The Walrus Blog

Monthly Archive: June 2009

What Would Jonathan Richman Do?

Jonathan Richman doesn’t believe in air conditioning. He doesn’t think that our comfort is worth expanding the ozone hole for, and he feels that “when we refuse to suffer,” we “cheat feeling.” Fair enough, but the motionless ceiling fans above the Great Hall in Toronto, whose floors are slick with sweat, are a bit of a kick in the ass. Sandwiched between my boyfriend and a pair of loudmouthed forty-somethings who are yelling out song requests and botching the titles (“play Summertime Feeling!”), watching Jonathan make eye contact with the audience and wiggle through his dance routine, I’m torn between primal rage and tears of joy. Don’t get me wrong—I take Jonathan’s words as gospel. Living them is a different story.

JR was one of the great discoveries of my life. One of the hardest parts of growing up is realizing that life is actually pretty good, that what seemed like serious pain was really boredom and sexual anxiety. At sixteen, having obtained a fake ID, and, with much effort, convinced someone to sleep with me, I was content. It wasn’t easy. For one thing, I could finally see my musical heroes for what they were: petulant children with undiagnosed personality disorders. Nevertheless, my record collection remained a monument to unwarranted self-pity. When I found Jonathan, I found the idol I should have started with. Whereas most rockstars’ songbooks read like manuals for fucking up your life, JR’s is the ongoing autobiography of a satisfied person. (more…)

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Long Live the King of Pop

The first late night monologues written since Michael Jackson’s death will be broadcast later today. The tone will almost certainly be different from the usual mentions Jackson receives. Along with Bill Clinton’s promiscuity and George W. Bush’s ignorance, Jackson’s strangeness is a recurring trope in paint-by-numbers American comedy. And not without reason. Even Jackson’s most ardent admirers must concede that he was a disturbed figure. Still, at times I’d find myself troubled by the constant barrage of abuse directed at him.

I don’t blame the comedians, really. I laughed at my fair share of the jokes. Still, as Craig Ferguson explained in his first show after Britney Spears’s self-inflicted balding, comedians should focus their abuse on the powerful. Clinton and Bush can handle it. Maybe it’s also fair to have expected Jackson to handle it. Such a monumentally successful musician may not have seemed like a particularly vulnerable target, but remember the abuse Jackson suffered at the hands of his father, and consider that his oft-mocked Peter Pan syndrome was the result of desperately grasping for the healthy childhood he never experienced.


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Q&A: Camille Paglia in Toronto

An interview with Camille Paglia, on high art and why Twitter is for high school kids

Interview by David Balzer.From her magnum opus, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson to Break, Blow, Burn, her recent anthology of 43 poems accompanied by close readings, Camille Paglia has become renowned for her irascibility, her indignation, and her blistering wit. Few public intellectuals have been able to squeeze more out of a half-hour — which is what she gave me a few weeks ago, the day after her lecture at the Royal Ontario Museum in June — a talent that speaks to her militancy in the face of a culture that has turned swiftly from the kinds of towering aesthetics and muscular analysis she holds so dear.

It is no coincidence, then, that her talk, on the occasion of the ROM’s Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, concerned “Hollywood and the Bible,” specifically Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic The Ten Commandments. Clearly in reverence of the old American tradition of female Moseses like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Aimee Semple McPherson, Paglia is bombastic and contentious in front of a crowd, inviting fans and detractors alike to listen and testify. Billed as an atheist who had come to defend religion, she spoke first of her Italian-Catholic upbringing, using it as a springboard for an argument about teaching religion in the classroom as a historical compass and a commanding cultural presence. In response to a question on Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great, she said defiantly of its title, “I am willing to let my entire legacy rest on one sentence from Sexual Personae: ‘God is man’s greatest idea.’ Let his entire legacy rest on that.” (Read the rest of the interview…)

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Twisty Ties

Eastbound, Bloor and Spadina — Toronto, ON

Black woman, early 40s, wearing white sleeveless shirt, grey dress capris, thick-soled black sneakers, and carrying a turquoise leather purse.

The woman beside her wants to talk. Would the man standing with the small child like her seat? Do the cars have air conditioning? What stop to they get off at? Should she have brought a jacket?

She hugs a small rolling suitcase to her knees, a white leather purse with accidental ball point scribbles along one seam stuffed in her lap. Her son sits across from her, a much larger suitcase closing him. He rests his head on top of it, one earphone in, the other dangling, emitting the steady beats of hip hop.

“You forgot to put the twisty ties on the zippers.”

He lifts his head, nods once, and rests his cheek against the luggage’s handle.

“Nodding ain’t gonna keep nobody out of that luggage. I didn’t buy you no new shorts and T-shirts to have somebody steal them.” (more…)

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DFW’s Infinite Summer

Like most self-proclaimed serious readers, I maintain loosely-codified mental lists of books I feel I should read and those I actually want to. Then there are those volumes that bridge both categories, but that I’ve avoided because of their intimidating page counts. I feel certain that I’ll eventually get around to reading Middlemarch and Underworld (I’m less sure about In Search of Lost Time), but as of this week I’m joining an array of readers across the Internet who are braving David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.

The plan calls for reading an entirely feasible seventy-five pages per week, meaning an approximate end date of September 22. The Infinite Summer website offers several tips which range from the absolutely necessary to the seemingly dubious, as well as testimonials from participants like the blogger Jason Kottke and The Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy. I’ve never been one for book clubs, but the site’s discussion forum may well prove to be interesting. (more…)

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From Page to, um, Page

Walrus writer Jon Evans talks about the creation of his new comic book for Vertigo/DC

Jon Evans is the writer of The Walrus blog World Fast Forward.

Hear me, O my rapturous children, and I will tell you the saga of page thirty-eight.

By which I mean: the lettered page proofs for my forthcoming graphic novel The Executor arrived last week. They’ve been a long time coming. I first started talking to Vertigo Comics about writing something for them in 2004, and finished the script in 2007. Worth the wait, though. Absolutely gorgeous art by Andrea Mutti. Another year yet before it hits bookstore shelves, as part of the new Vertigo Crime line; but in the interim, here’s a backstage tour of how and where the magic happens. Buckle up, keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times … and whatever may occur, please do not feed the artists. (more…)

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Making Yogurt is Easy

This is not news – the New York Times and Slate have already been on it – but I’m still astounded at how easy it is to make your own yogurt.

Dairy products that go beyond milk tend to have an air of magic or sorcery about them. Yogurt, in particular, is a little eerie for being alive, and it’s certainly not anything I’d ever heard of my friends or family whipping up at home. Like butter, which I still naively tend to imagine being churned by a Swiss milkmaid in an idyllic meadow somewhere, I always kind of thought yogurt was something that only highly specialized masters could produce – yogurt elves, perhaps, or maybe an Indian yogi who spent all of his time on top of a mountain, meditating in front of a giant lake of milk until fermentation occurred. (more…)

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Q&A: Christopher Hitchens

There’s a certain disdain in the terms people use to describe Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Interview by Dave Morris. There’s a certain disdain in the terms people use to describe Christopher Hitchens. “Bad boy” and “rock star” are quite popular, not least because they subtly suggest that the long-time columnist, literary critic and political commentator’s ardent and passionate mode of arguing — some might even say bullying — masks a lack of substance.

After spending the better part of an hour in the well-appointed 18th-floor bar of the Park Hyatt, trying to find criticisms of his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything that had a hope of sticking, I have one observation to offer: Hitchens freely acknowledges evidence that could undermine his argument, and has substantial respect for those who do the same. Were he a mere showman, or worse, a propagandist, he might try to control the line of questioning so as to avoid being placed in any kind of negative light. But Hitchens never avoids questions that draw him towards controversial or difficult topics — if he makes statements that seem dangerously off-the-cuff, it’s because he’s always willing to clarify or expand on them until his position is clear. Read the interview.

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Shades of You

Southbound, Yonge and College — Toronto

Caucasian male, late 20s, with long dark hair, wearing plain white T-shirt, brown cargo shorts, and black pool slide sandals.

The woman beside him wears crisp white pants and a crisp white jacket. Her shoes are carnation pink, as is her belt, bracelet, and scarf tied neatly around her neck. She slouches in her seat, fatigued, loosely gripping the handles of her carnation pink purse, her nails painted in the same shade. She is defeated in springtime, the sizable mole over her left eyebrow off-shade, tea rose, puce, but not carnation pink, her mother’s favourite flower. At today’s weekly tea she may as well have been wearing amaranth. 52-years-old and she still can’t do anything right.

What was he reading? Click here.

Julie Wilson is a literary voyeur, the Gossip Girl of the Book World. She tracks readers in the wild at Follow Julie on Twitter @seenreading, and @bookmadam where she runs a monthly contest with McNally Robinson.

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Joost Swarte: Further (Summer) Reading

This month, the summer reading issue of The Walrus boasts an eye-catching cover by the Dutch cartoonist Joost Swarte. His crisp style and high-concept approach help to razor his illustrations into our consciousness before we even know what we’re seeing. Feel like you’ve come across his work before? Odds are either you have, in the pages of The New Yorker, or you’re actually thinking of Hergé, the creator of Tintin. Both of those traditions—old-timey children’s comics, sophisticated yuks—play important roles in Swarte’s practice. Whether in his architecture or his illustration, his comics or his stained glass, the artist applies early 20th century styles to our modern world, resulting in an ironic distance that allows him to poke our self-satisfied notions of progress in the ribs—repeatedly, if never especially hard. (more…)

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The Walrus: Summer Fiction

Illustration by Paul Kim

“As for ‘genre fiction’ — mystery, horror, romance, science fiction — none of it is for children.”
Ursula K. LeGuin

The July/August summer reading issue of The Walrus is finally online, featuring fiction and reportage from the best of Canada. As well as reports by John Lorinc on Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, Christopher Frey on African Pentacostalism, and James Glave on eco-funerals, we’re also proud to present four short genre stories composed by four of Canada’s hottest young writers. Read:

SCIENCE FICTION! The Crow Procedure by Stephen Marche

ROMANCE! The Nerve by Lee Henderson

HORROR! Real Estate by Rivka Galchen

COWBOYS! The True Sorrows of Calamity Jane by Joseph Boyden

And also, coming soon next week… Marche, Henderson, Galchen and Boyden attack The Walrus‘s own “Mad Libs… OF TERROR!” Plus, don’t forget to try out for our Guilty Pleasures writing contest.

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Archive: The Walrus in Iran

In September 2006, The Walrus published a report on Iran by Deborah Campbell, chronicling the opposition to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shortly after his first appointment as President. You can read the full article here, now updated to include a remarkable set of photos taken by Iranian photographer Alfred Yahhobzadeh, all of which originally appeared in the print edition, but are now published for the first time on the Walrus website.

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