Friday, January 18, 2013

My note to the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch re: All Ages Shows

I'm staying out of the whole thing about the Waldorf - I've burned out on smashing my head against THAT particular wall - but, having read Mike Usinger's impassioned rant in the Straight about the recent decisions of the LCLB to make it impossible for venues to host live shows, have sent the following to the LCLB. If you feel passionately about kids having access to all ages shows, you can do the same, by writing


Some feedback about the LCLB's decision to, in effect, make all-ages shows impossible...
As a teenager, back in the 1980's, I had little interest in alcohol or drugs. 
Presumably this is not the case with Mike Usinger! While I greatly enjoyed his rant in the Straight - I thought I would offer my own perspective. Not only did I NOT drink before, during, or after the concerts I went to as a young man, I did not drink or do drugs, period. Until my 20's, when things changed... but nevermind about them...
While not being at all interested in alcohol as a teen, I did, however, have great passion for music, especially non-mainstream varieties of music, like punk rock. Some of my formative experiences included seeing the Dead Kennedys at an all ages show in 1984; as I understand it, Jello Biafra, the singer of that band, made a point of making sure all Dead Kennedys concerts were all ages, because he thought it important that young people have access to music. Punk, being a sort of countercultural, politically provocative, and non-mainstream sort of music, generally is not performed in stadiums or such, but in smaller venues, which usually means bars; without people like Biafra fighting to make sure shows his band put on were classified as "all ages," punk kids like myself would have had almost no access to live music at all. (There's actually a whole subdivision of punk, straight edge, that sprang up from punk kids fighting to be able to attend concerts for the music, and not for the alcohol; straight edge punks are sometimes quite puritanical about not drinking, drugging and so forth. You can read about straight edge here, if you like - one of the books on the movement is called, appropriately enough, All Ages). 
Seeing the Dead Kennedys in 1984 was an identity-shaping, positive experience for me. I wrote about it here, just last year. I was sixteen at the time of this concert, and describe it as an "identity-forming moment" - 
I attended other all-ages shows as a teenager, and have always valued the fact, even as an adult, that certain venues and bands put them on, so kids who are fans of non-mainsream music (like punk) can see the bands they like play, have a chance to socialize en masse with like-minded music fans, and so forth. Without my early formative experiences such as that Dead Kennedys all-ages show, I would not be the person I am. Since, in fact, I was a pretty depressed, unhappy teenager, who occasionally contemplated suicide, and who found great joy, inspiration, and sustenance in punk culture, it is possible that had I not been exposed to the shows I was able to see as a young person, not only would I not be the person I am today, but I would not be around, period. An excellent song from the punk scene, the Subhumans' "In Good Company," captures much of how I felt as a teenager - entirely alienated from mainstream culture, and looking desperately for an alternative, which I found in punk:
When I interviewed Gerry Hannah, the author of that song, for Big Takeover magazine, he had the following to say about it:
Gerry: It’s aimed at people - it’s the kind of thing that I wish somebody had said to me when I was 19 or 20 or 21, you know, when I was feeling really lost and I was feeling all alone and there wasn’t anybody else that was like me. I was just this freaky young kid who didn’t accept what was going on around me. I didn’t want to be part of the mainstream world, it turned me off, but I felt like there was no one to turn to; I was the only person in the world who was like that, and I didn’t know what to do. And that’s largely the hole that punk rock filled for me - and for thousands of other people, too, that were in the same boat. But it’s attempting to reach out to young people who really feel like something’s not right in the world, and they’re not right with what’s expected of them in the world, but they don’t know what to do. And there’s tons of pressure on them to conform and to be like the illusion, the smoke-and-mirrors circus that they see going on around them, and they really don’t want to, because they feel deep down inside that it’s false, that there’s something wrong with it... but the pressure keeps on coming: school teachers, church leaders, business leaders, parents, all sorts of people are pressuring them to conform, and if you’re rebelling against that onslaught of pressure and you feel like you’re alone and you don’t have any sort of support network, eventually you’re either going to surrender to that pressure or maybe you’re going to do something really harmful to yourself - or to other people. 

Allan: You mention Columbine. 

Gerry: That’s right. A lot of young people have hurt themselves because they felt alienated and unloved and that they didn’t fit with the expectations that other people in the world around them had of them... and a few young people have hurt other people, sometimes really badly - and then hurt themselves. It’s basically an attempt to reach out and say, look, you’re not alone. Don’t allow them to convince you that you are alone, and that the way you feel is somehow bad and freaky and unacceptable. There’s a whole family of people that feel more or less the same as you, and those people have come together and done things and acted as a community and been supportive of each other, and they’re still doing it. You need to find those people, you need to connect with those people, y’know? You don’t have to be part of this world that you feel is false and a dead-end road. You can live outside of that. There are many communities outside of that - and you need to hook up with them, and find them. 

Allan: It seems almost paternal - if you had a son, say. 

Gerry: I suppose you could say that, yeah. I don’t have a son, but if I had a child and he or she were having problems with mainstream society - and he or she probably would, because they would have grown up in my household, and we don’t have TV and stuff like that. “Why don’t we have TV,” I’m sure a child would ask. Well, because we think for the most part, it’s bullshit. It’s brainwashing and it’s like bad drugs - it’s like having a pusher sitting in your living room continuously handing you crack, when you need to get on with other shit in your life, and you need to think independently and clearly, and the pusher is not allowing you to. so yeah, if I had children, it’s probably something I would end up saying to them: “Look, you don’t have to be part of this world that you feel is false and a dead-end road. You can live outside of that. There are many communities outside of that - and you need to hook up with them, and find them. You need to find loving, caring people that aren’t full of shit and establish relationships with them. 
These are moving, sincere words. Gerry doesn't go on to mention that one good place for young people to find the sort of connections he's speaking about is all-ages shows, but you surely get the idea: for punk kids, for non-mainstream kids, for creative, musically inclined kids, and even for alienated and angry kids, having access to the community and camaraderie they find at all ages shows is AN IMPORTANT EXPERIENCE. 
It's hard enough for kids to get access to live music without the paternalistic meddlings of the LCLB. The few venues that occasionally put on all ages shows are doing this, generally, as a sort of community service, since they LOSE MONEY on alcohol sales during these events. All ages shows are rare enough without making it impossible for these venues to occasionally host them.
Of course, occasionally all-ages shows can be held in venues where alcohol is NEVER served - here in the suburbs, sometimes punk and metal shows take place at rented church halls (see here for more on that). I have been to such shows, and seen SOME kids sitting on the church lawn getting shitfaced before going inside. Should the LCLB then make it impossible for all ages shows to be held in church halls? 
Throughout my life, punk rock has remained a great source of inspiration and sustenance for me. At 44, I still count myself as a punk rocker, though now I am meeting and interviewing my heroes of my youth (I talk to Joe Keithley, whose band DOA has also put on All-Ages shows on various occasions, about the positive influences of punk, here. Keithley hopes to move from a career in punk to a career in the NDP).
The decision of the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch to make it impossible for venues like the Rickshaw to occasionally de-license and host all ages events is a bad one for many reasons. Mike Usinger goes into several of these, but here's another: just because SOME kids drink before, during, or after concerts, there is absolutely no reason to punish kids who don't drink, but are fans of live music - especially non-mainstream varieties - by making it even harder for them than it already is to go to shows. The LCLB should reconsider this very bad, unnecessary decision. 
Thank you for reading this.

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