It would be hard to forget Hard Core Logo’s last tour across western Canada, had it actually happened. The legend of the fictional punk band’s fatally flawed reunion tour got its start in Michael Turner’s 1993 book of the same name.
Since then, both the novel and Bruce MacDonald’s mid-nineties film adaptation have earned the imaginary act a cult following around the world. Now, Canadian rock opera master Michael Scholar Jr. is bringing the group’s story to the stage with his new musical Hard Core Logo: LIVE. While last year saw a successful premiere in Edmonton, Scholar is now bringing the production to Hard Core Logo’s hometown.
“Hopefully the show will get even tighter and smoother, and kick Vancouver’s teeth in when we open here,” he says.
Scholar has been a fan of Hard Core Logo since he was a theatre student at the University of Alberta.
“I first saw Hard Core Logo at the Princess Theatre in Edmonton. I remember there were a couple other people sitting up in the balcony saying they were at the Edmonton concert [shown in the film], which is total bullshit because it was all shot in Vancouver and it’s a fake band. But it seemed like it could have happened to these guys. The line between fantasy and reality gets blurred.”
From that day on, Scholar has been fascinated by Hard Core Logo. “I think it’s a defining film for Canadian culture. It’s cool Canadian, not just beavers and lumberjacks and hosers. It’s the story of Canadian indie music. You can be influential and important and have a following, but making a living as a musician in this country is actually very difficult.”
The thought of messing up a Canadian cult classic doesn’t worry Scholar, though. He has the credentials to back up his confidence. He produced and acted in the first English language production of Tom Waits and William S. Burroughs’ rock opera Black Rider back in the late ‘90s and also staged a version of Hedwig & the Angry Inch. But Hard Core Logo: LIVE marks the first time he completely reworked the source material. Knowing he would need to make Hard Core Logo’s Vancouver sound authentic, Scholar brought in the notorious D.O.A. frontman Joe “Shithead” Keithley.
“The movie had really good punk rock but it was really Toronto-sounding,” Scholar explained. “I knew I wanted to use Michael Turner’s lyrics, but I wanted a Vancouver punk legend to write the music. I asked Joe Keithley of D.O.A, and luckily, he agreed to do it. He is a great composer and he knows Vancouver punk rock better than anyone.”
Not everyone was on board with the new music from the beginning, but Scholar’s cast—Toby Berner, Clinton Carew, Telly James and Rachael Johnston— came around quickly when they heard Keithley’s songs and got used to Scholar in his role as fictional front man Joe Dick. “We met with the most resistance when people were auditioning for the role of Billy Tallent. We needed a great guitarist, but a lot of musicians are married to the music of the movie. We had to convert people who were expecting the movie, because we wanted to do more than just put the film on stage. If anyone comes into the show humming the tunes from the movie, hopefully we’ll blast it out of their fucking heads.”
If you dig Hard Core Logo’s newly configured tunes, you’ll be glad to know you can take these versions home with you post-performance. Scholar and Keithley have teamed up to produce a 7” that will be for sale at performances as well as Vancouver record stores.
“One side is us doing “Who the Hell Do You Think You Are,” and the other side is D.O.A. doing “Blue Tattoo,” the producer continues. “That’s as far as we’ve gone for now, but if the show becomes really popular Joe might release the D.O.A. recordings of it, and we might also record a couple of our live shows. We are Hard Core Logo: LIVE, so we can do a live album, right?”
It would be easy for the staged elements of Hard Core Logo: LIVE to get lost amidst all the punk rock insanity, but Scholar hasn’t forgotten that it’s first and foremost a piece of theatre.
“It’s a great story filled with different theatrical elements, including video projection, puppetry and some fun, playful staging. Hopefully people will see new sides of the characters they thought they knew and new parts of the story that help fill out this great myth.”
Hard Core Logo: LIVE runs from Jan. 27 to Feb. 6 at the Rickshaw Theatre, with a special pay-what-you-can preview of the show on Jan. 26. For more information or to buy tickets, check out the Touchstone Theatre website: https://www.touchstonetheatre.com/productions/hard-core-logo-live/