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Books, Criticism, Seen & Heard

Death By Champagne: Nanaimo Girl

June 16, 2020

“Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?”
– The Beatles

§ § §

wtgwg-nanaimo-coverPrudence Emery is the eponymous “Nanaimo Girl.”

Now in her early 80s and living on her native Vancouver Island just outside Victoria, Pru has written a memoir that is quite astonishing in its detail. While recounting events that chronicle her personal life, the reader is left with a dizzying array of interlocking stories that culminate in – if you’ll excuse the phrase – one hell of a life.

The book follows an ‘everyone is from somewhere’ thread, and this book, this woman’s life, unspools its thread beginning in “…a murky little coal town…”

“…in a lifetime of rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous,
almost no one I met had heard of Nanaimo…”

wtgwg-nanaimo-baby-dancer

Pru as a young entertainer

And so her story begins, and rich and famous they were!

By her own admission, she “…behaved so badly…” as a child, she was sent off to a boarding school (twice) to learn her manners. Her first tastes of life outside the clutches of parental control gave her free reign to push envelopes and test boundaries. She was precocious to a fault, but her ‘antics’ still managed to earn her ‘black marks’ in school and scowls from her elders. Despite her rebellious ways, she graduated grade 12 in the mid-1950s with a B+ average and was promptly ‘launched into society’ as a debutante. Not bad for a girl who was once slapped by a teacher, the result of one of her escapades.

After a short stint at the University of British Columbia, Pru had had enough. She packed her belongings into two trunks, and with her best friend, shipped off to Europe.

Her decision to drop anchor in London after a whirlwind tour of the continent would serve her well for the rest of her peripatetic career, for it was here that the ‘rubbing of shoulders’ began in earnest.

Although attending art school during the day, it was during her ‘wild evenings’ in the pubs of Chelsea and Covent Garden that she met Irish screenwriter Patrick Kirwan. He gave Pru her first real job in the film business, typing a script for the musical comedy feature, “Tommy and the Toreador,” starring pop star Tommy Steele, and British stalwarts Sidney James and Bernard Cribbins. Pru and Patrick hit it off, and he soon became her mentor, a mentor with ‘benefits,’ shall we say.

Her time with Patrick was fruitful. He introduced her to the prestigious Irish Club in Eaton Square and squired her to the Royal Ascot. The connections she began making would go into a Rolodex that would soon become the foundation of her professional life.

Those early personal and business contacts, however, did not immediately help generate income. Pru remained ‘an impoverished London art student’ until she one day landed a job as a barmaid at the famous le Pétit Club Français. Not a high paying position, but her contact list grew.

wtgwg-nanaimo-sophia

Pru with Sophia Loren

In the Spring of 1962, after five years in London, Nanaimo Girl returned to Canada and decided to try her hand as a proofreader at The Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto. Then she landed a job working on animated films in Ottawa for Canadian film icon, Budge Crawley. She loved the film business, and so she pursued acting, finding herself in movies directed by Irvin Kershner (who would go on to make The Empire Strikes Back) and working with actor/author Robert Shaw who still had Jaws and The Sting to add to his resume.

Her people skills were amiable and infectious, and those in high places remembered. It led to Pru being employed in Visitor Services for Expo 67. It was her job to escort VIPs around the huge Montreal site. The list of those famous people is a literal Who’s Who of the day: Liberace, Hugh Hefner, Twiggy, Haley Mills, Jack Benny, Marlene Dietrich, Glenn Gould, David Frost, and even the leader of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. But it was playwright Edward Albee and one prominent Soviet journalist who had the most impact on Pru’s life. Albee, who had already received a Pulitzer Prize for his play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would become a lifelong friend, and the reporter from the Russian wire service TASS (who may or may not have been a KGB spy) became her lover.

Pru with playwright Edward Albee

Pru with playwright Edward Albee

It’s been said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. While Prudence isn’t entirely convinced of the former, she has had oodles of the latter and capitalized on it. When Expo 67 closed, she took an extended vacation back in London to relax and catch-up with old friends.

One day over a cup of tea, the father of a family friend, knowing her background, asked her if she’d like to be a press and public relations officer at his hotel. He was the Managing Director of The Savoy, one of the most luxurious and famous hotels in the world. She yes, of course, and her stories during the five years she spent as Head of PR with The Savoy are among the most entertaining in the book.

The final act of Nanaimo Girl’s professional career began with her requisite ‘rubbing of shoulders’. Back in Toronto, she was interviewed for the freelance job of Unit Publicist on a Canadian feature film. But not just any feature film. Black Christmas would eventually gain cult status and remains one of the most successful Canadian films ever made.

Although Pru would navigate many other career moves, it was filmmaking that she found herself best suited for, and it was, after all, where her contacts sent her.

Beginning in 1975, Nanaimo Girl started work as a publicist on her second film, and there was no turning back. She never accepted a permanent job again. Her work for another Canadian film icon, David Cronenberg, put her name on the map as the ‘go-to’ film publicist. Over the next thirty-five years, Pru would work as Unit Publicist on one hundred and twenty film and television productions, ten of those for Cronenberg. Her motion picture career, although based in Canada, would take her around the world several times, and allow her to work with some of the biggest names in international cinema. Her stories and anecdotes during this period are illuminating, with many falling between amusing and hysterical.

Author Prudence Emery

Author Prudence Emery

After a dizzying professional career spanning some 60 years, Prudence celebrated her 80th birthday in 2016 back home in Victoria. While she is reflective of those years ‘rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous,’ she reveals neither conceit nor false modesty in her remembrances. Even Pru’s love life that “…bobbed like a duck in a storm…” doesn’t escape her self-deprecating pen.

One of the best sections of this memoir is entitled, “Turning Eighty.” It should be required reading for anyone over the age of fifty, if only as a primer for their later years.

Memoirs, as with all forms of autobiography, are complicated animals, good ones even more so. Many historical accounts of a personal nature, written and verbal, tend to drift into ‘I went here, I saw this, I did that’ – “Nanaimo Girl” is no different. What sets Pru’s entertaining stories apart, however, is that there are so many of them. The result is that the reader finds themselves asking… Where’s she going? What’s she doing? What happens next? And of course, that’s the perfect chemistry of a page-turner.

The Beatles once sang: “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?” And play she did. What a life!

NANAIMO GIRL
A Memoir
Author: Prudence Emery
Cormorant Books
ISBN: 9781770865273

§ § §

This book review first appeared in The Ormsby Review #809 – April 25, 2020

Books, Criticism, Music, Seen & Heard

Song Book: 21 Songs From 10 Years (1964-74)

June 16, 2020

“Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music,
Any old way you choose it,
It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it.
Any old time you use it.
It’s gotta be rock and roll music,
If you wanna dance with me.”
– The Beatles (Chuck Berry)

§ § §

wtgwg-song-book-coverIt’s been said that if you remember the 1960s you weren’t there.  Well, I do, and I was.  And like many others of my generation, the music of that time was a massive part of who we were.  New bands, new singles, new albums were erupting from speakers big and small on our favourite AM – and increasingly, FM – radio stations.  If you owned a car, it was not unusual to pull alongside another vehicle at a stoplight and hear the same song emanating from both.  Smiles and peace signs would be exchanged, and then both cars would continue on their separate journeys.  The music was a uniting force.

In the new book, “Song Book: 21 Songs From 10 Years (1964-74),” author Fiona McQuarrie chronicles the inside story of fourteen songs from the 1960s and seven from the early 1970s.  She digs deep into the history of those twenty-one compositions and takes the reader on a personal journey of discovery – frequently surprising, always musical.  Each song’s long strange trip is traced from creative inception through studio production and on to release.  McQuarrie details each tune’s historical impact (or lack thereof), and the trials and tribulations involved in getting lyrics and music from paper to vinyl (with the occasional lawsuit adjusting the ‘written by’ credit).  That would be enough content to whet any appetite for subject matter such as this, but there’s more.  She reveals why some songs – many that were under-appreciated when initially released – found themselves re-recorded and released years, sometimes decades later; some even became hits by well-known artists.  Tim Hardin’s original song, “Reason To Believe,” written and first recorded in 1966, is a good example.  Hardin, who also wrote, “If I Were A Carpenter” (he sang both songs at Woodstock), never seemed to crack the ‘hit’ market with any of his songs.  But many were covered and recorded by the likes of Bobby Darin, The Carpenters, Rod Stewart, Cher, Johnny Cash, and dozens of others.  “Reason To Believe,” in particular, became extremely popular and made the Top 40 more than once.  McQuarrie’s description of Hardin’s musical career is a stand-out and a rockin’ good read.

wtgwg-song-book-45-hardinAuthor McQuarrie knows what she’s talking about here.  Aside from significant research and an eye and ear for detail, she was music critic for The Vancouver Sun and The Province newspapers for six years.  She’s been writing about music for much longer, and although she is now part of the Faculty of Business at a B.C. university, her musical interests haven’t waned.  We should be thankful for that.  It’s to the reader’s benefit that she has, in her own words, “…a mind full of useless musical trivia.” After reading this book, I would take issue with the word ‘useless.’

wtgwg-song-book-deshannon-2The songs and artists she includes in this collection are certainly favourites of hers, and it’s clear that her musical tastes are eclectic, to say the least.

The first installment is about the rise of Jackie DeShannon.  We know her as the songwriter behind such hits as “Put A Little Love In Your Heart,” “When You Walk In The Room,” and even the song that made Kim Carnes famous in the early 1980s, “Bette Davis Eyes.”  But did you know that on the strength of her singing and songwriting The Beatles chose her as an opening act for their first North American tour in 1964?  (She celebrated her 23rd birthday on stage at Vancouver’s Empire Stadium.)

wtgwg-song-book-bonzoLater, we are introduced – many of us for the first time – to a British band called The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.  Their live performances are described thusly: “…horror masks, weird instruments, explosions, and a life-size rag doll named Alma.”  While the ‘Bonzos’ were very well received on the club circuit and through multiple appearances on a children’s TV show in England, their popularity decidedly did not translate to hit records.  However, their one major release, “I’m The Urban Spaceman,” was the exception and ended up spending 14 weeks on the U.K. charts, most of that time in the Top Ten.  Author McQuarrie relates this fascinating tidbit about the song.  When the band went into the studio to record ‘Spaceman,’ the day would be a memorable one.  During a break in the session, the producer of the song sat down and played what was likely the first ‘performance’ of “Hey Jude.”  The producer was Paul McCartney.  According to Paul, The Beatles had always been fans of the Bonzos, and he eagerly agreed to produce the record for them.  Once word got out that McCartney was involved the song became so popular that the single was selling more than 15,000 copies per day.

wtgwg-song-book-beatlesA handful of years later one of the Bonzos, Neil Innes, hooked up with Eric Idle of Monty Python and supplied music to many of the Python’s TV shows, records, and films.  Neil and Eric eventually collaborated on a hilarious television rock ’n roll satire of The Beatles entitled, “The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash.”

Chapters on Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, The Bee Gees, Donovan, The Beach Boys, Long John Baldry, and many more are provided by McQuarrie.  But along with the popular songwriters and bands we are also introduced to esoteric recording artists like the Bonzos, and a band called ‘Hotlegs.’  Who…?  By the end of the six-page chapter on this group and their music I realize I’ve been reading about the birth of one of the seminal ‘artistic’ rock ’n roll bands of the 1970s, and one of my personal favourites: 10cc.  How did I not know this? All the stories detailed in this book contain surprises.  Each story could easily be the pitch for a documentary.

In the early 1970s, the Government of Canada instigated Canadian Content regulations for cultural industries.  Radio stations would, henceforth, have to adhere to ‘CanCon’ rules that required a certain percentage of radio play be Canadian.  McQuarrie uses multi-award-winning musician and songwriter Michel Pagliaro as an entry point to help explain the Canadian music scene – English and French – during this period.  By detailing Pag’s ascent into rock royalty, McQuarrie attempts to decipher the issues that affected both musicians and radio Program Directors that CanCon presented.  A difficult task, but she mostly succeeds.

You don’t need to like these twenty-one songs, and you don’t even need to know who the bands are; the stories themselves are worth the price of admission.  You can find articles and non-fiction books that treat their musical subject matter with reverence, sometimes bordering on sycophantic hero-worship.  This is not that book.  McQuarrie’s writing is eloquent, to the point, and pulls no punches.  If she likes something, she says so.  If she doesn’t, she says so in no uncertain terms.  No pussyfooting here.  Even her publisher suggests the book contains “…the occasional dose of snark.”  I can tell you, it’s a refreshing style.

Author Fiona McQuarrie

Author Fiona McQuarrie

Parsing the DNA of 60s and 70s popular music has become a bit of a cottage industry in the last few years, primarily through websites and podcasts.  Radio, too, is prone to looking back into the ‘stacks of wax,’ with Santa Monica super station KCRW’s “Lost Notes” being one of the best examples.  Is this just nostalgia?  I think it’s more than that.

The 1960s gave an entire generation its own music – rock ’n roll as a genre, a cultural phenomenon, and ultimately an art form, came of age.  In the 1970s it matured.  Old, white, male politicians and lawmakers, whom, with few exceptions, adhered to old school ways and means, and perpetuated post-war ideals and policies for a new war, were put on notice.  Of course, we were disaffected.  But the voting age was lowered, and ultimately, the bar was raised.  The youth that asked for change, then pursued and protested it, and then demanded it, got it.  And the music wasn’t in the background – it was the soundtrack.

If I have any quibble with “Song Book” it’s that it’s too short!  I’m hoping there’s a second volume lurking on McQuarrie’s computer hard drive somewhere.  Reading this book was not only enlightening; it was also fun.

It’s been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture.  If so, I’ll leave the final comments to ‘dancer’ Fiona McQuarrie.  In her introduction to this book, she says: “The best songs, or our favourite songs, are like sparkling jewels – from different angles or in different settings, they shine in different ways, but each of them fuses sounds and words into something else entirely distinctive and wonderful.”  The same could be said of her book.

SONG BOOK
21 Songs From 10 Years (1964-74)
Author: Fiona McQuarrie
Walthamstow, UK & New Haven Publishing
ISBN: 9781912587155

§ § §

This book review first appeared in The Ormsby Review #611 – September 9, 2019

Music, Personal, Seen & Heard

Ten In Ten

June 10, 2020

“And you’re a prima ballerina on a Spring afternoon
Change on into the wolfman, howlin’ at the moon…”
– New York Dolls

§ § §

I’m sure most of you have been introduced to the ’10 Albums In 10 Days’ meme that has been running through Faceplant for the past couple of months. This challenge of ‘life-altering’ music influences is designed to tell others all about you through your choices, I suppose, to generate some insight into your personality through your musical tastes. My issue with the whole ‘challenge’ is I’ve never really adopted ‘albums,’ per se, as a yardstick for my music appreciation. Songs, yes; individual songs from albums, usually the ones that weren’t released as singles, as it turns out. For this reason, I didn’t accept the multitude of challenges offered to me over the past months (sorry). And history has borne me out. “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by…” and all that.

When Audio Dynamics released the Accutrac 4000 turntable in the late 1970s, I bought one and thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It was the first programmable record player. Attached to the turntable by a long cable was a silver globe marketed as a ‘wireless remote unit’ that worked in concert with its own handheld remote control. You could not only program which cuts you wanted to listen to and skip those you didn’t, but you could also play them in any order and even replay your entire ‘personal’ song list. The only feature missing was its inability to turn the record over!

napster-logoAlong comes Napster in 1999, and the world of cherry-picking what you wanted had arrived. This web app was crazy controversial, not least because stealing copy-written material – which is how it was viewed by many – was illegal. Regardless, millions upon millions of songs were downloaded to hard drives all over the world. Like it or not, Napster, and other ‘media services,’ increased sales in home computers and escalated the R&D into broadband technology exponentially. Only pornography had a more significant impact! MP3 players were soon all the rage. Consumers were impressed. Steve Jobs certainly was.

original-ipodTwo years later, Apple debuted the iPod and iTunes, with a purchase plan that allowed individual songs (or entire albums) to be downloaded for 99¢ a song. (Remember “Rip. Mix. Burn”…?) Artists like Metallica and others were incensed that their record production and sales business model was being usurped, and legal action was threatened. Record music executives and producers followed suit. Until it was revealed that Jobs had negotiated an output deal with many of the record labels that guaranteed them a big slice of the action. That guarantee was predicated on realizing big sales. Apple sold over one million individual songs the first week. The Beatles, who had a long-standing legal battle with Apple Computers over their very name (Apple Corps. Ltd.), refused to allow any of their music onto iTunes. When they buried the hatchet some years later, the band sold over two million individual songs in their first week.

To this day, individual cuts – with a few exceptions – is the way I decide on my music.

However, in transferring some new music to my iPhone recently, I discovered that, yes, there are indeed entire discs that grabbed my attention back then and even now – perhaps more so now.

You won’t find any Led Zeppelin or Allman Brothers or CS&N (with or without Y) or Elton John or any number of others who could easily be part of my personal ‘hit’ list. But these ten albums DID have a big impact on me, especially over time. And to me, they continue to be timeless.

So, all you’ll get from me is esoterica!

In no specific order of likability (only chronologically), I will begin at the beginning.

§ § §

01-santana-abraxas1 of 10 – Santana – Abraxas – 1970

Santana blew the music world apart during their appearances at Woodstock and Altamont, with this seminal album still more than a year away. They were and are legendary performances. For an album that is fifty years old, Abraxas continues to amaze, especially if played particularly loud! And danced to. A lot. There must be dancing!

 

02-carole-king-tapestry2 of 10 – Tapestry – Carole King – 1971

When this album was released it surprised just about everyone. Consumers didn’t really know who she was, and the music industry knew her only as a writer. As half of the powerhouse songwriting duo Goffin and King, she was responsible for many popular rock and pop hits during the 1950s and 1960s. Tapestry solidified her place as a talented solo singer and performer as well. A position she maintains to this day. This record was a birthday gift from a girlfriend. I’ve owned it on vinyl (twice), cassette, and CD.

 

03-deep-purple-machine-head3 of 10 – Machine Head – Deep Purple – 1972

I went to a very large high school in grade 9 – a couple of thousand kids in a multi-building, multi-block complex in the centre of town. As such, lunch hours were staggered so as to accommodate hundreds of students in our massive cafeteria. Central to that cafe was the jukebox. And central to that jukebox was ’Smoke On The Water’. No self-respecting kid who had a turntable (and who didn’t?!) had to have a copy of this album. Many’s the day when we trudged back to class with the strains of ‘Highway Star’ or ‘Space Truckin’ blasting in the background.

 

04-new-york-dolls4 of 10 – New York Dolls – Self Titled 1st Album – 1973

The first time I heard ‘Personality Crisis’ I sank my teeth into any music coming out of New York City: The Dolls, The Ramones, The Stooges, Velvet Underground, Lou Reed… anything. I was lucky to have an independent record store in my home town that carried ‘esoteric vinyl’ – that’s what they called it. No Mantovani rubbing sleeves with Montrose in those stacks! In February 1982, I found myself in NYC on a mixed business/pleasure sojourn. I had one night all to myself, and I chose CBGB as my destination. Blondie was playing. By then they were almost the house band. No one knew it, but this would be one of the last public performances of the band before they split later in the year. What a trip! The stars were out that night. A mix of proto punk, punk, and post punk royalty: at least two Ramones, Tina Weymouth (with fleeting glimpses of David Byrne), Patti Smith, Fred Schneider (B-52s), and propped up in one corner, David Johansen. The Dolls were history, and his alter ego, Buster Poindexter, was still a handful of years away from achieving fame with ‘Hot! Hot! Hot!’. However, his songwriting and performing style kept him in the limelight, even opening as a solo act for The Who.

05-rush-21125 of 10 – 2112 – Rush – 1976

There aren’t many positive memories of growing up in Southwestern Ontario during the 1960s and early 1970s. Highway 401 leaving town in two directions might have been one of them. But fairly often another plus would raise its head. In grades 9 and 10 we had the pleasure of being the guinea pigs for an amazing rock and roll band named RUSH. The members were only a couple of years older than us, and they’d play any high school in the region that would have them – everyone did. High school dances with RUSH in attendance were always major parties. They were loud and tight, and drummer John Rutsey (pre-Neil Peart days) was a thrasher. Alex Lifeson’s guitar was amazing, and Geddy Lee’s high-pitched ‘Robert Plant-style’ vocals brought the house down. Everyone who heard and saw them up close knew they were set to explode. RUSH went from our high school gym to touring the U.S. as an opening act for some of the biggest rock names in history seemingly overnight. But when they toured much of Canada opening for KISS in their first Canadian visit they sometimes played two encores – unheard of! Their concept album, 2112, solidified their place in rock history and in the Hall of Fame.

06-al-stewart-year-of-the-cat6 of 10 – Year Of The Cat – Al Stewart – 1976

This may be the best produced album I’ve ever heard. It was blessed from the beginning by Stewart’s lilting lyrical style, expert musicianship, and overall sound. It was recorded in The Beatles old studio at Abbey Road, produced by Alan Parsons, and the album art was created by award-winning Hipgnosis (Wings, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, 10cc, Genesis, ELO, and many others). It’s been said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Just play the record!

 

07-kate-bush-the-kick-inside7 of 10 – The Kick Inside – Kate Bush – 1978

This was Kate’s debut album and it serves not only as a perfect introduction for all that came later, it contains many of her best songs. I first heard ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ on the radio on a Friday. The next morning I discovered that she was the musical guest that night on Saturday Night Live (then called only NBC’s Saturday Night). After that I was hooked and I have been ever since. Desert island, the music of only one musical artist allowed = Kate Bush. In Spring 1984, I went to the UK and plunked myself down in a small apartment in Camden Town in London. Upon dropping my bags I went out for a walk and popped into a pub at the end of my street called, The Spread Eagle (I shit you not!) After a couple of pints I wandered a bit passing by a music venue of some description. Kate Bush had performed there the night before. I may have cried myself to sleep.

08-warren-zevon-excitable-boy8 of 10 – Excitable Boy – Warren Zevon – 1978

Anyone who associates Zevon with ONLY ‘Werewolves Of London’ is not only missing the point, but a plethora of other memorable, lyrically poignant songs. His songs were quirky, funny, heartfelt, painful, and indelible. I saw him in concert twice – once at the Troubadour in L.A. in the 70s, and again here in Vancouver in the 80s. Each of his records revealed a new twist in his outlook on life, never more prevalent than his last three albums, ‘Life’ll Kill Ya’, ‘My Ride’s Here’, and ‘The Wind’ all recorded when he knew he was dying. His final public appearance with David Letterman is absolutely heartbreaking. But his music still resonates. This is a great album.

 

09-joe-jackson-im-the-man9 of 10 – I’m The Man – Joe Jackson – 1979

Another one of those albums that just manages to strike a perfect note. So much talent in a classically trained musician who drifted into New Wave and then into jazz-influenced music. I saw Joe in April 1995 on a first date night with a woman who was ga-ga for him. It may have been the only thing we had in common in retrospect. He had brought his largely acoustic ’Night Music Tour’ to the Orpheum, and we had fantastic seats. He was late taking the stage and when he appeared to thunderous applause he did so with a scarf wrapped several times around his throat. He had contracted a throat infection a couple of days earlier while traveling from Calgary, his previous stop. He apologized to the sold out crowd and offered a choice – he could continue as far as he could with his voice in tatters, or reschedule for a later date. We unanimously chose the performance. A piano, a sax, and an upright bass, and one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.

10-ofra-harnoy-vivaldi-cello-concertos10 of 10 – Vivaldi Cello Concertos Vol. 2 – Ofra Harnoy – 1989

Ofra Harnoy is not as well-known as she should be. An Israeli-Canadian her cello recitals are works of art, and her concerts are always sold out. She has been nominated for six Juno Awards, winning five. This album holds a special place in my heart as it was the soundtrack for a three-week romantic stay in Italy with a girlfriend. For a time we decamped at a renovated Tuscan farmhouse midway between Arezzo and the ancient fortified hill town of Cortona. Occasionally, we would venture out for coffee, dinner, shopping, or sightseeing, and this CD would be our guide. We laughingly decided one day that we would put the CD on shuffle, start the music as we hit the backroads, and stop… for the view as soon as the individual piece finished. There are 21 cuts on this album – some short, some long – so we were never sure where we would end up. Hell of a way to experience Tuscany! I highly recommend it.

Kirk out!

Personal, Seen & Heard

Mystery Meat

February 19, 2016

“Ooooh that smell,
Can’t you smell that smell,
Ooooh that smell,
The smell of death surrounds you.”
– Lynyrd Skynyrd, ‘That Smell’

§ § §

Allow me to draw your attention to the subject of ‘cattle mutilations’. (Didn’t see that coming, now, did you?!) Trust me – stay with me on this one.

Media stories of dead cattle appearing in fields seemingly overnight – their carcasses sliced open, many with their internal organs and body parts harvested – is a mystery that has been covered in local and national media since the 1960s. These gruesome bovine events are dotted all over the North American landscape, mostly in the west, but historically predominant in the American Midwest. Farmers and ranchers are left speechless, while townsfolk hypothesize and gossip, and media report and try their best not to laugh. Eventually, the cause celebre withers and life returns to normal. This scenario plays out time and again, as it did here in the U.S. state of Missouri according to this recent report: Police Not Ruling Out The Possibility Of Aliens

What’s going on here? Is there a rational explanation for these killings, or is the answer more… ‘otherworldly’?

I offer the following without editorial comment. This is a true story. Draw your own conclusions.

§ § §

One day I was sitting having a cup of coffee with a friend. In those days we both worked in broadcast television news, and that coffee conversation, like many others we’d had, revolved around local, regional and international news stories from the week before. We could often be found discussing the latest murder, kidnapping, robbery, catastrophe or political scandal that was grabbing our supper-hour headlines. This particular day, however, was different.

The night before our klatsch one of our reporters had filed a story originating in the lush farmland of British Columbia’s Thompson Okanagan region. Considered a bit of a ‘crank’ story, the two and a half minute piece was relegated to the post-weather report ghetto of our one-hour newscast; not deemed important enough for ‘real’ news, but interesting enough to elicit a humourous dialogue between the news anchors before throwing to commercial break.

cattle_mutilation_policeThe journalist in question was reporting on a farmer who had found a dozen or so of his cows dead in his field. They had apparently been quite skillfully butchered, and the grisly discovery created a local buzz of finger-pointing and unanswered questions.

What happened to the cattle?!

Scratched heads lead to various theories, and although none of the locals would commit to going on camera with such a claim, eventually ‘it was the work of aliens’ became a hot topic. It wasn’t the first time beings from outer space and flying saucers were considered the culprits in cattle mutilations, and it wouldn’t be the last.

I had heard about cattle mutilations before; this was nothing new. But it was rare for this to occur in Canada. Only a month before a similar story had come out of southern Alberta. A large ranch near the U.S. border had reported a ‘similar attack’ (that’s how the media had referred to it) on several heads of prime beef cattle.

I’d seen and read news stories in all the major American media over the years about this phenomenon, and the M.O. was always the same: Range animals – sometimes pigs or sheep, occasionally horses, even bison, but mostly cows – are found dead. Their sexual organs have been removed (female cows and sheep especially), and usually one or more (sometimes all) of the following are also missing: eyes, ears, lips, tongue, nostrils and anus. The events surrounding each catalogued ‘mutilation’ (or ‘bovine excision’ as it came to be known) are peculiar for sure. But beyond the similarities two items stand out, and tie each and every event together regardless of passage of time or geographical location:

  1. The incisions are almost always surgical in nature. Rarely are there any rips or tears present in the skin, nor is there evidence of a predatory attack, either pre- or post-mortem.
  2. The abnormal lack of blood at the scene, which you would expect to be present after so much cutting.

What’s a conspiracy factualist to do with such information?

Back to the caffeine.

el_paso_herald_headlineMy buddy mentioned that an older gentleman friend of his, Robert (not his real name), would be joining us that day, and he soon arrived – introductions all ’round. We began basic chit-chat, and I soon discovered that Robert had a fascinating, if not shadowy background. Both he and his wife were semi-retired (each had been in the military), but they had taken on part-time work to supplement their pensions – he as a security consultant, she as a law enforcement communications trainer. She was Canadian, but Robert had been born in America. His military service had included radar and communications work, and early in his career, he’d been stationed in northern Canada along NORAD’s DEW (Distant Early Warning) line. (His story about what he experienced on the afternoon of November 22, 1963, while sitting at a complex array of radar screens was startling. I’ll save that for another day).

We eventually returned to our original conversation about the reports of cattle mutilations. Without missing a beat (or a sip of coffee), Robert offered that he knew exactly what had happened.

“Must have been a leak,” he said. “Maybe an experiment. But more likely a leak. The only question is… was it accidental, or…” His voice trailed off.

Seeing the incredulous looks on our faces, he laughed. “Right,” he said, leaning forward. “Here’s what’s going on.” And he proceeded to explain his version of events that would ‘naturally’ – his word – lead to slicing up a cow. He didn’t provide verifiable examples (other than the one I note below), but his basic story was this…

It’s no secret the U.S. military in all its guises maintained stockpiles of high-end weaponry, everything from Nukes to Biological to Chemical (NBC) weapons. Even though international law argued that much had been destroyed, still more had been buried and supposedly sealed to never (hopefully) see the light of day. However, he said, certain military divisions, known primarily by their vaguely descriptive acronyms, continued to test certain ‘weaponized delivery systems’ in the form of rockets, aerosol dispersants and bombs, all in the name of ‘worst case scenario’ preparedness. Robert was aware, he said, because of his prior background, that things didn’t always go as planned.

Weaponized nerve agents, he continued, in their final deliverable form, were known in Pentagon-speak as ‘wet-eyes’. The American military maintains an entire vocabulary of innocuous terms to underscore the plausible deniability of the true intent and meaning of processes and weapons, and even for accidents that may occur. Phrases such as ‘Broken Arrow‘ and ‘Empty Quiver‘, for instance, relate to ‘lost nukes’ and ‘stolen nukes’ respectively. But the term ‘wet-eye’ is more nefarious, and in this case, makes perfect sense.

So-called ‘nerve agents’, or nerve gasses, such as VX and Sarin, are both tasteless and odourless. They are also the most lethal chemicals ever devised. In amounts that are barely discernible, they attack the central nervous system and shut it down, causing paralysis and death in moments. They were designed to do just that. It’s why they’re referred to as WMDs – weapons of mass destruction.

Why the ‘wet-eye’ designation…?

This is a reference to how the nerve gas attacks, how it enters the body. In a ‘gas’ or aerosol form, it does so through the mucous membranes of a human or an animal. The eye is an example of a mucous (or ‘wet’) membrane, as are the ears, lips, tongue, nostrils, anus, and in females, the sexual organs. Tear gas works in the same way, and it’s why it’s called ‘tear gas’.

Robert offered an example of what happens during the release of a nerve agent and its immediate after-effects.

dugway_proving_groundIn 1968, more than 6,000 head of sheep were discovered to have died overnight in an area spread out over several miles of grazing land in Utah. The incident occurred near the Dugway Proving Ground – a U.S. Army facility for the testing and storage of chemical and biological weapons and agents. After a lengthy investigation and autopsies on many of the animals, it was found that contact with VX nerve gas was the culprit and that the Army facility was responsible. Eventually, the Army compensated the farmers for their loss but admitted no wrong-doing. How the gas in this instance had been dispersed or escaped – accident or as part of a scheduled test – was never explained. They neither confirmed, denied, or even acknowledged chemical weaponry was in the vicinity.

In a case such as this, Robert said, the surgical removal of the eyes, etc. from a statistical sample of the affected sheep could reveal for investigators some pertinent data. For instance, it would show how they died, the level of toxicity in each animal, and, based on the location of the bodies, how the prevailing winds ‘moved’ the chemical agent from dispersal point to contact. [Roaming cattle would seem to be the perfect scenario for a ‘test’. – Ed.]

We sat sipping our coffees for a few minutes allowing the impact of this revelation to sink in. And then it hit me.

“But these events happen all over,” I said, “not just in Utah. What’s that all about…?”

Robert thought for a moment before answering.

“There are other places, other military and private facilities in use across America,” he said, “and Canada and England, too, I suspect. Porton Down in the U.K. would be a good example.”

There were certainly moral and ethical, even legal issues involved, I thought, but he never did go there.

“Prevailing winds are the unknown factor here,” he continued. He gave the example of blowing out a candle and watching the smoke trail away. The smoke will rise, but a slight gust of wind and the wispy trails change direction accordingly. Wind patterns aren’t consistent, he said, and they can be dependant on weather, time of day, and geography. Why is Chicago windier than Detroit, he asked rhetorically. Deserts and mountain ranges can both be windy places, but neither exhibits predictable or directional patterns. Weapons are tested in many different ways and in many different locales. A strong wind kicks up and who knows where a gas could travel to. He said he personally knew of several other nerve agent ‘incidents’ that had taken place over the years, and it was always interesting to see where they had occurred. He suggested there really was a pattern that connected the event to the locale.

My friend said, “Okay – so it’s not aliens then?” I truly appreciated that big laugh!

“Do either of you own a map of the U.S.?”, Robert asked. He could tell from our puzzled looks that we did not. “Buy one.” He then presented us with a task that, he said, would prove to us that these ‘cattle mutilations,’ while bizarre, and more than a little scary considering the obvious human implications, were completely explainable.

My buddy and I bought the map and proceeded to place a red dot in the general locale of each and every report of a cattle mutilation for which we could find a reference. There were dozens of events, but there was overlap – many occurred near the same locales, but at different times. In the end, our map had seven red dots representing cattle mutilation reports dating back fifteen years. We then gave Robert the map.

A few weeks later we reconvened for another round of fascinating, caffeine fuelled discussion. Robert sat down and tossed the folded map on the table. “I told you there would be a pattern,” he said, smiling.

§ § §

cattle_mutilations_newsAll these years later I still have that map. What it shows is a series of seven red dots spread out over six American western and midwest states. Adjacent to each red dot are nine wide, white lines painted on it with Liquid Paper as a label background. Each label contains the handwritten name of a U.S. Air Force base or Army base known for storage of biochem weapons, or of a military weapon facility. The pattern – the connection – was obvious. Whether by design (the result of a scheduled test of a weapon system) or by misadventure (the accidental release of gas) the existence and use of dangerous substances were both widespread and active, and cattle were being dissected.

But what about today? Didn’t President Richard Nixon end the U.S. biochem weapons program in 1969? Wasn’t the production and stockpiling of VX gas outlawed as part of a global agreement signed by 162 countries in 1993 banning biochem weapons? Yes, all true. However, poison gas was used by Saddam Hussein on the Kurds in Halabja in 1988; there was not one but two sarin gas attacks in Japan in 1994 and 1995; anthrax (also considered a biochem weapon) was delivered to a handful of U.S. politicians and reporters in 2001; and it is suspected that Syria uses nerve gas as a weapon even today.

The Dugway Proving Ground still exists. The U.S. Army still stores and tests various weaponized systems, and some of those are liquids and gasses designed for deployment in a combat theater. How they end up in farmers’ fields and on grazing ranch land is anyone’s guess.

But let’s bring this around full circle…

What about this recent unexplained cattle mutilation event in Missouri? Is some form of gas or aerosol involved? Was there a military test that went awry, did the prevailing winds shift unexpectedly? Are aliens to blame?

Not too far away from the event location in the ‘Show Me’ state where the dead cattle were found lies the U.S Army’s Fort Leonard Wood Garrison, home to the 23-acre CBRN School. CBRN stands for ‘Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear’. Their website describes the facility this way:

“Fort Leonard Wood and the Army CBRN School have world-class facilities in which to conduct training (in) the Chemical Defense Training Facility… where military students from across the globe train and become familiar with actual nerve agents in realistic scenarios (emphasis mine), and also conduct training with radiological isotopes and inert biological agents.”

While this scenario, first suggested to me many years ago, may offer a ‘reasonable’ explanation, I can’t say it gives me a warm, cozy feeling.

But that’s just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

A postscript…

While writing this, I kept returning to a nagging question? I realize that governments the world over (for the most part) have agreed to get rid of WMDs. But how do you decommission a WMD? What do you do with it? Where do you put a weapon of mass destruction so that it’s no threat to anyone ever again? In short, how do you kill something whose sole purpose in life is to kill you?

The U.S. Department of Defence reported only a few years ago that more than 120 tons of VX nerve gas were disposed of in the Atlantic Ocean. Thousands upon thousands of VX-weaponized rockets were loaded onto ships that were scheduled for scuttling and then sunk in very deep seas off the coasts of New York, New Jersey, and Florida.

Apparently, there are so many nerve gas weapons remaining in the world, especially in the former Soviet Union, that their destruction continues to this day.