RECORD STORE TALES #884: The Long Walk Home
In theory, it should have taken 15 minutes for us to walk home from school.
Cross the busy Ottawa Street with the crossing guard. Down Ottawa, left on Crosby and then right on Secord. All the way down Secord to Hickson, Inlet and home. Sometimes if my dad was driving home from work at the same time, he’d see us walking and pick us up.
The reality was, we usually took a lot longer. My dad used to say that we “dawdled home”. Most of the time, we trudged it on foot. We began at the start in clumps of kids, who would peel off singly or in pairs for their own homes as we walked the route.
The other day I was driving that way, and decided to take a spin down Secord and the old route. The roads were slushy and the snowbanks were high, and suddenly I had a flashback. Why does it seem like we were always walking home in the middle of winter? Those are the most powerful memories. Dodging snowballs thrown by other kids, trudging through deep snow trying to make a “short cut”. Coming home soaked and cold. Eating some Scotch broth for lunch and then back to school for the afternoon. I’ve driven that way lots of times, but only this one time — in the winter, with snowbanks at kid-level — did I have a flashback.
One of the only shields from the cruel outside world that I had as a kid was music. At the moment I was driving, suddenly the power chords in “Little Death (Mary Mary)” by the Barstool Prophets hit the speakers. “I would have loved this song as a kid,” I said aloud.
I never knew who my friends were back in those days. A kid who claimed to be my friend one week would be a bully the next week. There were one or two kids I knew I could trust, like Allan Runstedtler. He was too nice and smart a kid to get caught up in that stuff, but he walked home from school in the opposite direction. There was nobody else I could count on to stick up for me. KK was just as likely to be throwing the snowballs at me. Ian Johnson used to get under my skin. “Name five songs by Iron Maiden,” he would say, instead of just teaching me about Iron Maiden like my real friends did. But my real friends, from my neighbourhood, didn’t go to that shitty Catholic school.
The thing that I was discovering was that music like Iron Maiden made me feel good. It made me feel temporarily bulletproof. Something about those proud, defiant power chords. I felt more capable of projecting pride and defiance if I had Iron Maiden behind me. Helix, Kiss, Judas Priest — these were the bands that kept me trudging through the snow while being pelted from behind.
The Barstool Prophets song had the same effect. As the flashbacks hit me, the guitar riff of “Little Death” pushed back against them. Yes, I would have loved the song as a kid, had time travel existed back then. Still working on my flux capacitor, but I’m getting there. It’s strange, but sometimes I sit there and imagine if I had been able to allow my past self to hear certain songs. I imagine my younger self’s reaction. It makes me emotional. That’s the only kind of time travel I’m able to do. I didn’t have a bad childhood by any means, but man those bullies did a number on me. I made it well into my 30s before being able to assess the damage that followed me right into adulthood. I think the hardest part was not knowing who I could trust. As it turns out, almost nobody. By the end of the eighth grade, only Allan hadn’t picked on me. And then I was rid of them forever as I changed school systems.
I would try to memorize songs as best as I could so I could keep them in my head while I was at school. The teachers were part of the problem and the defiant nature of heavy metal music was, shall we say, not appreciated by Mrs. Powers. I don’t think she commended its aesthetics, nor song titles like “Hotter Than Hell“. She wasn’t one of my supporters as the grade school days drew to a close. Nor was Ian Johnson, Kenny Lawrence, Kevin Kirby or any of my supposed “friends” in class. My only friends in that cold depressing classroom were the songs by Helix and Kiss in my head. I drew guitars in art class.
There’s a flashback for you. Ian Johnson may have mockingly quizzed me on how many Iron Maiden songs I could name, but he vastly underestimated just what that music meant to me. A year later he cut his hair short and was into something else. My love affair with music never ended and only grew with me through time. The Barstool Prophets have just shared a serious emotional moment with me, which allows them automatic entry into my soul’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s a pretty serious honour. Please takes your seats with the other immortals enshrined within. Graham Greer, Glenn Forrester, Al Morier, and Bobby Tamas — otherwise known as the Barstool Prophets — welcome to the hallowed Hall of Fame!