SEPTEMBER 1977, TORONTO
The story so far: Ken Badger and Andy Meyers began playing together and formed The Scenics in the Summer of 1976. After a few attempts they found a drummer who stuck (Bradley Cooper) in the summer of 1977. With a demo tape in hand (that ended up as half of SUNSHINE WORLD, a CD you can download for free here) Ken and Andy met Toronto promoters The Garys, who loved what they heard, & promised to book them for a special upcoming show... Coming soon- PUNK HAIKU 15- The Scenics open for Talking Heads at the New Yorker Theatre.
THE SOUR AND THE SWEET: Two of Andy's songs played back to back at the Beverly Tavern,on August 28, 1977. First up- some pscenic psychobilly: ALL BELTS AND SHOELACES TAKEN “Don’t know why no-one gives me a ride- I look fine, maybe just a little crazy. Check ‘em over twice to make sure i ain’t lazy, can’t find anyone any use to me. All Belts and Shoelaces taken- loose shoes flopping on the school gymnasium...."
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WIND OVER THE LADDER
and now the sweet: “I’d do anything for you- what would you want me to? Call any hour on the dime. I’ll be waiting for your call, to get me off the hook. Your hook cut into my mind- Did she mind?
Like a white dress allows shading of a woman’s skin. All my motions are held within. Like a movement, slow, evading... all my emotions just beneath the skin...”
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PUNK HAIKU 14 TALK RADIO (2 Sides of the Scenics)
Our first gig at the Beverly Tavern (see above songs, and Punk Haiku 13) under our belt, we had the thrilling prospect of a gig every band in Toronto wanted, opening for the Talking Heads, September 16, 1977. The Heads had been about my favourite band since Ken and I saw their first two stunning Toronto shows in January 1977.
We had to figure out how to cut our three sets worth of material at the Bev down to one set at the Heads' gig. What to choose? New songs were screaming at us, like “All Belts and Shoelaces Taken”- twelve bar psychobilly blues, a train hurtling down the track with one set of wheels in mid-air, intent on the pleasures of self-destruction.
I was already developing what I call “noise guitar”, squall soloing without regard for formal pitch or rhythm- I’d just go Bang. I certainly wasn’t the first to do this. In my case it was my response to Ken’s superior hanging melodic sound. I didn’t realize at the time how much this was the result of him having superior equipment. Ken had a Morley power boost/wah pedal that he mastered, which allowed his lines to hang and squeal and sustain and simmer. (And, of course, beyond gear, Ken was really good!)
To carve out my own area, before I mellowed, and improved, and came into myself more, and allowed myself to try and play beautifully, I would just turn it up and explode.
Generally my style was choppier, slashing, with more abrupt song structure. I liked things banging into each other. My songs tended to be barely two minutes or four and a half. Ken would write song after song at three and a half minutes. He had a way of creating riff and song and chorus, instrumental passage, back into the verse and out again, perfectly proportioned and completely true to itself, like early architectural drawings of a series of vaulted chambers, or drawings of bodily systems, vascular, skeletal, digestive, elegantly nested into each other.
(l-r Wild Trout, In the Summer)
(We've already heard Wild Trout and In the Summer on PUNK HAIKU, and we'll feature Ken's Gotta Come Back Here next time round. You can hear a lot of these songs of Ken's (and mine) on Sunshine World. )
We'd been playing Ken's song Chills for a while. “I don’t know who she is, she gives me chills.” The last verse originally went:
“I sat down at a table next to her
I sort of smiled to myself
she looked away
I don’t know who she is,
she gives me chills.”
But Ken soon changed this to:
“ ....I sort of smiled up her dress
She crossed her legs
I don’t know who she is...”
Which I preferred- the way the words fell together without actually rhyming, and that depiction of direct, but subverted and seperate man/woman or self/society interaction, (like that described in “All Belts and Shoelaces Taken”) was central to the outsider story the Scenics told.
Over our six year run this character populated the Scenics lyrics, and lived in our alternately probing, abrasive, and harmonious music. It was a wry character, a way of dealing with who we were and who the world was. Good-hearted, but like a child or a natural outcast, always noticing what types of talk, lust, self-definition, were acceptable, musically and lyrically. We were always saying “Yeah, but this other stuff is always going on too, so we’ve got to mention it, even though that turns us into beings you can’t take anywhere, beings from beyond the pale who do the wrong thing at the wrong time.” This was also a constant in our sidelong glances at the music business, why, when it mattered, we’d say whatever the hell we wanted, or just get too high, and why we were, really, unable to sustain any sort of facade that it would not be forever thus.
In some North American native tribes, there was a character who’s role was to balance out the rest of the tribe’s energy- at the sacred ceremony he would fart and smoke cigars, and when the tribe rode into battle he’d get on his horse backwards and ride off alone. When I heard about this character in the early 90’s, he felt familiar, and I see that he was there in Scenics, rolling joints and playing table hockey when he could be plotting world dominance.
But I guess that was appropriate. We were, after all, 19, 20, 25....
By now, Ken and Sue had made the move from Palmerston Boulevard to an old house in Markdale, (2 hours north of Toronto). Ken had begun bunking down in our basement practice cave in Toronto. Ken's father Cliff had a similar arrangement, working in advertising in Toronto, and going home on the weekends to the town of Meaford. Cliff had a apartment at Yonge and Bloor, and Ken occasionally got to stay there when his dad was away on business.
(looking north up Yonge St in the 70s. Those 2 white skyscrapers are the corner of Yonge and Bloor. The one on the right is the one where Ken would sometimes bunk down.)
(Looking south down yonge past the CHUM building towards bloor. Yup, those are the same two skyscrapers in the distance, the one on the LEFT being the one Ken sometimes bunked at.)
it was now Wednesday, September 7, a week before our gig with the Talking Heads, and Ken and I were due at Chum FM (Toronto mainstream rock radio) to tape an interview with Larry Wilson for their “Friday Night Live” show.
Ken and I started up his 70 Impala , an enourmous boat of a car with a lit-up dashboard the size of an aircraft carrier's. We passed one back and forth and hit the radio. Boston- More Than a Feeling, a song we viewed, from a distance, to be kind of a good sign, kulturally. It's chorus could have been lifted from Do Ya by the Move-- maybe things were moving back to simple, catchy rock and roll. We drove midtown to one of those garden patios splintered into concrete pads, with concrete planters holding spindly trees that were never going to look healthy. The leaves trembled in the early evening. Muggy.
We lifted ourselves up out of the car and floated across the litter and debris and grass and up the concrete steps. I had a buddy beside me as I crossed the yard, we marched in slouched formation. Our lives were no longer our own. Like how you walked across the basketball court or football field as a kid, after you'd been picked. Special? We had fallen into rock and roll and it was as sticky as a tar pit.
Up and into the lobby, up to Chum-FM. Ushered into the tiny studio by the nice frilly bloused Toronto girl. Nice microphones. Nice headphones. Nice chairs. Nice lighting. Larry Wilson.
Larry, of course, was not an easy pill for us to swallow. His talk was the gateway to the rest of the world, and we wanted to weigh him word for word. We started right in treating him like he was crazy, or just a jerk, and then gradually warmed up to him.
We recorded the interview on Sept 7. On Friday Sept 9, at 11 pm, as they started into Friday Night Live, an hour with the Scenics and the Talking Heads, Ken, Sue, and I were sprawling back on the hood of the Impala, beers in hand. We were at Ken and Sue’s country estate, The Impala pulled up royally off the drive, into the Queen Annes Lace, Timothy and long grass that slowly sifted into their front yard. We were leaning back, shortsleeves, talking and laughing in the muggy, liquid air, dust in the long grass, beautiful basting air rising up from the steel chassis and motor of the Impala, and as Friday Night Live started, a large round copper moon rose and spit in our eye, and chain lightning, heat lightning, danced, pulsing. We raised our beers and cheered the fireworks - Ken and I locked eyes in rabid, wry acceptance of this omen.
The show opened with Do the Wait. As the last chord faded out, Larry moved in and said “That was The Scenics on night at 11, the first time they’ve been heard on the radio and the Scenics is going to be in concert at the New Yorker Theatre a week from tonight opening for Talking Heads, and, we have a couple of members of the Scenics in the studio tonight, Andy Meyers, who plays guitar, bass, sax and sings, and Ken Badger, who handles guitar and bass as well, and sings. Uhh Andy, Why, why did the Scenics happen, how did it come together?
I answer the question like you would answer a cop- seriously and completely literally, very well behaved, adding every possible detail to show that you are trying your best to co-operate.
Andy: Why did the Scenics happen? Well, Ken and I were both looking for something in a band, I put up a sign in various places around Toronto saying I was looking for some people who wanted to play, who wanted to play some things that were trying to be interesting, trying to be... fun. Ken saw my sign, answered my sign, and we got together, we enjoyed playing with each other, found we could develop pretty good rapport, and started looking for other people. A mere twelve months later, (Ken snickers his wiley coyote laugh) we've found a drummer who works in really well, his name is Bradley Cooper, he’s the third member of our trio.
Larry: Trio is an unusual arrangement for a band...
Andy: (suddenly enthused and engaged) A trio’s nice, gives you room to stretch out, gives everybody room to play lots, there’s no, uh, easy parts, we don’t give ourselves any easy parts, there’s no filler, cause that’s just it, everything is there for a reason. (The song I’m Hurt starts fading in artistically from beneath us) It’s pretty minimal but there’s a lot going on sometimes too.
I’m Hurt plays, followed by Not Dead Yet.
Larry: I’m Hurt and Not Dead Yet by the Scenics, a band about to make their stage debut in Toronto a week from tonight at the New Yorker, opening for Talking Heads. A Midnight show. Umm you guys write your own stuff, obviously
Ken: Yes we do
Larry: This is Ken Badger, by the way...
Ken: Yes we do, uhh, Andy and I both write our own songs. There’s really not that much collaboration, we just, bring them in and whatever happens, we usually just have a very basic structure and then it happens.
(at this point there is a seamless edit in the conversation- listening, we realize that we are in the hands of radio professionals- they will help us make sense and help us say things their audience can make sense of.. Most importantly, they have not decided to skewer us for being wise asses. (Larry had asked us about punk rock and we sneered and said we liked to call it 'plank rock'. Not a big deal, and Larry just seemed to laugh and let it pass, but still...)
Ken continues: Yeah, but all of our songs are collaborations in the sense that, we’re three people, and, I don’t know, when you are working with three people, it’s easier for the other members to be more creative, or they have to be. Andy for sure is, and, sometimes..
(Was he going to say sometimes Brad is? but Larry cuts in)
Larry: There’s a definite grandfather of punk John Cale feeling to a lot of your material.
Ken: Oh my God, I’m that old (Ken, at this point, while 6 years older than I am, is all of 26.)
Larry: What about inspiration for this band, the Scenics?
Ken: I like quite a few mid 60s groups, they’re not so direct as say the Velvet Underground or... Talking Heads even
Ken: But they’re there, like the Byrds, and the Lefte Banke and Breau Brummels, and groups like that I really like.
Larry: They’re kind of riffy, melodic bands
Ken: mmm, yeah. We have a mix, you might say, there’s two sides to it. There’s Andy’s side, and Ken’s side. and sometimes
Andy: (unintelligable) side
Larry: Andy? do you plan to play clubs or other concerts, tour the country, make records, millions of dollars, that sort of thing?
Ken: Oh yes, that sounds nice
Andy: That's next week, wasn’t it?
Ken: OK (laughs)
Andy: We’ll do a lot of things, you know? We’ll do what ever type of jobs sound good
Ken: (sotto Vox) we’ll do some things.
Andy: I’ll do a lot of things, he’ll do some things.
(cue wild trout, and then, as it fades)
Larry: The Scenics from Toronto, their first time on radio.. The Scenics.
This is Larry Wilson, we’ll be back with Talking Heads and the first listen anywhere to their first album. This is Chum FM..."
These were the days when being on the radio, and, especially, having an album, were significant accomplishments, indicating you had gotten somewhere, that you had had a period of honing and refining your sound, that you had gotten noticed and been declared worthy.
We didn't have a record, didn't know if we would ever get there, but we were on a radio show with someone who's album we loved! Friday night live concluded with a half-hour interview with Talking Heads and the first public Toronto plays of some of those amazing recordings from Talking Heads 77- Psycho Killer, No Compassion, The Book I Read....
Then we were back in the Impala, driving high through the lush green Ontario farmland fields, ready for harvest, hitting the outskirts of Toronto, the country’s economic engine, passing the airport and the industrial fringe, somehow in nature again as the Don Valley Parkway (above) led us into the city, to our Leaside home and rehearsal. A week of honing what we already knew, and then it would be time to play.
PUNK HAIKU 14 CREDITS
All Belts (And Shoelaces Taken)
Wind Over the Ladder (Andy Meyers Allowed Sound Music)
guitar/vocals Andy Meyers . bass Ken Badger. drums Bradley Cooper.
Recorded August 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.