I lost my rock club virginity in 1987, a year before I became legally allowed to get sloshed in public. It was only fitting that my chosen arena for the all-important passage to metalhead manhood took place at The Gasworks, one of two high profile rock venues in Toronto – the other being the beloved original Rock N’ Roll Heaven – that played host to wannabes and would-bes and acknowledged stars during its quarter century run (Yes, the same Gasworks Mike Myers mentions in Wayne’s World, even though the film’s version of the club is “slightly” different from the original). As a wet-behind-the-ears teen I’d passed the nondescript Yonge Street club during countless trips to the Record Peddler, Cheapies and Sam’s, wondering what it was like to see the bands advertised in the bashed up showcase window outside playing what must be a pretty small fricking room. I’d heard the Gasworks name thrown around time and again by the big boys at arena shows over the years, which added to the mystique, making it one of the Places I Have To Check Out Before I Die.
Opportunity knocked during the summer of ’87, when a buddy suggested during one of our Friday night record store marathons that we try and get in. After all, underage 18 was close enough to legal 19 that we could probably handle the pressure. I considered pointing out that the bouncer hanging by the front door was on the humongous side, but nobody likes to be labelled a chickenshit. So, deep breath, and…. I learned a very important rule that I follow to this very day: if you act like you belong nobody is going to hassle you.
It was the start of a beautiful thing. Never mind paying big bucks for a concert ticket (a pittance by today’s “standards”), grabbing public transit and going to the Ex with 15,000 of my closest friends to check out some huge spectacle. This was life. The stink of stale beer and cigarettes, hot women that actually talked to me (okay, they wanted me to buy a drink or get the hell away from the bar, but still), metal and hard rock so loud it’d peel the enamel off your teeth the closer you were to the stage, and the king-sized bottles of beer which, as a Canadian kid used to drinking regular wobbly pops was sorta like drowning in the fountain of youth.
Prior to renovations in 1990 or so (someone step in here and set my head straight on that, please) The Gasworks was a dive in the finest sense of the word. Dimly lit, a bathroom manufactured in the wet portion of hell, dog-eared posters and pictures holding up better than the wall panelling, small round tables set up in the center of the room with red and white vinyl “tablecloths” stapled to the tops, food orders served up through a 1′ x 1′ hole in the wall, and bands playing seemingly every night. Not once did I ever feel uncomfortable or out of place, and I met quite a few people that I’m blessed to still be in contact with today.
During my third or fourth visit that first summer I learned a very valuable lesson in rock bar etiquette…
It was mid-week, myself and my partner in crime turned up for no other reason than it was The Gasworks. Grabbed a seat at one of the small floor tables and stuck around to check out the band for the night. It was your average cover act doing nothing special; not particularly good but far from insultingly bad, playing to a half full house of regulars and friends. And four mutant yuppies.
Smack dab in the middle of the setting described above, two couples looking as if they’d been abducted from a Miami Vice Glee Club parade sat at one table in the front row. White pants, assorted pastel shirts and / or cardigans, and deck shoes. I distinctly remember the deck shoes and wondering if they’d come in on a dare. And how in the hell did they get past the guy at the door? Strangely enough, the live-and-let-live attitude I’d sensed on that first night seemed to extend to the University Of Toronto Geek Patrol. Nobody but me seemed to notice or care they were even there… until the lead prep opened his mouth.
As soon as the band hit the stage the heckling started. Jarhead Yuppie Joe used every break in the set to carve the band for their music, their looks and their playing, egged on by his companions every step of the way. The singer did a decent job of trading insults or straight up ignoring the goon, but the constant needling was doing a good job of putting the screws to the general mood in the room. In the interest of defusing a potentially volatile situation, a longhair from one of the neighbouring tables made his way over mid-song, slowly leaned in to speak with Yuppie Joe while putting a companionable right hand on his back, and engaged him in conversation for about a minute before pouring the entire contents of his beer bottle down the back of Jarhead’s shirt.
As expected, the guy shot to his feet with a yelp. The moment he was upright, however, the bouncer swooped in – and yes, it is possible for a fridge-sized juggernaut to swoop – yanked Joe’s right arm up behind his back and escorted him to the street. Joe bitched and moaned the whole way. His litter-mates sat there, dumbfounded, eventually realizing their fearless leader wouldn’t be coming back, finally skulking out with their Benetton bags between their legs.
I seem to recall our saviour getting a round of applause, although I couldn’t swear to it. I do remember hanging around until an unhealthy hour and having one of many great times within The Gasworks’ hallowed walls. Not everybody knew your name, but you were always welcome so long as your mouth wasn’t as loud and offensive as your deck shoes.
For information on what you may have missed, or to go back and re-live The Gasworks a little, a Facebook page has been set up here by some of the faithful. An overview page can be found at this location.