Jer @ SBS Presents 15/30 – 002: Not All Heroes Wear Capes – Some Chew Gum.
To be as exact as possible, I was seventeen and the date was August 25th, 1997.
Chances are, if you were a good friend of mine at the time, you remember that day very well. Over the course of that summer, I was busy slacking off at my first official paid job, driving machine-parts around the lower mainland of British Columbia. I was lucky enough to get the position as a result of having a very large extended family, that branched right out to an extremely kind ‘uncle’ about a million times removed from my actual bloodline. He owned a pretty damn decent self-made business called Hi-Way Refrigeration that lived underneath the rusted orange arch of the Port Mann bridge in Port Coquitlam, and when I had returned back home from visiting my aunt in San Diego that year, after gaining my work experience in her restaurant, I immediately wanted to find myself a new job when I came back to BC.
Calling in a favor, my stepmom was nice enough to convince my uncle that I was worth a shot. Putting me through the process for appearance purposes, I had a quick interview that proved to be no problem at all, and just like that, I was in. To this very day, I couldn’t tell you any one specific thing that I delivered or what it would have potentially even been for – all I did was drive. My mornings were spent wandering through long aisles with tons of shelves and small buckets separating each item, gathering these metal pieces by the part numbers, putting them into cardboard boxes, and readying them for the eventual drive downtown in the afternoon. Once we were past the lunch-break of the day, I’d toss in the keys, start up my little company work truck, and book it to the industrial areas of Vancouver, trying to find the dudes I was supposed to get a part to, somewhere out there amongst a sea of commercial containers that kept them hidden despite their hi-visibility vests. When I say book it, I’m talking about warp speed…I’m talking about a ferociousness on the gas pedal that would have made Doc Brown proud and damn near sent me Back To The Future even without the all-important supply of plutonium. I drove hard, I drove fast – I drove with the purpose that only comes with the understanding that the faster you go, the more time there is to fuck around on the other side of getting the job done. I’d do the front-end of the trip in less than a half-hour, rocketing down the highway like a bat outta hell – the quicker I made it, the slower I could go on the way back…factor in a good story about traffic or not being able to find my destination right away, and I could pretty much stretch that one trip downtown for the entire afternoon.
The reality is, no one actually cared if I did or if I didn’t – they had practically invented the role I was in at the demand of my uncle, and if I wasn’t there to do it, there really wasn’t even a job to do. Getting back any earlier than I had to be was a torturous affair in make-work projects that were completely pointless. The more objective reality was, if I was able to continue at least doing what was expected of me, I could be out on the road driving as long as I wanted to as long as those weird little machine parts ended up reaching their intended destination – and so that’s exactly what I did. I’d burn down to Vancouver like there was a tornado chasing me, and on the way back, I practically had my feet up out the window while I drove at a calm & leisurely pace – with the stereo cranked up loud & fucking proud as ever. Finding yet another way to incorporate music into my early life, I managed to get the work day split between actually working and what you could consider basically my own free time spent listening to music – I just happened to be getting paid for both halves. A genuine case of working smarter and not harder, I never meant any disrespect to my uncle. No one actually ever saw the guy anymore anyhow – he was practically retired and just collecting the paycheck at that point; the day-to-day operations all had other people manning the posts required now. I would have probably felt guiltier about my lack of interest in the job had he been around, but since he wasn’t, I was simply riding through the summer breeze without a care in the world – I wasn’t any real kind of fuck-up, but even in the event that I was, I don’t think there was any amount of fucking up that would have ever cost me my job at Hi-Way Refrigeration.
Ultimately I did the job I was paid to do, I just spread out the work much better than most ever dared to. This summer technically being the second stint at this summer-employment I ended up in, I was making record time on my trips to Vancouver, and spending the rest of the sunny day driving around aimlessly before I’d make my way back to the shop. Working five days a week, with what was basically a two-hour bike ride on both sides of the shift after eight hours of driving, I’d come home, listen to some more music and fall asleep into a coma before getting up to do it all again the next day, so on and so on – I know many of you can relate to that zombie-esque pattern of repetition on the job. Even on the weekends, I might jet out with some friends for a trip around Stanley Park and back, but being so on the go all the time left me significantly worn-out in work-mode, and the two summers I spent at Hi-Way Refrigeration all sped by in a relative blur as a result. My bank account in particular, had never seen such tremendous activity, or even a stable balance to this point – and with very little energy or time to spend spending my hard-earned dough, I accumulated a MASSIVE sum of wealth – or at least it was to me at the age of seventeen. Don’t get me wrong, I get it – I was making barely above minimum wage – but when you have zero expenses and can’t even find a way to spend it, strange as it sounds, money does grow! Truly, I had never had so much of it in my life at my disposal – and what was I going to do with it? Save it for college? LAUGHABLE. Prepare to move out and become an adult? Fucking NEVER. Believe me, I was well aware of the fact that most people didn’t leave the nest until they were about eighteen or nineteen years-old, which still meant I had plenty of time to get my shit together before then, right? So I did what anyone else would naturally do with an excess pile of cash and no clue how to spend or save it – I bought my entire group of friends a ticket to a massive music festival coming up at the end of the summer in Vancouver, at Thunderbird Stadium. Edgefest 1997, on a sunny August 25th.
When I say entire group of friends, that’s exactly what I mean – even though the definition was loosely applied to some. At first, it was a completely fun idea and sincere gesture…I figured I could easily get my limit of eight tickets and dole those out, which I did immediately to all my closest friends. Then I started to feel guilty about a few friends of friends that couldn’t afford to go, and bought tickets for them too. Admittedly, after having bounced from once relationship to the next throughout high-school, and groups of people as a result of those choices – I was trying to find my way back into a circle I felt like I had betrayed somehow, and there was damage control to be done there – which meant a few more tickets as well. I spent what little time I had in the summer surprising people all over my hometown, either showing up unannounced, ticket in-hand with the good news, or mailed them to my friends without letting them know and finding out they’d gotten it later with an excited phone-call. Some of my friends & quasi-acquaintances thought I was being extremely generous…and perhaps that’s the truth, I don’t really know – I never looked at it that way. It was as simple as having the extra cash to do something nice for a whole bunch of people, create a genuine memory we could all share & look back on, and that was that. Not only was I not seeking anything in return, I specifically told each and every person that I gave a ticket to that summer that this act of kindness in no way tied them to me for the day – as far as I was concerned, my role was over – we’ll all be there yes, but go and have a good time without feeling like you’ve gotta hold on to my pocket for the entire day, you know? I wasn’t trying to buy attention, affection, or new friends – I just wanted to do something nice for people that they’d never see coming…a bolt of kindness outta the blue that hopefully, they’d never forget. Music had changed my own life in so many countless ways to that point in time already, the least I could ever do was pass on that amazing gift to as many people as I possibly could. All-in-all, I probably ended up buying about twenty to twenty-five tickets for Edgefest 1997 – which would have likely been in the range of about a thousand bucks or so. Not even all the people that I had amassed together knew that I had bought so many, or that a ton of their own friends were there too – maybe they’re finding out now.
Of course, I had an agenda and I had a mission – none of which involved anybody I knew. I was there for the music & the music only…you slide me through any set of festival gates and I am no longer available attention-wise, even still to this day. We’re talking about a lineup that included upcoming Canadian icons and legends like Finger Eleven, I Mother Earth, the Tea Party, and Our Lady Peace…international sensations like freakin’ SILVERCHAIR were gonna be there too…this was a show that checked off every box. Two stages in its first year, with one of them set up what seemed miles away from the other, I was excited and ready to hoof that trail as many times as I needed to in order to see every band I wanted to see. Aside from some bizarre band called Dodgy (apt name y’all) that I didn’t know of, I don’t think there was a single band or artist on that entire bill for the day that I didn’t know the catalog of by heart; to see them all in the same place, at the same time? Amazing. Purely AMAZING. Yes this was my first festival…but c’mon y’all…if we’re talkin’ about the value of a dollar – how could this day ever be beat? Wide-open air, beautiful sunny skies, tons of incredible music to be seen & heard – and so many artists & bands that I wasn’t able to see yet on a regular basis, on account of being underage in a city filled with bars & clubs. I’ll never forget walking down the stairs to the main part of the venue set up on the field pitch and the sheer magnitude of what I was witnessing…all of this music…all of the people…all of this magic, right here, right now – the sheer power of how it was bringing everyone together was entirely overwhelming, and amplified my energy to the nth degree. In short, I was happier than I’d ever been.
I remember finding my way to the near front of the stage, and being audibly repelled by Dodgy enough to hang back as the show began to roar into place that day. I remember the relief when they were finally finished. To this day, I make it a point not to dog any live performances too hard just based on substance…bands/artists are allowed to have bad days like anyone else, it just sucks when they do. We people in the crowd never know the circumstances of what they’ve been going through or how hard the road has been on’em in between point-A to point-B…as long as I can see & hear that you’re at least giving it what you’ve got, you’re bound to keep me on your side for the most part. Call it a youthful perspective if you like – I simply prefer to dwell on the positive when it comes to the space I’ve chosen to be in, which as you know, is anything/everything to do with music. In saying all that, please know that it still pains me to not say something if something truly does suck – and I ain’t one to hold back on the truth either. Dodgy is…or was…honestly I have no fuckin clue what their status of activity is and nor will I ever – what a crappy-ass band, chockfull of absolutely meaningless & forgettable music. All I have is the memory that they were terrible – I couldn’t even tell you what they sound like now to this very day…they crossed that line of no return, and I’ve been entirely indifferent about their existence ever since. The reality is, they were erased from my mind the moment Silverchair hit the stage and the whole place went OFF – a young Daniel Johns post-second album…good lord…y’ain’t seen anything like it if you weren’t there. Fire in his eyes, acid under his tongue – literally from what I can remember; DJ saw fit to include us in on the secret at one point in the show, and Silverchair proceeded to tear that place apart to the nth degree. Complete and total, sweaty Alternative CHAOS – I was probably no further than six rows back from the front of the stage, and at the height of their power, Silverchair was a fucking force to be reckoned with. I was getting pummeled by sound from the front, and elbows to the ribs & back from all the limbs flailing around me, barely surviving songs like “Learn To Hate” & “Roses.”
As the crowd filled in, I was consistently moving backwards, getting further & further away from the stage – and that just will NOT fucking do folks…not in my world. That’s my cue as a small mammal of only five-foot eight & a half inches tall – that’s when I start looking for a lifeboat. You tiny humans out there know who I’m talking about – the nine-foot tall giant that’s been standing in front of, or around you this whole time…you’ve had your eye on him all along for one reason & one reason this entire time – he’s the way out. And so, being royally overheated and desperate for a single mouthful of air that hadn’t been filtered through the armpits of a thousand teenagers within six feet of me, I reached way, way up…and tapped that shoulder. I’ve found that you never have to worry about how loud the music is in these situations – communication is straight from eyeball to eyeball. My savior giant turned around to look at who would dare disturb his concert experience, to see me, cowering way down below, pointing at the sky with my index finger, and my eyes turned towards the sky. They know what you mean. That’s small-person sign-language for “please put me the fuck up and get me the hell outta here before I get crushed by people exactly like YOU” – and these big dudes, they not only understand, they support the idea. Next thing I know, I’m greeted by a friendly maniacal smile, and launched several feet into the air, hoping that the crowd below will catch me before I’m sent crashing to the ground to be trampled on by hundreds of Reeboks, Nikes, and Airwalks. For a moment, everything was as amazing as it ever could be – I was on top of the crowd and on top of the world, sailing over the shoulders of the crowd in front of the stage at Thunderbird stadium, drifting peacefully towards Silverchair like I was rolling in with the tide. Nothing quite beats that feeling for me, and I doubt anything ever really will.
Also – nothing quite beats the feeling of being dropped, but for like, the complete opposite reasons. I reached the edge of a stack of people, and without realizing it, they attempted to pass me forward on into oblivion – there was simply no one else there to continue carrying my corpse through the air, and I fell to the ground straight onto my ass in a sitting position. I had just enough time to realize how much that truly sucked, before the first person came raining down on top of me, and my head hit the ground between my knees – something I couldn’t do now if I wanted to; I do not bend this way. I heard everything in my spine snap, crackle, and pop…and for a split second, I wondered if I was even going to be able to get up at all. Could I still feel everything? Another body rained down on top of me & the other body lying next to me now, smacking me in the face with the rubber bottom of a show on the way down. My senses were still fully intact; that hurt like a son of a bitch, and I went straight into survival mode. No more fucking around – I needed out of the mob, and quick – it felt like I was gonna die from the heat and I needed a drink or it was game over. Plus, I needed to know if I just had my back broken.
I got up, made a beeline out of the crowd at full speed, pushing against the bodies pushing against me on their way to the stage, and eventually made it out, thankfully – and here I am today to tell the tale. That first breath of real fresh air outside of the main meat of the crowd is like nothing else on earth I tell ya – it doesn’t just smell good – it smells like MORE. For a moment there, in the thick of a crowd like I was just in, you start to wonder if you’ll ever get to sniff fresh air again…and once you’re finally back into the wide-open, it’s almost like you can eat it like a food. Opening my mouth in big greedy gulps to catch my breath as I left the crowd behind and Silverchair to finish their set – I had another important part of my agenda to make sure I was going to hit…and nothing was going to stop me from getting there. First things first though – I really did need a lemonade or I was probably going to shrivel up & die at Edgefest.
The concession was way over by the second stage, which meant conquering a mountain of stairs to get from the lower levels of Thunderbird stadium to the top where they had it all set up. Down was one thing…up was another…and especially after I was so convinced I was a fraction away from being fully paralyzed in the bottom of a mosh pit only moments before. I got to the top, and I passed a girl sitting on the final stair, crying uncontrollably for who-knows-what reason. I put a gentle hand on her shoulder and told her I’d be right back. I hit up one of the food trucks for two ice-creams, went back to the stairs, sat down beside her, and gave her one. The tears subsided, at least for the moment, and we sat their together watching the concert below from the top step. I had no idea who she was, where she came from, how old she might be – I simply saw another human being in pain of some kind, and brought a tiny cone of ice-cream to make the moment better for her. We didn’t say anything to each other; we just sat there, watched the music, and ate our ice-cream. When mine was gone, I got up, thanked her for her company, and proceeded to make my way towards the second stage. Time was tight – hero or not, I had places to be. It wouldn’t be long before the REAL holy grail of my Edgefest experience would take over the small space of the second stage – none other than the Age Of Electric. I NEEDED to be there.
At the time, they’d just released one of the most killer records in the Canadian catalog of the 90s heyday, called Make A Pest A Pet. If CDs could have had grooves worn into them digitally like vinyl records ended up with over time, my copy of that album would have been utterly unplayable by about a month into owning it. What an album! Two sets of brothers, four piece band, and a whip-smart spin on the Alternative sound that expanded into either wild, radiant Rock or brilliantly clever artistic moodiness at any point in time…Make A Pest A Pet was something for speakers to behold back then – and it still IS. We’re talking about a SINGLE record, that managed to hold “I Don’t Mind,” “Scare Myself,” “My Mistake,” “Don’t Wreck It” – AND their most massive breakthrough hit, “Remote Control” – all on one album? Fuck. It was a monumental album in every conceivable way, and I HAD to see the person I felt was truly responsible for my attachment to it – their lead-singer, Todd Kerns. Everything I had heard from this band…from the openings of their Ugly EP, to their riotously energetic & quirky set on their self-titled album, to the brilliance found on Make A Pest A Pet…everything sounded like Todd was THE rock-star of all rock-stars. Like…for real – put on ANY album – this dude has got an absolutely KILLER voice; just trying to emulate him on “Remote Control” in my work truck would practically put me into the dirt.
To see him…was otherworldly. I mean…I might be a writer & all, but I still can’t quite describe the satisfaction of having this iconic image in your head, and then SEEING everything you pictured, walk right out on stage in front of you. Well. I say in front – the reality was, I was way further back than I wanted to be at the time they made their way onstage. For a band that wasn’t featured on the main stage that day – you had to wonder who was still left down there in the bottom of the Thunderbird stadium bowl at that point in the festival…it seemed like ALL of Vancouver was right there along with me to watch this band kicking not just some, but ALL of the ass. Todd wasn’t just good – he BLEW THE ROOF OFF A FUCKING OUTDOOR VENUE that day – and I’ll never forget it…it’s simply not possible.
For you see, dear readers, dear friends…I idolized this guy rocking the stage SO MUCH…and I watched his every move SO CLOSELY…that when I was about, say, probably twelve or fifteen rows of people away from the front of the stage (which was as close as I could get in that sardine can), and I saw him pucker up his cheeks…I knew he was about to spit his gum out into the crowd. It’s one of those classic slow-motion moments in my head now…where all of time itself slowed down around us – and for a brief second, Todd turned in my direction, those cheeks exhaled, and that gum sailed through the wind towards me. It wasn’t QUITE going to reach if I stayed put though…that was about a tenth-row spit, not the twelve-row that I needed – so I launched myself over the back of the person standing in front of me, and caught it in my hand like I was going for a game-winning touchdown. I looked down in my palm to see if it was real…to somehow verify that the moment had even actually happened at all – and there it was. Glistening & gross, I had Todd’s gum in my hand. And it was EVERYTHING to me. Autographs? What the fuck is an autograph? I had genuine ROCKSTAR gum in my hand now – I felt superhuman.
Believe it or not, I would go on to carry that gum with me in my wallet for roughly the next seven years or so. Right between my library card and my ‘go-card’ that allowed me to get on the bus as a student, wedged in between, I kept the Kerns champion-chew wad in between’em for years & years & years, often even pulling it out to show it off like the trophy it was, to me. To other people, I’m sure it seemed crazy, and rightly so. At the very least, it’s probably not the most hygienic thing I’ve ever done. I’ve had a lot of great memorabilia come & go throughout the years to follow as a music fan…but nothing will ever beat the feeling of having that wad of gum in my wallet – that was the ultimate souvenir of all-time. I never had any idea or clue as to what I would do with this verifiable ROCKSTAR DNA – I was simply that weird dude that pulled out this conversation piece to blow someone’s mind every chance I got to; sometimes for the story…but mainly for the hygienic horrors of carrying it around with me everywhere.
Over the years to follow, I saw Todd end up playing shows of all kinds, but never again in the Age Of Electric. I saw him play for Static In Stereo…I saw him take the stage to open for Matt Good on what was literally about twenty-minute’s notice with just a guitar and balls of steel…Todd has never tainted the kickassness of who he was way back when, to the incredible person he still is now. The most you’ll ever find me conceding to ya is that I became more of a Limblifter fan as time marched on, but that’s another story for another time, and I’ll leave you to do the research on your own as to how that ties in. I still play EVERY Age Of Electric album I have, loud and proud…and I suspect that’ll never, ever change. He & his band crushed that set at Edgefest as hard as any you’ve ever seen, capitalizing perfectly on the frantic momentum they’d established & how their signature sound was catching on, finally at long last.
At some point, in some show, that I literally can no longer remember the details of other than the fact that it had occurred at Vancouver’s legendary Commodore Ballroom – I had the opportunity to meet my hero face-to-face after he’d played an opening set & then wandered into the crowd later to catch the main one along with the rest of us in the audience. I was in the process of getting what was admittedly, my too-many-eth beer, and very much in my own head…likely replaying the awesomeness of witnessing Todd Fucking Kerns kick some ass from the stage when I don’t remember expecting to even see the guy perform. It was an unexpected twist on the night, which was often the case when you’d see him come out on the Vancouver stages, filling in for this person or that person with mere minutes of advance notice. Dude’s been ready to rock his entire life – that’s why a guy like him ends up rocking the living daylights outta stages worldwide with legendary artists like Slash as time marches on…he’s always had ‘it’…the X-factor…whatever you want to call that tiny piece of DNA that separates us mere mortals from Gods. And there he was…coming straight towards me…probably not towards me specifically so much as the beer table behind me, but you get the idea – our eyeballs had connected once again, and this was my time. Time for what you ask? Time to embarrass myself one last time, and reveal my story to the man himself…this is long after I carried the evidence around in my wallet between my two student ID cards. He was every bit as awesome, gracious, and kind as I had heard he was – and tall as fuck too for a guy as small as me. He was kind enough to bend down and listen closely to my story as the music blared in behind us and I interrupted his day, pausing every so often to take a step back, laugh, or look at me with a sincere “what the fuck – you DID that?” kind of look. I didn’t need to EXPLAIN it to Todd – he’s ALWAYS been that connected to music that he completely understood how real devotion and fanfare works, even if it was weird because this particular story revolved around him. He was born to be every bit as much of a fan of music as he was destined to make it himself one day…it’s still endlessly inspiring.
I do not know how much of my story came out coherently – but he sure knew how to make it feel like it did, even if it didn’t…which…yeah…I’m 99% sure I probably just sounded like another drunken idiot that night. And that’s okay…I don’t think I told it for Todd so much as I just needed to tell my stupid tale to the one person that inspired it…to bring some kind of weird closure to a story built around only two. He remains an amazing part of our music scene to this very day…and he’s actually ended up sharing stages & crossing paths with my old man at points along the way as well. We’re always a lot closer to our heroes than we realize I suppose…and ultimately, while it might take some time, they’re reachable if you’re patient and wait for that right moment. Todd will most certainly have forgotten meeting me – I’m comfortable with being fairly forgettable – but of course, as you can tell, I’ll never forget meeting him. And just in case any of you out there are wondering about it…NO…I never chewed his gum. If I had, I’m convinced I’d have been a rockstar instead of writing about’em all the time. Lessons learned.