ROCK AND/OR ROLL STORIES PART ONE: VAN HALEN

This is a bit of a long thing about Jump, a song on Van Halen’s 6th album: 1984. It’s also about one microscopic peril of growing up English in Quebec and not in Montreal.

It begins in the middle of nowhere along the St. Maurice River. Sometime around 1900, a conveniently located 50 meter drop along the river begat a hydro plant which begat plentiful electricity which begat heaps of heavy industry drawn to cheap electricity bills. And Shawinigan boomtowned from there. The eventual English component of the population was big enough to fuel a pair of small English schools, one Protestant and one Catholic.

The English population eventually faded. Things got a little intense when a Gangs of New York style street brawl in the late 70s between the teaching staffs of both schools left 14 dead. The victorious Protestant Shawinigan High School remained open, taking in the Catholic St. Pat’s students. Hand-to-hand combat deficient St. Pat’s was closed, burned to the ground, and quickly paved over. (Editor’s note: this did not happen except for the English population fading and St. Pat’s closing parts)

Shawinigan’s two hour driving distance from Montreal meant growing up in a bit of a musical desert, which was just one of approximately 23 desert things about living there. 

The local AM radio station was garbage, with the lion’s chunk of its playlist flooded with truly awful Quebec pop (with apologies to awful 1970s Quebec pop fans). Our radios could receive AM stations from Montreal and even New York City or Boston, so rock and roll was within reach, but it was scratchy AM fidelity and you had to physically angle your radio the right way to maintain decent reception. The only quality broadcast source of decent rock music was CHOM-FM in Montreal, which you could receive in only two ways. One, if your stereo was hooked up to a TV cable connection or two, if you were Garry Wiseman, which meant you owned a late 70s copper-coloured Plymouth Arrow with white interior that was magically able to get CHOM on its car stereo. I was not and am not Garry.

I tried installing a splitter to divvy up our cable feed between our TV and stereo, but at the time, splitter technology was, like the local AM station, garbage. The signal to each device was too weak, so on parental orders, I abandoned the splitter - but I didn’t give up trying to get CHOM onto the home stereo. I somehow figured out that if I unscrewed the coaxial cable from the TV, wrapped a bit of the end of the stereo antenna wire around the pin, and then jammed the cable back into the TV and screwed it in as best I could, CHOM would come in loud and clear. This discovery was world changing, and parentally begrudgingly approved.

CHOM was English radio. With Rock. And, with ads and DJ chit chat about Montreal, it was a bit exotic. It brought the big city with all the cool stuff a bit closer, somewhat erasing the psychological two hour barrier that existed between us and Montreal. CHOM is where lots of us off-the-island kids discovered Van Halen. 

Their eponymous 1978 debut album - with its logo with the cool wings off each side of a strategically stacked V and H - shook my 13 year old world to its core. Over the following months, the Van Halen logo was lovingly but shabbily carved into many a school desk at Shawinigan High School and drawn and redrawn on school binder covers and into page margins. The proportions were hilariously rarely right but our efforts to show our allegiance to the band continued.

Graduation from Shawinigan High School was followed by a traditional exodus to one of a handful of English CEGEPS outside town. (Editor’s note: CEGEPS are public pre-university, post-secondary colleges - sort of like grade 12 and 13 with ashtrays and pub nights.) Pickings were slim: Montreal, Lennoxville in the Eastern Townships, or Quebec City. I ended up at St. Lawrence in Quebec City.

In the winter of 1984, I was in my second year of CEGEP. Van Halen’s recently released 1984 album was in significant rotation in my Walkman as well as in the St. Lawrence cafeteria, where the student “radio station” played music over much-abused Bose speakers peppered around the tables with ashtrays. 

So when the news came that the latest Van Halen tour would be playing a show at the Quebec Colisée on Easter weekend, fans went out of their minds. After negotiating a release from my parents to not go home that weekend, I made plans to get a ticket. This entailed lining up with friends outside the Colisée box office in face punch Quebec winter weather while wearing an inadequate coat and running shoes, waiting to fork over $13.50 for a seat. (That is indeed my ticket stub in the homepage photo.)

According to themightyvanhalen.net, a magnificent online depository of bootlegged Van Halen shows, that 1984 show in Quebec City is the “Best show of the 1984 tour and a must-have”. You can listen to the entire show on the site, but you probably won’t hear me screaming.

The site has even managed to dig up a promo the band recorded for CHOM:

From all my fading memories of the show, two moments stand out. 

The first, during the track Everybody Wants Some. In the middle of the album version, David Lee Roth does a bantery speaking bit. He goes off script at the concert, unloading a kind of gibberish improv babble, but it culminates in a deliciously innocent pandering moment, when at the end of the rant, he screams TABERNACK, but the crowd only partially erupts. They may have been shocked he knew a word in French. But there’s more amazing rock and roll hometown saluting to come.

The second moment, and the whole point of this story, happened during Jump, the then big hit of the album that was getting heavy airplay everywhere. When the opening keyboard chords hit, the crowd lost its collective mind. This is what they came for! The hits!

Through the miracle of the passionate fandom and/or hoarding of the folks at themightyvanhalen.net, you can listen to the actual song from the concert here:

One thing about Jump: the word jump is said a lot. Six times in each chorus, to be exact.

Ah, might as well jump (JUMP!)
Might as well jump
Go ahead an' jump (JUMP!)
Go ahead and jump

So in the first chorus, Roth sings “Might as well jump” and then immediately screams the response to himself - “JUMP!” - and he does a high energy spinning karate kick to the screaming delight of the crowd. He mixes it up and keeps the crowd pumped and guessing by doing an impressive scissor leg kick move for the second screamed jump. The crowd, now knowing its job is to scream the second JUMP, eagerly waits for the next chorus.

In the second chorus, Roth’s jumps are noticeably less jumpy and more out-of-breathy. But the crowd still eats it up.

Then the keyboard solo begins (Editor’s note: we’re at around the 2:10 mark), and the second amazingly hilarious moment is very near. As Eddie Van Halen plays the solo up on a raised part of the stage lit by a huge spotlight, down on the main stage Roth is in his own spotlight as he half-dances and half-watches Eddie. Roth works his way toward the back of the stage and he grabs something from down beside the bass drum. (Editor’s note: approximately the 2:25 mark.)

Roth has picked up a folded piece of paper.

Not a 24 by 36 poster, not a big piece of cardboard, but a three hole punched blue lined with the pink margin line piece of 8 1/2 by 11 paper that any student would have in a school binder.

As the keyboard solo reaches its climax, Roth unfolds the 8 1/2 by 11 paper completely, and holds it up to the crowd.

There’s no big screen, no bank of screens, and no projections happening to make this piece of paper big, so Roth is standing there on this enormous stage with a little regular-sized piece of paper, offering it up to the crowd.

But we can read it just fine.

The Colisée explodes with joy and amazement and awe and love.

Because on the paper, written in blue ballpoint pen ink, in all caps letters that have been thickened by going over them 4 or 5 times, is a single word.

.

.

.

SAUTER.