040285 Public Relations, Toronto, ON

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This is another one of the increasingly common “exceptions” that are creeping into these ticket stories.  Like the other exceptions, this ticket from April 2nd, 1985 marks another show that I didn’t actually attend and also like the others this unused ticket stub is a link to an aural entity that was very important to my whole musical makeup (which is another way of saying “my life”).

The summer when I was thirteen or fourteen my family moved from Moncton, New Brunswick to Richmond Hill, Ontario.  I was a fish out of water in dire need of finding some friends when I spotted a few guys around my age monkeying around on the sidewalk across the street from my house.  I somehow injected myself into the scene and Jon, Rich, Harry and I ended up at a nearby coffeeshop laughing and being silly for hours.  Funny how I can still remember several snippets of our conversation well enough that I could transcribe it if I wished, an exercise that would prove as boring as it would be unimportant to this narrative.

Harry played the drums and Rich played guitar, and shortly after this meeting they decided to start a band.  I tried being the singer, an audition that lasted about sixty seconds; Jon ended up being the vocalist.  Rich’s uncle Jamie (who was only a year or two older than Rich and lived in the same house but like I say, he was Rich’s uncle) became the bass player and suddenly Public Relations was born.  They were a poprock cover band that tried their best to mimic the MuchMusic hits of the day, which included stuff like Def Leppard, Judas Priest, The Scorpions, and similar power chord hairspray heroes, but between them there was a fair amount of cool music that got thrown around as well.

If I have it right, I was the only guy not in the band that hung out at the rehearsal house (which was somebody’s aunt’s house), and I tell you, we pretty much lived there.  I suppose this is where I found out how much work goes into playing music because I mean to tell you all these guys did was practise.  I remember the bass player wasn’t around one day but they were hankering a full-on rehearsal so Rich handed me the bass and tried to show me how to play the simplest of Van Halen bass lines.  This would probably be the first time I tried playing an instrument – certainly the first time with other people – and I wish it had gone better but it didn’t.  Still, it was a start (for ten minutes anyway).

For all of the three-chord tripe our true heroes were Rush, as it was for all teenaged boys in and around Toronto at the time.  I remember watching Rich try to learn the intro to La Villa Strangiato, rewinding a two-second snippet of the high-speed flamenco flurry over and over again.  I told him that it was impossible and he might as well just give up; he looked at me like I was crazy and just rewound the tape again (and again, and again…).  By the time he left that day he had the intro down-pat.  To be honest, I think that was one of the most important musical lessons I ever got.  

Rush had just released their album Signals – replete with controversial synth and keyboards – and at that time PR recruited a kid who showed up with a sports-coat and a skinny leather tie, a Flock of Seagulls haircut and a Casio CT401 keyboard.  I remember songs like Sister Christian and Subdivisions getting added to the mix but I don’t remember him lasting too long (though he taught me the keyboard riff to Van Halen’s Jump which remains my goto piano piece to this day, so thanks for that).

When they started gigging they were playing a hotel/bar in Richmond Hill called…was it the Black Hawk Inn?  Anyway, I was too young to get in and it killed me to not see them play.  I did see them play a show once, in a pretty rough basement bar just up the street from my house (rough enough that a young teenager like me had no problem getting in).  Unfortunately Jon had a cold and his singing was very, very strained.  He was trying to squeak through the high-pitched screamers with an extreme rasp that caused a big biker-type guy to interrupt his pool game and scream at the stage “Shut the f*** up!” over and over, loud enough to drown out the PA system.  Jon ended up walking off the stage mid-song and storming straight out of the bar, never to return.

This ticket stub was from their first show in the big city – downtown Toronto – and like I say, I didn’t go; I would’ve been only fifteen or so*.

And while I only saw Public Relations outside of practise that once (and at one basement party) they introduced me to plenty of good music, as they somehow sneaked in songs like Psycho Killer and White Room amongst the metalpop tripe.  This would be the first time I had ever heard of Cream or The Talking Heads…heck, they even did Fire by Springsteen.

So to say my exposure to these guys was a musical education is a dramatic understatement, but most important to me was watching them teach themselves how to be musicians and how to be a band, skills I acquired through osmosis and skills I would come to need.  And you know, after a lifetime of practising and gigging I can look back and accurately say that these guys were all pretty damn good.  And self-taught too, as far as I can recall (aside from Jon, who immediately started taking vocal lessons).  I remember Harry nailing that weird cowbell rhythm that opens We’re Not Gonna Take It which I maintain is quite a feat, and Rich seemed pretty unstoppable on the guitar.  And talk about making rehearsals work on a budget of zero…I think it was a full year before Jamie actually got a bass.  Up until then he played a guitar with two strings removed.  It was through these guys that I learned that a speaker ripped out of a tape deck can be easily converted into a microphone.  I tell kids about that nowadays and they don’t believe it.  

Come to think of it, I am now recalling that I dropped Rich’s guitar once and broke it, apparently beyond repair.  So I had to save up my paper route money until I had $100 to replace it, and in doing so I got to keep the injured electric guitar (to this day I don’t know what was supposedly wrong with it).  It was on this maimed guitar that I learned my first chords (D, Dsus4, and A) and I played them incessantly until I somehow lost the instrument.  So, when I finally bought a used guitar at age 18 and-a-half (for $140…that’s inflation for you) I already had a three-chord head start.

Which, I suppose, is why I’ve come so darn far.  My thanks to Jon, Rich, Harry, Jamie, and even that kid with the skinny tie.  Oh, and Roger.  There was a guy a couple of years older than us who hung out too, a drummer named Roger.  Thanks y’all.  Hope to see you guys again someday.

(Two added incidental post scripts: 1) I attended my first-ever concert with Rich after I had moved back to Moncton and he came out to visit for a week, which is a rather major musical connection if you ask me, and 2) though I lost touch with all of these guys a lifetime or two ago the internet tells me that they are all still working musicians and friends, which pleases me.  I think some of them even still play together, though not under the same name.)

*Oh my.  I just did the math and realized that this ticket would have been from when I was seventeen years old, not fifteen.  Geez.  So, I’m sure this wouldn’t have been from their first gig in Toronto and it wasn’t from the era that I’m writing about at all, back when we would all hang out at whoever’s aunt’s house.  This ticket stub would have actually been from two or three years later than that.  In the time between us hanging out at the aunt’s house and this ticket I would have ran away from home by hitch-hiking from Richmond Hill to Moncton (aged fourteen), came back to Ontario and purposely flunked out of school for two years, moved with the family back to Moncton and continued flunking out until I turned sixteen, when I dropped out and hitchhiked back to Richmond Hill (in the dead of winter and almost froze to death.  I’ll tell you about it sometime…), where I got a job in a factory and rented a room and lived on the edge of starvation before returning to Moncton and taking up with a girl in Fredericton, where I lived for six months or so in homeless shelters and ghetto room rentals before convincing this girl to drop out of university and come with me to Ontario, where we were so poor we lived in separate homeless shelters until we finally moved in together.  Or rather out, as we were homeless and lived in a park with a cardboard box of stuff and a pet cat.  And that was around the time of this show which, as I believe I mentioned off the top, I did not attend.

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