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Chapter 7

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 4 months ago

Chapter 7


The Burner Boys outside the Big O - they became the house band of the Club 140 - the hotel's notorious cabaret.



When word spread of The Burner Boys falling under the protection of Red Baker the first thing that happened was that Al got popped in the parking lot of the Olympic Hotel by a rival gang


The Olympic was a bad place. He and Tim were down there seeking cheap beer and dope when Al walked out to the Burner Boys van to get cigarettes. They never should have been there.


“Hey you!” a voice shouted from behind him.


Al turned. He had been followed out.


“Hey! Got any pussy in that van?”


In was the kind of mindless question that could come only from one of the Big O’s regulars. Paddy Hay wasn’t a person in the strictest sense. He was a stoat – one of those worthless weasel like creatures who overran Mr. Toad’s mansion in The Wind in the Willows and who were eventually chased back to hell.


“Does it look like there’s girls in there?” Al responded.


Paddy Hay ran up and decked Al with one punch.


Al lay on the ground and scrambled for his glasses. When he looked up he saw Paddy Hay fleeing back to a beat up turquoise blue 1957 Thunderbird. He was president of The Rogues, perhaps the only bike gang in history who couldn’t afford motorbikes. They practiced their hit and run tactics out of the Thunderbird as a kind of mobile clubhouse and their head office was the Big O.


But then that was The Big O. It was full of no account losers who operated under the radar of the police and neighborhood enforcers. In 1970 bars were required to have hotels. The Big O’s three floors housed a population of grease balls, ex-cons, welfare frauds, and dope dealers. The question as to which side of the law the Big O sat on is graphically answered by the experience of a young man named Jim Cathcart who, recently divorced, stayed in Room 9 for two weeks in 1970. He finally left because for the entire two weeks he was refused service in the coffee shop - they thought he was a narc. In the early evening native Indians would gather – 20 to a clan – take over three tables and eventually break out into inter-tribal fist fights. As the night grew later longtime customers looked like Stephen Hawking in his chair – only in this case instead of gasping for tubes of oxygen and water they were simply croaking for another beer.


The place was run by a squat, indestructible bartender named Teddy Rogers who was himself no stranger to violence. In the 1950’s he’d had his own gang who’d met rival gangs, some of whom had traveled great distances to participate, in set piece warfare in the Big O parking lot – the kind of fight where you could get your teeth knocked out by a pipe wrench. Teddy Rogers never lost. He went on to get a job at the hotel he had formerly used as a battleground. Now, at 260 pounds, he derived his moral authority from an immense beer gut and ran the place like a tough, short-tempered potentate. His wife ran the café and lounge. The only person on earth who could beat him up was Red Baker, with whom, ironically, he was best friends.


It seemed clear that every punk gang was now going to take a shot at us to prove themselves, yet at the same time it seemed unmanly to go whining back to Red Baker and Teddy Rogers about it. The complicated one upmanship politics of gang warfare were working against us. We had become a target.


On the strength of our play at the Rod and Gun Club we got another gig the following week. It was at a local ice rink which had been boarded down into a dance hall. For the first time we shared the bill with a major Vancouver band. Mock Duck regularly played big venues like The Afterthought and Retinal Circus and rubbed elbows with bands like Country Joe and the Fish, Fleetwood Mac and B.B. King. This was exactly the direction we wanted to go. I felt sure that if we pulled off a smooth, professional performance Mock Duck would be suitably impressed and we could schmooze them into helping us up the ladder.


Within minutes we had the crowd rocking. There were over a thousand people – an unheard of number just a few months ago. From my place high up on the stage the whirling, undulating crowd looked like a mating swarm of fish. We finished our two sets. It was now Mock Duck’s turn to play. We had handed them the crowd – hot and ready to rock - on a platter. They couldn’t have asked for more. For the first time in my life I felt like we had risen to a new professional level. I allowed myself to relax. They had to be impressed.


As Mock Duck watched approvingly from the sidelines we began to clear the stage. It was then that Tim rose from his drum set. He normally maintained a personal code of silence during gigs but now he approached the microphone.


“Our guitar player just got attacked by Paddy Hay and the Rogues down at the Big O!” he shouted.


There was a pause as the crowd listened and digested this.


“Do you think that’s right?”


“NO!!!” the crowd shouted back.


“Then let’s do something about it!”


“YESSSS!” they roared back louder.


“Then let’s go down to the Big O and kick shit!!!’ he was now like Mussolini hollering from a balcony.


“YAAAHHHH!!!” came the response.


I watched in horror as hostile, frenzied people streamed toward the exits. There was going to be a riot. If it didn’t happen at the Big O then maybe they’d start it right here.


I ran up and grabbed the mike. “Hold it!” I yelled. “Come back!”


There was the briefest pause.


“Mock Duck are going to play. Let’s give them a hand!”


Applause at this.


“Paddy Hay and the Rogues can wait. But after that, GIVE THEM NO PEACE!”


There was a huge roar of approval. Al and I quietly removed Tim from the stage. I thought it was a good display in crowd control – cause a riot then stop it - but Mock Duck looked on in horror. I went over to shake hands with their leader, Joe Mock, but I may as well have lifted my leg and farted. They were not impressed. Any hope of schmoozing our way up the ladder had vanished.


We had horrified one of the biggest bands in Vancouver but still our problems were not over. We immediately got a new gig at the Lynn Valley Community Center. It looked more like a bunker - a low squat cinderblock building at one end of a playing field that was covered with grafitti, but Lynn Valley’s notoriously troubled youth had to make do with it. It was almost as if the City Fathers had purposely drafted a recipe for disaster. One can imagine them at a planning meeting: ‘Let’s hold an unsupervised dance for bad teenagers at a remote spot, but within two blocks of a liquor store.’


The crowd was young and belligerent and within 15 minutes I could hear the sound of beer bottles shattering against brick walls. On the dance floor they writhed like a bag of snakes, but seemed less intent on the music than on mayhem. During the first break I walked across the dance floor, my feet crunching on broken glass. We’d just started the second set when a kid approached the stage. I leaned over to hear him.


“The Ant Hill Mob is going to wreck your van.”


I ran outside between songs. Sure enough, the van was jacked up on one side with blocks of wood and empty beer cases. It would only take a little more effort to turn it over and trash it. There was no way we could guard our van and play at the same time. The Ant Hill Mob was the second most powerful gang in Lynn Valley, but their attitude was that of every second banana organization – ‘we’re number two but we try harder.’


I ran back to the stage and got on the mike. “The Ant Hill Mob is trying to wreck our van. What are the Smiling Crabs going to do about it?” I was appealing to the better nature of the first most powerful gang.


Amazingly that produced a cheer – the first one we’d got.


“The Burner Boys dedicate this gig to the Smiling Crabs!” I shouted. “WE RULE TOGETHER!”


From the back of the hall the enraged leader of the Ant Hill Mob emerged. Chuckie Dixon, a viperous, heroin addicted runt who rode around on the shoulders of a six-foot-seven, redheaded giant named Peter Campbell. Chuckie was like some rasping asthmatic Napoleon on his steed, trying to rally his troops in a dying cause. It was too late. The Smiling Crabs – actually the Lynn Valley Society of Smiling Crabs - were bigger, older and more numerous. It was a remarkable organization in that many of its members were extremely intelligent – a tragic fact considering many died young from drug overdoses or car accidents. In this case they hauled The Ant Hill Mob out by the scruffs of their necks and forced them to dismantle their handiwork on the van in a show of public humiliation.


Thus, having put the run on The Rogues and having forged an alliance with The Smiling Crabs, we were momentarily secure. We could concentrate on working our way up the ladder on our own terms, where we did not have to behave properly in front of big name bands. Remarkably this began to happen. Our sometime manager Terry Salo got us gigs at Capilano College and The Vancouver School of Art. As well as being better paying, prestigious venues, the audiences were more intellectually inquisitive and could grasp the bitter irony behind a song like Methadrine.


Our luck continued to run. Sneek Snider re-emerged and got us two gigs on the Sunshine Coast –a Friday night at Roberts Creek where we played under a full moon to the same crowd that had nearly thrown us out six months ago for playing bluegrass but, now they loved us. Afterward Steve walked away with a softball sized wad of cash as our take from the gate. The next morning the second gig was cancelled without notice. This was to prove typical of Sneek’s tenuous booking policy, but he convinced us to hang around while he found us somewhere to play Saturday night. We went to a big roadside hotel called The Penninsula at eleven in the morning to wait. Naturally Sneak never returned with a gig, but in a remarkable display of fiscal irresponsibility we stayed at the bar drinking off the huge wad of cash.


At some point in the early afternoon Steve stopped us. “We’re spending all our money. I think we should catch the ferry home and save what’s left.”


To me this seemed wrong. I have never been one for early day time drinking but now... I voiced the opposite opinion from Steve's.


The rest nodded in my direction. This seemed reasonable. The vote had been held.


“I say we go,” said Steve, the most responsible.


Al, the second most responsible, considered this. “I think we should wait another hour for Sneek.”


Tim, the third most responsible, looked around the bar. There were some good looking women playing pool. “What the hell,” he said offhandedly. “Stay for an hour.”


As the least responsible member, I saw the way clearly. “We’re just starting to have fun,” I said.


Walkinshaw, not wanting to rock the boat, said, “I’m with you guys.”


An hour after that another vote: this time Al voted to leave but the rest voted to stay.


Another hour passed. The softball-sized wad of cash was shrinking down to the size of a baseball. Another ballot was held. Now everyone voted to stay except Tim, who mumbled something about getting home to see his girlfriend. On the next vote everyone voted to stay. It came my turn to vote.


“I say we should go,” I said happily, glad to have my chance to at last to do the right thing.


So it went through the afternoon and into the night in a uniquely rigged referendum where there was always one dissenting vote, but never enough to make a difference. It was very democratic in that each band member got his turn to vote responsibly yet still not spoil the fun. About eight I got up and went outside to the rear of the hotel. I lay down in the tall grass, looking at the stars and full moon and reflected that this was a pretty good life if we could keep it up. Then I had a refreshing nap. Two hours later I went back inside and Sneak had arrived with half a dozen women who had heard us play the night before and wanted to meet us. Sneek sat back, sucking his teeth and looking like a proud father. Waiters scurried around bringing us beer and deep fried oysters which Steve paid for from our now tiny wad of cash. Soon each of us was sitting beside an attractive, sexy woman in her twenties who hung on our every word. It was the kind of thing for which young Moslem men die in battle in order that they might reach paradise. We felt like we had entered some golden age.


There is only one problem with a golden age. A dark age always follows.

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