Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review - No Means No - Going Nowhere

Chapter synopsis of "No Means No: Going Nowhere" written by Mark Black

The author starts out by exploring his introduction to No Means No, which like many punk rock stories involves a sibling. This happens in a number of ways, but in Mark's particular circumstance begins with an older brother moving from Glace Bay on Cape Breton Island to Nelson, BC, which for people not familiar with Canadian geography is pretty close to the farthest distance you can travel in Canada. In phone conversations Mark would get his brother to tell him about punk bands that he had seen. Not many, if any, bands would make it to Glace Bay. But Nelson was on the way to shows in Vancouver. It was his brother's difficulty with describing No Means No that intrigued Mark about the band. "Dance of the Headless Bourgeousie" was Mark's introduction to No Means No's material. This is more recent in terms of No Means No's back catalogue, but then we are talking about thirty years worth of music. "Going Nowhere" was the only song from that record that Mark considered punk sounding upon his first impressions. This bibliophonic has to be read through the lens of Mark Black, which is great because I know Mark from having put on a show for a band I was in and he made a lasting impression on me as an interesting kid. The book gave me an opportunity to learn more about him as well as No Means No.

The Myth is Real
This first chapters gets into how the Wright Brothers started playing music. This is good background which involves being army brats. Having moved around the country I think that might partially explain why No Means No were such tour hounds. The Wright Brothers may not have been very grounded to one community. Mark also explains that there was an 8 year difference between the brothers and playing music would be a great way to bridge that generation gap. John, the youngest brother, had some training with a school band. Rob was inspired by the Calgary punk scene, the Sex Pistols and Devo. In 1979, DOA played the university and that became a turning point for hooking them on the local punk scene. You often hear the story about Black Flag playing their first shows in little towns and when they came back the next year a scene was starting up. The same was true for DOA up in Canada and the experience had worked it's magic on the Wright Brothers. They also talk about the Ramones being a keystone group, which also figures into the author's story with his older brother coming to pick him up at baseball practise. This revisiting of ones roots may also explain the development of the Hanson Brothers and there are plenty of examples that followed like Criminal Damage and Hard Skin. Anyway the Wrights joined a cover band before starting No Means No to get some experience. The band was called Castle and the two would write original music outside of band time. They recorded a song on Rob's four track called "You're so Blind" which was a long meandering song with progressive song structures that evolved while playing them. That is kind of what Black Flag became. The first Wright brothers release had a Wire inspired number called "SS Social Service". The A Side was a Devo meets Joy Division song called "Look here comes the wormies" and together this became a No Means No / Mass Appeal split single that Ray Carter wrote about in the "All Your Ears Can Hear" compilation.

Punk bands have a good track record with writing insightful songs about their home town. No Means No is no exception. And yet without the song, which I didn't even know existed, No Means No are identified with Victoria. They are an unofficial ambassador for the province's capital. I stayed in Victoria for week and although I knew of other bands I kept thinking of it as No Means No's hometown. The song "Victoria" appears on "Mr. Right and Mr Wrong: One down and Two to go". The title of the LP is a play on the Meatmen song given the band's loss of Andy, but the song  "Victoria" is a play on the Kinks number by the same name. They just changed the lyrics to talk about unpleasant truths of this retirement city. The song is actually produced through a Hanson Brothers collaboration, but the song gets credited as a No Means No song.  This chapter goes on to explore things about Victoria which might help account for bands like the Neos. And conversely the chapter explains why people like Jesus Bonehead would escape to the larger metropolis of Vancouver.

Stock Taking
This chapter explores the thinking behind No Means No. This starts with an exploration of the name which is taken from an anti-rape slogan. The band doesn't really help with interpretations or explanations. This gives Mark creative licence to apply etymology to punk band names in general and No Means No in particular. Mark starts exploring the meaning behind songs and uses an example with the song that the book is titled after as an example of how songs can be wildly misinterpreted. Mark was working on a TV show about John Wayne Gacy at the time and thought the song was about him. No Means No resist providing explanations because they want the listener to apply their own meaning to the song. I get this although it can be annoying when you are looking for insight into a song. It could also be seen as a cop out with not wanting to provide explanations. Or it could be that the band thinks the subject matter is too ordinary to explain and as a result self-evident. The information vacuum on No Means No's material does have us debating and I wonder if a book like the "Stranglers: Song by Song" might be due for No Means No. This book starts it off with an interpretation of the "World Wasn't built in a day." John Samson from the Weakerthans notes that No Means No writes songs about "Existential darkness". Ford Pier remarks at the band's ability to frame complex philosophical musings in a way that doesn't sound to show offish. "Victoria" gets used to demonstrate layers of cerebral thought.

Canada is Pissed
This chapter explores Andy Kerr. He was in the Infamous Scientists a band that is confused as being the band that morphed into No Means No. And Mark breaks down a number of areas for the confusion. "Canada is Pissed" was an Infamous Scientists song which No Means No would cover later on and only helps to add to the confusion. The Infamous Scientists broke up in 1982. The band had John Wright playing in the band at the end. No Means No asked Andy to join No Means No which he did in 1983. This chapter is the closest thing to a discography which is only for the Kerr years which is roughly the first ten years. Mark writes about the importance of the "Wrong" album and delves into the song "Two Lips, Two Lungs, and One Tongue" as the punk version of the human condition. I remember taking a second year philosophy course which covered the basics in this area with Hobbes and Rousseau and I had never tried to apply this to a punk song. It does make sense out of the song, but I also think that this is another example of transference by the author. Psycho analysts would have a field day with this.

Blitzkrieg Hops
This chapter explores the origins of the Hanson Brothers starting out with fun facts about the characters in the Paul Newman film "Slapshot" where the characters come from. This hockey goon squad becomes the alter ego for the Ramones tribute band. The three chord side project of dumbed down songs is a head scratcher when compared to the cerebral and chord complicated No Means No. Searching for the Wright Brothers roots is how to make sense of this. The traumatic break with Andy Kerr left the band searching after what had been a fairly intense period of creativity in their first decade. The break of a jam band that combined three chord punk with their love for hockey, which is a genetic disposition for Canadians, and the particular area of goon culture within hockey allows for the worlds of punk and hockey to co-exist. Andy's roommate, Tom Holliston of the Show Business Giants, was asked to play guitar. He became Tommy Hanson. Bits of the Hanson Brothers discography get laid out on this chapter. Fun facts like "Sudden Death" being a tribute to DOA's "The Prisoner". The band also started up a campaign to get Dave "Tiger" Williams into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I'm Doing Well
This chapter starts out by explaining how Tom comes to join No Means No. It was on a Hanson Brothers tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1993. Tom played guitar differently and the transition wasn't easy. Lots of people, including myself, considered No Means No over after Kerr left. I haven't listened to an album post Kerr until this book. Mark makes the case that the band has never stopped being No Means No. John worked with Tom for a year to get him up to snuff. And the reason why they stuck with Tom was chemistry. Something you can't teach. This chapter is mostly about Tom's transition.

My Game
The third Hanson Brothers release comes out in 2002 with an homage to Black Flag's "My War". This release saw a new drummer in Mike Bramm, who would become Mikey Hanson. Mike was playing in a band called Freak Accident but was known for playing in Fang and Capitol Punishment. This release had the worse production and inspired the brothers to go back and re-mix this record and then everything which started up Wrong Records, the band's own label.

Heaven is the dust beneath my shoes
Starts out with an observation that bands that sing about themselves, exemplified by the tour song is usually a sure fire sign that it is over. But really this discussion serves to point out that No Means No lyrics are grounded having never written a tour song. The Wright brothers grew up with an anti-music industry attitude and they share how ordinary they are by talking about how the band plays jeopardy in the van to pass time. But there is a tour story too juicy to keep to themselves which is the time when their van got ripped off in Poland. The band does get the van back after paying ransom for it, but the story about the dangers of 2nd world gangsters and negotiating a lie to the police so that they could leave the country is exciting and revealing.

'Til I Die
This chapter can be read as a contemplation. It starts out as a contemplation of No Means No lyrics. The band wrote about their experiences which is what they know. Mark uses the song "This town", which suggests there was unfinished critiques not found in "Victoria". No Means No wrote on equal fitting with their audience which is evidenced in songs like "Mr. In Between" or "The Graveyard Shift" or "Now" or "The World wasn't built in a day" or "Stock Taking". But the song "One Fine Day" seems to sum up what No Means No is about with the challenge of every day life. This is a similar story that Black relates with his dad. And No Means No was a band that allowed Mark to connect with his older brother that moved across the country. The Wright Brothers started playing together as a way of connecting. And perhaps this book is a way of connecting to No Means No because there is an air of unapproachability to the band which is really and clearly not the case as "Going Nowhere" points out again and again and again.

The publication is almost sold out so Mark recommends that you read it through your public library.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Stephe! This is almost longer than the book itself. Much appreciation for doing this. If anyone wants to purchase the book they can buy it through Amazon: or a local bookseller: - also feel free to buy it digitally.

    The library is always good spot to get the book too and there are definitely copies of this book at the Toronto Public Library.

    Thanks again!