What’s Up, Toronto?

Although The Spill Magazine was my first official writing gig, its first issue came out as an early e-zine. My print journalism premier outside of a school-run publication appeared in the first (and, sadly, the last) issue of What’s Up Toronto Magazine, published in July of 1994.

My career at What’s Up Toronto may have been short but it was memorable. Looking back, this could be seen as the beginning of my professional transcription career as it was the first time I was tasked with transcribing interviews conducted by other writers. It was also my first time taking concert photos, which was loads of fun. What’s Up Toronto‘s publisher Alan Rapp was an accomplished photographer and had planned on making the magazine a very visual publication, different from other indie magazines that were sprouting in Toronto at the time.

The most memorable (and longest) night at What’s Up Toronto was the night of the Gandharvas concert at The Horseshoe Tavern. I had already written my review of their album A Soap Bubble and Inertia; a dreamy, poppy sort of album with a lot of multi-layered, instrumentally rich songs (as I remember it now). I don’t remember who the opening act was, but I do remember that the Gandharvas were on stage for about ten minutes before I realized that this was the same band I’d heard on that little pink-labelled cassette. On stage, the band stripped away the layers and played that distinct alternative rock sound that made the mid-1990s what they were. It was the first time a band had completely thrown me for a loop.

What’s Up Toronto was running on a shoestring budget, so luxuries like outsourcing photo processing were out of the question. After the concert, Alan and I were in his kitchen, which doubled as a makeshift darkroom. Clumsily recreating a scene from the movie Cocktail, we spent the night juggling containers and chemicals (this was back in the days when digital cameras were little more than expensive novelties, remember), desperately trying to get the pictures developed before the sun came up and erased the evening’s work. Good times.

What’s Up Toronto Magazine didn’t survive past its first issue, but Alan didn’t let that stop him. What’s Up Toronto morphed into Enternet, a graphically-based BBS that, at the time, ran on one of the most advanced bulletin board systems available. I kept writing for Alan and Enternet until the World Wide Web pushed BBSing into history. Alan is now one of the folks behind LifestyleRadio.ca, an online community catering to those with “alternative” lifestyles.

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I’ve always been a newsmaker.

Scan-120816-0249 by davidjwidmann
Scan-120816-0249, a photo by davidjwidmann on Flickr.

Here’s my journalistic debut from The Mississauga News in 1973!


Meaty Memories

Writing that post about The Spill Magazine made me remember that final article I mentioned. It was about a band called Fresh Meat, a bunch of crazy punk-rock heroes if there ever was one. It may not be the best article I’ve ever written, but hanging out with the band for this article and at subsequent shows was fun as hell. For that reason, my Fresh Meat article makes it into my portfolio. Here it is.

Jagermeister, vodka, deviant behaviour, Spongebob, secret devil signs, vandalism, pyrophilia, projectile vomit, detox, assault, blackouts, sex, drugs and, of course, rock and roll. Toronto’s Fresh Meat is not a band that lets something as trivial as day jobs diminish the intensity of a punk-rock lifestyle.

“My audition for the band was like, ‘First you play, and then you have to see if you can keep up with us drinking,’” says bassist Scooter, recovering from the night before on the patio of Tortilla Flats. “I said, ‘What are you talking about? You’ve got to see if you can keep up with me!’ I woke up at my parents’ house not knowing how I got there. I got out of going to the drunk tank because the cops took me to the hospital instead.”

And so began the legend that is Fresh Meat. Talking to Scooter, guitarist/vocalist Tina, and guitarist Jesse (George, the band’s drummer, was… indisposed and couldn’t make it to the interview), it’s hard to believe these guys have only been together for a little over a year. They’re not only bandmates and partners in crime, but close friends who can’t get enough of cracking each other up with stories of past exploits. Well, the stories they can remember, anyway.

“We signed a contract saying we wouldn’t drink until further notice,” Tina says. “We didn’t drink for a whole week, and then Scooter called and said he was having a beer.”

“We also signed a contract saying we wouldn’t make out anymore,” Scooter adds. Although Tina insists that they haven’t made out anyway, Scooter says, “According to the staff at the Big Bop and the Zen Lounge, we were making out a lot. Apparently I make out with people when I’m drunk.”

“So do I,” says Jesse. This elicits peals of laughter from the group.

“You have to keep me and Jesse drunk away from each other,” says Scooter. “Bad things will happen.”

“I’d want pictures,” Tina laughs.

But beneath the endless stories of alcohol, misdemeanour charges and hospitalizations lies a band that kicks ass on stage. On June 7th, part of the Meaty Monday showcase the band hosts on the first Monday of every month at Kathedral, Fresh Meat displayed all the intensity and charisma in their performance as they do in real life. This band signals hope for a Toronto live-music scene that has been languishing for years. If there’s on band that’s going to break the scene open and get people out to see rock shows again, Fresh Meat’ll be it.

I did a quick search online to see if any of the band members were still around, but it seems like the members of Fresh Meat dissolved after their last show. Blogs and social media accounts have been left untended or have been deleted.

Oh, well. More Jager for me.


Spilling the Musical Beans

Back in 1994, Arvin Kashyap was facing graduation from university and thus the end of his tenure at the campus radio station. Wanting to stay in the music industry, Arvin decided to start a music magazine. Fortunately, he had a friend who happened to be a writer looking for a writing job (namely me) and a small, dedicated team of other music fans. The Spill Magazine was born.

The first official issue, a collection of short CD and live show reviews, came out in May of 1994 as a text file that was posted to various Usenet newsgroups and bulletin board systems. Looking back, it seems like the online Dark Ages. The World Wide Web existed, but graphical web browsing was still somewhat of a novelty (anyone remember NCSA Mosaic?) with most Internet service providers offering limited Web access through Lynx. Even the big ISPs’ most popular services were the local message boards. In this embryonic digital world, The Spill Magazine found a dedicated following. Within hours, we got our first email asking us to review someone’s band.

After that, The Spill Magazine became a print magazine available for free in various Toronto locales. It expanded to include band interviews, columns (“net.buzz” was one of mine, documenting some of the music-based content on the early Web that was accessible at 9600bps), and editorials.

I didn’t make any money writing for The Spill Magazine, but I did have a great time. I got a rather hefty portfolio of published articles under my belt. And in the indie media heydays of the early-to-mid 1990s, being a writer for an independent magazine was amazing. I was 23 years old, getting into shows for free at Lee’s Palace, The Big Bop, the El Mocambo and so many other venues several times a week. Often, getting on the guest list also meant free beer, even free cigarettes in the days of tobacco arts sponsorships. And every week, a big pile of brand new CDs and cassettes got dropped into my lap.

My last article for The Spill Magazine was published back in 2004, but Arvin still has a dedicated team of writers working for him. The magazine exists as a website now, coming full circle and returning to its online-only roots. At 18, the magazine is almost old enough to get into bars and knock back pints of cheap beer just like we did back in the day.