Thursday, September 16, 2010

1980: The Summer of Egress

In the summer of 1979 our family moved from the Mennonite village of my childhood to a suburb of Winnipeg. I had just turned 14.

The new house was the former property of the neighborhood pot dealer. I helped tear out the shag rug that covered the place, including the kitchen and bathrooms. The activity left a sickly, cloying smell to my clothes. The next day I mopped out the concrete basement, in which two large dogs had been penned and ignored. That night I got sick.

It took me two days to get back on my feet. Then I was assigned the task of carving the mouldy grout from between the tiny porcelain tiles in the bathroom. As with the previous jobs, I was granted the kitchen radio, which I tuned to the AM station of the day.

This struck me as a very large concession on my parents' part. Two years earlier I had shocked them when I came home from the library with an album by the Village People. What really cooked their collective kneidl wasn't the band's overt gayness — cloistered as we were, that possibility never crossed our minds. No, they were freaked out by the final song, “Ups & Downs.” Judging from the lyrics alone, the singer may have been lamenting his increasing reliance on pharmaceuticals, but there was no denying the infectious and ultimately subversive dance beat.

Anguished discussions had ensued that night. But now here I was, shoving an old screwdriver blade into blackened grout, while the kitchen radio broadcast the hits of the day through a house that was empty of all but my toiling family. It didn't just feel like progress: it felt like an accommodating portal into the city that sprawled outside our door — a city I was only too happy to avoid via grout-removal and fecal mopping.

This (scroll down) is the CHUM 100 of 1979. There isn't a song on it that I don't still love (although Styx's “Babe” sometimes strains). After Ms. Patty asserted that quality of music took a nosedive in 1974, while Yahmdallah pinned the Year Of International Musical Decline to 1988, I thought I'd just post the CHUM 100 for '79 and let the music speak for itself. But of course it doesn't, because it can't.
CHUM 100, 1976 - not quite as good as '79, natch.
The personal point of egress for me was the summer of 1980. The CHUM 100 from that year isn't remarkably different from the previous year, but two events conspired to change my reaction to it.

During the past year I had developed two circles of friends: my school mates, and my church mates. The group from school was very small. One guy convinced the rest of us that Rush's Permanent Waves was The Album Of The Year. Another guy (not me) bought it. After school we'd retreat to his carpeted basement rec room, turn up the tinny hi-fi stereo and listen to the whole thing from side to side and back again. When it absolutely could not be avoided, a bit of air-banding took place. But mostly our sessions boiled down to the sort of critical parsing that 15-year-old boys excel at: “Wait, did you hear that? That was cool!

The second event involved my church friends, whose taste in music was markedly different (if still very secular). One Saturday we pedaled our ten-speeds to the record store in the local mall, where my buddy purchased a single 45: “Lonesome Loser” by Little River Band. He paid three dollars, then carefully slid the package between his T-shirt and jeans. Then we mounted our bicycles again, and returned to his place, where we listened to the song a half-dozen times in a row. After the sixth spin, he turned off the stereo and sadly announced, “Well, I think I got my money's worth.”

I thought he'd been gypped. And I thought Disco Sucked, even though I'd loved it the previous summer. I also thought “My Sharona” was punk, prompting me to fly into a pogo-hop whenever it got played at parties. I thought Kenny Rogers was cool. I thought Larry Norman and Resurrection Band kicked ass. But more than anything else I thought Rush was the only rock 'n' roll band alive, even if (or, most likely, not a little because) The Starman threw me into a mild Satanic Panic.

There was simply no arguing with music like that, while the argument with everyone else had just begun — in the summer of 1980.

Link Love: in the But You Already Knew That category, this item would be the perfect gift for the Rush fan in your family. Too bad he already owns it, and has committed its contents to memory. There's a lot to love in these DVDs, which play like a reciprocal valentine between band and fans. But my favorite moment occurs when Pete from Cleveland gives the camera a satisfied nod of acknowledgment as the band begins playing “Freewill.” That's a 100% undiluted Rush Fan Moment.

Hold on a sec: is that a girl?!

She must've got photoshopped in. Here:

That's more like it!


yahmdallah said...

Great article. I think I checked your site about 8 times before you posted it. I don't know about Canada, but Rush is having a major renaissance in 'Merica.

And here's where you can get your hands on that great article Rolling Stone did on them:

Whisky Prajer said...

I announced my intentions before I began composing -- if that's not a no-no in the blogosphere, it probably should be. Sorry about that.

The Rolling Stone piece: that's the one where the writer/interviewer sheepishly admits that the magazine that sent him hasn't been particularly receptive to the band. The trio's response is quite generous, all things considered. Actually, I bought that issue (Obama's on the cover) -- probably the first RS issue I've purchased in at least a dozen years.

As for the regard of Canadians, I'm not sure I could say if it's changed at all over the decades since Permanent Waves. Their concerts have usually been filled to capacity, even during the synthesizer years (which elicits Lifeson's only hint of bitterness in the doc). But my sense is that public love for the band definitely surged in Canada when they returned to the studio and stage after Peart's tragedies. We'd all thought it was over, and apparently so did the band.

Joel Swagman said...

Curious as to what CHUM stands for: Canadian hit *something* music?

I've heard the theory before that every 10 years pop music breaks down and goes for the lowest common demoninator, and then gradually builds up in sophistication until it peaks after 10 years and falls back down again. Like all theories of the world it's overly simplistic (I think in any given year you can always find a couple of gems) but I think in generalities it seems to hold true.

At any rate, that theory seems more true to me than the idea that music has been in an inevitable decline since a certain year.

DarkoV said...

this may help. I think that what Westinghouse was to early radio (The "W" in the call letters of all f the stations east of the Mississippi), CHUM was to Canadian radio.

Am I close WP?

DarkoV said...

From the 1980 CHUM list, #47 from Martha & The Muffins. Ahhhh, down memory's lane. I loved their 1981 "This is the Ice Age". Daniel Lanois on production, "Women Around the World the World at Work", "Swimming", "Casualties in Glass", "Boy Without Filters", "You Sold the COttage"...... still have the vinyl somewhere, may have to spring the big bucks for the CD. Lanois' production was eery and cold.
Thanks for the trip , WP!

Whisky Prajer said...

Since Canadian cities have a solipsism peculiar to themselves, I hadn't heard about the CHUM 100 until I moved to Toronto, where the chattering classes seemed to consider it THE final word on the Canadian pop palate. To my eyes, the list itself didn't look at all different from the top 100 lists put together by the pop stations in Winnipeg (actually, unless I'm mistaken I believe CHUM owned a Winnipeg FM station, too).

For Canadian bands, however, CHUM was a very big deal. Right up into the late 80s, scoring airtime with CHUM was a Canadian act's best shot at success and longevity.

Whisky Prajer said...

"Lanois on production" -- I was not aware of that, even though I was very aware of This Is The Ice Age. Although I did get weary of "Echo Beach" being played to death on the radio, I couldn't get enough of "Swimming." CBC Radio broadcast a concert of the same material, track for track, and I remember it as a giddy affair. On vinyl MatM seemed like such a controlled force, but on stage they were clearly out to enjoy themselves as much as the audience was.

yahmdallah said...

Wasn't this fun?!

I hope other regulars chime it. It'd be fun meme.

yahmdallah said...

Btw, it doesn't hurt to just state it once in a while: dig your blog, dude.

Whisky Prajer said...

Thanks, man!

Cowtown Pattie said...

I just never got into the head bangin' sutff, I'm more of a Byrds or Doors chick.

That being said, I did enjoy Kelly Johnson and Girlschool.

And I LOVED Heart. Crazy on You and of course, Barracuda - Hall of Fame killer kind of licks and lyrics and vocals.

Nothing says pretentious and affected like Jim Morrison, but come on! Rush had their moments, good musicians et al, but sheesh what a bunch of "Look at me, I'm cool" Zepplin-wannabes. (sorry, I am just NOT a Rush fan. Duh.)

Cowtown Pattie said...

Nancy's opening riffs on this are legendary! (skip the gay Luke Skywalker in satin shirt...peacock in white.)

Cowtown Pattie said...

And Nancy and Ann in 2000:

Good stuff.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Sorry, I didn't make the links work. So, shoot me.

Copy, paste, click.

Not hard for even guys who worship at the Rush altar.


Cowtown Pattie said...

One of those "worst" moments in musical history:

John McCain and Sarah Palin (with the support of the RNC) trying to rip off the Wilson sisters' Barracuda.

Almost....almost...ruined the song for me. Don't even get me started on how much I retch at the sight or sound of that Alaskan beyotch.

Whisky Prajer said...

Actually, CP, guys who worship at the Rush altar are usually more fluent in HTML than they are in the language of their birth.

And you won't get too many Canadians arguing with you on the issue of the Wilson sisters' awesomeness. Or said Alaskan's extreme deficit of same.

Whisky Prajer said...

Not to mention, deficit of shame.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Gag me with a spatula if I have to see that woman's antics one...more...time.

Whisky Prajer said...

As is her intent you and I will be hearing of that woman's antics, my dear, for a long, long time. Here's hoping the likes of us will not be gagged in any way shape or form in the duration.