Luck Be A Lady from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical, Guys and Dolls…Song #28/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

As a young and very nerdy boy, I attended this high school from 1978-82.

Way back in the day, I went to high school at a place known as Morrison Glace Bay High School. Back home, the school was simply known as Morrison. In the 1970s, Glace Bay was still a town that was fairly divided along religious lines: Morrison became known as the Protestant or public high school while across town, St. Michael’s was where the Catholic kids in town went. Needless to say, there existed a fierce rivalry between the two schools. Every sporting tournament contained elements of a Battle of Glace Bay. Like all intense rivalries, sometimes my school came out on top and sometimes we didn’t. But one thing that I think Morrison did better than St. Mike’s, year after year, was our production of a full-blown high school musical. We were lucky at Morrison to have a teacher on staff who championed this cause and was highly proficient at shepherding everyone through the dramatic process involved in putting on a quality play. Because of a lady named Harriett Townsend, our school became known for the quality of our theatrical productions. While Miss Townsend helped to put on several musicals over the course of my time there, the one that made the most impression on me was Guys and Dolls.

Author, columnist, screenwriter Damon Runyon.

Guys and Dolls is a musical that is based upon a series of short stories written by one of America’s most colourful writers, Damon Runyon. In the first half of the 1900s, Runyon wrote for newspapers that were run by mogul William Randolph Hearst. Runyon was a gambling man, a drinker and a smoker, too. He ran with a crowd that many would consider to be unsavory, such as mobsters, politicians, homosexuals (at a time when homosexuality was still considered a crime in many jurisdictions), “women of the night” and so on. Runyon’s newspaper columns routinely featured stories on the sporting world (particularly boxing and horse racing), along with the world of Broadway musicals. Damon Runyon wrote with a style that became known as Runyonese, which meant that he usually called his characters by imaginative names, his stories often took place in the underbelly of New York society circles and he was known for his use of made up language or slang terminology. In 1932, he wrote a short story entitled “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown”. In that story, he wrote about the unlikely romance between a habitual gambler and the wholesome church lady who viewed him as a sinner worth saving. Two decades later, that short story was adapted for Broadway and became known as Guys and Dolls.

When Guys and Dolls debuted on Broadway, it won the Tony Award for Best Musical. The script for the musical won the Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama. The world beyond the Big Apple was introduced to the vernacular of Damon Runyon where the men were all known by nicknames such as Lefty or Shorty or Skinny, and the women were all known as dames or broads or dolls. The story of Guys and Dolls revolves around gambling, but at its core, it is about redemption and love. The original cast recording of the musical won the Grammy Award for Best Recording by a Group or Ensemble. The most famous song, among many from this soundtrack, is “Luck Be a Lady”. This is a song that is sung by a group of gamblers all hoping to have the cards fall their way or the dice come up with anything other than snake eyes.

Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and fellow cast members looking sharp!

What I remember most about Guys and Dolls appearing at Morrison Glace Bay High School was how the costumes completely transformed those who appeared on stage. Boys who normally wore jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers every day suddenly appeared on stage in the sharpest of suits, the shiniest of shoes, all topped off with slicked back hair and fedoras. These boys became men as they sang of their hopes for making it rich on the roll of the dice or the speed of the ponies. And the girls…my word…these girls who I had sat beside in class for years appeared on stage in make-up, in heels and form-fitting dresses that sashayed when they moved. These girls of my youth transformed into women before my eyes in a way that I never had thought them capable of doing until that moment. The story of Guys and Dolls was all dressed in stylish garb and grownup language and allowed the students and citizens of Glace Bay to catch a glimpse of a part of the world that only New Yorkers had known up until then. It was gritty, dangerous and filled with virtue and tenderness at the same time. Guys and Dolls had it all. No wonder it is one of Broadway’s most honoured and respected musicals of all time.

Guys and Dolls became a movie, with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando starring in it. The musical has also been performed by all manner of touring companies from the four corners of the world. But for me, Guys and Dolls will always be a high school musical. Without question, the time one spends in high school helps to shape the rest of your life. While the academic studies help to prepare you for your post-secondary career and/or the world of work, there is so much else that goes on beyond the walls of those classrooms but within the walls of the school that adds so much colour to one’s life. Whether those extra-curricular experiences come on the playing field or on the stage doesn’t matter. What does matter is that kids, some of whom are going through the most confusing and pressure-filled times of their lives, get to don uniforms of one sort or another, step out of their lives for a while and become someone different, if only just for a short time. But, in that short time, they can grow in ways that just aren’t possible sitting at a desk in a classroom taking notes. So, kudos to all high school adults who willingly volunteer to provide such rich experiences for our children: experiences that go beyond academics and help our children to forge a sense of identity that is necessary to take on the world that awaits on the other side of graduation. Extra applause for those young people who step up and grasp those opportunities being presented to them. Taken together, extracurriculars enrich us all.

The link to the video for the song “Luck Be A Lady” from the Original Cast Recording of the Musical Guys and Dolls can be found here. ***The lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for the musical Guys and Dolls can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer to the movie version of Guys and Dolls can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this blog post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2023

Slow Ride by Foghat from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Dazed and Confused…Song #23/250: The Stars of Stage and Screen

At the time of writing this post, I have two daughters who are both in their teenage years. All throughout their lives, they have been encouraged to ask my wife and I about anything that is on their minds. We have always believed that having open communication channels is important between parents and children. We want our girls to feel comfortable talking with us. I believe that they are comfortable talking to us because they are always asking us questions. “Where did you and Dad meet?” “Where did you go on your first date with your first boyfriend/girlfriend?” “What jobs did you have when you were a teenager?” And on and on it goes. Their questions always seem to match their own experiences at the time. But one of the questions that I have the most trouble answering is one of the most basic of them all…”What was high school like for you, Dad?”

The fact of the matter is that I can’t remember all that much about my high school years in specific terms. What I do remember is the more general feeling of doing not much of anything at all. I hung around a lot with my friends. That was really it. I sat for hours in school hallways with my back against a locker as kids copied my homework and we talked about what was on TV the previous night or who was having a party soon. I went downtown on Friday nights and hung around the main street in town with the other kids, leaning against telephone poles or else sitting on the stone fence that fronted St. Paul’s Church, listening to the sounds of Trooper and April Wine blasting from car stereos as guys drove round and round in a loop through town. Sometimes, if we were feeling adventurous, we would travel to the mall and play video games at the arcade, stopping for a burger before heading home. But, truth be told, nothing out of the ordinary happened at all during my high school years. In fact, if anything, the feeling I had was that I was like a puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit. So, for me, high school was a time spent preparing to leave Glace Bay. To answer my daughters’ question, what I remember most about my highschool years was simply putting in time in the belief that there was something better somewhere else. I had no real idea at the time what that “something better” might be but I knew for sure that it wasn’t going to be found there in Glace Bay.

There have been a lot of movies made about life as a teenager. However, there have been very few that seemed able to replicate that feeling of nothingness that I experienced as a teen. None of us went on secret spy missions. No one found treasure. None of my classmates were secretly vampires or monsters who revealed themselves when the moon was full. There were no UFOs or celebrity encounters or riots or anything. There were drugs for some, alcohol for others, fights for a few and sex for many but none of that for me. I abstained from it all, not because I felt above it, but more because I was simply too introverted and nerdy to be invited to partake or to force my way in. So, I hung out. I was a friendly nerd among jocks and cool kids and tough guys and fashionista girls. That was high school for me. One of the very few movies I have ever seen that captured what that sort of high school experience was like was Dazed and Confused.

Milla Jovovich was just one of many young stars who got their start in Dazed and Confused.

Dazed and Confused was directed by Richard Linklater. It was his first feature film. Dazed and Confused was set in the 1970s in a small nameless Texas town on the last day of high school. It starred a bevy of young actors who would go on to become big stars such as Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Renée Zellweger, Adam Goldberg and a host of others. The storyline revolved around one teen…the captain of the football team…who has been recruited to play at a prestigious college, which makes the whole town feel a sense of pride as they take his accomplishment as reflecting on them all. As part of his recruitment, he is asked to sign a pledge of good conduct by the end of his high school year. This pledge includes a promise to completely abstain from drugs and alcohol. So, as Johnny football hero deals with the peer pressure from his town and ponders whether or not to sign away his freedom to live as he pleases in return to gridiron glory, the rest of his graduating class prepares for their last day in the safety net that high school provides. They all know that when tomorrow comes, they will no longer be high school kids but will, in fact, be part of the real world. Dazed and Confused follows this band of jocks, cool kids, misfits, stoners and lovers during the entirety of those final twenty-four hours, as each faces the prospect that the future is there now, knocking at the proverbial door. There is not a lot to the plot of this movie, just as there was not a lot to the real life experience of being in high school for me. These kids hang around a lot and talk a lot. They start the day at school and end the day at a party in a park. They drink. They do drugs. They fight. They make out. But, most of all, they simply are who they are, all together, one last time. The movie has a really great soundtrack that is filled with many of the top classic rock tunes of the 1970s. The reason I chose “Slow Ride” by Foghat as the song for this post is because that song is the soundtrack to the closing scene in the film. In that scene we learn what Johnny football hero has decided to do, as he drives away with a few of his closest friends down a road that leads off into the future. I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t seen the film, but the choice of a song like “Slow Ride” was purposeful by director Linklater and speaks to the nature of life being a journey, rather than a destination.

A very young Matthew McConaughey in character.

Even if you haven’t seen Dazed and Confused for yourself, you may be aware of the famous catch phrase uttered by Matthew McConaughey’s character. McConaughey plays a character who has graduated a few years prior and has chosen to still keep hanging around the high school scene as if he has never left and gotten on with life. He spends the movie doling out advice about the real world that he feels is wisdom. At one point, he says, “Alright! Alright! Alright!” in his slight Texan drawl that McConaughey has become famous for. That catch phrase has been associated with him throughout the remainder of his career. He even ended his acceptance speech with it when he won the Best Actor Oscar for the movie Dallas Buyers Club. That iconic line came from Dazed and Confused. ***FYI, if you haven’t heard this speech, it is one of the better Oscar speeches ever given. McConaughey did a super job. You can watch and listen to it here.

If my two daughters end up reading this post, then I am sorry that your Dad wasn’t a more exciting person when I was your age. But the truth is that, unlike the movies, in my real high school experiences, I never once snorted cocaine off of the stomach of a bikini-clad Paris Hilton lookalike while poolside, nor did I battle aliens or develop a computer programme that almost started a nuclear war or build a robot sex slave in my basement. What I did was watch a lot of television. I hung out with friends doing nothing in particular. I listened to tunes on my headphones in the dark after everyone else had gone to bed. I vacationed with my family. I was a nerd. I was liked by many but loved by no one. I got through it all. And so will you. Real life isn’t often like it is portrayed in the movies…unless it is like it is portrayed in a movie like Dazed and Confused.

The link to the video for the song “Slow Ride” by Foghat from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Dazed and Confused can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the film Dazed and Confused can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #21/250: Farewell To Nova Scotia as sung by Catherine McKinnon

The former Glace Bay General Hospital. This was the view from the top of my street. MacQuarrie’s store was just to the left of where this photo was taken. Great memories of that store and the folks who worked there.

As a child, I often thought that I would always live in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. It was where my friends were. It was where my family was. It was where my school and my church and all of the stores I had ever shopped in were. Mary MacQuarrie’s corner store…where I spent my allowances buying O-Pee-Chee hockey cards and Richie Rich comic books was just at the top of my street, across from the hospital where my mother and aunt and two cousins all worked. The cemetery, where my father was buried, was there, too. Glace Bay was the world as I knew it then. I wanted to live there forever.

Well, forever lasted until the age of 18. As my final years of high school passed and visions of a career as a writer took shape in my head, I discovered that to further my career ambitions meant that I would have to move away from Nova Scotia. So, I planned accordingly. I applied to university in Toronto and was accepted. So I spent the summer as an 18 year old saying goodbye to my friends and my family, graduating from my school, walking out of my church for the last time, making the rounds of all the stores and restaurants that I used to frequent and getting ready to leave my home. By this time, even Mary MacQuarrie’s store had closed. The time seemed right to leave.

Seal Island Bridge as seen from the Bras d’Or Look-off on Kelly’s Mountain.

With my bags packed, I boarded the Via train out of Sydney. We chugged past the Newfoundland ferry in North Sydney. We crossed the beautiful Seal Island Bridge and began climbing Kelly’s Mountain (The tallest elevation on Cape Breton Island). We passed the Gaelic College at St. Ann’s Bay and soon found ourselves in Baddeck (The former home of inventor extraordinaire, Alexander Graham Bell and his wife). An hour after that we were crossing the Canso Causeway and had left Cape Breton Island for the mainland of Nova Scotia. At that point, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean gave way to the endless forests of Nova Scotia’s upper mainland and then, into New Brunswick. After a night of fitful sleep, sitting up in an economy class chair, we arrived in Montreal. We changed trains there. To my eighteen year old self, Montreal seemed very big and a little bit scary, I have to admit. There were so many people there and they all seemed to be in a hurry to get to wherever they were going. I remember feeling relieved when I found the line of people waiting to board my train to Toronto. I joined it hours before departure. I sat there on the floor of the Montreal station and quietly waited. I must have looked very small, sitting there amid my suitcases. I sure felt small. But, time passed, as it always does, and soon I was on the Via train to Toronto. At Union Station in Toronto, my cousin, Brent, was waiting to meet me. He was not thrilled that I had two suitcases and a steamer trunk to navigate through the rush hour crowds. But, just the same, he helped me. We made it safely out of there. I had arrived in the biggest city in Canada. As I stepped out of Union Station and looked up at the shiny skyscrapers that stood watch, I knew that I wasn’t in Glace Bay anymore.

Although I didn’t appreciate it then, my arrival in Toronto made me just the latest in a long line of Cape Bretoners who answered the siren song of dreams of a better life in the big cities of Ontario or oil fields and big money of Alberta. Outward migration is part of the cultural history of Cape Breton. Many young people leave each year and only a very small number ever return in any sort of permanent way. Most leave because there isn’t enough steady work on an island as geographically small as Cape Breton. The fisheries have been in decline for decades. Coal production has ceased to be an economically and environmentally viable enterprise. Even the Sydney Steel Plant, in whose shadow my mother and her family grew up, had long since been shuttered, dismantled and paved under. So, the young ones leave in hopes of finding career fulfillment elsewhere in Canada. I left in 1982. In fact, I have been “away” for three quarters of my entire life. In those three quarters of a lifetime, I have enjoyed a fruitful career as an elementary school teacher. I have married and become a father. I have made new friends and have acquired new family members along the way. I am used to shopping in new stores and eating at new restaurants. My house is paid for. My neighbours are terrific. There is a beautiful beach just five minutes walk from where I live. My life “away” has turned out to be pretty good. But, the funny thing is, I still call Cape Breton…home.

The Barra MacNeils performing in Oshawa, Ontario. Oshawa is about a 40-minute drive west of where I live.

There is just something in the blood of those of us who grew up there that we have taken with us wherever we have ended up settling. I prefer tea over coffee. I am drawn to tartan as a design aesthetic. But most of all, I still love the music of Cape Breton. I love the sound of bagpipes and fiddles. I try to see all of the Cape Breton-oriented musical acts that tour across Canada such as The Barra MacNeils, The Rankin Family, as well as Rita MacNeil and the Men of the Deeps, when she was alive and they toured together. Bringing a bit of Cape Breton to those of us from away is one way the connection to home is strengthened. The other way is to go back for vacation. My whole family and I go back home each summer and I do the same by myself in the winter. We go to see my mother and other family and friends who have stayed behind. But, as much as we do that, we also breathe in the salt air, we let the ocean’s water roll over our toes and, most of all, we simply bask in the beauty of one of the world’s great islands. Cape Breton Island will always be my home. It is part of who I am, even if I am far away from it for most of my days.

The parking lot on the left hand side of this photo is where Keri and I became engaged. The green bridge is the one that has the “Welcome to Cape Breton” sign attached to it. If you drive to the left, you enter Cape Breton. To the right, you are leaving it all behind. The causeway extends to the right slightly less than a kilometre more than what you see here.

The hardest part about visiting Cape Breton Island is that, sooner or later, I have to leave again. Although my Ontario home is fine, I am always sad on the day that it is time to leave Cape Breton. Having visited Cape Breton Island over one hundred times as an adult, I know from experience that it is emotionally easier to leave by plane than it is to leave by car. When traveling by plane, all you see is the inside of the cabin, the tops of the clouds and, if changing planes, the inside of another airport such as Stanfield Airport in Halifax. You don’t get to experience leaving Cape Breton the same way you do when you drive your way out. When we drive for Ontario in a car, we re-trace the route I took as an 18 year old on the Via train. Knowing what I am leaving behind makes it tougher to drive past the Newfoundland ferry terminal in North Sydney. The beauty of the scenery as we cross the Seal Island Bridge and begin to climb Kelly’s Mountain is amazing, but it is tough to see it in the rear view mirror. Baddeck is always gorgeous and peaceful and is a place for staying a while, not passing through on the way to somewhere else. But, onward we go. Eventually, we arrive at the Canso Causeway and prepare to leave the island. We always cast a glance to the right, to the parking lot next to the Causeway proper, where I proposed to my future wife because I wanted Cape Breton Island to always hold a special place in her heart, too. And then, it is gone. We are off to the Nova Scotia mainland and then New Brunswick, Quebec and back to Ontario. The girls are always excited to get back to their home in Ontario. But each time we leave, a little part of my heart stays behind.

Catherine McKinnon as she appeared on the CBC TV show, Singalong Jubilee, which was filmed in Halifax.

Leaving Cape Breton is something that many have experienced over the years. The lure of coming home is strong and the painful reality of knowing we have to leave again is something each of us feels. This has been true in Cape Breton for generations. It has also been true in the ancestral homeland of Nova Scotia, which is Scotland. For those who may not be aware, the words “Nova Scotia” translate as “New Scotland”. There is much about the geography and the cultural background of those who live in both places that are similar. In 1791, a Scottish poet named Robert Tanahill wrote a “lament” called “The Soldier’s Adieu”. It was about the emotional toll on Scottish soldiers who were forced to leave their highland homes to fight in wars in foreign lands. With Scottish culture such an integral part of the fabric of Nova Scotian life, it was not a surprise that “The Soldier’s Adieu” resurfaced just as World War I was in full swing and thousands of Canadian soldiers were flowing into Halifax to board ships that would take them across the Atlantic to England and onward to the battlefields of the Western Front. As these soldiers were taking wistful glances back at Halifax Harbour as they sailed away, “The Soldier’s Adieu” came to mind. Except this time, it was updated for the times and became known as “Farewell to Nova Scotia”. Even in times of peace, “Farewell to Nova Scotia” has been a song that holds a special place in the musical canon of Nova Scotia and of Cape Breton Island. When I was a child still living in Glace Bay, I used to hear “Farewell to Nova Scotia” sung by a lady named Catherine McKinnon on a CBC television show called, Singalong Jubilee. This show transitioned into another popular show called Don Messer’s Jubilee. Regardless of the show, Catherine McKinnon sang this song as if it was coming directly from her heart. Her rendition of “Farewell To Nova Scotia” became the definitive take on the song. So, it should come as no surprise when I tell you that for many years, whenever I drove my car across the island of Cape Breton as I returned to the real world in Ontario, I would do so to a soundtrack of the best of Cape Breton music. Catherine McKinnon’s “Farewell To Nova Scotia” was always one of those tunes that I heard as I drove across the Canso Causeway and off of the island. It is a song that makes me sad and happy at the same time because it is a song that is a fundamental part of who I am. And who I am is someone destined to always return home, only to have to eventually leave again. Maybe someday, I will get to return for good. Then, and only then, will “Farewell To Nova Scotia” cease to be a song that touches my heart.

The link to the video for the song “Farewell To Nova Scotia” by Catherine McKinnon can be found here.

The link to the official website for Catherine McKinnon can be found here.

The link to the official website for Cape Breton Island can be found here.

***PS: The photo at the top of this post is of Glace Bay Harbour.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written permission of the author. ©2022

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #20/250: Northern Touch by Rascalz ft. Checkmate, Kardinal Offishall, Choclair and Thrust

My eldest daughter has really begun to show an interest in our family history. She has become quite adept at going online and locating documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses and records relating to military service for our relatives from three, four and even, five generations ago. She uses this information to tell us all stories about the people whose decisions influenced how our own lives turned out. However, one of the areas of her family history that she finds to be a source of frustration centers upon me. She is constantly encouraging me to tell her the stories of my own life. I have not ever been someone who tooted his own horn so, for that reason, I guess I have not been as open about the stories of my past as she would like. So, let’s remedy that a bit today. To my darling daughter, Leah, here is a true story about a man who has gone on to be known as the “Godfather of Canadian Hip Hop music” and how his example helped me decide to become a school teacher. His name was Ron Nelson and this is the story of a time when our divergent paths crossed.

Morrison Glace Bay High School: my academic home from 1978-82.

When I was in high school I began to find out what kind of person I was going to be as an adult. One of the things that happened was that I developed a reputation for being a writer. In those days, I was more apt to write plays or poetry than I was to write commentary, as I do now. I always used my friends as characters in these plays that I would write. Every spare moment of class time that I could wrest away from my studies was spent writing in my notebooks or scribblers, as we called them in Cape Breton. Fast forward to the end of my final year of high school, one of the traditions there was that every graduating class would have a story written about it that would be read aloud at the graduation prom during the dinner portion of the evening. I didn’t write the story for my class but I was one of the very first people mentioned when it was read aloud. In the story, it was being predicted that my future included becoming an author. When that was said aloud, many of those in attendance nodded their heads in agreement that this prediction stood a good chance of becoming true.

Ryerson Polytechnical University (now called Toronto Metropolitan University) and photographed from the roof of the building in which I lived. I lived on the 8th floor and faced this same direction. What a view of downtown Toronto I had for three years!

I enrolled in the Radio and Television Arts Programme at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto (now called Toronto Metropolitan University) in the belief that I would one day become a professional “script writer”. Because of the joy I got from writing plays and the positive feedback I received from everyone in high school, it seemed logical to my eighteen year old self that writing for a living was the way for me to go. I was one of only 100 applicants selected (out of 1200 who applied). At the time, my ego was such that I expected to be selected so when I was, I didn’t take it for the compliment that it was, I took it more as confirmation that I had what it took and that my experience in Toronto would mirror my experiences in high school. Oh boy! Was I ever in for a surprise!

I graduated from high school with a mark of 99% in English. So, I went into my first university writing class with much confidence. Our introductory assignment was to go to a movie theatre in Toronto, watch any movie our little hearts desired and then write a professional movie review (as if we were writing for one of the local Toronto newspapers). I went and watched a screwball comedy called, “Stir Crazy” that starred Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. It was not the greatest movie ever written and I wrote my review accordingly. When I got my assignment back during the next class, I was shocked to see that I had been given a mark of 69%. That was a full thirty points lower than my high school English average! I had never received such a low mark in my entire school career! My head was swimming as I looked my assignment over and tried to distinguish my typewritten words amid the sea of red ink marks that littered my page. It turned out that I had tied for the top mark in the class for that assignment. That made no difference to me. My confidence was completely rattled right out of the gate. With that one assignment, I suddenly realized how out of my depth I really was and much harder I was going to have to work just to avoid failing.

As with many such things in life, I began to adjust and things settled down a bit. I developed a better study routine. I made connections with the new folks who were now my classmates. My professors got to know me better and I did likewise with them. However, I never quite shook off that initial feeling that I didn’t belong or that I wasn’t really good enough to warrant being there. What confirmed that for me was a second assignment (this time is audio class) that actually had nothing to do with how well I did or didn’t do. In fact, to be honest, I was relatively pleased with my own effort in my first audio assignment. But, what happened was that I was given the opportunity to see how high the bar was really set, as far as skill levels went. It was the day that a young man from the Caribbean named Ron Nelson chose to reveal himself as someone who would end up changing Canadian music history. It was also the day that I decided to become a teacher. Here is how it all happened.

Just one example of a K-Tel compilation album. There were hundreds and hundreds of them in the 1970s and 80s.

In our audio course, we were not yet working in a digital media field as we would be today. Back in the early 1980s, everything was still recorded and played on audio tape. So, one of the first lessons we were given in the audio course was how to record ourselves onto an audio tape and then how to make seamless edits. Making edits required us to use a razor and physically cut the audio tape and then tape it back together. Our first editing assignment was to create a 30-second “K-Tel” audio commercial. For anyone unaware of what I mean by a “K-Tel” commercial…back in the 1970s and early 80s, there was a record company called K-Tel. Their thing was releasing compilation albums. Thus, whenever there was an advertisement for the latest record they were releasing, they would play thirty seconds or so of music composed of short segments of some of the songs appearing on the album, with an hyped up announcer speaking over top of it all. For our assignment, I had to use 6-8 songs, edit them together in some coherent fashion and then lay down a voice-over track on top of the music. I was able to do this and was fairly pleased with my product which I called, “K-Tel presents: Rock of the Commonwealth”! It was music from the British Commonwealth of nations. It started off with “Everything She Does Is Magic” by The Police (out of England). I followed that with “Cuts Like a Knife” by our own Byran Adams. I remember using “Six Months In a Leaky Boat” by New Zealand’s Split Enz somewhere in there, too. I think I got a B- for it and I was ok with that as it was the very first time I had ever worked with audio tape and the editing process.

As we went through the class and listened to everyone’s “K-Tel” effort, all were reasonably good. Some were a little better than mine. Some were not quite as good. But all were satisfactory, at least. Then it came time to listen to the tape from Ron Nelson. Ron was a quiet, unassuming kind of guy when we first met. But he was friendly and willing to work with anyone. That was important to a shy guy like me. While we were never best friends or anything, he was one of the first people to willingly sit beside me and talk with me, which meant a lot. So, anyway, we were all sitting in class listening to these K-Tel tapes when the professor came to Ron and asked for his. As shocked as I was when I received that 69% in writing class, I was just as shocked now in audio class but for the opposite reason. Ron’s K-Tel tape was brilliant! It was stunningly good! In fact, there were so many things going on in the foreground, the middleground and the background of his thirty-second tape that we actually listened to his tape multiple times just to try to catch everything that Ron had done. When it was finished, the professor asked Ron to walk us through how he had created such a masterpiece. So, I sat there, slack-jawed, as Ron Nelson began to reveal his magic. His tape turned out to be a forerunner of Hip Hop sampling which was to explode in popularity as the 1980s rolled along. But, at that time, it was relatively unheard of in Canada and it completely blew our collective minds! I still remember listening to Ron dissect his tape and re-assemble it. There was an “aw-shucks” aspect of his presentation but there was also a glimmer in his eyes that I will never forget. The only time I can recall anything like it was when I watched the movie, Amadeus and, in particular, the scene toward the end of the movie when a dying Mozart asks his rival Salieri to record his Requiem March for him because he is too weak to do it himself. In agreeing to do so, Salieri is given a peek inside the genius that was Mozart’s mind. *(You can watch that scene here). I felt that way as I listened to Ron Nelson speak that day. I felt as Salieri must have, too. For I knew after listening to Ron Nelson that I could never do what he had just done. His skill was at an unobtainable level for the likes of someone like me. It was a moment of reckoning.

I remember returning to my dorm room that night and realizing that I would never be a star in the broadcasting business. I had just witnessed a real star in action and the only future for me was to strive to be competent at best. To be, as Salieri lamented, a mediocrity. That was not an acceptable life goal for me. So, at that very moment in my first year of the Radio and Television Broadcasting course, I decided to switch to Plan B, which was to become a teacher. I decided to stick with the broadcasting course and see it through because having a degree was a prerequisite to get into Teachers College. In some ways, tempering my broadcasting ambitions made the next two and a half years more tolerable and enjoyable. The pressure melted away. I learned a lot. I kept up my marks and, lo and behold, a few years later, I was accepted into the Education Programme at the University of Western Ontario. Many of the skills I learned at Ryerson translated well to the classroom. Consequently, I was always comfortable being in front of a classroom filled with children. As life has turned out, I believe that being a teacher was my true calling after all. I am very proud of my career and of being able to spend time with so many incredible children, families and staff over the years. But, no matter how far from the world of broadcasting I strayed, I always kept an eye out for my pal, Ron Nelson. For, unlike me, Ron had a lot of ambition when it came to his future. He ended up achieving a form of greatness that I am happy to acknowledge. Here is his story and why it matters.

My Ryerson classmate Ron Nelson on air at CKLN with his Fantastic Voyages show.

When I was in my first year of university and was learning such life skills as doing my own laundry properly and being able to cook basic meals, Ron Nelson was creating his own radio programme called Fantastic Voyages that aired weekly on the Ryerson campus radio station, CKLN. This radio station was more than the usual campus radio station because of its geographic location in the heart of downtown Toronto. So, even though it was primarily run by Ryerson students such as Ron, it broadcast to a potential audience over one million people. Fantastic Voyages was a radio show that was dedicated to the emerging genre of Hip Hop and, as such, it was the first show of its type anywhere in Canada. In order to provide some context as to how fresh and original Ron’s idea was…this was a full three years prior to Hip Hop supergroup Run-DMC teaming up with rockers, Aerosmith, to record a funked up rap version of the song, “Walk This Way”. That video gained lots of airplay on music video stations such as MTV (in the US) and Much Music (in Canada) and really helped introduce Hip Hop into the mainstream of the music world. But, years earlier, my classmate Ron Nelson was introducing Hip Hop to Canada’s biggest city while I was learning how to not burn my Kraft Dinner. The response to Fantastic Voyages went through the roof. For a while, ratings for Ron’s show were strong enough that they showed up with those of existing AM and FM stations throughout the city. That had never happened before to CKLN nor has it happened since. Buoyed by the positive reaction his programming was receiving, Ron began extending his reach by organizing local Hip Hop concerts and “Battle of the Bands”-type affairs. In a world where representation matters, Ron Nelson was giving people of colour in Toronto a chance to listen to their own history being put to music, to see successful people of colour singing songs about their own struggles and aspirations and, most importantly, he was giving wannabe rappers a venue for them to practice their craft and refine their skills. In doing so, Ron helped launch Hip Hop as a musical form in Canada. Not long after graduating from Ryerson, Ron opened his own recording studio. The first Canadian HIp Hop stars such as Maestro Fresh Wes and Dream Warriors recorded there. As the 1980s and 90s rolled on, Ron worked with everyone involved in Canadian Hip Hop, as well as many huge US acts such as Public Enemy, Salt-N-Pepa, Eric B. & Rakim, Ice Cube and Queen Latifah. It is not for nothing that many people refer to Ron Nelson as “The Godfather of Hip Hop” in Canada.

The talented rappers behind the song, “Northern Touch” with their Juno Award for Rap Song of the Year.

This brings us to today’s song, “Northern Touch” by Vancouver-based Hip Hop stars, Rascalz. I have often been critical in my music posts about modern Hip Hop being needlessly explicit (in a sexual sense), often times profane for the sake of being profane and also being steeped in misogyny. As the new century dawned, Ron Nelson, too, grew disillusioned with the state of Hip Hop (especially in the US) and allowed Fantastic Voyages to come to a close. He kept his hand in the game by producing a radio show dedicated to reggae music, which was also close to his heart. But, for a while, the Canadian Hip Hop scene grew quiet. Almost a decade or more went by between the original hits of the Dream Warriors and Maestro Fresh Wes and the next wave of Canadian Hip Hop artists to emerge. Of those who did, most were Vancouverites or else, they hailed from the Greater Toronto Area. The song, “Northern Touch” was written by Rascalz but was always intended to be a collaborative effort between as many of the main players in the Canadian HIp Hop scene as was possible. As a result, verses were personally written and performed by artists such as Choclair, Thrust, Kardinal Offishall, as well as Checkmate. The result is the banger track, “Northern Touch”. This song ended up winning many Rap-oriented Juno Awards. It was also used as one of the theme songs for the Toronto Raptors basketball team the year before they won the NBA Championship in 2018. *(Watch the Kardinal Offishall remix here). For many, “Northern Touch” has become the official anthem of Canadian Hip Hop and has been widely praised for its swagger and positive energy.

Ron Nelson had many methods of creating a market for Hip Hop in Canada. One was through the creation of compilation mix tapes such as the one above.

You never know when a moment is going to come along and change your life. For me, one of the most significant was Ron Nelson’s little K-Tel compilation tape and his explanation of the creative process behind it. His genius allowed me to quickly see that my own creative talent and passion would be better served elsewhere. I do not take that as a failure on my part. Instead, I am grateful to Ron for allowing me to pivot early enough in my life so that I could start helping children sooner. Ron Nelson has no idea that he had a role in the direction of my life but he did. We don’t always get to choose our own destiny; oftentimes it is destiny that chooses us. I was destined to help children and tell stories that bring pleasure to others. Ron Nelson was destined to change the face of Canadian music in a culturally significant way for so many people who had been under-represented before his arrival on the scene. Yet, for a short time, he and I sat in the same chairs in the same rooms working on the same assignments. Whenever I hear from a former student about something special going on in their lives, I smile and feel as though I traveled along the path that was meant for me. Whenever I hear a great song like “Northern Touch”, with all of the confidence and pride and swagger it entails, I believe that Ron Nelson traveled down the right path for him, as well. To do so is about all one can hope for in life. Congratulations, Ron, for everything you have accomplished in life. For what it is worth, I am proud to know you even in the small way that I do. Thanks for bringing your best to all that you have done….starting with that K-Tel project for Professor Keast. 🙂

The link for the video of the song, “Northern Touch” by Rascalz, Checkmate, Kardinall Offishall, Choclair and Thrust can be found here.

The official website for Rascalz can be found here.

The official website for Checkmate can be found here.

The official website for Kardinal Offishall can be found here.

The official website for Thrust can be found here.

The official website for Choclair can be found here.

The official website for Ron Nelson can be found here.

The official website for radio station CKLN in Toronto can be found here.

Finally, the song, “Northern Touch” namedrops the city of Vancouver so, the official website for the city of Vancouver can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post should be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

My Eyes Adored You by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons from the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the musical, Jersey Boys: Song #17/250…The Stars of Stage and Screen.

To be honest, the fact that I picked “My Eyes Adored You” as the title song for this post is more because of a slight personal connection I have to the song than it is anything else. I could just have easily chosen songs such as “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night!)”, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” and many others. While the Jersey Boys musical tells the story of 1960s supergroup, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, it is mainly an excuse to create a play out of their musical catalogue of hits. In this way, Jersey Boys shares a lot in common with another Broadway hit, Momma Mia (which, as many of you know, showcased ABBA’s entire roster of hit songs in the guise of a romantic comedy storyline). But, thinking that the story of Jersey Boys is just like Momma Mia would be wrong. In fact, the two stories couldn’t be more different. The mere fact that actor Joe Pesci plays an integral part…in real life as well as on screen…tells you all that you may need to know that something is up with Jersey Boys. So, without further delay, here is the story of one of Broadway’s most popular and enduring hits, Jersey Boys.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: Valli, Gaudio, Massi and Devito.

With the emergence of the Fab Four over in England, American record executives were searching high and low for their own version of singing quartets. As luck would have it, four guys from New Jersey were meeting up and realizing that they shared a common love of singing and of four-part harmonies. These four young men were named Tommy Devito, Frank Valli, Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi. While these four young men could sing and ended up having a string of #1 hit songs, their fame only went so far; especially when compared to groups like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. The reason for that was because many of those involved in the group had well known ties to organized crime. In fact, Tommy Devito had already spent time in prison prior to becoming a singer in The Four Seasons (which is what the band was originally known as). Not only that but, Devito ended up racking up huge gambling debts as the 1960s unfolded. The debts got so high that eventually, the remaining members of the band had to approach a New Jersey-based Godfather and ask to cut a deal. Needless to say, cutting a deal with the Mafia rarely works out in anyone’s favour and that remains true of The Four Seasons who spent the remainder of their career working to pay off Devito’s gambling debts.

The structure of the storyline for Jersey Boys is broken into four quarters. Each quarter represents one phase of their career and each is told from the perspective of a different member of the band. The musical starts off with Devito talking about how the band came together and how the early days of their success unfolded. The second chapter of the story is told by Bob Gaudio (who actually wrote the entire musical). He tells of the back stories behind some of the biggest hits they had. For example, as fame came to the band, they toured constantly which caused the marriage of Frankie Valli and his first wife, Mary, to fracture. This led to the song, “My Eyes Adored You”. Part Three is told by Nick Massi and involves how Tommy Devito began getting into trouble with his gambling and how that affected the rest of the guys in the band. Massi describes how the band was forced to negotiate with a mobster and how that caused Devito to have to be hidden away for awhile so as to keep him from gambling anymore. Part Four is told by Frankie Valli, himself. He describes how the band changed focus by placing him as the star (in the same way that Motown put Diana Ross in front of her partners in The Supremes). He tells of how they finally managed to pay off the debts that they owed but at the price of his second marriage failing, his daughter succumbing to a drug overdose and the band agreeing to part ways and break up. The musical concludes with their manager, Bob Crewe, describing what it was like, years later, for The Four Seasons to be inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and how it came to be that the four original members reunited for one final performance.

The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons is quite the story. My personal connection to their work is not nearly as dramatic but it exists in my memories just the same so here goes. When I was in Grade 7, I attended my very first school dance. As one might expect, it was an awkward affair. I was never a wild party animal to begin with so the prospect of having to navigate these uncharted social waters filled me with dread. I wore tight polyester pants and a red flowery, Hawaiian silky shirt because my mother insisted that I “dress up” because that was what people of her generation did when they went to a dance. So, there I was, pimply-faced, overdressed and terrified to ask any of the girls to dance. The thing I remember most about the evening was that, for whatever reason, out of all the record albums available to our DJ that night, we had only one slow dance song. That song was “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Once the slow dances began and my friends started figuring out that slow dancing was the reason we were all here that night, “My Eyes Adored You” must have been played a dozen times at least! It may be a sweet song sung by Frank Valli’s about his first love but for me, I will always be taken right back to that night in our classroom dancehall at Brookside Street Elementary School where, true to my introverted nature, I was scared to be there and couldn’t wait for the night to be over.

“Funny, how?!” One of the most iconic scenes from the movie, Goodfellas. According to reports, much of this scene was improvised.

The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons became Jersey Boys which, in turn, went on to win numerous Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Jersey Boys continues to be performed all over the world. Presently, it is holding court in The West End in London, England. Here is an interesting tidbit of note that shows how Art can imitate life…in real life, Tommy Devito was introduced to Bob Gaudio by actor (and fellow New Jerseyite), Joe Pesci. One of the movie characters that Pesci is best known for is from the movie, Goodfellas, where he played a mobster known as….you guessed it…Tommy Devito!

Gramma’s iPod Shuffle.

A final small personal connection for me comes in the form of a story about my mother-in-law. When iPod Shuffle players first came out my father-in-law asked us to order one for her as a birthday present because she liked to listen to music while going for walks. Once the gift was given, my mother-in-law asked to have some of her favourite songs placed on her new Shuffle. The first CD that she gave me to download was the soundtrack to Jersey Boys. She knew all of the lyrics by heart. But more importantly, she and my father-in-law both know how to dance and love to do so in front of my daughters. Unfortunately, I am still no better today than I was in Grade 7 however, if “My Eyes Adored You” were to be played, at least I would have a slow dance partner to have and to hold and that’s all that truly matters to me.

The link to the video for the song, “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons can be found here. ***Lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the video for the trailer for the musical, Jersey Boys can be found here. The trailer for the movie can be found here.

The link to the official website for the musical Jersey Boys can be found here.

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #12/250: Small Of My Heart by Madison Violet

The stories behind great Canadian songs that mention great Canadian places.

Seagulls fly over a fish processing plant in Glace Bay, N.S.

I grew up in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. Waves from the mighty Atlantic Ocean smashed into coal-streaked cliffs that sheltered my hometown. Coal mines snaked for miles under the very land that formed those towering cliffs. Whether under the ground or on the sea, there were many men who earned a dangerous living for their families and helped keep the economy of Glace Bay afloat. The members of my family were neither fishers nor miners but we knew many who were. One of my favourite childhood memories came at school. We would be outside enjoying our recess play when all of a sudden the sky would fill with the cacophonous screeching and caterwauling of hundreds of seagulls. These birds were not screeching at the children playing in our schoolyard. They were all aflutter because the trawlers that had set out to sea before the sun rose above the horizon were now coming back home to port. Their holds would be filled with fish. The seagulls circled overhead in hopes of finding a fresh caught supper should any member of a trawler crew drop a fish on the wharf as they were being transferred into the fish processing plants that sat beside the harbour. The frenzied cries of the seagulls sounded across my hometown each day with the regularity of church bells on Sunday. It signaled to all that our fishermen had returned safely once again from the sea. In our playground, the games still went on as usual, but for my friends who had fathers and uncles on those boats, you could see the tension ease out of their bodies. Even as children, we knew what it was to have danger ever present in our lives. So, the seagulls’ symphony was always music to our ears. It said as much about family and about community and as words can say.

My hometown: Glace Bay, N.S.

This very year is the 40th anniversary of my departure from Glace Bay. In that time, I have lived in five different cities, all of them in Ontario. However, even though barely a third of my life was spent by the sea, I always think of Glace Bay as my hometown. I have salt water in my blood and coal dust in crevices and cracks that are etched into my skin. I have experienced a form of life that has helped create the person that I have become. I carry that heritage with me wherever I go in this world. It is a large part of the reason that I brought my bride to Cape Breton to ask for her hand. It is why I bring my daughters home to see the places of my childhood. Glace Bay is part of who I am and they are part of me, too, so I want those that I love to feel that salt air, to smell the sea when the tide is out and the ocean floor reveals itself and to know that the people there are good for a head nod as we pass, even if they have no idea who we are. I am blessed to be able to call Glace Bay my hometown.

But, one thing that I have learned in life and which I need reminding of, from time to time, is that not everyone in my life is as lucky as I am to have been raised as I was, where I was. I have friends who had traumatic childhoods; their memories of their hometowns are forever associated with sadness and pain. I have other friends who had more of a transient childhood because of their parents being in the military or in some other line of work for which frequent job transfers were a characteristic of the profession. For those folks, the question, “So, where are you from?” is not so easy or pleasant to answer. For me, I got to grow up with my classmates from school. For some, it was a friendship that has extended throughout our entire lives. But, for those kids who moved from town to town in search of employment for their parents and/or to stay one step ahead of bill collectors, they missed out on forming those childhood bonds. Saying goodbye became regular as rain. For many, there were no goodbyes at all because they learned not to invest the energy in forming attachments in the first place.

Luckily for me and for a friend of mine named JoAnn Kropf-Hedley, we found each other in our current home town of Cobourg, Ontario. JoAnn lives a few streets over from me and if I am a really good boy, sometimes she makes me the best raisin pies in the world. JoAnn has been a staunch friend of this blog since its inception and for that, I am eternally grateful. Not only does JoAnn click that LIKE button and leave excellent comments, she has given me one more thing that I appreciate…song suggestions. Although I haven’t kept up with the series as much as I have other blog series that I write, I do accept suggestions for future blog posts from my readers, turning those suggestions into posts that run under the heading “Reader’s Choice”. Well, a few months ago, JoAnn submitted a song from a Canadian Folk duo that I had never heard of before. The duo call themselves Madison Violet and the song she suggested was one called “Small of my Heart”.

The beach at Kincardine, Ontario.

When JoAnn suggested this song, she did so along with sharing a story from her own life. She told me that she was one of those wandering souls who criss-crossed the province and the country as a child. Because JoAnn knows my life story well, she knew the importance, for me of having a hometown to go back to. For her, she said that the closest she has had to a community where she felt at home was in Kincardine, Ontario. Kincardine sits on the shore of Lake Huron. It is surrounded by some of the very best farmland in Ontario. Kincardine occupies a scenic square amid a patchwork quilt of small town communities that make up the northwest corner of southern Ontario. For JoAnn, the close knit nature of life in Kincardine was what her young soul required at that time in her life. It is a feeling of community that she has carried with her throughout the rest of her days, including those spent just a five-minute walk from me.

Lisa MacIssac and Brenley MacEachern of Madison Violet.

The song “Small of my Heart” was written about Kincardine, which is why it is such a special song to JoAnn and why I feel so honoured to share it with you all today. Madison Violet consists of two talented singer-songwriters named Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIssac. They have been nominated for several Juno awards in the Folk category. Both women have roots in Cape Breton. Lisa MacIssac is the sister of talented fiddler Ashley MacIssac. Brenley MacEachern was born in Cape Breton but ended up moving to Ontario and wound up living in Kincardine. “Small of my Heart” is a song about Kincardine even though it never mentions the town by name. However, it does mention driving down Hwy. #9 (which is the main road that takes you to Kincardine from the Greater Toronto Area). The song also mentions specific places within Kincardine such as Harbour Street (by Lake Huron). It ends with the line about the importance of having a home town like Kincardine. I have visited Kincardine once as a much younger man and found it to be a lovely spot. I imagine those who call Kincardine home do so because of the sense of community they have and for how living by a mighty body of water can imprint itself in one’s DNA. I am not surprised that JoAnn and I…two people at home in small towns by the water…get along so well. Sometimes having a sense of home is because of geography. Sometimes it is because of those who make up your world. Thanks, JoAnn for the song suggestion and for being my friend.

The link to the video for the song “Small of my Heart” by Madison Violet can be found here.

The link to the official website for Madison Violet can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Town of Kincardine, Ontario, can be found here.

***As always, all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

You’re the One That I Want by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Grease…Song #10/250.

The Stars of Stage and Screen: The stories behind some of the best song ever to appear in Hollywood or Broadway musicals.

The very first album I ever owned.

I was twelve years old in 1976. That was the year that I bought my first album with my own money. It was called, Have You Never Been Mellow? by an Australian singer named Olivia Newton John. On our local radio station, they were playing a song of hers called “Please Mr., Please”. To my pre-teen ears, her voice sounded angelic and sweet. In those days before the Internet became a thing, I did not know what Olivia Newton John looked like. I only knew what I heard on the radio. That changed one day when I found myself in the record aisle of our KMart department store. Sitting there waiting for me to buy it was her new album. That was the very first time I ever saw her face. I didn’t know it at the time but seeing that album cover was the start of a lifelong attraction to “faces”. Hers was perfect. I couldn’t believe how beautiful I thought she was. As I held that album in my hands, I was developing my very first celebrity crush. For twelve year old me, Olivia Newton John was certainly worth emptying my piggy bank for.

I thought this was the height of fashion back in the day.

In 1977, Saturday Night Fever was released in theatres. Like many, I was captivated by the light show, the pounding disco beats and, most of all, by the dance moves being performed by John Travolta on screen. Not having grown up in the age of dance movie musicals starring the likes of Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers, Saturday Night Fever was my first taste of an entire movie that was seemingly built upon a foundation of dancing. My exposure to that movie coincided with me attending my very first school dance. I was thirteen years old. I had visions of wearing the same silk suits as John Travolta and his friends all did. In truth, that first dance was a dud. Our teachers only had a limited supply of records so they played “My Eyes Adored You” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons again and again. I was too shy to ask the girl of my desires to slow dance so I spent the night standing around in a red polyester shirt and too tight pants. It was awkwardness and coolness on a collision course. But, at least I was at a dance. The music was loud. There were lights, of a sort. It was the beginning of a love affair for me with loud music in public settings.

As many of you are aware, Hollywood tends to chase its own tail when it comes to replicating success. Saturday Night Fever set box office records. The soundtrack album became one of the biggest selling albums of all time. The movie made a star out of John Travolta. So, when it came to deciding what his next starring vehicle should be, it didn’t surprise anyone that John Travolta was cast in another musical. In the late 1970s, movie musicals were the big trend in Hollywood. It was announced that the movie, Grease, would star Travolta opposite my girl, Olivia Newton John. I couldn’t have been more excited. In interviews that I saw on TV, Olivia Newton John presented as being the fresh-faced, innocent, girl-next-door type that I had always imagined her to be. I was fifteen years old when Grease premiered in theatres. It did so to positive reviews, quickly becoming one of the most popular movies of the year. Olivia Newton John was nominated for a Grammy Award for a song called “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. The soundtrack album went on to be the biggest selling live action music soundtrack in history (until topped by Les Miz several decades later). Needless to say, when the time came for me to finally watch this movie, I was pumped! Great music awaited! Superb dancing was on tap. And best of all, I was going to be able to watch my favourite celebrity on the planet on screen for an hour or two, which in those days, seemed like eternity. So, I grabbed my popcorn and my ice cold pop and settled into my seat at the Triple Cinemas in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Let the movie begin!

Olivia Newton John and John Travolta dance together in the movie, Grease.

Grease is a musical that was originally a stage production that had its premiere in Chicago. The success it achieved on stage there, and then on Broadway, convinced producers that it would translate well on screen. The plot involved two characters (Danny/Travolta and Sandy/Newton John) who had had a summer fling and who were now, unbeknownst to each other, returning to the same high school for their senior year. The movie opened with each character discussing their summer romance with their friends. Travolta, who had adopted a more sophisticated demeanour at summer camp, returned to school as the greasy leader of a gang of guys whose only interest was in learning if Travolta had gotten “lucky” with this girl he had met. Olivia Newton John, on the other hand, clutched her school books to her chest and waxed nostalgic as she recounted to her girlfriends how dreamy her summer love had been. Obviously, the two summer lovers meet up again at school and the movie rests upon whether the two can rekindle their romance in this new setting, especially since John Travolta’s character has revealed himself to be something other than the man Olivia Newton John had fallen in love with. For the first three quarters of the movie, I watched sweet, innocent, soft-speaking Sandy wrestle with her desire for Danny against the pragmatism of her understanding that, as a greasy gang leader, Danny was not the sort of boy she thought she would find herself ending up with. I was cheering Olivia Newton John on all throughout this decision-making process, secretly urging her to drop Travolta and pick me instead! But then, the song “You’re the One That I Want” began to play and Olivia Newton John announced her decision by ditching her “nice girl” clothes and donning tight leather instead. I was crushed! As Olivia Newton John announced that she was “open for business”, so to speak, and John Travolta’s eyes bulged out of his head, my heart cratered. My sweet crush had turned into a bad girl. Audiences went wild. The song “You’re the One That I Want” went straight to #1 on the charts and ended up selling over four million copies as a single. The message couldn’t have been any clearer…sweet girls get their hearts broken but girls that “put out” were the real stars of the show.

Danny Zucko is impressed with what he sees.

As a boy who always preferred Mary Ann to Ginger on Gilligan’s Island, Olivia Newton John’s on screen transformation ended my celebrity crush. She capitalized on her newfound success by releasing a series of albums that all employed sexual innuendos such as, “Physical”, “Tied Up” and “Make a Move On Me”. I don’t want to say that I was a naive teenage boy but I was. Watching Grease was one of the very first moments when I started to realize how the world worked for women and how much of their value in society was linked to their sexuality. The leering nature of Travolta’s Danny character when he believes that he is going to get lucky after all has always sickened me. I wish this was not the way of the world. But, as much as I was disappointed when Olivia Newton John appeared all leather clad and ready to play, my admiration for her as a real person increased as I learned more about her own life and the causes she supported and believed in. She has become an animal rights activist and is an outspoken cancer survivor. Olivia Newton John remains a very popular figure in the entertainment world and has eased into respected elder statesperson status with much grace and aplomb. The funny part of it all for me is that she has done it all despite the misogyny of a world filled with men like John Travolta’s character, Danny Zucko, as well as a world filled with judgey types like me who freely cast opinions from the safety of our keyboards. Perhaps all the men of the world…me included…should simply keep our mouths shut and enjoy the music.

The link to the video for the song “You’re the One That I Want” by Olivia Newton John and John Travolta from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the film Grease can be found here. *A link to the lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the trailer for the film Grease can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of the post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song # 5/250: Your Ex-Lover Is Dead by Stars.

Today’s stop on the Great Canadian Road Trip takes us to the beautiful city of Montreal, Quebec. Montreal is one of my favourite cities. Even though I have never lived there, Montreal has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.

My initial impressions of Montreal all came through my television screen. I grew up in Nova Scotia at a time when the national baseball team was not the Toronto Blue Jays, but instead, the Montreal Expos. All of my early baseball heroes were Expo players such as Rusty Staub (called “Le Grand Orange” because of his full head of orange hair), Andre “the Hawk” Dawson, Tim “Rock” Raines, Ellis Valentine, Timothy John Foli, Gary “Kid” Carter and, of course, from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, future Hall-of-Famer, Larry Walker. On the other hand, I always had a strong dislike for the Montreal Canadians hockey team because they seemed so unfairly talented during my youth. They always got the better of my favoured Toronto Maple Leafs. The only saving grace for me growing up was that Canadiens’ Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play commentator, Danny Gallivan, was from Cape Breton, so even though I hated the Habs, Gallivan was a source of hometown pride. A few years later, I was watching Sesame Street on TV when it was interrupted for a live news coverage of the FLQ Crisis. I was upset that my show wasn’t on anymore but my mother just shushed me because our nation seemed at risk and that was more important than whatever was going on between Bert and Ernie at the time. Let’s just say that we agreed to disagree.

Not me but, the stroller is similar to the one I was carted around in while at EXPO 67.

The first time I ever visited Montreal in person was when I was three years old, and my family and I attended the EXPO 67 celebrations that were happening there. I don’t remember anything about the exhibits, but one memory I do have is being pushed around in strollers that were shaped and decorated like cans of pop. There are photos somewhere of my mother pushing me around Montreal in a green 7-Up shaped stroller. Those were the days, my friend. Another time, during my university days, I was traveling through Montreal…changing trains at the downtown train station…when I noticed the Montreal Gazette newspaper headline announcing that Wayne Gretzky had been traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles. As a family, we have visited Montreal and have enjoyed its unique blend of history and vibrant culture. There is just so much to do there, even for someone like me who is not fluently bilingual.

Pierre Trudeau was my favourite Prime Minister. He was from Montreal, as is his son, our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. I loved viewing Montreal through the eyes of great books such as The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler, as well as the poetry of Leonard Cohen. I have also enjoyed learning more about Montreal via musical acts such as The Box, Ginette Reno, Celine Dion, Patsy Gallant, Sam Roberts Band, Men Without Hats, Voivod and, of course, the subject of today’s post, Stars. For my money, Montreal is a city that is truly alive, and one that ranks among the very best and most interesting cities I have ever known.


Having said all of that, Stars are a band composed of people who are, for the most part, all from Ontario. Lead singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan both hail from Toronto, but early in their career, Stars relocated to Montreal and have operated out of there ever since. Stars have been around for more than a decade and a half, and have carved out quite a space for themselves in the Canadian Indie/Alternative musical landscape. They are contemporaries of other Canadian bands such as Broken Social Scene, Metric and The Tragically Hip. It is quite common for members of Stars to appear with Broken Social Scene and vice versa. In addition, both Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell have released solo albums. Yet, it is their work as members of Stars that has gotten them the most notice. Stars has been nominated several times for Juno awards and have multiple Gold records to their name. They have also been one of the most vocal opponents of streaming services such as Spotify, and how poorly most performers are paid by these organizations who shamelessly use their music to boost their own corporate bottom lines. Campbell gave a recent example of how their latest album, From Capelton Hill, had been streamed over 300,000 times on Spotify in the past month, which earned the five members of Stars a whopping total of $900.00. Spotify, on the other hand, charges a $10 monthly fee for full membership, so if all 300,000 streams were from individual plan members, Spotify earned three million dollars while paying out only $900.00 to the actual artist who generated their revenue for them. Needless to say, Stars support people like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, who have removed their songs from Spotify. Stars are active on social media and regularly invite fans to support the band directly by buying their music through their own website.

Pont Champlain in Montreal. Old bridge in the foreground, new bridge in back.

The song “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” came from Stars’ third album entitled Set Yourself on Fire, which was released in 2004, and which went Gold in Canada. I really like this song. It is so well written! It tells a complete story of what happens if you were mistakenly set up on a blind date with your ex-lover. The story is told from both points of view, and is one of those unique tales that doesn’t end happily ever after…and that is OK. The song begins with a taxi ride in silence across Pont Champlain, which was one of the main bridges that connected the island of Montreal with the suburbs on the south shore. The bridge mentioned in 2004 no longer exists. It was becoming structurally unsound and was replaced by a new bridge a few years ago. But, as far as the song goes, that journey across Pont Champlain sets the stage for a dramatic play about the choices we make in life, and about second chances that serve to open new doors, or else to confirm that some doors are best to remain shut. For me, “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” is like a breath of fresh air. I really appreciate the fact that this band took the time to create a whole world within the confines of a three-and-a-half-minute song. Far too often today, songs are just a chorus and a verse repeated a dozen times…yes, I am looking at you, Justin Bieber! So, to listen to the nuanced phrases and points of view found in “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” is a real treat and I am grateful. I can’t help but think that there is something about the city of Montreal that lends itself to inspiring creative artists such as those in Stars to go beyond the commonplace, and instead to create Art that is deep and rich and beautiful for all to enjoy. I think “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” is Art. I hope that you enjoy listening to it as much as I do.

The link to the video for the song, “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” by Stars can be found here.

***Note, the man who does the spoken word part at the very beginning is actor Douglas Campbell, who is the father of Torquil.

The link to the official website for the band Stars can be found here.

The link to the official website for the City of Montreal can be found here.

***As always, here is a gentle reminder that all original content contained within this post is the sole property of the author. No portion of this blog may be reblogged, copied or shared without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song # 3/250: One Great City by The Weakerthans

I lived in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia for the first eighteen years of my life. During that time, I did so within the warm social embrace of a good community. I was well served by my teachers in the schools I attended. My parents both had good jobs. I lived in a good house on a safe and friendly street. I had friends who liked and accepted me as I was. Glace Bay is still the place I mention whenever I get asked where I come from. And yet I left…of my own accord…like so many others of my generation. We all answered the siren call of better lives lived elsewhere. The lure of bigger cities with fancier shops and restaurants was strong. Better-paying jobs with rosier futures awaited somewhere far from the rocky shores of home. So, at the age of eighteen years, I packed a steamer trunk with as many childhood memories as would fit, boarded a train bound for Toronto and have lived away from Glace Bay ever since. My time in Glace Bay now comprises barely one third of my life.

As a teen, many of us couldn’t wait to get away. As great as it actually was to live there, we regularly called Glace Bay a “hole”. We were bored with our lives there. There were no great prospects for us back home so we were happy to get out…to cross that Causeway that connects Cape Breton Island to the rest of Canada. The pull of a life lived somewhere else was the fuel for our childhood dreams. Everything would be better if we could only just get out. So, I left. Many others did, too. We built lives for ourselves in Ontario and Alberta or anywhere else that offered us money and steady employment. So, here we stayed and here we lived…in homes on cul-de-sacs with manicured lawns, dreaming of what it would be like to live by the Sea. As it turns out, I go home every chance I get. But, I am hardly recognized by anyone who stayed. I have become a tourist in the town of my birth, with a voice that now sounds like it belongs to someone from away. I still go back to the place I couldn’t wait to leave. Because, after all, it is where I am from. It is part of who I am, regardless of where my house sits. It is home.

I grew up believing that the outward migration of youth from Cape Breton Island to the rest of Canada was something that was unique to us there. But, as time has proven to me, the love-hate relationships that people have with their hometowns is fairly common and quite universal. Our hometowns are a mirror that we hold up to ourselves; sometimes we look pretty spiffy and we like what we see. At other times, that reflection is filled with wrinkles and grey hair and spare tires in places we would prefer were hidden from view. Today’s song, One Great City by The Weakerthans, mines this emotional seam as well as any song ever has. The Weakerthans were a band that grew out of the burgeoning music scene in Winnipeg, Manitoba, back in the 1980s and 90s. One Great City is about Winnipeg, but in reality it could just as easily have been written by someone like me about Glace Bay. There are lots of references to actual points of interest from Winnipeg, such as the Golden Boy statue that sits atop the Legislative building,as well as the band, The Guess Who, who were big news a long time ago, and the Winnipeg Jets hockey team, which had left town to play in that hockey hotbed of Atlanta at the time this song was written in the early 1990s. The chorus to One Great City consists of one line only: that line being, “I hate Winnipeg”, which is something only actual Winnipeggers are allowed to say. John K. Samson, who wrote this song and most of their other great tunes, calls One Great City a love song…an ode, if you will, to the city he grew up in and left and came back to. A place that those who live there all believe is slowly dying, yet there it stands as a place where people live and work and call home.

The Weakerthans no longer exist as a band but, in their day, many of their songs read like poetry. In the links below, I am going to leave you with two songs to enjoy. The first one is the subject of today’s post, One Great City. As mentioned, it is about Winnipeg and the love-hate relationship Winnipeggers have with their city. The second song is my favourite Weakerthans song, Left and Leaving. It is also about Winnipeg, although the name of the city is never mentioned. The song is told from the point of view of someone who couldn’t wait to get away, but like the prodigal son, keeps returning…a little more changed as a person, to a city he recognizes less and less each time he returns. I feel as though John K. Samson and I have shared much in common in our lives as far as how we have come to view the idea of home.

The truth of the matter is that your house is where you live but your home is where your heart resides. Sometimes it is difficult to separate the two. Sometimes the place you call your home only exists in old photographs and faded recollections of familiar places and familiar faces. At other times and in other ways, the idea of home as a destination is smokey and wisp-like when, in fact, its essence is most often found in the arms of those you hold dear. So, here I sit…in a house with a manicured lawn, thinking about the Sea but realizing that I am where I am meant to be. I am with those whom I love and who love me in reply. In other words: I am already home.

The link to the video for the song One Great City by The Weakerthans can be found here.

The link to the video for the song Left and Leaving by The Weakerthans can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Weakerthans/John K. Samson can be found here.

***Just a reminder that all original content contained in this blog post is the sole property of the author. This post shall not be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author…(who is a nice guy and will probably allow you to share this post, but just the same, wants to be asked first). ©2022

The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #2/250: Cherry Beach Express by The Pukka Orchestra

In 1982, I moved away from my childhood home in a town of approximately 20,000 people, to a city of over 2 million. There were many aspects to living in a city like Toronto that took some getting used to, but one of the biggest for me was the sheer volume of people everywhere you went. There was no getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life…the noise of a thousand conversations, the heat from too many bodies in too small a space, the smells from food vendors and garbage bags and heat grates in the sidewalk.…Life was on a so much bigger scale in Toronto. But one of the most surprising things about being surrounded by so much “noise” all of the time was the anonymity that such an environment presents. I may have never been alone, but at the same time I was rarely seen. Because there is so much going on, even when all you are doing is something simple such as walking down the street, most people in bigger cities develop defense mechanisms that involve tuning out the external stimulation that is all around them. A form of social blindness envelops you as you race from here to there. Consequently, it is easy to move about unseen and unnoticed…just as easy as it is to not see or notice what is going on around you, too.

While I was attending university in 1984, a controversy arose in the local political arena regarding the nature of policing in Toronto. The concerns being expressed revolved around accusations of police brutality, and more specifically, that the Toronto Police had an unwritten policy of racially profiling certain socio-demographic groups which resulted in a spike in the number of arrests for members of those groups. Needless to say, the Toronto Police Dept. vigorously denied that any such practices went on. The debate ended up breaking down along political lines with left-leaning factions demanding a complete overhaul of the Police Department and right-leaning groups demanding even bigger budgets and more manpower for the Police. In the midst of all of this back-and-forth, a song began receiving airplay in Toronto, especially from Alternative radio station, CFNY. It was a song from a local band named The Pukka Orchestra called The Cherry Beach Express. Being relatively new to Toronto, I didn’t know where Cherry Beach was or what the song was referring to. However, the Toronto Police Department certainly knew what the song was referring to, and immediately set about getting it banned from the local airwaves. The reason for this was because The Cherry Beach Express was, in reality, much more than just a fictional song about a fictional place that existed in some songwriter’s mind. This song was, in fact, revealing one of Toronto’s dirty little secrets…that not only did police brutality exist, and not only did the police target certain minority groups more than others, but they had been doing it out in the open for years…at a place called Cherry Beach, on the shores of Lake Ontario.

The Pukka Orchestra consisted of three men named Graeme Williamson, Neil Chapman and Tony Duggan-Smith. The Cherry Beach Express, along with their cover of Listen To The Radio, were the band’s biggest hits. The word pukka is a Hindi word that means genuine or authentic. When Duggan-Smith thought of forming a band, his grandfather told him to form a pukka orchestra or to not bother wasting his time at all. Duggan-Smith and the rest of the guys liked that phrase as soon as they heard it and used it to name their band. In the early 1980s in Toronto, music as politics was a very real thing. Between radio station CFNY and upstart television station, CITY-TV, there was a great push to promote local talent, especially if the artist or band had something political to say. As a result, singers such as Carole Pope (from the band Rough Trade) became figureheads of a musical movement within the city to shine a light on the underbelly of “Toronto the Good”, as it was often referred to. CFNY even started up their own music awards show called the U Knows, which later became known as the CASBY Awards (Canadian Artists Selected By You). This awards show was in direct contrast to what was viewed as the corporate nature of the national awards show in Canada known as the Juno Awards. In any event, The Pukka Orchestra were voted as Group of the Year at the CASBY Awards in 1984, which was the entertainment scene’s way of publicly endorsing their exposure of Toronto Police tactics in their song, The Cherry Beach Express.

The song describes the practice which saw the Toronto Police pick up suspects and take them on a drive to the lake shore…to Cherry Beach…where “interrogations” would take place. In many instances, confessions would be extracted through physical beatings, sexual favours would be extorted from those women accused of prostitution and so on. Cherry Beach is located in an industrial area of Toronto just south of where the Gardiner Expressway turns into the Don Valley Parkway. As beaches go, it is actually not a bad spot to bring your family on a warm summer day. But at night, Cherry Beach was not the safest place in the city, especially if you were a racial minority who found yourself riding on the Cherry Beach Express in the back of a Toronto Police cruiser. As the popularity of The Pukka Orchestra’s song grew, stories began to emerge from other places in Canada where the local police were being accused of brutality. One of the most notorious of these stories was the infamous Starlight Tours from Saskatchewan. In these cases, police would drive intoxicated Indigenous men and women to the edge of town in the dead of winter and throw them out of the car and into the snow, forcing them to find their way home in sub-zero conditions. Many Indigenous people froze to death as a result of being forced to walk many kilometers without shoes or proper coats, all the while under the starry prairie sky.

The story of what was happening at Cherry Beach…in the very city I was living in…was an eye-opening experience for me. At that time, I had been in the city for two years and was beginning to think that walking through life with my head down, never making eye contact, keeping my mouth shut at all times in public, was merely how one lived in a metropolitan setting. But songs like The Cherry Beach Express by The Pukka Orchestra caused me to re-evaluate how I was living my life. I won’t say that this one song led directly to me becoming a teacher, but it was a factor in my wanting to be someone who actively made things better for others. Those initial feelings of wanting to make a difference in the lives of others were built on a foundation of moments of personal and political awakening from songs such as The Cherry Beach Express by The Pukka Orchestra, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, by U2, Biko, by Peter Gabriel and even, YMCA by The Village People. The desire for social justice and a more equal and fair society causes some people to go into politics. For me, it provided an impetus to become a teacher. Whatever the case, the biggest lesson of all is to not walk through life with your head down because there is so much out there to see.

Without further delay, here is The Cherry Beach Express by Toronto’s own Pukka Orchestra. Enjoy…and learn.

The link to the video for the song The Cherry Beach Express by The Pukka Orchestra can be found here.

The link to an article containing more information about The Pukka Orchestra can be found here.

The link to the video recorded on Cherry Beach by the comedy group Kids in the Hall can be found here. ***The video opens with two KITH members dressed as police officers. While no mention is made of the scandal that was ongoing at the time, the mere fact that this segment aired was a big political statement by the group.

The link to the video of the song Wild Things by Alessia Cara can be found here. ***Parts of this music video were shot at Cherry Beach, including all beach/waterfront scenes and all scenes that look as though they are in a factory setting. This will give you a good idea of how Toronto Police were able to “hide in plain sight” and do what they did without being seen.

Finally, the link to a story about Saskatchewan’s Starlight Tours, as written about in Maclean’s Magazine can be found here.

***Please note that the content of this post is the sole property of the author. It cannot be shared, re-posted or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022,