Friday, April 30, 2010

HABS FANS NEED TO GET A GRIP

One of my favorite expressions in sports is "act like you've been there before," which was coined by football legend Vince Lombardi in reference to excessive end zone touchdown celebrations, but applies universally in the context of embracing success with dignity and humility. It's a concept that remains lost on a generation of Montreal Canadiens fans who insist on celebrating first round playoff victories like Stanley Cup championships, in large part because they HAVEN'T been there before.
Anyone under the age of 25 would have only fleeting memories of Montreal's last Stanley Cup win if they remember it at all, and that's the demographic that leads the charge into the streets whenever the Canadiens enjoy the slightest taste of post-season success. I don't begrudge them their enthusiasm and I applaud them for keeping property damage to a minimum so far this year, but there's something unseemly about gloating and borderline hysteria one-quarter of the way down a long and difficult playoff road.
When the Canadiens were winning championships as a matter of course in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the fans - like the team - took it a game at a time and a series at a time, saved the celebration for the actual Stanley Cup parade and even then were able to unbridle their passion without resorting to civil unrest.
If I sound like a geezer pining for the good old days, maybe that's because I'm a geezer pining for the good old days. Take it from a guy who was alive for 12 Canadiens Stanley Cup champions before the age of 21 - they're called the good old days for a reason, and being older never made anyone wrong.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

LIVIN' LA VIDA MOHAWK II

(This is part 2 of a weekly blog appearing at www.kahnawakenews.com.)

So I'm hosting a comedy show at Maddie's last Friday, and as I walk into the room sporting my newly-styled Mohawk coif I hear a gruff voice say "Hey! Are you making fun of us with that haircut?"
The guy is sitting down, but he's clearly a mountain of a man, with hands like baseball mitts, fingers the size of hot dogs and a glare that's going right through me. I'm in the middle of deciding whether to explain myself or make a run for it when the guy (Mike McComber, as it turns out) breaks into a grin and says "I'm just kidding - you don't have to be scared of us."
Okay, Mike, then stop scaring me.
Seriously, I never gave a second thought to personal safety when I took the job at K103, but Mike was the second person is two days who made a point of telling me that outside perceptions of Kahnawake are fuelled by biased and exaggerated media reporting off the territory.
There's no question that even 20 years later, the enduring image of Mohawks to the outside community is one of heavily-armed resistants in balaclavas and battle fatigues, standing defiantly atop an overturned SQ cruiser or nose-to-nose with combat-ready Canadian soldiers.
I'm not sure if it was because I already had several acquaintances from Kahnawake or because I've been around the block enough times to know that the 1990 Oka Crisis ended in - um, let's see - 1990, but I didn't have any trepidation about coming to Kahnawake and I certainly haven't felt threatened, except for that fleeting few seconds when I thought Mike was going to grind my bones to make his bread. Interestingly, one of my best friends from outside the community says that in a mixed native and non-native crowd, it's clear to him that I'm on the "other side of the wall," which is to say that I've been accepted. On the one hand that's flattering, but the suggestion that there's a wall hints at an element of mistrust between communities, rooted largely in mutual ignorance.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: it doesn't matter what someone else thinks about us. What's important is what we think of ourselves (and when I say "us" and "we" I'm speaking universally and not presuming to speak for Kahnawake.) If I can look in the mirror at night and know that I've been open-minded and generous in heart and spirit to my fellow human beings, whatever misconception anyone has about me is their problem, not mine.

Meanwhile, thanks to Donald Mohawkboom Phillips of Central Station Customs for sponsoring this blog. Drop by Donald's shop on the 138 across from Maddie's and ask Skyler to demo the sound system in his Mitsubishi Lancer for you. Then go around saying "what?" for the next two days.

Monday, April 26, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

For as long as they're both playing, the debate is on over whether Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin is the greatest hockey player of their generation. It's the Gordie Howe-Rocket Richard and Wayne Gretzky-Mario Lemieux debate of earlier generations. I've always leaned towards Ovechkin for sheer entertainment value, but there's no denying that at this point, it's advantage Crosby - 14 points in a six game, opening round playoff win over Ottawa and poise and maturity beyond his years, while Ovechkin blows hot and cold for Washington and occasionally lets his enthusiasm degenerate into adolescent petulance. There's also the matter of Crosby's Olympic gold medal and Stanley Cup ring, while the best Ovechkin can boast is a world championship, which is hockey's version of Miss Congeniality...If yesterday's Aaron's 499 had been the Daytona 500, it would go down in NASCAR lore as one of the sport's most electrifying and unforgettable races. It might anyway...Kudos to the NFL for suspending Ben Roethlisberger. Even though he hasn't been formally charged with sexual assault, the Pittsburgh quarterback's personal conduct has brought the league into disrepute, and suspending him sends a strong and necessary message...I'm still new to Kahnawake and native culture, so I'm not sure why it's de rigeur to claim Cherokee ancestry, a la NFL number one draft pick Sam Bradford, who joins Kevin Costner, Chuck Norris, Jimi Hendrix and the Jonas Brothers among self-identified Cherokee descendants. Nothing against the Cherokee, but knowing where my bread is buttered, I'd be more inclined to align myself with the Mohawk nation, or at least as aligned as a pale, freckly guy from Beaconsfield can be.

Friday, April 23, 2010

GET OVIE YOURSELF

There's no such thing as much ado about nothing. It's a fundamental contradiction in terms. If there's much ado, it's got to be about something, and whether you think the snow job that Alexander Ovechkin gave one of the Canadiens young flag bearers before Wednesday's game at the Bell Center was innocent or despicable, the debate it's generating qualifies it as something more than nothing. I've watched the video a dozen times with a dozen different people and the overwhelming consensus is that Ovechkin came off as a bully when he skated full speed towards the kid before applying the brakes at the last second and showering the little guy with ice chips. Spare me the argument about the kid having a great story to tell to his buddies at school. Nobody likes to be humiliated in front a live audience of 21 thousand plus and millions more watching on telev ision. The snow shower is an insulting gesture at any level of hockey, and for a grown man and one of the game's most prominent players to do it to an elementary school-aged child who was undoubtledly enjoying what had to be one of the highlight moments of his young life was adolescent and mean-spirited. Even if he didn't mean to do it - and the video provides stark evidence to the contrary - Ovechkin owes the kid an apology. An autographed stick and a jersey wouldn't hurt, either.

Monday, April 19, 2010

FIRST OF THE SCHMOHICANS


So, they wouldn't take no for an answer. My new colleagues at K103 in Kahnawake were not duped by my false humility, and refused to let me back out of my pledge to shave my head Mohawk-style. On my K103 debut this morning, I said I didn't want to disrespect the community by trivializing a cultural symbol. They said "Whatever, pal" and proceeded to shave the sides down to the nub while spiking the middle. Thanks to Alison from Kahkotsiio hair salon for making it respectable. She's a real pro, and when it comes to something of this nature, better a pro than a hobbyist.
Java, Paul and I had a great show (well, WE enjoyed ourselves, anyway) and are excited and encouraged by the listener response. Thanks for everybody who tuned in, and to the media, sponsors and friends who showed up for our post-debut launch party at Maddie's.
We're only one day in and it's already a great ride.

Friday, April 16, 2010

ON SECOND THOUGHT...

...maybe I won't get my hair cut Mohawk style when I sign on the K103 morning show in Kahnawake Monday with Java Jacobs and Paul Graif. I mean, aside from the fact that Josie Gold's photoshopped projection of the end product looks like a promo poster for a remake of My Favorite Martian, it's really not my place to adopt a time-honored Mohawk cultural symbol on my own initiative. Call it a sincere but misguided notion aimed at embracing the community, when the right thing to do is wait for the community to embrace me after I've earned their trust and respect.
Jeezuz H. That was a close call.

Monday, April 12, 2010

MOHAWK IN THE MORNING

There's a not a lot left to say that I haven't already said in the Gazette or at Kahnawakenews.com or on Steve Faguy's blog about my new job at K103 (CKRK) in Kahnawake, except that the reaction to today's announcement was at least as gratifying as the support I received after resigning on principle from CHOM January 1st.
What hasn't been discussed, and what I'd like to address here, is the people with whom I'll be working. They're not all from Kahnawake, but the core of the radio station staff are Mohawks, including announcers Java Jacobs, Lance Delisle, Suzie Delaronde and Abby Jacobs, operations manager Chuck Barnett, news director Greg Horn and office managers Cheryl Deer and Sheena Leclaire. Even though lengthy and frequent meetings with Chuck over several weeks had given me a glimpse into the community, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I showed up for my first day of behind-the-scenes work last Monday.
It didn't take long to feel at home, thanks in no small part to Java and Lance, who took me on the grand tour of the territory and told me that our first stop would be "the place where we take white guys to beat the shit out of them." How's that for a tension breaker? I haven't stopped laughing since. Sheena was thoughtful enough to keep my ego in check by asking Greg "Who's Ted Bird and what's he going to do here?"
There's a comfort level that reminds me of the days when Terry DiMonte and I had at least as much fun on the air as we did away from the microphone. You can't fake genuine cameraderie, and the speakers don't lie. When Java and I sign on as co-hosts of the new K103 morning show next Monday, we'll probably have a few conversational traffic accidents as we get used to each other's timing and work out the chemistry, but what I know going in is that I'm working with fundamentally decent people who haven't hesitated to welcome me into their workplace and their community with humour and sincerity.
No one can ask for any more than that.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

MONDAY MORNING MUSINGS

There's good news and better news about the Canadiens. The good news is the Habs don't have to face New Jersey in the opening round of the playoffs. Not only do the Devils routinely own the Canadiens, but they do so in painfully dull fashion, as befits New Jersey's conservative but undeniably effective style. And therein lies the better news: as daunting a prospect as it is to play Alexander Ovechkin and the league-leading Capitals, Washington is infinitely more likely than the Devils to play a run-and-gun style of game that suits the Canadiens. I'd also rather take my chances against the Jose Theodore/Semyon Varlamov goaltending tandem than face Martin Brodeur.
That brings us to the Canadiens goaltending debate, which will reach a fever pitch (or more feverish pitch, if that's possible) in the days leading up to Game 1. Jaroslav Halak has been the better goalie in the big picture this season but his and the team's struggles in the past week give coach Jacques Martin legitimate grounds for shaking things up by opening the post-season with Carey Price. My gut says Price, even though I've championed Halak for most of the year. Just glad I'm not the one who has to make the call.

-Phil Mickelson is the only three-time Masters winner who hasn't lost the underdog's charm. He's got a clubhouse reputation as a loner and a phony but if that smile and the disposition he shows to the public aren't genuine, he's an even better actor than he is a golfer.

-I didn't hang on his every shot so I'm not saying it didn't happen, but not once do I recall hearing someone yell "Get in the hole" when Tiger Woods was putting.

-If Tiger is getting back to his religious roots, as he claims to be, why did he say "Jesus Christ" when he flubbed a shot on the back nine yesterday? Shouldn't he be taking Buddha's name in vain? I wonder if the Dalai Lama flings his putter into the water hazard and yells "Siddhartha Gautama!" when he misses a gimme for par.

-Disgraced home run king Barry Bonds says he's "proud" of fellow drug cheat Mark McGwire for returning to baseball in a coaching capacity. That's not a whole lot different than Al Capone saying he's proud of John Dillinger for breaking out of prison to rob more banks.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

AND ANOTHER THING....

Just kidding. There's nothing else, at least not until I get the first lawyer's letter, which has yet to arrive. Which reminds me - back in 1992/93, when Terry DiMonte and I crossed the street from CHOM to MIX 96, CHOM sent me a cease and desist order on the use of Don Scary, a long-running T and T spoof of Don Cherry. With the promise of legal support from MIX management, I continued to do the character and never heard anything more about it, although Don Scary went by the wayside a few years later because of another cease and desist scenario: people ceased finding it funny and desisted from listening. No sense in milking a dead cow, as some farmer probably once said.
Anyhoo, it was interesting to see and hear the feedback from the CHOM blog. I got a lot of support privately from people who are still there but can't speak their mind, lest they jeopardize their livelihood. It's gratifying that I was able to say what a lot of people in radio want to say but can't, even if it meant dynamiting every professional bridge in my wake.
Well, not every bridge. There's still the Mercier.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

AND FURTHERMORE...

Subsequent to my blog about my reasons for leaving CHOM (see below), I got an e-mail from longtime broadcaster and recording artist Bob Segarini asking if he could reprint my piece in his column on the music industry website fyimusic.ca. Never one to turn down free publicity, I was happy to oblige. Interestingly, about 24 hours after Bob's column was posted, a disclaimer suddenly appeared at the end of my part of it, suggesting to me that fyimusic.ca either suspects or has been informed that Astral is loading up to fire a legal shot across my bow. I hope they do - more free publicity.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX PIX

Got a note from my friend Stuart Morrison with a link to his pictures from Sepang, site of this weekend's Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix. Stuart is communications and public relations director for TW Steel watches, the official time piece for the Renault F1 team.
Stuart already attended the F1 season opener in Bahrain, and the lucky sod has Monte Carlo on his agenda for later in the spring. I'm trying to pitch him on a TW Steel-sponsored promotion to "Win a Trip to the Monaco Grand Prix with a Marginally Renowned Unemployed Former Radio Announcer," but so far he hasn't returned my calls.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED AT CHOM

Lots of people have asked me why I resigned from CHOM and I wasn't able to give them a straight answer, other than to cite "creative and philosophical differences" with management.
Well, my contractual obligations to Astral Media Radio expired yesterday, so I can speak openly about the circumstances surrounding my departure without getting a lawyer's letter threatening to withdraw the salary and benefits I was still due from Astral (although I'm sure they'll have their legal bloodhounds give this blog the sniff test to see if there are grounds for retroactive recourse. They're lovely people).
The beginning of the end for me and a lot of other old school radio people was the shift of radio stations across the country from family to corporate ownership. When Geoff Sterling and later the Waters family (CHUM) and the Slaight family (Standard) owned CHOM, the radio station was in the hands of lifelong broadcasters who were passionate about radio and recognized that it is first and foremost a craft, and that if the craft is carefully nurtured, the business end takes care of itself. There was a terrific creative atmosphere in the studios, offices and hallways. Radio was fun. Within the past five to ten years, CHOM and most of the rest of the country's radio stations have been acquired by corporations who jettisoned the majority of the creative people in favor of bean counters beholden only to shareholders. The impact was swift, enormous and predictable. By the time I left CHOM, it was about as much fun as working at the Soviet Ministry of Agriculture. No disrespect to Soviet farming apparatchiks, but that's not what I signed up for.
Some amazing creative minds used to occupy the management offices at CHOM, but day-to-day operations in the radio industry as it exists today are run almost exclusively by de facto bureaucrats who are either failed announcers or were never on the air in the first place. Rather than take a collaborative approach with the talent, these corporate political animals are making arbitrary programming and personnel decisions that go contrary to the instincts of proven, veteran radio professionals. In fact, the current program director at CHOM has been known to brag "I've never been on the air and I'm the boss!" I'm pretty sure he's also never been west of Atwater, and even though he's a francophone from Quebec City, he barely paid lip service to the insights and opinions of staff members who've been on the front lines of English radio in this town for decades. That spoke volumes to me, and I could not in good conscience continue to work for someone who was making decisions in a vacuum that were running a treasured Montreal institution into the ground.
Last weekend, less than a week before my last paycheque, I was summoned to a meeting with one of Astral's corporate errand boys, who had the nerve to offer to take me back in a diminished capacity at a reduced salary. He was - or at least appeared to be - genuinely surprised that I took offense at being thrown a bone on the assumption that I was desperate and could be lured back on the cheap. That's how out of touch they are with the human condition. We're not even people to them. We're commodities to be bought, sold or discarded, depending on circumstances.
That's fine if you're selling soap, but radio is about people. It's also instinctive, and if the pencil pushers in positions of influence in the industry don't have fundamental interpersonal communication skills, how are they supposed to oversee a product whose success hinges on the ability to engage listeners on an immediate and intimate level?
When CHOM was in its heyday, the announcers used to play what they wanted to play and say what they wanted to say, within the boundaries of broadcast regulations. It was exciting, unpredictable and real. It was also hugely successful. What we're force-fed today is formula radio that's not even broadcasting as much as it's narrowcasting to specific demographics, with songs pre-selected by a computer programmed according to focus group studies and music tests, and desk-bound borderline sociopaths telling experienced radio personalities how to connect with people.
The results speak for themselves.