A LONG WAY FROM MANY PLACES
Shopping in Montreal
Kicking merchandise in a shoe store on St. Catherine Street. Blue suede shoes with crepe soles. Slick. Hipster. I’ve wanted a pair my entire sentient life, since rock ‘n’ roll steamrolled the Catholic Church into the ditch. They’re on sale too, just $40 a foot. A bit rich and I don’t actually need them as I already have six pairs of shoes, three pairs of winter boots and a pair of skates; a lot of footwear for a biped. But those blue suede numbers would be too cool with a pair of black stovepipe Levi’s. But I don’t own pants like that anymore. Anyway, I’d have to get a new leather jacket and a porkpie hat and so it all becomes a bit too much. I cannot pull the trigger on those blue suede shoes. Parting with a dollar is painful; perhaps I’m as cheap as talk.
Strange, the 30 years I lived in Montreal I never shopped for shoes. I just bought what was needed when they were needed. When you return to your hometown as a visitor after a long time away there’s not much else to do except browse shop windows. Old friends have since moved away and established themselves in other provinces or in other places dotting this chaotic globe. The life spans of old haunts have long expired and some of the addresses have been demolished. For the prodigal music fan, the old record store route that used to stretch from Guy Street to Park Avenue has gone the way of America’s Route 66 – the interstates made the legendary highway a mere patchwork of its Chicago to L.A. blacktop myth and the famous stops along those 2000 miles withered; in Montreal A&A Records, Discus, Deux Mille Plus, Rock en Stock, Dutchy’s Record Cave, Phantasmagoria and Sam the Record Man were all fatalities of the new digital world order.
The intersection of St. Catherine and Peel was once reputedly the busiest street corner in Canada. This recalls the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, our country’s centennial, Expo ’67, the city’s race against Toronto to trumpet a civic population of one million and hosting ’76 Summer Olympic Games. Since then there have been recessions and referendums. The island’s tunnels, bridges and elevated spaghetti expressways are literally crumbling, falling apart and falling down. The current hearings investigating the corruption entwined within City Hall’s infrastructure maintenance and sourcing (cheap cement, Mafia strings twitching union bosses and shameless Third World graft) is 70s Cliche Commission redux. Tammany Hall could never touch this. It’s good to be home, if only to get a whiff of 400 years of gangrene.
Canadian HMV stores have been spun off by their UK parent but the store at St. Catherine and Peel reminds me of the one on London’s Piccadilly Circus (since closed). Massively multi-floored yet inviting despite the lack of twee amenities such as pleather club chairs and an in-store café although it’s immediately apparent that music is now just a sub-genre of home entertainment. Still, the lowest level is almost all CDs and vinyl, as if Napster and iTunes never existed. The selection is vast, not merely compilations and recent releases: artists’ entire back catalogues are stocked in the racks. The Bob Dylan section is spilling over and Infidels will plug a hole on my shelf of His Bobness. HMV’s prices are Amazon competitive too. Pinch me.
It takes two trips over two days to browse and shop just the Rock alphabet from A to Z. There is some heartbreak and pain, a bit of crying in the climate change January rain. HMV has a deluxe edition of High Hopes, the new Bruce Springsteen release and it includes a live DVD from 2013 of Born in the U.S.A. in its sequential entirety. When I bought the album earlier that week in Edmonton there was no deluxe edition in evidence. I would’ve spent the extra $2 then but damned if I’m repurchasing it 72 hours later even though I’m a Bruce completist. Or was until now. And there’s an enhanced package of the Stones’ recent Sweet Summer Sun which now includes a DVD of their premier 1968 Hyde Park performance. Bastards! Mick and Keith have been hoovering money from my wallet for 40 years; I dread the forensic accounting.
After all these years of consuming music, sweet music, it’s pretty much come down to plugging gaps in the library. The bond was formed long ago and this need persists. For instance, no decent collection should be without at least some Randy Newman or Long John Baldry. So HMV was good, Better Than Ezra in fact. I spent enough to buy at least two and a half pairs of blue suede shoes, but you can’t hear shoes unless they squeak.
Shopping in Montreal remains problematic. If you spend a dollar, the Feds will top up that amount with the five-per-cent GST. Fair enough. Afterward the province’s Ministry of Finance will impose its 9.975 per cent tax on the sale, but not on your initial dollar, no, those ferrets in Quebec City calculate their take on $1.05. Sing about sticker shock.
I do not move in the rare air circles of Coffee, Tea or Me? or Executive Class in big old jet airliners. Planes are flashy Greyhound busses, giant incubators of other people’s infections, most of whom cart way too much carry-on along with their sniffles. So hefting a shopping bag into the cabin is humiliating. At least it’s filled with CDs. Yet I feel like yesterday’s émigré, some sad sack from a former Soviet satellite country packing onions for on-board snacks.
All things considered, I guess it was worth it although the neighbours keep calling the Edmonton police with noise complaints. Bastards.