On Jarkko Ruutu

•May 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Ruutu Got The Hoodoo

Well, the Senators season has ended for this year.  A first round exit from the playoffs is disappointing, but also expected, given that the team was missing one of its top scorers (Michalek), its game-breaking crafty veteran (Kovalev), and a key offensive defenseman (Kuba).  To add insult to these unfortunate injuries, that gap-toothed homicidal fucktard Dany Heatley looks to be coasting into the Conference Finals in his new ill-gotten home, San Jose.

But rather than dwell on these negativities, I would prefer to make some remarks about the play of Jarkko Ruutu who, with 12 goals and 26 points, had a career year.  While this is not exactly scoring of Spezzanic proportions, it’s not bad at all for a guy who plays eight minutes or so a game, much of it on the penalty kill.

Fig. 1: The Greatest Iced Hockey Player Of All Time

The main reason why I love Ruutu so much is that, more so than any other ice-hockeyist, he plays the game.  He always seems to have an enormous amount of fun on the ice, often at the expense of opposing players.  Skating around, bumping into players with that shit-eating grin all the time, he approaches hockey with the same verve and jouissance with which Captain Beefheart approaches music.  His fourth-line shifts are the most entertaining of the game.

Considered around the league to be an obnoxious pest, Ruutu is only truly understood by fans of the teams he has played for.  A master of the agitatory arts, he manipulates his opponents, pestering them just enough to keep their rage at a simmering seethe and then provoking them into taking a penalty.  A noted chess player, Ruutu is always twelve steps ahead of his foes, watching over the game with zen-like guile, waiting for just the right moment to let loose a well-aimed chirp.  Or, he could just goad Dion Phaneuf into fighting him, then, once the big defenceman has dropped his gloves, slyly trip him up and hop onto the bench.

Fig. 2: Part bat. All awesome.

Despite his less than stellar reputation outside of Pittsburgh, Vancouver, and Ottawa (not to mention ugly aspersions of cannibalism), Ruutu draws regular praise for his hard hits, persistent net presence, and ability to fight (he allegedly likes to start slow to tire his fisticuffical interlocutor out before despatching the deathblow with an acid rain of right hooks).   Though undoubtedly true, this acclaim casts Ruutu as your typical flailing big body (the Chris Neil archetype) and neglects his incredible creativity.  And soccer skills.

Because of his anarchic spirit, Ruutu can beguile opposing players with his unpredictability, leading to unexpected scoring chances.  Often his goals are considered flukey, but that’s because Ruutu, ever the subtle master, is able to mask his genius as blind chance.

I recall one time when he and Chris Kelly broke into the opposing zone while shorthanded.  Ruutu crossed the blueline on the right wing and seemed to lose control of the puck, which drifted off towards the boards.  Seeing what he thought was a 2-on-1 breaking up, the defenceman relaxed somewhat, allowing Ruutu to grab the puck (he’d never really lost control) and flip it over to Kelly for the tuck-in.

Fig. 3: The secret's in the string.

Not for no reason is he included in the shoot-out line-up.  Moreover, the fact that such an agitator would also be a stellar penalty-killer speaks to his discipline.  Indeed, Ruutu could score 50 goals if he wanted.  Hell, being able to manipulate the very fabric of space-time, he could score several thousand.  But he doesn’t, cause it wouldn’t be fair.  By the same token, Predators waive their usual policy of not attacking unarmed people when they see Jarkko Ruutu, but no matter, the Finn always wins, and the Predator ends up with the instigator misconduct.

The Prose Edda tells us that, in his Loki incarnation, Ruutu shall steer the ship Naglfar out of Muspellheim signalling the beginning of Ragnarok.  He shall do this on a break from the penalty box after serving a double minor for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct on former teammate Thor.  Also, his dog, Fenrir, once bit Alex Kovalev.

Fig. 4: Ruutu chirping away at the Table of the Gods.

As a Trickster, like the Coyote in First Nations mythology, Ruutu ensures that balance is maintained between the forces of good and evil here in Midgard, middle-earth.  For example, when the Senators have a really good cycle game going and are getting shots on net whilst still maintaining puck possession, Ruutu restores the balance in the game by dishing out a gratuitous elbow to an enemy defender and taking a penalty.

He can also turn into a salmon and is most likely an excellent driver.

Fig. 5: Ruutu decides it's time to skip this shit and head to the Warp Zone.

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On Music & Mythology

•April 28, 2010 • 1 Comment

The Performance of Metanarration

Sorry about this folks, but I’m about to drop a large serving of science into the gaping, abyssal maw of the Internets.  The following peace got rather unduly long in its gestation: I thought I had a good idea, but sorta got carried away.  But, anyway, this preemptive apology is but adding to the predicament of lengthiness before us, so without further adieu, let us proceed:

I

A few months back, I was embroiled in a discussion with a philosopher friend of mine over the relative merits of The Velvet Underground’s first record, The Velvet Underground & Nico.  I was arguing from the position that the supplementarily eponymous debut is, well, kinda crap – compared, at least to the rest of their fantastic catalogue.  Sure, “Sunday Morning” and “I’m Waiting For The Man” are brilliant tracks, but much of the rest of the long player, well, just irritates me.  All harsh and buzzy, no tunes or groove.

My analytical interlocutor insisted, however, that my negative reaction was not due to the record’s deficiencies, but rather mine own; that, in an interesting take on Bloom’s theory of the anxiety of influence, my criticism of the record was instead a perverse reaction to the immense influence the album has had (it’s been said that The Velvet Underground & Nico only sold 500 copies on its initial release, but everyone that bought one started a band).[1]

Despite the fact that I may be grossly garbling his argument, he is, of course, dead wrong; my taste never fails me.  This line of argumentation really holds the album up to be nothing more than a sacred cow, reflexively defended from criticism by fact of its importance to posterity.  Indeed, it’s not so much defended from criticism as denied criticism, raised transcendent-like above aesthetic judgement (see: Pepper, Sgt.).

In actual fact, The Velvet Underground’s first album illustrates the process in which the mythology of an artwork obscures the material work itself and ultimately displaces it so that the apprehender cannot perceive the work, only the aura generated by its meta-narrative and context.

In other, more glib words: What most people like about The Velvet Underground & Nico is Andy Warhol’s signature, prominently displayed on the sleeve.

Fig. 1: Just whose record is this anyway?

The Velvet Underground is a good example of the cream-rising, self-correcting nature of The Canon.  Never achieving (mainstream) success in their own time, The VU made some fine records, each one exemplifying their different facets. Unfortunately, & Nico is not one of them.  Nonetheless, their posthumous resurgence, due in no small part to the etho-aesthetic development of punk, generated enough retrograde admiration to warrant their inclusion on the shelves of suburban chain stores throughout the Free World.  Like it or not, they’re part of the mainstream now.

It seems, though, the Velvets’ music is inextricable from the narrative of their career, the debut doubly so.  The Velvet Underground embody several distinct, but nonetheless interrelated, metanarratives: they were a proto-punk oppositional counterpart to flower-power; they injected the aesthetic values of “high” literature into rock and roll; they articulated a post-modern/neo-romantic ennui of decadence and debauchery; etc, etc.

I mentioned already the Warhol connection, and clearly there is some brand name appeal going on here as his name, not just on the sleeve artwork, but also in the production credits undoubtedly casts a shadow of cachet over the whole affair.  Warhol’s presence, and therefore the situationing of the album in the Factory scene, diverts attention from the record-as-musical-object [2] and instead focuses on it as a supplementary extension to Warhol’s oeuvre.  Some Foucauldian author shit going on here.

The thing is, however, that Warhol is actually a pretty terrible record producer (the sole non-Warhol track, “Sunday Morning”, was recorded by Tom “Like A Rolling Stone” Wilson and is by far the best sounding thing here).  In many respects, the low production values (and there’s nothing wrong with lo-fi: Will Oldham is a case in point) affirm the record as being some kind of Pop-Art stunt.  Warhol is associated with the world of high art, yet his work is based on the elevation of industrial folk-art (Campbell’s Soup cans, images of Elvis, etc) into the gallery alongside the authorized, hallowed works of the masters.  Indeed, Warhol’s career can be viewed as a deconstruction of the very categories of high and low art, but this implicates Warhol’s work with a kind of aesthetic primitivism in which objects such as the Velvet Underground’s musical performance are lionized for their technical “deficiencies”, ie. distorted, muddy recording, rudimentary songwriting, deliberately poor singing, etc.

Fig. 2: Danged if they weren't cool, though.

Once they stepped out of the shadow of Warhol’s aura, The VU went on to make a trio of fantastic records,  each one fleshing out all the elements that & Nico is supposedly rated for.  In fact, I would argue that much of the Velvets’ influence stems from these records; the musicians that have cited them would presumably be fans of their whole oeuvre.  The first album, however, is relegated by its context to the status of ironized kitsch.

Much attention is paid to the supposedly transgressive content of the album, but it seems that this is really nothing more than a cheap novelty effect: “ZOMG!1! They’re singing about heroin and sado-masochism!!”.  Meh.  Conceptually, it’s no different from Marilyn Manson’s prude-baiting histrionics.  We get it; you do hard drugs.  So do all jazz musicians, big whoop.  However, the contrast of this subject matter with the prevailing flower-power of the day, renders the whole enterprise into fertile ground for laudatory revisionism (especially when seen through lenses forged by the advent of punk).  Again, the metanarrative of the record – in this case,  its transgressivism – supersedes its music.

That’s fine: certainly The Velvet Underground & Nico is an important artistic statement and an important record (both in terms of its musical influence as well as being the starting point of a truly great band), but that doesn’t mean it’s a great piece of music, howsoever such a thing is subjectively determined (although, to be fair, I’d still consider a “good” record, due in no small part to the brilliant “I’m Waiting For The Man”).  Any subjective determination or, to use a more neutral term, experience of the work is conditioned by the framing metanarrative of the work, and, as I will further show with a couple more examples, in some cases this produces what I consider to be some perhaps overhasty canonizations.

II

A more poignant example of this phenomenon of metanarratives overtaking musical works is seen in the cult classic mid-seventies album by Dennis Wilson, Pacific Ocean Blue.

Fig. 3: Not that his last name was important or anything.

Dennis Wilson first came to fame as the drummer for The Beach Boys.  By all accounts, his presence in the group was not due so much to his percussionary prowess so much as his good looks and family connections (also: unlike the rest of the group, he could surf).  It was apparently a great surprise then, that his mid-seventies solo work revealed him to be soulful, sensitive singer-songwriter type.  He released Pacific Ocean Blue to mild acclaim and, after starting an aborted follow-up, ultimately succumbed to the de rigueur rigors of the rock and roll life.

The album itself, however, took on a second life after its author’s death, fuelled, no doubt, by virtue of it not being reissued on compact disc.  Like his brother’s until-recently unreleased SMiLE, the album’s reputation became inflated by its unavailability: a record you can’t hear becomes as good as you can possibly imagine it to be.  However, whereas SMiLE expresses the trope of the tortured genius confounded and broken by his own brilliance, Pacific Ocean Blue employs a different narrative: the diamond in the rough whose natural talent is smothered by the indifference of the world.

The recent, belated reissue (with the aborted Bambu appended) shrewdly trades on this story: That Dennis Wilson carried with him an immense reserve of innate talent denied polish by fact of his overshadowing genius brother; that Pacific Ocean Blue was an unheralded swansong of a fragile talent, soon to be defeated by the requisite excesses of his chosen profession.  His producer, James Guercio, illustrates precisely this sentiment in the fantastically mythologizing liner notes: “He just blew me away with his raw talent.  I could also sense an injured bird there.  He was way more talented than anybody gave him credit for.”

Shorn from  this biographical context, Pacific Ocean Blue is still a pretty decent record, but doesn’t quite live up to its cult status.  Really, it’s no better than any of the other soft-rock, singer-songwriter works of the seventies.  Again, like The Velvet Underground & Nico, I’m not saying it’s not a good record: Opener “River Song” is quite stirring, and the album’s standout title track is notable for its prescient anticipation of Tom Green by rhyming “slaughter” with “otter”.

The laudatory wonderment of Wilson’s colleagues — and the Dennis Wilson mythos as a whole — comes across as the condescension of lowered expectations.  Former touring keyboardist for The Beach Boys and the Captain of Tennille, Daryl Dragon, exemplifies this:

I was sitting out in the bleachers during a sound check when I heard these amazing piano chords coming from the stage.  I looked up and it was Dennis, which kind of shocked me.  Like a lot of people, I only knew him as the wildman drummer.  I didn’t even know he played piano!  When I asked him who’d composed the gorgeous music he was playing, he said, “I did.”  I was floored.  Dennis had none of the formal training I’d had, but these were chords my instructors would’ve killed for.  He didn’t know the names of the notes, nothing.  He just played around with notes until he found the ones that matched what he was hearing in his head.  The richness and instinctive innovation of his chords reminded me of the composer Richard Wagner, whom Dennis had never heard of…

Apparently, the mystical primitive Dennis Wilson had uncanny powers which enabled him to find the Lost Chord and the Hidden Changes: the alchemist who found the Philosophers’ Stone by never having heard of it in the first place.  Rather, though, what makes Pacific Ocean Blue so moving and poignant is that its creator was burnt out by the supposed “raw energies” that enabled him to produce a work supposedly beyond his technical reach thus preventing any fulfillment of the promise seen in that record.  Critic and A&R man Ben Edmonds uses this exact mythology in the reissue’s liner notes when describing Wilson’s 1983 death (subtly eliding the seven years between Pacific Ocean Blue and Wilson’s passing): “The volcanic energies that powered his no-holds-barred assault on life eventually overwhelmed a physical circuitry compromised by years of testing the limits.  Once his creative momentum was lost in his mounting personal chaos it was never regained.”

Fig. 4: Visual representation of Dennis Wilson's career (source: B. Edmonds et al).

Ultimately Pacific Ocean Blue, and by extension Dennis Wilson, derives its status more from its position within a metanarrative than the actual musical content of the record itself.  We like the story more than the music.

III

Perhaps the best example of this metanarrative phenomenon is seen in the career of (The) Pink Floyd and the accord given to the group’s 1967 debut, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.  For those unfamiliar with the early history of the Floyd, they emerged in the mid-sixties London psychedelic scene as The Pink Floyd.  In its first incarnation, the group was fronted by guitarist-songwriter Roger “Syd” Barrett.  Unfortunately, Syd exceeded the recommended dosage of LSD (a thousandfold) and went mad, forcing the group to replace him with David Gilmour, thus giving birth to Pink Floyd proper (sans the definite article).

Fig. 5: Don't do acid, kids. You'll end up taping daffodils to your face.

While Barrett’s story is one of personal tragedy (he spent the rest of his life in the care of his parents before losing his sight to diabetes and sadly passing in 2004), it does provide us with all sorts of schadenfreudishly amusing anecdotes.  Such as:

  • The time he went mute and catatonic when it came time to record a US promo clip for the single “Apples & Oranges” forcing Roger Waters to do the lip-synch.
  • The time he wandered off stage while the group was in the middle of “Interstellar Overdrive”.  Used to such unpredictable behaviour, the group played on.  Eventually, Barrett remerged from backstage with a camping stove and proceeded to fry some bacon and eggs on stage, the sounds of a cooking breakfast surreally overscoring the group’s chaotic thrashings.
  • The time when he tried to teach the rest of The Floyd a new song of his, but kept radically changing the chords every time he played it for the group.  The song’s title? “Have You Got It Yet”.
  • The time he showed up at the recording studio after being fired and offered to play his former bandmates a new song on a guitar with no strings.
  • And so on and so on.

The madness of Syd Barrett is indeed a compelling story, and consequently it has generated an aura around Syd Barrett as a symbol of the Icarus-like artist who flew too close to the sun and burnt out brilliantly rather than fading away.  Shine on, you crazy diamond.  Unfortunately, however, this metanarrative means that Syd Barrett’s art is not his music, but rather his madness.

Much hay has been made about Barrett’s alleged songwriting prowess – again, he is seen as an example of the fragile genius spectacularly destroyed by the cruel machine of rocket soul.  The word “visionary” is thrown around alot, and not just in the context of him “tripping balls”.  The metanarrative that has grown around the band as a result of Barrett’s fall is that they started out as the thrilling vanguard of psychedelia yet with pop tunes that rivalled The Beatles for accessibility.  But once their leader left, they digressed into self-indulgent progginess: the perennially derided middle-of-the-road-album-oriented-rock.  Check this passage from über-hipster Pitchfork’s obligatorily laudatory review of the album:

Few would criticize the merits of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn itself (as reflected in the rating above)– it’s an essential album. While so many other products of the Summer of Love were positive and unifying, Piper was fractured and scary. Songs like “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive” captured the sustained improvisational freakouts of the band’s live shows, but did so in more concise form. Other songs, like “Lucifer Sam,” “Bike”, and “The Gnome”, split the difference between quirky pop songs and explorations of the nightmarish found-sound fringe, setting a twisted template for countless acts to come. By 1980’s The Wall, Pink Floyd had become sterile and solipsistic. At this auspicious start, Pink Floyd were thrilling. Anything was possible.

A more extreme phrasing of this metanarrative, one which concentrates more on bashing later Floyd than extolling Piper, is found in The NME‘s review of  the same reissue:

If you saw Pink Floyd at Live8 and wondered what all the fuss was about, then your instincts were right. Pink Floyd are one of those bands that even their fans have to make excuses for. Pompous, self-important, joyless and big-selling, they’ve become shorthand for grumpy middle-aged bank manager rock. Most famous for The Dark Side Of The Moon – a record about half as clever as it likes to think it is – Pink Floyd’s career is built on kiddy choirs, 30-year rows, giant polystyrene walls, inflatable pigs, interminable guitar solos and being Very Serious Indeed. It’s been successful – they’ve sold 150 million albums – but no person in their right mind would ever want to listen to one of those albums all the way through, especially if there are kitchen knives or open windows nearby. Except this one.

This is all post-punk revisionism.  In lauding Barrett’s musical adventerousness, these reviewers forget that Pink Floyd was at both its most experimental and its best just after Barrett left as they tried to figure out what the fuck they were going to do without their songwriting lynchpin before settling into the overpolished formulaicity of the post-Dark Side records.  But that, of course, is just this listener’s opinion.

The Cult of Barrett does, however, require some deconstruction. Certainly, as a guitarist, Barrett made excellent and innovative use of echo and delay as spectacularly demonstrated on the instrumental group effort “Interstellar Overdrive”.   It’s when Syd Barrett gets labelled a songwriting genius that things get wonky.  There’s no doubt that “See Emily Play” and “Arnold Layne” are fine slices of English psychedelia coaxed into pop song form.  The seeds of Blur, for better or for worse.  “Astronomy Domine” and “Lucifer Sam” from Piper and the solo track “Octopus” also work quite well (actually “Octopus” is pretty damn awesome), but apart from these gems, the rest of Barrett’s oeuvre gets remarkably sketchy and are perfect examples of the insufferable twee-ness of English psychedelia.

Fig. 6: Fucking hippies.

See, whereas American hippies were focused on changing the world with their electric kool-aid acid tests, the English kids, not having a war or the domestic oppression of a large minority to deal with, retreated into bourgeois idealizations of childhood and whimsy, and while Caravan and The Nice are lame enough, no-one did this worse than The Pink Floyd.

Viz. the The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn cut “The Gnome”:

I want to tell you a story

About a little man

If I can.

A gnome named Grimble Gromble

And little gnomes

Stay in their homes

Eating, sleeping, drinking their wine.

[and so on]

Fuck man, not only are those lines included in a rock song, but they’re included in a rock song that’s supposed to be cool.  Makes Led Zeppelin blowing the ending to The Lord Of The Rings seem positively Davisian.  I would rank this track’s opening lines as the second lamest moment in the history of rock and roll.[3]

Flaming” also joins “The Gnome” in the department of agonizing whimsy:

Alone in the clouds all blue

Lying on an eiderdown

Yippee! You can’t see me

But I can you.

One notable exception, of course, is “Jugband Blues”: a hauntingly beautiful track released after Barrett’s departure on A Saucerful Of Secrets (Fun Fact: check that album’s “Remember A Day” for a glimpse of a five man Floyd as both David Gilmour and Syd Barrett play on the track).  Legend has it that before being sacked from the band (allegedly, they just didn’t bother to pick him up on the way to a gig), Syd and the groop recorded three last cuts.  “Scream Thy Last Scream” and “Vegetable Man” were deemed too mad to be heard and were locked up in the water tower of Warner Bros. Studios.[4]

“Jugband Blues”, however, is Barrett’s masterpiece.  With its constantly shifting time signatures and ramshackle arrangement, it evokes the descent into madness that its author was experiencing.[5] Whereas “Bike” plays Barrett’s madness for laughs, “Jugband Blues” trades light-hearted, albeit batshit, whimsy for a fearful, claustrophobic darkness.  Chilling, yet somehow poignantly so.

The lyrics too seem to be the words of a madman trying to retrace the outlines of his lost mind:

It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here

And I’m most obliged to you for m-making it clear

That I’m not here.

And I never knew the moon could be so big

And I never knew the moon could be so blue

And I’m grateful that you threw away my old shoes

And brought me here instead dressed in red.

And I’m wondering who could be writing this song…

There’s definitely some postmodern author shit going down in there what with Barrett suggesting that what is “here” and “writing this song” is his madness – an alien force that has overcome and erased him, despite what the addressed listener may “think”.  Indeed, the listener is “making it clear” that what is being heard is not Syd Barrett, the singer and songwriter, but rather the whole story of Syd Barrett.  This mythology acts as the author-function of the Syd Barrett canon and, as such, removes the actual recorded musical performance from consideration.

To put it another way: There’s no question that “Jugband Blues” is an amazing work.  Yeah, it’s got a pretty good tune and there’s some great sounds.  But the emotional impact of the track (which is considerable) is derived from the backstory of its composer and singer (this of course, negates the input of the rest of the band and producer Norman Smith).  Would it be as beautiful if Syd Barrett was not genuinely insane, but rather a Ziggy Stardust type persona?

IV

This principle can be applied to many works: Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night, and the whole careers of the early deaths and suicides (Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Jeff Buckley).  Really what’s happening is that the retrospective appreciation of these works often neglects to see how the metanarrative frame of the work (its mythology) obscures and conditions their listening.  Essentially, the mythology takes on the same role that the consciously (and in some cases crudely crafted) metanarratives do to the music of David Bowie, Tom Waits, Madonna, and Marilyn Manson.  The actual musical performance is ancillary to a persona.[6]

This is all not to say that these works are not good or even great works (fuck “Interstellar Overdrive” kicks ass), just that acclaim can always be questioned.  Perhaps, what is really at stake here is the claim that mass-marketed musical performances can even be heard once they are mass-marketed, obscured always behind the branding of a mythology.

On The Heatley Trade

•April 14, 2010 • 1 Comment

The Post-Mortem Of A Done Deal

Now that the Ottawa Senators Iced Hockey Team’s regular season is over and the playoffs have begun, it is perhaps not too premature to evaluate the fallout of The Great Dany Heatley Fiasco that captivated the National Capital Region last summer.

Fig. 1: A full-grown Dany Heatley brachiating.

To those not aware, on June 9th 2009, it was made known that the Senators’ all-star winger and top goal scorer, Dany Heatley, had requested a trade despite having just recently signed a $45 million contract guaranteeing the Ottawa Senators his services through 2013.  No-one knows exactly how the word got out, as both the team and Heatley’s agents claimed each other as the leak.  Of course, it’s hard to imagine why the Senators would want a player’s disgruntlement to be known and thus drive down his market value (by impeding their bargaining ability), but still loose lips could conceivably sink ships.

Anyway, a trade was set up with Edmonton, but in a dick move of biblical proportions (and a beautiful instance of supreme irony), Heatley put the kibosh on the operation by invoking the No Trade Clause in his fatass contract, a contract which also, incidentally, provided for a $4 million advance payment on July 1st, the day after he vetoed the trade.  So now, no matter what happened, the Senators were on the hook for more than half of his salary for the 2009-2010 season.

Compounding this douchebaggery, throughout the long summer Heatley retreated to his British Columbian cabin and offered no explanation to the public for this sudden change of heart.  Some prodding from the Canadian Olympic Team elicited some mumblings of “diminished role” and “second power-play unit”, but speculation raged about rumoured affairs with teammates’ and, oddly, mob boss’ wives as well as a possible drug problem.

Fig. 2: Or he's just a dick.

Personally, I think he just didn’t like Ottawa’s chances in the upcoming season and figured, hey, screw the legal contract I just signed, I’m entitled to be on a winning team cause I’m Dany Heatley and I’m a fuckin all star.

And so, after sullenly reporting to training camp, Dany Heatley got his wish with an eleventh hour deal sending him to the San Jose Sharks (one of his “approved” teams).  In return, the Senators got Jonathan Cheechoo, Milan Michalek, and some draftpickery.

Cheechoo was a rather sad story of a former league leader in goals (56) who, as a result of injuries, had spent the last few years rapidly decreasing his scoring totals (37, 23, 12) until he was basically an overpaid third-liner.  The fact that he was from the isolated native community of Moose Factory in northern Ontario and was, allegedly, a super-nice guy gave his whole metanarrative a poignant twist.  The hope was that Cheechoo would regain some of his scoring touch by returning to Canada and playing for the NHL franchise closest to his hometown.  Apparently, hockey pundits were operating under the theory that Jonathan Cheechoo was a protagonist of made for TV drama.

Milan Michalek, on other hand, was a speedy young Czech forward with a promising future.  Known for his solid two-way play; he can kill penalties, aggressively forecheck, and get goals by standing in front of the net.  Not exactly a top-shelf goal scorer, but sorta like a combination of Chris Kelly and Mike Fisher.  Also, he plays the game with a real give’r attitude, but this also unfortunately gives him the tendency to get injured.  However, if he just stayed healthy…

Fig. 3: Senators GM Bryan Murray displays his confidence.

Now throughout the year the question has been, “Did the Senators get ripped off?”

Well, the results are now back from the lab, so let’s look at the results from this season:

Statistically, Heatley has had a somewhat underwhelming season: he only scored 39 goals, the same amount he scored for Ottawa in his supposedly underperforming, previous season.  This seemed to belie the earlier speculation that Heatley would light up the West playing on a supposedly superior San Jose team.  Some of the more outlandish predictions pegged him to get 65 to 70 goals.

Still, almost 40 goals and a point-per-game is amongst the league leaders.  It should also be noted that scoring in general has been down this season (causing not a small amount of consternation at the League’s HQ, no doubt).

So is he worth the $7.5 million dollar salary?  This is hard to determine as sports salaries are so ridiculously inflated that it’s impossible to say any athlete is worth their recompense.  Still, it’s roughly in line with his statistical peers (although Heatley’s defensive shortcomings are a liability), and besides, from San Jose’s standpoint, he certainly is worth it as they only paid him $3 million this season.

On the Ottawa side, things are a little grimmer.

Milan Michalek started the year out gangbusters, demonstrating his two-way prowess with two shorthanded goals in an early game against Tampa Bay.  However, some long dry patches followed and, of course, he inevitably got injured.  He ended the year with 22 goals and 34 points (42 points if he had played 82 games).  Still, offensive numbers don’t do justice to Michalek’s playing abilities, which include bringing some grittiness and checking ability as well as providing awesome intermission interviews with his stream-of-consciousness partial phrases delivered in rapidfire drawl not unlike that of King Of The Hill character Boomhauer.

Cheechoo, on the other hand, has had a bit of a rough season and that’s putting it mildly.  He managed 5 goals and 14 points in 61 games before being waived to the minors to make cap space for late season trades (his $3 million dollar albatross of a contract, signed after his lone 50 goal season, made him an impossible “asset” to move).  To be fair, Cheechoo worked really hard and was, by all reports, a super-nice guy, but it’s sad to say he was just dead weight.  Hella expensive dead weight.

Fig. 4: Visual approximation of Jonathan Cheechoo's career.

In monetary terms, the Senators have got less for their $7 million and change than San Jose has for theirs, largely due to Cheechoo’s inflated price tag.  To add insult to injury, don’t forget that Ottawa paid half of Heatley’s salary this year.

Also, to compensate for Heatley’s impending absence, Bryan Murray spent his Big Summer Free-Agent Signing on noted pilot, instructional video author, and occasional flashy hockey player Alex Kovalev who then proceeded to have somewhat of a disappointing season despite some good stretches where he quietly carried the team.  This would’ve been alright if he hadn’t gotten injured (perhaps career-endingly so) right before the playoffs when the Sens were counting on him most.

To be sure, the Ottawa Senators were never going to get a full return on Heatley’s market value since not only had the public request taken away any bargaining leverage the team may have had, but they were also limited to dealing with people on Heatley’s list of teams-I-won’t-invoke-my-No-Trade-Clause for; ie. successful franchises in big American cities.

As such, it is important to make sure we don’t compare the trade using Heatley’s past, indeed exemplary performance as an object of comparison.  Now, I myself never really liked the Heater.  Sure, he potted a lot of goals and all (twice reaching the 50 mark), but he was also incapable of playing defence and took  a lot of dumb penalties.  I was particularly annoyed by the way he’d float around with his stick in the air, just waiting for a one-timer.  Also, he killed a guy.

Fig. 5: Dany Heatley takes a drink and misses.

What we have to consider is what he would have contributed to the Senators this season, after having made a public trade request, criticizing the new coach (for not giving him enough premium icetime), and only reluctantly reporting to training camp.  Sure, he still would have scored a bunch of goals, but he would have killed the chemistry of the team (especially given that the Senators are a very much by-committee team).

And perhaps that’s where Ottawa did get a good return.  No longer dependent on a one-dimensional (albeit a high value in that one dimension) goal-scorer, the team has had to elevate its interplay and function more as unit, spreading the scoring around and playing a more defensively responsible game.

Take Jason Spezza, for example: Undoubtedly his numbers are somewhat down due to not having a premium sniper to set up, but his game throughout the season was more generally solid than seasons prior (and despite a slow offensive start, he tore shit up like coked-up badger when he returned from mid-season injury).   Fisher and Kelly have both had better than usual years, and resident pest and noted fucking genius Jarkko Ruutu has had a career year.

Fig. 6: The secret's in the string!

The proof, however, is in the pudding, although Schrodinger reminds us that whether or not the proof is actually in the pudding cannot actually be determined until one eats the pudding and finds the proof inside it (or not).  Until then, the proof is both and neither in (n)or out of the pudding.  Err, anyway, we have eaten the pudding now that the season is done, and the numbers are in: The Senators made the playoffs this year; last year, with Heatley, but without Cheechoo and Michalek, they didn’t.

So, all in all, yeah the Senators did get ripped off in the deal, but they’re a better team for it.

It remains to be seen whether Dany Heatley will be the factor that finally enables the perennially high-seeded Sharks to not get knocked out by an underdog team in the first round.

If I Were An NHL Player…

•April 7, 2010 • 2 Comments

… you know what I would do?

At training camp, I would look for the most promising rookie and find out what jersey number he was going to take.  Then, when we pick our numbers, I would make sure to get in line ahead of him and pick that number.

That way, once I get cut from the team after a few months due to the fact I can’t even skate let alone play iced hockey, he would take back the number he originally wanted, and, many years later, when they retire his number after a long and glorious career, they would be retiring my number as well.

On The Seven Wonders of Canada

•April 4, 2010 • 7 Comments

Unearthly Wonderpost

So, I was on The Internetz perusing lists of Seven Wonders.   Not just the original, ancient Seven Wonders (what I like to call Seven Wonders Classic), but more recent, aping lists like The Seven Wonders of the Mediaeval World, or The Seven Wonders of the Natural World, etc.  Eventually I came across The Seven Wonders of Canada, a list selected in 2007 by a CBC sponsored panel of judges with advice (largely ignored) from a nationwide poll.  (The runaway winner of the poll, Thunder Bay’s Sleeping Giant, was excluded from the list despite receiving over twice as many votes as the runner-up, Niagara Falls.  Yeah, that Niagara Falls.)

Fig. 1: He's so gonna be pissed when he wakes up.

Anyway the list itself can best be described as “fucking ridiculous”.  This description could be elaborated upon with the remarks that it’s “thoroughly embarrassing” and “represents the worst of Canada’s stereotypical self-enforced mediocrity”.

Here it is in all its lame pandering glory (in no particular, presumably, order):

1. The Canoe

2. The Igloo

3. Niagara Falls

4. Old Quebec

5. Pier 21, Halifax

6. Prairie Skies

7. The Rockies

What a load of dog balls.  For fuck’s sake, smarten up, people.

I mean, okay, so 4 and 5 make sense as bona fide historical sites and Niagara Falls and The Rockies are incredible natural wonders, although I find the inclusion of natural phenomena violates the spirit of the original classical list.  And besides, The Rockies are awesome mountains and all, but the entry’s a little vague, what with them stretching over thousands miles.  Quite literally it’s a bit of a stretch.  Perhaps picking one particular range would work.

Anyway, it’s 1, 2, and 6 that really jump the shark.  I mean, really, The Igloo?  We’re stacking a dome of ice bricks against the Statue of Zeus?

Fig. 2: Made of gold. Solid fucking gold.

Don’t get me wrong, igloos are fantastic structures: most functional in every way, indeed a symbol of the Inuit’s amazing ability to survive in a ridiculously harsh environment.  But “Wonders” aren’t about actual utilitarian awesomeness; they’re about unique places that people are drawn to, both in their imagination (via culture) and literally as tourists.  Y’know, things like the CN Tower, which is inexplicably absent from the list.

Fig. 3: Perhaps they thought it was giving them the finger.

The Canoe is also a similarly inexcusable inclusion, perhaps more so.  I mean, we didn’t even invent the bloody thing, it just played a part in our mythical formation.  Could you imagine if the automobile was included in a list of United States of American Wonders?  Nonsense, not even worthy of deconstruction.

The main problem with both The Igloo and The Canoe is that they’re not singular objects, so to speak, but rather general concepts of which there are many examples Platonically reflected throughout the world.  Basically, there’s no such thing as The Igloo, there’s just a igloo — many of them in fact. What the panel over at the CEEB seems to have failed to realize is that Wonders have to have an aura, a unique essence imprinted (and that imprints) upon our collective conscious.

Fig. 4: Walter Benjamin knows what I'm talking about.

This aura is inextricably bound up with them each being a particular structure — be it artificial or natural — in a specific geographic location.  The term “landmark” covers the concept quite well.  Igloos and canoes, on the other hand, are not particular places or things, but generalized, abstract categories of  serialized objects that may have national or historical significance, but are certainly, almost by definition, not Wonders.

So that leaves Praire Skies, however, as the most egregious offender.  Leaving aside any aura considerations, the indictment is threefold:

1. Even just the name reeks of hippie lameness, or perhaps the world’s most bland aftershave.

2. It’s not even a goddamned thing: they’re including a large expanse of empty space as the one of the country’s greatest wonders.

And 3.  Following from that, it shows, as does the list as a whole, that Canada, and in this instance the prairies in particular, is rather deficient in the whole wonder department  — to the point that our lack of wonder is itself a Wonder.

Now, I would like to think that this is not true, so here’s my list.  Or rather lists, since I will have a separate list for natural wonders to keep true to the spirit of Herotodus’ original.  Natural Wonders first, then.

The Seven Natural Wonders of Canada

1.  Niagara Falls: Even though we share it with the U.S., the pretty bit’s on our side.

Fig. 5: Puny American Falls not pictured.

2.  Bay of Fundy: Highest tides in the world, my man.

Fig. 6: All tide up.

3.  Lake Manicouagan: Big ol’ eye looking out into space.  Could possibly be included below due to human enlargement.

Fig. 7: Impact.

4.  The Badlands of Alberta: Possible location where Stanley Kubrick may have faked the moon landing.  The other possible location, Sudbury, is far too unpleasant to be included.

Fig. 8: Hoodoo Dream.

5.  Banff National Park: Containing the Columbia Ice Fields, Castle Mountain, and Lake Louise, the park could almost generate a list by itself.  Also contains the hydrological centre of North America: where the watersheds of the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific Oceans meet.

Fig. 9: Gotta get some mountain shit in there.

6.  Tuktoyaktuk Pingos:  A collection of giant mounds of earth-covered ice up by the Arctic Sea.  Possible location where Christopher Nolan will fake the landing on Europa.

Fig. 10: All these worlds are yours...

7.   The Sleeping Giant: Meh, according to the original poll, 178,000 or so people can’t be argued with, even if most of them are the entire population of Thunder Bay.

Fig. 11: Nope, still not up yet.

The Seven Wonders of Canada

1.  L’Anse Aux Meadows: Viking settlement, earliest known European occupation of The Americas.  That has to count for something.

Fig. 12: Not as interesting without the looting and pillaging.

2.  Canadian Pacific Railway: Yeah, it’s just a railroad track, but it did build a country, or so I’m told, and anyway, it’s a much better symbol than a frickin’ canoe.

Fig. 13: On the other hand, it did inspire a Gordon Lightfoot song.

3.  Confederation Bridge:  At almost 13 kilometres in length, it’s one of the largest bridges in the world.  Classic case of Wonderdom.

Fig. 14: The Fixed Link.

4.  West Edmonton Mall: How do you deal with the metaphysical mind-numbing one gets from contemplating the endless Prairie Skies (goddamnit)?  Why, going shopping of course.  Sure, it’s no longer the biggest mall in the world, but it’s still got a bunch of waterparks.  And more working submarines than the Canadian Navy.

Fig. 15: Almost makes you forget you're in Edmonton.

5.  Old Quebec: Just to show that not of all of our history is appropriated.

Fig. 16: Quaint only by North American standards.

6.  Vegreville Egg: It’s the biggest Easter Egg in the world.  On a concrete stick.  Now, see, that’s what World Wonders are all about, not this useful igloo nonsense.

Fig. 17: Oh, Canada.

7.  The CN Tower: Obvious, really.

Fig. 18: Yeah, fuck you too, Toronto.

To the person who tried to enter my apartment last night:

•March 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

A True Story

I’m sorry.  I’m sure you’re rather embarrassed about this.  Perhaps you don’t remember; you were presumably drunk and had gotten off at the wrong floor.  Anyway, no harm no foul; it was quite funny in a Kramerican sort of way.

My apologies for not letting you in or even opening the door.  My place is a shambles, and I didn’t want anyone to see all the dead bodies.  Ha ha.  I’m just kidding; there’s only one.  And Lord knows I didn’t want to have to add another to the pile.  I had already been alarmed by your wrasslings at the lock, so I was a little jittery and when I gets me a case of the jitters, people gets killed.

At first I thought it was just someone passing through the corridor.  But then it persisted.  I looked through the peep-hole, but there was no-one.  Clearly you have attained the secrets of invisibility through the dark arts (I myself would opt for flight), or else have obtained some sort of cloaking device, most likely from Romulan sources.

At that moment, I was seized by a sudden fear: what if the sound was coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!?  A quick movement to other locations in the apartment revealed that this was a false lead and that the sound was indeed coming from the front door.

I went back: what could it be?  Perhaps it was someone bent down, trying to pass me note under the door.  There was a lot of heavy breathing and clawing sounds, though. Was some type of goddamn wild animal trying to get all up in my shit?  Man, the last time I was in that sort of situation, a tiger got lit on fire (fortunately, it had been Scotch-guarded).

It is perhaps a good thing then, that before reaching for my flares, I inquired verbally “Hello? I think you have the wrong apartment.”  When you answered back “I’m so sorry”, I realized it was not a wolverine or a zombie or anything, but rather a young lady (perhaps from upstairs, in which case: what’s with all the carpentry sounds?).

Anyway, you seem nice and I admired the fact that you persisted at the door for so long while I puzzled over the intrusionary rattlings and made adjustments to my fortifications.  It shows a real commitment to a task: as far as you were concerned you were at the right door, it was just a matter of getting that damnable key to work.  When reality fails to accord with your presuppositions, fuck that shit and keep jabbling the key until it does!

We could use a person of your spirit in our organization.  Perhaps, after you’ve sobered up, we could hang out.  I do need a hand disposing of a dead body.

On The L’Arbre du Ténéré

•March 8, 2010 • 1 Comment

Vehicular Arborcide

Y’ever hear about the Tree of Ténéré?  No?  Well it was the most isolated tree in the world.  Was.

Fig. 1: A tree where no tree should be.

Standing in a particularly barren part of the Sahara in northeastern Niger, this solitary specimen of the Acacia tortilis species served as a landmark for caravan routes across the desert for centuries, what with it being the only remotely remarkable object in the area.  A shrivelled atavism leftover from a long gone forest, it persisted on alone, four hundred kilometers away from the nearest other tree.

Fig. 2: Cue "Jaws" music.

Alas, not unlike good rock music, the tree died in 1973 when a Libyan drunk driver crashed into it and brought an end to, according to growth rings, 300 years of woody goodness.

Now in the fuck can that happen? I mean, come on!

The only thing for miles around — literally the only object on an otherwise vast and featureless plain —  and he somehow manages not to miss it?  It’s not like he didn’t know it was there: the L’Arbre du Ténéré was marked on maps at a scale of 1:4,000,000 (that would be the scale used for a map of Brazil or Canada or, say, the Middle East).

Fig. 3: A map at a scale of 1:4,000,000. Now imagine a tree being marked on that.

Moreover, unless there were witnesses, how on earth did anyone find out about it?  Of course, given its landmark status and the fact that there’s a well there, there’s bound to be witnesses around, but I like to imagine the guy skidding into town screaming, “Hey, you know that lone tree out there in the desert? Yeah, I totally hit that shit!”

Still, you’ve gotta think that destroying an important historical landmark and poignant symbol of nature’s hardiness in the face of sheer adversity must take its toll on a man.  Probably one of the worst hangovers in the history of humankind.

Oddly, this wasn’t the first time that the tree had had an unfortunate run in with the business end of a motorized vehicle. In the late thirties, the French were digging a well there (after all, if there’s a tree, there’s gotta be some water thereabouts), and one of the trucks spontaneously backed into the tree, severing one of the branches.

Somehow, however, that one seems, well, almost reasonable compared to some berk careening randomly through the desert and unprobably running into the tree.  After all, it made sense for there to be truck right near for the well-digging and all.

Anyway, after carting the remains of the dead tree to the National Museum in Niamey, the Nigeriens (who are difficult to orthographically distinguish from inhabitants of Nigeria) set up a metal sculpture on the site in its memory.

Fig. 4: The new and improved L'Arbre du Ténéré. Now 200% more truck resistant

Kind of sad, really.  A monument to say, “Yeah, there once was a tree here.”  A roadside attraction, the attraction being that there is no longer any roadside attraction.  And so, what was once a symbol of life’s endurance against the bitter hardship of the world is now reduced into a gaunt reminder of lost beauty and an admonishing to all that even the hardiest can be felled by the whims of cruel chance.

And, possibly, the schemes of Muammar Gaddafi.