Awesome Pictures: Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks

May 30, 2010

What is it:

This is ‘Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire’, also known as ‘Cossacks of Saporog Are Drafting a Manifesto’ painted by Ilya Repin between 1880 and 1891.

Why is it Awesome?

Well, to start, look at it! This painting is roughly two meters high and three and a half meters wide. Repin conceived of the painting as a study in laughter and a salute to the free spirit and independence of the Cossacks. It took him more than a decade to finish, and when it was done Tsar Alexander II paid the staggering sum of 35,000 rubles for it. It currently hangs in the State Russian Museum of St. Petersburg.

Do you wonder what they’re laughing about? Would it interest you to know they’re trying to write the dirtiest piece of diplomatic correspondence in the the history of the world?
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Music Review: Update, The Beatles on Ukulele, May 2010

May 28, 2010

One of the first things I did when I started this blog was promote one of my favourite sites on the internet, The Beatles Complete on Ukulele. This site, starting from Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and going to the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics in 2012, plans to release an original cover of a Beatles song –in every genre of music under the sun by artists from around the world– until the entire discography has been so honoured.

Of course, one of the drawbacks of a blog is that hardly anyone ever goes traipsing through your backlist. Posting so early in my blogging experience drove almost no traffic to their site, and that struck me as a tragedy. More people need to know about this site. I talk it up at parties. I mention it to co-workers. I can’t recommend it enough: If you like anything in the Beatles’ body of work, this site is worth your time.

In December of last year I did a rather extensive review of their covers up to that point, and that blog post was rather well received: The site organizers got in touch with me, as well as several of the musicians, thanking me for my efforts. I also succeeded in convincing some of you to take a look. My blog gets an order of magnitude more traffic now than then, and a good body of new material has built up in the meantime, so the timing seems right for me to revisit my reviewing and bring you up to date.

I’m happy to say that the site continues to produce musical treasures, as well as brilliantly written essays detailing where the song fits into the Beatles experience. They have also recently revamped their free downloading set up, making it even easier to access the music.

Anyway, I promised reviews, so without further ado:

49. — Honey Pie covered by Sarah Mitchell
released on the week of December 22, 2009

Honey Pie is one of Paul McCartney’s salutes to the bygone music his parents listened to, in this case Vaudeville. Sarah Mitchell stays true to the old timey spirit of the original, while tastefully updating it to the 21st Century with just the same deft touch McCartney gave to his 1960s take on a 1920s jingle. I honestly cannot think of a better way to approach a cover of this song. Mitchell’s voice even seems honey-coated. Her tone sweeps and swoons. You can picture her singing into one of those giant steel cage microphones, dressed as a flapper, in some retro-themed bar. The essay, as usual, is excellent: Esoteric, thoughtful, playful. This is a solid, solid entry into their blog, well worth a listen and a read.

50. — We Can Work It Out covered by Like Trains and Taxis
released on the week of December 29, 2009

There aren’t too many times I claim this, but if the Beatles had never written this song, and this cover was the only version in existence, it would still be a hit. Like Trains and Taxis could build an album around this, and I would see their show because of it. It’s smooth, sexy, calm, composed. Where the Beatles seemed in a hurry over this one, Like Trains and Taxis lead singer seems almost philosophical about the situation he finds himself in, and when the rest of the band joins in on the chorus you really feel like they’re trying the soft sell approach on whether or not the relationship in question should continue. The essay was a real eye opener too, as I hadn’t really considered who Paul was addressing the song towards. This is worth a look, good readers. Click the link. I’ll wait.

51. — Back in the USSR covered by A.L.X.
released on the week of January 5, 2010

As much as I love this site and appreciate all its efforts, I’m not universally slavish in my praise. This song, to me, is a rare miss. It’s too… Calculated? Self-aware? This is where I admit I’m not a musician. I don’t know the thought process that goes into putting a cover together, but as a listener I can sense that a lot of planning went into this one. That’s like reading a novel and knowing the author had the whole plot written out in bullet points in a notebook just from how the prose flows. It takes you out of the moment to sense the framework behind the art. The essay, as usual, is very interesting. On the whole it’s not a terrible contribution to the site, by any stretch, but something just doesn’t sit right with me on this one.

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In honour of Lost’s Last episode

May 23, 2010

Tonight is the end of something very special. Tonight will see the last episode of Lost. This blog has never had too much to do with television, and a series finale is no place to start, but I did want to make my small contribution to the cultural zeitgeist to commemorate the (oh God but I hope it’s satsifying) conclusion of a show that has made such an indelible mark on the world of entertainment.

Lost is one of those very special shows, like The Sopranos, The Wire, or the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, that never talked down to its audience. It was meant to be big. It was meant to be nuanced. It rewarded the rabid fan’s attention, even at the cost of alienating the casual viewer. It had a big cast, each with their own tangled viewpoints and relationships. It had shifted alliances, power politics, mysteries, secrets. Everyone was flawed. People made tough choices. There was drama, action, romance, comedy.

Certainly there are places where it has stumbled, but on the whole it was watchable, entertaining, engaging. What more do you want from television? It had a stellar cast, fantastic writers, high production values (with the exception of its 1990s era CG), and a series of overarching plotlines that meant there was always something to hold your interest, even if you didn’t give two damns about the love triangle de jure, or saw red whenever your question of pressing interest was answered with a still more tantalizing question (a habit they haven’t broken loose of even in the run up to the penultimate finale).

While cruising around the internet this morning I came across two YouTube videos that really spoke to me. Way back in the first season, I thought Lost was going to be a modern-day take on Gilligan’s Island. I was of course pleased and intrigued when mere survival on a deserted island was considered too dull a canvas for the story the creators wished to tell. Still, the Gilligan’s Island assumption never completely left my mind. Apparently, some very creative people felt the same way.

I present to you two alternative opening credits for Lost –made by fans– as they would have appeared if Lost had been produced in the 1960s. All credit goes to their creators, whose YouTube usernames are samskipsam and thekinderscore. I’m embedding their work on my blog not to take a share in their artistic glory, but to give their work a broader audience.

Not bad, eh?

And now that I’ve made mention of Gilligan’s Island, I might as well put up its theme too, for both comparisson and also to honour what is truly one of the great theme songs of the golden age of television. I set out to make sure I’d find a version that included ‘The Professor and Maryanne’, because it always struck me as ridiculous they didn’t get top billing in the first season. Who made the coconut radio? Who bared her midriff to the fullest extent network television would allow? That’s right: The Professor and Maryanne. You have to give credit where it’s due, people.

Anyway, in searching for that far superior theme, I came across this fan-made rendition, and I haven’t been able to stop laughing for a while now. These are the same kind of people who made the two videos above, so to honour their work I’d prefer to link to them, rather than the original:

Well done, boys. Well done.


Diefenbaker’s Foreign Policy

May 13, 2010

I enjoyed reworking one of my old university essays for publication on this blog last month, and so I’ve decided to do so again. This time my subject will be the foreign policy of former Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker.

Oh, I know: Canadian History, what dreary stuff. Balderdash! Canadian History is boring when it’s taught in a boring way. I took a couple of courses in university that were taught with great fire and enthusiasm by a professor I deeply admire. His passion was obvious and infectious, and his memory for obscure details and stories from Canada’s past was astounding: Several years after taking his courses I ran into him in the halls one day, and he remembered I was a descendant of Empire Loyalists. Hundreds of students had come and gone through his classrooms in the interim, but he remembered that. It impresses me still.

Anyway, I wrote this essay for one of his classes, and I’ve always been fond of it. As I mentioned in April, I’m aware that anything I put up on the internet is free for someone to appropriate, so I’ve taken out the footnotes and bibliography, rendering it much less useful to anyone looking for a quick copy and paste to solve their looming deadline problem. My old homework really shouldn’t end up being someone else’s easy way out. That’s not to say any students reading this aren’t welcome to use this essay as either a source, or perhaps as a jumping off point to go to their school’s libraries and find the monographs that support my arguments. I’d be very pleased if that were to happen.

For non-student readers who feel like taking a mental stroll through one of the more interesting and convoluted ambitions of one of Canada’s most interesting and convoluted prime ministers, read on and enjoy!

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Happy Mother’s Day!

May 9, 2010

Today is Mother’s Day.

Let that sink in for a moment. That’s right. Today is the day you tell your Mom how much you care.

In truth every day is Mother’s Day, but today, her birthday, and Christmas are the only three days of the year where you are expected to show your love and appreciation for the lifetime of good things your mother has done for you. Have you made the call yet? Is there a card in the mail, or flowers on their way to her doorstep? Can you stop by for a visit?

Think of all the things your mother has done for you, from your birth right up until this moment. You have a debt to her that can never be repaid, only acknowledged, and today is the day that you let her know how much you appreciate everything she’s done for you.

My mother’s name is Paulette, and I would lay some claim to her being the best mother in the world. She raised my sister and I to know right from wrong. She supports us in everything we do. She’s always there to offer advice or encouragement. She’s a sounding board for our worries, and she’s always on our side when we’re in trouble. I know that doesn’t make her unique, but it does make her remarkable, and today is a day to celebrate everything she’s done for us.

For twenty-seven years now, her children have been her life. She carried us each for nine months, and then delivered us into a world she has done her very best to make safe for us. When we were sick, she took care of us. When we were hungry, she fed us. When we needed to learn, she taught us. She worried over us even when we did not see the dangers, and she loved us even when we tried her patience. Her cross words guided us to be better, and her kind words fall upon our heads like gentle manna from Heaven. Society makes a point of celebrating its artists, and my mother is an artist of incredible talent and dedication: Her medium is her children. She has moulded and sculpted us into human beings, and that’s a life-long commitment that she entered into gladly.

My sister and I are adults now in our own right, but our accomplishments are hers, because she made us the people that we are. Although we may be separated by hundreds of kilometers, she is always with us. The bond between mother and child is stronger than anything else in nature, and my sister and I are blessed that our relationship with our mother is so full of goodness and love. Some people clash with their parents as they mature, but no rift has ever formed between us that has not been bridged thanks to her kindness, her selflessness, and her love.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. We love you very much. I’ll be at the finish line of your marathon next weekend with a bouquet of flowers!

- – -

For my other readers, just in case my words have failed to move you to call your own mothers on this very special day, I’ve got a message for you from that champion of all that is right and proper, Mr. T.

I can assure you, he’d pity the fool who doesn’t treat his mother right, although what he does to this music video is a completely different story…

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, wherever you are in the world. To all their children, call home and show you care. Cheers!


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