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Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, 1977-1981 Paperback – October 1, 2011
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Every once in a while, maybe in every century, a city has its moment. And I think a lot of Toronto’s moment was between 1976 and 1980. There was just an incredible amount of energy in Toronto. I think it was a pretty boring place before all of us. We kind of were the instigators in terms of changing an awful lot of the direction of the city, artistically and musically and stylistically. People wanted Toronto to be more New York than New York, but keep its own identity. They wanted it to be important; they wanted it to matter. A lot of what I see in Toronto now is the product of what we created in a five-year period of time.” Paul Robinson, lead singer, The Diodes
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Rather than researching the story and writing it in her own words, Liz Worth and Gary "Pig" Gold have used the unique approach of editing extensive interviews with the bands, groupies, punks and observers who lived in Toronto and were at the heart of the scene as it was happening. There are nearly 400 pages here but the type is small enough that the content is probably the equivalent of a 700 or 800-page book. Lots of black-and-white photos enhance the story and there is a handy "Cast of Characters" at the front, which is helpful in keeping all the "players" straight.
If there is one star of this book, it's undoubtably Steven Leckie of the Viletones. He seems to have the distinction of giving the most quotes, and being the most-mentioned character. The Diodes and Teenage Head also get honours for most-mentioned.
Being more of a fan of the Art-Crowd music from this period such as The Dishes and The Poles, I wasn't bored by the coverage of the heavier punk bands such as the Ugly, The Curse or Forgotten Rebels. In fact, the more I got into this book, the more interested I became. Not only does it discuss the music scene, but you really get a feel for the era in Toronto and the rush this music brought to a generation of kids in search of something new and raw. The book pinpoints certains events that changed the scene, such as the murder of a 12-year-old shoeshine boy in a seedy red-light district that rocked headlines, as well as the arrival of a violent gang of hoodlums known as the Blake Street Boys.Read more ›
My two main complaints are a) the way it was printed: the text runs very close to the spine, so you really have to crack the book wide open to read it. This seems like a very basic design thing that was overlooked ? and b) it needed a more ruthless and skilled editor. Where "Please Kill Me" wildly succeeds - with sharp humour, chronological anecdotes and the shorthand given to stars from that scene (ie Patti Smith, NY Dolls, the Ramones, etc.) - this book falls short. I just felt like many of these people were horrible, artless jerks - as spoken from their own voice, and the accounts of others. An inordinate amount of attention is lavished on Steve Leckie - who seems like an exploitative psychopath - who exhibits little musical or artistic merit. He is able to exploit his persona as "Nazi Dog" to shock the mainstream media, after his teenage glitter phase runs out of steam - then morphs into a Toronto rockabilly dude. He was photogenic, I guess, but ???
I wasn't there as it happened - but I assume there were writers, filmmakers, poets, and other artistic agitators on that scene. I never get a real sense of their presence, contributions or voice. "Please Kill Me" had me laughing all the way through, whereas "Treat Me Like Dirt" made me feel uncomfortable and tired. Other documents from the early days of punk, like the ReSearch reprints of the "Search and Destroy" zine, made me think there were interesting, thoughtful, creative people functioning on many levels of evolving punk culture.Read more ›
Toronto was never a major player in the story of punk rock. None of the local bands made much of a splash outside of the city limits, nor are any of them held in particularly high regard by music fans today. So, why does a 384-page book on the city’s punk history during the prime years of 1977-1981 exist, and why is it such a damn good read? The bands in Liz Worth’s book may not get more than a shrug of the shoulders from most punk fans, but the book succeeds because the story of punk in Toronto is a microcosm of the story of punk everywhere. So, even if you have no idea who The Viletones, The Diodes, Teenage Head, Simply Saucer and The B Girls were, you can still enjoy this Please Kill Me-style collection of quotes from all the major participants, who seem more than happy to tell the story of how the city’s small underbelly of misfits and dilettantes got together and started bands despite the non-existent prospects of commercial interest from record labels, radio, or concert venues. While Treat Me Like Dirt’s subjects never left much of a permanent mark on music, the book does its best to shine a light on their small accomplishments, and hopefully it inspires some people to check out some of Toronto’s best punk nuggets (Simply Saucer being my personal favorite). If your book-shelf already includes local punk histories like Please Kill Me, England’s Dreaming, We Got The Neutron Bomb, and American Hardcore, then Treat Me Like Dirt will scratch you right where you itch.