A CONTAPUNTAL REVIEW
Voice Three: The Elvis of the North
I am deeply convinced of the opinion that a single miracle
evidently attributed to Elvis Presley (a visitation in the night,
a cure associated with a relic, or a transformation wrought by
a song) and a genuine religion would appear. Perhaps these things
have already happened, and then what is needed is a 'Paul'
to proselytize the new faith until a critical mass of followers
and believers is reached. The Church of Elvis, with holy visitations
at 7-11s around the country. Graceland is already a shrine.
Canadians might look askance at this, given their jaundiced
attitude towards many things American. But here, up in the frozen
North there is a new cult waiting in the wings. It waits for its
call from the Zeitgeist and could easily flower into a genuine
The object of its devotion is Glenn Gould.
Kevin Bazzana discusses the edges of this subject with a litany
of Gould-inspired organizations, events and even competitions
(a particularly unfortunate bit, as Gould abhorred competition).
But he does not take the final step into my pet theory.
Only a Canadian can tell you what an omnipresent figure Glenn
Gould is within the Canadian psyche. He figures importantly on
CBC Radio, and while less present on television, a recent movie
brought him back again. I dare say many Canadians know him.
Bazzana relates that a group of young men followed Gould late
in the night while Gould disposed of his garbage and that they
retrieved the bag hoping for some glorious tidbit. Sadly they
found nothing magical, but their faith in Gould's significance
remained unshaken. Had it occurred that some piece of paper, or
a fragment of recording tape had been in the garbage they might
have been overwhelmed.
But, if by chance or force divine, they had somehow been changed
by the contents, had a genuine miracle occurred, then the cult
of Gould might have taken form that night.
It still might. Humans are gullible (which is why they believe
patent falsehoods on a regular basis). For some reason we want
a key to the Divine. We want a key to significance. We want meaning.
If worshiping a saint, a relic, or a musician gives these people
meaning, then they will worship. There is a great danger that
some con-man will recognize this and concoct a story, produce
a miracle and delude people into following him. For a price. It
has been done before. It goes on right now (see Tahir Shah's excellent
book The Sorcerer's Apprentice) and will go on as long
as people want the Divine but will also allow themselves to be
tricked. The threat is present and considerable.
I expect Gould would have been horrified by the prospect. He
certainly did not enjoy the attentions of overzealous fans. He
would have been repulsed by a cult growing around him.
But the reality is much simpler. We do not need to make a cult
of Gould. We can take what he left us -- and it is a key to the
Divine -- and find the Divine for ourselves. It is a kind of Divine
that will satisfy the religious and the atheistic. There is no
need to worship at the Temple of Gould. There is no need to pick
through his garbage (jolly good time though that probably was).
There is no need to collect relics of his life (his boots are
on display somewhere!). It is also decidedly not necessary to
imitate him in the externals of his life. It is only necessary
to follow his lead and take similar steps for ourselves. It is
in his dedication to something (Music) and his keeping his eye
on the target as best he could that he offers a bit of advice
for the rest of us.
Gould's ecstasy, bought at such a high price, is a tool for
all of us. The best honor we could do to Glenn Gould is to use
it respectfully and well. Not as gullible sheep.
Copyright © 4 August 2004
Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada