In our first post we described how Alan Stephenson’s tenure in Toronto could be used to define our golden age of raves. In our final entry we’re going to define the man himself. Who was this British raver that commanded our scene and then vanished into thin air? Was he even real? Or do we find out at the end of M. Night Shyamalan’s Toronto rave epic that he was just one big hallucination? Who would play him in the movie? I would cast Bruce Willis if he could pull off an accent, because I actually used to poke fun at B. Mental regarding his Bruce-like features. Alan Stephenson had a great a sense of humour; one of his proudest UK imports was a tape of Derek and Clive comedy which featured nonsensical conversations, compliments in part to Dudley Moore. Of course, Alan was quick to point out how uncool Canadians only knew the British comedic legend from his Arthur flicks. As much as he was an ethnocentric Brit, he was right – those recordings were hilarious. But when the laughter died down, serious allegations about the man known as Captain Brainstorm Mental lingered.
This project was inspired by music on rare mixtapes, the majority of which were compliments of the Captain. They represent a mere fraction of the commendations he accumulated throughout a decorated career of raving. Adversely though, he cast a dark shadow on Toronto rave nostalgia – an obstacle that nearly prevented this project from ever coming to fruition. There’s a delicate balance between giving him the credit he deserves and calling a spade, a spade. I’m qualified to walk this line given my dual perspective: a 17 year old who considered him the coolest guy on the planet versus the wiser man I am today; coincidentally the same age he was when he jumped the ship called Toronto.
Thus, let us begin the facts.
Alan landed in Toronto in his twenties joining his father, sister and brother who had already settled into the city. He worked odd jobs which included busboy at a few popular restaurants. Yet it wasn’t long before his inner salesman negotiated a future in street vending – a career that began one day while passing a telephone pole with a job posting stapled on it. You know, the ones with little phone number tabs you tear off. It was an anecdote he described to me fondly – how plucking paper off a post was the starting point of a lucrative empire.
A series of street salesman gigs followed; and his English accent, of course, was a huge asset among his arsenal of sales techniques. Stephenson would go on to captain his own small vending outfit, known as Gemstones Jewelery. It was located at 9 St. Nicholas Street, an alleyway off Wellesley tucked away behind Yonge. Aside from the office, a telephone and some business cards, the operation was a pure hustle. The tiny, one-room headquarters was a meeting place for the fleet of street vendors who worked for commission and took home cash at the end of their shift. And since no one actually had proper vendor permits, police interaction and fines were a regular casualty of the job. Alan always told his “employees” he would pay their tickets – but really they all went into a drawer containing a pile of other past-due fines. The turnover rate was so high that most staff were long gone before they realized Gemstones management hadn’t made good on their payment promise. Alan justified this by pointing a finger at the vendor for getting caught, since he taught a ticket evasion technique that served him well: an alias. When questioned by police, you were to claim to possess no identification and then change one or two letters of your surname when reciting it. The slight variation made it easy to remember and natural to repeat under duress. Stephenson, for example, had his own vending alter ego – Alan Stevenson – because when the “ph” was replaced by “v,” the ticket was designated for an entirely different person and the fine was now worth less than the paper it was printed on. An inaccurate ticket meant no recourse for city hall but it was still a handy keepsake for future encounters with police: “Sorry officer, I don’t have my ID, but here’s my last ticket, will that do?”
Speaking of worthless, Gemstones products were costume jewelery rings – each sold for $5, or any three for $12 (a good up-sell for the savvy sellers). Every purchase was accompanied by a nicely printed piece of paper that guaranteed the ring against defects, ie. turning green after the supposed real gold or silver plating wore off. When this defect occurred (and it always did) the certificate claimed the customer was entitled to a replacement item. The really smart buyers would always question this guarantee, asking, “But you’re a street vendor. How would I ever find you again!?” Like most shifty operations, there was a snappy response for every skeptic, “You don’t have to find me, just mail the ring to the address listed at the bottom of the guarantee and include $2 to cover shipping and handling.” The address on the guarantee, however, wasn’t the office address on St. Nicholas, it was an anonymous post office box. That way, Alan could pocket the extra loot without having to mail anything back.
Like I said, pure hustle.
The soundbite above features Alan Stephenson and John Angus on Hardrive with James St. Bass in June of 1992.
In 1992 Alan cashed in his jewelery business to focus on the potential within the surging rave scene. He tested the market first by selling mixtapes at the Factory nightclub and throwing a small rave, titled Atmosphere. The transition was nearly seamless – dodgy street tactics were easily applied to an untapped clandestine scene. Once all the jewelery had been liquidated, X-Static rave merchandise and Pleasure Force events became his new gems.
There’s no doubt Captain B. was extremely passionate about a scene in Toronto – even well before one existed. His influences over the years were obvious, but he also was motivated by numerous ulterior benefits. For him, the scene was a source of income, intoxication and it fostered a haven of young men with whom his relations were extremely questionable.
“The very dangerous Captain Brainstorm” – Malik X (33:53)
Alan quickly became an unqualified mentor to many young minds. Despite an unhealthy lifestyle founded in dishonesty, he managed to have monetary success – which was a misleading message to the impressionable. Armed with only the most rudimentary business skills, his biggest resource was a revolving door of exploitable young men who glorified his English accent. Me and many of my friends were among the first batch.
As the scene progressed Alan descended further into a fantasy world in which he had diplomatic immunity. And since the microcosm he inhabited was populated by teens there was no true authority to govern his corruption. Existing somewhere between X-Static, raves and chemical enhancement, he became more distant with reality with every passing Saturday night. Downtime was spent on his leather couch at 40 Gerrard St. East, soothing his mid-week MDMA woes by further self-medicating. With over-indulgence running rampant he developed a complete lack respect for the well-being of himself and those around him. No one could possibly carry on like he did without experiencing serious repercussions, and rumours about B. Mental’s mental stability were mounting. The rare conversation I had with him in 1995 revealed the person I met at my first Exodus rave wasn’t all there. Sadly B. Mental had lost touch with reality, his surname-nickname now a prophecy that had been self-fulfilled.
When the infamous Toronto Sun article surfaced, the charges attached to the arrest seemed to put his behavior in perspective. Nevertheless Alan defended the allegations via a published letter to the editor of Tribe magazine. He claimed the taboo materials arrived unexpectedly after signing up for a general mailing list at a gay bookstore (which operated on the other side of the Gemstones’ office wall.) He realized this defense wouldn’t hold up in the courts of Canada especially given he (and the company he kept) had been under surveillance for several months. Plus, the discovery of a large quantity of narcotics didn’t help corroborate his innocence. While on bail he transferred X-Static to his brother-in-law, tied up some lose ends and headed for Mexico.
I clearly remember the last time I saw him. I was mostly detached from the scene and working at Movenpick in the BCE place. He strolled by with his signature walk and I quickly turned the other way, fearing what he might say if he saw me in a sell-out button-down shirt and tie, making an honest living working for the man. The conversation would have gone all Derek and Clive with the ironic laughs at my expense. “You prim-and-proper-c*nt… You look ridiculous, Jimmy J!” Yes, Alan coined my nickname too, originally “H20″ but replaced by “Jimmy J” after he noticed a DJ by that name on a UK rave flyer.
And despite my eventual epiphanies, I’m still curious about him because there was a moment in time that I considered him to be a good friend. How is he now? What does he do for a living? Given that he’s now 50-years of age (and hopefully back in touch with reality) he certainly has his own demons of dual perspective to deal with.
But the burning question still remains: Was he able to bring his coveted collection of mixtapes with him when he fled Canada? Alan was responsible for managing the 23 Hop booth tape deck during Exodus raves so he undoubtedly had the best archive of Toronto rave audio in existence. If the tapes weren’t seized when his apartment was raided, they may very well be in some part of West Sussex in England, either Littlehampton or Bognor Regis, where he’s currently rumoured to reside.