Posts two days in a row after a month of silence? What what?
I can’t let the NHL playoffs pass without observing that it’s a shame that Boston defenceman Andrew Alberts didn’t play for a Canadian-based team, and about twenty years ago. The reasons for this are, in my opinion, obvious – provided you spent some time in Canada during the 1980s, owned or had access to a television in that same time period, and currently have space available in your brain’s memory banks to devote to useless ephemera. Useless ephemera, you say? Sounds like the intellectual wheelhouse for HiR:tb…
If Alberts played in Canada back in ye olde 1980s, there is no question in my mind that nary a game would have gone by without an “Albert” (no “s”) chant getting started at some point. Alberts wouldn’t have needed to play particularly well, he wouldn’t need (necessarily) to be on the ice, he might not even need to be dressed for the game; Canadian fans would have gotten a kick out of having a legitimate opportunity to chant this guy’s name. Why? Because of this ad (which, incidentally, was pretty much ubiquitous in the Great White North about 25 years ago):
This commercial was wildly popular back in the day, despite – or maybe because of – the sappy script, the cheap sentimentality and the clumsy acting. There is of course, also an obvious and glaring flaw: why the hell is Albert’s given name on the back of his jersey at the end of the ad? How did something so deeply flawed become such a widespread cultural phenomenon? Some mysteries will endure forever, I suppose.
Anyway, I know that Canadian fans would have been chanting for Alberts, because the “Albert” chant at the end of that spot actually did make an appearance at some games back in the late 80’s, despite the complete absence of anyone on either team with such a surname.
Stick with me for a moment, because I need to flesh out some of the cultural background for this story. When the Leafs were truly awful in those latter Ballard years, the frustration of a fanbase that is now (unfortunately) called “Leaf Nation” was overflowing. Keep in mind that back then, we The Disappointed did not have this public spleen-venting outlet you kids call The Internet, because Al Gore hadn’t got around to inventing it yet. There was no Barilkosphere within which to proclaim loudly our anger, restlessness or dissatisfaction. So we did things like showing up at Leaf games with paper grocery bags on our heads¹. Expressive grocery-related haberdashery was all well and good, but chief among the limited and primitive expressive mediums of sports fans at this time was The Chant. The Chant is essentially the same idea as The Heckle – a shouted barb or witticism, occasionally devolving into mere profanity – but syntactically simplified (to permit the synchronization of many mouths) and with a super-added element of loose mob-style organization (to give it superior moral authority).
Thus did it happen, and not infrequently, that as the Leafs were once again thoroughly outclassed on home ice by their opposition of the day, Leaf fans from time to time expressed their angst by chanting “Albert! Albert! Albert!” This was truly a watershed moment in the evolution of chanting: highly constrained by the inherent technical imperatives of the short-form structure of the medium, chant-makers had historically struggled to bring depth and intellectual maturity to their work. Consider, for example, the innate challenges in bringing lyrical beauty or a deeper truth to the world through an expressive form traditionally used to publicize the onset of a toga party, to encourage the commencement of a food fight, or to recommend the drunken public display of female breasts. Yet the “Albert” chant succeeded where so many others had failed: making use of an ironic and humorous reference to a shared cultural externality, Leaf fans made it clear that they needed – nay, demanded – a real life hero, someone like Albert, to lace ’em up for the Blue and White.
¹That sentence is so dated culturally, it’s the lexical equivalent of an archaeological dig in Egypt. For example, going to the game with a bag on your head made reference, in a way, to the Unknown Comic. Also: paper grocery bags were then still the industry standard, not the enviro-retro-chic that they are now (suitably recycled, of course).