The End

Stephen Hill

Stephen Hill by April Smith of AHA Media

The world has lost a great man. Well, two counting Nelson Mandela, but you’ve already read his obituary somewhere, so there’s no need to review.

I’m talking about my friend Stephen Hill.

When I was 16 my sister burst into my bedroom first thing one morning and announced, “Wake up. John Lennon and Grandpa are both dead.” This feels much like that day.

You most likely don’t know Stephen. Yet. And if you don’t know Stephen, there’s one thing I know about you: You are not from the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

Neither was Stephen, actually, as you can tell from the below video, where he introduces the film With Glowing Hearts (of which he was a major financial supporter) to an audience comprised of motley crew of digital rock stars, renegade filmmakers, citizen journalists, activists, and the homeless (dress code the same for all of the above, except the activists are the ones wearing Blundstones). He did make it his own. He was One of Us.

Sounds like Alan Fucking Rickman addressing Noah’s Ark.

Only in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside could a white heckler interrupt a white speaker in front of a 90% white audience in a university named after a Scot to insist that the speaker acknowledge the speech was taking place on stolen First Nations land, and only Stephen Hill could roll with it like that.

Speeches are not easy to write or deliver, and very difficult to write and deliver well.

Eulogies are harder.

Here’s a good one. Stephen wrote it.

Here is another, about a different man. Stephen‘s brother wrote it. Stephen would expect me to snark at the fact that it’s not on WordPress; he’d be disappointed if I didn’t. I don’t like to disappoint Stephen, so: Blogspot? Really???

To get to know Stephen on paper, which is where he’d be more comfortable being known, is impossible now thanks to disposability, but you can come to know him in pixels, which always made him nervous, by looking through his CV, which he made in the (telling) form of a Community Walk map, a format which combines spatial relationships with textual and visual context. He believed very strongly that we exist at all times in intimate relation with our surroundings, and that our physical paths and environments are our life’s journey in more than merely the mundane way. His bone-deep connection to the concept of community was apparently nurtured in his school; they were both lucky to find one another.

On the Downtown Eastside Stephen worked as an employment counselor in his official capacity, and as an inspiration, firebrand, organizer, activist, and icon in his real life. He was everywhere, behind the scenes, generally helping those behind the scenes prevent the scenery from falling over. If I was at a protest or large event and I couldn’t find him, I’d just ask if anyone had seen “the posh Englishman,” and they’d all go “Oh, Stephen‘s over there!” and there he’d be, directing a crew of neophyte sound engineers plucked from the lunch room of the Carnegie or listening to an Elder tell stories of her childhood in a residential school, stories she’d never told a white man before.

Speeches are hard. I’ve made many speeches myself, often about the successes of my students from the Downtown Eastside, but I have a confession to make: they were all Stephen‘s protegees first. Citizen journalist April Smith was part of the Fearless City project which Stephen more or less badgered me into joining (so blame him, Irwin!). Henry Doyle the poet was a regular at Gallery Gachet, and a client of Stephen‘s at the Job Shop. All I did was provide a sort of finishing school for the forces of nature which they are, and which Stephen had helped them to recognize and harness. He was the one picking winners or, to be honest, building them seemingly from scratch sometimes, and convincing them they could win if given the right tools, which he taught them how to build or obtain for themselves. Not for nothing did he win Mentor of the Year from his peers.

He was also a terrific music snob, and I mean that in both senses of the word. No matter what your insidery music story, he could generally casually top it, trying not to show that it mattered to him, but the stories were so good they simply mattered intrinsically. The time Elvis Costello played an acoustic set in his living room, for instance. One wall of his office was covered with a web of steel wires and in this web hung a grid of albums: vinyl only, of course, for visual impact and also because vinyl > CD 4 eva. I knew I’d registered with him in more than a dutiful counsellor way when I rambled on about Year Zero in a meeting and the next week he had removed an old Blues album and put NIN in its place.

He hated NIN, really. That’s how I knew for sure.

In his eulogy for his friend Nigel he said:

Half my vinyl record collection is still made up of often obscure titles which Nigel liked and therefore I did too.

I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many of my albums were given to me by Stephen, who would not rest when he found out I had only Elvis Costello’s Greatest Hits and not Spike or any of the other “good ones, the ones you can’t buy here.” Or how many I bought because he’d mentioned the bands and how many hours I spent on YouTube particularly, trying to do my musical homework before the next meeting. He supplied the best songs on the Soundtrack for Occupy Vancouver, and I know that he donated at least two tents and two sleeping bags, which he’d gone out and purchased new just for Occupy.

God damn him, he even made me like twee hipster troubadors Arcade Fire, although it was their acoustic version of Guns of Brixton, and of course he told me all about the concert hall it was recorded in, as he probably spent more time there than at home for much of the 70’s. We spent a good hour or so discussing this song in the context of Boris Johnson‘s previous essay in which he pined for actual riots instead of quiet ones, now that BoJo had become mayor of London and had gotten (got?) his riots after all.

This, though. This is the most typical Stephen Music Story. It comes from the eulogy that he wrote for his old school friend Nigel Graves.

Then new wave appeared just before we began to part – a Christmas Eve Roundhouse concert featured ‘Eddie and the Hot Rods’ and we were so drunk and otherwise empowered by ‘Do anything you wanna do’ that on the way home we gave all our money to the striking firemen; working class politics indeed.

Here’s his musical scrapbook for July of 1969 alone. God, doesn’t that look exhausting?

This way of being we were creating included embracing contradictions and not toeing any one line. It was indeed possible to love Beowulf and Steppenwolf at the same time and with the same intensity.

You didn’t have to believe that you had to be this or that, you could be this and that. I carry this catholic view of passions, beliefs and ideas with me still, and in a world with increasing pressure to conform I will always be well pleased and plain relieved that early in our lives, with each others help, we were able to be true free thinkers.

I suppose one thing we learned together was to be ourselves; it’s funny how you often need someone else to help with that.

And that’s what he made his life’s work: to help others to find, and be, themselves.

I’m tempted, very tempted, to make a comparison between the Old Boys of his school, who are called Old Gowers or OGs for short, and the more widespread contemporary understanding of “OG” but I won’t, because it is just one of those overreaching, ridiculous, vulgarly amusing things that would bring the familiar pained, forbearing expression to Stephen‘s face and the eyes rolling heavenward, and we all do hate to disappoint Stephen.

He knew. He knew and he didn’t tell us, any of us.

He left Vancouver a year and a half ago, saying that he was going back to London to be with his mother while she was still here, and I had a few email conversations with him after that: he was living on a converted barge, tied up on the Thames somewhere far out of the centre of things for cheap moorage, which was the only way civilized people Bohemians could afford to live in London any more. I saw him just before he left, running into him at the Waves which served as a sort of community centre for everyone who was just well off enough not to have to hang out at the Carnegie, or on the sidewalk. We talked for a bit, and although we never talked about trifles (we usually talked about music, literature, politics, or other people) just what we talked about escapes me, but there is one thing I remember. He was silent for a moment, which is how you knew something big was coming, and then he looked at me and said, “There are a lot of people who you meet, and you get on fine and eventually go your separate ways, and that’s that. You don’t think anything about one another after that. But there are some people who go further. Some people who really care. People who give you the sense that you really matter to them, they’ll remember you, and you them. They stick with you. And that matters.” And then he couldn’t say any more but just hugged me. And I thought he was just going back to London and I’d see him for the Million Mask March on November 5.

I wonder if he made it to the march.

He died of scleroderma at the end of November.

Now is the time for that overreaching, ridiculous, vulgarly amusing thing without which this eulogy would not be complete. Because I could never stand to leave a meeting without giving Stephen a chance to show off his long-suffering basset hound look (it was a thing of beauty and a joy forever, and that’s another thing we took great pleasure in disagreeing about; my persistent dismissal of Byron and Shelley as second-rate pained him, but he had to admit he couldn’t trump my pair of Wordsworth/Keats).

This comes from a letter from the American political prisoner Jeremy Hammond, imprisoned for the next ten years for performing the Stratfor hack, releasing to WikiLeaks thousands and thousands of emails which came to be known as the Global Intelligence Files, and shining a light on the dark underbelly of the for-profit infosec world. It reminds me of Stephen for many reasons. He knew I drank coffee, he knew that I loathed the standard weak, cheap office coffee that his office supplied, and he believed, as all Englishmen do, that all right-thinking people should drink tea, preferably without milk. Stephen‘s esteem mattered so much to me that in meetings with him over the years I must have drunk enough black tea to float the Bluenose, even though black tea without milk gives me nausea. I never mentioned it. I would never have disappointed him by asking for milk. Four years, five years, how many years, and I never mentioned it.

Here is the kicker, courtesy of Jeremy Hammond, Prisoner #18729-424, MDC Brooklyn. In the last email exchange we ever had, I told Stephen that when he was being sworn in at his plea hearing, Jeremy had raised his hand in a power salute instead of laying it on the bible. And at roll call at lockdown, when his name was called instead of saying “Yes” or “Here” or whatever people in prison usually say, Jeremy yelled out, “LET MY PEOPLE GO.” Got solitary for it, too. I bet Stephen liked that story.

Come to think of it, I wonder if my Julian Assange crush springs from the fact that for years he had exactly the same hair as Stephen. Hm.

But to the punchline!

Why do anarchists drink instant tea?

Why do anarchists drink instant tea?

Actually, I think I heard that from Stephen first.

Stephen Hill doesn't let it get him down

Stephen Hill doesn’t let it get him down

So why is this my problem?

Bling Owl is a Hootsuite Playa

Bling Owl is a Hootsuite Playa

I remember working for Fearless City…would have been about four years ago. The website’s been offline for three years. Still, no idea why I’m getting an email like this; I certainly never signed up to pay for any pro upgrades for them. Wonder if Hootsuite sent this to every member of the team?

So, whatcha gonna do, Hootsuite, repossess my interwebz?

HootSuite Header
Organization past due on payment

The organization FearlessCity’s Organization that you are a member of is past due on payment. It will be permanently removed from HootSuite in 13 days if no action is taken.
Why is this happening?

The organization owner has incorrect or expired billing information. We have contacted the owner, FearlessCity multiple times about this issue, but it is still unresolved.

To avoid the removal of this organization and disruptions to your HootSuite service, you have several options:

1. Pay for the organization
2. Send a message to the Organization owner
3. Leave the organization
Please login to HootSuite to address this issue

If this is not addressed within 13 days the organization will be permanently removed from HootSuite along with all the Social Networks in it. You will lose access to everything in the organization

For additional help, check our helpdesk article
Login | Features | Mobile | Blog | Help Desk | HootSuite University

Please do not reply to this message; it was sent from and unmonitored email address. This message is a service email related to your use of HootSuite. For general inquiries or to request support with your HootSuite account, please visit our HootSuite Help Desk

No, I don’t think I’ll be doing that. NOW don’t you wish this had been sent from a reply-enabled email address?

Operation Global Media Domination: the intellectual situation

We’ll try not to be smug about this.

Julian Assange Smug Life. I got 99 problems but a snitch ain't one

Julian Assange Smug Life. I got 99 problems but a snitch ain't one

We will fail.

Today we got a link and some actually decent traffic because a post from the ol’ raincoaster blog was excerpted at the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, bringing to four the number of universities which have used this blog in either their academic publications or their course materials.

This almost makes up for a recent, and high-profile, local blogging conference at whose keynote someone else was publicly thanked, at length, for the job that I did. No, really, that was me. On the other hand, I guess this makes me the Executive Director of W2 by default; I sure hope the salary is good!

But I’m SO over that!

In bonus good news news: our Iron Maiden/Bollywood mashup unicorn chaser is going the teensiest bit viral, and if you’ve clicked Play you know why. And speaking of music, we know the music on our WWII Dogfights in Colour YouTube video is intolerable, but we got paid $95 to put it on and if you want it off, make us a better offer.

We note further that the appalling music hasn’t stopped it from getting over one million hits. Let’s give it a few more, eh?

Be a Movie Producer!

or look just like one…

Oh god, not ANOTHER one!

Oh god, not ANOTHER one!

No, it’s true: this is a plan to enable you to put “movie producer” on your business card, which will come in handy on a Friday at the clubs, if no-where else. Actually, it will count for something with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who will allow any actual credited producer to purchase a ticket to the Academy Awards, better known as the Oscars.

Come to think of it, I’ve got a friend who’s always wanted to go. Hmmmm…

Allow me to introduce With Glowing Hearts, the motion picture:

So far, so awww, right? Yes, it’s an inspirational documentary, perhaps the least likely to be commercially successful genre of film in filmdom. How can you become a producer of this acclaimed-but-so-far-unreleased soon-to-be-classic? Easy; everybody knows there’s one way to become a producer.

You come up with the money.

In this case, you can come up with amounts as small as a Toonie:

Making a film costs money, and although we’ve done a great job at keeping our costs down there are certain expenses which are unavoidable. That’s why from now, until the middle of August, we’re running our Toonie and Tweet Torch Relay to help get us to the finish line and to get your name in the credits.  Starting with a minimum contribution of $2, “producers” can have their name published in a word cloud that will appear in the film’s credit roll and on this site. Increasing your contribution will increase the size of your name in the cloud.

All money collected will go directly towards costs related to finishing and distributing the film like insurance, music rights, and salaries for the great people who have been working on the film with us.  Just click on the Chip-In widget to the right and follow the instructions to use either your PayPal account or credit card, note that transactions are conducted in US dollars but will be converted to your local currency on your bill.  The name that is associated with your PayPal account is the same that will be used for the credits, if you would like a different name to appear in the credits please indicate that under “special instructions for vendor” on the “Review your payment” page.

Sure, it says mid-August, but if you ask nicely you’ll probably find there’s always room for more money (though perhaps it will need more zeros after the 2). Go on, haven’t you always wanted to be a Hollywood big shot? I hear Clooney is breaking up with his latest bimbette, so if you’re a brunette and you can get him good and drunk at the Vanity Fair afterparty, you’ve probably got a shot.

pic o’ the day: Performance Art on the Downtown Eastside

Homeboy represent!

Hendrik Beune performance art

It’s Hendrik Beune of Fearless City (among many other affiliations) taking his new chair for a spin. He’s a director of AHA Media, so naturally the universe conspired to provide him with a proper director’s chair. And naturally, being Hendrik, and living as he does on the Downtown Eastside, he decided to turn it the occasion into a spontaneous mobile performance art piece.

Cuz that’s how he rolls, yo.