This Nation's Saving Grace
In his essay elsewhere within this feature, Howard Druckman writes: "To be honest, I don't expect that anybody unconnected to Nerve will read this, or invent an excuse to care." He probably has a point, and indeed, those "connected" to the now-defunct Toronto publication comprise a relatively small group of people. First and foremost, this group includes Dave MacIntosh (nee Rave) and Nancy Lanthier, Nerve magazine's dual editors and guiding lights. There are also the two or three dozen writers, photographers, and artists who contributed to the magazine during its brief shelf life, a few of whom are assembled herein. And on a slightly more abstract note, there was the Nerve readership, located mainly in Toronto, but scattered across the rest of Canada as well. (If you had access to a Canadian record store in 1987 that stocked The Legendary Wolfgang Press, there's a good chance you came across an issue or two of Nerve.)
Still, the story of Nerve will hopefully also ring true to anyone who was lucky enough--in the days prior to the Internet--to have a local music magazine of their own, one that connected them to a scene, and to other people with similar interests. Some publications of this nature, such as The New York Rocker, acquired a repectability that belied their small origins, while others, like Seattle's The Rocket, survived much longer than even its founders could have predicted. But there have been countless other similar 'zines published across the continent following punk's (hardcore's, really) arrival, and Nerve was just one such example, filling a void in the Canadian underground scene after the demise of Shades, the country's first serious contender in post-punk publications.
Nerve first sprang to life in 1984 as The Eye, and was, according to contributor Tim Powis, an offshoot of Ryerson University's weekly paper, The Eye Opener. Nancy Lanthier, a Ryerson Journalism graduate, helmed the operation from the start, and quickly recruited Dave Rave, a transplanted Englishman who worshipped at the altar of Mark E. Smith. The Eye turned into Nerve! in the fall of '84, and a few issues later became the slightly less zealous Nerve. From its earliest days right through to the its final issue in the spring of '88, Nerve covered a wide range of subject matter, focusing on--but by no means limiting itself to--the obscure, the local, and the weird. From Fred Frith, Groovy Religion, and Fifth Column to Sigue Sigue Sputnik, the Beastie Boys, and Snakefinger. Increasingly, as Nerve grew in circulation and confidence, it became less exclusively a "music" publication and more a 'zine of general cultural interest and even perversity; alongside the record reviews and musician profiles, Nerve sought out the stories of various writers (from Martin Amis to Crad Kilodney), underground artists (Matt Groening), local record store employees, nascent indie scenemakers, pioneering radio personalities, and fire-eating door to door salesmen. Issue 27 (August '86) carried the Meat Puppets on the cover and the following inscription at the top:
When it was good, and even when it was a little less than that, you could always count on Nerve to deliver on at least four out of five of those promises; when it was really peaking, you could sometimes throw the fifth one in as well
Through the course of putting together this feature, there was no attempt made to enlist everyone who contributed to Nerve--not by a long shot. I started by contacting the very small group of ex-Nerve staff I've stayed in communication with over the years, and through their suggestions and contacts, sought out a few other former contributors as well. It was simply beyond the realm of possibility to try and locate everyone, and we're all well aware that many important Nerve people are missing (whither Mike Henry? Mike Dyer? Nick Smash? Noxious Art? Dave Bidini? Jill Heath? Mark Manerra? Salvador Stumbo? Phillip Bull? Chris Twomey? Chris Vautour? Coot Veal? Bruce Tisdale? Denis Seguin? Melvin Merde? Sylvia Slack?...). My apologies to all those who were missed.
Unfortunately, the list of non-contributors includes Nancy and Dave, the two people without whom none of us would even be here talking about this. 'Phillip' Dellio, who got the ball rolling on this story in the first place, made many valiant attempts to recruit our former bosses, but both have chosen, for the time being anyway, to remain silent on the matter. We respect their wishes, and hope we haven't done them too much injustice in the pages that follow.
Thank you Phil, Howard, Maggie, Helen, Rick, and Tim for contributing stories and making some great suggestions along the way; and a special round of applause to Chris Buck for doing all that as well as preparing the amazing photos.
Pictured above: Nancy Lanthier and Dave Rave
[All photos in this feature by Chris Buck, except where noted.]
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Click on a link below to read more about Nerve magazine.