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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Viletones and the Foundations of Punk Rock

Steve Leckie and Viletones - Reckless rock'n'roll revisited

by Yuya Joe College (excerpt from forthcoming book "The Vile Ones - Bad Boys of Punk")

When gauging the socio-political impact of pioneering Canadian punk rock band Viletones, it is first necessary to understand their context within the nihilist / reckless camp which includes Dead Boys, Sex Pistols, Richard Hell, Subhumans, The Damned, The Exploited and other bands whose primary purpose was to destroy everything in their paths. These were foundational punk groups that mostly emphasized personal politics, alienation, thwarted ambitions, and danger; diehard bands living and breathing anarchy, with anger and pain bleeding through their sometimes discordant, always raw music.

Sex Pistols live

Most people know of Steven Leckie via his public image, the sneering, arm-slashing punk pioneer threatening everything in his way, including the social mores of the time. Naming ones' stage character Nazi Dog was a recipe for being barred from the industry, yet the aura of being an outsider rebel breaking doors down was exactly what he had crafted... and from the beginning I saw a different side of him.

Growing up in a family with Hollywood glitter on his mother's side and ad agency hucksterism via his father, Steve was well-positioned for the rock'n'roll circus he plunged headlong into, and Toronto was just not ready for the lyrical iconoclast and stage chameleon.

My bass player in JC and The Rulers was Menachem Begin (aka Russell Bethune), a strong 6'3” gentleman of Jamaican-Canadian heritage, and he knew Steven before I did. A couple of years earlier, Steve had asked Russ to “beat somebody up” for him, though Russell politely declined the opportunity. When we were working on preparations for the Rock Against Radiation protest concert in July 1980 at Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto, I witnessed a hungover Steven in his Grosvenor Street apartment inquiring if I “had any pills”, so from the foundational days of punk I have always seen Mr. Leckie's more vulnerable, offstage personality as the real man.

Steven Leckie with the inestimable Garth Hudson (The Band)

During Toronto's early punk years, Steven Leckie invented a stage persona that was as repulsive as anything punk rock had to offer. Many were repelled that he would have done this, however, confusing the character with the creator remains offensive even today. Leckie and Viletones paid the price commercially as they were pretty much blacklisted from radio and the Canadian music industry in general ... yet as artful music, Viletones songs stand the test of time.

Joe Strummer of The Clash
On early Vilteones recordings they sound a LOT like Joe Strummer and The Clash (BIG compliment!), however there is little to none of the social activism concerns of Strummer, son of a UK diplomat. When he was performing on stage as “Nazi Dog”, Leckie was only seventeen, eighteen years old and that contrived image succeeded in shocking the vast majority of those who came across it, either live or through the media. Though it took decades for Steven to live down the negativity associated with that particularly evil stage character he had created (filmmakers and novelists rarely suffer this sort of prejudice), Viletones lyrics were not about white power or anything resembling fascism, as they were songs of personal frustration and anger and unfulfilled “possibilities”, along the nihilistic/individualistic lines of The Dead Boys and The Sex Pistols, lacking the social politics of more collectivist bands such as The Clash and DOA.

You're seeing the world through cynical eyes
I'm seeing the world through the eyes of somebody new

Oh there's a hope left
There's a dream still in my heart
Look past the answers
There's a chance that there's no rule book for this love

All possibilities
Are landing at my feet
There's nothing I can see
But possibilities

from Possibilities - Viletones

Viletones at Rock Against Radiation, Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto

Hamilton punk band The Forgotten Rebels had a lead singer named Mickey deSadist and wrote songs about bombing Iran (have times really changed???) and sometimes (ridiculously) gave a Seig Heil type salute in their stage show, yet they barely caused a ripple as pretty much everyone except the ultra-obtuse and socially constipated were aware it was a parody of fascism. With Viletones, people weren't sure, as their intensity made everything seem very real, and the lines between their stage show and personal lives remained blurred for a long time. Even if Viletones were also perceived as satire, Canada and the mostly branch-plant music suits employed therein were not ready for anything appearing to be so extreme and offensive. Real anarchy scared the money men away.

Steven Leckie and Malcolm Mclaren

Where Steve could have made a lot of cash by selling out, the opposite was true for Frankie Venom and Teenage Head. The Head were already safe enough that they did not need to listen to the industry reps, and releasing Something On My Mind as an acoustic softie cost them much of their fan base and killed their careers. Just imagine if they had recorded that song in typical Ramones / Teenage Head style; it would have been a big hit and the upward trajectory on the band's success would have been maintained.

Viletones at Rock Against Radiation

By contrast, Steven and his Viletones were more untouchable than the Sex Pistols ever were, for they had the misfortune of being born into the abode of the Victorian moralists, Toronto the Good. Here people did not always perceive punk as entertainment, but as a threat to the very fabric of Canadian lives. Viletones were feared and hated and despised and cast out into the wilderness, and with little to no record industry support, the band rarely reared its head after 1983/84.

Other early Toronto “punk” bands were not always true punks in the hardcore sense, but rather rock'n'roll (Battered Wives), New Wave (Martha and the Muffins) and pop punk (eg Diodes) musicians, so Viletones really only had The Demics as local competition for quite a long time. Still, competition creates a scene whereas isolation leads to loneliness and withering, and without a strong, vibrant and industry-supported growing local punk scene, what action there was ended up being mostly underground, small club shows, rent parties and benefits. The only hope for Viletones would have been to move to the USA...

Early DOA: Joey, Chuck, Randy (Chuck was about 15 at the time this pic was taken)

The social / political camp of punk rock pioneers included the likes of The Clash, Billy Bragg, DOA, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains and eventually Green Day. My late 70s Vancouver band The Reactors were in this camp, as was my Toronto group Joe College and The Rulers, though both were minor players in their respective scenes. The beauty and vitality of punk was that it was all about the music and the lifestyle, and bands from all three political “ideologies” (or lack of same) regularly shared bills and toured together. If it was hard, fast, angry and fun, it was punk!

Iggy and The Stooges were formidable punk pioneers.

The third wing of punk rock's founding years comprised excellent Fun / Hedonist bands such as Ramones, Stooges, Teenage Head, New York Dolls, The Diodes etc, all awesome live acts who stood for youthful rebellion and wanton partying whether there was a cause or not. They promoted anti-authoritarianism in general, worshipped youthfulness and fast-living, and repped the joyfulness punk brought to teenagers everywhere.

Stiv Bators (Dead Boys) with friend Steven Leckie

In summary, though they never achieved commercial success, Viletones placed Toronto on the punk map and helped kickstart a global revolution in music that saw the longhaired double-LP airy fairy concept album replaced with the heavy pounding guitar and rhythms of the 2-3 minute songs of teenage angst and rebellion, and the mosh pit was born to celebrate OUR music. The likes of Green Day, Linkin Park and Billy Talent all owe a tremendous debt to first generation punk rocker Steven Leckie, pioneering singer, writer and frontman for Viletones, Canada's first punk rock band.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Saint Patrick of Toronto; Disciple for the Ages

Saint Patrick Morgan Arthurs

November 11, 1939 - September 30, 2012

This past Friday I went to a funeral for an old friend, a Rastafari prophet who was 72 years old, a fine and loving man named Saint Patrick Arthurs. Though saddened by the loss of such a great man, about 120 people showed up for the ceremony, and there was lots of drumming and singing and memories to be shared by all.

First off I would like to thank Lisa and Neville and Tsepo and Lishy and Jah Paul and everyone who worked on making Brother Patrick's funeral a wondrous and enthralling memorial, and i am suggesting we arrange both a musical tribute for Patrick's birthday this November, and then an annual remembrance get-together.

It was also very much appreciated to see so many friendly faces at the event, including Shem and Lishy, Sista Lisa, Sista Loyce, Sista Shirley Lox, Trevor Jones, Denham Jolly, Michael Arthurs, Craig Arthurs, Lorenzo and everyone who came out to honour Patrick and support the family.

Patrick Arthurs, who was better known in Rasta and Reggae circles as Saint Patrick, was a good friend and mentor to me for the past few decades. He was both a big brother and a father figure, and a person one could trust for insight and advice.

After a standout career as a an athletics star in the pole vault, Patrick moved from Jamaica to attend University in Arkanas in the late 1950s, travelling on to Canada in the 1960s. Since his arrival in our fair city, he has been a positive and inspirational influence on three generations of Toronto musicians.

In 1975 Patrick published his first book, Soul Revolution, the Diary of a Rastaman on the Freedom Road, and it is a musical and spiritual tour de force that resonates with truths and rights and justice and overstanding, even unto this day.  

I first met Brother Patrick in 1980, when he moved into the 63 Indian Road house that my band Joe College and The Rulers rehearsed and lived at, and the house then transitioned from Punk rock to Reggae music. I became good friends with Patrick and his wife Lisa, and through our wider circle of musical friends, I met my wife Heather at a party at 48 Abell St, just off Queen West. Brother Tsepo lived at 48 Abell for a time, as did Sister Loyce and our late Brethren Dave Hamilton.

In 1982 I was honoured to deliver a letter from Rita Marley to Saint Patrick, and I was enthralled to be helping re-unite and re-connect two crucial spiritual families. It may seem a small thing to some, however at the time it was momentous for me.

A few years later my son David and I were able to spend a memorable Mother's Day at 48 Abell with Cedella Booker, the warm and wonderful mother of Robert Nesta Marley, on her first visit here. It was the 10th Mother's Day since Bob's Passing, and Cedella shared many beautiful hours with us, and told us that Bob spoke often of Toronto and would say “Mom, you have to go visit there, it is a very special place.”

Cedella went on: "For the past year or so I have had problems with the veins in my legs, making it difficult to stand or walk, and I have been in severe pain for many months. I would like to tell you all that, being here with you today, I feel no pain. My legs are pain-free and I am happy and joyful to be sharing this day together."

Bob's Mom then spent several minutes speaking personally with each and every one of us, and while I was conversing with her, she was bouncing my son David on her knee and hugging and kissing him. It meant a lot to me then and still does now.

I became good friends with St Patrick and Saint Lisa and watched their family grow up strong and righteous. Over the years I had hundreds of conversations with Patrick and watching how he loved and respected his own children provided me a good example and a strong foundation for when I was to become a Dad myself.

Brother Patrick was a formidable influence on my life, and his knowledge of and love for music was inspiring and contagious. He was a good friend of Seeco Patterson, of Judy Mowatt, and of Rita and Bob. I remember Patrick telling me about the last time he saw Bob Marley in this life, he had been backstage at Maple Leaf Gardens with Seeco and other Wailers, and he was able to present Brother Bob with a very old, large Bible, which Bob was pleased to receive. His final glimpse of Bob Marley on this Earth was seeing Bob walk up the steps onto the Babylon By Bus tour bus, and he had that Bible in his hands as he bade farewell to Toronto.

When we were organizing the two-day Toronto memorial for Haile Sellassie I's reburial in the year 2000, Patrick was fully supportive and along with Samuel Ferenje, Jahn Hoy's former speechwriter and travelling companion, Pat was a keynote speaker on both nights and his heartfelt and divinely insightful words were much appreciated by all.

My belief is that Saint Patrick will be remembered as a fervent disciple of Haile Sellassie I, Jah Ras Tafari, and that his writings will stand the tests of truth and time. Some years ago the title Ras Haile Tafari was received for Bro Patrick, and though I wrote of it I don't believe I mentioned it to him or that he ever utilized it, however he lived every day as a man worthy of such a lofty handle.

I Give Thanks for the blessings of knowing him and his family. May Patrick Morgan Arthurs Rest In Peace, and Rest In Power, and may his legacy be one of music and creativity that lasts for generations.

In Pat's honour I hope to work with Saint P's family and friends to create a Saint Patrick Rastaration Celebration - 1st Annual Gathering, in November 2013. The enormitude of the past twenty-four hours makes one believe our dear subject is also most worthy of a film about our friend Saint Patrick, for here is a disciple of both Sellassie I and of Nesta, a Rasta prophet shouting in the wilderness, laying a solid groundation for future generations

When many books are written about how Bob Marley saved Planet Earth, Saint Patrick will be a character of merit in all the best of them. For forty years Patrick was a mainstay of the local Rasta and Reggae scene, a genuine patriarch in our midst, and he will be sadly missed and fondly remembered by many.

For those who were unable to attend the funeral, here below I shall relate some impressions from the day of honouring Patrick Arthurs, a Torontonian whose musical knowledge is rivalled by only one other person I know of in this city, Howard Matthews, husband of Salome Bey. When I mentioned Howard when speaking with Patrick, he would often say "Howard is a music man like myself," and I make no apologies for inserting my own remembrances, for if there is anything P taught the collective bunch of us, it is to write things down as you see them and express yourself as forcefully and imaginatively as necessary.

Funeral of Saint Patrick Morgan Arthurs, October 5th, 2012

Tadias Mon Ami, Shalom, Namaste, Inshallah

Drumming (Ras Tsepo, Ras JahPaul, Empress Deb), chanting, and singing welcomed those entering the chapel, as the room slowly filled and then overflowed with those arriving to honour Saint Patrick, the Westmoreland-born Jamaican-Canadian writer and theologian who inspired three generations of Torontonians with his life and teachings.

Longtime friend Simba was a loving and graceful host and mc for the proceedings, and every person who spoke did so with humbleness and respect for Patrick Morgan Arthurs, his family, and his friends.

First Cousin Tsepo Anthony St John Fletcher waxed eloquently about early family days in Grange Hill and Negril, and his cousin Patrick's years of holding the pole vaulting record in Jamaica. Patrick's brother Neville, Michael's father, was also a star athlete in Jamaica, excelling at cricket and soccer and other sports. He spoke about Saint P's life before Rasta, and then as a Rastaman on the Freedom Road. Ras Tsepo mentioned the names of Patrick's seven offspring: Melanie, Craig, Daniel, Shem, Elisha, Nathan and Hannah. He mentioned June Palmer, the mother of Melanie and Craig and then moving along to Rasta days with Lisa and their family in Toronto, he shared some Biblical lines or quotes that Patrick liked to say, including:

It's not what goes into your mouth that is unclean, but what comes out of it.

He elaborated on this one by mentioning that, when asked about dietary restrictions of various religions, Pat would say "I don't believe I can eat my way to salvation" so why worry about it?

Bro Tsepo honoured our man Patrick with respectful anecdotes and pointed insights about how Pat challenged us all to know our shit, and to recognize the shytstem's trappings everywhere, recalling Patrick saying "That's why they call them trappings, these possessions trap them."

Sista Loyce spoke and sang of P's love for Jazz and Reggae and all expressive music, and spoke passionately about the WriteJustUs righteousness of Patrick's revolutionary, liberation- marinated zeal, and you knew she was honouring a profound, impactful patriarch.

Soulful tributes were provided by Franklins Ford, Al Peabody and Jay Douglas. Patrick has dear friends that have known him since he first arrived in Toronto and we heard stories stretching back to the 1960s and 1970s. Danielle and Lena sang and shared stories of recent decades. Two gentlemen from the barber shop including Frank relayed tales from five decades of loyalty, insight and friendship.

Nephew Michael, whom Pat was very proud to see grow up to be an acclaimed professional musician and a solid man, said some tender words and then played some evocative music on his saxophone, ending the instrumental with the sprightly yet sorrowful When the Saints Go Marching In.

Brother Daniel expressed emotional memories and thanked Alfonso for introducing Patrick so long before, and remembered fondly the day he brought his own father Alejandro to meet Pat, and you could feel and know that Daniel would always cherish the crystal memory of his Dad and Patrick getting along famously.

My friend and Pat and Lisa's longtime buddy Lorenzo shared some teary memories, and he was one of those who remained by P's side until the last weeks and days, as family and friends came from afar to pay final respects. Lorenzo please keep in touch with all of us who are close friends of Patrick, and let's ensure his renown is known for only being grown.

Four of Patrick's children spoke, including Hannah (Hannah with an "H"!), Craig, Shem and Elisha. Many relatives stepped to the podium to pay tribute to a great man who lived a momentous life. A parade of friends also told tales of Patrick, and it was certain that a unique human being had left our plane, yet would stay forever, one whose legacy would build.

Patrick's offspring flow from the waters of honesty and the seed of Africa.

Daughter Hannah spoke of being the child of a Rastafarian prophet who always encouraged her to be creative and to write. He inspired her to be a fighter for justice, and you could see it in the fire in her eyes and the pure clarity of her voice. She read a touching poem that was the last piece she had written for her loving Dad, and Hannah also had one of her creations included in the written program:

So inspirational to all around
Tough a fighter and never backs down

Proud of culture, family of the mission
Always high hopes, there's always a vision
Trying in a world where not many do
Reading and writing the words of the truth
In any situation seeing the Light.
Caring about the future
Knowing what's right.

Son Craig, looking like a young version of Patrick, talked about the time his separated Dad (Patrick was living in Toronto and Craig was with his mother and sister in New York) came to his school to get him to spend the day with 'Bob." He let us know that at the time his sister, Patrick's first beautiful daughter Melanie of Calfornia, was pissed about it and I can imagine she would be, for I have two daughters and two sons and you always want to bring them all yet cannot always make it happen. Craig did not yet know who Bob was, but he sure liked the idea of getting out of school. They spent the afternoon in Central Park with Bob Marley and good friends, and it is a foundational day for Craig. He has his father's steely determination and belief in justice and equity, and seems determined to carry on the work of Robert Nesta Marley, and of Saint Patrick.

(As an aside, though I am a generation older than Craig, I had a similar if less momentous experience in my own childhood. Believe, I am not comparing a hockey player with a messiah, however as a kid, the experiences at the time would feel similar. My dad called my school to get them to send me home so I could be ready to get picked up to do some modelling for CCM hockey equipment, on a shoot with Bobby Hull. The teacher announced it in front of the whole class... two shoots later the pictures of me and Bobby Hull were in every sports magazine and sports equipment store in Canada and much of North America, and that experience was a fun highlight of my own childhood.)

Son Shem mentioned that as Patrick used to be the first person up in the mornings, Shem would try to get up earlier than him, and consider it an accomplishment if he could do it. "Until I became a teenager..." followed, and he got a really big laugh with that. He was overcome with deep and rooted emotion yet what shone through was a son loved dearly honouring the greatest man many of us will ever know, and I am confident he made his Dad proud and his brother Nathan feel he had spoken for them both.

Daughter Elisha spoke with fire and clear tongue, of humankind in the diaspora and of good roots living. Our Lady Lish carries the torch for St Patrick and Saint Lisa, for Ras Tafari, for Bob Marley, for Reggae, for creativity, and she always makes both of her parents very proud, as she is a synthesis of their divine devotion. Her expressions of thanks were close to the heart, and you could feel her Father's powerful presence in her tone, and in the magnitude of her thought. 

Ras JahPaul and Empress Elisha are to be thanked for hosting the tribute reception, Much Respect. Each and every one of Us must do his or her part towards building a beautiful, loving family, driving Rasta into the 21st Century and providing a Toronto base and a global heart for seekers of Truth and Inity.

Now I would like to finish my tribute with a poem I originally wrote for Berhane Sellassie, our Robert Nesta Marley, as the sentiments are both timeless and fitting for Saint Patrick's memory and tribute.

May He Grace You

May Jah grace ye with the Holy Spirit
With all His rewards may He delight you
May he grace you with overseeing
With the holy spirit and loving-kindness

With an eternal covenant may He grace you,
Causing you to greatly rejoice
As He graced you with righteous judgement
That you not stumble

May He look graciously upon all your works
May He grace you with eternal truth
May He look graciously upon all your youth
May He guide and protect Rasta people

I have heard the words of this people
They are right in all they have spoken
Heed the words of Jah Prophet
Speaking of goodness in My name

Jah Ras Tafari sees clearly
Hears utterances of the Word
Knows the knowledge of the Most High
Still today with one eye open

Jahn Hoy observed Your word,
And kept Your covenant
His people burn incense before You
and sing songs of joyful praise

They will praise Him for His grace
Saying Arise, Jah Ras Tafari
Your name is my deliverance
My rock, my fortress, my deliverer

Jah, You renew my heart
Turn to me and be gracious to me
Give of Your strength to Your servant
Show me a good omen

I, Your anointed one, have understanding,
and I will tell others about You,
For You have given me knowledge
You have endowed me with great insight

Let all of us loved and touched by the fire of Saint Patrick remain as one family, and please let I and I work together in the months, years and decades ahead to remember Brother Pat daily and honour him annually in Toronto, and to continue his work in bringing the music and teachings of Robert Nesta Marley and Haile Sellassie I to the people of the nations.

Let us honour Patrick and his life and together begin work on Spiritual Celebrations in Toronto, commencing with Bob's 70th Birthday in 2015, and continuing with Ras Tafari's 125th, in 2017.


Brother Joseph

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