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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.

RIP Frankie Venom

Commemorative poster courtesy Gord Lewis and Teenage head.

Three years ago today, Teenage Head lead-singer Frankie Venom passed away.  Here’s the post we wrote that day.  RIP Frank.

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“It is with great sadness that Gord Lewis of Teenage Head announces the tragic passing earlier today of Canadian icon Frank Kerr, a.k.a. Frankie Venom, of natural causes.” So said a spokesperson at Sonic Unyon Records today. According to news reports Frankie found out he had throat cancer about a month ago.  He was able to spend Thanksgiving weekend with his family before slipping into a coma.  He died earlier today.   The funeral will be “family only”, but already Stu Pollock, one of Teenage Head’s oldest pals is starting to think about having some sort of wake. On a Facebook page dedicated to Frankie’s passing, Hamiltonian Michael Hampson reports that “CHML news says there’s a celebration of Frankie and his music tonight at Victoria Park at 8:00;  bring candles.   Also, Candle Light celebration planned by fans at Gore Park Fountain Saturday at 7:00. frankiegreycup07

Grey Cup, 2007;  photo Tim Sebert Frankie formed Teenage Head with Westdale High school buddies Steve Mahon, Gord Lewis and Nic Stipanitz in 1975, and apart from a break in the late-eighties and early nineties, continued to front one of Canada’s best bands up until concerts last month.  They planned to perform at the Tiger-Town Room at the Grey Cup in Montreal in November.  Gord told us earlier this summer that they’d starting writing some new tunes. Taking their name from a Flamin’ Groovies song, and inspiration from a variety of sources (Alice Cooper’s Love it to Death, The New York Dolls, rockabilly and more) Teenage Head entered the genre of punk rock in 1976, even though they’d been alive ‘n’ kicking at least a year before the term was coined.   Unlike many of the bands that popped up outa nowhere in Toronto during that time, Teenage Head were different for a couple of reasons:  1)  They were from Hamilton, not Toronto (and for those of you who aren’t up on your geography and/or socio-political stuff, Hamilton is to Toronto as Liverpool is to England as New Jersey is to New York) and 2) They could play their instruments. Teenage Head When The Last Pogo Jumps Again crew hit Westdale High School two summers ago with Forgotten Rebels‘ singer Mickey DeSadest, we tagged along with retired gym teacher Mr. Hager, who in a break from Mickey’s antics, pulled us aside and asked how Frankie was doing.   “Hey, he’s doin’ great, and Teenage Head are still goin’ strong”, we said, but really, let’s face it, he wasn’t the picture of health.   We thought Frankie’s tough Glasgow genes might allow him another decade or two, channel a bit of Keith Richards, but sadly phone calls yesterday from Viletones Steven Leckie and new Ugly frontman Greg Dick quashed that notion. Teenage Head brawl 1977 Courtesy  the collection of Imants Krumins. Mr. Hager, Mickey DeSadest and our small Pogo crew cruised the halls of Westdale, followed by a gaggle of giggling schoolgirls, and every so often interrupted by teachers who were around when the likes of Mickey and Teenage Head roamed the hallways.   When we got to the gym, Mr. Hager told us that this was the very spot where Frankie met Teenage Head guitar-slinger Gordie Lewis — teamed up in a wrestling match.  “Who won?” we asked.  Mr. Hager couldn’t recall.  It was obvious that they were all well-liked there, and on the way out, he showed us one more thing:  A framed pictured of Gordie in the Westdale Hall of Fame, along with Eugene Levy and others.  “What about the other guys?”, we asked.  “Well…” he said, and shrugged. Frankie Venom talked the talk and he walked the walk.  He also climbed staging, hung from rafters, rolled on broken glass, danced on tables and once, at the Colonial Underground in ‘76,  either fell through the shoddy wooden stage (according to some), or crawled underneath and punched his way through (according to Gordie Lewis.)   Amazingly gymnastic, bursting with spontaneity, with that great voice — and beyond being full of the proverbial piss ‘n’ vinegar, Frankie had, to paraphrase Gordie “An amazing talent for making up lyrics on the spot depending on whatever might be happening in the audience.  Listen to some of the live recordings — he never missed a beat.”   Talking to the Toronto Star, Gord said “He was a real punk rocker.” Teenage Head Like almost all of the Canadian punk bands from the late-seventies, Teenage Head never got the respect they deserved from critics or mainstream press.  No Juno awards, virtually no air-play, but the fans spoke, and they did manage to go gold with their debut album.   Rumour has it that Frankie pawned his copy of the gold record years ago, but he said he didn’t do it for the money, but because “I didn’t give a fuck”.   A somewhat twisted rumour had it that a local Hamilton cop snatched it up as some sort of cruel revenge on one of the original bad boys, saying “..he’ll never get this back.”   Thanks to a note from Dave Howitt, that proved to be wrong:  Frankie’s old gold record is safely in the hands of a fan who bought it years ago  (Thanks, Dave.) We had the chance to see Teenage Head a number of times in the last few years while shooting our feature doc THE LAST POGO JUMPS AGAIN (and of course, many times back in the day at the Horseshoe and the Crash ‘n’ Burn) and they still rocked.   Backstage there’d be the usual chatter and planning and goofing around — and Frankie would mostly sit by himself quietly, sipping a beer, smoking a cigarette, getting ready.  Once the announcer introduced the band, Frankie would strut out, full of life,  the on-stage persona, and while not as full of energy as he was when he was 22 (who is?), he was a total pro, always entertaining, and always seemingly loving it. new wave from England The local media had no clue;  from the collection of Imants Krumins. And as exciting as the early shows of Teenage Head were, they continued to put on solid shows right up until their last gig a month or so ago.   Really — there was nothing quite like the audience that Frankie & Co could attract.  Here’s a blurb by Jon Sharron, posted on TOHC, that nicely sums it up: “Me and Jules went to go see “the head” in Hamilton a few months ago.  It was wild.  There was like 8 year olds, teenage girls, bingo moms, skinheads, steelworker/trades dudes, suit guys, grandmothers, hardcore kids, death metal guys, old crackheads, goths, rappers, skaters, tattoo/rockabilly goons…fuckin’ everybody. It was cool.  This one lady was celebrating her 82 b-day at the show.  She went up on the stage (with everyoone else) and said into the mic that it was the best bday of her life.  Then Frankie Venom said (into the mic 3 times) that they were gonna take her backstage and give her “a good waxin”!  WTF?!  Her grandkids were there…she was 82! rip.” On the number of occasion we interviewed Teenage Head for the doc, we heard barely a whisper of bitterness from any of them.  For all their talent and hard-work and stick-to-it-ness, they never pretended to be pals, but as Gord told us (and we’re going off memory here, so this isn’t word-for-word),  “I always wanted to be in a band.  Not a group.  A band.  A group is a bunch of musicians.  A band is a bunch of musicians who stick it out.”   Gord told us that the notion of Teenage Head packing it never occurred to him.  “We’ll just stay the course.” Just one small memory to share:  about eight or nine years after director Brunton made The Last Pogo in 1978 (so this would be around 1986 or so), he was driving taxi and got a call for a fare at a house at Woodbine and Gerard in Toronto.   Much to his delight, his fare was Frankie Venom on the way to play a Teenage Head gig, dressed to kill.  Frankie climbed in the front seat, and after chatting a bit and giving directions, Frankie told Brunton that because he had to check into jail the next morning, “… tonight, man, I’m going all the way, I’m gonna put on a fucking show.” In an odd coincidence, earlier today it was announced that Teenage Head would be the recipients of a Special Lifetime Achievement award next month at the Hamilton Music Awards.   Gord Lewis figured that made Frankie happy. R.I.P. Frankie. —————– Update…Saturday October 18th, 2008 The Last Pogo Jumps Again directors Colin Brunton and Aldo Erdic picked up Zero (from Zr04) and original Viletone (and long-time pal of Frankie) Steven Leckie, and headed down the Gardner to say our last good-byes to a rock ‘n’ roll icon.  Not just a Hamilton icon, or Canadian icon — a bona-fide legend, the real deal, a rock ‘n’ roll icon.  The man had sand. The Pogomobile pulled into the parking lot a few minutes after two, when the visitation started, and it was already packed.  A tired Gord Lewis greeted us and thanked us for coming, and he kept that up for the full two hours, like the rock-solid guy he is.  The official sign identifying the deceased said “Frankie Venom” and not “Frank Kerr”. The crowd inside and spilling out onto the front steps was much like a Head show:  an eight-year-old kid in leather jacket, wearing a Ramones shirt holding the hands of his dad, a 40′ish guy in leather jacket;   elderly people, aging punks, babies in strollers, guys on bikes, men in suits, the whole spectrum.  Lots of Teenage Head shirts;  lots of Ramones shirts. After waiting in line to sign the guestbook and talking to a funeral about donations*, we went into the first room.  The centerpiece was a huge 4 foot by 3 foot colour shot of Frankie, a stogie sticking out of his mouth, wearing a snazzy suit and loads of attitude, staring down the camera, as though it were saying “Feck oaf!” in the thick comical Scottish brogue Frankie like to resort to.  The shot was total old-skool gangster, part of a spread in a Hamilton magazine earlier this summer.  A TV played footage of the (excellent) show Teenage Head performed last year in “Tiger Town” at the Grey Cup festivities, and bristol boards on easels covered with press from over the years were scattered througout the room.   A few articles from the mid-seventies about the high-school band made good and many bits detailing the 30+ career of Frankie Venom and Teenage Head.  The cutest article was about Teenage Head brother-in-arms, one-time manager and all-time good guy Stu Pollock going before a judge for wearing a “Fuck the Rest, Head’s the Best” t-shirt from the seventies.  “Hey, he had a good run, man,” someone said to Gord.  “Yeah, he sure did.” The next room had a bit more weight.  A video screen looped a slide-show of Frankie over the years;  one of the aforesaid naughty t-shirts was draped over a chair;  framed photos of the band were on the wall.  Over against a wall was the open coffin holding Frankie.  He was wearing his black-leather jacket,  and clutching a mike, and there were a few notes that people had thrown in.  Someone dropped in an “Argos Suck!” button.  There were a few people sniffling, and most people looked a little shell-shocked.  Frankie looked good, but there is something odd about a cadaver:  the funeral make-up people had done a good job, but it was just a body, it wasn’t Frankie. We went outside for a smoke and it was perfect.  Blue skies, sun shining, crisp Autumn air.  We were a mile away from Westdale High, where is all started, and according to B.F. Mowat just around the corner from the very first show Teenage Head did, a street party.  Right beside the funeral home parking lot was a pub where a half-hour into the visit there were already a dozen fans hoisting drafts in memory. While Gord Lewis got interviewed by a TV station, long-time road manager Rob Gronfors, with suit-coat and Teenage Head shirt unravelled the ancient Teenage Head banner and secured it on the front steps of the funeral home.  Forgotten Rebel Mickey DeSadest and wife Pam pulled in, and Head bass-player Steve Mahon wearing his autographed Ramones shirt showed up.   Original brother-in-arms and childhood friend Brian “Slash Booze” Baird pulled up in his truck.  Chris Houston smoked with us, and talked about Frankie, trying to hold it together. Like any wake or funeral or visitation, there was a mix of tears but mostly there was lots of laughter, and we heard more than a few good stories.  We chatted with one of Frankie’s sisters who was surprised there were so many people there.  “I don’t think Frankie realized how many people loved him,” she said.  “Oh, I dunno,’ I said. “I think maybe he did.”

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