July 08, 2010

Score another point for the old alma mater

First UW got Stephen Hawking, now we get this:

David Johnston, announced as Canada's next governor general on Thursday, is pledging to be a "stalwart defender" of Canada's heritage, institutions and people.

After weeks of speculation, the Prime Minister's Office said the Canadian legal scholar and president of the University of Waterloo, Ont., has been approved by the Queen and will take over on Oct. 1 after Gov. Gen. Michaƫlle Jean's term ends.

In a statement to reporters from the Senate foyer in Ottawa, Johnston called the appointment a "mark of confidence that touches me profoundly." He also noted his predecessors, from Samuel de Champlain to Jean, have set a "fine example" for him to follow.

[Full Story]

I never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Johnston, as I graduated two years before he arrived at Waterloo. But I've heard nothing but good things about him. He succeeds Michaëlle Jean in September - and has some big shoes to fill. All the best.

July 02, 2010

That's entertainment

The dominance of synthesizers in Rush's music ended with the release of their 1989 album Presto. With a change of label and producer, the band desired to return to their musical roots. While the synth isn't absent, it's no longer dominating the guitar and bass as it had been since Signals.

While not their most remarkable album, I have fond memories of Presto simply because it was the first one of Rush's that I heard on compact disc (which was, as you would expect, much more dynamic than the LP that I had bought on release day).

Of the three singles from this album, "Superconductor" is my favourite. While technically released as a single in 1990, it was of course recorded and sold in 1989, so I'm claiming a technicality here.

July 01, 2010

It's a beauty way to go

It is, once again, Canada Day: Canada's 143rd birthday. As I write this, I can hear the sound of fireworks at Parliament Hill - which, supposedly, I would be able to see if not for the block of townhouses adjacent to the back yard. As always, downtown Ottawa is closed to traffic and becomes the location of a massive street party. This year is particularly special, as the Queen arrived in Halifax on Tuesday, and was present in Ottawa for the day's festivities.

It has been my tradition every year to post a short history about some Canadian patriotic song. I hope no one minds if I'm a little tongue-in-cheek this year, but while posting a week of Rush hits, I couldn't resist this opportunity.

In 1980, the CBC network asked the producers of the sketch comedy program SCTV to include two minutes of specifically Canadian content. In response, cast members Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis created "The Great White North," a mock talk show in which two dimwitted brothers wore toques, drank beer, ate back bacon, spoke in Canadian slang, and basically parodied every Canadian stereotype there was. Amazingly, the segment became the most popular part of SCTV, and Bob and Doug McKenzie became not merely caricatures, but genuine Canadian cultural icons.

Since the characters became inexplicably popular in the United States, Bob and Doug became cultural ambassadors of a sort, and are probably as responsible as anyhing else for the notion that we Canadians say "Eh?" and "Take off" and "Beauty!" a lot. In addition to SCTV, the Bob and Doug phenomenon spawned a hit comedy record, a cult movie, a set of ads for Pizza Hut, an animated TV series, and, of course, a hit comedy album. The Great White North was like an audio-only version of the TV show, discussing such topics as Doug's ability to make sound effects with his mouth or why donut shops never have enough parking spaces. It even included a hit single: "Take Off," which even broke the top 20 in the U.S. It features Rush's Geddy Lee singing the chorus - because, as he says on the album, "Ten bucks is ten bucks." (Moranis and Lee actually attended public school together as children.)

Here it is. Enjoy. (And happy birthday, Canada.)

Previous Canada Day songs:

It's a cinderella story on a tumble of the dice

Rush's synthesizer sound hit its zenith (or its nadir, depending on how you feel about that sort of thing) with their 1985 album Power Windows. While older Rush albums used the synthesizer primarily as a padding instrument, on the lead track "The Big Money" it takes the lead with heavy, bright stabs and sequenced riffs.

"The Big Money"'s video is notable for two things. One, believe it or not, these computer graphics were state of the art (it had only been a few months since Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" broke new ground for digital animation). Two, Geddy's mullet makes him look like a cross between Pippi Longstocking and a poodle. Aren't you glad the 80s are over?