Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – I Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk

Shanghai Aug 2012“I was a punk before you were a punk

You don’t believe me? Just step outside and see me baby

I was a punk before you were a punk

You want some action? I’ll put your ass in traction baby

I was a punk before you were

I was a punk before you

I was a punk before you were

I was a punk before you”

The Tubes (Spooner/Evans/Waybill)

Cam - NXNE 2013One of the most educational functions of programming the NXNE Film Festival is the 200 films I get to preview each year. When you work in the music industry, be it at a label, as a manager, producer, musician or publicist, one of your greatest assets should be education. You need to know the history of bands, producers, labels and everything else pertaining to music. The older you get the more you learn, and, hopefully, the less mistakes you make. If you are in a band pick up a book and listen to a couple of records that were made before you were born.

Bloor CinemaEvery year I am astounded by how little I know. Because the NXNE Film Festival prefers music themed movies I recently have seen documentaries on the punk scene in Brazil, obscure Detroit via South African musicians, blues greats I only know by name, small town AM radio stations that were powerhouses in the sixties and pretty much everything in between. The hardest part is deciding what films you screen and which ones you have to pass on. It is a delicate balance when programming as you want a full theatre (and this year we are moving to the much bigger Bloor (Hot Docs) Cinema), but you also want to educate and enlighten people. It’s easier for me to get excited by a film but fortunately I don’t need bLOOR cINEMA INSIDEto shell out $10 for each viewing. We have some great films coming this year and I will go into detail about them closer to the festival. We have announced a couple and you can check out for a partial listing.

Quite a few of the films I watched dealt with punk rock. To some younger readers punk began with The Offspring, Green Day and Blink 182 while some of our older readers will swear it started with The MC 5 and Iggy Pop. For me punk started in 1975 with the rise of The Ramones and the New York scene coupled with the explosion in England with The Sex Pistols and The Clash and a Toronto scene that sat somewhere in the middle with the rise of The Viletones and The Diodes. There are some great books dealing with the origins of many local scenes and I highly recommend the following ten:

tREAT ME LIKE dIRT“Treat Me Like Dirt” – Liz Worth – All about the Toronto scene

“Perfect Birth: The Birth of Canadian Punk” – Sam Sutherland

“Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Of Punk” – Legs McNeil

“England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols. Punk Rock and Beyond” – Jon Savage

“1988 – The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion” – Caroline Coon

“We Got The Neutron Bomb – The Untold Story Of L.A. Punk” – Marc Spitz/Brendan Mullen

From The Velvets To The Voidoids” – Clinton Heylin“From The Velvets To The Voidoids: A Pre-Punk History For A Post-Punk World” – Clinton Heylin

“Just Kids” – Patti Smith

“Rotten – No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” – John Lydon

“Last Gang In Town – The Story And Myth Of The Clash” – Marcus Gray

Where and when you grew up will have a direct influence on which punk bands mean the most to you. By 1976 almost every major city in the world had a scene and their local heroes. I watched docs on the scenes in South Africa and South America and could not believe how vibrant those punk communities were in those early years. The punk scenes in Vancouver and Toronto were as different as those in New York and Los Angeles or even Hamilton and Halifax. Each centre had its own unique set of circumstances, economics, schools and access to other markets to make each scene as individual as a fingerprint.

Vancouver’s D.O.A.In Toronto we seemed to borrow from both the U.K. and New York while the Los Angeles scene borrowed from Vancouver. Wasn’t it Vancouver’s D.O.A. who came up with the term “hard core”?

Not counting the forerunners such as The Stooges, The MC 5, The Fugs or The New York Dolls here is my list of the most important punk bands.

1.    The Clash

The Clash released the best and biggest volume of work from the initial punk period. Their first two albums were pure blasts of primal energy but it was the double “London Calling” and triple “Sandinista” where they spread their wings and showed the total scope of the genre. Joe Strummer was a true original and I would love to be able to see what he would be capable of today.

2.    The Sex Pistols

The double-shot of “Anarchy In The UK” and “God Save The Queen” was heard around the world. They followed up admirably with their only studio album “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols” but by the time they toured America, with Sid Vicious replacing Glen Matlock, they became more of a travelling sideshow.

3.    The Ramones

The Ramones were the band that kick-started the U.K. scene (and Toronto scene for that matter) when they left New York to bring their brand of machine gun rock to the rest of the world. True innovators.

4.    The Viletones

The Toronto scene got very real when The Viletones showed up. “Screaming Fist”/”Possibilities” is the purest punk rock record ever released in this country.

5.    The Damned

The first punk band to release a single in the U.K. when they signed to Stiff and released “New Rose”. They were also the first UK punk band to release a full length album and tour America.

6.    The Dead Boys

One of the most intense live bands of all-time. Led by Stiv Bators and Cheetah Chrome the Cleveland band quickly found fans in both New York and Toronto.

7.    The Jam

Sure they aped Mods but The Jam had the intensity and attitude of punks. Great volume of work and fantastic live.

8.    D.O.A.

Virtually started the whole west coast scene and influenced everyone from The Dead Kennedys to Black Flag. Joey Shithead is the godfather of Canadian punk.

9.    The Diodes

Responsible for the growth and development of the Toronto and Canadian scenes. From signing to a major to building their own club The Diodes influence was huge.

10.  Patti Smith

Let women know they could do it as well as the men. Her sense of fashion rocked a million imitators but her sound has never been duplicated.


Cam’s column appears every Thursday

Contact us at:

Much liked a loved radio station The Shanghai Cowgirl is  changing formats. My beloved Shanghai will become the second location for “Rock Lobster”. Shanghai/Bovine owner DarryI Fine, along with partners Alan Thomson and Rock Lobster founder Matt Dean Pettit, promise Shanghai-like late weekend hours as well as some speedy seafood take-out. There is something to be said for a 2 AM lobster roll (shades of late night partying in Maine). They hope to have Rock Lobster ready at the beginning of June. 

DBAWIS ButtonCameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY, New Canadian Music and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

For the last time this column is brought to you by the late great Shanghai Cowgirl.

Cam Shanghai Logo Inverted

2 Responses to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – I Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk”

  1. Strummer 101 Says:

    Pretty predictable list Mr C.

  2. Strummer Says:

    I remember seeing The Dead Boys in a club above a Chinese restaurant in Toronto. I gotta say before anyone realized it Stiv was all curled up in the bass drum…what a band they were.Also later I got his autograph on my wine skin,and he spelled his last name wrong…Cheers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: