Friday, June 30, 2006

This Week In Driving
He's no Eddie Griffin, but you have to give Chad Kroeger Turton his due. Because dude has been working hard at the erratic and dangerous driving. He's damn near prodigious.

Between August 1999 and May 2001, he was busted for speeding eight times and there's been at least one fine since then. That means he is currently responsible for more driving-related charges (9) than singles that have cracked the Billboard top ten (4*). Just saying.

(*How You Remind Me, Hero, Someday, Photograph)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

And Now A Word About Polls
First and foremost, don't get me wrong. I'm all in favour of this Polaris Prize. And quite excited to lord my musical knowledge over the Canadian music industry. But one thing must be noted from the outset: almost every music award that has ever been bestowed upon a musician, band or album on the merits of artistic accomplishment has been wrong. (You can look it up.)

This is has nothing to do with the futile nature of judging art (art can be judged, just like turkey sandwiches or haircuts can be judged, it just sounds nicer to say otherwise). This is simply a statement of fact. And an inevitability of circumstance.

Consider the previous winners of the Mercury Prize, the award upon which the Polaris is largely based.

2005 Antony and the Johnsons – I Am A Bird Now
2004 Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
2003 Dizzee Rascal – Boy in Da Corner
2002 Ms. Dynamite – A Little Deeper
2001 PJ Harvey – Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea
2000 Badly Drawn Boy – The Hour of Bewilderbeast
1999 Talvin Singh – Ok
1998 Gomez – Bring It On
1997 Roni Size/Reprazent – New Forms
1996 Pulp – Different Class
1995 Portishead – Dummy
1994 M People – Elegant Slumming
1993 Suede – Suede
1992 Primal Scream – Screamadelica

Twenty years from now, some all-mighty critic will sit down and come up with a list of The Best/Most Influential/Most Important British Records From 1992-2005. Maybe five of these records will make the cut. None of them in the top three. (The top three being, of course, The Bends, OK Computer and Hail to the Thief.)

This is not particularly the fault of the Mercury Prize voters. In their defense, they were asked to complete a rather doomed task.

Awards themselves, on a basic level, are not futile. The television and film industries and professional sports hand them out on a regular basis and generally without a similar mistake rate. For sure, there's controversy. But even those who think Steve Nash wasn't the NBA's most valuable player this season can at least grudgingly agree that he was among a half dozen individuals who could make loose claim to the trophy.

Now, if sports awards were like music awards, whoever led the league in scoring at the end of the first week would be declared MVP and we'd be done with it. And that's the problem.

On average, it takes approximately two and a half years to decide whether a record is any good. First, because you have to actually listen to it more than eight times. Second, because you have to see where popular culture and society go and whether said record remains relevant. And third, you have to not listen to it for about a year, go back to it and see if it still sounds any good. All that requires about two and a half years at a minimum. And that's really just a starting point.

The vast, vast majority of records don't age well. Even if they still sound pretty good, they seem quaint or reflective of an altogether insignificant moment in music history. Plenty of records could one day be saved by influential critics or popular artists who name drop them as influences, but I don't know if I'd wager much on, say, Iron & Wine (who I quite like it by the way) mattering all that much in 20 years. In fact, if I was particularly interested in big, bold statements, I'd contend that there have probably only been maybe 250 capital-S Significant records in rock history. If that.

Anyway. For whatever reason, film, TV and sports are not generally so doomed. The biggest/best/most important movies of 2002 are most likely still the biggest/best/most important movies of 2002 now. Good television endures (see MASH or Chips reruns). And award winners in professional sports may fail to impressively follow up a given year's performance, but, for that season, their statistics and accomplishments remain the same.

Music, though, simply can't be judged. At least so soon.

At the end of 1991, Spin named Teenage Fanclub's Bandwagonesque the best album to be released that year. Nirvana's Nevermind was #3. Six years later, Cornershop's When I Was Born For The 7th Time won the prize. Radiohead's OK Computer was #2. But when Spin put together its list of the 100 Greatest Albums 1985-2005, OK Computer was #1 and Nevermind was #2. (When I Born... ranked 98th.)

Were Spin wrong the first time? Well, yeah, sorta. Could they have done much to prevent this? Maybe.

Let's say - and I'm speaking with no inside information to support this - that the Polaris comes down to Broken Social Scene, the New Pornographers, Wolf Parade and Final Fantasy. (I haven't even checked to see if all four are eligible, but, for the sake of argument, let's say they all are.) The question to be asked is not: Which album do you like best? The real question is: Which album will you feel best about picking in 20 years? Or, at least, which album will you feel least bad about picking in 20 years?

I'm not sure history reserves a place for Final Fantasy (the Mariah Carey covers are cute, but the violin is not the new guitar). The New Pornographers are like the top secret Sloan. But then, outside Canada Sloan are like the top secret Cheap Trick, so... Meanwhile, the Wolf Parade probably never escape Arcade Fire's shadow. Which leaves you with Broken Social Scene.

I have a very long and impassioned argument on behalf of their last record, but on the above basis alone, I think they win. Or at least stand the best chance of winning in 20 years. Regardless of whether the record's any good, that's the band, and subsequently the record, that probably ends up "meaning" anything. They've got a trend (the rise of Canadian indie) and a scene (Toronto/Canada) and a bunch of members who might end up doing something remarkable, important, criminal or some combination thereof. That could be enough.

Of course, Broken Social Scene could be my Cornershop. And 20 years from now, some jerk could be berating me about my failure to recognize the obvious and lasting genius of the Trews, who will have gone on to rival The Beatles (or at least Pearl Jam) in influence, scope and power. (Though by then, of course, I will have surely rejected society and retreated to the woods with my collection of rare Apostle of Hustle singles and Stars bootlegs.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Diaria: MMVA Edition
For a few years I actually got invited to the MuchMusic Video Awards and technically I was paid to go there. As a result, seeing Raine Maida shirtless was not just my passion, it was my occupation. A charmed life indeed.

Anyway. My favourite memory remains watching some drunk young man approach Avril Lavigne and repeatedly, insistently yell "the heat is on" during the after-party one year. This caused something of a scene and the young man was promptly removed from the area. Altogether a phenomenal moment.

Now I don't get invited to anything (something about drunkenly yelling "the heat is on" at Avril Lavigne). Thankfully, situations like this are exactly why Al Gore invented the Internet.

Here then, my player-hating from the sidelines. In chronological form.

7:30pm. All right, here we go. MuchMusic Video Awards. Party of the year. Or something. And VJ Devon is wearing a leotard.

7:35pm. First red carpet arrival: Typically Pretty But Humble Canadian Actor. VJ Devon welcomes him. Still wearing a leotard.

7:37pm. Second red carpet arrival: Anonymous C-List American Celebrity Simply Amazed That Anyone Cares.

7:41pm. A bunch of scantily clad women just jumped out of a police van and are frisking the hand-cuffed members of Hedley. In the background, a MuchMusic staffer can be seen commanding the assembled teenagers to scream their delight. You see, it's not that the kids genuinely like Hedley. It's that they feel obligated to pretend.

7:47pm. Much is making sure to regularly flash a warning that says, since the proceedings are live, "anything could happen" and some viewers may be offended. This does nothing to explain Devon's leotard, which surely the producers could have stopped before going on air.

7:50pm. Mandatory sighting of Howie from the Backstreet Boys. This time accompanied by some skinny, 18-year-old-looking kid named "George." He is described as Howie's "artist." He's got the "full package," says Howie. No comment.

7:52pm. Kardinal Offishall arrives on a fire truck. Apparently he leads the contenders with five nominations tonight. And that has nothing to do with his involvement in VJ Search: The Series. Nothing. Don't even think it.

7:55pm. First award of the night — Best Post Production — presented by Devon and his leotard. Trews win. Or at least their editor does. Or something. I officially clinch first-place in my one-man MMVA pool.

7:59pm. While VJ Hannah S. is greeting Yellowcard, I think I see the members of Broken Social Scene slip in undetected.

8:02pm. Kardinal, accepting the second award of the night, denounces global terrorism. Devon seems moved. His leotard remains resolute.

8:07pm: Wait. Forget the leotard. Devon also appears to wearing pointy shoes.

8:09pm. Massari arrives in a fancy car with a girl that seems way out of his league. Somewhere Shawn Desman is cursing his name. I can't wait for the inevitable slap-fight/dance-off.

8:11pm. Emily Haines looks so uncomfortable. I give it two years before she shows up for one of these things wearing a swan as a dress of rips up a picture of the prime minister or something.

8:23pm. Whatshername from Evanescence arrives. In addition to casting off Ben Moody, she has also apparently disavowed bras. Cheers.

8:27pm. While accepting another award Kardinal speaks out on behalf of Africa... and, on that note, here's Tori Spelling.

8:44pm. Nick Lachey arrives. His career is truly remarkable. First he seemed doomed to be barely remembered as part of an also-ran, mid-90s boy band. Then, thanks to his wife and her creepy father, he became a massive celebrity. And then, thanks to his wife and her creepy father, he's become something of an American folk hero - a sympathetic symbol of universal male plight. Or something. So far as I can tell he has not done a single thing except exist and periodically smile. Paris Hilton at least let us all watch her have sex. Nick? Nothing. For whatever reason, I sort of admire him.

8:51pm. Oh by the way, there's still nine minutes to go until this show actually, officially starts.

8:58pm. Paris Hilton arrives and the camera pans across her adoring public. One sign appears to read "Paris Hilton is an ugly woman." Do you figure Much let that cameraman finish his shift or did they fire him on the spot?

9:02pm. VJs Leah, Matte, Devon and Sarah walk out to start the show. Leah's wearing a corset (I actually saw her explaining that on TV a couple days ago) and her breasts are literally at her chin. Note that VJ Search winner Tim and the new Hannah are both missing.

9:06pm. Game Five of the NBA Finals is starting and Clarence Clemons is doing the American national anthem on saxophone. It's never sounded better. Just thought you should know.

9:09pm. Nick Lachey is making such a concerted effort not to look down Leah's dress. Solid guy. Probably tonight's MVP.

9:14pm. Hedley performs while a group of 12-year-olds engage in the saddest mosh pit in rock history.

9:17pm. For whatever reason, Much has decided to encourage voting for the people's choice awards with commentary segments from their trusty group of unemployed comedians. This is the unfortunate side effect of MTV coming to Canada. No longer able to simply re-run MTV content, Much has to develop its own programming and whoever is in charge of such things has apparently decided that this can be done with comedians making bitchy, humorless comments about the pop stars Much otherwise relies on. I've said it before, but I'll make the appeal again - VJ Leah and her boyfriend, Alexisonfire's Dallas Green, need their own reality show. Why hasn't this happened already? I could watch that all day. It could probably have its own channel. Failing that, I want to see Massari and Shawn Desman in a best-of-seven series of Canadian celebrity boxing.

9:23pm. Nelly Furtado just required a TelePrompTer to say, "The nominees for best international artist are..."

9:39pm. I defy you to name a worse rock band in the genre's history than Simple Plan. Go ahead. Try. It's not possible. I refuse to believe anyone else even comes close.

9:43pm. In fairness to Nelly, Whatshername from Evanescence just needed a TelePrompTer to say, "The nominees for MuchLoud best rock video are..."

9:44pm. Via video, Chad Kroeger just accepted the award while holding a bong.

9:53pm. Dallas Green was involved in two of the videos nominated for Best Independent Video, but he still lost to Metric. Dude is dating a VJ. What more does he have to do? Anyway. Emily Haines still looks uncomfortable.

10:12pm. Some white guy - shouting out hockey - wins Best Rap Video. Presenter T.I. looks real impressed.

10:13pm. Theory of a Deadman are interviewed. None appear to be wearing the t-shirt that the VJ Search contestants designed for them. Shame.

10:20pm. Upon further review, Tori Spelling appears to be wearing a bed sheet.

10:23pm. Arrested Development win for Best Video. Kardinal denounces global terrorism. (Note that Kardinal's video for Everyday was the Best Video but not the Best Rap Video. The bonds of logic are beginning to break down.)

10:33pm. Jesse Metcalfe, apparently famous for taking his shirt off on Desperate Housewives, shouts out Broken Social Scene. That must be it for Broken, right? That's got to be a sign of impending doom.

10:35pm. Sorry. I don't believe this "new" Nelly Furtado. It's like an episode of the Brady Bunch where Marsha decides to act like a bad girl to catch the eye of some boy she likes. Sure, it's kinda hot. But so was the old Marsha. (P.S. Is Timbaland on HGH?)

10:40pm. Fall Out Boy are apparently considered sex symbols. Is this a sign that society has regressed or evolved? Discuss.

10:43pm. This is the fourth year in a row that Much viewers have voted Simple Plan best Canadian group. To their credit, I get the sense that they realize what a con this is. The lead singer has that look in his eyes like he knows he's totally running on borrowed time now - that this could, and probably should, end any minute now and he just wants to enjoy every second/groupie.

10:46pm. Jacob Hoggard presents an award with his pants pulled down to expose his buttocks. He's like Johnny Rotten for a generation of total wusses.

10:50pm. VJ Tim's total screen time: about 74 seconds. Yeah, that VJ Search thing was totally worth it. Meanwhile the new Hannah is holding her own. Even managed to politely decline Massari's advances.

10:52pm. Paris Hilton and VJ Leah on the same stage. To introduce Fall Out Boy. Who are performing in fake tuxedo shirts. Remember where you were when you saw it because you'll be telling your kids about this some day. There are few times a writer gets to document history, but surely this is one of those.

10:56pm. Of those present for this moment — Paris, Leah, the members of Fall Out Boy — who is most successful/famous five years from now? It's a total toss up. If she weren't Canadian, I'd probably go with Leah. As it is I'm going to go with the drummer from Fall Out Boy. But only because I bet he eventually becomes Jessica Simpson's sixth husband (after Nick Lachey, Johnny Knoxville, White House press secretary Tony Snow, Jason from Laguna Beach and David Copperfield).

11:05pm. Oh, by the way, show's over. I'm watching the basketball game now.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Because I Know Better Than You

"Welcome to the inaugural Polaris Music Prize. And thanks for agreeing to be a part of this historic undertaking.

"Polaris is Canada's first juried award for creative artistic achievement in recorded music. This fall, it will award a $20,000 prize for the Canadian Album Of The Year. It will also honour 10 nominees, which will be promoted and marketed on a Polaris CD compilation...

Yadda yadda.

"Album must have a release date between June 1, 2005 and May 30, 2006. Albums are defined as containing at least eight tracks (not 8-tracks!) or 30 minutes of music... A Canadian artist is defined as a citizen of Canada and applies to the artist only."

Blah blah.

"List your 5 favourite Canadian albums, in order, with (1) being the best and (5) being the fifth best. THERE ARE NO JUDGING CRITERIA OTHER THAN YOUR OWN IMPECCABLE TASTE..."

All right. Well. In the interests of unrequested disclosure, my impeccable taste says that between June 1, 2005 and May 30, 2006, there wasn't a better Canadian record than this one. Though I never got around to listening to Theory of a Deadman's record, so I can't speak with complete certainty.

That leaves me to settle on the other four. Right now I'd say thepossibilitiess, pending release dates, include Amy Millan, Jason Collett, the Diableros, Cuff the Duke, Ladies and Gentlemen and probably City and Colour.

You think I'm joking about that last one, but I'm not. Save Your Scissors is just short of genius. It almost makes me wish I was 14 again. Almost.

Anyway. If you wanted to wager on the outcome of this adventure in democracy spreading, I'd self-servingly point you towards this.
Whatever the merits of her new record, I anxiously await the inevitable reconsideration of Michelle Branch. She was a total visionary. She was just a little bit too far ahead of her time. Consider:

1. She did the whole girl with a guitar thing about a year before Avril.
2. She did soft core porn before Avril.
3. She cozied up to Madonna way before Britney made out with her.
4. She had a slightly dodgy marriage four months before Britney married K-Fed.
5. She had her first child one month before Britney gave birth (giving it a dodgy name for extra credit).

She's basically the best parts of Britney plus the best parts of Avril. And that song she recorded with Santana isn't half as bad you remember it.

If she'd been born a blonde she'd be the biggest pop star in the world right now.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

'The passenger was questioned by cabin crew and became agitated.'
The two best things about Pete Doherty's latest trouble involving a blood-filled syringe.

1. The greatest rock star of his generation is now flying discount.

2. He wouldn't have had any trouble if he'd just brought a prescription for his blood-filled syringe and notified the airline ahead of time.
Hey! It's Todd Bridges!
(This should have been posted, uh, sooner. I'll blame a combination of technical difficulties, heat and a large Italian basketball player.)

So, for all my Taylor boosterism, I didn't actually watch a lot of American Idol this season. To be honest, I haven't watched intently since AI3 when Fantasia (now assistant manager at a particularly nice Wendy's in North Carolina) very briefly captivated the nation.

So imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when I flipped it on and discovered that Taylor Hicks is a colossal dork. (Why did no one tell me this? I thought we were friends.) At first I was sort of heartbroken. But I soon came to realize what an advantage this was for him. And now it appears a perfectly good explanation for his victory.

See, if Taylor Hicks was any less a dork - let's say a nerd or merely a geek - there's no way any teenage female would have ever voted for him. He would seem too serious. Too old. Too dad-like. Fortunately, Taylor's essential dorkiness made him seem immature - the perfect balance to his freakishly gray hair.

It also helped that dude could entertain. His closing song a couple weeks ago that ended with him suffering some sort of seizure was probably the second best performance in AI history - first place still belonging to Fantasia's final show, which nearly made me cry (I almost mean that).

Of course, you can explain his victory any number of ways. But no explanation makes it any less amazing. This is a massive moment in the history of American popular culture. Seriously. This defies everything - every rule, every precedent. It probably even defies human nature.

Forget the various explanations. Break this down to its most basic and you have this: A dorky dude with gray hair beat a pretty girl with great breasts. Let me put this in bold type: In a wide poll of the American people, Gray Hair trumped Great Breasts. This beat those. Did you ever think you would see that happen? Did you even think that was possible? Taking into account the power of the female breast (never mind two of them) in Western pop culture, how unlikely would you have figured this to be?

If somebody had asked you before the latest season of AI, who do the American people find more captivating: Britney Spears or Kenny Rogers, would you have bet on the Gambler? No way. Of course not. You can make whatever argument you want on behalf of The Roaster, we all know that you'd rather see Britney Spears naked. (Note: Almost all major decisions are based, directly or indirectly, on nudity, the potential for nudity or imagined nudity.) That's more than an accepted truth. It's a reality. And completely natural.

And yet here is Taylor Hicks. The most beloved pop star in North America. At least for a moment there.

Make no mistake, prematurely gray hair is a generally unbroken barrier in the world of teenage obsession. There have been pop stars of all shapes, sizes, races and political views. Between Wilson Phillips and Boyz II Men you've probably got most everyone covered - except those not blessed with impressively coloured hair. In fact, prematurely gray hair is probably one of the last superficial things you're allowed to judge openly (largely thanks to the anti-gray zealots at Just For Men*).

Now though, the American public may finally be realizing what fans of Anderson Cooper** have known for months. Gray is good. Gray may even be closer to God. It represents substance. Wisdom. Experience. Maturity. Meaning. Purpose. Meaningful, mature purposefulness. It is, in short, an antidote for our boob-dominated times. The breast has finally been beaten. And perhaps we will never be the same again.

The dork king cometh with a crown of silver.

* By the way, apropos of nothing, if you type "Just for Men" into Google, the second most popular search is this.

** Here Anderson extols on the virtues of gray hair. And compares it to ejaculation.

Update. The Gray Hair v. Great Boobs Debate Is Tearing America Apart

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