Monday, August 29, 2016

Peeing Into The Digital Wind

I'm beginning to think that the internet, especially the social media aspect of it, is probably the most intricate and fascinating social experiment in the history of the world. There's an old saying that goes, "Opinions are like assholes. Everybody's got one and everyone thinks everyone else's stinks." This is what the internet has become. Hundreds of millions of people with their own special opinion on EVERYTHING and a whole bunch of them chomping at the bit to point out what's wrong with everyone else's, especially yours.

I get it. I really do. It's so hard to resist. You know you're right. You are right! You must let all the people know you're right. I've been there a thousand times. Hell, I've been there as recently as this weekend. Try as I might, I would not bite my tongue and had to chime in on something that, had I left well enough alone, would have left me in a perfectly calm state. As it was, I was left frustrated and disappointed and all I accomplished was completely wasting half an hour of an otherwise wonderful day.

http://www.reactiongifs.com/

That's all fine and dandy when it's average folk arguing with each other over average things. What really makes my head turn is when there's a company + customer dust up. When I see this happen the first thing I try to do is determine which party is batshit crazy, then I typically root for the other one. If both parties involved are off their rockers then that's even better. Without a horse in the race, I can just sit back and enjoy the show.

I am left wondering what the ever loving hell is there to be gained - on either side - by engaging in these shenanigans? In many cases, it's the company that ends up looking the fool. The old adage, "The customer is always right," seems to ring true, at least in the court of public opinion (even though it's really bullshit). Occasionally, though, a company will come out on top and boy-oh-boy is that fun to watch. There is something thoroughly satisfying about watching an internet asshat get their just desserts.

For an example of this, we need to look no further than The White Moose Café in Ireland. Café owner/manager, Paul Stenson, took exception one day to some vegans who frequented his café and slagged him in a review. For the record, Paul had no problem with vegans frequenting his restaurant but expected a little heads up beforehand. Instead, their expectation was that he would be able to cater to their very specific dietary needs on a whim. What Paul did next was nothing short of genius.

He fought back and he fought back hard.

Have you ever heard of the joke "The Aristocrats"? It's a go-to amongst comedians, often told in the company of other comedians. The whole point of it is to take it as far as you can in terms of obscenity and offensiveness. Gilbert Gottfried is renowned for using this joke to turn around a crowd of comedians that were gathered for a roast of Hugh Hefner shortly after 9/11. Gilbert told an offside joke that could be easily categorized as being "too soon". He got boos. He got heads shaking. He got finger wags of shame. Then he busted into The Aristocrats. By the time he was done all was (mostly) right with the room again. More people were laughing compared to the moments before he took the mic so it's safe to say he pulled off one of the greatest comedic recoveries ever.

Well, our friend Paul, the owner/manager of The White Moose Café in Ireland, after getting his crappy review from the angry vegans, he launched into his very own rendition of The Aristocrats. He went full-blown five-alarm batshit crazy with his responses at one point [sarcastically] posting, "Any vegans attempting to enter our café will be shot dead at point blank range." Buzzfeed chronicles the whole sordid affair and it is pure gold.

The end result? The White Moose Café is now one the busiest establishments in Ireland, likely giving the Blarney Stone a run for its money. If I ever go to Ireland I'm stopping by to give Paul some business. I just hope I can get a table and don't have to step over too many dead vegans while standing in line.

Used with permission from The White Moose Café

On the other side of the coin, we have M. R. (Michael Robb) Mathias and the website Fantasy Faction. It should be a really simple relationship. The writer writes and publishes (in this case self-publishes) and the readers read, review, and discuss the writer's work (utilizing the comments section on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as the handy dandy Fantasy Faction forum).

Now, I once had the good fortune of meeting Chuck Wendig at a writer's workshop and the writer/reader relationship was briefly discussed. In a nutshell, once that book leaves the writer's hands, it's no longer about them. Reviews are for readers, not writers. At no point should a writer inject themselves into a conversation about their work - at least not in a public forum like a review site or forum and certainly not unless they were invited. Full stop.

It would appear that Michael wasn't in attendance that day because he took his own "Aristocrats" approach and it failed miserably. Michael posts some self-promoting thing to a forum. Forum moderators move it to the self-published and small press section. Michael takes exception to this and, in the public forum, unleashes an egotistic rant that will go down in infamy as "Mathias’s Meltdown".

You can read a summary of the meltdown here, or you can take a gander at the original forum discussion or peruse what twitter was saying in real time. I have read them all end-to-end and all I can say is, wow! Of course, to a certain extent "any press is good press" applies here (I'm sure he got a few sales out of the whole exchange) but when forum posters (not just the mods) are calling you out for being a twatwaffle, the right play here is not to double down on being a twatwaffle. There were at least half a dozen ways Michael could have navigated those waters and not drowned. As it is, he has the distinction of out batshit crazying Anne Rice.

Image released to the public domain by Anne Rice

All things considered, if Google search results are any indication and you have an online presence as a company (or brand or content creator etc...) you are more than likely going to end up like M.R. Mathias and not Paul Stenson from the White Moose Café.

In summary, be careful out there. Online engagements are a lot like peeing into the wind. It may provide you with some measure of relief but all you really do is end up smelling foul and having to explain to everyone why you're such an idiot.

~ Andrew


Monday, August 22, 2016

Grace, too

In December 1991, Canadian rock legends RUSH started their Presto tour in Hamilton, Ontario with Jeff Healey as the opening act. It was thought that a couple nights later in Toronto, that Healey would open as well. Ticket sales were slow, or so the story goes. A friend of mine scored us a pair of tickets in the sixth row, just off center, and on the day of the concert my high school walls were buzzing. At least, the dozen RUSH fans in the two thousand student body were buzzing. A rumor was circulating that Jeff Healey wasn't going to open, instead, it was going to be The Tragically Hip.



I was a counselor in training back in the summer of 1990 when The Hip's first full album, Up To Here, was making waves on the shores of Sparrow Lake - and Lake Ontario, and pretty much any other lake, small town, city, or metropolis in The Great White North. At the time it was one of my favourite albums. The album that outdid it, though, was their next one. The 1991 gem, Road Apples. So, by the time December of that year rolled around The Tragically Hip had become Canada's band, and I was going to get a front row seat (okay, it was the sixth row, but who's counting) to see them open for the band that previously held the title.

That concert was everything it promised to be, and then some. I watched Gord Downie belt out hit after hit of hard hitting, good old fashioned rock-n-roll married with lyrics that were pure genius. When he lay down with half his body hanging over the stage and screamed the lyrics to New Orleans Is Sinking while pretending to do the front crawl I knew I was witnessing something truly unique. Part man, part machine, part poem, Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip were rewriting the national anthem.

Twenty-five years later an entire country was collectively winded from the gut-punch news that Gord was suffering from an inoperable brain tumor. Doing what I can imagine only a few people in the world could do, Gord and the band decided they would go out the way they came in. That is, with a bang, and they set out do play a series of gigs - exclusively in Canada - with their magnum opus to come in a six-thousand-seat venue in their band's birth city of Kingston, Ontario.

The Hip could have sold a hundred thousand tickets to that show. Hell, they could have filled Downsview Park in Toronto and close to a million people would have shown up. Interest was so high in tickets for these concerts that, after the debacle with getting seats (tickets going up on Stub Hub for thousands of dollars within seconds of going on sale), the national broadcaster, CBC, committed to airing the concert free of editing and commercials as well as streaming it live on their website, YouTube, and Facebook. Over four million people watched the entire broadcast and almost twelve million tuned into it at some point.

Let that sink in.

A rock band from Kingston, Ontario, population roughly 120,000, had one-third of the entire population of Canada tune in to watch a portion of their final concert.

Several politicians from several levels of government and all party affiliations were in attendance but the one that stood out the most was none other than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who in addition to clapping and cheering in a concert t-shirt, showed his love and appreciation for Gord and the band in a series of tweets:






Praise, well wishes, prayers, and thoughts came from all over the world but I think former Saturday Night Live cast member and king of late night television, Jimmy Fallon, said it best:


And Pearl Jam took a moment out of their concert at Wrigley Field to say a few words:




Articles much better than this one were written and I have got to tell you, the list of news outlets covering this event blew my mind. A partial list (each linking to the article):

Personal stories were in abundance. So what is mine? Aside from the above introduction, I don't really have one except to say that The Hip went from being the best-kept secret in Ontario to having throngs of loyal fans. I described it to a coworker today as having this feeling that in 1990 they were this obscure band that had a few good songs I liked and in 1991 it was as if they had always been playing on the soundtrack of my life.

After that night in Toronto, I only managed to see them a few more times but their music was everywhere to be found. My good friend and former physics lab partner is a big fan and when we shared an apartment not many hours would pass without a Hip song being played, or strummed on the guitar, or sang poorly over Kraft Dinner being eaten straight out of the pot. I remember listening to their album Phantom Power on the radio in the car on the way up to the cottage with my then girlfriend now wife. There's a lyric in the song Fireworks that goes, "She said she didn't give a fuck about hockey and I never saw someone say that before," and that pretty much summed up our relationship right there. She always sings that part loud and proud when we're together and we hear that song.





The stories, they go on and on and on and on. Throw a rock at a group of Canadians and you'll hit someone with a story about the Tragically Hip. So what is it about them that brings together millions of people to say goodbye?

For starters, the lyrics are masterfully woven from the threads of Canadiana, set to guitar, drums, and bass that make you want to sing along and move, and delivered with the rawest of emotions. For a good number of Canadians, the band speaks directly to them using tools and talent a rarified few possess.

The online Canadian encyclopedia gives us a glimpse into the poetic genius of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip with an exhibit outlining the stories behind of a handful of the band's most popular songs. For people who have never heard of the Tragically Hip to people that have memorized every lyric to memory, this is a must see. They lifted the name of the exhibit from a song off the album Fully Completely.



What sums it up most aptly for me is lifted from two lyrics from one of my favourite Hip songs off the album Day For Night (which, in a sick and twisted bit of coincidence features the song titled Inevitability of Death):
"Armed with will and determination, and grace, too."
"Armed with skill and its frustration, and grace, too." 
Gord Downie did it all. He did it with will and determination and even with all his skill, he showed us his frustration. And he did it with grace, too.

~ Andrew

Saturday, August 6, 2016

I Am a Writer Because...

*Blows dust off blog*

*Coughs*

*Checks date of last post*

June 9, 2016. Yikes, it's been almost two months. What happened? I used to do this all the time. Well, not all the time, but at least once a week. Hell, at one point I used to do this every Sunday. Life happened. Laziness happened. Fatigue happened. Self-doubt happened. Excuses happened. Too many of them to count and enough to feel shame and embarrassed over.

So why is now any different? Well, for starters I am alone. Not forever alone or anything dramatic like that, but temporarily a bachelor. For the next seven days, my wife has the kids (plus one exchange student) on a road trip and I am left home alone to work. The first evening was eventful, having eaten a dinner of ramen noodles and a chocolate milkshake. Hey, I walked the 2.5km to the store and back to get the shake so cut me some slack. I then watched the Blue Jays win in fine fashion over the reigning World Series Champions.

Today I rolled out of bed whenever and sat in front of the TV to watch the Olympics. I did manage to make a respectable omelet for brunch and even managed to shower and get dressed before 2pm. Realizing that I needed to get off my ass and do some walking (gotta get my 10,000 steps!) I decided that I'd do something different. With my mobile data plan in the shitter this month, I didn't feel like paying premium overage charges to catch Pokémon. So, I put on my running shoes and I grabbed a book. I am currently reading Stephen King's On Writing.



I walked out the door with my cheap giveaway sunglasses, and King's book, and I started walking. I was in the section of the book titled "C.V." It's where King walks us through how he got to where he was; as a person and as a writer. If the subtitle to the book is "A memoir of the craft," then this section of the book is the memoir of the man. As I am reading I get this feeling, this sense of awe and inspiration mixed with panic and self-doubt, that's hard to describe. It consisted of two simultaneous and conflicting thoughts.

The first one came as I decided to stop along this quiet multi-purpose path. I was about halfway through my walk and I sat down on a park bench donated in the memory of someone long since departed. The thought went like this: I am not worthy of calling myself a writer because I have not suffered enough. Which I think is total bullshit, but in that moment it did cross my mind. Some truly great writers have suffered and there are definitely schools of thought out there that would assert that the greatness came from the suffering. King suffered. He had two kids, a shitty apartment in an asshole - sorry, armpit - of a town, a low paying job, and no telephone. He then sold the paperback rights to Carrie and, poof! It was like winning the lottery.

I mean, King has lived through some serious shit, man, but from an early age he wanted to be a writer and throughout all the tumultuous times he experienced he kept at it. Even when he thought there was no hope of ever "making it" he kept at it. Then, in the same heartbeat the first thought came, so did the second. King isn't a writer because he suffered. King is a writer because he writes.

Stephen King is a writer because he writes.

By the time I got home inspiration struck and I needed to put this down on "paper". I am a writer. Sure, I have a job that pays me a nice salary and gives me twenty days of paid vacation every year. Sure, I'm also a bevy of other things: a husband, father, brother, uncle, cousin, and friend. All these come with familial and social commitments as well. Sure, I'm middle aged and in desperate need of at least 10,000 steps a day to avoid catastrophic health problems. But... BUT... when I'm not fulfilling any of those obligations I do the only thing that I've ever felt compelled to do: I write.

It's not always a lot. It's not always shared. It's not always submitted for publication. It's almost always not done for money. But I do it. I write. And it doesn't matter which way you look at it. Whether you say, "I write, therefore I am a writer," or, "I am a writer, therefore I write," it does not matter. There is no chicken and egg in this scenario. There is only breakfast.



~ Andrew

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Stanley Butters

I grew up playing hockey as the son of a man who grew up playing hockey. My dad has two signed letters from the then General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings, Jack Adams, inviting him to come to training camp. My young father declined both invitations and went on to have a 34-year career as a public educator in Toronto. The Maple Leafs are his team but he holds the Red Wings in high regard after the interest they showed in my father and his hockey abilities.



So, to me, it seemed entirely fitting in 2002 that the day after the Stanley Cup was awarded  to the Detroit Red Wings that my first child, my daughter Avery, was born. I've told this story before but I'll sum it up for everyone again.

It was June 13, 2002, and my wife was 37-weeks pregnant. With it being her first child and everything progressing normally we weren't planning on her giving birth quite yet. We were lying in bed watching the hockey game, well, I was watching and my wife was doing a good job of not being too annoyed with my talking to the television as I watched. Detroit won and Steve Yzerman skated over to The Cup with his daughter at his side. As soon as he lifted the cup and handed it to coach Scotty Bowman I leaned over and patted her belly and said, "Okay, you can give birth now." Well, wouldn't you know it? The next morning she woke me up at some ungodly hour and told me that her water broke. At 17:17 on June 14, 2002, our daughter came into the world. I finally had my very own little Stanley Cup.




Last year was the first time since 2002 that the Stanley Cup was handed out on June 13. Tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins could win it if they beat the San Jose Sharks on home ice. If not, game six will go on Sunday night. If San Jose wins that one then game seven will be on June 15. So, there's no chance for a repeat of my special moment. In that case, I'd rather Pittsburgh end it quickly. That way I still stand a chance to win a hundred bucks in a hockey pool.

Still, I'll be watching the Cup deciding games to the very end regardless of how late they run. It's something I've been doing for as long as I can remember. There's something about seeing that trophy get hoisted in the air that gives me chills. I got to touch it at the Hockey Hall of Fame once and I was in complete awe. It's the greatest trophy in all of sport and I will forever associate it with one of the greatest moments in my life.


~ Andrew

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Sound of Music - Ranking Revealed

Over the last while, in an homage to High Fidelity I've been writing about my Top 5 Albums of All Time. I used some basic criteria to make the list:
  • Number of songs I like on the album (i.e. the fewer songs I skip over, the better)
  • Emotional impact of the album (i.e. how does listening to it make me feel?)
  • Composition of the album (i.e. are the songs arranged in an order I find pleasing?)
Truthfully, though, I went with my gut. I tried to pretend someone asked me, "What's your favourite album of all time?" and then answered as quickly as possible. Lather, rinse, repeat four more times. I spat them out in five blog posts with some detailed explanations and stories behind each one. What I didn't do was put them in order. This post is designed to remedy that.

The first one was easy. The next four? Not so much.

Number 5: Shakespeare My Butt - Lowest of the Low
This is a really fun album with some really happy memories attached to it. If you haven't listened to this one (and a lot of people won't have) you should add it to your collection.

Number 4: Ten - Pearl Jam
I saw these guys play shows twenty years apart and the songs they played off this album still held up. This album will never grow old. 

Number 3: Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
Turn out the lights, close your eyes, maybe have a sandwich, and play this album start to finish. Best destresser ever. 

Number 2: In The Trees - The Watchmen
Another Canadian gem. Such great lyrics and the vocals are truly a gift to your ears.

Number 1: The Joshua Tree - U2
I could listen to this album every day and not tire of it. It's the reason it's #1 and my always answer to the question, "If you were stranded on a desert island and only had one album, which one would you want it to be?"

Of course, no Top X list wold be complete without some honourable mentions! Give these a look-see. I know you won't be disappointed. I'll add more as I get around to it. For now, these will do the trick.

  • The Watchmen - McLaren Furnace Room
  • RUSH - Moving Pictures
  • Led Zeppelin - IV
  • The Beatles - The White Album
  • Nirvana - Nevermind
  • Pink Floyd - The Wall
  • The Tragically Hip - Road Apples

Happy listening!

~Andrew