Thursday, October 13, 2011

Localism and its Discontents: A Regional Rant


Disclaimer: the following  diatribe, which hinterlanders the world over may relate to, is no way directed at the actual people of Toronto, just its cultural mavens.

Do all Canadians hate Toronto?

Not really but many of us outside the 416 area code do despise how Toronto's still-omnipresent media trumps up its culture, despite the fact that on a per capita  - and per government grant - basis it rarely produces its share of winners. It's like how the city's media still sells its hapless hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs*, as "Canada's Team", despite all evidence to the contrary. (Side note to my countrymen: If you need a survey to prove Canadians love the the Habs more then the Leafs, you may have taken a few too many pucks to the head). And the part that embitters us regional-types is that we all get inundated with whatever Toronto-based media is hyping, in the same way the CBC plays Leafs games on Hockey Night in Canada almost every damn Saturday night**.

This blatant localism can also be seen in almost any discussion about the seventies punk scene in Canada. Civic boosters (see this list) claim that while New York and London produced era-defining bands like The Clash, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and Blondie, Toronto produced comparably great bands like The Viletones, Teenage Head, The Battered Wives, The Diodes and (close neighbours) The Demics. If some readers go, Who the Hell...?, you'd be forgiven. Despite having some truly excellent bands, some classic records and some legendary shows the influence of Toronto's punk scene is in NO way even slightly comparable to those cities, regardless of how you qualify it. So even though the more isolated, less moneyed Vancouver scene of the times spawned a far more influential set of sounds, T.O. punk pundits glorify it's modest accomplishments just like those damn Leafs!

It's this Torontonian insecurity, it's near-constant pleas to be seen as an elite, international city, that grates on so many Canadians. If Toronto's proponents, musical or otherwise,  looked at themselves with some steely-eyed realism, then they'd tell their stories in a way that would do their city proud.

So no, there's no Toronto hatred here, in fact I'd like to spend the next week or so celebrating the legacy of Toronto's original punk scene without any of that rose-tinted retro-hype that only diminishes the bands' actual legacies. Perhaps if I explained the Toronto's scene was a notch below Cleavland's storied scene, it might give a better sense of perspective on the city's worthy accomplishments. As long as I don't have to mouth any hyperbolic revisionism, I'd love to speak of the courage and innovation of the bands who slugged it out in in the sleazy underside of Toronto the Good.

So readers, was I too harsh on Toronto, too soft or did I just leave you baffled? Let us know in the COMMENTS section.

Tomorrow: The Viletones

* Of to a strong start this season, I'll admit.


**Yes, the internet age has lessened the stiffing influence of Toronto...a bit.

14 comments:

  1. CallPastorJerkfaceOctober 13, 2011 at 8:01 AM

    A fine point hammered home most eloquently.

    I as well have no hatred towards Hogtown just an on-going frustration with it's needy whine of, "Look at us! We're so international! And important! Very, very important!" Toronto is not five years old so it's time it started acting it's age and not giving a shit what the rest of the world thinks (actually, doesn't think at all, ever) about it.

    Actually, all of Canada could use the same advice.

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  2. Hey, one of Toronto's best punk bands that you listed, Teenage Head, were not Toronto's band at all. They were from Hamilton. Same with other early greats like the Forgotten Rebels and Simply Saucer. Though they hailed from Hamilton, they often played Toronto too.

    Cheers,
    Vic
    ....Hamiltonian by birth, Torontonian now.

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  3. I believe you have made some good points here. I didnt seem to harsh, some venting and opinionated views. Toronto has so much stuff going on, i guess that accounts for some of the laziness? As far as the bands go they had an interesting scene that was influenced by the 70s UK Punk scene, just like a lot of places. Other interesting Canadian Punk era places are Vancouver, Hamilton (as Vic mentioned) and London, Ontario. As for leaf fans - I have no comment as a hockey fan music fan, or Canadian.

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  4. Hey! What's wrong with Treat Me Like Dirt? I wasn't born in time to experience Toronto's 70's punk scene, so I can't weigh in on the book's accuracy, but I certainly enjoyed reading it. Every city should champion it's scene like that, it makes for good reading (or in the case of documentaries, watching)!

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  5. fuck regionalism, it doesn't do anything positive for the people being included or excluded. i grew up outside toronto, lived far from it in different places, and have called it home for a few years now. the music scene here is fine and has been great and shitty and middling over the years just like everywhere else. i don't see any point in comparing one place to another when it comes to art, unless it's to point out that some areas have the sense to promote artists and allow for living, breathing communities that freaks and weirdos favour.

    people with few valid points are always going to make absurd claims about their tribes and hometowns, and so will shills who depend on tourism dollars. lots of good bands have been formed here, some that disappeared in minutes (the curse, remember them?) and some that stuck around longer.

    i'm as annoyed by the people who slag the city as the people who champion it. reducing every fucking issue to us versus them shouldn't be anyone's goal. as for hockey, fuck the pros in all sports. athleticism is meant to be participatory, and if you want to cheer and be a spectator, go see your kids or friends play instead of a pack of overpaid crybabies in stadiums that we all pay for so a select few millionaires can profit more than they should, again.

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  6. As a dude from the States, all I can say is I've had better times in Victoria, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Montreal than I did in Toronto, but what the fu*ck do I know?

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  7. To REALLY annoy Torontonians, all you have to say is that they're just a bunch of NYC wanna-be's.

    TO in the (late) seventies was fun and had a real music scene, but so did Athens, GA.

    viva CFNY

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  8. I don't think you were unfair at all actually. In terms of lasting importance and legacy Toronto really didn't generate much in terms of their punk scene. I put much of it down to the stereotypical "centre of the universe" attitude that Toronto seems to have had in many ways. With Toronto being the big city of Canada it seems like bands there were happy to get to be the big band there and not leave their local environs.

    Back in the 80s living in Edmonton and Victoria I remember seeing bands from Vancouver (of course), from all over the States (East and West), from other parts of Ontario, and from Montreal. Toronto bands who toured? Well there was Sudden Impact but that's about it. If you check out the Youth Youth Youth MySpace page the only out of town shows mentioned are Montreal, Ottawa, London and Windsor. Not really much of a touring band there. They're certainly not going to compete with DOA, SNFU, the Dayglos, the Asexuals, Deja Voodoo, the Nils or Problem Children.

    I do put it down to the bands thinking that because they were well-known in Toronto that they had "made it" and didn't need to play anywhere else. I think further proof of this can be found in the fairly meager recorded output you got from Toronto. Bands seemed to be happy to put out a demo that sold well locally but that was it.

    I think being relatively popular in the biggest city in Canada and thus getting disproportionate media coverage harmed these bands in terms of their legacy. Unlike bands from other places they lacked the sort of hunger and desperation to get noticed and never seemed like they tried that hard to get themselves known outside of the GTA. Rather than touring they seemed more focused on playing the big clubs in Toronto. It's sad that bands from a big city could have such a parochial outlook as Toronto bands seem to have had.

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  9. Oh, I forgot to mention the Stretch Marks and the Ruggedy Annes (hint hint) in that list of bands from Canada who managed to have some sort of legacy in terms of touring and recorded output.

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  10. CPJ
    Yeah Toronto's problems can sometimes be Canada's writ large.

    Vic
    Good point, T.O. does sorta suck credit from surrounding cities.

    Dave
    I'm drawing a blank on bands form London, Ont. Any suggestions?

    Adam
    "Every city should champion it's scene"
    Agreed. I just think that it should be done with some sense of perspective.

    Postbear
    Too meaty a comment to cover it all but I'd say that regional rivalries are fine as long as no one takes them actually seriously. I'd argue a long a similar tack for professional sports: 'fine as long as no one takes them actually seriously'.

    BBJ
    Yeah when I toured out East, Montreal was way more fun than Toronto.

    Ron
    'TO in the (late) seventies was fun and had a real music scene, but so did _______________" a good dose of perspective for any would-be-historian.

    DG
    Another band that might prove your point might be Guilt Parade. Amazing Toronto band that could've been huge if they'd toured the way DOA or SNFU did.
    P.S. I discovered that my Ruggedy Annes rip is not complete but I think you'll still be happy with the post coming up!

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  11. Jeffen: October Crisis were from London IIRC. There were also the Black Donnellys.

    And Guilt Parade is a perfect example as well. They moved to Toronto from New Brunswick and then didn't do much outside of the GTA. They toured across Canada once I guess.

    In fact if it wasn't for compilations put out by people in Montreal (It Came From The Pit and It Came From Canada) and LA (Something To Believe In) I never would have heard anything by Toronto bands in general. Because of these comps I checked out bands like YYY and Guilt Parade. Otherwise I would have been totally ignorant of the Toronto scene in any way shape or form. Lord knows I never saw any comps coming out of Toronto (unlike pretty much every other city of note).

    I remember seeing more scene reports in MRR from London than from Toronto. That speaks volumes right there.

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  12. Dg

    Y`know, It`s not gonna be a big hit but I`m gonna do a post on Guilt Parade - what an underrated band!

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  13. Just thought I'd put my quarter in the slot ...
    Being a native Torontonian I have to say that most of Toronto is not FROM Toronto ... if I think of my group of friends over the decades they seem to be from everywhere but Toronto and Torontonians all move away. With that said ... I don't think Torontonians give a damn about Toronto culture, let alone Canadian culture, as our media giants are all heavily fixated on American dollars as are the puppets they command. Back in the late 70s this was different. With General Idea, CITY TV and CFNY (plus an early CKLN) a media "alternative" was created that did its best to make "local" contant MATTER ... and it did ... but the pervasive "Canadian" attitudes that seek to belittle ANYTHING CANADIAN (because it doesn't make *greenbacks*) persisted and it was quite frequent to hear people hating the "local" culture. I believe it's some sort of left over class BS we inherited from the Brits ...
    As for the Ontario punk scene ... I believe it to be just as vibrant as Ohio's and more violent than New Yorks. Remember, major labels (mostly foreign as America destroyed our film industry - killing our music industry) only signed ONE punk band in Canada ... and hundreds in England and the States. Fuck them ... WE ROCK!

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  14. Love the gritty pride you express (and a good shout-out to the local TV and Radio stations in T.O. that did good work in building up local and national stuff.

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