Atari

#653: The Reset King (Music and Gaming and other stories)

GETTING MORE TALE #653: The Reset King (Music and Gaming and other stories)
A sequel to #652: Evolution ’80s: Music and Gaming

Perhaps the greatest awakening I ever had in my life was the moment I first heard Iron Maiden.  It was so important to me, it was the first chapter of Record Store Tales — Part 1, “Run to the Hills”.  At that early age, music and video games collided I was never the same again.  Since that time, music has always been intertwined with gaming and my best buddy Bob.  All three combined were responsible for my rock n’ roll epiphany.

Bob and I played a lot of Atari on the weekends.  Both families had the Atari 2600, but we both had different selections of games.  Depending on whose house we were at, we’d play different games.  “Gorf” was one game he had that I didn’t.  It was a shooter like “Space Invaders” but with different kinds of levels.  More than going for a high score, it was important for us to try and make it through all the levels.  Atari games were so limited.  “Gorf” had five distinct levels so it was more rewarding to see all five than to rack up high scores.

Same with “Frogger”.  That was one of my games, and Bob was very competitive on it.  As you progressed up the levels, more obstacles were thrown in your way, like snakes for example.  It was exciting to make it to a new level for the first time, but “Frogger” was a hair-triggered game where timing was everything.  And Bob used to get very, very excitable when a game of “Frogger” went wrong.  That is how he earned the nickname The Reset King.

Here was his thinking.  If you lose a level early in “Frogger”, the chances of making it to a new high level were greatly reduced.  Bob would rather reset the game than try in futility.  So, he’d dive for that reset button on the Atari console, usually while yelling something at the game.  “The game is cheating!” was a favourite.

The game is cheating indeed, I suppose.  It was easier to let him reset than argue that an Atari 2600 wasn’t sophisticated enough to “cheat” at a video game.  “Frogger” was very touchy, but it wasn’t particularly glitchy.  If you so much as touched a car, you were dead even if it didn’t technically “hit” you.  So it could get frustrating, sure.  We would have to eventually cut Bob off from resets or nobody else would get a turn.

And so, he was crowned the Reset King by my dad, who worried he was going to break the damn switch.  It was a title Bob rejected because the game was cheating, and because David Dolph across the street was way worse with the reset button.

David Dolph was this bratty kid across the street.  His weird family wouldn’t let them play with any toys with guns, like G.I. Joe.  But David was no dummy.  He had a Transformers collection, because he didn’t tell his mom they came with guns.  He was also destructive, and if you let David Dolph near your toys, he’d probably wreck them.  We didn’t like David Dolph, but one afternoon we found ourselves at his house playing video games in the basement.  It was there that David Dolph faced the Reset King.

They didn’t have an Atari, but they did have a Commodore Vic 20 that you could play games on.  We were playing there in the basement, when the Reset King decided to start a game over because it “cheated” early on.

“No fair!” yelled David Dolph.  “No fair!  It’s my turn now!”  He tried to wrestle the controller from Bob’s hand, who didn’t budge.  In fact he just continued to stare intently at the TV and play, with the corners of his mouth attempting to conceal a smile.  Giving up the fight over the controller, David Dolph burst into tears and ran upstairs.  Bob kept playing, a huge grin now upon his face.  We stayed until Bob finished playing games!

David Dolph was a weird kid.  His parents were really strict and wouldn’t let them listen to music, except for Bruce Springsteen.  They approved of the Boss, but heavy metal was satanic to them.  The kid was over at our house one afternoon when I was watching music videos on TV with Bob.  He was visibly upset by “Rock You” by Helix, and left the house.  About a decade later, he sure changed.  I often heard him blasting Savatage’s “Hall of the Mountain King” from his bedroom window when his parents weren’t around.

Maybe it’s the narcissist in me, but who was he blasting Savatage for?  By that time, Bob and I weren’t even talking to him, so I always wondered if he was blasting it at us.

As much fun as we had over the years, you had to be patient when gaming with Bob.  If you wanted play with him, you had to let the Reset King have his way.

The reset button never broke.  In fact we still have the same Atari 2600.  It works, and we still have all the cartridges…except one.  My sister never forgave me for trading away “Superman”.  However, I traded “Superman” for my first Kiss (Record Store Tales Part 3:  My First Kiss) so clearly I had the greater good in mind.

What did break…frequently…were the controllers.  And that wasn’t Bob’s fault.  Bob owned an Atari and took good care of his stuff.  He was brought up in a Dutch household that understood the value of working for something and taking care of it.  None of Bob’s things were broken like David Dolph’s.  No, Bob didn’t break our controllers.  They were broken by Cousin Geoffrey.  Cousin Geoffrey broke…everything.

My cousin is now a father himself, and he understands things a little differently now.  I think he doesn’t hold it against me when I say he was fucking annoying to play Atari or Nintendo with.  More annoying than the Reset King or David Dolph!

Geoffrey destroyed about three Atari joysticks.  I was pretty good at taking them apart and repairing them, but there was only so much I could do.  An Atari joystick was a plastic handle that activated four switches on a circuitboard underneath.  Geoffrey would push those joysticks so hard that the plastic inside would shatter.  I could take it apart and use hot glue to give the inner plastic frame some strength but it was a temporary fix at best.  You had to buy new controllers.  My dad eventually decreed that Geoffrey was only allowed to play with old, refurbished controllers, not the new ones.

Geoffrey destroyed our original Transformers G1 Frenzy figure, on Christmas day, the same day we got it!  He was just a destructive child, and what he didn’t destroy he simply lost.  I’ll give you some examples of the chaos he caused.

First trip to Alberta, August 1979.  l-r Mike, Geoffrey “Captain Destructo”, and Kathryn

In August 1979, the family took our first trip to Alberta.  It was a two week tour starting in Edmonton and going through the mountains.  My sister, my cousin and I were often given the same toys to play with, so we wouldn’t fight over them.  My sister and my cousin were both given dinky cars of the Batmobile.  Were they ever cool.  They came with a little metal trailer and a plastic Bat Boat you could tow.  We had a lot of fun playing dinky cars on those floors of Alberta motels.  They were also small enough to carry around in your pockets.

Geoffrey threw his first Batmobile off a mountain in Jasper.  He just wanted to see what would happen if he threw the Batmobile off a moutain.  A second Batmobile was bought for him on the same trip.  That Batmobile was flushed down the toilet of a rest stop in Canmore.  He was eventually given a third Batmobile, which, as far as I know, survived a little longer than the other two.

Geoffrey “Captain Destructo” (in cap) sulking after sacrificing the Batmobile to the Mountain Gods.

Another incident of soul-crushing toy waste happened in the summer of 1983.  This time, Geoffrey was visiting us in Ontario.  It was the summer of Return of the Jedi.  The new figures were out.  My mom took us to Zellers and bought each of us a new toy.  I chose Luke Skywalker, partly because he came with so many accessories.  He came with a new lightsaber, a gun and a cloth cape.  Geoffrey got the same figure.  We then waited on a bench while my mom did her banking.

“Come on let’s open these,” said Geoffrey.  My sister and I always waited until we got home.

Geoffrey ripped open his Luke.

“Why are you opening that now?  You’re going to lose the gun.  Just wait until we get home.  This is our last stop.”  I attempted to reason with my cousin but he had Luke out of the package.

Within the first five minutes, he lost the gun.  Before we made it home, he lost the lightsaber too.

“I told you so,” was something I relished saying to him.  My Luke, by the way, still has all his accessories 35 years later.

What these tales tell us is that cousin Geoffrey was a monsoon of chaos and utter destruction.  He also had all the latest stuff, and that included video games.  Fortunately for his parents, the original Nintendo Entertainment System had very robust, button-based controllers.  He couldn’t break them.  He was really good at “Super Mario Bros.” and “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out”.  Unfortunately this meant my sister and I didn’t get much gaming time.  We died early and often, and he played long lives while earning extra ones.  His turns were much longer than ours.

We saw him make it to Mike Tyson once.  That was pretty cool.  Once he almost made it, but my dad walked in front of the TV during a fight and caused Geoffrey to lose.  Boy he sure threw a fit that time!

Here’s the funny thing.  When we were kids, my cousin took a lot of energy and patience to keep entertained.  When he hit his 20s, he really mellowed out and we bonded like we never have before.  And what did we bond over?  Music and video games.

I took a trip out to Alberta for a week in 1997.  He took me shopping to a couple music stores in Calgary, used and new.  I found a rare CD featuring the early one of somebody named Dave Grohl.  It was the band Scream, and the CD was No More Censorship.  I was kicking off a love affair with Foo Fighters and it was a seriously cool find.  Geoffrey was (and always has been) into to Tragically Hip, so I got him a CD by a similar sounding band called the Barstool Prophets. Meanwhile, he turned me onto the Gandharvas with their last album Sold For a Smile.  Killer album that I still love (and own two different copies of).

At night, he introduced me to one of the best racing games I’ve ever played.  For the N64 system, we spent hours on “Top Gear Rally”.  It was such an immersive game for its time.  We designed our cars, we discovered shortcuts, and had a blast seeing how far we could make it.

Once again, it wasn’t best scores or best times that mattered.  It was seeing how far you could get.  Getting to the third or fourth level was rare and required serious skill.  It was the most fun I’d had playing video games in many years!

All these memories flow like a stream of consciousness, triggered by certain songs.  Early Kiss, AC/DC and Quiet Riot will forever be associated with the old Atari 2600 in the basement.  Bob was a constant gaming companion, and he sets off even more memories.  Discovering music together, like Whitesnake and Kiss albums.  All hail the Reset King.  Long may he reign!

 

 

#562: Adventure!

GETTING MORE TALE #562: Adventure!

I was at a funeral recently, for an old family friend.  Sandor was a neighbor since I was little.  I grew up playing with his three kids: Rob, Michelle and Steven.  It was sad but nice to see them again.  We chatted about games we used to play as kids.  Atari 2600, Lego, the Game of Life.  The best games we played were the ones we made up ourselves.

One game that I invented with my best buddy Bob was called “Double Bounce Volleyball”.  It was just a good way to play with a volleyball on the street with no net.  I wrote up some rules on WordPerfect.  What I wouldn’t give to see those again!  What was not in the rules, but happened frequently anyway, was me throwing down some street moves.  I tried to do the spinny-spinny-jump dance that Paul Stanley used to do in the “Thrills in the Night” music video.  I could do it, but it didn’t look right anyway without the tassels on the pants!  Personal acrobatics aside, it was a great game because all you needed was two people, a street, and a volleyball.

Another game we invented was a live action version of the 1979 Atari classic game, Adventure.   Due to its poor graphics, it was once considered one of the worst video games on the market.  Since then it has somehow become a cult classic, despite the fact that your little “man” was just a square floating around.  You had explore mazes and three castles, and eventually bring a chalice back to the yellow castle.  The random setting for the game placed objects everywhere on the field so no two games were the same.

Atari Adventure man with sword and yellow key

The main objects in the game were three keys (one for each of three castles), a sword, a magnet (useful for grasping objects out of reach) and a bridge (pretty useless).  There were also some creatures to avoid:  three dragons, and a bat who would steal whatever you are carrying, and sometimes replace it with something less useful.  For example, the bat can and will steal your sword and replace it with a dragon!

A group of kids would gather together in somebody’s back yard.  Depending on how many kids there were that day, we might have used multiple back yards.  Someone would hide the chalice (a drinking glass) and other objects.  I had a neat classic U-shaped magnet that was perfect to fill that role.  We’d usually use clothespins for the keys.  A plastic lightsaber was our sword.  Then we’d all become adventurers, dragons or the bat!  We’d run around the yard finding objects and generally having a blast for the whole afternoon.

I think our live action game was better than the real Adventure!

One afternoon, another kid from another neighborhood joined us.  I don’t know why Allan Runstedtler was wearing a cape, but it suited!  Another time, we couldn’t remember where my magnet was hidden, and I really wanted it back!  We eventually found it and decided not to hide actual valuable objects again.

Do kids even go outside and play anymore?  Almost everything we did was improvised.  A badminton racquet wasn’t just a badminton racquet.  It was also a guitar for “air bands”.  Bob turned a neck brace into a Texas Chainsaw Massacre mask.  We also did a live action version of the video game Berzerk.  We were all very lucky to grow up in a tightly knit and safe little neighborhood.  Everybody’s parents knew everybody else’s.  We played video games (everybody on the street had either an Atari 2600, or a Commodore Vic 20), but then we went outside when that got boring.  It wasn’t just a neighborhood with families.  It was an extended family of families that we were fortunate to experience.  And a hell of a lot of fun.

 

#349: Christmas Eve [Reblog]

One more reblog for this season.  Here’s an instalment of Getting More Tale (the sequel series to Record Store Tales) about Christmas Eve in the glorious, wonderful period we knew as the 1980s.  Feliz Navidad!

 

RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale
#349: Christmas Eve

So here we are once again, Christmas Eve.  When I was a kid, you were my favourite day of the entire year.   It’s hard not to get excited about you, today in 2014.  Christmas Eve, you were the center of everything, 30 years ago!   Such a short but exciting day.  Inevitably, relatives would start handing us colourfully wrapped boxes, the best ones saved for last.  Then the ritual of steps:  Shake the box.  Give the card a cursory read and give it a toss.  Rip the paper.  Peer inside.  30 years ago, there would have been Star Wars figures inside.  Perhaps my Jabba the Hutt gift set.  An Atari game, possibly.  I wasn’t into music that much until about 1985, when Kiss really opened my eyes.

Around that time, Christmas Eve changed a little bit, but only in a subtle way.  Instead of racing downstairs to play our new Atari games, we would race upstairs to play our new cassette tapes!  Some Helix, Kiss, or Twisted Sister would have been among the music received back then.  We also would have received our fair share of GI Joe and Transformers toys.  I remember the year I got the GI Joe Hovercraft from “Santa”!  Oh boy.  My dad won’t let me forget that one.  I woke up at 1 in the morning to play with it.  Yeah, the parents weren’t overly thrilled to be woken up by the noise at that hour.  I just couldn’t stay asleep!  Having a younger sister meant the whole Santa thing went on longer than its normal sell-by date, but I wasn’t complaining.  It was a lot of fun.

I’m sure tonight won’t be that different.  If I’m lucky, I will receive a CD or two from somebody who loves me.  I won’t race anywhere to go and listen to it right away, but it will be just as appreciated.  After I got older, got a job, and started buying people gifts with my own money, I’ve realized that it’s the giving that is so much more fun.  I cannot wait to see the look on people’s faces, especially when forced to open my elaborately disguised surprises.  That’s what I get a kick out of the most now.

This year, I wish each one of you all the best, and indeed a Merry, Merry Christmas.  Whether you celebrate it or not, have a good day, eh?  Be safe.  Please drink responsibly, and please call a cab if you have been drinking.  But that’s enough serious talk.  I’ll leave you with one of my favourite Christmas videos (still unreleased on CD to this day), and some links to past Christmas posts.  Enjoy!  Ho ho ho!


Winger’s cool traditional / funky version of “Silent Night”!

RECORD STORE TALES:

WHALE

#395: Dutch Boy

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#395: Dutch Boy

As kids in the 1980s growing up in Kitchener, we would buy our music anywhere we could find it.  A lot of mine came from the mall: stores like Zellers and A&A Records.  Other places to find music included Hi-Way Market on Weber Street.  That place was incredible.  They had the largest toy section I’d ever seen, and every Christmas a professional Lego builder would put together a giant display.  None of these places exist anymore.

Another place that carried a small section of music was actually Dutch Boy Food Markets, just down the street from Hi-Way Market.  It too is long gone, but I have many memories of that place.  It had a small music section, but they also sold food, toys and clothing.  It was considered a supermarket but it had a little bit of everything.  My dad remembers buying many of my beloved G.I. Joe figures at that store.  He also says that we bought our Atari 2600 there.  That Atari still works today.  I think we got it in 1982.  My aunt actually used to work at a Dutch Boy location (not the same one) in Waterloo.

My friend Bob used to go there frequently.  I used to think it was because he was Dutch, but it probably had more to do with the fact that one of the Kitchener stores was within biking distance.

One afternoon in early ’88, we hopped on our bikes and hit Dutch Boy to check out the music section.  This “new” band called Whitesnake had been in our ears lately, but we only knew two albums:  Slide It In and Whitesnake/1987.  I didn’t even know they had any albums out before Slide It In at that point.  You can imagine our surprise when we found numerous other Whitesnake titles at Dutch Boy:  Snakebite, Trouble, Lovehunter, Come An’ Get It, Saints & Sinners, and Live…in the Heart of the City.  All reissued by Geffen, all on cassette.

WHITESNAKE FRONT

“Woah!” Bob exclaimed.  “Whitesnake!  Is this the same band?”

“No it can’t be.” I said.  “They’re only supposed to have two albums!”

Each of us grabbed a mitt full of Whitesnake cassettes and began examining them for more details.

This Whitesnake and our Whitesnake were both on Geffen.  This Whitesnake shared the same logo that was found on Slide It In.  It had to be the same band after all.  I explained this to Bob.

“This is the same Whitesnake,” I said.  “Look…they are using the same logo.”

“Yeah,” he replied, “but have you ever seen that guy before?”  He pointed to Mickey Moody on the cover of the live album.  He sure didn’t look like anybody I knew from Whitesnake, but it was impossible to ignore the evidence.

MOODY

“I think,” concluded Bob, “that Whitesnake are another band that had albums out before we heard of them.”  That happened from time to time.  We would discover a “new” band like White Lion or Europe, only to find that they had some little-known earlier albums.  It made it both frustrating and exciting to try and collect albums.

We both started collecting the earlier Whitesnake music.  Bob was first, picking up Saints & Sinners at Dutch Boy.  He brought the tape over one afternoon for me to copy. We loved the original version of “Here I Go Again”, as well as “Crying in the Rain”.  Later on, I added Snakebite and Come An’ Get It to my collection.  I enjoyed the earlier, more rock & roll sounds of these previously unknown Whitesnake tapes.

I’m not sure exactly when Dutch Boy closed, but I do remember the last album I bought there.  It was now spring 1990, and I had a CD player by then.  Once again Dutch Boy did not disappoint.  I found a Van Halen disc there that I had never seen before on any format other than vinyl.  The album was Fair Warning.   Since it was the most “rare” Van Halen I had found so far, I chose to buy it.  It came to about $24 with tax, a lot of money for an album that was barely half an hour long.  It should go without saying that Fair Warning was one of the best purchases that my young self ever made.

Too bad Dutch Boy had to shut its doors.  It was a good store and I hear a lot of fond memories of it from others.  Do you remember?

DUTCH BOY

 

#349: Christmas Eve

Every year at this time I take a break from posting to spend a little more time relaxing with my family.  Enjoy this final post before Christmas, and I’ll see you all again soon in a couple of days!  Feliz Navidad!

JABBA

RECORD STORE TALES Mk II: Getting More Tale
#349: Christmas Eve

So here we are once again, Christmas Eve.  When I was a kid, you were my favourite day of the entire year.   It’s hard not to get excited about you, today in 2014.  Christmas Eve, you were the center of everything, 30 years ago!   Such a short but exciting day.  Inevitably, relatives would start handing us colourfully wrapped boxes, the best ones saved for last.  Then the ritual of steps:  Shake the box.  Give the card a cursory read and give it a toss.  Rip the paper.  Peer inside.  30 years ago, there would have been Star Wars figures inside.  Perhaps my Jabba the Hutt gift set.  An Atari game, possibly.  I wasn’t into music that much until about 1985, when Kiss really opened my eyes.

Around that time, Christmas Eve changed a little bit, but only in a subtle way.  Instead of racing downstairs to play our new Atari games, we would race upstairs to play our new cassette tapes!  Some Helix, Kiss, or Twisted Sister would have been among the music received back then.  We also would have received our fair share of GI Joe and Transformers toys.  I remember the year I got the GI Joe Hovercraft from “Santa”!  Oh boy.  My dad won’t let me forget that one.  I woke up at 1 in the morning to play with it.  Yeah, the parents weren’t overly thrilled to be woken up by the noise at that hour.  I just couldn’t stay asleep!  Having a younger sister meant the whole Santa thing went on longer than its normal sell-by date, but I wasn’t complaining.  It was a lot of fun.

I’m sure tonight won’t be that different.  If I’m lucky, I will receive a CD or two from somebody who loves me.  I won’t race anywhere to go and listen to it right away, but it will be just as appreciated.  After I got older, got a job, and started buying people gifts with my own money, I’ve realized that it’s the giving that is so much more fun.  I cannot wait to see the look on people’s faces, especially when forced to open my elaborately disguised surprises.  That’s what I get a kick out of the most now.

This year, I wish each one of you all the best, and indeed a Merry, Merry Christmas.  Whether you celebrate it or not, have a good day, eh?  Be safe.  Please drink responsibly, and please call a cab if you have been drinking.  But that’s enough serious talk.  I’ll leave you with one of my favourite Christmas videos (still unreleased on CD to this day), and some links to past Christmas posts.  Enjoy!  Ho ho ho!


Winger’s cool traditional / funky version of “Silent Night”!

RECORD STORE TALES:

WHALE

Part 1: The Beginning – “Run to the Hills”

 

RECORD STORE TALES PART 1:  The Beginning – “Run To The Hills”

I still remember the first time I heard Iron Maiden.

Maybe it’s this way for some when they remember the first time they heard the Beatles, or the Stones. Or for those younger, maybe it’s like the first time they heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Fake Plastic Trees”. The first time I heard “Run To The Hills” was monumental to me, but I didn’t realize yet what the massive impact would be.

It was Christmas of 1984. I was a mere 12 year old looking for musical direction.  I hadn’t been much interested in music prior to that.  I had albums by Quiet Riot and Styx, but my majority of my collection was John Williams’ movie soundtracks.

I really wasn’t interested in music yet. I had yet to dedicate myself to any particular style. At the same time that I would listen to Quiet Riot, I somehow also thought Billy Ocean was cool.

Well, the video for “Loverboy” was nifty….

I had always been kinda afraid of heavy metal bands.  Guys that wore spikes, like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden. Kiss literally scared me when I was buying my first comics (there were always ads for Kiss posters inside comic books), and I know I wasn’t the only one. The neighbor kid was scared to death of Gene Simmons spitting up blood. Bands like Maiden and Priest looked like a bunch of hooligans, definitely up to no good, definitely out to hurt people, including kids.

Boxing Day, Bob came over. It was tradition, every Boxing Day, Bob and I would get together and compare our Christmas scores. Bob scored a cassette tape called Masters Of Metal Volume 2 and I was given an Atari game called Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron.

In my basement, we sat down to play the video game. Our goal was to take the game as far as humanly possible, to see what happened when you shot down so many planes that the Atari didn’t have enough characters to display it anymore. (Incidentally, disappointingly, like most Atari games, it just starts counting up from zero again.) We sat there playing that game so long that Bob had to go home and eat lunch, then come back. But what he left behind while eating was Masters Of Metal.

“Run To The Hills” came on. Some people speak of moments of clarity: That was my moment. The music was fast, powerful, dramatic and melodic. The lyrics were cool and you could mostly sing along. Most importantly, the music and lyrics seemed to combine with the game experience. When Dickinson was singing “Run to the hills, run for your lives!” it meshed perfectly!  Too bad Aces High wasn’t out yet!

A moment like that could quickly pass into history and be forgotten for most people.  As the day wore on, I realized that I had found something. This music kicked ass!  I was brought up on movie soundtracks.  This stuff had the same drama, but with guitars!   This was even better than Quiet Riot and AC/DC, so I said at the time.

It didn’t end there of course. We played through Masters Of Metal, finding a few more diamonds. “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” By Judas Priest was definitely a close second to “Run To The Hills”. We were fixated on Accept’s “Balls To The Wall”.  We’d play it over and over again laughing hysterically at the lyrics.  But the song still rocked!  I can still remember when MuchMusic started the Power Hour, and they played that video.  There’s little Udo Dirkscheider, in his camo pants, and crew cut, rocking with these skinny German guys with long hair.  It was fucking hilarious!

We skipped (what we then thought was) the crap…Lee Aaron, Anvil, Triumph.  I grew into them later, particularly Triumph.  Something to do with double guitars, maybe.  I digress.  We always came back to Iron Maiden.  Always.

Bob would bring other tapes over as the months and years went by. W.A.S.P., Motley Crue, Black Sabbath. Now Bob’s a father of four who doesn’t listen to rock music anymore, which makes me sad in a way.  I’m not sad for him, because he’s got a great family and always has.  I’m more sad because I don’t think he can ever appreciate what impact our shared experiece of rocking out had on me.  Listening to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and the rest.  The was it, the beginning.