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pogo2posterFINAL2The Last Pogo Jumps Again studies the evolution of Toronto from small town to big city and it’s pop/counter-culture lifestyle during the early and mid-70s.  It centers around the first wave of Toronto punk rock and new-wave music, from the Ramones playing the New Yorker Theatre in ’76 through the police shutting down Teenage Head and causing a riot at the Horseshoe Tavern’s infamous “The Last Pogo” concert in December 1978.

London had the Sex Pistols, New York had the Ramones, but Toronto had a punk movement all it’s own.  The Toronto landscape by the late ’70s was forever changed with the infusion of the DIY/Punk/Alternative Culture(s) movement.  Six years in the making, The Last Pogo Jumps Again successfully explores the whys and wherefores of what was arguably one of the most exciting but misunderstood movements in Toronto’s history.

The DVD contains the 204 minute documentary, plus over a 100 minutes of added material, and a snazzy 24-page booklet.  Check the Shop for details on where you can purchase it.

The Last Pogo (1978) is the documentary that chronicled the last punk rock show at the Horseshoe Tavern when it was run by legendary Toronto promoters The Garys (Topp and Cormier) featuring The Scenics, Cardboard Brains, The Secrets, The Mods, The Ugly, The Viletones and Teenage Head. The Last Pogo was released on DVD in 2008 to great reviews.  Available at the Shop.

The New Yorker Theatre, Toronto, 1976/1977

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The New Yorker in the ’30’s when it was known as The Astor.

In 1976, with The Original 99 Cent Roxy still pulling in crowds in the east end, Gary Topp and partner Jeff Silverman opened The New Yorker Theatre, on the Yonge Street Strip, fifty yards south of where the indie underground cinema CineCity once stood.

The pinball parlour Funland was across street, and on the next block south you could get a huge breakfast for two bucks at Brothers Restaurant. It was a gay-friendly neighbourhood in a homophobic city; the St. Charles and the Parkside Tavern were down and across the street, two of the very few Toronto gay bars in 1976. The homeless man that Gary Topp nicknamed “Lettuce” (he picked only fresh scraps) patrolled the street, looking for safe garbage-food.

Topp lived two blocks away on the top floor of a three story apartment building at 50 St. Nicholas Street. The art gallery A Space, one of only a very few avant-garde art galleries in Toronto in 1976, was up the street. You could chain-smoke cigarettes and drink coffee at the Ritz Cafe another fifty yards away, on Charles Street East. The owner of the Ritz wrote porno novels on the side for five hundred bucks a pop.

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The New Yorker booked the same variety of films The Roxy did, but the price to get in was just a little steeper ($2.75,) the lobby a little cleaner, and the neighbourhood less sketchy.  The owner of the building was Bennett Fode, who produced the feature film Rip Off, directed by Donald Shebib and starring a very young Peter Gross, now a reporter for 680News, who had also starred in a dumb and popular short The New Yorker and Roxy would play called How to be a Hippie.

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Neither The New Yorker nor The Original 99 Cent Roxy ever screened Rip Off.

He had an office upstairs from the theatre, and not only controlled the rent, but the snack-bar as well (the real revenue maker at movie theatres) which featured the usual popcorn and pop, as well as a variety of expensive nuts: cashews, macadamias, etc.  The staff would gobble them by the handful.  He was full of helpful hints on how to run a movie theatre and would occasionally impart his wisdom on the staff.  “You know,” he said, hefting a roll of quarters in his hand, “A good box-office girl could hold a roll of quarters and know just by the weight if there was even one quarter missing.”  He never came around much, but he would carefully monitor the snack bar revenue, and after an inventory one month yelled to no one in particular “WHO IS EATING ALL OF THE CASHEWS!!!” Years later he would lose one of his own nuts to testicular cancer.

The Last Pogo Jumps Again co-producer/director Colin Brunton was assistant to manager Jeff “Nash the Slash” Plewman. They’d take turns manning the front door, ducking down to the boiler room to smoke a little pot, and then run across the street to play pinball at Funland. Nash left after only a few months to focus on his new band FM, the two-piece progressive rock band he formed with Cameron Hawkins.

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FM at A Space in 1976.

Kenneth Anger, the American underground experimental filmmaker

Photo copyright The Guardian

The New Yorker lobby didn’t have the same wall-to-wall posters and clippings that The Original 99 Cent Roxy had, but the programming was just as inventive and creative, and the regulars and staff just as eccentric.  The downtown location gave it a higher profile than the Roxy. Filmmaker Kenneth Anger (author of Hollywood Babylon) visited when some of his short films were shown. When asked what it was like to share an apartment in London England with El Topo/Holy Mountain filmmaker Alexandro Jodorowski, Anger said: “If you don’t mind finding shit, blood, cum, and vomit in the bathroom in the morning, then I guess it was okay.”

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A Bryan Ferry look-alike presented rarely screened Warhol films that he curated for The Museum of Modern Art.  Poet/novelist Irving Layton stretched out a specious argument with an usher for a full twenty minutes just so he could avoid standing outside in the rain waiting to get into a midnight screening of Night of The Living Dead. Actor Michael Ironside (Scanners, Total Recall, Top Gun) was so drunk one night he had to be physically removed, and would apologize for years about his behavior. A long-haired truck driver trying to sneak into a Marx Brothers movie got into a fight with an usher and nicked him in the leg with a jackknife. He was sent to Kingston Penitentiary for ninety days. His lawyer’s only argument was that he made “good money” and “hadn’t stabbed anybody in over six months.”

When the city of Toronto declared that there had to be smoking sections in movie theatres, Gary put up signs that said “Smoking only in the first 20 rows.” There were around forty rows in the theatre, and you weren’t told if you should count from the front or from the back.

If an audience member complained that the intermission music was too loud they were told sorry, that was the way it was played at The New Yorker, and offered a refund.

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Topp book two films directed by Ivan Kral (bass player for Patti Smith) and Amos Poe:  Blank Generation and Night Lunch, out-of-synch black and white films that showcased the emerging punk scene in New York City. He sat at the back of the theatre, smoking a joint, thinking “We should build a stage. We should bring these bands here.”  Over the course of a weekend, workers poured concrete, electricians boosted the wattage, a rug was laid, and Toronto had a great new music venue.

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Amos Poe and Gary Topp outside the New Yorker.

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Nathan’s hot dogs at Coney Island in the twenties.

The other renovation that was needed was the candy counter. Topp and Silverman wanted to create a window onto the street from the snack bar and sell Nathan’s Hot Dogs, the famous NYC treat.  Artist David Andoff (who painted the mural on the front of the theatre, and built the 3-D paper-mache King Kong that was the center-piece) suggested that an ex-music promoter turned carpenter he knew could fix it.  A long-haired and bearded Gary Cormier came in, and as he and Topp spoke, they realized they were kindred spirits and felt the same way about the state of the music business. By the time Cormier got home, he got a call from Topp. They soon became fast friends and decided to team up and would quickly become known as The Garys. They would become the only promoters to win a Toronto Arts Award for their work.  City of Toronto by-laws wouldn’t allow Nathan’s Hot Dogs into the city.

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Mural and 3-D King Kong by artist @DavidAndoff

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1976 was a pivotal year for Toronto, as it began to evolve from small-town to Big City.  The CN Tower was completed; The Toronto Blue Jays were incorporated, and would play their first game at a snowy Exhibition Stadium a year later; the indie book chain Book City started;  The Festival of Festivals (eventually becoming known as TIFF, The Toronto International Film Festival) had its inaugural run.

And on September 24, 1976, the Ramones came to The New Yorker in Toronto and kick-started a scene that inspired a collection of writers, artists, photographers, filmmakers, fashion designers, and musicians, rivaling anything New York City or London England had to offer.

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John Pearson’s handmade handbill, knocked off with a Sharpie in a half hour.

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The Texas Chainsaw Massacre promo still autographed by the Ramones, courtesy Gary Topp.

Like the Original 99 Cent Roxy, the presentation was immaculate and well thought out, and intermissions and pre-shows were never boring. Topp created custom playlists for every show on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Prior to The Ramones coming on stage, Topp screened trailers for horror films, including one of the favourites of the Roxy and New Yorker, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the film which inspired the song of the same name by the Ramones. When John Cale would play a few months later, he showed clips from the Jonathan Demme B-movie, Caged Heat.  When some audiences confusingly booed the footage, an in-the-know audience member stood up and yelled “The soundtrack is by John Cale!”

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There were only 500 seats in the theatre, so everyone had a great view, and the lack of a backstage area (the bands would kill time in the boiler room) made it even more special:  the bands emerged from the basement, walked through the lobby, and then up towards the stage. You could feel the excitement as the audience caught on that the musicians had entered the theatre, necks craning backwards to catch a glimpse, and waves of applause rippling and following them as they got closer and closer to the stage.

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The Ramones blistered their way through twenty-five songs in thirty-five minutes, and for an encore, had to repeat Let’s Dance because they’d run out of songs.  Over the course of three concerts, bass-player Dee Dee Ramone broke guitar strings twice. Bass guitar strings. They were great and really fast and very loud. Randy Johnston (who, with his wife Gail Wetton, supplied archival material for the film The Last Pogo Jumps Again) knew the show was special, and interviewed people in the audience, asking them what they thought. Greg Godowitz of the power trio Goddo was not impressed. “They’re no Goddo!”  It would take him another twenty years to realize that they were, in fact, geniuses. Peter Gabriel of Genesis walked out after twenty minutes, muttering  “That was bullshit.” If he’d stayed only a few more minutes he would have seen the whole show.

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Colin Brunton in 1976, photo by Danny Fields.

It seemed as though only a week after the Ramones played, people in Toronto began forming bands. The Ramones’ punk attitude had given people a permission of sorts to just go out and do whatever their heart desired. Handbills (something new) for new groups would pop up on telephone poles and construction hoardings. Weekly trips to Records on Wheels down the street were mandatory if you wanted to discover the new releases coming out of England and New York. Andy Meyers of The Scenics recalls being gobsmacked:  “You go in there, and there’s Blondie. Ramones. Television. Talking Heads. It was fantastic.”

Everyone wanted to form a band, and the staff at the New Yorker were no exception. They started The Punkinheads. The logo was a pumpkin with sunglasses, and on a trip to NYC that year, a few of them spray-painted it on the celebrated washroom wall of CBGB’s and random street-corners.  Anyone who worked at the New Yorker or were friends could join. They had one rehearsal, on stage at the New Yorker and it lasted six or seven hours, non-stop. There were about a dozen people in the band, the youngest member being Clive Appelby, five years old, trying his best to keep a beat going on the drums. Only a couple of people knew how to actually play an instrument (including Poles drummer Calvin “Luce Wildesbeest” Greenwood) and the group was so large and the jam so long, that you could take a break and go out for a coffee, come back fifteen minutes later and jump right back in.

Most members of Punkinheads thought it was just a lark, and as a joke, a few weeks later Topp, Brunton and box-office attendant Chris Massingham declared that they were “going to leave the Punkinheads to pursue their own musical directions.” It was a dig at the pretensions some bands had at the time, and one of the traits that the new punk scene hated.  Singer Brian Stoliker was floored; he thought the band would go on.  Topp, Brunton and Massingham dubbed their new group Corvetz, (Topp on guitar and vocals; Massingham on drums; Brunton pretending to play bass) and they’d meet in the basement of the New Yorker on Saturdays, Topp and Brunton starting it off by smoking a three-paper oil joint.  If they ever finished a song together and on time, they’d burst out laughing. Their signature tune was “Let’s Roam!” They never made it out of the basement, but they had fun.

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Don Pyle is an accomplished photographer and producer.

A fifteen-year-old Don Pyle, who would later form the instrumental surf-pop-punk band Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, and have a successful career as a photographer, asked an usher if he could get an autograph from the Ramones before the second show on Saturday. The usher pointed to the stairs leading down to the basement.  “Yea, sure Don, just go on down.” It was pretty relaxed.

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Still from Ken Russell’s The Devils.

The New Yorker was getting into concerts, but the staple was still the movies. And they had a great location. They were invited by the founders of the first Toronto International Film Festival (then called the Festival of Festivals) to be part of the first year.  Topp was hesitant at first, but eventually relented and said fine, we’ll see how it goes. The Festival organizers didn’t know how popular the festival would be, but it was soon clear that it was going to be a hit, and they saw dollar signs. They called the New Yorker in a panic, only hours before the doors were to open, and said that they had decided that the discounted student ticket would no longer be honoured after six p.m.   Topp relayed a message back to them: “Tell them to fuck off. Students are still coming in after six.”  The New Yorker was never asked to participate again.

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Wayne (eventually Jayne) County and his band couldn’t afford a hotel and rather than sleep in their tour bus overnight, Topp let them sleep in the seats in the theatre, and screened The Rocky Horror Picture show for them, a film they’d never seen before. The short they showed with it (that never got past the Ontario Censor Board) was an in-house commercial from a gay bar in NYC for the do-it-yourself masturbation helper, The Accu-Jack.

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Opening the show for Wayne County was Toronto’s Mendelson Joe, formerly of McKenna Mendelson Mainline, the seminal Toronto blues band who released the classic album Stink in 1967. In the spirit of the evening he dressed up in drag as a nurse. It was Halloween night and the marquee outside the theatre featured the catch phrase “Are You Man Enough To Be A Woman?”

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Punk and new-wave weren’t the only musical genres that were booked at the New Yorker. Jazz artists Carla Bley and Cecil Taylor performed.  Montreal singer songwriter Lewis Furey (who composed what might be the best soundtrack to a Canadian film ever, The Rubber Gun, starring a young Stephen Lack) was introduced by his girlfriend and muse Carole Laure. Blues singer Taj Mahal. Ex Neil Young and future Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren. Montreal rock band Offenbach. Sitarist Ali Akbar Khan. Blues singer John Hammond Jr., who drove his Volkswagon up from Michigan.

The Carla Bley Band started playing their opening song in the make-shift dressing room in the basement, walked up the stairs into the lobby and then split up, continuing to play their music, with half of the band going down the left hand aisle, the other half going down the right hand aisle until they hit the stage and finished the song. The New Yorker was a special place and the artists who appeared there appreciated the warmth and the attention to detail.

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Avant-garde jazz pianist Cecil Taylor was as intense as The Ramones. To someone walking in off the street it sounded like ninety minutes of a half-dozen cats on meth racing up and down a piano keyboard. Part way through his hour and a half concert, a huge voice bellowed out from the audience:  “BLASPHEMY! BLASPHEMY!” An usher was dispatched to try and talk them out into the lobby where he’d be offered a refund, but it didn’t work.  They discovered later that he was a jazz musician, and had noticed something he didn’t like about a particular turn in Cecil’s music. In the boiler room after the show, Cecil smoked pot and held court with a half-dozen admirers, including Canadian artist/musician Michael Snow, famous for his sculptures outside the Rogers Center (home of the Blue Jays) and his flying ducks in the Eaton’s Centre, and highly respected for his decades long body of work.

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One of the many nice touches that Gary Topp and the New Yorker did was to make sure the artists were picked up at the airport by a staff member rather than an impersonal limo service, and they tried to work it out for staff to be able to pick up their favourites.

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One of the most anticipated concerts was John Cale.  An very intimidated Brunton drove to the airport to meet his musical hero. As big fans of Cale, the New Yorker staff knew that Cale was sensitive about any mentions of Lou Reed and his former band The Velvet Underground, and Brunton knew he dare not mention it.  On the way up to the airport, he fixated on what he could possibly say upon meeting Cale. What he finally blurted out was surely one of the stupidest things he’d ever said in his life. He shook Cale’s hand and said “Welcome to Toronto, Mr. Cale. We have a very good transportation system here.”

Before the show, the lead singer of The Dishes’ lead singer handed an usher an envelope to pass on to Cale. Rather than give it to him right away, he thought he should vet it first, so he opened it up and read it. It was an invitation by The Dishes to go to an after-party with them. It seemed doubtful Cale would oblige, but the reason it was never forwarded to Cale was the last line: “I’ll be in the lobby after the show. I’m the guy wearing the Velvet Underground t-shirt!” Nobody wanted to piss off John Cale.

Cale’s manager and girlfriend Jane Friedman listened to the answering machine tape the New Yorker had put together for the show. It was a soundbite from a live Patti Smith Band recording, where she introduced John Cale, who was playing bass on the track. When they made the tape message they cut it up so the intro “John Cale..John Cale..John Cale..John Cale…” was repeated a dozen times. She called Smith up and told her she had to phone back and listen to the message.

John Cale’s performance was fantastic. Toronto Star music critic Peter Goddard said Cale looked “more like a professional mover than a musician,” such was his size and presence. Apart from playing all of his “hits’ from the Island record years, and a few Velvet Underground songs, he showed off his flair for the theatrical by crawling off the stage on his hands and knees, grabbing electric cords with his teeth, dragging and toppling amps and mic stands with him as he made his way to the wings.

After the show, hanging out and winding down in the boiler room, usher Brad F____, as star-struck and intimidated as Brunton was, asked “So, John, do you think you’ll ever get the Velvet Underground back together again?”  Cale gave him a withering look, flicked the collar of Brad’s shirt and replied: “That’s a nice clean shirt you’ve got there boy.  Who does your laundry for you, your mother?”

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Souvenir found on the stage after the show: Cale’s hand-written lyrics to Moulin Rouge. It would later be renamed Jack the Ripper in the Moulin Rouge.

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Tom Waits’ choice of accommodation

Brian Stoliker, an aspiring blue singer (and ex-lead singer of the Punkinheads) who manned the snack bar, snagged the opportunity to pick up his favourite artist, Tom Waits. Tom didn’t disappoint: he arrived at the airport with a beat-up suitcase held together by an old belt, and rather than stay at the relatively swank Chelsea Hotel, insisted on staying at the seedy Warwick Hotel at Jarvis and Dundas.

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Handbills the New Yorker staff hand-stamped with coffee stains.

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The Ramones would return in June, 1977 with opening band The Dead Boys. They had just released their second album, Leave Home, in January. Everyone at the New Yorker was thrilled and flattered that Dee Dee was wearing a New Yorker t-shirt on the cover.

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Schlitzie in Freaks.

Leave Home would include one of their best know songs, Pinhead, with its “Gabba Gabba Hey” chorus. The title and chorus were inspired by Todd Browning’s 1932 film Freaks, another staple of the Roxy and New Yorker. Later on, in 1979, part of the Ramones act would feature a roadie running out onto the stage during the song dressed up as a “Pinhead” (a microcephalus victim) and holding a sign with the words “Gabba Gabba Hey” on it, and then pass it to lead singer Joey Ramone.  The pinhead character was based on the famous “Schlitzie” from the movie Freaks, who was born Simon Metz in Brooklyn.  Schlitzie would become a regular at The Freak Show at Toronto’s CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) in the 1960’s.

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The Dead Boys (via Cleveland, Ohio; originally Rocket from the Tombs) seemed downright dangerous. They made the point right away by trashing the dressing room. Years later, being interviewed for The Last Pogo Jumps Again, Cheetah Chrome apologized over and over. “Sorry, man. I don’t know what we were thinking. I’m so sorry.”

On the night of one of the three sold-out shows, The Dead Boys were late coming up from the basement, and Topp asked an usher to find out what the hold up was. The usher went to get them, and one of the Dead Boys yelled, “In a minute!” and about ten minutes later they emerged from the basement, with the B-Girls right behind. “What took you so long?” the usher asked. “Hey man,” shrugged bassist Jeff Magnum, “We can’t go on stage with hard-ons.” The tawdry implication might have been a joke and it was funny. A couple of years later lead singer Stiv Bators would become engaged to B-Girl Cynthia Ross, and drummer Johnny Blitz would marry B-Girl Lucasta Ross and settle in Toronto for years.

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The Talking Heads had appeared in Toronto a couple of times in 1977, once at OCA where local band The Diodes were introduced, and another time at A Space. There were no more than twenty-five or thirty people or so at the A Space gig.

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Topp booked Talking Heads for a show in September. The concert date coincided with the death of T-Rex’s Marc Bolan.  Talking Heads were now a four piece band with the addition of keyboard player Jerry Harrison. A few weeks prior to the gig, Topp was given a demo tape by a then unknown band, The Scenics. He thought that they would be a great surprise and a perfect fit and offered them the gig, but other people got their noses out of joint, thinking that that their band should have been given the plum opening spot.  Steven Davey of The Dishes in particular was so pissed off that during the Scenics set he stood up during one of their tunes and yelled “Boring!”

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By late 1977, Topp and Silverman had given up The Original 99 Roxy, and with the rent rising at the New Yorker, and having a stronger inclination to music, started looking for a new venue where they and new partner Gary Cormier could promote music full-time. In the ghost-town of Spadina and Queen they made a deal with a dive bar, the country and western tavern The Horseshoe Tavern where in the 1940’s Hank Williams performed and got stinking drunk. They left the New Yorker and in May 1978 set up shop at the Horseshoe Tavern.

Buy The Last Pogo Jumps Again here.

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