"WINNIPEG," Chris Walter says, somewhere on the highway between there and here, "is where the strong survive, and the rest leave town."
Surely it's not as bad as all that -- is it? -- but Walter, as anyone who's followed his punk-rock writing career knows, took the latter option. It's been over 20 years since he walked away from the smeary chaos of Winnipeg's old punk haunts, and headed to the coast.
Out in Vancouver, he got sober, and he wrote, and he told us about how he was a punk before the rest of us were punks. He's written over 20 books like that, stories flowing from the old days at the Royal Albert -- "I had my face sliced open with a wine glass there once," he recalls -- and all the other little disasters that made up a rock'n'roll life.
So really, there are few better to do his latest subject justice. In July, the 53-year-old Walter released his brand-new book, a biography on the seminal Edmonton punk band SNFU. He'd previously tackled the tales of influential 1980s Winnipeg punkers Personality Crisis, and Victoria' Dayglo Abortions.
This time, he went bigger, better, deeper.
Out now on Walter's own publishing company, GFY Press, SNFU: What No One Else Wanted To Say is 50,000 words longer than the Dayglo Abortions book; Walter estimates he interviewed over 100 people to trace the trail of SNFU frontman Chi Pig and the gang, from early tour roadies to punk girls in Halifax.
The story that emerged takes readers on a wild ride, from the clubs of Edmonton to the heights of SNFU's mid-90s fame. The band's career was drenched in blood, busted gear and the teasing liquor of success. Chi Pig was an artist, an addict and a mess; the band broke up, and reformed, and broke up and reformed and...
"I don't think people realize how hard it is for an independent band to make a living at music," Walter says. "They wanted to do it full-time, and they tried as hard as it could to make it work. They kept trying and trying. But once you've been touring Europe with Bad Religion and Green Day, it's hard to go back to selling T-shirts for gas money."
Walter watched it all happen the first time around, back in the day: from the band's earliest days in 1981 to their latest and current revival, he saw the saga unfold. Still, writing about it was hard. Knowing the people in the band made it worse. It's emotional stuff, for a writer who knows what it's like to stare into the abyss.
"When they run into trouble, I can feel their pain on a deeper level," Walter muses. "They're not just some rock star I've been put in contact with through their agent. This is people I know, people I've hung out with. I should have known better how hard it was. But it wasn't until this book I saw what a toll it took on their personal lives."
Well, SNFU survived. The band is back on the road these days. And Chris Walter is too, navigating his way back to Winnipeg for the book tour; it'll bring him to The Cavern on Osborne Street next Friday. There will be a bit of a hint of the old-school shenanigans, as wild-eyed rockers Trouser Mouth take to the stage; after that, Walter laughs, fans can "expect to see an old bald guy with a lot of tattoos reading from his new book."
After that, the road stretches out again, longer this time, as Walter's own name rises with each book he writes: on Friday, he inked a deal with a Toronto company to turn his 2006 novel Langside, based on the rough-and-tumble life on the Winnipeg street, into a TV pilot.
He's flirted with big- and small-screen adaptations before - "Until I'm sitting in the theatre munching popcorn at the opening, it won't really seem real," he laughs -- but he's got his fingers crossed this time. "It'll expose me to a many more new readers," he says. "I think Langside will start selling a lot better. It's done OK for me, but this would just put me on a different level.
"It's like a rock band going from an indie label to Epitaph."
Chris Walter is rolling his SNFU: What No One Else Wanted To Say book tour into the Cavern on Friday, Aug. 24. Tickets will be $10 at the door. Trouser Mouth and Potatoes will be playing, and there's some rumour about a pole dance.