A year since the musical idol of my youth passed away.
I sincerely doubt any of you have ever heard of him. Ok, I will grant that a few of you have.
No, that’s not even right. I know that a few of you have heard of him. If you grew up in the ‘Shwa back in the day and had a burning passion for music like I did then I bloody well know that you knew him.
Mike owned and operated Star Records in downtown Oshawa. It was, as I always say, the record store that I grew up in.
I first discovered Star Records in a very backhanded kind of way. I was standing at the checkout counter of Symphonette, the record store situated in the upper floor near Sears at the Oshawa Shopping Centre back in the day when they actually had an upstairs. Two guys were checking out in front of me with an already purchased record in a transparent red bag. The guy behind the counter happened to comment on the record there in, It was an Elton John album. Now, had I not have been a huge fan of Captain Fantastic I may well have let it go. But, since I was currently a dyed in the wool fan of EJ my ears immediately perked up.
The album was called “Just Like Strange Rain”. Considering the fact I was currently enamoured of all things EJ and had never heard of this album before I just had to enquire from whence it came. “None of your business” they offered. “Fuck the hell off” they cried. And yet I insisted. Eventually they capitulated and offered up the goods. The record was, in fact, a bootleg record, produced clandestinely. It wasn’t the kind of thing people spoke of in polite company. Normally they would only ever divulge this secret if they could then kill me. Yet the didn’t. And they had purchased it at Star Records.
“Ask for Mike,” one of them offered.
The next day I made my way down to Star Records, at the time situated on King Street West in Oshawa. After some back and forth in which I was trying to play it cool Mike brightened and said “Oh, the bootlegs” in a voice so warn, inviting and boisterous that I immediately rejoiced, celebrated and cringed all at the same time. The way that the dynamic duo had made it sound the night before I figured the “B” word was one to only be mentioned of and spoken in the most hushed and reverent tones. Mikes openess and obvious enthusiasm freaked me the fuck out. The first thing I did after my initial foray was to introduce my best friend to the world of bootleg recordings.
Bill and I spent many an evening hanging out at Star Records; buying all of our records there, listening to many of Mike’s ribald stories of rock ‘n’ roll excess and generally basking in the glow of what we both figured to be cool. We both first heard Teenage Head there when Mike played us their first single, “Picture My Face”. We would frequently buy tickets to our favourite bands from him when he didn’t want to use the Cheap Thrills tickets his brother had subscribed to. There was the notorious cheese cake incident that no one ever talks about anymore. Bill and I were DJs at CRSM, MCVIs poor excuse for a radio station, pumping barely audible tunes down to the cafeteria where the mantra from the lunch ladies was more often than not “turn it down, turn it down.”
At the time we tried to strike up a deal with Mike to promote Star Records on “air” in return for free records. After some convincing he agreed, with a caveat. He would be the one to decide which records to promote. After the briefest of hesitation we agreed. I mean, shit, free records are free records, right?
The first record that Mike provided us was “Sunburst Finish” by Be Bop Deluxe. Bill and I raced back to his folks place (it was closest) and threw it on his turntable. From the get go he was less than impressed. I immediately fell in love.
And so, in honest to goodness loving tribute to Mike and his memory I present to you the first song on the first side of “Sunburst Finish”. “Fair Exchange”.