Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Kids on TV, Will Munro's Army of Lovers & Myra Breckinridge

Kids on TV's final lineup. Left to Right: Roxanne Luchak, John Caffery, and Minus Smile

"That man is just a man. That man is just a ma-a-an..."
- Poison by Kids on TV from Pantheon (2013)

Those lyrics kick off Poison, the ninth track from Kids on TV's second, and sadly final, album. Released in December it's is a showcase of bouncy tracks made for dance floors (Dazzler, Haunted House of Rock, and Bobby among others). I was lucky to see the Kids perform a couple times during their 10 years together (2003-2013). The energy of those live stage shows was a treat to experience. John Caffery's bouncy stage presence is a wonder to behold - the man has moves.

News of the band's dissolution comes from an Xtra! article written by Keith Cole which, annoyingly, does not seem to be on the paper's website.

In Caffery's own words from an essay on Xtra!: "My band, Kids on TV, were honoured the first time we were asked by Will (Munro) to perform at (his Vazaleen party). I created Kids on TV after dancing at Vazaleen for three years because I was so inspired by the music I was surrounded by. The band was my response to experiencing the rock and roll high school that Vazaleen was for me. Although I worked at Vazaleen as a dancer, it was still a big deal for Kids on TV to be asked to play because the role had been filled by so many spectacular artists before, it felt like a real accomplishment for us."

I've been aware of Kids on TV for years; I even helped sell their first album Mixing Business with Pleasure (2007) when I volunteered at Toronto's Glad Day Bookshop. However, I was unaware of the punk sensation's origins. My winter break reading Army of Lovers: A Community History of Will Munro by Sarah Liss shed some light on the parties and happenings that inspired Caffery to create his band. Of even more interest, the book shines a spotlight on the late Will Munro. He was an artist, DJ, volunteer, entrepreneur, party promoter, and so much more. In the space of a decade he transformed T.O.'s nightlife scene by bringing queers from the city's various subcultures together under the big gay tent of his parties.

This was no small feat in a city known (perhaps unfairly) for its' cold, snobbish vibes. As Liss's book makes clear Munro was a bridge builder above all else who strove to create connections within Toronto's larger queer community. In the book Liss allows people who knew Munro to remember him in their own words. Army of Lovers was written in such a way to give the interviewees plenty of space to tell their stories. Here and there Liss steps in to provide context. Rather than interpreting the book for you here, I suggest buying a copy from Glad Day. You can also read an excerpt on The Grid's website here. Sarah Liss is The Grid's Culture Editor.

Her history of Munro is divided into three parts - his upbringing, the community work and parties, then a sad sequence concerned with Munro's brain cancer diagnosis and eventual death on May 21, 2010.

In life Munro was 'straight-edge' meaning he eschewed using drugs and alcohol. His peers' insights into this are revealing.

Alex McClelland: Will said he'd seen his brother get really drunk and be a jerk and an asshole. He (Will) did try to drink a few times, but I think what happened is he was scared that, if he drank, he would hit on the boys that he liked in Mississauga. He was never straight-edge for political reasons, I don't think. He was straight-edge because he was scared of losing control.

Further insights, often hilarious, are offered on Will's motivation to throw parties such as Vazaleen while dressed up in strange and wonderful costumes.

Alex McClelland: Will was obsessed with perverse costumes where he'd be invisible. He dressed up as a wolfman once, which he really liked. And there are pictures of him dressed like John Wayne Gacy in that disgusting outfit where he put clown makeup on and covered his face with nylons. He liked being a weird pervert in costumes that covered him up.

There are plenty of quotable jems like the above in Liss's book. McClelland has a treasure trove of them in part because of his status as one of Munro's former boyfriends and a close friend thereafter. It is this pervy counterculture spirit which is part of what made Will Munro a remarkable figure. In Toronto the Good he dared to be Bad in a loud way.

I identify with Munro because I am also an artist, though a painter where his primary mediums were sewing, poster design, and installations. There is also the fact that throughout the book the man's friends make reference to his cheapness, a trait I share. Long live Value Village!


In addition to Army of Lovers I also read Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge over the break. Published in 1968 it is quite possibly one of the first works of fiction with a transsexual protagonist. Chapter One begins with the once read never forgotten sentence: "I am Myra Breckinridge whom no man will ever possess. Clad only in garter belt and one dress shield, I held off the entire elite of the Trobriand Islanders, a race who possess no words for "why" or "because."

Myra Breckinridge is many things - a satire skewering gender politics and Hollywood, an account of the late 1960s' social climate as it manifested in California, and an insight into the author's encyclopedic knowledge of early Hollywood cinema. Even 45 years after its' publication the book still feels like a slap in the face. Told mostly through Myra's diary entries the tone is combative and informative simultaneously. Vidal takes the reader inside his protagonist's mind to make us understand her motivations. Even though he pulls this off Myra still comes across as one of the more unlikeable characters I've ever encountered. Out for money willed to her, she pursues the goal of obtaining her portion of an uncle's property with vengeful fury.

In 1974 the quick witted Vidal published Myron as a sequel. Printed in the wake of an anti-pornography ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, Vidal substituted 'foul language' in the book with the names of the Justices involved in the legal decision.


A final note: If you're looking for a fun, light read this year with lots of sex and juicy gossip look no further than Joey Wargachuk's soon to be released Pixie Dust. The book is an autobiographical account of Toronto's queer club scene. Joey has seen it first hand as a host and poster designer for Club 120's popular Sodom event. He is running an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to do a first printing and promote his book.

It's being published in April and I guarantee Pixie Dust will be one of the hottest titles to come from a local author this year. If you can spare some coin, help Joey turn his hard work into paperback reality.

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