Sunday, April 12, 2020

With tales of grand triumph and devastating heartbreak, it feels odd for us to be spewing out tales scarcely different from before the quarantine. Yet our lives soldier on, and this project cannot be shelved for another time. We either power through our lengthy roster of celebrations or we cut the tether and let this project fall to its death. We’ve come this far – there’s no way we’re doing that. Not when so much wild excitement awaits us, like:

National Barbershop Quartet Day

If you search on Spotify for ‘Barbershop’, the first result is a 75-hour playlist of so much barbershop quartet music you will throw up in your pork-pie hat. I hit shuffle and kept that running for the duration of my writing yesterday. On the one hand, the smooth, seamless harmonies were entrancing. On the other… well, the musical style does get a little old after a few songs, all of which sound like “Sweet Adeline” or “Baby’s On Board” by the Be Sharps (pictured above). Like – all of them. It was one long harmonious song.

Like most great styles of modern music, barbershop began with African Americans gathering to entertain themselves and one another. Of course, it took white people singing it for it to hit the mainstream because people have always been kind of dense that way. It was a big fad in the first two decades of the 20th century, before stepping aside for jazz in the 20s. Then it came back in the 40s and kind of hung around until it was evolved into doo-wop and the a cappella movement of the 50s by, you guessed it, African Americans. They created something cool, watched it get tempered and twisted into schmaltz, then decades later made it cool again.

If you’re craving some quality barbershop music, there is no shortage, as evidenced by that massive playlist that is continuously ringing through my eardrums right now. It’s not a shortcut to fame, unless you aim to join the Dapper Dans, who have been barbershopping at Disneyland since 1959. The good news is that barbershop music doesn’t necessarily mean listening to version after version of “Wait ‘Til The Sun Shines Nellie” and “Down By The Old Mill Stream”. This playlist showed me some quirky covers of “When I’m 64”, “Come On, Get Happy”, “I’m A Believer”, “For Once In My Life” and “Moondance.”

Barbershop lives. Long live the barbershop.

National Pet Day

There’s no better way to introduce this day than to point out that it was created by Colleen Paige, who is a “celebrity pet lifestyle expert”. There’s nothing I can add to that. This is a missed calling for all animal lovers out there. Are rapper Lil Nizzy’s cockatoos getting enough water? Does Milo Ventimiglia’s wiener dog have the right accessories? Has Donnie Wahlburg taught his cat yoga correctly? Come on people – this market is waiting for a few more experts.

We settled for our non-celebrity-associated pets yesterday, specifically the same three pooches who have been enhancing our quarantine for the last month and our lives for a long time before that. Liberty is the newcomer, of course, but she received the same treats as the rest of the dogs: a new toy and a “beef pizzle” to chew on. For those non-dog-people out there, that’s a dink. A dingus. A unit. A johnson. A tallywacker. You get the picture.

Trixie finished her treat in about five minutes (as a bulldog will), then skulked after Liberty, trying to steal a second one. She grabbed it a few times too, but Liberty didn’t seem to mind. She adores Trixie, who appears to have little use for her. We salvaged the chew though, and made sure Liberty got her fair share. It’s a day for all pets equally, after all.

So hug your pet, be it dog, cat, bird, snake, ferret, or rock. Don’t hug your fish – that’s a bad idea. But give them a kind wave and let them know they’re loved.

National Cheese Fondue Day

We weren’t certain how to approach this one. We had a little candle-driven chocolate fondue kit that we’d used for Chocolate Fondue Day back on February 5, so the plan was to source some tasty cheeses from the Italian Centre Shop and try to do something similar, hoping the candle would be sufficient to melt the cheese properly.

Then Jodie came up with a brainstorm. We have a Melting Pot franchise in Edmonton, and like all local restaurants it is probably starving for business right now. Sure enough, they had a 3-course meal (including cheese and chocolate fondue) for two for a good price, with cheap delivery across town. That was our feast last night, and it was magnificent. Beyond magnificent – it was a divine treat.

The cheeses in our four-cheese blend were butterkäse, fontina, mozzarella and parmesan. The fondue was finished with white wine, roasted garlic, basil and sun-dried tomato pestos. A number of other cheeses are optimal for fondue-ing, like emmental, gruyere, beaufort, sbrinz, and a heap of others I’ve never heard of.

The first recipe for a cheese-wine dip-fest dates back to 1699, and it can be traced to the heart of Switzerland. As the Swiss began to make a fortune exporting their cheeses, they pushed fondue as an ideal way to savour them. It made a splash at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, and home fondue pots became a fad of the 70s and 80s.

We were grateful for this one. We strongly recommend everyone try this out.

National Eight Track Day

Jodie has memories of listening to 8-track tapes as a kid. I do not. My dad was obsessed with audio and video tech – we had up to 10 VCRs in the house at one time (some VHS, several Betamax and one or two ¾ inch machines), we were the first people I knew to discover CDs, and it seems like every room had a cassette and/or record player. He even owned a 10-cassette changer, which is a curiously silly piece of technology that never caught on. But we never owned an 8-track player. My dad told me cassettes were a degradation of quality, and 8-tracks were just as bad. He only used the cassettes to make mixes of his favourite tunes – something 8-tracks weren’t good for. So I missed out on the satisfying clunk of slapping the latest Foghat into a car’s 8-track machine.

Bill Lear (of Lear Jet fame) led the team that came up with the 8-track machine in 1964. They were designed to harness the magnetic tape used in reel-to-reel machines but to work in a moving car. Ford launched 8-tracks as an option in their 1966 Mustangs, Lincolns and Thunderbirds. They were a huge hit. Quadrophonic 8-tracks were introduced in 1970, and in 1971 the first karaoke machine – the Juke-8 – was on 8-track.

8-tracks could not be rewound, and few machines offered a fast-forward option because it put a lot of strain on the tape. You’d reach the end of an album and it would start up again. Ideal for the age of the rock album. Two-sided albums would be converted into four programs. This could not always be done smoothly, resulting in scrambled song orders, and sometimes songs being split onto two programs if they were too long. In fact, instances of an album being translated over to 8-track with no song-splitting and without changing the order were so rare, there is a list of all 10 or so. So I take it back – this was not an ideal format for the rock album era.

A few albums gave out bonuses on their 8-tracks. Lou Reed’s Berlin featured an extra piano solo. If you owned the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls on 8-track, you got extended versions of “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden”, but had to settle for edited versions of a few of the other songs. Pink Floyd’s Animals included a little guitar solo to link the two versions of “Pigs On The Wing”, but the lengthy track “Dogs” was cruelly butchered onto separate programs.

I’m kind of glad I missed out on the 8-track phenomenon. They were interesting novelties, but I’ll take the new era of digital, with a splash of vinyl on the side.

National Submarine Day

Once upon a time, a ‘submarine’ was any watercraft that could travel beneath the surface. People were conceiving of these way back in the 1500s. Sketches of what was conceived and even built in the 1700s and 1800s are charming and kooky. It was a Confederate sub that became the first to sink an enemy vessel, the H.L. Hunley in 1864. It was also the first to be destroyed by a torpedo – specifically, its own. That game-changing blast unleashed by the Hunley was on a ship that was a little too close for comfort, and the Hunley didn’t make it.

The submarine is a tremendously effective boat, and it continues to be essential for naval warfare. I myself captained a submarine. Not for the Canadian Navy, but for West Edmonton Mall – that’s my ID card up there. I was 21, desperate for work, and I was hired to guide people through the Deep Sea Adventure, which consisted of four actual working submarines, gliding upon tracks through various cute underwater attractions for $5. At the time the Canadian Navy only had two subs in its fleet, so it was quite an honour being charged with one of the mighty Mall vessels. I went through a day of training, then received a call that evening that I got the job I’d applied for at Radio Shack. I turned in my epaulets the next morning.

To celebrate this day we opted not to track down an actual submarine to ride in (though I think as a former submarine captain I get automatic admission onto any naval sub – is that how it works?); instead we opted for a submarine sandwich. The sub – also known as a hoagie, a hero or a grinder – is a magnificent feat of sandwichcraft. Portland, Maine, claims to be the originator of the sub, but I’m sure similar sandwiches were being produced by Italian-American communities all over the place. No one knows who first started calling them ‘submarines’ (obviously because they resemble the shape of the boat), but they are iconic.

We grabbed ours from the Italian Centre, where they make a mild and hot version – both are fresh and perfect. Lunch was a treat yesterday.

National Louie Louie Day

If you were wondering just how long a Wikipedia entry can be for a 2:42 rock song with three chords, have a look at the entry for “Louie Louie”. When I wrote my last project, I devoted an entire day to this song, because its story is pretty damn fascinating. Sadly I wrote that one on a March 9, not an April 11. I didn’t know about the importance of scheduling all of my mirth properly.

“Louie Louie” was written by Richard Berry in 1955. There are hundreds of versions available of the song, from artists like the Ventures, Motorhead, Otis Redding, Toots & The Maytals, Iggy and the Stooges, Black Flag, Joan Jett, and so on. But the version we all know was recorded by the Kingsmen in 1963. This is the version that turned it from an easy-going Jamaican-sounding love song into a throbbing heave of garage rock. It was supposed to be an instrumental, but at the last minute singer Jack Ely decided he’d sing it. They hung a single mic above the studio while the band played and Jack sung upward. It’s mucky and messy, and a perfect rock record.

Then there’s the controversy. Nobody could understand what the hell Jack was singing, and since the previous versions hadn’t reverberated near the top of the charts, no one knew to check them out. A raucous “alternate” hearing of the lyrics made their way from town to town, with lines like “And on that chair I lay her there; I felt my boner in her hair.”

Those are not the right words.

But it was enough to get parents riled up. Robert F. Kennedy received a letter from a concerned parent in 1964, and from there the FBI began an investigation into the song. It took 31 months for them to conclude that the lyrics are unintelligible at any speed. It was finally declared not obscene – this after interviewing a member of the Kingsmen (who had broken up by the time the song was a hit), who insisted there was nothing obscene about the lyrics. Except that’s not true.

Listen close at about 54 seconds into the song – drummer Lynn Easton messes up a drum fill and you hear him yell, “FUCK!” in the background. That’s in a hit single that was investigated and cleared by the FBI. For being one of the great legends of rock history, we salute every version of this masterpiece.

Sure it’s one of the holiest of holy days in one particular religion, and part of a very holy festival in another, but we’ve got lots to party about today:

  • National Big Wind Day. Will there be big wind today? Who knows? But we’ll look at why this is Big Wind Day.
  • National Colorado Day. Our journey around the kitchens of America continues a mile in the air. Colorado exports a lot of the country’s lamb, so that will be our feast tonight.
  • National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day. And just like that, here’s lunch.
  • National Licorice Day. No chocolate eggs in this house, just some damn fine licorice.
  • Walk On Your Wild Side Day. Maybe we dress funny. Maybe we juggle knives. Not sure yet, but it will be done within our walls.
  • National Drop Everything And Read Day. We will grab as much as we can in our hands, then drop it all so we can read.
  • Easter. We actually did something really cool for Easter this year. More in tomorrow’s article!

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