RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale

#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.

 

#830: 1992

1992

I’ve never been much of a winter guy.  I get that from my dad.  The winter of ’92 was long with a number of serious snow days.  I had just learned how to drive and it was certainly a challenge.  Details are not important.  You don’t need an accounting of times my little Plymouth Sundance got stuck or struggled to make it home from school.  All you really need to know was what was in my tape deck.

I was still digesting a lot of the music that I received for Christmas at the end of ’91.  The live Poison and Queensryche sets got a lot of car play once I dubbed them onto cassette.  At this point my attention to detail was becoming overwhelming.  I painstakingly faded in and faded out the sides of the live albums onto cassette.  This had to be done manually as you were recording.  If I missed the cue I’d do it over again until I got it right to my satisfaction.  I should have known there was something wrong with me!

We had one serious snow day that year, and although class wasn’t cancelled I stayed home.  My school friend Rob V made a tape for me of David Lee Roth live in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour.  I know that I played that tape on that day because the memory is so clear.  It was a great concert.  Roth and Steve Vai had a fun interplay, where Steve imitated Roth’s vocal intonations with his guitar.  Vai followed his voice as Roth told the crowd, “Toronto kicks ass, because the girls are soooo fiiiine!”

Time flies, and 1992 didn’t take long to kick into gear with new releases.

I had just discovered Queen.  Suddenly here comes this new movie Wayne’s World which made Queen a worldwide phenomenon for a second time.  More important to me though was the fact that the soundtrack CD included the first new Black Sabbath track with Ronnie James Dio in a decade:  “Time Machine”!  My buddy Peter didn’t care — he was strictly an Ozzy Sabbath fan.  No Dio!  (And certainly no Tony Martin!)  But I was excited.  I wanted to get that soundtrack as soon as possible.

There was a new music store that had just opened at the mall about six months prior.  The very first tape I would ever buy there was the debut album by Mr. Bungle in late ’91.   It would be the very Record Store that I would later dedicate years of my life to…but not yet.  When it opened, I recall my sister and I being glad that there was finally a music store at the mall again, but disappointed in the prices.  $14.99 for a tape was a lot of cash.  CDs were unfortunately out of our price range.  New cassette releases like Wayne’s World were cheaper at $10.99, so I went to the mall before class one morning to get a copy.  And this is a funny memory as you’ll see.

When I worked at the store, the boss would give me shit if he thought I was talking to someone too much.  I think he would have preferred good old fashioned silent labour, but I don’t know that.  He also drilled into us to pay attention to every customer and don’t ignore anybody.  So it’s quite ironic that he lost a sale that day by ignoring me and talking it up with some hot girl visiting him!

I was standing there in front of his new release rack looking for Wayne’s World.  I knew it was out, but didn’t see it anywhere.  I checked his soundtracks and it was missing in action.   I wanted to ask him if he had it, but he was chatting it up with this girl.  Eventually I caught his attention, but only because as I stood there waiting, I thought he did ask me a question.  So I said, “Pardon me?”  But he wasn’t actually talking to me, he was still talking to the girl.  Once he noticed me, he informed me that Wayne’s World was sold out but he could hold a copy for me as soon as the next shipment arrived.  I was ticked off so I said no thanks, and picked it up at the Zellers store down the hall instead.

Wayne’s World in the deck, I happily rocked to Queen, Sabbath, Cinderella, and hell even Gary Wright.  Peter and I saw the movie one Saturday night at a theater in Guelph, and liked it so much that we went back to see it again the following afternoon.  I saw Wayne’s World four times that winter!

I got my fill of Queen with the recent Classic Queen CD, released later that March.  I got the CD for a good price at the local Costco!  This enabled me to get a good chunk of Queen hits all at once in glorious CD quality.

The next big release to hit my car deck was a big one.  A really big one.  An album five years in the making through triumph and tragedy.

On March 31 I went back to the Record Store on my way to class, and the new release I was waiting for had arrived.  I left gripping Adrenalize in my hands.  An album I had been waiting for since highschool and even had actual dreams about!  It was finally real.  Into the tape deck it went as I drove to school.  Less riffy…more reliant on vocal melody…not bad?  I’ll let them have it though.  After what they’ve been through?  Yeah, I’ll cut them some slack.

Two weeks later, I was digesting another massive chunk of music.

I didn’t get Pandora’s Box in 1991 when it was released.  There was so much going on.  But my parents bought it for me as an Easter gift in April ’92.  That Easter I was “Back in the Saddle” with three CDs of Aerosmith!

It was a bittersweet gift.  Traditionally the family spent Easter at the cottage.  I have lots of happy memories of playing GI Joe in the fresh Easter afternoons up there.  This time I had to study for final exams and stayed home with my gift.  I must have played that box set two times through while studying that weekend.

Exams were over by the end of April and suddenly…it was summer holidays.  In April!  It was…incredible!  I stubbornly refused to get a summer job.  I have to say I don’t regret that.  I had savings from my previous job at the grocery store and I was getting Chrysler dividends cheques (yeah, baby).  Between that, Christmas & birthday gifts, I got most of the music I wanted.  And I got to spend that summer just enjoying it all.  It felt really good after such a long and frankly lonely winter.

Pandora’s Box tided me over.  After all, it was a lot to absorb having heard very little “old” Aerosmith up til that point.  My favourite track was “Sharpshooter” by Whitford – St. Holmes.  I liked that they included a sampling of solo material by various members.  These were new worlds to discover, but what about the next big release?  Who would be the one to spend my valuable savings on?

Iron Maiden were back on May 11 after a very short absence with Fear of the Dark, their second of the Janick Gers era.  But I needed to save my money, and wait one more week for something even more important to me.  It was Revenge time.

Speaking of triumph and tragedy, it was time for some overdue spoils for Kiss.  Having lost drummer Eric Carr to cancer in late ’91, Kiss deserved to catch a break.  Fortunately Revenge turned out to be a far better album than the previous few.  I recall getting over a really bad cold, and my lungs were still congested on that spring day.  The outdoor air felt amazing.  I walked over to the mall on release day and bought my CD copy at the Record Store.  I probably ran all the way home to play it, lungs be damned.

To say I was happy was an understatement.  In 1992 you had to come out with something strong or you would sink.  It was a more vicious musical world than just a year ago.  Fortunately Kiss did not wimp out and came out with an album just heavy enough, without following trends.  It would be my favourite album of the year, though a few strong contenders were still lined up.

My birthday was coming and I would have to wait a little while to get some more essential tunes.  Fear of the Dark was on the list.  So was Faith No More’s Angel Dust, which was a must.  And, of course, rock’s ultimate royalty returned in 1992.  A band that rock history cannot ignore, though it arguably should.  A band that defined the term “odorous”.  A band with a colourful and tragic backstory.  A band making its long feared return with its first album since 1984’s Smell the Glove.  And with their new album Break Like the Wind, they proudly proclaimed, yes indeed, this is Spinal Tap.

Once again, quite a bit of music to absorb.  I had been anticipating the Iron Maiden.  I heard the first single “Be Quick or Be Dead” on Q107 late one night, and didn’t think much of it at first.  I was concerned that Bruce Dickinson’s voice was becoming more growly and less melodic.  The album helped assuage these concerns with a number of melodic numbers including “Wasting Love”, “Afraid to Shoot Strangers” and “Fear of the Dark”.  But the album was infected with lots of filler.  “Weekend Warrior”, “Fear is the Key”, “Chains of Misery”…lots of songs that were just not memorable.  Fear of the Dark sounded better than its predecessor but could you say it was better than Seventh SonSomewhere in Time Powerslave?  No.

Though it was murky and dense, the Faith No More album blew me away.  The M.E.A.T Magazine review by Drew Masters gave it 2/5 M’s.  I gave it 5/5.  I wanted something heavy and weird from Faith No More.  I got what I wanted.  Peter was a big Faith No More fan too, but I don’t think he dug Angel Dust as much as I did.  We both appreciated the comedic aspects but I really got into the samples, nuances and rhythms.  It was, and is, a masterpiece.  I believe I can say that I was of that opinion from the very beginning.

And Spinal Tap, dear Spinal Tap.  The Majesties of Rock took a little longer for me to fully understand.  And no wonder, for Spinal Tap are playing musical 4-dimensional chess inside your ear canals.  I simply had to accept that several years had passed since Spinal Tap last recorded, and they had grown in their own stunted way.  I’ve always thought that the title track was sincerely brilliant.  But I never liked that Nigel Tufnel had so few lead vocals.  I have long appreciated bands that had multiple lead singers.  While this time even bassist Derek Smalls stepped up to the microphone, it was David St. Hubbins who sang lead on 11 of the 14 tracks.  Now, this is certainly not to criticise the enviable lead pipes of St. Hubbins, but merely to state that there wasn’t enough Nigel.  Having said that, Nigel did branch out by employing a new guitar playing technique — doubling his solos with vocals, like Gillan used to do with Blackmore.  He also got to unleash his new amps that went up to infinity, which debuted live at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in April.

Like all things, summer eventually came to an end and it was back to school once again.  That fall and into Christmas I got some of the last new releases that were on my radar.  I missed Black Sabbath when Dehumanizer came out in June.  That one took a long time to really like.  While the production was incredibly crisp, the songs didn’t seem up to snuff to me.  At least at first.  In time, it became a personal favourite album.

That Christmas came the new Bon Jovi album Keep the Faith, Queen’s new Greatest Hits, and of course AC/DC Live.  It was also the Christmas that I first realized there was something wrong inside my head, and I realized it because of those albums.  It was partly the obsessive-compulsive disorder, but also a massive hangup about being ignored.  I wanted the AC/DC double Live, but was given the single.  I wanted Keep the Faith and Queen on CD but got cassette.  As I grew older and learned more about myself, I realized that I became very upset if I felt like someone was not listening to me or understanding me.  Nobody seemed to get why I wanted specific versions (because of my OCD actually), and I couldn’t explain it, so that set me off even further.  I became extremely grumpy that Christmas over these gifts, and it was ugly.  I isolated myself to stew in my own negativity.  It’s not something I’m proud of, and you can call me a spoiled brat if you want to (you wouldn’t be wrong).  At least I’ve worked at trying to figure out my defects.

It’s not like any of it mattered in the long term.  I have re-bought all of those albums twice since, each!

1992 went out much like it came in, cold and snowy.  Canadian winters are hard.  Some people have the DNA for it, but I don’t.  I’m half Italian.  I wasn’t designed for snowy, damp winters.  That’s why music is so important to me in the winter months.  Music can be a completely indoor activity and I had a continually fresh supply.  1992 was a big year for heavy metal even though the grunge revolution had already started.  Of course, things were not to stay as they are.  Iron Maiden and Faith No More were about to hit some major speedbumps, and Black Sabbath had already split in two by the end of the year!  1992 was the last time we could pretend heavy metal was still in good health.    Hard rock was about to endure further challenges and hardships.  At least we had ’92.

 

#829: Freestylin’ 6 – A Wasted Candy Script for Chaos

GETTING MORE TALE #829: Freestylin’ 6 – A Wasted Candy Script for Chaos

Buy local! That’s the mantra these days. The last time we went “Freestylin’“, I explained that I was going to try and buy as much of my music from Encore Records.  Having consumed the four albums I ordered last time, I decided to order four more!  Like before, I tried to (mostly) focus on albums I’ve never heard before.   At the same time I also wanted to pick up some music that people have been recommending to me.

First into the shopping cart:  Love/Hate – Wasted in America.  Your Heavy Metal Overlord was pleased that I enjoyed their debut album, Blackout in the Red Room, and so commanded me to acquire their second, Wasted in America.  Encore had in stock the Rock Candy reissue with two bonus tracks:  “Castles From Sand” and “Soul House Tales”.  I trust HMO with my dollars — he has rarely, if ever, steered me wrong.

My second purchase was Nita Strauss’ debut CD Controlled Chaos.  If you didn’t know, Nita plays lead guitar with Alice Cooper.  This one came highly praised by John over at 2loud2oldmusic.  “Nothing short of spectacular,” he said.  Funny enough, the last time he inspired me to purchase an album, it was another guitar instrumental:  Joe Satriani’s Shapeshifting.  I am looking forward to hearing a guitarist that, aside from live performances playing someone else’s songs, I’ve never really had a chance to listen to.  If Nita is as much of a beast in the studio as she is live, this oughta be a good album.

Uncle Meat has been telling me to buy some Cars studio albums for ages.  All I owned to this point was a Cars anthology called Just What I Needed.  Meat specifically recommended Panorama, but Encore had the expanded edition of Candy-O for just $16.99.  Maybe I’ll get Panorama next.  There is no point in getting the versions without the bonus tracks.  This one has a number of alternate versions, one B-side, and one previously unreleased song called “They Won’t See You”.

Because I ordered four CDs the first time I ordered from Encore, I randomly decided that I had to get four again this time.  My fourth was a re-buy, but a pretty mega re-buy.  The nice thing about this one is that it doesn’t replace the version I already own.  Rather, it complements the earlier version.  EMI already did a pretty excellent job when they reissued the Marillion catalogue in the 1990s.  Each of the first eight albums was stuffed with bonus discs packed with rarities and unreleased material.  My new copy of their debut, Script for a Jester’s Tear (4 CDs + 1 Blu-ray) duplicates only one track from the EMI original!

For the 2020 box set version of Script, the entire album is remixed, meaning I will need to hang onto my original.  The Market Square Heroes EP is also remixed.  The only song duplicated over both versions is “Charting the Single”, but here it is in a fresh 2020 remastering.  Discs three and four are an unreleased concert, Live at the Marquee Club.  “But I have that already!” you protest.  Do you?  No.  The concert on the Early Stages box set was recorded December 30, 1982.  This one was recorded the day before, December 29th!  While the setlist is identical, the concert is a completely unreleased one.

Finally the Blu-ray disc has the usual music videos and hi-def audio tracks, but most importantly it also has Script remixed in 5.1 surround.  It even includes the entire Recital of the Script live video (81 minutes)!   In other words, this version of Script is packed to the gills, yet amazingly without rendering your old copy obsolete.

Guitarist Steph Honde told me that the official Marillion website is sold out and he hasn’t been able to find a copy anywhere.  Fortunately the Marillion store says they will have more this week.

Thanks to Mark at Encore Records for keeping the rock rollin’.  This has been so important to my mental health.  I have always ordered new music to give myself something to look forward to in the mail.  The only difference in this new reality is that I sanitize the parcels thoroughly.  After too many weeks of no new music, ordering from Encore has been awesome.

Wonder what I’ll order next time?  Recommend four CDs to me.  If Encore carries them, there’s a possibility I might end up buying your favourite album next.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath #1 – Rock-It Comics (1994)

BLACK SABBATH #1 – (1994 Rock-It Comics)

1979:  Ozzy Osbourne walks out on Black Sabbath, the band he has fronted for 10 years.  Things almost get physical, and then Ozzy pledges to rule the world on his own.  Tony Iommi swears to come out on top, with or without him.  Bill Ward looks down, knowing that it is truly time for a change.  Geezer Butler doesn’t want to give it up and recommends they call “that Dio-bloke”.

Malibu comics produced a highly fictionalized version of Black Sabbath’s early history in 1994, with stunningly rich artwork and co-written by one Terence “Geezer” Butler himself.  Understanding that this is a mixture of fantasy and history, “The Power of Black Sabbath” is a hugely entertaining comic.  The basic bones of the Sabbath story are there.  The gradeschool rivalry between Ozzy and Tony was real, but Tony never said “Give it up Osbourne, you sing like a girl!”  And it doesn’t matter because it makes for a good panel.  Meanwhile, a young Terry Butler is visited by a mysterious entity that allows him a brief glimpse at his own future.

As if like fate, the four members of Black Sabbath eventually merge together.  Their early history as “Earth” precedes the fame.  Dirty managers, “Blue Suede Shows”, and Jethro Tull stories are rolled out panel by panel.  “Why did I ever think about leaving Earth?” muses Tony, as a demanding Ian Anderson commands him to play a solo.  After another supernatural encounter, they finally settle on the name Black Sabbath.

Album by album their success grows, but they cannot shake their continuing and strange encounters with entities not of this world.  By the time of Never Say Die, tensions between Tony and Ozzy result in the temporary hiring of Dave Walker to replace the singer.  Ozzy eventually leaves permanently on his own “Crazy Train”.  Ending the story here, we learn that Geezer Butler has come to peace with the supernatural side of his life.

But that’s only half the book.  There’s still plenty more content of the non-illustrated variety.

An interview with Geezer Butler is about as revealing as ever.  Dig these insightful answers:

Q: Tell us about the new album.

A: It’s called Cross Purposes.  There are ten tracks on it.  We started writing it last February and finished in mid-July.  [He then runs down the band lineup.]

To its credit, Geezer claims that this comic is the most accurate portrayal of Black Sabbath to date, though it does include “poetic license”.

Next is a very cool gallery of photos that you couldn’t easily find anywhere in 1994.  These include full colour pictures of the Glenn Hughes lineup of Black Sabbath, and versions with Dio, Tony Martin, Vinnie Appice, and Bobby Rondinelli.  There are even a couple monochrome photos with Ian Gillan.  At the time these were some of the only pictures I owned of the band in these phases.

The next pages feature a discography, full colour with album art, lineups and tracklistings.  Included here is a warning not to buy Greatest Hits or Live At Last!  “You have an inferior product both in packaging and sound.  You are warned!”  Screw it, I’m buying Live At Last!  The last page is an autobiographical story by editor Robert V. Conte about buying his first Sabbath album Born Again (my favourite).  Within two weeks he had most of their records.

I’ve read a few critiques about this book complaining about the overly fictional portrayal of the band’s history.  I don’t think it particularly matters.  It’s obvious from the supernatural elements that this is not to be taken as gospel (pun intended).  The vibrant ink and colours capture the Black Sabbath members perfectly, and each panel is glorious to look at.  Not to mention it’s an oversized comic so every page has more bang for the buck.  The stylized dialogue keeps the story moving at a good pace, and though the story is but a brief overview, it’s fine for a single issue.

4.5/5 stars

#828: The Ones That Got Away

GETTING MORE TALE #828: The Ones That Got Away

A year ago we did a massive de-clutter.  We had gotten to the point where we accumulated too much stuff.  Especially after Jen’s mom passed away.  We probably kept too much of her stuff out of sentiment.  But in a very short period of time we made massive purge; a painful purge.  And it wasn’t the first.  As you go through life you get rid of things.  You can’t carry all your possessions with you through your whole life.

Although I have forgotten many of the myriad DVDs, books, T-shirts and collectibles that I tossed to the curb, there are some that I now regret losing.  Doner’s regret is a very real thing.  Some decisions were made in haste and others were made without sufficient foresight.

I used to record all of my CDs and LPs to cassette so that I could play them in the car.  Once I had a car CD player, I didn’t need to keep doing that.  Eventually I decided to give away all my excess cassettes and that’s how they ended up in a Thunder Bay landfill.  I only regret giving away a small handful of my tapes.  I wish I had hung onto some of the more obscure ones, and anything that I made cool artwork for.  I guess I didn’t imagine that one day people would want to look at photos of old cassettes and read reviews of them.

In years past, any time I have done a major de-cluttering, I’ve thrown a massive garage sale.  Sorting through and pricing items gives you some time to process what you’re doing, and make final decisions.  It’s an ideal way of getting rid of stuff.  But even so, I have made mistakes that I regret now.  My childhood rock magazine collection — what I would give to have some of those issues again.  They would come in handy with what I’m doing now.  I had just about every issue of Hit Parader from 1987 through to 1990.  From there I moved on to RIP, Metal Edge and the various guitar magazines available.  When I purged my magazines, I hung onto just a small handful, but knowing they were irreplaceable, I kept all my M.E.A.T.  Thank God I did!  I’d never be able to replace them all if I hadn’t, and those things have been invaluable research sources.  At least I know my magazines went to a good home.  My old friend Len came to the garage sale and took every one.  I know he is someone who would appreciate them for what they are.

I got rid of the magazines when I got married.  I had to make space for my awesome new wife and her boxes and boxes full of clothes!  Around the same time, I passed all my old Star Wars toys down to my sister Kathryn.  Again, I have no regrets.  They went to the right person to care for them.  I admit I do get a nostalgic craving to hold my Han Solo one more time, but I think that could be arranged if necessary.

More recently, I’m kicking myself for giving away all my Star Trek DVDs.  All the movies (I had the double DVD collector sets), and all the seasons of the Original Series.  The entire “Fan Collective” series, which were so good.  Gone in one trip to the Goodwill store.  Decision made far too quickly and I’ve been regretting it ever since.  Why donate instead of sell?  Because we were trying to do this very quickly.  Hiring an organizer is expensive.  Getting a couple bucks per disc wasn’t worth trying to hawk them all.  I put them in a huge bag, dropped them off at Goodwill and tried to feel good about the regained space.

Don’t get me wrong — I needed the space.  But my purge went too far.

So now I have to re-buy all the Trek movies.  I can do without the series as they are all on Netflix, but I need the films back.  I don’t know what to buy: blu-ray, DVD, whatever has the best content?  This would have been simpler had I just kept them all.  A couple weeks ago I re-bought an old Star Wars comic that I somehow lost.  It must have left the house accidentally jammed between something else because I never would have gotten rid of issue #47, “Droid World”.  It’s the only issue that means anything to me and the only one I want to have.  I used to try and draw all the different robots inside over and over again.  Cost me $5 to replace, but oh well.  Never should have left the house.

At least I didn’t let a single CD go.  That organiser tried, oh did she ever try.

“So what are we doing with these?” she asked about the three CD towers and numerous mountains of dics in my workspace.

“These are all staying.” I replied bluntly.  “These are my life and they are non-negotiable.”

“You know that you can put all of this on a computer now and not have to worry about storing all of these?  I mean when can you listen to all of this?”

The same questions everybody asks.  Everybody who’s not a music fan that is.

“I’m putting them on my computer all the time.  That’s what this setup is for.  But I collect CDs, some of these are irreplaceable.  I love them all.  I could tell you where I got almost every single one.  I read the notes inside.  I look at the artwork.”

Trying to explain it was like talking to a wall.  “But all that stuff is online!”  She was begging me to reconsider but guess what.  I still have all my CDs.

Still trying to work on a decent storage layout, but I’m not a carpenter.  I can barely hammer a nail.  I need people to help with stuff like that.  It’ll happen one day.  But the discs. aren’t. leaving.  And just on a logistical level, I need to have my music backed up to a hard copy like CD anyway just in case something happened to my 2-terrabyte digital library!

 

I would never recommend hiring a professional organiser to any of my music fans.  They won’t understand your needs and you could end up making mistakes.  Don’t make the same ones I did, but do stick to your guns when it comes to your albums!