How Andrea Bocelli and a record store defined my early 20s

by Blagica Bottigliero


It’s funny how a song can open up a treasure trove of memories. I was with my family eating some surprisingly tasty Neaopolitan pizza.  Andrea Bocelli’s ‘Con te Partiro’ starting chiming on the speakers.  I started to smile for two reasons:

#1 My daughter loves that song and, thanks to YouTube, has seem Bocelli sing it opposite various divas like Celine.

#2  That song defined how I spent most of my 20 something years in Chicago

I did a lot of solo traveling over the years. The way I saw it, if my friends couldn’t go with me at the time and/or if I didn’t have a boyfriend or hubby to tagalong, why should I stop myself from experiencing a new place? I’ve had the good fortune to visit Miami, Hawaii, Vancouver, Switzerland, France, California and New York on my own. It was the trip to Vancouver that defined my weekends back in Chicago.

It was either 1999 or 2000. I decided to hit up our northern neighbor, Canada. (Being from Detroit, I was a Windsor expert. Get me in a good mood for my Canadian accent and my Hockey Night In Canada Don Cherry impression. It’s epic.)

Toronto was up there on my list of places I’ve seen, but I really wanted to go to a ‘faraway’ place. Vancouver seemed like a good mix of mountains, city and culture. Done.

Between the restaurants, hikes, walks, journal writing and overall culture observations, I found myself at Virgin Records. You remember Virgin Records, don’t you?  Massive store. Wicked collection of media, live DJ and perhaps an in-house café. I strolled through the wall of listening stations and came across Andrea Bocelli’s CD. Oh, why not. I gave it a listen.

I stood there, donning my brand new leather jacket of sexy thanks to the then strong exchange rate of the US dollar. Backback behind me, map in my pocket and the overly used Virgin headset over my ears. ‘Con te Partiro’ came on, I closed my eyes and I floated away.

I ended up in the spot for 90 minutes. I listened to the entire CD with my eyes closed and my head tilted up against the wall. I didn’t realize I was crying for half of the CD. I don’t even know why I was crying.  I just was. For the duration of those 90 minutes, no one told me to get away from the listening station. No one told me my time was up. No one nudged me. No one swiped something from my backpack. Thank you, Canada.

So how in the world does this relate to Chicago?

Before the Internet became too huge with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Tinder, many of us spent time doing ‘analog things’. Saturdays and Sundays were my most special times in Chicago.  I loved hopping on the #151 bus and zipping down Lake Michigan and hopping out at Ohio. From there, my frugal butt would settle in for a few hours of fun at Virgin Records.  I’d go from station to station, listening to top hits, along with my favorite world music artists. I discovered so many new types of music – it’s an experiment that I’m yet to duplicate in today’s instant world of Spotify, Pandora, iTunes or Google Music. Just not the same.

In between listening stations, I’d slide over to the DJ Booth to see what DJ Madrid was mixing up. I would decide which CDs I wanted, if any, then roll upstairs to grab a bite at the café.  At the café, I’d catch up on my reading, note taking, call my mom and relax over a cup of Italian coffee in a ceramic mug. By the time I was done, it was time to either meet friends, get ready for dinner and make the trek home for a cozy night in.

If I had more time, I would walk up Michigan Avenue and hit the Border’s. I would climb up to the top floor and sit at my favorite corner table, overlooking the rest of the Mag Mile. Some magazine browsing and journal writing later, it was the perfect bookend to my day. I would check my phone for potential texts from friends on where to meet up or who was dating who, but that was it. No smartphone just yet. 

$1.50 later, I was back on the bus heading home.

I consider these memories a glimmer of ‘Old Chicago’ as I remember it.

All of this was possible because of the experience I had in one city in one record store. Every time I hear ‘Con te Partiro’, a big smile comes across my face.  I fell in love with that song as a single gal trying to figure out life. Here I am with a four-year-old mini me who loves Bocelli as much as I do.

Some place in Italy, Andrea Bocelli is having a glass of Prosecco and will never know the impact he’s had on me because of one song.

I feel bad for the majority of today’s Gen Y. There are less reasons to lazily spend their days dreaming, writing and getting lost in a new percussionist from Africa.  There are limited amounts of selfies one can take in a day.

It’s a part time job, don't ya know?