Saturday, 27 July 2013

Living in the past....

I'm one of those people who regards her high school years as time spent mostly in Hell.

But a few people made parts of the whole process tolerable; including one who went on to a moderate level of fame as a singer.

I'm not about to pretend that I have hyperthymesia or even an eidectic memory, but I still have a vivid recollection of meeting M for the first time.  It was in the cafeteria when I was in grade 12, shortly after the start of the school year.  M was new to my school and had recently come to Canada from England.  He was tall, incredibly thin, and sported long, LONG strawberry blond curls.

Another friend brought him over to meet me and told him that I had the same level of knowledge of music that M did.  The very first thing he said to me was "do you know who Marc Bolan is?"  And I replied, "of course I do; he was the lead singer of T-Rex and he died last week."  The other people at the table looked at the two of us like we were crazy, but we each felt we had found a kindred spirit.

From that day forward, we got together to discuss music.  We shared a love of the British blues musicians who made their names in the late 1960s: Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Gary, Moore, Ray Davies...  plus all of the bands these men had belonged to and those who owe their careers to them.

We each were owners of Queen's first album and preferred it to the popular "A Night at the Opera", we had discussions about the merits of progressive rock and southern rock and disco and the emerging New Wave movement.  M didn't share my love of The Eagles, The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, though he was instrumental in helping me put together my Linda Ronstadt lip-sync for a theatre arts presentation that got me the highest mark in the class.

I would like to tell you that we were wild and crazy - it was the 70s after all.  But we were boringly sedate.  After school, we would take the bus to the apartment M shared with his mother and lie on the floor in the living room doing our homework while we listened to music.   The strongest thing we ingested was tea; M, being a Brit and all, made a GREAT cup of tea!

When homework was done, he would take out his guitar - electric, not plugged in - and would play along with the recordings.  We would sing along with Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin, The Strawbs, Rod Stewart and Genesis.  M is responsible for my love for Peter Gabriel.

We were never girlfriend and boyfriend.  People at school would sneer at me about having a "gay boyfriend" and yet we never went beyond a few relatively tame sessions of kissing.  The only time we did anything remotely "date-like" was taking the streetcar all the way downtown to make pilgrimages to Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street on those Saturdays when neither of us was working at our part-time jobs.  We would go to the bargain floor and paw through the bins, seeking out the over-looked gems.  Our only other "date" was an afternoon at the repertory theatre seeing an abridged version of the Woodstock movie.  All the way home, we dissected the performances.

M was always, ALWAYS sure that he would make it in the music business!  I was less sure - for both of us.  He pushed me to sing outside of my comfort zone and would sometimes transpose pieces into my lower register for me.  By the time we parted ways after an intense 2 years of friendship, I could sing both Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks' parts on the entire Rumours album.

That first year at school together, during the annual talent show, he heard another classmate play drums with his band.  The band was pretty bad, but R's drumming was great, and M set about recruiting him for his own band.

When you look up M's band on Wikipedia, it tells you that they were formed in 1981.  This is patently untrue; they formed 3 years earlier than that, when M and R and another friend of M's played at the next year's talent show.  They brought the house down.  R didn't really like M; he once asked me why I was friends with "that freak".  He then went on to admit that he thought M was a "talented freak, but a freak just the same".  Needless to say, when the band finally got their recording contract shortly afterward, R wasn't part of the band.  However, I do remember holding in my hands the demo vinyl single where R was the drummer for M's band.

M and I graduated in the same year; I went to university to try to become a lawyer instead of a singer and he went off to make his way in the music business.  He succeeded for a while; enough that his voice is totally recognizable on the Canadian Christmas charity single "Tears Are Not Enough".  He was disappointed with my decision, believing that I should follow his path.  But when I did finally go the musical route, I went into opera instead of rock and roll.

I blew out my vocal chords by the time I was 34; M still tours on the "nostalgia circuit".  Go figure.

Strangely, I also have a vivid memory of the last time I met him face to face.  I was on my way home from my singing teacher's place.  It was a steamy summer day in Toronto and I was walking to my bachelorette pad.  In my travels, I crossed the path of a recording studio and coming down the sidewalk toward me was M.

He stopped and did a double-take and then ran toward me with his arms outstretched.  We held each other for long moments and then he asked me to tell him what I was doing.  I showed him my binder with the scores I was learning and we asked after each others' parents and siblings.  After that, I don't remember anything else.  I do know that we did NOT promise to keep in touch; too much had torn us apart in the intervening years.

He was in town this weekend, performing.  I didn't go to see if I could meet him.  I didn't want him to see me not looking like the girl I used to be, even though I know he's not the boy I used to know.

Today I listened to a lot of music from the 60s and 70s...  and I remembered all that music, and all those days spent together.

And how happy I was spending time with my dear friend.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

One Day in Jeopardy!

Growing up in small town northern Ontario in the 1960s, you had your choice of two television stations:  CBC English or CBC French.  On those Saturday nights in the winter when the Leafs and Canadiens were playing each other, you had the same show on both channels with the broadcast in the appropriate language for the audience.

One constant was broadcast every weekday afternoon at 4:00 pm on the English network.  When I arrived home from school, my mother would plunk me down with a snack while she watched Art Fleming host Jeopardy!  This continued until we moved to Toronto in 1972 and mom went off to work.  Jeopardy! was cancelled soon after and I forgot all about it.

A decade later, the Trivial Pursuit craze hit North America.  Within 6 months of the release of the game, no one in my family would play against me.  The only time I got to play was when we had teams; there would be arguments over which team had me as a member last time.

Two years later, our fellow Canadian, Alex Trebek, best known as host of Reach for the Top (another staple in my house growing up), signed on as host of the reincarnated Jeopardy!  By then I had a little bachelorette pad in downtown Toronto and I glued myself to CBC weeknights at 7:30 to watch the show.

 I am the person with the freakish memory.

With the exception of (most) sports and science, the depth and breadth of my knowledge is bizarre in the extreme.  I attribute this to being a lifelong voracious reader.  My parents gave me a child’s illustrated encyclopedia when I was about 5 or 6; I read it over and over until it fell apart.  I had a library card at a young age and looked at travel books, read history and biographies, and was gifted with a National Geographic Atlas of the World by my grandfather when I was 12.  That, too, ended up falling apart at the seams.  As a teenager, I read The Toronto Star cover to cover on a daily basis and my specialization in Political Science at the University of Toronto gave me a grounding in philosophy and history along with the all-important (for Canadian trivia geeks) knowledge of the United States political system.

Pre-internet-in-every-home, Jeopardy! would hold contestant searches in person in various cities from time to time.  In general, in order to get an audition, you had to listen to radio station X and be the nth caller when they said “dial now” and correctly answer a trivia question in order to be selected.  If you didn’t happen to listen to station X, or weren’t lucky in dialing even if you did, you were out of luck; unless you were in Los Angeles where the show regularly held in-person tests and auditions.

Online tests were introduced in January of 2006.  You have a short window of opportunity to register to take the test (one week around Christmas) and approximately 100,000 people sit down at their computers on a winter’s night to test themselves in the hope of being on the show.  At 8:00 pm on the night of the test, 50 questions flash on the screen at 8-second intervals; answers do NOT have to be in the form of a question.

The threshold for a passing grade is 35 out of 50 – 70%, but this alone doesn’t guarantee you a place at the audition.  Since they only audition about 2,000 people for 400 places as contestants in a season, should more than 2,000 score 70% or more, they randomly choose names to go on to the audition.

This year was my 4th try at the online test.  I was quite sure I had failed it, but later saw the responses posted to Sony’s Jeopardy! website and realized I got 43 out of 50.  It was just a matter of waiting to see if I made the cut.

And I did.

On the evening of Victoria Day, after watching Jeopardy! (of course), I opened my email to find one from the Jeopardy! Contestants office.

Congratulations!  You have been selected for a follow-up appointment at an upcoming Jeopardy! contestant search for the Toronto area, exclusively for those who successfully passed the online test.  This is the next step in becoming a Jeopardy! contestant.  We have reserved the following appointment for you:

When: Tuesday, July 9th     Time:  3:00 pm

Where:  Toronto, Canada

I’ll be honest:  I jumped up and down and screamed for joy for about 5 minutes before I calmed down enough to call first my mother, then my sister, and finally, my Nana (who always believed I should be on the show) to give them the news.

See that date and time?  Let me fast forward to July 8, 2013…

Mother Nature conspired against me making that appointment.  First she threw a raging thunderstorm, accompanied by a downpour of epic proportions, at me shortly after I arrived at mom’s place on Monday afternoon.  A massive blackout hit just before 6:00 pm, meaning I couldn’t watch the show that night in preparation for the next day.  The next morning, mom could not get her car out of the flooded underground garage at her apartment building, so, leaving plenty of time to get downtown (the audition was at the Sheraton Centre and my mother lives in the absolutely most southwesterly corner of Toronto), I took a taxi to the GO Train station at 12:45 pm.

However, GO Train service was suspended AFTER my last call to check on the status of trains due to a track washout at Dixie Road, just west of mom’s location in Long Branch.  I raced over to the TTC Long Branch Loop to get a streetcar downtown.  And I waited, and waited… and waited.  Until 1:20 pm, when one finally showed up.

People got on and hopped off at nearly every stop on Lakeshore Boulevard since the interval between cars had been so long.  But even more trouble awaited us on the east side of the Humber River.

Nearly every traffic light was out all the way to Spadina Avenue!

I checked my watch obsessively as we crept along Queen Street West.  I told myself that if we made it to Ossington by 2:15, it would be okay, not knowing that just about everything from there to Bathurst Street remained without power.  Or the surprize that awaited me at Spadina.

It seems that track reconstruction was underway on Queen Street West from University to York, blocking access to the Sheraton Centre.  The streetcar was diverting at Spadina and it was 2:40 pm.  My confirmation letter told me that no one would be admitted to the audition if they were late.  I jumped off the streetcar and flew across Spadina to flag down a taxi.  The driver raced me over to University Avenue where I began running as fast as I could past the Opera House.  I had to run across the back of the Opera House to Richmond to cross to the hotel and dodged several cars in the arcade entrance to the building.

Only to be confronted by escalators that were out of service up to the ballroom level on the second floor!

Out of breath and almost in tears, a Sheraton staffer noticed my distress and asked if she could help, and when I explained that I needed to find the Simcoe Room *now* took me by the hand and led me to the elevators.  She kindly did not abandon me as there was a massive cell phone convention of some type filling all the large ballrooms on the same floor.  My personal Angel of Mercy gently took my arm and guided me past meeting rooms full of techies discussing connectivity and product enhancement and deposited me with 29 other potential contestants at 2:56 pm!

I must have been a sight; frizzled, sweaty, dishevelled, gasping for air.  Several people congratulated me on making it on time and that was my cue to pour out my tale of transit woes to all and sundry.  Moments later, as discussion turned to studying for the day, I relayed my dream of being chased by “The Tornado of Knowledge”, much to everyone’s bemusement.

For better or for worse (and I’m hoping it was better), I was myself – loud, uninhibited, the friendly Irish setter dog that loves everyone in the neighbourhood.  I strode to the front when everyone was avoiding that row and announced that I wasn’t afraid to sit there, and proceeded to make myself “known”.  For this, I was rewarded with being called first to play the first mock game of the day.

I think I did well on the written test and I felt I was confident playing the mock game.  For the most part, I think my voice was steady and my nerves were under control.

But here’s the kicker; I’ll never find out how I did on that test.  They don’t tell you if you “passed” and are one of the lucky 400 to go into the contestant pool for the next 18 months.  The only way I will find out is when/if I get “The Call” to come to LA to tape the show.  On average, they try to give contestants a month’s notice, 6 weeks for Canadians.

Just in case…  I’m renewing my passport asap!