"I know it's only rock 'n' roll but I like it."
- The Rolling Stones
"It wouldn't be rock 'n' roll if it didn't have at least some element of crime."
- Robb Johannes
Pardon the use of a self-constructed quote but I couldn't find the perfect Stanley Cohen-esque nugget on moral panics. Allow me to explain:
Back in February, Paint played a month-long residency at C'est What? in St. Lawrence Market. The venue has been a staunch supporter of the arts in Toronto, and kindly allows bands an outlet to workshop and develop new material -- at least that was the case for us, as we were stage-testing songs before we entered the studio to record our forthcoming album, Where We Are Today. As any hard-working and business-minded band would, we employed street-level marketing tactics to promote the residency to the local community by getting permission to display leaflets in surrounding shops, and adhering to C'est What?'s policy on postering only on surfaces not deemed off-limits by the City of Toronto. We began the residency playing to a modest-sized audience and closed the final installment with a room over capacity. For us it was an artistically-rewarding process, and we became a family of sorts with the staff at C'est What? along the way.
Months went by, we toured more, went into the studio to make the record, mixed it, mastered it, pressed it, and a month before its release we found ourselves going to C'est What? to catch some friends play a show. It was at this time, we were pulled aside and told that under Mayor Rob Ford's new "anti-graffiti" mission, the City of Toronto issued a fine to C'est What? for posters that were put up sometime in January or February promoting Paint's residency. Now, having developed a forward-thinking graffiti diversion program called RestART in conjunction with the City of Vancouver, I'd like to think I have a smidgen of knowledge about graffiti, defined as "Writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place," essentially paint or ink applied to an unsanctioned public surface. In this case, Paint was applied (in pun only) but not as "graffiti" per se.
Beyond semantic technicalities there is a plethora of concerns that the City's sanctions raise, and neither C'est What? nor Paint are willing to let Ford's neo-conservative ethos steamroll anything pertaining to the arts and local business in Toronto. C'est What?'s management is taking a stand premised on "This is like you steal a car and I charge your mother for it!" The venue is going to continue to encourage bands to promote their shows in every legal manner available, as it raises the profile of Toronto's vibrant arts community and stimulates business for local establishments. This kind of out-of-touch "crackdown" by Ford and his almost exclusively suburban support base would not fly on Queen Street or in Kensington Market due to the sheer volume of venues and postering activity (a lot of which is commissioned by the City -- who is, in a way, looking after their own on this issue). The fact that this "graffiti" occurrence was around St. Lawrence Market, a relatively upscale quadrant, surely raises issues of class and cultural clash in a city as diverse as Toronto -- which is in many ways what Ford's election was about.
C'est What? will not stand for this fine (as they shouldn't), and I will be joining them in court on Monday, August 15th at 1:00 p.m. to observe the hearing. I would like to extend an open invite any musician or artist in Toronto who may find themselves available to join me in attendance.
As a testament to their continued endorsement of the arts, as well as their sardonic sense of humour, C'est What? is committed continue to fight every single one of these fines in court if and when they emerge (with Paint being the first of such cases). If it so declared that C'est What? is to pay the fine, the venue will host a benefit concert for the band in question, and money raised from the door will go to pay the fine. And of course, in the event of a fine-benefit show, bands may be encouraged to put up posters with an old-western "WANTED" motif.
Thanks Rob Ford, your governance of a city you can hardly say you actually live in continues to manifest itself in ridiculous ways. The frivolousness of this particular one kind of smells like, well, gravy.