It was the most perfectly hallucinogenic day of my life. I had been more stoned on previous occasions – it was the 1960s, after all – thanks to a variety of experiments with consciousness. In early April of 1969, however, magic mushrooms and a certain song transformed my world while tripping in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “And we all shine on/ like the moon and the stars and the sun...,” John Lennon was singing in the headphones covering my ears. I had ingested two little brown, wrinkled pieces of fungus that rendered the music extraordinary. The lyrics were speaking to me; I suspected they might contain the most important message of the 20th century: “Instant karma’s gonna get you/ Gonna knock you off your feet/ Better recognize your brother/ In everyone you meet...” Although I easily could have continued listening to Lennon again and again, my three similarly wasted friends persuaded me to accompany them on a walk. Outside, everything looked even more beautiful than could reasonably be expected. I smiled at every stranger we passed and they all appeared to smile back.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
The new film, Howl, by Jeffrey Friedman (The Celluloid Closet) and Rob Epstein (The Times of Harvey Milk), sets out to get inside those “magic lines” to illuminate how Ginsberg’s poem, with it’s free-form jazz rhythms, worked its hoodoo on an awakening audience of American bohemians seeking cosmic freedom in the mid-fifties. Howl, which stars James Franco as Ginsberg, is a film of bottomless empathy for its subject. The movie examines how Ginsberg’s “Howl” provided a framework for the acceptance of his homosexuality, as well as a vehicle for coming to terms with his mother’s death from mental illness. (The poem itself was written for Carl Solomon whom he met in a mental institution.) Yet “Howl” would also go on to ignite an obscenity trial in 1957 once San Francisco poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of City Lights Books, published the work in 1956 as part of a collection titled Howl and Other Poems. While celebrating the quest for spiritual freedom in Ginsberg’s work, Friedman and Epstein successfully get at the irreverent roots of Ginsberg’s rebellion and why “Howl” became such a passionately impish and angry sonnet.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
By the time he appears on screen at age 23, in the early 1970s, the arrogant idealist (portrayed by Edgar Ramirez) has honed the Marxist views inherited from his parents and furthered by studies in world domination at a Moscow university. There’s also been some training in Jordan as a fighter for the anti-Zionist cause. While many of his American contemporaries are demonstrating against the Vietnam War, Carlos chooses a path far more insidious than that of the Weather Underground. “I don’t believe in protests,” he says at one point. “Words get us nowhere … Behind every bullet we fire, there will be an idea.”
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
That decision never to repeat himself is a deliberate one, he said, during a wide-ranging interview in Toronto to promote his latest film, Carlos, the true story of the infamous terrorist known in the West as Carlos the Jackal.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The government decided to do two things: one, send men into the underground to build support pillars to prevent further collapse; and two, move the six million skeletal remains from the city’s cemetery into the underground. Henceforth, this world would be called the catacombs. Only one 1800-metre portion of the catacombs contains the skeletal remains. It is now one of Paris’ oddest tourist attractions. The bones are all piled up neatly. Most of the bones are held in place by a wall made up of tibias, femurs and skulls. Every few years, the walls start to collapse. The exhibit is closed for several months as workers go in and rebuild these bone walls to prevent further collapse. As I watched this, I had a ‘what if’ moment. My 'what if' moment became the starting point for my novel, The Empire of Death. My protagonist, Martin Maxwell, is one of those people who, every three or four years, is brought in to rebuild those walls in the catacombs..
The first excerpt is from part way into Chapter One. Martin Maxwell is out on the town with his friend, Calandra Smith. He is about to return to Toronto after working in the catacombs for the previous five months. Unfortunately, due to the intensity of the work, this was his only chance to get together with the Paris-based Calandra. In a mostly deserted restaurant, La Marlotte, Martin and Calandra observe a couple coming in and, over the course of an hour, breaking up. The woman abruptly departs, leaving the man alone at his table: