by George Bowering
Before I left Vancouver in the early sixties the young poets were asserting themselves, and there were lots of them, a Newlove, a Gilbert, a Wah, a Copithorne, many etceteras—and I was happy to find myself a place among them, the Reids, the Gadds, the Bromiges and so on.
When I came back to Vancouver in the early seventies I moved contentedly back into the world of the poets, which now included a whole bunch of newer ones. There were a few novelists around, too, and I found enough to do in playing ball, editing magazines and drinking beer with the poets and novelists.
But what was really happening in Vancouver in the seventies was theatre. Of course one was aware that there were a lot of plays being written and produced by young and youngish writers who preferred to write for the stage, but even though I went to the Players’ Club after the Cecil closed at night, I never had the sense to hang out with the playwrights.
As far as drama was concerned, I was interested in two things—Beckett and Shakespeare. Maybe a little Shepard. Really stupid. Talonbooks was publishing my stuff, and I knew that they were the best publisher of Canadian drama in the country. There was a damned theatre renaissance here. Maybe a naissance.
Think of it: Sheldon Rosen, Tom Walmsley, John Lazarus, Margaret Hollingsworth, Betty Lambert, George Ryga, Ian Weir, Sharon Pollock, Leonard Angel.
When Tom Cone gave his off-the-cuff knockout talk to an overflow crowd at the Vancouver Art Gallery on March 8, I regretted my stupidity in the seventies, and eighties, and nineties. Tom was at the VAG (for whom he has done great service) to receive the city’s first ever lifetime achievement award for active devotion to the arts in his community. That there was an overflow crowd was astonishing, as the event was announced a couple of days earlier. It was common knowledge among these grateful friends that Tom’s cancer was fighting a hard fighter.
Colin Browne the poet and moviemaker and close friend of Tom Cone the playwright, librettist, musical promoter and impresario, spoke a beautiful encomium. I was sitting behind Tom, and so I saw a beautiful listening head with familiar twisty hair, and I knew that the man was feeling the extremes of happiness and its opposite. Then we were told that Tom was going to get up on the riser and speak.
I thought that he would say two sentences, perhaps, thanking everyone for coming. What we heard was his famous chocolate truffle voice tell the story of his voyage to our city, and then tell my story, tell our story of growing up in the arts culture in Vancouver starting in the sixties. He told about sitting in Warren Tallman’s house and listening to our heroes in what we all call the Allen anthology actually speaking to us somewhat younger hopefuls. As Tom hit the exact true details of the imaginative life in this place over the last decades of the twentieth century, I was, as we used to say, blown away. I don’t mind saying that I was trying not to let people see my tears, and I was filled to the top with regret. That I did not hang out with Tom Cone through to the end of that awful century.
But I am also tremendously grateful that I could be his friend in the twenty-first. What ample joy to sit on a couch or the floor at the new music hall known as the Ontario Street house of Karen Matthews and Tom Cone, and hear what the avant garde is doing in Vancouver these years. What pleasurable envy filled my chest cavity when Tom told me about his father’s being the part owner of a Single A professional baseball team in Florida. Sure, I know that Tom wrote stuff that got onto the stage in New York City, but baseball, eh? Then how neat the Tom gave me a copy of True Mummy, the farthest out you are going to get in Vancouver stage writing.
I will even forgive him for co-writing a hockey opera (Game Misconduct) instead of a baseball opera. I understand that ordinary pop culture seeps its way into the arts. Or let me put that a better way: I am pleased to see an excellent writer raise hockey culture up through myth into the mystery of true art.
Yes, I am delighted to be a Conehead in this century. I wish that I had hung around with him in the eighties. Hell, I wish I had been his pal when he was a Florida kid a long time before that.