Imagine a 10-year-old kid, his hard-earned, long-saved allowance burning a hole in pocket, heading down the street to buy himself a little piece of heaven that was miraculously crammed into a bright, candy-coloured plastic case, or sealed into the seemingly endless circle of black vinyl grooves.
I had the good fortune of living within walking distance of the Churchill Plaza where my favourite store, Arnill’s Music, boasted a sizeable selection of the 8-track cartridges, displayed, bottom-title up, in a huge bin near the check-out counter, and albums old and new carefully placed in vertical racks along one of the walls in the small but well-stocked store. A collection as diverse as the universe to a little kid with precious spending money — the [now classic] rock, the emerging alternative music scene, the crossover country music — all those musical styles and bands at my fingertips.
How could I possibly choose just one?
Those small moments inspired an enormous love of music, and those tapes, albums, CDs and, ultimately, MP3s and streamed playlists, formed and still inform the soundtrack of my life. The music might sound a bit dated today, or the significance of the tunes might have lessened over the years, but no one can deny what it meant for us at one particular point in our young lives in that mythical time we call Back Then.
I love going back and reading the reviews of those albums bought those many years ago, to rediscover them in the context of the era and the culture that produced each musical statement contained on those tapes and in those grooves. I can close my eyes and know exactly where I was when I first purchased each recording, or what I was doing when certain songs played, whether it was listening to David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, courtesy of my Walkman, as I made my way to my job at the General Hospital, or listening to McCartney’s Band on the Run on 8-track while I read Hardy Boys books at home, or cruising Queen Street with my best friend, windows down, and cranking AC/DC’s Highway To Hell with the bass turned all the way up (which, incidentally, is a fine way to blow the woofers on an expensive set of Clarion car speakers).
Music was there through the more sombre times too, like my memory of Elton John’s “Island Girl” playing on CKCY while the brutal November storm that sank the hapless Edmund Fitzgerald raged outside my bedroom window, or the first time in 1991 when I heard the Tragically Hip telling us Saultites that we were “Born in the Water” and were “smart as trees” because of our City Council’s push to declare City business be conducted in English only, rather than in English and French. Or some of the other music we cannot help but associate with the more forlorn periods of our then-young and impressionable lives.
For many of us, the history and the music are interchangeable — and inextricable. I hope that you’ll come with me on my journey through the years and the albums that make my memories of growing up in the Sault so vivid and so comforting. And by all means — let me know what music you associate with your youth in the Sault. Suggest some albums, too, and share your musical Sault Ste. Marie memories. I hope to feature one or two albums a week in this blog, time permitting.
And hopefully you’ll find yourself digging into your old records, your old tapes, your old CDs, and reliving some of those good memories while listening to some of the greatest music ever recorded. It might be a bittersweet trip, but it’s one that we all take at some point when that song comes up on the radio or in your personal playlist.
Let’s take that trip together!