Jaimie Vernon: Life’s A Canadian Rock – Part 8

By the time I’d returned from summer school and my 2 ½ weeks of work in 1980 my band’s drummer, Jim Greeley, had purchased his new Westbury drum kit. With the riches from my Canadian National Exhibition job burning a hole in my pocket, I bought myself an amp. It was very small portable 7 watt Yamaha G-5 guitar amp that wasn’t excessively loud but it was mine and we soon dubbed it The Lunchbox of Sound.

Everyone wanted to reconvene to carry on with rehearsals but singer Ivan Judd’s folks weren’t fond of us returning to their basement now that Ivan and his girlfriend, Sharon, had become a (pregnant) item. While they searched for a place to live we needed a place to practice. Like a team of Allied Van Lines employees we ended up moving our gear with military precision every rehearsal into my parent’s basement, and then Jim’s parent’s basement, and our friends basement, and their friends until we’d run out of favours from people. So, it was decided we should rent a spot. Ivan found a place in an industrial unit near Chemical Court in the southeast corner of Scarborough, Ontario where two latent hippies ran a showroom with a stage, lighting and sound system to anyone that wanted to cough up $150 for the week. Ivan did the coughing.

We moved our gear in and began an intense regimen of rehearsing with the goal of putting on a show on the final day where we could charge our friends a few bucks to try and recoupe Ivan’s expenses. It would also be a showcase and dress rehearsal for bigger gigs as Ivan had started talking with the former members of his old band, Dole Q (now renamed Nasty Habitz) about opening for them at any gigs around Toronto.

The Saturday afternoon gig came around and we had a pretty full house of our Malvern and school friends. I wanted to make an impression on these people as most of them were life-long friends and they’d put up with my rock star dreams a very long time. I figured I should give them a rock star. With Alice Cooper still on everyone’s minds from the riot in the summer, I donned his famous crying eyeliner disguise…using black India ink I’d stolen from school months before (and it burned my skin like a son-of-a-bitch!). Jim, bassist Tim James and Ivan were mortified when I walked out on stage – especially with all of them dressed in true punk regalia. I so wasn’t dressing up like them in front of my friends. I would look stupid. Unlike how I was dressed at that moment.

The guys rolled their eyes and we launched into…nothing. The sound system crapped out almost immediately. We’d blown a breaker. The hippie owners were nowhere to be found. One of us scrabbled from the stage and tracked them down. They were in the office of the industrial unit smoking pot. The owner was dragged back and fired up the power. We were off. And on. And off. And on.

Despite the lost momentum and other technical gaffs like Jim’s drum kit spewing lugnuts and bolts all around the room (not to mention 43 sets of splintered drum sticks), Tim’s amp cutting out, and my guitar going out of tune (remember, kids…DON’T put new strings on your guitar minutes before playing) we pulled off nearly two dozen tunes to the bemusement of our drunk friends. Needless to say, we never went back to Synthalight Sound.

Swindle came to a grinding stop until a permanent rehearsal spot could be found. It gave me an opportunity to stretch my musical muscles and help my childhood friends, The Giblin Brothers, revive our original band MOON. In the year since Gord, Brad and I had originally formed it we renamed it to the more progressively ambiguous, ELYSIUM MOON. With myself on guitar, Gord on bass and Brad now committed to drums, we had found a lead singer in Mike Michaud who we’d known since public school. He fancied himself melodic and that’s all we needed in order to put a real, functioning band into active duty. A mutual gal pal of ours, Kim (and the future Mrs. Michaud), offered her Mom’s basement for our use once or twice a month. Between duties with Swindle, Elysium Moon had managed to write a dozen original songs from the catalog of stuff Gord and I had worked on for over two years. We also did pretty horrendous cover versions of “Wild Thing” and “Day Tripper” when prompted. Even Mike had written a tune in the short time we’d managed to rehearse. It was good fun by good friends that lasted on and off well into the next year, but there was no delusion we’d be taking it on the road anytime soon.

The two band worlds collided on Hallowe’en night, 1980 when Tim’s girlfriend, who was babysitting Tim’s youngest brother, was struck by a car driven by a drunk driver on her way home from Tim’s house. It was devastating for our Malvern donut shop gang but was the hardest on Tim who spent entire days at her bedside while she was in the hospital. She had also been my steady girIfriend a year before and I suffered in silence as I still held a torch for her. The malaise from the event spilled over into a Hallowe’en party on November 2 where Elysium Moon was decked out as KISS. By the end of the party most of us were in tears. Kabuchi make-up looks like shit when it’s running down your face, onto your clothes and all over The Giblin’s living room floor.

Cindy W. was strong enough to survive several operations and despite the prognosis from doctors, was able to have children and live her version of happily ever-after.

In late November Ivan and Sharon had gotten a rental house that was once a Canadian National Railroad workers shack that had been converted into a two bedroom, um, shack. It was up a dirt road off Baseline in Pickering, Ontario only a minute from Ivan’s parents’ house and directly next to Art Thompson arena where I’d had that career changing ‘Hockey Mishap’ back in 1978.

We immediately resumed Swindle rehearsals in their living room. Three weeks later Sharon gave birth to their son Kevin who was immediately regaled with the sounds of us playing songs like our homage to PigPaper founder Gary Pig Gold (“Gary Is A Pig”), The Viletones’ Steve Leckie (“Nazi Dog”), our own theme to our favourite new TV show (“The All-Nite Show”), the Sex Pistols’ “Belson Was A Gas”, and the usual Swindle fodder and stupidity – which always involved drinking, falling down and leaving frozen, shit-stained underwear on the clothes line in a field behind the house until sober mornings resumed.

When Kevin was a toddler he’d fall asleep in Jim’s bass drum. It’s a wonder he isn’t deaf now. We drove Sharon nuts. She was all for supporting her man, but post-partum is never fun and we were aggravating a gift horse just by intruding on her new state as a mother and her fresh-off-the-presses relationship with Ivan. And sometimes it caused a rift between them to the point where Tim, Jim and I had to abandon ship part way through rehearsal while Sharon threw things at us – usually empty glass pop bottles (remember those?). It didn’t help that Tim and Jim taunted her until she went ballistic. But things would quiet down once again and we’d get on with writing and rehearsing songs. We had an insane work ethic but it finally brought us to the reward of a REAL gig.

Ivan had continued to cultivate a businesslike relationship with his former bandmates in Nasty Habitz and so in March 1981 (either the 7th or 16th depending on whose poor memory can be believed) we took the stage at Larry’s Hideaway in Toronto to play a sloppy, but leaps and bounds better, set of music in front of a real, impartial, audience. Only Ivan was of age at this point, so we were relegated to the dressing room until gig time and then had to leave the building immediately after playing. I only caught the first song of Nasty Habtiz’ set as we loaded out and onto a cold and snowy Carlton Avenue. The show had been a mixed emotional affair. We were pumped and excited to play, but it seemed hollow after the lights dimmed and the cold-hard reality of the night sunk in. Most probably because we were still insecure about our playing and the audience reaction of total strangers had been mild to indifferent.

The self-doubt began to eat away at the band and cracks began to appear. Tim and Jim blamed Ivan’s singing and a whole bunch of unrelated bullshit dealing with Sharon and drinking and blah blah blah (what are we….13?). Ivan attempted to fix his status in the band with a better PA. But, Tim and Jim fired Ivan in May of 1981 anyway. The three of us tried to pick up the pieces at Tim’s new house in Pickering. But Jim continued on as before. It soon became apparent that we let the wrong guy go ‘cause Jim’s drumming wasn’t improving. We begged Ivan to come back. But now Tim and Ivan wanted Jim out of the band and they called him on it. At first he was defensive, but after everyone had a heart-to-heart with him – including Mr. Switzerland (i.e. ME) – he decided to get a better kit and start taking lessons.

He did get the drum kit – a monster Tama set that cost the same as sponsoring 14 homeless Bolivian children at $1.00 a day for 50 years. However, the drum lessons never came to pass and so we ended up playing a little game we liked to call “Who’s Going to Fire Jim?”. Ivan got the short end and was handed the task of kicking Jim out of the band. Jim feigned anger at first but couldn’t maintain the façade. He knew, deep down, that we were right but it didn’t mean we were happy about the decision. He’d been there from the beginning. He brought personality to the songs. But we needed to put the band’s best foot forward and evolve. And we needed to trade up to another drummer to do it.

It appeared everything was going to hell in a hand-basket simultaneously as Elysium Moon was also in its death throws. But it had nothing to do with frustration or animosity, just the natural order of friends scattering into their own lives. Everyone remained friends, but it looked like I was going to be without two bands, not just one.

But Ivan, ever the optimist was undeterred by Swindle’s drummerlessness and worked out a compromise with Sharon about rehearsing at Little House and so over the course of one weekend Tim, Ivan and I went into the basement and began cleaning out the trash and furniture that had been left there by years of former tenants (mostly CN rail workers). Ivan got help in rigging up proper electricity in the single concrete room along with some decent lighting and we moved the PA and guitar amps downstairs soon after. Now all we needed was a new drummer. Mike Wingerter from Nasty Habitz offered to fill in over the summer so we wouldn’t get stale and we managed to write more material with him as our real-life metronome. He was a killer player but we couldn’t have him permanently so the hunt was on.

Through the spring and summer of 1981 I had been distracted by both music and my teenage love life (or the 1980s equivalent of the TwiLife). Girls were in orbit but I was gun shy about turning girl “friends” into girlfriends. This was true of a punkette from Pearson Collegiate who gravitated toward Tim and I late in the school year.  Cindy T. was tall and Rubenesque and sexy and funny and smarter than most of the people I knew. She could hold her own with the likes of Tim who would tease and torment the regular girls we hung out with mercilessly (“wanna see me make my nose bleed, baby?” Ewwww). Cindy T. and I became close friends, confidantes and a shoulder to lean on as we were both driven by our own suburban teen angst. She also introduced me to another sphere of music including UK Squeeze, Oingo Boingo, The Stranglers and The Specials. We also liked New Zealand act Split Enz so when Tom Petty rolled into town and Split Enz was moved from their smaller sold out Massey Hall shows to open for Petty at Maple Leaf Gardens we decided to go together.
Split Enz was on their ‘True Colors’ tour and didn’t disappoint though, as opening act, they were bereft of decent lighting and had to keep their set to under an hour. Cindy and I weren’t looking forward to Petty but I made her stay until we could hear some of the ‘Damn the Torpedoes’ material which I actually had purchased in my pre-punk days (gasp!). Petty walked onto the stage with a bottle of Jack Daniels in hand, hailed the audience with a garbled greeting then proceeded to trip over his own guitar cord, nearly taking out his mike stand in the process. Some roadies righted him while the band launched into a satisfactory set of their best known material. Rumour was that Stevie Nicks was going to make an appearance to reprise her duet on “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” but when the cackle-voiced whirling dervish failed to materialize during the song we took our cue and left.

It was still early in the night and we wanted to salvage the remainder of our visit to downtown Toronto so we walked over across the street to Larry’s Hideaway to see who was on tap. As we were both underage, the bouncers weren’t about to let us wander out into the bar. But it was late in the night and the Toronto Cops had already done their I.D. checks earlier and so the grizzled doorman took our five bucks each, handed me a free promotional 7” single from Bomb Records and let us stand about ten feet inside the room.

On stage was a five piece band giving their all in some cross breed of pop, punk and rock. The singer was electrifying, the tunes catchy and memorable. We caught about 30 minutes of the set before the singer announced “I’m David Quinton and thanks for coming out tonight” and the band launched into The Damned’s classic “Neat! Neat! Neat!”. Plastered all over the inside of the club doors were album covers with a photo of Quinton climbing the steps at the Harris Water Filtration Plant in the Beaches area of Toronto; it would be used again to great effect on the cover of Klaatu’s second album Hope and, strangely, Quinton’s next band The Jitters’ debut album in 1985.

After wearing out the free single of “Rescue Attempt”, I made another trip downtown as soon as I could and found the full album at Sam the Record Man’s on Yonge Street for $6.99. It soon became my default album of choice. In record time I began learning songs from it including a ballad called “When Lullabies End”. The song, and Mr. Quinton, would eventually weave their way through the rest of my musical career. [more on that MUCH later]

Cindy T. and I also went to the Squeeze show at the Masonic Temple two weeks later – it was the ‘East Side Story’ album tour and we were fortunate enough to get to see the original version of Squeeze with Jools Holland (who would leave the tour several shows later) and Paul Carrack. But as things happen in life, Cindy T. and I drifted apart as I was soon blind sided by puppy love from a completely unexpected place.

We now have an email where all of us here at Don’t Believe A Word I Say can be contacted dbawis@rogers.com. Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you would like to read about, links you would like to share, and, let’s hear what you have to say.

– Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and is the author of The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia. He keeps a copy of Lightfoot’s “Sundown” under his pillow at night.

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