Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Novel: Portrait Of A Doukhobor As A Young Man

“A man's errors are his portals of discovery.” - James Joyce
It's been a hell of a long struggle to get this far and I've probably got 10 more drafts to go before it's published, but it's an awesome feeling to have arrived, nevertheless. To quote a phrase - I don't like to talk about a present work - it spoils something at the root of the creative act and discharges the tension. But in short, it's based on the life and death of my uncle Harry, a Sons of Freedom Doukhobor.

Have you ever given birth? How about written a novel? I know it's a cliché, but I'm sure I've succeeded in coming the closest a man can come to delivering a newborn baby. I just finished the first draft after working on it non-stop for the past 2 years.

As George Orwell wrote in his essay, Why I Write, "Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."


Saturday, March 27, 2010

King Leary: Of Hot Water & Ice

"To keep a boy out of hot water, put him on ice."
It's a story as old as the Canadian shield and Paul Quarrington knew how tell it. To keep a boy out of hot water, put him on ice. Hockey saved me, no doubt, from a life of rack and ruin. I was already tough enough to handle, and in the absence of conscription, the rink gave me discipline and provided the role models I yearned for but didn't know it. My coaches were the kind that would get up for practice at six in the morning or give up a long weekend to drive a bunch of greasy rugrats to Portland or over to Saanich on Vancouver Island for a tournament. I learned from those men about the meaning of commitment and of how a game like hockey can provide life with a purpose. Give a kid some skates, keep him out of trouble.

Percival Leary, the main character of Quarrington's 1987 novel King Leary, is a mook of a man, an aging superstar of the ice. His voice is a cross between Howie Meeker and Charlie Farquharson with more than a pinch of Stompin' Tom's lyricism thrown in for sweetener. Poor Leary gets tossed into a reform school run by a bunch of monks for setting a house on fire with a bag of dog shit, and learns how to master the great game with such secret weapons as the "whirlygig."

I spent my sixteenth birthday in jail after two other scoundrels and I were caught sending everything from pizzas to plumbers to a little old lady's home. We were later charged with extortion when we told her if she left a bag of money at the end of her street the incessant barrage of deliveries would finally be annulled. Apart from dear mum, who else came to my aid in my darkest hour of need? My Midget A hockey coach, a former NHL right winger. He wrote me a glowing letter of recommendation that convinced the judge I must be a decent mook if I could muster a hockey defense. It worked - I got pulled out of hot water and was back on the ice within days.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Google Leaves China: No More Evil?

Back in 2006 when Google entered the Chinese mainland market, I wrote that despite the compromise, it had succeeded in opening the country up in a way that would ultimately erode China's draconian censorship laws.

Four years later that venture has come to an end. Earlier today Google announced it was closing its search engine on the mainland and redirecting all traffic to its Hong Kong site. This is a huge slap in the face to Beijing and the signs are they won't do the smart thing and just let it go. As Rebecca MacKinnon and others have pointed out, by continuing to keep this issue alive Beijing is insuring that censorship remains in the headlines, reminding its population of how much their own government is hiding from them.

Beijing won't be able to tolerate being outfoxed by a bunch of running dog lackeys of capitalist-imperialist oppressors. Ever since the row broke out in January over a series of hacking attacks Google said the Chinese government was behind, things have turned pretty sour very quickly. Google doesn't have much to lose - financially they were a distant second to the domestic market leader, Baidu, and the "stand" they've taken continues to earn kudos from anti-censorship advocates around the world. Here's Sin Chung-kai, a former Hong Kong Democratic Party legislator, supporting the move:

China, on the other hand, is succeeding in making its market look as welcoming as an acid pool to foreign investors, while at the same time providing its citizens with an uncensored view of the contempt it has for any freedom of thought. It'll be interesting to see how Beijing reacts to Google's presence in Hong Kong from now on...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Men Who Drank Canada Dry: Ireland

"I saw a notice which said, 'Drink Canada Dry' and I've just started." - Brendan Behan
The first time I set foot in Ireland was in Belfast, just off the boat from Stanraer in Scotland. I was twenty, soon to be twenty-one, and my buddy - Brian - had just turned nineteen. It was the summer of 1988 and we had been backpacking and busking through Britain and noticed that the further we got away from London, the money, beer and quality of people improved exponentially.

When we arrived in Ireland the contrast was blinding; it was like a small town and we were stopped on the street, in pubs - wherever - to ask about what we were up to, where we came from, and of course, to "play a tune." On more than one occasion, the British Army searched my guitar case for any rifles I might have stashed away. We went for a stroll down the Falls Road, a major Catholic/Republican stronghold, and came across a gang of kids between six and eleven years old playing around the burnt-out shell of a car that had been set alight the night before. As we looked around we noticed soldiers perched up inside watchtowers peering down at us. Belfast was still a city under siege at the time.

When we crossed into the Republic the hospitality continued as the Guinness flowed. By the time we arrived in the west of Ireland I was thoroughly acclimatized and enamored with the Irish charm. In Sligo, Yeat's childhood home and final resting place, we got booked for two nights into Hennigan's Pub on Wine Street as "The Men Who Drank Canada Dry" after the Behan quote, and met up with Andy White from Belfast, who was touring at the time. I can proudly say that I got my first sunburn of the trip in Ireland riding my rented bike from Sligo out to Rosses Point in the middle of June. An Irish sunburn - how many people can say that? After I returned to Canada, I wrote "The Men Who Drank Canada Dry." Here's Yuko & I singing it as "The Folks Who Drank Canada Dry":

The Men Who Drank Canada Dry

Left our hometown for the open road
Guitar and backpack our only load
Saw all the sights that could be seen
Now it's time to be where we ain’t never been

Heave ho away we go, no more will we shudder a sigh
Today we leave and we say goodbye
We're the men who drank Canada dry!

Some are content with less than all
Some can't rise and some can't fall
We'll take it all with no regrets
When you hear this song us you’ll never forget


The Canadian beer is a watery brew
It ain't nothing like the Irish Guinness stew
We drank your towns empty, we closed them all down
And we're still standing with our feet on the ground


We'll sit with you one last time
A drink of draught for auld lang syne
Cheers to you my friend, if we see you again
You'll be pissed drunk in an East Van glen

(Copyright © AllDayBliss Music)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Hurt Locker: War Is A Drug

"The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug." - Chris Hedges

Yuko and I saw The Hurt Locker this weekend and I was convinced it deserved the Oscar for Best Picture, as well as Best Director for Kathryn Bigelow. It was a gritty, terrifying and profound indictment of U.S. policy, not only foreign, but domestic. The ravages inflicted during war are never confined to the battlefield or to an "enemy." As others have pointed out, slavery, for example, devastated more than just the slaves - the oppressors were turned into slave masters. War will bite you in the ass, no matter what side you're on.

Iraq may have been the film's setting, but it was expansive enough to take in the concept of war and militarism in general. The film focuses on one character, Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) who is a typical cowboy, a reckless "wild man." Through his addiction to the adrenalin rush of battle, he not only puts himself into harm's way, but ends up risking the lives of his fellow soldiers. When he returns home for a break he's a flaccid amoeba of a man, literally lost in the supermarket at one point. In perhaps the film's most poignant scene, James share's a few moments with his baby boy and all he sees is disillusionment and cynicism. Joy and love are as foreign to him as peace and security are to Iraq.

The bigger statement resonates loud and clear - a nation that goes to war for no more reason than because it can, is doomed to destroy itself. I think we've been witnessing the slow death of the U.S. since the day George W. Bush was appointed by the Supreme Court in December 2000. It's a death that is all consuming, bigger than Obama or its own constitution.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Roots/Routes: Regarding Wave

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain
Why travel? Why not settle down, grow some roots? Truth is, I'm more at home easing down the road, born to seek out experience before it all disappears like wild horses over the hills. As Jack Kerouac wrote, "the road is life."

When I'm stuck in one place for too long I get as cranky as Charles Bukowski with a wart on his ass.

Stability is a state of mind, not the state of a bank account; security is health - mental, spiritual and physical.

We're all on the road, but some just don't know it. Once you do, it becomes easier to tune into the essentials. Nothing is yours except the air, sleep, sky, dreams...the key is learning to travel light, ride easy on what Gary Snyder called "the wave," those fluctuating energies that crisscross the universe at any particular moment.

Regarding Wave

The voice of the Dharma
the voice

A shimmering bell
through all.

Every hill, still.
Every tree alive. Every leaf.
All the slopes flow.
old woods, new seedlings,
tall grasses plumes.

Dark hollows; peaks of light.
wind stirs the cool side
Each leaf living.
All the hills.

The Voice
is a wife

him still.


I live for the sound of that "shimmering bell" humming through the air. My routes are rooted there.

奥田民生 イージュー★ライダー (Tamio Okuda - Easy Rider)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Like A Rolling Stone: India

This is a collage video I made with images from our recent trip to India - Dehli, Agra, Mumbai & Goa. Yuko, as usual, took all of them - except for the ones of her that I snapped. I chose Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" because spiritually, it has always connected me to a larger sense of being - the wisdom of knowing all is transitory, ephemeral - and the jubilation of beholding true liberation, that feeling of having "no secrets to conceal."

For as long as I can remember, it has captured my rapture.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A Bloody Good Game: Canada Wins Gold!

I admit I had absolutely no desire to be in Vancouver for the Olympics this year. I mean, Vancouver in February? And it wasn't really Vancouver, was it? It was Whistler....until THE GAME, that is. By then I was willing to pawn my left nut off just for the chance to stroll around Victory Square with a parade of crackheads. Instead, like a sucker I stayed in Hong Kong where the word "hockey" means chasing a ball around a grassy field with a golf club.

When the game finally started at 4am Sunday morning my time, I was glued to my computer like a neurotic cephalopod. The last time anything like this has happened to Vancouver was back in 1994 when the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to Mark Messier's New York Rangers. My band - The Diggers - were playing a gig at the Railway Club as the unmistakable sound of a riot drifted through the bar during our set. We finished, rushed up to Robson Street where the crowd was getting uglier by the minute and quickly made our escape. That's what losers do.

Not this time - things change.

I never saw it coming. I thought Canada was a shoe-in until we lost to U.S.C.A.R.Y. I then began to fear the worst and predicted in my gut of guts - that pit where the coldest of calculations are made - that yes, Canada may, in fact, lose. But wait - suddenly in the second period we were up 2-0. Maybe it could happen. Then 2-1, then up, up and away in the third until thirty seconds left and it became a 2-2 tie. Overtime. By this time I had gnawed off my hands as was starting to gum my feet...

In the end, the suspense almost killed me, but my country held on and snagged the gold. My gut, I realized, is more of a pessimist than my heart could ever be.