[xrr rating=3.5/5]During the early-to-mid-2000s, Canada was suddenly turning out prominent bands such as Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Wolf Parade making it once again a hub of indie music. There was a real sense of community and collectiveness at that time; it was if all us indie kids suddenly had our aspirations and tastes affirmed by a mass market. There was a romantic sense of nowness, of being part of something, even in the smallest way, alive, breathing and significant. That sense of immediacy and interconnectedness is the lifeblood of Liz Worth’s Treat Me Like Dirt, an oral history of the Toronto punk scene from its relative birth in 1977 until 1981. Through a number of interviews with people involved in the scene, from musicians to promoters and club owners, Worth details how Toronto became a hub of punk music and lifestyle in the late ‘70s.

Like the mid-aughts indie scene, the Toronto punk scene thrived on a real sense of community and collectivity. One glance at Worth’s “cast of characters” at the very front of the book, which is a lengthy list of the interviewees, proves that the entire scene was interconnected, as a drummer for one band was likely a second guitarist or backup vocalist for another band – everyone worked together in forging an identity for Toronto and for punk music. The punk scene thrived on this close relationship between everyone involved. While feuds and disagreements are inevitable in a crowded music scene where there’s money to be made and gigs to be booked (and Worth has certainly collected a fair share of those conflicts here), the overall tone of Treat Me Like Dirt is one of opportunity and nonchalance. There’s also a chronology at work that allows the first-hand accounts to flow fairly seamlessly and create a linear narrative for newcomers to Toronto punk. The earliest chapters detail the very beginnings of the scene, when guys like Blair Martin (who played in the Androids, Teenage Head and the Raving Mojos) and Freddy Pompeii (the Viletones, the Secrets and also Thee Immaculate Hearts) were merely kids hanging out near the Rosedale subway, getting drunk on cheap wine and fucking in alleys. The arc continues from there, delving into the inanities of the music industry, feuds with band members, and everything else that was sex, drugs and rock and roll in Toronto.

Structurally, Treat Me Like Dirt is both fascinating and innately frustrating. Stitched together from over 200 interviews, the first-person viewpoint provides unprecedented access into Toronto’s punk scene. Members of the Forgotten Rebels, Teenage Head, the Diodes and Simply Saucer all make multiple appearances, sharing stories about busted gigs, living on scraps of food, or the threat of punk acts moving in from New York and the UK. Steven Leckie (aka. Nazi Dog), recounts some of the most outrageous tale in this collection, including throwing Nazi medals to the audience at shows and cutting himself on stage. Though it can be difficult to parse out the facts from the fiction, the truth from the rock myth, the stories are infectious and increasingly outlandish. Navigating the book, though, is tedious at times and takes away from the overall experience of the captivating first-hand recollections. When reading about the murder of Alex “Sandy” Leblanc, a club owner and prominent member of Toronto’s gay community, it’s frustrating to have to turn back to the “cast of characters” to get a sense of who’s telling the story. If you have trouble remembering whom Mr. Shit or Nip Kicks is, you have to disrupt the flow of the narrative and flip back to the front of the book. The amount of names and band associations to remember is staggering, and there’s no easy, clear way to present the oral format in book form. This extended cast of characters also provides some tiring overlap throughout the book. Perhaps unavoidably, many band members share similar recollections of specific events. When Gary Pig Gold, Zero, Larry Leblanc and others are relating their personal anecdotes about hearing of Elvis’s death in 1977, the details overlap and the narrative suffers because of this. It happens often throughout Treat Me Like Dirt, a structural flaw that detracts from the otherwise exhilarating stories and perspectives on display.

Still, Treat Me Like Dirt is grand in its scope and detail, a unique peak behind the curtains of Toronto’s punk scene. It’s a comprehensive exploration of the identity of Toronto’s punk scene, yet also acts as a welcome primer for those unfamiliar with any of the band names mentioned above. At the end of the book, Worth, with the help of Frank Manley, includes a discography of essential releases from the artists mentioned throughout. This small addition is really the core of book because, after all the stories and myths are told, we’re left with an urge to explore the music itself.

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