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Sunday, January 10, 2010

If You Remember 1977 - You're Not Dead

I've just published a fantastic book, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History Of Punk In Toronto And Beyond. Author Liz Worth has done a herculean job tracking down almost all of the key players in the 1977 punk world of Toronto/Hamilton/London and expertly intertwining all the different voices into a very poignant narrative. 1977 was in many ways maybe a pivotal year for many of us; suddenly all the years you thought maybe you were alone and different culminated in a big bang - everyone all over the planet was thrown together and all the walls came down at once and there was a way forward, a united hammer to the world that wanted nothing to do with us. I know in Toronto, that was my experience, a glorious summer that would shape the way I'd live the rest of my life.

For the majority of people, the book is a revelation. That an entire musical subculture flourished and upended the cultural landscape and then just as quickly crumble and be covered over by the ruins of succeeding movements and mythologies in a country (Canada) that never looks back. I've always had a chip on my shoulder when the punk era is ignored by the various books and retrospectives that sprout up occassionally over the years; dismissed as an interesting artifact, good for some fun with band names and old band pictures and that's all.

Treat Me Like Dirt unravels like a grand opera; the noble king, the happy land, the turncoat prince, the mob at the gates, the descent into hell and the wind that scatters all remnants into the final ether. In the end it is the plagues of indifference and neglect that brings about their demise... but a what journey. The Diodes, The Viletones and Teenage Head are covered in incredible depth and one gets a very eye-opening insight into the obstacles they faced and helped break down.

The pitfalls to be learned are universal (greed, jealousy, addiction, stupidity, ego, etc - all sinners know them). The inspiration also universal (perseverence, belief, vision). For me personally, as engrossing as the band histories are, they all mostly tow their respective party lines as is to be expected; so that's why I find the stories and the interlocking sub-plots of what I call the "peripheral people" (girlfriends, drug dealers, managers, dubious acquaintances and the rest) to be the most fascinating and the ones to grind the myth-making into a grittier reality.

It's a book with something for everyone and would read as a fantastic novel if you didn't know this world actually existed.

Certainly, as in all oral histories, everyone is positioning for the last word, the last kick at a past grievance, the last chance to set the record straight.

The proof that you existed.


choking on the dust
(ralph alfonso)

welcome spotlight
at last
you're here
my speech has been ready
30 years
i unfold the papers
choke on the dust
peer at the faded ink
no matter
the world has spun
but i remain
in my anger
gnarly fist clenched
at windmills long gone
voice raised
echoing in the empty
the last word

(c) 2006