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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fuck Cancer.

(Edit:  Please forgive me for speculating as to the cause of death before any official announcement.  It's none of my damned business anyways.)

Steve Jobs, rest in peace, and thank you for everything.

At some point, I'll probably opine about why I'm a big Apple fan.  I switched from PC around 5 years ago (after years of being the kind of nerd who'd do six months of research to spec out a new custom-built system) and cannot imagine going back.  My iPhone is still the best purchase I've ever made.  I don't have the sticker in the back window of my car, but I'm definitely a Mac guy.  I probably don't spend much of my waking day more than ten feet from an Apple product, even if you don't count the phone in my pocket.

No matter where you stand on Apple, I think you have to respect the man who was the visionary and guiding force at the helm.  If you're an Apple fan, then that's an easy case to make.  But even if you hate the Cult and everybody in it, you'd probably be hard-pressed to argue that Apple didn't raise the bar to inspire the companies and gizmos that you may dig.  Competition is great for end-users, and Apple, thanks in no small part to Steve, was a hell of a competitor.

But right now, I want to talk about cancer.  Specifically:  fuck cancer.

Cancer killed my father.  It tried to kill my mother.  It killed both my grandmothers.  It is going to try and kill me, and it's the odds-on favourite in that fight.

Now, Twitter is alight with the collective grief of the people from whom cancer has taken somebody else that we loved, respected, and admired.  Some express that grief with our battlecry:  fuck cancer.

One of my friends took issue with the sentiment, pointing out that cancer was still as horrible yesterday when it was just killing fathers and mothers and aunts and cousins and children and friends and dogs but nobody famous.  If I understand his objection, it's that to beat cancer, people need to care all the time, and not just when cancer kills somebody prominent enough to trend.

Now, to be clear, this is somebody I consider a good friend.  He is somebody I admire, and whose company, conversation, and unfailingly excellent recommendations for music and literature I always enjoy.  He's good people, and he's much, much smarter than I am, so I usually find myself agreeing with him.  But I saw his objection and wanted to offer a different perspective.

There is no bad reason to say "fuck cancer".  Not one.

I'm sure there are some people saying "fuck cancer" just because it got Steve, and maybe they've never been touched more closely than a celebrity death.  And to me, that's okay.  I'm truly grateful there are people who haven't lost somebody close to cancer.  Of course, I'm sure there are many more saying "fuck cancer" because it got somebody they loved and now it got Steve too. 

Maybe cancer is worse today than it was yesterday because it got Steve, and a bunch of other people whose names we'll never know because they didn't invent the iPod.  Yesterday it was still worse than the day before, and tomorrow it will be worse than today, because it's going to keep killing.

The good news, for me, is that I know firsthand that there are a bunch of very smart, very talented people doing wonderful, important work that is easing pain and saving lives.  I have every confidence that one day, hopefully in my lifetime (and I'm kind of counting on that one, so chop chop folks), cancer isn't going to know what hit it.

But until then, I'm going to say fuck cancer every time I think about it.  Fuck cancer for taking Jack Layton.  Fuck cancer for taking Steve Jobs.  Fuck cancer for taking my dad.

I really hope that if you're reading this, you can't relate to the way I feel right now just typing these sentences.  If you do, I know you're probably saying "fuck cancer" with me all the time.  If you don't, but you still wanna say "fuck cancer" just because you're reading the Steve Jobs tributes and know we lost a good one, I'm down with that.

We need all the voices we can get, at any time, for any reason.

I know that life is a bit more fun because of Apple, and I'll grieve in my own small way over the loss of a guy who helped make that happen.

And then I'll stop being maudlin and celebrate, again in my own small way, a man who unquestionably made the most of his time here, and who proved that we can leave the world more interesting than we found it.  That's pretty wonderful.  Perhaps most importantly, it's hopeful.

Thank you, Steve.  Rest easy.

And fuck cancer.

Friday, May 27, 2011

United by Fate

I was extremely excited when I found out that Rival Schools would be putting out a new album in 2011.  I've been a big fan of Walter Schreifels since Quicksand, and Rival Schools' debut album would make my very short list of desert island discs.  I'd always wanted more.

Schreifels' 2010 solo disc An Open Letter To The Scene left me a little cold.  Of course, I respect any artist following their muse and branching out, but acoustic guitars and jangly pop arrangements just weren't what I wanted to hear from the man behind "Freezing Process".

So when I found out that Rival Schools were reunited and a new album was imminent, I was thrilled.  I grabbed Pedals on iTunes, and I absolutely love it.  Go buy it right now.  Seriously, I'll wait.

However, Pedals does not sound like it was put out by the same band that recorded United By Fate.  Granted, many years have passed, but it goes much deeper.  I was hoping for more of the same melodic aggression that made tracks like "Used For Glue" so wonderful.  How many bands are tough enough to get away with a one-chord riff?  I actually resent the house party video for how much it betrays this track's bad-assery.

To me, this doesn't sound like just the same band ten years on.  It sounds like a different band altogether, with Schreifels' unmistakeable vocals and gift for melody staying constant.  The catchy sensibilities of opening tracks "Wring It Out" and "69 Guns" (remixed at the link by Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys) evoke Open Letter, and it isn't until the opening riff of "Eyes Wide Open" that I'm really reminded of early Rival Schools.  However, the song quickly veers off into a soaring chorus that wouldn't sound out of place on a U2 album.  To be clear, that isn't a bad thing.  It's a great track, it's just not what I was expecting.  By "Choose Your Own Adventure", my favourite track on an album seemingly full of favourite tracks, funky synth textures proclaim loudly and proudly that all bets are off.

It's not what I expected, but it's definitely my favourite album of 2011 to date, and a worthy successor to United.  I can't help wondering what a Rival Schools follow-up album might have sounded like in 2003, 2 years after their debut.  I wanted to hear more from those guys.  But if Rival Schools is dead, then long live Rival Schools!  I just hope I don't have to wait another decade to hear more.

Insert coin to continue

Whoops - it's been a while!

I'm nearing the end of a week's vacation.  I didn't go anywhere; I just needed a week away from the office and the alarm clock to regroup.  I had some ambitions for catching up on some key parts of my life that often don't get enough attention when my energies are caught up at work, but they haven't quite worked out.  Fortunately, a week's respite from the alarm clock and some quality relaxation have me in good spirits.  I'll tackle the to-do list in due time.

A good chunk of the week was devoted to LA Noire, the latest title from Rockstar.  It offers some nice improvements on the Rockstar open-world formula such as asking your partner for directions or to take the wheel.  It does many things well, including a strong finale and expressive facial animation that I'm pretty sure sets a new standard for games.  Unfortunately, the game fumbles often along the way, with uneven pacing, some pretty big narrative disappointments, and an awful lot of "oh no, not this again" game mechanics.

My current sense is that it's Rockstar's weakest open-world title to date (with the caveat that I haven't played either Red Dead game).  Of course, if this is Rockstar at their worst, it's still much better than many developers at their best.  If you're a fan of Rockstar, I can recommend it, and I'm sure most gamers will find a lot to like.  I just suspect that, when Grand Theft Auto 5 comes out, building no doubt on some of the clever work done for LA Noire, we'll probably look back on this title as a cunningly marketed tech demo.

I've also recently finished Portal 2 (single player and the wonderful co-op), which was delightful if not quite as brilliant as the original, and I've been having a lot of fun with the new Mortal Kombat game.  It has no business being anywhere near as excellent as it is (despite some unfortunate character design choices that make Dead or Alive look like a Finishing School by comparison) and I recommend it without hesitation to anybody who likes games about stuff getting kicked.

As soon as the weather becomes a little nicer, I'm sure I'll spend much more free time away from the couch and out on my bike.  I enjoyed my first ride of the season last weekend, which accidentally resulted in the worst sunburn I may ever have suffered, but nonetheless I can't wait to get out and enjoy the summer on two wheels.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

You can't plan this stuff, folks.

A co-worker and I have been doing duelling playlists at work.  I've turned her on to Husker Du and Sonic Youth, and she's returned the favour with early Radiohead.  This led to the following comedy gold...

Me:  So it turns out that I've got 5 Radiohead albums... OK Computer, Kid A, In Rainbows, Hail to the Thief, and... uh...
Her:  Amnesiac?
Me:  Wow, what a one to forget.
Her:  Was that a joke?
Me:  It really wasn't.  That actually just happened.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

An Edge by any other name...

A loose transcription of today's best office conversation:

Her:  I know four chords on the guitar.  Maybe five.
Me:  All you need is "three chords and the truth".
Her:  Ooo who said that?
Me:  The Edge from U2.
Her:  (smugly) You just quoted the Edge.
Me:  Come on, if I said it was Leonard Cohen you'd be totally impressed.
Her:  Good point.