Born Jeff Plewman, Nash the Slash’s stage wardrobe consisted of wrapping his face in bandages adorned by sunglasses and wearing a top hat.
By: Nick Krewen
Published on Mon May 12 2014
Pioneering electronic musician, composer and performance artist Nash the Slash has died.
The eccentric Toronto electric violinist, whose mummified stage wardrobe consisted of wrapping his face in bandages adorned by sunglasses and a top hat, was found at his city home over the weekend.
He was 66.
His friend and long-time collaborator, the artist Robert Vanderhorst, posted the news Monday on his Facebook page and confirmed the news in an interview.
Nash the Slash was a co-founder of Toronto progressive rock trio FM, with whom he enjoyed the greatest amount of commercial success due to their 1977 platinum album Black Noise and the radio hit “Phasors on Stun.”
Nash was equally notorious for his one-man multimedia performances, which he executed with his violin and electric mandolin, an Echoplex and multiple reel-to-reel tape recorders, and performed in diverse locations ranging from concert stages to movie theatres and art exhibits.
The first Canadian to use a drum machine on an album, Nash also owned and operated one of Canada’s first underground independent record labels, Cutthroat Records, releasing such albums as Bedside Companion, Dreams and Nightmares and Decomposing independently.
His sphere of influence extended across the Atlantic, where he lived in England for a time, signed with Virgin Records for his Children of the Night album and was credited with influencing such synth-laden new wave artists as Gary Numan with his experimental compositions.
“He was so far ahead of his time, the industry never caught up with him,” said concert promoter and close personal friend Gary Topp, who helped Jeff Plewman invent his Nash the Slash persona and booked him for his very first gig as Nash at the Danforth Ave. Roxy Theatre.
“He just did things that nobody else was doing,” said Vanderhorst, whose paintings inspired several Nash the Slash compositions and exhibits.
‘“The thing that might strike people is the fact that he just stayed true to his art. He wasn’t going to change. He wanted a certain sound, he wanted to play a certain way and the Nash persona was perfect for him.”
The Nash the Slash saga began when Plewman was a fire-breathing musician in a band called Breathless.
“Our friendship goes back to 1972,” recalls Topp. “He did his first show as Nash the Slash at the Roxy accompanying (the 1929 Salvador Dali short film) Un Chien Andalou on the screen and, over the years, I booked him zillions of times at the Horseshoe, at the Edge, opening for different shows. We’ve remained friends until the weekend, I guess.”
His friends say Plewman also had a wicked sense of humour, one that he wasn’t afraid to extend into his performances, including appearances at his local hangout Stratengers in the 1990s.
“I was always interested in making an event out of it,” Nash told me in a 1997 interview. “Some of my shows were entitled Nash Easter Bunny, Santa Nash, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
“There was also a show I performed around the time of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster that I called Neighbourhood Alert. I used phosphorescent makeup, so when the stage lights hit my face I glowed in the dark. That was my shtick.”
He also claimed to spend “$800 a day in bandages” for his wardrobe.
“People would ask me, ‘Why don’t you get an endorsement from Johnson & Johnson’s?’”
However, he never compromised his artistry. When soft drink giant Pepsi used his likeness in a commercial without his permission, he sued them for “misappropriation of personality” and won.
In recent years, Plewman had become disillusioned with the music business to the point where he retired his act.
As Plewman wrote on his still active web page announcing his decision: “Live gigs don’t excite me any longer. My eccentric style/genre finds no place in today’s scene, although it’s widely acknowledged that my sound led the way for the development of contemporary electronic/techo dance music in Canada. Even more to consider, the theft of music on the Internet has devastated a very important source of my income. CD sales have dropped off considerably, and it’s due mainly to file-sharing without regard for the ownership of the recordings.”
As Topp laments, “I think at the end, when he decided to retire the act, he was pretty fed up. I don’t blame him. Nobody, even in today’s world, wanted to take a chance with him, maybe some people in the industry and the odd club. But he found it really hard to get an audience or any agents to back him. Why, I don’t know. It was a great show and he was a true artist.”
For Nash, it was all about the presentation.
“I’m from the old school, where the stage is really sacred,” he said.
“It’s more important to be entertaining and theatrical. I’m not keen on what I call this guitar campfire music scene. I’m more interested in putting on real spectacles, like KISS or Pink Floyd or Arthur Brown. I use strobe lights and strobe machines, the whole nine yards.”