Former MuchMusic host Kim Clarke Champniss revisits '80s in new book

TORONTO - In the Canadian television landscape of the 1980s, Kim Clarke Champniss stood out as drastically as his spiky blond hair.

The transplanted Brit worked as a DJ in Vancouver, as a booking agent, and as manager of the new-wave group Images in Vogue before joining MuchMusic as host of "RockFlash."

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In his new ebook "The Republic of Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Roaring ’80s from Curtis to Cobain," Champniss looks at not only his own experiences in the fledgling Canadian music industry but the overarching trends in rapidly expanding pop culture and the larger political and social factors that influenced them.

Champniss says he's working on similar books devoted to the 1970s and '90s. But the '80s hold a special place in his heart. Champniss talked to The Canadian Press about the book and his memories of MuchMusic's youth.

CP: You took the scope of this ebook beyond music and into politics, the environment, essentially everything that was happening in the 1980s. Why?

KCC: The driving force is that I'm fascinated by the energy of pop culture: how it started, how it ended up being defined through the '40s, '50s and '60s.

It's a force that people kind of dismiss: "Well, it's just pop culture." But it's more than that. It gives a voice to young people and not just young people as we've gotten older. It gives us a perspective on the way that we see the world and how the journey of our lives changes.

CP: You write about the joy you found in the Vancouver scene in the early '80s, and your experiences managing Images in Vogue. But then you left that side of the business for a while to become a broadcaster. Why didn't you follow that path farther?

KCC: The Images in Vogue experience was one of the greatest experiences of my life but it was, as the cliche goes, the best of times and the worst of times.

It was incredibly exciting for all of us and I'm still bonded to those guys. Being in the studio — incredible excitement for a rock 'n' roll guy. But the downside of it is we were holding onto that dream for as long as possible. We were starving. Many of us had quit our straight jobs and Images wasn't a working band per se — it was an event band. So there was no cash flow. So I had to leave in the end. I was like, "Guys, I've run my course here. I can't pay my rent. I need to get a straight job."

And they needed to go to the next level and I couldn't take them there. I didn't have the resources. So best of times, worst of times, but as I look back, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

CP: You then moved to Toronto to work at the fledgling MuchMusic soon after. You had no broadcast experience. Were you nervous?

KCC: I'd had a background as a child actor, that was always in my blood, and of course as a club DJ — even though it's not broadcast, you're always there on display doing your bit.

I already had my eye on coming out as a performer. When I came in with Much, I just took right to it. They turned the camera on and I just blabbed.

CP: You went by Kim Clarke at the time, and in the book you write that Moses Znaimer insisted you use the name Kim Champniss instead. You battled him and wound up going by all three names.

KCC: It's with me to this day. It's all because of Moses — or my stubbornness, a combination of both. Putting it in context, I was new in town and kind of full of myself as well. I'd already been on the air (as Kim Clarke) and my other boss John Martin was in total agreement with (me).

(So) I stuck Champniss onto the end. It was this very cumbersome name. But of course it only played into the stereotypical characters Moses wanted. I was the Englishman with three names for God's sakes. And as Moses would say, you didn't get hired, you got cast.

CP: How wild were those early days at MuchMusic?

KCC: Absolutely fantastic. It was like a clubhouse. We were all doing our jobs, but the gals were sexy, the guys were looking for the action and we still had to do TV.

And meanwhile people are exchanging ideas. It was so exciting. You never got paid (much) for it, but that didn't matter. So many of us learned our trade there. We partied hard and we made great TV on $1.99.

CP: Do you have any favourite interviews?

KCC: Neil Young. I got to interview Neil Young a couple times, and one in particular after ("Harvest Moon") came out (in 1992). If you remember that video, it was shot in a restaurant, and it turns out it was close to his ranch in Northern California. So when they sent us down they said go to the restaurant, it'll be empty, and Neil will meet you there, he'll drive up from the ranch. So we get there and Neil's late — typical, which is fine — so the place is completely empty but there's a jukebox in the corner. They must have programmed it for Neil Young because there's a lot of early Brit stuff.

I just sat there being Mr. DJ. I was feeding it quarters and one of my favourite bands when I was a kid was the Shadows, and the leader was Hank Marvin, and ... as it turns out he was a hero to Randy Bachman and Neil Young.

Neil walks in and I'm playing this, and suddenly we have this rapport. "Who's doing this?" "Those are my tunes." And then we were on a roll.

CP: Do you still feel a connection to MuchMusic after all these years?

KCC: No. I don't have a connection to MuchMusic, other than some of the cameramen are still there. If you worked there during the golden years, you share that secret code.

(But) it's not the same. Those archive interviews are there. And I'm disappointed that they don't do more with that, with the history of rock 'n' roll. They have arguably the greatest music archive of the 1980s sitting right there and it's gathering dust. From a teacher of pop culture point of view, that stuff should be out there. Young people should be aware of it. Young people are still interested in the Clash, Nirvana is still cool, that stuff is there. (Something) should be made of it, it really should be.


Answers have been edited and condensed.

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