Scott Woods's Nerve Questionnaire
When did you first hear about Nerve magazine?
September '84 issue, with Echo & the Bunnymen on the cover, which I picked up at Records on Wheels or Cheapies. It was still called The Eye.
What were your initial impressions?
It seemed very English, very underground, and very noisy--or, to appropriate some late '80s linguese, shambolic. It was professionally done--same size as Now magazine, tabloid-size, on smudgy newsprint--but it was deliberately crude in feel, too. (This changed somewhat over the next couple years.) It intrigued me enough to pick it up and read through it, but it didn't instantly strike me as an environment I might one day fit into; I don't think the idea even crossed my mind at first.
How did you first become involved in Nerve and/or first meet Dave or Nancy?
Sometime in 1984, I started writing for the Ryerson Eye Opener, and a year later I became one of the Entertainment Editors. Dave and Nancy put together Nerve from the back room of the same office space, and I just slowly (very slowly) got to know them through shared accomodations. I was equally intimidated by both of them (so much hair between them, so appealingly thrift-shop in style and demeanour), and always felt sadly kind of normal in their presence. I think Nancy, who was a bit more approachable, gleamed that I was something of an enthusiast--I could talk fairly convincingly if you got me going--and hinted that I should write something for them, but this is a dim memory.
What was the first story or photo you had published in Nerve? Do you feel the story or photo holds up well today?
I think it was actually a review of a rock 'n' roll play (a budding John Simon, I was), which I can't remember the title of. Another early assignment was an interview I did with Billy Bragg following his first Toronto appearance at Larry's Hideaway. This was also my introduction to Nerve photographer (and still close friend) Chris Buck, whose one improvised question for Bragg was much better and a lot funnier than all my pre-planned "are you influenced by so-and-so" questions: "You're wearing two different shoes: is that 'Dada'?" I had no idea what Chris was talking about--and I'm not so sure Billy did, either.
Without dredging up the hoary details, I'm fairly certain that none of my Nerve writing holds up very well, and a lot of it is too embarrassing to even think about.
Of all the stuff you did for Nerve, which are you most proud of?
In terms of writing, not a lot. Occasionally, I stumbled upon an okay joke or an interesting musical reference, but that's really about it. On the other hand, I'm relatively happy with the range of stuff I wrote about. Off the top of my head: Linton Kwesi Johnson, the Replacements, Lisa Lisa & the Cult Jam, Los Lobos, Run-DMC, L.L. Cool J, Elvis Costello, the Stones (ridiculously over-the-top praise for Dirty Work!), Michael Jackson, and Dr. & the Medics. Hardly an earth-shattering list, but I was happy enough to be vaguely thought of by Dave (more as time went on) as one of Nerve's "pop" guys, an image borne out somewhat by my 1985 and 1986 year-end lists.
What articles or photos in Nerve, aside from your own, are you particularly fond of?
Some of Rave's "Farm Update" columns are still kind of priceless, especially when he was mocking Skinny Puppy. But the two pieces I still find most interesting to read now--perhaps for obvious reasons--are a couple rock critic features, one of which I completely forgot about (Dave and Nancy's roundtable discussion with Toronto music critics Peter Goddard, Liam Lacey, and Michael Hollett), the other of which influenced me a lot in regards to what I hoped to do with this web site (Phil Dellio's great dual-interview, "Chuck Eddy & the Holy Greil"; I believe the title was Rave's idea).
Talk a bit about your relationship with Dave Rave, in an editorial or a personal sense (or both).
It was complicated. I wasn't very comfortable around him at first. He could be arrogant (albeit in his unique, English way--i.e., quietly so), and I was a total pushover, a combination that was destined to have, well, complications. I probably took some of his flippant remarks too much to heart, especially as I consider in retrospect how overly earnest I could be about things like Artists United Against Apartheid's "Sun City" (a song I remember us arguing about). Somewhere along the way, though, we found some common ground musically--an Elvis Costello compilation I made for him in 1986 was pivotal--and things improved somewhat after that. But I hesitate to say we were ever truly "close." Editorially, I can't add much to what others will say. Dave rarely spoke to me at length about anything I wrote, and if he made changes to my copy that I disagreed with, I probably just bit my tongue and/or assumed he was right. And 95% of the time he was.
Ditto for Nancy Lanthier.
I only ever socialized with Nancy in a group setting--at Nerve parties, where I was outflanked by personalities much bolder than my own--and I dealt with her even less than Dave when it came to editorial matters. So I don't really have an answer here other than to say I liked her just fine and she seemed vital to the magazine's success even if I never bothered at the time to find out how so.
What are your thoughts about Nerve magazine when you look at it now?
Good and bad. Not too surprisingly, some of it holds up better in spirit than in fact. A lot of what seemed so irreverent at the time now seems merely quirky or, worse, obnoxious. Still, there are enough exceptions to this to tip the balance, and when I flip through Nerve today I still get a strong sense of how utterly indespensible it was (or anyway, felt) at the time.
How important was Nerve to your personal growth as a writer or photographer?
Important mainly in that it got the ball rolling for me and that it forced me to try and think about what I wrote, if only in order to try and keep up with what others were doing (all failures to actually keep up were of course my own). That said, Phil Dellio's Radio On, which started a couple years after Nerve--and on a much smaller scale--was more pivotal in terms of helping me develop a "voice" (all failures to actually develop one were of course my own).
Are you still as fond today of the music you enthused about back then? If not, what has changed?
Generally speaking, the poppy dance stuff, yes, the indie rock stuff, no; everything else, I'd have to examine artist by artist or song by song. It's not that I don't still like Hüsker Dü or Replacements or Jesus & the Mary Chain (the three alternative bands that ended up mattering most to me at the time), but for a variety of different reasons--one being an unavoidable conclusion that none of them hold up as well as they should--I almost never feel like listening to any of it. Most of the radio stuff I liked at the time can still ocassionally surprise, and it's just closer to the sounds that have mattered to me since. Interestingly, in regards to '80s indie rock, I'm more attached now to some of the bands I ignored or missed altogether at the time: particularly Black Flag, Minor Threat, and early Sonic Youth. Aside from "TV Party," I don't think I even heard a Black Flag song until the '90s. (I remain, however, completely baffled about the appeal of Big Black and the Butthole Surfers, and am still trying to figure out who I thought I was fooling by putting a Minutemen record on my 1985 year-end list.)
Can you recall a particularly memorable Nerve party?
Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum showed up at one. I don't remember much about it, but I'm sure by the time I have grandkids I'll have come up with something.
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