INTERVIEW: Bruce McDonald (part 2!)
Yipes, Hard Core Logo Night this Thursday. FYI, we have a block of tickets on reserve for our friends & loyal JBdotcom readers (which in some cases are one in the same). And here’s more from our boy Bruce who will be valiantly darting between Pontypool pick-ups and HCL funtown the night of. Because he is a superhero. Who hangs out with Oscar the grouch.
So were you a punk growing up? Were you involved in the scene at all?
Well, I grew up in Rexdale, outer reaches of the city, so I was never at the Crash ‘n’ Burn. I graduated high school in ’78 so I have fond memories of my friend coming back from England with a bunch of singles, the Pistols and stuff, and just thinking it was the greatest thing ever. We loved Stiff Little Fingers and Blondie and the Ramones. Those records were really big defining, sonic things. But in terms of punk lifestyle, I looked more like a hippie. Long hair, army jacket, more the Niel Young fashion that came out of that tail end of the ‘70s. My fashion was in 1972 but my head was in ’77. It wasn’t until much later that I really got into it, when I started doing music videos for Hugh and the Headstones and really getting to know a bunch of musicians in the city. We had a garage band that was half a band, but nothing that serious.
Wait, what was your garage band called?
Mother Napkin (laughs). We would just do covers, play parties and suburban basements. Just a fun way to channel our heroes.
One of the really enduring things about the movie — and one of the reasons we’re doing this night -– is that the songs are so perfect. And given that all that came out of the book were the lyrics, how did those come together?
Initially when we wrote the script we didn’t intend to have much music in the film at all, because all these fucking rock movies, the music is always so lame. So when Noel and I wrote the script it was designed so that you’d hear the first few chords and then — boom — it was more about between gigs. Then Peter Moore, a local producer, had a good relationship with the band Swamp Baby. So basically it was Peter and the band. I would just drop by every once in a while to have some scotch or listen to the tracks. Then Hugh came in and replaced the vocals. The singer of Swamp Baby was hoping we’d at least have one track that we’d hear his voice on but sadly he was completely replaced. Still, the cover of Sonic Reducer I fucking love. I looked up the original recently and thought that our version was way better. We did a tribute album on BMG at one point with a bunch of bands covering the songs. It’s Turner’s words and Peter’s guidance. I’ll see if I can bring Peter down to the Revue on the 14th, bring some of the posse down. Because he did a great job on it, spent a lot of time.
Like the dude in the Vader suit.
Yeah exactly. So it’ll be pretty exciting to have some bands coming at some of these songs at the Revue.
What was the process or challenge of turning a book that’s not really straight narrative story into a movie?
I’m basically a very lazy guy who seeks out things that I think’ll be easy. When I read the book I was sort of like, “Wow, I like this whole thing about bands… and music,” and, you know, there didn’t seem to be that many pages in the book and not a lot of stuff to figure out. Easy. They go from here to here to there, stuff happens, how complicated could it be? But Noel brought a lot to the table in the adaptation, just in terms of setting up themes and linking things. So the process lasted about a year. It wasn’t laborious or painful, but it was hard work. Sometimes it’s quite a trap to be slaves to the source material because it can never become it’s own thing. But Noel was forwardthinking enough to just read the book once or twice and write the script. Only go back to it once in awhile. I remember when we finally brought the script to Turner, he flipped through the script going “funny, I don’t really recognize any of my writing in this,” but in the end he loved the final product. He was very complimentary that we’d taken the spirit of it, that he understood the idea that a movie and a book are totally different beasts. I think that’s what I liked about the Turner book. You could smell it a bit, you could hear it. It wasn’t jampacked with stage directions and cluttered psychology. The idea of adapting something from a more poetic source gives you more motor than a thick novel when you have to cut out most of it.
One of the things that was sort of interesting about the adaptation is that it wasn’t until the very last stages of the script writing that we decided to make it a documentary. Partly for economic reasons, partly to create a style that is not that expensive i.e. the rockumentary. All those ’60s-’70s rockumentaries seemed to define that collision of music and movies. Like A Hard Days Night is kind of a documentary. It’s what’s really happening with those guys but let’s find a simple little story –- which is go to this place and put on the show. Hard Core Logo used to open with A Hard Days Night tribute actually. That was the original opening of the script. It was the song “Rock ‘n’ Roll is Fat and Ugly” and we had them all dressed in Beatles wigs and Beatles costumes and these screaming teenage school girls chasing them and replicating songs from Hard Days Night . I think it’s on the DVD. They end up being machinegunned to death by a Madonna lookalike and a transvestite with a gattling gun while these two naked chick fans are in this big pot being boiled. But people are always “let’s get to the fucking story,” so these openings fall flat.
And you shaving your head got cut out of the movie too. Were you frustrated by that? Like ‘I cut off all of my beautiful hair for nothing’?
Not really. It wasn’t a hard choice. It’s always shocking to see yourself on camera no matter what you’re doing. A few scenes we cut out because the movie begins to take a life of its own and accept and reject organs, so sometimes a scene just doesn’t belong. So no it wasn’t hard, it was fun to do and the actors got a kick out of it. It brings you closer to the actors, especially male actors. It’s a weird thing being an actor, hearing “go here, stand there, say this, do that” and the director is calling all the shots.