Posts Tagged ‘Teenage Head’
I used an iPhone to have a chat with Nick Smash, author of the new(ish) Toronto post-punk memorandum Alone and Gone.
Crammed with photos and accounts of GTA musical weirdness from 1979-1983, this book gives a seldom-seen peek at what New Wave and post-punk looked like for Toronto concert goers three decades ago. Don Pyle’s book covering 1976-1980 is also great BTW.
Here are some words…
Cam: First question: when did you have the initial idea to write this book? What were the seeds?
Nick: The story started when my brother put on the Toronto Calling exhibition here in Toronto in 2010. I started writing some thoughts about those days and it just kind of organically snowballed.
Cam: What kind of crowds did those exhibits attract? Assume a mix of people from the original scene and “curious newcomers”?
Nick: There were great cross section of familiar faces, many I hadn’t seen in 30 years and quite a few ‘youngsters’. it was great to see an interest spanning the generations. I think Rick Winkle from the Vital Sines was at there, Dave Howard from the Dave Howard Singers was there plus the lead singer from the Curse was there.
Cam: I know the collection starts in 1978. Was that when you and your brudda Simon starting going to show or rather, when you started taking your camera to shows?
Nick: The Clash at the Rex Danforth Theatre here in Toronto that we really started taking photos. Before that, I was working at Music World on Yonge Street and was enjoying all the free tickets to gigs at Maple Leaf Gardens. Simon was still in school then. He ‘borrowed’ my ID to see the Ramones at the El Mocambo in February 1979 and that changed his life. Not sure if working at music world changed mine all that much!
Cam: Did venues have a “no cameras” policy in those days? If so, how did you sneak your camera in? What were you shooting with?
Nick: As as “no cameras” are concerned, we would just show up with the camera at the door, look a bit pathetic, sad and broke.. and hey presto! Some of the photos in the early days, we would have to sit there for two or three hours so we didn’t lose that fantastic angle. The camera itself was our father’s bashed-up old Canon. Manual focus exposure. A nightmare to use.
Cam: How may shots did you have from that initial Clash show? Assume the room couldn’t have been that large?
Nick: Actually, it was probably 2000 capacity. The Rex was an old cinema. We have the better part of 36 exposures I think from that show. The best ones are in the book. As you might imagine, it was chaos down the front so taking photos was a challenging concept.
Cam: How quickly did you get the photos developed after the show? For “the youths”, the idea of having to be choosy with your snapshots would be completely foreign. What did you initially do with the photos once you got them developed?
Nick: We processed and printed everything in the basement at home a day or two after each gig. Because film and chemicals were expensive, we would jam sometimes two or three gigs on one roll of 36 exposure film. Sometimes, we knew in advance that a band had a great live show so we would stock up with a couple of rolls of film. Once we had prints some would go into my fanzine, Smash It Up. Some we would sell at The Record Peddler. Eventually, some we nailed up on the walls of The Edge.
Cam: Who were your allies in the scene? Assume you were friendly with the Garys if you’re nailing stuff to their walls? Did you ever get special access or credentials to take photos?
Nick: All the staff at The Edge were really helpful and supportive. We never had any special passes or credentials as they weren’t needed at this point. i think the Garys and the bands were just grateful somebody was there showing an interest and wanting to take photos.
Cam: What were some of the more interesting rooms you shot at? Locations that people mightn’t even know as concert venues these days?
Nick: There is a shortlist of venues which only lasted a short while. The Exile On Main Street, 100 Bond Street, The Dash Bhagat Temple, The Beverley Tavern, The Cabana Room, Larry’s Hideaway…all gone now. they were all good places to shoot bands as the audience was always right up close to the stage. The bigger venues like The Concert Hall, The Music Hall were always really full of course and made it more of a challenge to get some good images. Sometimes you struck gold and were allowed by the Promoters (usually the Garys) complete access to the stage and the band.
Cam: Switching gears to local bands, who were some of your favourite Toronto outfits of that era? Artists we may have heard of and artists, we may have not.
Nick: I loved Tyranna, Drastic Measures, the Points. I did like Teenage Head but thought they had become more of an established rock band by this time. You can only do so many gigs at the Knob Hill Hotel before you become tired and boring. Oooh controversy!!! The Secrets album, I thought was one of the best from this time. The, of course, there was a whole new generation of bands from 1980: Diners Club, Vital Sines, Breeding Ground, Rent Boys, Youth Youth Youth, Fifth Column; all incredibly exciting and FUN!
Cam: Breeding Ground were kinda dark, gloomy, goth-y when they started out, no? one band there’s very little on the Internet about, from what i can see.
Nick Breeding Ground were very Bauhaus in the early days which yes, might have been a bit forced and self conscious. They matured really quickly though and evolved into a band that would have fit nicely between U2 and Love And Rockets…in 1985. The Canadian music business just kind of ignored them hoping they would go away. They should have come from somewhere else.
Cam: What were some of your early memories of Fifth Column? Certainly a band whose influence is still playing out today, directly or indirectly.
Nick: Fifth Column were a sparkling jab and a shot of brave boldness. I remember they threw everybody off the scent. They were punk but they weren’t; they were different and odd. Their off-kilter beats and wayward way of playing their instruments really inspired a lot of us to try different things and bring a different attitude to what we were trying to do. Their presence was huge. Caroline Azar and GB Jones’ Hide tapes sounded good then and sound even better now.
Cam: For the era you covered in the book, did bands like Teenage Head and the Diodes already seem like a different generation… that first wave of punk?
Nick: Those bands seemed to be over really as far as we were concerned. They got caught up in the major label machinery and were chewed up. We, of course, thought differently and thought we could do better.
Cam: Who was the most surprising “big band” you got access to?
Nick: Probably the Stranglers.
Cam: What kind of access did you have to the Stranglers? they seemed kinda… surly.
Nick: The Stranglers had a scary reputation and I had managed to get myself on the stage lurking behind Jet Black‘s drum kit. I was petrified that JJ would see me and beat the shit out of me. But I’m still here and the results of that night you can see in the book.
Cam: So between 1983 and the 2010 photo exhibit, what happened to these photos? Where were they stored, displayed, etc?
Nick: The photos sat around and gathered lots of dust for 30 years. Simon’s son Rudy thought they would look great as huge posters in a gallery. The result was again, our Toronto Calling show at Steam Whistle Brewery in 2010.
Cam: Did you guys continue taking photos post-1983? And do you still to go shows today? What are you listening to these days?
Nick: We both continued to take photos just not of a lot of bands. All through the 1980s and 1990s, I went to loads of gigs and ended up working for Island records in the UK. I listen to everything as it’s my job (I run my own PR company in London) but I find it’s really tough to stay loyal to any one band as the competition for my attention is overwhelming. My fave current bands? Nadine Shah, Warpaint, Godspeed You Black Emperor…and I’m sure there’s loads of other really good things but there’s just not enough time in the day.
Visit the Alone and Gone website to make arrangements to get your own copy of the book.
A few quickie reviews of four shows I took in last night at Canadian Music Week 2014 and the bike rides that got me there.
A fairly brief review of Ghetts because he was around a half hour late so I only caught a small handful of songs. Can’t really blame him since 8:30pm Thursday is a pretty brutal timeslot. Unless you’re Family Ties, I guess. In terms of tangibles, I hadn’t been to Baltic Avenue before but it seemed like a solid enough venue considering it was on the second floor. Kinda lounge-y, kinda wood-y. Also, the person working the door was nice and sad hi, while the DJ spun some Nas remixes to keep people entertained. So there was hat. When Ghetts finally reached the stage, he invited the crowd to nudge forward in an attempt to make the room slightly less stilted. I only caught about 4-5 songs but the delivery was as advertised with Ghetts’ rapid-fire ammo compounded (and sometimes confounded, in a good way) by his accent. Lots of energy to start although the best moments came when he cut himself some slack on mid-tempo fare like “Artillery” , an engagingly-paranoid tune that seems like his best bet for a Transatlantic breakthrough if he were to ever re-release it. Ghetts wore some great camouflage pants too. Cool artist. Wish I could’ve seen more.
Bike ride (Bloor W-College)
I gave the upstairs at Sneaky Dee’s a visit for the first time since Jay Reatard died (or more specifically, this gig) and was greeted kindly by Edmonton’s Slates, who provided several strands of Sunny Day Real Estate-ish indie rock with chops and heart. There was something inherently likeable about this band and they played with a certain urgency that was hard to pinpoint. Weeks on the road have clearly brought a strong cohesion to this outfit and pretty much everything about their stage show was seamless, from the musicianship from a technical standpoint to the delivery from a engagement standpoint. All told, they were extremely poised, polished and grateful, tipping the hat to the late Jason Molina on, yes, “Molina Blues” before wrapping with a torrid take on “Prairie Fire”, complete with some appropriate lurching about the stage. Points for the shirtless drummer as well, which is a pretty good sign that they’re into it. The solid-sized crowd for a 9:00pm slot was also a good sign that others were into it. I need to hear more of these guys.
Bike ride (College-Dundas W)
Playfully-poised MC Wordburglar didn’t let a small-ish crowd and tech issues cramp his (considerable) “steez”. With a lyrical focus on food, sports and sci-fi, “Burg” spat flow, struck poses and churned out a handful of good-natured rap tunes with plenty of between-song “crowd work” to vet the audience a bit. At this point, “Burg” is a veteran of the stage and his flow, freestyle, humour and presence are all airtight so even the bum timeslot didn’t damper his enthusiasm as he snaked through material new and old. Highlight? Probably “Your Friend’s Brother” which gives a ponder to…. um, the whereabouts of some kid’s brother and cette brother’s various tendencies. Scarborough’s More or Les spun and the duo did a little head-to-head action to wrap the set. Less food talk in that one. The F-word was said at least once.
Bike ride (Dundas W-Queen W)
What was ostensibly a book release party for Geoff Pevere’s Gods of the Hammer, a new Teenage Head biography, (read my Q+A with Geoff about the book here and then buy the book here) became something of a group hug for various Canadian punk and indie icons of the past three decades. The pics below will detail who showed and sang along with Hamilton’s long-running punk heroes. The more notable/unusual attendees were ex-Dead Boys shouter Cheetah Chrome (who visited from wherever USA for the gig) and Don Draper’s wife/John Kastner’s girlfriend (who did not hop on-stage to sing with the boys, as she had done previously with the Jesus and Mary Chain in Toronto). Teenage Head were their typical rock solid selves with bassist Steve Marshall looking lovingly aloof and Gordie Lewis galvanizing the stage with tons of focused hot licks. The gig did have a bit of a karaoke feel, which was a lot of fun as it allows the boys to dive deeper into their back catalogue than they typically would; namely, a few cuts (“Can’t Stop Shakin'”, “Full Time Fool”) from 1988’s out-of-print Electric Guitar–seldom trotted out for whatever reason. Again, Gordie Lewis has been the longtime glue of this band and his guitar playing deserves broader notice, as does his use of a fan to give his considerable locks a consistent windblown look.
Teenage Head with their semi-new singer Pete MacAulay
Teenage Head with that guy from Men Without Hats
Teenage Head with that guy from the Doughboys
Teenage Head with that non-Canadian guy from the Dead Boys
Teenage Head with that guy from Change of Heart
Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story is a new book coming later this month from Geoff Pevere. You might know Geoff from his movie column in the Globe and Mail or his past contributions to the Toronto Star, CBC and various book shelves. You might know Teenage Head from the radio or from history or maybe you don’t. After all, from what I can tell, Teenage Head are a bit of an anomaly in the annals of Canadian popular music. Too punk to be categorized as classic rock and yet too revivalist to be fully embraced by the punk crowd, the Teenage Head story is rooted in energy, loud guitars, interesting hair, bad management, the streets of Hamilton, a riot, a car accident and a staggeringly consistent discography that holds up (and possibly improves) as the years pass.
Geoff was kind enough to spend a little time with me on Facebook, answering questions about his book and sharing a few thoughts on why the band left such an impression on him both as a music writer and, more importantly, as a music fan.
Cam: Thanks again for taking the time. I was born in 1977 so I was a kid during the prime Teenage Head years but I’ve always thought they were really under-appreciated in the broader sense. First question: how long did it take you to write the book and when did the idea first come to you?
Geoff: The book took about a year exactly. I was approached by Jason McBride of Coach House books. He asked me to pitch an idea for their new Exploded Views series — short books by authors on subjects they’re obsessed with — and I almost instantly said ‘Teenage Head’, a band I first saw in 1978, saw more times than any other band and a band that created a noise that’s been ringing in my ears for 35 years. I too always thought they were way, way, way under-appreciated, despite the fact their underground legend persists to this day.
Cam: It always seemed like they didn’t squarely “fit” anywhere. Q107 has no issues playing “Let’s Shake” to this day but they’re not a Q107-type band. They did the whole punk Larry’s Hideaway/Last Pogo thing but they weren’t really a punk band in the textbook sense (in my opinion). Is that part of the appeal do you think? Where does your obsession stem from?
Geoff: It’s true. They didn’t really fit anything, unless you call “pure, simple, three-chord, balls-to-the-wall white-guy, blue-collar” rock a category. Which I guess it is, but not in the insanely label-driven music business, which was especially insanely label-driven in the punk and post-punk era. All I know is, when I first heard the song “Picture My Face”, which sounded to me like a bubble-gum song played by the New York Dolls, I was in for good. They came along just in time to get swept up in the whole punk thing, but really they were a glam-rock, almost proto-metal outfit of the Alice, Iggy, Slade, Mott stream. What got me instantly and totally were the hooks in the songs — eargasmic — the precision of the playing the ferocity of the performance. Canada didn’t know what to do with them, radio didn’t know what to do with them, the recording industry didn’t know what to do with them, and you had to go and see them live to fully appreciate just how original, intense and powerful they were. This just wasn’t supposed to happen in this country, and it was so fucking good the fact it happened in this country only seemed incidental: these guys were as good as rock music got. Period.
Cam: Yeah, for somebody who only discovered them in retrospect, much that’s written about the early days paints the picture of a totally different band live. When did you see them for the first time? Based on their albums at least, I always thought they were closer to Cheap Trick than the Sex Pistols.
Geoff: Cheap Trick is a totally valid comparison. But where Cheap Trick kinda tilted more toward the commercial metal side, Teenage Head tilted more toward the tighter sonic structure of punk. But in terms of a highly refined, amped-up pop sensibility, absolutely. When you consider that Alice Cooper’s Love It To Death was one of those albums that Teenage Head wouldn’t exist without, you get the idea. I think I first saw them in Ottawa, where I was going to university. And from the first night, I was committed. The songs were so good and insanely catchy, you actually left the bar with them in your head — not something you could say of a lot of so-called ‘punk’ acts of the time. And in order to hear those songs again — I’m talking before any vinyl or radio play — you had to go back to another live show. Fortunately, those guys gigged like a machine (ed: a small, small sampling).
Geoff: You know, it occurs to me that another apt comparison is The Replacements, but Teenage Head were way more consistently tight, melodic and consistent overall than the Mats.
Cam: I can see that. Kind of that bar band feel. It’s kind of a vague question but do you think as a Canadian band (from Hamilton!), they should have been bigger in a commercial sense? Especially with a track like “Something on my Mind”, that sounds like a totally multi-format hit to me. Every bit as good as the Cars or whatever else was huge power-pop-wise at the time. It seems like for Canadian “new wave” bands of that era, there was a limit. Teenage Head, the Spoons, Blue Peter,… they all seemed to get to a certain level but it’s kinda like there was a brick wall in the industry at that time.
Geoff: I don’t think there’s any question that if they had been able to get any consistent traction in the studio, working with a label and producer they were comfortable with and who knew them, they might have made a might big commercial impact. But they got bounced between labels, had no consistency in their studio experience, were poorly managed and for all that prevented from concentrating on writing and recording in a manner that would have yielded more great songs like their early ones — “Picture My Face”, “Top own”, “You’re Tearin’ Me Apart”, “Disgusteen”, “Let’s Shake”, etc. All you have to do is listen to the sessions recorded Daniel Rey and Marky Ramone with the band in 2003 to hear what might have been. That being said, it’s an incredibly legacy simply because it transcended all the shit they had heaped on them. Despite it all, we’re still talking, writing and listening to Teenage Head nearly four decades after they first roared out of the Hammer.
Cam: Yeah, I think it speaks both the quality and timeless of their music, and the lack of infrastructure in the industry at that time. It always seems like they could’ve been pushed harder in the 1950s vein and been Canada’s straight-up answer to the Stray Cats (which would’ve been awful from a marketing perspective).
Cam: I’d also like your take on why we’re seeing this flurry of books about Canadian punk with efforts from Don Pyle, Liz Worth and Sam Sutherland in recent years. Why now? There doesn’t appear to be an obvious catalyst with the exception of a general “passage of time”. I remember there was a wave of CD re-issues for the Mods, the Diodes, etc. maybe 10-12 years ago but kinda quiet since then. It’s pretty wild how undocumented a lot of this stuff was, considering there is still clearly an audience for it.
Geoff: Why now? That’s a totally good question. One of things I’ve noticed about cultural history in this country, and especially pop cultural history, is that it always has to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the closet and held up. Traditionally, our official approach to pop cultural history is very conservative, predictable and boring: CBC, the Junos, boomer nostalgia, etc. Or, for fuck’s sake, hockey. Lots of the more raw artistic enterprise this country has excelled in — improv comedy, comic book arts, horror movie making — has gone largely ignored until a certain geek boiling point is reached. I also think that when it comes to punk especially, that younger listeners who weren’t around for the ground zero first wave have an enormous curiosity that might even outstrip those of the original participants. This is partly because rock music as a formidable cultural force — one that could actually presume to be changing the world by changing its fashion — is now gone and because of that more romantic than ever. There is nothing more romantic, idealistic and irresistibly attractive than punk, the last real rebellion rock music can lay claim to. Which brings us right to the doorstep of the twentieth anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, the absolute final act of mythical rock romanticism. And, as you know, he was a huge punk worshipper.
Cam: I agree that romanticism about rock music, at least, is gone. If only because everything is so densely documented these days. By sheer volume of content available online (for free!), there is no real effort to being a music fan these days so I think stuff that is devoid of all those trappings is extra appealing. I mean… half of Teenage Head’s catalogue is out of print. Curious. How much time did you spend in Hamilton when you were writing the book? I went to university there and I think that’s partially where my fondness for the band comes from–they do kind of embody a “we’re from Hamilton and we’re OK with that” spirit. I think that’s one of their greatest attributes: there really is very little pretense with their music and there is a real sense of joy and spirit that most bands can’t capture.
Geoff: One of my favourite Hamilton quotes (which I heard more than once), goes like this: ‘Toronto didn’t know shit about punk until Hamilton drove down the highway and showed it how.’ I spent quite a bit of time there doing interviews for the book and I really came to appreciate what a proud, distinct, no-bullshit kind of place it is. And Teenage Head never let anybody forget that’s where they were from. If there’s anything distinctly Hamiltonian about them, it probably has something to do with the blend of work ethic, no-nonsense approach, sense of humour and firm commitment to having a really, really good time. Yeah, their website needs work, their back catalogue needs rescuing and re-release and their legacy needs some kind of formal structure in which to be protected, promoted and developed. How I hope all of that happens, If I had a secret agenda in writing the book, it was getting more Head out there.
Cam: I haven’t seen them since Frankie passed. What are your thoughts on keeping the band going w/o him? It’s obviously a different band w/o him.
Geoff: I think Pete MacAulay, the current singer, does a really great job, and he does so by not trying to be Frank. He’s an old school glam-rocker bantam rooster type with a different voice and approach to showmanship. Plus he came to the band as a lifelong fan. I think bands should stick around as long as they want to, and as long as people want to see and hear them. But what I’d really, really love to see some old unreleased recording released, some old live stuff released, and maybe some new solo recordings from Gord Lewis, perhaps backed up by all those countless younger musicians he got hooked in the first place.
Cam: I remember there was a band called the Vapids during my McMaster campus radio days that had an EP called the Teenage Head EP or something (ed: it wasn’t an EP). And even that was 15-20 years ago. You can see the patterns of generations discovering and keeping the band afloat.
Cam: Final-ish question: what was something surprising about the band you learned while writing the book?
Geoff: I think the most suprising thing is generally how unsuccessful they think they were. Surprising to me at least, considering the fact that with very little radio support, a totally inconsistent recording and management history, and almost no acknowledgement by our official guardians of national culture, they have managed to become legendary, and only moreso as time goes on. I always suspected that my obsessive enthusiasm was shared (I didn’t know just how widely) but was surprised to realize how the band itself felt they’d failed. Like (frig) they did.
Cam: Yeah, I’ve talked to Gordie a couple of times in that past and I always got the feel that he was surprised that anyone would want to talk to him. Again, it’s all kind of endearing to (ahem) “got no sense” of what their legacy actually is. Hopefully the book will help!
Geoff: There’s no justice in rock and roll Cam but there’s always idealism and hope. So even though I should know better after all these years I still cling to them both.
It’s about three decades too late to be fishing for cred by quoting Marshall McLuhen, right?
Nevertheless, his “medium is the message” concept continues to ring true across all phases of society. And in the case of popular music, the mediums kinda suck when you think about it.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Whether you get squirrelly over vinyl, CDs, 8-tracks or cassette tapes (we’ve been hearing about this supposedly-pending cassette renaissance for forever), the reality is physical manifestations of music have always been mere vehicles. Accordingly, the message is the message and the medium is just something you store on your BENNO.
Now, this is the stage in the essay where vinyl purists tell me how music sounds “warmer” when played on a turntable. That’s fine. Have your moment….
Ok. So speaking personally (and from the heart), the music lover in me has no issue whatsoever acknowledging the fact I haven’t purchased music in hard copy form for at least 3-4 years as of this writing. And really, I have no imminent plans to do so any time soon… or ever again.
Sure, I do miss trolling the stinky walkways of Sonic Boom or shoehorning visits to Amoeba Music during every California pit stop. However, progress is progress and I now revel in making iPod playlists and wondering where the (heck) all the MP3s are on my hard drive.
So I’m positioning this as a eulogy of sorts to every record, cassette and CD I ever owned. To effectively put bookends on an era lasting (ballpark) from 1984 to 2009, here are my best recollections as to my first and last albums in each medium and some self-inflicted nostalgia with regards to the ownership of each.
First vinyl record: Van Halen – “Jump” 7″
Purchase year and retailer: 1984, A&A Records at The Shops on Steeles and 404 (ne: Markham Place)
My family did enjoy deep cuts from Sandra Beech and Sharon, Lois & Bram back in the day (note: the former’s performance at German Mills Co-op Nursery School Play Day 1983 was worthy of an At Budokan-type box set) but I will always “Jump” as the first piece of recorded adult music I ever owned. Which is ironic since the lyrics to “Jump” are pretty juvenile (especially the “Go ahead jump/Might as well jump” part). More background: my sister was heavily into Cyndi Lauper at the time and requested a 7″ of the noted women empowerment anthem “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. As a means of keeping the peace for my folks, I was able to choose a record as well and opted for “Jump” for some reason. A curious choice because while I thought the tune was completely OK and was fairly impressed with David Lee Roth’s dexterity in its video, I don’t really remember being completely in love with the song. In hindsight, I perhaps should have opted for the Cars’ “You Might Think” although in fairness, that probably would’ve been largely based on the fact that Ric Ocasek turned into a lipstick during the video.
Last vinyl owned: Talking Heads – More Songs about Buildings and Food
Purchase year and retailer: 1999, Cheapies in downtown Hamilton
The vinyl resurgence hadn’t quite kicked into full force in the late 1990s and thusly, you could still get a ton of nicked-up old records for next to nothing during this time. I really wanted to own the song “Artists Only” so I picked up this album for less than $1, even though I didn’t own a record player. Years later, I splurged on the CD and gave this vinyl version to my friend Mike although I seem to remember this record and Teenage Head’s self-titled debut sitting in my office for at least a year. Beside some office supplies.
First cassette: Rick Astley – Whenever You Need Somebody
Purchase year and retailer: 1988, Columbia Record and Tape Club
I’m going to write a full essay or two about record and tape clubs someday. They were kind of ubiquitous at the time and no doubt were responsible for a bulk of the Spin Doctors’ records sold, in general terms. The 12-for-a-penny deal was tantalizing although obviously a bit of a scam that preyed upon the lazy and dim-witted, since you were on the hook to buy 8-12 more albums (at wildly inflated prices) over the next year. Letting your kids enter a record club was somewhat comparable to letting your kids own a pet: they would promise to do the legwork but ultimately, you’d end up with a whole lot of dog crap. Case in the point: the unexpected comedy of my Dad unsuspectingly receiving a cassette of Robert Palmer’s Heavy Nova on cassette plus a bill for $18.43. Oops! Me and my sister shared a club membership in 1988. Because she was a year and a half older, she got to choose all the cool records: Def Leppard’s Hysteria, INXS’ Kick, U2’s The Joshua Tree, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, etc. From what I recall, I chose such gems as Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life (was this album about drugs BTW?!?), Steve Winwood’s Roll With It (could you imagine a 10-year old listening to this in 2013?!?… different times) plus Rick Astley’s blue-eyed soul masterstroke Whenever You Need Somebody. Not sure why I didn’t get Chicago 19 as one of my choices, as I quite enjoyed the power ballad “Look Away”. I still do, actually.
Last cassette owned: The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy
Purchase year and retailer: 1998, Cheapies in downtown Hamilton
As mentioned, Cheapies had a ton of cheap vinyl and it also had a bin (some would call it a garbage can) full of orphaned cassette tapes that were missing their liner notes, cases or both. These retailed from anywhere between $0.10 and $0.50 although I bet if you asked REALLY nicely, you probably could’ve had them for free. I managed to fish the incredible debut from the Jesus and Mary Chain out of this rubbish pile and to this day, it remains in my Top 10 albums of all-time True story: I once listened to this cassette on a speeding motorboat. Please email me for the extended version of THAT extended version of that exciting story.
First CD: Sonic Youth – Washing Machine
Purchase year and retailer: 1995, Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street, downtown Toronto
I was fairly late to the CD game but I did eventually get a five-disc changer in advance of Sonic Youth’s 1995 show at the Warehouse in Toronto. I purchased Washing Machine alongside Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral (fairly cool) and Sponge’s Rotting Piñata (uncool) to christen the device. The album was pretty solid and the concert was great. Helium opened, much moshing ensued and me and my buddies chatted briefly with Brendan Canning (then of hHead, later of Broken Social Scene).
Last CD: The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir – Shyfolk
Purchase year and retailer: 2009, eBay
Early 1990s CanCon indie is a weird black hole in the Internet. Some cool YouTube videos have surfaced but there is a ton of cool music from that era that now seems wildly obscure considering it was fairly popular at the time. Ergo, the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. These guys’ good-to-great albums lapsed out-of-print rather quickly so their music is a bit challenging to track down in hard copy form. I’ve managed to acquire three of these (1992’s Superior Cackling Hen, 1995’s Shyfolk and 2000’s best-of/rarities set 1985-1995). Shyfolk was the last of the three I purchased, on eBay for around $4.95 and quite possibly the last piece of physical music I ever own. Bye.