[And so begins the epic story behind my number one album as written about in the 15 Albums post]
When you reach a certain age, you realize how malleable time is. In 1987 when I was 14, I caught a documentary marking the 20 year anniversary of the Summer of Love, and specifically the Beatles landmark Sgt. Pepper album. Now to a 14 year old, 20 years is mind-boggling – it’s something your mind can scarcely comprehend. It might as well be 50 years. But when you’re in your late 30s, 20 years is time enough to realize how quickly they can pass. 1990 was also a landmark in my personal life, as it marked the release of an album that, at least for me, is a landmark on the level of Sgt. Pepper.
If you can find Brockville Ontario on a map, that’s where I “came of age” in the loosest sense of the word. It was and is a small town on the St. Lawrence, 45 minutes east of Kingston, an hour south of Ottawa. By small, I mean SMALL – population circa 1990 was about 21,000 – same it was in 1986, same it was in 1996. For someone who had become used to big cities, it was about as exciting and glamorous as a salt mine somewhere north of Siberia. The fact I now live in a city of 8 million people could very well be because of those years in Brockville.
Now, still have that map handy? Good – try and find Stratford Ontario. It’s in Southern Ontario, and about 6 hours driving time away. 6 hours on a school bus.. The reason we were going to Stratford was because Stratford Ontario is home to the Stratford Festival; the landmark Shakespearean Theater that’s become an international destination. And as part of the Shakespeare unit we were studying in English that year, our class went to Stratford to see two plays; As You Like It, and Macbeth. That meant one thing; I would need some new music to listen to if I was going to survive it.
No big deal, you figure, right?
Well, allow me to paint you a picture of life as a teenager in 1990.
In 1990 we didn’t have Amazon.com or iTunes, or the internet, or a lot of the stuff that’s become commonplace now. If we wanted to hear music, there was the radio station, and the record store. Those were both fine if you were into top 40 and classic rock, less fine if you were into more esoteric work. The best conduit to discovering new music was usually through a single reliable source; your friends. And the instrument we used to communicate that music, was the ubiquitous mix tape.
You see, back then, we couldn’t preview a track, or Google the band. We read about it, usually in Rolling Stone or Spin magazines. Much Music (Canada’s MTV) had a show called City Limits that aired midnights Friday and played what they called “Alternative music” – music that would break into the mainstream a year later. I would tape City Limits (on Beta, no less), so on Saturdays when I finished up work for the day, I could watch it, pen and paper in hand, and write down the names of bands and songs I liked, and I liked a lot of it. But in 1990 this was music a kid in a small town had to go to lengths to hear. We only had one record store, and it was stocked with the usual top 40 classic rock. Yes, you could get other music, but it usually involved the store owner thumbing through a big catalogue to see if the album was available, and then it would be a 3-6 week wait. So any time you’d travel to a bigger city – Ottawa, Kingston, Toronto – you made sure to bring money and hit the record stores and load up on music like a fatty on a binge at the candy shop.
So, in September 1990, armed with 20 bucks in my pocket, I journeyed to the local record store to pick up something to listen to on the six hour bus trip. What followed was proof that the right band, with the right album, at the right time in one’s life, can change your world forever.
[More to come]