Rock & Roll Road Kill,
by Grant Shilling
“Most people our age are taking
their kids to Disneyland,” says Ralph. “We are driving 1,000
miles to see a rock band from Sweden. Weird.”
Weirder yet we’ve rented a Buick Regal – the type of car
you drive the kids to Disneyland in. Ralph is used to his chopper or
pick up and I’m used to my thumb.
“We’re going all the way till the wheels fall off and burn,”
I say to the Don Knotts looking car rental agent after he gives us the
keys. “You did say unlimited mileage didn’t you?”
Twisting in our seats as we approach the border we try to look Citizen
Sane, little did we know the Buick would take care of this for us. A
Buick Regal makes border crossings for big bearded guys easier ( trust
We eat junk; our hormones have been released from Main St., Tofino.
Every car offers possibility. We know about appearance, we comb our
The band from Stockholm is The Nomads. They are playing in Sacramento
and San Francisco on the last two nights of their American tour. The
last time The Nomads played North America they didn’t even have
work visas – they left their guitars at home and borrowed the
instruments of their opening acts. This time they brought their own
guitars and equipment.
Ralph’s brother Jack just put out the latest Nomads CD on his
Lance Rock Records out of Nanaimo. Ralph put up the bucks for them to
record. This is not the sort of thing that makes money.
The other band we are going to see is The Mermen. It is a trio of virtuoso
players who play surf music that sounds like it crawled out of the sea
like the rest of us.
Like the Nomads, The Mermen are in their late thirties and early 40s.
Ralph saw them play, bought a couple hundred dollars worth of their
CDs and began to sell them or give them away in Tofino, sent CDs to
radio stations and the newspapers. The Mermen are huge in San Francisco
and Tofino – and few other places. They have five phenomenal CDs
out on Mesa.
Ralph got to know Jim, the lead guitarist of The Mermen, through letters,
phone calls and faxes. He does this with rock bands, women and friends.
Jim and he talk about surfing longboards on the phone.
Ralph, 38 spent much of his life crab fishing in Tofino, and is totally
up on the ‘alternative’ music scene. One of the things Ralph
likes about the alternative scene is its access. The people are friendly.
For Ralph, alternative rock is like being a part of a community of people
– not unlike the community of Tofino. Currently Ralph is running
for Mayor of Tofino.
You can’t hear The Mermen or The Nomads on the radio. On the radio
on our drive it’s either classic rock (lots), country ( or not-country,
country as I call it ) or grunge noise Soundgarden and Pearl Jam mixed
with Aerosmith and Ozzy Osborne. My favourite radio ad on the way down
suggests: “Take the kids bowling, it’s the only place you
can smoke and drink in front of them.”
Ralph and I talk about being stuck in time and how rock and roll can
do that. I play devil’s advocate to whether that is our case.
I don’t really think so, I don’t need to hear the old stuff
that much and the new stuff gives me joy.
I like the way Ralph differentiates between garage rock and punk rock.
The Nomads – all of whom have day jobs – play garage rock.
Garage rock, suggests Ralph, is a primal sound that through its noise
celebrates love, women and cars – it’s noisy and user friendly.
The music is not particularly punk in that it’s not angry about
Along the road we pass a sign that has an image of Bill Clinton as Uncle
Sam offering to make a ‘two for one deal’:’My lies
and promises for your votes.’ I suggest to Ralph that he makes
this part of his platform.
October 18 – 24, 1996