Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hollywood Endings

Okay, so it's poetry time again. I wrote this one a dozen years or so ago and have ne
ver workshopped it, though I'm sure it would benefit from some rethinking and revision. But I've been reading this one to my classes for a few years now as the last class of the semester, as a sort of farewell, so it stands as it is - a working, breathing piece of poetry that's been performed in public more often than anything else I've ever written.

The inspiration came after seeing three pretty decent movies with pretty terrible endings, all within the space of a couple of weeks. It got me to thinking how difficult endings can be for writers and in relationships of all kinds.

Here she be:

Hollywood Endings

Casablanca ends in flight.
There is a leaving and a staying.
They would always have Paris.
Which is a dirty lie, to tell the truth.
          He didn’t have Paris.
          She didn’t have Paris.
          And they didn’t have each other.
          I’ll tell you who had Paris:
          France and Adolf Hitler.

World War II ends in flight.
They saved Private Ryan,
But killed a lot of Germans and Jews, Americans, and batteries
In search of their Hollywood ending.

Wars always end in flight,
And every landing is a good landing, maybe,
Unless the plane is empty,
And the crew bailed out at 10,000 feet,
And the plane just fell from the sky
With Bruce Willis about to yell, “Yippee-kayay!” to his mother’s lover
And lighting a cigarette on the tarmac.
Cut.  That’s a wrap.  Last one in, put out the fires and bury the dead.

Endings are difficult.
Someone always gets hurt.
The budget gets blown.
The acting turns bad.
The words keep on spinning like the wheels of a crashed car flipped
sunnyside up.
Even directors and writers find it hard to say goodbye.
But there’s always the train or the self-sacrificing Terminator, the tearful hug, the clicking of the ruby red shoes and an awkward re-entry into your Auntie Em’s bedroom,
Trying to explain why you’re late for supper and wondering if the Scarecrow ever got, never had, a small brain after all.

Sometimes, I think, if you want to leave, you should just go.
Forget Paris, to hell with tomorrow and yesterday—
Just one big kiss-off, then jump from the plane and go with the wind.
Sayonara, sweetheart.  Yippee-kayay!
Exit, stage left.  Fade to Black.
That’s all folks.  Right?
I mean, if you’re looking for me, go back to the start.  Casablanca ends in flight in search of a Hollywood ending.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Don't "shush" me!

I’ll be speaking at the A.C. Hunter library tomorrow night, which for some reason makes me want to “shush” myself.

The posters and media say I’ll be reading from my latest book, Finton Moon. And that’s true. But a reading at the library is much more than just a reading. I’ll probably start by talking about myself a little because I’m like that. Then I’ll read a short passage, then pause thoughtfully before I talk about the passage in context of both the novel and the world outside it. Read another short passage, rinse, repeat.

There’ll be questions, most likely, such as “Why in the name of God did you say it like that?” or “What were you thinking when you wrote about that deranged girl?” Or “Is any of that true?” Of course, it’s all true; that’s why we have to call it fiction. Some people will have read the whole book, or part of it, and will have a question about certain parts, or the significance of the ending or the beginning or the scene in Morgan’s bedroom. Hopefully, we can get through without too many spoilers though, just enough to whet the appetite for those of you who haven’t read it yet.

The questions from the audience are my favourite part of the whole experience. Last time I read at the library, in September 2011, shortly after the publication of Moonlight Sketches, the atmosphere was cozy like a kitchen party, with people asking weird and wonderful questions (whether they’d read the book, just parts of it, or not at all) and me happily responding to it all, going off on mad tangents, which is probably what I do best.

Tomorrow night (Wednesday) I won’t just be reading and talking about the book(s). If you’re interested in talking about the creative process (where ideas come from and how they get written and why), the road to publishing (many a dragon there, certainly), and what it’s like to be published, how it changes life, and what comes next, then we’ll do all that as well. The discussion is open and lively, and if the audience has few questions, I have plenty of topics of my own related to the writing and publication of Finton Moon, Moonlight Sketches or even my recent e-book story, The Long Last Year.

If there’s time, I might read a couple of pages from my new work in progress, a novel called My Sister’s Walls. We’ll see how the evening goes.

Hope to see you there. It’s wide open to the public and starts at 7 p.m. It’s only for an hour, so you’ll be home again or downtown, or able to attend a late movie afterwards, whatever your choice.

Oh, and the A.C. Hunter library is adjoined to the Arts and Culture Centre.

Don't worry if you haven't read the book.  Just come out and talk about writin' 'n stuff.



One For the Money, Two For the Show

(Reposted from May 27, 2008 - in honour of LC's unexpected return engagement to St. John's next weekend.)

Well, here it is the morning after the biggest concert weekend St. John’s has ever seen, and it feels like it was all a dream. Two full-length shows by two contrasting giants of the music world—in fact, it was two nights of Bob Dylan, followed by three nights of Leonard Cohen. I enjoyed the Dylan show, but I’ve got to say that the Cohen show was the best concert I’ve ever seen.

It occurs to me that some so-called performers could take a lesson from LC. It was a rare treat to see Bob Dylan in concert and I was thrilled just to be in the audience. In fact, I felt privileged that he would come back here not only for the second time, but also on his birthday, which was the night I saw him. When he and his band took the stage, all wearing dark hats and suits, it took me a couple of minutes to figure out which one was him. We had fantastic seats, but Dylan didn’t do anything to distinguish himself. He stood at his keyboard the entire night, with his back turned to half the stadium, including us. He sang a couple of songs that most people knew (bluesy versions of “Shelter From the Storm” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”), a few more lesser knowns that I recognized, but the rest were relatively obscure. That’s all fine and good, but I couldn’t really tell if he was enjoying himself or not. I did sense a restlessness from the crowd, though, and that speaks volumes for Dylan’s performance skills, which are pretty much nil.

Don’t get me wrong. He’s a pretty good musician, with a unique voice, and a gift for lyrics. He can write strong melodies too, but he didn’t showcase many of those when I saw him. The audience was extremely appreciative of his meager efforts and coaxed him into an encore, though I sensed (much like Ron Hynes whom I saw a couple of weeks ago) that he just wasn’t all that interested in audience reaction or staying any longer than he had to. That’s his prerogative and, again, I enjoyed just being there. I mean, it’s freakin’ Bob Dylan deigning to come to St. John’s, Newfoundland. We should be grateful. And we were. Problem is, he acted as if we should be grateful too.

I understand all about Dylan’s reputation as an artist. And just like “Manny being Manny” in baseball, when Dylan hides under a hat and refuses to play guitar, sing popular hits, or acknowledge the audience in any way, that’s just Dylan being Dylan. We love him for it, but almost in spite of his behaviour. His greatness as a songwriter and pop culture icon is beyond dispute. I just don’t feel like I really SAW Bob Dylan. Or maybe what I saw really was Bob Dylan, who’s a bit of a ghost at the best of times. Either way, I’m glad I went, glad he came, but his show didn’t even compare to Leonard Cohen’s.

Leonard was warm, entertaining, intelligent, witty, self-effacing and appreciative of an audience who adored his every word, lyric, or tip of the cap on stage. From the opening song, “Dance Me to the End of Time” to the 11 or 12-song encore (there were several encores), he was fully engaged with the people who’d paid 80 bucks a ticket to sit in his presence. There were a few songs I would have liked to have heard, but he sang so many of his best tunes that it’s impossible to fault him. “I’m Your Man.” “Take This Waltz.” “Tower of Song.” “Democracy”.” “The Future.” “Suzanne.” And my personal favorite “Hallelujah”. There were so many great songs, and he executed them to perfection, sounding far better than his recordings. Leonard’s voice has just gotten better, deeper, and more resonant as he’s aged. He’s 74 and makes a few jokes at his own expense, but on stage he dances and moves more gracefully than most grandfathers, I assure you.

The audience just hung on his every word. The air was electric, a standing ovation occurring at the end of at least half (if not two-thirds) of the songs. The backup band was absolutely amazing, with everything from a harp and harmonica to a saxophone, keyboards, drums, various stringed instruments that I didn’t even recognize—each played expertly. Leonard kept making sure his band and backup singers were well-recognized, and they were. I could go on for half an hour just about how good Sharon Robinson and the Webb sisters were, but suffice to say they added strength and substance to an already magnificent show. In all, he played for three hours and ten minutes, including a short break, and I’m sure the audience would have stayed for two more hours at least. I, for one, just didn’t want to leave.

So what’s the difference? I think there’s an arrogance that accumulates in the soul of certain performers after they’ve had a measure of success. I mean, Cohen has just as much reason to be full of himself and “artistic” as Dylan, but I’ve always gotten the feeling that Dylan disdains his audience, despises “having” to perform in order to be heard or to make a living. He’d probably be much happier just writing songs and singing them for himself, but it’s hard to sell CDs that way. So he puts up with us and takes our hard-earned money away with it. I don’t mind that I am grateful for having seen him in concert, but I mind that he takes me and you for granted.

Leonard Cohen has always struck me as a man of passion—a spiritual, sensual soul who genuinely loves life and everything it has to offer. He can be sarcastic and funny, of course, quite cutting in fact. But it’s different from Dylan’s hard-edged dislike for the world (or so it seems). I came away from the Dylan show just glad to have seen a legend, but wondering if maybe he could have done more to win me over. That’s what a performer is. I came away from the Cohen show with a huge smile on my face, my wife and I chattering happily about how it was the best show we’ve ever seen. This morning, there’s almost a sense of loss. I wish I could see him again tonight, but alas, the show is all sold out long ago.

It’s like St. John’s made a friend last night that we’ll never see again. Bob Dylan is a passing acquaintance whose like is rarely seen in these parts, while Leonard Cohen leaves you with a song in your heart and a glimpse into the soul of a man who’s always had an aura of mystery around him, much as Dylan has. And it’s not just because Leonard sang songs that most of his audience knew; even the ones I didn’t know (there were at least a couple) were sung with the intent of an offering, a piece of the songwriter going out to a carefully listening audience. We were being sung to and not merely being sung at.

Not to be too harsh, but while Dylan might appropriately claim “I’m Not There,” Cohen winningly suggests, “I’m Your Man.” Dylan’s not the first performer I’ve seen with that kind of arrogance, merely the best. At least he’s earned the right, sort of. But Leonard Cohen’s earned it too, but chooses instead to include us in the celebration of his talent and success, as well as of life and good music. It just doesn’t get any better.

I have had a religious experience that I won’t be forgetting any time soon.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Win a free copy of "The Long Last Year"

My publisher is giving away a free copy of my Fierce Short story, “The Long Last Year.”
To enter the draw, just go to my “Gerard Collins – Author” page and click “like” on the post announcing this contest.
Please note that you can enter the drawing only if you’ve liked my author page. (Membership should have some privileges.)

Contest closes Friday (April 5) at 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.
You can also purchase "The Long Last Year" or see more details about the story by going to Smashwords or

(Note that a portion of proceeds for the sales of this story are gong to For the Love of Learning.)