Oh, 1976! What a year you were. It was the year that brought us the first totally awesome women detective team, the debut of great, fun television variety shows starring both man and muppet, and some of the most memorable albums in popular music history. It was also the year I moved from Halifax to Vancouver—my personal Pleasantville.
It was almost exactly 40 years ago this month that my family pulled up stakes and hauled ass, house, home and two Shetland Sheepdogs (Simba and Tuegee, respectively) from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia to a little town on the American border called Tsawwassen. It was the furthest south you could get on South Delta, just south of Vancouver, proper. Moving to Tsawwassen was a revelation: flowers blooming in February, my first glimpse at the breathtaking Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and slugs the size of a grown man’s boot! It was Shangri La surrounded on three sides by water.
At the age of 13, I was prime for new experiences and to begin
to inhabit my early teens.
My brother and I would go bike riding around the neighbourhood, usually winding up on a beach in Boundary Bay. This was a special place, as it became a haunt for my group of friends and I. We would doff our clothes and skinny dip in the warm, shallow waters of the Bay. When it was low tide, we could walk out on the sand bars a good half-mile from shore; then we would race the waves as the rip tide came in behind us.
Boundary Bay was surrounded by pristine farmland and unfettered nature. It was not uncommon for us to pass stunning Great Blue Heron standing stock-still while fishing the tributaries that ran through the farmland. There would be families of deer wandering laconically out of the tree stands and grazing on the grass in the meadows, barely paying us any notice as we rolled slowly past. It was bucolic. It was practically Disney-esque.
Tsawwassen was a stark contrast to Halifax-Dartmouth. We left the harsh Atlantic winter for the balmy Vancouver climate with its lush forests and trees so tall and great I could see them individually from my living room 30 miles away as they towered atop Grouse Mountain. Looking out the other window, we could get a pretty good view of Mount Baker (part of the Cascade range) with its steaming vents and cone. A couple of years after we moved to Toronto, Mount St. Helens blew her top. I suppose we saw the preamble to that as Baker began to get a head of steam up in the preceding years.
1976 was the year I met the band that would become my all-time favourite, my musical travelling companions, and one of my main creative influences: Heart.
All was not mountains, oceans and forests, though. At the age of 13, I was prime for new experiences and to begin to inhabit my early teens. That meant bright, super-wide bell-bottom jeans and cords, satin jackets, faux-suede pullover sweaters and high-top runners. It also meant getting a skateboard. Living in the Vancouver area offered amazing skateboarding terrain, with its steep hills and wild, hairpin turns. I demanded to get a skateboard and join the craze that was happening all around me. On one of our regular family trips to Seattle to see baseball games, I got my first skateboard. I can remember it like it was yesterday: lime green board with red trucks. It was my travelling companion for the two years we lived in Tsawwassen, and I went everywhere with it, usually at break-neck speeds. I got really good at skateboarding quite fast and it became a part of my body.
Speaking of Seattle. 1976 was the year I met the band that would become my all-time favourite, my musical travelling companions, and one of my main creative influences: Heart. Yep. Forty years ago on Valentine’s Day, 1976, Dreamboat Annie was released. Who knew back then it would become a game-changer for women in rock and a staple on radio? Back in those days, it was an album by a local band that got a lot of play on local radio. I was mesmerized when I heard the opening cry of Roger Fisher’s guitar in Magic Man, kicking off the undulating beat that pulsed under Ann Wilson’s siren of a voice. The seamless journey into Dreamboat Annie and Crazy on You strung together on Nancy Wilson’s now-classic acoustic performance. Then Ann simmering in the verses and exploding in the chorus with her ecstatic cry, “…and you kept me alive with your sweet, flowing love…” My mind was sufficiently bent!
While Heart’s Dreamboat Annie was a watershed moment for me personally, there were so many albums and artists who released music in 1976, that are forever branded on my psyche to this day and still part of my playlist: Boston, Eagles “Hotel California”, Frampton Comes Alive, Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” and Donna Summer moaning and groaning ‘Love to Love You Baby’ for 17 of the most erotic musical moments in history. It was amazing to be in my early teens, riding my skateboard around Shangri La and listening to this music every day. I remember new songs by The Babys, The Runaways and a slew of one hit wonders that I still listen to today. I can almost smell the sea air when I hear certain songs. Sense memory is incredible.
I discovered a new part of my country, came of age, got to hang out with Angels and found my favourite band in Dreamboat Annie. Happy 40th anniversary.
1976 was also an awesome year as it was the debut of The Muppet Show and Charlie’s Angels…and the beginning of my gay-boy love affair with Farrah Fawcett-Majors. She embodied the west coast culture of free-flowing hair, a gleaming smile, tennis (which I also played)…and she even rode a skateboard! She was my 70s glamour girl spirit guide. When I wasn’t glued to the television watching the latest adventures of Jill, Sabrina and Kelly, I was bopping to my gay-boy crush Donny Osmond on the Donny & Marie Show. I remember when Farrah made a guest appearance on the show. It was almost more than I could take: Farrah and Donny on the same show. Heaven!
There it is. As I sit here on February 14th, 2016, I am suddenly 13-years-old again and reliving one of the most formative years of my life, where I discovered a new part of my country, came of age, got to hang out with Angels and found my favourite band in Dreamboat Annie. Happy 40th anniversary.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ Andrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites. Andrew is currently working on the project queer50.com.