September 2010

Where There's Smoke...

My mouth tastes like fire.

The smoke has been pouring over the mountains for a few days now. BC is burning. I knew that the Olympics were going to do some serious damage to that province, but even my scalpel sharp cynicism couldn’t have predicted that six months later the province would literally be burning to the ground.

I kid.

Only sorta though.

You can barely see the end of the block for all of the smoke. It hasn’t stopped here either. I watched video tonight of the same haze in Saskatoon. I hear tell it’s into Manitoba from now. I can’t help but wonder about the long term impact.

It’s amazing to think how many people this has affected. A quick check of wikipedia reveals that the province of Alberta was at last count just under 4 million. Most of that is in Southern Alberta.

Seriously.

Draw a line about an hour north of Edmonton and there’s only about twelve people above it.

And one of them thinks he’s a dog, so I’m not sure if he counts.

Which is to say nothing of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. There’s a few people in those provinces as well.

And I guess, all of the people in BC.

Pretty epic when you think about it. I know it probably seems minor, but I don’t ever remembering seeing any smoke like this coming over the mountains before.

Sometimes it's scary when metaphor starts creeping into real life...

Nine Years Later...

Ok.

Let’s do this then.

9 years ago I was a broadcasting student at Mount Royal College, which now (to the benefit of my resume) now goes by the name Mount Royal University.

I lived in a small apartment in Kensington because back then it was affordable and close to live music. I played music back then just as much as I do at the time I sit down to write this, but my memories of those shows are significantly foggier.

I hadn’t figured out that liquor and I are not the friends I thought we were.

I had just decided to go back to school after having spent several years working in bars and music stores, and on the advice of a few people who suggested I had a voice for radio

I entered the broadcasting program. I completed that program with my name on the Deans list, but that’s another story for another day.

Today, this story is about September 11th, 2001.

I didn’t have a car. Being a student, I couldn’t afford one so every morning I would get up at what seemed to me to be an ungodly hour and begin the 2 hour trip to the college.

On this particular day, I was doing exactly that. I had my Discman with me and religiously wore my earphones on the train and the bus to avoid dealing with the other passengers. I remember that day I was listening to The Watchmen when my batteries died. I didn’t have a spare set with me, so I popped my ear buds out and decided to eavesdrop on the world around me.

It wasn’t long after that I heard someone on a cell phone talking to someone about buildings blowing up.

I listened to the one side of the conversation for a few minutes longer and while there was a part of me that wasn’t sure what to make of it, there was another part of me that was very aware that Calgary is one of the oil hubs of North America and I was increasingly concerned something was wrong.

So I pulled out my own cell phone and called a friend.

And I sat there on the bus as I was told about how New York was under attack, about how planes had flown into buildings. About how nobody knew what was going on, but the whole thing was unfolding on TV.

I got to the school and the whole place was silent. People sat looking at what TV screens were available. I knew that given my particular faculty, the day was going to be completely unpredictable to say the least. I made my way to my class and one of the support staff told me that all of the instructors were gone, that they had all been called in to help cover the story. In our instructors place was a portable TV that many of my classmates had already gathered around.

It didn’t matter what channel it was tuned to. They were all the same at this point.

And we sat there, quietly discussing what we were seeing, trying to formulate possibilities of what was going on, of who was responsible. It was very early on that Al Qaeda was brought up in the newscasts, as well as Osama bin Laden, names that most of the world had never heard of before, but that the whole world would soon know and use on a daily basis. I remember very clearly saying that we were witnessing the beginning of a very dangerous time, that the U.S. would react, violently and in a way that would only make things worse, and that it was a very bad time to be of a skin colour that people could in any way misinterpret as being “terrorist”.

Someone in my class told me I was overreacting, that the states would indeed strike back but that there was no reason for all people of Middle Eastern descent to be concerned. North America was better than that now. Sure, they would go after terrorists, but only the terrorists. I remember thinking that I wished they were right, but it wasn’t the time to argue and that I knew they were wrong.

After the towers fell, it was obvious that there wasn’t going to be any classes that day, or anytime in the near future. This was an event that was going to change the world.

We were all told to go home.

On the train ride back to my apartment, people came aboard the train with special edition newspapers , pictures of the wreckage at what had already been inappropriately named “Ground Zero”.

I got home and turned on the TV. I was only halfway through my schooling at that point, but what I saw for the rest of the day made a strong impression on me, and in all honesty it was probably a big part of the reason that while I completed the program, I never got into broadcast journalism.

Most of the media coverage was what I can only call obscene. Conjecture and replaying the most horrific moments over and over again, for what would be days and then weeks.

All normal broadcasts were cancelled and it was all terrorism, all the time.

I sat there in my living room watching this all unfold and as I did I felt the first pangs of real fear.

Not for the people in the towers, the planes had crashed, the towers had fallen and that could never be undone.

What I began to be scared of was the inevitable reaction. Like I said earlier, the fact that the U.S. response was going to be massive was a foregone conclusion. I didn’t know much about Osama Bin Laden at that time, only that he was Saudi and that the conjecture on the TV pointed to him. I didn’t know where the military response was going to be, only that there would certainly be one. What I found myself becoming increasingly concerned about was the reaction of the everyman.

Mob mentality is very real, and people would need someone to blame. The people who flew the planes into the buildings were certainly dead, but the outrage and despair would need a target.

I began to call all of my friends who were of any kind of Middle Eastern descent.

The theme was the same; they were all ok, although they were certainly nervous about what the reaction would be. They appreciated the call, but they all told me that I didn’t need to worry about them, that my concerns were better focused on the families of those in the towers.

And that was that.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Everyone knows the insanity that followed. Throughout it all, I was sure of only one thing.

Things would only get worse before they got better.

Historically, these things almost always follow the same progression. Something terrible happens and instead of people reacting intellectually, they react emotionally. These things are always about revenge and exploitation. The media exploited the story for ratings, governments and corporations exploited the situation for financial and opportunistic gain. Anyone who has taken the time to follow what happened since then knows this to be true. Governments lied, many more innocents died and things only got worse.

So where are we nine years later?

This morning I woke up and read an opinion column online about the “Ground Zero Mosque”.

The columnist wrote about her deep concern for the current climate, how many in the intellectual and socially responsible community are increasingly wary of how Muslims are being viewed in North America. She advocated tolerance and understanding and called for people to consciously choose to not get swept up in the waves of intolerance, ignorance and bigotry.

A reasonable column by all accounts.

But the comments that other readers had left were exactly the opposite.

Hateful things, ignorant things mocking the author of the column for being an intellectual and an academic. Comments about how it is the responsibility of all Muslims to come out and state that they aren’t terrorists. Comments about how all people who come to Canada should abandon their culture and become proper Canadians.

Yeah, this was a Canadian column.

So this is where we are nine years later.

Nothing has changed. If anything, the reality of that tragic day has been twisted into something that somehow gives permission to the ignorant and hateful to be even more public about their ill informed views.

I had one other thought that day nine years ago.

That I was afraid that I was looking at the beginning of a new era, not unlike one the world saw take shape in Europe in the 1930’s, where racial fear and intolerance would be used to not only advance a dangerous right wing agenda, but to commit terrible crimes against humanity. They burned books back then too, books that fanatics and zealots deemed evil or offensive and there are now highly publicized plans to burn Korans on September 11th south of the border.

And it’s happened. It happened in Afghanistan first and still is happening today. It happened in Iraq and continues despite the official end of combat operations. And now, it’s beginning to happen here. That might sound dramatic, but make no mistake, as soon as an entire religion is defined by the actions of a few zealots, as soon as places of worship are blocked from being built on the basis of irrational and unjustified fear it’s happening here.

So just to double check the scoreboard, a visible minority is being demonized and having their legally guaranteed freedoms restricted because there are fanatics advancing an ignorant extremist agenda based on fear and misinformation while exploiting a historic tragedy.

And they’re going to burn books too.

Nah, my 1930’s parallel is totally out of place.

Music

A minute ago when I was lying face down in bed in a cough syrup semi conscious haze, I was pretty sure I had worked out something to write about.

That’s the problem with pharmaceuticals that create an altered state. Beyond running the risk of genetically regressing yourself (there’s an obscure reference I’m pretty sure I’ll be the only one who gets) they tend to give you these bizarre bursts of creative insight. Sometimes that works really well. Sometimes you just end up trying to put your idea into words while simultaneously trying to remember what it was exactly that made the idea so interesting.

So I find myself sitting here trying to figure out why exactly the world (and by the world I mean the spectacularly few people who will read this) needs to be told just how amazing it that…

Now I can’t even remember what it was.

That’s the other problem with altered states. It’s like when you wake up from an absolutely amazing dream, and only a few hours later you KNOW that it was the best dream ever but you can’t remember anything for details other than there was a miniature tiger and some sort of floating giant sandal factory.

Which doesn’t sound nearly as cool to others when you try to explain it.

So instead, I figure I’ll just name off some of what I think are the best albums of all time and why.

Everybody has a list of favourite music, and usually it’s constantly in flux. For example, if you ask me for a list of my top five movies, once you get past Hard Core Logo, the original Superman and Hard Candy, it really depends. Some weeks the answer would potentially include any of the Star Wars or Indiana Jones movies prior to the year 1998. Some weeks it would include Full Metal Jacket and The Untouchables.

Like I said, constantly in flux. This list is a part of what made the mid nineties great for me…

Anyways, in no particular order here’s five albums you should immediately listen to and why.

Catherine Wheel – Adam and Eve (1997)

I first fell in love with Catherine Wheel in 1993 after hearing “Chrome” which while being a little on the ambient side, contained some amazing singles, most notably to me, “Pain”, which was just an epic, epic song. They followed it up with another album “Happy Days”, which was much more aggressive and somewhat more radio friendly. I’m pretty sure that “Waydown” and “Judy Staring At The Sun” both charted somewhat in North America, and I know they did quite well in Europe. The band followed up that CD with “Adam and Eve”, and it pretty much blew my mind. The album is in absolutely no way at all radio friendly, but is probably one of the most dynamic records I know about. I’m pretty sure that this album was the beginning of the end for the band as they only released a singles collection and one more album after Adam and Eve, but I spent more hours than I can count driving around in my 84 civic listening to this album in the dead of winter. Take intelligent lyrics combined with arrangements that flew in the face of what I knew to be conventional and you had one hell of an album.

Rancid - …And Out Come The Wolves (1995)

Easily one of the best punk albums of all time in my opinion. While I was interested in punk for quite a few year before this album came out in 1995, this sealed the deal. 19 tracks of unrestrained anger and stories. You can’t listen to this album and not believe it. This album was, in my opinion, punk at it’s best. Tim Armstrong spits out the vocals and he means every single word. Not only that, but the songs on the track are actually songs. A lot of punk just tries to be loud and brash, but with this album Rancid were loud and brash with killer songwriting. “Time Bomb” is probably Rancids most famous song, but the high point in my opinion is without a doubt “Ruby Soho”. I first heard Ruby Soho coming out of the back door of a club downtown across from another that I had just finished playing at and the smell of that alley with it’s garbage and smoke and vomit in the rain has permanently attached itself to this album in my mind.

K’s Choice – Paradise In Me (1996)

In my entire life I have only ever called into a radio station once to find out the name of a song I had just heard. Only once. Part of that is because once the internet took off and we got google, it was easy enough to find the details on just about any song. The other part is that I figured out at a very young age that getting through to a radio station was a crap shoot at best. When I hear “Not An Addict” on the radio, they just played it, they didn’t say what the song title was or who the band was and I was so blown away by it I had to call in. That same afternoon I made my way to my local music store and picked up Paradise In Me. Amazing album. Not only does Sarah Bettens possess what I consider to be one of the better voices in music, but the album hits on just about every genre you can hit on and hits them well. I became a K’s Choice fan for life, and still am. The band went on to put out another 2 albums both of which, while a little on the brief side, are excellent. The band just recently reuinited and put out a newer album, which is a bit of a departure for them, but excellent nonetheless.

Sandbox – Bionic (1995)

When it comes to obscure Canadian bands from the nineties, these guys were among the best in my opinion. I spent more than a couple of nights in bars watching these guys play, and I was never disappointed. The single off this album was called “Curious” and it managed to get itself quite a bit of airplay. While “Curious” was an excellent song and deserved the airplay that it got, the rest of the songs on the album didn’t get the same recognition, which they should have. I used to fall asleep with “Weatherman” on repeat on my CD player. We went through a lot of batteries in those days. The band kinda disappeared after one more album, but one of the guitar players went on to find fame as “Bubbles” from Trailer Park Boys.

The Tea Party – Transmission – 1997

I had been a bit of a fan of The Tea Party before “Transmission”, but for some reason I had challenges committing. Maybe it was a combination of my long seated disdain for The Doors and Led Zepplin, but while I liked a few songs on their earlier albums, it wasn’t until “Transmission” that I bought in completely. Combining rock with electronica and a Middle Eastern flavour, the band brought themselves to the forefront of the Canadian, and even the world music scene. Back when MuchMusic still was about music videos, I spent more than a few hours glued to the TV in the hopes of catching another glimpse of the video for “Babylon”. When I finally got the CD, the title track quickly became one of my all time favorites, but all that being said, nothing beats a live version of “Sister Awake”.

There are , obviously many more albums that have influenced me, but these are the first ones that came to mind for those particular years. I’ll probably add more each time I post a reprisal, but who knows with me these days…

You know where to find me.

Nate@natepike.com