The Fourth Wall in Cottage Country

We were sitting around a campfire deep in Quebec cottage country last night, surrounded by pine and balsam trees and enjoying the crackling of the fire and poking at it occasionally to produce fireflies and fireworks. In the distance we heard some music wafting on the air from another cabin that is far enough away for us to feel private, but we were still within earshot of their music. It wasn’t all that loud, and we might have felt it intrusive but for the conversation and the memories it inspired.

I recognized the music as coming from an album (albums) I had owned and enjoyed as a teenager when my family first moved to the Laurentians.

Grand Funk Railroad was a rock power trio popular in the early 1970’s. At the time, their music appealed to me. I liked that it was bluesy, had sort of soulful vocals, fairly decent vocal harmony and lots of guitar improvising. I mail away ordered Grand Funk Live which was a double album and had extended versions of all the songs I liked except “Closer To Home”. I think I got it through the Columbia Record Club from an ad in the back of a comic book or the Saturday coloured section of the paper. 

The live album came out in 1970. I mentioned to the girls that I knew the album well and said “I bet we and that neighbour are the only people in this entire world listening to that particular album at this very moment.” They guffawed and said “no way! “, but we finally agreed that it would be highly unlikely anyone else was listening to it as it is way out of fashion and almost entirely forgotten. A footnote. A possible answer to the Boomer version of Trivial Pursuit. Unless there was some revival of the music of Grand Funk Railroad going on in the world right now that we are unaware of, or a satellite radio specialty station, probably no one else was listening at this exact moment. 

It’s most likely that the neighbour playing it is a man, French speaking, probably around my age. This music appealed more to men/boys. I was Almost certain it is the vinyl, not CD or mp3. Although I heard “Closer To Home” with flute, so maybe a playlist or maybe he had a stack of lps out of sequence.

I asked my companions (my girls and son-in-law) to invent possible scenarios for why the person would put on this particular album at this exact time. 

Maybe he comes to the cottage on weekends or vacation to let off steam and keeps his records here. Maybe he is a “local”. Someone who never left the area he grew up in. Perhaps he put the music on and conked out blotto on the chaise longue.

Has he been listening to this album often? Or is it an occasional pleasure. Maybe it is “break up” music that he plays to cleanse his psychic palette of the fresh pain and loneliness. Maybe he just bought it out of curiosity at a garage sale or flea market, maybe he found it by the curb after someone tried to sell off their lps. Could have been a recent gift from an old friend. A plethora of possible scenarios. Nostalgia, soundtrack to drama, odd coincidence. My youngest daughter had another scenario to add: maybe he is a founding member of Grand Funk who wooed local ladies to his lair with his fame and needed to hear his own music to “perform”. Highly likely, but no.

I prefer to believe that his name is Yves and he listens to this music regularly and has been doing so since he was fifteen.  Never breaking free of the mould. An eternal teenager. 

I imagine if I had stayed in that time warp for the last fifty years. Stayed in my home town, never broke out, never matured, never went to uni, never had careers, kids, never saw the world…. never progressed past Grand Funk in my listening. The human equivalent of one of those blind mules they used to put in mines whose life consisted of trudging up and down a mine shaft hauling ore and returning empty bins to be refilled. Back and forth, back and forth, always the same track, never seeing daylight,  always eating the same mash, never even a pat on the head, just doing. 

When I was fifteen,  I dressed like Neil Young, wore my hair long, wore patched jeans and flannel shirts or hunting jackets. I knew it all. 

I am kind of still like that, except my jeans don’t get patched anymore and now I know nothing. 

At that age I stayed in my room a lot listening to the same five or six lps  over and over again. When no one was around I would blast them loud as I could. 

-Traffic- Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys

-Santana- Abraxas

-Grand Funk -Live

-Deep Purple -In Rock


There were more, but these were a few of my high rotation dirty pleasures. 

These albums would also spin at “get togethers” with friends. We didn’t really have parties, or at least, that isn’t what we called them. Maybe I just wasn’t aware of or invited to any parties. These get togethers Were a place to strut, get high, drink beer, try and pair off while listening to what we believed was the coolest music ever created as we were differentiating from our families of origin.

From the vantage point of our campfire, we heard no talking, just the music. If it was a get together, it was a get together of mutes. I think it was just one guy…. passed out.

I know I could have gone over there and seen for myself, I probably would have liked the guy, maybe had a beer.

Maybe the music was a signal for anybody within earshot to come and visit and get together. Maybe it was a warning to stay away. To leave him alone.

I didn’t want to break what in theatre they call the fourth wall. He probably thought he was all alone in the country as we also had thought. It is like the “privacy” of those curtains in hospital wards. We believe that we are alone but everyone in the room knows you are getting your catheter changed. 

I had other reasons to not seek out the source of the music, one of which was in order to write a story about it. Sometimes fiction can be better than reality.