Discover a new favourite

As a grade-schooler in the early ‘80s, I frequently heard a country song with the following chorus spilling out of the CJFX AM Radio airwaves:

“Everybody wants to live to be 100, everybody’s looking for the key…We all want to jump into the fountain of youth and come out looking like we’re 23.”

Unfortunately, in my preparation for this week’s column, I’ve been frustrated in my attempts to confirm that this song was recorded by comedian George Burns.

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I figure it was George as he released three country albums in the early ‘80s and had a minor hit with a lovely piece called “I Wish I Was Eighteen Again.” I also suspect it was George because, around the same time, he released a semi-comedic book called How To Live To Be 100 – Or More!

I also firmly believe it was George who recorded this tune because, after the singing stopped, it ended with someone whose voice lined up with the octogenarian’s trademark raspy twang, saying some variation of the following:

“Great singer, there. Pretty good writer, too. In fact, he’s got a new book out. If you like him, buy it. And if you don’t like him, buy it anyway, and get into someone you don’t like.”

All of this came flooding back to me as I thought about a fantastic night of music at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre, courtesy of someone I never really considered to be one of my favourite musicians: Blue Rodeo co-founder Jim Cuddy.

I can already hear the lynch mob pounding on my door, pitchforks and torches in hand, as I type these words. Calm down, folks. I didn’t say I dislike Jim Cuddy or Blue Rodeo; quite the contrary. As a matter of fact, two of their songs – “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” and “Till I Am Myself Again” – were a huge help in the recovery period after I lost a dear high school friend to a highway accident in 1994.

There’s a lot I enjoy about the rest of the Blue Rodeo catalogue, and more than one of their radio hits can put a smile on my face or bring back a poignant memory to this day. I just never become a fan, that’s all.

Still, something seemed just right about settling in for the night at the Civic Centre with the rest of the sold-out crowd that welcomed The Jim Cuddy Trio on the last Friday night in September.

It almost didn’t happen for Cathy and me. After hearing rumours earlier in the month that tickets were moving slowly, I went to the Civic Centre box office with nine days to go before Cuddy hit town and was shocked to learn that there were exactly two tickets left.

As a result, Cuddy and his musical comrades, Blue Rodeo band-mate Colin Cripps on acoustic guitar and Anne Lindsay on violin, had hundreds of people in their corner – and filling all four corners of the Bear Head Room – as they launched into a high-flying, freewheeling evening of classic hits and fresh new originals. (I think everyone in the crowd was raving about “Constellations” as they headed out for the intermission.)

Along with a couple of my personal Blue Rodeo favourites – “Head Over Heels” and the Winnipeg band’s breakout hit “Try” – Cuddy’s soaring voice and his musical co-conspirators even made me a fan of one song that has had a bittersweet feeling for me over the years, “Five Days in May.”

See, in my pre-digital, pre-FM, pre-Hawk days at CIGO 1410 AM Radio, there wasn’t much variety in the 12-6 a.m. set list, as the night time music consisted of a half-dozen VHS tapes containing enough music to fill six hours. “Five Days in May” frequently came up if I happened to be at the station working on news or sports stories at roughly half-past midnight. Occasionally the song lifted me; other times, its lengthy, meandering, lonely-sounding instrumental break exacerbated the endless feeling of my task-at-hand and just made me want to go home.

Twenty years later, in a much more comfortable setting, I made my peace with “Five Days in May,” especially as Lindsay – whose work I had admired during her live sets with the Canadian music-comedy trio The Arrogant Worms – fired up her instrument, the stage and the crowd. It was a perfect complement to Cripps’ bang-on guitar work and the soaring voice of Cuddy, whose high notes and timing seemed incongruous with the fact that he’ll turn 64 this December.

In the end, I’m glad I took that mystery country singer’s suggestion to “get into” someone I wouldn’t normally consider a personal go-to musician. Hopefully we’ll all take that advice, whether it’s during this week’s Celtic Colours festivities or anytime, anywhere – we never know when we might just discover a new favourite.