Sam the Record Man’s Neon Platters, and “Neon, an Electric Memoir”

SamTheRecordMan_BlackWhite_picThe fate of the two giant neon signs that once adorned the old Sam the Record Man shop at Yonge & Dundas continues to be dragged out as the two sides – Sam Sniderman’s family, who want then restored & displayed, and Ryerson University, who argue there was never a promise to do anything with them – send small salvos, while Toronto City Council appears to be poised to let R. U. off the hook beyond keeping them in storage for a few years.

R.U. argues they’re huge, they’ll an electrical bill from Hell, and there are few neon gas practitioners left in T.O. capable of mounting any measure of restoration. These are HUGE signs, and R.U. adds if there’s ever a fire or structural damage to the tubes, mercury could seep out and make things in the immediate vicinity a little toxic.

I’m not a fan of former councillor Kyle Rae – he championed the development of Dundas & Yonge into the current architectural mess it is and will be for decades – but he does have a point about the logic in restoring signs to a dead business whose legacy will become irrelevant over time. As quoted in today’s Star piece, “When I think about it today, telling a new property owner that they have to put the sign up of a no-longer-existing business is a pretty bizarre thing to do.”

Now, the signs could be adapted into a form of pop art that still pays homage to Sniderman’s legacy in promoting native talent during its prime yearsa better compromise over finding some place to hang the huge iconic things – but for now it seems its legacy vs. he-never-said-that.

This seemed like an inevitable battle – I’m sure when the signs were removed & placed in storage, R.U.’s execs stood below them and pondered ‘What the heck are we going to do with these things?’ – but adding some small sidewalk thingy and a plaque is a poor (and rather cheap) substitute in honoring a piece of Canadian music history. (Sniderman was a champion of indigenous talent.)

Neon, from the sound of the Star piece, seems to be a rare commodity these days, and businesses are avoiding the pricey signs and opting for more blah signage. What is the attraction to the colourful gas trapped in a custom-molded glass tube?

Colour, form, and a level of brightness that does make neon signs stand out from standard blah signs designed in Adobe. There’s also something attractively retro in neon signs, and the make-up and attraction to the commercial art form was covered by Rudy Buttignole in a 1985 NFB doc called Neon, an Electric Memoir, featuring narration by Jackie Burroughs as a reminiscing cloud of neon gas, if I recall.

When I saw the doc in first year film school, it came off as rather annoying, but decades later, I’m really curious to see it again… except it’s unavailable on the NFB’s site, likely due to rights, if not being a lesser work on their hit list of Titles to Make Ready for Streaming.

Pity the NFB has too much product for its own good and limited resources, but at least from a quick Google search, if you want to own it, it’s yours from a U.S. distributor for $265.00.

A rather typically Canadian conundrum: we have to import our homegrown stuff.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor
Big Head Amusements

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