Malibu Kens History Chapter 6

The following text represents my opinion and my best recollection of the events that happened 20 years ago. If you were there you may have a different recollection of these events and a different opinion. Scott Juskiw, January 2001.

VI. Clueing In [September 1981 - December 1981]

We hadn't played many gigs in the summer of 1981 and by September we were itching for a chance to play live. We had practiced a lot and learned a lot of new songs. Someone told us about a good place to play in Calgary called The Calgarian. It was a very dingy hotel/bar on 7th avenue in the scummy end of town. It had been a popular place for punk and new wave bands to play for several years. The cover of the Hot Nasties EP was shot outside The Calgarian. Somehow we managed to get booked to play there for three nights, Thursday - Saturday, in September 1981. Even more surprising is that we actually got paid to play there. That was probably our main motivating factor because we were still paying for the disastrous Be My Barbie single and had to find some way for the band to generate income. At The Calgarian we had to play four sets, each a half hour long, starting at 9, 10, 11, and midnight. That was quite a lot for us but luckily we had learned enough songs over the summer to fill the set lists. So we packed up our gear and headed to Calgary to spend three nights in the nastiest place I'd ever been. The Calgarian doesn't exist anymore, and for that I am grateful. It was a human cesspool. It was dirty. It smelled bad. It was a hangout for drunks, drug dealers, lowlifes, ugly hookers and even uglier pimps. What the hell were we doing there? The bar had an odd shape. At the north end was the stage and dance floor with a few tables around it. This connected to a corridor with more tables that led to the south end which was full of pool tables. Surprisingly, they had a good house PA system with a guy named Tim to run it. One thing I distinctly remember about The Calgarian was that the end of the bar that had the pool tables was always full. Nobody seemed to want to venture to the end where the band was playing. From the stage we could see the humanoids playing pool way in the back. Sometimes fights would break out and we'd watch it from the stage.

What we didn't know at the time was that The Calgarian had been falling out of favour with those in the Calgary alternative music scene, and I don't blame them. I recall that our first show on Thursday night was quite barren. Nobody showed up to see us; we played to an empty dance floor and a few drunks. The next day we all went out to a restaurant for breakfast along with our manager. Ian was reading a Calgary newspaper and happened upon an article about some people who were putting together a magazine or something to promote the local alternative music scene. By some weird coincidence our waitress at this restaurant was one of the people featured in that article. Ian recognized her picture and explained who we were and where we were playing. She spread the word and on Friday night a large number of punks and new wavers showed up. Nobody from Calgary had ever seen us before, so we had a completely new audience to play to. We played well and the place was packed with people. Nobody threw food at us and we didn't get fired. It was one of the best gigs we had ever played. The Saturday show was not as good, however. There were far fewer people there. I don't believe anyone that saw us on Friday came back to see us on Saturday. Overall we were satisfied with the gig, despite the location. We were pleased with our performance, although it wasn't perfect, and we demonstrated that we could play an entire evening ourselves without getting fired. It would not be the last time we would play The Calgarian. Over the course of our career we would play The Calgarian a total of 15 nights.

When we got back to Edmonton we played a few hall gigs, one with the Stingrays. I recall that we surprised a few people who hadn't seen us since the Teen Dance in April 1981 with our "new and improved" Malibu Ken sound. One truly bizarre gig we had was opening for the Pet Rocks. We had no idea who they were, and still don't. They were putting on some kind of hall party, possibly a record release party, and asked us to play an opening set for them for $150. We brought our guitars and used their drums and amplifiers. It was strange, everything was nailed down to the stage, nothing could be moved. When we started playing, the people went completely silent and white-faced. They were horrified. They were all rockers and didn't have a clue what to make of us. Except for one arsehole who paced back and forth in front of the stage yelling "punk sucks" at us the whole time. It was just like our very first gig with Joey Did in the school gymnasium. But when we played 421-1111, a brand new song for us at the time, something remarkable happened. They clapped for us! I was totally stunned and wanted to shout into the microphone, "Oh my God, they're alive!" They probably only clapped because they thought it was a Beatles song. To me this indicated a turning point in our song writing. We must have finally been making the transition from punk rock to something else. We weren't the garage-rock band we wanted to be, but we weren't the punk band we used to be either. Perhaps we were becoming "ourselves".

Another gig I remember from this period was opening for Troc 59 in a hotel lounge somewhere in downtown Edmonton. We were supposed to play an opening set, but it didn't turn out that way. I was going to university at the time and had parked my car where I should not have. When I finished classes at around 5 pm my car had been towed away. The big problem was that my guitar was in the trunk of my car. I was supposed to have gone over to Jim's house at 6 pm where we were going to cram in a last minute practice and then head out to the gig. It took hours to get my car and guitar back. I was so mad about the incident that I didn't even want to play the gig, Mike had to talk me into it. I eventually arrived at the hotel quite late and Troc 59 had to play the opening set themselves. We played the second (middle) set instead. It was not a good day.

The fall of 1981 had seen considerable improvement in the song writing and musicianship of the Malibu Kens. We once again became embarrassed with our previous recording, the Girls Dig Me demo tape, and enlisted Myron Nebozuk's help in making another recording. Myron lent us his 4-track and we recorded our second demo tape, Your Face My Ass, in Ed's basement during one session in October 1981. Unlike the previous demo tape, we didn't record all of our original songs. Instead, we only recorded seven songs in total and three of them were cover tunes. Apart from the 4-track we still didn't have proper recording equipment. But this marks the first Malibu Kens recording that is not completely horrible, nor too painful to listen to. We don't sound like a punk band anymore and Mike actually sings! I remember the strange situation under which the vocals were recorded that day. Ed's sister had a bunch of her friends over from school and they wanted to come down to the basement to watch us play. The instruments had all been recorded earlier in the day and by that time we were ready to start dubbing in the lead vocals. Mike said he didn't object to them coming to watch. They sat on a couch in total silence watching Mike as he sang each song with his eyes closed. They couldn't hear the music because it was all coming through the headphones; only Mike and I could hear the music. I was very surprised that Mike was able to sing under such conditions, and a good job he did too.

The most interesting feature of Your Face My Ass is the first song, Listen To Your Heart, which was written by the Rock 'n' Roll bitches. This song wasn't supposed to be on the demo tape, we just did it as a sound check, but it turned out to be the best track on the tape. We had learned this song from a live recording of the Rock 'n' Roll Bitches from the Teen Dance in April 1981. We thought it was a good song and since they had broken up we decided to add it to our cover tunes list. We played it in typical Malibu Kens style; we changed the lead guitar line and vocal melody to suit us. Several years later, long after we had broken up, I was surprised on two occasions to hear Listen To Your Heart being played by Edmonton bands whom I did not know. In both cases they played the song as the Malibu Kens had recorded it on Your Face My Ass, not as how the Rock 'n' Roll Bitches originally played it. No doubt they had learned it from bootleg copies of our second demo tape. It's amusing to think that the Malibu Kens legacy to the Edmonton alternative music scene would be a Rock 'n' Roll Bitches song.

Shortly after recording our second demo tape Mike started playing guitar in the band. I had a 12 string acoustic guitar and had used it when writing some of our newer songs. Since we weren't a punk band anymore, we didn't rely on overly distorted guitars for all of our songs. For some songs I played a hollow body guitar and noticed that it gave us a much lighter sound. I suggested that Mike play my 12 string acoustic on some of those numbers to help fill out the sound. It worked out well and I wish Mike had played guitar on all of our songs as he would later do in Junior Gone Wild.

Sometime after making our second demo tape we did a half hour radio interview on CJSR. I wasn't present but Mike, Jim, and Ed did a great job telling our story and joking with the host. Throughout most of our career I had actively boycotted all interviews. I didn't have anything to say and the other guys were so much funnier than me that I decided to keep my mouth shut and just stay out of it. I was only interested in writing music.

In December 1981 we were asked to come back to The Calgarian to play six nights from December 28 through January 2. The Malibu Kens had hit the big time and would be hosting a New Year's celebration at the biggest scum hole in cowtown. Our previous three night gig at The Calgarian had gone well and so we accepted the invitation. I believe we still had some remaining debt from Be My Barbie and this was our big chance to get that albatross off our necks. We were paid $1500 to play four sets each night for six nights, the same amount that the Modern Minds used to get paid for playing two sets in one evening at Dinwoodie. The gig would turn out to be far less than satisfying.

The biggest problem we had was with the weather. The weather had been decent through December with temperatures ranging between -5C and -10C. But on the very day that we set out for Calgary a deep froze settled over the entire province; temperatures plummeted to the -30C range in one day. We didn't bring clothes that were warm enough, I don't even think we brought any gloves. I had parked my car in a residential area just outside of the downtown core and it froze there solid the first evening. This left us stranded downtown with no transportation, and it was so cold that we couldn't walk anywhere either. We became prisoners of The Calgarian. Although Calgary had the +15 network of downtown walkways, they closed at 6 pm, while we were usually up until 3 am. So after 6 pm there was nowhere to go but back to The Calgarian. The only food we could find after 6 pm was a Mr. Sub a couple of blocks away. We'd nearly freeze to death walking there every night. The cold weather also prevented anyone from venturing out to see us. Even if the weather had been cooperative, the Calgary punks had already stopped going to The Calgarian by then so we had nobody to play to. We didn't see anyone that looked like they had come out to see us. All we played to the entire week was the local downtown clientele who usually sat at the back and tried their best to ignore us. We had brought Ed's tape deck along and recorded three of the evening's performances for later amusement. The recordings were a mixed bag but documented this moment in our career; they are the only live recordings made of the Malibu Kens. By the end of the week we were quite beat and happy to get out of there and never return. Ian had come to our rescue from Edmonton with a car to haul our gear back home while we took the bus back to Edmonton. I had to abandon my car in Calgary and get my brother to bring it back to Edmonton once the weather had warmed up. And to think that we would return to The Calgarian one more time.

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Last updated: October 14, 2017