VICTORY BURLESQUE THEATRE
STORY BY Alex Lifeson
Spadina | Dundas
MAY 2018 ISSUE
The date was October 27, 1973, and Rush was opening for the New York Dolls. They were a pleasant enough group of fellows who spoke to us not at all, but enthusiastically enjoyed the vibrant conversation and company of their “friends” (I think they were), who also dressed like New York Dolls, but drunker.
The venue for the gig was the Victory Theatre, built in 1921 and home to burlesque in Toronto until it closed in 1975. We were honoured to have worked the same stage as strip artistes Knackers Knock, Ineda Man and Cupcakes Cassidy, whose PR photos still graced the grimy, grey walls of the lounge. The dressing rooms were more Tower of London chic and gaiety.
The Victory, in its waning days, was faded. Whatever charm it had in 1922 or 1962 had long disappeared and it had become just another dark and dusty haunted building, its plumbing rusty and sweating, its aroma musty and dank. The single light bulbs in the hallways and dressing rooms created the perfect setting for a horror film. But the catering was good!
That night, the stripping, or at least our stripping – we changed in and out of our stage clothes – commenced before the first set, then again after the first set, then all over again before the second set, followed by one more at the end of set two. From the first note the audience was spellbound by our performance and couldn’t wait till the last one. Between those notes, they made useful suggestions regarding solo sex acts, our moms and turning off our amps.
Rush was doing well financially at this time, so I only had to hitchhike halfway home. I had my guitar with me and walked for 10 minutes in the cooling evening before a couple picked me up. I squeezed into the back and thanked them for stopping. They were pleasant enough and smart, so I figured they were college students. As we got to know each other more intimately, I asked what they had been up to lately.
“We were at the Dolls show at the Victory and it was great except for the horrible opening act,” said the cheerful young man driving. “Yeah,” said his charmingly cherubic girlfriend, “I wanted to chop that goddamn singer’s head off...,” and it was here that she turned to face me in the back, “with a dull piece of razor wire.” Then she turned away and didn’t feel like talking anymore. Me neither.
At the next light, I quietly jumped out the window and commenced the short 35-kilometre walk home in the soft drizzling October rain. Don’t hitchhike, kids.
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