I came to discover punk rock in the same way a lot of young people who weren’t there right at the beginning do: a clandestine listen to a friend’s older brother’s Sex Pistols LP followed by the purchase of a Dead Kennedys record and I was well on my way. The point where I veered off slightly came in the form of my aunt’s new boyfriend. Although he didn’t look the part, he was into punk and was about to introduce me to a world of bands that didn’t come from the U.K. or America, but right here in Canada. Suddenly, I had a new batch of weapons in my punk rock arsenal. Along with the Pistols, DKs and Black Flag, I was now listening to Forgotten Rebels, The Subhumans, DOA, and Dayglo Abortions. I was a Canadian punk listening to Canadian punk.
In the rest of the world Canada doesn’t really figure into the big picture of punk rock history. Sure, most books and documentaries on the subject will briefly mention DOA and maybe Nomeansno, but other than those two the frozen North’s contribution to the genre as a whole has been generally ignored. Until now.
Sam Sutherland has taken on the daunting task of going coast to coast and meticulously documenting small punk rock scenes that began springing up in the late 1970s, talking to members of the bands, promoters, managers, and fans. This book was made for a punk like me!
Sutherland criss-crosses around the country in no discernible order, which nicely breaks up the more heavily covered areas (Vancouver and Toronto). Major bands get their own chapters (The Viletones, DOA, Teenage Head, The Subhumans, Forgotten Rebels, and Pointed Sticks) and other chapters are broken up into cities (Montreal, Victoria, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Calgary) or, in cases of smaller scenes, Provincial areas (The Maritimes and Saskatchewan). There are also chapters on “queercore” and women in Canadian punk.
While incredibly comprehensive, the book is also entertaining; I had a hard time putting it down. While I already knew the stories of many of the bands involved, I didn’t feel like it was repeating anything. And the bands I didn’t know? Well, I gobbled that information up. I feel that much more whole now that I am aware of the early punk scene in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland.
The key to this book working as well as it does is with Sutherland himself. He is an outsider—a fan and journalist—looking in. You can tell he loves his subject deeply but is not above being objective about it. This is where other early Canadian band biographies and autobiographies often fail. Rather than recounting events from his own fuzzy memory, or the desire to insert himself into the story, Sutherland cobbles the history together from fragments of several fuzzy memories from many people involved. The results are fantastic.
For Canadians (both fans of punk rock or not) I think this book will go a long way in showing us how key our role has been in a very important genre and movement. For those outside our borders, I think it will open up a whole new facet to the early punk movement that they may not have seen or heard before. As someone who had previously thought himself somewhat of an expert on the subject of Canadian punk, I am now on the hunt for a lot of music I’ve never heard before. –Ty Stranglehold (ECW Press, 2120 Queen Street East, Suite 200, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M4E 1E2)