Best of Toronto Mike

Big Ben's 9.79

OlympicsA couple of Mikes, formerly on top of the world and now just falling from grace, were prominent in the news this week. There was Mike Tyson's loss and retirement from boxing and a verdict in the Michael Jackson case. Reading about these two got me thinking about Ben Johnson.

I don't have to remind my fellow Canadians that Ben was the fastest man in the world. In 1988, we as a nation gathered around televisions to watch him blow away Carl Lewis and the rest of the field to win the Gold medal in the 100m and set a new world record time of 9.79. I also don't have to remind my fellow Canadians as to what happened next. Ben's fall from grace was shockingly sudden and it broke our collective hearts.

Yesterday, Asafa Powell set a new world record in the men's 100 metres, registering 9.77 seconds. Here we are 17 years after Ben's run and the world record is just 0.02 seconds faster than what he ran that day in Seoul. 17 years to shave all that time off of Ben's best. What gets me is the fact Ben shot up his right hand in victory with a about ten feet to go. I distinctly remember yelling at the TV when he did that, knowing that if he ran it out that record could have been in the low 9.70s.

Of course, Ben was cheating, and deserved to lose his Gold medal and world record. I have little doubt everyone in that 100m final in Seoul was cheating, but Ben got caught. The high of that 9.79 followed by the low of his disqualification still makes me dizzy... and sad.

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Movies With An Impact

MoviesQuentin Tarantino once said the sign of a good movie was that it made you want to go home, eat some pie and talk about it. Without a doubt, my favourite movies have been those rare flicks that have never left me. These gems become a part of me, altering my view of the world and opening my eyes to new concepts and ideologies.

During my thirty years of life, there are a few movies that made an impact so forceful it permanently modified my movie-going expectations and outlook. These are the movies that have truly mattered in my life. Today, I salute them.

Star Wars (1977) - This is the first movie I recall seeing in a movie theatre. With VCRs popping up here and there at the turn of the decade, every birthday party I attended seemed to revolve around the showing of this film. I remember staring at a "Star Wars" poster in my bedroom as a kid and playing with the Millennium Falcon. For a guy born in '74, "Star Wars" started it all. There was no turning back, I was hooked.

The Natural (1984) - With "The Natural", I discovered the rewind button on our VCR. I was Roy Hobbs, teaching the Knights to believe again and leading them into a pennant race. The climatic scene, with that music and drama, with the bat boy's bat and Roy's blood soaked jersey, was the most romantic thing this ten year old had ever experienced. It was so thrilling, so inspiring, so glorious. I simultaneously fell in love with triumph and baseball and this many years later I remain a believer in both.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) - You often hear the expression something is so funny you'll be rolling in the aisles. The hyperbolic nature of such a statement is obvious, but a fourteen year old version of myself watching "The Naked Gun" in a theatre for the first time laughed ferociously and often enough to cause such rolling. "The Naked Gun" introduced me to funny. Not "Three's Company" or "Family Ties" funny, but pure hilarity. Every scene, every image, every phrase spoken in this film tickled my funny bone and I've never forgotten how good it felt to be rolling in the aisles.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) - In 1991, my perception of what an effective action movie looked like changed forever. At the time, my favourite such movie was "Total Recall" but "Terminator 2" blew it off the map. There was a cool story, lots of action and special effects the likes of which I had never seen before. To this day, "Terminator 2" remains one of only two films I've seen more than once in theatres.

Pulp Fiction (1994) - Without a doubt, this is my favourite movie of all time. I previously mentioned that "Terminator 2" was one of only two films I've seen more than once in theatres. "Pulp Fiction" is the other. I believe I was nineteen when I first saw it and it permanently altered my taste for movies on impact. The dialogue was delicious and the editing exceptional. I remember the owner of our local ma and pa video store praising "Reservoir Dogs" in previous years, but I never bothered to view it until after I saw "Pulp Fiction". Quentin Tarantino's touch and cinematic instincts with regards to dialogue, editing and music is ideal for my sensibilities. "Pulp Fiction" raised the bar and "Reservoir Dogs", "Jackie Brown" and the Kill Bills are further examples of his excellence. You only have one favourite movie, and this is mine.

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Emotional Rescue

RadioIt was like a scene out of a movie, only it was very, very real. I was listening to the radio call of the Blue Jays opener against the Devil Rays when the Rays came to bat in the third. Joining Jerry Howarth and the rookie in the booth was a very familiar voice. It was Tom Cheek.

His voice was a little off and he was slightly shaky, but that tone was there. That baseball sensibility and love of the game was evident in every syllable uttered, every sentence strung together. In the top of the fourth, with the Blue Jays at bat, the emotional storybook moment occurred.

Against all odds, Tom Cheek took over the booth and began calling the game. The Jays had gone nine up and nine down up to this point, but with Cheek in control less than two weeks after very serious brain surgery, you knew something magically was going to happen. Right on queue, Frank Catalanotto hit a double for the Jays first base runner. Then, with Cheek still at the helm, Orlando Hudson went deep. "How about that!" was Cheek's reaction as Vernon Wells came to the plate. What did Wells do? He clobbered a homer deep to left. The Jays were in the lead for good.

The last voice I expected to hear on the radio today was that of Tom Cheek. His body is weakened but his love of baseball is strong. His role behind the microphone was minimal but for that half inning in the fourth he was back and the Jays were in charge.

It was damn sweet.

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My Game

The Maple LeafsI attended the last Toronto Maple Leafs game of the 1980s. I have the ticket stub to prove it. I attended the game on December 30, 1989 with my buddy Joe and it remains to this day the most entertaining game I've ever seen live. This is the story of my game.

The first 37:09 of play was dismal. In fact, we had brought a megaphone and began heckling our beloved Leafs. After one defensive lapse, we anointed a particular blueliner "Al I-Afraid-Of-The-Puck". The Leafs trailed the Boston Bruins 6-1 at this point and with only a few minutes left in the second we were literally playing the funeral march. We knew our limitations and overcoming a deficit of this nature against a far better team wasn't going to happen. Furthermore, prior to this game, the Leafs were 1-16-1 when trailing after 40 minutes. Conversely, the Bruins were 12-1-1 when leading after two periods. To make matters even worse, the Bruins had won six in a row against us.

This is when my game becomes legendary. After Vincent Damphousse scored to bring us within four, Gary Leeman began the unpredictable rally at 4:59 of the third. Only a couple of minutes later, Luke Richardson scored to make it 6-4. It was at this point that we began to believe in the unbelievable. Could we? Would we? Ed Olczyk brought us closer to this realization when he banked the puck in off Stephane Quintal behind Andy Moog. It was 6-5 and the blue and white express was in full effect.

I think it would have been extremely painful to have lost this game 6-5 after trailing 6-1 so late in the contest. Thankfully, I knew we'd complete this unprecedented comeback. I knew we had a couple more rabbits in the hat. Eddie O came through again on a break away to send my game into overtime. The Leafs could actually win this game they had no business being in. I was ecstatic, beside myself, in complete disbelief. I didn't want to tie the Bruins in this final game of the 1980s, I wanted to beat them.

With 1:41 remaining in the extra period and after Al Iafrate made a great play to keep the puck inside the blueline, Wendel Clark whacked home the winner. The Toronto Maple Leafs had defeated the Boston Bruins after trailing 6-1 late in the second. My voice is still sore from screaming after Clark's goal. It felt as if we had just won the Stanley Cup.

There were 16,382 of us there that night, but nobody left Maple Leaf Gardens happier than I. I had just witnessed a miracle that I'd never forget. Next stop, online slots Canada!

December 30, 1989 - Maple Leafs

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A Interview With Matthew Good

A MicrophoneMatthew Good is a bonafide Canadian rock star. I've seen him live three times and have two of his discs in my collection. While he was fronting the Matthew Good Band, our radios were inundated with hits like "Everything is Automatic", "Apparitions", "Indestructible", "Rico", "Hello Time Bomb", "Strange Days" and "Load Me Up". As a solo artist, there were further hits with "Weapon", "In a World Called Catastrophe" and "Alert Status Red".

Matthew Good was nice enough to agree to an interview and here it is for your enjoyment.

Q: MBLOG, your blog, is well maintained, intelligent and thoughtful. Is blogging the new crack?
A: For me blog design is the new crack. Filling in the other bits is just a hassle. Unfortunately my knowledge of Perl, and other ridiculous inter-language, is non existent. This deficiency stops me from exploiting truly tech-headed formats, such as Movable Type. I suppose I could learn, but when you're in your mid 30's you are gifted the right to claim yourself too 'stubborn' to bother. I can hardly wait until I'm 60 and am allowed to hate people outright for walking on my lawn.

Q: You're a part of my personal history. On a beautiful 1998 August day in Barrie I moshed to a wicked set by your band before Pearl Jam took the stage. It remains my favourite day of live music. Did you get to meet Eddie and is he a righteous dude?
A: Actually, I played two shows that day. One in the afternoon, which is the one you've mentioned, and then again that night in Kitchener. So after I got off stage I left immediately.

Q: Does a bright, political minded dude like yourself have political aspirations? Prime Minister Matthew Good sounds pretty cool...
A: Not particularly. If this country were actually a proper democracy I might entertain the idea, but I don't do well with plutocracies.

Q: Canadian rock fans were treated to a good ol' fashioned duel a few years back when you and the guys from Our Lady Peace exchanged jabs. Then, there was the crap Chad Kroeger was spilling about you to Rolling Stone. Is there anything you'd like to say about these feuds? This is a fine forum to do so.
A: Not really.

Q: Any chance we'll see you at Edgefest this year?
A: Is there one this year? I thought they did away with it?

Q: Most readers of this site are from the Great White North. Please share with us the details of your Canadian roots. We love CanCon.
A: I've traveled all over the world and been from coast to coast probably 50 plus times. We live in one of the greatest places in the world. We just need to work on strengthening our continental identity and stop endlessly entertaining the overwhelming American neocolonialist assault that is slowly but surely stripping us of our cultural uniqueness.

Q: Three of your singles have been selected by the esteemed Smells Like Sour committee for inclusion on three different editions of SLS. Is it fair to state this is your finest achievement to date?
A: Of course.

Q: When you're listening to tunes at home, who are you listening to these days?
A: I've been listening to a lot of Nina Simone.

Q: What's your favourite movie??
A: Brazil

Q: Is there anything you'd like to share with the faithful?

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An Open Letter to Gary Bettman

The NHL LogoMr. Bettman, you won't know me by name but I am a devout fan of the league you oversee. For as long as I can remember I've been attending NHL games, watching NHL games, purchasing NHL memorabilia and spreading my love for the glorious sport of hockey. It is because of people like me that you have your current job as commissioner of the National Hockey League.

Today you cancelled the 2004-2005 NHL hockey season. As a result, I will be deprived of one of my passions. I won't be celebrating a Maple Leaf goal, feeling that tingle the morning of a Maple Leaf playoff game and exchanging high fives with James and my brothers following a big win. For the first time in a decade we won't be drafting a playoff pool, seeing an always exciting game seven or discussing potential trades at the deadline. For only the second time in the history of the Stanley Cup and for the first time since 1919 that precious mug we dream about as children will go unawarded. We are left with nothing.

The NHL's Players' Association, realizing the season would be lost, agreed to a salary cap. From day one of this lock out we heard you say this was necessary from your standpoint and we heard Mr. Goodenow say this would never happen. It happened, a major hurdle was overcome and you were offered a $49-million salary cap. When your final offer of a $42.5-million US salary cap was refused, you cancelled the season.

History would have seen you as the victor of these negotiations. Salaries would have been immediately rolled back substantially and the heavy spending franchises like my Maple Leafs would have been forced to reduce their payroll in order to fit under the cap you so desperately wanted. You had won but this wasn't enough for you. You went for broke, threw salt in your opponents wounds and did something that has never been done in any professional league at any time. This will go down in history as the first complete season lost and I blame you. You could have taken your tidy victory and done what was best for the sport, for the league and, most importantly, for the fans.

Mr. Bettman, it's no secret you lack a passion for this sport and the history of this great game. One of your first acts as commissioner was to change the historic names of our conferences and divisions to generic regional names. Norris, Smythe, Campbell, these names meant nothing to you but they were named for men who built this game. You discarded them and today you've discarded everything the Stanley Cup means to this nation.

A commissioner should protect the well being of the league. Instead, you've alienated the long standing fans of this game and ensured new fans find another source of entertainment. I should be spending my Saturday nights passing on my love of this game to my three year old son. Once a child falls in love with a sport, he or she will comprise your fan base for several decades to come. Unfortunately, I don't believe you understand this concept. Many are realizing, as Ken Dryden recently stated, that what they thought was passion was actually habit. Life goes on without hockey and this void will be filled. Don't be so naive as to believe all fans will return. The pain you've inflicted will not heal quickly.

Today I am sad, but not surprised. I didn't expect you to do the right thing. I never expected you to give an inch to save a season and permit Stanley's annual tradition to continue. You're the wrong person to fulfill your duties and I won't be satisfied until you're removed. Step aside and allow someone who actually loves hockey and the rich history of the NHL to act as commissioner.

You've done quite enough already.


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My Interview with Custom

A MicrophoneI wrote earlier this month about how I was corresponding with Custom and how great his new music is. He was nice enough to grant me an interview, and here it is.

Q: Most people know you for your hit single "Hey Mister". That was a few years ago now, when can the people expect to hear some new Custom on the radio?
A: in the spring hopefully.

Q: Jazz composer Maria Schneider took home a Grammy last night for her album "Concert in the Garden," without selling a single copy in a record store. She financed the album through an Internet-based music delivery service that opens the financing of production to dedicated fans. Is this the future?
A: Potentially. I think it's up to people like you who 'the audience' look to for taste. Tastemakers. If the tastemakers of yore are mtv and radio, can the web and maybe satellite radio fill that space somehow? Here is hoping. Also, Ani DF has done the indie thing with great success for years. It's about the artist's dedication and creativity. We are now responsible to think as much about reaching an audience as we are how to make good music. It's a lot but it seems to be reality. I think the days of letting the label do everything are waning.

Q: Most readers of this site are from the Great White North. Please share with us the details of your Canadian roots. We love CanCon.
A: Wild Rose Country. Born and raised in Alberta with stops in Halifax and Vancouver later on to make a movie. I fucking love Canada. I feel especially patriotic even though I am living down here in New York.

Q: Your single "Hey Mister" was selected by the esteemed Smells Like Sour committee for SLS7. Is it fair to state this is your finest achievement to date?
A: By far. Think that in ways The MTV awards for film and music to a degree have surpassed the Oscars and Grammys in their legitimacy with the audience. They are more indicative of true public perception about the work. And MTV is a relatively new thing in the broader timeline. Perhaps SLS will be the next step in the evolution of awards.

Q: I consider INXS's "Kick" to be one of the finest pop-rock albums ever. You directed Michael Hutchence in "Limp" just before his tragic death in 1997. What kind of guy was he? Did you notice anything out of the ordinary with Michael in late '97?
A: Michael was an amazing guy. He was incredibly dedicated, charismatic, creative, fun to be around and down to earth. He was really a 'rock star'. That may sound like a weird thing to say, but there are lots of famous musicians and then there are 'stars'. He had that. Magnetism. Like even people who didn't know him, would feel something, look up when he entered a room.

Q: Speaking of "Limp", why was it never released and how does one get access to it in order to actually view it?
A: Michael passed away shortly after principle photography. That led to a myriad of complications, obviously, that are too vast and complicated to discuss here. There are no plans for release at this point.

Q: What's next for Duane Lavold the filmmaker?
A: Something is brewing. I'll let you know.

Q: What's your favourite movie?
A: So many. I don't know. The obvious ones: Smokey and the Bandit. No. Scarface, Godfather, Apocalypse, Breakfast Club, Fight Club, Trainspotting... I don't know. I like a lot of movies but don't watch enough. Recently, Lost in Translation. I love Bill Murray and S.C. is a fucking brilliant director to make that beautiful a film from such a simple story. Very difficult. Station Agent. Just watched that scene in Miracle last night, where the coach is making the guys skate lines after losing the game to Russia: Again. Again. Again.... then the player says his name, coach says, "who do you play for?" The United States of America. Wow. Scenes like that kill me. It's a perfect scene. So intense, hard to accomplish. Beautiful. Moments. Like songs, that capture an emotion perfectly. That's what it's all about. What we aspire to do as artists. What a fucking scene.

Q: Is there anything you'd like to share with the faithful?
A: Yeah, my new music. Maybe we can arrange for a little preview situation. I have a cool video for the song 'USA' maybe we could get up. Something like that.

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Why I Still Watch

Homer Jay SimpsonAs previously declared, I won't miss a new episode of "The Simpsons". I've been watching for half my life and I'll continue watching until Matt Groening pulls the plug.

Here we are in season sixteen and I can see the ratings slipping. I'm frequently told that "The Simpsons" is no longer funny and I should have stopped watching years ago. I was watching last night and would be the first to suggest it wasn't a particularly strong episode. Still, I watch and will continue to watch, and here's why.

Although past it's prime and not nearly as consistent as it was throughout its first ten seasons, a new episode of "The Simpsons" continues to provide that one scene, line or sequence that causes me to laugh out loud. Even yesterday there were moments that I'm still recalling, still thinking about with a smile on my face. When I tune in on Sunday nights, I know I'm not in store for an episode from season four or five. I'm a realist. One brilliant send-up in an episode of "The Simpsons" in season sixteen provides me with enough joy to carry me through a typical week. Sometimes I'm witness to an uneven episode like last night's "Mommie Beerest" and sometimes I'm rewarded with a gem like "Midnight Rx".

We're fast approaching episode #350 and I'm not going anywhere. "The Simpsons" in season 16 isn't as good as "The Simpsons" circa season six but it's still a pleasure to watch and one of the funniest programs on TV. In Homer I trust.

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Blogging The Gold Medal Game

Go Canada Go!This one's for all the marbles. Canada faces Russia for Gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship in minutes. As promised, I'm blogging the game.

I want this one bad. Boys, it's time to kick ass. Bring it home.

20:09 - Yes! Ryan Getzlaf scores on a great drop pass from Jeff Carter. I love an early lead... Canada 1, Russia 0

20:12 - I say pound the puck at Anton Khudobin in the early going. He seems a little shaky. Lets see what he's made of. Damn...Perry's in the box. It's penalty kill time. Canada 1, Russia 0

20:17 - Phew! Down two men for a significant chunk of time, the good guys killed it off. Glass was sharp, no pun intended. Canada 1, Russia 0

20:21 - A Canadian bounce off the boards produces a smart goal by Danny Syvret. I hope we bury these guys. Ryan Getzlaf looks like he could score five goals himself tonight. Canada 2, Russia 0

20:28 - Quote of the day from Pierre McGuire: "They should start calling diving on these guys. They go down like free beer at a frat party". Canada 2, Russia 0

20:42 - Shit. I was watching the clock and waiting for that horn. We've got to stay out of the box, nobody can score on us even strength. Canada 2, Russia 1

20:44 - I thought we played a great period until that late power play marker by Russia. As I said two minutes ago, if we play five on five they can't touch us. Canada 2, Russia 1

20:45 - They just aired a commercial for the new Samuel L. Jackson movie "Coach Carter". Haven't I seen that movie before? Wasn't it called "Lean On Me"? Or was it "Dangerous Minds"? Either way, I'm glad to see Butch Carter get his dues. Canada 2, Russia 1

21:06 - I knew Anton Khudobin looked shaky. A quick shot by Jeff Carter puts us back up by two. Move over Mr. Lindros, Carter now has twelve. Canada 3, Russia 1

21:16 - What a goal! Great hit by Dion Phaneuf, great rush by Sidney Crosby, great pass by Corey Perry and great finish by Patrice Bergeron....and another goal by Anthony Stewart! Ca-na-da! Ca-na-da! Ca-na-da! Canada 5, Russia 1

21:26 - Blur said it best, didn't they? Whoo-Hooo! Dion Phaneuf gives Canada an overwhelming five goal lead. Another dominating performance by the greatest Canadian junior team of all time. Canada 6, Russia 1

21:38 - This Russian team is hateful. I no longer want to beat them, I want to pulverize them. Twenty minutes to go before we're crowned champions. Canada 6, Russia 1

22:08 - I just broke out the calculator and see that we've outscored our opponents in this tournament 41-7. We've never trailed. That's incredible. Canada 6, Russia 1

22:20 - Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye...Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye... Canada 6, Russia 1

22:24 - Gold for Canada! At this moment, Canada is the Men and Women Olympic Champions, the Men and Women World Champions, the World Cup Champions and now the Junior Champions. I've never witnessed such pure domination. We are the champions! Canada 6, Russia 1

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Throw The Damn DART

Throw The Darn DARTThe Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART for short, is a specialized team of about 200 Canadian Forces soldiers that flies into disaster areas around the world to provide drinking water and medical treatment until long-term aid arrives. The military created DART in 1996 because of its experience in Rwanda two years earlier, when international relief organizations arrived too late to save thousands of people from a cholera epidemic. The DART was last used five years ago when a massive earthquake hit Turkey.

Hmmm, let me think for a moment. Is there anywhere in the world right now that would benefit from the presence of such a team? Has there been a recent disaster resulting in a desperate need for water purification before disease sets in killing thousands? Oh yes, that's right, there was that tsunami disaster that has so far killed over 120,000 people from Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Maldives and Somalia. When Defence Minister Bill Graham was asked why the DART hadn't been sent to south Asia he originally said it was because it had not yet been requested. He's since backtracked on those statements and said we're looking at whether we should deploy the DART.

It upsets me as a Canadian that we have this 200-member rapid response unit, which can operate a mobile command centre, a medical facility, and water purification equipment capable of producing 100,000 litres of clean drinking water and it's here on hold while those who desperately need it die. While Graham fiddles his thumbs our fearless Prime Minister Paul Martin continues to vacation in Morocco. Send the damn DART. There is a disaster and we need to respond. Time is of the essence.

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