Sunday, February 28, 2010

Vancouver 2010 - A Canadian Identity

It's hard to explain exactly why the now-ending XXI Winter Olympics has been a banner event to all of Canada. It's hard to explain why the international criticism from the United Kingdom and some from the United States bounce off our hides. It's hard to explain why six billion dollars feel well spent when they probably all weren't.

This country hasn't had something to make it Canadian in a long time. If you're an older Canadian, you remember the 1972 Summit Series. If you're in your 30s, you remember the 1989 Canada Cup in Hamilton. There was that 2002 Olympic gold in Salt Lake. But nothing on this stage.

The 1976 Summer Olympics was a disaster. The 1988 Calgary Olympics were well received but overall a disappointment. We've never seen a sporting event in Canada with both the scope and the success as the 2010 Winter Olympics, at least not since 1972 (which will probably always be the seminal moment in Canadian sporting history). But it's not just about the medal count.

It's about the country.

It's about a nation that mourned with Georgia as we confirmed the loss of Nodar Kumaritashvili in a terrible luge accident.

It's about a nation that embraced our bloody-handed past and welcomed our First Nations people as equals at the beginning and at the end of the game.

It's about a nation that wept in joy watching Alexandre Bilodeau embrace his older brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy, watching two men share a dream come true, and watching a horrible affliction turned inspiration.

It's about a country that watched Jon Montgomery's classic celebration through the streets of Whistler with a gold medal and a pitcher of beer, and lifted our glasses to join him.

It's about a country that sighed collectively with disappointment when we lost 5-3.

It's about a country that cried when Joannie Rochette claimed bronze in ladies' singles figure skating when her mother died on the eve of her heartfelt and heartbreaking performance.

It's about a country that bid farewell to Clara Hughes and welcomed Jonathan Toews.

It's about a country that cursed a failed shot and celebrated with a successful one on the curling rink.

It's about a country that shared in the love of Charles Hamelin and Marianne St-Gelais as he celebrated her silver medal win with her; and she celebrated his golds with him.

It's about a country, 34 million strong, that screamed in joy and ecstasy when Sidney Crosby scored in overtime.

We see ourselves in these achievements. We see ourselves inspired by Frederic Bilodeau. We know the pressure that was felt by Cheryl Bernard, and know we sometimes fail. We know the heartbreak of Joannie Rochette, who lost someone so dear to her, but yet honoured her with beauty and grace by holding her head high. We know what it's like to fire the puck in overtime, whether or not it is in our minds, or on the stick in our hands.

We are Sidney Crosby. And Wayne Gretzky. And Catriona Le May Doan. We are Jonathan Toews and Cindy Klassen and Rick Hansen. We're Meghan Agosta and Maelle Ricker and Frederic Bilodeau. We're me, and you, and my family, and my friends. We've remembered that it's possible, francais et anglais, West and East, to hurt and fight, live and love together. We're Canadian, unique, e pluribus unum (if I may steal a phrase), and we love it, love this country, love this place.

Forgive the patriotism, but I feel that this sometimes dysfunctional, self-hating place has grown up a tiny bit...grown up and remembered what it is to be young.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Album Review: Horror Show

OK, first, blog news: I have a new blog where I make a recording about hockey. Check it out at!

I've been on a huge Iced Earth kick lately. Iced Earth has always clocked in as one of my favourite bands, but the albums I would generally consider to be best by them were The Dark Saga, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Night of the Stormrider, and of course the masterful 3 CD live set from Alive in Athens. But recently I think all those albums have been supplanted by one I had always sort of dismissed: Horror Show.

Iced Earth has this great tradition of theme albums and concept albums, and they usually work out pretty good (though I'm not sold on the two new Something Wicked albums). The Dark Saga is probably their most famous theme album, and it is about Spawn (the comic book character). But Horror Show takes the theme concept to an excellent conclusion. Each track on the album tackles a horror-esque figure.

The album has two long epic tracks, which I consider the best. "Damien" is about the Antichrist rising to rule over all mankind, and "The Phantom Opera Ghost" is about Erik's mad and murderous obsession with Christine. The album has some fantastic shorter rockers - "Wolf" and "Jack" both rock. "Jack" (about the Ripper) especially I find good. It makes me feel very aggressive when I listen to it. Not to women, but just in general. I'd listen to it before a sporting match.

There's a few good medium length songs. "Dracula", "Frankenstein", and "Jeckyl and Hyde" have good riffs, decent solos, and the lyrics fit the theme. "Ghost of Freedom" is an almost ballad-style song. If you're familiar with Iced Earth, you know that Jon Schaffer (the guy who is pretty much the core of Iced Earth) is a huge Americo-nut. I only found out recently he's pretty much a Tea Partier, which has hurt my opinion of him. I get loving your country, but anyway..."Ghost of Freedom" is very close to a "When The Eagle Cries" stinker, but not quite. Unlike The Glorious Burden, this song doesn't smack of American jingoism, but more of a quieter patriotism. It could be used in the propagation of Canada's national myth, for instance.

"Dragon's Child", originally, sounds like an OK rocker, but that's giving it a lot of benefit of the doubt. The lyrics are boring and the music is pretty plain. "Im-Ho-Tep", by comparison, is a bit more exciting and tends to be a decent middle-of-the-road song.

They use a lot of effects on the lyrics, especially on "Wolf", "Jack", and "Im-Ho-Tep", doubling or tripling lines. On "Wolf", the chorus is jumbled together, probably representing the multiple forms of the subject lycanthrope. "Jack" and "Im-Ho-Tep" use more of an echo, to represent the Ripper's tortured soul and the Mummy's time encased in stone.

Anyway, despite the lower points, I'm addicted to the album. 9.5/10

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

It's finally here...

I love hockey. This isn't a surprise to many of you who know me, but hey, I just love hockey. I love local hockey. I love interhouse hockey at university. I love CHL hockey. I love NHL hockey. Men's hockey, women's hockey, sledge hockey. But above all I love Olympic hockey.

For those of you who aren't quite sure why I love hockey, it's probably because I have an ingrained sense of being Canadian, and there's something about hockey that speaks to the soul of a Canadian. Lord Stanley gave us the Cup which is now named after him that is adored by 34 million people while he was Governor-General. The names of Canadian hockey heroes, both on and off the ice, are enshrined in the list of greatest Canadians ever - Don Cherry, Wayne Gretzky, Maurice Richard, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Gordie Howe, Cassie Campbell, and Hayley Wickenheiser are all household names in this country.

Canada counts its greatest moments carefully. Most Canadians remember where they were in 1972 when Bobby Henderson scored with a minute left in the Summit Series. Almost every Canadian has seen the famous back-pass from Gretzky to Lemieux in the 1987 Canada Cup. The Rocket was cheered for fifteen minutes when last he stood on the ice at the Montreal Forum. And we all remember when Joe Sakic, Mario Lemieux, Jarome Iginla and Marty Brodeur brought us gold in 2002.

It's eight years later. There was terrible disappointment from a lackluster team in Italy in 2006. But now the best names in the world are together for international hockey. Seven competitive teams have been fielded - Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Sweden, the United States, Russia, and Canada all have great players. There's always an outside chance for Switzerland and Germany. But we'll find out soon, because the puck drops for Team Canada...tonight.

A wealth of talent made it so hard for Steve Yzerman, himself one of the all time greatest players, to pick the team upon which Canada's hopes and dreams will rise and fall, but I think Steve did a great job. He's given us a core of solid veterans, promising youngsters, great players in their prime, and one or two of the best hockey players of all time.

In goal, we have the trio of Marc-Andre Fleury, Roberto Luongo, and Martin Brodeur. Fleury has won a silver medal in the World Juniors and a Stanley Cup; Luongo has posted several great years statistically, but everyone knows the job belongs to Martin Brodeur (though Luongo will get the start tonight, to give Marty a break). When you mention the best goaltenders of all time, Marty not only deserves a mention, but he deserves to be mentioned in the top three. He owns every regular season record - wins, minutes, shutouts, games - four Vezina Trophies, four Jennings Trophys, the Calder Trophy, 3 Stanley Cups, 2 World Championships silvers, a World Cup...and Olympic Gold. And he's still on top of his game.

Out back we have great young defensemen in Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Drew Doughty & Shea Weber. Doughty is only 20, but he's the real deal, definitely in Norris contention this year. Dan Boyle's won a Stanley Cup, and Chris Pronger has won a Cup, a Hart, and a Norris. But the real story is Scott Niedermayer, second in his generation of defensemen only to Nicklas Lidstrom. Scott's won Olympic, World Championship, and World Junior Championship Gold; he's won a Memorial Cup, a World Cup, and four Stanley Cups; he's won a Norris Trophy and he's won the Conn Smythe Trophy. And now he gets to add one more distinction to that: Captain of Team Canada at the Olympics, a job he's shared with professional players Eric Lindros, Mario Lemieux, and Joe Sakic.

And up front we bring but one man over the age of 30: Canadian superhero Jarome Iginla. Everyone else is 30 or younger, and primarily younger. Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews give Canada some great young strength down the middle, with Joe Thornton's veteran savvy and Ryan Getzlaf's pure skill. It's basically impossible to pick...but our 13 forwards have, between them, 4 Memorial Cups, 2 Hart Trophies, 3 Rocket Richard Trophies, 3 Art Ross Trophies, 2 Pearson Awards, 1 Calder Trophy, 4 World Cups, 6 World Junior Golds, 8 World Championship Golds, 2 Stanley Cups, and 1 Olympic Gold.

Puck drops in 9 minutes, so I'm going to go watch...but just so you know. I'm excited.

Go, Canada, go!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Alex Bilodeau is golden

Canada has never won a gold medal in an Olympics hosted within Canada...until now, when Alex Bilodeau won gold in men's moguls. Excellent job, Alex. I'm very happy for you, and way to represent.

Bilodeau was barely known within Canada, but will now become a household name. His run on the moguls was damn near perfect, hammering out a 720 spin and a massive backflip with two perfect landings on a rocket-fast time to squeak out Turin's gold medalist.

Moguls, by the way, is an awesome sport. You ski downhill as fast as you can between waist-high bumps, and do two fucking flips on the way. That our first gold in these games comes on the turns is just wonderful, and somehow fitting.

Because we're awesome.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

On the Opening Ceremonies

I just finished watching, as did millions of folks around the world, the Opening Ceremonies of the XXI Winter Olympiad. At Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada's organizers put on one hell of a show, heavy on earthen and natural themes with a nice tinge of patriotic Canadian display. The day was marred by the death of Georgian lugeist...luger...uh, athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili's death on the luge track at Whistler earlier that day, but his absence was noticed and remembered by the IOC, the organizers, and the first class crowd at CH Place.

The musical acts were a who's who of Canadian superpower singers, from francophone artist Garou, to international superstar Bryan Adams; slam poetry artist Shane Koyczan of the Northwest Terrtories recited an amazing poem about being Canadian, and Nova Scotian fiddler Ashley MacIsaac participated in one of the acts, happily with underpants. Diversity was the name of the day, with a beautiful opening act by Canada's First Nations groups, through famous lesbian singer k.d. lang's utterly gorgeous rendition of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. The only famous Canadian act missing was Rush.

But I'd like to draw attention to the flag bearers and how carefully these people were chosen. A little was said during the ceremonies, but let's talk a little more.

Betty Fox was probably the least famous person there, but certainly someone about whom every Canadian has heard. Her son was Terry Fox, the young man who lost his leg to cancer and decided to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research, making it halfway before succumbing to a relapse of cancer. Her inclusion was a nod to one of the greatest stories in Canadian history, and an allusion to the great sacrifice that every athlete endures.

Jacques Villeneuve is probably better known in Europe than in his own country. Villeneuve is the only Canadian Formula 1 racing champion, and also won the Indianapolis 500, placing him in a bracket with Mario Andretti for one of the most successful racing drivers in stock and Formula 1 car racing. He's an internationally recognized figure and a Quebecois hero, and one of the most famous Canadians abroad.

Julie Payette flew twice in space, once on Discovery and once on Endeavour. Now she's the Chief Astronaut of the Canadian Space Agency, and has contributed to Canada's commitment to the International Space Station - in person. She represents our scientific achievement, as well as reminding us where our next frontier must be.

Barbara Ann Scott was a gold medalist in figure skating in 1948, and probably would have done so in 1944 if there wasn't a war. She's a member of the Order of Canada and reminds us of the powerful sporting tradition of Canada's past. She is from Ottawa, the nation's capital, where she ran with the torch in December.

Anne Murray, from Nova Scotia, is a famous pop & folk singer. Her hits include "Snowbird", the first Canadian female to hit #1 on the US charts, and she has put out a huge body of work over the years. She's now semi-retired, but remains an internationally recognized face of Canadian music.

Donald Sutherland is another culture icon. A completely famous movie actor, Sutherland has starred in films like MASH, Animal House, Kelly's Heroes, and probably a billion more. His son, Kiefer, is Jack Bauer on 24, so if you like the show, you're welcome. Sutherland was the narrator for Canada's games, and his distinctive voice is recognized by Canadians everywhere. He's from New Brunswick.

Bobby Orr should need no introduction, but yet he'll get one anyway. Bobby Orr is often considered the greatest hockey player to lace up his skates, if not the most prolific. For a decade he ruled the ice for the Boston Bruins, becoming the only NHL defenseman to lead the league in scoring, and winning 8 consecutive Norris Trophies for the best defender. Bobby Orr led Boston to their last 2 Stanley Cups, and Canada to victory in the 1976 Canada cup. If he had been blessed with good knees, we would have seen much more from him, but regardless, he is one of the true greats.

Finally, Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire represents the valued and treasured men and women of the Canadian Forces, over three thousand of which are currently deployed in Afghanistan and around the world. General Dallaire was in charge of the disasterous UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda, and was tragically affected by the massacres there. He blamed himself, and tried to commit suicide. Since recovering from that episode, he's become a leader for statesmanship and for standing up against genocide and war crimes. Of all the people chosen to bear the flag, I can hardly think of someone more appropriate.

These eight people represent the best of Canada - from all over the country, speaking both official languages. People experienced in sport, in culture, in heroism, and in tragedy. People who rose above the conditions given them to clutch something great - be it the Stanley Cup or the tragically heroic end of the Marathon of Hope; a certified Gold record or an Olympic Gold Medal. People who have seen the earth through a window and the fragile destruction of a diaspora; people who have sped along at 250 kph in front of thousands, and people who have performed on the silver screen before millions.

To the world: welcome to Canada, and enjoy the show!