Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

We made it through another one. And by now you should know the best way of getting through midnight –- imitate the New Year Baby…

Get Drunk

Get Noisy

Get Naked

In whatever order you choose.

Celebrate the best of 2014 and look forward to the promise of 2015.

And should the morning find you a little the worse for wear, pick one of the five hangover cures illustrated below. One of them will have you back among the living in no time…

Monday, December 29, 2014

Save Country Music

Sometimes the things you love go sideways. Sometimes a hero rises to make things right again.

I grew up around country music. The first records I bought were by Marty Robbins and Johnny Horton. Elvis and the Everlys came along to seduce me away, but they still had country roots, so I wasn’t really cheating –- and then something went wrong.

Country became sequined suits and big hair. Lounge Lizards in Stetsons and an endless stream of songs about big trucks.

Thank God, “The Beatles” arrived about the same time.

I mostly left Country behind. But something of what it had been still flowed through my veins and drew me to Leon Russell and the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gram Parsons, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Eagles.

Then sometime in the 80’s, New Country arrived. The sequins were mostly retired and there were artists singin’ my life and tellin’ stories corporatized Rock and Boy Bands could never understand.

I saw some great concerts over the next decade or two. Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, McGraw, Faith, Reba, Paisley, Strait –- and Brooks and Dunn.

Brooks and Dunn owned me. They had a musicality and a creative range that was constantly new and surprising –- and inspiring. Other people must’ve thought so too –- in 20 years, they charted 30 number one singles and sold tens of millions of albums.

And then –- they suddenly retired. While still on the upswing. Garth had taken a powder a couple of years earlier. Strait followed them last Summer. It was as if the good were gettin’ while the gettin’ was still…

And all us Country fans secretly knew why.

There was still a lot of great talent around. But the airwaves were dominated by real little trucks, cold beer, short shorts and sugar shakers. Every group that couldn’t make it as a Ramones cover band was suddenly hot in Nashville, all of them singing virtually the same song.

Tom Petty dubbed Country. “Bad Rock with Fiddles”. And he wasn’t wrong.

The Joker had Gotham by the throat and Batman had been paid not to show his mask on Music Row.

And then Ronnie Dunn decided he’d had enough. He hadn’t brought the magic of Country to millions only to see it pissed away like a warm Coors light.

He turned against the very industry that had made him rich and famous:

“I did it for 20 years, and I learned the mainstream way of doing things was just where ideas go to die… It got to the point where everything we thought was fairly innovative, we would get cut off at the pass. So it’s time.”

Time to kick some ass. Time for a grown up to take charge. Time for Music to matter more than money.

Ronnie Dunn’s first salvoes in his one man revolution were fired this week with a fantastic Facebook page entitled “Save Country Music” that illustrates the genre in all its artistry.

And he’s released a breathtakingly innovative album, “Peace, Love and Country Music”.

Here’s the first single. Despite the powers that be in Nashville it’ll probably still be number one before your New Year’s hangover has lifted.

Country Music has a champion. Garth’s already heard the call and kicked his walker to the curb. Artists like Eric Church and Zac Brown are cheering and I’m thinking you will be too.

This is what it means to care about what you do, to be a grown up artist and a grown damn man…

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 356: The Year In Review

Whatever Stephen Hawking might have to say, the best explanation of Time that I’ve heard came from Burton Cummings of the “Guess Who”.

It went something like “Time speeds up as you get older” and that was based on his experience that at Age 5 it took forever for his next birthday to come around because the wait amounted to a high percentage of the time he’d been around. But when you hit fifty that waiting time has been reduced exponentially.

Maybe he’s right or maybe I just got too busy to notice much else, but 2014 seemed to fly by. CNN is wall-to-wall this morning with panels of missing airplane experts, and I couldn’t turn it off fast enough, the cloying banality of their months ago search for MH370 still feeling like it was only yesterday.

I’ve reached a point where I neither compile or read year-end “Top Ten” lists anymore, mostly because they’ve stopped listing the films, books and music I thought were exceptional in favor of stuff I found ground-breaking when it first came around in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.

Us artist types (or maybe our publicists and critics) appear to have the worst grasp on how we got where we are creatively.

But that doesn’t mean that 2014 didn’t hold a lot of stunning moments, inspirational people and events that touched us all.

This is the best compilation I’ve found of what the year we’re about to vacate brought to our attention.  I’m not sure if it’s a fond reflection or encouragement to hurry up and move on.

I hope 2014 was special for you on some level. Mostly I hope that whatever dream or desire went unfulfilled will come to fruition in 2015.

Thanks for dropping by The Legion this year. I hope you’ve found enough worthwhile to come back as we move into the future.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!!!

santa gif

Bless us every one…

The Silent Bell

29 or 30 years ago I was writing and story editing a new CBS espionage series called “Adderly”. I had never worked so hard and couldn’t imagine having time to do anything else but catch some extra sleep.

Then I got a call from a guy I’d never heard of named Steve Scaini, who had an idea for a short film. A Christmas special for CBC. I tried to plead that I was up to my eyes in spies and international intrigue. But Steve persisted and I agreed to meet him.

What intrigued me most in our first meeting was that despite CBC being in one of their “we’re so broke we have no money for shows” periods, Steve had found a pocket the network didn’t know they had. A pocket with just enough cash to do a real-low-budget half hour.

I liked his idea and we both had a couple of other things in common, a huge love of movies and a particular affection for films by Frank Capra.

Both of us wanted to make the kind of “feel-good” features that Capra made famous.

So I said “yes” and a few weeks later “The Silent Bell” went into production and made it onto TV screens a couple of days before Christmas.

It won some awards and did well with audiences. So well the network had us do another real-low-budget Christmas special a year later. Then one for Easter and a couple of just generally Capra style feel-good stories, “The Silver Cloud” and “Calendar Girl”.

29 or 30 years later, Steve and I are still trying to make that “Feel-good” feature and might finally do it next year with “Ghost Train” .

But “The Silent Bell” still has a special place –- especially at Christmas.

I hope it fills you with the Spirit of Christmas and makes you feel good too.

Silent Bell from Spellboundfilms on Vimeo.

Monday, December 22, 2014


Like most people, I was introduced to Joe Cocker via the documentary feature “Woodstock” which, as a teenager, I must’ve seen a dozen times. I loved that movie so much I even bought tickets for my parents to see it with me.

Joe Cocker was only on screen for a few moments. But the performance was indelible, one of those explosive instances when you were treated to not only all the fiery possibilities of rock n’ roll but the birth of new star.

His was an energy so raw and emotive that you wondered how anybody could sustain it for a full set, let alone a career.

Around the same time “Woodstock” was affecting the culture, I was finishing theatre school, under the tutelage of a teacher who engrained a serious work ethic in his students.

Decades later, Bruce Springsteen would define his own approach to performing as a simple understanding that somewhere in his audience was somebody seeing him for the first time and somebody seeing him for the last. Both deserved the best show he could give them.

I learned the same thing. You gave 100% every night, no matter what. There was no such thing as a small audience, a matinee full of doddering Seniors or being down with the flu, dog-tired or bored with the show.

100% every time you stepped on stage. Joe Cocker embodied the code completely.

There’s probably no better example of that than a film he made a year after “Woodstock” entitled “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” a Rock-doc chronicalling what has often been called “The greatest Rock Tour of all time”.

It features Cocker on the road with Leon Russell, a band that would form the core of “Derrick & The Dominoes” and the likes of Rita Coolidge working as a back-up singer.

Late in the film, after dozens of electric Cocker performances, the camera follows the band into their dressing room. People laugh and joke, pass around bottles and joints, ready to kick start the after-party.

Cocker sits alone, drenched in sweat, sopping it up with a towel, unable to speak or engage anyone. Utterly spent.

I’d never seen that level of commitment and doubted he’d make it to 30.

But he did. And although I never got to see him in his prime, sometime in the 80’s he played a small nightclub in the North end of Toronto.

I made it to the remote (at least for me) location a couple of songs into the first set and opened the door to see a much depleted Joe Cocker on the tiny stage, backed by a disinterested band, playing for a bunch of drunks wrapt in conversation and oblivious to the legend onstage.

I stayed for one song, watching a man whose talent had been diminished terribly by alcohol and drugs struggle to perform, his once awesome engine running on little but fumes. Not wanting to witness the train-wreck or be left with my illusions shattered, I left to make the long, cold journey home.

Cocker would later get his demons enough under control to record several more hits and thrill live audiences. Perhaps an example of learning to give 100% off-stage as well as on. Or maybe realizing that Life is short with little of it is spent in the spotlight.

Joe Cocker died today at the age of 70. Some say it was a result of lung cancer and others that he passed from nervous exhaustion.

Part of me hopes it was the latter, a fitting end for a man who not only blazed in like a comet but had the courage and fortitude to relight his fire when it threatened to go out.

A moment from “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”…

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 355: A Christmas Carol

Everybody has a Christmas Carol they love. And one they can’t fricken’ stand!

With the favorites you can find yourself immediately transported from the most dire mood or circumstances to one of peace on earth and goodwill to men. Your tune just so fully embodies all that the season stands for.

But the same Carol that says it all for you brings out the Grinch in others. And with everybody and their chipmunk putting out a Christmas album, the song might work but the rendition doesn’t.

Past Christmases here at The Legion, we’ve hosted Christmas concerts of our favorites and posted those submitted by readers.

What we’ve never done is offered 20 different versions of the same Carol – because – y’know  - that could get tedious.


It’s done by the irrepressible Anthony Vincent, the voice of Ten Second Songs. This may not be your favorite Christmas Carol. But I’m sure there’s a version in here that’ll put you in a Christmas mood. If only for ten seconds.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Great Dictator

This is a story of how far Hollywood has fallen. How far it has strayed from the true spirit of cinematic artistry. How much it has become the purview of the bureaucrat and the bean counter, given to making the safe choices and decisions that don’t make any waves.

As the story goes, Charlie Chaplin and French writer/director Rene Clair sat next to each other at the New York Museum of Modern Art screening of Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi Classic “Triumph of the Will”.

When the film ended Clair was in tears. Chaplin was beside himself with laughter and immediately set to work writing “The Great Dictator”, his satirical take on Adolf Hitler and his Fascist minions.

His film would see Chaplin producing, writing and directing as well as playing the dual roles of his Hitler character, Adenoid Hynkel, and a Jewish barber who lives in Hynkel’s fictional dictatorship of Tomainia.

Chaplin, though beloved worldwide, was no fan of Fascists. And they didn’t have much use for him either. After seeing the comedian mobbed by fans during a 1931 visit to Berlin, Nazi supporters dubbed him “a disgusting Jewish acrobat” even though Chaplin wasn’t Jewish.

Most of Hollywood was aware he was out to skewer the Fuhrer and German diplomats and distributors made it clear to several studio heads that the vast German market might become unavailable to Hollywood should Chaplin’s film be released.

But Chaplin had his own studio and wasn’t swayed by entreaties from other moguls. Despite being English, he also didn’t give a moment’s thought to the British government’s decree that his film would not be shown in the UK so as not to upset international relations.

He simply ploughed ahead. Filming began in September of 1939, one week after War had been declared and was completed six months later. It was Chaplin’s first all-talking film and editing and post production took up the entire Summer of 1940.

During this time, Chaplin worried that audiences would not be interested in an anti-war comedy during wartime. But stories of Nazi atrocities against European Jews continued to bubble in the public consciousness, so he persevered.

The film was released in October of 1940 and became not only an instant hit but the largest grossing film of Chaplin’s career. Even in the midst of the Blitz, more than 9 million tickets were sold in England alone.

According to a recent BBC documentary “The Tramp and The Dictator”, Chaplin also personally dispatched a print to Hitler and the real life dictator was confirmed to have screened it –- twice.

Today, the film retains a 92% “Fresh” rating and a 95% Audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry in 1997 as being "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant".

Consider this next to today’s decision by Sony to shelve the Seth Rogan take on another great dictator “The Interview”. It’s a telling indictment of how the entertainment industry now operates.

Chaplin would not be laughing. And sadly, neither are we.

The Narrative

Politicians or the media are often accused of developing a "Narrative" to advance a certain agenda.

This means that their agenda drives what stories are reported or given priority as well as the shading or spin they receive. Stories which counter or disprove the Narrative are downplayed or outright ignored.

That’s because everything within a “Narrative” has to fit with the truth somebody needs you to believe.

To be honest it seems like a lot of work. Especially these days when the endless reach and archive of the Internet makes it easy for somebody with an alternative agenda or truth to counter whatever Narrative is being constructed.

A couple of days ago, Politico, a Washington based media outlet which focuses on the U.S. Congress, lobbying, media and the Presidency published an interview with Barack and Michelle Obama wherein they described racial slights they have endured.

Among these was an anecdote Mrs. Obama recalled about her interaction with another shopper during a much publicized visit to a Target store during her husband’s first term in office.

In the Politico interview, it is offered as an example of what Black Americans still have to deal with in what’s been called a more equal and “Post-Racial America”.

And yet, the same story had a completely different and humorous spin when the First Lady related it to David Letterman in 2012.

Why is a tale that was funny and charming so recently, now an example of what’s wrong with the country?

Surely the Narrative can’t be that desperate for confirmation…

The story begins at 4:40…

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 354: Here’s To Waiting…

Surfing in Canada in November…

Recovering from Pneumonia in December…

Some people need to realize they’ve reached an age when it’s better to watch the action with a drink in their hand..

Here’s to waiting…

At least until it’s fricken warmer…

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Piper’s Lament

This crossed my path this morning. The writer swears it is true…

As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man.

He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery in the Nova Scotia back country.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn't stop for directions. I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight.

There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch. I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late.

I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play. The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around.

I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man.
And as I played "Amazing Grace", the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together.

When I finished, I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car.
Though my head was hung low, my heart was full.

As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say,
"I never seen anything like that before, and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years.”

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Lazy Sunday # 353: Underwear

I was in a play once where I made my entrance in a kilt, the sight of which unhinged another character so badly he drew a gun on me and demanded “Whatcha got under there?”

My nervous reply was “Underwear…”

He gestured angrily to the kilt, “Under THERE!”

Which elicited the same response, “Underwear.”


A cheap laugh to be sure. But nobody’s ever successfully accused me of being above them.

Although most of us wear underwear, for some reason the sight of somebody with their trousers down has been a staple of comedy probably from the time undergarments were invented.

And, of course, the more garish the boxers the less chance the laughter will be brief.


It’s as if there’s some special insight into our psyche that is implied by the first thing we step into in the morning.

Guys are always asked “Boxers or briefs?” as if that uncovers some hidden aspect of our personality. But as a guy who alternates and even opts for commando in warmer weather, I have absolutely no clue as to what that might be.

I will admit, however, that the first time I visited a Walmart I noticed a display of boxer shorts under a banner reading “Leisurewear” -- and a little voice inside me excitedly whispered, “These people understand you”.

Somebody who knows a ton about underwear is blogger and entertainer Jenna Marbles, who has spent years explaining the fairer sex to guys –- and probably other women as well.

A couple of days ago, she posted an explanation of the personality traits indicated by different female undergarments.

Since we’re entering the office party season and all that those affairs entail, I thought it might come in handy for some.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Giving Tuesday

It’s perhaps fitting that following the consumer excesses of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there would be a day designated as “Giving Tuesday”.

The concept is kinda like the original version of Boxing Day where the wealthy would celebrate Christmas and the following day box up both the uneaten feast and the items their gifts had replaced and ship them off to those in need.

Maybe with much of the Christmas shopping out of the way, it’s an opportunity to remind yourself of the true meaning of the season and the reality that it truly is better to give than receive.

The cool thing about Giving Tuesday is you’re not required to support any given charity, cause or person in need. You give what you want where you want.

Or you can just give of yourself. Help a sick friend run errands. Take out the garbage for the elderly woman down the street.

Just do something to exhibit that the season has arrived – and maybe continue that spirit for the next three or four weeks to bring some light and warmth as our natural world gets colder and darker.

If you’re short on ideas, Indiegogo has a whole list of great places to start. My personal favorite is here.

And maybe what Westjet has done for its third consecutive year will further inspire you.

No matter what you do, rest assured it will not be insignificant to somebody in need of your gift.