Some people become your heroes whether either of you know it or not.
One fateful day, Bruce McDonald walked into the cafe in downtown Kitchener where I slung espresso alongside a bunch of other friendly punks. High as a cloud but slowly coming down, as it was mid-morning, I took his order and gushed to my clever but clueless coworkers.
They didn't know who he was. They had never seen his films, but my favourite director had entered my sphere. Roadkill, Highway 61. Hardcore Logo. Dance Me Outside. Trigger. Holy shit. His movies reflected my own sense of off-kilter Canadiana back at me like the glassy surface of a glacial lake in my native Alberta. The films swaggered self-effacingly, projecting our national identity through a punk rock lens that didn’t exist anywhere else. His presence meant something big to me, and only me.
Bruce was, reportedly, scouting potential shooting locations for Hardcore Logo 2.
“Have you heard of Die Mannequin?” asked Bruce’s companion - a regular at our cafe, and a middle-aged municipal liaison whose task that day, apparently, was to show Bruce around.
I sure as hell had.
I’d not only heard their music, but I had even seen Bruce’s documentary, The Raw Side of...Die Mannequin. I'd always liked them, but I was instantly smitten with Care and her longtime partner and bandmate, Tony, when I saw them through this particular filter. I knew them, alright, in the way that a moth knows a flame. Fragments of past lives and future meetings had begun to coagulate in beautiful formation. Somehow, Bruce’s random appearance in front of me that day helped render the connection permanent.
It was almost as if her spirit hung over every club she’d ever played, lingering like the permanent aroma of an especially entrancing cigarette smoke.
Certain artists inspire a quantity of creation in you that is disproportionate to the space that they occupy in your daily life.
Take Care Failure. Die Mannequin, along with 90’s Hole and early 2000's Distillers, unwittingly completed an unholy trinity of untouchable touchstones around me back in 2014 when I transformed myself into Pinky Bardo. I wrote an album - and toured that album - as a persona that had never existed before.
I needed to do this for my personal growth; to paradoxically bridge a spiritual distance between the legal me and the woman in my heart. The chasm between the little girl with a plastic hairbrush who’d dreamed of singing onstage one day and the gangly adult who’d been doing so for seven years, behind a drum kit, but still felt stifled. Like I’d been vigorously burrowing all of that time and forgetting to resurface.
Somehow, ever so slowly, Care became an important part of my songwriting. She had climbed mountains I wouldn’t dare summit. Care, a young powerhouse whose band I’d watched on MuchMusic and heard for years on mainstream radio, gradually and without me even noticing it happen, became one of my favourite teachers.
Back in the cafe that day, I made Bruce’s latte or cappuccino, or whatever it was, and brought it over to him. His steward/companion made a snide remark, as he often did, while Bruce smiled and politely thanked me. I walked back behind the counter, wondering if I’d ever meet Care, the future star of his future movie.
I was by no means her Super Fan. I didn’t actively idolize her or obsessively attend her shows or even listen to her records all that often. But when I saw her perform, and listened to her songs, I knew that we understood each other.
I sensed that we’d both left home as black sheep teenagers to embark on divergent missions that each involved writing songs and playing music that pushed us to our personal brink. I knew we’d both been compelled to play in a specifically masculinized world; to feel that male gaze and sneer at it.
To put ourselves in danger.
To trust ourselves.
I knew that we were both strange girls, creating sounds that healed some of our wounds and might inspire others to keep similar trails ablaze.
Die Mannequin toured hard worldwide and played arenas with huge names, while my band quietly played a lot of the same little clubs across Canada at similar times - though, never on the same night. The Hideout, the Silver Dollar, the Horseshoe. Maxwell's, The Atria, the Red Dog, This Ain't Hollywood. Venues in Calgary and Vancouver, and so on. Die Mannequin sold them out, while my band played to a handful of people.
I never envied Care or her band, despite their direct connection to a filmmaker I loved and the more mainstream rock world that felt eternally - comically - out of reach. I knew I could never do what she did. Though she was younger than me, if anything, I looked up to her.
…literally. I'd lift my head bleary-eyed on my seat in a gnarly rock venue toilet stall at midnight and one of her stickers or posters - or graffiti about her - would inevitably be staring me in the face. I’d just nod knowingly, and maybe even smile.
If we were in Toronto playing or attending a show, Care would often come up in conversation. I’d stand out front of a club, smoking a joint before or after our set, and somebody would start chatting with me. I never mentioned her. She was never consciously on my mind, but she was clearly on a lot of other peoples’ minds. They’d tell me how much they loved her, and how lame it was that she’d been screwed over by the system (the record industry.) Or that she might be over at Cherry Cola's right now if we wanted to head over there?
Care had nothing to do with these conversations; she was elsewhere, living her life while I lived mine. But it was almost as if her spirit hung over every club she’d ever played, lingering like the permanent aroma of an especially entrancing cigarette smoke.
That’s how potent she was.
She was always there.
What made these guys (they were always guys) want to talk to me about Care Failure? Was it because I played a heavier style of music, had tattoos, dyed-black hair, lipstick and a nose ring? I think in those days, any woman who fit those criteria reminded folks of Care: The Homegrown Rock Star.
That’s how influential she was in our little world.
She was just a girl. Exhausted eventually by the pain that plagued her days, but not before a partaking in a harrowing, joyful, legacy-leaving, and wholly entertaining fight for the ages.
She was a liminal presence in my life. She was a spoke in a wheel that drove me all over the country, sleeping in vans and yelling into microphones in smeared lipstick.
Care, for brief moments in time over the course of many years, became my “What Would Jesus Do?” incarnate.
In the years after I’d toured a bit more myself, as my harder-edged alter-ego, I finally felt compelled to get in touch with her. I also listened to her music more intentionally, and that liminal influence I mentioned earlier became tangible.
When I wrote my song Haunted in 2019, it came out quickly, fully formed without a lot of conscious thought. I had all the lyrics and chords, and intuitive drum parts in mind. But there was a tempo change at one point in the song and, although I had the lyrics down pat, I had no idea what melody to sing. I sat down with Ryan and our guitars and unbeknownst to him, I quietly asked myself:
“What would Care sing here?”
A melody sprang forth in seconds, and I kept it. Care Failure would never really sing that way, or those words, but her presence, when called upon, instantly nudged me in the right direction.
That's how powerful she was.
Care represents many things to me, some of which are hard to articulate. She exemplified vibrancy. Virtuosity. The creative fertility of youth. The athletic, verging on acrobatic tendencies of a strong spirit in physical form. Occult-infused spirituality. She's an embodiment of the dichotomy between the ecstasy of making music and the agony of chasing down that feeling when it disappears. Of fighting to be truly heard both inside and outside of a system that works against the artists whose lives it feeds on parasitically.
Musically, she was at turns, both mainstream and an outlier. She was an early stalwart on MySpace, sailed over rock radio, and MTV (when TV was still a thing). Nobody in my circles of friends or family ever would have claimed to have been a fan of her band. They were too "mainstream” for everyone I knew. Too produced, too heavy, too scary. Too goth. Too rock'n'roll for a lot of the punks. Now this, I could relate to.
Care looked and lived and fit the part too well. I loved that about her. I wasn’t put off but her darkness. I was drawn to her light.
Every Canadian has probably heard one of her songs in passing over the last decade and a half, careening out of a car radio, or the PA in a bar - or a friggin’ grocery store - whether they like it or not. She was ubiquitous and polarizing; a perfect embodiment of punk rock gone mainstream. In more recent years, I cheered her on as she and her music evolved gracefully with the great digital shift, moving away from our 90’s kid origins with panache.
Care and I didn't know each other. Not really. We intended to spend time together, and to write a song together. We both had a penchant for switching up which instruments we played; throwing wrenches into well-oiled machines. We commiserated about being chronically ill (that's probably the most poignant part of my personal connection to her). We shared a kindred comprehension of the world’s most spoiled components. We both felt certain that we’d experienced contact with the spirit realm. I admired her as a songwriter and she offered me the same respect.
From what I understand, she offered this warm embrace of acceptance to countless people.
We didn't know each other, but we had something crucial in common: a mutually invested interest in the lives of the people who crossed our paths and treated us kindly. A commitment to treat our fans and friends and strangers alike with compassion. To repair our once singed or even incinerated connections with family. To own our weirdness.
Care offered a living masterclass in artist-fan interactional reciprocity. Time and again, she reminded me - by example - to be a good person. Specifically, to cheer on others whose life's work involved singing their bloody hearts out onstage.
Meeting my favourite film director that day in 2009 wasn't momentous because I was meant to know him, I now realize. It was because I was destined to know Care.
Once connected, I believe, we remain connected, forever. Two punk rock girls who sang their pain away.
Care offered countless messages of support to me over the few years we “knew” each other. Imagine how many people she bolstered? Supported? Cared about? Loved? Whose lives she impacted by allowing them into her fold? Not just through her songs. She was a kindly old soul with a lot of complex karmic carry-on luggage who happened to come out a rock star.
Remember, though: beyond all of this, she was just a girl. Exhausted eventually by the pain that plagued her days, but not before a partaking in a harrowing, joyful, legacy-leaving, and wholly entertaining fight for the ages.
But, at the same time…
She was just a goddamned girl.
A girl you now know.
Care passed away in March 2023 at the age of 36.
Sorry to hear someone whose existence meant so much has passed. However… sounds like she left a legacy of music and words that had an impact and connection with you.