Tag Archives: misha glouberman

Tea With Chris: 1/N’s Worth of Everything

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: Last week, I was unable to ignore a lot of short, conflicting, not-so-helpful articles that either argued that women’s position in the world is now supremely better than ever, or, that it is just as bad as it’s always been – no, it’s worse!  Then I came across a playful audio episode of Sook-Yin Lee’s Definitely Not the Opera under the theme of “Bragging”. It contains a really interesting and disappointing psych test where men and women both judged other women much more negatively than men when mentioning their own great accomplishments. Worth listening to – good to remember how we can all get it wrong.

This seems like a great time to tell you all something smart my boyfriend once did.  He, Misha Glouberman, sometimes runs conferences. I once went to one on art and copyright where the first thing they had us do was sit in groups of four. Misha quickly handed out little cards that had the equation 1/n. He said to please keep in mind for the conference, that if you’re talking more than 1/n (the number of your group) to try to think about that and ask yourself why you were talking so much and maybe to try to talk a little less. And that if you were talking less than 1/n, to think about that and ask yourself why and try to talk a little bit more. It proved to be a better day than normal.

This week, real-world evidence of triumphs – Julia Gillard calls out Australian opposition leader for hypocrisy and misogyny (a real pleasure to watch if you haven’t yet – the best entertainment is always the truth), and tragedies – the shooting of 14-year-old activist Malala Yousufzai and two other young girls. Made me remember a moving 30 minute documentary by the director Khadija Al-Salami that I watched on the DVD magazine Wholphin years ago. It was about “the bravest 13 year old girl in the world”, a girl named Nejmia. You can watch it here on Youtube.

Toronto artist Iris Fraser is making a movie called Brother Frank. Here’s the trailer – she’s currently gathering money to aid post-production. I think she used film to make it.

After watching the trailer for Brother Frank, I somehow wandered over to Youtube and watched all the trailers that Rebel Wilson is in. I was a little disappointed to realize with each trailer that she wasn’t the star. Though maybe there are no more stars, maybe we’re all 1/n in the movies now.

Bruce La Bruce on the train to Montreal on the New Yorker on Andy Warhol.  A really nice piece.

Speaking of Twitter, I caught a glimpse of a strange and wonderful Tipping Point moment: Roger Ebert declares “We all must become mostly vegetarian”.

Carl: I forgot to mention in my tea last week about the late Eric Hobsbawm that the Marxist historian was also (under a pseudonym) a jazz critic for a decade. Today, someone pointed me to a Simon Reynolds post in which he unearths a few more fellow-travelling intellectuals who once dabbled in the music-critic stream – including Perry Anderson, who in the New Left Review (and also under a pseudonym) in the late ’60s/early ’70s said this about Bob Dylan: “Within the metamorphoses of American rock, he plays something like the same role as Chateaubriand, fons et origo of European romantic literature in the last century: an omnipresent influence, monumentally reedy, vain and feeble in itself, yet paradoxically fecund and liberating for its successors, because of its impacts on genre, Dylan’s self-pitying verse and prophetic posturings again and again produce inferior art (sometimes nauseatingly so — items such as “Just Like a Woman” are a nadir by any criteria). Yet out of these vapourings have emerged groups like the Byrds and the Band.”

Things get predictably excessive when our friend Brian Joseph Davis interviews Mark Leyner for the Believer, describing the Trojan War as a reality-TV show. Quoth Leyner:Of course Helen gets stolen, but, from the Olympian perspective, it started at a wedding where there were three goddesses who asked Paris to pick the hottest goddess. For some reason Paris took part in this. Every other mortal said, ’Uh-uh. Not getting involved in this. This couldn’t be good, as I’m going to piss two goddesses off.’ But Paris did piss two goddesses off, and hence this whole series of events happened. and I thought: That’s it? That’s how all this happened? Is that not out of reality TV? When two girls come into the kitchen on the Jersey Shore and ask, ‘Who do you want to fuck most? Pick one.’ Then someone gets pissed off. … Again it’s one of these odd transpositions between most trivial and most important. Those distortions of scale, I think, are at the basis of both what’s poetic and what’s funny.”

Two videos of space changing: Toronto expands, a star explodes.

Chris: Hey, did you know there’s an International Pizza Expo? On a slightly more high-minded tip, here’s Michael DeForge’s comic “Leather Space Men,” which is sort of like those urban legends about Bill Murray if Bill Murray was an unspeaking bondage-gear-covered Other.

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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

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

Ten-plus Cultural Experiences I’m Still Thinking About Now that 2011’s Done with Us

by Carl Wilson

 [With trademark untimeliness, Back to the World is presenting a series of belated, cross-genre, year-end lists, as we did last year, and again loosely on the model of Greil Marcus’s long-running Real Life Rock Top Ten. Margaux posted last week and Chris will post soon. Once again I’ve confined myself to topics I haven’t written about at length here before, or in my year-end chatter in the Slate Music Club (and accompanying Spotify playlist).]

1. Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying (out, late 2010; read, early 2011)

 The Toronto-based writer, musician and scholar Marcus Boon’s generous intervention (that’s a full, free PDF) over one of the issues of our time (cf SOPA) seemed to echo everywhere – as far out as the viral reproduction of revolutionary courage through Arab countries, and the call-and-response of the “human microphone” of Occupy Wall Street and its own hashtag-breeding copycats.

What I found so moving, even given the book’s digressive wander through a potentially infinite subject (and the foolhardiness of trying to control infinitudes) was its restoration of copying’s many sensual and spiritual connotations in what has been much too abstract and legalistic a debate. The back-and-forth weave and warp of repetition and difference is a pervasive leitmotif of existence, and not just the human. Boon’s treatment is elusive, with no definitive answers, but that means it will reward repeated re-reading, never just a copy of the first time.

2. The sex scenes in Todd Haynes’ Mildred Pierce (March, 2011)

 

There was a lot of debate about what Haynes, one of my favourite American film directors, did in his HBO mini-series with the template of the 1940s melodrama starring, of course, Joan Crawford: Had he evacuated the original film’s queerness, its camp, and left only a portrait of a status-and-materialism-driven woman who brings ruin, reinstating the misogyny of James M. Cain’s 1941 novel? Yes and no. Yes, he was bringing back the sting of the novel’s more radical anti-capitalism. But he was also taking the mini-series’ extra time to push the viewer’s nose far deeper into the mortification (social death, social stiffening) Kate Winslet’s Mildred endures when all the guarantees of the social contract are pulled out from under her by economic-cycle brutality and masculine bad faith, and the contradictions she helplessly generates (chiefly in her daughter, almost earning Evan Rachel Wood’s scenery-masticating performance) in the course of trying to maintain vestiges of her expectations within that outcaste position.

But Haynes also grants Winslet’s Mildred a grace Crawford’s could never taste – full-blown, full-grown sensual gratification, in her leggy, languorous love scenes with Guy Pearce as aristocratic reprobate Monty Beragon, the real sex object of the piece. Granted, the plot ensures this is in many ways another trap, but between them the actors and Haynes refuse that old morality’s to overpower the commandments of skin and light on skin, the manifesto for being and perseverance that an intimate bodily encounter can’t utter but can proclaim. It enacts what camp once did but no longer can: victory within defeat, not just despite but also because of loss, in its unapologetic ensnarement with entropy and other ultimate unfairnesses, against which desire still demands, “Live all you can.”

By making that so vivid, and driven by the will of the “unrespectable” woman, Haynes discredited his own tragedy, asking why a male film figure like George Clooney or Clark Gable (whom Pearce’s Monty directly recalls) can give that same kind of vicarious pleasure and get at best lightly slapped, while Mildred Pierce has to be dragged through the shoals. In this, though the rest isn’t perfect, Haynes really made a melodrama to end all melodrama.

3. WTF with Marc Maron interviewing Bryan Cranston (June 10); Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul on Breaking Bad (all year)

 

If you measured by the number of hours spent on it in the year, you would conclude my most cherished art form is not music, literature, live performance or even TV, but the podcast. Check my iTunes: I’m currently subscribed to about 65, though the majority are really radio shows, not native to the pod. And the majority of those aren’t mwhusic but talk. Perhaps it’s that I live alone and am comforted by the chatter during cleaning, cooking, trying to go to sleep and other routines (I wish I were better with silence). But it’s also because non-broadcast radio lets people take liberties with talk – that most eternally human of media – that feel fresh and exciting without being consciously experimental and avant. There’s no better example, title down, than Marc Maron’s What the Fuck?! I came to it a little late, compelled by its backstory: A veteran, never breakout comedian who’s struggled with personal demons gets new career success and satisfaction by sitting down with people in his field in his garage and asking them frank, patient questions of craft, d but also how their own flaws and hauntings have affected their stories – empathetically sounding their barriers and/or divulging his admiring but frustrated puzzlement at how they surpass them.

The editions that draw hype tend to be confronting, sensational – a showdown with a hack, an uncomfortable discussion with a friend, a comedy writer confessing an attempted suicide. But I love the quieter talks he has with people about their growth. One of my favourites was with Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston, and not just because he’s an actor whose work left me wide-eyed over the past several years (as it clearly did Maron). Cranston is at once enormously garrulous and open about his route to his ambitions (he tells stories with theatrical gusto) and humble (not showbiz humble, but humble) and grateful for the improbable fact that his journeyman dues-paying led to an artistic and career jackpot. I listened in early summer and have thought about it at least weekly since.

  

 Bryan Cranston, out of character … and in.

For several months, that was partly because a highlight of each week was the fourth season of Breaking Bad, the best drama on television since The Wire, even better if only because it had the previous show to go by (just as The Wire had The Sopranos). Unlike those two, it isn’t a big ensemble piece. Supporting players are super, but this is a show about two people, Cranston’s Walter White and his protégé (considering how terribly he’s protected, that’s exactly the wrong word): Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman. I have nothing original to add to the accolades: Beyond character and cinematic weave, what’s remarkable is its arc in which a good man becomes very far from good, at first for circumstantial reasons and then for deeply rooted ones, and the audience has to test how far our sympathies can extend, even as we vicariously participate in the rot.

The season finale is the obvious standout, featuring both one of the most ingenious murder scenes ever committed to film or video and an ending many viewers might find it hard to get past (and not just for its dangling plot threads). But three weeks earlier, there was an atypical episode, in which the focus shifted from Walter to Jesse for nearly the whole hour and forced the younger man to find unexpected strengths. It mattered because the question has become whether anyone in this saga will walk away alive with something like an intact soul, and there’s really only one hope left. Here we begin to see that a story that seemed to be about one person and his themes and issues might really be a story about someone and something else. As always: The story of the parents turns into the story of the children, which then turns out to be the story of their children, and the next, and so on. If it doesn’t, that’s when there’s real trouble. (Attention, anyone who compared Occupy Wall Street to Woodstock.)

4. The consolations of comedy: Party Down on Netflix, “Adults in Autumn” (Chris Locke, Kathleen Phillips, Nick Flanagan, 
Rebecca Kohler, 
Jon McCurley, 
Tom Henry
, Glenn Macaulay) at Double Double Land (November), Louis CK at the Sony Centre (October) and Louie, Maria Bamford at Comedy Bar (January), Parks & Recreation, Community, the Comedy Bang Bang podcast …

Along with having become a podcast nerd – and abetted by it – what really struck me in 2011 is that over the past several years I was becoming a comedy nerd. I’m now usually more enthusiastic to go see people say funny things than to hear a concert, or to listen to or watch comedy on my computer than to listen to music. I follow local comics, especially the way-underpublicized Kathleen Phillips, as avidly as I used to follow bands, even here in the greatest musickest citiest of them all-est. I am still puzzling. Perhaps it’s just that a change is as good as a rest, as they say: The comedy nodes in my brain may be less worn-down than the music nodes. Or perhaps there really is more fresh happening in comedy than in music (in Toronto specifically or in general?), or more likely that whatever was new a half-decade ago or more to true comedy nerds finally has become obvious and available to us rabble. (The fact that I still don’t love the Best Show on WFMU is the clinching evidence, right?)

Or as Woody Allen would say, maybe I just needed the eggs. A lot of us had a grim year.

And speaking of eggs, I agree completely with Margaux about the Louie duckling-in-Afghanistan episode.

5. Have Not Been the Same by Michael Barclay, Ian A.D. Jack and Jason Schneider: reissue (June), panel (Soundscapes, Toronto, July) and CD (November)

Have I gotten this far without having to declare any conflicts of interest? No matter, plenty more to come.

Even in this supposedly retromanic age of eternal re-re-return, the bubbles of cultural history with local habitations but no names can easily pop away and leave only stains on the barroom floors. A decade ago, three Canadian music writers, one of them my friend Michael Barclay, tried to guard against that by writing a history of the Canadian music world (mostly indie division) from the mid-‘80s to the mid-‘90s, Have Not Been the Same: The Can-Rock Renaissance. It was a fairly thankless task in 2001, when those scenes were waninh, fractured and with little apparent trace, though since the book mentioned dozens upon dozens of people it sold well enough. Perceptively, though, they later realized the Canadian successes of recent years lent their subject renewed relevance – and that made it incomplete as history. So they undertook many more interviews, updated the individual stories and overall tale with a new introduction and conclusion and brought the book back this year. They held launch concerts and discussions – including a panel at Soundscapes record shop in Toronto with Julie Doiron (ex-Eric’s Trip, current-Julie Doiron), Don Pyle (ex-Shadowy Men, ex-Phono Comb, many more, current Trouble in the Camera Club) and Alison Outhit (ex-Rebecca West, ex-Halifax Pop Explosion, current FACTOR) that was one of the most worthwhile discussions of how musicians and music live and that life has changed I’ve experienced in ages, even (I think) without nostalgia.

Michael’s also curated a companion soundtrack, possibly the first of many, with more recent Can-Rockers playing gems from the book’s era. Which coverers and coverees you like best likely will depend on your own faves: For me, there’s something especially poignant about the Hidden Cameras coaxing out the gentleness of Mecca Normal’s “Throw Silver,” or Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire) and Little Scream slipping into the steamy ether of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “When You Know Why You’re Happy.” Maps overlaid, outlines of one sunken continent shimmering around the contours of one newer-risen. Lenses, focusing other lenses, or a more vibrant blur.

6. Stand-In (1937) with Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart and Joan Blondell, on Turner Classic Movies (August 24)

Not at all new, of course, but new to me when I stumbled upon it on TV in the summer. It’s a bundle of this-but-that: A screwball, Hollywood-skewers-Hollywood comedy that bridges Bogart’s tough-guy and leading-man days, with Busby Berkeley star Joan Blondell (the excuse for its airing, in an evening featuring her) being cutesy-charming but also the brains of the outfit, Leslie Howard stiff and patrician-blinkered but then melting and gaining his senses, and the whole thing ending with a ridiculous/stirring Hollywood labour uprising that gives away its Depression-to-New Deal moment, hard to imagine in many other eras. Apparently the original was more radical still – censored were “a speech about the stifling of competition in the industry and the crushing of independent companies by the majors; and … a speech by Atterbury at the end, in which he says he is going to start a Senate investigation of the motion picture business.”

Here’s a link to the whole movie, as long as it lasts:

It probably stuck with me because the broadcast just preceded the #Occupy moment, but anything mainstream-American that talks explicitly of economic justice without patting itself on the back until its spine breaks (like recent supposed treatments of the financial crisis), frankly, is memorable on its own.

7. The Citizens’ Filibuster (July 28)

Another classic movie came to mind in Toronto a month earlier, on the night of July 28: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. We mentioned it and pictured it here at the time, but too briefly: The bizarre, nearly-24-hour session of citizen testimony – or, as it became known, the “citizens’ filibuster” – against Rob Ford’s attempt to slash budgets was, just as Torontoist says, one of the truly heroic moments of the year, here or anywhere: Our local mini-Newt’s attempt to force closure became the opposite, a populist force to pry the oyster of debate back open, which led to this month’s still-surprising turnabout, in which Ford’s agenda was, for the time being, trounced.

Culturally, whether you were at City Hall or following it on the simulcast and especially social media, it was incredible civic theatre, in which vivid characters (none more heart-tugging than the one below, but some others close) displayed the eloquence and, more significantly, the expertise of so-called ordinary people who normally aren’t even allowed to pick up the marbles in the political game. It’s a contrast to the ugly pro-death-penalty and anti-immigrant ovations of selected attendees at Republican primary debates, for instance. Don’t let those things kill your faith in humanity. The corpse of that faith is what the vultures feed upon.

8. DJs Debate Club at the Henhouse (March 6)

This entry’s a tad more self-indulgent: For the past few years, the Henhouse on Dundas West in Toronto has been the place that I and a few close friends have gone to get our cheap beers on and make like Jonathan Richman, except in a post-Will-Munro-polymorphic Third Place. Our hosts Katie Ritchie, Jenny Smyth and Vanessa Dunn made us more than welcome, and last spring invited me and pal Michael McManus (yes, the last of the Brunnen-G) to DJ one night under our Henhouse nickname, Debate Club (for our propensity to jawbone loudly about politics till closing time).

On the theme of #occupy-precursors that runs through this list, Michael decided we should intercut tracks of famous political speeches between tracks. It would have been a big hit if it had been six months later. Instead we eventually abandoned poor Mario Savio when cooler (but sweatier) heads prevailed and taught us girls just wanna have Robyn. I hadn’t DJ’d since the last time I supplied Wavelength with an iPod playlist, and had forgotten what a rush it is to play music very, very loud, like conjuring worlds, and sex, and astral projection. (Thanks also to Jacob Zimmer, Small Wooden Shoe and Dancemakers for letting me do it again at a fundraiser in December.)

The Henhouse has changed hands now, sadly for its denizens, end of an era. Ladies, you regularly made a room a festival and a roundup of strays into a small community, as best a bar can do. You’ll be missed, but I’m excited to see what you all do next.

9. Misha Glouberman’s Negotiation Class (winter/spring)

Along with assuming the role of author (along with our comrade Sheila Heti) of The Chairs are Where the People Go (about which I really recommend this Los Angeles Review of Books podcast, along with LARB in general), B2TW associate Misha embarked on another new venture this year: An experienced teacher of many forms of improvisation and facilitator of conferences and events, he began this year giving a class in negotiation and communication born of both his innate inclinations to and his concerted studies of  reason, compromise and low-bullshit ways for people to have difficult conversations.

I took the pilot-workshop version of it last winter, with mostly Misha’s friends in it, at a time that I was navigating some crucial personal and professional transitions; some parts worked out and some didn’t, but I’d been given new tools to break down what was happening and address it with, most of all, relative fearlessness. That’s what much of Misha’s work is about: how to cope with the fear that human exchange sparks, which causes us to act protectively in ways that read as irrational to the very people we want most to understand, and find productive alternatives. Generosity, he shows, is a more winning position – not #winning, but in the sense that there’s usually less substantial conflict than meets the eye. (The urge to win, itself, might be an evolutionary catch-22.) He’s teaching a short, intensive version of the course again next month at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

10. Quite Interesting (QI) with Alan Davies, Bill Bailey, Rob Brydon, Jimmy Carr and Stephen Fry (Sept., 2007)

Back to humour again: This is from a few years ago but I first saw it because over Vietnamese dinner Misha brought up the BBC quiz/chat/comedy show QI, hosted by Stephen Fry, so I spent an afternoon watching clips. And then I hit this, which (beginning at 0:22), makes me laugh helplessly and forgive Britain all its sins. I like to watch it any time I feel overwhelmed, with no straight lines to follow. Or maybe I’ll do it ritually every year, as a colonial amusement, the way northern Europeans watch Dinner for One.

PLUS

Melancholia, especially Charlotte Rampling as the archetypical Bad Mother, and Earth as the even more archetypical Bad Mother; Kirsten Dunst at the Cannes press conference for Melancholia; the BBC series Sherlock, the other BBC series The Hour, and the other (much less smart about Britain, class and war, but still absurdly entertaining) BBC series Downton Abbey; Christian Marclay’s The Clock at Paula Cooper and Alexander McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” at the Met (the two art shows I most regret missing) and “Alexander McQueen” (the song by Tomboyfriend); Ryan Trecartin’s “Any Ever” in Queens (the show I’m gladdest I didn’t miss); the Doug Loves Movies podcast and the (for me, unplayable) Leonard Maltin Game (throughout “Two Oceans 11”); the Slate Culture Gabfest (especially being on an episode, which was a thrill); The Ex with Brass Unbound at Lee’s Palace in May; two concert/tour movies about Canadian artists that I didn’t expect to like but that each made me cry, watching them in immediate sequence, Look at What the Light Did Now (Feist) and We’re the Weakerthans, We’re from Winnipeg (Weakerthans); the saving of Saint Mark’s Bookshop; the Smee jokes in Pat Thornton’s third 24-hour standup marathon at Comedy Bar; Tim Hecker’s pipe-organ concert at the Music Gallery; poems by Michael Robbins and D.A. Powell; John Hawkes and Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene; Sandro Perri’s CD launch concerts at the Tranzac in November; Ty Segall at the Wrongbar in NXNE (June); Jeff Mangum at Trinity Saint Paul’s church in Toronto, Aug. 12; discovering this early-1980s scene from a Ron Mann art film featuring Jim Carroll and Jack Layton improbably together, both RIP, #occupymemory; as an epigraph to the year, these lines from “Hindsight,” by Richard Buckner: “Stricken as we stood/ Broken as we made/ Time for make-believe/ Stealing, when we should/ What we couldn’t give away.”

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Filed under books, carl wilson, chris randle, comedy, comics, events, lectures, literature, margaux williamson, movies, music, other, poetry, TV/video, visual art

Tea With Chris: Mysteriously Enormous

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

Chris: I’m covering the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time right now, and it feels a little like this:

So brevity is better. Via batarde, the only television appearance Georges Bataille ever made:

A D.C. consulting firm is building an unpopulated “test city” in the New Mexico desert.

When he’s hosting the long-running Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall, our friend Misha Glouberman begins every night with a perpetually witty spiel about how to ask good questions. The New York Times just published a written version of it: “Pay attention to your mental images as the question is occurring to you. When you picture yourself asking the question, are you mysteriously enormous? Are you made of gold? These are signs that you may possibly have a bad question.”

A Luc Sante essay devoted to his uncontrollable library is obviously going to be great, but his nuanced speculation on the physical medium’s future surprised me; he praises Google’s systematic digitization of literature and seems curious about the various e-readers, yet remains eloquently concerned for printed matter: “Many books are screwy, a great many are dull, some are irredeemable, and there are way too many of them, probably, in the world. I hate all the fetishistic twaddle about books promoted by the chain stores and the book clubs, which make books seem as cozy and unthreatening as teacups, instead of the often disputatious and sometimes frightening things they are…I realize that books are not the entire world, even if they sometimes seem to contain it. But I need the stupid things.”

Carl: This book seems screwy, dull, disputatious and the entire world all at once. Of the recent spate of “things” books, though, maybe the most intriguing: The idea that there was once a popular genre of “it narratives” related by inanimate objects, body parts and animals is so delightful; the prose in which it seems to be told looks much less so on quick perusal but I am willing to give it a more slow-paced chance: The Things Things Say is a cool title.

On a similar level this video is too long & not as funny as it wishes but I agree so much with its thesis that I can’t help but endorse it.

Best music journalism on the web of late: Geeta Dayal’s extensive piece on German performance/noise artist and synth-pop (Tangerine Dream, Cluster/Kluster) innovator Conrad Schnitzler; and two less-than-reverent considerations of the intersections of music with 9/11: Maura Johnston and Chris Weingarten’s list of the worst Sept. 11 response songs (which nervily includes both “Empire State of Mind” and a Xiu Xiu song – agreed, and I love Xiu Xiu – along with the usual suspects, – though I would stand up for Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You” despite the wince-worthy Iraq/Iran line, for turning to Christian love as opposed to biblical vengeance as the value it wants to defend); and Hua Hsu’s subtle memoir about how he had an overdue record review that day, which ends up being a sidelong meditation on several virtues that can bring you through trials more reliably than the recent American predilection for demonstrative emotion.

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Tea With Chris: The Chairs Are Where the People Go

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

Chris: The log that’s a bench. I like the idea of carving modern furniture into various parts of the landscape, as if inverting the ethos of those men in downtown Toronto who only wear lumberjack shirts.

The Xiu Xiu cover of Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World)” sounds exactly like I expected (well, aside from the “we can make sandwiches” interpolation) but that is very much okay.

A K-pop summer jam for you, complete with dubstep breakdown:

Margaux: In a waiting room, I came across this article by Fania Fainer in Chatelaine Magazine “Would you risk your life for a friend?”. I stopped to read it because I know Fania Fainer and recognized her picture. I’m friends with her daughter and have met Mrs. Fainer several times. She’s a very charming and open-minded woman. The article is incredibly short, and it’s one of the most meaningful things I have read in a long time. I highly recommend it.

Two of my favourite people (one of my best friends and my partner) made a book called The Chairs Are Where the People Go that’s just coming out now. It was included in a summer reading list, in spot #2 for New York magazine. Sheila Heti talked to her good friend Misha Glouberman to see if they could come up with chapters on what he knows. He knows 72 short chapters. It’s a strange, elegant and deceptively simple book – even useful.

Speaking of New York magazine, I appreciated this article by art critic Jerry Saltz on the Venice Biennale a few weeks ago (as did 292 people on Facebook). Saltz writes of being worried by the majority of the art he saw there – work that speaks to and interacts with the concerns of an older generation of art academics. I share this concern. He seems worried, but from where I stand I see the battle between those working within an older academic dialogue (looking to their teachers for their concerns and for their audience) and those striving to communicate beyond the contemporary confines of the art world (hoping to contribute to a contemporary world dialogue rather than just an inner art world dialogue) as pretty 50/50. Unlike Saltz, I am confident that the world kids will win – even if they aren’t yet being warmly invited to the Biennales. Or maybe they are just having too much fun on the internet.

Dear Toronto’s Bell Lightbox. Everyone loves your cinemas and everyone complains about your website. Everyone wants a clearly-visible button that will take you to the monthly schedule – they want a clear monthly schedule in your catalogue too, like in the olden days of cinema. Everyone also complains that they can only pay with Visa like at your film festival. People really don’t like that – especially the people who have a Visa card and none of their other friends do so they have to buy all the tickets.

Dear Lady Gaga, you can still work a persona even if you’re not acting all the time. A persona in the natural world is crazy! Wearing sneakers and dirty hair, with a boring old human face. That can be a dangerous and exciting platform for some persona play. Some people might not even know there is any persona play – and that can be fucked up.

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Tea With Chris: The Many Revenges

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

Chris: I’m in New York City. During my first and only previous visit, I crossed paths with St. Vincent after emerging from the subway in Manhattan. I wanted to say hi, maybe tell her she’d been great in Toronto the week before, but it was the hottest day of the year and I was a sweaty stranger who had just seen a dead-looking person trapped beneath an overturned van, so I shambled on uptown in silence. At least I can shout out Annie Clark on the internet, such as for this clip from last week, where she covers Big Black in  world-destroying fashion.

Marginalia!

Carl: Rock’n’roll pioneer Bill Hayley’s widow and children finally speak about his sad diminuendo. Her undying love for her very difficult husband kept her quiet all these years – but she eventually realized that her silence was muting his reputation and erasing his history. Michael Hall’s piece from Texas Monthly rocks – must I say it? – right around the clock.

For three weeks I’ve been meaning to write something about my dear friend Sean Dixon‘s excellent new book, The Many Revenges of Kip Flynn. I wanted to discuss it in the context of Torontopia and Toronto-dystopia, of which it is probably the best example in fiction, and I wanted to talk about the way that it colour-saturated my mental image of certain city locations, and the rich ways in which the real biographical facts about Sean that I know shine through cracks in its architecture. But then I discovered that, minus the bio-friendship aspect (which was always a little indulgent), that my post had already been written, by Amy Lavender Harris, who is far more qualified to write it than I am, being an expert on the ways Toronto has been rendered and transfigured in prose and poetry through the years. Her essay more than merits your attention. It should convince you how much the book does.

Speaking of friends and books, it was very enjoyable to see the Los Angeles Times this week call our friends Sheila Heti and Misha Glouberman‘s forthcoming collaboration The Chairs Are Where the People Go ” intelligent, quirky, charming, hard to classify … a sign of health in the publishing industry. It shows that there is a willingness to take risks – and maybe even have some fun.”

Enough logrolling. I leave you with the time that Pere Ubu was mistaken for children’s music. Was it the name?

Margaux: I came across this hilarious and painful Edmund White book review “In Love with Duras”  about the French filmmaker and novelist Marguerite Duras. It’s also kind about the one-time French president François Mitterrand (and the good and the bad things things he and Duras did during the World War 2). I lost track of what book it was talking about – it includes the line “he was finally shot by a madman in 1993 – fortunately for everyone” – but I sure do now have a better sense of Marguerite Duras and how she sometimes made fiction a little bit safer than real life.

We miss you William O. Douglas (1898 –1980), U.S. Supreme Court Justice, he who declared, “Trees have standing.” Justice Douglas famously argued that “inanimate objects” should have standing to sue in court (thanks to Chris Randle!):

The critical question of “standing” would be simplified and also put neatly in focus if we fashioned a federal rule that allowed environmental issues to be litigated before federal agencies or federal courts in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers and where injury is the subject of public outrage. Contemporary public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation.
 
Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation. A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes. The corporation sole — a creature of ecclesiastical law — is an acceptable adversary and large fortunes ride on its cases…. So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes — fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it.

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