Jaimie Vernon: Life’s A Canadian Rock – Part 2

AN EARWORM BY ANY OTHER NAME
It was 1982. I remember it with such clarity because it became the anchor to a quest not only to find a song but the answers within the song itself. Like all the days that preceded it, the clock radio blasted me awake like a drill sergeant to get out of bed and face another automaton-like day. But the sound coming out of the radio was somehow different on this particular day. Though the song was bouncy, the singer was snarling. Defiantly British, I thought.

“Anna played games in the shadow of the moon.
Danced too many times to the same old tune.
Freedom Jive from ‘65. She’s still alive.”

For once, I didn’t follow my dreary-eyed girlfriend out of bed. I lay there in the half-dark with the radio’s light illuminating the room. Despite being near-comatose, the adrenalin was already pumping as I leaned into the aura of the performance with my full attention.

“Now she’s gotten older.
The streets are much colder.
Nobody told her they gave peace a chance.”

Could it be a new track by The Clash? It was certainly punk enough. It was certainly brash enough. And it was most certainly cynical enough. But what was this?

“But that’s ROMANCE! ROMANCE! ROMANCE!”

I was transfixed. I suffered through another song waiting for the DJ to divulge the song’s title. He didn’t. I waited through several more tunes for the postponed back announcement. Still nothing. My girlfriend had finished showering, gotten dressed, applied make-up and was soon waiting for me at the door so we could get to the train station. She ended up being late for work, and I was late for school….all because of a SONG. That’s as good an excuse as any to disrupt the social order I thought.
Later, I phoned the radio station during my lunch period to see if they could shed some light on the subject:
Me: “Yeah, um, you guys played a song this morning around 6:50 AM and I was just wondering what it was called.”
Receptionist: “You’ll have to talk to the Music Department for that information. I’ll put you through…”
Voice: “Music Department!”
Me: “Hey, there! You guys played a song this morning around 6:50 AM that sounded a lot like The Clash and I was just wondering what it was called.”
Voice: “You’ll have to speak to the Music Director about that. But he’s at lunch.”
Me: “What about the DJ? Is he still there?”
Voice: “No. He’s gone for the day.”
Me: “What about the play log? Look, it shouldn’t take too long to find out, right? This is life or death!” I sang him a bit of the song.
Voice: “Sorry man, I’m just administration. You’ll have to talk to someone involved in logging the playlists and they’re not here right now.”
Me: “So…what exactly do you do there then?”
Voice: “I own the station.” [click]

I avoided listening to any radio the rest of the day so I wouldn’t forget the melody of the mystery tune. After school I went to the nearest record store to see if there was a new Clash record/single out. Nada. I sang the song for the staff. Nobody knew the tune and it wasn’t because they thought I was an idiot which was a refreshing change from the clueless naval gazing retail clerks you’ll find at all Future Best-Marts currently. Rare is the song that enters your DNA after one listen. Rarer still is the song that stays with you for years having only heard it ONCE — and could still recall some of the lyrics. This was my Holy Grail. A tune so insidious that not even The Clash could claim it as theirs.

INDIANA JAIMIE AND THE QUEST FOR VINYL
Now I was on a mission; an obsessive, can’t-sleep-can’t-eat (what-do-you-do?) mission. It made me listen to the radio MORE. It reinvigorated my belief that radio was still capable of greatness amongst the pap and circumstance of Top 40 playlists. And as quickly as it invaded my psyche, I never heard it on the radio again. I despaired that the song would be lost to the ages. Like a jilted lover I was now infuriated with radio; Taunting me with its alluring come-hither audio tease, never having the decency to give me a happy ending. Well, I blamed it all on that damned DJ for not back announcing the song that day. How could he do this to me?

Years later, the answer to my quest came in the most obvious of places. One day I was trolling through my favourite indie record shop, Star Records in Scarborough, and was thumbing through their sale items. In one box was a 12″ single of The Payola$ song “Soldier” which was a non-album follow-up to their 1982 hit “Eyes of a Stranger”. I bought this along with some other records for my ever-increasing Canadian vinyl collection and went home to give each purchase the requisite fresh spin. And there it was on the B-side to this platter –  a track called ”Romance” – the very ear worm I had been looking for all those years.

In referencing the charts from 1982 it became clear that the song was never more than an album track. It failed to become a hit. To paraphrase the song itself: radio tried to “give the piece a chance”. Public reaction must not have been as strong as mine. To me, this song is gold because the ‘romance’ wasn’t the tune itself, but the memory in the way I discovered it. It was like chasing an unrequited love and finally getting the musical ‘girl’. And it was Canadian. The quota that was mandated by the CRTC to play a minimum amount of Canadian content meant it got on the air. And it was this airing that led to – as the kids TV show ‘Blue’s Clues’ intoned:  ‘The Land of Great Discovery’.

[SIDEBAR]
Payola$ singer Paul Hyde would make a brief appearance in my life in 2003 and impart one of the five covenants I have learned to live by my entire musical career. After fumbling through a set of music in New York City with lyrics duct-taped to my mic stand he said: “If you’re over 40 years old…you should not have to apologize for using a music stand to hold your lyrics. Get one of these” (at which time he placed HIS music stand on the stage and proceeded to play his own set with lyrical confidence).

The other four covenants are as follows:
1) “Never spend your own money.” (Terry Draper, Klaatu)
2) “Never lose sight of why you got into the business in the first place.” (Martin Gladstone, lawyer)
3) “If you’re going to bang your head against a wall, make sure it’s one you like.” (Rick Winkle, Vital Sines)
4) “If you can’t write a song as good as Mr. Paul Anka, don’t even consider a career in the music business.” (Shierene Vernon, my grandmother)

Listening to music is like aural archeology. You can instantly time travel. It takes you back to the time, place and circumstance under which you first heard it: to an event, to a location, or even to a person. Remember your first slow dance? Remember the first tune coming out of the car speakers when you finally got to road test your new driver’s license? You’ll always remember the songs that were playing.

I was attracted to the idea that you could trigger memories with a voice, a note, the tone of an instrument or, in many cases, the very words themselves. I wanted to be the guy that did that to people; to have the power with one’s art to transport the listener backwards in time. As it so happened, I was already on that path. Astronomy aspirations be damned. What were the chances of having a comet named after me, anyway?

We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted: dbawis@rogers.com Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you’d like to read about, links you’d like to share, and let us hear what you have to say

– Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and is the author of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia. He keeps a copy of Lightfoot’s “Sundown” under his pillow at night.

One Response to “Jaimie Vernon: Life’s A Canadian Rock – Part 2”

  1. Mine was The Gants’ “(You Can’t Blow) Smoke Rings, Jaimie, which my roommate at college errantly wrote down as The Gnats. I spent fifteen years asking people if they’d ever heard of The Gnats and one day was leafing through 45s at Golden Oldies in Seattle and, voila!, there it was! One dollar. I’d have paid a dollar just to know who it was. I’d have paid ten dollars for the record. It is the journey sometimes, is it not?

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