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The Ugly

The Ugly - Stranded in the Laneway (of Love) / To Have Some Fun - 7

Stranded in the Laneway (of Love) / To Have Some Fun - 7"
Explosion - 1978

Michael Panontin
Though barely a footnote in the Toronto punk scene, the tragedy of leader/singer Mike Nightmare and his band the Ugly is hands down one of the most fascinating stories in the entire annals of popular music. That such a group of hoodlums and petty thieves could produce in the end a record of gleaming power pop is even more amazing.

Possessed of near-mythical good looks and charisma, Nightmare was the ultimate rock and roll bad boy, a flawed hero of Shakespearian proportions. While still in high school, just before he was to leave for California to pursue an acting career, his Irish-immigrant parents talked the troubled teen into visiting a psychiatrist. The doctor had him committed and Mike was given electroshock therapy. In Treat Me Like Dirt one-time bandmate William Cork recalls, "They burned him so bad that for the rest of his life he had scars the size of nickels burnt into each side of his forehead, on his temples."

After a couple of years there, Nightmare escaped in a scene worthy of the Hollywood he ultimately never reached. "He busted into a locker that had patients' belongings...that were way smaller than him. He couldn't do the pants up and they came down to his mid-calf. He took off out a fire exit that was on an alarm, and the whole hospital started ringing and ringing." Nightmare then managed to hot-wire a car, but as he was backing out of the garage, he was caught red-handed. "And standing right behind the car was a police sergeant. It was his car."

By the time the Ugly formed in 1977, Nightmare was not above the occasional B and E, or firing a gun at band practice. Supposedly, even their equipment was all stolen. And with theft such a natural state for the band, they even mastered the art of pirating sets, of hopping onto a stage and playing between acts with another group's equipment. But for all the hijinks, the Ugly were blessed with a taut rhythm section in Sam Ferrara (bass) and Tony Torcher (drums). Along with Nightmare's mesmerizing stage presence, the lads seemed ready to mount a challenge to their rivals the Viletones.

Unfortunately, the criminality took its toll, and so by the time they entered the studio to record 'Stranded in the Laneway (of Love)', Nightmare and Torcher were left to cobble together a new band. Nightmare's normally crazed screaming was gone, and in its stead was a fragile croon that seemed to parallel Joe Strummer's impassioned vocal on that same year's Give 'Em Enough Rope.

'Stranded...' never managed much airplay, and with money in short supply, the Ugly packed it in soon after. As for Nightmare, after forming the Wild Things with Cork, he ended up down and out on Vancouver's downtown east side, which is about as low as it gets. After stints with drugs, prostitution and crime, he died a broken man - literally it seems with two canes to assist him - after suffering a heart attack sometime in the late nineties.

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