JAIMIE VERNON – YOU SAY IT’S MY BIRTHDAY
As you read this I’m either on or about to go on stage for what is most certainly my 1,000th live musical appearance as the final act on the final night of David Bash’s long-running Toronto International Pop Overthrow Festival (this is year #10). I’ve been humiliating myself and faking musical talent in public since September 1980. Thirty-six years of looking for affirmation in all the wrong places.
People seem to like it. I mostly like performing. I don’t like loading-in, setting up, sitting around growing bored and tired, and then the tearing down and going home part. But those fly-by-minutes on stage are generally magical. Everyone should get to act out in public this way without consequences. It’s good for the soul. Like primal scream therapy with guitars.
David’s festival coincides every year with my birthday. This year it fell ON my birthday. I get to celebrate by ringing in another year of asking ‘what the fuck am I doing with my life?’ yet one more time. Growing up we used to celebrate birthdays as a race toward adulthood. I celebrate birthdays now to celebrate not having died. I think many of us are that way. Two cheers for the survivor! I’ve always celebrated the not dying angle because I was handed a second chance very early in life.
I was born a poor black child…no, wait….wrong movie. I was born with blood clots in my head. Was it a bad medical delivery technique? Forceps? Birth defect? No one knows. It was 1963 and Moms-to-be weren’t given so much as an ultrasound to prepare them for what to expect. My doctor was Crawford Anglin – one of the heads of paediatrics at Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto. He was the best at what he did. They would eventually name parts of three hospitals after him. He reminded me of Marcus Welby though his nurse was the opposite of him – playing the real life embodiment of Nurse Ratchet. He passed at the age of 98 in June 2016 having saved the lives of thousands of children.
At 6 months old it became obvious to him that there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t hold my head up yet. There are late bloomers, he knew, but I was showing signs of being a non-bloomer. They did a myriad of tests on me and discovered the blood clots. By the middle of 1964 it was time to operate. Anglin handed me over to the Chief of the recently opened neurosurgery department at Sick Kids named Dr. E. Bruce Hendrick. He was Ben Casey to Anglin’s Marcus Welby and he’d been recruited by Anglin from a hospital in New York City.
The operation went off without a hitch at least medically aside from a life long set of cranial scars. It did take a toll on my Mom and Dad, though. I was in the hospital for several months. Mom came to my bedside everyday but my Dad had to work and was limited to a few minutes each day if he could make it there before the end of visiting hours. Neither parent could form an effective bond with me while I was bandaged and still unable to communicate with either of them. That distance, that isolation would remain even after I was brought home. My parents would always live in fear that I’d be taken away. In the pre-Bubble Wrap era of the early 1960s everyone put on a happy face and suffered emotionally alone. I can’t speak for my parents but I know it must have been hard trying to live normally with me spending most of my early years trying to play catch up with the other kids.
Would I be visually or mentally impaired? Would I learn to walk and talk properly? It was all a crapshoot. My Mom did the best she could with me while my Dad continued being the breadwinner. Thankfully, as time would show, I was fine physically and mentally. Emotionally, I would be a train wreck. I was lonely and insecure. I acted the most like the person I was closest to – my mother – who was a hard-as-nails and brash disciplinarian. She was filled with a lot of anger. I was afraid of her and cried at the drop of a dime. My father couldn’t handle my crying episodes. It was the 1960s. Crying boys were weak. My parents weren’t horrible people. They reacted the only way they knew how. As a child you can’t understand this. Therapy was going to be part of my future.
I became an over-achiever to please them both. I nailed school. I made the track team. I excelled at visual art. I was also my mother’s son and was mouthy as hell. I thought I knew it all. I became the centre of attention and other kids were not impressed in the least. In short order the beatings from other kids at school began. It was probably around Grade 4. The more they hurt me the more I mouthed back. It was an endless cycle. I was small as a kid. My parents feared I wouldn’t grow much past 5’ 5” like my Dad. In that reality I was physically incapable of defending myself. I learned how to run fast. I spent years running back and forth to school. I would only find safety in class or in my house.
I suffered terrible nightmares as a child clearly as a manifestation of my personal issues. I once killed a large wasp in my bedroom window and that night had a dream that it was chasing me and trying to kill me. I ended up jumping out of bed, leaving the comfort of our apartment and hiding down a flight of stairs believing the wasp was coming to get me. My folks didn’t get it. My Dad yelled at me because I’d woken everyone up.
My peer group was pretty supportive, however. We were a tightly knit bunch of nerds but I spent most of my time drawing attention to myself and embarrassing them – mostly because I had a huge chip on my shoulder and had no idea how to articulate my anger. So it became comedic quips and sarcasm.
Bullies don’t understand sarcasm and the beatings continued right up until the first year of high school. My parents finally caught on that things weren’t good in my world after three guys at school nearly drown me in the school swimming pool during gym class then took my clothes and dumped them in a toilet in the Girl’s change room. I was George McFly to a gang of Biff Tannens.
Fortunately, I didn’t stay a victim long after that as I switched schools, grew five inches and joined a punk band. I had become fearless and never took another hit again. I compartmentalized my anger, rarely acted out and adopted a steely façade. I became a curmudgeon before my time.
Fifty-three years seems young. I’ve lived a lot of life. Twice married, two kids, a dozen incredible jobs – including working under three city mayors – and a dozen crap ones (ever had to wax a gymnasium floor every day for 9 months?). I’ve travelled the breadth and length of Canada and put a moose through the windshield of my van. I’ve done the same four times through the United States. I’ve walked the decks of the Queen Mary and the HMCS Haida. I’ve been inside two nuclear powered submarines – one American, one Russian – and Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose. I’ve driven some of the fastest and most collectible automobiles in the world and shared an elevator with former Prime Minister Joe Clark and Star Trek’s George Takei (not at the same time). I’ve stood at the entrance of Area 51 and defied the US military to arrest (they didn’t) and screamed from edge of the Grand Canyon.
I’ve tutored and mentored and volunteered. I’ve worked as a poll sheriff in several elections. I’ve been on hockey and baseball teams and represented schools at track meets and speech writing championships. I’ve got trophies and the damaged body that comes with the glory and the defeats.
I’ve stood on stage and performed my own songs at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and with some of my rock and roll heroes. I’ve written half-a-dozen books. I’ve collected stamps, comic books, postcards, Red Rose tea and hockey cards, coins and until recently had 3,500 vinyl albums and 2,500 vinyl 7” singles.
I love photography, astronomy and watching horror movies. I also dig cats and have ridden horses. I’d make a great Tinder surprise on a date except you wouldn’t be able to handle me. That I’m still married to an amazing woman shows her strength of character and tolerance because I’m not just a bad boy but I don’t play well with others.
My family mortality rate indicates I’ve got longevity on my side.According to my calculations, if all goes well, I might just live into my
mid-90s. Everyday I’m here is a gift. The world needs to step up its game. I’ve got 40 more years of this nonsense to stick under my belt and I aim to misbehave.
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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 recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon