Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Hippie Redux: #32 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

From Marilyn to Angela

When I have watched a Marilyn Monroe movie, that beautiful woman has always disappointed. It is hard to imagine today the role thought appropriate for women in 1960. It was basically being a housewife and subservience to men. Marilyn never had a chance to appear as a real person.

In 1964 a congressman suggested that gender equality be included in the Civil Rights Act, he was greeted with laughter, but the law passed with the amendment intact.

There were a number of factors that enabled a new role for women in the Sixties. Childcare came on the radar. Abortion, generally clandestine, became an option. The Pill was approved. Economic and social changes required more women in the workforce.

The Sixties saw a massive wave of activism on the part of woman. That most of the current activist organizations were dominated by male chauvinism became obvious, so women formed their own structures. The FBI infiltrated the movement, considering it the enemy. There was considerable dissension within the movement between mainstream and radical elements, but overall it was a time of great gains.

Many powerful woman came forward, either as activists or in print. Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir and Angela Davis (pictured).

Successful events included the protest at the Miss America Pageant in 1968, the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970.

As with the struggle for racial equality, the struggle for women’s rights continues.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Hippie Redux: #31 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

Pictured: Several bands in front of one home.

San Francisco and the Summer of Love

Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco was an area of grand ornate Victorian mansions bordering on Golden Gate Park. In the early Sixties the cheap-rent rooming houses set up in the now run-down buildings attracted artists and musicians. Several local rock bands, including the Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead, lived communally each in their own house. With the freedom of the park next door and the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom not far, the area became the home of the Hippies. In January 1967 there was a Human Be-In in the park that drew 30,000. Communal groups like the Diggers, the Family Dog and the Free Clinic cared for the community and put on events.
The media covered it all. That summer, called the Summer of Love, I received a letter from a friend who had made it there. My hitchhiking took me as far as Cleveland where food poisoning and a hospital stay turned me around. But not others – 100,000 youth soon swamped the area. The scene became less than ideal. Dirt, disease, needles, abuse. In October a mock funeral was held called “Death of the Hippie” to encourage people to take the revolution back home.
The original culture, I suspect, slowly drifted out of the city to the North. In 1996-7 I made numerous visits to a girlfriend in Humboldt County, Northern California. Up in those wooded, pot-growing hills, I found many beautiful people, and discovered some of what I had missed in 1967.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

For The Last TIme

A poem I wrote in response to my cancer diagnosis.

I want my friends to know
that I will die.

When is not important...2 days?
…20 years? ...63 months?

And I want to start dying
today - now in fact -
I've waited too long.

As I sit here for perhaps the final time
in the evening sunlight under this tree.
And every breath becomes almost my last.

And tonight, I’ll savour
scallops in white wine
as if it's the last time I may taste them.

And tomorrow, if I'm still alive, I will
walk to the club on College street
that always plays latin music.

And dance like there's no tomorrow.

How sad these people around me,
obsessed with only living -
careening through life.
The forward momentum they must maintain
somehow so strident, predictable.
With no idea where their mad
rush is heading.

No such craziness for me.
I'm just hanging around
like a man who loves mountains.
The long climb up thrills him -
so does skiing all the way back down.

Ah, the sweetness of being mortal,
knowing I'm more ephemeral,
than the mountains the sky, the sea,
even that old tree over there.

How peaceful I feel sitting in a bar
enjoying what could be my last whiskey.
(Pleased I asked for an eighteen-year single-malt for the occasion.)

And that woman Anne
- eight months ago -
surely I need to send flowers now
in case she’s my final lover.

And I want my friends to know
that they will die.
I want my friends to start dying too,
to join me in dying.

And we'll sit there laughing, reading poetry to each other,
for maybe the last time.

Happy with our dying
and our living.

Hippie Redux: #30 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

The Voices of Bob Dylan

In the early sixties, Bob Dylan was the darling of the folk musical revival. He sang with the rough rural tones of his hero, Woody Guthrie. And some songs, like Blowing in the Wind, were anthems for the protest movement.

In 1965 he changed his voice. He mounted the stage at the Newport Folk Festival with a four piece band behind him, strapped on a Stratocaster electric guitar, and tore into “Maggie's Farm”. There was booing from the audience. His new music, with surreal lyrics, was sung in a wry, often sardonic tone, with words twisted and elongated.

In 1967, after a long seclusion, his voice became spare and prophetic on the album John Wesley Harding, one of my favourites.

Two years later we reacted in dismay with rumours his new album was country. Nashville Skyline had Dylan on the cover smiling in a cowboy hat and even included a duet with Johnny Cash. Reluctantly perhaps, we accepting his lowered pitch and more natural phrasing.

In the following decades his voice shifted from album to album. This year's album, Shadows in the Night, his 36th, finds him covering Frank Sinatra songs. It has received critical aclaim. Dylan probably feels he has the right to try some mellow crooning. Any roughness now comes from his 74 years.

This man wrote some of the best music of the age, stood as a mysterious and charismatic presence, and treated us to one of the most unique and changeling voices.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #29 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Almost all my life I have lived in the modern rational western culture. It's worldview or understanding of reality has conditioned me and continues to impress itself upon me in a thousand subtle ways everyday. But despite our acceptance of it, this consensus reality is only an opinion about the nature of life and I believe rife with distortion and error. If I spent an hour within the body, heart and mind of a Yanomami native in the Brazil jungle, I might be amazed at how his reading of the real is different from mine. If I have had to continually wear blue-coloured glasses all my life, I soon fail to see the blue cast, but get a huge shock when I take them off.
There was a hope in the Sixties that taking LSD would be this shock. A shock to help you see that you are responsible for your own vision of life, rather than having it surreptitiously dictated to you by the dominant paradigm of the established order. Turn on, Tune in, Drop out.
It was suggested that every hippie do at least one LSD trip. I did my trip. It was beautiful, fun, but I can't say it was a game changer. I think it takes more than a few experiences of an alternate reality to develop an independent head. It is ongoing work, however much people like Timothy Leary (pictured) or Ken Kesey might have hoped otherwise. But I think a truth about our situation was emphasized.

Monday, 7 December 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #28 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

Photo: Art Kane
Jefferson Airplane, Take Me to the River !

This is one of my favourite bands of all time. They achieved a looseness and spontaneity in their music that was almost jazzlike. A wild and emotional feel. In Grace Slick and Marty Balin's duets they wound their voices in and out of each other like some ecstatic choir. With songs like White Rabbit, Somebody to Love, and the gorgeous Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil they were the ultimate San Francisco band. Photo: Art Kane.

Friday, 4 December 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #27 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

The Beatles !

Amazing how quickly the Fab Four entered our hearts. In the early days of Beatlemania the sheer joy and energy in their music was irresistable. So too the haircuts and cheeky manner. I remember sitting with friends in the cinema when Richard Lester's A Hard Day's NIght started playing. We were shocked that we almost couldn't understand their thick Liverpool accents, but we got their mad humour.
We heard eagerly every new single when it came out on the radio, and albums were major events. Their style began to shift with albums like Revolver, then came the magnificent Rubber Soul, followed by classics like Sgt. Peppers, and the White Album. Incredible music!
I saw them in concert in Toronto in 1965. It was almost impossible to hear what song they were playing, no wonder they stopped touring.
As with many bands who split up, solo work never achieved quite the brilliance as the ensemble. But John, George, Paul and Ringo all kept making great music. And Paul played a dynamic three hour arena set in Toronto this summer at the age of 73.
Their four very different personalites blended to a unique whole. We could love them all, but still have our favourite. Who was yours?

Thursday, 3 December 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #26 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65

Steal This Website !?!?

Abbie Hoffman was an american activist and perhaps one of the most colourful characters in the 60’s. He co-founded the Yippies (Youth International Party) in 1967, an organization that existed as anarchy only. The counterculture had two poles, the “flower power - change the world through love” extreme and the “revolution in the streets - off the pigs” side. The latter included the Black Panthers, the White Panthers (sic), the Anti-Vietnam War movement and the Yippies. Hoffman, like Jerry Rubin and others, was a master at theatre and communication and famously wrote a book called “Steal This Book”. He had trouble getting it published but then it sold well, (no records if it stole well!). Hoffman was one of the “Chicago Eight” charged with “inciting to riot” after the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968. The drama of his life continued until his death in 1989.
Hoffman’s famous quote was, “We were young and arrogant and crazy and naive, but we were right!”

Sunday, 29 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #25 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

Allen and Jack, New York City
Before Hippie There Was Beat

Jack Kerouac's classic novel, On The Road, was published in 1957, although written ten years earlier. It was thinly-veiled autobiography and portrayed the lifestyle of Kerouac's circle of friends, later known as Beats or the Beat Generation. Like the Hippies who followed them, Jack and his friends rejected the conformism and materialism around them.

They moved restlessly between New York, San Francisco, Mexico City, Paris and Tangiers. Their music was found in Afro-American jazz clubs. Their intoxicants were tokay and marijuana. Their joy was uninhibited sex and poetry as spontaneous as possible. They were some of the first white Americans to not only study the Buddha's path but try to embody it.

Many in the next generation found On The Road an influence, including Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Hunter S. Thompson and the Doors.

And while Kerouac succumbed to alcohol in the Sixties, Neil Cassady was the driver for Kesey's psychedelic bus, while others like William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure and Lawrence Ferlinghetti all contributed to the counterculture. And Jack's dear friend, Allen Ginsberg, author of Howl, was not only considered a key Sixties figure but continued his passionate dedication to social activism, gay rights, Buddhism and wild poetry until his death in 1997.

From On the Road, “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn...” by Jack Kerouac.

From Howl,"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night..." by Allen Ginsberg.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #24 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

Photography at 33 1/3.

The Sixties may not have been the best decade for photography, but there were two interesting developments. Much was done in portraiture, both of celebrities and musicians. And the one square-foot area of the LP record became a great mass media for both art and photography. Photographers like Art Kane, Robert Frank, Richard Alvedon, David Bailey, and Pete Turner made some stellar images. We enjoyed albums even before popping the shrink wrap. Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, In the Court of the Crimson King, Axis Bold as Love - Jimi Hendrix, Disraeli Gears - Cream, Grateful Dead - Aoxomoxoa, the Doors 1st, the Who Sell Out, Bookends - Simon and Garfunkel Pink Floyd - Ummagumma, Hot Rats - Frank Zappa, Let It Bleed - Rolling Stones, Bitches Brew - Miles Davis. Humour and shock was valued, although often banned in some countries (See the Blind Faith “girl with jet model” for instance). Pictured - The Mother’s of Invention by Art Kane. I am writing Hippie Redux every two days and also posting it on my facebook.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #23 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

It Came To This.

On May 4, 1970, four Kent State University students were killed and nine injured when members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire during a demonstration protesting the Vietnam War. I remember going down to the American Consulate in Toronto that day and watching people throwing paint at the building and police on horses chasing people in the crowd. Neil Young immediately wrote a protest song called Ohio and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded it and rushed it out as a single. It mentioned Nixon, “Tin soldiers and Nixon coming” and repeated the lines “Four dead in Ohio” and “We’re finally on our own”. The song was banned on some AM radio stations. This image won the Pulitzer Prize and became a symbol of the counterculture’s alienation from the government and the military - industrial complex. John Filo

Monday, 23 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #22 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

February 24, 1968, Volume 1, No 6,
Our Price: Twenty-Five cents.

A photo of the Rolling Stone magazine I have kept for 47 years. I read this mag continually and obsessively from the first issue til the late 80's. As well as keeping me up on musicians and turning me on to great albums, the photography was often excellent (see Annie Leibovitz - John and Yoko cover for instance) and they always had one in-depth report on some social or cultural phenomena (usually bizarre, usually from California, Hunter S. Thompson anyone?).

Thursday, 19 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #21 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

And The Name of The Band Is…….

Late 50’s rock musicians had mostly sane names - Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins -with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and The Big Bopper being exceptions.

The names of the British Invasion, starting in late 1963 with the Beatles, changed all that. Suddenly we had the Kinks, the Yardbirds, Them, the Who, Procal Harum, the Troggs, the Animals, Pink Floyd, the Zombies, King Crimson, the Rolling Stones, the Pretty Things, Ten Years After, and the band shown here.

America soon responded. The Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, the Electric Prunes, Vanilla Fudge, the Strawberry Alarm Clock (food fetish here?), Iron Butterfly, the Byrds, Deep Purple, the Mothers of Invention, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Lovin Spoonful, Velvet Underground. From Canada we had the Guess Who, Steppenwolf, the Paupers, and the Band (about as perverse a name as you can get).

And the guys pictured here? Definitely the cream: Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton of Cream.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #20 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and friends.
Gurus, Cults, Families and Monsters

The sudden Sixtie's interest in Eastern spirituality brought out the best and worst. I remember young people proselytizing on the streets of Toronto dressed all in black, with long cloaks, calling themsleves The Process. In London, England, I chanted with Nichiren Shoshu. Gurus came from India, Japan, and Tibet. Rock bands travelled to India to sit at their master's feet. In America cults formed like the Lyman Family, the Source Family and, horror of horrors, the Manson Family.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #19 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World (Still)!!

As soon as they came out, I played The Rolling Stones early albums daily for a year or two, in love with the groove and swagger of their music. I was only dimly aware that they were imitating their heroes, the great bluesmen of Detroit, Chicago, Memphis. The Stones, these skinny kids from London, were perhaps the first white blues band. And with very few digressions, they have remained true to the feel of Black music since then (I know they included a Chuck Berry classic in every concert I saw). Formed in 1962, they will be touring South America in a few months, Jagger is 72.

Friday, 13 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #18 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

Eighteen Floors of Hippie !

This building on a Toronto main street opened in 1968 as Rochdale College, a co-op student residence cum educational facility. Its relaxed polity soon became anarchic and the building became maybe the world’s only high rise hippie haven. I remember visiting a friend, the general atmosphere was…well…funky. The joke was that the Jesus freaks lived on one floor, the speed freaks on another, the bikers on another, and the dealers on the top (to have more time if there was a police raid). Eventually it became more and more a drug distribution centre for a biker gang and finally in 1975 the last person was ejected and the doors welded shut. It’s now an old folks home.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #17 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

photo: Joel Brodsky
Not Your Great Grandmother's Handsome Man !!

In keeping with the Sixtie's spirit of experimentation, new ideas of male magnetism from Jim Morrison.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #16 Why I'm Glad I'm Over 65!

photo: Don Hogan Charles / The New York Times

Racial Inequality

The Sixties pushed the question of racial inequality into everyone’s face. I remember visiting a gas station in Georgia in 1965 and seeing three toilets signed Men, Women, Coloured: this in violation of the Civil Rights Act of the previous year. Riots exploded year after year, and in April and May of 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, violent eruptions occurred in 125 cities and large parts of the country appeared deserted as everyone remained indoors.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #15 Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

Santana at Woodstock: Latin Rock

The music scene was re-energized in 1964 with the so-called British Invasion of the Beatles, Stones and many other bands. Although largely simple rock n roll, this changed quickly as groups on both sides of the Atlantic began to experiment. The number of brilliant musicians who showed up in the next eight years was astounding. And rock took on many new forms, latin rock, prog rock, folk rock, country rock, rock opera, psychedelic rock, glam rock, shock rock. We didn’t know how lucky we were to have new albums by Pink Floyd, the Doors, King Crimson, Steppenwolf, all in the same month perhaps. By 1972, the transformation of popular music was complete and glorious.

HIPPIE REDUX: #14 Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

The Drug Question

What would the Sixties have been without drugs? Pot and LSD played a key role in showing people how reduced the contemporary cultural reality was. Taking acid was almost a rite of passage. The illegality of it created a immediate sense of revolt. Imaginations were set loose to play in art, music, literature. A psychedelic style was created. The new sense of an interior world caused people to seek out gurus and teachers, often from the East.

But that was one side to the experience. I can remember a friend of mine injecting speed into my vein. This naive desire to “get fucked up” any way possible was part of the tragedy. People were damaged by intense drug experiences. Amphetamines, cocaine and heroin became major problems. And many never got beyond the drug experience to real change.

Monday, 2 November 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #13 Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

photo: Gered Mankowitz
The Man

In 1967 I was going through a record store bin in the Oshawa Shopping Center when I found an album by a group I'd never heard of, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The cover was cool, so I bought it ($3.29?) and took it to a friends house nearby. His dad had a large stereo in the basement, and we slapped on the vinyl. When the first chords of Purple Haze came crashing out of the speakers, our jaws dropped. We didn't know music could be so wild, so chaotic, but so beautiful.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #12 Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

Vietnam War

The Sixties were a time of increased polarization, particularly in America. Straight/Freak, Black/White, Youth/Establishment, Hawk/Dove. The Vietnam War, with the draft, unclear motivation and the confusing story of what was happening, tore the country up. I personally know five men in Toronto who came North to avoid being drafted in that era. Fine people. Our gain, America's loss.

Friday, 30 October 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #8: Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

What was the Hippie ideal all about...

Don't think your world into little boxes. Stop trying to have everything make rational sense. Forget your car, house, furniture and what the front lawn looks like. Trust the wisdom of your body. Respect the intelligence of your emotions. Look for spirit, outside and inside. Enjoy your senses. Laugh, sing, fuck, dance, play...preferably with as many people as possible, in the sunlight in a public place, as nude as you dare. Make love not war.

HIPPIE REDUX: #11 Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

The Band

This Canadian group formed around 1960 in Toronto as the Hawks, backing up Ronnie Hawkins and then Bob Dylan. Their first solo album, Music From Big Pink, 1968, established them as channeling the sound of a rural past, without ever being "country", and always keeping a Rock'n'Roll grittiness. Everyone was doing psychedelic music, and Big Pink came out with banjos and mandolins. "What the hell is this," we thought, and then got blown away. They somehow captured more of the feel of American music than any American band. Amazing ensemble musicians, The Band were perhaps one of the best groups ever formed, and their music never fails to move me.

HIPPIE REDUX: #10 Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

Easy Rider

I watched this movie again several years ago, and enjoyed it. Of course back in the Sixties we thought it was astonishing. Not sure now about the message, are the two main characters bikers, hard drug dealers, hippies, reactionaries? They seem to stand apart from everyone. Not that that bothered us when we first saw it, it was to us simply counter-culture against establishment, end of story!

HIPPIE REDUX: #9: Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

How young we were.
The band Buffalo Springfield who put out their protest hit "For What It's Worth" in 1966, made 3 great abums before disbanding. That's Steven Stills pointing upward, and you can probably guess who the guy in the crazy sweater is.

HIPPIE REDUX: #7: Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

Ken Kesey

This author of two acclaimed books, Sometimes a Great Notion and One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, took LSD in a CIA-funded study in 1959. Subsequently he and friends, named Merry Pranksters, travelled across the States in the first psychedelic bus, freaking out the locals, and gleefully disregarding common views of reality. Back in California, they held multimedia "acid tests", often including a new band later called the Grateful Dead. If Hippie had a father, it was Kesey. Wonderfully documented in the book The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe.

HIPPIE REDUX: #6: Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

How Young We Were

Two of these guys are dead, a third is almost deaf, the fourth has viral meningitis, but The Who continue touring to sellout crowds 50 years later.

HIPPIE REDUX: #5: Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

Janis, Grace, and Monterey

The first large rock festival of all time was at Monterey in California. There were performances by established bands such as the Byrds, Country Joe and the Fish, Simon and Garfunkel and the Jefferson Aiplane. Grace Slick and Marty Balin of the Airplane showed their mastery of the ecstatic vocal duet, something few bands have done. Bands that played to large audiences for the first time were The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring a 24 year old singer named Janis Joplin. Janis burned up the stage in an amazing performance full of honest emotion, I don't know how she could have been better. Perhaps one of the best filmed performances from the sixties. Check it out on youtube. Janis Joplin - Monterey Pop - Ball and Chain from the doc by DA Pennebaker

HIPPIE REDUX: #4: Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

The Psychedelic Poster

The Sixties were a tremendous time for music and the graphic arts. Perhaps less so for literature. The posters for San Francisco venues like the Fillmore and the Avalon Ballroom, full of colour, swirling forms, the whimsical or bizarre, and script that had to be deciphered, expressed in part the times. This poster, more reserved than many, and in a derivative art nouveau style, I like especially. (Well I own an original print and better still, went to the concert!)

Thursday, 29 October 2015

HIPPIE REDUX: #3: Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

Hippie Family: Photo by Irving Penn.

It's almost impossible to realize today how radical long hair on men was in the Sixties. (No Western man had anything approaching long hair in the Fifties.) Today it's nothing, but back then to the "freaks" it was insanely cool and served as counter-culture identification. To the "straights" it looked effeminate and was cause for scorn and even occasional violence.

HIPPIE REDUX #2: Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

Country Joe and the Fish - Electric Music for the Mind and Body.

In 1967 this tripped out band, and first album, blew us away. We always cut up the hash on the back cover, and I still have the album, with the razor marks!!

HIPPIE REDUX #1: Why I'm glad I'm over 65!

Photo: Bob Siedemann
The Grateful Dead haunt the suburbs, 1967.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Thoughts Around my Recent Cancer Diagnosis 6

I have had many things given to me in my life. Many have been very wonderful. Somethings have been painful, causing misery in my heart. But this is how everyone's life is, and I'm not sure if I would want to live a life that was all bliss. Now I have been given cancer. And cancer, with all its physical misery, fear and uncertainty is just another event in my life. Rather than focusing on the fact that the splendid life I was living just two months ago is largely no longer available to me, I can look to see how much fun a cancer patient can have, perhaps even finding out if there's any fun in being a cancer patient.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Thoughts Around my Recent Cancer Diagnosis 5

"Cancer connects us to one another because
Having cancer is an embodiment of the
Existential paradox that we all experience:
We feel that we are immortal,
Yet we know that we will die."

-Alice Stewart Trillin

Started chemo today. Will find out in about a month if I am in remission. Not cured. In remission. Maybe now I will feel a little less immortal. That's good.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Thoughts Around my Recent Cancer Diagnosis 4

My first night in the hospital getting used to all the routine. They took me for a CT scan this morning and the orderly asked me if I could walk. Not quite that bad yet I thought.
Lying in a bed, being fussed over, served food. Letting others explore my body. It's all very passive. Stuck in a well oiled bureaucratic hospital machine. Wearing hospital garments and tethered to an IV pole. Easy to start seeing myself as a blob. Stop being grounded. Lose a sense of my own vitality. Feel sorry for myself.  Become a patient.
It's all about attitude. My attitude. And as always I have the ability to form that attitude. Do I let my situation and environment dominate me, or do I live in this place the way I want to live, within the possibilities.
Can I still be something bigger than this place?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Thoughts Around my Recent Cancer Diagnosis 3

Being admitted in a few hours. Chemo starting for a week tomorrow morning.

Was wondering today why I had been so nervous to give cancer a thought over the years. Learning about it a bit, how to avoid it, what it is, what treatments are available would hardly have been worse than avoiding the topic out of fear. People I love have died from it of course, but then it's unfortunately a fact of modern life.

All that sugar I ate (ha ha).

For some reason I kept thinking of "Subvert the Dominant Paradigm" all day.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Thoughts Around my Recent Cancer Diagnosis 2

Checked my beehive today, they are doing really well. Nothing like an Ausgust hive of 60,000 bees busy as hell to give a feeling of energy and effulgence.

Feeling tired. Got very emotional at one point when I mentioned how many wonderful people like me and are rooting for me. I sometimes have felt very emotional.

Talked to Alix my nurse, may get in tomorrow.

Spent afternoon with Brian, Neev, Eron and Debbie. Had dinner with Nathan who is coming to see me every day. Got a great card from (his) Anastasia, designed and painted by her. Seems I rock like Jack White and Ash Grunwald. Two (temporary) tatoos inside. Thanks Anastasia.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Thoughts Around my Recent Cancer Diagnosis

August 23 / 2015

10 days since diagnosis with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Hopefully admission to Princess Margaret Hospital is tomorrow.

I have been nervous about the topic of Cancer (ha ha Tropic of Cancer) for many years now, since my father and three friends have succumbed to it.

Hearing the news 10 days ago was obviously a shock. For several days a feeling of dread or doom in the stomach, sinking feeling, hard in the middle of the night. Confusion trying to figure out a way to relate to all the feelings / thoughts that go through my head. What is the “right healing attitude” I should have here?? And do I have it?

A lot of time spent initially contacting family and friends in an ordered fashion.

The yoyo between thinking of getting through it and what if I die. I did not ask my contact at the hospital what my chances were, hoping I could maintain a middle path of “What will be will be”.
Someone told me to be angry and smash plates, which I didn’t feel. I felt this is my life now, and so still enjoy it. At times I felt good, even excited at the intensity, and that bothered me too, as if I was too accepting of the whole thing. Not knowing my chances pushed me to try to be completely open to the future. To try to be ready for anything. Then my nurse told me I had a good chance, so now I’m more hope and less “zen” about it. But often still that little flicker of dread in the background. I have enjoyed making up a fantastic list of all the great things I want to do when I get out.

I have received some excellent guidance for how to handle this which I gone over and over.

I could die here. Strangely still something of an abstract thought. I have had a life four years longer than my Father, and a dear friend from the past died over thirty years ago, but somehow this sort of reasoning means nothing. So many of my (our) ideas about life are trite. I feel very grateful for the life I have had, so frankly I’ve not done a lot of feeling sorry for myself yet.

It is a challenge.

I look at people walking past on the street and they seem so confident, in control, almost smug about their lives. Assumptions. Entitled to being alive. I felt the same way recently. Now I am grateful for so little. Just sitting in the sun is great.

The social connections I have had in the last 10 days have been insane. It seems I am connected to so many great people, and have connected to some I’ve not talked to in years. At times this was draining, and sometimes I felt I had to “cheer people up”. Not be too heavy. There was a fear of isolation so maybe I was over extending myself in my insecurity to mitigate against that. Wanting to be normal so others would be normal. I’ve been phoning, texting, emailing, Facebook posting and messaging, skyping and plain old meeting for dinner. Although sometimes tiring, I think this is good. 

And I’ve had so many arrangement to make, it’s been busy.

Someone referred just now to my "Health Adventure", that seems good to me. Although maybe there is some denial in there.

Often very tiring. Hard to climb stairs without lots of hemoglobin to supply oxygen to my muscles. And often waking in the night, feverish, pillow and pj top soaking.

Got a close haircut to pre-empt the chemo hairloss, glad I did it as it's like the new me having some sort of control.

I have also gone out of my way to milk the situation for any humour I can. Again perhaps my insecurity and desire to not alienate people. To cheer them up and cheer me up. It’s been good, although I sometimes suspect people are being too tolerant of my jokes.

Thanks to all who have made me feel so loved. I am very grateful.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Carer

Yoli with a small Wombat

Beauty Point, Tasmania, January 4, 2015

My friend Yoli picks me up at nine, with Henry her Maltese dog. 

She is one of the people in Australia who look after orphaned animals. Many nocturnal marsupials, especially wallabys, are killed on the road, if the females have a joey (baby or youngster) in their pouch it will starve inside its dead mother's body. Yolande is a "carer", someone known to contact locally who has the skill to look after these sensitive little critters. She worked for years at the Platypus and Echidna House in Beauty Point, and now, after taking an animal care course, works for a vet in Beaconsfield.

She shows me a wallaby joey, wrapped in a flannel bag, a surrogate marsupial pouch. An awkward creature, its long dark tail and legs (with huge black nails), stick out of the bag. Somehow almost bat-like, it's all dark skin, showing little hair, stretched over long limbs.

Yoli drives me to visit a friend, another carer. Loraine's place is in the country, a curious home clad on all sides with heavy stonework to represent a (one story) castle, complete with crenellated towers in the corners and several heraldic animal figures imbedded over doors.

Lorraine is a short, business-like woman in her seventies. She is in a hurry as she has family coming over later. She takes us through to a building surrounded by pens. Inside is her "hospital" where she treats animals. Shelves contain supplies and instruments. In one corner is an old baby incubator, donated for her use by a hospital. On the wall is a framed citation awarded Lorraine from the Australian government.

" Mrs Lorraine Lillian McDonald
Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM)
Citation: For service to the conservation and care of injured and orphaned native animals in northern Tasmania.
Date Received: 26 January 2005"

She learned to care for these animals from her mother, also a carer. Animals are kept until they can be put back into the wild, or sometimes sent to a wildlife park and perhaps from there to the wild.

Lorraine looks at Yoli's joey and they discuss it's skin problems, dry appearance and closed eyes. Lorraine feeds the little thing, and applies some skin cream, but expresses concern. She feels there is infection somewhere, and is not very positive about it's chances.
We then visit some of the pens outside, one contains three young Eastern Grey Kangaroos, two females and a larger male. Beautiful animals, the little females come shyly over to us at the fence, one sucks its thumb (paw). They suddenly hop around the yard and I experience a sudden surprizing moment of intense delight in them.
In another pen a large wombat waddles quickly over to us. I reach in and give it a good scratch up and down its back, which it obviously enjoys.
Another pen has wallabys, and a smaller cage has small wombats in pouches. Loraine takes them out, and first Yoli and then I hold one of the small, chubby little marsupials.

I see a row of flannel pouches drying on the line. Altogether we have seen about ten rescue animals.

As we leave there is a horrible screeching sound as I close the door on my side of the car. I imagine hinges that need lubrication until I realize it's the voice of a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo in a cage just beside our parking spot.

Yoli and I drive to the Lillydale Falls. A short walk through giant ferns and gumtrees takes us to the beautiful little cascade. Yoli suggests I strip and get under the deluge. I strip, but only down to my underwear, and climb slowly over slippery rocks to stand in the down-rushing water. Maybe finding naked old men frolicking in your scenic waterfall is OK in Tassie, but when a family arrives I'm glad I stayed partially clothed. 

We go to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Sitting on the patio Yoli tries to feed a bottle to the wallaby joey but it's not taking it. Yoli has tears in her eyes, realizing the little animal won’t live. But I feel compassion for Yoli, I know she suffers from frequent migraines (there is a stretched look behind her eyes) and has had to struggle. She has a big heart and lives with the sadness of life.

She gets a sudden call from a veterinary hospital, and we drive to Launceston and enter an affluent looking business, the Animal Medical Centre. A vet has received two wild animals from individuals after road encounters and is doing what he can, even though it's of no benefit to him and a holiday as well. We are greeted by the receptionist and the doctor, an energetic young man named Rob. Yoli requests that the vet put down her joey, the receptionist reacts with annoyance and looks at Rob, but he accepts the request without comment. We move into the large treatment room and the vet gives the wallaby a quick injection of green liquid and the little body, now toxic, is wrapped in heavy plastic for disposal. Rob and Yoli have a discussion about the two rescue animals, both mature, a Ringtailed Possum and Blue Tongued Skink, who the vet has X-rayed for free without finding any obvious problems.

We leave with the animals in two boxes and Yoli drives me home to my cousin's place, Blue Dog Hill. We take the animals out of the boxes. The lizard is very beautiful but just sits on the tile floor looking stunned. The possum is a fascinating animal, long thin tail with bare skin on the inner surface, strange splayed hands and feet, bug eyes - caramel coloured and staring intently. It seems better and soon makes a break for it across the room, ending up under a huge couch. I manage to lift the furniture so she can untangle the animal from the struts inside. Yoli leaves, we are very pleased with our day.

On returning to Canada, I get a message from Yoli that the two young kangaroos I liked so much are dead. Lorraine had to put them down, as stress during a storm aggravated symptoms caused by the coccidiosis parasite they suffered from.

I am left with a strong memory of the rush of joy they granted me.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Morning and Evening


Dabhad, Maharashtra, India, 1981

There are two times of day I love in the village. I wake early to the sounds of buckets rattling down the wells and cattle stirring just outside the room. Men already stand between the houses chatting, wrapped in blankets if there is a chill, their wives inside cook breakfast. And in the evening, as the heat of the day is beginning to break, the setting sun sends golden light through the soft haze from cooking fires and the dust from returning cattle. It has been like this a long time.

One morning Jaiswal, a young villager, asks me to take a look at his sick sister. We walk together to their home, one of the dwellings with a walled mud yard, cows on one side and various family rooms on another two sides built against the walls. His sister is in a small windowless back room, lying on a wooden charpoy in the dark. She is moaning, her breathing rasps. I feel the pulse in her thin wrist, it is racing insanely. I ask Jaiswal what medicine she is taking and he shows me a brown bottle of herbal cough syrup provided by the local Ayurvedic practitioner. Get a motor rickshaw, I tell Jaiswal, and take her immediately to a doctor or hospital in town. I am not forceful enough.

I catch the bus to the town on business and when I return late that afternoon, I am told immediately that she has died. I go to the home. Several women in the yard are holding a sari up to make a box-shaped screen while others inside wash the body. Water is trickling out of one side of the screen and slowly soaking into the packed mud and dung floor of the compound. Jaiswal had not heeded my warning.

That evening I walk with the procession through the village, the body held high on a litter and decorated with brightly coloured powder and flowers. A pile of wood and dung patties lies waiting in a corner of a field and after a brief ceremony the pyre is torched. Sudden flame, smoke. We do not wait longer, there is nothing to wait for. One person is left to watch the fire. I walk with the villagers back to their home, they are quiet and calm, perhaps they do not believe in tragedy. 

On my way to another village the next day, I pass the spot, now just an area of black ash.

Friday, 10 July 2015

I Was In a Rock n Roll Band

Cale, Freddy Fuckup and Jimi Fuckup at the 751, November 2009

It was called the British Invasion. 1964 was the year when suddenly everyone my age was listening to music by dozens of new bands, all from England. There were the Animals, the Yardbirds, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Dave Clark Five, Pink Floyd, the Who, the Small Faces, the Kinks, the Pretty Things, the Spencer Davis Group. There was the most popular, the most talked about, the Beatles.

And there were the Rolling Stones. Although we owed them no special allegiance, my memory is that I listened to the Stones everyday for years, playing their first four albums over and over again, in love with the intense groove and swagger of their music. Little realizing that what I was listening to was white English kids paying homage to their favourite Rhythm & Blues musicians, trying to channel, with uncanny success, black dudes from Chicago, Memphis and Detroit like Howling Wolf, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Willy Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Marvyn Gaye.

My first experience of live Rock'n'Roll was a local group whose performance I attended at the Knights of Columbus Hall in our little town of Whitby. I remember them doing a Bobby Womack tune, It's All Over Now, getting that riff of dropping chords just right like the Stones cover did. What magic was this? What glorious chaos?

You can imagine my feelings when on the 29th of June, 1966, I went to Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto to see the Rolling Stones. This was my first big concert and the Stones did not disappoint. I remember little except that the music was great, Jagger wore a cream jacket with a tree applique rising up the back, and I was especially thrilled the moment I recognized Ian Stewart, their friend and former member, playing piano in a corner. Made me feel I was in the know.

Fifteen days later I was at something called the Battle of the Bands at the Whitby Arena. The audience stood in the center, the bands were up on platforms built on the bleachers. Five Toronto bands performed, Jon and Lee and the Checkmates, Bobby Kris and the Imperials, Little Caesar and the Consuls, the Five Rogues and the Ugly Ducklings. It seems the English were somewhat better at naming bands than we were. The first four were soul music, quite popular in Ontario at that time. My favourites of the night, The Ugly Ducklings, were sort of a Stones/Kinks/Who/Pretty Things copy band. Big on long hair, rhythm guitar and bluesy rock. The singer animated, the other musicians performing with a sullen stoicism that seemed total cool. Again I was fascinated with both how a band made music and the magical aura, like talismans, of the instruments: the guitars, the bass, the mikes and the drums, the amplifiers. Their arcane names: Gibson, Guild, Fender, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, Zildjian, Marshall. The curves, dials, shine and muted colours of the guitars, especially the bass with its four fat strings, long neck and huge tuning pegs.

The final act was the Five Rogues, a “soul crusade” by white boys soon to change their name to the Mandala. They wore double-breasted cream suits with prominent stripes, black shirts and white ties. The keyboardist played a Hammond organ with a mysterious box beside it in which two opposing speakers whirled around, changing speed constantly (I later learned this was a Leslie speaker). The guitarist was Domenic Troiano who went on to minor international fame. He played a Fender Telecaster, and could use a sustain effect that drew out the notes and sounded like demented bagpipes. In the climatic last number, in the midst of disorientating strobe lights and Troiano's screaming Tellie, the lead singer “collapsed”, overcome with soul I guess, and had to be led offstage like James Brown. Rehearsed or not, bachanalia had come to Whitby.

In following years I saw a lot of live music, including the Stones three more times, the Beatles, The Band, the Grateful Dead, David Bowie and the Jefferson Airplane. And truly exceptional performances by Jeff Beck and Van Morrison: artists who swept us up in the power of their expression: uniting an audience who knew this was no ordinary night.

In 2006 my son Nathan decided to do Rock and performed for the first time, calling himself Freddy Fuckup. The venue was the Smiling Buddha bar on Queen Street, the day Halloween, the songs his own and the only back-up his friend Cale on drums. What was fun was watching his attitude change during this performance, from initial hesitancy, to dawning awareness that he loved this thing and was good at it, to exhilaration at the end.

Cale also played drums in another group called the Monitors which included Cale's father, Keith, playing a vintage Gibson Melody Maker. The band wasn't around for long, but made some phenomenal music. Keith and Cale's father/son act inspired me to consider joining Freddy as the third member, on the bass the band needed.

My son was happy with my backing him up, if I could play. So I went to Long and McQuade and bought a big, hotrod red, Fender Jazz Bass, with the fat strings and the huge tuning pegs, just like the guy in the Ugly Ducklings. I started practicing, and I also learned by playing along with videos I had of Freddy performing all his songs.

The first rehearsal I attended was at Cale's. His dad Keith is a Juno award-winning recording engineer. With musicians in the family, the basement is a funky, permanent rehearsal/recording space crammed full of drums, amps, mikes, guitars, foot pedals, keyboards, control units and cords, cords, cords.

This is where Cale, Nathan and I set up. We started a number and for the first time I'm playing my Fender with a drummer and a guitarist. There was a moment halfway through where I felt a rush of elation, undefined, but it was probably close to “Holy Fuck! I'm playing in a Rock band!!” Although I went on to back up Freddy at four shows, that one moment that one day was worth it all.

I've sold the big red bass. I've stopped practicing. But I lived that moment. I've been in a Rock band.

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Style of Film Director Terrence Malick

Scene from The Tree of Life, 2011

This week I have watched all six of Terrence Malick's films, including for the first time, his first two. 

Directors like Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick have made great films, and yet have never stuck to one style of filmmaking that is recognizably theirs. Their ability to change the tools of filmmaking to match each film is perhaps part of their greatness. Other directors like Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, Terry Gilliam or Terrence Malik tend to stick to a style that is uniquely theirs. Whether you like their films or not is often a result of liking their style.

So what does happen in a Malick film? What are the components of his style?


Although some films require more scripted dialogue than others, Malick, especially in later films, is known to show up every morning with ideas about the days scene, and then ask the actors to help him direct. This is aided by using the one-man mobile Steadicam and a small crew. With many moviemakers each shot is precisely predefined as to angle, content, duration. But Malick creates a set as a 360 degree environment and then films spontaneously within that. As the voiceovers added later augment and help keep the script to a minimum, there is little dialogue and the actors can create a natural, flowing feel to a scene that we immediately resonate with. This requires good actors, and the challenge seems to attract good actors.


He often uses a stabilized Steadicam and has his actors move freely, the camera and actors swirling around each other as if the camera cannot make up its mind on viewpoint, can't decide what to look at, or is saying it wants no fixed viewpoint. There are very few static shots. A constantly shifting, tracking, panning, zooming movement. This gives a sense of depth, but also disorientation. Sometimes we look over a characters shoulder, sometimes directly into their face, sometimes from down low, sometimes the camera is on a slant, sometimes the tops of actors heads are cut off. Does this mimic our ordinary way of experiencing reality, as we don't sit still, as we move our eyes around, as we haphazardly encounter the world? Does it aid in seeing that there are multiple relationships in everything?


Malick loves light. He loves especially the “magic hour”, the golden hour around sunset, and goes to great lengths to use as much of it as possible. The evening sky is often full of colour and the actors are in backlight, rimmed with golden light but with faces often dark with no fill light. Shadows are long. He likes to shoot with natural light, and avoids artificial lighting at other times. Lovers frolicking in a field in golden twilight is a frequent scene.


Malick has an amazing gift for the visual, for images, for ravishing images. Soldiers charge up a hill of beautifully waving grass. We are underwater looking up at the surface as a man, just shot, pitches head down into the water above and towards us. The camera moves directly and slowly into a grazing herd of huge buffalo. A woman walks away across the salt flats, the low sun in front of her sending her long shadow back to us. Farmers, black silhouettes against the golden sky, stand in clouds of swirling locust. He is not afraid to re-use images. One of his favourites is light and shadow on a curtain moving in an open window. And his static landscape shots are often brilliant compositions creating a beautiful image that would make any photographer jealous.


Moments out of the characters' lives are interspersed with scenes of the natural world. The sky, light through trees, birds in flight, animals and bugs, moving water. The sun making a sunstar through trees overhead is a common image. Nature perhaps becomes the immortal impartial witness to the feeble machinations of mankind. Nature contains a wonder all around us but we fail to see in it what we really wish for.


Malick makes extensive use of voiceovers, often of a musing, existential manner. There is a pensive, meditative quality added to the film. This highlights the contrast between the outer world, the hard shell and bravado of human actions, and the inner world, our confusion and the tender questioning of our hearts. It makes us aware of a reality functioning behind surface reality. The voiceover is there from his first movie, in later films it carries more of the minimal plot of the film, which allows the actors to be more improvisational.

Lets look at his films one by one....

Badlands (1973): Teenage couple on a killing spree in 1958, loosely based on a true story. His first film, hints of his later style in evidence. Voiceover by a secondary character, mostly matter of fact. Some great shots on the South Dakota plains at dusk. Introduces one of his key visual images, the lone figure set against a vast landscape and sky, usually just after sunset. Several close shots of beetles anticipates another component of his style.

Days of Heaven (1978): 1916 love triangle on a wheat farm, highly praised voiceover by young girl, amazing dusk shots of Texas (well Alberta actually) prairie. Begins to use new invention the Steadicam for swirling shots. Closeups of bugs, frogs, cattle, moving grass etc. The immense sky often highlighted and human faces underexposed, dark. Days of Heaven was unusual with so much high-contrast lighting. In conventional Hollywood at the time the lighting in each scene was adjusted so that everything was clearly lit. The film wins an Academy Award for Cinematography for Nestor Almendros, the Director of Photography. Almendros and the other DP, Haskell Wexler, can be credited with helping Malick develop his style. Malick wins Best Director Award at Cannes. This is the film that made his reputation. In Days of Heaven there is plot, yes, although I actually missed the key pivot-point of the story, half way through, with little detriment to my pleasure.

The Thin Red Line (1998): After 20 year absence the director comes back with remake of James Jones novel of US infantry fighting Japanese in the Pacific war. Voiceovers begin to ask mystical questions, more dusk shots, sometimes it's even hard to see actors faces, swirling increases, closeups of alligators, birds, sometimes at the oddest moments. Even as soldiers savage their way through a Japanese camp, one soldier's voice is tenderly asking existential questions. Malick wins the Golden Bear, highest prize at Berlin Film Festival.

The New World (2005): The story of Pocahontas and John Smith, actors and camera swirling increases, gorgeous depiction of virgin wilderness surrounding Chesapeake Bay. Coy woman frolicking in tall grass with two smitten man (at different times).

The Tree of Life (2011): the average all-American dysfunctional suburban family, but that doesn't stop Malick from including dinosaurs and galaxies and the afterlife. His best film in terms of creating real characters, a real family. Introspective voiceovers whispered. Has been called pretentious. The film wins Palme d'Or, highest prize at Cannes.

To the Wonder (2012): Man attracts women but can't commit. Something about love. Scenes of woman and man wandering around in fields at dusk certainly not under-utilized. Olga Kurylenko should get the “Best Coy Cavorter in a Malick Film” award. Maybe a little more plot wouldn't hurt. But like all his films, deeply moving.

His later movies are a showcase for his style, and somehow he manages to largely avoid any mawkish, new age sentimentality. He is not afraid to handle violence and action, The Thin Red Line has a high body count, and all his films have included scenes of aggresion.

Malick, now 71, is rumoured to have two projects in the offing. Great! I for one have not tired yet of his unique style of storytelling.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

How Was Daytona Beach?

In 1965 my friend John Mckibbin and I decided to hitchhike the fifteen hundred miles south to Daytona Beach, Florida.

Fifty years later, I can only guess as to why we picked Daytona Beach. I imagine we saw it as some sort of youth mecca with cool to spare, and any amount of cool was something both John and I could have used.

Although this was not a common activity for the summer vacations of teenage boys in Southern Ontario, I can remember no discouragement from our parents. President Kennedy had been assassinated less than two years before, and the Selma march was only four months previous, but our quiet town was a safe place, and it was hard to believe the rest of the world was not the same. Had we waited a few years, the southern States would seem too dangerous to thumb through, convulsed with riots, more racial unrest, marches, more assassinations, mass murder and the controversies of the counter-culture and Vietnam War .

Our trip was, however, a first encounter with racism. In our town of Whitby, one Chinese family was the extent of our diversity. I don't know if I'd even talked to a black person, which may explain why the strongest visual memory I have of any of the drivers who picked us up was of a soft-spoken, well-muscled black man in denim overalls who said he was a wrestler.

And so, in possession of a letter on church stationary signed by John's father, the Reverend McKibbin, assuring everyone that we were youth of character, we faced south-bound cars and stuck out our thumbs.

We became acquainted with the proud, desolate landscape of the US Interstate. I remember the trip in details only.

The first night had us winding through the Pennsylvania Allegheny mountains, while the headlights of our host's car kept going out, leaving us momentarily in high speed blackness.

Attempting to get out of Washington, we were informed by a pedestrian that we were not likely to get picked up at our location, (in her drawl) “On accounta r crime”.

A driver who, on seeing hitchhiking blacks, muttered, “Put your thumb back in your pocket, nigger.”

A few rides with the sort of guy who asks if you have girlfriends, and on negative answers, then hints by saying, “Guys can always help each other out, right”.

Signs indicating that many people thought someone called Earl Warren should be impeached, whatever that meant.

One white man explained to us why the Nigra were physiologically different for whites and so should be kept separate.

Signs for unheard-of products like Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, Marlboro, Budweiser and South of the Border.

When one of our drivers stopped at a gas station, I found three toilets marked Men, Women, Colored.

Getting picked up by the cops one night on a lonely Georgia main street, sitting on the bench in the station until we were finally told to go (maybe the letter did help, or maybe we were obviously just what we were, a pair of hopelessly harmless Canuck boys).

Rebel flags on front bumpers.

During this time I was excited, unaware that I was not sleeping at all. Everything began looked too American, and too strange.

The first appearance of spanish moss, and then a palm tree, seemed like a dream. This was the tropics. People were playing something called Jai Alai.

Finally we were dropped off in Daytona Beach and I saw the ocean for the first time in my life. It had taken us three days. I no doubt would have been disappointed by the wide, flat endless beach and steady surge of small waves but for the crowds of young, tanned, white Americans playing on the beach, with the women in bikinis, and the guys drinking beer and leaning on their cars. I remember being intrigued by how casually one lounging couple kept their pelvises pressed together.

We lay on the sand and got out our bottles of Coppertone, trying to look like it was something we did, until I began to feel really ill. John got a taxi, we headed to emergency, and I remember losing consciousness going up the steps. The diagnosis: sleepless exhaustion.

I remember nothing of our short time in the city except the name of a black and white B movie we took in, called I Saw What You Did and I Know Who You Are, about two teenage girls who prank-call the wrong person.

Leaving Daytona Beach, we visited two nearby tourist attractions, Weeki Wachee (a spring with an underwater auditorium looking out on choreographed mermaids) and Silver Springs, where I did a little snorkeling in the crystal-clear water.

Then the return trip. I think we were just into Georgia when we spent a night of drizzle sleeping in a wrecked car lying in a yard. The morning revealed the cracked windscreen still laced with blood.

We got a ride in an old car (I like to think a 56 Chevy) with a young fellow called Tom. He was heading for Baltimore, was that good for us?

It seems in the State of Maryland fireworks could not be sold, so Tom was stocking up enroute. Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, I don't remember which states sold them, but there was no lack of stores right on the interstate. Soon Tom dumped the contents of his small suitcase into the trunk and began, while driving, unbraiding and otherwise separating his various new packages into the suitcase in his lap. Once and a while, to amuse us, he would light a Cherry Bomb or M-18 from the cigarette he had going and throw it out the window. Even fleeing them at highway speed, these things had such power that we always heard the explosion behind us.

At some point we picked up a young soldier on leave, since neither John or I could drive, this gave Tom a chance to sleep in the back, and for some reason also curtailed his fun-loving attempt to blow us all up.

Later Tom bought some cough syrup and drove through Virginia one night sipping the bottle casually, then nodding at the wheel, while I tried to keep him in conversation. It came out that I still had not “had a girl” and he promised to rectify that when we got to Baltimore.

And so we got to sleep early next morning at his mother's place in Baltimore. Tom had disappeared when I awoke (his promise forgotten), and we stuck our thumbs out for the uneventful last leg back to Whitby.

To face the question, How was Daytona Beach?