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 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 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 ( 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:
Steve Jansen: (some great photos)
David Sylvian:
Rob Dean: Rob's now "a professional guide, writer and artist on the birds of Central America" in Costa Rica. Video:

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

Monday, April 5, 2010


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.