VIDEO: Last weekend at the lake, music by Dr. Kathryn Ladano

#950: A Letter To S

Hey S,

I felt like writing again, I hope you don’t mind.  My emails are not the esteemed A Life in Letters by Isaac Asimov, but it’s more about the process of the writing for me.

I’ve been listening to Van Halen in the car a lot.  Long story short:  I’ve been having issues with my music hard drive in the car, with it repeating tracks.  I discovered I could fix it by formatting the drive and starting over.  Certain Van Halen albums used to give me issues in the car, with the repeating songs.  It’s been a pleasure to rock to King Edward this week.  It’s hard to believe but he died over a year ago now.

I remember coming home from work the day he died and I was just in a foul mood.  Not only was I grieving Edward Van Halen, but I felt stupid for grieving someone I never met and never hoped to meet.  It was a torrent of shitty feelings, plus I hadn’t eaten properly.  It was a Tuesday and I had to do laundry or something, and I snapped at Jen.  I felt like an asshole afterwards.  I also remember telling you this story, and you were the one who said it was OK to be grieving.  Until that moment I didn’t really consider that maybe you don’t have to be a psycho to be upset about Van Halen’s death.

Music aside — which was usually warm, fun with instrumental and occasional lyrical depth — Van Halen meant a lot to me.  I must have been 13 years old when I was sitting on the porch with my best friend Bob, hearing 1984 on the tape deck for the first time.  My dad came home from work, heard the noise and asked what we were listening to, as dads often did.  “Van Halen!?” he said.  “Sounds like some kind of tropical disease!”

My dad was always good with one liners!  When we watched music videos on Much, he would mock the singers shrieking their best operatic screams.  “What’s wrong with that man?  Should he go to the hospital?  He sounds like he’s in pain!”

Good memories, all.  I’m very attached to those childhood memories.  I’m trying to commit them all to writing before they’re gone.  Often, lost memories can be triggered by an old photograph.  But there are many things I wish I had video of!  If only there was a tape or photograph of that first time I heard Van Halen.  But film was a precious commodity until the last 15 years or so.  You didn’t just take pictures of you and your friends listening to music on the front porch.

I remember some of the tapes, and conversations.  Iron Maiden’s Maiden Japan was popular in our porch listening sessions.  George would come over from next door, and Bob would come over with his tapes.  My house was right in the middle!  I wonder how much of my happiest childhood memories are due to geographic concerns.  If my house wasn’t right there in the middle of everybody, maybe I never would have been there that day to hear Van Halen or Iron Maiden.

Sometimes I worry that I spend too much time living in the past and trying to recapture those moments.  But then I think about what you would say to that.  “Why are you worried about something that brings you happiness?” I think you might ask.  And you’d be right.  So bring on the Van Halen.  Bring on the Iron Maiden.  Let’s party like it’s 1985.  Might as well go for a soda — nobody hurts, nobody dies.

Mike

 

#949: My Music at Work (2006-2007)

RECORD STORE TALES #949: My Music at Work (2006-2007)

 

None of my jobs since quitting the Record Store have been musical in nature.  Dealing in steel pipe and accounts payable were boring by comparison, but everywhere I go, I bring music with me.

For a brief while I was working at Novocol Pharmaceuticals.  They make the stuff that freezes your teeth so the dentist can do his work.  It was pretty wild; I had a lab coat and a cubicle.  One day I heard music drifting in.  I got out of my chair and wandered around.  I realized that the music was coming from the phone.

Many offices have phones that can play a radio station piped in.  A little mono speaker, but better than nothing.  It was the first music I had in the workplace since quitting the store.  CHYM FM became my nemesis as time went on, but for the moment, I was glad to have music again.  James Blunt, Rod Stewart, and a lot of “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter.  Remember Daniel Powter?

I was at Novocol for a few weeks, and then I had an opportunity at United Rentals where I spent over a year of some of the best work days I ever had.  United was a very special place and I’m glad I got to experience it.  I made many friends there, and once again, they had the phone radios set to CHYM.

At United, we had a big back room with 8-10 computers for us to enter invoices.  When we started the room was full.  And I made myself known as the music guy when Rod Stewart came on the radio, as I spoke up to sing his praises.  It was the first good song all day.  Probably “Downtown Train”.  That station only played one or two songs per artist, unless that artist was Beyonce.

“Right on, Rod Stewart!” I announced to the room. “Great song!”

The immediate response from one of the younger girls in the room was “Who’s Rod Stewart?”

I feigned shock.  “Who’s Rod Stewart!?  The guy with the spikey hair!  You know ‘Reason to Believe’, ‘Have I Told You Lately’, ‘Rhythm of my Heart’, ‘Tonight’s the Night’…no?”

No.  They did not.

I put up with CHYM for a long time, but one day somebody changed the radio station to Dave FM, the local rock station.  All of a sudden, Bon Jovi and Quiet Riot at work were a mainstay.  Even Judas Priest.  “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”.  Hearing that at work, a band that I was not allowed to play back in the Record Store days, it was awesome.  Just awesome.  Here I was in an Accounts Payable office, listening to music I liked better than what I was allowed to play at the store.

The boss poked his nose in the door.  “Hey, is that Quiet Riot?  I used to love Quiet Riot!”  I was the only one in the room who knew what he was talking about.  He was a good boss; he helped me get my current job.

“Lick It Up” would thump from that little mono speaker.  It was still better than whatever I was allowed to listen to when I worked in an actual music store.  The only times I played Kiss there were the occasions no bosses were around, and I was confident I wouldn’t get caught.  If I was working at an out-of-town store like Oakville, I would play forbidden bands like Kiss and Iron Maiden.  I knew nobody would be popping in for a surprise visit.

Not everybody was happy with the music at United.  One lady, a couple years older than me, liked CHYM.

United closed their Kitchener office in 2007 and moved operations to the US.  Employees were being shed slowly, and in the latter days there were only three of us left in the back room.  There was an older lady, a younger one, and me.  Two of us loved the music that Dave FM played, one of us claimed it caused headaches.  No matter how low the volume was.

“How can you listen to this?  It’s just noise,” she would complain.

She wasn’t even that much older than me.  Four years tops.  But after having Rhianna and Kelly Clarkson forced upon us for a year, my sympathy was not high.  I offered to bring in some CDs from home that I thought everyone would like.  I chose The Cars.  Turns out I was the only Cars fan.  We stuck to the radio and Dave FM.

Because the office was closing, we were all looking for new jobs.  We were trying to be supportive of each other, but I noticed that the one older lady that didn’t like rock music was starting to become a little difficult to bear.  She’d always been like a motherly figure, helping others.  This seemed to change as we got closer and closer to the end.  She was getting this attitude of superiority and it wasn’t helping my self esteem.  I had 10 years of retail management, which she told me wasn’t enough for the kind of jobs I was looking for.  I’d have to set my sights lower and work my way up, according to her.  A little encouragement would have been better medicine, but talking to her made me feel like I was going to be stuck forever.  In a few weeks she’d be gone, thankfully, to a new job as a receptionist.  Good riddance.  The vacuum enabled me to step up into a leadership role at the end of United.  And then the call came through – I was needed.  Urgently.  And now I’m here!

To my chagrin, my new work had CHYM FM on the speaker phones too.  But as in the past, CHYM didn’t last and before too long, Dave was back.  History repeats!

#948: Post-script

RECORD STORE TALES #948:  Post-script

In this life, at least since 2018, we have learned to take nothing for granted.  We treat every trip to the cottage like it’s the last, but I really didn’t expect to get back this late in the season.

With some Judas Priest on the stereo (Sad Wings of Destiny), we made one more uneventful trip up north.  The weather forecast was not good, but the Friday was still lovely.  We arrived early afternoon and I set up my laptop and speakers on the front porch for what really might be the last time in 2021.  I did not waste a note of music.  It was raining but the overhang kept me dry.  Listening to song after song, I chose my Top 5 best album closing tracks for that night’s show.  Finalized!

The best office you could want, rain or shine

I can’t remember the last time we made it to the lake this late in October.  Friday I wore shorts.  Saturday was another story….

I woke up early Saturday morning and went for a walk in the pitch black.  It was wet from the rain but otherwise warm and dead quiet.  A few hours later, the wind and rain picked up and Saturday became an “indoor day”.

I went down to the beach for a few moments to capture some video but I couldn’t make it further than the treeline.  The wind was blasting the rain right through my clothes.  It’s been many years since I’ve experienced that kind of weather.  We battened down the hatches and prepared for a cold one.  It was a good day for movies, music and toys.  The heat went on and so did the long pants!

You can feel this picture

Sunday was the really interesting day.  The reality was hitting me that it could possibly be months before we saw this place again.  I was trying to really absorb the sounds, sights and feelings.  I had two flashbacks, and they were intense.

The first happened in the early morning.  I was cleaning the kitchen and put on some tunes to work to.  I chose Rock and Roll Over by Kiss, as it had the classic Kiss vibe I wanted and strong cottage memories associated with it.  The first time I heard Rock and Roll Over was there at the cottage – it was the last Kiss studio album I needed.  I would have been about 15.  As I was washing the dishes, singing and dancing to “Mr. Speed” I suddenly had the first flashback.  I was in that very kitchen with my best friend Bob and I was a teenager again.  We were doing the dishes and rocking out to Kiss.  It was entirely in my imagination.  We never washed the dishes to Kiss that I can think of.  Yes the parents would usually ask us to help with the dishes, and any time we had company over, I conceded because I didn’t want to look like a spoiled brat.  But we never did it with music playing, that I can remember.  But we would have if we could.

It was such an intense feeling that I needed to stop what I was doing and take a breath.  I could literally see us both, washing the dishes and rocking to Kiss.  It probably never happened that way but my flashback didn’t care.

Once that intense experience had passed and the kitchen was clean, I went outside to wander and take some last pictures.  My 49th season in this place.  An awesome season and truly one of the very best.   It was then that I had the second intense flashback.

49 years

I was walking around the side of the cottage, thinking about how awesome it was to be walking around shirtless in this paradise all summer.  And then suddenly – I was.  For a brief moment the sun was blasting my shirtless skin.  And then it was over.  It was like when Will Byers suddenly flashes into the Update Down on Stranger Things.  In a blink it ended and was gone.  I just enjoyed the experience.  I’d like more flashbacks like this to happen.  It’s all about the setting and the mindset.

Once Jen and I had finished packing, I was locking up and I noticed her at the end of the driveway staring at the lake.  It is her favourite place in the world; she calls it her “safe place”.  I joined her and asked if she wanted to take one more look around.  We walked down to the windy beach one more time and just drank it all in.  The sight of the churning lake, the sound of the crashing waves, and the feeling of the wind on our skin.

And that was it.  With heavy heart we started the car and hit the road.  If that was the end of the season, by God we had a good one!  Some of the best tunes, meals, swimming, live shows and videos were had this year.  An unforgettable summer, interviewing rock stars from the comfort of the front porch with Lake Huron before me.  Top that, 2022.

 

VHS Archives #106: On the Tour Bus with Varga (1994 Power 30)

Varga were on the cutting edge of combining heavy metal music with the burgeoning industrial scene. Teresa Roncon of the Power 30 caught up with the band in Buffalo, on their bus. Looks like there was a bit of a party going on, but in the back of the bus was a makeshift recording studio where the guys were assembling ideas for album #2.  “Heavy and exploratory” was the promise!

Meet Varga & Ugly Kid Joe’s manager Dennis, and find out just how to get on a tour bus. A little bit of live footage is within, and the always likeable guys request a few tunes.

Sunday Screening: Mew mew, ma na na na (FUBAR II)

Found this on my laptop.  My favourite scene from FUBAR II.  I recorded this years ago and it still makes me laugh.

 

Tim, Marco and Meat list the Top 5 Closing Tracks of All Time

Tim Durling from Tim’s Vinyl Confessions, and his fellow Contrarian, Marco D’Auria, were the special guests on this week’s LeBrain Train and they absolutely nailed their lists!  The topic:  Top 5 Album Closers of All Time.  This was probably a more challenging set of lists than Album Openers was.  There was very little crossover, but many excellent selections from the mainstream to the obscure.

Insightful and entertaining banter abound.  Watch the show to the end to get the “bonus tracks”:  the runners-up that were just as exciting as the songs that made our lists.  Another bonus:  Our picks for worst album closer of all time!

Thanks Tim and Marco for spending your time with Eric and I tonight.  We had a blast.  Let’s do it again!


 

Top 5 Album Closers with Tim and Marco

The LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike and the Meat Man

Episode 84 – Cinco De List-O: Top 5 Album Closers with Tim and Marco

A couple weeks ago, the LeBrain Train charted the Top 5 opening tracks of all time.  (Thanks to Harrison Kopp for your participation in that episode!)  That set of lists inspired Tim from Tim’s Vinyl Confessions to suggest a logical followup — Top 5 closing tracks!

The Meat Man and I decided to invite Tim and his fellow Contrarian, Marco D’Auria, to go up against the two of us for this list show.  (Sorry Harrison, but you will be back soon!)  We have not talked to Marco since March so we have a lot to catch up on.  We’ll ask him for an update on his film project about the band Mystique, and congratulate Tim for fully funding his book Unspooled:  An Adventure in 8-Tracks!

 

Friday October 15, 7:00 PM E.S.T. on Facebook:  MikeLeBrain and YouTube:  Mike LeBrain.

#947: Last Of Our Kind

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 80:  The Darkness

 

RECORD STORE TALES #947: Last Of Our Kind

By the time that I decided “enough with the bullshit” and quit the Record Store at the end of 2005, The Darkness were truly one of my favourite bands.

The band’s newest album One Way Ticket To Hell…and Back was really resonating with me.  It was the kind of triumphant rock that felt appropriate as I started my new life, post-store.  Uplifting.  Carefree.  Nostalgic.  I had a Darkness shirt with their logo in silver scroll.  I was downloading rare live tracks from Limewire and buying imported singles.  All the stuff that properly qualifies a person as a “fan”, but with the additional emotional kick that this was “my” band.  I didn’t know anyone else who liked them.  Well, there was one.  I had just met Jen, my future wife.  In her CD collection was a copy of Permission to Land.

Two weeks after quitting the store I was back in the workforce.  I had what I wanted:  a boring job!  There were several days straight of just make photocopies.  Nobody to talk to, and with the clanky-clank of the copying drowning me out, I passed the time by singing.  Specifically, I sang my favourite Darkness tunes.

The most attractive tunes have the biggest and most bombastic choruses it seems.  Huge drum fills, big multi-layered vocals, and all the trimmings.  Songs like “Dinner Lady Arms”.

I used to be able to come close to hitting the notes. Just approximating the correct intonation, because who the fuck cared? Nobody could hear me.

Also on the playlist:  “Hazel Eyes”, “One Way Ticket”, “Growing On Me”, “Givin’ Up”, and “Friday Night”.

I made a Darkness “Greatest Hits” CD with all those tracks, a bunch of great B-sides, and couple bootleg live tracks.  The best of which was a ragged live take of “Givin’ Up”, sadly now lost.  That’s the problem with downloads.  In the golden glow of memory, it was the best version of the song ever!

Sadly, the Darkness were hitting a rough patch.  Justin Hawkins went to rehab to clean up, and then quit the band afterwards.  In shock, the band looked inward to new bassist Richie Edwards (who replaced original Frankie Poullain).  His surprisingly powerful rasp was perfect for a new start.  They reconfigured themselves as the heavier Stone Gods, while Justin launched his new band Hot Leg.  In this battle, Hot Leg sounded more like the Darkness, while the Stone Gods had a stronger album in hand.

Lineup changes continued to ensue.  Original Darkness drummer Ed Graham left the Stone Gods due to ill health, and was replaced by Robin Goodridge, formerly of Bush.  This left guitarist Dan Hawkins as the only Stone Gods member that had been in the Darkness.  Regardless, they managed to record a second, more stripped down album.  This second album was never released, because suddenly in 2011, the original lineup of the Darkness was back!

The comeback album Hot Cakes returned the band to their classic sound.  Most importantly, it was only the first in a series of great albums, the best of which might be 2015’s Last of Our Kind. The title track of which is the most quintessentially “Darkness” of any song they have released since their debut.  The music video features Justin Hawkins at his most Freddie, and a new drummer:  Rufus Tiger Taylor, son of Queen’s Roger.  Talk about rock royalty!

Not to ignore the important contributions of Emily Dolan Davies, who played drums on the album and in the music video for “Open Fire”.  As an in-demand session drummer, Davies was praised by Justin as having “revitalized” the band with her hard-hitting style.  Since her departure, Rufus has held down the drum stool on Pinewood Smile, Easter is Cancelled and the forthcoming Motorheart.

That’s right.  The Darkness have a new album coming.  They may or may not have doomed us to a long pandemic with the prophetic Easter is Cancelled, but they sure are going to rock us anyway.

Long live The Darkness!

VHS Archives #105: The Sandbox Wake (1999)

MuchMusic ran this Sandbox special shortly after the band announced their sad demise at the end of the 1990s.  Since every cloud has its silver lining, we can be glad that guitarist Mike Smith found greater success as Bubbles from the Trailer Park Boys.  This collection of interviews and live clips was run on the MuchEast program as “The Sandbox Wake”.

This memorial covers the band’s early days, writing terrible songs, improving, eventually getting signed and then onwards to the second LP.  The clips cover 1995-1997.  Graceland, The Junos, the East Coast Music Awards, concert footage…it’s here in this motherlode of Sandbox on MuchEast.

 

Sandbox:  Jason Archibald, Mike Smith, Paul Murray, Scott MacFarlane, Troy Shanks.