Monday, June 09, 2008

YouTube - womb13's Channel

John Here:

'80s Canadian Punk Rock Documentary

This documentary was originally broadcast on Much Music around 1990. (If you click on the text link it will take you to a page with all the chapters of the episode.) It features a lot of Canadian Punk bands like the Diodes, I Braineater, DOA, Viletones etc. and focuses on the years 1976 through the mid 1980s. I remember seeing it back when I was in my first year of university and putting some of my first bands together. I wasn't even in kindergarten yet in 1976, so these pioneers had a real mystique about them, and it was good to see the music finally getting the retrospective it deserved.

But I was already pretty damn disillusioned about punk rock at that point. I had watched one of my smartest friends turn into a bum on the street from doing too much glue and acid. The more politically minded punk rockers I knew were busy spray painting "Tories are Pig-Fuckers" on the walls of local community centers or pulling ill-fated bank heists for which they did hard time. The more aesthetically minded punks I knew had morphed into these miserable proto-hipsters, clutching their obscure '78s tightly to their chests and talking (only half-jokingly) about who had more 'punk points' for having gone to the right gig or hosted the right band when they came through on tour.

But it's just as easy for me to remember why I loved the scene. Like many kids, I had grown up finding my pop idols on television and on mainstream radio. And like many kids, I wanted to be up there on stage one day doing it myself. I bought an electric guitar, but the gulf still seemed unbridgeable. I'd go to see Tears for Fears or Platinum Blond or (later when I was angrier) Motley Crue or Iron Maiden at the Winnipeg Arena. They had multimillion dollar setups and were playing songs that were well beyond my level of technical skill. My guitar teacher told me that if I practiced my scales every day for many years I might be able to do the solo from Stairway to Heaven. It just seemed like more school.

Then I heard The Ramones and everything changed. Their albums were full of these great songs, and I could play along to them all. RIGHT NOW! If these guys had records out, then maybe it was possible for me too. Then I went to my first underground local show. The stage was only two feet high! The guitarist from the band walked RIGHT PAST ME when he was done his set. And he was selling his album at the back of the hall. Suddenly all of the carefully-cultivated untouchability that surrounded those airbrushed pop stars on TV seemed lame instead of cool. These guys down at the local club were the real deal. Within three months I had joined a band. Within a year I had formed my own band. And I was having all those teenage adventures that I wanted so badly - playing in bars under age, smoking dope, having sex.

But my affair with the punk rock scene was short-lived. One of the things that you hear several times from Henry Rollins, Jell-o Biafra & others in this doc is that while a lot of punk rock musicians were real innovators, a lot of the punk rock fans were conservative sheep who demanded rigid conformity to certain tempos, clothing styles and attitudes. I remember back in the day punk rock was sort of like Christianity in that it demanded you renounce all other forms of music as "sold out" or "commercial". You weren't supposed to like Death Sentence AND Prince. Thing is, Jell-o was listening to surf rock, Stompin' Tom Conners, Heino, trucker country, lounge music, bossa nova, and novelty comedy albums while he was writing punk rock. But a lot of his fans only wanted to listen to punk rock.

As I started to become able to play more diverse styles of music, I wanted to add them to the stuff I was writing. And I did. But then it wasn't punk rock any more, and my bands couldn't play the punk rock shows any more. And it was OK. But the truth of the matter is I probably never would have wound up playing music AT ALL - let alone for a living - if it hadn't been for those early Ramones albums and those early shows at the Chameleon Club and my old bandmates like Shaun Roemich and Cal Hamilton and Jeff Burrows. Or my old friend Chris Olson who introduced me to the albums and the clubs and to my first band. None of us had a clue back then, but we were all clueless together and somehow we bullshitted our way into the music scene.

And I think my early love for punk rock affected me in other ways as well. That confrontational attitude, that delight in offending the puritans, that insistence on living your life on your own terms and not in some way that was prescribed for you by your school or your church or your family? That has never left me. Even though the Wet Spots are in many ways easy listening, the lyrics owe as much to Jell-o as they do to Cole Porter. And that DIY approach where you just make your own career happen and don't wait for some suit to decide if you're marketable? The Wet Spots would have folded years ago without that. And (most important) that sense that there's a place for all us freaks to go when the straight world gets us down? That is something that The Wet Spots try to put out there into the world at every single show we do. In many ways I think it's what our fans respond to the most. But the Ramones said it first and said it best:

Gabba gabba,
We accept you, we accept you,
One of us!

2 comments:

C O said...

Well done, sir. You know, the Rollins quote about punks being more conservative than most fundamentalist Christians (or whatever he said---I'm watching the
video and getting to that part) always stuck with me as well...

wetspots said...

Seems like many scenes spring up free and open and ill-defined, then become more codefied as time goes on. But as they become more rigid, there will always be another wide-open scene to come in and make room for the freaks.