Thursday, February 20, 2014

Winter Games: Curling

[purchase a book about curling strategy]

Every two years, I find myself getting into a debate about whether particular sports deserve to be in the Olympics or not. Now, I understand that every Olympic event requires some degree of skill and athletic ability, but it does somehow seem odd that there is rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, ice dancing, shooting, yachting, dressage and trampoline, but no baseball, softball, football, lacrosse, cricket or squash. And it is a travesty that tug of war was dropped after the Antwerp games in 1920. There doesn’t really seem to be any rhyme or reason to how the sports are selected, leading to interminable discussion on the issue. It reminds me of something that I recall Bill James, the great baseball sabremetrician, wrote about the Baseball Hall of Fame—essentially that the standard for election was being elected. (I have looked online for the quote, but haven’t been able to find it.)

Personally, I have a problem with judged sports because the standards are so arbitrary, and the judging is always so controversial. I understand sports where the first person across the line wins, and those where the team with the most points comes in first. You don’t lose the downhill because you looked awkward. No one says that a particular goal is worth more because it was scored after a spinning move, or less because it was accidentally scuffed in. I know that all sports have judges, refs or umps, but they enforce rules, not decide artistic merit, which is and of itself is subjective.

So, based on my criteria alone, curling is a very worthwhile sport. There is a scoring system based on points, there is no artistic judging, and it even has a tradition of sportsmanship that exceeds many others. It requires incredible strategy, practice and skill, and athletic ability. On the other hand, it is not the most popular sport around, and, worse, it is reminiscent of a game played by retirees at the Del Boca Vista. Every 4 years, I watch, fascinated, at the games, learning again what the “button” is, why the “hammer” is so important, and how to determine “shot rock.” Not to mention, I like saying “bonspiel.” I can’t seem to figure out the strategy though--to make another Seinfeld reference, they always do the opposite of what I think.

You wouldn’t think that curling would inspire many songs, but you would be wrong. Here’s a link to “Ten Great Curling Songs,” including the one in the video above. And here’s another. And another. There’s even a book called “Curling Songs and Poems.” Poems!! And if that isn’t enough, here’s an epic ten and a half minute video for a song by LMFAO all about curling—even if they don’t get all of the rules right.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Winter Games: Snow Brigade

Mew singer Jonas Bjerre. Photo Credit Bill Ebbesen 

"Snow Brigade" fan music video.

Mew: Snow Brigade

This song is always the first that comes to mind when I think of snow songs. I have to admit, that's not very often, nor had I ever even considered the existence of a genre such as "winter pop" until I scoured the internet comments and forums for discussion of this song.

The ever-enlightened, scholarly groupmind of SongMeanings repeatedly amuses a connection to cocaine, but I can't find anything in the lyrics that clearly prompts such an interpretation on a basic level. With hints of depression, failed communications, a frustrating relationship, and the importance of the season's change, this song is an unreceived broadcast to a partner with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Mew's homeland of Denmark has a relatively cool climate with heavy, wet winters, during which the daylight time dwindles to just about seven hours—not nearly long enough to even get to enjoy a single, cold moment of sunshine for those of us running on U.S. cubicle work hours. Seasonal Affective Disorder can carry a person's mood quickly into a new personality, a slow shift that grinds the gears of a relationship's communications.

"In winter you're an affliction," the singer of this song tells their partner. There's an argument brewing. Jealous accusations of new interests and demands for evidence. "Enable [me] to bring out the something you want to know beneath the snow," the singer tells the accuser. "Bring out the someone you want to see for jealousy."

Things end on a sour note. The singer's "arms retreat," as the option of immediate reconciliation fades, and the only option is to try again on another day: "I'll find you somewhere / show you how much I care / know that there is no / escape from my snow brigade."

This was the first Mew song I ever heard, and it turned me instantly into a fan. Although the album I've most fallen in love with (2009's No More Stories Are Told Today I'm Sorry They Washed Away No More Stories The World Is Grey I'm Tired Let's Wash Away) sounds very little like other entries to their catalogue—including this song—both styles fit with their own moods, allowing me to enjoy Mew on even more occasions.

Singer Jonas Bjerre's voice carries the same shrill, tenuous beauty of a tightly-tuned violin string, simultaneously raising the listener's hackles and petting them on the head. This is undoubtedly the first thing that catches the newcomer's ears, but underlying musical experimentations that combine, at times, elements of progressive metal, ambient, noise, and indie pop should not go unappreciated.

Capable of producing albums of catchy singles, like 2003's Frengers, Mew also demonstrates clear understanding of the capability of the album itself as a limit, as No More Stories... and their 2005 album And the Glass Handed Kites both construct single-song façades through the use of song transitions and titular divisions.

Taking theme to the screen as well, Mew enlisted the aid of director Martin de Thurah to deliver a trio of music videos for singles on their release of No More Stories...: "Introducing Palace Players," "Repeaterbeater," and "Beach."

Monday, February 17, 2014

Winter Games: Hockey Skates

Kathleen Edwards: Hockey Skates

It’s not that I don’t like hockey, but I just never got into the habit of watching it. I grew up watching baseball, basketball and football, and hockey wasn’t something that we followed in our house, although my father tells stories about going to the old Madison Square Garden when he was in high school to watch double headers for like a nickel. When I do watch hockey, I recognize that it is exciting, and the few games I have been to are great, and I find that I enjoy the games best during the playoffs, or the Olympics, when fighting takes a back seat to skating. Of course, I was very excited by the “Miracle on Ice” (which you should read about here). And I loved Slap Shot. Hockey may also be the sport that benefits the most from HDTV, because you can actually follow the puck.

My siblings and I all grew up in the same house, and while my brother and I became rabid sports fans, my sister never got the bug. I have no idea if my parents did anything differently to cause that, but I have found that my daughter is less of a sports fan than my son (except, to some degree, when it comes to soccer). But life has a way of throwing curves (to use a baseball metaphor, because I’m not familiar enough with hockey to know if there is a similar hockey phrase), and my sister has a boyfriend who is a rabid hockey fan and a son who is less interested in sports than her daughter. Seeing pictures on Facebook of my sister in a Rangers jersey at a game has brought me much amusement. But it is important in a relationship to support your partner’s interests, which is why my wife has found herself at more Mets games than I think she ever anticipated, and I have certainly seen more choral music than I ever imagined.

Of course, if you are Canadian, hockey is ingrained in your culture. It is actually the state religion, set forth in the Constitution (no, it isn’t). And it is not surprising that Canadian singer Kathleen Edwards uses hockey references even in songs that aren’t about hockey at all. Often compared to Lucinda Williams due to the similar quality of their songwriting, their twangy sound, and less than perfect voices, Edwards is a great talent in her own right. In the song “Hockey Skates,” Edwards’ narrator describes an unsatisfactory relationship and says, with resignation,

I am so sick of consequence and the look on your face 
I am tired of playing defense 
I don't even have hockey skates 

You don’t have to be Don Cherry to understand what she means.

Another great Edwards song that references hockey without being about hockey is “I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory,” in which the narrator unfavorably compares herself to her fellow band member with a series of clever comparisons—

You're cool and cred like Fogerty I'm Elvis Presley in the 70's 
You're Chateauneuf, I'm Yellow Label 
You're the buffet, I'm just the table 
I'm a Ford Tempo, you're a Maserati 
You're the Great One, I'm Marty McSorley 
You're the Concorde, I'm economy. 

Here, she is comparing herself not to the all-time great Wayne Gretzky, but to his teammate, the grinding enforcer, McSorley. The video for this song is fun, and features a hockey match that includes Edwards, members of her band, Blue Rodeo singer Jim Cuddy, former NHL players Paul Coffey and Brad Dalgarno, and, yes, Marty McSorley.