Bongo Beatnik Ralph Alfonso is a legend; a writer, musician, poet, band manager, author, photographer, record exec, label owner, art gallery owner, graphic designer, publisher and publicist who has been documenting the Canadian art and music scene from its early outsider roots to its present insider status.
But before he was a legend he was Ralph Alfonso, a comic book fan who became a journalist writing about the emerging punk scene of the mid 70s. A one time one hour interview with Toronto punk debutantes, The Diodes, became four decades of managing those self same rockers. Together they became legendary having opened the infamous punk rock club, The Crash & Burn, which did, metaphorically. But not before it was documented on film, a film that will be shown, along with a gallery of Alfonso’s photographs from his vantage point smack in the middle of what we call Punk Rock!, at the Diodes upcoming reunion gigs to be held at The Phoenix in T.O., Sept. 11, Hamilton’s It Ain’t Hollywood Sept. 13 and the Station in Brantford Sept. 15. Gord Lewis and Dave Rave of Teenage Head will open the Hammer and Hogtown gigs. The Diodes will also play Pop Montreal Sept. 17, and the Manantler Craft Brewery in Bowmanville Sept. 12. Manantler will brew a special tribute IPA, “Time Damage” which will be available at all the shows.
Time hasn’t done much damage to the Diodes, their songs or to Alfonso who says 2015 is just as exciting time in Canadian music as was 1975. He gives the thumbs up to labels, Bonsound in Montreal and Dine Alone in Toronto as well as to Arts and Crafts co-founders Jeffrey Remedios, recent appointment to CEO of Universal Canada.
Alfonso says the development is interesting in so far as Universal chose not to promote from within but from without but when it comes to the argument about indie vs major he says they are just words to describe an approach to business. When he began he says there was no word for the music being made. It was just new sounds and a new sense of possibility.
“I found it like a door opened. you could do whatever you want,” says Alfonso. “There were no rules, no labels. It was a magic window for 1977 and most of 1978 but then the rules and regulations came in. And they came in from England. The British were the masters of packaging and invention. . . . So they repackaged it and it became Punk and this is how you look and this is how you play. A lot of their stuff was genuine too because there were real political problems in England and punk became the music of the proletariat.”
While punk was happening at the same time in London, New York and TO it was doing so for different reasons. It was a voice for the working class in Britain but it was the voice of the middle class in North America.
“We didn’t have the poverty here so there was nothing really to rage against,” says Alfonso. “Also at a certain time there an artificial dividing line where some were art rockers but others were ‘We’re from the streets man!’ But Caveat Emptor, all is not what it seems because the supposedly street cred guy was from a middle class family and he was really revolting against his folks but if he ever got into trouble he could always call Dad. There was something artificial about it but ultimately the music from here was on a different level.”
A level different enough to survive the damage time can do, a level that crossed classes and genres, labels and categories and entered a timelessness. Alfonso has survived through all his manifestations, “Some people think of me as a major label guy. Some people see me as the Indie guy. But I run into other people and they say ‘oh you’re the guy with the art gallery in Montreal,” he says. The Diodes too, live on, in photographs, on film, on record and on stage.