I realize that it isn’t an official long weekend, but I’m making it one by taking Monday off, so I’m getting a real head start by thinking about its soundtrack. Got lots going on over the next few days, so I will need some good tunes to keep the energy level high and raring to go.
The temperatures are starting to drop (not that they’ve been all that up there this particular summer) and the evenings and mornings are starting to have the feel of August Camp. You know, those mornings when you were a camp counsellor and would have to force yourself out of your warm cot and the many layers of clothing you were wearing to avoid hypothermia and go down to the lake to swim laps in order to avoid having to put $2 in the swim jar? You know what I’m talking about.
Since 1879 the Canadian National Exhibition, on the shores of Lake Ontario, has marked the winding down of summer here in T.O. When the Ex came to town you knew autumn was just around the very next corner, school was starting soon and it was time for one last piece of Summertime.
There are rides, of course- until the 1990s, visitors would risk life and limb riding the Mighty Flyer (‘rickety’ doesn’t begin to describe it) on Conklin’s Midway and the Polar Express still blasts its rock n’ roll songs (in my memory it was always Aerosmith) as you spin past the big white bears and answer the barker’s call of ‘Are you ready to go backwards?’ with a resounding ‘You betcha!’
The Horticulture Building beckoned, as something slightly more educational/in keeping with the agricultural origins of the Fair, with its wonderful blooms that would make my sinuses close and eyes swell up within a matter of minutes. That’s actually where I first discovered that I’m pretty violently allergic to lilies. Good times. It’s a cheesy, douche-baggy club, now, but the building is still lovely.
Every summer the Princes’ Gates on Strachan Ave. welcome visitors in impressive Beaux-Arts style, with a triumphant Winged Victory atop the main arch. She holds a maple leaf in one hand to assert her Canadian identity and role as greeter to one of the best traditions of the town.
I won’t make it to the Ex this year- though not because people seem to be getting sick from something they’ve been eating (the cronut burger seems to be the most likely culprit, but nothing definitive has been discovered as of yet).
The Food Building was a dreamy destination back in the day. Everything was super-cheap and they had treats on offer that we never really saw at other times of year. Sure, there are still all kinds of crazy varietals of interesting foodstuffs to be had, but they’re no longer cheap.
And some of the offerings are just plain insane. Deep fried butter was the go-to trendy item a few years ago. This year the popular ones are (or were- food poisoning fears and all) the cronut burger- approximately a billion calories and a strange (to my mind anyway) combination of savoury and sweet; the peanut and bacon milkshake (when did bacon become the ubiquitous food that everyone insists is their favourite thing in the world? Not that there’s anything wrong with bacon, I quite like bacon, but it has become an Interworld
meme food of choice. I think the Pig farmers/marketers are behind it all); and the s’mores-covered hotdog.
None of that really appeals, TBH. Not because I’m a health nut or anything. I’d just prefer not to harden ALL my arteries in one afternoon at the CNE.
The Grandstand (or the Canadian version of the ‘Mistake by the Lake’) was the stomping grounds of the Toronto Argonauts CFL team and the first home of our Toronto Blue Jays before the Big Dome got built. Our often-intemperate climate made the sports a tad problematic at times (snow on the field during baseball games that had to be cleared by a Zamboni borrowed from the Leafs, for e.g. Seriously. That happened) and the wildlife and wind from the lake offered their own share of challenges (Dave Winfield- while with the Yankees- was arrested for killing a seagull with a baseball. Again, I kid you not).
Most of my associations with the Ex have to do with the Grandstand and the great (and the not-so-great- looking at you Bon Jovi, 1989. We went because we had free tickets- a guy we knew had bought a whole passel of them because he figured it was the big ticket show that year and that he would make tonnes of cash scalping them to all those unfortunates who didn’t stand in line for them. Like he did. Apparently he misjudged the appeal of those particular Jersey Boys, so he ended up giving them away. We went as a joke, I swear! Although Skid Row- and taunting the Jon-loving rocker chicks sitting in front of us- and all around us, for that matter- was pretty amusing. There was A LOT of hairspray and spandex in evidence that night. Wow, this was a really long tangent. Getting the train of thought back on track now) shows I saw there over the years. It was a pretty great outdoor venue, and the tickets were cheapcheap, for the most part.
I saw SO many bands there, and the playlist on the Shuffle Daemon this weekend will be a stroll down memory lane paying tribute to some of those shows played at the grand ol’ Grandstand (whether or not they happened during the Ex proper, the Grandstand was all about the open air and the music by the lake. Something about great tunes and lake breezes and a sky full of stars. Heavenly).
September 4, 1983. Bowie. Serious Moonlight tour. Sublime. That’s all I have to say about that.
September 3, 1987. Double bill. Echo and the Bunnymen and New Order (and Gene Loves Jezebel, but I think we got there after their set. Don’t remember it anyway). Brit-tastic.
May 26, 1987. The Cult. And Billy Idol. Wow. The energy could have rendered Toronto Hydro obsolete (except for the electricity needed to power the show, so never mind. Failed analogy).
October 3, 1987. U2. Joshua Tree tour. This one was extra awesome- we had obstructed 1st-level seats and ended up moved to the floor! Bono had dislocated his shoulder and performed with a sling. My friend’s Mum got us the tickets. You had to get a bracelet one day and go back the next. One bracelet was good for 6 tickets. She had her infant daughter in a stroller and someone in line suggested she get a bracelet for baby V. We ended up with 12 tickets! Great crowd of us. Perfect Autumn night. Although there was a tragic suede cowboy boot/peach schnapps incident, if I remember correctly. The only fly in the otherwise flawless ointment.
June 9, 1988. Depeche Mode. The fourth (?) time I’d seen them. They thrive in outdoor venues. They’re at the Amphitheatre next weekend. Sad I’ll be missing them.
August 6, 1988. INXS. Perhaps not quite as special as the show at Massey Hall the week that Kick was released, but Michael Hutchence was always on fire onstage. An amazing showman.
I’ll finish the playlist with this one:
Thompson Twins Into the Gap tour. It remains one of my favourite shows, and one of my sentimental favourite songs. August 24, 1984. 29 years ago tomorrow.
Soundtrack of summers past.
I’m going to make the most of what’s left of this one.