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The Soundtrack of my Life

Peter Gunn by the Art of Noise

I couldn’t tell you when or how or where I first heard of the Art of Noise. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume it was from watching MuchMusic, which had shows like The New Music that frequently played things that didn’t qualify as Top 40. I assume, since I can’t remember any other way, this is when I first heard the mixed bag of sounds that somehow became a tune, the hallmark of Art of Noise’s oeuvre.

Sometime in late 1984 or early 1985, I became aware of a program called SEVEC: the Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada. The general premise was to mix English-speaking kids with French-speaking kids to try and bridge the ever-widening gap between English Canada and Quebec. (Yes, French is spoken elsewhere. This was an attempt to cross-culture, keep Canada whole. I’ll defer with the rest of the political reasoning…) Somehow, which I most likely blame on my paternal grandmother for her penchant to travel, I managed to get myself involved along with a number of schoolmates, and in July of 1985, we went to live for two weeks in Quebec City.

I don’t remember how many of us there were, though I think about 7 or 8 of us went from E.J. James School, all of us in the same grade. Sadly, I lost track of nearly all of them, save for Alison, who despite living in Australia somehow fell within a network of friends from high school. (Alison also helped me verify the year we went to Quebec City, which after 35 years, was getting a little hard to remember clearly.)

I was partnered with Stefan, whose father worked for the Quebec government and was fully bilingual; none of the rest of the family spoke English well, so I was forced to put as much effort into my French as I could. I ate and slept at their apartment, and Stefan would come to Oakville two weeks later to stay with my family.

Every day while we were in Quebec, we would all get together for various activities, ranging from pure fun (a visit to a waterpark, for example) to pure educational (a visit to the Plains of Abraham, where the French lost to the British, and thus the control of the nascent Canada). Every day we would mingle in groups, trying to simultaneously live up to the expectations of the program, and run away from our respective partners to stay with our Ontario friends. (Admittedly, I don’t recall the Quebecois kids ever doing this. Sadly, I think it was just us snobbish Ontarioans.)

Every night, I had to listen to music to fall asleep, a habit I picked up a year earlier, in an effort to calm my hyperactive mind that loved to stray into various thoughts that could keep me up all night. One of the many tapes I listened to while in my bed in Stefan’s room was Art of Noise’s In Visible Silence. The second song on side two was Peter Gunn. I had to learn to play the music at such a low level that it wouldn’t bother Stefan when he was trying to sleep.

In case you’ve never heard it before, it’s an instrumental, there are no lyrics. It’s actually the theme from a late 1950s TV series (of the same name), which I’ve never seen nor know anything about. And while I know most of the tune quite well, it’s the interlude that starts around 1:08 in the track, where the harsher sounds give way to an almost dreamlike sequence that runs for about 15 seconds before the next drum beat.

During those 15 seconds, I feel SEVEC, old memories of being in in Quebec City, snippets of events and places we went and things we did, of faces long gone. Perhaps it’s still a dream, one I cling to not because of a particularly happy moment or because of unfulfilled desires, but solely of memory, and the feeling of my first carefree youth away from home.