1986

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

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

(Part Five of the 1986 Saga)

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

What a winner.

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

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

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

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

Iron Maiden came out with a new video.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

THE 1986 SAGA

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

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

(Part Four of the 1986 Saga)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next letter from him arrived a couple weeks later.

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

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

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

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

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

 

#833: Just A Boy

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

 

Just A Boy

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

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

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

I was close.

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

Very close.

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

Music again.

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

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

This was Mount Mary 1986.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was time to do this.

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

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

“Kid,” I started and stumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impossible!  Carry on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believe in me.

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


CODA

February 18, 1986.  Mount Mary, Ontario Canada.

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

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

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

 


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

STOPARRETPotentially triggering material ahead.

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Flag Boy

Part Two of the 1986 Saga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Juice Tin Saw Blades

Part One of the 1986 Saga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#833: Introduction to the 1986 Saga

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Introduction to the 1986 Saga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE 1986 SAGA

#703: The Lost Chapters – “1986”

GETTING MORE TALE #703:  The Lost Chapters – “1986”

 

Part 1:  Easter holiday

Easter weekend has always been one of my favourites of the year. While working at the record store, it became much less so. I often could not get away for Easter, plus Easter Monday is only a bank holiday, not a holiday for stiffs working retail.  But that’s the life of a grown-up, not a kid.  In 1986 we still had the innocence of never had worked an honest day in our lives.  Oh sure, we mowed the lawns.  Big deal.  That was kind of enjoyable.  I loved starting our mower’s old gas engine.  I loved filling it up with gas.

Aside from lawn mowing and a few winters of forcible shovelling, we had no idea yet of the horrors of the Adult Life.[1]  I mean, we kind of knew.  We knew that glorious childhood would not last forever.  Our teachers ensured this with the constant hammering of, “If you want a good job later, you better do your home work tonight.”  We understood, with gloom, that somewhere down the line would come a time when weekends were not free.  When we would be out working while Gilligan’s Island was on TV, and how could you go without Gilligan’s Island?  How could you live your life without Gilligan, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife?  It really didn’t seem possible.[2]  [3]

In those days, we loved a little bit of an extended holiday.  Summer holidays were best, followed by Christmas (two weeks), March break (one week), and Easter (four days).  Not only that, but the last day of school before a holiday like this was usually a write off, or at least half a write off.  The teachers let you goof around.  It was almost like a four and a half day break.  This made Easter a pretty significant holiday, and we spent a lot of our Easters doing fun stuff.  We were either at the cottage, visiting relatives, or both.

Many happy Easter weekends abound in my memories. I can remember spending Easter of ’85 in Ottawa with my family, and our Uncle Gar and Aunt Miriam. I can distinctly remember getting Quiet Riot’s Condition Critical cassette that Easter, as well as a Transformers Insecticon (Shrapnel).

It was Easter of ’86 that was the best of them all. At least, Easter ’86 is the clearest in my memory.  I remember it much more clearly than any other. None have had that impact; it was just that magical time of our lives.  It was the Age of Discovery.  That year, I discovered girls pretty seriously for the first time.

1986 was a turning point in my life. I had spent the previous eight years in a crummy Catholic school populated by all the main subcultures:  nerds, jocks, dicks, ugly kids, and girls who listened to Duran Duran. Grade 8 was particularly hard. I was being bullied in a serious way that winter.  Not by today’s standards.  By today’s standards, this is nothing.  By 1986 standards, this was a big deal for a kid.  I can remember snow being stuffed down my shirt every Thursday after shop class. Every fucking Thursday.  I fucking hated Thursday so fucking much.  I can remember kids who I thought were my friends laughing when it happened.  Earlier that same term, I can remember Kenny Lawrence volunteering to be my science lab buddy. I was suspicious of his motives, so I asked him why. He said, “Because I think you’re cool”. I let it slide because I needed a lab partner too, but it was soon evident that the real reason was because he knew I’d do all the work and get us a good mark. I was a nice guy even then; too nice, and that’s a trait I still have.

I didn’t fit in with anybody. I was into rock and roll, I was into books, and I knew nothing about sports or Duran Duran and Mr. Mister. Most importantly, I didn’t want to know. Even back then I was true to who I was. I refused to be a fake. Metal on metal, was what I craved.  I was going to sell my music soul out to Duran fucking Duran and get a fucking Corey Feldman haircut just because it was the way to get girls into me?  If a girl wasn’t into me as I was, Motley Crue and all, then she wasn’t worth it.

Of paramount importance to me was the fact that this was the last year of school before we all took the leap into high school. High school presents one tantalising possibility: The chance to switch school systems, and get away from the Catholic dicks. For anybody who was there, I will testify that the Catholic schools in the 80’s hosted the most and worst dicks you could find back then. Whether that is still true I do not know, but it certainly was true in 1986. I jumped at the chance to get out, and sent in my application to Grand River Collegiate Institute (GRCI).

GRCI presented freedom, but also for the first time ever, a chance to attend school with my best friend Bob. Bob was two years older, and we’d never have a class together, I knew that, but he always tried to get us lockers side by side. Bob was popular, smart, creative, easily the best influence on my life at the time. Most importantly he was tall, physically strong, really cool, and just an absolutely good person.  He would protect me from any dicks I might run into. He’d also bring me into his circle of friends; older kids, which was great for me because I fit in better with them.  We had similar interests.  One of Bob’s friends was a kid named Rob Daniels.  Today he’s the host of Visions In Sound on CKWR and a frequent collaborator.

Easter of 1986 represented the end of that dreadful winter, and the beginning of a new hopeful spring. As with many Easters past, we opened up our cottage and went up for the long weekend. We probably didn’t even have the water hooked up yet, because Easter fell in March that year. It was warm, but ice still covered Lake Huron. We have a photo of me, trying to negotiate ice floes out on the lake on our canoe. Much like Ernest Shackleton 70 years earlier, I rowed that canoe through the leads, trying to find open water. Unlike Shackleton, I found myself in the drink, or as we said back then, I got “two soakers”. It was a glorious time to be alive.

At the cottage, my sister and I played board games. A favourite was called Crossbows and Catapults.  It had no actual board, but the idea was pretty simple. You built a castle wall out of the bricks provided, focusing on strength and protection of your castle courtyard.

The game came with one crossbow and one catapult per player, as well as discs to fire. The weapons were powered by elastic bands. We still have the game; the elastics dried out but are replaceable. Each player took turns firing at their opponent. Aim was crucial! If you could weaken or destroy your opponent’s wall, you could then try to fire the “King” disc into your opponent’s castle courtyard. If you did, you won. But if you missed, your opponent could capture your King disc. Your only hope then was to rescue him by knocking down your opponent’s tower.

You could also buy expansion sets. One we had was a spring-powered battering ram that was hard to aim but packed enough punch to destroy a wall with only one shot. Another one was a set of castle outposts that had their own built-in catapults. However, they could also be captured with a single well-aimed shot, and then turned against you.

We played for hours, taking up the entire kitchen floor (you needed a smooth flat surface). While we played, we listened to music. My memories are of Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love cassette – the original Leathür Records mix. We also played the two Quiet Riot cassettes that were out at the time, Metal Health and the aforementioned Condition Critical. My sister loved Quiet Riot and the Crue, but didn’t think much of my Judas Priest or W.A.S.P. cassettes. The previous weekend, MuchMusic debuted the new Judas Priest video, “Turbo Lover”, and I taped that and cranked it outdoors on the back porch. I was also listening to two Christian rock bands called Rez and the Darrell Mansfield Band, which Bob had taped for me.  For years all I had of Rez and Mansfield was that crappy sounding cassette (actually unlistenable) until the advent of Amazon and iTunes.

We also played badminton. A picture exists of me playing air guitar on a badminton racquet from that weekend. The yard was big enough to do so, and we didn’t even need a net, we just used the clothesline. It was great fun, and the weekend was warm enough that nobody needed jackets.

Right; girls.  I wasn’t picky.  Any that would talk to me would do.

My dad’s friend Bill was interested in renting the log cabin next door. Sadly it’s not there anymore. It was owned by an elderly lady who couldn’t use it anymore, so she rented it out. (A year later, we purchased the cabin from her. Sadly we had to tear it down in 2001, as the roof had rot.) Bill had come up with his family to check it out. Bill had a daughter who was my age.  And she didn’t know me, at all.  She didn’t know I was the fucking loser of the school! She didn’t know my history of saying stupid things at the exact wrong time!  She didn’t know I didn’t give a fuck about hockey.  I could play up the rocker image.  I could be the bad boy.  The bad boy with a fucking Crossbows and Catapults on the kitchen floor, but somehow God damn it, a “tough kid”!

As I sat there that afternoon trying to look at her using only my peripheral vision, plans were set in motion. They reserved the cottage for two weeks in early August, giving me much time to formulate my plans. I needed to get her to like me by completely ignoring her!  Chicks love guys that are dicks!

That was the anticipation for the coming summer.  Not only would I be escaping the Hell that was Catholic school, but this girl my age was going to be spending two weeks at the cabin next door.  Now, I had never really spoken to girls before and I had no idea how to go about it. Most of my plans involved grossing her out with insects. [4]

 

Part 2: Musical integrity

“We gonna hand the microphone over to…ACE FREHLEY, SHOCK ME!!”

Anybody who’s paid their rock n’ roll taxes knows that this is how Paul Stanley introduces Ace Frehley’s vocal spotlight on the song “Shock Me” from Kiss Alive II.  During the winter and spring of 1986, my neighbour George (whom was the kind of kid that you socialised with only so you could access his music library) had taped the album for me.  He had also taped such albums as Love Gun and Double Platinum.  Best of all was the rare Animalize Live Uncensored video that he had dubbed onto cassette for me.  I was well armed with Kiss music by the time summer rolled around.  Back then I could scarcely afford to buy more than a couple cassettes a year, since I was still plowing all my allowance into GI Joe and Transformers forces.  Yeah, that means at age 13 I was still playing with toys.  No big deal. You’re the asshole for thinking so.

Anyway, the dubbed copies sounded terrible, but I didn’t know any better.  I had a Walkman, it was a piece of shit, but it was a Walkman.  I had a proper ghetto blaster that wasn’t loud enough and a turntable at home, but these were not exactly what you would call portable.  If I remember correctly, the ghetto blaster itself took something like nine D-size batteries, enough power for Ace Frehley to “shock me” at any place and any time.  However the juice wouldn’t even last for a whole day of music, and the batteries too expensive to replace regularly, so I never did that.

Finally, I graduated grade school.  Grade 8, the dicks, Mrs. Powers, and compulsory church services were behind me.  Grand 9, highschool, lay ahead in what was guaranteed to be better times.  Before that, the summer lay ahead as one final chance to be a kid.

Unfortunately, Bob was not around much that summer.  He had left in July for Calgary to stay with his older brother Martin.  We promised to correspond via lettermail.  This summer, I would be flying solo.  At the end of the month, Bill’s family truckster came up to the rented cottage fully loaded and daughter in tow.

I was packed and fully prepared.  I had my two cases of cassettes.  One case was massive; it held 60 tapes.  The other was much smaller, but I had about 100 albums on cassette and LP back then to occupy my time.  Many were dubbed, but by then a growing number were not.

 

Part 3:  Musical flashbacks

The way the system worked was brilliant and simple.  There was no file sharing.  If one of us owned an album, it was the right and privilege of all the neighbor kids to ask you to borrow it for taping purposes.  Or, if your equipment was superior they’d ask you to do it for them.  However, we all had crappy equipment with the exception of George Balasz.  George Balasz didn’t have cassettes either, he still had LPs, which sounded better.

George’s LP collection was very impressive.  His Kiss albums were virtually complete.  He even had such rarities as the Kiss Killers record, which was a European import.  He also had a complete collection of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest records, and I had access to dubbed copies of these whenever I wanted.  The only problem was that George was a little fucking creepy.

His family was Hungarian, and happened to be the token white trash family on the street.  His house had that awful Beef Soup Whif that Wayne Campbell speaks of.  When we were kids, he pissed Bob and I off by stealing certain rare Lego pieces from us.  He was older than any of us, so when he started to show us his Playboy collection, we labelled him as a perv rather than a cool kid, which was the opposite effect from what he was going for.  He had also stolen Bob’s brother’s bike.  He hid it in his garage, which had no door.  John simply walked over to George’s house, saw it, and beat the piss out of him.  This pleased everyone since nobody liked a thief, the adults didn’t care for George, and John had never done anything violent before in his life.  It was the kind of thing everybody whispered about.

“Have you seen John?”

“No, I haven’t seen him in days.  Why?”

“GEORGE STOLE HIS BIKE AND JOHN WENT LOOKING FOR IT AND HE FOUND IT IN GEORGE BALASZ’ GARAGE AND THEN HE FOUND GEORGE AND BEAT HIM UP HE PUNCHED HIM RIGHT IN THE FACE AND MAYBE GEORGE WAS EVEN BLEEDING BUT JOHN IS GROUNDED NOW AND GEORGE WON’T GO OUTSIDE BECAUSE EVERYBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT NOW AND PEOPLE KEEP CALLING GEORGE NAMES LIKE THIEF AND JAILBIRD AND HE’S SUCH A LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSER!”

George’s family was not smart with money.  Years later, after George had graduated high school, his father passed away.  He left them a sum of money which they squandered on new furniture and drapes.  My father managed the bank at the time, and counselled them to invest the money.  They didn’t.  As my father predicted, it did not last, and they were flat broke within a few years and sold their house.  It was all very sad.

George had the same affliction.  He couldn’t hold onto money or anything else for that matter.  This worked to my advantage.  I have quite a collection of rare, early GI Joe figures that I got for a buck a piece.  He needed the money to buy more records and I was happy to provide it for these figures.  I have no idea what the figures are worth today, but certainly more than a buck a piece.  I also acquired a complete collection of GI Joe comics in a similar fashion:  A buck a piece, maybe a little more for the early issues like 1 and 2.

My collection of comics was pretty sweet, and my collection of toys even sweeter.  My music library was coming along nicely.  Most importantly, I had developed integrity in my musical taste.  I was learning to see qualities that I valued in music.  I rejected the bands that seemed like they’d sold out any balls at all to have a hit.

Musically speaking it was a pretty simple time.  David Lee Roth had just left Van Halen, and 5150 had just come out, with Sammy.  Kiss settled into a strong lineup featuring new guitar player Bruce Kulick and all the kids dug their latest album Asylum.  Maiden had dropped a double-live monster on us called Live After Death and we were all eager to find out what their new album would sound like.  Priest recently released Turbo which was completely modern sounding, with synthesizers, and most of us thought it was pretty cool.  On the rare occasion we could afford a music magazine, we’d read about how Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris were feuding, but we were confident they’d be friends again and make the next Maiden album the best ever.

In summary, I felt pretty cool musically, though not in any other ways.

I knew I wasn’t cool by the standards of kids of the day, but I knew I was cool in the eyes of my true friends and myself.  Most important was the integrity factor.  If something was deemed uncool at school, such as comic books, I was only more dedicated in my collecting.  If a band, such a Quiet Riot, was condemned as being washed up, I still went to the store to check out their new tape whenever it came out.  I didn’t care.  It was a kind of loyalty; a loyalty to oneself.

 

Part 4:  Clueless

I was armed with the knowledge that I had musical integrity, and a character that was somewhat unique.  I was also armed with a BB gun. I was actually a pretty good shot; chicks should find that impressive.  That meant that if WWIII broke out right then and there, I could defend any girl’s life.  They appreciate that stuff, right?  Bob was in Alberta; I was going solo this summer.  I was ready as I’d ever be.

My dad’s friends arrived at the cottage and settled into the cabin next door.  The next morning I set out on my plans.  I figured that I needed a few things to get noticed by a girl.

  1. My Walkman, loaded up with Kiss Animalize Live Uncensored.  I figured, she’d ask what I was listening to, I’d say Kiss Animalize Live Uncensored in a cool disinterested voice.
  2. A magnifying glass.
  3. A plentiful supply of things to burn, both alive and dead.  Because nothing says, “come hither, baby,” like the smell of a dead ant.  (It smells a lot like bacon, by the way.)

There I was, wandering the woods between the two cottages, Walkman on my ears and magnifying glass in my heads, burning leaves and bugs.  She’d think I was cool; she had to, because this was the only idea I had.

As it turns out, I didn’t get her attention.  But her younger brother Mike came out to see what I was doing.  Together we bonded by pulling the legs off grasshoppers and then burning what was left.  We were the original Beavis and Butt-head.  We actually had a lot in common, like Transformers.  He came over to read my comic books and we became friends.

That night, our families had decided to have a marshmallow/weenie roast together.  They had a huge fireplace there, a cement monster that was slowly crumbling under the weight of so many winters.  It was a good time, and it was the first time a girl laughed at something I said in a good way.  I’m much funnier now (trust me) but back then I was absolutely useless at making girls laugh.  Whatever I said always just came out completely wrong.

I tried to steer the conversation to comfortable territory.  I brought up something I knew a lot about, and would impress her.  Obviously, I picked WWF wrestling.  She said something along the lines of, “Wrestling’s dumb, it’s so fake!”  I rose to the sports-entertainment’s defence.

“Wrestling’s not entirely fake.  Look at a move like a suplex.  You can’t fake that.”

“What’s a suplex?” she queried.

Not knowing how to describe one, the best answer I could come up with was “I don’t know.”

She  laughed.  Something about that was funny to her, in a good way.  I didn’t mean to make her laugh, and I thought she would laugh at me.  She didn’t.  A first!  I was a natural.

Making progress, the next obvious step was to return to my original strategy of gross-outs with insects.

We called them tree toads, but they were cicadas.  They look like huge fat grasshoppers, and their high-pitched song could be heard loudly all summer long.  It’s a great sound; it means summer is here.  That year, we found some tree toads for the first time.  We’d heard them but never seen one before.  First, we only found their empty shells.  Like snakes, they shed their skin leaving behind a hard shell, but they can shed their skins in such a way that the shapes are completely intact.  They are an exact duplicate of the insect itself, with a small slit in the back where the tree toad escaped.  They were intact right down to their clingy little legs.  These legs were clingy enough that you could hang several of these shells from your face thus grossing out any girl you liked.  This is what I did.  I even got my sister and the other Mike in on it.  We both had cicada shells hanging from our cheeks and noses.

For Mike, it was fun because we were grossing out his sister.  For me, it was making contact.  Any contact!  I did the ultimate gross-out when I found a live tree toad and hung him off my face.  She left.  Somehow, I thought I was being funny.

Having used up the insect strategy, I selected a new one.

 

 

 

Part 5:  Being excellent at something

I always knew you had to be excellent at something.  I could aim a BB gun and hit a dime.   I could also draw.

Death Team was my pride and joy.  Bob had shown me how to draw human figures and aliens, and I was good at doing airplanes and tanks.  Together we honed our skills.  My human figures were getting better all the time.  We’d created something called Death Team.  I liken it to a concept similar to GI Joe, with a couple modifications.  Our guys were all rockers or punks, it was a Canadian team, and it was on paper only.  We put together dozens of drawings of characters and vehicles and put them together in a binder.  We made some cover art for the binder, we even recorded an audio cassette of us acting out Death Team skits.  It was a totally real thing to us and we wanted to get rich by turning it into a toyline or movie.

Our “business card”

 

I decided to unleash the Great three-inch Death Team binder and casually be drawing some guy in a cool action pose while the girl walked by.

The nice thing was that even though she didn’t care about my drawings of guys with guns, I was having a good time drawing them.  Mike came over and joined us.  Then he showed us how to play a really fun adventure style game using just a pencil and paper.  You’d draw a dungeon, put some obstacles in there, and then verbally guide your friends through the dungeon you’d just drawn and see if they could make it past the obstacles.  My sister and I loved it, and the game became much more elaborate between the three of us.  Suddenly it wasn’t about impressing the girls anymore, it was about having a blast with this new game we’d invented.  We always invented our own games, and 1986 continued that tradition…and then an afternoon was gone.

Eventually the week was gone, too, and we had to go home.  My dad had to return to work.  I got home, and there was a letter from Bob.  He was having a great time in Calgary and asked about updates from home.  He was going to go and see Ozzy with some new band called “Metallica” but Ozzy cancelled.

He’d written this letter and drawn a picture.  The picture was of me and him rocking out, and a picture of George Balasz at his nerdly best.  He wrote in his letter that he picked up a rare copy of Kiss Killers on vinyl.  It was the German pressing with the backwards “ZZ” logo.  [5]   He was having a good summer with his brother Martin, and Martin’s dog.  He wrote, “One thing for sure, I’m getting a dog when I come back to Kitchener.”  Maybe Bob didn’t know his mother as well as I did, because I knew there was no way in hell he was getting a dog when he got back to Kitchener.  He also said he was getting a computer when he got home, but that also did not materialise.  His mom put the kibosh on both.

I was so glad to hear from him.  The summer had been pretty quiet without him around.  Also, I needed his help.  Mike and I were coming up with new Death Team characters every day, and Bob wasn’t there to see them, and offer his own notes.  Grade 9 was swiftly approaching and I was worried that I wouldn’t be prepared.  I was hoping Bob could help me shop for supplies I’d need for highschool.

 

My mom, sister and I headed back up to the cottage without my dad who would catch up with us at the end of the week.  His friends were still renting next door.  When we came back, we had this huge bonfire in our back yard.  There was a lot of construction up by the county road, and a lot of trees down.  My mom sent me, Mike, and the girl into the woods to bring some of the bigger logs down to burn.  We basically stole logs from this construction site, but nobody cared about things like that.  We did a hot dog roast, marshmallows, and told jokes.

Saturday night, after my dad got back, we all went into town to see the parade.  It was a tradition.  Every Saturday night in Kincardine, the local Scottish piper band makes its way down the main street, and everyone follows.  When I say everyone, I mean it.  The entire town comes out to see it.  At 8pm, every Saturday night for the entire summer, the downtown came alive.  After the parade, ice cream was the traditional confection.

This particular weekend, there was a clown there, I have no idea why.  His name was “Bazo the Clown”.  Bazo had grabbed a “bad kid” and was giving him hell.  None of knew why, but the sight of Bazo the Clown grabbing this kid and scolding him was something we found absolutely hilarious.  We were in stitches.  We still speak of Bazo.

I had a few days left to try to make some sort of impact on the girl.  Insects didn’t do it, and drawings didn’t do it.  Switching back to the concept of making the girl laugh, I figured out a way to include the absent Bob.  Bob was funny, and we did some funny recordings together.  We recorded skits to audio tapes and we thought they were the funniest fucking things anybody had ever done in the history of comedy.

Bob and I had several hours of these comedy “gold” on tape.  Most of them involved us making fun of George Balasz, but he was a pretty easy target.  Some of them involved us making fun of Jimmy Swaggart or Oral Roberts.  We both watched TV preachers on weekday mornings while waiting for cartoons to start.  We thought they were hilarious.  Certainly, Ozzy would have been proud of us.  The only problem was this was all inside joke comedy that nobody else would get.

I invited Mike and his sister over to take part in a recording session.  The idea was to record a sketch that would play on our rivalry.  The real idea however was again to attempt to be excellent at something in front of the girl.  Also, I hoped to impress her with the size of my cassette collection (as you would).  Showing off my musical integrity would do the trick.  But, I found out later, you can’t impress a girl who likes Duran Duran with Kiss.

My cassettes were starting to overflow their cases.  What I had done to handle the overspill was hand-paint two ceramic bookends with Kiss artwork.  I used these bookends to store my Kiss tapes upon my shelves.  At least my artwork would have to impress her, if the music did not.  I painted all six Kiss masks and a logo. Far from being impressed the girl thought it would be funny to mix up the order of the tapes.  Nobody could actually mix them up permanently for my organisational skills were second to none.  I had them all back in order soon, chronologically by date of release.

Part 6:  Seasons end

It was an excellent summer.  It was an excellent time to be alive.  The lake was warm, the water levels were high, the waves were crashing on the sandy beach and we took advantage of that for as long as we could.

The summer drew to a close.  The days grew shorter.  Our games grew sillier.  My sister invented something, I guess you’d call it a game, called “The Poo Machine”.  Thankfully the details are lost to me.  It mostly involved pulling levers and making fart sounds.  It kept us occupied and outside.

When we returned home, Bob also arrived back from Calgary.  I showed him the Death Team drawings I had done, and hoped for his approval.

He showed me his Kiss record; the one with the German logo.  Things were moving back to normal.  We got the grade 9 supplies.  High school began.  I hung out with Bob every day and our friendship got tighter and tighter.  A new journey was beginning.  I was shedding the skin of the old life.  I was a high school kid.  Toys were soon gone, replaced by a ravenous insatiable need to collect music.  This was a quest Bob shared with me and we bonded.  Great music was just around the corner.  A new Iron Maiden album was about to come out.  The future was golden.

 

 


[1] From the moment your parent or guardian says “Get a job.”

[2] This is before PVR’s, kids.  VCR’s too, for those born before 1994.  Do try to keep up.

[3] I am using Gilligan’s Island as a matter of poetic license.  I actually had this thought when I was a teenager about the Beverly Hillbillies.  They were always on at noon and I realised one day, I wouldn’t be at home at noon anymore.

[4] I found out in later that this girl was actually my first kiss. When we were both like, three years old.  The deed was done. Her brother Mike, who was cool and I hung out with, dug up a picture of it, which was in his family’s photo album. I didn’t even know we had met before. Mike teased me endlessly. However, to me it meant that at least I had kissed a girl, once.  I didn’t remember it, but what the hell, I’ll take it.

[5] Kiss could not use their lightning bolt SS logo in Germany because it was too similar to the Nazi SS logo.  Therefore all German Kiss albums do not have the original lightning bolt SS logo, but use backwards ZZ’s instead.  The copy that Bob bought in Calgary that summer is the same copy that I own today.

 

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet (2010 special edition)

BON JOVI – Slippery When Wet (1986, 2010 Universal special edition)

I’m not blown away by the new series of Bon Jovi reissues. For the running time of a CD, they could give you a heck of a lot more content. I mean, I’ve bought this album 3 times. I bought it on cassette back in ’87, then I bought the first round of remastered CD issues of the entire Bon Jovi catalogue. Now, begrudgingly, I’m starting to pick these up, because I’m a completist. How many times have you bought Slippery When Wet already? At least once, I’m guessing.

Slippery When Wet is one of those oddball albums: It’s considered the classic landmark by a very successful band, but it is by no means their best.  I’ll tell you what it is though:  It’s a concept album.  When I listen to Slippery When Wet, all I can hear is a concept album about growing up in Sayreville, New Jersey.  Think about it!  “Wanted: Dead or Alive”?  That’s not about touring, man.  That’s a song about dreaming, while writing songs in Richie Sambora’s mom’s laundry room.  Lyrically, Slippery When Wet captures a more innocent era and presents it in the form of different characters from all walks of life.

She says we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got
Cause it doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not

Slippery is the album that made people like Desmond Child and Bruce Fairbairn into household names.  It’s notable for the presence of three smash hit classics: “Wanted: Dead or Alive”, “Livin’ On A Prayer”, and “You Give Love A Bad Name”. All three are obviously available on various Bon Jovi hits compilations. There are a couple deep cut classics, but Slippery is mostly padded out with filler. Surely, “Social Disease” with its juvenile lyrics and terrible synth-horns is one that Jon would like to disown?  Also cheesy are “Wild In The Streets”, “I’d Die For You”, and the sappy “Without Love”.  What helps save these songs are earnest performances from Jon, but especially Richie Sambora.

Two of the best songs are the deep cuts.  “Let It Rock” is a cool song, a bit muddy in the mix, but with some really cool sounding keyboards.  The atmospherics of it were unique for the time.  It still stands as one of Jon’s better moments.  Then there is “Raise Your Hands” which opened side 2.  This one rocks, and has some blazing guitars.  I have always been a fan of “Raise Your Hands”. Remember when it was used in that one scene in Spaceballs? Sweet!

John freakin’ Candy

The production, by the late Bruce Fairbairn, is muddy at times and too glossy at others. Fairbairn’s work on the 80’s Aerosmith albums was more innovative and interesting. I’ve always liked talk-box on guitar solos though, so I’ll give him and Richie Sambora credit for the catchiest talk-box solo in history.  Regardless this album set new standards.  Suddenly, everybody wanted to work with Desmond Child and Bruce Fairbairn.  Aerosmith were next, then Poison, then AC/DC.  As for Desmond Child, his old pal Paul Stanley came-a-knockin’ when it was time to write for the next Kiss album.  Slippery When Wet was undeniably one of the biggest influences on the second half of the 1980’s.  Rock bands were adding keyboardists, and trying to find ways to get played on radio and MTV the way Bon Jovi had.  Jon also used his newfound influence by helping friends like Cinderella and Skid Row get signed.   Cinderella certainly benefited from having Jon and Richie appear as rivals in their “Somebody Save Me” music video.

As influential as it is, albums such as New Jersey, Keep the Faith, and These Days are superior in my ears.  When I was swept up in the Bon Jovi tide in ’87, I finally picked up Slippery on cassette.  I was surprised, because I expected it to be a lot better.  Considering all the hits, all the hype, and all the sales, I was hoping for more than half an album of good songs.

As far as the reissue goes, the reason I picked this particular one up was that I saw there was a “live acoustic” version of “Wanted” on here. I hoped and prayed that it was the acoustic version from the original 1987 “Wanted” cassette single. (If you haven’t heard it, man, you absolutely need to.) I only have that on cassette.  However, it’s not the same version. It’s a good live acoustic version, with just Richie and Jon.  It’s purportedly from the Slippery tour, and made stronger by Richie’s powerful vocals. “Prayer” and “Bad Name” are the other two live songs included, sounding pretty standard.   These three bonus tracks are all there is; no era B-sides such as “Edge of a Broken Heart” or “Borderline” are included.  Songs like these would have gone a long way to strengthen an album that’s a little weak in the knees.

I was pleased to see a retro looking backstage pass included within the slipcase. That made me a bit happier with my purchase. Nice touch, this is the kind of thing that rewards people for buying the CD rather than downloading.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – The Ultimate Sin (1986)

OZZY OSBOURNE – The Ultimate Sin (1986, 1995 Sony remaster)

I know Ozzy isn’t especially fond of this album (or anything about the whole Jake E. Lee period) but I love it.  Hell, Ozzy hasn’t even offered it in any of his reissue programs.  It’s out of print, and Ozzy never plays any of these songs anymore outside of “Shot in the Dark”.

I don’t know why I love it so much.  I get why some people aren’t fond of it.  Ron Nevison butchered the production, for one thing.  Randy Castillo was such a powerful drummer, with a recognizable style.  Here he sounds plastic with awful sounding cymbals.  It’s a shame because the drum parts themselves are great.  Ozzy acknowledges being in a real “down” state at this time, and it shows in the tired vocals.

Yet I love it!  Maybe it’s Jake E. Lee, who is incredible.  He’s flashy in that 80’s way, but with balls.  He’s not just fluttery solos, although he certain can do that.  His riffs are choppy his fills stunning and classy.  I think Jake was a great replacement for the late Randy Rhoads, even though his true self wouldn’t shine through until Badlands.

ULTIMATE SIN_0003I like every single song.  The title track, “Secret Loser”, “Fool Like You”, “Lightning Strikes”…these are punchy Ozzy rockers.  They are well written songs, and longtime contributor Bob Daisley has credits on 8 of the 9 songs.  To me, that speaks to a certain level of quality.  Verses and choruses are strong and melodic.  The guitar riffs, solos and fills are all equally catchy and adroit.  Even one of the less interesting songs, like “Never Know Why” is still listenable today due to the catchy melody, and Jake’s flange-y guitar part.

Many of the songs such as “Thank God for the Bomb” and “Killer of Giants” return Ozzy to the anti-war stance that Black Sabbath took in the 1970’s.  I remember the 80’s clearly, and it seemed like every other week, there was a TV documentary or movie about the Soviets and the nuclear threat.  To me as a kid, Ozzy’s voice of protest eased my mind! Surely, Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev would listen to Ozzy? “Killer of Giants” is quite an achievement musically, going from electric to acoustic to heavy all with Jake E. Lee at the rudder.  It’s an awesome song.

The big hit and first single was the last song, “Shot in the Dark”.  This is bassist Phil Soussan’s only writing contribution on his only Ozzy album.  Later, he’d go on to co-write the excellent Vince Neil album Exposed, which proved he wasn’t a fluke.  It’s a great mid-tempo rock song, although the video used to kinda frighten me as a kid.  Frighten and titillate all at once.  I was 13.

And on the topic of “Shot in the Dark”, why did bands in the mid-80’s always seem to wear sequined bathrobes? I’m looking at you, Mr. Simmons circa 1986…

I look at The Ultimate Sin as a 5/5 in terms of songs and musical performances.  I’ll dock it 1 star for Ron Nevison’s clunky production and Ozzy’s tired lungs.

4/5 stars

And maybe this is a good time to rant about these fucking 1995 Sony 22 BIt SBM Digital Remasters.  Oh, I have no problem with the sound of this CD.  It’s the fucking covers!  Why did they crop the awesome artwork and put that dumb OZZY along the side?  My Lord.  I had so many customers (Gord and Glen specifically) who refused to buy these remasters because the cover is dumb.  Not to mention putting the tracklist in a circle on the back cover, making it annoying to read.

  1. The Ultimate Sin (3:43)
  2. Secret Loser (4:08)
  3. Never Know Why (4:28)
  4. Thank God for the Bomb (3:53)
  5. Never (4:18)
  6. Lightning Strikes (5:13)
  7. Killer of Giants (5:41)
  8. Fool Like You (5:19)
  9. Shot in the Dark (4:16)