Black Halos and Bonitos frontman Billy Bonito, née Hopeless, grew up in a quaint post-wartime house at 28th and Rupert, with an English garden out front and one in the back. But well-manicured hedges and rose bushes are no match for the thorny branches of rock and roll, and Hopeless credits his old Renfrew-Collingwood stomping grounds to becoming the functioning reprobate he is today.
Courier: What kind of neighbourhood was Renfrew-Collingwood for a kid growing up in the 1970s?
BH: It was family oriented but it was still a fairly tough neighbourhood. East Van was East Van back then. It was a bunch of middle class and lower class kids, with a lot of single parents. Even the middle class kids, we’d be getting into trouble.
Courier: What schools did you attend?
BH: Grenfell elementary near Rupert and 29th and Windermere high school. But I pretty much toured all the high schools in the area, not by choice, which I guess ended up being a precursor for what my life would become.
Courier: Where would you hang out?
BH: Around Joyce and Kingsway you had the bus loop and that was a hooligan area — you had the Joyce Looper gang there. Then you had Take Five pool hall. That was kind of a hoodlum hangout and I spent some time there. And of course Zorro’s Pizza on Boundary and 28th, which is still there. I remember many summers of my youth riding there on my banana seat bike to eat pizza and play pinball. There was also the Haida Theatre… that was the first place I found rock and roll when they were showing Beatles movies at the matinees.
Courier: Were there any other spots that had an influence on your musical pursuits?
BH: Zebop Rent a Record opened up on Joyce and Kingsway. A young guy had this cool idea to rent albums out. That was really a big thing for me, “wow I can go rent out a record.” The Warriors movie soundtrack, I think I rented that out a thousand times. Heavy Metal the Movie soundtrack, and a bunch of early heavy metal records because you couldn’t find them anywhere. Stuff like Joe Walsh records and weird old rock records. I think it cost 50 cents to rent a record for a week.
Courier: Did you ever work in the neighbourhood?
BH: At 22nd and Rupert there was a mini mall, which had Keller’s. This old man named Keller owned the drug store and rented out all the spots. There was a store there called Books Plus, which was a comic book store. One of my first jobs was working there and going in the back where they had video games and keeping people from smoking pot and jimmying the video games. Then an old hippie guy took it over and turned it into Comic Land, and I worked there for a while.
Courier: Does it seem like the area has retained some of its old feel?
BH: It’s developing and it’s changing, but like any area I hope that the new blood helps keep some of the fun and magic of the area. Like Wally’s Burgers, if someone had just taken that over and kept it going instead of moving the business, we would have had a drive-in in the neighbourhood, which would have been cool.
Courier: When did you move away?
BH: About a year ago. I’m in Gastown now. I was in the old family house, but we ended up selling it. It had done its time and it would have cost way too much to remodel it. I still have friends in the neighbourhood who I visit. And I still go to Zorro’s Pizza. I have to make the trek and take a cab all the way from Gastown to get take out because they won’t deliver there, even though they know who I am….
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