Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Al Purdy Gets A Statue In Queen's Park

I didn't post yesterday. Hundreds of people flooded my inbox. They wanted to know why. What was I doing? Where was I? Another question was kind of funny. "Remember," it started, "when Roots jackets were cool? You know, the ones with the leather sleeves and the last two digits of the year stitched onto the shoulder? I think it was a patch."

Yeah, I do remember. I remember going down to the Roots flagship store in my grandfather's Lincoln Touring Car. I think it was somewhere in Yorkville. As I'm remembering it now, it seemed like the Toronto version of the MOMA. And whom did I see there that day? Al Purdy. I was only ten, but it was Al Purdy. I still have the autograph. You think I'd throw out a Loblaws bill?

This all came back to me this morning when I saw a picture of Purdy's statue being unveiled. It was Page Two of The Toronto Star. There was no story--just a picture and a caption. Because that's how important Al Purdy is. (And I'm sure a ton of Star reporters know AP and his work. I can't even open the Stargazing section without seeing a Purdy quote.)

If it were Atwood there would've been a story. And a black and white picture...(You mean that's colour? Jesus...) But certainly a story.

I was interested to see how the sculptor had dealt with Purdy's hair. The man had the worst haircut in the history of Canadian writing. I think he styled it with canola oil. I've always wondered if he cut it himself. A friend once told me Purdy used to sit on his front porch and wait for a child to walk by. "Hey," Purdy would say to the kid, "wanna make a quick quarter?"

"A quick buck? Sure," the kid would say.

"Fuck off, kid. I said a quarter."

And, when the haggling was over, Purdy would have his haircut. (The kid would have an NSF cheque.)

But the statue's hair was very nice. In fact the entire casting--a huge, ten-foot bronze--was smartly done. There's Al, looking east, bent over, huddled, struggling with a composition. "This next one's gonna make a million bucks," he's thinking. "It'll sell 500,000 for sure."

"I wonder what it's like to do Dallas."

If you're a Purdy fan, take a look at the Margaret Laurence fonds at York University's archive. There are a few candid letters from Purdy to Laurence in which the former trashes his students, Canadian universities, and a handful of Canadian writers. It's great reading. Al was a talented man who stole stationery from every hotel and roadhouse in Canada. It's fun just as a documentary project.

You know, we really ought to have a monument park (Yankees reference) of Canadian writers. There'd be Richler with his middle finger flipped, Laurence in a caftan, a bunch of guys (Kroetsch, Richardson, etc.) paddling canoes, Brian Moore beating his son (or someone's son, I guess), and Gabrielle Roy with her legs open.

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