30. “Celebration,” Kool & the Gang

Like that big wave-pool wave at your favourite water park, the memories this song conjures crash into me and wash across my brain. There isn’t necessarily one thing, but a crazy jumble of things.

A water park? Seriously?

Seriously, Imaginary Reader. Let’s not fight this time. It’s time to celebrate!

It’s a water park wave pool because this song reminds me of being 10 or 11 at a water park in Florida. It was a place of pure bliss for me, my father and my sister. Climbing to the top, we’d debate whether or not we’d come down feet or head first, while listening to the contemporary hits pumped through the park’s speakers. There was this one, Blondie’s “The Tide is High,” I think the Eurythmics’ “Sweat Dreams” and “Here Comes the Rain Again” were both on there.

The one musical thing I’ve ever known my dad to do was to make a mix tape of “water slide songs,” featuring all these tracks – it’s an iconic musical memory of my childhood. A defining one, even, because those songs are still so strongly with me today. We’d slide that cassette into the tape deck of our ’81 Chevy Impala or the ghetto blaster dad purchased at the huge flea market in Florida. I guess that’s two musical things – a ghetto blaster, too! Go dad! I remember at that age being so impressed that he bought that thing, it seemed so hip. (I love my dad to the ends of the Earth, of course, he’s just never seemed that interested in music. Which is allowed, I guess.)

Back at the water park, there was the coconutty scent of SPF 3 sunscreen, which somehow adequately protected us. There was that hint of danger as you hurled around corners at top speed, wondering if anyone had ever flown over the side. There was the water spraying into your face on the way down, then that smack and thunder of underwater bubbles as you crashed into the pool at the bottom. And always wondering if I’d get the courage to go down that slide that must have been at an 85 degree angle. I never did.

In my Johnny Gill post, I talked a lot about my mom’s late friend Roseanne, who lived in Fort Lauderdale. We were staying with her when I was 11 or 12, when I learned about her friend’s husband. He had a name I’ll never forget: Tramonte Watts. Probably a stage name, as he was a DJ at a big South Florida pop station, Y-100. My parents announced a huge surprise: Tramonte had scored us tickets to the Kool & the Gang show up in West Palm Beach!

This was a perplexingly breathtaking thing to my young mind. Sure, I had seen Raffi play live, but never a huge radio band like this! What happened at concerts? I’d heard people get hurt sometimes, so there was some fear, but also mind-boggling excitement. How loud would it be? How close would we be? Do they call people up on stage sometimes? I didn’t know.

It was awesome, of course. The Dazz Band was the opener. Never heard of them since. We were much higher up in the stands than I expected, but it was a big, funky party. Of course, at that age, I remember being a little bored when they weren’t playing “Celebration,” “Joanna,” “Cherish,” “Fresh” or “Tonight.” Wow, they had a lot of one-word hits. Oddly, I got to see them again 30 years later in Toronto opening for Van Halen of all bands. It was fun, but not quite the same without ’80s front man James “J.T.” Taylor, who sang those iconic hits.

On a less celebratory note, I remember hearing that Tramonte died at far too young an age. So let’s throw this one out to him, Roseanne, the guys in Kool & the Gang, whoever curated the music at that ’80s water park, and my one-time mix-tape making dad.

Like J.T. said, “It’s time to come together. It’s up to you. What’s your pleasure?”

Par-tay!

That’s right, Imaginary Reader, celebrate good times – come on!

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