The Canadian Art Database

Tom Dean

This is Paradise (1987)

First published as a pamphlet by The Cameron House in 1987
and reprinted in C Magazine, Winter 1988.

[ 1,123 words ]


I forget if it was the summer of '82 or '83, but my landlord and the courts had finally succeeded in throwing me out of my studio and apartment for what they called willful damage and I called renovations. The Cameron House had an empty room, and with characteristic bohemian philanthropy took me off the streets. During the day I would sit downstairs with a draft, aimless and comfortable in the company of the lonely old drunks who'd been nodding there for years, joined now by an occasional hipster with nothing better to do till evening came. There's a moment, some afternoons, when the sunlight filtering in from the street fills the Cameron's front room with a soft paradisiacal light, and the wretched appear at peace. 'This is paradise,' I thought, and when I finally left I had a sign-painter print those words in gold on the walls, by way of payment for my room. Later we painted the walls an aqua blue and I covered the entire surface around the words with a field of gold dots, hoping to invoke that entropic weightless paradise.

I used to spend a lot of time in dives. There was the Warwick, in the east end, where the strip show was MC'ed by an awesomely bitter and foulmouthed old drag queen called Brandy. On Spadina there was the Waverly Hotel and the Silver Dollar, where a house jazz band occasionally overcame its terminal exhaustion to produce transcendent music. Further down Spadina, at the Paramount, there was fried smelt and quail, and washrooms full of black drug dealers; and on the corner of Bathurst and Queen, the Holiday Tavern was full of the dying; and the Paddock was full of criminals and hookers; and then there were all the country-and-western bars in the west end. In Montreal there was Jean's on Prince Arthur, and the Rodeo, on the lower Main, which became the Lodeo when it was taken over by the Taiwanese. The Rodeo seemed to be a kind of people's family criminal paradise, three generations of a family drinking together, watching a variety show that in one evening could consist of a fire-breather, a magician, a comedian, a singer and a stripper. Further down St. Laurent was the Sanguinet, where every Hallowe'en was featured the festival of the beehives, when creatures inbred in rural Quebec from generations of drag queens appeared with their wives and children in fantastical three-foot high hairdos.

Each of these bars was somehow utopian, offering a small hiatus in hell where the scum of the earth could find respite. Consciousness has its pleasures, but much of the time I'd rather be in a coma. I've wondered if intoxicants were critical to the evolution of consciousness, not to provide a leap in understanding but to muddy the mind and also make the thin air of consciousness less toxic, memory and desire less sharp. To be drunk is to be ungoverned, or it produces an entropic state where government has no significance. Bars provide an escape from the imminence of government, apparently, till closing time. Drugs and alcohol provide a narrow focus for desire, draining desire from the world, short-circuiting desire and focusing it on a compact, readily available and readily ingested object. Bars commodify and market that object.


At night the old crowd would drift away, the hipsters would gather, and a band
would start to play in the Cameron's back room. If my memory serves me, that summer White Noise was evolving a shearing sound that explored the territory between an entropic and a rhythmic paradise.

Despite the driving thrust of rock-and-roll, its regular beat invokes a kind of very excited stillness. Its repetitive rhythms introduce no new information and so make no demands, inducing a hypnotic still point at the heart of wild excitement. Rock-and-roll induces a little hiatus in that whizzing reality, a small death, running our energy in circles so fast that dizzy thrust exits from the labyrinth and becomes a place. Energy is channeled in loops, so that motion harbours a still place and progress suffers a seizure. Motion becomes rhythmic and patterned, precipitating a tail-chasing Ouroborus where labour is Sisyphean but desire is constantly sated, focused and repeatedly fulfilled. It shares something of method and intent with the whirling dervishes, with Buddhist and Gregorian chants, as well as with tap dance or the paradise represented in rhythmically choreographed liquor and soft drink ads.

The beat transfigures the thrusting beast and a room full of dancing bodies can achieve the serenity of a litany, or the regular wash of sea against the shore. Rhythm appropriates some of the stillness's qualities, and puts them at our twitchy service.


But it's not all inebriation and dance, whereby desire is sated by dulling it or running it in circles. Desire may also be diverted for a moment by being engaged with its object. In the tradition of artists' bars the Cameron provides a neutral ground for rich and complex intercourse.

Desire is satisfied by being perfectly engaged, whether by ingesting its object, by tail chasing or by intercourse. Intercourse takes place when desiring objects face one another, forming the beast with two backs, or the beast with many backs.

That paradise of engagement may occur in conversation, or between an audience and a performer, or between an audience and a television or a reader and a book. It may occur between a tourist and a site, or a voyeur and his field of vision, or between any observer and object of attention. It occurs between facing armies or soccer teams and between a baseball player at bat and a field of opponents. It commonly occurs between males and females and it occurs in dance when facing couples cocoon their insularity in a hypnotic beat.

Coma, rhythm, intercourse: in this paradise you may drink, you may dance, and you might get laid. It's that famous litany of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.

At times on those summer evenings desire was palpable at the Cameron, rooms crowded with a fluid and rhythmic community of beasts drowning in desire, perhaps dim or qualified or hesitant, but dreaming of the opportunity to actually enmesh, to enter or be entered by another, exchange fluids, flesh pressed to flesh in the irreducible form of the beast with two backs. That thrusting desire is in counterpoint to the commodified paradise of forgetfulness that a bar delivers. The paradise of intercourse is only a promise, a possibility. It's a kind of tease, a paradise we come both to seek and to mourn.

Toronto, July 1987

First published as a pamphlet by The Cameron House in 1987 and reprinted in C Magazine, Winter 1988.


Text: © Tom Dean. All rights reserved.

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