Zaakistan Radio Programming (Episode 001 – Childhood Songs)

[if I were to have my own, self-produced radio show… ]

Good afternoon, this is Radio Zaakistan. I’m your host, Zaak Robichaud. To open this series I’m going to steer you through my early childhood in music and if you listen long enough you’ll hear how Joni Mitchell got me bit by a guard dog and why I decided to play the French Horn. As the father of two young children, I marvel at their fascination with music and in particular I wonder what songs they will associate with their childhood when they are adults. As babies, they each had their own goodnight song, but they have all but outgrown those. My son identifies my favourite bands, Arcade Fire and U2, as his favourite bands too. And then he tells us he likes electronic dance music like Katy Perry or LMFAO when it comes on the radio. I’m a little alarmed.

Not unlike my children, I first heard the music my parents listened to. There are two songs that I associate with my earliest preschool years deep in the woods of New Brunswick. From Seals and Crofts in 1975, this is 

Wayland the Rabbit

I had to phone my mother to get that title as it wasn’t as clear in my mind as the next song I’m going to play for you. Loggins and Messina’s song about Winnie the Pooh and his friends got heavy cassette play in our log house. From the 1972 album “Sittin’ In,” this is 

House at Pooh Corner

When I hear “… back to the days of Christopher Robin and Pooh,” I’m transported back to the pines around my house, back to being a carefree 5-year-old.

Like a lot of people in the 1970s, my parents were hippies. There was a lot of leftist politics, drugs, talk about spirituality and religion and it carried over into popular music. One of the musicians that got a lot of play as my parents newly explored Christianity was Canadian legend Bruce Cockburn. I remember asking my father what a star field was after hearing this song and listening to his explanation. This is 

Lord of the Starfields

When my father picked up his guitar, or any guitar really, the first thing he would play was a Neil Young bass riff. He would gaze intently at the listener, expecting them to enter the groove. That groove was 

Hey hey, My my (Into the Black)

It’s funny what you remember. I think he still plays that riff when he picks up a guitar.

Being rather isolated, not just in the woods, but in our faith, our location in the province, in our political views, I was often shocked that we had anything in common with the outside world. As a six-year-old, I went on an errand with my father one late afternoon to Richibucto to look for a used car part at Vautour’s Auto Used Parts. My father asked me if I wanted to come in, I declined in favour of listening to the radio. After 15 minutes a song came on that I recognized. Amazed, I wanted to tell papa that a song we knew was on the radio so I left the car and tried to enter the business the way my father had. It was locked. I decided to walk around the building as I knew that all the car carcasses were back there. As I approached the rear of the building I saw two men look up as they released a german shepherd guard dog on a line. The german shepherd saw me too and immediately ran towards me. Unknowingly, as I ran away, I was following the line the dog was tied to and so I was an easy target. He nipped my but and mangled my elbow pretty decently by the time the mechanics got to me to pull the dog off of me. It could have been a lot worse and I still think of it every time I hear Joni Mitchell sing

Big Yellow Taxi

One of the biggest changes in my childhood was the move from New Brunswick to Alberta when I was nine years old. We played this Gordon Lightfoot song in our used station wagon in Northern Ontario as we journeyed west. This is 

Alberta Bound

Much of the music in our family’s collection was on dubbed cassettes that were copied from our friends’ collections. This meant that as a tape was put into the player I often didn’t know who the band was or what the name of the song was, let along have access to the lyrics. I did know that I loved this one instrumental from French traditional band Malicorne. The use of medieval instruments had me intrigued as to how it could be played by me and my elementary friends. I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to play the different parts and I even shared it with my grade 5 social studies class at some point thinking it was traditional French Canadian music (it isn’t).

Branle de la haie

I spent grades 4-6 on a small Christian college campus as my father studied to become a pastor. My family usually didn’t miss the monthly musical guests at the Sunday at Seven and Date at Eight series each year. The musical guests were often small chamber groups or classical or folk soloists. It was unique formative part of my life as I learned to appreciate music outside of my parents preferred genres. One of the bands that had a particularly profound effect on me was Danny Greenspoon’s band The Romaniac Brothers. They delivered a comedic performance as the four musicians took on fictional characters which were Romanian brothers separated at birth. They all had exotic names (Zoltan Flamingo Romaniac for instance). Some of their songs were original (ie. Let’s all go to Moose Jaw), but most were adaptations to classics like the film theme from Amarcord or The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black. I was so entertained that I was moved to spend my paper route earnings on their cassette album Ethno-fusion. I recently checked in with Danny Greenspoon and learned that the album is no longer available since the original tracks are lost and it was never digitized. So, from my cassette player, this is 

The Ecstasy of the Martyr

I regularly visited the Lacombe Public Library with my family. The image of the stacks of vinyl records remains with me today and I remember browsing through them and taking so many of them home. Keeping with family tradition, I would dub many of them onto cassette using our Emerson record and cassette player. One album got heavy play in my bedroom. It was Brass in Berlin with the Canadian Brass playing baroque classics with a brass quintet from Berlin. I was learning to play the french horn in grade 6 hearing some of these songs for the first time brought tears to my eyes. Half of the album comes from J.S. Bach and I was in love. I ultimately bought the album on CD once it was released when I was in high school. The opening track on the album with soaring horns is

Pachelbel’s Canon in D

With money in my pocket as a 12-year old, I was now ready to start buying my own music. I found my first tape at a Kresge’s in Red Deer, Alberta. I must have paid close to $12 for The Beatles 20 Greatest Hits back in 1988. Side B was far more interesting to me with tracks like Come Together, Hello Goodbye, and Penny Lane, but my favourite track was this stand alone single. I had entered the world of Rock ‘n Roll, a few decades late, but I had arrived and I wasn’t going to leave. 

Paperback Writer

That concludes today’s program. Thank you for listening to what I was listening to from 1978-1988 and what formed my earliest musical tastes. I’ll be back again with other playlists.

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