Saturday, 11 April 2009

Book Review: Runaway - Diary of a Street Kid, by Evelyn Lau (1989)

There is a monster hovering over the young life of Evelyn Lau, as she recounts her two years as a Vancouver street kid after escaping from the home of her parents at age of 14.

The monster is worse than the drugs, the depression, and the prostitution that Lau describes in vivid and sometimes agonizing detail. The monster is too scary, and too evil for Lau to be able to look it in the eye and describe it the way she describes every other detail of her sordid street life.

The monster is, of course, Lau's mother. We see her in glimpses -- a few words here, a couple of sentences there, and at most a short paragraph in that corner, sprinkled across a 340 page book. If we collect all the passages that describe Lau's mother, they would make up less than 2 pages of the book.

Yet it seems evident that Lau's mother is the one overwhelming reason for her escape from home. An apparently domineering, demanding, angry woman incapable of demonstrating love, Lau's mother so effectively convinced Evelyn that she was a worthless, useless, inadequate child, not worthy of being loved and not capable of ever satisfying anyone's hopes.

At 14, Evelyn, whose passion is writing, only knows her mother as a wretched, screaming woman who has crushed the spirit of her father and imprisoned Evelyn in her bedroom to complete endless bouts of homework. Like a spring that is over-compressed, Evelyn unwinds violently, straight out of the house and into a dramatic downward spiral.

Runaway is a long series of journal entries that chronicle the two years that Evelyn spent on the street, aged 14 to 16. There are escapes to a hippie commune, to the US, and to Calgary. There are endless social workers, psychiatry sessions, casual friends, distant relatives, pimps, johns, and drug pushers. There are many graphic descriptions of drug-induced hallucinations, deep depression and mental anguish, suicide attempts, and acts of prostitution. There is no mistaking the writing talent on display, which is nothing short of amazing from the pen of a young teenager.

Evelyn's desperate search for the affection and loving attention that she so obviously lacked at home leads her to easily believe that she is falling in love with an assortment of men, from a social worker to a drug pusher to her psychiatrist. But as a girl who hates herself, she is clueless about the skills needed to establish proper human relationships, and she stumbles into prostitution as a substitute means to feel needed. And all her emotional emptiness is dulled by an endless amount of drugs, that progress from marijuana to cocaine.

There are many touching moments in Runaway. Many revolve around Evelyn recounting her relationship with her father, whom she perceives as equally a victim of her mother's crushing lack of affection. And towards the end of the book, Evelyn starts to come to terms with the need to confront the anguish of the first 14 years of her life, to try and understand what it is that she is running away from.

The real lessons behind the story of Runaway are about the essential importance of parenting in a young child's life, and the importance of parents properly nurturing the emotional needs of children when they are most dependent and helpless. The overwhelmingly influential role of parents in the first decade of their child's life means that both the good that parents achieve and the damage that they cause is ever-lasting.

Published in paperback by Harper Collins.
341 pages.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Entertainment: Train Wreck on Live Radio - the Billy Bob Thornton Q Interview

I had the pleasure of listening live to the Billy Bob Thornton interview on the CBC radio program Q, which hit the airwaves in Vancouver on Wednesday morning, April 8. Host Jian Ghomeshi had Thornton and the other members of his country music band The Boxmasters in-studio to promote a concert in Toronto.

From the instant that Thornton gave his first answer -- "I don't know what you're talking about"-- I sensed that I was about to witness a train wreck in slow motion. Was Thornton zonked out on drugs? Was he drunk?

The tension was evident over the air as the other three members of The Boxmasters tried nervously to rescue the session and answer Ghomeshi's questions. The combination of stress and anxiety in Ghomeshi's voice every time he directed a question to Thornton, not knowing what to expect and trying to salvage an interview from a clearly uncooperative subject, was riveting.

And finally when Thornton set-off on his "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine story, which was both sensationally hilarious and incredibly uncomfortable, it was clear that this interview was instantly gaining entry into the "all-time classic moments of radio" hall of fame, and it was just thrilling to be witnessing it.

So it turns out that Thornton was quite upset that his non-musical careers were mentioned by Ghomeshi in the introduction to interview. It seems that Mr. Thornton takes his musical career seriously and does not want listeners to even remember that he is also an award-winning actor and screen-writer. Whether or not he was also "under the influence" of something, we will never know.

As a semi-regular listener to parts of Ghomeshi's show, I could not help but feel a lot of sympathy for him as the drama unfolded. He ended up handling the situation brilliantly. It was one of these moments that a leader can never be prepared for, but when instincts need to take over and just the right combination of assertiveness and humility is needed to rescue the situation.

Almost as interesting was listening to Ghomeshi's next segment as he interviewed Canadian actor Albert Schultz. Even over the airwaves, I could sense the adrenaline gushing out of Ghomeshi as his heart beat returned to normal and his brain raced to replay what had just happened and the multitude of scenarios that could or should have happened. The veteran Schultz recognized that he had a role to help his host regain his bearings, and he did this very well.

So was Thornton following the age-old adage that "all publicity is good publicity", and recognizing that creating a bit of radio history was the best thing that he could do to boost the popularity of his otherwise obscure country music band? Maybe. But whatever his reasons, he should be thanked for creating a marvellously entertaining and memorable radio interview.

In case you missed it, here is a link to the interview.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Concert Review: Lamb of God at the UBC Thunderbird Arena, Vancouver

On Wednesday night, Britney Spears performed at GM Place in downtown Vancouver, but serious music fans were over at UBC's Thunderbird Arena, where Lamb of God and friends conducted rigorous tests of the building's earthquake readiness.

Taking the stage around 10:15 pm and going full-throttle for 75 minutes, Lamb of God raised the roof, shook the walls, and vibrated the foundations of the building and all its occupants -- about 5,000 fans strong. Vocalist Randy Blythe produced a superhuman performance of boundless energy and loud growling, and somehow matched the sound assault of drummer Chris Adler, bassist John Campbell and guitarists Willie Adler and Mark Morton. Together they created a stunningly thick wall of sound that seemed to take on a powerful life of its own, and left the enthusiastic crowd physically exhausted and drained yet craving more.

The band sounded clean, tight, and sharp, as they performed about 13 songs, half from new album Wrath, and the rest a selection of favourites from Sacrament, Ashes of the Wake, and As The Palaces Burn. The highlights were many, and included Walk With Me in Hell and the massive Hourglass. Redneck confirmed that the building meets the highest seismic standards. Lamb of God closed the night with Black Label from New American Gospel, and the mosh pit needed little prompting to create the famed wall of death.

The main supporting act was Children of Bodom, performing for about 40 minutes with highlights including Living Dead Beat, In Your Face and Downfall. Guitarist Alexi Laiho appeared sober and in relative control, but Bodom just do not sound too good live. They appear to have trouble keeping to the rhythm of their songs (they seem to perform faster than needed), and they generally play close approximations of the necessary notes. Keyboardist Janne Wirman did not help matters by appearing generally disinterested and repeatedly wandering off the stage mid-song between the keyboard passages.

On Wednesday Bodom were not helped by a sound system clearly not set up for them, which resulted in the drums and bass dominating the band's sound. Still, the crowd responded well and appreciated Laiho's guitar wizardry.

Laiho turned 30 on Wednesday, and Blythe appeared on stage while Bodom was performing to lead the crowd in singing Happy Birthday.

Earlier, As I Lay Dying of San Diego and God Forbid of New Jersey warmed up the crowd with enthusiastic 30 minute sets, but neither band could hide the overall lack of elite level talent, and they were both also hampered by a small stage and no sound test time. But special mention to Byron Davis, lead vocalist of God Forbid, for good and entertaining crowd engagement. Municipal Waste from Richmond, Virginia actually opened the concert at 7 pm, but I did not arrive that early.

The change-over between bands was handled briskly and maintained the momentum of the concert, keeping the mostly well-behaved fans in the groove.

Overall a good night of top quality heavy metal in Vancouver.
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