punk haiku 13 Bring on the Dancing Girls

bonus VIDEO from the Bev...the scenics take on roxy music!



Two of Ken's songs from The Scenics first gig in the Toronto punk milleu at the Beverly Tavern, a downtown dive that began booking punk courtesy of Toronto band The Dishes. I'm Sad was from early in the first night when the crowd was thin, and is one of my very favorite Ken songs.  

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Wild Trout is from late on the second night, when the crowd was... phat. (Title of this chapter taken from a punter's comment 30 seconds in).

We had provoked some consternation by putting our instruments down. The crowd thought we were packing it in, but Ken and I were just trading off guitar and bass roles. I didn't allay their concerns when i shouted back "We're just switching off!" (meaning 'trading off') which of course sounds like we were just switching off our amps 'coz we were leaving. At the end of Trout there is another short delay as Ken switches guitars for "Riptide" and the crowd gets into it again... 

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 coming in March 2011- PUNK HAIKU 14- The Scenics try to explain themselves on mainstream FM radio.


(l-r Ken Badger, Bradley Cooper, Andy Meyers)


    At this precise moment, Ken Badger, my partner in the Scenics, came to me and told me that Sue had gotten a teaching job in Markdale, two and a half hours north of Toronto. They were getting a house up there. 

    I was dumbfounded. They couldn’t, Ken couldn’t...

    Ken wasn’t. His plan was to keep his job at Long and Mcquade and live in the Scenics' basement,  going home to Markdale on the weekends.

  He kept  this going for three years, or close to that, creating a precise regimen that he stuck to religiously- up in the morning, sponge bath in the bathroom down the hall, walk to Mcdonald’s on the corner, coffee and egg Mcmuffin, twice a week a fruit pie, coffee back with him, five cigarettes a day, pennies counted, it was like living in a penal colony, crossing the days off one at a time. Living in a fibreglass prison,  making music with the Scenics instead of license plates. Writing songs, wedded to it. A side benefit for all of us was the fact that our hovel became a lot cleaner.




   As we unpacked our haul of scotch and wine from the gig in the mansion basement  we heard Larry Wilson, Chum FM DJ, announcing  in his smooth velvet tones that "there was a show coming up this weekend  at the Beverley Tavern, featuring the Scenics, a band who was doing some interesting new things... it's kind of a punk rock sound and they've got some more shows coming that you will hear about in weeks to come..."

   Hearing him say that today (off a dusty cassette grabbed out of a cardboard box), it seems like we were having a path laid out for us. We had people in our corner. There were Toronto's SuperPunkPromoters Gary and Gary, and now our first public Scenics gig was being promoted on the mighty CHUM-FM Toronto (who did not make a habit of recognizing punks!)  A couple of weeks later we would be interviewed by Larry to promote the Talking Heads show.   Remembering how jive Ken and I  were during our interview with Larry, (still to come in Punk Haiku 14). I felt like we had managed to throw everything that was given us out the window.


   But as I am writing this, Gary Topp says, “Yeah, but do you know why that was? We weren’t ‘working you’. What happened was that Larry Wilson had started in the mail room at CHUM, and was suddenly made a DJ. All of a sudden there was craziness and drugs, like he was a star, and so he split up with his wife. But he didn’t actually have many DJ shifts, so he ended up working as a projectionist at the New Yorker."


   "He needed a place to live, so he came and lived at my apartment on Saint Nicholas. We had an extra room, and it was full of 10,000 pounds of kitty litter, and he lived in that. Heather and I had just gotten a cat. I had never had a cat before, and I didn’t know how to take care of it. I knew you needed lots of kitty litter, and it was really cheap, and Eaton’s would deliver it for free, so every time I would get anxious about the cat, I would just order another  hundred pounds of kitty litter."

   "So Larry was living with us in a room with seventy bags of kitty litter,  and working as a projectionist at the New Yorker, and seeing all the things we were getting into, and he didn’t really get them, but he wanted to be hip, so he promo’d your first show on the radio.”


  And so the Scenics pulled up  in the alleyway off Beverley Street north side of Queen St., just east of Spadina, the heart of what was becoming Queen west, loft living,  art and performance,  kids with ideas saying “no, it's this.”


    Almost exactly a year after the first Ramones show at the New Yorker Theater,  a whole social subspecies had sprung up, now including a more extreme leather/ spiked  hair/ ripped clothes look a la the Pistols and Clash (which the Pistols’ manager Malcom Mclaren had appropriated from Richard Hell, in the Neon Boys in NYC, circa 1972).



                                                 (photo by Rodney Bowes)

    The Scenics, of course, had not a lot to say about matters sartorial, although we did make our own small efforts. I was self-conscious about defining myself  by my look, choosing to operate incognito. Ken was just Ken, he was somehow too substantial to get into clothes, (although I may be giving him too much credit here) and Brad was from Scarborough, and we would try to minimize how much he looked like a hard rock kid. He had a tendancy towards facial hair, for God’s sake. 


(l-r the Dishes, 1977, Roxy Music, and an early pic of Sparks.)

   We hauled our gear up the stairs for the first show of a two night gig,  a bit nervous about stepping out into what was now a scene, startled that our upcoming Talking Heads gig meant that we had a place in the scene and that tonight would start to define that. There were by this point the whole first wave of Toronto bands- The Dishes surfaced early, tied in with the art college. Ken saw them as soon as their name popped up on posters, hoping they’d be like Roxy Music.  Ken was disappointed, too fey he said, the singer spent the whole evening staring archly at the ceiling. He said the singer was like Russel Mael from Sparks, but 'not as ballsy' (he was being ironic). The Dishes did a lot of things- they were heavily involved with General Idea, released a couple of EPs, one of which (Hot Property) we really liked, but live in early '77 they were just not Ken's thing. 


(l-r Slade, Steven Leckie, Bowie)

   The Viletones had made the biggest splash of the Toronto punk bands, with Nazi Dog (nee Steven Leckie) tattooed and rude, a little-boy-wounded with a rollicking, sloppy rhythm section. Lots of style- I always admired all those guys’ ability to re-invent themselves as rock stars. Steven had had his own look for years, going back to Slade and Bowie.


   Again, this was something I never did to that extreme - I was more of a sound explorer, and I guess since I was a little kid watching the Kinks and the Who on Ed Sullivan, those sorts of creatures were so completely otherworldly that it was always my lot to admire them, never to join them. Put it down to being completely uneven and extreme in the ways I did, and didn’t, own my own power. The ways I was comfortable BEING in the world. As well, the people who turned us on in the current scene had a simple style, looked like broke urban artists- Patti Smith Group, Television, Talking Heads, Pere Ubu.


   It may seem wierd that i am remembering this and commenting on it, but this was "Year Zero" (or close enough to it, to me 1976 was year zero). There was a lot of "I Was a Punk Before You Were A Punk" paranioa floating around. A lot of the music in Toronto was bangbangbang, and it's not that I don't dig that stuff, I still do.  But the Scenics took flack from the Toronto scene as a large amporphous whole for our entire run. For being "wierd", musically, and the fact that we didn't dress or act like punks seemed to put people even less at ease.



    Around this same time The Diodes (who had had their debut gig opening for Talking Heads at OCA, the Ontario College of Art, see Punk Haiku 5) were operating the “Crash and Burn” in downtown Toronto,  famously in the basement of a building leased by the Ontario Liberal party.


(the Curse and the B-Girls)

  They and the Curse, the B-Girls and Viletones etc.  played there for six weeks in the summer of 77 (before it got shut down).  It was strong simple music, unchecked straight ahead energy like a herd of wild horses tearing up the plains, songs about being pissed off and getting drunk and fucking, songs like kids squabbling, songs that you could  accept or reject, but couldn’t argue with. A whole new way for bands to play together, tumbling and rolling, it breathed, we found out that rock music didn’t need steady tempo, tempo could vary wildly from bar to bar as long as everyone moved together like a jostling, pushing, packet of guys squeezing into a pub. In fact, there was liberation in ragged tempo,  the moment continually reforming and being re-discovered.



    I never went to the Crash and Burn- it didn’t feel anonymous enough for me.  I didn’t often go out to the Bev or later clubs to see local bands - I never had any cash, for years the Scenics were playing five nights a week- who was I gonna go with?  Really, my only friends at this time were Ken and Carol.



  We were at the start of Carol’s university career, and things were changing. We’d still hang together, but a lot less. The ways we used to meet when we were high school kids had begun to feel  outmoded- did it make sense to keep doing the things we did - listening to music,  watching TV in the giant double recliner in her basement, playing snooker on her table, lying in her bed together, was it going anywhere? We reached a point, from one day to the next, where we spontaneously stopped imagining a future together, it just ceased being pictureable, and this was when that happened.



   Even as I bought the first Viletones 45 (again, why did it take us until 2009 to release the recording we made in the spring of 1977?) I was aware I was running parallel to the local scene- I’d  see local bands when they played with us or opened for out of town bands, Pere Ubu or The Stranglers or Richard Hell, but I didn’t  make an evening of them, didn’t have friends who did that.  With few exceptions, I wasn’t buddies with the other Toronto bands.




   Musically, however, we were part of what was going on, one of the many unique responses to that one moment in time. That first night we would do ourselves proud- strong, flexible and already working the ability to be off-balance without falling over. There was  some grumbling from the crowd that we weren’t bang bang bang enough, but we were abrasive, and some people really dug us. In our last set, Chris Hate from the Viletones  came up and drunkenly stood inches in front of me, invading our stage. After a tense beat, I walked around him and faced the crowd, him behind me. He shrugged, seemed to accept this,  the challenge passed, and he sat down again.

     At the end this first evening out, we did something indicative of our relationship with Toronto, (and by extension, the world). There was no escaping our Scenics DNA, who we were at that time, we breathed it every step we took.
   We finished our last song  (the version of  "I'm Set Free" that is on our live VU CD) to applause and calls for more, but we modestly demurred. The clock said it was quitting time,  but no-one was pulling the plug on us. Except us. As we packed up various musicians and scenesters came and gave us thumbs up, which we  accepted, nodding.

   It was our inexperience and modesty. We were used to seeing shows in concert halls and arenas where the audience screamed for five minutes before the band came back. We didn't know how to translate the brief explosion of noise shoved back in our faces by a room full of drunk kids.

  I left thinking they liked us, but noting that we didn't get an encore. As it so happened our next gig was rougher than expected. Soon we began to turn in to ourselves, unappreciated. A lot of people did not 'get' us, a gig could be a cold battle, as it happened we did not get our first encore for a couple of years...

  Years later, I slipped in the tape of that first gig, and heard the significant, enthusiastic response at the end of I'm Set Free. We were very comfortably in the encore zone, and by refusing, had done our part to help establish ourselves as different, and difficult...


 But all that came later.   As I strapped my guitar on that first night at the Beverley, wiping down guitar strings and looking out at the energized crowd, the smoke filled room, the pinball machines smoking as well, all I felt was the meeting of us and them. What we  offered was no different then the steamy Toronto night, and they were ready for some noise and action, a backing for their drafts and their cigarettes stubbed out in ashtrays. Three sets of songs, Ken's songs and my songs and a fistful of covers- Remake/Remodel, Picnic in Detroit, (our rewrite of Bowie's Panic in Detroit), I'm Set Free... It was a lot to keep inside you, ready to burst out. It was our first show in mainstream Toronto punkworld and we were ready to go. I counted  in "I Have You", and the sound hit.



08 The Scenics - I'm Set Free by The Scenics





(Ken Badger Timmy's Music

I'm Set Free (Lou Reed, Oakfield Avenue Music Ltd) (from the CD "How Does it Feel to Be Loved")

guitar/vocals  Ken Badger.    bass/bgs Andy Meyers . drums Bradley Cooper.

Recorded August 27/28 1977,  Beverly Tavern, Queen St,  Toronto.

PUNK HAIKU AUDIO produced by Andy Meyers  ©2011 Dream Tower Productions.  

PUNK HAIKU written by Andy Meyers ©2011 Dream Tower Productions.