Tuesday, 30 August 2016

This is Our Life

Tragically Hip week is over now and Canadians of a certain age are still suffering the inevitable post-hip hangover. Make no mistake, it has been an emotionally exhausting few months, from the time news was shared about Gord Downie’s illness up until the final bows of their last waltz in Kingston. An event so captivating that we as a nation tuned in and watched with the same fervor as though it were game seven of a Toronto vs Montreal Stanley Cup final. (Yes I am aware they are in the same conference and could never play each other in the finals, but let us visualize that particular miracle in order to highlight the magnificence of the situation).  Along with this very public outpouring of love for the band came the declaration from many of how the Hip had provided the soundtrack to their lives.

That phrase – the soundtrack to your life – is a weighty statement that carries with it a big chunk of your baggage and memories and even your personality. It's more than that Ramones phase you went through in high school, or when you declared yourself a hip jazz-cat because you bought a second Miles Davis CD. If you outgrew Green Day after grade 9, then perhaps that was merely your soundtrack to getting stuffed in a locker by a senior.

What we are talking about here kids, is the stuff that sticks. The music that was playing during your formative years and beyond. It would have accompanied your teenage span, when you were busy making all the mistakes that helped turn you into a real human being, but also followed you to University or travelling the world. If you had copies of the Tragically Hip’s Up to Here on vinyl, followed by cassette, CD, iPod and finally back to vinyl (when that became cool again), then I have news for you my friend. The Hip are part of the soundtrack to your life.

There is something to be said for music that you never tire of. To test this theory, think back to the last time you visited a cottage. If you listened to Bobcaygeon five times on the way up, and then later pulled out your guitar and sang a whole bunch more Hip songs around the campfire, this is definitely your band. Need further proof? Does your four year-old know the words to Wheat Kings?  If so, then that CD has been in rotation in your car for a loooong time.

It is a rare and special thing to have grown up and matured with a band. Particularly if that band feels like they are from your hometown, and you know that you will never outgrow them. Way back in the day, I wanted them to be a big deal in the USA, and I wanted to share them with the rest of the world, but not anymore. I like the intimate thing Canadians have going with these guys. I still want them to be our secret.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Millennials Unite!

You came up in the toughest of times if you were born from 1982 to 2000. Really it’s a wonder any of you survived into a grown-up sized body, what with peril lurking around every corner.

Okay, so you maybe you weren’t allowed to walk to school or drink water right out of the garden hose, but your generation had to suffer through plastic water bottles that were full of BPA’s and didn’t keep your drink cold at all.

Your moms were pregnant with you and still drank caffeine, ate gluten, and exposed you to low doses of second hand smoke on patios and in other outdoor venues.

If your parents wanted to reach you, it was on a totally archaic flip phone, and even then, only when you were in an area with good reception. You used “pay as you go” and once your minutes ran out you were screwed.

Sunscreen was a joke. Your mom would lather you up with stuff that was rated as 18 SPF or even less! You heard me.

You were sent out in the yard to amuse yourselves on the trampoline. Sure, there was a protective net around the sides, but it could be very abrasive.

You rode bikes with no disc brakes and wore old school bike helmets that fit poorly and were completely unfashionable. 

Nerf Guns? Not as bad as lawn darts, but I suspect they could be dangerous if you got shot at point blank range…directly in the eyeball.

HD was barely invented and Plasma TV’s were like a million dollars. 1080p? Child please…more like 720p.

You got by on 40 gig hard drives and windows 95.

On milk day at school, there was no soy milk option.

Some of you are old enough that you went to a school where kids would actually bring peanut products in their lunches. Yet here you are.

Your dads built elaborate tree-forts with pressure treated lumber that contained arsenic, which could cause cancer if swallowed. Um, hello…do you want me to get cancer dad?

Amber alert? Whatever. If you were kidnapped, you were basically on your own.  

Fair play in sports wasn’t really fair. Yes everybody made the team but if you sucked, the coach would make you sit on the bench during the finals.

There was no Pokémon Go. You made do with the terrible graphics offered on your Super NES, SEGA, or PlayStation. (Or Xbox, or Wii, depending on what your parents could afford)

Netflix? Forget about it. If you wanted to binge watch something you had to go to the video store and rent a whole bunch of DVD’s.

Parents were strict! If you misbehaved, you got a time out, simple as that. It may sound barbaric but it sometimes worked.

Pat yourself on the back millennials – you made it. Now go out and exercise your right to rage at the newest generation coming up…this so called Generation Z. You tell them how tough it was back in the day, before apps and touch screens and water bottles with bits of fruit floating around in them.

Friday, 11 March 2016

How to Care For Your American Refugee…

To all Canadians,

As much as it pains me to say it, Donald Trump could actually become president. Yes, this was all very hilarious eight months ago when it was about as likely as a Guns and Roses reunion, and well...you know what happened there.  How could this be you ask? Let’s just say Jesse the Body Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sonny Bono are all reminders that it is never good practice to underestimate the American voter.

Of course in typical Canadian fashion, we have already invited the whole lot of them to move up here when things go sideways. I mean, can you imagine poor old Vermont trying to live with the Donald? Vermont, with its maple syrup and Birkenstocks, who is practically already Canadian? They wouldn’t last a week.

So if you take in an American refugee, or whole family for that matter, feel free to use the following tips to make their transition to the north easier.

1.      Don’t talk politics. Remember, they have been through a very traumatic election season. Some of them made some very bad decisions and some may have even forgotten to vote, and it wouldn’t be sporting of you to remind them of this.

2.      Most American refugees will be of the more liberal type and quite possibly suffering from PSTD. Avoid trigger words such as Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin and NASCAR.

3.      Don’t take them immediately to the hospital for a checkup.  They’re not used to free shit.

4.      Don’t mention the wall. Unless they are talking about the Canadian wall. Then tell them we start building in the summer.

5.      Feed them comfort food, such as KFC and Big Gulp. Supersize may not be quite as super here, but they should have no problem keeping their diabetes levels up. (Canadians are headed that direction anyway, but we’re still at more of a diabetes-lite stage)

6.      Americans like TV as much as Canadians. Be sure to introduce them to such soothing Canadian classics as Road to Avonlea and the Beachcombers. If they are homesick, you could try The Trailer Park Boys.

7.      Try and explain how the emergency response system works here. 911 should be used as an alternative for any situation where they would normally be compelled to shoot someone in the face.

8.      Break the cycle. Even if you think they are ready, under no circumstances should you allow them to go to the following places: hunting supply stores, rodeos, speedways, county fairs or anywhere where they could score crystal meth.

9.      Avoid talking about religion. Using the phrase “the lord works in mysterious ways” is not an acceptable explanation as to why Donald Trump became the leader of the free world.

10. Taxes. This will be a tricky concept for them to grasp. Just tell them that by giving up 40% of their future earnings, they are entitled to adopt a smug sense of self-righteousness shared by all Canadians when we talk about our health care system.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

All the Young Dudes

Every high school talent show across the land pretty much unfolds in the same way. There are some good acts and some bad acts and a few individuals who have heard the term tone deaf, but don’t know it applies to them. Standard fare usually includes a troupe of dancing girls (containing one leader who has clearly been in competitive dance since age four, flanked by six others who spend the whole time crashing into each other, always one beat behind), perhaps a comedy act and some homemade poetry that may induce motion sickness. But those are not the bones of the matter. The real spine of the show of course is the bands.

Like the rest of the acts, the band performances vary according to a number of things such as level of experience, measure of stage fright, quality of equipment, and plain old talent – or lack thereof. Granted, it is terribly difficult to sound good in a wide open cafeteria when you are singing through a guitar amp and you’re bass player has not actually learned any notes yet.

My firsthand experience in these matters comes from back in the olden days when I used to host a coffee house at the school. Through this, I have endured (mostly in good humour) karaoke, morose singer songwriters and punk bands that have obviously not practiced as a unit more than three times.

Occasionally, I would become cranky, like the time I was working the door, and a couple of young punks tried to get in for free. Two long haired, skinny little metal heads - one blond wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt and the other with dark hair sporting a Pantera t-shirt - just like Beavis and Butthead. It was only a two dollar cover charge which neither could procure from the depths of their pockets. I think they were about 14 at the time, and had a combined weight of about 150 pounds.

I had to lay it down for them. “Hey guys…you have to pay to get in, just like everyone else. Even the performers have to pay to get in.”

“What about if we perform? Can we pay half? ” Beavis asks, grinning like a maniac.

“Yeah” says Butthead, “We live like, one block away. We’ll go get our guitars, and find a dollar.”

I agreed to the deal just to get rid of them, as I was certain they would get distracted along the way and never return. Besides I was not up for sitting through another desecrating instrumental version of Stairway to Heaven. Not five minutes went by when I looked out the window and damned if they weren’t trudging across the parking lot, both with a guitar in hand and carrying a giant amp that banged against their legs with each step, forcing them to zig zag like drunken sailors. They still had no money but I let them in anyway because the show was half over. I told them I would slot them in between angst ridden poetry girl and bad punk band with no singer.

Angst ridden poetry girl finished and the metal head kids set up their amps, while I braced myself for a cringe-worthy performance of Free Bird… or worse. And yea, the stars did align, for the two tiny metal heads did burst forth with great musical ability and stirred the crowd with a righteous rendition of Green Onions. I’m not kidding. These little buggers launched into the Booker T classic like they were delta blues veterans. The way they traded riffs and grooved along you would think you were standing in a juke joint in Memphis on a Saturday night. It’s get better though. For the second song, one of them (Black Sabbath shirt) puts down his guitar and grabs the microphone. Pantera shirt starts into the opening riff of Rooster by Alice and Chains. By this time I’m grinning like an idiot and looking over at the punk band who has unenviable task of following this performance. I'm making sure they are watching how it's supposed to be done.

It turns out that Black Sabbath shirt can sing. I mean he can really sing. Not like a 15 year old with a shaky voice but more like a front man on the stage at Lollapalooza. They tore through Rooster with just the guitar and voice without a hitch. It was a glorious relief to have my preconceived notions proved wrong. I don’t really remember if punk band with no singer was half decent or horrible but either way, they didn’t burn a spot in my brain like the two little metal heads.

A year to two later, I found out that there was a third long haired guitar player from around the same grade – we’ll call him Metallica shirt, who, at another talent show joined Pantera shirt onstage for a scorching rendition of Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix. Once again, they played well beyond their years and in my opinion, stole the show. I don't know if there was something in the water in the neighbourhood where these kids came from, but they sure as hell could play.

Fast forward 10 years or so and you will be happy to know that these boys have done rather well for themselves. If we are throwing around names, then let it be known that Black Sabbath shirt is called Taylor Perkins and he sings in a band called Bleeker Ridge, which was last seen touring across the country with the likes of Papa Roach and Buckcherry. He is joined in this band by Mike Van Dyk -otherwise known as Metallica t-shirt - who plays bass. The last character, formerly referred to as Pantera shirt, is Timmy Kehoe and he holds down the lead guitar spot in a vicious metal band called Adrenechrome. Mike Van Dyk also plays bass in this band because his love of metal runs very deep.

And so it stands, that long ago I was reminded of some life lessons. Don’t judge a CD by its cover, and sometimes letting a couple of kids in to the coffee house for free is the right thing to do. Oh…and Kehoe and Perkins, you guys still owe me two bucks.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Fashion at 40 Below

The perfect storm descended upon our house last week, when the snow-filled winds blew in off Georgian Bay and met up with a stubbornly eighth grader, causing power outages, road closures and subsequently several arguments and no less than 3 trips to the mall.

The non-parenting translation is as follows: Snow falls and parents discover boy has no boots. All parties go to town. Parents point out several pairs of sensible boots. Boy becomes teenagerly and is not receptive to fashion suggestions placed forth by uncool parents. All parties go to a new store and repeat process.

I use the term boots loosely, because to me that defines something that comes at least halfway up your shin and will keep your foot warm and dry. The boy, on the other hand, has a more liberal acceptance of what classifies winter footwear, which apparently includes flimsy hiking shoes and high top sneakers.

Those of you who own a teenager can back me when I say that one’s social status is hopelessly and inexorably dependent on one’s choice of boots. Yes, it’s a real life adolescent problem that rivals the horror of like, totally slow Wi-Fi or only getting three smiley faces on your Instagram post. As such, it makes sense that the possibility of losing a couple of toes to frostbite is a small price to pay to avoid the un-coolness of clumping around the school yard in massive snowmobile boots.  So off to town we went, in search of a new pair of boots, where after several unsuccessful stops, things came to a head at the Work Wearhouse. 

“How about these insulated rubbers? It says they’re good to minus 40.” Says I.

“Really dad? I guess it’s fine if you want your only son to be shunned by his peers and have to spend all lunch hour standing under the monkey bars with Gordon Lewinsky.”

“Is he the one with the scab collection?”


“Okay then…how about these?”

“You want me to look like a ski lift operator?” 

 And so it went until a compromise was reached. A leather hiking boot of sorts – cut well above the ankle with a decent insulation value. I bought them a half size too big so he can wear them next year and God help us if they fall out of favour.

To be perfectly honest, I knew this day was coming, because of course I went through the same thing in grade 8 when I needed new boots. Back in the day there was only one acceptable option and that was the coveted Greb Kodiak work boot, which had absolutely no tread and zero insulation but I knew they would pair nicely with my Lumberjack coat. (Usually I had to wear this over my ski coat, but whatever - it preserved the look). The girl’s version was the Cougar boot with the red tongue and the brown imitation leather that would start peeling off after they were exposed to air. In the tough world of early teen fashion, anything else was completely unacceptable. So…imagine my surprise when my mother went shopping without me and then came to the school to drop off a pair of Sorels - the very largest, warmest, most unhip boot ever. Jesus Christ mom… I’m not going on an Arctic expedition, I’m just trying to stand around and look cool. What’s next?  You want me to wear a hat and cover up my wicked feathered hair? (Which by the way I was growing out so I could look exactly like David Lee Roth).

The boots and the hat are simply the tip of the stupid “fashion over comfort” iceberg we all rode as teens such as the open coat look, only bested by the slightly more asinine no coat look. Or the “I’m too tough for mitts” stage. Oh yeah, and you know what the most non-waterproof piece of footwear on the planet is? Desert boots, which I diligently wore outside in the slush until they built up that crusty salt stain and became ruined.

 To the fully formed adult brain, it seems daft to suffer needlessly under the name of fashion, but clearly I get it. We have all been there in various forms, depending on the era you came up in. I’m pretty sure back in 1981, my sister and her friends had those jeans where you needed to use pliers to get them zipped up. Combine that with a pair of high heels and it’s a wonder more of them didn’t pass right out in the front row of the Hall and Oates concert. So the next time your teen refuses to wear a coat in November, let them go out confident and looking stunningly cool. If they come back shivering and with wet feet and you can tell them about the time you stood outside a club in the middle of winter, in a t-shirt, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the band to come back on. Coats are for sissies.