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Re: [F_MINOR] GG: Solitude Trilogy Question

Hi Anne, congratulations on your F_Minor promotion!
I'm wild about "The Idea of North" -- it's the one I've listened to most thoroughly.
Obviously I'm way behind in reading criticism of "Solitude" (or criticism of GG's music, or criticism in general). This is the first time I've heard that some listeners thought there were any misleading aspects to the dialogue montage.
It was clear to me immediately on my first listening how Gould had woven these speeches together, and why, the effect he was trying to achieve.
Bragging follows: I took the wilderness train trip from (Toronto to) Winnipeg to Churchill MAN (on Hudson Bay), and back again.
Now that this question has come up, I think I have an answer for it. "The Idea of North" doesn't reflect the order and construction of the many conversations as Gould experienced them on the train.
But it certainly DOES reflect how a traveller would remember these conversations months or years later. The memorable parts, and the way one conversation points to and fits in with the others, the things these people said to Gould that Gould found fascinating, the things that possessed his memory, re-order themselves as time passes.
This wonderful train was put into service around 1955. (The track was laid in the 1920s to make Churchill a grain shipping port to Europe while the Bay isn't icebound.) Since a National Geographic TV documentary about Churchill's polar bears, the train's passengers have become a very goofy mixed bag of international wanderlusters during polar bear migration season (right about now, as a matter of fact).
But for the rest of the year, the train is the transportation blood vessel for a vast region of the northern Canadian wilderness. Air travel is prohibitively expensive in these regions, so the train is how people get from job to job, from wedding to funeral, from First Peoples village to school or jobs in the big southern tier cities.
The best thing about the train -- it takes 2.5 days to go from Winnepeg to Churchill in each direction -- is its bar and snack car. It's small, and hunger and thirst are big, so the car is always packed with First Peoples and European-Canadians who live and have authentic business in these regions.
Usually when you travel in regions with First Peoples, there are social and architectural barriers that keep travellers from much direct contact where you could talk informally with the locals. This bar/snack car -- there's such a crush for the limited seating that you're forced into very cramped quarters with strangers. Assuming (like Casper Gutman and Sam Spade) that you like to talk and you like other people who like to talk, the whole train is a talking and people-watching and elbow-bumping paradise on steel wheels. The social barriers fade away of necessity, and experiences and stories are exchanged.
(What's not in "North" must have been fascinating -- what Gould said when these fellow travellers asked him who he was, what he did, the stories he told them about his own life. But that wasn't what he remembered afterwards, that wasn't in the tapestry he wanted to weave.)
There was nothing artificial or misleading about how Gould wove his (recorded) memories of these conversations together. I never thought two dialogues which weren't contemporary had been gimmicked together to make it sound as if they were contemporary. (There must be something wrong with these critics' ears, or brains.)
Is this an ethical or aesthetic complaint by some critics about the documentaries? Is it really a sort of charge or ethical slur that Gould meant to mislead listeners into reaching untrue conclusions? Really, I'm a journalist, I'm pretty hip on what's kosher and what's verboten in this kind of thing -- and "Idea of North" is Strictly Kosher.
It's Beyond Strictly Kosher. It's an artistic re-weaving of an entire region's living dialogue, the way a traveller might encounter it and thereafter remember it. Gould certainly hasn't distorted a single thing these people said to him.
If Gould "goosed" anything, I think it was to try to inject and infuse this radio documentary with the same sense of thrill and excitement and discovery that he experienced with the train trip and the region.
On the leg from Toronto to Winnipeg -- a "normal" train trip for "normal" people -- I was shocked that "normal" Canadians -- residents of the Southern Tier urban corridor -- thought I was strange to want to go to Churchill. "Why do you want to go there? There's nothing up there."
When Gould started to discover the Canadian North, he must have been very aware of this strange phenomenon, that most of his "social peers" had absolutely no interest in the Canadian Arctic wilderness; if anything, they had an aesthetic abhorrence of it, the way a classical music lover might think about tekno.
And yet Gould would have been aware that most of his audience would be his social, ethnic, cultural and geographical peers. He needed to communicate the thrill and romance and excitement he had discovered in the Canadian Arctic wilderness and settlements. He was certainly not preaching to the choir -- he was trying to convert the people smoking in the church parking lot.
Most Americans and Canadians have grown up learning to put their safety in the things of modern civilization: fire hydrants, 911, reliable dial tones and electric current coming out of the wall, streetlights, elevators, timetables, nearby hospitals, office buildings, supervised and manicured parks and beaches. I think this is the source of most peoples' antipathy and suspicion about the wilderness. They're frightened of places that lack these things to such an uncomfortable degree.
That's where Gould's artistic and musical skills came in. It's easy to make a boring documentary, especially one that relies so heavily on dialogue, without an "auteur's" voiceover to guide the thing along and illuminate and emphasize certain points for "slow" or even hostile listeners. Gould communicated the thrill he felt entirely through the voices of the residents of these regions themselves. They told their own stories and emphasized the points they wanted to emphasize. Gould wove it into a gorgeous tapestry of sound and conversation and ideas.
Here is a far inferior "documentary" about the same wilderness trip, but I hope some folks get my sense of thrill, and a few giggles, out of it:
What I really hope is that "North" and my little travelog inspire some of you to take this amazing train trip to this amazing region. A lot of people on F_Minor make pilgrimages to Toronto and thereabouts. But this is the most wonderful Gould pilgrimage I ever took. He was my constant "ghost companion," it was a wonderful feeling to feel his spirit in the corridor as I wandered up and down this train.
Bob / Elmer
-----Original Message-----
From: Anne M. Marble <amarble@SFF.NET>
To: F_MINOR@email.rutgers.edu <F_MINOR@email.rutgers.edu>
Date: Thursday, November 06, 2003 11:49 AM
Subject: [F_MINOR] GG: Solitude Trilogy Question

>I haven't had a chance to read the section on the Solitude Trilogy in the
>new GG biography. I'm looking forward to it. This relates more to what
>previous biographers said.
>One thing I remembered about the complaints other biographers made is that
>GG took portions of interviews from different people and spliced them
>together to make it look as if these people were talking with each other,
>or even having arguments, though they had never meant. The biographers
>acted as if this make it artificial. Which I suppose misses the point. They
>were expecting the Solitude Trilogy to be "Nanook of the North," but it was
>more like a collage combined with counterpoint. It was an artistic

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