By John Intini - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - 0 Comments
Book by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
In 1969, Gay Talese turned his razor-sharp eye on the New York Times and produced The Kingdom and the Power, a terrifically detailed, drama-filled portrait of “The Grey Lady.” Now, more than 40 years later, comes the profile of another media heavyweight, ESPN, and while it’s short on the fly-on-the-wall narrative that made Talese a legend, Those Guys Have All The Fun, at 745 door-stopping pages—enough space to cram 550 interviews worth of gossip and navel-gazing—is no less exhaustive. Everyone, it seems, answered the phone when Miller and Shales called. Even ESPN’s all-time biggest egos, namely Bill Simmons, Keith Olbermann and Chris Berman, came out to play.
The authors provide brief italicized intros and let the key players—anchors, executives, athletes, producers, cameramen, even Barack Obama—tell the story of the “sex-crazed frat house in the middle of nowhere” (ESPN is based in Bristol, Conn.). The format pulls readers quickly through the 30-year history of the network: from a $9,000 investment in 1978—on a credit card, no less—to a global behemoth that airs in 200 countries and in 16 languages.
In some ways, this is a business book more than anything else. But there’s plenty about office sexcapades—“adultery was practically an indoor sport”—feuds, and, most damning of all, the sexual harassment rampant in ESPN’s early days. One former CEO even recalls a time in the 1980s when secretaries were literally being pimped out by guys in the mailroom. Fans, of course, will enjoy it for the behind-the-scenes look at the often wild world of sports from those who really did have a front-row seat. And while some sections of this lengthy book drag, the highlights more than make up for it.
By John Intini - Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 5:56 PM - 1 Comment
John Intini reviews Tina Fey’s new book
The closest fans ever came to getting inside Jerry Seinfeld’s head was in his 1993 book Seinlanguage, which, at 192 pages, was full of pithy everyday observations (most of which appeared in one form or another on his show) but was terribly thin on anything biographical. Tina Fey, thankfully, takes a different approach in her much-anticipated memoir. In the self-deprecating style that has made her famous, the brain behind 30 Rock pretty much starts at the beginning: she writes about developing breasts when she was nine (“so weird and high, it’s possible they were above my collarbone”) and getting her first period at 10 (“I knew from commercials that one’s menstrual period was a blue liquid that you poured like laundry detergent onto maxi-pads to test their absorbency. This wasn’t blue, so I ignored it for a few hours.”).
But this isn’t just about Fey’s awkward youth. In addressing sexism in comedy, Fey strikes back at the critics, namely Christopher Hitchens and Jerry Lewis, who claim women aren’t funny. “It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good. I don’t like Chinese food, but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist.”
Fey, whose killer impersonation of Sarah Palin some claim altered the 2008 election, also details her rise through the comedy ranks, from Chicago’s Second City to head writer at Saturday Night Live, and, finally, to creator and star of 30 Rock. Fans will enjoy the many peeks behind the curtain, especially during the six weeks she spent channelling the Republican VP candidate on SNL.
The book has all kinds of laugh-out-loud moments, but the effortlessness of Fey’s writing is what’s most impressive. It reads like a series of funny letters from a close friend. The friend just happens to be an Emmy Award-winning comedian.
By John Intini - Friday, April 8, 2011 at 9:07 AM - 3 Comments
He’s plunged in the rankings, but Woods is still the undisputed fan favourite
A couple of weeks ago, hoping to catch a glimpse of “the old Tiger” Woods, fans descended on Bay Hill, the famous golf course in Orlando, Fla., for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Whenever Woods set up on the practice green or the driving range, it seemed everyone from preschoolers to guys who looked like they could have been around in the 1920s when Bobby Jones was the golfer to beat stood wide-eyed and still. Even when he was 10 strokes off the lead going into the final round, thousands of fans, many in their Sunday best—a red golf shirt, Tiger’s trademark—lined the edges of the fairways, eight rows deep in some spots. They all seemed to be clinging to the prospect that here, at a tournament Woods had won six times, he might finally put an end to his 16-month drought.
There were certainly flashes of greatness—a miraculous iron shot over trees from deep in the rough on the ninth hole; a 55-foot birdie putt on 18—but those looking for vintage Tiger came away disappointed. Instead, they saw the same inconsistent golfer who hasn’t taken home a title since the trashing of his Cadillac Escalade in November 2009. The fender bender that would lead to the shattering of Woods’s squeaky clean image, and the stranger-than-fiction scandal that included everything from porn stars to a Perkins waitress, and six weeks in sex rehab. Woods posted a never-in-contention -1 at Bay Hill, finishing in a tie for 24th. And his final tune-up for this week’s Master’s only fuelled the critics, who question if the 35-year-old, who has slipped to No. 7 in the world, will ever dominate golf again.
By John Intini - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 2:10 PM - 0 Comments
Book by Tom Clavin
Before Tiger Woods wrapped his Cadillac Escalade around a tree, nobody doubted he’d surpass Jack Nicklaus’s record for most career major championships. But now, with Tiger stuck at 14, the Golden Bear’s 18 seems safer with each passing tournament. Marking the 25th anniversary of Nicklaus’s final, and finest, major triumph—the 1986 Masters at 46—comes Clavin’s new book, which reminds fans how everyone, most notably his fellow competitors, counted ol’ Nicklaus out that year. After all, he hadn’t won a major in six years. And in the three months leading up to the Masters, his best finish was a 39th.
That only added to the drama, of course, which culminated in perhaps the greatest championship Sunday shootout of all-time. Describing the putt on No. 17 that catapulted Nicklaus to the top of the leaderboard for good, Clavin writes, “He lunged forward, his tongue curled at the front of his mouth as if he had just caught sight of a huge steak, and he raised his putter in the air like a sword to lead true believers into battle.”
As well as the story of Nicklaus’s come-from-behind win, Clavin stitches together a history of the tournament and its famous course, Augusta National. It’s here the book is at its best. Clavin writes how the course, created by golf legend Bobby Jones, was turned into a cattle ranch during the Second World War; Augusta National was closed during the conflict and this was considered a cheap way to keep the grass on the fairways under control. Or when Dwight Eisenhower, then president-elect, had to be plucked from quicksand by secret service agents on No. 12 after trying to hit his ball from a sandbar following an errant tee shot.
The book suffers from too much play-by-play and not enough colour commentary, but its greatest weakness is the lack of analysis from Nicklaus. The golfer’s only thoughts are taken from the books he’s written himself. Still, One for the Ages is a good primer for diehard fans who wait anxiously to see the pros tee it up next month for the famous green jacket. Someone should send Tiger a copy.
By John Intini - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 8:38 AM - 0 Comments
The tragic fate of the greatest football team of all time: the 1985 Chicago Bears
The 1985 Chicago Bears were a perfect mix of fierceness and flash. Relentless, especially on defence, the Bears were also expert entertainers, as proven by their Grammy Award-nominated Super Bowl Shuffle performance. They could make you laugh at their lack of rhythm on MTV one day, and then make you cry when they pummelled your favourite team the next. Few pro teams have come close to matching their swagger. And the Bears backed it up, going 15-1 that season before embarrassing the New England Patriots 46-10 in the Super Bowl.
In the quarter-century since that lopsided title game, the greatest football team of all time has suffered tragedy and misadventures of a similarly epic scale. The first tragic blow struck in 1999, when Walter Payton, Chicago’s Hall of Fame running back, died of bile duct cancer at 45. Last month, it was revealed that fan favourite William “the Refrigerator” Perry, then a 320-lb. lineman, is now, at 48, stricken with a rare autoimmune disease and barely able to move from the chair in his living room. And just three weeks ago, Dave Duerson, the Bears’ Pro Bowl safety, killed himself. In a suicide note, he described vision problems and pain in the left side of his brain. So as to ensure his brain could be donated to science for concussion research, Duerson put a bullet in his heart.
Duerson is one of 300 athletes—half of them football players—to have pledged their brains to Boston University’s Sports Legacy Institute, which studies the long-term effects of sports-related head trauma. Jim McMahon, the team’s cocky quarterback, is another. Last fall, McMahon went public with his struggle to remember things, a result, he said, of taking too many hits to the helmet. “My memory’s pretty much gone,” the 51-year-old told the Chicago Tribune. “There are a lot of times when I walk into a room and forget why I walked in there.” (For fans, what’s impossible to forget is his similarly disheartening role as a spokesman for MVP, an erectile dysfunction drug. In ads for the pill, which promises to increase stamina and size, McMahon says it can “make you a champion in the bedroom!”)
By John Intini - Monday, October 18, 2010 at 4:00 PM - 0 Comments
The social and economic consequences of letting boys fall behind
The trick to having a baby girl, according to researchers in the Netherlands, is a calcium- and magnesium-rich diet, full of hard cheese, rhubarb, spinach, canned salmon and tofu. It’s also important, claim the authors of the study, for women to steer clear of salty foods, potatoes and bananas. Though the study was based on a small sample, it wouldn’t be a shock if the results prompted prospective parents to stock their fridges accordingly.
As Robert Bly and others prophesied in the 1990s, when they retreated to the woods to beat drums and exhort men to embrace their inner caveman, the modern male is in danger of losing his way. The process apparently begins early. On average, boys earn lower marks, study less, and are more likely to repeat a grade than girls. Young men are more likely to drop out of high school and less likely to graduate university than young women. And while they still dominate in engineering and computer science, men are outnumbered in most professional programs, including law and medicine.
By John Intini - Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
Gobs of paint, clumps of foam—extreme painting is big. Very big.
When putting together a gallery show, Kim Dorland usually spends at least $10,000 a month on paint. Sitting in his Toronto studio, the artist points at The Shack, a new piece slated for a solo exhibition in New York City this November. The painting, a 2.4-metre by three-metre board with several pieces of wood hammered into it, swallowed 80 tubes of silver, 100 tubes of black, and 200 tubes of other colours, including brown and green paint. “I was joking with my assistant,” he says, “that I squeezed out $1,300 worth of silver on this tree.”
For Dorland, born in Wainwright, Alta., that’s the cost of doing business. And the investment has paid off. The 36-year-old’s modern landscapes have sold for as much as $48,000, and are showcased in galleries and private collections all over the world. And his work, organizers say, sparked this summer’s inaugural Extreme Painting Festival, a series of group shows at 16 galleries in Montreal (Dorland’s work will be on display at Galerie René Blouin until Aug. 21).
By John Intini - Monday, July 19, 2010 at 10:57 AM - 0 Comments
The former NHLer put his off-ice struggles behind him and died a family man
In September 1999, about three years before his playing days in Chicago were over, Bob Probert and his wife, Dani, set their homecoming in motion. They purchased a waterfront property in Lakeshore, Ont., a sleepy town near Windsor, where they planned to build their dream home. After years on the road, they wanted to be close to family (Probert’s mother Theresa, his brother Norm, and father-in-law James all live in Windsor). Today, their large grey-stoned home, with its slate roof, sits on a quiet street along Lake St. Clair. There’s a swimming pool on the lake side, a big rec room in the basement with a pool table and hockey jerseys from Probert’s playing days framed and hanging on the walls, and a limited-edition Harley Davidson Fat Boy parked in the dining room. It’s a stunning place, but like the former NHL heavyweight, not overly showy. From the curb, at least, it’s not even the most palatial residence on the street. A few doors down, another home, protected by a large gate at the front, features a water fountain and a full-sized basketball court.
Less concerned about his jumpshot, Probert treated himself instead to a massive garage. It’s the ultimate man cave, with 1,725 sq. feet of space to work on his old Chevrolet Chevelles, Monte Carlos and a ’68 Dodge Charger. (The garage also houses Probert’s Porsche, and a couple of Harley Davidsons.) He collected all kinds of tools and old car parts. But it wasn’t a secret, say friends, that Probert was better at taking cars apart than putting them back together.
Still, after facing off against some serious demons in his life, Probert was in full control. Much of his focus, say friends, was on his family (his wife, four children, and two Yorkies named Carly and Simon) and his charity work. Then, on the afternoon of July 5, the former left-winger died suddenly of an apparent heart attack while boating on Lake St. Clair with his family. Probert was only 45, leaving some to wonder if all those years of hard living in his playing days—his struggles with alcohol and substance abuse during that time were well-known—had caught up with him. Or, perhaps, it was hereditary. In 1982, his father Al, a Windsor police officer, died of a heart attack at 52.
Whatever the case, the death of Windsor’s favourite son struck a nerve in this blue-collar town. Everyone, it seems, was quick to share a story about “Probie.” His popularity benefited from being one of a rare breed of enforcers. In his 16-year NHL career, split between the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks, his fists made him the most feared man in hockey, and yet he could also be dangerous with the puck, scoring 163 goals and assisting on 221 others. For many who knew him, his well-documented struggles off the ice—including the three months he spent in jail after trying in March 1989 to cross the Canada-U.S. border with cocaine in his underwear—are secondary to the family man that he had become. He was a guy who was most comfortable in a T-shirt, jeans and a pair of Crocs—the ones with fur lining were favourites since he could wear them year-round.
That’s not to say retirement for Probert was totally smooth, especially in the early going. Though not necessarily front-page news, Probert had a few run-ins with the authorities in the last decade. In June 2004, he was Tasered by police in Delray Beach, Fla., and charged with battery, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct (a jury acquitted him several months later). Probert would later say he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Some guys were getting mouthy and I was getting mouthy and then the police arrived.” In July 2005, police were called to the Probert’s Lakeshore residence. Nine officers arrived, eight were wearing black gloves, “as though ready to do battle,” says Patrick Ducharme, Probert’s long-time agent and lawyer. Probert was charged with assaulting police and intent to resist arrest. But video footage, captured by surveillance cameras that he had on the property, showed that Probert had not been aggressive with the police at all, says Ducharme.
After the Crown saw the tape, the charges were withdrawn. Ducharme thought his client might have a good civil case, but Probert didn’t want to proceed. “He said, ‘That’s my community and I don’t want them angry with me,’ ” recalls Ducharme. Then, in June 2006, Probert was asleep on the sidewalk when he was picked up by the police and brought in to the station on suspicion of public intoxication. During a routine search, the authorities found half a gram of cocaine in his pocket. He was charged with possession. But according to Ducharme, there was no fingerprint evidence to indicate Probert ever touched the packet in question, and two individuals, who had been drinking with Probert that night, came forward to say they had stuffed the cocaine in his pocket after he’d passed out, and planned to come back for it later. That charge was withdrawn as well.
Through it all, Dani stuck with him. The couple first met about two decades ago when Probert was serving out a suspension from the Red Wings in Windsor. On Canada Day, four days before he died, they celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary. “I’ve learned a lot from that guy,” says Donald Cadarian, one of Probert’s friends. “I’ve learned how to say ‘sorry.’ I’ve learned how to say ‘I love you.’ He used to tell Dani every time they were on the phone, ‘I love you, baby,’ ‘I love you so much.’ Every time. Every day. Nobody does that after 17 years of marriage. If you’d seen them together, there was no question why they stayed together.”
By John Intini - Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
What an alt-country troubadour discovered when collaborating with the famous novelist
Michael Ondaatje didn’t waste any time, recalls singer-songwriter Justin Rutledge, who turned to the famous novelist last summer for some guidance on a few songs before recording his new album. “I brought some lyric sheets to his place and played him the songs,” says Rutledge. “He acted almost like an arranger, an editor. He saw the words on the page and would say ‘What about moving this there?’ or ‘What about trading these lines?’ ” Ninety minutes and a couple of cups of homemade cocoa later, Ondaatje had made suggestions on five songs, and co-written another, On The Russian River, 1849, from scratch.
Rutledge describes that tune as a lullaby, set during the San Francisco gold rush, “about a poor boy diving for gold and burying timber to impress a stately lady.” Rutledge, who admits that he usually hates co-writing, says working with Ondaatje (who declined to be interviewed for this story) was the best experience he’s had yet. And though Rutledge is confident their song will find a spot on one of his next albums, On The Russian River, 1849, didn’t make the final cut of The Early Widows, which is out on May 4. The English Patient author does, however, get 100 per cent of the credit for the second line—I am a pause in a storm on a dark stair whenever your name is spoken—of Be A Man, the first single. It’s classic Ondaatje, and fits in perfectly on Rutledge’s fourth album. That’s because while Rutledge lacks Ondaatje’s household-name status, the 31-year-old alt-country musician from Toronto is considered one of Canada’s most thoughtful young songwriters.
By John Intini - Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 1:20 PM - 4 Comments
Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh on how getting a tattoo compares to on-court injuries, being a dad, and why he’s taking Spanish lessons
Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh may be the greatest self-promoter in pro sports. He’s on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. He stars in funny skits on YouTube—the first and most famous was a spot in which he appeared as a car salesman, pleading with fans to vote him into the 2008 NBA All-Star game as a starter. He’s the first pro athlete to have an iPhone application—it features exclusive photos and video. And in December, he released First Ink, a documentary about getting his first tattoo. Bosh plays a bit of basketball, too. While his club is hovering around the .500 mark this season, the 25-year-old all-star is putting up career numbers (he’s averaging about 24 points a game). Good timing, considering the US$16-million-a-year forward will likely wade into the free agency pool this year (Bosh, say his handlers, isn’t talking about free agency until the end of the season). There have also been rumours that Bosh could get dealt before the NBA’s Feb. 18 trade deadline. Whatever the case, he’s made his mark. Last month, Bosh dethroned the much-loathed former Raptor Vince Carter to become the team’s all-time leading scorer. Maclean’s recently caught up with Bosh after practice.
Q: Has having a bunch of Europeans on the Raptors’ roster helped you learn a new language or two?
A: I’m picking up Spanish.
Q: Swearing in another language doesn’t count.
A: No, I’m a student. I have tutoring today. I’ve been taking it since October. Twice a week, depending on the schedule. Sometimes three times a week. I just try to get a set amount of time in while I’m here in Toronto. And then I study while I’m on the road.
Q: Why Spanish?
A: I’ve always wanted to learn it. I’m from Texas, where the Hispanic community is massive. And sometimes [Raptors guard] José Calderón and I use it to communicate on the court when we don’t want our opponents to know what we’re saying to each other.
Q: There are a couple of Italians on this club as well. You lining up a tutor for that next?
A: Maybe Italian will be second, if I can get Spanish down.
Q: Has Spanish been tough to learn?
A: Any language is tough, I’m not going to lie. You have to be very consistent, and I’ve been studying pretty much every day for the past four months, and that doesn’t include what I already knew.
Q: With your comedic turns on YouTube getting so much attention—nearly seven million views the last time I checked—have you fielded any feature film offers? Any TV deals?
A: Not yet. I had the chance to do the Jay Leno show a couple of years ago and that was really cool.
Q: So you’d be up for doing something if the right project came along?
A: For sure. I’d try it out. I’m not sure if I’d like it because I’ve never done it but I’m open to it.
Q: What kind of film would you be interested in? Comedy? Romance?
A: I want to do comedy.
Q: Is there anyone in particular that you’d like to star alongside?
A: I can’t be picky. Just give me whatever and I’ll be happy.
Q: Have you always been a bit of a joker, even as a kid?
A: Yeah. People are just now seeing it, because it’s a part of myself that I’ve decided to share.
Q: What made you want to open up?
A: It started with that one video a couple of years ago around the All-Star game. It wasn’t so much about getting votes, it was just to make it competitive. I was behind in the voting. I had to make the numbers look better. [He came up short in the voting, but did start in the game due to an injury to Boston Celtic Kevin Garnett.]
Q: Are you a big locker-room prankster?
A: No, no. I joke around. But I don’t joke too much. Not in a big setting. I’m more of a joker when it’s one-on-one, or with my family.
Q: You have you own website, you’re on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Is taking part in social networking part of the job for the modern-day athlete?
A: It’s a part of the modern world. I wouldn’t say I do it because I’m a modern-day athlete. I just do these things because I enjoy it. I’ve made videos in the past because I enjoyed it. I got into Twitter and Facebook because I enjoyed it.
Q: How do you have the time? Do you have a team of assistants working overtime?
A: I have one guy helping me out.
Q: ESPN named you the most viral athlete in the world last year. Is being everywhere a goal for you?
A: It is now. At first it wasn’t, I was just really going along with the flow. But now it’s a part of what I do.
Q: Last year, you went to court to reclaim 800 Internet domain names—including those of many other athletes and celebrities—from a cybersquatter. Seems like an odd thing for a superstar athlete to be worried about. You won, but why did you bother?
A: Cause that dude was messing things up. I know how important it was to me. I didn’t have chrisbosh.com because someone else had it. Everyone should have their own name. And whoever wanted their domain name was given it back. It was just a sincere effort to give people back their stuff.
Q: With all the things you’re doing, you’ve pretty much become a publicity machine—which includes being the first pro athlete to have his own iPhone app. Is it just a part of getting yourself out there?
A: It’s just trying different avenues and creating different things. We understand technology. We just try to create new ways to communicate with the modern fan. And new ways to have fun with it.
Q: Is that why you decided to do a documentary about getting a tattoo?
A: I always want to do something groundbreaking, something different. I think that’s what it’s always about. If you have the means to do it, why not?
Q: Considering the average star in the NBA seems to have about 14 tattoos.
A: Is that a proven statistic? [Laughs]
Q: No, it just seems like that [by one estimate, more than 70 per cent of NBA players have tattoos]. So why did it take you so long to get your first one?
A: People get them for different reasons. And it was a whole different process for me. I’m more of an artistic guy, so I wanted to create some kind of symbolism of my life.
Q: It’s essentially a mural of your life, right?
A: Pretty much. It takes some explanation. It’s very detailed. It’s not done yet. It’s going to take a long time.
Q: How many sessions in the chair have you done so far?
A: I’ve only had time to do one so far. I’m probably going to do another four this summer, so hopefully I’ll be closer to getting it done.
By John Intini - Monday, January 25, 2010 at 2:45 PM - 10 Comments
How Loblaws became the new king of Canadian fashion
Although it’s just a construction site right now, the southwest corner of Toronto’s Queen Street West and Portland Street holds great promise for fans of fast fashion. That’s because here, on the edge of one of Canada’s busiest shopping strips, and just a few blocks from H&M, Urban Outfitters and American Apparel, Joe Fresh plans next year to swing open the doors of a shiny new 8,000-sq.-foot store. Loblaws’ cheap ’n’ cheerful clothing line has been in the fashion war for a few years, but this is the first time it has decided to do battle on its competitors’ turf.
For the most part, the brand, which is available across Canada in more than 340 Real Canadian Superstores and Loblaws stores, has gone after a slice of Canada’s $19-billion apparel market from the friendly—and some would say unlikely—confines of suburban grocery stores. And though a Loblaws will occupy the second floor of the future condo tower at Queen and Portland (a Winners will take the third floor), Joe Fresh’s simple yet stylish basics will be responsible for catching the eyes of shoppers at street level. This is, arguably, the biggest test of the brand since it launched in 2006. But retail experts think it’s up for the challenge. “They’re really poised for some explosive growth,” says David Ian Gray, principal of Vancouver-based DIG360 Consulting. “I have clients, in specialty chain retail, that are concerned about them.”
By John Intini - Tuesday, January 19, 2010 at 3:53 PM - 4 Comments
The Massive Change designer on a future with less dependence on oil, losing weight, and why corporate social responsibility is a bad idea
Bruce Mau, who started out as a graphic designer in the 1980s, uses design principles to develop strategies for a range of major clients—from big businesses (Coca-Cola, MTV) to governments (Guatemala). The 50-year-old, who moved from Toronto to Chicago two years ago, cemented his global reputation as a big thinker in 2004 with Massive Change: The Future of Global Design, an exhibition of the latest innovations in everything from health and warfare to transportation and manufacturing (a follow-up is planned for 2011). Mau, whose theories are the subject of Warren Berger’s new book, Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your Life, and Maybe Even the World, will be speaking at a symposium associated with Toronto’s Interior Design Show this week about a world less dependant on oil.
Q: So what does Bruce Mau’s world without oil look like?
A: It’s not a world without oil, but a world with an ecology of energy sources, where oil is used when it is the absolute right tool.
Q: How do we get there?
A: We’ve had 50 years of telling people to get out of their cars. In every one of those years the number of cars in the world went up. The idea that we’re going to punish or embarrass them into it has simply not worked. It’s like there was a focus group of six billion people around a table, and someone said, “Hey guys, give up your car” and they said, en masse, “No.” This is where design comes in. Ultimately, the way to solve the problem, and so many problems, is to make things cooler and sexier than the older ones. I have a friend who has a Tesla and a Ferrari. He says the Tesla is way cooler. That changes the game. We’re not telling him don’t. We’re telling him, here’s an exciting way you can do it that ultimately can be sustainable. How do we get to do the things we do without stealing from our kids or leaving a toxic legacy? And at the same time, how do we do them in such a way that is smarter and more fun than the old way?
Q: How far off is this future? Continue…
By John Intini - Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 10:45 AM - 2 Comments
Kids’ choirs – and not just the fake one on TV – are suddenly centre stage
As well as being a member of the choir backing up Dead Man’s Bones in Vancouver last month, Jane Agyeman was picked to perform a solo, a cover of Cher’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down). Fully aware of who the packed house had paid to see – the band is fronted by Academy Award-nominated actor Ryan Gosling – Agyeman wasn’t expecting much more than a polite response, like at an elementary school concert, she says, when “the crowd claps because it’s mandatory.” So it came as a bit of a shock when the club erupted with applause following her four minutes alone in the spotlight. And the Georgia Straight’s review of the show, while generous to Gosling, credited the Grade 11 student at North Vancouver’s Carson Graham secondary school with having “turned in the night’s most killer performance.”
Being upstaged by a kid from the choir is something Gosling has been setting himself up for this fall. On the band’s self-titled debut, which came out last month, Dead Man’s Bones is joined by the Silverlake Conservatory of Music’s children’s choir. And at every tour stop, the band selected a local chorus, painted the members’ faces like ghosts, and took them on stage as backup. When asked by a journalist from Pitchfork what they hoped to achieve by including the kids, Gosling offered a rambling, but poignant response: “You know when you’re a kid and you get crayons and papers and just draw whatever you want and it’s just a bunch of messy lines, but to you it makes sense, and then they put it on the fridge? From that point on, you’re always trying to get back on the fridge. We wanted to get back to that place before we were trying to make the fridge. We wanted to work with people who hadn’t been affected in that way yet.”
The guys in Dead Man’s Bones aren’t the only ones trying to capture a bit of that magic. Aside, perhaps, from Whoopi Goldberg’s turn in Sister Act, choirs have never been more centre stage in pop culture than they are right now. The soundtrack for Where the Wild Things Are features Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and 16 untrained children’s voices. A Grade 5 chorus at New York City’s PS22 regularly captures the YouTube generation’s attention (12 million views and counting) with covers of modern-day pop songs, and counts Beyoncé, Rihanna and Lady Gaga as fans. The Choir, an award-winning BBC reality show about a choirmaster who tries to turn inexperienced, and often reluctant, students on to song, has proven incredibly popular in the U.K. (TVO is airing all three episodes of season one on Jan. 1). And then, of course, there’s Glee. Fox’s massive hit, about a high school show choir, has 8.6 million tuning in every week. And the show’s chart-topping music—including covers of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ and Beyoncé’s Halo—has sold more than 2.6 million downloads on iTunes. At the risk of being stuffed in a locker for saying it, choirs are, well, cool.
By John Intini - Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 9:20 AM - 0 Comments
Pianist Glenn Gould was also a brilliant philosopher of music
Though he captivated millions from behind his Steinway, Glenn Gould began to see himself “less as a performer, and more a thinker about music,” says Mark Kingwell. This notion of Gould as a philosopher of music is the central theme of Kingwell’s new book on the famous Canadian. The University of Toronto philosophy professor focused much of his research on Gould’s recordings and published writing, which he calls “really thoughtful, kooky and contradictory.” Gould, adds Kingwell, “really was crazy, but he was crazy in an utterly inimitable way.”
While this writer-legend pairing in the Penguin Extraordinary Canadians series might seem, on the surface, a bit counterintuitive—the subjects Robertson Davies or Northrop Frye would have been a more obvious pick for the academic—it’s also what makes the book work. Kingwell, a music lover, is interested in “a whole host of things that Gould was concerned with, like consciousness, and time, and play.” And, he says, his research further developed his own thoughts on music, especially those related to memory and experience. “He never quite settled certain questions,” says Kingwell. And while it’s hard to hold Gould’s theories to the same philosophical standard used for more traditional philosophers, Kingwell thinks Gould “offers something much more interesting: a bunch of unresolved reflections that pushes you and pushes you more deeply into the questions.”
Author Mark Kingwell on how a strange moment in 1959, and plenty of self-medicating, led to Glenn Gould’s breakdown.
Since the early 1950s Gould had been taking prescription drugs of various kinds, mainly for anxiety and associated bodily symptoms. By the end of his life he was also ingesting a varied cocktail of pills for blood pressure, anxiety, sleep disorder and general unease. In addition to drugs such as Valium, obtained by prescription from various doctors, sometimes unbeknownst to each other, Gould took all manner of over-the-counter painkillers, sleep aids, vitamins and dietary supplements. His self-medicating cycles were idiosyncratic and unpredictable, involving drugs taken to offset the effects of other drugs, the addition of new drugs to counter symptoms that emerged from the last drug, and so on. In the recording studio, right from the start, the colour-coded bottles and pills were as much a standard feature of Gould’s apparatus of genius as the muffler and gloves, the curious chair, the arrowroot biscuits, and the bottles of mineral water.
This was no mere tic, however. Gould’s hypochondria and general anxiety created a spiral of addiction in which symptom became indistinguishable from cure, where all illness was iatrogenic, the medication made into the disease. Certain features of Gould’s constitution were evident early, and this pharmacopoeia endgame can obscure the real suffering at its root. An odd incident in 1959 opens a chapter that ends only in the late 1970s and Gould’s decline into death.
On Dec. 8 of that year Gould was in New York to visit the technicians at the Steinway company. His beloved CD 318 was in need of an overhaul, one of several virtual rebuildings it would receive over its lifetime of association with Gould, who favoured the light action of its keyboard and the clarity of its sound. On this occasion, speaking to several Steinway employees, Gould was greeted by William Hupfer, the chief technician, with a friendly slap on the back.
Accounts differ on how hard the slap was, whether it was indeed a slap, and so on. What is certain is that Hupfer made contact with Gould, who recoiled and began complaining of severe pain. Much speculation is directed at whether this renewed an early childhood injury to his back, when he fell in the family boat, or perhaps invoked it in some psychosomatic fashion. In any event, and despite a doctor’s report that there was no evidence of injury, Gould began complaining of serious harm, claiming numbness in the fingers of his left hand as well as ache in the shoulder. It’s possible the blow, or its imagined effect, aggravated a repetitive strain injury already troubling Gould. For his part, he claimed Hupfer had dislodged his shoulder blade. He began daily orthopaedic and chiropractic treatments and cancelled numerous concert appearances even while, in other periods, he went on performing with apparent vigour.
In the spring of 1960 an orthopaedic surgeon in Philadelphia, Irwin Stein, agreed to put Gould in an upper-body cast, his left arm elevated over his head. Gould assumed this bizarre hailing posture for a month, a period of discomfort that left him with an irrational dislike of the city of brotherly love, where he would cancel a concert the next year. Indeed, the Hupfer slap now provided Gould with an excuse to cancel or avoid any commitment he did not care for, from shaking hands with strangers to the entirety of his 1960 European tour.
It also gave him sufficient cause to bring suit against Steinway. Just two days short of a year after the slap, on Dec. 6, 1960, he filed suit against Hupfer and the company, demanding $300,000 in personal damages. The company responded by revoking his status as a Steinway artist and banning him from the Steinway hall. The following summer, in August 1961, the dispute was resolved out of court, with Gould finally agreeing to accept recovery of his legal and medical expenses: $9,372.35. He was restored to good standing as a member of the Steinway stable—but employees were now expressly forbidden to shake his hand. Backslaps are not specified but were, one imagines, suppressed a fortiori.
Eighteen years later, in June 1977, Gould began to experience a breakdown of control over his hands, numbness, and dysfunction similar to that resulting from—we cannot fairly say caused by—the Hupfer slap. This time, however, there was no Hupfer, and Gould was unable to externalize his unease, still less to sue anyone. Instead, and now characteristically, Gould internalized it. His diaries from this period show a long series of experiments, reported in pseudo-scientific language, attempting to diagnose the flaw in his physical mechanism. Gould dismantled his playing the way a slumping golf professional demolishes and then tries to rebuild his swing, even going so far as to alter his facial expressions as a way of shaking loose his wayward fingers.
Other masters of repetitive movement often find themselves paralyzed by the press of analysis, such that the most habitual movement in the world becomes itself impossible—one thinks here of the golfer Ian Baker-Finch, whose career exploded when he could no longer execute his easy swing in competitive environments, or the New York Mets catcher Mackey Sasser, who one day found himself unable to toss the baseball back to the pitcher after a ball or strike.
Gould was well aware of this problem. In several interviews and publications throughout his career, he refers to it as “the centipede conundrum,” from the childhood wisdom that a centipede knows perfectly well how to deploy its hundred feet—unless and until it is asked to explain how. “I don’t want to think too much about my playing,” he said, when asked about, for example, his humming, “or else I’ll get like that centipede who was asked which foot he moved first and became paralyzed, just thinking about it.”
When performance becomes conscious of itself as performance, the lucid mediation between thought and sound is broken, and the tripping begins. Thus the necessary distractions offered by closed eyes, bodily swaying, humming, and even external noise.
One can speculate endlessly about the causes of Gould’s late-career breakdown; everything from the recent death of his perfectionist mother to the routine pressures of middle age has been cited. And it is surely the case that his hypochondria, combined with the cycles of self-medication, anxiety, and (importantly) the means to indulge these, created its own toxic energy. But I think the simplest explanation is both the best and the most frightening. Gould was caught in a control freak’s nightmare. Even as he struggled to ﬁx something he felt was broken, he was attacked by new waves of misgiving about whether the steps he was taking to solution were actually making the problem worse. Not only was his playing stalled by thought—in other words, he had become the centipede—but, far worse, the thought itself had become stalled, recursive and self-negating at every moment. This is the energy of consciousness bent back upon its bearer.
There was, and could have been, no resolution to Gould’s malady because, by its own definition, resolution could only mean further thought; and thought was itself the malady. There is no cure for that, because, even were he able to frame this last thought, the one concerning thought’s self-violence, no escape is thereby made available—except in the obliteration of all thought, of the very fact of consciousness. Until then, there could be only further imprisonment in the labyrinth of reflection. M
From Extraordinary Canadians: Glenn Gould by Mark Kingwell. Copyright © Mark Kingwell, 2009. Reprinted with permission of Penguin Group (Canada).
By John Intini - Monday, September 28, 2009 at 1:25 PM - 7 Comments
Can changing a catalogue font hurt the bottom line?
When news broke last month that Ikea had changed the font in its catalogue—replacing Futura, after more than 50 years, with Verdana—twittering typophiles took their outrage to the Web. Some wondered, with varying degrees of snark, if shifting to such a ubiquitous font might hurt the company’s carefully crafted aesthetic. “Doesn’t Verdana reinforce their brand image as cheap, low-quality and overused?” sneered one online critic. Others, while not as directly on point, were no less devastating: “I’m not going to enjoy the meatballs as much at a Verdana-fonted Ikea.”
That font geeks can be snobs is no surprise. But, says Michael Walsh, a marketing professor at West Virginia University, they can also be dangerous. In a recent study, which focused on how consumers reacted to changes to Adidas and New Balance logos, Walsh found that a brand’s most committed customers react the most negatively to change—research, he says, that translates to the Ikea case, even though the company isn’t altering its logo. Fonts, like logos, are a key part of the brand aesthetic, and so a font change in a catalogue—nearly 200 million Ikea catalogues are printed every year—can threaten a company’s bottom line if the new look alienates the wrong customers. “A catalogue is part of the totality of a brand,” says Walsh. “To the extent Ikea has a large number of highly committed consumers, a change like this has the potential to be a problem.” Continue…
By John Intini - Monday, September 21, 2009 at 10:40 AM - 1 Comment
It’s no fluke that gridiron greats perform like pros on ‘Dancing with the Stars’
Toronto Argonaut slotback Andre Durie spiced up his off-season workout routine this year. Instead of hitting the weights on Thursdays, the five-foot-nine-inch 192-lb. athlete took salsa lessons at Toronto’s Spanish Centre. “It’s a lot of hip work, a lot of foot work, and it helps with coordination,” says Durie, who was also looking to get a bit of his “rhythm” back after being sidelined by a serious knee injury. Turns out, the dance lessons connected more to his day job than expected. For one thing, Durie found that the signals sent between him and his dance partner—there are certain cues to let her know which way he was going to spin her, for instance—were much like those shared between a couple of receivers working together on a passing route. Durie also credits his gridiron training for making it easier to pick up some of the quicker, complicated footwork in the studio. “We’re always doing different drills with our feet [at football practice],” says Durie, 28. “So it’s almost second nature.”
Maybe that’s why no other sport has been as well represented on Dancing with the Stars as football. Over the years, the show has featured a basketball player, a handful of Olympians, and a couple of boxers, but when season nine debuts on ABC and CTV on Sept. 21, former Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin will be the sixth pro football player to trade his cleats for a pair of dancing shoes. But the hall-of-fame receiver better have his game face on if he hopes to leave a bigger mark than the gridiron greats who have preceded him. Running back Emmitt Smith, Irvin’s former teammate and Durie’s boyhood hero, was the big winner of season three. And San Francisco 49ers receiver Jerry Rice (season two) and Miami Dolphins linebacker Jason Taylor (season six) waltzed and cha-chaed their way to second-place finishes. So did Warren Sapp, a 300-lb. all-pro lineman, who earned the respect of the judges (one said the long-time Tampa Bay Buccaneer moved like a “Lamborghini taking on the freeway”) and the voting audience by exhibiting the grace of a man literally half his size. Continue…
By John Intini - Friday, September 18, 2009 at 10:02 AM - 1 Comment
Middle-aged smokers with other risk factors can die 10 years earlier, study shows
According to a new UK study, middle-aged smokers with high blood pressure and cholesterol levels are at risk of dying 10 years before healthier peers. The study looked at over 19,000 civil servants aged 40 to 69, the BBC reports, and followed them over 38 years. It found that men with those risk factors could expect a life that’s 10 years shorter after 50 years of age. The study, which began in 1967, checked participants’ height, weight, blood pressure, lung function, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. It also gave them a questionnaire about medical history, smoking habits, employment and marital status. About 42 per cent of the men were smokers, 39 per cent had high blood pressure and 51 per cent had high cholesterol. By 2005, 13,501 had died. “We’ve shown that men at age 50 who smoke, have high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels can expect to survive to 74 years of age, while those who have none of these risk factors can expect to live until 83,” said Robert Clarke, who led the study.”If you stop smoking or take measures to deal with high blood pressure or body weight, it will translate into increased life expectancy. ”
By John Intini - Tuesday, September 8, 2009 at 12:55 PM - 16 Comments
Teachers say they can predict behaviour based on names
Some names are naughtier than others. According to one-third of teachers surveyed in the U.K., they can spot a troublemaker just by looking at their class list. Callum, Courtney and Jack rated among the naughtiest names, while Alexander, Benjamin, Elizabeth and Charlotte were some of the brightest. The survey, conducted by Bounty.com, found that almost half of teachers make assumptions about their students based on their names.
By John Intini - Tuesday, September 1, 2009 at 2:15 PM - 7 Comments
The former coach talks about creating champions, his critics, parenting, and the problem with tennis
UPDATE: On Saturday, Serena Williams won her fifth Wimbledon title and 14th major championship. Hours later, Serena and sister Venus–also a five-time Wimbledon singles champion–proceeded to win their fifth Wimbledon doubles title. How does it feel to be Richard Williams? Here’s what he told Maclean’s three years ago.
Richard Williams has been planning his daughters’ domination of the tennis world since about two years before Venus, now 29, was born. He taught himself the sport and later moved his young family from Saginaw, Mich., to Compton, a poor, violent suburb of Los Angeles, in the hopes that it would give his kids a competitive edge. Their combined 18 Grand Slam singles titles and nearly US$50 million in career earnings (not to mention tens of millions in endorsements) is proof his commitment has paid off. Last week, the world’s most famous father was at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, where Venus was upset in the second round and Serena was bounced in the semifinals by the tournament’s eventual winner, Elena Dementieva. Before his daughter Serena’s loss, the 67-year-old former-tennis-coach-turned-writer (Williams says he’s written 35 books and hopes to publish his first, How I did it with Venus and Serena, by next January) sat down with John Intini.
Q: When you decided all those years ago on tennis, had you considered any other sports?
A: No, because I didn’t know at that time of anything in sports that a woman could do and earn that type of income. I didn’t know nothing about tennis. I hadn’t even watched a tennis match. I just saw [tennis commentator] Bud Collins say to [Romanian tennis player] Virginia Ruzici, “$40,000 is not bad for four days’ work.” I thought, that has to be a joke. But the next day, when I read it in the sports pages, I said, “I’m going to have me two kids and put them in tennis.” To this day, I don’t know anything a child could do to make that kind of money in one week.
Q: Take me back to the first time you took Venus out on a court when she was four. How did you know she was going to be a star?
A: A champion has four qualities, and it’s not something you can teach. You have to be rough, you have to be tough, you have to be strong and you have to just be mentally sound. What’s interesting is that Venus didn’t hit many balls over the net. I must have pitched about 530 balls to her. You would never, never, never do that to a child who is four years and six months old. That’s crazy. You’d have to be insane to do that. To a child her age, you shouldn’t hit more than 75 balls, or 100 at the most. But every time I tried to stop, she would just cry, “Just one more, one more, one more.” I was working with three other girls who were much older than Venus and the three couldn’t hit 500 balls without taking breaks. So to see Venus do it by herself at that age, you just knew she was going to be a champion. My neighbours accused me of being crazy because, before Venus was born, I was walking around talking about how she was going to be a champion. Continue…
By John Intini - Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 11:50 PM - 5 Comments
Purists hate it, but what’s a guttural outburst (or several) in a great tennis game?
When Serena Williams stopped by The Late Show last month after winning a third Wimbledon title, the conversation, like many about tennis these days, turned to grunting rather than groundstrokes. Williams joked that she grunts playing golf and said Monica Seles, tennis’s ﬁrst scream queen, was her role model growing up. When David Letterman asked if her outbursts distracted opponents, she smiled: “I often wonder that.”
Though the bit went over well with the studio audience, it’s unlikely everyone at home was laughing. Grunting has become a divisive issue in tennis, especially in the women’s game. Purists complain the guttural outbursts are unnecessary and annoying to spectators and opponents. Martina Navratilova recently called it “cheating” and said it should be outlawed. Continue…
By John Intini - Saturday, July 25, 2009 at 11:48 PM - 0 Comments
Two thousand in Via’s service unit are laid off temporarily
After Via Rail’s 340 train engineers walked off the job on Friday, the company laid off 2,000 employees in the service end of its business. If the strike drags on, another 400 workers could temporarily lose their jobs.”If there are no people to serve, trains to fix, we have a lot of people sitting around with nothing to do and we can’t afford to do that,” said Via spokesman Malcolm Andrews. “The second that we resume service they will all be recalled to work.”
By John Intini - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 11:24 AM - 0 Comments
Study shows infants know the meaning of different dog barks
Six-month-old babies can understand the difference in dog barks even if they’ve never been exposed to dogs before. A new study from Brigham Young University shows infants are able to match the sounds of an angry dog with the appropriate picture of a dog with an aggressive posture, and a friendly yap with a friendly posture. “They only had one trial because we didn’t want them to learn it on the fly and figure it out,” said Ross Flom, lead author of the study. The study shows that babies are capable of recognizing feelings around them and will help researchers understand how babies learn so quickly. (Babies can also pick up on shifts in moods in the music of Beethoven.) “Emotion is one of the first things babies pick up on in their social world,” says Flom.
By John Intini - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 11:11 AM - 0 Comments
Poll of UK viewers shows 9 out of 10 “addictive” shows are American
According to a poll of British TV viewers by LOVEFILM.COM, the most addictive television series of recent years is 24. Of the top 10 most watchable shows chosen by the sample of 3,000 UK television viewers, only one UK show made the list: Dr. Who. Otherwise, the list is all American shows, mostly serialized dramas like Lost and Prison Break, but also comedies like Friends and Sex and the City, where there are few cliffhangers. It just goes to show that Canadians aren’t the only ones who prefer U.S. shows to our own; we’re in good company with our cousins overseas, who would rather get addicted to Heroes than Coronation Street.
By John Intini - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 11:02 AM - 4 Comments
Nato’s secretary-general says it would give “free run” to al-Qaeda
In the midst of what is already the deadliest month for Western troops in Afghanistan since the war began, and facing growing opposition within countries sending soldiers to Afghanistan, Nato’s secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has warned that walking away from the mission would have “devastating” consequences and would give “free run” to al-Qaeda. “As much as we may long for the near-perfect security of Cold War deterrence, we must accept that security today requires engagement in far away places – engagement that is dangerous, expensive, open ended, and with no guarantee of success,” he said today in a speech in London.
By John Intini - Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 6:54 PM - 7 Comments
After 11 days of relative calm, thousands hit the streets of Tehran
Thousands of Iranian protesters flooded the streets of Tehran today in a blatant show of government disobedience. During the uprising, which came after 11 days of relative calm in the capital, protesters chanted “Down with the Dictator,” “God is Great,” and “Mouss-a-vi.” Police were out in full force in packs of 50, wielding batons and administering tear gas. And though the government disconnected cellphone messaging for the third straight day, they could not contain the thousands who turned out to protest last month’s election results. “Tell the world what is happening here,” said one 26-year-old student. “This is our revolution. We will not give up.”