They Were Going Where No Man Had Gone Before But They Were Going Without Me

January 20, 2011

I would be in my teens before cable television was available and, thus, my first experiences and earliest memories of the medium were limited to a handful of channels.

There were the three major networks, PBS, and two independent channels.

Of those two independent channels, our reception for one was so poor that most of the time it was just possible to make out shapes that might have been people.

Or possibly trees.

The station – from across the river in Northern Kentucky – taunted me when I’d leaf through the TV Guide, searching for something to entertain me. There, next to the small box with a nineteen in it, something would be listed that was far more interesting than the offerings on the channels available.

Channel 19’s line-up was heavy on syndicated kid favorites like Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch with late night reserved for horror/sci-fi b-movies.

It was as though I had a ten-year old doppelganger programming an independent television station.

So, I’d optimistically flip to the station, hoping that it was one of those rare nights on which reception was good and I could try to watch The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant through snow flurries.

Usually, I’d find myself staring at a full-blown blizzard.

But the one show that the station aired which I wanted to experience more than any other was Star Trek. The show had ended its network run before I could read and, though it hadn’t had the resurgence it would by the end of the ’70s, I was somehow aware of it.

(I think that a classmate, Kate, with whom I was quite smitten, was a fan)

I had to see it.

And the only station airing Star Trek was the one that I was unable to watch.

I tried, making efforts on a nightly basis, hoping against all hope that the reception might be good enough for me to meet Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew of the Enterprise.

It didn’t happen.

It was maddening.

Soon, channel 19 would amp up its signal and Star Trek would be a staple on other channels, but, as kids at such an age are prone to do, I had lost interest.

I’d eventually see the first five movies that the series spawned, but, to this day, I’ve never seen an entire episode of the television show or any of its spin-offs.

During the time that I was not watching Star Trek on channel 19, I witnessed Capt. Kirk perform Rocket Man on some sci-fi film award show (which aired on the other independent station).

It boggled my ten-year old mind.

Here are four random songs by acts that, like Capt. Kirk, are from Canada…

k.d. lang – World Of Love
from All You Can Eat

I had never really listened to k.d. lang when I got dragged to one of her shows following the release of (but before the mainstream success) of 1992’s Ingenue. It was a free ticket and I figured what the hell.

Lang turned out to be one of the most charismatic live performers I’ve ever seen, possessing a genial personality and a wickedly charming sense of humor. Though I own a handful of her albums, I often forget what a stellar body of work she’s produced with songs like the lush, sophisticated pop song World Of Love.

Neil Young – Buffalo Springfield Again
from Silver & Gold

It seemed as though every time I looked up in the late ’80s and first half of the ’90s that Neil Young was releasing a new album to rave reviews. I was partial to the grungier stuff with Crazy Horse like Ragged Glory and Sleeps With Angels.

I still prefer the Neil that rocks.

But the mellow Buffalo Springfield Again, from 2000’s Silver & Good, is wistful and endearing as Neil reflects on his first band.

Jane Siberry – Calling All Angels
from When I Was A Boy

A friend at a record store in college introduced me to the eccentric music of Jane Siberry with 1987’s The Walking. Over the ensuing years, I’ve owned most of her catalog and, much like Neil Young’s, Siberry’s oeuvre takes some zigs and zags.

I first heard the achingly beautiful Calling All Angels when it appeared on the soundtrack to the movie Until The End Of The World, one of my favorite movie soundtracks of all time. A year or so later, the track was on her album When I Was A Boy, a record that, if I compiled a desert island list, would certainly make the cut.

And, as further evidence confirming my suspicion that everyone in Canada knows everyone else, the voice heard duetting with Siberry on Calling All Angels is k.d. lang.

Arcade Fire – Wake Up
from Funeral

I’ve become quite loopless to new music since the turn of the century. I’d heard of Arcade Fire and knew that lots of folks were twitterpated over the band. I’d even checked out a few of their songs, but I was only lukewarm about them.

Then I heard Wake Up in the trailers for Where The Wild Things Are and was blown away. It’s an epic that roars to life and soars like a rocket.

I still haven’t delved any further into Arcade Fire’s music – there’s barely time to listen to all of the music I already love – and perhaps I never will, but we’ll always have Wake Up.

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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.


A True Puppet Regime

September 10, 2008

A few days ago when I was pondering Cheerios, I considered serving the fine cereal at state functions. As I cannot gut a moose, I fear that I have no route to high office where I could enact this bold idea.

But I think I’d make a fine head of state and my only shot would seem to be overthrowing a current leader and installing a puppet regime.

Like moose-gutting, leading a coup d’état is not in my skill set. Yet I have an innovative twist that I would introduce to shake up this tired endeavor.

My puppet regime would consist of puppets. Literally.

I’m not sure if I’m ready for the responsibility of having my own puppet regime and I can imagine that it won’t be all seashells and balloons, but it’s time I grew up a bit.

I’m also going to have to put a puppeteer on my payroll.

Central to making this venture work is choosing the country, one whose population is amenable to having their present government ousted. I don’t drive an SUV and my family has no ties to the petroleum industries, so oil is not a prerequisite for consideration.

I’d prefer beaches and tropical climates, so I can cross off countries like …well Iraq. Besides, they’ve already been spoken for and the upkeep seems to be a bit much.

I do like the idea of press conferences with throngs of reporters jockeying for answers from wooden figures being beamed globally on CNN and Al-Jazeera. Yeah, I suppose we already have that now…but not with actual puppets!

And imagine if my marionette myopia starts taunting other countries? Imagine the hilarity as the leaders of Iran, Israel, North Korea, or the US go cowboy loco, puffing out their chests, and reacting with threats over statements issued by a non-living figurehead with a hand up its butt.

Just when you thought global politics couldn’t get more ridiculous, think of hearing Wolf Blitzer bloviate, “President Bush, today, had these comments in response to Micronesian President Pinocchio Magellan’s decision to withhold his country’s support for a US-led invasion of [country to be named later]. Bush reiterated that ‘freedom was on the march’ and hinted that puppets make good kindling.”

Lisa Germano – Puppet

Jane Siberry – Puppet City

P.M. Dawn – The Puppet Show

Laurie Anderson – The Puppet Motel