Don Pyle and I were two of only five out gay men who worked on The Kids in the Hall TV
show. (To which everyone always replies, “I thought you were all fags.”) Don was the drummer for Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, the instrumental surf combo that provided music for the show, including the well-known theme song. Now Don’s put down the drumsticks to promote his latest venture, a gorgeous photo book chronicling Toronto’s punk music scene in the late 1970s.
There is one awesome photo after another in Trouble in the Camera Club
(ECW Press), and all of them were taken by a teenaged Don Pyle. “I was underage at every single show,” he tells me. “There was almost no security, and no one asked if you had permission to take pictures.” Four years ago, grown-up Don dug out the negatives, printed his favourites and mounted a gallery show at The Beaver. The enthusiastic response led to the creation of this book.
Trouble in the Camera Club
is unique in that it contains almost no judgment of any- one’s talent or work. It is written from the teenaged Don’s enthusiastic perspective. “I also didn’t want to write a history of any of the bands. Just finding out the names of the people in the pictures was hard enough.”
The book includes photos of big names like Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Patti Smith, Blondie and the Ramones, but its focus is mostly on local bands like The Diodes, The Viletones and Teenage Head. I was particularly taken with the singer for The Ugly, a handsome guy with no shirt who called himself Mike Nightmare. “I heard he was thrown off a roof in a drug deal gone bad,” Don tells me, making the photos of him even more poignant. Lots of the people in the book, like Frankie Venom, have died, but the book does not dwell on what we lost; rather, it looks at what we had.
There are lots of pictures of cute boys, but teenaged Don was not necessarily aware of that. “Don’t get me wrong; you could see the sexual energy onstage, but my interest in music and men were two very separate things. The punk scene was very not gay, and besides, the types of guys I was interested in were not hanging out there. It seemed that everybody was straight. Then later I found out that Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks and Bob Mould of Hüsker Du were actually singing about guys.”
At 49, Don is pretty busy as a recording engineer and producer. He’s worked with The Sadies, Dallas Good, Jad Fair, Fred Schneider and King Cobb Steelie and puts out his own records under the name Black Heel Marks. Most gay men know one of Don’s songs quite well — the theme song from Queer as Folk
. But for me, Don will always be one of the Shadowy Men. We reminisce about the crazy singles they put out on 45 RPM back in the ’80s. One was a board game, complete with tokens. Another record was packaged with Jiffy Pop popcorn. “We drove out to the fac- tory and said, ‘We’d like to buy a thousand Jiffy Pops, please,’ then we took the lids off and put the record underneath. We all had bleeding fingers from crimping that foil.”
Ah, the good old days. I myself recall seeing Teenage Head in 1979 at York University, in a cafeteria. At one point, a bored Frankie Venom pushed over a speaker column, causing a deafening sound, untold damage and a sudden end to the gig. We talked about that for years. Punk rock was great, and if you never experienced it, consider yourself cheated. What could be more entertaining than watching some hot guy rolling around on broken glass in front of only 30 people?
I wouldn’t trade my punk days for anything. As Don says, “There’s nothing quite like a room full of 20-year-olds going crazy from the music.”