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[Re-Post] Part 241: Halloween, KISS style!

Always nice to repost a seasonal classic.  Enjoy this Halloween tale.

RECORD STORE TALES Part 241:  Halloween, KISS style!

Our annual inventory count fell on October 31.  For five years straight, I never got to dress up, hand out candy, or do anything fun on Halloween because I was too busy counting discs and CD towers!  However in the early days, this wasn’t the case.  Halloween 1996 was actually a pretty good one.

Like most malls, ours had a few Halloween contests.  T-Rev entered the store in the Pumpkin Carving category.  He and I came up with the plan to do a Kiss pumpkin.  T-Rev, the store owner’s brother, and myself gathered in my mom’s workshop in the basement. My mom had plenty of paint, and I was good at drawing the Kiss makeup designs.  T-Rev had the idea to make the pumpkin Gene Simmons, and figured out how to make a pumpkin tongue stick out.  I must say he did an amazing job.

The first step was to spray paint the pumpkin white.  One of the guys did the cutting.  Then, I drew the Demon design with a black magic marker.  We thought the nose needed to be more three-dimensional, so I cut it out a bit.  Together, we began colouring in Gene’s makeup.  We needed something to define the eyes of Gene, and T-Rev thought of using pumpkin seeds.  We added a wig, and voila!

T-Rev propped Gene up on the magazine stand outside the store.  Immediately we started getting compliments, and the response was pretty unanimous:  We had done the best job in the entire mall.

Unfortunately, the judges didn’t base their ratings on who had done the best job.  They were only marking the results, whether the store employees did the pumpkins themselves or not!  A store that hired a professional carver won first place.  We came in second.  There was no prize for second.  T-Rev and I considered that to be cheating.  Cheatie-cheatertons.

The contest was over, and not too soon:  the pumpkin had begun to rot, as pumpkins do.  That didn’t stop a customer from coming in on November 1st and offering him $10 for it.  T-Rev accepted his gracious offer, even though the thing would be turning horrific in a day or two.  A fool and his money, right T-Rev?

By 1997, the store had moved out of the mall.  This was our last pumpkin carving contest, but at least we had the satisfaction of winning the popular vote.  As far as I’m concerned, we went out on top.  My personal consolation prize was later on, Halloween 2006.  By this time I had moved on to United Rentals.  They took Halloween very, very seriously at United Rentals!  I dressed up as Paul Stanley, and this time, I finally won first prize!

#915: I Was Young Tony Stark

RECORD STORE TALES #915: I Was Young Tony Stark

Bob and I used to fancy ourselves inventors.  We designed our own video game — Vanguard 2 — but we had our sights set much higher than just Atari’s throne.  Unfortunately many of our designs were thrown out over the years, but some fragments survive.  I know I had designs for 10 more video games, though they appear to be lost.  What was preserved indicates something far more ambitious.

According to the evidence at hand, we weren’t trying to be the next Bill Gates.  We were trying to be Tony Stark.  Alongside innocent designs for video game watches, are sketches for weaponized spacecraft, aircraft and submarines.  We were little weapons dealers!

It’s hard to pin an exact date on these designs but they are likely from 1984.  It appears I was working with a couple shell company names:  “Lado Industrial” and “Perseus Industries” are two.  Spelling is inconsistent throughout but you can get the gist of what I was going for.  Let’s have a look at these designs.


The Kid Looking to Weaponize Space:  The Perseus Industries 9000 (“P.I.N.T.”)

This spaceship resembles an oversized engine pod from a Y-Wing starfighter.  It is armed with rockets, lasers and proton torpedoes, apparently.  The landing gear is clearly designed after the F-104 Starfighter’s.

Also note that there were options.  For those with more expensive tastes, add on the detachable laser pod!


The Sea Was Not Safe from this Little Captain Nemo:  Unnamed submarine craft

Missiles, torpedoes, lasers and radar dot the surface of this heavily armed sea-beast.  A work in progress, it remains unnamed and unfinished.  Still deadly.

On the back of this paper, and almost too faint to read, is a note for our school principal:  “Dear Miss Beale, thank you for letting us have an Oktoberfest party, and thank you for inviting Miss Oktoberfest.”  They were Oktoberfest crazy at that school.  They would hammer that Bible into us and give me shit for wearing a Judas Priest shirt…but sure, have Miss Oktoberfest come to the school.


The Kid Wants to Light Up the Sky:  Perseus Industries King (“P.I.K.”) war jet

I’m not sure how well this this would fly.  Two laser turrets (ventral and dorsal) plus a forward facing laser makes this a heavily armed plane.  It doesn’t look particularly aerodynamic or stealthy.  It’s purpose was to punish!


The Weapons Dealer in Your Home:  Lado Industrial satellite TV system

Deviously, I named my home electronics company Lado Industrial.  Can’t have a weapons dealer selling video games to kids.  I was smarter than I thought I was!  One of the neighbours at the lake had a satellite dish and boasted that he could watch any major league baseball game he wanted.  This was clearly the future, the high-end of the TV experience, and I wanted in.

I created a sketch of the dish, the base mechanism, and the remote.  Note that the remote has a speaker/microphone and calculator functions.  While it may appear advanced, it is still a wired remote.


The Kid Had Ambition:  The Watch that Can Do Anything

I feel like Indiana Jones with only half the map.  This watch was not designed with Bob.  I was over at Allan Runstedtler’s house, and his dad had this crazy computer paper.  Sadly this drawing was torn in half and only the bottom remains.  Many details are lost, such as the name of the watch, and what company name I was planning to sell it under.  However, many details remain, and they are funny as hell.

Ignoring the horrendous spelling, let’s run through the features.

  • Double strap
  • Lifetime guarantee
  • 5 video game cartridges included: Defender, Pong, Pacman, plus exclusives Space Chase and New Slot Racers
  • 4 controllers included:  2 joysticks, 2 paddles
  • Pinball attachment
  • “Super battery” and recharger included
  • Built-in printer (“data readout”)
  • Built-in disc drive
  • TV plug-in cable
  • AM/FM/CB/shortwave radio
  • Earphone
  • 2000k built in, 16k add-on available
  • Detachable keyboard
  • Guaranteed to play “every game exactly the same as the arcade”
  • Blank cartridges available to copy games
  • And a strategy book (for strategies)
  • PLUS BONUS – We’ll give you a Pacman key chain free!

All this for just $299.00!  That is $200.99 off the original retail price!

Even in 1984 dollars, that’s a steal for all that stuff.  The watch would have been huge on your wrist, and the controllers and keyboard tiny by comparison.  There was no way anyone would be able to play a four player video game on a watch.  It’s also comical that with 2000k of storage built in, all you can add is a mere 16k expansion pack.  I guess the real hook was that it played “every game”, and “exactly the same as the arcade”.  With the video game cartridges included, it’s clear that my watch is primarily a gaming system.

“How cool would it be if I could sit there playing a video game on my watch without the teacher noticing,” I might have thought.  With the included ear bud, you could still get sound effects.

One visionary touch is the included pinball attachment.  This meant you could actually play Baby Pac Man — the video game/pinball hybrid that could only be experienced in arcades!  Well, with my watch, you could play it at home.  When I said “every video game” and “just like the arcade”, I was not kidding around.  I took that stuff seriously.


I was an ambitious kid with the streak of a warmonger.  I was a little Tony Stark in the making and the teachers should have been worried about that rather than a Judas Priest T-shirt or an obsession with Kiss.  All the clues were there.  Look at this one final drawing.

This school assignment came with a pre-drawn airplane cockpit.  It is captioned “If you could fly your own airplane, where would you go?”

Where would I go?  To war, apparently!

Surprise Guest & Lists! Top Cover Art Designers with Tim’s Vinyl Confessions, Aaron…and DAVE LIZMI!

I’ve said it time and time again:  the LeBrain Train is a show you have to see live.  Why?  Because you never know what is going to happen.  Case in point:  last month we managed to hook up an unplanned meeting between Andy Curran and Mike Fraser.  This week’s surprise was a drop-in from Dave Lizmi of The Four Horsemen!

As you may know, Dave was scheduled for a Friday night interview but had an emergency with his dad.  Saturday’s show was a planned Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list show with Aaron and Tim Durling.  We were talking about the Greatest Cover Art Designers.

As I was beginning the show, Dave messaged me to reschedule the interview, and at the spur of the moment, I asked him to sit in on the list show as well.  Dave went for it, and managed to come up with his own list with no preparation time.  Epic!

Your panel this week:

  • Yours truly (LeBrain)
  • Aaron (KeepsMeAlive)
  • Tim (Tim’s Vinyl Confessions)
  • Dave Lizmi (The Four fuckin’ Horsemen)

I can’t believe I just typed that.

History made today as a rock star joined a Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list for the very first time.  How cool is that?

Thank you Tim, Aaron and Dave for a great set of lists and a fun fun show.  From famous big names like Derek Riggs, Mark Wilkinson, Hugh Syme and Hipgnosis to more obscure artists, this was a great bunch of lists!  Lots of show & tell!

 

 

 

#900: Integrity Mix Again

[Integrity Mix] was an idea that came from Kevin.  For a while there, he was making a new mix CD every month, made up of the best stuff he was listening to in the last 30 days or so.  The idea was, you’d have a neat chronicle of your most impactful listening experiences.  And a good mix CD in general.  —  From Record Store Tales Part 46:  Integrity Mix

 

RECORD STORE TALES #900: Integrity Mix Again

In the years before beginning to publish my writings, I poured my musical creative energy into making mix CDs.  I spent hours on them.  I tested them in the car before giving them them “OK”.  I called them “Integrity Mix”, after one of Tom’s favourite words.  Integrity.  Music with integrity, people with integrity…that was Tom’s word.  The concept of the CD originated with Kevin, one of the guys I worked with at the very end of the Record Store.  Kevin and I had a falling out over the way I portrayed the store, but he deserves credit for many things, including these mix CDs.

The idea was simple.  Make a new mix CD every month (or so), made up on songs you were into during that period.

It was a great concept and one which I latched onto with gusto.  I made many, and some months ended up getting double CDs because there was just too much music that needed to be remembered.  Each one had a cover, though some were just simple track listings, some were more elaborate.

It’s fun to put things away and not look at them for a long time.  That’s what happened with these discs.  When I switched gears to writing on a daily basis, I wanted to listen to full albums.  Mix CDs started to collect dust.  I hadn’t looked at my Integrity Mixes for about five years, but noticed them in a corner and thought it might be fun to have a look.

What I discovered was, without even having to play a single track, I could see by much of the artwork just what I was into at that given time.  Here are all the covers I made with some kind of art:

February 2008:  Arrested Development

September-October 2008:  “Bird is the Word” via Family Guy

December 2008-January 2009:  Kenny Vs. Spenny

February-March 2009:  Battlestar Galactica

January 2010:  UFOs

February 2010:  Dedicated to my buddy Chris Thuss who had just left work

June 2011:  Super Troopers

May 2008:  Transformers

The music often reflected the shows I was into.  “All Along the Watchtower” is a key track on the Battlestar Galactica disc.  You can find tracks from movie soundtracks.

Kevin was right about doing that.  Looking back at these discs, the tracklists, and dates, I can clearly remember events from my life.  I don’t have to guess when it was — the discs are all dated.  Brilliant idea Kevin.  I feel bad that we fell out, and I’m sorry that I ever hurt him.  I hope he would have enjoyed that his idea had legs and I kept going with it long after we worked together.  Credit where credit is due!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#898: Vanguard 2

RECORD STORE TALES #898: Vanguard 2

Released to arcades in 1981, Vanguard didn’t catch my attention until it hit the Atari 2600 the following year.  While I have never played the arcade game, the Atari version was in my hands as soon as I could afford it.  Notably, the Atari game borrowed some of its music from Queen.  Vanguard was a scrolling space game, but where it differed from other games was that it changed orientation from side-to-side to up-and-down at points during the adventure.   There were a variety of adversaries, and power-ups to take advantage of.  There was even a “boss” to take out at the end, and then it all repeated over again at a higher difficulty.  We kids were in love with it, even the simplified Atari version.

Incidentally, Atari artwork and instruction manuals were excellent.  They often began with a short story — this one of the “Vanguard Expedition” into the “tunnels of Aterria” looking for a semi-mythical “City of Mystery”.  Enough to capture a kid’s imagination, especially when combined with the cool box art.

My best friend Bob and I, being the creative types, thought we could design a sequel.  We painstakingly drew every screen in pencil, one after the other.  There were 19 screens in total.  We taped them together in order with Scotch tape, so that you could lay the whole thing out on the floor if you so desired.  Each screen led into the next with attention to detail.

Bob and I had “designed” a dozen games already, drawing them on paper, but they were one or two screens at best.  Our Vanguard 2 was 19 levels!  Many heavily ripped off from Star Wars.  It was only 1983 or 1984 at the latest.  Although ours is completely unrelated to the actual Vanguard II that came out in 1984, out friends kept on telling us “You should send your ideas in to Atari”.  We were big dreamers but we had a lot of fun pouring hours of creativity into these projects.  I’m glad I still have some of them, including Vanguard 2.

I thought it would be fun to scan each screen and post the whole thing with commentary.  I tinted the old pages to give them some variety visually.  Check out the complete Vanguard 2 game!

Title page.  Our “hero ship” basically ripped off from the Colonial Viper from Battlestar Galactica.  Enemy ships show heavy Star Wars influence.

Screen 1.  Scrolling to the right.  Imagine continuous scrolling, as if all the pages were laid out on the ground.  Entering mountain!  Just like the first Vanguard, you must navigate a tunnel in your space ship.   Enemy craft, mines and drones ahead!

Screen 2.  A barrier to break through, and a choice of upper or lower tunnels to take.

Screen 3.  Upper tunnel was a trap!  Although you could possibly shoot your way through a weak spot in the cave wall.

Screen 4:  Switching out your ship for a submarine.

Screen 5:  More enemy resistance ahead, and a difficult choice of three tunnels to take.

Screen 6:  Bottom tunnel would have been the best choice.  Giant jelly fish and a 5 second force field power up ahead!

Screen 7:  Now it’s giant Octopii!  Your sub is running low on fuel, and there is a tempting fuel depot in the lower cave.

Screen 8:  The only way through these narrow caverns is to miniaturize your sub.  Then you must choose upper or lower tunnels, with the upper appearing easier.

Screen 9:  The upper tunnel has heavier resistance at a poor attack angle, plus a classic Atari-style bouncing barrier block, that you must time just right.  Success means deminiaturization and a new spaceship.

Screen 10:  Whether you take the upper or lower tunnels, you have plenty of opposition and the opportunity for a 5 second shield.  Either way — the Sarlacc pit awaits at the end of the screen.  (We would have called it something else.)

Screen 11:  Made it through the first mountain.  Passing through the energy barrier automatically “beams” you to the next screen.  (We called the mountains “Screen 1” and “Screen 2” since we envisioned it as a continuous side scroller, with only this one break in between.  Here I am calling the individual drawings “screens” as it makes more sense when you look at them individually.)

Screen 12:  Still scrolling to the right — entering volcano!  A choice of two tunnels ahead.

Screen 13:  Either way, both tunnels will lead you to a new ship, plenty of opposition, and a 7 second force field.

Screen 14:  Your new ship has dual lasers and can stand the heat of the lava lake you are about to enter!

Screen 15:  You’re heating up so don’t be long.  Upper tunnel offers some squidly opposition while the lower has plenty of enemy subs.

Screen 16:  You’re low on fuel, and a giant lizard is sitting right there by the fuel depot!

Screen 17:  Boss Level!  As in the first game, the Great Gond awaits you at the end.  He is protected by enemy ships and cruise missiles.  Once you beat Gond, we change orientation:  now the game scrolls up!  Make your escape through the cone of the volcano.

Screen 18:  Scrolling up as you try to outrace the flames of the erupting volcano beneath you, while being harassed by enemy ships and missiles!

Screen 19:  If you beat the flames, you win the game!

We could have had a hit video game on our hands!  We loved to draw and a lot of this was drawn outdoors.  I’m pleased the thing held together long enough for me to scan it.  Imagine that Queen theme playing as you win!

#880: Death Team

GETTING MORE TALE #880: Death Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We called our characters “Death Team”.

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

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

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

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

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

“Nahh!” said Bob.  “He’s a ninja!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything else is simply a knock-off.

Sticky Note Art 2020

I started making sticky notes for live streams back in the spring.  It started with me simply writing “Are you ready for another Friday live stream?” and posting it on social media.  They got more elaborate from there.  Then I started saving them on my calendar.  Over the months, I kept some of my favourite sticky notes.  Here are some memories from LeBrain Trains over the past six months.

 

#768: Scanning the Notebooks

GETTING MORE TALE #768: Scanning the Notebooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And, of course, a giant page of logos.

Everyone had the giant page of logos.

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

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

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

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

 

#762: When Is Your Art Really “Done”?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Sunday Chuckle: I am a genius-level artist!

I like to sketch drawings of my co-workers in various situations. Garrett, Leo and Jen are my usual subject matter.Leo’s the fellow who once made helicopter sounds while proclaiming”I’m a propeller”. Therefore I drew a picture of him in flight with a giant propeller on his head.

This week, I drew the masterpiece below.  Garrett and Jen were on opposing sides in lunchtime euchre.  Therefore I took their rivalry to the next level.  I hope you enjoy!