That Cat is a Fish
by John Kerkhoven

©Photo by Maryse Latulippe

John Kerkhoven

Writer, editor, and document designer living in Montreal
Working on a book of stories
Plays blues harmonica

Walking Catfish Blues
The National Film Board of Canada
Directed by Paul Morstad
2004, 4 minutes, Canada

No matter what else happens, if you’ve got it in you, you’ll do what you’ve got to do.
That’s the spirit of the blues, and that’s the beauty of the beast that slithers across the land,
 indifferently taking its chances, from the shore of a slough to the next slough.
That beast is a fish:  
Clarias batrachus, more familiarly known as a walking catfish.

It’s a cool cat that likes the blues, and the walking baseline in this animation is pretty cool too,
and moves us along from the road to the car , and the driver in the car turns up the volume
so we can hear that music that plays out notes like birds sitting on the wires of telephone poles
 that look like they’ve been around forever -  the wires, if not the poles, languid in the heat of the sun.

The walking catfish goes back a long, long way -  like the blues you might say. 
One beast looks for that swimming hole, another for a drinking hole,
"if the river was whisky,
 and I was a diving duck," goes the traditional blues song, "I’d dive to the bottom, and never come up."
Well the walking catfish comes up and knows what it’s after, takes its chances, shaking its bones, over rail lines,
over stones, indifferent to the inventions and inebriations of the humans that make their own voyaging.

This is a strange animation, a playful invention loosely based on an inspiration
that comes out of the south. It requires the song which comfortably plays along,
and it’s a nice thing that the lyrics can be found on the web site because you’d never follow them otherwise,
and they are just (about) as strange as the animation. "Awww sag it … sag it Mama … let it drop itself off in the past.
"Leaving the past aside, it’s hard to know up from down in this tune. "I got the blues … from the heat of the sun.
I got the blues … from the heat of the sun. Turn me over on my belly … ‘cause my backside is done."

If the heat’s from the sun and the beast’s backside is done, it already is on its belly.
So we’re talking about a fish in a skillet, but that’s going to be a heck of a lot hotter than the sun,
no matter how far south the cooking takes place. Only, we’re not that far south after all,
what with clouds turning into a map of Ontario and Quebec and woodpeckers pecking at empty bottles
stuck on the tips of a moose’s antlers. Still, none of this amounts to a criticism, not even a complaint.
After all, the catfish doesn’t ask why a road is in its path, it just swishes to the left and swishes to the right,
moving itself along.

As for that sun …. From the start of the animation the sun is nearly searing white,
and its disk implies a frame for the rest of the film.  The colours are sepia, brown, orange, greenish, yellowish, red,
all close to the warm tones of the earth that our walking catfish stays in close contact with on its way to its next pond.
And between the sepia and the sun, time stands still, and place is a matter of predilection,
really – for the sake of the film, the deep south has been transplanted
north of the Canada-U.S. border, and, in any case, the walking catfish was itself introduced to Florida,
and what’s Florida got to do with the blues?

"I crossed millions of countries … and each place is my home. And wherever I run to … I’ll be forever alone."

It’s a crazy journey, but maybe not so crazy for anyone who has ever felt like a fish out of water.

The Musicians

Mike Saurette used to sing and play trumpet for The Molestics, a now-defunct irreverent jazz band from Vancouver.
Sam Petite plays bass in a band called The Backstabbers.
Waylen Miki is a keyboardist.  He also used to play with The Molestics.


Clarias Batrachus

Short Movie of Walking Catfish Moving Across Land

Walking Catfish

Contact: John Kerkhoven

Note: For many years, Lois Siegel taught at John Abbott College (Montreal).
Once upon a time, John Kerkhoven was one of her English Literature students.

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