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Endure the Wonder of Survival: A Legacy of Gord Downie

May 24, 2016 1 comment

It feels wrong, ghoulish even, to eulogize a man while he is still alive. Still, the painful news that Gord Downie, the singer and lyricist of venerable Canadian rock veterans the Tragically Hip, has been diagnosed with terminal, incurable brain cancer is already being greeted in the Canadian media and across the country’s internet social platforms in much the same way as the recent deaths of much more famous and internationally successful musical figures such as David Bowie and Prince. Although the band announced a final tour this summer and has a new (perhaps final?) album, the rhythmic, ruminative Kevin Drew-produced Man Machine Poem, due out on June 17, the announcement of Downie’s cancer has struck a defined segment of a generation of Canadians with the heavy blow of a final passing.

For these Canadians, and most definitely for me, Gordon Edgar Downie was our Bowie, our Prince. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to speak to what Downie’s words and the Hip’s music means to its fans, devoted and casual alike, although swellings of emotion at expressions of national sentiment and the poetic language of his lyrics certainly recur (check out The Tragically Hip in Bobcaygeon for the best official documenting of fan sentiment). It’s less difficult, though still far from simple, to summarize what Downie’s words and the Hip’s music means to me. But, to quote Downie, there’s no simple explanation for anything important any of us do.

Like a lot of Canadians coming of age in smaller communities in the 1990s, the Tragically Hip were a notable cultural force where I grew up, an inescapable part of the musical landscape whether or not you liked them. I did like them, though, their muscular but melodically surprising bluesy rock melding with Downie’s enigmatic, sophisticated lyrical imagery woven around national touchstones. The Hip were an important shared interest in my group of friends, and a common reference point for most young people that I grew up with. Albums new and old (the brilliant Phantom Power was and remains a particular favourite), videos and appearances on MuchMusic, and gorddownieconcerts built up a collective mythos around the band, and Downie, as singer, primary songwriter, unpredictable onstage live-wire, and utterer of gnomic observations, was the focal point of that mythos.

The meaning of the art that Downie produced shifted for me over time, taking on different associations at different points in my life. But on balance, Downie’s songs with the Tragically Hip (and to a lesser extent his solo records) are, alongside the golden years of The Simpsons, the single most important artistic influence on my perspective, my writing, and the way I understand the world around me. This is what I mean by saying that he was my David Bowie: just as Bowie represented a unique, offbeat, edgy, or ambiguous ideal for many shaggy outcasts from square society, Downie arose out of and commanded the admiration and fondness of Canada’s earthbound, essentially conservative rural and suburban middle class but also transcends it and sees the best in it, injecting erudition, empathy, and inclusive fellow-feeling into a subculture that could bend towards illiberal tendencies. But he also respects the salt-of-the-earth commitment and care of this class, and does not sneer or talk down to it, even while rubbing elbows with the urban indie elite of the Canadian music scene.

Beyond matters of class and subculture, that interminable shell game of identity formation and position-taking known as “being cool”, Downie was a preternaturally skilled and frequently astounding user of words. It was in this way that he was most inspiring, in his poetic turns of phrase, his indelible imagery, and in the resonant stories he told. The incredible breadth and scope that he could evoke in the space of a 4 or 5-minute rock song could be breathtaking, but he could also move you with intimate snapshots (“You can leave your jewellery in a bowl beside the bed”) and deploy a killer joke with expert timing. He could not only write remarkable words, but sing them, give them to us, with just the right inflection, the tenderly balanced delivery. When his wordcraft combined with his passion for performance, the result could be very special indeed.

Eulogizing Gord Downie now, when he may have years left to leave a mark on the world outside of the rock n’ roll stage, might not feel so incongruous considering how often and how curiously he probed the frightening, tantalizing mysteries of death. Not just in, say, “The Inevitability of Death” (a title chosen, by Downie’s half-ironic admission, to confound the forced cheer of radio DJs) or “Nautical Disaster” (which is more about the haunting spectres of past trauma), but personally, painfully, honestly in ballads like “Fiddler’s Green” (about the death of Downie’s young nephew from a heart ailment) and, a vastly underappreciated favourite of mine, “Toronto #4”. An aching poem written as a tribute to Downie’s dying grandmother set to a drum machine beat, elegiac guitar, and tinkling piano, it’s a song about the sensations and rituals of death, the quiet enormity of our finite lives, and the comfort that the mortal end robs of those left behind. Gord Downie will be with us for some time yet, but he has left us with many stirring epitaphs, none so perfectly poised as this.

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Good Old-Fashioned Wholesome Fun With Search Engine Terms #13

November 1, 2015 Leave a comment

Once again pawing through the half-secret detritus of desultory internet searches for kernels of mirth, the venerable series of mockery at anonymous googling marches on. Have at it, mates.

vanity fair dobbin fanfiction mature

At first I thought that was “Dobbie fanfiction” and was deeply troubled. But what red-blooded, sexually-open adult reader of speculative fanfic doesn’t want to have an inside view of good, upstanding Dobbin finally being allowed a bit of pleasure for his owOH MY GOODNESS I JUST FOUND THE DOBBIN/GEORGE OSBORNE SLASH AND AM TITTILATED IN NEW AND UNFAMILIAR WAYS.

Well, at least now I’ll have something to talk to the shrink about this week.

no king asgard the african one

This phrase is rather open to interpretation. Is it an inquiry into the Asgardian line of succession as regards Idris Elba’s Heimdall, whose African descent was a matter of controversy to white supremacists prior to and after the release of Thor? Or is there a previously unheard-of African state called Asgard that finds itself tragically kingless at this particular moment?

The maddening thing is… we will never know for certain.

is the raccoons in the circus

This would either be far more entertaining than it sounds or, more likely, far less. But apparently, it’s already happened in Britain and indeed is common enough to earn consideration as a practice to be banned. Well, I never.

what is the name of the band from bobcaygeon

I dunno, Bon Jovi?

I kid, yes. But I recall my father once very nearly mixed up the Tragically Hip and Bon Jovi when I asked him to pick me up Live Between Us in 1997 so my attempt at humour also masks a near-miss trauma of my teenaged years.

similarity: cutting, gangs of ny & kruger in elisyeum

I recently thought about the similarities between Bill Cutting and Stephen Harper, but hadn’t considered a comparison of these two characters. I suspect that there aren’t too many real point of intersection besides wicked accents and facial hair and a penchant for murderous violence.

cooking network fat food guy

“Fat Food Guy” is the most approximate English translation of Guy Fieri’s name in Mandarin Chinese.

obnoxious food

“Obnoxious Food Guy” is also an admissable translation. And produces an exact match on Google image search:

obnoxiousfoodguy

who is the blonde model on vatican outreach video

Whoever she is, dude, she’s not gonna date you and she’s never worked in porn. Although with that dionysian Pope Francis wearing the mitre, you never do know, do you?

Good Old-Fashioned Wholesome Fun With Search Engine Terms #12

January 12, 2015 Leave a comment

What, if anything, does having a view into the text entered into internet searches tell us about the psychology of those who entered it? Are they mere impressionistic doodles, ephemeral short-attention-span bursts of spectral curiosity? Or do searches tell us more about the underlying psyche of the searchers? About their belief-systems, unconscious desires, or deepest intentions? Governments certainly think so, which is why they’re farming all of that content and sorting through the data to find something to detain you over. And you thought this post would only be good for light entertainment.

vanity fair novel as a satyrical comment on contemporary english society

I am very much in love with that spelling of “satyrical”, although contrary to popular (or maybe less popular and more marginal) belief, the word “satire” does not derive philologically from the Greek mythological creature.

casting of richard armitage as thorin oakenshield, objections

I’m sure that Stuart Townsend was pretty pissed about it.

tolkein orcs politicals england

For whatever reason, every other search result yielded by this phrase was about the Scottish independence movement.

what are the stage names of borden and angier

Siegfried and Roy.

siegfried and roy

I went searching for the most bizarre and hilarious Siegfried and Roy images and the one above was only barely in the Top Five. Though it involves only Roy, the one below is likely #1.

roybutterflytiger

hochschild leopolds ghost why was there colonization

As complex a question as it is possible to ask, quite probably. But can be summed up roughly as: where there’s honey, there will be flies.

what is ridley scott trying to say in the ibelin scene of kingdom of heaven

I’m not even certain that Ridley Scott knows what Ridley Scott is trying to say with his period epics at this point. Other than “I like sand”.

why is huxley such a prude

I’m assuming this question is rhetorical. Even if it isn’t, ten points to Gryffindor.

ohio state fuckeyes

This phrase is forever heartening.

innocuous ambiguous gallery

Very good name. Is it taken?

the hobbit trilogy is underappreciated

Is that you, Peter Jackson? Go back to finishing the Extended Edition DVD. Slacker.

Body Care Products, Soup and the Absurdist Eccentricity of Modern Masculinity

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s becoming fairly apparent that the globalized social order of the post-modern, post-capitalist, post-democratic West is undergoing at least a few active crises. But seemingly at the core of all of them lies a truly earth-shaking crisis: a crisis of masculine identity. Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir recently descried a nostalgic yearning to preserve and recapture a fading sense of unshakeable white American manhood in a time of increasing feminism, multiculturalism, diversity, and LGBT rights, where even unassailable fortresses of homosocial identity communion such as the National Football League, the U.S. military, and fraternities are finding themselves assailed for the less savoury consequences of their inborn chauvinism (like, I dunno, rape and domestic violence, or something).

Wherever one looks, in fact, defenders of aggressive, blustering masculinity are finding themselves seemingly besieged by the minority and diverse forces that they have marginalized and exploited for so long and are lashing out in response. The increasingly absurd machinations of the brothers Ford in Toronto municipal politics represents a pure distillation of the right-wing politics of white male resentment against the implications of liberal modernity for a permanent softening of an enduring (if ever-more vestigial) social hardness. Similar political predilections have taken firm hold of the Republican Party south of the border and are granted a seat at the proverbial table in the Conservative Party north of it.

most_interesting_man_in_the_world__60668Elsewhere, the longtime male fantasy zones of superhero comics and video games are experiencing spasms of change as open-minded creativity and criticism open them up to new, non-male voices. Some dudes may never be able to handle a female Thor, and even more dudes have crafted an obnoxiously misogynistic “movement” called Gamergate to harrass and silence incisive feminist voices criticizing sexist representations in gaming. Even international terrorism fits this masculine counter-revolution bill. What is ISIS, at its core, than the most extreme men’s rights pushback of them all, transmuted through post-colonial developing-world grievances against imperial powers and a radical, fundamentalist vision of Islam that restores a medieval gender hierarchy through brutal force? And what is the muscular military intervention against them but a resurgence of masculine martial fervour to match their vicious phallic demonstrations?

But there’s a parallel stream (or perhaps an intertwined one) to this belligerent counter-revolutionary masculinity. Corporate consumer advertising has targetted perceived male insecurity by flattering its assumptions of inherent superiority while simultaneously exposing the obsessive propriety with which it treats its cherished tenets as fundamentally ridiculous. This ironic, self-aware approach to the terms of traditional masculinity lampoons those terms just as it reinforces them. It presents masculinity as a sort of comic eccentricity to be stroked and kept placated by agents of traditional femininity, lest its claws come out. The innovating ad in this cycle was Old Spice’s viral clip starring the brilliantly deadpan Isaiah Mustafa as “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”.

There’s an overt appeal to women to the ad, of course: Mustafa is gorgeous, and he’s looking right at the camera, addressing the “ladies”, letting them know that men are basically ludicrous creatures but they have their uses (mostly, it must be said, materialist ones). But the dominant message is addressed to men: it’s okay to be traditionally masculine, but try not to take it too seriously, because that makes you a chauvinist asshole. There’s also a line out to men and women who reject the terms of traditional masculinity, nudging them knowingly and acknowledging the rightness of their view. No wonder the ad was so massively successful, launching similarly parodically manly sequels and indeed whole products lines based on the comic premise. It spoke, with exquisite, slippery balance, to most hegemonic young-adult demographics at the same time.

The Old Spice campaign found itself either inspiring or coming into discourse with similarly-pitched marketing, most prominently the meme-ready Dos Equis ads featuring “The Most Interesting Man in the World” pictured above. The tone of worldly, devil-may-care sophistication of those ads introduced a note of cosmopolitan savoir-faire to the modern masculine playbook, qualities that are often dismissed as European and effeminate. But a more recent, and odd, commercial for Chunky Soup’s blatantly male-centred Pub Inspired line of canned soup flavours focused the beam of ludicrous modern masculinity even more intensely.

The demographic appeal here is more particular: young father with teeny-pop fan daughters is offered respite from his emasculated plight by a meat-and-potatoes stew and a skull-perching eagle-wing set of earmuffs. But beyond the absurdist humour and gender assumptions lies a secretive homosocial exchange. The experienced soup-slinging bartender inside the television (his taps dispense not beer but sludgy, sodium-rich sustenance for young single men allergic to food preparation) offers sage advice and material gifts that preserve some private illusion of traditional masculinity to a subject otherwise deprived of contact with his supposedly primal (but really quite socially constructed) manhood. It’s a window into the mindset of patriarchy: private exchanges between men in settings where women are not present and certainly hold no power or sway determining the matters of true importance.

But the exchange is fundamentally silly, down to the screaming eagle with the pretentiously classical name. Perhaps the core truth of the current state of masculinity is most visible in this element of such an advertisement: although man-to-man exchange retains its protocols of respect and gravity, both the customs of this exchange and the patriarchal aims it supports and works towards have slid into a position of tired uselessness worthy of ridicule. A panicked realization of this fall from grace may perhaps serve to explain the vehemence of chauvinist masculinity’s response to the perceived reduction of its influence and dominated discursive territory.

Categories: Culture, Hilarity, Navel-Gazing

Good Old-Fashioned Wholesome Fun With Search Engine Terms #11

October 1, 2014 Leave a comment

I am left to contemplate the utility of this standard preamble to my quarterly search term mockery post. To the extent that any reader is interested in what follows, an introduction is surely superfluous in nature. Certainly the precise count and general contours of the following search terms do not require such a worked-out segue, nor do they require links to previous iterations, of which there are now a full ten. They will likely take a few scant seconds to consider the psychological state and grammatical deficiencies of the searchers before moving on with their lives. I can ask no more of them.

why is jessie a pussy breaking bad season 1&2

I suppose I should dispute the offensive and discriminatory implications of the term “pussy” being used to denote emasculated weakness or perhaps note the support such web searches might lend to the association of Breaking Bad with the misogynistic male fever swamp of the bro subculture. But instead I will say that if “Jessie” is a pussy, it may be because he spells his name like a female moniker. Which he doesn’t, so perhaps he isn’t, and perhaps saying so is simplistic and couched in ignorance. Maybe.

no 1 searched actress navel on internet

Although I’m not even certain how that could be measured in the first place, I feel reasonably confident that the top result is probably Meryl Streep.

the aesthetics of a hockey stick

There is something simultaneously beautiful and dangerous about a hockey stick. Vicious and elegant all at once, like a sickle or a scimitar. I’m sure goaltenders would agree.

did bo jackson leap a 40foot ditch after killing bohogs

Probably not, but I don’t much want to live in a world in which someone will not believe that he might have.

simon winchester insuffereable prig

Succinct and to the point. Ten points to Gryffindor.

what is the rising action in godzilla

When he’s rising out of the ocean, that’s action.

empirical support on what scholars say about myrtle in the great gatsby

This represents a laudable instinct towards accruing supporting evidence, but I feel like someone out there is not quite fully cognizant of how literature is generally understood to function.

amish commodifications

Don’t try to fool me, English. I know you bought that Raise Your Own Barn Kit at Walmart.

the liberality of the netherlands

Bicycle-riding, tulip-growing, windmill-preserving Low Country left-wing elitists! Respect the taxpayer!

dubnyk is shit

Cool, Craig MacTavish visited my site.

where in hawaii was catching fire filmed

Perhaps on the island that’s 93% owned by a tech billionaire? That would certainly have an appropriately dystopian character to it, don’t you think?

Good Old-Fashioned Wholesome Fun With Search Engine Terms #10

Like Real Madrid, I’ve reached La Decima in this series of posts chronicling the oddest sets of words entered into search engines to lead websurfers to this blog. Unlike Real Madrid, I did not collaborate with a fascist dictator in order to do so. I didn’t employ Cristiano Ronaldo to make it happen either, which may be worse than cozying up to Franco. Anyway, back on topic: amusing search terms, the tenth installment. Probably the appropriate thing to do would be to choose ten examples, so of course I chose twelve.

chevalier homosocial

No, that’s not what “homosocial” means. Don’t be bigoted.

visual metaphors in harry potter

Quidditch is an allegory for the social democratic welfare state. Think about it. No, think harder.

british soldiers flayed alive

Nope, none of that here. Try a Mel Gibson movie, maybe?

jar jar binks racist

He’s not a racist, he’s just kind of dumb and irritating and loud and nobody likes him. You can be those things and not be a racist, but it’s tough to be a racist without also being those things. Necessary/sufficient conditions kind of thing.

crebain from dunland

“Nothing, it’s just a wisp of cloud.” “It’s moving fast, against the wind…” Incidentally, I always thought it odd that Legloas could tell that the birds were from Dunland. Was a member of the flock carrying a flag or something?

good thesis statement regarding the lego movie

It shouldn’t be surprising that a great number of the searches that point to this blog are clearly undertaken either by students looking for essay ideas or by their instructors trying to catch them plagiarizing. This is far from the only one, merely the laziest.

navel fanfiction

I’m gonna go ahead and assume that’s a typo and they’re looking for some amateur fanfic focusing on the bygone era of sailing ships. Because the alternative is both too icky and too weirdly specific to contemplate.

nicolas cage grave new orleans

I was preparing a snarky joke about how Nic Cage might not need a grave but his career sure does (haw haw!). And that may well have proven sufficient. But googling it turned up something much weirder: the actor’s pre-purchased pyramid-shaped burial plot and monument in a New Orleans cemetery, complete with pretentious New-Age-y Latin motto. Wondrous.

infantile crisis wallpaper batman

No crisis is infantile when you have Batman wallpaper. The darkness of the human soul is your domestic decoration. You dwell in the shadows, and the shadows know you well.

(Please to imagine that read in Christian Bale’s growly philosophic Batman voice. Or at least Abed’s impersonation of the Christian Bale growly philosophic Batman voice.)

weakness of film beowulf

Can I have “Naked Golden Angelina Jolie” for $600, Alex?

wholesome detective novels

Nancy Drew? The Hardy Boys? Jesus H. Christ, Private Eye?

film analysis professional

Sure, go ahead and rub it in. Jerk.

Good Old-Fashioned Wholesome Fun With Search Engine Terms #9

Edging ever closer to double digits on total installments of this regular feature mocking the online masses and their head-scratching search habits. Ten prime examples of these habits this time around. Aren’t they special?

peter jackson excessive

Hey, PJ lost a bunch of weight and he’s living a healthy lifestyle now. No more second breakfasts, let alone elevensies.

southern gothic and noblesse oblige

These are two of my favourite words/concepts together in one lovely, snobbish phrase and for this I thank you, anonymous searcher.

who is the man in the suit that beats up llewyn davis

If you just watch to the end of the damn movie, you’ll find out. Was this you, mother?

candy falling from the sky

Yes, please. Unless this is a new Katy Perry single, then no thank you.

sexy girls on snowmobiles

What exactly do you find when you google that? Pretty much what you’d expect, though not as much as you might hope for. This is the most tasteful and relevant result. Lookit that sexy Moto-Ski!

snow bunnydwarf shoulder prosthesis in the desolation of smaug

What a curiously specific and trivial line of inquiry. Maybe this was a WETA Workshop grunt sensitive about the reception of his work.

why does looper not have automatic weapons

Obama! *shakes fist*

violence and aesthetics and sport

Oh my.

www. threatening monologues- gangs of new york.co.za

This website does not actually seem to exist, which is unfortunate since if there was a site called Threatening Monologues aggregating all of the great tense and aggressive monologues of the movies, it would be pretty amazing. Lots of Tarantino, one would imagine. As it is, it may have to become a regular blog feature.

russell westbrook slash fanfiction

Stop and take a look at yourself, Western culture. What have you become?