Stuff that Happened in our Youth | Review of “Keon and Me” by Dave Bidini (2013) Viking

ImageWhile I received a copy of this book via a competition on Goodreads.com, I bought a copy afterwards to loan to friends. It is that copy I used to refer to while writing this piece.

“Hawwwww!” I finally found the perfect book that describes what it means to be a Canadian kid growing up in the modern world. We all tend to look back at our youth and try to figure out the elements of what made us who were are today. The heroes and enemies of those days formulated our personality, and pondering back is a natural thing. Finally a writer has crafted a wonderful book which speaks to me about what it was like being a sensitive youth in Canada. So allow me a few minutes to gush about Dave Bidini’s Keon And Me.

One of the reasons I wanted to meet Dave Keon was to find out if the qualities I’d projected upon him were true, or whether it had all been a water-colour memory of childhood where good triumphed over bad and Batman bested The Joker and swords possessing magical properties defeated dragons that ate kids and their families. In this regard, I’d resisted feeling cynical for as long as I could. Aging didn’t help because aging fed cynicism and bitterness like coal to a hearth, and even though my life was good and I’d been lucky enough to do what I loved to do -“Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing.” I’d tell people after complaining about something or someone, which I did often – there were times when I went looking for the smoke of dissatisfaction, purposefully darkening my view.

 

Bidini’s book deals basically with two people from his childhood; his hero Toronto Maple Leafs forward Dave Keon and his tormentor – a childhood bully by the name of Roscoe. Hockey plays an role in most of our Canadian existence. For me, the game was filled with brutish behaviour which had no interested for me. But I needed to keep up with the NHL if I wanted to interact with peers and later, co-workers. While doing that I learned that the game was once a true sport, filled with tactics and strategy, that –  if I had better appreciated in my youth – I would be a bit more physically active now. Bidini has document the life of his childhood hero in this book as been the last true sportsman that played the game.

In 1967 – the year the Leafs last won the Cup – Dave Keon recorded but a single two-minute penalty. Stan Mikita, who played for the Blackhawks and was often shadowed by the Leaf centre, told the papers that he maintained a list of players with whom he wanted to get even, but that “I wouldn’t think of starting with Keon. How could I? He keeps his nose clean and he’s simply too nice for me.” Coach and broadcaster Harry Neale also said, “No matter how violent the game got, goons for some reason, stayed away from Dave Keon.” The boy thought it was impossible to respect and admire the player any more than he already did – the boy didn’t use the word “love” to describe his affection: that would have been weird and gross and just wrong – but the fact that he was the league’s nicest player was almost too much. In general, the boy was drawn to things that were nice as opposed to bad, things that were gallant as opposed to cowardly, things that worked in the name of good rather than in the name of evil. The greatest things were nice – his mom, his teacher, his favourite team, his room, his street, and God and Love and Heaven – while the worst thing were bad – Roscoe, the Flyers, lying, cheating, stealing, fighting and Hell.

 

Bidini talks in the book about the hurt the bully Roscoe caused him. But his idolization of Keon and his behaviour caused him not to retaliate against him but to quietly go home and listen to the radio. Then Bidini shares what is possibly the moment in which made him into the fantastic musician is became today.

The song stared with a few guitar chords played with a wobbly sound, a sound the boy would later find out was called a “tremolo,” a word that made him think of a kind of delicious ice cream not yet invented. The words went “Goodbye to you my trusted friend/ We’ve know each other since we were nine or ten.” They boy had listened to other kids’ music where the subjects of the song were also kids, but none of the had words like “Goodbye my friend/ It’s hard to die,” which the “Seasons in the Sun” singer sang just as the drums kicked in. The song made the boy sad because the singer sounded sad. His voice was also a little like his  – young and mewling, weak-sounding – and because the song had a family, and because he was being taken away from them – the reason was probably death, although he couldn’t be sure – the boy became vacuumed into the words, even though he resisted, something he always tried to do whenever CFTR played the song.

 

But it is Bidini words about growing up that makes this the perfect Canadian coming-of-age book. His words are simple yet lyrical and the metaphors he using brings up so many memories that only a Canadian could understand.

The boy saw Salming look up the ice. The player’s eyes widened as he heard a sound – “Hawwww!!!” – coming from in front of the Leafs’ bench. It was Keon speeding down the ice, yelling for the pass. Later in his life, the boy would become a man who would ask himself whether he’d every heard a more Canadian sound in a more Canadian place. (Maple Leaf Gardens). “Hawwwww!!” An Irish accent passed over a northern tongue. “Hawwwww!” One boy in a sweater shouting to another boy in a sweater across the howling wind. “Hawwwww!” Neil Young in his fringe jacket calling the end of a long solo. “Hawwwww!’ What Relic said after finding a bounty of salvage that Nick was too Greek to find. “Hawwwww!”

 

Keon and Me by Dave Bidini move me in ways that are beyond words. While I may not be the biggest hockey fan, Bidini exploration that he shared by writing this book is brilliant and worthwhile reading. No doubt I will be reading this book over and over again as I get older and continue to be reflective about my life. Hawwwww!

Link to Dave Bidini’s website

Link to Penguin Canada’s page for “Keon and Me”

 

 

 

 

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