John Clement



This is a biography of one John Clement, guitarist, and one of the drummers of the Nihilist Spasm Band. I was born in Womens' College Hospital, Toronto on one of the coldest days of the winter of 1943: Saturday February the 13th. My father remembers the cold clear sky and the numbness of his forehead in the winter air as he walked from the bus stop to the hospital to see my mother and me. I know that he was in the Navy and maybe he was on leave or maybe he just got there after being called away from the Navy. I don't know the answer to these questions nor do I know anything about how he felt about this momentous event. I do know that it was very cold and that he felt the cold.

My sister was born when I was 25 months old and my mother died about 8 months later, on November the 28th. I don't remember these things.

We lived in north Toronto not far from the 401 which was not there then. I remember: riding my tricycle furiously fast and smashing into some old ladies who scolded me; my sister throwing builders lime into the air to enjoy the cloud it made against the evening sun, the screaming she made when it fell into her eyes and the rush home and then the trip to the hospital which I only heard about ( she did not lose her sight but we were all of us in the neighbourhood aware what a near thing it had been). I remember: the roofing tar in 45 gallon drums behind the new building on Avenue Road and the wonderful chewing and taste provide by it; tasting a cranberry that my mother had given me to taste - so bitter, so red; feeling old when my sister was a baby on the weigh scales in the small room with the blue walls; sleep walking later on when I was about 8; my step-mother-to-be telling my sister and I the story of the pied piper of Hamlin in front of the coal fire in the living room and the fire being the cave into which the children were led; watching the northern lights from that same living room when my step mother had gotten me up to see them in the middle of the night; digging to China in the dirt under the swing; Uncle Charlie's feet sticking out over the end of the bed in the basement; my father cooking steak over the coals in the furnace; the control chains that changed the air flow and thus the fierceness of the furnace fire; playing cowboys and indians in the shrubs out front and back of our house; not being good enough to continue playing `cut out' from the magazine as soon as the neighbour girl's friend showed up; trying to catch the robin by salting its tail ( it doesn't work - at least I think I got salt on its tail) going to St Lawrence market and buying honey-comb the mystery of that golden liquid inside all these little pockets of hexagonal membrane for all the world like the goldbeaters skin that we later used for membranes in Spasm band kazoos;

When I was ten we moved to Richmond Hill and the street car line from Toronto stopped running. The first time I saw where our house was to be there was a donkey lying under the hawthorne hedgerow, in what was to be our backyard. I couldn't tell whether he was trying to get out of the rain or not. He wasn't succesful but I don't think he cared. My father built a model of the house we were going to build. He spent a lot of time on it but when it came time to build he couldn't afford the house he had planned. The model of that house moved with us to our new house. Later when I asked if I could have the model to play with my father got very angry and threw the it out. Later I got for xmas a model barn that he had built; a section of the roof slid out so I could store the animals and the farm implements, that arrived one by one as presents, in the space that in a real barn would have been the haymow. I remember playing with it a lot although I have never had a desire to be a farmer; until recently when the prospect of trying to grow grapes begins to appeal to me as something less controversial and less trying than being a doctor in Ontario, Canada. There was a lot of construction going on in those early years after our move to Richmond Hill which provided me with an endless source of scrap ( and not so scrap ) bits of wood that became parts of `forts' in an endless frenzy of building that went on for years. My first fort had the major flaw of long nails. I don't remember how I came by the nails but they all came through into the inside of the fort a fact that I only discovered after the structure was completed. We didn't play for long in that fort which was after all limited in a large way by being on the ground. Nearby was a very tall American Elm with a first branch about ten feet off the ground. It was a big strong branch about a foot in diameter and it extended horizontally out from the trunk for a distance of about 6 or 7 feet before it curved upward. it was upon this that I built all my subsequent forts.

Succesive grandiosity of vision if not of capability or practice led to repeated modifications; I was never successful in adding running water or electricity to my treefort as it came to be known. However a section of red rubber bicycle hose placed in one corner of the fort allowed the males to relieve themselves of at least urine. Something about the perversity of the colour ( altogether too flesh coloured, to stretch a point ) meant that the device had more symbolic than real usefulness.

Nor were my visions of rope ladders, elevators and central heating things that ever happened.