Canadian Graffiti

The ads for American Graffiti posed the question, Where were you in ’62?


I was living the first year of my life but a dozen years later my folks took me to see American Graffiti at the Birchcliff Theatre in the (then) Toronto suburb of Scarborough. Mom and Dad were not rock and roll fans and if I recall our conversations after the credits had rolled, they found it hard to believe everything had happened in a single night.


Fair enough.

My mind kept replaying the climactic hot rod race between Big John Milner and Bob Falfa (Paul LeMat and a young Harrison Ford). That was cool.

On Friday’s Rock and Roll Riot I’m kicking the show off with two songs featured in American Graffiti. Little Darlin’ by the Diamonds and Del Shannon’s Runaway. It’s my salute…and sad lament…to the final weekend of the summer. In the movie, characters portrayed by Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss, Charles Martin Smith and Cindy Williams spend that  final post high school night dancing, eating at Mel’s Diner and, in Curt’s case, enlisting the services of legendary DJ Wolfman Jack to track down a hot blonde (a young Suzanne Sommers) he’d passed while cruising in the ’55 Chevy driven by his buddy Steve.

Ahh, cruising.

I’ve spent many an afternoon on beachfront patios here in Wasaga Beach watching hot cars pass by. Everything from Ferraris to Lamborghinis. And classic cars from the ’50s.

Big John Milner had a super charged ’32 Deuce Coupe. What his buddy Toad called the bitching-est car in the valley.


As a teen, I cruised Kingston Road in my Dad’s Ford Maverick. Oddly enough you will likely see such cars at rally’s along with ’70s Pintos, Chevy Novas and other models that seems kind of ordinary back then. Time has made them seem almost stylish and cool. Though I’m still waiting for the day when cruise nights include K-Cars. I drove one in the ’90s and the Barenaked Ladies were right, it was a nice reliant auotmobiile. Boxy and dull, but reliable.

As a teen, I couldn’t wait to get my drivers licence. Took the school course at 15 and a half, turned 16 in May of ’78 and I was driving Dad’s Maverick a month later. 

These days, many teens and young adults don’t drive. Can’t blame them. It’s expensive to own and operate a car so if you can manage without one or you have decent public transit, why spend money on something that quickly depreciates, isn’t built to last a decade, let alone 40 or 50 years, and costs a bundle to insure?

Ahh well. Back to the summers of ’78 to ’82. Rolling down the windows…Dad would have considered A/C to be luxury not worth paying for…and blasting the radio. Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper and two songs that always take me back to those suburban rides down Kingston Road….

Ah Leah by Donnie Iris.


And Set the Night on Fire by Johnnie Lovesin. Im Facebook friends with Johnnie. He opened for the Ramones in Toronto in the late ’70s and according to newspaper critics, stole the show. I’m closing Saturday night’s Riot with that tune and even though I’ll be sitting on my patio, drinking red wine and smoking a Phillie’s grape cigar, Johnnie and his tale of hookers and gangsters (okay, not quite as innocent as Little Darlin’ or At the Hop) will whisk me back to ’81.

I’ve likely seen a Cheech & Chong movie, preceded by a mood-enhancing joint…thanks Alfie Petitti wherever you are…and followed by pizza and an underage beer at Mother’s Pizza. Mother’s and Frank Vetere’s served me at 18 though I always got stopped at the Zanzibar strip club downtown. Pizza and beer? Yes sir. Topless dancers (g-string law back then in Toronto the Good)? Not tonight, kid.

The street lights are flying by, traffic is light, the breeze is warm and even though I’m heading home to our modest family bungalow, in my mind I’m cruising like Big John Milner and setting the night on fire.

About johnnymaraca

host of Johnny Maraca's Rock & Roll Riot, the rockingest show on the radio. 60 years of rockin' rhythm and blues, from the late '40s pioneers like Louis Jordan to Elvis, Chuck Berry, CCR, Stray Cats, Ramones and tons more. Friday and Saturday nights at 7 on 97.7 the Beach, listen live at http://977thebeach.ca, and WRSG in Middlebourne, West Virginia, Tuesdays 6-8 pm.
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