Pen Pals

Sometimes it's fun to introduce people to each other just to watch the conversation flow. And, so, Ted Bishop, professor of English at the University of Alberta and social historian of ink,

Bishop in Avenue Magazine
I'd like to introduce you to Brian Fallon, tattooed lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem, whose latest album Handwritten remains, thanks to our youngest son, on heavy rotation in our house and car.

I don't know Bishop very well, but he did teach me English 309: Expository Writing when I was an undergrad those many years ago. And he made an indelible impression. And I don't know Fallon at all, but he's made his mark on Mikey's imagination and guitar playing.

I think ink is at the top of the page of the things you two could talk about. I'd just like to listen in.

Handwritten is awash in ink, or, what that ink in many songs symbolizes: the vitality of human blood. This is from the album's namesake song:
I'm in love with the way you're in love with the night
And it travels from heart to limb to pen.
In "Keepsake," there is this:
And in my heart, heart, heart there are these waters.
"Too Much Blood" presents this question:
What's left for only you to take
If I put too much blood on the page?
In "Mae" the heart resides in a bigger assemblage:
While the city pumps its aching heart
For one more drop of blood.
And on and on and in and in. The album, in many places set to sophisticated heartbeat rhythms, is all about scenes of darkness as deep as ink, scenes recalled by the songwriter and moved from memory to page in the radically personal process of handwriting with a pen. This is the punk poet of the wax and the needle—not of keystrokes.

One of Bishop's gall nuts
For his part, Bishop has set himself the small task of penning a research travelogue that illuminates the substance so common—ink— that it has become, well, invisible ink. He gives lectures with titles like "From Bomber Crews to The Bourne Identity: The Ballpoint Pen As An Instrument of War," and "Power, Passion, and Smoke: Ming Dynasty Inksticks," and "Samarkand, Islam, And The Erotics Of Ink." He walks around with gall nuts.

Bishop has told the Edmonton Journal that as more and more of our interactions become digital there's this longing for the tactile, the actual.

Fallon has told that Handwritten was inspired by a poem given to him in ink by a friend, and that he had never been spoken to that way before. "I took that and said, what if a band did that? because sincerity is the name of the game for us...We have to rely on sincerity or else we don't have anything."

"Ink," Bishop writes, "the fluid that creates cultures, that unites civilizations, that decrees war or marriage. It's everywhere, from your pen to your printer...but are we at the end of ink?"

To which Fallon might respond that the real threat of the end of ink is the end of an enduring channel to the heart.

I suppose Bishop and Fallon don't actually have to meet to sort out this dark stuff. But they could write.


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