Winston interviews Liz Worth
Noted poet, music journalist and author Liz Worth has just penned the first ever chronicle of the early Toronto punk scene, Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History Of Punk In Toronto And Beyond (1977-81) (Bongo Beat Books). On the eve of the TINARS launch for her eagerly awaited book, Worth sat down with Winston, our old school punk penguin.
W: What prompted you to chronicle the first wave of punk rock in Toronto?
L: When I was younger I used to think that nothing ever happened in Toronto. When I first found out that this city was part of punk’s first wave, I was really surprised, and really interested, because I always thought that that was something that had happened in New York and London. So the realization that this amazing movement had happened on Toronto’s streets was very appealing to me. I was always trying to find out the story behind the Toronto punk scene, but found it hard to get all the details I wanted. I was waiting for a book or a movie or something to come out about it. One day I got tired of waiting and decided to find out for myself.
W: Why did you choose to relay the story of Toronto punk in the form of an oral history -- as opposed to, say, a novel?
L: Originally I had intended to write a straight-ahead history, but several interviews in I realized this had to be an oral history. The more I talked to people the more I could hear their stories falling in place. I also really liked the idea of preserving these stories as they were told to me, especially since this history hadn’t been documented at length yet. It was important to me to preserve these voices rather than mixing them into my own.
W: The creation myth of New York punk revolves around CBGBs, where bands like The Ramones played their first shows. And the 100 Club was at the centre of the early scene in London, England. Was there a hub for the first wave of punk in Toronto?
L: Things moved around quite a bit. The Beverly Tavern was a hub early on and remained so, but it was more a hangout for the art crowd. The Crash ‘n’ Burn was important because it was Toronto's first punk venue run by people from the scene, but it was very short-lived. There was the Colonial on Yonge Street, David's, and Shock Theatre, but they were short-lived, too. The Turning Point and Larry's Hideaway came along eventually and stuck around longer. So there was a lot of moving around, and a lot of stops and starts. We take it for granted now that there are so many steady venues in the city; the music scene was very different back then. It was a lot harder to get a gig playing original music.
W: How did you come up with the title, “Treat Me Like Dirt”?
L: "Treat Me Like Dirt" is taken from the Simply Saucer song "Bullet Proof Nothing." I'd had a few working titles but none of them were really sticking. I wanted the title to reference the music in the book, but I also needed something that reflected the book on a whole. Also, titles are important. The title is the first thing someone's going to see when they're staring at a row of books on a shelf in a store. One day "Bullet Proof Nothing" was stuck in my head and the line "treat me like dirt" was bouncing around in my head and I was thinking ‘yeah, treat me like dirt - what a great title.’ It's provocative and defiant, and captures a lot of the sentiment in the book. That's not to say that anyone's asking to be treated like dirt, but more that there are a lot of disappointments voiced in these stories. There's a lot of fun rock 'n' roll stuff going on in this book, but also a lot of disheartening stuff, too.
W: Where do you stand on that perennial conundrum: rock, paper, or scissors?
L: I like that paper is so fragile but wins by enveloping something so hard and heavy. There's a saying that goes along the lines of warning readers about reading books, because a book can change your life, and you never know which book it will be. Reading is a mind-bending experience. So paper rules, always.
W: Would you say that there is a renewed sense of interest in early punk, not just in Toronto but in general?
L: I think there is, definitely. Part of it has to do with punk recently celebrating its 30th anniversary. That brought a lot of bands back on stage for reunion shows, and there were a lot reissues and new albums released around then from original punk bands, too. But I think a bigger part of the renewed interest in early punk is because it was such a genuine, exciting movement. And in the past decade, we didn't really have a strong, iconic movement that defined the times. In the early '00s when the White Stripes and Hives and Strokes were breaking, there was a lot of excitement around that, but even then it wasn't the same as grunge in the '90s or punk in the '70s. And I think younger people are longing for something like that. This past decade has been very nostalgic, but a lot of that nostalgia is driven by younger people. Of course, the renewed interest in punk also speaks to how iconic that movement has become, and how well the music stands up three decades later.
W: Which one trend in the world of music journalism would you like to put on ice for five years or so?
L: There's way too much "next big thing" kind of buzz way too often. There's so much music happening all the time, and with it all being instantly accessible online it's really easy to get burned out on it, and if you get burned out you're not going to care anymore. It seems like every month or two there's another buzz band being hyped all over, and then they're forgotten in a couple months. It's too much too fast. We need to let things happen organically. I don't know if that's possible anymore given how fast information travels, but I'd really like to see the hype machine slow down a little.
W: Who is your favourite Sesame Street character? Why?
L: I've always been a fan of Barkley because he's so big and shaggy. He looks like he'd be really great to hug.
W: What books are currently on your bedside table?
L: The Football Factory by John King, Skinheads by John King, Pink by Gus Van Sant, and Exploding Into Night by Sandy Pool.
W: What five (or ten) songs would you put on a mix-tape soundtrack to accompany the book, *Treat Me Like Dirt*?
L: Only five or ten? I'll have to go for ten, but there are so many more I want to pick:
"Ghidra" by the Dishes "Noise" by the Diodes
"Danger Boy" by the Viletones
"Lucy Potato" by Teenage Head
"Hearts in His Eyes" by the B' Girls
"I Accuse You" by the Curse
"One Foot in the Gutter" by the Ugly
"Surfin' On Heroin" by the Forgotten Rebels
"New York City" by the Demics
"Bullet Proof Nothing" by Simply Saucer
TINARS PRESENTS LIZ WORTH IN CONVERSATION WITH DAMIAN ABRAHAM OF FUCKED UP
To celebrate the release of her groundbreaking chronicle Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk In Toronto and Beyond (1977-81) (Bongo Beat Books), author Liz Worth will discuss the story of Toronto punk with Damian Abraham, lead singer of 2009 Polaris Prize winners, Fucked Up. Also on the bill is a performance by Chris Houston of Forgotten Rebels and Gord Lewis of Teenage Head, “mystery guests” and a live DJ set by Mark Pesci.
Gladstone Hotel Ballroom, 1214 Queen St West Mon Jan 18; 7:30pm (Doors 7pm) $5 (Free With Book Purchase)