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)

A Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

April 5, 2010

(pre-occupied with hoops – my heart says Butler, my head says Duke has too much size -here’s a post from last March…)

There are no two better days in the sports year – at least here in the States – than the first two days of the NCAA college basketball tournament. There are usually at least a half dozen jaw-dropping moments in the first forty-eight hours.

Most of those moments prove to be quite fleeting and often the key players are soon relegated to fuzzy details – who was that kid that hit that shot when so-and-so upset so-and-so?

As much as the calendar, it is a harbinger of spring.

The tournament has become a bit bittersweet the last several years. It might be a longing for once having the luxury to skip classes and leave the couch only for snacks, glued zombie-eyed to the television for five or six games straight.

It rained a lot during the first two days of the tournament in ’90. It was a cold rain which provided a meteorological argument for not trekking to classes.

I don’t even think I had a shift at the record store.

My school, three years removed from winning the tournament, went out in the first round.

So, I lived vicariously through my brother’s school, Ball State, which was one of that year’s Cinderella teams – a #12 seed which upset two lower-seeded teams and came within minutes of beating a loaded UNLV team for a trip to the Elite Eight.

I remember speaking with my brother on the phone, not long after Ball State had won their first round game in Salt Lake City. It must have been closing in on midnight which meant we’d both been watching hoops for almost twelve hours.

And, of course, the most memorable run of that tournament was Loyola Marymount, the small school from Los Angeles which was a #11 seed. I’d read a lot about the Lions as they were the highest-scoring team in college basketball history. I don’t think that I’d seen them play.

The team had Bo Kimble who was the leading scorer in the country. His teammate, Hank Gathers, had done the same the year before. The two had been childhood friends and teammates in Philly who had headed west for college together.

A week before the tournament, Gathers, who had a heart condition, collapsed and died during a late-season game.

In an event that has no shortage of sentimental pull, Loyola Marymount was the must-see team for most hoops fans that year. They were like watching a pinball machine and the mastermind behind it all was a coach, Paul Westhead, who quoted Shakespeare to his team.

And in each of their games, basketball fans across the nation knew to expect the right-handed Kimble to shoot his first free throw of the game left-handed as a tribute to Gathers.

It came to an end one game short of the Final Four with Loyola Marymount going out against the eventual champions, UNLV.

And probably most of all, the reason that tournament was so memorable for me is that it was my last as a college student. I’d graduate in December.

I still hadn’t left town when the following season’s tournament was played. I likely watched as much or more of it in ’91, but things had changed.

Unlike twelve months earlier, my life was now on the clock.

Here are some songs that I remember from that spring of 1990, when Loyola Marymount made that memorable tournement run…

Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence
from Violator

A good high school friend discovered Depeche Mode in ’83, a couple years before they really broke in the States, and decided to make them his band.

Personally, I found their early stuff to be irritating and didn’t come around ’til Black Celebration.

I thought that Enjoy The Silence was one of their finest.

The Church – Metropolis
from Gold Afternoon Fix

It was no Under The Milky Way, but the hypnotic Metropolis was a favorite that spring.

Everything But The Girl – Driving
from Language Of Life

I hadn’t really heard much of Everything But The Girl until Language Of Life, but the album got considerable play in the record store where I worked. It was most excellent for morning shifts.

Little Feat – Texas Twister
from Representing The Mambo

Little Feat is a band I should devote some time to (something I’ve never done). I know some of the band’s more popular songs, but nothing beyond that point.

Representing The Mambo was an album that my roommate brought home from the record store where he worked. The raucous Texas Twister was a big hit with us.


June 3, 2009

Not long ago, I was considering what has been the most extraordinary thing that I had witnessed live on television as it happened.

Sadly, most of the events that bobbed to the surface – the shuttle Challenger explosion, the Gulf War, the second plane hitting on 9/11, the US invasion of Iraq – provided credence to the assessment of the medium by one of the characters in John Irving’s novel A Prayer For Owen Meany

“Television gives good disaster.”

And the one event that this viewer would put at the top of such a list began with the gathering of thousands of Chinese students to mourn the death of pro-market, pro-democracy and anti-corruption official, Hu Yaobang.

It was April, 1989 and the name Hu Yaobang meant nothing to me. I had a gauntlet of rapidly-approaching spring finals with which to contend.

I had moved into a house just off campus a year earlier and it was the first time I had ever had cable television. The television in our living room was never off. Even in the middle of the night, there was usually at least one of the six of us watching something or crashed out on the couch.

By the middle of May in ‘89, it was tuned mostly to CNN.

The mass of mourners gathered for Hu Yaobang had mushroomed into a series of national protests in China; thousands of Chinese students from universities across the country were making their way to Tiananmen Square, calling for a free media and government reform.

CNN was beaming us footage ‘round the clock.

For two weeks, it was the greatest show on Earth.

These kids didn’t look like us, but, like us, they were kids. Of course, this kid was working in a record store and the biggest decision I made each day was whether to sleep in and skip my summer classes or to get up, eat leftover pizza, and skip my summer classes.

On the other side of the globe, these kids were changing the world. These kids were defiantly erecting the Goddess of Democracy statue. These kids were giving the middle finger to The (Chair)Man.

And they were winning.

The Communist Party was bumfoozled as to how to handle the situation as the entire planet held a collective breath, watching the history playing out.

The kids were !@#$%&@ winning.

And, of course, it all came crashing down on the night of June 3rd. The Goddess was pulled down and perhaps thousands were massacred.

Two days later, CNN offered us the final image – the iconic footage of one lone student stopping a column of tanks as they rolled out of the Square.

I had a shift at the record store.

And I had a new understanding that the idealism of youth (or the youthful in spirit) would always be the underdog to frightened old men with tanks.

Patti Smith – People Have The Power
from Dream Of Life

“People have the power
The power to dream
To rule
To wrestle the world from fools.”