Sunday, October 26, 2014


In my house growing up there was a room just off the foyer with a TV in it and a door that locked. It was in there that I watched Kids in the Hall--am I wrong remembering it aired on Monday nights? 

I watched with the door locked, of course. I can't recall being specifically forbidden to watch the show, but I certainly remember thinking it was a half-hour my parents wouldn't be thrilled that I was gobbling like I was. It was the only place on TV--that I knew about--where people could say fuck. As a verb no less. And it's likely that I heard fag here for the first time, too--though used casually, lispingly, by Scott Thompson's Buddy Cole. The show was weird and debauched, but also transgressive and educational in a sort of important way. At nine years old, I was explaining to my friends, who had been calling all the Kids gay, that only Scott was; there were nuances to these things. The humour wasn't derogatory, but it wasn't precious either. Like with The Simpsons, everyone was equal because everyone was strange and terrible--the white male a bit more repugnant and buffoonish than the rest. I guess I just assume that kids who grew up watching the Kids came out smart and sensitive to how absurd all humanity was.

Not that anyone was forcing me to choose, but Bruce was my favourite Kid. (It had maybe been only a year or so since I'd been into the Ninja Turtles, of whom Raph' had been my favourite.) Bruce was jockey-sized, fidgety, and a bit effete in a blue collar way. He was the abstract one; the one who would probably get mad at you if you hadn't seen Eraserhead. I'm sure it was more the tone and cadence of his delivery--pronounced, but lilting--that I was drawn to than his basement apartment worldview, which was a little over my head at nine. 

Brucio--as he affectionately called himself--put out an album called Shame-Based Man in 1995. I would have been about twelve years old at the time, and I duly memorized and internalized those bits. I don't really remember what sort of person I was before that album--judging from photos, I smiled a lot--but however I was before, I wasn't the same after I heard Shame-Based Man. Bruce McCulloch was my Jack Kerouac, my The Doors. I can't be sure if I adopted Brucio's view of the world's weird woe before I had my own opinion of it, my own experience in it--the same way the pop punk of the time introduced tweens to anger before they actually felt angry--or whether he just described it to me ahead of time, so I'd know it when I saw it.


Brucio's was a world of futons, crashed Corollas, and hangovers; of housewives, drunk dads, and jean jackets; of drinking as much as your drunk dad, but differentiating yourself by not drinking just rye; of lonely, lost people who are about fifteen years too old to be sleeping on futons. Brucio's Brucey cadence was as important as the writing, but the writing was also so good, so sharp, and as I acclimated to his pronounced, emphatic delivery, I found and came to seriously appreciate the rich vein of sadness in it all, the indefatigable bleakness of his purview. Observations like, "Life is sad when you wear sweat pants and a raincoat" or, "Our love is like Santa Claus. The only ones who still believe in it are small children who don't know how the world really works" really started to hit home. It was just so true, you know?

It's odd to think that I'm about the age now that Brucio was at the time of Shame-Based Man. That album is sort of Brucio in amber to me. In the years after Kids in the Hall dissolved and resolved, Bruce--in my eyes--never did anything as good as that album, or anything that matched the stride of his sketch and monologue work. Movies like Superstar and Stealing Harvard and Dog Park were a let down. But I was a kid. What did I know? It never occurred to me that Brucio needed to work, that Brucio was maybe selling the best stuff ever that no one wanted to buy. And so I come to Let's Start a Riot as the sort of guy it sounds like Bruce was, or played up that he was, when I loved him most: wry and odd, identifying on most days with Bruce's brilliant line from "Vigil", a monologue about Kurt Cobain's suicide, "Cynicism was my whiskey, and I'd had a few."

That cynical sprite with the over-sized flannel and waistline of a nine year old is in his 50s now, married with two children--one of whom apparently serves him drinks. The Brucio wit is still present and--though it's a bit puffier and probably doesn't ride a bike much anymore--still sharp, the observations troubling and true. For instance: "Wearing pyjamas in public. It's one of those things that you feel in your heart may be wrong, but you aren't sure why. Like masturbating in front of your dog." If you're a Brucio fan, you'll notice more than a few instances of recycled material--see: "Vigil" and "The Beautiful Day You Beat Up Your Dad"--but otherwise, the book is composed of vignette-sized ruminations on having a family and not exactly having a real job, on Brucio's fractured childhood, on his moves towards and away from Kids in the Hall, on his coming to grips with the fact that he's sometimes a disaster, and figuring out how come.

The kid that memorized Shame-Based Man, who would often perform "Doors Fan" to himself with no shortage of brio if the album wasn't handy, would probably be let down by Let's Start a Riot. The cynicism here feels like more an affection than a lifestyle. But the sort-of-man that that Brucio boy became is starting to see the unsustainability of that lifestyle. A realization that Brucio himself made just a few years beyond where I am now, which he documents--bare with me--almost touchingly in Let's Start a Riot. It's not that Brucio has become lachrymose and simple; he's just become... Sober's not the word I'm looking for. Let's say he's become self-aware.

In a perfectly Brucio piece about tolerating a Radiohead concert for the sake of a comely nurse, Brucio--who's just on the verge, and maybe hanging over the lip of being too old for this--is unwittingly fed anonymous drugs and taken to a rave by said nurse. When the nurse abandons Brucio to talk DJing with the DJ, he's left to ramble at some straight edge tree planters: "I don't trust myself. I'm going to have myself followed." "Sleep is remembrance. Breath is forgiveness." "I've always thought that the love I feel has trouble leaving my body." "Who cheers up the cheerleaders?"

Up all night, abandoned by his nurse, Brucio puts in a call to his agent in Toronto. "Did you know that sometimes the love I feel has trouble leaving my body?" The agent responds matter-of-factly: "Yes. Everyone knows that about you..."

Maybe that's all that's changed. Though a little stumbly and not always on point, Let's Start a Riot eventually figures out it's a story of Brucio trying to have less trouble letting the love he feels leave his body. And there's a surprising amount of love that makes it out in the book, considering how wee he is.

Cynisism no longer seems to be Brucio's whisky. Cocktails are apparently now his whisky. Let's Start a Riot is not the book that I imagined twenty years ago that Brucio would write, and thank god for that. It augurs well for me. 

- Andrew

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