By Gregory Betts
“It means direct action, it means question authority, it means anarchy, you don’t like the world your living in, you don’t like the answers you get, it’s like fuck you. And that’s exactly what we were all about. Fuck you. Anything else, Bruce?” – Joe Dick, Hard Core Logo
You don’t know Hard Core Logo? Back in the 90s, not knowing Hard Core Logo would get you kicked out of rides, sent to the back of the line, and unsubscribed from underground newsletters. The real punk band was the brainchild of author-cum-musician Michael Turner, documenting his time on the road with the Vancouver band Hard Rock Miners. A scrapbook of lost fantasies, his book is a nasty collage of the mythmaking in the music industry, the illusion shattering force of punk, and the hardened, road-weary desire for dreams at the end of it all. His book was turned into a brilliant film by Bruce McDonald that is often cited as one of the, if not the best Canadian movies of all time.
The Sound spoke to Turner in advance of his visit to St. Catharines this October. The film turned 20 this year, and Turner is on hand to introduce an exclusive screening at The Film House on Saturday 15 October at 7:00pm.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Bruce McDonald’s film adaptation of your book Hard Core Logo. The story has been adapted in various ways, including into multiple films, a graphic novel, a radio play, a stage play, and even inspired the band name for Billy Talent. Looking back, what do you make of what’s become of your book?
These adaptations and borrowings began with readings of the book, and that, apart from the struggle that was writing and publishing it, is all I have ever hoped for as a writer — readings, conversations, re-readings…
I’m curious, how did you make or discover the connection between punk music and collage writing?
The connection is in the publicity: the punk rock concert poster (and indeed the album art) was generally a cut-and-paste affair.
Punk posters always struck me as Dada. When did you make the connection that you could bring that practice into your own writing? Was the Vancouver lit scene open to that kind of experimentation at the time?
Before it became a musical genre, punk rock and its rockers behaved similarly to the Dadaists, the Situationists, whether those early rockers knew of these “movements” or not. Before its reification, punk was a burlesque — everything up at once, against the wall. Graffiti, collage, volume, noise. I have a theory of Vancouver art that has its artists in one of two categories — collage or montage — though some tread in both.
Although I consider my early work intuitive, I was aware that I was trying to merge the ethnography with the poetry book. Montage is having an idea in advance of a composition, while collage is having no idea — preceding without a concept. I had no idea what I was doing when I wrote Hard Core Logo other than what I felt should be happening based on what I knew of being in a touring band and what I knew — après Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Kristeva, et al. — of the cruelties of narrative.
Did you find parallels between the punk (or “postmodern jug band” as The Hard Rock Miners were called) and the literary scene in Vancouver?
Hard Rock Miners took old-time songs and made them sound new. We also took club songs — like Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me” — and made them sound like they had been around at the time of Leadbelly. As for our own “original” compositions, they were written with an awareness of what we were doing to the songs of others. But if I were to connect the early busking days of the Miners to anything it would be agit prop, as we were working topically, reading the paper that morning and bringing the news into our songs that evening. So yes, in that regard we were essentially a cut-and-paste operation like, say, Peter Culley’s “Fruit Dots” (1986) was a cut-and-paste job on a 19th century botany text.
How does your experience with the band, touring, and performing anticipate or inform your work now? Or is your music compartmentalized from your writing and from your ongoing scholarship on disruptive literary and visual art cultures?
There were never any compartments, nor will there be, I think. Rather than focus on becoming a novelist or a banjo wielding cartoon throwback, I was happy to keep it all in one pot. Not the best career advice, I know, but closer to how I want to live my life. Better a palimpsest than a portrait of the master and his dog. [S]