Updated August 31, 2009
This is where db muses about sports, politics, music, global warming, a good lunch and how these and all things coalesce.
Desert Island Poem: "A Town Called Malice" by The Jam
You graduate to pills. It’s just the way it is. One minute, you think that smoking dope means you’re going to hell. The next minute, you’re smoking dope. The minute after that, you’re keeping an amphetamine scorecard in pencil on The Doors poster that’s revealed when you close your bedroom door. Fifty trips, said Dale. You’re halfway there, but it isn’t easy. Good thing the drumming is so fast: Violent Femmes, Tonio K, Look Sharp! album cuts, ska that accelerates like reggae at 78, and "Driver’s Seat", which hinted at the California popwave revolution of The Reds and The Plimsouls but was trivialized by X’s "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts", celebrating a revolution of its own, or lack thereof. The New Wave got shittier, but the pills kept it fresh. My girlfriend stole them from the pharmacy where she worked—yellow jackets, black beauties, valium—and we fed them into our mouths while sitting in the Delta 88 on Friday night before heading downtown to a show or a party or a videodanceshowparty listening to the radio, rock 'n' roll radio, New Wave radio, the Live Earl Jive playing The Psychedelic Furs, because Richard Butler was our Bowie, having made two good albums, but still.
If we weren’t listening to New Wave, we were listening to Motown, a young pill addict’s vinyl street thesis. This was before "The Big Chill"; before "My Girl" supplanted "Yesterday" as the most ruined song of all-time; and before Boomer nostalgia boxed set regret devoured '80s popular culture. To feel the rot of popular music in the late '70s was to presage Motown. It was to understand how, unlike Epic or EMI or CBS, Motown was a street, a sound, a neighbourhood, a low-ceiling’ed house where Stevie Wonder had to stoop to get in. If Stiff or Slash or Sub Pop pushed youth, Motown never put a number to it. In photos, the musicians looked grown-up, the singers mature. Little Eva wasn’t so little. Drummers were murdered, shot by girlfriends. Marvin Gaye died at the hands of his father. We discovered these things with our fists plunged into red milk crates, standing over sidewalk boxes spilling with sleeveless records and 45s laid over carpets. The Contours' "Do You Love Me?"
I met my girlfriend at a Jam concert in 1980. At the show, kids chanted: "We are the Mods!" Paul Weller answered: "We are the exploited." It wasn’t until 1983 that the band returned, riding another Live Earl Jive classic, "Town Called Malice", from The Gift. Like "Start"—the opening cut of Sound Affects—"Town Called Malice" was a callous ripoff, stolen from Martha and The Vandellas' "(Love is Like A) Heatwave" just as "Start" had been stolen from The Beatles' "Taxman". Critics slapped their foreheads and expressed bewilderment and disdain that one of the great English New Wave/Mod bands had stooped to such pilfery in lieu of any new kind of creativity, but to me and my friends, the twinning of Motown with The Jam was a marriage overdue. The Clash had tried the same thing with "Hitsville (UK)" from Sandinista, but they’d buried the track. "Town Called Malice" was the album's marquee song, which tells you how idealess the New Wave was becoming.
But if "Town Called Malice" lacked the heat and politics of "This is the Modern World" or "In the City" or even "That’s Entertainment", it didn’t matter. If '80s progressive pop was about anything, it was about nothing. Even the period’s great Talking Heads or Police or Pere Ubu records weren’t about much, nor did they aspire to be. The idea behind "Town Called Malice" was better than the song itself, which was certainly better than "The Long Run" by The Eagles or "Footloose" or whatever else your mom was listening to on the radio. In my neighbourhood, kids might have walked around and pretended to be anarchists, but nobody ever spat blood in Principal Winfield’s face. Nobody ever pipebombed the Albion Mall or wrote BEWARE THE CLOTH OF AUTHORITY in our Transfiguration Church prayer book. And because the New Wave was about green shoes and calypso spacemen and Flock of Seagulls rather than gutting the class system or reading Nietzsche, it fit suburban pill freaks like a glove. The music's moral and artistic neutrality drove punks and hippies crazy, but we didn’t care, slumming around Tinko's parents' pool chewing black beauties when we should have been out working shoe factory jobs. Tinko's parents would come home and we thought about grabbing our beers and going to sit in wasteful desolation at the edge of the river. But we almost never did. The pool was nice and the music was fine.
Dave Bidini is an award-winning author and filmmaker and currently fronts Bidiniband. Before that he spent more than 25 years as a songwriter and guitarist for legendary Canadian rock band The Rheostatics.
ORILLIA, Ontario -- The best Celestino "Pelenchin" Caballero could do was call his opponent a "pretty boy," which, in the grand continuum of sporting hate-ons, was fairly mild stuff. But when mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting has out-frightwigged and out-deathmasked your charges, boxing -- especially Canadian boxing -- is forced to take what it can get.
At least Caballero, in his first news conference on Canadian soil after arriving from Panama, left the door open for more. "I'll go out there and hit him hard … he's a great champion, but I want him to … fight like a real man," he teased.
Organizers could only hope he was just getting warmed up.
Pelenchin is Caballero's reggaeton name. It means "street fighter," or "electro-dancehall street fighter," if musical tendencies are considered. Although we should all be so lucky to have dual names as florid and excellent as his -- to say nothing of a budding Panamanian musical career that rides atop one's junior featherweight title -- we've also never been asked to share the ring with Steve Molitor, who, although regrettably unreggaetonic and only singularly named, was the undefeated opponent against whom Caballero would fight in their historic unification battle in Orillia, Ontario.
Alas, the heat would take some time to find the fight. In a province -- nay, a country -- where snow came early this November, the frost-pocked trees and white padded ground surrounding the small northern enclave symbolized the general cold that, in the beginning, surrounded the event's hype, or lack thereof. Combine that with the fact that hockey season is in full swing, and it's easy to understand why Caballero's "Pelenchin" character and his perfunctory taunts were a welcome sign of life. And although his remarks weren't on par with Peter McNeeley's "cocoon of horror" or Mike Tyson's baby-eating gibes, if local supporters needed a reason to despise the home boy's Panamanian rival, all they had to do was listen to reggaeton's echo-stained singing and robotic electro-rhythms to know Pelenchin was an annoying type who needed to be stopped.
What the fight lacked in prematch intensity, however, it more than made up for in intrigue. Molitor-Caballero would be one of the few instances in recent memory in which two champions would put their respective titles on the line for the opportunity to be the undisputed champion of their division. The match was also a strategist's delight: Caballero liked to slug and attack and use his height and his reach to his advantage -- he is, at 5-foot-11, one of the tallest 122-pound fighters in recent memory -- and Molitor, a natural left-hander, relied on patience, cunning and a clever inside game to dominate more impulsive opponents.
Over the years, Molitor has quietly reiterated his pride in his citizenship and Caballero typically has shouted his. For most of their prefight appearances, the Panamanian fighter strode around in red and navy -- Panama's national colors -- and Molitor arrived dressed in black, with nary a maple leaf to be seen. It didn't take long to realize that Caballero knew exactly who he was and what he wanted: He was a Panamanian street fighter whose single goal would be to break his opponent's face.
Molitor's identity, however, wasn't as clear. One wondered whether his muted sense of nationalism was somehow connected to the events of his recent past.
On the day of the bout, the Toronto Sun reported that 70 percent of Molitor's hometown's residents wanted him to lose because the Molitor family hadn't shown appropriate remorse after Steve's older brother, Jeremy, was convicted in 2004 of second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, whom he had stabbed 58 times in a parking lot.
Jeremy had been a successful amateur boxer, too, but had suffered addiction and substance abuse issues after failing to qualify for the 2000 Olympics. The brothers have been close and were known around boxing circles, at least before things got bad, as "The Bruise Brothers." And as Molitor spent the waning moments before the fight measuring his fate and listening to trainer Stephane Larouche's prematch dressing room mantra, one wondered what impact the weight of his family's history would have on his performance, and whether making Canadian sporting history would be enough to win back the hearts of his former friends and neighbors.
Or whether any of that mattered in the first place.
The stage is set
Tradition had been upheld in other ways, too: In a modern sporting universe that is sorely lacking in nicknames, Phil "The Sudbury Sensation" Boudreault, Orlando "Cannibal" Escobar, Greg "The Steel Pole" Keilsa, Raymond "Mount Kilimanjaro" Olubowale and Paul "The Wild Man" Watson were on the bill.
For the title fight, the crowd grew large but remained strangely quiet, which is the Canadian sports fans' millstone. After the emcee invited Roberto Duran into the ring -- he looked resplendent in sunglasses and a black suit, time having shaped him square and soft like an aging SpongeBob -- a Panamanian band gathered near the ropes, sawing accordions, slapping drums and waving shakers. Their joyful racket absorbed most of the atmosphere inside the room.
There's something about fans who travel a great distance to watch their hero perform -- to say nothing of fans who leave the relative tropics for a subzero winterscape -- and even before Molitor and Caballero entered from the wings through a blinking light frame, both the Panamanian music and the presence of the great Duran bettered whatever excitement the 5,000 pro-Molitor crowd could muster, which never really approached the required fever pitch.
Moving to reggaetonic sounds (his own, naturally), Pelenchin climbed into the ring riding a sea of red and navy, a merry-faced flag-waving throng.
Molitor's group was, predictably, more sober-looking, shroud in black and red and lacking any Canadian emblems; in fact, only the words U.S. Traffic -- the name of his manager's export company -- were stitched in white across his trunks. In Pelenchin's case, a single word was written across his waist: Survivor.
If the fight had been a battle of national pride or identity, Caballero would have won in a walk. But fighters don't fight with flags, they fight with fists, and, in this regard, Caballero also proved to be his opponent's superior.
Word around the media row was that if Molitor could get past Round 5, he had a chance to outlast his opposite. But Caballero -- who later proclaimed, "It doesn't matter where I fight; I am a rooster who can crow in any language" -- proved to be as much a fighter as a boxer, attacking Molitor with busy, active hands and relentless body punches while moving to the sound of the band, which never stopped playing.
His trunks were adorned with blue and red tassels that bobbed and swung with his hips, and he smiled through his mouth guard at Molitor's advances, which were limited to the early parts of the first and second rounds.
The Canadian Kid mostly cowered against the ropes under Caballero's assault, and, in the waning seconds of the third round, he was caught with a Pelenchin uppercut that staggered him as he returned to his corner. The crowd grumbled harder than it had cheered for most of the fight, and you didn't have to be Bert Sugar to see that, even if the Canadian fans could somehow find the capacity to roar as they sometimes do for the country's great skating lions and the occasional Olympian, no measure of karma would be seized from the fated blue and red.
At the beginning of the fourth round, Pelenchin blasted Molitor with a combination against the ropes, then another, before the WBA champ lost his legs while guarding his face in mercy.
A black towel sailed defeatedly into the ring. Molitor slumped to the floor, his hands frozen to his face as Caballero himself collapsed, falling to the mat and kissing it in ecstasy.
Where to now?
Molitor, on the other hand, spun into the arms of his trainer and was left searching for his identity.
All that was confused and muddied about The Canadian Kid remained: the legacy of his brother and whether that had affected him; the pressures of trying to deliver salvation to his starving constituency; the right-headedness of an in-fight game plan that had no answer for Caballero's relentless punches; and the virtue in remaining quiet and neutral in a machismo war that Caballero had dominated the moment either fighter had opened his mouth.
As Molitor walked out of the ring and through the unblinking light frame toward a dark hallway, fans weren't sure whether to cheer, and those who did weren't sure for whom or what they were cheering.
Baseball, certainly. Football, absolutely. Basketball, possibly. But never in the history of American politics has the game of hockey been its sporting flashpoint. At least not until a few weeks ago, when a northern hockey mom, Sarah Palin, goosed the Republican convention to life. On the floor of the Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota—home of perennial playoff bridesmaids of the NHL, the Minnesota Wild, no less—party wonks waved blue and white HOCKEY MOM signs and thrust small novelty hockey sticks at the camera lens. And in the gallery overlooking the stage, Levi Johnston, the 17-year-old Alaskan bruiser and boyfriend of the hockey mom’s pregnant teenage daughter, held up the players’ side, embedding the Palin family circus with the frozen lore of early morning dressing rooms fat with the stink of sweat and ammonia. One surmised that if she could survive the world of puck bruises and bad arena coffee, Palin could surely survive Washington.
In her acceptance speech, Palin talked a lot about being a hockey mom, but, in the end, she was undone by her own kind of hockeymommishness. The mere evocation of the game was probably enough to win acceptance from those who know and play the sport. It’s long been accepted in Canada that hockey players are among the world’s toughest, most relentless athletes, a pedigree that would serve anyone well in the cutthroat game of American federal politics. Just knowing that Sarah was tough enough to run with the helmeted Alaskans—or that her daughter was tough enough to stay in a relationship with a hockey bruiser, or that the bruiser himself was tough enough to choose to feed himself into the spirit-chewing political machine—was plenty of evidence upon which Americans could measure her strength or resilience.
But since hockey is a far more complicated game that many diletantes would give credit, Palin’s comparison between being a hockey mom and a pit bull was one brush stroke too many, an extra, glove-drunk gesture to a hockey community that knows better. This is not to say that much of the northern U.S., Canada and the NHL isn’t atwitter at seeing mention of their game imbued in every American op-ed column, but the very passion that produces such a fine game can also be its downfall. As my wife—not so much a hockey mom as a hockey player—said after hearing Palin’s “pit bull” comment: “It’s those pit bulls that we’re trying to keep away from the rink.”
Alas, the history of the game at a minor-league level is strewn with bad-attitude hockey moms and dads whose pit-bullishness embodies only the throat-locking part of the canine’s character, and none of its bright-eyed companionship. You don’t have to look too far from the Xcel Energy Center to find examples of hockey parents gone awry, whose coach-choking and ref-baiting gives the game a bad name. Of course, a great number of hockey moms are important to the grassroots game in their organizational efforts, working within their hockey communities to keep teams, arenas, and youth forces together to play the game they love. But judging by Palin’s (and her party’s) mocking of community organizers, it’s clear that this hockey mom is all throat-lock and no bake sale. An atypical hockey everywoman she is not.
Were Palin a player herself, one might be more encouraged with her potential as a worthy leader. One of the problems with lipsticked pit bull hockey moms and their famous rage and intensity is the fact that too many of them are only hockey moms, and never hockey players. You never hear the term “hockey dad,” because most hockey dads are hockey players. It’s only now in Canada that women are realizing en masse that moms who play hockey experience a kind of liberation that moms who only watch from the stands and scream at the refs do not. As participation in women’s hockey in Canada goes through the roof, the term “hockey mom” has become ever more dinosauric, exposing the sexism inherent in the old term.
On a minor hockey league level, Hockey Canada, the nation’s governing body, has tried to drum the pit bull from the recreational game. They’ve worked to extricate the machismo from the community, enforcing more severe penalties for badly behaved parents as well as badly behaved players. And on most international or select teams, players and coaches who can score or skate well are chosen above those whose only strength is brawn or the ability to instill fear in the opponent.
In this sense, Mrs. Palin is yesterday’s hockey mom despite her apparent progessiveness in supporting a game that is still largely unpopular in the United States.