Will the real Curt Lang please stand up?
Curt was a beatnik poet, painter, photographer, beachcomber, boat builder, fisherman, and software entrepreneur. He was born in Vancouver in 1937 and died there in 1998. He and Freddy Douglas were known as the two hippest guys in Vancouver during the late fifties and sixties. This book is my portrayal of Curt and the wild and crazy scene that swirled around him. It will be published by Mother Tongue Publishing in the fall of 2011.
I remember hiking in a forest with Gordon and my two children. He was telling them a story about a Druid wizard called Clang. “Clang” was part of Curt’s email address and the wizard bore some resemblance to Curt. We were climbing higher and higher between the Douglas Firs. A mist hung between the trees. I think the story revolved around a major construction project that the wizard was mounting. There were obstacles, delays, frustration. And then I remember that Gordon was overcome by sadness. He couldn’t continue. “It’s too close to the bone,” he said.
There was something wizard-like about Curt. I think that in an earlier and less sophisticated time, a person like him might very well have been so regarded. A shape-shifter he was. Not only did he transform himself several times during his lifetime, but the people around him saw him in such radically different–wildly different–ways.
“Not much of a ladykiller,” said Don MacLeod, a former bookseller who had known Curt in the sixties. Whereas his cousin, Denise Goodkey, who grew up with him, said, “He was quite a Lothario, you know.” Fred Douglas, an artist and photographer who was also Curt’s best friend explained, “He was like his name ‘courteous,’” But his younger brother, Greg Lang, warned me, “The hardest thing for you to capture will be the malice. That is going to require an act of imagination.” My husband Gordon reflected, “There’s a phrase at the end of Ginsberg’s Footnote to Howl that reminds me of Curt–’The extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul.’” However, Bob James, a programmer who had worked with Gordon and Curt had a different impression, “Curt was always disrupting things.” Jim Polson had been a friend of Curt’s in highschool. They had travelled to Europe together and afterwards had drifted apart. “I got fed up with the role playing,” he said. Tod Greenaway was a photographer and artist who had known Curt since the seventies. Curt had helped Tod build a sailboat a few years ago. He assessed him like this. “He was such a mixture of extreme perception and extreme thickness. Lurched from one to the other on a bad day.”
And what do I remember? A lot of details. Curt was a man who liked blackberry pie, apple pie, pumpkin pie, any kind of pie except nut pie. He hated turnips, background music, and weak tea. He liked the English short story writer, Pritchett, and he admired Virginia Woolf and a Nigerian writer, Amos Tutuola. He was amused by Spike Milligan and the schlock science fiction movies directed by Ed Wood. He read Thucydides. He was learning ancient Greek and he built himself a pedal canoe that could go like the wind. He liked baths. And he toyed with the idea of making over-sized arm chairs out of foam rubber. He wanted them to look like the furniture in an old comic strip which featured a lazy fast talking character known as Major Hoople. Once he tried to make a helium suit that would allow him to leap into the air as effortlessly as the astronauts did when they strode about the moon. He didn’t like Christmas. He referred to children as “short people” and he winced when they fought. He used to talk about the berserkers–wild Norse warriors who fought with a frenzied fury known as the beserker rage. He said they would gnaw on their shields and weep while waiting for the battle to begin. He was interested in the different ways in which the Greek god Hermes was depicted–especially the different hats he wore. A couple of months before he died he gave his friends garlic peelers as a parting gift. He could talk to anybody. He was tidy. He kept his rooms cold. He liked bentwood cane chairs. He neglected his van. He had published poetry and his name was on three patents. He loved parties but hardly ever took a holiday. He co-authored a book about publishing on the Internet and published a dictionary of Chinook jargon. He met Robert Graves and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He gave a presentation at the General Motors Research Institute. He had small hands and blue eyes. He was 5’ 10” tall. He was married twice. He liked blue and white Chinese bowls with fish painted on the bottom and chewy white bread. But this is not all.
I am very interested in hearing from people who might have stories about Curt, or pictures of him, or paintings by him. If you have material you would like to share, please email me, Claudia Cornwall, at cm_cornwallATtelus.net