RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale

#773: Rock Candy + Internet = Kick Axe!

GETTING MORE TALE #773: Rock Candy + Internet = Kick Axe!

Like many things, it started with a story.

I have liked the music of Kick Axe since I first heard them back in 1984.  “On the Road to Rock” was a Power Hour (not yet the Pepsi Power Hour) staple.  I knew the video off by heart.  A Vices button was among the first handful I owned.  I think it was a birthday gift from my best friend Bob.  As it turns out, I never got the album, or any Kick Axe for that matter, until now.  So how did it turn out that I’m doing this Kick Axe review series?

I. ENCORE

In July, I scored two Kick Axe remastered CDs by Rock Candy records.  This occurred at the best Record Store in town, Encore, who had both Vices and Welcome to the Club in stock.  I had been looking for these in Toronto (“Taranna”) for years.  No luck.  The Encore visit was my first time finding them in store.  Vices has a bonus track.  I always intended to get the Rock Candy version for that reason.  Aaron and I found Kick Axe vinyl in Taranna before, but I was holding out.  The bonus track made the Rock Candy reissue my preferred version.

II. ROCK CANDY

Another thing about Rock Candy:  the liner are, shall we say, goddamn essential.  Featuring original interviews, untold stories, and assorted documented details, you will absolutely learn something from the liner notes in a Rock Candy CD.  One thing I learned before even opening the booklet was that the third Kick Axe album was also available from Rock Candy.  Already having the first two, it seemed dumb not to get the third.  Especially since the liner notes said that Rock the World was, in some regards, their strongest album.  As I read the notes, I recalled they did two songs for The Transformers soundtrack under the name Spectre General.  The notes confirmed that Spectre General was Kick Axe, not some side project.

Thanks to Rock Candy, light was shed on early Kick Axe history previously unknown to me.  I discovered they had an early 7″ single called “Weekend Ride”, with a singer earlier than George Criston.  They also had a live track on a compilation called Playboy Street Rock.  When Bob and I were kids, we used to be fascinated by the early history of bands.  Like finding out White Lion had an album before Pride, or that Iron Maiden had something called The Soundhouse Tapes before their first album.  I wanted to get the early Kick Axe stuff I just found out existed!

III. AMAZON and DISCOGS

If I knew about those early Kick Axe songs as a kid, it would have taken me decades to find them.  Today, I had most of them within a week.

Amazon had Rock the World in stock, and it was at the house two days later. Discogs had “Weekend Ride”, The Transformers, and Playboy Street Rock from different sellers.  I hesitated on Transformers but pulled the trigger on the other two.  I would have preferred a remastered Transformers CD with bonus tracks.  They were way too rich for me.  I couldn’t get one for much less than $50.  Even the reissued vinyl without the bonus tracks was pricey.  Ultimately, I settled on an original CD, which was still not cheap.

“Weekend Ride” and Playboy Street Rock arrived within a few days.  Wonders of the modern world.  What would have taken years before happened in under a week.

IV. KICK AXE

Fortunately, it turns out that I quite like my Kick Axe purchases.  So much so, that I was inspired to do a Kick Axe review series.

Kick Axe have a fourth album (Kick Axe IV) from a Criston-less reunion.  I’m undecided if I’ll go that far, but in the mean time you can look forward to learning more about Canada’s own metal proponents.  I’m delighted to discover a band that could really sing, and play like big leaguers.  I hope you’ll enjoy them too.

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#772: The Phantom Menace (20 Years On)

GETTING MORE TALE #772: The Phantom Menace (20 Years On)

If you can believe it, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is 20 years old this year.  2019 is a significant year in the history of Star Wars.  It is the 20th anniversary of its return with the prequels, and it will also witness the final movie of the Skywalker saga in Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.  Back in Record Store Tales Part 209: The Phantom Menace, I said I wasn’t “interested in contributing to the background noise” regarding the movie, but I’ve since changed my mind.  Now that George Lucas is out of the picture and J.J. Abrams is helming the finale of the sequel trilogy, it’s hard not to get a little nostalgic for 1999, when things were…simpler.

Netflix has different movies available in different countries, but you can sidestep this with some VPN software.  Some countries have no Star Wars, but between them, all of the films are available.  Bahamas is the only territory I’ve discovered so far with the first two trilogies, so I’ve been re-watching from I to VIII.  And for all its flaws, with the benefit of hindsight, The Phantom Menace is still quite enjoyable.

George Lucas had his own ideas about where to take Star Wars, but the fan hate that Phantom Menace (and the other prequels) received took the wind out of his sails.  He laid the groundwork in Phantom Menace, with that talk about the highly maligned midichlorians.  Now, midichlorians were an awful idea.  J.J. Abrams is right to leave them out of the sequel trilogy.  The idea of little microscopic organelles in your blood giving you the ability to tap into the Force?  It creates so many problems.  Like, if you have more midichlorians in your blood than someone else, does that automatically make you more powerful?  Can we therefore rank numerically every character by midichlorian count and deduce who the most powerful is?  Can you get a blood transfusion from a Jedi and steal his or her Jedi powers? That’s the kind of shit that fans hate on.  Why couldn’t Lucas leave the Force alone with all its mystery intact?

Because he was going somewhere with that.  Lucas came up with the name and concept of midichlorians back in 1977; the idea is very old.  Now we understand why.  George was also setting up the final trilogy, the one that J.J. is currently finishing. Episodes VII through IX “were going to get into a microbiotic world,” George Lucas told James Cameron. So, like Ant-Man?  “There’s this world of creatures that operate differently than we do. I call them the Whills. And the Whills are the ones who actually control the universe. They feed off the Force.”  Fans recall that “Whills” is an old word.  The first Star Wars novelization refers to the entire saga as The Journal of the Whills.  In Lucas’ own sequel trilogy, Jedi were to be merely “vehicles for the Whills to travel around in…And the conduit is the midichlorians. The midichlorians are the ones that communicate with the Whills. The Whills, in a general sense, they are the Force.”

Like Ant-Man meets Dr. Strange meets The Fantastic Voyage, maybe.  With lightsabers?  Terrible; undoubtedly awful.  I can’t even fathom how he would have executed this idea.  The fans would have rioted.  You think the hate that fandom gives Disney today is intense?  Imagine if George’s microscopic version got made.

But at least George had a vision.

Lucas wasn’t about making the trilogies the same.  Having watched both The Force Awakens and Phantom Menace recently on Netflix, it’s clear that J.J. made a better movie that feels more like Star Wars.  Flawed, yes, but it seemed to be setting up some pretty epic storytelling (until Rian Johnson took a shit all over it with his left turn Last Jedi.)  J.J.’s Star Wars is better acted, paced and edited.  The dialogue is far less stiff.  But George’s Phantom Menace has something that J.J.’s Force Awakens does not:  daring imagination.

One of the most successful sequences in Episode I is the pod race.  It’s completely irrelevant to the story, which is one of the many problems, but on its own, it is a glistening example of George’s unfettered imagination.  In 1999, this race was unimaginably new.  The only thing that came close was the speeder bike chase in 1983’s Return of the Jedi, primitive as it was.  Lucas broke new ground in multiple ways with his prequels, whether you like his innovations or not, and primitive CG characters aside.  People complain that J.J.’s Star Wars is just a soft reboot.  Well, watch Phantom Menace if that’s not your cup of tea.  The pod race, at least.  Lucas combined his love of race cars with science fiction and directed one of the best race sequences in the genre.  In any genre.  Even little Jake Lloyd shone in that cockpit, confidently flying himself to victory.

It’s a shame that pod race sequence was completely unnecessary.  I mean, you’re telling me Liam Neeson couldn’t figure out any other way to get off that planet, other than a complicated scheme of betting; gambling on a child pod racer?  Liam was supposed to be a goddamned Jedi master.  They keep talking about how much time they’re wasting on the planet, but they wait to see how this damned race plays out?  A race that could have killed a little kid!  Weird choices.  If you were a Jedi, you could have figured out dozens of faster and safer ways to get off that planet, right?

Once they do finally get off that planet, the Jedi arrive home on the capitol world Coruscant.  This was a bit of fan service, something that they wanted to see more of, since it had been such an important part of comics, novels and production artwork.  Cloud City aside, it was the first real time we saw an urban city environment on Star Wars.  True to form, Lucas made the whole planet one environment, in this case a city.  It was also some of the most brilliant visual designs on the prequel trilogy, one which would set the tone for the two movies that followed.

For better or for worse, Lucas spent much of the prequel trilogy defining who the Jedi were.  What they could do, what they couldn’t, and what they believed in.  We learned of the “living Force”, and oodles of Jedi wisdom about attachment and fear.  Jedi couldn’t marry, which was surprising, considering the Skywalker bloodline is the entire focus of the saga.  Yet George was throwing tons of ideas at us.  Stuff that he had been keeping in dusty old notebooks for years.  Nothing in the sequel trilogy comes close to revealing as much about the Star Wars universe as the prequels do.

Though Phantom Menace is the movie with the most cringe-worthy moments, wooden dialogue and shitty acting, there are the odd scenes that George did artistically and perfect.  Take the moment that Anakin and friends arrive on Coruscant, an overwhelming moment for the little boy.  George shot some of the footage from kid-height, allowing us to experience Anakin’s anxiety without clumsy dialogue.  The aforementioned pod race sequence is brilliant, and so is the final lightsaber duel.  For the first time, serious acrobatics and martial arts moves were incorporated into the laser sword battles.  This went on to define how the Jedi normally fought throughout all the prequels:  with a lot of jumping, leaping, and somersaulting.  For all the epic duels in the saga, one of the greatest (if not number one) is Kenobi and Jinn vs. Darth Maul.  From John Williams’ score (“Duel of the Fates”) to the choreography by Nick Gillard, it was focused through George Lucas’ lens into something absolutely brain-melting.  Until Darth Maul lost like a chump.  No excusing that; although remember that George did something similar to Boba Fett in Episode VI.

The droid designs were also pretty cool.  As iconic as a stormtrooper?  No.  But sleek, interesting, new and believable?  Absolutely.  This helped shape the visually stunning Naboo land battle scenes.  J.J. didn’t introduce any new infantry troops in his movie, he just updated the existing ones.

There was one thing that The Force Awakens and The Phantom Menace did equally well.  One very important thing that neither gets enough credit for: they made us anticipate the next film in the trilogies with hunger.  (Until Rian Johnson pissed all over J.J.’s ending, that is.)  Both films’ endings felt like the setup for events we couldn’t wait to see on screen.  The training of Anakin/Rey, for example.  A clue to the truth about the big bad guys (Sidious/Snoke).  The next meeting between good and evil.  J.J. and George both succeeded in creating this feeling of heavy anticipation.

By the time all three prequel movies played out, each problematic with wooden acting and stiff stories, fans were burned out on prequel-era Star Wars.  The Clone Wars TV show did a better job of living in that universe, but fans longed for the old familiar again.  X-Wings and Han Solo and the Empire and all of it.  So that’s what J.J. delivered.  And J.J. Abrams learned what we all know:  there is no pleasing Star Wars fans.

We fans take this stuff too seriously sometimes.  You’ve just read 1500 words, comparing Star Wars movies’ strengths and flaws.  That’s excessive, for both the reader and the writer!  We take this too seriously, friend.  Sure, we don’t go and harass the actors on Twitter like some juvenile delinquents do, but we’ve invested so much time and thought into a goddamn space movie series.  Too late to turn back now.  I think it’s important to take a break, step back and appreciate the movies from a different perspective.  Having done that with Phantom Menace, I can see it has its mitigating traits that still make me smile 20 years later.

 

 

#771: Just A Tribute

GETTING MORE TALE #771: Just A Tribute

I used to loathe tribute bands – those acts that get up on stage and play entire sets of another band.  There was “Runs N’ Your Hoses”, for example, a Guns N’ Roses tribute act.  In the late 80s and early 90s, these tribute bands plagued the Toronto music scene, chocking out acts playing original music.  M.E.A.T Magazine went on a holy crusade against these bands, and refused to give coverage to any of them.  I thought that was a good idea.  Eventually the Toronto scene flourished with band after band playing original songs.

Things have changed completely in the last 30 years and tribute acts are no longer a scourge like they once were.  They co-exist with original bands, sharing the scene.  However until recently, I still found tribute bands somewhat embarrassing.  Why would I want to go see four guys dressed as Kiss?  Sure, it’s cheaper than seeing the real band, and they would play songs that Kiss would not, but still:  it’s not Kiss.  Kiss tribute bands are a funny thing.  Usually the Genes look good, but the Pauls don’t look like Stanley and the Peters are pudgy.  I can’t suspend my disbelief enough to get into the act.  You’ll also see AC/DC tribute bands, with the guitarist wearing shorts and the singer sporting a train conductor hat.  That’s usually as far as it goes, with the rest of the band just showing up in the street clothes.  I guess if you are out with friends with nothing to do, you could catch a set of AC/DC tunes for a few bucks.

I took a bit of flack a few months ago when I saw an ad for an Oasis tribute band.  The picture showed two guys in Oasis haircuts, obviously meant to be the Liam and Noel of the band.  Something about that picture struck me as utterly ridiculous.  The haircuts – I mean, do you look like Liam and Noel on your days off?  Why not go up there and play the Oasis songs as yourselves?  It’s not like Oasis are an image-based band like Kiss (and Angus Young to a lesser degree).  You can do Oasis songs without the hair.

A guy who plays in a Queen tribute band chastised me for my blanket stance on tributes.  His own band worked hard on nailing the songs, practising until they were perfect.  He makes original music in his spare time, quite different from the Queen stuff.  He considered the tribute band a form of art, something you could do really poorly or work hard at it and do really well.  And it’s not like you can go and see Queen (or Oasis) whenever you want.  I didn’t mean to shit all over his livelihood.  Surely I couldn’t be the only one who saw the Oasis hair and thought it was a bit silly?  His Queen band look the part.  He wears a big curly Brian May wig, and his Freddie impersonator looks spot-on.  He’s a respectable progressive rock guitarist, and I have to consider that.  He knows his stuff and he does music for a living.  People love the Queen act, even if I don’t get it.

A little later down the road, I met a music nut named Tony.  He asked me if I played any instruments.  Alas, I do not.  “My brother plays in an Oasis tribute band,” he said.  My jaw dropped.  Holy shit.

His brother was in the Oasis band with the haircuts that I had been mocking earlier!

I laughed and confessed to him what I had been saying about the Oasis tribute.  We talked a bit.  I began to appreciate the tribute a bit more.  The band, called Supersonic, played all over the place in both Canada and the US.  They’ve done big gigs; they’ve played the Horseshoe tavern and all kinds of festivals.  Clearly, people at large don’t have a problem with tribute bands.  Just me.  I don’t hear anybody else complaining about them.

So what’s my problem?

I guess I’m starting to warm up to the idea of tribute bands.  I admit, I’d rather see a guitar player get up there as himself, and not wear a Brian May wig.  It reminds me a bit of highschool air bands.  But when you have a guy up there dressed to the nines like Freddie Mercury, it would seem silly not to have a Brian May lookalike standing next to him, right?

I need to rethink my position.  Perhaps they enrich the music scene and fill a demand that the original bands can’t?  Some, like The Iron Maidens, have even recorded albums!  Few things have changed as much as music has in the last 30 years, and we now seem to be living in a time when a tribute act is a legitimate enterprise.  The biggest tribute bands seem to have a gimmick beyond just doing the songs or the look.  Hayseed Dixie, for example, used to do bluegrass covers of AC/DC before they diversified to Kiss and other classic rockers.  Then there are all-female acts like AC/DShe, Hells Belles and the aforementioned Iron Maidens.  Like any kind of band, there are good and bad ones.  I think it might be time to stop overlooking the good.

#770: Encore!

GETTING MORE TALE #770: Encore!

I’ve been avoiding downtown Kitchener for the last couple years.  All that construction (five years’ worth) installing our new light-rail transit system…it’s been hellacious.  But that construction is now over, and the LRT train (called the ION) is running every 15 minutes.  Only two years behind schedule!  And guess where one of the stops is?  Right by legendary record store Encore Records.  Perfect!  No need to worry about parking.

Mrs. LeBrain and I hopped on a bus to the mall, and a few minutes later the train pulled in.  Using the free Wi-fi, I live-streamed myself making goofy faces on our new train.  The ride was quiet and fast since it only stopped a handful of times.  These new trains are lovely!  Now that they are finally running, I can see that the headaches will be worth it.  Clean and quick – I’d use the ION again.  It’s a shame but there are still people who hate the train so much that they would actually like to spend taxpayer money on ripping up the tracks!  What a waste that would be.  Let’s give this LRT a fair shake.

We disembarked the train at the City Hall stop, only a brief walk from Encore.  Not only was this my first ride on the train, but also my first visit to Encore since they moved from their old Queen St. location.  The new store, though not wheelchair accessible, seemed bigger and cleaner.  Old pal Al “The” King was there, happily still slinging the rock for us patrons.

We chatted a bit.  Al really enjoyed working at Encore.  There was a guy that I trained at my old Record Store about 15 years ago.  He left shortly after to work at Encore, and he’s still there!  When you find a place you enjoy working, I guess you stay!

Time to go look at music….

It didn’t take long for me to exceed my budget for the day.  First snag was from the new release rack:  The Beaches’ excellent new EP The Professional, $9.99.  A great recording; it will be getting a few spins this summer.  Next:  the used CD racks.  Plenty of stock as usual.  I came looking for old Styx, but there was no used Styx that I needed.  Instead I grabbed three Scorpions remasters:  World Wide Live (with DVD), Savage Amusement (with DVD), and Animal Magnetism.  $20 each.

Whoops!  I already owned Animal Magnetism.  No big deal; looks like some lucky person will be getting a free copy from me.  I really have to keep track of reissues better.  This is happening more and more frequently as my collection grows.

I still wanted some more classic Styx.  I’ve been playing my Styx albums repeatedly.  I needed some more classics to throw in the shuffle, so I moved on to the new CD racks.  There I picked up Pieces of Eight and Crystal Ball.  $9.99 each.  One by one and I’ll get them all.

Continuing through the racks of new stock, I spied two Kick Axe remasters by Rock Candy.  I’ve wanted both these albums for a long time:  Vices and Welcome to the Club, $22.99 each.  I’ve spun through both twice and was impressed with both the music and liner notes.  What an underrated singer George Criston is.  This sparked more Kick Axe purchases later on Discogs and Amazon.  The third album, Rock the World, is coming in the form of another Rock Candy remaster.  And thanks to the excellent liner notes inside Vices, I also tracked down some early Kick Axe on Discogs.  Debut single “Week-End Ride” / “One More Time” from 1981 is inbound!  Also coming, from the same year, is a compilation LP called Playboy Street Rock.  Kick Axe have a live track on that called “Reality is the Nightmare”.  It’s going to be cool hearing those early songs, which had a different singer.

It’s funny about Kick Axe.  One of the first buttons I ever bought for my jacket was Vices.  It only took close to 40 years to finally get the album.

Finally we closed the Encore trip with some vinyl.  A lovely reissue of Alice Cooper’s Zipper Catches Skin, on clear “black smoke” vinyl.  It looks and sounds great, and now I finally have all the Alice Cooper studio albums.

We bid farewell to Al and headed home again on the ION.  Now that the train is up and running, I do believe I’ll be making Encore a fairly regular weekend stop.

5/5 stars

 

 

#769.5: Paranormal Mail

As birthday celebrations creep into the following week, gifts continue to arrive!

Aaron of KMA fame is known far and wide for his generosity and creativity in finding the perfect gifts.  He was worried about this one.  Sending a digipack CD in a bubble mailer doesn’t always guarantee safe arrival.  He threw some plastic wrap around it as an extra layer of protection from the elements.  His precautions did the trick and now I am the happy owner of a signed copy of Alice Cooper’s Paranormal!

A great album, Paranormal is a fully-loaded deluxe double CD with a smoking live disc.  And now I have a signed copy to top it off.  Aaron and I briefly discussed what the hell would make someone trade in a signed Alice CD?  I didn’t have anything signed by Alice, until now.  This is a first for my collection.  Whatever the circumstances, I’m glad to be the benefactor.

Thanks Aaron — you know my “Paranoiac Personality” very well!

#769: Twenty-Three

GETTING MORE TALE #769: Twenty-Three

July 1995 was a very complex month, at least for a young 22 year old guy living in Canada, not yet named LeBrain.

The girl I really liked had just broken up with her boyfriend — a guy in our circle of friends named Nick.  Just about everybody in the world knew I had a crush on her.  She dumped him one weekend when I was at the cottage.  My buddy Aaron called me long distance just to tell me!  Nick was a bit of a cock sometimes, but I tried to be reasonably respectful to him.  I thought I should wait three weeks until I made any move.

By mid-July I still hadn’t done anything, although I talked to the girl just about every day.  My 23rd birthday was coming up, and a small group of friends decided to throw a party.  It was a joint birthday party — another girl with the same mutual friends had a birthday the same week as me.  We combined everything into one party, in my parents’ basement.  Aaron was there, my wingman.  He was good at making people laugh, so that was always helpful when I didn’t know what to say around girls.  And of course, the girl I liked was coming too!

We decided on a murder mystery party, and we were supposed to be dressed somewhat in character.  I think I was a race car driver.  Crush-girl dressed as a gypsy.  Oh my God.  I was well on my way to bonertown.  She even did an accent for her character.  Schwing!

One of my friends that came gave me my first copy of Rush’s 2112.  That alone would have made it a memorable birthday.  The most memorable thing to me, however, was the final guest to arrive.

Craig arrived late.  I didn’t know him, not really.  He was there at the invite of the girl who also had a birthday to celebrate.  But I certainly knew of him!  As soon as he came to the door, I recognized him immediately and with total surprise.  Though he was two years older, Craig and I went to the same highschool.  We even hung out in the same circles, although we’d never officially met before.  He was friends with guys like Bob Schipper and Rob Daniels.  In fact, one reason I knew Craig’s face so well was that he was actually on one of the tapes in my VHS Archives!  Back in 1989, Rob Daniels was just beginning his career in broadcasting and media.  He did a public service ad for Rogers cable.  He wrote and directed “One More For the Road”, an anti-drinking and driving ad.  Bob Schipper played the victim.  Craig played the drunk driver.  I had a copy.  I knew every line of dialogue in that ad.  It was actually really well made with a killer soundtrack.  Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” is playing from the car stereo when Bob is struck down in his prime.

Some great acting from Bob

I excitedly greeted Craig at the door and told him of our mutual highschool friends.  He looked exactly the same except for the hair, which was now long and in a ponytail.  He was a short fella, funny and well read.  How cool was it that we happened to have all these connections, and then just run into each other at my own birthday party?

I was having the best time!

As the day wore on and guests began to leave, I was looking forward to spending a little more time with the girl I liked.  The only issue:  Craig didn’t seem to want to leave.  Worse, he was really making conversation with my crush.  A little too much conversation.

I sat there smiling, helplessly thinking of something to do.  I suggested that I wanted to eat, and I think he helped himself to stay for pizza or whatever we ordered.  I didn’t want to be rude.  I was on my best behaviour in front of my crush.  She was a strong independent woman and there was no way I was going to hint that I was jealous.  Inside, I was Hulk-green.

I whispered to Aaron, “Is this guy ever going to leave?”  He shrugged.  He didn’t know what to do either.

Craig clearly didn’t know about or appreciate the hard work I had been laying these last few weeks.  Hell, I was waiting for something to happen with crush girl for months!  I knew she was not going to last with Nick.  She called me to complain about him often enough.  He was too clingy.  I was playing a long game.  I’d been a sympathetic ear a long time.  She flat out told me that if she met me before him, it would have been different.  And Craig was sticking his nose in all my patience!

I know that I said earlier that I was trying to give it time out of respect for the other guy, before I made a move.  I know that sounds contradictory to the idea of a long game I had been playing for months.  It’s not really.  There’s a certain code of conduct you had to respect.  It was all very complex and mathematical.  Having discussed it with Aaron, I was convinced three weeks was the minimum amount of time I had to wait before I asked her on a date.  There was also the small matter of stumbling over my words and not knowing at all how to ask her out.  I had a serious inhibition there, stuttering and fumbling and turning back.

Extreme had a single called “Tragic Comic” that, ironically, I made a cassette tape of for the birthday girl sharing the party with me that exact dame day.  And that song has the line I really identified with:  “I’m a stut-tut-terring p-poet.”

It was dark out before Craig finally left, having failed in his quest to sway my crush his way.  I decided that was to be our first and last meeting!  My day began on such a high, and ended with me tense and frustrated.  We all headed our separate ways, and I went to bed brooding.

Time was up.  She wasn’t going to wait forever.  (In fact, she didn’t — little did I know, she banged some other guy a couple weeks earlier.  I think he rode a motorcycle, or something.  But I didn’t know.)  I finally worked myself up, said something stupid, she said yes, and I danced around the house playing air guitar.

It was so simple in hindsight.  All I had to do was be myself.  She already liked me, pimples and all.  So we dated that summer and it was awesome!  On one of my first lunch dates with my new girl, we were at an outdoor patio in Elora, and that was the first time I ever heard “Sign of the Southern Cross” by Black Sabbath.  Yes, on an outdoor patio on a lunch date in Elora.  Who else can make that claim?  It was a good summer; nay a great summer.  The year I turned 23 will always be burned into my memory.  The birthday I got 2112, and met Craig the attempted-wicked-woman-stealer.  Pretty summer-defining events!

 

#768: Scanning the Notebooks

GETTING MORE TALE #768: Scanning the Notebooks

Mrs. LeBrain and I have been downsizing of late, and getting rid of old stuff we don’t need anymore.  In the process we have discovered lots of cool treasures we have been hanging onto.  In the last few months I’ve shown you a treasure trove of cassette and VHS rediscoveries, and things keep turning up all the time. The lady that helped us downsize, Elanda, didn’t understand why I needed to hang onto old yearbooks and CDs.  This kind of thing is important to me.  I’ve built an entire series of stories on nostalgia!  Preserving this stuff, to me, is preserving musical history.  It’s a part of the extended story of these bands.  It’s my autobiography.

Another great place to find old treasures is the parents’ basement.  I didn’t realize they hung on to some of my old, beat up highschool notebooks.  The covers are falling off, but like an archaeologist, I have to preserve this stuff for posterity.  Look what I found!

I didn’t just scribble band logos on my notebooks.  I painted them on.  My mother had a basement full of paints for her ceramics classes.  I had access to all the brushes, colours and textures you could ask for.  Most of the paints I used were water soluble, so I probably sprayed this binder with a clear coat to protect the paint.  30 years later, my artwork is still about 90% intact.

The Van Halen, Def Leppard, Dio, and Van Halen logos are self explanatory.  Look a little further.  I took the trouble of drawing Ratt’s titular mascot using three colours, including silver for his sunglasses.  The lightning bolts here are there are meant to be a reference to Frehley’s Comet.  (From looking over my homework inside, it seems I also signed my name with a lightning bolt.)  In the bottom front corner of the binder, “Dawn Was Here” was written on there by one of my sister’s annoying friends who took ceramics class at our house.

Digging inside, I discovered that I clearly put more effort into the front covers than my English homework.

Next to the very bored notes about American literature are more logos, more lightning bolts, a few grim reapers, and designs for multi-neck guitars.  More rats!  Cartoon portraits of Gene Simmons (no makeup; it was 1988) and Rob Halford.

Judging by my careless scribbles, it seems I was not a fan of Huck Finn.  The notes in English class are not legible and it looks like I didn’t do much homework.  That’s not to say I wasn’t working hard in class.  Some of the best sketches came from English class.  I obviously spent a lot of time on some of them.  A page called “Scenes of Death” looks alarming at first, until you look a little closer and notice that one guy is getting jumped by a giant Schnauzer.

 

And, of course, a giant page of logos.

Everyone had the giant page of logos.

Bob Schipper had the idea of calling our “band” Paragon.  “Not Paradox,” he stressed, “but Paragon.  It means we’re among the best.”  Our logo is the centerpiece of the page, coloured in yellow highlighter.  The entire page is like a “Where’s Waldo?” of bands and references.

My science and history notebooks are much cleaner.  Fewer band logos, more meticulously taken notes.  Still,  found of portrait of Satan in my History book.  I was trying to copy the style of Derek Riggs.

I’m grateful my mom and dad hung on to these books.  It makes up for my dad throwing out my Chopper Strike board game and damaging my ZZ Top Eliminator model.  There is still a ton more stuff at their place for me to go through, including a mountain of cool T-shirts that I forgot I owned.  My original Judas Priest shirt is there, the one that got me in trouble at Catholic school.  Imagine if ol’ Mrs. Powers at the Catholic school had seen my later Satan drawing!  I’m certain it would have raised concern and probably a meeting with my parents.

I’m glad I switched out from a Catholic grade school to a mainstream high school.  My logo and Satan drawing skills certainly flourished there, even if my appreciation for Huck Finn did not.

 

#765: “Three Yolks, Two Whites”… The Sausagefest 2019 Story

GETTING MORE TALE #765:
“Three Yolks, Two Whites” …and One Fucked Up Tent: The Sausagefest 2019 Story

It’s better than Christmas. It’s better than birthdays. It’s more rock and roll than Lemmy snorting coke off Ozzy Osbourne’s cock. It’s Sausagefest.

We look forward to this rock and roll party every year. It is the highlight of our calendars. We meticulously plan out songs, sketches, jokes, and food. Mountains of meat, sizzling to a soundtrack of pure integrity (with a couple musical exceptions). Male companionship? More like brotherhood.

Preparation is key. I started recording bits for my Sausagefest contributions late last year. All my introductions were “finished” weeks ahead of time, which gave the rare opportunity to listen and go back and fix things that were not working.  It was worth it.  The intros were well received and Uncle Meat enjoyed the Rob Gronkowski bits that I poached from Family Guy.

Meat and I left town after lunch on Friday, and as per our new tradition, stopped at Value Village to buy new T-shirts for the party.  The more ridiculous the better, for him.  He found a stupidly bright pink shirt depicting a Dr. Aftab Patla, and for me a shirt that said “OFFICER OF ROCK” on the back.

“Should have said ‘cock’,” commented my pal Jason.

This is the kind of stuff we find funny.

It was a blazing hot Friday and as soon as I had my new tent and canopy set up, I went down to the river for the first swim of the weekend.  Many of the boys had already arrived, and our glorious leader Tom pulled in at the same time we did.

There was an issue early in the evening.  Apparently the old laptop that has been playing the Countdown ever since they did the switch to mp3 has a bad audio out jack.  The backup plan was to play the Countdown off Meat’s phone, but it refused to play the tracks in the right order.  As a team we re-numbered all the id3 tags and renamed all the tracks until his phone miraculously began to do what we needed.  All of this done in a big open field on a Samsung phone.

The legendary 100 song Countdown was inaugurated this year by Styx with “Renegade”.  We were treated to a slew of classics (Black Sabbath, the Kinks, Drive By Truckers, Queensryche, Tenacious D, etc.) and a few duds (Afroman).  There is a certain, shall we say, younger element that has grown as Sausagefest expanded.  These highly respected youngsters were responsible for voting in some pretty incredible music from rock to funk.  Where they confuse me periodically is shit like Afroman.  You will hear me ranting about the rap songs on this year’s video, included at the bottom.

Afroman was one of nine songs that were given to me to introduce.  I refused to do it; instead I ranted for a bit about being stuck with a shit song, and asked my radio buddy Erik Woods to do it.  So picture that deep radio voice announcing, “this song is called ‘She Won’t Let Me Fuck'”.

I will give the young fellas credit for one thing.  When I arrived, I found out they were already campaigning for votes to get “Beth” onto next year’s Countdown.  This is, of course, because in 2015 I had to blast the song at full volume to wake up Uncle Meat, and even that wouldn’t do it.   Personally I would love if “Beth” made the Countdown next year, as a little wink to the Meat Man, who is not a morning person.  You’ll see that in the video as well.

Max the Axe wanted to grab breakfast at the Spatula early Saturday morning.  We roused the Meat Man, who was more than a little displeased to find out we arrived before they actually opened.  I took the brunt of the blame even though it was Max (his own band leader) who wanted to go!  And this is where things go slightly sideways.

The Spatula opened just five minutes later, and Max the Axe threw a wrench into things immediately by ordering eggs with “three yolks, and two whites”.  Our server didn’t seem to be in the best of moods, having already referred to Sebastien Munier as “Mr. Tattoo” when he walked in.  Max’s order was probably not the first one she wanted to take that morning.

“I don’t understand what he wants,” she said to us.  “I’m just giving him two eggs.”  The rest of us nodded in agreement.  Three yolks and two whites?  Who the fuck orders that?

“The chefs know how to make it!” testified Max in his own defence.  “They use the leftover egg white to make Hollandaise sauce.”

I did my research on this, and just to make everything even funnier, Max got that 100% wrong.  According to every recipe I consulted, Hollandaise sauce is made with yolks, not whites!

Max ate his two eggs in peace, but we were actually a bit perturbed at a new, teeny-tiny menu.  The legendary Flesherton Fillup breakfast is gone.  So is the steak and eggs.  It’s all gone, replaced by a simplified menu where you have to build your own replica Flesherton Fillup by ordering the extra meats and add-ons yourself.

“When did you get rid of the Flesherton Fillup?” asked Meat.

“Oh, we haven’t had that in a long time,” said the server.

“We were here last year and you had it then, I’m just surprised,” said Meat.

Condescendingly she answered, “Isn’t a year a long time?”

An underwhelming breakfast couldn’t derail us, though we will consider finding a new breakfast joint next year.  Here’s a fact you didn’t know:  the legendary Max the Axe is a garage sale aficionado.  Who knew that rock stars spent their weekend mornings hitting up garage sales?  We took Max to a couple garage sales on our way back, and apparently he just missed an old quadraphonic receiver ($5.00) by about five minutes.

It was a lazy afternoon spent (mostly) in the river, socializing and playing with my new waterproof camera.  With flawless timing, Zach the Lamb Lord served up his perfectly marinated side of lamb.  He outdid himself this year, with perhaps the juiciest lamb ever cooked by anyone.

The second evening’s continuation of the Countdown rewound a bit for those of us (like me) who fell asleep early the night before.  As the sun slowly began to turn into fire behind the trees, we all listened in.  Some were cooking steaks, some playing Frisbee, with the rest of us sitting attentively around the fire.

I had four more song intros on day two.  Another radio buddy, Jason Drury, helped me out with an intro for the B-52’s “Rock Lobster”.  Jason is from Ramsgate in the UK but everybody seemed to have different ideas of where he was from.  “Who was that Australian guy?” or “Who was that Irish guy?”  Day two of the Countdown had some smoking good tunes, including surprises like “Women in Uniform”, a non-album single by Iron Maiden.  When Tom posts the full tracklist for the entire Countdown, I’ll do the same.

Sausagefest may have ended, but the next morning offered its own unique challenge:  waking up Uncle Meat.  “It’s going to be pretty difficult to spin this to make you look good,” he said pointedly, and he’s right.  I’m not asking anyone to take my side in this.  However, if you don’t think it’s funny as hell, that’s not my problem.

I had to be back in town at a certain time.  “When should I start the process of waking him up, given that I want to be home by noon?” I asked his roomate Zach.

“I’d start now,” he said bluntly.  It was 8:00 am.

I gently woke him by telling him I wanted to start getting ready to go.  He could nap a bit longer but I would eventually need his help taking down the canopy.  I put on Kiss Alive II and toiled on packing up my stuff.  I stopped the album a couple times while I was working, but when “Beth” came on, I did what I had to do.  I blasted it for him.  This was his alarm clock.

I waited a while longer, asked some advice.  I shook his tent a little and told him to get up.  An anonymous man (who has an excellent real first name) suggested I remove a couple of the tentpoles.  That seemed reasonable.  It didn’t do much though.  I gave it a little more time, and then removed the final two tentpoles.  Meat lay there motionless.

“Is there anyone even in there?” someone asked.  Oh, he was in there.  Trust me.

“Maybe now you should take the top of the tent off,” said a second anonymous man.  Unnecessary.

Like an animal trapped in a net, first an arm thrust forth.  It failed to penetrate the tent.  Then an unsuccessful leg kicked up.  Then another arm, and another leg.  Then, as the frenzy built, the tent transformed into a ball of limbs, trying to smash their way through.  If you stuck that crazy rat from Stranger Things 3 in a bag, it would have looked a lot like Meat in his tent.  We watched the activity from a distance, guffawing so loudly that I have never come so close to actually piss myself laughing.  I could feel a bead of pee forming.  The futile struggle to open the tent, from a safe orbit, was simultaneously pants-wettingly funny and tear-forming sad!  Max was the first to have mercy on Uncle Meat, and opened the tent for him.

Because I gave him the tent, he threw one of the tent poles into the forest in retaliation.  That’s OK; I have lots of spares!

He was justifiably mad.  So was Chuck, for me blasting “Beth” at a still fairly early hour.  These people don’t get it.  You cannot go anywhere with Uncle Meat when you want to, unless you take extreme measures.  You are at the mercy of his whims, his hangover, and his appetite for cigarettes.  Oh sure, he’ll keep you laughing the whole way home (at least when his voice isn’t completely fucked) but actually getting him packed and into the vehicle is its own entire movie to itself.  The Sausagefest spinoff movie would have to be called Bedsheet Puptent:  The Waking of Meat.

I got home 30 minutes earlier than I had to be, which was fucking perfect.  So, thank you Meat for not bearing a grudge, but I got home in excellent time.  Thank you for your cooperation!  I cheered him up by messing with Dave Haslam on the way home, in the car behind us.  That put the smile back on Meat’s face.  Even though Haslam was completely innocent in all this, he had to pay the price to get Meat back in a good mood.

It was actually a nice ride home, spent listening to a soundboard bootleg from Iron Maiden’s Matter of Life and Death tour.  “That was their best album since Seventh Son“, he said.  I claimed Somewhere in Time.  It matters not.  It was a great listen, even though a few days earlier Meat was complaining about a live Kiss show sounding “too bootleggy”.

It was an awesome Fest, but aren’t they all?  I’ve never experienced a dud.  Our most excellent host and his companions in the shenanigans put on a great show every year.  Stay tuned for the full Countdown.  Until then, enjoy the video which captures the flavour of the Fest.  See how many songs you recognize from the Countdown!

 

#764: Go Wild!!

GETTING MORE TALE #764: Go Wild!!

It’s a rite of passage for children and adults alike:  going to see the animals at African Lion Safari in southern Ontario.  The children thrill to the sights of lions, rhinos, elephants and all sorts of exotic birds.  Adults panic at the monkeys climbing on their cars.  Sure, you can always visit the Safari in one of their tour buses, but that’s no fun.

At the African Lion Safari, the animals run free while the humans stay safely locked in their cars.  Open doors and windows are prohibited, and you absolutely must not feed the animals.  I saw what happens to fools that do.

We won’t get into the ethics of animals in captivity — that is not what this story is about.  Many are passionate about animal rights, and that’s a good thing.  This is just a simple tale of our adventure at the Safari in the early 2000s.  Incidentally it’s also the last time we went.

It started with a conversation.  “When was the last time you were at African Lion Safari?”  My sister Kathryn, our friend Shannon, and I decided to relive our childhoods.  The key was driving through the Safari in your own car.  Tour buses are for chumps.  To do this, you had to be willing to accept potential damage to your vehicle.  I’ve never seen anyone rammed by a rhino, but windshield wipers are regularly ripped off by excited monkeys.  My sister was driving a white Neon, and she decided she was willing to accept whatever happened.

We needed tunes.  Stopping at an HMV store, my sister and I both bought CDs that were indicative of the times.  Although it was far from my favourite album, I re-bought Crush by Bon Jovi.  For the third time in a row, they re-issued their new studio album with a bonus CD.  Keep the Faith had a bonus live album, while These Days was loaded with rarities on the second CD.  I was disappointed but not surprised that I would be buying their new album twice, as it was becoming the norm.  Crush was the weakest of the three albums.  It was the first to be co-written by Billy Falcon, and it was a sign of things to come.  But I had to have that bonus live CD.

Kathryn picked up a double Savage Garden.  She was very much into the Australian pop rock duo, as they reminded her of an earlier band she loved — Roxette.  Like Bon Jovi, Savage Garden reissued their album with a bonus live CD.  Don’t scoff.  Savage Garden (or just “Savage”, as I learned their fans shortened it) could really write songs.  Unlike Bon Jovi, they didn’t rely on external songsmiths.  And Steve Smith of Journey played drums on their second album.

We had the tunes, we had the white Neon, and we lined up to enter.

It was a scorching hot August day; thanks to God for air conditioning.  Taking the car allowed us to linger in certain habitats, and skip through ones we were less interested in.  Early in, we saw one family that must have been feeding animals, because now they had a big brown bear leaning on it, staring through the closed windows.  This is why you don’t open the windows or feed the animals.  Fortunately there are park workers in zebra-striped trucks roaming the grounds to keep an eye on things.  Injuries are rare, though recently a trainer was badly hurt by an elephant.

We were having a great time right into the monkey habitat.  Unlike most drivers, we were hoping to catch a few monkey passengers.  Swiftly, one attached himself to Kathryn’s side view mirror.  I say “himself” because he sat on that mirror with his legs wide open, balls blowin’ in the wind.  He was having a great old time, sitting on her side view with his balls dangling free.  I like to think that Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” was playing at that exact moment.  It looked quite relaxing and comfortable for our monkey friend.  His balls hung like red Christmas ornaments.

You can tell this story is pre-cell phone cameras.  Otherwise we would have video and photos to prove it.

As Monkey Nuts let it all hang out over my sister’s mirror, I noticed behind us a car full of children.  They had New York license plates, and they were pointing and laughing hysterically.  At first I thought they were laughing at the testicles, like I was.  They were not.  I figured that out when Monkey Nuts jumped ship for somewhere else to hang.

“What are they laughing at?!” I asked with frustration in my voice.  They were still pointing at us!

“Don’t worry about it!” scoffed Shannon.

I was still puzzled.

We figured it out in short order.

After exiting the Safari, we all got out of the car to stretch our legs.  Then, it was all clear.  On the roof of my sister’s white car was a perfectly hilarious monkey poo.  While Mr. Testicles was distracting us on the side view, a friend of his must have been on the roof, using it as his own personal commode.  After leaving his deposit, it began to cook in the hot August sun.

As Jon Bon Jovi said himself, “Say it isn’t so. Tell me it’s not true”.  Ah, but it was.

Our first stop on the ride home:  a drive-through car wash.  It was tragically too late.  The poo residue was stuck on there, and good.  She was going to have to clean this one up manually, and she was on her own with that.

Savage Garden probably said it best on “The Animal Song”.

“Cause I want to live like animals,
Careless and free like animals,
I want to live,
I want to run through the jungle.”

Let your balls hang free on the side view mirror of life.

#762: When Is Your Art Really “Done”?

GETTING MORE TALE #762: When Is Your Art Really “Done”?

 

“Where are the starting points and where are the end points? When’s a song ‘done’? What the fuck does that mean anyway? ‘Done’? When’s a record ‘done’? Where does a record start; where does it end?” — Lars Ulrich, Some Kind of Monster

When Lars Ulrich asked the rhetorical question “When is a song ‘done’?” he wasn’t just yammering meaningless bullshit.  In fact he was colourfully paraphrasing Leonardo Da Vinci, who said “A work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.”  Da Vinci might be the best known example today of someone who laboured over his art.  Many of his paintings, including the Mona Lisa, conceal previous unseen versions beneath layers of paint.  Scanning the paintings with modern technology, we have been able to discern Da Vinci’s works in progress.  It is a little like peaking inside the mind of a creator as they create.

Imagine you’re finishing a painting of something completely imagined inside your head.  How much time will it take to be “done”?  Perhaps you have to make that sky a little more blue, or cloudy, to match your vision.  You will never be able to take a photograph of your imagination, so painting something is by its very nature a compromise.  You must decide when you are satisfied that you have accomplished your goal.  Let’s say you added that cloud to your painting.  It looks good to you.  Then you take a step back and look at the whole painting.  The corner where you added that cloud now looks too busy.  Did you overdo it?  Was the painting already “done”?

The same applies to music.  Axl Rose laboured over Chinese Democracy for 15 years.  There are, of course, some major differences between recording a Guns N’ Roses album and working on a painting.  With the rock album, there is far more outside pressure and this can become the dominating influence.  Even if outside forces end up pushing you to do something opposite from what they want, it has now effected your music.  The music will not take the same shape that it would have without that outside pressure.  Is that a good or bad thing?  It can be either!  Axl re-recorded the album at least once, and continually updated it as new members joined the band.  By the time 2008 rolled around and the record was “finished”, dozens of musicians and producers and managers and writers had made some kind of impact, no matter how small.

Let’s not forget George Lucas either.  The Star Wars creator fiddled with his movies continuously.  Do you really think the 1997 special editions were the first Star Wars that were changed?  Not even.  The initial updates happened in 1980, when George re-titled Star Wars as Episode IV: A New Hope.  He fidgeted with them steadily, even beginning a fairly recent conversion to 3D until he sold the rights to Disney in 2012. (Only Phantom Menace was released in 3D, with Disney putting the project on hold in favour of the sequel trilogy.)

You can obsess over and overthink art.  You can also rush it, and end up with something “unfinished” that might actually be better.  This often happens out of necessity.  Black Sabbath famously recorded their first album in two days.  They had been playing the songs live for months and were tight as hell (pun intended) but also had a very limited amount of time in the studio.  Maybe they would have loved to stay in there, experiment with different amps and guitars, get different sounds, but there was no time.  And so the debut album Black Sabbath pukes overloaded guitar, and you can hear amps hum.  You couldn’t have made it better if you tried.  (Zakk Wylde will try and will not succeed.)  Whatever they did on that album, they did out of necessity and it just happened to work.

Though my “art” is usually the written word (and occasionally video), I also love recording song introductions.  This is for our annual “Sausagefest” party, and it’s something that allows me to really get creative with sound.  In recent years, in addition to introducing the songs, I also create an introduction for myself.  It’s sort of an audio collage of things I found funny.  This started out of necessity — it was the only way I could get my comedic bits into the evening!  Now it’s something I work and obsess over.  And this is the question I’m currently struggling with:  When is it “done”?  I started recording bits for it almost a year ago, and I began piecing the whole thing together on May 11.  Now we’re at the tail end of June and I’m still making changes!

Without giving it all away, I like to begin my intro with a certain, recognizable musical theme.  You’d know it.  This year, a certain unnamed rock band recorded their own version of that classic theme.  I happened to be playing that album in the car when I realized, I had to use it!  As soon as I got home, I started editing the audio track that I thought was “finished”.  In a couple minutes, I removed the original theme and replaced it with the 2019 rock version.  It was a few seconds longer than the original so I also had to extend the space it fit into, but that’s pretty easy to do.  Now I’m even happier with the intro.

When will it be “done”?  It will be “finished” when time is up and I’m forced to turn it in.  Until then, I continue to listen for room to improve.

I’m no Leonardo, or a Lucas, and I’m not even a Lars Ulrich (although we have shared the same hair style on numerous occasions).  I do, however, have a keen understanding that art is never done in the eyes of the creator.