I don’t remember. I don’t fucking remember much of the events which have led me around myself for 40 fucking years. When I say I don’t remember, I mean that I don’t have a visual recallable representation of a lot of my experiences from childhood. I just know what it felt like, I just know the fear and the anxiety, the wanting to leave, the wanting to get the fuck out of there, the but not knowing how to. And I have incorporated these experiences into my psyche, they have become a part of me, they have contributed, overwhelmingly to all the negative attributes that are haunting me to this day. My self-esteem is so low, I cannot imagine anyone but friends and family, saying that my writing is any good. My ability to connect with other human beings, is somewhat immature and awkward, though few people seem to actually see through my cloak of (false) confidence. My relationships are rife with struggle, misunderstandings and an inability to properly communicate both my needs, wants and my hurts. It feels as if I am living in a bad dream. One where I am stumbling around in my old apartment but I can’t find the door, I can’t get out, I can’t get anywhere. There is a slight blurring at the periphery of my vision, a mild disorientation, everything is dark corners, there is no where to go, the stink of animal fear is palpable and coming off of me, my desperation is obvious to the me that is the witness of the dream, my lack of options, obvious, the need to get out feels insurmountable and overwhelming. But I cannot turn away, I cannot wake from this life of self-reproach, I cannot numb myself enough with drugs or sex or porn or TV or music or books or the games on my stupidphone or meditation or the creation of art. I feel like I am the walking wounded, the living dead, a man living out his pain, in every expression, every heated word, with every breathe and there does not seem to be an end in sight. Every now and then, the Millwood bridge seems like the right place for me. I feel I have many stories inside on me that might be interesting to relay or cautionary in theme to share. Here is one of them.
However, I do remember much to my surprise and my misunderstanding when I first heard about, learned about the symptomatology of various forms of mental illnesses, I was taught that there are both positive and negative symptoms or effects of having diagnosis’ such as schizophrenia or bi-polar. When I first heard this I thought, “Oh, wow, there are positive symptoms, positive effects, of having a mental illness”. From the medical model, what it really means though, is that having negative symptoms means, that something has been taken away from you, something is lost to you as a result of this confluence of brain function, emotional response, range and intensity of emotion which all converge to change the way you present yourself, your being, the way people have known you to be, something that was there, has now changed, is now gone. These can be activities you were once interested in, sports, hobbies, aspirations, goals, social functions like the ability to trust, the ability to form intimate relationships, that ability to lead a “normal” life, those are some examples of negative symptoms, negative effects, something lost. The positive symptoms, the positive effects are things that are added on, things that were not already there but have shown up in the period before the diagnosis, often leading to the diagnosis. These can include hearing voices that others don’t hear, responses like severe paranoia, seeing things that others do not see, anxiety and social phobias, and depression both mild and major, these are all positive effects, things that are added on to who you have been know to be by others and who you have known yourself to be.
I wouldn’t classify myself from a psychiatric perspective as having a serious mental illness, mental health issues, sure, serious mental health issues, no. That said, I did receive a diagnosis from a psychiatrist many years ago. He was someone whom I quite trusted, after a while and I still know him today, though in a different type of professional relationship. He gave the following diagnosis to me, and it felt like a life raft on an ocean of anger and despair. When I was about 25 years old and had found a psychiatrist who was okay with seeing me, hearing me, talking to me and working with me over the long term, without my having to submit to the obligatory script for SSRI’s at the end of the first visit, like the two prior shrinks I had tried to engage with before him. The diagnosis he gave me was dysthymia and PTSD. Dysthymia being a low grade, low level, long term state of depression. An inability to rise above a certain low level of emotional state, not really knowing the feeling of happiness, joy. Motherfucking joy and dysthymia didn’t seem to coexist. I didn’t know what the word meant when he told me this and when I looked into it, I thought, “Fuck man”, that actually seems to fit, that actually feels like what I have been experiencing, pretty much, for as long as I could remember. For me having that diagnosis helped me to feel less like I was doing something wrong, less like this was somehow my fault for feeling this way, for feeling so lost, so seemingly out of step with everyone else. I intuitively knew that it had been my experience that brought me to this place and that simply throwing pharmaceuticals at it would not alleviate the intensity and depth of the pain that I had felt for such a long time. If I was 25 when I engaged with this psychiatrist, I knew I had been feeling this way for many years. I remembered being 13, 14, 15 years old and feeling so depressed, though I don’t think I had that word at the time, but just feeling so disconnected, so down, so unhappy, so emotionally numb, except for an intense ability to feel anger and not knowing how to find my place in a world from which I felt so out of place. I didn’t know what to do with that, I didn’t have anyone in my life I trusted enough to talk to about it, no parent, no family, no trusted authority figure, no one. I felt disengaged from my life, I felt like it didn’t matter what I did, I was going to school, I was attracted to girls, but girls didn’t care about me, school didn’t seem to care about me. I did manage to form some bonds with males and had some friends, I was able to form those circumstantial connections, but I never really felt close to anyone. I felt close in the way, that was “Hey, lets do something today” and we could hang out, we could easily spend an afternoon together, we could get involved in something, riding our bikes, doing some kind of activity out in nature, causing some shit in the neighbourhood, even sitting around and watching TV. More often than not, by the age of 10 or 11 those activities involved smoking pot and cigarettes and by 13, alcohol was added to the mix. I usually had some kind of connection with a friend, but often the external connection, the obvious thing that bonded us was music, rock and roll, smokes, weed or beer. I think of myself at 13 wearing my black baseball cap with the AC/DC patch on the front that I had received for my 13th birthday. I also had a black t-shirt with their red and gold (I didn’t wear yellow at 13) logo iron-on and a small black and white enamel AC/DC pin attached to my faded blue Levi’s jean jacket, that I was rarely not wearing. They were the first band that I seemed to get into, independent of my older brother, who had previously turned me on to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, whom I wouldn’t start to appreciate for a couple of years and my Mother who turned me on to the Beatles and CCR. I’m really not sure how I got into AC/DC, maybe Q107, maybe someone in my class at school, but their album Back in Black had just come out. I was in grade 8 when I first heard this album, their first with their new singer, Brian Johnson, just 5 months after Bon Scott, their original singer aspirated on his own vomit after a night of heavy drinking. The music resonated with me, it was heavy, it seemed aggressive, it was simple, and it was mine, it seemed to speak directly to my disaffected, disconnected, dissatisfied self.
Back in black
I hit the sack
I’ve been too long I’m glad to be back
Yes, I’m let loose
From the noose
That’s kept me hanging about
I’ve been looking at the sky
‘Cause it’s gettin’ me high
Forget the hearse ’cause I never die
I got nine lives
Abusin’ every one of them and running wild (1)
There was something that seemed dangerous about them, a kind of street fighter, fuck the world attitude, which seemed to speak directly to me. I could get out of myself with AC/DC; I could let myself feel like a self that belonged to something, however nebulous, for a change. I could sing along to them in my bedroom and feel like I was a part of something bigger than me. I was never a joiner, a volunteer, one to offer myself over to anything or anyone, simply because I didn’t trust, I didn’t feel safe, but this band made me feel like I belonged to something, even if that something was that it was something that older people didn’t understand. That in itself was enough of a something for me, at that time.
I saw AC/DC at Maple Leaf Gardens, July 28th 1980, the Back in Black tour, the opening act was the Canadian band Streetheart which didn’t mean anything to me or much to the thin audience that was there for their set. The exception being, a group of about 20 people that were dressed similarly to the singer and gathered around the front of the huge stage, careening their necks to stare up at the blonde loose t-shirt wearing lead singer. They didn’t look like they came out for AC/DC, but they did look like they were having a good time. I got to see AC/DC again the following year on December 11th 1981, but that time I got in for free. The opening act at this show was Midnight Flyer, whom I do not recall anything of, so Streetheart must have done something to grab my attention.
I don’t recall how I was able to convince my Mother to let me go to the show. Somehow I got a ticket for the Back in Black tour. Somehow I convinced my mother to both, let me go and as I never had any money, to buy me the ticket. She would have made sure that I would be attending with a group of friends, to stay safe, and I was. One day a group of 6 of us walked over to the Bass ticket-seller kiosk, with $10 in each of our pockets, as the tickets were $9.50, tax included, in The Bay at Fairview Mall, across the street from our townhouse complex, where we bought 6 tickets aligned in a row, in the Grey section of Maple Leaf Gardens. I still have the ticket stub in a photo album where I have always kept this type of memento.
I can no longer even imagine the excitement and energy that we were carrying with us the day of the show, though I know it would have been huge. There was a group of 6 of us, Brian, Dave, Shaun, his younger brother Darren (later to win a 1994 Juno Award, under his stage name), William and myself, my buddies from Allenbury Gardens, the Ontario Housing townhouse complex where we lived near Don Mills and Sheppard. We took the Sheppard bus from Don Mills to Yonge St and then took the southbound subway, 10 stops to College station. We came up from the sweaty gloom of College Station, our energy rising as we ascended the worn marble stairs, into the bright hot July evening. Still early evening, sometime before the 8pm ticket time. We were electric with anticipation, we were rowdy, giving shout outs to all the street players and concert goers. We were there and it was hard to contain the giddy teen boy excitement of this new experience. I was 13, Brian 15, Darren 11 and Dave, Willy and Shaun would have all been 14. We were still boys, working on becoming real teenagers, long hair, denim jackets and pants, worn running shoes, AC/DC and other band t-shirts, 4 of us smoking cigarettes, all of us high on adrenaline. And there on College St, our first big concert, the scene of older teens and scruffy men shouting, “Who needs tickets?”, “Who has tickets to sell?”, we made it through the human chaos, tossing our burning butts onto the street, we entered through the main doors of Maple Leaf Gardens, a venue I had only been in once before. It had been about 8 months prior, with my father whom I rarely saw, for a Toronto Maple Leaf hockey game, that I doubtfully even wanted to go to. All that really stands out for me from that night out with my old-man, was being cold in the cavernous arena, wanting the game to end so we could leave. I didn’t care about the game, never having being interested in watching hockey or any other sport played for that matter. I recall an atmosphere of threat as my father had been drinking before meeting me, was acting overprotective and looking for a fight, telling the people in front of us to sit down, as if they were some kind of physical threat to my person, when they enthusiastically rose, arms akimbo, when a goal was scored. What really stands out though was being creeped out by the trough urinal in the Men’s washroom. In the centre of the busy mildew and piss scented room, there was a long low stainless steel trough, like one that I imagined a group of cows would stand around and simultaneously eat from, but here there where men of all ages and shapes standing around on all sides, pissing endless streams of urine, into it, as it flowed away towards a drain at the one end, that it was slightly tilted towards. My modest child had no where to hide his little self-conscious cock from the leering and staring looks of the older men, who seemed to be either hanging around and lingering or endlessly coming and going in this echoing and bustling cold grey tiled room. Shortly after getting up to the Grey section, I recall the different vibe when I used the washroom on this night. This time the creep feeling was gone as it was filled with teens and 20 something young men in various forms of intoxication, the stink of alcohol and a pile of vomit, abandoned, lay steaming in the far corner of the smoke filled and humid room. I pissed in a stall on this eventful evening and retrieved the small baggie containing 2 skinny joints, from my briefs as I did so in the privacy afforded by the closed stall door.
Once through the main doors of Maple Leaf Gardens, our tickets sent us to the right towards a row of 4 turnstiles. We waited behind the throng and excitedly inched forward, eventually arriving at the front, where you handover your ticket to the usher. The usher then rips the perforated portion off, hands you back the ticket stub and motions you forward through the turnstile. As we were all moving through I looked to my left and saw Darren, the youngest of our group, exchanging words with a short, heavily build, in a dumpy and not muscular way, usher in his blue on blue bus driver style uniform, with full peaked cap. He was wearing massive black rimmed glasses on his face, that magnified his dim eyes, making his expressive facial expressions blow up his eyes, in a somewhat unsettling way. I saw Darren giving this man a high five and then I heard the man say, ”Come back to this gate at intermission and I’ll let you and your friends into the Gold’s”. Aside from letting people in this main east gate, he was also guarding the tunnel entrance that would take you to the ring around the hockey boards that lead to the more expensive and better viewing seats. Not thinking more of it we regrouped and running, jumping, excited we made our way up several sets of escalators to the highest, most elevated and cheapest section, Grey.
We sat and shortly the opening band came on, in the half-lit, half-filled arena. Up top we were surrounded by a sea of mostly empty seats. We could see so many empty seats in the better sections below us, Green, Red, Gold and the floor was still only 1/3 full. No one seemed to be paying much attention to the opening act and I had yet to learn that an 8pm ticket is door time, not show time. William, Dave, Brian and I very surreptitiously shared 1 of the 2 skinny and ill rolled joints that I snuck in in my underwear. It wasn’t too hard to hide it and share it casually, as people were still allowed to smoke cigarettes in the arena back then, so sharing a joint in the half-lit space was easy but still nerve wracking to my uncertain, 13 year-old self. We goofed around vaguely paying attention to the opening act and just started moving, row-by-row, closer to the stage, closer to the action. We went under the rail and into the Greens and then the Reds, sitting in groups of empty seats we found along the way, getting kicked out of some Red seats when actual ticket holders showed up. But we didn’t care about the stink eye, we didn’t care about anything really, we were 6 boys, safe in a group and we were jacked up on adrenaline and the effects of low-grade weed. Eventually Streetheart left the stage and you could feel the energy rising as more people filled the arena. We saw a couple following an usher, walking towards our group. He asked to see our tickets as we were sitting in this couple’s seats. We started to bullshit but then just pointed up and said we would go back to our seats, then headed down the ramp, leading us into the bowels of the arena where the concession stands and bathrooms are located. Once in the building interior someone suggested that we should go back to that usher who said he would let us into the gold’s. I don’t think any of us actually believed that he would, but what the fuck, it was worth a try and we certainly had enough excess energy for a trip through the innards of the crowded and highly energized arena.
We approached the gate by the East entrance with a bold, I don’t care if you lied to us stance, and could see the uniformed back of the usher who made us the offer. We huddled and sent Darren over, as he was the one who connected with the man, on the way in. We watched as they had a brief chat. The usher’s eyes looked huge and simple but otherwise happy behind his oversized glasses, he nodded his head and excitedly waved the rest of us over, pointed to the tunnel that would lead to the Floors and the Gold sections. But before he let us through he said, “Come back and talk to me after the show”, seemingly as one we said, “Sure man. Sure” as he let us into the tunnel. We moved as one many limbed ball of excitement, and as the tunnel opened its aperture into the arena, we could see the vastness and how far up the Grey section we had been in was. We walked up the first short set of 7 stairs and eyeing 2 rows that each had 3 seats in a row we jostled for those 6 seats, settled in, with grinning anticipation for AC/DC to hit the stage. Suddenly the lights went out casting the arena into darkness. One could faintly make out the huge matte black curtains opening. A single spotlight lit a massive black metal bell, suspended from above, 15 feet off the stage. It rang out the intro to Hell’s Bells. Booooooong, Booooooong, Booooooong, Booooooong and guitarist Angus Young, in his schoolboy uniform came out, doing a modified Chuck Berry strut, across the stage and the place when crazy. Lights flashing, pyrotechnics going off on both sides of the stage causing massive explosions and huge plumes of smoke. It was the loudest, flashiest, most exiting thing I had ever experienced. It blew my 13-year-old mind and my still unabused ears. I couldn’t believe I was seeing my favourite band, I couldn’t believe I was at a concert at Maple Leaf Gardens, I couldn’t believe we scored these awesome seats. We were at the same height as the stage, with an unobstructed view, not as close as we would have liked to be, but such a better view, than the one we had for the opening act, from so far above. I was with my friends, I was a little bit high and I was watching AC/DC, live on stage. Fuckin’ – A, I sparked the second skinny joint and shared it with both my friends and our concert going neighbours.
AC – Fucking – DC, we yelled ourselves hoarse after each song, throwing and pumping our fists into the air. After 10 more songs they left the stage and we shouted, stamped our feet, banged on the back of the chair in front of us as the whole crowd stood up, demanding an encore. After a couple of loud minutes, the band obliged by coming out and playing: You Shock Me All Night Long, Highway to Hell and TNT. Wow, my adolescent mind was overexcited and starting to crash from the late night and all the spent adrenaline. We made our way back through the tunnel with the rest of the still throbbing and excited crowd, we were heading back to where the usher that let us in was stationed, which was also our original gates of entry. Before we even got to the end of the tunnel where it opens into the atrium, I looked and could see John’s fat, glasses wearing face scanning the crowd as it passed him at the tunnel entrance. We exited the tunnel and there he was beside us gesturing and waving for us to join him by the wall, out of the way of the exiting crowd. And we said, “Thanks Man. Thanks for letting us in”. he replied with, “No problem guys. It was my pleasure to help you get better seats, you look like you had a great time”. “My name is John and this is were I am always posted for concerts, if you ever want to see a show drop by and I’ll let you in without a ticket”. “Holy fuck”, I thought. I couldn’t believe our luck and I had Darren and his over enthusiasm, which usually just got us into trouble, actually getting us something amazing this time. There was hand shaking and high-fives all around as we said thanks and knew we would be coming back to take him up on the offer. We were still bouncing off the ground when he said, “Hey guys, did you want to come back to my place. I have some beer in the fridge and it’s not far from here. I’ll be off work in half and hour, once the place empties”. That offer seemed to suck all the air out of the arena. It didn’t feel connected with everything else and was ringing some alarm bells for me. We all looked at each other and gently made our excuses, I did not want to blow his previous generous offer, so I said “No. No thanks John, we have to get home and it’s a long ride back on transit. If we are late getting home I won’t be allowed to see another concert for a very long time”, “Well just remember”, he said “anytime, just stop by, I’ll let you in”. “Thanks, John, thanks Man”. We said in unison as we moved slowly towards the turnstiles and the College St. exit.
Walking out the busy doors we were greeted by the sight of a row of cops on horseback, looking very stern and scary in their helmets and our lungs were filled with the moist heat of the late July night. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were. We got to see our favourite band, we got to move down to better seats for free and no one hassled us. It was like those 6 seats were waiting there for us and we got to meet such a nice and generous guy, who said he would let us in to future shows for free, I honestly couldn’t think of a better outcome at the time. We moved slowly through a packed College St., shut down of traffic, a lonely and packed streetcar inching its way through the rowdy, at times belligerent throng. We smoked cigarettes and startled at the occasional police horse backing itself into the crowd, moving ourselves sideways away from the massive hooved feet and made our way back to the Subway entrance, for the one hour plus trek back to our hood in North York.
Over the next few years we would stop by Maple Leaf Gardens, one of us, two of us, any of us, a bunch of us and we would walk up to that gate, we wouldn’t go through the turnstiles, as we didn’t have tickets but we would wait by the side wall where there was a gap beside the row of turnstiles, until we caught John’s eye. He was usually at the farther end, so he would tap his work buddy and point his chin towards us, and the other taller uniformed usher would wave us through the gap after he surveyed the area for managers. Once in, we would thank John and his partner, antsy to get away and excited to see the show. John would say, “Come back at the end of the show”, “There’s a party at my place, I’ve got some beer, there will be some other guys your age there”. We would have most likely already been high or had drunk a few beers or a homemade bottle of wine, snuck out from the house, where I now lived in Scarborough, with my Mother, her Boyfriend, his Son and my Brother . So we would say, ”Thanks, John. Yeah, sure John. We’ll come back after the show, John. Thanks for letting us in, John”. We knew better to not go out that gate when the show was over, we knew better to stay away from John’s place; we went out the opposite side of the building.
I saw several concerts for free, or went down to John’s gate for a section upgrade if I showed up having actually bought a ticket. I got the better part of the deal; unfortunately I know some other boys didn’t. In 1999 John was convicted of sexually abusing 26 boys and 1 girl. He was declared a dangerous offender in 2000 and died of a heart attack in Kingston Penitentiary in November 2001 (2). As John’s conviction occurred in conjunction with other individuals that worked at the Gardens, the focus of the media reports was about access to Hockey games, there was no mention of kids being abused through concert access, though I know there would have been. Thanks for the free shows, you fucking prick.
For a few years afterwards I took John up on his offer to get into shows for free or to upgrade my section when I did buy a ticket. I may or may not have gone back to his place, I have a hazy memory that suggests we did one night and I recall a street scene in or near Regent Park that got a little ugly.
J Geils Band
(1) “Back In Black”(A. Young, M. Young, B. Johnson), 1980 Back In Black, track 6,
(2) Canadian Press. (2001, November 9). Roby dies of suspected heart attack.
The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com