As my oldest son JJ and his friends got ready to go hear Brockhampton at the Corona Theatre this week, we talked about how important it is to support live music. We’ve managed pretty well in the past year, considering how wildly expensive concerts are. We went to big concerts by Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. JJ and his pals can add Isaiah Rashad and Brockhampton to that list. He also went to a few jazz clubs here and there and two Raptors games. But it’s nothing like my life as a teen. I remember spending most of my time out listening to music. How did we afford it? What was the pace, really, when I look back?
I’ve always been an avid journal writer and so I pulled out a big box of heavy volumes dense with intense, angst-filled stories. Combing through them, past all the emotional upheaval of the time, here’s what I discovered as I looked back at just one of them from 1985. I’m not trying to present this as some kind of golden age but before all this interweb we certainly managed to find inspiration. My early musical influences were very eclectic and I am grateful to all these fantastic musicians that were touring at the time.
Live music I saw in Toronto between March and July, 1985
Toots and the Maytals
John Scofield (with Miles)
Art Ensemble of Chicago
Also tons of local bands and lots of artsy movies, and I also went dancing at Pariah, the Blitz and other clubs. Had regular 2 hour or more jam sessions with friends (usually good-looking sad young men). Recorded about three demos in studios, made two short films in university (see below), had surgery (!!), helped nurse a dying friend at home, narrowly evaded sexual harrassment in the film production department, wrote essays for Science class, went to a few art openings each week and more, got a grant to go to the Banff Summer Jazz program, performed sound poetry for a bp nichol Opera. And wrote it all down!
Economic notes: We complained that Archie Shepp was $6, even after midnight; that David Liebman was $5 for just a 40 minute set; and the Beastie Boys were $4 for a 20 minute set (the radio station issued an apology for this). I remember marvelling at that time that Michel’s uncles had earned the same amount of money playing in Quebec City with Edith Piaf in the 1940’s as we were making in jazz clubs ($100/night). More shocking is that most jazz clubs still only pay about that now, almost 100 years later, or even less. In the 80’s I was working for $3.50/hour and other people worked for $4/hour in restaurants and got about $17 in tips after long shifts. Rent in Toronto was about $250/month and my parents looked at a big house that was $110,000 but they couldn’t afford it. What strange economy do we have now, with all those houses over a million everywhere?
Economy aside, I do see great freedom in today’s music as free-styling rappers take over popular music and thus improvising lyrics and more open musical forms become the norm. I’ve seen 22,000 kids singing along to rapid-fire texts with shocking accuracy and determination, with themes of social justice and anti-racism expressed artistically. So it’s all good, the kids are alright.