Writer/broadcaster Bob McKenzie is one of the great unfettered voices of hockey in Canada whose old Toronto Star column was among the most inventive of its time. Once, the former editor of the Hockey News combed a phone book looking for a listing of players’ names– B. Orr, K. Dryden, M. Richard– and called them regardless of whether they were or were not the actual player. The result was a fascinating view into the lives of strangers and the game that connected them. He is currently a TSN and TSN radio regular and his last book was “Hockey Dad: True Confessions of a (Crazy) Hockey Parent.”
I didn’t just love my 45s, I loved everything about them: the pilgrimage, and it was that, to buy them; holding them; reading them; playing them; the case I kept them in, the same case I pulled out for inspiration to write this; the care I afforded them, how I catalogued and numbered them or wrote my initials or even sometimes my signature on them. Can it really be almost 50 years since I bought my first 45? “Red Rubber Ball,” by The Cyrkle, a forever-remembered 1966 hit for a 10-year-old growing up in the suburban infancy of a much different Scarborough, Ont., than the one that exists today. I would make the nearly two-mile trek from my bungalow home to the discount department store Towers to buy my 45s. I suppose I could have taken the bus, two of them actually (McCowan 16 and Lawrence 43, IIRC) but I opted to traverse the wilds of Scarberia, going by St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (1849), whistle past its graveyard, hike through Highland Creek and Thomson Memorial Park and then by David and Mary Thomson Collegiate. Towers was on the northeast corner of Midland and Lawrence, across the road from the Broom and Stone Curling Club, which (as suburban Scarborough myth had it) was where The Guess Who first stumbled upon the familiar riff and embryonic lyrics of “American Woman” at a sound check (perhaps Bidini can ask Burton Cummings if there’s even a shred of truth to it?). “Red Rubber Ball,” with its orange Columbia centre, soon gave way to the familiar Capitol yellow and orange swirl of the Beatles (“Paperback Writer,” “Yellow Submarine”) and Peter and Gordon (“Lady Godiva”), the red of RCA Victor and The Monkees (“I’m A Believer”). But there was nothing quite like the tri-tone soft orange and unique serif script of London and the Rolling Stones (“Mother’s Little Helper”) and discovering that mind-blowing moment when you realized a B side (“Let’s Spend The Night Together”) could be better than the A side (“Ruby Tuesday”). My carrying case that stored the 45s had a black lid, a big chrome clasp and a white bottom, with musical note designs all over it. When, for reasons unknown, I defaced the case by scribbling and doodling with a permanent marker, I wallpapered it over with multiple HELP SAVE THE MINI-SKIRT bumper stickers, a promotional gimmick from car dealership Golden Mile Chevrolet, where my Mom worked in the service department. Maybe it was only fitting, a sign of the times. The 60s were giving way to the 70s; mini skirts were becoming maxi skirts and my love of 45s was being replaced by the LP album, though in order to get permission from my Dad to buy the three-record LP set of Woodstock I had to pledge to NOT ever play Country Joe’s “The Fish Cheer,” a promise I broke, of course, with all the windows open and at maximum volume, the first time my parents left the house. I had gone from, “I should have known you’d bid me farewell, there’s a lesson to be learned from this and I learned it very well” to “Gimme an F!” That’s okay, though, because you know what? The mornin’ sun is still shining like a red rubber ball. It always will for that kid from Scarborough.