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Autumn Serenade

Janet Werner, STICKY PICTURES, Bradley Ertaskiran, October 15th 2022

Tucked in the back room of Bradley Ertaskiran — the old Parisian Laundry, and one of the finer gallery spaces in the city — was the book launch for Janet Werner’s formidable new publication, Sticky Pictures. People talked and drank wine and had their books autographed by the artist in attendance and pretended not to look at one another.

I adore the frequent subjects of Werner’s paintings — girls. And I revel in the pleasure of adoring them through Werner’s painterly gaze rather than my own sharp male one.

A joke about Andy Warhol’s desire not only to be a part of the art scene but to be seen being a part of the art scene was that he would even attend the opening of a drawer. I am such a space cadet for art in this city that I go to the launch of a book.

Il Trovatore, Opera de Montreal, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, September 13th, 2022


An open letter to my dear ex-wife of 43 years, the lovely Ms. Marlene Ssøørreennsseenn:

Dear Marlene;

It is with heavy heart that we must equivalently admit after trying to make things work despite having been divorced for over four decades that our 12-day marriage was a mistake. Had we children they might have given us grandchildren by now, but alas we were only wedded for a little less than two weeks in the late 1970s, and starting a family didn’t come up in conversation, as women’s liberation at that time socially forbade any unsolicited babytalk.

Suffice to say that we did not bring out the best in each other, what with the fourteen-year legal battle in the mid-‘80s over the fortunes from the fortune cookies following our second and final dinner date at Wings, which as you will apprehend is long since closed due to health violations.

With this Wing fortune, I thee forfeit the last scrap of our love affair, leaving you the better luck, both figuratively and literally. Should the numbers on the verso ever win a lottery, I trust your solicitor to contact me forthwith with my fair share, as determined by concurrent legal precedent for post-nuptial fortune cookie winnings.

In closing, please forward any and all future correspondence to:
L. Oserfield

Heartbreak Hotel, room no. 237 (haunted)

Backxwash, with with LaFHomme, Morgan-Paige and Jodie Jodie Roger, October 28th 2022, Le Monastère

There is no doubt that Backxwash is the hottest hip hop artist in Canada. The crystalline concentration that comes with sobriety shines on HIS HAPPINESS SHALL COME FIRST EVEN THOUGH WE ARE SUFFERING. This year’s Halloween weekend album launch was a triumph of both style and substance, fashionable and profoundly meaningful, profane and sacred.

Backxwash is the antithesis of mainstream rappers who self-aggrandize and court controversy, or make patent pitches for luxury products that their listeners can ill afford. A constant and self-reflexive state of awareness permeates the recording and was ever-present in its live performance, too. Refreshing is not the word because the album is akin to gargling with activated charcoal, but whatever the descriptor, it’s deeply cleansing.

Boris: His Life in Music, Orchestre Classique de Montreal, October 18th, 2022, Salle Pierre-Mercure

The loss of Boris Brott to Montreal’s classical music community is immeasurable. Still, the show must go on, and the Orchestre Classique de Montreal paid appropriate tribute to the verve of a man who lived for that orchestra. The OCM began its 83rd season by lovingly presenting some of Brott’s all-time favourite musical works.

Before the performance, a photographic montage of Brott cycled onscreen, images of the maestro with celebrities and dignitaries, clowning around, full of wit, wisdom, and life. What a life lived, and what a legacy Brott left behind, carrying dutifully on in the tradition of his musical family before him who dedicated their days to tuning the world.

Brott’s death seems all the more tragic considering its accidental nature, and after his miraculous recovery from the nastiest strain of covid at the beginning of the pandemic. However, as the saying goes, the man who dies in an accident understands the nature of destiny.

This Is Not A Scarf, Soha Zandi, Somaye Farhan & Elahe Moonesi, Place des Arts, October 30th 2022

In protest of the shocking human rights abuses taking place in Iran right now, a group of artists created an inspired imaginative response that took place on the steps of Place des Arts, without any fanfare or official permission from the usual authorities. They showed up with a pile of scarves and stood there waiting for passersby to tie them on in any fashion they saw fit. The result was a sincerely moving performance, which was a performance by virtue, but produced a spontaneous moment.

I was temporarily enlisted to stand guard next to a pile of camera equipment on the busy Saint-Catherine Street sidewalk when an elderly gentleman approached me inquiring, in French at first — a Quebecois accent from another time and place — what was going on. He appeared to be about sixty-five, tall, lean and cleanshaven, with an enviable headful of smartly styled salt-and-pepper hair. He had on a fitted black leather jacket and hanging around his neck was a comparatively outdated digital camera, an old Sony with a top-mounted viewfinder.

I apologized that my French was not as good as my English, but he was well-spoken in both languages and when I told him this was a performance art piece for Iranian freedom he looked at me for a moment, his face becoming very grave, and said, “I think this is the end of the world. But I won’t be here to see it. I’m eighty.” I was surprised by his candour and tried to nod knowingly as he took leave to photograph the happening.

Returning, he mused, “A lot of people in Quebec complain, but we are lucky to live here.” I knew what he meant. Peace activism begins and ends with peaceful activism, acting peacefully.

@playrecent

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Me and the Dream

On an unusually warm autumn night in Montreal, you can practically feel the breath of this city. The smoky and boozy breath of this city. The all-dressed steamie and bad tooth breath of this city. The steady vegan diet of diamonds breath of this city.

There seem to be endless places to go, people to see, and things to do, especially since the dreaded pandemic ended. People have repopulated restaurants and bars; they stand in lineups to enter various events. Later they post photos and video on social media of themselves doing these things. The scroll of experience is presented back to us in fragments and cut-ups. The juxtaposition of these fragments creates novel knowledge forms and produces an augmented reality, another soft membrane of memory.

Social media make it seem like choice is endless, but it isn’t. There aren’t endless places to go or things to do. There aren’t endless people to meet on digital apps. There are very finite options. Especially in Montreal, it’s best to choose your unusually warm autumn evenings wisely, because they aren’t endless, either. And only so many places know how to do diamonds right.

Rock and roll was a dying artform — or so I thought, until recently at a raucous show at The Blue Dog on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. The occasion — with about a dozen acts that I had never heard of — was dubbed Bloodbath. I was invited by a guy named Dylan, the lead singer of a band on the bill called Me and the Dream. Dylan, 22 and towheaded, flips burgers at Paul Patates in Pointe-Saint-Charles, where I’ve been going for lunch on Saturday afternoons all summer. I could be Dylan’s father, I’m literally twice his age, and yet I still feel not much older than 22, like I’m still sitting at the kid’s table at family dinners. Dylan’s cousin, Cassidy, who also works at Paul Patates, told me enthusiastically one Saturday that she would be at the show. So I decided to go to Dylan’s gig, too, because life isn’t endless.

The Blue Dog is south of Duluth at the lower end of the Plateau, just down from where Laika used to be. When you hit a certain age, it seems like everywhere used to be some other place. The aptly named blue-lit bar is a dark, long, narrow space with a square counter jutting out into the centre of the room and a squished stage tucked in back. It’s a bit cramped and scuzzy, as good Montreal bars tend to be. I arrived right as a shouty garage punk band that I couldn’t name who were dressed in 1950’s drive-in restaurant uniforms hammered out a cover of Les Lutins’s “Je Cherche.” I figured I’d found the right place.

Dylan had told me about Me and the Dream over several months of frequenting Paul Patates. They have a jam space at which they rehearse whenever the four members aren’t working their day jobs. The pandemic had spurred a particularly creative period, Dylan said, locked inside with nothing better to do to amuse themselves than make music. This gig would be their first time performing onstage in front of an audience.

As the band prepared to claim their platform, there was a sufficient number of people in attendance to feel cozy but not overcrowded. I leaned with my back to the bar and watched as the ceremonial stage hand-off between bands took place, one drummer carrying a kick drum out, the next drummer carrying a kick drum in. Cable wrapping and unwrapping. Unplugging and plugging in. The bassist, a careless Eugene with spiky green hair, nearly took my eye out with the neck of his axe as he passed by.

A couple who looked to be more in my demographic moved towards the dancefloor. They introduced themselves as Dylan’s mother and step-father. Brimming with anticipation and nervous parent energy, they sipped on pints and swayed to the DJ, then stood off to the side and filmed on their phones as the band began to play. I could not help but be charmed by this. My mother would not have set foot in a dank punk bar to come to my rock show, nor would I have wanted her to. That kind of thing would have elicited deep embarrassment from me at 22.

But the band played on. No sound check, no tuning forks, no introductions, no apologies. They just started kicking out the jams. Were they any good? Let’s see: they were too loud, they were out-of-time, they were out-of-tune, and they were fucking phenomenal. They hit their stride by their third song and were finished after the fifth. Short, to the point, no nonsense rock and roll.

I had shared with Dylan weeks before at the restaurant that I wrote about music, I knew musicians, and music was practically an impossible pursuit. I didn’t want to discourage him, but I’d seen many artists’ dreams dashed by the degree of effort it takes to be in a band, to write and practice decent songs, get gigs and record, only to discover that it’s more difficult than ever to make any money as a musician. Dylan looked at me as if I were speaking another language and said that they had no intention of making any money, that they were doing it “for the right reason.”

The only good art is art done with no intention. Definitely not the intention to make money. That is dead art. More to the point, making money is itself an art, and making art to make money sullies the craftsmanship of high finance. Let commerce be its own perverse artform.

With so much noise out there, it is difficult to hear any signal. It’s tough to spot a diamond in the rough. But the choice is clear: Art for art’s sake. Just breathing in time with the city is the ultimate extravagance. We need to be content to have nothing in order to appreciate having anything.

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Never Once Reflect

Hatred of Money

Capitalism organizes our social relations to such an extent that every activity, the smallest of moments, even a conversation, is regulated. There is no such thing as “free time.” All time is money, and money is the only thing of value. There is no time to play if play costs money. Meanwhile, more and more work numbs us to the idea of more and more work.

This is evidenced by the increasingly economical way that formerly leisure activities achieve success. The garage band, for example. Teenagers could afford to form garage bands in the 1960s because some of them didn’t need to have summer jobs. Now everyone needs to have their time become valuable — all the time. The rates increase. And the the people who can afford leisure take more of our time.

Meeting a romantic partner outside of capitalism’s confines is impossible. We only meet people in real life within situations that capitalism structures around us. Work, institutions, retail, services, all entail some form of exchange, and presuppose some exchange of power. Online social relations are even more prescribed by the platform that presents them, subjecting users to their own arcane rules, themselves constructed by the motive for profit.

If time is money, and we need more money to survive, then time becomes more valuable. All the seconds we spend waiting, or dealing with people in our service, or serving others, become precious seconds. Money completely governs the minutiae of daily life — our tiniest of interactions with each other. And money is power, so those with money exert a special kind of power over those without it. Under capitalism, which values value above all else, including morals or ethics, or intellect or integrity, these relationships turn violent and destructive rather than creative and co-operative.

I hate money. Whenever I have money, I try to get rid of it as soon as possible. But it’s also understood that everyone wants money, needs money, loves money. For me, though, it’s a pocketful of hatred. Whenever I give other people money, it is not a loving act. I am unloading my hatred of all things. Here, it’s your problem now. you figure out what to do with it.

If the love of money is the root of all evil, then the hatred of money must necessarily be the root of good things.

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Satire

Legalize murder now!

There has been a lot of talk lately about abortion. The laws in the US have changed again recently, and arguments have erupted in Quebec as well, with people coming down strongly on both sides of the issue. I saw a pro-choice protest at the Palais de Justice where a parade of women went topless to make their point, and I thought, finally an issue I can get behind.

But personally, I don’t think abortion should be legal. See what people are going to turn into first. What happens if you accidentally abort the next Picasso?

I do, however, believe we should legalize murder after the onset of adulthood.

Staying alive requires a license renewed yearly to remain not-murdered. Everyone has to show up at some government office and take a number that also has letters on it for some reason and wait in two different line ups and eventually have their photo taken to prove somehow that they are not an absolute piece of shit. Just showing up clean and clothed counts for, like, 80 percent.

All politicians are required to be murdered after they serve their elected terms. Celebrities have to be disposed of after, say, seven years of stardom. Each and every Kardashian spawn needs to renew their special licenses every six months.  

We get to choose how to die, though. That’s the upside. Most people nowadays are going with the shot-to-the-head, have-a-nice-sleep special, although the struck-by-a-falling-grand-piano is also very popular. We could call society’s enforcers, oh I don’t know, Karma Police, or something similar.

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Against Lynch

The film world generally considers David Lynch an important director. Although he has never won an Academy Award, Lynch is now a lifetime member of a select group of filmmakers that have instead won unconditional approval from the film industry and film criticism communities. Lynch’s cinema is respected by the most respected people in cinema. Like a Michael Mann, or a Martin Scorsese pre-Departed, David Lynch is a filmmaker’s filmmaker.

The term ‘director’ has a specific industrial definition. It means the person (or people) creatively in charge of the film production, leader to tail. The director directs — the actors, the camera, lighting, technicians, operations, production, editing, sound, everything. The director is the main control conduit, not financially but artistically, and the whole equation of film’s conventions still organize around the notion of the director’s film. Film is a director’s medium.

The French term ‘realizateur’ may be helpful to accurately define the director’s position. Katherine Bigelow or Claire Denis or Barry Jenkins or David Lynch or Federico Fellini or Alfred Hitchcock or Leni Riefenstahl “realize” the film, from conception to finished product. They render their dreams real for us onscreen.

But consider this: there is another way to think about directing. The director is additionally directing the viewer’s attention, our collective understanding, towards their personal vision. Directors realize something out of a dream and present it before a public for consumption or, at least, as the Academy Award-season screeners always say, “For Your Consideration.”

What a director directs us towards is important to consider. It is as if when we enter a theatre or exhibition space, or press play on some viewing device, the director whispers to us, ‘Hey, watch this. I want to show you something.’

What are we watching now? What is the director directing our attention towards? It could be anything. A director can, nowadays, create any image, any narrative, nothing is too fantastic. Not to say that an audience will consume any image or narrative that any director realizes, but Hitchcock generally made mysteries, Woody Allen generally made comedies, and David Lynch supposedly makes something approaching capital ‘A’ art with the otherwise popular medium of cinema. He is one level removed from having to take a moral stance. Cinema is not opera. It is not even theatre. Cinema began as a peep show for a penny and has not strayed far from those roots. There is nothing wrong with that. But if you really want high art, David Lynch also paints.

Lynch’s cinema is amoral, undoubtedly. And its amorality is performed under the aegis of either popular shlock, or high art, or satire. Lynch presents images in an aestheticized and eroticized context which ostensibly soften their loose moral portrayals into abstraction. Case in point: “Pretty as a Picture” is the title of one of Lynch’s feature-length documentary retrospectives. If viewers have a moral problem with Lynch’s direction, then they should just consider his films as pretty pictures, nothing more. Or, as Tom Cruise’s character in “Eyes Wide Shut” is instructed, ‘cease your inquiries.’ Indeed it appears that David Lynch is shadowed by some significant power that allows his direction, his own themes and narratives frequently hinting at the often dark and always absurd forces that grant or deny him access to this cinematic platform.

Lynch is entitled in a special way. His unofficial title as cinema’s greatest living auteur permits him to break rules that other artists are forced to follow. Lynch’s work is alternately outrageous, asinine, violent, racist, sexist, sophomoric, and pretentious — all the criticisms that generally intelligent and well-versed audiences would identify immediately in other filmmakers, sometimes prematurely, sometimes spitefully. And yet viewers and critics and the cool and the hip and the academy (if not the Academy) and even feminists and people of every stripe and identity come to Lynch’s defence whenever his work encounters any real criticism. Especially any criticism of its amorality, and especially vocally on social media. The common defence is that Lynch’s work is not ‘x’; it is about ‘x’: Lynch is not sexist, his work is about sexism. Lynch is not racist, his films depict racism. These reasonings are facile, however, akin to a brat holding his finger one inch from another kid’s face, arguing, “I’m not touching you! I’m not touching you!” OK, but don’t put your finger right in my face and expect me not to say something.

Roger Ebert was one of few serious American critics who never took Lynch too seriously. Ebert recognized Lynch’s brand of craft, however crudely Lynch rendered his personal visions, however rudimentarily he directed his scenes for the camera. But Ebert saw through Lynch’s posturing as a subversive director of artistic aspirational stature. Ebert understood that the film industry in some ways granted Lynch even more license than a pornographer to direct amoral films and present them to popular audiences. Ebert saw that Lynch managed to play both sides of the fence — he was able to portray the most awful and despicable human characteristics and simply waltz away from criticism to the tune of high art. Or satire. Depending on which side of the fence he was leaning. Meanwhile, Isabella Rossellini, Sheryl Lee, Laura Dern, and many others were brutalized in front of the camera. Bafflingly, some of them came back for more.

When David Lynch or any director directs an audience’s attention, the audience in numbers will determine how much attention the director can direct. In Lynch’s case, the audience has grown algorithmically to include practically everyone who considers themselves passingly conversant in cinema, from novice cineastes to internationally renowned film scholars and journalistic critics. Criticizing Lynch, especially along moral grounds, is profoundly frowned upon, deeply unhip, akin to espousing political support for Donald Trump. Even women who would normally otherwise deplore the sorts of portrayals Lynch conjures of women’s victimization are the first to vocally support Lynch, especially on Twitter and other networks. Approval for David Lynch is its own brand, just as is listening to Aphex Twin or Godspeed You! Black Emperor. These subversive artists are trademarks, markers of a new class hip both to and beyond morality.

Roger Ebert held fast that David Lynch was technically a proficient filmmaker, but that his direction of what we might call psychic or ethical energy was at best misdirected. I agree with Ebert. If a director can put any vision before any audience, if they can realize any dream in the media of moving images and sound, then Lynch is casting our collective visions as nightmares. And David Lynch’s nightmare scenarios should not be so cavalierly delivered by the medium of the people — not as entertainment, nor as satire, nor as high art.

Our most popular medium’s avant-garde deserves a better direction.

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Never Once Reflect

The End of Empire

Hopefully we all have that little mechanism inside us that determines any given situation’s normalcy, or abnormality, and what our reactions should be. 

How upset should we get when the plane we’re already in is delayed on the runway for several hours? How surprised to get when someone acts extremely inappropriately or has a psychotic reaction in a public setting? How pleased should we be when someone goes out of their way to recognize us or treat us well? In the past, the reactions we exhibited were usually relative to any given situation’s perceived normality or abnormality. 

If time is money, and we need more money to survive, then time becomes more valuable. All the seconds we spend waiting, or dealing with people in our service, or serving others, become precious seconds. Money completely governs the minutiae of daily life, our tiny interactions with each other. And money is power, so those with money exert a special kind of power over those without it. Under capitalism, which values value above all else, including morals or ethics or intellect or integrity, these relationships turn violent and destructive rather than creative and co-operative.

Unpleasantness has taken over every sphere. Especially what once was pleasant — music, art, film, fashion, food. These things have taken a decidedly unpleasant turn. Music has to be punishingly loud. Art needs to endanger us. Films keep us in our seats, beholden to ideals we can ill afford. Fashion and food, too, entice us into sinful overconsumption and debauchery. Where is the refuge now from hypermodernity’s extrovert dominion? Is it the unpleasantness of capital, or of technology, or of Control discovering its footing? How to resist and exist outside Control? Lines of flight and escape routes, squeezing into smaller and smaller spaces, in between spaces, in between in between spaces. This is Burroughs’ lesson — there is always a space between. 

Not long ago, it was very abnormal for planes we were already sitting on to be delayed to such an extent, or for baggage to go missing for days, or forever. Now it is normal. It used to be strange when people acted strangely, storming, and raging around, yelling profanities, provoking passersby; nowadays, things are stranger, and these things don’t raise eyebrows like they used to. It was recently common custom and courtesy to serve people with a smile when employed in service jobs.

Now, this is painfully abnormal. Hence, we get incredibly upset when delayed on runways, desensitized to psychotic public outbursts, and absolutely overjoyed when someone pays conscientious attention to us. 

Still, how dead should we get while waiting hours for an ambulance?

The empire impulse still exists. But empires are crumbling. It’s not the end of any given empire; it’s the end of empire, full stop, like watching Andy Warhol’s film in reverse. Eventually the light goes off instead of flicking on, and that is all that happens.

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Satire

Shit & Rats

World War II movies don’t exist anymore. Movies are about individual and collective identity now. A friend and I who worked together at the Telluride Film Festival were discussing this recently. At that festival, it was a bit of an inside joke, dark albeit, that every year there would be a Holocaust movie that would very realistically, almost gleefully, depict Jews crawling through a sewer full of shit and rats. Shit and rats up to their eyeballs. Wading nose-deep in shit and rats. The reason we don’t have those kinds of movies anymore is not merely because identity politics have taken over where global politics left off, but because the entertainment industry wants to make room for World War III movies.

In these movies of the future, we will see other groups of people wading through shit and rats. Ukrainians first, then whomever is next that we all agree to stand by and allow to disappear as if they were one of three potato chip brands, or HBO miniseries, on some perverse social media meme: You can only save one, the rest have to go.

The highest compliment that you can give any place in the world is the shit and rats stamp of approval. If, in a World War III picture of the future, you would be willing to be seen wading through rats and shit, that’s the place. That is your homeland.

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Satire

On golf

I’m not normally one for sport, but this summer I did have the good fortune to go golfing with James Woods and Jeremy Irons. Jeremy Irons and James Woods both teed off with 1-Woods. On the fifth fairway with about a hundred yards to the cup, to Jeremy Irons’ amazement, and mine, James Woods took out his nine iron and nailed the shot. But the game went poorly thereafter and by the eighteenth hole James Woods had broken nearly every one of his irons, and Jeremy Irons had spent most of the time looking for his balls in the woods. Jack Paar rounded out our foursome.

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