I’m Taking The BC Lions And The Eleven Points

September 25, 2010

Of late, Canada has had an increased presence in my life.

(not that there’s anything wrong with that)

There’s long been music from north of the border in my world and some fantastic stuff at that.

And, a month or so ago, I happened across a groovy website for the brilliant Canadian sketch comedy troupe The Kids In The Hall.

(I keep the page open at work and – to balance out the moments when I want to set fires – I often will read a transcript of a sketch or two)

As much as I dug Second City Television, I thought that The Kids In The Hall was the better of the two groups. In fact, I’m willing to state that The Kids In The Hall was as good if not better than the more heralded Monty Python.

(of course, Monty Python did provide the demented template for acts like The Kids In The Hall)

I digress.

There’s been more than music and merriment that has made me wonder if I’m turning Canadian.

I’ve been watching broadcasts of the Canadian Football League on Friday nights.

It happened unexpectedly one evening when I dialed up the NFL Network and found a pre-game show for that night’s CFL game – Calgary and Saskatchewan. It was no-frills, football not antics.

I dug it.

The games I’ve watched have been entertaining and the style – due to differences from the American version – is wide-open. The quarterbacks seem to take more shots deep than their brethren here in the US.

It is strange to hear the announcers note the difficulties for teams that find themselves in a lot of “second and long” situations. For thirty plus years, that scenario has merely meant your team needed some yardage to avoid having to convert on third and long.

(that missing down really makes the brain a bit dizzy)

And I find myself mentally chastising quarterbacks for throwing passes that I expect to sail out of the endzone only to remember that there’s twice the amount of real estate in the Canadian version.

Oh, I’m not ready to abandon the NFL. Not yet.

But it is a pleasant throwback to watch a game and not have the screen plastered with so much information and a neverending crawl that makes focusing on the actual game a potentially seizure-inducing effort.

It is a delight to not have to sit through the “entertainment” added to attract viewers that would otherwise have little interest in tuning into a game.

(seriously, does the NFL feel that the health of the league can only be ensured by having that fleshy-headed icon of mediocrity known as Daughtry perform at each game?)

No, I’m not Canadian, but I realize that I might be edging toward the morning when I spit out my coffee, demand a cup of brew from Tim Hortons, and start planning Thanksgiving break around the Grey Cup.

Anyone know a Canadian bookie?

While I sort out how to develop a problem gambling on Canadian football, here’s some songs by the first four Canadian acts that scrolled up on shuffle…

Daniel Lanois – The Maker
from Acadie

The ridiculously talented Daniel Lanois helped U2 achieve greatness and helped Bob Dylan reclaim relevence, and those are just two of the highpoints of a career that has seen him produce and work with a staggering area of music legends.

He’s a talented musician in his own right, though, and Aaron Neville makes an appearance on the moody, world-weary modern spiritual The Maker from his solo debut.

Blue Rodeo – 5 Days In July
from Five Days In July

It makes me happy to read Blue Rodeo described as “a veritable institution in their home country” on All-Music Guide’s site. The alternative roots rock band should have had a larger audience in the States.

Paloma and I saw the band live in the mid-’90s. I believe it was some show we’d gotten into as guests of the label and had no expectations or much knowledge of Blue Rodeo. It was a small club – maybe two hundred people – and I left believing I the band was one of the best live acts I’d ever seen.

Bryan Adams – Diana

Diana hit radio during the summer of ’85 when Bryan Adams’ career had taken the jump to megastar with the release of Reckless the autumn before.

The song wasn’t on the album – I think it was on a twelve-inch single with one of the hits – but the stations in our area played the hell out of the catchy rock song in which Adams pined for the Princess Of Wales.

At the time, my buddy Beej had a girlfriend who was obsessed with Diana. She actually resembled her and cut her hair to mirror the princess.

(it was a bit trippy)

The Odds – Wendy Under The Stars
from Neopolitan

The Odds were a wonderfully quirky band who released their debut, Neopolitan, in 1991. I saw the band sometime that autumn as the opening act for Warren Zevon.

(great show except for the loon who squawked for Mohammed’s Radio through the entire two hours)

The band might slow things down a bit on Wendy Under The Stars but the engaging song is still power pop with a bit of jangle as the protagonist recounts his memories of the night Elvis died.

(the song captured the attention of a crowd that had been – up to that point – indifferent as soon as the band got to the chorus)


Au Revoir, Canada

March 3, 2010

Well, for the first time in two weeks I’m not watching NBC‘s coverage of the Olympics and I am having the same disoriented feeling as I do during the switch to/from Daylight Savings Time.

I miss Al Michaels.

I’m wondering what’s going on in Whistler.

And though I never did quite understand curling, the event had me spellbound.

But it was all pretty swell. You did good, Canada.

You won a record amount of gold medals and the US won a record amount of total medals.

(and Canada got the gold in hockey which means we can pull the sharp objects out of storage in Buffalo and ship them back across the border)

Actually, even outside North America, everyone seems to be going home with a smile. The one exception, I suppose, would be Yevgeny Plushenko, the Russian skater, who mouthed off after settling for a silver medal.

I liked Plushenko. Sure he was less than gracious, but he also looked like Nick Gilder (or, at least Nick Gilder as I remember seeing him singing on television) of Hot Child In The City-fame. That song makes me think of summer and it makes me think of Paloma.

So, I’m giving him a pass.

And the closing ceremony of the Olympics was a well-done affair.

You get Neil Young, William Shatner, Catherine O’Hara, and Michael J. Fox together and it’s a compelling roster for someone that was a kid in the early ’80s.

(though I really didn’t get to know Neil until college)

The only thing that the past two weeks was missing was John Candy.

(imagine the insights he might have offered into curling – it would have been brilliant)

So, thanks for everything, Canada. Take a twenty out of petty cash and get yourself something nice.

The amount of stellar music from the Great White North is ridiculous. So, instead of the more obvious choices, here’s a quartet of songs from some less-appreciated (at least less appreciated here, south of the border) Canadian acts…

Red Rider – Big League
from Victory Day

From the personal experience of working in record stores years ago, I can assure you that everyone knows Red Rider’s Lunatic Fringe, but few people could tell you the name of the song or who does it. During the ’80s, the band had a few other songs that got a bit of airplay, but they were never able to break here in the States.

(lead singer Tom Cochrane would desrevedly find success with Life Is A Highway)

Big League is based on the true story of a prize, high-school hockey prospect who was killed in a car accident. Supposedly Cochrane was inspired to write the song after meeting the player’s father who told him that his son had been a fan of the band.

Bran Van 3000 – Cum On Feel The Noize
from Glee

When I stumbled upon Glee, I was an instant fan of the Canadian ensemble Bran Van 3000 and their engaging melange of alternative rock and hip-hop. I gushed about it to Paloma who, when she finally heard the album, was duly unimpressed.

For their cover of the Slade/Quiet Riot classic Cum On Feel The Noize, the group takes a decidedly low-key and jangly approach to good effect.

The Pursuit Of Happiness – I’m An Adult Now
from Love Junk

I was still in college when I first heard I’m An Adult Now and was greatly amused by the humorous take on growing up. It’s still a pile-driving, power-pop tour de force (produced by Todd Rundgren) that I adore, but the humour is a bit more gallows in nature now.

Rush – Tom Sawyer
from Moving Pictures

Yeah, I was going to highlight some overlooked Canadian acts, but, though incredibly successful here in the US, Rush have been underappreciated. Plus, it was twenty-four years ago this week that I saw them live.

Rush had a small, but ardent following in our high school that consisted mostly of the jocks and the kids in band – two clans who rarely intermingled but could find common ground in the beloved trio’s music.

As for Tom Sawyer, everyone – no matter what their taste in music – dug the song.


Canada, You’ve Really Let Me Down

September 27, 2008

Oh, Canada, from the moment that I first fell in love with music, you’ve been a constant (and usually welcome) presence in my life. During those formative years, there was no shortage of Canadians with hits on the radio, acts like Rush, Loverboy, April Wine, Bryan Adams, and Red Rider.

Soon, I would discover musical neighbors from the north who weren’t as embraced by radio where (and when) I was growing up – Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, The Band, and, years later, Jane Siberry, K.D. Lang, and Bruce Cockburn.

Like most Americans, I know less about Canada than I should. I did have a drummer friend who lived on our couch for a year (sometimes drummer jokes write themselves) and he was an avowed fan of the country, touting the wondrousness of the Great White North and declaring the considerable merits of John Candy.

So, I was disappointed to learn that Canada is one of the biggest arms exporters on the planet.

Then, several days ago, I come across the following headline on msnbc.com – Man Guilty In Plot To Behead Canada PM. What is that all about? (I didn’t read the article as I felt certain that it couldn’t live up to the slapstick drama of the title)

The headline begged several questions. Is beheading really the route to go if one does want to take out a politician? I mean, it seems to be rather cumbersome and inefficient with slim odds for success.

The most important question that came to mind is what the hell is going on up there?! This, combined with the arms export thing, made me wonder if we Americans and our gratuitously violent television programs, films and political campaigns are having a negative influence on the Canadians.

It seemed best to consult a Canadian on this matter. And I realized as many different people as I’ve known and there have been very few Canadians. I’d always assumed that it was because Canada was such a lovely place filled with polite people (unlikely to behead a leader) that no one ever left to come here.

However, one Canadian I do know is a co-worker, so I queried him on this threatened beheading. I didn’t get an explanation, but I did learn that Canada, like the U.S., is in the midst of an election. Then, he informed me of something that truly floored me.

From start to finish, this election will take a mere 32 days.

So, I say sell munitions to every man, woman, and child on the planet, Canada. Let your citizens plot to behead every member of Parliament. If you folks can elect your officials in less than five weeks you are most certainly doing something right.

Oh yeah, and thanks for all the swell music.

There’s so much music by Canadian acts that are favorites (Gordon Lightfoot anyone?). So, I simply tried to pick a random selection.

Neil Young – Sleeps With Angels
Is Neil Young the greatest Canadian rock artist of all time? He’s got to be close and he’s certainly one of the most compelling. I logged a lot of hours listening to his album Sleeps With Angels in ’94/’95 and the title track was Neil & Crazy Horse in full, glorious fury.

Jane Siberry – Bound By The Beauty
I posted something by Jane recently, but Bound By The Beauty is one of her songs of which I am much more fond. Like Neil’s catalog, Jane’s takes a lot of zigs and zags. The one album that I would wholeheartedly endorse is When I Was A Boy, but it is an album best listened to start to finish. Bound By The Beauty is from an earlier album.

Bran Van 3000 – Drinking In L.A.
I first heard this song when I saw the video on MTV in Ireland. I was immediately smitten. Drinking In L.A. was on their debut Glee and it is an engaging, eclectic mix of strangeness (including a jangly, ’90s-styled alt rock cover of Cum On Feel The Noize).

Red Rider – Lunatic Fringe
Red Rider got a lot of airplay in the Midwest in the ’80s – Young Things, Wild Dreams (Rock Me), Human Race, Boy Inside The Man, and this song. Moody and atmospheric, I have a feeling that most people south of the border wouldn’t be able to name the band, but they’d know the song.

Bruce Cockburn – If A Tree Falls
I quoted part of this song’s lyrics in a speech on the rain forest in college (and I think it was a two or three years before Sting stole my thunder on the issue – oddly enough, we would kind of cross paths a decade later).

Anyhow, I apologize to Bruce for potentially sullying his good name with what was, I imagine, a clumsy effort at activism.

Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan
Personally, I’d declare Leonard Cohen, from a standpoint of attitude, to be more rock and roll than any Emo band could ever dream of being. Acerbic, witty, and with more than a hint of menace in his lyrics and vocals, Cohen spent the early ’90s linked to actress Rebecca DeMornay (while he was in his mid-50s) and the latter part of the same decade living in a Buddhist monastery.

As both Canada and the States are in the midst of elections, I momentarily opted to post his song Democracy with its deadpanned chorus “Democracy is coming to the USA.” However, I’ve loved First We Take Manhattan since I first heard it on his album I’m Your Man in the late ’80s.

I Mother Earth – Not Quite Sonic
Out of college, I worked a couple of internships for record labels, including one in radio promotion. One afternoon, on my way out, my boss gave me a cassette and instructed me to critique it that evening. When I popped it into the player, I was blown away. It was demo recordings of I Mother Earth.

Combining the blistering, tribal rock leanings of Jane’s Addiction, the otherworldly poetry of The Doors, and percussive elements reminiscent of Santana (they actually toured with an ex-member performing percussion), I Mother Earth should have been huge. Our label lost them in a bidding war to Capitol Records who torpedoed their career by marketing them as a metal act. Well done, Capitol. Well done.