I’ve been reading a lot about music lately. Dave Bidini (from the Rheostatics) did a story for the Toronto Star a few months back in which he listed 50 Songs About Toronto. It brought back such a flood of memories that I wanted to begin writing about my own musical odyssey.
I’ve always been much more of a music fan than any of my friends. By that I mean that I both consumed more music and was more adventurous in my tastes. The first album I bought on my own (other than K-Tel compilation albums) was Led Zeppelin’s first record, with the black and white zeppelin artwork. I bought it at Halliday’s TV shop in the Parkway Mall in Scarborough in 1975. My thoughts at the time were that the band were good, but that the singer couldn’t sing at all.
I remember getting really into punk and new wave, and when I began a sort of record-collecting club in the late 70s, I called it Punkrok. I made up membership cards and assigned levels of coolness based on how many records you owned. Already I owned more than any of my friends. I also tried to put together a sort of rock opera, using current songs. Blondie’s “Call Me” was in there, that’s the only one I can remember.
My friend Ken’s sister was a few years older, and she introduced us to Bowie. She had clippings of him all over her room, and I remember reading the word bisexual in one of them and wondering what that really meant. She was also our best connection for booze and drugs, incidentally (or not so incidentally).
My own life as a rock star was pretty short and uneventful. In the late 70s, I tried to gather my friends into a band. We didn’t have any instruments really. I mean, my friend Chris had an electric guitar, but he didn’t know how to play, and I had taken some drumsticks from an acquaintance who was drumming in a real band. We ended up lipsyncing to the Styx song “Babe,” which was, I assure you, not my idea at all. I came up with the name The Negatives, and envisioned a black and white look. I painted one drumstick black and one white, and worked on ideas for how we would dress. I even wrote a song, but without real instruments it was hard to play.
The next band I was in was more fun. We called ourselves The Gitch Band, and we were an evangelical Christian garage band. I was able to borrow a drum kit, and with a pair of y-fronts taped to the bass drum, we were unstoppable. Our forte was satirizing our subculture, and we did almost all original songs. Our best was “Baptist Girls,” in which we were able to rhyme “demonic” with “platonic.” Enough said. We even played a few times live, and I still have a cruddy cassette with some of our music on it. I’m quite proud of this stuff, still.
Growing up in Toronto in the 1970s was pretty exciting. We had a couple of radio stations that were pretty hip. Q107 was the more hard rock station, and I remember joining their “Rock Patrol” club and wearing my yellow and black badge on my jean jacket. I signed up at a booth outside Zounds!, which was a great record store that actually wasn’t downtown. Rather, it was way out in Scarberia. Eventually, it got bought out by A&A’s, a chain, and when they folded, it disappeared. Zounds! was where I bought The Knack’s single of “My Sharona.” It featured a picture on the cover of a girl wearing a white tank top with her nipples clearly visible. I was with my mom and remember being slightly embarrassed. I’m sure she thought I’d never heard the song before.
I got into punk much more than my friends. After buying the Sex Pistols album, I cut up the souvenir programs I’d bought in England for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and put safety pins through the Queen’s portraits before hanging them in my bedroom.
I was too young to go to a lot of shows, but I remember the names of the happening places. Larry’s Hideaway, The El Mocambo, The Edge. I remember listening to CFNY around 1980 and hearing a lot of the ads for shows. CFNY was the more edgy station, and introduced me to a lot of the new wave bands like The B-52s and later, The Smiths. I heard an ad for a U2 show in 1980 and for an REM show only a couple of years later.
My first actual rock concert was in 1978. My friend Ken and I got tickets to see Queen. I’ll always remember Freddy Mercury prancing around in a leotard. Their album Jazz had just come out and I remember hanging the included poster in my room. It featured dozens of naked women on bicycles. My mother was an incredibly patient and tolerant woman.
The next big show I went to was The Kinks, in 1980. Tom Cochrane and Red Rider opened for them, and we had seats in the 6th row. I can’t remember if we were offered pot, but we smelled it. I think someone shared a wineskin with us.
I didn’t really start going to club shows until about 1985. Once, my friends and I were down on Queen Street, and I wanted to go to a show at The Rivoli, since I’d heard so much about it. We saw that the band that night was “The Palace at 4AM” and we were very confused. My friends were convinced that the band was called “The Palace” and that they weren’t playing until 4:00 in the morning. Despite my protests, we went home.
The first club show I can actually remember was a band called “A Neon Rome.” My friend Tony came with me and when the singer sang “Did Jesus do heroin, or did heroin do Jesus?” we got up and left.
I tended to go to a lot of club shows by myself during the 80s, and I really enjoyed seeing an incredibly manic bunch of guys called The Dundrells. They eventually morphed into Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet after dropping their singer. I wish I knew more of the story. The singer was the best part.
I saw a lot of bands when they came to my school. In Grade 9 or 10, a local band called Zon came to our school. I wish I knew what happened to them. Goddo was a big hit. And Platinum Blonde. But when Teenage Head came to my school, I made a special point of getting very very drunk. I got so drunk that I got separated from my friends, peed my pants, and ran home, missing most of the show.
I should insert my Platinum Blonde story here. Once, at a party, I ended up drunkenly making out with a sweet but plain girl named Beth. By the next morning, I’d sobered up and had to face her. I wrote her a “Dear Beth” letter on a roll of toilet paper and referred her to the john when she arrived. I was a jerk. Within a year or two, she’d replaced her glasses with contacts and become a model. It was soon after that she started dating Mark Holmes, Platinum Blonde’s singer. I wasn’t just a jerk. I was an idiot.
Teenage Head were a favourite of my friends and I. We were there at Ontario Place when thousands of fans were turned away and rioted. Inside, during an encore, fans rushed the stage and the band had to retreat. It was wild.
Other Ontario Place Forum shows that we enjoyed: Men Without Hats, Prism (during which I almost got busted by a lady cop for smoking dope), Jane Siberry, The Spoons.
Hanging around Queen Street West in the 80s was fun. We’d haunt all the used clothing stores, like Strange (By The Grange), Style Zone and Courage My Love. They always played great music, and I still remember one of the stores playing a Vital Sines cassette. I wish I knew what happened to that band. At $4 a record, Driftwood Music and Vortex introduced me to a lot of new music.
The local (and not so local) music that permeated those years: Martha and the Muffins, Blue Peter, B.B. Gabor, The Diodes, The Parachute Club, The Spoons, The Demics, Rational Youth, Chalk Circle, The Box, Men Without Hats, Jane Siberry, Pukka Orchestra.