Friday, June 27, 2008

Crack the window! I'm dying here.

On the way home from work, a rock smashed into the centre of my windshield, cracking it pretty bad. In order to deal with it quickly, I immediately booked an appointment at Speedy Glass in Kanata before it got any worse. It was pretty easy to book the appointment - the lady at the call centre did all the insurance stuff for me, so I had no need to go through all that rigamarole myself. Which I found to be fantastic. Apparently, getting the appointment actually transferred to the shop itself was a little more difficult, since they had no idea I was coming. But the two guys at Speedy were very cool about it, cramming me in anyway and attempting to fix my problem. But it was not to be. The crack was too bad to be fixed by any regular windshield techniques. It was tough. It was hanging on, for dear life, refusing to disappear despite today's modern tough-guy window repair machinery. So I had to make a decision. For a chip in the windshield, my insurance would cover the whole thing if it was able to be repaired. Since it wasn't, I was going to have to either replace the entire windshield, and pay the 300 dollar deductible, or continue driving with a chipped windshield.

But I didn't have 300 dollars. So I chose option C. Instead of replacing the windshield, or driving with a chipped windshield, I bought a new car.

My mother-in-law's boyfriend, a prince of a man, had just purchased a new car, and was getting rid of his old 1996 Pontiac Grand Am. And we leaped at the opportunity to add to our fleet. We are now a two-car family with a one-car garage. Which is an exciting thing for me. Normally, I have to blast out of the station at 8:55, the second we finish talking on the show, so I can get home by 9:30 and get the car to my girlfriend who then hurries to her job by 10:00. In the winter, she's late a lot because if it's snowing or crappy outside, getting home in 30 minutes is an impossibility. So now, I can take my time. I can drive home at 90 km/h to save on gas. I can stick around at work for meetings and such. I can even take more time doing my work. Which means that Breaking Rock News will be even more comprehensive from now on. No story will be missed. If the drummer for Cinderella breaks a finger, you'll hear about it. If Ronnie James Dio buys a puppy, you'll hear about it. If Joe Walsh holds a garage sale, you'll know right away. Exciting times.

The main reason a second car is great for us is that it will actually save us money. We will use much less gas this way - In the past, if something had to be done during the day, I had to get home, pick up my girlfriend, drive her to work, then run whatever errand it may be, then pick her up from work and drive her home. Now, I can do all those errands on one trip, on my way home, and not worry about all that back-and-forth crap. And less gas, even if it's only a little less, is a good thing.

Just about everything in life is apparently worthwhile.

I met several people involved with the Olympics when I tried to get into modeling at that Olympic fundraiser. I recently received an email from a woman who was involved with the event (although I have no idea if she was there, or if I met her. I'm bad with names.) She was hoping I could host a few other events for the athletes. I plan to do so if I can, since we certainly need to make sure our athletes can make it to Beijing. Especially since I read that article about Chinese athletes in Time magazine. Their government sports department is apparently scouring the countryside and scouting kindergarten classes. This is no joke. They measure the kids, and check their bone structure, to determine whether they have the capacity to excel at a certain sport. All this at the age of six. Then those kids who are deemed to have potential are taken from their families and put into these massive state-run athletic institutions, and whatever sport has been designated to them becomes their entire life. For the next fifteen years, they learn, say, weightlifting. Day in and day out and nothing else. Until the Olympics.

It's a system akin to the old Soviet system which created all those bionic athletes in the U.S.S.R. and East Germany all those years ago. And how are we Canadians to compete with that? Well, with...fundraisers. OK. Anyway, I digress. The point I was going to make here is that in one of these emails, there was a list of local athletes who are trying to make it to Beijing. And one of the names was familiar to me. I went to high school with Crispin Lipscomb. I don't think I knew him, I may never have actually spoken to him, but I remembered the name because it's unusual. As I recalled, he was one of those skater kids. The ones who spent their lunch hours, and the hours before school, and the hours after school, and very often the hours during school, skateboarding in the street on First Avenue.

These were the kids we watched for a laugh. I remember before football practice after school, while we stretched we would watch the skaters trying out tricks. And it was hilarious, because not once, in five years of high school, did any of us, ever, see one skater land one trick. Not once. They kept on trying. They flipped their boards in the air and fell off. They jumped in the air, put their board against the railing, and landed on their feet while the board sailed off into traffic. Every now and then, one of them would try a BIG trick, despite the fact that they had never once in their lives landed a small trick. And they would end up like Robin Harper.

I always assumed that, since none of them ever landed a trick on a skateboard, that the whole scene was more about culture than about actual skateboarding. The actual skateboard was merely a means to an end - an end that involved wearing baggy pants around mid-thigh, exposing It-Store boxers, crooking their baseball hats to one side, walking with a fake limp, saying "yo" a lot and listening to Pennywise. And then somehow being immortalized in song by that acute judge of pop culture, Avril Lavigne. And although you could do all of these things without carrying a skateboard around, they would call you a "poser" if you did. So you had to carry it with you, regardless of whether you had a clue about what to do with it.

But apparently, hidden within this culture, were people who actually DID know what to do with a skateboard! Among them - one Crispin Lipscomb, who I now discover is an actual Olympic athlete in - skateboarding. While his contemporaries are now working at drive-thrus and cubicles and selling T-Shirts on the beach in Mexico, here's a guy who turned this skateboarding thing into an actual vocation! This amazes me. I wonder if he was that much more skilled than his buddies in high school, or if he was the only one that didn't really understand the culture, and by extension was the only one who really tried to improve his actual skateboarding. It also makes him, I can only assume, the only skater in the history of Glebe Collegiate Institute ever to actually land a skateboarding trick. An impressive achievement, and I hope he does well over in Beijing. Then when he comes back, I hope he can give Robin Harper some pointers.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Kids Are Alright!

Although I find the idea of "graduating" from Grade Eight faintly ridiculous, and I'm reasonably certain I had no such ceremony of my own at the age of thirteen, my oldest stepson had his "graduation" today. Hair done, new clothes, cards with money in them - it's like Christmas, only with more duties and ceremonies. Thankfully, there were only two Grade Eight classes at Glen Cairn, and as such the ceremony did not drag on and on like my OAC ceremony did. (At my high school grad, we got to write down the awards we had received and the scholarships we had obtained, so they could be announced when we grabbed our diplomas. A classmate of mine - I believe it was Nick Protti, but I really can't remember, it may even have been me - wrote down that he had received the Montgomery Burns Award For Outstanding Achievement In The Field Of Excellence. The lady reading the names was so out of it and bored herself that she didn't catch it, and read it over the microphone. And the crowd that was waiting through the ceremony didn't catch it either. If it was Nick, I was the only one that laughed. If it was me, he was the only one that laughed. God, I can't remember high school any more!)

But the ceremony DID drag on. And on. And on. It started with everyone standing for O Canada. I got excited, because I felt like a hockey game might break out. Or at least basketball. We WERE in the gym. But it didn't. Teachers spoke. And then other teachers. Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail was the guest keynote speaker. He was OK. And then the kids, one by one, pausing for the photos at the front. Then the custodian and his son performed "Ahead By a Century". Then they did "Pride And Joy". Then John Lennon's "Imagine". It was still better than Our Lady Peace. Marginally. Then it was awards time. Apparently, there must be some school policy where every year, at least thirty percent of the "graduating" class gets an award. And then more teachers talking. And then a valedictorian speech, followed by a slide show set to music, followed by closing remarks and a procession of the kids out of the gym.

All in all, a long ceremony, but I guess halfway important in the lives of thirteen year olds. I saw some of the girls dressed up like they were going to their own wedding. Some were even wearing - I'm serious here - tiaras. Ours was wearing nice pants, a T-shirt, and an untucked shirt with a collar. At least he looked comfortable. And at least he didn't seem to be taking this whole thing terribly seriously. In fact, I believe his "graduation" was only the second-most momentous occasion in his young life this week. The first being when he finally defeated the devil and beat Guitar Hero III on the expert setting. As soon as he did so, he turned to me and said - "will that make it onto your blog?" And I said it would. And so it has. Way to go kid, you're a rock star! On video games. But he certainly seemed prouder of that achievement than he was of his passing Grade Eight, and rightly so. I still haven't beaten the medium setting. That game is tough!

On the way out, we picked up a self-portrait the kids had done before leaving school. His was pretty good - it actually looked like him. Beside each self-portrait was a note, with a quote written on it. The kids had chosen their own quotes to describe themselves. (I saw one kid had chosen a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, which I found intriguing.) And my stepson had chosen one that made me so very happy. Truly the rock star, or maybe just the Guitar Hero afficionado, he had chosen a quote from The Seeker by The Who. It turns out I've taught him something useful, even if it's only one thing.

Also a rock star is my other stepson. Right after the older one's graduation ceremony, we zipped over to the younger one's school to get his report card and to see him in the Air Bands show his school was putting on. We sat through Britney Spears songs, Hannah Montana songs, Simple Plan, and many, many tunes from High School Musical. Well, it seemed like many. It may only have been two. All with varying degrees of success. Some breakdancing kids had a pretty solid amount of energy during a High School Musical jam. One kid (playing the singer) had a terrific stage presence during the Simple Plan tune, despite the fact that the speakers were cutting in and out and the rest of his crew seemed a little miffed about whether they should continue or not.

And then our kid came out with his band mates. He had brought his little guitar from his Dad's house, and he was going to be the guitar player while the other boys held center stage. But it was not to be. I'd like to think it's my influence, with my substantial classic rock DVD library, that informed his moves. Perhaps his Dad worked long hours teaching him moves. But I think it is much more likely that, once again, Guitar Hero was responsible for the incredible stage presence exuded by this young man. Right away, although he was to the back of the stage, he was the focal point of his whole Air Band. Right away, he looked fantastic. He looked like he belonged on the stage. He threw in every classic guitar move with a complete lack of self consciousness. The Angus Young hop. The Hendrix up beside the head move. The Slash guitar-straight-up-in-the-air manouever. Even a Woody Guthrie-style machine gun guitar action, and a contemptuous Eddie Van Halen shrug. Had I known he was going to be playing in this show, I would have brought him his violin bow, so he could bust out the Jimmy Page action in the middle of the set.

And all without a trace of self-awareness. Although it's air guitar, in an air band, this amazing kid moved around the stage as though the music itself was propelling his movements. I am quite serious, and it's not just blind pride talking here, when I say that I have never seen an eight-year-old look so comfortable in front of a crowd of people, and so perfectly suited to the stage. If only he would get interested enough and study hard enough to learn to play an instrument well, he'd have a career for himself right fast.

I tell you folks, these kids are rock stars. Rock stars without instruments. But for kids this age, air guitar and Guitar Hero are about the same as the real thing. It's now my fondest hope that they get into the real thing and start learning, so they can form their own band. And then I can retire, and become that stage-step-parent everyone complains about. The older one already plays the bass at school. I guess I'll have to teach my girlfriend the drums.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Comfortably Numb. I was - but not as numb as Robin Harper.

These concerts are dangerous. I once hosted a Comfortably Numb show at the old Capital Music Hall, and after bringing the band back on for the second set, I walked off the back of the stage, through the curtains, to where I believed the stairs to be. It was, however, not where the stairs were. And I missed them all completely. And I fell about six feet to the ground, where I landed - on the stairs. I cracked up a few ribs, bruised my arms and smashed the back of my head a little. However, in one of my proudest feats as an adult, I did not spill a drop of my beer. Cracked ribs and all, I held the beer up high, and kept it intact. For a while there, I felt like Jackie Chan. Then the pain set in, and I hobbled back to the bar for some medication.

On Saturday night, Comfortably Numb played another sold-out, raucous show at Barrymore's. I'm not even a Pink Floyd fan, but I really love these shows. Is it maybe time to stop saying these guys are the best tribute band in the world, and perhaps recognize them as the best, of all, live bands in Ottawa? Just a thought. Three hours of nonstop Pink Floyd, and it was so good that many people bought tickets and attended both shows, Friday and Saturday. Robin Harper had introduced the band on Friday night, and he was back again on Saturday to host the show with me. By the time the first set had ended though, he had taken off to go play pool. I hosted the second half myself, and Robin told me he would be back later that night to share a few more drinks. But he never showed up. I just figured he had met a girl, got waylaid somehow. Or maybe got way laid somehow. I forgot about it and went home.

It was only the next day that I discovered he ended up in the hospital. With many shattered bones. And I thought - Comfortably Numb strikes again! At least I wasn't permanently damaged from my fall - although my golf game certainly suffered that summer. But Robin was either more inebriated than I was, or I have more Jackie Chan in me than he does, because he ended up much the worse for wear. Read his blog for the full details on what happened after he left the Numb show on Saturday:

The best cover songs of all time

Because a worst-of list ought, fairly, to be accompanied by a best-of list, here it is. This British magazine picked Jimi Hendrix's version of All Along The Watchtower, and rightly so. It truly is the ultimate cover song, the reason songs ARE covered, the definitive cover of all time. And that really is the definition for the truly great covers. When those covers actually exceed the greatness of the original. And here are ten that do:

#10. Toots and the Maytals Take Me Home, Country Roads. Sure, the first time it was kind of a sissy countryish tune. John Denver was not exactly AC/DC. But he could certainly write a great tune, and Toots Hibbert could certainly sing a good one. And the joy with which this Jamaican vocal group infuses Denver's tune is palpable. Which makes it far more powerful than the original.

#9. Eric Clapton Layla. OK, I'm doing it again. This is just Clapton covering Clapton. But his second, Unplugged, acoustic version of Layla became a hit on the same level with the first recording, with Derek and the Dominoes. Gone is Duane Allman's brilliant guitar riff, but it's replaced with a whole new song. One that's every bit as good as the original.

#8. Peter Tosh Here Comes The Sun. Tosh's reggae version of the Beatles' classic is note-perfect. But the song takes on a whole new meaning when Tosh sings it - he actually manages to convey a sense of menace when he sings, I think through no intention of his own. He was just a menacing guy. And this was about as light as he ever got. Also - honorable mention to his version of "Once Bitten, Twice Shy".

#7. Elvis Presley Blue Suede Shoes. Although there is no fault to be found with Carl Perkins' version of the tune, Elvis just had that much more presence and power when he sang. And to this day, most people will remember The King's Blue Suede Shoes more than they will Perkins.

#6. Jimi Hendrix Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. What was really a throw-away song for the Beatles' takes on new life with Hendrix and his incredible guitar. (Also notable is Hendrix's version of Like A Rolling Stone, but since Dylan's version IS the greatest song of all time, the cover can't be that great. And Hey Joe is a traditional tune. But I think the case can easily be made that Hendrix is the greatest cover artist of all time.)

#5. Creedence Clearwater Revival I Heard It Through The Grapevine. The swampy, powerful sound of CCR is perfectly heard on their easy-to-digest two minute singles. But on this epic track, they are at their very finest. Marvin Gaye's version is dynamite as well, and it's pretty tough to figure out whose is better, but I just love Creedence, and I'm giving them the edge.

#4. Big Brother and the Holding Company Piece of My Heart. Maybe Janis Joplin's definitive vocal performance, this is one of the great rock songs of all time. And I don't know anyone who remembers Erma Franklin's version a year earlier.

#3. Bunny Wailer Redemption Song. Honorable mention too, to Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros version from 2003. But Bunny Wailer, on the tribute to Bob Marley, puts even more emotion into the song than Marley ever did, and his voice is one of the most exquisite in reggae music. A must-listen.

#2. Metallica Turn The Page. I still think Metallica's best album is their Garage Days album, because it's their most ragged and the one where they seem to be enjoying themselves the most. And their tribute to Bob Seger is one of the best songs they've ever done. Powerful, harsh, and still somehow heartfelt, Metallica was amazingly able to capture the spirit of the Seger song. A terrific cover.

#1. Jimi Hendrix All Along The Watchtower. It's true. You can't beat it. If Bob Dylan had just written songs for Hendrix all his life, he would still have been one of the most revered names in music. Then again, he would have had to find something else to do after 1970. Thank God though that Dylan did what he did and that Hendrix did what he did and one of the greatest songs of all time became the greatest cover of all time by the greatest guitarist, and the greatest cover artist, of all time. So much so that Dylan himself took to playing the Hendrix version when he played Watchtower in concert.

And quibbles, any suggestions, lemme know. This list isn't set in stone, after all.

I am not a model.

I missed out on yet another chance to add to my now-extensive resume. I have many things listed - radio guy, movie critic, boxer, actor, athlete, singer, painter, sailor, tinker, tailor, and so forth. But until now - never a model. Oh, I have taken modelesque pictures. I do have a portfolio, thanks to Michelle Valberg studios who did a shoot when I made it all the way to Canadian Idol's blooper reel and became a major television star. I have signed (quite recently) a modelling contract with the RCMP. You see, when I went with them on their recruitment drive, they were taking pictures. And in order to use my photo, if they ever decided to do so, I had to sign some kind of waiver. But I had never walked a runway. And I was all set to do so at this bar on Thursday evening. (I would have blogged about it earlier, but I couldn't work my computer for a time.) So by now I have forgotten the name of the bar. But it was beside the Heart and Crown.

Anyway, I was excited for my modeling debut. I was to be featured along with several of Canada's Olympic-calibre athletes. Which meant I would be the odd man out, the dog in the daffodils, the fat guy among the hardbodies. Apparently, however, when the offer was extended, it was merely suggested to Angella, the lady running the event, that I might be willing to do this. It was never explained to her what I actually looked like. And when I showed up, the entire group of models looked at me, somewhat aghast, as I suggested I was there to show off their latest speedo, or whatever. And as it turned out, there was suddenly, amazingly, nothing for me to do. The show was a success, raising money for the HBC Run For Canada, the money going to amateur athletes across the country. The lovely Carolyn Waldo was there, and I got to meet her for the first time. There were dozens of attractive athletes, including Katie Weatherston, an Olympic gold medallist with the women's hockey team. But I did not perform. I did not model a stitch of clothing.

I guess it's OK, for two reasons - one, people were eating while this fashion show was taking place. And in the interests of those people being able to keep down their food, perhaps it was all for the best. And secondly, I think "rejected model" looks way cooler on a resume, doesn't it?

The worst cover songs of all time.

Because we talked about this in the morning, Doc found a list from a British guitar magazine of the "worst cover songs ever recorded". But 9 of the top ten were by people no one had ever heard of. So I thought I would make my own list of the ten worst cover songs ever recorded, with artists and songs people may actually know. Here goes.

#10. Limp Bizkit Behind Blue Eyes. The main reason for this song being one of the worst ever is simply the greatness of the original. The Who were so brilliant, and loud in absolutely the best way a band can be, that to have their song ruined by the dreadful Limp Bizkit is tragic. Limp Bizkit, it should be noted, were loud in the absolute worst way a band can be.

#9. Puff Daddy Kashmir. This song is saved from being first or second on the list simply because Jimmy Page actually showed up to play on the track. No one knows why, because when it comes to Jimmy Page, no one can actually say "he needs the money". And although this sullies, in a minor way, the legacy of Zeppelin, it is no worse than the movie for which it was recorded - that Matthew Broderick Godzilla.

#8. Lenny Kravitz American Woman. The worst thing about this cover is that it was so powerfully unnecessary. What, really, did Kravitz change in the song? What effort did he put into his version? Could he even feel the music while he played it? It just sounds like some local pub-punk band has been forced to play a covers show for money, and they're just going through the motions.

#7. Madonna American Pie. Maybe this makes me angry only because when I was in radio school, I made mention of Don McLean for some reason. And someone asked who he was. And I told her "American Pie". And she said "oh, did he cover the Madonna song?" So that annoyed the song is terrible.

#6. Britney Spears Satisfaction. Do I even have to explain this?

#5. Avril Lavigne Knocking on Heaven's Door. Again, I'm personally involved here to some degree. I was once sitting in a trailer, outside St. Laurent shopping centre, for nine days, going kinda stir-crazy. And a girl came in and wanted me to listen to a demo CD she had made singing "pop songs". And one of those songs was Knocking on Heaven's Door. And she said "I HAD to do that song, because I'm like, the biggest fan of Avril." Didn't even say Avril Lavigne. Avril, like I would automatically know who she was talking about. And I DID. And I felt like punching myself.

#4. Michael Bolton Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay. Does anyone who has heard this song think that were Otis Redding still alive, he would crush Michael Bolton's throat with a giant amp? I would like to think so. Michael Bolton is one of the five worst artists of all time, Otis Redding is one of the five best singers of all time. And there you have it.

#3. Elton John Candle In The Wind. OK, he's covering his own song. But the context - Princess Di - and the omnipresence of this piece of garbage that summer have driven this song deep into my skull, and I would gladly use an icepick to get it out. It sucked the first time, the cover version was worse, and the second time, none of us could GET AWAY.

#2. Celine Dion You Shook Me All Night Long. I know, the magazine said this was the number one worst of all time. But that bit in the middle where she yells "come on, girlfriend!" to Anastasia, her duet-partner-in-crime, makes this at least hilarious enough to be worth something. In this case, it is worth...not being number one.

#1. Our Lady Peace Imagine. The most pretentious song of all time was a classic because it was done by John Lennon. Only Lennon could have made something this pretentious still seem heartfelt and sincere and brilliant. When covered by the most pretentious band in history, this song can cause queasiness, nausea, vertigo, and brain seizures. This is the worst cover song ever recorded.

There we go. The real ten worst covers of all time. And it occurs to me that I had better do a ten-best also. In the interests of fairness. Coming soon!