Culture  Culture briefs

Benches, Buddy McNeil, and a good book

Junk got style
This spring, campus can expect a couple of unique additions to its landscape. Debbie So and Thomas Rowlinson, former business and urban geography students, are constructing a pair of benches out of scavenged materials to be installed on McGill’s downtown campus.
So and Rowlinson conceived of the idea for the Hitting The Benchmark project during a seminar on Sustainable Architecture last spring. The two creators are putting on the final touches in preparation for the launch on April 8.
“Near the end of my degree, I realized I had a real lack of concrete experience working with these theories of urban design. This seemed like a natural opportunity for us to explore ideas about waste diversion and art,” explained Rowlinson.
The benches are constructed from a bright assortment of refuse scavenged from the condemned buildings on McGill’s campus, as well as in Montreal’s back alleys.
“We wanted to create something out of waste that was functional, interactive, and would inspire people to connect with their urban environment. We’re using old bookshelves, table legs, broken chairs, milk crates even an abandoned shipping container,” said So. “We’re diverting from McGill’s wastestream to give back something new.”
With the recent pedestrianization of campus, Rowlinson and So wanted to create something that embraced McGill’s green initiative while also being student-driven. After brainstorming ideas in their Sustainable Architecture seminar last spring, they decided to submit their project to McGill’s new Sustainability Projects Fund (SPF). Hitting the Benchmark is now one of 31 projects funded by the SPF, joining Campus Crops, the Farmer’s Market, and the Solin Hall Bike Collective.
Rowlinson hopes every student will consider working with the SPF to re-envision their campus. “We want this project to continue on after we’re done. These benches are meant to inspire students to find new ways to interact with their environment. Student-driven change is possible!” he enthused. So elaborated, “Sustainability is about participatory practices, and not just bureaucratic planning. These benches are a creative expression of student involvement.”
—Emma Quail

The benches will be unveiled Friday, April 8 from 2 to 4 p.m., on the terrace between Morrice Hall and Leacock. There will be free kombucha and nachos.


Mirrors off the wall
I have never seen an Elvis impersonator in real life before.  Although an odd sight to greet an audience at a Sala Rossa show on a Thursday night in 2011, the grinding, wobbling pseudo-King crooning from the stage proved to be the perfect opener for  Buddy McNeil and the Magic Mirrors.
Alexis Roberge, the lead singer and guitarist, was approached by Buddy McNeil after playing with his former band, Les Modes, in Peterborough, Ontario six years ago.  “You remind me of myself when I was your age!” the ageing songster enthused.  “He said that if I wanted to, he would give me all the songs he had ever written,” Roberge reminisced over lunch. “So I said why not, I didn’t think it was true… A couple of months after I came back [from tour] I received a big box of tapes, but I didn’t remember the guy at that point.  When I received the box I wondered what it was.  So I opened the box, I saw it was a pile of tapes, so I start listening to them… I didn’t remember until I got a phone call from Buddy McNeil and then I remembered the touring and this guy.”
The material, Roberge described, had “a good feel. The bits and pieces were good.” McNeil had been signed to Sun Records – of Johnny Cash and Elvis fame – but after a disagreement with the owner Sam Phillips, his material was never released.  Instead, it languished on homemade recordings, a man and his guitar.  Roberge explained McNeil’s attitude: “for him, music was something that had to be made, had to be live.  This is what he told me, that he never had recorded professionally because for him music had to be done the instant.”
McNeil gave all the music to Roberge to do with as he wished.  He and his bandmates have since manipulated the material to produce a distinctive sound that is of an entirely different age.  “We take bits and pieces from songs and try to work something out,” he said of the composing process. “Sometimes they’re full songs, sometimes we take a part here, a part there.  We don’t hear all the lyrics that he sings so we try to insert more, try to take it and make sense.”
The result is both intensely familiar and wholly new.  Listening to tracks such as “Buddy” and “Shoeshine,” I felt that nagging “where do I recognize this from?” feeling.  These songs are of the style that defined an era, composed in the midst of the rock-and-roll boom. As such, they can hardly be described as relevant to today’s listeners, but that’s not really the point – as evidenced by the eagerness of the audience at the album’s launch concert, people still want to jive.  And the band obliged.  With up to 13 people crammed on the stage at any one time – all dressed as sailors – with horns, choir, and chains as backing instruments, the Magic Mirrors certainly achieved their purpose of recreating the album’s sound onstage.
On a first listen to the album, the unexpected tone of Roberge’s voice jars with the songs themselves – as they’re so dated to a particular time, our expectations of Elvis’s mellow lulling and seductive lilt are confused. The way to experience Buddy McNeil and the Magic Mirrors is to immerse yourself in a full-blown 50s revival: go to a live show, the way Buddy would want you to. Dance like it’s 1958. Give the band some energy; they’ll return it in spades. Then hop into the T-Bird with your best gal – or guy – and speed on over to a make-out point. What a swell evening.
—Naomi Endicott

The album Introducing Once Again is available now. Buddy McNeil and the Magic Mirrors’ next performance is May 27 at Divan Orange, 4234 St Laurent.


A book to get real cosy with
Walking into any commercial bookstore, you are likely to find a wide array of literature, from autobiography to fantasy, all neatly organized by genre. What you won’t find is Jamie Ross’s newly released novella, Coldwater. “It bends genres in ways that wouldn’t really be marketable traditionally,” Ross, a graduate of McGill, told The Daily about his first attempt at longer-form fiction. “It’s like queer erotica meets horror meets historical fiction.”
The story itself is composed of three narratives, all of which are based upon, or interact with, a specific Canadian landscape. It deals with the current legal struggles surrounding the land involved in past agricultural experiments to which Métis populations were subjected. The novella conveys the history of these events, and of the people who have no relation to the land but inevitably encounter its history. While Canadian fiction often interacts with our nation’s landscapes, Ross feels his work departs somewhat from this literary tradition. “Most Canadian narrative writing…tends to de-politicize the landscape…I’m including, in a light that could be seen as critical, the present-day lack of understanding of the history and shallowness of our entry into the landscape.”
This political consciousness served as a substantial influence on Ross’s writing. “The inspiration lies in my own personal activism,” he revealed. The book is more of a personal expression, however, than an attempt at affecting change. “The primary purpose wasn’t to raise awareness… compared to what we do in other ways to raise awareness… [the role of the book] is very minor, I’m not kidding myself about that. That was never really the primary focus. It was more of an artistic project that was grounded and rooted in activism and politics, but I mean in the way that I believe all art should be.”
Even with its political leanings, Ross emphasized that Coldwater is not entirely austere. “This is the first real merging of a couple tangents in my writing, and that’s really important to make this kind of thick, serious, tough, and critical work sensual and really, like, beat-off-able. Something that will make people’s heart race at the same time,” he explained. “The intent of the book is to do justice to this important quirk in the past and to a very real hurtful reality for a lot of people who were dispossessed of their land, but at the same time it should be read in bathtubs, with a strained right hand.”
—Fabien Maltais-Bayda

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