by DAVE BIDINI
Musician, author and filmmaker Dave Bidini is one of the founding members of Canadian rock group the Rheostatics. He has published several books and also writes as a journalist.
Sheila lost her house in a fire a few weeks ago. Everything was lost. The place was in Kensington Market and they think it was arson, but people aren’t sure. Sheila (and her partner) had been there for years, although I never visited. I’d only ever gone to her apartment on Spadina Avenue, way back in the early 80s, but even then, I didn’t go inside; I was too afraid. Sheila pushed out a strong, rare energy, and as a New Wave kid from the suburbs, I couldn’t handle it.
Sheila Wawanash was my first editor. I was seventeen. She ran a Toronto rock paper called Shades. It was a tabloid, printed on great leaves of newsprint. There was always a black and white photo near the front by Peter Noble: either Lydia Lunch or David Ramsden or Jim Carroll or Frankie Venom. Holding it felt as if you were holding something important, and you were, because effectively, Shades was the first “entertainment” magazine in Canada, although Sheila would carve you for calling it that. Her face was angular and darkly cut over sweepy bangs, and her eyes were wicked – which only added to my terror – but she spoke kindly and quickly like a kettle on the boil, forever encouraging me in my writing. After forgetting to turn on the tape recorder for my first ever rock interview (with the Ramones), I called Sheila, embarrassed, heart-broken, reaching for some kind of balance. “No problem,” she said through the rotary phone in my parents’ kitchen, “Just write down everything you remember.” I did this, wrote the story, and it appeared in the next issue of Shades (the front cover). My friends saw it on the newsstands of our favourite record store. That month, I felt like a pretty big deal, and that maybe writing was something more amazing than I’d ever imagined.
Sheila massaged my awkward, young person’s copy, and kept assigning me stories: REM, The Dickies, The Fleshtones, Echo and the Bunnymen. “Go, go, go, and do it,” was her command whenever I suggested an idea for a story. So I did. And now I’m here and she’s there, without a home.
In 1985, I had the chance to go to Ireland to school. Around the same time, my band, The Rheostatics, was offered a tour of the bars of Northern Ontario. I didn’t know what to do until I found Sheila sitting in the front bar of the El Mocambo. I asked her for advice and she, said, “Oh, God, go to Ireland! Go, go, go and do it.” And so I did. There, I became myself – became a man – and if I hadn’t, I don’t know who I’d be.
I can’t give Sheila her house back. But maybe I can say this: thank you, Sheila and I’m not scared anymore. Thank you over and over and over.