Dan Brown | Cool Blog Name to Come

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About "Dan Brown"

I do a bit of everything for The Free Press. I edit copy, write columns, report, and blog on lfpress.com. I've been with the paper — which I delivered as a kid growing up in Poplar Hill — since 2005. My main passions are pop culture and local personalities, and I also do a weekly column about graphic novels. Like what you read? Got a beef? Send me an e-mail at dan.brown@sunmedia.ca or tweet me at @DanatLFPress. I look forward to hearing from you!

The Rolling Stones forever

- April 15th, 2015

Defying the odds and the pitfalls of life as rock gods, the Rolling Stones are touring again.

Well, at least some of them are.

The four blokes who will head out on the road this summer are not, as they say in music circles, the original lineup.

I won’t go into details here, but since the band has been around since the early 1960s a number of players have expired, retired, or exited the group known for such songs as No Expectations, Salt of the Earth and Tumbling Dice. Also, new guys have joined as replacements.

Eventually, all of the original Stones will be too old to tour and record.

But here’s a startling thought: Why not keep the band going beyond that point?

In other words, why does the music ever have to stop? Why can’t the band outlive Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the rest?

The real value of a long-lived musical outfit like the Rolling Stones is as a brand, so why not keep pumping new life into the brand?

Sure, there are some music snobs who won’t accept the group without any original members. These are the same people who stopped listening to the Stones when Brian Jones left in 1969 and died shortly after.

However, most music fans would be more than willing to pay to see a Rolling Stones without any of its founding musicians, so long as the new members keep the rebellious spirit of the Stones alive.

And who better to do that than a group of fresh, young musicians?

In such a scenario, the Stones would follow the Menudo model.

Menudo is the boy band that struck it big in the 1980s by having a rule that when each member reached his 16th birthday, he would depart the group and be replaced by a younger boy. This way, the group was constantly renewing itself and maintaining its appeal to young girls.

Let’s face it, the Stones could learn a thing or two from Menudo. It’s not like teen girls are buying a lot of albums from Mick and company anymore.

And it’s not like this concept is new in the world of pop culture.

Many long-running newspaper comic strips have lasted for decades because when the creator dies or retires, a new artist/writer will take over by emulating the original style of the comic. Readers have never seemed to care.

Nor would the Stones be venturing into virgin territory.

Many bands from the same era continue to tour using replacements.

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend represent only 50% of their storied band’s original lineup, yet ticket buyers continue to flock to their shows as the Who. No one complains about the absence of Keith Moon and John Entwistle.

There have been lots of jokes about how the Stones are already geriatric rockers, so since they can’t stave off the inevitable, how about taking the necessary steps now to ensure their musical legacy lives on?

Are you mad at Amit Chakma? Then thank Mike Harris

- April 6th, 2015

Are you angry at Western University for paying its president, Amit Chakma, double his normal salary – almost a million bucks – last year?

Then take a moment to thank the man who made this scandal possible.

That’s right: I’m talking about former Ontario premier Mike Harris.

He’s the guy responsible for this province’s Sunshine List, the legislative tool that allows taxpayers to find out the names and positions of all the provincial public servants who were paid more than $100,000 in the past calendar year.

Passed into law in 1996, we in the media — and also everyday people — now take the Sunshine List for granted.

But if it wasn’t for Harris and his government, we would be none the wiser to Chakma’s sweetheart deal.

You can say what you want about Mike Harris.

He was divisive. His Common Sense Revolution actually made no sense. He made scapegoats of teachers. He was no Bill Davis.

However, if you’re at all outraged by the Chakma revelation, then you have to admit the Tory premier did at least one thing right when his Progressive Conservatives were in power during the 1990s.

Harris believed so firmly in the Sunshine List, he made it one of his priorities soon after coming to power in 1995.

The unveiling of the list has become an annual ritual. That’s because those near the top, such as Chakma, inevitably get a lot of grief for drawing so much from the public purse.

Imagine a world without it. In that world, none of us would be aware of the arrangement Chakma made with Western to receive double his normal salary after five years.

We would likely have no clue about his salary at all. It would be a secret. Would he have given half of the money back?

We know the Sunshine List is working because it has touched off an intense debate this year here in the Forest City. There is now a very public discussion going on about how much we value school administrators. That’s a good thing.

Harris’s list is one way for the public to access very important information. And more information is always better than less.

Since it applies to all public servants with a salary of more than $100,000, it also educates us to the sheer number of police officers and firefighters who are making large incomes.

Oh, and by the way, for those of us living in the real world, $100,000 is a huge whack of money. As a salary cutoff, that number still makes sense.

So if you were an opponent of Mike Harris back in the day, by all means continue to not think much of him.

But if Chakma’s double salary makes you wince, then I’m afraid you have to concede that Harris is owed his share of gratitude, regardless of how you might feel about his other achievements while in the province’s highest office.

(Full disclosure: I teach both graduate and undergraduate journalism courses at Western.)

Sammy Hagar + David Lee Roth = the full Van Halen experience

- March 30th, 2015

If I have to pay good money to see Van Halen perform, I expect that both David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar will be up on that stage this summer.

I know what you’ve been led to believe – that the storied rock band can have only one lead singer at a time.

But there are millions of reasons for the group’s members to patch up their differences so they can give London, among other cities, a show to remember. Not to mention millions of dollars.

Van Halen will roll into the Forest City on Aug. 5, when they will play the Western Fair District. As you have no doubt heard by now, the show represents a testing-of-the-waters for the venerable venue as a summer concert destination.

But if Van Halen really want to make an impression, they should give fans the concert they have been demanding for years.

That would require them to restore the band to its former glory and offer ticket buyers the full Van Halen experience — let’s face it, without both Dave and Sammy at the mic, they can’t realistically play their whole back catalogue in live performances.

As of this writing, Van Halen consists of sometime lead singer Roth, guitar wizard Eddie Valen, his brother Alex on drums, and Eddie’s son Wolfgang on bass.

Everyone has their favourite epoch from Van Halen’s history.

Some prefer Roth’s stage presence and showmanship. Others enjoy Hagar’s wailing and golden curls. Everyone wants to forget Gary Cherone ever fronted the long-lived rock outfit.

And the truth is that Dave gets along with Sammy. They have toured together before, independently of Van Halen, so the animosity between them can be overcome. The sticking point appears to be Eddie.

So some promoter should throw a pile of money at the guitarist’s feet and tell him to grow up.

If former sworn enemies like France and Germany can grow into friends in the name of common interests, so can a couple of rapidly aging rockers.

While they’re at it, they should also bring Michael Anthony, the original bass player, back into the fold as well. He left to become Hagar’s sideman in his various solo ventures.

God love Eddie for giving his son a job, but a rock band is really not the right place for nepotism.

Maybe two lead singers may sound like an outrageous proposition, but it was good enough for the Beatles, the Eagles and Blue Rodeo.

And considering that tickets top out at $100 a pop, this show is going to be a major investment for London’s rock fans.

So instead of trying to appease just the Roth camp or only Hagar supporters, the group should cast the widest possible net. Who knows, they might even be able to squeeze a new album out of the exercise. Wouldn’t that be something? New Van Halen music!

DC Comics don’t need to be more diverse

- March 19th, 2015

The brain trust at DC Comics should just relax.

Their universe is fine as it is – it doesn’t need to be more “diverse.”

It’s already diverse in ways that our own world never has been or ever will be.

In fact, the very concept of diversity takes on a new meaning in a milieu populated by an infinite array of superpowered humans, aliens, mutants and monsters.

How diverse is the DC universe?

One of their most popular characters, Swamp Thing, is a green-hued sentient plant. He’s not even human. Talk about a unique minority.

DC’s universe can’t be more diverse. It’s already diverse beyond imagination.

But that hasn’t stopped the storied company from announcing a new initiative to better represent the social and cultural groups that make up the American melting pot.

“(DC’s upcoming relaunch) heralds in a new era for the DC universe which will allow us to publish something for everyone, be more expansive and modern in our approach and tell stories that better reflect the society around us,” co-publisher Dan DiDio said in a recent press release announcing the latest rebooting of DC continuity.

If you want examples of the types of varied characters who already populate DC’s comic line, there’s more than a few.

For starters, there’s the company’s marquee character, Superman.

As smarter people than me have pointed out, his story is the age-old tale of what happens when an immigrant outsider – he’s an alien refugee from the planet Krypton – moves to the U.S.

But Superman looks like the average straight, middle-class white guy, you say. True enough.

If your definition of diversity is limited to colour, then you should consider another green-skinned DC denizen, Martian Manhunter. Not convinced? How about Doctor Manhattan, a glowing blue presence who lives all the moments of his life simultaneously?

Ah, but what about women? Not only is Wonder Woman an example of what was once called the fairer sex, but she’s also a member of an all-female race of warriors.

Heck, even the undersea world is represented in DC Comics, by Aquaman.

Do you see that kind of diversity anywhere in your own, real-life surroundings? I know I don’t.

The list goes on. Deadman is a non-living ghost. Cyborg is half-robot. Bizarro is . . . well, bizarre.

And that’s only in a single universe. There are another 51 alternate universes in current DC continuity that also boast the same hyperdiverse selection of lifeforms.

If you’re wondering about the Marvel universe — it’s just as rich, with its purple aliens, blue mutants and orange heroes.

But what’s that? You say the DC universe may be filled with an unlimited number of racial, ethnic, social and cultural groups, but it’s also a product of a bunch of white males? That may be true. However, you can’t deny the situation is changing.

If a bunch of white guys could imagine such an awesome setting for stories, just think what it will look like in a few years, when more minorities and women gain access to the levers of power.

My bet: You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Enough with the special parking spots

- March 17th, 2015

Wheelchair parking spaces have been a hot topic of conversation in recent weeks here in our Forest City.

If you listen to London’s riveting talk-radio stations, as I do, you will know that a vigilant citizen has photographed yet another police cruiser parked, apparently in violation of the law, in one of the spots reserved for those with mobility challenges.

I’m not here to condemn or condone what the officer in question appears to have done. The London police do a fine job of explaining their own actions. They can handle the heat themselves.

What I would like to say is: enough already.

What started out as a solid idea has clearly run amok.

You see, it’s not just wheelchair users who have prime spots set aside for them anymore, it’s every group under the sun.

Evidently, we all deserve special consideration now.

You’ve probably seen the spaces to which I refer. If you’re a motorist, it’s hard not to run into them. They’re set up literally everywhere you go.

When you drive to a mall like Masonville Place, you’ll see spots set aside for expectant mothers.

When you park at University Hospital, there are special areas in the parking garage for dialysis patients.

At the grocery store, it’s the designated family spots that are closest to the entrance.

These are all in addition to bicycle parking, motorcycle parking and even wide-load parking. No, wait, maybe I’m making that last one up, I don’t really know. I have a hard time keeping track of all this car park proliferation.

I believe we can all agree that reserving a small handful of handicapped spots for those drivers and passengers who use wheelchairs was a very good concept in the beginning.

I like to think that no one would begrudge such individuals their accessible parking permits, as they are officially known in Ontario.

But as usual, the idea has been driven into the ground to the point of uselessness.

Someone (probably a bureaucrat or middle manager) saw those spots and felt they had to create more and more categories.

Why? Because we live in a society where everyone is special. As my friend Steve likes to point out, nowadays parents raise their children to think they are all precious snowflakes deserving of extraordinary treatment.

The logical consequence: Pretty soon, every single member of this community will have their own individual special permit.

And of course, the more the specialty spots, the more they are open to abuses.

At least one female acquaintance has told me in confidence that she parks in the pregnant-mother spots, even though she’s not in the family way. Who’s going to know the difference?

Perhaps you watched the Corner Gas episode which suggests wheelchair spots are kind of a scam. I doubt that’s true, however when Brent’s able-bodied mother, Emma, affects a vague limp to justify the permit her husband has cajoled out of the system, I couldn’t help but laugh.

Truth be known, I rarely try to park close to the entrance of my destination. My own personal policy is to find a space at the back of the lot and walk up, so I can get a couple minutes of exercise.

Try it. You might like it, too.