Saturday, 19 April 2014


HUMAN WRECKAGE

 

You Know I Read It in a Magazine

 

Some nights are hard. My screaming nightmares don’t interfere with my own sleep but they do tend to disturb everyone else’s in the house. Other times I awake drenched in a sweaty panic. Job one is to make sure the bogeyman is still confined behind the closed bedroom closet door. In order to do this, the bedroom blind can never, ever, be fully drawn because I depend upon bleeding urban ambient light to prove that the closet door is still shut tight. After that there’s nothing else to do but get up and wander the darkened house and wonder what exactly is percolating throughout my darker subconscious. And after that, there’s not much else to do except make a sandwich in the kitchen and peruse a magazine.

 

I was not a quick study in the late 60s. I kept clipping that form for the 200 Roman soldiers advertised on the last page of comic books and kept mailing off a $2 Canadian bill to somewhere in the United States. The legions never arrived but my big brother’s Hockey Pictorial always did. I soon learned that the best way to avoid a thrashing was to leave his new magazine exactly as I’d found it in the hall amidst the pile of other mail, maintaining the pristine illusion of an unread and unsullied publication. (This tradecraft paid off years later down the road with my stepfather’s Playboy subscription.)

 

When my brother grew up, graduated from McGill, moved out and moved away to Edmonton, AB he left me a stealth gift. He’d arranged a paid up Sports Illustrated subscription, my name on my magazine. And that was good because after my father moved out and moved away Time stopped. But dad was diligent too. In Ottawa, ON each week he’d purchase History of the Second World War which he’d then mail off to me in Montreal, QC. (I still have all 128 issues filed chronologically in eight commemorative storage binders. They’re heavy and these days the type seems awfully small.) Across the street lived three American brothers. The Rigler boys in their thick Lake Charles, LA accents raved about Hit Parader and Circus. Rock ‘n’ roll! Hello, Satan! And Mad was so much more sophisticated than Cracked its juvenile rip-off, though so obviously puerile compared to National Lampoon, the Ivy League inspired and often obscenely hilarious big daddy of humour magazines.

 

In my early teens I was shipped off to Edmonton to spend the summer with my brother; likely to prevent me from becoming a delinquent from a broken home. Left to my own devices I soon discovered Mike’s News on Jasper Avenue. Warped wooden floors, cigarette and cigar smoke, and every newspaper and magazine in the known universe. Stacks of them. God, is heaven in central Alberta? Mike’s is where I bought my very first issue of Rolling Stone, Mick and Keith on the cover, gearing up for their 1975 American tour.

 

Back home before the fall and crusty with impetigo, I quickly found one of Montreal’s many Mike’s, the less atmospheric Multimags at de Maisonneuve and Guy, around the corner from a porn theatre. There the horizons of my world began to stretch infinitely in every direction. Creem and Trouser Press embraced punk and the British New Wave, new sounds ignored by Beatles, Dylan and Stones fixated Rolling Stone. I bought albums based on interviews and record reviews, never having heard a single note. There was Punch, Frank and Saturday Night. The sports publications replayed the previous week and looked ahead to the next one. Newsweek got swindled by the supposed Hitler diaries: Ha, ha, the fools! It was unlikely Adolf would’ve actually written that anywhere or even whispered it to Eva Braun. More recently Sports Illustrated ate up the tragic details of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s cancer ridden and accident prone imaginary girlfriend. Evidently when a media conglomerate is faced with shrinking revenues those first to get axed are the fact checkers.

 

Throughout my career in advertising I was always a little stunned by how little attention many of my colleagues paid to our own industry and even more importantly, those of our clients’. I probably learned more about advertising from Barry Base’s often hysterical columns in the back of each issue of Strategy than I did from any mentor. Adbusters was essential reading because it’s imperative to know what your opponents are thinking. No trade publication was too esoteric, no news or business magazine too general.

 

Like everyone else’s my tactile magazine consumption has dropped. I’ve noticed you can still purchase girlie mags at airport newsstands. I want to meet the guy (and it will be a guy) with the nerve to spread open one of those in the confines of the cabin. Travel usually calls for one of those hideously expensive British pop pubs, Mojo or Uncut. Artists featured on their covers are usually dead or retired.

 
At three in the morning when there’s no one around, the company is limited. There’s still Rolling Stone but I’m wondering about renewing my subscription come December. We’ve been together forever and there’s nothing left to say now. Albertaviews provides a nice compendium of regional perspectives. The world resides in the grey pages of The Economist, the best magazine available on the planet. The writing is uniformly elegant, often humourous, and whoever pens the photo cut lines exhibits a sly wit. A recent story on robotics was illustrated by a photograph of a functioning metallic prosthetic hand. The caption read: Welcome, my son, welcome to the machine. It took a moment for the tumblers to click into place and recall the handshake sticker graphic from Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Subtle. I look forward to a similar gem or two each week and if the cost of enjoying the subscription must include a nightmare, so be it.

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