Biography

Kim Clarke Champniss knows popular culture. He has played, promoted, created, managed, and taught it.

KCC was born in Bahrain, but raised in London, England. He achieved early success as a child actor, including roles in MGM’s sci-fi classic “Village of The Damned” (he was the original alien child whose eyes light up) and was The Quaker Oats Boy. While still a teenager Kim moved to Canada and spent a year in the Arctic buying furs for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the northern outpost of Eskimo Point. Then, after traveling around Canada, Kim broke into the music industry as a deejay in Vancouver nightclubs while studying English Literature at the University of British Columbia. He went on to manage one of Canada’s pioneer electronic bands – Images In Vogue.

In 1986 MuchMusic brought Kim to Toronto to host/produce the rock and roll news desk. He then became special assignment reporter for The NewMusic and traveled the world reporting on pop culture. Along the way there were countless interviews conducted, from U2 to The Sex Pistols, and numerous documentaries produced. KCC was named Music Television personality of the year at the Canadian Music Industry awards (1994). In the mid-90’s MuchMusic expanded into the USA and Kim was chosen as the station’s music ambassador. And in 2000, his show “By Their Own Hand” won a Galaxie cable award (education division).

At the turn of the millennium, KCC set up his own music and media company, Invisible Republic Incorporated. He managed such artists as Serial Joe, The Grapes of Wrath, and Smoother. In 2003 the Ontario Government hired Kim as their consultant for the hugely successful “Concert For Toronto”, a unique event featuring some of Canada’s greatest musical talents playing before 70,000 people at Skydome and The Air Canada Center with both venues linked by giant screen television.

Most recently Kim was executive producer for Canada’s E! Entertainment network. He has also produced work for Bravo Television, BPM:TV, and Book TV. He wrote, conceived, and hosted “KCC’s History of Popular Culture” – an eight-part series for Canadian Learning Television. He currently co-hosts and scripts “The 80s show” on the Orbyt Media radio network, and is the author of the ebook “The Republic of Rock’n’Roll” – distributed by Warner Music Canada.

He lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons.

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Foreword

At the beginning of 1980 I was an ex-pat Brit living in Vancouver on Canada’s west coast. I had just graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in English, having paid my way through school as a disco DJ. Job prospects were bleak, and I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. As for my English degree, it was practically worthless in the job market unless I wanted to be a teacher. There was a joke at the time that the initials BA did not stand for Bachelor of Arts, but for “Bugger All.” My parents had travelled from London, England for my graduation, and I fully expected my father to say that it was time I found myself a real career, but he noted that I “appeared to be doing quite well at music” and maybe I should stick with it. It was the first time my father had given me words of encouragement for my rock and roll lifestyle, and thank goodness he did. I followed my muse. At the start of the 1980s, disco was giving way to a new genre of music. I became a New Wave nightclub DJ and found myself at the forefront of a musical revolution. By 1981 I was managing one of Canada’s pioneering electronic bands, touring the country and opening for the likes of Duran Duran, Roxy Music, and Depeche Mode. Music was not the only revolutionary force happening in pop culture at that time—there was also the launch of a new medium—music television, first in the USA then later in Canada. It became one of the defining elements of the decade. MuchMusic, Canada’s 24-hour music television network, recruited me and I moved to Toronto to work for “the nation’s music station.” I found myself in front of the camera as host of Rockflash, the rock and roll news desk, and the alternative music show City Limits. I travelled the world interviewing artists, promoting music, and reporting on concerts. It was a time that many people wrote off as just a decadent decade of big hair and bad fashion. However, in recent years people have begun to appreciate the 1980s and just how important they were, not only for pop culture, but for the ways in which the world dramatically changed during that ten-year period. In 2009 I was asked to co-host and write The ’80s Radio Show for Orbyt Media in Toronto. During my first show on the air I flippantly commented that I was now being paid to remember the decade I was trying to forget. And I’m glad it worked out that way, because reconnecting with the music, the stars, and the politics of the 1980s gave me a chance to put the period in proper perspective. I realized it was a crossroads of history: politically, culturally, economically, and for me, personally. It was an especially golden period for music. It was also a battle for a generation’s attention, support, and money, and I was on the front lines…

Kim Clarke Champniss

Toronto 2012

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Timeline 1979 – 1989

1979

May 4

Margaret Thatcher becomes the UK’s first female prime minister

July

Sony Walkman goes on sale in Japan

July 12

Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago

July

Sandinista National Liberation Front takes control of Nicaragua

August

Gary Numan releases “Cars” in the UK (North American release in 1980)

September

The NewMusic TV show debuts on CityTV in Toronto, Canada

November 1

Iran hostage crisis

November 30

Pink Floyd releases The Wall

December 3

Eleven fans are crushed to death at a Who concert in Cincinnati

December 14

The Clash releases London Calling in the UK

1980

February 19

Bon Scott, leader singer of AC/DC, dies in London

March 3

Pierre Trudeau returns to office as prime minister of Canada

March 8

Tbilisi Rock Festival takes place in the USSR

March

The United States announces boycott of summer Olympics in Moscow

April 12

Terry Fox begins his Marathon of Hope in Newfoundland

May 18

Mount St. Helens erupts in Washington State, killing 57 people

May 18

Ian Curtis, of the band Joy Division, commits suicide

June

Sony Walkman goes on sale in North America

June 21

“Cars” by Gary Numan hits #1 in Canada

July

AC/DC releases Back in Black; Brian Johnson is the new lead singer

July 19

Summer Olympics begin in Moscow

August 16

The first Monsters of Rock festival takes place at Castle Donington, UK

August 23

Heatwave festival takes place just outside Toronto, Canada

November 4

Ronald Reagan defeats Jimmy Carter in the US presidential election

December 8

John Lennon shot dead in New York

1981

March 30

US President Ronald Reagan shot and wounded by John Hinckley Jr.

April 11

Brixton riots in London, England

May 11

Bob Marley, 36, dies of cancer

May 13

Pope John Paul II shot and wounded by a Turkish gunman

June 6

Kerrang! heavy metal music magazine debuts

June 13

Six blank shots fired at Queen Elizabeth II by British teenager Marcus Sarjeant

July 3

Riots in Liverpool, England

July 7

“Tainted Love” by Soft Cell released in the UK

July 29

Charles, Prince of Wales, marries Lady Diana Spencer

August 1

MTV goes on the air in the United States

October 28

“Home Taping is Killing Music” campaign launched by British Phonographic Industry (BPI)

1982

January

Commodore 64 home computer debuts at the US Consumer Electronics Show

January

Unemployment in the UK passes the 3 million mark-a post-war record

March

Chariots of Fire is named Best Picture at the Academy Awards

April 2

Falklands War, between the UK and Argentina, begins

June 14

Falklands War ends; 907 people killed during the conflict

September 3-5

First US Festival takes place in California

October

Sony markets the first compact disc player, CDP-101, in Japan

November 30

Michael Jackson releases Thriller

1983

March 13

Michael Jackson debuts the moonwalk dance move on the Motown 25th anniversary TV show

March 23

US President Ronald Reagan announces his “Star Wars” plan to intercept enemy missiles

March

Sony launches its CDP-101 CD player worldwide

April

The movie Flashdance is released

May 28-30

Second US Festival in California

June 9

Margaret Thatcher is re-elected by a landslide majority

September 1

Korean Air Lines flight 007 shot down after it enters Soviet airspace; 269 killed

October 25

US troops invade Grenada

November 2

US government signs bill to create a Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday

December 2

“Thriller” by Michael Jackson, the first million-dollar music video, premieres on MTV

1984

January 21

“Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood reaches #1 on the UK singles chart, despite being banned by the BBC

January 22

Apple’s “1984” ad plays during the television broadcast of the Super Bowl

January 27

Michael Jackson’s hair catches fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial

July 28

Summer Olympics open in Los Angeles

August 31

Canada’s MuchMusic debuts; Rush’s “The Enemy Within” is the first video played

September 7

Janet Jackson elopes with singer James DeBarge; the marriage would be annulled in 1985

September 17

Conservative leader Brian Mulroney becomes prime minister of Canada

November 6

Ronald Reagan re-elected president of the United States

November 29

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?,” the benefit single for famine relief, released in the UK

December 2-4

Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India kills over 4,000 people

1985

January 11

Brazil’s massive Rock in Rio festival is staged for the first time

March

Whitney Houston releases her self-titled debut album

April

David Lee Roth leaves Van Halen for the first time

May 13

Dire Straits releases Brothers In Arms

July 10

French agents bomb and sink the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior

July 13

Live Aid staged at London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium

September

Michael Jackson purchases ATV Music, which includes the publishing rights to The Beatles’ early catalogue, for $47.5 million

September

The Parents Music Resource Center’s Senate hearing on rock censorship begins in Washington, DC

September 22

First Farm Aid concert staged in Champaign, Illinois

1986

April 26

Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the USSR kills over 4,000 people

May 2

Expo ’86 opens in Vancouver, BC

May 25

Norwegian band a-ha wins eight MTV Video Music Awards

June 4

Amnesty International’s Conspiracy of Hope tour begins in the US

November

Iran/Contra affair becomes public knowledge

November 15

Beastie Boys release License to Ill

1987

March 9

U2 releases The Joshua Tree

June 11

Margaret Thatcher re-elected for a third term

June 12

While on a visit to Berlin, Ronald Reagan challenges Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”

June 27

Whitney Houston’s second album, Whitney, debuts at #1

July 27

Rick Astley releases “Never Gonna Give You Up”

July 21

Guns N’ Roses releases Appetite for Destruction

August 1

MTV Europe launches

August 21

Dirty Dancing released

August 31

Michael Jackson releases Bad

September 11

Peter Tosh murdered

October 3

“Pump Up the Volume” by M|A|R|R|S hits #1 in the UK

October 19

Black Monday; stock markets around the world fall sharply

October 30

George Michael releases his first solo album, Faith

November 18

Sony Corporation buys CBS Records for $2 billion

1988

April 14

Public Enemy releases It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

June 11

Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert held at Wembley Stadium

June 18

Depeche Mode concludes their world tour with a concert at the Rose Bowl in California attended by 80,000 fans

June 27

Motown Records sold to MCA and Boston Ventures for $61million

October 31

Paul McCartney releases CHOBA B CCCP exclusively in the USSR

November 21

Brian Mulroney re-elected prime minister of Canada

December 8

Roy Orbison dies of a heart attack

1989

January 20

George H.W. Bush succeeds Ronald Reagan as US president

March 4

Time Inc. and Warner Communications announce plans to merge

March 21

Madonna releases Like A Prayer

March 24

Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska

June 4

Students massacred on the streets leading to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square

June 4

Solidarity party wins elections in Poland

June 15

Nirvana releases debut album Bleach on Sub Pop label

July 31

Nintendo releases the Game Boy

August 31

The Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels North American tour begins

November 9

Destruction of the Berlin Wall begins

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I Expected the Glitz, Magic, and Money

In the summer of 1986, while still in Vancouver, I received a call from John Martin. Would I come to Toronto to be the host/producer of RockFlash, the rock and roll news desk? Of course! I responded. A real job with a regular pay cheque (and benefits)! And so I flew out to Toronto (my wife Lily joined me nine months later). It was a shock to arrive at the studios at 99 Queen Street East. I expected the glitz, magic, and money of a high-end production. What a surprise I had. The complete MuchMusic operation was crammed into just one over-sized room on the second floor. The VJs’ and producers’ desks surrounded the on-air arena, and the director’s area was tucked into the corner. It seemed the whole operation was run on a shoestring budget. Space was so limited that the lighting guys would trudge across the desktops to re-position the lights for the next VJ “throw,” the introduction to an artist interview or video. You had to be careful when you stood up from your desk chair, because someone desperate for a seat would snag your chair, and if you went to sit down again without looking, you found yourself on the floor. The only “luxurious” elements in the studio were two trendy, faux leopard-skin chairs that the guest musicians sat on while they were being interviewed.

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The Myth of Michael Jackson and MTV

Music legend has it that CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff pressured MTV into playing Michael Jackson by threatening to pull all the music videos by his label’s artists from the station’s playlist and going public with the information that the music channel would not play a clip by an African-American artist. That stance is contested by then vice-president of programming Les Garland, who said that the first time he saw the video for “Billie Jean,” he knew MTV had a hit. As Garland wrote in an email to me, “Michael Jackson was not the first artist of color to be on MTV … that is total myth and so is the bullshit about CBS records threatening to pull off all their videos blah blah blah.”

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New Wave in North America

Toronto could lay claim to the second best New Wave music scene in North America for a number of reasons. First, there was a small but well-informed music community that was catered to by passionate promoters, such as The Garys: Gary Topp and Gary Cormier. The two adventurous music fans met in the mid-1970s when Topp was presenting cult movies at Toronto’s Roxy Theatre, and Cormier was a budding promoter disillusioned with staid and predictable bar bands. The first show by The Garys was in September 1976—the Ramones at the Roxy. Their success as promoters grew as the music and the artists developed. Gary Topp recalled that time in a conversation with me: “First and foremost, we were with the curve on all things British … Brit bands did better here [in Canada], because of the cultural connection to the UK, than they did in the US … they always made a splash here … we were also very connected to New York. … Without the bands, the promoters, and the audience, which collectively amounted to only about a thousand people, there would have been no scene.”

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Our Music, Our Time

In Vancouver these various musical tribes all came together to support the new wave of artists. One of the most memorable concerts I’ve ever seen took place at the Commodore Ballroom and featured the Specials. The band was in Vancouver as the supporting act for the Police, who had sold out the PNE Garden Auditorium in February 1980, The Specials announced from the stage that they would play a last-minute gig at the Ballroom the following night. Word travelled quickly, especially the next morning at Mimodo’s café, where most of us started our day. This was a café just off Robson Street where many musicians and artists hung out. The reason? It was cheap: bacon, eggs, toast, and a bottomless cup of coffee for $3. It also was the place where most of the news about artistic goings-on was traded. (There was no Twitter or Facebook to announce last-minute events. It was all word of mouth.) The Commodore Ballroom sold-out (capacity: 1,000), and the energy that night was pumping. The band’s 1979 self-titled debut album defined the two-tone ska revival; however, we didn’t know what to expect in concert, as we had never seen the band on television and this was their Canadian headlining debut. The multi-piece, multi-race group hit the stage with ferocious enthusiasm and just kept getting more energetic as the set continued. The crowd bounced continually on the famous spring-loaded dance floor, and if you watched from afar the audience was heaving en masse, like a pulsating heart. This was why New Wave was exciting. All of this had come together in twenty-four hours. Nobody outside the scene knew the band. They were ours. This was our music. This was our time.

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Star 80

(Writing about Vancouver) Another tragic event brought international attention to “the city on the left coast.” In August 1980, former Playboy Playmate of the Year and aspiring actress Dorothy Stratten was shot to death in Los Angeles by her estranged husband, Paul Snider. Both were originally from Vancouver and the news affected the whole city. I had actually worked with Snider two years earlier. Dressed as a pimp, Snider had wandered into Pharaohs, the club where I worked in the tourist area of Gastown. He billed himself as a club promoter and convinced the owners to stage a “John Travolta Dance-Alike” contest based on the movie Saturday Night Fever. Over the next couple of weeks the staff worked with him on this promotion. The waitresses nicknamed him “Snake Eyes.” Surprisingly, the contest was a huge success, and he continued to hang around the club. One night he came into Pharaohs and declared that he had discovered his future and she was serving in a Hastings Street Dairy Queen ice cream parlour. Her name was Dorothy Stratten and he was going to marry her, which he did, and make her a star, which he did. Their destiny took them to Los Angeles, success, heartbreak, and eventually murder. STAR 80 was Snider’s vanity license plate.

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Music Sells Out (Audio)

By the end of the ’80s Big Mac had replaced Big Brother. It’s a glib phrase, but a good way to sum up what happened…

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