Blondie

Looking Through The Heart of Glass

by Tobe Damit

Da Capo Press 1998 Edition

I just finished reading Debbie Harry’s biography Making Tacks/The Rise of Blondie written by herself, Chris Stein (photographs) and under the general supervision of Victor Bockris who aided in the formation of the text and the selection of the photographs. It seemed the perfect time to read and review it since she just announced the release of Pollinator, Blondie’s 11th album, due for release on May 5, 2017 by BMG Rights Management. I was really looking forward to read this book since Blondie is a band whose music would be omnipresent on ”the soundtrack of my life’s movie”, if such a thing would indeed exist.  Blondie has always managed to preserve their uniqueness and integrity throughout the years. Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie is a story of perseverance, hope and faith. Seeing how often everything could have just gone down the drain, this is the ultimate proof that you really have to give it all you’ve got to make it… Sometimes even giving it what you haven’t got…Yet!

Young Debbie reading a book.

The prologue (added in the 1998 Da Capo Edition) is in fact a very juicy conversation between Debbie Harry, Chris Stein and Victor Bockris, recorded in 1980 when Blondie was at the top, during which it appears that Chris may hold the upper hand in their couple, a subject that is rather downplayed otherwise. It also sets the tone for the lavish story, the rocky early days and the forces at work behind the creation process since Chris and Debbie obviously are at the very  core of Blondie. For the rest of the book, the story is told almost exclusively from Debbie’s point of view, constantly keeping us captivated with a very uplifting, spontaneous, straight forward and witty narrative . She goes on and about everything and everyone meaningful in her life; ”I don’t know exactly where I came from because I don’t know who my natural parents are. Chris thinks I’m definitely an alien because I fit the description in a book he read of a race of females who were put on this planet from space”.  Right in this first sentence, one can immediately sense the hurting and the wounds but also the way Debbie has learned to deal with it, and how Chris later came into play. Young Deborah knew what she was destined to be before the age of six and never wavered in her firm conviction; ”I always knew I was a singer. When I began singing with the radio I was struck by the fact that I knew the next note before it was played.”  

Very early on, she was a trendsetter during her High School days, dying her hair every possible color starting as soon as 1959 and always dressed in black, not giving much thought to what would people might say. ”When I was a freshman I started to draw attention to myself, with the orange hair and mostly black clothes(…)I always dressed intuitively and emotionally”.

Chrissie Hynde, Pauline Black of Selector, Debbie, Poly Styrene, Viv from The Slits and Siouxie Banshee. ©by Chris Stein 
Debbie and Joan Jett ©by Chris Stein

Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie gives a very moving image of how Debbie was trying to become an artist during the mid sixties, working small jobs,  going to auditions and painting. She was already singing in a folk group called Wind in the Willows. It was hard but at the same time we get to see how much that, from the sidelines, working as a waitress at Max’s Kansas City by the end of the sixties, she observed, watched and learned.”When I worked at Max’s I loved all the people from Andy Warhol Factory, like Eric Emerson, Viva, Ingrid, Taylor Mead, Ultra Violet, International Velvet, Candy Darling, and all the superstars. I was just a baby growing up in the middle of this whole incredible scene, watching Andy Warhol’s eight-hours movies and listening to all kinds of fantastic music very close up at the front.” 

Debbie And Andy Warhol ©by Chris Stein

Now of course you also get to know, in parallel, what was up with Chris Stein, how his mother was a  beatnik painter and his father died when he was only 15, how he also always was into music, painting and arts in general. He is responsible for most of the incredible amount of wonderful pictures that can be found throughout the book, giving a visual dimension for each period that Debbie takes us through. Chris and Debbie went to a lot of events and shows at the same time but it took awhile before they would bump into each other. They had very similar tastes and both enjoyed seeing live the Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane. Each of them were being influenced by both the NYC and the LA scene. Chris had his own isssues, he’d taken a lot of acid and was experiencing long periods of seeing everything as cosmic dust(!). He even received his draft notice at the beginning of ’69 while in an asylum, where he spent three months after completely flipping out. He was twenty at the time and this was a delayed reaction to his father’s death. He managed to insist he had all that was needed to be NOT eligible to join the war effort, got out of there with a 4F and rushed up to Woodstock. Debbie was there too, she had served Jefferson Airplane their dinner at Max’s the night before they left for Woodstock. They just didn’t know each other yet so they went separately, never bumping into each other.

Debbie Devolves ©by Chris Stein

Debbie had a lot of issues of her own, being so depressed that she couldn’t sing without bursting into tears. For a while she managed to keep it all together by using various drugs but 1969 was a very pivotal year for everyone. ”Paying for the drugs and doing them became a bigger drag than the problems I was trying to solve(…)It was a tremendously down period and we all had to shake off the freakouts that occurred in ’68 and ’69(…)All that sadness and tragedy just kept going through my head. I love the blues, but I didn’t want to sing them. I wanted to entertain people, have a good time, and be happy.”

Debbie looking fabulous on front of CBGB’s©by Chris Stein

So, she quits drugs and took a sabbatical from the whole scene for three years, during which time Chris, having been released from the asylum for good, went on welfare and, sponsored by the division of vocational rehabilitation, was studying photography at the School of Visual Arts, and making some of the connections that would eventually lead to the fatefull event of Debbie and Chris finally meeting.

Chris Stein and Blondie (Not from the book!)©Robert Rosen REX

The Stillettoes

The Stillettoes Amanda, Elda and Debbie ©by Chris Stein,1974

Debbie gives us a very detailed description of what she was trying to accomplish musically with The Stillettoes who were Elda Gentile, Rosie Ross (later replaced by Amanda) and Debbie; ”a combination of the aggressive Shangri-La’s rock and the round solid vocals of an R&B girl group. The overall idea was to be entertaining and danceable. The original group included Tommy and Jimmy from the Miamis, Timothy Jackson and Youngblood. Tony Ingrassia was the choreographer and worked  on giving them a cohesive look so that they each had a stage concept.” 

Eric Emerson©by Chris Stein

Chris became involved with Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps via the School of Visual Arts by becoming the Dolls’ opening act, and quickly became friends with all those people who hung out on the periphery of the Dolls, eventually becoming Eric’s roadie. He was invited to the second Stillettoes gig at the Boburn Tavern on 28th Street by Elda herself who was the mother of Eric’s children. ”The most striking thing about collaboration is that it often happens in dreams. A microsecond of dream will unfold an elaborate scene in a flash.It’s an amazing form of communication and it happened between Chris and me the first time we saw each other when I was singing and he was in the audience(…) I was very nervous so I delivered a lot of songs to him. We had a psychic connection right away, which struck me particularly because I’d previously only had such string psychic connections with girlfriends”. Chris joined the group on Elda’s request.

Blondie

Early Blondie: Gary Valentine, Debbie, Chris Stein and Clem Burke

Now I gave you a very detailed insight of the early days but the book is even more exhaustive, leaving absolutely no stones unturned as the group slowly takes shape, requiring numerous musicians replacements, new musical directions, new looks and styles, the final result of all this evolution being the band worldy known today as Blondie -always  having at it’s very core Debbie and Chris Stein. Reading it you really feel as if you are right there with them, reliving every moment and all aspects of what was to become a very unique band, not really punk, not really disco, Debbie insists on saying that Blondie was a pop band, nothing more, nothing less. Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie is a very fascinating journey to the top with all its up and downs, the tours, the crazy people, the shady promoters, the providential roadies, the tragic and the funny anecdotes, and everything stardom life is about. Chris Stein and Debbie Harry being always the very core of Blondie, you get to see them on various pictures with all the punk and post punk icons as they go on tour around the world several times, living their success with an integrity as persons and artists that is rarely seen.

Starting on the Bowery’s very distinct selective CBGB’s club with The Ramones and all the other bands that have now become legends, Blondie was to later gain international success and go around the world more than once to become one of the most successful bands to have risen from NYC. Here are a few people that you can see with Debbie and/or members of the band on photos included in the book: Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Devo, H.R. Giger, Siouxie, Chrissie Hynde, Andy Warhol, The Screamers, David Bowie, Ray Manzarek, Suzie Quatro, Joan Jett, Cherie Curie, The Buzzcocks, The Screamers, The Ramones to name very few, thanks to Chris Stein who really did an amazing photography job!

Joan Jett, Debbie Harry, David Johansen and Joey Ramone ©by Chris Stein
Debbie and Iggy ©by Chris Stein
Debbie and Bowie ©by Chris Stein

 

 

 

 

 

 

Debbie Harry during the video production of the “Koo Koo” project with HR Giger ©by Chris Stein

You also have a very interesting insight on various projects she was involved with like Blank Generation, a seminal movie about Richard Hell, a remake of Godard’s movie Alphaville that sadly has never seen the day, a promotional clip involving HR Giger‘I Know You Know”. I also happened to watch a cult sci-fi horror movie from 1982: ”Videodrome”, directed by David Cronenberg. Deborah Harry plays the role of Nicki Brand, a sadomasochistic psychiatrist and radio host. I found Debbie’s performance more than satisfying and the movie to be very prophetic.

Robert Fripp as Lemmy Caution, Debbie Harry as Natacha von Braun; from the never made remake of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville. Hair by Mary Lou Green ©by Chris Stein

The book doesn’t contain the usual formal complete list of everything Blondie or its members have been involved with nor a complete discography but rather focuses on the narrative and it’s quite ok since it’s done in a way to sustain the readers interest in the story Debbie tells with a surprising gift for writing. Such a list would have been a cool addition but I’m pretty sure it’s not that hard to find on the internet.

     Making Tracks is not only about The Rise of Blondie but also about how they all handled its success. It does not contain a complete discography nor every movie she has played in Every true Blondie fan should read this book since it contains everything you want to know delivered with Debbie’s very witty way of seeing things that always sustains your interest since it is written from a very intimate point of view; and as I mentioned the photos are a very important ingredient in making the reader ”part of the gang”. The whole story is very cohesive and never boring. I will leave you with this quote written by Debbie near the end of the Heart of Glass European Tour that I found very interesting as she compares the UK culture with the US:

”Politics is business-getting enough money to win, keeping enough to stay in power and make more as a politician. The politicization of art in the sixties was very hypocritical. It existed in the minds of the people who wanted it to exist, but the people who were in power were definitely not having anything to do with it.

Debbie Harry and the Buzzcocks during Blondies European Tour, by ©Chris Stein 1978

I don’t think there’s too much difference between the Americans and British scenes, Everybody wants the same thing for themselves and their culture, but the methods have to be different because of the differences in the way the cultures operate. In America Iggy was a radical force without saying anything political. His presence and what he did was a radical phenomenon. If somebody can get on the subway and wipe out the minds of the people who see him, he’s having an effect on them and doesn’t need to say anything. I hope the kids in England realise that we all want the same things, we’re just going about it in different ways.”

Debbie with Iggy Pop by ©Chris Stein

Almost all of the pictures above are taken from the 1998 edition of Making Tracks/The Rise of Blondie and taken by ©Chris Stein. I only posted very few of them. The book is litteraly loaded with awesome pictures, most of them are very hard to find.

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Alex Soria

Friends Recall the Brilliant Montreal Musician Too Few Heard

Miror cover by CHRIS BARRY  Up until his tragic passing at age 39 last December, Alex Soria was the impetus behind one of Montreal’s finest rock ‘n’ roll bands ever, the Nils. One of the first punk bands on the local scene, going all the way back to the ’70s, the Nils were responsible for creating some of the most criminally beautiful music to ever emerge from these parts. And though they never quite made it to the toppermost of the poppermost, like so many feel they deserved, Alex’s musical legacy continues to touch and influence countless musicians around the globe. The following is an all-too-brief accounting of his life and times, as told by his friends, associates and brother Carlos, now 42.

CARLOS SORIA In the late ’70s, I was playing in punk bands around town and I’d come home and show Alex songs. Eventually I bought an $80 guitar for him, showed him three chords, and a week later the guy’s playing solos. He was about 13 years old. You’d show him something and then he’d be playing it better than you. He was like that with a lot of things though. He was a killer hockey player, soccer player. As soon as I brought the Pistols and Clash records home, he took them to his little corner and turned their ideas into his own thing. We shared a bedroom in our house in St-Hubert, his bed and my bed faced each other and we’d just sit on our beds writing songs. They weren’t great tunes but, like, a week later he was coming back with better songs and really cool covers of songs he’d figured out. The rest of us had to work pretty hard at it but Alex, it’s like a light shone on the kid, he had a natural God-given talent. And it made no sense either, because just to get a word out of the guy took a week, but dude, when he came onstage and sang it was like, “Wow, how does that come out of that guy?”

BILL MOSER [Nils road manager ’87–’89] Alex and Carlos had this twin-like thing. They knew what the other was thinking. I mean, Alex never had to talk, he’d shoot a look to Carlos who would tell people what was going on based on what he’d just read in Alex’s look. I think he must have been so quiet because of the family issue. The mom ran off when they were kids and stuff.

CARLOS SORIA The very saddest day of both of our lives was on my 18th birthday when my mother took off. I think it had a lot to do with the sadness Alex carried with him.

JIMMY HYNES [friend/roadie] Carlos, Alex and I all went to Macdonald-Cartier on the South Shore together. I used to go over and listen to records in the brothers’ bedroom. Their dad was never around, which probably wasn’t a good thing. So they both kind of ran wild, dropped out of school. Well, maybe Alex finished high school, but no more than that. But they didn’t seem troubled. Man, we used to laugh our heads off together, watching Carlos ride this little girl bicycle up to Grande-Allée Blvd. to go to this bar to buy hash and come back with the stuff on this little bike. All we talked about then was music.

CARLOS SORIA In 1979, the Nils started playing out a bit as a four-piece. They did a song “Scratches and Needles” for this BYO compilation, Something to Believe In, and split up shortly afterwards. I convinced them to keep going, joined the band, and that’s when we did “Call of the Wild” for that Primitive Air Raid compilation and recorded the Paisley EP – around ’82 or ’83. What makes no sense is that everyone agreed the Nils had the best song on that BYO compilation but they never contacted us again. All they cared about was SNFU and Junior Gone Wild, and we were, like, “Hey dude, give us a chance, we’ve got killer songs, come on.” We’d gotten a lot of press, people were into the band and all that, but they didn’t care. I’ve always said if the Nils had John Kastner’s business skills we would have succeeded. But everyone looked at us as these crazy little kids, you know. Alex eating

JOHN KASTNER [Asexuals/Doughboys singer] As soon as the Asexuals left the suburbs around ’83, after our first single, we started playing Cargo downtown and the first band we met were the Nils. The Asexuals and the Nils were always close because we were kind of similar – punkish but with a lot of melody. Right away you could tell Alex had something more than everyone else. But there was always something going wrong for the Nils. They could never get out of their own way, those guys. There was always something fucking them over, be it money or people or… And it was frustrating to be around them. I tried to help the Nils in every way possible, but nothing ever panned out.

SEAN FRIESEN [Asexuals guitarist] Nobody played an SG like that little fucker, crushing his big nose into the mic and singing a great lyric while playing a great riff. Alex was very underrated in the guitar department.

MONTREAL’S NEXT BIG THING  cover_music_1.0

JOHN KASTNER If the Nils had been from the States, they probably would have been as big and influential as the Replacements were. But they were from Canada, and at that time, nobody was really able to shoot out from there. And worse, they were from Montreal. Montreal is a great city for talent but there’s not a lot of industry, at least there wasn’t then.

CARLOS SORIA We never had a proper manager. Nobody ever approached us for anything like that. The Asexuals, 39 Steps, all these bands had people working for them. We always thought, “Fuck, this isn’t fair,” but I guess we had a bad reputation. Around 1985, we became pretty good friends with Ivan from Men Without Hats, who took us to his bank to co-sign a $3,500 loan to record Sell Out Young. We wanted Ivan to produce it because of his pop sensibilities. We wanted to be on the radio, you know? Ultimately he brought in his brother Stefan, and together they were great. At the time we bitched about it, but in hindsight that was a pretty good record. And it helped us a lot. It was voted one of the top 50 records in Canada or something.

IVAN DOROSCHUK [musician/producer] I honestly don’t think Alex was capable of writing a bad song. But it was really hard for me to get anyone – even my own label – interested in them. They would’ve rather seen me produce something more like Men Without Hats, something they could bank on. The Nils were a hard sell. People never understood why I was involved with them, including my wife at the time, who didn’t understand what these four kids were doing in my living room every morning, eating all our food and drinking all our beer. But then they got that deal with Rock Hotel/Profile and Chris Spedding, which was a pretty big thing for them.

CHRIS SPEDDING [musician/producer] Alex never really said much making that record, he just stood there. Still waters run deep, you know. But as soon as the band started playing it was obvious he was the guy to concentrate on, to bring out. The Nils was a very good record, I was proud of the results. [Rock Hotel CEO] Chris Williamson hired me to do the job, not knowing what would happen. He gave me a small budget but as soon as the record started sounding really, really good, he decided to put his name on it as executive producer. I don’t think I ever got any royalties for it.

BILL MOSER Rock Hotel was run by Chris Williamson, a real dickhead. Profile had Run-DMC and were making lots of money. It was a happening label. The Rock Hotel division was actually designed to lose money. So they signed a bunch of rock acts like the Nils and the Cro-Mags. The Nils started out okay with Williamson. He bought them equipment and shit. But when the record came out, they just didn’t get behind it. He said, “I’ll have you opening up for these guys and those guys,” but nothing ever materialized.

CARLOS SORIA Everyone told us not to sign the Rock Hotel contract, going, “Wait, you’re going to get better offers.” But dude, we’d been working it for 10 years and this was the only offer we’d ever got. We’re supposed to turn it down? Our lawyer, this big respected character, told us to just sign it as is and send it back, saying, “Look, you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.” So we signed it. We just wanted to make a good record. In the end I think it sold something like 50,000 copies.

JIMMY HYNES    1987/88 were great years for the band. There was a big vibe about them, they were hugely popular and we were able to get decent sums of money. They could pull $750 a night when only a year before they’d be lucky to get $200.

CARLOS SORIA So the record comes out, everybody’s going nuts, we’re listed in the Rolling Stone charts, it’s going great. Profile paid to get us in on this amazing U.S. tour with the Godfathers, who were happening back then. Those fucking Godfather guys never gave us a sound check the whole tour, but we were still blowing them away every night, and they knew it. After a few weeks, we’re playing Minneapolis with them. I remember Hüsker Dü, Soul Asylum, Paul Westerberg, all these guys were there that night. Anyway, the next leg of the tour was the West Coast, where we’d actually sold most of our records, and where the Godfathers had some killer gigs lined up. But that day Profile calls us up and says, “Sorry, you’re going home.” Just like that. We were devastated. We had to drive all the way back to Montreal, and let me tell you, that was the most silent trip anyone has ever been on. The beginning of the end, that day. Profile didn’t want to pay for us to tour anymore. If we could’ve finished that tour I know things would have turned out very different.

IVAN DOROSCHUK That was a hot tour, but again, they didn’t have a manager. And they were all nice guys too, you know, up against these cutthroats in the music business.

THINGS TURN TO SHIT

CARLOS SORIA     Fuckya! Everything turned to shit once we got home. When Rock Hotel went under, Profile wanted to keep us, but Williamson saw us as his guys and wouldn’t let us out of the deal. We got held up in legal shit for over a year. All these other companies wanted to sign us but without that fucking release form, we couldn’t do fuck all. Shortly afterwards, [Nils member] Chico and I had a little punch-up in the van coming back from some show and he left the band. I lost my girlfriend Tracy, the girl I should have married; Chico, who was one of my best friends, and my record contract all in one week. We tried to keep it going but it was over. The momentum had been killed and it never picked up again.

BILL MOSER We were doing a show in Montreal and Williamson shows up. And you know, the Nils actually sold a few records, but they never saw a dime. They were flat broke, but the brothers still had some Marshall gear the label had bought for them. Williamson arrives and decides to take their equipment back. So not only does he completely fuck them over, he reclaims their beloved Marshalls. Alex always took on these menial, shitty jobs, going way the fuck up to Montreal North for six bucks an hour and coming home depressed. He hated those fucking jobs. But there wasn’t one night when we were living together where we wouldn’t pick up the guitars, cop a six-pack and just start playing. I often had to coax him into it, but once he picked up the guitar he’d forget about shit and go for hours. Alex knew enough about the music business not to be delusional about becoming a rock star. He just wanted to make enough money so he didn’t have to go to the factory the next day. I can’t tell you how many times he told me, “Man, I just want to make another record.”But they couldn’t because of the legal problems, and that really depressed him. You know, he was fucked.

JIMMY HYNES Carlos and I lived together. One night in 1989 he went out for cigarettes and never came back. He was just freaking out in Montreal. Which left Alex, the world’s worst organizer, to take care of things.

CARLOS SORIA I was so down about the Nils that when I got an offer to play with Mike Conley from MIA in California, I just took it. As soon as I left, I began to get wind that Alex and his girlfriend Karen were using [heroin]. I wrote it off that they were just experimenting but when I returned a few years later I discovered they were full-fledged fucking on it. I started hanging out with them, and yeah, I fell into it too. I think it’s important people know the Nils never started messing with heroin until it was, like, very clear everything had gone very bad.

JIMMY HYNES Karen’s previous boyfriend had been that junkie guy [Dave Rosenberg] from the Chromosomes, and you know how he ended up. [dead]. She was this older woman who took care of Alex, and Alex always wanted a mommy. He loved to be mothered by women and women loved to mother him. Karen mothered him for 10 years or more. After they split up, things weren’t so easy for him anymore.

JOHN CAMPBELL [friend] Alex always had Karen to take care of him, but when Carlos got into dope it became more problematic. Alex felt a kind of responsibility there. At the same time, Carlos felt responsible for Alex, and I think in a way he got in to heroin to be closer to his brother.

BILL MOSER Alex, no matter what his situation, would never rip you off – I dunno if I can say the same about Carlos. Alex never hustled people. Drugs were not the primary focus of his life, music was. I had money, but he never asked me for a dime. He was very embarrassed about his drug problems. It’s kind of fucked people started seeing him as just this junkie guy.

TRYING TO COME BACK

CARLOS SORIA When I got back from L.A, we decided to make a Nils comeback with another lineup. We were using, but there were possibilities there. That was one of the best Nils lineups ever, with Alex McSween on drums. There was hope there, but at the same time you’re battling addiction, so people realize that and sure, they want to help you but they’re saying, “They’re not reliable, they can’t tour because of drugs.” Of course, even before we were on drugs they were telling us that. It was bullshit, gossip talk. We were reliable, we never missed one show. On the contrary, if we were told to show up somewhere at 3 p.m., we’d be there at noon.

JIMMY HYNES After 1995, there was nothing. That’s when Carlos became a mess, and if Carlos was a mess, not much got done. Other people had to organize things for Alex. If there was nobody to organize things, Alex would have stayed on his couch for the rest of his life. How many shows do you think Alex played in his life outside of Montreal without Carlos? The answer is five. Eventually Alex moved in with one of his friends from St-Hubert, Eric Kearns. He’d been doing nothing for three years and Eric just bugged him relentlessly to start playing music again. So much so that he found Alex a band, found him a guitar because Alex had sold his, bugged him to practice, and borrowed $2,000 to pay for the Chino EP, Mala Leche.

CARLOS SORIA By late ’96, Alex had split up with Karen, was pretty clean, and started Chino. By then we had both gotten ourselves together. Well, at least, we both weren’t dependent on it. He put together Chino without me. I knew his reasons. I’d been in Portage rehab clinic for six months anyway. I roadied for them and shit, but yeah, it stung. It was awkward for him as well.

BILL MOSER Carlos had done some pretty shitty [junkie-type] things which led to the demise of the Nils. Alex was cautious about letting him around again, but it was his brother, so he’d always let him back into his life.

CARLOS SORIA I’m not denying that when I was fucked up on heroin, I did some shitty things, but I wasn’t the only one. Alex was no angel either. It was just a really bad situation. You do things for money when you’re strung out that you regret, you know. It was a lot easier for Alex to just maintain than me. He had Karen looking out for him.

JIMMY HYNES Alex never should have let Carlos back in his bands but he always did. It was always the same thing. Alex would have something good going – which he should have kept going – and then he’d stop it to let his brother back in the band. He could never say no to Carlos. Like, Chino were doing pretty well, why didn’t they keep playing? Because Carlos had come around helping out as a roadie. And then he’d be in Alex’s ear saying, “I should be the bass player,” and before you knew it they would be the Nils again. You know, to a lot of people it was kind of a joke that 22 years later, they were still playing around, going, “Look out, the Nils are back!”

MARK DONATO [Chino/Nils guitarist] Chino never had any push. The typical story: no tour, poor distribution. You can’t push your record sitting in your apartment in St-Henri. Of course Alex was frustrated with his career, hearing all these nothing bands on the radio when he’s got all these wonderful songs in his head. But he never really vocalized his frustration. It was more ‘Los who was saying, “My brother should be up there, that should be my brother.” Not Alex.

WOODY WHELAN [Mag Wheel Records] I’d been a huge Nils fan back when I was growing up in Newfoundland. Alex’s lyrics always moved me; there was something about the way he wrote songs, the way he said things, that got to you instantly. I must have listened to that song “Scratches and Needles” nine times in a row when I first got it. I still can’t believe how good it is. When I reissued their Paisley EP and put together [Nils tribute album] Scratches and Needles, it was mostly a labour of love. I’d no idea if they’d sell or not. Same with their [“hits”] compilation, Green Fields and Daylight. I figured some people would be interested, but primarily I thought it important to get their stuff out. I’m sure they’d talked to other people about releasing their records but at that time they were pretty down, you know? People in Montreal were saying to me, “What, are you crazy? Don’t get involved with these guys, they’ll burn you, they’ll never go anywhere, don’t you know they have problems?” But I decided to just do it and see what happens. And funny, when it came back from the pressing plant, all these people who’d told me I was crazy to get involved with the Nils were thanking me for getting their CD out. They still sell, you know. I still get these strange letters from Nils fans, so happy these records are available.

CARLOS SORIA Alex could never understand why somebody would put up money for the old records when he could just give them a bunch of new songs. I’m not ragging on Woody, who I love and who did a lot for the band, but you can understand our frustration. Alex was always about new songs. He didn’t care about the old stuff. It was like, too little, too late.

WOODY WHELAN In 1998, Alex was back, straight, had Chino going, and was really happy and energetic. That’s the thing people are heartbroken about now. For that brief time we thought we had him back again, that things were finally going to go right for him. But you know, again, it didn’t work out and by 2001, they’d split up. Basically, they didn’t get their FACTOR grant to make their record. They were only looking to get eight grand and I know it kind of broke Alex’s heart. He felt bad his dreams weren’t coming true, and one thing kind of leads to another and they started getting in to other things again.

CARLOS SORIA He got more cynical as time went on. We both did. Especially after Chino went the same way as the Nils. A few years ago, we were working at the same place, Alex was my boss there, and he comes in one day feeling down and says to me, “You know, I’m getting tired of this shit. If this fuckin’ music doesn’t work, I don’t want to be moving boxes around my whole life.” I realize now he was saying, “If this is all there is, I don’t want any part of it,” but I didn’t see it as a red flag at the time. Maybe I should have. His cynicism was really beginning to show.

THE END

JOHN CAMPBELL The last year was very difficult for him. Alex liked stability, and he was starting to slip into drugs again. Maybe a month before he died, he went into detox and when he got out he sounded really good. For the first time, it seemed like he was really taking serious steps to combat his drug issues. He’d already signed up to go to Fosters, which is a serious rehab facility. But apparently he was feeling the pressure that his family had become aware of his addiction problems. His girlfriend Debbie had pretty much outed him. She loved him tremendously and it was killing her to watch him slide.

CARLOS SORIA I saw him two days before he died. We were jamming, drinking beers, smoking doob, he was starting a new job that Monday, thinking about playing again, everything was looking good. I knew he’d been having a hard time a few weeks earlier, feeling very down, but I really don’t think he was planning a suicide.

BILL MOSER The day he died, something snapped in him. It was probably like two hours of psychosis in his life and he just didn’t see any way out – just black. He and Carlos had some job packing kosher products or something, and they went into work one day to discover the place had been shut down. So they not only lose their jobs but they don’t get paid at the same time. I know things started spiralling from there. Alex was definitely not a violent guy, but I know that on the day he died he’d had a big fight with Debbie and one of their neighbours called 911 because of all the commotion. After he left their apartment, he went to some restaurant up the street and apparently spent a bit of time in the bathroom there, doing what, I can’t be sure. But when he comes out of the place, he sees the cops at his door and in a panic, takes off towards the tracks. He just freaked, I guess.

JOHN CAMPBELL He might have been high. Whatever the case, he clearly wasn’t in his right mind when he ran down to the train tracks. I dunno what he was thinking. Apparently he gave a half-salute to the conductor, as if to say, “Sorry,” before diving in front of that train.

JOHN KASTNER Alex Soria was more rock ‘n’ roll than anybody I’ve ever met. He had a bit of that Kurt thing to him. I can picture Alex wanting to go out in some weird way, where people would go, “Holy fuck, man!” I honestly think he’ll be remembered as one of the great rock ‘n’ roll guys to ever have come from Montreal. I really don’t think he’ll be forgotten.

BILL MOSER I’ve worked with a lot of people – John Cale, David Johansen, Lou Reed, all of these clowns – and talent-wise, this kid was right up there. I think if he’d been able to just play music, not have to do all these shitty little jobs, none of this would have happened.

CARLOS SORIA When he was with me, even if we weren’t angels, I made sure nothing ever happened to him. When I saw he was freaking out, I’d put him in my arms and wouldn’t let him move until he calmed down. And I worked that guy, I picked him up when he was drunk, sick, I fuckin’ wiped that kid like he was my own little baby, you know. Nothing ever happened to him when he was in my care. If I’d been there that night, no matter how stoned, I would have grabbed him and sat on him until he calmed down. And I know this probably sounds stupid, saying all this, but dude, that’s just how I feel. I dunno, to this day I still don’t understand. It’s almost like it’s not real, like he’s on a trip and is going to come back. A lot of people have come up to me and said, “I never thought it would be him, I always thought it would be you.” Thanks a lot, you know, have a nice fucking day. Nobody loved that guy more than me. Even my mom and sister say, “Carlos has not only lost his brother, he’s lost his best little buddy.” Honestly, everything I ever did was for him, not for me. I always figured that no matter what happened, I’d at least have a job carrying his guitar around. And he always used to say, “‘Los, no matter what happens, I’ll always be with you, man.” And it was the one thing in my life that I always knew was true.

Watch here the Alex Soria memorial concert with John Kastner, Chris Spedding, Ian Blurton, Mack Mackenzie, Idées Noires, Chris Page, Jerk Appeal, members of the Nils, Chino and Los Patos, and other special guests, at the Main Hall on Friday, March 11, 8:30 p.m., $10. Proceeds go towards the MIMI’s Alex Soria Fountains Award for most promising local songwriter, and to the Portage Program for drug dependencies.

Chris Barry just started a new blog called looselips.ca check it out!

Note from Publisher: If you want to know more about Alex Soria I would very strongly advise you to check out Johnny Campbell’s blog who was his closest friend.he made it easy for Alex fans to find all the posts concerning anything related to Alex and/or The Nils, Los Patos or Chino. Lots of very intersting stories on there and related links. Thank you very much Johnny for these precious memories you shared with us.

From the Margins/Blog Archives of Johnny Campbell/Archives of Old Posts since 2002

Here is just about everything you need to hear of the music Alex composed and sang with The Nils, Chino and ”Next of Kin” his unplugged post-mortem solo album. Give it a good try. It is most definitely worth it. Also post-mortem was an album released called ”The Title Is the Secret Song”. 

Also here is for you the legendary ”Green Fields In Daylight” to play on spotify:  

Also for you theMala Leche” album by Chino also on Spotify:          

I suggest you buy the vinyl ”It Must Be Something” (IMBS!). The very best album from The Nils to my taste. There in an insane second release of all The Nils albums on colored split vinyls here in Montreal. tdisc1