Heavy Metalloid Music
Eternal Cavalier - 2016
One of the more enduring - and it must be said, endearing - remnants of the punk era is the quest for that great lost proto-punk band, a sort of archeological missing link that somehow managed to keep the flame of garage punk lit during the dark ages of the seventies. To those that were known at the time, like the New York Dolls, the Modern Lovers or the Stooges, pop obsessives have since added 'lost' groups like Detroit's Death, who left us one measly impossible-to-find seven-inch, and Cleveland's Rocket from the Tombs, who didn't issue anything at all but who bequeathed '77 stalwarts the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu.
Hamilton, Ontario's Simply Saucer was strangely enough a known concern during the early days of the punk scene, regularly making the trip up the QEW to Toronto to play at places like the Colonial Tavern, Club David's, the Beverley and Larry's Hideaway. And they even managed to release one single, 1978's 'She's a Dog', which despite drawing praise from the likes of John Peel, Geoff Travis and Cub Coda was mostly ignored on the home front.
What makes Simply Saucer's story worth telling is the fact that few at the time knew they had actually been together in various incarnations since 1973. Even more earth-shattering was the excavation and subsequent release of tapes from 1974 - recorded in the basement of fledgling producers Bob and Daniel Lanois no less - which were issued in 1989 as part of the Cyborgs Revisited LP. Those six tracks, a mutant hybrid of Hawkwind, the Velvet Underground, the Stooges and various krautrock specimens like Neu and Faust, were the sort of archeological find that leaves record nerds slack-jawed and drooling for weeks.
Or perhaps decades, as it were. Jesse Locke was not even born when those iconic recordings were made. But like his fellow millennial scribes Liz Worth and Sam Sutherland, the Toronto-based writer exudes a keen fascination for that weird mid-seventies shift from bell-bottomed stoner rock to the razor-sharp defiance of punk. In the foreword to Heavy Metalloid Music, Locke's expose of Simply Saucer's all-too-brief musical (mis)adventures, he writes how "my obsession with Simply Saucer began years earlier when my friend Craig Fahner turned me on to their music. It was the band's nearly ten-minute VU-schooled guitar workout 'Illegal Bodies' that sealed the deal."
Heavy Metalloid Music may be his first book, but Locke is certainly no slouch, having logged some fifty-odd interviews with various band members, siblings and managers as well as the obligatory scenesters and hangers-on. With just the right mixture of fan appreciation and journalist objectivity, he takes the reader on a strangely captivating journey, that of a handful of outsider artists and their ultimately futile pursuit of musical weirdness.
Anyone who was not fortunate enough to grow up in one of North America's few cosmopolitan cities will be familiar with much of the setting: long-haired freaks congregating at the import section of their local record shop, a disused storefront rehearsal space frequented by bikers and street people, a dilapidated party house with a fully stocked beer fridge, break-ins, the occasional visit from the police, brawls, and a performance at a high school prom that ended with just four people standing at the back of the auditorium.
There is hardly what you would call a happy ending to this part of the story, with the group ultimately "blown apart", to use guitarist Edgar Breau's choice of words, near the tail end of the seventies. And though things did indeed get better for the boys - Simply Saucer can at least say that their place in the canon, however peripheral, is secure - for the most part, Heavy Metalloid Music is filled with the sort of absurdities that would befall any collection of earnest freaks sawing against the grain in a gritty, rust-belt town.
For instance, the guys once ran four turntables through their P.A. system just to listen to all four sides of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music at the same time. And in another case of near-Spinal Tap proportions, they purposely left their amps on with their guitars leaning against them one afternoon "as an experiment in self-generative sound" and then went out for coffee. When they returned, with the police already on their way to investigate, they managed to break the key in the lock, leaving the neighbourhood to suffer through ear-splitting levels of feedback.
"There was one cop in the alley, and I'll never forget what he said," Breau gleefully explained. "'I haven't heard sounds like that since World War II'."
Connor O.R.T. Linning