Red October

by Paul Lisson

   As we celebrate the 1st anniversary of Hamilton Arts & Letters, we also approach the 20th anniversary of the first Red October. Memories as to why are misted, shuffled in a sometimes ordered, sometimes unordered way. The number of cards in the deck attaining the power of, multiplied by the power of. Major arcana. Minor arcana. Knaves, knights, a jack and a club. Mostly hearts. A card for each day. Twenty years.

Gord White had died. That much was known, and continues to be known. And there was a project called Pointed Portraits -- a series of black & white photographs of local writers, local authors, local musicians and actors. They had to climb the stairs up to the 3rd floor of the old place over on Herkimer. They took their turns sitting at the kitchen table where  a gentle light found its way. The twin-lens Rolleiflex camera had a viewfinder that was adept at discovering, revealing, and capturing souls. The photographer had little to do. Those sitting in front of the camera did everything.

Still, the project was incomplete. Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome or Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. HIV. We hardly knew what it was, or how to spell it. This was such a long time ago. A magician stands midstage. Cards levitate, transform: a mauve waterfall, blushing fireworks, a champagne bottle releasing its cork. A dove that chars retina churns the air, snatches one of the cards. The hair on the heads of those in the audience is swept back, stretched to root as the dove flies out and through an opening at the far end of the theatre. The sound  of metal being raggedly cut and the breaking of all the windows in the world.

Since the founding of the Hamilton Artists Inc., one of Canada's first artist-run centres, a small number of people have acted as administrator, and Gord White was one of them. The first of them. He was also the curator at the Petteplace Gallery. When his ashes were scattered at Cootes Paradise after he died of AIDS, we learned its spelling and nomenclature. And it wasn't just Gord, and it wasn't just Hamilton, but let others tell their own stories.

The first Red October. Held at the Hamilton Players' Guild on Queen Street South. Simon Richards acting as Master of Ceremonies. Who had ever seen Simon in a kilt before? A parade of performers, visual artists, musicians, and an audience spilling out of the theatre and onto the front and back lawns. Part wake. Part Bacchanal.

Not in Detroit's Grande Ballroom. In a less grand venue in Hamilton. 
A tumult of music erupted. In issue 2 of Hamilton Arts & Letters you will find informal documentation of one of the events from the fifth year of Red October. Electric Red Jumper was a concert. Like Woodstock, people who were never there swear they were; say how great it was. It was hard, the way music from Hamilton can be hard, but it also grooved the way Duane Allman grooves, or Richard Newell -- but then again, not like that. Kick Out the Jams. Then float. Move.

Visual Aid: Red October 5 is a record through the lens of Peter Stevens.

Red October avoided asking anyone to do anything for free. There were auctions and sales, but artists got paid and typically donated half to the Hamilton Aids Network. If musicians had a cd or writers had a book, Red October wanted to make a sale and then do some good. When institutions or organizations ask artists for an out-and-out donation, we cringe. You've got to try to pay the band, (or the actor), even if it's in beer or a year's supply of condoms.

Visual Aid: Red October 5

[The editor also took a few pictures at Electric Red Jumper, using a Polaroid Land camera, reproduced here in the column to the right.
© HA&L + PL]

    This signified Red October.


Paul Wooton, who ripped through an extended version of Mustang Sally, with every musician in the house clambering to get on stage.


The press referred to Jason Avery as
a "Local Guitar God". After the concert he spent time autographing his best selling pamphlet.


"In the lift, on their way up to the changing rooms, Henry Foster and the Assistant Director of Predestination rather pointedly turned their backs on Tom Wilson: averted themselves from that unsavory reputation."
"You all remember, I suppose, that History is bunk."