Over the weekend, B.C. band NoMeansNo announced their well-deserved retirement after nearly four decades of churning out music.
My nerdy love of weird, noisy music usually doesn’t so obviously make its way into my equally nerdy blog about transportation and cities, but in this case, I felt like I needed to make an exception. When I heard of NoMeansNo’s retirement, I didn’t feel sadness but only thankfulness that I’d grown up with their music. I wanted to share my thanks here.
Once Upon a Time…
In the summer of 1986 I made a discovery that went on to shape my life.
It was hot out and I was trudging up the well worn, musty carpeted stairs to the second floor of an old building at the bottom of Victoria’s Yates Street. One of those gold-rush-era leftovers that has now been fixed up and turned into seismically-upgraded condo swankiness but which back then was low-rent earthquake bait.
It was my first time to one of Victoria’s original sources of weird music, Catapult Records, and I’d just turned 15. The higher I climbed, the louder the sound drifted towards me of fast punk music. I turned through the doorway at the top of the stairs and entered a whole different world.
Leaflets for shows on the counter, stacks of newsprint MaximumRockNRolls and photocopied fanzines on the floor, windows open and fans pointlessly whirring to try to beat the heat. And bins and bins of vinyl records of bands I’d never heard of but would soon grow to love.
I remember standing there taking it all in and then joining everyone else making the soft “thwk, thwk, thwk” sound of fingers flipping through LPs. Interrupting me mid-flick, my friend came up to me and handed me a record. It was an EP called “You Kill Me.”*
“This is a band called NoMeansNo,” he said. “They’re from here.”
And in the second he said that, three realizations collided and clicked into place:
- You could be from sleepy, podunk Victoria
- And make your own music
- And be on a record.
That realization shifted the progress of my life. By the time the next summer rolled around, I was playing in bands and going halfers with my parents on an electric guitar and amp for my sixteenth birthday. And beyond just playing music, even more had changed.
That moment in Catapult Records was the start of my immersion in Do it Yourself culture. It was also my entrance into a community that valued being smart and different and all the best parts of thoughtful/awkward/creative/weird/just.
Many years later, not only does that culture continue to be the source of much fun and pleasure making music with others, but I think it also formed me and others in how we work and volunteer our time. Don’t like the world, city, neighbourhood, street or workplace you’ve been given? Pretend you’re “in charge” and just make change happen. And if that doesn’t work, at least make sure you’re laughing lots.
Over the three decades since my record store epiphany, seeing NoMeansNo play has been one of the constant counterpoints that has strung together the various iterations of myself and others. Viewed over the course of too many shows than I can count, it’s like seeing a flickering film reel of my own life as it spools by.
Now a shy teen bopping her head to the beat squished into the basement of Victoria’s venerable house party venue the Rat’s Nest, now a twenty-something getting to open for them at a couple shows, now an aging career gal putting her worries aside to rock out, and (most recently) now a parent giving a whoop of joy as she gets to leave her kids with a sitter and head out to a gig.
Three decades!!! How many things stay constant for that long?!
Well, nothing really. Things change and the ripples keep coming, much like “The River” that the band sung about. In my own version of rippling time, this summer I started to teach my five-year-old to play guitar and then also showed one of the acoustic-strumming women in a klezmer band I’m playing in how to play power chords. I also started messing around with playing the NoMeansNo song “Long Days” on cello.
It all just keeps evolving and threading around. Like waves of sound. Or the groove on a record.
To the fine fellas of NoMeansNo, thank you for all the sketchy band vans, sticky floors, relentlessly schlepped gear and drunken goons you put up with over the years to make your music happen. You were reliably, tremendously great every time and so appreciated.
Thanks even more so for all the ways that you have impacted and encouraged others, in ways you may not begin to even imagine. Your thoughtful, smart, exuberant, fun songs made us grow and grow (up) well.
Enjoy your own next evolutions. You’ve completely earned it.
Never heard NoMeansNo? While there are many great songs, my two faves of all time are still two oldies: Now (which can turn my mood around every time) and Dark Ages (which is haunting, layered and beautiful and would be one of my desert island picks). And if you like those, do the right thing and buy ’em!
And that “You Kill Me” EP I bought on that hot August day in 1986? Yep, still got it. Just like all the rest.
* There will be some NoMeansNo fan sticklers out there who may read this and go You Kill Me? But that came out in 1985 and their next album would have been out by then. Yes, and I got that one a few weeks later. But this is a true story and this is how it happened.