Interview with Caroline Azar and GB Jones
Last summer I went to the premiere film screening of She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column and fell in love with the women of Fifth Column.
Fifth Column was an all-women punk band that formed in early 1980s Toronto. Throughout its nearly two-decade run the band released three albums: To Sir With Hate, All Time Queen of The World & 36C, featuring memorable songs like All Women Are Bitches and Detox Killer/Erotic Thriller. This fantastic feminist force led the way for the queercore and riot grrl scenes across Canada.
This week we are celebrating Fifth Column with, SHE SAID BOOM: FEMINIST ZINE MAKING SYMPOSIUM. This D-I-Y 3-day event features a pay-what-you-can talk on Friday April 26th by Fifth Column founders drummer/guitarist/singer GB Jones and lead singer/organist Caroline Azar on their involvement in zine-making throughout the 1980s and 1990s in Toronto. The symposium opens at the University of Toronto on Thursday April 25th with a screening of She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column followed by a talk with Director Kevin Hegge. View the entire schedule of events here.
I had the pleasure of recently talking with Caroline and GB about how they started making zines and what kinds of projects they are working on these days.
EO: How did you two meet?
GB: I first saw Caroline at a screening of Andy Warhol’s “Chelsea Girls” at The Funnel.
CA: And concurrently, I was sick in love for the iconoclastic “Bunny and The Lakers” LP that GBJ was a big part of. The most perfect noise and melody I had ever heard. I used to play that LP for hours. The neighbours complained to my parents and to the police.
So when we met at the Shaw-a-go-go band practice space, there was this double take…yet, we didn’t speak to each other for weeks since we were both very shy. Our first conversation happened at The Subway Room (at the Spadina Hotel, now gone). Our first show was with these performance and video artists from OCA. My art teacher from High School, Angelika came to see us… She let us spray paint the art room with the titles of Sex Pistols songs and play Eraserhead on a projector after school hours.
EO: What is the ‘She Said Boom’ lyric about?
CA: “My girlfriend bombs monuments and I just don’t know what to do!!” In the 80’s “bombing” had a different meaning, which was to ‘tag’, to spray paint, to graffiti. The narrative in the song is about a young boy confused by his girlfriend’s independence, given her obsessive graffiti hi-jinx.
GB had taken spray painting to a whole new level with the “Fifth Columnists Strike Back” graffiti series all over Toronto and parts of Canada, where we toured. You can see it in Bruce La Bruce’s footage in the video for “Like This”. She used to spray paint walls of banks with the slogan, “This will fall down”….what a mystic, she saw it coming…ha!
We had also noticed a decay in our city: destroying lovely and precious monuments, and the mention of architecture and historical milestones in the lyric was a way of cuing up memory for the future. “March 23rd, 24th, 25th, 1982, North America, was a time regretted by most, when Casa Loma started to roast…”
Essentially, “She said boom” are 3 simple words that, for us, mean being responsible for your own pocket-sized revolution, and that one’s exasperation with what is false can be said aloud: “I say boom, you say boom, she said boom!” A great punk fanzine called Sick to Move (from Pasadena, CA) had a great slogan they need to be credited for: “REVOLUTION BEGINS IN THE MIRROR.” The tragedies of late that are making this decade a dour one have perverted the onomatopoeia known as “boom” with fascist anguish imposed. We now need to clarify this in respect to the “here and now”.
EO: How did you get into zine-making?
CA: GB really sparked all of us early on in the 80’s, with the notion of making our own zines. At the time, there were these art magazines in Toronto like FILE and Impulse, highly stylized with a new wave academic sensibility. Both were done in Toronto and GB studied with Eldon Garnet, editor and publisher of Impulse. One of the class projects was to make this beautiful bound print mag the size of a biggish single cover (obviously using the resources of the college). It was called (sic). Artists like John Brown collaborated on it and writer Donna Lypchuk contributed to it, and GB was already exploring and introducing the historical relevance of Tom of Finland in one of her pieces. I came up with an application for one of her pages, which accompanied GB’s lyrics to the Fifth Column song “Modern Diseases”. It seemed like a satisfying task for an 18 year old lost girl. And GB insisted: “You guys should do your own zine.” So Candy, Kathleen and I did HIDE. GB became a very important element and major voice as well as contributor to HIDE.
GB: At the same time, I had an amazing instructor named Barbara Astman who introduced me to Photocopy Art and the photocopier. So I was working on my photocopy art and also this small press magazine (sic), and of course I soon realized that zines were the best of both worlds. I started out helping on HIDE, taking photos and so on, and Caroline had the idea of turning it into a cassette zine as well as a print zine. This was the dawn of “cassette culture”, and I think HIDE was really the first cassette zine. When the other editors left, Caroline and I put it out ourselves. We released five issues, and we sent the cassettes to all the college radio stations throughout Canada and the U.S., and K Records distributed it in the U.S.
Then I started J.D.s with Bruce LaBruce, which was an opportunity to put into practice some Situationist theories I was interested in. The scene around J.D.s just kept growing, and by the time we had finished it was just getting started in other parts of the world.
By then though, the so-called “zine wars” had already started and I just wanted to leave all that behind. So one night Caroline, Jena von Brucker, Johnny Noxzema, Rex and myself came up with the idea to do Double Bill. We stayed up all that night making the first issue and mailed it out in the morning. Five issues came out, the last one in 2001.
EO: What do you hope will come out of the ‘She Said Boom’ feminist zine-making symposium?
CA: A spring calling-card to our burgeoning community welcoming your voices. I think a zine has a tacit and arduous beauty that a blog may never have.
GB: I agree with Caroline. Everyone is rediscovering the wonders of vinyl and cassettes lately, and I think zines are next. Although, make no mistake, a lot of people never stopped making them! I contributed to zines like Every Reason and The Filth Zine just in the past year, so I know the zine scene is still alive and well. I also know that feminism is anything but dead but in these times it’s more important than ever for younger women to find out there’s an alternative to the misogyny that’s rampant nowadays, and I hope the “She Said Boom” feminist zine-making symposium can help. It can’t hurt!
EO: What are you working on these days?
CA: Writing plays based on some severe content that has been heating up my heaven and hell…they will be produced by 2014-15. One play is called DINK and the other is for GB starring GB that is a multi-media piece called THE LOOKSIST. All performative work. And I teach…working with writers and actors in a creation capacity. I might be dramaturging and directing something for the Hamilton Fringe this summer called THE WRONG SEX by Sonny Mills. Just in case I don’t do it, Mills deserves a plug… awesome humourist whom I adore.
GB: I am working on getting two short movies into distribution, an older film first made in 1985 called Unionville, starring Caroline Azar, and a newer one made this year called Hot Dogs, which premiered at The 8 Fest here in Toronto. I’m also working with Caroline on THE LOOKSIST, and doing artwork for The Hidden Cameras. As well, I play in a band called Opera Arcana with Minus Smile and Sianteuse. We are devoted to anything and everything that could be considered Southern Ontario Gothic.