In the fall of 2004, I found myself wandering around the Exchange District with time to kill before my (telemarketing) shift and decided to visit ‘Into the Music’ to see if I could find anything decent. While I was browsing through their books, I discovered a real gem. I Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk follows the disastrous adventures of Chris Walter, a former Winnipegger and devotee of the early punk rock / hardcore scene.
Did I lose you? No? Good. While this is the second book of a trilogy (which is also a autobiographical tale), it’s a book that you can jump right into with abandon and lose yourself in its pages.
The book is a collection of entertaining stories that discusses everything from poorly made decisions, punk rock love, relationship faux-pas, sexual abandon, substance abuse, and troubled times with wicked humour and a lot of heart. Regardless of what the issue might be, Chris Walter does not shy away from giving you the dirty details. If anything, he gets a kick out of shocking his reader with stories of his hell-raising past.
Over the last 10 years (give or take), there has been a steady increase in books that have been written about the early punk scene. Authors such as Legs McNeil (Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk), Henry Rollins (Get In the Van), and Vancouver’s own Joey Shithead (I, Shithead: A Life in Punk) have given readers a gateway into a world which few people understand – save those who were there in the crowd.
While New York City’s The Ramones gave birth to the sound which would eventually be called punk rock, it continued to evolve through out the late ’70s thanks to bands such as the Sex Pistols (London, England), The Clash (London, England), Black Flag (Hermosa Beach, California), Dead Kennedys (San Francisco, California), Social Distortion (Fullerton, California) and D.O.A. (Vancouver, Canada). While these are just some of the bands that emerged during the first wave, many more would follow suit throughout the next three decades.
But what is punk rock?
Well…that depends on who you ask.
In North America, punk rock was (and remains) an attitude, a fashion statement, a rejection of society’s norms, as well as a subculture. Above all, it was a ‘terrifying’ new kind of music, a stripped down rock & roll that made the Rolling Stones seem more like Simon and Garfunkel. The ‘kids’ were sick and tired of what was going on and were desperate for something new. For many, punk rock presented an escape from the monotony of day to day living. Among other things, it promoted a do-it-yourself (DIY) ethic and free thinking.
While The Ramones would never reach the level of fame they deserved, they inspired an entire generation of kids to form their own bands, thereby creating a local scene. These bands collaborated with one another to book their shows and tours. Their fans created zines to discuss and promote this new and ‘dangerous’ music that was coming out. Best of all, bands were making their own records and merchandise, which gave them an income (albeit a limited one).
If you happen to be a punk rocker or used to go to shows at Wellingtons or the Royal Albert – check out Chris Walter’s book. Since the book itself is based in Winnipeg, the reader learns about the hardcore (punk) scene in the early 80’s as well as the beer induces, drug shenanigans that occur along the way. Whether enjoying a Personality Crisis show at Wellingtons, going on tour as a roadie for The Nostrils, or getting in a brawl with weapon wielding ‘rockers’ in a back lane – Chris Walter sets the scene with meticulous details. If Winnipeg punk is your thing, this is the book for you. For more of Chris Walter’s work, check out www.punkbooks.com.
– D.P. Bohémier