Blame Laird

Think of a 70-foot wave.

It rises out of the water like a possessed mountain. If you close your eyes to it, your mind still sees it because of the ferocious sound. It curls, creating a perfect temporary barrel that plunges towards the shore with the weight of the ocean behind it.

There’s a tiny dot on top of this giant wave.

The dot glides gracefully over the top and down into the barrel, a little white trail following.

That dot is Laird Hamilton.

Part madman, part dolphin and part Achilles, big wave surfer Laird Hamilton was literally born into the environment that he spends most of his time in. His mother gave birth to him on March 2nd, 1964 at UCSF Medical Centre into an experimental salt-water tank that was designed to ease the pain of labour.

His watery entrance into the world was but the beginning of a life spent in the ocean. Growing up in Oahu, Hawaii, Laird took to surfing at a young age, with his stepfather, former pro surfer Bill Hamilton, teaching him the ropes. He was always an excellent surfer, but despite his obvious skill and natural talent, Laird never wanted to be on the professional surfing circuit.

Instead, he invented his own shtick.

In the early 90’s, Hamilton, along with friends like fellow big wave surfer Dave Kalama, frequently surfed the North Shore of the Island of Maui. Pe’hai, also known as Jaws, boasts some of the biggest and most powerful waves in the world. Spurred on by a longing to ride the massive breaks that they could see in the distance, but couldn’t paddle to with just their boards, Hamilton and Kalama began using a Jet Ski and a towrope to get onto those mammoth waves. This method, known as tow in surfing, would revolutionize big wave surfing.

What does it take to ride a wave bigger than your house? A blatant disregard for, or a superior understanding of, fear? Yes. But it also takes brute strength. With a neck the size of a large bull’s and a muscly physique built to take on waves that could literally wipe out cities, Hamilton, save for his blonde Ken doll mane, is a scary looking dude.

He’s a scary looking dude who has ridden the world’s biggest wave.

Here’s a video from the movie Riding Giants of Laird riding Teahupoo, an insane break off the coast of Tahiti. (The money shot starts about 4:20 into the vid)

Most of us will never even see a wave that large in person, let alone be in the water when it breaks, so lucky for us, Laird’s there.

Another technique made popular by Laird, and one more accessible to us regular folk, is stand up paddle (SUP) surfing. It’s an ancient Hawaiian sport called Hoe he’e nalu in Hawaiian. Instead of lying tummy-down on the board to paddle out, the surfer stands up, balancing with his or her core strength and a long paddle. The paddle is used to propel the board forward on the water and later to balance as you ride the wave.

SUP surfing is fun because you can see everything in front of you as you paddle out to the waves. You can also do it in calm waters and lakes as a more tranquil water activity. If you take out the surfing bit, it’s basically canoeing for those who can’t sit down.

I think Laird Hamilton is the greatest, but he isn’t without his haters. Some people say tow in surfing pollutes the ocean and has corrupted the sport of big wave surfing. A lot of surfers are also bothered by Laird’s promotion of SUP surfing, mainly because it has turned into a trend of yogaesque proportions and is now a flavor of the week activity for rich businessmen and their spoiled kids to try while on vacation in Maui.

The “Blame Laird” movement was started by purest surfers as a way to accuse him of mainstreaming surfing and selling out.

He wasn’t opposed to being accused, though. Being the maverick that he is, Hamilton turned “Blame Laird” into his personal catchphrase (and business venture, as you can purchase Blame Laird merch from his website: www.lairdhamilton.com).

You surfed all day and forgot to call your wife? Blame Laird. You want to sell off all of your assets and move to a surfing village in Costa Rica? Blame Laird. You’re going to trade in the Armani suit for a wetsuit? Blame Laird. Go try your best to live the life you want, and if you get into trouble along the way, just Blame Laird

By branding Blame Laird onto stickers, T-Shirts, coffee mugs and the like, Laird’s giving us all permission to have fun at his expense.

My favourite part of the Laird video above is when he cries on his surfboard after riding that monster wave. Surfing is a sport where your strongest teammate is also your biggest opponent. Trusting yourself on waves that could kill you in an instant requires a zen-like understanding of both yourself and nature.

We’ve all had moments of this. I’ve cried while looking out at Rocky Mountains on a sunny day. I once had a spiritual moment with a goat farmer in the hills of Tuscany. I’ve felt totally embraced by and at peace with the ocean while swimming in it. I’m not totally a part of that world, though. To really be a part of it, you sort of have to live it and be it, full-bore.

This is why Laird Hamilton isn’t just a big wave surfer. He’s also a big wave.

Madonna’s Namesake

Madonna was born to offend you, now wish her a Happy 54th Birthday.

Every single Italian I met when I lived in Rome had the same reaction to my last name: “Ciccone, like Madonna!” They know that Ciccone is Madonna’s last name, what they’re not buying, however, is the Madonna part.

“Carla, what is her real first name?” my friend Massimo asked me. “Madonna,” I said. He laughed and shook his hands the way Italians do when they want to say, “mamma mia! Whaddaya talkin’ about?!” without actually saying it.

While they wholly embrace Madonna as her stage name, it’s unthinkable blasphemy that Madonna’s real name is Madonna. In Italy, that name is reserved for the one and only Holy Virgin Mother of God.

“It has to be Maria, Mary, Marie,” said Massimo, and after a trip to the World Wide Web proved him wrong—as she is indeed Madonna Louise Ciccone—he was left shaking his head.

Madonna had offended him. Not with her singing or stage humping or cross burning or boob flashing, but with her name.

Etched on her birth certificate, the seven letters that make up her bold first name contain within them an inherent contradiction. It represents the antithesis of what she is. If faced with the choice of being the Madonna or the whore, Madonna is the whore every time, and proud of it.

I don’t have to tell you about the impact Madonna’s had on music and culture. She ushered in the seminal music video era of the early 80s with so much sass that she transcended the corniness of the decade and transformed a generation of tween and teen girls (and boys) into lace sporting, multiple cross wearing, messy haired, gum chewing, cheeky little queens.

She was a fearless, fun, envelope pushing badass who challenged the norms of her Midwestern, motor city Catholic upbringing with so much gumption that, though many people were put off by her, they still believed her.

I remember my grandfather smiling down at me in the basement of his house in Toronto as he held up a poster of Madonna in 1987. He told me that we had the same last name as her and were from the same part of Italy, and I was in awe of the beautiful blonde woman with the dark eyebrows, red lips and mean face who, thrillingly, could possibly (but probably not) be my fifth cousin.

The video for 1989’s “Like A Prayer” featured a mélange of scandalous taboos at the time: interracial making out in a church, bumping and grinding, also in a church, and cleavage bouncing in front of burning crosses next to… a church! So it was perfect for a bunch of 7-year-old Catholic school girls to imitate at school.

My friends and I did so over recess one day, happily dancing and acting out the words of the song on a grassy hill. Life is a mystery… Watching us from her pious corner was the hawk-eyed relic of our Catholic elementary school, my second grade home room teacher, Mrs. Van Kant. Everyone must stand alone…

Van Kant somehow found out that Madonna the hussy’s last name was also my own, and pulled me aside before class. “You have the same last name as Madonna,” she said, her stale coffee breath assaulting my nose as she hiss-whispered through her teeth. “She is defiling the church. You better pray for her soul.”

Mrs. Van Kant was terrifying. All tightly wound white curls and high-collared, starched blouses, she constantly rapped a long, yellow pencil against the palm of her hand while patrolling our desks. She’d whack kids on the head with it for chewing gum, looking sleepy, or not praying loud enough. Madonna would’ve despised her.

Had I been 12 at the time, I would’ve been like “screw you, you tight ass bitch and hell yes Madonna CICCONE!” but I was not 12. I was 7. I was scared to death of teachers, hell and the devil and wanted nothing more than to be a good Catholic girl. Madonna was really messing with my elementary school God game, so after praying for her, I viewed her with severe side-eyed skepticism and hated her very much for three years. Until, that is, she became Mae Mordabito.

“A League of their Own” was the zenith of Madonna’s film career. The 1992 movie had a talented ensemble cast and was about women stepping in to play big league baseball for the masses while the men were off killing Nazis during World War II. They faced ridicule and sexism, they had to play in skirts, and they kicked ass.

Not unlike Madonna herself, #5 Mae Mordabito was lippy, feisty, and wicked. At one point, she poisons her team’s female chaperon Mrs. Cuthburt so the girls can sneak out to go swing dancing. More than anything, Madonna, and the rest of the Rockford Peaches (Geena Davis, fist pump!) made awkward prepubescent girls like me want to be sporty and play baseball, which I did, for a little while.

My musical tastes have always run more rock ‘n roll gypsy than pop princess, and I’d be the first to agree if you told me that Madonna’s songs, voice, words, face, performances, antics, or life choices have offended you, but love her, hate her, hate to love her, or love to hate her, Madonna has been the pinnacle of female pop stardom for the better part of the past 30 years. She’s sold over 300 million albums, which makes her the world’s top selling female recording artist.

Two years ago, I took an Alitalia flight from Rome to Sicily. I gave them my passport, and upon seeing my name, the attendant looked at me and smiled wide. She then called a coworker and said, in Italian, “I have Madonna’s niece at my desk!” They bumped me to first class and didn’t charge me for my extra heavy bag. I didn’t correct them. Madonna wouldn’t have wanted me to.

She’s been condemned and rewarded in grand fashion throughout her career, and in much more insignificant ways, I too, have been condemned and rewarded for my name-association.

As she turns 54, my wish for Madonna is to keep on living unapologetically, to keep on pushing (which she will, because she’s Madonna).

Fairground stripper, beret wearing rapper, new-age yogi, whatever’s next for Madonna, it’ll be provocative, because Madonna Ciccone was born to be a controversial anomaly fighting against the majority. I haven’t always liked or agreed with her, but I have always admired her.

She might have the name of a saint, but she’s got the balls of a lion.

Please Don’t Ruin the Dancing!

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In 1987, the world was a simpler place. The air was cleaner, the roads were emptier, and moms, dads, kids and cousins used to pack into the family Volvo to go see a double header at the drive in movie theatre on Saturday evenings.

My family did just that one fine Toronto summer night. The double bill was Back to the Future and Dirty Dancing. Back to the Future was not a new movie at the time, but Dirty Dancing was.

Even though I was only 5-years-old, even though I peed my pants halfway through the film and my mom forced me to put on one of my little sister’s diapers, even though my older cousin called me “Carla Smelly Diaper Pants” because of this for years to come, watching Dirty Dancing for the first time is one of my favorite childhood memories.

The movie is pure nostalgia. A movie about dancing because you want to. Dancing for money. Dancing for love. Dancing all sexy like in front of children and seniors even though the boss man tells you you’re not allowed.

But it’s not just a movie about dancing. It’s also a coming of age love story, and a film that was largely untroubled by Hollywood expectations. A simple, captivating story that no one knew would be a hit when they were making it.

This is why remaking Dirty Dancing 25 years later solely to make money will never work. You can’t recreate movie magic by ripping off a classic. Will you never learn, Hollywood?

I don’t want to see anyone else as Johnny Castle or Baby Houseman or Penny or even grumpy old Max Kellerman.

Children of the 80s, it’s time to stand up and REVOLT!

Today is Eddie Vedder Day!

I have declared today Eddie Vedder day because I like to declare things and because every day should be Eddie Vedder day.

When I was 13, I had a poster on my bedroom wall of Vedder pulling up his shirt while singing. I was a little pervert, I guess.

Look I found it!

But more than a man with killer abs, Ed Ved has been a constant source, or voice, of comfort and inspiration throughout the years. He’s an insanely talented, passionate musician, and he has that silky but towering baritone that can tear you apart one minute and melt you like butta the next.

I took the above picture at Virgin Fest 2009 in Calgary where I got to be up close and personal with the band from the press pit. As I prepare to see Mr. Vedder this evening at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, where he’s playing the second of two sold-out shows in support of his album Ukulele Songs, I’m telling the 13-year-old girl inside of me to calm down. This concert will be one of contained passion – just Ed and his uke, singing songs, sotto voce.

While the soulful crooner may no longer occupy any scandalous wall space in my bedroom, he’s made an indelible impression on my life. I sincerely thank him for what his music has given to me and I can’t wait to spend tonight singing along with him.

Here’s a video of Eddie singing Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town – one of the first songs that started off my lifelong love affair with Pearl Jam.

Ready? 1, 2, 3, 4, 2, 3 . . .

Bad Love

I just watched the film Blue Valentine starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. A terribly stark look at the sun-kissed glow of love at the beginning of a relationship contrasted with the souring stench of a love gone bad in that same relationship years later.

It was a sad, uncomfortable movie to watch, but one that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since it finished. So please excuse me while I get a little philosophical on you. Actually, let’s invite 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche into the conversation.

He was famous for his “God is dead” theory, but Nietzsche also said: “There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”

We hunger for love, look for it, maybe even need it, and have the ability to feel it so profoundly. To intensely connect with another human on that level might be the most beautiful, fulfilling thing in life, and yet equally as great as our ability to love is our ability to hurt and devastate those same people we loved. No one wants to cause someone they once loved so purely pain (well, usually not), but it happens. We take advantage of each other, we stop appreciating each other, we cheat on each other, we fall out of love with each other, we ruin each other.

Since we do this to each other over and over again knowing what we’re getting into, we’re all a little mad, no? Anyone who has ever had his or her heart broken knows full well the terrifying pain and torment it is to go through that loss, and yet, many of us can hide the scars of past hurt and jump right back in when the opportunity for love presents itself again. To me, this is a brave, courageous thing to do, and one I’m trying to be better at.

Dr. Maya Angelou says: “Have enough courage to trust love one more time. And always one more time.”

In honor of that, and living through love gone bad, here’s Arcade Fire’s Crown of Love:

The Big Man

Everyday, I open up my laptop to this image:

Clarence Clemons and Bruce Springsteen. The perfect rock pairing. Clemons is the smooth, soulful yin to Springsteen’s energetic, rocking yang. This picture makes me happy because it reminds me not only of a great album (Born to Run), but of great friendship as well.

Springsteen and Clemons adore each other, and their onstage interaction makes every concert with the E Street Band a little more playful.

Clemons is a big man. In fact, Bruce refers to him as the “big man” because he’s built like an oak tree. Tall, sturdy, lovely – a calm, sweet, big presence, even on a massive arena stage.

And like an oak tree, I’ve always thought of Clemons as an invincible and ever-present being. He was there at the beginning – an original member of the E Street Band, and it’s oldest at 69 – and he adds much of the soul to Bruce’s rock n’ roll.

His sax contributions to Lady Gaga’s latest album Born This Way have put Clemons on the map for millions of her “little monsters” who might have never heard of the great saxophonist save for from their parents, maybe.

Clemons has recently suffered a serious stroke and is said to be quite ill right now.

I’m praying for him and I hope you will too. Get better big man!

The Tweet, The Bruce, The Retweet

Last Friday night, I was at home working on my screenplay (my social life these days would bore my grandma), and I got hung up on a character who wasn’t quite saying the things I wanted him to say, which seems to be a familiar story with the men in my life, even in fiction. So when my iTouch started making that annoying “bleepity-bleep” sound it makes when I get a new email, it was hard to not become fully distracted by it.

I tried to focus and not check it right away, but I then received three more “bleepity-bleeps” indicating three more emails, and I could no longer ignore it. I’m really not that popular, so four emails in two minutes is kind of a big deal for me.

Expecting to see four forwards from my mom, I was surprised that the emails were all from this blog. They were notifications of comments made on one of my posts – that being the one about my serendipitous run-in with Bruce Springsteen at the Rome International Film Festival last Monday (I still can’t believe it really happened, and I’m still just as happy as the moment it did).

Usually my dad, a couple of my friends and a few of the people who follow my blog regularly write me comments (hi guys, and thank you!), so it shocked me to see that these comments were from people I had never heard of-or from-before.

Being the curious little sleuth that I am, I checked my blog to investigate my sudden popularity.

The Gypsy Lied gets a reasonable amount of views everyday, nothing out of this world, but I’ve been generally content with the numbers. On this day though, when I looked at the graph that shows viewership for the month, I saw this:

At first, I wondered what could be wrong with my blog. Clearly I hadn’t received thousands of views in a matter of minutes just because.

I clicked on the very tall bar, and it took me to a page that indicated that all these viewers had been referred to my blog by a certain website. That website being: www.twitter.com/springsteen aka Bruce Springsteen’s twitter page.

Look!

My name, my “tweet,” and a link to my blog were at the top of Bruce Springsteen’s twitter feed! Now, being the nerd that I am, I get excited when anyone retweets me, but when Bruce Springsteen does it, it’s like a full plate of happiness with a side of  “Oh My God” and Tiramisu for dessert.

While candy rainbows and magical unicorns collided to create blinding fireworks in my happy little head, I did what I always do when I’m at home on a Friday and Bruce Springsteen retweets me. I called my mom.

The conversation went like this:

“Mom!”

“Who is this?”

“Carla… your daughter.”

“Why are you calling? What’s wrong?” (I need to call my mom more often)

“Nothing’s wrong. I just got retweeted by the Boss! Bruce retweeted me!!!”

“I don’t understand. What’s a retweet?”

“Ok – I tweeted a link to the article I wrote about my Bruce encounter the other day, and he – BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – retweeted it. That means all of his followers can see my tweet!” (The generational digital divide is not going to interrupt my elation, dammit!)

“Ohh that’s wonderful! Did he say he liked your article? Did you talk to him?”

“No, I don’t even know if he saw it, probably someone who works for him did, but my blog is exploding!!!!”

“Is it going to be ok?!” (Damn you, generational divide!)

“Yes. It just means lots of people are visiting my blog.” (My mom and I clearly need to have a chat about Twitter, blogs and the like so this conversation goes a bit smoother if it ever happens again)

I got off the phone and did a little happy dance, jumped around a bit, ate a cookie, sent an incoherent email to my sister that looked like this: “THE BOSS, RETWEETTTTED, SO HAPPY, BLOG,” and that was that.

I realize that Springsteen probably doesn’t man his own Twitter page, but the fact that whoever does it for him saw my tweet, read my blog and liked the story enough to retweet it, well that’s just awesome. Here is the post, if you haven’t read it and you’d like to:  http://tinyurl.com/65phusy

A huge thank you Bruce Springsteen and to the guy or gal who runs his twitter page for retweeting me and giving my blog such a nice plug. You made my day. Ok, maybe my year.

Springsteen’s in Rome – I think I’ll Meet Him

Italy is a country blessed with beauty, food, culture and an incurable disorganization that boarders on humorous, even when it messes with you. Like when you’ve been waiting for the bus for an hour in the rain, only to find out from a passerby that the transit workers are on strike for the day because they collectively decided they needed to watch the football match instead of go to work.

Things in Rome seem to work by not working. They fall apart so obviously and dramatically, and in the end, they come together so calmly, like: what do you mean you were worried? This is Italy. Living in Italy is like watching a never-ending soap opera, full of stress and emotional highs and lows. But when it counts, Italy usually comes through.

Such was my experience when my friend Ale and I decided on a whim that we should go meet Bruce Springsteen at the Rome International Film Festival. I knew he was going to be there. Did I think I would see him? No. Did I think I would meet him? No.

I’ve never been to a red carpet situation before, (the Calgary International Film festival doesn’t count…sorry Calgary, love you!) so to pop my red carpet cherry with the premiere of the Boss’s new film The Promise: The Making of the Darkness on the Edge of Town was like losing your virginity to Ron Jeremy. There were lots of people, lots of press, and lots of excitement.

We just walked up, stood at the barricade for about a half hour with a whole bunch of enthusiastic Italian men, and some women, and then, there he was. Il Boss.

The Boss

If cool was a man, he would be Bruce Springsteen. There’s no pretense there. There’s ego, obviously, but it’s contained within a soul that’s so sincere and deep, the ego’s a warm one. He talks to his fans, engages them, signs everything they put in his face. This would have been a bonus for me, being that the people around us spoke to him only in Italian, however when my time came, when the Boss himself was looking at my face, the only words that would come out of my mouth were: “Hi Bruce, Ciao Bruce, Hey Bruce… Bruce!” Words, which ironically are my livelihood, seriously failed me. But he didn’t mind the blubbering. He just smiled and said “hi sweetheart,” and then after he walked away, he turned around and smiled again and waved, and I’m going to say he was waving at me, because to me, he was.

I still haven’t processed the evening. I don’t know it’ll ever really sink in. It was magic. I felt like a child. Yes, I choked in front of a man I call Uncle Bruce because I’ve known and loved him for my entire life, but it was a such a calming, transcendent experience that I don’t even care.

I’ve been getting asked a lot lately if I’m into older men because of my Bruce love. To clear this up, I have never thought of him in a romantic way. He’s the same age as my dad. I look at Bruce as a sort of “favourite uncle” who I’ve known through song since I was three and who just happens to be the world’s best rock star.

My Aunts and my mom’s friends keep emailing me about how lucky I am to have met the Boss and how sexy and cool they think he is. Even at 61, there’s no rock star on earth that has what he has.

Springsteen is the last of the great rock performers. The ones who did for the love of doing it. The ones who did it, who do it, because, in his words: “More than rich, more than famous, more than happy, I wanted to be great.” And he’s kept that promise to himself and to his fans throughout his over 30-year career.

He treats his fans well. This is something not all rock stars do because they don’t have to. The Boss is a man of the people, by the people and for the people, so he gives to his people.

One of the loveliest things I have heard him talk about is the conversation, the dance, he’s had with his audience for all these years. Like we’re all talking shop with him in a dimly lit watering hole in Jersey. We’ve all been with him on this crazy ride. In the world of selfish, narcissistic rock stars, this is an acknowledgment that makes lifelong fans smile, reassured that they’ve picked a great artist to dedicate their time to. And it makes his music more enjoyable because you know that he’s not lying to you. He’s there with you.

So yes, meeting Springsteen was the realization of a dream for me. I still can’t quite believe it happened. It would be like my devout Catholic Nonna meeting the Pope… or, better yet, Jesus himself. Being that I named my beloved little blog after some of Bruce’s song lyrics, I felt I needed to share this experience with you.

I don’t think it will be the last, however. I think I will meet the Boss again in a setting where we can talk about music and life  (delusional self-confidence is my new thing), but for now, I have a smile, a wave and a hello from him. For now, that’s more than enough.

For all the bitching I’ve done about Italy, I really do love it here. It is as much a part of me as my love for Bruce is. And I truly believe that this experience could have only happened here. Only in Italy could you walk up to the red carpet at the movie premiere of the world’s biggest rock star a mere 30 minutes before his arrival and have this kind of experience.

The reason it all happened so “smoothly” was because it was raining, and Italians don’t like rain, so only the diehards “braved” the weather. Please, I’m from Canada!

I also think the experience was able to happen because security here is more like a relaxed conversation between drinking buddies.

“Security, what do you mean? Nah, we don’t need much security. Not to worry.”

“True. Who would want to hurt Bruce Springsteen, the Boss? We love him!”

Really. That’s the logic here, which goes back to what I was saying before about how things seem to work by not working. Because Italy is a country shaped like a boot, and the head of the body it belongs to is in the clouds, among the stars.

I also decided that I don’t like men who like Bruce as much as I do, which is pretty funny, but apparently three’s a crowd in my lifelong love affair with Springsteen.

Me and Ale

For everyone who has written me about how lucky I am to have met him – thank you. It was a thrill and an amazing experience. However, I’m a big believer in going after what you want. For me, this was something that was always going to happen. To borrow a quote from the Boss himself: When it comes to luck, you make your own.