black sabbath

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – The Ozzman Cometh (1997 Japanese import)

OZZY OSBOURNE – The Ozzman Cometh (1997 Sony Japan 2 CD set)

By 1997, Ozzy had reclaimed his crown as the prince of darkness.  The successful Ozzfest, including a partial Black Sabbath reunion (Mike Bordin instead of Bill Ward) had introduced Ozzy to a wave of nu-metal youngesters.  Why not cap the year off with a greatest hits album?  It wasn’t Ozzy’s first (1989’s Best of Ozz preceding it) but it was his first for most of the world.  Incredibly, given the Ozzy camp’s ability to muck up important releases from time to time, it was a particularly good package.

The Ozzman Cometh has had a number of issues over the years, but we won’t get into the ones that came after Sharon meddled around with re-recorded tracks.  Initially there was a limited edition 2 CD set and a standard single disc.  The lucky fans in Japan got an expanded 2 CD set with two bonus tracks.  That’s the one you see pictured here.  It comes in a non-standard extra thick jewel case due to the extra Japanese booklet inside.

The big deal of this new compilation was the inclusion of recently discovered early Black Sabbath tapes — “Ozzy’s 1970 basement tapes”.  Wikipedia tells us that these are actually BBC recordings:  “The John Peel Sessions” of 26 April 1970.  These have yet to be included on any Sabbath deluxe, so you have to be sure to get The Ozzman Cometh to complete your Sabbath collections.  “Black Sabbath” and “War Pigs” commence the set right out of the gate.  These tapes are raw but clean, and Geezer Butler has remarkable presence.  It’s a very sharp picture of what young Black Sabbath sounded like.  The lyrics are still a work in progress for those who love such differences, but Ozzy sounds even more like a man possessed.  “War Pigs” is still in its “Walpurgis” form, the “Satanic” version, and this is the clearest you will likely hear it.

Onto the hits:  Ozzy’s grudge against The Ultimate Sin was apparently already in play.  On the US CD, only one track from the Jake E. Lee era was included and it’s “Bark at the Moon”.  In Japan, “Shot in the Dark” is substituted in replacing Zakk Wylde’s “Miracle Man”, bringing the Lee content to two.  However the Randy Rhoads era is the star of the disc, with his version of “Paranoid” lifted from the Tribute album.  Included are, for the most part, the expected usual Rhoads songs:  “Crazy Train”, “Goodbye to Romance”, and “Mr. Crowley”, but no “I Don’t Know”.  Instead it’s the more interesting “Over the Mountain”.

As for Zakk Wylde’s legacy, it’s hobbled by the missing “Miracle Man”, since “Crazy Babies” doesn’t adequately capture his madness.  “No More Tears” is present as a single edit, and “Mama, I’m Coming Home” is necessary for any hits CD catering to people who just want some Ozzy songs they like.  It’s unfortunate that “I Don’t Want to Change the World” from Live & Loud takes up space.  The Zakk era ends with two good songs:  “I Just Want You”, the excellent dark ballad from Ozzmosis, and “new” song “Back on Earth”.  You had to have a new song, and according to the liner notes this was an unreleased one from the Ozzmosis era featuring Geezer Butler on bass.  Fortunately it doesn’t sound like an inferior song, just one too many ballads for the album.  (It’s written by Taylor Rhodes and Richie Supa.)

The second CD contains more treasure.  “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” are bonus Sabbath songs from the same Peel session.  Like the first two, they are crisp and probably essential to any serious fan of the original lineup.

Japan got two extra songs from movie soundtracks, enabling you to get them on an Ozzy CD.  The first is the excellent “Walk on Water”, Ozzy’s only studio recording with Zakk Wylde’s replacement Joe Holmes.  If you wanted to know what an Ozzy album with Holmes would have sounded like, here’s a good indication.  It would have been not too dissimilar from Ozzmosis but with some really different guitar playing.  Sure sounds like Mike Bordin on drums!  The other soundtrack song is “Pictures of Matchstick Men” featuring Type O Negative as the backing band.  It’s pretty forgettable.

The Ozzy interview from 1988 is 17 minutes of nothing special.  Here’s an interesting fact for you.  When stores were solicited for this album in 1997, I can distinctly remember the papers saying the interview would be a new one conducted by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I no longer have that piece of paper, and memory is what it is these days, but that’s what it said.  For whatever reason the 1988 one was used instead.  Go ahead and let me know how often you play it.  You can tell it was taped in the UK, at a rehearsal or soundcheck, because you can hear Zakk wailing away in the background.

The Japanese CD also comes with a neat sticker sheet with all of Ozzy’s album artwork on it.  I think the US CD has some screen savers.  I’d rather have the stickers.

Ozzy and company did the greatest hits thing right and have never actually done it this well since.  May as well track down a 2 CD Ozzman Cometh and get those Black Sabbath tracks you’re missing.

4.5/5 stars

VHS Archives #82: Tony Iommi & Cozy Powell talk Headless Cross on the Power Hour (1989)

Michael Williams asks some tough questions of Tony Iommi including “Why carry on as Black Sabbath?”  You have to remember that in 1989, Black Sabbath was considered irrelevant.  Ozzy was all the rage, leaving Sabbath in the dust far behind.

Other topics discussed:

  • The Live Aid reunion with Ozzy
  • Satanism in Sabbath music or lack thereof
  • “Heavy metal”
  • Rap artists (Sir Mix-A-Lot) sampling and covering Black Sabbath
  • Tony’s favourite version of Black Sabbath

What do you think of Tony and Cozy’s answers?

Then, stay tuned for another separate bonus interview taken from a CNN report!

 

#803: The Grocery Gang

A sequel to Get a Haircut and Get a Real Job

GETTING MORE TALE #803: The Grocery Gang

I started working at the grocery store in fall 1989.  While it was nice finally having a real job, it was immediately disruptive to my life.  I worked every Thursday, which meant that I was missing at least one Pepsi Power Hour every week.  If I pulled a Tuesday shift too, no Power Hours at all!  I had barely missed an episode in four years.  Now I was missing more than half of them.

That was a monumental shift.  I prided myself in keeping my fingers on the pulse of hard rock and heavy metal.  Keeping up with school work wasn’t hard.  Keeping up with music was!  I felt so out of touch with whatever the latest singles and new releases were.  The Power Hour was my main metal lifeline!

When a door closes, another opens.

I might have been missing the Power Hours* but like a see-saw, music swung back into balance.  Every work place introduces you to new people and new music.  The grocery store was like that as well, but those guys liked heavier music than I had been listening to at home.  Specifically I remember Metallica, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.  Those guys were not interested in Bon Jovi or Motley Crue, two groups I was really hot for in 1989.

There were three places I could be assigned to work at the grocery store:  Packing, parcel pickup, or cart collection.  That was the order of prestige involved.  Cart collection was considered the best assignment because you’d be out in the parking lot with a buddy collecting carts with no supervision.  It was a big parking lot so you could get lost and buy a soda at the convenience store for a minute or two on a regular day.  Parcel pickup was also cool because they had a tape deck down there you could listen to.  It was on that tape deck I heard a lot of my early Sabbath, Zeppelin and Metallica.  I wasn’t sure about Zeppelin yet.  They were telling me about this song “Moby Dick” that was a 10 minute long drum solo.**  And those guys didn’t care about Peter Criss’ drum work on “100,000” years.

I started absorbing the music.  There was one guy a few years older than me, Scott Gunning.  I went to school with his brother Todd.  I credit Scott for getting me into early Sabbath.  All I had was Born Again and Paranoid.  I’d never heard “Sweet Leaf”, “Black Sabbath”, “The Wizard”, “Supernaut”, “Changes” or anything else.  I decided to buy We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘N’ Roll and it quickly because a favourite.   Bob Schipper also worked at the grocery store, in the bakery.  He was already over early Sabbath and seemed bemused that I had bought it.  He much preferred solo Ozzy.  But I was really into the Sabbath, much more than I expected.  “Sweet Leaf” took over during the spring of 1990.

As discussed in Getting More Tale #709: The Stuff, I had no idea what “Sweet Leaf” was actually about.  I also don’t know if Scott Gunning though I’d gone drug mad, so much did I love “Sweet Leaf”.  But there I was in the parking lot, collecting carts, and singing “I love you, sweet leaf”.

Packing groceries indoors was the usual job, however.  It was a rare treat to be on carts.  Indoors, all the packers raced to pack for the young cute cashiers.  There were only a couple of them.  Kathleen Fitzpatrick, with her jet black hair, was the newest and most popular.  She was really nice.  She’d drive me home in the winter so I didn’t have to walk.  But other guys with more seniority would make me go pack somewhere else with the older ladies.

In fact, one guy had only about six months seniority on me, but he sure used it.  He kicked me off Kathleen’s lane more than once!  The funny thing about this guy is that his older brother would later be the owner at the Record Store.  I would regale the Big Boss Man of the times his brother kicked me off any cute girl’s lane.

Since the grocery store was located in the local mall (the same one the Record Store would later occupy) I could go music shopping at the Zellers before my shift.  It was there I bought the compilation Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell, loaded to the gills with metal rarities like Ozzy doing “Purple Haze”, the only studio recording of that lineup with Geezer Butler on bass.  I still have that.  I also still have my copy of Back for the Attack by Dokken, that I paid a co-worker $10 for, because he was tired of it.

I left that job in the summer of 1990 with lots of cash and new music in my back pocket.  I was off to new adventures including a week in Alberta that also featured a ton of new music.  The grocery store was good to me but I never went back.  I wanted to focus on getting into the school I liked most (which I did) but I also got my Pepsi Power Hour back for another year.  (It was replaced by the inferior Power 30 in ’91.)   Still I met some great friends there like Scott, and, oh I almost forgot, bought my first Flying V guitar from a guy that worked in the bakery too!  I can’t deny that the grocery store had an unexpected but indelible effect on my musical history.

 

* No, I didn’t set my VCR to record the shows.  When I usually taped the Power Hour, I sat there with my finger on the record button, ready to grab every video I wanted.  I didn’t record entire shows.  I didn’t have a way of transferring one tape to another.  I preferred missing the show entirely, to recording it and not being able to keep the videos I wanted for my collection.  I’ve always been picky that way.  The result is the VHS Archives that you enjoyed in 2019.  

** Live version.

 

#790: Helluva Halloween

GETTING MORE TALE #790: Helluva Halloween

Everybody eventually hits that age, when they are “too old” to go trick-or-treating for candy.  Highschool seemed like a good age to draw the line. Time to start handing out the candy instead of collecting it.  We all have to grow up eventually.

Do we?

Naw, screw that!

In the 10th grade, a new Halloween tradition was inaugurated.  As told in Getting More Tale #548:

We started preparing for Halloween in late August.  We began by making heads out of papier-mâché. Ours were crude, but when dressed up with sunglasses, hats or wigs, did the trick. Then we would begin working on an audio tape. This was a 60-minute long compilation of scary bits from Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden albums. We hid some speakers outside and would play the tape on a loop for background scary sounds.   Kids loved it.  Really small ones were scared, so we had to stop the tape and turn on the lights for them, but 95% thought it was awesome (including parents).  We’d see kids across the street, and they’d make a beeline for our house as soon as they saw it.  My favourite costume was the one I made in grade 10:  Alice Cooper.

Oh, that Alice Cooper costume!  I painted flames on a jean jacket so it would look something like Alice’s.  I wore his makeup.  I had fake tattoos (not knowing that Alice didn’t have any).  I had a pair of handcuffs on my belt.  Best of all though, was the sword I wore on my hip.  It was actually a fireplace poker, but you couldn’t tell in the dark.

Making the annual audio tape was a long, arduous process.  We’d fast-forward through our tape collections to record tiny bits of songs, and loop them.  The ending to “Children of the Grave” and the intro to “Powerslave” were perfect.  Occasionally we’d throw in the middle of “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” with the narration and creepy violin.  Black Sabbath’s “The Dark” was almost custom made for our needs.  As time went on and our collections grew, we had more music to choose from.  Any time one of us would buy an album with music perfect for Halloween, one of us would excitedly phone the other.  In later years I was fond of the middle section from “Nightcrawler” by Judas Priest.  But it was tedious work.  You couldn’t just play the same sections over and over again, you had to space them out so kids wouldn’t get the same bits repeated while you stood there handing out candy.  We spent hours upon hours making this tape that would only be used for one night.  Blank tapes were a commodity.  We were always using them up, and looking for something to erase.  Halloween tapes were first to go.  Besides, we wanted to do it again the following year, but better!

Our scary tapes would be augmented by flashing lights courtesy of…a flashlight.  Eventually, Bob figured out how to hook up a microphone to our primitive audio setup.  We could then speak directly to the kids!

“You…across the street…come here for a treat!  Muahahahah!”

Mom & dad didn’t approve.  To them we just made a big mess and a lot of noise.  Indeed, I can remember trying to wash off that Alice Cooper makeup at the end of the night.  I left a black ring around the tub.  But my dad hated handing out candy, so I hope he appreciated that he was relieved of that duty.  Considering how long we prepared, it was actually a long ongoing mess.  Ever made papier-mâché?  No neat and tidy way to do it.  Those heads were the most work, and we left a trail of destruction in the basement, forming and painting them.  But once they were out on the front porch (either decapitated or as part of a fully clothed “body”) they sure were effective.

Bob eventually went to college, and the traditional Halloween House was discontinued.  I did it a few times without him but all the fun was gone.  The idea was briefly resurrected in the late 1990s, at T-Rev’s place. As told in Record Store Tales Part 148:

T-Rev had this cool “alien head” — he got it back in ’97 or ’98 from a convenience store.  It had alien head suckers inside.  He asked the guy at the store, “how much for the alien head?”  The guy answered, “If you buy all the suckers in it, you can have it.”  So he did.  (The candy was awful by the way.  I did my share, trying to help him consume it all.)  But he got this alien head out of it, and with it, made a cool alien costume.   And for the Halloween party that year, I wore the costume.

I would sit in a chair on T-Rev’s front porch, still as could be.  When a child would approach the door, I would suddenly move and say “Na-nu, na-nu”!  The reactions were priceless.  Some were scared, so I had to unmask and show I was just a regular guy.

“Give some candy to the Jedi over here!” I said, gesturing to the kid dressed as Darth Maul.

“I’m no Jedi!” he protested.  I should have got my terminology right.  I apologized to the Sith lord.

Even the Sith story is from 20 years ago.  Not having kids, today Halloween has fizzled out.  There are no trick-or-treaters in our building.  Most people today doing a “haunted house” experience at home buy expensive decorations at chain stores.  They get featured the in newspaper for having done an awesome job.  That’s terrific.  But we did everything ourselves.  Everything.  Nothing was “store bought”.  We improvised everything with what we had, spending weeks putting it all together.  Too bad the newspapers don’t cover kids who do everything themselves!  We would have been featured every year.

Have a happy Halloween and don’t forget to brush those teeth!

 

REVIEW: Iommi – Iommi (2000)

“Like many projects featuring multiple singers, the album called Iommi is a mixed bag but with more gems than turds.”

 

IOMMI – Iommi (2000 Virgin)

Iommi is the first released solo album by Tony Iommi, but actually the third recorded.  The first was 1986’s Seventh Star, released as “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi”, with Glenn Hughes on vocals.  10 years later, Tony recorded another album with Hughes often referred to as “Eighth Star“, which was released in 2004 (after the drums by Dave Holland were re-recorded by Jimmy Copley) as The 1996 DEP Sessions.  Then finally in 2000, Tony took a page from the successful Santana formula book and did an album with various lead singers called Iommi.

Like many projects featuring multiple singers and assorted musicians, the album called Iommi is a mixed bag, but with more gems than turds.  The guitarist picked an interesting assortment of vocalists, mostly artists big in the 90s.  It’s telling that Tony’s good buddy Glenn Hughes isn’t one of them (though Hughes returned on 2006’s Fused).  Clearly commercial interests were most important when it came to selecting the singers and songs.

The inimitable Henry Rollins gets the enviable opening slot with “Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)”.  Rollins sounds best with a heavy riff behind him, and this one is pure grunge.  Producer-de-jour Bob Marlette co-wrote almost every song, and there’s little doubt that this is how Iommi acquired its “modern” edge.  Rollins creates a swirl chaotic rock around him, but the riff alone would have sunk without Hank.  Iommi seldom writes such atonal, monotonous guitar parts as “Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)”.

Skin (Skunk Anansie) is surely one hell of an underrated singer, and her track “Meat” howls.  Iommi’s solos and riffs sound much more like what comes naturally from him.  Then, it’s the unfortunate sound of 90s drum loops and samples.  It’s Dave Grohl’s tune “Goodbye Lament”.  Because as soon as one thinks of Iommi or Grohl, we think of drum loops, am I right?  Fortunately Grohl has ex-Sabbath bassist Lawrence Cottle and Queen maestro Brian May on his track.  He plays the drums when they finally do kick in.  Three of those four guys played on Headless Cross!  The drum loops suck and date the song to a certain period in time, but fortunately Grohl knows how to write good melodies so it’s not a total bust.

Phil Anselmo (Pantera) takes the very Sabbathy “Time is Mine”.  That riff sounds like it may have been later used on an actual Black Sabbath record.  The track simmers with fury, then Phil lets it rip loose.  The only way to make Sabbath heavier than Sabbath is to include a singer like Anselmo.  Drumming is Seattle legend Matt Cameron.

The expressive Serj Tankian (System of a Down) lets his pipes have their way with “Patterns”, amidst more of those annoying samples.  It absolutely sounds more System than Sabbath, which is fine since both are heavier than fuck.

The one guy that pulls off a truly Black Sabbath-sounding song is the guy you’d least expect:  Billy Corgan.  Yet his “Black Oblivion” comes closest to the spirit of classic Black Sabbath, in terms of length and epic riffage.  Billy plays bass and guitar on the track as well — what a phenomenal bassist!  (The drummer, Kenny Aronoff, knew Corgan from the 1998 Smashing Pumpkins tour on which he played, and then Aronoff went on to play on two more Iommi solo discs.)

The Cult’s Ian Astbury makes Iommi sound like — who else? — The Cult!  Brian May returns for some guitar (with Cottle and Cameron on bass and drums).  The Cult rarely employ such monolithic riffs, but the chorus is pure Cult.

“Flame On!  I used to bleed like a suicide mother,
Flame On!  And now I breath in this dirty black summer,
Flame On!  I bought the truth in the mouth of my brother,
Flame On!  I used to bleed like a suicide motherfucker.”

Shame about the damn loops, like something discarded from Chinese Democracy.  They also infect “Just Say No to Love” featuring the late Peter Steele of Type O Negative.  Like Astbury, he makes Iommi sound like his band, which already sounded a bit like a Black Sabbath parody.

The biggest disappointment on the album is second to last.  “Who’s Fooling Who” is a virtual Black Sabbath reunion, with Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward returning to the fold.  On bass is Lawrence Cottle, making it 100% Sabbath alumni, 3/4 original.  And it’s easily the most boring song on the album.  The best thing about it is Bill Ward, the first drummer who didn’t sound like a session guy.  A muffled Ozzy phones in his part, but Bill puts some effort into composing the percussion.  The best part is the instrumental burnout.

And then, a surprising finish:  Billy Idol, with a monstrous “Into the Night”.  Idol should consider doing heavy riffy metal like this more often — he’s good at it.  Though he effectively snarls his way through the slow riff, his punky side comes out when things get fast.  The contrast between riffs and tempos is half the fun.

With Iommi freshly consumed and digested anew, it’s obvious that good portion of what you heard was purposefully geared towards the nu-metal Ozzfest crowd.  The selection of musicians was clearly slanted post-80s, but it’s the loops and samples that really blow.  The blame must be laid on producer Bob Marlette, especially considering some of the loops sounded exactly like another band he produced:  Rob Halford’s Two.  The whole thing sounds like a “product”, though at least with some pretty incredible riffs behind it.

3/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Kick Axe as “Spectre General” – The Transformers soundtrack (1986) – Kick Axe series Part Four

KICK AXE as SPECTRE GENERAL – “Hunger” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stand In Our Way”
from Transformers: The Movie original motion picture soundtrack (1986 BMG)

Although the recordings were not released until 1986, it makes sense to talk about “Hunger” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stand In Our Way” now, in terms of storytelling.  After the Vices album was completed in 1984, Kick Axe were tasked to contribute to another project.  And it wasn’t a movie soundtrack.

Producer Spencer Proffer was scheduled to go into the studio with Black Sabbath — a Black Sabbath still fronted by Ian Gillan, though not for long.  Proffer felt that Sabbath needed fresh ideas and recruited Kick Axe to write some.  Though details are murky, we do know that Gillan left Black Sabbath abruptly to record Perfect Strangers with Deep Purple.  Kick Axe frontman George Criston was one of the singers that Tony Iommi was interested in as his replacement.  Whatever happened, no recordings of Sabbath with Criston have surfaced, but we do have the songs Kick Axe wrote for the sessions.

In a strange coincidence, they all first came out on November 9 1985, on two separate albums.  W.A.S.P.’s The Last Command (produced by Proffer) featured the Quiet Riot-like “Running Wild in the Streets”, though without proper writing credit.  Another album produced by Proffer was released the same day:  Ready to Strike by King Kobra.  “Piece of the Rock” and hit single “Hunger” were written by Kick Axe for the Sabbath project.

Ultimately, “Hunger” by Kick Axe did finally come out in the summer of 1986.  Too late, perhaps, considering people assumed it was a generic cover of a King Kobra song.  Especially since no one had ever heard of…Spectre General?

Who the hell is Spectre General?!

For reasons unknown but said to be contractual, Kick Axe couldn’t release their own song under their own name, so Proffer invented Spectre General, and that’s how they’re credited in Transformers: The Movie.  The band didn’t even know about it.  They had two songs on the original 10 track album:  “Hunger”, and a new song called “Nothing’s Gonna Stand In Our Way”, written for their next record Welcome to the Club.

Perhaps it’s the familiarity of the King Kobra recording, but this version of “Hunger” does stand in its shadow.  Both Mark (Marcie) Free and George Criston are stellar vocalists, and the Free version just had more…weight.  Kick Axe’s original is heavier and chunkier, so perhaps in that way it’s actually superior.  “Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way” is an upbeat number, hook-laden, with the trademark Kick Axe “chug” and backing vocals.  It’s pretty essential to have both these tracks to augment a Kick Axe collection.

Besides not getting their real name in the album, other contributions by Weird Al Yankovic and Stan Bush were featured more prominently in the movie than the two “Spectre General” songs.  The band Lion got to do the movie theme song.  Those were some memorable movie moments to any kid in the theater, particularly the Stan Bush selections.

It’s pretty amazing that Kick Axe came up with “Hunger” but were never really recognized for it.  It’s a great song and their original version of it is the proof.  Also strong, “Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way” would have made a fine addition to the next album.  Clearly, the Canadian quintet had big league talent the whole time.

4.5/5 stars

VHS Archives #58: Ozzy Asks a Rhetorical Question (1993)

Ozzy Osbourne never did live interviews with MuchMusic in my time of recording the show, except for this one telephone interview. Teresa Roncon was helming the Power 30 with Ozzy on the line. Ozzy is as mumbly and entertaining as ever!

Listen as Ozzy announces a Black Sabbath reunion tour that didn’t happen. Date: June 28 1993

#714: Born Again

GETTING MORE TALE #714: Born Again

They probably thought I was going to hell the day I showed up on the first day of school in that Judas Priest T-shirt.  Mrs. Powers was a devout Catholic, with a judgey side to go with it.  She enjoyed publicly humiliating her “misbehaved” students.  I can only imagine what she really thought.  Here was her “A” student, and over summer holidays, he’s got himself a T-shirt that says “Judas Priest” on it.  He’s drawing pictures of guitars in art and doing his class speech on a band called Kiss.  What the devil is with that Ladano kid?

If Catholic school was ever too sedate or solemn, this was magnified 100-fold in the lenses of the 8th grade.

It was the year you made the choice of which highschool to go to.  You’d undergo the Sacrament of Confirmation.  It was their last chance to make sure you didn’t go off the rails and do something stupid, like do drugs or leave the church!

There was a weeklong Catholic retreat to an old convent in Ancaster called Mount Mary.  “Every student I ever had who did not go to Mount Mary grew up to do drugs, or killed themselves,” said Mrs. Powers.  Holy shit!  I didn’t want to be there and it was obvious.  It was the middle of winter and every day had extensive outdoor activities, but worse, you were not allowed to bring any of your music.  No Walkmans, no tapes.  There was a radio tuned to an approved radio station in one of the activity rooms.  I didn’t know what to do, so before we left, I listened to and memorised as many Kiss songs as I could.  Double Platinum worked for my last minute Kiss cramming session.  The song I was most successful with was “Love Gun”.  I had just received a taped copy of The Elder but did not have time to investigate it much.  I had to go to Mount Mary instead.  This intrusion into the wants and desires of my musical passions kind of pissed me off.  I had to wait a week to get into The Elder.  Stupid retreat.  I was so scared of being caught with any contraband that I flushed my candy before getting on the bus.  Humming “Love Gun” in my head, we were off.

Mount Mary conjures up some real discomfort.  They were trying to teach you to be open minded about it but all I can really recall are negative feelings, and some disgusting hot chocolate.  I was isolated from everything I loved and stuck with a bunch of people who I didn’t particularly like, and felt the same towards me.  I knew this because we had to form circles and tell everybody something we liked about them.  Nobody seemed to know much about me at all.  “You like Star Wars, uhhh…and I don’t, but that’s cool.” was the most memorable.

There was a day spent outside in the snow as “hunters” and “hunted”.  I don’t remember the moral of this activity.  The hunters had wooden sticks as rifles, and my bully Steve Hartman was one of them.  The role playing had a bizarre shade of reality.  There were no explanations to us as to why people were selected for their roles.  The hunted were supposed to find some specially marked trees, but I spent most of the time just hiding in the woods from hunters and teachers alike.  There was another day including a long hike up something called “Agony Hill”.

The day we were released from Mount Mary and sent home was cold and wet.  The snow was melting, but it was just dirty slush.  My parents were supposed to pick me up when the busses arrived at the school, but I didn’t see them and vice versa, so lugged a giant heavy suitcase home through the snow.  At least when I got there, a brand new Marvel Transformers comic was waiting for me with my mail in the kitchen.  #17, “The Smelting Pool”, considered one of the best of the series.

“Well that’s over,” I said to myself.  “Now I just have to get through the rest of this school year and it’s freedom.”

That teacher just had a bad impression of me.  There was the rock and roll devilry which seemed to bring humiliating public interrogation.

“How many of you went to church this past Sunday?” she questioned the class.  “Put up your hands.”  She was determined to find out just how devout our behaviour was.  No excuses.

About half the class raised their hands.

“How many of you were there last week?”  A few more hands went up.

“And the week before?”  A couple more.  “How many have been to church in the last month?”  She noticed me, and I noticed her.  My hands were in my laps.

“MICHAEL.”  Radar locked.

“WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU WENT TO CHURCH?” she boomed.

My sister dubbed it “The Hell Hole”.  The school and church are right across from each other

It had been a couple years.  Powers had her “no excuses permitted” policy regarding going to church, so I didn’t even try to explain.  (Essentially her policy was:  You are old enough to go to church on your own now, so don’t tell me your mom was sick.)  I just endured the firepower of Mrs. Powers.  What else could she do; send a note home to my parents?  If I wasn’t going to church, chances are they weren’t either.  And there was a reason for that.

It was an Easter service a couple years prior.  Good Friday mass, very busy, and the church was packed.  My dad always liked to get an aisle seat so that’s what he did on Good Friday.  That was his mistake.

My sister and I had better instincts.  We preferred to hide somewhere in the middle of the pews.  Do you know what our least favourite part of service was?  The part where you have to shake hands and greet your neighbours.  We were shy and would rather not, so we just turned to face each other.  We’d shake hands and say, “Hello sir how are you today?”  “Oh, I’m good sir and how are you?”  We’d do this for as long as we could credibly ignore the adults around us trying to shake our child hands.

On Good Friday we tucked in down the pew while dad sat on the aisle, when the Priest announced that for this special service, volunteers would come and wash your feet if you were sitting on the aisle.  John 13:34:  “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”  My dad has a hard time saying no.  He kicked off his shoes and socks and politely pretended not to be hating every second.  And the family simply stopped going to church after this.  Coincidence?

Mrs. Powers, you can judge all you like.  Maybe my dad was sick of church and I was sick of your shitty school.

One of the heavy metal albums from my childhood that reminds me most of that period is Born Again, by Black Sabbath.  Boy, Powers sure would have hated those lyrics. “Good life is contradiction, because of crucifixion.” You can only imagine, if she knew what was I was hearing!

The devil and the priest can’t exist if one goes away,
It’s just like the battle of the sun and the moon and the night and day,
Force of the devil, that’s what we’re all told to fear,
Watch out for religion when he gets too near, too near….

Of course Ian Gillan isn’t a satanist; he’s just a singer!  But those lyrics would have set her head on fire, if the album cover didn’t do that first.  Do we mind “Disturbing the Priest”?  The truth is, the words were inspired by the rehearsal sessions for the album.  They were receiving noise complaints from the local church.  Do we mind “Distrurbing the Priest”?  “Not at all, not at all, not in the least.”  Once you know the genesis of the song, the lyrics fall into place.  Not exactly Catholic-friendly, but certainly not evil.

Evil-sounding though?  Absolutely.  Born Again might be the most traditionally evil sounding metal album in the history of the genre.  That’s why the original mix is so important even though it sounds like the refuse of the Golgothan excremental demon.  The lack of clarity, the muddy haze, and the echoing bottomlessness of it just add to the mystique.  You should not be able to clearly hear what the singer is saying.  It should remind of you a bad hazy dream.  Hell, it’s not the lyrics that make it evil; it’s Geezer’s fuzzy bass!

This article was produced after discussions with friends and acquaintances from different faiths and backgrounds.  Some had similar experiences.  Some are still dealing with residual Catholic guilt.  We were talking old church stories, and all this stuff came flooding back.  The sitting, the kneeling, the hand-shaking…my sister and I singing “Stars” by Hear N’ Aid instead of the hymns…the good and the bad.

One of the school bully kids was killed four years after Mount Mary, riding his motorcycle to work.  I morbidly wondered what Powers thought of that; he went to Mount Mary yet he was on her dead roster.  Would she add that detail for next year’s class?

It’s obvious I still hold a lot of resentment to those school years.  I wonder if that’s why I have such a strong attachment to the heavy metal music of the era.  Let the psychoanalysis begin!

#709: The Stuff

GETTING MORE TALE #709: The Stuff

October 17 2018 was a day like any other day.  I got up, showered, went to work, worked, ate lunch, worked some more, and came home.  You might have had a similar day yourself.

I drove home with Cheap Trick in my ears (“If You Want My Love”, great pop rock) and it was a regular commute, just like any other.  Uneventful is good.  I exited the car into the cold air.  The chill has come, but as I walked towards the building, there was something new.  I smelled the Stuff.

The Stuff is legal in Canada now.  Cannabis, also known as marijuana, ganja, reefer, weed, pot, the electric lettuce…add your own to this list.  Where was I?  Legalisation.  The Justin Trudeau Liberals actually lived up to its campaign promise and the Stuff is now legal.  You can smoke it, you can grow it, and there are rules and regulations to go with it.  In the province of Ontario you can’t just walk into a store and buy it.  You have to order it online.  I heard they’re already sold out.  But it’s legal, is the point I’m making.  Somebody upstairs in the building was celebrating, and that’s fine.

My main point:  like many things, the world didn’t shift today.  I read worried nay-sayers asking questions like “Have they considered all the stoned pot heads driving during the winter while on the Stuff?”  Yes, that’s been considered.  Anybody stupid enough to drive while stoned was already doing it.  What’s one law when you can break two, I guess.  Life in Canada has gone on pretty much normally.  The mail came again.  It was all junk, again.  Gas is pretty much the same price as yesterday.  Same with milk.  Donald Trump tweeted stupid things.  Just a normal day in 2018.

There was one other minor difference today.  There was a mass email at work reminding everyone of the drug & liquor policies.  They haven’t changed though, it’s still basically “Don’t come to work drunk or stoned.”  Same as the day before.

Moving on, I like to think of all the songs I heard as a kid, loaded with references to the Stuff that I completely missed.  I was a pretty naive teenager, I guess, and I really didn’t have a clue!  “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath?  I thought it was about a girl named Leaf.  Leaf isn’t a common name, but it’s a name.  “I love you Sweet Leaf, though you can’t hear.”  Hey, maybe she’s too far away to hear.  I didn’t know!  I swear to Christ almighty, believe me or not, I thought “Sweet Leaf” was about a girl.  Don’t forget Black Sabbath cassettes didn’t come with lyric sheets, so I was guessing at most of the words.  Same with “Flying High Again”.  No clue.

Early 1990, I was working at the grocery store at the mall with a guy named Scott Gunning.  I was obsessed with “Sweet Leaf” that spring.  I just got Sabbath’s We Sold Our Soul for Rock and Roll tape.  “Sweet Leaf” was one of many favourites, but I really loved that riff.  I thought the cough at the start was just an unrelated joke.  Scott, who was older and knew Black Sabbath, must have thought I was a complete stoner, how much I was talking about this song!  Meanwhile I wouldn’t have known the Stuff if it bit me on the nose!

As kids, we always preferred anti-drug songs to ones about getting high.  We were young, and we could relate to the “cleaner” lyrics of a band like Kiss.  “I don’t need to get wasted, it only brings me down.”  Clear cut and easy to understand.  Gene Simmons would be happy that his lyrics had a positive resonance with kids.

Here’s the irony:  Gene Simmons, who has always boasted that he’s only been high in a dentist’s chair, is now investing in Canadian weed companies.

Legalization is a good thing.  A lot of money is going to go right into the economy.  Hell, Mrs. LeBrain has had a prescription for a year and a half now.  Another irony:  she doesn’t take her meds.  She doesn’t like it.  And that’s another factor that people are forgetting.  There are going to be plenty of people who are going to legally try it for the first time, and they’re going to hate it.  They won’t like how it makes them paranoid, or lazy, or hungry, or whatever their reaction will be.  It’s won’t be like the nation will go pot-mad.

Even if it did, I’d rather be living here than down south.

 

#693: GUEST SHOT! Rock and Religion by Derek Kortepeter

A follow up to #657: Operation: Van Halen and #533: Spirituality as a Heavy Metal Fan

 

GETTING MORE TALE #693: Rock and Religion
Guest post by musician and songwriter Derek Kortepeter

Rock N’ Roll and Religion. These things, the two capital R’s if you will, were a constant presence growing up. Sometimes I think back on my growing and think how I developed into the person I am now, certainly rock and religion played a part in that. Being raised Christian by a really awesome single mom who also loved classic rock was truly the best of both worlds. She encouraged me to seek out spiritual and musical power in equal measure. She was laid-back and let me just be who I am as I figured life out.

When I became too self-righteous in my religious fervor she’d pull me back and give me a reality check that being a person of faith means being kind and not a judgmental dickhead (which I certainly could be at times). Even as I now am a rather irreligious (i.e. not super orthodox) 27-year-old, I still think the philosophical and theological basis for my life was positive at least in respect to my mother’s teachings.

It also led to some…interesting, shall we say, experiences with two subcultures that tend to clash. While I grew up after the heyday of Tipper Gore and her merry band of fuckwits (the PMRC) persecuting metal musicians, I still felt the aftershocks in the 90s. Couple that with having more hardcore fundamentalist evangelical extended family and friends, and you can bet I have some stories to tell.

I first started to notice the conflict as a 10-year-old when I got into Black Sabbath and some family members suggested I burn the CDs promptly. I’m pretty sure had I agreed they would have built a bonfire in their backyard and eliminated the demonic disc in a flash of fire (as we all know, Satan lives in poorly made CD-Rs burned on a shitty Dell PC). Not sure if the pen fake tattoo of “OZZY” on my knuckles would have also been burned off in the process…but we can’t rule anything out.

Knowing so many religious folks as friends since I went to a Christian high school after leaving public school due to bullying led to some pretty hilarious confrontations. Being a huge Van Halen fan I would get confronted with different accusations. These would range from me being a practitioner of idolatry (must’ve thought I had a shrine to Eddie Van Halen where I burn sage and chant the lyrics to “I’m The One”), to full-blown accusations of Van Halen being satanic (HAIL DAVID LEE ROTH AND HIS MINIONS OF SATAN).

These sorts of conflicts arose with all of the bands I listened to, from AC/DC and Judas Priest, to Iron Maiden and Metallica. I was constantly having to justify my faith and my love of music that involved pounding drums and wailing guitars. The more I became a bit more liberal in my faith I was able to eventually stop caring, but it was an eye-opening experience for me.

Some suggested I listen to more Christian rock bands, which is an odd label; I mean being a musician is a job, do you make sure your plumber is a Christian plumber (on second thought, maybe you do…bless thy toilet and its holy water)? The problem was, while I found some great bands like Pillar and P.O.D. (also U2 writes constantly about God), they were basically shitty imitations of the real thing. I mean if you want Coke, are you really going to drink store-brand cola and think it tastes just as good?

I imagine that this experience is pretty common for kids in certain religious circles and I wonder if they are scared away from either belief or music because of a false dualism being presented. I ain’t a preacher, and I’m definitely no role model, but rock n’ roll in all its forms has been nothing but a positive in my life. Simultaneously, while I eventually walked away from the church and orthodoxy of my faith for personal reasons, at the time, I also benefited from the comfort I could find in the belief of a supernatural being.

I’m reminded of Malcolm Young’s response when asked if AC/DC were Satanists, he humorously stated “me mum would kill me if we were.” The less boundaries we draw for ourselves in these little subgroups the better. I’m not saying we all have to hold hands and sing “We Are The World” (that song is overrated as hell), but you’d be surprised how much you’d have in common with people that seem to run counter to your own worldview. Rock and religion shouldn’t be enemies, and maybe someday they won’t be.

For now, I’ll start on that Church of the Holy Lars Ulrich shrine for human sacrifices and hope for the best.

Derek Kortepeter