Elvis was a sponge, says Bowman

Elvis Presley is credited by white music historians with having invented rock ‘n’ roll 50 years ago with a single incendiary studio performance of Arthur Crudup’s blues belter’s pedestrian ditty, That’s All Right Mama, noted the Toronto Star July 4. “It could have been any blues song,” said musicologist Rob Bowman of York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

“There was nothing special about Crudup’s composition. It was one of hundreds of blues pieces Elvis would have been familiar with. The guy was a sponge. He could have just as easily banged away on Roy Brown’s Good Rocking Tonight, which was recorded in 1947 and which Elvis certainly would have known, since he moved to Memphis in 1948 and was exposed to black culture day in and day out, in the streets and on radio. No previous generation of southern whites had been so inundated by the influence of black music, gestures, language and stories. The influence was pervasive, unavoidable,” said Bowman. There’s even recorded evidence, he continued, to suggest that young Presley’s famed vibrato, particularly on open vowels, was an imitation, conscious or otherwise, of Brown’s style, not Crudup’s.

So, how was the coverage?

“The feeling is widespread in the land that the federal election campaign of 2004 was negative, nasty and, for many, downright depressing,” wrote Fred Fletcher, co-author of Media, Elections and Democracy, and a political science and communication studies professor in York University’s Faculty of Arts, in an editorial for The Vancouver Sun July 3. “Certainly, that is the way it was portrayed in the news media.” 

But “in 2004, perhaps for the first time in living memory, the journalists were less cynical than the parties and the voters,” wrote Fletcher, who has been media scholar in residence at the school of journalism at the University of British Columbia this past year. “Whatever the weaknesses of the coverage – and there were some – it appears to me that the coverage and commentary were as positive as the parties and voters would allow. Indeed, I cannot recall a campaign in which commentators were actually urging the voters to be less cynical.”

Adelman sparked Operation Lifeline

In the summer of 1979, when hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asians were so desperate to flee political violence they risked pirates, drowning or worse, Canada offered the first and firmest hand, and accepted proportionally more Indochinese refugees than any other country, reported the Globe and Mail July 3 in the third of a four-part series on Canada’s boat people. In late June, 1979, York University Professor Howard Adelman was writing a book about Hegel at his island cottage in Northern Ontario. His mind was on philosophy, not the tragedy playing out on a distant sea. Coming home on the last weekend of June, just as the international community was coming to terms with the facts, he stopped for coffee, grabbed a newspaper and was stunned by the headlines. He immediately called a meeting at his house, inviting the local alderman, a priest he knew, a couple of rabbis, an Anglican clergyman and some socially conscious neighbours. “This is a horror story,” he told them. “We cannot make the same mistake of 1939.”

They began talking about petitions, and how best to pressure the government, when an immigration official who’d heard about the meeting knocked at his door and asked to join it. “Did you know,” the official asked them, “that the Immigration Act has a clause that allows for private sponsorships?” The government had, in fact, been trying to sell the idea on a smaller scale for months. Only the Mennonites and the Dutch Reform Church had paid any attention. The government needed advocates on the ground. Adelman and his group answered instantly: They would take 50 families.

That was the spark: Within two weeks, there were 80 people working out of the Adelman home, and 60 chapters of what was dubbed Operation Lifeline had sprung up across the country. “What can I do to help?” a caller would ask from St. Mary’s, Newfoundland. “Congratulations,” Adelman would answer. “You’ve just founded a new chapter.”

Dances explore feminine themes of flora and fantasy

Choreographer Sara Porter likes her work to be accessible and fanciful, which explains why she’ll soon be jumping around in a bra and kneepads made of Astroturf, reported the National Post July 3. Besides being a dancer, musician and gymnast, Porter is a dance professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts and at the University of Toronto. “So I have, like, a super-intellectual, academic love of dance,” she said. “But with my own work that I make, I aim to be approachable.” Her playfully named trio of F Dances, to be presented July 8-10 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, certainly sounds like fun, focusing on feminine themes of flora and fantasy. Porter was also profiled the same day in the Post’s “My Toronto” column.

Stories illuminate Italian community

In Mamma Mia! Good Italian Girls Talk Back (ECW Press, 320 pages, $19.95), a collection of personal essays, Maria Cioni, director of York International from 1994 to 2002, writes about her family, especially patriarch Genesio (Gene) Cioni, a well-loved figure in Calgary’s history, reported the Calgary Herald July 3. Her two contributions to the book talk about her father’s restaurants, the impact they had on the family and the community at large, and family customs. Stories like these of her father and the city that embraced him fascinate her and inspired her to write a book about the social and cultural history of Calgary in the 1950s. With funding from the Elia Chair in Italo-Canadian Studies at York University, Cioni has been researching her topic for more than a year. Using her father’s restaurant as the focus, Cioni hopes to shed light on Calgary’s early Italian community.

York quintet performs at Toronto jazz festival

Georgetown drummer and York music grad Jeff Graville performed as a member of the York University Student Jazz Ensemble recently at the 2004 Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival at Nathan Phillips Square, reported the Georgetown Independent July 2. The quintet featured Graville (BFA ’04) on drums, fourth-year music students Michael Davidson (vibes) and Martyn Skrzypczyk (guitar), Jason Murray (trumpet) and James McEleny (bass). They entertained audiences with a potpourri of jazz standards, plus some of their own compositions. For the Student Ensemble, representing York University at the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival was an opportunity to showcase their talent on a playbill shared by some of the biggest names in jazz today. Graville, who just graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in music, will be starting a master’s degree in composition at York University this fall. His performance credits range from the Canadian Walk of Fame Awards to playing for three years with the velvety crooner, headline-grabbing York alumnus Matt Dusk (BFA ’02). This year marks the 30th anniversary of the jazz program at York University, which pioneered university-level jazz studies in Canada and continues to enjoy a national reputation as one of the country’s leading jazz schools.

Actress stars in High Park’s As You Like It

Spend 10 minutes in the company of Allana Harkin and it’s pretty clear why she was chosen to play Rosalind in High Park this summer, reported the Toronto Star July 4. Rosalind, the heroine of As You Like It, has to be the most attractive of all female leads in Shakespeare’s comedies. She is quick-witted, intelligent and alive with youthful energy. Harkin strikes you in much the same way. She earned a master’s degree in fine art from York University in 2001, is a member of the all-female sketch comedy troupe the Atomic Fireballs and is brim-full of Irish charm.

York student performs at Mariposa

Stephanie Hill will have the chance to showcase her musical talent at a hometown venue July 10, reported Orillia’s The Packet & Times July 5 and Orillia Today July 3. The third-year York visual arts student is back home in Orillia this summer and looking to break into the music industry. So along with her band, Grey Days and Elliott, Hill will be performing at the Mariposa Folk Festival. “It is an honour,” Hill told Orillia Today, of their inclusion in the star-studded lineup. “This is our biggest gig so far. We are going to be in with a lot of really big folk names.”

Sprouting spas

Going to the spa used to be an elitist sport, something enjoyed by the rich and famous in secluded resorts, reported the Edmonton Journal July 3. But spas have bubbled up across the city – and across Canada.”We’re now in an age of prevention,” said Joseph Levy, director of York’s Wellness Centre for Active Living and a professor in York’s Atkinson School of Health Policy and Management. “Waiting until you get sick is not the thing to do. You want to prevent it, and one of the best ways to prevent it is to go to the spa.” Levy said spas used to be for overweight people to get back in shape, but today’s spas are for the healthy and the fit. “The people at the spa (now) are the healthiest you’ll see,” he said. “It’s, ‘Am I going to sit on the beach and get skin cancer? No, I’m going to go to the spa.’ It’s part of the health-conscious movement.”

Sufism emphasizes heart over mind

Sufism’s history is controversial; it depends on which Muslim you talk to, Thabit Abdullah, history professor at York’s Faculty of Arts, explained in a Toronto Star travel feature July 3 about the burial place of Nizamuddin in India. “Those more favourable towards Sufism say that it started with the dawn of Islam, that the Prophet was a Sufi,” said Abdullah. “Others tend to view Sufism as heresy, as a foreign element that came to Islam.” All religions have a mystical side, which is juxtaposed with a more legalistic reading of the religion, explained Abdullah. While the branch emphasizing the law specifies the dos and don’ts, the mystical side emphasizes the heart rather than the mind. “There’s one medieval Sufi saying from Anatolia,” he said. “It says, ‘If you’re searching for God, you won’t find Him in Mecca, you won’t find Him in Jerusalem, you’ll find Him in your heart’.”

York tracks reaction to butting out

The Middlesex-London Health Unit has been tracking public response to London, Ont., bylaws banning smoking in indoor public places and at all workplaces, reported the The London Free Press July 4. A monthly survey of 100 area households, conducted for the unit by York University, shows: 79.1 per cent of respondents supported smoke-free bars after the London bylaw took effect, compared to 62.4 per cent beforehand; 89 per cent supported smoke-free restaurants after the ban, compared to 86.4 beforehand; 72 per cent of smokers surveyed after the ban began supported smoke-free restaurants. About 41 per cent supported smoke-free bars.

Keeping watch on the world

Louise Arbour cut a swath on the world stage hunting down war criminals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. She was the first in a generation of women to make it to the top of this country’s male-dominated legal profession. And last week, she left her seat on Canada’s Supreme Court to take up a new challenge as the Geneva-based United Nations high commissioner for human rights, reported the Toronto Star July 5. Arbour taught at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School from 1974 to 1987.

On air

  • Fred Lazar, economics professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, welcomes Air Canada’s aggressive restructuring plan, reported “Early AM Business” on 680 News (CFTR-AM), Toronto, July 2.
  • Seth Feldman, film and video professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, said it was Marlon Brando’s idea to use tissue in his mouth to play Vito Corleone In The Godfather, reported Toronto’s 680 News (CFTR-AM) July 2. Feldman also discussed the actor’s passing in an interview aired on City-tv’s “Citypulse” and CP24-TV news programs July 2 and 3.
  • A new study by Ellen Bialystok, psychology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, says a that bilingualism may have positive health consequences and that the earlier you learn the second language the better, reported news programs on CTV-TV stations in Edmonton, Ottawa, Sudbury and North Bay July 2.