Creem, November 1980

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Crouching towards Bowmanville
or Elvis: What happened?

Susan Whitall

I must confess to hating "rock festivals" with some passion. My response to the rhetorical "Would you have gone to Woodstock?" question has always been a resounding "No, no. . .God no!"

What? Go voluntarily to a place where I would be covered with mud, dosed with all manner of cheaply-made hallucinogenics, forced to watch heaving mounds of human flesh copulatìng all around me, and after all that ... not seeing the bands very well! Then, after the fairly interesting (talent-wise) festivals of the 60's, the 70's versions were strictly bloato supergroup extravaganzas; any fest with "Jam" in the title to be avoided at all cost.

But here it was August 1980, and I'm forced by Elvis Costello to go to one of the dreaded outdoor congregation of jerks! Elvis, it was made clear from the start, would not appear in North America in 1980 apart from the Heatwave Festival, so my fate was sealed as soon as Elvoid inked his Mosport contract. To Bowmanville, Ontario we would go; four hours by train from close-to­-Creem Windsor, Ontario, and then about 70 kilometers (no translation for stupid Yanks) east of Toronto to the Mosport Speedway, site of the shindig. The tentative band list as late as the day before the show included bands like Third World, the Ramones, and Dexy's Midnight Runners, who didn't show to our temporary dismay.

Getting to the site was no problem; as everybody else had already arrived (the ticket starting time of 2 p.m. was three hours late), traffic on the two-lane blacktop out to the speedway was practically nil, adding to the we're-almost-in-the-Arctic-Circle-now feeling. Indeed, the site is practically ideal for outdoor concerts, being a natural ampìtheater of rolling hills that place people in the back regions higher than their lucky pals up front. After Toronto's endless suburbs of duplexes and tower block apartment cities, this Canadian tundra was beautiful but unnerving to our packed-on-top-of-each-other-like-rats Yank eyes.

We arrived at this last outpost before the Yukon to find the press accommodations — 'scuse me, the VIP TENT — to be off to the side of the stage. The Canadjan PR, hadn't been informed by the American PR that so many of us Yanks were arriving, so the promised passes had disappeared, of course. Without a pass you didn't get to fight your way into the "refreshment tent" where you could fight muscular, irritated AP photographers for one of the 10 beers an hour provided, or watch as FM radio assholes stole whole cases of "press beer" to stash under their tables. Yes, for all you readers who look at VIP tents and wish you were there with a backstage pass slapped on your knee, now you know. You dumbos playing tag out in the mud are better off than us press jerks. Plus we had to worry about musicians coming over and forcing interviews on us! Jeez! Still, some time later, when the sky was that dangerous shade of pink just before the blue takes over, after having eaten mud until I felt chemically hippie-like, there was a lovely moment when it all came together, and I felt touched by the Spirit of Outdoor Festivals. Peace, love and a press tent Molson'sin my hand conspired to make everybody look like my friend, and all my friends were fine, well-spoken music-lovers indeed. Apparently, just a matter of yards away, outside of his VIP Trailer, mellow Elvis Costello was also feeling hip with the oneness of the assembled brothers and sisters. But more about that later...

Anyway, imagine our fan's dismay to be dìckering for our nonexistent supply of press passes while Rockpile finished off their set. Forget the Rumour — they'd already played, as well as Teenage Head. Poor Nick Lowe, according to consensus, "looked like Nick Lowe's dad," with a considerable weight gain and nary a drop of Grecian Formula 44 on his gray mop, but Rockpile's set was generally acclaimed as excellent. Ex-hippie Nick was the first (and last) to say "Don't eat the brown man..." We all wept. And sulked in the VIP tent during Holly & the Italians' set — I really didn't want to know whether the rolling Canadian grasslands would appeal more to young Holly's sensitive mind than her detested California roots. If I'd known what she'd worn, I could have laughed at her anklets.

As it was, we did a good deal of laughing at what people were wearing — both out in the Real People's hills, and back in our refugee camp VIP area. I'd always known that Toronto has an alarming capacity for over-trendiness, although it's also one of my favorite cities for its less glitzy attractions. Still, to actually see miles and miles of actual punks was mind-numbing. Girls in black Naugahyde bondage wear, boys in pink Capris, girls in Specials-type black-and-white minis, old hippies wearing gauze and tie-dye, young hippies in Addidas and Lacoste, fishnet hose everywhere; spikey hair everywhere, Rush or Journey t-shirts nowhere.

Back in the VIP Tent, a PR lady offered helicopter rides. "But only to the biggest publications! Now don't rush me all at once!" We the premises. "Tail Gunner" Bob Matheu volunteered and went up into the aircraft for Creem, to take aerial shots.

As the afternoon wore down, the Pretenders came out, Chríssie wearing white boots and a flowing_shirt, to pique the crowd's interest somewhat. Unfortunately for Chris and the boys — despite a good show and a lot of picturesque stomping about by Miss Hynde — because it was still fairly broad daylight the masses sat in sunbaked, drugged-out stupor and the Pretenders' reception was more tepid than it might have been in the gentler evening hours. (Special acting kudos to the English person in the VIP area who gave the most heartfelt review of the Pretenders before they even hit the stage — he fell about, mock puking with such fervor that I stared at him instead of the band.)

The B-52's were the afternoon delight of the Heatwave Festival; looking nothing like the awkward people we'd seen in Detroit last spring, Cindy and Fred and Kate and Ricky and Keith got some 70,000 drunk, stoned kids on their feet and dancing. Cindy and Fred didn't stop moving, frugging or ponying, whatever the song called for — and all Kate had to do was jump out from behind her organ to dance, wearing a bright red miniskìrt, to bring up the day's first roar from the crowd.

It was the B-52's that the afternoon started to almost turn into evening, and we mud-caked hippies stood around talking to Brother Bruce Kirkland, Stiff/America prez, who laid the good rap on the proceedings, despite a stinging hangover.

"Even Elvis is digging the vibes," Bruce smiled. "He's back there, walking up to see the bands, just hanging out.

Indeed, a small girl photographer had taken rolls of film of Elvis "just hanging out," with no interference whatsoever. When she'd taken pictures of Dave Edmunds (tanned and even redder-haired than usual) and Nick Lowe chatting, she'd gotten the customary search-and-destroy gambit from manager Jake Rivera, who happily pocketed her film. (But then, Elvoid isn't fighting the battle of the bulge — he isn't as skinny as he was in those hard-edge 1977-78 days — but his 1979-80 softness is actually quite becoming. Hi, El...)

Talking Heads was also one of the surprises of the festival, what with the new nine­-Head line-up. But I came to praise small Irish/English myopics, so I sat down and saved my legs for the main event. El-void... El-void....

As he ascended the stairs to the stage, just a beercan's throw away from our VIP camp, a cry came up from the Creem pup tent: "Hey FORTRAN! Hey COBOL, you little shit!"

You gotta understand. . .to have followed Costello from record to record, gig to gig, is to love/ hate him as one of our own. As we explained to a girl nearby who couldn't reconcile our seeming irreconcilable attitudes... Hey — the man's a genius. We love him for being pure. It is something fine, in today's troubled world, to cling to something absolute and true — the real, tangible Costello rage.

Since I'd seen Costello at a small club — the Great Gildersleeves in April '79 — from only a scant two feet away, I can watch him from the side at some distance, as at Mosport, and still feel close to His Malevolence, if only by replayìng that vivid show in my head.

As another writer who attended that April Fool's Day show pointed out, Elvis is almost too powerful in such a small setting — used to projecting his lush cocoon of anger and paranoia out over the hundreds or thousands, in a close setting you feel your eyelashes being singed.

At that point, a year ago spring, Costello was still wound up from his barroom encounter with Bonnie Bramlett and company, and yet he smiled at the crowd as if to put them at ease. I find it difficult to understand reviews such as the one Rolling Stone ran of Get Happy!, in which the Costello personality is tirelessly psychoanalyzed and found to be wanting, and then music therefore twisted and antisocial and not worth slapping onto your Tandberg turntable. But then, that might be explained by differing editorial slants — somebody too "racist" for the Voice, too "fucked up" for Stone's Carl Rogersìan Record Dons, ("Not housebroken" says Dog World) — is also somebody who speaks to us out in Bad Attitude, Michigan.

El-void, El-void...

Elvis took the stage at Mosport grinning ("Hi we're the Clash. How're 'ya doin' out there?") and departed grinning at drummer Pete Thomas, who forgot to crank the beat out on the last number. No song was too old or unpracticed for E. and the Attractions to take a crack at — they kicked things off with a new song, followed it with "Accidents Will Happen," then (in no particular order) ranged from "Less Than Zero" to "Chemistry Class" to "(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea" to more new stuff — on and on and on into the night. Before "High Fidelity" Elvis laughed "This one's about lost love... and l know something about that." After the "last" song, he yelled "Good night," and ran back to crouch in the rear of the stage, waiting for his encore patiently. And the encores kept on comin', Elvis performing as tirelessly as a bride-groom. This tortured paranooiac? This ranting little jerk?

After the show Elvis retired to the Holiday Inn to drink happily with his buddies the trouble boys, no doubt laughing at the prospect of any further press unravelling of his psychoses. Meanwhile, Nick Lowe is troubled...

<< >>

Creem, November 1981

Susan Whitall and Dave DiMartino report on the Heatwave Festival, August 23, 1980, Mosport Park, Bowmanville, ON, Canada.


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Cover and page scans.

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Photo by Bob Matheu.

Punk Woodstock meets the ugly American

Dave DiMartino

Just out of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, a friend and I are fighting a losing battle. We're trying to take Canada seriously. Here we are in actual Ontario, nary a snowshoe between us, on our way to Punk Woodstock by way of a route as exciting as Canada gets: Route 401, which begins at Windsor, heads for Toronto and then mysteriously vanishes into uncharted territory. Nobody, you see, has ever stayed awake long enough to find out exactly where it ends; if they have, presumably, then they've been kidnapped by vengeful baby seals and won't ever be seen again.

After spending 12 Canadian dollars (?) on 48 liters (?) of gas, we're confronted with a disturbing road sign which advises us to travel no faster than 100 kilometers per hour — or else, we presume, neatly dressed Mounties will pull their respective horses adjacent to our cat and threaten us with various Canadian obscentitìes which, peppered with appropriate "eh's", will only begin to prepare us for the difficult road ahead.

Outside Windsor, the pair of us — each good Americans — takes refuge in the comfort of a McDonald's of Canada. There we eat breakfast, ponder the maple leaf that stares from each of our breakfast placemats, and briefly discuss our eventual destination. “Heatwave,” they call it, a Punk Woodstock to take place a few dozen kilometers (?) outside Toronto. Bowmanville, actually — at a speedway called Mosport Park. A one day conceptual anachronism featuring Elvis Costello, Rockpile, the Pretenders, Talking Heads, B-52's and others.

Several kilometers (?) later we pull into another gas station. I confront a cigarette machine that insists upon $1.15 in Canadian funds (?) and promises a possible 30 brands of cigarettes no one in their right mind has ever heard of. “Craven Menthol” sound most appropriate, naturally, and so they are.

It's going to be a strange day.

“If you're going/To Mosport Park,
Be sure to wear/ Some pink dye in your hair
In the streets/Of Bowmanuiiie, Ontario,
Summertime/Will be a Canadian Punk Rock Festival there..."
lyrics by Scott MacCanuckenzie
famed Canadian street poet of the latter 1980's

After traveling a random amount of kilometers (who among us, after all, can deal with such insubstantìal concepts?), we find ourselves near Bowmanville. We know this because a helpful roadsign tells us so, while simultaneously boasting of a population of almost 10,000. Applying the NQR postulate (i.e. everything that seems normal in Canada is actually Not Quite Right), we reason that this figure must be skewed in one direction or another; uncertain if Canadians actually use the Arabic numerical system, we can only hazard vague guesses as the real population total. My friend suggests that Canadians purposefully inflate their population figures so as to prove that people actually do live in Canada, even of their own choosing. We discuss this.

A line of cars — most with Ontario iicense plates — tells us we're arrived. We pull the car into what's obviously a farmer's field of some sort, and emerge, shaken. Two shirtless gentlemen {“Where you guys from? Detroit? Wow, man, we're from Boston...”) offer us a Canadian beer and suggest a “shortcut” to the festival site. “See,” they helpfully point out, “it's really still two miles away!"

We follow the “shortcut.”

“By the time we got to Mosport,
We were 70,000 strong,
And everywhere was the sound of noisy tape decks
And I dreamed I drank a Moosehead Beer,
And passed out by the Hospital Tent,
Who knows where those Quaaludes went?
Some guy threw up, smiled, and then he showed me...”
-lyrics by Joni “Slash” Bìtchell, Canadian new wave mime and folksinger.

Only in Canada could this be a shortcut.

We've walked through two miles of actual cornfíelds, following a trail of broken cornhusks and empty beer bottles that some Canadian farmer will undoubtedly be picking up tomorrow in preparation for his massive Canadian lawsuit. His name, I supposeä will probably be Yax Masgur and he'll end up losing the suit. I trip over one of several white rocks and the geologist in me tells me such stones are the result of glacial erosion. The. American realist in me, however, whispers “potato fields, Dave” and — wiping the sweat from my pale American brow — I silently refute my quarter­Irish heritage.

Meanwhile, in the distance, Rockpile plays on. I push away yet another cornstalk, risk castration over the fifth barbed-wire fence of the day and contemplate whether “shortcut” in Detroit might mean something entirely different in both Boston and Canada.

“The B-52's and Rockpile did fly,
Oh, Holly & the Italians' crummy set, it made me cry,
The Pretenders' set, so hot it exploded in fire and light
The Clash never showed up, baby it, not even at the Isle of Wight..." -lyrics by Eric Bludgeon, Canadian soul singer who successfully changed his race in the early 1970s.

“You can't come back here unless you have a backstage pass” remarks a Heatwave security guard upon our final arrival.

Dripping with Yankee perspiration, I diplomatically differ.

"But wait," say I, “where do I go to get a backstage pass?”

The Canadian security guard, unknowingly representing his country, smiles.

“Back here,” he sags.

"Gimme an ‘F'"
"Gimme a ‘U'"
"Gímme a ‘C'"
"Gímme a ‘K'"
"What's that spell?"
"What's that spell?"
"What's that spell?"
- dialogue conducted by Country Joe McFishhead and crowd an Heatwave: The Canadian New Testament (available on Osteopathic Records)

After subtle usage of Canadian logic (“Look, I don't want a backstage pass and there's no way you'll ever give me one!!”), I take my new backstage pass and wander into the “Press Tent” region, a nebulous area where they've always “just run out” of free beer and nobody smart should be wandering in the first place. Everything stinks — photographers complain, writers complain: it's too hot, where's the free beer? — and this writer suggests that the Heatwave Festival may indeed soon replace Bruce Cockburn and become Canada's newest Best-Kept Secret.

While Holly & the Italians unknowingly disgrace two more fourths of my heritage with their incredibly lousy music, I wander around outside and seriously ponder the Canadian Question. One: Given that there are actual “punks” still existing in Canada — i.e. leather-clad, teased-and­-sickly-colored hair, t-shirts with the word “punk” sprayed on them — will they at all, by their mere presence, detract from my enjoyment of the show? Two: will I be able to resist walking up to the pathetic kid I spot who's got actual safety pins sticking in his nose/cheeks/ears without sincerely asking “Hey, it's 1980. Don't you how stupid you look? before he mumbles “fuck off” and walks away?

Third, and certainly equally as relevant, will I be able to watch the Pretenders play without continually staring at the nubile 17-year-old next to me — who's wearing Chrissie Hynde-ish fìngerless gloves and mouthing the words to “Precious” — and not wonder how odd her Canadian hands will look tomorrow after the hot sun burns her arms and leaves her forearms and wrists completely white? What will she say to her parents? "Oh yeah,” will she explain, “I was just bowling under ultraviolet light, mom!” Momentarily taken with the thought, I decide her Canadian mom would then suggest she wear sunglasses next time she bowls and leave it at that. When her father comes home from the lumberyards, he'll speak to her.

I watch the B-52's and the Pretenders and am pleasantly surprised; the shows are excellent. Canada apparently affects different people different ways. Examining a Canadian cigarette package that recommends “not inhaling,” I suggest to nearby friends that were it not for stray “cultural!” signs (Canucks saying "aboot" when they mean “about”), I might well believe that I was in America circa 1977 or so, witnessing the “punk revolution” as it happens. But again, as it happens, I'm spending too much time watching the audience instead of the bands.

“You know something,” I mention to a friend, “I've seen Costello, Talking Heads and the B-52's before, but I've never seen Canadian punks.”

“Yeah,” he says, “me neither.”

And there'd be much more to mention if things weren't so very typical. And typical they were: Pretenders, B-52's, Talking Heads — all superb, especially the Heads with their new expanded line-up: Busta Cherry Jones, Adrian Belew and Bernie Worrell, among others, adding the sounds Byrne & company have needed since their second album.

Elvis, of course, was Elvis, and that's that.

But this all suggests something misleading: that the show was actually on the stage. And of course, it wasn't. The show was there, sitting or standing in front of the stage: 70,000 estimated shows, really — and most of them Canadian. “Wanna be in a circus? someone behind me asked a heavily made-up punkette, and shesaid yes. “Then sit on my face,” he leered, “and I'll guess your weight!!

And so on, all the way back to the farmer's field and to my car. The show's over, and a Canadian policeman (mountie?) points the proper way back to Endless Route 401. Seconds later, we discuss the ramifications of truly being uncertain whether “right” and “left” have the same meaning in Canada; maybe, for instance, Canadians actually do drive in the left traffic lane as far as they're concerned. The implications here are enormous, a combination of the Para1lel World concept with the Basic Polish Joke dictum. There's much to discuss.

There is, we later decide, also much to be said about Canada. Not all of it is good.

I have trouble remembering the concert and my entire stay in Canada the next day, in Detroit, when people ask me about it. Yellowish stains on the lower legs of my pants remind me of my earlier cornfield "shortcut," playing Dorothy in search of the Canadian Oz, mumbling, “there's no place like home” and hoping for a swift recovery in the American heartland.

Later, at the bank, I pull out my remaining wad of Canadian money and ask for its American equivalent. The teller, a middle-aged woman, looks at me cìosely, perhaps examining me for telltale signs of Canadianism. There's something about me, her eyes suggest, that seems odd.

Not Quite Right, you might say


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