February 25, 2010

Tom Brokaw explains Canada to Americans

In case you missed it, NBC's Tom Brokaw provided a lovely and touching portrait of Canada for the American audience just before the opening of the Winter Olympic Games. Aw...geez...we are blushing a little...

February 18, 2010

Canada's last WWI veteran dies

Doug Babcock

The passing of Mr. Babcock marks the end of an era. His family mourns the passing of a great man. Canada mourns the passing of the generation that asserted our independence on the world stage and established our international reputation as an unwavering champion of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. - Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Canada was called to arms in August 1914 and the country quickly amassed a army of tens of thousands within months to serve alongside Great Britain. In the end, Canada lost 67,000 soldiers with another 173,000 wounded. It was an enormous sacrifice for the young and small country which fought for the first time as a distinct unit under a Canadian-born commander.

Mr. Babcock is the last known member of this great generation that helped forge a new era and contributed to the beginning of vigorous nation-building. May he rest in peace.

Not going gently into that good night

The suicide of brilliant fashion designer Alexander McQueen last week predictably sent ripples through the fashion and entertainment industries. Folks were right to mourn his death, as with any loss of human life. Of course, the fact that he killed himself mars his memory and reputation.

Suicide is a mighty difficult topic to talk about especially in Canada and the United States, where we live in a death-defying culture. It might in fact be trait of most of the northern hemisphere's countries. I am convinced that our reactions to suicide are closely linked to how we generally approach death overall. Of course, one's religious tradition also has a mighty powerful impact. If you believe suicide is a mortal sin then your reaction to a suicide will be loaded with harsh judgment.

I have lost an uncle, two cousins, and two friends to suicide. Of the five, four were men. The cause of death varied, from gunshot, to carbon monoxide, to overdose, and also to hanging. Experts say that how a person chooses to end their life can tell you a great deal about their state of mind. Experts have also written about how those left behind go through a vicious cycle of shock, anger, sadness, and grief. For some the cycle last months and for others it takes years.

Surely only proselytizers can view all suicides as the same act. There are so many contexts to suicide and they ought to be considered if only to be understood, let alone forgiven. It's hard to reconcile how a 9 year-old can take his life but we seem to understand when a dying 90 year-old wants to end hers. Of course, in our culture children have no agency so we cannot fathom how a "minor" can make any decisions for themselves.

Call me heretical but I am convinced that in some cases suicide is a rational response to a most irrational world. Do not confuse that previous sentence with me advocating suicide. Trying to understand something is not akin to supporting it. Consider the people who jumped out of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. Can any of us really negatively judge them for choosing their death on their own term? Can any of us imagine the horror in having to make that decision, to stay and die or to jump and die?

If we can understand why people would jump 70 stories to their certain death why are we any less compassionate if a man walks into his bedroom and hangs himself? If we understand that on 9/11 the people in the towers felt that they had no other choice but to jump as a last act of dignity and freedom why can't we also understand that the man who hangs himself similarly feels that he is trapped without any other choice of action but to take his own life?

We are not asked to be brought into this world and there are many whose lives are utterly miserable. We seem far more understanding when one has a terminal illness but in reality there are just as many people who suffer from terminal angst. I think of one of my passed cousins and it was clear that his quality of life was no less terrible than a dying man's. As hard as his death was it became obvious that he was never at peace while alive. Taking one's life, as tragic as it is, may be the highest act of free will a human has.

At least he is not suffering any more

February 16, 2010

Gotta love that new vulva smell

Every once in a while I am shocked and eewed by the marketing gurus. Case in point is a new product being marketed to straight men called "Vulva" [link NSFW] vaginal scent. Uh...yeah...er....ok. It sells for $35 per little vial of the stuff. Check out the ridiculous ad below. It's meant to be serious, by the way...


February 8, 2010

The Griswolds are back!!

Vacation rental site Homeway.com has resurrected everyone's favourite family for more misadventures in travel.

It's a hoot to see Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo back as Clark "Sparky" Griswold and Ellen Griswold.

In a two-part short film called "Hotel Hell Vacation" poor Clark is once again at the mercy of hoteliers. The front desk manager is note-perfect as the snooty and borish foil to poor Mr. Griswold.

Haitian crisis brings out the songs

In the wake of the unbearable tragedy that Haiti has been bearing these past few weeks well-minded celebrities have been gathering to record themselves singing about it. Well, sort of...

The most high-profile recordings are actually do-overs, with uber producer Simon Cowell herding one group to re-record REM's "Everybody Hurts", and Lionel Ritchie and Quincy Jones corralling 100 celebrities to remake "We are the World".

During the recent "Hope for Haiti Now" all the songs performed were existing songs performed by the original artist or covered by others, with one sole exception, the the hastily authored single "Not Gonna Leave You Stranded" by Bono, Jay-Z, and Rhianna. If you are sufficiently moved and/or guilty you can purchase the song(s) here.

With a little help from her hand

During a recent interview Sarah Palin opted for a Grade 8 solution to a Ph.D-sized problem...

February 6, 2010

In praise of guitar heroes

Okay, so like thousands of youngsters I spent copious amounts of time doing some air guitar moves in my bedroom, as I listed to my tapes on my boom box from Sears. Aw, sweet memories of tape-to-tape dubbing and auto-playback.

While I never did go on to become a real guitar hero (sniff, sniff) I thought I would share some of my favourite guitar moments...Note these are favourites; I am not claiming these are all-time best or greatest guitar songs, just those that have always been part of my life's soundtrack. The year in parentheses refers to original release year.

Take it Back (1994) --Pink Floyd
Guitar god David Gilmour takes us into to stratosphere with this grand tune and his unmistakable effects heroics.

Big Love (1987) --Lyndsey Buckingham
The guitar hero of Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham takes the 1980s pop-synth hit and turns it into a lesson in how to play the guitar. Watch a master at work with a less-is-more brilliance.

The Fly (1992) -- U2
Not only is this the best version ever of this game-changing song but it also has what is likely The Edge's greatest solo. This was the sound of U2 chopping down the Joshua Tree.

All Along the Watchtower (1968) -- Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix took a mopey Bob Dylan tune and reinterpreted it into this guitar masterpiece. This will remain as one of rock's greatest guitar songs.

Edie (Ciao Baby) (1989) -- The Cult
The song that will forever define my first year of university, and my own sense of emancipation. I know most folks prefer "She Sells Sanctuary" which is a great song in its own right, but "Edie" has a special place in my heart.

Welcome to the Boomtown (1986) -- David and David
This duo released one album, "Boomtown" and then promptly broke up and went their separate ways. A shame, for it remains one of my favourite records of the 1980s and this song was played to death in my house. Incidentally, David and David came together to help Sheryl Crow create her stunning debut album in 1993.

Jackie (1987) -- Sinead O'Connor
I do not know much about guitarist Marco Pirroni but his work on this song from Sinead's astonishing debut album has always left me breathless. When matched with that vocal ability there is only magic.

The Maker (1989 ) -- Daniel Lanois
The genius Lanois is responsible for some of the most respected albums of the last 20 years in his role as producer and inspired session player. In between his producing duties he has produced a few albums of his own, including this gem.

February 5, 2010

Songs in U2 minor

While many people know much of the U2 canon due to the popularity of the band's music, there are a handful of very special songs that you've heard by other artists that were actually written by U2 and/or Bono. Some of these are veritable gems and some of my favourite songs beautifully interpreted by other artists. Here is a sample:

She's a Mystery to Me (1989)
Bono wrote this gorgeous song for the inimitable Roy Orbison, who provides such a stunning vocal as only he could. This song would feature on Orbison's last album, released after his death. A lovely story about the song here.

Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad
Bono wrote this melancholy song with Frank Sinatra in mind but the song was popularized by Canadian jazz singer Matt Dusk. I am not a fan of Dusk's version, much preferring that of Nancy Sinatra. Check it out here (featuring Adam Clayton on bass and Larry Mullen Jr on drums).

When Love Comes to Town (1988)
Bono wrote this song for BB King and it debuted on their 1988 double album "Rattle and Hum". King has since adopted it into his own recordings and live performances.

You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart (1993)
This song was written by Bono, Gavin Friday, and Maurice Seezer for the soundtrack to the movie "In the Name of the Father", and features Sinead O'Connor on the main vocal. She often plays the song in her concerts.

Miserere (1
Bono and Zucchero co-wrote this lovely song and it has been covered so many times, but I have always preferred it sung by the great Pavarotti. In this version, at Royal Albert Hall, Zucchero is on piano and the Big Voice is standing nearby. This breaks my heart every time.

North and South of the River (1995)
Bono and The Edge wrote this song with Christy Moore, who provides a solid vocal interpretation of the struggle for a couple who live on opposites sides of the River Liffey.

Goldeneye (1995)
Written by Bono and The Edge for the soundtrack to the 007 flick of the same name. Delivered by the one and only Tina Turner. This marked Pierce Brosnan's debut as Bond.

The Wanderer (1993)
Written by U2 and sung by the Man in Black himself, and featured on U2's album "Zooropa". As if anyone else could have sung this song. RIP Johnny Cash.

Slow Dancing (1993)
Bono woke up one day, he recounts, with a Willie Nelson song in his head called "Slow Dancing". Turns out it wasn't in Nelson's catalogue, so Bono goes out and makes sure it becomes one. Beautiful and quiet little gem.

Heroine (1986)
Despite her tough anti-U2 stance for a while Sinead O'Connor's first recording was actually this single written by The Edge for the soundtrack to the movie "Captive". Features Larry Mullen Jr on drums. By the way, Sinead would record yet another song with U2 in 1997 called "I'm Not Your Baby".

Put 'Em Under Pressure (1990)
The Irish World Cup theme of 1990, produced, arranged, and co-written by Larry Mullen Jr.

Bonus track...

Sweet Fire of Love (1987)
All four members of U2 recorded this great tune with Robbie Robertson during "The Joshua Tree" sessions. It appeared on Robertson's album "Fallen Angel". The last minute is sweet vintage The Edge.