I was listening to NPR while I ran errands this weekend, when Ira Glass suddenly started talking about my hometown, the best hometown I know, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
The opening segment of This American Life was about different cities’ failed attempts to build town pride through catchy jingles and slogans. Examples he gave were, “Say Nice Things about Detroit,” and “Baltimore – Charm City, USA.” He said that one city where a PR drive to boost city image and morale had actually worked was Calgary, Canada.
He went on to describe a song that was played repeatedly on Calgary TV stations in the 80s, a song that everyone knew and loved, a song that caught on and was a huge success at building hometown pride. I thought, “I grew up in Calgary in the 80s. I know of no such song.”
He interviewed a man who also grew up in Calgary at that time who said that he and all his friends loved the song and could still sing every single word. They would sing it together for fun. Weird. I had no recollection.
Then they played the song. About halfway through, I was overcome with childhood memories. HELLO, CALGARY! I started singing along at the top of my lungs. I could picture the video that went along with it. I knew every nuance of every run the singer belted out. “Makes no difference where I go. You’re the best hometown I know. Hello, Calgary. Hello Cal-ga-a-ry-y! Channels 2 & 7 lo-ove you-ou!”
At this point I was parked at the grocery store, too overcome with unexpected nostalgia to exit the vehicle.
Calgary was a darn stinkin’ great hometown. I was proud to be a Calgarian. The hay bales, the Calgary tower, the missed football catch. All of it came rushing back.
But, wait. There was more. Ira Glass told the man he was going to play him a song he’d probably never heard before. The music started. It was “Hello, Calgary.” But no. It was “Hello Milwaukee”! It was the exact same song but with the name Milwaukee in place of my beloved Calgary.
Apparently Milwaukee was the city it was originally written for. The Calgary version was just a knockoff. And it wasn’t the only one. I screamed, “NO!” out loud.
The guy being interviewed was audibly shocked. He said it was like finding out that the teddy bear you’d grown up loving was owned by 2 other people on the weekends.
Then the montage began. “There’s a feeling in the air that you can’t get anywhere except Pittsburg, Phoenix, Knoxville…” It went on and on. Ira said there were over 100 other cities with “Hello” as their theme song but Calgary was one place it really took off. I think it was this point in the show that I clamped both my hands over my mouth in disbelief. I noticed I was sitting like this when the segment ended, pried them off my face and went in to buy groceries. I’m sort of in shock and the song has not left my head for the last 36 hours.
The story went from shocking to hilarious when Ira Glass interviewed the composer who talked about how for each version of the song he would travel to the city, spend time there, meet the people and tailor it to their specific community. Ira said he could hear no more changes than the name of the city and one or two geographical details in the lyrics.
It’s like that scene from Pillow Talk where Doris Day discovers that Rock Hudson has “written” the same song for her that he’s “written” for every other girl he’s dated.
“There’s a feeling in the air that you can’t get anywhere except Calgary” and everywhere else. Ah, to turn on the radio on a Saturday afternoon and have your favorite talk show host smash a tiny piece of your childhood with a mallet, a strangely hilarious mallet.
Oh, Calgary. You may not have been the first, but I’ll always know that “Hello Insert City Name Here” was actually written for you. The truth is, there can’t be 100 “best home towns I know” and you’re the winner, hands down.
[Listen to the This American Life segment here.] It’s at the beginning of the hour and definitely worth the five minute investment.