Books of the Year: 2017

If Beale Street Could Talk – James Baldwin

“Perhaps, as we say in America, I wanted to find myself. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people, which certainly does not mean what it says but betrays a nagging suspicion that something has been misplaced. I think now that if I had any intimation that the self I was going to find would turn out to be only the same self from which I had spent so much time in flight, I would have stayed at home.”

-James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

Postcards from the End of America – Linh Dinh

Simply put, many Americans have become redundant in an economy rigged to serve the biggest banks and corporations. With no one hiring us and our small businesses bankrupted by the behemoths, many of us are forced to beg, peddle, push or steal, though on a scale that’s minuscule compared to what’s practiced by our ruling thugs. As we shove dented cans of irradiated sardines into our Dollar Store underwear, they rob us of our past, present and future.

-Linh Dinh, Postcards from the End of America, Lower-Class Upper Manhattan, p180

All Quiet On The Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

Angels – Denis Johnson

This Accident of Being Lost – Leanne Simpson

Requiem for the American Dream – Noam Chomsky

The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin

Going to Meet the Man – James Baldwin

Other Works of Note
A Love Hat Relationship
Book One
Tour Book

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Albums of the Year: 2017

Propagandhi – Victory Lap (2017)

Gouge Away – , dies

D.A. Kissick – Much Later (2017)

Close Talker – Lens (2017)

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson – f(l)ight

Figure Walking – The Big Other (2017)

Big Thief – Capacity (2017)

Julia Jacklin – Don’t Let The Kids Win

Daniel Romano – Modern Pressure (2017)

Kacy & Clayton – The Siren’s Song (2017)

Tim Barry – High on 95 (2017)

Alvvays – Antisocialites (2017)

Nap Eyes – Though Rock Fish Scale

Mo Kenney – The Details (2017)

Other Notable Works
Ballsofrice.bandcamp.com/audio

Fuck Art, man

Sometimes they say that I work in the Arts. Sometimes they call it the industry. I tend to believe I work in the business of happiness; making people happy by selling them Art pressed into wax and Art pressed onto cotton, manufactured by people who are unhappy, someone’s boot pressed in the middle of their back, picking cotton, weaving cotton, sewing cotton, inhaling cotton, shipping cotton. And maybe wax.

Happiness follows the law of conservation of mass. Happiness cannot be created or destroyed. The total mass of the reactants equals the total mass of the products.

Ice to water, water to steam.

Former-happiness to cotton. Cotton to t-shirt. T-shirt to Art. Art to happiness.

Art doesn’t walk around town handing out twenty-dollar bills or cab vouchers or new rental lease agreements. Art doesn’t have its lifeguard safety—it doesn’t save people who are already drowning. Art is like whiskey, it makes you feel warm even though you’re losing your leg to the cold.

Where was Art when your friend was evicted by Regina Housing Authority and slept outside for a month and died in his friend’s kitchen? Had we finally convinced him to draw a picture for the Free Press, would Art have saved him?

Where was Art when your wheelchair-bound friend kept getting his cigarettes stolen by his brother who could have been painting miraculous animal scenes and selling prints but instead stole blind people’s cell phones to sell for crystal meth?

Art was in an office building, denying grants. Art was at a wine-and-cheese opening wearing a well-fitting shirt.

Fuck Art, man. Fuck the fact that this piece of prose is (debatably) a piece of Art.

Rocky sits in the the empty coffee room of a fading drop-in centre drawing portraits of people who may or may not exist, to give away to the first person she knows will praise her for it. Rocky draws because it’s the only thing that can help her cope with the fact that everyone she knows is dying in front of her.
Fred.
Her aunt from Cote.
Hilliard, found frozen outside.
All in a week. She draws because what the hell else can we do?

Fuck Art.

That is, unless it’s used for its one and only true purpose, as with Rocky, as the antidote in a place dripping in poison.

Review: Postcards from the End of America

The book review below first appeared in Briarpatch Magazine’s September/October 2017 edition

Postcards from the End of America
By Linh Dinh
Seven Stories Press, 2017

Bob, a 60-year-old Safeway employee from Florence, Oregon, is counting on the store staying afloat. “At my age,” he says, “it will be hard to get hired again. I don’t want to move to the city to find another job.” Before working at Safeway, he worked 31 years in a sawmill. Bob blames environmentalists on the east coast, trying to protect the endangered spotted owl, for the death of the industry that once employed his town. “Since our logging industry is mostly dead, we have to buy lumber from overseas, from people who really don’t give a hoot about the environment.”

Bob is one of the many disenfranchised workers interviewed in Linh Dinh’s book, _Postcards from the End of America_. The book contains collected essays and observations made through several years of domestic travel, originally published in various online journals, like long, descriptive letters home from towns of crumbling infrastructure as though they were tourist hotspots.

While there was widespread controversy in the 1990s about West Coast logging, Postcards analyzes Oregon and other former industrial and manufacturing centres in the U.S. that have been hollowed out by governments and corporate rule. Rather than pitting environmental justice against economic justice, Dinh impresses upon readers that environmental and other progressive movements need to accommodate and support workers of all industries; the common cause of both economic and environmental precarity is capital, Dinh points out, not social movements.

Across the U.S., cities that were once economic boom towns are now facing unemployment, poverty, homelessness, addiction, and crime. Places such as Trenton, New Jersey, one of many visited by Dinh, is famous for the Warren Street bridge over the Delaware River adorned with the lit-up phrase TRENTON MAKESTHE WORLDTAKES; it is a reminder that Trenton was once a manufacturing hub for products used around the world. A hundred years later, the slogan reads more like a bitter homage to trade deals that have left towns like Trenton in the dust.

Dinh travels by bus and train, stopping in former and current industrial metropolises such as Osceola, Iowa; Kensington, Pennsylvania; and Williston, North Dakota, snapping photos of individuals he meets (20 of which appear in full colour in the book), to survey the social landscapes. He often wanders to the nearest bar, for no matter the size or unemployment rate of a town, there is always a vendor of cheap alcohol that carries with it a rough but undeniable sense of community. These places are often the best indicator of the health and economic state of a society. In bars and on street corners, in buses and under bridges, Dinh interviews individuals tethered to the rising and falling industries that have ruled and abandoned their hometowns. Dinh gives voice to those who are rarely heard in mainstream journalism, sharing their stories of underemployment and struggle, occasionally offering simple context for how things got to be the way they are in each particular city. Many he meets blame governments for their hardships, while others, like Misfit, a bartender in Chester, Pennsylvania, believe reports that the country is in an economic recovery. Dinh lays bare pieces of their stories, at times abruptly, without forcing too much commentary, allowing the weight of their lived experience to be felt by the reader.

Dinh never makes his way to Canada, but his portraits of urban and industrial America could easily be those of Canada’s industrial and extractive regions. With Trudeau’s Liberal government approving pipelines and maintaining their commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Canadian communities are not immune from being wholly abandoned by both government and its corporate rulers, leaving the Canadian countryside filled with towns and social-scapes like those in Dinh’s postcards; in fact, this is already happening. The resource bust in Western Canada has left thousands of people without work and entire communities struggling to meet their needs, even while political campaigns left and right hawk promises of prosperity. When the industries dry up, the companies that once put towns on the map move off to exploit the land elsewhere, leaving the communities with skeletal social supports and no means of income. One admirer of Dinh’s writing, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, refers to these areas as sacrifice zones: places in which entire communities are permanently impaired by profit-chasing corporations that fatally ignore the effects of their decisions on human life, the environment, and communities. In selling off public assets to corporate control and privatizating once-public services, Trudeau and his provincial and municipal counterparts are in many ways propelling Canada into an economic situation mirroring the one described by Dinh.

Each entry was written in the final years of the Obama administration and the beginning of the Trump campaign phenomenon. Dinh’s purposeful portraiture of the financial ruin and the concurrent rise of Trump are not coincidental. Canada, with a shallow, amoral federal Liberal government that sold out its own citizenry to pipeline interests, and broke its own promises for economic and racial equality, is only setting itself up for a Trump-like oligarch to respond to the discontented masses whose employment situations will reflect those highlighted in Dinh’s prophetic book.

Dinh has no illusions about what has put so many Americans into unrecoverable poverty and poor health, and his exposé of the decline of the American empire is a call to Canadians to organize for real and lasting change in our own social, environmental, and economic landscape.

Books for People Without Homes

“You in that house yet?”

“Which one?”

“The one they were gonna work on.”

“Oh yeah, I’m in there. They’re not working on it yet.”

Click the computer a few times. Library worker stocks books. The Dewey Decimal System leaves no book without a home. They don’t lose books. Have you ever heard of a library losing a book? The man behind me mumbles, “Fuck sakes.”

“Yeah, I was gonna look into that Phoenix Group.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Yeah, but I’d be 80th on the wait list.”

“You been to SWAP? I had a few buddies who went through Souls who went there. They didn’t even have to go to Social. SWAP did it all for them.”

“No where’s it? Albert? Like by the McDonalds? Ok. No, Detox told me that Phoenix would do all the Social Assistance stuff for you, you wouldn’t even have to talk to them, which is good, since Social is so useless nowadays. But then you’re 80th on the waitlist.” 

Spend fifteen hours in two days clicking the mouse around white farmer caps, calling people on farms asking if they are willing to be in a book about hats. Write short blurbs about hats and how they relate to institutional racism and amoral government. Brainstorm where you can donate the theoretical money from selling unsellable hat books to help alleviate the housing crisis. Remember that making books doesn’t house people and raising awareness is masturbation.

“Fuck sakes,” the man behind me mumbles. Can’t find a house. Housing with obstacles. Maybe there’s a book about that. Filed under the Dewey Decimal System:

How To Find an Apartment When The World Hates You and Denies Your Existence.
821.2219 HARPAUER

A Complete Guide to Budgeting for People Whose Rent is $400 More Than Their Cheque.
821.2218 FOUGERE

LOVE YOURSELF: Family Self-Esteem When The State Doesn’t Think Your Uncle Deserves A Funeral
821.2217 BEAUDRY-MILLER

 

Lyrics of the Month: July 2017 – John Prine

 

 

While digesting Reader’s Digest in the back of a dirty book store
A plastic flag, with gum on the back fell out on the floor
Well, I picked it up and I ran outside, slapped it on my window shield
And if I could see old Betsy Ross I’d tell her how good I feel

But your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore
They’re already overcrowded from your dirty little war
Now Jesus don’t like killin’, no matter what the reason’s for
And your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore

Well, I went to the bank this morning and the cashier he said to me
“If you join the Christmas club we’ll give you ten of them flags for free”
Well, I didn’t mess around a bit, I took him up on what he said
And I stuck them stickers all over my car and one on my wife’s forehead

But your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore
They’re already overcrowded from your dirty little war
Now Jesus don’t like killin’, no matter what the reason’s for
And your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore

Well, I got my window shield so filled with flags I couldn’t see
So, I ran the car upside a curb and right into a tree
By the time they got a doctor down I was already dead
And I’ll never understand why the man standing in the pearly gates said

“But your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore
We’re already overcrowded from your dirty little war”
“Now Jesus don’t like killin’, no matter what the reason’s for
And your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore”

-John Prine, S/T, Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore

Lyrics of the Month: June 2017 – Good Riddance

They’re wrong
You can love the one your heart’s with
No matter what you’re told about your choice
By any xenophobic hypocrites
Or small-minded misogynists
you’re free
You are free

It’s alright
There are those too slow to get along
Keep twisting their morality with sin
Remember life’s too short to waste on them
And we’re too smart to just condemn
We’re free
We are free
Now if we could only give them
something to believe

It’s anybody’s guess
Why some cling to prejudice and fear
For what they do not understand
Now there is nothing left but common sense
To wash away intolerance
And realize that love is all the same

And no one has the right
To legislate your life
They’re wrong

-Good Riddance, Peace in Our Time, Teachable Moments

His Civil Worship

Another native German Heinrich, Heinrich Böll, a great writer, and I became friends even though we had once been corporals in opposing armies. I asked him once what he believed to be the basic flaw in the character of Germans, and he replied “obedience.” When I consider the ghastly orders obeyed by underlings of Columbus, or of Aztec priests supervising human sacrifices, or of senile Chinese bureaucrats wishing to silence unarmed, peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square only three years ago as I write, I have to wonder if obedience isn’t the basic flaw in most of humankind.

-Vonnegut, Sucker’s Portfolio, Episode Seven – The Last Tasmanian, p132

Hey Michael, I’m sorry that I spray painted your campaign sign in 2012. I mean, you still won. Twice even! I was young, angry. Now I’m slightly less young, still angry, but know better than to spray paint things on property that doesn’t belong to me, because I know you believe in the concept of property.

But, really, man, (I can call you man, right? We’re cool?) people who don’t believe in civil disobedience? They’re usually evil. Like dictator evil. Like Stalin evil. Either that, or they are so blinded by privilege that they couldn’t possibly understand that laws aren’t always fair. (I won’t get into the fact that laws themselves are made to uphold privilege for people who hold positions of power, like say, Mayor. We’ll get there in our relationship someday.)

And I don’t think you’re evil. Not yet, anyway.

But please don’t let my minor experimentation in vandalism sour you from civil disobedience altogether! It can be a fun act of friendship and community! Like setting up tents and having a fake campfire and making signs asking for donuts outside of the INAC building to try and help end a little thing called ‘genocide’ in Canada. Sure, Colonialism No More wasn’t illegal, but it didn’t stop your political counterparts from trying to come up with ways to make it so. I know you believe in the marvels of bureaucracy, but sometimes breaking the rules is the only way to get things done.

Civil disobedience is important. It can help people who have less rights, thanks to the laws passed in the Henry Baker Hall, to gain rights. You wouldn’t go as far to say that the segregation laws that Rosa Parks helped end for Blacks in America is illegitimate because she did it in an unlawful way, would you? Wait, so, you strictly opposed even the faintest suggestion that Regina Police Service might have issues with discrimination and racism? Well, then, maybe you wouldn’t like Rosa Parks.

I understand that as the Chair of the Board of Police Commissioners, you worry about people breaking the law. Because if regular citizens started breaking the law to stop injustice, then people like Constable Powers wouldn’t be able to break the law and get away with it too, and then, really, no one would be safe.

In a recent speech, Sylvia McAdam (you may have heard of her, but then again, maybe not), said to look up the legal connotations of the word ‘acquiescence‘. I’d heard the word before, but didn’t know what it meant.

Wikipedia: In law, acquiescence occurs when a person knowingly stands by without raising any objection to the infringement of their rights, while someone else unknowingly and without malice aforethought makes a claim on their rights.

In Sylvia’s case, sometimes ‘raising objection‘ means to actually lay on the road next to her land to stop forestry companies from logging and destroying the place where her people are buried. Because sometimes the lawmakers won’t listen, because the laws are made for the loggers. And if she didn’t stand up for her land rights, they would become someone elses’. If the place where your family was buried, or where your family played golf, or where your family played drums, was going to get torn up and ripped down, would you lay down in the road and stop them, or would you just write a letter to the Mayor?

Mr. Mayor, sometimes laws aren’t right, because sometimes (tough pill to swallow) lawmakers aren’t perfect. And sometimes, even with the aid of dollar-store posterboard and a megaphone right outside of your office on the 23rd (or whatever the hell) floor, you still can’t hear people.

So to say that you disagree with civil disobedience, means that you disagree with all the things that civil disobedience has accomplished. And if that’s the case, I worry for the state of our city, specifically for those who don’t benefit from the laws that you feel are so damn just.

Please reconsider.

Audiobook

The Boy Who Hissed 02

Please check out my new project, a series of untitled short books with accompanying audiobooks.

Books can be found here: ballsofrice.bandcamp.com/merch

Audiobooks can be found here:  ballsofrice.bandcamp.com

IMG_8963

Up-and-Coming

Three blocks from the venue, down an industrial street in Denver like that in any North American city that boomed in the 1950s, was a small store inside of repurposed shipping containers that sold US-made backpacks, outerwear, and slacks. The store was clean and simple and catered to the young outdoorsy types who live inside but are able to sleep in tents in exotic locations outside.

“We were one of the first businesses in this part of town,” said the shopkeeper sitting bored behind a handmade counter, hair messily gathered in a bun on the top of her head like she had just crawled out of a tent in the Rockies that surrounded her city. “Since then all sorts of businesses have opened here, which is too bad, it used to be a cheap part of town. Now there’s a luxury hotel going up just up Larimer.” The woman expresses her displeasure just as I would. I agreed as I tried on a pair of outerwear pants behind the changing curtain. Their shop and brand are participating in making the neighbourhood more expensive by selling $150USD pants, but they are at least trying to create a manufacturing industry by making their products in the USA. I left without buying pants, wondering where the nearest goodwill was.

The next day, the venue was plopped in the same part of town, only in a city that was 500 miles away, a state and a half to the east. After load-in and soundcheck, the soundman asked “Where’d you go for food? The burrito place? How was it? I heard it wasn’t that good. Yeah, this was the part of town no one would come, until my boss opened this bar and the other one, we started booking shows here, and then other businesses started coming too. It was kinda the bad part of town, now it’s the up-and-coming part of town.” At the expensive coffee joint across from the bar arcade, next to the burrito place, they were giving out a free, one-page newspaper/zine/leaflet. In it read,

“Most American cities are run by real estate interests… In Omaha, the tactic for encouraging gentrification is Tax Increment Financing or TIF. TIF is a way for cities to return tax money to developers as an incentive to put up projects that the city wants (and the public makes up the difference). Unfortunately, no provision is made for the people who used to live in the cheap housing turned into gentrified apartments. The former residents are simply scattered to the four winds. Surprised by ‘shots fired’ near 108th and Maple? This is your City gentrification policy in action.”

A similar but more developed street newspaper in Seattle uses the G-word, gentrification, describing places like Africatown in Seattle being dismembered, breaking up the “home and haven for Seattle’s Black families and businesses”, and highlighting stories of people failing to maintain housing in a rapid-rehousing program because of the recent inflation in costs of rent. Large newspapers will only use the G-word when describing vandals in Montreal or Vancouver who are terrorizing business owners, as business is the uncriticizable holy grail of progress.

I am fortunate to be able to tour with world-class musicians, but each time I’m on the road I wonder how long such jobs will exist. How long will I be paid to burn fuel and watch music in ‘up-and-coming’ parts of American cities, while around the block, that neighbourhood’s previous inhabitants are clamouring to find shelter under a bridge or in a condemned building. I do it because there’s something in music and creation that is able to be unpolluted by corporate greed, though most times it has already been bought and sold.

When people ask what I got to see this trip, Linh Dinh answers for me in his book, Postcards from the End of America, in which he visits communities across the United States left with little or no economy:

You can’t really see a city or town from a motorized anything, so if you claim to have driven through Los Angeles, for example, you haven’t seen it. The speed and protection of a car prevents you from being anywhere except inside your car, with what’s outside rushing by so fast that each face, tree, and building is rudely dismissed by the next, next and next…Like television, the private automobile was invented to wean us off our own humanity. From each, we’ve learned how to amp up our impatience and indifference towards everything, and with life itself.

 


 

After tour ends I fly home to an ailing Saskatchewan. I’d heard of the government cuts while in San Francisco, when a friend texted saying WHAT. THE. FUCK. with a link to an article about the shutting down of the province-owned small town transportation and parcel shipping company. Now home, walking through the downtown, worried citizens are passing colourful clipboards around, asking passers-by to sign one of the multitudes of petitions that are circulating to Save Our Libraries, Save our Bus System, Save our Schools. I sign them all, knowing full well that no petition will be worth the millions of dollars that the government squandered on stadiums and tax cuts on resource extraction companies. The angry protests and province-wide campaigns might get them to preserve something, but the effectiveness of these actions will only go so far if we continue to work within the system that props up corporate interest over that of the public. Though it plays into the hands of the fearmongering government and high income class, one can see why smashing windows in Montreal seems more effective.

Government MLAs show their responsibility, boasting their 3.5% paycuts, which to them means 3.5% less income to spend on boats and cottages and home renos and filet mignon. The paycuts they make to those on social assistance, the paycuts they make to those once employed by the rural transportation system, the cuts they make to the libraries, all mean that thousands of low income individuals won’t have food, shelter, a way to travel for medical treatment, books, and significantly more.

Several years ago, after seeing Chris Hedges speak at the University, I worried that Saskatchewan was the next sacrifice zone—the places that are abandoned by industry, left in disrepair and a humiliating culture of dependency after being used and left behind because of their lack of monetary worth. This could be the beginning of that reality.

It starts with the desperate government selling its struggling assets to the highest bidder, then selling its most profitable assets. They begin begging oil companies to relocate to the province to help the crumbling economy, start giving public land to large corporate bidders. At this point, entire cities and provinces will be bloated with corporate-controlled land and buildings, and towns end up, in a way, like the middle-class urban centres of post-manufacturing North American cities, where no one can afford to pay rent. Eventually, when the government isn’t coddling big business enough, they’ll pack up and move to find a different government who will subsidize their existence. Thirty years later, when our industries have died and all that’s left is cheap bars and empty buildings, businesses that pander to middle class tastes will further move into parts of town with abandoned buildings and cheap rent and begin the process of displacement of those marginalized by the loss of industry, struggling to survive in the older neighbourhoods. We are no better than the economic destruction seen in the United States, we are just a generation behind.

All that will help in the midst of a breakdown of free, communal places of existence and of the breakdown of social programs, is the creation and maintaining of communities that support one another and support the other, the different communities who are similarly affected. I am the middle class that is being pandered to, and while being in these places, eating their burritos, buying their pants, is not inherently bad, it makes it all the more imperative to support and participate in the communities that are contrary to austerity. These communities—social groups, churches, activist collectives, sports teams, artist groups, musicians—must band together to build movements that support the racialized, marginalized, the poor, Indigenous, immigrant communities, who are most harshly affected by public cuts and an economy sucked dry.

Linh Dinh, states the obvious:

For any community to be healthy, local initiatives must be encouraged, nurtured and protected, so let’s reclaim our home turf, reestablish the common, and, in the process, regain our collective sanity and dignity.