Ian Truman is taking over my Friday spot to talk a little bit about the connection between punk rock and the drive to create.
Ian Truman is the winner of the 2013 Expozine "Best Book", Ian Truman is a Montreal born writer of poetry and fiction. His latest novel, GRAND TRUNK AND SHEARER, is available from Down and Out books.
It's OK To Push Back
I never really went to the big arena concerts, places like the Bell Centre and such, and I kinda feel lucky about that now. I feel lucky I was introduced to “legitimate” punk pretty early.
See, I was bullied a lot back in high school and in many ways I was your typical 90’s geek: too tall, too skinny, no muscle on the bones, anime club a decade before anime was “normal.” I was the kid that was hiding in the library as much as I could and I have zero problem admitting it was because I liked it as much as because I needed a place to hide.
Now I think it was maybe in my fifth year of high school and I was hanging out with this weird fucking metalhead, one of the few other loners we had at school, and when I mean weird, I mean that he used to listen to metal sure, but in reality, he was trying to make music with a grinder over a vacuum cleaner and some white noise in the background and some bass drum filled with cans and trash or something. THAT guy, you know?
In many ways he was probably the punkest guy I have ever met. He really, absolutely and truthfully did not give a fuck about what anyone would ever think of him. He didn’t care about tags of labels or punk, metal, grind of the very concept of music. He just did whatever came to his mind. He was also probably the smartest guy around and didn’t have one once of malice in him. I would swear to that.
So this kid, who by then had been kicked out of the school radio club for playing his music there, told me he was going to bring me to this place they called “L’X” one day.
“You’re gonna love it,” he said.
I said, “OK,” simply. Because what the fuck did I know about anything? That was about to change.
So one day we pack ourselves in his tiny car. That thing was a fucking Pinto, if you remember those, the rest of you can google them. That thing was a goddamn pinto. He later sold it to some monster truck show that defined the tiny box or a car as “absolutely perfect.” Anyways. So we packed ourselves in that car and we lived about an hour away from Downtown. He brings us there and it’s in the heart of Quartier Latin and, I mean, it looked like a fucking wasteland.
This wasn’t the “Quartier des Spectacles” of luxurious condos, SAT gallery and designer gyms. This was the fucking red light in all its glory. I think it was 98 maybe. It was the Montreal of insanely high unemployment, mental-hospital deinstitutionalization, spiking homelessness, post-referendum-traumatic-stress and population flight.
Half the buildings were abandoned, there were vacant lots everywhere, some village made out of planks and cardboard, FOUFS was across the street and a gathering of maybe 60 bikers in a parking lot in front of an downright corporate ice cream parlour (yes, I’m serious) You stopped counting the needles and just found a path around them. I remembered some guy on the second window of an 18th-century row house selling contraband cigarettes up and down a bucked he pulled with yellow string.
And L’X was right in there, about a hundred inside the red light district. It was some room in this fucking historic building, abandoned or it seemed abandoned, it definitely looked abandoned. But there was definitely something happening there. And the place, I mean, it was this magnificent stone building, six or seven stories high with all the tall windows and the metal sculptures over the main entrance. “La Patrie” had been sculpted in the stone. The kind of shit you’d put in a movie or the kind of shit you say in movies that took place in New-York. You know “the” building I’m talking about.
In many ways, you could say L’X was Montreal’s CBGB’S.
So, there it was, next door over with a simple stroke of paint over a metallic door: “L’X” and that was it. The reason I’m bringing this up is because I respect a lot of artists who keep talking about those “matinées” at CBGC and how it shaped their lives and L’X was that place for me. It was the place where I had that one pure moment of revelation you really fucking need to make is as an artist.
You see, I feel lucky about not going through the typical “Arena” concert because my friend had taken me straight to the heart of the fucking beast. That place was full of hope and desolation and fear and pain but the trash and sweat and anger mixed with this brand-new fucking notion of freedom. That tiny, fucking weird fucking metalhead had taken me right to the heart of punk rock.
For such a legendary venue, I’m still amazed it hasn’t flooded the world of Montreal culture and writing. I don’t know if I was the first one to really write about it or it or not but it should definitely take its righteous place in the city’s cultural history.
I mean, you had to go down some concrete stairs and then you reached the main door just inside and the room opened up in front of you. You walked down another set of stairs to the dance floor and there were metal railings all around everything and the obvious graffiti on the walls. The toilets were downright gnarly, that went without saying.
There seemed to be people sleeping down the corridor to some other part of the building, I swear, I saw some of them, there were fucking catacombs under there, it was like there was a system of tunnels below the venue that was below the fucking building that lead all over the city and the electricity was still working down there and you couldn’t figure out why. There was this one light bulb that was still dangling from the ceiling that looked like it had been there for decades and the wires running nowhere into a wall.
You’d want to make that shit up and you couldn’t do it.
In the main room there was a third set of stairs leading up with a fucking mezzanine going all around the stage. And the stage was small and shitty and most bands would barely fit there. You’d fit fifty people in the room and it looked full but I’ve seen shows where they crammed probably a hundred and fifty.
The first show I went there had about 30 kids, maybe. It was far from full but it was absolutely mind blowing to me and I didn’t’ know what to expect.
The 30 kids in there were pushing against the stage like their life depended on it. The band started playing and I can’t remember who it was and it doesn’t matter. What mattered is I was this skinny, geeky kid getting shit on all week at school, hiding in the library or the anime club and I was smart, sure, but the grades weren’t there and I didn’t fucking know what to do with anything, with myself or my fucking life.
I had been writing on my own probably since third grade but I never dared to show it to anyone. I was creating in silence with no desire (or in fact, guts) to get it out in the world. No matter what you’d think about it, it takes guts to be a writer. It takes guts to say, “here, I wrote 300 pages and it’s worth your limited reading time.”
Punk gave me that guts and it happened in one second.
The sound was fucking loud and it was horrible and heavy and noisy and shitty in every way you could imagine. You kinda just focused on the stomping of the drums. People started slamming into each other, punching and pushing each other and for the first time in my life it was OK to push back. In fact, it was expected of me. I was fucking invited to. A bunch of losers, loners and other misfit kids free to be “someone” in the second sub-basement of an abandoned building in the middle of “no-future” and a fucking recession but it was OK to push back. That meant a fucking lot.
And maybe I’m mature enough now to say that “being allowed to push back” is probably the most basic, common, most important emotion at the heart of punk. Before all the politics and the aesthetics and the noise and social critique, before all the branches and the Krishna-cores or straight edge vegans and the grind-core-pop-punk-concept-bands or post-emo-neo-crust bullshit there was this : “It’s OK to push back.”
On paper it sounds like absolute garbage, right? It sounds so fucking basic it’s got to be a joke, right? In real life it was absolutely everything to me.
Without that there would be no Ian Truman, no art of mine, no music, no politics, no drive, no anger, no desire or novels or poetry or books. Nothing. I wouldn’t have seen New-Orleans because of it or any other city because of it. I wouldn’t be writing this blog post or any other post at all. In fact I have little doubt I’d be dead.
I spent about half my life in Quartier Latin, now. I’ve studied there. I work there. The building is still standing and I think about it every time I walk in front of it. You can’t forget something like that. I’m sure the aging punks in NYC still have that pinch when they walk in front of CBGB’s. I get the same feeling with L’X.
The building’s still abandoned. There’s asbestos or some shit in there. I know for a fact the room is still down there, probably untouched. I could bust the door and walk down and find the water damaged stage and the posters on the walls of bands as soft as the fucking Weakerthans, or as heavy as Snapcase and Shutdown.
My point, I guess, is that kids need places like that in the world. It creates passion, it creates artists. They need that place to be absolutely, marvellously fucking horrible at whatever they’re trying to do. No one’s that good right off the bat. Absolutely no one. You need to fail a lot and you need a place where you get to fail a lot. L’X was that place for me.
And so, sixteen years later, fucking seventeen years later, the building remains unused, wounded with asbestos, too expensive to fix or sell or too expensive to do anything with. As about a dozen glimmering condo towers have risen right next to it, it stands as a testament of what was and how much you can do with very little.
If you dare to write about it every once in a while.