Friday, 27 September 2013

Luba: Everytime I Hear That Voice I Cry

One of the forgotten treasures of the '80s was one of the best female voices I have ever heard – and she was Canadian. She was: Luba.

Only in Canada, you say?
Only three female performers have won three or more best female Junos: Anne Murray, Celine Dion, and Luba.

Yet, Luba has been lost in the mists of time. As popular as she was in Canada, she was like so many Canadian performers who could never crack the American market. Read here Blue Rodeo and The Tragically Hip as two other examples.

"She was awesome"
The first time I ever heard about Luba was in first semester of Grade 10, the fall of 1984. I was sitting in German class one day a few minutes before it started, when Bill, one of my classmates, strolled in a few minutes early.

"How was the concert?" Andy, another classmate, asked.

Bill had gone to see Platinum Blonde in Lethbridge earlier in the week.

He nodded and smiled.

"It was good. Luba was awesome."

She had opened for Platinum Blonde, and clearly made an impression on Bill. I had no idea who she was.

A year later that had all changed.

Every time I hear your voice I cry 
Luba's break came with the single "Every time I See Your Picture" in 1983. A year later she released her first full-length album, entitled "Secrets and Sins", which produced two great singles: "Storm Before the Calm" and "Let It Go".

I first heard "Let It Go" when Luba performed it at the Junos that year. It was 1985 and she would go on to win her first of three female vocalist of the year Junos. "Let It Go" would also appear in the 1986 American movie "9 1/2 Weeks" starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger.

In 1986, Luba released, "Between the Earth and Sky", which produced the singles "How Many (Rivers to Cross)", "Innocent (With an Explanation)", and "Strength In Numbers". She won her second straight Juno as female vocalist of the year in 1986 for her efforts.

I remember so well how Luba was always on the radio, as much a function of her popularity as the Canadian content rules. That did help though. But I do remember her best in that 1986-1987 period.

Then, in 1987, she released "Over 60 Minutes With Luba", which contained her rendition of "When A Man Loves a Woman" by Percy Sledge, the most popular charting single she released in Canada. It propelled her to her third straight Juno for female vocalist of the year in 1987.

She closed out the 1980s with the album, "All or Nothing" in 1989. By then I had gone on to university and did not listen to the radio regularly. Yet, the album did have three recognizable singles: "No More Words"; "Giving Away a Miracle"; and "Little Salvation". According to Wikipedia, that was her last shot to break into the U.S. market. She didn't so her label dropped her.

Parting thoughts
I will never understand what makes some artists, such as Bryan Adams, Corey Hart, and even Glass Tiger, hit it big in the States while others, like Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, and Luba just don't catch on.

What I love about Luba is the passion and strength in her voice. She always seemed to give it everything she had, and that was just infectious. She remains one of the most popular Canadian female singers of all time, and she has three consecutive Juno awards to prove it.

For all those people in the United States, and around the world, who never heard Canada's forgotten treasure they just missed out. They truly did.

(P.S.: Her last name, as I recently discovered is Kowalchyk)

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Things come in threes, even assassination attempts

John Lennon in 1980, before
his death on Dec. 9.
It always came out of the blue, totally unexpected. It was Grade 6 and we'd be working in class. Suddenly the silence was broken by what sounded like a news feed from TV or radio.

And it always bore bad news.

During that fateful year, I will always remember where I was during three fateful events – three assassination attempts, one successful – because I was in the same place: my desk in Mr. Sorge's room in St. Joseph's School in Coaldale, Alberta.

On December 9, 1980, class was interrupted by a broadcast announcing John Lennon had been shot at 10:50 p.m. the previous evening by Mark David Chapman, and had died. I wondered, "Who is John Lennon?" Only in the following hours when we talked about it in class, did I discover he was a member of the Beatles. After all, I was only 10 and the Beatles had broken up before I was born, although I knew Paul McCartney, his work with Wings, and some of his songs with the Fab Four.

Ronald Reagan, president of the United
States, in 1981, before an attempt was
made on his life on March 30.
On March 30, 1981, the silence of our class was broken by a radio broadcast. Ronald Reagan, president of the United States, had been shot by John Hinckley Junior. Reagan would live, becoming the first serving U.S. president to survive being shot in an assassination attempt.

Pope John Paul II in 1981, before an
attempt was made on his life on May 13.
On May 13, 1981 Pope John Paul II was shot four times in St. Peter's Square at Vatican City by Mehmet Ali Ağca. Being a Catholic school, this one struck us all the hardest. I recall one classmate, David, gasping, covering his mouth and exclaiming, "Oh my god!" We all prayed for the pope, who would overcome a severe loss of blood and go on to live another 25 years.

It was a strange time. Never again, in the four years that followed that I attended that school, was class ever interrupted again by any kind of announcement, of good news or bad. Thankfully, the president and the pope survived, but the death of John Lennon was a loss I did not come to understand until I was an adult who could appreciate his music.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Gary David Goldberg: Michael J. Fox's other TV father

Gary David Goldberg, creator of "Family Ties"
at left, with the show's star Michael J. Fox.

His memory was honoured at the recent Emmys. He gave Michael J. Fox his big break, and for that I am eternally grateful. At the recent Emmys, Fox returned the favour by paying tribute to the late Gary David Goldberg.

Gary David Goldberg was the creator of "Family Ties", which ran from 1982 to 1989. According to Wikipedia, the show was based on the experiences he shared with his wife and family of hippie parents raising children in the 1970s. When it debuted, it launched the career of a then unknown Canadian actor named Michael J. Fox.
The show ran seven seasons, garnering Goldberg an Emmy in 1987 for outstanding writing in a comedy series, for the Family Ties episode: "A, My Name is Alex". It is a two-part episode, centering around Fox's character Alex P. Keaton dealing with the sudden death of a friend in a car accident.

"Family Ties" started on peasant vision on Channel 7 CFAC-TV, before migrating to CFCN and that powerhouse Thursday night lineup that also included "Cheers", "The Cosby Show", and "Night Court".

"Family Ties" was not just a vehicle for Michael J. Fox. It had a strong cast that included Steven Gross as patriarch Steven Keaton and Meredith Baxter as matriarch Elyse Keaton. The show was funny and tackled some serious subjects.

Goldberg was the creative driving force. "Family Ties" and all his shows were punctuated by that same clip in the end credits. It was a picture of a dog with the voice over, "Sit Ubu sit. Good dog." That was the signature for Goldberg's production company Ubu Productions, named after his dog.

Goldberg would go on to create the semi-biographical series "Brooklyn Bridge" from 1991 to 1993, and starring Marion Ross, most famous for her role as Marion Cunningham in "Happy Days". Goldberg would also reunite with Michael J. Fox in 1996 to create "Spin City", which ran until 2002.

Sadly, Gary David Goldberg, and that fertile mind for comedy, died of brain cancer on June 23, 2013, at the age of 68. Rest in piece. Hopefully, Ubu was there by your side.

Alan Thicke: Versatile entertainer

If there was ever a person who typified every aspect of television in the 1980s, it was Alan Thicke. Daytime talk show, night-time host, sitcom actor, TV theme writer, Canadian, and American network television. Alan Thicke did it all, and he just got elected to Canada's Walk of Fame for all his contributions.

As the decade opened, Alan Thicke debuted on CTV with a daytime talk show entitled, fittingly "The Alan Thicke Show" weekdays at 1 p.m. It had replaced another daytime show entitled "The Alan Hamel Show", which actually led me to believe it was a typo at first. It would run from 1980 to 1983.

I only got to see it when I was home from school, namely during holidays and during summer holidays. It was good though, with tons of interesting guests. Oddly, the first time I ever saw "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson", I thought it looked an awful lot like a night-time version of the "Alan Thicke Show".

That's very strange because of what transpired.

…Becomes nighttime
Networks were always in search of programming that could challenge "The Tonight Show" which seemed to be impossible to beat in the ratings.

So, based on his success on Canadian daytime television, Alan Thicke got an offer he couldn't refuse. He was heading south to take his shot at unseating Johnny Carson as the champion of nighttime talk shows.

"Thicke of the Night" debuted in 1983, but turned out to be just another sacrificial lamb. The show was excessively hyped, but never lived up to the billing. Johnny Carson was just too big and too strong. His Goliath was just too much for Thicke's David. "Thicke of the Night" was cancelled in June of 1984.

A year later, Alan Thicke was back on TV to stay, portraying father figure Jason Seaver on the popular sitcom "Growing Pains". It was a role he would become best known for, as the show ran from 1985 to 1992.

It debuted when I was in Grade 11, paired on CFCN Channel 13 with another sitcom, "Who's The Boss", which was in its second season, and would also run until 1992. I religiously watched it every Tuesday night, if memory serves.

Thicke played a psychiatrist who decided to work from home. He and his wife Maggie (played by Joanna Kerns who had played "Greedy Gretchen" on "Three's Company"), had three children: Mike (played by Kirk Cameron, who would go on to be a teen heart throb); Carol (played by Tracey Gold, who at the time was best known as the sister of Missy Gold, a child actor on "Benson"); and Ben (played by Jeremy Miller).

When I first heard about the show, some critics had written it off as another cheap imitation of "The Cosby Show", which was the reigning sitcom champion. It really was not the case, and its seven-year run proved it.

Recognize that voice?
Meanwhile, he also fashioned a career writing and performing TV theme songs, often with his wife Gloria Loring, who starred as Liz Chandler on the daytime drama "Days Of Our Lives". If you listen really closely, you can recognize his voice in the opening credits of "Diffrent Strokes" and "The Facts Of Life".

How is this for irony? Thicke and Loring were voted celebrity parents of the year by a family-oriented magazine, months before they separated and eventually divorced.

Parting thoughts
Alan Thicke was another one of those actors who always seemed to be around in the '80s. The difference was that he was Canadian, and got his start on Canadian television. That gave me that extra pride that one of ours had made it big in Hollywood. He was also just so versatile. Not just an actor or host, he was both, and a composer and performer. Canada has not produced anyone else quite like Alan Thicke.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Ben Johnson: 100-metre humiliation

In the span of a few days Canada went from ecstasy to agony, from a dizzying high to a crushing low, from pride to humiliation. Just over 25 years ago, we rode the Ben Johnson roller coaster for a week in September in Seoul, South Korea.

On the verge of greatness
Canadian 100-metre sprinter Ben Johnson had been on the world stage for more than five years when the 1988 Summer Olympics approached. I had first seen him in a group of Canadian sprinters at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia, that also included Desai Williams and Tony Sharpe. Two years later, Johnson would take bronze in the 100 metres at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, behind Americans Carl Lewis and Sam Graddy, in a time of 10.22. Johnson also teamed with Williams, Sharpe, and Sterling Hinds to win bronze in the 4x100-metre relay.

He continued to improve, taking gold at the 1986 Goodwill Games in Moscow, with a time of 9.95, just off Calvin Smith's world record of 9.93.

That was just a prelude for the World Track and Field Championships in 1987 in Rome. I recall sitting in the living room on the farm awaiting that final. The late Geoff Gowan and Don Wittman were calling the race for the CBC. They announced the runners. They took their marks, got set – and the picture went dark. I could hear the sound, and Wittman calling the race. Johnson had won – at least that’s what I thought I heard. The picture came back and I could see the race in slow motion replay. Ben Johnson, had blown away Carl Lewis, running a time of 9.83 seconds, shattering Smith's world record by a full tenth of a second. He was the new 100-metre men’s world champion.

Bring on the Olympics and the defending champion, the ultimate arrogant American – Carl Lewis.

The joy of victory
To say Carl Lewis was a sore loser was a gross understatement. Johnson first beat him in 1985, then reeled off a series of victories including the Good
will Games and World Championships. From the outset, Lewis could not accept defeat, and began to accuse his competitors of cheating. At the time, I thought it was the height of arrogance. Graddy, Smith, and none of the other Americans acted the way Lewis did. Johnson, who was always humble, never said much beyond defending himself from those accusations. Canadians, and probably most of the world, wanted to see Johnson put Lewis in his place on the world's biggest stage.

The 1988 Summer Olympics were in the fall, which was the summer season in South Korea. I was in my second year of university, and a floor coordinator in Kelsey Hall on the University of Alberta campus in Edmonton. The job had pretty much consumed me, but I still kept an eye on the Olympics and the 100-metre final.

The third weekend of every September, our student leadership group went on a retreat to the Pocahontas Cabins near Jasper, west of Edmonton. Before we boarded the bus on Friday, Sept. 24, 1988, I bought a copy of the Edmonton Sun. The front page had a big picture of Johnson with the headline: "Go Ben!"

One of the traditions of Retreat back then was a video. I was sitting at the back of the bus. When the camera reached me, I could not match the mugging in front of the camera of many of my colleagues. All I could manage, and I was about five beers into the trip, was me holding up that issue of the Edmonton Sun, saying “Go Ben” over and over.

Normally, we would have pushed on to Pocahontas. This time, everyone wanted to see the 100-metre final, so we stopped at a bar in Hinton to watch the race. We primed some more, until it was finally time.

You could hear a pin drop in that bar as race time approached. They started announcing the racers, and I could hear the muttering of people wanting Johnson to kick Lewis' ass after they were both announced. Incidentally, there was a huge cheer when Johnson was introduced.

They called the racers to the line. The volume was cranked on the bar TV. "On your mark, get set, go!"

Johnson was off like a shot and surged to the lead. It was incredible. He left Lewis in the dust. Then, as if to finally put the arrogant American in his place, he raised his arm in victory as he crossed the finish line. Everyone in the bar was on their feet from the sound of the gun. When Johnson won, the place erupted. We were hugging each other, yelling, and high fiving strangers. Johnson had broken his own world record with a time of 9.79 seconds. Canada had its first Olympic 100-metre champion since Percy Williams in 1928.

And he shut Carl Lewis' mouth for him. It was strangely exhilarating to see Lewis lunging to the finish line, hopelessly and pathetically trying to catch Johnson. That was just a fringe benefit. The next day I bought the Edmonton Sun again, this time with Ben Johnson's victory covering the front page. We were all so happy.

The humiliation of disqualification
It was Monday afternoon, so what was that, Sept. 27, and I was sitting in English class. We had been broken into groups, and I happened to be in one with my best friend Chris Vining who had arrived to class late.

He joined our group and broke the news: Ben Johnson had tested positive for steroid use, was disqualified, and stripped of his gold medal.

Seriously, I did not believe him. I really didn't. Then I got home, and the full weight of what happened hit me, and the entire country. What hurt just as much was that arrogant Carl Lewis chirping on about how he knew Johnson cheated because that’s the only way Johnson could beat Lewis. Because he finished second, he had been awarded the gold medal.

My first thoughts, as an emotional 18 year old, remain the same today. Maybe someone had framed Ben? Or, he was just not as good at cheating as the other sprinters. To this day, I am convinced Carl Lewis cheated too.

Dave Steen restored Canada's honour
at the 1988 Summer Olympics by coming
from behind to win a bronze in
the last event of the decathlon.
The Dave Steen story

What I will remember, as much as the disappointment I felt, was another Canadian athlete who rose to the occasion and did our country proud.

Dave Steen was a decathlete who was a fringe medal contender. Then something incredible happened. Decathlon is a two-day marathon. After the first day, he was in 11th place and a medal seemed out of reach. After the first four events on day two, he had crawled to eighth place with just the 1,500-metre race remaining. He trailed in that race too, but dug down and earned enough points to move up to third place overall. Through it all, he insisted on being tested for steroids.

Just when Canada's Olympic team needed it most, Dave Steen came through. He won Canada's first ever medal in decathlon.

Parting thoughts
In typical Canadian fashion, the country launched a massive investigation, the Dubin Inquiry which was televised live and lasted 91 days, examining every aspect of the situation. Meanwhile, other countries kept on cheating. History has shown that virtually all the finalists in the 1988 Olympic 100 metres were implicated in steroid use. And Johnson had been given a drink by someone who was not authorized to be in the testing area, an associate of Carl Lewis.

Canada adopted one of the strictest testing regimes in the world. It made it all the sweeter when Donovan Bailey restored Canada's honour in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Not only did he win gold in the American heartland, establish a world record (the same 9.83 seconds Johnson ran at the 1986 Goodwill Games), but he was one of the most tested athletes in history.

Canadians learn from our mistakes – in a big way.

Friday, 20 September 2013

One-on-One with The Box

Whenever I hear “Closer Together” by The Box, I think of one of the stupidest bets I ever made.

It was early summer of 1987 and I was just finished high school. I had become friends with this Grade 11 basketball phenom named Mike, who played all the time. I shot a lot too, but had other commitments other than shooting every day.

One day we were shooting around the outdoor court at the old R.I. Baker school in Coaldale. It was just a rim, no mesh or even a string hanging off it.

We played a bit of one on one and he beat me pretty easily, but I did hang around for awhile.

Out of the blue, he offers this up.

“You want to see who can dunk. I’ll bet you a slush?”

Now Mike is still one of the best players I’ve ever faced, and I’ve been playing ball 35 years. I don’t know what I was thinking when I meekly said: “Okay.” A man of many words and much confidence I know.

He took ball and dunked it with one hand.

To be completely honest, I had been messing around at the Lethbridge YMCA all winter and managed to dunk a series of increasingly larger balls from soft ball to small jelly ball, bigger jelly ball, girls’ basketball, and finally flat men’s basketball. The key was in being able to palm the ball – and of course to jump high enough.

I did neither of those things on that day. The rim stuffed me, and suddenly I was rummaging through my pockets and the car for change.

Mike must have been thirsty.

Still wondering why I took the bet, chalking it up to pride and being stubborn, “Closer Together” played all the way to Mac’s. I was humming that song when I walked into Mac’s, where Mike was standing at the counter holding up his extra large Coke slush and pointing to me.

“He’s getting this.”

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Bruce Hornsby and the Range: Soundtrack of my high school love life

Bruce Hornsby and the Range provided the soundtrack for my love life in Grade 12. There were two moments, one in the fall and one in the spring, that were pivotal and Bruce was right there on the radio each time.

First date
Although elsewhere I described my first date, that was the first time I actually asked a girl out, she said yes, and we did something together. My first actual date was a lot more convoluted of a story.

You see I had mooned over this girl all through Grade 11. During that time, I lost a bet with some friends, which forced me to ask her out. I did, but made out like it was all a big joke. Well, I kept mooning after her that summer, and into Grade 12. We ended up bench partners in a class and became close. One day I asked her if she would have said yes, and she said she would have. So we set a date.

At about the same time Bruce Hornsby and the Range released their debut single “The Way It Is” and album of the same name. One day I was humming the song in class and she took to calling it “Get a job” after one of the more pointed lyrics.

Well, Saturday night arrived and I was so excited. I got dressed and drove to her house, which was on the edge of my hometown. She invited me in to meet her mom and that went really well. She asked about Thanksgiving, and I told her about my family and what we did to celebrate. We headed to Lethbridge, where we took in a movie – “Heartbreak Ridge” with Clint Eastwood. At one point he was putting some camouflage paint on his face.

“Should I do my makeup like that?” she asked, and we both laughed, much to the chagrin of the people around us.

Afterwards, we had supper at Boston Pizza, where we had brutal service. She actually filled out the comment card at the bottom of our bill, noting it wouldn’t hurt the waitress to smile at least once. The manager was at the till when I paid the bill. He noticed the comments and said he’d follow up. He also showed me the correct way to hold the pizza box – straight up and not sideways like a binder – so the cheese would not run on the leftover pizza.

On the way back to Coaldale we stopped to watch the stars by the CJOC radio tower, then I took her home.

While we were driving that night, she turned to me and said she had been listening to “Casey Kasem’s Coast to Coast Countdown” on the radio while she was vacuuming the house.

“You know what was number one this week?” she asked.

I actually knew, but shrugged.

“Get a job.”

Shot down
That did not work out in the end for close to a thousand reasons. By second semester, I had taken an interest in another girl, a Grade 11er who sat in front of me in biology. I told my best friend Chris Vining who, as always, encouraged me to ask her out.

I hummed and hawed, eventually deciding to do it at the end of the week. It was Wednesday at that point.

Then, I thought what the heck, and walked down the hall of the second floor of Kate Andrews High School where she was standing in front of her locker.

“I was wondering if you wanted to go out some time?” I was even surprised with my courage.

She paused and smiled.

“If you mean in a group of people, like my cousins that would be great – but not like a date or anything.”

Surprisingly I was not destroyed, although I really had no response other than, “Thanks. See you around.”

Me and Vining worked at this greenhouse after school, and I immediately found him in this big shop we often worked in.

He had no idea what had happened.

“So, I asked her,” I said.

“When do you plan on doing that?” he replied. He hadn’t heard me correctly.

“No, I just asked her.”

He turned and gave me his full attention now.

“What did she say?”

“The answer – is – no.”

His response was classic Vining, and just what I needed to hear.

“Aww, f--- that!”

We often had a radio playing and, shortly after I started shovelling soil, “Mandolin Rain”, the second single off “The Way It Is” started playing.

“Listen to the tears roll, down my face as she turns to go,” were the exact words I focused in on.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

End of the Innocence: Henley and Frey in the '80s

Don Henley's album "Building the Perfect Beast" which
produced singles "Boys of Summer", "All She Wants to do is
Dance", and "Not Enough Love in the World".
The Eagles recently played Calgary and it reminded me of a bygone era, a time when they did not play, and newcomers to popular music were surprised that Don Henley and Glenn Frey actually belonged to the same band at one time. It was the 1980s, and I was one such listener.

However, by the end of the 1980s I knew all about the Eagles and their trials and tribulations, their successful solo members, and the great music they played, just in time for Henley's third solo album, fifth top ten solo hit, and a very familiar sound at the keyboard.

Boys of Summer
I started listening to music in 1984. It coincided with the launch of Don Henley's single "The Boys of Summer", from his second solo album "Building the Perfect Beast", which peaked at number five on Billboard's Hot 100. Soon after there were more singles: "All She Wants to do is Dance"(which peaked at number nine), "Not Enough Love in the World", and "Sunset Grill".

When I joined Columbia House, one of the albums I bought in that first batch of ten was "Building the Perfect Beast", one of the best purchases I made. It was also getting heavy play on LA-107 FM, which was album-oriented rock. That meant they played more songs off a record then just the latest single.

One of the singles, a bonus single actually, which never hit the radio, may have been Henley's best ballad of all. "A Month of Sundays"  documents the plight of the American farmer and was just an amazing song.

For his efforts he won the Grammy for best male rock vocal performance in 1986 for "The Boys of Summer".

Glenn Frey's album "The Allnighter" which
provided "Smuggler's Blues" for a first
season episode of "Miami Vice"
Glenn Frey's single "You Belong to the City" had its
debut on Miami Vice and its subsequent soundtrack.

Frey'ing with "The Heat is on"
Meanwhile, another artist who was getting pretty good airplay had a couple songs off soundtracks. "The Heat is On" by Glenn Frey was on the radio as part of the soundtrack of the blockbuster Eddie Murphy movie "Beverly Hills Cop". The TV series "Miami Vice", which was built on the premise "MTV Cops" used a lot of pop music, also called on Frey for his single "The Smuggler's Blues" for a season one episode.

"Miami Vice" became a bit of a cult hit. The much anticipated season two premiere featured Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, the two main characters, venturing from the Everglades to New York City. Frey's latest song "You Belong to the City" was hyped before the show. In fact it was announced it would make its world debut on that Friday night. The song would rocket all the way to number two on the Billboard Hot 100, the same feat "The Heat is On" had achieved a few months earlier.

History lesson
It was only after "The Boys of Summer" and "The Heat is On", back in 1985, that I discovered they had been part of the Eagles. Sure I had heard of the Eagles and some of their songs, but the music world was all new to me.

The Eagles broke up in 1980 after a difficult tour and personal tensions arising from the recording of their album "The Long Run".

The response by Frey and Henley any time they were asked if the Eagles would ever get back together was the same: "When hell freezes over."

Stay tuned.

Ending the decade: The End of the Innocence
The 1980s began with the demise of Henley's partnership with Glenn Frey, and ended with a new collaboration. I recall the day I heard it for the first time. It was the summer of 1989 and I was living in res at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I went to sleep the night before with the radio playing. When I awoke, there was a song playing. At first I thought it was a new release from Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Then I heard the vocals, and it sounded like a new Don Henley song. Which was it? It turned out to be the best of both worlds: music written by Bruce Hornsby, lyrics by Don Henley, sung by Henley, with piano accompaniment by Hornsby.

"The End of the Innocence" begins with signature Bruce Hornsby piano. Henley joins in, singing the story of a man thinking back to a simpler time before everyone lost their innocence. It reminded me instantly, in style and tone, of "A Month of Sundays". Compare for yourself.

"The End of the Innocence" climbed all the way to number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and to number two on the Hot Adult Contemporary chart.

It still evokes powerful imagery for me, and makes some pointed political statements about that period of time in the 1980s. I have always loved piano and good storytelling. "The End of the Innocence" combines two of my favourites.

It seems ludicrous now to even say there was a point where Henley and Frey were not associated with each other, and first and foremost with the Eagles. There is a good reason for that.

In 1994, the Eagles got back together with the release of the album, "When Hell Freezes Over", followed by a tour of the same name.

That's right, they'd only get back together, "When hell freezes over".

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen: The Final Episode of M*A*S*H

The cast of M*A*S*H from season two. In back from left are Frank
Burns (played by Larry Linville), Trapper John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers)
 and Walter "Radar" O'Reilly (Gary Burghoff), while in front from left
are Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan (Loretta Swit), Benjamin "Hawkeye"
Pierce (Alan Alda), and Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson.
It was poignant, touching, surreal, sad, and happy. There really aren't enough adjectives to describe one of the greatest television moments of the 1980s, and in history.

There is no greater television moment from my youth then the last episode of M*A*S*H. It was one of the most anticipated TV events ever. After 10 seasons, the producers of M*AS*H had announced the 11th season would be their last season. When the finale finished, it ended up running five times longer than any single episode.

The cast of M*A*S*H much of the time after the fifth
season. In back from left are Father Francis Mulcahy
(William Christopher), and Max Klinger (Jamie Farr);
in middle from left are B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell),
Sherman Potter (Harry Morgan), Margaret "Hot Lips"
Houlihan (Loretta Swit), and Charles Emerson
Winchester (David Ogden Stiers); and in front is
Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce (Alan Alda)
M*A*S*H was one of those shows that was on all the time. It debuted on Sept. 17, 1972, based on the critically-acclaimed Robert Altman movie which was based on the book by Richard Hooker.

When I was growing up in the 1980s, M*A*S*H had already been syndicated and was on in reruns every week night on CFCN Calgary. The first run, new episodes aired Monday nights on CBC at 9 p.m.

The show went through several distinct phases as the cast changed. Initially it was very much a slapstick comedy with characters such as Trapper John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers), Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson), and Frank Burns (Larry Linville), in addition to Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda). Eventually, after the third season, Stevenson and Rogers left. Henry Blake was replaced by Colonel Sherman T. Potter (Harry Morgan) and Trapper was replaced by B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell). Linville left after the fifth season and was replaced by Charles Emerson Winchester III (David Ogden Stiers).

M*A*S*H evolved into a much more serious, and at times darker, show. There were some episodes that were disturbing, like a dream episode that really was, in places, graphic for its time. There are several episodes that were essentially dramatic with a bit of comedy.

The end
If memory serves, it was after the tenth season that Alan Alda wanted to end M*A*S*H. They took a vote of cast members. All but three voted to make the eleventh season the last one. The three who did not vote in favour of that were Harry Morgan (Sherman T. Potter), Jamie Farr (Maxwell Q. Klinger), and Father Francis Mulcahy (William Christopher). They were appeased with a sequel to M*A*S*H Called AfterMASH.

The final season was shorter, 15 episodes to be exact, with six of those episodes filmed in season ten and held over, followed by the series finale.

Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen
In an era before series finales became the norm, it was strange to watch week after week, knowing a countdown was on to the last ever episode. That's why, if you were to watch it now, some of the references would be lost, because they were part of stories from previous episodes leading up to the finale.

Because they had announced what they were doing right after the conclusion of the tenth season, hype and anticipation built all through the summer of 1982, right up to the airing of the finale on Feb. 28, 1983.

It really was not what I had expected, to say the least.

It was a Monday night and I remember waiting impatiently for school to end. After it began, I recall watching and hoping it would never end. It really had become part of life and, even at 13 years old, I did not want it to end.

A collage of the final scene of M*A*S*H.
There really is too much to detail here. They wrapped up all the loose ends, and had some emotional goodbyes: Hawkeye shared a passionate kiss with Margaret Houlihan; Hawkeye and B.J. saluted Colonel Potter when he left; and the irony of Klinger staying in Korea after trying for years to get sent home by acting crazy. I do recall thinking, when B.J. got called home and leaving without saying goodbye to Hawkeye, Hawkeye had the same reaction he had when Trapper John left without saying goodbye. B.J. did eventually return. At the end of the episode, he was saying goodbye to Hawkeye and told him he left him a note. The helicopter was too loud and Hawkeye could not hear what he said. Then when the chopper lifted off, and pulled away and we all see "GOODBYE" written in stones, it brought a tear to my eye. More than one as I recall.

Parting thoughts
Good TV shows engage us as viewers. We feel like we know the characters personally and live their lives through their eyes. Over time we get to know the smallest details, celebrate their successes, share their failures, and even mourn their deaths. M*A*S*H lasted 11 years, three times longer than the war on which it was based, and we got to know those characters well. Potter's wife was Mildred. Hawkeye was named after his father Benjamin Franklin Pierce, who was a small-town physician in Crab Apple Cove, Maine. B.J. had a wife Peg, and a daughter Erin in Mill Valley, California. Winchester was a Harvard graduate from an affluent family in Boston, and in one episode we discovered his sister Honoria has a stutter. Klinger aches to get back home to Toledo and his wife Laverne, but she eventually ran off with his best friend. It goes on and on.

We followed their lives for 11 years, and their eternal hope that some day the war would stop and they could go home. While the war raged, we saw how harsh and brutal it could be, and how they coped. There was rarely a time the surgeons were not drinking in their off hours. What would you do?

When I saw "Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen" as an adult, I once again had tears in my eyes when they all said goodbye. If you have ever been in close quarters with the same people over a long period of time, you grow close and bond. Once you separate it never is the same. So in a way I could share their sadness at saying goodbye. But by then, I also understood the pain, suffering, and misery war could inflict on people, especially field doctors and nurses. So, unlike the first time I saw it, part of me cheered the fact they finally got to go home, and away from the horrors of war.

Goodbye, farewell, and amen. There could never have been a better title.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Jim Plunkett: Clutch performer

Jim Plunkett overcame adversity to quarterback
the Oakland Raiders two Super Bowl victories. 
As the 1980s dawned, I was enamoured by a gutsy quarterback who came off the scrap heap of football to lead his underdog, wild-card team to the Super Bowl. Only later did I discover how epic his story was, but when I was ten, watching the Super Bowl after the 1980 season, Jim Plunkett was my favourite player.

Lucky break
In this case the lucky break was actually a leg. The Houston Oilers, led by quarterback Dan Pastorini, had gone to the AFC Championship game in 1978-1979 and 1979-1980, only to be turned away by the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders made the playoffs and the AFC Championship Game, a tradition through the 1970s, led by left-handed quarterback Ken "The Snake" Stabler.

However, both teams felt it was time for a change and swapped quarterbacks before the 1980 season, so Stabler headed south to Houston and Pastorini headed west to Oakland. Neither man would experience the same success they had previously in their careers.

Pastorini started for the Raiders the first five weeks of the season until a fateful Sunday afternoon against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Raiders were 2-2 and Pastorini broke his leg, ending his season.

That opened the door for Jim Plunkett. Little did I know how long the journey had been for Plunkett to get to that point in his career.

Penthouse to outhouse…
Plunkett had been an outstanding prospect, and an inspiring story. His mother was blind and his father suffered progressive blindness, so the young Plunkett had to work odd jobs to help out. He discovered football and eventually attended Stanford University where he had an outstanding career. After his junior year he was eligible to enter the NFL draft and the pay cheque that would help his family dearly. However, he chose to stay for his senior year, because he wanted to set a good example for the Chicano youth he had been tutoring. The decision paid off, as he won the 1970 Heisman Trophy and led the Cardinals to their first Rose Bowl since 1952, where they beat the favoured Ohio State Buckeyes. He became the first Latino to win the Heisman, the first of many trails he broke.

He entered the 1971 NFL draft where he was chosen first overall by the New England Patriots, becoming the only player of Hispanic origin ever taken first overall. The future looked bright for Jim Plunkett.

In his rookie year, Plunkett took over late in the season, leading the Patriots to wins over Oakland, Miami, and Baltimore, as New England finished fourth in the AFC East with a 6-8 record. For his efforts he was named the 1971 NFL rookie of the year.

Over the next four years, his production dropped as his touchdowns decreased and his interceptions increased. He was injured a lot and lacked the protection he needed to be effective. By 1975, the Patriots had drafted quarterback Steve Grogan who would be one of the best quarterbacks in the team's history. They also became more run-oriented with the acquisition of Sam Cunningham.

Prior to the 1976 draft, Plunkett was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. He led the 49ers to a 6-1 start before losing five of their last seven games to finish 8-6. The 49ers fell to 5-9 in 1977, and Plunkett was released during the 1978 preseason.

Life looked bleak for Jim Plunkett.

…To Penthouse
Jim Plunkett throws a pass in the 1981 Super Bowl versus Philadelphia.
Jim Plunkett was picked up by the Oakland Raiders and their owner Al Davis, who was never afraid to give someone a second chance.

Davis gave Plunkett the chance to rest his beaten-up body. He threw no passes in 1978, and just 15 in 1979. As the 1980 season opened, it looked like more of the same, as Dan Pastorini had been acquired from Houston and would be the starting quarterback.

Then came that fateful injury in the fifth week of the season. Pastorini broke his leg and Plunkett came off the bench to – throw five interceptions in a 31-17 loss to Kansas City. It looked like the end of the line for Plunkett.

However, the Raiders thought Marc Wilson too inexperienced to start, so they handed the ball back to Plunkett. It was the best decision the Raiders made. In his first start he went 11 for 14 with a touchdown and no interceptions. He went on to guide the Raiders to nine victories in 11 games.

The Raiders qualified for the playoffs as a wildcard team and would host the wildcard game. Awaiting them was former Raider Ken Stabler and the Houston Oilers. The Oilers outgained the Raiders in that game, but Oakland scored on big plays, breaking the game open in the fourth quarter en route to a 27-7 win.

That put them in the divisional game in Cleveland against the Browns. That game would forever be known for the "Mistake on the Lake". The Raiders led 7-6 at halftime, with Cleveland's touchdown coming on an interception return for a touchdown. They had the ensuing conversion attempt block by Oakland's Ted Hendricks. In the second half, the Browns had two field goals by Don Cockroft to lead 12-7 before Plunkett engineered an 80-yard drive, capped off by a one-yard touchdown run by Mark van Eeghen, his second of the game, to go up 14-12. The Browns had one last chance to win. Quarterback Brian Sipe drove them down into field goal range, but Cockroft had missed two field goals, had a convert attempt blocked, and a snap on another field goal attempt botched, and the field was icy and cold. Cleveland opted to go for the touchdown, but Sipe was intercepted in the end zone by Mike Davis, preserving the Raiders' 14-12 victory.

The win sent Oakland to the AFC Championship game against the pass-happy San Diego Chargers, who were led by quarterback Dan Fouts and a crew of talented receivers. Plunkett had two touchdown passes and ran for a third in the first quarter alone to give the Raiders a 21-7 lead. They upped it to 28-7 in the second quarter on a van Eeghen touchdown run before Fouts connected with Charlie Joiner in the end zone to make the score 28-14 at the half. The Chargers scored 10 points in the third quarter to cut Oakland's lead to 28-24, before Raider kicker Chris Bahr connected on a field goal to restore the seven-point lead at 31-24. The teams exchanged field goals. The Raider defence was exhausted when the Raiders took over possession with 6:52 remaining, so Plunkett took Oakland on a 15-play drive to run out the clock, including two key third-down scrambles to clinch the 34-27 victory.

The Raiders became the first ever wild card team to advance to the Super Bowl where they would face the Philadelphia Eagles.

Plunkett is hugged by coach Tom Flores after
the Raiders won the 1981 Super Bowl.
The game was held five days after the Iran hostage crisis ended, and the teams wore gold stripes on the back of their helmets to commemorate the occasion. Plunkett got things rolling with a short touchdown pass to Cliff Branch, then an 80-yard pass-and-run touchdown to runningback Kenny King to end the first quarter. The Eagles never recovered, as the Raiders cruised to a 27-10 win. Plunkett finished the game 13 of 21 for 261 yards passing and three touchdowns. He was named the Super Bowl MVP, becoming the first minority to quarterback a team to a Super Bowl victory, the only Latino to be Super Bowl MVP, and the second of four Heisman Trophy winners to be Super Bowl MVP.

Plunkett returned to the back-up role by 1983 but, after an injury to Marc Wilson, Plunkett assumed the starting role again, leading the Raiders to the Super Bowl against the defending Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins. Plunkett had another great game as the Raiders routed Washington 38-9, going 16 for 25 for 172 yards and a touchdown.

He spent the next three seasons injured or as a back-up, retiring after the 1986 season.

He still remains the only eligible quarterback to start and win two Super Bowls and not be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That, based not only on his accomplishments but the trail he blazed for minorities in the NFL, makes it an egregious oversight.

Parting thoughts
Jim Plunkett may have been my first football hero, and that was long before I knew his personal history. I bought an NFL Films video that profiled him, and it described his personal hardships, just making me respect him more. I always recall how gritty he played, often limping around the backfield. There were times he scrambled out of the pocket, either limping for a first down or a touchdown, where he was all guts. There were times, especially in that 1980 season and subsequent playoff run, where he willed his team to win. It was absolutely amazing to grow up watching him. He was the ultimate clutch player, coming through whenever called upon, on the biggest stage pro football has to offer.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Terry Fox: Unbelievable courage

Terry Fox during his 1980 Marathon of Hope
There is no more Canadian a hero than Terry Fox. He began life as an ordinary man who would do some extraordinary things. A man so profoundly affected by the way he saw cancer ravage children when he was in hospital with them, that he vowed to make a difference. So, after he lost his own leg to cancer, he used his remaining leg, and a rudimentary prosthetic, to run across Canada. He had to run a marathon a day – on one leg. That's about 26 miles a day – on one leg. His goal was to raise one dollar for every Canadian to fight cancer. To date, more than $600 million has been raised.

What he showed the nation, and the world, was unbelievable courage.

Off in the distance
I was 10 years old when Terry Fox began his Marathon of Hope on April 12, 1980. There was no major fanfare or launch. In fact, it was not until months later that commercials started to appear on TV. I can still recall that tune: "Run Terry Run…Through the rain and the sun, run Terry run".

We even joked about it on the playground. We were playing touch football and Doug, one of my classmates, broke a long run. One of his teammates yelled, "Run Dougie Run!"

Later, I was watching a show called "Real People", an NBC TV series which featured the lives of everyday people. Host Sarah Purcell profiled Terry Fox, and I recall her actually running with him. I remember being so impressed that a Canadian story was on "Real People".

As Terry Fox made his way across Canada, we saw him on TV more and more. He was at the NHL all-star game, and kicking off a CFL game. He was in the news more and more.

We also talked about him in current events during Mr. Sorge's Grade 6 social studies class.

Yet Terry Fox was still far off in the distance.

Terry Fox receives his Order of Canada
The end
It happened when I came home from school. I had just started junior high, and it was on TV. Terry Fox had to stop his Marathon of Hope outside Thunder Bay, Ontario. It really didn't register with me. I saw the tearful news conference, with him lying on the stretcher at the opening of the back of an ambulance. I honestly believed he would be back on the road eventually, and finish.

There was sporadic news coverage after that. I remember Terry Fox being awarded the Order of Canada, and seeing him sitting in a suit, the order around his neck, and smiling.

Then one day, again I came home from school, and discovered Terry Fox had died. Even then, I just could not believe it. I just assumed, in my 10-year-old brain, that he would finish.

I do recall, vaguely, the national telethon put together for Terry Fox. After that, sadly, he disappeared off my radar. I was becoming a teenager, and so many other things became important.

The "Terry Fox Story" aired on CTV in late 1983 or early 1984, and I recall staying up late to watch it. Eric Fryer, an actual amputee, played Terry Fox and for the first time I saw what kind of person Terry Fox was. Fryer portrayed the anger, rage, short temper, and single-mindedness that made Terry Fox more than a hero – it made him a human. And that made him an even bigger inspiration to me. Chris Makepeace, a talented young Canadian actor, played Terry's brother Darrell Fox, and Robert Duvall played Bill Vigars, a publicist with the Canadian Cancer Society. Both real-life characters are still heavily involved in the Terry Fox Foundation. As I watched, I wondered how they would end the movie. It brought many tears when the movie ended with an empty track, the one Terry Fox had trained on for his Marathon of Hope.

The movie did receive some criticism from Terry Fox's family for portraying him as ill-tempered. Like I said, that humanized him and would make me admire him more.

The movie won six Genie Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars, including best picture, best actor for Eric Fryer, and best supporting actor for Michael Zelniker, who played Terry Fox's best friend Doug Alward.

Later, there were two events that brought Terry Fox to mind. The first was in 1985 when Steve Fonyo, another one-legged runner, completed Terry's journey. I recall watching on TV when he arrived at the Pacific Ocean, dipping his foot in it and dumping in some water he had taken from the Atlantic Ocean when he started his run.

The second was when Rick Hansen brought his "Man in Motion" tour to Canada. He did come through Coaldale, and I was there to greet him. His journey had conjured up memories of Terry Fox.

Parting thoughts
It is with the benefit of age and perspective that I admire Terry Fox. I really was too young at the time to comprehend what he was doing. I think it is safe to say no one could comprehend the effect Terry Fox would have on this country over the next 30-plus years. As I have grown older, and can truly understand Terry Fox's accomplishments and his legacy, I have done my best to honour his memory through my work at the newspaper.

Through everything, I keep coming back to the same thought: Terry Fox had unbelievable courage, absolutely unbelievable. And we are all better for it.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Chris DeBurgh: The perfect host

I have never been to a concert quite like it: Chris DeBurgh on his “Into the Light” tour at the Northlands Coliseum in the first part of 1989. One of the guys I went with described it best: “He was the perfect host”.

My friend Bruce got me the ticket, and he was a big Chris DeBurgh fan. I, on the other hand, was limited to “Fire on the Water”, “Lady in Red”, and a couple other songs from “Into the Light”. Bruce had begun to fill me in, because he had a bunch of DeBurgh tapes, but that was it.

No pre-recorded tape of music could prepare me for the show I saw.

The concert
It's funny how, when you're new to music you may hear a song you recognize, but have no idea who sang it. Before long you realize you actually knew a bunch of the singer's songs after all. That's happened at this concert. The first time it was "Spanish Train", then later "Don't Pay the Ferryman". I had heard them before.

The thing that stood out though, was how Chris DeBurgh introduced each song with a story. Bruce cheered every time he recognized a song by the story DeBurgh told.

At one point he started telling this great story but suspected he might not remember all the words to the song he was introducing. He started playing then, right in the middle, he stopped dead.

"I told you I'd forget."

On to the next song.

There were other songs like "Patricia the Stripper", that I had never heard. Another one of Bruce's friends reacted in disbelief that the song was actually called THAT and it was about THAT.

When DeBurgh sang "A Spaceman Came Travelling", I was almost moved to tears when he let the crowd sing the "La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la" part.

Eventually, he played the songs from "Into The Light", the album he was promoting. Songs such as "The Lady in Red", and I think "Fire on the Water".

The highlight for me came in two parts.

DeBurgh told the story of the song "Borderline". It's the tale of a young man going off to war and saying goodbye to his love. The songs kind of just ends.

Then, he introduced the song "Say Goodbye to it All". To that point, I had heard it on the tape, but it really did not resonate with me. After he told the story of "Borderline", and how "Say Goodbye to it All" concluded the story, it has become one of my favourite songs. The imagery is powerful, and the word play is incredible. I marvel at how "Say goodbye to it all" applies to so many situations. Tim McGraw used the same technique in "Don't Take the Girl".

The best part was "Say Goodbye to it All", was the finale. We all stood on our feet, waving our arms as we joined in the chorus. It was almost magical.

Interestingly, Chris DeBurgh did the same thing a few years ago, when he released a sequel to "The Lady in Red".

The perfect host
The only performers who have come close in my travels in hosting a concert the way Chris DeBurgh did, are Burton Cummings, and Greg Keeler of Blue Rodeo. Close, but I believe Chris DeBurgh is a poet and a troubadour more than a musician.

That makes him the perfect host.