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Gender + Sexuality

When the Georgia Straight Throbbed with Hope

ARTIFACT: Ode to the alternative weekly just bought by Media Central.

Bill Richardson 13 Jan 2020 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Richardson lives in the rural Manitoba municipality of Louise and in Vancouver's West End, the setting for the stories in his new collection I Saw Three Ships (Talonbooks).

The store in downtown Winnipeg where I went to read the Georgia Straight when I was a randy teenager, circa 1972, was a kind of first generation head shop, draped with batik prints, festooned with macramé owl plant hangers from which trailed philodendron tendrils, patchouli incense smouldering in bronze Buddha thuribles, hookahs on display, some Ravi Shankar LP on the turntable, and the proprietor behind the counter, a German guy in a tie-dye t-shirt, 20-ish, thin and blonde and epicene, desirability’s molten trifecta. He resembled that junior Nazi, Ralph or Rolph or whomever, in The Sound of Music, the one who dances with Liesl in the gazebo as the rain pelts down and the Reich surges. It was a look I found most compelling, and I don’t care if you judge me.

Anyway, at this store could be found, a few weeks out of date, the Georgia Straight, and it was everything the Star Weekly was not: colourful and irreverent and dangerous, and Klaus or Heinz or whatever his name behind the counter (also the counterculture) seemed not to mind if I leafed through. To me, he never spoke a word; he was in no way susceptible to my importunate, lingering glances. I would have been glad of a sneer, a dismissive curl of the lip. As I think of him now, I find I’m photoshopping a scar on his cheek, perhaps a souvenir of a duel in Heidelberg.

Even then there were personal ads in the Straight, and so, from this Vancouver paper, I derived the certainty that 1500 miles to the west were others to whom I was linked by longing. German Head Shop Guy, dishy and aloof, represented the impenetrable, the unattainable while the Straight was a siren singing seductive songs from the rocky shores of all things transgressive, all things that might be mine, if I could just find a way to traverse the plains, the inconvenient mountains, and founder there.

Which I did, and do.

Not to surrender the nautical metaphor, in time I was on the masthead of the Georgia Straight, was a columnist for a few months, in the mid-90’s. By then, I was able to write about all things gay in a full-throated way that I think I’d find embarrassing now to examine, were I forced to interpret the mess of my own spilled guts. By then, I’d pulled my term as an aspiring sexual outlaw, a role at which I never excelled, and only understood why when I tricked with a casting agent who told me that I was the type he’d look for if he was on the hunt for “Clergyman, Anglican, Pale.”

I never wrote about that in the Georgia Straight, but I could have, if only in the Personals, the need for which the Internet obviated. Revenues fell. The paper grew thinner. Death was foreseen. The paddles were proffered. The corpse jolted back to life. News came last week that it had been purchased for $1.25 million by a company tied to the cannabis industry that aims to assemble a vast media network across North America.

I wish the defibrillated Straight well, of course, and I’ll always be grateful both for the space it afforded me as a writer, also for providing the necessary fuel, circa 1972, for my eventual westward launching. Thirty years later, on the CBC, I would interview Charmian Carr, who played Liesl in The Sound of Music, and compel her to sing with me the opening measures of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”  [Tyee]

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