Tuesday, 12 November 2013


What Year Is It?

My father took me to Montreal’s Expo ’67 more than a few times when I was a brat in grade one. Maybe it was the burning reek of sulphur in the Mordor pavilion that made me blink, but suddenly 2014 is less than eight weeks away. This week I absolutely must hit one of the two record stores that I know of in Edmonton to buy new releases from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Happy times for the long converted Kool-Aid drinkers, yet passing strange.

The Beatles album is the second installment of Live at the BBC. The little I’ve gleaned is that the two CDs are mostly crowd sourced barrel scrapings. However, any actual authentic Beatles noise is valued over something such as the Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas Love deconstruction of Beatles tracks for the benefit of acrobats. Sweet Summer Sun is a phrase from Loving Cup, one of my favourite Stones songs (side two of Exile on Main St.). It is also the title of their latest, umpteenth live album (DVD) and documents their mammoth show earlier this year in London’s Hyde Park. Like the Beatles, the Stones don’t put out much new music anymore but at least they still work together now and then. Remarkably, they’re still the best rock ‘n’ roll band on stage this side of E Street.

In 1966 or maybe later we had a black or maybe a black and white cat as our household pet. It was hit by a car whilst trotting across Dunraven, the cross street at the end of our block. A neighbour found Shoo-Shoo lying dead in his rose garden. The broken little soul had tried to make it home through the gaps in the backyard fences. I remember the cat stretched out on its flank in the dirt. A bit of blood, thick and crimson, waxy. Death up close was fascinating in its finality. I do not recall grieving (what has remained with me through the subsequent years of my parents’ divorce and my own divorces is the cat’s quest to get back home). I believe I truly experienced grief for the first time when the Beatles broke up in 1970.

For a 10-year-old the Beatles were a unit straight out of Alexandre Dumas, musketeers; all for one and one for all. Best friends as portrayed in the documentaries A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Yellow Submarine. There were (and still are) 24 hours in a day and obviously the Beatles spent every waking moment together because that’s what best friends do even if John’s new girlfriend seemed as icky as some of the girls who lived on my street.

When no one was home I’d sneak into my older sister’s pink and Beatle-postered bedroom and cart her Beatles albums downstairs to spin on the hi-fi in the dining room. That repeated act and the rock ‘n’ roll temptation had to be confessed to the parish priest of course. I’ve often wondered if my big sister ever wondered why the grooves of her Something New LP were almost worn through. All tracks were written by Lennon-McCartney except where noted, best friends. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched the real and genuine Beatles career documentary Anthology; I can tell you I maintain this absurd faith that next time it will all somehow end differently.

I was born in 1960, the happy accident (for me – most days anyway) of Vatican Roulette. This means that I do not have a memory of living life without the Rolling Stones somewhere within it. Their continued existence is simply mind-boggling; I mean three Ramones are dead, c’mon. My sister had Stones albums naturally but I remember her London Records double A-side 45 of Ruby Tuesday/Let’s Spend the Night Together most. Then things got as weird and scary as the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz: the 1968 war paint promo film of Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the song Sympathy for the Devil – a difficult concept for a repressed Catholic kid. These guys were not your average lovable mop tops, Boo-Boo.

It was inevitable that my puberty and acne would intersect with the primal rhythms and riffs of the Stones. Heroes like Jean Beliveau and Bobby Orr must necessarily be discarded for new ones like Mick and Keith who were not best friends so much as partners in crime. Upon reflection, there was an inarticulate epiphany then that I could never view my world, its authority figures, its priests and politicians, in the same light again. The covert bonds of blind conformity had been broken.

Funny what stays with you. I’m 53 now, with regrets in these tired ol’ blue eyes, too many to mention. I still cannot go to sleep with the bedroom closet door ajar because I’m afraid of what may come out of there in the wee wee hours. War paint Jumpin’ Jack Flash still makes me squirm with mild fear, the goosebumps will never recede. I wish John and Paul could’ve worked it out, tried to see it my way when I was 10. And here we are now in the 21st century, new Beatles and Stones in the marketplace. Another chance to revisit what I’ve always carried with me. Is this a gift or a curse?

My plan is to play them so loud that I’ll not be able to think, dwell nor brood. I intend to dance.

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