GETTING MORE TALE #720: Domo Arigato
It was grade 5, and Allan Runstedtler was to blame for my first rock and roll album.
At school, I played a tape I made with three songs on it. It was a clear blue 120 minute Scotch cassette. “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” by AC/DC was first, followed by “The Mighty Quinn” by Manfred Mann. The third might have been “Ooby Dooby” by Roy Orbison. AC/DC was my favourite because of the chorus. “He sounds like he has a frog in his throat!” I squealed. We just referred to Bon Scott (we didn’t know his name) as “the guy with the frog in his throat”. I thought the song was hilarious, and that went double for “Big Balls” since it had “Balls” in the title.
“You have to hear ‘Mr. Roboto’,” said Allan. “It’s by a group called Styx. But it’s not spelled like ‘sticks’. It’s spelled S-T-Y-X.”
I went to his house one afternoon with my trusty Fisher-Price mono tape deck. That thing was built like a tank. Wherever it is, it probably still works beautifully. Allan had the Styx LP, Kilroy Was Here, featuring “Mr. Roboto” as the lead track. He explained the concept of the story to me: a futuristic world where rock music was outlawed. We familiarized ourselves with the characters. Kilroy, the protagonist, was played by someone named Dennis DeYoung. Jonathan Chance, the secondary hero character, was Tommy Shaw. Meanwhile the evil Dr. Righteous was portrayed by the sinister looking James Young. We scanned the album credits and figured out who sang each song. (The Panozzo brothers were Lt. Vanish and Col. Hyde, but we couldn’t figure out their roles in the story.) The LP came in a deluxe gatefold, with full lyrics and pictures from the video (which we had never seen). On the cover were the masks of two “Robotos” that reminded me of the centurions from the movie The Black Hole.
Since that time, I learned that Kilroy was a Dennis project and the other guys weren’t too happy with it. As kids in the moment, the whole thing seemed custom built for us! The music was (mostly) good (I’ll get to that) and there were robots and heroes and good vs. evil. There was a story to follow along. There was production value in the packaging. This wasn’t just stupid rock music to us. It seemed part of something much bigger. At Allan’s house, I recorded the album on my tape deck, open air style. We quietly crept upstairs while the LP side played so we wouldn’t ruin the recording with noise. When we heard the music stop, we went back down and flipped the record. Tiptoeing back upstairs to the sound of “Heavy Metal Poisoning” is a one-of-a-kind memory.
We poured over the liner notes. I observed, “It’s weird that Dr. Righteous is against heavy metal music, but he’s fighting back using a heavy metal song.” The hypocrisy was not lost on Allan and I. “Heavy Metal Poisoning” was Dr. Righteous’ message to the kids of future America.
What the devil’s goin’ on,
Why don’t you turn that music down,
You’re going deaf and that’s for sure,
But all you do is scream for more.
It was the heaviest song on the album, and at that point probably the heaviest music I ever heard in my life! And I had a good point. Dr. Righteous was clearly against heavy metal music, but here he was presenting his message in a heavy rock song!
I brought the tape home. I was so excited to have some music of my own. “I can’t wait to play my new tape for Grandma,” I said to my mom for reasons completely unknown to me.
“I’m sure she’ll be thrilled,” mom deadpanned.
Even at that age, a taped copy wasn’t good enough. I had to get the album. The pictures, the lyrics, the liner notes…it was all necessary. Mom took me to Zellers at the mall where I purchased my own copy, and my very first rock album. It sat in my collection next to my beloved John Williams soundtracks. After all, Kilroy Was Here is a soundtrack of sorts! Only this time, the movie was in our imaginations. Allan and I used to discuss what that movie would be like.
I memorized every word to “Mr. Roboto”, not to mention every “ooh” and “ahh”. I sat in the basement and wrote them out on paper. I also figured out that I didn’t like every song equally. Allan and I were pretty much on the same page as to the good/bad songs.
My list of the “good” songs, in order from best on down:
- “Mr. Roboto”
- “Don’t Let It End (Reprise)”
- “Double Life”
- “High Time”
- “Cold War”
- “Heavy Metal Poisoning”
I never listened to any of the ballads. We were simply not interested. “Don’t Let It End” was nothing like the reprise version, which was essentially “Mr. Roboto” over again! In my kid-sphere, I was oblivious to the fact that in the larger world, “Don’t Let It End” was a hit. I just didn’t care. Couldn’t have told you how “Haven’t We Been Here Before” or “Just Get Through This Night” went if you paid me. For Allan and I, Kilroy Was Here just had six songs. Well, five songs and a reprise.
Sad to say, but I temporarily “outgrew” Styx. The “moment of clarity” was when I first heard Iron Maiden. I tuned into heavy metal exclusively at that point, and discarded my old music. (Which wasn’t much — just some soundtracks and a Springsteen tape.) I remember playing the Styx album during the start of the heavy metal years, and it was suddenly too soft and pop for me. I lost the record at some point, either in a move or at a garage sale. I didn’t hear Kilroy again until a friend picked up a copy for me in Toronto, on CD. I was 32.
Guess what! I don’t mind the ballads anymore. “Just Get Through This Night”, in particular, is outstanding.
To Allan I would like to say: domo arigato, for getting me into Styx!