Drew Burns' Commodore BallroomMonday, September 29, 2014
Not too long ago I had to photograph a couple of composers for the Georgia Straight. I decided that taking the picture on Granville by the Orpheum and the Commodore Ballroom was the right place. I was prevented from taking my photograph by some tough guys who said that the Commodore Ballroom had all rights to pictures not only taken inside but outside on the street. I sort of sweet talked them into inquiring about getting permission from those involved in running the Commodore. The permission came and I took my picture days later.
This would not have happened in times gone by; the times when Drew Burns was in charge. In the 70s and 80s when I took many pictures of bands performing there Burns always accommodated my needs which sometimes were requests to take photographs backstage. Burns always invited me into his office (a messy kind of office) and I remember he had a penchant for shirts with polka-dots.
Such was my reputation, courtesy of Vancouver Magazine, that the security staff played protective wall for me from punks (the punk band punk variety punks) who liked to push and shove for fun but my cameras were more fragile than I was. These security guys would stand in front of me and marched to wherever I wanted to take my shots. One security man, while walking on Granville (he may have been involved with some motorcycle gang. His last name was Paisely.) was shot in the stomach. In spite of the pain he ran after the gunman and wrestled him to the ground.
Les Wiseman who wrote his crafty words for Vancouver Magazine’s In One Ear was a snob. This meant that we sometimes skipped the warm-up acts. In some rare occasions we skipped the headliners (probably Images in Vogue) and left after the warm-up bands finished.
In one special evening that I remember vividly we left for a cheap beer at the Dufferin before the headliners were to be on. We ran into one of my fave exotic dancers, Miss Mew, AKA Fleen. We told her where we were going. She warned us, “The place has changed.”
I never really imbibed but I sort of enjoyed the second-string lineups of exotic dancers of the bar. One of my fave sights was a waiter who looked like Laurence Harvey.
We sat down and Wiseman ordered his beer. I ordered my coke. I noticed two men holding hands at another table. “Les, I believe this bar has gone gay.” It had. In one of those strange, unexplainable events of our city of the time someone had decided from one day to the next for the change, as if there were a switch that went from straight to gay. The owner flicked the switch and that was it.
To me the Commodore that was will never again be that Commodore. It ceased being so when Burns, a gentleman, retired 15 years ago. Some sort of mafia has taken over.
Somehow my memory of the Commodore Ballroom had something to do with the many chandeliers and the tacky and elaborate red wall paper going up on the stairs.