What does Hardcore mean to you?
To me hardcore means never compromising and being unapologetic. Committing 100% and not backing down. Whether it’s hardcore porn that doesn’t pussy foot around, (so to speak), or hardcore sports fans that paint themselves and scream out their lungs at a game – hardcore means getting behind something full bore. So hardcore punks are folks that throw themselves into the music and the scene with every ounce of their being. It’s a way of life, not a fashion statement. You don’t need to have a mohawk to be hardcore punk, you just need to have a punk attitude. Hardcore punk is not about following a set of rules, but about believing something in your soul that is individually expressed.
How did you first encounter Hard Core Logo? Describe the experience.
I first saw the movie at the Princess Theatre in Edmonton when I was going to the University of Alberta. I sat in the balcony and was blown away by the story, the style, the performances and the music.
Then walking through the Bonnie Doon Mall I found the book in a sidewalk sale. I didn’t even know there was a book. But here was what I was looking for – more info and insight into the band. I devoured the book that afternoon in the parking lot. I literally couldn’t put it down. I felt like I was spying on the band, reading their personal thoughts and diary entries, snooping through their receipts and contracts to piece together this story of true, north, strong and free punk rock. The story was, of course, very similar to the film, but I really enjoyed the differences too. There were sections that I had thought, “why didn’t that get put into the movie?” or “I would love to see that come to life.” And I guess that’s when the seed got planted, and it’s been growing ever since.
When and why did you think it should have a life on stage?
I chose to do The Black Rider when I was looking for something fun to do at the Fringe and I turned to my CD collection for inspiration. Years later, as I was looking for a project to follow it up with, I turned to my collection of music, movies and books again. I wanted a project that would be uniquely Canadian, something that could tour and that would rock. Hard Core Logo jumped out at me and kicked me in the balls. By this point the book and film had both become regular parts of my punk diet, and I knew what I had to do: track down Michael Turner and Bruce McDonald. And once I got permission from them, everything started to fall into place.
The book has some monologues that the film either omitted or turned into documentary interviews. I thought these passages were ripe for theatrical staging. In theatre, characters can speak their thoughts aloud without having to explain why. It’s just poetry, or an aside. I wanted to marry these sections of the book to the story of the movie, and finally get to hear the band’s songs in their entirety.
As I dove into the world of Hard Core Logo, I knew I had to get Joe “Shithead” Keithley to compose the music. He and D.O.A. were obviously a poetic leaping point for Turner’s characters, so it was only appropriate to ask him. And when he said yes, I knew the show would have the authenticity I was looking for.
Brad Moss and Theatre Network were also key to the puzzle. I needed a director who could handle the complex episodic staging and the concert aspects of the show. We had worked together on Hedwig and the Angry Inch and we had talked about creating our own Canadian Hedwig, and in a way this is it.
You have a line in the play: “Hard Core Logo is more than just a band. It’s a way of life, it’s a revolution.” Perhaps the same could be said for punk music. What attracts you to the culture of punk?
I’ve always had a rebellious spirit. And I’m huge believer in honesty. So maybe it’s the raw honesty that’s being expressed in punk rock that attracts me to it. I like music that makes me feel something. Fast, loud and angry has always stirred my pot musically – it gets me dancing. I love a good mosh pit (as long as there aren’t too many shirtless dudes. It’s very easy to slip when you put your hand on a sweaty back). There’s something about punk’s contradiction between noise and pop that finds my sweet spot.
As a fan of punk music, what’s your favourite memory from a gig?
Well, there was the time I drove from Regina through Winnipeg to pick up my best friend to see two of my all time favourites, Jawbreaker and Jawbox, play in Minneapolis in ‘95. My girlfriend lived in Minneapolis at the time, so we stopped to pick her up en route to the show. She was a little pissed that I drove all that way to see Jawbreaker and not her, but whatever. It was afternoon and we thought we were early for that evening’s gig, but we heard Jawbreaker playing as we walked up to the club to buy tickets. It was a daytime show, and we didn’t know. So I ran in, abandoning my girlfriend, and in the first break I yelled out “I just drove 18 hours and I just got here, play Kiss the Bottle!” They looked at each other and obliged. A circle formed around me in the pit, people staring wondering who this freak was. I stood there and started to cry at the beauty of this rare song being played just for me. My girlfriend came up behind me and we started to kiss right there. It was something out of a Jawbreaker song. Then after that, I heard my best friend somewhere else in the mosh pit yell “I just drove 10 hours, play Condition Oakland,” and the lead singer said “10 hours doesn’t get you a request!” I was sad that we missed Jawbox, and half of Jawbreaker, who both broke up later that year, but I’ll always have that moment.
And don’t get me started about touring with Green Day across Scandinavia…
Why do you think the story of Hard Core Logo affected so many people and became such a Canadian classic?
I think people relate to underdogs, and really want these boys to succeed without selling out. It’s that dangerous line of trying to “make it” while maintaining your integrity that was so important from the beginning of punk in the late 70s to the mid 90s. Integrity doesn’t seem to be so important in the music business these days, but in whatever business, everyone can respect four guys chasing a dream. I think we all wish we could jump into our passions with such abandon. The story is very authentic, as it was written and told by people who have been there. Michael Turner used to be in a Vancouver rockabilly band called the Hard Rock Miners, who toured Western Canada. Bruce McDonald is not only Canada’s rock n’ roll filmmaker, but he also plays in bands. And screenwriter Noel S. Baker was an active member of the early Canadian punk scene. So the creators who put this story together knew what they were talking about, and people connect with that. Musicians around the world point to this film and book as being one the truest stories told about rock. It seems funny and outlandish to some, but for others it’s actually deeply sad.
Best part of playing Joe Dick?
Getting to be a punk legend for a few hours a day. Singing these killer songs by Joe “Shithead” Keithley that were composed for us.
Like Joe Keithley who owns his own record label, and the fictional Joe Dick, who refuses to be controlled, you’ve also chosen to pave your own way – you run your own successful theatre company, November Theatre. What are the advantages and disadvantages to being your own boss?
Being my own boss means I get to set my own hours, but it also means I usually work long hours. I usually work myself pretty hard. But the greatest advantage is that I get to pick what projects I want to work on, and who I’m going to work with. That is a great luxury.
Who or what inspires you?
Joe “Shithead” Keithley inspires me. He and D.O.A. have been playing for 30 years and they still kick ass. He plays hard, fast, loud and pushes for political change with his words and music. He is truly an unsung Canadian hero.
Sum up your career in one word.
Punk-ass. (Is that one word?)
What does Hardcore mean to you?