When we were young, my parents would take us on long winter road trips to Red Mountain and Silver Star. We didn’t do much as a family, but we skied.
The five of us would cram into our Toyota Turcel, packed to the hilt with equipment, clothes, blankets, pillows, and enough mandarin oranges to stave off scurvy for one hundred years. These trips also marked the yearly détente in my parents’ hard-lined approach to all things junk food, and over the course of the drive, my sisters and I would patiently await our gifts: a big bag of plain Ms. Vicky’s potato chips, Turtles chocolates, and homemade gingerbread cookies.
If heaven could be defined.
Other than the lingering smell of sea salt and a constantly queasy tummy (as the middle child I was forced to endure the middle seat), the thing I remember most about these trips is the music.
The wonderful music.
My family I would listen to tapes and tapes and tapes of Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and The Beatles. The Rankin Family and Stan Rogers. Boney M and Enya. Our tastes were eclectic as they were magic.
Because with so little to define us, they did just that.
I campaigned constantly for The Commitments Soundtrack, but my musical candidate was a consummate loser to Leonard Cohen. And every time I lost, I would beg the powers that were to “please.”
Please stop playing Leonard Cohen.
Unfortunately, they didn’t, and I suffered in silence.
I hated how his songs were too much. Couldn’t stand the way they made me feel. Drained of all emotion, and yet somehow still full to bursting. Slightly sweaty. Squirmy and shirty. Filled with a restlessness. An energy that was only exacerbated by the car’s hot and cramped quarters.
It was music that made me want to run away.
The only song that I could stand was “I’m Your Man.” I liked the synthy keyboards and the other moody instruments that, try as I might, I could never place. How it was more spoken word than song. The slow raspy voice. I liked how it had an immediate and sobering effect on my fellow passengers, forcing us all to pause.
To stop our frenzied fights. Breath life into our suffocating silences.
It made me feel warm. Cozy. I imagined dancing, slowly, as a grown-up.
But after grade seven we stopped going on ski trips.
After grade ten my parents divorced.
And I don’t know when I stopped listening to Leonard Cohen. I didn’t even think about him until after I started dating Marc.
We were up at his own parents’ cabin on the Sunshine Coast and we were looking through their record collection. We were trying to decide what to play next. We were slightly drunk and eating peanut butter sandwiches.
“We need something that we can dance too,” I said.
He pulled out Songs of Love and Hate.
“Not Leonard Cohen,” I heard myself say. I didn’t even stop looking through the other albums. “I hate him.”
Marc looked at me dumbfounded. “No one hates Leonard Cohen.”
“I do,” I said. “We used to listen to him all of the time on road trips. He’s depressing.”
Marc looked me in my eyes. Long and hard. And then he put the album away. “Okay,” he said. “We can play something else.”
And we did.
For years and years, we always played something else.
The Faces. Cat Stevens. Bob Dylan.
In the spring of 2010, I defended my thesis and bid adieu to graduate school. Marc and I celebrated on the Coast. Driving along the highway, I closed my eyes to the late afternoon sunfall. It felt like, for the first time in my entire life, I was no longer worried about school.
The next morning, I crawled out of bed and, alone, slid into the quiet of the house.
I tiptoed to the record player. Paused. Took out Songs of Love and Hate.
I held the cover lightly in my hands. Stared at the cover. Turned it over. Took out the record and placed it over the spindle. Set the needle.