Calgary 1980. A time when anything could happen but nothing ever did. There was a store, and one store only, that stocked N.M.E. (New Musical Express) which I presume had traveled by boat from England. I would devour them, six months old by the time they arrived, but still fresh to me.
It was my porn. Bands I would never see, but I sure could stare. Grainy pictures of the Damned, the Vibrators, the Sex Pistols. So cool. So unknown. It felt to me like the world was happening somewhere else. And not just in England, but in other parts of Canada. Punk bands like DOA and the Pointed Sticks were coming out of Vancouver and even more were springing up in Toronto. The Viletones, the Diodes and Teenage Head, music as forceful and unfocused as I was at the time. Who were these similar strangers?
Remember, this was the old days. There were no chat rooms for the disenfranchised. No internet for like-minded weirdos to find each other. It took luck and shoe-leather. I walked the streets of Calgary both haunted and hunted (I did look pretty weird in my nurses shoes and two tartan neck-ties) searching for my people. The world's worst cocktail party. Eventually I did find a couple of musical pals. We would get together and do nothing other than listen to music. And talk about music while we drummed on our knees. Now there were three of us. We listened to the punk singles, recorded in other places and seemingly smuggled in. But as soon I found these two guys, I found out they were moving. To Toronto. For the music scene, of course. The pull of clubs like the Edge and Larry's Hideaway was too much to resist. They were older and braver than me, so off they went. I was alone again. Great bands like the Modern Minds were now coming out of Alberta, so there was comfort if not camaraderie.
Soon, one of the friends who moved to Toronto (who later went on to form the band Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet) mailed me a ticket to see the Damned play at the Edge. A legendary club. It cost $2.50. He spent two days worth of food-money, trying to lure me there. That ticket went up on my bulletin board and screamed at me to come; oh I was leaving Calgary and going to see the Damned! Show starts at 8 p.m., I'll be there by six. (Not realizing then that a show that starts at 8 actually starts at 11.) But as the date approached it became clear that I would not be making the trek to T.O. After the night went by, the ticket remained on my bulletin board. It screamed at me that I had missed it! I would glance at it as I wrote my silly little tidbits. The ticket was a reminder of all the things I had not done. So much I still had to do. I kept the unused ticket well into my 30s. It only got tossed when my now-wife and I were 'nesting.' (Which really means that a woman is going to get rid of all your old stuff so you won't be reminded you were once free.)
I did make it out to Toronto just as the Punk scene was ending. I saw some of the bands play, but mostly I missed it. Looking back at my old journals circa 1981, I found an entry, "the Edge closed down and Jodi cried..." Curious. All of us, a tattered group that started to unravel as quickly as we formed.
One of the great things about doing the television series 'Young Drunk Punk' (set in Calgary in the '80s) is that I get to share the music that was so formative for me. The music that propelled me into the world. Into comedy and to Toronto. More importantly, it's really satisfying to have people hear things from this underrated era.
I was editing an episode last week and put on the Demics song 'New York City' full blast. "I'm getting pretty angry man and it's no good to shout . . . I wanna go to New York City cuz they tell me it's the place to be..." I was right back there, that raw restless feeling. I was connected to a group of people who felt life was happening somewhere else. Toronto, I went for the music and stayed for the comedy. But it's the music that got me there.
- Bruce McCulloch