Osbourne Village, Winnipeg -- Winter, 1980. I can't remember how I managed to get a ride to this place, but a party is definitely in progress. It's an old, three-storey house in one of Winnipeg's former bastions of hippiedom. The host gave us a tour of the place, including the basement where the former tenants painted weird symbols on the wall for their ... well, who knows what they did in that pit, but the mind certainly conjures up some pretty wild scenarios.
People continue to pack into the place as the night wears on. Twenty boxes of pizza arrive at the door. I grab a single slice before the locusts descend and strip the cardboard. Did someone pay the delivery guy? Or was that him, following the dark-haired girl up to the third floor?
I'm 14 years old, trying to pass myself off as 18. There isn't a girl in the house who's buying it. I finally wind up in a tiny room on the second floor. The overhead light is on; in contrast to all the other rooms in the house, this one is almost blindingly lit. There is barely enough space to accomodate a solitary twin bed, a milk crate, and a cheap hi-fi stereo. Some guy is sitting on the bed, listening to music. Correction: he's listening to Kenny Rogers.
"Cool," I say. "Do you have The Gambler?" (Great cross-over song, that. They play it at all the roller-rinks.)
"For sure," he says. He lifts the stylus and places it at the requested track. "On a slow train to nowhere / I met up with a gambler..." I look around. There's no place for me to sit, except beside him on that ridiculous bed. He could care less -- he's digging the music -- so I take my place. We sit there, side by side, staring at our socks and listening to Kenny Rogers. "This one's pretty good, too," says my new friend. He turns over the record, and places the stylus on the final song, Coward of the County.
And there you have it: two straight guys, sitting in a tiny bedroom and listening to Kenny Rogers while a party rages around them. Could there be a more pathetic scenario? I sure did like that last song, though. It told a story.
So did most of the others, come to think of it. I figured that was a good trait in a song, so a day or two later I went to K-Mart and spent four dollars on my very own copy of Kenny Rogers' Greatest Hits.
To my 14-year-old ears, Kenny sounded like a singing version of Louis L'Amour -- only a little gushier, thanks to those ballads of his. I didn't much like the ballads. I mostly skipped over them and went straight to the story songs, especially Coward of the County -- 'cos, you know, I was a Mennonite (right?) and that song was The Shit.
26 years later, I'm inclined to amend my original assessment by using lower case letters. What a tedious, hateful little song! My exhausted love for it was sped-along by the argument I was to hear many, many times: "Oh, so you're Mennonite? Well, what would you do if someone came into your house and tried to rape your wife?" If you're going to attack Mennonite ideology, this particular strategy feels like the natural first move. You think we aren't ready for it? Go ahead and blast away! For your quick and inerrant wit, there is a very special reward: once you get the answer, you will be persuaded of many things, including the hard-scrabble wisdom of avoiding not just this particular tack, but the whole "dialogue" to begin with.
Or, if you're hanging out with Yours Truly, you could follow the surer strategy: just play this fucking song. You'll get the violent response you were looking for -- and then some!
The #2 Candidate for my Musical Hall of Shame; Hall of Shame Song #4.
Tags: Kenny Rogers