I thought I was smarted than Thomas Wolfe. Of course you can go home, but everyone is just a little grayer, heavier, etc. Turns out Wolfe was right.
I attended McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario from 1983-1987. During my time there, I worked at the school radio station CFMU hosting a weekly radio show (and was assistant station manager one year). It was a great time. In addition to inflicting my musical tastes on an unsuspecting Hamilton, I got to go to shows and generally hang out with a group of people with similar attitudes and taste in music.
But I was also into politics and by my third year I was a Trotskyist. When I graduated, I moved to Toronto where there was an active branch of the Alliance for Socialist Action the group to which I belonged at the time. I bid farewell to my Hamilton music colleagues, and while I would occasionally see people at shows, the links faded. It wasn’t so bad though. A week after I moved to Toronto I got a job at the World’s Biggest Bookstore and met the woman I’m now married to. I also worked for the U of T radio station CIUT for about eight months. (The only parallel with the CFMU years is between 1992-94 when I worked for rock promoter Concert Productions International – another great experience)
And then about a month ago, I ran into a bunch of the Hamilton crew at the Rezillos show at Lee’s Palace. I still see Steve Hoy, who is a some kind of regional manager at HMV periodically, but this was the first time I’d seen him at a show in years: “It’s Stu’s 50th birthday next month, and we’re having a surprise party at the Bovine Sex Club.Interested?”
Now Stu Smith was the drummer for the Dik Van Dykes (more about them in a bit), the co-host of the Stu and Fuzzy radio show, and a lovely fellow who was part of that CFMU circle I mentioned earlier. I wouldn’t say I knew Stu well, and of course I hadn’t seen him in about 25 years, but hey, I know I good time when I see it. And of course, ten minutes later I ran into Stu at the show.
A few days before the party, Steve, who really deserved kudos for putting all of this together, emailed people the guest list. I spent a while pouring over the list muttering about names from my past.
December 30, I park my car and am buying a ticket for parking when behind me I notice are Dave “Tiger” Simpson and Janice Holden, who have driven up from Hamilton for the party (why, I wonder wasn’t the party in Hamilton? After all, there are plenty of divey bars there). Moments later, we run into Emmett Pearce, another CFMU alum.
A lot of people come out for the show. Over 160 are on the guest list. I’m not sure what the collective age is inside Bovine that night, but it’s high. I run into a few people I knew from the old days, but there’s a lot I don’t know, and a lot I don’t recognize. People change a lot in 25 years. And this is where Wolfe’s aphorism comes in. A lot of the people in attendance are still in Hamilton, still a part of that circle, that social scene. I left. We all changed, for better or for worse, who is to say? I don’t regret that decision, but it was also a little bit sad to see something that you were once a part of, but no more.
When Stu arrived, he was more than a little surprised, but was quickly hustled onto the stage to play drums for the Late Jimmy Marvelous, a garage punk combo featuring Steve on guitar and his old mate Pat Havoc (of Stu and Fuzzy fame as well as the Wet Spots) on vocals. Everyone in attendance got of a copy of their CD – a labour of love with more than a few catchy tunes and a spot-on cover of the Professionals’ “1-2-3. “
The second band of the night was the Strummeroles (sp?) who played ska-ified Clash covers as well as a few tunes from the Harder They Come soundtrack. Infectious fun. And featuring a certain Stu smith on drums again.
And then, it was the Dik Van Dykes playing their first show together since 1989. I’m not sure just how many times I saw this band in Hamilton, but it was often (and Michael Foley, if you’re reading this, I would like my live at the Gown and Gavel tape back please!) The Dykes were a six piece (2 guitars, bass, drums and two back-up singers) who specialized in a punky garage sound and whose song-writing appeared to be cutting up other people’s songs and stitching them together in new, funnier ways. I mean this as a compliment. I had forgotten just how great they were – and how funny. But before we knew it, they had played their set, inevitably concluding with the Birthday Song – “so it’s your birthday, who gives a shit?” The band features my old mate Steve on guitar and needless to say, Stu on drums again. There was a final band, but they let Stu enjoy his birthday then.
So a big thanks again to Steve to putting all of this together. Probably the best present was knowing you could draw that many people to celebrate your day. So Stu, happy 50th.