New book a celebration of and how-to guide for all of the assholes who call this city home.
What do Ezra Levant and that magpie squawking in your backyard at the crack of dawn have in common?
Unapologetic fucking assholes.
And they’re ours — as much a part of Calgary’s history as the ’88 Olympics, the ’89 Flames and whatever other successes this city takes great pride in, celebrates.
So posits local musician, actor, playwright, poet and author Kris Demeanor in his new satirical tome How to Be An Asshole of Calgary.
It’s the third in the How to Be series put out by Vancouver’s Kolakovsky Press, following on the heels of B.C.-based artists Geoff Berner and his wry How to Be An Accordion Player book and Carolyn Mark’s cheeky take on How to Be A Boozy Chanteuse. The trio of friends will perform Friday at the Ironwood as something of an unofficial launch for Demeanor’s book, with it mostly about the music, but perhaps some readings from his hilarious book. (Keep an eye open for a possible WordFest event later in the year featuring all three.)
For Demeanor it was something of a no-brainer that he should choose to write about how to best go about being an asshole in the city he’s called home all his life, considering his many careers — including his tenure as the city’s first poet laureate — have provided him a “broad yet meaningful view of a lot of corners of society” here.
It allowed him to explore it, his relationship with it, in an “affectionate yet derisive” manner.
“Well it’s like a partner or a roommate. You have a great time, you party, you have great talks, but then they never do the fucking dishes,” he says, sitting in the corner of 17th Ave. haunt Local 510.
“Any relationship, any long-standing, intensive, deep, meaningful relationship is going to elicit a lot of different feelings and opinions.
“And I just feel qualified at this point in my life to write How to Be An Asshole of Calgary … In some ways it is a celebration of the city and all of the assholes in it because the biggest crime against your city or your partner or your business associate is to ignore them and to not care about them. I mean clearly I’m interested in this place if I’m willing to explore it to that extent and break it down a little bit and probe it.”
He admits that as a long-time observer of humanity, he’s always “fascinated by the idea of the asshole … being the most successful” among us.
And while it’s not necessarily a distinctly Calgary phenomenon (cough, Trump, cough, cough) he does approach it from a distinctly Calgary perspective.
Hence references to big trucks, big belt buckles, Cowboys (the night club and the people), Mount Royal garden parties and role models for the aspiring asshole out there, including Ralph Klein (“The prototype, in some ways, of the modern Alberta asshole,” Demeanor says), Nellie McClung, Rob Anders, the aforementioned Levant and those fucking magpies, as well as the author himself.
As to whether or not it’s too much of an inside joke, too local, and if it could play outside of the city limits, Demeanor thinks for a moment.
“It will play in Edmonton,” he says and laughs. “Maybe a little bit in Lethbridge.
“Usually whenever I do something very Calgary-specific, Calgarycentric it doesn’t travel around because everyone in Toronto and Vancouver are narrow, pompous people who are like,” he says, affecting a pretentious tone, “ ‘It’s too Calgary a story.’ Which is fucking stupid, considering you can do stories set in New York or Dublin or Sydney or Johannesburg and no one says, ‘Oh it shouldn’t be. You can’t tell that story, it’s not from our place.’ It’s ridiculous.
“But there’s always been that sense of a bit of head-patting, patronizing, ‘Oh, no it’s a local prairie story so it can’t have meaning or substance anywhere else,’ which is such crap. And I think we’re slowly getting beyond that, I think it’s slowly changing.”
“I’d like to think that it could travel.”
He jokingly says he’ll know it has when the lawsuits start. Although the chapter on one of those “role models” is merely three words long: “Google Ezra Levant.”
“I know he’s lawsuit crazy and that’s why I didn’t go into detail. And I think I can get away with that. Especially considering that I preface everything by saying that this is a bit of a celebration of the asshole,” Demeanor says and laughs. “They’re all doing very well for themselves — magpies, Ezra.
“And, yeah, no I didn’t need to go into detail with Ezra.”
Besides, Demeanor says, “the documentation’s all there.”
“There may be an Instagram site with him giving alms to the poor, but there probably isn’t.”
And ultimately Demeanor thinks that’s probably for the best — he is who he is and that’s why he is what he is. Once you recognize that, all good.
The magpie on the other hand …
“The corvids are very intelligent birds,” he says. “They’re quite sensitive birds and if you nurture them properly they make good pets and they’ll probably be an ally.
“So I think we have to ask ourselves why is it so important for us to have robins and finches? Why not just have magpies and sparrows? Should we not allow them to do what they’re designed to do? Why do we hate them for it?”
But what about the others? Should we not ask the same questions about, say, Levant?
“I think we should tear down his nest whenever we have the opportunity, and if he keeps rebuilding his nest it’s just a matter of who gets tired first,” Demeanor says.
“If Ezra’s nesting in your eavestrough, what would you do?”
How to Be An Asshole of Calgary is on sale now from Shelf Life Books and Pages in Calgary. It will also be available for purchase at the Ironwood Friday night when Kris Demeanor, Carolyn Mark and Geoff Berner perform.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also an asshole.