Sunday, October 18, 2009

The World's Oldest Disease

Does punk rock breed VD?



 (L to R): Patsy Poison, Mickey Skin, Dr. Bourque, Trixie Danger


That's what one promo poster notoriously asked, 'round about '77/'78. 

Frequently referred to as "North America's first all-female punk rock band", The Curse slithered out from Toronto's underground: the same scene that would spawn The Diodes, Viletones, Battered Wives, etc. 

Thing is, they didn't even bother to learn their instruments or learn how to write songs when they were challenged to start a band.  Much like a certain athletic footwear company, they Just Did It. 




You see, Mickey Skin had a dance instructor.  The dance instructor had a band.  Said dance instructor (reportedly named "Roland" -- I have no surname of reference) had a challenge for Mickey: form a band to open for his own group, The Tools -- which was performing its first gig on May 27th, 1977-- then write some songs and rehearse.  And You Have Three Weeks To Do It.




So Mickey enlists her best friend, one Dr. Bourque -- who may or may not have had a medical degree -- to play bass.  The pair are joined by Trixie Danger and Patsy Poison, who reportedly worked downtown Toronto's sin strip, before banging on the skins for Mickey's "band".


 



The erstwhile musicians practiced in Mickey's mom's basement -- until Mickey's mom, Loet Voss returned from summer vacation and reclaimed it.  Freddy Pompeii of the infamous Viletones brings along his bandmates to The Curse's second basement rehearsal.  But the Viletones had, by this time, garnered an -- erm -- "reputation" for inciting violence.  So Roland and the Tools canceled their gig. 



(L To R): Unknown, Mickey, Mickey's Mom, Steve Leckie of The Viletones


Not to worry.  Freddy Pompeii insisted the girls open for the Viletones at Toronto's Summer '77 do-it-yourself club, The Crash 'N Burn. The C 'N B was run by the revolutionary Centre For Experimental Art & Communication.  They played eight songs.  But the set reportedly left the audience stunned. 

A month later, CBGB's beckoned.  Playing on a bill touting the  "...outrageous punk bands from Toronto, Canada" New York's audience got their first taste of what The Curse had in store.  (By the way: The Diodes, Teenage Head and The Viletones were also on that bill, along with The Cramps).  Apparently, Mickey Skin sprayed the audience repeatedly with whipped cream.



Nonetheless, The Curse returned to Toronto, playing local clubs such as David's, The Horseshoe Tavern, The Turning Point, etc. They were usually remunerated with beer, but on occasion they were given $50 (which, in 1977/78, was big money for a gig, I suppose).  Meanwhile, they also played out of town shows, such as London, Ontario's Forest City Gallery at the invitation of performance artist Gerard Pas on November 25th, 1977.  By now, word of The Curse's stage antics prompt local punks to hurl rotting steaks and other assorted food on stage.  The Ugly was also supposed to play the bill, but they didn't show.  So The Curse were forced to play their 8-song set three times, in different order.



In December of that year, The Curse accompany a group of members from CEAC to a Detroit art gallery, as guest performers.  In a bizarre post-show piece, the girls are asked to line up against a wall while being shot at with a pistol by a performance artist, while she sings "Happiness Is Warm Gun", by The Beatles. 




The Curse were the Prop Queens of Punk.  Apparently they had more trouble getting their props to shows than their gear: bringing everything from Mickey's "Lobotomy Scar" (an excuse for forgetting the lyrics), to Patsy's Kotex Bikini, to the purple Jesus Punch they served at their record release party.  The only way to drink it was to suck the tampons floating on top.  Trixie Danger starting a power drill, cranking up the amp and boring through her guitar.


 
               Mickey & Her Lobotomy Scar

 

David Robinson of The Diodes Sucking A Tampon

 Plastic helmets, feather boas, huge telephones, whipped cream and neon wands; squirtguns, tricycles, surgical gloves and the foulest language North of the CN Tower (still under construction): the girls succeeded in shattering inhibitions whenever they performed. During their first show, Mickey Skin pulled wieners out of her pants, chewed them up, spat them out and threw them at the audience.  Sometimes she would trample the little hotdogs underfoot.  The men squirmed; so did the women. 




Of course, one can never talk about The Curse, without bringing up the tragic story of 12-year-old Emmanuel Jacques, the son of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores.  Emmanuel worked as a shoeshine boy, along downtown Toronto's then-infamously seedy Yonge Street strip.  In 1977 Yonge Street was, as described by former mayor David Crombie, a "yawning cesspool" of sex shops, massage parlours, pornographic theatres and strip clubs. On July 28th, 1977 Emmanuel was lured to an apartment above the Charlie's Angels body rub parlour, with the promise of work.  Evidence later showed that Emmanuel was raped over a period of 12 hours, strangled and was later drowned in a sink.  His murderers then stuffed his body into a garbage bag and dumped his body on the roof of the body rub parlour. 

The Curse wrote and recorded the single "Shoeshine Boy" on Hi-Fi, both as a cautionary tale for parents, but also about the dangers of working the streets.  They sparked further controversy and public outrage, when they send the jailed killers a copies of their single.





Almost a year to the day of their first visit to New York City, The Curse make a triumphant return to the Big Apple when they headline Max's Kansas City.  Threatened by bikers, suffering from exhaustion and overcome with the club's claustrophobic dimensions, Mickey Skin delivers her ultimate (and last) performance.  She walks atop the club's tables, but ever-so gingerly: the patrons go wild and rock the tables underneath her wherever she lands.  This would be the last time the original Curse perform together.

 

The Curse's posters proclaimed them The World's Oldest Disease.  In the process of their original formation, they created a musical epidemic that infected staid, conservative Toronto, in that lava-hot summer of 1977.  They challenged the audience with disturbing tales of growing up bored, stereotyped, exploited and female. 




It isn't hard to find old videos of original Toronto punks these days on the internet.  Good luck in finding anything by The Curse.  The only known Curse video was shot by then-17-year-old Ed Mowbray, as part of a high school television class.  This is the only time The Curse are officially filmed.   Although they were considered an integral part of the Toronto Punk Rock explosion that summer, they somehow escape ever being filmed as part of any documentary or news program.  Film cameras and tape machines inadvertently got turned off... had mechanical failures...batteries died...film ran out.  Just some of the myriad excuses so apologetically delivered to The Curse.

Meanwhile, the Ed Mowbray film, is reportedly still unlocated.




In 1996/97 OtherPeoplesMusic released a compilation of singles, live cuts, reheasal cuts and demos, that showcase The Curse's politics, irreverence and primitive rock and roll. 




The Curse - Teenage Meat:

1
The Curse
Raw
1:37







2
The Curse
Aggravation
2:09







3
The Curse
Switchblade Love
3:28







4
The Curse
Somethin' Ya Can't Tell Your Mother
2:23







5
The Curse
I Accuse You
3:05







6
The Curse
Eat Me
2:43







7
The Curse
Shoeshine Boy
2:26







8
The Curse
Killer Bees
3:02







9
The Curse
Teenage Meat
2:30







10
The Curse
Oh My God (Demo)
2:00







11
The Curse
Feelin' Dirty (Demo)
2:20







12
The Curse
Somethin' You Can't Tell Your Mother (Demo)
2:10







13
The Curse
I Accuse You (Demo)
3:03







14
The Curse
Switchblade Love (Demo)
3:22







15
The Curse
Eat Me (Demo)
2:17







16
The Curse
Aggravation (Demo)
1:57







17
The Curse
Blunks (Live)
2:29







18
The Curse
No More Ice Cream (Live)
2:24







19
The Curse
He's My Boy (Live)
2:36







20
The Curse
Johnny Feels Good (Live)
1:27







21
The Curse
If It Tastes So Great, Swallow It Yourself (Live)
1:46







3 comments:

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TA!
-Daniel

Son of Spam said...

Added to Blogroll.

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Hello, Patsy Poison here. Just to clarify, I lived on Yonge Street, I did not "work the strip". I actually worked at A&A'S and Sam's while going to U of T.