Frank Gutch Jr: The World Is Dying and Yet It Lives, Especially in Canada – The Land of Mowat, Music, and Literature

We are killing the world.  Killing it.  The human, the supposed brightest and most intelligent species on Earth is killing the only planet we have.  The only one which can sustain us.  Forget about Mars or the myriad of planets scientists are telling us might be alternate worlds for us.  There is not enough time to find them and, if you ask me, it wouldn’t do any good anyway.  We would kill them too.  It is our way— our lot in life.  As much as we want to be compassionate and good, we can’t.  We cannot shake the urge to kill, usually in the name of progress.

You don’t think so?  I would like to know what planet you’re living on because this one is dying, helped along by a portion of humanity which does not care.  Not about the planet, not about us, not about anything but the almighty economy.  The United States has an administration hated the world over (except for monarchs and psychopaths and, of course, corporations) and has eschewed information for propaganda.  For the US itself, it is brother against brother, family against family, the rich against the poor, the ignorant against the learned.

I have wearied of this new world.  I sit here now, books by Farley Mowat forming a makeshift fort, the doors locked against the outside world.  That world once debated, now they argue.  The din is loud and unsettling and truth has no part.  Antarctica is melting and the arguments continue.  The permafrost is disappearing and the arguments continue.  The oceans are rising and the arguments continue.  Logic would have it that the impending end of the world as we know it would alter politics but the truth is that our world leaders are way more interested in winning arguments than saving the world.  Like the meme says— Only when there is no food will rich people realize that you can’t eat money.

Why this sudden interest in politics?  Well, it is not sudden.  While my chosen topic is usually music, I occasionally delve into the social and political.  But this time the topic is a direct result of a couple of hours digging through Robert’s Books, a tiny but damn impressive bookstore in Lincoln City, Oregon.  I visited to find a book besides Ready Player One written by one Ernest Cline, a new-to-me author I want to read.  Turns out there was only one (Armada) but there is a new one on the way, he said, and offered to put me on a list.  I instead opted for, who else, Farley Mowat.

I had read Mowat’s People of the Deer years before and had given my copy to a person as fascinated by Mowat and his world as was I.  Lately, I had the urge to reread that book and others by a person I have considered a spearhead of the environmental movement.  People of the Deer had been truly eye-opening for me, a look at a people whose lives were virtually ended by the ignorance of the white man, a culture so tied to nature that it could not exist without it.  The book ended with certain of the People (the Ihalmuit) struggling to survive but most only a memory.

Or did it?  Many of the details of Mowat’s books had dulled with age and I struggled to remember exactly what was written or said.  Which is why the urge had become great enough for me to search.

Allow me to preface what will come by recounting in vague bits and pieces what happened when the powers that be decided we needed an oil pipeline to carry oil from the arctic down to southern refineries for reasons related to the economy.  When was this?  The sixties?  The seventies?  There was quite an uproar, of course, many environmentalists fighting the decision.  Problems with possible leaks and damage to the environment dominated the argument, for argument it was, but what stuck with me all these years had to do with caribou.  The Dark Side (the corporations), when confronted with the argument that it would destroy the caribou’s yearly migration, certain corporate “experts” denied it.  Using film of caribou confronted by the highway which ran alongside the pipeline, the environmentalists pointed out that the animals would simply not cross the highway.  The corporate stooges’ argument was simply that if the migration was that important, they would find a way.  I thought then that it was a brushoff.  I still do.  I have no idea of the end result, but in the Barrens of the Far North, it destroyed the migration and put the Ihalmuit (People of the Deer), the Idthen Eldeli (Eaters of the Deer) and other tribes at risk.  Oh, it wasn’t as simple as that and yet it was.  When the deer disappeared, so did the small groups of Inuits who relied on deer for survival.

But I get ahead of myself.  Anyway, when I asked about Mowat, Bob, the owner of Robert’s Books, asked me which Mowat— the one who wrote humorous fiction or the one who wrote the conservation-oriented books.  Truth be told, I hadn’t thought about that.  You see, Mowat was also known for a short series of books written in humorese, as I call it, i.e. The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float, Owls In the FamilyThe Dog Who Wouldn’t Be, et al.  I told him Im specifically wanted People of the Deer.  With a gesture that said “Follow me,” we headed down a long hall and through a maze of b ooks stacked on the floor to a section not even marked.  I assume it was reserved for authors of prominence because there were many rare volumes on the shelves and on the floor, some written by Mowat.  Here you go, he said, and told me to ask if I had any questions, at which time he negotiated his way back to the front of the store and the counter.  I sat on my haunches and started diving through what was there.

My God, I had had no idea how many books Mowat had written!  I had read five or six, but here there were large numbers of different titles.  The Great Betrayal and Westviking and My Discovery of America and Bay of Spirits and Tundra and more.  There were tons I had never seen and some of the ones I had seen and even read were available from two or three different publishing houses!  So I began picking through them, making choices based upon condition, subject and rarity (as far as I could tell).  And they stacked up.

People of the Deer I grabbed first first, then The Great Betrayal, the title piquing my interest, The Snow Walker, and Tundra and more.  I finally had to quit, having limited funds, but I ended up spending way more than I should have, but I had the bug.  And when I got back to the room, I hopped on The Great Betrayal, for I sensed trouble.

As expected, Mowat raked people across the coals, mainly the Canadian government and, from what I could tell, their partners-in-crime, corporations.  Oil corporations and mining corporations and even various companies from the olden days who traded in fur.  See, part of the problem, according to Mowat, was that white men showed the People of the Deer a new way of life and promised them that it would make them all rich beyond belief and make their lives so much better.  The Inuit, a trusting people, took traders at their word and while still partaking in the deer, spent more and more time trapping the white fox.  They had been given rifles and was told the ammunition was for the taking in trade for fox pelts and that’s as far as the Inuit could see.  Fur for ammo and food and whatever else they needed.

The problem here was that they began to neglect the deer a bit at a time and the new generations were weaned on the New Way.  They soon forgot about the old ways of hunting deer and began relying on fishing and trapping smaller game during the “offseason” (meaning the periods between winter and summer).  And soon they  began starving.

Here’s the thing.  The Inuit had relied on the caribou for their survival for so many years that their bodies were adapted to whatever the deer offered.  Immense quantities of fat and protein— more than a white man could imagine.  So Mowat, having entered the world of the Far North, began studying the situation, not because of intrigue, necessarily, but because his friends and, in a way, his brothers and sisters were wasting away before his very eyes.  The more he saw, the more he pondered, and when he saw thew situation become critical, he called for help.  The government would help, right?  And they tried, eventually, but not enough.  And certainly not soon enough.

Now, you must understand that Mowat was not without his critics.  A few questioned the existence of the Ihalmiut and a few went out of their ways to point out Never Cry Wolf  as nothing more than fable.  I myself prefer to look at the heart of Mowat’s writings as a different kind of truth if not truth itself.  And I sit here in my fort of books ready to defend that.

One thing brought out in more than one of his books, and whether it is valid or not I am unsure, is that permafrost, once broken, is gone.  We hear about the permafrost today and how global warming might well be the cause and the resulting methane released will upset the fragile ecosystem of the North.  If what Mowat says is true— that opening the Northlands to mining and oil exploration will help destroy the permafrost— then the trouble started long before global warming became the cause celebre.  It started when Canada began selling off rights to corporations to exploit the natural resources.  Not necessarily Canadian corporations, mind you.  American corporations, many with a Canadian partner.  International corporations.  Has the government of Canada been selling off resources off the cuff?  Politicians want to deny it but then politicians’ cachet is not what it once was.

At this point, I don’t want to argue political points, I want to know the truth, and I trust Mowat far more than I do his detractors.  So I will sit here in my fort and mind-eat my way through the volumes before me, with an occasional trip over to Robert’s Bookstore to replenish my stock until there is nothing there to replenish it with.

And on a side note, Mowat claims that Pierre Trudeau‘s government made some of those deals with the corporate demons.  I don’t doubt it.  A lot of oil exploration and mining started on his watch.  I guess he wasn’t the guiding light I had thought him.  Then again, I have grown up a bit since those days.

The Music…

There is absolutely no doubt that I should have been born Canadian.  I did okay down here for a number of years (minus the one year, nine month, two days and forty-five minutes incarcerated in the Army) but I do believe my welcome is wearing out.  (The Army tried to tell me that back then but it would not let me go— go figure)  People no longer like talking to me much (even I have trouble talking to myself at times), the government finds me loathsome (it would be nice if they ever did anything right), and even hippies— the real ones, not those fancy Dans portraying them on TV— have tired of my complaints.  They hide goods from me (I am now attempting to find Cherry Crush which the company says is available but evidently not to me).  They deny me information (like where the hell I can purchase said Cherry Crush).  Even my favorite bands take too long to record albums.  Well, not The Green Pajamas, but, you know, others.  So I am forced to shop Canada.  Well, not forced, but, you know.

The thing is, Canada has become music central to me.  Don’t ask me why, but I find more music up North than I do anywhere else.  I don’t think there is more music in Canada than anywhere else, but, you know.  Perhaps it is because I am exposed to more because this is a Canadian based web page, but a number of artists have come across my desk which are more than worthy of note.

One being the impending album by Amy van Keeken.  Amy has released a few, some on her own and some with bands The Secretaries, The Awesome Hots, and Mysticeti.  I love her simple approach— usually based around basic reverbed guitar.  Nothing fancy but sometimes fancy just gets in the way.  Here is a trip through a few of her songs.  And wouldn’t you know I am starting out with one of her more complicated tunes.

From So Long (2013):

From Live Right (2015):

From Timeloop (2016):

From (funny, I thought Amy had given me the title of the upcoming album but I cannot find it anywhere) (2018):

A short clips from The Awesome Hots (2012):

When I was digging through the music of Common Deer, I kept thinking what a great name it was.  You got it, right?  Common Deer, Commandeer?  Oh well. Maybve it isn’t as cool as I thought it was. Wait.  Fuck it,  It is.  The music makes it even better,

The Pick Brothers call this an “official” video.  I call it, officially, the longest damn silent introduction to a song ever.  I was thinking of going up North to slap those guys around a little but I got to thinking— beautiful girl? —cat?  Can’t go wrong there.  And this song is as good as any out there.  These guys should be playing every A-level festival there is.

Pretty decent live, too.  At least, I think so.

Speaking of brothers, how about The Barr Brothers?  True, the brothers themselves are American but Sarah Page and Andres Vial certainly are.  Formed in Montreal, the band is making real headway.  I first heard them on The Verge, one of a handful of CBC music radio programs carried by XM/Sirius.  This track, in fact.

Then there is this, from their latest album, Queens of the Breakers.  They are touring to support that album right now.  Keep a sharp eye out.

There is so much music in Canada it seems impossible to keep up with it.  Blair Packham put out his first album in a number of years.  Geoff Gibbons (Silverlode) released one last year.  Chloe Albert is rumored to be working on one.  Hopefully, Melissa Payne will come up with something new.  And new band Vinyl Ambush is readying a release.  I am only scratching the surface.  One day, I hope to visit Canada— maybe drive across it— coast-to-coast.  See it before I die, or maybe before we all die.  Such are dreams made of.

The Literature…

I lifted this section from a column titled Travels With Farley: Canada’s Legacy in Words.  Rather than struggle with the words again, allow me to repeat what I think is a decent and well thought out piece on Canada and its authors.  From May of 2016:

I have this very large book sitting on my shelf titled Canada: A Modern History.  At the time I purchased it, I was beginning a journey into Canadian literature thanks to a bookstore in Seattle known as Magus, a large store in the University District of Seattle containing books of all sizes and flavors, mostly paperbacks. I had stumbled upon this book quite by chance at the first Friends of the Library sale I attended upon arriving in Seattle and, having this unquenched thirst for what I now know as America’s Hat, purchased it on a whim.

I read two pages a night, so few because I was already reading two books. I learned about Canada’s history— at least, the Anglo version. I read about trappers and the fur trade and wars— wars known to us Americans as King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, King George’s War, and especially the French and Indian War but in Canada referred to as the War of the League of Augsburg, the War of the Spanish Succession, the War of Austrian Succession, and the Seven Years’ War (it is no wonder countries do not get along— they cannot even name wars so that the others recognize them). I learned of the expansion into the prairies and the building of the railroads and the search for the Northwest Passage. Fascinating stuff, if presented as dry toast.

At that same book sale, I happened to have picked up a hardback copy of Robert J.C. Stead‘s ‘Grain’ thinking it might parallel American novelist Frank Norris‘s ‘The Octopus’ which delved into the world of the buying and selling of grain, then a most crucial food source. It did to a degree and gave me a look at Canada as a separate nation. The book outlined a parallel universe to the north, yet there were differences. To that point, I had always thought of Canada as part of the U.S. I still do, but to a lesser degree.

By the time I found Magus, I was more than curious. I knew that Farley Mowat was Canadian, having been turned onto him by a librarian friend. I had read what I could find—- ‘Never Cry Wolf’, ‘People of the Deer’, ‘The Siberians’. I found a string of Mowat’s works and bought them all. I had read Stead. I had read Mordecai Richler‘s ‘The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz’ and had later seen the movie. I read ‘Shoeless Joe’ before Hollywood turned it into an embarrassment on film (Field of Dreams)— my opinion, of course. (I had read Bernard Malamud‘s ‘The Natural’ before Hollywood did the same to that novel— it is no wonder so many people correlate Hollywood with crap). But what Magus did was open up the world of Canada’s best writers and their works based upon if not necessarily based in their country.

There is this series, you see, known as the New Canadian Library which brought many works of those writers to my attention, alongside a plethora of others. I set upon acquiring as many of them as I could. I bought books much faster than I could read them back then and confess to having purchased NCL books with the idea of reading them quickly but still have a few on the shelf, yet unread. The ones I did read, though, sucked me deeper and deeper into the Canadian Vortex.

I adopted the name Ringuet as a username on eBay years ago. Not that the name impressed me that much, rather that after what seemed like a thousand attempts of a more common nature were rejected. Out of frustration, I looked up at the bookshelf and typed the name in and sonofagun if it wasn’t accepted. But there is more to it than that. For one thing, I had read the book twice by that time (an oddity in my world due to the fact that hundreds and thousands of books remained to be read and I was never one to retread. It encapsulated a part of Canada of which I had never thought— the age old French versus English conundrum. To be French in Quebec that last century or so (and probably earlier) had to have been a mental struggle and ‘Thirty Acres’ took it on head on. A story of a man so attached to the land and the church that both the English and progress chew him up and spit him out. During my second reading of the novel, Canada was going through the dreaded two-language crisis and it struck home. Many people in British Columbia were outraged that their province was forced to re-sign everything in both languages made the French very unpopular there. More than one Canadian pointed out to me that they (the French) needed to learn the national language and pointed to Quebec, which at that time was threatening to secede from Canada, as the culprit. (Sound familiar, America?) The problems had started long before that, the book showed. A clash of cultures. Enough to tear some countries apart. Originally published in 1940.

Ralph Connor at one time was an extremely popular author in Canada and had quite the following in the US as well. When ‘The Man From Glengarry’ was published in 1901, it became an immediate success. The story itself was one not of the Old West, as it might have been if it had taken place in Arizona or Colorado, but of the old days in Canada at the time of the confederation. As much of us in The States believe, Canada was not always the ten provinces and three territories we know today. In the beginning, which was 1867, they were four— Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. I know— it’s hard to tell the provinces apart without a scorecard (and, for awhile, the National Hockey League), but they probably don’t know the history of The States, either. (Hell, people in The States don’t know the history of The States, fer chrissakes) When you look at early life in the Dominion of Canada, you realize that life is an ongoing process. Canada grows as this novel progresses and the story it tells is engrossing. The main character, one Ranald Macdonald (not to be confused with Ronald MacDonald of burger fame), watches the confederation take hold and eventually heads back to British Columbia to help those poor buggers along. After all, they were lumberjacks and they’re okay…..

Mordecai Richler, when The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz hit the silver screen, should have become a household word in American households. Irreverent, edgy and funny (sometimes downright hilarious), the movie seemed a favorite among the younger set. The movie did well enough, the book sold well enough, but Richler’s name outside of the trade was still relatively unknown. And yet what an amazing body of work he gave us. The book, published shortly after Kravitz, is my favorite, passed along to me by friend Joseph Lee who had listened too many times to my raves about Canadian literature— ‘The Incomparable Atuk’. Short and sweet, it covers a period of a Canadian Inuit who has been brought to the Big City (Toronto) from the bush. It is satirical, as many stories were in those days (50s and 60s), but there is Truth between the lines. Atuk, after being swayed by the modern world, turns things to his own liking. A satirical look at not just modern Canada, but the modern world.

Know what a Curlew is? Neither did I until I read Fred Bodsworth‘s ‘Last of the Curlews’. A curlew is one of those long-legged birds you see walking the marshes, fishing with that long curved beak. When Bodsworth decided to use it as the main subject in a book, he gave it historical importance. He followed one bird on a migration path, wrapping a years life into one ‘characters’ existence. For uncountable years, the Curlews flew from southern feeding grounds to northern nesting areas (or was it the opposite?) until Man finally took them down to one. Well, according to Bodsworth’s account. And then… none. It is Man’s way. Destroy an unending resource until you find that it is not endless and then end it. Callously. Without regard to future generations or its effect on the world as a whole. When you see it through the birds eyes, it suddenly becomes alive. Or in this case, dead.

The people who don’t know W.P. Kinsella evidently don’t read at all.‘Shoeless Joe’was a best-seller and one of the few fictionalized accounts of baseball ever written that was worth a crap (though even it was not Robert Coover‘s ‘The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. J. Henry Waugh, Prop.). A simple tale of a man’s urge to build a baseball field in the midst of corn, it captured America enough to force a movie upon us: Field of Dreams. I hated the movie, from the screenwriting to the casting, but I loved the book. Kinsella turned that book into a franchise, of sorts, a series of stories books about and built around baseball, including ‘The Iowa Baseball Confederacy’, ‘The Thrill of the Grass’, ‘Box Socials’ and more. But there was another side to his writing which thrilled me even more. The books about life on the reservation.

After reading ‘Shoeless Joe’, I had a hunger for more Kinsella, so after devouring the few books on baseball available back then, I stumbled upon a copy of ‘Dance Me Outside’ at a cool little bookstore in Salem (Oregon). Short stories about life on the Rez, indeed. It is a look at life on an Indian (or is that acceptable these days) reservation in Central Alberta in Canada as seen through the eyes of one Silas Ermineskin. I laughed all the way through it, unable to put it down. Of course, in this politically correct world, someone (and in this case, a lot of someones) had to take offense and the series of books featuring Ermineskin and crew died a horrific death, but after a good run. That series included some of Kinsella’s best works— ‘The Fencepost Chronicles’ (which featured Frank Fencepost), ‘The Moccasin Telegraph’, and ‘Brother Frank’s Gospel Hour’. Last year, I spent a week in Victoria B.C. I walked into a used book store and asked about Kinsella. The guy asked which one. I said any of the Ermineskin books. Ah, he said, before he was labeled PI (meaning politically incorrect). He did not have any, he said, implying that the publishers had either taken them off the market or cut back the numbers available drastically. He worked here, you know, he said. He was a character.

My good friend Nadia Elkharadly has found a few of those old titles for me. She has no idea how much I appreciate them (and her). I can only think of one other author I will pull off the shelves just to read a few pages— well, make that two. Patrick McManus and H. Allen Smith. God, but how they make me laugh.

Which pretty much burns me out for this week.  But fear not,  we still have the…

Notes…

How in the hell did I miss THIS one?  I have scoured the Net for videos relating to war and its related subjects— mainly war today as opposed to real wars.  I also scan the social media for everything Peter Holsapple.  It is almost as if the gods are conspiring against me to prevent my doing a decent job of it.  Luckily, Holsapple has a new album on the way and, I believe, this song is part of it.  So let us not mention war but let us hear what Peter Holsapple has to say (erm, sing) about it.

I think 2018 is going to be one hell of a year, thanks to the many artists who are readying releases.  One I am anxiously awaiting is the new album by Amy van Keeken.  She hooked me with her earlier EPs, thanks to a tendency toward electric guitar and reverb, not to mention a voice which blends perfectly with her style.  Here is a preview of the new album… In Dreams

Dig this!  I love animated film.  Here is the latest from Mark Smith!

I first saw his work in this animated music video for one of my favorites groups, Alialujah Choir…

Canada’s Blair Packham is back after a thirteen year romp with aliens.  Actually he was back in May but decided to keep it a secret. More good rockin’ Pop.  Good followup to his classic Happy Go Lucy.  Man, he takes way too long between projects!

Friend Bobby Gottesman, reminding us all what the record business used to be.

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at Frank bottle capone time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

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