Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mixing it up.

The other night I cut through Rideau Centre on my way home from the bookstore. For those of you who don't live in Ottawa, it's a multi-storey shopping mall right downtown. As much as I dislike malls, I have to acknowledge the evil brilliance of the place. It's strategically placed between geographic, traffic and topographical barriers. Anyone going from the major Transitway stop on the Mackenzie King Bridge--which is to say, all the kids busing in from the suburbs--to the nightlife of the Byward Market finds that the path of least resistance takes them straight through that mall. Because the Transitway station is located on a tall bridge--that is, some three stories above ground level--the multiple escalators between Rideau Street and the station make the mall even more attractive as a shortcut.

All of which is to say that in the evenings and overnight, the centrally-heated, ice-free halls of Rideau Centre are full of bright young things in short skirts and heels making their way to and from the restaurants, bars and nightclubs on and around the Byward Market.

One girl in particular I noticed that night. At first glance what I took to be a black woman--I mean black as in, not dark-skinned-African but coal-black--was in reality a Muslim girl wearing a black full-body stocking and headscarf under her short pink club dress.

Every now and then you hear nativists, bigots and talk-radio loudmouths, yammering about how multiculturalism is undermining our values and immigration is going to make this country unrecognizable. It's the same refrain we've heard for generations: that the changes in our culture that happened until recently (be it 1850 or 1900 or 2011) made us who we are, sure, but the most recent ones (brought by the Somalis or the Ukrainians or those lousy, stinking Irish) are but the thin edge of the wedge that will swamp and destroy us... whatever "us" happens to be at that particular moment.


What I saw the other night was, or should be to any reasonable person, a sharp rebuttal to that view. I saw a girl from a different culture with its own rules (including the idea that women should stay covered head to toe) and who found a way to follow those rules while fully participating in what our culture has to offer (such as the right to be smokin' hot in public.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Timing is everything.

When I was a kid, my mom tried for awhile to expose me to religion. This took the form of reading me stories from an illustrated children's bible. It didn't take. I had no interest in these hippies in housecoats, grovelling before invisible space monsters. The only part of the book that held any interest for me was Genesis. Night after night, I asked for that creation-myth blockbuster until Mom got sick of it and forever gave up on my religious instruction.

Creation myths are compelling. We want to hear about where we come from, even if the story doesn't make any goddamn sense.

I recently watched Nowhere Boy, a biopic about the teenaged John Lennon. It was enjoyable enough, though I can't help feeling that I've seen this story, in one form or another, about a zillion times before. The rock and roll biopic is a genre that is so well established and formulaic, you could write 'em in your sleep.

(Come to think of it, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story did just that, as a parody. The genre is so predictable, in fact, that even what should have been hilarious--it's got John C. Reilly fer chrissake!--actually was kind of boring. For something to be funny, it has to be surprising. Rock and roll biopics are too predictable even to be fertile ground for parody.)

But they keep coming. People love a good creation myth, and rock-and-roll biopics are the creation myths of a certain large demographic cohort. The Baby Boomers love to hear about how awesome the music of their youth was, and how It Changed Everything Forever. It's a safe bet that any competently executed film about a major musical act that emerged from 1955 to 1969 will put asses in seats.

I've never been a Beatles fan. I don't dislike them, but I honestly never saw what was so exciting about them. I listened to a lot of sixties rock when I was a teenager (what was the alternative? It was the eighties!) But I was never into the Beatles. What's the big deal?

The Beatles came along in 1963. They did their spot on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964, which was (do the math) almost exactly eighteen years into the postwar baby boom. A spike in the teenager population had just been cranked up to eleven.

Combine overwhelming numbers with the raging hormones and shall-we-say forgiving taste of teenagers, and I would imagine that any moderately talented band that came on the scene in 1963 to 1965 would have stood a good chance of becoming absolutely fucking huge. And by playing such a central role in the formative consciousness of such a gigantic demographic bulge, they would forever be recognized (through the permanently-youth-tinted lens of their early fans) as the greatest thing ever.

The Beatles didn't make the greatest music ever, any more than Microsoft makes the best operating system ever. They just came along at the right time.

Pretty good timing for a band with Ringo Starr in it.