December 6: “Love This Town,” Joel Plaskett

Posted by on 07 Dec 2013 | Tagged as: Music and Arts


Youth= early 90s =Halifax, for me. It’s where I was on December 6, 1989, the day nine women were shot at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique. It’s where I was when the Berlin wall fell, when the Soviet Union ceased to exist, when the line in the sand was crossed, when the Charlottetown accord failed, and, sadly, where I was when the Blue Jays won their first world series.

It’s where I learned that cowering under a store awning doesn’t work when it’s rainy all day long. It’s where I fell in love for the first time, and also where I returned when I was heartbroken.

I recently encountered the show “Portlandia” and the delightful song in the first episode, the “Dream of the 90s.” I had a very nineties nineties, especially the first half in Halifax. A friend recently described the post-university year we spent, separately, in Vancouver as “a kind of exile from Halifax.” That’s certainly how it felt.

Halifax always felt like an optimistic place to me, where if there was something you wanted to do there was probably a niche for you to do it in. In a new article in the Chronicle-Herald , Brent Toderian, former chief planner of Vancouver, says, “Halifax is well-positioned to become a model for the other mid-sized Canadian cities — not just for ‘coolness’ but more importantly for well-designed, smart, sustainable city-making.”

Love that town? Absolutely. And wish it well, just like any other past love.

December 5: “Free Nelson Mandela,” The Special AKA

Posted by on 05 Dec 2013 | Tagged as: Current Events, Music and Arts

I’m sure there are radio stations playing “Sun City” tonight in their reports on the late Nelson Mandela and his extraordinary life as an anti-apartheid leader and the first democratic president of South Africa, but around here, it’s The Special AKA’s “Free Nelson Mandela”. This is an energetic romp that you can enjoy without having the slightest idea what or who Nelson Mandela is, and I’m pretty sure the first time I heard it — either at school dance or on CFNY — that was the case. At the same time, the song gives you the highlights of the story (to that point, anyway) in a few short verses:

21 years in captivity
Shoes too small to fit his feet
His body abused, but his mind is still free
Are you so blind that you cannot see (I say)

Free Nelson Mandela

(I’m begging you)

Pleaded the causes of the ANC
Only one man in a large army
Are you so blind that you cannot see
Are you so deaf that you cannot hear him (it’s clear)

If you don’t want to know more after hearing that, with horns and pennywhistle and back-up singers, there’s something wrong with you.

The cover of the copy of the “Free Nelson Mandela” single I have is exactly what you want for a message song: black and white, no nonsense, big photo, and extensive text on both the front:

FreeNMcover     photo copy

… and the back, picking up  the story where the song leaves off.


I went to see Nelson Mandela when he came to Toronto in 1990. After hearing so much about him for years I was amazed to see that in the flesh he was a normal-, not super-sized person, even smaller than some of the dignitaries on stage with him. He went to New York for a visit shortly thereafter and wore an all-Yankees uniform for several days of his American tour. Rest in peace, Nelson. Amandla Ngawhetu.

December 4: “Shalyai-Valyai”, Chaif

Posted by on 05 Dec 2013 | Tagged as: Music and Arts

A friend who also studied Russian has been staying with me so I was happy to rewatch the delightful Russian film from 2008, “Stilyagi” (somewhat misleadingly translated as “Hipsters”) with her. The movie is a musical that takes place in 1950s Moscow, but the songs are from Russian bands in 1980s and early 1990s and would be familiar to Russian viewers by groups like Mashina Vremeni (Time Machine), Kino, and others. Two of the best ones are by the Russian band Chaif, including the song that ends the movie, “Shalyai-Valyai”, which apparently translates as something like “without care” – not a phrase my well-thumbed Collins Gem Russian-English dictionary lists.

The movie is fast-paced, saturated with colour and filled with attractive young Russian actors. I enjoyed the songs enough that it made me think I should search through my cassettes to find the copies of Time Machine albums my Soviet pen pal sent me in the 1980s in exchange for the U2 ones I sent him. In the last scene, the hero turns a corner and is suddenly on Tverskaya Street in 21st century Moscow instead of Gorky Street in the 1950s. A crowd of diverse young people form around him: punks, drummers, laid back jeans-wearing hipsters and even (I’ll note given recent news from Russia) a lesbian couple or two. I don’t get all of the lyrics, but it’s all about saying goodbye to a dear friend too soon (which could be the Soviet Union) and there is an excellent line about “this divisive, evil, strange epoch” that jumps out at me every time I hear it.

December 3: “Can You Celebrate”, Namie Amuro

Posted by on 03 Dec 2013 | Tagged as: Music and Arts

“It could get to be addictive, he believed, not understanding what people were saying. Time spent in another country would probably always be spent misunderstanding a great deal, which might in the end turn out to be a blessing and the only way you could ever feel normal.”
– Richard Ford, “The Occidentals”
The helpless calm of not being able to understand what is going on around you. Advertising doesn’t work; thoughts turn inward. Brains remap, creating back stories for all the signs and symbols surrounded by circles of unreadable characters. No pressure to recognize cultural references — you’re an alien.

Sounds, in the foreign, unfamiliar language, become less distinct. The annoying chat on a cell phone next to you is more white noise. Learn a word or two and that edge of the pattern on the wallpaper of sound starts to show through. It looked prettier before.

Always at a distance from your surroundings, you’re also not at home. For the first time in your life, you can’t fit in; no point trying. This is freeing, in a way, but you’re also a circus animal, at the end of the pointed finger, frozen in place with an ambassadorial smile. You’re outside their society, yet your role is clearly ascribed: foreigner. There is gasping amazement anytime you do anything outside the parameters of the role. She can eat competently with chopsticks! She can drink sake! She can sing Namie Amuro karaoke! (And now so can you.)

December 2: “The Wagon”, Dinosaur Jr.

Posted by on 02 Dec 2013 | Tagged as: Music and Arts


What makes a college radio show great? A host thrilled to share his or her eclectic collection and knowledge of music with others, adept at cueing up multiple turntables and CD players and lowering the volume just so so there’s a nice fade between the end of that and the beginning of the next.  Low-key but entertaining stories, a couple of friends sharing banter on the air, a hesitant but earnest stream of little-known facts. Themes: a whole show featuring female drummers or power pop trios or bands that broke up after one perfect album.  Variety: the unexpected record-store find! The cassette tape from the gig!  The weird jazz and the foreign language cover song! The live performance at an unusual hour by the local singer-songwriter! You tune in from week to week because you stumbled across the show once while cooking and were taken in by the charming host and the steady stream of fresh, never-heard music.

What makes a college radio show not so great? A host who has a slightly obsessive personality that means he or she is fixated on one, two, or three albums at any point and cannot make it through a show without returning to those favourites.  Lack of variety: a focus on music of a certain style released in the last 30 days or, perhaps, six months. A host who can never remember the interesting little tidbits about this record label or that guitarist, whose banter sometimes involves rehashing the plot of “Beverley Hills 90210” with a passing station mate, who has ideas for show themes (Prague Spring!) but is then unable to think of how to manifest this in an actual show (but really: if the station doesn’t have any Plastic People of the Universe recordings, what then?).

But even that show will have its fans, and maybe a person who will call in to say, without irony, “I just wanted to say thanks for playing Dinosaur Jr. again at 10:00 in the morning. You are making my day.”

December 1 – “Don’t Stop Believin'” (Journey) – George Lamond

Posted by on 01 Dec 2013 | Tagged as: Music and Arts

A dance remake of Journey’s 1981 classic? However did this end up on my iPod shuffle? Well, cast your mind back to 2008…


It seems like a long time ago now, doesn’t it? Five years, a financial crisis, a messy Arab Spring, a drone program, a dysfunctional Congress, and…

OK, let’s forget all that and just go back to 2008 for a moment — specifically, November 4th, 2008, Election Night in the U.S.A.. “Our long international nightmare is ending,” texted one friend to me, and then another. Meanwhile, across the U.S., they were dancing in the streets:

And in Seattle, what were they were dancing in the streets to? “Don’t Stop Believin'” – George Lamond dance version, courtesy of some speakers from a local gay club. Listen to the celebration of urban life in the chorus: “Streetlights, people, oh-oh-OH!”. This video from election night is an astounding expression of pure collective joy — dance beat kicks in at about :37:

Here’s the original, in case you can’t remember what it sounds like without a dance beat:

In those few hours of optimism in 2008, I’m not sure anyone knew that the chorus was a prescient plea to Democrat voters.


November 30 – “Just Like Honey,” The Jesus and Mary Chain

Posted by on 30 Nov 2013 | Tagged as: Music and Arts

I have long had in my head a movie opening set to “Just Like Honey” by the Jesus and Mary Chain. The beginning drum beats – ba, ba-ba, then the stairs at Spadina subway station, then the next drum beats – ba, ba-ba, then a girl (me?) coming down the stairs onto a mostly empty platform, then a long shot showing the platform while the guitar kicks in, holding as the second crashing guitar wave comes in, and then the vocals begin: “Listen to the girl, as she takes on half the world…” I still maintain this would be an amazing opening to a movie of some sort, but since I’ve never figured out what the girl does after this scene, or when the music should fade out (when the subway comes? Should the scene just end when the subway comes?), it hasn’t come to life in any way. The movie would likely have to be set in the 80s or early 90s, when there were empty midday moments at Spadina station – long gone – and I have a feeling that the JAMC have since been featured in a car commercial., so someone has already figured out that this music could be great accompaniment to some images, albeit not the ones I would have imagined.

This is the first — early bird — post for a song of the day writing project planned for December — a good way to end another year!


The infantilization of childhood

Posted by on 17 Mar 2011 | Tagged as: Current Events

On the radio the other day, a CBC host gamely ad-libbed in an interview about the catastrophe in Japan, asking the interviewee’s children, in Japan, were coping:

“What about the seven-year-old? At seven, children are aware of some things.”

“Some things?” A seven-year-old is hardly just learning to focus his or her eyes. At seven, kids might not understand the “why” — if there is one to understand — but if their house falls down or their town is inundated with water or they have to, as shown in one popular photo, go back to their destroyed house and load up a carrier bag with all their wordly goods, yeah, they’ll definitely notice.

An article in the Globe and Mail a few days later featured a psychologist of some sort recommending that parents consider, because of the special horror of the Japan situation, shielding their children up to 12 from seeing anything about it on TV. Can a 12-year-old grade 7 student really get by school without an awareness of current events?

Wine from… Montenegro? China? Bosnia?

Posted by on 05 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: Food and Wine, Humour

Our latest Wine Tidings magazine has a long and highly entertaining piece on LCBO wines from less-expected locales, and has accompanied it with some highly entertaining reviews. The article is unfortunately not online, but here’s an excerpt:

86: Monte Cheval Vranac 2007
Montenegro, $8.35
This is an unapologetically rough red that puts the rust back in rustic. It has flavours of white pepper and orange and an undercurrent of funk. It is a big-boned fellow that will provide the perfect pairing for a rich stew or a barfight.

82: Clos du Pacha Red 2007
Morocco, $11.95
This Cabernet Sauvignon blend has a diluted nose with generic flavours of leather and raspberry. These unmemorable flavours re-echo on the palate. It’s amazing what you can do with water and food colouring.

70: Great Wall Cabernet Sauvignon 1996
China, $13.95
I found little evidence of bottle maturity here, which makes me suspect that there’s been a miscommunication between this wine and its label. In any case, enjoy a horsey and aggressive aroma with notes of diesel, black liquorice and vegetables.

I can’t think of a collection of wine reviews I’ve enjoyed more. Here’s to a long tenure for the writer, Matthew Sullivan.

Timely wine advice

Posted by on 03 Oct 2010 | Tagged as: Food and Wine

Usually we taste a wine, take notes, and then two months later, when there are no bottles left anywhere close to anyone, we post about it here on Mock. (Well, you get what you pay for…)

Here’s a wine that was released just yesterday, and should be readily available pretty much everywhere: Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 2006, AOC Alsace, at $18.95 and 13% alc/vol. We bought it for dinner yesterday kind of on a whim, but with at least a foggy (and in the event, correct) recollection that someone at WineAlign liked it. It’s a classic Alsace Pinot Gris with a kind of pear-Royal Gala apple nose, nicely enhanced with hints of minerality and lanolin on the nose and a rich, but lively food-friendly palate. Pear and Royal Gala can easily go the wrong way with me — too much of a good thing — but the minerality and acidity prevent this from becoming cloying. Well worth $19, and a good match for a dish that needs a white with some oomph to balance it.

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