The internet helped me figure out that October 23rd, 1991 was the day I was born again as a music lover. It’s when Top 40 pop freed me from the clutches of Christian contemporary music. (No offense, CCM. We had some good days too. I know Mom and Dad meant well.)
So why the picture of Diana and Charles? Because October 23rd was a double-header, arguably the best twenty-four hours of my childhood. That day I came face to face with the Princess of Wales. I vividly remember standing outside Toronto’s City Hall, pressing myself against a barricade with my friend Jody, sweating enthusiasm until she floated past in her powder pink jacket and black pencil skirt like a dream. She was radiant. She reached for our hands. It was electric.
After our encounter with Diana, we sat buzzing in the back seat of Jody’s car listening to the radio. That’s when my ears caught their first piercing high note from Mariah Carey’s Emotions. I felt the hair on my neck prick up. I was sold.
That Christmas I pleaded with Santa. “Please! Bring me some Mariah Carey!” He brought me a Sony Walkman and Mariah’s self-titled debut. He didn’t get the memo that I actually wanted her sophomore album, the one with my new favourite song, but it set me up to follow her career from the beginning. No hard feelings, Santa.
Shortly after that, my brother and I convinced my parents that joining Columbia House was a good idea. We told them we’d save a lot of money. Ha. I was eight years old, already a persuasive salesperson. That’s when the cassette collection seriously took off. Whitney, Paula, and Janet spent a lot of time with me in those days. The music gave me cavities. It was bliss.
Then in 1996, my cool teenager cousin Heidi ruined me in the best possible way. She introduced me to drive-thru espresso stands and the Indigo Girls. We cruised the streets of Spokane in her champagne-coloured Honda Accord, singing along in harmony and sipping syrupy iced lattes. Nine times out of ten we ended up at a mall, dropping our spending money on bubble bath and Red Vines. Those happy memories are steeped in caffeine and the scent of vanilla air freshener.
Heidi started me out on a steady diet of live music. My first mixed tape was chock-full of the best tracks from 1200 Curfews, recordings from the Indigo Girls’ Swamp Ophelia tour. The cassette rarely left my stereo. I remember soaking in the harmonies alone in my room for hours. Each song became a familiar friend.
1200 Curfews is responsible for catapulting me into deeper waters, introducing me to Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Gladys Knight and the Pips and genuine songwriting in general. Because of this album, I dared to wander outside the safety of Top 40 at the age of twelve. First folk and then a buffet of alternative 90s stuff, then jazz standards and R&B and Motown and hip-hop and indie stuff and full circle to pop again. I learned to sing in harmony and think in poetry. I developed a hunger for open roads and music festivals.
I don’t know if I should bless you or curse you, Heidi. My musical horizons expanded because of you but your influence led to two decades of spending thousands on concert tickets and albums, never mind the small fortune I have pissed away on coffee. But then I listen to Emily Sailers’ voice soar and I decide that every penny was well spent. The gift of music is indeed divine, even the Christian contemporary stuff, if taken in small doses. Thanks for being my cool teenager cousin. I owe you.
Lots of love from Scotland,