Thursday, October 19, 2017

Video Of The Week: The Tragically Hip

Well, it had to happen, and so it has: The Tragically Hip's lead singer and central figure, Gord Downie, has passed away from his incurable brain cancer.

My own personal history with the Hip began with their 1989 "true" debut Up To Here's second single, New Orleans Is Sinking, the first (Blow At High Dough) not making a dent in what I was listening to at the time at 10-11 years old (Guns N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction and GNR Lies, Kiss' Crazy Nights, N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton, Def Leppard's Hysteria, Michael Jackson's Thriller and Bad, Prince's Batman soundtrack, Queen's The Miracle, Red Hot Chili Peppers' Mother's Milk, and Bon Jovi's New Jersey). But New Orleans had something, a feel, a groove that I could deal with. I say "true" debut, by the way, because I'd seen their self-titled Tragically Hip 1987 EP release in stores at that point, but didn't buy it until 1992 or 1993; Up To Here was their first full-length endeavour. I didn't really think much of the rest of that record, so I waited for the second one, 1991's Road Apples, to be very discounted (under $10) to give it a go, and I loved Little Bones, Twist My Arm, and Cordelia right away. I liked the rest of it, too, but not as much as the one-two-three punch at the beginning of the record, which I still go to in order from time to time.

1992's Fully Completely was a whole new ballgame. All killer, no filler. This was what cemented the band as a force to be reckoned with on the Canadian mainstream rock stage, with reason. Out of the 12 songs on the album, only four do not qualify as "hits". They're great nonetheless, but the Big Eight just pack so much: Courage (for Hugh MacLennan), Looking for a Place to Happen, At the Hundredth Meridian, Locked in the Trunk of a Car, Fully Completely, Fifty Mission Cap and Wheat Kings all became staples of their live shows until the very end, and remain in full rotation on Canadian rock radio to this day.

1994's Day For Night was even better, with such classics as Grace, Too, Greasy Jungle, So Hard Done By, the tear-inducing Nautical Disaster, Inevitability of Death, Scared and An Inch an Hour. With sleeker production, this was a band at the height of songwriting genius made to sound like early R.E.M. - and it worked. It felt real, honest, and raw.

1996's Trouble At The Henhouse might be their finest work, with standouts Gift Shop, Springtime In Vienna, and the masterpiece Ahead by a Century. It has a more acoustic feel to it, it seems warmer and softer then their preceding works.

They released Live Between Us, a live album recorded in Detroit, in 1997, containing most hits, then went in the studio to make 1998's Phantom Power, with standout tracks Poets, Bobcaygeon, Something On, and Fireworks. It was a fine record, but nothing original; it was The Hip sounding like The Hip - not as generic as future releases, but there was a comfort level setting, there wasn't much surprise.

The same can be said of 2000's Music @ Work. If anything, even the four singles (My Music At Work, Lake Fever, The Completists and Freak Turbulence) sound almost sarcastically like keeping with the band's signature sound. And titles like Tiger The Lion do nothing to dispel that notion. This is where I moved on from the Hip a bit, so I bought 2002's In Violet Light because I'd bought all the others, but I played it twice in its entirety and never really went back to it. They made videos for It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken and The Darkest One, and that was my lone contact with this album.

2004's In Between Evolution, however, struck a major chord in me. Perhaps it's the fact that unlike others, it's politically-charged, in the midst of George W. Bush's Iraq War, or maybe they just started trying again, but songs like Heaven Is a Better Place Today, Summer's Killing Us, Gus: The Polar Bear from Central Park, Vaccination Scar, It Can't Be Nashville Every Night, As Makeshift as We Are, One Night in Copenhagen and Goodnight Josephine really resonated. The album was produced by engineer extraordinaire Adam Kasper (Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Queens Of The Stone Age, R.E.M., winner of two Grammys for his work with the Foo Fighters), which probably helped.

2006 brought World Container, which I remember liking, but The Kids Don't Get It is the only song from that album that's made its way into my Permanent Playlist. It's pretty much the same for 2009's We Are The Same: Coffee Girl, Now the Struggle Has a Name, The Depression Suite, and Love Is a First are all fine tunes, but Queen of the Furrows is the only song off that record that I still listen to on a regular basis.

Then there was the two-album conclusion, Now For Plan A and Man Machine Poem, the latter of which is named after a song from the former. Confused? Good. These are good records, introspective, deep in thought, with dark yet groovy pieces of music. Not what I would recommend for someone who has never heard the band (the 1992-96 output would be a better starting point, in my opinion), but for a casual fan or radio listener who was curious to find out how their 1990s sound evovled with age and technical skill, I'd recommend these two ahead of the previous two.

Pretty much as soon as the cancer diagnosis was confirmed, the band embarked on what doubled as the Man Machine Poem tour and its farewell tour, playing 15 shows in 10 cities - it was originally 10, but controversy surrounding ticket scalpers getting the bulk of the tickets (promoter Live Nation estimates upwards of two-thirds of tickets were purchased by bots, not people) forced the band to add a show apiece in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, and two in Toronto; the tour did not go farther East than Ottawa, meaning Québec (specifically the rather large Montréal market) and the Maritimes drew blanks. The final concert was held at Kingston's Rogers K-Rock Center, in the heart of the group's hometown.

I bring this post home with the song that first caught my ear, New Orleans Is Sinking:

I don't know who directed it, but if I come by it, I will update this post.

Monday, October 16, 2017

About #MeToo

You may have seen it, all over your Facebook or Twitter feeds, as I have, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the #MeToo hashtag with accompanying text:
I have deliberately cut out most of the picture and name to protect her identity for future reference.
Better yet:
The fact that pretty much everyone of my female friends followed suit - some even going so far as detailing when and how it happened - proves this is a generalized issue.

However, I want to point one thing out, for clarification's sake: the results of these stories has to come out for two reasons: 1. in case some people want to prosecute their abusers; and 2. for society to change and build from this for a better future. That being said, we should not, by any means, require victims to share their most intimate secrets to get that ball rolling. That's not how it should work.

I'm all for "innocent until proven guilty", I realize some famous folks have been wrongly accused these past few years, that's all good, a crime's punishment should require an actual trial, not an online lynch mob; on the other hand, victims must be believed and protected as well. You can do both in a civilized society. There may even be cases - that's where a true court comes in - where a victim may feel wronged but when the facts come to light, the defense may be able to make a credible case that there was middle ground; in the U.S., that's where civil court comes in, with punitive damages awarded.

Further debate and explanations on that issue, however - as with my own #MeToo because, as a Man, this is not my day to join that side of the argument - is for another day.

Today, my statement is this: I do not consider to have been a torturer in that sense, because just hearing the word "no" calms my manhood down for the rest of the night, as many disappointed role-playing ladies have found out. But there was a time as a child when I was discovering myself and sharing the experience with friends and relatives where now, as an adult, feel were either fucking weird or may have crossed some sort of line, and hopefully I didn't scar anyone for life. I have been told it was "normal childhood behaviour" by professionals, but kids are a mess anyway.

This does not mean I haven't been part of the problem, as an asshole, at an age where I probably knew better and could handle some responsibility.

I try to be a good person, and I try to improve on that every day. Some days I can't. Many times when I can't, I don't cause much damage to anyone but myself, if that.

But I have disrespected women, some of whom I even dated. I have said harsh thing. Terrible things. I even asked someone who had been on my case for an entire night "When will you die?". Jesus Christ. I'm haunted and tormented by the shit I've done - not just to women, to men too; I've said it here before, I've seen both sides, I've been bullied and I've been a bully, but fuck, man.

I'm in my late 30s now. I want kids. Chances are, if I do have some, they'll have some of my DNA. I don't want my kids to do what I did or say the things I've said. And here's the thing: my Mom was an amazing parent. She taught me to want to be - and do - good. She's probably the reason why I didn't turn out a criminal like some of my friends or some of my folk heroes. I don't know if I can do any better than she did, but I know there is shit I've had to learn by trial and error - and ages 8-10, then again around 15-16, I've erred quite a bit - that will look a hell of a lot like History Repeating Itself to me if and when I notice them from my kid(s) or their friends.

Sure, you try to teach them the basics: good, not evil; treat everybody equally, regardless of everything; help those in need. Some of that will have to come with reminders sometimes. Then there'll be the path corrections when they stray.

I have no idea if it'll stick. Because every day, I live with everything I've done in the four decades that I've been on this planet. And today, I'm thinking particularly of what I did and said to one gender. Friends, girlfriends, teachers, strangers.

I haven't always been a part of the solution. I'm trying to be, I really am, because there's only so much weight I can carry. But mostly because it's the Right thing to do.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Eminem (& The World) Vs Trump

By now, you've probably heard Eminem's cypher (freestyle rap devoid of music or even straight beats), but in case you haven't, here it is:

That was first released during the BET Awards, which have made a tradition of releasing some throughout the years. This was Eminem's third or fourth such cypher for the event in the past decade.

What I mostly came to post about was the amount of support Em received by doing so:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Video Of The Week: Zwan

Billy Corgan (who these days goes by his full name, William Patrick Corgan, because he's super-serious as a solo performer, playing piano accompanied by strings and stuff) once said of his Zwan bandmates:
I'll never go anywhere near those people again. Ever. I mean, I detest them. You can put that in capital letters. Bad people. (Original Smashing Pumpkins members) James (Iha) and D'arcy (Wretzky) are good people. They might be misguided people, but they're good people.
There's also this blog post of his. Oh, and this Chicago Tribune quote about the band's demise:
The music wasn't the big problem, it was more their attitude... Sex acts between band members in public. People carrying drugs across borders. (Guitarist David) Pajo sleeping with the producer's girlfriend while we were making the record.
Followed by this Entertainment Weekly quote just four weeks later:
Sex and drugs and junk. Tick off the list: heroin, band members having relationships... You don't trust the person next to you. I'm on the bus. I send an email to somebody and I throw my BlackBerry in my little day bag. The next day, my ex-girlfriend calls me screaming. Somebody in the group went into my BlackBerry and forwarded her an email that another girl sends me. I mean, that's the kind of stuff we were dealing with.
But taking away the psychodrama, Zwan's Mary Star Of The Sea may very well be Corgan's last very good album. It's certainly his most consistent output in the past 15 years (it came  out in January 2003).

The video for the lead single Honestly was directed by Bruce Dickson, featuring some nice harmonies and apparent chemistry between Corgan and bassist Paz Lenchantin, former Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin's classic jazz-inspired drum rolls and a bit too much flanger effect on the guitar:

It's colourful and seems more joyous than the tumultuous end(s) of the Pumpkins. Which is the beauty and magic of film, i.e. "make-believe".

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

NHL Predictions 2017-18: Hardware

After going team-for-team with my predictions on the NHL 2017-18 season standings, here are my predictions for all the award winners for the upcoming season:

(First, though, let me toot my own horn for having accurately predicted the Art Ross (Connor McDavid), Hart (McDavid), Vezina (Sergei Bobrovsky), Lady Byng (Johnny Gaudreau), and Jack Adams (John Tortorella) last year...)

President's Cup (regular season champs): Minnesota Wild
Prince Of Wales Trophy (Eastern Conference Cup finalists): Tampa Bay Lightning
Clarence-Campbell Trophy (Western Conference Cup finalists): Dallas Stars
Stanley Cup Champions: Dallas Stars
Conn Smythe (playoff MVP): Jamie Benn

Art Ross (points scoring leader): Connor McDavid
Rocket Richard (leading goal scorer): Alex Ovechkin
Hart (MVP voted by the press): Connor McDavid
Ted Lindsay (MVP voted by players): Alex Ovechkin
Vezina (top goalie): Ben Bishop
Calder (best rookie): Clayton Keller
Lady Byng (most sportsmanlike): Johnny Gaudreau
Norris (best defenseman): Erik Karlsson
Bill Masterton (perseverance/comeback): Brian Boyle
Frank Selke (best defensive forward): Jonathan Toews
Jack Adams (top coach): Mike Sullivan
King Clancy (humanitarian): P.K. Subban
Mark Messier (best leader): Jamie Benn
GM: Jim Nill

In terms of holdovers from my previous predictions, I'm staying put for the Art Ross, Rocket Richard, Hart, Lady Byng and King Clancy.

And, yes, I'm predicting Ovie shuts his critics up with a comeback season, perhaps as the lone 50-goal scorer once more (last year's leader was Sidney Crosby, with just 44 goals).

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Video Of The Week: Tom Petty

Tom Petty died last night, but because we live in a 24-hour news cycle where tweets count as "breaking news", the story was ahead of itself, reports of his demise making the rounds on social media while he was still technically alive, angering his family, friends and bandmates:
from Instagram
How sad a world are we living in? TMZ were once again the only ones to get the news right, but instead of leaving it at that, they actually released the audio of the 911 call his wife made when she found his body. For fuck's sake.

This does, as AnnaKim Violette Petty mentioned, overshadow and disrespect the man and the artist's oeuvre. We're talking about a Rock And Roll Hall of Famer (class of 2002), yet another lost member of The Traveling Wilburys (Roy Orbison and George Harrison had passed away before him, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lyne of Electric Light Orchestra fame remain), and a very successful songwriter whose career spanned five decades.

Some of the songs you may know him from include Refugee, Learning To Fly, Free Fallin', It's Good To Be King, Into The Great Wide Open, Don't Do Me Like That, Runnin' Down A Dream, All Of Nothin', Mary Jane's Last Dance, You Wreck Me, and a terrific and perfect cover of Patti Smith's So You Wanna Be A Rock'N'Roll Star.

Oh, and this tremendous piece of 1980s music called I Won't Back Down that I've sung in concert over a dozen times:

Yes, there are a few cameos in the video directed by David Leland, including Lynne (co-songwriter on most of 1989's Full Moon Fever, Petty's first official solo album), Harrison (who played guitar on it), Mike Campbell (lead guitarist of both Petty's band The Heartbreakers and on this record) and former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, who does not play on the actual recording (those are actually Phil Jones' beats). Also missing in the video is Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein doing backing vocals.

Notable covers of this song include Pearl Jam's rendition from the Live At The Gorge set, but young'uns will know it best by Sam Smith stealing it for his Grammy-winning Stay With Me...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: Dallas Stars

GM: Jim Nill (since 2013). 8/10
Coach: Ken Hitchcock (second stint, since 2017). 8.5/10

2016-17 record: 34-37-11, 79 points, 24th overall, out of playoffs.

Departures: Antti Niemi (G), Ales Hemsky (RW), Patrick Sharp (LW), Cody Eakin (C).

Arrivals: Ben Bishop (G), Alexander Radulov (RW), Marc Methot (D), Martin Hanzal (C), Tyler Pitlick (LW), Brian Flynn (C).

Top forwards: Jamie Benn (75-85 points), Tyler Seguin (75-85 points), Jason Spezza (60-70 points), Radulov (50-60 points), Radek Faksa (35-45 points), Devin Shore (35-40 points), Hanzal (30-35 points), Mattias Janmark (30-35 points), Antoine Roussel (35-45 points).

Must-improve forwards: Roussel was gaining traction when he fell to injury; look for him to take another step up this season. Alternatively, Hanzal was an anchor for the Minnesota Wild, and he likely will be for the Stars as well, possibly forcing Hitchcock to play him alongside Radulov to get some kind of production out of the slow, aging Czech.

Top defensemen: John Klingberg (50-60 points), Esa Lindell (25-30 points), Methot (15-20 points), Stephen Johns (20-25 points), Julius Honka (15-25 points).

Goalies: Bishop (90/100), Kari Lehtonen (77/100).

Top rookies: Honka (21 years old, D, 2014 first-round pick), Miro Heiskanen (18, D, 3rd-overall pick at the 2017 draft), Denis Gurianov (20, D, 2015 first-round pick), Jason Dickinson (22, C, 2013 first-round pick), Riley Tufte (19, LW, 2016 first-round pick).

Like last year's Nashville Predators and the 2013-14 New York Rangers, it will take a few months for this Dallas Stars team to gel and start being consistent, but when they do, it'll be a straight road to the Stanley Cup Final for them.

After dressing the worst goaltending tandem in the league last year, the Stars bought Niemi out and added the best goalie on the market, two-time Vezina finalist Bishop. They also added the best forward on the market in Radulov, but also the most overrated one, Hanzal.

The entire team will be better just for knowing that Bishop will be behind them, adding a layer of confidence and fearlessness unseen in Dallas since the days of Ed Belfour.

Ken Hitchcock - who was also at the helm of the 1999 Cup-winning Stars team and has added two Olympic gold medals with Team Canada since then - will ensure everyone plays up to their usual standards.

I smell another Cup for Dallas.

Prediction: 4th in the Central Division. Top Wild Card spot in the West. Stanley Cup winners.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: Ottawa Senators

GM: Pierre Dorion (since 2016). 8/10
Coach: Guy Boucher (since 2016). 8.5/10

2016-17 record: 44-28-10, 98 points, 12th overall, Eastern Conference finalists.

Departures: Marc Methot (D), Chris Neil (RW), Viktor Stalberg (LW), Tommy Wingels (LW).

Arrivals: Johnny Oduya (D), Erik Bergdoerfer (D), Nate Thompson (C).

Top forwards: Mark Stone (60-65 points), Mike Hoffman (60-65 points), Kyle Turris (55-65 points), Derick Brassard (50-60 points), Bobby Ryan (40-55 points), Jean-Gabriel Pageau (35-45 points), Alexandre Burrows (30-40 points), Ryan Dzingel (30-35 points), Zack Smith (30-35 points).

Must-improve forwards: Burrows' production took off when he joined the Sens, so hopefully he keeps that going and puts the last few seasons in Vancouver behind him. Ryan and Pageau both had terrific playoffs that bode well for the upcoming season.

Top defensemen: Erik Karlsson (70-85 points), Dion Phaneuf (30-35 points), Cody Ceci (20-25 points), Fredrik Claesson (20-25 points), Chris Wideman (15-20 points).

Goalies: Craig Anderson (86/100), Mike Condon (79/100).

Top rookies: Thomas Chabot (20 years old, D, 2015 first-round pick), Colin White (20, C, 2015 first-round pick), Andreas Englund (21, D), Filip Chlapik (20, C), Logan Brown (19, C, 2016 first-round pick).

The Hockey News didn't just invent that Karlsson should be in the same conversation as Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby for the title of World's Best Player - he proved it by being the best player in the postseason last year despite playing on a broken foot. Any roster with Karlsson leading the play has a chance to win the game on any given night.

Add to that last season's Cinderella story, Anderson in net, who has been rock-solid since coming over to the Sens during the 2010-11 season.

Then add three potential (and past) 30-goal scorers on the wing in Stone, Hoffman and Ryan (Clarke MacArthur would have been a fourth, but post-concussion syndrome will probably keep him out of hockey for the time being) and two 60-point centers in Turris and Brassard, and you've got yourself one of the most balanced top-six units in the league, let alone the East.

And that's not factoring in Pageau's development, he of the 4-goal night in the second round last Spring. And Dzingel and Smith by his side. And an effective shut-down unit comprised of Thompson and Tom Pyatt. And a head coach (Boucher) who specializes in defensive systems and has a degree in psychology to tear his opponents apart. Oh, and his assistant, Marc Crawford, is a former Stanley Cup-winning head coach (1996, Colorado Avalanche).

Yeah, these Sens are for real. (At least until Anderson's retirement).

Prediction: 2nd in the Atlantic Division.

Friday, September 29, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: Florida Panthers

GM: Dale Talon (second stint, since 2017). 8.5/10
Coach: Bob Boughner (since 2017). 7/10

2016-17 record: 35-36-11, 81 points, 23rd overall, out of playoffs after finishing first in the Atlantic the year before.

Departures: Tom Rowe (GM and interim head coach), Jonathan Marchessault (C), Jaromir Jagr (RW), Jason Demers (D), Reilly Smith (RW), Jussi Jokinen (LW), Shawn Thornton (RW) Reto Berra (G), Michael Sgarbossa (C).

Arrivals: Radim Vrbata (RW), Evgeny Dadonov (RW), Michael Haley (C), Jamie McGinn (LW).

Top forwards: Aleksander Barkov (65-75 points), Jonathan Huberdeau (65-75 points), Vincent Trocheck (55-65 points), Dadonov (50-55 points), Nick Bjugstad (40-50 points), Denis Malgin (20-30 points), Vrbata (25-30 points), Colton Sceviour (25-30 points).

Must-improve forward: Bjugstad lost the 2C spot to Trocheck, but perhaps he can play as a winger on the top-six and get going again.

Top defensemen: Aaron Ekblad (30-40 points), Keith Yandle (35-40 points), Michael Matheson (20-25 points), Alex Petrovic (20-25 points).

Goalies: Roberto Luongo (87/100), James Reimer (76/100).

Top rookies: Owen Tippett (18 years old, RW, 10th overall pick in 2017), Ian McCoshen (22, D), Henrik Borgstrom (20, C), Michael Downing (22, D), Jayce Hawryluk (21, RW).

Two years ago, the Panthers finished first in the Atlantic on the strength of a roster that GM Dale Tallon took five years to build (technically less, because he won the 2012 GM Of The Year award after a strong finish). But the Cats' new owners were convinced they could do even better with the help of analytics, so they "promoted" Tallon to President and named his assistant Rowe the GM. Rowe proceeded to tear the team down, starting with the defense, as Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov were sent away and Yandle, Dylan McIlrath, and Mark Pysyk were acquired.

It'll likely take Tallon a couple of years to rid his roster of Rowe's acquisitions and insert some talent and grit around or instead of guys who can barely "move the puck forward". Case in point: the Vrbata acquisition seems like simple "hole-plugging" to me, as almost everyone in the hockey world knows he is unable to produce outside of the Arizona Coyotes organization. But you need players to fill jerseys and reach the cap floor, and trade deadline bait to stock up on draft picks, right?

It pains me to say this, but they're wasting prime years from the Huberdeau, Barkov, Ekblad, Trocheck, and Bujgstad core, years during which future Hall of Fame goalie Luongo will only get older.

Heck, now that I think of it, perhaps this team should be down in the basement with the Detroit Red Wings. Oh well, I'll maintain my initial gut feeling:

Prediction: 5th in the Metropolitan Division.