Student newspaper terrorist

This column appeared in The Gauntlet on April 12, 2012.

Since the beginning of the fall semester, in September of 2011, the University of Calgary’s independent student newspaper, the Gauntlet, has been held hostage by a lone ultra-left terrorist who goes by the simple pseudonym “Remi.”

The founding member of the terrorist network the Coalition for a Revolutionary Alberta Society, Remi has single-handedly managed to capture and control the Gauntlet’s nine section editors, as well as countless numbers of the paper’s volunteers. Adopting the title of “opinions editor,” Remi has transformed the previously arch-conservative student newspaper—once the springboard for Canadian right-wing heroes such as Ezra Levant and Stephen Harper—into an ideological tool for a terrorist message of “pro-autonomy” and “pro-dignity,” ideas that are clearly dangerous to the health of sensitive Albertan minds.

Having precipitated several violent incidents on the university campus, Canadian security and peace enforcement agencies having been pooling their resources to capture, kill and end the strife he has caused.

‘Remi,’ as he is known to allies and enemies alike, commandeered the student newspaper on September 3, 2011, and seized the title of “opinions editor.” The opinions section previous to Remi’s takeover maintained a small but humble position near the back of the weekly  issue of the Gauntlet. While maintaining his reign of terror over the paper’s real editors and volunteers, Remi has successfully expanded the opinions section to take up most of the paper, and through the section he bombards University of Calgary students with a weekly barrage of horrifyingly new ideas. As student Emily Hamilton, member of the Delta Upsilon Mu sorority observed, “The newspaper [the Gauntlet], like, used to be, like, totally fair and balanced, like the Calgary Sun is. Now it’s basically like mostly opinions from that hipster fag Remi or whatever his name is.”

As of the March 28, 2012 issue of the Gauntlet, a total of 300 students have claimed serious injury after having been exposed to an issue of one of Remi’s signature articles or illustrations.
One political science student Sam Bloom, remembers all too well how he obtained his injuries.
“I was walking down the hallway just leaving professor Flanagan’s class, and I saw the Gauntlet. I used to read it all the time. It was way better in my day. But I hesitated picking it up because it had something I totally didn’t like on the cover,” Said Bloom. “I flipped it open and it was just ultra-leftist filth everywhere. Some of the art was even communist looking. Then I started to read this article by that boy Remi. There were words that I didn’t like, like ‘passion,’ ‘vitality of life,’ ‘apparatus’ and ‘wherefore.’ I barely got through the first paragraph when I felt this terrible pain fill my head. Next thing you know I’m in the hospital for an entire day. I wasn’t even allowed to go to ThursDen that night. Like what the fuck. Remi is so pathetic and stupid.”

No one has yet to successfully discover the identity of “Remi,” although the Canadian Security Intelligence Service believes Remi’s gender is of a male-like variety, as one Gauntlet hostage reported as having seen, “A large phallic-like object,” which supposedly came out of Remi’s pants once during a  visit to a bathroom. Remi’s elaborate use of disguise, including a tangled mess of hair, crafty and distracting glasses and a penchant for shadows has allowed him to avoid recognition. It is thought that Remi is capable of producing fake newsmedia as a tool for deception, as well as writing about himself in the third person (generally considered an extremely masturbatory act) as to dumbfound and irritate his detractors.

The Coalition for a Revolutionary Alberta Society was, according to the group’s website, founded by Remi in late 1988, apparently not long after “Remi’s” supposed birth. Since that time both Remi and cras have grown considerably and have forged powerful relationships with various terrorist groups. Yet Remi has retained his anonymity since day one. Even fellow terrorists involved in Remi’s terrorist ‘Front’ or affiliated groups in his terror network apparently know nothing relevant about the ultra-leftist’s identity or origins.
In late 2011, members of the West Albertan Nationalist Guerrillas and the Socialist and Anarchist Coalition who had participated in terrorist acts of “discussion of political alternatives” alongside Remi’s CRAS, were apprehended by the Royal Canadian Peace Enforcement Agency and were subsequently coerced into revealing details behind their terrorist network. The coercion undergone by members of WANG and SAC revealed startling information about the level of penetration perpetrated by the terrorist connections here in Alberta and abroad, but failed to reveal anything significant about Remi. Even Remi’s Facebook profile is incredibly vague and misleading, claiming that Remi is, “In a relationship” and “Likes” such topics as “reading” and “music.”

With a love for violent “debate” and the use of frightening tactics such as “critical thinking,” Remi has successfully kept the editors and volunteers of the Gauntlet student newspaper hostage. Current Gauntlet editor-in-chief Eric Mathison, who has managed to maintain a level of connection with the outside world, stated in one letter that, “most of the time we are subjected to his [Remi’s] constant discussions of ethics, politics or metaphysics, as well as hour-long diatribes about the proper accents on ‘Slavoj Žižek.’ But he has allowed me to go for the occasional coffee and washroom break, and every now and again my wife is able to bring me in some vegan cupcakes.”

However, not all students or Gauntlet members have been overcome by Remi’s takeover. A post-Trotskyist student organization, a campus-based anarchist association and various pro-human rights activist students have all asserted their solidarity with Remi and CRAS. Additionally, current Gauntlet news editor, Amy Badger, has, according to one hostage mediator, fallen ill with Stockholm Syndrome.
According to Mount Royal University psychologist Evrin Ting-Halvoff, Stockholm Syndrome is “a paradoxical psychological condition where hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, occasionally to the point of defending their captors.” Badger is believed to currently be involving herself in sexual relations with Remi, although this has neither been confirmed nor denied by either party.

The Royal Canadian Peace Enforcement Agency has been unable to infiltrate the Gauntlet and arrest Remi. RCPEA commissioner Dic McIver stated in a recent press conference that, “we, the law enforcement agency of this fine city, have been unable to capture Remi. As it stands, we have been heavily preoccupied with meeting our quotas for speeding tickets, parking violations and agitation of undesirables.”

When questioned as to what changes might aid the RCPEA in their hunt for Remi, McIver claimed that an increase in peace officer funding and powers would enable the organization to “finally rid the city of its unwanted elements,” at which point the capture of Remi, “would become our top priority.”

With the student newspaper under Remi’s control, the ultra-leftist terrorist has been able to offend and horrify the delicate minds of University of Calgary students. With a large proportion of upper-middle class students attending the institution—all of whom are succeeding through their own rugged individualism—the terrorist demands of Remi’s, which include the “proliferation of genuine autonomy” and “respect for the dignity of all people,” have erupted into obscene ideological violence.

Age of no consent

This column appeared in The Gauntlet on March 22, 2012

You have never had consensual sex. The sex you have now is not consensual, nor will you ever have consensual sex so long as you continue to live as you do. Rape, sexual abuse and assault are merely the tip of a sexually violent iceberg. Given the direness of our present circumstances — the inherent barbarism of the social, economic, political, religious, academic and cultural corrals into which we are captured and contained — it is fair to claim that it is impossible for anyone to adequately consent to sexual activity in the present. And what’s most sinister is that we’ve been ‘educated’ to think that all is well. While it may seem harsh or absurd to think that a statement that echoes of the obscene charge that “all sex is rape” could be legitimate, to deny it suggests that one is suffering from a terrible case of false consciousness. We have become numb, no longer capable of feeling the flow of sinister authority that permeates the fabric of our lives. We are incapable of making autonomous and well-informed decisions, incapable of being in touch with ourselves and our own sexualities. We’ve been normalized to sexual violence and the vital force of our erotic passions has been drained, leaving the substance of genuine consent unobtainable.

The issues of consent cut a wide swath of possible discussions in all sorts of fields of interest, but none of them evokes as furious and emotionally infused reactions as the issue of sexual consent does. Clearly we are pressing on sensitive tissue. Dare I say that our nerves are so frayed perhaps because we, at heart, understand that something integral is lacking in our sexualities? That sexuality’s intimate core is missing, or has been stolen? Do we not sense that some grave and grievous injustice is being done in every porn film, night club, brothel, fatherly household or kangaroo rape trial? Yet we don’t face up to this reality, perhaps because we know that the rot exists not only on the periphery — in the porn flicks, whorehouses and violent rapes — but that its roots extend through the entirety of the whole, the bulk of matter, and into our very beds. Must I remind you that most sexual assaults and rapes are perpetrated by friends, family or acquaintances — and if we are finally being honest with ourselves and one another, even when we, men and women the same, tell ourselves that our sexual activity is mutually and genuinely consensual, we are refining our skills of disavowal. The behemoth that is our way of life is thoroughly infected. The laws, the language, the imagery — everything our senses can be imbued with, even one another, has been infused with patriarchy’s dominating, savage values. The same system that allows spliced and splayed ‘women’ to be devoured also liquidates our capacity to make well-informed judgements and to understand and appreciate our own sexualities. We live under the same roof, and eat the same stale, mouldy bread as the whore and rapist do.

We grudgingly accept the old cliche “sex sells,” not because we understand it as ‘truth,’ but because we aren’t allowed to believe anything else. Sex is pleasurable, erotic desire animates our lives; but that doesn’t justify the sort of logic that packages our passions into marketable, measurable and manageable hedons. Even if a seemingly innocuous phrase like “sex sells” contained a nugget of truth (although I don’t know how it would), it has been used against us, inoculating us from birth with a false sense that the hyper-sexualization of our world is an inevitable consequence of ‘human nature,’ of Homo economicus. Or worse, we tell ourselves that sexual violence is an exception, perpetrated by perverts. But we know better. We can do better. The bastions of patriarchy are far from being inevitable consequences of ‘the way things are.’ Walls do fall, whether through lack of upkeep, nature’s wrath or by our own hands. But rather than waiting for the situation to improve or placing our hopes on reform (which, lest we forget, only buries the problem deeper) we ought to take sexual and erotic freedom, and the revolutionary struggle necessary to achieve it, seriously. We must, as Wolfi Landstreicher told us, “ . . . truly allow the expansiveness of passionate intensity to flower and to pursue it where the twisting vine of desire takes it.”

No one wants to admit that their sex life is not and never has been consensual. But there is nothing fantastical and utopian about believing that it is possible to form new ways of life where we congregate with one another as autonomous equals, adequately informed and genuinely in touch with ourselves. Bringing to fruition the way we ought to live — where loving and erotic relationships of infinite variety are legitimately possible — requires overturning and annihilating the destructive order at hand, adopting struggle as a way of life, passionately and incessantly dreaming and doing. Accepting sex’s current non-consensual nature is a bitter pill to swallow, but perhaps it is just the right medicine to cure us of our sexual woes.

“I hate the indifferent . . .”

This article appeared in the Gauntlet on Nov. 24, 2011.

The preeminent cultural critic Antonio Gramsci matter-of-factly pointed out that the most significant hindrance to social betterment is neither corrupt corporate/bourgeois government nor looming fascism. Rather, the most sizeable obstruction keeping society from realizing higher potentials is the menacing force that is indifference. Gramsci states:
“I hate the indifferent . . . Indifference and apathy are parasitism, perversion, not life . . . The indifference is the deadweight of history. The indifference operates with great power on history. The indifference operates passively, but it operates. It is fate, that which cannot be counted on. It twists programs and ruins the best-conceived plans. It is the raw material that ruins intelligence. That what happens, the evil that weighs upon all, happens because the human mass abdicates to their will; allows laws to be promulgated that only the revolt could nullify, and leaves men that only a mutiny will be able to overthrow to achieve the power.”

I too hate the indifferent.

We, as university students in the 21st century, have an unprecedented amount of potential laid out before us. We are inundated with information. We have immediate, instant and often limitless access to any event unfolding anywhere on globe. The tools for enacting change that are available to us are greater than ever before. The level of stability and the privileges that many of us are afforded give us amounts of leverage, mobility and general freedom that few people in history have ever been witness to. And yet most of us do nothing. We are all aware, or at least have the time, energy and resources to make ourselves aware, of the crises manifesting themselves both home and abroad.

We know that other nations, geographies, cultures and people have been systematically raped and pillaged by the hands of our governments and the corporations for whom we work. We know that here in Canada our government has lost accountability. We know that our banking system, which is based on the same principles as the now broken American banking system, has burdened our society with more debt than we could ever hope to reconcile. We know we extract resources in a highly unsustainable manner. We know that most institutions exist to make profit, not to benefit people’s well-being. We know that proper political representation has become a farce. We know that racism is as alive and violent as ever. We know we’ve built our homes on land stolen from the aboriginal peoples, and that we continue to subjugate them. We know our food and water supply is poisoned. We know that our system of exchange embodies the logic of a cancer cell. We know that the education we are receiving is losing its value exponentially — that barely any of us who manage to graduate will be hirable in the near future. We know that media delivers information that is filtered through the lens of corporate and political agendas. We know that our communities are fragmented. We know that our system condemns people to poverty or to the streets. We know freedom of speech is at risk of going extinct. We know people go hungry. We know people are denied basic human dignity. But we’ve forgotten that it is the duty of each and every one of us to face the encircling storm. We are struck with, as Slajov Žižek said, “such a blindness, such a violent gesture of refusing-to-see, such a disavowal-of-reality, such a fetishistic attitude of ‘I know that things are horrible [everywhere] . . . but I nonetheless believe [in the system].’”

There is no valid excuse for looking at the world’s situation and responding with indifference. It is not enough to wait until things are finally so bad that we can no longer possibly continue — which is the failed logic of those, like so many amongst us, who only dream of potentials, of brilliant future histories, rather than realizing them. Or is it the case, rather, that even the imaginations of the many have also become indifferent?

Each and every one of us must realize that we are utterly accountable to ourselves, to one another and to the world as a whole. No one gets off the hook. We are waging a new war against the system of injustices — with only one goal in mind: annihilation. Indifference is what holds us back. But, at least, I am here, as Tiqqun proclaimed, to “[alert] the stoned citizenry that if they don’t join in the war they are at war all the same . . .”

A most peculiar toad

This article appeared in the Gauntlet on September 8th, 2011.

      Morality and animals is an undeniably sticky subject. However, it seems to be the case that there is, at minimum, one particular animal who is a possible candidate for, as I hope to show, significant moral consideration due to its capacity to produce entheogens. That animal is the Sonoran Desert toad.

Forthwith, ‘entheogen’ (Greek for ‘generating God within’) is, as writer-explorer James Oroc defined it, “an ethnographic term used to describe a plant or drug that invokes a sense of the numinous or a mystical experience.” Entheogens are defined independently of drugs as they are markedly different. Entheogens are often produced naturally within the plant and animal kingdom, and produce states of mind not valuable in the context of pleasure — unlike most things considered drugs — but are instead valuable for the spiritual or mystical experiences they create. The most peculiar and significant example of an animal that produces an entheogen is our friend, the Sonoran Desert toad (Bufo alvarius). This creature bears the burden of being the basis for the infamous and deadly act of toad licking. To delve into the science of the matter, the Sonoran Desert toad secretes two chemicals: the venom dehydrobufotenine, which is quite poisonous if consumed (hence why toad licking is actually unwise); and also the chemical 5-MeO-DMT, an entheogen from the tryptamine family that naturally occurs throughout the plant and animal kingdom, but occurs in particular abundance in bodily glands of the toad in question.

The unique identity as a producer of entheogens places the Sonoran Desert Toad in a position of high — or simply unique moral worth — for two reasons. Firstly, the value or veracity of mystical experiences that can result from consumption of entheogens. Secondly, the significant, symbolic, and unique role in delivering said important entheogens, as occupied by animals such the Sonoran Desert toad. Of the first proposition, we must accept the notion that mystical experiences have a value or veracity due to the elementary immediacy of conscious experience itself — a position we can dub ‘phenomenology.’ From the starting point of phenomenology, which since it is pure subjective experience and nothing more it is devoid of secondary preconceptions and judgments, we can avoid any spookiness that discussions of mystical or spiritual revelation often contain. Thus, even if you believe that a mystical experience is the work of certain molecules acting within the brain, and I believe the contrary wherein a mystical experience is a divine presence entering my mind/spirit, both viewpoints are leveled redundant when we startfrom the reference point of phenomenology, since we must withhold all secondary judgments and metaphysical assumptions and instead focus on the subjective perceptual experiences themselves. It follows, phenomenologically speaking, that a mystical experience is more interesting than pleasure, and obviously far more interesting than regular phenomenological experience. To deny this claim suggests a lack of insight or familiarity with the contrast between mere pleasure and  mystical experiences. This hierarchy of ‘interestingness’ can, again from the phenomenological perspective, allow us to attach a certain degree of value and veracity to mystical experiences before they get discounted as secondary judgments often cause.

If the arguments just explicated can be taken to be the case — at least tacitly so — then we can progress to the second proposition, that being that animals — specifically the Sonoran Desert toad — represent a case of moral peculiarity on account of their production of said valuable entheogens and the resulting mystical states, and of their valuable and unique role as the deliverers of said entheogens and of the aforementioned mystical states. That is, if we accept that the mystical experiences produced by entheogens are of a veridical and valuable nature (minimally in the phenomenological sense as previously explained), then it follows that if the originator of entheogens occupies a role of similar or contemporaneous being, then it too, being the Sonoran Desert toad, has an equally veridical and valuable nature equitable with, and resulting from, the entheogens it produces — allowing us to declare it to be a candidate for moral peculiarity. Thus, the Sonoran Desert toad is an excellent example of moral peculiarity.

The story of Freezer Burn: Alberta’s regional Burning Man Festival

This column appeared with minor differences in The Gauntlet on July 21st, 2011.

Credit: courtesy Leah K

June 24, 25 and 26, 2011. Where were you? Lemme’ guess: Sled Island, shelling out shit-loads of coin just to bear witness to the throngs of young suburbanites struggling to out-cool and one-up one another. So where should you have been instead? Alberta Regional Burning Man’s 4th annual Freezer Burn festival. As Calgarians, we share the providential potential of being within a reasonable driving distance of several wonderful outdoor festivals such as Motion Notion, Shambhala, Mukwah, Inshalah, Tree Frog Fest and many more. Yet, while Freezer Burn is similar to the others in that you might find an ecstatic orgy of light, sound, psychedelic drugs, circus-type performers, crazy costumes and fire, Freezer Burn seeks to go furthur, bringing together a wide disparity of elements, creating a unique and dedicated community of self-proclaimed ‘burners’– a title which I take to be synonymous with ‘beautiful people’.

Credit: courtesy Starfive / Flickr

Burning Man proper is held annually in northern Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Founded in 1986 by Larry Harvey, Jerry James and a few friends, the burn has grown exponentially. 2010’s gathering attracted well over fifty thousand people, seven hundred theme camps, two hundred and seventy five pieces of placed art and one fiery wooden statue of man standing one hundred and four feet tall. It was through my personal interest in wanting to one day grace Burning Man with my presence that inevitably led me to discover and eventually attend Alberta’s regional Burning Man, Freezer Burn– a rare phenomenon, as most people learn of the event and attend through friends who have connections to Burning Man in one way or another rather than simply finding it as I did.

My initial emotion as we arrive at Freezer Burn for the first time is anxiety. I stand at the greeter’s booth, where I have volunteered to dole out hugs to other new arrivees, when the thick mix of excitement and fear, like two tangling snakes slithering their way up my spine, coil themselves together down into my pineal pit and pulsate my psyche with a noxious anxiousness. I have not yet been able to adventure into the core of the festival’s commotion, as I am contained at the greeter’s booth, which is a good half mile’s distance from the hustle and bustle of the whole affair. I can just barely see the top of the enormous climbing dome that sits near centre camp. While slinging hugs on long-haired strangers and hanging out with volunteer coordinator Favrah (who is running the booth) is enjoyable, the phantasmagorical frothing of light and sound that is in the distance sends my anxiety toward its most serpentinian loopyness.

Badger planning our Saturday morning

Freezer Burn festival got its start in 2007 when Jennifer Strukoff– the regional organizer for the Burning Man organization, booked the Rochon Sands campground for a weekend in June, and invited as many of her fellow burners as she could find. Jennifer had joined the burner community when she and her husband went together in 2004. Some 90 people attended the first Alberta burn ­– and with Jen’s capacities as an organizer, and keeping local burners in the ‘default’ world connected, the event continues to grow. The last Freezer Burn had approximately 200 people.

Saturday at noon Lean Bear, my closest friend and roommate, and I stood on the edge of the slope leading down to the river. A few of the children (of which there are quite a few), a unique presence at the festival, are blowing soap bubbles to my right. Badger, my girlfriend, has just laid down for an afternoon nap. A little further down the steep embankment is a group of fifty-some people, most of them nude. They have set up a giant slip-and-slide ­– complete with one hundred feet of durable industrial plastic smeared in astroglide– skidding down the riverbank and ending near the water’s edge. The event is already underway by the time the two of us approach. It is a full-on success ­– clothes stripped off with little hesitation, people’s bodies free from restraint ­– the air herself saunters amongst us, feeling light-hearted and gay. Awkwardness failed to even make an appearance (we were told that awkwardness was spending a few days in the city, since there is so much more there to do). As I crack another beer I can feel the tingle of a weed-brownie working its way from my gut, through my blood, and padding my brain. Lean Bear pops open his beer too. A tab of acid swirls in his stomach and a grin draws itself across his face. I muse over a statue of Jesus with a dildo tied between his legs. A few words of Jen’s from when we had met for coffee a few weeks previous bounce through my head. “There are a lot of interesting things happening, a lot of interesting camps. If you can think about it then it is there. It may not be posted in the ‘what-where-when’ of the event, but it is there. It happens so long as there is consent, and people are of the right mind.” I stretch my legs out and lay in the glorious grass along the ridge. The day melts into the wonderfulness of the now.

The ten principles of radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leave no trace, participation and immediacy are what gives Burning Man, and all regional burns such as Freezer Burn, as Jen put it, “an overwhelming sense of community” (The Ten Principles of Burning Man). Additionally, on top of those ten principles connecting Freezer Burn to its parent community of Burning Man proper, the smaller event serves as a powerful training ground and ‘pre-experiment’ for the full event, which requires an enormous amount of resources to reach, time to prepare for and stamina to survive. And, of course, the contrast between Freezer Burn’s current location– an elk farm west of Ponoka- and Burning Man proper’s location ­– the Black Rock Desert ­– forms a distinct juxtaposition and interplay of values and experiences worth bouncing around in one’s mind for some time.

Credit: courtesy Leah K

Credit: courtesy Normurai L. S.

Saturday evening Badger and I, exhausted from a full day of engagement with a canvas of creation, retire to our tent for some needed rest. Karmic clockwork wakes us at ten thirty; the man would soon be burning. We frolic under the sleeping bag a bit before finally getting dressed and finding our way to the festival’s centre. Two hundred people are gathered around one of the most elaborate wooden constructions I have ever seen­– a thirty-foot-tall man made of intricately weaved and woven pieces of driftwood, built by Brother Ong, and it was about to be burnt to the ground. The fellow to my left, who on the first night had been wearing all fur and this morning had been wearing a Galactacus costume, is now adorned in a steampunk inspired battle suit. Lean Bear, standing to my right, is floating around in an ethereal swirl of MDA and body glitter. The fire starts low in the man’s feet. The wind begins to pick up and the fire eats its way up the right side of his body. His heat radiates. His light illuminates. The fire eats him. The man’s left arm, extended upwards as if in revolutionary defiance, is the final piece to be consumed by the heat and light. Badger breathes out a sigh of relief as the last of the man collapses upon itself in a fiery rush ­– her inner tensions had been tied up into the great driftwood hulk. The air is soft and almost shimmering as our bodies drift around the remaining fire out toward the pulsings and bursts of bright and height that have now begun flowing from the sound stages. Bass beats roll our souls around and down through the earth as a brilliant flash and flood of luminosity carries us out and up into the trees and back again.

Burning Man and Freezer Burn defy the laws of thermodynamics ­– an astonishing group of people gather to participate in a unique experience, creating an abundance of new and exciting energy ­– a tingling tangling twining twirling ebb and flow of an extraordinary elan vital.

As a fellow burner grokked as we all watched the man be consumed by flames, “that glow is fucking glorious, man.”

Spun: Kim Churchill – Turns to Stone

(Ed. note: originally I had no intentions of posting this album review since I felt that both the album and the review were largely inconsequential. However, on the website where the story was originally published we’ve received a number of negative comments [and a few positive ones, too]. Thus, to further internet nonsense I have posted it. Enjoy)

The Gauntlet offices are often flooded with new records, making it tempting to simply toss discs out based on artwork alone. Australian native Kim Churchill’s second album, Turns to Stone, was no exception, being one of the most terribly designed albums since Brooks & Dunn’s Hard Workin’ Man.

However, since someone took the effort to send this wretched-looking disc to an obscure campus newspaper office, then they must have been trying to connect with university students. Thus, the album was given the careful consideration that it was due. Unfortunately, it did not take long to realize that Turns to Stone will probably not appeal to university students. The album combines Churchill’s eighth-grade level poetry skills with his testicle-lacking vocals, creating the ultimate album for forty-something stay-at-home mothers and their tween daughters through whom they live vicariously. Churchill’s capacity as a talented whistler and guitar strummer is not enough to redeem him.

Just try not to let your brain hemorrhage when, in the song “It’s the System,” Churchill reaches lyrical perfection with the lines “Sometimes this world makes me mad/sometimes this world makes me sad.” It’s just too easy and too boring.

John O’Reagan is Diamond Rings

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John O’Regan — who performs under the moniker Diamond Rings — is one of Canada’s hardest working artists as well as one of her most intriguing ones. Capable of pulling off solo shows that pulse with an unparalleled energy, Diamond Rings deserves attention. On Monday afternoon, I grokked with Diamond Rings — touching on his artistic persona, being misunderstood and the difficulties an artist faces — in advance of his Mar. 23 show at Republik.

Gauntlet: So you, John, are Diamond Rings. What is this persona?

Diamond Rings: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly. I have a background in fine arts and listen to lots of diverse music. Diamond Rings is where everything meets. This is what it looks like when they all get spat out at once.

G: In other interviews it’s often said, or assumed, that the Diamond Rings persona just mentioned is a sort of mask, probably on account of all the makeup and glam; a sort-of character that you put on before going on stage.

DR: That’s completely unrealistic. Anyone performing anything is, ultimately, going to show you a part of themselves you usually don’t see. But, no, it’s not fake or anything. That goes for anyone getting up on a stage. It’s not a put-on; it’s still part of me.

G: So Diamond Rings is perhaps an alternative part of you?

DR: Totally.

G: Whenever I read about you, apart from the mask thing we just discussed, it’s often suggested that a lot of what you’re doing has a sexual side to it. How do you feel about that?

DR: I don’t really think there’s anything explicitly sexual about what I do. I’m not flashing my dick up on stage or anything. I’m not doing anything that is that provocative. It’s been interesting for me to watch the way that other people reinterpret what I’m doing. I’m consistently shocked and amazed that often what I’m doing is thrust into a world of people looking at [it] as being this explicitly sexual thing. It’s not about that to me. It’s about personal freedom and liberation. For myself, if other people want to take what I’m doing and run with it, great, but it’s not about them. There are people contributing far more to whatever problems like what you’re talking about than what I’m doing. We’re not puritans anymore. I’m getting up on stage in tights and dancing around. It’s no different from what any female popstar would be doing. In that sense it’s a lot more covered up than a lot of those people too.

G: So that sexual reaction to your work is an inane interpretation?

DR: I don’t know. I mean, people can interpret what I do whatever way they want. That’s the beauty of music and art. Regardless of what your intentions are as an artist there is bound to be someone who interprets you in a way that you could never have anticipated. Ultimately it’s not my place to care what those people think, either. Whatever. Just because some dude doesn’t get what I’m doing, it’s not like I’m gonna stop doing it.

G: Pitchfork gave your album, Special Affections, an 8.2. How has this affected you?

DR: I don’t know. On some level it goes to validate the hard work I’ve put in to recording an album. It didn’t buy me a house or a Mercedes-Benz. There’s the misperception that as soon as Pitchfork talks about you, all of a sudden as an artist you’ve made it. This isn’t true. It definitely helps, but it’s not like I can just start playing shitty shows and mailing it in performance-wise. I still have to work hard. If anything, it’s given me the incentive to work even harder to complete another album that is just as good or better.

G: What are your intentions as Diamond Rings?

DR: To write great music. To perform. Put on entertaining shows. Be an award-class artist.

G: Are you achieving that?

DR: No. Not at all. If I was I’d be taking a vacation. It will take years to achieve that. I’m doing as well as I can given my circumstances, but I’m no where near where I want to be as a performer, a musician.

G: Lots of hard work for the future then.

DR: I just know that to do this at a high level requires a lot of work and I’m aware of that. Part of that awareness stems from the fact that I haven’t had a lot handed to me in that way. I value that. If I had grown up in a major centre I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now. I don’t take it for granted that I live in Toronto and there’s interesting shit to do every night. I started playing music in Guelph, Ontario, which is smaller than Calgary, but it has its own rich musical tradition. I know and understand those pressures, like, “Oh you’re moving to the big city, isn’t that nice.” Who are other people to know what’s best for anyone but themselves?

G: I can respect that. I myself am from rural Alberta: Calgary is the “big city” that I’ve moved to… .

DR: Totally. Toronto is small potatoes when you start playing shows in New York or London. There’s always that “better” place. It’s just about finding that place you’re comfortable and making the best of it.