Bill Bissett let himself into my room and shook me awake. It was only about noon so I was still asleep. “Brian! Get up! We need pictures!” Bill and his poet-musician cohorts — The Mandan Massacre — were putting out a record. They dragged me the dozen or so blocks to the roof of Bill’s apartment where I shot off a quick half-dozen rolls of 120 film in my $85 Yashica twin-lens reflex camera. No coffee, no food. That’s my excuse. What’s yours? That’s Gregg Simpson smack dab in the middle of the collage. Marian Seinen with whom I briefly shared a chickenshack a few years later is to his immediate right. Bill and Martina are in there, too, and everybody else’s name I’ve long since forgotten. I always hated every one of those pictures and the collage itself (by Bill, I guess) does little for me, I must admit. The thing’s been reissued on CD and if I hadn’t lost the record (somehow I still have the cover — I think Paul Plimley borrowed the thing and lost the vinyl) it would probably be worth a lot of money — just like my autographed Duke Snyder baseball which I lost the day my Brooklyn cousin — who caught it and got the autograph — gave it to me by taking it out to the park and playing ball with it.
I met Bill (who spells his name fully lower-case, even the Canadian Encyclopedia spells it lower-case, but I don’t because I’m a rebel) in 1963. He lived with Martina and their newborn girl, Ooljah, in a large street-level apartment that consisted of two enormous rooms at the corner of Yew and York streets in Vancouver. I went there one late afternoon with Gil Pomeroy and Neri Gadd. The five of us (Ooljah slept) ate a large quantity of peyote, walked the few blocks to the beach and watched the sun. I sat on a gigantic washed-up tree stump that most likely is in that same spot still. Then we walked back to the flat. After a while I felt sick and realized I was dying. Then I died. Then I was born. I’m not kidding around — that’s exactly how it all happened that very night that lasted till dawn broke and I walked home a completely new being. Although with time I became once again the same being I’d been all along. Still, quite an experience. I’ll describe the whole thing in detail separately at some other time so you can skip it. I imagine the play-by-play would be a lot like listening to someone’s dream —–something I can’t abide. But, anyway, trust me — it was quite cosmic.
Seven years later I was at Bill’s with George Heyman. I gave George some poems for his magazine, Circular Causation, but said I needed a pen name. Bill said use Nation and that’s been my name since. Interesting because seven years earlier I thought of Bill as the paternal figure of my new birth experience and here he was giving me my name.
Bill at one point gained more fame than most Canadian poets generally achieve when around 1977 Canadian parliamentary redneck Bob Wenman raised a major headline-inducing brouhaha over his obscene publicly-funded works — a very Jesse Helmsian bullshit uproar which has no place outside the U.S. so fuck off you perverted fascist bastard!
George was the first babysitter to look after Johanna so Tassillie and I could go to a movie. When we got home they were both crying. Then he disappeared from our lives. Now I note that he’s president of a major government employees union and regularly in the news. I must call him up one day.
Bill lives in Toronto and Vancouver and when in Vancouver is two blocks away and we often meet for fries at the beach, samosas from the Indian joint, coffee at Blenz, or visits at either his place or mine. He knows every song better than I do and as I can no longer seem to get past the first verse he can pick up where I leave off and take it to the very end, although his voice is no better than mine as far as I can tell.