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Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk May 20, 2014

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Sam Sutherland has written a book on the early days of the many punk scenes across Canada in the late 1970s and very early 1980s. It’s a book worth reading, but I hope it’s not the last word on the subject, for a couple of reasons.

First, Sutherland has taken on more than one book can adequately cover. There’s already a whole book on the Toronto punk scene, for example, and of course there are already books on individual bands like DOA and SNFU. Some of this book’s chapters on local scenes are short because there really wasn’t much happening, but sometimes his research seems to have let him down. When he writes about Edmonton, for example, he misses Blank Generation, who from what I’ve heard weren’t particularly good, but who nonetheless managed to record one of the local scene’s earliest records and who played a lot of gigs with other Edmonton bands.

Second, and this is because I’m an old fart myself, Sutherland is too young to have been there. I appreciate his enthusiasm and evident affection for the records and bands he discusses, but I’d like more of the people who were actually there to tell their stories, as Joe Keithley and John Armstrong have done.There’s also some moments where he descends into overly exuberant prose about how fucking cool something was.

But never mind all that. I know a couple of the people interviewed for the book, I’ve seen many of those bands and heard many of those records, and the book inspired me to go listen to them again. There are interviews with people I wasn’t aware of, there are great anecdotes, and there’s a lot of research. And pointers to other books. I’ve already read a number of the books Sutherland cites in his bibliography but I’d never heard of the fictionalized memoir Love Minus Zero by a member of Calgary band the Virgins; I’d never even heard of the Virgins, though it turns out friends of mine played gigs with them. So that’s something else to read.

The thing to keep in mind is that this isn’t quite the book I want, but until that book comes along, this is a pretty good first effort. (And after reading this, if you haven’t already read Have Not Been the Same, do so.)