Play your Part series: Summers and Numbers and the Transformational Powers of NMC

Last week I was approached by the National Music Centre (NMC) to write a blog about that special relationship between music and summer, and the relationship between that magical marriage and NMC. I immediately knew it was all going to be about the numbers.

“What numbers? What do numbers have to do with music?” you ask, dear reader.

Well, let us begin with the number 1984, relating to the number of years following the beginning of the Common Era. 1984 represented the apex of my physical attractiveness as a human being. Since I am a lawyer, I feel compelled to offer you some tangible evidence of this proposition in Exhibit A below. As you can see, I was rated an exceptional six stars over five in my own grade seven yearbook. No matter that my best friend bestowed the rating upon me. I still take it as irrefutable confirmation. The annotation also clearly indicates that I was a “babe” – the Anthony Michael Hall hair (I have none now), the preppiness and the puka shell necklace; all while channeling Ralph Macchio. You have to admit, dear reader, that it was impressive. Alas, it is all history now, but for a brief moment it all came together.

In passing, you will note the presence of my classmate, old friend, and super-talented Calgary bassist and recording artist Jeremy Coates (www.jeremycoates.com). Shout out to Coates! While Coates’ looks in grade seven were fair to middling, I must admit that he is a startlingly handsome man now.

Exhibit A: Extract from the 1984 Bishop Pinkham Yearbook

In any event, it may come as a surprise to some of you that many people do not associate 1984 with my good looks. To many, 1984 stands as the veritable high-alter of summer pop music. I whole-heartedly agree with them. Some years have been pretty good. The summer of 1967 (not ’69, as Bryan Adams would contend) was a nice Blues-rock romp. 1982 was New-wave awesome. 1978 had Punk, Disco and German-electro zeal. However, nothing comes close to competing with 1984.

“Objection counselor. How can you make such a blanket assertion? Is this not just your subjective view, tainted by your own sense of nostalgia?”, the dear reader might ask. The music produced in 1984, which really was clustered around the summer, was amazing, prolific, sophisticated and super fun. I would direct the court of popular culture to the iron clad numbers proffered by the Interweb in Exhibit B:

Exhibit B: 1984 by the Numbers

  • Michael Jackson – ThrillerReleased in 1983, this album is the only album to be number one in two separate years (1983–1984). It is the top selling album of all time, as confirmed on February 7, 1984, with an estimated 65 million copies sold. It was produced with Quincy Jones for a paltry budget of $750,000. I am not sure of the proper conversion rate of Reagan dollars to normal dollars, but it seems like that was a really good investment.

 

  • Bruce Springsteen – Born in the USA: This album had seven – count them: seven – top ten singles. That is insane. There were only twelve songs on the whole album in the first place. In any other year this album would have held the number one spot for months, but because 1984 was the Godzilla year of pop, poor Bruce only held on to this spot for four weeks. Call those four weeks his “Glory Days”. My twelve-year-old self particularly liked “Downbound Train”. My forty-year-old self agrees. We also both agree that we like Courtney Cox’s appearance in the “Dancing in the Dark“ video.

 

  • Van Halen – 1984: Amazing cover, amazing singles and the most amazing guitar chops laid down on vinyl. Exactly 12,342 bikini-clad ladies were used in the making of Van Halen’s videos for this album (Note: This figure is unconfirmed). This magnum opus of 1980s glam metal held down the number two spot on the charts, but could not dislodge Thriller. Weirdly, Eddie Van Halen actually helped Michael Jackson by playing on “Beat It”. If you cannot beat them (or “it”), then… On the numbers, the Winnipeg Jets used “Jump” as their opening song for each home game from 1984 to 1996.

 

  • Footloose: This album was the soundtrack to a hard-hitting documentary of the same name about a repressive theocracy in the small town of Bomont, USA. Perhaps presaging the Taliban-era in Afghanistan, the film examined the deleterious cultural effects of (a surely unconstitutional?) town ordinance prohibiting the practice of dancing. My twelve-year-old self was much impressed with: (a) the film; (b) the soundtrack, especially “Dancing in the Sheets”; and (c) chiefly the fact that I got to play spin the bottle for the first time at party that occurred after the screening of the film at the Palace Theater. Footloose contained a number of tracks written by Kenny Loggins. Those tracks were considered to be Loggins’ best work. They were also considered to be terrible. Somehow, this album managed to hang on to the number one spot for about nine weeks.

 

  • Prince – Purple Rain: The darling of 1984. Both my twelve-year-old and forty-year-old selves agree that this is my favorite album of that year. Purple Rain has gone Platinum thirteen times. The album was released on June 25, 1984. I first heard “When Doves Cry” in the hot tub at the Southland Leisure Centre. What was this stuff? Was it even from earth? Purple Rain sat at the number one spot for twenty-four weeks. “Darling Nikki” (which features a backwards message at the 3:22 mark) even withstood the jarring attacks of Tipper Gore on behalf of the Organization of Bored Political Housewives Against Racy But Totally Awesome Pop Music (beware the dreaded OBPHARBTAPM). As if that was not enough, Prince went on to pick up a Grammy for another song he wrote that year for Chaka Khan – the marvelous “I Feel For You.”

 

  • The ‘also-rans’ in 1984, were fantastic in their own right, but just could not compete with the alien invasion of musical geniuses that year. Who were these ‘lesser mortals’? Who were these ‘middling musicians’? Just a bland, undistinguished pop blob comprised of the likes of Madonna, Talking Heads, The Police, Run-DMC, Metallica, U2, Billy Idol, Duran Duran, The Eurythmics, The Violent Femmes, Bon Jovi, Peter Gabriel, Culture Club and Wham.

You may say, dear reader, that I have proved my point about 1984, but that I have failed to explain what any of this has to do with NMC.

As I see it, the transformational power of NMC’s East Village Project rests on the numbers too. It will do this by providing Calgarians, Canadians, and international visitors with a world-class forum for musical inspiration, technical advancement, cross-pollination, learning, engagement and most importantly, community. I predict that NMC will change the cultural fabric of this town for the better – and in a bold way. Again let us look at some numbers in Exhibit C:

Exhibit C: NMC by the Numbers

  • Let us assume that NMC’s new facility will play host to 30,000 school children per year with outreach programs for musical education.

 

  • Then let us assume that ten percent of those children, being 3,000, are very engaged by those programs and actively pursue music education in the form of formal music lessons or informal exploration of music composition (likely with the aid of computers). Those 3,000 children will then have a musical home in NMC; where they can hear others play, meet other musicians, learn about music and perfect the very separate art of recording.

 

  • Projecting the above numbers, we end up with 30,000 children every ten years who are “really into music”. Let us now suppose that out of 30,000 children, five percent are genuinely genius – that is 1500 people.

 

  • Now, let us stand back and think what Calgary might be like with 1500 musical geniuses walking around town. That is actually a lot of geniuses. Geniuses who will meet in their community at the forum NMC provides and gain inspiration, technical advancement, cross-pollination, learning and engagement from one another.

The above scenario leads to some very interesting questions. Could NMC’s educational programs alone make Calgary a hot bed of musical experimentation and live performances? Could Calgary become a new focal point for recording? Could a great music scene boost a theatre scene, and dance scene and visual arts scene? Could these cultural amenities entice talented people in other economic sectors to become Calgarians – as theorizes Richard Florida (no relation to Flo Rida, incidentally) – the same way that major cities like New York and London draw talent by dint of sheer urban vibrancy?

I think that the answer to all of these questions is a clear YES. Is it any accident that the winter Olympians from Calgary have done so well since the 1988 Winter Games, when they all clearly benefitted from the existence of training facilities for their sports in Calgary?

The National Music Centre is not just a cool building project; it is an experiment in human interaction. People will drive its growth – people like you and me and the school kid next door. So I would urge you all to come and visit NMC, have some fun, and get involved. Who knows, maybe 2023 will be the next 1984, but based in Calgary?

Perhaps by then the miracles of modern medicine will allow me to get my hair back so that I can rightfully reclaim my place as a better looking man than Jeremy Coates. Another shout out to Coates! (www.jeremycoates.com).

– Tony Cioni

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