Midterms Anxiety

“A Penny for the Old Guy” T.S. Eliot The Hollow Men

“Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Pierre Elliot Trudeau 1968 Speech to the Washington Press Club

I remember feeling anxious around midterm exams at university. They always seemed to come up so quickly. You had just settled into your new schedule, aced getting to the bus on  time, and staked out your favourite seat in the lecture hall when: BOOM! You had to start thinking of regurgitating stuff you barely had time to gurgitate the first time around. Is “gurgitate” a word? I triggered spell check with it, so I’m thinking, “No”. But if “regurgitate” is to bring up again, then wouldn’t “gurgitate” just be a fancy word for taking in the first time? Something to ponder. In any case, I remember taking a spring course (pro tip: spring and summer courses are the BEST. You still get a credit for them, but they often don’t include an exam AND a term paper due to the time restraints) on water resources with one of my favourite professors. The course went every day for 3 hours and it was all over in 3 weeks in June. On the first day of class he said, “The good news is that there is no mid-term in this course because if we were to have one we’d have to have it tomorrow!” (It was a JOKE.)

Speaking of midterms, though: our American cousins to the south are having their midterm elections today, and I’m feeling a different kind of anxiety. Their system is set up so that everyone in the House of Representatives and about 1/3 of the Senate is facing re-election. Normally these mid-term elections are snooze fests, since it doesn’t involve the president and that’s what gets people excited. However, since the House and the Senate are both controlled by the Republican Party, this is America’s chance to change that by voting for Democrats to take either the House or the Senate (or both!). It won’t do a thing about the president, but it WOULD provide some much-needed balance that has been missing in the past two years. Even long-term Republicans are fed up with how the Republican Party has behaved since 2016, so there are stories of traditional Republicans “going the other way” this time. Now, all of this is just talk at this point, so it will be interesting to see how people actually vote today. People sometimes end up doing weird things in the voting booths (not THAT kind of weird, perv), so it’s anyone’s guess how the American political landscape will look tomorrow. If one of the chambers goes Democrat, then maybe we’ll actually see some real movement towards impeachment and a return to some kind of normalcy. Who can say? It’s weird being a Canadian in all this. We have no say in the election, but as Pierre Elliot Trudeau (Justin’s father for you millennials!) once famously used the “elephant and mouse analogy” to describe Canadian and American relations. Although this time it’s as if the elephant has rabies and the zookeepers don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. We are just a mouse in the straw saying, “Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!” [TRANSLATION: EUTHANIZE THIS MOTHERFUCKER, HE’S GOING TO DESTROY US ALL!]

Just yesterday, Great Britain celebrated Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes had this plan to blow up Parliament in 1605 during a special session that would have killed the king, queen, and a bunch of other government officials so he could USHER IN A CATHOLIC GOVERNMENT INSTEAD! (the nerve!). We’ll I’m happy to say (spoilers) that he was caught before it happened, and Great Britain remains Catholic free to this day. (God Save the Queen). I’m pretty sure that’s how it went. In any case, just in case those Catholics get any ideas, every year on November 5 British school children will burn effigies of Guy Fawkes and set off fireworks. They pay for these fireworks by collecting pennies from ADULTS, and the phrase, “A Penny for the old Guy?” is as common on November 5 in Great Britain as “Trick or Treat” is in North America on October 31.

Now, the current president hasn’t tried to actually blow up the government with gunpowder (as far as we know), but he has been trying to blow up everything that has made America a better country over the past little while. He’s enabled, emboldened, and embiggened (I’m pretty sure that’s a word) racists, misogynists, homophobes, xenophobes and hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobes (those that are afraid of big words) and just general assholery, and as a result the national conversation has turned ugly, mean and stupid. Today’s the day that every American can take a real and effective step in changing this. Don’t let the rest of us down.

If British school kids are still burning Guy Fawkes in effigy 400 years after trying to kill the government, will American kids be going door to door 400 years from now, asking adults for “A Penny for the Orange Guy”? Stay tuned!

United_States_Capitol_west_front_edit2

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

#teamcream

Okay you guys. I have to get the bad taste of that civic election post out of my mouth, so I’m going to talk to you today about creamed corn. I haven’t thought about creamed corn for about 15 years. Is this also the length of time that I have been married? It is. Is that a coincidence? It is NOT. My wife very early into our relationship made it perfectly clear that she DID NOT like creamed corn. Like, not at all. Up to that point, I hadn’t really formed a strong opinion on it. I mean, I think my Dad liked it, because it was a regular staple growing up, along with steamed peas and meatloaf. There’s something comforting about warmed cream corn. It’s warm like soup, but not as smooth. It doesn’t really smell like corn, and where does the cream come from? Also, David Lynch shared my wife’s distaste of it. He even personified sadness and pain in Twin Peaks as creamed corn, and had the man from another place refer to it as garmonbozia. I had to come up with an opinion pretty quickly, and it was this, “I don’t mind creamed corn, but I also don’t care if I ever eat it again.” and that’s how it stood for 15 years.

Until this past Monday night.

I was doing the usual weekly grocery shop after work, and for some reason when I went down the canned fruits and vegetables aisle (giving the Ethnic Juices aisle a wide berth thank you very much) my eyes focused in on a lone can of green giant creamed corn, mis-shelved among the pinto beans. This surely was a sign, wasn’t it? It was time to INTRODUCE MY DAUGHTER TO THE JOYS OF CREAMED CORN.

When I got home, I had to break the news to my wife gently.

“I know you don’t like creamed corn, but look what I bought tonight!” was my opening gambit, and I’ll admit it wasn’t super effective.

Nevertheless, we had cream corn last night, with chicken  thighs and rice, and I’m telling you this: it’s even better than I remember. My daughter was suspicious of the smell. She thought there was chicken in there. She didn’t want to try it at all, but I convinced her to put a little spoonful on her plate. My wife, in the spirit of reconciliation, even took a small amount. My daughter ate all the other food fairly quickly, but she is a master of delay and procrastination, and I could tell she was trying to wait us out without having tried the CC. I was on to her.

“Come on, you have to at least TRY it. It’s corn! You can even make all the Calvin faces you want.” She’s been getting into Calvin and Hobbes recently, and she is particularly good at making those faces that Calvin would make when he didn’t like something on his plate.

So after a tiny bite, and several Calvin faces later, our daughter announced, “I’ve had worse”.

Victory!

And my wife? “It’s still terrible. I could easily go another 15 years without having it again.”

Creamed Corn!

Garmonbozia[1]

GARMONBOZIA!

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

Civic Doody

It’s civic election time for a lot of communities across the province and country. My home town is no different. It’s a bit weird this year, because looking at the candidates for mayor, I really can’t honestly feel good about voting for any of them. Which is probably not a problem in the scheme of things, but it is SUPER LIKELY that the incumbent will win another turn. The incumbent always does, UNLESS IT IS 1957 AND YOUR NAME IS GEORGE SHARPE AND STEPHEN JUBA IS RUNNING AGAINST YOU. Did you know George Sharpe’s main claim to fame is that he was mayor who got rid of streetcars? I mean, how lame is THAT? Streetcars are cool. Man, I wish I was on a streetcar right now. Where was I? Oh yeah, civic politics. So, I hate to be that guy, but apathy is settling in over my urge to vote. I am seriously considering leaving the ballot blank for mayor and just focus on councillor and school trustees. Oh, and that goofy plebiscite about whether people should be allowed to cross the main intersection downtown. It’s weird that people even have opinions on this, isn’t it? You’d think mowing down an entire forest to make way for a bus route would rank higher on people’s concerns, but that just went ahead with nary a backward glance. Here’s my hot take on the intersection question: IT’S A TERRIBLE IDEA AND WE SHOULD ALLOW IT. I mean, crossing the busiest intersection in town will probably be fatal for many pedestrians, slow down traffic, and probably not do alot for business down there. I mean, what’s actually down there? A couple of banks and a couple of office buildings. There’s nothing down there that would make we want to cross the street, above OR below ground. But here’s the thing: that whole area needs renovations anyway, so if you are going to take the barricades down anyway for repairs, then just leave them down and see what happens for a year. If after a year we have discovered it was a terrible idea and people hate it and it has done nothing to enhance the “downtown experience”, then guess what? Just stick some barriers up again and we say we tried it. Is this overly simplistic?

Rather than leaving my ballot blank in the mayor’s column, I suppose I could just go for one of the more eccentric candidates out there as a protest vote. My daughter, who is currently in grade 4, has been working on a school project where she is supposed to research a candidate and report to the class. This sounds like a great idea, and a great way to engage kids in the democratic process. It has also ignited my own interest in some of the fringe candidates. My daughter blurted out at supper the other night, “My guy was ARRESTED!” My wife was all, “That’s enough, Audrey”, but upon closer inspection she was right! Apparently the candidate in question has a RESTRAINING ORDER against him (for an UNDISCLOSED TRANSGRESSION) and his campaign manager claimed that the candidate POCKET DIALED the person he was forbidden to contact….twice! I can’t remember the last time a mayoral candidate was actually arrested during a campaign. The criminal activity usually only comes to light after they’ve left office.

And there’s another guy who insists on wearing an “Order of Canadians” medal at every public appearance. He claims that it is “one step down” from the Order of Canada, but that turns out to be (are you ready for it?) NOT TRUE. It was a weird novelty brooch given out by some neighbourhood watch group in the north end of the city, and they have spoken up to say that they are embarrassed that their goofy thing is being used in such a way and have asked the candidate to give it back. He won’t. I’ve seen the pin in question and it really sort of DOES look like the Order of Canada, so it’s at the very least misleading and probably intentionally so. I do sort of admire the fact that he knows it means nothing, he’s been asked to return it, and yet there he is, still wearing it at every public appearance.

And how about that guy who really looks like Dr. Octopus? I can’t see myself voting for a supervillan. (And I’m not saying he’s handsome like Alfred Molina. I mean he’s got those square glasses and bowl haircut like the Doctor Octopus from the comic books. No thanks).

Another candidate is a self-styled “film-maker” but I haven’t seen any of his movies. Heck, I take pictures on my iPod but that don’t make me Ansel Adams, amirite? Anyway, this Spielbergian eccentric answers questions like “Which parties do you support?” with answers like, “The ones on Friday and Saturday”. I’m not even sure he’s trying to be funny, and there’s a certain messed up charm to the guy, I have to admit. He is also advocating for a “reverse toll bridge” which will pay cars $10 every time they cross over into the north end, providing that money is spent in the north end. *thinking face emoji. Which bridge, I can hear you wondering to yourselves? I’ve given this some thought, and I think the Slaw Rebchuk bridge makes the most sense. It gets you right into the north end quickly and efficiently from the downtown, and along with those $10 if every car was given complimentary ‘slaw to honour the former long-standing councillor, then that tips this candidate in my favour.

And of course there is the “angry candidate” whose entire platform seems to be written in ALL CAPS and is just a list of complaints without any real solutions or any unique vision for the city. Some could even say no vision at all, but I think that would suggest that any of the candidates had some kind of vision, aside from the reverse toll guy.

At the councillor level it doesn’t get a whole lot better. In my ward, the incumbent is retiring so it’s a bit of a free-for-all. One of the candidates was making a fuss about how some of the other candidates didn’t actually live in the ward they were running in. (Fair point). But then it was discovered that the candidate raising the issue doesn’t even live IN THE SAME CITY. Sure, she’s rented an apartment for the past few months to meet the legal requirements of the election, but her actual home is 40 minutes away. I’m not making any of this up! Still though, I’ve narrowed my choice down to two candidates for councillor. Both seem left-leaning, progressive, and experienced. Unless something horrible comes out about either of them in the next few days, it’s a real toss up. And if past experience teaches us anything, it’s that it is better to vote than not to vote, which is making my choice for mayor so difficult. Am I shirking my democratic right by leaving that part of the ballot blank? Or am I making a mockery of the democratic process by supporting the “reverse toll guy” or “Dr. Octopus”? I guess we’ll see what happens.

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

Return to New Zebedee

“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes”. John LeCarré

It’s such a cliché to say that “the book was better than the movie” that I hesitate to even bring it up. But I did. And there it is. In fact, it’s so common that what’s really worth pointing out are those rare movies that actually improve on their source material. Jaws comes to mind; so does The Godfather. You could make the case that The Shawshank Redemption is just as good as Stephen King’s original story, AND THAT’S IT. Those are the exceptions. (Okay, fine. The Wizard of Oz is a sentimental favourite, as is Mary Poppins, but I’ll allow no others).

So it probably comes as no surprise that The House with a Clock in its Walls movie doesn’t quite live up to the novel. The thing is, the movie gets some of it really really right, (and some of it really, really, really, really, head-scratchingly wrong), and it would have been something I think they could have easily fixed.

Needless to say, spoilers follow: Both for the 1973 novel and the 2018 movie.

The things they got right:

When this project was announced last year, I almost couldn’t believe it. John Bellairs, as many who follow this blog will know, is a sentimental childhood favourite of mine. He’s one of those authors that weaves such a perfect mood with his writing that whenever I am feeling down, I can turn to one of his books even now as an adult, and I am swept up in literary comfort food that warms me as it nourishes my soul. I’m sure you can think of that handful of special authors in your own life that fit this bill. If I had read Lucy Maude Montgomery as a kid, I’m sure she’d be on that list too, but I only got to her in the last couple of years.

The fact that John Bellairs died in 1991 and that his books have almost completely disappeared from bookstores and libraries made the movie announcement even more unexpected. If an adaptation was going to be made from one of his works, why didn’t it happen in the ’80s when he was still writing?

When the creative team and cast was announced, I was even more skeptical. Director Eli Roth was known mostly for his hardcore horror like Hostel and Cabin Fever. I knew he could do gore, but was he able to capture that magic (no pun intended) between Uncle Jonathan, Mrs. Zimmerman and Lewis? Could he re-create the New Zebedee in Capernaum County of my childhood? I am happy to say that he can and he DID.

His success in this area was helped greatly by the cast, obviously. When Jack Black and Cate Blanchett were cast as Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman I thought, “they are too young!” In my head, someone like Brendan Gleason would have been the perfect age and look for Uncle Jonathan, and Mrs. Zimmerman? Maggie Smith would have been ideal, but she already did that wizarding thing in Harry Potter (as did Brendan Gleason, come to think of it), so I guess we have Harry Potter to blame for stealing all the best actors for The House with a Clock in its Walls. There will no doubt be comparisons between this movie and the Harry Potter series anyway. I was worried, but needlessly so. From the first time we meet uncle Jonathan (wearing a kimono as he picks up his nephew Lewis Barnavelt at the bus depot), and Mrs. Zimmerman (wearing PURPLE from head to toe (yes!) and coming out of the secret passage between her home and the titular house (the one with the clock in its walls you guys), I knew these characters were in capable hands. The look was mostly there, but more importantly, the chemistry between the two of them was real and perfect. So they were about a decade (at least) younger than they should have been, I was happy they were close enough in age that it made sense that they were buddies. I could have watched twice as much dialogue between the two of them and not gotten tired of it. Perhaps there are deleted scenes with more Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman to look forward to? A quick word about Lewis: he was fine. Sure, he didn’t follow novel’s description of being overweight, but the young actor got across the nerdiness and socially awkwardness of the character while giving off a bit of a steam-punk vibe with those Captain Midnight goggles. I’ll allow those goggles, if only because Lewis wears a Sherlock Holmes hat at the beginning of Figure in the Shadows, so his penchant for cosplaying favourite characters is established in canon.

The set design was gorgeous, and the house looked as close to how I thought it looked in my head from the books as it possibly could. Sure, they added some magical flourishes that weren’t in the novel, but I thought they were done in the spirit of the novel so I was fine with them. The shots of the town and of Lewis at school also rang true, and it was so smart for them to set the story in the 1950s. But the best set-piece of all was the Oakridge cemetery, the setting for the pivotal “raising of the dead” scene. Whoever designed the set must have studied the book closely, as well as visited the real Oakridge cemetery on the outskirts of Marshall, Michigan. It even had the great quotation, “The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised” over the archway as you entered the cemetery.

Things they got WRONG.

But oddly enough, it was in this pivotal cemetery scene where the movie took a left turn from which it never really recovered. I know movie-making is a collaborative art, and when something goes wrong it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. In this case, I think we can look to the screenplay as the culprit; which is maddening since the story is really only one part of the Bellairs experience. The books create a mood and atmosphere that I feel the movie successfully captures in the first 2/3rds, only to squander it in the final act.

One of the things that makes the book so creepy is that Lewis tries to raise someone from the dead to impress the popular, athletic kid at school. Lewis uses some of the charms he finds in his uncle’s library and he does something in the cemetery, but it takes a few chapters until the reader is fully aware of the effects. There’s a wonderfully eerie scene in the novel where Uncle Jonathan, Mrs. Zimmerman and Lewis are out for a drive in the country, only to have Uncle Jonathan pull the car over when he thinks he hears another car behind them. After razzing him, “You know they DO allow other cars to drive on these roads,” Mrs. Zimmerman shares in Uncle Jonathan’s discomfort and the three of them drive frantically back to town, taking short cuts and detours with the two lights of a following car’s headlights always in their rear view. It’s only when they cross an iron bridge over the river (evil spirits can’t cross running water) that they stop the car and look back. The other car, with whoever or whatever inside, turns around and drives away. It’s one of the most visual scenes in the entire book, tailor-made for the movie, and yet it is curiously missing from the movie. In the novel, we eventually learn that Lewis unwittingly brought Selina Izard back to life. She is the wife of the evil wizard, Isaac Izard, who owned the house before Uncle Jonathan. He was working on a doomsday clock when he was killed. (His wife died mysteriously before him). In the last half of the book, Selina Izard tries to complete her husband’s evil plan, and while the evil wizard is talked about and anticipated, his eventual arrival is thwarted by Lewis destroying the clock (spoiler!) in the climax. The last chapter involves a lot of chocolate chip cookie eating around a bonfire, where exposition and explanations are made, and we are left feeling safe and secure.

Where the movie goes wrong is that it has Lewis raising Isaac Izard himself, not Selina. Clive Barker once said that the horror not seen is much scarier than any seen horror, and this applies in this case too. By showing us the raised Izard, it removes any menace from his potential return. All we get is Kyle McLachlan in prosthetics and makeup. You can say what you want about JK Rowling, but she was smart in not giving us the “full Voldemort” at first. Old “You Know Who”s delayed entrance into the series gave his eventual debut the suspense and menace it deserved.

And while Selina Kyle is a shadowy enough figure in the novel, (one could say she was a Figure in the Shadows, #deepcut), in the movie they explain that Selina never really died in the first place, and was living under a magical disguise across the street from the Barnavelts. While this reveal was a genuine surprise in the movie, it didn’t make any sense to me why they complicated the plot in this way. I wanted to like Renée Elise Goldsbury as Selina, but I found her interpretation cartoony and obvious and not scary at all. Another dumb complication/connection the screenplay makes is the reveal that Uncle Jonathan and Isaac Izard used to be friends and co-magicians before Izard turned evil. YAWN. I mean, come ON. How many times does this old trope have to be brought out? The original novel made no such connection, and it was better for it. Also, I didn’t like the back story they gave Mrs. Zimmerman. They hint that she was a survivor of the holocaust and that experience left her with unreliable magic powers. In the novel, Mrs. Zimmerman is just a kick-ass awesomely powerful witch. Sure, a later novel, The Letter, The Witch and The Ring, involves Mrs. Zimmerman falling ill and losing her powers, but why the heck introduce that subplot now? And okay, I know this is nickpicky, but WHY introduce Rose Rita Pottinger and NOT have her wear a beanie with buttons all over it? It’s such an iconic part of her look and supposedly everyone involved in the movie read the novels, so there’s no excuse why this small detail was left out. [Editor’s Note: A fan online pointed out that in the novels Rose Rita HATES her school uniform and takes it off (and puts her beanie on) as soon as she gets home, so the fact that we only see her at school COULD mean that we can still get a beanied Rose Rita in the sequel.]

And before I stop bashing this movie, I have to talk a little bit about the ending. In the novel, everything is implied and suggested, which again, makes the story so much stronger. Lewis, Mrs. Zimmerman and Uncle Jonathan eventually DO find the clock after following a series of Lewis’s nonsense made up charms. It would have been way better to leave Lewis’s real introduction to magic (not counting the raising the dead bit) happen at this point, rather than have an earlier scene where Lewis asks “Can I learn magic?” and Uncle Jonathan says, “No, it’s too dangerous.” And Lewis says, “Please?” and Uncle Jonathan says, “K, fine” or some nonsense. In the novel, Selina follows the three down to the cellar, holding a hand of glory which freezes Mrs. Z and Uncle J to the spot. Lewis, however, sees Selina’s reflection in the clockface, and he knows from his reading what a hand of glory is, so he doesn’t turn around and is not affected by the magical artifact. Lewis then smashes the clock (which surprisingly looks just like a regular wind up clock), destroying the doomsday spell, killing Selina (again) and preventing the return of Isaac Izard, who only at this point in the novel is about to appear.

Okay, I expected a little “jazzing up” of the ending for Hollywood, but what we get is a total travesty. Isaac Izard and his wife Selina are already down by the clock, no hand of glory in sight, and then the whole thing turns into a weird Indiana Jones style set-piece where the floor gives way and the whole cellar turns into a series of cogs and wheels. (Like a giant clock, which is dumb). And then they try to explain that the clock will turn back time to the point before humans existed, so you get this really awful CGI of Jack Black with the head of an adult and the body of a baby which I guess is supposed to be funny, but no-one in the theatre was laughing, and those of us who knew the novel just sat there, appalled. It was all so stupid, and I didn’t think in the spirit of the books, which always followed the “less is more” philosophy. Previous to this scene, we saw a visually arresting but creatively pointless battle scene between the three heroes and a bunch of animated jack-o-lanterns. It was fine, but seemed unneccessary. I would have much rather have seen the scene with the car chase over the iron bridge then a bunch of CGI pumpkins, but at least those pumpkins were in the creepy spirit of the novel, and it gave Mrs. Zimmerman a chance to kick ass, which was awesome.

The final kick in the nuts that summarizes how I feel about the movie happens during the end credits. Edward Gorey illustrated almost all of John Bellairs’ books. For most of them, he just did the covers and a frontispiece, but for The House With a Clock In Its Walls he did the cover, frontispiece, and several illustrations throughout. Gorey’s distinctive style informed Bellairs’ writing and I can’t really imagine one without the other. In fact, I wore a homemade button to opening night with an Edward Gorey drawing of Uncle Jonathan, and my wife consented to an Edward Gorey Mrs. Zimmerman button affixed to her purse strap. Despite the interconnectedness of Gorey/Bellairs in the minds of their fans, the estate of Edward Gorey did not allow any of his art to be used in the film, so over the end credit we get little pencil drawings of the characters doing various things in an obvious pastiche of Gorey’s style. While some people might be charmed by this “clever” homage, I was just left with the feeling that slowly crept into me during the movie’s entire running time. Close, but no cigar. (Literally. I don’t think I saw Uncle Jonathan smoke a pipe once in the movie).

So that’s really all I have to say about the movie. (I guess after 2000 words I’d better wrap this up). The TLDR takeaway is that I liked but not LOVED the movie for all the reasons mentioned above.

But I’ll tell you this: I’ve been a member of the “John Bellairs Wrote the Best Books” group on Facebook for the past few years. Most of the time, it’s people posting pics of their collections, or the minor buying and selling of hardcover editions (the ones with the coveted Edward Gorey art). Leading up to the movie, however, the group has been excited posting pics of behind-the-scenes set visits, early reviews, posters, interviews, late night talk show appearances, you name it. This quiet sleepy community has been mobilized, and in fact a group of us decided to meet in John Bellairs’ hometown, Marshall, Michigan for the premiere this past weekend. Included among our number is Brad Strickland, a professor of english and writer in his own right who was hired by the Bellairs’ estate to finish off a couple of his novels that were left behind after he died. They were so successful that Strickland wrote a number of original adventures using John Bellairs’ characters, carrying on and expanding the mythology. While some of us, myself included, don’t think these extended series books are the same quality and style as the originals, Brad Strickland seems like a decent dude who is the living surrogate for all us fans. Strickland made the trek up to Marshall too, and was signing books in the local bookstore, meeting with fans, and attending the premiere there. By all accounts, no matter what we thought of the movie itself, this gathering of writers and fans was a weekend to remember. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to go, but it brought back great memories of my own pilgrimmage to Marshall ten years ago. This gathering would never have happened if it wasn’t for this movie. Also, John Bellairs books are back in the pop culture landscape for the moment. The House With A Clock In Its Walls was number #6 on the Amazon bestseller list over the weekend, and our library here has bought a bunch of new copies. There are waiting lists for them. The movie was the number one box office draw this past weekend, and if people keep seeing it, it might mean a SEQUEL. Would I go to a sequel? Absolutely, if only to see if they kept the stuff that worked from the first one and steered away from the stuff that didn’t. So, despite all of its problems, the movie has brought John Bellairs to a new generation of readers who are eagerly asking their parents and school librarians, “Are there more in the series?”, and that, my friends, is the best magic spell this movie could ever weave.

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

Broadview Signal Boost

“Come for a visit, stay for a lifetime”. Motto on Broadview’s website

There’s a town in Eastern Saskatchewan called Broadview. Why it’s called that I don’t really know. Truth be told, there is a lot of Saskatchewan (and Manitoba, and Alberta for that matter), that could boast of “broad views” in that there isn’t a whole lot to block a view. What you’re viewing, nobody knows. But the one thing we can all agree on is that it is a broad one.

There’s not really a lot to see from the highway, to be honest, and despite an impressive website for a community of its size, I remember it made the news a few years ago when it came out that bored residents got their entertainment by listening in on passing truckers’ CB radio, and scolding them for using bad language. Of course I can’t find a link to that story now, but you’ll just have to trust my memory that it happened. If you DO take time to visit the Broadview Museum, you may see the stuffed corpse of “Sargent Bill” an honest to goodness Billy Goat who was the town’s mascot in WWI. This goat must have had some kind of winning personality because not only did they decide to stuff him after he died, the Army gave him a medal for war service while he was alive. I didn’t know they had goats over there as mascots or what the hell a goat could do to earn a medal, but if a guy can buy a bear at a train station and take him overseas #winniethepoohref then anything is possible, I guess. What a world.

Anyway, my first experience with Broadview stretches back to more than 20 years ago. My Mom, brother and I were driving home from a family wedding in Alberta and we had been on the road for about 10 hours at this point and quite punchy. My Mom was thinking of getting a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier as a pet, and she wanted to stop in to visit a SCWT breeder in Broadview. She had the address, and Broadview isn’t that big of a place, so it didn’t take very long to find it. It was one of the few times that day we were all out of the car to stretch our legs, and like I said: my brother and I were pretty beat. When my Mom rang the doorbell, we knew we had the right house from the chorus of barking erupting from within. After a minute, there was a woman at the door with two of the cutest puppies you’ve ever seen in your life in her arms. She apologized for the noise. My Mom introduced herself and the woman remembered her from a previous phone conversation.

“Would you like to come around the back and check out my BITCHES??” the woman asked us out of the blue, and that was all it took for my brother and me to just lose it and start laughing hysterically until tears were in our eyes. Yes, I knew that female dogs are called “bitches” and I also sort of knew that breeders use that term all the time and they don’t think anything of it, but it was so unexpected to see this otherwise normal looking lady use that word that my brother and I couldn’t even.

My Mom shot glares at us which meant, “Smarten up. What are you, twelve?” For the record, I was 20. We managed to pull it together for just long enough until one of us looked at the other and then a fresh round of hysterics would explode from us. From that day onward, “Do you want to come check out my BITCHES?” entered our family vocabulary.

Where’s my cute bitches at?

So let’s fast-forward to the present day. My wife has a notoriously tiny bladder. Everyone knows this, and so on road trips you gotta factor in an additional 10% of time for extra washroom stops over and above the NORMAL amount of time for people with NORMAL bladders. It got so bad on this trip that I was forced into a village that had no gas station or any real services. My wife was so grateful that this little café let her use their facilities even though they had a “Washrooms are for Customers Only” sign out front, she bought a jar of Saskatoon Jam, so what I’m saying is that frequent pee stops aren’t always a bad thing.

So we had a pee stop in Broadview on our drive home over the weekend. This CO-OP gas station had what I thought was a door man, but in fact it was just the guy who pumps your gas, and since no one usually stops in Broadview, he was just standing by the door, looking forlornly out at an empty parking lot. Since he wasn’t allowed to check his trucker CB frequency while on the clock, he passed his time at work by opening the door to people like my wife who were only there for the toilets.

I hung out in the parking lot (because I am not even joking when I say that we stopped maybe an hour before in Moose Jaw for gas and pee), and I saw a strange sight. It was a bicycle with a baby chariot attached. That in of itself isn’t all that strange. You see long distance cyclists use them from time to time, if not for actual babies, then for their gear and whatnot. What was odd about this situation was that there was a full-grown (and quite elderly, by the look of her) Golden Retriever curled up in the back. It’s owner must have been in the store getting snacks.

When my wife came out, I saw a peculiar sign on the other side of the gas station that I thought would be fun to take our daughter’s picture with. In the interests of privacy I shall not name that sign nor shall I show that picture, but I WILL show platinum subscribers during the next pledge week. After I took a couple of pictures, the guy with the dog in the baby carrier pedaled up to us and offered to take a picture of all of us together. It’s rare to get a pic of all three of us that isn’t some kind of cramped “selfie” affair, so we took him up on his generous offer.

He seemed to have some kind of signage on his bike that I didn’t notice before, and I asked him what his deal was. It turns out he is pedaling across Canada with his dog, Ginger, to raise awareness of Juvenile PTSD and mental illness. He started in PEI in June and plans to make it to Victoria by October. He gave us his card, told us his dog’s name was Ginger, and we parted ways. There’s something special about someone doing an extraordinary act (like biking across the country) to raise awareness for a cause in which they believe. I didn’t really think of PTSD as something that kids could experience, but why not? Any traumatic event could trigger it, so it’s prevalence is probably grossly under-reported and greatly misunderstood.

His name is Brian Nadon, and he is the Founder and Director of the VATIC foundation. (Value, Achieve, Take Part, Inspire, Community) and he hopes to raise $150,000 this summer for a post-secondary scholarship fund for young people who suffer from PTSD and mental illness. I liked the cut of his jib, and I wish him the very best of the rest of his journey (especially that part where he goes through the Rocky Mountains). It made me reflect on my own experiences with mental illness, which I wrote about once here and also here.  (#shamelessblogpostbuzzmarketing) Brian seemed like a friendly guy, he had a Kansas City Royals ball cap affixed to his bike, which is a surrogate team for me when the Jays are out of it, and anyone raising awareness of mental illness is a kindred. Also, I love a good acronym.

When we got home I googled “Bike Riding for PTSD” and was surprised to see that Brian isn’t the only one riding across Canada this summer for PTSD. There’s another guy who’s doing it on Motorcycle. Michael Terry, a veteran of Bosnia and Afghanistan is riding to raise awareness of PTSD in the military, specifically. Who knew? Is this just like the summer of ’97 where we had to choose between Dante’s Peak and Volcano, or the following summer where we were forced to choose between Deep Impact and Armageddon? Or the constant decision we are forced to make EVEN TO THIS DAY whether we are fans of Josh Whedon or fans of J.J. Abrams? BUT NOT BOTH?! (For the record, I’m a Deep Impact, Dante’s Peak and J.J. Abrams man all the way and shan’t hear it any other way).  But since Brian is doing it on a bicycle with a dog and I met him, I consider him the Terry Fox of PTSD awareness and the Motorcycle guy merely the Steve Fonyo. (Still good though! And gosh, more than I could achieve believe me. I don’t want to badmouth anyone who is following their calling and who has served our country and suffered for it and Lord knows mental health needs as many advocates as possible and I think there’s plenty of room for bikes, motorcycles and even a guy in a borrowed CR-V on the TransCanada this summer).

If you’d like to read more about Brian’s journey,  learn about PTSD, and feel moved to make a donation,  you can check out his webpage at www.vaticfoundation.com

He’s also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @vaticfoundation if you’d like to cheer him on.

Consider this a signal boost from Broadview, the home of bitches and dead goats, where “Come for a visit, stay for a lifetime” sounds like a threat, not a promise.

Brian and Ginger in Broadview, SK

 

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

senuTi evaglaS

I’m writing this post on a brand new MacBook Air, because this Spring our 10-year-old MacBook was STOLEN along with a bunch of other stuff. I’m not going to dwell on all that was taken from the lighthouse, and how that affected us psychologically. Instead I’m going to focus on what was saved.

The two most precious things lost to us on our computer were our photos and our music. They were saved on an external drive (instead of the computer), but the drive was taken too. That hard drive represented close to a decade of memories and music. My wife was more shattered by the loss of the pictures, but for me it was the music library. Sure, I could log into iTunes and download any purchased music again, but that made up a drop in the bucket in terms of the overall library. That library was made up of personal CDs that I ripped and then smugly got rid of, rare bootlegs (mostly of U2 concerts, but oddly enough it included one bootleg of the Dave Matthews Band. Maybe I was moved by his acting in Because of Winn Dixie and I wanted more? Who can say what I was thinking all those years ago? Some of were gifts from friends, and yes: some were LIBRARY COPIES, (borrowed for personal use only, you guys). I don’t think that’s against the librarian’s code. I mean, come on.

The photos held way more sentimental value for my wife, as they began back in 2008 and included our daughter’s birth and growth up to this past Spring. I can hear you muttering about “the cloud” and yes, with 20/20 hindsight, I can see the value of saving stuff on “the cloud” for easy retrieval, but I was backing stuff up on hard drives, so there were back ups, I just didn’t conceive of a break in and a major theft.

Our old MacBook was getting sluggish in its old age, and we knew we would have to replace it one of these days. It really didn’t surf the Internet very well, and I only really used it to add music to my iTunes and synch with my iPods. Even then, it was a kind of “cross your fingers and hope for the best” kind of situation every time I ripped a CD. It even changed the standard for adding stuff. I had to be really damn sure that I wanted it in my permanent collection because it was becoming more and more of a pain. For example, the new Beck album, Colours, made it on there, but I drew the line at the new Killers album. I liked it, but it didn’t reach the threshold of “iTunes worthy” in my mind. I know: that “Don’t Give Up on Me” song is really great, but does the album as a whole quality? Reader, I decided not. i regret that now.

This all sounds hopeless, but I am happy to report that ALL WAS NOT LOST. A day or two after the theft, my wife remembered that she had BACKED UP MANY MANY PHOTOS on a couple of thumb drives AND HIDDEN THEM IN A SECRET SPOT IN OUR LIGHTHOUSE and they were still there, untouched and unstolen. Now, these weren’t ALL of our photos, obviously, but a good number of the best of the best, because she spent a lot of time going through and saving only the keepers. So: all I need to do is upload those pictures into our iPhoto library and we are back in business. We took some solace in the fact that when we were kids, we only had one album each dedicated to us from birth up to early teenage years. A generous estimate would be somewhere between 150-200 photos per album. I looked at that album (and the one for my younger brother) over and over again as a kid and never once did I think, “I wish there were more pictures”. There were as many pictures as there were, and that seemed just fine. We actually have a physical album for our daughter, carefully curated by my wife and our daughter mere days before the theft, AS IF SOMEHOW THEY KNEW A BAD THING WAS ON THE HORIZON, and I’d say that album is close in size to the one I had as a kid AND I THINK I HAD A GREAT CHILDHOOD WITH THE APPROPRIATE NUMBER OF PHOTOS TO LOOK AT. My daughter took a scattered approach in her selection and placement of pictures, so it doesn’t follow chronologically, but rather it is a haphazard collection of her with different people at all ages and stages between 0-8. It makes it a bit difficult to place pictures in a particular time or place, but it makes for a more interesting viewing experience. So, our pictures are somewhat saved.

It was a different story for my music library. As mentioned, I had amassed a large collection of music over the last decade, and now it was all gone.

Well, maybe not ALL gone. I had a iPod touch and an iPod Classic, which, even though they were in plain view, neither one was taken in the theft and that was the one glimmer of hope I had in the weeks leading up to getting a new MacBook. The iPod touch was 32 GB, so although it had my most favourite albums and artists on there it was nowhere near a complete library. The iPod classic, however, boasts a storage space of 160 GB, and I was nowhere near filling that. (I think it was hovering around the 60 GB neighbourhood). And while I can’t say for sure if every song on my iTunes was also on my iPod Classic, I’d say it was so close that whatever wasn’t didn’t matter. I made a point of adding every new album to the iPod Classic and only adding some to the iPod touch. I actually had a really needlessly complicated file system for my music on my old computer. Imagine that: a librarian coming up with a new classification system. Who could have predicted that? I actually had two completely separate (but virtually identical) libraries for my Touch and Classic, and would only sync the right pod with the right library.  I know it doubled my storage space (hence the saving to external drives) but I liked having that kind of control. Another x-factor in all this was the computer itself.

MacBooks have changed quite a lot in the past ten years. For one, they don’t make the same model as our old one, but talking with an Apple employee, he was really sympathetic regarding our loss and listened to us explain exactly what we wanted to use the computer for and what we needed it to do. It helped that we had a price range in mind, thanks to our excellent insurance adjuster who has been nothing but helpful throughout the process. Shoutout to Jean, if you’re reading this! Working with our budget, we decided that a MacBook Air was the best machine for us for a number of reasons. It is considered the “workhorse” MacBook that doesn’t have the highest resolution or processor speed (although both are miles better than our old 10 year old machine) but it reliable and is the only laptop that still has regular USB ports. I wasn’t really keen on getting an adapter for these new mini USB ports that come on the other MacBook models, and it even comes with a camera memory card reader so when you are uploading photos you don’t have to plug the whole camera in. (I mean you still can if you want to, but you can also just take out the camera card and cut out the middle man). This sounded like the machine for us. And we were able to customize it by maxing out the memory on it, which was a nice feature. The one downside was that to make it so slim, Apple eliminated the disc drive, which I still use a fair amount (even though I guess the world is going wireless). It would mean I would need to attach an external drive every time I wanted to use a disc, but that wasn’t a dealbreaker.

I know Apple calls their employees “Geniuses” in the same eyerolly way that Subway refers to their employees as “Sandwich Artists”, but in this case the salesperson had a really genius solution to a problem that has dogged us for almost ten years. On our old MacBook my wife and I had separate log ins and profiles, which was great. I had all of my weird stuff on my side, and she had all of her weird stuff on her side and we weren’t in each other’s way. The problem soon came up when she wanted to add photos to the computer. At the time, I was the only one who had an Apple ID, so the photos and music were at home on my profile. Whenever my wife needed to add photos, or edit them, or print them or whatever, I had to log in as myself and let her in on my side, which was fine but a little bit of a nuisance. I tried to see if there was a way to create a “shared folder” and there probably is but I could never really figure it out and I was afraid of messing around with iPhoto in case I did a “mass erase” or some terrible thing. We just lived with it. (The music wasn’t a problem because up until last year I was the only one who had an iPod).

So, I asked this helpful salesperson about creating a shared folder for music and photos. Is it possible to do that now on the new OS? (I assumed it was). The scrunched up his face and said that there wasn’t really an easy way to share access to photos and music since the music at least is tied to a person’s Apple ID, he DID suggest (and this is the genius part) that we should just created a shared profile, along with our own personal profiles, and use that shared profile for music and photos. So simple I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself. We even created a login for our daughter, with parental controls (filtering which sites she can get on, and limiting how much computer time she can have in a day, and when her profile shuts down at night. It’s really quite great).

So, that shared profile solves the problem of my wife and I accessing the same iPhoto and iTunes libraries, but it doesn’t do anything for my music retrieval. I asked our insurance lady whether data files were covered, knowing what the answer probably already was, (and I was right. They weren’t. covered). If I had physical CDs stolen, then those would have been covered, but who uses CDs these days?

From there I turned my attention to my iPods. They were dead ducks unless I could somehow transfer the songs BACK onto a new computer. I knew iTunes wasn’t set up for that, and that iPods would normally “synch” with an iTunes library when you plugged it in, and if I plugged either of my iPods in without changing some settings, the computer would helpfully sync the iPods to an EMPTY LIBRARY ON THE COMPUTER, thus effectively erasing them. I did NOT want that outcome at any cost.

I turned first to a couple of friends who were sort of techy and sort of into Macs. My first friend was upfront about not knowing how to save the music, but kindly offered for me to come over and “replenish” my library with stuff from his own. I really appreciated his honesty regarding his ability to retrieve my music, rather than pretending to know how and ending up with nothing. Another friend had a convoluted plan to synch it to an old MacBook that he owned and then transferring it to an external drive which I could use as the restoring drive whenever I bought my new computer. I appreciated his ingenuity but I didn’t fully understand his rube goldbergesque route to restoring the music, and then somehow I would be trapped in some outdated technology loop for ever? It was unclear whether he was offering the use of his old MacBook for this purpose only, or whether he was willing to sell it to us, or even give it to us. We never got that far into the conversation before I contacted a “data recovery” service. I explained my problem, and they gave me a lot of hope. They said the songs were definitely salvageable and they generously offered to take a launch to the lighthouse and do it in person whenever I had my new computer. They even sent me a $25 off coupon. I didn’t ask how much this service cost, but if they were going to knock off $25 without me even asking, they much be charging at LEAST $100, right? Maybe $200. This was money I was willing to pay to save. library of over 12,000 songs, but I kept looking for other solutions.

This is where my buzz marketing comes in. SENUTI! (Or iTunes spelled backwards, you guys). It’s a third-party program that claims to be able to transfer songs from iPods back into iTunes. There is a free trial for up to 1000 songs, and a $18.99 license for unlimited transfers. At this point I knew I had to “go big or go home” so I bought the license without even trying the demo. What did I have to lose? Just 10 years of my musical life. No pressure, right?

Well, let me be the poster boy for the success of this excellent little program. I downloaded it, installed it, and carefully prepped my iTunes so that it would not sync automatically as soon as I plugged something in. Senuti is powerful but even IT would be stymied if you told your computer go synch up without giving it a second thought. So, with my iTunes prepped, I opened senuTi. It simply said, “Connect iPod to begin”, and while holding my breath and a saying a “here goes nothing” in my head, I connected the iPod Classic.

Nothing happened.

Which is exactly what I was hoping would happen. I must have set iTunes up correctly because instead of erasing my iPod, I saw a window open with all my music files listed. I could sort by album, artist, title, genre, you name it. The interface was easy to figure out. You just highlighted the tracks I wanted, and hit the “transfer button” and they were instantaneously transferred back into my new empty iTunes library. I had a moment of fear where an error message popped up saying seunTi couldn’t transfer the music because it couldn’t find the iTunes library folder. I fiddled a bit with the settings (meaning I can’t remember now exactly how I fixed that) but whatever I did worked because the songs showed up in iTunes. Home again! I suppose I could have done a “select all” and pushed “transfer” and walked away, but I thought this was a perfect opportunity to weed the library a little bit. A moment ago I was lamenting the loss of everything, and now here I was taking a critical eye to what I had accumulated. But just like moving house, why pack up stuff that you don’t really need anymore? There were albums and artists on there that I don’t think I even listened to once in the past ten years, or artists that I wanted to get familiar with because they were openers for a headliner I really cared about. Some of those openers I came to love and kept (Snow Patrol, for example) and some were quite forgettable (The Fray and The Arctic Monkeys to name a couple. Don’t @ me). I also had a weirdly high number of audiobooks on there that I didn’t transfer back over. Audiobooks that I never even listened to. I think I loaded up the Classic when it was looking like we were going on strike a few years ago, and I thought I could use my time on the picket line to catch up on some books I had always meant to read. No need for them now, as we are safely renewed for another 4 years, and if it comes to that again, I think I’ll rely on Overdrive for my audiobook needs.

To make sure I didn’t miss anything hiding on the Classic, I went through by artist first, then by album. I think I’ll still do a run-through on “genre” to catch oddities like “holiday” and “soundtracks” that might not fit nicely into the artist or album lists. I did the same thing with the iPod touch, and was surprised to find a handful of albums on there that WEREN’T on the Classic. I guess nobody’s perfect and I must have added the odd album directly to the Touch without syncing the Classic, which means that there are probably a few outliers that were in my iTunes but not on either my Classic or Touch, and those ones are well and truly lost. But like I said, that’s okay. I retrieved 95% to 98% of my music library, and to quote U2, “what you don’t have, you don’t need it anyway”.

The one weird little glitch or anomaly with senuTi is that only SOME of the album artwork transferred over. I could see if none of the artwork transferred. That might mean that I didn’t have one of the metadata boxes checked or something (I checked on all that), but it’s weird that SOME transferred over and others didn’t. Not a big deal in the scheme of things. I much rather have the music file without the album artwork than have the artwork without the music file. And it’s pretty easy, albeit a big time-consuming, to manually import album art myself. Maybe a project for a rainy day.

So consider this the longest Yelp! review for a piece of software. I give it full marks, or 4 stars, or 10 hearts or whatever they use on Yelp! (I’ve never been on Yelp! you guys).

And if this blog post helps even one other person who has lost their iTunes library but has an echo of it on a portable device, then it was worth me writing it.

And if the good people at senuTi read this, thank you SO MUCH again for making this thing. I will be spreading the good word. I will even wear a senuTi t-shirt or button or whatever and recommend your app to the customers I encounter on a daily basis a public librarian.

senuTi everybody! They go both ways! (New Slogan?)

p.s. I made that “Innocence and Experience” playlist that I mentioned in the last blog post, thanks to senuTi, and it’s PRETTY GOOD, although I think I’ll move Cedarwood Road to further down in the list and swallow my pride (no pun intended) and add The Showman early on just for funners.

That’s all from me. I’m off to listen to some music, y’all!

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

Deluxe Deluxe Edition

U2 released a new album last December and I looked the other way.

They were resuming their “Innocence and Experience Tour” in 2018, but on a smaller scale with only one Canadian city included (Montreal). None of the American stops were within an easy drive, and I had let my passport lapse anyway.

So, just like with Arcade Fire’s Everything Now last summer, I didn’t have a real incentive for hearing the new songs before I’d hear them performed live, and just like last summer, I was holding a bit of a grudge with my favourite band in the world. They’re also Irish, so I think they would understand about grudges and feuds.

It wasn’t until I was holed up in my hospital room back in May, spoiled for choice in reading material, (Bill Bryson’s At Home, some P.G. Wodehouse, and some John Bellairs) [perfect options for someone recovering from a major Depression by the way. A real literary mixed grill.], but lacking in motivation to read anything that I discovered a recent U2 concert from St. Louis was uploaded by some good soul to Youtube. The entire thing! All 2 hours and 11 minutes of it. I’d link to it, but it’s probably gone by now. If you are interested, have a look for yourself. The man (I’m assuming it was a man, going by his youtube handle BUT WHO CAN TELL THESE DAYS) was seated about halfway up one of the sides of the arena, so he had an excellent view of the huge rectangular side screen that dominated the show back in 2015 and continues to dominate now. They’ve made some technical improvements to the screen, so that you can download an app before the show, and during certain portions of the concert you are encouraged to watch the screen through your phone and you’ll see some cool 3D effects. This youtuber didn’t bother with that. He was more focused on giving the home (or hospital) viewer a real variety of angles and zooms, or as well as he could from his vantage point. He seemed to have an uncanny knack to know when to focus on the screen and when to focus on the band themselves. There was really only one point during the whole 2 hours that his attention seemed to lag. It was during Desire in the second half and he seemed to let the arm holding his phone rest a bit, ON THE BUTT OF THE LADY IN FRONT OF HIM. I mean, she was dancing along to Desire, and so maybe the youtuber thought it was video-worthy. I am sure he didn’t know this woman and can only assume he didn’t see permission for his ass camerary, but it was a brief diversion from the main show and this viewer wants to give this youtuber the benefit of the doubt. (Mind you, if you are going to videotape some ass jiving, Desire is a pretty good song to pick. I GUESS WE WILL NEVER KNOW). In any event, for two hours I was transported to a different time and place and lost myself in that video, thoroughly enjoying the show, the new songs, the old favourites, the return of MacPhisto and the energy of the crowd all through the tiny screen of my iPod touch. It was also notable that not one song from The Joshua Tree was played. You may think it would be odd to go to a U2 concert and not hear Where the Streets Have No Name or With or Without You, but they weren’t missed a bit. I’m sure the band was tired of playing that whole album in album order night after night all last year, so it was an easy decision to skip it on this leg. This was towards the end of my hospital stay, so I was in the right frame of mind to enjoy something like this, and as much as I love Bryson, Bellairs and Wodehouse (I’d go to THAT law-firm!), I was tired of just reading.

So, on the strength of that video, I decided I should go out and get the new U2 album, Songs of Experience, and I haven’t been able to stop playing it in my car.

It will definitely be one of the soundtracks of this summer, so I thought it would be only fitting to do a song by song rundown of the album as we head into the heart of summer.

  1. Love is All we Have Left: U2 usually starts off their albums with a banger to get you on your feet. Where the Streets have No Name, Vertigo, and Beautiful Day are all examples of a strong opener. This song, on the other hand, is slow and contemplative, and with just enough autotune that you get a bit of a Bon Iver vibe off of it. An interesting choice for an album opener, and even more notable that they begin these sets of concert with it, with Bono on the catwalk halfway down, in the middle of the arena, alone. Singing it with a weird sculptured version of his face appearing in 3D on the screen above. It works, though.
  2. The Lights of Home: It starts off with Kinks evoking guitar, like something out of a Wes Anderson film, and soon turns into a toe tapper. By the time it reaches its final coda of “Free yourself to be yourself…” you’re left feeling like you’ve just heard a medley of three songs. I like it, though.
  3. You’re the Best thing about Me: Okay, this song would be FINE if it wasn’t for a lazy rhyme in the chorus which goes, “You’re the best thing about me. The best thing that ever happened a boy”. You read that right. It’s not “best thing that ever happened to a boy” which my wife says would be too many syllables to work (I disagree), and it’s not “best thing that every happened. Oh boy!” (In my mind I’m singing this second version just so it doesn’t through me into a rage when ever this one comes on. I mean, look. Bono. You can do better. The next lines of the chorus are just fine, “You’re the best thing about me. The best things are easy to destroy. You’re the best thing about me, I’m the kind of trouble that you enjoy.” Right? Those are thoughtful, clever and fun. But I CANNOT get over that first line of the chorus. It overshadows every thing that follows. More like “You’re the WORST thing about me”, amirite?
  4. Get out of your own way: I guess this is the “big” song on the album, the one that sounds the most like what you’d think a U2 song should sound like these days. It’s a great song and fun to sing along with. I like that is a love letter to America to remember your own greatness despite recent events. It can also be interpreted as someone giving advice to someone who can’t see their way through a problem. The cognitive triangle at work! (Behaviour changes thoughts which change feelings and so on!) As an added bonus it even has a cameo appearance from Kendrick Lamar in an outro (just to show that U2 is still COOL to the young kids out there), reciting some updated beatitudes, like: Blessed are the arrogant
    For theirs is the kingdom of their own company
    Blessed are the superstars
    For the magnificence in their light
    We understand better our own insignificance
    Blessed are the filthy rich
    For you can only truly own what you give away
    Like your pain, Blessed are the bullies

    For one day they will have to stand up to themselves
    Blessed are the lies
    For the truth can be awkward THEN GUESS WHAT SUCKERS? Those last few beatitudes are the INTRO for the next song, American Soul, so it’s like you don’t even have a say in whether you want to skip over it, because if you’ve listened closely to U2’s last album you probably have good reason to.
  5. American Soul: I guess I should continue my rant in the right song at least. If you listen closely, American Soul is the SAME SONG as Volcano off of Songs of Innocence. If you thought “ever happened a boy” was lazy, they didn’t even try to disguise the chorus. They even use the same words: “You. Are. Rock n’ Roll. You. And. I. Are. Rock n’ Roll” which doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. I want to skip over this song each time but I’m scared that Kendrick Lamar will find out and come to my house and scold me.
  6. Summer of Love: Luckily the next song redeems the album instantly. It’s my wife’s favourite song of the album, and it is super fun to sing along with, even though the lyrics are about the Syrian refugee crisis and the developed world’s moral obligation to take them in. It’s one that often gets played more than once in a row when we are listening in the car.
  7. Red Flag Day: This song sounds like it could have come off of one of U2’s earliest albums, like Boy or October. In fact, it could very well BE from October and they’d get away with it, because no one ever listens to that album or cares about it. I think it’s Adam Clayton’s jumpy bass that really gives this song its vintage feel, and it’s message of pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones to help others is solid too.
  8. The Showman (Little more Better): This song is so weird, it almost would be a b-side on a single (if they still put out singles in any real way). It’s fun, and has a goofy chorus, and I can’t stop smiling when it comes on and I am forced to sing along with it. So: bonus points for U2 to not take themselves too seriously on every track. Will this song ever make it into a live set-list? Not a chance in hell, but I’m glad they wrote it and I’m glad it’s on here.
  9. The little Things that give you away: We first heard this song back in May of last year at the end of the first “Joshua Tree Tour 30th anniversary tour” concert in Vancouver. The ended the show with it in fact, which was kind of ballsy. It is one of those “start slow and small and build and build” kind of songs that grows on me each time I hear it. Every time it comes on I resist an urge to skip past it until I remember it gets really good halfway through.
  10. Landlady: I don’t know how Allie (Bono’s wife) feels about being called the “landlady” but this is a lovely little song which is a tribute to her and all the stuff that she does and puts up with being married to an egotistical megalomaniac with a mild Jesus complex.
  11. The Blackout: This song absolutely EXPLODES when you hear it played live. In the St. Louis show, they play it second, right after the slow and contemplative opening of Love is all we have left and it blows the roof off the place. Again, it sounds like vintage, 1980’s U2. I’d place this one more from the War era than anywhere else, and they were smart to release a music video of them playing this song live in some club in Amsterdam last year, because Live is really where this song lives.
  12. Love is Bigger than Anything in its way: Okay, we’ve finally come to this song, my absolutely favourite one on the whole album. You get the feeling this song pretty much wrote itself in a few minutes, and it is so simple and yet so optimistic and big hearted that it raised my spirits when I heard it performed in St. Louis via my hospital room. I mean, what more can you say about a song called “Love is bigger than anything in its way”. There’s no way you can sound cool with a title like that, and that’s okay. Sometimes sincerity sounds corny, and looking around at the world today, I am HERE for corny sentimentality. It’s the final song of the night for most nights on the recent leg of the tour, so as people are leaving the arena to get in their cars and drive home they are thinking (and singing inside no doubt) about the simple but moving truth that Love is Bigger than anything in its way.
  13. 13 (there is a light): Okay, I lied. It wasn’t exactly the last song of the concert, but it was the last FULL song of the concert (and I daresay this album too). I’ve called BS on some of the laziness that is evident on this album (while at the same time praising the band for the things they got right and the things I genuinely love about this album), but nothing could be lazier than not even coming up with a title for a song. Which is what happens here. The 13th (and final track of the album if you don’t have the deluxe version) is simple called 13. They try to hedge their bets by sticking (there is a light) in brackets, but it will always be just unlucky 13 to me. And here’s the worst part: it’s another redo of a song from the last album. Who does this!? Didn’t anyone take them aside and say, “Look fellas, we love you. But you can just release the same song with a slightly different title and think people will be fooled. This is clearly Song for Someone with minor cosmetic changes. For example, instead of singing “a song for someone, someone like you” as he does on the Songs of Innocence album, Bono changes it to “a song for someone, someone like ME” and we are all just supposed to sit back and pretend we don’t notice? Okay, I get that these two albums are to be seen as companion pieces to each other, so a little mirroring could be an acceptable creative choice. Maybe by opening the second album on the same chord as the last album ended? Oh wait, they already did that between the end of The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree. Maybe they could loop it so that the last song on the second album blends seamlessly into the first song on the first album…..oh wait, Arcade Fire did something similar on their Everything Now album. Look, I don’t know how you want to link these albums thematically, but rehashing old songs and reworking them are the stuff of B-Sides and Rarities, not for new albums. U2, you are better than this. (I still love you though, and would love you even more if you came back. It’s been 7 years. Just sayin’)
  14. Ordinary Love*: So the official album ends with 13, but since I scored the DELUXE album I get to have Ordinary Love, the song they wrote for that Nelson Mandela movie (and for which they were nominated for an Oscar but lost to the Frozen people). U2 always seems to get a case of the musical yips when they have to release a song on its own, without the support of an album. They all kind of sound the same. Electrical Storm, Miss Sarajevo, Your Blue Room, Invisible and now Ordinary Love all seem to share the same dna, and if they are not musical siblings then there are certainly musical cousins.
  15. Book of your Heart*: I don’t have a fucking clue what this song is about, but guess what? It sounds just like Ordinary Love and the others. Yes, another victim of “singleitis”. If I had to hazard a guess, this song is about people getting married? I don’t know. I  guess I could look it up on Genius later.
  16. Lights of Home Remix*: Not much to add to this. Just a peppier version of the second track with a drum beat so it could be played in clubs. Do club DJs even consider U2 songs for their shows? I can’t imagine it.
  17. You’re the Best thing about me Remix*: I actually prefer this remix to the album version. It’s got a bit of auto-tune going on in the middle which gives it a bit of a Pet Shop Boys feel to it, but  I can still hear that dumb lyric throughout the distortion.

 

Well there you have it, my review of “Songs of Experience”, track by track. I liked it about the same as “Songs of Innocence” and if I am able to salvage my iTunes library I think I will make a “deluxe deluxe version” of both albums, taking the songs I like from both and dropping the ones that I don’t like. I think the album would look something like this:

  1. The Blackout
  2. Cedarwood Road
  3. Iris (Hold Me Close)
  4. Summer of Love
  5. Every Breaking Wave
  6. Get Out Of Your Own Way
  7. Song for Someone
  8. Red Flag Day
  9. The Little things that give you Away
  10. The Lights of Home
  11. The Troubles
  12. Love is Bigger than Everything in its Way

Playlist of the summer!

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

The Cruellest Month

<begin transmission> test test test.

Hey gang, sorry for the lack of activity over the past few weeks, but we’ve had a little drama at the lighthouse.

At the beginning of April, someone ransacked the place, taking, among other things, the lighthouse logbooks dating back to the early ’90s. That was unnerving enough, but then: even WORSE for a lighthouse keeper: a gloomy fog began to roll in. At first it seemed like nothing that the lighthouse couldn’t handle, your garden variety mist, but it didn’t take long to realize this fog was thicker than the proverbial pea soup, and wasn’t going anywhere on its own. It was worrisome, and could have possibly proven fatal. To add insult to injury, when the lighthouse was ransacked, they took all our back up bulbs and wouldn’t you know: our main light began to show signs of weakening, not that it could have penetrated the dense fog even at full strength, but STILL. We hadn’t seen a fog like that in twenty five years, thereabouts.

I could only see one solution, but luckily for me (and all of YOU, loyal readers), my wife saw clearly enough to seek help. She replaced that bulb herself, with the help and support of many friends and family (you know who you are, all of you), not to mention a whole team of professional lighthouse maintenance people. After letting the light burn for a whole month, something miraculous happened:At first, it was just for 10 minutes, then a whole hour the following day, then longer still. I’m talking about the lifting of the fog. It always does lift. I know that now, and I knew that before. I just couldn’t see that when things were at their worst.

We are all doing quite a bit better now. The light seems to be growing brighter day by day, and although there are patches of fog here and there, I think we are through the worst of it.

We also put a security system in the lighthouse. No one ever bothered us before in the 15 years we’ve been here. We thought we were too remote and impenetrable. We were wrong.

This all started in April, a month T.S. Eliot curiously referred to as “the cruellest month”. It almost was, and the fog DID prevent a post last month, but I wasn’t going to let TWO months go by without an update from the lighthouse. Here we are on the last day of May, just under the wire. The sky is clear and the water is calm. Consider yourself updated. <end transmission>

Photo credit: Sheila Johns

2 Comments

Filed under blogposts

Tang Reunion

I was at the dentist this morning for my “once over”. I go about three times a year, not so much because I need it, but because my insurance covers it and my dentist likes to go on nice holidays. He always asks the same thing, like “any plans for Spring Break?”, and while wealthy and successful people may respond, “Well, yes. We are heading to: #Hawaii #Disneyland #Disneyworld #Arizona #Victoria #PalmSprings” or other such exotic locales, I told him we are heading to a small prairie city a couple hours drive west of here for their “Winter Exhibition”. Which is in itself a misnomer, as we are clearly into Spring now. (Okay, there is still snow on the ground, and as I look out the window this minute there are flurries in the air, but THE CALENDAR DOES NOT LIE [unless it is one of them “Hijri calendars” or my sweet U2 calendar from 1988 that I kept for years after the dates made no sense because I liked the pictures]). My dentist seemed to know about the winter carnival because he said the arena smells like a barn all week, and I agreed with him. “I have to take an antihistamine before I go near there, but my wife and daughter like petting all the small farm animals and I don’t mind watch the horse jumping all day long”. I realized I sounded like a bit of a simpleton, but it was the truth. They put some kind of covering on the arena floor. (Wood chips? Saw dust? Straw?) so you don’t ever hear the clop-clops of the horses’ hooves. (That apostrophe on ‘horses’ may be in violation of Strunk and White, but I can’t just bring myself to write horses’s and I wouldn’t want you to have to sound that out in your inner “reading voice”.)

Despite the sneezes and being around all those smelly animals for a day, I AM looking forward to our little getaway, and our hotel has a pool, so I might even risk a DIP at some point.

But this is all burying the lede, people. The main reason I am writing this post (in addition to writing one to not miss one in March. Not that missing one would be the end of the world, would it? I mean, really) is that I was reunited with my old hygienist today. (No, not Mary K. Long time readers may remember my favourite hygienist of all time. I wrote about her here way back in 2013.) Not her. That WOULD be something to celebrate. No. I’m talking about TANG, my hygienist who happens to be a MAN. Last time I was at the dentist, Tang wasn’t available so I was assigned to ANOTHER MAN. I don’t mean to sound sexist or ignorant here, but my impression (could be wrong, could be wrong!) is that dental hygienists tend to be women. In fact, up to and including Mary K, they had ALL been women for me. But now I’m wondering if there is something in my file that says, “He only takes dudes” now, because what are the chances that I would get not one, not two but THREE mangienists since Mary K’s tenure? (There was a short-lived guy name “Sam”, but no one ever saw him again after that first time). I did not care for Tang’s replacement last time. He was rough with his hands (and such big hands!) and he told me I wasn’t flossing enough, which I took the wrong way. I mean, sure, I’m not flossing after every meal. I’m not a serial killer. But I do make an effort to “eff and bee” every night before bed, and if I miss the occasional night, it only makes me more human and relatable. In short, we did not click.

So this morning, as I was sitting in the waiting room, I honestly couldn’t remember if I had booked with the Tang replacement, or the original flavour, so you can imagine my great surprise and joy when Tang 1.0 came out to the waiting room to collect me!

“It’s good to see you!” I gushed unrepentantly as I climbed up into the chair.

“You too, I missed you this winter” was Tang’s response.

“Really?”

“Well, I mean. It feels like its been awhile.”

“Yes, it has! I had that other guy last time. You weren’t here,” I said reproachfully.

And then we started talking about karaoke for some reason and I remembered how much I liked his laid back demeanour, his dry sense of humour, and his small, ALMOST LADYLIKE hands. FRIENDS AGAIN. Or, if not friends exactly, then a hygienist and a patient who seem to click.

We finished about 10 minutes early, and I commented, “Well, look at that. We are ahead of schedule.”

And Tang said, “That’s a testament to your good gums. There was even less plague on here that usual.”

“Welllllllllll. I’d say it is a testament to your ability as a hygienist. Why don’t we both take credit for our successes today?”

And Tang said, “That’s what we call around here Filling Each Others Buckets” and I didn’t like THAT term at ALL but I DO like Tang and made sure I booked in with him again in August. He wished me well at the winter fair, and I wished him well at his next Karaoke session, and I left with some floss, a toothbrush (green!), some paste, and ZERO cavaties.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts

“Make Five Wieners, I’ll Eat Six”

Sad news recently in the world of radio. We learned this morning that Arthur Black, the long-time host of CBC Radio’s Basic Black died. He announced just a couple of weeks ago that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the “Mike Tyson of cancers” as he described it in a poignant, bittersweet blog post. That news brought back a flood of good memories for me, of spending a chunk of many, many Saturday mornings listening to Basic Black with my Dad. When I say, “listen with my Dad”, I don’t want to give the impression that he and I would sit around a radio, like a couple of old-timey rubes. That’s not what would typically happen. My Dad would play the CBC in the bathroom as he performed his “morning ablutions” (his words) and I would listen to it from my CASSETTE PLAYER/AMFM RADIO in my room, typically while I was still in bed. If my Dad was not in the bathroom DOING HIS ABLUTIONS, then he was probably upstairs in the kitchen puttering around, listening to it on his little transistor radio. I honestly don’t know what my Mom or brother were up to during these mornings, but I don’t think they ever listened to Basic Black. I think they surfaced around lunchtime, when Double Exposure took over the airwaves after Basic Black wrapped up for the week. Double Exposure was also a fun show. Just a half hour, it would lampoon weekly political news with skits and impressions of famous politicians of the day. Saturday mornings in our house were always that potent combination of Basic Black and Double Exposure, but today I want to focus on Basic Black.

I remember the theme song and Arthur Black’s cheery, “Good Saturday Morning, Canada!” which launched every show. And what a weird show it was! It was a smorgasbord of interviews with quirky people, skits, monologues, pre-recorded bits, and songs, both live and recorded. It seemed to me at the time that Arthur Black had complete creative control, but I imagine he had a team of writers and producers behind him to create this illusion of a single-minded vision. It was thanks to this show that I first heard Robbie Robertson and The Band. Arthur Black must have loved The Weight because it felt like it must have played it at least once a month on the show. I always thought the show did a great job of knitting together the various regions of Canada by taking calls from people from every corner, and creating this shared experience. You always kind of got the feeling you were in his circle, and you were in on the jokes.

A regular feature was the report from Sir George St. Jean Quimby…….in London. It always began with the chimes of Big Ben, and this weirdo correspondent would come on and report on odd things in the British zeitgeist. I never really knew if they were real news stories or made up. It didn’t matter, he was a part of the Basic Black family.

Joy Gallagher was another regular guest on Basic Black. She was always on doing a cooking segment with Arthur Black, and things always went horribly and hilariously wrong. She wrote a series of books called The Kitchen Klutzes Cookbook: No More than 4 Ingredient Recipes. For Christmas one year, I wanted to get one of these books for my Dad as a present. My Mom couldn’t understand why I wanted to get my Dad a cookbook, as he never took an interest in cooking (aside from wieners and beans night when my Mom was out), but I knew he would like it. I was right! He and I even tried out a few recipes from it, and I can tell you this: you should probably have more than 4 ingredients in your cooking for it to taste like anything, but it was still fun.

My favourite recurring bits were Arthur Black’s monologues. They were sort of like Rick Mercer’s street rants, but with less walking around, (and not as ranty, I don’t think). Just like E.B. White’s essays (ref to last blog post, you guys!), Arthur Black’s monologues would have easily fit into “blog post” form, I think. Speaking of blogs, the man himself started one just weeks ago when he received his diagnosis. You can find it at http://basicblack.homestead.com/ .

He sadly only made it to seven posts, but you can really get a sense of his humour and wit from them, if you are not familiar with his show. I just ordered one of his books from another library, so I’ll probably have more to say about him later.

After my Dad died, I drifted away from the show. As much as I enjoyed listening to it, it was more that it was something my Dad and I would do together. After he was gone, I didn’t really have a reason to continue listening. Life changes and you move on. I kind of regret that now.

Years passed.

So it was to my great surprise and delight that on Saturday, June 29, 2002 my then girlfriend/now wife and I were heading out to my Aunt and Uncle’s cottage for the long weekend, and when we put the radio on, can you guess what greeted us? That’s right! “Good Saturday Morning, Canada!” It happened to be the VERY LAST Basic Black, broadcast live from Thunder Bay. We listened to it the whole way out, and it was a lovely way to say goodbye. I didn’t know it until then, but my wife listened to Basic Black in the ’90s when she worked Saturday mornings at a toy store. It’s doubtful that we ever overlapped in our listening, but still.

The CBC’s Early Edition posted a link to his last show today. I’m not sure how long it will be up but you can listen to it here. I’ve been listening to it while I’ve been writing this post. It’s so goofy.

Towards the end of every show, Arthur Black would give out the show’s address if you wanted to write to him. This was before the days of email and social media so you had to actually WRITE LETTERS WITH ACTUAL PENS OR TYPEWRITERS. The CBC’s postal code in Toronto was (and is, I guess) M5W 1E6, and to remember it, he would always give out the address and end it with “Make Five Wieners, I’ll Eat Six”, which always made me smile, it was so stupid. Stupid, but a great blog post title.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under blogposts