In the introduction to Sam Sutherland’s Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk, the author eruditely sets out the far-reaching effects of the first wave of punk in Canada, and – in appropriately irreverent fashion – notes that this history differs from a Pierre Berton tome in that it involves a great deal more vomit. This comparison is apt both literally and figuratively. The book paints a clear picture of a movement often associated with hard living, but, more importantly, an art form built upon social agitation.
Sutherland, an online producer for AUX TV who began Perfect Youth while an undergraduate at Ryerson University, acknowledges the difficulty in assembling a cultural history of an era inevitably shaped by the geographic isolation of its participants. The book’s form nicely mirrors its content, with chapters dedicated to bands and – perhaps of more interest to fans and historians – the formation of local scenes from B.C. to Newfoundland. Sutherland does not waste valuable pages dispelling the notion that Canadian punk was an ersatz version of contemporaneous movements in New York and London, two scenes that typically bookend analyses of punk’s first wave.
The book’s range prohibits lengthy chapters; rather, it is comprised of assiduously researched vignettes that give a palpable sense of time and place. Despite its broad scope, Perfect Youth is unified by an emphasis on the importance of process. Sutherland illuminates the ways in which nascent Canadian punk was of necessity a bricolage and the resultant transformative networks of repurposed spaces and modes of production.
Sutherland dedicates chapters to the advent of queercore and the contribution of women, including interviews with members of the Dishes, the Curse, and the B-Girls. Such reparative analyses are necessary to a history that is still far too often presented in myopic terms regarding race, gender identity, and sexuality. Perfect Youth is a valuable and accessible addition to the study of punk in general, and to Canada’s place within it.