Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Hardcore: Book Review

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Punk journalist documents early Saskatoon punk scene in historic biography

Despite going through its umpteenth re-glamourization, Canadian punk rock has never been as championed as its British and American counterparts.

It’s never been as pretty either. But that’s the whole point of punk rock, right?

In either case, the origin stories of Canadian punk have been told more than a few times but have either been ignored or looked-over. Which is complete bullshit. America may have spawned the Ramones and the UK The Sex Pistols. But, fuck it, we had The Pointed Sticks, The Viletones and Teenage Head.

Even better, we still have D.O.A., S.N.F.U. and Nomeansno, so suck it.

And now we have Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk, a novel that is half punk rock history book and half literary spitball.

Written by Sam Sutherland, former assistant editor of Exclaim Magazine and current music editor of Broken Pencil as well as member of Junior Battles, the book dissects the transformation of Canadian music by region, highlighting those brave enough to pioneer punk in an unfriendly landscape.

Sam Sutherland book

Hilariously enough, Sutherland wholly admits that Perfect Youth started as an excuse to write about punk rock under the guise of an academic paper. It’s a pretty good scam, but also a brilliant idea for those of us who are into that sort of thing.

“The only reason that the paper existed was because I knew I wanted to eventually pursue a full, proper, real-ass book version of that,” says Sutherland. “I had to convince my academic advisors to let me not do what I should have done and instead do a bunch of interviews and get a foundation for something that I would end up spending the next half a decade working on.”

And while there is a strong personality guiding the whole thing, Sutherland thankfully tracks down those who first breathed life into the vile, misshapen infant that was early punk.

“Obviously having not been around in Toronto back in the 1970s I can’t inject a lot of personal narrative into the historical stuff,” says Sutherland. “But with connecting with a lot of these people and discovering the directions that their lives have taken, once I tracked them down, it was an important part of the story because it paints a picture of where their lives are after the fact.”

Another anecdote details a rather sordid tale about a cop getting fistfucked while wearing a mailbag over his head.

The anecdotes that Sutherland uncovers are priceless. In the chapter entitled The 222s, 364 St. Paul, and Montreal’s Punk Past, one story details how a local punk group had fallen in with the city’s infamous organized crime scene, and were subsequently forced, at gunpoint, to record a pop cover for their latest single.

Another anecdote details a rather sordid tale about a cop getting fistfucked (willingly) while wearing a mailbag over his head. But you should probably read the book for that gem.

But sometimes the best stories are those that are untold. Tellingly, tracking down those who lived these moments, such as the lead singer of Toronto’s infamous Viletones, almost became a novel unto itself, says Sutherland.

“One of my favourite parts was being introduced to Steven Leckie, who I had three different phone numbers for,” recalls Sutherland. “All three led to some pretty cryptic answering machines. I was leaving messages and nobody was getting back to me. And I knew I had to talk to him for this book. I knew some people would be too difficult to track down, and at one point I already talked to over 100 people.”

Sutherland says he eventually got his interview with the infamous Nazi Dog but only after an awkward encounter where Leckie wouldn’t speak to him and afterward gave him a phone number – “covertly,” says Sutherland.

Thank fuck the book has a section on Saskatchewan

“Getting all these people to trust you enough to talk on the record really makes you feel like an actual journalist and not just a pop culture reporter, which was really satisfying to me on a personal level,” he adds.

And thank fuck the book has a section on Saskatchewan, which, at the risk of ranting, is still largely ignored in national magazines such as Exclaim (a paper that Sutherland used to write for).

Tellingly, as an avid local music history buff, the chapter is but a morsel into what could have been a full novel unto itself. But Sutherland claims that he hasn’t shortchanged us prairie folk. He states that while his work uncovered some valuable history lessons he hopes someone else will take up his cause and continue to work on telling those stories.

(Hint, hint! Look forward to some of these stories in Ominocity!)

“The book is in no way intended to be a complete history,” explains Sutherland. “I think there is tons more exploration that can be done in every individual city with individual bands. Writers like Chris Walter do a good job of exploring those early scenes, which he does with his book on Dayglo Abortions. There is also a ton of great information in his book on Personality Crisis and his SNFU book. Those are really great resources. But it should not stop there. There is a genuine enthusiasm for local history, especially alternative local history and culture and for people who can look back and appreciate where this music came from and what life so rad to begin with.

“I sincerely hope this trend continues.”

Check out PerfectYouthBook.com for more information (or to bug Sutherland to write about more Saskatchewan bands).