Tag Archives: Canada

No Dress Rehearsal

“I scored a gig as the lead singer with a school band … not necessarily for my singing ability but rather for my sheer memory power. I could memorize huge quantities of lyrics — mostly the Doors.” — Gord Downie

“Come in, come in, come in, come in
From thin and wicked prairie winds come in
It’s warm and it’s safe here and almost heartening
Here in a time and place not lost on our imagination” Gord Downie The Darkest One

“Don’t you want to see how it ends?” Gord Downie The Depression Suite

We all knew this day was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier for those of us who consider ourselves fans of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip. This blog may be named after an Arcade Fire song, but it could just as easily have been named after one of the dozens of Tragically Hip songs that have made up the soundtrack of my life over the past 30 years or so. “Ahead by a Century” might have been a good one, or maybe I would have called it “Behind by a Century” to poke fun at my late adoptiveness of most things pop cultural. “Little Bones” could describe my little nuggets of insight that I share with you here, less and less frequently it seems these days. All things have a lifespan, as we are reminded of today. Over the course of this blog, a Maritime theme has organically built itself its own organic mythology, so maybe “Nautical Disaster” would also be a good choice. While we might have our heads on the east coast, our bodies firmly remain on the prairies, so “100th Meridian” or “Wheat Kings” would be obvious choices, too. “Springtime in Vienna” has a vaguely John Irvingish feel about it. (Not that I am comparing myself to John Irving, obviously. I don’t think I’ve ever even mentioned bears or SISTER KISSING on here, and I don’t intend to start.)

I guess what I am saying is that like many Canadians today, we are grieving the loss of someone who made a huge impact on many of our lives through his music. I’ve poured out my feelings at least three times already on this blog, so I don’t have much left for today. “Their Music at Work“, “Up to Here” and “Armed with Will and Determination” are all about the Tragically Hip in one way or another. In fact, I feel a weary emptiness that is passing for grief this morning. When I heard the news, I went to put on “The Grand Bounce”, his solo album from 2010 which begins with that great anthem, “The East Wind”. Those opening lines of welcome, “Hello again my friends, I’ve come to see you again…”

After a couple of songs, I switched over to “We are the Same”, an album that is near to my heart. It was released the same month that our daughter was born, and it was on regular rotation that first year of diapers, bottles, sleepless nights and uncertain anxiety. None of the songs from that album ever get played in concert, but that album contains some of my favourites. “Morning Moon”, which evokes that melancholy feeling of being down at a cottage past labour day. “Honey Please” which is so joyous and makes those wonderful references to “all the stars in the county, burning bright” at the end. And the remarkable, “The Depression Suite”, which resonated with me immediately for obvious reasons. I can’t stop quoting that line, “Don’t you want to see how it ends?”

I’m sure I’ll get to the big hits later on this week, probably starting with that awesome live album “Live between Us” recorded in 1996 at the height of their powers. Starting strong with “Grace, Too”, it rolls on right through many of their iconic hits like “Blow at High Dough” “Ahead by a Century” “New Orleans is Sinking” “Fully Completely” and “Scared”. It also features some of Gord Downie’s off beat stage banter, which some people hated but I always kind of enjoyed. If “New Orleans is Sinking” becomes the one song the Tragically Hip are remembered for (and why not? It’s perfect), then “Scared” may be my personal favourite of all of them, if I had to choose just one. (Of course, if I think about their legacy of songs left behind for more than 5 seconds, I am sure to shout out “Wheat Kings!” or “Bobcaygeon!” or “Fireworks!” or even “Poets!” or any other number of songs that are inside me forever. Jesus! “50 Mission Cap!” “38 years old and never kissed a girl!” Don’t make me pick! Lists are tricky. I’ll stick with “Scared” for now, if only because when they played that as one of the encores at their last Kingston concert a year ago, that was the moment when I broke inside).

I’m not saying anything different from what many of us are feeling today, and I am sure we all have our favourite songs, favourite Gord moments that we can conjure. Special nights with friends, road trips, concerts in the ’90s, images of Canadiana supported by a strong beat and bass-line, early mornings alone with just you and your music, moments of melancholy made just a little easier when you heard Gord Downie ask, “Are you? Are you going through something? Are you? Are you going through something? Because, I, I, I, I, I am too.”

Rest peacefully, Gord Downie.

You got to see how it ends. You meant the world to me. Bring on the requisite strangeness.

By Jeff Lemire

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150

Hey everybody! I’ve been going down a rabbit hole of memories these past few posts, and you’d think that writing that one about my high school reunion would have purged all the brown water ghosts and left the tap available for nice cool clear water musings, BUT YOU WOULD BE WRONG because I think I’ve got one more in me.

U2 is wrapping up the first leg of their “Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary Tour” tonight in Cleveland. (And you might think that this blog post would have turned into a little meditation on U2 and The Joshua Tree album and what it meant to me, but I think I’ve talked enough about U2 on here.) I was lucky enough to catch the opening night of this tour in Vancouver over a month ago, and here is my mini-review. It was a bit weird and boring to hear the band play The Joshua Tree album completely in order, and yet it meant hearing songs played live that I’ve never heard played live before, and hey: it’s U2 and I’m delighted to see them in concert no matter what but I am also looking forward to a new album and new tour and this band is always best when it is looking forward, not backwards. There, that’s my review. Also: I couldn’t get a t-shirt so I ordered one online and that turned out to be a terrible idea and maybe a story for another time.

This morning Bono and the Edge will be performing something on Canada’s Parliament Hill. It’s our 150th, you know. I morbidly mentioned at breakfast the other day that we weren’t around for the 100th, and we won’t be around for the 200th, so THIS IS IT. (No pressure). Us Canadians don’t really go in for a lot of patriotic flag waving. We prefer a quiet smugness with the knowledge that we live in the best place on Earth.

But living in a “the best place on Earth” does NOT mean for one second that we live in a “perfect” place. I understand the desire for protests over celebrating this seemingly arbitrary milestone. Our country’s history is filled with stories of our complicated, one-sided and shameful relationship with indigenous people, and that only now are there the beginnings of some awkward and half-assed attempts at reconciliation. I know our “squeaky clean” image on the world’s stage is convenient fiction, an easy stereotype that we are often too readily eager to let stick. I know there’s still much work to be done.

And yet, I love this damn country. I love the fact that could can just keep going north, if you want to, until you reach the north pole, and you could keep on going and end up in Norway. I love the Group of Seven, and the Rocky Mountains, and the prairie sunsets and summer evenings and cold -40 days where you bundle up and get on with life anyway and you feel pretty good about it especially when you come back inside to a slow cooker that’s been simmering that chili all day long and you get to eat it with your friends all rosy-cheeked. I love universal health care, and kindness, and adventure, and The Tragically Hip and SCTV and West Coast rainforests and even Tim Horton’s and Tilley Hats and the Friendly Giant and tobogganing and Bonhomme and Gimli and the way snow squeaks when it gets below -20 and Leonard Cohen and, and…

I’m happy we have a day where we can reflect and celebrate all this.

I wouldn’t say I have a tradition or a pattern to my Canada Days, but we always end up doing something unabashedly summery. To me, Canada Day always marks the offical beginning of summer, the gateway to the easy season. Growing up, we lived within a short walk or bike ride to a huge park that always had fireworks. So, if we were in town we would often default to a BBQ and then a stroll over to the park in the evening for the show. Those quiet, easy good no celebrations always were the most fun. When we were older, we’d ditch the parents and go with our friends. If we weren’t in the city, we were out at my aunt and uncle’s cottage, and getting to spend time with all my cousins was always a highlight among the docks and rocks of the Canadian Shield.

But we weren’t always close to home on Canada Day.

One Canada Day, growing up, my family planned to be in Ottawa. That was pretty great. We attended the Canada Day concerts on Parliament Hill, met our MP, watched the changing of the guard, waved at Jeanne Sauvé, our governor-general and got heat stroke.

Another great Canada Day away was spent in Banff, and we lined the main street for a parade. The lasting memory for me was a fireworks show at night that rumbled and echoed all through and around the mountains. The Park eventually stopped doing those fireworks shows because they “upset the wildlife” but I was glad to have experienced it when I had the chance.

About 10 years ago, I spent a Canada Day exploring Algonquin Park, north of Toronto, and even hanging out on Canoe Lake for a few hours. For a Tom Thomson fan, this was a lifelong thrill. 

More recently, we’ve gone for part of the day up to a historic fort north of the city (free admission!), or attended one of many “street or market festivals” before heading home or to someone’s place for a BBQ. Summer!

I can’t think of Canada Day without thinking of my late uncle’s conviction that it should never have been called Canada Day in the first place. He said that no other nation on earth calls its national holiday the same name as the country it is celebrating. When I would point out to him that Australia’s national day is called “Australia Day”, he sneered and said that was named after the continent. (And then mumbled something about Australia not being a proper country anyway as he stormed off). Canada Day was always called “Dominion Day” from 1867 until an act of parliament changed it to “Canada Day” in 1982. My cousin (my uncle’s son) had a t-shirt made up that said, “It will always be Dominion Day to me” which my uncle proudly wore, not just on Canada Day, but as part of his regular summer wardrobe rotation. One time, he came home from the grocery store beaming that another man had tapped him on the shoulder, say he liked his shirt and agreed with him 100%. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Mental illness doesn’t just run in my family, it practically gallops.

I’ll never forget Canada Day, 2002. My then-girlfriend, now my wife, and I were up at my uncle and aunt’s cottage along with all my cousins. For some reason my Mom didn’t go with us that time.  The cottage was a couple of hours out-of-town, and we planned to stay up there with everyone for 3 or 4 days. Canada Day fell on a Monday that year, and we headed out on the Saturday morning. As hoped and expected, we had a great time doing all the cottagey things we loved to do on the Saturday and Sunday. On the Monday we got up, sang O Canada! on the dock and settled in for another day of lounging, boating, swimming, napping, and eating. Then, late in the afternoon, the phone rang. It was my girlfriend’s Mom calling to say that her Mom, my girlfriend’s grandma Helen, wasn’t doing great and maybe we could come back a little early? Helen not been well for a few months, in and out of the hospital, and in fact was in the hospital when we left for the weekend. My girlfriend’s Mom didn’t sound all that panicky, and we even debated about what we should do. We eventually decided that we should go check on things, but I don’t remember a big rush or panic packing up. My cousins and uncle and aunt sent their best wishes along with us as we headed home. I even remember stopping for ice cream before we made it to the hospital, so that can give you a bit of an idea of how worried we were.

As it turned out, it was the best decision to head in when we did, because when we got to the hospital, my girlfriend’s parents and brother (and oddly enough, my Mom!) were already there, and it became clear that Helen was not going to make it through the night. I felt self-conscious because I was still in my cottage clothes, a lime green swimsuit and a tank top. (For God’s sake, I am attending a death of a sudden. Couldn’t I have at least had the sense to put on a shirt with sleeves??) No one seemed to care what I was wearing though. As the evening wore on, more relatives made their way to the hospital, the space around Helen’s bed became crowded. Who knew we’d be seeing both sides of the family that weekend? An impromptu reunion. My girlfriend’s aunt from Toronto even hopped on a plane that afternoon, and there was much talk about whether she would make it home “in time”. [editor’s note: Aunt Lynn did NOT make it home in time, but she did come straight to the hospital from the airport, and they were all glad to see her when she arrived]

I had never been present at a death before. I felt a strange sense of privilege to be included in this most intimate of life’s milestones. It must be similar to being present at someone’s birth? I kept expecting some distant cousin to ask, “Who’s the doofus in the lime shorts?” but no one ever did. When the time came, it was peaceful. Sad, too. But it was a sense of peace that washed over me first. I stepped out into the hallway shortly after it happened to give the immediate family some privacy and alone time. Then, I heard all kinds of bangs and pops and couldn’t make sense of what was happening. Helen’s hospital was across the street from one of the biggest parks in town, (the same park, truth be told, that we would walk or ride our bikes to on many past Canada Days), and it was the fireworks display going off. Of course! It was still Canada Day. My girlfriend joined me in the hallway and we walked to the end where there were big glass windows overlooking the park. We just stood there, side by side, appreciating the incongruity of sadness and joy, grief and celebration, literally death and life happening all at the same time. “Well, my grandma always loved a party,” my girlfriend sighed, and it all sort of seemed to make a bit of sense at that moment. Not a bad send-off, in the end.

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So, is Canada perfect? No, of course not. Nothing created by humans ever is, but I’ll tell you this: I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. (Well, okay. I could be convinced to spend time in Ireland, England, Norway, Iceland or Sweden. I wouldn’t say “no” to an extended visit to Hawaii either), but YOU GET MY MEANING. I feel blessed and lucky to call myself Canadian, and that’s all I have to say about that. To say anything else wouldn’t be very Canadian, would it?

Happy Canada Day, everyone! (Or Dominion Day, if you prefer).

 

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Up To Here

“Don’t you want to see how it ends?” The Depression Suite, The Tragically Hip

 

I’ve had it up to here with terrible news involving musicians this year. We started off with the stinging news of David Bowie’s seemingly sudden death in January, then learning that he had been secretly battling cancer for quite some time. Then in April, we received the frankly shocking news of Prince dying from God knows what, fittingly at home in his palace/recording studio Paisley Park.

This week’s news somehow hits the hardest. I’m not sure why. We, as a nation, found out that Gord Downie, the front man for The Tragically Hip, has incurable brain cancer. I say, “as a nation”, because I can’t think of any other band that seems to encapsulate our weird “Canadianness” than The Tragically Hip, and by extension, their leader Gord Downie. It’s fitting that as a nation we received this news together, and are all processing it in our own way this week. I’m not saying that every Canadian was a fan of the Tragically Hip. (Jesus, I’m already using the past tense here. FUCK IT. I’m not saying every Canadian IS a fan of The Tragically Hip, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who grew up here in the ’90s and ’00s who hadn’t at least heard of them, right?)

They have been consistently putting out albums and touring so regularly over the last 25+ years that you almost start to take them for granted. In fact, this past Monday, we had plans to meet friends for an outing in the country. (Something seemingly simple that was way more complicated, but that’s a story for another time). The sun was shining and the sky was blue. It was the May Long Weekend, that most Canadian of long weekends, and I was wanting to really get into summer mode. The seersucker was one, the birks were ready. I picked out two albums and played them over and over before heading out. One was Coldplay’s X&Y (no comments, please. I actually LIKE Coldplay, and that album, more than any of their others, makes me think of summer for some reason), and the other one was “Live Between Us’ by, (you guessed it, friends), The Tragically Hip. I love that album, because it’s sort of like a “best of” without being a “best of”, and you get a taste of some of Gord Downie’s weirdo stage presence, like how he suddenly snippets a Jane Siberry song at one point. (And it’s not even a WELL KNOWN Jane Siberry song, actually. I love that moment.) Also, speaking of “best ofs”, the Tragically Hip’s “Best of” album is a two disc thing cheekily called “Yer Favourites”.

It’s hard to describe The Tragically Hip’s broad appeal, but for me they seem to be doing two things at once. (At LEAST two things, but let’s stick with two).

For one, they are a straight ahead rock band, the kind that you’ll hear dude-bros play at their campsites all summer long and wouldn’t be out of place on a demolition site or a Winnipeg social. You know how early Radiohead, like The Bends album, sounds like a pretty great straight ahead rock band? (and then they went all funny and artsy with OK Computer, Kid A and forward and now we have to PRETEND we are into them to be cool?), well The Tragically Hip’s sound really hasn’t  changed a whole lot since their debut in the late ’80s. I’ve been listening to Now for Plan A a lot this week in the car. It’s their most recent album (not the one that is about to be released, the one before that), and I was stuck at how layered and nuanced the sound was, and yet you can still really rock out to it. The Tragically Hip never lost that. So, that’s the first thing.

But the second thing they are doing as describing and commenting on Canadian history, geography and culture while actually becoming a part of Canadian history, geography and culture while they are doing it. They write and sing about weirdo intellectual stuff, and that endears them to me quite a bit. They sing a song about Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, (Three Pistols) for God’s sake. They dedicate a song (Courage) to Canadian writer and professor Hugh MacClennan. They write a beautifully mournful tribute to David Milgaard (Wheat Kings), who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 23 years. This happens to be my wife’s favourite Tragically Hip song. They even wrote a song about an imaginary line that runs north/south just west of Brandon, MB (The 100th Meridian), and I remember the night we pulled over on the side of the highway, excitedly thinking we found the 100th meridian, but later finding out it was just the 97th meridian. Stupid meridian.

I’m just scratching the surface here, but infusing their songs with so called “Canadian Content” never really feels forced, it just seems like a natural by-product of a creatively fertile mind that belongs (present tense, fuckers!) to a poet who genuinely loves and cares about this country of ours and its identity.

A few years ago, Joseph Boyden invited The Tragically Hip to visit Attawapiskat, that doomed indigenous community on the shores of James Bay, and they performed a concert in nearby Fort Albany. At that time, a housing crisis there was making the news, but in more recent months a much sadder story has surfaced over a rash of teen suicides in that community. Let me just say something about Joseph Boyden. He’s my favourite living indigenous Canadian author. Why do I feel like I need to add “indigenous” to that description? It’s like Royal Tenenbaum introducing Margot as his “adopted daughter”. Screw that, Joesph Boyden is my favourite living Canadian author, and his invitation to The Tragically Hip resulted in a very meaningful visit and the last song on their last album, Goodnight Attawapiskat, was inspired by it. Joseph Boyden wrote a haunting article about Attawapiskat in Macleans recently, and I’d like to link to it here. I forced my wife to read it (I’m the WORST), and on the strength of that she is now reading Boyden’s first novel, Three Day Road, so: mission accomplished? (I’m resisting a rant that has been simmering for a few weeks about the attention and support the fires of Fort McMurray have received and the support (or lack thereof) and attention (or lack thereof) that the community of Attawapiskat has received in comparison, but I’ll leave that for another day. Today is for Gord Downie).

Many people will cite 1992’s Fully Completely as the album that first got them into The Tragically Hip. It had those great songs like Courage, 50 Mission Cap, 100th Meridian, and Wheat Kings. Me being me, I was a little slow to the party. The first album I ever bought was 1994’s Day for Night. That album starts with the great Grace, too which they defiantly played on Saturday Night Live, even though they were told it was too long for network tv. They changed the first line from “We’re fabulously rich.” to “We’re the Tragically Hip”, and it was a great moment. Dan Ackroyd introduced them. To this day they often open their shows with this song (or if not open, then play it in the number two spot). That SNL moment was probably the deepest they ever penetrated into the American market, and somehow that makes them ever more dear to us as Canadians. We’ve all heard stories about friends who have gone down to the States and seen The Tragically Hip play small bars and nightclubs with only a few hundred people, all the while filling arenas back home. When Gord Downie’s health news broke Tuesday, many Americans expressed confusion as to why so many people were responding so passionately about someone seemed like an unknown to them. He wasn’t an unknown to us. It felt like a family member got the diagnosis.

Even though I didn’t buy an album til ’94, my one concession to hipsterdom was that we had an old cassette copy of their first album, Up to Here, in our car. No one knows how that cassette got in there. Neither my brother nor I ever remembering buying it, but we played the hell out of it in high school and beyond. It had all those great early songs: New Orleans is Sinking, Blow it High Dough, and of course, 38 Years Old. Years later, my brother was living in Belleville, and we were driving around the countryside near Kingston, and we passed Millhaven Prison, and I turned to him and said, “From The Tragically Hip song!” and we started singing, “Two men broke loose, in ’73. From Millhaven maximum security…” he remembered the cassette too. Part of the fun is when you travel through across Canada and you see some of the things referenced, like Prince Edward County near Kingston, where many of my wife’s ancestors lived and are buried. Also, I can’t tell you how excited I was when I discovered Bobcaygeon was a real place.

Through the ’90s and ’00s, they reliably produced an album every few years and seemed to be constantly touring. I wouldn’t have identified myself as a Tragically Hip fan then, although I always sort of kept tabs on them. In fact, it took me over 20 years until I actually saw them live, because I always put it off for a future date. That opportunity happened first in 2010 at the Winnipeg Folk Fest, where Gord Downie appeared by himself in support of his solo album, The Grand Bounce. They played a lot of this album on the CBC, which had recently abandoned their classical programming for modern Canadian content, and it was this album more than anything else that got me back into the Tragically Hip. It was the only time I’ve been to the Folk Fest where the weather was perfect, and I will always remember this lovely workshop in the afternoon that featured Gord Downie and fellow Kingstonite, Sarah Harmer. The following year, my wife and I had our first full Tragically Hip experience, when they played outside in a baseball stadium. Although their most recent album was We Are The Same, I don’t remember them playing a single song off that album. My wife was a little disappointed, as she loved (loves!) the heck out of that album. Most of the songs are quieter, more introspective, so I can sort of see how they wouldn’t really transfer to a stadium concert setting. (think of the dudebros!). At least they did play Wheat Kings, as an encore at the end. The band themselves, though, were really solid and together and I got to see a bit of Gord Downie, the showman, firsthand. Someone this week described him as a cross between Leonard Cohen and Bono, and who am I to disagree? The following year, we saw them again, at a music festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The REAL reason we were going was to see The New Pornographers and Death Cab for Cutie, but the Tragically Hip were the headliners. We were all pretty “rocked out” by the time they took the stage, but I remember hanging back by the food carts, eating a late supper, with the sound of Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip as our soundtrack. Ben Gibbard, the lead singer of DCFC, and Gord Downie, seemed to have a particularly close connection during the festival, and a few months later a FRIEND OF MBM was in Toronto to see Ben Gibbard perform a solo show. She saw Gord Downie at the show, and Ben played My Music @ Work as a tribute. I even wrote about this way back in 2012.

So, where does all this leave us?

A terminal cancer diagnosis.

A farewell summer tour.

It doesn’t seem fair that Cher gets like 12 farewell tours, and The Tragically Hip are granted just one, especially when less than a week ago, as I listened to Live Between Us, I was thinking that they would just go on and on and on.

I’m still processing the news, as I am sure a lot of you are too.

They are coming through town one more time in August. Apparently Gord Downie is well enough to do this, and maybe this is the best thing for him, for the band, and for the fans.

Or not.

I’m conflicted. I don’t know if I deserve to go to this concert. I don’t know if I qualify. I’m not sure I am even what you’d call a fan. Maybe more of an admirer? Will I regret not going? Will I regret going? It will be sad, surely. But will it also be a outpouring of love and a celebration of almost three decades of music? A double middle-fingered FUCK YOU to cancer? A mix of everything? Tickets don’t go on sale for another week, so I have some time to mull it. I’ve gone from, “I HAVE to be there.” to “I’m okay if I don’t go.” to “I’d rather not go, if it’s all the same to you.” right back to “I HAVE to be there.”

Let’s just see what tomorrow brings.

 

 

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Trudeaumania 2.0

If you were to track down a copy of my University newspaper back in 1993, you’d find an article by me about a weird afternoon I spent hopping on the Liberal campaign bus. I was a beat reporter for the school paper, and they wanted someone to cover this campaign stop in a small town about a half hour away. It sounded exotic to me, and I would have a chance to meet Liberal Party leader Jean Chretien.

I think I called the article “Liberalmania comes to ______” (the name of the small town it came to) and it was heavily influenced by my love of Hunter S. Thompson at the time. It was my first attempt at “gonzo journalism” and I remember making myself just as big a part of the story as the story itself. (In fact, there wasn’t much of a story. Jean Chretien showed up at this community centre with a bunch of Liberal Candidates and gave a stump speech and then moved through the crowd. I can’t even remember if I got to meet him, as I was promised. If I did, it wasn’t memorable. I think MAYBE I shook his hand? I DO remember spending some time at a weird Liberal Party “club house” in Osborne Village before getting on the bus. It was like some kind of a secret club.)

I think it would be interesting to track down that article and read it again. I should have kept some paper copies, but I didn’t. Just another example of me burning my life down behind me as I go.

I was recently thinking about the similarities of the fall of 1993 and 2015. In both, we were facing a federal election with a hated incumbent conservative government. As then as now, the Blue Jays were battling through the Post Season. In both years, Spielberg had an earnest historical film in theatres. Then: Schindler’s List, now: Bridge of Spies. That turned out to be a crazy election. The Liberals won a majority, and the opposition party was the separatist Bloq Quebecois! The party with the third highest seats were the Reform Party under Preston Manning. ‘member him?

The poor NDP lost official party status with only 9 seats, and the Tories? Oh my goodness. Reduced to 2 seats. It pretty much killed the Progressive Conservative Party, didn’t it? I mean, the Reform kicked around for a few years and then morphed into the Conservative Party, which is just really the Reform Party with support from the East, right?

Is it too much to ask for a repeat performance today? Two seats! Can you even imagine?

So it really didn’t surprise me all that much when my friend K called me up the other day to see if I was free Saturday night and if I wanted to go see Justin Trudeau. He even reminded me about my 1993 article. ‘It’ll be full circle!”. I’m a sucker for full circles, so I was in, even if that meant not seeing the end of game 2 of the ALCS. (and as it turned out, the less said about that game the better).

I called another friend, E, who I hadn’t seen in a while to see if he wanted to check out this rally too. He seemed baffled by why we’d even be attending. He knew I was always left leaning, but I sold it by saying, “you might get to meet the next prime minister of Canada!” and he seemed on board.

Before I knew it, he had called his parents and told them about the rally, and soon it seemed like me and K, E, and E’s parents would all be arriving at this community club rally at different times.

E reminded me that his dad had worked for the original Trudeau in Ottawa back in the late ’60s. E’s Dad is always full wonderfully eccentric stories, and I do recall E telling me years ago that his Dad’s job in the PMO was to open Trudeau’s mail since there was a constant bomb threat from the FLQ. Well, apparently one day the office was in an uproar because a “sensitive communication” between Trudeau and Barbara Streisand went missing, and if it were to fall into the wrong hands, there would be trouble. It was real “Scandal in Bohemia” stuff, people! Well, as you can imagine, E’s Dad was the hero. He located the correspondence in time, and averted an international scandal. (I wouldn’t take the time to fact check this story. I like it just the way it is.)

So, fast-forward to Saturday night. K picked me up and we drove across town. He had pre-voted for the Liberals, so he was just interested in seeing something happen. I was waiting until election day to vote, and was still actually undecided. I wanted Harper gone for sure, but should I vote with my heart and go Orange, or do I vote strategically and vote for the Liberals who in my own head has decided have a better chance at ousting the incumbent Tory in my riding? I didn’t know.

We arrived at the community club, and man oh man, the parking lot was full and there was a line up of people from the front doors all the way down to the street, along the street and down the next one. We both thought that there was no way we’d get inside, but maybe our friend E was already in line somewhere? He supposedly arrived there a half hour before us. K got in the line, and I walked up and down but couldn’t spot him. Volunteers were handing out stickers (our admission tickets) and checking bags, etc. Security was light. I had my iPod with me, but no access to wifi, so I couldn’t really contact him. I decided to go find K, but as I walked back along the line, I couldn’t find him either. I lined up at the end and thought that here are three relatively intelligent men in their 40s and we are probably all standing by ourselves at different points in this damn line.

I suddenly remembered that I had our cell phone in my jacket pocket, but here’s the thing: K just got a new phone, so his number wasn’t updated. I’m pretty proud of this ingenuity: I looked up his new phone number in a cached email in my ipod, and then typed that new number into my phone.

“Where are u? I’m in line. No sign of E.” was my text.

“In line too. At the corner of __ and __”.

Well god damn. I was only about 20 people behind K. How did I miss him? I texted E to see where he was at. At least HIS number was still in my phone.

“I’m way, WAY down at the end. I’m with the whole family.”

How did he get so far behind us if he was here a half hour before us? It made no sense. And even less sense: this follow-up text:

“Is my Dad with you?”

What? Didn’t he just text he was with his whole family? What would his Dad be doing with me?

A couple of texts back and forth. (I am not good with texting). It became clear that E was in line with his wife and kids, but his parents were to come separately and he didn’t know where they were or if they were even there at all. They didn’t have their phone on, and none of us knew what was going on. It wasn’t looking like any of us was going to make it in at this point.

I made my way up to K, and felt a little bad cutting in front of the people immediately behind us, but no one seemed to mind. Everyone seemed in a good mood, excited about the possibility of seeing the leader of one of our political parties in person, and possibly even seeing the next PM of Canada. There were all ages in line around us, and I was immediately struck by the positive energy and optimism of what might happen. I tried to follow the campaign early on, to at least get a sense of the issues, but I found watching the nightly news an exercise in negativity and sadness. After being away from watching regularly for some time, I couldn’t believe how down I was feeling about the world in general after hearing the daily wrap up. I found I was happier being slightly ignorant, as sad as that may sound.

And then all of a sudden, in the midst of all this optimism, Yahya Samatar showed up in a suit.

I’m not going to be able to do Yahya Samatar’s story proper justice here in this goofy blog post, but he made headlines back in August by swimming across the Red River to enter Canada as a refugee. His story is almost unbelievable, and you can listen to a CBC story on him here. All you need to know is that he had to leave Somalia over a year ago because he was under threat of death. He left his wife and three children behind (four, actually, now. One was born after he left). He flew to Brazil, and made his way overland all the way through central America. He made it across the border into the US, where he was held in Texas, then Louisiana. (or was it Louisiana, then Texas? I don’t know. Just listen to the damn podcast.) before having his refugee claim denied. Instead of being shipped home, he was let go and told that he could be deported at any time. Apparently things are so bad in Somalia that they wouldn’t even know how to get him home. He knew someone in Columbus, Ohio, who drove him to a known Somali community in the Twin Cities, and from there he got a ride up to close to the Canadian border where he made he daring crossing. His refugee status was approved a couple of weeks later, and now he’s here, trying to make a life for himself, find work, and wait the year until he can begin the process to bring the rest of his family over to join him.

And here he was, just weeks after arriving, at a political rally, meeting people, learning about our electoral process, and taking the whole thing for the first time. He was even wearing a Liberal button, despite the fact that he can’t vote. It really put things into perspective for me, knowing how incredibly lucky I am to have the dumb luck of being born in Canada. I don’t deserve it, obviously. People like Yahya deserve a great country like this, not me. I’ve taken it all for granted, and it made me even angrier reading about some of the stuff Stephen Harper has done to our country in the last decade. My resolve hardened right there in line. I was going to vote strategically for the Liberals in this election, because I just want that motherfucker gone.

The line began to move suddenly, and I turned to the lady behind us. I told her that I realize I cut in front of her to stand with my friend (and now with a Somali refugee, apparently) and that if it came down to me or her getting in, she should go. It’s only right. She seemed really happy at that, but as it turned out we all got in.

I stopped E’s Dad in the corner. He got in the room somehow already! I was so happy for him that he would be able to see the speech in person. If they got a chance to talk, would he tell JT that he used to work for his father? Hopefully he would have the sense to not mention the whole Barbara Streisand thing. That can’t be true, can it?

Getting inside the hall meant I was in a wifi zone again so I could see messages from E. He was still outside, and it wasn’t looking good for him. Someone said there were 5000 people there, and the room could only hold 500. Can that be right?

Within a very few minutes, cheers erupted and in walked Justin Trudeau, grabbing hands as security made a path for him to take to the podium.

I learned later that he started his day in St. Johns, went to Halifax, then Thunder Bay, now here, then onto Edmonton for the night.

His voice seemed hoarse after a long day and long weeks of campaigning, but he seemed genuinely impressed with the massive crowd. He talked for 10 minutes, maybe 15 tops, hitting all the sound bytes. He must have said “Real Change” a dozen times, he mentioned the ill-defined and nebulous “middle class” a dozen more, and ended with a couple of shots at Stephen Harper before disappearing out a side door.

“Is that it? Does he come out again?” I asked.

“No, I think that’s it. Do you want to go get supper?”

When the crowd started to clear, I managed to tap E’s Dad on the shoulder just to let him know that I saw him, but there wasn’t a chance to chat.

I messaged E one last time, but he had gone home. They never did get inside, but they saw Justin Trudeau arrive and he came over and shook everyone’s hand, so at least they had that moment to remember.

I left with a sense of optimism and pride. Not so much in experiencing Justin Trudeau in person. It was an okay speech, one he’s delivered dozens of times over the last 78 days. Rather, I felt proud and optimistic in seeing the people around me in line, who decided to come out and take part in the political process, one that I know I take for granted way too much. Maybe it took meeting a Somali refugee for it to finally sink in a bit.

I was at the polls right when they opened this morning. They were in my daughter’s school so the two of us went together. As I marked my X on the ballot I was reminded that we, the voters, hold all the power on days like today. We, as a nation, get to decide who will lead us. We get to decide. We do. You. Me. Us.

Let’s not screw it up.

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Stand on Guard for Thee: a New October Crisis

“You heard what happened in my home? In my home! In my bedroom, where my wife sleeps; where my children come and play with their toys? In my home!” Michael Corleone

Holy shit you guys. I was having breakfast yesterday and had one foot out the door when the CBC news announced that they were working on a breaking story about a Canadian solider being shot. In the split second after the word “shot” my brain filled in: “in Kandahar/accidentally during manuevers in the Arctic/in a domestic dispute/” you know, the usual. So I stopped walking when I heard the rest of the sentence: “in Ottawa.” In Ottawa? Nobody gets shot in Ottawa. Ottawa’s nice, and maybe a little boring. But one thing is for sure: nobody gets shot there, and certainly not a Canadian soldier for Pete’s sake.

When I got to work I dialed up Twitter and couldn’t unglue myself all morning. Reports of a gunman (or gunmen) running around our nation’s capital. Like in any dynamic story, you don’t know what to believe and false reports mix with the truth (much like this blog, heyo!) but by the afternoon we had a pretty clear picture of what happened, but no real leads of why.

Some person (we now think it was just one dude, thank God) went up to a soldier guarding the national war memorial. We don’t know if he said anything to him or if he just pulled out a rifle and shot him in the chest. The soldier was part of an honour guard tasked to stand over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The guard carries a weapon (for show) but no live rounds. It’s like a tourist thing, although at the same time adding a level of respect and relevancy to the memorial. (incidentally, my favourite war memorial. fun fact! Maybe a special blog post on war memorials I like and love is in order? Maybe for November 11th? No pressure.)

This shooter than apparently hi-jacked a car and drove it right up to the centre block of the Parliament Buildings. It’s been about 15 years since I’ve been to Ottawa and the Parliament Buildings, pre-911, for sure, but even then I noticed a heightened level of security compared to previous visits. I remember as a kid visiting Ottawa with my parents in the mid 1980’s and I seem to recall just walking in the front doors into the lobby where you were met with a smile by a helpful tour guide. In 1999, you couldn’t just go in the front doors, you went through some side entrance and through some metal detectors, but aside from that, it was pretty lax. I don’t know what the process is like these days, but apparently yesterday this guy just drove a car up to the front door and walked in.

The various caucuses were just starting their morning meetings when this was all happening. There’s an incredible photo of the Tory caucus behind a door barricaded by a bunch of green leather chairs while the drama unfolded on just the other side. The next few moments were captured from multiple angles (I actually wrote “multiple angels” just now and maybe that’s not completely wrong either). The gunman started shooting and Parliament Security led by Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, returned fire and killed him. It was all over in 14 seconds and you can watch videos of the whole thing happen if you’re into that sort of thing. (I’m into that sort of thing.)

Deep breaths.

I’m so fucking mad right now you guys. I don’t think I’m overly patriotic (potential maple leaf tattoo excepted). It’s not very Canadian to flaunt how awesome our country is, we just quietly, maybe even a bit smugly, know this to be true. Sure, I’ll wear a flag shirt on Canada Day (or Dominion Day if you are of the old school) and I’ll get up super early to cheer on our atheletes every couple of years at the Olympics, but I’m not going to make a big deal out of how much I love Canada, and how lucky, how privileged I feel to have won the geography lottery by being born here. Having said that, hearing those bullets echo off the limestone vaulted ceilings outside of the Parliamentary library threw me into an irrational rage. “How dare they? In my parliament? in my capital? in my country? How the fuck dare they?” without ever stopping for a second to think who they or he actually could be.

I wasn’t thinking sensibly yesterday. But I’m so proud and grateful for those that were. Case in point: Mr. Peter Mansbridge and the CBC National News team. All day, Peter Mansbridge was on the air, providing updates and gathering information. His tone was understated and his attitude was cautious. He would constantly remind the viewers to not jump to conclusions about the shooter’s motives and background. It was a masterwork of unsensational reporting and so wonderfully Canadian (or at least Un-American) that I knew we would be okay as a country, despite all this. I still feel that way today. I don’t want us to suddenly live in a police state because of one terrible person and one terrible day. And further to that, let’s take Peter Mansbridge’s lead (in this and maybe in ALL things. That guy is legit.) Let’s not all of sudden bomb the middle east over this, okay? We don’t know if this guy is Al Qaeda, ISIS, ISIL, FLQ, SPECTRE, or COBRA, or any of the above, right? It would be a shame to murder a ton of innocent people on the other side of the world just to show that we can. We’re better than that, *he said, with typical Canadian smugness.*

And what about the helpers? Remember that Mr. Rogers quotation that circulated after the Newtown shootings? I know its sucky but I still cling to that quote in times of “disaster”, as he put it, to look for the helpers. Look at all the helpers yesterday! The first responders and eye witnesses who performed CPR on doomed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the even-handed (for the most part) media reports, and of course the parliamentary security team led by Sergeant-At-Arms, Kevin Vickers. I mean, before yesterday, if I thought of the Sergeant-At-Arms at all, I pictured an older dude in a funny hat who carries the mace into the House of Commons. It seems like it would be a ceremonial position, maybe even a volunteer job for politics nerds to compete for. And I guess up until yesterday it was a mostly ceremonial role. But the position also has a real purpose: the responsibility of “the safety and security of the Parliament buildings and its occupants”. That responsibility was put to the test yesterday and as angry as I was to know that two of our national symbols were defiled yesterday, I also felt an unreasonable level of pride in the security team that ultimately did their job and protected the “Parliament buildings and its occupants” in the most simple and direct way possible. And you know what? That guy, the Sergeant-In-Arms Kevin Vickers was at work today, present at the House of Commons, where he was met with a standing ovation and tributes from all sides. It was a moving moment of setting aside political differences and celebrating a bit of unsung heroism in our midst. But seriously, shouldn’t he be put on paid leave or something? I mean, he just shot a dude yesterday. I couldn’t believe he was actually there and we are all okay with this. I guess we are lucky in the sense that we never had to deal with something quite like this before. (Yes, I remember the October Crisis of 1970. Well, not remember it, but you know.) and maybe we just don’t know the protocol. “Sure I shot a guy yesterday, but I’m all out of vacation time so I guess I’ll go to work. No big deal.” That sounds pretty Canadian to me. And on a side note, I would love to have a three worded hyphenated title, like “sergeant-in-arms”, or “aide-de-camp” so I suppose I could settle for “editor-in-chief” of this silly little blog. (But if you guys hear of any openings for an aide-de-camp, let me know!)

I’m calming down a bit, guys.

I hope this doesn’t “change” everything. I hope I can take my daughter to Ottawa one day when she’s older and we can get a tour of the Parliament Buildings and sit in on a session of Question Period and learn about our country’s political systems and storied history and walk those echoed halls and stop at the eternal flame outside and stand by the national war memorial (my favourite war memorial you guys) and know that this all stands for something. Not just 1914-18, or 1939-45, or even 1950-53, but 2009-? because I want my daughter to know that every day she’s lucky to be Canadian and that should count for something.

Artist: Bruce MacKinnon

Artist: Bruce MacKinnon

 

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You can’t spell “Vote Compass” without “Ass”

“Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often and for the same reason.” Mark Twain

Just like that, we’re into another Federal election. In my city, we will have had a civic, provincial and federal election within a 12 month period. I know a lot of my friends have become apathetic and disenchanted with our political system and it’s leaders. Everyone’s focusing on what’s bad about the other guy, rather than just telling us what’s good about themselves. A friend of mine has a theory that most people would vote “Green” if it was based solely on policies, but most people vote strategically. “Who has the best chance of beating the guys I hate the most?” It’s hard not to agree with the cynics, but I personally love election time.

First: it’s a relatively short period. Five weeks and its over. Not really enough time for voter fatigue to set in, not like the system our friends to the South employ. The 2012 Presidential election is still almost 2 years away, and there is already rumblings about who will run. Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota announced that he is launching an exploratory committee into the feasibility of him running for President. He’s not even running yet, he’s just announcing to everybody that he’s checking out his options. That’s like me announcing in the morning that I kind of feel like an Arby’s Beef and Cheddar for lunch. There’s a slim chance I’ll actually eat one, but I want everyone to know that I’m thinking about one of those delicious sandwiches made up of an onion bun, lean shaved roast beef, Arby’s Sauce, and velvety cheese sauce…..where was I?

Jack Layton doing his best "Beef and Cheddar" impression.

Oh yeah, elections. The second thing I like about them is that the politicians are out there crisscrossing the country, (or in Duceppe’s case, La Belle Province) and that anything can happen. Politicians veer from scripts, unexpected protests can erupt and rhetoric escalates. It doesn’t really matter that on May 2 the results will more than likely be the same: A minority Conservative government, with a strong showing (but not strong enough) from Liberals, NDPers and the Bloc. Who knows? Maybe even Lizzie May and the Greens may snag a seat.

I'm glad there's a "Vote Green" sign in the background. Easier to identify.

This brings me to this week’s topic. The Vote Compass. This thing started innocently enough. The CBC hired a couple of poly-sci profs to come up with a survey that asks your opinion on a number of topics relevant to Canadians. Representatives from each major party “answer” the questions based on their platforms and past practices. The idea is that you can take the survey and see which party most closely aligns itself with you. It’s billed as a “voter’s tool” for those who may not know how they want to vote. “See where you stand on the issues” encourages Peter Mansbridge. You can see if you’re a soulless Tory, a wishy-washy Liberal, a treehugging Greeny, a commie rat NDPer or a treasonous BLOCer, I suppose.

"Let's fuck this country up good!"

I took the compass survey, answered the questions as truthfully as I could, without trying to “guess” what the survey wanted, and was surprised to find myself aligned most closely with the Green Party. “Oh great”, I thought. “I’m most similar to a party even LESS likely to form a government than the NDP, my default party on all things political.” I wondered which questions turned me towards the Greens. I DID say that the environment was important to me, but isn’t that a no brainer? Who would actually say “I care not for mountains, trees, air and water? These things do not interest me.” I thought all the rest of my answers were pretty left leaning, and I said Jack Layton was the most trustworthy leader. Delusional perhaps, but trustworthy in my eyes.

Then there was a bit of a kerfuffle with the Vote Compass. Kathy Brock of Queen’s University claimed that it had a Liberal bias, and of course this became headline news for our local rag “The Winnipeg Sun”. Turns out the professor answered all the questions “somewhat agree” and it dubbed her Liberal. She went back and chose “somewhat disagree” and guess what? Liberal again. CBC fought back in defence of the Vote Compass to say that there is a balance of left and right leaning questions, so if you were to answer everything the same, then you’d come out in the middle. Right smack dab where the Liberal party falls. Welcome to Liberalville, Kathy!

"Does this boa make me look phat?"

The next thing was that it was discovered that one of the professors who designed the Vote Compass was previously employed by Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal Party. Now we’re getting into Manchurian Candidate style territory. Or are we? Upon closer inspection, maybe not. Peter Loewen, the “director of analytics” for Vote Compass, volunteered for Ignatieff in 2006 and wrote a couple of policy papers for his leadership bid. I guess they weren’t winners, because Ignatieff eventually lost out to Stephan Dion that year. Loewen also told reporters that he’s fundraised for Stephen Harper in the past. He doesn’t sound all that partisan after all. I remember I had a poly-sci prof at the U of W who was also a speech-writer for the down defunct Reform Party. Defunct. What a great word. Say it with me. DEFUNCT. I bet Miranda Hart would appreciate this word. Actually I have nothing to say about that Reform Party speech writer, I just wanted to say defunct.

 

"A moist plinth? No, I'm on the cusp of a defunct thrust."

A quick survey of staff at my library revealed that everyone turned up Liberal, so maybe there is something to this bias talk after all.

If you haven’t taken the survey yet, why not? Let me know in the comments how you fared.

www.votecompass.ca

You know you want me.

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Did Juno there was an awards show last night?

Well the Junos happened last night. Congratulations to Arcade Fire, who won 3 awards last night and one the night before. A much different reception up here in Canada than at this year’s Grammy awards. This tumblr account has done a great job gathering up the various negative and ignorant backlash responses to this band’s unexpected Grammy win. I think they were going in as the favourite last night, but it was still nice to see them recognized. I could probably write an entirely separate post about how I came to love this band, and maybe I will some day. Fans will recognize that I take the name of my Blog from one of the songs off of “The Suburbs”. In the meantime, here’s a well written article about them and their win. (And for the record, I am dropping the “The” in front of Arcade Fire. And I am going with ebooks over e-books, so there.)

Win and Regine of Arcade Fire

I really enjoyed the Junos last night, maybe because I was happy with who was winning. The highlight for me included the tribute to Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and The Band sung by Sarah Harmer, Blue Rodeo, The Sadies, Serena Ryder and Sarah Slean. I also thought Daniel Lanois stole the show with his low-key introduction to Neil Young as he received the Allan Waters humanitarianism award. Lanois shuffled onto the stage with his notes written on the back of a creased piece of lined music paper. He started by saying “OK, what are we doing here now? Oh yeah. Neil Young.” I didn’t realize he was so funny, and it was the first time I saw him since his terrible motorcycle accident last June, and it was gratifying seeing him back to full form. Coincidentially, I just finished reading “Soul Mining, A Musical Life” by Lanois, telling his story. I like how it was written without the aid of a ghostwriter, and you can tell. There’s nothing fancy about it, just him telling some stories about his own musical philosophy and work ethic. It’s not a tell-all book, but he does tell stories about some of the big names he’s collaborated with over the years, including Brian Eno, Bob Dylan and of course U2. It’s a book by a musician, written for musicians, and some of it was over my head. It felt like spending a day following him around as little pearls of wisdom were dispensed without coaxing. The great thing with Lanois is that he doesn’t really impose his sound on others. Listening to Lanois’ own stuff, you don’t really hear it on other’s records. He’s a bit of a musical chameleon who is able to take a good band and make them better. Or maybe not better, but he is able to bring out something deeper out of what is already there. I liked the story of recording “Where the Streets have no Name” during The Joshua Tree sessions. I had heard this story before, but never from Lanois’ point of view. The timing and key changes are quite complicated, and the band was having a difficult time keeping together. Daniel Lanois stood at the front of the studio with a chalkboard and a pointer, like a grade-school teacher, with the different chord changes and time signatures mapped out. He’d point to a chord when it was time to change. Bono, normally in control, was humbled and eventually called uncle and told everyone “Just tell me when to come in.”

Lanois and U2 working on "No Line on the Horizon" in Morocco

Still, the Junos couldn’t escape some mis-steps. Each time they came back from commercial, we were shown clips of various musicians and celebrities over the years reminding us how great a country is Canada. Do we really still suffer from such collective low self-esteem that we need Yoko Ono to tell us how we inspired “Give Peace a Chance”?

And there there’s Justin Bieber.

We couldn’t escape him, obviously. The little guy wasn’t even in attendance; he was on tour in Europe. This didn’t stop his presence from being felt. He participated via Skype in the opening skit with host Drake, and he won the people’s choice Juno and some other one. Each time there was a pre-recorded message from the Biebs giving a shout out to all the fans. This had me thinking: Did the Biebs know he won ahead of time, or did he record acceptance videos for all his categories as a precaution? I guess it doesn’t really matter. These aren’t the Oscars, after all.

The Junos ended with a crazy performance by Chromeo, a Montreal based group that were a lot of fun. This year’s Juno’s really went in the right direction: performance heavy and award light. I’d like to see them take it even further and give out all the awards the night before, and have the broadcast be a massive 3 hour concert and celebration made up of a cross-section of as many nominees as possible. Wouldn’t that be fun? You could have Contemporary Christian/Gospel nominees teamed up with Blues nominees, you could pair up classical and electronic and do something cool. Spoken Word nominees could read snippets from their work over top of musicians from the Instrumental category? Why not? And who wouldn’t enjoy hearing the Children’s Album nominees do a number with Arcade Fire?

Come on fan base! The three of us can make it happen!

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