It is just after midnight. After a long day of travel, I find myself at Pearson Airport in Toronto. From what I can tell, we are the last flight of the day to arrive. All of the shops are shuttered. There are no other people here except for a few folks in uniform pushing brooms or pulling vacuum cleaners. Canada’s busiest airport is empty and silent. If my life was a television show or a movie, my fellow passengers and I would break out in song, flash mob style! The baggage carousel is ours to surf should our hearts so desire. But, no one dances or sings at this hour of the day. Slump-shouldered and bleary-eyed, we allow opportunity to pass us by. We trudge silently toward the doors and the night air beyond. We all just want to go home.
The airplanes are tucked snugly into their hangars. The sky above Pearson appears calm. There is no one else moving on the roof of the Sheraton Hotel as I pick up my faithful car. It is just me and a sky filled with stars. I pull out of the parking garage and on to Canada’s busiest highway, known simply as the 401. In the wee hours of the morning, the 401 unfurls before my wheels. There are only truckers and me as we roll past empty shopping malls and darkened apartment buildings. Even the CN Tower has turned off its lights and gone to sleep for the night. The truckers and I, we drive ever onward unencumbered.
It has been a very long day of travel delays and flight cancellations. Although the driving is easy across the top of Toronto, I can feel my body wanting to shut itself down. I am tired but still far from home. In order to help myself stay alert, I call upon an old friend for company. I turn on the radio and punch in the call numbers for CFNY-FM. This is the radio station immortalized in the RUSH song, “Spirit of Radio”. *(I wrote a post about that song that you can read by clicking here). CFNY-FM (or 102.1 the Edge, as they have branded themselves today) has been the home of alternative music in Toronto since I moved into the city in 1982. It was where I first heard bands such as Yaz, Depeche Mode, Rough Trade, The Constantines and early U2. I have always felt an affinity for CFNY-FM so it seems only natural that in my moment of need I turn to them to provide the soundtrack for this final leg of my journey home. They do not disappoint.
One of the great things about listening to radio after midnight is that the tightly controlled structure of their day time playlists relaxes somewhat. There is more freedom for DJs to programme what they want, and so the early hours of the morning often offer a window into the creative heart of those on the other side of the microphone. On this night, I hear a smorgasbord of classic alternative and more modern fare. I hear female bands, male solo acts, synth Pop bands and straight-ahead rockers like the Foo Fighters. But the very first song I hear as I head out into the night is “Stereo” by the Canadian band, The Watchmen. “Stereo” is a terrific song. It was a big hit for The Watchmen in the mid-1990s and helped solidify their claim as being one of Canada’s top musical acts during that decade.
My life’s a stereo
How loud does it go?
What songs do I know?
What ever happened to my plans?
What ever happened to the life I thought I’d have?
My life’s a stereo.
Kind of cheaply made though
How bad does it show?
Whatever did become of all my friends?
Whatever happened to the likes of all of them?
My life’s a stereo.
Turn me on and let’s go.
Turn me up louder
I’ll scream as loud and clear as I can scream
If you like what you’re hearing then please hang on to me.
Hearing “Stereo” blasting away as I sail past the usually artery-clogging exit for the Don Valley Parkway fills me with a sense of pleasure. I am instantly transported back to much younger days when I first encountered the vocal prowess of lead singer Daniel Greaves on a song called “Boneyard Tree”. Greaves and his bandmates Joey Serlin, Sammy Kohn and Ken Tizzard were fixtures on Much Music and were members of a wave of Canadian musical acts such as The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo and Sloan that formed a sort of musical renaissance in this country. The Watchmen released five albums during the 1990s, earning one platinum and three gold records along the way, along with several Juno Award nominations. They were never the biggest band in the land, headlining sold out shows in stadiums and twenty thousand seat arenas. Instead, The Watchmen were the sort of band that showed up in your own town. They could fill one thousand seat theatres with ease. They were regulars on the festival circuit. They loved the atmosphere of bars like The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. They played every university and college in the country. In fact, the birth of the band took place in the furnace room of the McLaren Hotel in Winnipeg (where the band is from) and gave rise to the title of their debut album, McLaren Furnace Room. As I leave the lights of Toronto behind and enter the suburbs of Scarborough, I remind myself that The Watchmen were the sort of band that often did what I was doing at that very moment. Traveling from city to city, town to town in the stillness of the night after having ripped it up mere hours earlier for another throng of sweat-soaked fans.
Scarborough. Pickering. Ajax, Whitby. Oshawa…all signposts on the side of the highway on this night. The further east I drive, the darker it becomes as the 401 enters the rolling hills of Northumberland County that I call home. CFNY-FM is rocking seemingly louder than ever (Sum 41, I believe) as I pass by forests and farmers’ fields. Bowmanville. Newcastle. Newtonville. Port Hope. Cobourg. Home. I bid adieu to my trucker companions and exit off of the 401 and enter my hometown of Cobourg. Now that I am driving more slowly and entering my sleepy hometown, the music seems excessively loud so I turn it down without giving it a thought. I am the only driver on the streets of my hometown. It is two in the morning now when I pull into my driveway. The house is dark. My wife and daughters are dreaming away in their beds as I turn off the radio and exit the car. Before coming inside, I take a moment and stand in the darkness in front of my house. The stars shine above. I can hear the water flowing in a nearby brook. A breeze rustles the branches of the pine tree next to me. I may seem to be alone but I am part of so much more, even at 2:00AM. This is my world. Finally, I am home.
The link to the video for the song “Stereo” by The Watchmen can be found here.
***The lyrics version can be found here. Please note that the only lyrics version I could find is a remix and, as such, it sounds slightly different that the original version.
The link to the official website for The Watchmen can be found here.
The link to the official website for radio station CFNY-FM (102.1 the Edge) in Toronto can be found here.
The link to a news article about the history of The McLaren Hotel in Winnipeg (where The Watchmen got their start) can be found here.
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