Tag Archives: class

Tea With Chris: Cloven Poetry

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:

Margaux: Great one Jimmy Carter – I love this letter he wrote about religion and women’s rights. I love his description of “The Elders” that he is a member of. Sounds bad-ass.

Chris: Blog-friend Sholem Krishtalka has begun drawing his own tarot set, one symbolic omen at a time, which oddly reminded me of Bill Sienkiewicz’s old Friendly Dictators trading cards.

The ethical dilemma of Amazon links, not one faced by B2TW thus far, where we’ve probably raised enough money to cover one dinner at a middlingly expensive restaurant (wine not included).

“The reason why the Stuff White People Like humor genre has so many holes in it is because the vast majority of the things lampooned are not white-specific, they’re creature comforts of the middle class. But the lines between race and class are getting blurrier and blurrier by the day, and there are quite a few people of color being born into comfortable financial situations who will likely never know what it’s like to be poor. Thus, memes like White Person Bingo end up portraying a common theme in popular culture: class stereotyping poorly and tastelessly masquerading as race stereotyping.” Martin Douglas, killing it, and recalling another essay about indie rock, race, and class.

Carl: I used to dream about making a book of poems in the form of crossword puzzles, where the clues and the answers would each be a poem. I soon realized that I had nowhere near the skill set to pull this off, if it was even theoretically possible. Here’s the closest thing, though: A giant of the puzzle world has announced his mortal illness to his readers in cryptic-crossword form.

It’s great that the new season of Girls has started, but they only show once a week. To fill the empty days in between, I am watching the two independent web series (Delusional Downtown Divas and Tight Shots) that Lena Dunham made years ago, clearly teaching herself how to make TV series, rationing episodes like sips of water on a lifeboat. I also really enjoyed her conversation with Miranda July. (If you are annoyed by one or both of them, you won’t, though – it is a very Lena Dunham-and-Miranda July conversation.)

This spot on the Merv Griffin Show in 1965 is the best window into Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick’s relationship, and why everyone loved her so much. (Thanks, Mike McGonigal.)

Poetry grudge matches: Michael Robbins somewhat-lovingly trashes Dylan Thomas for lines that are “the kind of thing you’d expect unicorns to write.” However, he adds, at least he’s not as bad as e.e. cummings.

Have you subscribed to Maura Magazine yet?

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Tea With Chris: Coy Japanese Dog

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: The cowboy hat as mythographic class signifier.

If there was a year-end list for righteously aggrieved responses to year-end lists I would nominate Alex Ostroff.

I found this enigmatic photo of a Japanese pup via Pauline and I just kind of need to post it.

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Carl’s Tuesday Musics: Life’s Little Ups and Downs by Margaret-Ann Rich, sung by Charlie Rich, recommended by Kelly Hogan

by Carl Wilson

On Saturday night I went to see Kelly Hogan play, a pleasure that I’ve had probably half a dozen times in my life and one that never gets less pleasurable. Hogan was recovering from a recent bout of pneumonia, she told us, and she kept a cotton handkerchief hanging from her mic stand to take the phlegm between songs – so for the first time in my experience, her voice that’s normally like a ship’s horn cutting through fog faltered and cracked on some of the big notes. But that was fine, or more than fine, because it just made her lean emotionally harder into the quieter stuff. She’s the kind of singer who can make every line a surprise, even of a song you know by heart: Every moment of a song is another turn of the wheel for Hogan.

Researchers like Dan Levitin talk about how the brain loves the musical tension between repetition and novelty, but Hogan reminds me that much of the music I love best never feels like it’s repeating, even when the notes are purportedly the same. (She had a perfect complement in guitarist and bandleader Jim Elkington, who likewise seems to have arranged every line of his multilayered accompaniment to mirror specifically the emotional progress of the song.) And of course she was warm and funny and made you want to pattern your life and personality on her, because that’s just what Hogan’s like, and why there weren’t a thousand people there in supplication is a mystery to me.

So in an effort to Be More Like Kelly Hogan, I took note of her tribute to Margaret Ann Rich, who wrote the song Pass On By that Hogan covers on her new album, and many others – most of them for her husband, the country star Charlie Rich, but for Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge and others too. This is her most famous song, which different people hear different ways: Dave Marsh describes it in The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made as a “thinly disguised roman a clef about being married to an alcoholic singer/piano player who almost-but-not-quite reached superstardom, not once but thrice.” He also claims that many critics have interpreted it as “a criticism of the American class system” (though Marsh thinks not). When he’s covered it live, the alt-country performer Robbie Fulks describes it as “all of existence in two verses.” You could say a lot about its vision of marriage and gender too. Or you could just listen.

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Tea With Chris: The Story of a Hurricane

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:

Margaux: This song has been in my head all day. Maybe ’cause this movie is coming out. Good song for the Great Gatsby.

Carl: Linda Besner makes a stab on Hazlitt at imagining how to get people to like poetry as much as they like paintings – give it a gallery, she says. Personally I think this “singing and/or shouting it over guitars and/or turntables” plan is still a good one. People don’t like paintings that much, either.

Toronto’s Tamara Faith Berger and North Carolina’s Kate Zambreno met in NYC to talk about libertines, Sasha Grey, Bataille and lovable assholes. The Believer has a transcription.

Disasters are stories of climate and class. I hope you and your loved ones are all safe and your power is back on. That said, I don’t think it is entirely a terrible thing that well-off northerners are beginning to experience the kinds of crises that have been year-in-year-out routine for poor southern coastal communities. Not if we then start to get the idea that we should do something about it.

If you need help convincing any American friends that they should not vote for Romney, or (maybe more likely) that they should vote at all, this video made by animators from the Simpsons might be a big help:

I don’t think that I think Romney’s Mormonism should have any bearing on how people vote. But I do find the Latter Day Saints pretty fascinating. The best thing I read all week was Mike Davis’s piece about Mormonism’s repressed communist roots. and I’m looking forward to Slate’s story about the complicated experience people having being intellectuals in the LDS.

Okay, everyone, hold hands, shut your eyes tight and see you on the other side of Tuesday.

Chris: Michelle Dean laments the disappearance of witchy wickedness, the kind that frightens all the right men: “Our emblematic witch is Hermione Granger, who performs all the magic and takes none of the credit from Harry Potter. She is self-effacing and noble and never in any real danger of contamination by the dark…Which is only a shame if you think of this: just as the truly threatening witch has gone out of style, the people who most want to control women are out in force.”

Further to the Atlantic piece on disasters and class in Carl’s tea, a response that focuses on how persistent and pervasive these gulfs are: “the city that never sleeps can stay up 24/7 thanks to nocturnal bodega owners and overnight transit workers.”

I’m warily optimistic that Romney will lose on Tuesday, and elating allaying that would be, but if he doesn’t, here’s where pop music might go afterwards.

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Tea With Chris: Cosignatures

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: Andrew “Noz” Nosnitsky considers the class stratifications in and around rap right now, where a small elite of mainstream stars dispenses favour via cosigns and commercial album sales bear a decreasing correlation (but increasing white-and-middle-class skew) with actual popularity: “It’s a gentrification of taste. Kids with disposable income on the outer perimeters of the culture are dictating its direction because they posses the income to displace the demands of the proverbial hood.” Also, great use of the word “fanute.”

Vladimir Nabokov, yearner for proto-emoticons.

Margaux: Physicists May Have Evidence Universe Is A Computer Simulation –  fun to imagine that the time-based medium of our specific simulacrum is constrained by what typical narratives are always constrained by: time, meaning, conclusion.

Speaking of bad narratives, I’ve been listening to an audio book of Jane McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken. The idea of the book is that video gaming culture makes people feel so vital and engaged that when they stop playing games and return to real life, real life seems broken. The book proposes making the narrative of real life a better story. Or at least that’s what it seems like it’s about so far. Jane McGonigal argues that hard work (in a video game) is more fun than fun. That made me feel pretty smart since I’ve never liked to have fun. It’s pretty hilarious listening to this book on my headphones while walking around town – the book came out last year, but it feels like it came out next year – like bizarre, banal and practical discussions from the not-so-bad, not-so-good near future.

This conversation between liberal actor Alec Baldwin and conservative journalist David Brooks seems way less phony than all this 2012 American presidential debate nonsense. That’s probably because actors are good at making things seem less phony, that’s their number one job. Maybe it should be a rule that only respected or semi-respected actors can become president. Maybe that would make The Movies better.

Speaking of The Movies, I just saw two great ones last night by legendary singer/model/filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin at the Imaginative Film and Media Arts Festival (lots more happening at the festival in Toronto till Oct 21). The first movie was the 1971 short (and Alanis Obomsawin’s first film) Christmas at Moose Factory. The 13 minute film is made from footage of children’s drawings about what Christmas is like at Moose Factory along with the voices of the children talking about their drawings. The structure is smart and simple and captivating. It’s filled with gentleness, curiosity and love. All the good things.

The second movie was Alanis Obomsawin’s most recent The People of the Kattawapiskak River, a documentary about the state of emergency called in Northern Ontario in 2011 by Theresa Spence, the chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation. That is very painful subject matter but the movie has a similar feel to Alanis Obomaswain’s first movie – with love and strength and humour always close at hand. It was interesting to have her oldest movie and her most recent played together. You could see the consistency of her specific way of seeing things, even from movies made 40 years apart.  It was interesting to see that both movies functioned completely as whole works of art  and also as whole works of activism without sacrificing either category. It was good to be reminded that love and patience can be tremendously political.

The Bloor Cinema in Toronto where it was shown was packed with a rowdy and diverse audience. People from all backgrounds cheered and jeered and laughed along with the movie – with tears mostly coming during the moments of impressive strength and optimism.  Even with all the horrible problems they’re having, it was easy to see from the movie that the community featured is a very special one. It was nice to “meet” all the people who passed by on the screen. One of the people was a lawyer who fought in court for the people of the Attawapiskat Nation. I can’t find her name on the internet, but I would fight for her to be president. The movie was in two episodes, like two episodes of a television program. I’m not sure if more are to be made.

During the Q&A, Alanis Obomsawin talked about how, while taking pictures at a construction site in the reserve, she was told repeatedly and by different people that she was in the wrong place, that she needed to leave. She laughed on stage as she talked about how she just smiled and agreed, but didn’t leave until she was finished doing what she needed to do. Maybe it’s that kind of serious playfulness that accounts for the main feeling that the movie left you with – that there is lots to be done, lots of new ways to go about things, that the hardest things are manageable, that everyone can play a part.

Maybe that serious playfulness can be credited for making Alanis Obomsawin appear to be the most beautiful, and youthful, 80 year old I have ever seen. As I was leaving the after party around midnight, I noticed that she was still dancing.

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Pine Point: An Interactive Documentary by Mike Simons

by Carl Wilson

The furthest north I’ve ever been was in Grade 10, when I played second trumpet in the high-school band and we went on an exchange to Pine Point in the Northwest Territories. The dominant feeling of the trip was the sheer anxious thrill of being so far from home, billeted with a strange family, and playing concerts to audiences full of strangers. The kids in Pine Point were really fun and kind. But the other notable thing was that their town seemed kind of fucked up.

This wasn’t a secret: It was a mining town, and the mine was closing down; there was a big sign that we saw every time our bus drove out of the city limits to go play Hay River or some other neighbouring community, which read, “WOULD THE LAST PERSON LEAVING PINE POINT PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHTS?” I’ve always remembered that, as an unusually robust instance of gallows humour – in a town down south, the city and the cops would never have left the sign standing. Since then, people from other resource- or industry-dependent towns that dwindled have told me that someone there pulled the same prank.

But it wasn’t just that the town was in decline. It was also that some of the young teenagers in the band at the Pine Point school had their own apartments, where they lived on their own. After band practice we would go over there and party, and they had a lot more booze and drugs around than at the parties I went to back home. They threw around a lot of dirty language within earshot of their teachers and didn’t get hassled for it. All of this was pretty shocking to us, the Catholic high-school band that played adulterated versions of Handel and such (because “high-school band” actually is a genre of music that doesn’t quite correspond to anything people really listen to). It wasn’t just gallows humour here, but a kind of gallows culture.

We’d thought the town we came from, Brantford, was fucked up. And it was: It had been an industrial centre, home to one of North America’s biggest farm-equipment manufacturing plants, where half the town had worked. And when I was a kid, Massey-Ferguson shut down, plunging the city into a spiral of unemployment and underfunding that it didn’t really claw its way back from until well after I’d left town. Our downtown was a ghost town, battered by a series of unsuccessful renewal schemes, to the point that even now it’s a popular location to shoot horror movies. And I’m sure some of the kids who dropped out of school in Brantford ended up fending for themselves in shitty apartments, too (in fact I know a couple who did). But it wasn’t a fact easily taken for granted, whereas up here it seemed to be.

I just got a quick and confounded glimpse of what was going on in Pine Point, but it was enough to slap me awake a bit, punch some holes in the roof of my sheltered existence, get a mouthful of that taste that’s the vastness of the world. But those were days before the Internet, when long-distance phone calls were still expensive, and I didn’t keep in touch with any of the kids I’d met up north. I think a couple of my bandmates did for a bit, but I don’t remember getting many reports.

So when I stumbled across this beautifully made NFB interactive documentary called Pine Point, I had to struggle to remember for a bit – “wait, isn’t that the place …?” And then, there on the third page of the documentary (I’m sure there’s more accurate technical language in which to talk about this young medium, but I don’t know it) is a sequence that leads up to that sign: “WOULD THE LAST PERSON LEAVING … ”

The narrative begins with a statement by its maker, Mike Simons: “Pine Point was the first place I ever went alone. I was 9, living in Yellowknife and travelled there for a hockey tournament.” So in some ways, he’s coming from the same perspective, as someone to whom Pine Point was a vivid but fleeting youthful flash. There were differences, of course: His was a 45-minute trip, while ours must have been the better part of a day – a 90-minute bus ride to Toronto, some four hours to Edmonton, another couple of hours to Yellowknife, then a terrifyingly small, rattling plane across Great Slave Lake to Hay River and another bus to Pine Point. He came for sports as a kid, me for music as a teen. And I think he was there a few years earlier than I was.

But he went searching for that memory on the Internet, and discovered that Pine Point no longer existed – not that it had just faded into non-existence, but that it had actually been totally demolished and carted away in the year after the mine closed in 1987. But many of its former residents had banded together on the Internet and started having annual reunions.

As Simons notes, the blurriness of hometown memory takes on a particular poignancy when there is nothing left to compare with it, when that place has really become just a concept, hung precariously on the consensus among a limited group of people that it was real. My uncertainty that Pine Point was the place I visited, that’s almost like a vulnerability in the system – like Tinkerbelle, or God, or other characters in stories that will flicker out of existence if no one believes in them. I reach crucial points in the documentary and think, “Woah, the high school burned down six years before I was there? I vaguely remember hearing that – or am I just synthesizing that memory now on the spot?”

Fortunately, Simons’ thoughtful, deeply textured project takes that private tapestry of images and stories and transplants it squarely into the more secure public realm. (This week it won a Webby, which is a medium deal.) Of course, it gets there through the work of an outsider, but Simons puts in the foreground the tenuousness of memory and the difficulty of preserving let alone communicating it. And that fragility finds an echo in the wounds and tragedies that many Pine Pointers turn out to have undergone in the decades of their dispersal.

They’re the kinds of stories you’d find if you followed any random collection of people over a few decades, as Michael Apted has shown, but just as having seen his characters as children renders even their more banal adult misfortunes wrenching for the viewer, somehow the way each individual Pine Pointer’s roots extend into the fallow frozen dirt of the vanished town (with its “beauty you almost feel guilty for noticing,” as Simons puts it), makes every further deprivation they suffer feel like a greater injustice. At the same time, though, he argues, there’s also a blessing in the fact that Pine Point is gone, as it can never betray them, by changing, or even being different than they imagine it. It is theirs forever, or rather as long as there’s a them to have it.

And this is the reason you never have to have been to Pine Point to appreciate Simons’ achievement here: Really it’s about mortality. The death of the town symbolizes any death, and the way that we each will be remembered, until we’re not. It’s why the interactive nature of the project is so suitable – it gently forces you to get your hands in there, not to try to stay out of this fray of life and death.

The documentary counsels appreciation of little things like teams, tournaments, hobby groups and parties, as well as those big bits of history that unite us, because they all serve as pegs to hang our quilts of memory on (Simons remembers the day a Russian satellite crashed near Yellowknife the way the Pine Pointers remember the high-school fire and the way we’ll all remember getting the news of Osama bin Laden’s assassination this week). And some day when they pack each of us up and cart us away, you want to have accumulated a nice healthy collection of those involvements large and small, so you leave people more to think about, more to recall you by, than that you seemed kind of fucked up, in that period when you were closing down.

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