Just as Canadian boys do, when I was young I expressed an interest in playing ice hockey. It was 1979 and I was five years old.
(You’re thinking right now, why the hell does he have a picture of boxing gloves then? Stick with me on this.)
My parents said, at the time, that since I hadn’t had much experience skating I’d be best served by enrolling in a power skating program first, to see if I was really going to like hockey and to make sure my skating was up to snuff. (In reality, it could have had something to do with the cost of hockey, even at that time.)
Don’t forget to check out Your Life in Music: Part 1
The power skating program was run under the Okotoks Figure Skating Club, where my mom was president for the 1979/1980 season. Which now I have to wonder if I was REALLY in power skating or if she was trying to get me into figure skating. Probably something to explore in a different blog post… or with a therapist.
For the annual, year-end showcase, the power skaters had a number in that show and the music for that number was the theme song from the Academy Award-winning feature film that bolted Sylvester Stallone into stardom – Rocky.
(This version below is actually from Rocky 3, but it’s the same song, and using this video actually ties better into the story.)
The song meant little to me at the time. I had no idea who or what Rocky was, or that our song was a movie theme. I was just skating around with red boxing gloves and a grey track suit doing figure 8s to the delight of parent onlookers.
What I did know was that I was pretty good at skating and I was looking forward to passing with flying colours and proving to my folks that I was ready to play (I think it was Tiger-Mite) hockey.
This part of the timeline is blurry – I don’t know if there was another year of power skating or what, but what I can confirm is my hockey career NEVER manifested. Ever.
(And to this day, I’ve never played an official game of organized hockey.)
The year 1981 rolled around and my dad was transferred down to Denver, Colorado. I vaguely recall at the time being told that there was only like three hockey rinks in all of Denver and zero in the small town of Castle Rock, where we settled down.
Without boring you of the details of living in Castle Rock, I’ll get to the point in the narrative that starts to dovetail everything together nicely.
(Living in Castle Rock was not boring at all. I loved the place and was devastated when I had to return back to Canada. Though, in another future blog post… when we hit say… 1984/85, we’ll come back to Castle Rock history.)
A quick history of cable television tells us that premium cable (stations like HBO, Showtime, Disney Channel, etc), started in the mid 1970s. We got our first ever cable box when we lived in the US, shortly after we arrived in the early 1980s. We had HBO, Showtime and Disney Channel (and when I figured out how to rig the box, we got the Playboy Channel… tee hee) and a handful of other channels.
In 1982, Stallone’s now-blockbuster boxing franchise had released its third installment – aptly named Rocky 3. It’s the one where he fights Clubber Lang (played by Mr. T, who, himself, rose to greater stardom as B.A. Baracus in the A-Team (1983)), gets beaten by Lang, and then trains with Rocky and Rocky 2 nemesis Apollo Creed and then wins. Spoiler alert.
HBO ran that movie, along with Star Wars, three or four times a day (maybe more, but I was going to bed early in those days). After watching once, I’ll be damned if I didn’t watch it every time I could find it on. I’ve easily watched Rocky 3 more than 200 times in the past 35 years, with about 50 per cent in those first couple years it was on HBO.
(Sidenote: I could have easily written this same blog post about Star Wars, and while I love John Williams’ score, it didn’t have the same neatly packaged beginning like the figure skating one. Honestly, for Star Wars, it was on HBO, I watched it every time it was on and I became a Star Wars convert – and I’m proudly devout still today.)
Today, I own all the Rocky movies on DVD and we have the VHS set of the first four movies out at the cabin and I usually watch them all at least once in my two weeks there every summer. We still watch Creed (the newest one) when we catch it on movie stations and I’ve seen it at least three times, too.
I can often be heard singing other Rocky songs, too.
One of my favourites is when Rocky carries Adrian home after they’re married. The song is actually sung by Sly Stallone’s brother, Frank.
“There are two kinds of love that you ought to know, there are two kinds of love…”
(Fast forward to 5:20 of the video below to hear it)
You also can’t be a Rocky fan and not enjoy Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger – also a song in Rocky 3.
Of course, it should be noted that the vast majority of the most memorable Rocky songs were composed by Bill Conti. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that in a blog post about Rocky music.
My favourite type of films are those where people overcome things to achieve greatness.
To me, this sums up the story of Rocky Balboa (and the controversial inspiration for the Rocky franchise, Chuck Wepner) – people who have a fire inside them, but for so many reasons they can’t break through. Until they do.
I started watching Rocky 3 when I was about eight years old. Thirty-five years later I’m still watching it. And still loving it.
Rocky 4 came next (at the height of the Cold War) and I soak it up as much as the Rocky 3. Rocky once again questioning himself, others questioning him, but finding something inside of himself to defeat the towering Russian, Ivan Drago, in Russia no less.
I probably didn’t see Rocky and Rocky 2 until later, maybe in my early teens, and though I would still consider Rocky 3 my sentimental favourite, Rocky and Rocky 2 are probably slightly ahead for me due to cinematic superiority.
So why, after 35 years, do these stories still inspire me? So much so that I watch them religiously each summer (at a minimum)?
I guess because I’ve always identified with them. I think many people can. And we’re all at different points in our Rocky journey.
People underestimate your talent or determination. They underestimate your skill or your commitment. People don’t believe in you like you believe in yourself. You get in your own way. You begin to doubt yourself. Life happens. All of this.
But Rocky wins. He loses. He wins again. The fighting spirit is always there.
And as you continue to watch through the now eight-film (Creed 2 comes out in November 2018.) franchise, you see that Rocky Balboa’s real win is in finding inner peace. It’s something he struggles with throughout the first five movies.
This is why the music is so sticky for me – because the movies are so sticky. The songs are earworms as much as the movie is an eyeworm (gross) for me.
And tracing the lineage of Rocky and the film’s score back to a figure skating program in my early years, is once again my life in music.
Yo, Adrian. We did it.
(Note: the featured photo at the top of the post was courtesy Flickr / Peter Miller)