Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #34

Gazebo – I Like Chopin

I don’t think I’ve ever given up on a friend (even when I probably should have), but I know for certain that at least three friends gave up on me. Two of them had good reasons: Chris got tired of me cancelling plans with her after I got a new girlfriend, and Shelley got tired of waiting for me to figure out whether I wanted to be a Jehovah’s Witness or not (I did not). The third friend was Serge, and he gave up on me because of Shelley, and that was just wrong, though I completely understand now where he was coming from.

I met Serge in September 1982 when I started university, and he was sort of a larger than life figure. He was a week late to school that year, and I heard stories about him (mostly from one source) throughout frosh week, finally meeting him when we both drunkenly staggered into the same corridor of our residence while looking for something to eat. We quickly became friends, and he was yet another in my rapidly growing collection of slightly older comrades who had a driver’s licence (which I avoided getting until I was 43) and a car (ditto). By the summer of 1984, he had graduated and I had dropped out, and we were housemates and coworkers in the university’s cafeteria.

Serge and I fell out when he and Shelley broke up and I completely misunderstood the bro code that demanded that she now be persona non grata or else I was betraying our friendship. Weirdly, our other friends also behaved as I did, but I was the only one deemed to have betrayed him. People with broken hearts are not logical.

In any event, at some point during our friendship, which ended on a crisp Saturday night in the fall of 1984 at the main bus stop on the Brock University campus, Serge bought Gazebo’s self-titled album on vinyl. He bought it for just the one song (the whole album is pretty good, though), and he was eager to play it for his friends. The first time I heard “I Like Chopin”, I fell in love. But after the falling out, I knew that if I wanted to listen to it again, I needed to find my own copy.

If you’ve never heard this song before, you are not alone: it was never close to being a hit in Canada or the United States (though it went to #1 all over Europe). The odds of me finding the album without serious effort were low. And yet, I did exactly that: I walked into a chain record store, went to “G” in the cassette section, and there it was. I didn’t even have to travel to Toronto: it was right there in St. Catharines, a city hardly at the forefront of contemporary ItaloDisco sounds. At the checkout, the clerk approved of my selection. I felt like Gazebo fandom was some sort of secret club that I had unexpectedly stumbled into, blinking in wonder. What I later learned – and I don’t know if this is actually true – is that demand for “I Like Chopin” was linked to its periodic plays on CFNY (a.k.a. “The Spirit of Radio” for all the Rush fans). Whenever the station aired it, even years later, there would be calls asking what that song was. 

What it was, and is, is a synth pop wonder, and I always pick the extended 7-minutes plus version for the full effect. It may not be for everyone, but I’m yet to meet anyone who knows the song and doesn’t love it. (Okay, there’s just one other person, but, as you’ll see, that’s a pretty critical vote.) It’s about love and longing, a melancholy song of rainy days and a lot of other cheesy abstractions that are sort of beside the point when you’re in love. The piano (an original melody, not lifted from Chopin) is the centrepiece, a delicate backdrop between rounds of glittery synth and snare-shot drum machine. It has a mysterious feel in parts, like the score to a chase scene from an espionage B movie set in some pre-Gorbachev Eastern Bloc country. It feels sad and cheerful all at once, and there is a hypnotic energy that draws you in. I sometimes play it back-to-back-to-back, 23 minutes plus on repeat, and it never fails to please me, even almost 40 years later.

Serge and I never really made up, though his anger subsided enough that we could at least exchange a few non-hostile words from time to time before we moved to new homes in May 1985. My Gazebo cassette was played less often as time passed, and eventually it was gone from my collection and never replaced. I don’t remember when I found out that my wife loved “I Like Chopin”, but if we weren’t married yet, I should have proposed on the spot. It’s the only ItaloDisco record I’ve ever owned, and there is no way that my soulmate also loving the song could be a coincidence. I often feel something akin to fate about how we came to be together, and it makes sense that “I Like Chopin”, and the odd twists of my love for it, would find its small place in that story.

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