Here’s the scene:
I was driving through Brockton Village a few weeks ago, on my way to a client’s place.
It was dark, the time had just changed and, at 7 pm, it was pitch black and the neighbourhood looked like it was back in the 70’s, all funky brick and jumbled together.
Perfect for what was about to happen. Crawling along in the snagged up traffic, I was busy scanning through my car radio for something to listen to. (It’s getting harder and harder to find something I can stand.)
Suddenly, on the U of T station, CIUT, I got hit by a song that was instantly recognizable but whose title and artist completely eluded me. Oh, come on, what was it?
It ended and another one started. No back announce. I was going to miss who it was.
Luckily, I just had to drop off a computer and be on my way so I could pick up the show again with only missing about 10 minutes of it. The tunes were all of an era. My formative musical era. Late 60’s and early 70’s.
I just couldn’t believe that someone was playing all this stuff that I thought only a few old die hard aficionados knew about.
It made me feel so good. Not much on radio does.
For maybe the only time driving in downtown Toronto, I wanted it to last a little longer.
Just before 8 pm, I heard the female announcer. She only talks at the beginning and the end of each show.
Her name is Christian Hamilton and she is making my new favourite radio show.
I listened again on Halloween and was delighted again. I knew exactly 2 of the songs, by Van Der Graaf Generator and Lucifer’s Friend. I’d never heard of The Open Mind, Poe, or The Chocolate Watchband. I’d definitely never heard of an all-girl band, The Shaggs.
Enough said. Enough seen.
I felt compelled to make a little comment Christian’s Instagram site saying that TCM was playing the film Dementia 13 and I could finally see where the radio show was taking its name from.
Christian replied that the movie and some others in the same genre (70s horror) had influenced her musical and cultural tastes.
She liked the poster art for Dementia 13 and used a sound collage from this and another film for opening her show when she started it.
That answered the question of where the name came from but…
it opens a door, too, to everything that was going on in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
I guess one of the things that really affected me the first time I heard this show (and on subsequent listenings) was that other people actually knew about this music. But they do, and they love it.
If you look on the “About” section on Dementia 13’s Facebook page, you’ll see a list of some of Ms. Hamilton’s influences. Right at the top you’ll see The Churls, a Toronto group whose album I bought just because I liked the album cover in Sam’s. I kind of liked the attitude.
And there’s Reign Ghost, a group we would hitchhike to Oshawa to see. They were like our local Jefferson Airplane.
Back when this music was recorded, nobody I knew listened to this music outside of a couple of friends. Especially in a small town like Whitby.
This kind of “psychedelic/acid rock” music didn’t come to you easily. You had to go out of your way to find it.
That usually meant listening all you could to CHUM FM. In the late 60s, CHUM FM was what they called an “underground” radio station.
David Pritchard, Rainer Schwartz, Peter Green – all those guys who introduced you to new strange music – God bless them.
And God bless the station manager who let them do it.
For a while there, it was magic.
David Pritchard almost singlehandedly got me into radio.
(Him and Ken Nordine and Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood).
And it, inevitably, meant trips into the City and the searches in Sams and A&S on Yonge St.
Sometimes you’d heard some song in a “head shop” in Yorkville and have to ask about it.
The whole thing was a quest.
I sure bought a lot of records (at Sam’s and A&A) in the 60s and 70s just because of the cover art.
After each broadcast, Christian posts the album covers for the songs on Instagram and boy do they bring back the memories.
Looking back, the album covers were worth it. That was a whole industry decimated by the CD and the mp3 file.
At 13, I just thought the most prominently displayed records had to be the best.
I had no idea of the record industry or the strategy of shelving products. (Good God, we would NEVER have called music “product” – I still wince when I hear that).
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the lp album cover to a teenage record collector in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
They were like our tattoos. Our flying colours.
Walking around our little town with a stack of albums under your arm, we felt were sending out coded messages for all who had the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
Depending on who you might meet on your walk or where in town you were walking, you adjusted the outermost album.
It wouldn’t do to have Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica for all to see, if it was a girl you wanted to impress.
For that, Rubber Soul. Tommy James? Leonard Cohen?
For your informed, but somewhat conventional rock friends, a Led Zepplin was fine – but not Alice Cooper or Velvet Underground.
When you walked into your friend’s house, you’d better slide the Ten Year’s After or Grateful Dead or Mothers of Invention back on top.
This is how radio works when it works well.
All those thoughts and memories get tapped.
Song by song triggering the history, the music calls the imagery.
We provide our own imagery.
An entire inner dialogue begins, sparking from the music and feeding back into the music. (no, I’m not high!)
There is no conflict between paying attention to the music and all these memories attending it.
I managed to drive home that first night, right?
Practically, it’s a way to work things out.
A waking dream you’re a lot more in control of .
Very little radio can do this anymore for me.
Dementia 13 can.
I really ought to be writing this at night from the warm glow of the Embassy in Kensington Market.
That’s the right ambience and the right environs for Christian Hamilton where and when she hosts her DJ parties.
I still like to drive through older parts of the city and listen to this show in the car, through dark, less known and still interesting parts of the city.
They remind me of when I first started coming to the city and when I moved here for school. And they are little places of refuge, the only place I feel really at home now that the developers and OMB have turned my town into a high class Borg collective. Phooey.
But back to Dementia 13:
This is radio and should be listened to like radio.
Radio doesn’t mean telephone lines and fibre optic cable.
It’s free range through the cool night air. Going out everywhere for everyone.
If you still have a radio, if you still have real speakers and not something you screw into your ear as you stumble up the sidewalk, turn it on and turn it up on Tuesdays nights at 7.
Tune it to 89.5.
Everything about Dementia 13 is analogue.
The album covers, from when there were people making a living (and fame) designing them.
When they were big enough to see, when they existed at all as inseparable from the record.
And the music was recorded analogue – the sound, even in a studio went through air, from the instruments or amplifiers to microphones.
It’s the way it was made and the way it was heard.
It’s the way you should listen to it.
Scratches, rumble, wow and flutter, and all.
Dementia 13 airs on CIUT – U of T’s student radio station on Tuesday nights or can be downloaded.