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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Douglas Coupland: Time Capsules - Ann-Margret Swimming in Baked Beans

Somebody sent me a case of champagne today — Freixenet, lovely! — but there was no card attached. The importer/distributor said there might have been one but, “It probably got lost in customs, and Bev can’t find the packing slip, so you’re out of luck.” Thanks. We should all have such problems, but the fact of the matter is there’s a person out there somewhere on the planet who’s sitting by their phone or e-mailbox waiting for a thank-you message, and I don’t have any idea who that person is. So I have to go through the next year knowing that with each passing day, someone is hating me more and more and more until it ultimately ends up in, yes, tears.

Champagne seems to be today’s theme. Here’s how: I’ve begun a new sculpture that came about in an odd way via champagne. An arts magazine interviewer and I had been began discussing the notions of safety and what makes you feel safe — with Joseph Beuys, gray blankets and fat kept him alive through the winters. With me, growing up, it was an old staircase, now gone, underneath which my father used to store his shotgun shells. Next to the shells was a massive case of baked beans that still exists somewhere in their house, a case so old the labels predate bar-coding. When I was growing up, that case of beans was going to get the family through a nuclear war — I come from a military family, remember. So today I really began to explore the notion that baked beans = safety, and tried to figure out some way of integrating it into my own domestic environment, and it dawned on me that I’d really like to make a sculpture recreating the scene in Ken Russell’s movie “Tommy” where Ann-Margret throws a champagne bottle into a TV set, and soap suds and baked beans come spewing out of the hole. Her character is drunk, and she begins swimming in the baked beans.

Ann-Margret as Nora Walker Hobbs in Ken Russell’s “Tommy,” 1975.

It’s a bizarre and compelling image that crystallizes so many disturbed sides of my youth. To make this image physical and three-dimensional and see it sitting in my living room would, yes, make me feel safe. Art is like that. So now the hunt has begun for a model in Vancouver who has Ann’s signature cheekbones, and that is going to be a very hard model to find. I met Ann several times in 1994 in green rooms across North America. She was on a tour, at the same time as I, with her autobiography, “Ann-Margret: My Story.” It was very glamorous the first time, it was pleasant the second time, and by the third time it was, “Hi. Do you have any gum?” Overlapping tours are common. Once I overlapped with Lynn Redgrave, who made me promise to keep my reading copy of my touring novel inside a Ziploc bag. My most exciting celebrity encounter of all time was in the lobby of a Midwestern ABC affiliate, where a guy sitting across the coffee table from me looked familiar in a didn’t-we-go-to-high-school kind of way — and then it hit me, It’s Jared from the Subway commercials! I’d just done the Subway diet as a summer novelty and had lost five pounds, and he’d just read one of my books, so it was a real love-in. He even had his old 645-inch waist jeans with him.

Attached to today’s column is a random selection of images from 2001. As a whole, they capture the continually battling forces of touring: boredom and fascination, the voice in the back of your head that asks, Is this the last time I ever visit this city? When does civil aviation finally come to an end? Will room service close five minutes before I get to the hotel, and will it be another club house sandwich?


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