Notes on #MeToo (Facebook)

I’ve been watching the “Me Too” (#metoo) phenomenon unfold over the past day or so with interest, awe, and horror. I confess I have barely responded, as it seems that clicking “Like” or “angry face” just seems too easy and a bit trite. Some people have called for men to step up and make some declaration of what they will do to help end sexual harassment and rape culture. I’m at a loss as to what to say or do, at least in terms of posting Facebook comments.

And of course there is the inevitable backlash, and its milder form, the push-back. Most of which I ignore for the sake of my own sanity.

There have even been a few men who shared their “me too” stories, and that’s OK. But what’s not OK is for men to insist that their stories should have an equal voice in this particular rising-up. Those tone-deaf men need to understand that the “me too” thing is not just about declaring that a bad thing happened to you. This phenomenon, which boiled out of the wake of the Harvey Weinstein story, is specifically about the systematic harassment and belittlement of women by men, and in particular, by men with power.

While any kind of harassment or assault can be hurtful, the kind of harassment and assault we’re talking about today carries a special kind of hurt for women. When it happens to a male it is usually an isolated event, and the fallout remains confined to that context. But when it happens to a woman it comes with baggage. Specifically, a long history of similar events that are shared by virtually all women to one extent or another, and which points to a future where it will likely occur again and again, with consequences that go beyond the isolated event. In other words, the victim can’t contain it. She can’t just say “well, that was only one boss,” or “I didn’t need that job anyway.”

No, the victim sees it is part of a system that has always been stacked against them. Every incident of harassment and assault carries that baggage, that resonance that says “it’s bigger than this.” The weight of that baggage can be crippling.

I can only hope that I’ve never done anything hurtful in this way, or if I have, that it has done no lasting damage. It might sound odd to put it that way, as if I suffer from amnesia. (I don’t.) But I do know that a combination of youth, uncertainty of where one fits into the world, and booze, can make people do things that they don’t even realize are hurtful. I cannot recall any such event in my past, but considering how distant my youth is, and how un-woke pretty much everyone was then and there, I can’t say for certain.

So what can I do now? All I know is that I will continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is to eschew “bro” culture, call out misogyny when I see it, and never, ever, enable the kind of disrespectful and predatory male behaviour I see around me every day.

And know that even if I haven’t been responding to your “me too” stories, I am reading, and listening.

(Originally posted on Facebook. Re-posted here for posterity.)

Up Against the Wall Motherf***er!

Some 40 years ago, a friend had a cassette tape of some guy belting out a song called “UP AGAINST THE WALL MOTHERF*CKER.” Tonight, Martine was telling me about one of her new exercises, which is basically a form of “planking,” but done with your back against a wall. In one of those things where time collapses — like in those illustrations of how faster-than-light speed could be possible by folding space/time — the song came back to me.

It took about 15 seconds to find it on YouTube. I encourage you all to play this really loud, over and over again.

Oh, BTW, you should read up on the anarchist group the “Up Against The Wall Motherf*ckers” — usually abbreviated as simply “The Motherf*ckers.” No particular reason why. Just a thing to do. You know… inspiration.

https://en.wikipedia.org/…/Up_Against_the_Wall_Motherfuckers

[Originally published on Facebook, November 11, 2016.]

On Pat Metheny, Kool-Aid, and Bullshit

Every June, as the Montreal International Jazz Festival approaches, I find myself thinking about Pat Metheny. I’m not a fan. It has nothing to do with Metheny’s immeasurable talent and skills; I just don’t care very much about his medium: jazz guitar.

Back in 1989 I had not even heard of Pat Metheny until it was announced that he’d be headlining that year’s big open-air free megashow. Oh, the city lit up and was abuzz with Pat Metheny! Posters everywhere, articles in all the cultural tabloids and so on. Not a beer was raised in any bar before someone said “are you going to see Pat Metheny?” Not for weeks did friends and acquaintances meet on the street without beginning their salutations with “are you going to see Pat Metheny?”

It was infectious. Overnight, half the city became rabid Pat Metheny fans despite the fact that many people had never heard his music. The sad truth was that – hardcore jazz geeks notwithstanding – most people knew nothing about Pat Metheny other than:

  • He played guitar.
  • He had crazy rock-star hair.
  • He looked badass.

Looks badass from here.
(Photo by Badosa.)

Thus began the drinking of Kool-Aid and the parade of bullshit. By “bullshit” I mean more than the conventional lies and stupidity that we endure daily; I mean a fog of groupthink and blind optimism resulting in a city-wide mass hallucination.

The more people talked about the upcoming show, the more the fog spread and the more people believed they were about to experience the most mind-blowing musical experience of all time. This was long before YouTube and Wikipedia, so we had nothing go by by except those badass pictures and the hype. Oh, the hype!

Then it was show-time. The venue was Ave. McGill-College, with the stage set up near rue Ste-Catherine. 100,000 people clogged the avenue, all the way up to Sherbrooke street and beyond.

It was still daylight when the show began. Having arrived a bit late, my friends and I found some space at the back and settled in for a listen. And it was a listen, since there was nothing to see. The stage was far away and there were no video screens. If I stood up and squinted, I could see a crazy-haired guy way, way over there on the stage with his back to the audience, pondering his six-string as he plucked out mild ditties that sounded like the theme music for daytime talk shows.

On and on it went. A fuzzy-haired guy plinking dork music two football fields away. This wasn’t growling and moaning blues guitar as many people probably thought it would be; it was jazz guitar. It sounded to me like something you’d listen to in your den in 1964 while wearing slippers and smoking a pipe.

Meanwhile, the audience – at least in the back where we were – barely paid attention. People were sitting on the ground, smoking, and chatting. Some were reading. At one point I noticed that the band had taken a break and the filler music didn’t sound any different. I left before it was over.

For the next few days people cautiously remarked on how the show was “awesome” and “amazing,” the way you’d describe some foreign folk dance that you don’t understand. After about a week no one I knew ever mentioned it again.

Coda: this malformed memoir should not be seen as a criticism of Pat Metheny and his music. As I said in the beginning, it’s just not to my taste. Rather, this is a commentary on the nature of megashows, the malleability of groups, and the nature of bullshit as the cement that holds many aspects of our society together. There are a few videos from the show on YouTube (this one is typical, this one gives you a sense of the venue, and this one might even wake you up), and in them you can see that the crowd — at least the ones up front — were clearly enjoying the show. But those are probably the hardcore jazz geeks. It’s my opinion that the 80,000 people behind them had no idea what was going on and were probably wondering when the Muzak was going to stop so the show could begin.

Vivian Maier in Quebec, Part 2

Last week I wrote about Vivian Maier and how I had determined the exact location of a photograph she made in Quebec City at some point in the 1950s. I indicated that I know of another Vivian Maier photograph also taken in Quebec City, but that I could not determine the exact location. Well, dear readers, with a bit of additional digging, I have located that one too!

A bit of background: Terreau & Racine was a well known and very successful metal foundry, established in 1850 in Quebec City. They made, among other things, the stoves that were widely used to heat houses and cabins through the cold Quebec winters. The foundry was destroyed by a huge fire in 1919 but they rebuilt and continued to be successful until another fire destroyed the building in the 1950s. The site remains vacant of buildings to this day; it’s the parking lot at the corner of Quai Saint-André and rue Saint-Thomas.

The Vivian Maier photograph in question is below. You can clearly see the Terreau & Racine warehouse (entrepôt) in the background.

Photo by Vivian Maier, Copyright The Maloof Collection Ltd.

Martine, who first spotted this photo on the official Vivian Maier web site, did some research and found that Terreau & Racine’s warehouse was in a separate building, on the next street over from the one that burned. That street is the tiny Côte de la Canoterie, which is less than 300 metres in length. If you take a Google Streetview drive down Côte de la Canoterie you’ll see that none of the buildings on the north side look anything like the Terreau & Racine warehouse, although they are all quite old, meaning they would have been there looking more or less the same, when the Vivian Maier photo was taken.

So that leaves the south side, where we find only a handful of buildings and a few parking lots. The obvious candidate was this place:

31 Côte de la Canoterie

The proportions look right, but there are a lot of details in the present day building that are not there in the Vivian Maier shot. That’s easy enough to explain: renovations. The sidewalk is also very different, but that too could be due to municipal renovations.

This is where I had given up, as I figured there’s not much else I could do. The most likely scenario, I thought, was that the Terreau & Racine warehouse was probably torn down and the site is now one of the parking lots.

Then I started digging into the maps at the National Archives, thanks to a link provided in a comment in the original Vivian Maier blog post. Bingo!

Below you’ll see an “insurance map” from 1957 that firmly places the Terreau & Racine warehouse at 57 Côte de la Canoterie. Under that you’ll see the same location from Google Satellite view. You can see that the Terreau & Racine warehouse seems to be in the exact location as the building I’ve circled, which is the building at 31 Côte de la Canoterie (in the Streetview image, above).

1957 insurance map

Present day, via Google Satellite View

A confounding factor: in Streetview, we clearly see that the building is marked as being at 31 Côte de la Canoterie (you can’t see it in my screenshot, but if you go there in Streetview you’ll see it). Well, sometimes municipalities do re-numbering of street addresses, which seems likely in this case, as the numbering in the 1957 map seems sort of random, and in Streetview we can see that it is linear (which is how most street numbering is these days).

But the location looks exactly right. To prove it, I superimposed the satellite image on top of the 1957 map and got a perfect match:

1957 insurance map and present day satellite view mashup. (Click here to see it bigger.)

I think the visual matching trumps the number mis-match. So there you have it. We can pinpoint to within a few feet where Vivian Maier stood when she took that photograph of the Terreau & Racine warehouse: in front of what is now 31 Côte de la Canoterie.

The next challenge is to figure out when she took those photos.