Saturday, July 24, 2010

Feeling Guilty

There's so much stuff going on lately, it's all running interference in my brain making my memories elusive and uncooperative. I have a ridiculous amount of posts started over the last couple of months, just waiting for details to be filled in. They're staring back at me making me feel guilty.

But...it's Mick Karn's birthday today and a good reminder that if you haven't yet donated to his appeal, please consider doing so. Or, if you have donated, maybe send a little more his way if you can. You can also support him by buying his music, his book, Steve Jansen's photos, or taking part in various fund-raising initiatives.


Hopefully I'll have some more posts up shortly - working on the Waterboys, the Church, the Alarm and lots of others.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Regrets, I've Had A Few

How many things in life have you seriously regretted, wishing there was some magical way to go back and change events?

I don't have many (really what's the point?), but I have two related to music.

The first I've already mentioned. I lost my large scrapbook of tickets, passes, music mag clippings, photos etc. during a move. Why wasn't I more careful? I don't really know what happened, I just know that I don't have it anymore. I assume it got tossed out by accident (here's a tip, don't pack valuable stuff in black garbage bags). Probably by me - I certainly don't blame anyone else. The photos are what I miss the most.


The second is entirely my fault. I threw out my records. Yes, that wasn't a typo. I threw them out in a moment of insanity. I had 100s of records. Some ultra rare, collectable, autographed, the majority imported, you name it.

I had been lugging them from move to move over a span of 10 years - the whole time I had no turntable to play them on. They gathered dust lined up against a wall, sometimes used as a shelf, eventually forgotten about.

I had just finished the first year of my extremely unsatisfying graduate degree, had a full-time, stressful hospital admin job to pay for it, exams, essays, stressing about what the hell I was supposed to do about my future when I hated my degree so much. Then came the panic attacks. Seriously debilitating, I had to be off work, I had to hand essays in late, I eventually had to go on medication. And on top of all that I had to move when I didn't want to.

I looked at the stacks and stacks of records that I hadn't been able to play for a decade with some indifference...I was going through a "don't give a shit about music" phase in the mid 90s - bored stiff with most of what was out there and, for a good three years, too exhausted from working and going to university to even care. The memories of all those great concerts and bands never surfaced in time to stop me from doing the deed.

So on July 1, 1997 I made several trips down to the garbage room and put the records near the bin in case anyone came across them and wanted them before they were tossed in the dumpster by the maintenance guy. My roommate's boyfriend at the time thought I was nuts (well, yes I was) and took my Led Zeppelin albums. The stress of the move meant I didn't give it a second thought.

I remember the moment when, after I finally got myself and my stuff settled and out of boxes, I was standing in the middle of the room feeling such overwhelmingly deep and utter regret for throwing those albums out that I just started to cry. What had I done? Why?

I thought of all those 45s, 12" and albums and how the majority meant so much to me - I worked such shitty jobs to feed my music habit (records and concerts). Most of the bands I loved were from the UK, which invariably meant imported records. I made weekly trips to the Record Peddlar on Queen Street East, thumbing through the stacks and trying to control my excitement when I found what I was looking for. Or browsing just to see what was new. I often found out about a band just by taking a chance and buying a record soley based on the cover or by chatting with the staff. I was rarely disappointed.

I loved the smell and feel of a brand new record. I wouldn't wait til I got home, I'd peel off the wrapping and read the liner notes on the long bus ride home. When I got home I'd put the headphones on, shut my eyes and just take it all in. I was fairly antisocial, listening to albums on the headphones was a way for me to escape and shut others out to some degree. I could daydream and lose myself in the music. I'm still like that. Listening to my most favourite music has always been a very personal act for me.

I spent a lot of money on imports and rarities (I get ill thinking how much some of them would be worth today). I also had a few autographed albums. I didn't even think of those when I threw the records out. What a low point standing in the middle of that room.

Every July 1 the date reminds me of that stupid act that only took a few minutes but the effects have lasted so long. I know the records are just objects but I suppose they symbolize such great times in my life, ones that were relatively carefree and happy. What I wouldn't give to be able to pull out one now and then and just look at it, relive some good memories and - because, of course, now you can get a turntable easily - play them again.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Massive Attack - Saturday Come Slow

I came across a short film by Massive Attack and wanted to share. On July 4th of all days. Ironic.


Massive Attack promo film raising awareness of Reprieve's zero dB - against music torture campaign. To support the cause visit http://www.zerodb.org/ or http://www.reprieve.org.uk

Directed by Adam And Olly and filmed in Cambridge University's anechoic chamber.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Got the Chills Listening to the Chills

I hate tapes. The quality is terrible and my ancient tape player speeds up and slows down on a whim so I don't listen to them very much at all. But I have a lot of tapes that I can't find on CD or MP3. Some obscure stuff, some mixes that people have made for me, some interviews we did with bands, some recordings I made of concerts (bootlegger? - who me?) and when it comes down to it, I'm not too keen on paying two or three times for the same album. I forget about the tapes because they're all boxed up and stored away.

Today I had to find something and as I was fumbling in the dark, down came the box of tapes all over the floor. Cursing, I started picking them up then noticed a few gems that made my heart beat quicker just because I loved them so much. Funny how sometimes you can listen to an album or a band so much and then almost forget about them years later. One of the tapes was Submarine Bells by The Chills from New Zealand.


I stuck the tape in the player then realized this was one of those albums I was just going to have to buy again, so I did. I love the album in general, but a couple of tracks stand out for me:  Don't Be Memory, and my favourite track, the gorgeous Effloresce and Deliquesce. I couldn't find it anywhere so I stuck it up on Youtube:


I have my long lost friend Jill to thank for turning me on to the Chills. She sent me a tape of Kaleidescope World back in the mid 80s. I found a couple of the tracks on Youtube, including the title track:


and one of my favourite songs from them, Pink Frost:


I only managed to see them live once, at Lee's Palace in Toronto in April 1990, and they were excellent. I'm going to listen to the whole of Submarine Bells now while I catch up on what the band's been doing for the last 20 years. I should dig through my tapes more often.

Monday, June 28, 2010

More on Mick Karn

So, I don't mean to turn this into a Mick Karn blog (not like that would be a bad thing) but his illness has made me quite sad. Over the past few months I've become re-acquainted with Japan and oddly enough it just doesn't seem like time has gone by. I've explored past and current solo efforts from all members that I never heard the first time around; some great and some not so great. I read Mick's autobiography - Japan and Self Existence - very well written, often funny, insightful, sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes sad, never self-pitying, and certainly eye-opening to the unfairness of the music industry. That such a talented person, who's contributed SO much to music, is basically eking out a living is patently unfair. The book is a must read for any Japan fan, or any fan of music for that matter (hint: click the link and buy it).

Steve Jansen has generously offered to donate all proceeds from the sale of his photos to help Mick. I've been eyeing the photos since I first saw them. Should I? Shouldn't I? In the end, the should I won out. I ordered three photos, two of Mick and one of Richard Barbieri (if you've read my post about Japan you'll know that was inevitable).



Steve has many, many excellent photos for sale. If you're a Japan fan, consider buying one or a few if you're able to. If you can't but still want to help, I'm sure any amount is appreciated and donations are still being accepted via Mick's website. Many of Mick's friends and fans are organizing events, so there are plenty of opportunities to help out. At the very least leave a message of support on his website.

While you're on Mick's website, pick up some of his music. I've been enjoying The Concrete Twin and Love's Glove.

Mick contributed to this banging track (Knights of the Opium Moon) by Furiku. Check it out, then buy a copy (links on the Furiku website).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mick Karn

I'm so very sad about this news. I've copied information from his website if anyone is interested in helping out. I will always treasure my memories of Mick.

MICK KARN APPEAL - Posted 4th June 2010

With great sadness we regret to inform you that Mick has recently been diagnosed with advanced stages of cancer. Mick is currently in a positive mood and undergoing further tests and treatment. His family and friends are close with him, supporting him in practical ways, and surrounding him with their love, friendship and care.

Mick has been struggling financially for some considerable time now and we are hoping that this appeal may help to raise funds for any necessary treatment and perhaps go some way towards providing a small degree of financial support whilst Mick's immediate family provide the care and comfort we would all wish for him. We are hoping that his friends, fans and musical colleagues will, over the coming months, offer any support they feel capable of giving. Quite aside from the sheer brunt of daunting medically-related costs, Mick's clear and major concern is for the security and well being of his wife and young son.

If you would like to make a donation whether as an individual or as a group, you can do so via the paypal link below which has been set up for this sole and express purpose. Any support you are able to give, no matter how small, could make a difference in helping Mick cope during this difficult period. His friends will be looking at a variety of ways to raise funds.

If you would simply like to leave your kind messages of support for Mick, please do so, here: Messages

We will keep you all updated as often as we can.

Please do note that news is released with Mick's full approval.

http://www.mickkarn.net/

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dublin 1985

So I was going to write about something else, but then I was whiling away a rainy day listening to some Hothouse Flowers and checking out some old videos. I was transported back 25 years ago to Dublin 1985, a trip my cousin and I took primarily to see U2 at Croke Park. We'd been travelling all over the northeast and some of the midwest US to see U2 over 1984/1985 and with Live Aid and a huge show at Croke Park coming up, we were determined to get over there to see the shows. What started off as a trip to see U2, really became so much more and cemented for me my longtime love of Ireland and Irish people.


After all this time I can still remember the excitement and anticipation of leaving for our trip. We were going for a month, had almost no money (but I had a secret weapon, a credit card) and were going to hook up with some English U2 fans from Brighton (Jo and Lynne) who we met on the US tour. The idea was to see U2 at Croke Park but both of us wanted to somehow get to the Live Aid show in London as well, and if possible to see U2 in Rotterdam with Jo and Lynne. Of course things don't always work out like you plan.

We landed in Glasgow and took the train to Stranraer for the ferry crossing to Belfast. I can't really remember why we chose that route instead of going straight to Dublin, but it was probably cheaper. We must have been a sight on the train...I had hair teased to the heavens a la Eddie from the Alarm (who I had the hots for), a suede fringe jacket, and boots with one flapping sole. My cousin had equally teased hair and got more than one comment about her electric, vivid blue eye shadow. If we'd only had a camera back then! The only visual I have from those days is an old passport photo. The laughs we must have gotten once we passed the checkpoints! God how I miss those days...


Well doesn't technology suck sometimes? I was pretty much finished this posting, spent ages on it and with one odd hiccup lost everything past the paragraph above. Now I have to try and remember what I wrote. Grrr...

Anyway...Belfast in 1985 was not a cheery place. I don't remember ever feeling unsafe, but I do remember feeling unsettled. Despite a sunny day everything seemed bleak and grey. We spent the night there and got the train down to Dublin. My cousin reminded me of the razor wire along the train line; the checkpoints were disconcerting, with soldiers and guns reminding us where we were. I've been back to Belfast and the north and have seen some spectacular places but I'm not overly fond of Belfast. To be fair I haven't been back since 1988, I'm sure it's changed incredibly.

In Dublin, we stayed at Isaac's hostel by the Custom House. At the time it was pretty much a dump, packed to the rafters with no doubt other U2 fans coming in for the concert. I vividly remember the Germans walking around naked, the awful showers and toilets, and the totally uncomfortable beds (I swear some had STRAW in them). The whole hostel experience doesn't appeal to me, sharing rooms with a dozen other people. I remember one girl yelling in her sleep "hilfe! hilfe!" (help, in German). I'm pretty sure she got either my cousin's or mine foot up her ass (they were bunkbeds, I can't remember who she was above). One of us shut her up.

I think the Croke Park gig was the day after we got to Dublin. I remember a long walk from the hostel, and streams of excited people the closer we got to the venue. Along with U2 there was the Alarm, Squeeze, In Tua Nua and REM. I can't remember offhand what other bands, if any, there were. It was an amazing concert in part because it was on U2's home turf. The fans were over the top, the opening acts were great (except REM who I hate) and U2 was excellent. To be honest, I don't remember seeing a crappy U2 gig, although I do remember tiring of the stadium shows in general at the end.

I found this video on youtube, supposed to be from the Croke Park gig, and complete with close up of that odd, endearing thing Bono would always do, rocking back and forth on his toes lol:


After the concert our plan was to meet up with Jo and Lynne in England and try to get tickets for Live Aid and to possibly go to Rotterdam; however my cousin's passport was stolen by some wanker at the hostel so we ended up on the horrendous ferry and bus trek to London then going to the embassy to request a new one. We were in London for a grand total of a day. We didn't get to do much except go to Mike Scott's flat to say hello (except he wasn't there so we left a note instead, after snooping around and looking in the windows...sorry Mike!). We headed down to Brighton to stay with Jo but since we had to wait for the replacement passport to be processed Jo and Lynne went off to Rotterdam and left us behind. I think that's when I started to hate them lol. We spent a few days in Brighton but staying with Jo's family without Jo there was awkward and when we knew there was no way we'd get Live Aid tickets we were pretty dejected and just wanted to get back to Dublin, which we finally did after picking up the new passport. The trip back was a lot nicer - we went through Wales and I remember a lot of beautiful scenary. The ferry was horrible as usual.

I was totally in love with Dublin. From the minute we got back there I was so happy again, it felt like I was home. We walked everywhere, exploring places off the beaten track, around the docklands, the canals, but also more touristy areas like Grafton Street, Merrion Square, Trinity College and so many other places. The place was buzzing with so much youth and creativity. On Grafton Street we came across The Incomparable Benzini Brothers - basically Liam and Fiachna from the Hothouse Flowers. They were so fun and we went back often to try and catch them performing. I'm pretty sure Peter and Jerry were busking with them too, at least they were with us when we all went for pints afterwards. I wish I had photos from that trip (no camera) - nowadays we can take photos of anything and everything so easily. I'd love to see some photos of them busking, or of us all just hanging out. There are some later busking videos on youtube (nice one of them doing Hallelujah in Bristol) but I would love to see some early ones.

You couldn't help but love those guys, I will always remember them fondly. They were most definitely a highlight of that trip. We saw them as Hothouse Flowers a few times since then, but I haven't seen them lately. A few years ago I saw Fiachna on tv with Bob Blumer who was doing the "Guinness Diet" - try can catch it if you can, it was a good laugh.


Some random things I remember:
  • Cruising around the city like a couple of prats looking for places in U2's Pride video, with my cousin jumping off the stage like Bono
  • I couldn't believe how "white" Dublin was. Coming from multicultural Toronto it was a bit of a culture shock. We finally saw one black guy and a couple of chinese people
  • Ordering a full Irish in a cafe and having it come with black and white pudding (look it up). We were both "WTF is this stuff" and became adept at hiding it in our napkins and lying about how good it was. I became a vegetarian a few months after our trip. The pudding was definitely nasty and probably contributed to my decision
  • Seeing horses still pulling carts in the middle of a really busy street
  • Going back often to some odd little pancake house and eating loads of really tasty crepes
  • The smell of the Liffey and all the diesel
  • The Ha'penny Bridge
  • A lot of alarms going off
  • The Smarties bus



  • Somehow getting out to Howth, walking the whole perimeter and coming across a dog who wanted to follow us home. Hitching a ride back with some cute guy who thankfully wasn't an axe murderer
Eventually it was time to go home. I had the time of my life on that trip and didn't want it to end. Before I left I put an ad in the Hot Press classifieds looking for penpals to keep in touch (oh those prehistoric times) and made two great friends who I cherished and now miss - Nessa, who passed away and Charlie, who I lost touch with over something stupid. I've been back many times and will be back many more; no matter how much it changes I'll always love Dublin.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Young, Naive and Selfish

Aren't you glad that most people grow up and stop being selfish assholes? It's easy to be a jerk when you're young because you're immature and think that nothing bad's going to happen. So you're flippant and sometimes cruel. At least I was. I didn't really mean to be, it was more a reflection of my naivet├ę and insecurities.

I met Colleen at some concert - I don't remember which one but I remember it was at the Concert Hall, and probably in 1982. Colleen was into Simple Minds like I was into U2. I was happy enough to meet someone who liked almost the same bands I did and it was a nice change to hang out at a show with someone instead of always going on my own.

Colleen was instrumental in helping me start a fanzine.  Fanzines were all over the place in Toronto in the late 70s and early 80s but they were mostly punk-based and didn't reflect the bands we liked. So in early 1983 a few of us (myself, Colleen, my cousin, Anna from my high school,Colleen's friend Leta) decided to put one together. We called it "Terminal Echo" for some bizarre reason. I was at my cousin's the other day and miraculously she had a copy of the first issue. It's pretty embarrassing in a funny way, but we put out quite a few issues and they really got quite good at the end. We would bring copies down to the Peddlar, Records on Wheels, This Ain't the Rosedale Library and a few other places and they'd always sell out.


We (Colleen, myself and my cousin) were always trying to meet bands, either hanging around backstage doors, the Westbury or the Hampton Court Hotel on Jarvis. Bands invariably stayed at one of the two. We'd be on the prowl to say hello, get an autograph, and if we were lucky, hang out for a while. Sometimes we'd stalk the hallways - one of the funniest (probably not for him) was us knocking on Howard Devoto's door and him yelling out in a ticked off drawl, "I'm in the baaaaahth" - I remember running down the hall pissing ourselves laughing (small things amuse small brains).

Colleen was in heaven when we got Charlie Burchill from Simple Minds to sit down and talk to us. They played two shows at Massey Hall - May 9 and 10, 1983. The interview is laughable really, but I remember him being so friendly and approachable and when we weren't doing the interview we were all just hanging out in the courtyard chatting away.



Over the next year things started to change in the friendship; I'm not really sure why at the time. I remember being irritated a lot, was it because my cousin and I were going to more shows and hanging out, and since we were closer we didn't want "outsiders"? I remember a sense of wanting bands to myself (how stupid is that lol!). I thought of this post because I was looking for something and found a letter from Colleen apologizing for us falling out. She had nothing to apologize for, I was the asshole.

See...Colleen had cancer. I look back and realize how incredibly naive I was. I knew something was going on because at one point she had terrible breath and her stomach started protruding...then she found out she had stomach cancer. To be fair I don't think she told me how serious things were in the beginning, and me being the selfish bitch that I was, I just wanted to go to concerts and hang out with bands and do my thing. If she didn't make a big deal out of it, then I wasn't going to.

During the spring/summer of 1984 she had chemo and lost her hair (she joked she would look like her idol Annie Lennox when her hair grew back in) but she managed to come out to a show now and then, especially if it was a band she loved. I think our falling out came about because she got preferential treatment at some shows, and she was also pushy - I remember she basically crashed an interview we were doing with Aztec Camera (how inconsequential it all seems now). I was angry with her and let her know it. Looking back, she must have known how bad things were going for her and she was just seizing every moment she could.

We must have made up as friends. I remember going to visit her in the hospital later on, but honestly I really thought she would just get better. My cousin and I went to see U2 in Ottawa on March 30, 1985. When we crawled into bed the next morning my mom came in and told us that Colleen had died the previous night. I was stunned. I was also ashamed for being so selfish and uncaring. We went to the funeral, but in typical selfish bitch fashion we were down in New Jersey on April 12 to see U2 for string of dates in the US.

I often think of Colleen and how I would like to go back and change things, but I can't. Here's a photo of her with the Icicle Works, around July 1984, after she'd had her chemo.


R.I.P. Colleen. Hard to believe it's been 25 years last month.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

There's More to Modern English than I Melt with You

A little more anyway.

Have you ever hated a song so much you have an instant, visceral reaction on hearing the chorus or the first few chords?

Even worse is when that hated song is from a band you really liked. Take U2. I love U2. It's been a long love affair and they'll have to become axe murderers or nazis for me to dislike them. But I HATE Where the Streets Have No Name. I have done ever since I first heard it back in 1987. The Joshua Tree is a great album. That's not a great song. Don't ask me why I hate it so much, I just do. As for Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses? I hate that one the most, it's in a league of its own.


Another song I can't stand is I Melt With You by Modern English. On hearing the chorus (almost always in some crappy commercial) I grit my teeth, tense up, make a fist and hiss "Shit, I hate this song so much"...doesn't matter that there's no one around to say it to. I can't help it, it's automatic now.

I Melt With You is a constant on TV commercials and has been bastardized so much it's likely forever ruined. I heard it again today for some shitty chocolate commercial (probably Hershey's, makers of garbage chocolate). An exceptionally hideous version it was too...so bad it inspired this post.

I first heard Modern English in 1980 when they released the excellent Gathering Dust EP (still one of my most fave Modern English songs ever). Their first album Mesh and Lace sounds dated to me and I don't listen to it often, but their second, After the Snow, is an 80s masterpiece and one of my favourites.


I didn't always hate I Melt With You (it does have lovely jangly guitars in the beginning) but it was my least favourite song on the album...in some ways it doesn't even fit. After the Snow is a gorgeous album (just listen to Dawn Chorus) - that it's near impossible to find links to most of the other songs is a indication of it falling through the cracks of music history, but you can preview the album and see for yourself how good it is (or remind yourself that you used to love it and should dig it out again). The version available now has a bunch of extras on it, but the album proper is the first eight songs, including the excellent Someone's Calling:


Looking at all the other Modern English releases, After the Snow does definitely seem to be an anomaly. I mean let's get real here, they've put out a lot of BAD music. I don't know how they managed to put out Gathering Dust and After the Snow and yet go on to produce such cringingly horrible songs like Hands Across the Sea. Shudder. I've tried skimming through later releases looking for a spark of the old band, but really the songs just made me sad. I hope I didn't miss some newer masterpiece. I'd love to be proven wrong.

I Melt With You somehow ended up in the movie Valley Girl and got a huge amount of airplay in the States. They came at some point in 1983...I can't find the exact date or even where they played, but my cousin and I would've gone to see them. We most definitely tracked them down to get an interview for our fanzine (that's another post) because we ended up hanging out with Robbie Grey and Mick Conroy on the patio of the old Westbury on Yonge Street. I remember absolutely nothing about the concert, but I do remember they were really nice guys and that we spent an enjoyable afternoon in the sun chatting away.


When Modern English were good, they were REALLY good. But when they were bad...well...let's just say I sure hope that they're at least making a lot of money off I Melt With You. Perhaps if it ever stops being used in crappy commercials I might give it a chance again.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Japan in Toronto, 1979

I loved Japan more than any other group in 1978/79 and into 1980. I had posters all over my walls, tour stuff and books imported from Japan (the country), cuttings from the English music magazines, photos, imported albums, 12" special editions of singles etc., you name it - I had it. I’ll admit straight up though that the love started waning when Gentlemen Take Polaroids was released. I was fairly disappointed, and although Japan made some of my favourite music, by then it was clear they were moving in a direction that just wasn’t for me. Maybe it's time to go back and revisit - I did like some of those later songs (Nightporter and Swing).

Although they seem to distance themselves from their first two albums, I love the mix of funky bass and drum heavy songs with the more moody and dark pieces. Adolescent Sex still sounds good after all this time, from the opening track Transmission to Television and of course, the title track. Can't say that about all the music I liked back then. It's easy to be critical of the early stuff but I listen to the records and enjoy them for what they are.


Their second album, Obscure Alternatives, is definitely a more musically mature album. I remember playing it endlessly, especially Rhodesia, Obscure Alternatives, Suburban Berlin, The Tenant and Sometimes I Feel So Low. I used to love listening to albums in the dark, nice and loud with headphones (still do) and Obscure Alternatives was perfect for that.


I really liked Life in Tokyo. They probably distance themselves from this song too but I think it still sounds awesome today.


Japan played two gigs in Toronto on November 24, 1979 at Ryerson Theatre. I’m not sure why they only played Toronto and no other North American dates but they were extremely popular here, thanks in part to a lot of airplay on CFNY. Luckily for us they did because the Toronto gigs were their last North American shows and the only shows they ever played in Toronto.

I’m the first to admit I have a lot of holes in my memories of Japan. I remember the main things, but not so much the details. Since I no longer have my tickets and passes, I’ve been looking online for help with dates. I’m amazed that so far I’ve found next to nothing about them being in Toronto in 1979 (that might just be down to my crappy searching skills). However, there are some helpful sites, one (Nightporter.co.uk) even has scans of concert reviews and a ticket stub ($9.50 - what a bargain!).

I remember four main things about Japan: lining up all night to get one of 30 double passes to a party with them at the Domino Club on Isabella Street, meeting Mick Karn in a room at the Royal York Hotel, going to the party and going to the two concerts. All of that had to have happened in one week; god only knows how much school I missed.

The House of Lords on Yonge Street ran a promotion giving out concert tickets and party passes – I already had tickets but I really wanted the passes so I convinced Marta (my best friend at the time) to go with me the night before and line up. I have to laugh because we were only 15 at the time – the shit we used to get away with (harmless fun really). I told my parents I was going to Marta’s house for the weekend and she told hers she was going to mine. We were third or fourth in line and had to get a haircut to get the tickets/passes (knowing me I needed one). I ended up with two tickets and a double pass for the party (I must have given the tickets away). A few of us also ended up getting our photo taken by a newspaper photographer who happened to come across us in line. I spent a whole night searching the online archives of the Toronto Star and actually found the photo. The quality is terrible but that’s me sitting in the middle.


Personally I didn’t even think they’d publish it, but sure enough they did and my mom saw it the next day in the Sunday paper. I thought the gig was up for me but my parents were cool, or I was a good manipulator...maybe a little of both. I was never told I couldn’t go to the concerts (I’m pretty sure they didn’t know about the party though hahaha, I was very definitely under age).

I went to the party with Marta – I remember she loved Elvis more than anything. She probably had no clue who Japan were, she was just being a friend and keeping me company. We were at her house slapping on mounds of makeup (as if the doorman was an idiot and couldn’t tell we were 15). We were no doubt armed with fake ID and praying the whole way on the subway that we’d get in. I still remember those nervous few moments at the doors of various clubs trying to get into a show underage...I worried for nothing really since I got into every show except one (Duran Duran at the El Mocambo and that was hardly a tragedy). Anyway, my lousy memory means I don’t remember a whole lot about the party beyond having a great time. I had photos that we'd taken (now lost, sob) – in one I distinctly remember Marta sitting beside David Sylvian smiling her beautiful smile (she was gorgeous) and someone who looked a whole lot like Mark Holmes (later with Platinum Blonde) sitting opposite. I have glimpses of other photos in my mind. Sadly that’s all I have left, I lost touch with Marta long ago. It would be interesting to hear if she remembers anything and if so what. I have no idea how I’d find her again. [Just an update...I DID find her on facebook. So excited!!]


Anyway, I also somehow linked up with a couple of sisters, Mary and Dorothy. I didn’t go to school with them and they lived in a different part of Scarborough than I did...I wonder if I met them at the Peddlar or maybe even a gig, though our friendship didn’t extend past Japan. I lost touch with them not too long after the concerts. A friend or relative of theirs dyed my hair purple for me, not all over just at the back a la Steve Jansen and David Sylvian. I know that I met Mick Karn with them. How we managed to meet him in a room at the Royal York Hotel escapes my memory, I just remember being there and it wasn't me that set it up. I have a very vague feeling that perhaps they were related to him or something, though I know he’s from Cyprus and they were Macedonian (I think?). Who knows? I don’t remember details beyond thinking he was very nice and looked really, really hot. He gave Richard Barbieri a run for the money in the crush department. Hey, I was 15, give me a break ;)

From a great set of photos from the Toronto concert on
jlacpo's Flickr photostream.

Marta didn’t go to the gigs but Mary and Dorothy did. To be honest, I remember the shows being exciting because it was Japan and I loved them, but also that they weren’t awesome. We got to hear all the new songs from Quiet Life, but I think because of that I missed out hearing a lot of my favourites from the first two albums and that would have been a slight letdown for me. There are some reviews posted on the Nightporter site – I most definitely wouldn’t be as harsh as they were ("nameless and faceless in 15 years"). It didn't matter, I loved them anyway and Quiet Life would turn into my favourite Japan album.

I found this photo on Flickr a while ago and I am POSITIVE I had a copy.


I asked the person where they got it from but they weren't at liberty to give me the name of the girl who had given it to them. In between shows Mary, Dorothy and I were prowling around the hallways of Ryerson looking for the band and met up with Richard. I’m sure this is where that photo was taken. I mean look at the lockers - I just remember this image so well (I had a crush remember?).

Little did I know it, but releases after Quiet Life marked the beginning of the end of Japan for me. I just had a memory creep up on me that I had this album signed, I can visualize it clearly. We must have gotten advance copies or it was released before the concerts in November (the discographies online make it seem like it was released in December...I think it was earlier here). No matter, I can’t go back and look because I don’t have it anymore. I wore out Quiet Life on the record player, especially Fall in Love with Me and In Vogue. What a great album still all these years later.


When they released I Second that Emotion as a single I remember thinking WTF is this shit? If I’m honest I was starting to get really irritated with David Sylvian’s new look and vocal stylings (there are parts in the video that reminded me we used to call him The Joker). His voice was never my favourite thing about Japan and he just seemed more and more narcissistic with every release taking up all the cover space.

By Tin Drum I pretty much stopped listening to anything new by them. As happens, I got into other bands, finished school, started university, etc. Except sporadically, I never did keep up with what the band members were all doing separately and though my cousin told me about Porcupine Tree, I never really got into their stuff. I came across Mick Karn’s website, I think I’m most interested in what he’s doing. Check out his gallery, he’s got some stunning sculptures.

Here are the other members' websites:

Richard Barbieri: http://www.richardbarbieri.net/
Steve Jansen: http://www.stevejansen.com/ (some great photos)
David Sylvian: http://www.davidsylvian.com/
Rob Dean: Rob's now "a professional guide, writer and artist on the birds of Central America" in Costa Rica. Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4Em1wHn2og

I hope some Toronto Japan fans come across this posting, I would love to hear about what they remember.

Monday, April 5, 2010

R.I.P.

While I was writing down things about Japan, I was going off on a bunch of tangents, looking at different videos and websites. Somehow I ended up at Grant McLennan. I know I said the first post would be about Japan, but this seems more appropriate.


I can't believe Grant died almost four years ago. Although I was never a huge Go-Betweens fan, I did like them and I really liked the catchy 16 Lovers Lane album. Even more, I loved his work with Steve Kilbey when they were Jack Frost.


I don't think Grant McLennan was appreciated nearly enough. His solo work remains among my favourites even today - do yourself a favour and preview Horsebreaker Star, especially What Went Wrong, Coming Up For Air, I'll Call You Wild, Girl In A Beret and Horsebreaker Star.

Yesterday I was looking at more old videos and stumbled on Fad Gadget (Frank Tovey). It's funny - if you asked me to name my favourite bands from the early 80s I probably wouldn't have remembered to include Fad Gadget, but as soon as I saw the name I was so excited! I loved his wacky stuff...Ricky's Hand and Collapsing New People (with Einst├╝rzende Neubauten). Now there was someone ahead of his time. I googled Frank Tovey to see what he was up to lately, only to find out he died in 2002.

I clicked on more links, went off on a few more tangets and ended up finding out that Rowland S. Howard just died in December 2009. He was best known for being a member of the Birthday Party (Tracy Pew died in 1986) and Crime and the City Solution.

Clicking more links I found out that Jeffrey Lee Pierce (the Gun Club) died, so did Lux Interior of the Cramps.


I wasn't actively searching for dead rockstars. This got me thinking about all the musicians that I knew passed on. One of the ones I was saddest about was Nikki Sudden. Like a lot of acts I used to love I drifted away from listening to newer stuff (life gets in the way don't you know), but I will always love the work he did with Dave Kusworth (as the Jacobites). Their first two albums were on my CD player constantly at one point, almost to the exclusion of anything else. I see both albums are now available as an expanded edition of Robespierre's Velvet Basement. Worth checking out are Big Store, Where The Rivers End, She Never Believes, Ambulance Station and One More String of Pearls.

I started writing down the other people I know who died. It's a longer list than I would like to see and I'm sure I've missed a few.
  • Epic Soundtracks (Swell Maps, Crime and the City Solution; Nikki Sudden's brother)
  • Jeff Buckley
  • Billy MacKenzie (the Associates)
  • John McGeoch (Siouxie and the Banshees, PIL, Magazine)
  • Nigel Preston (the Cult)
  • Pete DeFreites (Echo and the Bunnymen)
  • Stuart Adamson (Big Country)
  • Paul Hester (Crowded House)
  • Joe Strummer
  • Eliott Smith
  • Joey Ramone
  • Dee Dee Ramone
  • Ian Dury
  • Stiv Bators
  • Alex Chilton (Box Tops, Big Star)

What a great amount of talent that's been silenced. Calls for a Nick Cave video.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Where The Hell Does Time Go Anyway?

Do you ever feel that 25 (hell, 30...THIRTY????!!!) years ago was just like yesterday? I've been feeling that a lot lately. It leaves me in a bit of a daze really, mostly unwilling to accept the reality of it.

A while ago I decided that I need to get rid of "stuff". One of the big jobs was to get all my CDs onto my laptop. I'm old enough that I bought a record on vinyl, then on tape, then on CD and some even on MP3 (some artists made a lot of money out of me. Then again, it's more likely the evil record companies made the money...).

Popular music has always mostly sucked and now it's even worse than ever. Do I want to hear another 14 year old whinging about something pointless? Nope. Last night I was moaning about how shitty it was to get "older" but how extremely lucky I feel I was to have lived through the frenzy and excitement of punk and new wave. Sure, there were some crap bands back then too (lots even) but there's very little of that freshness and pure exhilaration nowadays with all the constructed stars and their shit music for the masses. Of course there are some great bands now too...it's not all negative.

Ripping my CDs got me thinking about music and how much fun I had. Toronto was a fantastic place to be to experience alternative music in the late 70s/early 80s, mostly thanks to radio like CFNY...thank god for Dave Marsden-led CFNY where the DJs played whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted - who doesn't remember the punk mixed with classical? Who doesn't remember the seriously weird Toast by the Streetband (and a baby-faced Paul Young)? When CFNY started changing around 1983, CKLN and CBC late night (Neon, Brave New Waves) were my saviours. I have my sister to thank for turning me on to CFNY. Back when they broadcast out of a tiny house in Brampton (we even went all the way up there a few times to hang out).


I was pretty much an outsider growing up in Scarborough (AKA Scarberia) - most of the kids in my highschool were firmly into 70s bands like Rush, Triumph, Styx (shudder), Supertramp etc. But my sister and her friends were cool and started getting into the Sex Pistols and CFNY. Although I went to a few shows with her, I was mostly on my own, making the long and boring trip from Scarborough to downtown for concerts and weekly visits to the Record Peddlar to get the latest issues of NME, Melody Maker and other newspapers from the UK that cost the earth for me, but I devoured them from cover to cover. I paid for them by babysitting kids I hated. How's that for dedication? Then there was the cost of imported records. Did I mentioned how much I hated the kids? It was worth it though...Anyway, my sister drifted off to other things but later on my cousin and best friend became my partner in fun, and did we ever have fun. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was privileged to see some incredible concerts and meet a lot of bands. I hardly ever go to a concert anymore but by and in 1981 (a particular awesome year for concerts) I was probably seeing two shows a week at the Concert Hall, Larry's Hideaway, the Edge (Egertons), Ryerson Theatre etc. Didn't matter that I was underage! I used to have a scrapbook with all my tickets, backstage passes, photos, news clippings etc. but I "lost" that in a move 7 years ago. It truly gutted me to lose that collection, it was so special to me ( I get teary just thinking of it!). It also helped me to remember my experiences. I was thinking I should probably write some of my memories down before they fade into the past so why not share with others and hope they share their experiences back. And if no one reads this at least I've written it all down. There's probably no point in doing this chronologically, I might as well just post about whatever I remember at the time or based on whatever music I pull out.

I loved music early on, I remember being glued to the radio and listening to stuff like Sweet, the Babys, Al Stewart, T.Rex, Led Zeppelin (oooh shivers!) on some tinny, shitty AM radio.


Despite the lack of hi fidelity the airwaves still crackled with excitement for me. But the end of the 70s was starting to get pretty bleak music-wise (though I did get sucked into liking the odd disco song).

When I started listening to CFNY in 1978 I felt like I was being shaken from some sort of stupor...the stuff coming in over the airwaves was absolutely electric.


God, how I loved the Buzzcocks! So much amazing music pouring out of the radio...Ultravox! - the version fronted John Foxx - Ha! Ha! Ha! hasn't left my all time top 10 list since it came out. Magazine, Gang of Four, Ian Dury, Joy Division, Brian Eno, Tubeway Army, the Cure (pre Lovecats only for me), XTC, Squeeze, the Slits, the Stranglers (no one does crunchy, growling bass like J J Burnel), Sparks...the list is endless.


Even when I was younger, I always had an extreme bias towards bands from the UK but to be fair there were some great "local" bands. I still love Tired of Waking Up Tired by my favourite local band, the Diodes, but there was also Drastic Measures, Nash the Slash and ummm...yeah there must have been more. Ok, I hated most local bands.

1979 was the start of a lifelong love affair with U2, though nothing beats the earlier days. Was lucky to see them at Ryerson Theatre in 1981 and Massey Hall. Much preferred those shows to the stadiums.



However, I think the honour of the first band post needs to go to Japan, my most favourite band in the late 70s. Party at the Domino Club. Got to meet the band. Got to meet Mick Karn at the Royal York Hotel. Two shows at the Ryerson Theatre, November 1979. Huge crush on Richard Barbieri.


And the song that started it all...