Archive for February 25th, 2009


The Devil & Miss Mindy

February 25, 2009

Two of my American podcasting amigos have launched a fun new show: The Devil and Miss Mindy. You’ve heard their voices before. Both have guested on Starbase 66, and Mark, aka El Diablito, turned up on a Big Bad Hair a while ago. They’re fun people, really interesting and knowledgeable, and one of them has horns.

Movie podcasts are, of course, pretty common. But this one is different, largely because of the excellent dynamic between Mark and Mindy. They’re four shows in now, and have explored Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Orphanage and Tombstone, along with a Valentine’s Day special. How’s that for a diverse range?

Click the link here to listen and subscribe.


The Problem With TV in Canada

February 25, 2009

Tonight’s episode of Lost looks like a doozy. Entitled The Life and Times of Jeremy Bentham, it promises to be a look at recent events in the life of the mysterious John Locke. I hope some questions are answered, but hey, so far this season, answers are flying faster than Frank Lapidus in a stalling helicopter.

Something else is encouraging: Apparently, five minutes have been added to this week’s episode. That’s unusual, but welcome. Five extra minutes of Lost? No problem.

My one big concern, though, is this: I might not get to see them. See, when US shows air in Canada, we don’t see the same thing Americans do. Canadian networks — there are three major ones, CBC, CTV and Global — buy the rights to American shows and air them, usually at the same time. But Canadian telecommunications law requires that those version be superimposed over any US network feed. So, if Lost airs on ABC in the US but on CTV here, and I’m watching ABC, when Lost comes on, the CTV feed is popped onto the ABC slot.

What invariably happens is someone messes it up. Every Canadian knows how frustrating it is to tune in to, say, the new ER only to see the first seven minutes of some Canadian program on the wrong feed. Eventually, someone at the cable company figures out the mistake. But it happens again.

So I suspect that tonight at 10 p.m., when Lost is nearing its conclusion, everything will go south and I’ll get the first five minutes of something stupid, some Canadian show like Little Mosque on the Prairie. Yeah, we have a show called Little Mosque on the Prairie.

See, there’s another thing about homegrown TV. We actually have laws dictating how much Canadian content, or CanCon, has to be broadcast, both on the radio and on television. Hearings are underway right now to explore how to apply those regulations to the Internet, too, which is kind of scary.

And on top of that, public funds are channeled to producers in order to create Canadian television programming, which tends toward a level of suckness you can’t quite imagine if you don’t live here. For whatever reason, whenever someone makes a Canadian TV show, they seem to think “Well, it’s Canadian, so let’s have lots of mountains and lakes and outdoorsy stuff.” In the rare occasions when producers try something new, the shows tend to fail quickly.

Some good Canadian TV shows:

  • The Beachcombers: Cheesier than you can imagine, but fun family fare, an outdoor adventure series with a great cast and a great soundtrack. Every Canadian can whistle it.
  • The Littlest Hobo: Various incarnations of this series about a roaming genius dog still air on Canadian TV.
  • Night Heat: This was a gritty cop show in the 1980s, ahead of its time and very well-crafted.
  • Kenny vs. Spenny: This is not for the faint of art. But it’s deadly funny, and still airing.
  • ENG: Another 80s creation, this was a mature show about TV news.
  • Corner Gas: The current kingpin of Canadian television, this is the smartest sitcom on television today, in any country.
  • Trailer Park Boys: Not for everyone, but it has its own kind of brilliance.
  • The Kids in the Hall: If you have never experienced this classic sketch comedy show, seek it out. You’ll never be able to watch SNL again.
  • The King of Kensington: This was really right-on in its first season, but slipped quickly. It still airs here and I watch it when I can.
  • The Newsroom: This satire of television news looks like a take on The Office, but it aired ten years earlier.

I could go on and on, really, because there’ve been a lot of Canadian TV shows. But those are the ones that spring to mind as things I’d watch again. As for crap, well … Danger Bay. Neon Rider. Material World. Rene Simard … That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t have the hard drive space or bandwidth to list all the bad Canadian shows.


Clive Cussler Gets One More Chance

February 25, 2009

I like Clive Cussler. Part of me wants to be Clive Cussler, or at least his son. This is a guy who turned his back on a successful career in advertising to follow his passions and became one of the world’s most successful novelists — and that success allowed him to hunt for shipwrecks and have all kinds of spectacular adventures.

And the books that made him famous — what fun. I devoured Cussler’s Dirk Pitt novels all through my teens and into my 20s. Action, adventure, ancient mysteries, conspiracies, comic-book villains, humour … it was like a more far-fetched version of James Bond, only with archaeology. Dirk Pitt works for NUMA, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, sort of like a wetter version of NASA. I ate it up.

But by the time my 30s rolled around, and Dirk Pitt found Atlantis, I finally realized something: Clive Cussler is a pretty terrible writer.

Not that it really matters. Nobody reads these books because they’re great literature; we want to read about a smirking hero blowing things up and getting the girl. And I guess I always knew Cussler was no Steinbeck. For one thing, he has a tendency to lean on expository dialogue, like (and I’m just inventing a Cusslerish passage here): “Would you like a drink? Perhaps a glass of red wine, like the one you had the day I met you in the genetics research lab at Stanford, where you joined my team to help develop new mind-control techniques for a secret branch of the U.S. Navy.” Yes, you can groan, and yes, there are lines like that in these books.

And Cussler has this tendency to forget his own continuity, which I find a tad annoying. For example, in one book, Night Probe (one of my favourite, actually), he has Canada join the United States as one super-nation. This, though, is ignored in every subsequent book.

I’d say the series jumped the shark when Dirk Pitt’s grown twin children, Dirk Pitt Jr. (seriously) and Summer Pitt, suddenly popped up. I admire Cussler’s admission that his main character was getting too old to be an action hero (Pitt’s service in Vietnam dates him), but the explanation for where these children came from defied logic. I won’t spoil it here … wait, I will. They were the children Pitt fathered with a woman he didn’t have time to sleep with, because they were on an underwater island and her crazy father was trying to kill him, and she died instead. Seriously.

Anyway. I haven’t read the last half-dozen Dirk Pitt novels. I tried one, and it was loaded with over-the-top bad stereotypes about the Chinese. Cussler — actually, the books are now written by his son, Dirk Cussler, seriously, who gets his name in smaller print on the covers — wrote the dialogue in a weird version of pidgin Chinese-English. Stupid.

I should note that Cussler has two spinoff series, written by other authors: The NUMA Files, by Paul Kemprecos, which are actually pretty good, if not very bright, and The Oregon Files, by Jack DuBrul (and originally by Craig Dirgo), which are also pretty good. And Cussler wrote a non-Pitt novel last year, The Chase, which I found to be a fun romp. He has written children’s books and co-authored two fascinating books about searching for shipwrecks.

But back to the Pitt books. I was at the library today, and found the latest one: Arctic Drift. And I signed it out. I’m going to read it, only because it has to do with the Franklin Expedition, one of my favourite subjects. Of course, in true Cussler style, John Franklin had some rare mineral aboard the Erebus, and the search is on for the shipwreck … this was also the plot of Cussler’s breakthrough novel, Raise the Titanic, in which Dirk Pitt raises the Titanic and sails it into New York harbour. I am not making this up.

I’ll let you know if this book gets finished. If it doesn’t, I’ll probably watch the Dirk Pitt movie, Sahara, again. Yes, I’m the guy who really liked Sahara.

The Books

NUMA Files

The Oregon Files



Almost Famous: Steven Page and the Barenaked Ladies

February 25, 2009

Word has just come to me that Steven Page and the Barenaked Ladies have parted ways. Not really a surprise, considering his recent legal troubles in the US (drugs + goofy family-friendly-pop = problems). And, at the same time, fellow Canadian JD Fortune has left INXS, which has nothing to do with anything, because neither JD Fortune nor INXS matters.

But Barenaked Ladies minus Steven Page is not Barenaked Ladies.

Let’s look back at my personal history with the Barenaked Ladies:

  • 1989 They played the cafeteria at my college. I was busy getting spaghetti. The thing was, I always knew that if I wore my favourite white shirt, it would be random-dollar-spaghetti day at the cafeteria. It was some weird meatball kharma. That shirt had a lot of little orange freckles on it.
  • 1991 Barenaked Ladies’ demo cassette landed in my lap as freelance rock writer for the local daily. I listened to it. It was a comedy album. I went and got spaghetti.
  • 1992 Gordon, their debut actual album, came out. I wore it out on my K-Car tape deck. A brilliant record, less comedy, more tunes, no electric guitars.
  • 1994 Maybe You Should Drive came out. It licked biscuit, and people stopped caring so much.
  • 1995 I spent a day with The Look People, an incredible Toronto band. Leader Jaymz Bee told me his new keys man, Kevin Hearn, was one to watch.
  • 1996 Born On A Pirate Ship released. The title is cleverer than you think, especially if you’re 12. I interviewed and photographed the band at a local radio station. Later that night, after the show, I hauled Steven Page over to our table at a local nightclub and we drank dollar drafts for a while until my friend Jeff told him ‘You know, people always tell me I look like you,’ at which point Steven Page went and found babes. A while later, drummer Tyler Stewart and I were talking when a skanky girl hanging all over him gave me the finger, so I left. I wonder how that turned out.
  • 1997 Keyboardist Andy Creeggan quit, Look Person Kevin Hearn joined, and proved Jaymz Bee right.
  • 1998 Stunt became a massive US album, and the Ladies were suddenly famous after being written off in Canada. Funny how that works.
  • 2000 I was  sitting at an airport bar in Toronto, waiting as my son flew to see his mother in Alberta for the first time (I couldn’t leave the airport until his plane took off). Jim Creeggan parked his backpacking ass on a stool beside me. I said nothing. He replied.
  • 2001 A guy who saw me drinking with Steven Page in 1996 bought me a beer in a bar and said Barenaked Ladies rule. I agreed, even though it was Budweiser, and, technically, they don’t.
  • 2001-2008 Some other Barenaked Ladies things happened, including Ed Robertson’s TV show, Ed’s Up, and his 2008 plane crash. His little plane fell down. Nobody was hurt. I was thinking about other things.
  • 2008 Steven Page was arrested for cocaine possession in New York state, one of the stupidest crime of all time. He met a girl on MySpace, and left his car running with his door open, exposing drugs, or something, I don’t know … he dissed my friend Jeff, and that’s the end of that. Jeff really does look just like Steven Page. Well, Jeff has a job.
  • 2008 Barenaked Ladies released a children’s CD called Snacktime. Every person on the planet agrees their timing was poor, and choice of title … poorer.
  • 2009 Steven Page left  Barenaked Ladies, for reasons previously agreed upon.
  • 2012 Someone will say “Remember the Barenaked Ladies?”

So. That’s the end. I predict the band will call it a day soon, because despite all the individual members’ talent, it was Page’s voice and presence that drove the group. Each remaining member has the ability to carve a new path; it just won’t be BNL. Steve, I hope you find balance, and I wish you well.

Oh, I always liked the title of that first album.


A Rave Review

February 25, 2009

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but …

The incomparable Steph, aka celestialteapot, aka Sherlock, has unveiled her top podcast picks, and there I am on there. What a surprise! With all the quality stuff out there, it’s nice to know someone is listening and recommending.

There’s a nod there to Starbase 66 and also to Weather Station 3. It made my day. Starbase, I can see — I’m just a minor cog in an interstellar wheel, working with some incredible people. But WS3 is just my audio diary, so to have someone consider it a must-listen is a real head-expander.

I don’t podcast for money, and I don’t do it for fame. I do it because I like sharing ideas with people around the world. Until recently, I had no idea I even had a voice for it — I flunked out of commercial radio for a reason, remember?

So thanks, Steph, and to everyone else who listens and offers feedback. Let’s keep having fun.