NoMeansNo: An Appreciation

When I saw the words “NOMEANSNO HAS SPLIT” on the group’s Facebook page a little while ago, I figured it might be one of their cryptic jokes. So I was sad to recently find out that the band has indeed called it quits. But they had a good run, to say the least.


The first thing of theirs I heard was a tape my brother had come across somehow that had The Day Everything Became Nothing and Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed. I was really young, maybe as young as 12 or 13. I was still listening to stuff like the Dr. Demento show. And there was part of their thing that fit in with that somehow. Even though they were dark and intelligent, there was always a very strong sense of humour that came through.

My brother and I went to see them in the early 90s in Toronto. The opening acts were Phleg Camp and The Ex! What an amazing lineup. We were very young teenagers—was it an all-ages show (at a bar), or did we somehow pass as older? Anyway, we didn’t see NoMeansNo because they played too late and we had to get home before the subway closed.

I finally got to see them live in Toronto, in ’94, I think. It was the tour for Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? They started the show as a duo: just the Wright brothers, drums, bass and vocals. I think it was at the Opera House and I was right up front. Rob Wright seemed really intense and scary. Even back then, his hair was completely white, and his age gave him both a certain novelty value and an unmistakeable authority.

More then 10 years later, I saw them again at the Sala Rossa in Montreal. I hadn’t been keeping up with their albums and wasn’t sure what to expect. I was completely blown away. Even though Rob Wright had softened somehow, seeming more genial and less frightening, there was so much strength in his hands, and in his bellowing voice, that I found myself looking up to him as I did to my father when I was a little boy: a mixture of awe and affection with a touch of fear towards an inspiring, benevolent, but incredibly powerful presence.

I saw them again a few years later at Il Motore in Montreal. They were getting on in years but still every bit as amazing. By this point, they had given up any pretense of being “cool”: Rob wore a Papa Smurf t-shirt and John wore these incredibly goofy Bermuda shorts. Of course, that just made them cooler.

I had this notion it would be cool to do a NoMeansNo documentary. I even brought copies of the Gordon Thomas and Corpusse docs with me to that show and was going to bring them to the band. But when I tried to approach Rob, some doofus had buttonholed him and by the time he was done, it was clear Rob was trying to get on with his gear takedown (these guys were their own roadies well into their sixties!). Basically I chickened out. Maybe it will still happen someday, from me or someone else. At any rate, I was reminded while listening to Damien Abraham’s podcast that in the vaults of MuchMusic, there’s a three-camera NoMeansNo show from the early-mid 80s… someone should dig that up and re-archive it before it’s too late!

Anyway. I loved their total unconcern for trends, their inscrutable lyrics (“but I lied when I said that honesty was dead”), their musicality, the way they combined the seemingly incompatible worlds of prog and punk, their work ethic, and the way they stayed true to their vision right until the end. But more than anything, I still love listening to the music. RIP, NoMeansNo. You are a true inspiration.

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