Thursday, August 26, 2010

How you like them (Green) Onions?

Booker T and MG's were always good news, even back in 1961, when I got a promotion in the Air Force. I was elated, feeling somehow American, certainly American oriented because of all the Amerians I met in the Service, mostly black, jazz fans, and Green Onions on the juke box was elating me all the more. Who could ignore the head-nodding sound, organ, guitar and bass of that "Stax" band whom everybody (maybe even the Beatles started copying).It was the sound of success, their success and somehow, therefore mine-- an introduction of an unusual harmony, a new syncopation, of people loving--each other, years and years before Woodstock. The music was certainly from Louisiana, from the Missisippi Delta where all those great blues come from. It was a twelve bar sound, but raunchy, ..Dwayne Eddy with an organ and a jazz education.

Well, I am elated once again. My latest novel, The Fire in Bradford-- actually a redo from an earlier one-- is just now out. Feel good. Green Onions still somehow on the brain, Watching Booker T. Jones backed now by the Drive-by Truckers, on PBS-- doing it again, much like the now famous Norway tour in the Seventies where Oslo kids were wowed by the best concert by Stax--or anybody- ever. And the great Otis Redding before he passed away.

And how is it that fifty years later, Stax Records and Green Onions somehow seems to continue to spice my life. Maybe because I used to be a musician, with a love of the blues.
Or mayby I somehow identify with Booker T. Jones, who has somehow kept Stax together through bankruptsy, hostile takovers and record company war.

For the last thirty years, I have been very nearly bankrupt, living out of dumpsters and putting on a pretty good performance as a homeless prof, today the butt of jokes, but it didn's seem funny at the time to have been Oscar in the garbage can, wanting to argue. Damn, as in the old joke, sometimes it's your turn in the barrel!

So it was a delight to see on PBS, Booker T. Jones with some new personnel from Drive By Truckers backing, certainly Shonna Tucker, who so enthusiascically seems to copy the movements of Booker's former male bassist, Bill (Donald Duck) Dunn as he showed himself so enraptured by the band, making duck-like movements to the sound of the band he loved, and all the Norwegians knew it. All Stax band member had a love for each other, certainly Otis Redding and the other singer on the Norway tour, the final leg of the European exposure.

So now, for me, it's Green Onions on the brain.

And how is it that Stax seems the soundtrack of my life?

Like still being alive after forty years of difficulty?

Well, the Toronto Maple Leafs are like that.

Einstein says that if you do the same thing over and over again with the same results, you are probably mad.

Not so with Stax records, though for Booker, it has been a hell of an uphill fight.

Booker T. of the legendary Stax group Booker T. & the MG's is still making music. His new solo album, Potato Hole, features the Drive-By Truckers as his backing band, with Neil Young contributing guitar to nine of its 10 tracks, and includes a cover of "Hey Ya" (!). The record comes out on Anti- April 21

As for the Toronto Maple Leafs, I fear they are damned.

And me?

Andalay, Andalay.

Arriba, Arriba!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Imitating the actions of the literary tigers

Re, "Norman Mailer's letter to Ernest Hemingway after his novel, The Deer Park was rejected by eight publishers and finally taken by Putnam's" (Ivan's blog, Sunday Aug. 15, 2010).

Frankly it strikes me as childish. "Give me what I want or I'll never talk to you again!" Kinda sad to see that from one of the luminaries. But, of course, the luminaries are/were human.

Ivan, I thought you might find this article of interest: Perhaps another option for distribution of your work.

--Chris Benjamin

(Chris Benjamin is the Sustainable City Columnist for The Coast ( In 2006/2007 he worked as a journalist in Ghana. His first novel, Drive-by Saviours, will be published by Roseway in Fall 2010. His first book of nonfiction, Green Souls, will be published by Nimbus in Fall 2011. He shared an honourable mention in the 2009 National Magazine Awards. Chris has written fiction and features for The Toronto Star, VoicePrint Canada, This Magazine, Now Magazine, Descant, Third Person Press, Nashwaak Review, Pottersfield Press, Rattling Books, The Society, University of Waterloo Press, Z Magazine, Briarpatch Magazine, The Chronicle Herald, Coastlands, Progress Magazine, and many others.

Ivan answers:

Yes, Benji.

And sometimes we neophytes imitate the actions of a petulant tiger.

When I was writing for Starweek, Toronto, I was on a Hemingway kick, as I was using the very desks and typewriters of The Great Man when he had been with The Star.

Said the editor,
"You seem to come on like six-foot-four in the body of a guy five-foot-eight. Tough guy. Boss...And you write like a tough guy. But you're not, you're really not."
But he did, oddly, send me on the same kind of assignment they once sent Hemingway, whom Harry Hindmarsh, his editor hated.
"Take the longest streetcar ride in Town, Queen Street-- fifteen miles. Give me your impressions."

Hemingway had come back with a crackerjack story, the ride somehow reminding him of taking the Staten Island Ferry in New York; the ferry seemed to go everywhere...And so did the Queen Street streetcar in Toronto.
...Well, I came back having intereviwed the streetcar conductor, whose passion in life was to be a railroad engineer...Well, he was. Kinda.
The story worked. Made the front page, especially when I made it plain that the United Arab Emirates wanted all our streetcars, which the TTC in its wisdom, had decided to replace by trolley buses. Shortly after my story ran, the TTC changed its mind and decided to keep all the streetcars, whose new modern versions can still be seen today.
I tried to find THE LONGEST STREETCAR RIDE IN TORONTO in Star files but Google doesn't seem to have that old story from 1972...And if I went into Star files, I would have to pay, big time. Anyway the story was my stab at bigtime journalism...I had made it, but not for long. They promoted me to editor, and then, egad, fired me.

I'll check out the links you provided. Thanks.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Norman Mailer's letter to Ernest Hemingway after his novel, The Deer Park was rejected by eight publishers and finally taken by Putnam's

--because finally after all these
years I am deeply curious to know
what you think of this.
--but if you do not answer, or you do answer with the same kind of crap you use to answer unprofessional writers, syncopants, brown-nosers, etc., then fuck you, and I will never attempt to communicate with your again.

--and since i suspect the you're even vainer than I am, I migh as well warn you that ther is reference to on page 000 which you may or may not like.

Norman Mailer.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Driving the full bolt home

Well, I was supposed to bring home the bacon with my magum opus, The Fire in Bradford.
But all I've got in front of me right now is an old university essay of mine on Fancis Bacon, probably the father of modern science.
A sentence of his, somewhat loosely remembered, has caught my eye.
A young man will drive the full bolt home, but an older man will not.
Oh-oh. Reminds me of my military training. ..Taking an M1 rifle apart, I could not get it back together again, let alone driving the full bolt home. But I had to get it together, had to-- or I would fail at even this second-rate career. Persistence pays off, I found at nineteen.
Well, dang. With one foot in the grave, I''m finding it in life and (egad!) even in bed, that I am having trouble driving the full bolt home. "Relax, why doncha. We've both been alone for some time."
Driving the full bolt home.
Heh. Why was I suddenly thinking of old Oral Roberts?...But he was known for religion and not perversion. :)

Well, my poor book is out. It too, may contain a little perversion. But I need help from people around here with this book.
"Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party."
But the host of the party has somehow turned into Ferdinand the Bull.
I am now sniffing my sunflowers, wondering at how tall they've grown. I need a stepladder, to execute, what one of my athletic former students, something of the old Super Dave on old TV, described as "the correct sniffing position."
...And then the friggin' ladder collapses.
I am suddenly hearing the sergeant's voice from the past.
"You are a leading airman and got a part left over from your rifle?" Take her apart, and do over."
Story of my life.
..But I finally got the goddam thing to fire. As fast as I could pull the trigger.
The M1 is semi-automatic.
I hope I still am.
...Yet something of Francis Bacon rings in my ears. ...Especially when my enormous sunflowers seemed to laugh ar my attempt to overtop them for a good look at what I thought were my creations. "Study biology, get the feel of it. Write it up....But remember that nature controls us, and not we it."

Meanwhile, trying to drive the full bolt home.

A writer who himself has had much failure at driving the full bolt home, suddenly said, "Everything else has failed! Start where you stand."
Well, actually not a bad place to start. I have achieved some notoriety in these parts, people are willing to help, but they are all wondering when Ivan is going to get the rag out...Come to think if it, I think I did leave part of the the cleaning rag in my old M1, therein the difficulty.
Get the rag out. Make a move. Make a move in any direction.
Well, I can at least do the Canadian thing,( some say the bravest thing most Canadians seem capable of)-- write a letter to the editor.
But I'll try for something braver. I think I'll write a letter to a famous literary critic around here...Make a move. Any move..At least it's a move. So I write,

Dear Robert Fulford,
(National Post Newspaper)

Hello and congrats on being a survivor, certainly lauded for your remarkable ability, at a time when journalism appears to be in its death throes. But the Naional Post, which I consider the best newspaper in North America, somehow prevails. It seems a small miracle that the Post survives and carries on.

I had written to you in the past, about my poor first novel, The Black Icon.
Well, let bygones be bygones.

I have persisted, and have written five more books, with almost predictable results: I had to publish them through my own imprint, Island Grove Press. There was some critical recognition and an Ontario Arts grant for this book, one writeup by the late Dick Illingworth a former Star stringer and quite famous here in York Region.
My latest tome is The Fire in Bradford, which one critic has said was a study of waning sexuality here in the boonies.
Gad. I thought I was writing humour!

In any event, I have persuaded one Alfred Warkertin, former publisher of Chateu Books, Montreal, to at least put his name onto my latest outburst.
The Fire in Bradford will be out through his
Warbrooke Publishers Ltd.

I know --oh do I know!-- as a former journo!--that time is at a premium, but if you should have nothing to do on one Sunday, well, an early version of The Fire in Bradford is online on my
Or I could send you the book.

...I did notice some three years ago that people were a bit snippy over your contribution to journalism in Antonia Zerbesias' famous, but somewhat badly used old blog.

I had said "Oh, no. Robert Fulford is most good, most kind...We sometimes correspond." Heh.

Anyway, I hope you're having a good day. I do say in my blog, that mine has not entirely been.


Ivan Prokopchuk

PS: I keep looking for your excellent article on old Explorations Magazine, but can't find in anybody's archives.
Explorations, a copy of which was given to me by Murray Paulin, old philosophy prof at Ryerson, was almost a launching pad for Dr. McLuhan, as it certainly was for the (late?) Murray Paulin's friend, Edmund Carpenter.
What an artistic take on Canadian culture!
I think we've lost that kind of insight through the current murkiness, but you, Sir, for one, are hanging in.

Well, my nose feels a little brown.

But what the hell. It's a move. Trying to drive the full bolt home.


Sunday, August 08, 2010

What's this sh*t?..I think I need a Sunday off.

I am no Seventh Day Adventist, but like a New Guinea wanderer I once met, I am sort of, like one M. Dennie Mark, Seventh Day Adventist. He seemed very self-important,said he was "very well educated", by missionaries. "You can address me as M." And,"I believe in the Seventh Day."

Well, Saturday for me is for revelling and carousing.
But I seriously need a Sunday.
For the past eight years, I have been going flat out, writing like a fiend, with the same results: zero on the book publishing front, just a line or two in the periodicals to keep the old hand in.
Einstein says somewhere that if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, with the same results, you are crazy. I am crazy.

I have finally published a book. It started out as an in-between editorial and novel, or some other mongrel thing...I mean to talk to commentator JR about this...but after tight editing and rewriting, paying close attention to plot and character, I think I've finally gotten it right.
Whew. The tension's out. Mid-life crisis is over, but here on the slope end of seventy it seems to me more like Perpetual Crisis. Sort of like the menopausal Dr. Smith out of "Lost in Space", from the Seventies. "Oh dear. What will become of me."

I think I need a Sunday.
Fork it.
...Going flat out for eight years. It's beyond Seventh Day Adventism.
I am M. Dennie Mark, replete with huge penis sheath like they used to wear in New Guinea? but its more like a wooden codpiece once worn by Restoration fops in the coffe houses, like Mick Jagger stuffing a toilet roll into his pants just to make him as large as the big boys. It's all show. One is actually, uh, quite modest.

I was never a conventional teacher of writing. The Trickster God would sometimes get me. I would show to my class, usually ladies, a picture of a New Ghinea warrior, in full, threatening gear. Abnormally huge.

Then I would add,

"Ladies, ladies, the boat for Port Moresby does not leave till Tuesday of next week."

Other teachers, hearing of my antics, would point out my beautiful Victorian mansion with the attic atop, where I would write. "Seems so serene, so affluent. But a madman lives there."
Well, what the hell. I used to hang around with cookbook writers who had said. "You're a writer. You're an asshole. Writers are assholes. All artists are assholes."
Probably extreme.
But they did tell me at the Toronto Star that talent seems to hide in the strangest places. Especially when my girlfriend at the time, Marilyn Beker, would take me arm in arm, and join me in a lusty recitation of madrigals and gavottes.
"The guy can do his job, but is he ever weird!...And his chick doesn't seem so togeher as well.

Even then, I think I needed a Sunday. Four years of intense intellectual effort for a guy whose real nature was reveller and carouser, a drunk...and it was beginning to show. I would weird -out an entire beautiful brass elevator-full of Star employees by giving twelve people a Vodka bouquet that would fumigate a farm.
Said Pat McNenly, my Star tutor at the time, "Migod, this elevator is really loaded."
I'd never talk back to Pat McNenly a former Typhoon pilot during the Normandy invasion and claimer of two Focke-Wulfs shot down by his trusty 20mm cannon-armed Typhoon. "You gotta lead your target. Give him brace of twenty-mike-mike, like a skeet shooter.

Well, I finally hit the targer. Opened fire with my "Fire in Bradford", which is already making money, and I hope the twenty mike-mike guns keep firing.
But I need a Sunday.
Again, too much intellectual effort, for too long, from a guy whose nature was reveller and carouser.
I miss my barmaid, who says she loves me. Egad. I think she means it...Surely there must be some way to exploit. :)

Reveller and carouser, fool of the four p.m. drinks.
Some women like fools.
I'm half convinced marriages hold together because the wife knows old hubber is a fool, and who else is going to look after the poor dweeb?

Like my wife used to tell me, "You're cute, but you're dozy."
And I'd come back from work and say I'd f*cked up a story and she would say, "What else is new?
"We are two f*ckups grown somehow strong."

But even then, I needed a Sunday.

A faroff place, a moral holiday.
Jesu Cristo! you need material for your lies.

I finally sent the new novel to my ex-wife.

She does not talk to me any more, but my poor daughter had said,

"You know what Mom said? "What's this shit?'"

Damn. You sure need to be a devil to earn your halo.
Maybe, in fact, I just need a sh*t.

Running out of gas. I get the sense of dying of starvation.

I am exhausted. I need a Sunday.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Every good post deserves a failing one

It was one of those mornings after a night of drinking, letting off steam,in a euphoria, as if on drugs, still in the Dionisaic bloom of youth, possessed, he thought, of a body that would never corrode or wither, of living forever, of being a drunken artist, constructing huge, sprawling novels in the barroom air, bragging, fighting--but knocked down off his barstool at least once.
It was probably the concussion that now left him wandering the streets, somehow still high, with this eerie feeling of being able to see around corners, of being omnipotent and omniscient. The mania of it all.
It was a feeling state he had come upon pretty often of late as a blocked writer, missing his deadline decade to produce something fine at 40. He had not completed his novel. His ego, built up for years after a series of journalisic successes--stopped being fed. He had the odd sense of dying of starvation. But here and there the CARE package of a published short story. Yet this was not enough. Mere palliative. Still, there was the alcohol, but the euphoria was short-term. Yes, sure, he could get drunk, tell people at the bar you had to destroy before you could create, of quoting entire passages of the Iliad and Odyssey, like a real phoney, and telling all how wonderful it was to have had a university education, that anybody who didn't have one was not yet fuly drawn out,inchoate, like maybe an animal. This made him popular not at all. There were other bibles, other people.
And he had not completed his own biblos.He had not run in the literary Olympics, matched against those better than he. He had become not even an also-ran. Now his own instincts were animal.the success, the pleasure. Gotta get! So there had been success, considrable success as a short-sprint writer.

He was working, now, as a columnist for the Telegram, well paid, and he supposed, still among the writing elite, but he had not completed his novel, the sine qua non for any journalist, and some people had said, well, thank God, the guy is insufferable with his poses and his superiorities. Something like Zippy Lood King out of the underground comics, Fat Cat Charlie Alpha with the big mouth and evey bigger stomach and capacity, devouring other columnists, but too fat himself to be devoured. Falstaff of the cocktail hour. Full of shit, lying bragging,
And yet when he had friends over after the party, hoping to impress them with his wall-to-wall library, they asked for his book. But there was none, merely a collection of short stories and a monograph on William Blake, which was really part an old thesis. There was no book. But he could live, act, drink like a writer.

He had come to work still half-drunk like this, his head still fulll of epiphanies and entire passages of the novel he was yet to write, to tell everybody about, but this was reality here at the editorial office. He had a job, while other writers had not. Writers are notoriously dysfunctional, unemployable. He was, at least, employable, though through the graces of a kindly editor. His job? He had to write rings around ads with his clever observations from bar-side, with which he somehow made a living and proved, at least to himself every day that he was not a failure.
"Hah. Made it to work, did you? said the editor, blowing smoke rings from his Havana.
"You know something?" Said the canny, bearded editor.
"You should write when you get feeling like this, this sense of seeing around corners that you tell me about. No, don't just talk about it.
"Don't tell me how you feel. Write it down. That's where the gold is.
"Write it down. Write it down. Write, write even if it turns out to be drivel. I will edit it into something. Write your about your block, if you have to. Just churn out the copy. Writing is really entertinment, you know. Mere entertainment."

Writing was entertainment.
And drinking and writing seemed to go hand-in-hand.
So he'd write about drinking, usually beginning with, "Excuse me, said the lady at the bar..."
Then he would try to make her interesting, coquettish, funny. And somehow flawed.
Like himself. But she, gloriously so. She told him her secrets, that men were beasts, especially her "honey", the one she was living with. He began a lovelorn for tomorrow's column.
Aping Dear Abby. People would read.

Trying to be the Moliere of the columnist set,setting up scenes, dramatizing here and there, lapsing into French in this bilingual country, making his lady at the bar seem like drama, like Irma la Duce. But there had been a faltering at this morning's writing. He was sudeenly almost in a panic. Blocked even at this?...You were only as good only as your last piece, and God help you if you put in a bad performance on this day, or else the Press Club would know all about it immediately and they'd be the first to tell you.

Oh what the hell. It was all fluff and flummery, any idiot could do it, stand-up comic of the typographic set, giving everybody else, he thought a case of typographic penis envy...But that morning, he produced a really bad column and it seemed the whole world sudenly knew about it. Certainly the wags at the Press Club.
The fall from popularity was immediate.
"I pay you for shit like this?" from the now- angry editor.
"I could sit here at the office and drieam up stuff all day...But it's gotta be good stuff. Where is it, Zippy?
"Running a little dry?"

Well there were palliatives for this. Things the neighbour said, things you saw on TV, cutting one's grass.

"Good," said the editor smoking his Havana. But is it art?

Is it art indeed.

He recalled after last night's debauch, of walking along Queen Street West and be drawn somehow to an icon in the window, a poster, really for the upcoming Olympics in Vancouver.
In boldface, the Latin motto taken from the Greek,
Citius, Altius, Fortius.
‘Swifter, Higher, Stronger.’

"Well, not so swift, nor not so strong, and not so high today, though the alcohol had given him a huge short-term lift.

It seemed time to pay the piper for all those superiorities in his columns, the satires, what fools these mortals be.
And he, the seeming immortal in his amber haze of whiskey.

He had taken now to carrying a flask

He pulled it out now out of his vest pocket.