Bob McKenzie's response to David Keenan's article about the Nihilist Spasm Band in THE WIRE magazine
David Keenan's otherwise commendable article about the Nihilist Spasm Band in THE WIRE magazine (June 2008, Issue No. 292) was flawed by the following brief but stupid, inaccurate, and offensive passage:
They [the Nihilist Spasm Band] had first come together...during a series of informal hangouts at founding member Greg Curnoe's art studio. Curnoe was fairly established on the Canadian pop art scene by 1965 and he ran his studio along similar lines to Warhol's Factory, with an open door policy that encouraged artists, musicians and associated freaks to hang out, smoke dope, and listen to records.
While it's true that Greg did maintain an open door policy at his studio, any conceivable comparison to Andy Warhol's Factory ends there. I think Greg would have had very little patience with the poseurs and sycophants who surrounded Andy Warhol. Nor did he consider himself to be a pop artist. These misconceptions are annoying but minor, the sort of inaccuracy one has to put up with in an article written by a stranger to the circumstances described, based on a comparatively brief interview. But there is no excuse for the fabricated reference to "freaks" who "smoke[d] dope" at Greg Curnoe's studio. The democratic principle of freedom of expression protects the right to publish an opinion, even if it is stupid and wrong, but that freedom does not provide a licence to fabricate fiction and pass it off as fact. I therefore sent the following letter to the editor of THE WIRE:
Who were the "freaks"?
David Keenan is to be congratulated on having written one of the more accurate and perceptive accounts of the Nihilist Spasm Band (THE WIRE, June 2008). But I am compelled to take issue with one item in Mr. Keenan's article, not directly related to the band, which is a complete fabrication originating in his own misguided imagination: that Greg Curnoe "encouraged…freaks to…smoke dope" at his studio.
I met Greg Curnoe in 1960, three weeks after he established his first studio here in London, Ontario, where I also met Hugh McIntyre, Archie Leitch, and Art Pratten, and, later, Murray Favro and John Clement (as well as a great many other interesting people who did not become members of the Nihilist Spasm Band). I already knew John Boyle (since 1953) and Bill Exley (since 1955).
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s I spent a great deal of my free time at Greg's studio, or at what amounted to its annex, a nearby pub called the York Hotel. The people who frequented Greg's studio, either dropping in for conversation or attending one of his parties, were teachers, lawyers, accountants, university professors, business executives, librarians – in short, not the sort of people for whom the label "freaks" would spring to mind. There were also artists and musicians, who I suppose might have been characterized by some narrow-minded people as "freaks" because they didn't hold down regular 9 to 5 jobs. But even the members of the NSB didn't all fit into this category. Until they retired, John Clement was a family physician, Hugh McIntyre was a librarian, Art Pratten worked for the local newspaper, and Bill Exley was head of the English department at a secondary school. Archie Leitch, who was only with the band for a few years, was an accountant. True, Greg Curnoe was an artist, as are John Boyle and Murray Favro. But they are hardly "freaks." They are all among the most important and highly regarded of contemporary Canadian artists, whose credentials are far too extensive to be enumerated here. To give only one example, last year Murray Favro was awarded the prestigious Governor-General's Award in Visual Arts – an honour not likely to be bestowed by our national establishment upon a "freak."
Contrary to Mr. Keenan's fabricated and defamatory allegation, I can state categorically that no one ever smoked dope at Greg Curnoe's studio. Not one person. Not ever. Just to confirm what I was already sure of myself, I spoke with Greg's widow, Sheila, who obviously spent more time with him than anyone else. Recalling those happy times at her late husband's studio in the '60s and '70s, Sheila said, "We drank beer. We smoked cigarettes. We listened to loud music. We danced. We talked." Sheila confirmed that no one ever smoked dope either at Greg's studio or at their home. She told me that Greg didn't want to be around people who used drugs, because they were deprived of the ability to carry on an intelligent conversation, something that Greg prized very highly.
As reported to me by members of the Nihilist Spasm Band who were present for the interview in Leeds, the only "dope-smoking freak" associated with this story was its author, David Keenan, who saw fit to smoke a joint before attending the band's performance.
To return to the 20centsMUSIC site close this window or CLICK HERE.