Press Enter to Search

Say What?

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.

And in the beginning there was the Original 99 Cent Roxy…

Photo courtesy Cheryl Daniels

And the Lord of Rock ‘n Roll said unto them: Yea, though it would be another few years before one or six people claimed to coin the term “punk rock”, a lot of people who were at The Last Pogo or into the original punk scene in Toronto got a lot of their counter-culture edjamucation at The Original 99 Cent Roxy theatre courtesy of Gary Topp. After doing some programming for the original underground cinema in Toronto, Cinecity, and running his art-house film distribution company Topsoil, now-legendary promoter Gary Topp opened up the Roxy in 1972 with screenings of Hendrix at Berkeley; when he left in the mid-seventies he opened the New Yorker, where Toronto got its first taste of the Ramones, John Cale, Talking Heads, Dead Boys, Viletones and more; and then the Horseshoe in 1978, the last big party there being The Last Pogo.

Famed for an eclectic selection of films ranging from Antonioni, Fellinni, Truffaut, and Bunuel; B-films by Russ Meyers and Roger Corman; up-and-comers like Scorcese and Coppola; and obscure films by Kenneth Anger or Andy Warhol, the Roxy was infamous for it’s lax policy on pot-smoking and psychedelics, and there was often a thick cloud of weed hovering throughout the theatre. They didn’t tolerate dealers, they didn’t tolerate drinking, but it was a safe haven for anyone who wanted to settle down to a couple of good movies, grab some popcorn, and pass the joint.

The show would start from the moment you bought a ticket: often the people in line would be entertained by Lance Charles, doing his horrible and/or hilarious imitation of Groucho Marx, depending on your sense of irony and/or amount of illicit drugs in your system. There could be five hundred people lined up for a midnight show of Pink Flamingoes when someone from the theatre would run out and yell, “Sorry — you’re lined up the wrong way, you’ve gotta line up over there!”, and watch as 500 stoners scrambled laughing to regain their proper place in line.

When you handed over your ticket to get ripped (and thus allowing yourself into the theatre to get ripped), the person at the door might hand you a “laughing pill”, the better to enjoy the all-night comedy festival with (in reality a “milk-sugar” pill; placebos work); they might insist that you go down to the men’s washroom to check your coat (when such a thing didn’t exist), and then when you come back confused, threaten to throw you out if you didn’t find it and check your coat immediately; they might offer you a refund if you could identify then-unknown British rock star Bryan Ferry. Or handing over your ticket they might say “Please go right to your left, there’s no seats left on your right”, which for anyone who might have a head full of L.S.D., a Zen-like puzzle to rival that old “If you come to a fork in a road, and there’s two people there, and one of them always lies, and one of them always tells the truth, blah blah blah…” It was all in great fun, it was always entertaining, it was the best.

If you were taking a breather from being in the stifling 500 seat art-deco theatre, you could get lost in the posters, handbills, stickers, and photos that plastered the lobby (see photo above; check out the first quote on the poster), or be giggling and stoned sitting slumped on a couch or getting stuff at the snack bar from Jeannie the Popcorn Lady.   Once you got into the theatre proper, the show would really start: Gary would have the reel-to-reel tape recorder blasting out a mix-tape of music always in keeping with whatever theme the night held; or the tunes would be played over a half-hour or so of “Coming Attractions” while people filed in. As stoned as they mighta been, the ushers were excellent, politely getting people to move over to squeeze in others or luring patrons out of their seats if they heard the tinkle of a booze bottle hitting the floor. And often talking down someone having a bad acid trip.   And occasionally wrestling with them.

If you were a projectionist into your job (hey, Bob Cardwell! Hey, Les Popliak!) it was a demanding but fun gig and Gary would give very specific instructions: “Okay, so when you hear Do the Strand just start to fade, slowly dim the lights in time to the music, and as soon as the song ends, kill the lights, and then open the curtain and start the movie…”   A buzzer on the wall near the back of right-hand aisle sent signals to the projection booth for volume; the volume was always cranked to the max when the first chainsaw revved up in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If you were a projectionist not so into your job, it was a nightmare. The good projectionists had snacks sent to them via a tray on a rope that would descend from the projection booth, right over the left aisle; and the ones that were game would enjoy the various joints that were being passed around the office.

Last Pogo director Colin Brunton worked as an usher there and got the film bug and met his future wife; masked musician Nash the Slash premiered there (performing a jaw-dropping live accompaniment to the Bunuel/Dali classic Un Chien Andalou and an appreciative and wasted packed house) and ended up living in the flat above, a modern-day Phantom of the Opera; regulars included the Viletones’ Steven Leckie (“Seeing Les Enfants du Paradise there changed my life…”, Raving Mojo and digital artist Blair Richard Martin; The Existers’ Barry Farrell; the Scenics’ Mike Young; Greg Godowitz; D.J. David Marsden; original Poles manager Bruce Appelby…and on and on and on.

There are way too many memories of the Roxy to jot down in a blog (and let’s hope Topp writes the book someday) but that’s the very place where many a creative seed was planted, nurtured, then rolled up and smoked.

(As with many of the old haunts in town, the shell of the Roxy still stands and will soon find a new life as a convenience store.)

There are no comments yet, add one below.
t Twitter f Facebook g Google+