Thursday, June 11, 2009

GMVW # 75: "Northern Exposure"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 75:  Northern Exposure
Song:  50 Mission Cap by The Tragically Hip
(Songwriter: Gordie Downie)
June 11, 2009

A second Gem has been found via album recommendations.  This one comes courtesy of good buddy Steve Vance.  Steve recommended the album ‘Fully Completely’ by Canadian rock band, The Tragically Hip.  The band was not listed in my priority list (in the write-up for Gem #58), but Steve’s talking points were convincing, and so I struck off in pursuit of the cd.  The quest proved to be harder than I had expected.  Traveling for work during the search, I frequented (or called) numerous new and used record stores in Washington D.C., Little Rock Arkansas, and Baltimore Maryland, finally tracking the cd down much closer to home, in Manchester New Hampshire.  It was worth the effort.

One reason for my difficulty in finding this record was that I was searching in the States.  Of the many great bands that have emerged out of Canada over the past 50 years, The Tragically Hip are about as ‘provincial’ as they get.  It is highly likely that a significant portion of their loyal following: 1) are able to name the Canadian Prime Minister and his party affiliation; 2) have an original (pre-USA release) game board of Trivial Pursuit in their closets; and 3) can explain the rules in curling.  They can also tell you who scored the winning goal in the 1972 Canada/Soviet Union Summit Series.  At first listen, ‘The Hip’ reminded me of the Australian band Midnight Oil….must be a Commonwealth thing.  Yet many of the songs on the album ‘Fully Completely’ are Canuck centric:  The use of ‘Pigeon Cameras’ during WW I, a false-accusation murder mystery in Saskatchewan in 1969 (‘Wheat Kings’) and the story behind this week’s Gem… but I’ll save the unveiling of that one for just a bit longer. 

Steve recommending an album as distinctly Canadian as this one opened the flood gates for me in terms of this write up, partly because, in all sincerity and admiration, Steve is as Canadian as anyone I’ve ever met.  My insight into what makes a Canadian ‘Canadian’ had faded a bit over the years, but recently I’ve had the pleasure of traveling a handful of times to Canada for work and upon reconnecting with the citizenry, I was brought back to old familiar and subtle perceptions of a culture that is very much distinguished from that here in the USA. I’m not going to even try to define it:  The German word for this type of familiarity is ‘Gestalt’, and I will leave it at that.  However, I’ll share a few thoughts here of my own personal experiences with our neighbors in the ‘Great White North’ (several of whom may be reading this), which will hopefully flesh out a few uniquely Canadian superlatives.

For me and other family members, visions of all things Canadian started with my maternal grandfather, Emmet Smith.  Grampy (also known as Gumpa by a majority of his 59 grandchildren) immigrated to the States from Prince Edward Island in the 1920’s.  He brought with him his down-to-earth, peaceful nature that radiated its way down the family tree:  Cousins Jack and Tom have the same easy-going personalities.  Grampy also brought his love of Canada and PEI here with him, and he often reflected on his native land in stories to us.  The stories had an undertone of hardship, but they were told in a most faith filled manner giving PEI an almost mythical aura as he spun his yarns.   

When Dana Carvey did his character, ‘Grumpy Old Man’, on Saturday Night Live, I was reminded of my grandfather.  Not because of the crankiness of the character, but because of the stories, which, for Carvey’s character, all started with “When I was a boy…..”.  He would then go on to tell of some outrageous walking distance to school or how his family survived hard winters, and he would finish with the line “And we liked it!”  The Grumpy Old Man’s exaggerations were the reality of my grandfather’s young life in Tracadie, PEI, which likely contributed to his well-grounded and faith centered lifestyle. 

Dad’s side of the family tree is also rooted in Maritime Canada.  A town in New Brunswick, Hillsborough, boasts ‘The Steeves Museum’, which Nancy and I have visited with the kids.  A great, great, great Uncle, William Steeves, was actually one of five New Brunswick delegates at the original Canadian Confederation Conference in Charlottetown, PEI in 1864, (an historic gathering which is brought to life at the Confederation Museum in Charlottetown > worth a visit if you are ever in the area).  So, in Canada, instead of “signing your John Hancock”, the saying goes “sign your William Steeves”….. ok, a bit of wishful thinking there. 

A number of family summer vacations during my teen years were to Canada, including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City.  It was during these trips that I started to make my own Canada connections, which ultimately led to a 1982 college exchange program excursion to Carleton University in Ottawa.  Steve, a suite mate, was the first person I met.  He took me under his wings and showed me the ropes (literally, in the case of the orientation-week tug-o-war over the Rideau Canal).  In no time, Carleton, the Canal, Parliament Hill, Hull, and the Market Place became friendly territory.   More importantly, Steve connected me with his friends, who became my friends.  I could write a dissertation on how that all panned out, but will leave that to the historians (actually, I’ve already hit on a few stories in past gems and plan on doing so in future ones).

Tucked in the midst of all this has been a reliable seasonal reminder of all things Canadian: The NHL.  Though less so now, the NHL has always been top heavy with Canadian talent.  This was particularly the case when I was young and fascinated with the Big Bad Bruins in the early 70’s.  Every single member of the Bruins ’70 and ’72 Stanley Cup winners were from Canada:  Orr, Esposito, Bucyk, Cheevers, Sanderson, McKenzie…. the whole lot of them.  These guys were good, but of equal interest to me was their character.  They knew how to have fun, and you could see it play out on the ice and hear about it in the headlines.  When the Bruins won the Cup in 1970, the story goes that Derek ‘Turk’ Sanderson spotted a cop’s motorcycle parked near the parade route, started it up and cruised the streets of Boston with Pie McKenzie in tow.  When Phil Esposito was in the hospital, Orr and others, disguised in scrubs, snuck into his ward and wheeled him out to a pub down the street where he spent the remainder of the evening on his roller bed in the middle of the pub floor, beer in hand.

More important than the recognition of camaraderie though, these guys were connected with the fans.  In the early 70’s, Fred and I sent chicken-scratch notes to many of the players asking for their autographs and we received responses from every single one of them, including players we admired on other teams like Gump Worsley, Yvon Cournoyer, Ken Dryden, and Pete and Frank Mahovlich.  The players were also humble and classy in their interviews, particularly Bobby Orr, and when I had the chance to meet a player in person (as was the case with Ken Hodge and John McKenzie) I was pleasantly surprised with their authenticity. When I see this humble style in modern hockey players as they get interviewed, occasionally I will look them up for their nationality.  More often than not, they are Canadians. 

Interest of the Bruins in our family goes way back to the Eddie Shore days. Dad’s parents (Jerry and Fred) had season tickets to the Garden and followed the Bruins through good times and bad.  These were the days of the ‘Original Six’ (Toronto, Detroit, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Montreal).  It’s this era that The Tragically Hip connect us to in this week’s Gem ’50 Mission Cap’.  The title refers to military caps that were given to any Royal Air Force pilot who completed 50 hostile missions.  Although the title is relevant to the songs deeper meaning, the lyrics are more a window into NHL lore and the Toronto Maple Leaf glory days.

The Leafs won the Cup in 1951, on an overtime goal by one of their stars, Bill Barilko.  Barilko then disappeared that summer after a fishing trip in northern Ontario.  His disappearance remained a mystery until the small 2-man plane he was flying in was found crashed in the hinterlands 11 years later (35 miles off course).  The Leafs won the Cup that year (1962) for the first time since his disappearance.  Many Torontonians saw it as far more than coincidence.

Although I’ve had the chance to see passionate fans here in Boston, I realize it is hard to compare to Toronto Maple Leaf fans.  It’s been a while since Toronto won the Cup (1965).  The closest they’ve come since was a run in the ’93 playoffs (arguably the best playoff year in hockey in the past 40 years).  It would be a spectacle to see them win the Cup again (after the Bruins pull it off though!). 

Hopefully, for those who are hockey fans, this is all stirring more interest in tomorrow nights game between an original 6 (Detroit), and an original 12, (Pittsburgh).  It’s a game seven.  Winner gets to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.  It could be a doozy, and a viewing of the Gem should add a bit to the drama.  The lyrics are added below for additional context.  Also, below the Gem is a 2nd url link, that one of the Bruins early 70’s theme song:  ‘Nutrocker’ by ELP.

In closing, I want to thank Steve for his album recommendation and his friendship.  Steve’s love of music has been a connection since I met him.  I’ve also got a request for him.  No one I know has traveled to more locations far and wide in Canada than Steve.  If up to the task, I’m hoping he can reflect on several of the more interesting locales he has visited over the years for us, whether in British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon, Newfoundland or Thunder Bay Ontario.  I believe Steve’s exploits would put Farley Mowat to shame. 

Several year’s ago, I ran into 2 hikers on a mountain top in Maine who told me they lived in Nova Scotia.  After talking with them for a while I was confused.  They didn’t have that ‘Canadian’ thing going for them, and I asked, a bit skeptically, if they were originally from there.  ‘No’ they replied, they were from the States, and had only lived in Canada for 5 years.  They asked how I knew, as there was no accent to give them away per se.  “I’m not sure”, I replied, “I just know”. 

Perhaps I was making a mental comparison to Steve Vance, with some Emmet Smith, Pat Shea, Luc Polnicky, Ed Suen, Tom Murphy, Bob Mainguy, Joan Blakesley (Ottawa relative) and many other friends and relatives mixed in.  Not to mention Bobby Orr, Neil Young, Robbie Robertson, Alanis Morissette, Mike Myers, Don Cherry and other celeb types who have connected.

Yes, that would explain it.

- Pete

Gem Video ’50 Mission Cap’

Bruins 70’s theme song: Nutrocker by Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP)

Lyrics to 50 Mission Cap:

“Bill Barilko disappeared that summer
 He was on a fishing trip
The last goal he ever scored won the Leafs the Cup
They didn't win another until 1962 the year he was discovered
I stole this from a hockey card I keep tucked up under
My fifty mission cap I worked it in to look like that”

About the video: A custom video homemade by someone in Canada.  It shows old clips of Bill Barilko and the Toronto Maple Leafs

Video Rating: 1.5 (very nice homemade clips, but there’s room for improvement)

Best Feedback: Steve


Thanks for the Gem. We have not seen each other in 13 years and I still love you Man!
If I made an impression on your life almost 27 years ago, think what you've done to mine and so many other people on the email list. You are like the glue that keeps us together. Wouldn't be cool if Peter was the US Ambassador to the UN. I mean Pete how to embrace procrastination!

I don't get into music as much as you do but I know what I like. And wow! is your memory good, those years to me are just a blur! I can't belive you have not heard or cannot find the The Hip.
I'm glad you enjoyed the album. This is my favorite hip song not on that album - New Orleans is Sinking. When they all had big hair. During Katrina radio stations refused to play it.

I don't know what it is to be truly Canadian but I do know that Henderson scored the winning goal in '72 and "How's it going, eh?" is my favorite intro.
I was sorry to see the Bruins lose this year but Sidney Crosby will win his first Stanley of many tomorrow night and wreck havic on the Detroit Machine!

I will try to send you a nice story if I can remember one.

Cheers to Everyone!!

PS: Since you shined us Canadians so well, I had to pass on the Canadian "Talking to Amercians" Rick Mercer show. For some reason, we find it hilarious.

Here's my page on youtube where I have acouple of videos but plan to add more.

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