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.

6 thoughts on “The Night Belonged to Trooper

  1. You and I had the same summer experiences.

    Mine were at CFB Bagotville.

    Making out at the end of the runway hoping a CF18 would fly over us was the ultimate way for the cadet-cadres to spend the night.
    Our mess was a tiny room above the base curling club listening to someone’s boombox (we had no stereo) playing Kim Mitchell or any one of a multitude of French artists I can’t remember…or Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass. We were music instructors and had odd tastes in music!

    We would leave base by cab to downtown booming Chicoutimi on Friday nights to go to the ‘Cent Limites’ bar. It was the only one in town that didn’t ask questions or card us.

  2. Blork! A music post at last! And such a handsome young man! I still can’t believe you were a glider pilot. We’ll have to mull this over over our home-made pizza and Boréale Cuivrées.

    But sorry, never, EVER heard of Trooper.

  3. Kowy, nice to see there was continuity. :-) We didn’t have CF-18s (they weren’t introduced until 1983). That would have been awesome! We mostly had submarine hunters, primarily the big four-prop engine Argus, which I swear is the loudest airplane ever invented. When an Argus was taking off, the fillings in your teeth rattled even if you were 2 km away. We also had an assortment of transport planes coming and going (mostly “Hercs” aka, C-130 Hercules). It was rare to see a fighter plane come in, and when they did they were the old fellas, like the CF 104 Starfighter and the CF 5 Freedom Fighter.

    Nick, you’re not missing much. You’d probably recognize the songs because they got a lot of play well into the 80s and even now on “oldies” radio stations. Even if you don’t listen to those, it’s hard to escape as they’re piped into elevators and crappy stores all over the place.

    BTW, if you click “Music” on the categories list in the sidebar you’ll see all my music posts. (OK, not so many — less than a dozen.) In there you’ll find another mention of Trooper (hint: “1975”).

    I’ll take a Rouse, thx.

  4. Uh Well-a well-a well-a huh! Tell me more, tell me more… Did you get very far?

  5. Trooper played at our high school (Howe Sound Secondary in Squamish, BC) in 1973 or 4, can’t remember exactly. They put on a great show, but then again as a 14-year-old you’re not that discerning.

  6. I think you had the right last name for the Military. “Hawco! Front and centre!” Hammersmith played our Calgary high school in the 1970s, but way after their prime, and I don’t know in what configuration (the lead vocalist looked about 16).

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