(UPDATED) After seeing a notice on various blogs (short for “Web logs”), I laboriously trucked way the fuck out to the Drake last night for Nonfiction. (I believe reading series take initial caps, no italics or quotation marks.) It was a venue for five current or former journos to vent, recount anecdotes, burn bridges.
It was uneven. I am a proponent of Antonia Zerbisias, so I was OK with her show-opener. I had a lot of complaints about the middle three speakers. I had even more complaints about the typically inept Queen West artistique AV d00d, who could not figure out how to advance slides in PowerPoint – try the fucking arrow keys. Show-closer Derek Finkle was great, if overamplified. (Everything was too loud.)
The show came to a halt halfway through. On arrival, one had been presented with a “program” (actually just a postcard) declaring ALL STORIES TOLD AT NON-FICTION – suddenly it’s hyphenated – ARE CONSIDERED OFF THE RECORD AND MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED IN PRINT, BROADCAST OR CONVERSATION. Yes, these junior fascists want you not to even talk about what happened. (Then why was there a cash bar? What are we supposed to talk about, the weather?)
It all came to a head when our host, tall, handsome, affable Jesse Brown, acted like an RIAA lawyer or a security goon with binoculars at a Rush concert and accused somebody of recording the event. Would that person like to come onstage? Well, of fucking course they wouldn’t. But, a moment later, up trotted Paul from Now, who plausibly and apparently honestly explained he’d just gotten there, hadn’t been warned, and had asked people if it was all right to record. (The answer he got was, in essence, “meh.”)
Antonia and Jesse gave him shit, but some of us in the audience weren’t standing for it. I eventually got up onstage (turning this into a de facto open-mike night) and explained:
- Kids today don’t understand what “off the record” means. They think it is merely a different category of citation: “Joe Clark refused to comment on the whereabouts of his missing mistress. But, off the record, he said—”
- I’ve done a lot of negotiating with journalists interviewing me and with sources to explain what off-the-record status really means: We can take notes (hence Paul could keep recording), but we can’t publish them, or report or allude to what was stated. In the microcosm of the article, news item, posting or whatever else we publish, any conversations off the record never happened.
- The problem, then, was not the idea of the evening’s being off the record. It was that such was announced as a fait accompli; we never had the discussion about what being off the record means. It was imposed, not negotiated. Nonetheless, out of respect, honour, camaraderie or whatever, I promised to live up to it, except of course for the fact that, like requests for interviews, discussions of whether or not to go off the record are always on the record.
My esteemed colleague and I complained during the break about the half-arsed speakers. An organizertrix, later identified as Spacer-approved literary demimondaine Sheila Heti, overheard us and pointed out there would be a five-minute audience-participation segment at the end. I’ve got stories, I said, but 15-minute ones, not five-minute. Five minutes is lots of time! she enthused, failing to add “for the little people.” Sure, I said, if you’re addressing City Council. Well, drop us a line, she said. “Jesus, do some fucking talent outreach,” I thought, but all I did was hand her my card, which she claimed to have nowhere to put. “You have a bra,” I told her.
Sadly for me, I was unaware of the existence of Jesse Brown before last night. He’s tremendously droll and appears to live up to his billing as a “humorist.” And he’s just the right physical type to wear a lilac shirt with a white jacket and linen pantalon. Give this man his own TV show. (While you’re at it, fix the arse-backward Web site, registered at exactly the wrong top-level domain [
.name]. And hand out no more “programs” illustrated by pictures of meat, please.)
But: There are too many goddamned organizers (seven), and it seems obvious that this is intended to become a Soulpepper- or Spacer-style collective that will become the Brand Name in Media Parties in Toronto. It would be crude to imagine that only their friends and acquaintances will get to go onstage, but judging from the crowd, this seems like another enclave run by well-connected labouring to create that Toronto oxymoron, an alternative institution. Reading series beget arts grants, which beget stable funding, which beget careers and miniature dynasties.
This is the kind of event where a guy gets up onstage who worked for a guy at a newspaper who’s writing a
piss-taking book about Let’s Talk About Love. It’s ironic and insiderish after the excruciating Chuck Klosterman manner.
Now, I have tons of stories. None of them are uplifting or juicy or even very funny, but they are good stories, and better than three out of five speakers’ last night. But because I don’t know the organizers and they don’t know me, I don’t think I’d have them or the crowd on my side. It’s really all about being successful in mainstream media and having dirt to dish to other successful people and wannabes. Some of us have been around longer and our shit isn’t quite so frivolous.