Most lifer musician “origin stories” kind of go the same, and I suppose mine is no different, except perhaps the fact that the outside forces that had something to do with my life choices might be considered unique. I was and still am somewhat clueless by nature…I’m great at dealing with whats in front of my face, but most other things are abstract to me and require that I submerse myself in whatever it is to come to an understanding of it. At sixteen years old I didn’t realize any of this, and like a lot of people, felt that there was either something wrong with me, or something wrong with the world, and that I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere.
I had a part time job that paid $5.78/hr, which for a 16 year old with no expenses in 1979 was a decent chunk of change. I spent all of it on records, concerts, and whatever it was they called “Colombian” that you could get for $25 a bag at the Rosslyn Bowling Alley. I had a bit of a social life (as attending concerts would imply), but outside of school I was usually alone. Like thousands before me, I staved off depression and loneliness with my record collection. The only relationships I could trust…the only people who didn’t confuse, confound, or throw obstacles at me were the writers, players, and characters of the songs on my records.
At the time,my friends and I had recently read about The Sex Pistols spitting on people at an airport, and read that their music, “punk rock”, was disgusting as far as most parents were concerned. Sounded worth checking in to. I went out and bought Never Mind The Bullocks and gave it a thorough going over. I confess to not getting it on the first listen. I had to recalibrate my music receptors with the ‘Pistols as they seemed to be breaking every rule I had conceived of….like the rule where there was no way I would ever be able to do what was on my cherished records. Then they threw The Flying Lizards at us.
Archbishop O’Leary High School is a catholic school, and the spring of 1979 would forever taint their reputation as a non arts/sports school. In 1979, avant garde collective The Flying Lizards somehow got their noisy, minimalist version of Barrett Strong’s 60’s staple “Money” onto commercial radio. The friends I did have (we were more or less a group of guys of the “nerd” variety that congregated together out of survival more than friendship. StarTrek fans, we read books, and were curious about new music) were highly amused by the Flying Lizards…I know I was, because their version was a total counterpoint to the Beatles’ version. The FabFour were my favourite band back then, and they pretty much still are today.
To make a long story slightly shorter, my friends and I hung out in room 266 1/2. It was a spacious storage room where we could hang out without physical threats from the jocks, our natural enemies. I had a portable cassette recorder for some forgotten reason (this was many many years before the Walkman came along). Our idea that fateful day was to record the sounds of someone trapped in a locker…the idea being we would put the cassette machine in a locker during class, and hit “play”, in an attempt to fool people into thinking someone was trapped in a locker.
Dennis Lenarduzzi started it. We hit record,and Dennis smacked his hand against a metal storage cabinet. Someone pointed out (probably Steve Roby) that it was the same sound as that Flying Lizards song. So Dennis did it again in the same rhythm as the song, and the rest of us joined in with our voices, and we kind of covered The Flying Lizards version of “Money”. It was too much fun. And we sort of proved you didn’t need training to do fun music. It was a natural that we started improvising silly, crappy songs everyday at lunch hour in room 266 1/2. Really silly, really crappy. Really fun.
Spring break rolled around. I think it was Scott Juskiw suggested we continue our avant garde jams during the break, but use real instruments…like, make a band. Scott had his grade 10 in piano and knew all the theory. My memory is hazy on this, so suffice it to say that Scott had also been teaching himself bass and went ahead and learned God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols. Dennis Lenarduzzi had a guitar. Scott had an amp. Someone pointed out we would need a drummer. I knew a guy. Shortly after this I saw Ed Dobek coming down the hall. i stopped him and told him we were making a punk band and would he want to drum? Without hesitation he said yes, and that we could practice at his house. So,after Ed auditioned (proved he could drum, had drums -he didn’t, they were his brother Tom’s-and showed us the practice space), we arranged to meet up at Ed’s place the first day of spring break 1979.
On the way to Ed’s I stopped at the mall and bought a pair of pants and a copy of the new Teenage Head album Frantic City. That has always stuck in my mind.
I got to Ed’s where there was Ed, Scott, Dennis, Guido, and a bunch of the other fellow nerds. Everybody was trying to be the singer. Turns out Dennis had a guitar, but no guitar skill. He was switched to bass, and we watched in awe as Scott, using his musical knowledge, sorted out rudimentary barre chords on the fly, thus becoming our guitarist. We did God Save The Queen and an original I cant remember for nine hours. We recorded the whole thing. I had to bail after awhile to go to work. It was quite exciting to listen back to our first experience as a band, although it was nothing close to an organized unit yet. So many other guys seemed involved I was worried about my position in the group as I had no musical skill to speak of. There wasn’t
any need to worry though…I was the only “singer” to show up to the second practice. Guido wasn’t so good on the guitar and we eventually let him go. After consulting and debating and lobbying and so forth over a LONG list of band names, we settled on Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs. It was supposed to be Joey Dead, but somebody heard it wrong and it got written down as Joey Did. The next thing was to pick punky names. I became Mike Sinatra. Scott Alloy on guitar. Dennis L on bass. Ed Slander on drums.
We practiced a lot, and were obsessed as only teenagers could be. We learned a lot of Pistols, Clash, Buzzcocks, and of course The Ramones. We wrote our own songs too. Some were absurd, some were awkwardly political, but it was all do it yourself discovery. We recorded everything too. In retrospect we sucked, but at the time to us it was amazing. We were very naive and thought we were the only punks in Edmonton. When Archbishop O’Leary High School’s student’s union announced the first rock week, Joey Did and the Necrophiliacs were ready.
Rock Week…everyday at lunch hour, a band from within the school would play, leading up to the dance on the Saturday with the Queen City Kids. Problem was, we didn’t exactly get along with the kids in the student’s union. When we went to sign up they tried to refuse us. Of course we were offended, because for once we were legit and not trying to stir up the shit. The teacher in charge doubted us too, but he agreed to come and hear us. He and the student’s union didn’t believe we seriously had a band. We chose some of our “poppier” and less offensive material. I remember the Ramones’ version of Lets Dance was one of them. We also temporarily dropped the “necrophiliacs” from our name and went as Joey Did. We blew the teachers mind. He expected a farce, but what he got was a bonafide, sincere, hard working shitty band. He had no choice but to allow us to sign up. They made us play the first one, Monday at noon in the gym.
The school announcements included “at lunch come to the gym and hear the punk sounds of JoeyDid!” That was the kiss of death for us. For the rest of our time at that school. Punk rock was not widely accepted in 1979 Edmonton, and the jocks and pretty much everyone else at the school made that perfectly clear. It was lunchtime, and everyone had a projectile in their lunch bag….usually an orange. I dodged oranges the whole first set I ever played in my life.
We were terrified to begin with, and being booed and pelted with fruit didn’t help our confidence. We played our horrible songs horribly too, which made the whole experience fucking demoralising. Being on stage was so completely different than the self created environment of our practice room that we couldn’t reconcile it. We decided to consider it a “nice try”, and drop these silly and difficult notions of being a band. Most of us were honour students for Christ’s sake.
We were famous in the school now, and not necessarily in a good way. All the jocks hated and targeted us, and every disenfranchised freak in the school started being around us. But the rest of rock week was kind of calm…the kind that happens right before all hell breaks loose. We made it to Saturday unscathed and deigned to attend the dance.
The Queen City Kids hadn’t broke into Canadian radio yet, but they would soon. In the meantime, they were clearly still slugging it out and paying dues, obviously taking what paying gigs they could get. I had seen them before when they were called Cambridge. They were excellent as a school dance band, but then again they were a road experienced tight rock outfit, likely able to do whatever type of show rolled their way.
When they were done, myself and some other Joey Did guys went up and talked to the band as they prepared to tear down. The singer asked us about Rock Week, so we told him and the bass player our sad story of our first and last gig. This right here was a major turning point in my life. The singer told us no way should we quit. He told us of the hundreds of awful gigs the QCK played, and how if the audience isn’t into it, play for yourself. A guy in a real, hard working traveling band told us we shouldn’t quit just because of a bum gig. I took that to heart completely. They were great to us, and their roadies graciously allowed us to wrap cables and haul gear to the truck. Years later I realize the road crew probably had a good laugh over that.
So, that’s how The Flying Lizards and the Queen City Kids are somewhat responsible for my life. The Lizards got me playing music, and QCK got me to continue. Everything good I’ve got I have because I chose and stuck to this path, and for that I am grateful.