Out

Sometimes I can still hear it.

It’s the end of the night and Dead Can Dance’s Rakim drifts and rhythmically rumbles through the musty air before the undulating chant of the female singer through the night. The DJ knows what he’s doing. The frenzy of Electric Body Music with its violence of movement and the wry painfulness of clarity that is Alternative Rock have taken their course and had their place in their club.

Now the bar is closed and the black-jacketed, white dressed, neon colour-haired patrons are fewer and dancing with each other in pairs: slowly in tempo with the music. All of reality itself seems to wind out like a wavering road as the woman sings and the man chants in a deeper voice, with stranger words, accompanied by the hollow tap of drums and waves of languorous, synthesized sound.

Everything downtown, far away from where I sleep at the time, unfolds a path in front of me as I watch them dance. I see everything that has happened before and I know that even before being here it had already been in my head: this simultaneity. It gestates through countless songs, and observations, and the weird jerking near-violent movements and pseudo-martial forms that I called dancing. This feeling will continue to grow long after my long bus ride home.

“A million faces, a million lies,”  VNV Nation’s Chrome wavers out before I ever knew its name, accompanied by a weird looping music that somehow taps my heart.

“The streets are cold, the lights go by…”  Like a strange, throbbing, secret whisper it tells me about walking downtown the first time by myself at night, the passing of the streetcar away from Brock, a lost white grin and electric blue eyes, words on a screen leading nowhere, that summer on Euclid Avenue, friends at a Noodle Shop, wishing my friends were there in a bar dancing, a worn convenience store open past three, Higher Ground and Eglinton, cold darkness, past chances, taken chances, lost chances…

When that music comes on, it’s as though my life isn’t linear but multiple-choice: my thoughts fragmenting but somehow being pulled back together again. Then I remember EBM and rock music and it’s as though I’m fighting against the inertia of my life in the epic battle I’ve always fought in my mind: alone and proud.

But then at the end of the night, my favourite night of the week, my Friday night, after dancing through the endless possibilities and talking mutely with people over thundering percussion, I’d see the reality of it. Two men in glistening black leather kilts dance with a white-blonde girl between them. A tall girl moves with a shorter darker one. Then Rakim winds down for the night, the male singer’s last reverberating, “Since forgotten…”

I remember these Friday Nights well as I skirted the rim of the dance floor and danced in the middle of it in my own bubble of space. I interacted with the people much in the same way, just as I still in some ways do. I remember that I don’t relate well to groups. I am like the girl in “Tonio Kroger” that tries to dance like others, on the periphery, but unlike her I know I have my own dance that few can or could care to match. Perhaps I’m getting too old to dance now, too hermetic to move as often. Maybe I already had my chance to find something special in the night.

Yet sometimes, even now, I have this insane urge to contemplate another Gothic Picnic in High Park drinking the liquid essence of fruit salad and watermelon juice alongside white-painted people wearing black leather and lace. Or maybe I’d dress up like the Crow again and go downtown to lose myself in the role while dancing: laughing at those who think I’m Heath Ledger’s Joker instead.

At the very least, I can take comfort in knowing that I can still dance well in one place: through the diaphanous smoke screen of my own words. Right here.

The Crow

Song Hunter

If they listen, they can tell he’s listening to the music again. It beats and wavers from the basement that Friday night as he sits at their computer. Sometimes it is a combination of industrial sounds and chiming. Other times it seems to encompass the night. There are even moments when they can make out voices, though the hard percussion and beats of the music are muffled by the floor between him and them: making the vocals only vaguely decipherable at best.

So they don’t really know what the music is, or what might–or might not–mean to him.

They don’t see him hunched over and cross-legged on the swivel chair. He sits there staring at a blank Google screen. His hands are clasped together and his fingers are entwined in front of him. They feel cold.

He listens to the music and its rhythms: as though trying to find something, trying to go back to the night beyond the basement, to the city, to a club that doesn’t exist, and another one that changed … trying to go back in time.

As he listens to VNV Nation’s “Space and Time” again, he tries to remember the remnants of a train of music. The beats are faint in his head, but they do not translate into words or anything tangible enough to work with.

One, you love the goddess,
two, you bring the night,
three, your song has ended,
and four is the god-killing light.

The half-imagined refrain of “spread the lay, Judgment Day …” faintly thunders like echoes or receding footsteps through his mind. He can’t find the song’s name: not through the typing of half-imagined fragments of lyrics on Google, or sifting through Electric Body Music on YouTube. Sometimes he wonders if the song and the dancing pale bodies were just figments of a long-standing delusion: the same one on which he had been out of this house, out of this basement … dancing …

Spread the lay,
Judgment Day …

Somehow, he thinks if he can find that song it will all come back in some way, somehow … the bouncer with the golden eyes, the concrete stairs, the welcoming dark beat …

Old dark nights two years gone sit like uneasy ashes in the pit of his stomach, rustling the occasional word, the remains of a memory, when all of it was still real …

Huddled in his sweatshirt and old sweatpants, he tries to remember the feel of black leather on his shoulders, and the luminous lights of downtown and clanking tracks, and the anticipation that far outweighed the anxiety.

And then, clicking on the mouse in one chill hand, he finds something. An 8-Tracks.

It belongs to a DJ that went to a club he knows well, though it was long gone before he ever walked the streets of Toronto on his own.

It’s music from Sanctuary.

That is when he knows. He can’t skip too many tracks: the application won’t let him. Instead, he sits and waits it out. Each wailing note and synthesized tone brings him closer. Queen Street. Floor-length black leather coats. Floating must. The night bus on the way home. A girl’s head on his shoulder.

But music creates videos inside his mind: replaying scenes that may or may not have happened. He isn’t sure yet. He isn’t sure …

Then there is the silence. And the hollow beat. He checks the list to see what it is called.

Front 242’s “Headhunter V1.0.”

Finally. Finally, he knows its name. He knows who made it. He can call it up on YouTube and the Web with impunity. He can play it whenever he wants.

And he plays it. He waits until the song comes to its crescendo and he finally–and truly–hears it.

One you lock the target,
Two you bait the line,
Three you slowly spread the net,
And four you catch the man!

As the song tells him to “Lock the target, bait the line, spread the net, and catch the man,” over and again, he listens to the rest of the music. And, for a few moments, he’s back.

He takes the bus the bus from his apartment, to the subway and to the Spadina streetcar. Sometimes he goes to the Velvet at Queen but usually it’s the Neutral Lounge. He goes there every Friday night. Sometimes he’s there with friends, sometimes meeting friends but more often than not he goes there alone …

Except for that night when he got off the streetcar. He’d been reading Soseki’s Kokoro–a novel about an old man eaten away by the shadow of guilt and youth being the loneliest time of all–when he met an unexpected Cheshire smile, electric blue eyes, the inside of a red car smelling like cigars, and something wonderful.

Until it and everything after was eroded by shadow.

Lock the target, bait the line,
spread the net, then catch the man …

Something dead stirs inside him as he finds himself back in the basement. While he is reminded of the freedom that going to that club first held for him, he also recalls the disconnect of watching the beautiful people dance and hearing nothing but the music, the fear that he would lose this place, and the emptiness underneath it all. It never seemed real. He never really belonged.

He will never dance there or anywhere as he once had. The music of the clubs is now regulated to the speakers of the computer that doesn’t belong to him and his once aggressive movements have become the nervous twitches of a burnt-out recluse. But even as the pang of what he lost reverberates through him again, he remembers the hollow feeling and the fleeting nature of happiness, and how even if he could go back–even when he could–there is nothing waiting for him there now.

Perhaps there never was. Perhaps he was just as alone there as he is here, as he was in the apartment that the people upstairs helped him take apart that last night.

Perhaps it was all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Maybe it had all meant nothing.

So he sits in that basement, listening to dead music from a dead life, staring at a blank screen and reliving glory days that never happened, still remembering–like Lucifer–the time when he thought he was an Angel but always knowing that his own fall had been a slow and gradual matter of becoming an unmovable object colliding against the unstoppable force inside himself.

The real and imagined lyrics of the song he looked for, for so long, begins to coalesce in his head now: the real words hard, and his own become shadowy echoes interlapping with one another inside the dark core of what he now knows what he truly is.

One you lock the target,
one, you love the goddess,
Two you bait the line,
two, you bring the night,
Three you slowly spread the net,
three, your song has ended,
And four you catch the man!
…is the god-killing light…

Spread the lay,
Judgment Day …

Photo Credit: Sevres Babylone

Skeletons Have All the Fun

It isn’t even a ten-minute walk from the Velvet to Rainbow Nosferatu’s club, but his chest still aches. He shakes his head and looks up at his handiwork.

The Scrawling is in the back of the office complex closest to the parking lot. A sign with stylized cursive red font over a black background greets him: complete with a skeleton’s hand drawing a hanged stickman on a white skull with a quill. Rainbow Nosferatu spares a glance at the makeshift bike-rack below the steps of the entrance: knowing he will be back for his ride later as he enters his club.

Despite his name, Rainbow Nosferatu finds himself bathed in the familiar dark red light of the remaining candles in their glasses on the tables closest to the door. A large projector screen dominates the dark red club while slide-shows scroll through a variety of images up overhead. He waves at some of the staff as they continue cleaning up for the night. Chairs and tables scrape across the floor without the music that has no doubt stopped for the night. But this doesn’t bother Rainbow Nosferatu. Instead, he closes his eyes for a few moments and basks in the warmth of the place he made with his few friends, very little money and a great deal of love.

The feeling of sunflowers seems to approach him from behind and he actually smiles a bit–for real this time–as he opens his eyes and watches the slide on the screen transition into another page from a public domain 1950s horror comic.

“You know,” he says, looking up at a scene of skeletons rising up from their graves to embrace a screaming blonde-haired woman in a white bridal gown, “Skeletons used to be so cool in the fifties.”

The sense of sunflowers seemed to laugh with its voice, “Probably because some people needed a real proper boning.”

Rainbow Nosferatu shakes his head, “They weren’t just about the sex. No, there was the vengeance too. Artists in those days could only be so … graphic,” he turns to her as she groans, “What? You just did that earlier Marigold. It’s true though. Underneath all that flesh, we just want to possess each other: out of anger and out of passion. Now it’s all about the zombies: eating flesh indiscriminately and not caring about where your meal has been, or what it even tastes like.”

“I don’t know boss,” Marigold grins up at him through twisted red and yellow dreadlocks, “Flesh-eating has at least a few uses I can think of.”

“True,” Rainbow Nosferatu can’t help but smirk at this game of innuendo, “But a skeleton still has their personality. Even without a bit of flesh on them, they still remember who or what wronged them. They remember what life was like when they had it. Revenge or lust, they keep their eye-socket on the prize and they take what they want. They are the bare essence of want.”

“Ah, so you mean to say ‘kids these days,’ huh Rain?” she wraps an arm around his shoulder and hugs him.

“Yeah, those gosh-darned zombie goth kids these days,” he says ruefully and moves to lean his head against hers in order to return her brief half-hug, “Were there many of them since I was last here?”

Marigold smoothes out the ivory dress on her lithe frame, “Nah boss. A few writer-types. One girl asked for something at the juice-bar and I made it for her. There was a dancer or two. Some Tarot-readers. Oh, and some of the Ancients dropped by and asked about you. Not much else though.”

Rainbow Nosferatu sees as much. The juice stall is closed for the night. Marigold made excellent drinks among hostessing and ticket-collecting. Despite what he told Jake earlier about checking on drinking in his club–which was mostly to get away from him anyway–he couldn’t actually afford a liquor license: yet another thing Linda would remind him of …

“Don’t come back until you have your shit together.”

Rainbow Nosferatu suddenly feels tired, “I guess the All-Ages Nights are going the way of the skeletons too,” he looks sadly around the place, his place, “Has Linda …”

“No,” Marigold shakes her head, “I’m sorry, boss, but I didn’t see her come in or down from the loft,” she puts a hand on his shoulder, “Is everything ok Rain?”

He looks at her for a few moments and senses her warmth and concern. He knows that sometimes she can see right through him: through each other without the details, “Is my aura really that blue?”

“Yeah, well,” she shrugs again, “Let me put it to you this way: your aura might as well be singing ‘I hurt myself today’ in Texican drawl.”

“Heh,” he gives her that, knowing that she is trying to make him laugh and feel a bit better, “I thought … Linda and I thought to ourselves: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to make a Club for All-Ages where you can sit and write, or dance to Dead Can Dance or Sisters of Mercy while reading projected slides of old horror comics and poetry on the screen instead of watching muted TV shows or music videos?’ But we weren’t prepared for the costs. Now things are changing and I guess, in the end, that’s the way things go.”

“I still think it’s a really awesome idea, Rain,” she squeezes his hand.

“Yeah. Me too,” Rainbow Nosferatu sighs, “we had some good times here. But it’s only a matter of time now … before we go the way of Sanctuary.”

“We lasted a while, Rain.”

“A few months now,” he nods, “I guess we have one more at best. Maybe I can get away with using some epic video game boss battle sound-track for the Last Nights!” he somehow manages to wink against his crushing sadness.

“We’ll have a Gothic Tetris face-off,” Marigold says, “with Dark Soundtracks and Fin de Siecle Tequila Shots!”

“Sounds like a date!” Rainbow Nosferatu hears himself say and inwardly winces at the choice of words, “Well, I’m heading off now. See you next week Marigold.”

“See you. Oh, boss, I almost forgot something.”

Rainbow Nosferatu blinks. He can see the sunflower glow around Marigold become subdued with blue, “What is it Marigold?”

She reaches into her bra and takes out a small envelope, “It’s from … Lily.”

Rainbow Nosferatu feels his hands turn clammy.

“Oh,” he says simply, dumbly, staring at the letter in Marigold’s hand, “I’d been trying to get in touch with her for a while now …”

“I know,” Marigold’s eyes look at him with sympathy, “I didn’t open–”

He waves her off as he takes the letter, “Oh I know that, Mari. I appreciate you holding this for me.”

He doesn’t tell her that he’d been sending emails, texts and voice messages to Lily for a month or so now: every once and a while … trying to be unobtrusive. Trying not to be needy … and slowly going crazy inside from not hearing from her. Dark-haired, pallid, thin slight Lily with her love of Neil Gaiman’s Death and the way she listened to his stories whenever they hung out here at The Scrawling. She’d met Linda and they seemed to have gotten along. He and her would hold hands whenever she made it. That was all they really did for a month. It had made him happy to hold that slight pale hand in his own that made his seem so awkward and gangly by comparison.

He remembered her email quite a few nights ago: finally telling him she would get in contact with him soon. He’d almost forgotten that email. Almost.

“You’d never turn pussy down,” he remembers Linda screaming at him during that fight, “In fact, you pride yourself on it.”

He turns away and opens the letter. It is a simple piece of paper with three words written in beautiful cursive writing.

Stop writing me.

Rainbow Nosferatu blinks. Stop. Writing. Me. Each word hits him. Each word is like a punch to the stomach. Three punches to the stomach. Three times. He swallows.

“Rain?”

Marigold walks in front of him and takes the letter. She looks at it. Her subdued aura becomes a burning one of vivid reds, blues and violets, “Oh Rain, I’m …”

“I-it’s ok, Marigold,” he says, quietly, “I guess … in the end, she’s just a kid. She …”

“She’s twenty years old, Rain,” Marigold looks as angry as she feels to him, “She was adult enough to get into it. She knew what she was doing. I did back in the day. And this … this is just totally uncool! I mean … oh Rain, I’m sorry.”

She hugs him again. It takes him a few moments, but he returns her embrace, “It’s okay, Mari,” he gently pushes her away, “I’m … disappointed, I won’t lie. But with Linda and everything, it’s … just as well now. Wow. I’m really not having a good month,” he shakes his head and finds himself tucking the piece of paper into his pants pocket, “Gosh darn zombie goth kids these days I guess,” he smiles weakly, “I need to go.”

“Are you sure? Rain …”

He looks at her: Marigold the bartender, waitress, ticket-collector, dancer, Goth, one of the few that believed sunflowers were happy accidents of God, who knew what obscure movie that paraphrase came from, one of his few friends who he knows that right now–anytime–but especially right now would do anything for him. Anything. He breaks that half-thought and he’s glad his face is painted white enough to cover the red that threatens it.

“I need some time to myself right now. Thank you. Love you, Mari. See you later,” he hugs her one more time and leaves.

He wonders, as he clears the door and down the stairs, what people might think of the streaks of black mascara and white make-up rolling down his face. Maybe they would think he’s some dumb punk kid. Or maybe a clown. That was it. Maybe they’d think he was the Great Pagliacci.

Pagliacci: the Gothic Clown.

What is FV Disco?

Disko FV

All right, so it’s been a while since I have really challenged myself to do something different. This challenge, however, has been a long time in the making and I’ve been trying to find the best way to go about it. It won’t be perfect and I’m sure that there is scholarship and writing out that is far more accurate and well-written on the topic, but really this is just a possible answer to something that’s been nagging at me for a while now.

Anyway, two years ago I read a really cool graphic novel called Kenk: a comics biography of the infamous Torontonian bicycle thief Igor Kenk. It deals with his possible psychological motivations for his actions, his own personal philosophies, and how his background may have influenced the man he has become. The comic was actually conceived and produced by Alex Jansen, written by Richard Poplak, the photographs and filming it was based from–along with its design–created by Jason Gilmore, and Nick Marinkovich was integral in illustrating and creating its aesthetic. I wrote a review on this at Amazon: with very little understanding of the choice of art-style at the time.

I didn’t think much about Nick Marinkovich’s unique art at the time, aside from its strange sharpened and accentuated angles, the occasional blurry lines, the really incredible contrast of the white stark outlines of people and objects containing an inner gritty grey and black, and the pastiche feeling of it until I watched this interview: conducted by QTV on CBC1 Radio with both Richard Poplak and Alex Jansen. Poplak himself talked a little more about the aesthetics of the graphic novel. First he stated that he and the graphic artist Nick Marinkovich used the fumetti comics medium form: which is basically comic book that uses photos or arrangements of altered photos to tell a story. There is a wikipedia entry and other information on the fumetti form.

However, Poplak also mentioned that he traveled to Slovenia–Igor Kenk’s home country where he grew up–and found another form of art: which the Pop Sandbox team ended up using for their creation. When I first heard him say the name, I didn’t understand what he was talking about. I actually missed the word several times before rewinding the video and hearing it again. Now, I pride myself on finding out as much about the comics medium and associated art forms as I can and this bothered me: the fact that I didn’t know what this word was.

Finally, I made out the word “Faeve” or “Fauve.” But then after some more online digging I came across the Kenk book site and I found out that it was FV Disco that Poplak had been talking about. It was in fact the definition that Poplak provided here and on 12:17 of his QTV Interview that I used when describing the style of Fotonixe’s artwork in my entry on TweakerRay’s Collector Chapter 02: the idea of a gritty-collage like arrangement of photos and images with a dark punk-like atmosphere. As I said in my previous entry, Fotonixe’s style reminded me of this and wasn’t necessarily derived from it. But this did get me thinking.

Because I can tell you that I have tried to google FV Disco several times–specifically as an art form–and I didn’t get very much. It also took me ages–in fact very recently–to realize that FV was in fact pronounced as “fauve” or some equivalent and wasn’t an acronym or a pair of letters. A little while ago, I figured out that the term FV Disco seems to have come from an influential Slovenian alternate theatre turned counter-cultural group or club called Theatre FV 112/15: a group that turned into a movement in Ljubljana–the capital of Slovenia–in the changing former Yugoslavia of the 1980s: where Poplak says that FV Disco itself came from. I found out the name of the group by finding an article on a Goth Rock and Electronic Body Music group called Borghesia: that was apparently formed from some of Theatre FV’s original members.

It was greatly involved with video art as well as music and as it transitioned from an amateur theatre group into an alternative club that made a space for sexual, social, and artistic differences: or so this article here claims.

But very recently I found out what “FV” or “Faeve” is might mean. I found–or perhaps–rediscovered an article by Katja Praznik called Theatre, Emancipation and Political Power: Two Cases From the Past in which she explains that FV “refers to France Verbinc’s (FV) local, frequently used Dictionary of Foreign Terms, page 112, entry 15, where we find the following: C’est la guerre – This is war, that’s how it is in war.” In other words, the group’s name seems to have been derived from a citation or a quote that is appropriate given the climate in which the group was created. This was during the time after Tito’s death where Yugoslavia was beginning to change–to separate–and there were great artistic expressions of socialism and capitalism occurring.

Richard Poplak himself argues that this was what was occurring in Igor Kenk’s formative years in Slovenia and it affected him. There is one element of this movement that Poplak pays great attention to when he discusses it in the above synopsis. He states that the primary medium of FV Disco–what seems to be the artistic as opposed to musical and performative aspects of it–was the photocopy machine: “an agent of democracy because it put publishing – which was until then state-run – in the hands of the people.” It is interesting to note that when I’ve looked at Kenk, the images did seem almost like propaganda posters and pictures rearranged into a different collage form entirely. I can see how–as advertisements for FV Disco’s musical and social scenes and as art in itself–just how subversive it was in that changing environment. Add to the fact that there was a “a gritty punk” element alongside it makes for a really interesting aesthetic and atmosphere.

I think what I find most fascinating about it, at least from what Poplak describes, is how FV Disco takes old ideas and objects and rearranges them: in fact recycles them.  But it’s more complex than that. Praznik in her article likes to state that Theatre FV wanted to create “spaces” or alternative realities in a rapidly changing socialist environment where people could express themselves. She also mentions that one objective of this movement, and those like it, were to blur the line between the performance and the viewer: or art and reality.

In a way, Theatre FV was one of those responsible for creating new wombs of artistic culture and reality and I can see–in that sense–just how all the above might have affected Igor Kenk’s philosophies. He liked to recycle and “hoard” things that North Americans apparently take for granted. The man was also aware of how economic and political systems can change rapidly and the crafting of his own world-view and indeed his life, seems like a haphazard collage of grittiness and innovation. Even Kenk’s own “performance stage”–a Bicycle Clinic filled with so many bikes that he had to spill them from the space of his shop into the streets just to open the door–did not separate itself from the rest of Queen Street West Toronto or the sphere of people it brought in.

Customers, and pedestrians alike were brought into his world of bikes and junk. I never saw it like this until I did some of my own amateurish haphazard research into the matter. It really made me look at the aesthetic of the Kenk graphic novel even more closely. In his article Portrait of a Serial Stealer, Richard Poplak goes into a little more detail on FV and even talks about how his artistic collaborator Nick Marinkovich creates the style of the piece: detailing some of the work that he did. It also hits home the fact that Poplak and the rest of the team that made the book adapted it from actual photo and video footage produced by Jansen and Gilmore: the latter of which are the most references I’ve been able to find on the FV movement aside from those from Poplak.

What I think is a real shame though, in all honesty, is that FV Disco–or Theatre FV 112/15–doesn’t have its own Wikipedia page or a more indepth English language entry of some kind: because it is a really fascinating social and artistic phenomenon to come from a socialist nation that no longer exists and I never put much thought about it at the time. It makes me wonder just how much it might have influenced other forms of art: not just in Eastern Europe but the rest of the world as well.

One more interesting of note is that there is a 1997 documentary called Staro in Novo or The Old and The New created by Neven Korda and Zemira Alajbegovic: who were, according to the site Zank, apparently leading members of the old FV Theatre group and then of Borghesia. They made something called FV Video where they created this documentary: of which I could only find excerpts on Youtube. Copies of the video cassette do exist in some Universities even in North America but I’m not sure if there are any DVD versions, but apparently you can download it here. But it would be an interesting thing to look at.

One thing that I also find interesting is on the site VideoDokument, Korda and Alajbegovic not only talk about the creation of video art, they mention that “Although the images move and we can hear them, video takes much more from comics than it does from film. It was comics that encouraged sequencing and the combination and movement of images, sounds and stories.” I find that a really nice parallel to how Kenk was influenced as a comics form by video and other media from the FV movement. I should also point out that Kenk is also being adapted into an animated film: perhaps making the journey between FV-influenced film and comics come full circle.

I’ll tell you now that I’m not up to the task of making a Wikipedia article on this matter. I’ve said before that I am no musical expert or even an artistic one. I am certainly no expert in Slovenia or Eastern European culture, but it would be nice if someone did this: because I think it’s important. It’s also a shame I can’t find any FV Disco art online as well and I will probably post a picture from Kenk. It seems that the scholar in me doesn’t die so easily, but I just like to write about things that interest me and go on an adventure to see what I can uncover from them when they are being too stubborn to be found.

Some special notes and thanks: the really awesome and emblematic “Disko FV” image seen above this post is actually a hand-made security ribbon taken from the collection of Dario Seraval: one of the former members of the Theatre FV-112/15 group and current member and drummer for Borghesia. The images from the graphic novel Kenk were very generously lent to this post by Alex Jansen and Jason Gilmore. Believe or not I underestimated how much time and effort making this post and finding images for it would take, but in the end thanks to correspondence with Aldo Ivancic (another former member of Theatre FV and current member of Borghesia whom I talked with about using said ribbon) and Alex Jansen, as well as Richard Poplak, Neven Korda, and museum counsellor Breda Skrjanec of the MGLC (the Mednarodni Grafični Likovni Center), it was all worth it.

Addendum: If you are particularly interested in FV Disco, you can try to track down the MGLC’s art catalogue from its FV Alternative Scene of the Eighties 2008 Exhibit. It has a Slovene and an English language translation as well. The book is composed of photographs, art samples, an introduction, three essays, and a chronology of events and developments in FV Disco.

Book Review: Stephen Andrew Lee’s Tales from Sanctuary: The Vampire Sex Bar

I’m trying to figure out how to begin this. Originally, I was going to talk about this book on Amazon but–back in the day–it had no entry to make a review about. This book is out-of-print. Its publisher Spitfire Books doesn’t seem to exist anymore and the author didn’t seem to have written any other books after this one.

For a book I didn’t even know existed up until four summers ago, it impacted me a lot and carries more resonance than I think most people in Toronto realize. First, before I go on let me give you some background. Sanctuary The Vampire Sex Bar is, as the name of an old Goth nightclub, a misnomer. From what I could tell, no sex happened in the club at all: though it was one of the first Goth nightclubs in Toronto. It was opened by Lance Goth in 1992 and it closed in 2000. The Club itself divided into the Bar above and the Catacombs, fittingly and sensibly enough, in the basement where it was apparently an all-ages space.

This was a time when Goth Nights and indeed the whole subculture was at its peak in Toronto: specifically in the Queen Street West area. There was a very interesting Goth fashion store in that area called Siren and a whole other series of clubs, but Sanctuary lasted for a very long time until its last location became a Starbucks. Sanctuary’s time was also a time of Buffy, the Toronto-based Forever Night series and the old World of Darkness’ Vampire the Masquerade: which I mention to create a little more ambiance before I go on.

Now, as for Tales From Sanctuary: The Vampire Sex Bar the book, it was created in 1997 by Lance Goth: also known as Stephen Andrew Lee. Like I said, I had no idea who he even was or what this book was up until four years ago. I only periodically went downtown in my teen years–to places like the Vatikan or Velvet Underground, even the Bovine Sex Club (another aptly named place, I wonder if anyone will or has written a book on that)–and when I moved out to live on York residence I went to the Neutral Lounge about once a week every Friday for their Goth Night.

So I came into all of this at the remnants of the tail-end of this whole time. Then one day a friend let me read her copy of this book. Apparently, during the late 90s when it came out it was easy to get copies of the thing but now it has become very difficult to do so. So here is my challenge: I want to talk about this book and not give away spoilers on the off-chance that someone can access a copy, yet I also want to give people enough information as to what I’m actually talking about and I feel kind of foolish reviewing a book that people most likely haven’t–or will never–read. But I will do my best.

Tales from Sanctuary is a collection of stories. Each story starts off with a quote of some kind that fits its tone. There is no Table of Contents so you just have to read through them really. I read most of the first story, “The Wind-Walkers” at my friend’s place before I actually ordered my own copy of the book from Alibris.

“Wind-Walkers” is the story of two last remaining members of a long-lived winged humanoid race that fed off of human blood and flesh. They once ruled a kingdom of human worshipers which was betrayed to the Roman Empire by someone they trusted. After being violated, and one of them also mutilated, the two hide for millennia until one day they find Sanctuary and learn to trust again. This story dominates a good seventy-eight pages of the book and it is not without its flaws. The grammar is atrocious. I recall there even being a few spelling mistakes as well. In addition–in the long scene where you see a flashback into the Wind Walkers’ past–they speak far too anachronistically. At the very least, some attempt to make the speech sound more formal or archaic could have gone a long way to suspend that portion of the necessary disbelief I needed to think I was looking at ancient vampiric rulers of Nabatea.

Yet we begin to see here an interesting concept: that beings with monstrous appetites can be sympathetic, even pitied, or emphasized with. Lee actually makes thinking and feeling characters of these Wind-Walkers and I know I wanted to be happy for them. It made me think that they weren’t human and it was not completely fair to hold them to human standards, but at the same time it showed that there was some pain and some compassion and understanding that transcended all of that. It was a bit awkward even there, but through them you begin to experience the club of Sanctuary: that strange dark place of mysteries and humanity where you feel with them as they actually feel like they fit in somewhere in human society after millennia on the run.

At the very back of the book, Lee explains all of his inspirations and some of his methods in crafting these stories. What is fascinating for me is how he crafts a mythological Sanctuary. It is obviously based off of his Club–under his persona of Lance Goth–and perhaps even people he knew or knew of. He plays with the idea of someone from the Goth subculture not feeling like they belong and that Sanctuary is not only a place for them, but also a place for supernatural beings–sometimes understated ones–that feel the exact same way. Lee mentions that when crafting the scenes that lead up to each character going to Sanctuary in each story, he actually amalgamates places from other cities into the background: adding to Toronto’s geography in that way. I don’t know how I feel about that because I hadn’t lived in Toronto city that long and I was–and am–still discovering a lot about it. But he does begin to capture a certain kind of spirit, if you will in that first story and in how he writes this.

So then I got my own copy of the book and proceeded to read through the rest at a relentless pace. In “The Cold Ones,” we see a story about another vampiric group: specifically three sisters that seem to frequent a dark corner of the club and come from a mysterious place with a cab fare of $14.95. Now, this story is from the point of a view of an ordinary person and apparent-staff member of the Bar who gets drawn into the world of these sisters’ and actually is called upon to help them. Again, there was something awkward about this story and while I know that revealing all of “the monster’s” background might be considered “info-dumping,” there were references made such as “the Weir” that in retrospect I kind of get (a thing that traps something) but I wasn’t sure at the time. Also, I’m not a geographical expert but I would assume that Mount Pleasant Cemetery is much farther from Queen Street West than the book portrayed. Still, there was something very compelling in this story in how something can be horrifying, and beautiful, and relatable while still very much a mystery.

I really liked the story “Lillith” which actually has references and a list to various kinds of plants … some of them potentially poisonous. It is about a young woman living downtown who feels awkward in her skin and is terrified of physical and emotional danger. Then something really bad happens to her and she eventually finds she has a problem: a very real and human problem. It’s only at Sanctuary: at a place of seemingly strange people and monsters that she finds a place where she actually feels like she actually belongs and feels safe. There is a bit of a crossover here with characters from an earlier story too and I was glad she got to meet them under those circumstances: and that it let me know what happened to those characters in the meantime.

I related to “The Elixir of Love” in a somewhat different way. It actually comes after “Pins and Needles,” but I wanted to mention it because it was a nice contrast to “Lillith.” It was a story about a young man who thinks he finds love and gets introduced to an eerie and then rather heart-breaking reality: where even if you support the idea that there are different rules for different beings, it isn’t just humans that can be shallow “douchey” people. The last is rather banal, but makes it no less painful for it. In this story, Sanctuary is less of a place where he belongs, and more the site of a humiliation and that sense of cognitive dissonance where you think you have found happiness but it is really the loneliness of a gritty past 4 am downtown night. It was somewhat unsettling, but captured what a friend of mine calls “moments of painful clarity” rather well. Both Lillith and Jayson are very self-conscious characters full of real fear and desire–that do not feel like they fit in–and when they find Sanctuary they meet two entirely different ends.

“Pins and Needles” was a disturbing story, but the build-up of the main character’s development into a self-proclaimed “doctor of bad blood,” is well done and is a nice study into morbidity and “a certain point of view.” Finally, there is “Ricky Las Vegas”: a story about a talented musician that only vaguely wonders why his bands keep disbanding, his friends disappearing, and why Lance won’t let him sing at his Club. It is only towards the end of this really short story that Ricky realizes what he is and what he will do from there. I really liked this story in particular because it deals with psychic vampirism and creativity and how they can be related.

Throughout all of these stories is the presence of a fictional Lance Goth who seems to have some mysteries abilities to sense people in his Club and even come on them without being detected. He is usually the catalyst for the characters wanting to tell their stories or find some information that is integral to us for the plot in some of the stories. He usually takes some small mementos from each person he tells things to, or has told to him. It took me a while to realize that Lance actually existed, and that he was actually Stephen Andrew Lee because I can be dim like that.

All and all, Tales from Sanctuary was not the best-written book or series of stories I’ve ever read. I had immense trouble suspending disbelief for “Wind-Walkers,” no matter how fascinating an idea it was. However, this book did something to me. It is hard to explain, but if I had to put it in writing I would say that it showed me the spirit of the Toronto Goth Nights that once existed or wanted to exist: a night that once flourished until morning came yet still existing somewhere in the city’s cracks. It showed me magic in an urban place that I lived in and in that way it did change me.

For one thing, it made me begin to write about Toronto. I confess I actually wrote three stories based on Tales from Sanctuary–The Wrong Club, To the New Millennium, and Another Time–and I wish I could locate Lee to thank him for making these. I bought a copy of the book for a friend that lost her own years before and it was worth it too to share even some of that understanding. If you are keen on reading a copy and you don’t have a friend with access to it, there are some that were being sold as Used on Alibris and Abebooks. Amazon itself is even advertising a seller that will sell a copy for $998.00, but personally I would check those other Used Book Places first or wait.

For all of its idiosyncrasies, I think that Tales from Sanctuary is an important part of Toronto’s subcultural history that now lost place where as the back cover tells you, “You can hunt, but you cannot feed.”

I give this strange book a three out of five.