Saturday, September the 13th of 1969 broke particularly warm, bright and sunny over the suburbs of Toronto. Yes, this was to be the day the drummer in my very first (bedroom-over-the-) garage combo agreed to accompany me all the way into the Big City in order that I could buy my very first teen-aged guitar. But! An electric one this time; the better to approximate the walls of sound on our bass player’s “Summertime Blues” 45 …Blue Cheer version, that is.
Only one problem though: I had only managed to accumulate twenty Canadian dollars with which to accomplish this most momentous of tasks. Which of course upon arrival dictated we bypass the big downtown music stores and traipse directly instead over to that string of seedy-and-then-some pawn shops which littered – literally! – the city’s infamous Church Street strip.
Needless to say the proprietor of the very first establishment we entered certainly must have seen us coming, as in answer to my request he pulled from the back room a flaming once-red electric (sort of) guitar of questionable pedigree, not to mention intonation which cost – surprise! – exactly twenty dollars. The grin on my face as I emptied my pockets was equaled only by the smirk on said salesman’s face as he packed my new best friend into a “complimentary” cardboard carrying case and sent us triumphantly upon our Blue Cheer way.
However, strolling back to the train station drummer Mike and I were suddenly struck by music – loud music; rock and roll music! – drifting enticingly overhead from some far-off location. It didn’t sound like a record …or a radio… and as we ventured northwesterly it grew ever louder and absolutely groovier by the block. Soon enough we found ourselves, along with about a thousand or so other curious kids milling outside the University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, wherein it seemed like there was an actual bona fide rock festival going on. Could it… Could it be the Great White Northland’s very own Woodstock a-happening?!!
Eagerly circumventing the perimeter of the gigantic structure we came upon one rear entranceway guarded by a genuine dyed-in-tie-dyed-wool hippie – yep, just like those our parents had warned us about via the pages of the Toronto Globe and Mail – who said “Hey, man. You guys wanna come on in?” welllll… Explaining we’d just forfeited our last remaining $20 on Church Street he replied “Don’t worry, man. Just sneak on in. I won’t tell anyone. Go on!”
But alas, what with the complimentary elastic band already giving way ’round my pawnshop guitar case [sic!], and terrified said instrument might fall into some wrong hands altogether I regretfully said “No thanks,” clutched my six-strings ever tighter, and Mike and I continued our journey back to the train depot just as it sounded like Jerry Lee Lewis was kicking the concert straight off. We tried consoling ourselves on the ride home that not only would there be other rock shows to sneak into in our futures, but that with an actual electric guitar finally in our arsenal, someday WE would be playing Varsity Stadium. And the Killer would be opening for us!
Now, here’s the punchline:
A few hours later, safely home after Saturday dinner, my phone rang. It was drummer Mike. “Gary! Quick! Turn on CHUM-FM right now!!” he gasped before hanging up. Hmmm. Downstairs to my radio I went, just in time to hear our favorite jock gasping “And I don’t believe it, ladies and gentlemen, but it’s true! As we report to you now, live from Varsity Stadium, none other than JOHN LENNON has just taken the stage! Yes, JOHN LENNON. This is unbelievable, ladies and gentlemen!!”
Eight years later I also turned down two free tickets to go see April Wine at the El Mocambo …yes, on the night it turned out the Rolling Stones were playing instead. But I really do much more miss having missed the world premiere of the Plastic Ono Band right there ten blocks northwest of Church Street near the end of one of the greatest 1969’s of my life. But every September 13th I still pull the Live Peace in Toronto LP out for a spin on the ol’ Pig Player …Side 2 and all, I’ll have everyone know.
Oh, and that semi-red $20 electric special from Church Street? Turns out its frets and neck altogether were no more durable than its cardboard carrying case: the poor thang survived less than two months of my adolescent Blue Cheering all over it.
I certainly learned my lesson though: I spent nearly Fifty dollars on my next guitar…