Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Buried Life link added

I've also added a link to The Buried Life, four young guys whose attitude toward life has blown me away. I guess, having four daughters, two of whom are on the cusp of womanhood - yes, I'm bracing myself - has made me susceptible to the message inherent in The Buried Life. Effectively, what these four young men have done is respond to the immortal question they asked themselves: Why are you doing this? (Reminded me of the Talking Heads song that asks the immortal question, How do I work this? How many times have I asked myself that question?) They gave themselves the name The Buried Life, taken from a Matthew Arnold (1852) poem:

"But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;"

Ostensibly, they decided they were on a mission to accomplish their Bucket List (100 things to do before you die.) But it turned out to be much more complicated than that (and at the same time much simpler). Here's what they say on their website:

Life moves fast and we wanted to slow down and enjoy it. To do that we had to ask ourselves some important questions, most importantly: What do I need to achieve or experience before I die? When we turned the question on strangers, we were fascinated with the answers we received. Given the ultimate deadline, people are forced to ignore the day-to-day trivialities that sometimes bury their lives and evaluate their most personal dreams and ambitions. Ultimately, we want to get people excited about doing whatever it is they dream about doing. Why wait? We are also curious to know about the state of our generation, our values and the role we are play in today’s society. Really though, we want to have fun and help people.

Check them out.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New links

I draw your attention to a few new links I've added that I think are worth your time. They are John Degen's blogspot - author of the novel The Uninvited Guest which I quite liked (see my review below), and a guy who seems to be working hard on behalf of beleaguered, poverty-stricken writers in Canada.
Also, David Drummond's blog. He's the award-winning book cover designer who created the covers for The Rent Collector and Nick Maes' novel Dead Man's Float, both international prize-winners. Check out David's visually-clever style on his blog. I know you'll agree that he's one of the best in the business today.

Also added is 101 Squadron, blog of freelance editor, writer, journalism teacher and researcher Lawrence Nyveen. I actually know Lawrence through his wife Elvi - yeesh that sounds bad - when I coached their eldest daughter in soccer a few years back and who subsequently went on to an illustrious soccer coaching career herself. Lawrence and I share share a high-school alma mater, Bialik, though I think he's a couple of years younger than me. He writes with a wry sense of humour. Coaching apparently runs in the Nyveen family. On his blog you can follow the exploits of the kids hockey team Lawrence coaches (there's a future book in there too.). By the way, 101 Squadron refers to a famous Israeli airforce squadron and Lawrence is an afficionado who co-wrote what looks like a fascinating book about it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

In praise of the glorious toothpick

This link is just for fun.

And on a personal note in praise of my eldest daughter, who is as skinny as a toothpick, and from whom (G-d willing) I will shep much naches this weekend when she reads from the Torah on Shabbat Parashat Yitro. Her aliyah is the Aseret Hadibrot (Ten Commandments). Yasher koach Sivan!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Making sense of Steinerese

And here's another author I haven't read. George Steiner. Though I can't say I suffer any embarrassment from the admission. This article and the following sample from it may explain why:

Making sense of Steinerese may look difficult, but it’s quite simple once you get the hang of it. Just ignore three-quarters of the words, and translate the rest into plain English.

Steinerese: “The rhetoric of desire is a category of discourse in which the neurophysiological generation of speech-acts and that of love-making engage reciprocally.”
English translation: “Talking and making love are closely related.”

Steinerese: “Though it may take on ‘surrealist’ modes, the grammatology of our dreams is linguistically organised and diversified far beyond the historically, socially circumscribed provincialities of the psychoanalytic.”
English translation: “Dreams involve language, and elude psychoanalysis.”

Steinerese: “Saturation by commentary, by textualities parasitic on preceding expositions, may, arguably, inhibit autonomous creativity.”
English translation: “Too much criticism stifles literature.”

I heard that at that big technology show (in Las Vegas?) recently one company introduced a device which translates simultaneously. You speak into one side of the handheld unit and an automated voice blurts your sentences out the other side in any one of several languages of your choice. I don't think I'm making this up. But if I am, it's a brilliant idea. Now if only they could invent something that does the same with the double-speak of politicians. Say, something that comes as a feature on your tv.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Epstein on The Jewish Americans

The adolescent son of a dear friend of mine, trying to get out of going to High Holiday services, said to his father, “Why do I have to go to synagogue? Uncle Joe [that would be me] doesn't go to synagogue, and no one is more Jewish than Uncle Joe.”

It's classic Joseph Epstein. Epstein is one of the very best American essayists. His last book of short fiction "Fabulous Small Jews" was a favourite from a couple of years back. And who better to comment on The Jewish Americans, this wonderful PBS documentary series I've been enjoying for the past couple of weeks. If you haven't been watching there are still a few episodes remaining. Someone should do the same for Jewish Canadians. It would be very different viewing to be sure. More restrained responses to similar social, political and economic trends. It wouldn't document the energy, the explosive creativity, the frenzied entrepreneurialism. On the other hand, neither would we see the same kind of mad rush to assimilate. And I'm not sure I agree with Epstein when he says that calling themselves Jewish Americans places the emphasis on being American. I guess grammatically he's correct, Jewish is the qualifier of American. But I've always thought of myself as a Jewish Canadian to give "Jewish" a sort of native primacy, a statement of roots. To paraphrase Letty Cottin Pogrebin “This [Canada] is our country, that [Israel] is our home.”

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The story of 'Night' by Elie Wiesel

In the late 1950s, long before the advent of Holocaust memoirs and Holocaust studies, Wiesel’s account of his time at Auschwitz and Buchenwald was turned down by more than 15 publishers before the small firm Hill & Wang finally accepted it. How “Night” became an evergreen is more than a publishing phenomenon. It is also a case study in how a book helped created a genre, how a writer became an icon and how the Holocaust was absorbed into the American experience.

Do I dare admit publicly that I've never read it? Oops, I think I just did. Further embarrassing admissions of unread classics are welcome in the comments section of this post. If you dare.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Uninvited Guest by John Degen

The writing is crisp and controlled. This is an enjoyable, if not completely successful, first novel by a writer most definitely worth watching.

Hapless, aptly-named Stanley Cooper has been laid to rest and has passed the torch as guardian of Lord Stanley's Cup to Tony Chiello. Tony's first task as keeper of Canada's illustrious symbol of hockey supremacy, is to escort it to Romania. The prized hardware is to be the special guest at Dragos Petrescu's wedding in his hometown. It's an intriguing premise, and the reader can't help wondering who came up with this strange tradition of allowing each player of the winning team to spend some personal time with hockey's Holy Grail? The possibilities for plot curves and detours seem endlesss. Instead, Degen chooses to play it straight, no fancy deking or headfakes, just the literary equivalent of a slapshot between the legs.

The story has two main parts. The first is about "Two-Second" Stanley Cooper, so-named when he costs the Toronto Maple Leafs a game in the 1951 championship because of a timekeeping flub. This section is really a set-up for the second part about Tony's sojourn to Romania in the company of Drago's family, particularly his father Nicholae and cousin Diana, whom Tony fancies.

Tony plays second fiddle to the Cup, or as Tony himself puts it, the Cup takes him along on its travels not the other way around. Tony's a former hockey player who didn't quite make it to the pros. He's on the defensive, along for the ride in love and life, and we know that part of Degen's play is ultimately to bring Tony out of the shadows and into his own. Still, I had a problem caring about Tony, and I think it's because we simply don't get to know him intimately enough. When we learn about Tony's brief and intense relationship with hotblooded, insatiable Ewa Loest, it feels plunked down in the middle of the text.

The same goes with other episodes meant to add texture, like that of Valentin Propescu, the pervert music teacher from hell who's not shy about throwing his substantial girth around to get what he wants in return for his clients' social advancement. And again in the end, when the recently immigrated Petrescus recall being visited by a former member of the secret police in Montreal (another uninvited guest) who makes unexpected amends to Nicholae in a very satisfying way. It feels without precedent, a structural hitch which might have been remedied by introducing Ionescu earlier in the story. Transitions could have been handled more smoothly with a little more editing.

Still, when the narrative lands on Romanian tarmac Degen shows what he's capable of as a writer. The prose shifts from an anecdotal tone to one possessing a more layered and rewarding literary quality. Degen appears to have an insider's sense of what it felt like to live under totalitarian rule in Ceaucescu's Romania, and conveys well, the daily travails of life in a police state, coping with paranoia and secrecy. He uses backgammon as a powerful motif expressing the Romanian pride, humour, courage and determination of citizens living within a political system in which gamesmanship was the currency of existence, and everyone had to be a player of one sort or another to survive.

When I closed the novel, the lasting questions were not about Tony and where he would go from here, but about the real Stanley Cup. I wondered about the trophy's venerable history. Is it true what I'd heard that one time a hockey player (from the Montreal Canadiens?) had taken the Cup home and on the way suffered a flat tire? After changing it, the story goes, he forgot the trophy on the side of the highway. There must be dozens more bizarre tales of the Cup's travels. I'm grateful to Degen for opening that door and look forward to his next outing.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Jesus Camp

I watched the abovementioned chilling, fascinating documentary recently on the CBC with my kids. Highly recommended. The woman pictured is a powerful 'teacher' who brings her young students to tears with her religious message. Or maybe she is a master manipulator engaged in brainwashing? To what extent is her brand of evangelical Christianity cult-like? That is the question posed by the film and it resulted in a family discussion. What differentiates education from indoctrination? It's an interesting discussion to have with a teenage daughter who tends to think that all of education is just brainwashing.

After said-daughter became obsessed with the movie Hair (she now fashions herself a sort of neo-hippie, recently discovered Jefferson Airplane) and started asking question about Hare Krishna, my wife wisely suggested that she do some reading on religious cults. She did, (thank G-d we've raised a reader), starting with Josh Freed's excellent book "Moonwebs" about a Montreal boy who was sucked into the Unification Church (The Moonies) and his family's attempt to rescue and de-program him. She devoured it in a couple of days which says a lot about the quality of Freed's storytelling.

It's funny that we don't hear very much about cults anymore. When I was in high-school, during the late 70s, it was the urgent topic du jour (along with the perennial concerns about the hazards of drug use.) We had people coming to our school giving testimonials, warning us that we were susceptible to cults. Part of the reason was that somehow Jews were found to be disproportionately susceptible. And, in fact, one of my classmates was sucked in.

I wonder if the reason we don't hear very much about brainwashing these days is that it has somehow become 'normalized'? To what extent can Al-Qaida - an extremist sect of a legitimate religion - be considered a cult that uses brainwashing techniques? It has an all-controlling, charismatic leader who preachs an apocalyptic theology which encourages violence to others and self-destruction. How is this different from Jonestown? Why do we not see Al-Qaida in these terms? Or any extremist religious group, for that matter, whatever the stripe? These questions make the film Jesus Camp all the more prescient. It should be said that the evangelicals depicted in the film are non-violent, though it's not hard to imagine some of the kids becoming radical adults with hardened religious views.

Here's a link to a piece on the producers of the film, one of whom is Jewish.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Rent Collector on CKUT (again)

I had the opportunity of welcoming to Chabanel a lovely young lady named Tamara who interviewed me for her radio show called Shtetl on The Shortwave on CKUT 90.3 FM. The show aired on January 16th, click the link on that day to hear the show:,11:00

It's always nice to educate the young about the shmatte bizness. And Tamara had read the novel (a bonus) and even more, she was a sensitive reader who asked thoughtful questions (double, triple bonus). This was actually the third time I'd been interviewed on CKUT since the novel came out, which means that my modest donation to the non-profit radio station some years back has worked wonders. I implore you all to support multi-cultural, community-based/university-based, non-profit radio by listening and sending cash. CKUT and other stations like it offer, without doubt, the most interesting programming on the airwaves.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The wisdom of the book club (not Oprah's)

Yesterday I gave a book review to a small book club of ladies in Hampstead. I do about a half dozen of these gigs per year, have been for over a decade. It's all in the service of literature of course, and the pay's not half bad considering the effort involved and the fact that the same review can be recycled over and over. Also, there's usually (depending on the level of commitment of the hostess) the bonus of good eats, delicious cakes, cookies and occasionally a lovely fruit plate.

I've been doing this for so long I have favourite groups. Serious literati who actually bother to read the book under discussion, which, if I'm lucky, happens only about half the time. It can be a pretty discouraging experience when the ladies just stare blankly as you speak, nothing registering. On the other hand, at least they don't (usually) fall asleep.

I mention it because we had a very interesting discussion at yesterday's session - one of my favourite groups, serious readers, a retired english teacher in the bunch, a few artists. This is a group that's been in existence for decades and has read a ton and widely. They know their stuff. The book in question was "The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss. The consensus of the group was that while the author writes beautifully, the storyline was needlessly complex to the point of confusing.

I made the point that Krauss's novel is about the boundary between the real and the fictional and a reflection on the act of storytelling itself. They wanted to know why, in recent years, had narrative strategies become increasingly convoluted. Why did it seem, that younger writers were unsatisfied with the conventional narrative approach.

I resisted the smug response that it was because we were just a more sophisticated generation, which, of course, I don't believe for a second. We spoke of how technology (from film and tv to the internet) had challenged the conventions of linear storytelling and that the novelists have had to respond.

But why, they wanted to know, did the current generation of writers feel the need to make storytelling itself the central subject, and didn't that imply a certain mistrust, not only of the narrative form but of our ability to make sense of our lives and the world around us.

Anyway, as readers, they said they were tired of stories about storytelling. And truth be told, so am I.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A.M. Klein

For those of you who might not know Klein, this article is as good as any place to start. My reading of Klein, his poetry, editorials and novel "The Second Scroll" were absolutely formative and essential to my own writing, my literary sensibility, indeed, my sense of identity and world view. For me, Klein is a deeply religious (spiritual) writer as well as a political one. And that is what I most appreciate about him. Whereas writers these days seem to be specialists, pigeonholeable, narrow in so many respects, Klein is the opposite. A cultural polymath and multi-linguist, his work indicates a writer forever trying to mediate the tension between the religious impulse (the spiritual, the eternal) and the political impulse (the temporal, the earthly), between the deeply personal and the communal, the particular and the universal.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Father's Gift to His Son

Montreal poet Asa Boxer writes movingly about his father the late poet Avi Boxer z"l and the discovery of a hidden cache of photographs documenting Canadian poets of the 50s and 60s.
Al Purdy, Margaret Atwood, Avi Boxer (1970)

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Best Songs of the 70s Debate continues

My good friend Eric Caplan, McGill professor, keyboardist with the band "The Diminished Faculties" and well, all-round one of the nicest, smartest guys I know, has responded to the gauntlet I threw down. As expected, his note is thoughtful, his suggestions grounded in knowledge and his arguments cogent (if at times slightly misguided - I mean, leave out Joe Jackson? And Bowie's 'Heroes' Realllly!) And, as always, Eric is polite to a fault, calling the Telegraph writer a "gentleman" while I accused him of being on drugs. Of course, I hang my head in shame to think that I neglected to include Bob Marley. Thanks for that corrective Eric. He writes:

I don’t think that a decade of music can be distilled down to 10 songs. I think that it’s also possible that from a qualitative perspective, the 10 best songs were written by two or three people. So, I think the best that can be done with a list such as this is to come up with songs of artists that you consider the great songwriters of the decade and that hopefully point to trends in the music of the decade.

With that said, here’s my response to your list and the list of the other gentleman:

Fleetwood Mac had a long presence in the 70s, but I don’t think that they were exceptional songwriters. Good ones, yes; extraordinary, no. I wouldn’t include them in this list. The BeeGees are also central to the decade and are also the only “disco-ish” band that were actual songwriters. The BeeGees are not great songwriters but they did have some killer 45s in the decade, and disco needs to be represented in some way. I’d take “Nights on Broadway” over “You Should be Dancing.” I think the California, singer-songwriter scene is under-represented in both lists. How about Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender” or “Before the Deluge”? I agree that Elton should be there. Indeed, I think there could be two tracks of his because he is so central to the decade. “Levon” could be one of them although I’m a bigger fan of “Tiny Dancer.” But Elton’s rockier side could also be represented. Either “Saturday Nights Alright for Fighting” or “Bitch is Back” would do. The Who, definitely. “Won’t get Fooled Again” is a good choice but I might go with “Naked Eye” or “Love Reign Over me” just to be less conventional.“Born to Run,” yes. I love “Midnight Train to Georgia”. Perhaps something from the Philadelphia soul scene could also work on this line. “Love Train”? Paul Simon did great work in the 70s. “Still Crazy After all These Years” is, in my view, an extraordinary song. You’ve got to have some Neil Young. All the songs from the early 70s are excellent but I might go with “Needle and the Damage Done” because it speaks to what was going on at the time. Dylan can’t be ignored. He wrote some powerhouse songs between 73 and 75. It’s a toss up: “Dirge,” “Idiot Wind,” “You’re a Big Girl Now,” or “Hurricane.” The punk aesthetic needs to be there, for sure. I don’t think any of Joe Jackson’s work of the 70s deserves to be included. In my view, “Night and Day” is his first great album. So I’d go with Elvis Costello, “Watching the Detectives,” Patti Smith “Because the Night,” or the Clash “London Calling” (the Clash would be my preferred choice). Few artists have had a stronger run than Stevie Wonder between “Talking Book” and “Songs in the Key of Life.” Almost any song will do but I’d go with one of :”Superstitious,” “Living for the City,” “Higher Ground,” “Sir Duke.” Bob Marley was also essential to the 70s. One of: “Is this Love,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Exodus.” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” (May 1971) has really stood the test of time. Although Gaye wasn’t an essential artist of the 70s, this LP is one of the great releases of the decade.

So that’s the core 10-12 songs. But there are other artists who were less essential to the decade but who did great work that was important to me. Here are some of them: Linda Rhonstadt’s versions of “It don’t Matter Anymore” or “Blue Bayou,” George Harrison: “Give me Love,” “Crackerbox Palace,” or “Blow Away” Joni Mitchell: “Help Me” or “Free man in Paris,” John Lennon: “#9 Dream,” or “Mind Games” Joan Armatrading: “Love and Affection,” “Show Some Emotion,” or “You Rope you tie me,” Van Morrison: the “Moondance” LP came out in February 1970. Every song on the first side is a gem, Al Stewart: I really loved the whole “Year of the Cat” LP. The song “Time Passages” from the follow up LP is also wonderful, Warren Zevon: “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” or “Excitable Boy” Electric Light Orchestra: “Can’t get it out of my Head” or “Fire on High,” David Bowie: I can’t see “Heroes” as one of the best songs of the decade or even of his catalogue. I’d go with any of the following: the first side of “Hunky Dory,” side 2 of “Ziggy Stardust,” “1984,” or “Young Americans,” Billie Joel: “My Life,” “Just the Way you Are,” “Honesty.”

The 70s were also famous for the long song. You know, the ones that were the last song played at dances in grade 7. My personal favorites were “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” by Sir Elton John and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” (Meatloaf).

And one more, my all-time favourite, fast-slow-fast-you-can-never-dance-to-it long song "Evie" by Aussie Stevie Wright.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Pass the Baby (around the candidates)

When we had our first baby, my wife and I used to joke about writing a book of party games with babies. One of the games we imagined was inspired by the fact that we were never able to sit down together for a meal without the baby wailing and one of us having to get up and rock her in our arms. We called the game "Pass the baby," a sort of hot potato combined with musical chairs. It went like this: a group of adults would pass a baby around the table. If the baby cried while you were holding her you were out. One by one people would be eliminated until a winner, with whom the baby was sedate, was declared.

A version of this game was played, unwittingly, with a 5-month-old baby girl among the Presidential candidates. It's hilarious, if not a bit creepy. Go to the slide show:

If this baby is any indication, the Democrats definitely have the edge and among them it looks like Edwards all the way. Save the poor child from Romney! It looks like he's choking her. Another funny thought; being female would be an unfair advantage if the Presidency were decided this way.

Excellent Stories

We all know that story collections don't get their due, except if you're Alice Munro. So many are published to relatively little fanfare and are quickly forgotten. It's arguably the most difficult literary form. With a novel you have to persist but at least, as Mordecai Richler once said, with novels there's room for error. Poems are compact and therefore manageable. Short fiction requires the author to have the plot/character sense of a novelist and the word sense of a poet. A tall order that has frankly confounded me. When they are well-executed short stories encompass entire worlds, entire histories and entire musical scores.

Some of the most memorable books I read last year were story collections. I wanted to recommend two of them which I fear are destined to slip away unnoticed. The first is Tamas Dobozy's "Last Notes and Other Stories." These are funny, witty, playful, serious stories, one of which is a comic masterpiece called "Into The Ring" about a husband and wife who settle their marital conflicts by boxing.

The second is a new collection I've just finished called "Blood Pudding" by Art Corriveau. A Montreal native, I'd never heard of Art, but he's been quietly garnering some impressive publication credits mostly in the US (where he lives) and the UK. These are beautifully crafted tales about fully-realized characters in which the author delicately maps out the emotional landscape of relationships. My favourite in the collection is "Loss of Gravity" about a woman who has lost her husband in a tragic car accident and decides to take action as a way of dealing with overwhelming grief. Both books are worth your time.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Bears or Bull

What a quandry. There I was last night, reclining in my lounge, flipping the channels back and forth between CNN/ABC's coverage of the US Democratic Party nominees "debate" on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, and a CBC documentary called "The Edge of Eden" about a man who raises orphaned Grizzly Bear cubs in Kamchatka, Russia.

It was absolutely compelling. I was riveted for two solid hours. By the Grizzly bears I mean. The party nominees bored me silly with their bull. Of the four, John Edwards was most impressive playing the role of an average Joe, sharecropper's son (or grandson, something like that), a Washington outsider (never mind that it's his second run at the Democratic nomination), who'll never cave in to special interests unlike his opponents. Hilary dug her hole deeper by repeating "reality check here," not quite seeming to comprehend that the last thing the electorate wants to hear is a reality check. Richardson, who ever he is, spoke a lot, too much, but I don't remember a single word of what he had to say, though he said it a lot, whatever it was. And Obama agreed with Edwards and disagreed with Hilary because she's a Washington insider who likes screaming "reality check!"

As I say the Grizzly bear cubs were absolutely riveting. And made more sense.

Jeffrey Eugenides

Tell me this guy's not trying to look like Shakespeare. Yeesh. (In my author pic I look like Yogi Bear.) Read the interview.;jsessionid=GRXQIBCEX1M11QFIQMFSFGGAVCBQ0IV0?xml=/arts/2008/01/05/sm_jeffreyeugenides105.xml

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Best Songs of the 1970s - and it's definitive

Okay I've thought long and hard about this - for at least the last 24 hours, minus sleep hours, eating, playing with my kids, doing house chores - okay let's call it the last couple of hours, long and hard.

One thing I've come up with definitively; the 70s was a dacade of great albums, not great songs. The 50s & 60s had great songs, the decades of Jukeboxes and 45s. By the end of the 60s, thanks in large part to the Beatles, albums emerged as the primary popular musical artform. I could name dozens of great albums of the 70s, from Led Zeppelin's "Houses of the Holy," to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" to The Rolling Stone's "Goat's Head Soup" to Joni Mitchell's "Blue" to Neil Young's "Harvest" to Supertramp's "Crime of the Century" to Bruce Springsteen's "Born To Run" to Steely Dan's "Aja" to Elvis Costello's "My Aim Is True" to the Clash's "London Calling" and on and on. Great songs are much harder to decide on. One looks for something else. And actually, with the exception of Springsteen I don't think any of those great albums has one particular song that would make my best list.

And one more point before I unveil my list; it seems that the new instant downloadable technologies are leading us back to the era of the song as opposed to the album. This should make the next decade very interesting from the standpoint of the type of songs that will be produced.

In chronological order:

1. Ball of Confusion (1970) - The Temptations (Really a sixties number but released in 1970 and there is no better song to capture the tumultuous transition from one decade to the next.)

2. Levon (1971) - Elton John (The line "the New York Times said 'God is dead' and the war's begun" did it for me.)

3. Won't Get Fooled Again (1971) - The Who (Originally written for Pete Townhend's failed Lifehouse project, his overly ambitious multi-media follow up to Tommy.)

4. Stuck in the Middle With You (1973) - Stealers Wheel (Produced by the Baltimore Jewish writing duo of Leiber and Stoller who wrote "Hound Dog.")

5. Takin' Care of Business (1973) - Bachman-Turner Overdrive (According to Randy Bachman the opening riff was originally a rip-off of The Beatle's 'Paperback Writer' but I don't hear it.

6. Midnight Train to Georgia (1973) - Gladys Knight and the Pips (The greatest background vocal arrangement ever in pop music.)

7. Born To Run (1975) - Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (The only track on the album in which Max Weinberg did not play the drums. They were played by Ernest "Boom" Carter.)

8. Get Down Tonight (1975) - KC and the Sunshine Band (Had to throw one disco tune in and it was a toss up between this one, ABBA's "Dancing Queen" and The Bee Gee's "You Should be Dancing" but since I like KC's song better and he won't ever appear on any other list... ever...)

9. Heroes (1977) - David Bowie (Robert Fripp of King Crimson played the guitar.)

10. I'm The Man (1979) - Joe Jackson (I was thinking of Elvis Costello's "What's So Funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding, but it was written by Nick Lowe and didn't quite capture the spirit of the end of the decade the way Joe Jackson's song does. Also Joe Jackson always wrote more catchy tunes than Elvis.)

11. Yes, a number 11 of the top ten because "Hotel California" (1976) should probably make my list but I prefer the discoish "One of These Nights" for an Eagles song to capture the zeitgeist of the decade. Also you can add Don McLean's "American Pie" (1971).

Okay, discuss amongst yourselves, criticize and write me.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Best Songs of the 70's?

Is this guy on drugs? No, actually he's just British. Mind you, we were all on drugs in the 70s. I mean I like Led Zep's "The Immigrant Song" a lot, love it, but the best song of the decade? I discovered this article at UK's Telegraph and got a good chuckle.

I'm a child of the 70s. Actually I was born in '64 but came into consciousness, musically-speaking in the 70s, a decade that started as a hangover of psychedelia, turned to disco and ended with the punk revolution. A wild ride to be sure and probably the reason for my warpedness. Full disclosure: I loved The Captain & Tenille's "Love will Keep Us Together." But it won't make my list. I was heavily into serious, cerebral Brit prog rock (Genesis, Floyd, Tull) while the rest were into boogeying. I campaigned to have sequined halters and mirror-balls permanently banned. Favourite album from the era, Supertramp's "Crime of the Century." Lemme think about it some more...

Thursday, January 3, 2008

More Americans than Canucks picked up a book in 2007 ?

According to this Ipsos-Reid poll.

And in other news: 50 percent of Canadian readers lie about how many books they've read over the course of the year. Which would also explain the apparent interest in Pierre Bayard's new book "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read" (which, by the way, I heartily recommend you don't read, just read this piece instead,,2232830,00.html

Sorry, but I'm having a hard time believing that most Canadians who've read a book in the past year read on average 20 books, that's almost two a month. That's about my rate and I've got deadlines to meet. This is a country that is provincially book-ended with literacy - BC clocked in at an astounding 33 titles per year with Atlantic Canada (didn't know there was a province called "Atlantic Canada") registering a mere 22 in second place. As a Quebecois I hang my head in shame. We're apparently too busy listening to the latest Celine Dion album(s) to read books.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Snow and ice

2008 is looking a heck of a lot like 2007: it's snowing. They're calling for 15 more cms.

As I no longer play shinny and don't live anywhere near a pond or field, and as Jan 1st has become a day to play an outdoor hockey "classic" in Canada (or Buffalo, close enough), here is my contribution to the national festivities.


The pond polished and framed in piled snowbanks
Like a cherished family photograph;
The carved interlocking geometry
Of memory and youth frozen in ice.
Your first skates are forgotten, but never
The aroma of leather damp and worn,
The numbness of bare earlobes winter-chilled,
Forefoot pinched by lace, heavy thighs
Like hunks of meat packed into stiff wet cords,
Wobbly ankles taped straight, the bent stick, knobbed,
Propping you up slipshod like a scarecrow,
The game makes fools of us, a joke of gods.
Having witnessed the split-second glovehand
Save, you know full well how spells are cast,
Spectacular, oracular, it appears time itself
has been mastered by the net-minder,
Masked kabbalist, anonymous ritualist,
Stoic and precise, whose gestures utter
Secret names, conjure the possible from the improbable.
And drawn out in lines, curves, flights, telemetries,
You glimpse the fluid blueprints of nature,
Shielded by the games seamless design,
Tribalism, brutality, impulse: The puck
A capricious lover, is ever in motion, careening,
Cavorting, refusing to be possessed, disloyal
And always the center of attention
As the jilted players, men hot with appetite
A wild jealous bunch scrimmage,
While the child watches from the sidelines, wanting
Only one thing, to be good enough
to be counted in.