Category Archives: Music

Spirits of the Spirit of Radio

2013-07-27 16.26.55Growing up in Toronto in the early 80’s there was only one radio station that mattered – CFNY.  It was ‘alternative’ before the term even existed, spinning the best and most bleeding-edge New Wave, Pop, Rock, and other music of the day, much of it from the UK.  I first heard many of the biggest 80’s hits on CFNY that have since become synonymous with the era, often within days of being released. The station was important enough that the band Rush even wrote a song about it, based on the station’s motto “The spirit of radio”. 

To me, what made it truly great was the sheer variety of what it played and its willingness to take chances on local and lesser known songs that the DJ’s personally liked.  In fact, the station used to have a policy that it would never play the same song more than once in a 24-hour period, which is something practically unheard-of in the repetitive playlist world of radio we live in today.   

Back in the days of cassette tapes, I can still remember staying home on Saturday nights to listen to (and occasionally record) the latest tunes from DJ’s like Chris Sheppard for hours at a time.  I don’t recall exactly where I got this keychain but it reminds me of that once-great station that Toronto has never seen the likes of since.



My short-lived Deadhead phase

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Item #10: Grateful Dead tie-dye t-shirt

Acquired: early 1990’s

I first started discovering the music of the band Grateful Dead in the early 1990’s, just a few years prior to lead singer/guitarist Jerry Garcia’s untimely death.  At the time, the band’s legendary live shows were at an all-time high in popularity, and the band was one of the highest grossing live acts in the US, if not the world.  Unfortunately I never got around to seeing them live, at least not until many years later when the remaining band members toured under a different name.

I bought this t-shirt on a whim from one of my favourite Toronto record stores that was owned by a guy who actually used to work for the band as a gardener in the famous Haight-Ashbury hippie district of San Francisco  (Hmm..I wonder what kind of plants he used to “garden”??)  I think I wore it in public only a couple of times.  I liked the idea of feeling part of the “Deadhead” tribe, and craved that sense of community that the band’s ardent followers had developed.  But I soon found out, it takes a lot more than one t-shirt to become a Deadhead, and I was just too busy in school to commit to the lifestyle.

Concert Ticket Stubs (framed)

2013-07-19 16.25.16I’ve been a fan of concerts ever since the mid 80’s when I first started going to them.  One of my very first was to see New Wave keyboard guru Howard Jones at the Kingswood Music Theatre (part of the Canada’s Wonderland theme park) in June 1985. I would have been just 13 at the time.  I saw him again at least 5 or 6 more times over the next 3 decades, including a really cool acoustic show at a small downtown club where I got to meet him.  He was also a large part of the reason I decided to take up playing keyboards, something I still do semi-professionally to this day.

I’ve heard a theory that whatever music we listen to until around age 25 will be the music we keep coming back to for the rest of our lives, because it’s the most imprinted with meaning and memories.  As we get older, we’re generally less interested in discovering new music and new artists, which is why “classic” radio formats do so well.  As much as I wish that weren’t true, I think there’s a lot of truth to that.  I wonder how much of the music we consider ‘classic’ has little to do with the quality of the actual music, but is simply a product of where we were and who we were with when we first heard it?

And I wonder how I would have turned out if my first concert had been something like Ozzy Osbourne??

50+ year old music box

Item #5: Saucer-shaped metal & wood music box

Acquired: 1972

This was one of my favourite things to play with at my grandparents’ house when I was really young.  To my memory, it had always been there and had always looked the same – not like a toy at all but a strange metal bowl-like object with a wooden back and single dial that, when turned, plinked out a cheerful melody (Strauss’ “Blue Danube” waltz, to be precise, but I didn’t know that at the time).  In fact, some of my earliest memories are of playing with this music box while my grandmother did her sewing, being fascinated by it, turning the dial over & over again, and I’m sure, adding a few dents of my own to its already world-worn exterior.

All I can remember being said about it was that it had been brought from France, where my grandparents lived during WWII and where my Dad was born before moving to Canada at a young age.  It looks like it may have once been the base where a figurine stood, but I may never know for sure.  Whatever it was, it had been thought important enough to be included among the rather limited possessions that took the voyage across the Atlantic with them.

I forgot all about it for years, until my Grandmother died.  Most of the few things she left behind had already been cleared out of the house, and I was taking one last walk through before everything else would be thrown away and the house put up for sale.  And there it was, in the corner of the basement, a little bit warped but still functional.  It was the only thing I took.

Not-so-rare “collectors item” Elvis stamp


Item #2: commemorative US 29 cent Elvis Presley stamp, with envelope

Acquired: Feb, 1993, Toronto

This is a classic example of something that’s always managed to make the cut whenever the desk drawer or box I’ve been storing it in for years gets cleaned out.  Why?  It just seems like one of those things you should probably just keep.  It is “The King” after all, so you never know.  And so I’ve kept it, for the past 20 years.

It never really was valuable, and it never really stood much of a chance of becoming valuable, in my lifetime at least.  Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100 million of these puppies were issued, about 3 of which were probably ever used to mail a letter.  The other 99,999,997 were bought up by legions of Elvis aficionados, amateur stamp collectors, and suckers like me as a “collector’s item”, and are still being kept in pristine condition waiting for some distant day (after everyone else has thrown theirs away) when they finally become rare and we can cash in.  Maybe one of my great-great-great Grandkids will discover it in the attic and use it as the subject of a history project then sell it to fund their college education.  Or maybe they won’t even care who Elvis was (do you think that’s possible?).

But for now, it’s worth about 25 cents on a good day (yes, LESS than face value).

Naturally though, I never bought it as a serious investment.  Elvis was on it, and at that time, that was enough.  Believe it or not, I can still remember laying down a crisp $2 bill (it was pre-toonie days!) on the counter of the coin and stamp dealer’s shop that used to be in Toronto’s Union station, while waiting on a train back to Kingston, where I went to school.  In those days I was not only an undergrad student at Queen’s but also a proud trumpet player in the marching band.  I had only just begun discovering and getting into Elvis and his music, and because of that I somehow inherited the nickname “Elvis” in the band.  Of the 80+ people in the band I swear some of them never knew me as anything else for the whole of 4 years.

One time, the entire band even took a detour into Memphis to visit Graceland during a bus trip down to the Mardi Gras parade – not entirely, but I like to think at least partially – for my benefit.  I remember finding it funny how more than one person took me aside after the tour and asked if I was alright, as if somehow the nickname alone would have made the experience of visiting Elvis’ jungle room emotionally difficult for me.

Sadly, the nickname didn’t stick with me after University, but for whatever reason, the stamp did (if you’ll excuse a horrible pun).  And I’m ok with that.  And to all my old friends in the Queen’s Bands, let me just say ‘thank you…thank you very much’.

Gabba Gabba Hey!

2013-05-27 15.36.32Item #1: Ramones T-shirt

Acquired: August, 1991, Bala, Ontario

Those who know me, know I’ve never been anything like a punk rocker.  But I’ve always been into music and going to concerts.  Back in the summer of ’91 I had just finished my first year of University and I was up for anything.  So for some reason on a warm August night one of my friends convinced me to take the drive up to Bala Ontario (where?) to see the Ramones.   It was in the most unlikely of venues – the “Kee to Bala“, an old wooden dancehall in the heart of Muskoka cottage country, with a history dating back to the 1930’s.  I think even Louis Armstrong played there once.  But The Ramones were no Louis Armstrong.

It’s hard to imagine what the band must have been thinking as they stepped off the tour bus and had a look around.   These NYC born-and-raised punk rock pioneers couldn’t have seemed more out of place in the heart of a Canuck bar a hundred miles from nowhere.  These guys were more used to gritty East-village haunts like CBGB than a places that had “Group of Seven” views from the dressing room window.  But here they were anyway, and they put on one hell of a show.

They were nothing like any group I had ever seen before or thought I liked up to that point.  They weren’t really much to look at, they barely acknowledged the crowd at all, and played an almost indecipherable string of 2-minute songs, back to back to back, with hardly a shouted “1-2-3-4” to mark the end of one song and the start of the next.  But their frenzied energy was mesmerizing, a heck of a lot of fun, a little bit dangerous (at least to my 19-year-old mind) and completely cool.  I can recall standing directly in front of the stage (it was standing room only, and it wasn’t really that crowded, so you could actually walk around) looking at Joey Ramone and what little you could see of his face while he belted out song after unintelligible song.  I had a blast, and so did the rest of Bala that night.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the band never returned to Bala, and quite likely forgot all about their brief Muskoka stop in the middle of a relentless world touring schedule (that sadly, ended only a few years later with Joey’s decline in health and eventual death in 2001).  But I still have the t-shirt.  So “Gabba Gabba Hey” Joey, and the rest of the Ramones.  Whatever that means.

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