Sunday, September 21, 2014

An inconvenient Indian - Tom King, The Truth About Stories, and the Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour

In my last post I referred to Sarah de Leew’s magazine article Telling stories about stories. She mentioned a great storyteller, Canadian author Thomas King. This year Tom’s nonfiction history book, The Inconvenient Indian, won the RBC Booker Prize. The Toronto Star reviewed it, and Huffington Post interviewed him. Back in 2008, when he unsuccessfully ran for Parliament, the New York Times had an article about him. 

Sarah repeatedly referenced King’s 2003 book The Truth About Stories: a native narrative, which collected his 2003 Massey Lectures. You can read the first chapter here. Each lecture opens with a variation on the same story:

“There is a story I know. It’s about the earth and how it floats in space on the back of a turtle. I’ve heard this story many times, and each time someone tells the story, it changes. Sometimes the change is simply in the voice of the storyteller. Sometimes the change is in the details. Sometimes in the order of events. Other times it’s the dialogue or the response of the audience. But in all the tellings of all the tellers, the world never leaves the turtle’s back. And the turtle never swims away.

One time, it was in Prince Rupert I think, a young girl in the audience asked about the turtle and the earth. If the earth was on the back of the turtle, what was below the turtle? Another turtle, the storyteller told her. And below that turtle? Another turtle. And below that? Another turtle.

The girl began to laugh, enjoying the game I imagine. So how many turtles are there? she wanted to know. The storyteller shrugged. No one knows for sure, he told her, but it’s turtles all the way down.

The truth about stories is that that’s all we are....”

You can listen to all five 52-minute lectures on YouTube:

Lecture 1: You’ll Never Believe What Happened Is Always A Great Way To Start

Lecture 2: You’re Not The Indian I Had In Mind

Lecture 3: Let Me Entertain You

Lecture 4: A Million Porcupines Crying In The Dark

Lecture 5: What Is It About Us That You Don’t Like

Tom also created an outrageous CBC radio show called The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour. Actually it was only 15-minutes long, highly ironic, and supposedly originated from the fictional town of Blossom, Alberta. There were two Cree characters, Jasper Friendly Bear and Gracie Heavy Hand, along with Tom as straight man. Each episode closed with an admonition to:

“Stay calm; be brave; wait for the signs.”

One feature was Trust Tonto (where our listeners can write in with their questions about Canadian culture, and get totally unbiased answers). For example, when a listener asked:

“Just wanted to know if there was any place in Canada where natives outnumbered whites?” 

Jasper’s answer was: “Prisons!”

Jasper also had a set of three wheels of fortune for generating Authentic Indian Names. He said Jane Fonda should be called Barbara Floppy Tomahawk. Back then Fonda was married to Ted Turner, who owned the Atlanta Braves. Their fans toted and chopped with floppy foam tomahawks as shown here.

Gracie had a feature called Reserve Recipes, which started to give one for Puppy Stew (as you might expect based on the name of her café).

You can listen to all 12 episodes from the first season here on YouTube.

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