The Night Belonged to Trooper

Last week, CBC Television aired part one of a two-part series about the formative years of the Canadian music industry called “The Beat Goes On.” Part 2 airs this Thursday night, September 3, 2009 (check the web site for exact times and repeat dates). I only caught a few minutes of it, as I was on my way elsewhere on the dial when I happened upon it. It was fun to see some old clips from bands that I haven’t hear from for years, but I was a bit put off by all the self congratulation and back slapping. I suppose it’s to be expected from a show that aims to celebrate the industry, but it was just a bit too glad-handy. I finally switched it off when they got to the part about Trooper.

Trooper. Before I say any more I need to explain that I had no musical mentors as a teenager. There was no music played at home (aside from country music rattling through my mother’s transistor radio in the afternoons) and few of my friends had anything to say on the topic. The one thing I did know was that most mainstream pop music bored me. But with no one to help steer me elsewhere I didn’t really have an alternative.

Which brings us back to Trooper. Trooper always reminds me of Air Cadet Summer Camp at CFB Greenwood, Nova Scotia. In particular, it brings me to the couple of summers when, at ages 17 and 18, I worked there as an employee, aka a “corporal” Those were really excellent summers in so many ways; I was away from home (I never was the type to get homesick), I was earning money, I got to boss people around (the “cadets”) and I got to fly gliders. The days were filled with the roar of airplanes, the blast of propeller wash, blue skies, and a marvelous feeling of growing independence and responsibility. The nights belonged to booze, dark corners, throbbing desire for the girl corporals, and Trooper.

Cpl. Hawco ready to kick yer arse!

The Corporal’s Mess opened every night after dinner (in military terms, a “mess” is where you eat during the day and socialize at night — in our case it was a socializing mess only). It was crude as messes go — just a dimly-lit back room in an aircraft hangar with some tables and chairs, a cheap stereo, and a couple of pop machines. It served about 30 corporals. Cadets were strictly forbidden from entering, even though some cadets were older than some corporals. But this was the military, so it was all about rank and hierarchy.

Whaddaya mean no Facebook? Nuthin’ else to do but fly these airplanes.

The drinking age in Nova Scotia is 19, and corporals were generally 16 to 18 years old. There was no booze at the Corporal’s Mess because underage drinking on the base was strictly forbidden. However, as soon as you were half an inch outside the base’s perimeter, all eyes were off and you were on your own.

The typical scenario was to rendezvous at the Corporal’s Mess after dinner, at about 18:30. Then we’d head off base by way of a path into the woods to the west of the runways. From there, a recon mission was planned to the liquor store in the town of Kingston, conveniently only a kilometer away. The next couple of hours were passed happily drinking strange elixirs while the sun set and the forest darkened. Suitably fortified, we’d head back to the base as night fell, and would gather at the Corporal’s Mess to listen to music and do whatever else boozed-up teenagers do when they’re away from their parents but still under threat of being nabbed by higher-ranked (adult) officers — or worse, the MPs (Military Police).

Rare photo! Cpl. Hawco with a girl Cpl.!

I mostly remember sitting around playing cards and board games, or just talking, while somebody played records on the stereo. The music was always bad — mass appeal songs of the day, with the occasional dips into “prog rock” which I found even more annoying than top 40 pop.

The Alan Parsons Project was played a lot. Although there were two or three tolerable songs from the APP, the tendency was to put on the album and let it play through. So I suffered. Later in the evening someone would decide it was time for dancing, so they’d start DJing danceable songs. That’s when the Trooper showed up. “We’re Here for a Good Time, Not a Long Time” was the defacto theme song at Air Cadet Summer Camp back then, because the sentiment was right. Therefore, to my ever growing annoyance, it was played many, many times. The song bugged me, and I was doubly bugged by the way everyone clung to the theme as if it was the most meaningful thing they had ever heard (sadly, it might have been).

This was always followed by the highly annoying yet anthemic “Raise a Little Hell.” Again, the sentiment was OK, but I hated the song. The chorus was somewhat energetic and catchy, but the rest of the song sounded watered down and preachy, like a lecture from someone’s long-haired and earnest dad who was instructing us on how to stand up and (oooo!) make noise. But not too much! It was like the Velveeta-ization of angry rock. And boring, musically, besides.

So, I’d flail around a bit, half a jug of Seagram’s 5-Star sloshing through my system, while I contrived ways to get this or that girl corporal the Hell out of there. Conveniently behind a nearby hangar, and facing the runways, was a World War II Lancaster bomber stuck on a post over a patch of grass. For some reason that was an excellent place to make out at night. With any luck I’d be under the bomb bay before the DJ got around to Bohemian Rhapsody, but most times I’d be stuck there in the dingy Corporal’s Mess, suffering through another round of Bob Seger or The Eagles (to this day I can recite the entire lyrics to “Hotel California,” but not because I want to). I found some respite in the Steve Miller Band, because although they were popular (and thus, I felt, bad) they at least played some cool jangly guitar riffs.

Lancaster bomber; snogging runs well into the 1970s.

I still carry a lot of good feelings and good memories from those summers. You’d think those good feelings would affect how I feel about the music, and to some extent it does. On the rare occasion when I hear a Trooper song these days I feel a bit melancholy and nostalgic. I might even get a bit thick in the throat for a moment before I reach over and change the station.