It’s March, 1990.
I’m in Toronto, visiting a friend, and we’re embarking on our ritual of heading downtown to cruise the record shops, the comic book shops, the food courts, and to generally goof around. It’s something we’ve done since grade-school, and resumed when I moved from the States back to Canada. We are all of driving age now, but due to convenience, we take transit, which involves a walk to the bus stop, a long bus ride to the subway, and a long subway ride downtown.
We don’t mind the length of the ride though.
It’s all part of the ritual.
But this time things are different. There is ONE THING I’m determined to find. It’s what took me back to my old stomping grounds (three hours on a train to the city).
We make our first stop, mid-way. We hit our first comic store and peruse the shelves. We don’t buy anything – there are more stores to come and our spending money is limited. We do make sure to pay a visit to a favorite burger joint for lunch. We eat more than we should, we annoy the other patrons. We’re teenagers.
Next stop, downtown, the heart of the city. Two years from now I’ll live here, but this day I’m just another tourist. Three of the biggest record stores in the city share the same intersection, and I tear through them on the hunt, only to go away unsatisfied. None of them have the album I’m seeking. I begin to despair. If none of THESE stores has it, what are my chances anywhere else? One of the clerks takes pity on me.
“Try Queen Street” he says.
Queen Street – the hippest, coolest stretch of two lane blacktop in the city. Home to the coolest comic store anywhere, home to music stores galore, gateway to a much bigger world, and one I’ll be immersed in only short years from the here and now.
We cruise the strip, up one side, down the back. We hit the comic store. We hit the record stores. One by one, I’m disappointed, and this disappointment mounts until we reach the last one. The last chance.
They don’t have it. Nothing on the shelves. Sure, there’s a poster of the band on the wall, mocking me. I sigh, and resign myself to going home (to my friend’s home first, then to my actual home) empty handed. As we leave the store and make our way back to the subway for the long ride home, one of my friends says “hey, isn’t that the album you’re looking for?”
I follow his gaze to the record store window, and the cassettes, CDs and vinyl on display.
And I see it:
Since their pilot aired in 1988, The Kids in the Hall has been part of my weekly ritual; every Thursday from 9:30 to 10:00 on CBC. I watch every episode, and tape every episode, and on those rare instances I miss it, I set the VCR timer to tape so I can watch it later. Like Much Music’s ‘City Limits’, the Kids were my life-line to a world much larger, much weirder and infinitely cooler than my small-town life. Music was performed by a Toronto outfit called Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (their theme to Kids, ‘Having an Average Weekend’ has become legend). It was the show I introduced my friends to, and I simply could not return home without a copy of Savvy Show Stoppers by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet.
Back inside, I approach the clerk at the cash. I ask him if he has any copies of it in stock anywhere. He asks me if I want the album. I nod. He reaches over, grabs the copy sitting in the window, and sells it to me.
We listen to it when cruising in my friend’s car later that night. I listen to it on my walkman on the train ride home. Word spreads at school that I have a copy of “that Kids in the Hall album”. I dub many, many copies, ones for friends, ones for complete strangers. For someone used to having to get others to make copies of music for me, I get that one taste of having something everyone wants.
It’s March, 1990
* * *
It’s March, 2012.
I’m in New York. I still take the subway downtown. I don’t own a car. Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet CDs go for big bucks on eBay. Only two members of the band are alive. The Kids in the Hall finished their run in 1996 but you can watch episodes on Netflix. Watching them gives me the same feeling I got watching reruns of 20-year old shows in 1990, but its different this time — I was alive in 1990, when Kids in the Hall were fresh and new. Back then I wasn’t 20 — now I can remember what being 20 felt like, but that was a long time ago. Years have a funny way of slipping away from you.
I have a lot of tapes from bands you won’t find on iTunes or Amazon or even YouTube. They may exist on dusty shelves of record stores, but those are disappearing too. Once the tapes fade or get chewed up, I probably won;t hear that music ever again.
Our lives are made of rituals, but rituals fade, and change; sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse. Now we wait for the download. We tweet about it, or post a picture of it.
It makes me wonder.
Do 17 year old kids take the same bus-ride to subway ride downtown with their friends, as part of their ritual? Do they cruise the comic book stores, the music stores, and the food courts? Do they goof around?
I don’t know.
But I hope somewhere they still do.
And I still have that tape.