The following is my first piece of writing that I could possibly call journalism, or non-fiction. Since around 1975 I had been keeping notes about writing and observations about life in a series of volumes of books called “Nothing Books,” which were on sale at the time – hard cover books with blank pages inside for writing whatever you wanted – and after seeing this band, The Viletones, one of Toronto’s first punk bands, I went home on that no doubt February night of 1977 disgusted and suprised and decided to write an account of the evening.
Unfortunately, I did not see it through. It cuts off in the middle of the action, leaving me, in any case, wanting more. I had just turned 19, I had left high school to join the circus, had worked on TV, but university was still years away. The style is raw as anything, and my feel for language is as basic as it comes. It is very moralistic, too, as you can see from the first sentence. But that was something I had picked up on my recent discovery of George Bernard Shaw’s prefaces to his plays. Anyway, I think the descriptive powers show some promise:
Tonight I witnessed a manifestation of our corrupt society. The newest thing in pop music is punk rock, and tonight I attended a concert by Toronto’s own “Viletones.”
I went to the club where they were to play about two hours before the proposed showtime. I went into the side door and down the stairs into the room which is called The Colonial Underground. It’s a dirty room with room for about 200 people. There were only about 25 people there when I came in and they were mostly middle aged and blue collar workers. It is dimly lit and the walls are plastered and painted a very pallid green. The bar is at one end, the end by the entrance, and it is quite a large bar, for the size of the room.
There’s a stage along the wall on your right as you enter and the bar is on the left. The stage is about a foot off the ground and only about 12 feet wide and 6 feet deep, and there’s a hole in the middle of it that hasn’t been repaired. The owners of the bar can’t afford to repair it.
I asked a bartender what time the show was and he told me 9:00 o’clock. I left and returned at 8:30 and sat down by the stage, and ordered a draught. I then recognized a friend of a friend and went over to talk with him. [I then mention meeting some girls who were friends of friends and who told me they were setting up a punk band themselves, although only one of the four played an instrument.] The girls are dressed in very odd clothes, unstylish and unconventional. In fact, most of the girls in the room are dressed this same way. Most of the guys are also. It is a young college crowd. The band is late and so we talk about punk rock and just gab. The crowd is growing in size and in excitement.
A man in an old grey flannel suit with his pant legs tucked into high black leather boots climbs onto the stage and announces: “Ladies and gentlemen, “The Viletones.” The crowd yells and claps their hands, some shout out obscenities at the performers, others throw things at them. The performers yell back at them.
There are four members in the band. A drummer, a guitarist, a bass player and the lead singer. The lead singer, whose name is Steve Leckie, but he calls himself Nazi Dog, stands center stage, dressed in old jeans and in place of a shirt he has taped himself up in 2.5 inch electrical tape that encircles his abdomen right up to just beneath his arm pits, and there’s a piece on either side of his chest running down vertically. He has chains and a lock around his waist. He has sores all over his body, and bandages in a couple of places. He has short, scraggly hair and a sickly pallor to his skin. Behind him is the drummer. I can’t see his face because a speaker is in my way, but the drums are worn out completely. On his left is the bass player who is fairly neatly dressed in jeans and T-Shirt. The fact is that they are not ripped to shreds like the singer’s, so in comparison he is neat. The bassist looks a little more healthy than the singer and not so scared. On his right is the guitarist who is wearing jeans and a T-Shirt and sun glasses. He is not very healthy looking either. His hair is also very short.
The music begins, a heavy metal sound, fast, rhythmic, all instruments pumping out in overdrive. The singer falls to the ground and lies there motionless, then he starts to move his abdomen in time with the music. He puts more and more into it and then starts to moan, he jumps up and begins to yell into the mic, with his head face down looking at the stage. He’s not singing now, but yelling, releasing his energies and only glancing up at the audience every once in a while. He can’t look at them like a liar can’t look eye to eye at someone to whom he is lying. He stops singing and the music continues to grind. The audience is wide eyed and stimulated physically. The singer violently kicks over a cymbal, and then a microphone stand and then another, glancing up at the audience ever so rarely. He jumps down off the stage and rolls down in between two tables, appears to hit his face against a chair and then falls backwards onto the edge of the stage. The music continues to pump away, he lies half on and half off the stage, panting for a few seconds and then he gets up and spits on the floor by his feet and then wipes his mouth and goes back onto the stage. He begins to curse and swear at the audience, and the audience is loving it, some swearing back at him, some laughing. The song ends just as abruptly as it started. The audience roars in approval and he looks up at them.
He takes a glass of beer and guzzles the whole thing at once and then breaks the glass over the microphone stand. Someone yells something. He throws the broken glass out into the audience, and then the music begins again.
The beat is almost the same as the first time and just as powerful. Nazi Dog spits out into the audience and then begins to yell. He points a finger at someone and says something to the effect of, “You were a lousy fuck” and then something like “you break your wrists and and break your legs.” He points and stares and curses and then stops. He notices some guy in the audience and looks at him and says, “You look like a girl.”
Meanwhile, with the other members of the band, the bass player has fallen off the stage, the drum is keeping up that incredible flow of beats, and the guitarist is dancing about. There are a couple of guys running back and forth on and off the stage picking up broken glass and taping wires and setting up microphone stands. There are people sitting on the floor close to the stage, moving about furiously in time with the music and reacting to every gesture of the singer. There are lots of people rushing about with cameras attempting to photograph the singer who keeps attempting to kick the camera out of their hands.
[Unfortunately, I cut the story off there – thinking I couldn’t write. Here, however is an interesting side-tale. After publishing this on this blog, I heard back from an old girlfriend from the early 1980s. It turned out that she went with the girls I mention meeting here the following night, and she told me who they were, as I had forgotten. [She passed on this link of an interview with Leckie this month.] It turned out, then, that the woman I had been speaking to was Mickey Voss, and the all-girl band they started up was called The Curse, and it was indeed Toronto’s first all-girl punk band (the link to which I added later in the story above). They ended up opening for the Viletones – possibly on the very next night – and played to some success on the local scene with outrageous shows. I did not know at the time that Mickey was the sister of a guy I worked with in the circus! I did not know any of this because I left soon after for England and then Iran, in a trip that lasted nearly two years away from Canada.]