Thursday, July 31, 2008


There's a report in today's Ottawa Citizen that 60% of the CRTC's staff are considering quitting their jobs. On top of that, one in seven feel the Commission is discriminating against them and has adversely affected their career progression and one in three claim there's nothing the CRTC could do to entice them to stay.

My first reaction was, "Wow! The CRTC treats its staff as bad as it treats those of us working in the industries they regulate." My second reaction was more pro-active, "Hey, why don't you guys do yourselves and the rest of us a favor and get out now?"

Think about it! The next time Konrad Von Finkenstien walks down the hall, he's going to know that every other face peeking up from a cubicle would rather be somewhere else. And given that he likes to surround himself with "The right people" (which already doesn't include anybody who actually works in or watches television, overpays for a cell phone and now apparently toils in his office) then what makes you think he isn't already figuring out some way to turf the lot of you?

I mean, let's be honest. He knows you people told the survey company that you felt the CRTC:

1. Had a lack of vision.

2. Saddled you with repetitive tasks.


3. Didn't sufficiently challenge you.

Almost anybody working in Canadian television or who pays way more than the rest of the world for mobile phone services has known those things for years. Those who are in favor of net neutrality or opposed to traffic throttling seem to be waking up to the reality of how CRTC regulation really works as well.

But let's take each of those issues you have in turn...


This really isn't Konrad's fault. He, like the Commissioners before him, gets his marching orders from the broadcasters and telecom companies. So he doesn't know where you're going until he gets told.

I know you guys spend endless hours setting up hearings and symposiums, but seriously, have you seen even one of them result in a ruling that didn't give the big money exactly what it wanted, no matter how logical or ultimately proven correct the arguments were from their detractors?

I'm sure you, like the rest of us, thought the appointment of a highly respected Federal Judge to the position of Head Honcho might mean a fresh breeze was going to blow through Gatineau. But it didn't happen, did it? In fact it seems to have gotten worse.

I'm sure it's difficult for a man of Konrad's standing to have fallen from such heights to being little more than a pimp for the broadcasters and telecoms but that's his problem. What you kids need to think about is -- there's a name for people who work for a pimp, isn't there?


Okay, so we already covered the pointless hearings you set up. And I'm sure none of you enjoy photocopying and translating all those binders of interventions you know none of the Commissioners even bother to read or will make any difference to their decisions if they do.

But you also must be asking yourself what the point is of your own in-house studies and reports when nothing happens with them either.

A year ago, two of the lawyers who work in your building, Lawrence Dunbar and Christian LeBlanc, published an astonishingly insightful report firmly opposed to simultaneous transmission and genre protection of specialty channels while supporting prime time content quotas and consumer choice in purchasing channels.

Were any of you asked to help institute any of those initiatives? No! And you won't be because those policies might revolutionize Canadian television and make it better. The Broadcasters can't let that happen. So even if you're a lawyer for the CRTC, the work you do is pointless.

God, get out now and take a job selling Beavertails on Bank Street! At the very least, you'll increase your chances of getting laid. And you won't be an accessory to the continued destruction of the Canadian film and television industries.

I'm serious! It's the end of the month, so you just got paid. It's summer, the perfect time to kick back and consider your options. And -- quite frankly -- the way things in the industries you pretend to regulate are going, you'll get a head start on finding a new job while the co-workers who stick around go down with the ship.


Now, I think we both know the reasons for this but, for the sake of argument, let me ask you dissatisfied staffers a couple of questions.

First, how come none of you have phoned Bell, Rogers or Telus and told them to stop telling customers the network service fees they are charging isn't "A CRTC REQUIREMENT" even though that's what they've been claiming for years?

I'm betting it's because you've been told not to since it would force Rogers, Bell and Telus to rebate BILLIONS OF DOLLARS they probably don't have.

So, let's be frank here. Being insufficiently challenged on a job is as much your fault as it is the CRTC's. Maybe before you pack up your McDonald's Happy Meal Figures and walk the Green Mile, you might think of making those calls. At the very least, you could get in touch with Tony Merchant and let him know who told you not to smackdown the telecoms. It would really help him with his class action suit on behalf of the Canadian mobile consumers you guys were hired (and paid by) to protect.

On a similar note, how come none of you have been in touch with History Television to let them know that rebroadcasting "JAG" and "NCIS" is as bogus as the broadcasts of "CSI:NY" you forced them to cancel last year?

Being consistent might not seem sufficiently challenging to some of you. But doing so might make the rest of us believe that regulating the industry you're mandated to regulate wasn't too much of a challenge in the first place.

Finally, I want to address the 14% of you (or 25% of those who are French) who feel you're being discriminated against at work. Because this really confuses me.

You see, as a Canadian producer, I am required to sign a pledge prior to receiving CTF Funding (the terms of which you folks regulate) to apply diversity to all aspects of staffing my productions. Furthermore, the CRTC has mandated any number of diversity programs in the production community not to mention embedding them in the licensing requirements of our broadcasters.

Are you telling me that doesn't apply within the Commission, that there's one rule for the CRTC and another for the rest of us?

If that's the case, it gives an even darker hue to Konrad's constant reference to decisions only being made by "the right people". And you have a responsibility to yourself, your profession and the Canadian people to not only quit right now but to make the details of that discrimination public.

Feel free to send your information directly to me: The PM may have reneged on his promise to protect government whistleblowers, but I'll definitely get the details out as well as cover your back.

Hey, I know this is a tough situation for all of you. Like most Canadians, you probably thought the CRTC was set up to look out for your interests and not those of a monied elite. I understand that you feel betrayed if not completely fucked over. There's barely a creative artist in this country's film and TV industries who doesn't share your pain and frustration.

Please don't let the situation fester and poison your life. Moreover, don't continue giving your energies to a system that is destroying the ability of Canadian artists to turn things around. Don't wait! Get out now!

Sunday, July 27, 2008


If I have one bone to pick with Show Business, it's that so many of us get pre-occupied with it. We tend to forget that there's a far bigger world out there. And therefore, in order to achieve our goals, we try to reflect what's currently considered hip or cool in our work and strive to be perceived in a similar light.

Sometimes our role models and mentors are not people of consumate character but those who have achieved the things we aspire to achieve ourselves. We follow their example and their advice, perhaps succeeding but always losing something of ourselves in the process.

So, let me introduce you to somebody who should be your role model. Randy Pausch.

Unfortunately, you won't ever get to meet Randy in person because he died this week. But a year ago, shortly after learning that his life would soon end, he recorded one final lecture at Carnegie Mellon University where he taught computer science.

Randy's last lecture has nothing to do with show business. But it contains everything you need to know about succeeding in this profession (or any other for that matter). He explains how to find your passion. How to get past the gatekeepers. How to be good at what you do. How to find the people who'll make you better.

He also expounds on the concept of "The Head Fake", the moment when you realize life told you it was going in one direction, when it really had something else in mind -- usually something better.

Randy's lecture will take an hour out of your day and reverberate through every day that follows. If you do one thing to realize your dreams this week, make it this.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


In this age of satellite radio and iPods, it's possible to completely control your personal soundtrack. Through these technologies and others, we can design playlists that get us from the morning alarm to our final lullabies without the intrusion of any tune that hasn't been pre-selected.

And while that's all okay, I'm a big fan of being surprised, even ambushed by music I haven't heard before. And when I'm travelling, I also like to get a read on what the locals are liking by giving the dashboard scan button a workout as I drive.

Since my tastes grow more Hillbilly Hardcore by the day, I thought I'd cobble together links to some of the best Country stations you can find as you cross the country, combined with a song they each introduced me to and what those songs tell me about this summer's Country music.

So here goes...

Rolling through the Rockies, you need to constantly surf the FM band to take the peaks and valleys into account as they intrude on local transmitters. Road signs and billboards constantly update you on the two or three frequencies most likely to be your best bet. It's odd to find the same station at multiple locations on your dial, but if that station is CKJC-FM Country 103 in Kamloops, you're in for a treat.

Country 103 has long been the voice of "Mountainfest", the Country Music Festival in nearby Merritt that has revitalized the small mountain town and morphed it into the official "Country Music Capitol of Canada".

The station also features a terrific weekly program hosted by Cowboy poet Hugh McLennan featuring interviews with real cowboys, western history and thematically related music, poetry and stories. It's a very unique show posting weekly podcasts online.

103 didn't introduce me to Canadian singer Shane Yellowbird. This aboriginal Country star has been around for a while with his combination of George Strait lyrical stylings and Tex-Mex Freddie Fender rhythms.

But in "Pick-up Truck" Shane has his first bonafide hit. And his newfound notoriety in Nashville should bode well for a lot of fellow artists and lead to some personal recognition that has been long deserved.

And if General Motors was smart, they'd snap up this number to turn around their lagging sales.


Somewhere around Banff, you need to tick up the dial to CKRY-FM Country 105 in Calgary, undoubtedly the most influential Country music outlet we've got. Positioned in the Heart of the Heartland, 105 is a monster, mixing mainstream artists with independents and past hits with debuting numbers in awesome waves of great music.

Whatever happens to the rest of the Corus empire, this station will always remain the bright spot on their financial statements. And they do that by championing songs that exemplify the two greatest strengths of the genre, telling a story and touching you where you live.

105 introduced me to Chuck Wicks' astonishing "Stealing Cinderella". If this song doesn't choke you up a little, go read somebody else's blog -- we don't need your kind around here.


The flatness of the prairies and a night phenomenon where the ionosphere rises allows sound to carry thousands of miles there. So if you plan your trip right, you can ride from Calgary to Winnipeg with Regina's best AM station 620 CKRM on the dial. And that's a very good thing.

When I was growing up in Regina, CKRM was a boring middle-of-the-road station that featured News and the Mantovani Orchestra. But somewhere along the line they morphed into a Country station with major attitude. Listening to CKRM feels like walking into the best Honky Tonk on a red dirt road. They're having a good time and you might as well join in.

RM also hosts Canada's largest Country music festival "The Craven Country Jamboree" in a nearby natural amphitheatre that's about as much fun as you can have ripped on Applejack and stinking of mosquito repellant.

The Jamboree has Nashville's biggest stars constantly lining up for a spot on its massive stage. This year the line-up featured Toby Keith, Sugarland and Paul Brandt. What can you say about a festival so chock full of talent that Montgomery Gentry can only find room to play in the beer garden!

But that's an example of that RM attitude. We're here for a party, bring your Yeehaw. Of course, they were the ones to introduce me to the party song of the summer...(check out the amazing cinematography as well)...


As you navigate the endless cliffs and curves of Northern Ontario, you run into a wall of Country stations that dot the Wisconsin and Michigan coast from Duluth to Detroit. But you need to find 100.7 The Island, a tiny independent on Manitoulin Island that is Canada's first completely wind powered radio station.

"The Island" prides itself on delivering cutting edge independent Country artists, who don't get much airplay elsewhere but still have a lot to say. Like CKRM, they've also got that ready to party Country attitude.

They didn't introduce me to this last song, but for me it exemplifies the new directions of many of "The Island's" artists, as well as how much Country music has changed since the "New Country" rebirth of the early 1990's.

Think of Trace Adkins as a Stetson wearing 50 Cent and his band as boot-heeled gangstas and you'll get an idea of what the people who don't listen to Country music are missing.

It'll also give you an idea of what it's honest-to-God really like in a Country bar.

I once introduced a fellow showrunner to my favorite Cowboy saloon in LA. He took one look at the stunning array of beautiful women at the bar and the handsome cowpokes lounging nearby and shook his head. "We could walk through here naked and nobody would notice" he said, "How come nobody puts these places on TV?"

I just shrugged, sipped a longneck and surveyed my options. A cowboy's work is never done....


Monday, July 21, 2008


Over the course of my life, I've been a member of three political parties. Growing up in Saskatchewan, my first allegiance was to the NDP (The Godless Socialists to you non-Canadian readers). It was part of that Churchillian thing of "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart...". They also had the best keggers at University and by far the best looking female fellow travellers.

Then I got caught up in Trudeau-mania in my 20's and joined that crowd for a while. It gave me the chance to meet our most popular Prime Minister on several occasions and whatever history has to say about him, he was still a pretty cool guy and way smarter than anybody else who's ever held that office.

And finally, the sponsorship scandal drove me into the arms of the Conservatives -- allowing me to complete the other part of the Churchill quote: "If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain".

Yet as another famous adage reminds us -- "Three strikes and you're out."

So as a former insider of all of these philosophies, the only thing I really know for certain is -- you can't trust any of these sons of bitches and hanging your hopes for the future on one of them is a complete waste of your good intentions.

Summer in Canada is traditionally the time when our politicians hit the road to meet the people. And luckily for most of us, it's also the time when we hit the road as well, so we're usually not around when they drop by the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, this summer I had the opposite experience.

I hit the road out of "Beautiful British Columbia" about a week after Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell imposed a 2.5 cents per litre carbon tax on gasoline, claiming it was both "revenue neutral" -- (Don't you love that concept? I mean, if it doesn't make any difference, why bother?) -- and would take the equivalent of 700,000 cars off BC highways.

I hate to tell Premier Campbell this, but the high price of gasoline meant those cars were already gone. I travelled through huge portions of his province without seeing another vehicle on the road and stopped at more than one gas station where I was the only customer they'd had in the last hour.

Now maybe there's an argument for dinging the populace for a carbon tax to "help the environment" but you'd think a responsible government might have taken care of their own in-house major polluter (Coal fired power plants) before going after rural drivers familiar with signs reading "Next Fuel 120 Km".

I'm sure it's a policy that gets votes in Vancouver. But it doesn't make much sense or leave many options to people who have to burn a quarter of a tank just to get to a gas station in the first place. And I wouldn't want to be anybody hoping to make a buck off tourists on Vancouver Island, where that's pretty much the only job they've got left this summer.

Once the Olympics don't turn out to be the promised Bonanza for the masses, I think things are gonna get fairly ugly for the Liberals in BC. Way to go, Gord!

I pulled into oil rich Calgary the same day Conservative Premier Ed Stelmach announced a different carbon cap/trade/storage deal I couldn't fathom that would take the equivalent of "a million cars" off Alberta highways. Apparently, Ed hasn't noticed that there's barely a car travelling between Calgary and Medicine Hat now -- or that he's the province's biggest polluter via his own government run coal fired power plants.

His passing the buck on the real problem was echoed at Conservative Federal Industry Minister Jim Prentice's "Pancake Breakfast" downtown during Stampede Week that was attended by a couple of dozen people far more versed on copyright than the guy who introduced Bill C-61 to regulate it. It's astonishing that after embarrassing himself by not understanding his own Bill when he announced it, the Minister still hadn't bothered to read up on the issue or figure out how the new laws are really going to work.

But then that's how Canadian politicians operate isn't it? Why apply logic or honesty when audacity can keep you at the trough. Which brings me to Bob Rae.

Bob dogged me all across Saskatchewan, a province whose politicians I'll give a pass because they're part of some new cult I've never heard of.

Formerly the NDP Premier of Ontario, Bob Rae almost bankrupt the place, was worse for Unions than ultra-Conservative Mike Harris at his most rabid and folded to pressure from the greedy insurance industry he'd campaigned against his first week in office. But now, Bob has been reincarnated as a future hope for the Federal Liberal party.

He was stumping the West in partnership with the leader he's working behind the scenes to undermine, Stefan Dion, selling a "Green Shift" program most Western Canadians see as a new method of shifting their newfound wealth back East where the Liberals have a more reliable and in desperate need of cash power base.

But Bob kept insisting Prime Minister Harper needed to become "engaged" in the environmental debate, ignoring the reality that Harper is already fully clear on who's paying his freight and that he gains nothing by debating a born loser who did nothing for the environment during all the years he was in charge of it.

So as much as Bob was championing the cause, you knew that he was really using the tour to get his own name out there for the day when the Liberal leadership vote will be between him and torture advocate Michael Ignatief and he'll look like the better choice in that contest.

But there's a story about Bob Rae that hasn't been muttered much since he retooled his philosophy of government to one which gives him another shot at a free pension for life -- and it says a great deal about who the guy really is, if you ask me.

In the fall of 2003, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson took off on a circumpolar tour of Russia, Finland and Iceland, "using pomp and pageantry to soft sell the best Canada has to offer" as MacLeans magazine reported at the time.

The trip was a certifiable "cause celebre" in Canada, reviled as a pointless airborne wine and cheese party that ended up costing Canadian taxpayers $5 Million and ironically departed on the same day the Toronto Star was reporting local foodbanks being forced to ration their meagre supplies to the needy.

It was a harsh example of the indecent disparities of this country that severely damaged respect for the office of the GG and did nothing to help our own northern communities, where the residents still depend on water sources frequently augmented by raw sewage.

Among those tagging along on that flight were UN adviser Maurice Strong (now embroiled in the "oil for food" scandal) and -- Bob Rae. A former champion of the poor and downtrodden, Bob was opting to pop corks with some folks who might help his career while a hundred thousand people in his home town were doing without so their kids could subsist on Mac and Cheese.

Yeah, that's the kind of guy I want running my country!

And much as it pains me, I gotta believe Stephen Harper is salivating at the chance to go up against Bob in an election, on any issue.

The last Radio talk show I heard about Bob warned me he might be in Winnipeg the next day, so I burned through Manitoba as fast as I could and made it to my home Province of Ontario.

But as I crossed the border into an endless reminder that water-lily munching Moose are a lethal "Night Danger" to drivers, I got my best lesson into how our politicians look at us -- and maybe into why we keep re-electing them.

Each time you cross a Provincial boundary in Canada, there's a big "Welcome to Beautiful..." sign with flags and plaques that's immediately followed by reminders that on this new turf you have to wear a seat belt and drive the speed limit. As if you didn't have to do that before you got to their little fiefdom.

But Ontario takes that concept to a whole new level, warning that speed kills, following too close kills, passing when you can't see kills -- and my favorite...

Anybody like to consider how much taxpayer money was spent coming up with that one, or whose brother-in-law earned a consulting fee, or whose inbred or illegitimate child got the construction contract?

No, I thought not. We're all too used to this stuff, aren't we?

But for me, that sign said it all. Our politicians think we're complete idiots. And by continually electing most of them to office, we prove that they're probably right.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lazy Sunday #32: MAMMA MIA!

This weekend will no doubt be remembered in showbiz annals for the debut of "The Dark Knight" currently smashing pretty much every box office record imaginable. And just as doubtless, the "Batman" juggernaut will inspire another sequel and more studios turning more graphic novels and comic book heroes into films for next summer and beyond.

It's likely to ignite a resurgence in noir heroes, enormously complicated villains and stories that reverberate with aspects of society that many people don't want to discuss in polite company. And that's a very exciting prospect.

But there's another film opening this weekend. It's based on about the dumbest concept you could imagine. The pitch would get you laughed out of the offices of all but the most junior and in-desperate-need-of-a-meeting development exec. And it has a plot no audience member would buy for a moment or not feel embarrassed in repeating to a friend.

Yet there is something about "Mamma Mia!" which overcomes all of those problems as it continues its own showbiz juggernaut.

In the simplest of box office terms, it really doesn't matter how well "Mamma Mia!" does by comparison this weekend, because it's already ahead of "The Dark Knight" by over Two Billion Dollars!

"Mamma Mia!" was originally conceived in 1983 by British stage producer Judy Craymer as she worked with songwriters Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson (formerly of the pop group ABBA) who were collaborating with Tim Rice on "Chess".

But even she must've known the idea of building a theatrical musical around songs created by a Swedish pop group that, although written in English didn't make a lot of sense in that language, wasn't the kind of thing most theatrical 'angels' (as stage investors are known) would get involved in.

Now, there's no denying ABBA had been a very popular band selling hundreds of millions of records worldwide and touring with great success until the marriages of Benny and Björn to the group's singers Agnetha and Anni-Frid broke up.

But the songs themselves were an issue as far as what's accepted in musical theatre. To begin with, Pop hits rely on a hook, a lick or a turn of phrase that catches the imagination. Songs in musicals help tell the story and/or emotionally move the plot and characters forward. There's also usually a thematic connection between them.

But ABBA's hits were all over the map when it came to subject matter and the lyrics were almost an after-thought composed by guys whose first language wasn't English and who were more concerned with the catchy hooks and disco friendly wall of sound they achieved by overdubbing their wives' voices.

And more than that, there was this low-brow, disco aspect to ABBA. And the music was almost impossible to recreate outside a studio setting. So how do you combine lyrics that don't make sense with music you can't fully realize in a live setting and turn that into a must see evening of theatre?

Even Benny and Björn didn't think the concept would work.

But those tunes were so damn catchy that Craymer kicked the idea around for 15 more years before finally passing the nightmare off to playwright Catherine Johnson to write what's known in the trade as "jukebox musical". And perhaps figuring this was a gig better finished quick and forgotten, Johnson didn't so much create a book for the music as rehash an old Gina Lollobrigida movie she'd liked titled "Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell".

So we've got the plot of a so-so comedy from the 60's mixed with a bunch of songs everybody has heard a million times being launched into a market known for lavish sets and spectacular effects. But in continuing to go against the grain, the show's producers opted for a basic modular set and the kind of lighting and effects you could pick up for a song at a discotheque fire ale.

To be clear, this was a project that everybody who worked on it loved -- but didn't really think had much more than a small chance of success.

But "Mamma Mia!" opened in London in 1999 and was an immediate and overwhelming hit. Audiences went wild, refusing to leave the theatre until some of the biggest numbers had been reprised. Within weeks the producer was advertising that the show had never brought the curtain down to anything less than a standing ovation.

By 2008, more than 30 Million people had seen the show performed in dozens of countries in eleven languages including Norwegian, Japanese and Catalan. Every single performance to this day continues to end with audiences standing and screaming for more.

Much has been made of the fact that the film version of "Mamma Mia!" stars non-singers like Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan which will reduce its box office appeal. Others warn that a film release at this time will hurt the show's relentless assault on "longest run" records in several cities. But I don't think either is a real worry.

Dumb story. Disco music. Odd lyrics. No visual effects. None of that affects the one thing that makes "Mamma Mia!" so successful. It's simply two hours of sheer joy. I'll be surprised if there aren't a few standing ovations at the local Cineplex.

Do your cultural duty and see "The Dark Knight" and then give your heart a treat and slip next door to catch "Mamma Mia!".

Among the movie's great numbers is the stage version showstopper "Does Your Mother Know". Here's ABBA's version. Wooo! Swedes in Spandex! Who cares. Enjoy your Sunday.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I drove across the country this week. It was a great five days. Gave me lots of time to think. Allowed me to catch some great Country stations I've never heard before as well as catch up with a few old friends (see Dixon).

The time to think after an impossibly busy 3 months was much needed and I'll have a lot to say about what seems to be going on in the business and the world in the days to come.

But three things in particular struck me as I drove:

1. We sure have a lot of trees.

2. Saskatchewan is really empty.

3. The country I saw outside the windows of my truck is not the one I see on my television every night.

This is a much more muscular and vibrant place than comes across on most of our programming. From the magnificence of the Rockies to the endless living sky of the Prairies to the walls of wood and stone that define Northern Ontario, there are vistas I've never or rarely seen as backdrops to our stories.

Our peoples and their dreams aren't there much either. There's an energy to this place that seems to get bled out in the development process along with so much of the positive energy and fun I experienced everywhere I went. And the fearful masses constrained by worries about all manner of societal woes, who get trotted out nightly on the news, didn't cross my path anywhere.

But more on all that in Posts to come.

Right now, I want to tell you about the best moment of the trip. I was rolling through Kicking Horse Pass close to sunset, with this golden light bouncing off the granite cliffs on either side. I'd been seeing wildlife all day. Dozens of deer, a Black bear and a fox. All venturing within a few feet of one of the busiest highways in the country. This place is also a lot wilder than we seem to readily admit.

I noticed a couple of cars on the shoulder ahead of me and, as I drew closer, spotted a small team of photographers taking pictures of something out in the river. I knew they could only have stopped for one thing and pulled over.

And i was right. In the middle of the river, about 300 yards away, a lone Grizzly bear was fishing. One of the photographers said it was a "she bear" and offered all kinds of detail I didn't really need.

One of the biggest bears in the world was right in front of me, splashing in the water, doing what bears do and have done for millions of years between the massive walls of rock that border her home. The sun glinted off her fur as it ducked behind the peaks and she caught something, ambling to the rocky shore to eat.

One of the photographers grumbled about losing the light and needing a different lens. I asked why he didn't just take pictures of the closer one.

Photographer: "Closer one? Where?"

Me: "Behind you by the car."

There was a panicked scramble before they realized I was pulling their legs. And then with the light dimming, we all just sat there for a while in silence as, across the river, that magnificent animal finished dinner, surveyed the falling darkness and slowly vanished into the brush.

We share this planet with so many awesome creatures who thrive and endure oblivious to all the issues that entangle us humans. Somehow seeing one always reminds me that my place in this world is neither as unique or as in need of being taken seriously as day-to-day life seems to imply.

Here's a taste of Grizzlies in a less quiet moment from Werner Herzog's terrific documentary "The Grizzly Man".

Enjoy your Sunday.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


When I was a kid the standard knock against Rock from adults was that they couldn't understand what the guy was saying.

"Louie, Louie" aside, that never made much sense to me, until I dated one girl who thought Jimi Hendrix was gay ("Scuse me while I kiss this guy") and another who was scandalized by Springsteen ("Wrap your hands 'round my inches"). And then "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came along and I knew they weren't writing songs guys my age were supposed to decode.

Among those the generation before me couldn't understand was one of England's great Blues artists, Joe Cocker. Most North Americans became aware of Joe through a stunning debut performance at "Woodstock".

I must have seen that film 20 times and he and fellow countrymen "Ten Years After" always blew me away.

If you ever get the chance, you should also catch another performance film he did, "Mad Dogs & Englishmen", a rock-doc that chronicles Cocker's tour with Leon Russell and friends.

As a budding performer, there was a defining moment in that one for me; a long, lingering pan of the dressing room after one of the shows. Leon Russell and the band crank the tops off bottles of Jack and Southern Comfort as the place fills with groupies, record execs and hangers-on eager to party. The shot ends on Cocker, slumped in the corner, soaked in sweat, wrapped in a towel and utterly, utterly spent.

It was a lesson that a true artist leaves it all onstage.

The only time I saw him perform was 20 years after Woodstock in a small Toronto bar trying to build its rep on burned out rockers. There were only a handful of people there and most of them couldn't have cared less who was onstage -- or maybe they just couldn't understand what he was saying.

Here's Joe at Woodstock in a mash-up that has a little fun with his performance style and lyrical interpretation but gives you a glimpse of a great artist in full flight.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


One of my earliest memories is of "Canada Day" sitting on the edge of the bathroom sink and watching my father shave. It was pre-dawn dark and he was excited about something, implying it was going to be a special day. And it was. For July 1st marked the beginning of the Swift Current rodeo, the biggest one in our part of the country.

Everybody packed saddles and ropes and headed into the city, some of them towing the horses they'd be riding in the events to come.

I was only 4 or 5 and completely knocked out by the flags and rhinestoned cowboys in the sun-drenched outdoor arena. A high school marching band played the National Anthem and a local politician inspected a color guard of WW2 vets before making a speech about national pride.

It was a time when some in the crowd were older than the country itself and many more had been around when Saskatchewan became a province. The day was called "Dominion Day" then and the flag was a different one. But the celebration was identical to the ones that will be held from coast to coast to coast today featuring hot dogs and fireworks and homegrown music.

I remember the bronc riders and the calf ropers and the steer wrestlers, but I was considered too young to watch the Brahma bulls have their way with the local cowpokes.

Luckily that happened after lunch and all around the parking lot, moms similarly concerned with the scars their children might bear from watching cowboys stomped into the dirt were tucking their tots into the back seats of cars and the beds of pick up trucks for their afternoon nap.

In an interesting difference from today, most of those moms went back to the stands once their tots were a-nod, returning after the festivities were over. And nobody of either generation seemed the worse for the experience.

After the rodeo, there was a midway with a merry-go-round and Ferris wheel I could ride and a spinning rocket ship I couldn't. There were more hot dogs, root beer out of a barrel, candy floss and fireworks. July 1st became instantly planted in my brain as the best damn day of the year.

Those of us who work in the story telling trade in Canada are often asked why we stay here. The weather's crappy. Nobody seems to need the tales we come up with and pay you poorly for them when they do.

Writers who become ex-pats often bemoan the fact that more Canadians are exposed to their work after they leave the country than when they were resident. That's hardly ever the motivation for their move, but it's still a truth we all find hard to fathom.

Somehow we're a nation neither comfortable creating our own myths and heroes nor interested in going out of our way to celebrate those that we do have.

Around the time I was going to that first rodeo, my own hero was the Cisco Kid, a Hollywood version of a Mexican Caballero. Nothing about him was remotely "Canadian" but I still thought he was cool. I got my mom to save up some boxtops or coupons from something and sent them off to get my own Cisco Kid coloring book. Another odd choice since the Kid only dressed in black.

Instead of the book, I got a nice letter from the cereal company explaining that the offer wasn't available in Canada. That was the identical experience of another Canadian writer (whose name for the life of me I can't remember) who'd sent off a request for his very own "Captain America" decoder ring a couple of decades earlier, also discovering that it couldn't be sent across the border.

That writer's famous quote went something like. "Not only did they have heroes we didn't, they had codes we weren't able to solve".

He claimed that event inspired him to be a writer and stay in Canada to help create local heroes.

I don't think that Cisco Kid coloring book did the same thing to me, but maybe it did on some subconscious level. At the very least, it would have made me look around for something else to color or draw. And in looking around I might have found a wealth of more interesting stories that nobody has told yet.

I now think I stay (or still write with the soul of this place when I go) because I know it's still virgin territory, that there are stories and ideas here that simply cannot be found or conjured anywhere else.

Today, as Canadians celebrate their country's birth, many of them will be more interested in which hockey free agents are changing teams on this first day of recruiting than how the place ended up as or managed to remain a country in the first place. And I'm kind of okay with that.

For I think it says we'll also never be a nation that needs to make our myths into religions others have to worship or our heroes into character traits we need to send our sons to die in foreign wars to prove are still very much alive.

Lack of sales options aside, I think that's the kind of country I want to stick with.

Have a Happy Canada Day!