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.

Let The Games Begin

February 13, 2010

The first Olympics that I remember were the Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria in ’76. Mostly I recall staying up late, sprawled out on the shag carpet in front of the television. People with unusual hats from places I’d never known existed were playing crazy wintertime games.

For the next fifteen years or so, there was a special vibe about an Olympic year.

(I think things lost a little specialness when they went to staggering the Winter and Summer games)

But I still watch and and there’s something about the opening ceremony that makes it absolutely riveting no matter how many times I’ve viewed one.

It’s stirring. It’s a moment where our species doesn’t look too damned bad. We clean up well and you almost want to yell, “Go humans!”

As an ex-jock, it’s impossible not to watch with a bit of awe. Anyone that ever played a sport knows how much work it takes to be merely good. The amount of sacrifice it must take to make it to the level of an Olympian makes my head hurt.

It’s all fascinating to watch and the unexpected is expected – bobsledders from Jamaica or a skier from Ghana.

One country – I forget which one – had two brothers, both competitors, sharing the duty of flagbearer for their nation. It made me think of the epic battles between me and my brother when one might have assumed – based on the grim intensity – that an afterschool air hockey game was indeed for global bragging rights.

Ireland’s flagbearer, bobsledder Aoife Hoey, bore a striking resemblence to Paloma. Not only did I have to wonder if she was a long lost cousin of Paloma’s from the old country, but I was reminded again that, of all the places I’ve traveled, Ireland might have the most beautiful women in the world.

There’s usually a few poignant moments like when the athletes from Georgia entering the stadium to a thunderous ovation just hours after a teammate was killed in a luge training run.

It’s hard not to smile at the sheer giddiness displayed by most of the athletes participating (see Canada’s Clara Hughes – who should never play poker). Even Iran’s Marjan Kalhor, the first female Winter Olympian from that country, appeared moved by the reception.

Most of the events are sports in which I have no interest and there are few that I have even attempted – I can only imagine the carnage had we opted to play “biathlon” as kids – but I’ll spend time over the next two weeks watching.

There’ll be names that will become familiar for a brief time and I’ll acquaint myself with rules and things to watch for in sports that I won’t think about again ’til 2014. There’ll be spectacular moments and some that will likely make our hearts ache.

Someone will end up on a box of Wheaties.

And, for two weeks, we’ll get a glimpse of the world as it could be – a peaceful gathering of nations engaged in (mostly) friendly competition.

(as well as unusual hats)

Personally, I thought Canada put on a stellar opening ceremony, especially incorporating music from Canadian acts into the program. Here is a quartet of songs from artists and acts from Vancouver (the first two acts actually having performed in the opening ceremony)…

Sarah McLachlan – Sweet Surrender
from Surfacing

I actually had received promo copies of McLachlan’s first two records and thought they were pleasant if unspectacular. It was album number three, 1994’s Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, that not only broke her to a major audience, it also burned me out on her (aided considerably by a co-worker who was unaware that there were lots and lots of other albums and acts out there).

There was something about Sweet Surrender that clicked with me, though and it remains one of the few songs of hers that I still enjoy.

Bryan Adams – Kids Wanna Rock
from Reckless

If you passed through the early ’80s on the way to adulthood, Bryan Adams was inescapable. And why not? No, he hardly reinvented fire, but up through 1984’s Reckless, the man managed to knock out songs that sounded stellar on the radio with seemingly little effort.

As for Kids Wanna Rock, the song pretty much seemed to sum up Adams’ approach.

Chilliwack – My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)
from Wanna Be A Star

Chilliwack has had a long, successful career in their homeland, but the band only managed a few songs that garnered airplay south of the border. My Girl was a mammoth radio track in our area of the Midwest and, with an undeniable hook, it’s easy to hear why.

(even though I’d wager a lot of people remember the song and couldn’t name the artist)

Loverboy – The Kid Is Hot Tonite
from Loverboy

Loverboy’s debut was one of the more popular releases with my classmates in junior high and, for the next few years, the band was a fixture on radio. Like Bryan Adams, Loverboy traded in no-frills, straight-ahead, guitar rock, but there was also a smattering of synthesizers in a nod to the burgeoning New Wave stylings of the day.

Turn Me Loose might have been the bigger hit from their self-titled debut, but I’ve always been a bit more partial to The Kid Is Hot Tonite.