“The Heart of Saturday Night” by Tom Waits

For all the compasses in the world, there’s only one direction, and time is its only measure. 

Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

In 1974, at the start of his long and very successful career, Tom Waits released a sentimental and nostalgic song called “The Heart of Saturday Night.” It enclosed the early 1970s in a time capsule and immortalized that era when I became a young man, living in a small eastern Ontario rural francophone village.

Back then, my time was measured in weeks. Not hours or days, months or years, just a seemingly endless succession of weeks. I worked five days a week, more than 70% of my allotted time on this earth, trying to acquire the legal tender that would allow me to function in our capitalist society. It took a lot out of you, driving to and from Ottawa, fighting traffic, rushing through meals and trying to catch enough sleep to get you to the weekend, where time was finally your own.

L'Église Très-Sainte-Trinité de Rockland

The Très-Sainte-Trinité church in Rockland

Sundays back then were different than they are now. Most businesses were closed and everything was silent and hushed in town. Families spent time together, at church or around a dining room table and a good family meal. The
“quiet revolution” had not completely obliterated our religious values and people had not yet become the bland consumers they are now. You read a book, went for walks, called up a friend, and prepared for the hard week that forever loomed on the horizon.

But there was always Saturday, a day that stood apart from all the other days of the week. If you had a girl, you took her out. If you didn’t, you went to the places where girls congregated, invariably some kind of dance hall. For me, it was the second floor of the Clarence Creek Arena, where a disc jockey played the wonderful R&B music coming out of Stax Records in Memphis, with artists like Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Wilson Pickett, Albert King, The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas and his fabulous daughter Carla Thomas.

La Légion

The Legion

In Rockland, bands from Ottawa occasionally came down to play in the main room of the Legion Hall. Local kids developed their own venues, hangouts like La Chandelle in the basement of the church, which also featured bands from Ottawa.. Across the street from the church, an old building that had served as City Hall, clerk’s office and municipal
La Bastille, avec l'ancien aréna à droite

La Bastille, with the old arena at the right

prison had also been transformed into a youth haven called La Bastille. In the east end of town, La Ste-Famille, a former elementary school building, became a thriving cultural center providing artistic activities for young and old. My fondest memory of this period is seeing the whole town come together to produce my first album – we went to Montreal to record it, had 1,000 vinyl copies printed in Ottawa and the album cover was designed at La Ste-Famille. People cut and silkscreened burlap and the ladies of the town volunteered their evenings to operate sewing machines that produced the burlap bags in which my first album was sold. It was a community project. I was so proud of my town and its wonderful people.
La Ste-Famille

La Ste-Famille

Rockland had character back then and was not the dormitory town for civil servants it has now become. There were small town attractions, like the Cartier theater run by the Béland family. The theatre showed two different films each week, one Monday to Thursday and one on the weekend, in addition to the upcoming attractions, serials and, of course, cartoons. There was also the billiard room run by the St-Jacques family. Like Lafleur’s neighbouring haberdashery, a second-generation store, the pool hall had tall tin ceilings and magnificent hardwood walls and floors, with a fragrance like no other.
Le Castel

Le Castel

When he was a teenager, my father used to go see silent movies that were screened in the back of the main room at St-Jacques, especially when they had a Charlie Chaplin movie, his favourite. On the main street at the height of l’Escale, our secondary school, there was Le Castel restaurant, which was always filled with hungry students. The benches around the walls each had a coin-operated juke box with the latest hits.

I played in a few rock groups, first with my good friends Martin Cunningham, Pierre Lafleur and Roch Tassé – we called ourselves The Ravens. To read more about The Ravens and to hear us play The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” click here. I then played with my brother Bob and my good friend Tom Butterworth in a group called The Trend. Later on, Tom and I joined a group with local singer André “Gus” Gosselin. There was also a popular group called The Elusive Butterflies (in the fashion of the day) which featured local guitarist Denis Bergeron and singer Don Boudria, who later became the Member of Parliament for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell in Jean Chrétien’s government. I also learned a lot just by watching two elite guitarists from Rockland, Denis Tessier and Gaëtan “Pete” Danis. Pete went on to play for the popular country singers Bob and Marie King and Pierre Lafleur and I followed Pete wherever he played, mostly in the hotels of Buckingham (Qc) and Bourget (Ont).

Alrick Huebener

Alrick Huebener

All the places I have mentioned are gone now, although La Ste-Famille still holds on as the Clatrence-Rockland Museum. The town’s population has tripled but there are no more attractions, no more sanctuaries for young people. Now, Tom Waits’ “The Heart of Saturday Night” is indeed elusive, and more than a little nostalgic. I play the piece with Alrick Huebener, a superb bassist from Ottawa who has often helped me out with my recordings. I should also mention the assistance of Gilles Chartrand, the tireless curator of the Clarence-Rockland Museum, for the old pictures of our village.

Richard Séguin – voice, acoustic guitar
Alrick Huebener – upright bass

The Heart of Saturday Night

Photo of Alrick by Kate Morgan

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