Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mickey Mouse: Race To Death Valley by Floyd Gottfredson

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse: Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse: "Race to Death Valley" (Vol. 1) by Floyd Gottfredson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The genesis of a soulless corporate mascot gone global was, incredibly, a robust and vibrant affair that developed daily in the newspapers of North America all through the Great Depression. Via the pen and ink of Floyd Gottfredson, Mickey Mouse was portrayed as an embattled and even occasionally embittered little character who struggled mightily against the odds, sometimes just to keep from despair. The strips are reproduced at scale, with a clarity of contrast that brings out Gottfredson's fine line work. This is quite simply the very best reproduction that Gottfredson's work has received to date, surpassing (certainly) the original newsprint and even the glossy Uncensored Mouse collection from '89.

NB: this volume includes the legendary, "Mickey Attempts Suicide" storyline (a personal favorite).

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay

Under HeavenUnder Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first novel by Kay, even though my wife has been a fan of his writing for as long as I’ve known her. I’m reluctant to pick up fantasy, unless it’s of the mischievous po-mo variety — which seems never to have been Kay’s bent. I think I mistook his seriousness for an unsophisticated earnestness, and laboured under the misapprehension that Canada was offering up a fey Robert Jordan to the world of letters.

Guy Gavriel Kay is most certainly not that. Under Heaven is a meticulously wrought thriller that tightens its suspense through the various levels of intrigue — sexual, psychological, military, historical — that work subtle manipulations in the Emperor’s Court. At times I was reminded of the best of James Clavel’s work — Tai Pan, King Rat; Boris Pasternak’s deep, poetic yearnings of the soul during the heart-rending sequences of war also came to mind.

Minor kvetch: early in the novel a sequence of disastrous events is foiled by supernatural forces. It only happens once, and unfortunately had the effect of putting me on edge the rest of the novel, wondering when, or if, this was going to happen again. I don’t think I’m spoiling it for the reader if I reveal that this intervention is singular — in fact, my own reading would have been much improved if I’d known. I’m surprised at Kay’s choice, and think the novel might have worked better if he’d manipulated the scene differently.

Regardless, this very enjoyable and moving novel has nudged me into exploring more of Kay’s unique ouevre.

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P.S.: Goodreads chose an unfortunate cover. If that had been on the book I read, I wouldn't have read it. I do judge a book by its cover, for better or worse.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Cyclathon

When I was a kid in the 70s, the summer camp I went to held a yearly “cyclathon” fundraiser. Kids rode their bicycles to the camp; the camp collected money (and mailing addresses) from the marks who sponsored the kids. It was a pennies-per-mile arrangement, and the distance to the camp was rounded down to 100 miles, completed over two consecutive days.

I managed this feat twice, when I was 12 and 13 years old. I rode a CCM five-speed, wore cheap sneakers, tube-socks and polyester gitch purchased at the local “Style-Rite” store, and threw on a pair of recent cut-offs. T-shirt was optional (for boys) and using sunscreen (or “suntan lotion,” as it was so quaintly referred to) was unheard of.

There was a great deal to endure besides the dreary reality of churning through a day’s worth of Canadian grasslands. The event drew an enormous crowd of participants, which put me on edge even back then. Participants were divvied up into groups of six or eight; you could request, and be reasonably assured of, the company of a friend, but after that it was the luck of the draw who you wound up with. My memories of both groups are marked by disagreeable loud-mouthed lunks who were maybe two years away from impregnating and marrying their first wives. And despite the fact that everyone had just pedaled close to 60 miles that first day, it seemed like I was the only one keen on getting a good night’s sleep.

In the days leading up to my second cyclathon I was bed-ridden with a wrenching case of diarrhea. Nevertheless, the dawn of departure found me gingerly perched on top of my bicycle, ready to go. Ten miles later, I was lying in a ditch, staring up at the blue sky and wondering why I wasn’t on my bike anymore. I sat in the camp director’s truck for a few minutes, sipping on a warm coke and answering the man’s questions (“How much money did you raise? How are you feeling now?”). He urged me on, so on I went. Lunch was hot dogs, chips and pop; supper was sloppy joe sandwiches.

And yet — and yet — despite all this my predominant emotional memory of these two rides is one of happiness. Despite being too sore to walk, never mind ride, the second day of cycling felt like a gift. The flat and wind-swept prairies were decisively left behind for the rugged and rolling terrain of the Canadian Shield, a welcome variety that couldn’t help but lift the spirits. Even better, our group leader was now worn down to indifference, and no longer made any effort to keep the group together. Now my buddy and I could pedal in peace, enjoying the scenery and discussing what mattered most — Star Trek — while the others pushed ahead to see who could arrive at the camp and plunge into the frigid waters first.

But more than that, those trips offered a very welcome and lasting change in perspective. An adolescent kid living in a small town surrounded by seemingly endless prairie will tend to think of himself as “stuck” if he doesn’t have access to a car with a full tank of gas. A 12-year-old kid who got on his bike and pedaled from that small town to his favorite summer camp 100 miles away thinks very differently about his circumstances — so long as he has access to a bicycle. There are at least four guys I know from my cyclathon days who went on to do fabulous multi-week bicycle tours of exotic locales, long before “outfitters” showed up to offer their decadently comfortable and nutritious versions of the cyclathon.

Last Saturday as the fam celebrated my birthday with pecan pie on the porch, the younger asked me where I’d bicycled that morning. “Zephyr,” I said.

“Whoah. That’s far.”

It was a 65 kilometre round trip. But far? Well . . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2011

1979, Revisited

Over at the Onion AV Club, Sean O'Neal offers a perspective on the 1979 music scene that is considerably more cultivated than my own. Head over there for some relief from all this meatball rock.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Grade 9, Final Track

"Up To My Neck In You," AC/DC

Okay, I lied. After yesterday's hokey song I couldn't see my way around any more fitting an endnote than an anthem from the Bon Scott years. Is it worth adding that this is a band that, so far as I'm concerned, never fully recovered from the death of their lead singer and best song-writer? I know the Mutt Lange albums brought in the money and cemented their fame in the USA, but seriously: once Bon died the songs struggled to achieve so much as a single entendre.

Anyway, it almost feels like a relief to end this disc, doesn't it? And it could have been so much worse. Some of the acts I considered and dismissed include: Styx, The Carpenters, Donnie Iris, Max Webster, Ian Thomas, Greg Khin, even (choke) Journey.

Thank your lucky stars, dude.

Alright: now it's your turn. Awaiting your reply,

Your godfaddah.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Grade 9, Track 21

"I Remember You," Frank Ifield

But this Slim Whitman performance of the same song -- for Andy Kaufman! -- is more worth your viewing time.

And finally . . .

Monday, June 13, 2011

Grade 9, Tracks 19 & 20

"Face The Day," The Angels; "Don't Let The Morning Come," Parchment

One person's sunshine and lollipop can be another's lament for the light of the early morning sun. You get two of the latter, because I'm still fond of them both.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Grade 9, Track 18

"Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," Lesley Gore

Heh, heeeeeegh . . . next!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Grade 9, Track 17

“Gettin' Nowhere Fast,” Jason & The Scorchers

Wup — here we are at the present (where I've un-learned how to count). But it was a mixed tape of Jason & The Scorchers songs that got this loopy tradition going, back when you and your dad were bachelors, and the song seems to fit the motif.

Rockin' photo source: Collin Peterson


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Grade 9, Track 16

“Rock The Casbah,” The Clash

There is a sound that a band makes when its members can no longer stand the sight of each other. If the listener hasn't been a fan from the beginning, she could be forgiven for thinking it's possibly their best sound to date. It is tight and bright and catchy as hell, but it also lacks a certain looseness, a sense of play behind the work that was so evident at the very beginning.

This is that sound.


Grade 9, Track 17

“Theme To The Mod Squad,” Earle Hagen

Earle Hagen's not-so-mod ditty has made me want to sprint ever since I was six years old.


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Winnipeg, And The NHL: "Winning Doesn't Just Happen"

Winnipeg finally gets another crack at playing host to an NHL franchise. I should be happy — nay, ecstatic — for the city of my youth, but I’m having trouble finding that note.

If there’s a city on this continent that ought to be the North American Hockey Capital, it’s Winnipeg. You won’t find a longer, colder winter this side of Iqaluit; the locals love the game, more than any other sport they play host to; and I believe the season ticket sales will likely show the citizens to be as loyal to their team as Toronto is to its pathetic Leafs — if we analyze the stats on a per capita basis.

Scout around and the tenor of most analysts is a “The glass is at least half-full!” I’m resolutely “half-empty” in my perspective, so here’s how I see the Winnipeg situation.

The NHL has not been kind to Winnipeg. When John Ziegler and Brian O’Neill finally opened the door for the WHA, and Winnipeg’s Jets, to enter the NHL, it was under the condition Winnipeg put three of its six best scorers up in a reclamation draft. This, coupled with some characteristically bone-headed managerial strategies, reduced Winnipeg to a farm team scraping for its next big break.

After two abysmal seasons — one a record-setter, of the sort that people strive to avoid — Winnipeg learned to perform respectably enough in the grand scheme of things. But in a division dominated by Calgary and Super-Edmonton, they never made it past the first round of play-offs. Once Gary Bettman followed Gretzky’s lead and dug for gold in the southern states, the writing was on the wall for Winnipeg.

Guy Vanderhaeghe once remarked about life on the prairies, “We have our wealthy citizens — but they’re not that wealthy.” Nowhere does this hold truer than in Winnipeg. Does the place really have more money flowing through it than it did 15 years ago? A betting man could make a persuasive case that the US greenback is down for the count bringing those recently-capped players' salaries within almost-affordable range, but even so, what’s Winnipeg got beyond an assured fan base to keep a team happy and well-fed? Hydro, life insurance and a furniture factory. Who am I missing?

Weirdly enough, for a guy who consciously chose to move to Toronto, I actually feel protective toward the city I was born in. I can remember a disgruntled quaterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers trying to get out of his contract so he could play the NFL complaining that, when it came to life in the city, “There are only so many times you can go to the zoo.” I happen to think the culture scene in Winnipeg is more vibrant and inviting than it is in, say, Toronto. But if you prefer to live in a city where the temperature doesn’t dip below freezing, and your idea of seeing the sights is a strip bar with more than five poles — and let’s face it, I’ve just described 99% of pro hockey players — then Winnipeg can be a tough sell. And I haven’t even mentioned the mosquitoes.

But hey: maybe I’m out to lunch on all this. Maybe those young guys from Atlanta are keen to play for a crowd that’s passionate about the game. Maybe this is a sign that Bettman’s rethink of league expansion is finally pointed in the right direction. Detroit's a city that's been on the ropes for decades, and yet it’s got a Stanley legacy — why not Winnipeg?

Here’s the great thing about being a genial pessimist: nothing makes me happier than being proven wrong.

Go, Winnipeg. Go.