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The Walrus

  • September 2010

Some good reading here, including Medeine Tribinevicius's intriguing piece on how a swanky Soviet-themed vodka bar in downtown Toronto got its mitts on a massive aluminum bust of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin after a Canadian props master rescued it from likely destruction in Latvia in 1992. Putting Lenin in a Western boozeria, Tribinevicius writes, is "an ironic, distant nod at a once-evil empire . . . [a once-revolutionary hero now]relegated to encourage the consumption of premium vodka and Russian fusion food."

Also worth a read is "Office of the President," an analysis by Gordon Baird on the plight of Canada's public universities, anchored by a profile of Indira Samarasekera, the charismatic president of the University of Alberta whose goal is to make the U of A one of the world's top 20 public universities in the next 10 years. Meanwhile, former Walrus senior editor Marni Jackson, adapting a section from her upcoming book, Home Free: The Myth of the Empty Nest (a companion of sorts, it seems, to her 1992 bestseller The Mother Zone), reflects on how the culture of family is changing, using her own growing-up and that of her only son, twentysomething Casey, as reference points. There was perhaps "too much distance" in her relations with her parents, she observes, whereas today it's common for "parents [to] enter into a sort of friendship with their adult kids."


  • July-August 2010

Barry White - a.k.a. the Maestro, the King of Champagne Soul, the Walrus of Love - died seven years ago this month in Los Angeles. Perhaps his three-packs-a-day cigarette habit was a contributing factor. Regardless, thanks to the miracle of digitization, his music - what writer Michael Gonzales here calls "the aural equivalent of wine and roses, Jacuzzis and satin slippers" - lives on as a rich sample source for dozens of R & B and hip-hop acts, including Jay-Z, Mos Def and Daft Punk.

White's own musical career was an up-and-down affair. His most successful run occurred in the mid-seventies courtesy classics such as Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up and Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe. As Gonzales astutely remarks, White's creamy, disco-inflected soundscapes were "post-protest music for a new generation of Black folks who didn't demand the death of whitey, but instead Hustled with his women on integrated dance floors." The hits stopped in the early eighties, but White "refused to stay down" and in 1990 he was back in the groove with an appearance on The Secret Garden, off Quincy Jones's Back on the Block album.

Gonzales interviewed White in 1994 in Belgium as the maestro was enjoying his comeback. Music, he told Gonzales, "has something in it that ... if you're down, it will take you down lower than where you are. And through that same song, it'll bring you back up."


  • Summer 2010

Whimsical, provocative, funny, eclectic, genially perverse, Geist may be just about the most Canadian magazine around. It likes to explore and expose the nooks and crannies of Canadian-ness, the nubby textures, the small differences, the gentle absurdities. Perhaps because it's published out of Vancouver - Lotusland, the Left Coast etc. - its take on the country often seems more real, rootsier, than what you get in Toronto-based magazines.

The latest issue is an exemplar of all Geist's virtues. Patty Osborne explains how her brother, Tom, ended up as one of the three characters Jeff Wall cast for one of his most famous oversized photographs, 1982's Mimic. Alberto Manguel waxes eloquent on the lost semi-paradise that was Canada for writers and artists in the late 1970s and 1980s. A Charles Bernstein poem, You Never Looked So Simulating, tells of a hilarious visit to West Edmonton Mall by conventioneers with the International Association for Philosophy and Literature. There's an arresting colour photo essay by George Webber on small Alberta towns, plus a spread featuring the three winning entries in the "Sixth Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest." Also, the venerable Edith Iglauer recounts how she accidentally stained her teeth bright red with antiseptic Merthiolate just before her first-ever visit to a Manhattan psychiatrist.