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Bruce Dowbiggin

Losing His Timing This Late In His Career: Send In The Clown

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“Although your baby/ May be/ Keen on a stage career/ How can I make it clear/ That this is not a good idea.” Noel Coward

The latest theatre of the absurd from Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau has received mixed reviews. For reasons best known to himself and his circle of advisors, Trudeau thought it might be a swell idea on the eve of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral to go the lobby bar in his swank 5-star London hotel for some kick-ass karaoke and first-growth Bordeaux.

In keeping with his reputation as failed thespian Trudeau imagined that belting out Bohemian Rhapsody for an audience in the lobby bar would be a suitable tribute to the rock band Queen. And, by extension, Queen Elizabeth II who was, at that moment, about 40 hours from being entombed at Windsor Castle. Did he know he’d be filmed in this Canada’s Got No Talent? Debatable.

The reaction was not. Many Canadians, to use Trudeau’s own expression, did not experience it the same way as the PM and his jolly choristers. Disrespectful would probably be the best word to describe the leader of a Commonwealth nation making a prat of himself yet again in the performing arts. (Remind me, where was NZ PM Jacinta Ardern performing the same night? Did Jamaican PM Andrew Holness have a gig?)

If the urge of ululate was so strong, could he not have restricted his Freddy Mercury tribute to a private room, far from prying eyes? Did any of his advisors hint that, after his Bollywood and Ali Baba disasters, maybe going small might be a better tack? Or at least wait till after the solemn ceremony? So far, no one is talking.

But there were those supporting the erstwhile boy soprano. “@jake_naylor Yup, the Queen would have been real upset about the Prime Minister of Canada, who she called “extraordinary” to meet, playfully singing a song from a band — founded by Brian May, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire — that played her Platinum Jubilee Party.”

Others said that, in the spirit of a good old Irish wake, it should be all singing and dancing and reminiscing about meetings with Her Majesty and the Corgis on official business. After all, funerals are sad events. Why make them more sad? Raise your voice in praise of a life well lived.

Well, yes. And no. First, the insult was not to the dead Queen. It was to her grieving family. Second, there can be little doubt that the period of mourning, ended by the state funeral, was a throwback to an earlier time, say the 19th century, when the passing of a regent called for maximum dirge and decorum. To those, like us, captivated by the pomp and ceremony of mounted Life Guards, admirals in full garb and princes by the bushel, the funeral march to Windsor was evocative and splendid.

 

A suitable tribute to a woman who’d bridged the gap between the stoic Windsors (née Battenburgs) and the age of social media. If it’s possible to have made that vast transition with dignity and purpose, Queen Elizabeth did. She withstood the righteous anger of the Irish, Africans and Asians who were trampled by her nation’s Empire— and pacified much, but not all, the hate.

And so we saw the stricken faces of King Charles III and his subjects at their loss. Prince Andrew’s shame at having not lived up to his mother’s example as he romped with the execrable Jeffrey Epstein. Princess Anne, always passed over, yet more capable than her siblings, conducting herself with dignity. Meghan— enough said.

It was as heavy as it can get. So maybe, like the PM, those who advocate for a ceilidh have the right idea. Many put it in their wills that no sadness should be tolerated when they pass on. Prop Her Majesty up in the corner, then drink and dance till the dawn. Have a party. Why so sad?

Or maybe we are meant to mourn. That we need to mourn. Having seen the range of options with our own deceased parents and now our friends, grieving is a natural state. Joined with family and friends it girds us for what is to come in our own lives. Anglican minister Matt Kennedy offered on Twitter why it might be best to take this contemplative route.

15h I’ve presided over funerals in which families, trying to honor the wishes of their departed loved ones, have wanted to bring in balloons, play rock and roll, tell wild stories about the deceased’s youth…all in the effort to run from grief and mourning and solemnity. 

But the human soul yearns to mourn in the face of death. It must be done. It cannot be avoided or suppressed. Death is the great enemy that divorces body from soul, the union we all know in the depths of our being that should never have been torn apart… No one needs to conjure up new words or songs or things to say. Words have been given to us, and acts, and ceremonies, and hymns that allow us to grieve and yet not as those who have no hope.

If you have been moved by the queen’s funeral, that is because the queen in her wisdom loved her family and people well. She gave herself to the ancient ceremonies knowing these would be salve for the hearts of those who loved her and give glory and honor to her Lord.”

Ironically, Justin came to prominence at his father’s funeral, weeping openly beside Pierre’s casket. His grief bonded him to many Canadians. Now, however, he’s decided that warbling, “Galileo, Galileo” in a London bar is more suitable. His choice. But we liked the young Trudeau’s decision better.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft YearsIn NHL History, , his new book with his son Evan, was voted the eighth best professional hockey book of by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted seventh best, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Jerry Came to See The Babies. And They Walked Out On Him

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Cometh the hour, cometh the comedian. Or, you can learn a lot about a demographic by what makes them laugh.

The legacy/ lunacy media schvitzed itself over a few furious sociology majors and look-at-me drama queens walking out on Jerry Seinfeld’s commencement address at Duke University last weekend. But the significance of his admission that he was 70 was probably far more newsworthy to those now in retirement, binge-watching his eponymous TV series on one of those down-the-dial channels.

If we had a dollar for every Boomer who said, “Seinfeld is 70?” while watching the address we’d be Warren-Buffett-rich this morning. He doesn’t look like any 70 year olds we know. Fifty? Maybe. But listening to his familiar delivery, the mocking on his honorary degree costume, it was easy to believe that we, too, are much younger than our blood-thinner prescriptions say.

It also pointed out the evolution of Boomers’ comedic tastes. When they came of age in the late 1960s/ early 1970s Woody Allen best profiled as his generation’s comedic muse. With a dozen classic movies ranging from What’s New Pussycat (1965) through Play It Again Sam (1972) to Annie Hall (1977) Allen’s self-deprecating nebbish captured the romantic/ridiculous self-image of Boomers with “Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle”.

The neurotic, insecure Allen then decided to become Ingmar Bergman, and Boomers— now assembling jobs, children and first spouses— moved on. But for that 12-year span the bedraggled standup comedian was the go-to with lines like “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you” and  “The only love that lasts is unrequited love.”

Woody’s pointed contemporary political references in those years were few (conflating “D’you” for “Jew” with Tony Roberts in Manhattan) and self-deflating (see Annie Hall). His most prominent political jabs were framed in absurdist material like Love And Death and Bananas. Culturally he was merciless but affectionate about his Brooklyn upbringing. In short his were perfect date movies for Boomers seeking love to advertise their pretensions.

Flash forward from Woody to Seinfeld (created with Larry David) which was anti-romantic in the extreme. The characters were sociopaths. The situations often cringeworthy. The 24-minute formula harkened back to Lucy and the Honeymooners. And while schlock like Friends trod the same ground it was Seinfeld that somehow captured the Boomer  zeitgeist. 

Why? Boomers going through middle age were too disillusioned with how life was turning out to romanticize anymore. The self-obsessed characters were people they knew from work, school and dealing with government. Smirking Bill Clinton was the face of an era. “When we did my show in the 90s, it was so easy to make fun of things. It was so easy,” Seinfeld told Amy Schumer.

Significantly, Seinfeld the Show was cultural. Or quasi-cultural. It was never about politics per se. It was about the people who thwart you in life. Whose vanity ruins your plans from school days. Who go 50 mph in the left lane. “When is Jerry going to see the baby?” It rarely challenged its fans on an emotional level. It was mostly about navigating madness.

And often about the most mundane elements of life. The address on the weekend contained The Seinfeld Doctrine of Lowered Expectations. “It’s easy to fall in love with people. I suggest falling in love with anything and everything, every chance you get. Fall in love with your coffee, your sneakers, your blue zone parking space. I’ve had a lot of fun in life falling in love with stupid, meaningless physical objects. 

“The object I love the most is the clear-barrel Bic pen — $1.29 for a box of 10. I can fall in love with a car turn signal switch that has a nice feel to it, a pizza crust that collapses with just the right amount of pressure. I have truly spent my life focusing on the smallest things imaginable, completely oblivious to all the big issues of living.”

Reaching across the generations Seinfeld delivered Dad jokes and bromides to kids who education probably cost $100 K a year. “I think it is also wonderful that you care so much about not hurting other people’s feelings in the million and one ways we all do that,” he said. Then he explained why that might be a fruitless pursuit. Not in Curb Your Enthusiasm darkness. But sobering.

That’s why it was in character for him to let the furious demonstrators depart at Duke without comment. So was appearing at Duke, the Ivy League of Tobacco Road, founded by the people who made jillions selling nicotine. And why he let them garb him like Thomas Cromwell in the absurd 16th century cape and hat so he could score few laughs.

Because laughter is his means of dealing with jerks like the outbound Hamas crowd. “What I need to tell you as a comedian: Do not lose your sense of humour. You can have no idea at this point in your life how much you are going to need it to get through. Not enough of life makes sense for you to be able to survive it without humour.”

Yes, He has been vocal lately about the effect of political correctness ruining TV comedy. Drawing flak from former friends and fans who are in the Biden re-education camps at the moment. But his annoyance at ruining an art form far outweighed any complaints about Covid and Ukraine.

As opposed to the nihilism of his former partner David, his insouciance and comic patter represent an antidote for where most of his original fans are at the moment. Woody Allen, their former idol, is now seen as a pedo and a failed nouveau vage auteur. Disillusioned with virus lies, electoral shenanigans and soaring prices, Boomers on a pension are unanchored, floating through what used to be North American society (when only women had babies).

In fact, Boomer spectators watching Seinfeld’s 17-minute speech maybe summed it up for themselves by recalling the Seinfeld mantra, “It was a show about nothing.” And they’d be right. Jerry is the man for those times.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Now for pre-order, new from the team of Evan & Bruce Dowbiggin . Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL & Changed Hockey. From Espo to Boston in 1967 to Gretz in L.A. in 1988 to Patrick Roy leaving Montreal in 1995, the stories behind the story. Launching in paperback and Kindle on #Amazon this week. Destined to be a hockey best seller. https://www.amazon.ca/Deal-Trades-Stunned-Changed-Hockey-ebook/dp/B0D236NB35/

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Why Do The Same Few Always Get The Best Sports Scoops?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs made the “what colour is that green light?” decision to fire their head coach Sheldon Keefe last week. The removal of Keefe after five years followed a dispiriting first-round playoff series loss to a very ordinary Boston Bruins team. Coaching may or may not have been the root cause of that loss. (Keefe himself admitted “teams are waiting for the Leafs to beat themselves”.)

The real reason for the firing is 1967, and we don’t think we need add more than that.

In essence, the management of MLSE— the owner of the Maple Leafs and a lot of other sports stuff in Toronto— needed to throw a body to the baying hounds of disappointment. Also known as Leafs Nation. Newly minted CEO Keith Pelley, fresh from the PGA Tour/ LIV psychodrama, was certainly not going to pay the price.

Nor was GM Brad Treliving who has only been on the job for two seasons. The key decisions on Toronto’s lopsided salary cap were decided long before Treliving occupied his desk. That left two people in vulnerable positions. 1) Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, who has been drawing an MLSE cheque for a decade. 2) Keefe.

When was the last time you saw a coach fire a team president? Precisely. Keefe joins the list of (briefly) unemployed coaches who circulate in the NHL like McKinsey consultants. Shanahan gets a lukewarm mulligan from Pelley. But after the failure of the Kyle Dubas experiment— “who needs experience?”— and now just a single playoff series win in a decade Shanny’s best-before date has arrived.

Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan attends a news conference in Toronto on April 14, 2014. Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said Peter Horachek will remain the team’s interim head coach until the end of the season. Shanahan met the media Friday for the first time since coach Randy Carlyle was fired on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Depending on who he and Treliving enlist to coach— remember, Mike Babcock was too tough and Keefe was probably too player friendly— it had better produce instant results. Because Shanny, the pride of Mimico, is out of chances. The coach choice will also be affected by whichever player or players that management decides are superfluous to ending the Leafs’ ridiculous run of misery.

The Leafs brass’ press conference last Thursday did little to shed light on what happens after Keefe’s expulsion. Just a lot of MBA determinism on a bed of baffle gab. A crabby Steve Simmons question/rant briefly threatened the harmony of the moment, but order was restored. And the media bitching switched from the press box to social media and podcasts.

Speaking of the fourth estate, the other unmentioned aspect of this story— indeed every story in the NHL these days— is just how it was revealed to the public. When people sipped their morning Tim’s or Starbucks the (almost) coincident bulletins came down the social media pike about Keefe’s dismissal.

Predictably, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet and Daren Dreger of TSN announced the breaking news within heart beats of each other. While there had been speculation on Keefe’s fate for days, the announcement coming from the networks duo confirmed the story in the minds of the industry. That allowed everyone else drawing a cheque as a hockey journalist to pile in and swarm the dead body.

In today’s sports journalism, where social media has replaced newspapers, scoops are governed by a protocol. There are the heralds— in the NHL it’s currently Johnston and Dreger— and then there are the disseminators. The days of a rabble of reporters all scrambling to get a story bigger than who-will-play-in-tonight’s-game are gone. Today, it’s a very narrow funnel for scoops.

It’s the same in the NFL where Ian Rappaport (NFL Network) and Adam Schefter (ESPN) monopolize the tasty scoops on behalf of their employers, who also happen to be NFL rights holders. In the NBA, Brian Windhorst (ESPN) has the inside rail when it comes to the LeBron James/ Steph Curry scoops. In MLB… it’s probably Ken Rosenthal  (The Athletic) but no one cares about baseball anymore, do they?

The leagues like it this way, doling out stories to guys they can trust. None of this is criticism of Johnston or Dreger, who have deftly maneuvered themselves into the coveted “from their lips to your ears” spots. From our own experience we can remember the exhilaration of having the best source or sources on the really big stories. Like Johnston/ Dreger, we worked hard for a long time to develop those sources and only very reluctantly let anyone else horn in on our stories.

It was also our observation that this order of things journalistic suited a lot of reporters who either couldn’t get good sources or didn’t want the stress of being first on stuff. It was enough that, like the Keefe story, they’d get the goods eventually and most fans would not care who was first. So long as you had a take. So be it.

Some resentful types took potshots at our work if it upset their pals in the dressing room or the management suite. On the Stephen Ames/ Tiger Woods story in 2001, we had the late Pat Marsden tell us on air that we’d done a great job on Ames’ criticisms of Tiger. Only to hear him lambaste us— again on FAN 590— only minutes later as we listened driving home from the studio. But we digress.

Many reporters are complacent in playing the game, so long as their bosses didn’t enquire why they are getting scooped all the time by the same few rivals. With the death of daily newspapers that doesn’t happen much any longer. (Many editors today may only see stories when publication brings a libel notice.) For them a salty take is good enough.

The scoop business is also affected by the multiple roles now demanded of sports media types. In addition to their “day job” on a beat they also have to supply digital content and talk-back hits to the Mother Ship. Most also are feeding a weekly podcast, dictating time on air rather than time working the phone. There are only so many hours in a day to chase a story.

Better to play the Breaking News waiting game.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Now for pre-order, new from the team of Evan & Bruce Dowbiggin . Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL & Changed Hockey. From Espo to Boston in 1967 to Gretz in L.A. in 1988 to Patrick Roy leaving Montreal in 1995, the stories behind the story. Launching in paperback and Kindle on #Amazon this week. Destined to be a hockey best seller. https://www.amazon.ca/Deal-Trades-Stunned-Changed-Hockey-ebook/dp/B0D236NB35/

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