June 25, 2016

Nude Girls Sit On Cows...To Cure Them


To cure them.

To  cure them of what?

To cure them of being a cow?

To cure the girls of being nude?

This is a classic "teaser" from 1965, a time when attention grabbing was much simpler than in 2016.

The year was 1965.
I was seven.
I remember the first party that I ever went to at Johnny Mercer's house in Missoula, Montana   Yeah.  Even his name was cool.  He had a Beatle cut, and a stylish little Beatle suit.  I probably was sporting a crew cut, but I still had all my teeth.   Only a year later, I was to chip my front tooth, and had to bear the shame of a silver cap over my front tooth.

I guess I was Gangsta before my time.
Johnny's party was co-ed, which was also a first, and the music that he played was of course The Beatles.   Rubber Soul was my favourite. A certain song about a girl named Michelle, planted an attraction in my head some 10 years ahead of the time when a certain Michelle would come into my life.
Consider that I met my future wife when I was in my last year of high school, bored with the status quo, I decided to take an acting class at Capilano College, travelling once a week from Richmond to North Vancouver.There I met many very cool people, including a skinny girl with long black hair named Michelle.
She had a psycho boyfriend at the time, which cool girls did.   I had a girl that I was "in love" with who was younger than me, but who was also going out with an older guy named Jim.  Later in life our paths would cross again, as Jim was re-born as I Braineater.
At Cap College we had a teacher named Kayla Armstrong, who was from New York.  Doesn't get any hipper than that, kids.  She was smart and edgy and inspired us all.  I met other friends in this class, including local actor Robin Mossley.  Kayla and her husband Robert put on a series of one act plays, and Robin and I were given the challenge of performing Edward Albee's Zoo Story.
Even then I was being typecast with the psycho roles, so Robert switched it up, and cast me as Peter, the quiet mild mannered guy who encounters an outsider named Jerry.  As Wikipedia states:
"Peter and Jerry meet on a park bench in New York City's Central Park. Peter is a middle-class publishing executive with a wife, two daughters, two cats and two parakeets. Jerry is an isolated and disheartened man, desperate to have a meaningful conversation with another human being. He intrudes on Peter’s peaceful state by interrogating him and forcing him to listen to stories about his life, and the reason behind his visit to the zoo. The action is linear, unfolding in front of the audience in “real time”. The elements of ironic humor and unrelenting dramatic suspense are brought to a climax when Jerry brings his victim down to his own savage level.
Eventually, Peter has had enough of his strange companion and tries to leave. Jerry begins pushing Peter off the bench and challenges him to fight for his territory. Unexpectedly, Jerry pulls a knife on Peter, and then drops it as initiative for Peter to grab. When Peter holds the knife defensively, Jerry charges him and impales himself on the knife. Bleeding on the park bench, Jerry finishes his zoo story by bringing it into the immediate present: "Could I have planned all this. No... no, I couldn't have. But I think I did." Horrified, Peter runs away from Jerry, whose dying words, "Oh...my...God", are a combination of scornful mimicry and supplication."
Even as the "quiet guy", I was the killer.
Later that year, I was to play the role of Charly in my high school production of Flowers for Algernon.  Charly was a mentally challenged adult, who is given drugs that make him a genius.  Unfortunately, like many drugs, they wear off, and Charly returned to his simple minded ways by the end of the play. Thinking  back I cannot imagine memorizing all those words, when I am dumbstruck now even trying to memorize the words to Born to Be Wild!  But that then, and this is now.
In another one act play at Cap, I played the troubled violent man in Tom Walmsley's play The Working Man, where in an act of stupid Method bravado, I kicked a fellow actor in the head.   This actor happened to be Susan,  the best friend of this girl Michelle.  We can all laugh about it now, but at the time, even I was horrified by how "into the role" I had become.   
Two years later, I was at Langara, taking theatre there, when a teacher sent me into battle in a game of "status" with another fellow actor.  By the end of the "scene", I had the poor guy in tears.  I would now see this as irresponsible direction by the teacher, and certainly, a confusion in my young mind as to the difference in how to play a character versus inhabiting a persona, that was becoming far too comfortable.

A few months later, I was forced to sit in a lighting booth in the dark during a technical rehearsal, while my  actor friend was able to go see Patti Smith, my hero, at the Commodore.  I decided then and there that acting was not my gig.  I needed to live life before I could play someone else's life.   I was drawn to the punk aesthetic of DYI, where I could be actor, performer, writer and director all in one.   The sugar water of the early punk scene drew my "human fly" ego to it, and it has never let go.
Somewhere in all that confusion of ego, performance, sexuality and sound, I found my way to bring a certain girl named Michelle back into my life.   Fate was calling me.  Like nude girls sitting on a cow.  

November 14, 2015

How to Protect the Unconditional Heart

From your first breath, the possibility of unconditional love lives in your heart.
But as you move through this life, various conditions are placed upon this love.
This unconditional love becomes conditional;
And over time, the inventory of conditions become what is known as a heart condition,
As they act to harden the heart.
These conditions are self-imposed upon our hearts, 
with the false hopes that they can protect our hearts from breaking.
In reality, these conditions themselves work to harden the heart,
with the end result being the heart becomes more brittle and subject to breakage.

In this digital age, we fall in love with the new and the novel,
And in a continual effort to remain current, we install software programs 
to what we will call “the heart drive.”
And we come to believe that these applications will help to make us more efficient,
allow us to go faster, and to help make the images of our life more clear,
or less clear if that is the desire, what we call fading in or fading out.
This is why our “heart drives” can become cluttered, 
resulting in usage of too much memory, freezing up, or endless buffering.
Over time, a frozen heart drive will cause your system to crash or simply shut down.

October 17, 2015

Put Me Down Like Your Favourite Pet

In my part of the country, there are clinics with signs that read Walk-Ins Welcome.  I have often joked about a not too distant future, where the signs will read: Walk Outs Welcome.   In Canada, we face a future where the vast majority of the demographic is made up of aging Boomers, and many of the Boomers, like myself, have not planned well for a future.

Issues of declining health and lack of wealth, rising rates of Alzheimer's, and the usual suspects of Heart disease, Strokes and Cancer, may push some of us aging Boomers to choose to check out.  As my song Freedom 85 states " I can't afford a hole in the ground, Hey Buddy, got a match to light me on fire? I told my wife," Take me to the vet, and put me down like your favourite pet."

This last week, local artist and musician Elizabeth Fischer made the choice to end her life with assisted suicide in Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal.  She had been told recently that she had stage 4 terminal lung cancer.  She also recently put her beloved pet down, and remarked on the way our society views this action, as something that is acceptable for humans to do for pets, but somehow not acceptable for humans to do for other humans, or even for humans to make that decision themselves in regards to their own life.

Elizabeth was an extremely talented visual artist, songwriter, bandleader, lyricist and singer.  Her work with the D.P.s, Animal Slaves and Dark Blue World was intense and compelling.  She was a dark, but humourous person; she was a difficult person who did not suffer fools gladly.  She could be judgmental, and I think I fell into the "fool" category for her upon many occasions. She was someone who challenged me, and my concepts of friendship for many years.   We were not "friends" when she made the decision to take her life.  While I regret not taking the opportunity to remedy that situation prior to her exit, it was something I could not bring myself to do.
But for all our personal animosity, I never lost my respect for Elizabeth's art or her music.  She was an important artist, with very unique voice and vision, and she was always true to that vision.

She had relationships with some of my friends, including close friends Ross Hales and Greg Reely, but I could never say I was particulary close to her. We were colleagues and competitors in a small scene.  We worked together many times, my bands playing with her bands, we were co-founders of MO-DA-MU, a musical collective that included 54/40, Rhythm Mission, Animal Slaves,  Junco Run, the Work Party and Tin Twist.

Tin Twist was fronted by Elizabeth's cousin, Judy Kemeny, who was tragically taken from us when she was quite young with cancer.   Elizabeth and Judy both came from Hungary, and their parents were concentration camp survivors.  Obviously, that experience deeply affects the children, and children's children for many generations.  This dark history informed Elizabeth's art and music, it fired her anger and fuelled her art.

She was a strong person, she was a person with a dark sense of humor, she was a performer.  As performers, we  love a stage, we seek drama, we look for the statement or opportunity to make a statement.  Elizabeth had just had a book release and art show Orphans and Dogs, which was a culmination of her life's work; yet how would anyone know that would be her last work?  With someone so creative, I am sure there would have been much more work if only there had been more time.  With the pronouncement of stage 4 cancer, she knew her time was running out, and she decided to end her life on her own terms, the same way she had lived it.

I suppose it is ironic for me that all of this took place in the month of October, normally one of the darkest times of the year for me.  My good friend Lenore Herb died a few years back of stage 4 terminal pancreatic cancer.  Lenore was also a very talented person who was very challenging, outspoken, and not universally loved.  I sat with her on the day before she breathed her last breath, and can only say that cancer is one of the most cruel ways to die.  At that moment, I totally understand why Elizabeth would choose to end her life the way she did.

Another friend of mine took her own life last year around this time of year.  Her suicide was not assisted, she organized it herself.  She was in a very dark place, and we will never know why she did it, or what events in her life led her to that decision on that very darkest of days.   We are left with shock, and sadness, and anger and confusion.

Death of any kind leaves a hole in the lives of those left behind, the people who were friends or family of the departed.  It is a very sad moment no matter what the circumstances. But our reactions to death are very different depending on age and circumstance.  When a person is much older, we say "they lived a long life, and it was time."  Or if they were in much pain, we say, "it was a blessing, now that pain is over." If a person is very young, we say "how tragic that a life is cut so short, when there was so much promise and future."

In the case of assisted suicide, many of us agree that a person has a right to make the choice.   We may say how brave they are to make that choice.
But in the case of suicide, those of us who are left behind can only ask ourselves, why?  What more could we have done?  While there is a general acceptance of assisted suicide, especially when the person has a physical illness,  there is a general non-acceptance of suicide when the person who commits this act has a mental illness.

I have no answers to this.  Personally, I hope that when the time comes for me, it happens fast. I do not fear death as much anymore.  Every year brings more death, and within my circle, there is not so much birth, but there is always opportunity for new friends and changed relationships with old friends.

What is known for sure is that we have no shelf life.  We are born to die as my friend Frank Ramirez said.  There is much work that has been done, and much more left to do.  I would end this with a shout out to Elizabeth.   I am glad that I had the opportunity to know you, to view your art , to hear your music and listen to your voice.   I have no clue what happens when we leave this life, but I honor the life and time that you had; you made a huge impression and you leave behind a body of work that will live on.  Next time around, perhaps we will be better friends.

Shadow from Days to Come

by Alejandra Pizarnik
For Ivonne A. Bordelois*

they’ll dress me in ash for the sunrise,
they’ll fill my mouth with flowers.
I’ll learn to sleep
inside the memory of a wall,
on the breath
of a dreaming animal.

October 14, 2015


Step in the sun
Step out of the shadows
and be who you are
Everybodys got something
that really matters
Use this life for love

You only got one shot out of this barrel
We only ever come this way but once
If you love someone, then just don't fight it
All you got to do is open up your heart.
Open up your heart.

Sarah Wheeler

October 3, 2015

I Will Work For Words

The white page begs for words.  Got words? Spare words?  Hey brother, can you spare a word? The white page holds a sign, scrawled in the blood of poets, asking for the moon in june, begging for a dark and stormy night, mumbles what me worry, calls and responds with call me Ishtar.
The white page is literally starving for verbs to fill the barren expanse, bereft of subject or predicate. The white page will not be satisfied with mere words, as the real craving is for something better, something bigger like a complete thought that turns into a perfect sentence, a sentence to end all sentences, a sentence that shouts to the world, I WILL WORK FOR WORDS, until word after word, the white page fills with words and is not longer blank, no longer void of meaning.

Still this is not enough for the white page.

A half page mocks the writer, whispers in his ear, taunts him with doubt. After all, anybody can draw up a list.  This is not talent, it is typewriting; these are not hits, but only the shell casings of bullet points!  The white page deserves a blow job of full blown romance, craves mystery, invites nods to the masters, wants originality, not secondhand words lifted from the latest bestseller.  Can I get a punchline that will leave them screaming?  Please don't even consider stopping here.  It knows you have more to give.  Just acknowledge that the page has needs too.

The writer proclaims to the page, I will spill my words upon you, and they will grow like seeds upon the ground, gathering hubris.   One day, I will be known as the Johnny Appleseed of Words.  Yes my words will propagate, they will fuck each other hard, spreading far and wide, pushing boundaries and pushing buttons.  They will tear the buttons off the blue bloods, ripping bodices with abandon, filling the air with a gothic sickness.  Single words will beget more words, until sense finally comes out from the dense undergrowth. Is it too much to dream of meaning?

Slowly the white page disappears, as the writer consumes snowy fields, drinks blood from polar bears, gives the albino a black eye spewing out an alphabetical algorhythm of avuncular albacore albatrosses actualizing an autumn abbatoir, bringing on bloody botox bell curves that burble with Bourbon, calling out corrugated crustaceans, come on my cummerbund! I create danger pay for this doggerel day.  Do pardon my dense dream, darling. Excuses excuses excuses. Flogging florid folderol for feckless felons.  Gets gushing over gaberdine gin gimlets, as garrulous giblets begrudge Godhead. Hurry Hurry Hurry.  I- I- I.  The alphabet stops at I and the writer passes out in parentheses.

In the morning, he wakes with paper in his mouth, pencil shavings and eraser rubbings like sand in his sheets. He cringes as he remembers his lost weekend of words.  Then he crumples the foolscap, and reaches for his coffee and another white page.


September 19, 2015

The Fire and Light of Howard Rix

On September 17, 2015, the fire and the light that was Howard Rix went out leaving a vacuum in many people's lives and hearts.  According to my good friend Chris Crud, "Howard Rix passed away at 7:09 pm on Sept. 17,2015 at VGH.  He suffered a severe asthma attack followed by two heart attacks which lead to devastating brain injury. He passed peacefully with loved-ones at his side."

Howard Rix was a singer's singer; he had a voice that was a true authentic gift.  His sinewy presence on stage was always "on".  I never saw him give a half-ass performance.  Make no mistake, he owned it when he was upon it.  He gave us his all, and then some everytime, from playing on the street to the largest stages in our little town.

We know that a great voice is needed to make someone a great singer. Some people are born with great voices, and some people work and train to further develop their instrument. And some people like myself, try to do the best with what we have.

But Howard Rix was seemingly born with a voice that recalled many giants who came before him- greats like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Iggy Pop. He brought a snarling beauty and depth to what he sang, because unlike some others who may have good voices, Howard was real.  He walked the walk and lived the stories in song that he told on stage.

My very good friend and former drummer,  Steve Taylor, who is a band leader and perhaps the epitome of cool,describes Howard Rix as the best singer that he ever had the privilege of drumming behind. Given the extensive list and range of superb singers that have graced the stage with Steve Taylor, and knowing Steve's unchallenged judgement in this regard, his praise of Howard Rix is genuine and notable.

But Howard was more than just a great singer.  He was a great performer.  He brought darkness and fire to life, His range of performances, from the Stingin' Hornets, to GI Jive, to the Scramblers are legendary.  I had the misfortune of trying to follow him one night. I remember the night at the Chapel Arts with JFK, which also included the legendary Brian Goble. I had to follow Howard and my youthful hero Chris Arnett, two riveting performers if there ever was. I blew my voice out on two songs, and did a double knee drop and hearing them both snap at the same time with some ligament stretched beyond its limit as I hit the stage. Those knees were extremely painful for about 9 months.  But in a town littered with so much talent, and with so many great performers, Howard Rix stood out.

But what makes someone a great performer, not just a great singer?  Is it the way they control the stage, they way the band becomes one instrument behind them?  The way they look at you while you are watching them perform. You think you can see into their soul, and you also feel that maybe, they are looking right into yours?  I find it interesting that some of the most dynamic performers that I have known are also the quietest and sweetest unassuming individuals off stage.  Howard was that way.  He was a kind, soft spoken man who wrestled with his own demons, but he kept those demons private and locked inside, giving us just a glimpse of his darkness as we watched him prowl the stage like a Bengal tiger in our living room.

There was no denying the power or the ferocity; Howard Rix was dangerous. You could feel that with one swipe, he could knock you out.  But he had the grace and inner knowledge that gave him that edge on stage.  We knew he would kill it, but while we were doing that dance of death, maybe he would take time to play with us a bit before he took the big bite that would bring the curtain down.

In the past while, we have lost three giants- Dave Gregg, Brian "Wimpy" Goble and Howard Rix.
Our time here on this messed up planet is brief, much too brief at times.  Those people who burn the brightest will sometimes burn out faster that others, leaving behind shadow and smoke where once we only saw fire and light.  But our memories fill us with incredible joy when we marvel at their greatness and lives, and how we were so fortunate to know them, if even so briefly.  We are filled with so much grief and sadness at their passing, yet we are all just passing through,
Here is to the Fire and the Light that was Howard Rix.  Like the song he sang, "He lived fast, loved hard and died young, and left a beautiful memory."

September 11, 2015

The General Retires

The General retires.
amidst all the hullabaloo,
it just slips out:
"My boys are hard wired,
they couldn't make a choice
anyway boys will be boys"

On a cold football field,
a young girl screams.
We divide and pick teams.
Many boys and one girl -
a pack of roosters and a pearl

"Whose chicken now?"
says the mermaid on the prow
When the girls and guns are passed around,
the young boys go to town.

They hardly had a chance,
they didn't have a choice.
They watch their feet as young girls dance with each other
because boys will be boys.

The General retires to his boudoir,
his grip is getting soft,
He was simply following as Generals do
the chain of command.
His pistol now cold,
lays in the holster waiting,
dripping with sarcasm.