The little story behind “Scratches and Needles”

One Saturday night in the spring of 1982, Alex Soria, Guy “Fit” Caron, Doug Crevier and I wound up at a party in an NDG basement with “real” punks – young men and women who looked, acted, and dressed the part. We, on the other hand, were just regular looking kids into punk rock music who had heard of a party and thought it might be fun to hang out. We walked into something we weren’t prepared for – a party of fucked up punks on more than just beer and wine. I remember being nervous before we walked in, wondering if we should be going in there at all. When we walked inside and down the stairs to a damp and dingy basement, I think the four of us just wanted to get the hell out of there quick. We stuck out like sore thumbs – four regular looking sixteen year-old kids in an older crowd of about 20 punks dressed in leather and studs with many of them looking like they were on chemicals we’d never heard of before. We stuck close together, finding a spot along the wall and trying not to draw even more attention to ourselves. We settled in after a while, helped by couple of beers and conversation with a couple of punks who could see we were out of our element and tried to make conversation with us. Then we saw something that completely freaked us out.

A young man, who from the moment we walked in struck us as really fucked up, began hurting himself. Badly. He had taken a beer bottle cap and began scratching the underside of his arm with it over and over again, his flesh turning pearly white until it began to bleed. The blood didn’t even stop this poor soul, and he didn’t show any indication of being in pain. I don’t know how many times that bottle cap went up and down that arm, but it was a sickening sight we never forgot. Not long after that we left and breathed a huge collective sigh of relief when we got outside, for once looking forward to the normalcy and safety of our suburban homes. On the following Monday at school, Alex told me he had written a song about what happened that night called “Scratches and Needles” and showed me the lyrics. Little did he know then what he wrote that weekend would ensure that we’d never forget that party. To our astonishment, it has become a Canadian punk classic.

Why? Obviously, Alex had innate songwriting ability as anyone who has ever worked with him or loved his music knows. As a a kid writing punk rock songs at age 12, he was really into stuff that had melody like the Buzzcocks, Jam, Clash, and the Saints, but was then totally warped by the Germs (who couldn’t be?) by 15. He got into hardcore punk, sort of, but only for a short period of time. He got bored with it real quick as any decent songwriter would. What he really wanted was the kind of energy that hardcore generated with a “pop sensibility”, as he used to always say. He was telling us this in 1982, before we’d even heard Bad Religion or Social D. When I first saw the Nils play at a practise in the winter of ’82, they were really into the Jam. Many at the time called them “mod”. They weren’t far off, but the songs were just beginning to change because Rick Trembles had got him into the Germs a few months earlier and he flipped. “The Gathering” (1981) on the “Now” cassette is the only song that was written during the “mod” phase (Alex was a Paul Weller freak in his early teens) that got recorded, but by the time it was recorded he was well into great hardcore like the Germs, DOA, Black Flag, and Circle Jerks. So here was this precocious 16 year old kid into Paul Weller who’s been writing decent songs for 4 years who gets into hardcore punk and then writes this song called “Scratches and Needles”. Musically, he was embracing early hardcore but he still loved the Jam and the Buzzcocks. And punk really needed this at the time. I think that’s why BYO made the song the first track on the “Something to Believe In” compilation. Out of the hundreds of tapes they got after soliciting material for that record, probably mostly thrash, they find this jem of a tape by a totally unknown band from Montreal. And “Now” really is a gem. Just ask Jack Rabid at the Big Takeover, probably the first shameless Nils fan outside of Montreal.

“Scratches and Needles” was a watershed of sorts, for both Alex personally and North American punk. In Lee Aaron’s strong pitch for DOA’s “Disco Sucks” for an essential 70s track, she says “If you’re talking 70s you just can’t omit the punk movement”. I say you can’t omit the punk movement in the 80s either. It sill had some growing up to do and “Scratches and Needles” would help it along.

Robert Huppee (aka Kung Fu, guit-Gencon), Alex Soria (guit-Nils/Chino), Doug Crevier (bass-Gencon) Chico Fit (bass-Nils), and yours truly. Picture taken a couple of months after the incident that inspired “Scratches and Needles”.


5 thoughts on “The little story behind “Scratches and Needles”

    1. Sure! I’m voting whenever I think of it. Honestly, though, I’d be surprised if it was voted to the list. Just depends on whether there are a bunch determined to get this song through.

      1. I just voted 35 more times, so I’m up to 50.

        This is dishonest and as a believer in democracy, I’m kind of ashamed. But as a lover of great music, I’m not going to let a true classic get beaten by April Fucking Wine (!!), a lame late-period Neil Young song, or a lukewarm Canadian rock song.

      2. Exactly

        I know how you feel, J, but you’re right. And it’s not really democracy and they fully expect people will vote more than once and perhaps vote for more than one song. It’s a matter of how determined people are to see the song make it.

        Hell, I don’t know how many times I voted. I’ve been asked by people who don’t have the Internet to vote for them, so I”m dong that too.

        If there was a stronger field, I might just let it lie. But I think “Scratches…” stands out here because of it’s influence and is well worth voting for often.

        I just vote casually throughout the day…..

      3. Re: Exactly

        John, Thanks for all the work, time and effort you have put into this!!!! Mostly your friendhip, You are still Alexs’ best mate! Can’t thank you enough, Debs….

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