2008 annual report: lassitude

Perhaps it’s just that I’m in fuzzy-headed vacation mode, but I can’t really think of anything very big that happened to me in 2008. No moves. No job changes. No adjustment to marital status. No new kids, or even nephews or nieces. No accomplishments to speak of, except maybe finishing the MBA, but that was more of a four-year event that just happened to conclude in October. Likewise the 5th wedding anniversary; cool, but it wasn’t like we accomplished it all in 2008.

Even our trips weren’t that exciting this year. Our trip to BC was just as spectacular this time as it was two years ago, but a lot of it was familiar territory. Four (!) trips to Nova Scotia for various reasons were fun, but not exactly new adventures.

Sure, I watched 108 new movies. I got 17 books, 18 DVDs and 22 albums. I wrote 410 blog posts (including this one) and lord knows how many tweets. But I’m pretty sure none of that adds to up to actually doing anything. Wait, hang on, that’s not true…I did do something: I gained ten pounds. Oh, and I gave up on vegetarianism. So I have that going for me.

I’m pretty sure that every year of my life — the ones I can remember, at least — has been better than the last.  2008 was no different; my life in 2008 was better than in 2007, and I continually feel lucky at having the luxury to be troubled by the petty details of an easy and enjoyable life. However, it doesn’t feel like I had much to do with any forward momentum my life is enjoying, and I don’t like that feeling. I’ve had a sense of ennui for the last few weeks; I think now I know why.

Fare thee well, 2008. I won’t miss you, but I will love you.

First person to mention Bryan Adams gets a kicking

Ooh, fun. The CBC has given us a task:

Starting next week, Canadians will collect some choice homegrown songs for the new president to groove to as he takes office Jan. 20.

CBC Radio 2 is calling on the public to take care of business, tune-wise – to help select 49 songs from north of the 49th parallel that best represent the northern nation.

I didn’t bother reading all the comments. I’m sure the songs widely believed to define Canada were mentioned…”Helpless” by Neil Young, “The Canadian Railroad Trilogy” by Gordon Lightfoot and (Lord help us) “The Hockey Song” by Stompin’ Tom Connors, to name a few.

I’d suggest something less obvious but spectacularly Canadian: “Queer” by The Rheostatics. It mentions hockey and Kodiaks and family strife and gayness and a prototypically Canadian town (Salmon Arm)…how much more Canadian can you get?

Anyone else have any suggestions?

My Dad's top 50 songs

A little over a week ago I blogged about my 50 favourite songs of all time. A few days later my brother Tim did the same. When I showed my father our lists he immediately felt a compulsion to make his own list, to the point where he’d wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a song, and have to write it down before he forgot. He’s finally managed to narrow it down to a clean 50, which I’ve posted here in alphabetical order. Observations about the three lists follow below.

  1. Band . “The Weight”
  2. Barra Macneils . “Cool Town Road”
  3. Big Sugar . “Wild Ox Moan”
  4. Bill Bourne . “Bluebird”
  5. Bill Justis . “Raunchy”
  6. Bob Dylan . “Desolation Row”
  7. Bob Dylan . “High Water”
  8. Bob Dylan . “Highlands”
  9. Bobbie Gentry . “Ode to Billy Joe”
  10. Browns . “The Thee Bells”
  11. Buddy Knox . “Rock Your Little Baby to Sleep”
  12. Carole King . “Smackwater Jack”
  13. Creedence Clearwater Revival . “Feeling Blue”
  14. Crosby Stills Nash and Young . “Teach Your Children”
  15. Dire Straits . “Walk of Life”
  16. Doc Watson . “Tennessee Stud”
  17. Doors . “Riders on the Storm”
  18. Eagles . “Heartache Tonight”
  19. Eagles . “Witchy Woman”
  20. Elvis Presley . “That’s All Right”
  21. Emmylou Harris . “Calling My Children Home”
  22. George Thorogood . “Bad to the Bone”
  23. Gillian Welch . “By the Mark”
  24. Gillian Welch . “Elvis Presley Blues”
  25. Gillian Welch . “Red Clay Halo”
  26. Gordon Lightfoot . “Sundown”
  27. Ian & Sylvia . “Old Blue”
  28. Jeff Buckley . “Hallelujah”
  29. Jennifer Warnes . “Ballad of the Runaway Horse”
  30. Jennifer Warnes . “Bird on a Wire”
  31. Jennifer Warnes . “Joan of Arc”
  32. Jimie Rodgers . “Blue Yodel #1 (T For Texas)”
  33. Joan Baez . “Farewell Angelina”
  34. Johnny Cash . “I Walk the Line”
  35. Johnny Cash . “Tennessee Flat Top Box”
  36. Kingston Trio . “Patriot Game”
  37. Levon Helm . “When I Get My Rewards”
  38. Natalie Merchant . “Diver Boy”
  39. Norman Greenbaum . “Spirit in the Sky”
  40. Rita MacNeil . “Working Man”
  41. Robert Johnson . “Crossroad Blues”
  42. Roy Orbison . “Candy Man”
  43. Roy Orbison . “Dream Baby”
  44. Stan Rogers . “Giant”
  45. Stan Rogers . “Make and Break Harbour”
  46. Stevie Ray Vaughan . “Crossfire”
  47. Tennessee Ernie Ford . “Sixteen Tons”
  48. Tracy Chapman . “Give Me One Reason”
  49. Wilson Pickett . “Mustang Sally”
  50. Woody Guthrie . “Vigilante Man”

What I see by looking at all three lists:

Artists

  • Only four artists were on all three of our lists: Big Sugar, Bob Dylan, The Doors and Robert Johnson.
  • Three other artists were on my list and Tim’s, but not Dad’s: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones.
  • Two other artists were on Tim’s list and Dad’s, but not mine: Creedence Clearwater Revival and Johnny Cash.
  • Two other artists were on my list and Dad’s, but not Tim’s: Jeff Buckley and Norman Greenbaum.

Songs

  • Only one song was on all three of our lists: “Wild Ox Moan” by Big Sugar.
  • Four other songs were on my list and Tim’s, but not Dad’s: “Break On Through” by The Doors, “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin, “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd and “Sympathy For The Devil” by The Rolling Stones.
  • One other song was on Tim’s list and Dad’s, but not mine: “I Walk The Line” by Johnny Cash.
  • Three other songs were on my list and Dad’s, but not Tim’s: “Desolation Row” by Bob Dylan, “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley and “Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum.

Three clear messages emerge:

  1. If you have not yet heard “Wild Ox Moan” by Big Sugar, please arrange to do so with all possible speed
  2. My father has pretty goddamn good taste in music for a 65-year-old man
  3. My brother and I were obviously influenced heavily by our father’s love of music, good music more specifically, so all you parents out there should think twice before buying that Miley Cyrus CD

Five years later…

So…yesterday was our anniversary. Our fifth, thanks for asking. We celebrated (after our little shopping excursion to HMV and Duggers) by meeting up with my brother for some drinks at Seven Wine Bar, then enjoying a quiet, delicious dinner for two at Fid Cuisine. Fid’s been there since 2000 but we’d never tried it, and until recently I’d never even heard of it. Not surprising; it certainly wasn’t the sort of place a student would try. Here’s the lineup (some of it is from the website’s outdated menu, some is from memory):

  • Amuse-Bouches: green curry mussels. I don’t particularly care for mussels, so I tried one and donated the other to my lovely wife. Happy anniversary, darling.
  • Appetizers: Nellie had the caramelized scallops (which included some other bits of meat that I thought were quail) while I had the goat cheese.
  • Mains: Nellie had the beef tenderloin with kale (maybe?) & artichoke. I had the pork belly with choy sum and a pureed sweet potato that we both agreed was amazing. This was my first time having pork belly; it was tender and very tasty, but really fatty and rich. I’m glad I spaced it out with the rest of my food. We had this with a powerful New Zealand Pinot Noir (can’t remember which, but it was strong enough to keep up with Nellie’s beef while not overpowering my pork) and cleansed our palates with a tea-flavoured sorbet.
  • Dessert: ginger creme brulee for Nellie, outstanding molten moelleux au chocolat for me. Nellie had a ten-year-old port, I had a local Muscat dessert wine.

Sated, we stumbled out into the miserable night. The earlier snow had degenerated (as it so often does in Halifax) into freezing rain, made worse by biting wind and slippery sidewalks (and us in our fancy shoes!). We got all the way back to the hotel when Nellie realized she was missing an earring…one of the pair I’d given her for Christmas two days earlier. This wouldn’t do. We put on some shoes more befitting the Canadian winter and set back out, knowing it would be nearly impossible to spot a silver earring on the snow-and-ice-covered sidewalk, but we had to try. We retraced our steps all the way to the restaurant with no luck, double-checked the entryway, and left again for the hotel. Happily, I spotted the rogue earring about twenty steps from the restaurant’s entrance, and the evening was saved. We slid back to the hotel to warm up, dry off and digest in agony.

This morning we woke up early to have breakfast with our friend Karen and her new fiance, then made for the airport. Cab ride: no problem. Check-in: no problem. Security: bigger line than usual for Halifax, but no problem. Boarding: no problem. Flight: no problem, save some bumps at the end and a supremely annoying Newfoundland mother sitting right behind us. Luggage collection: no problem. Cab ride home: no problem. All in all, a pretty painless winter travel experience, and a far cry from last week’s fiasco.

Now we’re home, surrounded by presents, being abused by bitchy cats, completely lacking in the grocery department and overall a little wiped. But good. All’s well that ends well.

Can’t wait for the next five years.

Goin' back to Hali

For the third time (or fourth, if you count flying into the airport for a family reunion) in four months, I’m back in Halifax. This is the traditional final phase of the Christmas vacation, where we end up for our anniversary and to chill a little bit before flying back to Toronto.

Christmas eve was a gentle mix of cleaning up, beating my dad at crib, wrapping gifts and lying about. Christmas day was lots of fun, hauling away lots of booty (many DVDs & Wii games, as well as some other cool stuff…IP-enabled camera, Star Wars trivia book, etc.), having a delicious extended-family dinner at my brother’s house across the yard, and finishing off the day playing the Wii with Nellie, the nephew, the nieces, the brother and the sister-in-law.

Boxing Day started off well — driving to my aunt’s house where just about all of the extended family on my father’s side gathered for yearly reunion & feast — but took a bad turn when I realized I’d left my bag (including my wallet, ID, Blackberry, Zen, camera, etc.) back on the farm. That discovery corresponded with one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had. So Nellie did some championship rally-driving back to the farm where I grabbed the bag, swallowed a bunch of advil and gassed up the car, then we hightailed it toward Halifax. Three extra hours in the car wasn’t how I wanted to spend the day, but there you go. We visited Nellie’s cousin and her family for a bit, then drove to our hotel in Halifax. A huge late-night dinner later, we retired to the comfy, quiet room. Ahhhhhhhh.

It’s been an awesome, relaxing morning…in-sleeping, breakfast-eating, paper-reading, price-checking. Now we’re heading out for a stroll and to see if we can locate any particular deals, and to feed Nellie’s craving for fish & chips at the Rogue’s Roost. Cheers, internet. Hope you’re feeling as groovy as we are.

Ah, vacation

It’s been a long two days. Since my last post we spent six hours waiting in the airport, took a bumpy ride into Halifax and thought hard about making the drive to the farm but were thwarted by the oncoming storm. Had the flight left on time, or even close to it, we could have made it to the farm ahead of the severe weather, but with half an inch of snow on the ground already I wasn’t risking it. We ended up spending the night at Nellie’s cousin’s place — which was an adventure in itself — and making the mildly treacherous drive to the farm yesterday. When we left the cousin’s place the power was out; when we reached the farm the power was out there as well. Awesome.

It wasn’t a problem not having power during the day — we were happy just to arrive, finally and in one piece — but as it turned dark and the temperature outside fell, the house began to cool off. A LOT. We also discovered that we were the only two houses around without power, so with tens of thousands of people around the province without power that night we figured we weren’t high on the fix-it list. My parents called the info line and left messages, but we decided the best place for us was in the car, so we took a trip into town, ostensibly for dinner and groceries, but also to keep warm. Good thing, too; the temperature outside had fallen to numbing levels. Returning home, we crossed our fingers as we got close to the farm, but no dice. Or, rather: no lights.

A few hours later, wrapped up in blankets, we saw a power truck pull up. They told us it was a blown transformer and predicted we’d have to wait at least another day for a replacement to be put in, so we went to bed early, wrapped in swaddling comfiness, hoping to sleep through the coldest of it. Happily the workers — who had been going for 36 straight hours, in what must have been -30 windchill — found a plan B and our power came on. I’ve never been so happy to hear the smoke detector chirp.

Today I woke up, stood on the hot-air register downstairs, microwaved myself a croissant and luxuriated in the feeling of my first shower in two days. I luxuriated in the flush toilets as well, but nobody needs to hear about that. Suffice it to say modern living was a big hit this morning when everyone got up.

No time to waste, though. My father still hadn’t done his Christmas shopping, so off we all went to Moncton. Some five hours later we’d braved malls and power centers, and eaten Festive Specials ’til we burst, and returned home to relax, at last. We inspected my brother’s newly-renovated house next door, during which time I was humiliated at foosball by my nine-year-old nephew, but quickly learned how to play and beat him in the next two games. Pwned. Then Nellie wrapped presents while Dad and I did battle at cribbage, and now we’re all just laying about stuffing our faces with bonbons* until we fall asleep. Now THIS is what I flew back to Nova Scotia for.

Tomorrow I’ll have to wrap presents and help my mother make apple pies, but if those are my chores I’ll happily struggle through. If I don’t have time to blog again before tomorrow night, then Merry Christmas everybody!

* To date: chocolate-covered peanut butter balls, chocolate macaroons, peanut butter chocolate drop cookies, three kinds of fudge and Lindt chocolates. Up next: my father’s homemade strawberry ice cream. Then sweet, sweet cardiac failure.

"[A]n appalling stance"

From today’s Globe and Mail:

Alone among major Western nations, the United States has refused to sign a declaration presented Thursday at the United Nations calling for worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality.

In all, 66 of the UN’s 192 member countries signed the nonbinding declaration — which backers called a historic step to push the General Assembly to deal more forthrightly with any-gay discrimination. More than 70 UN members outlaw homosexuality, and in several of them homosexual acts can be punished by execution.

Another entry on the list of reasons why Americans will eventually regard the past eight years as a shameful period in their history.

Vacation = us

Storm clouds acomin
Storm clouds a'comin

It was easy not to become part of yesterday’s mass hysteria, as “Snowmageddon” didn’t really affect me at all. It started snowing pretty much after I got to work, and ended before I left so I didn’t get snowed on. My commute home on the subway was the same as it always is, if a little more crowded. We spent our night indoors, eating filet mignon from Cumbrae’s, drinking a bottle of of 2003 Paolo Conterno Barolo and having chocolate from three different shops (Teuscher, Eitelbach andMoRoCo) for dessert.

Today we got up late and ran a couple of errands outside. It’s really quite nice out…bright, and pretty with all the snow, but a little windy. It was -23 with the windchill earlier but didn’t really feel it.

The only question now is how bad tonight’s snowstorm will be, and whether it’ll cancel our flight. We can see it coming up across the lake right now (see picture above) and it looks ugly. We’re not too fussed either way…if we have to wait until Monday to fly home it’s no big deal, we have lots of time and nothin’ to do.

The 50 best songs ever

Gus Van Sant said in this month’s Esquire, “I think that when you are 16 and 17 years old, you’re making the most important connections with the world that you will probably ever make in your life. If you ask a 70-year-old what his favorite song is, it’ll be a song he heard when he was 16.” That statement made me wonder, and it led to this post.

This list I’ve made isn’t what I think are the 50 greatest or most important songs of all time. There’s certainly no scientific explanation behind any of them. They’re simply the 50 songs I love the most. The music snob in me cringes a bit when I look at it, because there are songs on here I know I love only for nostalgic reasons, for situations recent or distant the song brings to mind, but the list is what the list is.

Back to Mr. Van Sant: before setting out to do this list I had assumed a disproportionate number of these songs would come from the early 90s, when I (cliche alert) had my musical awakening at the hands of Nirvana. I was 16 the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and not much older when I heard Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, who formed the triumvirate of bands who catapulted me into a whole new musical world. I could absolutely feel myself making those connections with the world to which Mr. Van Sant refers. Surprisingly enough, the latter two bands did not make this list, and I now feel like I’ve outgrown them.

The other songs on this list feel like I have not outgrown them, and never will. I like the idea of holding on to the few nostalgic connections of that early 90s era — Smashing Pumpkins, The Screaming Trees, Jane’s Addiction, and so on — while still appreciating the purpose that the afore-mentioned bands served at the time. Most important to me is that I still find new music that moves me as much as does the 70-year-old Robert Johnson song on my list. Maybe that puts the lie to Mr. Van Sant’s assumption, or maybe it just explains why I’m more passionate about music than most people I know.

Without (much) further ado, here’s the list. It is displayed alphabetically; I did manage to narrow down what I considered by ten favourites of all time, but you’ll just have to guess at those.

  1. And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead . “Mark David Chapman”
  2. Arcade Fire . “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”
  3. Beastie Boys . “Sabotage”
  4. Big Sugar . “Wild Ox Moan”
  5. Blind Melon . “Drive”
  6. Bob Dylan . “House Carpenter”
  7. Bob Mould . “Sacrifice/Let There Be Peace”
  8. Clairvoyants . “To Harm”
  9. Dandy Warhols . “Hard On For Jesus”
  10. Doors . “Break On Through”
  11. Explosions In The Sky . “Memorial”
  12. Godspeed You! Black Emperor . “Storm”
  13. Hidden Cameras . “Mississauga Goddam”
  14. Interpol . “NYC”
  15. Jane’s Addiction . “Three Days”
  16. Jeff Buckley . “Hallelujah”
  17. Led Zeppelin . “When the Levee Breaks”
  18. Mark Lanegan . “Borracho”
  19. Massive Attack . “Angel”
  20. Mates Of State . “So Many Ways”
  21. Medicine . “Time Baby III”
  22. Mogwai . “My Father My King”
  23. National . “Fake Empire”
  24. New Pornographers . “Letter from an Occupant”
  25. Nirvana . “Lounge Act”
  26. Norman Greenbaum . “Spirit In The Sky”
  27. Pink Floyd . “Wish You Were Here”
  28. Pixies . “Where Is My Mind?”
  29. Pulp . “Common People”
  30. Radiohead . “Everything in Its Right Place”
  31. Rheostatics . “Shaved Head”
  32. Robert Johnson . “Come on in My Kitchen”
  33. Rolling Stones . “Sympathy for the Devil”
  34. Screaming Trees . “Julie Paradise”
  35. Sigur Ros . “Svefn-g-englar”
  36. Sleater Kinney . “Turn It On”
  37. Smashing Pumpkins . “Drown”
  38. Smashing Pumpkins . “Rocket”
  39. Sonic Youth . “Theresa’s Sound World”
  40. Spiritualized . “Lord Can You Hear Me?”
  41. Spoon . “Jonathon Fisk”
  42. Sugar . “And You Tell Me (tv mix)”
  43. Thermals . “Here’s Your Future”
  44. Tindersticks . “4:48 Psychosis”
  45. Tragically Hip . “Fifty-Mission Cap”
  46. U2 . “Jesus Christ”
  47. Walkmen . “The Rat”
  48. White Stripes . “Ball And A Biscuit”
  49. Yeah Yeah Yeahs . “Modern Romance”
  50. Yume Bitsu . “The Frigid, Frigid, Frigid Body of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg”

Things I find interesting about this list, now that I look at it:

  • Only one band — Smashing Pumpkins — appeared twice, unless you count the Mark Lanegan/Screaming Trees combo. I actually wonder now if I subconsciously self-censored, trying to limit myself to one song per artist for the most part.
  • There are some very long songs on there, notably Jane’s Addiction (10:48), Yume Bitsu (18:29), Mogwai (20:12) and GY!BE (22:32). I like me some long songs, and there were several more in the 171-song ‘short’ list which fed this one.
  • There are two covers on there: the U2 cover of a Woody Guthrie song and Jeff Buckley‘s version of a Leonard Cohen song. Obviously I consider both superior to the original, or to subsequent covers. Bob Dylan‘s “House Carpenter” is an interpretation of an old tune, but so is most folk, so I didn’t consider it a cover.
  • Creating this list was fun, but kind of felt like work too. But fun work.

UPDATE: upon further reflection, I made some changes to the list. In are Godspeed You! Black Emperor‘s “Storm”, Bob Dylan‘s “House Carpenter”, Beastie Boys‘ “Sabotage” and Spiritualized‘s “Lord Can You Hear Me”. Meanwhile, Bob Dylan‘s “Desolation Row”, The Constantines‘ “Hyacinth”, Fiery Furnaces‘ “We Got Back the Plague” and Radiohead‘s “The National Anthem” are out. All great songs, obviously, but probably shouldn’t have made the final list in retrospect.

FURTHER UPDATE: it is unconscionable that “Ball And A Biscuit” by The White Stripes was not on this list. It has replaced “Save Me” be Tea Party.