The second, Recollections of a Neighbourhood: Huron-Sussex from UTS to Stop Spadina by Nancy Williams and Marie Scott-Baron (editors) (Words Indeed Publishing), details the evolution of a remarkable – and bohemian – Toronto, Canada neighbourhood in which I lived in the 1980s and 1990s. It uses an image from Watch Magazine, a youth culture biweekly I edited in 1994 and 1996. The magazine was launched during the depths of Canada’s austerity crisis. Despite the economic gloom, the magazine fizzed with youthful vitality and edge and contributed to Toronto’s resurgence. The particular piece cited is a feature on Rochdale College, a late 1960s experimental college associated with the University of Toronto that lit up the neighbourhood with hippie and alternative cultures, until it went into meltdown as drug gangs took control. It was a bold experiment and a reflection of the counter culture vibe of the time.
In 1994 I was hired by start-up Youth Culture to be Editor-in-Chief of Toronto’s Watch Magazine, a bi-weekly distributed to the city’s high schools and to all youth hang-outs. In 1996 I was hired again to help with preparing the magazine for its national launch.
In 1994, the Internet had not arrived in any great form (though Watch Magazine was on top of its emergence as Internet cafes popped up in the city) and the digital economy was still minimal. There was no such thing as ‘start-up culture’ for youth. There was an urgent need to create opportunity for youth, to create new markets, and to change the business culture of the city of Toronto, which had been hit hard by an economic crash and austerity.
Watch Magazine had had a brief false start prior to my arrival in 1994. The previous format had not worked and the magazine needed a vision and somebody with the experience and dedication to see it through. It was also entering a competitive marketplace for readers, with already existing free magazines capturing most of the advertising spend for youth-oriented marketing in Toronto (though failing to offer a genuine youth content experience as could be found in Europe – the UK especially – at that time). As an example, Toronto lacked sharp and credible coverage of youth popular culture in the early 1990s. Drawing on my extensive experience as a journalist (including at Toronto’s established alternative weekly, Now Magazine) and editor, I assembled a team of youth editors and writers to work on making the content and magazine’s design appealing to the youth demographic in Toronto. The magazine needed to turn a profit in short order and become credible to advertisers, its main source of income (in Canada, 64 per cent of magazine revenues come from advertisers)*. The design and content needed to appeal to a youth audience but work with a tight (but increasing) budget. It was doing this in a tough economy with high unemployment, austerity, business failures, and a generally negative business environment.
By having an actual youth editorial team, Watch Magazine quickly developed an authentically young 1990s voice. The magazine also benefited from its youth team’s ability to spot trends bubbling under the surface ready to explode into mainstream society. As an example, they had this to say on the Internet in a piece on Toronto’s coffee shops, “Some mean places for bean”: “The powers-that-be think we should cocoon in our houses and rent videos, play with the Internet and order in food …”
Youth unemployment was high in the early to mid 1990s in Canada. It reached 19.3 per cent for those 15 to 19 years old in 1993. “It should be noted, however, that youth unemployment relative to that of adults has worsened since the 1990-91 recession (Youth Unemployment in Canada by Kevin B. Kerr, 2000).”
The Canadian economy overall severely contracted and unemployment was at 11.4 per cent by 1993 (Statistics Canada), and as Statistics Canada said, “Because employment recovered at a snail’s pace after the recession of the early 1990s, the decline in the unemployment rate was delayed until 1994”.
As the Bank of Canada also said: “In early 1994, Canada’s economic situation was not that favourable—our economy was facing some rather serious problems. … the recession here was more severe than in the United States.
“Working their way out of these difficulties was disruptive and painful for Canadian businesses. Defaults, restructurings, and downsizings became the order of the day. With all this, unemployment took a long time to recover from the 1990–91 recession …” *
And the media in general could not avoid the crisis. According to the book The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000), Canada’s media was also in a crisis throughout the 1990s, as declining resources, staff layoffs and media closures reduced the breadth and depth of news coverage.
In less than a year, Watch Magazine had gone from being an unknown quantity, to being a fast-growing and profitable youth publication, significantly increasing its advertising revenue: a key metric for a magazine reliant on this as its main source of income. It had expanded in size and audited distribution and was able to make a move to new digs (the Watch Magazine “crib” – a studio and work space) at innovative “arts-and-culture hub” start-up space 401 Richmond Street in Toronto – at the centre of Toronto’s emerging media and design neighborhood in its former fashion district. All the contributors were high-school-age youth drawn from talent across the city; many had already shown their ability by starting their own publications and media. They gained first-hand experience in investigative journalism skills, business skills in a start-up, and magazine and media production skills.
“… thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.” William White
In 1996, I was hired again to help with preparing the content format for Watch’s expansion to a national magazine – further proof of its success as a publication and a business.
* (Bank of Canada: Canada’s Economic Future: What Have We Learned from the 1990s?)
* The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000)
Brief descriptions of sample issues are below:
Youth Gangs Cover
In 1994, with Canada’s economy still in the doldrums, Watch Magazine exploded into Toronto’s high schools. Staffed by talented youth, it shook up the staid publishing scene and proved young people did have something to say. This first issue still remains relevant, with its exploration of youth gangs and violence in the school system.
After its successful launch, Watch Magazine was grabbing readers and getting the attention of advertisers and television. It was time to improve the design and introduce the latest in graphic design software. The results paid off: the magazine looked sharper and quickly ran from its cheeky launch, when we had basically avoided all traditional approaches to a launch (like actually having a designer).
For anoraks out there, this photo shoot with Irish band Therapy took place outside the former Wellesley Hospital emergency department in Toronto. And, yes, that is a genuine restraining ‘straitjacket’ used by psychiatric hospitals to restrain mental health patients.
Digable Planets Cover
By this issue, Watch had hit its stride: we were the first to seriously review the ballooning zine culture, get immersed in the rave and late-night party scene, and dig deep into “chopsocky world”: Hong Kong and Asian film fans. But “Hip-Hop Comb-munism”? What were we thinking?
It was also the biggest issue to date.
Highly talented Beck gave Watch his eloquent thoughts on the media’s infatuation with Generation X and how it always desperately needs to sell young people more stuff. Watch took on Ontario’s film censors over the GG Allin documentary, Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, and let students across the city blow off steam on life in the 1990s.
Bass is Base Cover
By October 1994 the magazine’s investigative powers were in full flow. Two investigations – a sex scandal at an alternative school, and whether the Battle of the Bands contests, a fixture at most high schools, are really worth it – joined a profile of the band Bass is Base and more coverage on the growing rave scene in Toronto.
In 1994, Oasis were still an indie band with a lot of bottle and big mouths. Riding a tsunami of hype from the UK, they washed up in North America to face their biggest challenge: could they become as big as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Lead singer Liam Gallagher does not disappoint, as he gives me an expletive-laden exposition on everything under the sun.
This was the first published print interview with the band in Canada.
Canada’s answer to the ‘Madchester’ scene of the early 1990s, Sloan, played the pop game with gusto. In the photo shoot for the feature, it was pants down and prayer hands to an unseen religious icon.
1994: Hired to re-launch and expand Watch Magazine in Toronto.
1996: Hired to re-develop editorial content for Watch Magazine’s national launch.
“As one of those high school kids and the guy who wrote (most of) this article, I’d like to say thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.”William White
Toronto’s first youth culture media start-up. Introduced ‘youth culture’ concept to Canada
oversaw two format re-launches of the magazine as it expanded and grew
assembled talented youth editorial team
grew magazine and its profile as the main media source for reaching Toronto’s youth
writers trained and appeared on TV as youth commentators
first profile in Canada of British band Oasis, among many other story firsts
became first stop for anyone wishing to target the youth market, or seeking intelligence on the youth market
created youth culture market in Toronto
first magazine to be based at new start-up hub in Toronto – pioneering concept at the time
Note: Complete issues of the magazine’s first year await professional digital scanning. This could be of interest to a library, scholar or university interested in archiving this authentic artefact of 1990s youth culture. Please send an email if you would like to get in touch or share a thought: mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Free teen publication Watch Magazine is going national this month – promising to more than double its high school penetration.
The self-described youth culture magazine, which last year at this time went province-wide – delivering copies to 350 high schools across Ontario – plans to send out 125,000 copies to 800 participating high schools across Canada.
Going national only four years after its inception (the magazine started as a Toronto-only vehicle in 1993) could make national advertisers interested in reaching the elusive teen market very happy.”
“Owned by marketing company Youth Culture Group, these gender – specific magazines attempt to construct a teen image that is built on spending.”
Note: Complete issues of the magazine’s first year await professional digital scanning. This could be of interest to a library, scholar or university interested in archiving this authentic artifact of 1990s youth culture. Please send an email if you would like to get in touch or share a thought: mailto: email@example.com.You can also fund this goal through our PayPal account here:
“You Can’t Have A Bird If You Want To Be The Biggest Band In The World”
By David South
Watch Magazine (Toronto, Canada), October 12, 1994
Preparing to invade Lee’s Palace October 19, supersonically hyped English pop fivesome Oasis have a lot to live up to. The Manchester-based band have experienced a tsunami of media hype reminiscent of The Sex Pistols or The Beatles.
A triple slam of three hit singles in three months – Supersonic, Shakermaker, Live Forevever – and four sold out UK tours preceded their first album, Definitely Maybe. But this clever English pop formula faces its biggest challenge: North America.
The band has developed in less than a year, a reputation for being a ferry-disturbing, hotel-trashing, media-slagging, earth-shattering, shit-disturbing, ego-boosting, self-absorbed, tune-churning, attention-grabbing machine.
And what does an Oasis album sound like?
After you’ve heard all the hype and b.s., approaching 11-track Definitely Maybe should be a disappointing experience. It’s not. The album is craftily tight, with every song great. These guys left the crap at home – a lesson for other bands.
Singer Liam Gallagher’s voice isn’t polished, posh or slick. He drags words out, lets his voice crack, he whines. But this is the charm. Brother Noel Gallagher’s lyrics are cheeky, deliberately oblique at times, pragmatic and just simply entertaining. Gone are the 12-point manifestos of other bands, into the trash goes the primary-school poetry.
Noel writes songs that deliberately pay homage to their influences: The Stone Roses, The Jam, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Sex Pistols. But listen closely. Each one is manipulative – you can’t help feeling the rhythm flow. There’s straight chord-bashing, multi-layered jangle guitar, and a lager-laden freight train ripping through the entire album.
Though it is worth mentioning there are five in Oasis – 22-year-old Liam, 27-year-old songwriter and guitarist Noel, guitarist Paul Arthurs, bassist Paul McGuigan, drummer Tony McCarroll – the band has deliberately served up brothers Liam and Noel as willing fodder for the press.
Hailing from the much-maligned north of England – Burnage, South Manchester to be exact – has meant the band has taken buckets of regional bigotry over their Mancunian accents. It seems the London style gestapo will still let good old fashioned English class and regional prejudices get in the way of a solid analysis of Oasis.
Calling up from Austin, Texas, lead singer Liam’s thick Mancunian accent rips through the telephone line in a firestorm of profanity – it’s refreshing.
The band is on a mission to devour all the “crap bands.” And through a little of Liam and Noel’s own version of the power of positive thinking, or to some, bold-faced arrogance, Oasis are going to give the music business an enema like they’ve never seen before.
“Crap bands. That motivates us to be big,” says Liam confidently. “We were pissed off listening to all the daft bands – blagging the kids that this is what it is all about when it’s not. We are there to prove them all wrong. No bullshit, no strings attached – just simple rock n’ roll.”
Are they the vanguard of a new English invasion, or just another crew of hyped-up, trainer traipsing tossers? North America represents a walled fortress that has buffeted repeated attempts to resurrect the Brit-pack musical and cultural invasion of the 60s. The times have changed in the land where hip-hop, country music and heavy metal rule.
The classic British art-school pop formula of acquiring a very cool one-word name, a pile of trendy clothes, some mega-cool posters – and these days a video – falls flat amongst a population more comfortable in sweatpants and a baseball cap.
But Liam disagrees, and points to their appearance at the New Music Conference in New York.
“Packed-out – the crowd was havin’ it. The gigs have been like at home. Because we’re from England they don’t know much about us – they just come and listen to the music, go home and have a good night.
“We are fucking slick, a big machine! But we’ve not been trained. We know our songs are fucking good. We know we’ve got the best songs on the fucking planet. It ain’t just England – we know our kid (Noel) write the best songs in a long, long time. Since the days of Lennon and McCartney. And he’s doing it on his own.”
Liam’s antics, much to the disappointment of Noel, have gotten some major print in England’s tabloid music press, and has lead to a sleazy prose slug-fest between rivals the New Musicial Express and Melody Maker.
There was the ferry fracas, with Liam san Noel being tossed off for fighting and public drunkenness. Or how about being arrested for some serious hotel trashing with Primal Scream and the Verve while on tour in Sweden.
With the media hyping the scrapper reputation, an ugly element has been attracted to their concerts. During an August 9 concert, a fan punched Noel in the eye during Bring it Down, resulting in a mob of 300 stoning the tour bus.
But the band has never been sedate. They got their first record contract by storming a concert and demanding to be allowed to play or they will tear the place down.
“We’re not hype – I laugh at the English press. They’re stupid. They don’t even understand our music. They like it, that’s about it. Then they’ve got to write about me and our kid fighting, bits about trashing the hotel.”
Talking to Oasis, forget about the nice-boys-next-door routine. In fact, forget about every false face pop musicians had to put on in the puritanical 80s, and the politically correct 90s. Oasis not only admit to using drugs, shock of shock, they like it.
“Our mums know about it. I was doing drugs since I was 13. Sniffing gas, sniffing glue, drinking cider, getting off my face.”
They don’t labour themselves with the soul-consuming indie band angst of worry that if they get big they have somehow sold out.
Depending on the day of the week and who you talk to, the brothers either enjoy a healthy creative conflict, or bloody well hate each other. Certainly, the evidence points to the latter, while Liam says otherwise.
There was the time at a South England gig where Noel punched Liam in the face and chased him off stage. But there is the Noel who returned from being a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets and approached the band in 1992 telling them their songs are “shite” and they should let him write the songs and take over.
“Our kid, he’s a bit of a singer, but he knows he can’t sing. He says I can’t write a song. We are both kind of jealous of each other. That’s how I see it anyway. I don’t know. He thinks he’s the only one who really loves music, and his own brother don’t understand it. And I ant to prove to him I mean it a little more than he does – and it freaks him out. He sings totally different – then I get a grip of it and I bite the head off of it.”
It has been Noel’s discipline and raw talent, Liam admits, that pulled Oasis together.
They believe in total commitment to the cause of being the best band in the world.
“There’s a day when you turn around and say, right “Do you want this to be every Tuesday, Thursday night, like a fucking scout club meeting, or do you want it to be real?” If you want it to be real, you’ve got to be here every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday – you can’t go out drinkingwith your mates or doing this with your bird. You can’t have a bird if you want to be the biggest band in the world – this is what it’s about. If you don’t like it, piss off, tell us now.”
They gotten a reputation for being a juicy interview for jaded journalists tired of earnest musicians telling of their next charity album, or wanking on about how their music is deep.
The British press have gorged themselves on a love-hate feast of large portions of Oasis.
For Oasis watchers, the landmark article was the April 23 issue this year of NME. Titled The Bruise Brothers, this was the true beginning of the hype machine. The article immediately focuses in on the duelling brothers, barely touching the fact they are a band.
The stage was set for a punch and judy comedy involving the nasty yet lovable Gallagher brothers. Shakespeare couldn’t have written a better play for the press gang to report.
While Liam denies it, there has been talk of a full-blown conspiracy involving Oasis record label Creation and their buddies within the press – an Oasis hype mafia some have called it.
“If someone likes you and your on their label, they are going to talk about you. We’ve done all the shit gigs man. The reason why we are bigis because we are fucking crafty. We’ve done four sell-out tours within the space of four months. What other band does that? – none. We’ve had a single out every month. People are just tripping. There’s no big mafia working us up. If there is, I don’t fucking know it. No one’s told me.
“They just want to build us up as hype and then see if they can knock us down. But they won’t be able to – ’cause we are writing the best songs – we can rip their papers up and wipe our bums with it and throw it in the fucking bin, they can’t do it with us. They can do it with Suede, ’cause Suede let em. If someone stitches me in the paper and I meet them in London or wherever, they get it, I tell them.
“A couple weeks ago we were on the front cover of the NME, Melody Maker – we didn’t even do an interview with the NME. They just sneaked over and got a picture, the picture that was on the cover of the NME was going to be for VOX.
“They got (freelance photographer) Keving Cummings to sell the VOX picture to the NME. Now Kevin Cummings don’t come near us, if he does I’ll slap him, and I’ve told him. He says this is for VOX, and the next fucking day it’s on the front cover of the NME without even an interview with us.
“They can try and have a backlash – we will release Whatever at xmas with proper Beatles styling, which will sell thousands and thousands of fucking copies and put us in the charts.”
When former Jam powerhouse and English pop icon Paul Weller dropped by an Oasis gig, the meeting was blown into the clash of titan egos by the press.
“He comes to the gig because he likes the music. We chilled out with him. You know how the press works, they just build it up. They made out as if Paul Weller walked in our dressing room and our kid fucking snaps at him. He loves Paul Weller. This is bullshit, I’m not having the NME or the Melody Maker deciding what we are. No way, I’m not having it.”
In fact Liam sees Weller on holy ground. “The other two guys in the band were dicks, I don’t care for them at all. Paul Weller was a diamond. He wrote some mega songs. They are bloody selling groceries, trying to get it together.
“Everyone is going they should form the Jam again – no way man. They look like 50-year-old men, them two now. Paul Weller looks like a young lad now. He’s kept it together, why should he go back, go jamming with them again. He’s still young.”
It took just one tour with Primal Scream for Oasis to determine who is the greatest rock n’ roll band alive. Lead singer Bobby Gillespie’s degenerate 70s roadshow follies didn’t impress Liam.
“They ain’t the rock n’ roll band everybody makes them out to be. There’s only three in Primal Scream – the rest are all hiding. A rock n’ roll band to me is about five people who know each other very well, they are all friends. They ain’t the last rock n’ roll band, we are! Fucking idiots, we are! Well we aren’t the last, but we are the rock n’ roll band to date if there is one about – not Primal Scream.
“Plus he (Gillespie) smells and they don’t wash their clothes. They are too rock n’ roll cliche, you know what I mean. I know for a fact lot of these rock n’ roll types look at us and say we aren’t rock n’ roll because we have trainers. So fucking what! It’s not all about winkle pickers, skin-tight pants and long greasy hair. That’s Guns n’ Roses material!”
Note:This was the first article about Oasis in North America. In October, 2007 Liam Gallagher was named one of the ten wittiest Englishmen in history.
It isn’t the nicest thing to think about, but if accident or illness strikes, you could end up receiving unwanted treatment.
But in 1994 things will change. The living will or advance directive – a document clearly stating a patient’s wishes about how they want to be treated – will become part of the doctor-patient relationship.
A trio of acts passed last December – the Advocacy Act, the Substitute Decisions Act and the Consent to Treatment Act – allow, albeit in rather vague language, for Ontarians to set out in advance which medical procedures they would or wouldn’t accept and let’s them name a proxy in case they are incapable of expressing their wishes.
This vague language – intended to allow patients to customize their wishes – means that writing a living will can prove to be a troubling and confusing experience.
To aid decision-making, the University of Toronto Centre for Bioethics is offering advice through a “model” living will.
The centre’s Dr. Peter Singer has geared the “model” to meet Ontario legislation and to offer a guide for anybody who doesn’t know where to begin.
“We put a lot of detail in the advance directive about states of incompetence people get into, and also the sorts of procedures providers might recommend in those health states.”
Singer sees living wills as an effective tool aiding patients to control their own health care.
“Unless the doctor is a longstanding friend it’s hard to know what patients want. As a practicing doctor, I have run into an incompetent person where their family member has no idea what sort of wishes the person would have wanted. The goal of a living will is to provide the personal care the patient would want.”
But there is a danger. Dr. Singer urges the need for informed and detailed language in a living will.
“If I have a couple minutes to make a decision I need a document that gives me a lot of confidence that this person wouldn’t want this treatment.”
In an emergency, the doctor might not even know of the living will’s existence. Dr. Singer advises giving a copy to your family doctor, lawyer, or proxy, and keep one with you at all times. When so-called “smart” health cards come along, Dr. Singer would like to see the living will recorded on the magnetic strip along with other health information.