The Mark diaries

 

October 24, 1991

WINNIPEG: Mark[1] told me today he was HIV positive. We were in his car; he was giving me a ride to a radio interview about the Evy book[2]. We stopped at a gas station so he could fill up, but when he got back into the car he didn’t start it, he just kept us sitting there beside the pumps. “I just got some bad news,” he said. “Though you probably guessed.” It was a quarter to nine: the morning rush was still on, and people in the gas line were honking. I had no idea what he was talking about. Continue reading

Hugh Hanson Davidson: evergreen

 

Composer, arts activist, arts patron, philanthropist, music advisor, music critic,  traveller, raconteur, spiritual seeker. Born May 27, 1930, in Montreal, died Victoria, B.C. July 14, 2014, of complications following heart surgery, aged 84.

 

The qualities that people loved about Hugh were his generosity, his gregariousness and his gratitude for the joys of a life in art. They spilled onto you as a kind of blessing: he was the genial uncle who could always make you feel better. Uncle Hugh, not just to the family, but to us all. He was always happy to do what he could to increase the store of beauty and goodness in the world. Continue reading

The crisis in criticism.2

So can anyone be a critic?

When I was on the board of the Canada Council for the Arts, the country’s chief arts grant-giving agency, close to two decades ago, it was occasionally suggested that we should put “an ordinary member of the public” on each of the peer juries that had the job of saying who should or shouldn’t get grants.

It was an idea with the smell of democracy about it—the general public, after all, was theoretically the intended audience for the work that was under adjudication. Wouldn’t it be useful to hear the voice of the potential consumer? Wouldn’t that help to balance out the special interests and the artsy theorists more interested in experiment and new directions than box-office success? Continue reading

The crisis in criticism.1

 

1: The critic is dead—long live the critic

 We have seen a great deal of public hand-wringing in recent years over the so-called death of criticism. In an age of instant access to the Internet, it seems that everyone’s a critic.What does it matter that you can’t spell, can’t construct a sentence, and quite often don’t know what you’re talking about? Your words are in print on-line, and that in itself seems to invest them with a miraculous credibility. Who wants to think about anything in depth when 140 characters—reductionist thinking in a virtual nutshell—is all you need to get an audience? Who needs critics?

Good or bad, all this? It depends.

Continue reading

A beer with Ronnie Biggs

In the late fall of 1994 I was in Rio de Janeiro for a meeting of the International Federation of Food, Wine and Travel Writers—a junket, really, largely financed by the Brazilian tourist authorities. Of the 60 or so people at the conference only a handful were real journalists (as opposed to people who write about restaurants and travel) and none of them were there to do any serious digging—not that the Brazilian tourist authorities would have encouraged it, though they did set up a press meeting with the local police chiefs, who gave us the usual warnings about sensible conduct on the beach.

 In terms of stories, I wasn’t really interested in the food, wine and travel angles. You can only digest so many meals and attend so many receptions. I was more interested in the underside of the place (the local criminals call tourists filet mignon). One afternoon a writer from LA and I took a taxi into the favela that was the main drugs pipeline out of Colombia, and I let it be known that I’d be interested in meeting Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber who was in hiding in Rio from British justice, if anyone knew where he might be.

I thought it was a long shot, but on the day I was due to go home someone drove up beside me as I was walking in the street beside my hotel and slipped me a piece of paper bearing a phone number. When I called it, Ronnie himself answered. “Sure, come on over,” he said. 

The nervous taxi driver insisted on dropping me a few streets away from the actual address, a twisting, cobbled street in a village-style neighborhood of Rio called Santa Teresa, and I found the house with the help of a passing local who asked if I was looking for “Mr. Biggie.” Mr. Biggie was taking a nap when I knocked, and answered the door in a green singlet and khaki shorts, his long, silver hair pulled back in a ponytail. Here’s my diary entry. Continue reading