Thursday, July 10, 2008

Update.

By the way, the David Lee Roth story, at 2:56 a.m., was still sandwiched between Nickelback and the Polaris awards in the Entertainment section of Google news. (The Polaris awards are like a Junos no one knows about. Canadian music awards that choose the artists based on merit and quality, rather than...whatever the Junos use as a measuring stick.)

The top story on Google news!

After I got a comment about the David Lee Roth story being stuck between a Nickelback story and a story about sex getting better after 70, I thought I would check out the story rankings today. There's a Canada section in there, and today's top story about Canada - not the Khawaja trial (it was 5th), not the U.S. war resistor facing deportation (that was 4th), nad not the guy thinking about returning his Order of Canada (3rd). No, it was margarine. Quebec has decided, after 21 long, difficult years, to stop regulating the colour of margarine. They used to insist that margarine be distinctly lighter or darker than butter. Because people needed to know for sure. Even I Can't Believe It's Not Butter was distinctly different, in colour, from actual butter. The theory I suppose being that no one can read the packages. Which must have left many people disappointed when they opened the big plastic tub and discovered that what they thought was butter was actually white! But no more. The insanity is over. This was the top story in Canada today. I sure hope Randall leads with this on the news today.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

You've gotta see this...

As the de-facto reporter for the CHEZ 106 Breaking Rock News feature on the website, it was my mission yesterday to find out all the gory details about the David Lee Roth nut-allergy story. Apparently more than a month ago, he was caught speeding in Brantford, and told the cops he was rushing to a hospital, having suffered an allergic reaction to nuts. And...that's about all there was. I couldn't find any more details anywhere, except that this was reported by CTV. Then I found this:

http://www.roadrunnerrecords.com/blabbermouth.net/news.aspx?mode=Article&newsitemID=100455

This is the actualy CTV news story taken from the TV and put onto the internet by an enterprising individual at blabbermouth.net. I find this to be an absolutely hilarious example of how news is now 2% content and 98%...garbage. What do we learn in these three minutes? Well, some people who saw David Lee Roth walking around, knew he was NOT from Brantford. He wore a silk scarf and flashy clothes. Which made him stick out. Because he was clearly NOT from Brantford. He visited a friend. Then he sped. Here's the entire story, in a nutshell (get it? Nutshell?): The cops pulled him over, he went to the hopsital, he was having an allergic reaction to nuts, they got him to the hospital, he was OK. That's it! That's the story. I'm surprised they didn't make reference to Wayne Gretzky and his hometown, giving the David Lee Roth story a backdrop of Walter Gretzky and his famous backyard rink!

Anyway, that's the story, and although I dug much deeper I could not find a single thing more to add to the story. I don't know what kind of nuts they were - cashews? Almonds? Brazil nuts? A mixed nuts can with a plastic lid? We will likely never know. How fast WAS he going? 100? 120? 210? Again, we will never know. But I will make it up, because I need to fill space in this story, which must be three paragraphs long. He was having an allergic reaction after eating a donair next to a chia pet. The chia seeds for that chia pet had been stored next to English walnuts before being shipped off by http://www.nutsonline.com/. The oils from the walnuts had seeped into the chia seeds, the chia pet grew and flowered with trace amounts of walnut oil on it's green fuzzy bristles, and one of those fuzzy bristles had been mistaken for an alfalfa sprout by Roth, who put it inside his donair. He immediately leapt into his car, which I will assume is an Alfa Romeo, and sped off toward an intersection, hoping to see a sign that said "H". For Hospital. When the cops nabbed him, he had "Afternoon Delite" blasting out of his stereo, and he was driving 89 kilometres per hour in what we can only assume was a school zone. (89 kmph, by the way, is 55 miles per hour - because David Lee Roth CAN drive 55.) You see...I'm auditioning for a job at CTV...

Another book worth reading.

I had a lot of time to kill yesterday, in a series of waiting rooms as I got my car fixed. I managed to read an entire book, what with all that waiting around. It's another book by a Canadian author, Morley Callaghan, called More Joy In Heaven. It's a great book, and it's short enough that you can read it in three hours in car fix-it shop waiting rooms. It's based (loosely) on a true story from Toronto in the 1930s, when a notorious bank robber named Red Ryan was released from the Kingston pen thanks to a substantial effort from a number of politicians and became something of a media darling in Toronto. The medai loved his turnaround from bad guy to productive member of society, and he became something of an official "greeter" at a local Toronto hotel, the Nealton, which was looking to capitalize on his local-celebrity status. Much like the former heavyweight champs who work as "greeters" in Vegas. The difference being that local-celebrity status will get you recognized for a few weeks, while being a former heavyweight champ will get you recognized for years.

Ten months after being released from prison a "changed man", Red Ryan was shot to death during a liquor store robbery in Sarnia, and the former toast-of-the-town became an enormous letdown to the people of Toronto. More Joy In Heaven, while not a factual account of Ryan's time out of prison, is a fanciful version of his story featuring a character named Kip Caley. Caley is a man who has really changed his ways in prison. He's reformed, he's become a better person, and he has become a liason between the criminals in the prison and the officials on the outside, trying to improve their situation and conditions, working toward their release, and generally being an upstanding citizen. Thanks to help from a philanthropic yet morally ambiguous senator and a saintly prison priest, Caley gets an early release.

He becomes the greeter at a hotel, just like Ryan, but the rest of the story is invented. Two characters from his prison past never leave him alone the whole time he's out, trying to tempt him back into a life of crime. (These two - especially the through-and-through evil Foley, are pretty cartoonish.) The owner of the hotel is clearly exploiting Caley, in his own way, but Caley seems to believe that the ends justify the means, and he hopes that this hotel gig will lead to an appointment on the parole board, where he will be able to continue the good work he was doing in jail. He also believes he's doing good work at the hotel, entertaining people with stories of robberies and money, and counselling police and criminals alike. But of course it can't last.

There are many Christian religioius allegories in the book, most notably the story about the prodigal son. More Joy in Heaven makes several references to Caley being the prodigal son of the city, most of them by Caley and his kindly priest. There are also references to Lazarus and of course the title itself refers to the biblical notion that there is more joy in heaven upon the repentance of one sinner than upon 99 just people who need no repentance. The biblical passage is referenced once, by the priest, when he suggests that maybe Caley believes there is more joy on Earth than there is in Heaven. Some of these references - and other metaphors like Caley being trapped in a series of "cages" feel pretty cartoonish and heavy-handed, but overall that tone of heavy-handedness really works for the book. It's tough to explain, but Caley himself has a very heavy hand and isn't exactly sophisticated, so the book seems to mirror his tone.

Anyway. Before I write a full book report, print it out double spaced, make sure it's 5,000 words, and mail it to my 9th grade English teacher Mr. MacGregor. This is a great Canadian read. Morley Callaghan's More Joy In Heaven. Pick it up.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A brief thought.

Lyn Cockburn had a great editorial in the Sun yesterday, about California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. How he has actually impressed people since taking over that state, and how he is so far ahead of Canada in terms of environmental responsibility. Her main point was one I've been wondering about for a long time. Why don't we have electric cars? The technology was always there. The electric car was actually built years ago, then destroyed and covered up - there's a terrific documentary about it called Who Killed The Electric Car? that's well worth watching. But there ARE electric cars. In California. Cockburn's column came on the heels of a "big fat" California tax break to Tesla Motors, to keep the company in the state. Tesla manufactures an electric car. One that apparently costs 60 grand, but one that goes 360 km between chargings. And uses...NO gas. So, how come we don't hear about this one all the time? How come we don't see these all over the road? At 60 grand, these would be a bargain for any of us looking to buy a new car, right?

Well, no. The Canadian government has had a real problem with electric cars, and it's virtually impossible to get one and to drive one here in Canada. We even manufacture one, in Quebec, but can't drive it. (A much cheaper one with a lower top speed and less range.) And why? Why can't the government do the obvious, easy thing and make it legal across the board in Canada? More to the point, why aren't these being pushed and promoted all across the country? And why are they being manufactured only by specialty companies like Tesla and Zenn, and not by the big ones? Like GM? Or Ford? With auto plants closed all over the place, perhaps they could be put to good use? Or are these companies incapable of admitting they made a mistake when they got rid of the electric cars years ago? Is that really what it is, that they're too ashamed to bring back their old technology? Because otherwise, it doesn't seem to make much sense to me.

Anyway - great column from Lyn Cockburn. And for another great column, you Steely Dan lovers who have been sending me so many angry emails - check out Dennis Armstrong's review of the same Bluesfest show - http://www.ottawasun.com/Showbiz/Columnists/Armstrong_Denis/2008/07/06/6077666-sun.html - apparently I wasn't the only one who thought they sucked.

Something to read.

When I moved into my house, I managed to snag a whole bunch of books that my parents used to have around our house when I was a kid. And slowly but surely, I have been making my way through those books one at a time (well, sometimes two or three at a time). I have been slowly reading a collection of essays by Pierre Trudeau called Federalism and the French Canadians. It's all about economic issues and social issues and Quebec seperatism. It's awfully dry and boring, and I can't read more than one essay at once without putting it down and grabbing another book. So as I paused in my reading to pick up something else, I grabbed W.O. Mitchell's Vanishing Point. No relation to the movie of the same name (which was also excellent), or to the Primal Scream album of the same name (a great album - but based on the movie).

It's a major, complex book about life on a native reserve in Paradise, in the Alberta foothills, in the late 50s or early 60s. It follows the lives of several people, most notably Carlyle Sinclair, a teacher at the reserve who quickly becomes mor than just a teacher - he is the main link between the natives on the reserve and the beaurocracy that is connected to Ottawa. When we first meet him, he is riding with a native man named Archie Nicotine on his way to meet a girl in the city. The girl is Victoria, his star pupil, who is now working at the hospital as a nurse's assistant. But when he gets there, he discovers she's missing. The second part of the book is the back story of Carlyle Sinclair and the Stonys who populate the reserve. Archie Nicotine, who in the first section initially appears to be an obnoxious lowlife drunken barroom philosopher, becomes a central character, one with a real wisdom and moral compass. And the third section deals with the search for the missing girl, where Archie and Carlyle both show their true colours in the end. (Some for the good, some for the bad.)

The characters in the book are incredible and vivid. The irritating televangelist Heally Richards, who "heals" people on live television. (And who may, or may not, actually believe that he is capable of doing so.) The rotten lowlife Norman Catface, who pimps his sister in the big city. The old man on the reserve, Esau, who is dying of tuberculosis. Fyfe, a government official who has good intentions but is sometimes impractical. He has created a cookie to improve the health of those living on the reserve, the Fyfe Minimal Subsistence Biscuit, which is virtually inedible and goes uneaten. There is humour and pathos on every page, and the delicate balance between the natives and the whites brings out the best and the worst in both. As old Esau is brought to Heally Richards' Rally For Jesus tent in hopes of being cured, the book ends with a definite transition point for both whites and natives.

This has got to be one of the definitive novels about this culture, and one of the classics of Canadian literature. I must confess, this is the first W.O. Mitchell book I've read, and I haven't even picked up Who Has Seen The Wind, which most would consider to be his best work, from what I understand. I will pick that up soon - until then, this is just a suggestion that Canadians might like to take a look at The Vanishing Point. It's terrific.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sometimes I surprise even...myself!

I just got a "new" car, which is actually 12 years old. Which means it might be the last car on the road in Ottawa that still has a tape deck. Only. And I got tired of listening to static. This coincided with my mother-in-law dropping off the gigantic box of cassette tapes that I had left at her house years ago. After all, who would ever have thought they would come in handy, ever again? But they did, and I grabbed a fistfull of tapes on my way out the other night. Mix tapes I made when I was about thirteen. My recollection of my musical taste at that age is spotty, but I know I liked Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson and the C&C Music Factory, and all kinds of horrible things. But I surprised myself with my old tapes! Some of them are actually very good! Black Dog and Kashmir, House of the Rising Sun, Van Morrison's Baby Please Don't Go...of course, there were still some Bangles songs and, embarassingly enough, one by Vanilla Ice. And that's what sucks about a tape deck. You can't just skip to the next song. But for the most part, it seems I had better musical taste than I remember!

Another thing I seem to have forgotten is that when I taped these songs, I used to cut out the parts of the tunes I didn't like. So, when Thorogood's "One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer" played, it started, then fast-forwarded, on it's own, through all that talking before the song started. It makes for a whole new listening experience, this tape deck that is a window into my silly childhood.

Seth Rogen was right. Steely Dan gargles my b***s.

Saturday was a great night for Bluesfest. Lucinda Williams, Adrian Belew, Zappa Plays Zappa, and Steely Dan. All in one night! However, while Saturday night WAS a great night for Bluesfest, Steely Dan was not a great act for Bluesfest. I hate to say it, because I know there are a lot of big-time Steely Dan fans out there. But this is NOT an outdoor festival act. This is a sitting-on-your-hands at the NAC act. Maybe. I really don't understand the appeal of Steely Dan and their ilk. But more on that later. First of all, I was struggling on Saturday. Somehow I've screwed up my knee so badly that I can barely drive and sit down, let alone stand. It happened Saturday afternoon, so I figured it would just go away by Saturday night. We were at a friend's house for dinner, and Jim and Debbie made smoked pork which was so good I couldn't leave until I'd eaten almost all of it. Then Jim and I headed off to the show.

The walk from my secret hidden parking space to the show normally takes about ten minutes, tops. This time it took about twenty, and by the time I got there, my knee was excruciating. We had missed Adrian Belew, but were just in time to see Lucinda Williams, who had just begun. We couldn't get close enough to really see her, but from a distance the show was just as cool. This was really the one show I wanted to see most, out of the whole Bluesfest. Well, this and Ray Davies. And she is an act that belongs at Bluesfest. That smoky, hard-edged whisky voice, the folk-country-rock songs as the sunlight fades late in the day, it was just a wonderful show. She sang a few tunes from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, my favourite album of hers and one with an apt title. I think perhaps she chose that title because at times, her voice actually does sound like car wheels on a gravel road. I know, it doesn't sound great, but it is.

Then we made our way to the Zappa Plays Zappa show, where I ran into my boss, who asked me if I was depressed when I told him I love Lucinda Williams. I told him that every night, I put on her records and cry until I fall asleep. Man, it must be sweet being Dweezil Zappa. All you have to do is learn to play guitar as well as your dad did, assemble an all-star band of virtuoso musicians who are capable of playing your dad's music, and away you go! The songs are already there for you, the name is already there for you...just fourteen years of intensive practice, and you've got it made! Then you can play festivals like Ottawa and people will leave thinking it was a great show! And it was a great show. I saw only the first few minutes, because the guys I was with wanted to see Steely Dan, but Zappa Plays Zappa was awesome. Not as tight as Frank, but then how could you be? Just a lot of fun with some of the greatest music of all time.

Then we meandered our way over to Steely Dan. Once again, the giant white tent in the middle of the field blocked everyone's view, but I suppose that's where the cameras are that put the images up on the screens that were also obscured from view by other tents. It's tough to find a place where you can see a screen clearly and get a line on the stage itself without getting there mid-afternoon. And I stood there, in intense pain, for two hours. Steely Dan certainly put on a long show. And I suppose, for who they are and what they do, it was a decent one. But I'm just not a Steely Dan guy. That technical, studio sound they have bothers me when I listen, and amazing musicianship notwithstanding I find it to be only a step above elevator music. But then, it appeared that the crowd knew exactly what to expect.

I'm not sure I have ever seen a more listless crowd at Bluesfest. Thirty thousand people staring straight ahead, at the screens and the stage, not moving at all, and pretty much catatonic for the whole two hours. It may as well have been a cult rally. David Koresh would have commanded just about the same response, only with more impassioned fervor. Not being a huge fan, I didn't know almost all the songs. Which is normally fine, but you could tell they were playing note-for-note what they did on the albums (at least with the songs I DID know). And I found myself hoping against hope that they would play some more familiar stuff, so I could at least be somewhat involved in the performance. But they didn't. When they came back out for the encore, I was expecting to finally hear "Reeling in the Years". Or, at the very least, "Ricki Don't Lose That Number". And frankly, if I go my whole life without ever again hearing that song, it will be too soon. But I wanted something familiar at least. And...nothing. They played one more song, for their encore, that I had never heard before, and that was it. In fact, Donald Fagen left the stage and went home halfway through that song. He just stood up, waved to the crowd, and left. I guess he was as bored as I was.

Tennis - best match ever?

When I was a kid, I used to play a lot of tennis. Just about every day in the summer, I would go to the free courts at the park with my friend Oliver, and we would play tennis for hours. Then we would go home and watch tennis. (In retrospect, I think I may have forced a lot of tennis on him - I gave him little choice in the matter. I sometimes think about that and feel bad.) But I remember we had certain favourite players at the time. Boris Becker, and Ivan Lendl, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Michael Chang. They seemed to have personality. The games could last a long time, they were exciting, and every player had a markedly different style. But after we stopped playing every summer, and tennis slowly faded out of my brain, I stopped watching. Sure, Andre Agassi was still around, and still fun to watch, but tennis had changed some.

Pete Sampras, amazing player though he was, bored the living crap out of me. So did many of his challengers - they all had the same game. Service winners, baseline power...blah blah blah. And frankly, after a while, service winners are boring. Rallies are exciting. Tough matches are exciting. And now for the last few years, we've had Roger Federer. Possibly the best tennis player to ever live, he suffered from the same problem as Sampras. He was boring. They're both machines, not people. In point of fact Federer still is. And he's playing in the Wimbledon final yesterday, going for his record 6th straight Wimbledon title. And I just don't care. Even if it's against his arch-rival, Rafael Nadal. Even through the history the two have had, and the drama of their last few matches - I always catch that on the highlights anyway.

But here's the thing - the drama of their last few matches has come simply from the fact that they went to five sets, and tiebreakers, and stuff like that. But it's still boring tennis, I figured. Like, imagine a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final that goes into overtime...tied 0-0 where each team has eleven shots apiece through the first three periods. Yes, it's dramatic, yes, it's momentous, but boy, has it ever been boring to get there. But as I flipped around yesterday afternoon on the TV, thanks to a bunch of rain delays the Wimbledon finals were still going on, and I stopped for a second at the end of the fourth set. Just to be treated to one of the most incredible, dramatic finals in the history of sports! Federer, coming back from Championship point to force a fifth set. Then staving off elimination in the fifth-set tiebreak. Then going the distance in the final game, falling ever-so-short in the end. And Nadal is actually exciting to watch!

I was cheering for Federer, just because I love historic achievements and such, but Nadal's was pretty historic as well. Beating maybe the best player in history in his best event on his best surface in the biggest event in tennis, in such dramatic fashion, this was truly amazing. This was possibly the greatest final in tennis history - and I might actually start watching this sport again.