Omit Needless Words: August 11, 2009

A Blues Song Just For Fighters: James Toback's Tyson

Boxing is our most controversial American sport, always, it seems, on the brink of being abolished. Its detractors speak of it in contempt as a "so-called 'sport,'" and surely their logic is correct: if "sport" means harmless play, boxing is not a sport; it is certainly not a game. But "sport" can signify a paradigm of life, a reduction of its complexities in terms of a single symbolic action--in this case its competitiveness, the cruelty of its Darwinian enterprise--defined and restrained by any number of rules, regulations, and customs: in which case boxing is probably, as the ex-heavyweight champion George Foreman has said, the sport to which all other sports aspire. It is the quintessential image of human struggle, masculine or otherwise, against not only other people but one's own divided self. 
-- Joyce Carol Oates

Someday, they're gonna write a blues song just for fighters. It'll be for slow guitar, soft trumpet and a bell.
-- Sonny Liston


As a child somewhere on the journey towards adolescence in the mid-to-late 1980s, there were certain names that brought with them entire worlds. "Maradona" was one this little Canadian Scot spent a lot of time rolling around his tongue, while balls rolled around football pitches marked out by jumpers and trees, at the feet of players far more capable than he. "Schwarzenegger" and "Stallone" made for air machine guns, bandannas, throwing each other in the mud and learning to love the art of gratuitious bloodshed.

Then there was Tyson. Tyson was what the older kids who worked at the slaughterhouse would name their dogs (and, eventually, their children). Tyson was huddled conversations under the bridge about sixty second knockouts, older cousins with cigarettes in their mouths, replaying the fist swings with a slow and sincere reverence. Tyson was in the playground, our heads smashed against walls by the bulkier and more slowly moving amongst us, games of British Bulldogs suddenly turning to the heavyweight championship for inspiration. Seconds out, they'd shout, and the bricks were only ever those seconds away.

At the time, Joyce Carol Oates was writing very smart and eventually legendary work on Tyson, contextualising him amongst the greats. But the rumble in the jungle, to us, was probably an episode of GI Joe. We were becoming vaguely aware that Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali were the same person but could not tell you the reasons why. Frank Bruno was on the Saturday telly, that lovely Irish McGuigan lad too. But those weren't the word that made the world shake.

That word was Tyson.

I knew nothing of boxing, but I knew what I saw. That vicious, raw, pure distillation of the fight. Kid Dynamite transformed into Iron Mike. The purists hated him. He wasn't the art. The world did not dance on his fists. It was pummelled. He was unbeatable because you can't beat rage like that. You can't beat the streets, and the prisons, and the anger.

You know what happened. Others have written it better. Those who actually know something about boxing. Start with David Remnick and go on from there. There was the rape. The prison sentence. The comeback. Evander Holyfield. The ear bite. Fuck you til you love me, faggot. Don King. The collapse. Dragging boxing down with him.

And always, at the center, that man, that strange, self-victimising madman with the motor mouth. With his mansions abandoned, he is reduced to that hoariest of cliches, the fallen heavyweight champ. The Raging Bull. The Sonny Liston. Long ago a realisation there would be no triumphant Balboa return, horns ablaze. This was it.

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Omit Needless Words: August 7, 2009

Field Notes Three: All the continents, not much about home.

"Not entirely trusting this page to remain attached, I shall write nothing of consequence on it."

Trawling through eight months and six continents worth of notebook. Words written on the top of Austrian mountains; in Quebec hotel rooms where founding members of Godspeed offer clean towels while New York free jazz troupes rehearse outside my door; in Tangier where a cafe owner tells me of his previous life as a tenor saxophonist touring the provinces of Britain, and young hustlers train their kid brothers in the art of the graft. There are directions to the flat in Buenos Aires of two marvellous people in love, no longer together. Take the blue line to Plaza de Miserere. There are shopping lists for beans, cat food, soy milk and Jesse Ball's new book (eventually found in a Shakespeare & Co in Vienna, where I was actually looking for a guidebook for Venice but the only one they had was Venice: A City for Lovers, which did not seem appropriate for my mood). There are notes for a play. That'll happen. Somebody's paying me. It's about war.

There's a note that I want to buy the replica FIFA 1954 World Cup referee's jumper from the shop in Singapore Airport (it wasn't there on the return flight). Directions to barbecue pits in Texas. Notes frantically scribbled at a David Mamet lecture at UT and further lines from Ricky Jay's minor character in The Unit ("you're alive." / "a fault I share with all but the dead").

The words "DMX ('penis be out')", which can only mean in some hotel I'd been watching MTV news (though this story seems to be from much earlier in 2008, earlier than I'd even owned this notebook, perhaps DMX was just on my mind). Then there is a fragment of a conversation from a Canadian uncle, "the strange thing is that he likes the ocean". Followed by notes on fisheries strikes, my grandfather's fingers, and the legacy of Joey Smallwood. In a cafe, somewhere in Canada by the page number, a dreadlocked guy at the next table frantically searching for information about David Icke as the scion of John D Rockefeller Jr.

Thoughts on illness. On hospitals. On love and the ways it breaks. On freezing hands at the edge of the Mall in DC on January 20, "I was there" moments caught mostly in sound bouncing back off the buildings. I will tell my grandchildren, when they ask, about looking up the speech on the internet later, and agreeing that it was quite something.

Notes from the Venice Biennale, futile attempts to try to capture thoughts on so much art in so little time. Ends up just being the names of artists. Maybe I can google Pavel Pepperstein later and re-feel whatever that thing is that strikes you the first time around.

Addresses for gigs. For bars. For friends. For bands. Hotels and train times to get me from one pocket of not-home to another. Other than the odd photograph, the only evidence of what the hell I've been doing.

I thought I'd lost my notebook the other day. I'd left it on the floor of a client's half-height office after writing down a wireless key.

Realised I'd better start writing some stuff down. Now that I'm home.

Omit Needless Words: December 25, 2008

Omit Needless Awards 2008: Festive Opinion Dump

When I'm not setting overstuffed boats of prose adrift on these pages, I am occasionally reminded that this thing is actually meant to be a blog. As such, it is honour-bound to pay tribute to a few of the ancient traditions of the medium, established by our once and future kings in a neolithic age of model railway clubs tinkering with supercomputers. I refer of course to the year-end "best of" post. So, I'll bite. I'll give you some lists. My weekly distraction of presenting a radio show devoted to the musical arts has already produced a not-stressed-about-enough plain-old top ten albums of the year list, so I won't retread that here. Let's try a few other things out.

The James McNulty Awards for Excellence in Television

  1. The Wire drawing to a close. Say what you will about the relative strength of the newspaper arc relative to previous seasons, but for a show that promised to be the greatest television show ever made, we were not let down -- it finished as so much more than that. It wasn't about cops. It wasn't in the end even about The City, which I'd thought it was for the first few years. It was about hope, about systems, about order, dignity, dreams and change; it was about humanity, about the sheer brutal fucking hopelessness and futility that comes with trying to live and be part of this world. It was pretty funny too. I shan't spoil for those unfinished, but the final scene between Michael and Dookie may just be the most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen. For those entirely Wire virginal, perhaps because too many people have told you how excellent it is and that means you'll never watch it, don't be stupid. Get thee to a downloadery now.
  2. The part in the first episode of the new Knight Rider series where the hot young leads strip to their underwear inside KITT, even before the opening credits. After KITT has changed both into and back from a GM pick-up truck. And just after they've been hit by a missile, after escaping from a tuxedo party in "Foreign Consulate, USA". To quote sassy nerd chick back at sassy control bunker full of sassy blinking lights: "Things just got interesting!"
  3. David Simon and Ed Burns get a second nod for what was, in the end, an underappreciated series, Generation Kill. This mini-series managed a tough balancing act, presenting a scathing assessment of the early stages of the Iraq war and its planning, while being fair and loving and fiercely proud of the troops on the ground, be they racist fuckup redneck shits or genuinely good sensitive guys lost in a desert far from moral ground. They are the people that were sent there to die. For long-stretches of episodes, nothing happens except the talking of crap. And then things go crazy. And then more crap is talked. We stay frosty, we wait. I'm naive in the art of warfare, I'll admit, but this felt so much more real, immediate and important than any of the hundreds of preachy message films released on same topic by Hollywood this year.
  4. Lost not just jumping the Dharma-branded shark but sucking it into a space-time vortex and moving it somewhere where we'll never find it. Season four was glorious and silly and not at all concerned any more for the impatient, or those who don't feel like googling theoretical physicists. As it should never have been.
  5. 24: "Redemption", in which JACK BAUER saves Africa in two hours with no help from those pesky UN-ocrats who just won't think of the CHILDREN. See particularly JACK BAUER using Crocodile Dundee-style animal-taming hypnosis against a wild-eyed child soldier.
  6. Jimmy Smits on Dexter. The third season of everybody's favourite good-guy serial killer show got mixed reviews -- I loved it, but mostly because I spent the entire season trying to figure out just what the hell was going on with Smits' completely nutso performance. It can be tough to play against everything Michael C. Hall has brought to the title role, but Smits went punch for punch and scalpel blade for scalpel blade.

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Omit Needless Words: December 22, 2008

Field Notes Two: Canadian Winters, Fragments of Buenos Aires

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.

-- Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales

My mother has wrapped her shrubbery carefully in hessian sacks. Snow coats everything. This is home, here at the end of the earth. This is where I slow down. The power is out, I'm writing on my remaining battery with assistance only of the light of a log fire. How very rustic. A sliver of iceberg melts into my single malt, Scottish coastal fire mixing with Canadian coastal ice. I romanticise a little, of course -- the plasma TV was on not half an hour ago, I'm still playing games on my iPhone. But let's just pretend for a moment we're rugged and slightly insane Irish fisherfolk, stubbornly refusing to be defeated by something so paltry as Atlantic Canadian winter. "Is this all you've got?" we'd shout to the wind, scooping up our abundant nets of winter cod with a defiant glee. We'd build our houses on the sides of cliffs, sail into twelve foot waves on our rickety wooden boats, throw down the nets we'd woven by hand with our whalebone needles. We'd laugh at it all. We'd be the masters of the ocean. The whales would be elsewhere, ever the more sensible species, somewhere down in Bermuda awaiting return on the warm currents of spring with a calm and sanity we ourselves would never possess.

Or we could be the masters of the strip mall, the jumbo-sized tin of processed sausage or frozen juice, the great Canadian diet of sugar and preservative. We'd spend our liminal summers watching wrestling on stolen cable, lines run down from the poles by uncles with usefully tall ladders. Salt fish in buckets, salt beef in buckets, salt in buckets. Cod tongues in oil on the stove. Always the smell of drying animal flesh, picked over by flies, stretched out in the sun. Tobacco, rolled into cigarettes by the hundreds, in the hands of everyone, always. Collections of Molson Canadian bottles from the back sheds of drunken neighbours, exchanged for deposit, exchanged for sugar and rented Nintendo. And then later, exchanged for Canadian Club, cigarettes snuck under bridges from older cousins, retreats deep into the woods far from the roving eyes of adult supervision. The rules that governed you at home would not apply here in your other space, with these other people. Your blood people. These ones wouldn't see the awkward little nerd with the bottle-base glasses and shaky hands so much as just a boy from somewhere strange, full of different ideas and different experience. A wholly exotic little Scottish other. Your time here would be something else. Eventually, we would have to go home. But not yet, not yet.

Now I watch the ocean do its thing, dare the water to tell me something I don't know; to speak something new with those waves that I haven't learned in all these years of coming here. Daring the Atlantic to tell you anything is almost always folly, but occasionally she'll give something up if you phrase your question just right. Get it wrong, she'll let you know soon enough.

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Omit Needless Words: December 6, 2008

Field Notes One: Perth to Buenos Aires, the continents between

Drain half bottle of scotch with friend returning from Mumbai gunfire. Leave Australia in midst of night. Arrive Frankfurt, sleeper train, Leipzig, leg of pig, bratwurst, beer, so much beer, autobahns, angry friends, high speed, blurring vision, snow-filled country roads and villages that should exist only in absurd postcards and quaint Disney musicals. Perfect children skip across the street with sleds. I try not to kill them with my car slipping down the ice. Pump brakes. Köln. Dinner with my father. Wolf Parade in basement club. Guns and Roses covers. No sleep. Autobahn again, blurring worse. I travel in the slipstream of trucks, hoping nobody will notice me in my American rental beast, surely the last Dodge on European roads. We could not find Chinese Democracy on sale in petrol stations so instead we listen to bad German radio and occasionally tinny laptop speakers until the battery gives in. I am accused of quoting from Adbusters. This makes me sad. Middle of the night. Obstinate GPS. In 900 metres, keep left. Recalculating. 86'ing, sadly. Frankfurt. Blink. No sleep. Buenos Aires. Excellent friends at airport, a smile that will keep me going for hours, a missed smile these past several months. A child juggles at traffic lights, a more impressive request for pesos than the old-fashioned window wash. Shower. Steak. My friend's band is playing, Diego says. They're on early. 2am. Okay sure. Heineken in Palermo bars, still unsure when the last solid sleep was. The band are not great; apparently the singer used to model for his paintings. Hostel rooms, quietly stumbling onto top bunk, the Chilean below felling forests all night long. 4 hours sleep. No coffee in this place. Stumble into San Telmo, gather up some pesos, become convinced the cash machine has only offered to loan me the money and is asking when I will pay it back. Wish I had learned a little more Spanish. No gracias! Walking, much walking, drinking mate in parks and then too much beer again in grungy cafes not so very different to ones from home, find a Melbourne friend's short story on display in the lobby of the national library, a science-fiction building apparently landed like brutalist spaceship in garden surrounds, wander drunkenly through shopping malls and forget about eating, pass out in a blur somewhere before midnight, skipping plans for dinner. The Chilean's at it again. I wake up and pick flecks of mate from my teeth.

The backpacking life is not for me, never particularly was -- surrounded by Australians and Germans asking where you've been, where you're going next. Skipping along the top of the world, a smooth rock on a flat pond, never sinking down with any satisfaction. I'm going where my friends are, where my family is, recharging, reshaping and shifting perspective. Thinking about not going to Brazil, where there will be a week more of this backpackerly bullshit, but after these 10 days with excellent friends in Argentina, fleeing back to Canadian family perhaps earlier than intended. My carbon footprint is monstrous, perhaps to be unearthed by palaeontologists exploring far-flung parts of Patagonia, postulated to be a travelling beast the likes of which the planet has not seen for millennia, and should not see for millennia more. Finding myself thinking about people I had not planned to be thinking about, cursing myself for that, for being unable to leave with the blank slate intended. Plates shifting beneath feet, as they always are, but a strong feeling that, upon return, configurations of friendships and life will be very different -- the past no longer a foreign country, but the past as Gondwanaland. The pieces the same, but you wouldn't recognise it without expert training. 2008 was snuck away from before it was fully done with -- actually, no, not snuck away from at all. I thumbed my nose and ran, hopped on a jet and brought myself here. 2009 will not begin until I return. This is the dead space of travel, a gap year for the soul.

More notes to follow. Vaya con dios.

Omit Needless Words: November 23, 2008

As you can see, having descended the hill, I still look like me, and forever will

A dark stage. Silence. You've been here before. You've heard the promises.

Your narrator shuffles once more onto the stage, a little older, a little more broken, just as tall but somewhat surprisingly a little skinnier. A single spotlight picks him out against the fading curtains. There are more scars on his body than last time you saw him, but those aren't the reason he's been away. He's wearing jeans that are not ripped, for he is now more mature, although he is still wearing a Daniel Johnston t-shirt, so he might just as well be fifteen. The glasses are more expensive and oddly angled.


Umm... hi. (Taps Microphone). Yeah, so anyway. Thanks for coming.

Frankly I'm quite surprised to see anybody here at all. We kinda closed things up without telling you about it. Sort of like when that little restaurant, the only decent one in your neighbourhood, puts up the signs saying they've closed for a few weeks for renovations. Something in you knows what that really means, right? Those signs always make you sad. Me? I'm still mourning the loss of walking-distance cajun.

I'm not going to go into the boring detail of the reasons why I haven't been writing for the last year. Those who need to know do know. Those who don't most certainly don't need to. It is not a year I would choose to repeat, let's just leave it at that and I'll tell you some time over a beer or ten.

But I think I've managed to piece my brain back together. I've been stripping back my various online presences, redefining descriptions of self to something much simpler and much more achievable. At the point where my day-job business is more successful and has higher profile than probably ever before, I've taken down its website and replaced it with a one-pager. Likewise with my professional site, which cribs the same design and pretty much just points to other things I'm doing.

Cutting down on noise. Cutting down on distraction.

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redrum: July 31, 2008

i'm not here - Parte The Seconde

i'm here instead:

forget the tumblr thing - i will use that as a link farm/bookmarks bollocks primarily - if you want to interact with me or read anything else i have to say that isn't just facebook fapping, it'll be at verbadverb.

RSS now! DO IT!

redrum: July 3, 2008

i'm not here.

i'm finally over her.

i just wish my best friend were around to see this.

and now, for my next trick: relentless optimism.

just you watch.

redrum: May 5, 2008

redrum is dead. long live redrum.

this is where it goes down from here. i think. for now.

redrum: April 14, 2008

don't die of shock. no, don't.

more than a year.

proof enough of the same old dilettante approach i've taken to this thing. it's getting old.

which means, it's time for it('s author) to undergo some reinvention.

a lot has happened, naturally - love found and foolishly lost, address changed, and fortunes, too (more in weeks to come on that note...).

but i am certainly going to be back. it might be a while - i need to think carefully about the next step. i'll be milestone older... 'there's always time' is getting harder to blurt out and actually believe. can't fool anyone else if i can't fool myself.

crackbook has made it easier for me to be lazy with the 'rum, which was initially a way of staying in touch. FB does it better; i can't blog anymore without a purpose. the friends i've made through 'blogging' are now: my housemates, reasons to travel interstate, home-fires burning. i don't do it any justice being this sporadic.

so i'll be back when the nascent blobs are more clearly defined.

i know, i know - quitting your blog is soooo 2006...


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