Played To the Beat: A Tribute To the Hockey Night In Canada Intro Video

This piece originally appeared on Sound on the Sound on April 30, 2013.

hockey_night_in_canada_2

Tonight begins a very special time of year. At 5pm Pacific Daylight Time, the Chicago Blackhawks will face off against the Minnesota Wild and the LA Kings against the St. Louis Blues as sixteen teams begin to narrow down to two, and then to one, in the race for the Stanley Cup. At nearly two months, playoff hockey season lasts nearly as long as Christmas, and like the other holiday is full of rituals and traditions. My way of observing the season is simple: I watch hockey, and I cry.

The playoffs are full of intensity and high drama, but with the exception of last year’s circus sideshow debacle of a Penguins-Flyers series, it’s not the hockey itself that gets me really worked up. I’m a fairly magnanimous fan, eager to see my team clutch the giant silver prize but quick to forgive those who defeat us as long as they play a good game of hockey. What really opens the floodgates is not the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, but the CBC’s beautifully crafted, emotionally manipulative video montages of it all.

The Hockey Night In Canada intro video has become a treasured part of the season over the past few years, earning the sort of cult following that spawns multi-page discussion threads and sixty-five-video YouTube playlists. The premise is simple: a montage of previous-game highlights, energetic crowd shots, mournful footage of defeated teams, and home-team-local-color-B-roll is set to a vaguely-thematic modern pop hit. It’s not revolutionary stuff, but the team at CBC has made a true art of it.

Some of the best opening videos came out of 2011′s brutal Canucks – Bruins final series. The Bruins, looking to end a thirty-nine-year Stanley Cup drought, and the Canucks, playing for their first Cup, brought a fire and intensity to the ice that made for some rough play – Aaron Rome’s brutal hit on Nathan Horton, Alexandre Burrows’ hearty chomp on Patrice Bergeron’s finger – and some great video. The teeming masses of emotional fans gathered in the streets of Vancouver offered both dramatic, sweeping footage from above and reporter-on-the-scene shaky-cam urgency that made a beautiful supplement to the on-ice action.

One of my favorites from the series was for Game 6, set to oh-so-Canadian band The Tragically Hip. It’s a slow burn, simmering quietly for forty-four seconds, then exploding into the of screams and exultations of the Vancouver crowd with a replay of Maxime LaPierre’s third-period Game 5 goal. The remainder of the video is a montage of chirps, checks, fights, and celebrations battering you at a blistering pace and ruthlessly notching up your adrenaline levels. In the midst of all this are hidden little references and plays on words: a shot of Rachel McAdams, an actual movie star, before a decidedly less glamorous image of Canucks center Ryan Kesler as the line “I ain’t no movie star plays”; a broad crowd shot set to the phrase “for miles around”; a replay of Rome’s hit and a fight clip with the line “throes of passion.” These synchronizations are subtle enough not to be cheesy, but smart enough to let you know they’re deliberate.

But CBC’s all-time best work is found in the video shown before Game 1. Backed by the gut-felt emotion of Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep,” this intro to the final round pulls no punches as it brutally shows the forlorn postures and expressions of eliminated teams against the refrain of “we almost had it all.” The list of deposed teams grows slowly, like a playoff beard, but I lose it early on, with the footage of Canadiens goalie Carey Price slumped sadly in his crease. (Sad goalie shots are the worst.) The editors deploy every weapon in their arsenal, from artful slo-mo to drag out critical moments to the Instagram-esque blue-tinge and heavy vignetting that manages to add the feel of nostalgia to events that happened only the previous month or week.

If I could bring myself to be cynical about all this, I would; the true genius in these videos lies in their usefulness as little bits of marketing. The recap in the finals intro draws viewers back into the game by reconnecting them with the narrative of the playoffs, reminding regular viewers of what came before or catching new viewers up on what they’ve missed. It also offers an emotional reconnection to fans of teams no longer competing, giving them a new reason to care about the games and their outcome. But maybe the genius is demonstrated most clearly by the fact that a hardened cynic like me knows she’s being marketed to, and doesn’t care. I’ll turn on CBC tonight at five to watch them read me the opening chapter in this year’s playoffs book, and to see what they have to sell me.

I hope it’s a giant-size box of tissues. I’m going to need one.

Talking to Babies About Hey Rosetta!

This essay originally appeared on Sound on the Sound in December 2012.

There was no music during labor. I had made plans and playlists, of course, but in the end everything happened too fast for me to even pause to consider whether I was in a Constantines or a Yeah Yeah Yeahs mood. (Mostly I was in the mood to have this baby, and now please.) And then he was there, and I wanted to hear nothing but the sound of his sweet breathing. We spent thirty-six hours in the hospital and never turned on the TV or listened to the radio. And so, at two days old, my son had heard no music.

Without the accident of birth time or the vagaries of shuffle to determine my son’s first notes, I was left to do the job on my own. Has anything ever seemed more significant? Naming, the child, of course, had weight and import, but it had also been a shared duty (and, in truth, had been quite easy). The music thing, not so. My husband knew better than to question my cult-like obsession with this assumed ritual, and abandoned many years ago any attempt to alleviate my pet neuroses. My sudden desperation to get this exactly right was mine, all mine.

***

During the early days of motherhood, one of my private joys was to steal my son away to my bedroom and play music for him, just the two of us escaping from the loving but noisy hustle and bustle of visiting family. We played everything – Americana, classical, pop, hip-hop – in a grand experiment to find out what he liked. Lying him gently beside me on the gray-striped sheets, I’d ask, “What do you think of this one, Little Critter?” and cue up a classic or interesting or beloved track. If he showed interest, I’d try to chase down his taste through similar songs. I became a human Pandora station, tuned to the Edmund channel.

It was spectacular just watching him listen. The first time he heard Moonlight Sonata, he stopped nursing, slack-jawed, as if he’d literally forgotten how to do it. His eyes fixed ahead at nothingness as he listened with all his being, the way I did in high school, spine pressed against the hard wood floor of my cluttered teenage bedroom. During a discordant, percussive section of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth, he suddenly brought his fist to his mouth to suck, self-soothing through the challenging and unfamiliar sounds.

Other days I listened for myself, navigating my own new territory of needs and emotions. “Parenting,” my husband said, “is taking your heart out of your own body and putting it in someone else’s.” My chest had been cracked open and sewn unevenly back together. Sometimes I needed a salve. I became obsessed with the goes-down-smooth sing-alongs and religious imagery of Cataldo’s Prison Boxing. “In some not small part of me I’m struck by a feeling of grace.” I sang to my baby, I sang in the shower, I listened and hit repeat and listened again, singing from the heart and from the diaphragm.

Sometimes I needed a salve, and sometimes I needed sandpaper. It was late one sunny afternoon that I pressed play on Hey Rosetta!’s “Welcome,” a song which had made me cry in public at Sasquatch when vocalist Tim Baker had prefaced it with, “This song is about having a baby.” (At six months pregnant, that’s all it took.) But if in May it had brought tears, at the end of August I was so raw it made me bleed. “You’ll be a bright light / coming out of the dark.” Hope and pure, elemental joy coursed burning through my veins. Sometimes you have to go all the way through a feeling and come out the other side. I let it bleed. “Sorry this is it / It’s cold and hard and badly lit / And there’s no backing out of it.” I clutched my baby, sobbing through and past the point of being able to form the words, torn to pieces and put back again, shattered by how much I loved this tiny creature. “I’ll say it again / I’ll say it again / I’ll say it / You’re the most incredible thing.” He’s the most incredible thing.

***

In the end the first record was Bry Webb’s Provider. I realized that it had to be: the album my favorite musician had written for his own infant son, the album I had rarely taken off the player during pregnancy. I danced my own son in my arms around the kitchen the afternoon of our arrival home, watching him listen with seeming intent to the certainly-familiar songs that had carried me through the joys and anxieties of the previous nine months. And then it was done. The barrier broken, the days of music begun. I smiled. We danced. I look forward to so many more.