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Stay classy, 2006 

A look back at the year in which the gloves didn’t just come off, they were photographed without underwear. by Sue Carter Flinn, Mike Fleury, Stephanie Johns and Tara Thorne

Agricola Street: Not just for antiquing anymore—although, you can still do that too, if you’d like. Frankly, you can do almost anything these days on Agricola, given the variety of things that have moved onto the historic north end street. Once seen as too sketchy to be trusted, Agricola has turned itself around. Close proximity to studio space and relatively cheap rent has attracted a large (and growing) collection of young artists, musicians and new retailers. Second-hand stores—like newcomer Lost & Found—stellar bakeries, cafes and diners, hair salons, the strangely compelling Army/Navy surplus store, and yes, some damn fine antiques…if you haven’t been on Agricola in a while, go now. With rent still rising, old neighbourhoods are benefitting from bursts of new energy, and nowhere is the trend more apparent than the ’Gric. MF

American Apparel: After what seemed like a million years of waiting, American Apparel finally decided we were worth it. I enjoy that place, not because of the prices, because those aren’t so hot, but I do like it immensely because of the clothes completely free of crazy graphic designs and the like. No logos, no rhinestones, no saucy sayings. It’s relaxing, and the most relaxing part of all is that I can go in, browse, and not have to get things immediately because I know the store is going to be there tomorrow. I also like the cute staff. SJ

Carell, Steve: Ah, Steve Carell—your superstardom is pleasing to us. This year, the American retread of Ricky Gervais’ brilliant BBC series The Office continued to be the worst idea on TV that somehow works. It’s found its own voice, and has managed to win over even the most skeptical fans of the British series. Credit that in large part to the casting of Steve Carell, who has been consistently churning out comedic gold since his days as Produce Pete on The Daily Show (incidentally, Carell also helped make Little Miss Sunshine one of the best experiences at The Oxford this year). As the US series continues in its third season, here’s hoping the writers of the show can maintain the show’s tension without losing our interest. Let’s also hope that Carell continues to make wise career decisions. MF

Celebrity Apologies: Two thousand six may have been the year that shame died, but shamed celebrities still tried to apologize when they went temporarily bonkers. After ranting that Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world, Mel Gibson insisted that he was not an anti-Semite, and blamed the whole incident on booze. The world was skeptical. Michael Richards made strange, awkward pleadings for forgiveness on The Late Show with David Letterman after his cringe-inducing racist tirade, but went off on way too many bizarre tangents (Hurricane Katrina? Wha?), and ultimately made us feel just as awkward as when we first watched the actual incident he was apologizing for. In any case, it will be hard to watch Mad Max or the ubiquitous Seinfeld reruns the same way ever again. MF

Celebrity vaginas: Just when you’re thinking things can’t get any worse, they always do. Why Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears go out without undies is a matter of personal preference. Why they wear short skirts and high-kick their way out of cars surrounded by photographers is another. There was a time when photos of bald cooters would’ve ruined careers. We long for that time. TT

Church shows: What is it about church shows? Is it the grand architectural surroundings? The ethereal echoes? A perceived closeness to the G-O-D? We dunno, but something about live music in a church tends to bring out the best in a performer, and an audience (maybe it’s some kind of leftover childhood religious shame, but audiences at church shows are just plain better behaved). There were numerous highlights this year, including Jill Barber’s candlelit performance in St. Matthew’s on Barrington and Gypsophilia’s masquerade dance party in the North Street Church (kudos to the brave souls dancing on stilts) but as a rule, Halifax’s church shows were worthy of our collective praise. Amen. MF

Crosbie, Lynn: I have a Saturday morning ritual. First I run over to Joe’s to pick up the papers, or to be more precise, Lynn Crosbie’s pop culture column in The Globe and Mail. That is, until my weekends came crashing down around me. Crosbie: moved to Tuesday. Replaced by Elizabeth Renzetti’s British culture column. Now, I love Prince Harry shenanigans as much as the next royal lover, but last I checked, The Globe went through Confederation like the rest of us. It’s a strange move to replace intelligent, homegrown pop culture critique with British currency. (I blame Leah McLaren.)

Sure, I could just buy Tuesday’s paper, but let’s face it: the Atlantic Canadian version of our so-called “national” newspaper is so condensed and hacked to shit, there’s nothing left in it during the week, other than another article on Farley Mowat. And when I look online, there are only juicy little peeks at what Crosbie thinks about Michael Richards, K-Fed and Britney’s va-jay-jay exposes, before I’m supposed to hand over my credit card.

In an age where every yahoo has a blog, informed critical analysis of popular—the predominant—culture is difficult to find. Crosbie has a PhD and a knife wit. When I interviewed the writer last year about her new book-length poem Liar, chronicling the death of a relationship, I spoke to a woman that in an ideal world, I’d spend every Friday night with, drinking Scotch and shooting pop-culture shit. But for now, at least we’ll have Tuesdays. SCF

Cruise, suri: Dear Suri, Congratulations on being so damn cute and not demon spawn as we predicted. We checked your back for the ON switch and grudgingly admit you look like Daddy Cruise. Sure we tried, but the worst we can say about you is “nice lid, baby.” You’re so cute, we even declared “Suri Cruise Day” in the editorial department when your highly anticipated photos came out in Vanity Fair. Why am I telling you this? Because when you turn 15 and you’re out with Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt, tossing Vicodin and Cristal shooters down your ribcage, just remember that someone loves you very much. SCF

Dixie Chicks: There’s something new in Natalie Maines’ voice. However you feel about the way the Dixie Chicks handled the ridiculous backlash they endured when Maines made an anti-Bush comment in 2003; even if, after seeing this year’s stellar documentary about that time, Shut Up and Sing, it’s your opinion that they’ve exploited the situation for personal and financial gain; that nothing they faced was that big a deal because hey, they’re really rich; if all you know is the inescapable “Not Ready to Make Nice” and you haven’t heard songs like “Easy Silence” or “Everybody Knows” in which Maines sings of self-doubt, loneliness and fatigue, of surprising heartbreak and stinging betrayal; if you can’t listen to Taking the Long Way and hear how it is grave and defiant, pissed and bewildered, triumphant even, but not the least bit fun; if you don’t believe that if they hadn’t been women performing in a genre whose fans like their ladies in their pretty, quiet places, this never would have happened; and if you can’t consider this band one of true artistry because its name is cutesy and its members are beautiful and their songs all have co-writers, then consider this: they could’ve pretended it never happened.

It would’ve been so much easier to apologize, absorb the hit and retreat, then come back with another record of fun stompers and soaring ballads that would sell lots and have its terrific moments yet still feel curiously detached and impersonal. But the Dixie Chicks took the long way, and they came back around to hit you in the heart. By going through something writ so unfathomably large, these untouchable, famous, wealthy, arena-only musicians have become the most human superstars in popular music.

There’s something new in Natalie Maines’ voice. It’s still as big and as bold and as beautiful as ever. But for the first time, she’s singing not just for her livelihood—she’s singing for her life. TT

The FIFA World Cup: Soccer and I have a history. Starting at the age of four, I played the beautiful game every single summer, without interruption, for almost two decades. However, I never followed the game at the professional level—I didn’t have a favourite team, I didn’t have a favourite player and I couldn’t make sense of all those strange multi-tiered European leagues.

And yet, every four years, I get sucked into the global hysteria that is the World Cup. This year’s tournament was no exception.

But why? Why do I care? It can’t be patriotism—Canada is to soccer as Botswana is to curling. Frankly, it could be straight-up voyeurism, watching in fascination as millions of people in other countries re-prioritize their life around a soccer match, and then have irrational fits of joy/depression depending on the result. Whatever the case, I found a free English-language radio feed on the ’net from soccer-obsessed Britain’s Sun newspaper, and tuned in at work to listen to the games.

Does it make sense? No. When the World Cup ends, do I continue to obsessively follow professional soccer? No. But did I care if Togo was able to pull off an unlikely upset in their first round game against Switzerland? Oddly enough, yes I did. MF

Final Fantasy at St. Matthew’s Church: For some reason, I wasn’t all that pumped when Final Fantasy came to town in November to perform at St. Matthew’s Church. It was the day before my birthday, and my birthday always makes me depressed, so there was one strike already, I suppose. I liked Has a Good Home but didn’t know much of He Poos Clouds, so I wasn’t especially excited. I was eventually talked into it and it was probably the best concert I’ve ever seen in my life. I cried about three times, which I guess isn’t really a good gauge of how good a show is, but I don’t cry at live music ever. It was totally, completely mesmerizing. I started the night thinking the overheard bits of conversation in the line-up outside of the church were going to be the best part. Then Owen Pallett and his crew went to the One World Mexican brunch the next morning. SJ

Heroes: I’m not going to say I watch a lot of television. Sometimes I rent an HBO box set of some kind and watch the whole thing in a few days, but I don’t think that’s out of the ordinary. I know a lot of people that consume TV that way. I’m not a “sit down once a week and watch your stories” kind of gal. I prefer to have my evenings free. Bearing that in mind, I started regularly watching a show this year called Heroes, co-produced and co-written by Jeph Loeb (super-awesome comic book author). Not surprisingly, the show is about superheroes. Specifically, it’s about a small group of people gradually discovering their powers, and putting together some puzzling clues that seem to be alluding to the fact they have to join forces and save the world. The show is shot to look like a comic book, and features some artwork by Loeb’s long-standing comic book partner, Tim Sale. Now, I like comics, but I can’t say I’m a hardcore fan—you don’t have to be in order to love this show. I can confidently say it’s better than your Lost, your Grey’s Anatomy, your House, or what have you. F’reals. SJ

Homegrown Organics: “I am so sick of beets.” “What do you do with parsnips?” “Sorry man, I have to go home and eat apples before the box arrives.” The box. The small Rubbermaid container that’s changed eating habits and party chat around town, thanks to Homegrown Organics’ weekly food delivery service.

It’s like Christmas in a box every Wednesday or Saturday when you exchange your empty box for a new one filled with veggies. The best/worst part is that you never know what’s inside. While you can request that certain items never appear, or add more food to your order, it’s really depends on what’s available. And that’s what you’re going to prepare and eat that week. It requires a little imagination, research and sometimes a bit of suck-it-up-edness, but it’s worth the effort because Homegrown makes you think before you shovel food down your gullet. SCF

In the Dead of the Winter: This terrific inaugural event doubled as a death rattle for the Khyber Club, which after months of rumours was finally shuttered by a city with no clue. Taking place in the middle of February on three of the coldest days of the year, it boasted some of the best in Halifax singer-songwriter talent (Amelia Curran, Al Tuck, Old Man Luedecke, Kevan Corbett, Gabe Minnikin, Dave Carmichael and Andrea Curry among them). On the Saturday, with Jenn Grant and Rose Cousins running late from backing up Matt Mays—a not-so-secret special guest on Sunday—at his Symphony show, the Khyber’s Heather Gibson encouraged poets in the audience to step up. And so Halifax met Tanya Davis. Sunday was the best kind of frenzy as bartenders sold off the remaining booze, making an announcement when the last beer—a Labatt Blue—was handed over from the empty fridge. Joel Plaskett mingled with the hipsters, hangers- on and sad patrons and then sang his song named for the bar. Later, as the doors opened into the frigid night, there were fireworks from the roof. In the Dead of Winter returns on February 7, 2007. Nobody has been able to meet their love down at the Khyber since February 19, 2006. TT

Marie Antoinette: I experienced a moment of complete moviegoing bliss during Marie Antoinette—the perfect triumvirate of pretty, heaving-breast gowns, my favourite filmmaker Sofia Coppola and Siouxsie & The Banshees. Coppola once again demonstrated effortless cool by choreographing a pink-hued 1700s Versailles to a new wave soundtrack filled with dreamy rarities. Aha! A borrowing of ‘80s culture that doesn’t involve black leggings, Lacoste shirts or malnourished bands weaned on their big brothers’ Morrissey albums. Although, be careful what you wish for: Marc Jacobs re-released a fashion collection of flannel and plaid deemed “luxe grunge,” signalling that, like, the ’90s are soooo the new ’80s. But until then my friends, tonight we’re going to take our asymmetrical bangs and pointy boots and party like it’s 1983. SCF

Mexican brunch at One World Cafe: Once upon a time there was a beautiful couple of months where delicious and exotic food was served every Sunday morning. David Cieplinski, local music scene photographer extraordinaire, showcased another astounding talent for lucky north-enders each Sunday at the One World Cafe: the One World Mexican brunch. Sure, for the first week Rachelle was stuck slicing the papaya, and Matt was enlisted to garnish the plates and the food was all sold out in about five minutes, but David kept right on going. Chilaquiles, huevos rancheros and divorcados, burritos, bunuelos, polvorones, frijoles, champurrado and lots more were all on the menu at some point, and everything was made with authentic ingredients and authentic love. Those breakfasts were one of the culinary highlights of the year for me, and I’m going to miss them. However, I’m sure the cafe is going to come up with another tasty replacement for David’s Mexican feasts, and if you make sure to check it out often, you won’t be crying in your coffee about missing such wonderful food like you are now. SJ

NOFX at Alderney Landing: Oh man, remember when NOFX came to town? Now that was a fun time. That concert was only mildly publicized in comparison to the other outdoor concert, it didn’t rain at all, it was in Dartmouth and everyone just looked like they had a blast. You’d see ferry-load after ferry-load of kids coming over from Halifax and as soon as they’d see the Alderney Landing stage they’d all shout “NOFX!” or something. It was great. And if you ever feel nostalgic about having your mom or dad pick you up after a show, that feeling came sailing back after the bands let out that night. There must have been hundreds of parents looking intently out of the car windows in the dark. It really made me feel warm inside. SJ

Peter Duffy’s ghostly violation: There is a well-documented medical phenomenon known as “sleep paralysis”—or “hypnagogia”—wherein a person, shortly before falling asleep, can experience temporary paralysis of the body, and their conscious vision can be distorted by hallucinations. It’s akin to being suspended in a dream-like state, somewhere between consciousness and sleep. In many instances, it is difficult for the affected to tell the difference between what they’re actually seeing, and the illusions created in their own mind. In early December, Peter Duffy wrote two columns in the Chronicle-Herald about being violated by a ghost—as he speculates, possibly a succubus or incubus—which came to him late at night, as he lay in bed, while he was falling asleep. He swears this actually happened. For more on hypnagogia, consult your local library. MF

As my esteemed colleague just pointed out, Peter Duffy did indeed write several riveting columns in the Herald about his “night visitor.” Unlike my colleague, however, I do not think that this supernatural occurrence can be so quickly explained away by “scientific fact.” Fact: We’ve all seen ghosts before. Fact: We’ve all been inappropriately touched by many, if not all, of said ghosts. Fact: No one, to date, has had the raw courage to write about it in such a candid manner. No one, that is, except Peter Duffy. We can only learn from this experience. My most valuable lesson has been that the Chronicle-Herald WILL PRINT ANYTHING COMMITTED TO PAPER. SJ

Picnicface and the Sunday Night Comedy Spectacular: Picnicface have changed my Sunday nights. I know they were just in the paper a few weeks ago, and I don’t mean to dwell on them, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel that Picnicface were one of the nicest things I clued in about this year. I don’t often go to Ginger’s Tavern, and I never really go to see comedy, but they really are two great tastes that taste great together. Improv, sketch comedy, raps, videos and more—it’s like hanging out with friends you don’t know. Cheryl Hann deserves about 50 kinds of medals, and Mark Little and Kyle Dooley will probably get a movie deal really soon. It’s only four dollars per night, but please make sure to go really early. I’d say leave the house at seven at the latest—you don’t want to be standing there like a bum. SJ

Project Runway: Occasionally there’s a television show that’s so crack, people can’t stop trying to recruit others to the tube. My addiction: Project Runway, the only reality show where the contestants are talented—in this case, fashion designers, competing for a bunch of prizes. Sure, it has all the standard reality fodder—forced habitation, trash-talking, a ridiculous elimination ceremony and an ice-cold, air-kissing host, Heidi Klum.

But what sets Runway apart is a magical combination of interesting challenges (contestants design wearable art using materials from a recycling plant, plus outfits for dogs, each other’s mothers and mail couriers), fashion cred (Michael Kors, Vera Wang and Diane von Furstenberg are judges) and insight into the creative process, an unusual thing to see on television. Best of all, it has mentor Tim Gunn, fashion chair for New York’s Parsons design school, where the show is hosted. Decked out in a fabulously tailored suit and a guarded expression, Gunn’s “Make it work” and “Carry on” have become catchphrases for fashionistas around the world. SCF

Sunday shopping: I know Sunday shopping is divisive and the last thing I want to do is write another diatribe about something that’s such a bee in so many bonnets, but when we’re talking about a year in review, specifically, when I’m talking about my year in review, I don’t think it would be right not to mention it just once. I’m glad we’re allowed to shop on Sunday now. I really don’t shop very much, as a rule. I don’t even mind being told when to shop. Obviously we don’t put up a fuss when we see a tired clerk very obviously tidying up the store and adding up the day’s cash, do we? (Note: If you are the type that does this, please stop immediately.) My only problem with the ban was that it was being attached to a religious holiday. If we’re having a day off for our sanity and our wallets, let’s have it. But make it a Wednesday then, if that’s really all it’s about. SJ

TV, when you want to: Much as we hate the term “webisode”, it’s nice to see TV breaking out of its old-fashioned “You’ll watch me when I tell you to watch me” attitude. In the US, ABC and NBC made clumsy first steps towards offering more content (and, dare to dream, full episodes) online. Comedy Central offers streaming, up-to-date and nearly complete episodes of The Daily Show the day after airing, or for the slightly more pretentious (but equally bored) surfer, PBS streams full episodes of its very informative journalism documentary show, Frontline. CBC even posts full episodes of The National the day after broadcast. It’s enough to make anyone reconsider why they bother paying for the buckets of crap that come with a traditional cable TV hook-up. If the trend continues, TV on the internet has the potential to please both impatient ADD-afflicted kids and curmudgeonly old cranks who want to see the Lucy show right now, dammit. And turn off those Gee-Dee commercials! MF

Walsh, Kate When she dropped like a homemade bomb into a chest cavity at the closing moments of Grey’s Anatomy’s first season—“And you must be the woman who’s been screwing my husband”—dressed ominously in New York black, red hair blazing, Addison Shepherd was not supposed to become a fan favourite. But by taking a stock character—the bitchy ex-wife—and making her eminently likeable, Grey’s added another length to its string of unlikely moves by giving you a triangle in which you could root for everyone. (Except for McDouchey.) All of that can be credited to Walsh, a character actor best known for wearing a fat suit as one of Drew’s girlfriends on The Drew Carey Show, who delivers a nuanced portrait of a woman who threw her whole life away and is fighting to get it back. The torturous scenes of Derek shoving her out in the rain without pants in a flashback and of her boozing her way through the day after he leaves her for good are perfect counter-illustrations of Walsh’s range. A sidekick in a lead’s body, she’s reportedly very funny; let’s see more of that. TT

More of 2006 from your favourite neighbourhood editorial team.

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