WTF!!!! Columbia House is Back!?!

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Not sure if this is confirmation of the continuing popularity of vinyl, or a sign that the four horsemen will be riding into town to hail the apocalypse, but Columbia House has announced they are coming back.

Only four months after declaring bankruptcy, Columbia House is set to return in 2016 as a vinyl order delivery service. While vinyl is a mere 7% of the current music market, it is the only physical medium of recorded music that has seen sales grow. In 2015 vinyl accounted for one-third of the physical market and saw sales escalate by 52%.

In their glory days Columbia House did over a billion dollars in annual sales, spurred on by their “buy 8 CD’s for a penny” promotions. They fell rapidly out of favor with the rise of digital downloading and streaming over the last few years.

However, even with CD and DVD sales falling, many retailers have embraced the vinyl resurgence and opened whole sections to meet the demand. Here in Toronto, you can find record retailers as well as clothing stores such as Urban Outfitters jumping into the market and in some cases offering exclusive titles.

Let’s wait and see what incentives Columbia House is planning to offer the public upon its return. It should be interesting.

HOW MUCH!?!?!?! or A Christmas Carol (1951)

Wrote this last year, as a part of my first post. Thought I might put it back out there for ya as I’m watching  it now.

A Christmas Carol or Scrooge

The 1951 Alastair Sim Version

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For many years I have stayed up late on Christmas Eve so that I could watch the old 1951 classic black and white version of A Christmas Carol. For me, it is the ultimate holiday movie. While not exactly what I would call family friendly, it does put forward not only the themes of kindness and generosity, but also the desire for redemption.

The movie acts as morality tale, horror film, and holiday movie all in one shot, which pretty much speaks to its lasting appeal. Then of course there is the multitude of versions inspired by both the original Dickins tale, and this film. Bill Murray, Mickey Mouse, the Muppets, Jim Carrey and many many many others have all taken shots at telling this story.

However, from a collectors point of view, beyond the books and movies (movie in Blu-Ray can be had for about $15.99 from Amazon) – what is there?

Glad you asked.

The movie posters!

Yep. The movie posters.

A quick search online and you will find yourself at movieposters.com which is located in Toronto and has a massive selection of movie posters to be had.

Seeing as I’m sticking to the 1951 film, you can find two different reproductions at great price points.

The first is close to your standard sized movie poster at 26” by 39” for $10.99. Standard size these days is 27” by 40” but places that sell posters usually also sell frames that will fit any film poster size.

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Of course, if you don’t have wall space for something so big, you can go with the more classic look poster that is only 11” by 17” which is also $10.99.

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Then, let’s not forget the collectors dream come true – an original poster!

The one selling at movieposters.com is not standard size and does not come cheap. Remember that this movie holds legendary status amongst people that love both old films and Christmas themed films.

The poster itself is 44.5” by 82.5” which is both wider and taller than me – and I’m pretty wide and tall. It also sells for $2874.99; which means, sign up for their newsletter and wait for a 15% off sale because even that will save you a few hundred bucks. Of course, a serious collector will love ya forever with a gift like that, but let’s face it; it is out of the price range for most of us.

 

Barrettbites Top Ten Spectacular Vinyl Releases of 2015

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Try as I might to live in denial of it, the music world has evolved into this digital place where music is consumed by means of digital downloads and streams in the millions. Still, there are those amongst us for whom vinyl has remained the preferred method of listening and enjoying our cherished music collection. The tactile nature of removing wax from a sleeve, gently dropping a needle on a spinning disc, sitting back in a chair and, finally investigating the album cover for bits of information that will further connect, and maybe even enhance the joy received when the music seeps into your consciousness.

For those of us caught up in vinyl, sometimes we are given opportunities to get rare and collectible records that are not only artistic expressions by the artists, but also the people who are creating the vinyl itself. Coloured vinyl not only sounds as great as the standard black, but stands out in the crowd for its unique look combined with awesome tunes. Here are ten outstanding examples of 2015 releases that took that extra step in not only releasing music, but providing incredible presentation too.

Lou Barlow – Brace The Wave

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Alternative lo-fi stalwart Lou Barlow (Sebadoh & Dinosaur Jr.) put out a solo work this year that not only sounded great, but also looked the part. Brace The Wave crashed the psyche with Barlow’s patented confusion and self loathing, dropping lines like “remember we were hipsters sleeping with our cats / young and thin and fucking crazy.” The album was desolate and beautiful in directing pain into expression. The vinyl itself had two variant editions. The first was sea foam green and the second was a combination of sea foam green and pink wax limited to 500 hand numbered copies. Needless to say, that 2nd option sold out quickly.

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

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Seemingly a part of everyone’s best of 2015 list, Barnett topped that by landing four Grammy nominations a few days back. Sometimes… is the kind of record that you just can’t help but play over and over again, as wit and rock join forces. In a rather unique move, the album was released with 4 variant editions being sold in different geographical regions. North Americans had orange coloured vinyl combined with a 7” and turntable slip mat. Australia and New Zealand had heavyweight white vinyl. The UK got two variants which included versions that were 2 LPS’s of orange translucent vinyl or two yellow translucent LP’s.

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

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Not to be outdone by Courtney Barnett, not only does Sound & Color end up on every year end list and receive four Grammy nominations, but it also lands one of those nominations in the Album Of The Year category. Upon its initial release, Alabama Shakes put out a clear variant edition for mass release and a more exclusive white coloured edition on sale at Urban Outfitters outlets.

City & Colour – If I Should Go Before You

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Combining folk, soul, country and rock, Dallas Green and Co. put out a record that changes direction much like the seasons. It seems appropriate that they would also release four different variant editions for their fans. The first, sold through their website and at shows was on ‘black smoke’ vinyl. The second, also sold on their home page, was a very ‘holiday season’ looking two disc set on red followed by green vinyl. Only 300 were issued. The next set, limited to 1000 copies, was exclusive to Newbury Comics on two pieces of ‘coke bottle’ green 180 gram vinyl. Finally, from band’s store was the ‘Beauty Bundle’ box set. Limited to 1000 copies, it included two pieces of ‘bone’ colored 180 gram vinyl that plays at 45rpm, as well as a bunch of other goodies for the hardcore fan willing to drop $80.00.

Calexico – Edge Of The Sun

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Such is the landscape that Calexico creates in its musical atmosphere, it just isn’t enough for them to write a bunch of singular songs that are placed together to create an album. They carefully craft a soundtrack which puts together music to evoke an emotional response. Their blend of Mariachi-Americana brings up a south-west location, but the camera then pans towards the setting sun and you’re hooked. Set on two pieces of 180 gram vinyl, their single variant edition has one turquoise while the other is mint green coloured. Looks and sounds great.

Juliana Hatfield Three – Whatever, My Love

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A natural follow up to 1993’s Become What You Are, (which it is), Whatever, My Love flows with much more ease than any of Hatfield’s more recent work. Released through American Laundromat Records, Whatever, My Love had a printing of only 500 vinyl copies, split between a clear version (125) and a purple splatter variant (375).

Langhorne Slim & The Law – The Spirit Moves

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Slim is a bit of an eclectic master, with themes of joy and misery intermingling with equal passion. Essentially, he is fearless in bending songs around multiple influences. Horns play on a number of tracks and in a different way each time. On “Spirit Moves” he uses them as a counter melody, similar to Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring Of Fire” and then brings them back later for “Life’s A Bell” as a Memphis Horns/Stax/Otis Redding tool for emotional emphasis. With the ever present acoustic instruments, some songs drift towards sounds reminiscent of Nick Drake and Cat Stevens, but the album as a whole pulls everything back into that unique Langhorne Slim vision. The variant vinyl is ‘coke bottle’ clear matching the tone of the album cover.

Django Django – Born Under Saturn

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Riding slow moving waves of psychedelic electronica mixed with surf rock, Django Django deliver a record that is a thrill for your ears. Born Under Saturn is like taking a drive (as a passenger) in a convertible with a blindfold on; you don’t know where the hell you’re going but the journey sure feels incredible. They also had one of the most outstanding looking pieces of vinyl for their alternate editions having orange translucent vinyl with white splatter effect giving it a look of fireworks going off.

Metric – Pagans In Vegas

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Haines sticks mostly to the themes of broken relationships and rising back up after a fall. While this album might seem like a bit of rock ‘n’ roll cliché at times, Metric pulls off the desired impact of connecting us to the music. So when Haines’ vocals demand “the stars above” on early single “The Shade (I Want It All)”, the listener feels entitled to it as well. Metric put out two alternate vinyl versions of Pagans In Vegas. Sold through the band’s own web store, the first variant was on 1180 gram audiophile vinyl and limited to 1200 copies. The other, sold through Newbury Comics, was on white coloured vinyl and limited to 1000 copies.

Alvvays – Eponymous

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While this Alvvays debut record was technically a 2014 release, its steady rise in prominence has made it a 2015 staple. Led by the single “Archie, Marry Me”, Alvvays has created an album that is a damn fine ‘90’s – esque’ alt-rock record. In addition to the standard black vinyl sold through record stores, the band released four other versions. Included in the mix was electric blue, clear, orange and a pale blue splatter.

Barrettbites Top Ten Records of 2015

 

  1. Alvvays – eponymous

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Chalked full of stories about the complexities of relationships, Alvvays have constructed an album that is able to seem both introspective and dynamic. Using nonchalance and humour simultaneously, they set the scenes of emotional distress to an indie soundtrack and let the barbs fly. Go back and take another listen to “Marry Me, Archie” if you need proof of the power struggle within a relationship.

  1. Metric – Pagans In Vegas

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Metric has never hidden their overwhelming desire to headline a fan-filled stadium show, and Pagans In Vegas has become the vehicle that drives them there. More than mere hyperbole, they seem to have found the perfect mix of Cure-like synth, 90’s indie guitar, and electro/dance rhythm. The tunes are catchy enough to get the casual fan singing along and the loyal fan seeking deeper meaning from the lyrics and, dare I say, inspiration.

  1. Best Coast – California Nights

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Gone is the warm washing fuzz of reverb on everything that had the words lo-fi and surf rock attached to their records, and in is a more ‘nineties-esqe’ alt-rock tone that could be slipped into a mix between the Lemonheads and Garbage. Thematically, this is also the case as Bethany Cosentino has switched gears and presented herself in a more realistic position as lyrics deal with insomnia, heartbreak and happiness in pill. The triumph of this record is that it doesn’t live in a world of manufactured dreams come true, eternal sun, and beaches. The emotions behind it are universal and hence you can relate to it. California Nights is proof positive that beauty can be found in the balanced mix of power-pop and introspection, and that’s a sunny thought all by itself.

  1. Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People

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Like early Bowie, Furman seems to relish changes in identity, except rather than do it from album to album Perpetual Motion People is a record that does it from song to song, and sometimes, within a single song. “Haunted Head” deals with one’s own self inflicted torment. “Can I Sleep In Your Brain” seeks respite from torment with a wish to become co-dependent. In turn, “Lousy Connection” hides themes of emotional distance behind old sounds of Doo-Wop and killer saxophone leads. To a certain extent, Furman makes being screwed up sound fun in his unique version of a poetic stream of consciousness.

  1. City & Colour – If I Should Go Before You

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Dallas Green may have started City and Colour as a means to introduce his ‘rootsy’ brand of song craft, but those days are now more of an ‘origin story’ than the reality of where he is. Much like Wilco, who turned from alt-country to sonic experimenters, Green took his acoustic-based leanings and is now creating expansive tunes that, at times, owe more to blues, soul and even psychedelia than the modern ‘folk rock’ he was labeled with on earlier City and Colour records.

  1. Leon Bridges – Coming Home

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His peer group may include contemporaries like Nick Waterhouse and Raphael Saadiq, but Bridges’ ups the game of capturing old-school R&B by pulling in music that could’ve been created by the Blues Brothers Band. He’s got the brass sounding like the legendary Memphis Horns, a deep groove reminiscent of Duck Dunn and the minimalist guitar leads that you might swear were coming off Steve Cropper. Then you mix in a style that slides in a suave 60’s Bacharach martini dance party and you get a glimpse of the power possessed in Coming Home.

  1. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats – eponymous

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It takes a special kind of musician to evoke a slew of soul greats and retain an energy and sound that is still their own. Springsteen did this by mixing Dylan, a preacher style intensity towards rock ‘n’ roll, a few soul influences, and concocted a sound all his own. Nathaniel Rateliff has taken the ’69 comeback version of Elvis, added southern rock themes and walked into a STAX studio to create a record that is instantly relatable. Of course, you would never have caught “the King” singing “son of a bitch / give me a drink” as Rateliff does on “S.O.B”. It just wouldn’t have been very, um… regal.

  1. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

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If Alabama Shakes debut Boys & Girls was a first shot across the bow against musical mediocrity, then Sound & Color is a full on declaration of war. Not content to merely ride the wave of being the best rock ‘n’ soul or Southern rock band to currently grace the planet, they expand and grow. It’s the kind of growth and experimentation one got from Radiohead when they leapt from The Bends to OK Computer; or in other words – WOW!

  1. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

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Sarcastic and playful in the most observational of ways, Courtney Barnett makes stinging shots sound like a musical sit-com. Characters inhabit a ‘Seinfeld-esqe’ place where nothing seems larger than life and decisions don’t necessarily lead to conclusions. However, the journey is one hell of an adventure. Barnett makes music that is fun, thought provoking, and really damn catchy. It’s a really weird moment to hear your children singing “all I want to be is an elevator operator, can you help me please.”

  1. Terra Lightfoot – Every Time My Mind Runs Wild

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Every so often something comes along that just smacks you in the head with something so freaking unexpected you look for a house number on the cave you’ve been sleeping in. Perhaps it’s a debut album, an opening act you had never heard of before, or, as is the case for me, you just quite plainly arrived late to the party. Whatever the case, Terra Lightfoot has just lit the light bulb above my cranium and I’m hitting my forehead with that big “a-ha” moment.

What seems most remarkable is just how many influences pop out all at once. A foot in the Chicago blues, another in Memphis soul, and then she puts a third one in Nashville. The result is a combustible and full out gritty rock ‘n’ roll album.

Ten Anti-Christmas Blasts (that will make you laugh, weep or see red…)

http://www.edge.ca/2015/12/23/ten-anti-christmas-songs/

Everyone has a holiday saturation point; that place where good cheer can turn to outright hostility.  Perhaps it is the crowds, or maybe someone stole that long awaited parking spot. It could be that you’ve heard “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas” just a tad too much; whatever the case, it’s at that moment when something… anything… is needed to shake up the insanity of the season before you just scream and possibly punch someone in the nose. When things have come to that particular breaking point, I put on the anti-Christmas songs guaranteed to get you on the naughty list.

Holly Golighly – Christmas Tree On Fire

Released a couple of years ago, “Christmas Tree On Fire” tells the story of someone just too damn lazy to throw out that old, dried up holiday kindling. Essentially the tree is ablaze and the whole frickin’ house burns down around them. Golightly sings in a first person tale filled with humour, horror and little chance of a happy ending.

Clarence Carter – Back Door Santa

Nothing ends goodwill quite like having a back-stabbing, marriage-ending friend sneaking in to make your significant other happy while you’re out at work. It’s one thing to catch ‘mommy kissing Santa Claus’, but it’s a whole different issue to be caught up in this kind of soap opera.

Ramones – Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)

Sure you want chestnuts roasting by the open fire, but chances are good that X-mas stress will bring out the worst in someone you know. So take some advice from the Ramones and just try your best to de-escalate the situation with a good mix of music and begging.

Aimee Mann – You’re A Mean One Mister Grinch

Take the animation away and this song is rather sinister. Taken from Aimee Mann’s One More Drifter in the Snow, the combination of Grant Lee Philips narration and Mann’s near croon has “You’re A Mean One Mister Grinch” sounding downright diabolical.

De La Soul – Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa

Christmas 1991 was gifted the hip hop horror story of “Millie Pulled A Pistol On Santa.” Not for the faint of heart, it’s the fictional account of a girl facing down… well, I don’t want to give away the whole story if you haven’t heard it. Let’s just say it’s as far away from the holiday spirit as one can get.

Sufjan Stevens – That Was The Worst Christmas Ever

The magic of the holiday season loses a bit of luster when expectations are met with earth shattering reality. Stevens has the Christmas music matched with that depressing moment your dreams crash into the earth.

Pogues (featuring Kirsty MacColl) – Fairytale of New York

Nothing brings out the anti-Christmas spirit quite like a duet between a drunken couple throwing nasty barbs at one another on the streets of New York. You know what ‘they’ say about the very fine line between love and hate…

Neko Case – Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis

Some Christmas cards have more than sentiment; and when you’re dealing with the dreams of the down and out… well, they can be both beautiful and heartbreaking. Covering the classic Tom Waits “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis”, Neko Case will haunt your dreams.

Killers – Don’t Shoot Me Santa

Santa catches a serial killer who begs for his life. Only The Killers could come up with such a demented little saga of holiday destruction. Funny thing is, the song is so twisted, you’re kind of hoping neither Santa nor ‘the killer’ gets out alive.

 

Oscar The Grouch – I Hate Christmas

No Christmas list is complete without an appearance from a muppet… even an anti-Christmas list. With that in mind I give you Oscar the Grouch doing his best to destroy the holidays on Sesame Street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buying New Vinyl (In Canada)… when the economy has gone to shit!

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“Are you sure you really needed that album” asks my wife as she looks at a recent credit card statement. Don’t get me wrong, we NEVER carry a balance from one month to the next, it’s just that the exchange rate has gone through the roof recently. So, what cost a dollar last year is costing a buck thirty plus shipping (which is also far more expensive because of the falling dollar). In other words, “OH WOE IS ME!” if you’re buying new vinyl from south of the border, you can quite easily go broke.

To make matters worse, some of the best music sites have yet to figure out how to ship items at anything near a reasonable cost. For instance, let’s take a look at the recent rerelease of Urge Overkill’s Stull EP on Touch & Go Records. The white vinyl edition of Stull sells for $16.00 USD, a price I’m willing to pay for a ten inch record. However, the shipping is $34.30 through the USPS (United States Postal Service), meaning the record is now triple its retail value. Then if you add the exchange rate the price jumps up to $66.89, making Stull’s cost quadruple the original asking price.

Now, not all sites use USPS to ship, and thank goodness for that. Recently, I ordered two albums from Newbury Comics and it was a better scenario. Paul Simon’s Graceland and the Modern Lovers eponymous record on coloured vinyl had asking prices that, combined, cost me $45.98 and another $16.00 in shipping for both. Newbury uses a courier service that charges only $14.00 for the first item and another $2.00 for each additional item. Of course, now with the current financial crisis sending the Canadian Dollar to an eleven year low, that small fortune I was spending is now an actual fortune and quite a bit more difficult to justify. My $62.97 USD bill shows up as $83.73 CAD on my credit card statement. OUCH!

When I first started ordering stuff from the US, the Canadian dollar was on par or better than USD. Now I’m looking at a huge markup that has made internet ordering direct from US record labels far less desirable.

Still, you do have options. First, if the label is using USPS, fire off a quick note to them expressing interest in their product, but not their shipping method. If they care about customer service, they will investigate alternate shipping methods. If that doesn’t work, go to your local record store to find out if they can order it in. It isn’t likely that you’ll get the “collector’s edition coloured vinyl” available only to fans making advance orders… but it is worth a shot. Finally, if that favorite artist of yours is coming to town, bring along some cash to their merch booth. Chances are, if they didn’t sell out during the advance order stage, it will be on the tour bus waiting for a chance to separate you from your money.

Regardless, even for a hardcore music buyer, the prices are now out of range. If only some entrepreneur with more brains than I could devise a way to distribute exclusive items in Canada, the costs would come down and music fans in the Great White North would be very happy. As it is, my vinyl orders will have to be filed under occasional – if at all. The vinyl revival may end not because of lack of interest, but instead because it is cost prohibitive… at least for us Canadian shoppers!

Parapan Adventures pt 1 – Track & Field

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No sooner had we settled into our seats then – SMASH – the track was twisted into a chaotic scene of wheelchairs and riders all over the ground. Flying at about 30km per hour, a slight miscalculation by a single athlete resulted in five of them being taken out of the race in a single shot. I exclaim to no one in particular, “Holy crap, these wheelchair races are a cross between speed skating and NASCAR. The athletes don’t need bicycle helmets; they need body armour.”

The first run of the men’s T54 800 metre final only had three racers in a field of eight cross the finish line. The results were (pun intended) wiped out and the race was done over again, with Canadians Alex Dupont and Joshua Cassidy finishing gold and silver in what proved to be a highlight of the evening’s events.

Yet sports fans in our city seem overwhelmingly apathetic to these thrilling acts of athleticism here at the Parapan Am Games. Race after race, event after event, performed to spectators given permission to take just about any seat because the York University venue had ten times more empty seats than butts placed in them.

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For just a moment, remove the ‘Para’ portion of Parapan and picture the power and skill it takes a pair of runners tied together to run world class times completely in sync.

Terezinha Guihermina of Brazil has done just that here this week. On August 11th, her performance was only two seconds off the pace that won Andre DeGrasse the gold medal in the men’s 100 metre event at the Pan Am Games. Oh, I forgot to mention, she is blind and runs with the help of a guide. This gets me thinking; these are not the feats of an athlete who should have an asterisk beside her name to denote a disability. Her only limitation is the one we choose to put in front of her by not recognizing the incredible scale of her accomplishments on the same level as her peers in the Pan American Games.

Essentially, Guihermina is a rock star without an audience, holding world records in the 100, 200 and 400 metre women’s T11. She ran last night in the 400m semi-final to a crowd that was diminishing as the night went on. Sure, there is a good contingent of enthusiastic fans, but honestly, when orange shirt volunteers are shouting encouragement more loudly than paying spectators, we need to question our perception of the Parapan Am Games.

For my part, I see world class athletes competing in events unique to their gifts… which isn’t any different than able bodied athletes taking part in their sports. So, perhaps it is time to incorporate the ‘para’ athletes into the full spectacle of the Pan Am and Olympic games. Why not have the T 54 100 metre wheelchair final run at the same event as the 100 metre sprint final.

Last night, I heard “O Canada” played twice and watched our athletes receive a bunch of medals. It was an inspirational night, not because I saw people with disabilities overcoming adversity, but rather, I saw elite athletes performing feats I couldn’t imagine doing in my wildest dreams.

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