Backstage at Funny or Die

I found this pic, snapped by the mother of child actor Zachary Alexander Rice, as we waited backstage at the Funny or Die studio. This was my first experience meeting a real live Hollywood Child Actor. He was about the same age as my daughter, yet he acted like a 40-year-old. He was a super nice kid; and that was a fun day. Later, the cast (including The Dears) and crew had lunch in the very same conference room where Will Ferrell holds meetings about jokes.

BLOOD

While you read this, you should be downloading and listening to BLOOD from our new album. It is free. Click there. Harpsichord solo, grunge guitars, punishing bass (that your computer speakers can’t handle).

I had a bunch of stuff to say earlier on, typed everything out, then decided it was not fit to print. Total baloney. Anyhow, you should still listen to the song and think about these cool things happening right now:

1. Indie Rock Coloring book on sale from YBP today (Tuesday) only. Or buy something else tomorrow.

2. You and your kids should Dare to Drum this weekend. A family charity event happening all across Canada to help raise money for the Steven Lewis Foundation. Also watch the promo vid where Chris Murphy acts like a goofball because that’s what he does best!

3. In Montreal: STARS this Saturday at Metropolis. Duh.

4. Now: Vote for the Pablove Shutterbugs program that helps kids with cancer express themselves through photography.

Have fun. No matter which path you choose.

Great Grando Charles, RIP

I guess its kind of a drag to come to my blog and read about people dying, but death is a pretty huge part of life. Whether we like it or not. Early this morning, across the ocean in a small rural town just East of Paris, my grandfather Charles passed away. He was always “my grandfather in France,” who I’ve visited every few years since I was a kid. He was 94 years old, and didn’t look a day over 70. His place in my family is a complicated memory: one of war, of sadness and opportunities lost, decisions made in the face of a war-torn continent.

Do I want to get in to the whole story here? It’s convoluted, it’s long, there are many characters and cross-Atlantic boat rides. Spontaneous relationships, lovelorn Allied soldiers, and slaves to the Nazi empire. I think the heartbreak of my grandfather passing is just enough for now. I’ll tell you the story another day, because it really is a good one. I’m just not up for it at the moment.

On an historical note, the summer of 2010 marked the 70th anniversary of France’s Appeal of June 18:

The Appeal of June 18 (L’Appel du 18 Juin) was a famous speech by Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French Forces, in 1940. The appeal is often considered to be the origin of the French Resistance to the German occupation during World War II. De Gaulle spoke to the French people from London after the fall of France. He declared that the war for France was not yet over, and rallied the country in support of the Resistance. It is one of the most important speeches in French history.

Marking this anniversary, France recognised all of its surviving WWII veterans, including my grandfather, with an honorary diploma from the country’s Secretary of State for Defence. Charles was one of 13 living veterans honoured in his town of Gretz-Armainvilliers. I am proud of my grandfather, who I just called Charles, and who my daughter referred to as “Great Grando.” He is in my heart always.

Out of the blue, my daughter decided that she wanted to wear this little gold necklace that Charles had given to her when she was born. She has been wearing it since Friday. Before that it has literally been sitting in a jewelry box for months. My kid is more spiritually attuned to this universe than I might realise.

Mama2 and Great Grando are finally together. Here’s a photo he had given to my grandmother a very, very long time ago.

Also, one of my favourite images of Charles from the 1940’s sent to me by my cousin Jean-Marc:

Shout out to Mrs. Bartle

Generally I don’t enjoy listening to myself sing or play live. I don’t know what it is, but it reinforces any pre-existing deficit in confidence. Check the version of Crisis 1&2 The Dears recorded for a Daytrotter session. I hope we get to do another one in the future, because that was fun.

At any rate, I noticed a couple moments where my vocal performance was *ahem* not exactly pitch-perfect, when a memory came to me: of my grade school music teacher, Mrs. Bartle, and the hand gestures she would use as a conductor to denote our pitchiness. Like a musical umpire, she would hold her hand close to her chest with a finger pointing upwards if we (the altos, I was forever an alto in choirs) were sharp, and tug on her ear if we were flat. Thinking back to the music program at my elementary school in Toronto, I am super grateful and fortunate to have had such a passionate and knowledgeable teacher. In my fuzzy memory, I recall Mrs. Bartle looking like some combination of own mom (because of their trendy 80’s hair style) and Margaret Thatcher (because of her British-ness) and how Mrs. Bartle, appropriately, took no bullshit. She wasn’t the nice teacher at school, but she kept us in line and as a result, we learned a lot about music before the age of 10.

My daughter started kindergarten this year, and I worry about her school’s lacklustre music program: the meek music teacher, and the fact that the school doesn’t even have a dedicated music room or offer instruments other than recorders. At Howard, we had a second teacher, Mr Tacconia (sp.?), who came in once a week for extra-curricular band class. Thinking back to my school daze, much of my early learning was steeped in music and now, suddenly, I am concerned for my own daughter’s musical education. Perfecting her “rock face” has already been established, we just need to get the music in her.

Or maybe it is there already, intuitively. Music definitely makes learning more fun, and I think it made school more interesting for me. Music and arts are always a school’s lowest priority and the first to go when cuts happen. Let’s not forget to support charities that bring music programs and instruments into schools across Canada. ALSO: mad props to music teachers and school volunteers EVERYWHERE.

Coalition for Music Education in Canada: http://www.weallneedmusic.com/
CARAS’ MusiCounts: http://www.musicounts.ca/


Check me out on the flute! Mr. T rulez! Although, I was very bummed that I got the flute when my first choice was the TRUMPET. Neptune, however, will get but a lame-ass recorder and certainly no flammable polyester blazer. #publiceducationfail

Musical Mnemonics 3: Squeeze

While shopping for back to school clothes for by kid, I found myself in the beige-est of retailers, Old Navy. Usually when I do normal, mall-related things, the music stores play perplexes me. I can’t not listen to it. I know it’s a whole thing now, for a band to have their song included on these playlists. And depending on the store, the musical selections can be totally unremarkable, frustrating, irritating, mind-blowing, delightful, or, on the rare occasion, a reminder of something amazing I haven’t heard in a while.

Whilst wandering the Old Navy in search of white, child-sized polo shirts, I was reminded of Squeeze via Pulling Mussels from the Shell. A classic track.

This instalment of “musical mnemonics” is dedicated to Squeeze: a new wave pop band from the UK, circa late 70’s/early 80’s, who wrote really fucking great songs. Namely: Tempted, Cool for Cats, Pulling Mussels from the Shell, Black Coffee in Bed, Another Nail In My Heart. Go out and purchase their Singles 45s and Under immediately. Especially if you were born in the 90’s, you gotta hear these songs. It’s imperative.

Anyway, this is pretty much the kind of music that belies my white-ness. I mean, check out some of their music videos on YouTube (see below). Holy goofball festival, but I know, I forgive everything. After all it was the 80’s and that decade unfortunately rolled into the 90’s which taken together created the biggest cultural recession the Western Hemisphere has known. Much like the massive cultural cluster-fuck we’re presently living through.

Take a break from it, remember something easy, something good. Something to listen to while drinking beers by the lake somewhere. NO PRETENTION. REMEMBER THAT?

Apparently that’s Jools Holland pushing the piano around…

Delinquent Blogger

Feels like weeks since I’ve been here. I keep meaning to write something, then I get distracted by something else that has to be done. We’re in the final stages of production of The Dears album, and I’m pretty much completely psyched about it. Also, I’ve been working on my science fiction novel which is coming along nicely but is a real drain on the wordsmith portions of my brain. Thus, explaining my absence here.

Saturday night, just before bedtime, my daughter pulled out three of her stuffed bears and asked me to make two of them some clothes so they could be more like the third, red-shirted Winnie the Pooh. I’ve made low-rent bag-shirts out of felt for her bears before, so I told her we could do it in the morning and sent her off to bed. First thing Sunday morning I was requested to make good on my word and produce aforementioned bear clothes. Really? I negotiate to have coffee and breakfast first and decide to go for it: I busted out the sewing machine. I did not go for it that far, since I didn’t bother trying to change the colour of the bobbin thread. Gauche, I know.

I was instructed to make two shirts: one blue and one yellow. I found scraps of fabric I’d used for other projects and started in, first making a blue shirt for the panda bear (accented with a bowtie made from gingham Mokuba ribbon). After making the yellow vest for the second “Snowy” bear, was feeling a little confident and added a skirt with ruched front. That’s right. From scratch, patternless, using mismatched threads and crappy scissors.

May I present to you, four hours later, Snowy and The General in their Sunday best:

GeekMom: Focus on Maths

This morning I came up with the ultimate parenting strategy: instill the force (of nerdiness) within your child. I’ve always wanted to get my daughter into science and math, engaging the everychild’s wonderment of the world. Literally everything that surrounds us contains science content. Everything. I defy you to come up with something (action, item, emotion, thought, colour, food, etc.) that cannot be informed by even a simple nugget of scientific or mathematical knowledge.

Lately around here, our daughter has been obsessed with colours and mixing them to create new colours. I get asked about four times a day: “What does….red and…purple make?” It’s been a serious Pantone challenge, let me tell you. Especially when she gets nuanced, asking for the result of three or four colours combined. Constellations and galaxies are a new one, and bath time has become an exercise in bouyancy vs. surface tension.

As my child enters the public school system this fall, I can’t help think maniacally about all the variables she will encounter, all the things totally beyond my control that will shape her into an inevitably pain-filled teenager: friends, bullies, frenemies, teachers, and the stuffs of learning itself.

I found the catch-all: mathematics. People who are capable at math are like the Vulcans of the Earth. Wikipedia describes Vuclans as a “humanoid species” who “live by reason and logic with no interference from emotion.” And I think: YES. What better interpersonal coping skills than pure logic? Math and even basic principles of physics both lay this groundwork down, with the idea that there are fundamentals that cannot be questioned. You just don’t mess with logic.

CHILD: “Should I start smoking?”
VULCAN REASONING : “No, that would be harmful to my physical well-being, and thus survival.”

CHILD: “Should I skip class?”
VULCAN REASONING: “That would be against protocol.”

CHILD: “Should I partake in spitballing the bathroom ceiling? All the other kids are doing it and it looks like lots of fun.”
VULCAN REASONING: “This activity poses a scheduling conflict with computer science class.”

Etc, etc. In my schooling years, I had no interest in being cool. I was not cool, though kept a handful of close friends. We would be not cool together. I was in Gifted class in grade school, a place where we went to play Below the Root and solve Logic Problems. In high school I wrote national math competitions (I didn’t stand a change against Ko-Hua Chu, a peer who, rumour has it, stormed out of class for only scoring 99% on a math test). My parents had a Commodore 64 at home, and me and my sister would get with those books that had the pages of BASIC programs you could type in to make your computer do stupid shit. Like repeat a word on the screen until you hit a button, or do math, or load a game on casette tape. That was such a discovery, beyond just spending hours trying to finish that Bruce Lee game.

I’m trying not to make this about me, but about how my childhood could relate to my daughter’s. The other day Murray, Neptune and I were watching our first David Tennant episode of Dr. Who. And even though Neptune said she didn’t like it, she could not take her eyes off the TV for the duration of the episode. I recall my dad watching Dr. Who, and have kept in my memory the quirkiness of the Tom Baker (the best, IMHO), Peter Davison and Colin Baker-era doctors. I must have been around 10 when this was going on. Why did I love it so much? Because it was simply around? What was going on in other people’s houses that made me so predisposed to geekery, and other kids so into, well, clothing?

Therein lay the mysteries of western parenting. Now ask yourself: do you want to raise a Mischa Barton or Bill Gates? There is no wrong answer.

Martine’s Bookclub

Check the hair on the second one from the left. It’s like my hair as an adult on my face as a kid.

Me at 4, for reference:

Plus me currently, *ahem* several years later…oh whatever. Searching for the perfect recent photo is taking way too long. You get the idea.

The drawing of the kids is from the back of a popular French children’s book series called Martine.

RESIST THE COATING

Months ago, my daughter broke my glasses. I saw it as an opportunity, a blessing in disguise. I rarely wear my glasses, save for weekends, before bedtime and for overnight traveling. The last pair – which was held together by tape for a while – was purchased four years ago after forgetting my much-loved clear-framed glasses at a hotel in Copenhagen (the picture below was taken in Melbourne). I rarely end up enjoying the glasses I choose; and my only real successes have come when the optometrist seriously questions my decisions.

I totally despise shopping for glasses. Mainly because they are a medical necessity disguised as a fashion accessory, and as soon as anything crosses from “medical” into “fashion,” prices are gonna skyrocket. Then they try and guilt you into the coatings on the lenses. The anti-glare, anti-scratch, anti-fog, anti-UVA and B, and whatever else they can layer on there. Those coatings are total bullshit. They just scratch off eventually, making the glasses irritating; doubly irritating after you’ve paid hundreds of dollars for them.

I feel like I would wear my glasses more often if getting them wasn’t such a trial. While purchasing this pair, the sales lady made me feel like I was really making the worst decision of my life coupling the cheap-ass “Dad” frames from the men’s section with the regular, uncoated lenses. I went in with the decision already made: I WILL RESIST THE COATING. I had to be firm and trust my instincts.

The sales lady, I realise, was simply doing her job, trying to super-size my prescription. Like when you buy new shoes and they try and sell you the special spray or those extended warranties on shit that’s gonna break the week after the extended warranty runs out anyways at the electronics store. The salesperson’s job is to make you feel like the main purchase you are making is absolutely worthless, null and void if you don’t spend the extra $45 on the fucking lens coating. Insurance. Legalized racketeering, whatever.

Uh…the point? Maybe this post belies a certain thriftiness, a shrewd consumer perspective. I call it value. Not value-added in any way, just a reminder of plain, old-fashioned value.

Actually the reason I started this post in the first place was to share the inspiration behind my selection of frames. Not sure why I went on that long, self-flaggelating rant. Now, to the inspiraysh:

These glasses, worn by a secret agent in the first Mission Impossible (1996) are a bit more extreme, but the fact that a woman would wear these to a gala ball under the pretence of going incognitco is all kinds of crazy. Hopefully, I will at times achieve a similar “I’m undercover…as an eccentric!” mystique.

Were Our Lives More Science-y in the 80’s?

I was thinking today about science, and how curious I was about things when I was a kid. I always wanted to mix the baking soda and vinegar together when no one was watching (just little bits at a time). I would invent things, take things apart, and my sister and I would burn stuff in our “play hibachi,” just to see what would happen. My dad is in science, and we could rely on Nova, The Nature of Things or Dr. Who being on TV at some point during the evening.

Anyway, whilst on the internet today I saw an interview with Bill Nye the Science Guy. I then remembered the whole Bill Nye vs. Beakman’s World debacle, with Bill Nye firmly out-geeking Beakman’s screwball laboratory hijinks (Disney always wins such battles). Next was a flurry of memories of how important science was in the 80’s. Like back then we really thought the future was going to be the bomb. People were building robots and we had computers (Commodore 64, bitches) in our homes. But was I unusually into science or was science just more mainstream?

There were definitely more science shows for kids. What do we have now that makes learning fun? Zoboomafoo? Mythbusters? There’s all the programming on DiscoveryKids and Bill Nye is still slugging it out. But shows about trashy tweens seem to be more in the mainstream. Science just isn’t as cool as it used to be. All these memories of stuff I was really into in the 80’s came to mind:

TV
David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things, Nova (both still on the air), Owl/TV (theme song), Mr. Wizard’s World, Beakman’s World, Bill Nye The Science Guy, Edison Twins (couldn’t resist), 321 Contact (also, rad theme), Wonderstruck, Dr. Who…and my fave show that we watched as a family: Star Trek: The Next Generation, of course.

MOVIES
Weird Science, War Games, Short Circuit, The Fly, *Batteries Not Included, Cocoon, never mind crazy sci-fi blockbusters like Star Wars, E.T. and Close Encounters.

These days we take science for granted: we are tethered to the internet via tiny computing devices, and the digital word has replaced most analogue forms of communication. As a kid in Toronto, the best school field trip of all time was to the Science Centre. I mean, I was into learning about binary code and tectonic plates when I got there. I would also try and get my parents to take me downtown just so I could hit up Science City, the nerdiest store at Bay/Bloor Village (and which, to my total surprise, STILL EXISTS). They always had experiments or fun gadgets that I inadvertently learned stuff from. Like that little plastic threaded tube that connects two 2L soda bottles and acts as a giant tornado maker! Or light-sensitive paper that you put shit on top of and leave out in the sun and create cool silhouettes!

Did I have friends? As I recall, I did have some serious BFFs, but my memories are continually making me out to be a serious nerd. Quality, not quantity, I guess.