Saturday, December 06, 2008

Jon Card: Different Drummer, Same Drumkit

Jon Card and I goofing around at the Pointed Sticks "Summer of Love" event a few months ago. Thanks, Kyla! (photo by - you guessed it - Femke van Delft)

I keep running into Jon Card - current Subhumans drummer, also an alumnus of Personality Crisis/ DOA/ SNFU, and others. He was at the Hanson Brothers show the other week. Apparently, after I crapped out exhausted to slink home like the tired old man I seem to be in the process of becoming, he and Brian Goble mobbed the stage and had a brawl with the Hansons; wish I'd been there to see it! Saw him again briefly tonight at the Nardwuar Mint event at the Ukrainian Hall. I assume I'll see him again tomorrow, at the free concert in support of Insite, featuring Bedouin Soundclash and Black Mountain (starts at 4PM at 136 E. Hastings, I believe). Though this is one of the best pieces I did for The Skinny, it never made it onto their website; here it is.

By the way, the Subhumans' singles/EP comp, Death Was Too Kind, is available around town now (and can also be purchased through Alternative Tentacles). Nice to see a non-bootlegged version of this stuff - the original EP and singles, all of which I used to have (save "Death to the Sickoids"/"O Canaduh," which was already impossibly hard to find by the time I got on the scene) would run around $500 to collect.

Jon Card: Different Drummer, Same Drumkit
By Allan MacInnis

Drummer Jon Card was in his late teens when he founded Plasticine, later called Suburban Slag, in Calgary. One of Suburban Slag’s gigs was opening for Vancouver’s Subhumans at the Calgarian Hotel, in 1981, when that band was touring their legendary first LP, Incorrect Thoughts. “I was a huge fan, so I made sure I went down and talked to the owner and said, ‘We have to get on this bill.’ I got to meet the guys in the Subhumans - I hung out in their hotel room and smoked a bunch of black hash with them. I was thrilled!” Jon, of course, now drums with the Subhumans, and appears on the reunited band’s New Dark Age Parade.

Soon after the Subhumans gig, Winnipeg punks Personality Crisis played in Calgary. “I got there late, and I only ended up seeing either half a set, or one and a half sets. I can’t really remember, but they were a great band. They were different from anything I’d seen at the Calgarian. And then I heard (Personality Crisis singer) Mitch Funk say from the stage, ‘yeah, we’re lookin’ for a drummer!’” (Jon mimics Funk’s baritone growl). “At that point, I had real shitty job, and I wanted to play music. I figured, ‘Hey, I like this band, and if they really need a drummer, I’m willing to pack up my little Mustang, throw my drums in the back, and drive to Winnipeg.’ So I gave’em a copy of the Suburban Slag demo tape and talked to them briefly. Later on, I hurt myself at work - I actually semi-blinded myself with some lime. I was mixing plaster, and POOM, it shot up into my eye, and I went, ‘This job REALLY sucks, now.’ It happens that, that night, Mitch phoned me and went, ‘We’re still looking for a drummer,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come out.’ He didn’t think I was going to - I was, like, nineteen years old or something like that - but I loaded up my car and drove out there, and lo and behold - we rehearsed, and it worked. That was the first real good band I was in. It was a really, really great band, actually. From there, I went on to SNFU, to DOA, and then a bunch of bands, and the Subhumans now.”

Personality Crisis' one LP, Creatures for Awhile, was released on Risky Records, out of San Francisco. “Our first show down there was playing with Fear in the Elite Club, which is the old Fillmore West. It was like a dream come true, being a twenty year old kid down there. It was better than any drugs that anyone could ever do - just this euphoric moment. It sounded so good, we were playing so good, and the crowd was digging it. ‘Wow, who are these guys?’ It was a very memorable gig. And the record label guy had connections, so at that point we got the prime slots right before the headliner. We played with Circle Jerks, Bad Brains, the Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat - you name it.”
The stories of these gigs, and many others, are recounted in much greater detail in local writer - and former Winnipeg punk - Chris Walter’s Personality Crisis: Warm Beer and Wild Times, out now on Chris’ imprint, Gofuckyerself Press. If all goes as planned, Creatures for Awhile will see its CD release at the August 29th Vancouver booklaunch for Chris’ book at the Cobalt. Jon, of course, will be present, drumming with the re-formed Subhumans. He’s known Chris Walter since the Winnipeg days, back in the early 1980’s. “He was totally into the punk scene, and so was I. He was in the Vacant Lot, I think his band was at that time, with his brother Jamie - he’s a good friend, too. So I hung out with Chris back then, experimented with different substances, and drank a lot of beer. I always liked Chris... He hasn’t changed that much, it’s really weird: he’s clean, but some people on/off drugs are essentially the same person. Unless you’re freaking out trying to get money for drugs; that’s a different story...”

It always surprises me that the cleaned-up Chris Walter is as comfortable as he is hanging out in bars like the Cobalt (where he stocks his own supply of Beck’s de-alcoholised beer, his favourite brand) and writing about crack addicts and junkies on the downtown east side. Wouldn’t most people who get off booze and hard drugs want to distance themselves as much as possible from their old habits and haunts? “You can’t understand why, because you haven’t done it, but - I’ve done lots of drugs, too” - painkillers and opiates, in particular, Jon tells me - “and I work right in the middle of the downtown eastside. I work the night shift, three nights a week, twelve hour shifts, in a nine-bed care facility, and it’s me and a nurse, and people who are just out of the hospital, but not well enough to go home. They’re being treated with antibiotics, fighting infection. This is ninety five percent of them. I manage the place and do everything the nurses don’t do - serving them, giving them meals, keeping the place clean. If people need housing, we find housing for them. And one hundred percent of the people are there because of drugs, and are using drugs while they’re there. I’m around it all the time. It takes awhile, but once you get past certain urges, and physical and psychological needs, and get your head around what you’re doing, it almost gives you strength, in some ways, to be around it. I’m speaking for myself - I can’t really speak for Chris.”

Subhumans singer Brian “Wimpy Roy” Goble - who has played bass with Jon in DOA, the Deadcats, Evil Twang, and the little known Garnet Sweatshirt (with Chris Houston and Randy Bachman) - also works in the downtown eastside, doing much the same job as Jon. The two compare notes all the time. “Usually the day before I’m coming in, I’ll phone up and go, ‘hey, what’s happening,’ which is great, because I know Brian really well and he can totally give me ‘the skinny’” - Jon inserts imaginary quotes around the name, in deference to a certain Vancouver paper - “on what’s going on: if we’ve got new people in, if people have been discharged, if there’s been a fight. And when we get together, work always comes up...” The Subhumans at the Lamplighter, photo by Allan MacInnis. Note Brian's shirt!

Unfortunately, government support for the care industry in this city “sucks,” Jon reports. “There’s so many people who need help, especially in the mental health area. There’s not enough beds - not even close! It’s insane. There’s just not the money or resources, and the Olympics coming up is a perfect example of money being misused. One example: I was with the Frank Frink Five” - a project with Pointed Sticks’ vocalist Nick Jones - “playing a wedding a few weeks ago, and I ended up meeting a woman who works for Strathcona Mental Health. She was interviewing over one hundred people, and there’s only four beds in this facility - four beds for a hundred people! And these are for the people who are actually seeking help; there’s so many who aren’t. Even the safe injection site... a lot of people go, ‘Oh, they’re basically just helping the drug user,’ but they don’t realize what the nurses do down there. People downtown have so many different skin conditions - they have so many different afflictions, and their legs are basically rotting off their bodies. So the nurses do dressing changes on wounds. If they stopped what they were doing, maybe one tenth of the people would get help. These people would have to go to walk-in clinics and wait hours and hours to get help, and possibly get it, possibly not.” Jon says he finds his work, though at times very stressful, quite rewarding. “They’re getting their treatments, and they don’t want to lose their leg or whatever the case may be. Just about every shift, I get a ‘hey man, thanks a lot for what you’re doing.’”

The curse of “rotting feet” - Chris Walter calls it “street feet” in his novels - is one of the evils mentioned in Goble’s “People of the Plague,” off New Dark Age Parade, a fast-paced, darkly humorous song about the plight of the DTES’ homeless. “Great song. I love playing that, and the lyrics are just fantastic.” A song on the Garnet Sweatshirt album addresses some of the same problems, “Meet the Bad People” (...because they want to meet you). “Randy came in and did all the guitar tracks in one session. The best part about that album is his guitar tracks!”

Bachman, of course, appeared in the rock video for DOA’s cover of the BTO’s Can-rock classic, “Takin’ Care of Business,” which was the first time I heard or saw Card. It shows the flannel-clad DOA taking on a team of suited CEO’s and kicking their asses on the ice. “That was fucking fun, getting to hang out with Randy and hear his stories - who else has Randy Bachman as your hockey coach, and you take on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and win the game?” The gig portions of the video shoot were at the old Boy’s Club, where original Subhumans (and later DOA drummer) Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery used to live, “then the hockey was at Britannia. We had a guy with a camera skating around in a wheelchair, so we could get some of the follow shots and stuff,” a technique lifted from the movie Slapshot. “The stick down the team, we definitely lifted that from Slapshot, too. The old milkjug, which represented the Stanley Cup, just happened to be in the room. I picked it up and started shaking it and we passed it around. Beer went flying, and Randy got soaked... He was such a great sport, such a great guy to work with.”

Hockey was one of the “selling points” that prompted Card to leave SNFU, then based in Edmonton, for DOA. “I play hockey, and they had a team, the Murder Squad, and we ended up playing lots of games. We played CFOX, and some other radio stations and newspapers, and raised money for the food bank. One time, we had over two hundred people in the crowd, totally supporting us - we were like the home team, playing CFOX, and Bruce Allen was their coach. They were losing this game - we ended up winning all the games except one against CFOX. Anyhow, Bruce had ‘Bruce Allen Talent Agencies,’ right? So the crowd started chanting ‘Bruce Allen - Get Some Talent!’ ...I think it was Art Bergmann who actually started it, and he was with Bruce Allen at the time,” Card laughs. “Bruce Allen has this little baldspot on the top of his head and someone who was in the stands told me, it started getting redder and redder...”

I asked Jon about a brief “return stint” with DOA when the band were in need of a drummer last year. “The Subhumans weren’t doing anything, and Joe phoned me up. It was a blast. The songs came back really fast, and it brought back a lot of really good memories, and Joey and I had time to - I won’t say kiss and make up, but he actually apologized for the way a few things came out in the book,” I, Shithead, “and a few other things: it was all water under the bridge, and we shook and had a great time.” Jon Card by Femke van Delft

One of the more interesting details of Jon’s tenure with the Subhumans is that he is, in fact, playing the drumkit that belonged to Dimwit, who died of a heroin overdose in 1994. “This is a beautiful kit - it’s a Milestone kit with Rogers and Ludwig hardware, so it’s basically custom-made. Dimwit had several different drumkits, and this one was one of the coolest; he ended up trading this one in at Drums Only. When I joined DOA, I had this Ludwig set. It was a great set of drums, but they were smaller drums; it had a 22” bass drum, and I wanted a 24. Instead of a 16” floor tom, I wanted an 18. I wanted bigger tubs for DOA: big band, big guys, big drums, this is what Joe was saying, and I went along with that. We went into Drums Only, and I see this silver sparkle Milestone kit, and it ends up being Dimwit’s old kit. Boom - I grabbed it. It has a great history, and now it’s been with me for a long time,” over twenty years and nearly fifty bands, Jon reckons. “Let’s just say it’s seen a lot of blood, sweat and tears!”

Subhumans fans have at least two things to look forward to in the near future, in addition to the August 29th gig at the Cobalt. Alternative Tentacles will be releasing Death Was Too Kind, a compilation of early Subhumans’ singles and their first self-titled EP, in September. Jon, of course, does not appear on these recordings. However, he does appear on the Subhumans’ cover version of a song he wrote for Personality Crisis, “Piss On You,” soon to appear on the soundtrack to a documentary about the BYO label - who originally released the Personality Crisis version. “We changed the song around a little bit, added a chorus at the end, and everything turned out cool. There’s actually triangle on the song now,” Jon smirks mischievously. “It’s to represent the tinkle."

(Photo by me, again).


jason said...

This is awesome! My favorite Canadian drummer.

Anonymous said...

Jon is my cousin and my friend, thanks for all the comics!! Keep on drummin.............Cousin Greg From New Mexico

Anonymous said...

I'm Jon's cooler cousin Scott from Utah. Jon rocks but don't ever play poker with him--he is a card shark and taught me the only trick I know. Jon could go toe to toe w/ Neal Pert anyday. Thanks for all the Mad Magazines and good times cuz.