Daily CanCon: Holly McNarland “Elmo” and my introduction to marijuana

In honour of my new play, BIG IN GERMANY, which is all about Canadian rock music and growing up in Toronto in the 1990s, I’m going to share a CanCon music video everyday. BIG IN GERMANY plays at Buddies in Bad Times April 9-21. Get tickets here.

Today’s Retro CanCon takes us to a Holly McNarland revenge-fuck fantasy (?) called “Elmo”:

I think I was still too much of a teenage boy to give Holly McNarland much consideration as a musician when I first heard her on the radio. I became I convert when I saw her open for Moist at Massey Hall one night in 1999.

One of my classmates — I wouldn’t go so far as to say we were friends although we’d gone to the same school since third grade and lived down the street from each other — was talking about going to the Moist concert one day on the 104 Faywood bus home from school. I mentioned that I wanted to go to the show too, and somehow found myself invited along.

This may come as a surprise to my fans, but this gay comic-book-reading theatre guy wasn’t exactly Mr. Popular in high school. I didn’t get invited to stuff a lot. So I was kind of stunned that Dave, one of the cool kids, wanted to hang out with me. In public. At a rock concert.

We met at Dave’s place the night of and his mom gave him, me, and one of his friends from another school a ride down to Massey Hall. We were about a half hour early and we didn’t want to go in. Dave said we should go chill somewhere and led us into an alley around back of the building. It was dark and no one was there and all I could think was “Shit. I got invited just so they could beat me up in an alley behind Massey Hall.”

Dave pulled a joint out of his pocket and lit it up. He passed it to his friend, who took a hit. The friend passed it to me. “Oh, actually, I’m in an after-school special,” was what was going through my mind. I’d never had marijuana before, but I decided “Fuck it. Since when has being good ever worked?” I took a hit off the joint, shielding it with my hand against the wind. When I looked up, Dave was gawking at me, jaw dropped wide open, eyes bugged out in disbelief. “Shit!” I thought, “I just did something wrong! Fuck! What protocol did I break?”

What I actually managed to say: “Sorry! Was I supposed to chip in first? Was I supposed to wipe off the tip before passing it on?”

“Rob! You smoke up?” Dave sputtered out. “But you’re such a good kid!” (This was not a compliment, I think.)

Holly_McNarland_NumbA couple hits off that sent me up in space for the night, but what actually got me to the moon was hearing Holly McNarland belting out “Elmo” when we took our seats. These recordings don’t really do her voice justice — the sound of her live when she hits the “way-ay-oh-oh” part of the chorus is incredible.

Or maybe my memory is hazy because I was higher than record sales before Napster.

My popularity and bad-boy reputation didn’t last longer than that night, but I did leave with enough of an appreciation of Holly McNarland that I bought both her studio albums and listened to them frequently until they were stolen with my entire collection in 2006.

The best of Holly McNarland, by the way, is her cover of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” No video for it, sorry. You’ll have to settle for the audio.


Incidentally, that Moist concert also ended up being the first public appearance of I Mother Earth’s new singer after Edwin left the band the previous summer. He didn’t actually do anything; David Usher just pulled him on stage to introduce him to the crowd. But it did really build my anticipation for the new IME album that was going to drop in just a few months.


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