A Sheepish Admission

July 25, 2011

Standing outside the tent on Saturday night, listening to The Sheepdogs rip through their 2nd set of the day (the first being an acoustic one in the blazing sunshine) at Hillside, my thoughts turned to the 70s. How could they not? Here was a band channeling the spirit of Southern Fried Rock in both sound and look with a touch of The Black Crows and My Morning Jacket thrown in for good measure to a capacity crowd that consisted largely of folks who weren’t even born when this sound first emerged.

Kids these days, with all their rap and bleep-blop electronic music, enthusiastically embracing the more countrified roots rock sound of their parents. Nothing wrong with that although, for me, if I want to listen to the Allman Brothers (an impulse which occurs almost never – my musical taste tends more to the bands that bracketed The Sheepdogs, Hooded Fang and Hollerado) I’ll listen to the Allman Brothers. But certainly, there are worse things to adopt from the recent past as I await the re-arrival of wide, wide ties with some trepidation.

I have mixed emotions about the decade I came of age in. While many of us benefited from the social and political freedoms that opened up as a result of the upheavals of the 1960s, we also wound up stunting them, stopped the march of progress far short of its goals, twisting and bending the ideals into an almost unrecognizable shape that called itself the Reagan (Neo-Conservative) Revolution. In 1969, America put a man on the moon. By 1980, we’d convinced ourselves that government was a problem not the solution. The 1970s just don’t hold up well in that light.

I was still mightily in my pre-teens during the tumultuous year of 1968 but I do remember that mixed sense of fear and, if not hope, a curious anticipation of what might be right around the corner. Protestors derailed a presidential re-election bid in a fight against an illegal, immoral war. Cities exploded in riots, set alight by inequality and racial oppression. Assassinations. First, Martin Luther King. Then, Bobby Kennedy. More riots.

It was Kennedy’s death that we can now see as something of a turning point for progressivism. Not that it was any more important or devastating than the slaying of King but RFK’s journey from his privileged, elite upbringing and early rabid anti-communism to the moral conscience of a country as presidential candidate signaled that the old order was rotten to the core. A fundamental change of course was needed and underway.

And then he was dead.

The politics of spite and tribalism filled the void and prospered. Even the downfall of the petty tyrant of vindictiveness, Richard Nixon, in 1974 only served to temporarily delay the triumphant of reactionism. It emerged in its full blown hideousness with the ascent to power of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and so on and so forth.

So by the time those younger Sheepdogs fans began sitting up and noticing the wider world around them, radical conservatism had become the entrenched orthodoxy. We who had benefited from progressive ideas in action – livable wages and working conditions, accessible and affordable health care and education, reasonable expectations of fair pensions and a well earned retirement, all that solid middle class claptrap – had decided that enough was enough. No longer would or should we extend such luxuries. They only served to sap our work ethic and encourage lolly-gagging and freeloading. Nose to the grindstone, pull yourself up by your boot-straps and all that.

The flagrant hypocrisy of such I-Got-Mine-Jackism manifested itself to me last week when I came across a video of Paul Ainslie’s maiden speech at Toronto city council (h/t Jonathan Goldsbie) after he was appointed councillor in 2006. Ignoring for the moment his vow never, ever to run for council in ‘Ward 41 or any other ward in this city’ after his interim time was up (he did run both in the 2006 and 2010 election, successfully unfortunately), what really got my goat was Ainslie’s citing of a Bobby Kennedy quote as a source of his political and public service inspiration.

The task of leadership, the first task of concerned people, is not to condemn or castigate or deplore; it is to search out the reason for disillusionment and alienation, the rationale of protest and dissent — perhaps, indeed, to learn from it.

Councillor Ainslie is a nose-pick of a politician who is a certified member of Mayor Ford’s wrecking crew, intent on dismantling much of what makes this city work so well. Rather than searching out and learning from ‘the reason for disillusionment and alienation’ as Robert Kennedy implored, Councillor Ainslie, the mayor and his other enablers only seek to exploit the disillusionment and alienation in order to reduce government to impotency. The exact opposite of what RFK was seeking to do.

That a politician of Ainslie’s low caliber was able to co-opt the words of Robert Kennedy goes a long way to explaining our modern political dynamic. The Reactionary as Revolutionary. I’m a neo-conservative politician and Robert Kennedy would endorse these words I’m about to speak.

It takes me to the words of another icon of the 60s, Hunter S. Thompson. The best known passage from his best known book, and perhaps the best analysis of the end of what we now think of as the end of the 60s and the birth of a generation of swine.

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

And it’s been rolling back now for over 40 years, slowly and surely drowning much of the progress that had come before it. Just when you think it’s crested, unbelievably you’re hit with another surge. Stephen Harper. Rob Ford. This has to peak too, doesn’t it? That’s the way waves work. Where is the neoconservative ‘high-water mark’? Have we just not seen it yet? Are we lacking the ‘right kind of eyes’?

So kids, follow in our musical steps all you want. Remake it. Remix it. Rejig it. It’s all harmless, nostalgic fun. But stop listening to our politics. We’re sell-outs and con artists. We’ve shirked our duties and responsibilities, leaving us all worse for wear. Our taste in music far exceeded our sense of citizenship, and the sooner you learn that the better.

guiltily submitted by Urban Sophisticat


The Wave Considered

December 5, 2010

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda….You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning….

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave….

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark —that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

– Hunter S. Thompson, 1971, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

For some reason, I sit and read over this passage whenever I’m feeling particularly depressed, politically speaking. Not sure why. By no means is it an uplifting passage. In fact, you might call it ‘eulogistic’. Maybe more ‘elegistic’ if the word actually existed.

I first came across it probably, oh, 5 years or so after it was written. Some nearly 35 years ago, yikes. As a tail-ender of the baby boom, my initial impression was full of, I don’t know, disdain, let’s call it. Another old hippie, waxing all nostalgic about how great it was back in `68, blah, blah, blah. Eat it, grandpa. Haven’t you heard? Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.

But now those words carry a little more resonance for me. Either because they’ve aged well or I haven’t. From this particular vantage point, looking back and with the right kind of eye glasses, it seems as if ours is a regressive age, politically and economically, as Thompson’s passage predicted. The wave broke and the promise of 1968 seems unattainable.

Is that too melodramatic? I don’t know. We’re still invading and occupying foreign countries both militarily and economically, plundering them in the name of advancing democracy. The rights and responsibilities of consumerism have trumped those of citizenship. We’ve raised a generation of children with lowered expectations because we hate paying taxes. And the fucking Rolling Stones are still on tour with almost the exact same play list they had 4 decades ago!

So no, that ain’t progress, folks.

And the politics, oh lord, the politics. As a society we’ve disengaged and into the void has rushed… no, that’s not the right word… slunk? oozed? gestated?… Yeah, let’s go with gestated… into the void has gestated a breed of politician who make very few, non-fiduciary demands on us and rarely appeal to the better angels in our nature. Politicians test marketed and prepackaged in order to smooth over the rough edges of intellectualism, erudition or worldliness that might make the public feel self-conscious about their own lack of any of those traits. Keep it simple, stupid. Always avoid complexity. Hell, scorn it if given the opportunity. Nothing more than can fit on a bumper sticker. Slogans and jingles, if you don’t mind, with the depth of a radio advertisement.

None of which should come as a surprise since, like almost every other aspect of our lives, politics and those that dwell within have been fully corporatized. Advertising and marketing is the lifeblood. Without that, well, it’s all just shit we don’t need at a price we really can’t afford. And I’m not just talking money.

In a corporate world, we put our personal comfort and security above all else. If those we bestow positions of power on ensure us our comfort and security, everything else is negotiable. Free speech. Civil rights. Public space. Compromised government. When a government’s compromised, those it purports to lead cannot claim to be free from the stain or stench of it.

Now I’m not bemoaning our fall from a 1960s paradise. I am well aware that it was an era never as pure and clean as some vocal boosters maintain. Yet, as the above quoted passage suggests, in the ongoing battle between progress and the status quo, revolution and reaction, Bilbo Baggins and Sauron, there was a point of time in the not-too-distant-past when the new guard had the old guard by the throat, demanding and receiving concessions in the way the world was run. It must’ve been heady times.

But we eased up, started taking things for granted, and it’s all been pretty well in retreat since then. Sure, there’s been seismic shifts since then but mostly elsewhere. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet empire, much of it bloodlessly. Latin America has shaken off its heavy coat colonialism, dictatorship and military rule to become a growing global force. China and India have fully embraced modernity in both dizzingly positive and ghastly ways.

Still, sitting here on this particular Sunday, darkness pervades much of my perspective. We’ve abrogated our duty as citizens and voters by our fierce insistence on being ignorant of matters of vital importance. Economic. Environmental. The democratic process. (Coalition in a parliamentary system? Anarchy, I say. Anarchy!) In so doing, we’ve handed over the keys of power to those who don’t have society’s best interests at heart. Demagogues. Rightwing, anti-government populists. Corporate lobbyists and big business technocrats. Ill-educated scions of the wealthy. Those claiming to stand in opposition to all that but who cave at the first sign of conflict.

It is darker still to me because as a child of the 60s (technically) but whose heart and head are really of the 70s (don’t hate me for that), I feel responsible for the present state of affairs. Me and mine were the first wave of defectors from the cause of informed and engaged citizenry to that of consummate consumers. I didn’t fight the law, so of course the law won. There wasn’t even a fucking contest. Now, I’m struggling to figure out how to make amends.

And I just can’t help feeling that I was the one who let Hunter S. Thompson down. I was part of that Generation of Swine. No amount of booze, drugs or shooting at things can ease the pain of that realization although they do help dull it somewhat.

self-indulgently submitted by Cityslikr


Head In The Toilet

July 22, 2010

We’re sitting around the office staring at each other. That is, when we’re not peaking around the corner at the plumber snaking the drain of our toilet. What exactly will he find down there, blocking up the system? I hope it’s some sort of exotic snake, a cobra perhaps. To think I might’ve been that close to death each time I sat down to go about my business. It probably won’t seem as thrilling a few decades hence, in my dotage, when such occasions are always a question of life or death.

On the other hand, Cityslikr knows what’s clogging the pipes and when he’s not looking at me or the plumber, he tries out one of those George Smitherman glares toward Acaphlegmic who lies on the couch across the room from us, smirking up at the ceiling, eyes closed, humming something that approximates a tune. He is high and Cityslikr believes he is the cause of the clog. Every time Acaphlegmic is startled awake (a frequent occurrence), he darts into the bathroom and flushes what can only be his stash down the toilet. Every time. It’s like he has no memory of any previous occasion that he does it. Which is probably the case.

A certain pall has descended down around the office since Wednesday’s night mayoral debate. This one seems to have taken it out of Cityslikr. He is unable to shrug it off, get past it and look ahead. The future’s too bleak to be looking forward to.

“One of these assholes is going to win,” he said to no one in particular. He kept wondering aloud why Sarah Thomson insisted on calling Deputy Mayor Pantalone, ‘Joey’.

“Who’s she playing to with that shit?” he demanded to know. “Who the fuck is she playing to!?”

Acaphlegmic just laughed, putting Cityslikr that much more on edge.

They have a complicated relationship, these two. Cityslikr admires what he imagines Acaphlegmic once was and detests what he’s become. Acaphlegmic admires nothing about Cityslikr, imagining he and his ilk are all that has gone wrong in the world these days. Borrowing a moniker from Hunter S. Thompson, Acaphlegmic refers to Cityslikr as part of that ‘Generation of Swine’. Cityslikr tolerates such ridicule as he, deep down, might well agree with that assessment.

“How have we let this happen?” he asks, as if he was reading my mind. The plumber pops his head out of the bathroom to answer the question, assuming I guess that Cityslikr was asking about the clog but is waved off and turns back to the task at hand. Acaphlegmic lets out another snort of bemusement.

“I mean, seriously. We didn’t do anything wrong this time. We let the bastards have their way. We bowed down at the feet of their Milton Friedman statue.”

“Gave them enough rope, what?” Acaphelgmic interjected, using that strange upper class British accent he sometimes affects for no apparent reason whatsoever. He then breaks out into a verse of The Clash’s song, Tommy Gun.

Cityslikr stares over at him, malevolence changed to dismay. The plumber joins in, singing along with Acaphlegmic from the bathroom.

Tommy Gun, you’ll be dead when the war is won.

Tommy Gun, but did you have to gun down everyone.

I can see it’s kill or be killed, [garbled, garbled, garbled] something, something…

Whatever you want you’re gonna get it!

As the song muddles on with even some startling attempts at harmonization, Cityslikr turns his attention full in my direction. He calls the front running mayoral candidates ‘henchmen’, sent in to bring down the hammer, the final blow on any remnants of the laughably called ‘welfare state’ that the city’s been trying to desperately maintain for the last 7 years.

“And when it’s all gone, guess who’s going to get the blame?” he asks. “Us. The city. Because of our alleged fiscal irresponsibility.”

He refers to Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone’s run as little more than a bone thrown our way. To make us feel like we’re not actively participating in the dismantling of the last vestiges of Trudeau’s Just Society. To assuage whatever guilt we might be feeling. To mollify us.

Before he goes any further, Acaphlegmic bolts up from the couch and onto his feet and begins reciting.

“And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.”

Ahh, Acaphlegmic certainly did love his Hunter S. Thompson. It never failed to amaze me how easily the words tripped off his tongue, how deeply imbedded in his memory they must be. How many times had he read the book? I mean, the man sometimes has trouble remembering his own address. Where did he summon this from?“So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

Recital over, Acaphlegmic sat back down on the couch, spent. But wait, he wasn’t done just yet.

“The greatest decade in the history of mankind is coming to an end and as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black.”

Although sometimes, he did get his cultural references all entangled, much like his neuronal memory, I imagine. It is this kind of cheap sentiment, the ‘60s veneration, that drove Cityslikr nuts. The disgusted look on his face registered as much.

“Alright, which one of you boys has been playing with dolls again?”

This came from the plumber as he emerged from the bathroom holding a horribly disfigured dolls head. It was big enough that some force would’ve been necessary to push down into the drain. Cityslikr threw up his hands to such a degree of raging disbelief that I’d almost think he’d finally had it with Acaphlegmic and the break between them would actually happen this time. That is, if I hadn’t seen it a few times before but never, ever over a situation that involved a doll’s head being shoved down a toilet. This was new and there was no way of judging if it actually might be the final straw.

But the tension was broken when Acaphlegmic stood up and walked toward the plumber, never taking his eyes off the doll’s head. As he came close, he reached out his hands, cupped together. The plumber was probably much more freaked out about the situation than we were but he’d never witnessed Acaphlegmic in action before. We were used to it although this was particularly odd.

Acaphlegmic accepted the doll’s head from the plumber who just turned back and started assembling his tools. Quickly. For about a minute, Acaphlegmic stood, staring down at the doll’s head in his hands before he turned and walked slowly and carefully back to the couch, his hands still out in front of him. He sat down, still transfixed by what the plumber had just retrieved from the toilet.

Cityslikr and I exchanged looks. Were we witnessing a real life Citizen Kane moment? Charles Foster Kane finally reunited with his Rosebud. The rediscovery of lost innocence and all that. I mean, it was too perfect, almost scripted.

“You found my bong, man.”

And the magic was gone. Once again, Cityslikr threw his hands up and stormed away from the desk toward the door, heading out for a drink no doubt. As he left, we heard a familiar refrain.

“Fucking hippies.”

I had to agree with my colleague’s sentiment. It is little wonder that the future looks so bleak if this is what’s become of the past. We may’ve thought we’d won but lost whatever ground we had gained when we stopped fighting and got all caught up celebrating at the victory parade.

The day was not a total loss, however. At least, we’d be able to use our toilet again.

novelistically submitted by Urban Sophisticat


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