Book Supplement: bringing the night to life with Live at the Commodore

Many late nights at the Commodore inspired Aaron Chapman, author and UBC film alumnus, to document its history.

"It was actually surprising to me how many people snuck in underage with fake IDs or sneaking in behind older people,” said Chapman.

Aaron Chapman was nominated for the 2015 Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award for his new book Live at the Commodore: The Story of Vancouver's Historic Commodore Ballroom. Not your dreadfully dry history tome, Live at the Commodore delves into the razzle dazzle, prohibition rebellion, crowdsurfing history of this nightlife establishment in a prose akin to cinematic storytelling.

Chapman took on the roles of historian, musicologist and detective to chronicle a nine-decade history of the establishment. It highlights much of the tumultuous 20th century when the Commodore was a cabaret for the wealthy and powerful, a venue for UBC Nurses’ Dances to support soldiers during World War I, a port for up-and-coming international bands to land in Canada and a place to get down on a Saturday night. Chapman did inside research, embedding himself into the topic of his book to “really discover the clockwork of the Commodore.”

On the same stage to which you might have hollered for Lady Gaga or seen underground bands out to make it big, Chapman gained some of his perspective for Live at the Commodore as an accompanying musician. “Performing there has to be the most fun. At the Commodore I’ve played about 25 times for one band or another,” he said. He has played mandolin and Irish whistle for the Town Pants, a Celtic Rock band and three or four different instruments with The Real Mackenzies, a punk rock band.

Chapman believes the Commodore’s greatest impact on Vancouver history is being a cross-generational place that meant so much to so many people.

“It’s a place your grandparents and parents might’ve gone to, it’s a place you could go to. I’m not essentially writing something as an academic history book, I’m trying to relate something to the public.”

Correction: A previous version of this article said that Chapman played in a band called the Mackenzies, in fact he played in The Real Mackenzies. Also, the article mentioned student soldiers, in fact they were not students. Last, the photo credit was changed to credit Rebecca Blissett for the photo. The Ubyssey regrets these errors.