A Conversation With .. Steve Perry On His Book, 'Tomorrow Is Too Late'
The Toronto hardcore punk scene of the '80s is now given its due via a comprehensive coffee table book that has already sold out an initial run. Learn more in this chat with one of the project's prime movers.
By Bill King
There is no way the mainstream magazine or book industry is going to invest time and energy creating and marketing photo books or specialized short-run entities unless the Beatles or Kiss are featured. Forget those with a specific focus, and yet there are certain movements of interest that demand attention and have a solid fan base. There’s no denying the staying power of punk music.
When Steve Perry of the campus radio show Equalizing X Distort dropped in on Jesse King’s radio show, Basement Tapes, last week at CIUT 89.5 FM, he was packing a heavy object the size of a small table top I assumed was a book of considerable weight. What caught my attention was the tone and beauty of the layout and the considerable work within the pages.
Bill King: This book, Tomorrow Is Too Late: Toronto Hardcore Punk in the 1980s, is so heavy, I can't even lift it. What’s the inspiration behind this?
Steve Perry: It's a book put together by a group of us in the Toronto hardcore punk scene, and it documents 1979 to the beginning of the 90s. It’s multiple generations of the hardcore scene that the mainstream didn't want to pay attention to, but it's a scene that I followed. It's a scene that I grew up on. It's a scene that I learned from.
In the last couple of years there's been some great books on the Toronto punk scene that have come out, namely Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto by Liz Worth, Don Pyle's Trouble in the Camera Club, and--Sam Sutherland's Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk, which was more pan-Canadian. It’s looking at punk scenes that grew up simultaneously across the country but not about the hardcore scene which is the scene that I knew and was the scene of my generation.
The scene that I grew up worshipping, a few of these generations were before my getting into the punk scene. A bunch of us wanted to pay tribute to the legacy of their work, and there was a lot of incredible people in the scene. Frankly, because they were punk and hardcore, the mainstream didn't want to talk about it ever. I've pitched this continuously on different mainstream radio outlets, like CBC, and they don't have the time for it. I feel there are so many interesting things that come out of that.
BK: Self-published? The beauty of this is you get to design and produce it the way you want it.
SP: It was all fanzine people involved in this. We all did fanzines back in the in the mid-80s. It's all a group of self-publishers.
B.K: You've already sold out right – 1000 copies?
SP: The first press has already sold out. We've gone into a second. So yeah.
BK: I love the design of the whole thing because it's about the artwork. It's eye-catching in such a way that the text blends nicely with the great photos by Jill Heath a.k.a. Jill Jill.
Jesse King: There's a lot of the artists heard in their own words - taken from interviews culled from radio shows, from fanzines, so you get a firsthand account as well.
S.P: The idea was to get the smell - the scent - like the five senses of that scene - right. We talked about clothes, we talked about bands, we talked about fanzines, we talked about different projects that came out of that punk scene. Eighty percent of this was left on an editing floor - most stuff didn't make it into this book. The book could have easily been 500 pages instead of 320.
B.K: This retails mostly online?
S.P: It sells for $60. It’s a coffee table book.
B.K: This is all about self-publishing and about books that are not in the mainstream. It’s about the quality of the paper stock – which can be expensive. Most who publish on their own go for an inexpensive stock, which in most cases reproduces poorly. This is on good quality stock. It's a collector’s thing. Sixty dollars is more than fair.
S.P: The primary mover and shaker behind this project is a guy named Derek Emerson who works at a printing company. He had a bunch of paper donated and was able to get an art group to design it like an ad agency did this. Basically, costs are free. There are thousands of hours that have gone into this book and they've been working on it furiously. When I say it's my book, it's not really my book. There's Derek Emerson, Shawn Chirrey, Simon Harvey of Ugly Pop, and others. There's a group of 12 people - many people behind this who put this together.
We did a significant amount of the interviews here with Dan at CIUT 89.5 FM who also played a significant role in bringing people together and in some cases a lot of these people hadn't talked for thirty years and had left on bad blood. It was touch and go whether they would show up and whether these interviews would happen. And when we got them in the room, and we got them talking about their story and paid attention to their history, in some cases they didn't remember it so much. I mean thirty years is a long time to try and recall, but they were filling in the stories for each other, and they're also finding out things that they didn't know about how the band demised and now, forgiving. There was a lot of shrinking and healing going.
It was a fantastic experience for me to ingest. With these people, I wanted to know their stories. Like Brian Taylor, the guy who works at the Record Peddler and recorded so many of these bands. I wanted to know his story. I wanted to know the story of the Young Lions, who had this garage space out on Dufferin and Dundas. They put up the 20th Century Rebels - the main local leaders behind the ‘rock against racism movement.'
There are so many bands in this, and some of these bands only get like a brief paragraph - one or two sentences - like Blibber and the Rat Crushers. There are so many crazy different things. BFGs - the cover is Crazy Steve Goof from BFGs which stands for a ‘Bunchofuckingoofs,’ which I know I really shouldn't say on the air but it’s a band name. The name from the book comes from one of the most important bands in the city, Direct Action, so the book is based on the of one of their songs, and the press is called UXB Press that is also is a song, “UnExploded Bomb.” That was a song that Direct Action wrote. They were one of the most important punk bands to come out of Canada, and people don't even know about them. Only if you're in Toronto.
Jesse King: Give us the name of the book and where people can go check it out online. I think that's important right now.
SP: There is a Facebook page called Tomorrow Is Too Late. You can find the link there; it's penned at the top. There's a link for Canada orders and for international orders. Toronto Hardcore Punk in the 1980s, UXB Press.
J.K: One of our mutual friends is Lenora Taylor. She was big into punk scene, and we were friends and went to the same public school, and one night we hook up. I was probably 17 or something like that, and we hit Kensington Market, and this is probably around 1988 or 89. It was a pretty scruffy place back then. We go to a couple holes in the wall with bands. She says, “come on let's go see Bunchofuckingoofs at 26 Oxford." The Fort! And they were playing in the basement.
I ended up building my first studio with partner Steve up in the warehouse studio about a year later too. I went in and it was like complete chaos. I’ve got to tell you, I was just a little bit frightened about walking into this, but we decided to check it out. We go in and there's different rooms and a drum room in the back where they are trying to train a drummer and he's having a challenge. There’s some tempo issues there. They've got this weird video playing of them throwing chairs at each other that they had video recorded at some point in time and I'm just kind of sitting there thinking, this stuff is wild, and I don't know what's gonna happen next.
S.P: 26 Oxford is a historic place that had the first punk festival I think in North America, and it took place there in 1996 on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. A two-day festival with bands from all over. It became the template for punk festivals. There's a lot of fun festivals now that happen. They're pretty regular; in fact, Toronto had one called Not Dead Yet for 10 years. They just did their last one this year. It’s in a giant place where it all began.
J.K: Back when I was there, D.B. Hawkes who's been with CIUT 89.5 FM station for many years, used to broadcast every Saturday night and I was part of that one a couple of times, but he used to broadcast from the second floor.
Tomorrow Is Not Too Late. You can still grab copies of the second run with a new cover at Toronto record and bookshops, including Rotate This, Sonic Boom Records, and Type Books (Queen West and Junction locations).
You can also find them at these shops but call ahead to ensure they have stock: Book City (Danforth and St. Clair locations), Circus Books and Music, FAITH / VOID, June Records, She Said Boom Music & Books (College St.) and She Said Boom! (Roncesvalles Village), Soundscapes, and Stained Class Records.