Originally published in Arthur No. 15 (March, 2005)
T-MODEL KNOWS BETTER
T-Model Ford is the 84-year-old self-proclaimed “Boss of the Blues,” also known as The Taildragger. Every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and asks some questions about things we have on our mind. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from the fellas at Fat Possum Records, the Mississippi label that releases T-Model’s all-bets-are-off blues albums (more info at fatpossum.com). If you’ve got questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email ‘em to email@example.com
You make a New Year’s Resolution?How’s your health? A lot of people decide to go get a check-up as a New Year’s resolution.
You live longer if you don’t go to the doctor too much. It’s alright if you have a little hurtin or something, not too serious or nothin’… Every time you got something you wanting to be done, you runnin’ to the doctor, runnin’ to the doctor. And they don’t know all the time what they doctorin’ on! So, I just go every now and then. I’m too old to let ‘em cut on me.
What kind of blade do you carry?
It’s a Case, the best knife I believe they made. A man’s got to carry something. Someone told me years ago back, me and him was running together, and I know he had to see somebody do somebody that away, and he told me, he said, Look T-Model, even if it ain’t nothing but a pin, or a nail, carry something in your pocket. A folk can run up on you and make you do anything they want you to do and you aint’ got nothin’. But if you got a nail or pin in your pocket…! And that’s true! I just love to carry something in my pocket. I wanted to carry a gun, but I don’t need to carry it, ‘cause folk can make you angry. And they done made me so mad, where I’m livin’. I’m trying to govern it down.
What’s a good way to get rid of ants?
Get some diesel oil, burnin’ in a tractor or somethin’, find where the bed is at–don’t dig it up!–and just pour it down in the little hole there. It’ll get shed of them quick.
What do you think of the women’s basketball league?
I don’t like ‘em too well. I’m particular about me. I don’t like to see women hanging around too much together–there’s a dead cat down the line, somewhere.
I heard you have women on the police force in Greenville.
I don’t like that. That ain’t no woman’s job! That’s a man’s job. A woman’ll arrest a man all for nothin’. They already want to do something to a man, and so if they get a chance, they stick it to a man. About a year or two ago, a black woman arrested me right here, sittin’ by my car. I had to pay a $144 for the fine what she give me and I wasn’t even sayin’ nothing. The other guy was doin’ all the cussing and talking. I’m just sitting there, listenin’. She said, One more word out of you and I’ll send you down. I said, Yes ma’am. I was trying to honor her. But she didn’t appreciate it. She came on out there and unbuttoned the handcuffs and locked me and they carried me down. We down there [at the police station] and the white lady says, What you got handcuffs put on you for? I says, I don’t know. But when I had to pay that there fine, I told the sheriff, Don’t send that black woman at me never no more. Send a man at me, not no woman. I says, things might happen sure ‘nuff if you send her back to arrest me.
T-Model Ford is the 84-year-old self-styled “Boss of the Blues,” also known as The Taildragger. Every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and asks some questions about things we have on our mind. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from the fellas at Fat Possum Records, the Mississippi label that releases T-Model’s all-bets-are-off blues albums (more info at fatpossum.com). If you’ve got questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email ‘em to firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s the best way for a woman to lose a little weight?
Well, she can’t eat everything, and be eating all the time. She have to find her a little snack, and eat it. That’ll lose weight.
Is there any food she should avoid?
What about exercise?
I ain’t never had exercise. I always, if I was pickin’ up too much weight myself, I’d slow down on my eatin’. Whatever I’d be eating, I’d slow down on it. And I’d lose weight then. Then I know I’m losing weight, and I’d want to get back at eating the same thing as I was eating in the front.
What’s the best way to make some money quick?
Play the guitar good and get you with the right bunch, doing tours and they paying you right, and they do you right, that’s quick money. That’s what I’m doing. That’s all I’m able to do now is play guitar, make a little money in that. I’m trying to work on a few records now. I just got me another amp, a Fender, so I can practice.
What’s your favorite way to travel? Plane, train, automobile or horse?
If you got a long way going, overseas and like that, the best way is to go on a plane. But now if you ain’t going oversea traveling, the best that I know, had good luck with, is get a van, and ride. You can have another person drive, you can help him if he needs it. You go like that, you won’t be in no strain or jammed up.
What do you want for Christmas?
I’d like to have me one of them good amps for Christmas. One of them Twin amps. I’ve got already two good guitars. If I just had Black Nannie [T-Model’s old guitar that was stolen and pawned off by one of his sons] back, I’d be alright.
Are you planning anything special for Christmas this year?
No, my money’s light. I ain’t got the money. I’m staying home, or be round some of them little honky tonks, or out of town, playin’—if they want me to play.
T-Model Ford is the 84-year-old self-styled “Boss of the Blues,” also known as The Taildragger. Every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and asks some questions about matters concerning us our our readers. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from the fellas at Fat Possum, the Mississippi record label that releases T-Model’s all-bets-are-off blues albums (more info at fatpossum.com). If you’ve got questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email ‘em to email@example.com
What’s your favorite season of the year?
I take ‘em as they come, they’re all alike to me. I don’t worry about it. That’s the Man’s work. I’m doin’ alright. He’s letting me live, go around, doin’ my little thing. I’m feeling GOOD.
What if you’re a person who doesn’t enjoy going to church, listening to the sermon and so on, but you still want God in your life? What’s the best way to get His attention?
Well, if you want to go to church, you just got to go on in to the church. But I don’t go to church. I got the church right here in my heart. I don’t go to church, because the half of them going to church, they ain’t the Christian I is. I can ask them about some things, they can’t answer. I can. I can’t read and write, but I can answer. I was raised up in the church. When I was getting in my 30s then, I married a woman. I was a young man and… I thought the peoples all around liked me, and they enjoyed me, I thought we was gonna be in the church. But they changed–they went to talking about me, saying I wasn’t going to the church for no good, I was going to church to look at the young women. And I ain’t thinking about it!
When it comes to romance, do you believe in making love on a first date, or should you hold out, stoke the fire for a while, so when it finally happens it’s so much sweeter?
Well, if you want it, go ahead. But if you don’t, let it go. And further up the road, it’ll do better. So, don’t worry about it. Let them worry about it. Don’t you worry about it. That’s the way they’re doing on me. They’re worrying about this old man! They say I’m 84 years old. But I ain’t worrying for nothing. I ain’t lost nothin’, and I gets what I want. I’m trying to get another CD fixed up, where I can go out there and do it again.
How many songs do you reckon you know how to play by heart?
Well, it’s a hard question to answer. I know a heap of ‘em. But I can’t read and I can’t write and I can’t spell. When they crawl up in my mind, I can do it to it, I can sing it and I can play it. I had a white fella come to my house the other morning from England I believe it was, he wanted to hear me play the guitar. I told him, I can play. He didn’t think I want to play. He asked me to get it, and let him hear a little. I let him hear a heap. He crazy, he wrote it down in a book, I can play and what I can do. I really can play. I don’t have to ask nobody. I can play with anybody, I can play without ‘em.
How many years does it take somebody to play the blues before they finally get it right?
Oh, it don’t take no time. If you interested in it, and wanna play and take heave at it… I learned in a week! And I’m BAD. I was shamed to go out with the guys I was playin’ with, but they finally got me out one time, and I’d been bad ever since. I ain’t scared of nobody with a guitar, I don’t care where he come from. I didn’t start til I was 58. Everybody want to know why I waited, but I wasn’t interested in nothin’ like that. I had workin’ on my mind, and women. But they never did worry me. I ain’t never worried but one time about a woman, and I got POISONED by her. And I ain’t worried about any none of them…they go and they come. That’s right. I let them worry about ME. I ain’t the man I used to be, but I’m a ladies’ man.
Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sept. 2004)
T-MODEL KNOWS BETTER
T-Model Ford is the 84-year-old self-styled “Boss of the Blues”, also known as The Taildragger. Every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and asks some questions about matters concerning us our our readers. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from the fellas at Fat Possum, the Mississippi record label that releases T-Model’s all-bets-are-off blues albums (more info at fatpossum.com). If you’ve got questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email ‘em to firstname.lastname@example.org
What is the best kind of food to have on a first date?
Fish, chicken, a little beef and a few pinto beans. When you’re eating, you’ve got to have something to lay to your ribs and you can stand up on it. When you’re ating this here junk, like potato chips and different stuff like that, it don’t lay too good. So, you get something you probably raised on. Then you can stand up stout. You can stand the pressure.
Why aren’t there more women who play the blues?
Wellll, that’s a bad question. And then there’s a good question. I figure the women are trying to take the man’s place. See what’s going on now, the women are liking other women! They ain’t got time to realize what they going through with. They not supposed to do that. We men are supposed to do that. But they taking the man’s place, now. They can’t stand up like a man. Like the police, they put women on the police force. Well when they go for a tough man, the women can’t handle ‘em! It’ll take another man to handle it. The Lord don’t like that kind of life, what the women doing. And the men doing it too! They wanna go and do a little of it. They can’t do it ALL. That’s what I say. I don’t know nobody else would know that, but I know. I can’t read, I can’t write, I can’t spell my name real good, but I got a good head on me.
But don’t you like to hear women sing?
Well, I like to hear em when they can do it right. Some of ‘em, they can’t do it right. Some of ‘em THINK they can do it right. There’s a lady here, I forget her name, but she’s a big heavy fine-looking lady, I like to hear her sing. She’s a fine-looking big woman. She doin’ a good thing. There’s not that many of them now. It’s like the old mens, they done died out. Blues will never fail out, but it’s failing.
What’s the difference between a boy and a man?
A man can drink straight whiskey, but a boy can’t.
If a woman doesn’t have much money, should she have a baby?
You don’t have to be rich. You have to have faith in yourself. You know what it costs to get a baby. You know what it costs to get without a baby. She gotta do like a grown woman. She can’t do like a girl. And she got to act as a grown woman.
You gotta have the father there, don’t you?
Yeah… Well, you can have the right father, or the right daddy. A mama can do good without, but it’s a mighty few that can raise children. See, if you have experience, you hereby can look at any baby and tell what it’s raised on: a bottle or the breast. You can tell the way it’s raised by the way it acts and looks. You take me, you don’t find them babies no more. I was raised on a sugar titty! You don’t know what that is. But I’m gonna tell you. You take a ball of butter, put it in a little rag, sprinkle some sugar on it and twist it up and get you a twine and wrap around the top of it. You make it like a titty. Leave it in long enough, you can hold it with your hand, put it in your mouth, and you suck it. You suck that butter and sugar out of that rag, just like you do a bottle, but you be more healthy. You won’t be sickly and puny. You’ll be a healthy baby. It’s better than a bottle. I was raised on it, I’m 84 years old now they’re telling me, and there ain’t none standing with me now.
Breast milk is the best. This is how come the young race is so wild, doing everything, cuz they raised on some other kind of milk—bear milk, cow milk, dog milk, monkey milk, any kind of animal milk. The meanest kind is a bramah bull. Your baby get that milk and the devil’s already in that cow! The devil’s already in that milk. A baby’s EVIL when they suckin’ on that bottle. You can take a baby when they’s laying there crying and going on and you bumpin’ em and shakin’ em, hush baby doll, he ain’t gonna hush. But you give him the right milk in that bottle, he’ll hush and lay there and go right to sleep. That’s the evil coming in him! Oh yes. Just like I tell you, any baby raised on a bottle, you know it. He’s evil, you can’t satisfy him with nothin’ you do.
I seen one or two white ladies have a baby, they gets something to hide behind to pull the breast out to let the baby suck a titty. You see that! When I was a baby coming up, they pull them titties out anywhere and give to their baby. But they don’t do that now.
T-Model Ford is the 82-year-old, self-styled “Boss of the Blues”, also known as “The Taildragger.” Every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and asks him for some advice. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from the fellas at Fat Possum, the Mississippi record label that releases T-Model’s original badass records (more info at fatpossum.com). If you’ve got questions for T-Model, and we know that you do, email ‘em to email@example.com
T-Model, what should you do if you got some neighbors that are acting rowdy? Having parties late at night?
Well, if it’s worrying you… If you the boss of the house, get you another house, or stay there and put up with it. If you can’t stand ‘em and all, can’t get along with ‘em, and if they don’t wanna move, then you move out of there yourself.
You wouldn’t call the police?
No. Police ain’t gonna do nothin’ about it no way. All you do, talkin’ on the phone… first thing a couple more weeks, or a month, it’s the same thing again! If you get tired of something, move out! Go on ‘bout your business. That’s right. I ain’t rowdy, but they think I is! [laughs]
T-Model, you like whiskey, right? What’s your preference?
I like the Johnny Walker. I drink, but I don’t get ‘toxicated. “Toxicated” means you get high and almost drunk and you don’t know how to treat the people. But I just take me a little shot drink all alone, and I don’t get high. If I smell it, I quit drinking. I can handle myself. Because if you get too much of it in, you can’t handle yourself, and other people neither. I don’t like a drunkard no way. Dope smokers and drunkards—I don’t even want to get in their company. You don’t want it all, you just want a little teeny bit.
T-Model, you’re 82 years old and still playing music, going on tour. You have any advice for young musicians that are just starting out?
I’d tell them to play the blues. Stick with the blues. The blues will forever be here. This mess they coming out with now, wasn’t out when we was coming in the world. Nothing but old guitars, acoustic guitar. But now, it’s the blues everywhere I go, all overseas and out of Mississippi, the people love the blues. All the crack places and the rap places, my style of blues is puttin’ them all bad. They don’t wanna hear that. Like when I go overseas or get out of Mississippi to play, all the people coming there to hear me, they ain’t caring about hearing no other people play! They come to hear T-Model. So I got the best style there is: the blues.
T-Model, is it true that you can play for eight hours straight?
That’s true! It’s like walking in the kitchen and drinking some sweet milk. Ain’t nothin’ to it, man.
T-Model Ford says a lot. He says he’s 79 years old. He says he’s “the Boss of the Blues! TheTaildragger! From Greenvillllllllle….Mississippi.“ He says he doesn’t need his cane anymore. And he says he can help us. So, every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model and asks him for some advice. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from Bruce Watson at Fat Possum, the Oxford, Mississippi record label that releases T-Model’s original badass records (more info at fatpossum.com). We love T-Model ‘round here: his last album, the Jim Dickinson-produced Bad Man, is still on the office Arthur turntable, 18 months after its release. But whatever. If you’ve got some non-math questions for T-Model, and we know that you do, email ‘em to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll pass ‘em along if they’re any good.
Arthur: One of our readers asks, “How come an older man can go with a younger woman, but you never see an older woman going with a younger man?” Is that true, T-Model?
T-Model: Yep. Well, the main one problem with the young womens, and then their problem is with the older women. They want a little harder piece of candy. That’s the difference in it.
You see that happening in your life ever?
Oh yeah, man. It’s happening right now. [laughs]
Here’s another question. One of our readers asks, “T-Model, are you a voting man? Who are you planning to vote for president this November?”
I ain’t even interested in it. I ain’t never voted in my life. Anything they do is alright with me. If they do good, it’s alright, and if they do bad, it’s alright. If they do bad, it’s alright, and if they do good, it’s alright. See, when you vote for somebody, it’s like a woman… You see a woman yonder, you get on your head, you want her whether or not. Then when you get her, it ain’t what you thought. And that’s the same thing with you voting for somebody. You vote for a person, he’ll talk sweet to you ‘til you get in, then when you get in, you get SOUR. You ain’t doin’ nothing what you say you gon’ do. That’s the way it happens. I ain’t done bad ever who be the president, and I ain’t done too good ever who be the president. It don’t matter. I ain’t never voted!
Do you want your kids to vote?
That’s left up to them–they grown. [laughs] You know what? My part, I don’t worry ‘bout nothin’. I don’t even worry about a woman. If they do, it’s alright, and if they don’t, it’s alright. Then I won’t have to be thinking about it, worrying about it, grieving about it, can’t half eat, can’t do nothing good, so just don’t let that get in your head. You know what give a man a hard blues? When the bottom wear off his last pair of shoes. He can’t walk on no briars, he can’t walk on the gravel hardly, and he sure can’t walk on no coals on fire if he ain’t got no shoes on. If he do, I want to see him! [laughs]
One more question, T-Model: What wood makes the best walking stick? You ever use a stick when you’re walking around?
Oak ain’t too good. Hickory is the best. You can’t bend an oak like you can hickory. Go with the hickory. That’s what I got in my hand right now!
T-Model Ford says a lot. He says he’s 79 years old. He says he’s “the Boss of the Blues! TheTaildragger! From Greenvillllllllle….Mississippi!“ He says he doesn’t need his cane anymore. And he says he can help us. So, every two months, Arthur’s humble editor calls T-Model and asks him some pressing questions. T-Model gives his answers over the phone, then we at Arthur HQ transcribe the conversation, with some help from Bruce Watson at Fat Possum Records, T-Model’s record label. And bip-bap-boom, there it is. If you have any questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email them to email@example.com
Dear T-Model: I’m a father. We’ve got a four-year-old and we’re having discipline problems. My wife wants to get a paddle, to spank the child with, but I’ve always been against that. Lately though this little tyke has been cruisin’ for a bruisin’ is how I see it. What should we do? — A Paddle With Her Name On It, Fontana, CA.
Well, if you trying to raise it right, get you a little cane switch. Don’t spank him. Don’t slap him. Get you a little cane switch and hit him on his little booty back there. Sting him. Don’t get the blood out of him, don’t whip him, just STING him enough til he’s started to crying then tell him that hurts. ‘You hurt?’ Then you pet him and talk to him. Try to teach him, Don’t do that no more, it’s wrong. And you can make a good child out of him. Cuz if you don’t, if he get too far then he gon’ wanna talk back, wanna slap you in the face. You ain’t gonna go for that! So start while you got him young, and let…Get a little cane switch and sting him on his little booty til he starts to cryin’. Talk to him. DON’T slap him or spank him! The doctor will tell you that! Don’t spank him, and don’t slap him. I don’t like it! I don’t like seeing anybody spanking a little child, or slap a little child. Cuz it injures them some kind of way. When you get your little cane switch, if you’re gon’ do anything, sting him on his little booty. It’ll come to him, when he’s doin’ it… You don’t have to do it regularly. But when you do it, let him know you mean business. He’ll come to be a fine little baby boy, or girl, every one. I got Stud here, I raised Stud from the time his mama brought him here, and he’s really fine. I don’t have a bit of trouble out of him. He’s a smart little boy. But the little girl? She’s stubborn. She won’t mind me, but she’ll mind them when they get a switch to whoop her! Like Stud, I don’t have no trouble. I tell him don’t do something, he don’t do it. With the little girl, I tell her, she’s getting mad and poutin’ and keep doin’ it. I’m trying to get me a switch for her. But I don’t whoop neither one of ‘em, but I try to teach ‘em the right way. And that’s the way you do yours. Don’t holler at ‘em and scold at her, or ever what it is, girl or boy, just talk nice to ‘em and TEACH ‘em.
ARTHUR: Do you think kids are disciplined enough in society today?
The drunk people, you know how they get. They gonna go the other way anyway, regardless of how you do. You got to let ‘em know that you don’t mess with drunk heads or stud pieces. You wanna live right, honest to your wife, wife live honest to you, you gonna live and you got a child, you’ve got the child, try to live together to raise the child ‘til he get up where he can sort of provide for his own self. Stayin’ together. Don’t let someone ‘he say and she say and they say and this and them,’ don’t let em come tellin’ you nothin’! If a man come try to tell you somethin’ ‘bout your wife, just say, ‘Look. How you can tell so much about my wife, and I’m watchin’, I don’t see nothin’! You must be watchin’ my wife more than I is!’ And your wife do the same thing. Woman coming to tell her, tell her ‘Why you tellin’ me so much about my husband? I be seeing him, I don’t see him doin’ it? She must be watching your husband more than the wife is!’ So, don’t let nobody come tellin’ you what your wife done, nobody tell you what your husband done! You ain’t gonna live happy. It gets in your head, and mind… You think if she walk out the door, it’s something she’s doin’ wrong. Or something HE doin’ wrong. So don’t let nobody come tellin’ you about your family. ’Fore you married ‘em, they didn’t tell you, did they? Alright, then.
What about teenagers, coming home late, taking stuff, getting into trouble at school…?
Well it’s the causin’ of how the mama and the daddy teach them. They get out there with the wrong, lettin’ ’em run with the wrong bunch. This girl come here, and your girl a teenager, she want her to follow her, go over to somebody else’s house. They talkin’ all kind of mess to her and tellin‘ her. The same way it is about a boy. The boy gonna run away to rub up on it, you gonna have a problem out of it. Girl gonna run with them outlaw girls, you gonna have a problem out of ‘em. Ain’t one thing you do, you teach ‘em, talk to ‘em, you tell ‘em what you don’t want and you’re not gonna have it. And MEAN that. Yeah, maybe every now and then you can let her go out with them nice boy or girl, but let ’em know, “I’m still the boss.” That’s at where you live. “You gon’ stay here? You gonna dance by my rules.” Daughter or son. “I’m the one takin’ care of you. You think you can gather up, you can take for yourself, get you a room, and see how long you stay away from Daddy and Mama.”
Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (January, 2005).
Illustration by Tom Devlin.
CANADA RULES, OKAY?
Thinking of leaving? Arthur catches up with an American in Quebec to find out what life is like on the other side of the border.
Arthur: You moved to Montreal from New York City in 2003. At the time we thought you were onto something. Now, in the wake of Bush’s re-election, with tens of thousands of disgusted liberal Americans suddenly interested in leaving the country, we can confirm it: You’re an early adopter! So, we were wondering, how it’s going?
Mademoiselle X: Canada rules. Well, I live in Montreal, Quebec so I should say, “Quebec rules.” Many Americans think of Canada as this big liberal oasis, which it is to a degree, but the country is different city to city, province to province. Alberta is the Texas of Canada where the provincial dance is squaredancing and cowboys are in, Toronto is Canada’s New York and Quebec and Montreal…well, there is no American equivalent for those two, really. But anyway, different provinces have different policies. At a business meeting in Vancouver last winter, I quickly learned that the social programs that are available here in Quebec—like subsidized daycare and a year’s maternity leave—are not available everywhere. Paul Martin is trying to subsidize daycare nationwide. Can you imagine that ever being on the national agenda in the States?
Wait a second. Who’s Paul Martin?
You’re such an American! Paul Martin is Canada’s Prime Minister. He is the head of the Liberal Party that held on to a ruling minority in the last election. They narrowly defeated, who else, but the Conservative Party. It was like the first time in maybe ten years or so that the Liberals did not have a ruling majority. Unlike the States, though, two other parties played a major role in the election: the NDP, which is an extreme left party, and the Bloc Quebecois, which is also to the left but is always threatening to be sovereign. Since it’s a parliament, the theory is that more lefty initiatives will prevail as the Liberals will have to work with the NDP and Block, rather than the Conservatives. When the Liberals were the ruling majority they tended to be more moderate.
So Canada really is more liberal…
Canadians just tend to be more left. The average Canadian is closer to the average Arthur reader than to the average American. Every single person I know here has seen Fahrenheit 9/11, The Corporation and Supersize Me. It is refreshing to live in a world that has a social conscience, though I wish they hadn’t kicked Howard Stern out! Anyway, we’re pretty surprised at how conservative the election went in America. I can’t believe the same country that voted for Fantasia Barrino also elected George Bush.
How much do Canadians follow what goes on in America?
I get all the news that America gets, so most Canadians probably know more about national American politics than Americans. And of course, if a Canadian makes news anywhere in the world, we know about it.
The CBC rules. Canadians do not know how lucky they have it. On TV, you can turn it on Friday night, and a movie along the lines of You Can Count On Me is on. On the radio, the midnight program “Brave New Waves” is a program that most 20-30 something Canadians can reminisce about what years they thought were best. NPR is great, but I love the CBC.
Personally, I love to watch Canadian Idol: it oozes way more talent than American Idol. The winners tend to wear glasses, sing rock songs and play instruments. Otherwise, with the exception of Degrassi High and the brilliant Corner Gas, Canadian TV is rather lackluster. Of course, I only get three English stations, the rest are French. On one of the French stations, every night after 11 or so, they air porn movies. There is also a porn shop and exotic dance club down the street from the office, about a block away from the library. I feel so Puritan to find it odd and not treat it with the nonchalance of the average Quebecer, maybe all of those years living under the Guiliani administration brainwashed me.
Does it matter that you don’t know French?
It’s not an issue. The east part of the island is French and the West is English and we live in the middle. The fact that we’re Americans means we get a free pass. People just go, Oh well. But if you’re Canadian and don’t know French, they’re not so happy.
So, how cold is it, really?
It’s pretty damn cold here but, you know, there were record cold snaps in Boston and New York City last year that were just as cold. Here, though, it’s a given. If there’s a snowstorm, people don’t wait it out, they just bundle up and go about their business. It’s gonna snow again tomorrow, so there’s no point in stopping what you’re doing. It’s practically a military operation here clearing out the snow: sirens, dumptrucks, and so on. It’s amazing.
How’s the beer?
Quebec beer is sooo delicious, but you have to watch yourself as they’re usually about twice the alcohol content of normal beers. They come in tall bottles with corks, and have the best romantic names like “La Fin Du Monde” (The End of the World) and “Don de Dieu” (Gift of God). Spruce Beer (non-alcoholic) gets a thumb’s down, though—it tastes too much like Pine Sol to me.
There’s a thing called “poutine” that I really love: it’s french fries and gravy with cheese curds. I never had them before in my life, but they are great on a cold day. Le Belle Province is where you go for REALLY good poutine. The Canadian smoked meat makes up for the lackluster French hamburgers. Also, coming from New York City, I thought everyone was full of it when talking about Montreal bagels. They are different and better—less bread, if that makes sense. I live one block away from the bagelerie, and I take any out-of-town friends by there.
It sounds like a European city.
Yeah. There’s fresh bread, cheese and meat on every corner, and there’s the Jean Talon Market, a huge year-round outdoor market where somehow I can find ripe tomatoes and avocadoes any day of the year, for a reasonable price. In New York City, all vegetables looked they rolled off the BQE, and cost $5 each. Now we try not spend over $2 on any item.
For sweets, we have Cadbury’s. I’ve been to Hershey Park and I love Hersheys, but Cadbury’s has them beat hands down. Every store has a full selection of the crazy British chocolates like Mr Big and Wunderbar. Beware: American Smarties are called “Rockets,” and Canadian Smarties are actually M&Ms.
What about coffee?
Every good hockey dad (not such a bad term in Canada) has a cup of coffee and a maple doughnut. The “gourmet’ coffee chain is called “Second Cup”—I swear is owned by Starbucks as it’s an exact replica of everything about it, but it’s actually proudly Canadian. Starbucks here are called Cafe Starbucks Cafe, which in French I believe translates to Coffee Starbucks Coffee. There’s no filter coffee, no four dollar cappuccino. You know life is civilized when your allonge (long espresso) is less than $2 CDN.
What’s your living situation like?
We rented an apartment. Check this out: in Quebec, landlords are not legally allowed to charge anything more than one month’s rent at a time—no security, no last month.They’re also not allowed to ask for any personal information. And tenants are able to do a “lease transfer” where you can give your lease to a friend and the landlord can’t refuse. It’s easy to move here and stay. No one checks. The guy whose apartment we got came here from the US during the Vietnam war. I don’t believe he was dodging – he was just like, Seems like a good time.
Do you miss America at all?
The one time I missed being in the States was during the Olympics. It took Canada five days to win a medal—and it was bronze. I’m sure it all changes with the Winter Olympics, though, so watch out! But you know, at the end of the day I would much rather have my own free membership to the Y pool than to have the money going to train Olympic athletes. So I shouldn’t complain.
Originally published in Arthur No. 25 (Dec. 2006), edited by Jay Babcock
BOG VENUS VERSUS NAZI COCK-RING
Some Thoughts Concerning Pornography
by Alan Moore
Whether we speak personally or Palaeo-anthropologically, it’s fair to say we humans start out fiddling with ourselves. Our improved scan technology reveals that most of us commence a life of self-pollution while in utero, while if we trace our culture back to the first artifacts that showed we had a culture, then we find ourselves confronted by a hubcap-headed humming-top of tits and ass carved lovingly from limestone, excavated from an Aurignacian settlement discovered in a North-East Austrian village known as Willendorf.
The mighty Robert Crumb, back in his awesomely prolific Weirdo days, depicted the creator of the first Venus of Willendorf as Caveman Bob, a neurasthenic outcast with a strong resemblance to Crumb himself, perpetually horny, crouching in his cave and whacking off over the big-butt fetish woman he’d just made: Homo erectus.
Crumb’s point, in all probability, was that while she may well have functioned as a magic icon to induce fertility, and while to modern eyes she stands as an example of the prehistoric genesis of art, Willendorf Venus was an object of arousal in the eyes of her creator, was a piece of stone-age stroke material, primal pornography. He may also have been saying that if we trace culture to its very origins, we find its instigator to be an obsessive smut-hound and compulsive masturbator much like Crumb himself, or me, or you, or any of us if we are to be entirely candid.
Humans, whether individually while in the womb or as a species newly climbed down from the treetops that we’d shared with kissing-cousin Bonobos, discover early on that sexual self-stimulation is a source of great gratification, practically unique in our experience as mammals in that it is easily achievable and, unlike almost every other primitive activity, can be accomplished without risk of being maimed or eaten. Also, it can be acquired completely free of charge, which may well be a factor in society’s subsequent attempts to regulate the sexual imagination, and which is a point to which we’ll be returning later.
This is not to say, of course, that all society is a direct result of chronic Onanism, although I can see how one might come to that conclusion. Rather, it is to suggest that our impulse towards pornography has been with us since thumbs were first opposable, and that back at the outset of our bipedal experiment we saw it as a natural part of life, one of the nicer parts at that, and as a natural subject for our proto-artists.
Lest this be seen as a reinforcement of the view that porn is wholly a Neanderthal pursuit, we should perhaps consider ancient Greece and the erotic friezes that adorned its civic centres; the magnificently sculpted marble figure of the god Pan violating many of our current barnyard statutes and a really slutty nanny-goat in the bargain. Images like these were clearly seen as eminently suitable Grecian street-furniture, depictions of an aspect of mammalian existence that all mammals knew about already and were comfortable regarding, and which no one from the youngest child to the most pious priest needed protecting from. In bygone Greece we see a culture plainly unperturbed by its erotic inclinations, largely saturated by both sexual imagery and sexual narratives. We also see a culture where these attitudes would seem to have worked out quite well, both for the ancient Greeks and for humanity at large. They may well have been hollow-eyed and hairy-palmed erotomaniacs, but on the plus side they invented science, literature, philosophy and, well, civilization, as it turns out.
Sexual openness and cultural progress would seem pretty much to have walked hand in hand throughout the opening chapters of the human story in the West, and it wasn’t until the advent of Christianity, or more specifically of the apostle Paul, that anybody realized we should all be thoroughly ashamed of both our bodies and those processes relating to them. Not until the Emperor Constantine had cut and pasted modern Christianity together from loose scraps of Mithraism and the solar cult of Sol Invictus, adopting the resultant theological collage as the religion of the Roman Empire, did we get to witness the effect of its ideas and doctrines when enacted on a whole society.
If we take a traditional (and predominantly Christian) view of the collapse of Rome, then conventional wisdom tells us that Rome was destroyed by decadence, sunken beneath the rising scum-line of its orgies, of its own sexual permissiveness. The merest skim through Gibbon, on the other hand, will demonstrate that Rome had been a heaving, decadent and orgiastic fleshpot more or less since its inception. It had fornicated its way quite successfully through several centuries without showing any serious signs of harm as a result. Once Constantine had introduced compulsory Christianity to the Empire, though, it barely lasted for another hundred years.
Largely, this was because Rome had relied on foreign troops, on cavalry from Egypt for example, to defend the Empire against the Teutonic hordes surrounding it. Foreign soldiers were originally happy to enlist, since Rome at that point took a pagan and syncretic standpoint that allowed recruits to worship their own gods while they were off in Northern Europe holding back the Huns. Once the Empire had been Christianised, however, that was not an option. Rome’s new Christian leaders had decided it was their way or the stairway, and so consequently, off in distant lands, recruitment figures plummeted. The next thing anybody knew, there were barbarians everywhere: the Huns, the Franks, the Visigoths and worst of all the Goths with their white single contact lenses and Cradle of Filth collections. Rome, effectively, was over bar the shouting.
So, to recap on what we have learned so far: sexually open and progressive cultures such as ancient Greece have given the West almost all of its civilizing aspects, whereas sexually repressive cultures like late Rome have given us the Dark Ages.
Originally published in Arthur No. 24 (August, 2006)
How Comets on Fire and Howlin’ Rain singer-guitarist Ethan Miller got his cosmic Californian yawp
Text: Trinie Dalton
Photos: Eden Batki
Design: Yasmin Khan and Michael Worthington
My adoration for Comets on Fire, Six Organs of Admittance, Howlin’ Rain and The Colossal Yes — all bands that either include or are tangentially related to cover boy Ethan Miller — stems from my love of music that reminds me of the Pot Growing Capital of America, Humboldt County. As a native Californian, any music that conjures up the Redwood forest—its clean, pine-scented air, abundance of ferns and fungi, and a high tree canopy providing year-round shelter from the elements—causes me to pause as I grind through traffic in Los Angeles and wonder: Why do I live in such a hellhole? (This doesn’t mean I’m moving up north to chain myself to a tree or that I bust out bootlegs from cheesy Phish wannabes, however.)
Ethan Miller’s music in his bands Comets on Fire and Howlin’ Rain does yeoman’s work by evoking his native Humboldt region. His guitar playing and vocals attest to a magical and ancient ability to conjure up place, recalling that golden hour in American rock history: San Francisco in the late ‘60s, the heyday of Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Grateful Dead, to name but a few. On the other hand, Miller is audibly influenced by Japanese freak-out messiahs like High Rise, Ghost, White Heaven, Acid Mothers Temple and Keiji Haino. Those inspirations supply the proverbial fireworks inside Miller’s balmy, casual Northern California sound. Consider it a Pacific Rim/Ring of Fire kind of thing.
Comets on Fire have built their sound upon the excitement and uncertainty of impending disaster. Their fourth studio album, Avatar (Sub Pop), sounds, at first, less chaotically punky than their previous records (2001’s Comets on Fire; 2002’s Field Recordings of the Sun; 2004’s Blue Cathedral), but close listening reveals its deeper strangeness. The new album has a more professional studio sound, yet Avatar also features powerful ballads whose lyrics has the power to hypnotize much like magic spells. In “Swallow’s Eye,” Miller sings: “Eye of the moon will turn the tides/Leaves of the orchard beckon the blight/Spite of our circle, ever on/Only a river can carry a song.”
While Comets’ awkward-but-beautiful tendency towards demolishing harmonic riffs and jams with screeching, scary guitar solos still reigns, Avatar has clearer piano, more bass, and, most notably, Miller singing sans effects. His earthy rasp is reminiscent of Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, and Ozzy. But when Comets played ArthurFest in 2005, Ethan was singing at maximum capacity, and it was impossible to understand one word he was saying through the distortion of the Echoplex. Now, the ability to understand Ethan Miller’s lyrics is a breakthrough, adding poetic and political significance to an already heavy experience.
Miller’s lyrics come through even clearer on Howlin’ Rain’s self-titled debut on Birdman Records. Howlin’ Rain is an Ethan-fronted revolving posse including old buddies Ian Gradek, Mike Jackson, Tim Daley and Sunburned Hand of the Man’s John Moloney. They have a real California-country feel, part Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, part original Charlatans, with the feel-good vibe of the Doobie Brothers. I sampled the Howlin’ Rain LP while crossing over mountainous Route 299, through Weaverville, deep in the Shasta-Trinity wilderness famous for its thriving Bigfoot population. With the trees rolling past, a river to stop at and dip into, and some beer and trail mix for nourishment, the tunes sounded pretty idyllic. Howlin’ Rain’s lyrics are another matter: doomsday vibes, as in “Calling Lightning With A Scythe,” set far off from pastoral troubadour musings: “We are only slaves/To our ghostly arms and legs/Got us dancing in our graves/And then lay around in the wreckage/Of this pitiful little world.” Bluesy murder ballads and songs about the apocalypse are further disturbed by Miller’s guitar solos that wreck the Neil Young-ian peace and harmony that the songs present on the surface.
Ethan grew up in Eureka, the Humboldt County seat, but now lives in Oakland. I had a fantasy of driving up to some remote redwood cabin to drink gin with him for the interview, but since he’s busy enjoying Bay Area city life with his wife and working a day job, we enjoyed a long, fun phone conversation. Ethan Miller’s lucidity, in his interview as well as in his music, reassures me that there are good things happening, in an age that can sometimes feel overwhelmed by corporate dread.