Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Reymond Pagé's Guide to Immortality

Get Rey's Look: Rey's vintage sunglasses stolen from the visor of someone else's car; Bracelets from a kid in Cambodia; Pendant from Mirador San Nicolas vendor in Granada; Rey's jeans from the Old Navy sale bin; Rey's own vintage belt; Mark’s Work Warehouse sandals; Joe Boxer briefs at Costco; artwork at 275days.com. Note that I cannot flex my abdomen without flexing my big toes.

One thing Reymond Pagé has been trying to tell us all along is that another world is possible - a better world guided by love and not by fear, where people choose unity and peace over division and self-destruction. In a world like that one, the past few months might have gone very differently for almost everyone, including Reymond Pagé. He might have spent his spring photographing the Portuguese coast, his wife on his arm. He might have continued with his string of successful spring and winter (and spring again) neighbourhood art tours where Rey sells art that makes women swoon, and lush photo books of his travels wherein he laments that the world clearly wants peace but for the actions of an insane few who use our foibles to pit us against one another, time and time again, like some sort of historical record player where the tonearm just keeps bumping back and forth at the end of the album, leaving us stuck with the same set of sociopathic leaders determined to have us shoot one another because that's how problems are solved in their worlds.
Instead, in early March, as the spread of Covid-19 picked up speed, Pagé left his third floor studio and headed to the first floor kitchen, thinking he'd have some more superfoods and go walk his dog until things went back to normal. His art supplies were still upstairs in the studio, his clothing always carefully packed away in cupboards and drawers on the second floor. "I was built for this," he remembers thinking. A floor for everything and everything in its place.

He is never alone throughout the day because Indi the Superdog is always at his side. Except when the music is turned up, then she heads to her second floor window where she holds court over her dominion. However, this pattern changed during Covid to making a bed on the main floor with the long runner in the expansive foyer. In the photos on Indi's Instagram feed (yes, for real), it looks like a pretty idyllic existence. Here is Indi, shirtless and barefoot, laying on her right side on a lumpy hunk of carpet. Here is Indi, laying shirtless and barefoot on her left side, on what seems to be another bed, but no, it's the same runner just bunched up in a different way because that's her groove. Here's Indi having her assistants give her a bath, again and as always, shirtless and barefoot. Here is Indi, knowing that the world is waiting to hear how she's doing despite it all, waiting breathlessly for that caption that captures the essence of what we're going through together but alone. "Ruff," it reads. The world exhales collectively. "We feel you," we respond in perfect unison. The photos depict a dog and a man living comfortably in their only home, contentedly and most definitely not alone. "There is the internet," they both tell me.
Which isn't to say they don't think of more. A country house in some gorgeous Provençal town, maybe some art by other artists on the walls instead of being jam-packed with the most amazing art and photography that you've never seen before, all by one singular artist. Or even some mementos from some of the countries to which he hasn't yet been. Small dreams.

Rey through the years.

Contemplate the yin-yang of Studio Rey and Dreaming Rey long enough and you will come to see the world in which Reymond's head resides: a world where we don't all have to act like an asshole to get what we all want - just simple peace and quiet without some asshole being a racist lunatic and ruining it for everyone else. Pagé is the last unknown art god standing, because no one else is willing to live so simply in the midst of such luxury. A man for whom a basketball represents all that is needed for a sublime Sunday afternoon. Throwing the football with friends is the ultimate coffee date. Donning goalie equipment for another ball hockey session is worth an infinite number of Friday nights in some pretentious and ridiculous downtown bar doing one's best to be seen as the coolest cat around.
Reymond lives up to, at all times, our dream of what Reymond Pagé might be doing at any given moment, because we can imagine it for ourselves. You know what Reymond's days consist of because you've all witnessed the fruits of his labour. He doesn't need to live stream every moment of his existence for us to envision him creating life in his studio, breathing a heartbeat into yet another unfathomable yet completely approachable portrait. He may write the odd article about what's going on (!), but that is the exception.

The artist chilling in his studio. Get Rey's look: Rey's own vintage, hand-painted jean jacket; vintage hand-painted jeans; vintage belt and sunglasses; pendant from Spain.

To an outsider, Pagé looks like a guy who's given up. Sweatpants ("They're actually called wind pants," he grumbles, to great affect), a ratty t-shirt, and sometimes an equally ratty sweatshirt ("Oil paint doesn't come out easily," he laments, like someone who has been there and felt that pain). To Pagé, any clothing bought this century belongs in his 'new clothes' category. But when I stop to think about this for a minute, here's a guy who was an athlete in the late 80s, and a tank in the early 2000s. And somehow, in 2021, he's still wearing the same clothes and they don't look out of place on his body. (He proudly shows me his cache of sweatshirts he and his fellow warriors won when they dominated the flag football scene at university. "My wife won't let me wear those anymore," he says quietly, his voice disappearing into a memory of the glory days.) Most of us buy new clothes because we get tired of the old ones or they just don't fit now, or Paris tells us it's time for something new. For Pagé, wearing old clothes is a badge of honour. You know that Seinfeld bit about dads: "All father's dress in the clothing style of the last good year of their lives." For Pagé, this is an act of defiance: Yes motherfucker, I am that old. As crazy as it sounds, if it weren't for all that grey hair, the bags under the eyes, or that weird goose flesh on the elbows, you might not be able to tell how old he is.

Most days, he'll wake up and have an apple. "Pink lady. Best apple in the world." Then he'll set to work down in the basement dungeon. Skip. Ride the bike until the sweat drips off his nose (and if you've seen that nose in person, you know that is one long road to hoe). The get into his workout for the morning. Back in university, a friend critiqued his workout routine of playing basketball for an hour before hitting the weights. "You'll never get big doing that!"
"I'm just trying to have fun, man." And that's been his mantra all along. Pushing weight around is fun. Moving his body around is just plain fun. Whenever he feels a cold coming on, he hits the weights, plays some hoops, gets active. "That'll clear the sinuses," he says. But lately, he's been rubbing that sore elbow for longer and longer. Physical pain is his medicine.

Nightly hill training. Get Rey's look: Propagandhi T-shirt at Propagandhi.com; shorts from Sargent Avenue Thrift Shop; Rey's own vintage runners; Rey's kid's sunglasses that he doesn't know are missing yet; Rey's mountain bike - Mountain Tour Ridgerunner DX bought by his wife from a guy in his underwear sometime in the 90s. Photo courtesy M. Pagé.

Since those early days in the university gym, Pagé has been his own physical trainer. "Nobody knows this body like I know this body." I ask about his thighs. "These are basketball legs!" he nearly shouts. His basement gym is where the term hodge-podge comes from. An ecletic mix of free weights and bars. His bench-squat rack combo maybe from an old Canadian Tire catalogue. "I got this baby at Canadian Tire, twenty-five years ago." Pride oozes from his pores every time he talks about how old something is.
What is the point of all this? Other than returning to the condition of his early middle-age, he has one major goal: to dunk the basketball again. "My best dunks are not behind me. That time I dunked on my sixteen-year-old neighbour? Or jumped over that guy at Holy Cross School? No, I've got more in me." He is looking past me as he recalls those days, and I can see in his eyes that he is reliving the moment.

Get Rey's look: Rey's own vintage sunglasses; Hair ties from Shopper's Drug Mart; Rey's vintage muscle shirt; sports shorts from Sargent Avenue Thrift Shop.

At press time, Pagé's home town is ground zero for Covid's third wave at almost double the next worst per capita case count in all of North America. Residents bristle under yet another lockdown even as vaccinations ramp up. Somehow, the virus does not bow to the word of God or bend to the will of the fit and healthy. It is indiscriminate and it is relentless, but to Pagé, the endless lockdowns do not feel like deprivation. "I went around the world with five pairs of underwear. Everything I needed, and a few things I didn't, plus all the stuff my wife bought, I carried on my back for nine months. I don't need much to be happy, man." But don't you miss people, I ask. He hesitates, like Trudeau wondering how to answer a question about North-South relations.

One thing Pagé hasn't been doing is recording music. "It's been a long time." He seems to do a lot of lamenting when he ponders the past. In another universe, there is a Reymond Pagé who is the stage presence for an intense metal band. "Not this new metal business, but the good stuff, like Soundgarden or old Metallica, the best of the 80s and 90s." With the advent of computer recording and programming, Pagé experimented with the technology when his kids were napping or playing contentedly in the family room beside his studio. One day, his oldest walked in. "Wow, papa, you were really screaming that time." His five song EP didn't make the charts, but it made him happy. Any hits, I ask, half-jokingly. "Servants of Our Good Fortune," he replies, without hesitation. "Maybe Death Squad too."
Back in 2003, the world (i.e. the Western World; you know that's always what people mean when they say "the world," like the rest of the planet doesn't matter) was, well, much as it is now. But that war in Iraq really stuck in Pagé's craw. His brow furrows even more than usual, and the veins in his forearms pulsate a little more aggressively. Eyewitness To Murder was born, and a song like Servants of Our Good Fortune reflects the world (you know what I mean) of today just as accurately as it did in 2003.
The silent, screaming, shame of our great nation(s)
Is our failure to see the cages that we build around
(the) Servants of Our Good Fortune.

Things get a little dark in Run Little Children:
Like father like son
Fate asks that you bow to order
Like father like son
I go to sleep thinking about how
I like the feeling of little bones beneath my feet.

"At one time, I thought I could change the world. I still think that, when I go to sleep at night. Then I wake up in the morning and I'm still me, and no one is listening." Words of the prophets, and all that. Those nearly twenty-year-old lyrics ring true, like nail-on-the-head true, but I wonder if it's just too much for some people, many of whom, the ones that have the power to make a difference anyway, are just too comfortable. "We're just too comfortable today," he says, reading my mind.
"It's what a lot of my work is all about," he says, talking about his art. "People are people the world over. That was the biggest takeaway from all those countries we visited. People over there want the same things as people over here. Syria, Cambodia, everywhere else, they just want peace, man. I've been saying it for years, wrote about it in my book."

Remnants of a year of bliss.

His three-volume, fully illustrated travel book didn't make a dent in the Governor General's long list, but it is easily the most beautiful travel memoir you will ever lay eyes on. It's like something out of time because there is no equivalent anywhere. Hundreds and hundreds of photos from indescribably beautiful places, dozens of works of art, and stories from Italy to Thailand, all from the blog he kept while on the road with his family for nine months, all done up in a crisply designed, but still heartfelt package. It's a handful, but it's worth the effort. Do you have a favourite moment, I ask. "That whole year was a favourite moment, honestly, and so many things stand out..." He trails off. "Smuggling cigarettes into Jordan, didn't expect that. Having a Greek beach all to ourselves for three weeks was pretty cool. And then the Cambodian bus scam that had us haggling over the price of a visa. You know, there's things that you just expect will never happen in your life, so you never think of them. Then they happen, and you just go, "Huh. That happened."" Words spill off the colourful pages, the as-it's-happening accounts and full, descriptive details delivering the moment right to your mind's eye. 
"...there is one other thing that ranks above public speaking in terms of fear factor, and without being too graphic, I will just say that it involves the forced ejection of material from my insides in an upward direction."

Get Rey's books: Here to buy, or here to figure out which book you even want.

Page's entire artistic output, from his music to his books to his art, is completely self-produced. "I can't delegate anything, so I do everything. Most people aren't as anal about the details as I am, so rather than get mad at people for not meeting my standards, I just get mad at myself for not being perfect." His music is certainly not for everyone, but the smile he gets as Servants draws to a close tells me that it just doesn't matter. He rewinds and listens to the last two minutes. And again. "That's metal," he whispers, to no one in particular. Power chords, drums, and a heartfelt cry for everyone to just listen.

His portraits read like living humans, hearts beating behind eyes that struggle, that yearn, that desire, that hope. "These faces are living landscapes to me, each with its own climate, its own history. The secrets lie in the soil, some dormant, some in full bloom, but everyone is that fascinating. Everyone deserves to be known for the lives they live."
Countless people tell him he should try this or that or another thing. He nods politely and wonders quietly if they even understand life.

What's in Rey's fridge? The many elixirs of life, including Parle G, India's greatest export cracker.

His own books reveal a lot about his direction, his ambitions, his perceived aimlessness. "I don't think about it much," he says, about staying home, raising kids and creating art. "Yeah, I could chase millions doing all kinds of things, but to what end? So I can relax in retirement? I'll do what I love, and we can go shoot hoops now," he grins, "then we'll grill up some chicken and asparagus. Then a bike ride later." It's thirty-six degrees (97F) outside, I remind him. "I know, right?" His laugh is reminiscent of a sailor marooned on a desert island, who's come to love the taste of handfuls of live ants or scorpions roasted over an open fire.
His most recent show in April of 2021 centred around a society hell-bent on riding full throttle into their own collective graves. "The amazing thing is that we let a few thousand people write the script, and the rest of us play our given parts. I do my art, tell my stories, write my songs, then I go put gas in my car after I buy my yogurt in plastic containers and meat in styrofoam trays. Jesus, how do we live with ourselves?" Truth be told, his car is thirteen years old and has over 200,000 kilometres on it. But it's still a gas-powered vehicle.
He looks like a man who simultaneously understands that while he has already arrived, he still has a long way to go.
Changing the world is a full-time, life-time job.

- © 2021 PegCityHealth and Reymond Pagé

Collector's Edition cover!