999 Words

OK Punk: notes on Mark Fisher’s ghost

Hua Hsu’s New Yorker review of Mark Fisher’s K-Punk compendium notes the “relentless energy” of his writing. What this means, in layman’s terms, is that Fisher wrote like a bandit. He produced an incredible volume of work via his blog, his columns, several books, and even through correspondence and comments sections. Fisher was always writing. And nearly two years after his death, there are still hundreds of pages of his missives to sift through in this new anthology.

Mark Fisher’s ghost has haunted me all year. My own book came out this spring via Repeater Books, a publisher that Fisher co-founded with fellow writer Tariq Goddard, from the ashes of an acrimonious split with Zer0, which they also helped establish. Among the first feedback I received, from multiple readers, was “Mark Fisher would have liked your book.” I took this as a complement, but it also bothered me for some reason. The reason, I understand now, is complicated.

Since Fisher took his own life in 2017, his popularity has blossomed into a sort of immediate mythology. Memorial lectures and events have been dedicated in his honour; his specter has dogged every avenue of critical discourse: everywhere that the words “hauntology” (Derrida’s neologism), or “retro” (Simon Reynolds’ purview) or “capitalist realism” (a phenomenon that Michael Schudson outlined in his 1984 book, Advertising, the uneasy persuasion) appear, so does Fisher’s name. It’s as if his death bestowed upon his work some final authority. In some instances, it’s unwarranted, and since it can’t be contested, it could prove dangerous.

There are clear lines throughout his writing that connect the theory he read, the books and films and music he consumed, his radical, punk politics, and his poor mental health. There is an assumption bobbing just beneath the surface that suicide is the only logical conclusion, knowing what Fisher knew — the only viable solution to the complete refusal of authority. Either we accept the abhorrence/compliance double bind of capitalism, or we face death heroically, as Fisher did.

One of the often-recited Fisher-isms is that it’s easier for us to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. This idea has been reiterated to the point that it’s become a mantra for the left, and again, a perilous one. It’s perilous because it normalizes an unimaginative resistance. Instead, we are occupied imagining the doom-and-gloom that Control would rather we believe is inevitable. But it isn’t. Instead, we need to start imagining more and better alternatives. And every second is vital. It is not my place to speak for Fisher, but I believe that this was his point: if it’s easier to imagine the end of the world, then do the hard thing and imagine the end of capitalism!

The problem is that Fisher didn’t do that. He didn’t lead by example. He built a road, and led us all down it, and then jumped off the cliff when he reached the edge. Now it’s up to us to build a bridge, or learn to fly, or pray for divine intervention, or all of the above. At this year’s Unsound Festival, where Paul Rekret and I convened a workshop devoted to four of Fisher’s more optimistic posts culled from K-Punk, we discovered a community that’s willing to at least try.

Suicide has surrounded me in 2018. My best friend’s mother killed herself when he was still a child, and obviously this has affected him throughout his life. It’s something that we discuss often. Until recently, I felt stable enough, emotionally, to listen to him without feeling like it was taking a toll on my own outlook. But I’m not so sure now. I was disturbed by the story of Rich, the Alaskan Air worker who apparently stole an airplane and used it to do aerial acrobatics before crashing it, and himself, into a remote island in Puget Sound. The media event-ness of this story led some to postulate that it was fake news, a “false-flag operation”. America is so beyond fucked that either explanation is plausible. But the upshot is that suicide keeps bubbling up into conscious contemplation. And constantly seeing Fisher’s face in my newsfeed isn’t helping.

If Mark Fisher were truly radical, he would have refused to kill himself, just as he refused to believe that capitalism was the only possible version of modernity. He would have fought alongside us. But by taking the early checkout, he sold us out. And all we have is his unfinished roadmap.

I didn’t know Mark Fisher. I doubt that he was aware of me. Some of our writing overlaps in places. And I feel egged on by his absence. But it’s an unattainable challenge to live up to. It’s actually something I would have to die to achieve. Competing with Fisher on the Repeater imprint is what I imagine Dan Lopatin would feel like competing with Autechre on Warp, only if Autechre had killed themselves. The legend is just too great, it’s too overwhelming, there’s too much material, and it’s now enshrined in cyber-gothic lore that will live as long as digital ecosystems do.

I want to start imagining a post-Mark Fisher world, one in which his work slowly loses relevance. I want to envision ways out of capitalism, different modes of social organization, of currency, of value, pleasure and desire — things that can’t be commoditized. I want to think of a future in which we are optimistically, not pessimistically, resigned; one where it will be normal to assume that things are going to be great, not one in which we wake up every day and reload our negative operating systems, and reorient ourselves once again to the consciousness-deflating platforms that profit from the status quo’s infinite prolongation.

I think that’s what Mark Fisher would have wanted us to do, instead of banging on about how prescient he was, long after he could do anything about his purported foresight. Only then will Fisher’s ghost finally be able to rest.

Play Recent

Forgiveness Rock Record

Karen Gwyer, 19 October 2018, Ausgang Plaza

The night was great; don’t get me wrong. Gwyer, local supporting act Anabasine and opener Musique Nouvelle were excellent. But the security guard at Ausgang Plaza was a little overzealous, to say the least. I was patted down, I was felt up, I was frisked, I was groped, I was manhandled, I was stripped, I was probed. We all know how painful that can be. And when it was over, I got back in line to do it again.

Continue reading on Cult Montreal…

999 Words

Runaway: notes on suicide

The camera is the cockpit of a Horizon Air Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft just as it completes an aerial backflip and banks gracefully over Chambers Bay, in the lower waters of Puget Sound, Pierce County, Washington State. For a moment, the turbid surf is no further than fifty feet away.

Below, rushes of green foliage and deep blue sea blur together; above, the red and blood orange wisps of cirrostratus clouds smudge a midsummer’s sunset. Two F-15 fighter jets scramble along either side of the twin propeller plane as it coasts low through the inlet. Incredulous onlookers film the acrobatics with their mobile phones and upload the footage to social media sites. Thousands of people listen via the internet to the air traffic control broadcast among several career aviators desperate to land the plane safely, a cool-headed dispatcher named Andrew, and the craft’s illicit pilot, known as “Rich.”

Forthwith, the airplane sinks beneath the tree line and finally crashes in a smear of flame onto a isolated patch of Ketron Island, eleven miles due southwest of Tacoma. The Pierce County Sheriff — followed swiftly by the news media, including venerable international publications and cable TV networks — was quick to announce on Twitter: “This is not a terrorist incident. Confirmed info … this is a single suicide male…”

As with a rash of recent high-profile suicides, including the untimely deaths of the lawyer David Buckel, celebrity gourmand Anthony Bourdain, and fashion magnate Kate Spade, a flurry of mental health-related posts appeared online, urging for more support for victims of mental illness. But there is no real indication that any of these deaths were due to mental illness — at least not the types of mental illnesses — clinical depression, schizophrenia — habitually attributable to suicide. Many of the media reports curiously omitted a key exchange in the air traffic control recording, in which Rich says, “Ah, minimum wage. We’ll chalk it up to that. Maybe that will grease the gears a little bit with the higher-ups.” With that remark, Rich transformed unmistakably from a “single suicide male” into a political activist.

“Depression is the shadow side of entrepreneurial culture,” wrote the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher in a Guardian article entitled “Why Mental Health is a Political Issue” — “what happens when magical voluntarism confronts limited opportunities.” Fisher, who tragically took his own life in January of 2017, wrote prolifically, and ultimately, prophetically on the topic. In a separate piece called “Remember Who the Enemy is,” an essay extolling the critical valence of The Hunger Games, Fisher makes the distinction between resistance to power (which is futile), and insubordination (which demonstrates effective flickers).

Fisher argues:

“… resistance is not a challenge to power; it is, on the contrary, that which power needs. No power without something to resist it. No power without a living being as its subject. When they kill us, they can no longer see us subjugated. A being reduced to whimpering — this is the limit of power. Beyond that lies death.”

For Fisher, once the subject chooses neither to exploit nor to be exploited, the subsequent opportunities are reduced to only one: to end one’s own life.

In the conclusion to Fredric Jameson’s infamous tome on Postmodernism, he claims that there is no difference between voluntarism and determinism: our actions and choices are always already socially determined: “One’s reaction to necessity, in other words, is itself an expression of freedom.” In the uttermost case of suicidal intention, the social subject, bound by insurmountable constraints, and void of rational options, chooses suicide as the paramount emancipatory cry.

A number of current thinkers have characterized our political and environmental milieu as “suicidal.” Naomi Klein, in her book about capitalism’s climate antagonism, This Changes Everything, bluntly calls the lack of coordinated regulatory response to the environmental crisis a “suicide mission.” In Living in the End Times, Slavoj Žižek offers a useful way to think about suicide: as the extreme conclusion to the trauma of helplessness. He invokes the metaphor of “anesthesia awareness,” a state in which a patient on the operating table is anesthetized, yet remains fully cognizant of what is being done to them:

“The most traumatic cases occur when patients who have experienced full awareness explicitly recall it afterwards: the result is an enormous trauma generating post-traumatic stress disorder, leading to long-lasting after-effects such as nightmares, night terrors, flashbacks, insomnia, and in some cases even suicide.”

Our moment is surely analogous in nature to “anesthesia awareness”: as subject-patients, we are corporeally, terrifyingly alert during the operations taking place on a global scale, just out of reach, but we are paralyzed by the economic and socio-political constraints that prevent us from manifesting a world beyond capitalism’s inherent violence. This, to me, is the opposite of mental illness. And I would contend that the actions of Mark Fisher, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, David Buckel, and most recently, Rich, the Horizon Air worker, are indicative of extremely intelligent, healthy, and hyper-aware minds that have struggled to locate exit routes from the banal horrors of cultural comprehension in 2018 — struggled and lost.

The crucial question remains: is it possible that suicidal subjects are in some way predetermined to take their own lives? — whether they perceive a lack of choice in the matter. It’s impossible to know for sure, because 100% of those who have acted decisively upon suicidal ideation are no longer with us. It’s heartbreaking. I’m not endorsing suicide, far from it. I believe that life is sacred, that it’s a gift, one we are able to both give and receive freely. But maybe contemporary suicide is also heartbreakingly disruptive to our system, and our era. I can empathize.

I’ve often thought that if I were to take my own life, my final words would be in the parlance of our times, a last post of the well-worn meme depicting an exasperated marsupial, captioned: “Go on without me.” But lately, I’ve been thinking more along the lines of Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski: “I’m staying.”

Word Virus

On Going Apeshit

“Have you ever seen the crowd goin’ apeshit?” Beyoncé asks rhetorically, on the lead single that she and Jay-Z surprise-released last week, from their first collaborative album as The Carters. Sure. Who hasn’t? Later, she inverts the question, replacing ‘crowd’ with ‘stage,’ invoking the legendary madness of her live performances: if the audience was left wondering, Beyoncé gives a demonstration of “going apeshit” near the end of the video, violently shimmying and shaking in a flowing white gown, before the Nike of Samothrace, the winged but headless sculpture depicting the Greek goddess of victory. “She went crazy!” Jay-Z hollers during the breakdown, confirming firsthand just how apeshit Beyoncé is apt to go.

Most of us have an idea of what going apeshit means. But where did the term come from?

“Apeshit” was first officially observed in 1955 by the American Dialect Society’s quarterly journal, American Speech, as United States Air Force slang, meaning to “react in an irrational manner; go into a frenzy.” Apeshit appears again in Donald J. Plantz’s 1962 WWII pulp fiction novel, Sweeney Squadron: “If Captain Christiansen goes to base hospital,” Plantz writes, “I’m riding next to this ape-shit bastard.” In the October 1976 issue of the British magazine New Society, an article on contemporary youth notes: “The kids go ‘ape-shit’ — leaping high off the ground, as if on invisible pogo-sticks.” The OED defines apeshit in a July 2009 update as coarse slang for “crazed, infuriated, excited; mad, insane.”

Indeed, as evidenced most recently by the Carters’ be-bopping and scatting, we are living in the age of apeshit.

According to the Google Ngram Viewer, the vernacular use of the word apeshit has increased exponentially since the mid-1970s. The TV producer David Chase eulogized The Sopranos star James Gandolfini at his funeral in New York City in 2013, regaling mourners with a story of how the actor unloaded his frustrations on set: “The cameras rolled, and you opened the refrigerator door, and you slammed it really hard,” recalled Chase. “You slammed it hard enough that it came open again. And so then you slammed it again, then it came open again. You kept slamming it and slamming it and slamming it and slamming it and went apeshit on that refrigerator.”

Donald J. Trump has been known to go apeshit, too. Quoting Jeff Landry, former Trump campaign aide and current Attorney General of Louisiana, Douglas McGrath writes in a January 2016 article in The New Yorker: “You have to answer just right, or he goes apeshit.”

If there is one adjective that can accurately describe the US president’s hair-trigger actions and reactions, it is most assuredly apeshit. “Trump Went Apeshit Anti-Science This Week,” trumpets a headline on the blog Autostraddle: “Let’s Fight Back.” In response to his comments about “shithole countries,” a group of online vigilantes began trolling the Yelp pages for Trump’s hotels and properties around the world, detailing just how shitty they are. Vice noted of the comments: “people are going apeshit, and getting personal.”

Other instances of shit-talk are on the rise as well. In a May 2017 interview with MSNBC, the political strategist Rick Wilson’s tongue slipped on live television: “They’re afraid of the mean tweet,” said Wilson, of the president’s adversaries: “They’re afraid of Donald Trump going crazy, you know, ripshit bonkers on them.” That comment spawned a Slate article about the regional etymology and sense of “ripshit” by the lexicographer Ben Zimmer, in which he cites Kory Stamper’s Strong Language blogpost from 2014, entitled “Add -shit and stir: The intensifying affixal -shit.” “The way things are going,” asserts Zimmer, “I think we need as many words for intensified craziness as we can possibly get.” Even word nerds are going apeshit right now.

Yet, apeshit is distinct from other forms of shit — say, batshit, which also implies a sort of loose-cannon insanity, or chicken-shit, meaning cowardly. Like cat shit or rat shit, exposure to batshit can literally make a person go crazy.

To me, apeshit has a more combative connotation than batshit or ripshit, dipshit or jack-shit. We might imagine an ape actually throwing its shit, as apes are wont to do to visitors of zoos the globe over. Apeshit is arguably the craziest of all shits — it also, importantly, is black shit, and implicitly, the shit of desperate, caged animals. Which is why it’s so remarkable in the context of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s song: presumably, the crowd goes apeshit because of a momentary liberation and delightful respite from disenfranchisement; the Carters go apeshit for precisely the opposite reason: no matter how much wealth or status Bey and Jay accumulate, or how much pleasure they derive from their creative work, they are at once emancipated and enslaved by the trappings of fame and fortune.

Still, there is something encouraging about apeshit. I am perennially reminded of what Slavoj Žižek wrote in his 1991 tome Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan Through Popular Culture: “When we become crazed in our obsession with idiotic enjoyment,” says Žižek, “even totalitarian manipulation cannot reach us.”

Perhaps apeshit is the operative mode proper to our current cultural moment — to do to art, music, literature, politics, society, what Tony Soprano did to that refrigerator door. Going apeshit is the idiotic enjoyment enabling not only sovereignty from structures and systems of oppression, but also the simple, fundamental freedom from having to give a shit.


Another Jackrabbit, Paroled

[On 6 July 2006, I visited the legendary Canadian bank robber and author Stephen Reid in prison on Vancouver Island to discuss adapting his 1986 novel Jackrabbit Parole for the screen. Here are my notes from that visit. Swing low, sweet squad car, and rest in peace, Stephen.]

Driving along the winding green trail through Sidney and Metchosin toward the William Head Institution, one must keep all faculties alert. A search for a radio station, or single glance at the map – which is always folded around the wrong way – could see you well into the trees. Stephen Reid was somewhere in there. I wondered if and/or how much he was anticipating our meeting? Had he done this sort of thing before; known all the right buttons to push, the right stories to tell? I entered the parking lot fifteen minutes early, leaving the rental in a far-away space, no other cars on either side, front or back. A white bubble-wrapped Toyota. A single-serving soul-sucking teleportation device for the up-start capitalist and travelers on a budget. Or perhaps a bank robbery. Sure, these inconspicuous little cars that looked just like every other car would have been ideal for two, maybe three guys who wanted no attention. But what do I know about fleeing police pursuit? I was about to find out. Johnny Cash’s new (posthumous) single was rotating on rock radio – “God’s Gonna’ Cut You Down”. I couldn’t come up with anything better than that. At any rate, it would have been fiction.


I put my smaller possessions – keys, cards – in a locker, and proceeded through the metal detector, assisted by good-natured cops. At a whopping 125lbs, they knew I posed no threat to anyone; except perhaps to myself. I brought things like chocolate, juice made from berries, cigarettes. I had a copy of the novel which one of the guards referred to as something Reid had written “Once upon a time”. They wouldn’t allow cameras, tape recorders, laptops. I had my notebook, like some pimply high-school newspaper reporter. Fuck. The visiting-and-correspondence officer informed me that he was in the shower, and would be around shortly. I sat waiting at a table in what looked more like a heavily guarded cafeteria than a prison visitation area. Lunchrooms for naughty little boys who couldn’t sit still. I’m not sure what I expected from prison, but there weren’t any cells with guys exchanging messages with mirrors and matchsticks – at least not that they would let the general public see. However, there were still chicken-wire fences and towers where, presumably, armed guards stood to keep watch. I wonder what would prompt being fired upon?


He rolled around the corner so effortlessly, wearing sunglasses, and slightly heftier than in previous photos I’d seen. Was I just another victim, fallen prey to a more intelligent marketing scheme?


After the obligatory handshakes and pleasantries, we talked. It didn’t occur to me, but he began initially with his family: Sophie, who was seventeen. Her boyfriend had been causing problems for the family. He suffered a head injury, and his behavior worsened when he drank. Associates of Stephen’s, who he’d managed to contact from the inside, had apparently removed him from the family property. But Sophie persisted. That’s what seventeen-year-old girls do, especially when their father has been arrested, and is now doing time for bank-robbery and attempted murder. The outlaw energy is apparently quite attractive.


Sitting outside for a cigarette, he talked about the wildlife on the property of the prison – there were sixteen deer that inhabited the area, he said, and we witnessed a raccoon chasing a rabbit beyond the hedges and into a thick patch of brush. Stephen said that the Creator didn’t give raccoons a mask for nothing. Another jackrabbit, paroled. We sat at a picnic bench and smoked, talking about his daughters, art, drugs; I wondered how such a gentle creature could have perpetrated such undertakings? He was once of a rare breed of high-energy young men, swept up by the adrenaline and the thrill. What was the sheer thrill like? I didn’t ask direct questions, I let him lead the conversation.


He told me that heroin was comfort for him – the place where he could be alone and away from any pain and bad memories. I told him that heroin was death for me, or as close as I could get to it. I wondered if prison was the same comfort that heroin had once afforded him. The William Head Institution was a very safe environment, for a prison, very beautiful – colloquially called “Club Fed”. And unlike narcotic stupor, he seemed to be in complete control of it. The other inmates treated him with respect bordering upon reverence, as did many of the guards. He was the inverted professor of the William Head Institution Underworld. I got the feeling I could have stayed on for a PhD.


Was he a back-biter? A bald-faced liar? I couldn’t think so. There was something defeated in his eyes, a spark that was conspicuously missing since being sentenced for the last time in 1999. I was sorry, or at least empathetic. Whose fault was it that he was there? It was ostensibly his – he had robbed a bank in his own community, breaking his own rules, firing round after round at perusing police officers. His daughter ended up dating one of the officer’s sons – a cruel, ironic twist of real-life fate, almost inescapable in a small community on Vancouver Island. The claustrophobic Canadian element was all around us, like the water that surrounded the prison, on all fronts. There was obviously nowhere to go. Stephen had written about messages washing up on the shore – once appearing in such an arcane container as a pink vibrator. This was the connection to the outside world for him – and those lucky bastards who obtain fishing licenses, casting off the wharf jutting out into the lonely bay. Stephen had a connection to the land that I could never understand. B.C. was his landed home – like Alberta, for me. His roots were deeply embedded into the soil – this soil. He explained how this land had been used before White settlers, as a banishing area where those ostracized would be cast a-sea in a birch canoe for unspeakable crimes against the community. Had the function of the land changed in years, generations?


If so, was it getting better? Was there a chance for Stephen Reid to rejoin his family and live on the Queen Charlotte Islands like Susan has said was the intention? I hoped so – that’s why I was there. I wanted for him to have an honest legacy, even if it was founded upon thieving from federal banking institutions. In all honesty, who hasn’t wanted to take down a bank, especially now with the automated tellers, the tear-jerking commercials, the endless telephone menus? Who were we to judge?


When we re-entered the prison cafeteria, our conversation took a more subdued turn, although it did not seem apparent that we were being listened to. Melanie was flirting with her co-worker behind bars and sheets of bulletproof glass. It seemed that the guards were – for the time they were at work – just as much prisoners as the convicts. What person would take this job? But Melanie was sweet as they come, and she was sweet on Stephen too. He winked at me as his head nodded toward her armed cubicle – “I can’t let you leave with this script, otherwise I’ll have to tug my bangs, and bashfully ask her permission.”


He spoke softly, almost inaudibly over the sound of the television in the corner. A young couple – the guy probably doing time for drugs or theft – was watching ultimate fighting. He was a tough kid, baggy jeans, tight t-shirt, tight brown curls. She wore streaked blonde hair and pink camouflage capris. I wondered what natural environment she would be camouflaged in – our own, I concluded. They were hamming up this dramatic moment together. The young man probably just made a mistake. Stephen made at least 150 mistakes that the authorities could make stick. And he was 56 years old – as old as my own father, who recently bought a new rolling home for his prosperity to tour the free world. The aspirations were the same, only the means of acquisition opposed radically.


Stephen had been abused as a child. A family doctor in Northern Ontario had taken advantage of a common illness by administering subcutaneous injections of morphine, followed by 20cc’s of semen. This continued until he had developed a habit for opiates, before reaching his 11th birthday. His daughter Sophie had also found altered states before the teenage years; years which for so many others were constituted by the awkward talk from parents about menstruation, boys, and maybe smoking cigarettes in back alleys during gym class. But these were the girls of Stephen’s generation – Sophie was of this time, and a place on an Island so far removed and insulated, almost as much as that prison. This was a place where it seemed so easy to become entangled in those dramas, which enslave the spirit. Here was a man who was quite literally housed in his, unable to escape the choices that he made in the face of the world he inhabited. I asked nothing more about Sophie.


Charlotte was living on the islands that bear her name, and “spinning” records. Stephen wasn’t sure of the terminology, but when I corrected him, he was grateful, and said that it would be good for him to remember. Like wining points for street credibility with your children. At least he took an interest. She seemed to feel less the affect of living with an imprisoned father and a famous mother. According to Reid, she was a beautiful kid – sexy like Susan – who now ate organic food and twisted herself into pretzel-like positions. It wasn’t too long before restlessly, I nudged the conversation toward the novel. I wanted to know what and how much was true, and if I could confidently move forward with his blessing.


He had brought a script measuring 120 pages, and flopped it down nonchalantly upon the visiting table in front of us. It looked just like a script, bound by metallic pins, which buckled out to keep the stack in place. It began with a fade from white, and featured a significant amount of voice over on the first page; dialogue which intends to privilege the spectator with the inner mind of the protagonist, but ends up cheaply giving away the mode of storytelling, insulting both author and audience. I knew I could do better. Stephen thought so too – otherwise they wouldn’t have contacted me. It appeared highly unlikely that, bored as Reid may be behind bars, he would allow me to fill out the paperwork and travel to such lengths to discuss a project that he didn’t want to happen.


I recalled Susan’s voice upon our first telephone conversation. There was something manic in her tone and pace of speech. She seemed less bothered when I informed her dutifully that I had only just graduated from film school and didn’t have any money. What bothered her more was the possibility that I was just another liar who wouldn’t follow through. She sounded genuinely hurt when I mentioned, almost accidentally, that I had made the remark about Reid’s novel offhandedly in an online interview. Accusingly, she remarked: “So you were just joking about this”? I assured her that I wasn’t, and from that moment forward, ensured that she understood – and made Stephen understand – that I was not joking. They were not (com)oddities, and their story is still awfully real and painfully true.


There was one particular thread with which I was obsessed as a point of entry into the narrative of Jackrabbit Parole: the robbery, which despite every bungled routine, and beset by every black omen, did not end in their arrest. It was the blurb on the first page of my edition, meant to hook the perusing reader into the style, and story. On one of their scores, they had simply driven – all ski masks and duffle bags – right past (and I mean right past) a patrol car on their way out from a back alley behind the bank that was recently made their victim. Stephen used two cigarettes on the table as a visual aid to illustrate how he had been graced similar fortune. Minutes following a job in Ottawa, they doubled back toward the bank in order to at once confuse any passing authorities, and morbidly survey the carnage of their own score. And there, right on a two-way street in the middle of downtown Ottawa was a sedan-full of bank robbers, passing a lone black & white cruiser headed in the opposite direction. Both sides were analogously aware of each other, but neither side made the first move. How was it possible that they were not apprehended – that the pig didn’t take them in a hail of lawman lead? I supposed that if I were a cop – the first to arrive upon the scene of a high profile, and very possibly violent crime scene – I would protect my own ass too. Maybe he was a rookie; maybe he was ready to retire to the manufactured home and the missus. How their luck could have been altered if that cop had read too much Raymond Chandler and decided to play greatest American hero? I wanted to begin with this ‘scene’. Reid said that he too wrote from the inside out, and liked the idea of plotting that strand of story right in at the beginning. We were off to a good start. He elaborated that this particular incident occurred for his father in France during WWII, whereby their battalion stumbled upon a squadron of German soldiers in the dead of night. He described the darkness from beneath his handlebar moustache, and further under his breath: it was so dark that before they became mutually aware, they were quite literally on top of each other. But neither side fired a shot. They just kept moving into the blackness, like ships in the night, not even making so much as eye contact. Some men are now alive because of that.


He didn’t have many questions for me. He asked what my parents did, and was interested in my recent graduation and awards. I knew it made him happy that a man, who could be his son, took an interest in his life’s work. He asked me what ‘experimental’ film meant, which found me answering questions that I hadn’t anticipated. In art school, should some lame-brain ask you anything about your ‘Art’, the proper response was to flail arms wildly and pull out some socialist defense like a tapeworm from the nether-regions. But I wasn’t out to defend, and what I had there in the room – body, mind, spirit, notebook, cigarettes – was, in all honesty, all I had. I wanted all the intellectual bullshit I’d read about and seen in film school: narrative intransivity, jump-cutting, rock’n’roll, starting from inside the story – tones and colours rather than dialogue and characters. Sound. Surreal poetic realism. I talked about using different formats (super-8, cheap surveillance video cams, super-16), and different filmmakers, and their films upon which I drew instruction. He carefully, thoughtfully picked up what I was laying down – he read my mail. He loved the characterizations of Guy Ritchie’s films, and of course, I brought up GoodFellas. We batted Oliver Stone around like a ping-pong ball, and Stephen mentioned Jonathan Demme as the intended director for ‘The Stopwatch Gang’, the Columbia Tri-Star (un)release. According to Reid, the demand dropped out for true-crime action films after 9/11. Truth be (probably) told, there are a zillion reasons for the American market to lose interest, not least of which was the lack of gunshots and bloodshed. But how ‘bout us Canucks though, eh?


Stephen said he loved the Trailer Park Boys, and they loved him. I could see our minds synching at that point, realizing that the idea of “Stephen Reid’s Jackrabbit Parole” wasn’t that far-fetched. He knew Bubbles, and we again found common ground on the cheap (Canadian) aesthetic of reality-based pseudo-documentary. The lobes were humming. I could sense the spark of enthusiasm and creativity coming from two guys scheming around a jailhouse. In glaring retrospect, we really should have been passing shanks and dope under the brown arborite-covered tabletop. But for Reid, I knew those days were well over; for me they would never begin. But secretly, I did wish that he would have his escape plotted and planned by the time I’d arrived – all he needed for me to do was pull the rental around front, and peel away seconds later, at top Toyota speed. The cat was charismatic, and I could see how he inspired confidence, and the love of true poets.


I did ask if he kept in contact with any of the old crew. Paddy is still in Leavenworth, suffering from throat and lung cancer, ready for St. Peter’s scolding any day now. XXXXXXX lives in XXXXXXX, opting for a quiet life as an XXXXXXX. Stephen is suffering stoically, attending AA meetings and powwows when he gets the permission. It somehow doesn’t seem fair that such a Canadian icon should be caged this way – that an institution should be institutionalized. But I guess he had his chances. That doesn’t mean, though, that his family loves or needs him any less. What seems more fitting is that we go to Canada Council and Telefilm and the rest of those fuckers, and take them for what they’ve got. It would just be so fitting for the Canadian Government to fund this film – as a final exclamation mark on the most successful organized, though independent gang in Canadian history. And with the provincial expenditures on the Trailer Park Boys et al., it’s not that far a stretch. Mr. Reid, as I was leaving, said he hoped that we could attend the premier of this film, together, at some festival somewhere. I hoped so too, but there were 15 million little steps – like so many illegally obtained notes of legal tender – between those two days. I took exactly 77 steps to the Toyota, and started back home.

[The last time I heard from Stephen was in 2015 when he emailed to let me know that he’d finally sold the Jackrabbit Parole rights to a TV producer in Toronto. “Thanks for your continued support and enthusiasm,” he wrote. “JR will make the screen some day.”

To be continued…]

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Wow & Flutter

“Movement 1: Cognitive Awakening (feat. Gina Izzo)” – Pascal Le Boeuf – Into The Anthropocene – Periapsis Open Series

“Daddy, what’s it going to be like in the year 2000?” asks a child’s innocent voice in the introduction to Busta Rhymes’ 1998 album Extinction Level Event. “Well, sweetheart, I hope for your sake that it’ll be all peaches and cream,” her daddy responds, “but I’m afraid the end time is near — the cataclysmic apocalypse referred to in the scriptures of every holy book known to mankind.”

In the aftermath of this week’s deadly attack in Toronto, experts couldn’t wait to chime in and declare that it was not a matter of if, but of when. Every city in the western world will soon get their very own version of this catastrophe, like a McDonalds or a Starbucks franchise popping up in the infinite sprawling suburb that we are now living in. One pundit on the CBC announced: “this is the new world order.” What he meant, of course, was “this is the new normal,” but his misspeaking was revealing.

Acts of 21st century terrorism gerrymander our maps in the worst possible way. They redraw us into a two-nation world: one the victims of terrorism, and one their perpetrators. “#JeSuisCharlie” and “#XStrong” hashtags underscore this. Undoubtedly, the broadcasting of tragedy has taken up a particularly American medialogical perspective after 9/11 — the desire to never again experience any form of trauma that has not already been premeditated. Or, as literary scholar David Simpson wrote in his book 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration: “The prefigurative imaginative experience makes bearable the shock of the real.”


Visitors (2013) – Dir. Godfrey Reggio – Cinedigm

How do we look at others, especially when they are in the midst of unimaginable suffering? The camera eye is designed to be static and unflinching, to be able to train itself on that which might be intolerable to the human eye. It is up to the person behind the camera to direct it to look compassionately upon its subjects.

In her 2003 book Regarding The Pain Of Others, Susan Sontag wrote: “The other, even when not an enemy, is regarded only as someone to be seen, not someone (like us) who also sees.” What the filmmaker Godfrey Reggio captures beautifully and magically and effortlessly in Visitors is, quite simply, the act of the other bearing witness to otherness. In so doing, the film facilitates a rare and instantaneous recognition.


“Black Snow” – Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of – Warp Records

In one bizarre scene from David Cronenberg’s 1999 film eXistenZ — a prescient hypothesis on biotechnology and virtual reality composed almost entirely of bizarre scenes — a black cloud of deadly spores erupts to infect a factory that manufactures living video game consoles. Similarly, the protagonist of Dan Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Black Snow” video kicks up a toxic libidinal cloud that ultimately quarantines the creature into a state of perpetual isolated connectivity. Lopatin seems to be at once fascinated and revolted by his own alternating infectiousness as technologically endowed, digitally mediated virtuoso/trickster.

Every generation, a pop chart hero throws up.


“Everything Connected” – Jon Hopkins – Singularity – Domino Record Co.

Voice-over dialogue from a 1997 BASF TV advert: “At BASF, we don’t make the cooler, we make it cooler; we don’t make the jeans, we make them bluer; we don’t make the toys, we make them tougher; we don’t make the water-scooter, we make it lighter. At BASF, we don’t make a lot of the products you buy, we make a lot of the products you buy better.”


“Odana” – Alanis Obomsawin – Bush Lady – Constellation Records

Here’s a radical thought. The powers of domination and oppression and control require a degree of resistance to function. So stop resisting. Surrender. Let go. Kneel in the face of evil, for it is then and only then that you truly give evil the choice to do good, and thus a chance for eternal grace and salvation.