Various - Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral HistoryOf Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981

Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral HistoryOf Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981

Released 2009 on BongoBeat Books
Reviewed by johndrake, 20/02/2010ce

Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk In Toronto and Beyond. 1977-1981
By Liz Worth Edited By Gar Pig Gold

Published by Bongo Beat Books 2009

A review by Joe Csontos

Every man’s memory is his private literature.

Aldous Huxley.

Just gimme some truth, All I want is the truth.

John Lennon.

Memory and truth are two faculties that inherently intertwine but sometimes they tend to subjugate to each other. There are many versions of the “truth” as anyone of us has encountered but frequently our own versions of the truth are dependant of our own recollections or memory. It helps if a writer can tell a story and try to capture at the very least somewhat of an essence of a truth.
This capacity is not easy my friends, especially when the writer is prone to rely on a multitude of memories to establish a truth.

Trying to capture the story of “punk rock” and its adherents from Toronto/Hamilton during 1977 to roughly the middle of the eighties would be a daunting task for even the most accomplished archivist, let alone a writer. What makes the task so daunting is that the few and the many that have survived to tell the story have different versions of the truth according to their memories.

Liz Worth, the author of this book has set about to tell the story in perhaps the only way that it could be told, using the participants to tell their version of the events. The oral history technique is also an exceedingly popular way to tell this type of history just witness several other ”punk” books which have preceded this tome such as Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming and Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me, which I believe are still fairly consistent sellers. The author explains in the preface that although she wasn’t around for the first wave of the punk scene in Toronto, as she was born in 1982,she was intrigued after a visit to England and its rich history of such seminal punk bands such as Sex Pistols, Clash and X-Ray Spex. Further inspiration was obtained from the 1978 by Daniel Jones of Toronto, with its veiled fictitious documentation of the punk scene featuring real bands like the Viletones and the Ugly.

Roughly four years in the making and after a plethora of interviews including yours truly, we now have a document of “the scene”. Well, you might next ask, does this book succeed in not only telling the many overlapping stories of Teenage Head, The Viletones, The Forgotten Rebels, Simply Saucer and The Ugly, and do those stories give us a persistent version of the truth? I am happy to report that although a long slog at 373 pages, the book gets most of it right. A few minor quibbles about the transitions between chapters, sometimes there aren’t any and perhaps a more precise editing blade could have been used on some of the interview, witness; Steven Leckie, lead singer of the Viletones rambling on and on about “the streets and his lack of art school pedigree” chapter after chapter.

The great parts in the book are about some of the bands that I saw but never knew the back-stories of the B-Girls and The Curse, which would make a great book on its own. Cheers to Liz and Gary for getting the Hamilton story right and illustrating its sometimes-bitter rivalry with Toronto groups. So what is the verdict? I say pick it up if you have any interest in Toronto/Hamilton pop culture history, or if you love punk rock or just because it is one hell of a story and from what I remember; mostly TRUE.

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