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Garden Party: D.O.A. band members and musicians from other ever-changing punk bands show their lighter side in the Burnaby backyard ofD.O.A. lead singer Joey Shithead (second from left).
New Wave M.usic: Back to Basics
By Les Wiseman
. andy Rampage is sipping from a mickey of rye on the lawn outside the Sports Beat Inn, blonde brush-cut arranged to appear meticulously unattended, his ensemble tarnished black leather motorcycle jacket, torn T-shirt and oily dungarees. Rampage is a punk rocker; he plays bass with D.O.A. (Dead On Arrival), Vancouver's premier punkrock band. But the punk rock business here is not a lucrative one. Tonight, there is a gong show at the Sports Beat Inn; top prize is two hundred dollars and D.O.A. needs it. Joey Shithead (not his real name), lead vocalist and front-man for the group, allows that he is worried about getting the band onstage. The problem is that
drummer, Hungry Chuck Biscuits (likewise not his real name), is only fifteen, not yet legally old enough to enter a public drinking establishment. Joey, at 22 the oldest member of the group, has been part of Vancouver's musical scene longer than the others and knows something about musical subtleties and performing stratagems. "We're gonna play so f***ing loud that they won't be able to gong us," he says, grinning at Chuck. Chuck just sniffles and looks anxious. To dispel their worries, they drink and talk about the music business, about how their E.P. (Extended Play record) is being distributed at a loss. The record contains four selections - Disco Sucks, Nazi Training Camp, Royal Police and
Woke Up Screaming - and cost two dollars apiece to make, yet D.O.A. is selling it to retailers for anywhere from $1.50 to $1.69 for the retailer to mark up to between $2 and $2.98. They think that maybe 120have been sold from their production of 500. Rampage announces that he coerced his mother into buying six copies. Chuck Biscuits is allowed into the bar, and the management tells the boys that they may play only one number. The band huddles and decides that it will play two songs without any break between. While two young long-haired chanteuses merrily sing California Dreamin' arid a bouncy overweight businessman jigs through the paces of Tie A Yellow Ribbon' Round The Old Oak Tree, D.O.A. debates whether to
,'0 ongs off the/E.P. or to go with ed Up Baby and My Old Man's A
Sports Beat Inn's clientele looks _ _~g and healthy, with evidence of :; =~ .' of pocket-money. Joey, inordipale for mid-summer, spiky punk bing out every which way, looks y out of place, a buoy of degenera sea of suntans, blow-dried hair a shell necklaces. Bar drinks are fhis range, but he can taste the beer --,,' - e S200 first prize will buy.
movement while a couple of jocks in the crowd throw crushed cigarette packs and other effluvium at those on the dance floor. Young women at a table huddle together and hold their noses, and one junior Cheryl Tiegs makes motions about the acne surrounding Rampage's mouth before collapsing in inaudible spasms of laughter. The music kicks on, and an astute fellow in an Adidas T-shirt asks his girlfriend if she thinks that D.O.A. is doing this for a joke. She shrugs and turns back to her banana daiquiri Lukewarm applause greets the end of the set as the anonymous celebrity judges take up magic-markers and jot down their ratings: an eight, another eight and a ten. Twenty-six points for D.O.A. Another act has already done better, so the $200 is out, but there is still a chance at the $50 or $25 second and third prizes. First prize is bagged by the last act of the evening, a punk-rock band called The Spikes. Noone has ever heard ofthem before. They seem to have been formed in order to win the prize money. "I'm glad they won," says Joey. "They beat us at our own game. I'm happy they won." Joey is less pleased, though, as a folk singer and an ersatz Tony Orlando receive the smaller awards. His girlfriend looks sad; she has been nursing the same drink all evening. There will be no party tonight. Joey puts out his last two dollars for a bottle of cider, but seems unable to drink it. Sweaty and quiet, the band packs up its instruments and heads to the parking lot only to find that Rampage's car has been towed away. Inside the Sports Beat, the house band, a mainstream commercial rock group, has the dance-floor packed with smiling, well-groomed hopes for Canada's future.
Top: Rabid band members await arrival of drummer Zippy Pinhead as punk fans dance or enjoy an obligatory tussle on the floor. D.O.A. musicians Brad Kent and ,Randy Rampage flank Sub-humans' lead singer Wimpy, center, while local punk rocker emeritus Joey Shithead belts out Woke Up Screaming at left. Punk's distaff side is represented by Deedee and the Dishrags, farleft. Fans, right, mug for the camera outside the Quadra Club on Homer.
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the recent decade of creating, usn ing and passing on to the "next big thing" in music, our ·consumer ·society has given witness to psychedelia, heavy metal, glitter, Sonny and Cher, disco, etc. Now, in the waning Seventies, it has tripped over the mangy, unwashed, foul-mouthed body of punkrock. Beginning late in 1975, the appeilation "punk" came to be applied to a new form of rock and roll music emerging from the streets of London, England. Marked by a renewed interest in simplicity of musical format and lyrical composition, punk had its roots in the working-class youths who, due to Britain's faltering economy, aimlessly cluttered the streets unable to find jobs. To counter the always stylish British middle-class, new styles of dress, hair and behavior were created and adopted. Punk became the antithesis of the Sixties' peace and love ideals. Optimism gave way to nihilism, concern to apathy, long hair to unwashed spiky brush-cuts, aristocratic cool to revolt. From the torpor of the welfare life rose a subculture whose disdain for the more affluent became so fixed that it could no longer condone music from The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and the various BeatIes, etc. Those artists had lost sight of their rebellious beginnings, according to punk philosophy, and were becoming rich, fat, middle-aged, complacent and boring. In response, an angry punk vanguard tore their clothes apart, stuck them back together with safety-pins, cut their hair in the style favored by guerilla soldiers, and formed a band called the Sex Pistols. Front-page headlines followed such sensationalist Pistol antics as vomiting in airports, spitting at people and using obscene language on television interviews, and these, plus their manic stage performances, made the Pistols guiding lights of the punk subculture. American magazines, such as Creem and Rolling Stone, by enthusiastically reporting the stunts, created the first punk superstar: Pistols' lead singer, Johnny Rotten. Suddenly, rock cognoscenti were sniggering at the latest gossip about punk rock. Meanwhile, aside from music magazine readers, Vancouver slept quietly through the birth of punk-rock. The commercial airwaves remained unsullied. Elsewhere it was different. Although New York lacked the Dickensian class system against which British punks were revolting, it did have the unwashed poor, the ghettoes and the hostilities of various ethnic factions. Too, the Big Apple had been the home of The Velvet Underground, a band that many considered to be the predecessor of punk before it burned out in a blaze of white noise years before the word punk had anything to do with music. Within a month of the birth of punk in London, New York caught the fever, and punk bands erupted in pimply profusion. Characteristically, New York claimed to have invented the new musical genre.
Here in Vancouver, records by the Ramones, the Damned, Talking Heads, the Jam and Eddie and the Hot Rods filtered into some esoteric record stores, although one saw fit to erect a sign that read: We regret to inform you that this section is devoted to punk-rock! Slickly commercial Boz Scaggs, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, etc. continued to dominate air play and album sales. Rock music, that had preached revolution during the Sixties, had become big business, acceptable everywhere. "Mellow" was the keyword of the times, and rock and roll began to assume the predictability and blandness of processed cheese. Even the teenybopper market had surrendered to the clean-cut, parentally-approved likes of Shaun Cassidy and the Bay City Rollers. Punk music, meanwhile, was expected to stay in London and New York where it belonged, where one could read about it, wrinkle one's nose and turn the page. But in early 1977,the oozing threat spilled over into Vancouver in the form of The Furies. Short-haired, dirty and leather-jacketed, The Furies spewed the vitriol of their music into audiences viewing art at Pump's Gallery and drinking beer at the Blue Horizon on talent night. They were alternately detested or merely disliked by all but a handful. The more outrageous and avant-garde students at the Vancouver School of Art adopted
punk attire and formed the core of The Furies' fans - and punk became intellectualized. A young man who was to become the prime spokesman for the punk movement also liked The Furies. Sickened by what he calls "the sick, boring, decadent city of Vancouver," and "the sick, boring, decadent and wimpy state of music," Joey cut his shoulder-length hair, assumed the name Shithead, and with three other kindred souls, formed The Skulls, a band that, in turn, gave rise to Victorian Pork when it needed a back-up act for one of its performances. The Skulls went to Toronto, hated it, and broke up. Some of them formed D.O.A., another went to The Negatives, which group became The Sub-humans, and so on. Punks argue a lot. Today, there are maybe thirty to forty punk musicians in Vancouver. Audiences have never reached commercial sizes, and the punks do not make much money. They produce their own dances in any available snakepit they can afford. Their records are all independently produced and distributed, profits being seldom if ever realized. The actual music is, in general, copied from London and New York. Loud and basic, it sets people to acting primitively. With no defined revolution to be fought here, except against expensive and boring forms of entertainment, local punk rockers admit that the music will
never have the impact it did in London. Yet they believe that basic rock and roll can change things for the better. So they play it. uly I, Canada Day. All over Vancouver, special events have been planned. For a week or so, telephone poles and construction fences have been ornamented with stark black-and-white Anarchy In Canada? posters announcing a free, anarchist-sponsored punk rock concert and Anti-Canada Day celebration to be held at Lumberman's Arch at one o'Clock in the afternoon. Arriving fans gather that something is wrong, though: the crowd is full of matching Bermudashorts outfits; tourists are snapping photos of the trees and each other; and, up on the brightly garlanded stage, children are performing ethnic dances. Amidst the crowd, an occasional fan in punk regalia can be seen nervously dodging baby strollers. The word soon circulates that the location has been changed to Prospect Point. Punks and joggers hurry side-by-side along the seawall. Prospect Point is a place of contrasts on this sunny holiday afternoon. At one end of the field, the Vancouver First Christian Reformed Church is enjoying a picnic and a softball game. At the other end, the scene appears to have fallen from the pages of Petronius' Satyricon. On a
parked flatbed truck which is to serve as the stage, Chuck Biscuits is trying, unsuccessfully, to wheedle a drink out of Randy Rampage's large bottle of white wine. At their feet, sitting on the grass, a deathly pale, chromium-haired vampire woman in a black satin, slashed-to-the navel blouse pokes a cigarette into her ruby red lips. She chats with a young lady whose henna-red hair is cut in the macho-punk style and whose face is adorned with a purposefully tacky pair of cheap plastic sunglasses. One couple pairs an absolutely normal-looking young woman with a cadaverous boyfriend who has pierced his brand-new $200 leather jacket with safety pins to form a swastika. One figure stands out, eclipsing all this youthfully exuberant decadence and costuming. He sits, all 250 pounds of him, immobile, staring straight ahead, his long, dirty brown hair falling over the shoulders of his lumberjack shirt. One eye is covered with a black leather patch while hanging through his nose is an immense brass ring the diameter of a pencil. He looks like a human gargoyle doorknocker. No one sits very near to him. Then the anachronistic clatter of hooves against the beat of large motorcycle engines is heard. The constabulary has arrived, causing diverse reactions in punk ranks: audience members shout and act particularly tough, but the members ofthe bands seem polite and cooperative. The police appear to believe that something is wrong but cannot explain just what the problem is. They call for someone with more authority. Sergeant Foyle arrives in an appropriate leisure suit, flashes his badge and asks to speak to the leader of this anarchist-sponsored gathering. Punks, anarchists and Sergeant Foyle discuss the matter calmly and cooperatively with a great show of diplomacy, and it is learned that the punks and anarchists have no Park Board permit for their planned event. Sergeant Foyle will not confirm the spreading rumor that the First Christian Reformed Church picnickers have phoned in a complaint, but he allows that that may have been the case. A few members of the crowd are starting to get restless. "What are you talking to those assholes for? What happened to the anarchist spirit? Go ahead without the bloody permit!" But no one wants any trouble. If the sound truck gets towed away, the anarchists lose a lot of money. If the police decide to get nasty, nobody gets to hear the music. A compromise is reached: the bands will be allowed to play at six o'clock when the church group has finished with the park. Until then, however, the flatbed must be removed. Everyone agrees without argument, and one is struck with the realization that the punk rockers are first and foremost musicians who want their music to be heard. Being tough and punky means nothing when separated from the music. D.O.A. and entourage retire to the ivy covered sanctuary of the Sylvia Hotel
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Lounge. At six, some 150observers have gathered at Prospect Point. The human door-knocker has not moved. All about him, though, the crowd has livened up, having had a couple of hours in which to alter its states of consciousness. The conversation is mainly various distorted ve'rsions ofthe earlier run-in with Authority. A constant game of punk oneupmanship goes on. The girl in the Garbo hat and the safety pin through her cheek explains to the gay fellow with fluorescent orange and silver hair that Wimpy, formerly of the Bloated Cows, is now singing for the newly reformed Sub-humans, who, when they were called The Negatives, featured Dimwit from the Skulls on drums and Jerry Useless on bass. Conjecture is rife as to whether Joey will urinate into the crowd as he has done on previous occasions. This is also D.O.A.'s first appearance with their new guitarist Brad Kent (who has predictably changed his surname slightly), formerly of Victorian Pork, and the fans wonder how he will fit in. They also wonder what Joey will do with both hands free. While the equipment is being set up, Joey holds court with various media types. He puts on his World War II army helmet embossed with the slogan "Racism Sucks" , and sticks a cigarette up his right nostril. He is the spokesman for the whole Vancouver punk movement. When asked why he is the only figure to emerge as a leader, he replies that every movement needs a leader, and he is that leader quite simply because he is the best. As D.O.A. starts off the evening's entertainment with Waiting to Drink Your Wretched Blood, it becomes obvious that sound quality is going to be ignored in favor of volume. The band is overdriving its amps and the P.A. (Public Address system), and the music takes on the tone of an abused 40-year-old 78 r.p.m. record. Punk fans are not the most discerning audiences in the world, though, and they begin to leap into the air, heads shaking, hips gyrating. The lyrics are incomprehensible, and Joey's voice is a gruff auditory blur. Freed from the confinement of playing guitar, Joey spits at the audience and picks his nose. He throws off his army helmet, revealing a grey Beatie wig, and puts the whole microphone in his mouth, simultaneously bellowing as loudly as possible. Behind him, the band churns out pure pandemonium at maximum volume. Mysteriously, Joey's pants seem to be falling open to a near obscene degree, revealing a Beluga-like expanse of white belly. A fan throws a T-shirt onstage, the shirt has the slogan Destroy written across it above a swastika. Joey flicks his Bic and the shirt bursts into flame. The band approaches its climax, and, in a mock fit, Joey stumbles backward to land on his back where he flails his arms and legs in frenzied excitement. When the band has finished, the anarchists take over the stage and set about burning the Canadian flag, the black
Anarchist flag and what is thought to be a Canadian Constitution. The audience returns to sipping wine and rolling joints, and generally ignores the speeches issuing from the flatbed stage ... until they start burning money. Burning money! Aghast, the punk devotees watch as the anarchists ask for money to burn, and are even more aghast when they get it. Twenties, tens, fives and ones are thrown up on stage and ignited before the hungry eyes of the crowd. Rampage and Joey look at each other in disbelief. "This is stupid," gasps Joey as he makes an unsuccessful grope for a fiver. "Give the money to the bands," shout several audience members, to no avail. The anarchists, after all, have their point to make. A band called Private School follows the anarchists, much to the relief of those who refused to believe their eyes as cash literally went up in smoke. Private School, too, assaults the audience with a belch of electric noise, yet the musicians seem upset about it. Completely lacking in the aggression and riveting stage presence of D.O. A., they complain that they cannot hear themselves because of malfunctioning monitors. The long-haired fellow in the Boogie 'Til Ya Puke T-shirt is the first to leave, and, as Private School continues to play, half of the audience follows his lead. There is nothing worse than an unpunky punk band. Two other bands follow. First, there is The Sub-humans: Jerry Useless, Dimwit, Mike Normal and Wimpy. Wimpy grew up with Joey and has his knowledge of how to hold an audience's attention. For instance, at the climax of the act, Wimpy pulls down his pants, points his posterior at the audience and spreads his cheeks. Boz Scaggs he isn't. The crowd has thinned considerably but the Sub-humans, the only band with enough sense not to overdrive the P.A., inject a bit of adrenalin into those who remain. Bottles of Rush and Locker Room, two commercially available inhalables with an effect similar to amyl nitrate, pass under adolescent nostrils, effectively simulating heart seizures. Sergeant Nick Penis is next. This band consists of all the members of D.O.A. playing different instruments, with the exception of Joey who stays in the crowd eyeing his fellows nervously. The band is ripping the fabric of the air when a mounted Vancouver city policeman comes on the scene. The generator dies. The evening is over. Wimpy organizes the punks into garbage detail, and the field is cleared of debris.
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ndy Warhol once said that everyone should be famous for fifteen minutes, and there are those who believe that punk rock did only last about that long. Others claim that punk never existed at all in any appreciable sense. And then there are those who feel
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that punk is breaking new ground and will achieve acceptance and integration when the shock value wears off. Fans who heralded punk as the "next big thing", and critics who wrote paeans to the revitalization of rock and roll music have now pronounced punk dead, as dead as glitter, as dead as psychedelia, as dead as a doornail. Meanwhile, in London, prestigious clubs such as the Marquee have changed their decor to punk and pack in kids with safety pins through their faces. Bruce Allen, Vancouver's most successful talent promoter and rock businessman (responsible for B.T.G. and Trooper), says bluntly that" Punk is dead." He cites the fact that, while many of the major record companies formed special "punk" divisions when the style seemed to hold commercial promise, they are being abandoned today. According to Allen, the music lacks originality as well. "It's recycled early fifties music with better amplifiers," is his assessment. Allen cites the amount of hype given to some punk acts and the relatively low level of commercial success achieved. Directly concerned with the commercial potential of punk is Quintessence Record store, the most comprehensive retail dealer of punk records in the city, where Ron Sizer counters Bruce Allen with the claim that punk has undergone an evolutionary process. Those bands without real talent have fallen by the wayside, says Sizer, while those able to make fresh and vital music are gaining respect. These bands are breaking away from the label "punk" and are being called "new wave" (now there is a less brash form of new wave known as "power pop"), and their album sales are climbing steadily with no end in sight. The negative reaction to new wave music, says Sizer, comes from the desire of over-thirties for "laid-back", relaxing music. "New wave is not relaxing music. You can't be relaxed all the time. People who put down the new wave seem to have forgotten their roots. It's rock and roll, and it's becoming more refined. It's also being accepted by more and more people, and is being absorbed into the mainstream of music." Joey Shithead, meanwhile, is sitting at his kitchen table, folding record covers and sealing records in bags. Some will go to Los Angeles where Disco Sucks is getting some play on new wave stations. Joey will take the records down in a car and pound the pavement personally distributing the E.P. to any interested record shops. There is no doubt, he says, that D.G.A. will be a headlining act in a year. Almost inaudibly, he adds something about getting a job when he returns from L.A. Then he folds another paper cover, drops in the seven-inch record and seals the clear plastic bag around the record that cost $2 to make and which he will sell for$I.50. •
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