Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Sam Sutherland

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Sam Sutherland

Sam Sutherland's new book, Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk (ECW Press), covers the origins, myths and general badass-ery of the punk movement in Canada, beginning in the late 70s with stories of bands like D.O.A., the Subhumans, the Viletones and Teenage Head, as well as lesser-known acts.

Sam tells Open Book the story of where and how Perfect Youth came together as part of our At the Desk series. From hot toddies and kitchen mice to Machete and food poisoning, read on to hear about Sam's experiences writing, touring and (hopefully) avoiding a stint in Russian prison.

For each book that sits on our shelves or rests in our hands, a writer has spent countless hours researching, organizing, writing and rewriting. In Open Book’s At The Desk series, writers tell us about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them.
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Sam Sutherland's desk

I started to write Perfect Youth in my first apartment, above a Thai restaurant at Jarvis and Carleton. When my friends and I moved out, we smashed a hole in the wall and put a time capsule inside. We have to go back and retrieve it in five years.

The first draft of the actual first chapter of the book was written in the dining room of the house I grew up in in Markland Woods, a wicked harsh and fully deadly neighbourhood in Etobicoke. I went home to write because I couldn't stand the heat in my new apartment. This was because it was situated directly above a meth lab at the corner of Ossington and Essex. One time my landlord cut my bike chain because I said I'd buy him a beer, and I had yet to buy him a beer. He wanted it.

I wrote most of the remainder at a table in the kitchen of a house at Christie and Dupont. It was wedged between the fridge and a half-wall decorated only with a framed copy of the Aspen Daily Times from the day after Hunter Thompson died. The mice were loud and I could hear them over the music in my headphones, so I would get up and bang on the cupboards until they stopped. Then, I would make a hot toddy and work until past sunup. Sometimes I would put a movie on in the background, either The Empire Strikes Back or Robocop. This is why the book has so many swears.

I wrote a few chapters on tour between Tampa, Florida and London, Ontario. It was the winter they started using the term “Snowmageddon.” Our Baltimore show was cancelled. We stayed in suburban New Jersey, watched Machete, and all got food poisoning instead. The show the next night in Scranton only had one bathroom. It was horrible. Then we played in Boston, and at the house show after I got crowd surfed into a glass door, which I broke.

I edited some of the chapters during a weekend music festival in Montreal. We lit a fire on the banks of the St. Lawrence River but we put it out when our friend reminded us it was truly stupid and dangerous.

When the book was finished, I moved. Didn't really like the fridge and the wall and the mice anymore. Still liked hot toddies. The new desk is in the middle of a big open room at the corner of Wellington and Niagara. It is the opposite of the kitchen table. There's light and sun and no mice. I actually find it kind of distracting. Recently, we had a problem with a squirrel in our wall, which was loud, and then was dead. Then it was smelly, then it produced a biblical plague of flies. That was good, creatively, and probably helped with the final edits.

In my richest, wildest dreams, I suppose I write in a gorgeous loft overlooking the pristine waters of some secret rich people lake, and someone else makes my tea and whiskey drinks. But then everything I'd write would be garbage and I'd have to go to Russian prison to produce anything worthwhile again. I don't want to go to Russian prison.

— Sam Sutherland

Sam Sutherland is a Toronto-based journalist. He is a former Assistant Editor at Exclaim! Magazine and Music Editor of Broken Pencil, whose work has appeared in such publications as the National Post, Maisonneuve, Alternative Press and alt-weeklies across the country. He currently works as the Online Producer of AUX.TV.

For more information about Perfect Youth please visit the ECW Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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