Punk Retrospective

“Ain’t it fun when you know that you’re going to die young?”

Daniel Jones' posthumously published novel 1978, is a great read for a number of reasons. Jones expertly captures the dark, seedy, drug addicted, violent, under belly of Toronto's punk rock scene in the late 1970s, yet it's a revealing portrait of the city, particularly the Annex area (comparable to Greenwich Village). 1978 is also a great musical tour through the era, and is centred around the birth of punk rock. The big players are mentioned - Sex Pistols, Dead Boys, Stooges, Ramones, The Clash, but Jones also brilliantly captures and documents the thriving, often over looked formative years of the Canadian punk scene: Teenage Head, The Viletones, The Forgotten Rebels, Diodes, Stark Naked and the Fleshtones, and The Demics.
The story follows a pack of down and out punks living in a flop house and reeling on the edge of the emerging punk scene. Although it is set in Toronto, the story could have happened in any city. There’s our narrator Boy Zero, and Kid, who used to date Soo until she decided she was a lesbian and started seeing Jacky. They drink, they do drugs, they fight and they go see bands. They are pretty fucked up, except Boy, who has a job but is drawn into the circle of losers as the lead singer of their punk band Cerebral Paisley. These punks are not political, they’re not fashionable, they are the first wave, drawn to the scene because it speaks to what they feel, anger and alienation.
Jones is able to paint a pretty bleak but accurate picture of the time, because he lived it. The novel is funny at times and also brutal in its portrait of drugs, alcohol and poverty. Along with the members of Cerebral Paisley an interesting supporting cast of sketchy characters move in and out of the story. But the real indulgence for me is the reference to all the great and not-so-great punk bands of the time and the trip down memory lane.
I was just a little too young to be involved in the club scene in 1978 but I remember the infamous Ontario Place Teenage Head riot in 1980. I remember buying "punk" buttons and patches at Yonge Street head shops on Saturday afternoons and freaking out when we would see The Viletones lead singer Steven Leckie (Nazi Dog) shopping at The Record Pedlar. I ended up playing my first ever gig at the Turning Point, the legendary Bloor Street punk club and hangout of the cast of Jones' characters in 1978. I was also a regular at Larry's Hideaway in the early 80s (shhhh....under age) another seminal Toronto punk club, checking out some of the above mentioned bands as well as; Raving Mojos, Random Killing, Direct Action and numerous underground metal bands, because metal was still underground then, but like punk, about to explode.
1978 is rough and amateur in patches, but it is a great read for anyone interested in the birth of punk, especially in Canada. Unfortunately after battling severe depression and alcoholism for years, Daniel Jones took his own life at the age of 34 on February 14, 1994.

*3/6/2011 - Alibris has a less expensive copy than the Amazon copy listed below. Alibris says you can get $3 off $30 by using the coupon code BOUND at checkout until April 5, 2011.

**3/12/2011 - 1978 is being re-issued, and will be available this coming May from Three O'Clock Press.  Check threeoclockpress.com for updates.

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