Record Store Tales

#946: Novel 30 Year-Old CD Packaging

RECORD STORE TALES #946: 30 Year-Old Novel CD Packaging

It’s not every day that I run into a CD packaging design that is new to me.  From all sorts of digipacks, to variations on the classic jewel case, to the SACD and DVD Audio, I thought I had seen it all.  Today I found one that is new to me.  It belongs to a CD single by the Scottish band Gun, from their first album Taking on the World.  That dates the single to over 30 years ago, so it’s surprising I haven’t seen anything like it before.

This is how it happened.  I was looking for a specific Metallica single (“The Unnamed Feeling”) to begin completing my St. Anger collection.  (I still need the Australian version with unique Australian live tracks, and an annoying version with a remix on it.)  Because I don’t like to buy just one thing, I checked other discs that the seller was offering.  I chose a 1994 Jackyl single for “Push Comes to Shove”, and the Gun single.  It was the title track from Taking on the World, a brilliant song itself, backed by a 12″ mix of their other big single “Better Days” and a non-album cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Don’t Believe a Word”.  The singles arrived in the mail last week and now I’m getting around to listening.

The Gun single comes in a regular thin cardboard sleeve, like many typical CD singles.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  I popped out the disc, and what should I find inside?  Not the usual 5″ single, no.  This is a 3″ single, much less common.

I have seen 3″ singles come in four different kinds of cases before.

1. Simple 3″ cardboard sleeve, like this copy of Queen’s First E.P.

2. 3″ Jewel case, like Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” 2021 release.  (Click here to see a version of the same jewel case, but sold with a blank 3″ CDr.)

3. This unusual white plastic stickered case, from Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”.

4. Finally and least interestingly…just a regular 5″ CD single jewel case.

The Gun CD, released on A&M Records in 1990, is now the fifth storage system I’m found for the 3″ disc.  From inside the regular 5″ cardboard sleeve came a 3″ CD attached to a white plastic tray.  I have never seen one like it before.  It is specifically designed to hold 3″ discs, and has a three-pronged center to grasp the CD securely.

Isn’t it fascinating that after almost four decades of collecting music over different formats, that I just found a packaging design that I’ve never encountered in my travels?  I spent 12 years in a used CD store and this is the first 3″ white plastic tray I’ve ever seen.  Thank you Discogs!

#945: Spinning Vinyl ’75

RECORD STORE TALES #945: Spinning Vinyl ’75

If there was ever a photo that prophesized the future, I have found it.  Taken in late 1975, there I am listening to a record with a big pair of headphones on.  I was merely three, but look at the smile on my face.  And the clothes…am I wearing shoes in the house?

Behind me, the original family stereo.  Every family in the neighbourhood had one.  Ours had an 8-track player and a turntable.  You can tell I’m playing a record, and not a tape, because the cover is off the turntable.  The big clunky headphones didn’t fit my head, but they would later.  Because this system had an 8-track deck, it also came with two microphones.

Oh my God I just realized my mom put a plant on top of the stereo!

Since this is before Star Wars, I probably wasn’t listening to music.  I only remember owning two records.  One was a Lone Ranger story record, and the other was The Flintstones.  But they came out after this picture was taken.  If this photo had been taken in the Instagram era, the cover would be prominently displayed behind me.  Sadly we’ll never know what I was listening to.

VIDEO: Misty Weekend (with Max the Axe )

A visual supplement to Record Store Tales #944:  Mosquito Song

Playing around with faster editing to suit the musical track:  “Thirsty and Miserable”, the new Black Flag cover by Max the Axe, from the Oktoberfest Cheer EP.  Enjoy a good look at some wild (and probably poisonous) mushrooms!  Cameo by Classic Loki.

 

#944: Mosquito Song

RECORD STORE TALES #944: Mosquito Song

With all apologies, if the climate change crisis means that I can wear shorts in October, then I cannot help but think that all clouds do have silver linings.

Levity, folks!  Just a little levity.

Jen and I ditched our fall coats, and hit the road Friday afternoon.  On the car deck:  the last live discs of the massive Metallica 2021 box set.  This was the 1993 Mannheim Germany show.  As we headed into a series of electrifying encores, Jen asked where the crowd was.  17 minutes of “Seek & Destroy” went by awkwardly as the band asked for the audience to follow along, but no audible responses came through the speakers.  They must not have mic’ed the audience for that show.

Aside from the music, the drive up was awful.  Stuck behind farm machinery and long lines of cars, we took several detours to drive on clear roads.  Running out of Metallica*, I switched over to The Darkness’ Last of Our Kind for the final hour of our agonizingly long drive.

When we got there though…

It was a beautiful day that felt like late August, in early October!  I did the only thing I could:  I put on my shorts and proceeded to rock out.  I thought the days of setting up my speakers on the front porch at the lake were over for the year.  How elated I was to be wrong!  And the place was utterly deserted.  People don’t often come in October, thinking the weather would be cold and rainy.  It was anything but.

Speakers and laptop ready, I began the weekend with some Ghost.  Here’s the fascinating part.  I hit “play” on their most recent album Prequelle, and I found it unexpectedly fit in perfectly with the setting.  At the lake, I often like to play old music that takes me back in time like a Tardis.  It’s the perfect environment, because so much of my musical discovery happened in that place.  Three tracks in particular fit the mood like a glove:  “Rats”, “Danse Macabre” and “Miasma”.  Suddenly I was transported back to an alternate 1986 where these were my favourite songs.  It was trippy and very cool.

My mind went to that place again.  Grade 8 graduation and the final farewell to the Catholic school system and all the bullies it built.  I could see myself onstage singing to them.

“In times of turmoil, in times like these,
Beliefs contagious, spreading disease.”

I wondered if, in my alternate reality 1986, the teachers pulled the plug on me singing “Rats”.  I would probably do better singing “Danse Macabre”.

“You’ll soon be hearing the chime, close to midnight,
If I could turn back the time, I’d make all right.”

Little does Papa Emeritus know, I’m getting quite good at turning back the time.  All it takes is a song.  Those three Ghost songs are easy for anyone to pretend it’s still the late 80s.  They would have fit right in.  All it takes is the right song in the right setting and I’m there.

There’s one Ghost song that I wish I could take back in time and play on graduation night back in the Catholic days.  That would be the evil “Ritual”.  Certain lines, at least.

“Tonight, we’re summoned for a divine cause,
Remembrance, no, but for their future loss.”

Ahh, to fantasize.  I really resented that place.  Music was my release from Catholic hell.

Before too much time in 1986 had elapsed, I found my body back in 2021 being eaten alive by mosquitoes.  Little ones with voracious appetites.  Enjoying their unexpected fall snack, they were relentless.  At one point I raised my electric “bug zapper” over my head.  I only wish I had been recording, because in a couple swipes I could hear dozens of bugs fying.  20 or 30 in just one swoop.  Little explosions like a machine gun popping, but never running out of ammo.  The war against mosquitoes could not be won outside, so I reluctantly took it indoors.

Very strangely unseasonal, but as we get warmer year after year, this is the kind of surprise we’ll have to get used to.  Being outside was less hazardous if you kept moving, so I spent plenty of time exploring.  I discovered an old, heavily decayed vertebra of some kind.  It looked larger than human.  A deer, most likely?

The ground was layered with mushrooms of many different types, and they were everywhere.  40 years ago when contractors were building out cottage, a group of Italians scavenged for mushrooms.  They knew which ones were good to eat.  I didn’t even consider taking that risk and instead just took pictures of some.  As I wandered around, there were many more, far denser, but I did not bring my camera.  It was like living in Mario Town.

Outnumbering the mushrooms were the mosquitoes, and eventually I could take them no longer.  I sought refuge inside.  But they had gotten through the screen, and made mists of mosquitoes beneath the lamps.  It was mosquito hell!

As are all weekends, this one was too brief.  Instead of being sad for the waning of the season, we were just glad to have had an amazing weekend in October.  And maybe we’ll even make it back one more time.  We’ll see what the weeks left hold.

 

* We still have two interview discs to go, but I didn’t want to listen to 45 minutes of Lars chewing his gum in the car.

#943: Irate With a Beeper!

RECORD STORE TALES #943: Irate With a Beeper!

There was once a time before we had our infamous “no questions asked” return policy.  In 1996, we were able to…shall we say, “express ourselves” more freely as managers of Record Stores.

We learned from the best, and we didn’t take kindly to someone trying to rip us off.   Some time in early September 1996, I received a call from T-Rev at his own store.  “Mikey,” he said, “Just a warning.  There’s a guy coming your way with the new Rush CD, that he wants to return.  Now I had a look at it, and it is just hacked.  There was no way he opened it like that.  I wouldn’t let him return it.  You’ll see what I mean when he gets there.  He’s this little short guy with glasses and short hair.  You’ll know him when you see him.”  A prepared myself for the Rush fan with Napoleon complex.

The new Rush album, Test For Echo, was received with mixed reactions.  We started seeing used copies early on, traded in by ordinary fans (albeit impatient ones) who simply didn’t like it.  T-Rev and I both thought it was a step down from Counterparts, while acknowledging that sometimes a Rush album needs time.  We liked a couple tracks, and disliked a few as well.  (“Dog Years” and “Virtuality” were on the shit list.)  We were not surprised to see people returning it, but Nerdlinger here was unique.

The little guy stormed in, straight up to the counter, and asked to return the Rush CD.  “I don’t like it,” he said simply.  I dutifully opened the case and, as T-Rev has warned, the disc was mangled.  Probably due to a car CD deck, which were common and had a habit of murdering discs.

“I’m sorry,” I began, “but I can’t take this back.  It’s seen some pretty serious use and it’s scratched up really bad.”  I didn’t know what else to say.  “I’m sorry,” I added lamely.

He was irate.  “‘Seen some serious use’?” he quoted back to me.  “How?  I just got it at your other store.  It’s a day old!”

Customers always asked “how” their CDs got scratched.  How the fuck am I supposed to know what he did with it?

“I don’t know how it got scratched up this bad, but they don’t come this way out of the shrinkwrap.”  I grabbed our store play CD to show him.  “See, this is one we just opened a few days ago and we’ve been playing it every day.”  He glared through his glasses at our copy.

He insisted he didn’t scratch it, that he bought it that way from T-Rev’s store and he wouldn’t return it.

I didn’t know what else I could say.  “Well, I showed you what they look like coming out of the shrinkwrap.”  Then, poking the bear just a smidge, I chided, “Did you drop it?”

“NO, I didn’t drop it!” he expressed in a mocking tone.  Knowing he was not going to get anywhere with me, he left.  And, much like many tenacious customers of his guilt-free mindset, he returned later that day on the night shift.  A time he assumed I wouldn’t be working.  But he didn’t get anywhere with the night staff.  They knew something wasn’t right about it and asked him to return when the manager is in.  So, like any douchebag worth his salt, he left a pager number for me to call the next day.

“Oh, joy” I said to myself upon seeing the note waiting for me.

I never called a beeper before.  I noted the occasion for its novelty.

A short while later, Nerdlinger stormed back into the store with his Rush CD.  He must have been so dejected upon seeing I was the manager.

And so for a second time I refused to return his CD, and he did the usual expected temper tantrum.  I’m never shopping here again, I’m telling all my friends, I’m this and you’re that.

And life got incrementally better, knowing I’d never have to see that fucking Nerdlinger again.

 

#942: My Brushes With Metallica

RECORD STORE TALES #942: My Brushes With Metallica

I don’t mind admitting that my first Metallica was Load.  Yeah, I was one of them.  Hate on if you gotta.

Like many my age, the first exposure came in 1988 via their first music video:  “One”.  To say the visuals were disturbing would be accurate.  Although I did enjoy the song, I didn’t feel the need to hit “record” on my VCR when it come on.  Other kids at school sure liked it, and copies of Johnny Got His Gun were claimed to have been read by some of them.  I figured I could continue to live without Metallica.

The Black album was released in 1991.  I was watching live when Lars Ulrich called in to the Pepsi Power Hour to debut the new music video for “Enter Sandman”.  The new, streamlined and uber-produced Metallica looked and sounded good to me.  I loved when James said “BOOM!” and thought that hooking up with Bob Rock had worked out brilliantly.  The sonics were outstanding.  While I enjoyed the singles Metallica released through the next couple years, I never took a dive and bought the album.  Why?

Three main reasons.  The key one was that I knew, even before I knew I had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, that I would feel compelled to collect all the Metallica singles that I had missed over the years.  That was, as yet, a bridge too far.  Second reason was that I satisfied my craving for that style of Metallica in 1992 when Testament came out with The Ritual.  It had a track like “Sandman” called “Electric Crown”.  It had a song like “Sad But True” called “So Many Lies”.  It was perfect for my needs.  Thirdly, for whatever reason I didn’t think I was going to enjoy “old” Metallica, which again, I would feel compelled to collect.

When I started working at the Record Store in 1994, I had the night shifts alone.  I could play whatever I wanted and sometimes I gave Metallica a spin.  I can remember “Enter Sandman” coming on while I was cleaning, and saying to a customer, “Man I love this song!”  He nodded awkwardly and wondered why I was telling him.

A bit later I was hanging out with this guy Chris.  He was extolling the virtues of thrash metal, and put on Kill ‘Em All.  I was astonished when “Blitzkrieg” came on.  “I know this song!  I love this song!”  I exclaimed as I jumped up.  Air guitar in hand, I started bangin’ to the riff.  “This is a song by Blitzkrieg,” I explained to Chris.  “It’s on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal CD that Lars Ulrich produced.  I didn’t know he covered it.”

This is the point at which I like to say I became a Metallica fan.  Collecting the older stuff was still daunting, and a lot of it was expensive because it was out of print.  Which is really why it took Load for me to finally buy a Metallica CD.

1996 was a glorious but so stressing summer!  I was managing my own Record Store for the first time.  The weather was gorgeous.  The stock we had was incredible.  The stress came from staff, which turned over faster than a dog begging for belly rubs!  There was “Sally” who was caught paying herself excessive amounts of cash for the used CDs she was selling to the store.  There was The Boy Who Killed Pink Floyd who came to work hungover and worse.  And, most trying of all, music sucked for people like me who missed the great rock of the 70s and 80s.

On June 4, Metallica released Load to great anticipation.  Their new short-haired look (a Lars and Kirk innovation) turned heads and it was said that Metallica had abandoned metal and gone alternative.  Of course this was stretching the truth a tad.  Metallica had certainly abandoned thrash metal on Load, and arguably earlier.  Alternative?  Only in appearance (particularly Kirk Hammett with eye makeup and new labret piercing).

Load was the kind of rock I liked.  The kind of rock I missed through the recent alterna-years.  I had been buying Oasis CDs just to get some kind of new rock in my ears.  Finally here comes Metallica, with the exact kind of music that I liked, and at the exact time I needed it.

And yes, I did immediately start collecting the rarities and back catalogue.  Garage Days and Kill ‘Em All (with “Blitzkrieg” and “Am I Evil?”) were both out of print at that time.  I snapped up the first copies I could get my hands on, when they came in used inventory.  We were selling them for $25 each, no discount.  I later found a copy of a “Sad But True” single featuring the coveted “So What” at Encore Records for $20.  The new Load singles were added to my collection upon release.  The truth is, I picked the best possible time to get into Metallica collecting:  when I was managing my own used CD store!  I soon had the “Creeping Death” / “Jump In the Fire” CD.  A Japanese import “One” CD single only cemented what a lucky bastard I was to be working there.

Because Metallica came to me relatively later in life, today they never provoke the kind of golden memories that Kiss or Iron Maiden do.  However the summer of ’96 was defined by Metallica.  Driving the car, buddy T-Rev next to me, playing drums on his lap.  His hands and thighs got sore from playing car-drums so hard.  Load was our album of the summer and it sounded brilliant in the car.  Hate if you hafta, but that’s the way it went down for this guy in the dreary 90s.

 

#941: Design Flaws – the CD Jewel Case

RECORD STORE TALES #941: Design Flaws – the CD Jewel Case

While CD has proven to be an enduring format (40 years old now!), its packaging has been, shall we say, less successful.  I’m not referring to the “long box” packaging that CDs originally came with, a disposable (but now collectible) piece of cardboard that served a couple different purposes.  It enabled stores to display their CDs in existing LP shelving, and it discouraged theft.  It also also created waste, and was phased out rather quickly.  However worse than that is the jewel case, the same damn jewel case we use today.

You are as familiar with the flaws of the traditional jewel case as much as I.  They have a number of common breakage points:

  1. The hinges snap off quite easily.  Hinges are commonly broken in shipping.  This is really a flaw inherited from its predecessor, the cassette jewel cases.
  2. A ring of plastic teeth holds in the CD in by the center hole.  Weak inner rings often came broken right out of the package.  This is a deadly flaw, because it leaves plastic shards underneath the CD itself, jiggling around and scratching the disc.  Plus the CD itself cannot be secured inside and moves around as well.  Ugly disc damage all but guaranteed.
  3. Also often broken during shipping are the little plastic tabs that hold in the CD booklet.  Not a fatal flaw, but an annoying one.
  4. All of this amounts to a tremendous amount of plastic waste when a broken CD case or component is discarded and replaced.

The music industry, driven by environmentally conscious artists such as Pearl Jam and Neil Young, thought to try the digipack as a solution to the packaging and waste problems of the jewel case.  This was only moderately successful.  While making CD packages such as Vitalogy out of paper did keep plastic out of the landfill, it did not help with longevity.  Unless extra care was taken every time, the CD would scratch itself coming in and out of its cardboard sleeve.  Many were eventually rendered unplayable.  And then you have plastic in the landfill again.  These paper sleeves were also prone to damage quite easily.  Shelfware, scuffs and rips are common.

Some decent packaging solutions worked well but never caught on, probably due to cost.  For example, look at the Super Audio CD (SACD) case.  Some regular CDs also came packaged in these “super jewel cases”, such as Queen remasters.  It features a much stronger hinge design and thicker plastic.  Not unbreakable, but certainly more difficult to break.  You can still crack them right across the front, but at least the jewel case will still function the way it was intended to:  holding the CD in securely without damaging the surface.

While there is nothing you can do about a CD case damaged in shipping, if you take a reasonable amount of care of your collection, you will end up with very few broken cases.  At least there’s that!

#940: My Friend of Misery

RECORD STORE TALES #940: My Friend of Misery

“You insist that the weight of the world,
Should be on your shoulders,
There’s much more to life than what you see,
My friend of misery.”

James Hetfield may as well have been talking about me.  But it’s not that simple.  I don’t insist the weight of the world should be on my shoulders.  I’d give anything to take some of the weight off.  But I have a lot of responsibility.

Having somebody’s dirty bathwater leaking all over my floor and carpet the last two weeks has pushed me to the breaking point.

“These times are sent to try men’s souls,
But something’s wrong with all you see,
You, you’ll take it on all yourself,
Remember, misery loves company.”

Trying to be proactive about my health, I took a hiatus from writing.  We now have the plumbing fixed.  There’s plenty of damage to repair and lots of stress.  But I think maybe it’ll be OK dipping my toe back into writing.  A little bit.  Cross fingers, knock wood that nothing else gets fucked up.

Metallica has been a soothing remedy.  I haven’t listened to old Metallica in a long time.  This 14 CD / 6 DVD / 6 LP box set is something else.  I’ve played all the LPs and now I’m into the CDs.  James’ riffs tapes range from startling to suck!  The initial “Sad But True” riff is painfully badly recorded.  But a 22 second snippet of a punk rock “Unforgiven” is a truly cool moment.  There’s a lot to go through here.  Metallica have been taking my mind off things.

I did discover something interesting about my car stereo.  It seems to be able to read files that have been deleted.  When you “delete” something off a hard drive, it doesn’t necessarily go away unless you overwrite it.  My car appears to be able to read tracks like this.  This weekend I ripped the massive Metallica box set, and replaced the old album on my hard drive with the newly remastered one.  I also took the time to rip all my Load, Reload and Garage Inc. CD singles to the hard drive.  A complete set of singles, I might add.  Up until St. Anger, the only Metallica release I was only missing was The 6½ Year Anniversary 12″ EP and a “Neckbrace” remix of “Whiplash” (still need both).

On to the car.  The easiest way for me to clean up the car’s hard drive was to completely delete the Metallica folder and then copy over a new one.  What I discovered when I jumped in the fire…I mean car…was that the car drive now had two copies of Kill ‘Em All, Master of Puppets, etc.  My original rip of the Metallica CD was still there, even though I deleted it.  So it seems my car can read deleted files, at least until they are eventually overwritten.

The annoying thing about this is that because of the way the car reads the ID3 tags, each song gets played twice in a row.  So when I play Kill ‘Em All, I get “Hit the Lights”, then “Hit the Lights”, “The Four Horsemen”, “The Four Horsemen”, and so on.  I can fix this but it’s annoying.

So much to fix.  And I haven’t touched on the family health challenges of late.  Some things should stay private.

So let’s try a little writing again.  Because I want to give this Metallica box set a good solid listen, and I’m only about 1/6th of the way through, I won’t be writing up reviews for a little while.  Instead I’ll be focusing on Record Store Tales, a real WTF of a comment, and a new feature.  Now that I’m not trying to constantly keep my floors dry, I can try to be creative again.

I can try.  Yoda says “Do, or do not, there is no try.”

I say “Fucked, you must get, Yoda.”  I’m doing the best I can here!

#939: The Frog in the Pool

Cousin Geoff’s grandparents on his dad’s side owned a huge piece of property in the country with a swimming pool, and the most amazing landscape to explore.  Grassy fields gave way to trees, and I don’t think we ever hit the end of the property when we went walking.  It simply went on forever.  Any time we went there, it was a treat.  We spent a few days at the property that summer, swimming and running pretending we were Jedi or superheroes.  The house had an amazing “back yard”.  There was a steep downwards incline, which you traversed via a series of stairs and landings.  To us it was huge!   It seemed like you were climbing down a mountain.  At the bottom: the swimming pool and all the land you could run through for hours. – Record Store Tales #909

RECORD STORE TALES #939:  The Frog in the Pool

The most precious of childhood memories took place around that swimming pool.   I remember my grandpa picking me up like I was a rag doll and tossing me into the water.  Then I’d swim back and ask him to do it again.

There’s a funny old picture of my grandpa at poolside.  I remember that he liked to roll his own cigarettes.  I remember the tobacco tins and my mom having to explain to me what he was doing.  Well apparently he really loved to do it.  In this photo, he obviously packed up all his tobacco and rolling gear, and just sat there at poolside rolling cigarettes!  He looks so happy with a huge pile of tobacco in front of him.  It strikes me as hilarious that he brought all that stuff with him to spend a day at the pool.

Sergeant Winter reporting for duty.

There’s one notable event that happened at that pool that we don’t have pictures of.

I was really young.  Just a few years old.  And I must have had to go bad, so I pooped in the pool.  I remember the little teeny brown nugget at the bottom of the pool.  “Nobody will notice,” I told myself.

Well they noticed a lot sooner than I thought, so I resorted to my “plan B”.  I thought the little poop looked like a frog at the bottom of the pool, so that’s what I claimed it was.  “Just a frog”.  Nobody bought it and somebody got a pool scooper and picked up my poop.  I probably denied that it was mine right to the very end.  This might actually be my first admission that I pooped in the pool!

No it was not a frog.  It was me.  I confess.

#938: Tears of a Clown

RECORD STORE TALES #938: Tears of a Clown

Yesterday, September 10, was Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day.  I was reminded of a good story, about a special young man that I met only once.  It was years ago, but for background, I’m going to tell you some things about myself that I’ve never shared publicly before.

The stigma on people who suffer from mental health issues is real.  We get called “crazy” or “weak”.  In reality we are some of the strongest people you will ever meet because we wrestle daily with things just because the chemistry of our brains is a little bit out of whack.  Every day that we finish is a day that we won.  Support is hard to find.  Everybody here should know by now that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  This is compounded daily by the stresses of supporting a wife sick with untreatable epilepsy.  Nobody can accuse me of having it easy.  I went to the doctor and got some “happy pills” but they didn’t agree with me.  One day when I couldn’t take it anymore, I went back to the doctor and she immediately put me on a sick leave.  I begged her not to.  I didn’t want my work to have to deal with it.  The doctor talked some sense into me.  I went on sick leave, and I made damn sure I did not waste my time.  As far as I was concerned, I might not have been “at” work, but I had to work, and that meant working on myself.

I enrolled in a class called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  It’s called “CBT” for short, which means something else too. I’ll get into that in a bit.

The people I met at CBT group were just like anyone else I ever met.  There was en executive.  There was a goth.  There were people who worked in finance.  Parents and grandparents.  People who cared for sick family members.  All walks of life.  Some I’m still friends with today.  We worked through things together and it was heavy.  We had some laughs too, as you should, but we dealt with a lot of things in that group.

One of the ladies I met there, “Katy”, became a friend immediately.  She was an office professional in the world of finance.  I think when she was younger, she worked as stage crew for touring bands.  We knew a lot of the same groups.  She was a fan of the Genitorturers, who I believe she worked for in the past.  One day in CBT class she leaned over and with a sly grin and whispered to me, “Do you know what else CBT stands for?”

I had an idea.  Thanks to some friends in the UK tattoo and piercing community, I knew that CBT also stands for “Cock and Ball Torture”.

She laughed that I knew it, and our bond was cemented.  It was an intense class and I needed a friend.  We got sad and anxious as the weeks wound up, and we were set to go back to our lives.  A bunch of us exchanged phone numbers and made plans to stay in touch.  I was really in a state of worry about heading back to work, as was “Katy”.  I wanted to get some new shoes for the job, and she agreed to help me pick out a pair.

“Is it OK if my son comes along?” she asked.  “You’ll like him.”

I did.  I liked him a lot.

I met up with “Katy” and her son “Kenny” at a central Tim Hortons location.  He reminded me of a young Jeremy Taggart from Our Lady Peace.  We drank coffee for an hour or two, while “Kenny” kept me in stitches with his natural sense of humour.  He reminded me of a stand-up comedian.  He just had the natural ability to make people laugh and entertain.  It was one of the best coffee visits I’ve ever had with anyone.  I asked him if he’d ever be interested in working together.  I didn’t have any clear ideas, I just knew that I wanted to do some kind of video with him.  A commentary, a discussion, a stunt…I knew he’d be hilarious.

After coffee we went to a store looking for my new shoes.  When we got there, “Kenny” asked if he could try on some skin-tight spandex workout suits.  He had no reason to try one on…he was not getting into cycling all of a sudden.  I think he just wanted to make us laugh.  He came out of the change room in this ridiculous outfit that was far too tight.  I’m sure his circulation was cut off and he couldn’t feel his feet.  Seeing him pose around the store in this skin-tight wrapping was both awkward and hilarious.  I recall he had a devil of a time trying to get it off.

I really enjoyed my day with them.  I wore my new shoes on my first day back in the office and it felt good to be in the driver’s seat again.  “Katy” and I kept in touch a little bit.  I knew “Kenny” had his own issues, but I was always a big supporter and fan of his.

Then one day in 2015, “Katy” sent me a message on Facebook.  Her son was gone.  I froze in the shock of it.  One day, I guess he just couldn’t take it anymore.  A feeling that I thought I knew, but had never taken further.  I simply could not believe what I was reading.  It seemed impossibly wrong.  This young man, destined to be someone truly special, who made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe, was gone.

“It’s always the funniest ones,” I thought to myself.  The year before, Robin Williams took his own life.  Iron Maiden wrote a song about it called “Tears of a Clown”.

“All alone in a crowded room, he tries to force a smile.”  Could I ever relate to that.  “Wonder why he’s feeling down, tears of a clown.”

When I think of all those comedians who struggle or have struggled with their own problems, I think of my friend and her son.  Without exaggeration, one of the funniest people I ever met, if only for a few hours.  It was a long time ago but I still talk about that day.  He was a special kid and I’m sorry that you’ll never get to see the two of us in a video together like I hoped.  It would have been hilarious.