Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Who are they?

Mystery trio, Toronto 1995

ANOTHER CONTACT SHEET WITHOUT ANY DETAILS. A trio of men on a stage. Early 1995, shot for NOW magazine. That's all I know.

What I do know is that I meant this to be blurred; there are several frames in a row where I toyed with the focus, pulling it further out as I shot. If you want to know what it looked like in focus, here you go:

Mystery trio, Toronto 1995.

I'm sure you'll understand why I prefer the blurred version.

I had been shooting for NOW at least twice a week for several years by the time I took this, and the challenge to do something new was overwhelming. I was handing in diptychs and triptychs and collages, shooting parts of faces and bits of bodies - feet and torsos and hands. I was assigned restaurants and would hand in shots of chairs and place settings, pots and pans and rows of wine glasses. Even when I had to shoot people, I was trying to take them out of the photo. I was trying to tell myself something, but what?

My portraits were getting more indistinct - shot with razor-thin depth of field and printed through a binder of gauze and tissue and soft-focus filters to add in the blur and grain that excellent gear, modern film technology and my own painfully acquired skill were intent on taking away. I had gotten good and it had gotten boring and I wanted to bring back the joy of discovery and happy accidents that I remembered from my first years with a camera.

Ten years into my career I realized that a camera could be used to make images that didn't look like what we saw. I don't know what took me so long. I had discovered the Pictorialists by this point, but I also had a memory of Gerhard Richter's paintings at a big show of modern European art at the AGO, way back in high school, before I owned a camera or even knew I wanted one. I was startled that an artist would go through the effort of making a huge canvas look like the sort of accident you produce when you're checking your settings or blowing off a frame at the start of a roll. I was struck by the possibilities, and in my early thirties I was desperate for possibilities.


Thursday, December 25, 2014


Jameson Avenue, Toronto, December 2001

I DON'T IMAGINE THERE'S ANYTHING MORE PURELY PHOTOGRAPHIC THAN SHOOTING LIGHTS. This was taken almost fifteen years ago, just a few blocks from our apartment, on a street in Parkdale that encourages a friendly competition between the residents of its less-than-luxurious apartments to put on a display of Christmas lights.

I was assigned to write a piece about the street for Toronto Life, and spent an evening there just after dusk with my Rolleiflex, some rolls of Ilford Delta 400 and a tripod. This shot didn't make the cut for technical reasons, but I've always liked it nonetheless for its wild patterns and an illusion of depth and even movement.

The American flag in the top left corner also reminds me that this was taken just a few months after 9/11, when emotions were ragged and there was still a lot of bruised empathy in the air. It seems like so long ago now.

Here's wishing everyone a safe and Happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

London, Christmas 1997

Volvo Amazon, Hampstead, London 1997

SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO I FINALLY CROSSED AN OCEAN. An old friend was living in London with his girlfriend and wanted me to spend Christmas with them. I was 33 and single and desperate for something to knock me out of what seemed like a rut so I packed a bag and a camera and crossed the Atlantic for the first time.

My first few nights were spent experiencing something wholly new to me - jet lag. I'd sit up at night in my room in their top floor flat in Notting Hill and look over the rooftops toward the Westway and wonder: What next? My life had reached what seemed to me a crucial point; I was in my mid-thirties and single and watching my career contract perceptibly every year. I made enough money to get by but luxuries - like vacations - were beyond my means. I wouldn't even be in London if my friend hadn't paid for my ticket.

Most of all I felt terribly alone, but I had felt this way for long enough that it had begun to feel relatively normal, like a chronic illness that could be controlled but would never go away. I'd forget about it most of the time, but then came the days - like the ones where a slippage of time zones had deprived me of sleep - where it would pull me up short and make me feel unmoored and adrift.

Victoria & Albert Museum, London 1997

There was a whole new city to explore but for some reason - timidity, lack of funds, the immense gravitational pull of a pregnant woman close by - I stuck close to Elgin Crescent. We visited the Victoria & Albert and the British Museum (a Hogarth exhibition I was dying to see) and strolled around Soho and Knightsbridge. I made Christmas dinner - ham and turkey - which meant visiting London's superb butchers and fishmongers and living in the shadow of their impossibly high standards afterwards.

Even at the time I knew I was missing an opportunity. A quick trip on the Tube would have taken me to the Imperial War Museum or a walk around Whitehall or Greenwich or Oxford Street. I'd brought my last Spotmatic with me - the Pentax SV with the helpful lighting guide in surgical tape on the body - and sparingly shot my way through three or four rolls.

Highgate Cemetery, London 1997

One drizzly day Paul and I made a trip to Highgate Cemetery, one of the London sights I knew I wanted to see - and photograph. Shooting in Highgate is, frankly, a bit of a cheat; it's one of those places where you'll get a decent shot no matter where you point your lens - acres and acres of picturesque ruin that looks like a Hammer Pictures theme park.

Highgate Cemetery, London 1997

What I remember most is the weather during this mostly snowless holiday season. The vast variety and constancy of English rain is a cliche, but as soon as we left the Tube at Hampstead station I was struck by the dampness in the air - a kind of particulate fog that meant I had to wipe dry my camera lens every time I took a shot; it wasn't rain as much as a light fog with raindrops suspended in the cool, humid air. I wondered that the whole country wasn't thick with moss and mold.

Pierre and I smoke outside Waterloo Station. Photo by Paul Sarossy.

Just after Christmas our friend Pierre came over for a visit from Paris on the Eurostar. A plan to spend New Year's Eve in Paris came and went and we ended up ushering in 1998 in Notting Hill. Paul and Geraldine called it an early night so Pierre and I wandered the streets south toward Kensington and back again searching fruitlessly for a pub or a party. We burned through a pack of his cigarettes and mostly talked about our troubles with women.

Hampstead, London 1997

I came back with a few good photos and an overwhelming sense that things couldn't go on the way they were going. My life needed shaking up or else I'd end up everyone's hapless third wheel, a friend whose simmering life crisis made them an object of pity and, occasionally, a source of irritation.

I would meet the woman who became my wife two weeks later.


Monday, December 22, 2014


Caledon, Ont., Christmas Day, 1988

IT BEGAN SNOWING DURING ON THE WAY TO TERRA COTTA. We were driving to my sister's place in the country and it had been a green Christmas up till now. That would change quickly.

Holidays with my sister were a refuge. It was almost two years since mom had died, and we were still feeling bereft, so these Christmas retreats up in the woods were solace. My girlfriend would always fly to California to spend the holidays with her parents so I was happy to get away from the apartment and the city and feeling alone.

Caledon, Ont., Christmas Eve 1988

The snow started falling on the drive north from the city, dusting the fields outside Georgetown. I was still working at the record store, but I was just a few months from being fired from what would be my last retail job and begin working full time as a photographer. I took my camera everywhere I went, afraid to miss the chance at any shot that might help me build a reputation.

We'd just moved into the place in Parkdale - the loft with the hostile landlord and the thugs he'd hired as superintendents. Eventually I'd end up there alone, the girlfriend and the landlord long gone, and the heyday of my career as a photographer would happen in those three drafty rooms overlooking Queen Street. And all that time my trips north to Terra Cotta were the closest I'd ever get to a vacation from either Toronto or the anxiety of freelance work and bachelorhood.

The next day the show had dusted every tree up and down the road. I took the dogs for a walk and enjoyed that fantastic winter silence, broken only by our footsteps, the panting of the dogs, and the shutter of my Spotmatic.

Caledon, Ont., Christmas Day, 1988


Thursday, December 18, 2014


Voivod, Montreal Dec. 1989

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO SPEND MONEY TO MAKE MONEY. Or at least that's what they say. Back in late 1989 I was as ambitious as I would ever be, and desperate to get clients in the United States. I still not-so-secretly planned to make the big move to New York City one day, to what was (and maybe still is - I wouldn't know anymore) the biggest market for editorial photography on the continent. My friend Chris had brokered an introduction to Edna Suarez, the photo editor at the Village Voice, and just after the film festival that year I'd sent portraits of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki to her on spec.

Edna must have liked them, because a month or so later she called me with an assignment - one that began with the words "How hard would it be for you to get to Montreal?"

Voivod were a heavy metal band from Quebec who, by 1989, had evolved from a thrash band to a more progressive outfit. Their latest album, Nothingface, was a critic's favorite and the Voice was planning to run a feature on them in their annual Pazz & Jop Poll issue - a big deal in my circle of rock critic geek buddies. They needed a nice photo, though, and Edna thought I could just pop up to Montreal and take it for them.

If you're from around these parts, you know that Toronto to Montreal is an only slightly gruelling drive of a few hours, but I was a struggling freelancer, and a car would be overhead that would bleed my meagre profits dry. (I also didn't have a license. Still don't. That has to change.) I accepted the gig without hesitation, got the band's manager's number from Edna, and knowing that a plane would have put me in the red for months, called VIA Rail for timetables. (This is years before the internet, remember, and the train is still cheaper now, but only barely.)

The best deal was an overnight train, so I packed the equivalent of a studio - my ProFoto kit with three heads, light stands, my Nikon F3 and either the Mamiya C330 or a Rollei. It was a back-breaking amount of gear for one person to carry, but I got it on the train, tried my best to sleep in my coach class seat, and arrived in Montreal on a Saturday morning just after a snowstorm that had left ass-high drifts everywhere. I hauled my gear from the Gare Centrale upstairs to the dining room at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, ordered breakfast and waited for Voivod's manager.

Voivod, Montreal, Dec. 1989

I had a soft spot for Voivod. How could you not like a band that releases a record with a title like Rrröööaaarrr, and whose members went by the aliases Snake, Piggy, Blacky and Away? Before I'd finished breakfast their manager arrived, then helped me haul my gear through the snow to his car, and out to a massive rehearsal studio in an industrial park in the suburbs.

Most of the bands I knew rehearsed in damp basements or garages or dingy industrial spaces with dodgy power and worse security. Montreal and the province of Quebec, however, had decided to bankroll the conversion of a warehouse into a vast rehearsal complex, and I marveled as we walked down endless hallways where music pounded from behind closed doors and musicians loitered in the hallways or by coffee machines.

I met the band, who were amazed that a New York paper would send someone all the way from Toronto to take their picture, but also that I'd hauled so much gear there by train. I was grateful that I'd bothered, though, and intent on making a good impression, I didn't want to be hampered by lack of light or any other technical obstacle. I wanted to send Edna several good set-ups and show her that, even if I was marooned in Toronto, I'd go the extra mile to get a shot.

Snake, Piggy, Blacky and Away, Montreal, Dec. 1989

We worked for a couple of hours, the band trying not to get too bored, me at the edge of my technical competence. Even before I was finished I was sure that the shot just above, lit from overhead against a backdrop of egg crate sound insulation, was probably the best thing I'd get.

When I was done, we packed up my gear and headed off to a Ste. Hubert Chicken for lunch. I had a very "Anglo in Quebec" moment: I tried ordering in what remained of my high school French, and the waitress curtly answered me in English. I tried to make a joke with the band about how little French I'd learned after over a decade of mandatory French and official bilingualism.

"That's because you didn't try," Snake told me, sternly.

I wanted to make a crack about Quebec bands who record in English, but thought better of it. From the ass-high snow early in December to the vast government-funded band rehearsal complex to the jab at my Anglophone indifference, I was having a uniquely Quebec experience. In lieu of an easily definable Canadian national identity, moments like this would have to do.

The Voice used the shot, and I ended up getting more work from Edna, both at the Voice and later at the New York Times. I'd end up working for quite a few New York clients, but I never moved there, for reasons best examined in another post. By the time I'd paid for my train ticket, taxis to and from the train station, breakfast at the Queen Elizabeth, and film and processing, I don't think I made any money on the assignment. I don't think anyone has seen these photos in twenty-five years.

Voivod are still around, and released their 13th album, Target Earth, last year. Guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour died of colon cancer in 2005.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

White Zombie

White Zombie, Toronto, May 1988

THIS WAS THEM BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS. I'll be frank and say now that I had no idea that White Zombie would become as big as they did, even when - perhaps especially when - I was a big fan. And as far as I can tell the band was probably as surprised as I would be.

I heard of the band through my buddy Tim, who described them as a "metal Pussy Galore" - a comparison it was tempting to make since they shared a label and the cover of White Zombie's Soul Crusher was shot by the same photographer (Michael Lavine) who did PG's Right Now!. The comparison might have been a little facile but to be frank I was happy to find out there was a metal Pussy Galore.

Both bands were from New York, and both seemed to revel in pulling apart and defiantly reassembling their respective genres of music - metal and garage rock. The cool kids were all about semiotics at the time, so I guess you might have called it "deconstruction." Well, I didn't but I'm sure someone did.

White Zombie, Apocalypse Club, Toronto, May 1988

The band were playing the Apocalypse, the sort of amiable shithole of a club that you spend nights in for a couple of years and never miss when it inevitably closes. The Nerve had run Tim's review of Soul Crusher just a month before - a masterpiece of sorts that began with "As much as I admired Lester Bangs..." and ended with "EAT MY DUST, FUCK-FACE." When your friend commits thoughts like this to paper it's a kind of dare.

With the Nerve behind me and the help of Elliott Lefko, who booked almost everything worth seeing in Toronto in those days, I got the band to sit for a couple of rolls with my C330 and umbrella-bounced flash. I didn't know where I'd get the shots printed and I still don't know today - these photos haven't gotten past contact sheets since I shot them over twenty-five years ago.

White Zombie, Apocalypse Club, Toronto, May 1988

The club was hardly packed, and much as I might have enjoyed White Zombie's fantastically abrasive version of '70s metal, I'd never have pegged them for a stadium filler, which is probably why I ended up filing these photos unsold. In any case, this is the lineup just before the one that became famous; guitarist John Ricci would leave the band a year later, to be replaced by Jay Yuenger, who currently runs one of my favorite blogs. (CORRECTION: I'm told that this is actually Tom "Five" Guay and not John Ricci, who was only with the band for a few months.)

They were terribly nice. Rob, the lead singer, confirmed the rumour that he worked on Pee-Wee's Playhouse, and when I offered them the use of my couch and floor for the night, they politely demurred, saying they had a hotel. I left the show with a bit of a ringing in my ears and a really great t-shirt that I wish I still had today.

(UPDATE: Thanks for the link, J!)


Friday, December 12, 2014


I ALWAYS LOVED SEEING SHOTS LIKE THIS AT THE END OF ROLLS, which is why I always saved them. This isn't a trimming from the marble box but a 4x6 machine print of the first frame off a roll, date and location unknown.

It's easy to forget that photography really isn't about what you're shooting but how light is reflecting back at a lens, which would be my profound thought for today. I do know that every person holding a camera is an abstract artist waiting to happen.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Jon Spencer, Toronto, Sept. 21, 2004

I ENDED UP PHOTOGRAPHING JON SPENCER more than almost anyone who wasn't friend or family. This happened mostly because Jon and his band, Pussy Galore, made Right Now!, my favorite record of the '80s and still in my top ten today.

My good friend Tim Powis was the first person I knew to jump on the Pussy Galore bandwagon, and most of the staff at Nerve magazine rode it for at least a little while. (For what it's worth, Tim and I have never gotten off.)

The band were one of the few things my then-girlfriend and I could agree on, but then I know she fancied Jon more than she'd let on to me.

It's not hard for me to understand what I loved about Right Now!, even today. The '80s are remembered as a colourful and crass decade, where consumerism rallied after a decade-long lull, pop culture embraced slickness, and the first stirrings of what we called political correctness were making people a little less free than they should have been, especially in the endgame phase of a century-spanning struggle against totalitarianism.

Pussy Galore and Right Now! were, by contrast, ragged, reactionary and lo-fi; pallid, black-clad, foul-mouthed, pointedly offensive and animated by either cartoon morbidity or sullen horniness. I knew how I felt, and it was certain neither Wham nor Whitesnake represented my mood.

Pussy Galore, Toronto, 1988

I photographed the second (or third?) line-up of Pussy Galore when they swung through town touring in support of Right Now!, playing at the Silver Dollar - a former Vegas-style showbar that had just recently been a strip club. It was the perfect place to see the band, who were themselves more interested in going down to the bigger room downstairs to watch Schoolly D.

My friend Chris Buck also shot the band around this time, and I always thought my portrait of the group stood in the shadow of his shoot. I probably used my Nerve connection - and a friendship with Elliot Lefko, the promoter - to arrange a few minutes with the band, shooting them in a room behind the bar with my C330 and a flash bounced into an umbrella.

The result was a hard negative to print, in either the darkroom or Photoshop. I don't know that it's ever been published anywhere until now.

Pussy Galore, Apocalypse Club, Toronto, Aug. 1989

The band passed through Toronto again a year later with yet another lineup, Julie Cafritz having left the band and Neil Hagerty re-joining. It was the Dial M for Motherfucker tour, and I shot the band live for the first time in addition to a hasty portrait session in the dressing room.

Pussy Galore, Toronto, Aug. 1989

After the gig, my girlfriend suggested that the band stay at our loft in Parkdale if they didn't have a hotel. They accepted, and so began a tradition of Jon's bands crashing with me whenever they passed through town.

It was on this tour that I noticed that Jon, who had striven mightily to seem inarticulate and even monosyllabic when I met him the year before, was letting that facade slip and allowing the onetime Brown University semiotics student behind it all out for a roam.

My sole lingering memory of the band's stay at my place is Neil Hagerty staying up all night drinking beer and listening to old bebop records on headphones. We woke up the next day to find him slumped in the chair, headphones still on, a pile of empties on the floor. He'd drained every bottle and can in my fridge.

Once again, I don't know that anybody has ever seen these photos, which show more than a little bit of incipient grunge-era aesthetics happening.

Boss Hog, Apocalypse Club, Toronto, April 1990

Pussy Galore was pretty much defunct when Jon returned to town a year later with Boss Hog, the band led by his then-girlfriend and future wife, Christina Martinez. The Unsane were their support act - Boss Hog also used their rhythm section, drummer Charlie Ondras and bassist Pete Shore - and both bands stayed at my place. (The Unsane would stay with me again when they passed through town on their own not long afterwards. Charlie screwed a girl he picked up on my kitchen floor and she stole one of my towels.) 

I shot the show on assignment for NOW but for some reason I didn't try to talk the band into a portrait shoot. I regret that now, but I have always been intimidated by really good-looking women, and couldn't think of a way of broaching the subject with Christina. This is the first time I've printed any of these shots in almost 25 years.

Not long afterward we began hearing rumours that Jon had formed another band. I ran into someone who'd seen them in the States and he said that it was a trio, and that they basically just vamped on blues riffs while Jon shouted "blues explosion!" over the top. I thought that sounded great.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Toronto, June 13, 1993

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion finally arrived in Toronto after releasing three records in rapid succession, with a fourth about to come out. They played the Opera House, a former cinema on the far side of the Don River, with the Muffs opening, and once again I offered the band a place to stay.

I asked Jon if we could do a photo session the next morning, and I suppose he said yes as a sort of payment for years of offering a place to stay and a relatively clean bathroom. I took the band and my Rolleis out to what was once Parkdale's train station, a weedy stretch of tracks near where Queen West met Dufferin and Gladstone. I shot the band out under a cloudless sky with a deep orange or maybe even red filter over the lens, then took them to the old stone stairs that once led from the street to the station and shot a couple of rolls of cross-processed Fujichrome 400.

I'd been working on a retro look to my work for some time by then, and I'm pleased to discover that my colour shots actually came close to aping the peculiar cast of old colour prints or fading Kodak slides. I'd have been pretty happy then - if I'd ever bothered making prints from this shoot. Once again, the first time these have ever been seen.

Jon Spencer, Toronto, Sept. 21, 2004

I would meet Jon and Christina again after that when Boss Hog and the Blues Explosion passed through town, but I didn't bother bringing a camera and they no longer needed a floor to crash on. It would be a decade before I trained a lens on Jon again, when I talked the free national daily into assigning a writer to interview him when he was passing through town promoting Damage. As the paper's photo editor, I assigned myself the shoot.

I told the writer that Jon and I went way back and that he'd know who I was, but long minutes passed in the hotel room before Jon finally did a triple take as I stood waiting with my camera and said "I know you, right?"

We caught up, and mostly talked about our kids. When the interview was over I sat Jon in a corner of the room where the sunlight seemed to skim the back of the wall and took what I think are the best shots I ever did of Jon Spencer. And this time they actually got published, but I had to be the photo editor to make that happen.


Monday, December 8, 2014


Abbie Hoffman, Toronto, Sept. 1988

ABBIE HOFFMAN WAS IN HIDING, A FUGITIVE FROM THE LAW, or at least that was the last I'd heard of him. In fact he'd been out from underground for a few years now, and was in Toronto to help publicize Growing Up In America, a film about his generation of radicals, twenty years on from the high water mark of the '60s.

It was a news event as much as anything else, and while I don't remember having a client for the pictures, I pushed aside my dislike of shooting press conferences to take my place in the huddle of cameras. I'd finally invested in some telephoto lenses and was certain that I'd get something usable, even if I didn't have a clue where it would run.

Abbie Hoffman, Toronto, Sept. 1988

The Reagan years were nearly over and the end of the '80s was in sight, but the '60s still lingered, mostly because the people making the films were children of that period. It had been just five years since The Big Chill had been a festival hit, the Grateful Dead had an single in the charts just a year before, and the era's half life didn't seem to be waning.

Despite that, Hoffman was in a prickly, defensive mood for much of the press conference, and quite a few of my frames capture him with this snarling expression. For not the first time I couldn't help but wonder how people who talked so much about "peace and love" confronted the world with such poorly-concealed anger and even contempt.

Abbie Hoffman killed himself in April of 1989.


Thursday, December 4, 2014


Rick Rubin, NYC, Oct. 1985

I MIGHT HAVE GONE TO NEW YORK CITY TO SEE A GIRL but I was an ambitious young man and boarded the plane with a list. I consulted with my rock critic friends from Nerve and hit the ground with some phone numbers and appointments meant to fill the days while she was at work and I was at liberty in the media capital of the world.

Rick Rubin was still a name only music geeks and serious hip hop fans knew in the fall of 1985. (And it has to be understood that the only hip hop fans then were serious ones.) Def Jam Records was known for singles like LL Cool J's "I Want You" and "It's Yours" by T La Rock and Jazzy Jay, but albums such as License To Ill and Reign in Blood wouldn't come out until 1986, so Rubin was mostly known as the kid who'd run a record label from his NYU dorm room.

Rubin had moved out of his dorm and into an office at 1133 Broadway when I turned up to interview and photograph him. The office was, frankly, only barely more professional looking than the dorm room, with a huge yoga poster on the wall and a big overstuffed floral couch that screamed "parental cast-off." While I waited, Rubin did business on the phone sunk back in the couch, so I snapped a few photos.

Rick Rubin, NYC, Oct. 1985

The real hip hop fans at Nerve were back in Toronto, so I tried to remember the questions they told me to ask him. Def Jam looked like a rickety bit of business on that October afternoon, but I didn't doubt for a second that this kid with his beard and Black Flag t-shirt was probably going to be a big deal. I just wish I'd had a better reason to talk to him.

The photos I took are nothing special. I wouldn't call them portraits by any standard I hold - then or now - and they only barely succeed as snapshots. If they're worth anything it's as a record of a moment with a person who would succeed beyond even his own wildest dreams - or at least that's my intuition - at a moment that's somewhat underdocumented for his fans. I just happened to be there.

(2019 UPDATE: I've re-scanned and improved on the original shots I posted here, mostly because I was asked to provide a shot of Rubin for The Beastie Boys Story, a live theatre event, directed by Spike Jonze, that the remaining Beastie Boys are staging this spring.)


Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Franc Roddam, Toronto, Sept. 1988

FRANC RODDAM WAS AT THE FILM FESTIVAL WITH A NEW MOVIE, and I wish I'd cared about it when I took this portrait but to be frank (no pun intended) I only really cared about one film he'd directed, almost a decade previous. And even though I don't remember much - if anything - about this shoot, I'm pretty sure that during the whole five to ten minutes I might have been in the hotel room with him, I never told him how much I liked Quadrophenia.

I was a teenage mod. Well, only for about eight months, but that was enough time to get a parka and a pair of desert boots, see the Specials in an old ballroom on the lakeshore, and stand up with another mod friend after a matinee showing of Quadrophenia at the old Varsity theatres just after it was released and hear people mutter and tsk-tsk when they saw the Union Jacks on the backs of our German army surplus parkas.

"Didn't they learn anything from the movie?" I heard one woman exclaim to her friend.

My mod period was brief, preceded as it was by a punk period (long hair shorn away, Salvation Army clothes, pegged jeans, bowling shoes, buttons for bands like the Clash and Devo) and followed by a Teddy Boy/Zoot Suit phase that lasted through the remainder of high school, begun after I discovered rockabilly and the Benny Goodman small group records that got played in one Queen Street vintage shop I hung around.

I sold my parka to a friend in school and watched as an explosion of mods - on actual scooters! - showed up on the streets of Toronto. From what I hear some of them are still there.

It was more fun being the only mod at St. Mike's - definitely the only mod in Mount Dennis - and in any case I did learn from watching Roddam's film version of the Who's 1973 concept album that crowds made me wary and mobs were to be avoided. I liked the music and the clothes, to be sure, but British youth subcultures export very poorly, and Roddam's Quadrophenia taught me that dingy council houses, sunless skies and a bitterly conformist culture screwed down by class divisions was probably the sort of thing my grandparents were lucky to leave behind when they emigrated from Birkenhead and Lanarkshire.

Quadrophenia remains my favorite Who album if you don't count greatest hits packages like Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, but I've always found it irritating that Pete Townshend felt a need to use a ponderous, trumped-up pseudo-psychiatric term to describe Jimmy's very (to me) normal teenaged confusion and hormonal chaos.

What I loved about the film - and it too me years and several viewings to realize this - was the way it let Phil Daniels' Jimmy find a way out; as everyone involved with the film insists, that is him walking away from the wrecked scooter at the bottom of the cliffs at Beachy Head in the first shot of the film, finally letting go of the dubious comfort of the crowd. I still love Small Faces records and Ben Sherman polos today, but Roddam's film becomes a bit of a zombie movie as soon as Jimmy and his friends start chanting "We are the mods!' on the Brighton promenade.

I would have loved to talk to Roddam about all of this, but he was in Toronto to promote War Party, and in any case I'm sure he was tired of Quadrophenia even then, barely ten years after it came out. He's more relaxed about the cult status of his first feature film now, but then he's made all that money off of Masterchef, hasn't he?

A merely OK portrait, and a bitch to print thanks to seemingly embedded dust and a very messy grain structure in the shadows that required hours of spotting in Photoshop.