Categories for Feature

My latest: thunderbolts and lighting, very very irritating

The biggest televised event in human history, it is suggested, was Monday’s funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

The biggest social media event in the past week, it is speculated, was Justin Trudeau’s rendering of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’

You’d have to, um, be living an unreal life, one escaped from reality, to have not noticed that little bit of footage. There was Canada’s Prime Minister beside a piano at a swishy hotel in London, lending a not-entirely-bad bit of baritone to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’s’ end part, wherein Queen’s Freddie Mercury proclaimed: “Nothing really matters, Anyone can see, Nothing really matters, Nothing really matters to me…”

Can you think of a more-perfect bit of verse for the Liberal leader to sing? I sure can’t. “Nothing really matters to me” should practically be tattooed on his chest, right above the spot where his heart is supposed to be. Nothing really matters, indeed.

Anyway. Queen – who I once saw at Calgary’s Jubilee Auditorium, front row centre, with Bonnie McRae, who thereafter ditched me because I didn’t have a car to drive her home – thought ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was a ridiculous song, and they were right, even though it would go on to sell a kajillion copies.

The fabled producer Roy Thomas Baker produced the tune, and he has called it “totally insane,” “complete madness,” and “basically a joke.” Which it is, and which it was.

But not to assembled conservatives around the planet, however. Conservatives were super angry about Trudeau’s trilling. They went all, um, thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening, etc. They didn’t think it was magnifico, at all. The headline on the staid BBC web site: “Justin Trudeau’s team defends singing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ before Queen’s funeral.”

The Daily Hive: “Trudeau sings ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ gets called bastard while in London for royal funeral.” The Daily Mail, meanwhile, was most outraged about the outrageousness of the outrage: “’Drunk’ Canadian PM Trudeau is slammed as a ‘tone deaf embarrassment’ for singing Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ at London hotel before Elizabeth II’s state funeral.”

Personally, I didn’t think it was tone deaf, or a big deal. I mean, the sing-along didn’t happen at the actual funeral, did it? It happened a few days before, and it was clearly a case of someone surreptitiously filming some Canadians who weren’t aware they were being filmed. (Like a Canuck Candid Camera, but not nearly as funny.)

And it could’ve been way worse, you know: they could’ve been singing something from the Rush or Tragically Hip oeuvre. That would’ve been horrible, meriting a war crimes trial at the Hague.

Besides: every politician thinks they can sing and dance, figuratively and literally. Any one of the following scenarios – some the creation of helpful Sun readers – are plausible. Consider:

Pierre Poilievre: playing air guitar to anything by Ted Nugent or Kid Rock, before returning to the physics lab with the other guys, where they will continue complaining about always being ignored by girls. Also, possibly, Iggy Pop’s ‘Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell,’ about Justin.

Stephen Harper: crooning a karaoke version of ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ to be followed by ‘Send In The Clowns,’ a tribute to post-Harper Conservative leaders.

Elizabeth May: a duet with Kermit the frog, singing ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green.’ Also, as an autobiographical encore: Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy.’

Jagmeet Singh: ‘You’ve Got A Friend,’ naturally, while eyeballing a Trudeau campaign poster. Also, at the same performance, ‘I Will Always Love you,’ if Dolly Parton agrees to it. Which she hopefully won’t.

Kim Campbell: Green Day’s ‘Boulevard of Broken Dreams,’ topped off by Billy Idol’s ‘Dancing With Myself.’ That’s mean, yes, but I’m a mean person.

• Brian Mulroney: ‘Gimme The Loot,’ by the Notorious BIG, plus a stirring rendition of ‘Bank Robber’ by the Clash. In the lobby at the Pierre Hotel.

Jean Chretien: What would my former boss sing? Well, he reads my column, so I need to be pretty darn careful, here. I’d probably recommend Shania Twain’s ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much,’ which he can dedicate to every one of his successors.

Would any of those renderings be a hit? Would any of them top the charts?

Nah. Besides, my editor says she’s had quite enough of this ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ nonsense. So: too late, my time has come. It sends shivers down my spine, and my body’s aching all the time.

So, goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go. Gotta leave you all behind.

(Until the next column, that is.)

[Kinsella has asked that Bonnie McRae consider repaying him for the cost of that ticket to see Queen.]

My latest, maaaaan

Johnny Rotten snarled. The crowd roared.

“God save the Queen,” Rotten howled, as the assembled Toronto fans howled back. “She ain’t no human being! And there’s no future in England’s dreaming!”

Rotten and his Sex Pistols – drummer Paul Cook, guitarist Steve Jones and pre-Sid Vicious bassist Glen Matlock – weren’t nearly as youthful as they once were, back when they released their ‘God Save the Queen’ single during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, in 1977. It was 2003, many years later, and the Grey Pistols had reunited to play at the Molson Amphitheater, in an unashamed and transparent money grab.

Watching the band from the side of the stage, this writer – who still has an original pressing of ‘God Save the Queen,’ purchased at Kelly’s Records on the Eighth Avenue Mall in Calgary shortly after it was released – it was unclear whether Rotten et al. meant what they were saying. Were they anti-monarchists? Anarchists? Republicans? Johnny Rotten wasn’t giving any hints (yet).

Those in the Toronto audience weren’t wearing their anti-monarchist credentials on their tattooed sleeves, either. Sure, they knew all the words to the Pistols biggest hit – which reached number two on the BBC charts, even though the BBC refused to play it on-air – but they looked like they were mostly there for a good time, not some political time. Some, however, wore God Save the Queen T-shirts, complete with a safety pin through the regal lip. Not nice.

As the Queen is laid to rest this week, her 70-year reign at an end, the Sex Pistols pose no threat to the monarchy, nasty lyrics and nastier T-shirts notwithstanding. The real threat to the monarchy lies elsewhere.

Right about now, the anti-monarchist forces are getting ready to do battle. It’s coming.

After the appropriate period of deference has passed, the hoi polloi will tear themselves away from their usual schedule – meeting at the Toronto Tennis Club to talk about poor people, or adding their name to a petition about climate change and the blanding turtle, while actually doing nothing about either – and compose a joint letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail, demanding an end to the monarchy in Canada.

Why? The usual arguments. They’re foreigners, the Royals are, and we Canadians can manage our own affairs, thank you very much. They’re unelected, and therefore undemocratic.

They’re too expensive to maintain, and they’re rich enough to support themselves. They’re unwanted by a majority of Canadians, 19 times out of 20, a poll will proclaim – a poll commissioned, and carefully crafted, by those same anti-monarchist types.

If we are being truthful, we have to admit: not every one of those arguments is spurious or without merit. The House of Windsor is, in fact, headquartered in another country. None of the Royals live in Canada.

And, yes, not one of them was elected to the positions and titles they hold – although we could probably make the same argument about Canada’s Senate, which (unlike the Queen) periodically attempts to replace the judgment of elected MPs with its own.

Are they costly to Canadians? Well, no. Canadian taxpayers didn‘t ever shell out a nickel to the Queen, although her portrait could be found on one side of said nickels. Nor did we ever pay her a salary. We do pay for Royal visits to Canada, however. (As we pay for most of the costs associated with visits by Presidents of the decidedly republican United States of America, too.)

Finally, should Canadians ever be consulted about whether we remain within the Commonwealth, whose leader is a King or Queen? Certainly. Sure. That’s what has happened in other countries.

Australia held a referendum on becoming a republic in 1999, but Aussies voted to stay within the Commonwealth. Over decades, Barbados made multiple failed attempts to hold a referendum on the issue, then simply proclaimed itself a republic last year.

Here? Well, in Canada, we are typically confused. Last year, Angus Reid (rudely) released a poll on the Queen’s 96th birthday. It found 51 per cent of us wanted to cease being a constitutional monarchy. But then the same poll found that many more – two-thirds! – had great affection for Her Majesty.

So will we become a republic? This writer – who was in Calgary punk band, and who regularly played a shambolic cover of the Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ – personally thinks it’ll never happen. For starters, it means reopening the Constitution – and no one, save and except Quebec and Alberta separatists – wants that.

What’s more: both Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre have this week pledged allegiance to King Charles, and solemnly reaffirmed our place in the Commonwealth. (Jagmeet Singh’s NDP has a different view, but no one cares what they think.) So, constitutional monarchists we shall remain.

And what of the Sex Pistols? Funny you should ask.

On the sad occasion of the Queen’s passing, someone remembered Johnny Rotten, who is a senior citizen and now lives in California. Tweeted Rotten: “Rest in Peace, Queen Elizabeth II. Send her victorious.”

Below that, Rotten posted that iconic image of Queen Elizabeth.

Except this time, she wasn’t wearing a safety pin.

[Kinsella was the founder of punk label Social Blemish Records, which he claims had more hits than zits.]

My latest: the calm at the centre

There is nothing stable in the world.  Uproar is your only music.

Uproar: so said the English poet John Keats in a letter to his brothers, in January 1818.  George III was the king in that year, and the world was beset by slavery, cholera, and wars in Europe and the West.  It was a time of great instability and turmoil and chaos.

In that uncertain time, George III ruled for just shy of sixty years. Only Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II would go on to be on the throne that long – Victoria, 63 years, Elizabeth, 70 years.

Like this writer’s favourite poet, Theodore Roethke, Keats was a great observer of the natural world.  From that, he acquired the view that life, in the main, was mostly about hardship and suffering. People, Keats wrote, were perpetually “straining at particles of light in the midst of a great darkness.” Keats, perhaps the greatest English poet, knew about that darkness: he died horribly, from tuberculosis, at the age of 25.

What he wrote to his brothers George and Thomas was as true now as it was then.  In 1818, as in 2022, uproar is ubiquitous.  It cannot be missed.

As in 1818, war is again raging.  There is Russia’s vicious and unholy war against Ukraine, near the centre of Europe.  After seven months, at least 40,000 Ukrainians have been killed or wounded; as many as 43,000 Russian soldiers have been killed, too.

In Africa, in places like Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria and the “Democratic Republic” of Congo, millions have been displaced by war and drought and Ebola and famine, and millions more are starving. Elsewhere, in places like Myanmar, there is genocide, with tens of thousands murdered and raped.

Globally, Covid-19 persists, despite the serial fantasies of politicians bent on re-election, and fantasists bent on self-destruction.  To date, the virus has killed at least seven million people around the planet – but the real figure is perhaps twice that, because governments lack the means or the will to tell the truth about the full extent of the death toll.

In Canada, Covid has killed close to 50,000 of us – but the real figure is known to be much higher.  And that lesser figure, alone, is already thousands more Canadians than those who were killed in World War II.

Such misery and death – such uproar, as John Keats called it – has always been a constant for humankind.  The uproar upends lives, and leaves us feeling like there is no respite, no relief from it all.

Except, except: her.  She was.

She was born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor.  More formally, she would become known as “Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.”

It was not that cumbersome title, of course, for which she became known.  She became known – and admired, and loved – because she somehow provided an antidote to Keats’ uproar.  She was stability in an era of instability.  She was certainty when too much remains uncertain.  She was steadiness when the world was anything but.

Elizabeth was not elected to her role, which (understandably) rankled many.  She was born to it.  But that, in an odd way, placed her above the grubbiness of re-election and phoney political promises.  She was born to be rich and powerful, true.  And she could have revelled in that, and been disinterested in the everyday concerns of everyday people – as some of her children have been.

But she clearly regarded her role as one of duty and service, and she provided both for seven decades, without complaint.  Supporting charity, promoting good causes, urging on democracy and decency.  Most of all, however, she was the antidote to the perpetual uproar.

A few years ago, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty invited this writer and others to meet her, at the opening of a cavernous, metal-clad film studio in Toronto’s East end.  The heat was Hellish, that day, and all of us – dressed in our finest outfits – were bathed in sweat.  It was almost unbearable.

Her Majesty was tiny, I recall.  She wore a hat and held her purse close to her, and there was a faint smile on her face, which was a lovely face. As she moved away from me and my friend Bob Richardson, I whispered to him that she appeared completely unaffected by the heat.

“She is the calm,” I said to Bob, “at the centre of every storm.”

And she was.  

And we will miss her for it.

RIP Her Majesty

What a truly extraordinary and exceptional human being.

This is one of those days we all remember where we were when we heard.

My latest: should he stay or should he go?

Okay, you’re Justin Trudeau.  Just pretend you are.

We know, we know: you’d rather not.  If we’re all playing dress-up games – one of Justin Trudeau’s favourite pastimes, as is well-known – you’d rather play the role of someone else.  Someone less unpopular, say.

Because, God knows, Justin Pierre James Trudeau, PC, MP, twenty-third Prime Minister of All of Canada, is pretty damn unpopular.  Even that friendliest of friendly Ottawa opinion-sampler firms, Abacus, says so.

Said Abacus, a few days back: “Public feelings about Prime Minister Trudeau had been deteriorating through our surveying over the Summer…The Prime Minister’s negatives still stand at 50 per cent – the second highest negative reading we’ve seen during his time in politics.”

The reasons are myriad and multiple, because – in politics – it’s never just one thing that kills you.  It’s an accumulation of things, over a long period of time.  Big political graves are dug with tiny shovels, this writer always likes to say.

In Trudeau’s case, there’s no shortage of things about which to dislike.  There’s the WE scandal, and the Aga Khan one.  There’s his obstruction of justice in the LavScam thing – which would’ve gotten him impeached, had we been like the Americans.

There was the egregiously racist blackface incidents – incidents, plural, because Trudeau did it so many times, even he wasn’t sure how many.  There’s was the groping of the reporter at the beer festival in BC, which constitutes sexual assault, as defined in no less than the Criminal Code of Canada.

Any of those – obstruction of justice, blackface, groping – were disqualifying.  Had Justin Trudeau been a garden-variety aspiring Liberal candidate, had he been a regular person, those things would’ve prevented him from being “green lit” to be an actual candidate.

But he isn’t a regular person.  He’s a Trudeau, a millionaire, and a charter member of the lucky sperm club.  He breathes a different, rarefied air.  He orbits in a different stratosphere than the rest of us mere mortals do.

But we mere mortals want him gone for the most politically-fatal wound of all: we’re sick of his face.  We’re tired of him, even those of us who voted for him before.  We want him gone.

Few Liberals know where he hangs out, these days.  Fewer still are consulted by him.  If you’re a Liberal MP, you’ll be lucky to be granted a minutes-long audience with him once every year.

So, as Justin Trudeau lingers somewhere, pondering what to do – pondering whether to stay or to go, per the Clash – there are pros and cons.

The cons: Trudeau could lose the next election.  The Conservatives are about to give Pierre Poilievre 110 per cent of the vote.  Poilievre could get a bit of bump.  The fresh face and all that.  Stranger things have happened.

Another con: there’s no issue to manipulate, there’s no pretext, to justify an early election call.  Trudeau used Covid in 2021, and it very nearly blew up in his face.  What could he use this time?

This con, too: the polls – including the aforementioned Abacus – continue to show Trudeau’s Liberals and the Conservatives where they have been for years: tied.  If an election was held now, the Grits would win – but it’d be another minority.  No change.

But there are pros, too, associated with staying and fighting. Chief among them is Pierre Poilievre himself.  The Ottawa-area MP is hard to like.  And his Bitcoin fetish – and his WEF conspiracy theories, and his links to far-Right convoy types, and the civil war he’s fostered within his own party – are big, big liabilities.  For the Liberal war room, it’d be a target-rich environment.

Another pro: the Tories are again – again! – underestimating Trudeau. After being beaten by him three elections in a row, you’d think they’d learn.  But, once again, they have underestimated Trudeau’s main strength: his ability to fight.  He loves a good fight.  And he rarely loses.

Pros, cons.  Negatives, positives.  As he sits somewhere, eyeballing his phone, alternating between poll numbers and pictures of Himself on Instagram, Justin Trudeau isn’t letting on what he’ll do.  Stay and fight? Shrug and leave?

So: if you were Justin Trudeau, what would you do?