Published Jan 19, 2010Toronto-based music journalist and now author Liz Worth was certainly not treated like dirt at her Monday (January 18) book launch at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. A capacity crowd showed for the event, and copies of her book, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, 1977-1981, were quickly snapped up.
Worth undertook two years of research and conducted close to 200 interviews for the book, which documents the history of such acts as the Diodes, the Viletones, Simply Saucer, Forgotten Rebels and Teenage Head. The first-person recollections spawned the oral history approach of Treat Me Like Dirt, and at the launch she explained, "This wasn't my story to tell. I just wanted to preserve these stories."
The evening began with a DJ set featuring classics from the heyday of Toronto (and Hamilton) punk such as the Demics' "I Wanna Go to New York City" and the Poles' "C.N. Tower," all set to the visual accompaniment of projected photos of such leading lights of the scene as the Viletones, Teenage Head and the Diodes.
Next up was punk veteran Chris Houston, of Forgotten Rebels infamy. He explained his assistance with the book's research, saying, "I told Liz she could have every phone number I had as long as no one complained about her. Nobody did. The work she did editing all us idiots babbling is astounding."
Houston sprinkled his set with recollections of punk-era times spent in Hamilton, Toronto and Vancouver, and naturally concluded with a version of the classic "Surfin' on Heroin." Fine guitar accompaniment was provided by Joe Mavety, the Toronto musician best-known for extensive work with Marianne Faithfull. Mavety took the solo spotlight for one song, his version of the Faithfull hit he co-wrote, "Broken English."
Worth then took centre stage for an interview conducted by Fucked Up main man Damian Abraham. Neither Worth nor Abraham had been born when the first wave of punk hit the city, but both clearly are envious of those heady days. Abraham teased the aging punks in attendance with jibes about old age, but confessed at one point that "you have memories I'd trade my youth for." He also told them, "I stole all your ideas and then won an award [the 2009 Polaris Music Prize for Fucked Up's The Chemistry of Common Life], then I spent all the money on buying your records!"
A former Exclaim! contributor, Worth admitted that as a music-loving teenager, she had no idea that Toronto and Hamilton had been home to one of punk rock's most vibrant scenes. Eager to learn more, she found scant written documentation of that fact, and Treat Me Like Dirt is her attempt to fill that void.
Treat Me Like Dirt is published by notable Canadian independent record label and publisher, Bongo Beat, an alliance that makes sense given Bongo Beat main man Ralph Alfonso's presence on the Toronto punk scene as manager of leading lights the Diodes and crucial punk club Crash 'n' Burn.
Alfonso was in attendance, as was a healthy contingent of former members of Toronto's first wave of punk bands. That list included Gord Lewis (Teenage Head), George Higston (the Existers), Patsy Poison (the Curse), Zero (Zero4), Cleave Anderson (Battered Wives, Blue Rodeo), Gerry Bubblegum (Tyranna), Tony and Sam (the Ugly, the Viletones), Mike Dent (the Dents), Henry Martinuk (the Anemics), and Crash Kills Five and Shadowy Men alumnus Don Pyle, who is featured on the book's cover.
Treat Me Like Dirt is available now and you can pick up a copy at Bongo Beat's website here.