July 17th, 2005

[BRIEF NOTE] Convenience

While reading today's weblog at Christianity Today, I noticed their dismissal of a recent study suggesting that multifaith prayer doesn't noticeably improve the survival rate of hospital patients. After acknowledging admitted and necessary flaws in the methodology, the author presented what is supposed to be--to a certain class of believer, at any rate--the clincher.

In fact, such tests seem to violate the biblical prohibitions in both Old and New Testaments not to "put God to the test." Paul's admonition to "test all things" and God's command in Malachi to test his response to tithing, so often quoted by Word-Faith folks, can be the subject of a separate Weblog, but as Wright notes, these prayer studies are "like setting an exam for God to see if God will pass it or not." In other words, these kinds of studies may themselves be sinful.

I'd like to congratulate the Church Fathers on their construction of a religion that forbids its followers from engaging in the critical study of their religion. But then, religions tend to work that way, don't they?
  • Current Music
    KLF, "Justified and Ancient"

[MUSIC] KLF, The White Room

I bought KLF's 1991 album The White Room back in January 2004, on a daytrip to Toronto in the middle of my MA year at Queen's. I bought the album for "Justified and Ancient," the bizarre and internationally successful hit single featuring Tammy Wynette on vocals, though I remembered "3AM Eternal." The entire album is a fascinating slab of 1990-era art-project technopop, sample-heavy and anthemic and girded by an interestingly provocative and obscure occult intellectual thread. I like.
  • Current Music
    KLF, "Last Train to Trancentral"

[BRIEF NOTE] The Emptiness of the KLF?

The KLF's music is great. On reflection and after some Googling, I'm not so sure about their lyrics. Take "3 AM Eternal", for instance.

are you ready (unh huh, unh huh) [ANCIENTS OF MU MU]
KLF is gonna rock you, 'cos you hafta
Move to the flow of the pyramid-blaster
Bass ballistics, I'm gonna kick this HARD
An' you can catch it
Down with the crew crew
Talkin' 'bout the MU MU
Justified Ancient Liberation Zulu
Got to teach, an' everything you learn'll
Point to the fact that time is Eternal

These lyrics are self-referential and self-justifying in the extreme. "Justified and Ancient," another of their massive international hits, continues this trend, perhaps not incidentally recruiting Tammy Wynette, a well-credentialed music star in her own right, to sing their praises.

They're Justified, and they're Ancient,
And they drive an ice cream van.
(just roll it from the top)
They're Justified and they're Ancient,
With still no master plan.
(to the bridge, to the bridge, to the bridge now)
The last train left an hour ago,
They were singing "All aboard"
All bound for Mu Mu Land,
Then someone starting screaming "Turn up the Strobe"
(bring the beat back)

This self-justifying self-referentiality doesn't vitiate the KLF project, since throughout its history the group has shown itself strongly concerned with deconstructing what we Canadians would call the "star system," the media-supported hierarchy of popular entertainment figures and features that dominates the public imagination. Take their filmed incineration of one million pounds.

Cauty said: "It's very indulgent. I was a bit worried about it at first, but I think it's probably the best thing we've done. It was all the profit we'd made from selling records, after we'ed paid off tax and stuff."

Drummond added: "We still get PRS when people play our records around the world and that's what we live on." Drummond said the duo had rejected a plan to tour the film and ask audiences to burn their money. But Cauty claimed they were considering showing the film at a Rwandan refugee camp to see how people would react.

Drummond said the Bank Of England fined them UKP500 when they staged their stunt of nailing UKP1 million to a board. Cauty said: "Defacing money is illegal, but we burned it."

I'm not sure that much meaning can be derived from the lyrics of the KLF's songs from The White Room, at least apart from somewhat overblown rants about the greatness of the KLF. What meaning there is has to be found outside the KLF, in their critical relationship to the international star system and their interest in mystic conspiracies (Mu, for instance). Is this enough? I'm not sure.
  • Current Music
    KLF, "Justified and Ancient"

[BRIEF NOTE] Heather Pyrcz and 21st Century Poetry

Heather Pyrcz's poem "September 7, 2001," originally on page 32 of her 2002 collection Viaticum (Kentville NS: Gaspereau Press), is my favourite poem of recent fancy.

Oh, to avoid the precipitous cliff,
quagmire, thicket,
laying siege to the walled city,
the benefit of the brilliant strategist;
and yet, we still do it--we turn fifty.
Plato promised
this is when you'll have
your vision of The Good.

I waited patiently all morning--
not knowing what to expect,
hoping it wouldn't be too
abstract. Then, just past noon,
when the clear September sky
was at its bluest,
Tess and I spotted five bald eagles
soaring over Grand Pré,
in sight of the Bay, the tide rising,
the fields of corn and sunflowers
burnished gold below.

One reason I like this poem so much is that it, like the whole of Pyrcz's eminently purchase-worthy Viaticum, is informed by other poets and non-poetic sources of knowledge. This isn't terribly surprising, considering that Pyrcz authored the excellent resource A Digital History of Canadian Poetry, but this reflection of the deep structure of human knowledge in poetry isn't something I've seen very often in much recent poetry. Too much of the recent poetry I've been assigned to read in university tends towards the solipsistic. Why read this?
  • Current Music
    Eighth Wonder, "I'm Not Scared"

[URBAN NOTE] A Friday Foray Up Church

My favourite gay bar, the predominantly lesbian Slack Alice, closed down before Pride this year owing to the owners' financial shenanigans and will reopen later this year under new management. The Looking Glass, a comparable bar, seems to have closed permanently. The expensive but congenial cocktail bar Babylon, on 533 Church Street, has closed down following an incident involving the police and may not reopen.

I don't go to gay bars often. I don't go to bars much at all, in fact, save for certain prearranged encounters and the like. I would, however, be remiss to deny the critical role that they have played in GLBT history, and in serving as venues for organizing the GLBT community. They're social challenges, to be sure, but by now I'm more than capable of meeting these challenges. Besides, there's abundant networking potential there. The problem is that three of the bars that I'm most familiar with--familiar being perhaps a euphemism--have closed down, perhaps for good. So, Friday night, I set up on a voyage of exploration north up Church Street, looking for new bars and new networking spots.

  • The Black Eagle. I don't get leather. Yes, I own a leather jacket, but I bought it because it was cheap and it looks nice on me and is warm in winter. I don't object to the sexualization of leather and kindred wearable substances; I also can't emphasize with the connection process. Friendly crowd, mind.

  • Woody's. The classic, the conventional, the mainstream. I ordered a Canadian Blue from a shirtless bartender, and drank it with alacrity. Woody's is known territory.

  • Statler's Piano Lounge. I don't get Broadway songs sung over piano. I've nothing against the Broadway-and-piano lifestyle, but I don't understand it. Or, perhaps, I've not gotten to that point yet.

  • Pegasus. The bartender was friendly when I confessed my ignorance of the fine points of alcoholic drinks, and made a rye and coke that I enjoyed. The attention that he paid was inversely proportional to the dozen customers scattered over this second-floor bar.

  • lüb. jhubert may be pleased to know that, in Canada, u-with-an-umlaut is a marker of sophistication. So it is with lüb, a painfully trendy bar populated by my genetic and monetary superiors on Friday nights. Oxygen was expensive.

  • Bar 501. There was something very dark, and mildly depressing, about this environment.

  • Pizza Pizza. As I took a break for a slice of pizza, I remembered how I read in my Rough Guide to Canada that Church and Wellesley was the central intersection in Toronto's gay village, and being surprised when I got to this intersection to find surprisingly little on the ground.

  • Fiddler's Green. I have no idea whether or not this Irish pub does double duty as a gay bar, though the guys doing Abba songs on the second-floor karaoke area might be a hint. At midnight, I drank my glass of Stella Artois (my thanks go out to the kind residents of Leuven) and sipped my chicken-and-vegetable soup even as hordes of Harry Potter fans were besieging Toronto-area bookstores. It's conveniently located just across Wellesley from the Wellesley TTC station.

My conclusion? There's Zippers or Hair of the Dog further south on Church Street, and there may be bars elsewhere that I have yet to explore. So far, Woody's and perhaps Fiddler's Green look like the most plausible choices. I'm still looking, mind.
  • Current Music
    Pet Shop Boys, "Absolutely Fabulous"