The route from London to Mosport Speedway (Google Maps).For Out On A Limb’s Open Call for Reposts, I am republishing the final section of my four-part piece about the Heatwave festival in August 1980. While it was one of the best festivals I've ever attended, this segment I am reposting focusses on what happened before and particularly after the festival and the myriad of "adventures" that my 17-year-old self had, especially in having to find my way back home, three hours away, after being abandoned in the middle of nowhere in the pre-cell phone and debit card age.
I have also incorporated in some elements from Part One and Two that contextualize the circumstances of how I got there in the first place.
Join me on a journey involving some unlikely companions (in both good and bad senses) and a series of firsts; being left behind in a scorching heatwave, way out in the sticks, with barely ten dollars on my person; the protracted, challenging trip home; "you touch it, you drink it" with a new-wavey Julia Phillips clone and her band of drunken revellers; and disappearing Datsuns with concert hall-volume speakers, all bracketing an absolutely stunning day of music including what is perhaps the best live set I have ever seen.
An all day festival! And just a few hours away! Featuring many of the best bands of the day! The first major outdoor punk and new wave festival, anywhere! And for only $20!
Everyone's going to want to go, right?!
Er, not so fast there, Various.
When the Heatwave festival was announced, it was a no-brainer for me that I would want to go, and I thought it would be the same for everyone applicable that I knew. I could already envision the fleet of vehicles making the trip up. After all, it was being held at the Mosport Park Speedway (now the Mosport International Raceway) in Bowmanville, Ontario, just an hour northeast of Toronto (and three hours from London). It would feature many of my favourite then-contemporary artists including the Talking Heads, The B-52s, the Pretenders, Elvis Costello, Rockpile and, best of all, The Clash. And all for $20 in advance — a cheap deal, n'est-ce pas?
The Heatwave Festival, Saturday August 23, 1980, $20. Visually, this is one of the most interesting tickets I own as well as one of the largest, measuring 6"x3" (and you can add in another inch for the missing endstub). The design encapsulates the contrasting, cut and paste punk/new wave visuals of the time.
Not exactly. That $20 ticket might seem like a puny amount and quite the bargain to 2010 eyes but back then it was a pricey gig, even if it was an all day festival. Most of the tickets I have for shows in and around that time have prices in the $7-8 range, and so Heatwave was almost three times the price of most standard gigs.
Owing to the price, the recent commercial ascension of many of these acts (making them suddenly un-hip in the eyes of some, but not me), the enormity of the event which largely flew in the face of the smaller-is-better punk ethos of the time (and, admittedly, sometimes smaller is better), and some folks just plain having to work on the Saturday, no one I knew wanted to and/or was able to go.
With one exception: my sister-in-law's post-divorce boyfriend.
My brother and his wife had split the previous summer. I remained close to my sister-in-law (as I always had been) as did my sister, who worked with her. I also used to babysit my nephew often at this point, so I was still very much in my SiL's orbit. Which lead to an unusual living circumstance for me.
There had been a war going down on the homefront. I had been arguing with my parents, in particular my father, with increased frequency and intensity, and things were reaching a head. You know, that standard issue generation gap parent/offspring stuff. My sister-in-law offered me a place to stay along with some cash to be a live-in-nanny of sorts for the summer months. It was a win-win situation for the both of us, as she had someone to stay at home with my nephew while she went to work. In return, I got a much needed break from my warring home front along with a paid summer position. I think that that time away from my family home did us all a world of good. I'm sure my brother wasn't happy with this arrangement, but I would never know as he's not one for a lot of personal conversation.
As for the boyfriend, (who I will refer to as "Doofus") ... let me just cut to the chase and say that the guy was a tool. That description has nothing to do with the break-up situation per se, it was simply his innate “personality.” I've already written about indulging in some drug and alcohol excess by both myself and a number of friends through the years, but it was never an all consuming passion. I always differentiated between those who enjoyed letting loose, indulging and having adventures, perhaps sometimes overdoing it in the process, yet were also intelligent, productive, and non-self-destructive in the big picture vs those who were nothing more than stooooopid drunks and IQ-challenged drug casualties with a redneck streak and the perpetual maturity of a 14 year old — and a very immature 14 year old at that. He was in the latter of the two categories, perhaps personifying it.
He ended up moving in around the same point I did during that summer, which meant that we were now living under the same roof. While I would not describe our interactions as at all adversarial, we weren't exactly buds either. It's more like we co-existed. We couldn't have been more opposite.
And there we found ourselves, both wanting to go to Heatwave but with seemingly no one else interested when my sis-in-law made the suggestion that we go together. Spending a weekend with a party-fool doofus who by an inexplicable dint of circumstance favoured The Clash as opposed to the more obvious choice of, say, Molly Hatchet, was near the bottom of my “To Do” list, and I'm sure the feeling was mutual. But it soon became apparent that this was my one and only opportunity of getting there. I did not yet drive and wouldn't have had access to a car anyway, so simply trekking up there on my own was not an option. My pragmatic self kicked in and I agreed.
And so it was: I was going to Heatwave with Doofus. Quite the odd couple, to put it mildly. Oh well, this would get me there and the drugs and alcohol would be plentiful, I reasoned.
The poster for Heatwave, uploaded from Wikipedia. I had a copy of this poster that hung on a variety of walls for many years, before being lost in a move.
There was one big change of plans that happened on the day or two before, but this was a good one. Doofus announced at the last minute that a third party would be coming along, namely this friend of his who was sometimes part of the downtown scene but whom I had never met. As it turned out, he was a great guy and a good foil for the both of us: enough of a party animal to keep within Doofus' realm, yet down-to-earth and intelligent enough to carry on a conversation, with a more even temperament. For several years afterwards, about once or twice a year I would be walking around downtown London and would run into him, with That Guy (as he shall be known) catching my attention by yelling “Heatwave! Heatwave!”
We hit the road late Friday afternoon in Doofus' Datsun that he'd had outfitted with a new sound system and near concert-level-volume speakers, specifically for the drive to Mosport and the night time parties in the parking lot.
Nothing really jumps out at me about the trip there, but I do recall us arriving at the parking site shortly after sunset. The expansive field of autos was one large bacchanalian shindig and the three of us jumped right in, hanging out with some of the revellers around us.
Unsurprisingly, given the Olympic level of drinking and drug consumption that Doofus and That Guy had spent years mastering, my 17-year-old-self could only keep up for so long before I was passed out in the back seat. I woke up somewhere around dawn with a pounding hangover while the other two snored in front. My stirring woke That Guy and, upon hearing about my state, he thoughtfully presented me with a hot, steaming bowl of hashish along with two blinding white aspirin and a beer to wash them down with. That was a struggle to keep down, but there was nothing else to take it with.
Shortly thereafter, I fell back asleep, waking up a few hours later feeling back to normal and ready to start the big day. Doofus and Guy had already commenced perfecting their shine on, while I was determined that I wanted to simply get into a manageable party mode as opposed to a state of complete obliteration, which was clearly the paramount goal of the other two.
It was a sunny, blue-skied, red hot August Saturday: perfect festival weather. At around 10ish or so, we instigated the long walk from the parking area to the concert site, arriving there during later morning. Since many had shown up on the Friday night for the parking lot party, many were stumbling their way to the performance area on this fine morn, already a little worse for wear before things had even gotten going. Also, word came back that they were being Draconian at the front gate when it came to alcohol, and that it would be tough to get anything inside. Therefore, mass consumption before arrival was the overall plan of action. As Jerri Blank would say, “ Good Times! Good Times!”
Clusters of revellers would hook and un-hook-up on the pilgrimage, talking while sharing booze and substances. During this journey, I fully realized that two distinct camps were attending. The first was there for the music — and, also, to party along with the tunes. The second showed up for the reverse: it was a big festival, which happened with considerably less frequency back then, with partying as the undisputed goal. If some of the bands were ok, well — fuckin' A, buddy! Cool bonus, huh? As a result, I remember there being as many lumpen-pieheads in attendance as there were tuneheads.
I have a very clear memory of us spending a chunk of the walk down with this mondo intoxicated group of guys plus one woman who looked like a really haggard new wave version of Julia Phillips. They seemed to be playing some variation on You Touch It, You Drink It, and I distinctly recall her complaining loudly about having just downed what amounted to several shots of bourbon followed by everyone withholding their beer as a promised chaser, with her screeching at all of them in a hectoring growl.
As for my immediate fraternity, I was already fed up by the time Doofus took a stumble, landing in a ditch by the road, rolling around in the mud, hee-hawing amid the hilarity. Julia Phillips stood by, pointing and cackling with laughter.
It was at this point that I was wondering how in the hell I was going to put up with this level of tomfoolery all day long. It was barely 11 am and the bullshit was already wearing out its welcome.
Great retrospective piece on Heatwave from The New Music. Damn right the Talking Heads were the toughest act to follow.
Myself and my compadres entered through the main gates after being frisked by cops. Shortly thereafter I got separated from the other two. While I was already fed up and had been wandering away from them at times during the increasingly annoying walk to the site, I did not lose them intentionally nor do I think they took off on purpose as they were far too blotto to even hit that level of strategic thinking.
I remember being relieved upon realizing that I had lost them. I figured that I would either run into Doofus and That Guy later in the day or, if not, would simply meet up with them back at the car. I was more than glad to be rid of them and had a chunk of the hash stash on my person, so all was right with the world as far as I was concerned.
I did actually see them wandering through the crowd at two separate points during the day but consciously chose not to approach them. Why bother, I reasoned, as I was having a much better time without them, moving around the festival site, sometimes on my own, sometimes hanging and chatting with various folks I would meet.
(Note: To read about the actual music, click here for the sets by The B-52s, the Pretenders, Rockpile with Nick Lowe & Dave Edmunds, Teenage Head and more .... and click here for sets by Elvis Costello & the Attractions and an historic debut by a revamped Talking Heads, playing probably the most jaw dropping set of music I've ever witnessed).
Another retro clip, this time from MuchMusic's ‘90s entertainment news show, Fax. American readers will recognize the voice of CNN/former CBS anchor John Roberts who, to Canadian viewers of a certain vintage, will always be New Music co-host JD Roberts, along with Jeanne Beker, long with FashionTelevision. Boy, the world was a much grubbier place back then, wasn't it?
At day's end, as I made my way back to the parking lot following Elvis Costello's terrific late evening set, I was exhausted yet over the moon with joy following my very first festival experience. I was similarly beatific that I had managed to spend the day sans Doofus and did have a feeling of dread about now making my way back the parking lot to resume up-close’n’personal quality time with Idioticum Rexus.
Unfortunately, things were not quite so simple, as I found myself in quite a predicament — with all sorts of unexpected results.I arrived back at the faraway parking lot probably somewhere short of midnight, with the post-show, second evening party in full swing. I was dreading having to meet back up with Doofus and That Guy. Trying to imagine the level of obliteration they would be in by this point was a depressing scenario to ponder but, oh well, this was my ticket there and back. Or was it?
I bee-lined to where I thought the Datsun had been parked but it didn’t seem to be there. As directions are not always my strong suit, I assumed that I had gone to the wrong place. Or perhaps they had moved it to another spot after having run into someone they knew so they could party in closer proximity or something to that effect. I spent a goodly amount of time investigating each and every row of cars, but I just couldn’t find the Heatwavemobile.
They still had to be there and wouldn’t have taken off without me, I reckoned, for two primary reasons: (1) they could barely walk let alone drive anywhere, and from what I had spotted mid-way through the day, it seems that they had kept the party going, and (2) I knew that my sister-in-law would absolutely excoriate Doofus if he left me stranded.
Figuring that I must have been missing the vehicle, and that Doo and T-Guy might just be passed out somewhere only to crawl back later on, I decided to park myself on a large pile of rocks near that front area, not too far inside the parking lot gate. From this vantage point, I would be able to see them upon their entering and vice versa.
Not too far away were a couple of young women, perhaps a year or two older than I was, sitting in front of their two pitched pup tents, having some post-show beers. Bit by bit, conversation ensued until they eventually asked me over to join them. I was happy to have some alcohol as I hadn’t had anything but pop and water since before entering the gates that morning. They in turn were rather delighted when I produced the last but still decent sized chunk of hash from my pocket. I had cadged a few papers from some people who I had shared with earlier in the day, and with the girls’ cigarettes supplying to tobacco mix, we rolled up the rest and got our own party started.
They were students from the GTA but from where specifically I can’t remember. We sat and talked about the highlights of the day, and I distinctly remember that they too had been particularly wowed by the Talking Heads. I recall downing a few beers with them when one decided she’d had enough and crawled into her pup tent. Me and the other girl, who’s name I forget but recall as having shortish blonde hair, had the last of the alcohol and hash. We got into some protracted, deep conversation about something or other, and sat chatting for some time. It was getting very late and, with no sign of the two muskateers, she asked me to come in and share her tent, which I did. As with the Talking Heads’ set, let’s just say that too was a new, unexpected highlight of the trip.
As morning broke, we woke up both feeling a little rough and in a weird circumstance. I decided to get up and take a walk around in the early daylight but, again, couldn’t find the Datsun. Upon returning, the two said that they were going to be hitch-hiking back into the Toronto area and did I want to come along? I most stupidly declined, figuring that Doofus just had to be there, somewhere on the premises.
I said my goodbyes to the Toronto twosome before they hit the highway and then sat back down on the pile of rocks. I watched as each car in the lot exited over the next couple of hours until the last one pulled out. Well, now there was no mistaking things — they had taken off.
"In the Middle of Nowhere," Dusty Springfield, 1966 NME Poll Winners Concert.
“That’s it bud. I guess your friends aren’t here.” With that, the dude in charge of the parking area told me he had to lock the gate and I had to leave the grounds. I asked if he was going near a town and he said he wasn’t. I got the distinct impression that he wasn’t in the mood to help me or anyone, didn’t care, and just wanted to get home.
So, there I found myself, mid-morning under a pounding sun, tired, hungry, and more than a wee burnt out, with just a few dollars in my pocket and not really any idea where I actually was. I figured that I would have to try and flag down a ride, but didn’t even quite know which way was which.
The parking area was a far walking distance from any main road so I simply picked a random direction and start moving my feet.
I had really lost all track of time. I do know that I spent what seemed like an hour walking down these back roads in my skin-tight, black, peg-leg jeans, Clash t-shirt, and red Chuck Taylors, carrying my leather jacket adorned with band badges du jour, without a sole in sight.
In the flatland silence, I suddenly heard and saw a vehicle approaching. FINALLY! As it got closer, I realized that it was a police car. I flung myself out in the road, waving my hands to flag him down. The cruiser pulled over to the side of the road. I went to the passenger window, hoping that the cop wasn’t going to be a prick, and stuck my head in to find a young officer along with a female about my age sitting in the front seat. I explained that I was stranded post-festival after my ride had taken off without me.
“Me too!” exclaimed the girl.
I asked if he could take me somewhere — anywhere — where I could get to a phone. He said that he was driving the girl in the front seat into the nearby town and that I could come along.
I jumped in and realized it was another first: being in the back seat of a police car (so far, it was also the last time and hopefully will remain that way).
Relieved, I spent the trip into whatever town it was, comparing notes with the fellow foundling up front about our weekend experiences. By this point, I was a rambling chatterbox in a partial hallucinatory state from having had only a couple of hours sleep + constant activity + little food + copious drugs and alcohol for the past couple of days. In talking about how I had gotten separated from my cohorts, I came thisclose to relating how happy I’d been that we’d divvied up the hash between the three of us before going in, in case it got taken away from one of us. Then I remembered that I was sitting in a police car. Even if it was all gone by this point, it probably wouldn’t have been an appropriate topic to bring up in that venue.
We got into town and the cop dropped me at the bus station, as I requested. I figured I would call my sister-in-law from there and have her cover a bus ticket for my trip back (no cell phones or debit cards in those days, plus I was too young to have a credit card). Unfortunately, after being dropped off, I got to the ticket counter only to find out that I would have to pay for the bus ticket home then and there. However, I was told that train tix could be purchased at a secondary location.
They graciously let me call my sister-in-law back in London so that she could set things up for my ride back.
“The Call Up” by The Clash from Sandinista!, their triple set, fourth album that they were recording during the summer of 1980 in NYC. The Clash had been slated to headline the Heatwave festival, but cancelled at the last minute.
She was audibly mortified upon hearing my voice on the phone asking “Is Doofus there with you?”
“Here with me?? He’s supposed to be with you. What happened? Where are you?”
I explained the circumstances and, no, she hadn’t heard from him, but, yes, she was going to murder him upon next sight.
I explained that I was at the bus depot in Whereversville but that only a train ticket could be purchased for me down in London, and could she do so as I made my way over to the railway station.
With plans now in place, I faced the hurdle of having to find my way to the train station which I was told was nowhere nearby. Either the town didn’t have buses or they didn’t run out there, I can’t remember which. All I know is that walking wasn’t an option and there was no transit. Ergo, I decided to use my last few dollars to cab it over. I showed the driver how much money I had and asked him to take me as close to the train station as he could get, given what was in my wallet. Once again, I was treated to kindness as the cabbie drove me directly to the station, taking what I had in lieu of the full fee.
Entering the crisp cool of the building, I approached the clerk, explained the situation, and asked if my ticket purchase had come through yet. No, it hadn’t but he assured me that it would be no problem. He also explained that it was now noon and that every Sunday at that time, the office closed for one hour for lunch!
Surely he was kidding.
No. He wasn’t.
And back outside I shuffled.
Nothing was fazing me by this point, and the passage of time was something of a blur. I distinctly remember leaving the gorgeous air-conditioning to venture back out into the furnace-blast of the noontime sun, plopping myself down on the ground like a sawdust doll with a punk haircut, my back slouched up against the wall, in a daze.
One hour later, I was let back in and handed my ticket. Hoo-fucking-rah!
After continued zoning in the refreshing AC, my train finally arrived and I boarded, relieved that I was finally heading home.
Shortly after getting seated, I discovered that I had some change in my pocket that I somehow previously missed. And, by Jove, it was enough to buy a coffee. Oh, the humanity! Some caffeinated nectar of the gods!
I excitedly ordered one from the car service. It was scalding hot and with the very first sip, I burned the tip of my tongue. There I sat, some degenerate looking 17-year-old all in black in late August who hadn’t showered in two days, groaning and holding the tip of my throbbing tongue outside of my mouth with my index finger and thumb, sitting across from a horrified mother and her two small kids.
Alas, I reached my destination and my concerned sister-in-law was there to greet me. After thanking her and assuring her that I was fine, she let me know that Doofus had called her and he was in Toronto. Apparently, he and That Guy had run into some Toronto friends in the crowd at Heatwave who had managed to sneak in booze, helping them continue on with the weekend bender. From what he could recall, the Toronto crew wanted to head back after the Pretenders and, in his alcoholic oblivion, had it in his mind that I was going to have no problem getting a ride back with someone else.
They then left, with Doofus driving on the (always massively busy) 401 for an hour into Toronto, and then right into the city itself for a night of partying. Remember: this is a guy who was drunkenly falling over and rolling into a ditch at 11am. One can only imagine the state of saturated inebriation that he would have been in at that time. Thank heavens he wasn’t in an accident on the way there, not so much for him but for any innocent person who might have been injured.
Doofy had woken up on someone’s floor (I'll bet) in Toronto at some point on Sunday, with the bits and pieces of reality slowly seeping back into his thick skull, eventually making that sheepish call to my sister-in-law mid-afternoon.
She got me home and fed, I took a leisurely bath and then made sure to phone my folks, letting them know I’d gotten back safe and sound with everything running smoothly. Yes, a noble lie. After that I tried sleeping but was so overtired and wound up that I couldn’t, so my SiL gave me a sleeping pill.
I was lying in bed for a period, waiting for the land of nod to arrive, thinking back on all of the momentous events from the past 48 hours or so — and then it was 15 or so hours later. The pill must have kicked in hard, as I fell into an instant coma.
After my late Monday morning awakening, I sauntered downstairs. As I made my way through the upstairs hall, I could hear the bloated monotone that was the voice of Doofus, mumbling in the kitchen. I was faced with an odd dilemma, namely that I should have been enraged with him and what he had done, but truthfully I wasn’t.
Okay, perhaps that’s an overstatement. On one hand, yes, I was darn pissed. But there was the other hand, the one that didn’t like him in the first place so it was not like it was some huge betrayal or love loss. It was also particularly the hand that recognized that everything had worked out fine in the end, leaving me with an adventure I could look back on. But most importantly, had I stuck close to him, I would have missed the Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, and The B-52s — not to mention the tent experience!
Pausing for a moment or two, I tried to figure out what I was going to say and how I was going to present myself, eventually deciding that I wasn’t going to let him off any hooks and instead milk it to my advantage. I then marched down the stairs and into the kitchen, immediately confronting him on what an asshole he’d been and just what the fuck had he been thinking?
Doo knew he was already in the doghouse, but this was now a special blend of the two of us ranging on him. He more than realized that he’d fucked up big time and began apologizing profusely. Once again, underneath it all, I really wasn’t massively angry but felt I couldn’t let him off by knowing that, so I kept up the tirade, with my sister-in-law egging me on. She made a faux suggestion that I may want to take a pop at him, with which he replied “let’s not get too excited, now.”
Before decamping to Toronto, Doofus had picked up a Pretenders t-shirt at the festival which he handed over to me as a conciliatory gesture. I indeed took it, wearing it for years. I had always kept it as a memento but, sadly, it was one of the things that got lost during our last move. Damn.
Strangely, I would not see a show of note beyond a couple of small local gigs for another year. And when I did, it was my second festival, namely the first Police Picnic (no.009), occurring exactly one year to the day of Heatwave. While that day is also a notable one, with particularly memorable sets from the Specials and Iggy Pop, it went off with a whole lot less drama.
"Going Home," The Rolling Stones from Aftermath (1966).
Next On Stage à In my piece on The Clash, I wrote that seeing them made for the most-anticipated gig I had attended up until that time. Well, this David Bowie concert one year later — at the same venue but utilizing the full stadium — left that prior show’s sense of anticipation in the dust as I finally got to see the performer who had long occupied the No. 1 spot on my "Must See" list. Bowie and his seventies output made such a seismic, and enduring, impact on my life that I am setting aside a whole first part simply to extrapolate on how formidable it was. Part Two will look at the actual show, featuring the great Rough Trade as opening act, on that gorgeous Labour Day weekend in 1983, ending one of the most memorable summers of my young life with an unforgettable climax.
022a. Changes: David Bowie (or: "Bowie, The 70s, & Me")
022b. Let’s Dance: David Bowie with Rough Trade, CNE Stadium Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Saturday September 3, 1983.
I'll also be writing about two upcoming shows. I'm going to see perhaps my favourite two new artists of the last couple of years within the next week ...
173. Hold On Me: Esperanza Spalding with Gretchen Parlato, Toronto Jazz Festival, Nathan Philips Square, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Thursday June 28, 2012
NOTE: I am now cross-posting current (and previous) entries on my Wordpress blog.
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