I have just returned to East Schmelkirk from a – in my opinion – very successful Canada-wide book tour, promoting, of course, my second book, Bad Gardening Advice: Winnipeg Music Reviews From Artist Redacted to Zrada. I met many wonderful people, all clamouring to know about (and to listen to) Winnipeg music. On my last stop in Winnipeg, McNally Robinson was packed – literally – to the ceiling with ardent and adoring fans. Although the event was exceptional (Winnipeg not only has exceptional music, but even more exceptional fans), I was met with similar crowds at nearly every stop on the tour.
I was asked questions about everything under (and over) the sun. Audiences were greedy to know my opinions on everything from neutrino science to their city’s latest political scandal. And, of course, I was as erudite and eloquent as could be, in my usual sesquipedalian fashion.
By far, the question I received most often was who would win the 46th annual Schmolaris Prize, the most prestigious music prize in all of Canada. I was honest when I responded, that it is the jury, and not me, that makes the selection. Plus, as I was away from home, and separated from the jurors, I was unaware of any progress they may have made. I, too, wanted to know who would be the winner.
So when I opened their cages to find out who would be awarded Canada’s most prestigious music prize, I very quickly found out that while I was on tour, the jury had been derelict in their duty. Not only had they not selected a winner, I found that two of them had died.
After seconds full of grief and anguish, I saw that it would be up to me, Steve Schmolaris, to select the winner. And so I did what anyone would do were they to be thrust into the position that I found myself in: I walked deep into the boreal forest on the Canadian shield and ingested a heroic dose of magic mushrooms.
I came to an opening amongst the jack and white pines. A large and seamless slab of ancient granite lay below me. There were junipers and blueberries growing in clumps around the edges. Lichen of various colours – blacks, whites, greens, blues – spotted the rock like birth marks. The sun shone on me with a religious fervor.
I spread my blanket, sat down, opened my neon-yellow fannypack containing 12 grams of Golden Teacher, and ate until the fannypack was empty.
With eyes closed, I made my intentions as clear as I could. I held the Schmolaris Prize in my mind. I held each short-listed artist as closely as I could. I listened. I contemplated. I cried. And I chose. And, Bad Gardeners, I chose wisely.
It is with great pleasure that I share that the 46th annual Schmolaris Prize is awarded to Ael for their album Stone.
As I fell deeper and deeper into a hallucinogenic trance, I began to hear a choir of angels singing in harmonic unison. I opened my eyes expecting to see the source of such heavenly sounds. Where were these divine beings – these messengers of song – that I was sure would guide me through my journey.
There were no angels. Instead, to my joy and wonder, there was the natural world. And it was alive! The trees swayed with intention. The rocks hummed with a crystalline consciousness. The berries and fruits and pods and seeds danced with excitement. And, all the while, they sung!
Their collective beauty was unparalleled. Each was painted, sculpted, and composed in exquisite detail.
It was then that I recognized what they were singing. It was the first song from Ael’s Stone, “Everyone’s Waiting for Rain.” The organic and inorganic – in all their numinous awe – were singing that they craved rain, that they were starved for life. And yet, in such soaring psalms, I also heard pain and heartache. The plants, the animals, the world – they were all waiting in vain.
Would the rain never come? I asked silently, not wanting to impose myself on their tenuous existence. What was wrong? Where were the rains that would wash all their worries away?
Looking closer, I saw their leaves were yellow with illness. Some were black from being burned. Despite all their orchestral tenacity, they were sick.
What can I do, I asked. What should I stop doing? Anxious, and afraid for their well-being, I began to gather fallen limbs and cones. Feathers and shells. Fragments of quartz. Moss. I gathered up their dead. And I made a shrine.
I wept as I did so. Tears streamed down my face, falling on the small shrine before me. Soon the sky was drowning in my tears. And the shrine, made of little more than rocks and water, came to life.
At first it moved like a child, as if nothing could harm it. It jumped off boulders, it climbed trees, it hovered briefly in the air before me. How innocent, I marveled. It lives without anguish. It sings without shame. And, yet, I could see that it would not last. A sobering knowledge was already festering inside it like a disease.
My child, I said to it, can you save us? Can you save the world?
By the time I finished speaking, it had doubled in size. It sprouted wings, giant ones, and I touched them with a reverence I had never before experienced. Here before me was a great spirit. Although its life, so far, had been brief, I could tell that it was wiser than anyone I had ever met.
Without moving its mouth, I knew it wanted me to climb onto its back, and, once I did, it lifted me and flew up and into the sky. The small opening with its jack pines and white pines became smaller than mote of dust. The world, the only world we will ever know, shrunk as I was carried higher and higher into the atmosphere.
The angel – for what else should I call it? – pointed down. What I saw was terrifying. I was shown a world in distress. I was shown chaos. COVID and QANON infections had turned the Earth pallid and charmless. I saw division. I saw irrationality crowned as a king. I saw science abandoned for the comfort of ignorance. I saw tempers and oceans boiling. I saw floods. Fires. It was a state of emergency.
The angel took me back to the opening, landing on the rock. Suddenly, just as I was about to lose hope, I felt an overwhelming love embrace me. Back on solid ground, I was again near my friends, near the trees and mosses. And I could feel their love with renewed vigour.
I felt as if I were born again, like I had a new purpose in life. I rejoiced and began to sing along with the abundance of life I saw around me. Here was an irresistible beauty! Here was an incomparable art!
Angel, I cried, with you I know there is nothing we can’t accomplish. With you, the world can change its vile ways. With you, a magnanimous healing will cure our abominable improprieties, our constant taking, our corruption.
And at that the Angel, once again, began to fly. I could see in its eyes the child – the shrine – it had once been. There was happiness. There was positivity. And a fatalism, too.
It flew above me, above the trees, within the clouds. I saw the angel rise and rise and rise. Higher and higher. It passed into the outer spheres of the Earth. Into space. Passed the moon. Passed Venus. Mercury. And toward... into...
The angel, in seeking the brightest thing imaginable, drove itself into a darkness. Into the only darkness that has ever existed: non-existence. It was an act of great humanity. It showed us that even angels die. It was an act that said suns, too, will, die. That life on Earth, will, one day, die, too. That forever does have an end.
I fell to the ground in despair. I pounded on the immense granite slab below me.
When I opened my eyes I saw my reflection in a thousand mica mirrors.
I was an atom. Locked in the rock.
I’ve been here for two billion years.
Time has practically stopped.
Here, the weight of the world is as light as an electron.
I am every electron.
I am held together by a miraculous freedom.
In such nothingness, I am everywhere at once.
I am everyone and everything.
I am one.
I am many.
The beginning and the end.
By then I must have fallen asleep, because the next sounds I recorded were of waking up. Boots scraping against the dry needles. The microphone being pulled through bushes. Twigs snapping. Breathing in. Breathing out. The truck door closing. Turning on the radio. Switching it to Bluetooth. Playing Enhanced Therapy Podcast with Darek Dawda. And driving back home to East Schmelkirk.
We may not be able to change reality, but we may be able change how we feel about it. Not everything is set in stone.
September 19th, 2023
Bad Gardening Advice is pleased to announce the short list for the 46th annual Schmolaris Prize. Founded by Steve Schmolaris in 1977, the prize is awarded annually to Manitoban musicians based solely on how much of them is "made from what's real." This year's jury members include the Highway Traffic (General) Regulation, the North End Treatment Center, delaminated phosphor streetlights, and the kid who smashed in all the windows on my 2006 Ford Ranger. Your 2023 Schmolaris Prize Short Listers are:
Toil & Trouble - The Pond Album
Sam Nadurak - Wide-Eyed, Tongue-Tied
Amos the Kid - Enough as it Was
Slow Leaves - Meantime
hopscotchbattlescars - Sick of You
Tinge - Big Deep Sigh
Ael - Stone
Kitz Willman - Grim Errands
Grotoko - Periwinkle
Lukas Sayko - The Churchill Chronicles (International Shopper's Palace, Cauliflower Garden, The Order of St. Arabica, North Northeast Bible, The Bottom Feeder, Cauliflower Garden Collective, Amoeba Beach, Le Gare Crystal, Sir John Philip Edward Library, HMS Valhalla, Myrth Manor, Myrtle Bush, Southern Secular University of Free Thought, Club Cauliflower, The Order of St. Cauliflower, Hog Heritage Hall, Pterodactyl Lake, Hotel Thyatira, Cauliflower Garden Community Church, Fuhrersonderzung "Churchill")
VVonder - Now and Again
Drake - Her Loss
The winner will be announced at 9:00 PM CST on Tuesday, September 19th via an AI-generated Schmolaris Prize ceremony in which each of this year's short-listers (including Drake!) play the entirety of their Schmolaris-nominated album. For one night, each theatre in Towne 8 Cinema plays host to a different band. Waiters serve platters of freshly picked carrots. There are bowls of potato salad and dill pickles. An entire table is dedicated to jalapeno poppers. At one point - ultimately attributable to the open bar - a fight breaks out between... well, you'll have to turn in to find out!
Bad Gardeners may join ringside at https:schmolarisprize.livehub2023.stream
Thanks to our 2023 sponsors, Peak of the Market, for providing a veritable orgy of genetically mutated horrors.
Alright, let me see the list.
Do you have a permit for this questionnaire?
Well, you're asking while also handing out grotesquely distorted (via genetic modification) vegetables out of a recreational vehicle. The Music Questionnaire Act requires that one be permitted before asking any questions that could have bearing on the outcome of a jury-selected winner, especially if those questionnaires co-occur with recreational vehicles.
You're right, section 4(1) specifies that the Act applies only to prizes that are worth greater than $200. But that still leaves the recreational vehicle.
By sight alone, I can tell it's a violation the NFPA 1192, Standard on Recreational Vehicles, 2021 Edition.
What - you think I like smelling like this?
No, I'm not going to tell you which one I like the best, why would I?
You think I'm going do that for free? Get outtah here man. Take a walk.
I aint talking to you about nothing. I got enough shit on my hands as it is.
Yeah, you pay me I'll tell you. But don't go thinking I'm cheap or anything like that, 'cause I aint cheap. I aint like those laminated phosphor streetlights. Phoswhores, I call 'em. Lamina I love you!
Yeah, we dated. Me and North End Treatment Center.
Back in the day Netty could take whatever I threw at him, and, believe me, the Lamina back then threw a lot of shit at him. Whatever I could grab, and he always took it. Netty was so strong.
But later I could tell it started to weigh on him.
So I left. Got a job on the streets. Let's just say I did what I had to do to survive.
I seen a lot of nasty shit, but when The City brought in uniforms, I'm, like, fuck that shit. So, as a protest, I dyed my hair purple.
Netty always liked when I dyed my hair purple.
Did he mention me? He did, didn't he?
What did he say?
You have to understand, I was never going to leave my bat behind. And for coming back for it I now have to sit on this jury? I didn't even take nothing neither.
Think you can tell me what to do. I aint gunna listen to your music no matter how loud you play it.
What kind of guy your age is up at 3:30 in the morning? Don't you sleep? Don't you have something better to do? Something other than creeping around in your backyard?
Yo I broke your window, bro, yeah, but why you doing that? Tell me that and I'll answer your question. Why you doing that back there?
Who's that illustrious man who's a fan of Winnipeg music?
Who's that illustrious man with vernacular spectacular?
Who's that illustrious man with a lexicon spectaculon?
Who's that mighty critic on high who bestows the Schmolaris Prize?
He diligently listens to every song made in Winnipeg.
And with his discerning ear he makes perfectly clear what he thinks of it.
Steve Schmolaris has read over 10,000 books and he's smart as fuck.
Steve Schmolaris rejoices in the mastery of the English language like that other guy - what's his name - James Joyce!
Who's that eloquent dude with reviews of Winnipeg music?
Who's that highly educated guy who bestows the Schmolaris Prize?
Who's that guy with a genius IQ doing reviews of Winnipeg music?
Who's that mystical seer with his ear attuned to the music of the sphere?
(Image: Steve Schmolaris at the inaugural Schmolaris Prize in 1977 in East Schmelkirk.)