There’s a lot I never knew about wendythirteen, including many things, as Donald Rumsfeld would put it, that I did not know that I did not know.
There’s plenty I did know, of course: that, starting in 2000, wendythirteen re-invented the Cobalt, a sleazy biker bar deep in the bowels of Main Street, as “Vancouver’s Hardcore Bar,” host to countless local punk and metal shows, from historic acts like DOA, SNFU, and the Dayglo Abortions, to classic newer bands like War Baby, the Vicious Cycles, the Golers, the Jolts, or Bison, some of whom had their first shows there.
She even brought legendary UK punks the Exploited to town, in 2003, which remains to this day her “end all/ be all show as a promoter.”
Besides providing a scene for Vancouver’s punk and metal communities, the Cobalt was also, for years, the site of Fake Jazz Wednesdays, a midweek showcase for aspiring avant-gardists curated by Jeremy van Wyck (of Shearing Pinx), Bill Batt (of Stamina Mantis) and Anju Singh (now of AHNA), all of whom played there in various projects, alongside avant-jazz acts like Robots on Fire or big name visitors like Eugene Chadbourne and Han Bennink. Cobalt court jester and sometimes busboy Mr. Chi Pig, of SNFU, would wince at the racket coming from the stage on such nights, but there’s no denying that Vancouver’s current outside music scene owes a huge debt to the Fake Jazz days.
After wendythirteen’s relationship with the building’s controversial landlords, the Sahota family, soured in late 2009 — a sad bit of local history, documented in the film No Fun City — Wendy relocated to Funky Winkerbeans, on East Hastings. That venue was soon unofficially rechristened Punky Thrasherbalts, or Thrashers for short, where she booked shows from 2010 to 2016.
In her travels to and from the venue, she would plot routes that did NOT take her by her old bar on Main, since the memories are painful; she still can’t bring herself to drive by it.
Commuting to work by scooter may have softened her Mohawk, but there was at least some of the old Cobes vibe to Funkys, where she would attend every show she put on. Many of her regulars followed her over, and knew where to find her — at her reserved spot at the bar, or smoking a cigarette out front with John the sound guy.
Alas, the relationship with Funky’s came to an end, too, when, in October 2016, the management told her that they were going to stop bothering with live shows, which were proving too costly.
Most of this is known, local history, old news. News to me, however, is that Wendy is a Wiccan.
“I was in a coven — you know, the whole skyclad rituals and such,” she tells me, standing with a suitcase of vintage Cobalt merch at the Subculture Metal Market, a one-off flea market hosted at Pat’s Pub. Her witchy days date back to the late 1980’s, in Regina, Saskatchewan, where she also ran a hair salon and took up painting (her punk name coming from her usual signature of her abstract expressionist acrylics; she was born on September 13th, 1964, so she signed her paintings W13).
Attentive observers of her aesthetic will remember that Wendy used to sport a coat with a Bathory patch on the back, showing the goat god. (“That’s Pan man,” she declaims. “It’s the male representation of life, it’s not the devil,” she says with a chuckle). So was there a connection between her love of metal and her witchy days?
Not really. “I find Satanists to be deranged Christians,” she says dismissively. “Their occult is not my occult. You don’t find many positive thinkers in punk and metal, you know? It’s all about fuck this and fuck that — evil evil evil! And I’m positive-positive-positive.”
“No, I was a witch because I was just a witch,” she explains.
Her interest in witchcraft started around 1987, after she got diagnosed with fourth stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I had a year of chemotherapy and radiation and all that. I ran away from the hospital. My Dad was like, ‘oh, you out already?’ ‘Yep’ — I never went back.”
In the middle of her “cancer debacle,” as she calls it, Wendy found a book by Louise L. Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life, noted for connecting physical ailments to spiritual/psychological states. “I credit her with saving my life. It changed my thinking. I was a very angry young woman, and did a lot of blaming. [Hay’s book] changed me.”
It also led Wendy to the local metaphysical store, “and once you’re at the metaphysical store, you wind up with a set of Tarot cards, and runes, and a book on witchcraft. Because it’s all about manifestation — how you think, how you act, releasing stuff. Sometimes you have to make a ritual of it, to pound the changes you want to make into your psyche. And I’ve always loved divination.”
She registers and forgives my shock. “It’s not something I blurt out about,” she admits. “It kind of all got drowned out by the music, once I moved out here, but I still practice in my mind. I’m not big into formal rituals, but if I’m lighting some incense, I do, like, the witches’ pentagram with it” — she quickly traces a figure in the air to demonstrate — “and do a little incantation.”
This is all surprising, coming from a woman who has booked some of the eviler bands on the Vancouver scene, like the provocatively named grindcore band Crackwhore, who will be playing Pat’s Pub on January 27. She was briefly tagged as a “rape apologist” online for supporting them, which is something she finds “quite a stretch,” given the number of benefits she’s done for women’s shelters and her general concern for women’s safety at her shows, where she’s known for barring gropers and predators.
“I know all those guys personally” — the members of Crackwhore, that is, not the gropers — “and they’re not weirdos; the drummer is a family man, he’s got kids. You’ve got to realize that these bands were named over ten years ago, before everything became so super politically correct. And most grindcore is based on themes of death, destruction, serial killers, murder.” She laughs sadly to note that bands with names as innocent as Viet Cong (or, um, Black Pussy) are being pressured to change them. “No one was freaking out about the band named Fetus Grinder, you know? Come on!”
Still, doesn’t she see a conflict between her enthusiasm for harsher forms of rock and her belief in positive thinking?
“Isn’t it even-steven, though?” she asks in return. “See, because I loathe when I hear people being too positive: ‘Ohh, everything’s so great!’ You can’t live all butterflies and rainbows, it’s not reality. You’ve gotta shovel the shit sometimes. And I’ve shoveled a lot of shit,” to guarantee that there was a legit venue for live underground music in Vancouver.
She’s taken a bit of shit in her day, too, including trash talk that she has hosted pay-to-plays, something she denies categorically. Punk scribe Chris Walter, who has held at least half a dozen of his book launches at venues booked by Wendy, including a memoir by Randy Rampage that got shuffled from Funky’s to Pat’s Pub in November, is of the opinion that having a “few haters” is no big deal: “in my opinion,” he says, “you’re doing something wrong if you don’t.”
Walter hasn’t been back to the Cobalt since Wendy was shown the door in 2009 — though he admits that he might consider going back if the right band came to town.
On the other hand, Billy Hopeless of the Black Halos and the Bonitos, still calls the new incarnation of the Cobalt the Fauxbalt, and tells me he has no intention of going back.
Billy’s not the only “old Cobes loyalist” out there, either. Filmmaker and former Cobalt bartender Clayton Holmes glowered at me sternly over the WISE Hall bar, where he now works, when he heard about my going back to the Cobalt to see Pere Ubu in December 2016. Holmes sells DVDs of vintage Cobalt footage, including full concerts by the Subhumans and the Rebel Spell, on the Eargoggles website, and has uploaded tons of Cobalt footage onto the Eargoggles Youtube channel. He cherished the community that existed around the old Cobalt, he says.
“I understand better than most how the Cobalt was a second (or in some cases, first) home for punks, artists and weirdos of all kinds,” he writes. “Everybody contributed, but Wendy was the driving force…. I don’t want to be the kind of person who brushes off his deepest felt convictions because there’s ‘a band I want to see’ or ‘my band needs all the gigs it can get’ or ‘it’s been so many years.’ The day I go back to the Cobalt is the day I tarnish all my memories of it.”
Since losing Funky’s, wendythirteen is between venues, booking occasional shows at Pat’s Pub, and creating websites for No Bollocks Events, as well as online archives for her poster collection and her ‘Subculture’ columns, which formerly appeared in Beatroute, and presently run in Absolute Underground. Without regular gigs to be present at, she’s enjoying getting to spend occasional weekends at home, for a change, watching hockey games and listening to big band music with her cats, Houdini and Maybelline.
“I don’t want to do another bar, because I’m a sober person,” she says (Wendy quit drinking three years ago — her second long stretch of sobriety, since she gave up drinking as a young woman to raise her two children). “Now that the regulations have changed, and even barbershops can serve booze, maybe I could do a retail/ shit-for-sale/art studio hole in the wall, and do a few shows a month… but it’s kind of weird: I’ve been a month nomadic, already, and — usually it’s against my psyche to not have stability — but it’s working out okay. And I feel pretty at home here at Pat’s.” She shrugs. “I don’t know, I’m just taking it day by day.”
She sounds kind of happy about it.
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