I Want to Know What Love Is

When I think of it, it’s funny how the relationships in youth often seemed so predicated on competition, on one being better than the other.

Today, Sweety and I were on a mission to find some fresh-picked corn-on-the-cob. There’s a farmers’ market we went to once this summer, but it did not feel safe to be at, due to its very lax COVID-19 protocols, if one could even call them protocols.

But, on one of my recent long bike rides south of Winnipeg, I’d seen a hand-scrawled, roadside sign advertising CORN but wasn’t confident in my memory of where it was. (Things look different from the perspective of cycling “in the drops” to cut the wind on a road bike on the (mostly) well-paved shoulder, hyper-vigilant for puncture hazards, two-ton vehicles potentially turning suddenly, and other such things, versus driving in a car — plus, trying to remember minor details when feeling so magnificently free on a bicycle; but, I digress.)

Back to today. After finding the motherload… some corn, “picked today, in the rain,” as we were told, we drove back past St. Norbert where I grew up, then near where my parents lived in south St. Vital after that, and Sweety was curious about those places, so we went on a tour. I pointed out where I lived, and where most of my friends (and some relatives) lived in “St. Nob,” as we called it. 

Being in the old neighbourhood — or extended neighbourhood, as I and a few others in our group of school friends lived on the “other side of the tracks” I felt a memory of the old, unhealthy group dynamics again. (“Other side of the tracks” — a term usually used in a pejorative sense to indicate being poor, but our area wasn’t, it was just a new addition expanding the community… suburban sprawl, if you will… And I guess now, I see why people make such a fuss about the “dividing” sense of the railway has in Winnipeg, bisecting the north end and the rest of the city… This emotional and theoretical argument goes on without acknowledging that railways have a legislated right of seniority when it comes to land management: they were here before most others chose to (re)settle the lands that had been lived on and honoured for many, many generations before we from migrating and settling countries decided our claim to the land needed to be “staked” by railroad spikes into ties tacking the track to wooden railway ties. Towns rose around the railway; then, people became annoyed by its proximity… duh. Anyway, there seemed to be a sense of the difference between the “real” St. Norbert kids and those of us from Parc La Salle. Yet, some of us from all over that map have become closer since our 35th high school reunion, quite a few years ago… I don’t know. I digress, again.)

Aside from all that, back in the day, there were all the usual hormonal and behavioural issues going on, between us as teenage friends who had challenges we mostly never spoke of, never mind sought support for… heck, no. If one of us had a great experience, another had to top it. There wasn’t a lot of celebrating of the other’s achievement or experience, as I remember. For some of us, sarcasm was the learned réponse du jour. We wanted to be men.

When I think of it, it’s funny how the relationships in youth often seem so predicated on competition, on one being better than the other.

Anyway, we were always trying to stake an individual claim on something that would legitimize us as males. Whatever music was discovered and brought to the group (often by me, as the record-buying fanatic), it sometimes needed to be topped and so it was this time, by our group’s erstwhile leader, finding out about a British band called Foreigner. Their 1977 debut album cover is a painting of the band members all clad in overcoats, which set off a powerful trend for years… through no real necessity, perhaps driven only to “top” things, I bought a beautiful, navy blue, long, wool overcoat (“top” coat) in 1984 or so, and still have it. It’s a gorgeous, double-breasted (the revisited style at the time) topcoat with a magnificent weave, almost like herringbone of dark blue and dark navy blue. It was costly. Embarrassingly so. I still love it, though I feel I should give it away as I inherited my dad’s dark grey wool topcoat and matching wool fedora and scarf after he died. I don’t need two, and many men are doing without warm coats in our wicked winters.

Foreigner was indeed a great band, and I followed them for years, and have a couple of their records. On their fifth album, Agent Provocateur (1984), I heard the song that really reached me: “I Want to Know What Love Is.” I think the band recognized the stature and gravity of the composition in the way they developed the official video: from shots of the group working on the song, juxtaposed to a young Black man carrying a beam unaided on top of a skyscraper construction, to a mysterious lover, and people in solitude (or loneliness), then the assembling of a glorious choir of Black Americans travelling on a bus to the studio to complement the band in the well-known and spine-tinglingly powerful chorus of the song… it is a thing of beauty.

My school friend made a good choice in the band, and I wish I knew now what he was thinking then… by the time this song came out, we weren’t really part of each other’s close lives anymore. I hope that wherever he is now, he is still moved and inspired by the beauty created by those long-haired, top-coated rock-and-rollers he discovered so long ago.

The video culminates so beautifully in a healing moment that I believe was intended to cross gender, generation and race. Perhaps my friend knew something good was to come.

“I wanna know what love is (the love that you feel inside)
I want you to show me (and I’m feeling so much love)
I wanna feel what love is, (you just cannot hide)
I know you can show me (yeah)”

(from “I Want to Know What Love Is,” by Mick Jones)

Love is like a good coat; it doesn’t judge us, it just wants to envelope us in its warmth.

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

This is the video for the song from Foreigner’s official YouTube channel. Please remember to click on “thumbs-up” on the video if you appreciated the group’s work. 

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