Flipping through a magazine one day as a kid I happened upon an ad for something called Columbia House. They said they would send me ten cassettes for only a penny, and all I had to do was buy eight more at the regular price over the next couple of years. I couldn’t believe it! I grabbed a pencil and started ticking off tapes from their list.
And that’s how I got into disco.
My parents didn’t listen to a whole lot of music at home. When they did, my mother exclusively listened to Elvis Presley and other 50’s music and being a truck driver my dad only listened to truck driving music like Red Sovine, Jerry Reed, and Boxcar Willie. My big brother didn’t listen to music at all as far as I could tell, though for a time he and a couple of his buddies had a DJ service that set up rented lights and speakers and played pre-mixed tapes of radio hits at school dances.
So, with only top-40 AM radio to shape my musical mind I checked off the artists I recognized from the current hit parade, names like Donna Summer and Diana Ross, skipping right over such unfamiliarities as Led Zeppelin and The Who and after 6-8 weeks of eagerly checking the mailbox I had myself a music collection!
And oh how my collection grew, as every Columbia House monthly card I would forget to return on time would magically become another (invariably pop-oriented) tape in my rural mailbox.
And so when I moved to Toronto (okay, Richmond Hill) at the age of fourteen I hauled with me about 150 disco albums and a very naive musical sensibility that was about to get severely jarred.
It happened very suddenly, and I remember it vividly. I was in the arcade up the street from our rented house, which sat at the corner of Yonge and Major Mackenzie. Me and my family had just arrived in town and as it was summer I couldn’t rely on school to meet new friends so I had started hanging around with a few guys I met at the arcade.
I was playing a video game when a song came out of the jukebox. Something about the song just hit me, and it hit me hard; it was a feeling I had rarely felt before. I almost lost my man in Defender.
I turned to my friend, “What is this we’re listening to?” I asked, my eyes flicking away from the screen for a millisecond.
“It’s Tom Sawyer by Rush,” my friend replied, obviously shocked at my ignorance.
“Rush?” I said, barely saving my planet from destruction with a deft flick of my reverse-blistered left thumb. “Never heard of them.”
“Here,” I said to my friend, quickly handing him a quarter between levels on my vid, “Go put that song on again.”
I spent the rest of the evening listening to the four tracks from Moving Pictures that were available on that jukebox over and over; nobody in the arcade minded one bit. The next day I went to the local pawn shop and sold every single cassette in my collection. Though I’ve always been a very collection-oriented guy I gave these up gladly. None of this music had given me the feeling I got when I listened to Rush; I had no need for them any more. I had been duped; I thought I knew what enjoying music felt like but I had been missing out my whole life. It was very much like when I first read Bukowski and suddenly knew what it meant to actually love poetry.
I took the pittance I received from the pawn shop and went straight to Sam The Record Man where I bought every Rush album in existence at the time on cassette. My musical pallette needed a thorough cleansing so I spent the next year or two listening to nothing but these twelve albums. Literally. In chronological order, over and over again.
So a year or so after I got bit by the Rush bug the band announced a show at Maple Leaf Gardens in support of their awesome Signals album and I grabbed a pair of excellent tickets. It would have been my first-ever concert but my friend bailed on me at the last minute and my mom wouldn’t let me go alone so I grudgingly sold them to a guy I worked with at McDonald’s for $20 apiece (netting me a tidy $14 profit for the pair! – what a young punk scalper I was).
When I did start going to concerts I was finally able to experience the next-level musical awakening bursting through my soul that only comes from standing in front of real live music, and this joyful enlightenment made me very much long for another chance to see my favourite band in concert. It seemed every six months there would be another rumour of Rush coming to the Moncton Coliseum but these rumours would invariably not come true, and at my young age travelling to see a show had yet to cross my mind.
And so I waited and waited for Rush to come to town, placating myself by seeing pretty much every other show that came through the Coliseum, like so many consolation prizes. And then it finally. actually. happened.
On November 4th, 1987 Rush played the Moncton Coliseum with Chalk Circle opening the show. I was beyond excited. So beyond, in fact, that my friend and I used stationary and a business card from his mom’s defunct indie record label to forge a couple of bogus backstage passes for the show. It was literally a cut-and-paste job with scotch tape holding the laminate together, and they locked pretty shoddy (what a young punk forger I was).
So with my homemade backstage pass in my pocket and a mini tape recorder stuffed down my jeans I took my seat ready for the show I’d been waiting for forever (what a young punk bootlegger I was).
And the show was…pretty disappointing. Okay, opening with a lame new song is to be expected, and going right into Subdivisions for the second song was pretty exciting; I wasn’t sitting down, I can promise you that. But then they went back into new song after new song, peppering the set with the occasional crowd pleaser like YYZ or Closer To The Heart but weighing heavily on material from Presto and whatever that red album is, Red Sector A or something (goes to show you how my fandom petered out).
It wasn’t until the encore that I got the Rush I wanted, the Rush I had dreamed of for years. Chunks of 2112, La Villa Strangiato and In The Mood to close it out with a straight-up rock and roll number, but it just wasn’t enough. This was not the Rush concert that would fulfill my desires, though luckily those Rush shows would come to me over time.
And to be fair, after years of pent up anticipation and excitement the band didn’t really have much of a chance of living up to the expectations of a starry-eyed (scalping, forging, bootlegging) teenager such as I.
But would you believe our fake Foxways Records backstage passes got us past security after the concert? I guess it’s a bit generous to call the retired ushers that worked shows at the Moncton Coliseum “security” so it’s not that big of a feat I suppose, but when the guy scrunched up his face muttering how our passes didn’t look like the other passes we laid a story on him and he waved us through. We were pretty pumped as we ran down the stairs to the backstage area.
We ended up at a chain link fence separating the dressing rooms from where the bus would be parked. There were a few other people down there with us and the word was going around that the band wasn’t going to show up for the meet-and-greet. After a while people started giving up and leaving and eventually we did too.
And while the concert didn’t live up to my teenaged, starry-eyed (scalping, forging, bootlegging) expectations, when they closed out the set proper with Tom Sawyer – the song that had changed my world so suddenly a half-decade before – I felt a cleansing connection to something that I needed fulfilled.
And that alone was worth the $18.