My latest: the gods of the Hammer

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.

And ours.


My latest: we’re all in Kansas evermore

We’re not in Kansas anymore.

But actually, we kind of are. Let us explain.

The famous line above, of course, was uttered by Judy Garland’s Dorothy character in the seminal motion picture, the Wizard of Oz. (With the full quotation being: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.“)

Whether you’re there or not, however, quite a few of us are thinking about Kansas this week. Because, on Tuesday night, the good people of reliably-conservative Kansas shocked all of the United States, and quite a bit of the world, too.

On Tuesday, Kansas voted in a referendum on removing a state constitutional protection for abortion, which would have had the effect of outlawing it. And the anti-abortion side lost. Dramatically. Decisively.

The side favored by abortion-hating Republicans was crushed, right across the landlocked Midwestern state.

In Kansas – whose anthem is Home on the Range, and where Republicans have dominated since Jesus was a little fella – 60 per cent of the state’s voters said they wanted to keep abortion rights.

That 60 per cent figure is notable, and not just because it represents a humiliating loss for the well-funded pro-life side. Sixty per cent is the share of the popular vote won by Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020.

The Kansas result can’t be just dismissed as an aberration or an outlier. The voter turnout was massive, and the pro-abortion side won convincingly in areas which Republicans once considered their personal playgrounds.

No more. For the GOP, the Kansas result suggests that this Fall’s midterm votes are no longer a foregone conclusion. If abortion is on the ballot – and after the Republican-dominated US Supreme Court gutted Roe v. Wade, it assuredly is – Tuesday night’s Kansas earthquake means that Democrats will benefit.

In the US, successive national polls have been showing a policy gulf between public opinion and Republican lawmakers. The US high court’s decision to expropriate women’s wombs has widened that gulf.

Canada‘s Conservative Party needs to pay attention to the progressive popular uprising in Kansas, but they probably won’t. Pierre Poilievre is far and away the frontrunner in the party’s leadership race. He has raised more money than all the others combined.

None of his fanatical followers seriously expects him to lose in in September, and some are already picking out drape swatches for their offices in the Langevin block. They will tell you they don’t care about little Kansas.

But Pierre Poilievre has a past, and a voting record. It’s easy to find, because he has never worked in the real world. And his voting record on social issues like abortion is problematic.

For years, the Ottawa-area MP could count on the unwavering support of the Campaign Life Coalition, the powerful lobby group that wants to outlaw abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia.

On its web site, the Campaign Life Coalition has for years given approving green check marks to Poilievre for voting for bills that would make it an offence to “kill or injure a pre-born child” — and to “protect women from coercion to abort.” For 99 per cent of his political career, Poilievre has opposed abortion. Period. 

When the Conservative leadership race commenced, Poilievre speedily attempted to execute a whiplash-inducing about-face. In one of the debates that he deigned to attend, Poilievre stammered that he was now pro-choice.

But he isn’t. Because he has admitted that, as Tory leader, he would let his social conservative caucus bring forward motions to outlaw abortion. 

That’s not pro-choice.

If that day were ever to come to pass, the result would be the same as we have seen in Kansas this week: it would fail. Canadians generally, and Canadian women in particular, are overwhelmingly pro-choice.

But the issue of abortion, and Pierre Poilievre’s ever-changing view on it, is a problem. For his party, and for him. In Canada, as in Kansas, the people know where they are. They know where they stand. 

And they will know, soon enough, that Pierre Poilievre doesn’t stand with them.