RECORD STORE TALES #972: Snowfort Hippies
2022: the winter that snow came back in a big way! The sheer size of the snowbanks brings me back to the winter of ’85, in my old neighbourhood. The snowbanks on the corner rival the ones we had in my youth, something I have not seen in many years. And I remembered the snowfort that George Balasz built on that corner; a regal thing indeed. The most palacious snowfort I have ever occupied! And even this story works its way back around to music.
1985 was the year I got seriously into hard rock. The Pepsi Power Hour was my favourite show and I was just absorbing all this new music through my neighbours. George had an excellent LP collection and he’d always let me tape whatever I wanted.
He had a house on the corner, and in the winter the snowbanks built up as high as I could stand. That was the year he built the ultimate fort. As I remember it, the fort had plywood roof supports, and four rooms inside, lined up in a row. You could squeeze four or five kids in there. My dad was always afraid we’d get taken out by a wayward errant car, but it never happened. He didn’t like us hanging out with George (thought he was a pervert) but he really didn’t like us hanging out in that snowfort.
George ran an extension cord out to the fort so we could listen to tapes on his ghetto blaster. We had a conversation about Judas Priest. Defenders of the Faith was their latest record and I was well familiar with the music video for “Freewheel Burning”. But I was just learning the basics and I had a lot of questions.
“What’s a hippie?” I asked George.
He didn’t really know, but acted like he did. His authoritative answer was “Hippies have long hair.”
“Well then what is Ian Johnson at school talking about?” I asked him. “He said he didn’t like Judas Priest because they’re a bunch of hippies. But Rob Halford doesn’t even have long hair.”
“You’re right,” said George. I was happy to know a few things like the names of some of the members. George or Bob Schipper gave me my first Priest poster, with the five of them standing in a row in the Defenders-era costume. I thought Dave Holland looked the coolest because of that moustache. I taped a copy of the album, but Priest songs like “Eat Me Alive” were still a bit on the heavy side for me.
I wonder what Ian was on about, with that hippie comment. He probably had no idea what the word meant either. Priest might have been considered hippies in the early 1970s, when they were wearing kaftans and denim floods. They abandoned that look a long time ago and were really known for their leather and studs. Meanwhile, Ian Johnson ditched the metal for new wave, by his own admission, in order to find a girl. His opinions and stories changed regularly.
Though my dad worried, and this irritated me, we had good times in that snowfort. George was a bit of a local punching bag, a strange guy slightly older who shoplifted and read porn. He seemed desperately lonely some times, and maybe he had to be if he was hanging out with all these younger kids. He was the oldest teenager in the neighbourhood and it didn’t seem like he had a lot of friends at school. I could identify with the latter.
As the snowfort hippies bantered about Priest, one teaching and one learning, the boombox would be moaning out our favourite songs. We talked about how cool it would be to put in a TV in the fort, but a warm spell eventually caved in the roofs. Although George undertook a mighty rebuilding effort one afternoon, the fort was all but done for the year.
But not done in my memory. As I drive around the corner, I smile remembering my dad’s warnings about safety. I play some Defenders of the Faith and raise my coffee to George, now long gone himself.
To the good times, my snowfort hippie friend.