Record Store Tales

#903: Online Dating in the Brave New World (2000)

Attention:  Mike’s mom.  You don’t need to read this one.  Skip it please.

RECORD STORE TALES #903: Online Dating in the Brave New World (2000)

It was the year 2000 and the world seemed new to me again.  Iron Maiden had a fresh reunion album on the horizon, ushering in a long-awaited rebirth of classic heavy metal.  The snow was melting, and spring was in the air.  Things were going really, really well.  Especially at the Record Store.  My store had a “head office” (actually a broom closet) in its back room.  That’s why the upper management was always breathing down my neck.  But I had heard through the grapevine (actually Tom) that head office was moving to a new location across town.  They never told me, but Tom did.  I was elated.  Things were looking way up.

I also had what at the time I called “the best first date I’d ever been on”.  I even washed my car before driving to Hamilton to see her.  That’s how my parents knew something was up!  Her name was Terra and she fancied herself a photographer.  Strangely her apartment was filled with photos of herself.  That should have served as a warning.  T-Rev also dated a girl who was obsessed with photos of herself, and that didn’t work.  His story was told in a song by local band The Candidates called “Who’s Your Daddy Now?”  “Sold your soul for a photograph, I tore it up and had the last laugh.  Who’s your daddy now? He ain’t got nothin’ on me!”

But I had to take my chances.  The first date went so well that I called up T-Rev on my cell phone and told him I thought I met “the one”.

I did confide in T-Rev one thing that was unusual about Terra.  She didn’t drink or do any drugs, which I liked.  I rarely drank and had never touched a drug.  What was unusual was that Terra was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.  In my mind, trying to ease my concerns, I said “that means neither of us drink or do drugs – so that’s a good thing.”  I wouldn’t be heading out to bars with her, or anything like that.  I had to give her a chance for date #2.

She thought it would be fun to catch a sunrise together.  She lived in Hamilton so it would take me an hour to get there before the sun came.  I had never watched the sunrise with a girl before, so I was on board.  The people at the Record Store thought I had a screw loose.

“You’re going to drive to Hamilton at 5:00 in the morning, to watch a sunrise?” asked one of the supervisors.  They didn’t get why I thought it was such a cool idea.  It sounded romantic to me and I’d never done anything like that before.

I called Terra up the night before our sunrise date and she had suddenly changed her tune.  “That’s reeeaally early,” she complained about her own idea.

So that idea was off.  Instead I came down in the afternoon.  We hung out and watched MuchMusic.  Britney Spears had just come out with “Oops! I Did It Again” and I can remember watching that video in her apartment.  “I want a PVC bodysuit!” said Terra.  I just wanted to do anything but sit around watching MuchMusic.  After a few hours of watching Static X, Disturbed and other staples of the era, I headed home.

Date #3 was the weird one.  She had an AA meeting that night and didn’t want to miss it.  I offered to drop her off on my way home, and that turned into her inviting me to the meeting.  Going to it was one of the most regrettable decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

I didn’t know what I was doing.  I did not realize it was a “closed meeting” or what that meant.  I don’t know why she thought bringing me along was a good idea.  I was curious, and I liked Terra.  I trusted her that this was OK.

The AA meeting was in the basement of a nice church.  We all sat in a circle.  “When it comes your turn to talk, just pass,” said Terra.  So I did.  Instead I listened to stories that, quite frankly, I never should have heard.  Me being there was an invasion of the group’s privacy and I felt uncomfortable immediately.  I wanted out that door.  I waited for an appropriate break.

When the group leader broke the meeting into smaller groups, I said to Terra, “I have to go, I’m not comfortable, I’m really sorry.”  She said it was OK and that we would leave together.  We briefly spoke to the group leader.  His name was Mike too.  “We have groups for beginners too, if you feel you’d like to come back and talk about whatever is going on.”  This made me feel even worse.  I was masquerading as someone I was not, for the sake of sitting next to a girl in this room.  I thanked him and we left together.

I decided that would be our last date.

Which is why I am still surprised I went on date #4.  Mother’s Day weekend 2000.

The phone rang on the Friday night.  “What are you doing this weekend?  Do you want to come and hang out at my mom’s place in Huntsville?”

I silenced the alarm bells going off in my head.  The suddenness of the invite was strange but if she was introducing me to her mom, that sounded alright.  I packed a small bag and headed to Hamilton to pick her up.  A few hours later we were in Huntsville.  We went to a bar where her friends were.  There was a covers band playing.  I found a spot to watch.  They played “War Pigs”.  I was happy.  But where was Terra?  She left me there watching this band while she hung out with her friends.  Outside, one of them passed her a joint and she had a haul.  On the way back to her mom’s place, she said “I really shouldn’t have smoked that joint,” and I was shaking my head wondering what the hell I was thinking.

Her mom was really nice and made me feel very welcome.  They had a beautiful place up in Huntsville.  Huge, with a guest house in the back where I slept.  But by the end of the weekend, her mom was giving her shit for hanging out with her friends instead of the guy who brought her to Huntsville.  I felt the same way.  The whole weekend was her hanging out with friends, and me tagging along.  We never did anything just the two of us.  I felt good that her mom at least recognized there was something fucked up about it.  They had a big argument in the kitchen while I sat in the living room with one of her friends, not speaking, just staring at the newspaper.

I raced back to Kitchener barely in time for Mother’s Day dinner.  This time I really did mean it:  that was the last date.  That was the end of it.  No more.  I never saw her again.  I could tell when I’ve been hosed.  She promised me $50 in gas money that I knew I was never going to see.  I shot off an email mentioning the $50 debt, and that was our last communication.

Iron Maiden came out with a brand new single called “The Wicker Man” which served as my cheer-up.  I bought the CDs and the vinyl and immersed myself in new music.  I always turned back to music when stuff went sour with a girl.  In this case, one of my favourite bands were triumphantly returning with their strongest lineup.  Three lead guitars.  I couldn’t wait to hear it.  Terra was the past, but the “Wicker Man” was the future!  I felt that jolt of energy again.  The life-giving electricity of rock and roll.

Valuable lessons learned here.  Not many of my friends can say that they’ve been to an AA meeting.  I’ve been there and I know it’s not a place for outsiders.  A learning experience and not one I’ll repeat.

 

To be continued….

 

#902.5: Spoogecakes 2 – Electric Boogaloo

Today’s chapter of Record Store Tales is a direct sequel to Part 35.5:  Spoogecakes!

 

RECORD STORE TALES #902.5: Spoogecakes 2 – Electric Boogaloo

LeBrain HQ has eyes and ears everywhere!   We are like Hydra:  cut off one head and two shall takes its place.

If you recall, when I launched this site in 2012, I had one anonymous hater.  Really nasty, too.  You can read the comments yourself.  This came right out of the blue.  The identity of the hater was confirmed by one of her co-workers at the Record Store:  an employee there at a location I once managed.  I had barely begun publishing my stories.  “Grow up or shut up,” went one of the kinder comments.  This only inspired me to keep writing, with more energy and frequency.  Obviously I had struck a nerve!  I actually owe this hater a huge thanks.  The drama she created catapulted me into another level, and the hits have only increased in the years since.  She provided the launchpad, so I do owe her my gratitude.  Craig Fee dubbed her with the nickname “Spoogecakes”, and I ran with that name for the Record Store Tales that followed.  I turned her hatemail into a chapter of the story.  Lemons into lemonade.

Hey, you wanna troll Record Store Tales?  Then Record Store Tales will troll you right back.  Some of my former co-workers there thought it was incredibly nasty of me exploit her vitriolic comments for views the way I did.  (What they thought of her actions — my so-called friends who were groomsmen at my wedding — they didn’t share that with me.)   I hadn’t planned on writing about her at all.  She was a non-entity and completely unimportant to my story.  She wrote herself in, as far as I was concerned.

Fast forward to the present:  she’s still at the Record Store, and just as endearing as ever.  A few months ago, I was just sitting here boppin’ through my day, when I got an email from a source bearing a tidbit of inside gossip.  My source revealed that Spoogey has been promoted to a manager of some kind, and isn’t the kind you’d want to work for.  I have obscured certain text to protect the identity of the informant, but the bones of their message are below.

“[Spoogecakes] is training someone, and that person has to leave home at 4 AM to get to the store, to suit [Spoogey’s] needs.”

Good luck with training someone after they’ve spent five hours on a bus.  Hope that worked out for ya.  Stuff like that never happened when I was training.  I drove people to and from training if I had to.  (Ask Shane.)

The training in question involves a box of used CDs that we would use to practice buying techniques.  How to check the discs for quality, how to check inventory, and how to price them.   The process of this training was previously detailed in Part 94:  Staffing.  (You can also watch a demonstration of me doing this in a live stream from last year.)  In all my time at the store, I never made anyone get up at 4 AM for this.  The story continues:

“In retaliation, the trainee wanted to leave a surprise for [Spoogey] in the box of used discs.  I got the impression it was a used sex toy.  The plan was for her to find it in the box with the other used items.”

My source said that the gist of the conversation was that “no one likes [Spoogey]. The manager of the store was in disbelief of her antics.”  The source also suggested that the conversation would have been a lot worse and more graphic if there were not customers in the store.

Some things never change!

#902: The Adventures of “B” Man

A pretty messed up prequel to #631: The Locker Door

 

RECORD STORE TALES #902: The Print Shop The Adventures of “B” Man

In the mid 1980s through to the 90s, my dad had an old client named Skully.  He was a computer guy.  Every so often, he would gave my dad a list of games and programs he could copy for us.  If we sent him a pack of floppy discs with a checked-off list, in a few weeks he’d come back to us with all the games we wanted.  Classic Concentration, Alleycat, King’s Quest, Into the Eagle’s Nest, Digger, and so many more games with names long forgotten.  All on 5 14” floppy discs — double sided, double density.

One of the programs we checked off from Skully’s list was a program called The Print Shop.  And strangely enough, it was Print Shop that had a personal impact bigger than any of the games.  In fact it was one of the most widely pirated Commodore 64 programs of 1985, although we had the IBM PC version.

We mostly used it to make birthday and Christmas cards.  It was great for that, all pre-formatted and everything.  You could use pictures from its own library.  Stuff like birthday cakes, turkeys, Easter bunnies, and so on.  Or, you could painstakingly make your own graphics, block by block.  In fact we used Print Shop all through the mid to late 80s.  It had a poster feature and a banner printer.  We used that to print a “DEMOLITION” banner when we went to see WWF wrestling at the Aud.

My sister, Bob Schipper and myself learned how to use The Print Shop to make blocky pictures.  The first experiments involved modifying pre-existing graphics. That was a good way to learn. The Easter bunny fell first to our mischievous ways. Bob changed his smile to a scowl, and we changed his happy wave to a middle finger! Of course we did. I was 12 and he was 14.

The next thing I obviously had to do was figure out the  logo.

With some trial and error, I drew a pretty good recreation of the legendary Kiss double lightning bolt.  I proudly printed it out in poster mode. But what else should be on the poster? I was fascinated with the Kiss discography and had memorized every album and year. So I painstakingly typed out each line of text to go beneath the logo. KISS (1974) HOTTER THAN HELL (1974) DRESSED TO KILL (1975)… all the way to ASYLUM (1985).

I taped that “poster” to my wall. I was so proud of it!

Wanna know something funny? In 1987, I updated it. CRAZY NIGHTS (1987) had to be added! It took some work trying to make everything fit. I knew if Kiss continued to release new albums, I wouldn’t be able to make space forever! SMASHES, THRASHES & HITS (1988) was the last album I could squeeze onto to my humble Kiss poster before I gave up. I didn’t have a lot of things to put up on my walls, and I didn’t like to cut up my rock magazines. A printout from The Print Shop just had to do!

When the time came to start highschool in the fall of ’86, Bob helped me prepare some locker artwork. I had a Gene Simmons poster — the one of Gene from the Asylum era with his tongue stuck in the bass strings. We also thought the Easter bunny giving the finger would be a cool addition to the locker, as long as the teachers didn’t make me take it down! But what should it say? Bob and I discussed numerous sayings, shooting them down one after the other. Somehow, he came up with “The End Of Rock Is The End Of Life!” and I went with it.  “OK!”  Up it went in my very first locker. That way the girls will know I’m serious about the music. I’m in it for the music; it says so right on the poster with the Easter bunny giving the finger!

I know what you’re thinking at this point.

“What a loser!” you say. “But what the hell is ‘B Man’ and what are his adventures?”

 


This is really embarrassing. But what the hell.

That autumn (’86) I remember one of us somehow caught a bee, and pulled off its head. OK, I said it. I don’t know who it was. But we thought it was pretty cool, and Bob had an idea. He drew a little muscle-y body, and we taped the bee’s head to the paper right over it. “I AM ‘B’ MAN!” wrote Bob in a word bubble.

And once again, I thought it was a good idea to tape it in my locker. Now, I cannot remember if Bob was onside with me on this. He didn’t need “‘B’ Man” in his locker. He already had awesome posters. But I thought, hey. It’s all about getting the attention of the girls, and they’ll love that I removed the head from a bee and taped it to a poster with a drawing of a little muscle body on it. They’ll think A) that I’m good at drawing and B) I’ll protect them from bees. I showed the bees who the boss really was. Me! I was the bee boss.

It comes as no shock that none of my posters did anything to attract girls. A pair of them gave my “The End Of Rock Is The End Of Life!” the old side-eye. I think “‘B’ Man” was too small for them to be disgusted by him. My cluelessness was rivalled only by my awkwardness. I had completely misjudged the female gender. My colossally bad assumption, that because I thought something was cool they would too, was profoundly and predictably incorrect.

And so that’s the irony of the title. There were no adventures of “‘B’ Man”. He wasn’t even shot down in flames. He was a total dud and came down with no fanfare.

Now, to anyone who’s sitting there going “what a psycho! Eww!” We were kids. It was 1986. Virtually every neighbourhood had a group of kids participating in a good ol’ bug burning. It happened. It was for science n’ stuff. We all turned out pretty good.


And so, a seemingly innocent story that began with kids nerding out with primitive printing software, ends with insect mutilation. Bees, no less, the guardians of plant life on this Earth. I guess metal really does pervert the hearts of the young.

#901: 5150 Time Again?

Distilling some stories from the 5150 live stream.

RECORD STORE TALES #901: 5150 Time Again?

Van Halen’s 5150 was their first #1.  It was their first with Sammy Hagar and their first truly divisive album.  As a young kid on a weekly allowance, I had to pick and choose what to buy.  Van Halen’s marketing campaign involved making no new music videos for 5150, only releasing live clips.  Since music videos were 99% of my new music exposure, 5150 didn’t make it high on my priority lists.  Van Halen didn’t want to compete with David Lee Roth, seen as the master of the music video.  Unfortunately this meant kids like me only had live versions to preview.

In particular, the live video for “Why Can’t This Be Love” turned off many of the kids in the neighbourhood.  Scott Peddle remembers not buying the album specifically because of that video.  It was a combination of Sammy’s new haircut and the off-key scatting.  This is all we had to judge the new album by!  I didn’t have any friends who owned 5150.

I ended up getting a second hand cassette off a kid in school named Todd Burnside.  I was sorely disappointed that after paying him five bucks; the front cover to the tape was all ripped.  I had to put it back together with Scotch tape.  I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t bother taking care of his tape.  Then again, Burnside’s nickname in school was “Burnout”.  At least it played well.

Maybe two years after 5150 came out, there were rumblings about Van Halen working on new music.  In the 80s, there was no internet but there was a rumour mill.  You’d read something in a magazine, or hear it on the TV.  For example, there were almost always rumours that Van Halen were on the verge of splitting.  This happened in 1987 when Sammy Hagar released his self-titled solo album (even though said solo album was made with Edward Van Halen himself).  At the same time, there were rumours that they were also working on a brand new Van Halen album.

It wasn’t inconceivable, with our naive little insular world view, that the forthcoming new Van Halen album could leak, and someone could get a hand on a tape.  It seemed possible.  Kids in my neighbourhood had all kinds of rare music on tape that we couldn’t trace back to a source.  Live tracks by Iron Maiden, or even the legendary “Rodeo Song”.   It was taped from one kid to another to another until you didn’t know what generation you had.  This story is about the time I thought the girl I liked got her pretty little hands on the new Van Halen.

The story goes like this.  Her boyfriend taped her a Van Halen cassette, with no titles written down.  Huge pet peave, right?  Such bad habits lead to misunderstandings like this story.  I was friends with her younger brother, and one day I was talking to her on the phone and she mentioned her favourite song by Van Halen.  “I love ‘Contact’,” she said.  “It’s on this tape my boyfriend made.”

“Contact”?  I never heard of that song.  I knew my Van Halen song titles and “Contact” was not one of them.  Not realizing that she had to be making up the title herself because no songs were written down, I concluded she might have her hands on a pirated tape of the new Van Halen.  I wanted to hear it next time I came over.

I told my friends about this possible lead into the next Van Halen album and promised to report back.

I went to visit one afternoon.  They had a pool.  But I wanted to get down to business first.  I brought a blank 60 minute tape with me in case I needed to dub what I was about to hear.  Let’s see this Van Halen tape!

She brought out the tape and I noticed there was nothing written on the cover, so there was absolutely no information available about any of the songs.  But I didn’t need information as soon as she hit “play”.

The familiar cascading keyboard melody echoed from the tinny speakers of her ghetto blaster.  What the hell?!  This song wasn’t called “Contact”!  It was called “Love Walks In”!  How could she not know that?

My disappointment was only assuaged by a dip in the pool, with extra splashing.  I came home empty handed.  No Van Halen, and worse than that…the girl I liked didn’t even know the proper name of “Love Walks In”!  How the hell?

My crush on her dissipated shortly thereafter and I moved on to other interests.  She wasn’t a real Van Halen fan after all.

 

#900: Integrity Mix Again

[Integrity Mix] was an idea that came from Kevin.  For a while there, he was making a new mix CD every month, made up of the best stuff he was listening to in the last 30 days or so.  The idea was, you’d have a neat chronicle of your most impactful listening experiences.  And a good mix CD in general.  —  From Record Store Tales Part 46:  Integrity Mix

 

RECORD STORE TALES #900: Integrity Mix Again

In the years before beginning to publish my writings, I poured my musical creative energy into making mix CDs.  I spent hours on them.  I tested them in the car before giving them them “OK”.  I called them “Integrity Mix”, after one of Tom’s favourite words.  Integrity.  Music with integrity, people with integrity…that was Tom’s word.  The concept of the CD originated with Kevin, one of the guys I worked with at the very end of the Record Store.  Kevin and I had a falling out over the way I portrayed the store, but he deserves credit for many things, including these mix CDs.

The idea was simple.  Make a new mix CD every month (or so), made up on songs you were into during that period.

It was a great concept and one which I latched onto with gusto.  I made many, and some months ended up getting double CDs because there was just too much music that needed to be remembered.  Each one had a cover, though some were just simple track listings, some were more elaborate.

It’s fun to put things away and not look at them for a long time.  That’s what happened with these discs.  When I switched gears to writing on a daily basis, I wanted to listen to full albums.  Mix CDs started to collect dust.  I hadn’t looked at my Integrity Mixes for about five years, but noticed them in a corner and thought it might be fun to have a look.

What I discovered was, without even having to play a single track, I could see by much of the artwork just what I was into at that given time.  Here are all the covers I made with some kind of art:

February 2008:  Arrested Development

September-October 2008:  “Bird is the Word” via Family Guy

December 2008-January 2009:  Kenny Vs. Spenny

February-March 2009:  Battlestar Galactica

January 2010:  UFOs

February 2010:  Dedicated to my buddy Chris Thuss who had just left work

June 2011:  Super Troopers

May 2008:  Transformers

The music often reflected the shows I was into.  “All Along the Watchtower” is a key track on the Battlestar Galactica disc.  You can find tracks from movie soundtracks.

Kevin was right about doing that.  Looking back at these discs, the tracklists, and dates, I can clearly remember events from my life.  I don’t have to guess when it was — the discs are all dated.  Brilliant idea Kevin.  I feel bad that we fell out, and I’m sorry that I ever hurt him.  I hope he would have enjoyed that his idea had legs and I kept going with it long after we worked together.  Credit where credit is due!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#899: Gathering

RECORD STORE TALES #899:  Gathering

It was a beautiful day today.  In the afternoon I got the ol’ laptop dusted off, and brought it out onto the patio to listen to some tunes and watch some YouTube.  The laptop is at least a decade old, probably older, and has served me well as my travelling machine.  Today, it could barely do two things at once.  Obviously it will not serve me well for live streaming this summer at the lake.  It did a stand-up job last year, with Streamyard and video editing.  This year it simply will not cut the tomatoes so I pulled the trigger on a new HP.  I didn’t want to go down in screen size so I ordered a 17.3″.  I always get nervous when buying a new computer, and I’ve never bought HP before.  I’m excited though.  Whatever happens, it cannot be worse than a decade-old Acer.  It could be here as early as Tuesday.  Wish me luck — this summer’s future LeBrain Train episodes will depend on this laptop!  Meanwhile the old one will be brought to Sausagefest — if there will be such a thing this summer.

The laptop is delivering by Purolator, which is totally safe.  Amazon unfortunately is not.  Their couriers leave the parcel at the door and that’s that.  Because there is so much theft of Amazon parcels in these parts, for the last six months or so, I have been having everything sent to my mom and dad’s address.  I am still working from the office and they are home all the time.  Jen has appointments that usually has her out of the house when Amazon come knocking.  As a result, I have to pick up my parcels from them about once a week.  And, according to Ontario’s current regulations, having an outdoor socially distanced visit with them is currently illegal.

“Hey, would you guys like to come out back for an illegal visit?” asked my mom.

“Sure,” I shrugged.

We’ve all been vaccinated with the first shot and are at 50% immunity.  We distanced.  Well, my dad got a little close as he sometimes does.  But it was nice.  Something almost normal.  I would like to go down into the basement and look for some of my old sketches from when I was a kid, but we aren’t taking any chances.  We stayed out.  Doug Ford can suck it.

Ironically, one of the things I was picking up was a cheap pair of computer speakers.  Every time Doug Ford goes live on TV to open his big mouth, I can’t hear him.  It’s too quiet.  Annoying.  So I ordered some cheap Amazon branded speakers so I can actually listen next time he opens his big yap.  And they’re my speakers, so if I want to use them for my new laptop, I’m good there too.

Some music also arrived.  We will be interviewing Paul Laine soon on the LeBrain Train, so I grabbed his Zokusho album by the Defiants.  Looking forward to that.  In a previous order, I received Long Distance Voyager by the Moody Blues.  Uncle Meat told us that it was his dad’s favourite album, and he would love if we listened to it or even reviewed it.  So I listened to it, loved it, and ordered a CD so I can listen properly for review.  I’m happy to do that for him.

I have also completed my set of Whitesnakes Red, White & Blue trilogy.  In hand are the recent compilation CDs The Rock Album, The Love Album, and The Blues Album.  All tracks have been remixed and updated, while unreleased songs are also included.  John Snow over at 2loud2oldmusic did a fantastic job of reviewing them all.  The Blues Album came from Encore while the other two are Amazons.

We talked current events, we talked family matters, we had a few laughs.  All is well, more or less.  This is the first pandemic for everyone present.  In the five stages of grieving, I think my mom is at the anger stage.  Last week on the phone, when I told her that us visiting would be against the rules, she said “I don’t give a damn about the rules!”  I don’t know the last time I heard her that angry!  Let’s face it, we the people of Ontario have been getting jerked around.  She has a lot to be mad about.  I love my mom.

My dad, on the other hand, decided to watch a documentary about Ozzy Osbourne on A&E.  Excitedly, he told me all about his history with Black Sabbath and as a solo artist.  “He had a lot of success on his own, when no one thought he would!” he explained to me.  But it wasn’t easy for the Ozzman either.  My dad told me all about Ozzy’s son Jack, and the role that Sharon played in his success.  It was one of those moments you cherish.  I love my dad.

My mom also loved The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which concluded on Friday.  We talked about Sam and the new Captain America.  To my dad, there is only one Captain America and it’s not Sam Wilson or Steve Rogers.  It’s someone I’ve never heard of — Grant Gardner, district attorney and the 1944 version of Cap that he grew up with.  He has no interest in the new Cap, while my mom was really drawn into the storyline.  Hopefully next time we visit illegally, my mom will have seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier which I told her to watch next.

I realize I have incriminated myself and my family with this story, and to that I say:  oh well.  We were safe and respectful of common sense.   When this pandemic eventually ends — and history has shown that eventually it will — I will have these chapters as a document of the weirdest times of our lives.  And that has more value than a fine.

 

#898: Vanguard 2

RECORD STORE TALES #898: Vanguard 2

Released to arcades in 1981, Vanguard didn’t catch my attention until it hit the Atari 2600 the following year.  While I have never played the arcade game, the Atari version was in my hands as soon as I could afford it.  Notably, the Atari game borrowed some of its music from Queen.  Vanguard was a scrolling space game, but where it differed from other games was that it changed orientation from side-to-side to up-and-down at points during the adventure.   There were a variety of adversaries, and power-ups to take advantage of.  There was even a “boss” to take out at the end, and then it all repeated over again at a higher difficulty.  We kids were in love with it, even the simplified Atari version.

Incidentally, Atari artwork and instruction manuals were excellent.  They often began with a short story — this one of the “Vanguard Expedition” into the “tunnels of Aterria” looking for a semi-mythical “City of Mystery”.  Enough to capture a kid’s imagination, especially when combined with the cool box art.

My best friend Bob and I, being the creative types, thought we could design a sequel.  We painstakingly drew every screen in pencil, one after the other.  There were 19 screens in total.  We taped them together in order with Scotch tape, so that you could lay the whole thing out on the floor if you so desired.  Each screen led into the next with attention to detail.

Bob and I had “designed” a dozen games already, drawing them on paper, but they were one or two screens at best.  Our Vanguard 2 was 19 levels!  Many heavily ripped off from Star Wars.  It was only 1983 or 1984 at the latest.  Although ours is completely unrelated to the actual Vanguard II that came out in 1984, out friends kept on telling us “You should send your ideas in to Atari”.  We were big dreamers but we had a lot of fun pouring hours of creativity into these projects.  I’m glad I still have some of them, including Vanguard 2.

I thought it would be fun to scan each screen and post the whole thing with commentary.  I tinted the old pages to give them some variety visually.  Check out the complete Vanguard 2 game!

Title page.  Our “hero ship” basically ripped off from the Colonial Viper from Battlestar Galactica.  Enemy ships show heavy Star Wars influence.

Screen 1.  Scrolling to the right.  Imagine continuous scrolling, as if all the pages were laid out on the ground.  Entering mountain!  Just like the first Vanguard, you must navigate a tunnel in your space ship.   Enemy craft, mines and drones ahead!

Screen 2.  A barrier to break through, and a choice of upper or lower tunnels to take.

Screen 3.  Upper tunnel was a trap!  Although you could possibly shoot your way through a weak spot in the cave wall.

Screen 4:  Switching out your ship for a submarine.

Screen 5:  More enemy resistance ahead, and a difficult choice of three tunnels to take.

Screen 6:  Bottom tunnel would have been the best choice.  Giant jelly fish and a 5 second force field power up ahead!

Screen 7:  Now it’s giant Octopii!  Your sub is running low on fuel, and there is a tempting fuel depot in the lower cave.

Screen 8:  The only way through these narrow caverns is to miniaturize your sub.  Then you must choose upper or lower tunnels, with the upper appearing easier.

Screen 9:  The upper tunnel has heavier resistance at a poor attack angle, plus a classic Atari-style bouncing barrier block, that you must time just right.  Success means deminiaturization and a new spaceship.

Screen 10:  Whether you take the upper or lower tunnels, you have plenty of opposition and the opportunity for a 5 second shield.  Either way — the Sarlacc pit awaits at the end of the screen.  (We would have called it something else.)

Screen 11:  Made it through the first mountain.  Passing through the energy barrier automatically “beams” you to the next screen.  (We called the mountains “Screen 1” and “Screen 2” since we envisioned it as a continuous side scroller, with only this one break in between.  Here I am calling the individual drawings “screens” as it makes more sense when you look at them individually.)

Screen 12:  Still scrolling to the right — entering volcano!  A choice of two tunnels ahead.

Screen 13:  Either way, both tunnels will lead you to a new ship, plenty of opposition, and a 7 second force field.

Screen 14:  Your new ship has dual lasers and can stand the heat of the lava lake you are about to enter!

Screen 15:  You’re heating up so don’t be long.  Upper tunnel offers some squidly opposition while the lower has plenty of enemy subs.

Screen 16:  You’re low on fuel, and a giant lizard is sitting right there by the fuel depot!

Screen 17:  Boss Level!  As in the first game, the Great Gond awaits you at the end.  He is protected by enemy ships and cruise missiles.  Once you beat Gond, we change orientation:  now the game scrolls up!  Make your escape through the cone of the volcano.

Screen 18:  Scrolling up as you try to outrace the flames of the erupting volcano beneath you, while being harassed by enemy ships and missiles!

Screen 19:  If you beat the flames, you win the game!

We could have had a hit video game on our hands!  We loved to draw and a lot of this was drawn outdoors.  I’m pleased the thing held together long enough for me to scan it.  Imagine that Queen theme playing as you win!

#897: Spam

RECORD STORE TALES #897: Spam

Making a long-ish story short(er):  before launching this site in 2012, I was an active reviewer on Amazon.  On a good day I could finish two or three.  Those reviews became the bulk of content when I launched my own site.  I must have written so many that I ended up on the Amazon Canada “Hall of Fame”.

From my Amazon profile, you can get to this site. I figured, “Hey, if somebody liked my reviews enough to click my name, then maybe they’ll like the ones I have on my site even better”.

It took me a little while to put two and two together, but a year or so ago, I started getting bombarded with emails asking me to do Amazon reviews.  The emails would come through the contact page here.  The requests would be for USB cables, lights, HDMI cables, you name it.  Anything but music.

The first few requests were vague.  “Would you like to write some Amazon reviews and get the product for free?”  I would respond, “Sure, I am looking to review the new Metallica album,” and that would be it.  I wouldn’t hear back.  They clearly didn’t check to see what kinds of products I was reviewing, which were almost exclusively CDs and DVDs.  They just saw “Hall of Fame” and jumped.

Some of the requests were more detailed — like a form letter.  I would have to buy the selected product myself, but after posting the review, they would refund the money and I keep the product.  Some of the emails specified a “positive” review.

I don’t need extra clutter, and am generally uncomfortable writing reviews on request like that.  I know a lot of those products and I would be writing a negative review on some of the USB cables and lights.  The whole thing seemed kind of shaky to me.

The requests kept rolling in, so I put a disclaimer up on the contact form on this site:  “no Amazon review requests”.  And the request emails immediately stopped…

…Only to continue on my Instagram and Facebook pages.  I have to admit the first one to come in on Instagram surprised me.  (Nothing on Facebook surprises me.)  An Instagram one really bugged me by calling me “dear” repeatedly.  I blocked that one, and then suddenly mysteriously was contacted on Facebook by a  seller who called me “dear”.  Persistence like that only earns the Instablock.

The last request was for an electric toothbrush review.  Eventually I figured out that I needed to put the disclaimer directly on my Amazon profile — “no review requests please”.  That was a couple months ago and I haven’t had a single request since!

This message came in at 1:57 AM!

 

One small victory against spam.  Then again, maybe I really blew it.  Maybe I could have had the best USB cables and lights.  My teeth could have been whiter and shinier than ever!  I don’t know anyone who’s gone for one of those review deals, so if you have any insight or feedback, let me know.

Just don’t ask me to review your damned electric toothbrush!

#896: Plans

RECORD STORE TALES #896: Plans

Plans.  Gotta make ’em, but sometimes nothing goes according to them.

Winter is over.  We made it through.  I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately acronymed as SAD), so winter is always a hard time.  It feels good to be on the other side of it, and not have to put on layers of warmth just to take out the garbage.

Last fall I made some plans to make it through the winter.  I completed some, and I left others unstarted.  That’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and what was winter 2020/21 but a shitty stale crumbled up cookie?

As we hunkered in for the winter, I gave myself a couple projects to keep me occupied.  One was continuing with the VHS Archives.  I accomplished very little on this.  I did not play any video tapes at all this year, and only uploaded videos I already had on my hard drive.  This season I only posted six videos.

I also wanted to teach myself Photoshop this winter.  I didn’t get anything done there.  As it turns out, I didn’t really have to, thanks to the generosity of friends.  Good ol’ T-Bone has donated his time and made plenty of great artwork for the LeBrain Train live show.  Plus our artist friend Saige did some great work too.  I’m so lucky that we have built such an amazing community of artists and writers together.

Speaking of the live show, I had one plan that I thought would be easy, but never came to be.  As a proud Canadian boy, I wanted to show some of our American friends (especially the one in Hawaii!) what a Canadian winter looks like.  I planned on doing a live show outdoors in a snow storm.  I thought that would be an absolute hoot.  The weather never really aligned with a good live stream day.  It was kind of a mild winter compared to others.

Looking back at the goals from the fall, there are two I did accomplish. One was to make a dashcam video of a shitty winter drive, set to the music of Max the Axe. I did that with “Magnum P.I.” and it is a great example of a typical winter commute.  The second mission accomplished was to keep on live streaming.  I still haven’t missed a week — knock wood.

I couldn’t have done it without my friends.  You know who you are.  Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re one of ’em.

#895: Toxicity

RECORD STORE TALES #895: Toxicity

I get it.  I understand why people are surprised.  When a guy like me boasts about owning about 4000 CDs, you kind of expect certain things.  Surely, one of those 4000 CDs has to be so-and-so, right?

I’m fond of the saying “better late than never”.  There are always a variety of reasons for missing an important band in my collection.  Sometimes a band’s image turned me off.   That was true of Skid Row for a year or two.  I couldn’t get past Rachel’s nose chain.  In other instances, they weren’t what I was into during a younger phase of my life.   But on a couple of occasions, I avoided bands because they reminded me of people that I didn’t want to be reminded of.

I’ll give you an example:  The Boy Who Killed Pink Floyd.  Even if he didn’t burn me out by playing Floyd every single shift, he was such a shitty worker.  It took me years to finally take the plunge on Pink Floyd.   But I did, and I have most of the albums now.  Certainly all the critical ones and then some.  I mean, I even own Ummagumma!

So, better late than never.  I have my whole life ahead of me to keep discovering your favourite bands that I haven’t got to yet.

Recently, I really discovered The Band.  It started with “The Shape I’m In”.  The local radio station changed up the songs they repeat every year or two.  Thanks to CanCon, there’s always at least one Band song.  Several years ago, they used to spin “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” frequently, but this year it’s been “The Shape I’m In”.  And suddenly I was grabbed like never before.

Maybe it’s that I’m not feeling in the best shape myself, mentally and physically.  Robbie Robertson’s lyrics weren’t written about someone like me, though.  “The Shape I’m In” was written for the late Richard Manuel, singer and piano player.  As I often do, I googled the track and read up.  Richard Manuel’s tragic life story struck a chord with me.  Drugs, alcohol, and ultimately suicide.  Every time the song came on the radio, it inspired me to read a little bit more about Richard Manuel, The Band, and the rest of their members.

I watched a bit of The Last Waltz on YouTube and was absolutely blown away.  The vocals!  The musicianship!  The keen lyrical throwbacks to a time before we were born.  It transports you!  This is what I love in music!  What took me so long?

The most toxic person in my life at the Record Store loved The Band.  I don’t know how often we listened to them at work, but I began to strongly associate The Band with this person.  I couldn’t look at a picture of Garth Hudson without a feeling of this person’s presence.  For some reason poor innocent Garth Hudson became the face of The Band in my loathing mind.  It really is unfortunate.  Some of you will read this and say “pffft, snowflake.”  We each respond to stress according to our strengths and what I dealt with at the Record Store drove others to quit when I just kept going as long as I could.

I didn’t know a lot about The Band, and I remember having a conversation with this person about who their lead vocalist was.  I assumed Robbie Robertson, since he was a big solo star in Canada in the late 80s.  I had no idea that they had three main singers, and my impression was that this person thought less of me that I didn’t know.  Either way, our conversations didn’t make me want to listen.  You attract more bees with honey rather than vinegar.  This person was vinegar to me.

On one of the Taranna trips with Aaron, I found Music From Big Pink (remastered) at Sonic Boom for $7.99.  It had “The Weight”, so I bought it.  Still, I only played it a couple times and then put it on a shelf.  It didn’t connect.  Yet.

Suddenly it’s 2021 and “The Shape I’m In” is speaking to me like nobody’s business.  I pulled out Music From Big Pink again, ordered a reissue of Stage Fright, and put The Last Waltz on my wishlist.

It’s not just Richard Manuel.  Yes, something about his voice is sweet and weary and powerful at once.  Rick Danko’s voice was also very special.  The high notes!  Wow.  And Levon Helm?  Watching him drum, he was so physical!  And singing so expressively all the while.  As for Robbie Robertson, the best word I saw used to describe his guitar playing was “stinging”.  That nails it!  But I owe the deepest apologies to Garth Hudson, whose inventive multi-instrumental wizardry is key to the sound of The Band.  Mr. Hudson, I am so sorry that I used to associate your visage with this evil person in my life.

Still, it’s Manuel’s story that I find myself reading most.  So heartbreaking, but his struggles are  common with so many people.  I empathize.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that he was from Stratford, just 30 minutes away.  In fact he’s buried there and I thought maybe it would be cool to visit his grave this summer.

People can be toxic, and they can poison the things you associate with them, but here’s the cool thing.  Toxins can be worked out of the body.  Finally, it is time:  no more toxicity with The Band.  I welcome them into my heart.  They are now becoming part of my being, and that’s the best part.