Paradise City by Guns N' Roses

Let’s deal with one thing first: Appetite for Destruction came out three years before I went into my final year of high school. I knew several of the tracks from the album, because radio was very much a thing when I was a teenager, but I didn’t yet own the album. It didn’t really hold anything more for me than a catchy tune.

Then I met them. That might sound ominous, but the reality is that we had no name for our group. It was a clique of sorts — we regularly hung out together — though we weren’t exclusionary nor looked down on others (as many cliques in Oakville Trafalgar High School often did). How do I know that? Because they included me.

I ran in the geek squad. I spent as much time as I could in the computer lab. I wore duck-themed shirts with pun-filled slogans. I was a co-editor on the school newspaper. I was on the swim team for three years, but had since dropped out of all athletics to focus on scholastics. Hardly the kind of person that most high school circles would consider for membership.

And yet.

In Grade 10, I met Chris and Stuart. We sat next to each other in Mr. Gettsinger’s first-period math class in the portable outside. We hung out a lot, going mini-golfing as “Me, You, and The Udder Guy”. Chris, being the more performance art-focused of the three of us (I was decidedly on the opposite end of that spectrum) leaned in towards the theatre and music opportunities, which led him into the school plays, and eventually things like the Jazz Choir, which introduced us to a wider group of people: Theresa, J(QX), Ali, Hil, Eva, Kathryn, Linda, and James. (James I already knew from our days together on the swim team.)

The onzaine would come to be my best and closest friends for my final year of public school, my shelter and grounding for university, and touch points even up to today. The summer of 1990 through to September 1991 remains one of my most treasured memories, the multiple times we went to Canada’s Wonderland, from open to close (it was through them that I came to love thrill rides); the hours we would spend in the Blockbuster trying to find a single movie we could all agree on; quoting the entirety of The Princess Bride, our group’s favourite film (there’s something about having 11 teens all saying “Gently, gently! ”); watching Kids In The Hall and Saturday Night Live in each others’ basements; the New Years events, the Christmas parties, and that one Halloween where we haunted Linda’s house; that we all joined the music department so we could finagle our way to Florida for the annual music trip. The shared meals, the shared tears, the drama and pain of high school spread across a group that lived through it together, helping each other get through that final time and into the next phases of our lives. Though we’ve fragmented a bit in the years following, with parts having lost track of the others, I still remember them all dearly, perpetually thankful that they accepted me for who and what I was (and still am), not deriding my hobbies and personality.

We had a communal soundtrack, each of us bringing forth some of our favourite tunes, most of which were copied between us via mixtapes that we brought out whenever we drove to our next adventure, usually all singing (we would have definitely mimicked the Bohemian Rhapsody scene from Wayne’s World, had it come out the year before). I can’t remember all of the songs now, but those tapes featured Def Leppard, Run DMC, Kim Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, Sting, Iron Maiden, among many other bands, including Guns N’ Roses.

I wouldn’t ever call Paradise City an anthem for the group (maybe Welcome to the Jungle, but that’s predictable), but it was one that came up (I think) because there was a bit of harmony in there. Within our group, we had sopranos (Theresa, Hil), altos (Eva, Kathryn, Ali, Linda), tenors (J(QX), Chris, James), and basses (Stuart and I, though J(QX) had range). Singing “Take me down to the Paradise city / where the grass is green / and the girls are pretty” pretty much hit everyone of us, letting out our inner rock stars.

More importantly, it reminded me of those hour-long trips to Canada’s Wonderland, the music blaring as loud as we could stomach, singing loudly … and less so on the way home, at 11:00pm, exhausted and goofy (pondering in August when the Christmas lights would go up), still singing, though without the power of the morning.

Those are the times — the people — I often think about when I’m reminiscing about my youth and the fun we had. Without an accurate record of events, I know my memory will have blurred them a bit, but I don’t mind — sometimes, it’s more about the feeling that comes back when you hear a certain song.