Friday, 8 April 2016

David Bowie: Two memorable duets

David Bowie performing in 1983.
He was already a star at the dawn of the new decade – Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom and much more.

Yet, as the 1980s unfolded, David Bowie would add to his work, his life, and his legacy with a string of successful albums. He branched out into acting, and launched one of the most elaborate and successful live concert tours of the decade.

Amidst all that, Bowie continued to collaborate with other artists on songs that had a profound effect on me.

The world lost one of the greats when David Bowie passed away recently.

Teaming up
At the dawn of the 1980s, David Bowie teamed up with Queen to record “Under Pressure” in 1981. It would shoot to number one in the United Kingdom, Bowie’s third song to do so. It was an unforgettable song, as the voices of Bowie and Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury meshed together nicely.

It was also a sign of things to come when it came to duets.

Greatest success
Two years later, Bowie released the album “Let's Dance” in 1983. It would go platinum in both the UK and the United States. The album featured a lot of songs that became synonymous with this period in Bowie’s career. There was the title track “Let’s Dance”, as well as “Modern Love" and “China Girl.”

One odd memory I have of Bowie happened when I was in Grade 9, so late 1983. There was a battle being waged in Lethbridge between two radio stations that wanted to be considered the top rock station: 1090 CHEC, an AM station, and LA-107 FM.

LA-107 was the upstart, and waged the campaign, trying to be noticed and dislodge CHEC from everyone’s collective music conscience. One of my classmates had a white t-shirt with red, three-quarter-length sleeves that had stencilled in red felt letters on the front “I love LA-107”. On the back it said, “I hate CHEC.”

There was also a TV commercial, which had a man sitting on a bus bench. A rollerskater skated by wearing headphones blasting “I Don’t Wanna Dance” by Eddie Grant. Then the guy saw LA-107 stencilled on the bench and changed stations to, “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie.

It’s funny – both those stations eventually stopped playing that kind of music, either by changing format or folding completely.

Anyway, Bowie released another album in 1984 that produced another hit single, “Blue Jean”. The video featured Bowie in full face makeup. I recall seeing that on one of the video shows of the time, “Video Hits” after school on CBC I believe. He eventually won a Grammy for that video.

However, the most memorable songs for me that David Bowie recorded were ones he did with other artists.

Although it did not occur in the 1980s, the first time I heard his most memorable duet was at the end of an episode of “Entertainment Tonight”.

Quite honestly, I had no expectations of him, given all my experience of David Bowie was him being out there. That had recently been cemented when one of my buddies told me Bowie had named his daughter Zowie Bowie. Wow.

So, when Mary Hart signed off “Entertainment Tonight” one day in  mid-December, I was not expecting much when she introduced Bowie singing “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby. I recall my initial reaction was how could they even go together.

Boy was I wrong.

That song, “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” was actually part of Crosby’s final Christmas special on CBS. Five years later, on Christmas Day of 1982, it hit number three on the UK charts.

Bowie’s voice in that song absolutely melted my heart. It was awesome.

In 1984, I started listening to music and by 1985 had received my first ghetto blaster for Christmas. I used to listen to LA-107 a lot, partly because I bought into the hype it was better than CHEC. I started listening to various segments they had, and soon heard this haunting song from a movie starring Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn.

The movie was called “The Falcon and the Snowman” and its soundtrack produced a song called “This is Not America”. Initially, the song was recorded by the jazzy Pat Metheney Group, but producers wanted more. Consequently, Bowie was brought on board to provide the vocals.

The song is about disaffected youth who get involved in drugs and espionage. Bowie’s haunting vocals and the music by the Pat Metheney Group fit those themes very well.

“This is Not America” hit the top 40 in both the U.S., peaking at number 32, and the U.K., peaking at number 14.

Again, Bowie’s vocals touched me deeply.

Famine relief
Then, to round out that year, came a collaboration of mythic proportions.

My hero Bob Geldof had already begun to raise global consciousness about the drought and famine in Ethiopia, with Band Aid, a gathering of musicians who raised money through the release of their Christmas song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” at the end of 1984.

Geldof was following that up with a pair of all-star concerts in London, England and Philadelphia he called “Live Aid”. There were dozens and dozens of acts set to play.

When the concert was set to broadcast live on American TV, there was a very special segment that had been taped earlier.

It was David Bowie and Mick Jagger singing their own version of “Dancing In the Street”. They sang and danced, and set the tone for an incredible broadcast.

Bob Geldof is one of my heroes, fuelled in part by what he did with Band Aid and Live Aid.

“Dancing In the Street” is a part of that. It hit number one in the United Kingdom and number seven in the United States. All proceeds went to the famine relief efforts.

So, by then, David Bowie had cemented a reputation that he played well with others. All these great collaborations are just another part of his mystique.

On tour
The 1980s had a lot of mega-tours of musicians. They would descend on a venue and stage an elaborate show for two hours or more to promote the artist and whatever album they were selling.

One of the biggest tours of the 1980s was the “Glass Spider Tour” in 1987, which even made a stop at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

It was all the talk at one point, especially how Bowie was lowered onto the stage in a massive glass spider.

My best friend Chris Vining told me he had heard mixed reviews of the tour. The Georgia Satellites, one of his favourite bands at that moment, warmed up the crowd, which was continued by Duran Duran. Bowie, however, could not sustain that momentum.

Interesting, I thought. If the concert was all about the show and less about the music, that sounded good. Often it seemed to me, Bowie was as much or more about the show than the music anyway. There was never any danger he would not give the crowd a show. By that point, he did not really have a strong single out there, so that’s all he could give them – beyond all the favourites he had already recorded.

The other cool thing I recall about that tour was another musician I liked, Peter Frampton, was playing with Bowie. I was just getting into his album, “”Frampton Comes Alive”, which my brother recorded for me. That would have been worth the price of admission itself.

Fans flocked to the 86-show tour. It grossed $86 million, making it the fourth highest tour in the decade.

You oughta be in pictures
The first time I saw David Bowie in a movie poster was for “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (1983), in an issue of “Tribute” magazine. He played a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp.

The next time I saw him was playing Jareth, the king of the goblins in “Labyrinth” in 1986. That was a movie created by Jim Henson, the master puppeteer behind Sesame Street and The Muppets. Two years later, in 1988, he played Pontius Pilate in “The Last Temptation of Christ”.

David Bowie just continued to expand his horizons, adding acting to his ever growing body of work.

Parting thoughts
Never could I say I was a fan of David Bowie. I never owned any of his albums or actively sought out his music in any way. Yet, I have always been impressed with his desire to innovate and create and branch out. He never seemed to want to settle for anything, and I respect that.

However, there is one part of David Bowie that does sit with me.

Whenever I hear his name, I am instantly reminded of him and Mick Jagger dancing, singing, and raising money for a good cause. And I am reminded of an incredibly touching Christmas song that truly touched my soul.

They are two duets that had a profound effect on me in different ways.

For that, I am eternally grateful, and quite sad that David Bowie will no longer be around to share more of himself.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

So long Northlands Coliseum

An artist's rendition of the Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton.
Rexall Place hosted its last Edmonton Oilers game on April 6, drawing attention from around the world. For me though, it will forever be the Northlands Coliseum. It may soon be consigned to the dust bin of history, but the Northlands will always hold a special place in my heart, with a wealth of memories.

Not just TV
Growing up in the 1980s, the Northlands Coliseum was always front and centre on Hockey Night in Canada. It was the home of the Edmonton Oilers who, by the mid-80s, were contending for and winning Stanley Cups. Their home ice became a fixture on TV broadcasts, especially since they won four of their five Stanley Cups on home ice.

From my perch on the farm, I never thought I’d ever see an NHL hockey game. It didn’t even dawn on me how close I was, when I left home for university in Edmonton in 1987.

That soon changed, as did my perspective of the world. My horizons were set to expand and soon.

It was in February of 1988 that my beloved Boston Bruins came to town. My roommate and best friend growing up, Chris Vining, and I secured tickets to see them play. The university’s engineering students periodically ran events that included a party, ticket to an Oiler game, and bus ride there and back. One of the engineers on our floor got us a couple tickets to see the game – and I was pumped.

Chris had already gone to see games at the Northlands before, including a Chicago game with the engineers earlier in the year.

It would be my first time, and I will never forget it.

As the bus approached, the stadium began to loom in the distance. It was actually pretty surreal. What I had seen so many times on TV, that stadium with the blue hue, was now right in front of me.

It was even more impressive inside.

The biggest arena I had been in to that point was the Lethbridge Sportsplex, where the Lethbridge Broncos then Lethbridge Hurricanes played.

The Northlands dwarfed the Sportsplex. I was struck by the size when we walked to our seats. The Northlands looked like the Sportsplex – with a whole bowl added on top. It was massive.

That’s when I also first really understood what nose-bleed seats meant. We had a long walk up, and were almost at the top of the arena. We were so high we could look down into the broadcast booths. In fact, I tried to check out their monitors for replays once the game started.

To make the experience complete was Paul Lorieau coming out to sing the national anthems, and the rink announcer I had heard so many times before on the farm.

It was just like TV – except I was there!

The games
The Bruins would win that game 7-4, giving me the perfect birthday present. But that was just the beginning of my experiences at the Northlands.

We saw the Oilers beat the Calgary Flames later that same season. The next year, I was back in the rafters to see Wayne Gretzky play his first game back in Edmonton after his much-talked-about trade to the Los Angeles Kings. Our seats were so high up, I could actually reach back and touch the wall, near where it met the ceiling. I would see the Bruins a few more times, and the Vancouver Canucks once. I saw the expansion San Jose Sharks make their first visit to Edmonton, sat right behind the net to see the New York Rangers, and was sitting ice level to see the Minnesota North Stars. The North Stars may have been the biggest team I saw in person too. I accompanied my friend Mark Saxton to see his beloved Buffalo Sabres play once. I befriend a man who was wheelchair bound and loved hockey. I acted as his attendant, sitting by his side in the seats reserved for people with wheelchairs and their aids, to see rookie Teemu Selanne with the Winnipeg Jets and the great Peter Stastny in his final few years with the New Jersey Devils.

My last hockey experience at Northlands, which by then was the Edmonton Coliseum, was in the summer of 1996. I had this friend who worked for Peter Pocklington, and needed some help with an event called “Breakout ‘96”. It was a street hockey tournament right in the coliseum parking lot. It was a lot of fun, and I still have a shirt and a couple cups from the event.

The concerts
Hockey was far from the only reason I went to the Northlands Coliseum. There was also music.

Again, I never in my wildest dreams on the farm thought I would ever see any of the musicians I heard every day on the radio.

That changed in the fall of 1988.

It was impossible for me to believe but Boston, my favourite band, was coming to Edmonton. It would be their first trip ever this way. I heard one of my floormates in res was getting tickets, and I asked if she could get me one. She did and, a month or so later, I saw my favourite band play all my favourite songs.

Next up was Chris DeBurgh later that school year. We were down on the floor for that one, unlike Boston where we sat in  the stands, albeit quite low down with the glass removed.

The last one I saw was Bryan Adams. It was initially sold out, but organizers opened up seats behind the stage, so a buddy scooped up a bunch of those and we saw it. That was awesome too, because Bryan Adams was not only one of my favourites, but a Canadian icon. I was glad to see him.

Parting thoughts
The other day on the news, Mark Messier, one-time captain of the Edmonton Oilers, said a building can take on a life of its own. He and all his former teammates could feel that in the Northlands, which held a lot of memories for them.

It held a lot of memories for me too. Not just hockey games and concerts, but the times they were in and the people I was with.

It was a great place because it gave me a lot of great memories, but it did the same thing for thousands of others.

It may have become the Edmonton Coliseum, Skyreach Centre, and Rexall Place, but to me it will always be the Northlands Coliseum, a quaint, friendly, comfortable place to watch a game.

Thanks for the memories.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Remembering my dad

One of the most important parts of life in the 1980s for me was my family. My dad passed away this past Oct. 12, 2015, and I thought it fitting to just publish the eulogy I wrote and my sister-in-law Candius Vogt so eloquently read at my dad's funeral.

My dad and me at my Confirmation in Grade 7.
Could my head get any bigger? Could my dad be anymore handsome?
Paul Vogt was born on October 29, 1930, the son of Max and Anna Vogt, in Kleinpogel, Germany, a village of a few hundred people not far from the Oder River, where he often played as a boy.

He was the first son, born after his sisters Clara, who died after a few months, Irmgard, and Maria. After him came his brother, and best friend, Bernard, followed by sisters Barbara and Monica.

When he started school, he had to walk a few kilometers to a nearby village. He enjoyed school and athletics, and was pretty good at both. One year, he qualified for a district track meet in both the 100-metre dash and the long jump, but could only choose one. He chose the dash, while his friend chose the long jump. Their school ended up winning both events. However, he did regret not being able to go to school longer.

Paul was Roman Catholic, and his faith was important to him. He went to church regularly and took his kids to mass every Sunday too, whether they liked it or not. When he talked about his own upbringing, a source of pride was his confirmation, where he, Irmgard, Maria, and Bernard, were all confirmed by Adolf Bertram, the Cardinal of Breslau.

In 1939, Paul watched the German army march through his village on their way to invade Poland. That started the Second World War, which threw the entire world into turmoil. The war did not affect life too much at first. Once his father was taken into the German army though, Paul had to take on greater responsibility helping his mother to run the farm.

One weekend, his mother was visiting his father at the front, when Opa Vogt told her to take the family and head west. The Russians were coming. She packed up her family and they left, while the rest of the family stayed behind. Ultimately, the Vogts would become Displaced Persons and trek 1,500 miles until they landed in western Germany.

Once they settled again, Paul would find work from local farmers, then later in the coal mine near the Dutch border. Along the way he enjoyed his first Oktoberfest, before he and his family made the decision to immigrate to Canada.

The Vogt family landed in Canada in 1954, where they would work in the sugar beet fields near Picture Butte. In the off-season he, and brother Bernard, looked for work in Calgary, where they often found something in construction.

One of the cool things to do in the ’50s was go dancing at the German-Canadian Club in Calgary. It was there in 1956 that Bernard set Paul up with a young, beautiful German woman named Alice Jetz.

By 1957, the Vogt family had bought a farm near Brooks. Paul, his parents, brother and two sisters had all migrated to Brooks with the family.

Two years later Paul and Alice were married in January of 1959 and in November their first child George was born.

In October of 1960 Paul and Alice, along with Paul’s parents, and brother and his wife, became Canadian citizens. It was a very important day, so much so they made the front page of the Brooks Bulletin newspaper! At that point Alice was pregnant again, and had a daughter, Barbara, in January of 1961.

Paul and Alice decided it was time to make their own mark on the world, moving to the Coaldale area in 1964. Eventually, they settled on a place six miles north and 1.5 miles west of Coaldale, where they had a mixed farm of sugar beets, wheat, barley, hogs, and chickens.

In February of 1970, their youngest son Robert was born.

George would move off to college in Calgary. George met me and when it was time to meet his parents, dad welcomed me into the family with open arms. I have felt his kindness and love ever since then, and that’s been 35 years.

Paul and Alice would continue to farm together until 1991 when they decided to lease the farm, and retire into Lethbridge. They began a whole new, different life in the city.

No longer burdened with the stresses of farming, dad underwent a transformation, from farmer and provider to more of a family man.

He enjoyed spending time with his two grandchildren Jessica and James. Then, when Barb got married and had two girls of her own, Chelsea and Megan, he played a role in their lives, driving them to and from school every day, and going to every recital and concert he was invited to.

By then George and his family had moved to Nanaimo, and mom and dad started making regular trips to the island. Dad enjoyed watching his grandchildren play sports, like basketball and soccer.

As the years went on, Jessica married Jeff, and dad was thrilled to go out there for the celebration. Just last month Chelsea got married, and dad was happy to spend time with relatives, and welcome Chelsea’s husband Shadow to the family.

Through all that, he never stopped being a dad to his children. He and mom welcomed their son Rob back home to live when he was between jobs, then going to college to start a new career. When Barb was injured in a fall, dad and mom helped her get back on her feet.

The family always tried to stay connected. George and Candius visited at least once a year, but more often two and three times a year to spend a week with dad and mom. Dad always looked forward to their visits. A tradition that grew over time was Sunday afternoon coffee, where Barb visited every Sunday, and Rob came when he could.

Dad was an honest, hard-working man. He had a lot of integrity. People in our family said if you wanted a job done right, you went to Paul. He always wanted to be fair in whatever he did too, whether it was the way he treated his family, or dealt with others.

In his last days, he was talking about his care, especially from the nurses. He said they were excellent, but you have to be nice to them and they will be nice to you. I think that’s a pretty good way to live your life generally.

Dad loved to read, go for long walks, work in his yard, and religiously watch his game shows, including The Price Is Right, which was a passion for more than 30 years.

He also loved to talk about politics.

Voting was important to him. He voted in the first post-war free elections in Germany, and in every federal election after moving to Canada. It is ironic that today is election day. I’m sure dad is up there giving an earful to some of the politicians he never agreed with – so watch out Ralph Klein.

More likely he’s up there with his brother Bernard and his brother-in-law Witold and they’re talking about farming.

Rest in peace dad.