Wednesday, 30 July 2014



Interstellar Rodeo


‘The sun machine is coming down and we’re going to have a party.’ Outdoor music festivals are never quite the idylls of the hippie Eden in David Bowie’s cracked imagination. There’s the hassle of funneled access to the grounds. The weather’s always a crapshoot. Concession prices are a rip-off. There’s the fetid misery of portable toilets and the hell of other people. But when they come off in spite of everything, like Edmonton’s just concluded third annual Interstellar Rodeo, wow.


The festival is the brainchild of Six Shooter Records (Motto: Life’s too short to listen to shitty music). The Heritage Amphitheatre in the river valley’s Hawrelak Park has 1200 permanent seats beneath a great white canopy which is anchored by steel cables as thick as a human wrist. The grassy slopes of the upper bowl accommodate another 1800 or so souls with their blankets and lawn chairs. You can track down a friend on site with minimal texting. Billed musicians mingle with the crowd either unrecognized or politely ignored; some are well known while others are fresh mysteries waiting to be heard and seen. Each performer is whimsically paired with a suggested wine although there’s a reputable beer sponsor, thank God. There are food trucks and picnic tables. The scale of Interstellar Rodeo is incredibly and delightfully human.


As a music fan and a member of the greater community, I dearly hope that Interstellar Rodeo becomes an established midsummer ritual here in Edmonton. Selfishly, I wish it only limited success down the road. This year’s edition did not get off to a good start. Last Friday’s launch was postponed to the following Monday due to marching sheets of rain propelled by winds of a high and scary velocity. The amphitheatre’s canopy did not blow away like an empty plastic shopping bag, much to the relief of city officials and the insurance adjuster. However, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, my current beautiful obsession, had to pull out of the chute as two thirds of the ad hoc group had solo scheduling conflicts beyond their Friday night slot.


Saturday was worse although the weather was decent. Dave Bidini may qualify as the most interesting man in Canadian pop culture. The author, Saturday National Post columnist and former Rheostatics (what a great name for a band) guitarist brought his new Bidiniband combo to town to kick off the brand new day. Meanwhile Ann and I were attending a memorial service, followed by the weird family dynamics that manifest with death at a mournful gathering. Earth Mother and Sky Father both agree there are some peculiar cults around; the pastor’s heart exploded, staining the stained glass. The triangular white bread sandwich morsels contained Spam. Maybe Spork. And selfishly I thought it’s good to be alive and we could and should be having a lot more fun. We missed Lee Fields and the Expressions too. We finally arrived at the festival in a funereal funk. Feist in Hydra? Whatever. Eight bucks for a beer!? Oh, they’re big tins. Still… What a lovely setting. The toilets don’t smell too, too bad.


Sunday belonged to the 22nd state to join the union south of 49. Two acts from Alabama won the day in back-to-back sets. St. Paul and the Broken Bones write letters not to the Corinthians but to Stax Records in Memphis. Front man Paul Janeway in a purple suit and white shoes moves like John Belushi in full manic Blues Brothers mode. It was almost comical but good God, y’all, the man’s voice is as big as his band’s sound. If these guys ever come to your town, pay the cover charge and stay out late on a school night.


Reformed Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell took the stage with gremlins. A couple of technical glitches during the set prompted a wry, ‘I know it might not seem like it, but we have played concerts in the past.’ No drama. No histrionics. Twenty-thirteen’s Southeastern is now a must purchase. The pre-crash Skynyrd, Stonesy hurricane of ‘Super 8’ (‘I don’t wanna die in a Super 8 motel’) is mysterious in that it’s not massive; the song by all rights should be a career-defining artistic albatross, the war horse that must be played night after night. ‘Super 8’ should be blasting through the open windows of every muscle car prowling the main streets and back roads of North America.


Monday night was Friday night cobbled together and re-imagined. Tom Wilson of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and Lee Harvey Osmond and formerly of Junkhouse played a fantastic, vibrant solo acoustic set. Afterward we joined a short line near the merchandise kiosk to get our new Kings of Love double CD signed by the sweating and still wired performer.


meGeoff: ‘I hope you have a Sharpie because I don’t!’ Oh the wit! Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward are giggling with green envy.


Tom Wilson: (Blank stare. Signs CD sleeve. Proffers hand to shake.)


meGeoff: (Shakes Tom’s hand. It is huge.) ‘Erm, anyway, great set and thanks for sticking around.’


Tom Wilson: (Makes eye contact, but not in a cheery Oprah or Dr. Phil kind of way.) I am reminded of Canadian literary icon Mordecai Richler eyeing me with contempt for having said ‘Hello’ to him at a reading and signing in the Calgary Public Library promoting Barney’s Version. Then I remember legendary Montreal rocker Michel Pagliaro yelling ‘Fuck off!’ at me between nightclub sets. He was drunk, but I think he meant it. I remember my late, big brother telling me I had the kind of smug face people want to punch. I remember an annual performance review at an ad agency I once worked at where my facial expressions in meetings had become a grave internal concern. My three ex-wives nurtured similar complaints. Naturally I blame my parents. Obviously I’m not an ace poker player. In my empty little head I am James Garner in the guise of either Brett Maverick or Jim Rockford.


meGeoff: ‘Ah, right. Um. (To Ann:) ‘I guess we’ll go to the beer tent now.’

Thirty-five years ago I bought albums unheard on the strength of reviews in CREEM or Trouser Press. I was open to anything provided it didn’t suck. Van Morrison sang, ‘And didn’t I come to bring you a sense of wonder.’ May mother Mary grace Rockpile and the Boomtown Rats. Interstellar Rodeo reignited that gorgeous, lost, vibe of exploration. Ann and I agree to buy the complete package again next year knowing that real life may well intrude upon the groove. Low profile beach chairs are on our spring shopping list. We’re all in and there’s just enough space to date for 2998 more fans.

Friday, 25 July 2014



Territorial Pissings


Country sister said on the phone

There’s just one way to protect your home

It sounds odd, but don’t hesitate

Her message was, just urinate!


Walking around the property

With my dick out, improperly

This in a respectable part of town

Indecent exposure, they will frown


I’m pissing around the perimeter

Alerting coyotes and other critter

Stay off, stay out, stay away!

Or this alpha boy will have his way


And I am full of excellent cheer

As pissing requires a lot of beer

I’ve done the fence posts and the fir

And met a dog, the sniffing cur


I watered the neighbour’s flowerbed

Come midnight, they’ll be dead

I’ve done the sidewalk and the road

Beyond the realm of our happy abode


Yet now I stagger in a stinking funk

As I forgot about the fucking skunk

I thought everything was well in hand

Until I encountered its ass gland!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014



Allegedly, the First Taste Is Free


All of us have encountered free product samples. Envelopes of perfume or dish detergent routinely turn up in magazines or pieces of direct mail. T-shirt matched gangs of cheery young people hand out single serve portions of snacks or beverages at public events. There are enough in store demos at Costco to comprise a nice if rather varied full meal. I’ve discreetly eaten my weight in spicy sausage samples whilst shopping at the Italian Centre. Providing free samples to consumers is a reliable tactic for launching a new brand, a brand extension or reinvigorating awareness of an established one. Ideally the activity creates a little buzz.


And buzz brings us to a trio of alleged would-be cocaine dealers here in Edmonton. Apparently entrepreneurial new kids on the underworld block armed with a marketing plan which must’ve seemed brilliant when it was conceived late one night. Why not give away half gram samples of the product? Better idea! Let’s ensure each free toot comes complete with our contact info for the ease of potential repeat paying customers! And let’s distribute the samples in Old Strathcona where all the hipsters, bikers, students and the walking dead of the addicted fringe hangout! It’s the perfect demographic, the ideal target market.


Allegedly this is exactly what our three budding marketing gurus, none of whom is older than 25, did. Two blocks from a police station. This morning’s Edmonton Journal quotes a police spokesman describing the suspects’ very traditional marketing scheme as ‘very out there.’ The arrestees have been charged with trafficking and possession for the purpose and living off the proceeds of crime. The article does not indicate whether the officer was able to keep a straight face for the duration of the press conference.

Alas, there is no provision in the Criminal Code of Canada for harsher penalties for really dumb convicted bad guys; oh, say five additional years in the pen atop the maximum sentence currently allotted. So they will have dodged that fantastical Darwin Awards bullet. It’s possible they may have avoided a hail of real ones too. Criminal start-ups are obviously risky ventures and organized crime adheres to an enviable if lethal model of self-regulation. Best not to undercut established black market prices; not even for a glitzy, alleged product launch from the cab of a pickup truck near happening Whyte Avenue. Our heroes may be very fortunate indeed even as they enjoy the unfailing hospitality of the Edmonton Police Service.

Monday, 21 July 2014



KD Re-injects the 'Fun!' into Hard Times


Bob Dylan once said, ‘Nostalgia is death.’ It’s also a tired if dependable purchase trigger tool when advertising and marketing a long established or heritage brand. Manipulating memory for profit can be a tricky wicket.


In the current business climate even positive and reliable results religiously under-whelm the insanely high pie-in-the-sky expectations of industry analysts on Bay and Wall Streets. The madness trickles down to head offices. Retailers rapidly over-expand. Burger joints hawk granola on their backlit menus. Entrenched brands launch illogical extensions to briefly exploit short-lived consumer manias. It’s as if business has embraced our celebrity-obsessed culture’s fixation with aspirational entitlement. Success, steady, staid, tried-and-true just doesn’t cut it anymore. The sleek hare has won the proverbial race.


Kraft Canada is shocked, shocked that not everyone in this great country eats Kraft Dinner regularly. The brand was introduced to North Americans in 1937 and has long been a reflex purchase for families with youngsters and students everywhere. The new campaign targets a universal demographic, adults everywhere. The hook is that KD was fun to eat as a kid and wasn’t childhood a blast? ‘The biggest reason why consumers haven’t eaten us in a while is because they haven’t thought about us in a while,’ KD brand director Kristen Eyre last week told The Globe and Mail using an unfortunate choice of words.


My mother couldn’t make KD without her gag reflex kicking in. The moment she tore open the envelope of orange powdered cheese, Ack! During those low budget days in university KD was a necessary evil. Some students used to smother their mounds of it in ketchup and throw in a sliced, boiled wiener. Ack! Like the poetry of Jim Morrison and tinned spaghetti, KD is a childish thing and best left back there with the fading crinkle cut family snapshots. There are good reasons why adults won’t eat KD and we all hope economic circumstances beyond our control don’t force this bogus staple back into our diets.


According to Ms. Eyre ‘It is simply not enough any more to tell consumers what you think they should do.’ Thus the campaign also contains an unintentional element of comedic irony. Experiential advertising is the new black. It is the industry’s attempt to cut through its own self-perpetuated clutter. So consumers can interact with the KD brand on a human scale rather than through social media inside of pop-up kiosks. Think of a slightly dodgy carnival game with KD branded prizes – Funderpants! No, really. (Insert your own noodle or God forbid, cheese themed adult content here.) She continues, ‘It is all about creating experiences.’



As New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra once reputedly said, ‘Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.’

Tuesday, 15 July 2014





That’s not the way Otis Redding wrote it. That’s not the way Aretha Franklin sang it. But they were not ghosts in Nike’s massive marketing machine. During tonight’s telecast of Major League Baseball’s annual all-star game the American sports and lifestyle brand will pay homage to one of its most enduring and reliable celebrity assets, New York Yankees team captain and shortstop Derek Jeter. The 1:31 commercial is already up at Nike’s site and at Sports Illustrated’s Extra Mustard.


Jeter is 40 now. At the mid-summer break of his 20th season, he’s hitting a solid .272 but that’s almost 40 points below his current lifetime battering average of .311. Hardcore seamheads disparage his defense on the shale between second and third even though he has won five Gold Gloves. And five World Series championship rings. He will retire as one of the greatest New York Yankees ever. This is substantial praise in baseball’s modern era of free agency and expansion. This is very different from retiring as the greatest Florida/Miami Marlin ever. Nike marketing execs never once had a whiff of scandal, not sex, not violence, not steroids. And yet, Jeter is an easy player to loathe. Primarily because the New Jersey native is a Yankee, always has been and because he did not wear number 2 on his back for the Montreal Expos (insert your club here).


The RE2PECT spot opens with Jeter walking to the plate at home in the Bronx. He adjusts the brim of his batting helmet. The opposing pitcher looking in to his catcher for the sign tugs the brim of his Boston cap down lower. The Yankees’ third base coach taps the brim of his helmet to relay a dugout message to the hitter. The fans in the stadium, including director Spike Lee and 9/11 Mayor Rudy Giuliani, then tip their caps to the Yankee captain. On the streets of New York City cabbies, cops, firemen, a hotel doorman in an elaborate uniform, more fans and sundry celebrities pause to tip their caps to Jeter. It’s enough to make a middle-aged and sentimental sports fan grow misty eyed. Instant nostalgia is neatly avoided with instances of humour akin to a fade-away slide: the faces of three Jeter-saluting cross-town rival New York Mets along with their hydrocephalic mascot Mr. Met are conspicuously pixilated to ensure anonymity.

There is one simple, fundamental law in advertising. The target audience/market must receive something of equal or greater value in exchange for the time and attention however requested/suggested by the brand. RE2PECT, like all Nike commercials, is beautifully shot. Evocative of times we remember as playground dreamers and the grey swiftness of those later days when pick up games and hardcore fandom revealed themselves as the only viable options. The RE2PECT ad is a tribute and a grateful thank you to a class act. It is entertaining; it feels good; it is a brand equity home run. It also reinvigorates awareness of the company’s Michael Jordan branded line of sports gear. But Nike couldn’t leave it at that. Unfortunately you can buy the RE2PECT t-shirt and the RE2PECT hat - complete with Jeter’s baseball number and Jordan’s basketball logo silhouette.

Friday, 11 July 2014



Tuesday Night and Wednesday Morning


Jack and Terri, good friends of ours, have recently relocated back to Edmonton after some four years down south in Houston, TX. There were the usual hassles involved with a cross-border move. There were snags closing the deal on their old place in Sugarland. Their new home up here wasn’t ready for occupancy so they were forced to stay with a friend of Terri’s. Samson, Jack’s beloved Doberman puppy who is deaf in one ear and suffers from some brain impairment beyond most dogs’, was mysteriously re-routed through Denver, CO and subsequently half a day late landing on Canadian soil. Their furniture shipment was a week behind schedule – which actually worked out in their favour as there was nowhere to put it for a time anyway.


Suffice to say, Jack needed a beer. Most Tuesday evenings me and Stats Guy, who is also a good friend of Jack’s, get together in a pub to watch some hockey or baseball, eat meat and drink beer. We were pleased to have our number rounded up to three. So earlier this week with Jack in tow, we chose the Atlantic Trap and Gill, notable for its fish and chips and Halifax donairs. We ate. We each drank a couple of pints. We got caught up. Terri was back in Houston tying up some loose ends. Ann was glad I was out of the house. Stats Guy, an increasingly cranky bachelor, always needs more social interaction. Everybody was home before dark. Or so I thought.


Wednesday morning I received an e-mail from Jack who tends to type in caps: I GUESS WHEN YOU’RE VERY VERY DRUNK YOU’LL LET ANYONE OR MORE TO THE POINT ANYTHING SLEEP WITH YOU! I AM SCREWED.


I, who tends not to type in caps, replied: WHAT!?


How’s that old joke go? A friend will help you move; a good friend will help you move a body. I dropped the project I’d been working on and cracked open a beer. I paced the house. Damage control. Strategy. Plausible deniability. Is the other woman stable or psycho? Was it the husband? When did this whole thing start? Maybe they can sort it out? Accidents happen. Maybe they can just exchange bittersweet glances from time to time? Jack had two beers for Christ’s sake! Okay, one here too before we went out but it’s impossible to get hammered on three beers unless you’re in grade seven! Jack’s over 60! When is Terri due back in town? Hadn’t Jack and Terri already taken possession of their new place? Maybe Jack can move into our guest room? Wait. Ann may have an issue with that. May? She’ll side with Terri so she’ll have a serious issue with a big fucking capital I which’ll mean I’m screwed too. This is bad. Jesus, this is very fucking bad. I mean, I like Terri. Fuck! Saints preserve us, what’s to be done?




BASTARD! YOU HAD ME GOING. I get out of e-mail and switch to the landline. ‘You fucking fuck. What’s the problem?’


‘Terri will know Samson slept in our bed. She’ll see the hair.’


‘Wash the sheets.’


‘I can’t. Nothing’s hooked up yet.’


‘Then get a fucking lint roller.’


‘It won’t matter. She’ll know. The dog will tip her off. I’m screwed.’


‘Oh for Christ’s sake. Anyway, you up for next Tuesday?’



‘All right. See you then.’ I hung up. Swell. In the meantime I'll get on with real life.

Thursday, 10 July 2014



Marketing, Monty Python and the Good Old Stuff


There is an hysterically funny promotional video for comedy troupe Monty Python’s ten reunion shows at London’s O2 Arena on the Rolling Stones website ( Titled Dramatic Irony, the short features Mick Jagger taking the piss out of the surviving Pythons, himself and the band he fronts. If you don’t get the post-modern jokes you are either a Lutheran or beyond help. Maybe both, God help you.


I remember encountering Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the CBC in black and white on the portable TV in the basement. This was not Red Skelton; Gertrude and Harriet, Red’s seagulls, were not present. I remember taking the bus to Cote-des-Neiges Plaza with an older boy from Lake Charles, LA who lived next door to see And Now for Something Completely Different in the cinema. We were too young to ask each other, What the fuck was that?


My father loved Monty Python. I remember an afternoon in 1975 when he took me to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail at a theatre on Bank Street in Ottawa. I squirmed through puberty and the oral sex jokes beside him in the air-conditioned dark. Poor man, I always bought him the latest Python LP for Christmas. I doubt he ever played them (anyway the three-sided album would’ve been a bastard on his Fleetwood stereo); Dad said his wife couldn’t appreciate the humour.


Thousands of kilometres away, Ann and her father shared a Monty Python bond too. Her mother and his wife just didn’t get the absurdity of sketch humour without punch lines or way too many of them.


If you spend a few seconds peering at Mick’s face at the end of Dramatic Irony, you can see he’s dying to burst out laughing. The bemused expressions of a somnambulant and utterly deadpan Stones drummer Charlie Watts lying on the couch beside Mick are priceless. You’re reminded of Harvey Korman and Tim Conway trying to keep it together on the late, lamented and exquisite Carol Burnett Show. Some people have fun at work and the rest of us wonder what that may be like.


Comedy is a funny thing. You think one and done. A gag’s best before date should be that single moment after the initial laughter has waned. Why is it after all of these years I’m still cracking up at the same jokes and routines? Name any Marx Brothers or Charlie Chaplin film and I’ve seen it at least three times. Peter Sellers proffering birdie num-nums in The Party? Lost count.  I can still hear Bob Newhart on the phone with Sir Walter Raleigh: ‘Tobacco, Walt? You what? You stick it between your lips and set it on fire? Riight’; Bill Cosby as Noah: ‘What’s a cubit, Lord!?; George Carlin as a sportscaster: ‘Lions 50, Christians nothing’; Peter Cook and Dudley Moore as their unbelievably filthy alter egos Derek and Clive – perhaps best left untyped as Times Roman really doesn’t do justice to the subtleties and nuances of their blue  deliveries. I can still see Eddie Murphy in his red Raw jumpsuit, Richard Pryor doing a bug-eyed double-take, John Belushi arching an eyebrow, Robin Williams speeding Live at The Met and Denis Leary’s black leather stage prowling No Cure for Cancer rants.

Mick is a good pitchman. I say to Ann, ‘Let’s go.’ She looks at me. ‘To London?’ The Pythons are broadcasting their last (mostly) live O2 performance around the world. ‘Just the south side Cineplex,’ I reply, ‘$20 a ticket.’ She echoes Mick in Dramatic Irony, ‘That’s expensive.’ For a seat in a movie theatre I suppose it is although a small price to pay to laugh along once more with the good old stuff. Besides, there’s a penguin atop our television set in the den and we don’t know why it’s there and it’s interfering with our YouTube feed.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014


Germany 7 - Brazil 1, Seconds to Go

Is it possible for the population of an entire country to commit suicide?

Monday, 7 July 2014



Oddly, Loaded Rifles and Targets Don’t Seem to Go Together


Is it me? Or does half of everything that suggests humanity is absurd, insane and doomed emanate from the United States? Suffice to say, the lunatic fringe is armed. And they’re hunting for bargains at Target and everywhere else in any state that has enacted “open carry” laws.


Only in America will you encounter this on a corporate retail website:




While we continue to follow local laws regarding “open carry” policies, we also respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target, even in communities where it’s permitted. Your cooperation helps us fulfill our goal to create an atmosphere of family-friendly shopping that’s safe and inviting for our guests and team members.


Said Target spokesperson Molly Snyder to The Wall Street Journal last week: “Our leadership team has been weighing this complex issue and been listening carefully to the nuances.” The paper also quotes Target CEO John Mulligan from a memo which begins: “This is a complicated issue…”


Molly, John, the situations in Iraq and Ukraine are complicated. Hell, even the billion-dollar fiasco of Target’s expansion into Canada may be described as complex. Writing from the perspective of a Canadian tourist shopping, say, in a Dallas, TX Target, if I were to see a fellow with a loaded assault rifle on the grocery aisle, I would think armed robbery or rampage; a misguided exercise of a misinterpreted constitutional right would be the farthest thing on my mind. And if I was a policeman sworn to protect and serve in an “open carry” state, I’m certain it wouldn’t take more than a single shift to develop a 1000-yard stare.


Activists on both sides of the U.S. gun debate have forced Target to reluctantly take something of a limp stand as each one, enabled by social media, can call for a boycott. Awkward. It’s an artificially imposed public relations nightmare (as opposed to General Motors having to recall some eight million faulty vehicles) for a simple chain of middling department stores with an unfortunate name. Target can’t just order gun nuts to bugger off and go shop at Walmart because gun nuts have wallets filled with credit cards – and feelings of alienation and persecution too. I suspect this is one of the “nuances” to which Molly referred.


The exclamation point to The Wall Street Journal’s story was provided by, naturally, the National Rifle Association. The powerful lobby group at first allowed that carrying loaded rifles into stores was “not neighbourly.” This admonishment proved too controversial even for the NRA, so it apologized for the content of its statement and withdrew it.

And we can only pity the poor souls manning customer service counters in “open carry” states: “This is a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle. It’ll cut you clean in half. Now, the sign said buy one designer queen size sheet set and get the other free. But I only want one set at half price, see? So you’ve got to ask yourself one question…”