. A great moderator can do all that while seeming invisible.

e) If all else fails, you can alleviate a great many sins by bringing the audience into the conversation. At heart why should a question-and-answer period be so much shorter than the period speakers spend deciding the subject matter? The crowd is often much more dynamic. Obviously, again, a moderator needs to keep the Q&A on track, but I’d be as happy to go to a show that was all Q&A and zero meandering speaker as vice-versa.

In fact, the nicest moment the whole night was when a very young man came up and asked Byrne if he could repeat the name of the song he’d said he heard as a young man himself, whose sound “let him know there was something else out there.” Byrne paused for a moment, confused, and then answered, “Oh, you mean by the Byrds?” I think so, the young man said. And then very carefully copied in pen on his notepad, syllable by syllable, echoing Byrne’s answer out loud: “Mis-ter… Tam … bour… ine… Man?” In case we needed reminding that you can never assume worlds overlap. (People laughed, but it was just amazingly sweet.)

Ultimately, any form of entertainment that solely consists of somebody or somebodies speaking, if they are not just telling jokes, is dicey. It is only so much fun to listen to people talk and not to talk back, unless it’s very lively and engaging. There are a million ways for it to go wrong and the only way for it to go right is for someone to think through, carefully and conscientiously, “Just what is this going to be like?” Otherwise it is dubious that it should be done at all.

And this is worth talking about right now because these kinds of staged conversations and lectures and such have retaken a central place in our culture – the decline of print and rise of the digital-virtual somehow combining to generate a keener hunger for physical presence and non-fiction discourse than previously in my lifetime, like a return to the days of the chalk talk and Mark Twain. And, as it was then, it’s becoming one of the few ways writers can make a living. If that’s how it’s going to be, it should itself be a kind of art, not an afterthought.

PS: If you’re interested in this general subject, this series of video chats between Misha Glouberman and speakers’ agent David Lavin might be worth watching.

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Filed under books, carl wilson, events, lectures, music

Tea With Chris: Ill-Advised Advice

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: My favourite lines from the Trina remix of “Actin’ Up”: “fuck boy, I mean fuck boys,” “suppress his face til he asphyxiate,” Na’Tee rhyming “diva” with “PETA,” “wreck your favourite rapper and replace him,” the background cries that sound like somebody sampled Ragnarok.

Carl: I was excited today to see this news from Quebec, which is not only the rare case of a triumph for a progressive protest movement but also apparently a scoop for my journalistic alma mater. Way to go, former-me’s of the future-now.

Rachel Giese encounters her kid’s narrow-minded, anti-gay teacher and instead of just striking back, reflects on the riskiness of education itself, and that every family has horizons it’s afraid to see expanded.

A day in the life of an independent musician in this supposedly fantastic era for the DIY artist.

Who doesn’t love self-help? Who doesn’t love absurd artifacts of past social mores? The two come together on Obsolessons, a blog devoted to the ill-advised advice of yesteryear.

And finally, we can’t all have long conversations with Bonnie Raitt. But we can all listen to Ann Powers have one.

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Little Boxes #108: Red Hood

(cover of Susceptible, by Genevieve Castree, 2012)

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Friday Pictures – Ged Quinn, Ashley MacLean & Traci Matlock, Jeremiah Pearson Hardy, Huma Bhabha


Ged Quinn / In Heaven Everything Is Fine (detail)


Ashley MacLean & Traci Matlock


Jeremiah Pearson Hardy / Mary Ann Hardy / 1821


Huma Bhabha



Huma Bhabha

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Tea With Chris: All the Stories in the World

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Thursday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: Only one solitary squib this week, because I’m an idiot fucker (and because the Toronto film festival has actually managed to moderate my internet usage). But it’s a mashup of Khia and the Spice Girls, so you’ll forgive me, won’t you?

Carl: This weekend marks the anniversary of the birth of the Occupy movement, and people are gathering this weekend to assess, plan and move forward. That end of the debate during the U.S. election campaign has been too little heard so far. But I have some faith we’re just coming into the real heat of it – I know because this week I had my first lefty-vs-lefty debate about whether the Democrats actually differ enough from Republicans for it to matter, the lesser of two evils, etc. A more intelligent version of that argument was staged this week on Democracy Now, with Michael Eric Dyson and Glen Ford: “The More Effective Evil, or Progressives’ Best Hope?”

But if all the present-day polemicizing wears upon you, dig into the historic archive of radical texts assembled by poet-essayist Lisa Robertson and novelist-essayist Matthew Stadler in Revolution: A Reader. Or, with more brevity but even more sweep, this attempt to list all the stories in the world.

Does listing all the stories on the Internet risk taming and domesticating them, though? There are many parts of this argument about “the Brooklynization of music”  that I don’t quite agree with, but the defense of regionalism is stirring, and at least an ingredient in a question I’ve often had in recent years: Why does it seem like things, people, culture, have gotten less weird than they used to be? Not that weird is synonymous with good – it can even be the opposite. But when it leaks out of the ecosystem, you miss it.

I wouldn’t call Luke Fishbeck (of Lucky Dragons) weird, for example. But he’s good. I enjoyed this brief Wired profile – it especially made me want to start a Sum Iink Club in my neighbourhood.

And speaking of the former culture of the weird, I am excited to hear that Marc Maron might be interviewing John Darnielle. Heck, I’m just excited to think about Maron listening to the Mountain Goats.

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Little Boxes #107: The Senator

(from Mystic Comics #4, writer unknown and art by Harry Douglas, 1940)

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