Author: Geoff Pevere
Genre: Music Nonfiction
Publisher: Coach House Books
A couple months ago, while shopping for indie tracks at Best Buy, I walked into a punk rocker. A six-figure suit job, cabin-living, lover of punk music, 18-year old girlfriend, punk rocker, who was probably bullshitting some of it, but regaled me of being a part of the Punk Rock Riot of 1980 at Ontario Place when “We burned police cars and dumped them in the lake” as pantomimed with loud hand gestures.
And how odd do memories connect when at the Coach House Books Spring launch, I picked up “Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story”; skimming the preface, flippin hell, it was the band that frontlined the Ontario Place festival and ignited the Punk Rock Riot. I took it home with me, and haven’t let it go since.
Now the only “band” bio I’ve read is “Heavy Metal of Baghdad” about an Iraqi metal band during the Iraq war but “Gods of the Hammer” is a more local read, a familiar story of a band’s journey to make it big, make it loud, and make it fun. A story of youthful dreaming which fuels the rise and perhaps not the fall (I’ll get to it later) of Hamilton-based (that’s important) punk-pop band Teenage Head, charting it’s members Gordie Lewis, Frankie Venom, Steve Mahon, and Nick Stipanitz, from humble beginnings in Stipanitz’s family’s basement in Hamilton, to the Toronto punk scene and onwards.
What immediately grabs you and shakes you excitedly is the complete earnestness of the writing. Pevere clearly loves Teenage Head and it shows in the way we can almost hear the spastic dance of Frankie’s energy as he sings and throws himself into his performance on stage, or the hard impression of the rush from the full blast of music and the don’t-give-a-damn attitude of the band’s refusal to subscribe to the Punk image with their long curls of hair.
But even with all the love, Pevere still has to contend to truth. And in most non-fiction with the pre-spoiled ending of tragedy and bitter sweetness, there is usually a I-coulda-been-a-contender attitude, and expectations are for discourses of regrets in the anecdotes from the band promoters, the record producers, and the audience who went on to greater things discussing how Teenage Head flew to close to the light, or maybe they didn’t fly close enough to not be the likes of the Ramones and their contemporaries. But this doesn’t happen. Instead for almost every step of the book, any opinion on Teenage Head was that they were special in a way no other punk band could replicate, and continue to be so.
Even after their climax and break, when they lose their label, when Jack Morrow, their band manager, abandons them, when Gordie Lewis is laid up in the hospital or the inevitable split up, the hammer never really falls onto the band, only a minor denouement that glosses over the 90s and the 00s until we realize, there is no next chapter, it’s Gordie Lewis sitting on a pile of recordings and written songs never played. The End.
So is it cynical to say Peter just wanted to pretty up the fact that the Teenage Head never made it? Then again what does it define made it? A Punk band bibliography from an independent local press that is not going to be sold along the likes of the Kurt Cobain or the Gun and Roses biographies. After the end, what Pevere does, and does so effectively is define the concept of success, a love story of the inspiration he took hearing a couple Hamilton kids play the music they love, and all those who listened to them and believed There is no sense of heavy bitterness or regret only Pevere’s continued belief it was just a couple kids who never grew up trying to have a fun time.
I listened to some teenage Head on YouTube while writing this and though this would be classified as dad music for me. I don’t think of cheap wood paneled basements, ugly sweaters and technicolour washouts, it’s still alive something that 88.1 would play in their Vinyl Archives. Teenage Head does deserve the praise it gets as Pevere does for his dedication to them.
Rating: Listening to nostalgic memories on YouTube.
By Joshua P’ng, A North York Writer