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)

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The Wonder Of Oz

July 21, 2010

Australia has been on my radar since the early ’70s, when my father bandied about the idea of moving the family there. He had a gig secured, but, at the eleventh hour, my mom put the kibosh on the venture.

I was five and pissed. Cornfields and cows did not match the allure of koalas and kangaroos.

I don’t think Australia was of much consequence to me again until later in the decade and the success of Olivia Newton-John in Grease and the dominance of the Bee Gees in pop culture.

I was eleven. Music and girls were beginning to occupy more of my attention. Olivia made quite an impression.

(twenty years later, she came into a record store where I worked and was every bit as fetching in the flesh)

Over the next few years, as I listened to more and more music, Australian acts like AC/DC, Rick Springfield, Little River Band, Air Supply, and Olivia were staples on the pop and rock radio stations I listened to.

1982 was Australia’s breakthrough year, though.

Our family trekked to the World’s Fair that summer. I’m sure that the world offered up all kinds of groovy stuff, but the only thing I really recall was thinking that, of all of the countries with exhibits, the women at the Australian pavillion were the most lovely.

(I was fourteen and now lamented a life deprived of koalas, kangaroos, and sheilas)

1982 was also the summer that Men At Work arrived in America and soon everyone was spreading vegemite on their toast.

Once I left school and moved on, I got to know a handful of people that were Australian expats. These folks did nothing to dispel my belief that I’d have been cool, too, if I’d grown up in Sydney instead of Sticksville here in the States.

(one of them seems to – literally – know every musician in Australia)

But, though I’ve come close to making the trek to the Australia, I’ve had to admire and imagine the country from afar, living vicariously through one friend’s old blog and a slew of music throughout the years.

(if anyone from Australia is reading and has a gig for two hard-working kids from the States, I think I could convince Paloma and the cats to make the trip)

Here is a quartet of songs by some Australian bands that I simply felt like hearing today…

Little River Band – The Night Owls
from Time Exposure

I knew Little River Band for songs like Lonesome Loser and Cool Change, but The Night Owls came out in the autumn of ’81 when I was really starting to pay attention to music.

I totally took to the song. It was a hit at an age when staying up late into the night was an still an exotic, mysterious venture.

Hoodoo Gurus – Bittersweet
from Mars Needs Guitars

Though Hoodoo Gurus arrived smack dab in my college years and got a lot of press, I don’t really recall hearing them much aside from the occasional trip home when I could listen to 97X.

Other than Bittersweet, I own nothing by the band, but I have taken a mental note (which I will likely lose) to keep an eye out for them when shopping for used vinyl.

INXS – The Stairs
from The Greatest Hits

INXS was simply a fantastic singles band and they left behind a string of songs during the ’80s that still bend my ear when they shuffle up on the iPod. And, I wouldn’t hesitate to put the stunning Don’t Change on a list of favorite songs from the decade.

The Stairs, though, might be the second favorite thing that Michael Hutchence and crew put out. I was pretty burned out on INXS when X, the follow-up to the mammothly successful Kick, was released. The album made me yawn.

But The Stairs had me the first time we played it in the record store where I was working at the time – the percolating intro building to a noisy buzz…Hutchence’s charismatic, impassioned vocals…the hypnotic, determined march of the song and a bit of arena rock guitar to drive it all onward…

The Black Sorrows – Harley And Rose
from Harley And Rose

I had never heard of The Black Sorrows when I grabbed a promo copy of Harley And Rose from a bin of CDs in another record store where I was working. There was no particular reason other than it was up for grabs.

One listen and I filed it as a keeper. Over the past twenty years, I’ve essentially forgotten about it and never came across the band again. But, here and there, the title song would pop to mind and I’d throw it on (or retrieve it from the mp3 catalog).

Checking their Wikipedia page, it appears that Joe Camilleri, the heart and sole constant member of the group, has had a long and distinguished career in Australia, so I suppose I need to make a mental note on him, too.

(and I need to ask my friend about him – he likely knows or, perhaps, has played with him)

Apparently The Black Sorrows evolved from Camilleri, who had already had success, and some friends who would gather and play covers of R&B, zydeco and blues songs.

The wistful Harley And Rose makes me think that it might be the result had Paddy MacAloon of Prefab Sprout grown up in some dusty Australia town and started out in a band playing covers of R&B, zydeco, and blues songs.


That’s Right, The King Is Going To Have Us All Fat And Happy

January 9, 2009

Rejoice remote Thai villagers, Inuits of Greenland, and all other begrimed peoples who have yet to smell the bright lights of civilization. W was correct and freedom is on the march. But it won’t be any god, government or game show which will bring you the riches we in the modern world take for granted.

It will be a king. Specifically, The King.

I long ago declared allegiance to Burger King. Actually, fast food wasn’t often on the menu growing up, but once I got to college and occasionally opted for a burger from under a sunlamp, it was the flame-broiled goodness I would usually crave.

Burger Kings were plentiful in Southeast Asia when I had the opportunity to trek through that part of the world. I still cannot hear Def Leppard’s Rocket without picturing the girl at the counter in a Singapore BK Lounge. She sang along with that song (not quite at the top of her lungs) as she took an order from me and my friend Simon.

In one recent commercial, The King appears in a man’s yard. The man looks away and when he looks back, The King is right in front of him, standing on the porch offering a delicious breakfast sandwich.

Paloma finds it to be creepy. Yes, perhaps it is a bit creepy, but it’s also a wonderful thing.

In another series of ads, people from more isolated places around the world get to enjoy a Whopper. As you can imagine, the footage reveals it to be quite possibly the most amazing moments of their lives except for one Inuit fellow who declares that he still prefers seal meat.

(I hope this ungrateful bastard’s next encounter with Western culture involves a visit from PETA)

I also read the other day that obesity among most of the world’s population is skyrocketing (for various reasons). Finally, a global consensus on something.

So those of you dismayed by the state of the human race, take heart, because a glorious new age of peace and harmony, love and understanding, is coming – a portly new world order and we will all bow to The King.

Marillion – The King Of Sunset Town
I suppose it was never cool to admit liking Marillion, yes? But there is a chunk of their catalog which I do love and their album Season’s End would be on the list. I stumbled across it, not even knowing they had a new album, while in Thailand. Less rigidly progressive and looser conceptually, it was their first record with new singer Steve Hogarth, who immediately reminded me of Peter Gabriel.

Jellyfish – The King Is Half-Undressed
There’s little I could say in praise of Jellyfish which wasn’t covered quite nicely over at My Humps here.

R.E.M. – The King Of Comedy
1994’s Monster was the last time I truly cared about R.E.M. and I’d been with them most of the way up ‘til then (I was in college in the ‘80s; it was the law). I did like Monster and I thought that the King Of Comedy, a shimmering slab of ear candy, was an overlooked gem.

The Rave-Ups – Respectfully King Of Rain
I didn’t know the Rave-Ups were from Pittsburgh but apparently they were. I did know that Molly Ringwald was a friend of the band which led to them appearing in Pretty In Pink (performing the stellar Positively Lost Me). Respectfully King Of Rain is pretty wonderful, too.