June 5, 1981: My own private (game of) 'telephone'

'Everything you know is wrong'

My Own Private (game of) Telephone'

A (very) young Young Geoffrey, fall 1980.
Vern, almost as young (winter or spring 1982).

Well, we might have known, but we also forgot.

The story as I've been telling it to others for years — for decades! — now, and as (I think) we have been telling to each other when nostalgia has struck over drinks, went roughly as follows.

Vern and I had been practicing for maybe two weeks — he on guitar, with me as lead vocalist and (piss-poor) tambourine man — when we decided we were ready to take "Dow and Pineau" out to the streets and start our climb to stardom.

We were 16 years old and determined to begin our careers as buskers at the very top: right in front of the main entrance to the Eaton Centre at Yonge and Dundas.

And so, laughing with adolescent faith in our inevitable stardom, we set out in search of fame and fortune.

Only, Vern started to get cold feet and, even as we approached our destination, he stopped and said he wasn't going to do it, he wasn't going to play.

I tried cajoling, then yelling, but only when I kicked a rock (and hurt my foot), did I get through to him the importance of finishing what we had set out to do.

And so it was we boldly set up facing the Eaton Centre.

Vern laid his guitar case upon the sidewalk and took out his Norman, wrapped the strap across his chest and began to tune up. I nervously banged the tambourine against my thigh, hoping against hope I would not forget the words to "Helpless", or "Run for Your Life" or, especially, to our cover-tune par excellence, "Eleanor Rigby".

At length, Vern began to play and I to sing. And before long a couple of funky chicks (who later told us they were from New York City) stopped to watch us and then began to dance. Between the glorious music and the dancers' enthusiasm, we gathered a crowd that might have approached 50 people and the money poured into the open case.

By the time the lowering clouds began to open up, we'd gone through our repertoire twice and had more than $20.00 in change scattered across the faux-velvet lining of the case.

We were a hit! We were amazing! They loved us!,/p>

In a transport of ecstasy, we made our way to a restaurant, to escape the rain, feed our bellies and count our money.

It was only when we went out again and earned perhaps a buck and a half in as many hours that we realized our first session might have been something of an exception. And it took us years to realize those funky chicks were from New York City, where buskers were common and good buskers far from rare; they didn't think we were amazing, they thought we were terrible! Possibly also adorable as only 16 year-old boys can be, but there must have been some pretty heavy irony in their dance.

And that was the story, more or less, as I've told and re-told it over more years than I care to remember.

And then, just a couple of weeks ago, while talking with Raven, I for some reason pulled out a notebook I'd kept back in 1981 and leafed through while she sat on my lap. And much to my surprise, I came across an entry (apparently wrongly) dated June 4, 1981.

I had and have no memory of having written the report, but there it was, in black (and blue) and white. Worse, the report itself showed that the story I had been telling for so many years was very wrong indeed.

  • There were no 'funky chicks' from New York City;
  • it wasn't the first time we'd played in public;
  • Vern didn't want to call it off because he was scared but because he'd broken a string and gotten irritated; and somehow,
  • $10.00 inflated to $20.00.

Click here for large version.
Click for large version.

And so, to illustrate the perils of relying on one's memory and the value of the written word, below please find a verbatim reproduction of what I thought happened, circa June 5, 1981 (admittedly much closer to the actual date). (Note, it's a hand-written entry; I won't sic mistakes unless they create confusion. Besides, you can click on the accompanying images for large-size reproductions if you're for some reason of a mind to.

Uncontrolled Ramblings; Part One:

Vern and head out to Brunswick and Bloor Thursday night (the 4th of Juin) accompanied by Pam. Set up just across from the By the Way & nervously started our first song. Halfway through it, Vern broke a string, and that was it. We tried to fix it, but to no avail, so the three [of us] just sat around, talking and rough-housing a[nd] waving at pigs. About two & a half hours later Pam had to leave so we kissed her good-by & headed home. Got stopped twice. Anyway.

Friday: Well, we walk down towards Dundas & Yonge, but before we get there Vern breaks another string & gets really pissed off & talks about forgetting it, so I get mad & start yelling at him & we sort of fight & then cool off & go to Steve's in hope of finding a guitar string. We do & go back, take the TTC to the Eaton Center & nervously start playing in a corner; a couple of girls come by & give us eight cents while another guy gives us some advice as to where to set up and how to avoid getting busted. Anyway, we finally get up the nerve to get out in the middle of a side-walk & started playing almost emidiately meeting Michelle, who was ... Michelle. Which was great. Her enthusiasm was really neat. And before we knew it we had 15, then 30, then 50, the[n] 80 or 90 people all clapping and cheering and even a few dancing. It was incredible. After about 25 minutes we'd gone through our entire repertoire at least twice and it had started raining so we took a break & went to Fran's with [a] 25 minute total of $9.05. When we came back out, we met Pam (who's a whole other subject by herself [and one I shall discuss presently]) & I gave her a big hug & we talked briefly until Vern & I started playing & she went off selling roses again. We went through our stuff 2 & a half times before Vern broke a string & we gave up. We looked for Pam, couldn't find her and so headed to Paul's. Anyway, that first set was one fuck of an ego booster. A hundred fucking people watching us on a fucking sidewalk. I've never seen anything like it. Heh heh.

Anyway; now to Pamela Tadman: hmmm. My next beau? I don't know. Not in the way that, say, of Debbie in any case. She just seems to be someone that I care for more all the time. I love her but I'm not "in love" with her, if you follow my drift. Pam is someone for whom I hold one hell of a lot of affection & tenderness for. She is so sweet. Anyway, I don't know. Whatever happens, no head-trips, she's dealing with enough of those all ready.

I confess to feeling more than a little wry amusement in seeing how I referred to either Debbie or Pamela as a "beau". At best, I could be said to have been jumping the gun; at worst, to being remarkably presumptuous.

But I digressed then and digress now. And maybe 30 years is enough time to stop being embarrassed by my adolescent self.

Comparing the story of the "first" performance of Dow and Pineau to that recorded above, I can only wonder. Where did my memory (or "memory") of the New York women come from? Was I somehow conflating Michelle into two New York "chicks"? Or did we get New Yorkers mocking us through dance at some later date?

The former seems more plausible, since I will still swear that we never again managed a crowd of anything remotely close to a "hundred fucking people watching us on a fucking sidewalk" again.

But either way, the discovery of that old journal entry was a sobering reminder that even a memory as fantastic as mine is not, er, infallible.

Spread the word!

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