LONDON, ONTARIO – Watching the Canadian film Whale Music at the old New Yorker Cinema many moons ago, I had one of those sobering moments of crystallization when I suddenly recognized the depth of contempt our society harbours for Christians who won’t shut up about their faith. Adapted from Paul Quarrington’s comic novel and featuring a killer soundtrack by The Rheostatics, Whale Music was loosely inspired by the creative, psychological and marital travails of The Beach Boys’ resident genius, Brian Wilson.
LONDON, ONTARIO – When Elvis Presley died in 1977 at the age of 42, sitting on a Graceland toilet in dyspeptic agony after ingesting one too many deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, his imitators all of a sudden went from occasional, freakish novelty acts to entertainment mainstays. With the great original prototype dead and buried, pretending to be Elvis (if you did it well enough) could be the making of a fairly lucrative performing career. It would, however, be a career that came with a soul-threatening, Faustian catch.
“I sometimes pant a little in my efforts to keep up – and as for ‘next week’, ‘next year’ – they are in God’s pocket as Gran used to say.”
– Nella Last, in the diary she kept for Mass Observation, 14 July, 1943
LONDON, ONTARIO – I’ve always had a special place in my heart for stories and accounts of how the British people coped during the German bombing raids of World War II. What attracts me to such narratives is the wild and yet oddly reassuring disparity that exists – not just between the diabolical inhumanity of what was being hurled their way and the no-nonsense manner in which these would-be victims resisted their annihilation and got on with their lives as best they could – but between the accounts that are given of that time by those who governed and by those who were governed.
LONDON, ONTARIO – It was primarily through the machinations of Sir John Carling (1823 – 1911) that shrewd London politician, brew master and businessman, that London was chosen as the site for a new provincial lunatic asylum. Carling held seats in both the Provincial Assembly (as the minister of public works) and in the Federal House of Commons until such dual representation was disallowed in 1872. With this kind of double clout, Carling was able to effect the transfer in 1870 of a makeshift asylum in a converted barrack at Fort Malden in Essex County to the new London Asylum for the Insane which was built on a 300 acre parcel of land three miles east of the old city – a parcel of land which Carling owned and sold to the province at a tidy profit.
LONDON, ONTARIO – Spending three hours scrounging for 60's arcana during my St. Patrick’s Day visit to yet another record show in the basement of Centennial Hall, has brought to mind that time in my life when pop music was the art form that mattered more to me than any other. Though it seems unfathomable in retrospect, 55 years ago this month, the Dave Clark Five were considered neck-and-neck with The Beatles as the most important band in the world. The DC5 had an enormous impact on my 11 year-old psyche when I first saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show; arguably a bigger impact than The Beatles who had made their North American debut on the same show just a few weeks before. In Britain the DC5 (hailing from the Tottenham area of London) had been the first act to supplant those mop-topped Liverpudlians at the top of the national charts and so, naturally enough, were regarded as their rivals. The timing of their appearance on Sullivan’s American variety show ensured that the exact same thing happened on this side of the pond.
LONDON, ONTARIO – In May of 1994 I enjoyed one of the more unlikely flukes in my so-called journalism career when a last-minute, all-expenses-paid junket fell into my lap to report on a human rights conference halfway around the world in Taiwan. Indeed, if you were to ram a particularly long knitting needle straight through a globe at London, Ontario, its pointy tip might well emerge in the suburbs of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei. The trip involved passing over the international dateline, and according to my flight itinerary, the journey out was going to take two days and the return trek no time at all. It so happened that I flew back on what turned out to be a most magically elastic 42nd birthday; wishing myself many happy returns of the day in my Taipei hotel while packing up a suitcase full of souvenirs and making it home in time to blow out the candles on a fudge-frosted cake and enjoy a celebratory spin of one of my gifts; Pink Floyd’s last stab at greatness, the just-released Division Bell.
LONDON, ONTARIO – It was on a train ride home from Niagara Falls in the early autumn of 1977 that Kirtley and I mysteriously managed to become engaged. We have never been able to recall which one of us started to incline our conversation in the direction of matrimony. In addition to feeling depressed, ripped off and grossed out by the tacky excesses of Canada’s metropolis of bad taste, had we somehow been subliminally bewitched by our flying visit to the Honeymoon Capital of the World? So it would seem.
LONDON, ONTARIO – At this squalid juncture in our cultural decline when it’s way too dangerous to let anyone host the Oscars because they might actually say something, and when a venomously narcissistic twit named Jussie Smollett has clearly won every acting award of any contemporary significance anyway (“an arresting performance,” declared the Chicago Police Department), let me acknowledge an acting milestone of considerably more value to the world and infinitely more interest to me. This week Hermaneutics pays tribute to the outstanding career of the great British stage and film actor, Albert Finney (1936–2019) whose death earlier this month at the age of 82 provoked way too little commemoration and reflection.
LONDON, ONTARIO – When the disruptive shock of the 2016 election was followed a couple of months later by the installation of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America, one scarcely knew what to expect or to hope for. It was the final culminating impossibility in a whole series of most improbable longshots. Quite simply, this wasn’t supposed to happen.
LONDON, ONTARIO – An apparent paradox that I have grown to appreciate through extensive research in the intimate fields of friendship and marriage, is that a richly developed inner life can go hand in hand with a markedly shy nature. Of course, without some sort of discipline and vision in place, the chronically shy risk becoming un-relatable weirdos floating adrift in their own isolated orbits. But there are numerous examples in the world of arts and letters – such as William Blake, the Bronte sisters, Emily Dickinson, Flannery O’Connor – where an instinct to boycott situations where one might be scrutinized in their own right or, even worse, evaluated as one constituent of a group, can pay handsome dividends in the development of startling independence and originality. If there are more females than males who exemplify this phenomenon, we can probably chalk that up to the more innate male appetite for open competition; for measuring oneself against others and, whenever possible, utterly vanquishing them and taking their heads as trophies.
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THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
ALL LIFE IS A GIFT :
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRADITION :