last week, i got to meet one of my idols, and it got me thinking that i’ve been rather fortunate in my life to have met a lot of the people about whom i’ve been most enthusiastic. when i think back on the people by whom i have been most influenced – writers, musicians and artists… i’ve done pretty well to have been in the same space with some of them and not ended up with restraining orders or psychological evaluations.
one of the first times that i ever did anything interesting in my life was to go to a literary reading when i was just in university. it was the closest thing one could come to in edmonton back in the day to world-class literary culture to go to a college auditorium and listen to some visiting author present his or her newest published work surrounded by academics and the cognoscenti of modern literature. it was a cold winter night when my dear friend K took me to see one visiting professor of english from york university, one michael ondaatje, who was in town to read from his new book, “in the skin of a lion”. his prose is poetry and the evening was magical, being made even more unforgettable by the delivery from the genius that created it. it may have been a kind of foreshadowing that some 20 years later, i would find myself in toronto, exploring the same spaces that he described with such colour and style… and that i would visit one of the landmarks and be reminded of this literary encounter and write a blog about it.
and as if all i was interested when i was young was books, i also had a chance to meet one of my very great literary idols, the very great Canadian storyteller, Robertson Davies. Robertson Davies was such a man – such a character – the kind of human that they simply don’t make anymore. A man of incredible breadth and learning and character, and once again, a personality inextricably intertwined with the spirit of this city in which i now live, toronto. he gave a reading at the university of alberta, in the “Tory Turtle” as we call it (the Tory Lecture Theatre) on the occasion of the publishing of the last installment of the Cornish Trilogy, the Lyre of Orpheus. at the time, in a fit of unparalleled idolatry, i had painted the cover of one of my favourite books, “what’s bred in the bone” on the back of my denim jean jacket and wore it everywhere in the way that cool kids would wear leather jackets with the Cramps or the Sex Pistols artwork on the back (i was a bit of a nerd back then). after the reading, Mr. Davies opened the floor up to questions, and after a couple of softballs from other fans, I raised my hand and sheepishly asked my question, “was John Parlabane’s book as bad as you said it was?” Mr. Davies paused dramatically and stroked his long, wizardly beard and said, “oh yeeeehhhhs.” this elicited a considerable amount of laughter from the audience and could have been left at that. but Mr. Davies was not done with the question – and it has ever been one of the high-points of my life that one of my most honoured and revered idols would ask me a follow up question. he asked “What makes you ask that?” I replied that the character of Parlabane was such a learned and experienced character with such discriminating tastes and exceptional intellect – how could he of all people create something impenetrable and inconsumable? Mr. Davies said that even though the character was all of those things, there was a difference between being having great taste and intellect and being able to create something worthy of that scrutiny… which was a lesson that i tried to take to heart from that moment on. again, one of the very high points of my life as a fanboy.
ok… one more author. in 1999, a film came out of hollywood that challenged everyone’s notion of what it was like to be 30 in 1999, and that movie was Fight Club. the book that movie was based on was written by one Chuck Palahniuk, and that movie would be one of my favourites from the first time i saw it. when Chuck released Rant in 2007, i lined up with the rest of the masses to listen to him speak and to get an autograph (described in detail here). it was exhilarating to be so close to the author – much much closer physically than i had been before, but disappointing in my inability to meaningfully engage him. perhaps the will to be interesting to one’s idols diminishes with age… it was starting to appear so at this point to me.
so maybe my engagement with authors was waning, but what about comic book artists? one of my all-time favourite artists ever, second only to the great George Perez, is a brilliant artist named Bill Sienkiewicz… one of the masters of the medium who changed illustration forever. In spite of the colossal success of the comic book genre in modern blockbuster cinema, it is the stories and the exaggerated scale of the comic achievement that have proven essential to the shaping of the comic book into a film – the iconic and revolutionary artwork that represented those stories is trapped in the pages of the original works. Bill introduced mixed media for the adult storytelling of comics that is as tragically undervalued today as it was then. i’m afraid that the closest i got to bill was to attend his panel – but i also passed him randomly on an escalator (he was going up and i was going down) and one of my greatest disappointments in life was not running after and trying to catch up with him for a quick conversation. but there’s still time to see bill… (i hope)
finally, and most recently, i met one of my all time favourite musicians. i remember watching Live Aid in my friend Robert’s basement in high school and thinking that Midge Ure from Ultravox was probably the most rock star guy ever. i can’t believe that you can see the moment now on YouTube on demand… it seems like such a unique and momentous formative experience to me from a time when, if you wanted to see something, you had to be in front of the television to watch it or it would be gone forever (or until someone invented the Internet and Youtube). i love his music so much, i borrowed it to accompany a video of me drawing a picture of Lara Croft while my cat, Gretel tried desperately to distract me. basically, i’ve been a fan of his for thirty years and he is a legend to me and to the world – co-creator of Live Aid that he is – and creator of some amazingly gorgeous and passionate music… and that i had the honour of shaking his hand and meeting him was such a rush… i was simply speechless.
there’s not really a point to this post… it’s another one of these “good to have because one day i will forget” posts… but i do feel lucky to have been so close to so many of the creative souls i’ve admired and adored… maybe another 1,200 word post will help to describe why that is important.