It’s spring break, 1978, sometime around the end of March. A bunch of us are on a school trip to Quebec City, the culmination of four years spent studying French. Our group—maybe 20 of us, but I forget—are staying in a semi-rundown hotel, which we have to ourselves. There’s only enough hot water for a couple of showers each morning, and the competition for it quickly becomes fierce. The day after we arrive, it snows over a foot, and we learn that sidewalk shoveling isn’t as high a priority in French Canada as it is back home. Getting out is difficult, and I go nearly two full days without eating an actual meal, only snacks from a nearby grocery. My on-again, off-again girlfriend and I are both on the trip. It’s been a miserable spring—we’re unhappy together, we’re unhappy apart, and neither of us quite knows what to do about it. We are off again when the trip starts, but as the week goes on, the utterly predictable begins to happen.
I’ve brought a radio along—of course—and we’ve discovered a French-language Top 40 station on the AM band that calls itself Super Radio Quatre-Vingt-Douze (which is approximately how you’d say “the mighty 92” en français.). It’s playing the Art Garfunkel/Paul Simon/James Taylor version of Sam Cooke’s “(What a) Wonderful World,” which we’ve adopted as our anthem for the week.
Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took
Our first night in town, a few of us go to a restaurant and try to order in French. As soon as one of us stumbles, the waitress switches to English, and we are pretty much done speaking French after that.
Here are some other tunes on the radio that week:
“I’m Gonna Take Care of Everything”/Rubicon. In which Three Dog Night meets the Doobie Brothers. Group leader Jerry Martini had been in Sly and the Family Stone; bassist Jack Blades and guitarist Brad Gillis went on to form Night Ranger.
“The Name of the Game”/ABBA. More than any of the other songs on the radio that week, this puts me back into the room in that little hotel, which I shared with three other guys. The radio was on a lot, because there was nothing but French-dubbed black-and-white movies on the only TV channel we could get. (“The Name of the Game” is also a record very much unlike everything else ABBA did.)
“Falling”/LeBlanc and Carr. From the middle eight:
Fall and the springtime
Were like in-between times
You’re here and then you’re gone away
Oh I just wanted to say
Won’t you please, please stay
“The Circle Is Small”/Gordon Lightfoot. A song about two people who know they are breaking up but who can’t quite seal the deal. And so the radio comments on our lives while we’re living them, yet again.
If it had been utterly predictable that we’d get back together on the trip, it was just as predictable that we’d break up again when we got home, and we did. And not for the last time, either.
“I’m Gonna Take Care of Everything”/Rubicon (out of print)