|Buck Cherry & Mary-Jo Kopechne- Top left Alexandra and right Hilary - Circa 1986|
The philistine in this blog’s title is yours truly. Until 1975 my knowledge of rock ‘n roll was limited to the little that was being broadcast in our Mexico City radio stations. I knew of the existence of the Beatles. And that was that.
At an American school, where I was teaching, my students asked me one day, “Mr. Hayward what do you think of Alice Cooper?” My answer, “Nothing, who is she?” was met by tons of laughter. They invited me to a party to introduce me to their music. I was told to dance (I did the best I could ) to a band called Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I had never heard of them not knowing then that someday (now) Neil Young’s Ohio would be one of my all-time favourites.
Around 1977 a young man in an ill-fitting new suit showed up at Vancouver Magazine and asked the receptionist Maja Grip if he could see the editor. I guess he expected to be asked if he had an appointment. Grip just said, “Go up the stairs and turn right.”
I suspected that something interesting was afoot so I followed and (yes) I eavesdropped outside Malcolm Parry’s office whose door was always open.
The young man said something like this, “My name is Les Wiseman and your magazine should have a rock column.” Parry replied, “Go home and write it.”
That was the beginning of Wiseman’s monthly column, In One Ear. Since I was pretty well the de facto staff photographer I was instantly attached and dubbed by Wiseman, “This is Lenso my Argentinian lensman.” He had to explain to me who Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson were.
As we worked more and more, the record reps (they were powerful in the 80s) gave us access to visiting bands back stage or in their hotels. Wiseman was educating this parvenu on what this music was all about. He told me once, “Lou Reed is God and if you are going to like a heavy metal band, it better be Motorhead." It was then that I learned that good rock critics were snobs. I became one, too.
|Motorhead & Les Wiseman|
For an article that Wiseman was to write about live music in a town, where piped disco was the rage, one of the places I had to go was the Smilin’ Buddha. I had read scary articles in the Vancouver Sun about violence in that den on West Hastings near Main.
The band playing was a band with the curious name of K-Tels. The front man was Art Bergmann. Within minutes I put my camera gear in a corner and did the pogo with all the other punks. I had never seen anybody play an electric guitar with such passion.
It seems that Bergmann inspired John Armstrong who started
the band The Modernettes and went by the name of Buck Cherry. His friends to
this day call him Buck. I cannot forget when in an interview at CKVU of the Modernettes Mary-Jo Kopechne was asked why she had adopted that name. Her answer was a brutal,"Because I don't know how to swim."
My daughter, Alexandra and Hilary (in the Polaroid here) by the beginning of the 80s would note that I would put on black jeans, a black T-shirt and a pair of black Big John ankle boots. They knew I was off to see D.O.A., the Subhumans or perhaps The Wankers. What was odd is that I would sport an expensive Irish (Peterson) pipe and smoke it while most were drinking O’Keefe’s beer. We called it High Test as it had more alcohol.
Gary Taylor in his Rock Room on Howe would have battle of the bands on weekends. He needed judges. I was often called as I was the cheapest. I did not demand white powder or alcohol, just soda water.
One evening the band in question was the Modernettes. I thought they were awful as the singer (Cherry) decidedly sang off-key. It was only later that I learned that it took talent to sing off-key on purpose and that Cherry was inspired by his idol Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls.
|Johnny Thunders at Gary Taylor's Rock Room 1981|
One of the charms of the Modernettes was their lovely motto, “Get Modern or get Fucked”.
|Dishrags at the Smilin' Buddha & Modernettes motto Circa 80/81|
I photographed the band often so we became friends. During one of our Thursday gatherings at the Railway Club (journalists, writers, illustrators, poets, strippers, politicians, etc) Cherry said, “I am a has been rocker with no education. What am I going to do with my life?” I instantly suggested, “Go to the Bay, around the corner and buy a Harris Tweed jacket, a shirt and tie and go and see Charles Campbell at the Georgia Straight."
So Buck Cherry the rocker was now John Auber Armstrong the writer and his first assignment for the Straight was to interview a visiting Vincent Price. I accompanied him to take the photograph.
|John Armstrong's Vancouver Sun - Saturday Review cover article on Johnny Thunders - June 8 1991|
His next assignment had the both of us driving to Seattle to interview and photograph Dennis Hopper.
The rest, of course is history, and thanks to Les Wiseman I am no longer a philistine.
Rolf Maurer of New Star Books is republishing in a handsome new 20th Anniversary Edition, Armstrong’s Guilty of Everything.