RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale

#888: The Limewire Days

RECORD STORE TALES #888: The Limewire Days

I got into the downloading business later than everyone else. As a Record Store manager, I had zero interest in downloads. I’ve never used Napster and I sided with Lars Ulrich when it came down to it.  You might not have cared about Lars’ bottom line, but I cared about mine.  Downloading hurt us.  And we weren’t a corporate entity, we were just a small indy chain.  Eventually in the year 2001, I relented and began using WinMX and Limewire to download rare tracks. I bought so many CDs annually, I figured “why not”? I quickly discovered all the new Guns N’ Roses songs that they played in Rio.

I still remember the first time using WinMX. It was at an old girlfriend’s house and she was showing me how she downloaded music. Hey neighbour was using WinMX too, and gave her a mix CD of all the tracks she had downloaded. I’ll never forget putting on this mix CD, and suddenly from the speakers it’s “Who Let the Dogs Out”!   As the song went on, I remarked “I don’t think I’ve ever heard the verses to this song before. Just the chorus.” Do you know how the verses go?

I copied what the girlfriend showed me, downloaded WinMX, and before you know it, I was listening to “The Blues” by Guns N’ Roses.

After everything dried up on WinMX, we both switched to Limewire where I continued downloading the odd rarity. I accumulated a large music folder, and began burning all my new tracks to mix CDs. I have several volumes of mixes all with tracks downloaded during this period. But there were always odds and ends that I never fit onto a mix CD. I thought all those tracks had been lost, but I just dug up an old CD labelled “MP3 downloads”. It is here that I burned the stragglers, and then stuffed the CD in with some photo discs and forgot all about it.

The title “MP3 downloads” is misleading as there are video files here too (none of which work anymore). The downloads are also not exclusively from Limewire, as we’ll get to. Let’s have a look track by track at what mp3 files I still had in my music folder back in 2004.


This CD is only 303 mb (of 656).

First, the video files are a weird variety of stuff I downloaded and intended to keep.  I didn’t have cable back then, so “Gene Simmons on MTV Cribs” is one I wanted.  Then there’s a file called “Gene’s hair on fire”.  Then there’s a file called “some jackass tells a cop to fuck off”.  I remember that one.  I think I had been searching for Jackass videos, and came across this idiot getting beat by a cop after walking up and giving him the finger.  Some Star Wars videos include the Star Wars Kid vs Yoda, a deleted scene from A New Hope, and something called “Episode 3 Leaked Marketing Video”.  All the video files appear to be corrupt and won’t play on anything.

Onto the music.  I can see there are some tracks here from albums I didn’t own then, but do now.  From the compilation CD Spaced by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, it’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”, “I Walk the Line” and “When I Was Seventeen”.  These are strictly novelty covers, although Nimoy does give it a good effort.  All of these songs were originally released on separate Nimoy and Shatner albums in the late 1960s.  Related to these, I also have “Shaft” by Sammy Davis Jr.  I have long loved Sammy’s glittery version of the Shaft theme.  Who’s the black private dick who’s a sex machine with all the chicks?  Sammy Davis Jr. was!  The guitar work on this is great slippery fun.  I’ll have to get a copy for real.

A fun treat next:  A full hour Peter Criss interview show by Eddie Trunk.  This is with all the songs and music.  Peter was out of Kiss once again, and he spilled the full beans on his whole perspective.  Doing the Symphony show with Tommy Thayer, Peter complains “without Ace, it’s not Kiss”.  This interview is definitely a keeper.  According to the file name, this interview is from May 4, 2004.

Several of the files are really, really low quality Dokken.  These are tiny files, they are so poor.  Demos of “Back for the Attack”, “We’re Illegal”, “It’s Not Love”, “Unchain the Night”, “Upon Your Lips”, and “Sign of the Times”.  A live version of “Paris is Burning”.  Remixes of “Nothing Left to Say” and “I Feel”.  I could have burned all these to a Dokken rarities CD, but the sound quality is poor, I knew I’d never want to listen to it.

There is also a smattering of rare Leatherwolf, including some live stuff.  Some were downloads from their social media pages at the time.  “Tension” is definitely one such official track, an instrumental solo that isn’t on any albums.  (You can tell by the file size it’s official, compared to the low quality Limewire downloads.)  I also have “Black Knight” live with original singer Michael Olivieri, and a partial instrumental called “The Triple Axe Attack”.  I’m not 100% certain what these are, but they don’t seem to have originated on the rare Leatherwolf live album called Wide Open.  Best of all the finds are the three official demos they did with singer Jeff Martin:  “Burned”, Disconnect” and “Behind the Gun”.  Martin did not last, and was replaced by Wade Black of Crimson Glory on the album World Asylum.  Fortunately I had already burned these tracks (and “Tension”) to a bonus CD.

There is a smattering of Gene Simmons demos, varying in quality.  “Heart Throb” is almost unlistenable.  “Howling for Your Love” is OK but I can’t identify if it was later rewritten into something more recognizable.  “It’s Gonna Be Alright” is bright and poppy with a drum machine backing Gene.  Then there is “Jelly Roll”, a heavier track with a riff like “Tie Your Mother Down”.  “Rock and Rolls Royce” is the track that was rewritten into “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em” from Rock and Roll Over.  “Rotten to the Core” was recycled way later on 2009’s Sonic Boom as “Hot and Cold”.  Like the Dokken tracks, I never burned these to CD because of the poor audio that I knew I wouldn’t want to listen to.

Other miscellaneous rarities here include Faith No More, Motley Crue and Van Halen.  Faith No More were known to mess around with covers live, and here I have “Wicked Game” (Chris Isaak) and “We Will Rock You”.  Sound quality is awful and neither are full songs, just them messing around on stage.  The two unreleased Motley Tracks are “Black Widow” and something just labelled “unreleased track” which is actually “I Will Survive”.  Both of these are officially released now so I have no reason to keep them.  Onto Van Halen, not everything sounds shite, but “On Fire” is just a few seconds of a demo.  “Let’s Get Rockin'” is complete.  A good sounding track that later was reworked as “Outta Space” on A Different Kind of Truth.  Then I have 90 seconds of the sneak preview single for “It’s About Time” (2004).  And then just two seconds of shred on a track labelled “VANHwhee”.  So strange!

Other rarities include one Def Leppard treasure called “Burnout”, which was an official download from their site.  It was also available on the CD single for “Goodbye” and a Def Leppard boxed set.  I also have an audio rip of “Lick My Love Pump” from the movie This Is Spinal Tap.  I should really take this and add it to the soundtrack as a bonus track!

I downloaded some miscellaneous songs that I didn’t own the albums for, but intended to get later:

  • Blue Oyster Cult – “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (I was watching Stephen King’s The Stand that year!)
  • Budgie – “Breadfan”
  • Buckethead – “Nottingham Lace” (might be an official download)
  • Cat Stevens – “The Wind”
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Down on the Corner” (mislabelled as “Willy and the Poor Boys”)
  • Fleetwood Mac – “Go Your Own Way”
  • Iced Earth – “Dracula”
  • Iced Earth – “Jack”
  • Kenny Rogers – “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”
  • Marty Robbins – “El Paso”
  • Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper – “Elvis is Everywhere”
  • The Pursuit of Happiness – “I’m An Adult Now”
  • The Pursuit of Happiness – “Hard to Laugh”

Of these, there are some I still have not bought and some I have no intention of getting anymore.  I do own the B.O.C., Budgie, Cat Stevens, CCR, Kenny Rogers, Marty Robbins, and Fleetwood Mac.  I’d still like to get Mojo Nixon to be honest with you!

Finally, there are bits of pieces of funny things that I liked to have hanging around for making mix CDs.  Many are from a website that used to have mp3 files of movie quotes, and the rest are from Homestar Runner.  Does that take you back to the 2000s?  From Homestar, I have “Alright 4 2Night”, “Strongbadia National Anthem”, “Everybody Knows It”, “Ballad of the Sneak”, “Cheat Commandos”, “CGNU Fight Song”, and a computer voice saying “back off baby”!  I might have been using that as an MSN Messenger alert sound.  Any time someone messaged me, the computer would say “back off baby”!  If I didn’t, I should have.  From the movie Sexy Beast I grabbed a bunch of Ben Kingsley’s best lines.  Saying he’s going to put his cigarette out in somebody’s eye, calling someone “porky pig”, yelling “no!” repeatedly, and announcing he had to take a piss.  Because of course.

The last files I found on this CD are strange, but for the sake of a complete and thorough inventory, they are:

  • no_respect:  24 seconds of the pretty terrible “Rappin'” Rodney Dangerfield song from the 80s.
  • 50_10sec:  Actually 11 seconds of the “Smoke on the Water” riff.  I can tell it’s Blackmore.  Why did I keep this?
  • MM Jukebox Plus Upgrade:  18 second software ad that obviously got left there by something I downloaded.  This is probably the first time in my life that I actually played this track!
  • cant_holdon:  36 seconds long.  This took forever to identify.  Lyric searches told me nothing.  Then I figured it out by uploading to YouTube and waiting for the copyright block to tell me what it was!  “Can’t Hold On / Can’t Let Go” by a band called Thunder, but not the band Thunder that you know today.  Probably downloaded by mistake is my guess.  Sounds like something you’d hear in an 80s Bruce Willis flick.

I don’t know how interesting this will be for you to read, but I found it entertaining enough to do this complete inventory.  I had clearly not tried to listen to all the files before, or I would have weeded at least a few out.  It is likely that in 2004 I was getting a new hard drive put in my computer and hastily burned my mp3 files to CD, intending to eventually put them on mix discs like I did with the rest of my mp3 collection.

After a little further digging, I did find that I had burned some of these songs to a mix CD.  Not all, but some.  You can get an idea here of how I’d make use of weird stuff like this.  The rest of the tracks never made it to the mix CD stage, so finding the original mp3 disc is a fun reminder for me of just what I was doing in 2004.  And I’m going to keep that Peter Criss interview, and a few other worthwhile things too.! Productive morning spent, and I hope you enjoyed this look at the way we did things a decade and a half ago.

 

#881: The Return of the Record Store Tales

RECORD STORE TALES #881: The Return of the Record Store Tales

A minor announcement, but an announcement nonetheless!  As of this chapter, for all of my stories going forward, I have decided to retire the name Getting More Tale.  I am returning to the original moniker of Record Store Tales.

It’s really always intended to be considered one body of work.

One of the most important parts of the original Record Store Tales was the “ending” — quitting the store in Part 320.  That series of events was one I was really anxious to tell, so when the time felt right, I got it done and wrapped Record Store Tales up in a lil’ bow.  I then broadened the scope of my stories with the “sequel” series Getting More Tale (title suggested by Aaron of the KMA).

Getting More Tale has often dipped back into the Record Store days for subject matter, as well as childhood, and the 15 years since I quit.  I’ve also told stories about technology and historic records.  The sky was the limit when I changed the name to Getting More Tale…but I have always identified as a “Record Store guy”.  Even if it has been 15 years since I last worked behind a counter…once a Record Store guy, always a Record Store guy.

The 12 years I spent in the store were 12 of the defining years of my life, from the highest highs to the lowest lows.  But to quote a song, “It’s My Life” and calling the whole she-bang “Record Store Tales” feels right.  Even if roughly half the stories have nothing to do with working in a store, “you are what you is”.  Today I may be a guy who works in the steel industry, but I will always be a guy who managed a Record Store, and proud of it!

So there you have it; the lines shall no longer be blurred.  The ongoing story of Mike LeBrain, former Record Store manager, obsessive music collector and all-around open book, shall henceforce be known once more as the Record Store Tales.*

The content is not changing one iota.  I have the next 10 chapters locked and loaded, with subject matter covering the whole gamut.  Childhood musical flashbacks, working behind the counter in the glory years, school daze, old tech, bad dates, toys, and maybe even some controversy.  I continue to be excited to bring you stories that you seem to enjoy!  It has been been over six years since I “wrapped up” Record Store Tales.  There was backlash to the ending.  But that only emboldened me.  My writing has improved ten-fold since.  I’m proud to fly the flag of Record Store Tales again.

Thanks for reading all these years!  It has been an organic experience and for nine years you have been an integral part of it.  Let’s go forward, shall we?

To be continued….

* I won’t be going back and re-naming anything, I will just be carrying on the numbering system will the title Record Store Tales.  

#880: Death Team

GETTING MORE TALE #880: Death Team

One of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday morning was down in the basement drawing pictures while listening to heavy metal music with my best buddy Bob.  Most likely, we were watching one of my VHS tapes of the Pepsi Power Hour while doodling away with our pencils.  It was the best of times, with the best of friends, and the absolute best kind of music.

In the early to mid 1980s, MuchMusic was only available on pay TV.  We had it, but Bob Schipper did not.  Therefore he only had two pathways to the Pepsi Power Hour:

  1. Wait for the one or two weeks per year when pay TV was free for sneak preview.
  2. I tape the videos, and share my finds with him on Saturday mornings.

It was an amazing way to bond as kids.  He brought with him his paper and pencils, and we would get down to business while watching music videos.

In the summer, we moved activities to the front or back porches, with a ghetto blaster playing Kiss or Iron Maiden as we sketched.   In fact, the story really begins on the back porch.  The very same back porch on which we schooled George Balasz about Accept.  Bob had mastered the art of drawing muscled warriors in cool poses.  His very first was a master of escape whom he dubbed “Motor Head”.  In his first appearance, he seems doomed, hanging from a noose.  But a closer look reveals him casually smoking a cigarette and holding a pair of nun-chucks for his imminent escape.  Note the frayed rope.  He was in no danger – he was biding his time!

Having mastered this first character, it was time to expand on the concept. Bob drew many different designs and body types. Giants, archers, characters with cybernetic limbs…the field was wide open, but heavy metal music was always an influence.

Bob’s second sketch was a man in a metal Quiet Riot mask he named “Killer”.  Killer was one of Bob’s favourites.  As his drawing abilities grew, he expanded upon Killer.  Next, he designed a custom car and robotic pet for the character.  I liked the way he used metal plates and rivets for detail.

Bob taught me the secrets of drawing these heroic figures, and I began to create my own warriors.  The characters we were sketching resembled Mad Max marauders, crossed with heavy metal tropes.  Really, all of that metal stuff was inspired by the post-apocalyptic fiction genre that was all the rage in the early 80s.  Nobody did it better than Mad Max, and many of our characters wore masks like Lord Humungous.  Others had bandaged faces, like Eddie in some of the Powerslave-era Iron Maiden artwork.  Some wielded ninja-like weapons, since ninja movies were also all the rage at the time.

We called our characters “Death Team”.

Bob’s backstory concept of Death Team was a school gang, with a strong influence from martial arts movies.  The idea was that the gang evolves into a government-sanctioned fighting force.  That meant no limits.  The cars and trucks that we drew were armoured and kitted out.  Very much inspired by M.A.S.K., Mad Max, and other shows of the time.  If there was something cool on the screen, we would try to draw it and add our own twists.  What I brought to the table was my interest in GI Joe comics, and the military side of fiction.  The ninjas were the common ground between Death Team and GI Joe, and many of my characters had weapons and outfits inspired by the comics.  I started giving my characters code names and bios, just like GI Joe, and gave them the inverted star sigil.

At this point during the earliest Death Team drawings, my sister and I had our big musical schism.  That means that up until 1985, she was into the same music I was.  Well…not W.A.S.P.  But she liked Quiet Riot, Motley Crue and Iron Maiden.  Then something happened, and she went into what I called “New Wave”.  Pointer Sisters, Corey Hart, Tina Turner.  To counter our heavy metal Death Team, she created her own squad called the Wavers.  She drew her own team members:  “Waver” and “The Wave”.  Needless to say, Death Team would have crushed the Wavers in combat.

Bob and I sketched solo, during the week.  Then we’d gather on the weekends to share our work.  We’d inspire each other and keep drawing more.   Those are the Saturday morning Power Hour sessions I remember so fondly.

One weekend, Bob came over excited that he had learned to draw “a really cool bike”.  He arrived at my door with his new character “Bike Ninja”.  We helped each other name our characters, but that one didn’t need anything fancier than simply “Bike Ninja”.  His boots had outward-facing spikes, and his left hand was replaced by a robotic claw with a laser in it.

“That might make it hard for him to ride his bike,” I offered up.

“Nahh!” said Bob.  “He’s a ninja!”

My mom noticed that many of the characters were smoking cigarettes.  She asked why that was.  Bob started putting cigarettes in some of their mouths (even the ones wearing masks) to make them look cooler, so I followed suit.  That was the rock and roll influence, as many of our rock star heroes like Eddie Van Halen were constantly smoking.  We had no interest in it, but the visual followed into our art.

Bob’s art was much better and more original than mine.  I improved over time.  By 1987 I had finally drawn one I was really proud of, a character all about street justice and inspired by Dee Snider from Twisted Sister.  In fact this character was meant to be the real Dee Snider, joining our team to save Earth.  The concept was stolen from Sgt. Slaughter, the WWF wrestler who joined the fictional GI Joe team.  If that could happen, then Dee Snider could join Death Team!

As Bob and I built our little world of characters on paper, we realized our gang needed someone to fight.  Bob was watching the Silver Hawks cartoon before school in the mornings, and took influence from some of the creatures seen on early morning TV.  We decided on a force of alien invaders as our adversaries, and a wide variety we did draw.

Bob was really the visual guy though; his drawings were so far ahead of mine.  I was more a conceptual guy.  I came up with the character bios and some of the overarching story.  It was hard bridging the street gang origins together with the alien invasion concept, but I wrote an origin.  Together, Bob and I wanted Death Team to be a Canadian team (with some American and overseas volunteers).  We wrote them as a down-on-their-luck school gang who lived together on the rough side of town, wherever that was.  They actually began as two rival gangs who combined their forces together.  We wrote the first pages together and then I finished writing the story.  The guys were so tough, that they were swiftly recruited by the Canadian government as a unit of street enforcers.  The Death Team was born!

I decided that the leader of the alien invasion was to be a human.  Perhaps inspired by Xur in The Last Starfighter, the alien leader was a former Death Team computer wizard who made contact with the aliens by sending a signal through a black hole.  He then defected and joined them, determined to conquer the Earth for his own.  We even named our alien alliance the “Xor Aliens”.

Bob was really good at drawing aliens, though most had human bodies with alien heads, hands and feet.  Some were covered with hair.  He was good at drawing big round mouths with a circular row of teeth.  I thought that was a cool visual.  Many of ours were aquatic.  Planet Xor must have had a lot of oceans.

When I look back at these drawings, I see a difference between Bob and I.  It’s quality vs. quantity.  His are better while mine are plentiful.  Some of mine were little more than outlines with no shading or depth.  Plenty of mine are rip-offs.  He was coming up his own ideas.  The thing we have in common, easily seen in these sketches, is how much fun we had!

The pinnacle of of our fun was realized one afternoon when we decided to commit Death Tape to an audio adventure.  One side of a 60 minute tape contains us acting out our favourite characters, in a series of adventures.  This is all done to the backing tracks of great hard rock tunes.  It opens with “In the Beginning” and “Shout at the Devil” by the mighty Motley Crue.  This meant we used two ghetto blasters in making this tape.  One to record, and one to play the backing music while we acted out the scenes.  Quiet Riot’s “Slick Black Cadillac” and “Caught in the Crossfire” by April Wine were the songs used for the other scenes.  I just remember having so much fun doing it.  It didn’t matter if the tape is unlistenable.  My face was red from laughing so hard that day.

All this Death Team stuff goes hand-in-hand with the earliest days of my discovery of metal.  You can see the influences bleeding through.  Characters named “Motor Head” and “Killer” and “Helix” and “Crazee” and “Iron Maiden”.  We weren’t terribly original, but we were terrifically entertained.  Entertained by ourselves!  All we needed was some paper, some sharp pencils, and a good song.  I can still hear the tunes playing, whether it was W.A.S.P. or Motley Crue or Iron Maiden themselves.  The tunes were critical.  The team could not have existed with the tunes, and the tunes were only more fun to listen to while drawing pictures of the team.

Later on in school, when I was much better at art, I tried my hand at doing a sequel team, called “DT 2”.  I played the music, and tried to recreate the magic by sitting down and drawing some updated ninjas.  Without my friend it was a futile exercise.  Death Team cannot exist without three things:

  1. Heavy metal music
  2. Paper and sharp pencils
  3. My buddy Bob

Anything else is simply a knock-off.

#879: Advertising & the Pennysaver

GETTING MORE TALE #879: Advertising & the Pennysaver

The Record Store didn’t do oodles of advertising.  We had a limited budget.  We usually ran ads in the Pennysaver, a free weekly ad paper.  Their rep with us was a super ducky guy named Dana McMullen.  He was a sharp dresser with a talent for layout.  We got along immediately because he was a Queensryche fan.  It was always amusing to me how you could run into fellow rock fans almost anywhere.  Dana didn’t look like a metal head.  His hair and suits were meticulous.   But he loved his Queensryche.  We were both pretty fond of 1994’s Promised Land.

We opened the store that I first managed in 1996.  It was a dry period for Queensryche, but then in ’97 came Hear in the Now Frontier.  I was disappointed with it, and told Dana as much, but he bought it like any loyal fan would.  He was a good guy.

Dana left the Pennysaver shortly after, and we had a new rep.  I can’t remember her name, just that she always called me “Dude”, which I hated.  (The part of working retail that isn’t in the manual is that you have to get used to people calling you “Dude”, “Chief”, and “Bud”.)  Advertising with the new rep wasn’t as smooth as it was with Dana. I remember she messed up some important details on a few of our ads.  One day she was meeting with the Boss Man about these mistakes and she left in tears.  Yikes!  I didn’t get a “See ya Dude!” from her that day.

I know from making in-store signage that the Boss was hard to please.  In 1994, I was green and just started.  The first display I ever made, he hated.  It was a simple enough job.  We got free posters from the record companies all the time, but the Boss didn’t want plain old posters taped to the walls.  He wanted them framed.  One night he left me with the job to frame some of the free posters we got.  The only issue was that the large posters didn’t fit the medium sized frames, so you had to chop them up and make them fit.  He assigned me to frame a Jann Arden poster for her second album Living Under June.  It was such a huge image of Jann that I couldn’t just trim the edges and make it fit.  It was a vertical poster but he wanted the frame horizontal.  I had to chop it into pieces and have the picture of Jann on one side and the name and album title on the other.  The boss hated it and made sure I knew it.  He couldn’t tell me what he wanted it to look like, just that what I made wasn’t it.  Fortunately we hired T-Rev shortly after and he was much more artistically inclined.  I was relieved of my sign making duties.

I’m sure when he looks at my site now, the Boss must still think my graphic skills still suck because they haven’t changed much!

We expanded to radio ads.  I hated our jingle, but I remember early conversations with the radio people that could have taken us in another direction.  Although he had a tiny office in the back, it wasn’t really good for meetings, so the Boss would have a lot of his meetings in the store.  I was there when one radio guru pitched his ad concept.

“It’s Beavis and Butt-head see, and they go, ‘Hey Butt-Head, heh heh, where should we sell these awesome used CDs?’”

The boss wasn’t into that one.  “I think Beavis and Butt-Head are a little passé,” he asserted.

He might have been right, but I didn’t agree with that; the Beavis and Butt-Head movie was only a year old.  Their voices were recognizable.  The Boss just didn’t like them.  My only contention was that I could do better Beavis and Butt-Head voices than the radio guru.  We didn’t need him!

While I didn’t always enjoy having these meetings going on in my workspace, and having to work around these people, it was fun listening in.  Sometimes the Boss would ask afterwards what I thought of the pitch.

Later on, after we started expanding and (in my opinion) losing our path a bit, the Boss hired an expensive marketing expert.  I didn’t care for her ideas.  I remember he sent us one of her proposals and it just lost me.  We were supposed to read it and offer our feedback.  I thought we were a music store, and here’s this marketing proposal with all these empty buzzwords in it.   Words like “synergy”.   It felt like a huge disconnect between upper management and working on the floor.   The business was simple – we bought CDs from the public, and we sold them back to the public.  Now we’re spending money on marketing while I have to wait weeks just to get paid my mileage cheques.

Having said all this, take it with a grain of salt.  He’s still in business and this year will be celebrating his 30th anniversary.  He must be doing something right.

 

#878: Building Empires

GETTING MORE TALE #878: Building Empires

On multiple occasions I’ve said the best years working at the Record Store were the early years.  1994, 1995, into 1996…I’d never been happier working hard, and maybe never will be again.  There was no corporate head office, no regional managers, and minimal pre-fab signage that all looked the same.  It was just a few of us, die hard music fans, and a Record Store.  We were in the process of building empires!

The boss was always looking to expand our CD inventory.  Rarities of any kind were hard to find in Kitchener.  Be they singles, Japanese imports, or live bootlegs, they were hard to come by.  Periodically, let’s say once every couple months, the boss would drive to Toronto to pick up our weekly inventory orders from Records on Wheels.  R.O.W. didn’t carry anything particularly rare, just the major label hits that we needed.  Occasionally the boss would stop at other retailers in Toronto to pick up live bootlegs.  Nirvana, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses, whatever was popular.  There were a couple stores in Toronto that had massive amounts of bootleg CDs.  He’d bring them back here and sell them for around $40.  Nobody in Kitchener had access to that kind of stock.  They weren’t cheap and we didn’t make any profit off them, but they sure made us look better.  A lot better.  It gave us a chance to catch up a little bit with Sam’s and Encore in the “cool” stakes.

We also tried some more obscure distributors.  One of them carried UK, US and Japanese imports.  But again they were expensive and we had to hope they’d sell.  These distributors were really unreliable.  Long backorders were a problem, and there was no guarantee we’d get what we ordered.  We sometimes got lucky.  Nirvana’s Hormoaning was in demand, and we did get a few of those.

I’ll never forget this one Nirvana kid who wanted Hormoaning so bad.   He didn’t have enough cash so he kept trading in discs until he had enough credit to cover it.  You had to trade in a lot of CDs to cover $40 plus tax.  But he got his Hormoaning.  Until he had to trade that one in, too.  And he did.


There was another guy (he kind of looked like a little troll doll), and he worked up at Carry On Comics in Waterloo.  I think his brother was friends with the owner, and that’s why he started coming in.  He had his eyes set on an R.E.M. bootleg, specifically because it had a song called “Where’s Captain Kirk?”.  It was one of R.E.M.’s non-album singles, a cover of a band called Spizzenergi.

I was beamed aboard the Starship Enterprise,
What I felt what I saw was a total surprise,
I looked around and wondered can this be,
Or is this the start of my insanity.
Oh but its true,
As we went warp factor 2,
And I met all of the crew,
Where’s Captain Kirk?

The comic book guy salivated over that CD until he finally had enough cash to buy it.  I didn’t think he was serious.  He used to talk about buying this vintage Millenium Falcon toy and hanging it from his ceiling.  He was serious this time!


I managed to snag a couple live bootlegs.  No discounts on these!  Nine Inch Nails – Woodstock ’94, and Guns N’ Roses Covering ‘Em were both favourites of mine.  Money well spent and still in the collection today.  The boss hated that we took some of his good Toronto stock.  He was selling them virtually at cost, so that’s why we had to pay full price.  But he really, really did not appreciate when T-Rev and I bought stuff like that.  Here he was, stocking them to make our store look cooler…but in swoops T-Rev and metal Mike!  Maybe he should have charged more for them, across the board.  Where else in town were you going to find them?

On one of those early Toronto runs, the boss was one of the first victims of the Ontario NDP government’s photo radar project.  In order to curb speeding, the NDP launched the 400-series highway photo radar.  The boss was caught speeding on the 401 and found a nice photo and fine in his mailbox.  It was from one of the trips back from R.O.W.  The project was only semi-successful.  Drivers experimented with methods of covering up their license plates from photo radar cameras, and over 5000 photos were deemed useless.  The incoming Mike Harris government campaigned on getting rid of photo radar, and they did immediately after taking office.  The great experiment was over, but the boss was one of the drivers dinged.  All he was trying to do was bring us some rock and roll!  But it was the first and only photo radar picture I saw back then.

Damn government always cutting into our profits!

Behind the scenes, he was building empires.  He announced that he wanted us to buy even more stock from the public.  Trade-in CDs were big business but we were now going to be buying for two stores.  Or more.

It was just the beginning!

 

#877: Accept Your Fate

GETTING MORE TALE #877:  Accept Your Fate

George, rest his soul, was a bit of a know-it-all.  He was the oldest kid on the block.  He was already living there when my parents moved in.  He was burning the nipples out of Playboy magazines with a magnifying glass when the rest of us were playing dinky cars.  Logically, he was into music before the rest of us as well.  The only one in the neighbourhood that was into Kiss before George was Sean Meyer.  George got into Kiss through Sean.  But he had a bit of a superiority complex, because Sean didn’t hang out with us, which made George the de facto senior of the group.

I remember him strutting his superior robot knowledge when we were really young kids.  It was him, myself, and Bob in the back yard with our Lego.  (George stole a piece of my Lego by the way, and a piece Bob’s too.  But we stole them back.)  George had been into a show called Force Five and built a robot made of Lego based on what he’d seen.  We admired it, and each of us came back with our own robots of Lego.  We made some design improvements over George, but he was not impressed.

In a condescending voice, George explained, “Yours are good but they’re not what mine is.  You built yours based on the concept of ‘robot’.  I built mine based on ‘Force Five'”.

Just the way he was.  As the youngest of three siblings, perhaps that contributed to his need to be better than us at childhood activities.  Or maybe it was just that he was the senior of the group.  But he did.  He even ranked all the neighbourhood kids in our baseball abilities.  We played “Pop 500” in the ball park.  According to George:

“Bob’s the best,” which honestly was indisputable, but then he went on.  “Then there’s me, and Rob Szabo, and John, and Todd Meyer, and Scott Peddle and Mike Ladano at the bottom.”  Hey, dude spoke his mind.  You can see why he made it difficult to like him sometimes.

We blamed George the time they were playing catch, and broke a window.  They were playing catch in the school yard.  Either Bob or John threw a solid one to George, who chickened out and ducked, thus breaking the window.  He got the blame, anyway.  When it came down to the actual hierarchy of the group, he was often Scapegoat.

Naturally George was into Kiss, and rock and roll, before Bob and I.  He had a growing Kiss collection.  We heard those albums first via George.  But he was such a know-it-all.  He bought a bass, and would play around in the back yard going, “Name this tune.”

One day, Bob came to me and said “I think I have a way to trick George on a music question.”

It was the very same Masters of Metal Vol. 2 cassette tape that started me on my own rock journey.  There was a band on the tape that we were sure that George had never heard of:  Accept.  And to our young ears, Udo Dirkschneider sounded exactly like Brian Johnson from AC/DC — the shriek.

“I’m going to play him this song ‘Balls to the Wall’ and we’re going to ask him who the band is.”

I enthusiastically agreed to play along.  Bob’s prediction was that he would think it was AC/DC.  It was a gamble, given that George was more experienced.  But he needed to be taken down a peg.

And so, in my back yard, gathered around a boom box, Bob challenged George to “name that band.”  Masters of Metal Vol. 2 was cued up to track five on side one:  “Balls to the Wall”.

George was quiet for the first minute of the track.

Then, “Watch the damned!” screamed Udo Dirkschneider from the speakers of that boom box.

Immediately George answered, “AC/DC”.  And just as immediately, Bob and I stood up and laughed!

“No!  It’s Accept!”  exclaimed Bob in victory.

“Sign of victorrrrryyyy!” sang Udo behind us.

George was flabbergasted.  He immediately struck out with explanations for his incorrect answer.  The quality of my boom box may have been drawn into question.  There were reasons that he answered AC/DC, but they weren’t his fault!

But Udo had spoken, “sign of victory,” and Bob and I declared ourselves the winners of this particular contest.  It was a very memorable way to cement Accept into my grey matter.  A momentous occasion in terms of neighbourhood history.  We made sure we told the tale of how we bested George in rock knowledge one afternoon.

Listen to both Udo and Johnson at that point in the 80s.  They both had such a deep, full bodied shriek.  The fact that George thought it was Johnson isn’t really a patch on George.  It was an honest mistake.  Our pride in fooling him was simply because George acted like he knew absolutely everything about rock.  And we had proven that he did not.  That’s all we wanted.  It was kind of like being the guy who took down James from his winning streak on Jeopardy.

As a coda to this story, it’s interesting to note that none of us knew what most of these bands looked like.  There were no picture inside that little cassette cover.  Then, one day I was in my basement watching one of the very first episodes of the Pepsi Power Hour.  On came Accept with “Balls to the Wall”.  I glued myself to the screen.

As the three guys with the axes in the front made cool knee-bending poses in sync with the music, I said that “Accept look pretty cool.”  Wolf Hoffmann in the front with the white Flying V” had a blonde, wind-swept mane.  I envied him.  The video lingered on the three axe-wielders for some time, before the vocals finally begin.

And then, suddenly appeared this little, tiny guy in head-to-toe camouflage.  He was slightly rotund, and he had… short hair?  This man with the monstrous screaming voice was a tiny guy with short hair and camo pants?  It was completely incongruent with the sound coming from his lungs.  How could this be?  It seemed, from the video, that the band were sort of highlighting or even mocking his short stature in their stage act.  A close-up shot of Udo’s head within the gap of Wolf Holfmann’s Flying V was simultaneously hilarious and bizarre.  In another shot, Wolf is covering Udo’s head and face with his hands as if he’s just a little GI Joe doll.

Obviously my first priority was telling Bob about this fresh discovery.  In our next conversation, I told him of the Accept video and the startlingly short (and short-haired) lead singer.  He was astonished to see it for himself.  I think seeing what Udo looked like may have soured him on Accept.  I don’t recall him being into them as much anymore, and I’m pretty sure he never owned any of their albums.

Fortunately Accept redeemed themselves in my eyes with a video from their next album Metal Heart.  I taped this video off the Power Hour in early 1986.  It didn’t feature Udo being used as a prop so much.  Scott Peddle found the spinning effect to be dizzying, as did I, but a cool effect it was.  (In hindsight it actually looks quite similar to the “bullet time” effect from the Matrix films.)  “Midnight Mover” was the song that kept me interested in Accept.  It proved you could have a little guy in camouflage (now with additional leather military utility belt) at the front and center, and still have it look cool enough for the kids.

Bob agreed that “Midnight Mover” was a cool video but was never really won over to Accept like I was.  By 1989, any prejudice either of us had about Udo’s appearance were rendered irrelevant when Accept parted with him and brought in an American singer named David Reece.  They came out with an intriguing new sound with “Generation Clash”, the first single/video.  Reece was a normal looking blonde singer dude, totally ready for MTV play.  He also had pipes to spare.  He could nail the screams but he was more versatile, and able to do more commercial music.  And it seemed like that was the direction that Wolf wanted to go in.

Ultimately the Reece lineup didn’t survive, but their story certainly didn’t end there.  Where I was concerned, I liked “Generation Clash”.  I still think the guitar solo alone is a tremendous and diverse piece of music.  The Accept/Reece experiment didn’t really fail for me, and I think their Eat the Heat album is pretty heavy for the year 1989.

Still, when they make the movie of my life, it’s the Accept scene with George getting schooled that I hope makes the final cut.

#876: Rest in Peace to my Friend

Dear friend,

I shouldn’t say your name.  The news is fresh and your family members are finding out now, just like I did.

We met four years ago via a mutual pal, but bonded immediately over a shared love of music, and a similar empathy for the downtrodden.  You were wearing your trademark Captain America T-shirt.  At least, to me it was your trademark.  How impressed I was with your history in music journalism.  Interviewing the stars, seeing your name in print.  You invited us to your wedding.  It was actually the last wedding I attended before this Covid stuff put the brakes on everything.

Last year about this time I was hitting a wall.  Stress was taking a serious toll.  You offered to go out for a coffee to talk and I said “sure”.  But part of my depression is staying in, and blowing off social engagements, so I cancelled and said “We’ll do it another time.”  Covid happened and we never did.

You treated Jen well.  When she needed a ride for an appointment, you took care of it.  Anybody who takes good care of my Jen is a good person in my books.

A week ago or so, after a period of serious physical pain, they finally diagnosed you with cancer.  You were admitted to the hospital and you never came out.  I can’t believe how quickly this happened.  A few weeks ago you were active, full of fire.  The only thing you hated almost as much as cancer was Donald Trump.  At least you lived long enough to see him defeated.  I hope you took some comfort in that.  Man, you hated Trump!  To me it was one of your most defining and amusing traits.  You always had a great meme locked and loaded!

Man, you made me laugh.

Perhaps the only thing you really cared about as much as your own family were “the needs of the many”.  It’s appropriate that I always think of you in that Captain America shirt.  You were always ready to fight for those who didn’t have the fortune that we have.  You were a good man.  You will be fondly remembered by Jen and I, and missed terribly by your loved ones.

You really were a good man.  I can’t believe you’re gone.  I remember that day in early 2020, I messaged you and wrote, “I’m not feeling up to it, can we get a coffee another night?  In a couple weeks maybe?”

“Sure, no problem,” you answered.  I imagined your understanding smile.

The coffee that was delayed by me first, was then cancelled by Covid.  “We’ll have you guys over to the house when this is all over,” you told me.

Life can change in an instant.

Rest in peace, my friend.  I’m grateful you let Jen and I into your lives and I’m sad that the things we talked about doing will never happen.

 

#875: Love Will Find A Way

GETTING MORE TALE #875: Love Will Find A Way

First breakups are so confusing.  You’ve heard all the songs, seen all the movies.  All that remained was to experience it yourself.  Of course it’s nothing like a song!  It can hurt though, lord don’t I know it?

I treated my first breakup like I was a DJ at an event.  I planned songs.  How did that work out?  Terrible, but I did it.

When I got home and listened to some tunes, I put on “Love Song” by Tesla.  I thought, “This will be the thing to listen to.  That chorus will make me feel better.”

If only!  “Love will find a way!  Love is gonna find a way!”  Encouraging, yes…but not what I needed to make myself feel better.  Although I had not given up, I knew it was over.  I knew that love wasn’t going to find a way.  I had to think outside the box.

As it turns out, the ballads didn’t impact me as much as the heavy stuff.  Angry stuff.

“Christian Woman” by Type O Negative.  Metallica’s version of “Blitzkrieg”.  Soundgarden’s “Jesus Christ Pose”.  “Cyclops” by Bruce Dickinson.  Queensryche’s “I Am I”.  This was really hitting me!  Some of the ballads did too, such as “Someone Else?” by Queensryche, or Bruce Dickinson’s “Change of Heart”.  But those were not typical, traditional ballads like Tesla were putting out.  Each was powerful in a unique way.

That’s it:  power.  I was looking for songs with power in them.  Real power.  The breakup had sucked dry all my energy, and I needed power.  Those bands recharged me up like a battery.  Thrashing around my bedroom, I worked out all that anger.  I felt stronger after rocking out to a song like “I Am I”.  And rock out I did, in my “air band” best!  I gave myself a serious sweat when I rocked out to those songs.

Breakups might suck but they are a fertile ground for discovering (and rediscovering) music.  What we were you listening to after your first breakup?

 

#874: Impossible to Display

A sequel to Getting More Tale #795:  A Case for Security

GETTING MORE TALE #874: Impossible to Display

Shoplifting accounts for over a third of inventory shrinkage in retail.*  At the Record Store we had numerous strategies to combat this, as discussed in prior chapters.  An alert staff can stop a staggering amount of theft, but the last line of defence for us was a magnetic security tag system.  Trying to lift a de-tagged item would set off alarms at the store.

Cassettes, one of of our lower-cost items compared with CDs and box sets, were protected with a single magnetic strip hidden on the seam on the shrink wrap.  These had to be de-tagged magnetically with a device — they were single use only and the tag left the store with the product after being disarmed.  Each tag cost five cents, and that added up.  Higher-cost box sets were protected with multiple tags hidden on the edges of the packaging.  CDs, which also carried significant cost but were the majority of our store, were protected by a double-edged sword.  They were housed in an unbreakable and re-usable plastic longbox, with the magnetic tag stuck to an inner edge.  These tags never had to be disarmed.  You just removed the security case with a special key and set it aside for re-use on fresh inventory.

Cassettes were checked weekly to re-secure loose tags.  We kept a close eye on everything and everyone.  Combined with good practices, the security gate at the front of the store prevented a lot of theft.  Still, there were certain items that were unfortunately hard to both a) protect properly and b) display properly at the same time.  Unusual packaging made some albums difficult to stock on the shelves with the rest of the catalogue.

December 6, 1994:  Pearl Jam – Vitalogy compact disc

Although we weren’t equipped to display records, we had no problems when Vitalogy was released on vinyl November 22, 1994.  We sold the five copies we stocked on the first day.  It was the CD release two weeks later that caused us grief because we ordered those en masse.

The CD release of Vitalogy came ensconced in a miniature cardboard book-shaped package.  It had the same dimensions as a normal CD case, just flipped upright on its short side.  You could put them in a CD security box no problem, but T-Rev discovered a weakness in its design.  Because it was thinner and more flexible than a standcard CD case, you could with a little effort force it out of the security box without unlocking it.  This meant we couldn’t safely stock it out on the shelves.

Instead, the boss man set up a small box under close watchful eye at the front counter.  He placed the Vitalogy CDs in it, with every fifth copy turned 45 degrees so he could easily count how many were in there at any given time.  If he knew that he had 20 copies in the box, but suddenly only counted 19, then he would see if anyone in the store was carrying one around to purchase it.  Eventually we just put it back in the security cases, assuming nobody would be as inventive as T-Rev in trying to get one out.

May 29, 1995:  Pink Floyd – p·u·l·s·e compact disc with flashing light diode.

The original CD release of Pink Floyd’s p·u·l·s·e had a unique gimmick.  The oversized cardboard shell contained the 2 CD album in a book-style case, plus a flashing light gimmick powered by two AA batteries in a hidden compartment.  When the CD was reissued without the light and space-consuming batteries, it could fit in a standard size CD security box.  However the full-on, limited edition original was too large to be stored in our shelving.  Once again we had to put them at the front counter, this time stacked in a pile.

What I remember most about the “pile of p·u·l·s·e” is that flashing light.  However many copies were in that heap at the front counter, the lights flashed incessantly.  You could not turn them off.  Once you purchased the CD, you could remove the batteries from the inside.  Safe in their shrinkwrap on our countertop, they just flashed and flashed away.  Never in synch.  No two copies were ever in synch.  I guess it might have depended on how much juice was still in those batteries.  Copies of p·u·l·s·e flashed for years without a battery change.

June 20, 1995:  Michael Jackson – HIStory double cassette in cardboard sleeve

Although cassettes were being slowly phased out, we still had to carry certain big releases on the format.  In 1995, Michael Jackson still sold impressive numbers.  Enough that we carried one cassette copy, which once again, was packaged in such a way that we couldn’t display it on our cassette shelves.  Unlike other doubles, which sometimes came in a “fat” double cassette case (like Phantom of the Opera) or two normal cases packed together (like The Song Remains the Same), Michael Jackson’s HIStory came with the two tapes face up, side by side, in a cardboard box.  It was dimensioned like no tape shelving system known to man.

Too cumbersome to take up valuable front counter space, HIStory was deigned be displayed without fanfare on a shelf behind the desk.  To buy a copy of HIStory on cassette from us, there were only two paths to a sale:

  1. The customer would have to notice it behind the counter when purchasing other items, and ask for it.
  2. The customer would have to ask if we carried it, and not everyone asks.

My solution was clever.  I had just acquired a computer program that enabled me to create perfectly formatted cassette J-cards for my tape collection.  I used it to print a sleeve that said “MICHAEL JACKSON – HISTORY – 2 CASSETTE SET – ASK AT COUNTER”.  I put that in an empty tape case, and filed it with the rest of the Michael Jackson cassettes.  It took forever but it must have sold eventually!  I don’t know if I was responsible because it didn’t happen on my shift.

We had a cramped little space and we made the best of it.  Given that we were constantly battling for every square inch, any time an artist came out with something that was impossible to display, it created a unique little headache for us!

 

* The other 2/3rds are largely staff theft and errors.

#873: Happy 3 Years

There have been a lot of anniversaries lately. On January 4, I celebrated (but not did not post about) 15 years of freedom from the Record Store. (Why beat a dead horse?) But today I choked up a bit when I saw the photo.

I say it was the happiest day of my life. It was the day I brought Jen home from the hospital after finishing her cancer surgery. The photo says it all. Look at that face. The glow. Just looking at her, reminds me of how worried I was. How much I missed her. How happy I was to be able to drive her home that day.

It was not a pleasant time when she was in hospital. It was a harsh winter. The drive to London and back was hell. I wasn’t eating. Finishing an apple was an ordeal. Meanwhile poor Jen was dealing with that nauseating hospital food. She started a game called “Guess the Grossness” where she would post pictures of her meals and people had to guess what they were. She was so strong at that time.

Little did we know that her mom, who was supporting us through all this, had less than nine months left to live. I can tell a secret now. The night that Jen had her surgery, her mom collapsed at the hospital. She hit the ground and bruised her face. She brushed it off and complained about a loose rug, and refused to be seen. Deep inside, I knew that she was hiding something. She didn’t tell us. I’ll never hold that against her — she did what she thought was right to support Jen, and I truly don’t know if we could have handled more stress at that time. So she quietly fought her own battle as Jen was dealing with hers. But that’s what happened. On the night my wife was recovering from her surgery, my beloved mother-in-law was dying of cancer that we didn’t even know about. But I could not have made it through all this without her support.

I dedicate this writing to Jen’s mom, who was with us side-by-side through it all, until she was unable to be. She was just as happy to have Jen home as I was. The picture says it all — the face of an angel aglow with life.