I had to step away from my latest screenplay ‘Stanley’ this month to pay attention to yet another milestone for Canadian tennis. If I didn’t finish my screenplay as scheduled by the end of the month, I could easily blame the Canadian Davis Cup Team because I was more engrossed in them than my writing – at least for a weekend. Looking at the Davis Cup website, it is a bit jarring to see the Canadian flag as one of 4 countries still standing in the Davis Cup. What a moment in the history of Canadian tennis.
In a rush to get home to watch the first match on that Friday, I missed the first two sets. When I saw that Vasek Pospisil won the first two sets, I was already thinking that Canada had won the tie with Italy. Then I saw that match slip away. The same thing happened in the doubles the next day. Canada was up 2 sets to none and again I thought that Canada had won the tie. The next 2 sets slipped away. I have to admit I was feeling a bit let down by Canada’s doubles legend Daniel Nestor. What followed in the 5th set was perhaps the greatest moment in Davis Cup history for Canada.
It ended 15-13 in the fifth and easily became the most exciting, nail biting, hair pulling finish to a match involving Canadians ever. For both Pospisil and Nestor to grind out that victory was the key to the entire weekend – much like Frank Dancevic’s win in the earlier tie against Spain. The ace in the hole the past few ties has been Milos Raonic. Had he not been ‘on’, Canada could very well not be in the position it is in right now. He deserves much of the credit for being the reliable workhorse the past few ties, but it is the career defining moments of Dancevic and Nestor/Pospisil that will remain in my mind for a long, long time.
It must be said that Canada has had a lot of good breaks come their way the last few ties. Not having to go to South Africa last September and instead hosting in Toronto was a great break. Playing Spain’s third string at home on hard courts was another break. And playing Italy at home on hard courts was yet another break. The breaks end there however. In the semifinals, Canada plays Serbia on clay in Serbia. It’s a very tough matchup and most would say ‘Canada you’ve done well to get this far’. There are a few factors that could sway in Canada’s favour.
The tie is less than a week after the US Open. If Djokovic plays a Monday final in New York, he’d have to jet to Serbia to be ready by Friday. He could also not elect to play. Raonic has shown to be competitive on clay. Nestor is a surprisingly good clay court player (he’s won the French Open 4 times). Jesse Levine is also a good clay courter should he be selected. Some of the Canadian team is of Yugoslavian heritage, so it would be a homecoming of sorts. Of course, Serbia is the overwhelming favourite. If Canada wins, it would be a huge upset.
In related team news, Canada is back in the World Group II in Federation Cup play for women. Unlike the men’s Davis Cup which has a 16 team World Group, Fed Cup has an 8 team World Group followed by an 8 team World Group II. Canada is now back in the top 16 nations after defeating Ukraine in Kiev. I’m really impressed with this team that is minus Aleksandra Wozniak and the now retired Rebecca Marino. Wimbledon junior champion Eugenie Bouchard looks great but the biggest kudos go to Sharon Fichman who has been the workhorse, winning in singles and doubles. Canada is now finished competing in 2013 and will try to advance into the top 8 teams in 2014.
I watched the 2013 Juno Awards for the first time in many years this year. Maybe I’m getting old, but I just don’t ‘get it’ like I used to. Then it occurred to me that the Juno Awards (like every other awards show) is really just an industry tool to promote their wares. In awarding the statuettes in the major categories, there really is no ‘winner’ because music is such a subjective instrument. They often are stacked with the players from the previous year who sold the most or who made the most social impact. Are these people the ‘best’ the industry has to offer. No.
There are hundreds of other more talented, vocally gifted musicians out there who are hiding in the shadows and grinding out a living as a musician in a way less glamorous way. The artists given Junos in the main categories are those artists who have struck a chord in some manner with a wide audience. It would be something to see if ALL the categories were to judged by professionals in the music industry. I wonder if the Junos would be at all relevant anymore. There would no more cute little pop tunes as Single of the Year. No multi-platinum winner of Album of the Year. No headline grabbing Artist of the Year.
Juno Award bashing is an annual event because as hard as the organizers try, they cannot please everyone. Many people seem to think that the Juno Awards owes them something. The fans have bought an artists’ music so the artist should be honoured with an award. Rabid Canadian music fans froth at the mouth when a non-Canadian performs on the show. I’ve gotten over all of that. Everyone else will too when they realize that the awards are a self-promotion tool and not the artistic achievement pinnacle that they think they are. Music subjectivity has no place at a music award show.
Maybe I am getting old. I just don’t hear anything anymore that is played on commercial radio or promoted on awards shows that is of any redeeming musical value. I used to love watching the Juno Awards – but that was back in the days of my youth when a good pop hook meant something. Today, it just sounds irritating and repetitive. If you want to hear something good, you have to go off the beaten path into indie land or non-commercial radio. There’s some great music being made in Canada, but it’s just shunted to the sidelines in the judged, non-televised awards section.
There have been many good hosts of the show over the years and there have been some real stinkers. I think I stopped watching the Juno Awards for good when Pamela Anderson hosted. That was a great choice. I understand the Junos’ predicament in trying to please everybody – the teens who just want to hear their pop music and see their favourite artists; the industry types who are involved in the day to day operation of the industry; the indie artists and alternative non-conformist crowd; and the general music enthusiast.
But let’s be honest again. The Juno Awards are a vehicle to promote and showcase the Canadian music industry. The actual awards are a mere window dressing and can’t be taken too seriously. You may not like the Justin Beibers or Nicklebacks and the music they made or represented, but in their time, they were the backbone of the industry because they sold a tonne of records. There will always be such an artist come along and those people who poo poo them getting a Juno Award shouldn’t take it too seriously. Perhaps the only real prestigious Juno Awards is the Hall of Fame, for it honours a career and not one single recording.
After the up and down ratings years at CBC, the show seems to have stabilized at CTV because of the ‘bigness’ of the show in an arena setting, opening up the event to fans instead of stuffy industry types. It’s more of an event now and a showcase. In the early days the Juno Awards tried to take itself too seriously. Now, it isn’t taking itself seriously but people refuse to accept it. Oh well.
Growing up in Nova Scotia, it was impossible to get away from fiddle music, country music or the major music industry success that sometimes found its way to certain music artists every decade or so. Although I was young at the time, when Anne Murray became one of the top female artists in the world in the late 70s and early 80s, you could sense that something special was happening – her and her music were everywhere. The same thing happened to The Rankin Family in the early to mid-90s. But in the late 80s to early 90s, another music star found her voice and this one’s success was something unlike anything that ever happened in Canada before. Her name was Rita MacNeil.
A couple weeks ago I was sad to learn that Rita had died. Though I wasn’t a major fan, there was something about her that drew me to her. Perhaps it was her down-home charm, her earth mother vibe, her innocence and that great booming, strong voice. But I think the main reason was she was shy. I can identify with that because I too am a shy person and it can come off as being aloof and distant. Shy people struggle with their shyness because they constantly think of what others think of them. It’s a confidence issue. When I found out that Rita was painfully shy, it endeared her to many because she was just like them. You would think that Rita’s shyness and success in the music industry would be like oil and water. I think because she overcame this and became such a star is what also endeared her to her many fans.
In 1986, her ‘Flying On You Own’ song was everywhere in Nova Scotia. It is fair to say that her appearance at Expo 86 in Vancouver kick started her career. But it seemed like she came out of nowhere, even though she had been recording for 10 years. It would be easy to label her a one hit wonder, but Rita had 2 things going for her that propelled her career forward: honest charm and talent.
For the next 6 years as a recording artist, she could do no wrong: outselling Garth Brooks (who was the hottest star in country music at the time); having 3 different albums chart in the same year in Australia (something no female artist had ever or has ever done); all 6 of her albums were certified at least double platinum; Juno Awards; Canadian Country Music Association Awards; East Coast Music Association Awards; top-rated TV specials. That kind of success is dizzying. That it could happen to someone like Rita was remarkable.
Intensely shy, born with a cleft palate, a troubled childhood and a large woman, Rita was as far away from a pop star as you could get. I will always remember Eric Malling from the current affairs show ‘The Fifth Estate’ asking her during an interview ‘why don’t you lose some weight’. The backlash against him was like a firestorm. Rita was the first Susan Boyle before there was a Susan Boyle.
When it was announced that she was going to be the host of her own Friday night variety show on CBC in 1994, the general consensus was ‘what?’ But it worked. It was a hit and lasted for 3 years. She even won a Gemini award for best host of a variety show. It was after the show ended that her career slowed, especially her record sales. She had been having Declan O’Doherty produce all her successful albums, but it seemed like after he left, the quality of the production went down, as did her sales. But she continued on as a performer, regularly touring for many years as people continued to come see her.
Last week, I went back and listened to some of her catalogue. Her lyrics have always been real and down to earth and painfully honest. There was always sadness in her songs and her voice and I imagine a lot of it was very real. Her voice started out very strong and crystal clear and as she continued to record (as with many singers) it grew deeper. At the end of her career, she could no longer hit those clear notes or sustain notes like she used to when she would just lose herself in a blues or R&B song and belt it. It’s sad when that happens, which makes her earlier work mind-blowingly good. It is no surprise that all of her albums from her heyday were successful because there are some real gems on them: haunting, sad, inspirational, twangy, anthems, pop, MOR – she did all of them well.
So it was sad to see her go – personally and as a fellow Nova Scotian. She was a talented, brave, trail-blazer who was an inspiration to many.
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