[27 November 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981 was originally published in 2009. Toronto writer and punk music fan Liz Worth (Eleven: Eleven) researched, recorded and compiled several years of interviews documenting the bands and music of Toronto’s early punk rock scene. She and editor Gary Pig Gold, a veteran of the Ontario punk scene himself have collected an impressive number of interviews with the scene’s players that, taken together, present as close to a complete picture of the musical environment of southern Ontario in the late ‘70s as anyone can get.
In addition to the transcripts of those interviews, this updated edition includes an exclusive selected discography of key releases by Toronto punk artists, and many previously unseen photographs. Worth begins the book by admitting that she was not even born yet at the time Treat Me Like Dirt‘s key players were making the music discussed here, and that she initially came to punk rock through British bands like the Clash. Those facts don’t dim her passion for the local bands that she discovered in her area at the same time that the London scene was exploding.
Covering the individual and collective histories of better-known Toronto area bands such as the Diodes (probably best remembered for their biggest single, “Tired of Waking Up Tired”), Teenage Head, and the Viletones, as well as those of lesser known groups and local personalities like B-Girls, Curse, Demics, Dishes, Forgotten Rebels, Johnny & The G-Rays, The Mods, The Poles, Simply Saucer, The Ugly, and many others, Treat Me Like Dirt is a comprehensive, sometimes contentious, portrait of the artists, their contributions and their recollections of the city and the scene. Worth has given her readers a cast and crew list/crib sheet to start with, which is a useful reference for the places in Treat Me Like Dirt where a comment from someone mentioned earlier suddenly pops in somewhat out of context—readers can flip back to the Who’s Who and figure out how that person fits in the particular tale being told.
Sometimes readers may find themselves flipping back and forth quite a bit. Because this is an oral history, many of the stories run together or overlap depending upon which artist happens to be telling it at any given point. This also means that the details of certain events are contingent upon who’s been contradicted in a previous entry or what’s being contested in a subsequent section. The open, rambling nature of the nearly 200 interviews that Worth includes is simultaneously the book’s strength and its stumbling block. Having a multitude of memories contributing to a tale about a specific time, place, or event helps to paint a more rich, in-depth—and possibly truer—portrait of it for those who were not there. However, that many memories can also create so much confusion that the big picture never becomes clear.
While Treat Me Like Dirt is occasionally guilty of getting lost in the minutia as various subjects’ comments just go on and on, often bleeding into one another, the wealth and depth of the details is also what makes it so compelling. It would be fairly easy to pick a few names and give a sanitized overview only hitting historical high points (one could do that with almost any town, era, genre or scene, I suppose), but Worth chooses instead to go gritty and raw, to uncover the uncensored and show a scene that was a reflection of the power and the energy of punk rock. The people involved were, and are, intensely passionate about the music, the Toronto scene, their places in it. Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond 1977-1981 reflects its subjects; it’s filled with that same punk intensity and passion.