They call me Heller. For thirty years, my life was a blur of hyper-focused activity. One moment I was living in my parents suburban Toronto basement and the next in the midst of a whirlwind of multiple musical cultural revolutions that occurred throughout the 90’s and 2000‘s.
I fell in love with music at an early age and attended my first concert, Hall & Oates, at the age of thirteen. I turned to Metal and Punk and travelled to Montreal to attend festivals and once got into in a crash pad sharing the floor with the Cro-Mags. I discovered the Beastie Boys Rock Hard EP and RUN-D.M.C. King of Rock album, dove into Hip-Hop and then dug beneath the surface and became wrapped up in the Jazz sounds of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Art Pepper and Eric Dolphy. I read Beneath The Underdog: His World as Composed by Mingus and then picked up out of print paperback copies of Black Music and Blues People by LeRoi Jones. By the time I graduated Hip-Hop had taken over.
As an avid music fan and vinyl enthusiast I sought and was awarded an afternoon slot on community radio station CHRY 105.5 based out of York University. Though it was short-lived when I put a friend’s phone call live on the air and he made an unacceptable comment. I attended College where I became Manager of the in-house closed circuit radio station and contributed to the campus newspaper. One of my first interviews was here with DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. I went to shows at the local Masonic Temple, also known as the Concert Hall, and witnessed legendary artists such as Public Enemy and Big Daddy Kane, and traveled to the mecca New York City and bought “12 vinyl like Kool G. Rap and DJ Polo’s Poison in the heart of Times Square.
In 1988 N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton and Ice-T’s Power were released and I became an ardent fan of west coast artists and what has been labelled gangster rap, reading books by Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines to further comprehend the street life detailed in their raps. I attended the 1990 New Music Seminar in New York City and witnessed Tupac Shakur perform with Digital Underground on a bill with De La Soul and Live Squad, and was in the host Marriott Marquis Hotel when Ice Cube and his former Ruthless Records label-mates Above The Law infamously staged a “battle royale”. During this trip, I also came to facing Ice Cube who signed a copy of his classic AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted. In the fall of 1991 I witnessed the Toronto debut of Cypress Hill that led to the creation of “Insane In The Brain”. Chubb Rock had shared the bill with them and became enraged when the Promoter directed him to take the stage before Cypress Hill. Listen to the cadence of B-Real’s vocals on the chorus.
Peace! Magazine was developed in the winter of 1991 by Raymond Wallace and Ken Lock, who worked at the Scarborough Town Centre HMV in the east end of Toronto. The store was a lightning rod for Hip-Hop. In the fall of that year, a Naughty by Nature autograph session had erupted into a small infamous mall riot. I joined the team, Raymond Wallace and I each anted up $3500.00 and together we released the debut issue in March 1992. It was sixteen pages on newsprint and featured exclusive interviews with Dave Grohl of Nirvana, Geto Boys, Beastie Boys and Bjork’s group, The Sugarcubes.
Peace! was my third stay at the magazine game.
In 1989 I co-founded a Heavy Metal magazine with a megalomaniac who was known to cross dress. Let’s call him Geppetto. The platform was constructed to promote a glam rock band he managed at the time named Succsexx. The magazine was named M.E.A.T., an acronym for Metal Events Around Toronto, and we operated out of his two bedroom apartment on the subway line and a downtown after-hours production hub inside a law office adjacent to the Eaton Centre.
It was just an exciting time in music. The new breed was beginning to break down longstanding barriers and had begun to land on radio, TV and magazines with an unseen fervor. Sadly, Geppetto was taken in his own archaic world, the significance of the new music revolution went straight over his head and we no longer saw eye to eye and parted ways. Grunge and Punk movements usurped Heavy Metal; Geppetto politicked and plotted with the major labels, donned a Cowboy hat, posed beside Garth Brooks and published a short-lived Country magazine. Years later it was revealed the downtown production office we had used, was responsible for millions in illegal immigration scams and that the lawyer who operated it had been disbarred and committed suicide.
Magazine stab number two The Cutting Edge formed in fall 1991. I partnered with Joey Vendetta, who was acting Music Director at Canada’s leading Rock Radio station Q107 and instrumental in breaking artists and bands nationally. Good times while it lasted, however we parted ways after a year due to a creative difference. Dropping Hip-Hop content into The Cutting Edge was a no go with Joey. A few years later he moved south of the border to the U.S where he was working on the other side of the table for a few labels. Joey is currently Senior Vice President Strategic Marketing Partnerships and Publicity for Live Nation Inc., based in their Beverly Hills corporate office.
Hip-Hop had become an unstoppable force in my life and there was not any stopping it. I was not the only one taking in multiple genres of music. There was just an undeniable void in the market, especially in Canada. When Peace! Magazine began, other than a short interview on the national music television station, MuchMusic, or an ultra-rare extended look at the weekly The New Music, options to discover and learn about upcoming Hip-Hop artists were virtually nonexistent. Mainstream media rarely, if ever, took advantage of the opportunity to talk with the artists in this series.
In its initial stages, Peace! Magazine was a music publication that mashed up Hip-Hop, R&B, what was recognized as Alternative at the time, and a cross section of the electronic music revolution from Techno and House, to Euro Pop and Drum N’ Bass. Over time it evolved into a lifestyle publication with fashion, athletics, gaming, sneakers, travel, film and more while picking up domestic distribution in three chains, on the newsstands and key independent locations across the country.
The music was selling everywhere. It was the age of multi- platinum albums and compilations. Key releases are shipped by the tens of thousands and sometimes gold and platinum as marketing budgets increased exponentially. Artists were frequently flown to Toronto for promotional duties and when they were too active back home the labels flew us directly to them for an exclusive.
Engrossed in most of the music that we covered, I approached interviews with a desire to ask and learn what I personally wanted to find out, challenging the subjects to dig deep into themselves for responses. No question was out of line, if presented in the proper light and there was no reason to ask what I already knew, or to reproduce the promotional biography and its tales for the benefit of the labels.
Life at Peace! was a whirlwind of activity. As hands on Publisher I enacted almost every element necessary on the back end too. Including communication with staff, publicists, marketing departments, advertising agencies, printer, shipping and delivery components. I attended trade shows, expos and conferences all over the world traveling to six continents and was there either in person or on the phone and compiled a true and honest archive of audio, images and video.
Independent publishing demanded a superior level of hyper-focus and I had it in abundance. Unfortunately, I had exhibited multiple characteristics of A.D.H.D. (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in my entire life and brought stress and drama to many people around me and myself throughout the years. Following the birth of my son, Louis, I was professionally diagnosed, medicated, and completed a M.C.B.T. (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) program. I strongly recommend Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple by Russell Simmons & Chris Morrow to anyone who has an interest in improving their life.
Setting the tone from the original issue, Peace! featured non-stop exclusive interviews with a veritable directory of artists, designers, executives and athletes who changed the world and lorded over pop culture at one time or another, many of whom perpetually continue to endure at the top and you will read about in upcoming volumes of the series. To name check a select few; Dr. Dre, Daft Punk, George Clinton, Sean “Puffy” Combs, Beastie Boys, Eminem, Destiny’s Child; and sadly many who are no longer amongst us but left behind a rich legacy such as Notorious B.I.G., Kurt Cobain, Malcolm McLaren and Aaliyah.
The journey, of creating the Behind the Music Tales series began in September 2014. I uncovered and pored over hundreds of cassettes and micro-cassette tapes and thousands of print photographs digging deep into my personal archives. The ability to draw from the original audio recordings is crucial and truly sets this series apart. A 1997 conversation I had with Muggs in Los Angeles has always stuck in my mind. We discussed his upcoming solo debut, Muggs Presents The Soul Assassins, Chapter 1. One month later I returned for an interview with Mr. Scarface. I called Muggs and he read the cover feature in front of me and said “You actually wrote what I said” and thanked me. I was taken aback; until that day I’d assume that every interview I read was a true representation of what the artists stated. I was naive. During the run of the magazine with various artists would tell me they were often misquoted by the press with facts twisted in order to fit a format or portray them in a negative light.
Much of what you will read, see and hear here has been sensationalized by others in a manner of journalistic psycho-speak. The typical approach is allocated out as a Masters thesis, pulling media quotes and lyrics, paraphrasing and analyzing the artists thoughts years after the exact creative period. A few may even offer a further interview with the artist, who will reflect back on a time in life with what we hope is 20/20 vision, though it’s not a guarantee. In the words of Johnny Rotten, ‘Boring, Sidney. Boring.’
Behind the Music Tales is a series that captures the mood and the feel of the energy that surged through music in the 90s. Live and direct from the exact cultural forces who carved it out, in their own words and voice. This is their story to tell.
This series is approved as close to the truth as one can get. It delivers raw thoughts of real people and is manifested directly in the voice and words of the artists who made it happen. This is their story to tell, with context, images, curated quotes, behind-the-scenes reports, anecdotes and colour.
Behind the Music Tales is a continuing series. I strongly suggest you subscribe to the mailing list to receive updates on upcoming new releases, free books, exclusive audio, video and much more.
Harris Rosen, July 2015.