To the Editor:
I read your magazine’s review of Aimée Yamada’s recent video installation “You Are My Music” at the Barker Gallery with great interest. As one of the men featured in the video, I just wanted to clear up a few factual errors your reviewer Maya Turner made.
1. “Aimée Yamada’s video project features lonely middle-aged men who started conversations with her to pick her up. Yamada would then agree to go home with them as long as they allowed her to videotape what happened.”
It was Aimée who first approached me - at Topper’s Vinyl where she began to come in last September. At first she was accompanied by two other students, as pale and androgynous as my friends and I all wanted to be thirty years ago. What began as conversations about Kraftwerk and Brian Eno inevitably led to us talking about my past and her future.
Was I attracted to her? That’s complicated. The way she put herself together, all bold monochrome patterns, nylon and leather and sharp angles, it was like some ghost of a girl had come back to claim her rightful place among the memories I resist. As soon as she spoke to me that apparition vanished and I was just as anthropologically interested as I usually am by the young.
It was she who persisted and who kept the conversation going for weeks before there was any mention of her video project. It was the fear of confronting the ghost of my old self that got to me and made me care enough to consider it.
2. “The men Yamada selected are beer-bellied awkward loners who seem remarkable mainly for how unremarkable they are.”
I will fully admit I could lose about twenty pounds. I’m also forty-eight years old and can’t bear the indignity of tramping and panting through the streets in cartoon clothes.
You want unremarkable? You go stand in line at your grocery store and take in the countless wizened, tucked and taut fifty-year old men, their bum cheeks vacuum packed into those two hundred dollar jeans they bought to save their third marriage.
Yes, that would be the marriage to your critic Maya Turner.
As for awkward? When I was twenty-four and the keyboardist for Broken Lines, the reporter for Canadian Music Express magazine described me as “reserved,” “intense,” and “mesmerizing” live. Maybe all of that changes twenty-four years, four pant sizes and a shaved head later. I’m the same guy. Not sure what I could do to be mesmerizing though.
Even the word loner here is questionable. If you spent your best years traveling around the country with four other troubled introverts and one untroubled extrovert, committed to the code of conduct the music business requires, you’ve seen and heard quite enough of human behaviour to favour moderation in all things, including human contact.
I still talk to people but in contexts that do not cause me undue pain, stress, hostility or possible humiliation. I believe I have a higher tolerance than most for the company of men my age who want to discuss music. If you were to add up all the hours I spend each week standing at the counter discussing Bowie’s Berlin period or the once-pervasive influence of Rudy Van Gelder, I would challenge you to tell me how much more of a loner I am than any man who bases his very livelihood – such as it is - on transactional conversations.
3. “It is difficult to explain how uncomfortable it is to watch Yamada’s videos. No matter how much the camera loves her, the stubborn presence of her co-stars denies any possibility of eroticism.”
I’m going to suggest that what Maya Turner really means is not eroticism but arousal. In other words, it is not porn, these old guys Yamada is with are too unattractive and there’s no fucking. So it’s probably art.
I’m the last person to deny Aimée Yamada’s claims that she is making art. I would hope more than anything in the world that she realizes all her ambitions. The closest thing to ecstasy I saw her experience (clothed – always clothed) was when she spoke of her new dealer and to whom and how much the stills from her video are selling for. I am not begrudging her that; who doesn’t want ecstasy to still exist, especially for the young?
But I think she may have indeed been making porn with “You Are My Music.” It’s just a different kind of pornography, maybe. One that transcends arousal.
4. “In one segment, when Yamada and one of her costars dance along to a music video from the nineties, there is something deeply poignant about the connection made that transfixes the viewer.”
The video in question is actually from 1983. It is the one song of the Broken Lines that entered the top 20 of both the UK and US charts and led to two years of constant touring, opening for bands that are also best forgotten, ten years of anger, legal battles, intermittent sallies of bitter recriminations among all the band members and twenty years of therapy for me, as I tried to come to terms with my boyhood friendship with lead singer and arch-narcissist Davis Clegg.
Aimée turned the camera on after we had finished a pitcher of vodka and tonic and I had unspooled all my hurt. I was trying to explain to her all Davis Clegg had done to me during the time we were on speaking terms, and the glee Aimée and I shared, dancing to that flickering image on my old person’s Eastern Bloc TV, was the glee of ridicule, a cowardly, pointless gesture of revenge on my part.
What it meant to Aimée, I don’t know. But I think she may be one of those people who can only feel such emotions when she is performing them for others.
5. “As brave and remarkable as it is to see Yamada attempt to own the creation of sexual imagery, it is less the presence of her in the frame than the way we are forced to pay attention to these men that resonates. We watch them watch her. Images of sexy young women are everywhere in our culture; images of titillated middle-aged men are not.”
I haven’t watched porn in two years. The diagnosis on my prostate made it very clear to me that even masturbation was going to be a fail so why indulge? Nostalgia? Yet what I can tell you from any casual browse of the internet is that the explosion of thousands of sites put up by enterprising stay-at-home moms across this country has given us no shortage of images of titillated middle-aged men. And somebody’s watching these videos; Aimée told me all of her friends have watched porn since “the beginning of time.”
With the prospect of intimacy just a memory, a not altogether fond one for me, I can say with complete assurance that Aimée never “titillated” me. From our conversations I know the fearsome presence Aimée’s architect father still exerts, and I would take no part in creating the kind of guilt he would burden her with if there was a real videotaped seduction, publicly exhibited. It is guilt she would live with for the rest of her life.
Now let me digress because I believe it is important here; it will give you the context for what actually occurred. The rest of my time alive does not amount to much. The cancer is back, and this time it really means business, as they say. That is probably why I’ve tried to get some peace with my attraction to narcissism and what it has cost me over the years (whether it was with Davis Clegg or Bryan Menzies, the investment advisor who squandered the thousands I made from over twenty years of studio session work). Performing that footage with Aimée, from the time when all of my fatal mistakes began, felt like a rite, a way to claim that my feelings of rage for all those years are now gone.
Let me just emphasize Aimée is a lovely young woman. She invited me to the opening at the Barker, and she was the one who directed me to your review. She says that knowing how this whole process has helped me has changed her a little, and I’m just happy we have become so close. If in the time I’ve got left this video only serves as a memory of our friendship, I’ll be happy with that too.
John Delacourt's stories and other writing have appeared in a number of publications in Canada and elsewhere including The New Quarterly and The Guardian (UK). He's also written for theatre and had his work staged at Theatre Passe Muraille and Buddies in Bad Times in Toronto. He currently blogs on culture and politics at delacourt (http://delacourt-jd.blogspot.