Saved by the Salivation Army

Scott Treleaven springs from the couch we’re sitting on and manoeuvres through his living room, hopping over all sorts of collages, clippings, and glue sticks before making it to his desk. The art supplies that are sprawled across his Parkdale living room serve as a nagging reminder that perhaps I’ve come at a bad time. With an art show in LA in less than a week’s time from the date of our interview, Treleaven’s more than a little busy. “I haven’t had much time to sleep,” he admits.

Nevertheless, he agreed to take the morning to hang out and talk about zines. We have been talking for the better part of the morning when, with a surge of energy, Treleaven jumps up and announces that he absolutely has to show me something–“New art by GB Jones!” A big smile takes over his face as he removes his latest acquisition from the inside of a notebook: a set of Jones’ pencilled sketches. “We did a trade,” says Treleaven, still smiling giddily. But what he really wants to show me is the notebook in which the GB Jones pictures are kept pressed between the sheets.

“I have sixteen volumes of journals that are sort of like diaries, drawings and collages, and other stuff like that,” says Treleaven, flipping through the sketches and tightly scrawled prose that covers the pages. The notebooks are essentially hardcover editions of his late ’90s zine This is the Salivation Army. The notebooks contain manifestos, art, and even a whole section dedicated to the creation of a Salivation Army flag. Looking through the notebook I can’t help but feel a little guilty–I’m reading what is essentially somebody’s diary–but this notebook, like the other 15 that are sitting on Treleaven’s bookshelf, contain thoughts and ideas that have gone public long before my eyes ever cross its pages. Treleaven readily admits that he likes it better that way.

“I was sort of exploring all these things, like: queer, punk, and occult crossovers in my journals,” he explains, “and so I thought that the point of doing it privately was ridiculous.” In 1996, with the success of his film Queercore on his side, Treleaven launched the first issue of his now-famous zine This is the Salivation Army.

Prior to setting to work on the Salivation Army, Treleaven had been regularly exposed to zines, reading a lot of Temple of Psychic Youth literature, and looking through old issues of the Toronto queer zine JDs, which was headed by GB Jones and Bruce LaBruce, who were essentially responsible for launching the North American homocore movement. He also met GB Jones, a meeting that Treleaven describes as “incredibly inspiring.”

“A lot of people who do queer zines usually say that JDs is the catalyst for them, but I sort of came into it a little bit too late. JDs had already ended, but I started looking through old issues and realizing that all these things are possible–that it’s possible to ask questions publicly and get a public response.”

For Treleaven, it was obvious that zines were the best way he could express his ideas. “It was the best medium for the time,” says Treleaven. Through the pages of his zine, he wrote out manifestos questioning queer identity and exploring the connections between queer, punk, magic, and the occult.

“I wanted to see if the things I suspected were connected actually were,” explains Treleaven, “and the only way I could do that was by yelling and scratching and screaming openly and publicly and see if I would receive a response.” Though Treleaven could not have guessed it at the time, his zine would leave a trail wherever it went, from indie record and book stores, to punk show bathrooms–.

This queer revolution would be sparked by the making of connections–queer kids coming out of hiding, gathering together to share ideas, create, and most important, open their eyes and realize the intensity of their numbers.

“I had a vague notion of the sort of people I wanted to be around and the kind of places I felt I belonged, so with the zine, it was almost like putting up signal flares or putting up a lighthouse and saying, ‘Hey, I’m over here, anyone with similar feelings please contact me and let’s make it a larger group.'” Contact him they did, and quickly too. Treleaven began receiving letters from places from all over the map; some even came from as far as Paris. Slowly, an army was being built. Some would get it, others would not–either way, people were speaking to each other again, and that was what really mattered.

It was not until the summer of 1996, during a brief stay in San Francisco that Treleaven realized how powerful and how full of potential his zine could become. Only two issues into his zine, Treleaven was screening Queercore at a San Francisco homocore festival called Dirtybird. His initial intentions were just to take in a lot of queer punk shows, but somewhere along the way, something intense and beautiful took place. Even now, sitting in his living room, years removed from this eye-opening experience, Treleaven describes it all using just one word: “Sublime.”

“I was at one of the shows and I ended up seeing someone across the room dressed like a feeble hippy kind of character. We were immediately drawn to each other. He asked if I wanted to go to this thing the following night.”

What he had been invited to was a Summer Solstice celebration that was to take place at a huge Victorian mansion. At first, Treleaven felt anxious and hesitant. He had been told that he had to be naked to attend the party. He worried, changing his mind a million times before finally settling on the decision that he had to push fear aside and go on instinct alone. In his short story “Summer,” Treleaven eternalizes the moment where everything changed for him:

All is bliss, all is bliss. I have never imagined, in all of my Goth fantasies, in all my pagan mythology, in all my twenty-three mid-summer queerboy sweats, anything comparable to this. Here I am and I feel no trepidation at all. No fear in the nakedness, panic settles around me into satyriasis– With a dozen hands upon me, a mid-summer night comes crashing down around us. Nothing and no one is left standing. Nothing can ever be the same. He vanishes again, and for good, while I agree to carry this long hot summer forever.

At that moment, Treleaven understood that This is the Salivation Army was not merely a zine. Sure, it was meant as a place to express ideas, to bring people together, but most important This is the Salivation Army was a love letter to whomever picked it up and read it. At the San Francisco gathering, Treleaven had finally recognized his audience.

“It was another world entirely,” Treleaven reminisces. “So when I hit issue three of the zine, I thought ‘I know exactly who I’m writing to.’ I still don’t know their names, but I know exactly who these people are, and I know exactly what I want to tell them, and I know exactly who I want to connect with.”

A revolution was taking place, and This is the Salivation Army was tracking its progress, letters were still pouring in, everything seemed to be gaining momentum. But it wasn’t just the queer kids that were paying attention. Pepsi, in a twisted attempt to reinvent themselves as the choice brand of the zine generation, contacted Treleaven and asked him to participate in an ad campaign. Treleaven didn’t hesitate to tell them where to go. Even more bizarre was when a major film production company approached Treleaven with the idea of making a This is the Salivation Army feature film.

“They wanted car chases and shit like that,” laughs Treleaven. He can laugh about it now, but at the time, the experience left him frustrated and pissed off. This is the Salivation Army, the feature, if it existed today, would look like your typical queer tragedy movie-of-the-week kind of crap.

“They wanted to have a male and female character that were a couple and then this third bisexual character that comes and sort of disrupts everything, and then maybe at the end someone gets really drunk and maybe the two male characters happen to kiss or something.”

In the end, what the film company was really fishing for were victims. It seems that the only way mainstream, straight entertainment can digest queer characters in films or television, is if the queer boys and girls are in a constant state of turmoil. “This couldn’t happen,” says Treleaven, “because in This the Salivation Army there are no victims.”

Though Treleaven’s brief brush with the mainstream film industry left him angry and frustrated, the realization that This is the Salivation Army clashed with conventional media was more than a little comforting. “They were sniffing me out saying, ‘I know there’s something in here,’ and then they very quickly realized that it’s something they can’t swallow, unless what they do to it is what takes out the whole reason why it was exciting in the first place.” This is the salivation Army was stronger than ever.

Nevertheless, the zine ended with issue eight. “Not everyone got it,” says Treleaven, shaking his head. “I had begun to have more of an audience than I had participants.”

It is difficult to get at the truth of what really happened, the reasons why the zine ended. In his 2001 film This is the Salivation Army, a film that also serves as issue nine of the zine, Treleaven addresses some of the issues that led to the termination of his zine. However, as he is quick to remind me, the film was never billed as a documentary.

“If I was getting people to actually connect with other people in a meaningful way, that’s amazing; and I just don’t own that feeling. It would be wrong for me to go and smash those myths and maybe debilitate the empowerment that they got from that idea.”

The zine he started in 1996 had become an entirely different creation, changing shape with every hand that touched it. Readers and contributors alike had built This is the Salivation Army into something that was intense and significant. “It came back to me in a much more beautiful form than I could have possibly been responsible for by myself.” For these reasons, the love letter needed a last a chapter–a sort of thank-you note to those who had influenced its development.

Issue ten of the zine was commissioned for Sinbad of the Rented World, a show put on by the Art Gallery of York University. “Philip Monk wanted to show the video and somehow find a way of displaying the old zines.” Treleaven wanted to present something that was alive, and he was afraid that simply putting out an exhibit of a bunch of the old issues would look like a museum piece–a forensic examination of something that had been buried long before. Creating a new issue seemed like a much more dynamic option.

Treleaven is quick to emphasize that issue ten is by no means the re-launching of his old zine. “I’m calling it issue ten, not so much in the sense that it is a new issue of This is the Salivation Army, but rather, it is meant as a glimpse of an ongoing history.” The pages of number ten, an issue which Treleaven calls “the best issue so far,” are filled with the words and images of people such as GB Jones, Kim Kinakin, John Greyson, Micheal V. Smith, and Genesis P-Orridge, just to name a few.

“Those eight issues of This is the Salivation Army were a love letter to them. At last they’ve started to write back.”

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