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. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Things your wife or girlfriend does that you probably don’t even know about

Much as I try to model myself after the enlightened gents I read about in Men’s Health magazine, with their perfect hygiene, zero body fat and “notes of bergamot” cologne, I remain an unpolished lout in many ways. I’m not saying I’m a lost cause, but after being married for a good number of years, I still leave my beard in the sink, the toilet seat up, and I don’t smell like bergamot, if bergamot is even a real thing. We’re not talking about mortal sins here but smaller offenses, like sometimes when we are at the pub, I peer over my wife’s shoulder, pretending to look for the waiter when I am actually watching the game.

As such, I count myself lucky to cohabitate with someone who puts up with a fair amount of shenanigans and still does my laundry even though I sometimes leave crumpled up wet towels in the hamper. I know, it takes two seconds to hang up a towel but men have domestic deficiencies that can’t be nagged or even beaten out of us.  In terms of household evolution, we have reached somewhere between Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens – meaning we know we shouldn’t drink the milk straight from the carton, but we still do anyway.

To that end, Mrs. Rock and Roll Librarian has conducted herself admirably throughout, only occasionally being forced to fly off the handle and remind me that her gardening wheel barrow is not to be used to mix concrete in or that the boy and I should not play lacrosse in the house, even if we are only using a tennis ball. In light of this type of behaviour that many men exhibit, we should at least understand a few of the wondrous things that the wives and girlfriends do that we don’t even realize.

1.      She waters the plants- apparently you have to do this every three days or they will die. I always assumed that the ones in our house were fake or that maybe we had a gardener come in and do it.

2.      She changes the toilet paper roll – most men see an empty roll as a contest to see how long they can go before the significant other will cave in and change it. We know how, we just don’t like doing it.

3.      She un-balls your socks before washing them – this is a thing at our house. Stinky socks from the two boys, concealing sand, bits of grass and strange odours. I am learning to un-ball them when I throw them in the hamper, but there is a lot of muscle memory telling me otherwise.

4.      She makes sure there are nail clippers and dental floss in the house – those items don’t magically appear in the medicine cabinet you know. She has to go out to a store and actually buy it, bring it home and tuck it nicely into your toiletry kit.

5.      She dusts – I have learned that dusting is something people actually do and is not just an old timey thing you see in the movies. Someone has to take a wet cloth or duster and go over everything, physically moving the knick-knacks, cleaning them, and then placing them back in their exact location. Sounds like a waste of time, yes, but apparently if you don’t do it, your house will start to resemble the Adamms family mansion.

6.      She buys fruits and vegetables –You  told your wife you would take care of the shopping this week and came home with 45 pounds of various meats, two boxes of cereal and a jug of milk. How did those apples and pears get in the crisper? Hmmm, they must have come with the fridge.

7.      She makes you drink water – If women didn’t do this, men would be chronically dehydrated, considering our favourite drinks are coffee and beer. How many times after having consumed two pitchers of beer, right before bed, has your wife silently handed you an Advil and a big glass of water, then walked away.                                                                                                                                                                
8.      She makes sure you don’t leave the house looking like an idiot. – We can dress ourselves easily enough, its whether or not we risk public ridicule by leaving the house in what we have chosen. “If I wear a tie can I still wear jeans? No? Okay thanks love.”  Trust me, your wife knows more than you do, so if she says you can’t pull off skinny jeans, then dude…you really can’t pull off skinny jeans.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Cultural Phenomenon Gone Bad – A list of 10

Sometimes the Rock and Roll Librarian likes to channel his inner grumpy old man, shaking an imaginary cane at the Starbucks and reminding everyone that coffee should be drunk black, with the only acceptable accompaniment being a shot of brandy. In the old days, that and a couple of unfiltered “Export A” greens was a perfectly good breakfast, at least according to my Granddad and he lived to be well over 60.

Recently though, strange things have begun to creep into our cultural consciousness that remind us things are not as they used to be. Twerking? Instagraming your lunch? What the hell man. And who decided that we needed an updated version of Spiderman every two years until the end of time? Some stuff you shouldn't mess with and some stuff should not have been invented – I’m looking at you Auto Tune. Maybe we need to be more discerning about which daft ideas we allow to consume us as the flavor of the day. And hey you hipsters - stop buying up all the Goddamn vinyl – you’re driving up the price for the real collectors.     
The following is basically a list of questionable stuff that has gone sideways since Seinfeld went off the air. Evidently, some of this will kill you now, but wouldn't have back in my day.

1.       Paris Kardashian syndrome – This is a recent phenomenon where you can become a celebrity by having a daddy with lots of money. You don’t have to actually do anything except frequently post to your twitter account and make the odd sex tape.

2.       Soy Exploitation – The soy bean was fine on its own for thousands of years as a staple in the Asian diet. It should never have become the main ingredient in…well everything, and especially should never appear in the same sentence as frappucino or latte.                                                                             

3.       Gluten Sensitivity – I’m pretty sure gluten sensitivity was invented by the food industry as a clever way of marketing to hypochondriacs. Gluten is a necessary part of life…like msg. No one actually knows what it does, except that when you take it away, it creates flavor sadness.

4.       Water bottles – From the way people cart water bottles around these days, you would think humans had been pushed to the brink of extinction from being dangerously dehydrated all the time. Eight glasses a day? Tell that to the Masai warriors, who survive on one sip of sandy well-water each day while tracking antelope over marathon like distances.

5.       Concussions – What has happened to sports? Kids are getting concussed these days from badminton birdies. Somehow as soon as they changed from the medically acceptable term of getting your bell rung to concussion, incident rates went up 2000 %. In my day we used to get a concussion, and…then. Okay… lost my  train of thought

6.       Vaccines that will kill you, or at least render you autistic – I have a vaccination scar on my arm. It kept me from getting polio, measles, scarlet fever, probably the plague and God knows what else. How did not getting vaccinated become a thing?

7.       Every singer that sounds like they are perpetually auditioning for The Voice – Listen to some Joe Cocker and come back when you stop trying to sound like Rhianna. (That is a bad thing in case you are confused on where I stand)

8.       Craft Brews Gone Berserk – Hops is one of the things that makes beer delicious when used in a judicious manner. Somewhere along the line, every craft brewer out there thought they needed to out-hop and out-weird everyone else. Super-Hoptastic Banana Peel Brew is not a good idea for a flavor.

9.       Inability to Fail – How about a generation of kids who legally can’t fail a grade, be cut from a team or experience any other type of disappointment in life? This trend will keep the drug companies and therapists in business for years to come.

10.   Names that have weird spellings but are really the same name. Allisa, Alyssa, Elisa, Alisha. Are you being a cool parent or are you just making life difficult for her teachers? Four variations of Alyssa in the same class? Go sit next to Ayden.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Love the Song...Hate the Band. A Top 10

For whatever reason, it just happens. A band that you would otherwise hate somehow breaches your good taste defenses and the next thing you know Billie Jean is on all of your play lists. You might even find yourself defending them just a little bit.  “Bon Jovi? Eww… give me a break. Oh, except for Dead or Alive, that’s such a good song.”

Stranglehold – Ted Nugent

Turn down the suck: All the other screeching crap by Ted Nugent sounds perfectly suited for the drunken juvenile rednecks that it was written for. Wang Dang Sweet Poontang? Come on…the guy is clearly a lunatic. Hey Ted…Foghat called and you’ve been cut from that shitty 70’s reunion tour.

Turn up the good: If Ted Nugent only wrote this one song in his entire career, he could peacefully go to his grave as a legend.  The intro is a growly, grab you by the throat kind of guitar riff that Angus Young himself would be proud of. A long song at over 8 minutes, it is not your typical Ted Nugent fare. The funky break-down in the middle features a hypnotic bassline underneath some really cool guitar work that is more Allman Brothers than anything else. The Nuge may be a huge A-hole, but he done good on this one.

Silent Lucidity – Queensryche

Turn down the suck: Queensryche is a progressive metal band. Yes, it is exactly as bad as it sounds. Panterra meets Dream Theatre. There is good reason that they have fourteen albums and 150 other songs you have never heard of.

Turn up the good: Silent Lucidity has this kind of building thing where it just sucks you in. All the layers of guitars, strings and vocals somehow come together in a masterful way. Is it cheesy? Could be, but a little cheese (if it’s packaged well) can bring even the most hardened of the metal-heads and the prog rockers together at last.

Kid Rock – Bawitdaba
Turn down the suck: Is the Kid a rapper, a country duet star or a wannabe Bob Seger Junior? All of the above choices lead to misery, as he’s not very good at any of them.

Turn up the good: I don’t know what they are saying at the start of this song, but whatever it is, it really gets me going. By the time “MY NAME IS KIIIIIIIIIIDDDDDDD” kicks in, I’m moshing around my kitchen, like its 1997. Great song. Period.

Motley Crue – Kickstart my Heart

Turn down the suck: Motley Crue is a generic hair metal band that somehow clawed its way above the other crap bands of the time. They had a few not-so-edgy hits and they kind of mattered until Guns and Roses came around and blasted everybody out of the water.

Turn up the good: With the guitars revving up like engines, a thundering bass line and the drums kicking you in the guts, there is no better work-out song than this. This is the finest offering from the Crue, hands down. Oh yeah, the video is pretty kick-ass too.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Give it away

Turn down the suck: Disclaimer – I have no hate in my heart for The Chili Peppers, but neither will I ever willingly play one of their albums. They went from almost unlistenable weird surf-funk to slightly more palatable and much more massive mainstream. Anthony Kiedis evolved from that whole speak-singing thing to a more seasoned vocalist, but still not what you would call great.

Turn up the good: Flea is a bad-ass bass player and he holds this mother down like nobody’s business. This with the rapid fire guitar riffs and Kiedis’ weird vocal styling’s make Give it Away just the coolest thing since George Clinton emerged from the mother ship. The lyrics are questionable but we don’t even care because it comes with a freaky video where a bunch of silver painted dudes are jumping around in the desert.  What’s not to like?

Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight

Turn down the suck: Let me spell out the disaster that is Phil Collins – solo artist. You Can’t Hurry Love, Easy Lover, Against All Odds and Sussudio. That there is some serious adult contemporary schlock.

Turn up the good: In the Air Tonight is a wickedly atmospheric song with one of the greatest drum breaks in the history of anything, anywhere. It is possible however, that most everyone who owns this album has never listened to the other tracks and that’s ok. They would only lead to disappointment after being stacked up against this beauty.

Molly Hatchet – Flirtin with disaster

Turn down the suck: If you took Lynyrd Skynyrd and made it a bit whiter and lot crappier then you would be approaching Molly Hatchet. Biker music covered in biscuits and gravy that all starts to sound the same after a while.

Turn up the good: This is the type of song that makes you drive a little faster and wish the road was a little longer just so you could keep going. The tempo is perfect, the guitars are epic and damn ya’ll if you don’t like it.

Radiohead - Creep

Turn down the suck: I tried to like Radiohead, I really did. I don’t hate ‘em, it’s just that they are so damn mopey. Sounds like electronica gone sad. Hey Thom Yorke, lighten up dude.

Turn up the good: Creep…um, yep, still mopey, but cool lyrics, cool guitars and it’s kind of catchy. Apparently Thom Yorke hates this song, which shouldn’t surprise us. He only likes the full on angst version of Radiohead. Too bad the rest of the world happens to like Creep better. Oh to be a tormented artist.

Reflecktor – Arcade Fire

Turn down the suck: In my opinion Arcade Fire is over-produced, over rated and overall yuck. Too many instruments and vocals layered overtop of inaccessible melodies.

Turn up the good: Yes I know it’s very popular and trendy but I worked hard at listening to this and I have, begrudgingly come to like it. I suspect that the Arcade Fire purists will probably shun me for declaring my love for it.  Why don’t you go make out with the Radiohead purists and leave me alone.

Iron Maiden – Run to the Hills

Turn down the suck: If you like banging your head against a brick wall to loud staccato guitar riffs and high pitched vocals that sound the same song after song then Iron Maiden is your band. They had a good formula back in 1982 with The Number of the Beast but they could never really recreate the magic and everything since then has been a weak copy.

Turn up the good: Run to the Hills, on the bright side, is bold stand out where we hear the quintessential Bruce Dickinson vocals that every metal band has since tried to emulate. If you’re a singer and can handle the vocals on Run to the Hills, you should probably try and start your own metal band because dude…you’re awesome.

Friday, 9 January 2015

An Open Letter all Parents of Grade 7' me if you need to

 Dear parents of Grade Seven students all across the land, 

If your child has recently declared that they are the only one in their class (or possibly the world) without a cellular phone, I am offering up my name to use in your defense. I swear by the ghost of Steve Jobs that my boy does not currently, nor will he in the near future, own a cell phone - at least until he can come home from basketball practice without leaving at least one shoe at the gym. So there you go…you can tell your child they are not the only one.

Maybe I’ll start a list one day of other parents who won’t let their 12 year olds have a phone, so that we can stick together and share the heat because believe me, I know the battle you’re fighting. You are up against the almighty peer pressure, and the stakes are way high. In my day, I only needed a $29 pair of Cougar boots and a plaid lumber jacket from Zellers so I could fit in with the rest of the cool kids. Now, according to my son’s somewhat suspicious intel, all his classmates are now in possession of a mobile device. From his account, you’d think Apple had been standing on the street corners this past Christmas, just giving away the iPhone 6 to any old tween, like candy canes at the Santa Claus parade.

I am indeed a mean one, Mr. Grinch, because upon hearing his plea I really didn’t feel the slightest twinge of pity for this kid.  Yes, it’s a pretty cool technology that allows you to call up the sum total knowledge of the universe in a nano-second, but the boy only has a few hours a day when he’s not plugged in. At his school, they still play ball hockey at recess – much thanks to the principal for allowing it.  If I ever drove by at lunch hour and saw him standing around with a clump of kids texting each other, I would likely snap. There would be a whole bunch of yelling and broken phones and charges pending.

As for the boy, I am not even remotely worried that this signals the social downfall of a smart, athletic and once popular child who will now be treated no better than a leper. What would worry me is paying an extra $50 a month so that my kid can text me from class – which they are forbidden to do – to tell me he needs a new binder. And don’t get me started on responsibility. A certain 12 year old whose iPod and  Tablet screen both look like the windshield of a Fiat that’s been in a head on with a gravel truck, is not ready to look after an expensive phone. The school still has a phone and a very capable secretary who will call me if he gets sick. If I need to contact the boy, we just reverse the procedure and I call the school. I can even email his teacher directly! Imagine that.

And so again I say to you, when your child claims they are the only one without a cell, you call them out. Tell them there is at least one poor kid in the land of Ontario Canada, whose dad is very mean and won’t allow him to have a phone either. Mean with love I say.