The gods of the Hammer.
That’s what we called Teenage Head, who were probably the greatest rock band – and certainly the greatest punk band – Canada has ever produced.
We’re a small country. Our bands, our artists, often have to struggle for recognition here. So we promulgate Cancon rules, and foreign ownership laws, to protect and promote what little we have.
Teenage Head, to us prairie punks who rarely got to experience greatness close up, were gods, and therefore in no need of protection. We were certain they’d be seen by the world as we saw them: a quartet with a bass-drums-guitar section that was like a melodic machine, and a frontman who had more charisma than Elvis.
Why weren’t they ever as big as they so richly deserved to be? Not for lack of trying. They played in every dump and dive in every corner of Canada, wowing everyone who was smart enough to check them out. They worked so hard, for so many years.
But bad luck followed them like a groupie who won’t take no for an answer. They were cursed. Frankie Venom, their singer, died suddenly in 2008, and his passing hit me like a lightning bolt. Frankie had given his last-ever performance at Hamilton’s Friends Festival that same year, you see, backed by my own band, SFH. He was a friend.
Frankie was a wild man, too, with wild eyes and a sideways grin that promised lots of trouble – and usually delivered. In 2007, we opened for the Head at Barrymore’s in Ottawa. But Frankie was late. He eventually staggered in, biker jacket across his shoulder, a huge scab from a fight across his cheek.
It didn’t look good. He didn’t look good. And then Frankie strutted up to Barrymore’s microphone and – wham! He nailed it. He, we, were teenagers again. He and his band were magic. They were gods.
But gods aren’t as immortal as they used to be, apparently. Frankie died, and now Gord Lewis has died.
Lewis was the inscrutable one, the genius guitarist. He was the rock who anchored Frankie Venom to Earth, supplying riffs that attracted fans from the Ramones to Eddie Vedder.
From ‘78, when we all heard ‘Picture My Face’ on their debut – to ‘83, when they had their last big tune with ‘Tornado’ – Teenage Head were underground superstars, their greatness recognized by too few. They deserved to be huge, but never really were.
And now, Gord Lewis has been found dead in a Hamilton apartment building. His son has been charged with his murder.
I was familiar with his son, too. Lots of people in the GTA music and political scene were. A few years ago, there were emailed threats to members of my family, and some local politicians. The emails stopped for a while.
On the weekend, the wild emails started up again – dozens upon dozens of of them, to me and many others. I was with family on the weekend, so I just deleted the emails without reading them.
Someone at the Hamilton Spectator, however, saw something troubling and contacted the police. They did a wellness check on Gord, and found his body.
The legal system has the son now. Whatever will happen will happen. But now, I guess, it’s the rock’n’roll gods who have Frankie and Gord.
It is impossible to describe how much of a loss Frankie and Gord’s deaths are to this country’s music scene. It is impossible to properly express how sad and tragic it all is.
So, don’t mope. Go do this: go out and get yourself a copy of the first album, or maybe Frantic City – on vinyl, preferably – and listen, and know, the greatness that was Teenage Head.
We shall never see their likes again, because they were the gods of the Hammer.