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As anyone who’s ever created anything that falls under the umbrella of “art” knows, some endorsements mean more than others. Enthusiastic reviews are nice, especially when coming from someone with some degree of respect. Gushing praise from a fellow artist you—and the rest of the world—fucking love, however, is a whole different, wildly exhilarating thing.
On that front, Vancouver author and musician John Armstrong got a shout-out in the dying days of 2022 that, in all likelihood, meant more than all the press he ever generated with the Modernettes—the band that made him infamous in the ‘80s-punk underground.
In between movie and television scripts, no less than Bob Odenkirk managed to fit in some casual reading last year, including the new reissue of Armstrong’s memoir Guilty of Everything. First published in 2001, the book got a 2022 update, hitting the web and bricks-and-mortar bookstores at the end of last year.
Based on a December 30 tweet, the actor famous for Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and too many other projects to list here couldn’t put the autobiography down.
Here’s his Tweet.
On the local front, Armstrong saw the post, and then promptly took to Facebook with the following: “There simply aren’t words to say what this means to me.”
Given that he’s rarely been at a loss for words—which explains a healthy catalogue of West Coast-classic songs, and the three books (including Guilty of Everything) he’s written—that says something.
Armstrong did find some quick words when asked about the endorsement, starting with how Odenkirk came to read the book.
“He found it on his own somehow,” he told the Straight. “No idea how.”
As for the reissue, the man known as Buck Cherry during his years with Modernettes, and later Los Popularos, was able to provide a little more illumination on the book, the Coles Notes description of which goes: "From White Rock to Vancouver, the back rooms and alleys of the Smilin' Buddha to the Commodore Ballroom, Guilty of Everything recounts the drug–addled, booze–soaked days and nights of this anarchic era."
“The reissue came about because I realized it was 20 years since it first came out, and goddamn did that make me feel elderly,” Armstrong said. “And in its original form it was limited to 20,000 words.”
At the time he was a feature writer for the Vancouver Sun, making that target seem daunting.
“It seemed a huge amount to someone then writing news stories of eight to 35 column inches, except for the odd big feature in Saturday Review or such like,” Armstrong said. “Even the magazine pieces I was writing on and off for Wired and other slicks were only 3,000 words or so and took a month to write. But I got it done and it did okay—some very nice reviews and up for a couple awards.
“Time passed,” he continues, “as it seems determined to do, and one day it was 20 years on and I thought, “Shit, I had to leave out a lot of stuff because of space and fearful lawyers.’ I proposed a new edition for the anniversary and offered to add a bunch—it’s now almost twice as long as it was the first time out. and still, some stories were judged too vulgar and evil to be included. The fully unexpurgated version will have to wait for my death I guess—actually my publisher’s.”
The original version of Guilty of Everything wasn’t just a hit with Canadian punk rock trainspotters. For a while there were plans to turn the book into a movie, that project spearheaded by A Great White North filmmaker who shall remain nameless here (our choice, not Armstrong’s). If you want a starting point for names attached to the project, start with the first name of Archie Andrews' main nemesis as the director, and then Google the hockey movie that rhymes with “poon”). The plan was for one of the actors of the film that rhymes with swoon to play Buck Cherry, with a girlfriend to star at Modernettes’ bassist (and Armstrong’s ex-wife) Mary-Jo Kopechne.
“The director announced he was making it at the Whistler Film Fest—does that sound right? Is there one?” Armstrong sad. “It was on some fucking ski mountain anyway, in B.C. He was to star as me, his GF of the time was going to be Mary, and it was going to be called The Rebel Kind. The director also said he had tossed away most of the book and just used it a s rough springboard for what he wrote—which made me wonder: ‘If you change the title and write a different story, why the fuck are you paying me. Just curious.’
“So it was go, right after he finished his next movie,” he continues, “and then the one after that, and then he had another he had to do first, and that went on until he broke up with his girlfriend and didn’t want to do it anymore.”
The upside to that?
“I lost out on cinematic immortality, except for a couple brief appearances in other things,” Armstrong reflects. “Fortunately I’d been around the movie business for a few decades by this time, and knew never to believe it was going to happen until I was in my seat watching it. If it had happened at 30 I would have been crushed.”
The other upside to all this? A certain someone with deep roots in the movie and television business has not only read the expanded version of Guilty of Everything, but is a fan. Dare to dream.
“Bob Odenkirk is a huge favourite of mine going back to Mr. Show,” Armstrong says. “If only for that, he would be a legend. I’m thinking I should just offer to give him the rights to it gratis if he wants to direct. I kept telling the producers and directors of the aborted Guilty movie it needed to be funny, because I have never laughed so much or so hard as I did in those days, and never expect to again. I had so much fun I stopped breathing a few times.”
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