#653: The Reset King (Music and Gaming and other stories)

GETTING MORE TALE #653: The Reset King (Music and Gaming and other stories)
A sequel to #652: Evolution ’80s: Music and Gaming

Perhaps the greatest awakening I ever had in my life was the moment I first heard Iron Maiden.  It was so important to me, it was the first chapter of Record Store Tales — Part 1, “Run to the Hills”.  At that early age, music and video games collided I was never the same again.  Since that time, music has always been intertwined with gaming and my best buddy Bob.  All three combined were responsible for my rock n’ roll epiphany.

Bob and I played a lot of Atari on the weekends.  Both families had the Atari 2600, but we both had different selections of games.  Depending on whose house we were at, we’d play different games.  “Gorf” was one game he had that I didn’t.  It was a shooter like “Space Invaders” but with different kinds of levels.  More than going for a high score, it was important for us to try and make it through all the levels.  Atari games were so limited.  “Gorf” had five distinct levels so it was more rewarding to see all five than to rack up high scores.

Same with “Frogger”.  That was one of my games, and Bob was very competitive on it.  As you progressed up the levels, more obstacles were thrown in your way, like snakes for example.  It was exciting to make it to a new level for the first time, but “Frogger” was a hair-triggered game where timing was everything.  And Bob used to get very, very excitable when a game of “Frogger” went wrong.  That is how he earned the nickname The Reset King.

Here was his thinking.  If you lose a level early in “Frogger”, the chances of making it to a new high level were greatly reduced.  Bob would rather reset the game than try in futility.  So, he’d dive for that reset button on the Atari console, usually while yelling something at the game.  “The game is cheating!” was a favourite.

The game is cheating indeed, I suppose.  It was easier to let him reset than argue that an Atari 2600 wasn’t sophisticated enough to “cheat” at a video game.  “Frogger” was very touchy, but it wasn’t particularly glitchy.  If you so much as touched a car, you were dead even if it didn’t technically “hit” you.  So it could get frustrating, sure.  We would have to eventually cut Bob off from resets or nobody else would get a turn.

And so, he was crowned the Reset King by my dad, who worried he was going to break the damn switch.  It was a title Bob rejected because the game was cheating, and because David Dolph across the street was way worse with the reset button.

David Dolph was this bratty kid across the street.  His weird family wouldn’t let them play with any toys with guns, like G.I. Joe.  But David was no dummy.  He had a Transformers collection, because he didn’t tell his mom they came with guns.  He was also destructive, and if you let David Dolph near your toys, he’d probably wreck them.  We didn’t like David Dolph, but one afternoon we found ourselves at his house playing video games in the basement.  It was there that David Dolph faced the Reset King.

They didn’t have an Atari, but they did have a Commodore Vic 20 that you could play games on.  We were playing there in the basement, when the Reset King decided to start a game over because it “cheated” early on.

“No fair!” yelled David Dolph.  “No fair!  It’s my turn now!”  He tried to wrestle the controller from Bob’s hand, who didn’t budge.  In fact he just continued to stare intently at the TV and play, with the corners of his mouth attempting to conceal a smile.  Giving up the fight over the controller, David Dolph burst into tears and ran upstairs.  Bob kept playing, a huge grin now upon his face.  We stayed until Bob finished playing games!

David Dolph was a weird kid.  His parents were really strict and wouldn’t let them listen to music, except for Bruce Springsteen.  They approved of the Boss, but heavy metal was satanic to them.  The kid was over at our house one afternoon when I was watching music videos on TV with Bob.  He was visibly upset by “Rock You” by Helix, and left the house.  About a decade later, he sure changed.  I often heard him blasting Savatage’s “Hall of the Mountain King” from his bedroom window when his parents weren’t around.

Maybe it’s the narcissist in me, but who was he blasting Savatage for?  By that time, Bob and I weren’t even talking to him, so I always wondered if he was blasting it at us.

As much fun as we had over the years, you had to be patient when gaming with Bob.  If you wanted play with him, you had to let the Reset King have his way.

The reset button never broke.  In fact we still have the same Atari 2600.  It works, and we still have all the cartridges…except one.  My sister never forgave me for trading away “Superman”.  However, I traded “Superman” for my first Kiss (Record Store Tales Part 3:  My First Kiss) so clearly I had the greater good in mind.

What did break…frequently…were the controllers.  And that wasn’t Bob’s fault.  Bob owned an Atari and took good care of his stuff.  He was brought up in a Dutch household that understood the value of working for something and taking care of it.  None of Bob’s things were broken like David Dolph’s.  No, Bob didn’t break our controllers.  They were broken by Cousin Geoffrey.  Cousin Geoffrey broke…everything.

My cousin is now a father himself, and he understands things a little differently now.  I think he doesn’t hold it against me when I say he was fucking annoying to play Atari or Nintendo with.  More annoying than the Reset King or David Dolph!

Geoffrey destroyed about three Atari joysticks.  I was pretty good at taking them apart and repairing them, but there was only so much I could do.  An Atari joystick was a plastic handle that activated four switches on a circuitboard underneath.  Geoffrey would push those joysticks so hard that the plastic inside would shatter.  I could take it apart and use hot glue to give the inner plastic frame some strength but it was a temporary fix at best.  You had to buy new controllers.  My dad eventually decreed that Geoffrey was only allowed to play with old, refurbished controllers, not the new ones.

Geoffrey destroyed our original Transformers G1 Frenzy figure, on Christmas day, the same day we got it!  He was just a destructive child, and what he didn’t destroy he simply lost.  I’ll give you some examples of the chaos he caused.

First trip to Alberta, August 1979.  l-r Mike, Geoffrey “Captain Destructo”, and Kathryn

In August 1979, the family took our first trip to Alberta.  It was a two week tour starting in Edmonton and going through the mountains.  My sister, my cousin and I were often given the same toys to play with, so we wouldn’t fight over them.  My sister and my cousin were both given dinky cars of the Batmobile.  Were they ever cool.  They came with a little metal trailer and a plastic Bat Boat you could tow.  We had a lot of fun playing dinky cars on those floors of Alberta motels.  They were also small enough to carry around in your pockets.

Geoffrey threw his first Batmobile off a mountain in Jasper.  He just wanted to see what would happen if he threw the Batmobile off a moutain.  A second Batmobile was bought for him on the same trip.  That Batmobile was flushed down the toilet of a rest stop in Canmore.  He was eventually given a third Batmobile, which, as far as I know, survived a little longer than the other two.

Geoffrey “Captain Destructo” (in cap) sulking after sacrificing the Batmobile to the Mountain Gods.

Another incident of soul-crushing toy waste happened in the summer of 1983.  This time, Geoffrey was visiting us in Ontario.  It was the summer of Return of the Jedi.  The new figures were out.  My mom took us to Zellers and bought each of us a new toy.  I chose Luke Skywalker, partly because he came with so many accessories.  He came with a new lightsaber, a gun and a cloth cape.  Geoffrey got the same figure.  We then waited on a bench while my mom did her banking.

“Come on let’s open these,” said Geoffrey.  My sister and I always waited until we got home.

Geoffrey ripped open his Luke.

“Why are you opening that now?  You’re going to lose the gun.  Just wait until we get home.  This is our last stop.”  I attempted to reason with my cousin but he had Luke out of the package.

Within the first five minutes, he lost the gun.  Before we made it home, he lost the lightsaber too.

“I told you so,” was something I relished saying to him.  My Luke, by the way, still has all his accessories 35 years later.

What these tales tell us is that cousin Geoffrey was a monsoon of chaos and utter destruction.  He also had all the latest stuff, and that included video games.  Fortunately for his parents, the original Nintendo Entertainment System had very robust, button-based controllers.  He couldn’t break them.  He was really good at “Super Mario Bros.” and “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out”.  Unfortunately this meant my sister and I didn’t get much gaming time.  We died early and often, and he played long lives while earning extra ones.  His turns were much longer than ours.

We saw him make it to Mike Tyson once.  That was pretty cool.  Once he almost made it, but my dad walked in front of the TV during a fight and caused Geoffrey to lose.  Boy he sure threw a fit that time!

Here’s the funny thing.  When we were kids, my cousin took a lot of energy and patience to keep entertained.  When he hit his 20s, he really mellowed out and we bonded like we never have before.  And what did we bond over?  Music and video games.

I took a trip out to Alberta for a week in 1997.  He took me shopping to a couple music stores in Calgary, used and new.  I found a rare CD featuring the early one of somebody named Dave Grohl.  It was the band Scream, and the CD was No More Censorship.  I was kicking off a love affair with Foo Fighters and it was a seriously cool find.  Geoffrey was (and always has been) into to Tragically Hip, so I got him a CD by a similar sounding band called the Barstool Prophets. Meanwhile, he turned me onto the Gandharvas with their last album Sold For a Smile.  Killer album that I still love (and own two different copies of).

At night, he introduced me to one of the best racing games I’ve ever played.  For the N64 system, we spent hours on “Top Gear Rally”.  It was such an immersive game for its time.  We designed our cars, we discovered shortcuts, and had a blast seeing how far we could make it.

Once again, it wasn’t best scores or best times that mattered.  It was seeing how far you could get.  Getting to the third or fourth level was rare and required serious skill.  It was the most fun I’d had playing video games in many years!

All these memories flow like a stream of consciousness, triggered by certain songs.  Early Kiss, AC/DC and Quiet Riot will forever be associated with the old Atari 2600 in the basement.  Bob was a constant gaming companion, and he sets off even more memories.  Discovering music together, like Whitesnake and Kiss albums.  All hail the Reset King.  Long may he reign!

 

 

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Sunday Chuckle: Mike the Jedi

 

I was at Subway the other day.  The girl in line ahead of me turned and said, “Has anyone told you that you look like Mike Hamill?”

“I’m sorry, who?” I responded.

“Luke Skywalker,” came the answer.

“Oh!  MARK Hamill!  And yes!”

It’s true.  I’m frequently told I look like old Luke…when I have my beard, that is.  Lightsaber is optional.

 

#652: Evolution ’80s: Music and Gaming

#652: Evolution ’80s: Music and Gaming

We had a big old IBM PC with dual 5 1/4″ floppy disk drives.  That meant you could copy disks from your friends much faster and easier, and so we did.  It wasn’t very powerful and we only had a monochrome monitor, but back then you had virtually unlimited access to free software.  Copy protection usually took the form of the game asking you for information that can only be found in the game manual.  So, you would just go to the library and photocopy the manual from your friend.

My dad worked at the bank at the mall, and he had a number of customers who did him cool favours over the years.  One such friend was a fellow named Scully.  Every once in a while, he’d come to my dad with a list of video game titles.  Dad would bring it home, give it to us, and say “Circle any games you want.”  My dad would buy a pack of 5 1/4″ floppy discs, and a week or two later they’d come back full of games.  “Flight Simulator” (version 1.0), “King’s Quest”, “Alleycat”, “Sierra Championship Boxing”, “Lode Runner”, “Executive Suite”, “Rogue”, “Janitor Joe”, “Decathlon”, and “Evolution” were some of the game titles written on the floppy discs that returned.

Best friend Bob, who was without a computer in his house, came often to play the new games.  Back then, a PC was a luxury.  Only a few families on the street had them.  My dad’s was subsidised via work.  And by the way, when families on the street had computers, that meant more access to free games.

Bob and I shared a mutual love of music, and so music was usually playing when we were gaming.  Mom and dad were tolerate a little noise once in a while, and damn, we had such a good time.

One game that we played to an endless soundtrack of Iron Maiden (Live After Death predominantly) is unfortunately a title long forgotten.  It was a grid-based shooting game, and the controls were so complex.  You had four keys for moving, and four keys for shooting — one for each direction.  Keyboards are not designed for that kind of gaming, and so playing alone was all but impossible as you mashed your fingers together trying to quickly move and shoot using eight keys.

Bob figured out how to play the game:  as a team!  He manned the firing keys and I moved the ship through this grid.  It was about an 8×8 grid, approximated by hand below.  As these alien things started moving around their rows and columns, I had to dodge blasts while setting Bob up for shots.  You had to kill each alien twice.  It required co-ordination, all enhanced by the steely bass of Steve Harris combined with the precision percussion that Nicko McBrain provides.

Mystery 80s DOS game (approximation)

Another game that required coordination was “Decathlon“, which unfortunately drowned out any music we could play.  My dad  hated “Decathlon”.  During the racing events, you “ran” by hammering on two keys as if you were running with your fingers.  Bob and I discovered the best way to do it was two-handed — both pointer fingers at full speed.  The clacking sound was a cacophony and my dad complained every time we played.  The point of the game was to beat Bruce Jenner, so we had to do it.  My dad hated Bruce Jenner because of that game.

Back to the teamwork:  there were some events I could do well, while others only Bob could do, and one that required both of us hammering keys in unison.  That was the pole vault.  It began with someone doing the run-hammering with their pointer fingers on two keys.  The other person had to use four keys to 1) plant the pole in the ground, 2) jump, 3) pull a handstand on the pole, and 4) release.  Music didn’t help with the pole vault — you were fucked if you weren’t focused completely on your little digital man.

Some days I played solo.  Bob was a couple years older and had a part time job at Harvey’s.  There were a few games we had for playing against the computer.  I obsessed over Sierra “Championship Boxing” one summer:  1988.  Ace Frehley had a new album out, Second Sighting, and he happened to have a boxing related track called “The Acorn in Spinning”. The game allowed you to create all kinds of your own custom boxers, so I created a whole storyline about one I built called Acorn.

One of the aforementioned games, “Evolution“, was a lot harder without Bob.  I picked it because one night, watching TV with my parents back in the early 80s, there was a story on about a new Canadian software company called Distinctive Software, based out of British Columbia.  They were being spotlighted for a new and very original video game they released:  “Evolution”.  Through a series of levels, you had to evolve from a single-celled organism to an amphibian to mammal and up the ladder to humanity.  It was praised for being different from the average computer game.  The whole premise was so cool, and the actual gameplay so awful…not to mention, even as kids, we knew that humans didn’t evolve from beavers.

Level 1: the amoeba.  You’re an amoeba floating around and trying to eat all the little edible blue dots around you, while trying to avoid a weird spinny eyeball looking thing that launches little purple spiky things at you.  You can also, like, electrify your amoeba for a little while to protect yourself.  You have five lives, but I used to typically burn three or even all five on this first level.

Level 2:  the tadpole.  A little easier this time.  Just move side to side and jump to avoid fish, and to catch food.  The simplicity of the controls meant you could make it through, losing minimal lives.

Level 3: the rodent.  Dig little mouse tunnels and drop poisonous mouse poops behind you to block it again.  Avoid being eaten by the snakes.  Be careful you don’t use up all your poops too soon.

Level 4: the beaver, yes, a fucking beaver.  Avoid the alligators while retrieving five pieces of wood to build your dam.  A surprisingly easy level.

Level 5: gorilla.  Humans didn’t evolve from gorillas, but we do share long distant ancestors, closer than beavers anyway.  In this strange level, you have to throw oranges at monkeys who are stealing your shit.  Aiming those oranges was purely just a matter of luck.  Game over here.  If you ever make it to this level, congrats, but you’re done now.  Only once, maybe twice over the years did I hit all the damn monkeys and move on to:

Level 6: human instant death.  As soon as your little fully-evolved human ejects from his neat space car, he is dead meat.  Numerous robots and aliens enter immediately after, from every direction, and being shooting.  You will have no chance, so just accept your fate instead of wishing you were still a gorilla.  And you thought those monkeys were bad.

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I love/hated that game so much.  I wanted so bad to get to that final human level, and with Bob, we worked as a team to finally get there only for it to last a couple seconds at best.

Perhaps 1982’s “Evolution” had a deeper message. We climb the hill to the very top of the food chain on this world, only to be squashed immediately by whatever is waiting for us out there.  It’s a classic science fiction dystopian theme.

Can we find a suitable heavy metal song to go with this doomed fate of alien or robotic annihilation?  Of course we can!  From 1988’s Ram It Down, another album I obsessed over during this period, it’s the apocalyptic “Blood Red Skies”.

Whatever your gaming soundtrack, I hope your memories are as good as mine.

As the sun goes down, I move around,
Keeping to the shadows,
Life, hangs by a thread,
And I’ve heard it said, that I’ll not see tomorrow.
If that’s my destiny, it’ll have to be,
So I’ll face the future,
Running out of time,
I’m on the line,
But I’ll go down fighting.
 
Felt the hand of justice,
Telling wrong from right,
Threw me out upon the street in the middle of the night,
Cybernetic heartbeat,
Digital precise,
Pneumatic fingers nearly had me in their vice.
Not begging you,
I’m telling you.
 
You won’t break me,
You won’t make me,
You won’t take me,
Under blood red skies.
You won’t break me,
You won’t take me,
I’ll fight you under,
Blood red skies.
 
Through a shattered city, watched by laser eyes,
Overhead the night squad glides,
The decaying paradise.
Automatic sniper,
With computer sights,
Scans the bleak horizon for its victim of the night.
They’re closing in,
They’ll never win.
 
You won’t break me,
You won’t make me,
You won’t take me,
Under blood red skies.
You won’t break me,
You won’t take me,
I’ll fight you under,
Blood red skies.
 
As the end is drawing near,
Standing proud, I won’t give in to fear,
As I die a legend will be born,
I will stand. I will fight,
You’ll never take me alive.
I’ll stand my ground,
I won’t go down.
  
You’ll never take me alive,
I’m telling you, hands of justice,
I will stand, I will fight,
As the sun goes down,
I won’t give in to fear.

#651: Death From…Right Above?

GETTING MORE TALE #651: Death From…Right Above?

Canada’s Death From Above (formerly:  Death From Above 1979) have some pretty awesome tunage.  This bass/drum duo of Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger have been creating edgy rock and roll (off and on) since 2001.  Their music is great.  “Trainwreck 1979” is an incredible steamroller rock song.  But Death From Above have a history that might contain some unsavoury characters, such as Vice media co-founder Gavin McInnes.

Have you ever heard of the Proud Boys?  It’s OK if you haven’t.

The Proud Boys are a “western chauvinist” group founded by McInnes.  As westerners, they “refuse to apologize for creating the modern world” (a fallacy in itself as any historian can tell you). Only men are permitted.  Women can become a “Proud Boy’s Girl”.  They even have a uniform (black polo shirts with yellow trim) and coded words that identify them with each other, but not with the general public.  They claim it’s just a fraternity, and that anyone who identifies as “alt-right” will be banned permanently from the group.  McInnes also claimed that Jesse F. Keeler of Death From Above was a member, which Keeler denies.

After my first encounter with a Proud Boy, a quick glance at his Facebook photos revealed a swastika and other Nazi paraphernalia, misogyny and a boatload of bigotry.  That was my very first encounter.  I don’t accept their claim that all “alt-right” folks are unwelcome.  I believe that they prefer their alt-right members to keep any Nazi and white supremacist symbolism in the closet.  I strongly doubt that the Proud Boys have zero white supremacists in their numbers.  That’s how it looks to me, and I’m not interested in debating with Proud Boys.

Proud Boys really hate being “mischaracterized” as a white nationalist movement, but they have become a safe space for such folks.  There certainly have been plenty of violent Proud Boy bad apples in the news, whom the organization distances itself from.  But for whatever reason, the Proud Boys attract these assholes like flies are attracted to shit.

Part of the Proud Boy initiation is getting in a fight with an “Antifa” member.  Antifa, a controversial leftist group, stands for “anti-fascist”.  So in order to be a Proud Boy, you have to commit the crime of assault.  That’s not to say Antifa have never initiated violence themselves; they have.  But to be a Proud Boy, you actually have to beat somebody up?  They call it all “freedom of expression” and “family values”.  I’m sure you’ve heard those phrases before from the far-right, just as you will also hear the word “patriot”.  They refer to their group as “fun, respectful and fair”.  Until you mention such words as “Islam”, “transgender”, “immigrant” or “liberal”.  These dirty words are sure to earn the opposite of a fun, respectful or fair response.  If you want to “trigger” a sensitive Proud Boy, try one of those words.  (Assault must be one of their “fun” activities.)

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your heritage or your country.  I love Canada, even though our history has its dark corners.  We have not treated our native population well, and that is an understatement times 1000.  On his solo album The Secret Path, Gord Downie (RIP) of the Tragically Hip tried to educate Canadians on our shameful history with residential schools.  Yes, there are many things in our history to take pride in, such our military role as peace keepers (thank you Lester B. Pearson).  Take pride in being Canadian, but don’t distort history to do so.  Distorting history will only lead to repeated mistakes.  Pride is one thing; hate is something else altogether.  In my view, the Proud Boys are a safe haven for some very angry individuals.

Some of Death From Above’s lyrics have been characterised as misogynistic:

“So tired of sluts coming up to us in the clubs with their cocaine,
We’re looking for wives.”  (“Dead Womb”)

One of the Proud Boys’ values is “venerate the housewife”.  Death From Above’s Sebastian Grainger says “It wasn’t meant to be a hateful song…I just liked saying outrageous things.”

Death From Above’s Jesse Keeler has appeared The Gavin McInnes Podcast, viewed by some as a Proud Boy recruitment tool.  Keeler has acknowledged a past friendship with McInnes but says he’s never been a Proud Boy.  As the Canadian son of an Indian immigrant, he doesn’t identify with white nationalism.  He says that as he got to know McInnes better, he realised that he had some extreme views that he didn’t agree with.

McInnes’ views are pretty simple.  Here’s one:  “We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, English-speaking way of life.”

Canada has two official languages by the way:  English and French.  They are equal under law.  But the original Canadians spoke neither; they had myriad tongues including the Algonquian and Iroquoian languages.

This western chauvinist attitude of McInnes and his group goes against everything I studied earning my History BA.  It also clashes with the values that rock and roll music have taught me.

The Beatles proved that music can transcend all barriers.  They went to India and came back with the White Album.  Led Zeppelin went to North Africa and wrote “Kashmir”.  Could there be anything more boring than a plain western, English-speaking way of life?  The music in such a place would certainly be a lot duller.  Like trying to create art in a vacuum, out of nothing.  Another exception to the Proud Boy way of thinking is the long list of incredible women of rock and roll.  They didn’t just settle for being “housewives”.  Where would music be today without Janis Joplin, Aretha Frankin, Chrissy Hynde and Debbie Harry?  A hell of a lot less interesting.  I can’t even imagine a world without them.

The best art benefits from a diverse palette.  The more colours you have to choose from, the more vibrant and alive your art can be.  White western people didn’t invent rock and roll.  They stole it.  Rock and roll has a long history, and if you go back far enough you can trace it all the way to Africa.  It came to America on slave ships, mixed and matched with music from Europe, and became R&B.  R&B used to be called “race music”.  Rock and roll evolved from this stew of cultures and influences.  Elvis Presley did not invent rock and roll.  Elvis Presley didn’t even write songs.

The Proud Boy value system is one of insular uniformity.  Rock and roll is about everything but conforming to a clean and neat Western life.  It is about rebelling, and exploring all the way to the edge.  From the very beginning of rock to today, music has only benefited from cultural diversity.  Everything on the radio today is a product of cross-pollination.  If rock and roll did not embrace music from different cultures worldwide, it would be a stifled, sad thing.  There would be no Beatles, no Stones, no Queen, or any of the bands influenced by them.  From Prince to the Prophets of Rage, most of rock and roll would simply not exist.

Want to be proud of your heritage?  That’s great, but don’t pretend.  The west is responsible for great innovation, built on the shoulders of previous old-world giants.  (Ptolemy, anyone?)  The west is also responsible for the worst atrocities in history.  No amount of revisionism can change the past.  Ignorance cannot erase it.  And here’s the key point that everybody seems to miss.  You can condemn the bad stuff, like residential schools, as it deserves to be condemned.  But then you can be proud of the good, such as the bravery of our troops from World War II to the present.  You can do both, it’s allowed!

I like to think of Frank Zappa.

“Hey, you know something people?
I’m not black, but there’s a whole lotsa times
I wish I could say I’m not white.”  — “Trouble Every Day”, 1966

Death From Above have distanced themselves and disavowed McInnes and the Proud Boys.  I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt.  “I began noticing that Gavin was promoting violence and a form of radical politics that I absolutely do not agree with,” said Keeler.  I’ll continue to listen to Death From Above.  Everyone learns from their experiences.

No matter where you fall politically, if you don’t see that our “western culture” (including our music) has roots all over the entire world, then you have a lot of history to learn.  In genetics, the larger and more diverse the population, the better the chances of survival.  A small or homogeneous population without diversity will go extinct.  I think the same is true of culture.  Embrace the good and reject the bad.  That’s why the Proud Boys need to be rejected, and I’m glad Death From Above have done that.

 

 

 

Please keep comments civil.  Any personal attacks will be deleted and burned with a tiki torch.

REVIEW: Mr. Big – Hey Man (1996)

MR. BIG – Hey Man (1996 Atlantic)

With the recent passing of Pat Torpey, it’s definitely time for some fresh listens to classic Mr. Big.  Their most underrated album might be their fourth, Hey Man, on which Torpey had three writing credits.  1991’s Lean Into It is generally considered the highwater mark, but Hey Man boasted songs just as strong and many just as memorable.   If only MTV wasn’t avoiding Mr. Big and bands of their era like the bubonic plague.

Mr. Big were always ferocious musicians, and formed as a “supergroup” of such.  The point of Mr. Big was for these mega-instrumentalists to write some commercial rock, and that has been their modus operandi on every album.  When Mr. Big formed, Torpey already boasted two albums:  Ted Nugent’s If You Can’t Lick ‘Em…Lick ‘Em, and the supergroup Impelliteri.  Billy Sheehan was already worshipped for his work with David Lee Roth and before that, Talas.  Guitarist Paul Gilbert had established himself as a wunderkind with the Shrapnel band, Racer X.  The key ingredient to Mr. Big is the blue-eyed soul of singer Eric Martin.  He had a two album solo career before he made the unlikely jump to supergroup.

It’s the rocking side of Mr. Big that hits the ground running on first track “Trapped in Toyland”.  Heavier and grooving more than usual, Mr. Big poured the gas on the fire right off the bat.  It’s a huge impression.  Gilbert wrote this smoker with his old Racer X singer Jeff Martin, and Russ Parish of Fight (and now Steel Panther).  That would explain the heavy!  What really nails the heavy sound is the combination of Billy Sheehan’s bass rumble in conjunction with Torpey’s smashing beat.

The most stunning of all the songs is the second, a bonafide Mr. Big classic called “Take Cover”.  It simmers under an infrared pulse of drum beats and understated chords, and then bursts wide open on the choruses. It’s triumphant songwriting and a fine example of how musicianship and songcraft can work together.  It is one of their career best.

“Jane Doe” goes funky a-la “The Crunge”.  Eric Martin pushes it into soul on the choruses.  A couple ballads follow, one acoustic and one darker.  “Goin’ Where the Wind Blows” fills the slot of past Mr. Big acoustic ballads, something that had become compulsory after the success of “To Be With You”.  The more interesting song is “The Chain” which has a sombre edge.

There is an undeniable twang to “Where Do I Fit In?”, so much that it could easily be mistaken for Tesla.  It’s a solid side closer, though “sides” were becoming meaningless in 1996.  Hey Man has never seen a vinyl release, and the dying cassette version was the only one with “sides”.

Eric Martin makes it soulful on “If That’s What it Takes”, which doesn’t deserve to be called a ballad so we won’t.  It serves as a reminder of how these musicians can adapt to any situation.  The Paul Gilbert who plucks these earthy chords is the same guy who shred all over Lean Into It.  Pat Torpey turns into a human steamroller on “Out of the Underground”.  It’s as heavy metal as Mr. Big have been.  Then they go “Dancin’ Right Into the Flame” on a pretty cool ballad.  It has a bit more finesse than the usual.

You can tell immediately that “Mama D.” was written by Paul Gilbert, because it has one of those squirrly Gilbert guitar licks that only he writes.  To close the album, they return to a heavy soul-funk on “Fool Us Today”.  Pat Torpey is rock solid and a key ingredient to a fun closer.

Track for track, Hey Man can go up against most other Mr. Big albums.  They had a temporary breakup after this CD, a result of it being criminally ignored.

4/5 stars

 

 

TV REVIEW: Star Trek: Discovery – Season 1, Chapter Two (2018)

For Season 1, Chapter One, click here.

STAR TREK: Discovery Season 1, Chapter Two  (episodes 10-15 CBS All Access 2018)

The brave and sometimes lost crew of the USS Discovery have completed their first season, a surprising journey that took them into the most exciting corners of Trek lore such as the Mirror Universe and the Klingon homeworld.  Some fans who were dissatisfied with the first half of season 1 for “not being Trek enough” have been silenced and satisfied by the second part, which concluded on February 11 2018.  Others, of course, will never be happy as mixed reviews continue to indicate.

The writers of Discovery revealed that they wrote the season backwards, starting with where they knew they wanted it to end. They wanted to show the crew of Discovery coming together like a Starfleet crew should. What we didn’t know at the beginning, but do now, is that everything that seemed strange or un-Trek-like happened for a reason. Now we are in a place that feels much more familiar.

The key to the whole bait-and-switch of Discovery’s dark mood was Jason Isaacs, as Captain Gabriel Lorca. Now we know! Every action Lorca took from his very first appearance was not what it seemed. Lorca was not the Lorca we thought we knew, and it all came together so very satisfyingly. Isaacs is a genius, simply put. He was one of the few actors who knew the truth about Lorca, and with 20/20 hindsight, he infused his performance with clue after clue. Fans picked up on these clues and some figured it out early on. Gabriel Lorca, captain of the USS Discovery, [SPOILER] was actually from the evil Mirror Universe all along! Every move he made was a step to getting back “home”. His manipulation of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was always strange. Now we know it’s because she and Lorca had an unexpected connection in the Mirror Universe. Fate was a major theme of this season, though we didn’t know for sure it until about 10 episodes in!

Jason Isaacs as Gabriel Lorca

The Mirror Universe is a treasured Star Trek location, used sparingly across the shows. It first appeared once in the original series, famous for its evil bearded Spock. We never saw it again until Deep Space Nine in the 90s. It returned for a two-part Enterprise in the 2000s, but this is by far the deepest exploration of the Mirror Universe yet. And that means that some characters that were killed off might still have living Mirror Universe counterparts, [SPOILER] like Michelle Yoeh’s Phillipa Georgiou….

The second half of the season even featured an episode directed by Jonathan Frakes (William Riker). He directed some of the best Trek episodes and movies past, such as First Contact. It was no surprise that Frakes did the best Discovery episode, too (episode 10, “Despite Yourself”).

The writers fixed one major complaint with the show, and that was the dreadfully slow Klingon dialogue. Starting with the second half of the season, all the awkward momentum-killing Klingon language scenes ended. Only a few relevant scenes were presented in Klingon during the second half, usually between the awesome Mary Chieffo (L’Rell) and Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif).

Speaking of Shazad Latif, the big fan theory from the first half of the season turned out to be true.* Latif was indeed secretly playing two characters: Tyler, and the Klingon Voq. Or not? Though the process isn’t clear, Tyler and Voq were merged into a single individual.  As a Klingon sleeper agent, Tyler’s role was being set up from the first episode. It all came to a head when L’Rell attempted to activate his inner Voq, which failed and led to a tragic Discovery death.

Wilson Cruz as Dr. Culber

The death of [SPOILER] Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) was, without question, the most heart wrenching death scene in Star Trek since Mr. Spock himself. Culber was set up as one of the few characters in a long term relationship. The love between Culber and his husband Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) made the pair early fan favourites. Cruz’s Hugh Culber was the character that everybody liked. He was smart, too – Dr. Culber was suspicious of Captain Lorca’s true goals before anyone else was. His killing was shocking and unexpected, especially in its brutality. A followup scene, of Stamets cradling the dead Culber in his arms, stung the senses even more. Discovery raised the stakes by making you care about this pair, only to permanently separate Stamets from his one true love. It was brilliantly written and portrayed.

As the season gradually moved towards its conclusion, the crew bonded in a way that we wanted to see from the start: working as a team, caring about each other, under a charismatic commander. Doug Jones’ Saru has grown into a remarkable leader. Like Spock before him, his alien heritage shades his personality, all under the expert hands of Doug Jones. Mary Wiseman’s adorable Cadet Tilly also demonstrated growth and even earned a promotion to ensign. She proved herself a serious asset this season, with a bright future. All the characters that we were indifferent to in the beginning are beginning to move into our hearts…or are dead!  The darkness of the crew’s mirror selves was the crucible through which they trekked to become who they are now.  Most importantly, Michael Burnham went through hell and back to find the redemption that once seemed impossible.

Doug Jones as the Kelpian first official Saru

The show still has issues. It is, perhaps, a bit too eager to be “modern” with graphic deaths, edgy language, fight scenes and nudity. That feels very un-Trek, but then again, over 50 years have passed since the Enterprise first went to warp.  A lot of culture and history went down over those 50 years.

And speaking of the Enterprise, fans always had questions. Since Discovery takes place 10 years before Captain Kirk, is the Enterprise out there with Pike as its captain? Why does the technology of Discovery seem so different from the classic ship? These questions are beginning to be answered. A huge [SPOILER] teaser for next season revealed the original USS Enterprise herself, NCC-1701, commanded by Captain Pike, and accompanied by the original Alexander Courage 1966 theme music. Holy shit people – this just got real!

James Frain as Sarek

What will happen next? Jason Isaacs’ Lorca is dead and it seems highly unlikely we’ll ever see him again, meaning one of the big stars of the show is gone. Will they add another star to the cast? Will the writers continue to bring back the awesome Michelle Yeoh, who truly shined as her own evil counterpart? And who will we meet on the Enterprise? It’s too soon to meet Kirk, and the writers have said we will not see Spock on screen. But Christopher Pike? That seems possible. It would be cool to see Bruce Greenwood reprise the role from the films, but so far they have avoided any crossover with the movies. Sarek was re-cast as James Frain, for example.

Let’s not, however, get too caught up in our expectations and desires. The writers of Discovery answered early fan complaints by saying “wait and see”. By the end of the season, they proved they had a better handle on Trek than naysayers assumed. We know that they want the show to get closer and closer to the classic era as they progress. This is encouraging. What we have seen so far is enough to keep us watching again next season.

Engage.

4/5 stars

 

 

*  It was a clever ruse.  Shazad Latif was credited as Tyler, while Javid Iqbal was credited as Voq.  Sleuthing fans pieced together that Javid Iqbal had no other acting credits to his name, while Latif once went by the name of Iqbal.  Fans correctly predicted that Tyler and Voq were the same character.  “Javid Iqbal” was actually the name of Latif’s late father.  He chose the alias as a tribute.

 

NEWS: Glenn Tipton has Parkinson’s Disease

Bad news after bad news after bad news.  Such is 2018.  Last week, Pat Torpey of Mr. Big died due to complications from Parkinson’s disease.  This week, Glenn Tipton from Judas Priest announced he is suffering from the same illness.

In fact he was diagnosed 10 years ago, but it has now gotten to the point where it will affect his guitar playing.  Glenn Tipton will be unable to tour as usual behind their forthcoming new album, Firepower.  His onstage guitar role will be filled by co-producer Andy Sneap.

Tipton’s statement reads in part:

“I want everyone to know that it’s vital that the Judas Priest tour go ahead and that I am not leaving the band – it’s simply that my role has changed. I don’t rule out the chance to go on stage as and when I feel able to blast out some Priest!”

We wish Glenn Tipton all the best in his fight against Parkinson’s.  Priest’s new album Firepower will be out March 9 2018.

Sunday Chuckle: Dr. WHO?

Long time readers know that LeBrain’s dad is a unique and hilarious individual.  That’s why I have an entire category dedicated to “Shit LeBrain’s Dad Says“.   One of his quirks is refusing to call things or people by their proper names.  Therefore, “Lady Gaga” is “Lady Googoo” and he never called any pet we owned by their proper names.  Crystal = “Gozer”.  Ani = “Johnny”.

His latest name invention belongs to Jen’s surgeon, Dr. Sugimoto.  It came to me as no surprise when he asked, “So what does Dr. Quasimodo think of Jen’s recovery?”

Sorry, Dr. Sugimoto, that’s just the way my dad is!  It’s easier for him to remember names if he just makes them up.

 

#650: Frequent Buyer

GETTING MORE TALE #650: Frequent Buyer

I heard through the grapevine* recently that my old store (“the Record Store”) are discontinuing their frequent buyer cards.  These cards have a long, long history going back more than 25 years.  First we offered free tapes and CDs – buy 10, get one free.  Those were eventually phased out when we stopped carrying new tapes and CDs, but due to popular demand we added a free used CD card – buy 12, get one free.

Minimum wage just went up on the province of Ontario, to $14 an hour.  In 2019, it will go up again, to $15 an hour.  There is an election in six months, and the present provincial government is pulling out all the stops trying to appeal to young voters.  Some restaurants are battling the wage increase by cutting hours, raising prices or cutting staff breaks.  At the store any time wages went up, hours were cut and we reviewed what we were paying for incoming used CDs.  It appears that this time out, the Record Store is cutting the frequent buyer card.

Frequent buyer cards are on the way out anyway.  Remember when Subway used to have them?  Seems like a long time ago now, because it has been:  Sub Club cards were phased out back in 2005!

Our frequent buyer card was very popular.  We would redeem several of them on any typical day.  You could cash it in for any used CD, $11.99 or less, and we gave away a lot of free CDs.  Customers would collect the cards, save them up, and treat themselves to something they really wanted.  It was a great incentive to get customers to buy more than one CD at a time.  People would buy an extra CD or two to collect the stamps, especially if they were close to completing their card.  Very few were the people who turned down the card.  “I have too much crap in my wallet,” was the most common reason for declining, but most people like the feeling of getting something for free.

It’s sad to see this era pass.  My wallet is empty; I redeemed my card last visit.  I know some customers would be furious.  People love to complain.  They used to whine that we wouldn’t stamp their cards if they bought a cheapie out of the “bargain bin”.  (If they were nice about it, I’d give them a stamp for every two cheapies they bought, though it was against the rules.)  Now they’re going to be pissed that they can’t get stamps at all.  I don’t envy the staff members who have to explain this to the complainy types.  (“Do you know how long I’ve shopped here?” will be one complaint they can look forward to.)

Prepare for more minimum wage fallout in Ontario over the next year.  This is only beginning.

 

*  I won’t say who told me…even if you do the unskinny “Bop”.

** That was a clue.

 

 

REVIEW: Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Black Masquerade (2013)

RITCHIE BLACKMORE’S RAINBOW – Black Masquerade (2013 Eagle Rock from a 1995 TV broadcast)

It’s a damn shame it took so long for this recording to get a release. Recorded in 1995, this CD release was a German TV broadcast, and is the only live Rainbow album to feature singer Doogie White. The only difference from the recent Stranger In Us All album lineup is the drum seat. John O’Reilly was jettisoned in favour of Chuck Burgi who was with Rainbow from 1983 to 1984.

There are some clear mixing problems on some tracks, notably the opener “Spotlight Kid”.  The backing vocals sound as if they are from another song, or audio leakage from another broadcast.   There’s little else wrong, aside from those things that happen in a real live setting.

In some respects this lineup of Rainbow was rather faceless, but Doogie White was an entertaining and versatile frontman.  He’s comfortable in all eras of Rainbow, and he does them all, plus two eras of Deep Purple.  That means Doogie White not only sings his own material (seven tracks from Stranger In Us All) but also must sing the songs of Ian Gillan (“Black Night “, “Smoke on the Water” and “Perfect Strangers”), David Coverdale (“Burn”), Ronnie James Dio (“Man on the Silver Mountain”, “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll”, “Temple of the King”), Graham Bonnet (“Since You’ve Been Gone”) and Joe Lynn Turner (“Spotlight Kid”).  White even does a classic Ian Gillian singalong in “Black Night”, imitating Ian’s “Doo doo doo doo doop!”, before breaking into a traditional drinking song with improvised lyrics.

What about Ritchie?  Brilliant as ever, and even though he is notorious for…not enjoying…being filmed, it doesn’t seem to inhibit his performance here.  Extended solo sections sound like joy.  Perhaps having his true love on stage with him, Candice Night on backing vocals, soothed the savage Man in Black.  Regardless he sounds as flawlessly and quintessentially “Ritchie Blackmore” as ever.  There’s only one.

Live albums from obscure, buried periods like this often yield solid hardened gems.  “Hunting Humans” and “Ariel” are better live than they were on album.  Things are looser and livelier.  “Wolf to the Moon” has guitar and keyboard interplay that takes it further than it went on album.

The most intriguing track is the Dio-era classic “Temple of the King”.  As Doogie tells it, when the band were recording in America, they’d often pop out for a drink.  Sometimes they’d play music in bars and “Temple of the King” came from those times.

Given that there is so much bloody live Rainbow out there (with another brand new live album just announced!), Black Masquerade can understandably go fairly low on your want lists.  If you see it though, don’t hesitate.

4/5 stars