Saturday, November 16, 2013

Wadda Ya Gonna Do?


Around 1983, a truly wretched quartet of 14-year-olds shared five minutes of stupidly glorious, utterly trivial punk rock notoriety, belching out an unforgivable, nerve-rending cacophony from the assembly-hall stage at Vancouver's last-chance educational alternative - "City School". 

Awash in the testosterone-driven euphoria of schoolgirl attentions, I and my three misfit band mates couldn't have guessed that among our hapless audience sat the real talent - the gangly, politely affable Ziggy Sigmund, a guitarist destined to one day score international hits with glam-emo rockers Econoline Crush:

But long before that day, Sigmund would participate in something even more amazing - helping to launch an entirely new global musical genre.

I was lucky enough to catch Slow live at a snug little brick-walled Vancouver nightclub called the Savoy. When they hit the stage, it was if I'd been awakened to what rock and roll meant for the first time. It felt like my scalp peeled back from sheer experiential awe. No big-ticket act before or since - Queen, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Aerosmith, AC-DC - has been as REAL and as RAW as those guys were onstage. 
Singer Tom Anselmi was utterly engrossing - a sinister, snarling, squealing, slithering harbinger of doomed rock and roll glory and decay, crawling, writhing and rolling everywhere, on, over and under the stage, floor, and overhead monitors.

Behind him, holding down the sonic apocalypse with a thunderous, tight and relentless groove were bassist Stephen Hamm and drummer Terry Russell.

Sigmund and fellow string-slinger Christian Thorvaldson rode the sonic crest, knife-sharp chords growling from the guts of their amps.

It was a great night to be a young rocker. 

But fame, it seems, is a fickle bitch: Sometimes she abruptly flings the mediocre to the apex of superstardom; and sometimes she boots true geniuses into the dirt of obscurity.

The latter fate awaited Slow - one of the most astounding acts ever to hit the west coast alternative music scene. Their nova-like flash of brilliance would trigger the grunge movement, soon to be co-opted by an obscure young American misfit named Kurt Cobain, who shared stage appearances with them, taking copious mental notes.    

Had it not been for their public meltdown at Canada's 1986 Expo, Slow would unquestionably and easily have eclipsed Cobain and his crew. This is no exaggeration; listen to their first recordings, made while the members were still in their teens:

As remarkable as Ziggy proved to be, Slow's other members were and are no less formidable artists. Vague adjectives don't suffice to describe this eclectic group of quintessential, mad artistic geniuses.

Singer Tom Anselmi and guitarist Christian Thorvaldson would go on to land a recording deal of their own with Geffen Records in Circle C/Copyright, another band doomed to die, this time strangled by lawyers.

Next, Thorvaldson would go on to back Canadian alt-rock megastar Matthew Good:

Drummer Terry Russell and bassist Stephen Hamm joined forces in  punk-metal Tankhog:

Hamm would also create some utterly Canadian homespun videos as part of the charmingly bizarre musical comedy duo Canned Hamm:

Then there's Terry.

Years after Slow's legendary burnout, I had managed to persuade the Canadian government to sponsor me for computer technician school.

The slightly dodgy technical school into which I was admitted was a rather odd hodgepodge of international students and eclectic instructors.

The PC lab was tucked into the far left corner of an otherwise typically sterile looking, blandly carpeted office floor. There, amid a Lego forest of circuit boards and copper spaghetti, like some bespectacled latter day Wizard of Oz, sat Terry, his expression alternating between boredom and private, puckish glee. I recognized him from ten years earlier, and was a little awestruck.

He was a patiently gifted instructor, though he enjoyed breaking the boredom by pranking students - he thought it knee-slappingly funny to instruct me on wiring a circuit that exploded when I switched it on. 

At the end of the semester, Terry invited me to his gig at the rocker's cult favorite nightclub, the Railway. I was thrilled when Simone - the lithe South African who looked like a cross between Brook Shields and Natalie Portman - agreed to be my date.

Hoping to impress her, I pulled her up to the front of the stage. Terry showed up in a white zip up jump suit. He launched into a creditable version of Alice Cooper's "Be My Lover", and when the chorus hit, donned pink bunny ears, then climbed out of his outerwear to reveal a matching pink leotard. 

The look of utter shock on my date's face was priceless, but the crowd went insane and started bouncing around enthusiastically. 

Terry and his equally brilliant musical partner Stephen have just launched a fascinating window into west coast Canadiana, with the podcast "Wadda Ya Gonna Do":

It's already great fun, and I predict it will be huge. God knows, these guys have paid their dues and earned a lucky break.

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