Friday, June 15, 2007

My other boss.

I really have seventeen bosses at the radio station, but only two really big ones. Scott Parsons is the Big Cheese and Jeff Brown is the Quite A Bit Smaller Cheese to whom I report. Jeff is an excellent boss for this reason: I was at the Spencerville Fair, hosting April Wine a few years ago. They made everyone in the audience turn off their cell phones, cameras, "recording devices" and so forth. Now, I'm all for musical integrity, and the artists reaping the benefits of their art, but come on. I instructed someone to go backstage and inform the band that they were April Wine. I may have made reference to eBay, and questioned how much one could get on that fine capitalist website for a bootleg audio recording of April Wine, live from the "dirt floors of the circus tent of Spencerville Fair". In my defence, they were actually playing in a circus tent with dirt floors. They may use Marshall stacks like The Who, but The Who they are not. They still get second billing to the puppet show.

When, a year or so later, the controversy erupted, and the good people at the Spencerville Fair demanded my head on a spit, or some such thing, Jeff was forced to call me into his office for a sit-down meeting. He closed the door, put his head in his hands, and asked exactly what I had said. I couldn't remember verbatim, it had been a year earlier, but I gave him the jist of it nonetheless, explaining in as great detail as I could recall. He said "was it funny?" I said "we certainly thought so." He said "oh. Okay, see you later." The end. I wrecked up a company car in a winter blizzard two winters ago. He said "You should have called me. But, it got us enough funny material on the radio that I'm not really pissed off about it. See you later." This is why he's an excellent boss. Very pragmatic.

The reason Jeff Brown is a lousy boss is twofold: He's a Leafs fan, and he has a really terrible haircut.

The boss wants to be in my blog.

I ran into my boss, Scott Parsons, yesterday. He said his new goal in the corporate world was to be somehow incorporated into my blog. So here it is, Scott! You made it! Recently, while walking around in the building after having a smoke, there was great consternation. People were running around everywhere, demanding cameras and laughing uproariously. Hilartiy pervaded the building, and I became curious. I went to the front window to have a peek, because this jovial good-humour seemed to be concentrated around this area. Outside our front window was the boss, Mr. Parsons, and a police officer who was writing him a ticket. I guess Scott, late for an appointment by conference call with the dignitaries of luminous radio stations across Canada, from as far away as Timmins and Cold Harbour, had inadvertently (or possibly on purpose), gone through a red light somewhat after it had become red. The police car was beside him at the time.

This is what passes for amusement around here, mostly because no one in this building ever listens to our show, so they don't laugh nearly enough. The uproar was unbelievable! It's the BOSS! And he's getting a TICKET! RIGHT HERE! These are the same people who believe the greatest joke in the world is to frame pictures of the EVEN BIGGER boss and put them on their desks when he comes to town. The same people who at one point were giving out a funny hat that could be worn by the person in the office who came up with the "one liner of the day". (Incidentally, the practice was discontinued when, for eleven days running, the one-liner of the day was "working hard, or hardly working?")

However, I must say that Scott is a good boss. The reason I say this is that I barely see him. And when I do, we don't talk about the nuts and bolts of work, just his boat and his cottage and the things that he owns that I might be albe to afford in seventy-four years if I play my cards right. And occasionally, he will mention something I'm doing. One of the few guys who actually listens to our show. I mean, he knew I had a blog! That in itself is good. Where children are great when they're "seen and not heard", and most radio personalities (including myself) are better "heard but not seen", bosses are at their best when they are not heard and not seen unless it's for something cool. I've worked for my share of Bill Lumberghs in my life. Scott Parsons is not one. But he is, apparently, a lousy driver. Lol.

How exactly is it that I know you?

I meet many many people in the course of working at CHEZ. I try to remember as many as I can, but it becomes difficult. This was brought home to me the other day, when I realized it fully spills over into my private life as well. I met a nice girl, Sarah, with whom I used to work, and I couldn't for the life of me remember who she was. We talked every day, I saw her often when we worked together, but as soon as she said hi, I was wracking my brain to try to come up with an event I from which I might remember her. A live commercial? The Who concert? No idea. Once she told me, I remembered completely, but it did not prevent me from feeling like a jerk.

I met a couple of lovely young women at a live commercial at Mr. Lube a while ago. They talked as if they knew me well, made reference to some things we had done together...I was totally lost. They also referred to me as their BFFs. A short aside here - I sort of understand internet lingo. People are too lazy to type full words. I get that. But how do these words get into your actual vocabulary. Why do people SAY lol? Or lmao...or whatever else? I'm deeply in less than three. What? Oh, right, <3...kind of looks like a heart...you're in love? Got it. Why don't you just use sign language if your mouth is that lazy? Anyway, it turns out they had won one of those Walkley Bowling nights, and I had spent the whole night with them, and once they mentioned that, I remembered fully, but until then...nothing.

I realize I have had this problem for a long time. It's nothing new, and has nothing to do with the number of people I meet. I'm just, in general, a jerk when it comes to the recognition of others. I used to live on Riverside Drive with my buddy Eric. One day, while delivering papers for the XPress, I met a girl in a McDonalds. A gorgeous girl, who was terribly excited to see me! She ran over, gave me a big hug, and I played along for a while until she realized I had no idea who she was. Then she said "Sabrina..." Still nothing. Then she told me how we knew each other. It seems that I had come home from the bar, and walked into my apartment where the lights were off. Without looking around, assuming no one was home, I took all of my clothes off and went to sit on the couch and watch TV. Eric and the girl he was seeing were already on the couch. As was her best friend, Sabrina. I sat with her, never putting my clothes back on, for several hours, talking about movies and music and a few things too dirty to write on the internet. She thought this was great fun, and that I was a riot, and she had said she hoped we could hang out again some time. I said, "oh, man! I'm sorry I don't remember that! When was this?" She said, "last night".

Stupid signs that make me smile.

Is there anything more irritating than passing a construction site that's making things difficult for you to get around, and as you go by there's an overly cheerful sign that says "Here we Grow Again!" There may not be a more irritating phrase in the world. Other than "moving things forward".

Yesterday I was stuck in a traffic jam on Hunt Club, and for the first time I had a chance to actually read the signs on the side of the road. You know those signs that say "be careful, count two seconds between the > shaped marks on the road"? It occurred to me that virtually no one ever pays attention to those signs at all. If you're lucky you get half of one second between those marks on a good day. However, the good people at the city remain undeterred, and they have a series of these signs, like, twelve of them, to ensure that you have ample opportunity to notice at least one. And then, as I finally got to the last sign, there was some smaller print at the bottom, where if you have any questions about the two-seconds-between > marks program, here is the phone number that you can call.

Only the person who actually notices and follows the "two seconds between marks" rule would ever notice this phone number. And only that person would call it. So...on one out of two thousand people, these signs are effective. And for only that person, a major off-road distraction has been provided. What's the idea - he will pull over to the side of the road and walk back with his blackberry to enter the phone number? Or frantically scribble it down as he drives by? Seems safe. And furthermore, who would ever need this phone number for anything? I tried to think of a reason to call, and the best I came up with was a complaint over the spacing of the marks. Like...I was driving along with my stopwatch, and the marks are too close together, and 1.8 seconds makes more sense than 2 seconds. So...if you could go ahead and adjust that...I am going to drive by tomorrow, dangerously avert my gaze so as to write down the number, and then call. I think perhaps it will direct me to some giant phone system at the City of Ottawa, where I will have to press seventy four buttons before I get to the "> marks on the road" section.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why Nickelback is more harmful than Jessica Simpson

I recently had a debate with my friend Eric, who teaches music. He teaches piano and drums and other things, but mainly guitar. And I asked him what the kids he taught listened to these days. Of course, most of the kids who want to play guitar listen to Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and Zeppelin and the Stones. It's that kind of music that makes them want to play. OF course, there are a few students who are forced into music lessons by their parents, but once they get a feel for it, once they start enjoying th guitar, they discover The Who and Hendrix and a few of today's bands like Black Label Society. But Eric maintains that he would rather they be into Nickelback than Christina Aguilera. The theory being that even though they're awful, at least they have guitars and write songs.

I disagree, however. Brian Eno once said about The Velvet Underground and Nico that only 1,500 people bought the album, but 1,000 of them went out and started a band of their own. I might be off on the numbers, but that was the jist of it. I think if you are into Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears as a child, you have two ways to go. Either music will not be a huge part of your life, and you will simply enjoy what's popular and not pay much attention to quality, and so be it. Or, you will hear something different, have an epiphany, and turn to the real music. This is what happened to me. The first cassette tape I ever owned was Paula Abdul. I can freely admit that now, since I feel I have moved past that. I heard a Stone Roses album, then a Sublime record, and my life was changed forever. I began to seek out real music, and make a concerted effort to appreciate lyrics, guitar work and song structure. Now I feel I have a solid musical education. If I had never heard the Stone Roses, perhaps I would not be in radio, perhaps I would still listen to the Jessica Simpsons of the world and be content.

The problem with Nickelback is that people think they ARE good. When the Velvet Underground inspired 1,000 bands, there were likely some very bad ones, but at least they were all original, and some were very good. If Nickelback inspires people to create bands, they are encouraging mediocrity in a big way. The new bands that are spawned out of Nickelback (look no further than Theory of a Deadman) can do nothing but create a culture of musical complacency. I look at it this way. A kid who is into Nickelback and plays guitar and molds his style on their works will create a band where he or she figures that they need only one song that is good, or even decent. Then, they can just re-work that song a hundred times, and never need to do anything new ever again. A kid who is actually into music but loves Jessica Simpson will not start a band. They will try out for American Idol or Canadian Idol, and eventually just disappear.

It's the acceptance of acts like Nickelback and Creed and Default that ruins music for musicians. Their prevalence means that the average rock music listener doesn't bother to do much more than scratch the surface of music, and therefore the truly gifted bands remain buried. The Fergies of the world don't do this. They may take a large protion of the entertainment dollar away from the talented acts, but they don't take their audience. It's two completely seperate groups. One group is voluntarily corrupted in a musical sense - they know they listen to crap, and the Idol series is most definitely crap - but they don't care, they're happy to be passively entertained. The other group is subtly and deceptively corrupted - they need to make a concerted effort to break past the Nickelbacks and Coldplays to find real music, because it is not readily offered to them.

So, if your kids listen to Fergie and XTina, don't despair. There is a chance that they will someday hear just one song that changes their perspective. But if they're into Nickelback, you might need to subtly un-corrupt them. Put on your King Crimson record so that Court of the Crimson King is blasting when they walk in the door. When Won't Get Fooled Again comes on the radio, crank it up. Put on Exile on Main Street as dinner music. It may work, it may not, but an effort needs to be made. Nickelback is a bad life decision.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Who Am I To Complain?

I met a very interesting man at the Roger Waters concert. My buddy Barry was there with a friend of his, Mike Harper, who is in a wheelchair because of Multiple Sclerosis. Mike hung out for a while before the show, telling me some old drinking stories and sharing his passion for Pink Floyd - a very knowledgeable man, he told me more about Floyd in those two hours than I have learned from reading books and watching documentaries. He told me he had written a book about his MS, and he would send me a copy. I have received a number of "books" written by listeners, most of which end up being glorified pamphlets with nothing much to say. Imagine my surprise when it arrived at the station, not from his house, but from his publisher. And it's actually bound and printed, like a real book is supposed to be!

And it's interesting. The first half deals with everything with which we Ottawa natives are familiar - hockey, and beer, and rock concerts and dorm rooms at University. A decent read, much like reading the memoirs of one of your high school drinking buddies. Check that - I mean...one of your high school buddies who became a drinking buddy once you both went off to college and reached the legal drinking age. Toward the middle, Mike talks about being diagnosed with MS, and how it affects him personally, and his outlook on the disease between that time and now. Still interesting, but still a lot like reading a buddy's censored diary.

The third part of the book is wonderful. The reason Mike's title is Who Am I To Complain? is that he has realized that truly, despite his MS, he has it much easier than so many others. His personal attendant, Isaac, became a close friend of Mike's, and began to relate some of his stories about his homeland of Sudan, where Isaac was a survivor of genocide. Mike's book manages to condense Isaac's stories into bite-sized excerpts, which give a solid but terse glimpse into the horror that countless people endure in countries around the world. In the end, the message is basically that you can't feel great griping about gas prices and the fact you didn't get that raise if you really know what's going on in Darfur or Tibet.

A lot of people try to get that message out to the world. But not a lot of people listen. Not nearly enough people watched Hotel Rwanda. Even less people read Inside The East Timor Resistance, a book published in Canada and written by a nobel prize winning East Timor resistance leader. (Highly worth the read, however.) Mike has managed to package this horrific story in a way that people can relate, on some small level, to the bigger issues facing our world. Sure, you love hearing about small-town Canada, minor hockey, and really cool Pink Floyd concerts, because it's familiar. It's a story you've heard before. But then you keep reading because the other story, the story of Isaac, is one you haven't.

Who Am I To Complain? is published by General Store Publishing House, and is available at Chapters here in Ottawa for $17.95. It's worth the money.

Cold War Film Club

I heard about this really cool "film club" a while ago, but last night was the first chance I had to actually attend one of their showings. Once a month, on Tuesdays, there is a screening of a cold war-themed film deep in the bowels of the Diefenbunker! I thought I had been to the Diefenbunker as a child, with school or something, but apparently I have a faulty memory. The place was not open to tourists until 1994, when I would have been in high school. And I don't think I went then...or maybe I did. Oh God, I'm turning into Doc! I can't remember anything longer ago than Monday! Anyway, it's a classic movie for six bucks - fifteen if you want the abbreviated one hour bunker your before the show. I took the tour, since it turned out I had never been there. Probably. It's a fascinating slice of Canadian history right here in Ottawa (well, Carp - just past Irish Hills golf course), and paints a vivid picture of Canada during the cold war. Paranoid times, folks! I think I'll have to go back and do a full tour someday soon.

I learned a lot - apparently that guy who shot all those people in the Quebec legislature in 1984? Worked in the Diefenbunker. Went stir-crazy from all those hours and days and weeks underground, grabbed the guns from the armory, went nuts. The government then began to force those living in the bunker to come up for air every now and then. I did not know this. Then again, I was five or six at the time. A lot of the equipment still works, which is really cool. When the government abandoned the site in '94, they ripped out everything, and basically left it barren and completely empty. The volunteers who run the tour and who preserve the place had to go garbage picking to grab all the stuff that had been thrown out, in order to recreate the place as it had been in the old days.

The movie was The Manchurian Candidate, one of my all-time favourites. There is nothing that makes me happier than Angela Lansbury being supremely evil. Jessica Fletcher would have been far more effective had she had a mean streak like that. This was also a movie made when singers who appeared in movies were chosen for their acting abilities, rather than their familiarity to audiences. You would not find Usher or Jessica Simpson in a movie in 1962. you would find Frank Sinatra, kicking ass in the Manchurian Candidate. The Cold War Film Club is showing some other tremendous classics in the coming months, including Dr. Strangelove and Kiss Me Deadly. Kiss Me Deadly is very overlooked, but is a must-see. It may well be the definitive film noir, and it's one that will never be available for rent, if Rogers and Blockbuster are any indication. It's not like a movie theatre, it's just a giant pull-down screen with a projector, but there is something very cool about watching a cold war film in a cold war relic.

The Diefnebunker has actually been featured in a couple of movies - if you've ever seen The Sum of All Fears, which is a decent movie despite the involvement of Ben Affleck, the tunnel they walk down is the Diefenbunker tunnel, and a few of the hallways in the underground shelter are from inside the Diefenbunker as well. All in all, both an informative and entertaining evening. I will warn you though - if you go for the movies, bring a coat. It may be thirty degrees outside, but it's like fifteen degrees downstairs in the bunker. I couldn't even stay for the whole movie - I came home and watched the end of my own copy on DVD - because my girlfriend, with her shorts and sandals and skinny body was way too cold to last through the rest of the film.

As I left the bunker, I lit up a smoke in the tunnel, thinking I was almost outside and that the tunnel just opened onto the outside world. Then I felt like a total jerk, because there are still a few rooms to get through before you're outside. It's one thing to smoke inside a bar, against bylaw regulations, it's quite another to smoke inside a government building and historic site. I don't recommend doing that if you go.

Old people...the pros and cons.

There are two polar opposite types of old men. One type is the cantakerous jerk who scowls at me when my lawn isn't properly manicured. I dislike these old people. The other type is the cantankerous jerk who cracks filthy jokes, insults your upbringing and complains that things aren't like they used to be. I like these old people.

Today I was driving on Terry Fox, pulling into the Subway, and got stuck behind an old man. He was trying to move into the same lane as me, and was having difficulty making a decision. So he stopped. Between both lanes. So I couldn't go, but I had to wait until he determined that I was letting him in front of me. Finally, after backing up the traffic from the Subway turn off all the way back to Hazeldean, he became decisive, and moved in front of me to turn left. He must have been a bundle of nerves by this point. Or perhaps he was so mellow he never really noticed he had caused vehicular consternation. He just proceeded with his left turn. I followed him in the turn, crossing Terry Fox in the process. He had turned with plenty of time to spare, the next car being almost eleven miles away. However, it took him so long to make the turn at 1.5 km/h, that in following him I was directly in the path of this oncoming vehicle, which was travelling at a reasonable rate. I forced this truck to slow down, simply by my presence. Finally, we were in the parking lot. The Subway is twelve parking spaces away. I got there, frustrated and angry, seventeen minutes after reaching the parking lot entrance.

Once in the Subway, an old man came in behind me. He had a Sub Club card he was trying to redeem. The Sub Club has not been in existence for maybe six years. But this man had kept his full free six-inch card just in case he ever attended a Subway ever again. And this was his first visit in several years, so he was no longer familiar with the customs. The "sandwich artist" behind the counter - that's what they call them...just to class it up a bit - explained that they kept accepting those cards for one year after they discontinued the system, but that grace period had been over for a while. The old man seemed content with this explanation, but he had more tricks up his sleeve. He pulled out some kind of old-age discount card. I'm not certain what exactly it was, and neither were the sandwich artists, so they had to say no. Still undeterred, the old man produced...coupons! Subway coupons! I was, by now, enjoying this immensely. I couldn't think of a valid excuse to stick around and see if he paid for his discounted sub in nickels. I certainly hope he did.

For all I know, he could have been the same old guy who frustrated me so very much upon entering the parking lot. It stands to reason that even if he parked twenty minutes before I did, he would still arrive at the door twenty minutes after I did. I didn't care. The first old man made me furious, the second one made my day. The big difference is that I was behind the first one, and ahead of the second one.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Best commercial ever.

I have a new favourite commercial. Have you seen the commercial for the Under-17 World Soccer Championships coming up in Canada? They have an Argentinian kid bouncing a ball on his head, a Brazilian kid doing some really cool soccer moves with his feet, then a binch of other kids from other countries, all doing some fantastic manouevering with the soccer ball. Then they kick it over to the Canadian kid, whose big skill is his ability to put his foot on the ball. And rest. How exemplary!

Evolution.

When the republican party held their debates between presidential candidates in May, THREE of their presidential candidates announced that they did not believe in the theory of evolution. THREE. Possible future PRESIDENTS. I then did a bit more research and found out that almost fifty percent, that's right, almost HALF of the American population does not believe in evolution. There is talk right now that evolution versus creationism could actually be an ISSUE in the next presidential election. And the majority of Republican voters do note believe in evolution. This is staggering. Thankfully, they are three relatively minor candidates, who will likely not factor in the final results, but you never know. Tom Tancredo, Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback are one of two things. Either they are absolutely firm in their creationist beliefes, and as such are religious zealots, or they are merely trying to appeal to the broad base of Republican voters and as such are pandering jerks.

I have read the Origin of Species. There may not be a more boring book out there in the world. It is excruciating to get through, since Darwin wasn't terrible concerned with entertaining his readers. He was more concerned with espousing a theory at which he had arrived through scientific observation. This, however, does not work in his favour. Had Darwin had the foresight to see today's bizzarro world in his day, he would have written things differently. He would have written a novel with evolution as it's central theme, and prettied the whole thing up in a very nice little entertaining package. Like the DaVinci Code. Dan Brown's book was a work of fiction, but you know what? Whack jobs read it, and they BELIEVED. The Infotainment and Fox News culture has become so pervasive that the masses are affected only by that which is worth their time, ie, that which makes them smile. Not a lot of people know this, but Independance Day and Armageddon - yeah, they're documentaries.

This is why Al Gore's documentary cut through. It was actually interesting and fun to watch. Now he is having a Live Aid type concert to raise more awareness and money to combat Global Warming. It's the only way - package your message in excitement, like an ad for Pepsi. And then you deal with the anti-progress backlash, the Global Warming naysayers and the "scientific" pundits. But how come the backlash to EVOLUTION, of all things, has taken so long to arrive in this way? Why, now, are school boards in certain states actually considering taking the teaching of evolution out of the curriculum? It's not some hot new popular theory that creates fashionable opposition. I just checked the copyright date in my copy of The Origin of Species. 1859. So, the date the backlash to the book started was...1859. And only now, in the last TWO years, has it regained momentum?

Evolution is not a perfect theory. There are major gaps in the chain. (Not the so-called "missing link" - that is a relatively minor and insignificant gap.) No, the gaps occur somewhere in the era of the ol' primordial ooze, where the leap from basically nothing to fairly complex bacteria occur much too quickly to be explained in any concrete way. But the scientific basis for the theory is absolutely viable. And certainly more so than "God did some stuff...poof! There we were." Disbelieving evolution is akin to disbelieving gravity. Gravity, it has be said, is a flawed "theory" as well. At great interestellar distances, the statements made in Newton's laws of gravity no longer hold true. But does that mean that gravity doesn't exist? That we're just plain wrong? No, it just means the theory we learn in school does not 100 percent hold true once we go to work for NASA. So, should we stop teaching gravity in school? Make placards stating our collective anger over the falsehood of 9.8 m/s squared? Actually, maybe I'll do that.

I recently watched Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong with a lovely older lady, who really seemed to enjoy the movie. There was a moment in the film where King Kong has to fight three very large dinosaurs, who want to eat Naomi Watts (and who wouldn't). This lady turns to me and says in all seriousness..."how could Adam and Eve possibly have survived when there were dinosaurs like that around?" Without thinking, I replied, "well, they didn't". Before I knew it, I was sucked into an argument that I couldn't possibly win. For this lady, evolution positively does not exist. It is not in the bible, therefore it can't be true. I said that Plasma TVs were not in the bible, but they exist, don't they. A poor argument, I suppose. With difficulty, I managed to subdue my cynicism and stunned disbelief, and conduct a fairly civilized discussion, while my girlfriend kept whispering in my ear "please don't make her cry. Please don't make her feel stupid!"

And this lady ISN'T stupid. That's what was most stunning. But I was also hopeful that with a resonable discussion, appealing to her intelligence, I couls make her see a different point of view. I postulated that suppose the bible is intrinsically right. Everything IN the bible really happened and everything it says is the gospel truth. Well, I suppose it IS the GOSPEL truth. So I suggested an alternative interpretation of the biblical words. If God indeed created the heavens and the Earth on the first day...and the plants and animals and TiVo on subsequent days, and humans on the sixth day, then rested on the seventh day, why don't we look at a "day" in God's world to be, say, 100 million years? As such, Adam and Eve would have been created 100 million years after the dinosaurs, who would have had plenty of time to die in the meantime, right? And if God is constantly doing stuff...whatever stuff he does around Earth...at all times, then would he really have rested after only six days' work? Did it take that much out of him? It's God. He creates volcanos and earthquakes and floods and David Blaine as easily as I create ass paintings and blogs. And I can certainly do that ten days in a row without resting.

But this explanation does not wash. The catholics say six days, that's six days. No more, no less, no alternative interpretations. So THIS is why there are wars! If there are Latter Day Saints and Mormons and Protestants and Lutherans and seven thousand other religions all based on the SAME BOOK, doesn't that say something? Everyone interprets it a different way, but they are all far too rigid to ever question their own beliefs or accept that there may be a different way to look at these teachings. Maybe David Koresh was right, who knows? this is what leads to wars between countries that interpret the Koran differently, countries that read the bible differently, and countries that use the bible to defeat the Koran to obtain oil. And this is what creates the damn mess that is America under the Republicans.

My biggest fear is that the Republicans will win again. And continue doing what they are doing today. And perpetrate more muddled double talk on their people and opportunism on the world. And that we re-elect the Conservatives, and Harper has his majority, and follows the American example, and before long, we'll be teaching evolution to our children in secret basement meetings in community centres long after the school day is over. If this becomes an election issue, it will finally trump gay marraige as the stupidest election issue ever to exist. Even dumber than the metal chairs versus wooden chairs debate that divided the townspeople in the most recent mayoral elections in my Dad's home in small-town Saskatchewan.

Ribfest...Ottawa's most culturally significant event?

Yesterday We had some trouble on the Doc and Woody show determining exactly when Father's Day was to take place. In fact, the first I had thought about Father's Day was yesterday when it was brought up. I normally don't even notice Father's Day until it is too late, at which point I make a lame, last-second phone call to my Dad in Saskatchewan. At least now, with the advance warning, I can send him something priority-post style. But I found it very ironic that while Woody and I were debating the exact date of Father's Day, and whether it was this Sunday or next, a listener called up to ask about Sparks Street and Ribfest, and when that was taking place. Next week, we said. It will begin on the 21st and carry through until...wait. How do we blank on something like the day we're supposed to talk to Dad and send him something nice...yet we know exactly when the ribs come to town.

Ribfest may well be Ottawa's most culturally significant event, in that it is the day that most accurately reflects he cultural atmosphere of this city. A weeklong orgy of meat and sauces disguised as a "festival". The citizens of Ottawa get to gorge themselves on offerings of the best food available - from outside Ottawa. The best of Alberta. The best of BC. The best of Manitoba. The best of Alabama and Texas. And they bring it here so we can stuff our faces and grow fat off their wares. Hmmm...sound like the governement to anyone? Ribfest is the embodiment of the governmental ethos of Ottawa. We take what others have done, use what is most delicious to us, and claim it as our own. But really, what does Ottawa offer that is staggeringly local in nature? We have tulips from Europe, ice sulptors from Saudi Arabia, fireworks from Britain...until we host a giant Beavertail festival or a huge sit-around-and-bore-me-with-your-political-views day, we won't really celebrate anything that is uniquely Ottawa.

This of course does not stop me from loving the ribs and the chicken. Somehow, through simply being a fat guy, I suppose, I have required somewhat of a reputation as a gourment. I think that my claim to gourment status has come mostly from the fact that I buy the Thick and Juicy Presidents Choice burgers, rather than the Thin And Dry Presidents Choice burgers, and people respect that decision in a big way. This means that I get to attend ribfest and judge the ribs and the chicken and the sauce and so forth.

So far I have been unable to pace myself at these events, and so by the time the last of the twelve offerings of ribs or chicken comes by, I can barely take a bite of either. I end up having a small nibble, guessing as best I can how that one stacks up against the rest. Which is not fair to the entries, since for the first ten entries I was eating five ribs at a atime, and the last ten I was eating one mouthful. But every year, I come away immensely satisfied. Every entry is fantastic, whether they win or not, and there's nothing quite so satisfying as squeezing yourself into the car for the ride home, desperately trying to stay awake for the drive, sinuses and extremities packed with meat...and then, because of the brilliant organizational system of ribfest, the VERY NEXT morning, they bring in some visiting rib-makers to give us a sample during our show in the morning. Woody and I have ususally come from the eevent the night before, and at times, we can't even look at the ribs, having tossed and turned all night with our bloated and distended meat-and-gas filled bellies. But it goes away, and by 9:00, we're back to the ribs. Then I go again at noon...

Monday, June 11, 2007

Five movies to watch. Right now.

For some bizarre reason, even though Rogers and Blockbuster have done away with all the classic movies that people SHOULD watch, and might WANT to watch, they have a strange collection of foreign classics still available for rent. I wnat to mention them quickly because I'm fairly certain their days are numbered, and any film buff should grab them as soon as possible simply to get a chance to see them before they go the way of the Hitchcock movies and Bogart classics that are no longer in circulation.

1. I don't know why I'm writing down numbers. OK...this is paragraph one. The films of Frederico Fellini, the greatest Italian director of all time, are for the time being available to rent at Rogers. I recently picked up 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita, two of the all-time classics in film history. 8 1/2 is a little less accessible, as it was Fellini's most personal work, but it is his best. And La Dolce Vita is his best known, and is still considered one of the greatest "international" movies, a brilliant work of "wold cinema", and the greatest film ever to come out of "Italy". Also, Marcello Mastroianni, one of the greatest and yet most forgotten actors ever to live, is the star of both, and so are a seemingly endless string of sensational Italian beauties.

2. Paragraph two! Here it is! Akira Kurosawa was the greatest Japanese director to ever live. Most of his movies are gone from Rogers, but there is one left, the most important one. The Seven Samurai is one of the most ripped-off films in history, mostly because it is one of the best. The Magnificent Seven was directly taken from The Seven Samurai, and more recently, a Bug's Life was essentially a remake for kids, and even the Three Amigos was in a way a retelling of the same story. Often mentioned alongside Citizen Kane and Casablanca in discussions of the greatest movies ever made. Also, it's the only movie you can rent that stars Toshiro Mifune, the greatest-ever Japanese actor, and one of the best in the world, ever.

3. More paragraphs make more spaces...the films of Zhamg Yimou, the man behind Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Of course, you can still rent that one, but I am afraid the others will be disappearing fairly slowly over the next little while. Essential viewing: Raise the Red Lantern, starring Gong Li and her ample chest. Yimou is the best Asian director working today, and other classics like Hero and House of Flying Daggers should be around for a bit.

4. I really love the numbering of paragraphs. Makes me feel like I have a greater purpose here than merely listening to the sound of my own typing. Y Tu Mama Tambien is the work of Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, who has recently become famous with his two brilliant works, Children of Men and the third Harry Potter. A true cinematic masterpiece that should not be watched by those who hate subtitles or are homophobic. If only this man could have directed all the Harry Potters. Well, less kids would sleep at night, anyway.

Go and rent these now before they go away. In fact, also rent Shine, Annie Hall, Amadeus, Gone With The Wind, Casablanca, The Accused, Sophie's Choice and All The President's Men while they're still there. They might not be fore long. Wow, I like paragraph five best.

Spoiler alert...I am about to reveal the end of the Sopranos.

A lot of people are angry about the end of the Sopranos. Not me. This was the best show on TV during it's entire run, and everyone wanted a major fireworks-type ending. Gunfire and bodies, FBI and betrayal...things like that. But I liked it. I thought it was appropriate and fitting that so much was left unresolved. The final scene was in a restaurant as Tony and Carmela and AJ were sitting in a booth waiting for Meadow. She was having trouble parallel parking outside, there were shady looking characters inside, there was a good chance the family was going to get whacked, but Meadow might somehow survive because she is a lousy parker...and the screen goes black. Many people, me included, thought their cable had gone out, and panicked. I also panicked. I thought I was going to miss the grand finale...and then the credits rolled.

I wasn't upset though (my girlfriend was furious). I think that's the way to go out. You're not really sure what's going to happen, but that feeling of trepidation will stay with you, just like it will stay with the family, if in fact they were not about to get whacked. Doc has a theory that because the whole series was told from Tony's point of view, the screen going black was in fact Tony being killed. No Tony, no story, blank screen. I think this might be reading a little TOO much into it, since the series was never abstract in a Twin Peaks bizzaro sort of way. But it is plausible, and maybe he's right.

A couple of great moments, however. Phil getting iced in front of his grandkids, then having his SUV crush his head? Classic. And remarkably hilarious, given the violent subject matter. That was the closure for me, really, was Phil getting his just deserts. In fact, perhaps the closure comes from the FBI agent who hears about the hit on Phil and says "we made it...we're going to win". Whatever. Doesn't matter, because I liked the vaguely up-in-the-air ending, andit worked for me. After all, how many shows have ended in a way that pleased everyone? Freinds series finale sucked. I really liked the Seinfeld one, but many were irate. You can't please everyone, and the Sopranos producers weren't going to change their style just for the finale, and that's great. The Sopranos was a mini-movie in every episode, and the same people who hated this are the ones who couldn't get Mystic River and movies of its ilk. Sopranos never telegraphed anything violent to this extent. It always moved along at a deliberate pace, and people getting whacked was so sudden and violent that it came as a shock. Witness the murder of Phil. So, well done. Wait now for the spinoff where Meadow goes to law school.

In the end, I have but one quibble, and it's a minor one, with the series finale of the Sopranos. Tony goes to the restaurant to meet his family, he flips through the jukebox, and there are some great songs in there, and he puts in his money to select...Journey? The Sopranos had to end while I was listening to Journey? C'mon Tony.

The wonderful world of weddings and their accoutrements

I emceed...is that a word? a wedding on Saturday. I was in charge of many things, among them the music at the church, which was much better than most wedding music. Beatles and stuff. My buddy Eric had chosen the music for the church, from a list of the "500 Greatest Love Songs" on the net. However, when you have "500 Greatest Songs" to choose from, there is bound to be some garbage of a Celine Dion ilk. He managed to weed that stuff out, but he did leave in a Brian Adams song or two that irritated me. But these are minor quibbles. The processional was U2, the bride's music was a song Eric and his bandmate Jasen wrote (they're in a band called Twelve Thirty-Four, or 1234, the worst band name ever but a very good band) and the recessional was the Foo Fighters. The minister at the church was very excited, because during the rehearsal we were able to time it out such that he said "May I present...Mr and Mrs St-Cyr" at the exact moment of the cymbal crash in the song. Very dramatic.

An aside: When Eric and Jasen and the boys were trying to come up with a band name, I made several suggestions. One of them was to go downtown and find someone who was passed out drunk at 2:30 in the morning. You then kick him (or her) as hard as you can, and the first thing they say upon waking up - that's your band name. They rejected this idea for some reason, and went with "The Shells". This was later changed to Twelve-Thirty-Four, and I have never forgiven them.

Anyway, the wedding was rather smooth, if I do say so myself. As the emcee, I did everything in my power to offend each person in the room on an individual basis, and I made it through most of the two-hundred-plus people over the course of the evening. I made several obscure references that people didn't get. Like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Rosa Parks and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I was rather surprised that many people had not heard of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I was trying to make reference to a really tall guy that everyone knows as a really tall guy. Who else is there? Larry Bird? Conan O'Brien? I dunno. But congratulations anyeay to Katie and Eric, who have become hitched, exchanged rings, and so on and so forth. And congratulations also to the three guys whose names I forget, who managed to get more drunk than any human being ever has before. Well done, kudos to all.

UMM...you'd be great if you got rid of all that suck.

Someone left an UMM magazine in the studio today. I flipped through it absently, before actually starting to read it. I don't think I had read one in a few years now, and I thought it must have become a better magazine in the past few years. Nope. A magazine that is supposed to be national, and it devotes a whole page to Max Keeping's birthday party? You can tell quickly they don't have the budget to leave Ottawa. Ever. So why do people ever buy this thing? I guess it looks like a Maxim or a Stuff magazine, and they think there'll be hot girls inside. And there are. UMM seems to take pictures from other magazines, like Avril Lavigne's photo shoot from Blender, sticks those pictures in their own magazine, and writes about that "artist". So there's an item on Christina Aguilera, one on Shakira, one on Jessica Simpson...and so on and so forth. However, they clearly don't have the budget to use the phone to interview these people, so there's just some blurb about them that may well have come from the liner notes of their CD.

They do, however, seem to have the budget to interview several Sportsnet broadcasters about the upcoming CFL season. Unfortunately, they could not, it seems, afford to hire literate people to write or edit these interviews. I am reasonably certain that Jamie Campbell, in his interview, did not say "Edmonton cheerleaders are impressive because they can keep smiling even when their muscles cease up in the bitter cold". But then, he didn't edit this magazine, in which there is a spelling mistake or a grammatical error on every page. And in some cases, in every paragraph.

I hate to rag on an Ottawa magazine, and I'm glad these people are doing well enough for themselves to continue making magazines. And there was one article with actual content, by a guy who went to visit the Congo. I realized however, that he is also the manager and editor of the magazine. Had he not been in the Congo, perhpas he could have edited and found the grammar and spelling mistakes. As it stands, however, I am convinced that this magazine is run by this one guy and eleven fourth graders. From now on, when I flip through this magazine, I will look for Max Keeping, then flip to the back pages to see pictures from some Ottawa bar and check out our local skans, and then put it down.