childhood

#965: The Collector’s Disease

RECORD STORE TALES #965: The Collector’s Disease

There’s no question I have the disease of a collector.  It’s undisputed and quite obvious.  I like to have not just one of a thing, but many.  I couldn’t just start with one Kiss album, I had to get more.  The goal was to get them all.  Having one GI Joe figure wasn’t enough.  You had to have as many as you could afford.  It’s marketing genius that this common psychological flaw was exploited guilt-free for so long.  Where did it start with me?

Perhaps my collector’s nerve was first tickled by Lego.  The more you get, the better stuff you can make.  Every year, new pieces were introduced.  In 1978 they launched the “Space” theme of Lego.  Prior to that came the new “Technic” pieces.  Right as I was hitting the perfect age for creating things made of Lego, they upped their game in a way that completely meshed.  I remember getting quite a few Space sets and several Technic too, including one where you build an 8-cylinder engine.  All you needed were more pieces to fully realize your creative visions.

At the same time, Star Wars had hit theatres and we were starting to collect the action figures.  This planted a seed.  Cleverly, Kenner included pictures on the back of every figure package:  Each Star Wars figure, numbered in a checklist style.  This was cribbed from trading cards, like Topps — another Star Wars merchandising brand we tried to collect.  Something about a checklist is an itch that begs to be scratched by certain personality types.  Hasbro recycled the checklist gimmick with their in-pack Transformers catalogues in 1984.

As I’m happy to recount the tale, I discovered Kiss in 1985.  Their new album Asylum was out.  The next door neighbour George had a bunch of rock magazines, and one of them (perhaps Faces) had a big full page Kiss ad.  The famed “Accept No Imitations” Asylum ad.  Simple branding, like Coke or Pepsi.  The “real thing”.  They were really promoting the new Kiss in North America as the 20th in a series of records, including the four solo albums, two live albums, and Double Platinum.  Laid out in two rows at the bottom, checklist style, were all 19 of the previous album covers, including their release dates.

Like bells going off in my head, the collector’s itch needed to be scratched.

Gene Simmons is a lifelong comics reader, and he knew as well as anyone that Marvel had a monthly checklist near the back of each book.  He would have had many trading cards in his youth and was surely familiar with the concept of a checklist.  Whether that’s a connection or not, that Kiss ad really set off the fireworks in my brain.  I stared at it, studying each individual album cover, and the frequency of release.

I’ve detailed, many times, my process in first recording all the Kiss records from George or Bob.  The desire to have a complete set, buying as many as I could find while recording the rest.  The need to include the “forgotten” Kiss Killers album in the count.  I displayed all my tapes, either recorded or originals, in order by release date, just like the ad I had seen, except my taped collection numbered 22, including Killers and Animalize Live Uncensored.  Eventually in highschool (1987 precisely) I discarded the recorded copies and acquired a complete set on tape.  In the Record Store years, the process would repeat on remastered CD.

But wait….

While all of the above is the truth, and nothing but the truth, it is not the whole truth.  Kiss were not the first rock band I sought to “collect”.

Before I had that Kiss epiphany with the checklist, I can remember having a specific earlier conversation.  It would have been Easter of ’85, several months before the September release of Kiss Asylum.  My mom asked me what I wanted for Easter, and I told her “the new Quiet Riot” because “I want to have all their albums.”  I thought they only had two, and it would be an easy collection to complete.  But there it was:  the desire to have “all” of something.

Strange how the concept of collecting only latched onto me in some ways.  Atari games looked pretty on display in their coloured boxes, but we had no desire to get all the games.  Just the “good” ones.  Even with comic books.  I would buy issues of current books off the newstands, but did not go back to buy older issues, because they could get insanely expensive, and numbered in the hundreds.  Since comics always referred back to previous and concurrent issues, they really made you want to buy them all to get all the backstory.  But I didn’t — couldn’t.  This is exactly why Bob preferred only to buy limited series, like movie adaptations.  I guess my collector’s desires only extended as far as I could reach, in a monetary sense.

Today, musical artists exploit this common need to collect at lengths never before seen.  We’re still out there, trying to make it through an adult world, but now we have disposable income.  It used to be you’d want all the albums, and if you discovered single B-sides, you wanted those too.  Then it became the bonus tracks, the deluxe editions, the super deluxe editions, and all the different colours of vinyl you get for just about every release these days!  That’s how they get us.  Next thing you know, you just dropped a grand or two on a Gene Simmons Vault, or $800 on a Judas Priest box set.

And we go along with it, time and time again.  Once the itch has been scratched, and the soothing radiation of a complete collection rolls over you like waves…the itch inevitably returns.

And so it ends?  It never ends.

 

#955: Music Enjoyed Alone

RECORD STORE TALES #955: Music Enjoyed Alone

I’ve always had a solitary side.  Music is a fascinating hobby because it unites introverts and extroverts alike.  Everyone has their own preferred environments to enjoy music.  Whether you like to go out and rock it at a show with your buds, or whether you like to listen to a record alone with the headphones on, music unites us.

There is a certain amount of joy in both ways of life.  Ultimately, most people experience music in a mixture of both settings.

Some of my happiest memories were spent with music, by myself, with nothing but my thoughts and feelings.  When I’d get a new album, typically the first thing I’d do was go up to my room, close the door, and rip off the cellophane.  Hit “play”!  I’d read the lyrics, the liner notes, and study the artwork.  Then, after a heavy dose of rocking, I’d emerge to tell anyone who’d listen how awesome the album was.  That would often be my sister (usually uninterested).  Or, if it was a special occasion like Christmas, and the album was a gift, I would go downstairs to tell my gift-giver how much I loved it.  That’s how many first listens went down in my house.

I liked to keep my brain occupied while listening to music.  If I wasn’t studying the lyrics or artwork, perhaps I was reading a book.  Or doing homework.  Or drawing.  Or going through my growing stack of Hit Parader magazines, looking for pictures and info.

I’d allow myself a few minutes of air guitar when a favourite song came on.  Just drop what I was doing, and hit those air-strings.  Give it my all; burn off some energy.  Or perhaps I’d pretend I was Bruce Dickinson, fronting Iron Maiden at Long Beach Arena.

I was generally left alone.  Sometimes my sister would have a comment about the music blasting from behind my closed door.  “There was one really good song,” she might say if I was playing Poison or Warrant.  If it were Priest or Maiden she’d complain, “All I could hear is screaming”.

In 1988 I got my first guitar.  Periodically I would attempt to pick along to songs, but that was a futile endeavour.  I may as well have been playing air guitar.  A few years later, my sister got a pair of drum sticks with her VHS copy of Wayne’s World.  I would steal them and attempt to drum along to albums.  Poorly.

The kind of experiences that I had with music in solitude in my room were rarely equalled in a group setting.  My best friend Bob and I would play music and discuss it, while drawing pictures or writing stories.  That was the kind of thing I enjoyed most.  “Listen to this cool part, I wonder how he does that,” one of us would say mid-song.  “What did he say there?” was one common remark.  “I have no idea,” was usually the answer.

Treasured memories.  But a lot of that time with Bob was actually enhanced by our separate listening times alone.  When we met up on weekends, we were ready to show each other something cool we had heard, or had drawn.  Perhaps I had some new theories about Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son concept that I had to share with him.  The times we spent alone in our bedrooms listening to albums prepared us for the times listening together.  We had specific things we liked and wanted to share.  It was always nice when one of us got the other into a band.  He got me into so many, the last of which was probably Extreme.

When the CD began supplanting the cassette in my life, I added another activity to my solo listening sessions.  I still liked to have a cassette copy for portability once I started buying CDs.  So I made cassette copies of all my CDs, so I could listen to them in the car or on a Walkman.  (I did not get a Discman for quite a few years, as I did not trust them to keep my discs unscratched.)  Many happy hours were spent making cassette covers for my CD dubs.  I got better and better at it over the years, but sometimes making the cover was as simple as sketching a logo and neatly writing all the song titles down.

While I have had some amazing times singing at the top of my lungs gathered with best friends and associated buddies, some of the best times were spent listening alone!

 

 

#951: Set Your VCR, It’s 1986 and KISS Meets The Phantom Is On Tonight!

Special thanks to Jennifer Ladano for telling me to write this story down!

RECORD STORE TALES #951: Set Your VCR!
It’s 1986 and KISS Meets The Phantom Is On Tonight!

When thinking back about my earliest rock and roll discoveries, it’s important to recall the order in which I got the albums, or first heard the tunes.  It seems like I had always known “Rock N’ Roll all Nite”, but since my first Kiss albums were Alive! and Hotter Than Hell, those were the songs I knew best.  And I barely knew them!  I got my first Kiss in September of ’85.  But I was learning slowly.  Eventually I’d get Asylum, and gradually tape Kiss albums from my neighbour George.

Something else happened that exposed me to Kiss in a new way, that I sometimes forget about.  It was the first time I saw Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

Everybody knew about Kiss Meets the Phantom, but few of us were old enough to have seen it.  When it showed up in the TV guide one week, on some Buffalo station, it seemed like every kid with access to a VCR set it to record.  It was being shown at something like 1:00 in the morning on a Sunday.

Upon waking, I got my sister up early and we raced downstairs to watch.  We did not have time to watch the whole thing that morning.  It was winter, possibly the tail end of Christmas holidays, and we were off to the lake for one day.  We watched some, went to the lake, had lunch at the Embassy, and came home to finish the movie.

I noticed there were far more ads to fast forward through on late night TV than during the day!


Actual ads from the actual tape of the actual night.

My sister recalls liking Kiss Meets the Phantom; my memories are quite different.  I was bored to tears any time Kiss wasn’t on screen, and you had to wait through, like, an hour (with ads) for Kiss to arrive at the bloody park!  I didn’t know who this Anthony Zerbe fellow was, but at age 13 I considered him possibly the worst actor I had ever seen.

It was my first time seeing Peter Criss on video and not just still photos, and I was surprised at his voice.  I told everyone, “Peter Criss sounds like Aquaman.”  I had the show right, but the character wrong.  Michael Bell did the voice of Peter Criss in Kiss Meets the Phantom, and Wonder Twin Zan in the cartoon Superfriends.  Legend has it that this was because Peter didn’t show up to loop his lines in post-production.  Whatever the case, it led to a different urban legends:  that Peter Criss had given up rock and roll, and taken up a lucrative career as a cartoon voice actor!

I thought Gene’s distorted voice was tiresome after a while, and Paul seemed the coolest.  My sister liked that Kiss were like superheroes with powers.  On the other hand, I didn’t like that.  If Paul Stanley couldn’t shoot a laser beam out of his eye in real life, I didn’t understand why he would in this movie.  They were still Kiss, still playing the same Kiss songs, but also super-powered.  My rigid brain couldn’t reconcile the two.

As for the music, the movie contains several songs that I heard for the very first time that day.  “Beth” (acoustic, no less), “Shout It Out Loud”, “God of Thunder” and “I Stole Your Love”.  (“Rip and Destroy” doesn’t count.)  Now, because I didn’t know these songs, and there were no captions, I had to guess at the titles.  “Shout It Out Loud” was the easy one.  But these were the live versions taken from Alive II, fast and reckless.  Not to mention we were hearing it on a TV with mono speaker; state of the art for the time, but not for proper music listening.  So that’s why, for that day at least, I thought “God of Thunder” was “Not a Doctor”, and “I Stole Your Love” was something that sounded like “I Ho-Jo-Ho”.

The process of discovering Kiss was so memorable because it’s so fun.  The superhero character aspect appealed to my sister and there’s no denying that it had something to do with why I loved Kiss too.  But hearing the songs and albums for the first time can only happen once.  And I can clearly remember a tinge of sadness when I finally acquired Rock and Roll Over, the last original Kiss album I needed to finish my collection.  I was starkly aware that I was having this experience for the last time:  hearing a classic Kiss album, guessing who was singing the songs by the title alone, and discovering hidden favourites.  As I learned when Crazy Nights came out, hearing a new Kiss album was simply not the same as discovering the classics!

Kiss Meets the Phantom was a struggle to sit through then, but fortunately I saw it at an age when Kiss still seemed larger than life.  Objectively, it is a pretty terrible film, best enjoyed as a trainwreck.  The best parts are the concert scenes, which was the closest I got to seeing Kiss live at age 13.  It was my first exposure to some really important songs even if I wondered why Gene was singing about being “Not a Doctor”!

#950: A Letter To S

Hey S,

I felt like writing again, I hope you don’t mind.  My emails are not the esteemed A Life in Letters by Isaac Asimov, but it’s more about the process of the writing for me.

I’ve been listening to Van Halen in the car a lot.  Long story short:  I’ve been having issues with my music hard drive in the car, with it repeating tracks.  I discovered I could fix it by formatting the drive and starting over.  Certain Van Halen albums used to give me issues in the car, with the repeating songs.  It’s been a pleasure to rock to King Edward this week.  It’s hard to believe but he died over a year ago now.

I remember coming home from work the day he died and I was just in a foul mood.  Not only was I grieving Edward Van Halen, but I felt stupid for grieving someone I never met and never hoped to meet.  It was a torrent of shitty feelings, plus I hadn’t eaten properly.  It was a Tuesday and I had to do laundry or something, and I snapped at Jen.  I felt like an asshole afterwards.  I also remember telling you this story, and you were the one who said it was OK to be grieving.  Until that moment I didn’t really consider that maybe you don’t have to be a psycho to be upset about Van Halen’s death.

Music aside — which was usually warm, fun with instrumental and occasional lyrical depth — Van Halen meant a lot to me.  I must have been 13 years old when I was sitting on the porch with my best friend Bob, hearing 1984 on the tape deck for the first time.  My dad came home from work, heard the noise and asked what we were listening to, as dads often did.  “Van Halen!?” he said.  “Sounds like some kind of tropical disease!”

My dad was always good with one liners!  When we watched music videos on Much, he would mock the singers shrieking their best operatic screams.  “What’s wrong with that man?  Should he go to the hospital?  He sounds like he’s in pain!”

Good memories, all.  I’m very attached to those childhood memories.  I’m trying to commit them all to writing before they’re gone.  Often, lost memories can be triggered by an old photograph.  But there are many things I wish I had video of!  If only there was a tape or photograph of that first time I heard Van Halen.  But film was a precious commodity until the last 15 years or so.  You didn’t just take pictures of you and your friends listening to music on the front porch.

I remember some of the tapes, and conversations.  Iron Maiden’s Maiden Japan was popular in our porch listening sessions.  George would come over from next door, and Bob would come over with his tapes.  My house was right in the middle!  I wonder how much of my happiest childhood memories are due to geographic concerns.  If my house wasn’t right there in the middle of everybody, maybe I never would have been there that day to hear Van Halen or Iron Maiden.

Sometimes I worry that I spend too much time living in the past and trying to recapture those moments.  But then I think about what you would say to that.  “Why are you worried about something that brings you happiness?” I think you might ask.  And you’d be right.  So bring on the Van Halen.  Bring on the Iron Maiden.  Let’s party like it’s 1985.  Might as well go for a soda — nobody hurts, nobody dies.

Mike

 

#939: The Frog in the Pool

Cousin Geoff’s grandparents on his dad’s side owned a huge piece of property in the country with a swimming pool, and the most amazing landscape to explore.  Grassy fields gave way to trees, and I don’t think we ever hit the end of the property when we went walking.  It simply went on forever.  Any time we went there, it was a treat.  We spent a few days at the property that summer, swimming and running pretending we were Jedi or superheroes.  The house had an amazing “back yard”.  There was a steep downwards incline, which you traversed via a series of stairs and landings.  To us it was huge!   It seemed like you were climbing down a mountain.  At the bottom: the swimming pool and all the land you could run through for hours. – Record Store Tales #909

RECORD STORE TALES #939:  The Frog in the Pool

The most precious of childhood memories took place around that swimming pool.   I remember my grandpa picking me up like I was a rag doll and tossing me into the water.  Then I’d swim back and ask him to do it again.

There’s a funny old picture of my grandpa at poolside.  I remember that he liked to roll his own cigarettes.  I remember the tobacco tins and my mom having to explain to me what he was doing.  Well apparently he really loved to do it.  In this photo, he obviously packed up all his tobacco and rolling gear, and just sat there at poolside rolling cigarettes!  He looks so happy with a huge pile of tobacco in front of him.  It strikes me as hilarious that he brought all that stuff with him to spend a day at the pool.

Sergeant Winter reporting for duty.

There’s one notable event that happened at that pool that we don’t have pictures of.

I was really young.  Just a few years old.  And I must have had to go bad, so I pooped in the pool.  I remember the little teeny brown nugget at the bottom of the pool.  “Nobody will notice,” I told myself.

Well they noticed a lot sooner than I thought, so I resorted to my “plan B”.  I thought the little poop looked like a frog at the bottom of the pool, so that’s what I claimed it was.  “Just a frog”.  Nobody bought it and somebody got a pool scooper and picked up my poop.  I probably denied that it was mine right to the very end.  This might actually be my first admission that I pooped in the pool!

No it was not a frog.  It was me.  I confess.

#931: Our Arsenal

A prequel to #796:  Improvisation

RECORD STORE TALES #931: Our Arsenal

One of the greatest joys of youth was improvising.  What continues today with music and tech, started back then with toys.  We made our own games with what we had.  Bored with the toys already sitting in the basement, we simply invented new ones of our own.  Board games using army men as the pieces, or Star Wars playsets made of shoeboxes.  We did it out of boredom and necessity.  Kenner didn’t make a Cloud City playset, and even if they did it would be too large and expensive.  Instead we made one ourselves, complete with sliding carboard pocket doors.  It had multiple levels and was scaled to work with Kenner figures.

At the cottage, the need to improvise was multiplied.  We couldn’t count on TV for entertainment, with only two channels.  We could not bring all our toys and games with us to the lake.  Therefore we had to have fun with what we had.  For the first 10 years or so, the cottage was under constant construction.  Rooms were not finished all at once, but a little bit each year.  Same with exterior elements like porches and sheds.  That meant there was always scrap wood, nails and a hammer available.

I recently dug up some of our cottage improvisations.  They date back 35-40 years.  These haven’t seen the light of day in so long, that there was also an abandoned nest of some kind in the box.  Unsurprisingly, given my early penchant for being a Tony-Stark like arms dealer, all these home-made toys are built for war!

First up are my weapons.  My dad made me a bow and arrow when I was a kid.  The bow broke but he kept it along with one of my arrows.  I can see where I taped a little fin on the arrow.  The arrows were not sharpened; there were no tips.  It was just to see how far I could shoot them.  Not far!  You couldn’t really hurt anyone.

Also in the weapons locker was my old tomahawk.  I found the perfect stone and branch, lashed them together, and voila!  35 years later my tomahawk is still intact.  I can’t believe this stuff wasn’t burned up for firewood ages ago.

Next, and ripe for a tetanus infection, is our little flotilla of battleships.  We always had offcuts hanging around.  These look to be made of tongue-and-groove panelling.  Decent toy boats were always hard to find.  They were either super fragile, or leaked and sank.  Our boats always floated and were armed to the teeth.  Look at the all the guns!  Rotating turrets too.  My sister’s boats weren’t as sophisticated as mine.  She got into the boat making game too, adding her own graphics and designs.  We brought these boats down to the water and had some pretty fun adventures.  And nobody got hurt on the rusty nails.

Finally, we had some plastic beach cars and trucks that we always had a blast with in the sand.  We built roads and bridges.  I found plain old cars a little more boring than my sister did, so I took things into my own hands.  I got my favourite yellow pickup truck, and armor plated it.  My mom gave me hell for using too much tinfoil.  “Expensive!” she would always remind me.   But I had to take my time and get it right.  I had to do it twice.  The idea was to leave no Scotch tape visible on the outside.  At the end I had a shiny silver armored pickup truck.  And amazingly enough, some of that armor plate is still on the truck.   It was combat ready.  I always thought it would be cool if I could find a little helicopter to hang out in the truck bed, but I never did.

I found these old toys sitting in a cardboard box in the shed when I was looking for dry firewood.  Of course there was no way I could burn these up.  The battleship, which I have now dubbed Bismarck, might even float again one day.  They’ll never sink the Bismarck!

#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!

#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!

#877: Accept Your Fate

GETTING MORE TALE #877:  Accept Your Fate

George, rest his soul, was a bit of a know-it-all.  He was the oldest kid on the block.  He was already living there when my parents moved in.  He was burning the nipples out of Playboy magazines with a magnifying glass when the rest of us were playing dinky cars.  Logically, he was into music before the rest of us as well.  The only one in the neighbourhood that was into Kiss before George was Sean Meyer.  George got into Kiss through Sean.  But he had a bit of a superiority complex, because Sean didn’t hang out with us, which made George the de facto senior of the group.

I remember him strutting his superior robot knowledge when we were really young kids.  It was him, myself, and Bob in the back yard with our Lego.  (George stole a piece of my Lego by the way, and a piece Bob’s too.  But we stole them back.)  George had been into a show called Force Five and built a robot made of Lego based on what he’d seen.  We admired it, and each of us came back with our own robots of Lego.  We made some design improvements over George, but he was not impressed.

In a condescending voice, George explained, “Yours are good but they’re not what mine is.  You built yours based on the concept of ‘robot’.  I built mine based on ‘Force Five'”.

Just the way he was.  As the youngest of three siblings, perhaps that contributed to his need to be better than us at childhood activities.  Or maybe it was just that he was the senior of the group.  But he did.  He even ranked all the neighbourhood kids in our baseball abilities.  We played “Pop 500” in the ball park.  According to George:

“Bob’s the best,” which honestly was indisputable, but then he went on.  “Then there’s me, and Rob Szabo, and John, and Todd Meyer, and Scott Peddle and Mike Ladano at the bottom.”  Hey, dude spoke his mind.  You can see why he made it difficult to like him sometimes.

We blamed George the time they were playing catch, and broke a window.  They were playing catch in the school yard.  Either Bob or John threw a solid one to George, who chickened out and ducked, thus breaking the window.  He got the blame, anyway.  When it came down to the actual hierarchy of the group, he was often Scapegoat.

Naturally George was into Kiss, and rock and roll, before Bob and I.  He had a growing Kiss collection.  We heard those albums first via George.  But he was such a know-it-all.  He bought a bass, and would play around in the back yard going, “Name this tune.”

One day, Bob came to me and said “I think I have a way to trick George on a music question.”

It was the very same Masters of Metal Vol. 2 cassette tape that started me on my own rock journey.  There was a band on the tape that we were sure that George had never heard of:  Accept.  And to our young ears, Udo Dirkschneider sounded exactly like Brian Johnson from AC/DC — the shriek.

“I’m going to play him this song ‘Balls to the Wall’ and we’re going to ask him who the band is.”

I enthusiastically agreed to play along.  Bob’s prediction was that he would think it was AC/DC.  It was a gamble, given that George was more experienced.  But he needed to be taken down a peg.

And so, in my back yard, gathered around a boom box, Bob challenged George to “name that band.”  Masters of Metal Vol. 2 was cued up to track five on side one:  “Balls to the Wall”.

George was quiet for the first minute of the track.

Then, “Watch the damned!” screamed Udo Dirkschneider from the speakers of that boom box.

Immediately George answered, “AC/DC”.  And just as immediately, Bob and I stood up and laughed!

“No!  It’s Accept!”  exclaimed Bob in victory.

“Sign of victorrrrryyyy!” sang Udo behind us.

George was flabbergasted.  He immediately struck out with explanations for his incorrect answer.  The quality of my boom box may have been drawn into question.  There were reasons that he answered AC/DC, but they weren’t his fault!

But Udo had spoken, “sign of victory,” and Bob and I declared ourselves the winners of this particular contest.  It was a very memorable way to cement Accept into my grey matter.  A momentous occasion in terms of neighbourhood history.  We made sure we told the tale of how we bested George in rock knowledge one afternoon.

Listen to both Udo and Johnson at that point in the 80s.  They both had such a deep, full bodied shriek.  The fact that George thought it was Johnson isn’t really a patch on George.  It was an honest mistake.  Our pride in fooling him was simply because George acted like he knew absolutely everything about rock.  And we had proven that he did not.  That’s all we wanted.  It was kind of like being the guy who took down James from his winning streak on Jeopardy.

As a coda to this story, it’s interesting to note that none of us knew what most of these bands looked like.  There were no picture inside that little cassette cover.  Then, one day I was in my basement watching one of the very first episodes of the Pepsi Power Hour.  On came Accept with “Balls to the Wall”.  I glued myself to the screen.

As the three guys with the axes in the front made cool knee-bending poses in sync with the music, I said that “Accept look pretty cool.”  Wolf Hoffmann in the front with the white Flying V” had a blonde, wind-swept mane.  I envied him.  The video lingered on the three axe-wielders for some time, before the vocals finally begin.

And then, suddenly appeared this little, tiny guy in head-to-toe camouflage.  He was slightly rotund, and he had… short hair?  This man with the monstrous screaming voice was a tiny guy with short hair and camo pants?  It was completely incongruent with the sound coming from his lungs.  How could this be?  It seemed, from the video, that the band were sort of highlighting or even mocking his short stature in their stage act.  A close-up shot of Udo’s head within the gap of Wolf Holfmann’s Flying V was simultaneously hilarious and bizarre.  In another shot, Wolf is covering Udo’s head and face with his hands as if he’s just a little GI Joe doll.

Obviously my first priority was telling Bob about this fresh discovery.  In our next conversation, I told him of the Accept video and the startlingly short (and short-haired) lead singer.  He was astonished to see it for himself.  I think seeing what Udo looked like may have soured him on Accept.  I don’t recall him being into them as much anymore, and I’m pretty sure he never owned any of their albums.

Fortunately Accept redeemed themselves in my eyes with a video from their next album Metal Heart.  I taped this video off the Power Hour in early 1986.  It didn’t feature Udo being used as a prop so much.  Scott Peddle found the spinning effect to be dizzying, as did I, but a cool effect it was.  (In hindsight it actually looks quite similar to the “bullet time” effect from the Matrix films.)  “Midnight Mover” was the song that kept me interested in Accept.  It proved you could have a little guy in camouflage (now with additional leather military utility belt) at the front and center, and still have it look cool enough for the kids.

Bob agreed that “Midnight Mover” was a cool video but was never really won over to Accept like I was.  By 1989, any prejudice either of us had about Udo’s appearance were rendered irrelevant when Accept parted with him and brought in an American singer named David Reece.  They came out with an intriguing new sound with “Generation Clash”, the first single/video.  Reece was a normal looking blonde singer dude, totally ready for MTV play.  He also had pipes to spare.  He could nail the screams but he was more versatile, and able to do more commercial music.  And it seemed like that was the direction that Wolf wanted to go in.

Ultimately the Reece lineup didn’t survive, but their story certainly didn’t end there.  Where I was concerned, I liked “Generation Clash”.  I still think the guitar solo alone is a tremendous and diverse piece of music.  The Accept/Reece experiment didn’t really fail for me, and I think their Eat the Heat album is pretty heavy for the year 1989.

Still, when they make the movie of my life, it’s the Accept scene with George getting schooled that I hope makes the final cut.

#857: Obsessed With Rock

GETTING MORE TALE #857: Obsessed With Rock

As this summer flies by, I’m reminded of seasons past.  My dad always took the same vacations in the summer:  one week in July and two in August.  That means we’d be up at the cottage for that time, and I wanted to be well stocked with music.  Meaning, I had to bring all my music.  All my cassettes, all my vinyl.  Everything.

It was a process, to say the least.  All my tape cases had to be wedged between seats of the car, and I had “a few” tape cases.  Then I took apart my jury-rigged stereo setup and carefully prepared it for transportation.  I taped down the tone arm on the turntable so it wouldn’t fly about.  I packed up all my wires, head cleaners, and record brushes.  My ghetto blaster and record player were loaded onto a seat in the car, with my dad’s old 8-track deck/receiver at the bottom.  I was using it as a pre-amp for the turntable, and it worked after a fashion.

My treasured Kiss cassettes were not in a case.  They occupied a shelf in my bedroom, with two custom ceramic Kiss bookends.  I placed the bookends and tapes into a plastic grocery bag for transport.  Upon arrival at the lake, I set them all up on another shelf, always in chronological order.  It’s funny to think that I didn’t get an obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis until I was in my 40s.  I was pretty clearly already there in my early teens.

Once I got everything hooked up again at the cottage (stealing extension cords from other rooms), I’d begin blasting the rock.  With OCD firmly in control, I first had to finish listening to whatever tape was in my Walkman during the car trip.  Only then would I choose what I would be listening to that night.

It’s all very clearly obsessive behaviour, but I guess people were not as aware of various mental health issues back then in the 80s.

Then and now, I loved listening to music at the lake.  I liked to blast it, which sometimes earned a noise complaint from the parents.  They were pretty good about it though.  They indulged my musical obsession though never quite understanding it.  I only had one true love and it was rock and roll.

Something else I enjoyed very much was buying new music while on summer vacation at the lake.  There were not many stores that carried anything good.  Don’s Hi-Fi, and Stedman’s were all that was available when I was really young.  They sure didn’t have much.  Still, listening to Priest…Live! when it was brand new, and breaking the seal at the lake was special.  It’s hard to articulate exactly what was special about it.  Your normal listening space is a familiar place.  Most things you hear, you first played in your own home.  When you get to experience an album on less familiar territory for the first few times, it develops a different flavour.  It’s not something you can hear, it’s just something you can feel.  I guess that’s why I always see myself playing darts in the back yard at the lake every time I hear Priest…Live!

Perhaps that is a feeling only a music obsessive gets.

When we returned from vacation, it felt like I would be welcoming my new albums into their new home.  This is where you live now, Priest.  This is where I am going to be experiencing you from now on.

Weird, right?

I never claimed to be normal.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I’ve often boasted of not just “liking” music, but actually “loving” it deeply.  Maybe the only thing I’m actually boasting about is mental illness!

Whatever.  These are all good memories.  Although I speak fondly of it today, as a kid I would have chosen to stay home if I was old enough.  I missed being away from my friends, my rock magazines, my Pepsi Power Hour and all that stuff.  I missed talking about and listening to music with my best friend Bob.  Truth told, by packing up all music with me and hauling it up to the lake, I was trying to retain one aspect of being at home, which is my music collection.  Today the obsession remains, but I can do the same job with a laptop.  Crazy!  I never would have imagined that as a kid.

There are worse things to be hooked on other than rock and roll.  If it makes you feel so good, can it be so bad?