Thursday, 28 March 2013

C. Thomas Howell: From Brat Pack to cult leader

C. Thomas Howell at left poses with Nathan Fillion
when Howell guest starred recently on "Castle"
C. Thomas Howell
in "Red Dawn"
21st century brat pack
It’s so strange how one day a group of actors can be so prevalent they seem to be everywhere, then they’re all gone just as fast. Today, we can turn on the TV or check out the movie listings and see the latest movie with a combination of Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, and Jonah Hill.

Just under 30 years ago there was a different, more serious, younger group of guys who used to be everywhere. C. Thomas Howell was one of them, and he got me thinking about the rest of them when he recently guest starred on "Castle" as a crazed cult leader.
The movie poster for "Red Dawn"
From left are Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell,
and Charlie Sheen in a scene from "Red Dawn"
There was Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, his brother Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, and much more. They were all in "The Outsiders" and would proliferate to dozens of ‘80s movies.
"The Outsiders", from left are Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph
Macchio, Patrick Swayze, and Tom Cruise. This group of actors was all over the movies in the 1980s.

C. Thomas Powell was never actually part of that Brat Pack, but he was part of that crop of young actors you kept seeing in the 1980s. His first major role was in "E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial". He went on to play in "Grandview, U.S.A.", "The Hitcher" with Rutger Hauer, "Secret Admirer", and "Soul Man". In this last movie in particular, he demonstrated he can be an engaging and endearing leading man. Yet he was never the striking, overpowering leading man some of the others were, evidenced by the fact he really did not have those defining, breakout roles like Patrick Swayze did in "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost"; Charlie Sheen had in "Platoon" and "Wall Street"; Tom Cruise had in "Risky Business", "Top Gun" and "Rain Man"; Ralph Macchio had in "The Karate Kid"; Emilio Estevez had in "The Breakfast Club" and "St. Elmo's Fire"; or Rob Lowe had in "St. Elmo's Fire" and "About Last Night…". In fact, Howell's breakout role, looking back, should have been in "The Outsiders". Variety magazine even said, "Howell is truly impressive, a bulwark of relative stability in a sea of posturing and pretense." Instead, C. Thomas Howell never did break out like his peers, but turned into a solid supporting actor. He continues that work now, mostly on TV in guest spots on "Torchwood", "Crminal Minds", and "Castle", and a recurring role in "Southland". He also appeared in "The Amazing Spider Man" in 2012.

It is interesting C. Thomas Howell re-surfaced. One of his most well-known movies was "Red Dawn", and recently a remake of that movie hit theatres. I haven't seen it, so it will be interesting to see how a Cold War movie will be remade in a post-Cold War era.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Home sick with the measles: Discovering Canada AM

Pamela Wallin
Norm Perry
Sandie Rinaldo
Sick from school
It was Grade 4 on a Wednesday afternoon. My stomach was itchy and, near the end of the day, I discovered a bunch of red spots on my tummy. It was the red measles. I showed my teacher Mrs. Lastuka who told me to stay home. That’s right, I actually flashed her my spotted belly.

My mom instantly knew I had to stay home. We figured it was near the end of the week, and I likely would not be better in a day or two, but for sure would be with four days rest.

So, I stayed home. One of the traditions in our house, and many others I later found out, is recuperating by lying under blankets on the couch in the living room. So I camped out for days on the couch, starting on Wednesday night when I got home from school.

Sleep was fitful, and I awoke early in the morning. I turned on the TV and flipped through our three channels to discover the only thing worth watching: Canada AM. It was hosted by Pamela Wallin and Norm Perry, and Sandie Rinaldo read the news. They were all much younger.

Two mornings to shape a lifetime
There are certain things I remember about those two days. They did a retrospective on the different Canada AM coffee cups over time. There were movie reviews, Wally Macht did sports, and lots of news. To be honest, the fact Romper Room immediately followed Canada AM, then CBC had The Friendly Giant and Mr. Dressup stuck out more for me. Still, that's when I first saw Canada AM and it left a lasting impression. My interest has waxed and waned depending on the hosts, because they really set the tone for the show. (Interestingly, as the 1980s closed, a familiar face joined Canada AM: John Roberts, the former MuchMusic veejay gone legit. We all knew him as "J.D." Roberts). The current trio of Beverly Thomson, Marci Ien and Jeff Hutcheson are solid, so I have been watching Canada AM more lately. There is a certain comfort knowing it will be there in the morning. It has been, virtually my whole life.

This year is the 40th anniversary of Canada AM, and recently I checked out an online retrospective. It really brought back a lot of memories and reminded me of that first time I ever watched the show. For a trip down memory lane, and a look at the past 40 years of Canada AM, please visit the source of those photos:

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Echoes of 1987: My first Final Four

For the first time since the 1987 NCAA men's basketball national championship game, the Indiana Hoosiers are playing the Syracuse Orange. March Madness is well under way, and the tournament is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The broadcasters have been talking about the great moments in the past, and asking viewers to pick their all-time, all-tournament team. It got me thinking about the very first Final Four game I ever saw.

Things were never easy on the farm. No channel on peasant vision ever carried college basketball, not any game whatsoever. If I wanted to watch a game, I'd have to find a way into town to watch someone's cable TV. That usually meant finding a ride, which was not always easy either. Luckily, by March of 1987 I had finally earned my licence. I had been following the tournament as best as I could, given I had no access to cable TV or a daily newspaper. My best friend Chris Vining was following the tournament and filled me in too.

The Final Four was set: Indiana would play UNLV, and Providence would play Syracuse. I missed Indiana beat UNLV, and got to Vining's place in Coaldale just in time for the game that Saturday night.

Remembering my first time
Providence coach Rick Pitino, at left, shouts out
instructions as Billy Donavan focuses (AP photo).
Oddly, I had seen Syracuse earlier that season when we visited my brother in Calgary, so I was familiar with some of their players: Howard Triche, Sherman Douglas, and especially Greek centre Rony Seikaly. I remembered Douglas used to throw the ball up in kind of an alley oop and Seikaly would dunk it. However, it kind of looked like a shot and Seikaly actually looked like he was reaching into the cylinder, which is illegal. The announcers even pointed that out.

Providence was all new to me. I had heard over the previous week how they had pulled some upsets, including a shocker against Big East rival Georgetown, to make the Final Four. They were led by this sharp-shooting guard named Billy "The Kid" Donovan who killed teams with his three-point shooting. They were the under dogs, and I have always cheered for the under dog.

What I will always remember is being so excited to watch my first Final Four game. My excitement built as they announced the starting lineups. To my surprise, Providence had a player from Canada named David Kipfer in their starting line-up. That cinched it. I was cheering for the Fryars. (I was just as surprised to find on YouTube a clip of them announcing the line-ups. Sadly, it starts just as they are halfway through announcing David Kipfer).

Yet, it was not meant to be. Seikaly and his Orange teammates were too much for Cinderella, and the clock struck midnight for the Providence Fryars. Syracuse would go on to play Indiana on Monday night for the national championship.

That game would have one of the best finishes ever, a last second winning shot by Keith Smart over the outstretched hand of Rony Seikaly, but I only got to hear the result on the radio, and see the highlights the next day on the news. Damn that peasant vision.

Jim Boeheim is still coaching Syracuse.
From 1987 to 2013
That clip has a lot of people having a big impact on this year's tournament.

Rick Pitino, who was in his second year coaching Providence, is now coaching the number-one seeded Louisville Cardinals. He has had quite a circuitous coaching career with some time in the pros, and a national championship with the Kentucky Wildcats in 1996 sandwiched in between there. His Cardinals play Oregon in this year's Sweet 16.

Billy "The Kid" Donavan finished his playing days and was eventually recruited by his old coach Pitino to be an assistant at Kentucky. Donovan eventually got a head coaching job with the Florida Gators where he has taken them to three national championship games, and won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007. Donovan is no longer the under dog. Instead his Gators are facing perhaps the greatest under dog ever in the Sweet 16 in the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. The Eagles are the first ever 15-seed to make it this far.

Jim Boeheim is the most direct link from 1987 to this year's tournament. He is still coaching the Syracuse Orange. He took them to a final in 1996 where they lost to Pitino's Kentucky Wildcats, and finally won a championship in 2003. He coached Howard Triche in that 1987 tournament, and is now coaching Howard's nephew Brandon Triche this year.
In a haunting similarity to 1987, Syracuse is playing Indiana, the first time they have met in the tournament since 1987.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Don't Dream it's Over: Picking the hits

Games people play
Me and my best friend Chris Vining used to have this game we’d play, where we’d try to figure out what the next big radio hit would be. That comes from hours of working by ourselves at a greenhouse.

One day, he says, “I’ve got it.”

“What?” I asked.

“I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight by Cutting Crew,” he said.

“No,” I scoffed. “Don’t Dream It’s Over by Crowded House.”

“Are you kidding,” Vining said. “You can’t even understand all the words.”

Well, as the weeks passed by, the two songs followed each other up the charts. I told him Crowded House had some pedigree. It was made up of some of the guys from Split Enz. We all loved them because of that record they had a few years before that had designs cut into the vinyl itself by laser. Cutting Crew was new on the scene.
One day Saturday morning, Vining made a breakthrough.

"I think I've got it," he said.

I was puzzled.

"The third line, I think I've figured it out."

The album cover for Crowded House's
self-titled debut album "Crowded House"
The album cover for Cutting
Crew's debut album "Broadcast"
Lead singer Neil Finn tried to stuff as many words as humanly possible into it, and I couldn't understand it, no matter how hard I tried.

"Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup," he said.

"What?" I said. "That doesn't make sense."

Sure enough, the song came on the radio not too much after and Vining was bang on. There is an even more dense line, that I still haven't completely figured out.

Our contest concluded with Cutting Crew hitting number one. I heard it on Casey Kasem's Coast to Coast Countdown. I thought I was alone when I heard the news. Then, from the confines of that greenhouse's washroom, I could hear Vining yell: "Hey Vogt, did you hear who's number one."

I had a lump in my throat. It was the pride I had to swallow.

"Ya," I said. "But Crowded House is number two."

But number two is the first loser, on the Billboard charts, and especially to competitive teenagers. Although I take solace in the fact both songs hit number one on the Canadian charts.

The test of time
Cutting Crew may have won that battle but they lost the war. They have been relegated to the list of one-hit wonders of the 1980s, although that is a bit unfair. Their debut album "Broadcast" had a couple other great songs too: "One for the Mockingbird", which made an appearance in one of my favourite all time movies, "Can't Buy Me Love"; and "I've Been in Love Before", which actually hit number nine on Billboard. They petered out after that.

Crowded House had a couple great songs follow from their debut album, namely "Something So Strong", which also hit the top 10 on Billboard, and "The World That We Live". They kept on producing music, following up with their second album "Temple of Low Men", and the single "Better be Home Soon".

Neither band hit the level of success they had with their first albums, and the epic battle for number one their two songs waged in the spring of 1987.

The true test of longevity for me is simple. "Don't Dream it's Over" has been on Glee, and "I Just Died in Your Arms" has not.

And finally I understand all the words.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Jason Bateman: Paying tribute to his TV mom

The cast of "Valerie" with Jason Bateman
 and Valerie Bateman between 
Danny Ponce and Jeremy Licht.
Remembering TV mama
Jason Bateman has been back in the spotlight lately with his latest movie "Identity Theft", but also for a comment he made a couple weeks ago that harkens back to a role he played in the 1980s.

Bateman played the eldest son David in the sitcom "Valerie" starring Valerie Harper. Recently, she announced she is suffering from brain cancer, and the following story appeared at:

Jason Bateman's touching message to Valerie Harper 
Following the news Wednesday that Valerie Harper was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, actor Jason Bateman provided ET with an exclusive message of support."Valerie is someone that I've learned a great deal from. Not just comedically but also in her ability to put whomever approached her, or worked with her, completely at ease with a laugh and an energy that's intoxicating," the "Identity Thief" star said in a statement to ET."My thoughts and love go out to her and her family," added Bateman, who played Harper's son on the 1980s sitcom "Valerie."

Familiar face, familiar name
It’s hard to believe that Jason Bateman and I are the same age. I basically grew up with him. It started with "It’s Your Move", a short-lived series where he played a teenage con man living a secret life from his hapless mother (played by Caren Kaye). Back then he was probably better known as the younger brother of Justine Bateman who played Mallory Keaton on "Family Ties". He had also played Ricky Stratton's (Rick Schroeder) conniving friend Derek on "Silver Spoons".

Bateman resurfaced in 1986 with the comedy "Valerie", where he played the eldest son of a family led by Valerie Harper, in her first major series since "Rhoda" was cancelled. The interesting thing about that show was a contract disagreement with Harper led to her departure. Sandy Duncan was cast as the new lead, and the name of the show changed to "Valerie's Family" then "The Hogan Family", then eventually the "Hogans".

He also played a role in "Necessary Roughness", one of my favourite football movies which starred Scott Bakula, who was playing Sam Beckett in "Quantum Leap" at the time.

It was not until "Arrested Development" that I reacquainted myself with Bateman, then "The Switch" and some of his other movies. A buddy of mine saw "Identify Thief" and just raved about it

One of these is not like the others
Jason Bateman managed to survive his life as a teenage star unlike some of the other teen stars of his era such as Gary Coleman and Dana Plato whose issues caught up with them in adulthood. Bateman too battled addiction but has managed to survive and prosper. He is married to Paul Anka's daughter Amanda, and they have two daughters. He has seemed to come out the other end of his problems.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

MuchMusic: When it was about music

Do you remember a time, long, long ago when MuchMusic used to play – music videos? It seems crazy now given the preponderence of reality shows, movies, and other talking heads.

A personal connection
We didn’t get Muchmusic back on the farm, but a tragedy brought Muchmusic into my life soon after it went on the air in 1984. My grandmother – my mom’s mom – got sick and would never leave the hospital, eventually passing away on Christmas Eve of 1984. My parents visited her in hospital in Lethbridge quite a bit, and afterwards we would go to my Uncle Ed and Aunt Johanna’s. She is my mom’s baby sister, only sister actually.

Carl Schurman, my cousin
the musician, who really
introduced me to Muchmusic.
My cousin Carl was a musician, and at the time was breaking hearts in Southern Alberta with his band Split Image which later evolved into Heartbeat. Anyway, he was four years older than me almost to the day (his birth date was one day after mine), and I always tried to hang around him.

He wasn’t around much, but one day he was. My aunt invited me to go downstairs where he was watching TV. I remember it well. He  was sitting with his sister’s boyfriend watching MuchMusic. I recall Christopher Ward was the veejay, and him saying, “We’re broadcasting from beautiful downtown Canada.” We watched videos for probably an hour, with a minimum of interruption from commercials or Christopher Ward. It was kind of like listening to the radio only on TV.

Veejays Christopher Ward, Denise
Donlon, Michael Williams, and Erica Ehm
Veejays Erica Ehm and J.D. Roberts.
The veejays
I was so excited to see MuchMusic at last. Earlier that year I had read an article in TV Scene about its launch. It was like MTV in concept, but uniquely Canadian. There were four veejays: Christopher Ward, Michael Williams, J.D. Roberts, and Eric Ehm. Muchmusic had kind of evolved from the TV show The New Music Magazine, which I saw a few episodes of on Channel 7 on the farm. That’s where I first saw J.D. Roberts too, because he migrated over from The New Music to Muchmusic. All of it was the brainchild of TV pioneer Moses Znaimer.

Where are they now?
How far all four of those original veejays have come from those beginnings 28 years ago. Every week I see Michael Williams on CTV News Channel as an entertainment commentator. Older, a little heavier, and longer hair with dreadlocks, I recognized him immediately by the trademark deep voice. Seeing him last week actually inspired this entry. Christopher Ward went on to be a pretty prolific songwriter, including writing some songs that went big sung by Alannah Miles. Erica Ehm has become a spokesperson for her generation of mothers, hitting it big again with her whole Yummie Mummie thing. Perhaps, the biggest and most profound change was J.D. Roberts. You may have seen him lately as John Roberts, a newsman in the States. At one point he was even rumoured to be one of the possible successors to Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News. It was a long way from introducing the latest Wham! Video.

Changing the channels
When you look at that old MuchMusic commercial it shows how times have changed. There used to be so few specialty channels, consumers could buy them individually. Basically you had MuchMusic, TSN, and Super Choice First Choice, to choose from. Now all these dozens of channels are bundled together in tiers. You would never see a commercial for one of them offering a price, or a deal.

Increased access
Once I started hanging out with Chris Vining, who had cable, we used to watch videos at his place on Friday nights before we went to Lethbridge to hang out at the YMCA and cruise the strip. If it wasn’t too late, we’d watch some more when we got back, usually after midnight.

It was in res when I went to the University of Alberta that I spent the most time with Much. The Coca Cola Countdown on Friday nights was a staple, either during supper, or when they replayed it after midnight. There was the Pepsi Power Hour for our heavy metal fans, and French Kiss I think it was called which usually had a bunch of slow love songs.

But, it all started for me back in 1984. I will always have a special place in my heart for that early Muchmusic, because it provided a distraction from the tragedy unfolding with my grandmother in the hospital.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Holding out for a Hero: From Footloose to Cover Up to Glee

The album cover for Bonnie Tyler's
"Faster Than the Speed of Night".
It was a gravelly voice that was strangely compelling. I’m talking about Bonnie Tyler who, in the mid-1980s, had a pretty major run of success that lasted about two years.

If memory serves, her first hit was “It’s a Heartache” back in 1977, then throat cancer threatened much more than her career – it threatened her life. She beat it and made a major comeback in the early 1980s. It was 1983 and she teamed up with Jim Steinman, who had had so much success with Meat Loaf on Bat Out of Hell. The hit that started it, and turned out to be the biggest of all, was called “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and it soared to number one on the Billboard charts.

The first time I ever heard the album Faster Than the Speed of Night was at a sleep over in Grade 9 at my buddy Mike Hartman's. He was the coolest guy. He had car speakers wired in most of the rooms in his basement so he piped music all through the place. It was awesome. And it was Bonnie Tyler and that raspy voice I remember in the TV room, and the bedroom, and the bathroom. 

Making the Movies
Back in the 1980s, if you were a hit, you were likely to be tapped to contribute a song to a soundtrack. The 1980s were filled with all kinds of amazing soundtracks. Perhaps one of the most prolific was the Footloose soundtrack.

Various songs from it played on the radio for months and months. One of those songs was from Bonnie Tyler. It was called “Holding Out for a Hero” and it was classic Bonnie Tyler, also written by Jim Steinman. I recall her performing it live on Solid Gold on a Saturday night, and it really rocked.

TV theme song
The song also ended up being the theme song for a series called “Cover Up” starring Jennifer O’Neill and Jon-Erik Hexum. Back then it was much more complicated and difficult to get an actual song on TV. Consequently, the theme song for “Cover Up” was , well, a cover.
The show, which ran in the 1984-1985 season, was about two spies, masquerading in the high fashion business. She was a photographer and he was her model. Hexum played Mac Harper, a former special forces operative in Vietnam. Sadly, he was shot and killed in a freak accident on set, and the replaced by Antony Hamilton. Their boss was another familiar face: Richard Anderson, who had played Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman. Cover Up would only last one season.

Glee kindles memories of sleepovers
It seems the '80s are back in style, and Glee has made a living out of bringing back hits from back then. It's like creator Ryan Murphy was at school in Coaldale along with me and my friends from 1983 to 1987. Not too long ago Holding out for a Hero came to my mind because it was one of the centerpieces of an episode of Glee.

It reminded me of those sleepovers I had, especially in junior high. Living on the farm I spent so much time out in the country, I was dying to be around my friends. It broke my heart to watch them all from the bus window, playing after school, as it took me out of town and back home. It was so cool to stay after school, and hang out at Mike Hartman's. We listened to music and I can still remember the albums: "Faster Than the Speed of Night" of course, and "Kilroy Was Here" by Styx. We shot hoops, and eventually tore down the hoop, for whatever reason. And we just hung out and had a good time.

I ran into Mike just before Christmas, and he remembered those sleepovers as well as I did. It was gratifying to know they made a lasting impression on him too. And I will continue to be reminded every time I hear "Total Eclipse of the Heart", "It's a Heartache", and especially "Holding Out for a Hero".

Dallas: defining the nighttime soap

Dallas revolved around the exploits
of Texas oil magnate J.R. Ewing
(played by Larry Hagman).
The recent death of Larry Hagman, along with its re-boot last year, brought the 1980s soap opera Dallas back into the spotlight. Tonight they buried J.R. Ewing. What a long time some have waited to see that.

Who shot J.R.?:
The dawn of the nighttime cliffhanger
In its hey day it was a cultural phenomenon that left its imprint on popular culture. The show hit prominence in its third season, with the first season-ending cliffhanger of its time – who shot J.R.?

It spawned a country music song, and curiosity that made Dallas the highest-rated show. In our little corner of the world, there was a Lethbridge Broncos game scheduled the Friday night the shooter would be revealed on TV. The hockey team said they would announce at the game who shot J.R.

Never say die
It turns out Bobby never died 
at all – it was all a dream. Come on!
Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) is run over
by a car and killed, as his ex-wife Pamela
(Victoria Principal) comforts him.
Every primetime soap opera forever after – Dynasty, Knot’s Landing (itself a Dallas spinoff), Falcon Crest – emulated the season-ending cliffhanger. Dallas would even go down as having the most infamous of all cliffhangers. After an uneven year that saw the death of Bobby Ewing (played by Patrick Duffy), the season ended with Bobby appearing in the shower. The whole season had been a dream dreamt by Pamela Barnes Ewing. Lame, lame, lame.

Romeo and Juliet for the 1980s
Romeo and Juliet for the 1980s, but
they live, and die, and live again.
The show spanned the entire 1980s, one of just a handful of TV series to do that. It is quite impressive actually. Given it was originally intended to be a miniseries and nothing more. In fact, the original premise was of two feuding families, the Barnes and the Ewings. Like Romeo and Juliet, Bobby Ewing would marry Pamela Barnes. However, in the original miniseries, Bobby was to die and leave Pam in the den of wolves all by herself. Of course, that never happened.

Ratings juggernaut
Crockett and Tubbs never stood a
chance on Friday nights against Dallas.
The show provided CBS with a Friday-night anchor for its primetime schedule. Falcon Crest benefitted greatly from airing after Dallas. It also proved a graveyard for competing shows. Many times shows that were on the brink of cancellation were sent to their deaths by being slotted opposite Dallas. Conversely, the odd show did better than expected, and was given a chance elsewhere on the schedule. Hunter was a good example of that. Brutalised by Dallas on Friday night, it eventually found a home Saturdays and ran seven seasons.

The 1985-86 season saw what analysts had described as a Friday night showdown as NBC slotted its up-and-coming hit Miami Vice against Dallas. Crockett and Tubbs had no success against J.R., Bobby, and company either, and NBC moved Miami Vice again.

The original Ewing family before Dallas
became a serialized drama. You could
actually watch an episode without
having seen the previous four or five.
Original intent
What is interesting is the show did not start out as a soap opera per se. Back in the late 1990s, TNN re-broadcast the entire run of Dallas. The first season had every show rapped up, and quite efficient. Then it slowed to a glacial pace as it became more and more serialized.

How many times did J.R. Ewing knock down
Cliff Barnes, watch him get back up, and
knock him down? The show ran out of ideas.
Out of steam
Like all shows that run for a long time, it just ran out of ideas. How many times could Cliff Barnes get knocked down by J.R., get up, then get knocked down again. How much lower could J.R. sink. How many more cast members could leave either by attrition or death? Watching it beginning to end over a few months showed just how bad it actually became, totally bereft of ideas. You ask the average fan, and they could not tell you the names of Bobby and J.R.’s wives at the end of the show (it certainly was not Pam and Sue Ellen).

Some kind of pull
It had made such a mark during its run that when the series finale was set to air, it was during the Stanley Cup playoffs in Canada. The CBC had aired Dallas for its entire run, and announced it would pre-empt hockey – playoff hockey – to broadcast the series finale. Now that is some kind of power the show had.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Cash in on "Bud the Spud"

No matter what your political preferences are, something pretty special occurred on Parliament Hill a couple days ago. The NDP caucus paid tribute to Canadian musical icon Stompin' Tom Connors in the lobby of the House of Commons by singing his classic "Bud the Spud". It was something uniquely Canadian because I really can't see American legislators pulling out the guitars and singing in the Capitol. In any event, it was a touching gesture, led from left by Charlie Angus, Megan Leslie, and Andrew Cash.

The album cover for Andrew Cash's debut album
"Time and Place". The title track could be heard
all over college campuses in 1988.

Back in the day
Andrew Cash is a first-term MP representing the Davenport constituency in the Toronto-area, after beating Liberal incumbent Mario Silva in the 2011 federal election.

But I remember Andrew Cash from my first year of university back in 1987-1988 when he lit up college campuses with his hit "Time and Place". It was part of kind of a folksy Canadian scene along with Grapes of Wrath, the Northern Pikes, The Skydiggers, and others. That's not a coincidence because Andrew's brother Peter Cash was a member of the Skydiggers. They eventually would unite to form the Cash Brothers. Do you remember "Time and Place"?

Friday, 8 March 2013

Father and sons: a touching tribute to Rick Nelson

A father and his sons
There is no bond quite like that between father and son. Rick Nelson was in an interesting position. The son of show business people, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson who had a successful television show in the 1950s and 1960s, he became a teen idol then had a daughter and three sons of his own. He was a successful musician and never stopped touring. Tragically when they were just teenagers, and twins Matthew and Gunnar had just started to get to know their dad, he was killed on New Year's Eve of 1985.

A tribute
The 1986 American Music Awards on Jan. 27 paid tribute to the memory of Rick Nelson. Matthew and Gunnar, who were 18 at the time, appeared to give this touching tribute to their late father:

A haunting memory
I distinctly remember this song echoing in my mind for the rest of the night. It is such a beautiful ballad, and very typical of the power ballads of hair metal bands of the 1980s. I thought after the performance, the song would appear on the radio, or video shows, but it never did. There was never even a hint of it. Over the years, this song popped into my mind periodically, but I still never could find it anywhere. It was a beautiful ballad, a touching tribute by two sons to their father who had recently died. Even with the dawn of the Internet, every so often I would look for it but came up empty. The same experience repeated itself with the advent of YouTube.

For whatever reason, I thought about the song the other day. This time, I widened my search as far as I could by typing in "Tribute to Rick Nelson be still be still be still my selfish heart". Lo and behold, the following video, the one I heard just once before, back in 1986, appeared. I'm not sure about the Asian subtitles, but really who cares. I think the song holds up pretty well.

Where are they now?
The Nelsons kept on performing, hitting number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts with their song "Love and Affection" in September of 1990. Now, they are the same age their father was when he died, and they have toured doing a tribute to their father.

A funny thing happened on the way to Whoop-Up Days
It's funny how things come together, and how small the world really is. While I was writing this I realized I actually saw Rick Nelson perform live at Whoop-Up Days in Lethbridge. It is the annual fair in the last week of August. I cannot recall the exact year, but I do remember him singing "Garden Party" and some of his other hits. It was a cool night, a bit rainy, and we were bundled up sitting in the grandstand while we watched him perform. And a just a few years later he was dead.

Remembering Stompin' Tom

The opening credits are better than the show

When I was a boy, I remember hurrying my parents home when we were out visiting because I wanted to see this show. Well not even the show really, but the opening credits. There was this guy in a black cowboy hat playing guitar, sitting on a chair in studio, and singing. I just loved it. The show was CBC's "Marketplace" and little did I know at the time, but that was my first exposure to Stompin' Tom Connors.

The legacy
Without word of a lie I can honestly say I never owned anything by Stompin' Tom nor listened to him on a regular basis. Yet, it is without question that he was more than simply an entertainer. He was a Canadian singer and songwriter who wrote about Canada. Whether it was the definitive hockey song, the man in the moon coming from Newfoundland or Bud the Spud, he told our stories.

He promoted Canada and Canadian artists. At a time back in the 1970s when he believed Canadian artists were not being supported, he took a stand. When Canadian artists who did not live in Canada were receiving Juno awards, he boxed his up and returned them. He was principled and back up what he said. He did not just talk the talk, he stomped the stomp.

And he was a patriot. He spoke out in defence of Canada at its must vulnerable times, such as the 1995 referendum in Quebec which almost divided the country. It takes courage to appear on national television and take a stand.

The last word
Stompin' Tom left a letter to be published after his death. The following appeared on his official website

"Hello friends, I want all my fans, past, present, or future, to know that without you, there would have not been any Stompin' Tom.
"It was a long hard bumpy road, but this great country kept me inspired with it's beauty, character, and spirit, driving me to keep marching on and devoted to sing about its people and places that make Canada the greatest country in the world.
"I must now pass the torch, to all of you, to help keep the Maple Leaf flying high, and be the patriot Canada needs now and in the future.
"I humbly thank you all, one last time, for allowing me in your homes, I hope I continue to bring a little bit of cheer into your lives from the work I have done."
Your friend always,
Stompin' Tom Connors

What more can you say? Rest in peace Stompin' Tom and thanks for paving the way for all the great Canadian talent out there.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Susan Sullivan: The dark past of "Castle's" mom

Susan Sullivan in "Castle"
Long before she was mystery writer Richard Castle's mom, Susan Sullivan lived a life of murder and mayhem, international intrigue, adultery and blackmail, and mystery of another kind. For nine years, pretty much spanning the entire decade of the 1980s she played Maggie Gioberti on "Falcon Crest" which is really where I came to know her.

It's a Living – or is it?
Watching her on the latest episode of Castle tonight, reminded me of the first time I saw her. It was back in the early 1980s. CTV aired a show about four waitresses in an upscale restaurant called "It’s a Living". Sullivan played kind of the leader. Unfortunately, back in those days shows came and went on the three Canadian channels without much notice. "It’s a Living" disappeared.

The original cast of "It's a Living". Standing in back from,
left are Ann Jillian; Wendy Schaal; and Susan Sullivan.
Sitting are Gail Edwards, and Marian Mercer in blue.
At the bottom is Barrie Longfellow.
Every fall, we used to get the TV Guide fall TV preview. I used to look forward to reading about which shows were coming back, but much more to the new shows debuting. The season following the debut of "It’s a Living", I read it had been re-tooled and was now called Living it Up. Sadly, it was not on our channels. The next season it was re-tooled again and re-named Making a Living. Once more I had to read about that in TV Guide.

I recall the show being quite funny. Sullivan played Lois, the sage leader of the group who everyone looked to for advice. The show also had a lot of other interesting actors. It was blonde bombshell Ann Jillian’s first big show. Wendy Schaal was in it. When it ended she joined the cast of Fantasy Island for a bit. There was also Gail Edwards, who played Dot.

The way I discovered Making a Living was finally cancelled for good was when I settled in to watch the premiere of a new called called Falcon Crest. (In fact it was cancelled but would live on in syndication until 1989, almost as long as "Falcon Crest" would live on network television.)

Susan Sullivan and Robert
Foxworth as Maggie and
Chase Gioberti on "Falcon Crest"
Falcon Crest: A Friday night staple
I was staying at my sister’s apartment for the night in Lethbridge when we tuned in. There was Susan Sullivan, starring as Maggie Gioberti.

Falcon Crest was one of my favourite shows. I was one of the few people who enjoyed it more than Dallas or Dynasty among soap operas. It was set in the fictional Tuscany wine valley in California, based on the real-life Napa Valley. The series opens with the death of Jason Gioberti under what would be suspicious circumstances. His son Chase Gioberti returns for the funeral and takes over where his father left off. A pilot, he has no intention of staying, but eventually does, running the small vineyard left to him by his father. Unbeknownst to him, there is a provision in his grandfather's will that Chase is actually entitled to half of Falcon Crest, the mammoth winery founded by his great-grandfather and currently controlled by his scheming aunt, the family matriarch Angela Channing. Chase was played magnificently by Robert Foxworth, while Angela was played by 1950s movie starlet Jane Wyman, one of whose claims to fame was that she was Ronald Reagan's first wife. He was president of the United States as Falcon Crest debuted.

The show initially caught my interest because it was created by Earl Hamner. For the better part of the previous decade he had been the creator and narrator of "The Waltons." The Giobertis and Channings were not  the Waltons. It was a great departure.

Of course, when Chase decided to movie to California, he brought his wife Maggie, daughter Vicki and son Cole with him. I remember waiting every week for the next episode because it resonated with me for whatever reason. I found the characters more down to earth then all the glamour of Dallas or Dynasty, although I watched both of them as well. Interestingly, part of "Falcon Crest"'s longevity can be attributed on U.S. network television to the fact it followed "Dallas". What also made it cool in part was that I watched it every Friday night with my mom.

Awhile back I found season one of "Falcon Crest" on DVD and watched it. Surprisingly, for me, it held up pretty well.

Susan Sullivan as Maggie
Gioberti in "Falcon Crest"
A defining role
Maggie Gioberti changed over time. She was always a strong woman, but played a backseat that first season to her husband. That would change over the years as she faced death, murder, adultery, and all the other trappings of soap opera television. As with all nighttime dramas, she eventually split from Chase and took up with his half-brother Richard Channing (played by David Selby) and the two of them had real on-screen chemistry. Eventually, I entered high school and that meant cruising the streets of Lethbridge on Friday nights. So I stopped watching "Falcon Crest", hearing the occasional update from a co-worker every Saturday morning. I only returned to "Falcon Crest" briefly, during its last season when I was home from university for a visit. By then, Channel 7 was airing it on Sunday morning in a kind of mini-marathon.

Still, Susan Sullivan played that role for almost the entire nine seasons, appearing in 207 out of 227 episodes. Just by virtue of playing the character that long, it becomes a defining role. "Falcon Crest" virtually spanned the 1980s, running from 1981 to 1990, yet it does not come up as one of the classic nighttime soap operas like "Dallas" or "Dynasty". It's too bad, because it was gripping, at least for me. And Susan Sullivan was a big part of that.

Back on network TV
Susan Sullivan fell off the radar after that until she assumed the role of Greg's mom in "Dharma and Greg" from 1997 to 2002, then five short years ago, when I saw her playing Martha Rogers, mother of Richard Castle on the show "Castle". Older, but still very beautiful, she plays a much different role as an aging actress. Still she shows some of the same depth she did on "Falcon Crest" going from ditzy self-involved actress to concerned mother and grandmother. It is good to see her again. I wonder if there will be any more "Falcon Crest" on DVD. I may just have to settle for "Castle".