03/08/2013 06:12 EST | Updated 05/15/2013 10:26 EDT

A Former MuchMusic VJ's '80s Flashback

Queen & McCaul Street


Fall 1986

Hello everybody,

Well, I've made it to Toronto, although it was tough to leave Vancouver at the height of the summer with all the Expo '86 excitement. But the good news is I got the job with MuchMusic. It's a 24 hour music station that plays videos, sort of like radio on your TV. Do you have such a channel over there in the U.K.? It's nice to have a steady pay cheque coming in, even if it's a modest one. My role is rock and roll newsman for "the nation's music station." It's exciting, intense, aggravating, and glitzy all at once. We broadcast live so it's planned spontaneity, and if you get anything wrong no one worries too much because "it's close enough for rock and roll." However, you have to watch what you say as once the words are out of your mouth there's no taking them back. One time, one of my fellow VJs (that's what they call us -- video jockeys), Erica Ehm, decided to have some light-hearted fun live on the air by searching through the other VJs' desk drawers. Well, there were some things that should not have been seen on live television! -- but it was funny. The amazing thing is there are no scriptwriters or teleprompters -- you learn as you go.

The work load is enormous. My day starts off by skimming through a dozen newspapers trying to find music news. Besides being on the air five minutes every hour (seven times a day), there is always someone to interview, a record to listen to, or a concert to attend.

Television is an odd medium. Besides the bizarreness of appearing in a million living rooms daily, there is the behind the scenes politics, egos, money, flash, market-share, sex, ratings, and back-stabbings. I quite like it. My boss, John Martin, another ex-Englishmen, is a real character. His desk is piled high with "stuff" -- records, papers, magazines, and I'm sure his old running shoes are buried in there somewhere. To talk to him about anything you have to meet him at the pub. But that's okay because he is amazing. Brilliant brain and passionate about rock'n'roll. Without him there would be no MuchMusic. He's a real rebel -- no driving license, no credit cards, but an incredible TV brain. I like him a lot.

The studio is in an old black building on the east side of town and is part of a local TV station -- CityTV. There is a rickety old elevator that most probably has not been serviced in 30 years. There are stories of a giant cockroach living in the ceiling -- but I haven't seen him yet. For some reason Toronto has a huge cockroach problem.

I live on the west side of Toronto in a funky part of town -- sort of like living off the King's Road in Chelsea. In fact, directly opposite me is the Ontario College of Art, and next door to that is the Art Gallery of Ontario. MuchMusic is only fifteen minutes away, so I can walk it. Many of the night clubs, like The Horseshoe, The Bamboo, and The Rivoli, where I have to go and see shows, are all within walking distance. I don't need to worry about drinking and driving (not that I own a car). The apartment is convenient but small. Rent here is astronomical compared to Vancouver.

I was lucky to find a place. It was pretty scary when I arrived in the city. There were stories of students sleeping on friends' balconies. The demand for places is such that some landlords ask for "key money" if you want to rent -- a scam to get extra cash under the guise of changing the locks. A friend of a friend lent me his apartment while his was out of town. It was in the heart of the city, above a pizza shop, at Yonge and Wellesley. It looked right onto the shops and excitement of Yonge Street which stretches for miles along a single strip (in fact, it's the longest street in the world). On a hot summer night the cars snake along this thoroughfare, music blaring, and make as much of a nuisance as humanly possible -- and it's even worse after a heavy metal concert at Exhibition Place. The pedestrians seem to be a party to this ritual, and on a weekend night it's a sight to behold. Runaway kids seem to be in every door way of sex boutiques or head shops. The entrance to the apartment was via a back alley, and people looked at you as if you were a junkie or a hooker when you turned into the alley. After climbing three flights of spooky stairs there was a large old-fashioned apartment. It would normally have been a great place to live, but the cockroaches were everywhere (they scurried for cover when you turned on the light), and there were skylights in the ceiling and you could hear people shuffling around up there. One time I saw somebody peering in watching me. Spooky. The famous Gasworks rock and roll bar is at the other end of the alley, and I've already had to call the cops twice to come to the rescue of someone being beaten up in the alley. I knew it was time to move out when one night I entered the building and the single light bulb at the top of the stairs had burnt out. Like a scene out of a horror movie I had to feel my way up the dark stairwell and hope there was nobody waiting for me at the top of the stairs.

I'm ok now. Don't worry, Mom.

Toronto is very exciting -- there's a lot going on. A brand new stadium is being built downtown to house the Blue Jays (I went to my first baseball game recently), and the harbourfront is being re-developed in much the same way as London has. That shiny new area of town does look nice, what with markets, theatres and hotels. The only problem is that this gorgeous new example of Tomorrow is built alongside the depressing example of Yesterday -- Lake Ontario. It's so polluted that you cannot even paddle in it, and fish have cancer.

We drink bottled water.

So that just about does it for now. I'm off to see AC/DC tonight. That'll be interesting.

Until another moment of inspiration....


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