Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Polaroids from the Dead

Last summer, I acquired a bunch of books. Sale books, plus books for charity, plus a friend's book purge. Seriously, I can't stop myself sometimes. Either from the friend's purge or from the charity sale, I received a copy of Douglas Coupland's Polaroids from the Dead. I wasn't really looking for this book, I just saw "Douglas Coupland" and picked it up. I've read several books by him, including his iconic Generation X (though I prefer The Gum Thief). I didn't know what I was getting until I was looking through all my newly acquired books. Polaroids from the Dead is full of pictures. The Dead? The Grateful Dead. The pictures are from a Grateful Dead concert that took place in 1991. The first section of this book containg (fictional?) stories all taking place at this concert, inspired by the pictures. It was an interesting snapshot of time.

This books if full of 90's snapshots. Places, peoples, things. Coupland addresses parts of his life in the first half of the 90's too. What he did, where he went, a German reporter he dragged around Vancouver. I think that man got more than he bargained for. There were a lot of moments that hit me, that took me back into the past.

One thing that hit me strongly, was the letter to Kurt Cobain. Coupland had started writing it while Cobain was in Europe and finished it after his death. That really took me back in time and out of everything that the second section of the book contained, it really stood out to me. I wasn't a big fan of Grunge back then. Instead I was listening to some Bad Boy and R&B, with reggae and boy band pop thrown in. But I knew the big songs from Nirvana (and Pearl Jam), I liked their songs. I understood the music, saw it everywhere. When Kurt Cobain died, it was a big deal. Coupland certainly seemed to feel it like so many people did back then.

Before starting Polaroids from the Dead, I had been hearing about the anniversary of the OJ Simpson trail. I was young when that happened. It was all the adults could talk about. It dominated television. I remember watching Simpson try on the glove. I remember hearing about Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman, watching their grieving families on television. It didn't really hit me though, I think because of my age. But it hit the adults. The anger, the disbelief. I remember being brought together into one of the larger classrooms with other students so we could all watch the verdict together. It was actually one of the first times I realised how different the American and Canadian justice systems could be, and that's when the tragedy of it finally sank in for me. Polaroids from the Dead was written shortly after. Coupland talks about Brentwood and OJ Simpson, how it all can be forgotten, but I don't think it has been. Partly because of the impact that trial had on other "celebrity" trials and crimes since. But also because Simpson still got into trouble and didn't stay out of the spotlight. Everything that Coupland wrote about Brentwood was deep and interesting. I wonder if it still applies to the area now. One of the oddest things about it was how close Nicole Brown Simpson and Marilyn Munroe lived to each other. But is it odd considering the people who have lived in that area? The entire third section, The Brentwood Notebook was an interesting study of the area.

In the book, Coupland mentions Princess Diana. As I'm reading his brief comparison of the Princess of Wales to Marilyn Monroe, it made me sad. I checked the year the book was published and the year of her death and I confirmed it, she was still alive when the book was written. His comparison of her to these Brentwood women seems like it was timely and unfairly accurate.

Things have changed since Polaroids of the Dead was written. It's almost a history book. It's a time capsule. If you're interested in the 1990's, though this book doesn't have everything (it was published in 1996), the first half of the 90's is very present. It's the perspective you can't get from someone looking back, it's from somone in it, living it in the moment.

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