Puck Rock: Hockey Maniacs Come to Play Uniting For the Love of The Game
Published Feb 01, 2000NHL commissioner Gary Bettman wouldn't approve of it, but punk rock - particularly the Canadian variety - is fast becoming the unofficial music of hockey. If that sounds like a stretch, consider this: with the release this month of the second Johnny Hanson Presents Puck Rock compilation CD, there are now more punk rock recordings dedicated to Canada's game than any other musical genre, or, for that matter, all other genres combined.
Released back in 1994 on NoMeansNo's Wrong Records label, Johnny Hanson Presents Puck Rock Vol. 1 introduced 21 punk rock classics-to-be to the hitherto heterogeneous annals of hockey music. Two years prior to that, NoMeansNo unveiled its hockey-obsessed, Ramones-influenced alter ego, the Hanson Brothers, with their debut CDGross Misconduct . True, not all of that disc's material revolved around the Sport of Sports, but the album's hockey-crazed aesthetic managed to pervade just the same. The Hanson Bros. followed up Gross Misconduct four years later with another full-length release,Sudden Death . Even more hockey-centric than its predecessor, the disc even featured the Hanson Brother's own inspired rendition of Stompin' Tom Connors' "The Hockey Song."
The latest volume of Johnny Hanson Presents Puck Rock comes by way of D.O.A. main man Joe Keithley's Sudden Death Records, and features an additional 21 punk rock hockey numbers. Meanwhile, south of the border, New Jersey band the Zambonis have three puck rock releases of their own. Add to the list tunes like Vancouver punkabilly band the Deadcats' recent "Get Outta My Crease," the Dik Van Dykes' '80s classic "How Could You Leave Me For Harold Snepsts," and D.O.A.'s "Give 'em the Lumber."
Clearly, there's enough punk rock/hockey material out there to warrant its own retail section. But punk rock isn't just laying claim to hockey through sheer volume alone. Rather, the outpouring of musical tribute to The Game is indicative of an evolving social dynamic.
The popularity of "extreme" sports, and the aggressive music that invariably accompanies their televised broadcast, has obscured forever the time-honoured lines between jocks and punks. Snowboarding in particular has introduced and popularised the punk-as-athlete image - something two decades of skateboarding and BMXing couldn't achieve. Meanwhile, a breed of relative punk veterans have rediscovered their own hockey roots and are actively taking back the game they lost somewhere on the way to the record store.
D.O.A.'s Keithley is one such musician. "I just kinda drifted away [from hockey] when I got into music," says Keithley, whose musician-comprised D.O.A. Murder Squad has been icing routine charity games in Vancouver for the past few years. "I stopped playing hockey altogether. All my old friends that used to play, I didn't hang out with them anymore. I hung out with a bunch of punk rockers who didn't give a shit about hockey."
Keithley says punk peer pressure kept him away from The Game for years before he took to the ice again around 1986. "The first few years, there was this real anti-sports thing," he recalls. "I remember the first Seven Seconds record had this song, 'I Hate Sports,' or something, which was written by their original drummer Tom, who's a friend of mine. Now he goes to every single Oakland Raiders football game, so I laugh at him and remind him of that song. Or the Biafra one, 'Jock-O-Rama,' where he's going [affecting Biafra-esque vibrato] 'The star quarterback is lying on the field with a broken back... What a hero! What a man!' He makes some good points in the song, but..."
Keithley's experience isn't unique. After a childhood of bona fide hockey fanaticism, the Smugglers' Grant Lawrence found himself similarly estranged from his favourite pastime.
"Once I discovered booze and drugs, I thought hockey was for jock thugs. I eventually came around." Smugglers Grant Lawrence
"I stopped playing because once our class went on to high school, everybody got split up and got into other things like pot, rock, beer, Dungeons and Dragons, cars, and for me personally, I aimed my energies on forming a band," explains Lawrence. "Once I discovered booze and drugs, I turned hippie for a couple of years and thought hockey was for jock thugs. For the most part it still is, I just eventually came around to immensely enjoy the game again."
The Smugglers' contribution to hockey's musical legacy appeared on the first Johnny Hanson Presents... CD. The band's prescient contribution, "Our Stanley Cup," foreshadowed the Canucks' dramatic run to the seventh game of the '94 Stanley Cup final.
Rheostatics guitarist Dave Bidini is another musician who has both contributed to the hockey rock annals (1987's "The Ballad of Wendel Clark, Parts I and II"), and successfully rekindled a loving relationship with The Game. Bidini plays for the Morningstars - a recreational league team made up of Toronto musicians and insurgent music industry types. He says the confidence of adulthood has enabled him to differentiate the aspects of hockey nearest his heart from The Game's unappealing macho conventions.
"You can slash and punch and scream, then go home and write poetry to your boyfriend." Rheostatics Dave Bidini
"As a kid, it was a case of life or death and peer approval when confronted with the decision of whether or not to behave the way hockey players were supposed to behave," Bidini opines. "In adult rec hockey, you can slash and punch and scream, then go home and write poetry to your boyfriend. It's a realisation I hope every ex-minor leaguer can go through. Loving sport without its inherent misanthropy is a beautiful thing."
Though seemingly strange bedfellows, hockey and punk rock occupy no shortage of common ground, metaphoric though it may be. Both are fast, hard-hitting and, more often than not, colourful entities. Those similarities aren't lost on Tom Thacker, guitarist/vocalist of Vancouver punk band Gob.
"The activity in the mosh pit is pretty close to what goes on on the ice." Gob's Tom Thacker
"They're both pretty aggressive, and the activity in the mosh pit is pretty close to what goes on on the ice," says Thacker, a seasonal rec-league skater himself. "Plus, the lead singers usually yell and scream into the mic, and coaches tend to yell at their players a lot, too."
While those similarities may seem trivial, Lawrence says there's no denying the shared experiences of hockey and punk rock. "All those bad cliches you hear coaches and players mindlessly trotting out in interviews? It's scary how close those quotes apply to playing on stage in a band," says Lawrence. "It has to be a team effort, everyone has to give 110%, you gotta be in sync for success, and one has to raise their level of intensity and energy for positive results. There are a ton of similarities. Sweat and adrenaline, always practising and lots of concentration. Crowds boo you when you suck, too, just like hockey."
Similarly, Keithley says he's always considered D.O.A. like a hockey team, even back in the band's storied early days. "In 1982, our pals Black Flag came to town and they were really sick of their drummer at the time, Maurice," Keithley recalls. "I guess they got the inkling we weren't getting along with Chuck Biscuits very well, so Greg Ginn and Chuck Dukowski sheepishly came and asked us, 'Do you mind if we get Chuck to drum with us?' We figured we'd do like a player's transaction. Chuck owed like $1000 to us so we said no problem, you pay off his $1000 and you can have his playing rights. He was like our Gretzky. We sold off the promising young star."
Though he's never actually pulled it off in practice, Keithley says he's considered introducing elements of hockey game officiating to the live punk arena, too "We've often though when you get a couple people in the pit that are completely out of line, we'd have a couple of reasonably strong men or women go grab 'em. They'd be wearing referees jerseys and they'd put 'em up in a cage that they couldn't get out of for two minutes, maybe while their favourite song was going on. If it was really bad they'd get a five-minute penalty, or if it was really bad you'd give them a gig misconduct and they'd be chucked right out of the building. Under further review, maybe even a five gig suspension."
That punk's hockey standard-bearers are chiefly Canadian comes as no surprise. But as the appeal of The Game increases south of the border, so too does its impact on American musicians. While touring the States with the Smugglers, Lawrence says he's met a number of American musicians with a passion for Canada's Game.
"Pretty much anywhere we go in the States, people are eager to talk hockey," says Lawrence. "As the expansion creeps disgustingly south, and more and more people got into it, now we run into bands like the Teen Idols from Nashville, who are huge Predators fans, the Crumbs from Miami who love the Panthers, and Ben Weasel from Screeching Weasel and the Riverdales, who, for at least a couple years, was a die-hard IHL Chicago Wolves fan."
International though it may be, punk rock's embrace of hockey has yet to be met with any degree of reciprocity, save for the odd tune finding its way onto NHL arena programmers' play lists. According to Lawrence, however, there 's a small faction of NHL players who garner inspiration from the genre. Through his research work for CBC Two's Radio Sonic, Lawrence has had occasion to poll a number of NHLers about their musical taste, or lack thereof.
"Most hockey players have absolutely no taste," says Lawrence. "For instance, most hockey players will name Garth Brooks as their favourite musician. Some of the ones with taste for punk rock are Ottawa Senators' Damian Rhodes, New York Islanders' Felix Potvin and Detroit Red Wings' Darren McCarty. According to Damian Rhodes, any player out of the WHL likes country music, any player out of a bigger city tends to like cooler music, goalies have the best taste in music and Russians like nothing but house and techno, cranked."