Prescient – Or why nothing’s changed in 30 years

These are the lyrics to Gil Scott-Heron’s “B-Movie”, written in 1981.

Above is the full version of the song, the lyrics below correspond to it entirely. Follow along, and I implore you to Google or Wikipedia anything you may not immediately recognize. Gil’s dissection of American politics in 1981 still holds a lot of weight, and given the retarded nature of American politics at this point here, half-way through 2011, I don’t think much has changed. It’s also an excellent American history lesson, packaged with funk. What’s not to enjoy?

We’re living in a B-movie…


Well, the first thing I want to say is…”Mandate my ass!”
Because it seems as though we’ve been convinced that 26% of the registered voters, not even 26% of the American people, but 26% of the registered voters form a mandate – or a landslide. 21% voted for Skippy and 3, 4% voted for somebody else who might have been running.

But, oh yeah, I remember. In this year that we have now declared the year from Shogun to Reagan, I remember what I said about Reagan…meant it. Acted like an actor…Hollyweird. Acted like a liberal. Acted like General Franco when he acted like governor of California, then he acted like a Republican. Then he acted like somebody was going to vote for him for president. And now we act like 26% of the registered voters is actually a mandate. We’re all actors in this I suppose.

What has happened is that in the last 20 years, America has changed from a producer to a consumer. And all consumers know that when the producer names the tune…the consumer has got to dance. That’s the way it is. We used to be a producer – very inflexible at that, and now we are consumers and, finding it difficult to understand. Natural resources and minerals will change your world. The Arabs used to be in the 3rd World. They have bought the 2nd World and put a firm down payment on the 1st one. Controlling your resources will control your world. This country has been surprised by the way the world looks now. They don’t know if they want to be Matt Dillon or Bob Dylan. They don’t know if they want to be diplomats or continue the same policy – of nuclear nightmare diplomacy. John Foster Dulles ain’t nothing but the name of an airport now.

The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia. They want to go back as far as they can – even if it’s only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards. And yesterday was the day of our cinema heroes riding to the rescue at the last possible moment. The day of the man in the white hat or the man on the white horse – or the man who always came to save America at the last moment – someone always came to save America at the last moment – especially in “B” movies. And when America found itself having a hard time facing the future, they looked for people like John Wayne. But since John Wayne was no longer available, they settled for Ronald Reagan – and it has placed us in a situation that we can only look at – like a “B” movie.

Come with us back to those inglorious days when heroes weren’t zeros. Before fair was square. When the cavalry came straight away and all-American men were like Hemingway to the days of the wondrous “B” movie. The producer underwritten by all the millionaires necessary will be Casper “The Defensive” Weinberger – no more animated choice is available. The director will be Attila the Haig, running around frantically declaring himself in control and in charge. The ultimate realization of the inmates taking over at the asylum. The screenplay will be adapted from the book called “Voodoo Economics” by George “Papa Doc” Bush. Music by the “Village People” the very military “Macho Man.”

“Macho, macho man!”
“He likes to be – well, you get the point.”
“Huuut! Your left! Your left! Your left…right, left, right, left, right…!”

A theme song for saber-rallying and selling wars door-to-door. Remember, we’re looking for the closest thing we can find to John Wayne. Clichés abound like kangaroos – courtesy of some spaced out Marlin Perkins, a Reagan contemporary. Clichés like, “itchy trigger finger” and “tall in the saddle” and “riding off or on into the sunset.” Clichés like, “Get off of my planet by sundown!” More so than clichés like, “he died with his boots on.” Marine tough the man is. Bogart tough the man is. Cagney tough the man is. Hollywood tough the man is. Cheap steak tough. And Bonzo’s substantial. The ultimate in synthetic selling: A Madison Avenue masterpiece – a miracle – a cotton-candy politician…Presto! Macho!

“Macho, macho man!”

Put your orders in America. And quick as Kodak your leaders duplicate with the accent being on the dupe – cause all of a sudden we have fallen prey to selective amnesia – remembering what we want to remember and forgetting what we choose to forget. All of a sudden, the man who called for a blood bath on our college campuses is supposed to be Dudley “God-damn” Do-Right?

“You go give them liberals hell Ronnie!”

That was the mandate. To the new “Captain Bligh” on the new ship of fools. It was doubtlessly based on his chameleon performance of the past – as a liberal democrat – as the head of the Studio Actor’s Guild. When other celluloid saviors were cringing in terror from McCarthy – Ron stood tall. It goes all the way back from Hollywood to hillbilly. From liberal to libelous, from “Bonzo” to Birch idol…born again. Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights…it’s all wrong. Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild. God damn it…first one wants freedom, then the whole damn world wants freedom.

Nostalgia, that’s what we want…the good ol’ days…when we gave ’em hell. When the buck stopped somewhere and you could still buy something with it. To a time when movies were in black and white – and so was everything else. Even if we go back to the campaign trail, before six-gun Ron shot off his face and developed hoof-in-mouth. Before the free press went down before full-court press. And were reluctant to review the menu because they knew the only thing available was – Crow.

Lon Chaney, our man of a thousand faces – no match for Ron. Doug Henning does the make-up – special effects from Grecian Formula 16 and Crazy Glue. Transportation furnished by the David Rockefeller Remote Control Company. Their slogan is, “Why wait for 1984? You can panic now…and avoid the rush.”

So much for the good news…

As Wall Street goes, so goes the nation. And here’s a look at the closing numbers – racism’s up, human rights are down, peace is shaky, war items are hot – the House claims all ties. Jobs are down, money is scarce – and common sense is at an all-time low with heavy trading. Movies were looking better than ever and now no one is looking because, we’re starring in a “B” movie. And we would rather have John Wayne…we would rather have John Wayne.

“You don’t need to be in no hurry.
You ain’t never really got to worry.
And you don’t need to check on how you feel.
Just keep repeating that none of this is real.
And if you’re sensing, that something’s wrong,
Well just remember, that it won’t be too long
Before the director cuts the scene…yea.”

“This ain’t really your life,
Ain’t really your life,
Ain’t really ain’t nothing but a movie.”

[Refrain repeated about 25 times or more in an apocalyptic crescendo with a military cadence.]

“This ain’t really your life,
Ain’t really your life,
Ain’t really ain’t nothing but a movie.”

Bridges to Babylon: the Jacques-Cartier Bridge

Sunset on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge - work of the author, June 2011

It’s funny, I look at the above picture and wonder how it’s possible that the Sun seems to be setting on the East side of the Bridge, and then I remember that Montreal’s Sun rises in the South. It’s amazing how we’ve survived this long working with a sense of direction based on initial observations by surveyors in the 17th century. It’s a mistake in planning and design that we carry to this day, and influences more minute details about life in Montréal than I think anyone cares to imagine. We’re unique because of a mistake, an accident, perhaps even idiocy – it’s hard to say.

I also look at the photo above and think to myself – why don’t we have this instead:

Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Crossing - not the work of the author

If you’ve ever crossed the Jacques-Cartier Bridge’s pedestrian crossing, you know it’s rather severe limitations. Despite having both a bike path and a pedestrian path and a newly installed suicide prevention barrier (which kinda gives it a Gitmo-esque feeling, albeit without the razor wire), the bridge doesn’t seem to attract much in the way of pedestrian traffic, unless its closed for the fireworks! When this is the case, more than 50,000 people tend to use it, not necessarily crossing it completely, but at the very least walking across a portion of it. Imagine if the Cartier Bridge were returned to its original design, which incorporated tram rails (though they were never used) and equal sections devoted to pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It just so happens that the bridge is book-ended by Papineau and Longueuil Metro stations – a tram running along the bridge connecting both stations seems elementary, and could potentially allow for a reduction of vehicular use, which would undoubtedly help to prolong the lifespan of the bridge. Moreover, by re-focusing bridge use so that it is comfortable for pedestrians to cross, you also develop a stronger relationship between communities on either side, and can help foster a conceptual understanding of Longueuil being a walkable extension of Montréal proper.

Then I look at a picture like this and think, couldn’t we build a box over the roadway, or stack two roadways one-atop-the-other with a five-lane wide pedestrian/cyclist ‘plaza’ extending across the bridge?

Street-level, Jacques Cartier Bridge - not the work of the author

Major repair work is required for both the Champlain Bridge and the Mercier Bridge, which is apparently going to have its entire deck re-surfaced, something which hasn’t been done since the bridge was built in the mid-1930s. The fact that there hasn’t been new South-bound bridge construction since the 1960s is another problem altogether, and unless we begin major new infrastructure projects by ourselves, we’ll have to wait until the provincial and federal governments can get their collective shit together. And remember – talk is so very cheap these days.

This seems to me to be part of a larger problem here in Montréal; we’ve become excessively dependent on sponsorship from two levels of government outside of ourselves and can’t do much in terms of large-scale infrastructure planning over a long period of time. Consider how we plan to develop the Metro, piecemeal segments and politically motivated extensions where three local mayors have to compete for the public’s support. With the bridges in the state that they’re in, a Yellow Line extension deep into the South Shore may be an ideal first move for the STM, but I doubt that construction will be as fast as it was in the mid-1960s, when 26 stations were completed – each with its own architect mind you – in four years.

Without well-stocked local coffers and a large though balanced tax-base to provide new investment funds, both the city and metropolitan region are handicapped by requiring outside sponsorship, and therefore must engage in the kind of backroom politics that have created the extreme amounts of corruption and collusion currently found in the halls of power. Moreover, this atmosphere of corruption and nepotism make it unlikely the voters would support city-administered revenue-generating endeavours, such as citizen’s bonds, municipal shares and various other investment tools the city ought to be using to stimulate funding for infrastructure projects and economic development. In short – the reigns of power aren’t in our hands, and we’re held hostage by this.

Perhaps it’s time to start a ferry service.

Who’s got a canoe?

Scenes from the City II

Construction Cranes and High-Tension Lines - MUHC Superhospital site, Glen Yards Montreal; work of the author - June 2011

They sway and swing gently, as if they were being carried by gusts of wind. As they dance their eerie industrial ballet, a structure rises around them. Will they call it White Elephant?

It reminds me of an anecdote once related to me by Prof. Matthew Barlow at Concordia, who taught me the ‘Irish Experience in Montreal’ back in 2006. Great course, though I wish I had paid more attention at the time. In any event, he told us about bringing his ten-year-old nephew out on a walk through the city a few years prior, and the child was astounded to the cranes then more prevalent within the downtown core. He asked incredulously what kind of buildings they were, what kind of purpose they served. The response, that they in essence assisted in the construction of tall buildings took a while to sink into the youth’s head – he had never seen a construction crane before, despite growing up in the city. This point was, as you can imagine, rather significant for my professor.

Squirrel in Westmount Park - work of the author, June 2011

I spent the better part half an hour trailing this guy and several of his compatriots one beautifully sunny Saturday morning a few weeks back in Westmount Park. It was funny, I had never come across such curious squirrels before – they seemed intrigued by me, and enjoyed mugging for the camera. Maybe they’re vying for a much sought-after Disney contract. I’m sure Rescue Rangers is probably going to be revived sometime soon.

A nice place to wait - work of the author, June 18th 2011


Concordia McConnell Library Atrium - work of the author June 18th 2011

I had the immense pleasure of once again providing note-taking and picture-taking services to a local NGO. Here’s an atypical view oft he Con-U Library Atrium. It’s weird, I don’t think it nearly looked this good whenever I was walking through there as a student. Bizarre how quickly a perspective can change. Admittedly, I tended to spend little time sitting around in the Atrium, and rarer still were the opportunities to do so with the sun coming in as it did that day. It reminded me in fact of the very different building I first encountered in the summer of 2004, as I prepared to begin my academic journey at Con-U. I remember sitting in the Atrium reminiscing on where I had come from and thought about where I was going. I had no idea, but at least the building made me feel confident and at ease at the time.

Conversation between two Westmount Rhodesians (who happened to speaking French) - work of the author, June 2011

Basically I thought it was a prime snapshot of a stereotype I’d heard about, but then I heard them speak.

Urban Backyard; Between these Brick Walls - work of the author, June 2011

I can’t ever imagine living somewhere in the city without a balcony, terrace, porch or rooftop to go hang out on. This summer I’ve got an unprotected nook. Adding that to the list…

More public installation art – Madikap Building

Art-installation in front of Madikap Building on Sherbrooke West - work of the author, June 18th 2011

Never been completely sure what to make of this. I don’t like it, but I don’t mind it either. I’m glad it’s there, but it seems superfluous and out of place.

Perspectives on the City { No. 14 } – Instagram Edition

Unsettling Perspective - work of the author, June 18th 2011

Infinite karma points to anyone who can guess where this is. Also, I just saw a mouse scurry by in my room. Neat!

Also, if you haven’t caught the Instagram bug, go on-line and download it for your smartphone. Something like 5 million pics have been taken with Instagram in the last three months, meaning that the last three months have been exceptionally well documented, all by average people like us.


Big Empty Walls

Side of the Hotel de la Montagne - work of the author, June 17th 2011

I remember seeing pictures from Tehran when I was a kid – it may have been on CNN and may have been related to the Iran-Contra scandal, or the USS Vincennes accidental shoot-down of an air-liner, or the Tanker War or god knows what, but an image got stuck in my head. For the life of me I haven’t been able to find an image of what I’m talking about. I remember a mural painted on the side of a building, and from the looks of it, it was impressively large. It was an American flag, though turned on it’s side, with skulls for stars and bombs dropping from the stripes. I was impressed as a toddler and I can still picture it clearly in my head. In fact, every time I see a big empty concrete wall, I feel as though we the citizenry have a moral responsibility to fill it up with something beautiful, poignant or both. I don’t recommend anything overly anti-American mind you.

So here are some of my least favourite big empty walls.

I think this apt. tower is on Crescent - work of the author, June 17th 2011

I mean let’s face it – it’s nothing but a large slab of brown-grey concrete or beige/white brick. No decoration, not much of a discernible pattern. Just a vast open void, and there’s a plethora of such buildings littering the downtown core. You know what else is littering the downtown core? Advertisements and graffiti, and I’d prefer to see really well-done versions of both than the typically mundane versions which typically rob our visual attention.

I mean, when you take the whole of graffiti within the city, what’s the art-to-vandalism ratio? 1:100? 1:1000? Don’t tell me the guy that uses an ice-scraper to spell his initials on bus-shelter plexiglass is making an artistic statement, he’s costing the tax-payer (ie – all of us) money to get that fixed later. Now, that being said, when you go behind FouFounes Electriques and see the mind-blowing graffiti there, it makes me wonder why we can’t distribute it a bit better, offer grants and get legitimate artists working together to add vibrant splashes of colour to these drab facades.

I'd love to see the wall of this no-tell hotel celebrate the carnality common within. Work of the author, June 17th 2011

The point’s been brought up before as to whether the city can just up and do this – why not? Adding the art to the side of a building could get the owner some tax-break for stimulating the arts. I know there’s an apartment building on Towers Street in the Concordia Ghetto that features a pretty wild sculpture hanging off the side of the building, though who’d never know it was there unless you happened to spot the plaque at street level. I guess it just so happened that I was looking for plaques that day.

Anyways – as always, what do you think?

And by the by – congratulations to Leroy Audubon of South Marshfield New Hampshire for being our 2,000th guest.