Let me tell you the story of the Internet.
Every summer growing up, my family went to the cottage. We didn’t own it. We rented. But we still called it “the cottage” because, among the double rows of brightly painted bungalows, we booked the same one year after year. Ours was the yellow one in front, overlooking the Northumberland Strait, with Prince Edward Island a ferry ride beyond.
The cottage was different from home. At the cottage, we could hang from rafters where the ceiling ought to be. There was free-range candy and pop, a fireplace, mosquitoes we made dizzy with Pic coils before smacking their blood-engorged bodies on the wall. There was Dad not working but sitting on the beach reading book after book after book. And there was no television.
There was, however, AM radio.
In the car, in the cottage, on the beach, over lunch and games of Clue, the radio provided the soundtrack of our summers – a soundtrack of mostly questionable taste.
“Afternoon Delight” was a number-one hit in the summer of 1976, the sweetest song ever written about doing the midday-dirty. I was 10. I didn’t get it. But I did get funny feelings that summer for a girl staying in one of the other cottages, so maybe the song had more influence than I realized. I don’t remember her name, only her tan. She tanned real good. These days, I’d be hectoring her to apply some SPF 30, which is romance buzz-kill, even for a 10-year-old.
Hearing “Afternoon Delight” today pulls me back to that summer. So do “Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck and the world’s best dog-drifting-out-to-sea song, “Shannon” by Henry Gross and many other cheesy not-so-classics.
But that’s nostalgia. Nostalgia has no taste. Nostalgia is pastels, soaring strings and unbuttoned chest hair. It’s Toni Home Perms, funky hats and vibraphones. It’s Paul McCartney spiraling into his treacly doom. It’s the sax riff on “Baker Street” and everything by Dr. Hook. Nostalgia does not discriminate. Nostalgia takes me back to a transistor radio on the beach, where we listened to every bad song, because we never knew when we’d hear our favourites.
Three years later, lying on that same beach, how many times did Anne Murray sleepwalk through “Shadows in the Moonlight” or Kenny Rogers convince himself that “She Believes in Me” before the radio finally played “The Logical Song”? And did we secretly like “The Main Event” by Barbra Streisand? And would we admit it even now?
Three more years later, my tractor beam of nostalgia is triggered by songs that have aged more gracefully: “Don’t You Want Me?” by Human League, “Hold Me” by Fleetwood Mac, “I’ve Never Been to Me” by Charlene. Okay, forget Charlene. What an overdose of estrogen that song was! But these and others are forever tied to that summer of ’82, one of my last full vacations at the cottage, the one with the summer romance.
There were no pick-up lines about tanning products, no confusion over what I meant by “ferry.” Just “We’re having a bonfire later on the beach if you want to come,” and me knowing at that moment that I would never again in my life be so suave.
Our romance lasted nearly two weeks and the radio was there with us. “Abracadabra” and “Hurt So Good” and that stupid Charlene song. I remember the music more than the making out. Or maybe we didn’t make out. Maybe I wasn’t so suave after all.
It felt real, though, and yet like a dream. Then, in the final days, I lost her. I lost her to a boy with a licence and a car. Maybe it wasn’t even the car but the idea that, in a car, you can go anywhere and take the music of summer with you. A radio in the car is worth two on the beach.
And so, later, scientists invented the Internet to ensure that, for the good of their geeky kind, music would no longer be anchored to radios but would be controlled personally and played anywhere, the song of your choice, on demand. Music would never again command such nostalgic hold on time and place, but boys without cars would be able to play “Silly Love Songs” any time, any time, any time.
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