The Albert Canadian Tire Ad

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.

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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).

12 comments to The Albert Canadian Tire Ad

  • Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggoooooooooooos!

    Just another fun one, wherever you are (preferably NOT an Argos game… or Ti-Cats home game.)

  • My personal favourite has always been, “Wreck things, break things, throw things AROUND!” This on the grounds of its unusual length and complexity. I last saw it used to great effect during the Great Northeastern Blackout of 2003 (without, I should add, any actual property damage being occasioned. In that case, the chant was being humourously and ironically deployed by a number of tavern-goers waiting out the power outage in civilized fashion: with BEvERage in hand.)

  • Albert

    Sappy script, clumsy acting? Ouch! This commercial was embraced because of the acting and the script!! (and damm good acting I must say!) A swipe at this historical sentimental advertisment is a swipe at all of Canada. LOL

  • @ Albert: First, thanks for stopping by and leaving evidence of your visit. That is always encouraged ’round here.

    I am prepared to admit that “sappy” may have been a little strong; I probably should have gone with “saccharine.” I think the commercial is sentimental but not over the top until the last line that Coach #1 utters to Coach #2. You know, I think those two guys take the lion’s share of the hit for my characterization of the acting as “clumsy” too. The kids do alright, but the coaches…well, let’s just say I’m not surprised that they didn’t become recurring characters in CT ads. It was interesting to me that when I was thinking about the spot from memory (i.e. before seeing it again for the first time in years on YouTube), I actually didn’t recall that the two coaches ever appeared on screen – my mind had edited them out and the end of the commercial was Albert skating off the ice, waving, and disappearing down the tunnel.

    Just looking at the email addy supplied with your comment: you wouldn’t happen to be the guy that directed the commercial, would you? If so, this is truly exciting! You have to tell me – was the issue of Albert’s given name on the back of his sweater discussed during production? I loved that ad back in the day just like every other Canadian, but NOW I NEED TO KNOW, DAMMIT!

  • @Doug: Hmmm, I think you’re right; how the hell did I get “Director” out of the IMDB listing? More mysteries, dammit!

    Oh, and Doug: http://www.tinyurl.com will take those monster links and turn them into ones that are less likely to break, are easier to type and (at 20-25 characters) can fit nicely in a “tweet.”

  • Spouse

    I think it is a lovely ad. In fact, it made me cry when I watched it again after all these years. :)

  • Albert

    Actually, I am not the director, but the actor. I saw this discussion in the blog and had to comment. As for the name on the jersey, I do not remember if that came up during production, but I am sure someone must have mentioned it(It was so many years ago). It is interesting that I have seen this very issue come up in various postings and discussions. It is also amazing that such a simple and matter-of-fact commercial did become such a big deal when it came out. I do not think that the commecial would have been as popular if the Albert chant did not become so famous. In that respect, thank you Leafs for sucking (no offense to Leafs fans). BTW, the kid in the commercial did a dam good acting job – LOL

  • We figured it out, or at least came up with a pretty good guess eventually, but thanks for setting us straight for sure.

    As for the chant becoming famous, I don’t think the Leafs suck-itude can take all the credit, despite the undoubtedly significant size of that sucking. For example, here’s a link to an article from SI back in November 1984 about the chant arising at a Vancouver Canucks game. (Be sure to read the end of the story by clicking on the link on that page for page 3 too).

    Coast to coast!

    Oh, and Albert – please check your Yahoo email, I wanted to ask you something else.

  • […] ad featured prominently in hockey broadcasts at the time, and it became so widely known that – as I mentioned in a post earlier this year – disgruntled fans in hockey rinks (and football stadiums – see below, and remember it’s not […]

  • You mentioned on your homepage that you suspected you were about to receive a lot of visits from Grantland, and you were right at least in this case.

    I’m thinking about your reference to the paper bags worn by fans at games being related to the Unknown Comic, and I think that misses the mark. The Unknown Comic wore a bag over his head as his entire shtick, it was who he was.

    Wearing bags on your head to games, which I believe off-hand to have started with New Orleans Saints fans in the ‘Aints period, was a public statement of personal shame. The fan(s) in question was embarrassed to be a fan of his/her team, to be seen in public and possibly on a local/national broadcast attending its game. The fan is also embarrassed by his inability to stay away, so there’s a level of care there, the fan hasn’t checked out of the relationship. The solution to this is to attend in disguise. Now, a good, professional disguise would allay the shame, but wouldn’t show up on camera, and would not deliver the public statement, so a conspicuous one is necessary. Thus the bag. The bag preserves the fan’s anonymity, and sends a clear message to the other fans, the management and ownership of the team that the current state of affairs is untenable.

    As far as the origin of the use of a paper bag as a method of disguise to avoid personal humiliation, I can think of much earlier instances than the Unknown Comic. Sylvester the Cat’s son would often resort to donning one when their efforts to predate were stymied, usually by a cheerful but pugnacious kangaroo. I remember Sylvester would usually rip the bag off his son’s head, try to diffuse his feelings of shame and guilt, and harangue him to keep the faith and help out with the next attempt at bagging lunch. I haven’t gone on Google (yet) to research any earlier instances, but I think we’re on more solid ground with this than the Unknown Comic.