Thoughts on Morning Phase

beck-morning-phase-cover
Up until 2001, Beck had never figured prominently among my top bands.
I liked songs like Devils Haircut, Where it’s at and Loser whenever they came on the radio but I just found his music too erratic to enjoy on a regular basis.
All of that changed in 2002, however, when he released ‘Sea Change,’ a collection of raw, emotional songs that evoked sadness and melancholy like nothing I’d heard before.
I was living in Bratislava, Slovakia at the time, teaching ESL as a 20-year-old and very much trying to find myself in this big world of ours.
I first heard Sea Change through a friend, who vaunted the merits of the album and convinced me to listen to it despite some initial reservations of mine.
I didn’t like it.
Truth be told, I didn’t really give it a chance.
I moved away from Slovakia in the summer of 2002 and took a job in Aguascalientes, Mexico in August that year.
Having recently met an Australian girl, I decided to move there in December and see what I could make of it.
The bus ride from Aguascalientes to Los Angeles, where I was flying out from, was 44 hours.
I had two CDs with me: Sea Change, and A Perfect Circle’s Thirteenth Step.
It was the perfect opportunity for me to re-visit Sea Change, and to really isolate myself with it for a period of time.
That’s when I completely fell in love with the album, in a most surprising way because I never expected Beck, of all artists, to have that kind of effect on me.
I think it’s partially why I fell so hard for Nine Inch Nails, in the late 90s: Reznor has always laid it out there for all to see, stripping his music and lyrics down by exposing himself and his deepest, darkest feelings to the entire world.
I felt like Beck, who had gone through a dark period of his own, had done the same. The result was absolutely haunting.
I set the album to ‘repeat’ and would fall asleep from time to time, waking up in different songs.
I would dream about being on a deserted island and thinking about my life, what it meant, why I’d ended up there.
Fast-forward to 2009, when I divorced the Australian girl, and fell into a despair of my own.
Had I become an artist that year, I would have wanted to create something similar to Sea Change, which Beck wrote in a very short period of time following a painful break-up.
Sea Change is very much like NIN’s Downward Spiral in the sense that it’s a clear concept album.
Themes of sadness, isolation and loneliness are bookended by songs that clearly draw a linear map of Beck’s feelings at the time: happiness with his girlfriend, followed by pain and suffering, and optimism for a brighter future.
‘Lonesome Tears’ with lyrics like ‘How could this love/Ever changing/Never change the way I feel and ‘Round the bend’ represent rock bottom for Beck, and I’ve always turned to those songs for comfort and solace in tougher times.
But a song like Sunday Sun, the 10th song on Sea Change, is a Beatle-esque tune not unlike ‘Here Comes the Sun’ with lyrics that imply there is light at the end of the tunnel.
There’s no other ending/Sunday sun/Yesterday is ending/Sunday sun
This brings me to Morning Phase, Beck’s latest album and first since 2008.
He describes it as a companion piece to Sea Change, which is why I was very excited to finally listen to it today, after having enjoyed the first two singles that Beck released last month.
Twelve years after Sea Change — a period of time in which Beck released three albums to mixed reviews and had major spinal surgery — it sounds like Beck has released the most cathartic album of his career.
If Sea Change helped him get through a painful break up, Morning Phase indicates he’s finished the hurdle race.
Morning Phase IS the light at the end of the tunnel that Beck has been yearning for, and an album he felt compelled to write in the past few years.
I’m sure it will offer him a vast amount of closure, judging by the amount of brimming optimism from these beautiful songs.
Keywords such as sunlight, dawn, light and morning are found throughout the album.
Just like with Sea Change, Beck proves he’s one of the most talented and influential musicians of his time, with another timeless album that will continue to be relevant for many years to come.

Thank you, Beck.

20 thoughts for 2013

- You realize how important (good) food is when you move to a place that sells it at ridiculous prices
- The Northwest Territories is a beautiful place that is now completely connected to the rest of Canada, thanks to the DehCho bridge in Ft. Providence
- Nunavut is completely inaccessible to the rest of Canada. Someone should build a bridge linking it to northern Quebec.
- Having said that, the landscape in Nunavut is breathtaking and a must-see for every Canadian
- Nine Inch Nails can still make amazing music
- It’s hard keeping in touch with friends who are so far away.
- I never thought I’d go to another video store in my life but here we are.
- I’m glad I made the decision to adopt my 12-year-old cat Sarah.
- It’s important to treat your employees right.
- Colleagues need to be considerate when working in a small office. That means being relatively quiet when others need to put a damn paper together.
- ‘Cold’ is entirely relative.
- San Francisco is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.
- Subaru is a damn fine company. I miss my 2004 Forrester.
- Homeland and Breaking Bad are the most intense television series I’ve ever watched.
- Having good camera gear is a very expensive hobby but totally worth it.
- It’s important to spoil one’s self from time to time.
- Being grateful for the little things in life makes you a better person.
- I need to start reading the rest of the books in my library. Because I read so much at work, I rarely get enough motivation to read at home.
- When iPhones get wet they stop working, forever.
- It’s important to discover your own country.

2013 – a recap

So I haven’t posted since late February, and that’s not because I’ve been too busy, but once again I’ve failed at updating my blog on a regular basis.
This year was relatively eventful, both personally and professionally. I moved from Hay River, NWT to Iqaluit, NU and became immersed in a completely different culture.
The vastness up here is astounding, especially when you fly to other communities. The people I’ve met, and those I keep in touch with on the phone for work, are some of the nicest human beings I’ve ever come across.
I was lucky enough to get quite a bit of traveling done this year, with a quick trip to San Francisco in February, a weekend visit to Rankin Inlet, a day trip to Qikiqtarjuaq and Clyde River as well as another day trip to Pangnirtung in September for the opening of a small craft harbor.
I almost went back to Qikiqtarjuaq yesterday but our flight was canceled due to a severe blizzard in Iqaluit.
Here are my favorite pictures of 2013, enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Trip to San Francisco

For the longest time, my impression of San Francisco (like many others, most likely) was fairly narrow in the sense that I could only think of two things: the mythical Golden Gate Bridge and Victorian houses lining the streets.

When I got to San Francisco on the evening of the 9th, it was a warm night and we stayed in, the consequence of a full day of flying. But the next day we walked all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf and as soon as I saw that bridge, I knew I had finally made it to San Francicso.

I don’t even know where to start in order to describe how beautiful the city is. Our timing was impeccable as it was low-season, and the weather was perfect: it ranged from 14-18 C every day without a single cloud in the sky. The evenings were chilly but having just spent eight months in the Northwest Territories, I must say we adjusted a lot better than the (clearly freezing) locals did.

We spoiled ourselves by eating out a few times every day. In the morning, we usually went to this little breakfast place around the corner called Zazie. I think it was run by some French people because the menu contained a lot of French, but that could have been a marketing strategy I suppose.

We don’t eat very well up here: we don’t have access to fresh produce in the winter, and we’re forced to buy a lot of pre-packaged, processed foods that just make you feel like you’re bloated all the time.

In San Francisco we really didn’t hold back: we had sushi, Mexican food, Mediterranean food, more sushi, and pretty much anything else we craved and hadn’t eaten in a while.

In terms of the sights, we had done our research the month before during our Christmas holiday together. We’d picked out close to 30 things we wanted to see, and on our first day in Frisco we just started going to the closest ones.

Fisherman’s Wharf is a place that naturally drew us back many times. Not only was the atmosphere special but we saw sea lions on Pier 39, ate seafood, took pictures of the incredible landscape, sat amongst red and yellow tulips, took a ferry to Alcatraz and visited one of the world’s largest private collection of arcade games.

One day we rented some bikes and in three hours, made our way across the Golden Gate and back. The ride was harder than I thought it would be – Frisco is pretty hilly, to say the least – and unfortunately we picked the only day when the fog decided to roll in. Once we were on the actual bridge it was freezing! I’m surprised they didn’t warn us about that.

On Valentine’s Day I had purchased tickets to Alcatraz, so we took a ferry and explored the infamous prison building that evening. The sunset was phenomenal, with the sun setting right behind the bridge.

I could have spent another hour or two exploring the other buildings on the island: so much history there, and I left with many unanswered questions.

On our last day we walked up to Telegraph Hill, which is famous for its parrots but we didn’t see any. We took an elevator to the top of Coit Tower and enjoyed a fabulous 360-degree view of the city.

Later that day I bought my iPad Mini and that evening we attended a very special and unique performance: at Audium, you sit in a room with 48 other people. The lights dim slowly and suddenly, it’s completely dark. There are 176 speakers around the room: the owner, who has been performing original pieces for almost 50 years, starts playing random sounds which range from drops of water to people walking through an amusement park. It doesn’t take very long before your imagination goes into overdrive. It was a very surreal experience, and one I’d recommend to anyone visiting San Francisco.

The other highlight of our trip would have been on our first day, when we booked a tour to Muir Woods. Located on the other side of the bridge near the wealthy suburb of Sausalito (“Little Willow”), the national park is full of Coastal Redwoods, which I believe are the second tallest of that species. Walking through the woods was a serene experience that was only momentarily spoiled by yelling children (who were French, not ironically). Our knowledgeable bus drive John had so many anecdotes and information to tell us on our way to the Woods it was almost overwhelming. When we got there he emphasized that we had to be quiet there, and that we shouldn’t disturb the natural environment. When those yelling kids walked by I felt like punching them in the brain.

Another highlight for me was Sutro Baths, located on the western side of the city and by the ocean. Over 100 years ago they built this monstrous facility by the water but it was eventually damaged by a fire, and only the ruins remain today. Being by the ocean on  a hill reminded me a bit of being in Gibraltar, where you can also find remnants of past occupation there.

After enjoying the ruins we walked along the Lands End trail, which offers gorgeous views of the coast and bridge. We bit off a bit more than we could chew, however, because our legs were extremely sore from all the walking we did on the first day. Once we left the trail and found ourselves lost in a residential neighbourhood, we knew we had to find a bus or restaurant fast. We were both starving and it was hot.

Almost two hours later we emerged in an unknown neighbourhood and agreed that we’d walk into the first restaurant we saw. It was called, quite simply, La Mediterraneenne. We had the most amazing meal of our lives there: the combination of sitting down and eating delicious food was perfect. It was a pricey affair but we both agreed that it had been the highlight of our culinary experiences in San Francisco.

Thankfully throughout the entire trip I had my friend Adam’s camera, so my pictures don’t disappoint. There are so many other little tidbits that I could tell you about: taking a picture of Charlie Manson’s home in 1967, running to the Orpheum theatre in time for the ticket lottery to see Wicked, almost hitting an Asian tourist on the Golden Gate Bridge, having mocha cupcakes and flowers delivered to our apartment for Valentine’s Day, and the list goes on.

Next time, I’d like to go for two weeks and see even more.

“Is your brother so tall that he would bump his head on the ceiling?”

So this week I was a guest at Ecole Boreale, Hay River’s francophone school. I had been there a few times before – once for a fundraising story and once as a guest in another classroom. This time, the Grade 1-2 teacher invited me to speak to her students about my job, my education, my likes and dislikes. In the bigger scheme of things my visit was an opportunity for her students to interact with someone else in French, which was beneficial for all parties concerned as I don’t really get to speak French all that often!

I spent over half an hour answering questions from six year olds which ranged from “Once I was skating with my buddy Conor and we bumped into each other and we couldn’t get up” to “Did you walk all the way to Hay River from Montreal?”

I talked about my family, taking French classes at school, playing hockey, and working as a reporter in Hay River. The kids got off track a couple of times, like when the redhead with the front tooth missing got up and said “you know what? The Capitals are the best!” but those were the moments that made me laugh hardest.

Actually, getting to spend time answering questions (rather than asking them) was a relief. It also reminded me how much I used to enjoy teaching kids of that age: I did a couple of stints in China teaching English as a second language. You really learn a lot about life when you’re thrown into a classroom with 30 students who can’t understand much of what you’re saying. Eventually, though, despite a serious language barrier…the kids won me over with their kindness and genuine passion for learning.

The kids I spoke to on Tuesday exhibited the same excitement and I could see the twinkle in their eyes as they got ready to ask me an “important” question, their arms stretched out as far as it could go.

It’s amazing how a half hour encounter with kids can make your day that much more enjoyable.

Vindication!!

So the major news last week — yes, even bigger than the Habs playing their first game of the season — was Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah, and his severely belated confession.

I honestly thought he was going to confess to having used performance-enhancing drugs once or twice – but during all seven of his Tour de France championships? And before then, too?

I don’t think I’ve ever been so glued to an interview before. I had been suspicious of Armstrong’s success for a long time, and it was entirely satisfying to have him come out and say that his career was a sham.

When I think of sports that require the most endurance, fitness and strength — professional cycling comes to mind. More and more TDF riders test positive for EPO, and it tarnishes the event’s reputation even more, although that isn’t saying much.

A friend of mine recently suggested they scrap the entire affair, and re-build it from the ground up. I think it’s the best way to go: these ‘athletes’ have way too many liberties when it comes to ways they can bend the rules.

One sport I truly admire, and hope hasn’t been affected by performance-enhancing drugs, is tennis. I think along with hockey and soccer, it’ll definitely be an activity i’ll introduce early in my child’s life, provided its superstars stay clean until then…

Brent freakin’ Hayden

Brent let me wear his bronze medal.

Brent let me wear his (heavy) bronze medal.

So Brent Hayden, Olympic bronze-medalist swimmer at the 2012 Summer Games in London, was in town this week to share some advice with young swimmers and visit local schools. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to speak to him because Mondays and Tuesdays are my days off, but fortunately I got in touch with the local swim coach on Wednesday and was able to get him and Brent to drop by the Hub office a few hours before his flight to Yellowknife.

After a short interview — it was a bit under 20 minutes — I figured he had other things to attend to but surprisingly, he didn’t, so he hung around the office and we talked about all kinds of things: his career, his travels over the years, his singer/songwriter wife Nadina, etc. It was fascinating being able to pick his brain about pretty much anything and it was almost surreal, in a sense, to hang out with an Olympian for an hour and half.

Unlike many high-profile athletes the fame hasn’t gone to his head: humble and personable, Hayden immediately agreed to come and spend time in the North when he was contacted by our swim club coach back in September on Twitter.

An accomplished photographer, Hayden wished he could have had more time in Hay River to take pictures of the landscape and aurora: hopefully he’ll be back someday to do that. All in all, a day I’ll remember for a long time.

Hello, Pakistan? Are you there?

On Jan. 7, someone managed to take control of my Skype account.

That person then purchased a monthly subscription to — wait for it — 400 minutes to Pakistan. The charge was $31.99.

The charge only appeared on my credit card yesterday, to my surprise – and in the process, Skype shut my account down, citing suspicious behavior.

Well, by the time I got hold of a Skype representative, the person had already used up the 400 minutes and had burned through the $13.90 credit I had on my account. Must have been an important call!

Thankfully Skype will reimburse me, which I wasn’t worried about. I’m more worried about the fact that people can gain access to my Skype account, my credit card, etc.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had personal accounts compromised: about 4-5 years ago, a guy took control of my MSN Messenger account and started talking to my friends in the middle of the night. He convinced one of them to call my dad and it woke him up.

My first Twitter account, which I used extensively when I covered the student protests in Montreal last spring (and accumulated over 500 followers in the process) was so riddled with spam at some point that changing my password, and limiting the number of apps. that could access my Twitter had no effect. I had to let it die and create a new one.

These are only examples I can remember off the top of my head, but I know there have been more, as I’ve been active on the Internet since 1997.

I just hope this latest incident hasn’t gotten me involved in some weird terrorist plot — not that all Pakistanis are terrorists — but that’s sort of the first thing that came to mind.

The North, or how I learned to dislike food

I have lived in the North for almost seven months now and I’ve been to a lot of communities so far. One common denominator, unfortunately, is the lack of access to fresh food.

It’s much easier during the summer time to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, especially with Hay River’s flourishing Community Gardens, where one can find almost anything. Once October rolls around though you notice how quickly your diet becomes more and more homogeneous.

I like to cook for myself: as someone who has lived in several countries, often alone, I’ve become accustomed to cooking a variety of meals that are both easy to make and healthy.

In the North, however, my passion for food has waned. My girlfriend and I were talking about this the other day: she said she saw expired bread for sale. Oh, not by a day or two: but by a month.

It’s indicative of the quality of food that is available here. A lot of it is processed food and empty calories, and while people are quick to bring up statistics describing obesity and diabetes in Aboriginal populations, the same is happening to others. My diet has dramatically changed since I’ve been living here, for the worst.

As a result of eating unhealthy food, I’ve grown weary of preparing meals like I used to. I don’t have nearly the same fondness for food as I used to.

Going to Yellowknife and eating sushi is a real highlight for me, and it’s only once you’ve moved to a remote community that you realize that you used to take good food for granted.

The stale, expired bread is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve seen peppers so old they look like shriveled prunes. Sometimes there aren’t any vegetables at all, and you just have to buy something else.

The lack of ‘good food’ was the first complaint I heard when I got to Hay River last July. People hadn’t begun complaining about the Mackenzie Place highrise or the lack of sunlight in the winter: food is what they mentioned first.

I read a study awhile ago which explained how North Americans had lost their passion for food. Europeans, it explained, put more effort into meal preparation and actually sat down to eat, free from distraction. I look at my routine and I eat quickly, in front of a television or computer, and I’ve rarely done more than activate a microwave.

I wonder how food will taste once I’m back in the big city. Will my taste buds have changed?

Some food for thought, until then.

Keeping track of gratitude

So, at the end of December I came across a great idea: creating a gratitude jar.

I think it’s a wonderful way to see just how many positive experiences one can have in a single year. I’m going to limit myself to one entry per day and I’ll look at my haul on December 31st.

Trip to Inuvik

I was fortunate enough to spend the holidays in Inuvik with Miranda, who is in the midst of a two-month stint there as a reporter at the Inuvik Drum. We only had 11 days together but made the most of them as we went swimming and skating at the Midnight Sun Complex, dog sledding at the Arctic Chalet and played a whole bunch of Wii. We even spent New Year’s Eve at the local watering hole, the Mad Trapper, which was an experience in itself.

We both agreed that the obvious highlight of the holidays was the dog sledding experience, which turned out to be one of the most exhilarating thrills of my life.

Originally I thought we were only going out for an hour and that we’d be sitting on the sled together, as someone took us for a ride. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we’d each be at the helm of our own dog-sled team, which immediately made things a lot more appealing.

The first step was being debriefed by host and guide Judi, who explained various instructions to us in regard to the dogs, the sled and the tracks. It was a bit overwhelming but thankfully we got the hang of things pretty quickly.

We had four all-white Siberian/Malamute huskies each and let me tell you, their strength and stamina really impressed me.

The landscape was absolutely stunning. Despite visiting Inuvik (which is two degrees above the Arctic Circle, by the way) during its ‘month of darkness’, residents still get three to four hours of twilight per day, depending on the clouds of course. Fortunately we arrived on a crisp, clear day with adequate daylight and a crimson sky that left me speechless each time I looked at it. It was a surreal experience that lasted almost two and a half hours.

In hindsight, it was a bit pricey but the adventure was truly unique and you can’t put a price tag on that kind of experience. I’m glad we did it!