bill bissett and pete dako – ths is erth, thees ar peopul

Annoyance is a natural barrier against the discovery of the mythic island of poetry that is bill bissett. The wandering reader / listener must navigate boldly through these storms of annoyance – with bissett’s books, annoyance engendered by the crazy, childlike home-brewed forgot-everything-about-spelling lexography that forces one to read at a half the normal speed – bissett makes you remember what you are doing when you are reading – what you went through as a kid to put all those strings of letters together into words, words into phrases, phrases into sentences, thoughts, memes ... and it’s annoying. Because it was tough to learn how to do that and we’d all rather just forget about it now that we know how to do it. Imagine getting into a car where you drive from the back seat, with a helmet on your head with mirrors that turn everything backwards and upside-down, just so you know you’re actually driving a car.

Same goes for his 2007 audio recording, a collaboration with musician / producer Pete Dako. Here, the words come across as sound and you can’t really tell they’re spelled differently, but there’s other annoyances to deal with, like Dako’s relentlessly retro musical style, one part Vangelis / Jean-Michel Jarre / Isao Tomita, one part every eighties bedroom musician armed with a drum machine, and one part whoever played piano and wrote those songs on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. So one feels – much as one feels when confronted with bissett’s poetry in print – that you’re in for a tough haul.

But the annoyance is just because you’re uptight, and you don’t have any time to really enjoy poetry – or anything, for that matter. No, you have a job and it takes up so much of your time you can only call yourself a poet, you can no longer be a poet, really, because your job won’t let you do anything but be that job. What a life! And then there’s bill bissett, who has clearly created a complete alternate universe for himself through his poetry, and that’s annoying too, because obviously he’s been having WAY MORE FUN in his seven-odd decades of erthly existuntz than YOU have. It isn’t bill’s problem that your mind has been stamped one-way-linear and short-attention-spanned by the miserablist death machine.

The first two tracks are the toughest to get through, because bissett refuses to make it easy for the (purely theoretical) first-time listener. The vaguely sexual undercurrents of ’15 circus storeez’, set to woozy synth noodlings, are followed by the grade school-level joke around salmon farming (the joke being that bill thinks it means the salmon are farming, as opposed to being farmed) in ‘speeking uv environmental issews’. It is only with the third track, ‘pushing th wheel’ that the listener gets to the real thing – full-on sound poetry mayhem embellished by Dako’s vocal treatments and weird synth blips. It is here that the listener realizes at last that he has left planet erth and is truly and irrevocably launched on a journey into the heart of billness.

It is with this track that one comes into contact with the man, the legend who has managed to published zillions of books, who makes wildly unfashionable paintings full of chakras and auras and ten times the number of colours any painting should be permitted to have and sells them, who has made his own way as an artist in the unforgiving wilderness of Canadian culture (if such a thing can be said to exist) and can still finish up scat singing like he is five years old and just jumped out of bed on a beautiful spring day.

Now the listener has breached the reefs of annoyance and finds herself washed up on the golden beaches of bissett’s weird and warmhearted world. Beyond the sound poetry of ‘pushing th wheel’, many of the pieces seem more straightforward – song-speaking bits of wisdom and insight flowing from bissett’s experiences in life. “Life – what’s the big deal? We leave with the same nothing we started out with.” The listener is drifting on the sea of bissett’s meditations on meditation. The music and bissett’s thoughts are both as unfashionable as sixties bell bottoms unearthed from some West Coast Salvation Army donation bin ... but somebody’s gonna love those bell bottoms. They’ll put those bell bottoms on and it all comes back again, all the optimism and the dreaminess and the wild potential of just being here, now.