By Jessica Brodeur
VANCOUVER — Aaron Chapman is the kind of guy Vancouver is lucky to have. As a musician, he has paid his dues for years playing the local clubs and the Commodore many times in various bands such as the Town Pants and Bocephus King. As a historian and urban archivist, he recently published his latest Vancouver-centric history book Live at the Commodore. With this book he’s preserved a part of the city in ways that no one else could, a monumental part of Vancouver’s live music scene, a place where countless good memories have been made, in Chapman’s words, “there’s something magical about that room and floor.”
Chapman worked diligently to fact-check the book’s stories, poring over old newspapers, ticket stubs, booking records, anything he could find to confirm the tales of U2 to Sammy Davis Jr., Nirvana to Lady Gaga and many more. “One of the weirdest things,” tells Chapman, “is the Commodore has a set of lungs. Everyone talks about the floor, but when the Commodore closed in ‘96, the retail stores had their doorways and ceilings renovated and the vents got blocked. When the Commodore reopened the first time, they had 1,000 people in the building. The builders in the 1930s knew the air needed to go somewhere, but when they reopened the glass cracked and door frames burst because of the hot air.” The book covers every angle, from architecture and design to beautiful rock ’n’ roll photography to urban politics, and of course confirming and dispelling legends of which icons have passed through the venue.
The Commodore undoubtedly puts Vancouver on the world stage of entertainment and artistry, but it’s not always the performers that give life to the building. “Every time the stagehands told some story about the Ramones or something, I would remember.” Sometimes Chapman would go back, track down bartenders, photographers, or coat-check ladies to get the first-hand accounts from them—even tracking down a retired old lady in North Vancouver who worked coat check when the days of the Commodore were very different. “The concert industry is much bigger and a little more regimented now. It’s interesting to see the arc of the industry change.”
Live at the Commodore: The Story of Vancouver’s Historic Commodore Ballroom by Aaron Chapman is out on Arsenal Pulp Press.Aaron Chapman, BC, British Columbia, Commodore Ballroom, Live at the Commodore: The Story of Vancouver’s Historic Commodore Ballroom