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One Barracudas Pilgrimage to Punk

When I was still in Ottawa, after the Ramones album had changed my life, I was hanging in Arthur’s Place, a used record and book store run by two hippies where I glommed bootlegs and comics and crap. I remember that day because I was poking around and pawing a Ramones boot’ and one of the owners sniped, “Curiosity killed the cat.” I bought it, a real old bootleg with a plain white sleeve and mimeo inlay. The sound stank: I had a better concert at home on a cassette tape I’d lovingly sneaked into the Ramones Toronto debut, two sets in under under an hour. I had that tape a long time and I wish I had it now. I didn’t have Leave Home yet when I heard Glad To See You Go, which is I guess my top Ramones record. In a way, and I’m hardly unique in this, my whole music story ripples from the Ramones. My life led up to and from them. It’s corny but true. Some people find God – I found the Ramones. (Well, I found God, too, but He proved unreliable. Whereas “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker” has yet to disappoint me.)

Before I heard the Ramones, I saw them in pictures in Richard and Lisa Robinson’s grainy, great Rock Scene magazine wherein, month by month, it became obvious that in New York something was happening as big as the Sixties. I was sixteen, seventeen and I cut out and taped pictures of the Ramones to my wall and door…and I had never even heard them. But I knew. It’s like the centurion thing in the Gospel: I knew. My story: Go home. Leave home.

The first time I did hear the Ramones was an epiphany. I got back from school and heard, emanating from my older brother’s room, a strange buzzing, pulsating racket. I knew.  My brother David had brought me up the right way in music taste and we had for some weeks been in vigil mode waiting for the Ramones debut to arrive. I walked in and asked and he shot me a beatific look of joint validation. I then spent weeks playing the album over and over again, and then ditto Leave Home, which latter album to this day I find perfect and the band’s best by far.

How I got to Arthur’s Place, or even Big Bud’s, the budget store supreme, all the stores on Bank Street, and the whole beautiful city of Ottawa of my youth, is only as mundane and mysterious as a life can be.


I had one of those old-fashioned record players with a small spindle and 45rpm adaptor, which my brother must have given to me. (Years later I acquired a Dansette, a classic Sixties British record player that made every single sound like it was being beamed from deep space, through gauze, to your ears, but adding in its transmission a filthy, feral grit that made rock’n’roll sound dangerous.) I had some old records, folk music possibly of the kind that was popular before beat music. I see a Chad and Jeremy, a Kingston Trio, and Pete Seeger’s live album with its benign but pointed protest numbers like “Little Boxes”. I got a copy of The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” on Capitol Records with the cover shot of the Four jumping atop a wall. I played “Chains” to death. I was still into my Airfix soldiers then, but within a few years, and with a new hundred dollar stereo all that was left behind, I joined the Record Club of Canada and got pre-ordering Elton John. I’m glad that “Madman Across the Water”, Elton’s third album, had finally been rehabilitated, it’s first side is flawless; I’d love to cover “Razor Face” one day, which exhibits that fascination with the Old West that old Europe revelled in and was especially acute in Germany and Scandinavia. For me Elton ended with “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, and only half of it at that. The Record Club specialised in bad Canadian pressings on poor quality plastic, often arriving warped. At least you had real packaging, fat booklets, fantastic art. Compact discs, with their bottomless anti-rock sound have been a waste of time. I heard a C.D. for the first time in Los Angeles on a writing expedition for SOUNDS, “Exile on Main Street”. I was too jet lagged to take it in. I love vinyl and digital. Cassettes: beloved. Nobody will miss the ugly sister, the C.D. It is just not one of us.


The first single I bought was Creedence’s “Down on the Corner”, at K-Mart, probably a buck or at the most two. The Barracudas added “Fortunate Son” to their repertoire around “Meantime”. John Fogerty’s “I Saw It On T.V.” is one of a few keynote numbers for me, with the power to summons up my childhood and the lost world it inhabited, but it hasn’t half the visceral impact for me as Allen Ginsberg’s “America”, which upon first hearing brought tears to my eyes, as between each line it seemed to grab my throat and heart and evoke not just when I lived but who I was living. “Kaddish”, a much longer Ginsberg poem, is equally phenomenal, its lines – for example, “Now I've got to cut through to talk to you as I didn't when you had a mouth.” – bringing back home to me layer upon layer of my life, and especially my mother’s death over a decade ago, which sort of rite of passage Ginsberg’s account of his own parent’s passing makes so beautiful as to be unbearable. Although, due to my brother, I was aware at a young age of Lenny Bruce and the Beats, I didn’t discover them much myself until much later. However, I always knew Burroughs, whose adopted cutup technique I have made extensive use of in my creative writing. In my memoir of my childhood, “Victim of Dreams”, I reproduce many of my journal entries that are written in a Beat style and there is the same sense of longing for what is lost that makes Ginsberg’s far more accomplished work so satisfying and saddening. In a song I wrote with Nikki Sudden, “The Proving Trail” (the title, like much of my material at the time taken from pulp Western sources) I paraphrase a French writer: “Why do we end up so far from where we begin?”


It’s always been a frustration to me that all most people know of my creative output is one minor hit novelty single, “Summer Fun.” I’ve never liked “Summer Fun”, my voice is detuned by dope and the song bugged to me to the point that for years, to Robin’s disappointment, I refused to play it live with the band. I can divulge the fact that it was almost used a while ago as the theme to a summer campaign by Britain’s best-selling daily newspaper The Sun, and I am delighted with its inclusion on the British bestselling “Teenage Kicks” compilation, but the song itself leaves me cold. (“I Want My Woody Back”, our debut, I adore.)

For me, about the only good thing that came out of “Summer Fun” was recording it at The Who’s Ramport Studios in Battersea. The Who are my favourite band, even The Beach Boys, despite their equivalent greatness, are a fraction behind them in my own love and esteem. I really feel that much as McCartney is the British Brian Wilson, Pete Townshed is his equal. My discovery of The Who dates from the pivotal day of my musical education when my brother handed me worn copies of The Who’s “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy”, The Stooges’ “Funhouse”, and The Velvet Underground’s “White Light, White Heat”, which trio I proceeded to devour. These three albums became my triptych and trinity. Everything I needed to know, that was essential to understand, between the ages of roughly fourteen and sixteen, these three taught me. And of the three bands I was introduced to, The Who I loved the most. For The Stooges I had awe; for the Velvets respect; but for The Who I reserved my purest teen fervor and love.

The Stooges’ “Funhouse”, to me, is the sound of Detroit on a benzedrine drip, and much as I love “Raw Power” I see “Funhouse”  as the band’s pinnacle,  possessed of a discipline and feline brutality that I once compared to “making cave paintings with a power drill”. “White Light, White Heat” to me is the sound of a rebuke to what at that point was left intact of the American Dream. You have to realise that the American Dream writ doesn’t really run on the East Coast. Out West, and especially in the Midwest and California it is a living totem, spirit and flesh. On the East Coast there is more noise, more dirt, the Dream dog don’t hunt. The Velvets are the only genuine subway sect of rock’n’roll and, like another great New York band, the Blue Oyster Cult, they sounded like the subway from the rat’s point of view, between the tracks, under the train, unseen, unremarked, and often deceptively ugly. When I was about sixteen I would load a tape into the player by my bed and go to sleep to the astringent, hypnotic strop of “Sister Ray”. Who knows what this unschooled therapeutic regime did to me?

“Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” introduced me to the genius of The Who. I saw them live twice, once in ’73 and again in ’75. The first time they played all of “Quadrophenia”. The next, no doubt due to Townshend recognising that his blunt concept delivery system was alienating the audienece, an all-hits set. I still marvel at how the three instrumentalists in that band could play with unconditional power enough to flay your senses. Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge may have it nailed when he calls them “The Kinks for welders”. Or the guy who called them four guys playing lead all the time.

I learned “Meaty Big and Bouncy”, all those old singles. And that dropped me out at “Who’s Next”, which I am far from alone in proclaiming as the ultimate British rock album. I love everything The Who recorded up until “Who Are You”, when Keith Moon – who not long before I had witnessed somersaulting to his kit at Maple Leaf Gardens –  finally confirmed his booking for oblivion. Anyway (anyhow, anywhere, yeah…), I even championed Townshend’s lead playing and that is a high Who fan calling that only the analogous cloistered convent crowd climb to.  “Who’s Next” features that breathtaking trio of classic Townshend songs, “Baba O’Riley”, “Bargain” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, that are the fulfillment of a style that makes his playing and the band so special. It fascinates me that Townshend plays all three songs mostly with staccato bar chords, with Entwistle and Moon filling all the space remaining. Only with a bassist and drummer able to play the parts of three men apiece could Townshend develop and define a style of playing so essentially sparse. Listen to Moon’s builds and arrays at the end of “The Song is Over” and the mayhem with which “Bargain” climaxes. It’s superhuman what Moon does.

Not long after I arrived in London to stay, early ’78, there was a 25th Anniversary Who exhibition at the ICA in Pall Mall. Every day a member of the band would attend. On the day I went John Entwistle was on duty; as I was leaving he loomed up at the opposite end of the room, but frozen by wonderment I could pay none of the tribute I wanted to. Not long after I saw Roger Daltrey in Wardour Street, short, wiry, obviously with filmic good looks. Every year or two I listen to “Who’s Next” obsessively: the last jag lasted around six months, with only “By Numbers” – an under-rated work – for relief.


I dreamed I wrote a poem, a better poem than I write awake. I was back in Westbourne Grove, Neil’s squat; it took me a few tries to get the route by rote. I’d stop by there from Portobello, I was working in Earl’s Court (no jokes, please), night porter at a low rent hostel called Courtfield House run by an avuncular Yorkshire man and his fat, fierce wife, and visited weekly from head office by a relic named Mr DePinna, whose aversion to my Sky Saxon hair and unshaven habits eventually cost me my job there. Every Thursday night the guests and residents watched Top of the Pops together; I remember seeing the Ramones do “Baby I Love You”.

Neil was the archetypal student musician, a pimply, pale-faced collection of tent poles made flesh. He was the first person I heard use the expression “Tesco bombers” in reference to the budget jeans popular with those, like himself, voluntarily penniless. I can only have been in the country months, and despite the damp that made me sick and the dysfunctional everything that made me mad I loved London and Londoners. Neil was part of a crowd hooked up with Hornsey Art College that included some of The Raincoats, whose drummer Nick Turner one day joined The Barracudas.


Although by 1978 the basis and best of punk had already come and gone, for me London was a magical place. We rehearsed in dumps – one of which, a squat off Edgeware Road, in Daventry Street, for a time housed Joe Strummer – and played in dumpy pubs. Strummer asked me for some speed, sauntering down a peeling hallway. Strummer was the British Springsteen, an Orwell rather than Guthrie, middle class crash, with a heart of ideological gold. The politics, the passion: when Citizen Joe bellows “This is Joe Public speaking!” he owns and absorbs a micro-century of tradition. I saw Bruce Springsteen in ’73 and ’75, and the second time I got so excited I left my seat and dashed to the stage. Springsteen hopped down, crouched and exultant in mid-song beaming me a smile that might have reached deep space.

With the last of the money I’d brought I bought an Orange p.a. and that was my way of saying, “I’m staying”. With Robin I haunted Rough Trade – I’m stoked they’ve kept their Barracudas pic sleeves on the wall there – and the markets. Back then there was a small outdoor market in Soho and Shane McGowan manned one stall, a gawky character nobody guessed would become a star. I was surrounded by surprises. One time Robin and I were walking near Cambridge Circus and Iggy walked by. I ran after him – a real punk, Robin was too cool to follow – and came upon his trying to hail a cab. I burbled some dumb fan stuff, he hailed a cab, asked me for the new NME that, unread, was under my arm, took it from me with thanks, hopped in the cab and drove away. The next time I felt close to him was at Rockfield the first time when our producers regaled us with tales of the notorious “Soldier” session where Iggy – on the ropes and the dope – insisted on doing his vocals in the control room, d.i., on ten.

I had run-ins with other stars. My first London girlfriend hung out with The Clash and one night I found myself intimidated in Tony James’ flat by a sneering Mick Jones, who fancied her. Years later I did some crude demos at James’ place with my friend Marts Andrup, now departed, a big Barracudas fan turned junky pain in the ass turned twelve-step wonder turned hip-hop maverick turned…dead, and I have no idea why or how. Last time I saw him he was apologising for stealing my albums. We rehearsed in Daventry Street a while, in the basement, Ramones-style, no windows, just the Orange and a repertoire of wacky originals and covers ranging from the Groovies to The Stooges. I remember riding the tube home one night with Robin, a tape recorder perched on his knee as we listened to our rehearsal, a nice middle-aged lady smilingly looking on. We paid for some demos (a few appear on “Through The Mysts of Time”) and never had a problem drawing a crowd or an A&R man with time to kill. We lined up for surf all-nighters at the Electric and went to parties in our stage clothes, which of course were our clothes. Little by little the playing got better and we got more serious, and when it gets serious the top is lifted but the bottom drops out. What was love becomes lust. Purity is lost. And so, really, were we. 


First thing in the morning I was loading my locker and made some chit-chat with the girl at hers next to me. I asked what kind of music she liked and she told me country, which at the time amused me: in Canada you grow up with country music, and there endured dorky home-grown and American C&W television shows catering to the market, some of which like “Hee Haw” set the bar for bovine prole pap higher than ever. She was cute but I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for her; Hank Williams and his heirs did some heavyweight shit, but “Sister Ray” was never part of it. Little did I know (or know now, come to think about it, about anything) that ten years or so later I would be writing songs with Nikki Sudden driven by a mutual love of Sun country, gunfighter ballads in the Marty Robbins mold, churning out my own assorted beer’n’bitching tearjerkers like “Sorrow Drive”. At the same time I was not oblivious to all Canadian pop, with its frequent shades of country, as in the case of domestic star Murray McLachlan, whose “Down at the Henry Moore” was a big hit at home and typified the folk-country hybrid so popular with the crossover crowd. On top of McLachlan, whose pivotal albums, like “On The Boulevard”, are world-class, there was French Canadian fireball Michel Pagliaro, a power pop powerhouse whose hits - “Some Sing, Some Dance”, “Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy”, and “Rainshowers” amongst others – concentrated sublime Beatlesque melodies with sometimes broken English lyrics delivered in Pag’s strong Quebecois accent into an extraordinary, very Canadian concoction. His last formidable hit, “What the Hell I Got?”, had the country thing to a tee, a mellow but insistent intro acoustic strum kicking into a kinda Canuck-a-billy Canada goose chase. Bookending such acts were the big stars, Stompin’ Tom Connors and Gordon Lightfoot, cut from all-Canadian cloth but dressing different generations. Connors is a salty “Newfie” – Newfoundlander – with a nasal dripping voice and habitual stomping boot, whose career has paralleled the lives of Canadians for fifty years now. Some would call many of his songs novelties, but “Sudbury Saturday Night”, “Tilsonburg” and even “Ketchup Loves Potatoes” – not to mention “Bud the Spud”, his paen to a highway potato delivery man – are practically Studs Terkel with a chorus, oral history of the most literal and loveable kind.  


I could never understand people who aren’t into lyrics. The “I just like a nice melody brigade”. When I was growing up the house was full of books, trips to the library were obligatory, and I often passed a Saturday morning accompanying my father on a used book crawl of Ottawa’s booming merchants. I was a precocious reader, devouring Orwell and Kafka before my teens, and always writing. Lyrics I have never been adept with, but in some of my poetry and prose I think there is the seed of greatness. Sadly, I will be dead before it actually gets beyond germination. Some are born great, some die about to be great, que sera sera. No, hang on, I’ve written one lyric I am excessively proud of, ”Episode in a Town”, one of the songs I recorded with Nikki and featuring my favourite snare sound, a dry, gigantic crunch resembling an overgrown Rice Krispie in its death throes.

“Riding both sides of a razor/ Sharp as the edge of town/ Worth 99 cents marked down to 59/ Drink that bottle down, boys, drink that bottle down.”

Recorded that at Rick Buckler’s studio in Islington, Jam gold and silver on the wall. The time I met Paul Weller he was mixing one of their hits, word had it he was starting a label and I handed him our demo. Mods chased Robin and I up the down escalator at Kings’ Cross, we were low on downers but I got out and did an Olympian dash into some side road of the station and waited until the pilled posse had lost the scent. I saw The Jam at Battersea Town Hall, June, 1977, they were incredible. Value Who, they did the three-piece thrash to a tee, without remotely the power of The Who, but a lot of the attitude. That first time in London there were a lot of trips, seeing Generation X recording “Youth, Youth, Youth” at Wessex. It wasn’t my first time in London, though, I had always been in London, it just took some time for it come out of me in a beneficent exorcism and objectify as the millions of pasty people in the grey of my dreams, the grimy mice between the Tube tracks, the mushy food, and the funny telephones I used to reassure my parents that every IRA bomb blast they read about wasn’t happening under my feet. Days into my life, sick on Wimpy’s, walking over one of the big bridges after a bad gig, dawn giving way to the daily dusk. London: every cloud has a surly lining. The capital of The Who. To me, the world. 

Check out The Best Years track here:

Jeremy Gluck 06/03/10

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