Friday, February 24, 2012

Talk-Action=0: An Illustrated History of D.O.A. by Joe Keithley, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981 by Liz Worth

(ArsenalBongo BeatThese two histories of Canadian punk paint vivid pictures of a great white riot in the Great White North, but more importantly, are nice arguments for the value of the state of punk documentation. Treat Me Like Dirt follows the now-accepted form of historical punk data presentation, the oral history tradition, in which a collection of quotes by scenesters are assembled in a manner that tells a cohesive, linear narrative without much outside narration or obvious editorial bias. But prior to this book I could never tell exactly how compelling that form was because for all the other oral histories I was always extremely familiar with the characters, bands, records and scenes. Excluding non-Toronto bands like D.O.A., of all the bands in this book I literally own one single – a bootleg of the Viletones debut – and have only even heard two other bands in the book. I am genuinely in the dark about this scene, these people, and what this music sounds like, and I still found the stories, presentation, and form riveting. Starting at the dawn of the 70s when a few factors converged to help form the Viletones (including an American falling for a resourceful Canadian chick, and a Toronto teen falling under the spell of glitter rock) a scene was born. For the rest of the decade some of the most interesting bands (including punk convention challenging acts like spacey Simply Saucer and 60s-ish Teenage Head), some of the boldest female performers and behind the scene figures, and some punk-archtype sex, drugs & rock n rollers carved out an interesting community in what most of them describe as a pretty boring place. That the author was a young outsider and not a participant is impressive, but not nearly impressive as how riveted I, as a complete Toronto punk ignoramus, was by this book. The other punk archival project form that really excites me is the primary source compendium, be it the fanzine reprint books or the collections of Xerox flyers. While it’s surprising in some ways that a man known as Shithead would become such a thoughtful historian, the fact that the leader of D.O.A. has kept his band going for decades makes it reasonable that a few years back he decided to devote as much energy to documenting his band’s past as to crafting new materials, and while his biography, and CD and DVD band retrospectives were solid, I am most excited about this hefty scrapbook which contains some brief text, but mostly hundreds of flyers, t-shirts, set lists, hand-written lyrics, ticket stubs and band photos to tell the band’s story (and to jar memories of specific gigs from Joey Shithead’s not-so-shitty head). While one theme that’s undeniable here is that graphic design was way more awesome in the hand-scrawled flyer days of the early 80s than in 21 st Century, at least Joey’s handwriting never improved! Also, though much of this book has the band touring the States and abroad, the documentation of the ebbs and flows of Canadian punk history makes this a nice companion to Worth’s work. Plus, Randy Bachman has the back cover blurb!

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