Here's a video of How Ken's song O BOY ended up sounding in the studio. From Sunshine World
JUne 1977, TORONTO
All the songs from Punk Haikus 6-10 are available as the free/by donation album
"See Me Smile" at Dream Tower Records.
This time, a couple of raw, 'instant' songs.
The first day Ken brought in O Boy, he played the opening riff, Brad and I looked at each other and instantly jumped in with our parts, the same parts we ended up using in the recording studio four months later. (As heard in the above video from the Sunshine World CD.) This version is the earliest recorded version we have, from June 15, 1977, about a week after Ken wrote it.
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Andy by himself looking for a song on the guitar. He found it, but then forgot about it, and it never entered the setlist.
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And here is Punk Haiku 11 The Scenics meet Toronto Supa-Promoters The Garys. Audio is recorded in the Scenics basement with The Garys and their friends over for a visit.
We phoned CFNY, Toronto's “alternative” FM station, and got the Scenics booked on their "Demo Show". So one green and steamy Sunday evening, Ken and I drove to Brampton, a town a half hour north of Toronto, not yet absorbed into the sprawl, for our first exposure to radio, and our first radio exposure.
We got there early, not leaving anything to chance, and strolled down Brampton's small town main street, gracious 1930’s facades of banks and farmers co-ops, now filled up with dollar stores and eat-and-runs in the early evening heat. Back in the car, and the drive to the station beyond the north end of town, smoking a large one on the way.
I had such a feeling of self-actualization. The Scenics universe was expanding. Any time I would anxiously start, wondering what we had to offer, I could relax and feel confident in our demo, nestled in my pocket. (This first Scenics demo made up just over half of the Scenics Sunshine World CD, released 32 years later in 2009. I guess we had to wait that long because there were no CDs in 1977.)
the cfny "little yellow house" pic courtesy of thespiritofradio.ca
Lee Eckley was our host. A young kid with shaggy blonde hair in a bowl cut, a bead necklace, wearing cut offs. Seemed kind of pre-occupied, but then, he was engineering as well as interviewing. I did notice that he never really looked at us, and that he would pause and flash the same smile just before he asked each question.
He began by playing “Do the Wait” and “See me Smile”. Then the interview began, and it became a precedent for any interview we ever did.
In improv theatre, there is an understood truth- “No Blocking”. If you are doing an improv with someone, and they say, for instance, “Let’s go get a burger”, and you say “No”, The flow of the scene stops dead. All movement is stopped. That is what's referred to as "blocking".
The same rule applies to interviews, (another form of improv theatre), but we didn’t understand this for a long time. In the few interviews we did, we always started out wary, skeptical of anything the interviewer said, reluctant to go with them.
Lee started off by smiling and saying “We’re talking tonight with the Scenics, Andy Meyers and Ken Badger, Thanks for coming by” at which point Ken inhaled loudly and a drawn out, sub-verbal “Yeaaahhhhh...” escaped. Lee jumped right back in and said “Talking earlier, You said you had more of a new wave sound." (That's how early this all is. It's from when "New Wave" meant something like Talking Heads, as opposed to straight-ahead punk. A year and a half later, "New Wave" meant something twerpy, something afraid to be punk.)
Lee continued "your sound seems to have different roots."
I ask “Then what” and Ken chortles. As Lee tries to continue this line of questioning Ken asserts, not once but twice, “I like calling it Rock and Roll” and I back him up on this.
Lee: we heard Keep Me Smile and Do the Wait- there was a large gap in that, what was that about?
Rather than explain that Do the Wait is the name of a dance, like do the Hully-Gully, or do the Twist, and that that pause is the silence where we are actually doing the wait, we just say “That is the wait.” Then Ken says “Instead of a long guitar solo we just decided to do nothing.” Then he says “No, it just happened that way” and I say “We had to retune- we had to stop and go backstage and retune and Lee says “You did?” I say “yeah, We go out of tune a lot.” Ken sums it all up clearly: We thought a break in the set-up like that, ending with the.. and coming back in but uh, while I agree in the back ground, “Yeah, yeah” and then Ken says “Anyway, that was “See me Smile”. (Not "Keep me Smile".)
Lee is a brave man and smiles and asks “How do you go about writing your lyrics? Is there anything in particular you are looking for?”
Ken: ahh Lyrics, I just want them to sound good, there’s nothing in particular, I just want them to- If i’m going to sing something I wanna... course I don’t nessecarily mean anything when I sing it. Of course I... I dunno, how do you go about writing lyrics, Andy?
Andy: People would rather hear lyrics than instrumentals, they expect a song to have lyrics, so we oblige.
Ken: definitely. My mother doesn’t like words to music, but then I run into a lot of people who do.. so...
Andy: we’re conforming to pressure to conform. Songs need Lyrics.
Around now we realize that we are so busy being jive that we are stomping on something that we actually do care about and Ken fesses up: "Actually lyrics are a major thing with us. We take great care."
For some reason, Lee wants to take us back into Samuel Beckett territory and asks: So you wouldn’t want to move on to instrumentals?
My chest tightens. Whatever Ken and I have is catching. We try and clear the issue up, once and for all..and it actually leads to us talking about another aspect that IS important to us...
Andy: ...If we’re writing a song and the song calls for words, we’ll put them in, where there are no words, we love instrumental breaks
Ken: (with enthusiasm)Yeah, we like ensemble fills as opposed to solos, use the three pieces instead of one over the top... course we have to do that cause we’re a trio. unless you want to come out sounding like Cream... which sometimes we do, but that’s inadvertant.
Silence as my eyes grow wide at the many tresspasses in that one statement- comparing ourselves to the most dinosaur of dinosaur bands (this was at a time when lines were being drawn), and conversely, comparing ourselves to one of the most revered instrumental bands ever (how un-Canadian).
Ken just looks at me and says "People have said that, people have said that."
Lee smiles and continues. He may look like a teenager, but he is apparently a professional. "When you go in and do your own material, is it something you work on for a while or do you just jam it out?"
Ken: either Andy or I write a song, we don’t usually write songs together... And uh, (chortle) the song usually changes, we might do it slow and we might do it fast the next day, or we might add certain things, if we make a mistake and like the mistake we’ll keep the mistake, as a matter of fact a large portion of our instrumental by-play comes from mistakes written into the song.
Andy: usually the composer will write the song at home, we don’t usually work out chord structure and lyrics in the practice unless it’s some big inspiration...the arrangements are by the Scenics under duress from the composer.
Ken: well put, son.
Lee: How do you find it trying to find work in the music business around this area? it seems to be pretty hard for a lot of groups to crack through...
Ken: We really haven’t tried, we just started trying. Mostly we just been doing it on our own energy up to this point. We’re hoping, with this tape, that we can take it around to certain people and they will pay attention and say “Hey I like that, maybe you guys deserve to work”
By now in the interview we’re just relaxed, talking about what we’re doing. To this point the band has existed in isolation, a couple out-of-the way jobs. We are, in fact about to open the door and 'go public'.
Lee: Did it all start in the beginning as a Jam band in the basement
(Ken: oh no!) or was there always a goal set.
Ken No, no, there was always a goal. Andy and I, like, FOUND EACH OTHER (on this phrase Ken’s voice goes goes straight to Scarlett O’Hara saying “There will ALWAYS BE TARA “)
Andy: Yeah, there was always a goal. I’d write a song, and Ken would have to write one better. He’d write one and I knew I had to write one better.
Lee: so you’re setting your own standards and just progressing as time passes...
Ken: Hopefully, hopefully
Andy: Stabbing each other in the back, yeah.
Lee: This next track we’re going to hear, “I’m Hurt”, anything you’d like to say about it?”
Ken: Uh, It’s Andy’s song, and there’s a tremendous amount of angst and uh, emotion put into this song...
Andy: sort of a trip through the closets of my mind...
I'm Hurt ends, and Lee says: what is the whole concept behind the Scenics? Is there anything you are trying to get across musically, or, (Ken is making fretful, disparaging sounds. He/we were always hesitant to define in words what it was we were doing. I think that helped keep it real.) nothing?
Andy: The main thing we are trying to get across is just what we want to play.
Lee: so it’s just your just trying to get another new sound across-
Ken: Definitely. There’s no real concept, it was just Andy and I getting together and we needed vehicles for our songs, so, the Scenics happened, it wasn’t in response to any particular movement or anything, although I am rather keen on some of the bands coming out of New York of late, and it’s bound to be influenced by that, but it was just, I needed to do it, here I’m 26 years old, jeezus (chortle).
I remember Ken, vital, tensed, although it’s hard to remember him that young, because, being as I was 18, he seemed that old, but now I know what 26 is like, you are old enough to start to observe, and consider, and you really need to do it, if you’re going to do it. It's kind of the end of young.
Lee (pauses and smiles): you’re both changing instruments, bass and guitar, Andy playing a bit of sax on that song. What does it do to change instruments-
Ken: Ohhh, it makes it a lot more fun and interesting. I like both instruments, I originally started playing on bass, and I get to play it on Andy’s songs...
Andy: we both have different styles on both instruments.. that makes it four styles.
Lee: Do you both like to provide an element of surprise in your music or are things predictable, do you like to do erratic things?
Ken: Depends. I like the extremes, very fond of the extremes, really erratic or just monochromatic. a lot of the Velvet Underground stuff, especially their live cuts, is just the riff pounded and pounded out, but the sound coalesces and forms into one great big sound and it’s very nice, very nice...
Lee plays Not Dead Yet and So Fine. My taped copy of the Demo Show ends part way through So Fine, and side b starts with
Ken: -an intellectual phenomena... and then
Andy: and suddenly it’s Yorkville.
Presumably a discussion of how the punk rock scene was developing.
(Yorkville in 1976. in between the couple walking and the tree to their left you can see "RIV"
written on a sign. This is the Riverboat, famed Toronto coffee house and last hold-out from the clubs that used to line the streets of Yorkville. I saw many amazing shows there- Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Eric Anderson, Canadian jazz guitar master Lenny Breau, etc. But that is another story.)
Yorkville was the part of Toronto where the hippies had lived and played music in the 60s (including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell). By the mid 70s Yorkville was upscale money trendy. Understandable given it's location right behind the main downtown crossroads of Yonge and Bloor. But It was Toronto's first example of rampant gentrification and became a symbol.
The Neil Young pic is from the Riverboat, from his "Live at the Riverboat" CD. on his song Ambulance Blues he sings "the Riverboat was Rocking in the Rain" .
neil young in 1957, the year i was born. also another story.
Already, 8 Months after seeing Talking Heads at A Space Gallery, Punk/New Wave was morphing from that honest, independant, exploratory self-expression into something that was noticed by hundreds of thousands of bored and dissatisfied youth, most of whom find out about it from the mainstream media’s hand-wringing fascination with it, and take their cues from that. In excited response to rock and roll being made beginner’s music again, 1000’s of straight ahead punk bands get formed, and begin gobbing, pogoing, and pulling girls with spiked hair. Although it must be said that part of the DIY punk revolution was that girls did it too.
Then Lee talks about the Rolling Stones, and we agree that they were punk rock. Would the these current bands also have success?
Ken: ...If the groups are good they will survive. If there’s something there besides just cashing in on the popularity of punk rock they will survive, they deserve to.
I give a very long incoherent speech placing the Stones in a context of musical sophistication AND punk rock, the subtext of which is “I know the Stones are considered old wave and therefore not worthy, but I really really like them.”
Andy: The Stones were not only rebelling they were also pretty talented and diverse musicians for when they came out and like they put a lot of good energy into their music but they also did a lot of interesting things besides their good energy their early stuff is really more diverse than the early beatles, really, the beatles got more into that because that is what they were into, but...
Lee: So really just time will tell it’s toll, anyway.
After this sterling exchange, what is there to do but go “Back to some more music”
But first Ken recites the chorus:
I seek a wild trout
not some trout pond dullard
I seek a wild trout
he must be a sleek creek dweller.....
and Lee plays “Wild Trout” and “Great Piles of Leaves” and then
Ken: we’d like to add a fourth person, ideally someone who could play organ, guitar, bass, someone of the same inclination, and that would give us room to grow, that would be really nice, but our chances of finding someone like that are... GOOD, I hope we actually do! (chortle)
The Scenics did eventually find their fourth member! l-r Andy, Brad, Ken, Mike Young, 1979.
Lee: so what you’re looking for, is somebody who’s into experimentation with sound?
Andy: yeah, Sound! sounds... like.. that doesn’t mean, like, I like noise in records, but it doesn’t mean we want a lot of like sound effects-
Lee: mm-hmm. He senses we're on to something...
Andy: it's just that, we’re going for a sound and somebody who’s into our sound and looking at a song not as a series of chord progressions but as a series of sounds and just playing what fits...
I’m really excited by my last comment, at the time, and now. It’s satisfying to know that at that early stage I was aware of my/our focus- it’s not about chords on paper, it’s not about playing genres of music, or chord progressions, it’s about opening your ears and diving into what is actually unfolding. Like the way Duke and Mingus would sing parts to their horn players so they just existed in the air and in the breath. The Scenics would learn songs with out ever talking about what the chords where. So there would be room to come up with bass parts that grinded against the chords. We wouldn’t detune our strings to create dissonances. We’d just bend bass strings and find those dissonances, and ride them to that place where your ears start to vibrate funny and you feel it in your skull.
Duke Ellington and Charlie Mingus, just listening.
At this point, the demo show was over, with Ken quickly slipping in a credit for Mark French on drums, noting that he was now playing in a group called “Bannister”.
(I remember at the time being a little irritated that Ken had talked so much, but now I’m writing the story, so we’re at least even.)
(the 1979 Scenics featuring the 'flip-side' of Mike Young, or, you could say featuring Mike Young's features. Photo by ace Photog/Designer Rodney Bowes.)
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PUNK HAIKU 10 CREDITS
WHERE HAVE ALL THE GOOD TIMES GONE (Ray Davies, ABCKO/Unichappell/Carlin Music). guitar/vocals Andy Meyers. bass/bgs Ken Badger. drums Brad Cooper.
O BOY (Ken Badger, Timmy's Music). guitar/vocals Ken Badger. bass Andy Meyers. drums Bradley Cooper.
Recorded June, 1977, about two weeks into Brad's stint with The Scenics, in our basement, Toronto.
PUNK HAIKU AUDIO produced by Andy Meyers ©2010 Dream Tower Productions.
PUNK HAIKU written by Andy Meyers ©2010 Dream Tower Productions.