I Was Raised On Rock ‘n’ Roll

Raised on AC/DC

I had just started working a new job in a new office and they were still doing renovations. I spent my first day building my own desk, which I should have taken as a sign, but that’s another story.

I started work at 9 a.m. At 9:55 a.m., I asked the renovators if they could put a pause on their construction while I made a very important phone call to my mother. It’s easy to get people to do what you want when you mention your mother, but little did they know the matter at stake was the pending on-sale of AC/DC concert tickets. This may not seem like some significant family matter, but that is a matter of perspective. For us, it was crucial we get these tickets. My mother had raised me on a steady diet of hair metal, heavy metal, and rock’n’roll, and from a young age I knew AC/DC like my abcd’s. So when it was announced AC/DC would be rolling through town, there was an unspoken understanding that my mother and I would go see them. We would both try to get tickets to double our chances.

The workers sat idly by as I dialed my mother. They drank from Gatorade bottles and chatted quietly, though not quiet enough that I couldn’t hear them wonder aloud about what could possibly be so important that this 20-something blonde girl would request they stop working entirely. (At least they were getting paid, they kept saying). It’s not like I needed it to be noise free, it’s just the anticipation was almost too much to handle. I felt nervous. Would we be able to get tickets? What if we couldn’t? Would we risk it and buy them online? We were looking for four, a hard number in concert ticket sale land, especially when you’re hoping for good seats. My anxiety ran rampant.

We both loaded our Ticketmaster screens and watched the seconds ticking up from 9:59:01. As soon as 10 a.m. struck the search was on. Seconds felt like minutes felt like hours as we waited anxiously for one of our browsers to load.

Mine loaded first.

“Mom! I got some! Section 200, row 19!”

“Get them!” She said, demanded. We knew there was no chance of us getting better seats let alone four of them. I began to process the order.

“Wait,” she gasped. “Mine just loaded. Row C.”

“C?” I asked. A letter? “What section?”

“Floor. Sheena, this is third row.”

We couldn’t believe it and squealed with excitement from our respective work places as my mother processed and confirmed the order. When the tickets were officially ours, the renovators got back to work and I left my newly built desk to giddily tell my new coworkers the exciting news. Now, the waiting game began.

***

I was an early adopter of rock. At three, I would adorn a headband and tell people I wanted to be Axl Rose when I grew up. When “Sweet Child Of Mine” came on, I would sway at the hips, close my eyes, and dance. It was the earliest proof that I am my mother’s daughter.

My mom got married at 20 and had me a little over a year later at 21. When I was seven and she’d sleep past 10 a.m. I found what could only be attributed to her young age to be a rather annoying trait. I had usually been up for hours by the time she reared her sleep head. But as we got older, I was forever grateful that we weren’t too far off in age, especially when it came to music. She taught me the classics, sang me Styx and Meatloaf songs as lullabies, and took me to my first concerts. We listened to it all, but there were two bands in particular that really solidified our bond: Def Leppard and AC/DC.

She would lament me with stories of her late teens and early 20s, seeing Def Leppard, AC/DC, Guns N Roses, and many other bands from the 80s and early 90s perform in iconic venues like the late Maple Leaf Gardens. I saw photos of her in tight denim and t-shirts, hair sky high and teased to the max. I idolized her life, imagined what it would be like if her and I had grown up together in that era and gone to concerts as friends. I imagined how much fun we would have had, partying together and drooling over men in too tight pants.

Not that we didn’t have fun and do this anyway. Every time Def Leppard performed in Toronto (and, one time, in Hamilton), we went. Once or twice we had too many margaritas. We saw them perform alongside Billy Idol, Poison, Heart and many others. I think I’ve seen them more than 10 times, and only once without her.

But we had never seen AC/DC together. Wouldn’t that be the day? We’d dream.

***

It took forever for the concert to come around. When the day finally arrived, I was disappointed we didn’t get hard tickets because I always liked collecting the stubs, looking through them later and reflecting on them like photo albums. They were trying out a new technology, paperless tickets, but we ended up getting lanyards instead, which I suppose was kind of cool, making the affair feel very VIP.

When we got to the stadium and proceeded to walk down the aisles towards our seats, I felt a thrill every time we were granted permission to go a little closer to the stage. As we approached our seats, we were shocked to discover there was no row A. We were actually second row! This couldn’t be real! A massive black curtain hid what was on the stage, and we waited with great anticipation for the show to start. The opening band got held up at the border, so the show was delayed. And when it had been decided that the band would never arrive, the curtain finally opened and a huge train that shot out fire revealed itself, as did each member of the band.

When Angus Young appeared, I couldn’t help but scream. He was one of my guitar idols. As a player myself, I admired his talent (and Malcolm’s too) and aspired to achieve his skillset. One Halloween I even dressed like him in my best boyish schoolgirl outfit, but unfortunately everyone thought I was Hermione from Harry Potter.

The show epitomized rock’n’roll. There were flames and explosives, giant blow up dolls, and more than two hours of blaring guitars, loud drums, and that infamous vocal growl. It was a family affair, for not only was I there with the woman who introduced this music into my world, but also my sister and my stepdad too. It is for reasons like this that music and family have such an entangled meaning for me. When I was growing up, music always had a way of bringing us together. There were the concerts we went to together, the ones they drove me to all across Ontario (and there were many), the ones I dragged my little sister to, and the ones I couldn’t ever stop talking about. I picture rolling the windows down and blasting rock and hair metal albums while driving down the highway on road trips. I picture the support everyone gave me when I decided to learn guitar, and for the four years after as I lent my life to the instrument, convinced that I too could be some big rockstar one day.

This didn’t happen. But still, music has always been all around me. From before I could walk to after I moved out on my own, it has been there with me, guiding me, helping me take that next step forward.

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Doing Yoga With Dave Moffatt

Doing yoga with Dave Moffatt

“Thank you for coming to practice,” he says, adjusting the volume on his headset to make sure everybody can hear him. It hums as he fiddles with it, but I barely notice. I am too busy concentrating on the sound of his voice, the familiarity of it.

How is it possible life has come full circle like this? It perplexes and intrigues me how this version of my past could collide with my present in such a way. I imagine going back in time 15 years to tell a younger version of myself that this would be happening. I never would have believed it. I can barely believe it now.

But there he is: Dave Moffatt of the 1990s/early 2000s Canadian band the Moffatts, leading a free yoga class at Toronto’s Mountain Equipment Coop of all places. This is somebody I saw perform sold out concerts at some of the city’s biggest venues more than a decade ago. Friends of mine had scribbled his name in black Sharpie on neon posters from the dollar store, and although my favourite member (as it is customary to have a favourite member when you are a preteen-aged young woman) was the lead singer, I am still a little star struck being in the presence of somebody who helped define so much of my adolescence.

The Moffatts were my band. While my peers were drawn to choreographed pop stars like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, I was taken by how the quartet of brothers played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. I liked the topics the Moffatts explored: first, young love and innocence; and later, in their best and final album, more complex issues such as sex and depression, matters not often associated with a band best known for a bubbly ballad called “I Miss You Like Crazy.”

But more than that, the Moffatts were my first introduction to a community that made me feel like I was finally part of something. Music made up for all the holes in my real life, the void other girls filled with boys, parties and other things I knew little of. The Moffatts brought a richness to my life. They were a catalyst for new friendships, some of which became life long, and they were the foundation of the quintessential preteen fantasy that boys like that could write songs about girls like me. But eventually this faded. My heart turned to real boys, new bands, and a growing circle of friends, and I no longer needed the Moffatts the way I once did. Yet seeing Dave in the flesh brings some of these feelings and memories back, and they come with a sort of sadness, filling me with this sinking awareness of how things that once seemed necessary can end.

***

It is a Sunday morning in mid November and it is snowing ever so lightly outside. By this point I am starting to get used to waking up at sunrise to go to yoga classes on weekends. In the months leading up to Dave’s class, I had started trading in late nights at the bar for early mornings at the studio in an attempt to introduce more balance into my life. I arrive to class eager and early, so I find myself drinking coffee in Starbucks and staring out the window down Spadina to pass the time.

As we ready for class a little later, I can’t help but almost stare at Dave. He is smaller than I imagined he would be, tiny and bendy. I watch as he contorts his body into inhuman shapes. I have been practicing yoga for just over eight months and am amazed by what my own body has learned to do. I wonder if mine too will be able to shape shift like that once I have the experience he has.

The previous night, I had been out celebrating my friend Erin’s birthday when I saw a guy who reminded me of Dave Moffatt. I hadn’t really thought about the Moffatts in a long time and I wondered what Dave looked like now. I Googled it, and as I began typing his name, “Dave Moffatt Yoga” came up.

My heart skipped a beat. That couldn’t be the Dave Moffatt could it? I knew he lived in Toronto. A friend had spotted him twice in her neighbourhood, once at the post office and another time while walking down the street. As the page loaded, my doubts quickly disintegrated: the keyboardist of a band I was once admittedly obsessed with was indeed now teaching yoga classes in my city. As fluke would have it, he had tweeted about a class taking place the very next day. “Are you teaching?” I giddily tweeted at him. He responded shortly after with a yes, you should come. Erin and I agreed to part ways and reconvene for class in the morning.

It takes all of my energy to not burst into laughter at how surreal everything feels the next day. I cannot make eye contact with Erin for it would surely push me over the edge and at times I can barely even look at Dave himself. But I get into the class, as you always do with yoga, and for a while I forget it is Dave teaching. I become lost in the flow, no longer even in the room but in another realm entirely. Just like with music. It only comes back to me when he adjusts me, repositioning my body just slightly. As he walks away I can’t help but mouth to Erin, “He touched me.”

The feeling is enough to make me aware once again of the strange nature of the situation. As the session winds down and we rise from savasana, he begins to chant melodically. Singing and chanting are not part of my usual yoga practice, but it feels almost right in that moment. Of course he has to sing.

When class ends I have to talk to him. Something inside of me needs him to acknowledge that this is real.

“Hi Dave,” I say as I stagger up to him. “Thanks for the great class.”

“Sheena, right?” He responds, surprising me. “I recognize you from Twitter. It’s nice to meet you!”

“Nice to meet you too,” I say, as if I hadn’t before. No teenybopper can go through her teenybopper career without the compulsory experience of at least one crazed autograph signing.

I smile. Nothing about this makes sense and yet somehow everything does. The coincidence forces me to truly reflect on where my life is now and on how much has changed since I last saw the Moffatts perform on stage. I am not the same girl I once was.

Yoga is powerful like that. It grounds you and makes you come to terms with things in the most meaningful way. The practice comes with an awareness and acceptance of your self and the things around you in a manner that is both internal and infinite. Something feels different as I walk away from class. I am aware of each snowflake, in awe of how beautiful everything looks in its dusting of white, and conscious of just how calm the world can be on a sleepy Sunday morning. Everything is in its place, and I feel exactly where I need to be.

***

Sheena Lyonnais is the founder of Blonde. Image from Tribe Fitness.

The Band that Changed my Life

TheKillers

I remember more music than I have memories. It has become so engrained into my life that I have tattoos dedicated to it and spend a good chunk of my paycheck to go to concerts.  I listened to music to fall asleep, to soothe a broken heart, and to celebrate life. Sometimes my taste could be questionable, but when I discovered my band my life changed forever.

Growing up, I listened to a lot of my parent’s music: Irish Folk music, female singers and more folk music. Before we had our Walkmans, my sister and I would have to endure hours in a car of songs like “The Fields of Athenry” and endless jig music. When my dad finally got “Hot Licks” by the Rolling Stones we had him play it constantly as it was the only music we could ever agree on. Then finally: we got our own Walkmans and stereos, which we used to play our radio mix tapes and CDs my mom got from Columbia House. She was pretty hip with the times: she bought me Fugees, TLC, Jennifer Lopez and Fast and Furious soundtracks. My first favourite tape that I listened to repeatedly as a kid was the Dirty Dancing soundtrack (years before it became one of my favorite movies).  I also distinctly remember blasting Celine Dion and Whitney Houston while playing solitaire on my little computer in my room, and having my headphones on listening to the Backstreet Boys.  Then there was Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child air bands, lip syncs with my bestie to “The Boy Is Mine,” and dance routines to ABBA. Very eclectic taste.

Then as I got older, I picked up artists that my parent’s hadn’t heard of:  Blink 182, Sum 41 and my favourite band for years and years, Lifehouse. I discovered them on a That’s What I Call Music CD and played their first album so often I’ve had to replace it three times (its still one of my favourite albums of all time). While I still like Lifehouse, my heart grew to love a different band.

In my “victory lap” year of high school, I was set on becoming a writer. I was the editor and pretty much sole writer of the school paper; I worked on yearbook and wrote stories for local magazines.  Then I took a co-op at the University of Guelph Radio station, CFRU 93.3 FM.  I was working with this very hip woman who wore hand woven tops and went to yoga (before it was the “thing” to do). As part of my co-op I got some airtime, two hours of “spoken word,” which meant that I could play music but I had to talk or have stories for 50 per cent or more of it. I only remember one story talking about education, where I had my only call in (which incidentally turned out to be a boy I hated), but I do remember the music. I would scour their little CD room filled top to bottom with CDs of all kinds of music, any genre you could think of. Then there was the “new release’s” room, with a little boom box to test out the CDs. I carefully cultivated my musical taste in that room.  Weakerthans, Constantines, Gossip and one song that I still listen to but have no idea who the band is. I remember filling out sheets and sheets on the songs I played, I wish I kept copies of those sheets.

Then I found that little single.

I remember being intrigued by its pink and gold cover, it was a promo single sent by the record label (we got lots of those). I put it in the little stereo and I was instantly hooked, it sounded quite a lot like 80’s new wave I was really into at the time (huge John Hughes Fan) but yet different. I had never heard the song before.

It was The Killers “Somebody Told Me.”

I played it literally every single show until I heard it on public radio then had to retire it. Soon after I first heard it, I bought their debut album Hot Fuss and played it to death at home.

Lifehouse and the Backstreet boys was one thing, but this evolved into something else entirely. WhiIe I’ve outgrown the other bands, I’ve become a bigger fan of The Killers. I have all of their CDs, some B-Side songs, follow a YouTube Channel with live shows and was gratefully gifted their vinyl collection which could be my most precious thing besides my autographed Chris Hemsworth magazine.

The truth is I listen to the Killers every single day, even if it’s just one song or their entire discography.  From “Mr. Brightside,” and “All these Things I’ve Done” to “Read my Mind,” “Runaways,” “Human” or “Here with Me,” and list goes on and on.  At some point in the day, guaranteed you will hear me listening to them.

While I don’t always like the music that The Killers put out, I am still a faithful follower, a Victim as they call their fans.  I’ve seen them twice in concert, and soon will go to see them a third time (floor spots- as close to the stage as we can get).

The first show was special because I dragged my cousin to it and I was very high. Sitting in the grass at the Molson Amphitheatre, it sounded so amazing that it was like I was in a tiny room and I was the only person there. I felt the music float over me and out into the night sky (I romantically think it was because of how much I love the band but it was probably the really strong weed). The next time I went was with my best friend, and we sang and danced our hearts out. It was a dream come true.

While they may not be the first band I discovered on my own, they are the first band that no matter what is happening around me, when I listen to them I feel like “me.”  They give me the words that I can’t find and tell me stories that I can relate to. On sunny days I walk around the city with my headphones repeating the words “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” in my head. On dreary days I hum “Mr. Brightside” and I wish I could have written, “It’s funny how you just break down/Waitin’ on some sign/I pull up to the front of your driveway/With magic soakin’ my spine/ Can you read my mind?”

They remind me of my good times, bad days, my past, and they get me through my present. The Killers are also part of the reason why I am so close with my best friend, because she understands and shares the same love for them as I do.

I know I will be a Victim for life: I dream of naming my hypothetical daughter after a cover they have done, plan on following in their footsteps while in Vegas and I’m deciding on what ink I should get to commemorate them.  How was I to know one little pink and gold CD would change my life?  Music will always be my religion, and the Killers are my saints.