I’ve been a fan of Fifth Column‘s music since a friend introduced me to their song “All Women Are Bitches” many years ago, while I was a student. What self-respecting young feminist wouldn’t be curious about an all-girl punk band with a song title like that? When I found out that they were from Toronto, I was even more intrigued. But there’s more to Fifth Column than just being a ‘girl band’, as Kevin Hegge told me while we chatted about his documentary She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column, which is premiered at Hot Docs April 27.
When I asked how long he’d been working on it, Kevin’s response was “I’m chronologically challenged, but it’ll be around three years this summer, since I first sat down and started to write grant applications and cold-call people in the band, and really kickstart the entire thing. I didn’t talk about it that much, I was just kind of doing it. I was afraid of jinxing it, or sounding pretentious.”
Kevin sounds the farthest thing from pretentious. His enthusiasm for the project is obviously genuine, so I ask him whether he knew the band members before he got the idea to start working on the film, or as a result of it. “What came first,” he muses. “I had connections to the band in various ways. [Toronto artist, filmmaker and Queercore pioneer] Bruce LaBruce is an old friend of mine, and I was always plaguing him with questions about Toronto in the ’80s. The things that were going on then spoke to what I found exciting and wasn’t so present in the scene as I was experiencing it. I loved all the stories about Fifth Column. I knew Caroline [Azar, one of the band's members] because she would come into the record store I worked at, and G.B. Jones [another member] was an acquaintance just through the Queen West arts scene.”
“I knew a lot of these people were estranged from each other, but there was something nagging me about this story not being solidified in some sort of document. I worked in a record store, and we had these endless trains of straight, white hardcore boys coming in and obsessively buying records. In the punk scene, there was just so much focus on the heteronormative,” Kevin pauses and chuckles “actually, don’t use that word, it’s so boring. Just that sort of straight-edge hardcore thing. I felt a much stronger connection to the post-punk, art school, queer-affiliated stories that didn’t get much attention outside of like, Bruce LaBruce movies.”
I ask Kevin whether delving deeply into an era and an arts scene that he was always fascinated by has changed his perspective on it, or on his own experience in Toronto. “I still really glamourize that era” he tells me, “because of the energy surrounding the work that they were doing. The way that Fifth Column worked was sort of a template for the way bands have to work now, post-MySpace. You can’t just have a record. You have to have a really developed identity and image around your band. Fifth Column were creating these ideas of representation around themselves and how people could represent them in the media. It was very prophetic. It mirrored what’s happening now in the music industry.
“In relation to my experience with my arts scene, when I first moved to Toronto, the Queen west, Queer West arts scene was just the most what’s a good word for ‘happening’? It was the most invigorated, energetic arts scene. Unique compared to anything happening in North America. Everything with Will Munro, the Hidden Cameras, and with Blocks. There was just a really unparalleled energy about what it meant to make art or be involved in your community. I think that was really a glamorous time, but it also dissipated so quickly. I don’t see much of that happening now, so I think this film celebrates those types of energies.”
Kevin is right about the Toronto arts scene of the early 2000s. During the time when artist, promoter and community-builder Will Munro (who sadly passed away from cancer in 2010 — you can read Bruce LaBruce’s eulogy here) was throwing his monthly queer and totally inclusive club night, Vazeleen, and the Blocks Recording Club was putting out the first few records under an entirely new “worker-run co-op” model of music production and distribution, it seemed to many that Toronto was the most exciting place on earth to be an artist. Articles were written about a bourgeoning movement (this one, written by Michael Barclay for Exclaim, is especially comprehensive) and debates raged on the internet. And yet, as Kevin notes, and much like the ’80s scene that he glamourizes, the bottom eventually fell out. “All these histories are just buried. I didn’t realize there were so many amazing artists and filmmakers that existed during that time and aren’t recognized. I’m a huge fan of Candy Parker who was making these totally beautiful Super 8 films. She took a lot of the pictures of Fifth Column, including the picture on the cover of their first record. It was amazing art, but she’s not making films anymore. There are all these people who made all this amazing work that ended up in basements, in boxes.”
I confess to Kevin that I once performed at a Fifth Column tribute night at Sneaky Dee’s, the downtown Tex-Mex bar and music venue where I spent virtually my entire 20s. “I actually wasn’t at that” he tells me, “but I know that the band was all there”. I tell him I’m thankful I didn’t know that fact while I was performing or I would have been too nervous to sing. Kevin laughs. “There was a cool part of interviewing Kathleen Pirrie-Adams, who was one of the founding members. She told the story of that night. She hadn’t spoken to G.B. or Caroline for many years, and she knew that if she went to the club and just found the darkest corner, that G.B. and Caroline would be hiding there. She got there and that’s exactly what happened.”
As we talk about the press he’s been doing for this film, Kevin mentions a previous interview in which he was asked about how he feels being a man making this film. “I really thought about the difference between a feminist telling the story and just a woman. Who cares if a man or a woman made the film? It may sound cheesy but the film was made by a feminist, and that’s really important to me.” I ask him what else he wants to leave the audience with and he tells me “the most important thing that needs to come across is that I want people, when they hear the words Fifth Column, to not just picture a ‘girl band’. I hope this movie makes it clear that they weren’t just a girl band, they were a multidisciplinary group of workers who were trying to navigate through these various forms of art and to create a new dialogue within youth culture that wasn’t happening until they came along.”
I tell Kevin that I’m looking forward to seeing the film on the big screen at the May 1st screening, and he tells me that Bruce LaBruce might be attending and even participating in the Q&A. “He’s always on the road and I think that’s the one he’s available for” says Kevin. “If he does the Q&A, it’ll be the first time Bruce and G.B. have seen each other in 20 years. It’ll be really interesting.”
She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column premieres on Friday, April 27, 2012 at 7:15 pm, and screens again on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 9:00 pm and Thursday, May 4, 2012 at 7:00 pm. For more info, check the Hot Docs website.
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