RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale

#835: A Letter From Jason Becker

GETTING MORE TALE #835: A Letter From Jason Becker

Jason Becker should need no introduction to you.  Though his best known album is David Lee Roth’s A Little Ain’t Enough, he never shot to stardom like his predecessor Steve Vai.  Instead Becker was struck with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Becker has steadfastly refused to give in, recording new music and being an inspiration to everyone suffering from neurological disorders.  Though memories are now lost, in the mid-90s fans were asked via the rock magazines to send Jason some cards and letters of encouragement.  Nobody expects the artist to send anything in return, but Jason Becker went to the expense.

They weren’t personal letters of course, but Becker went to the trouble of responding to everyone with a typed note about how he was doing.  “Although I do read every letter I get, my condition has put such huge demands on my time and limited energy.”  He goes into some detail on his treatments and status.  At the time he could still speak but was unable to play guitar, using a computer to compose.  He also mentions his solo album Perspective which was out in Japan but not the US.  No domestic record label would back him due to his inability to tour or promote the album.  He eventually put together an independent release in May 1996, but his condition was worsening.

That same year, Jason lost the ability to speak.  His father designed a system that reads Jason’s eye blinks in order to communicate.  It’s a remarkable story, and a painful one considering that Becker was a real guitar prodigy until his condition worsened.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the letter (aside from the fact that it exists at all) is that they taped a Jason Becker guitar pick to the corner.  I had forgotten that I owned a Becker pick in my collection.  I’ll keep it exactly where it is so it doesn’t get lost.  Another neat detail is that Jason “signed” the letter with a thumb print.

Jason Becker is still making new music.  His most recent album, 2018’s Triumphant Hearts, features all sorts of high-profile pals like Steve Morse, Joe Satriani, Trevor Rabin and many more.  He refuses to give in and that in itself is the triumph.

 

 

 

#834: Top Five Masked Artists

GETTING MORE TALE #834: Top Five Masked Artists

The Masked Singer, you say?  Never seen the show; not interested.  What about real artists who wear, or have worn, masks?  Not makeup, but an actual physical face covering?  Since masks are everywhere today, and sometimes required depending on where you go, let’s have a look at some artists who were already ahead of the (flattening) curve.

#5:  Crimson Glory

Before Slipknot, Mushroomhead, and before Ghost, Crimson Glory were the most famous masked metal band.  Often compared to Queensryche (but more ambitious), Crimson Glory were fronted by singer Midnight.  He wore a half-mask so he could sing, while the rest of the band kept their faces fully covered.  At first, anyway.  The masks were toned down on the second album and eventually dropped.  But when their debut appeared in ’86, they looked like nobody else.  That they are forgotten is unfair — they don’t even appear on Wikipedia’s “masked musicians” list!

#4:  Buckethead

At best, Brian Carroll is a recluse.  He’s rarely been photographed without his plain white mask and a chicken bucket on his head (though you can find pictures of a young unmasked Carroll online).  According to Bucket, the mask was inspired by Michael Myers in Halloween 4.  It is highly likely that the anonymity of a mask allows Buckethead to loosen up and perform live.  In all probability, the mask helps him get into his creative headspace.   It’s not too much of a stretch to say that without the mask there could be no Buckethead.

#3:  Nash the Slash

Nash was very early in the mask game, having started wearing bandages in 1979, the same year the Residents started wearing giant eyeball helmets.   The Slash, or Jeff Plewman, passed away in 2014.  He was best known as a founding member of FM, playing electric violin and mandolin.  His 1980 solo cover of “Dead Man’s Curve” had a music video featuring that bandage mask, and trademark top hat.  It was one of the weirdest videos of its time.

#2: Slipknot

I considered Gwar for this position, but then I remembered:  Gwar don’t wear masks. They are aliens that crash landed in Antarctica. No, seriously, this position should belong to Gwar except that I don’t really consider them a masked band. What they have done takes the idea of “masks” and puts them in an entirely unique category. Gwar might be the top “costumed” band, but speaking strictly of masks, this spot goes to Slipknot. Mushroomhead may have come first, but there is no question that Slipknot commercialised their image much more successfully. They expanded upon the masks with matching numbered jumpsuits. They became iconic. Just as one can easily recognize Gene Simmons as a member of Kiss, Shawn “Clown” Crahan simply cannot be mistaken for some guy in Pearl Jam. When you see Slipknot, you know Slipknot. And only they can take the credit for that.

#1: Kathryn Ladano

Biased? Yeah, so what!  This is where I defend my choice.

All of the above artists are brilliant and that cannot be disputed.  But how many of them incorporate the mask with the music?  Perhaps only Buckethead uses the mask to get into a specific headspace to create.  Kathryn Ladano’s newest album, also called Masked, explores this.  Masks and blindfolds were worn in the studio while music was improvised and captured for the album.  The mask becomes part of the audible art, which you cannot say about Slipknot or Crimson Glory.  Maybe I’m biased, or maybe I’m one of a few people who knows how critical masks were to the creation of this music.  Without the masks, some of this music wouldn’t even exist.  For that reason, Kathryn Ladano is our topped masked artist.  Nobody else incorporated the mask with the music like she did.


Worthy Mentions

 

Hey!  Where’s Daft Punk? Where’s Deadmau5? Not on this list, that’s where!  Neither are Ghost, Thunderstick, the Residents or a number of other groups who wear physical facial coverings.  Narrowing down is the hardest part of any list, but I hope you enjoyed this one anyway.  Check out some Crimson Glory or Nash the Slash and tell us who you think the greatest masked artists are.

 

#833: This Is Me in Grade 9 (Part Five of the 1986 Saga)

GETTING MORE TALE #833: This Is Me in Grade 9

(Part Five of the 1986 Saga)

“If you’re going to keep sitting next to me, never sing again,” said Steve Vanderveen.  It was the first day of grade 9, the first day of highschool, the first day of my new life.  And I fucked it up!  In Catholic school, we had to sing “O Canada” and we had to sing it like we meant it.  Little did I know, in public school, they didn’t sing.  They just stood at attention.  But on that first day of school, it was me and only me singing, without even realizing it.

What a winner.

I managed to recover from this embarrassment, and make a go of highschool.  Without all the loser baggage I carried from the grade school days, it was a fresh start.  The bullies were gone.  I was making new friends!  There was Rob Daniels and his buddy “Gumby”, there was Danesh and Anand, and I had never seen such diversity in a classroom before.  As strange is this sounds, in all the years from kindergarten up, I never had a black kid in my class before.  And now here was Carlton, a popular kid who loved to talk about how beautiful Jamaica was.  I don’t think I knew anyone who’d even been to Jamaica before.  I wanted to be his friend!  And of course there was Peter Cavan, who absolutely was not my friend in grade 9!  I ratted him out for eating liquorice in Geography class, so you can understand why it took him a few years to warm up to me.  By the end of highschool, we were best friends.

And the girls?  I had never seen so many in one place before.  I developed many secret crushes.  They never knew, because I never quite figured out how to talk to them!  But they were there, lots of them, and I thought maybe I’d have a shot.

The first week of school, I bought some new music:  Turbo, by Judas Priest.  I did my homework on the back porch, with that cassette on the boom box.  I only had three Priest albums:  Screaming, Defenders, and TurboTurbo was easily my favourite.  While not as heavy as the other two (and let’s face it, Screaming for Vengeance can rip heads clean off), Turbo was more the kind of music that I was into.  It was melodic, with hook after hook, and possibly even female appeal.

But soon after, something monumental happened.  Monolithic.  Youth-defining.

Iron Maiden came out with a new video.

“So, understand!” sang Bruce Dickinson in what was, quite honestly, the best video we’d ever seen.  “Don’t waste your time always searching for those wasted years!”  A bit of a word salad.  If a certain president said something like this today, we’d consider it another sign of his declining mental faculties.  But even to us as kids, it was obviously a road song.  A song about the loneliness of touring.  Many of the new Maiden songs were darker and introspective.  This was not lost on us.  Nor was the lack of Dickinson writing credits on Somewhere In Time.  It was clear to us that some of the rumours were true, and Maiden were starting to burn out a bit.  That they put out an album as awesome as Somewhere In Time is remarkable, but I recall an air of disappointment in the press.  Certainly, after the triumvirate of Beast, Piece of Mind, and Powerslave, it had a lot to follow.

My best friend Bob and I sat in the basement, watching my recording of “Wasted Years” over and over again, pausing to catch every single Eddie painting.  The video was a combination of black & white performance, with still photos and album artwork edited in quick flashes.  The kind of thing two kids should be obsessively pausing and analysing!  Eventually we both got the album and naturally gravitated to the same songs.  I used the lyrics for “Alexander the Great” as a calligraphy project in art class.

My friendship with Bob was the cornerstone of my youth, and as much as I looked up to and emulated him, there were times he did me no good whatsover.

One night we were throwing a ball around the park, and one of us (probably me) threw it over someone’s hedge.  Steve Pushcar’s hedge, as it turned out.  Bob jumped the fence to retrieve it, and got yelled at by Steve’s mom.  Bob said he was only getting his ball back, but this quickly degenerated into an argument.  Bob always was a bit cocky.  Whatever he said that night, Steve Pushcar went at me for the next two months.

Me?  Why me?  I was just the sidekick!  I just stood there?  I didn’t say one word!  Why me?  Because Pushcar couldn’t get at Bob, and he’d have been flattened if he tried.

Pushcar was in my art class.  First he stole my pencil case and returned it to me completely empty.  Then he stole my art.  He was a fucking asshole.  The shitty thing was, he did all this anonymously.  I didn’t even know he had a grudge against me.  Not until a mutual friend told me.  That’s the kind of coward he was.  But his campaign only lasted a couple months, and highschool was actually pretty uneventful after that.

As the year went on, I discovered two “new” bands:  Bon Jovi, and Europe. Neither were really new; they were both on their third albums.  But the teen magazines pitted them as rivals:  heartthrob vs heartthrob, Jon vs. Joey.  Who would win?  (Jon.)  Really, all they had in common musically was the use of a full time keyboardist.

Partway through the year, who should show up but Steve Hartman, my old nemesis from Catholic school.  He had transferred from wherever the hell he was.  But he couldn’t get to me.  I was in the “advanced” program and he was in the “general” level.  We had no classes together, and I think he only lasted half a year.  I do remember him showing up in our gym class, wearing his shirt over his face so the teacher wouldn’t realize he had an extra student.  We were doing ball hockey, and the teacher Mr. Paull was too spun to figure it out.  I had a malingering wrist injury that I really milked so I could stay on the benches.  As if Mr. Paull would even notice.

At the end of the year, it was obvious where my talents did not lie.  My two worst classes were French, and typing,  66% in each.  Typing?  I know, right?  I type all day.  It’s all I do.  And I still fucking suck at it.  I was never good at proper form, and today type using only four fingers.  Funny thing.  The French and typing teachers were married.  Monsieur and Madame Euler.  They were fantastic teachers, just because I was a disappointment doesn’t reflect on them.  It reflects on me absolutely sucking at languages other than English, and my lack of physical coordination.  I mean, the following year I tried to play guitar.  The same problem followed me from keyboard to strings:  I can’t make my extremities go exactly where I want them to.  I’m sloppy and clumsy and have no timing.  Madame Euler wasn’t going to be able to fix that in a grade 9 typing class.

I didn’t get any girls to talk to me, but I had a good year.  For what might have been the first time, I really had a good year.  They’d only get better.  I was heading into a summer full of great music.  Stuff like Priest Live, Frehley’s Comet, and Love Is For Suckers.  Even then, I could not believe how much my life had changed for the better.  I succeeded — I escaped.

The future was bright.  Bob and I went on to have many adventures and a few “Crazy, Crazy Nights”.  But that’s another story.

 

 

THE 1986 SAGA

#833: Postcards From the Solo Summer of ’86 (Part Four of the 1986 Saga)

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Postcards From the Solo Summer of ’86

(Part Four of the 1986 Saga)

While we definitely had our fun in the summer of 1986, there was one person missing from all of it:  Bob Schipper.  I really missed my best friend.  Bob was spending the summer in Calgary, Alberta with his older brother Martin.  I was so used to doing…well…everything with Bob!  It was really quiet around the neighbourhood without him.  I had to come up with my own games and schemes without my partner in crime.

I spent a lot of afternoons watching TV in the basement, recording music videos and watching WWF wrestling.  I wanted to update my buddy on all the latest songs I’ve been hearing, and the newest wrestling plots and turns.  I was bored!  But one day, I received a postcard from him.  The first contact in weeks!  I was so excited to hear from my friend again.  Even in this brief postcard, he talked about music.  We were both so into rock bands, it was already dominating our interests.

“Hey Mike, it’s me Bob, writing a post card to you to tell you that I’m still living.  I hope everything is okay over there, because it’s great here.  I got this awesome poster of Gene Simmons you’ve got to see.  Well, see you soon.”

My mom got his address in Calgary from his mother, and I wrote him back a letter.  I had to update him on all the gossip and goings-on in the world.

A short while later I got a letter back and jumped in glee.  I read it twice through.  One of the biggest pieces of news that I had to update him on, was that my parents had finally agreed to get a dog.  “Boy, Katy finally got what she wanted,” Bob said.  It was definitely my sister that wanted the dog most.  I was not sure how I felt about it yet.  Big changes, big adjustments!

Bob had news of his own.  I had heard he was going to be seeing a concert, but didn’t know who.

“You know what, the concert I was going to see, well it was cancelled.  The group I was going to see was OZZY OSBOURNE, and I was looking so forward to it, but now he’s coming back in October instead.”  That would obviously not do, since Bob would be coming back home in August.  The opening act was a group neither of us knew:  Metallica.

“P.S. – Have you seen the commercial for Friday the 13th Part 6?  I’m going to see it.”  Bob loved his horror movies a lot more than I did.

The next letter from him arrived a couple weeks later.

“I can hardly wait to show you the two albums I bought.  They’s both rare KISS albums!  The first one I bought is a mint condition Killers album with the new KIZZ logo.”  This is the very copy of Killers that I own today, acquired from Bob all those years ago.  No longer mint condition, far from it in fact.  I remember doing things like playing it backwards, and tracing the West German logo with the backwards Z’s.  You can see the indentation from my pen.  A shame, really.

“If you think that’s great,” he continued, “wait till you see my other one!  It’s a picture-disc album, with a Kiss interview on it!  On one side it has a picture of the unmasked Kiss, and the other side Gene with his axe guitar!  The amazing thing was it was only twenty dollars!  Also, I got two cassette tapes, Alive II and Love Gun.  I also might be getting Dressed to Kill.”  I recall the Kiss interview disc was from the Lick It Up era because they were talking about Vinnie Vincent and taking off the makeup.  In fact I still have this interview on a cassette, because I taped everything from Bob.

We were getting closer to getting our new dog in August.  Bob remarked, “I can hardly wait to see Katy’s new dog.”  Funny how we always referred to it as her new dog.  That does bring back memories though, of the way things seemed before we knew what it was like to actually have a family dog.  It really did seem to me like it was Kathryn’s dog.  And she is definitely the dog person of the family today.  She always has multiple pets in the house.

In our letters back and forth, we took shots at the neighbour George, who was a bit of a punching bag for us.  It was well deserved though, George earned every bit mockery we poured into our letters.  He crossed the line when he tried to steal Bob’s brother’s bike.  He stole Lego from us.  He was, honestly kind of a dick back then.  So Bob ended his letters with some drawings of himself, me, his new nephew Mike, and George.

Reading these letters today, it’s clear how important our friendship was to both of us back then.  For me personally, I looked up to him and needed him by my side as I embarked onto my next journey:  highschool!  It was too bad that I didn’t have my best friend around for that last summer before highschool, but at least I still have the letters.

 

#833: Just A Boy

STOPARRETPotentially triggering material ahead.  The following is a work of fiction — or not.

 

Just A Boy

I stepped into the titanium chamber, glowing lightly purple from the inside.  A bare metal seat was firmly bolted to the floor with two control panels, one on either arm.  The seat was its only occupant.  The walls glowed faintly as the mercury pumps worked their strange magic.  I sat.  The door closed automatically, latched shut and hissed with the sound of a vacuum seal made perfect.

On the right control panel, I entered a date.  February 18, 1986.  On the left, my hand flew as I swiped a series of commands.  In my excitement, I forgot to fasten my seatbelt.  With that now tight across my chest, I pulled the red lever on the far left.  My vision blurred.

G-forces assaulted my body but I had no difficulty in breathing.  I saw stars, the kind like when you fall and hit your head.  I heard voices but they were melded together and the words indistinguishable.  White noise but identifiably human.  Then I heard music.  A guitar strummed.  A triangle tinkled.

I was close.

The taste of hot chocolate, but overly sweet and unappealing.

Very close.

The sensation of cold and damp.  Feels like February.  I must be there.

Music again.

For I am just a boy,
Too young to be sailing.
I am just a boy,
And my future is unveiling,
And I’m so frightened of failing.

My eyes opened — I didn’t realize they had been closed.  The chamber door was open ahead of me and I could see white snow, and dark green trees.  I heard the sound of children.  But I could not be seen.  I could not be heard.  In fact I was not really there at all.  A part of me was, but not physically.  I could see, hear, smell and feel my surroundings but not affect them.  The process of travelling back through time had a strange effect on the senses.  To a limited degree, I could also feel what my younger self was experiencing.  The cold, wet feet.  The taste of that awful hot chocolate.  I was in the right place.

This was Mount Mary 1986.

Every year, the Catholic school sent its graduating grade to a week long retreat at Mount Mary.  A few students declined to attend, but only over the loud objections of the Grade 8 teacher.

“Any student I had that didn’t go to Mount Mary either died or went on the drugs!”

For an entire week, I was stuck with those awful kids and the oblivious teachers.  It was a lonely time.  That’s why I had to come back here.

We weren’t allowed to bring anything with us to Mount Mary except our clothes.  No Walkmans, no music.  The night before we left, I absorbed as much Kiss as I could.  Times like this called for my favourite band, and only my favourite band.  I memorised Double Platinum and The Elder the best I could.

That music that I was hearing when I arrived back here?  The songs in my younger self’s head.

I surveyed the landscape.  It felt like I was floating.  I could see my legs, and they hovered inches above the fresh dusting of pure white.  I could move in any direction at any speed I liked.  I just had to think it.  I couldn’t be seen or detected in any way.  Nothing more than a ghost in their world.  A world that disappeared, and transformed over the decades into the one we live in today.

I followed the sound of the children.  Their footsteps were deep in the snow.  The larger prints were from the teachers.  The adults who enabled the bullying.  The people who allowed this trauma to happen under their watch.

“Here we are!  Agony Hill!” said one of the supervisors.  I remember this hike.   The teachers hyped up the forest to us beforehand.  “You’ve never seen trees so dense in your life!” they boasted.  It wasn’t true.  It was the same as the cottage.  Agony Hill was a steep incline that we had to traverse.  This time, I flew.

There!  Just below.  I saw him.  Me.  In the blue coat, blue mittens, and blue jeans.  Why did I always wear blue?

A couple larger kids pushed.  I felt the shove in my back.  I felt the surge of anger and the welling of tears.  I remembered.

I stopped.  I had no idea that time travel would be this intense.  I wasn’t prepared.  The wounds are fresh.  Other memories are flooding back.  An assault of snowballs was still to come, followed by the laughter.

It was time to do this.

I willed my presence ahead and caught up to my younger self.  My face was red.  I was burying as much of it as I could into my coat.  I could see the glistening in my own eyes.  I was utterly alone.  I had a few friends but they were walking in groups with other kids that didn’t like me.  But I wasn’t really alone this time.

It felt weird talking to myself.  I put the strangeness aside and spoke.

“Kid,” I started and stumbled.

“I know you can’t hear me.  I can’t hear me.  This is weird.  Let me start over.  Kid, I know what you are going through now feels like an unending series of hellish bad dreams.  I know it because I lived it.  I survived it.  Those kids that have power over you today — power over your fear — won’t be around forever.  You only have to hold out a little longer.  Just a few more months.  And there are good things to look forward to in those months too.  It’s not all doom and gloom.”

“Trust me on this.  You are just at the horizon of experiences that will change your life.  When that happens these kids will be in the past, forever.  They will have no power over you anymore.  They will have no more influence on your life than a bent and creased photograph.  I didn’t realize it before, but seeing you now, you are already on your way.”

“You climbed Agony Hill.  You were breathless by the time you were over the top but you made it.  And guess what?  Your legs and lungs will be stronger tomorrow because of it.”

“This whole time, with all these kids, you’ve been preparing yourself for the better years.  And you are going to cherish and savour every last moment of them.  You are going to use all of this, the good and the bad, to light a fire.  Everything about this time and this place is going to drive you to be an individual.  And that individual is the guy next to you right now.”

I paused my monologue and observed something peculiar.  I saw something flicker on my younger self’s face.  It was like he could hear me.  He shouldn’t be able to.  It turns out, nature is always two steps of humanity.  There is no such thing as a time travel paradox.  Nature wouldn’t allow it.  All I could do was see and feel the past, but I couldn’t interact with it.  The laws of reality are quite firm on this matter.  Yet I could swear I saw my past self react to my own words.  Impossible.

Yet the younger me appeared more relaxed in posture.  I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word “confident”, but there was a visible shift in that direction.

Impossible!  Carry on.

I continued.  “Stay you.  You are going discover some amazing new music, meet people that inspire you to create, and these…”  I trailed off.  No need to encourage my younger self to swear more.  “These little jerks are going to be nothing more than ghosts in your past real soon.  But what they have done by mocking you and belittling your individuality is that they have made you more determined.  Instead of trying to be more like them, you are going to keep pushing to be more like you.”

I had to pause again.  After all, I don’t want to lie to myself.

“It’s not all a bed of roses.  I don’t want to mislead you.  What these kids did to you is going to last and it’s going to take work and time to process it.  Sometimes memories will sneak up on you.  But I’m OK.  I can honestly say that I am OK.  Being an individual makes me happy.  It means people really like me, for being me, not for someone I’m pretending to be.   And guess what?  Tables always turn.  One day, the things you have always loved your whole life are going to be considered cool.  And you are going to be the expert.”

Suddenly my younger self smiled.  I could not believe it.  Coincidence?  I immediately felt the need to cut my visit shorter than I planned.  What if the science had an unseen loophole?  Science always has a way of surprising us.  I didn’t want to change the past, or even take the risk.  Let the theorists argue about it.  I had to go.

“See you round, kid.”  I gently kissed myself on the forehead.  It didn’t seem a weird thing to do.  But I had to go now or I’d never leave.

In a blink I was back in my chair.  I felt the warmth of my tears on my cheeks.  I had to wipe my eyes to set the date back to the present.  Seatbelt on, I pulled the lever.  I saw the stars, and again I heard the music.  Drums now, stuttering through time.

I was so frightened,
I almost ran away.
I didn’t know that I could do,
Anything I needed to.

They said I didn’t stand a chance,
I wouldn’t win no way.
But I’ve got news for you,
There’s nothing I can’t do.

I believe in me.

They say that time travel can be a bit unnerving.  That’s why most people don’t do it.   They try it once, and most folks leave it at that.  Me, I need to recover after this trip.  Home again, my tired eyes closed as I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.


CODA

February 18, 1986.  Mount Mary, Ontario Canada.

I can’t sleep.  All I can think about it is that voice I heard today on Agony Hill.  This place is weird.  The shadows on the walls are strange and creepy and these beds feel like army beds.  But what’s keeping me up is that voice.  I’ve never heard a voice like that before.  Was it a ghost?  Is this place haunted?

I’m drifting off, but I hear music:  the music in my head that I memorized before they bussed us off to this awful place.  The beat is still fresh in my head and the words echo into my sleep.  I feel OK.  I feel like I’m going to be OK.

I believe in me.
I believe in rock and roll.
Yes I believe in me.

 


#833: Flag Boy (Part Two of the 1986 Saga)

STOPARRETPotentially triggering material ahead.

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Flag Boy

Part Two of the 1986 Saga

One of the many recurring themes here has been the awful experiences of being a metalhead in Catholic school.  A story that has somehow escaped being told until now is the one where those bastard kids gave me the name “Fag Boy” for a whole school year.

Grade 8, the 1985-86 year, had to be the worst.  It was kicked off by a huge fight with the school bully Steve Hartman, a total piece of shit, but at least I won.  Not that it helped.  I was teased relentlessly all year for my love of Kiss and Judas Priest.  Then I had mono.  Incidentally, Catholic school bullies are the worst and the teachers didn’t give a fuck.  When one kid, Ian Johnson, got into a fight with another bully, the teachers made them walk around the schoolyard together hand in hand.  What was that supposed to do?

The only thing that made life easier that year was beating Hartman in September of ’85.  That kept him off my back for the school year, although there were other bullies waiting in the wings.  Jeff Brooks, who stuffed snow down my jacket every Thursday after shop class.  Kevin Kirby, who copied my homework.  Towards the end even Hartman was campaigning for a “rematch”.

My sister used to call that school the “Hell Hole”.  She would sing Spinal Tap’s “Hell Hole” when we drove by.  This is a little kid in grade 4 calling her school that name.

At the start of the eighth grade, to learn social responsibility, we all had to volunteer for something.  There were a limited selection of slots for each role we were offered.  I cannot remember all of the duties that were set out on our menu of options.  Volunteering at the church was definitely among them, but I volunteered for the one I thought would be the most interesting:  security!  On a regular basis, we were to walk around the school when it was closed to make sure all was well.  Keep an eye out for anything wrong, like vandalism.  It was perfect because I was always biking around that direction anyway.  It was really the most appealing of all the options to me.

I’m sure you have already guessed they didn’t give me the security assignment.  No, I was given something that was supposed to be better, but was actually far worse.  It was such a dubious honour.  I was Flag Boy.

I wasn’t athletic, I was a skinny kid who openly listened to Judas Priest.  No way were they putting me on security.  They gave the two open positions to a couple of the athletic kids.  I don’t think either of them did any security that year.

As Flag Boy, I was responsible for putting out and bringing in the Maple Leaf at the start and end of every day for the year. It was worst at the start of the day.  When announcements were about to commence, I had to get out of my seat and leave the class, which always seemed to amuse them.  Then I had to walk down the hallway past the other grade 8 classroom, who always mocked and laughed and pointed at me as I went.  They called me “Fag Boy” from day one.  What made it even worse were my boots.  My dad gave them to me.  I thought they were so cool.  They didn’t have laces, they had dual zippers.  The boots only made me more a “Fag Boy”.

When the first pair of boots wore out, my dad gave me his second identical backup pair.  Ironically those boots would be considered so retro and stylish today.

The abuse that year was pretty bad and I faked sick a lot.  I faked sick mostly on Thursdays, which was shop class.  They bussed us to another school, St. Joseph, which had a woodworking shop.  The supervision was minimal and the bus rides were all but intolerable.  At one point or another I just decided I couldn’t take it anymore and faked sick as many Thursdays as I could.  By the time I got sick with mono for real, I had several incomplete projects in woodworking.  I was home for the rest of the term, and I never had to worry about those Thursday bus trips again.

Having mono sucked a lot, but Thursdays on the bus were far worse.  I considered it more than a fair trade.

While sick at home for real, I absorbed as many Pepsi Power Hours as I could.  I heard Hear N’ Aid for the first time.  I became addicted to “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top because of that damn music video.  (I guess I learned from an early age that I’m really a leg man.)  My heavy metal credentials grew by leaps and bounds and I listened to more and more songs:  “Metal on Metal”, “Never Surrender”, “Turbo Lover”, “Rock and Roll Children”.  To this day, I associate those songs with my sick time in 1986.  Especially Dio’s “Rock and Roll Children”.  The surreal music video suited the way I felt physically.  It didn’t look like the real world and I didn’t feel like myself.

My association of heavy metal music with relief from the outside world was cemented that year.  I had always come home to the comfort of a few Kiss tapes.  In 1986, sick with mono, I was safe from the school and surrounded not by bullies but by Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, and Bruce Dickinson.  They didn’t call me “Fag Boy”, in fact their lyrics encouraged me to dig for strength.  Recovering from my illness, I had built this wall of metal around me.  It would be my armour for life.

I don’t know if those kids remember calling me “Fag Boy”, or if they would admit it.  I know I wouldn’t recognize Hartman if I saw him today.  They used to talk about forgiveness a lot in Catholic school.  You can forgive, but you never forget.

 

#833: Juice Tin Saw Blades (Part One of the 1986 Saga)

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Juice Tin Saw Blades

Part One of the 1986 Saga

It was Bob Schipper that discovered if you cut out the top of a juice tin, and then continue to cut teeth into it, you could make yourself a replica saw blade wrist band like the ones wielded by Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P.  Bob was always the one inventing things.  He was the most creative of us.  He was usually the instigator.

We had to improvise with our rock n’ roll accessories.  Neither of us had the resources or the parental approval to make or wear leather studded wristbands.  You could buy studs at the local mall rock shop (there were rock shops opening up everywhere) but instead of trying to do that, we made our own out of the same juice tins.  Before too long we had studded wristbands made of black electrical tape backed by cardboard and tin.

What I really wanted to do, but failed to achieve in a realistic looking way, was to make Vince Neil’s arm gauntlet.  He had this wrist piece that appeared to have a crossbow bolt launcher on it.  It looked lethal!  Though I tried, I couldn’t make anything that looked quite like it.

Bob was also working on a jean jacket project, with buttons and a huge back patch of Iron Maiden’s Powerslave.  Buying a back patch was an important component of the jacket.  He had to pick a cool image that meant a lot to him, because it would be his identity, at least from behind!  The only thing people would know about him from behind was that he liked whatever band his back patch was.  The Powerslave choice was perfect.  When Bob eventually outgrew the jacket, he took the back patch off and sewed it to the front of his guitar amp.  That he blunted the sound of the amp wasn’t the issue — looking cool was the point.  At least he got a lot of mileage out of that patch.

Meanwhile we’d drink as much apple juice as we could, to gather more raw materials for our precious projects.  A soup tin, for example, could be carved into the shape of a ninja star.  Scouring our recycling bins for more, we would create our little weapons and throw them at trees, trying to get them to stick.  In the summer of 1985 we had an entire arsenal made of tin.  Each throwing star was only good for one or two throws before they were blunted and deformed.  Bob got the idea to buy throwing knives instead…improvised throwing knives.

We went to the Zellers store, bought a set of the cheapest possible kitchen paring knives, took them home and threw them at trees.  A paring knife would last longer than a soup tin throwing star, but not by much.

Hey, give us some credit!  We didn’t steal mom’s knives and wreck them.  We bought our own!

It was an innocent time, but we’d heard that the cops would give you a warning if you were downtown wearing spikes.  Not studs, but spikes — the pointy kind.  So we kept to our neighbourhood with the juice tin sawblades and throwing stars.  I can remember one Sunday, riding my bike solo with my juice tin sawblades on.  I ran into a kid I knew who had a good laugh at me.  I never wore them again.  They were pretty haggard.

You can imagine how silly we looked, riding around on our BMX bikes with studded wrist bands that smelled like soup.  Short-haired boys with just a tiny fringe of growth at the back.  “Leave the back long,” we’d tell the barbers though they never did.  “I have to cut off the dead ends,” they’d respond.  And you’d come out of the salon with short hair again.

You know, mom and dad used to give me a hard time about the way I looked, but thinking back they probably had good reason!

 

#833: Introduction to the 1986 Saga

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Introduction to the 1986 Saga

Upon reflection, I don’t think any year was more pivotal in my life, personally and musically, than 1986.  When I finally posted the “lost chapter” about 1986 a couple years ago (over 5000 words!), I thought I had said everything I had to say about that year.  I was wrong.

A few weeks ago I started writing more chapters from that period, reliving the music, sometimes trauma.  There was a lot still to unpack.  The Catholic school years were not pleasant.  After writing a particularly raw chapter (to be called “Flag Boy”), I received some really good advice.  “Have you ever tried writing a letter to your younger self?”

The idea is to show kindness to your inner child.  While I was familiar with the concept, doing it myself had never occurred me to.  That’s not the kind of writing that I do.  But what if I could frame it in such a way so that it is the kind of writing that I do?

In a caffeine-fuelled two-hour spurt I wrote a story, including the letter, which flowed out of me like a stream.  I played the very same albums while writing that I played back then.  Emotions were happening so I had to stop a couple times.  By the end of it I was completely spent.  It was not only a therapeutic experience, but I also pushed my abilities past their normal boundaries.  The end result is a story I am so proud of that I’ve chosen to publish it, even though that wasn’t the original intent.  I chose “me, 1986” as the younger self to write to and so it only makes sense to include this work as part of the series.

The 1986 Saga currently stands at five chapters, with the letter as the centerpiece.  Music exists as an important component to every part of this journey.  Rock music.  Hard rock music.

I hope it’s not too much of a downer.  Some chapters are funny, and I made sure the Saga has an upbeat and optimistic ending.  And so it should.  I’m still breathing, right?  I’m still rocking and rolling, keeping on keeping on, and doing my part to spread the rock to every corner of the globe.

Including the previously published lost chapter “1986”, this series will make it a total over 11,000 words on the subject.  If this were a proper book like an autobiography I would have weaved them together into a single chapter, but the nature of online publishing means you get the instant gratification of posting piece by piece any time you want.  The end result feels more like a “work in progress”, but I get to put everything out now and feel that satisfaction from it.

Because everything has to connect back to music, we’ll be revisiting early love of W.A.S.P., Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Spinal Tap, and of course, Kiss.  Music helped me survive that year, and hopefully by the end of the 1986 Saga you will understand how.

THE 1986 SAGA

#832: This Is Spinal Tap

GETTING MORE TALE #832: This Is Spinal Tap

I can admit it.  I was only 13 years old, and I thought Spinal Tap were a real band.

How was I to know?  A lot of media surrounding Spinal Tap took them seriously.  When MuchMusic’s J.D. Roberts interviewed Ronnie James Dio about the Hear N’ Aid project in 1986, he played it straight.  David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap appear on the track “Stars”, which Ronnie produced.

Roberts:  “I think that one of the great coups of Hear N’ Aid, and I think you’ll have to agree with me, was having David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap enter the project.”

Dio:  “Yeah that was a real special moment. I must tell you that there was a little consternation on the part of some of the people who did not turn up, who were asked to take part in ‘Stars’, that the inclusion of those two people, or anyone from Spinal Tap, made this project a laughing stock.  I’d like to be able to reply to anyone who thinks that’s a valid point.  Again, we are human beings.  And part of human nature is to laugh.  Probably the nicest part of human nature is to laugh.  And these are two wonderful people who made us laugh, not only in this project, but in Spinal Tap.”

Even though Dio actually broke the wall for a moment and entered the “real” world with his answer, Roberts shot right back into the fictional world with his followup question.  Dio played along this time.

Roberts:  “It’s a good thing, as Derek says, that you didn’t let them do the lead vocal, because they would have blown everybody away.”

Dio:  “Well they did a lot of singing when the tape wasn’t rolling, and they were better than all of us.  And they happen to both be the best guitar players I’ve ever heard too.”

Never mind that Derek plays bass!

Shortly after the interview rolled, Much played the video for “Hell Hole” and I had a chance to hear Spinal Tap for myself.  Yeah, that blonde guy could sing.  It was a decent song.  I expected something heavier — more thrash like.  Maybe the reason I hadn’t heard of them was they were a thrash band?  If they were so highly praised by Ronnie James Dio, I couldn’t understand why I never heard of them.  I didn’t have much to go on either.

According to the Dio interview, there were some unnamed rock stars who felt that Spinal Tap would turn Hear N’ Aid into a “laughing stock”.  Why?  I turned various scenarios over in my head.  Were they satanic?  Well, they had a song called “Hell Hole” and there was a big demon skull head in the backdrop, but that didn’t make them satanists.  Just what was the story exactly with this Spinal Tap?

They did seem arrogant in the Hear N’ Aid “making of” video.

David St. Hubbins:  “They asked us to do the leads, but like I said before, I didn’t wanna blow these other blokes away, you know.  I’ve been doing this a lot longer than they have.  I’ve got pipes I haven’t used yet.  Haven’t located them yet.”

Derek Smalls:  “He could break the board in there.  It’s really an act of mercy to the engineers that he doesn’t sing lead.”

Arrogant yes, but…St. Hubbins has been doing this this a lot longer than they have?  Just why haven’t I heard of Spinal Tap before?  Analysing the video for “Hell Hole” revealed little.  Yes, there was a comedic slant to it, but the song actually rocked.  Other bands put comedy in their music videos too, like Twisted Sister.  There was no reason whatsoever to suspect the truth.

The only real clue that I had was when Dio briefly mentioned a film.  There, the trail went cold.  Never heard of it, never seen it, didn’t know anybody who did.  It was a couple more years before I eventually put the story together.  While continuing my education in KISStory, I learned that their film, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, was shown in a double bill with This Is Spinal Tap for a limited run.  This happened in England, a “Headbanging double feature”, around October 1984. I began to read names like “Michael McKean” and “Harry Shearer”.  Eventually a highschool friend named Andy recommended that I see the movie ASAP so I rented a copy from Steve’s TV.

The truth is, I did not like This In Spinal Tap the first time I saw it.  I didn’t laugh.  It certainly wasn’t a gleeful rock and roll comedy, as I watched the hard times roll out one after another.  But then the next day back at school, talking about it with Andy, I started to get the jokes.

“…and then when they’re stuck in those pods for ‘Rock and Roll Creation’ and the bassist can’t get out…they have to bring out a blowtorch…” said Andy.

“Oh yeah, that was pretty funny actually.  You know what part I did like, was when they were lost in the basement trying to find the stage.  Did you notice Billy Crystal was the mime?  Mime is money!”

I finally got it.  I rented it again, and this time I dubbed a copy for myself.  I understood Rob Reiner’s role in the concept and recognized the actors from other roles.  Christopher Guest, the other singer, was Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, only one of the greatest movies ever made.  Also directed by Rob Reiner!  I watched Spinal Tap again, and again.  I think I had a new favourite movie!

There’s no shame in admitting being fooled by Spinal Tap.  That was the whole point, wasn’t it?  Otherwise the band wouldn’t have continued doing interviews in character.  The idea was to always keep it believable enough that you can fool a small minority.

My dad used to say, “If that band is just a bunch of actors, then I guess it doesn’t take much talent to play rock and roll.”  But my dad missed something then, that he now understands.  Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Christopher Guest are actually excellent musicians on multiple instruments.  And that is why Spinal Tap was so believable.  When Nignel Tufnel rips a solo in the video for “Hell Hole”, it looks right because Christopher Guest performed that solo.  You know, maybe Spinal Tap should be considered a real band after all!

 

 

 

* Thank you Dale Sherman for that detail!

#831: Gone Shootin’ (The Lighter Side Of…)

A prequel to #655:  Guns, Guns, Guns

 

GETTING MORE TALE #831: Gone Shootin’ (The Lighter Side Of…)

Have you ever discharged a firearm in your own back yard, in a suburban setting?  My dad has!

We were different from other families on the street.  I didn’t see any guns in their basements.  We had them though, rifles that were locked up in my dad’s gun rack.  Ammunition safely hidden in another room.  We looked forward to the winter, when we’d bring them to the cottage and fire then off over Lake Huron.  The hot shell casings would eject and bury themselves in the snow, only to be found the following summer in the sand beneath.  Then Dad and I would hammer them into our “sitting log”, little mementos of our winter fun.  I secretly hoped the shell casings would freak out the average beach goer.

My dad had a breach-loaded Martini-Henry rifle that saw action in the Zulu wars of the late 19th century.  That thing could kick.  It would take your shoulder off if not careful.  My dad later acquired the missing bayonet for it.  Holding it was like holding history in your hands.  Lives were lost to its muzzle.  Once added to my dad’s collection, apple juice tins were its only victims.

Those were the good times.  I do remember one bad time!

I would have been about 10 or 11 years old.  I had a pet guinea pig that I named Fred.  We weren’t allowed to have many pets when we were kids.  My dad didn’t like a mess.  But I got Fred, and he lived in a cage in our little basement.  That is, until he got sick and stopped eating.

When it was clear that Fred was a goner, my dad did what had to be done, even though I was crying.  He took his rifle and the guinea pig into the back yard.  I watched from the kitchen window as he raised his gun and aimed towards the ground.

You could hear the crack of the rifle, and the echo of the boom in the air.  Fred was buried in the back yard.

I wonder what would happen if you discharged a rifle in your back yard today?  Back then (1983), nothing!

A few years later (1986), we had a couple weeks in September that were plagued by prank doorbell-ringers.  A hobby I would take up myself the following year.  (See:  Getting More Tale #548: Bad Boys.)  “Nicky Nicky Nine Door” was the name of the game, but my dad wasn’t amused when it happened to us.  It was almost nightly.

After a few weeks of this my dad decided to end the pranks in his own special way.  He had a starting pistol – a non-firing gun that looked and sounded like it was discharging live ammunition.  It could only shoot blanks, but the crack of the fire and smoke from the barrel sure were convincing.  So one night when the doorbell rang, my dad ran upstairs to get the starting pistol.  He then bolted out the front door, firing the gun in every direction.

Let me tell you, we were never pranked again.

Guns aren’t all bad.  You can use them to scare bad kids and put your own pets to sleep!  Although I certainly wouldn’t advise it in this day and age.