NOTE: Borrowed from Steve Roby's Profile on well.com. Original Source here.
(c)Copyright 1995. All Rights Reserved.
BY CLINT TOURANGEAU
Nov. 25 was my grandmother's birthday and I spent the night trying to find a way through the snow to be with her up north. She turned 76 that day. I am very aware that I have to see her while I still can, before she is irrevocably taken away. I never got there and she spent her birthday alone.
Also on the same evening, on a stage in Winnipeg, Jr. Gone Wild, quite possibly Edmonton's only truly great band, played their final gig.
Now, perhaps I am oversentimentalizing both events and maybe I am hyper-sensitive these days concerning loss and insufficient time, and maybe I am getting old, but I'm beginning to understand that I am just a little sketch, the simple little history of the interactions of my heart. And though Jr. Gone Wild will never compete with my grandmother, they have, throughout the years, in a silent way, become a part of my most protected self.
The first time I saw the band, I laughed. Mike McDonald had hair down to his ass and was wearing skin-like psychedelic trousers (this was not a time when hippie-ness was at all cool). The rest of the band appeared dirty and drunk. They came on the stage swearing and drinking hard alcohol out of big pints.
I figured they'd sound like the regular thrash-a-long bands of the time. But when they started playing, everything came together in some delirious miracle; the crowd, the band, and especially the music. The music: it was punk yet country (and rock and folk, goddamnit). It was all the stupid shit we were (Tommy Hunter, Anne Murray) mixed with everything we wanted to be (The Clash, Bob Dylan). I went away thinking this was the first band I ever heard that could have only came from Edmonton, the only band that sounded like Edmonton felt.
The Monday after Jr.'s last show, I dropped into the Rose Bowl and visited with Luann Kowalek and Mike McDonald, the man who started Jr. Gone Wild 12 years ago and who fronted them through multiple mutations and long years of beautiful misfortune. Luann, a local artist of some import herself, prompted Mike to recollect the life and times of Jr. Gone Wild.
Luann: How did it all start?
Mike: I was in a band called the Malibu Kens and every one in Edmonton hated us. And I would see bands like the Dragnets, who had audiences which received them very well and I always wanted to have that. And also Moe Berg's band, The Modern Minds, who were, like, the first punk band that really mattered in this city. I wanted to do what they were doing, which was high energy pop. And everybody loved them, because they were just plain great.
We wanted to have hit records and be wildly famous. But it wasn't all about being successful in the music business either. It was a lifestyle choice as well. Like I wanted to live my life that way. It wasn't like, at five I was no longer in the band. I had my personal time, but it was all part of it.
We lived this way. Dove and I would drop anything to play a gig. I played the night after my brother committed suicide, that's how committed I am. I mean, it's the only thing that really matters right?
After the first time seeing Jr., I was hooked. I got more of my friends into them and we followed them around to endless gigs so that, now, the shows are all mangled up in my head, except for a few memorable nights. Like one Saturday at East Glen Hall, when Jr. headlined. Mike is pissed off with drummer Ed Dobek and keeps swearing at him in a bad Festus (the guy from Gunsmoke) voice. "This is our drummer Ed, he's a fag," kinda thing. Dave Lawson is super drunk, ranting uncontrollably at the audience between songs. Ed picks up his drum stool and chucks it at Mike's head. Mike tells Ed to fuck off. Dave leaves the stage. And Dove just stands off to the side, thinking about any number of things other than the antics of his band mates.
A few minutes later they start playing again and they're riding a taut rocket of their own inter-turmoil, blowing the roof off. And I think, "These guys, they're our fuckin' Who, man."
After the show, Mike sits right next to me and I want to shake his hand and tell him it was all great. But I don't.
Mike: Speaking of volatile . . .Dave Lawson would have made a great cult leader and Ed was in his cult, and me and Dove, in Dove's own words, "Never were great friends in the first place."
So we had three factions, three sets of values and, not only that, we were foolishly trying to run it as a democracy, which was insane with those guys - us guys. And, we were all drinking like absolute maniacs. So we were going to break up because everything sucked. It's amazing the first album ever came together.
Luann: What would have happened if you and Dave would have kept working together?
Mike: We would have broken up and one of us would be dead . . . probably me. Being in a drunk buffoon band was fun for awhile, but after awhile I couldn't handle it, because I wasn't expressing myself as an artist. People wanted us to stay like that and self-destruct. But I wasn't about to quit for something stupid like that.
We didn't go out of our way to find like-minded people. In fact it seemed that we found the people most unlikely to get along to be in the band (he laughs).
We were explosive. The things other bands broke up over we'd laugh at because that would happen to us daily. But the reason we were in Jr. Gone Wild together wasn't to get along, it was to make good music.
I think we've been through a lot of line-up changes because a lot of people couldn't handle that, like, you had to get along all the time. But that was never an issue with us, I guess.
I went away to Europe for a year and came back, homesick, just in time to see Mike at the Folkfest the first time he did Main Stage. I stand up in the rain, completely straight mind you, and scream during the duration of his short three-song set, proud, because that guy playing up there, man, I grew up with him.
Mike: Yeah, it was around that time people started to single me out, which was a great annoyance. Just 'cause I sang out front and wrote most of the songs, people started to shift their focus on to me and away from the band. And it was the band that was important.
Luann: But you talk about trying to do your art. Surely your contribution mattered.
Mike: No, I only wrote those songs because I was in Jr. Gone Wild. I did everything because I wanted to be in this band. The band was the art.
Mike McDonald's face is on the big screen in Commonwealth Stadium He's singing the National Anthem to tens of thousands of Eskimo fans. He looks nervous. I'm sitting with eight juvenile delinquents from a group home where I work. Mike's voice is echoing around the stadium, off a thousand hard faces and into secret crevices. They have a new album out on Stoney Plain Records, but I haven't bought it. After the football game is a free concert, but I don't stay.
Mike: Jerry Jerry once said that once you get good, nobody wants to see you any more and that kinda happened to us. We got good and still nobody knew where to pigeon-hole us, so never got to do all things we wanted to do. It became obvious we just weren't getting anywhere so we just packed it in. Which is against my own personal philosophy, but I'd like to say that we didn't quit because it got too hard. It was just time to try something different, a different approach.
Luann: But seeing that most people have always thought of Jr. Gone Wild as Mike McDonald's band, why did you stop?
Mike: We weren't allowed to exist like we wanted to exist and we'd rather not exist than live like that, I guess.
Luann: How do you feel now that it's all over?
Mike: Well, I was sad for a couple of weeks and then I was angry . . . but I'm not bitter because, even though we never got all the things we wanted to get out of it, we got something else entirely: a real long history. With Jr., our good times mean a whole lot 'cause there were a lot more bad things than good things. That our career was hard made all the rewards seem like we deserved them and they mean a lot to us, and so, the whole, story, there's nothing I'm ashamed of.
Luan: How do you want Jr. Gone Wild to be remembered?
Mike: I want it to be remembered as a real great rock band. A couple of people have told me I've inspired them to play and I'm proud of that. I'm also proud that none of us dies in a fiery car crash on the highway, which is something I thought for sure would happen. I thought I'd die on the road with Jr. Gone Wild and now that that's not going to happen, I feel I've accomplished something . . .
Let me also clear up a common misconception. Jr. Gone Wild wasn't a band that just wanted to be famous and it wasn't for the glory of Mike McDonald. I needed a community I could live in and I made one. I wanted to make this thing and participate in it. I didn't want to be responsible for it.
I don't know, I guess I got older and didn't understand the scene anymore and, like too many people, took for granted that as long as there was Edmonton, there would be Jr. - Too Dumb to Quit. But I know I waited too long to shake Mike McDonald's hand and tell him how much his music meant to me and how Jr. Gone Wild will always be a part of me, in the same way that when I close my eyes when I'm away from here, I see various intersections of Jasper Ave. and the places I once stood.
Me: I guess I should have just told you that years ago.
Mike: Yeah, or come out to see us on the last tour. It might have made a difference. Then again I might have told you to fuck off. I can be like that sometimes.
Luann: Where to now?
Mike: Well . . . I'm not going to quit, because this is what I do. I'm starting up a new band and I'm putting myself right up front and calling it the Mike McDonald Band . . .I said that I'd be playing in 60 days, so we'll have a gig sometime in January.
Someone told me that in order for people to understand Jr. Gone Wild, I'd have to leave it and go out on my own. I think I understand what that means now . . . how the past is always changing.
Note from Steve Roby:
The above article is no longer available from the SEE archive, but I wanted to keep it available for those who might be interested. SEE's copyright policy isn't completely clear on whether I can do this (does this count as personal use? It certainly isn't commercial), but I'll assume this is okay until advised otherwise.