I first met Mookie Morris when he was all of 15 years old. A sweet, gangly, teenage hipster with a shag haircut, skinny jeans, and bad teenage pube-stache, Mookie was jamming with his friends in his mom’s garage when I stopped by to hang out with his eldest brother, who was (and still is) one of my good friends.
They were f**king amazing. Not ‘amazing for ninth graders.’ Just amazing. The kid had a way about him, a swagger, that belied his youth. He was a goddamned rock star even then.
Now, as it happened, I had just put together a sketch comedy troupe, and we’d just booked our first real gig at a showbar in Parkdale. In fact, part of the reason I’d stopped by my friend’s place that day was to enlist his help in getting all our Toronto-based friends to come to my show, this being pre-Facebook 2005 and all. Having grown up idolizing every possible facet of Saturday Night Live, I was determined to lock down a house band to open the show, play between sketches, and close it out.
I had found them.
They pulled up to the bar a week later in a bright, red minivan. Mookie’s mom had driven them. Adorable doesn’t even begin to describe it. Also, keep in mind that at this point in time, Parkdale wasn’t yet the semi-gentrified hipster enclave it has since become. This was a rough neighbourhood. Like, people-smoking-crack-in-broad-daylight, holy-shit-that’s-an-actual-gun-that-guy’s-wielding rough. So to see these kids earnestly schlep their equipment into the bar, past the bemused crackheads, with mom’s help did little to convince the bar’s manager that they were all, as I’d assured her, 19 years old. Fortunately, Mookie’s mom was staying for the show, which seemed to be enough to the manager to let them in.
We packed the bar that night. And while our troupe put on a great show, by the end of the night, there was absolutely no doubt whom the real breakout star had been. Grown women were squealing over Mookie like tweens at a Justin Bieber show. Even the previously sceptical bar manager tried him with booze after Mookie’s had left for the night. The kid didn’t miss a beat. It was as though this was the most natural thing in world for him. Watching the scene from a few tables away, I leaned over to Mookie’s big brother.
“As soon as he figures out what he really is,” I told him, “Your brother’s going to be a star.”
Last night, I saw that star perform at Underworld as part of Zoofest.
The shag and pube-stache have since given way to a roackabilly aesthetic reminiscent of early Elvis, while the grade 9 classmates have given way to a brand new band that, despite having recorded a new record with Mookie a couple months ago, were actually playing their first live show that night.
The swagger, however, is still there, amplified exponentially by the confidence of an artist that knows exactly who he is, exactly what he wants to say, and exactly how he wants to say it.
For the next two hours, Mookie Morris and his band rocked the f**king house.
Switching effortlessly from Buddy Holly covers to obscure, impossibly danceable songs like the 5,6,7,8’s “I’m Blue,” to original songs reflecting his eclectic influences, Mookie and his new band infused the increasingly fevered crowd with an ecstatic, hip-shaking fervour that bordered on outright delirium.
By show’s end, I found myself recovering at the bar with a cold beer, making a vain attempt to curb the whiskey-soaked sweat pouring out of me after two hours of relentless boogie-ing. Watching the rest of the elated-but-exhausted crowd struggle to drag their rubbery legs out the door, I overheard a group of people making plans to dress up all rockabilly like Mookie and return to his show the following night. I couldn’t help but smile. Their plan had so perfectly encapsulated the palpable feeling among the entire audience that we’d all been privy to the best-kept secret at Zoofest, a festival that is itself, the best-kept secret in town.
At that moment, I immediately thought back to that after-party at The Rhino, and my conversation with Mookie’s big brother.
I was right.
Mookie Morris is playing again on Thursday and Friday nights at 9pm at Underworld as part of Zoofest. For tickets and info, click here.