childhood

#720: Domo Arigato

Join me for some   for the rest of this week!

GETTING MORE TALE #720: Domo Arigato

It was grade 5, and Allan Runstedtler was to blame for my first rock and roll album.

At school, I played a tape I made with three songs on it.  It was a clear blue 120 minute Scotch cassette.  “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” by AC/DC was first, followed by “The Mighty Quinn” by Manfred Mann.  The third might have been “Ooby Dooby” by Roy Orbison.  AC/DC was my favourite because of the chorus.  “He sounds like he has a frog in his throat!” I squealed.  We just referred to Bon Scott (we didn’t know his name) as “the guy with the frog in his throat”.  I thought the song was hilarious, and that went double for “Big Balls” since it had “Balls” in the title.

“You have to hear ‘Mr. Roboto’,” said Allan.  “It’s by a group called Styx.  But it’s not spelled like ‘sticks’.  It’s spelled S-T-Y-X.”

Cool!

I went to his house one afternoon with my trusty Fisher-Price mono tape deck.  That thing was built like a tank.  Wherever it is, it probably still works beautifully.  Allan had the Styx LP, Kilroy Was Here, featuring “Mr. Roboto” as the lead track.  He explained the concept of the story to me:  a futuristic world where rock music was outlawed.  We familiarized ourselves with the characters.  Kilroy, the protagonist, was played by someone named Dennis DeYoung.  Jonathan Chance, the secondary hero character, was Tommy Shaw.  Meanwhile the evil Dr. Righteous was portrayed by the sinister looking James Young.  We scanned the album credits and figured out who sang each song.  (The Panozzo brothers were Lt. Vanish and Col. Hyde, but we couldn’t figure out their roles in the story.)  The LP came in a deluxe gatefold, with full lyrics and pictures from the video (which we had never seen).  On the cover were the masks of two “Robotos” that reminded me of the centurions from the movie The Black Hole.

Since that time, I learned that Kilroy was a Dennis project and the other guys weren’t too happy with it.  As kids in the moment, the whole thing seemed custom built for us!  The music was (mostly) good (I’ll get to that) and there were robots and heroes and good vs. evil.  There was a story to follow along.  There was production value in the packaging.  This wasn’t just stupid rock music to us.  It seemed part of something much bigger.  At Allan’s house, I recorded the album on my tape deck, open air style.  We quietly crept upstairs while the LP side played so we wouldn’t ruin the recording with noise.  When we heard the music stop, we went back down and flipped the record.  Tiptoeing back upstairs to the sound of “Heavy Metal Poisoning” is a one-of-a-kind memory.

We poured over the liner notes.  I observed, “It’s weird that Dr. Righteous is against heavy metal music, but he’s fighting back using a heavy metal song.” The hypocrisy was not lost on Allan and I.  “Heavy Metal Poisoning” was Dr. Righteous’ message to the kids of future America.

What the devil’s goin’ on,
Why don’t you turn that music down,
You’re going deaf and that’s for sure,
But all you do is scream for more.

It was the heaviest song on the album, and at that point probably the heaviest music I ever heard in my life!   And I had a good point.  Dr. Righteous was clearly against heavy metal music, but here he was presenting his message in a heavy rock song!

I brought the tape home.  I was so excited to have some music of my own.  “I can’t wait to play my new tape for Grandma,” I said to my mom for reasons completely unknown to me.

“I’m sure she’ll be thrilled,” mom deadpanned.

Even at that age, a taped copy wasn’t good enough.  I had to get the album.  The pictures, the lyrics, the liner notes…it was all necessary.  Mom took me to Zellers at the mall where I purchased my own copy, and my very first rock album.  It sat in my collection next to my beloved John Williams soundtracks.  After all, Kilroy Was Here is a soundtrack of sorts!  Only this time, the movie was in our imaginations.  Allan and I used to discuss what that movie would be like.

I memorized every word to “Mr. Roboto”, not to mention every “ooh” and “ahh”.  I sat in the basement and wrote them out on paper.  I also figured out that I didn’t like every song equally.  Allan and I were pretty much on the same page as to the good/bad songs.

My list of the “good” songs, in order from best on down:

  1. “Mr. Roboto”
  2. “Don’t Let It End (Reprise)”
  3. “Double Life”
  4. “High Time”
  5. “Cold War”
  6. “Heavy Metal Poisoning”

I never listened to any of the ballads.  We were simply not interested.  “Don’t Let It End” was nothing like the reprise version, which was essentially “Mr. Roboto” over again!  In my kid-sphere, I was oblivious to the fact that in the larger world, “Don’t Let It End” was a hit.  I just didn’t care.  Couldn’t have told you how “Haven’t We Been Here Before” or “Just Get Through This Night” went if you paid me.  For Allan and I, Kilroy Was Here just had six songs.  Well, five songs and a reprise.

Sad to say, but I temporarily “outgrew” Styx.  The “moment of clarity” was when I first heard Iron Maiden.  I tuned into heavy metal exclusively at that point, and discarded my old music.  (Which wasn’t much — just some soundtracks and a Springsteen tape.)  I remember playing the Styx album during the start of the heavy metal years, and it was suddenly too soft and pop for me.  I lost the record at some point, either in a move or at a garage sale.  I didn’t hear Kilroy again until a friend picked up a copy for me in Toronto, on CD.  I was 32.

Guess what!  I don’t mind the ballads anymore.  “Just Get Through This Night”, in particular, is outstanding.

To Allan I would like to say:  domo arigato, for getting me into Styx!

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#703: The Lost Chapters – “1986”

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

 

Part 1:  Easter holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Part 2: Musical integrity

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Part 3:  Musical flashbacks

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

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

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

“Have you seen John?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Part 4:  Clueless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s a suplex?” she queried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Part 5:  Being excellent at something

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

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

Our “business card”

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 6:  Seasons end

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

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

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

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

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

 

#615: “Shhhh! Be quiet, we’re recording!”

A prequel to Getting More Tale #344:  Childhood Recording Sessions.

 

GETTING MORE TALE #615:  “Shhhh, be quiet, we’re recording!”

 

Kids today have it easy!  Want a song?  Just copy and paste a file.  There’s no skill in it.  Not like we had to do it when we were really young.

My old Sanyo tape deck didn’t have audio in and audio out jacks.  It didn’t have a dual tape deck.  It had a headphone plug and that was it.  You couldn’t record anything except with the built-in microphone.

Like kids of the 80s always would, we improvised and did the best with the equipment we had.  Recording back then required planning and discipline for pretty shoddy results.

How did we do it?  In the most primitive way imaginable.

Step one:  Phone a friend who also had a tape deck.

No dual tape deck?  No problem, all you needed was a friend who also had something to play music on.  Come on over!

Step two:  Shhhhhh!  Be quiet!

We’d find a space in the house without a lot of commotion.  In our house, that was the basement.  We’d set up two tape decks, facing each other, about three or four feet apart.  One for playing, one for recording.

We’d tell all parents and younger siblings to “be quiet” and “stay out”!  Once this message was received we could begin recording.  Press “record” on one tape deck and “play” on the other.  Then, very very quietly, step out of the room let the tapes run until the whole side was recorded, open air style, in glorious mono.

The end product was usually awful, but as pre-teens we didn’t know any better.  You could usually hear us whispering at the start or stop.

This is how I first got Styx’s song “Mr. Roboto”.  It’s how I made copies of my Quiet Riot Metal Health tape for my friends.  I sold them for $1 per copy.  I thought I was some kind of entrepreneur!  I even recorded the audio of Star Wars off the TV so I could listen to it, before we had a VCR.

Hard to imagine this was the best we could do, but for years we made it work!

 

#593: Talk Dirty to Me

GETTING MORE TALE #593: Talk Dirty to Me

The closest “record store” when I was a young kid wasn’t a “record store” at all.  It was a now-defunct department store called Zellers.  Located at Stanley Park Mall, they were a mere 10 minute walk from home.  If we were looking for new tapes to listen to, Zellers would be the natural first stop.  It was a bit of a needle in a haystack situation because I didn’t know the names of a lot of bands or albums.  For example, there was a cool band from Japan on MuchMusic.  They had a killer heavy metal track called “Crazy Nights”, but I couldn’t remember the name of the band.  I scoured the racks at Zellers until I found what I assumed was the right group:  “Wang Chung”.  Never mind that “Wang Chung” doesn’t actually sound like a Japanese name, but what did I know at that age?  I definitely didn’t know that the name of the band was Loudness, and the album I was looking for was called Thunder In the East!  It’s a good thing I figured that out before putting Wang Chung on my Christmas list.

Bob and I spent a lot of time browsing records at Zellers just out of convenience of location.  It was there that I first saw the band known as Poison.  “They look like girls don’t they?” said Bob.  “Yeah,” I responded, secretly deciding that Rikki Rockett was the hottest.  But they were men!  That first Poison album cover turned me off the band for a time.  I considered them a sub-Motley Crue.

What finally turned me on to Poison was actually a highschool Battle of the Bands.  It seemed every highschool band learned “Talk Dirty to Me” in 1987.  The track had a vaguely old-timey rock and roll feel and that appealed to me.  It was like old Kiss.

I gradually got into Poison, by taping their videos off MuchMusic.  It is quite possible that their videos were the most action packed of the era.  They were highly choreographed, but so much fun.  There is no shame in admitting that when Bob and I got our first guitars, we were more interested in doing stage moves than playing.  Poison (and also Cinderella) were the prototypes for many of our moves.  A few guitars hit a few ceilings because of Poison.  I had to have a faux-snakeskin guitar strap, with strap locks, of course, for those over-the-shoulder-throws.

The Poison video I liked the best was a ballad called “I Won’t Forget You”.  It was tour footage from the stage and off, and it was less choreographed.  It had a guest shot by none other than Paul Stanley!  If Paul appeared on stage with Poison, then they had to be good.  Right?

It was obvious from their videos that Poison were a flashy band, bent on entertainment or death.  My musical perception wasn’t strong enough to detect that the band weren’t the greatest musicians, but they did have good songs to my ears.  Every video they made was fun and catchy as hell.  Poison were pretty easy to get into, and they were everywhere.

I didn’t buy the first album Look What the Cat Dragged In for a while, but I got the second one, Open Up and Say Ahh! for a school project.  As recalled in Getting More Tale #455: How to Make a Music Video, Bob and I decided to make our own video for “Nothin’ But A Good Time” for the school video awards.  My dad paid for the tape and it was used for the backing music.

The music video turned out great, and one day I hope to transfer it to a format you can upload to Youtube.

I’m not sure how many kids back then could have claimed they used Poison for a school project, but we did and we kicked that project’s ass!  Add Poison to the list of bands I used for school presentations and essays, including Iron Maiden, Queensryche and Judas Priest.  Poison’s music might have been vacuous, but they served their purpose.  Even today, I still get those feelings that say “I Want Action”!  Poison are intertwined with my childhood, permanently, and that’s not a terrible thing.

#591: My Rock and Roll Lullaby

GETTING MORE TALE #591: My Rock and Roll Lullaby

When I was a young child, I used to hum myself to sleep.  My favourite music was movie themes.  Whether it be Superman, Indiana Jones or Star Wars, soundtracks were 99% of what I liked to listen to.  And 99% of those soundtracks were John Williams.  Come bedtime, mom or dad would tuck me in, and I’d hum a favourite theme until I was asleep.

As I entered the pre-teen years, my parents bought me my first ghetto blaster.  It was a Sanyo, built solid like a Brinks truck.  The Sanyo brought music back to bed time, only now I didn’t have to hum!

By the time I had the Sanyo, I was getting in to rock and roll really seriously.  Kiss tapes were great for falling asleep to.  They were just the right length, and I loved each and every album.  Sure, you’d have to get up halfway through to flip sides (no auto-reverse on my first Sanyo), but suddenly I had a new bedtime routine.  I’d literally rock myself to sleep.

This nightly habit soon became nightly necessity.  It was hard to fall asleep without music!  If we were away from home, I’d bring a Walkman, but falling asleep with earphones on was uncomfortable to say the least.  Cheap 1980s earphones were not designed with comfort (or sound quality) in mind.

The bedtime music habit continued through highschool and into university.  Sometimes I worried, “What happens when I get married?  Is my wife going to want to fall asleep to Kiss Alive with me?”

No, no she wouldn’t.  But I did manage to start falling asleep without music.  When I got my own place, I’d stay up a little later and go to bed when I was exhausted.  If I tossed and turned, then I would throw on a CD to help me fall asleep like the old days.

Have you ever needed musical accompaniment to fall asleep?  What tunes did you like?


No, no no!

#548: Bad Boys

 

GETTING MORE TALE #548: Bad Boys

I was speaking to a friend’s son the other day.  He’s in his late teens.  We chatted about parents and rules and chores and I realized, “The ‘bad’ stuff I used to do as a kid is nothing compared to what teenagers think is ‘bad’ today.”  When I was teenager, I had never seen a drug.  I didn’t know any kids who drank.  None of my friends had tattoos.  We liked heavy metal music, which had an aura of evil, but that was just the image.  Our lives were pretty mundane…but we did have our fun.

My buddy Bob was the leader when we were growing up.  He was creative and had all the best ideas.  We invented our own games.  A version of street volleyball with no net was one.  A backyard obstacle course made of chairs and sprinklers was another.  I have a book full of drawings we made for video game ideas we planned on selling to Atari.  There is a huge binder (3″)  filled with action figure ideas — we called it “Death Team”  It was a years-long project that included written story lines and an audio sketch.  We imagined the AC/DC instrumental “D.T.” was their theme song.  We even made an elaborate board game using old cardboard, a lot of tape, and a bag of army men.  Making things (or modifying them) was a big part of our creative process.  In 9th grade, we made elaborate cardboard guitars for air guitar purposes.  We used yardsticks as the guitar necks, and the bodies were cut from old boxes.  We then painted them, using my mom’s workshop with dozens of colours to choose from.  We really let it loose for Halloween.  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.

We also did a bunch of things that we didn’t tell our parents about.  My mother is about to read about some of these things for the first time.

We loved to make prank calls.  In the days before call display, Bob and I were the kings.  My parents went out every single Wednesday night to take my sister to dance classes.  Bob came over, we watched music videos, ate chips, and made prank calls.  We didn’t dial random numbers like most kids.  We looked up names that we thought were funny in the phone book, and called them.  There was one name in the phone book that Bob found especially amusing: Hans.  So Bob called up Hans and sang him a little song.  “Hans, hans, hans and feet, I have hans and feet.”  Somebody named Price was met with the phone call, “Come on down, the price is right!”  We really thought we were the most hilarious pair in the world.  Then we started pretending we were calling from the Coca Cola company and asking people if they preferred “New” Coke to old Coke.  Only Bob had a deep enough voice to fool anyone.

Then, there was the time I nailed “Phat Curtis” in the back of the neck with a projectile I named “The Killerang”.  When I was really young, I know I hit Mrs. Reddekopp’s car right in the middle of the hood with one of Bob’s lawn darts.  Bob reluctantly retrieved my errant dart, because I was too scared to get it.  “You can never ever tell anyone about this,” he cautioned me.  We knew that if we kept quiet, everybody would assume another neighbor kid, George, did it.  That’s exactly what happened.

Like many other kids of the 80s, we recorded comedy sketches on tape.  I have seven volumes of “Mike and Bob” on cassette here.  Having played them recently, I can assure you that you are missing out on nothing.  We sure did have fun making those tapes, but I can see why Bob found them embarrassing a few years later.  The recordings usually took place at my house, in the basement or garage.  His parents were pretty strict.

On recording nights, we had to stock up on snacks.  The only place within walking distance was the Little Short Stop at Stanley Park Mall, long gone now.  We spent many, many days and nights at the Short Stop over the years, pouring over comic books, Star Wars (or Indiana Jones) cards, and candy bars.  Later on it was rock magazines.  Our snack fix during this period was ketchup flavoured potato chips.  The thicker that ketchup dust, the better.  When we didn’t get ketchup, we got dill pickle.  It was only a 10 minute walk to the mall, but on those recording nights, we probably took half an hour each way.  We were busy ringing doorbells.

“Nicky Nicky Nine Door” was what they called it, but we were just being little shits.  We would choose houses on the way to the store, ring the doorbell and then hide in the bushes.  Once or twice, Bob was almost caught.  Sometimes we’d find a house we really liked and hit him up on the way to the store and on the way back.  And sometimes, a third for good measure.

We bored of “Nicky Nicky Nine Door” and soon found a new night time occupation:  walking around the nearby public school.  Stanley Park Sr. Public School was not locked at night.  At least, it wasn’t until we were caught.  Bob and I would wander the hallways, and buy a pop from the Pepsi machine inside.  We didn’t vandalize, and we didn’t steal.  All we did was go in and buy a can of soda for each of us.  The custodian never seemed to be around, but one night, they were.  They told us to get out, we were trespassing!  Bob asked, “But can I buy my can of pop still?”  The custodian said sure, so Bob walked over to the pop machine, bought his soda, thanked the guy, and left!  Is it still trespassing if you buy merchandise?  We didn’t think so!

That school was the site of many of our escapades.  Most of them were benign:  baseball in the park, basketball on the courts, and later on, tennis.  We had many late night tennis matches.  We ran sprints, we did the long jump, we rode our bikes.  When we didn’t have a ghetto blaster playing, we were probably singing.  George would often provide the boom box, loaded up with Kiss, Black Sabbath, or Iron Maiden.  When boredom set in, our activities became more mischievous.  Bob and George were skilled at climbing up to the school’s roof to retrieve lost tennis balls and basketballs.  One cold Sunday afternoon, Bob decided he wanted to throw his old bike off the roof.  We got a rope, Bob climbed up onto the roof, and then hauled the bike up by the rope.  He backed up, made a running start, and tossed the bike off.  There was barely any damage!  He went for round two, and the front wheel was heavily dented.  As he hauled it up one more time for round three, a man in a car drove up to us and told us to leave.  Bob asked, “So I can’t throw my bike off this roof?”  Wordlessly the man shook his head.  Who knew you couldn’t just throw a bike off a roof?  It was his bike, right?  No harm no foul?

It’s funny to look back at these moments and realize, these were the best times of our childhoods.  I don’t think Bob would want his kids to read this.  For that reason, I’m leaving out other sordid details and I’ll deny everything else.  For example, we may or may not have spelled the word “FUCK” on the lawn of the school in strips of fresh sod.  I can’t confirm or deny that we scratched KISS and IRON MAIDEN in the school doors with paper clips.  Both of us had pellet guns, and I may or may not have fired a round through George’s mom’s laundry.  My dad found pellets in the fence.  He knew what we were up to.  We denied.  We water-ballooned George’s bedroom window.  We would hide behind the fence, laughing, listening to him singing “Love Gun” loudly and out of key in his room.

We knew that not all these activities were particularly “good” behaviour (that’s why we didn’t tell our parents), but we considered it all pretty innocent.  We did well in school.  Both of us got into the schools we wanted to go to.  He has a large family and I’m happily married to a beautiful wife.  That leads us into the last story.

At my wedding, Bob decided he wanted to make a short speech, and tell a story about us.  It was so true, and so funny, that I had tears in my eyes.  I mentioned earlier that Bob’s parents were stricter than mine.  As such, Bob was not allowed to eat any sweet cereals for breakfast.  He complained and complained of shredded wheat.  He also was not really allowed to indulge himself in snacks at home, and he really loved our microwave oven.  This is how Bob invented some of his classic foods and beverages:

  • The Froot Loops dog – A hot dog topped with Froot Loops and any other toppings of your choice.
  • Froot Loops orange juice – A glass of orange juice with a handful of Froot Loops as a garnish.
  • Froot Loops swamp water – combine milk, orange juice and grape juice in one glass.  Top with Froot Loops and serve.  In case of Froot Loop shortage, substitute with Apple Jacks.

Those were the times of our lives.