Montreal in the early and mid-eighties was nothing short of Valhalla if you were more than willing to starve for your art. You could pay your entire rent from returning empty bottles of Labatt 50, or simply fumbling through the cushions of your couch for change. If your landlord turfed you to the curb, no problem: you could just move your five t-shirts, homemade bong, and four vinyl records two doors down the street. Nickel bags of weed were available to those of us who couldn’t afford the steep price of dime bags, and a haze of fine Afghani black hash hung thick and perfumed the air.
High Friends in Low Places
Of course any memoir worth its salt is going to have a healthy amount of name-dropping, and some of the “High Friends” who Lord eventually rubs shoulders with are literary and artistic notables who would bring about the underground scene as we know it today. Thankfully, Lord also spills some light on other local mavericks who rode on the bottom of the marquee and who inspire just as much awe in him. It’s the discovery of local poets such as Mario Camp and art provocateur Monty Cantsin that really puts an indelible mark on the author.
Just like a DJ set culled from Foufounes, the Montreal cultural hub of the time, this is a fast and bumpy ride whose driver does not take his foot off the gas pedal. Lord’s dedication to artistic expression, be it music, art, performance art, or architecture, is unwavering throughout this page-turner, as characters weave in and out of the tapestry of the book.
Lord also proves himself an expert wordsmith, and wastes little time on constructing a story arc. He simply asks you to hold on tight while he reaches for the marrow in your spine. His tale is brimming with poverty, partying, and unabashed artistic expression, but the reader also feels the tides change as the push and pull of real life comes a-calling, and eventually grabs him out of the underground art scene by the scruff of his threadbare thrift store shirt and plops him down in the lumbar chair of an architecture firm.
While hustling at last call at Foufounes or sticking his nose in bags where it shouldn’t be, Lord’s passion to create against all odds is laser-focused throughout the 300 pages of hard-fought victories and crushing defeats that make this book such a great read.
High Friends in Low Places rides like a roller coaster of thrills, spills and, uh, pills, but don’t get too caught up in the sordid details, as you will really miss out. This really is a coming-of-age story, in which the creative spirit refuses to be snuffed out and is put in a place where it can continue to grow.
Lord paints a picture of a different time and a different place: a Montreal that really thrived in the shadows without reward, and, for an all-too-brief time, showed what it was like to truly be alive.mRb