childhood

#833: Postcards From the Solo Summer of ’86 (Part Four of the 1986 Saga)

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Postcards From the Solo Summer of ’86

(Part Four of the 1986 Saga)

While we definitely had our fun in the summer of 1986, there was one person missing from all of it:  Bob Schipper.  I really missed my best friend.  Bob was spending the summer in Calgary, Alberta with his older brother Martin.  I was so used to doing…well…everything with Bob!  It was really quiet around the neighbourhood without him.  I had to come up with my own games and schemes without my partner in crime.

I spent a lot of afternoons watching TV in the basement, recording music videos and watching WWF wrestling.  I wanted to update my buddy on all the latest songs I’ve been hearing, and the newest wrestling plots and turns.  I was bored!  But one day, I received a postcard from him.  The first contact in weeks!  I was so excited to hear from my friend again.  Even in this brief postcard, he talked about music.  We were both so into rock bands, it was already dominating our interests.

“Hey Mike, it’s me Bob, writing a post card to you to tell you that I’m still living.  I hope everything is okay over there, because it’s great here.  I got this awesome poster of Gene Simmons you’ve got to see.  Well, see you soon.”

My mom got his address in Calgary from his mother, and I wrote him back a letter.  I had to update him on all the gossip and goings-on in the world.

A short while later I got a letter back and jumped in glee.  I read it twice through.  One of the biggest pieces of news that I had to update him on, was that my parents had finally agreed to get a dog.  “Boy, Katy finally got what she wanted,” Bob said.  It was definitely my sister that wanted the dog most.  I was not sure how I felt about it yet.  Big changes, big adjustments!

Bob had news of his own.  I had heard he was going to be seeing a concert, but didn’t know who.

“You know what, the concert I was going to see, well it was cancelled.  The group I was going to see was OZZY OSBOURNE, and I was looking so forward to it, but now he’s coming back in October instead.”  That would obviously not do, since Bob would be coming back home in August.  The opening act was a group neither of us knew:  Metallica.

“P.S. – Have you seen the commercial for Friday the 13th Part 6?  I’m going to see it.”  Bob loved his horror movies a lot more than I did.

The next letter from him arrived a couple weeks later.

“I can hardly wait to show you the two albums I bought.  They’s both rare KISS albums!  The first one I bought is a mint condition Killers album with the new KIZZ logo.”  This is the very copy of Killers that I own today, acquired from Bob all those years ago.  No longer mint condition, far from it in fact.  I remember doing things like playing it backwards, and tracing the West German logo with the backwards Z’s.  You can see the indentation from my pen.  A shame, really.

“If you think that’s great,” he continued, “wait till you see my other one!  It’s a picture-disc album, with a Kiss interview on it!  On one side it has a picture of the unmasked Kiss, and the other side Gene with his axe guitar!  The amazing thing was it was only twenty dollars!  Also, I got two cassette tapes, Alive II and Love Gun.  I also might be getting Dressed to Kill.”  I recall the Kiss interview disc was from the Lick It Up era because they were talking about Vinnie Vincent and taking off the makeup.  In fact I still have this interview on a cassette, because I taped everything from Bob.

We were getting closer to getting our new dog in August.  Bob remarked, “I can hardly wait to see Katy’s new dog.”  Funny how we always referred to it as her new dog.  That does bring back memories though, of the way things seemed before we knew what it was like to actually have a family dog.  It really did seem to me like it was Kathryn’s dog.  And she is definitely the dog person of the family today.  She always has multiple pets in the house.

In our letters back and forth, we took shots at the neighbour George, who was a bit of a punching bag for us.  It was well deserved though, George earned every bit mockery we poured into our letters.  He crossed the line when he tried to steal Bob’s brother’s bike.  He stole Lego from us.  He was, honestly kind of a dick back then.  So Bob ended his letters with some drawings of himself, me, his new nephew Mike, and George.

Reading these letters today, it’s clear how important our friendship was to both of us back then.  For me personally, I looked up to him and needed him by my side as I embarked onto my next journey:  highschool!  It was too bad that I didn’t have my best friend around for that last summer before highschool, but at least I still have the letters.

 

#833: Just A Boy

STOPARRETPotentially triggering material ahead.  The following is a work of fiction — or not.

 

Just A Boy

I stepped into the titanium chamber, glowing lightly purple from the inside.  A bare metal seat was firmly bolted to the floor with two control panels, one on either arm.  The seat was its only occupant.  The walls glowed faintly as the mercury pumps worked their strange magic.  I sat.  The door closed automatically, latched shut and hissed with the sound of a vacuum seal made perfect.

On the right control panel, I entered a date.  February 18, 1986.  On the left, my hand flew as I swiped a series of commands.  In my excitement, I forgot to fasten my seatbelt.  With that now tight across my chest, I pulled the red lever on the far left.  My vision blurred.

G-forces assaulted my body but I had no difficulty in breathing.  I saw stars, the kind like when you fall and hit your head.  I heard voices but they were melded together and the words indistinguishable.  White noise but identifiably human.  Then I heard music.  A guitar strummed.  A triangle tinkled.

I was close.

The taste of hot chocolate, but overly sweet and unappealing.

Very close.

The sensation of cold and damp.  Feels like February.  I must be there.

Music again.

For I am just a boy,
Too young to be sailing.
I am just a boy,
And my future is unveiling,
And I’m so frightened of failing.

My eyes opened — I didn’t realize they had been closed.  The chamber door was open ahead of me and I could see white snow, and dark green trees.  I heard the sound of children.  But I could not be seen.  I could not be heard.  In fact I was not really there at all.  A part of me was, but not physically.  I could see, hear, smell and feel my surroundings but not affect them.  The process of travelling back through time had a strange effect on the senses.  To a limited degree, I could also feel what my younger self was experiencing.  The cold, wet feet.  The taste of that awful hot chocolate.  I was in the right place.

This was Mount Mary 1986.

Every year, the Catholic school sent its graduating grade to a week long retreat at Mount Mary.  A few students declined to attend, but only over the loud objections of the Grade 8 teacher.

“Any student I had that didn’t go to Mount Mary either died or went on the drugs!”

For an entire week, I was stuck with those awful kids and the oblivious teachers.  It was a lonely time.  That’s why I had to come back here.

We weren’t allowed to bring anything with us to Mount Mary except our clothes.  No Walkmans, no music.  The night before we left, I absorbed as much Kiss as I could.  Times like this called for my favourite band, and only my favourite band.  I memorised Double Platinum and The Elder the best I could.

That music that I was hearing when I arrived back here?  The songs in my younger self’s head.

I surveyed the landscape.  It felt like I was floating.  I could see my legs, and they hovered inches above the fresh dusting of pure white.  I could move in any direction at any speed I liked.  I just had to think it.  I couldn’t be seen or detected in any way.  Nothing more than a ghost in their world.  A world that disappeared, and transformed over the decades into the one we live in today.

I followed the sound of the children.  Their footsteps were deep in the snow.  The larger prints were from the teachers.  The adults who enabled the bullying.  The people who allowed this trauma to happen under their watch.

“Here we are!  Agony Hill!” said one of the supervisors.  I remember this hike.   The teachers hyped up the forest to us beforehand.  “You’ve never seen trees so dense in your life!” they boasted.  It wasn’t true.  It was the same as the cottage.  Agony Hill was a steep incline that we had to traverse.  This time, I flew.

There!  Just below.  I saw him.  Me.  In the blue coat, blue mittens, and blue jeans.  Why did I always wear blue?

A couple larger kids pushed.  I felt the shove in my back.  I felt the surge of anger and the welling of tears.  I remembered.

I stopped.  I had no idea that time travel would be this intense.  I wasn’t prepared.  The wounds are fresh.  Other memories are flooding back.  An assault of snowballs was still to come, followed by the laughter.

It was time to do this.

I willed my presence ahead and caught up to my younger self.  My face was red.  I was burying as much of it as I could into my coat.  I could see the glistening in my own eyes.  I was utterly alone.  I had a few friends but they were walking in groups with other kids that didn’t like me.  But I wasn’t really alone this time.

It felt weird talking to myself.  I put the strangeness aside and spoke.

“Kid,” I started and stumbled.

“I know you can’t hear me.  I can’t hear me.  This is weird.  Let me start over.  Kid, I know what you are going through now feels like an unending series of hellish bad dreams.  I know it because I lived it.  I survived it.  Those kids that have power over you today — power over your fear — won’t be around forever.  You only have to hold out a little longer.  Just a few more months.  And there are good things to look forward to in those months too.  It’s not all doom and gloom.”

“Trust me on this.  You are just at the horizon of experiences that will change your life.  When that happens these kids will be in the past, forever.  They will have no power over you anymore.  They will have no more influence on your life than a bent and creased photograph.  I didn’t realize it before, but seeing you now, you are already on your way.”

“You climbed Agony Hill.  You were breathless by the time you were over the top but you made it.  And guess what?  Your legs and lungs will be stronger tomorrow because of it.”

“This whole time, with all these kids, you’ve been preparing yourself for the better years.  And you are going to cherish and savour every last moment of them.  You are going to use all of this, the good and the bad, to light a fire.  Everything about this time and this place is going to drive you to be an individual.  And that individual is the guy next to you right now.”

I paused my monologue and observed something peculiar.  I saw something flicker on my younger self’s face.  It was like he could hear me.  He shouldn’t be able to.  It turns out, nature is always two steps of humanity.  There is no such thing as a time travel paradox.  Nature wouldn’t allow it.  All I could do was see and feel the past, but I couldn’t interact with it.  The laws of reality are quite firm on this matter.  Yet I could swear I saw my past self react to my own words.  Impossible.

Yet the younger me appeared more relaxed in posture.  I wouldn’t go so far as to use the word “confident”, but there was a visible shift in that direction.

Impossible!  Carry on.

I continued.  “Stay you.  You are going discover some amazing new music, meet people that inspire you to create, and these…”  I trailed off.  No need to encourage my younger self to swear more.  “These little jerks are going to be nothing more than ghosts in your past real soon.  But what they have done by mocking you and belittling your individuality is that they have made you more determined.  Instead of trying to be more like them, you are going to keep pushing to be more like you.”

I had to pause again.  After all, I don’t want to lie to myself.

“It’s not all a bed of roses.  I don’t want to mislead you.  What these kids did to you is going to last and it’s going to take work and time to process it.  Sometimes memories will sneak up on you.  But I’m OK.  I can honestly say that I am OK.  Being an individual makes me happy.  It means people really like me, for being me, not for someone I’m pretending to be.   And guess what?  Tables always turn.  One day, the things you have always loved your whole life are going to be considered cool.  And you are going to be the expert.”

Suddenly my younger self smiled.  I could not believe it.  Coincidence?  I immediately felt the need to cut my visit shorter than I planned.  What if the science had an unseen loophole?  Science always has a way of surprising us.  I didn’t want to change the past, or even take the risk.  Let the theorists argue about it.  I had to go.

“See you round, kid.”  I gently kissed myself on the forehead.  It didn’t seem a weird thing to do.  But I had to go now or I’d never leave.

In a blink I was back in my chair.  I felt the warmth of my tears on my cheeks.  I had to wipe my eyes to set the date back to the present.  Seatbelt on, I pulled the lever.  I saw the stars, and again I heard the music.  Drums now, stuttering through time.

I was so frightened,
I almost ran away.
I didn’t know that I could do,
Anything I needed to.

They said I didn’t stand a chance,
I wouldn’t win no way.
But I’ve got news for you,
There’s nothing I can’t do.

I believe in me.

They say that time travel can be a bit unnerving.  That’s why most people don’t do it.   They try it once, and most folks leave it at that.  Me, I need to recover after this trip.  Home again, my tired eyes closed as I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.


CODA

February 18, 1986.  Mount Mary, Ontario Canada.

I can’t sleep.  All I can think about it is that voice I heard today on Agony Hill.  This place is weird.  The shadows on the walls are strange and creepy and these beds feel like army beds.  But what’s keeping me up is that voice.  I’ve never heard a voice like that before.  Was it a ghost?  Is this place haunted?

I’m drifting off, but I hear music:  the music in my head that I memorized before they bussed us off to this awful place.  The beat is still fresh in my head and the words echo into my sleep.  I feel OK.  I feel like I’m going to be OK.

I believe in me.
I believe in rock and roll.
Yes I believe in me.

 


#833: Flag Boy (Part Two of the 1986 Saga)

STOPARRETPotentially triggering material ahead.

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Flag Boy

Part Two of the 1986 Saga

One of the many recurring themes here has been the awful experiences of being a metalhead in Catholic school.  A story that has somehow escaped being told until now is the one where those bastard kids gave me the name “Fag Boy” for a whole school year.

Grade 8, the 1985-86 year, had to be the worst.  It was kicked off by a huge fight with the school bully Steve Hartman, a total piece of shit, but at least I won.  Not that it helped.  I was teased relentlessly all year for my love of Kiss and Judas Priest.  Then I had mono.  Incidentally, Catholic school bullies are the worst and the teachers didn’t give a fuck.  When one kid, Ian Johnson, got into a fight with another bully, the teachers made them walk around the schoolyard together hand in hand.  What was that supposed to do?

The only thing that made life easier that year was beating Hartman in September of ’85.  That kept him off my back for the school year, although there were other bullies waiting in the wings.  Jeff Brooks, who stuffed snow down my jacket every Thursday after shop class.  Kevin Kirby, who copied my homework.  Towards the end even Hartman was campaigning for a “rematch”.

My sister used to call that school the “Hell Hole”.  She would sing Spinal Tap’s “Hell Hole” when we drove by.  This is a little kid in grade 4 calling her school that name.

At the start of the eighth grade, to learn social responsibility, we all had to volunteer for something.  There were a limited selection of slots for each role we were offered.  I cannot remember all of the duties that were set out on our menu of options.  Volunteering at the church was definitely among them, but I volunteered for the one I thought would be the most interesting:  security!  On a regular basis, we were to walk around the school when it was closed to make sure all was well.  Keep an eye out for anything wrong, like vandalism.  It was perfect because I was always biking around that direction anyway.  It was really the most appealing of all the options to me.

I’m sure you have already guessed they didn’t give me the security assignment.  No, I was given something that was supposed to be better, but was actually far worse.  It was such a dubious honour.  I was Flag Boy.

I wasn’t athletic, I was a skinny kid who openly listened to Judas Priest.  No way were they putting me on security.  They gave the two open positions to a couple of the athletic kids.  I don’t think either of them did any security that year.

As Flag Boy, I was responsible for putting out and bringing in the Maple Leaf at the start and end of every day for the year. It was worst at the start of the day.  When announcements were about to commence, I had to get out of my seat and leave the class, which always seemed to amuse them.  Then I had to walk down the hallway past the other grade 8 classroom, who always mocked and laughed and pointed at me as I went.  They called me “Fag Boy” from day one.  What made it even worse were my boots.  My dad gave them to me.  I thought they were so cool.  They didn’t have laces, they had dual zippers.  The boots only made me more a “Fag Boy”.

When the first pair of boots wore out, my dad gave me his second identical backup pair.  Ironically those boots would be considered so retro and stylish today.

The abuse that year was pretty bad and I faked sick a lot.  I faked sick mostly on Thursdays, which was shop class.  They bussed us to another school, St. Joseph, which had a woodworking shop.  The supervision was minimal and the bus rides were all but intolerable.  At one point or another I just decided I couldn’t take it anymore and faked sick as many Thursdays as I could.  By the time I got sick with mono for real, I had several incomplete projects in woodworking.  I was home for the rest of the term, and I never had to worry about those Thursday bus trips again.

Having mono sucked a lot, but Thursdays on the bus were far worse.  I considered it more than a fair trade.

While sick at home for real, I absorbed as many Pepsi Power Hours as I could.  I heard Hear N’ Aid for the first time.  I became addicted to “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top because of that damn music video.  (I guess I learned from an early age that I’m really a leg man.)  My heavy metal credentials grew by leaps and bounds and I listened to more and more songs:  “Metal on Metal”, “Never Surrender”, “Turbo Lover”, “Rock and Roll Children”.  To this day, I associate those songs with my sick time in 1986.  Especially Dio’s “Rock and Roll Children”.  The surreal music video suited the way I felt physically.  It didn’t look like the real world and I didn’t feel like myself.

My association of heavy metal music with relief from the outside world was cemented that year.  I had always come home to the comfort of a few Kiss tapes.  In 1986, sick with mono, I was safe from the school and surrounded not by bullies but by Ronnie James Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford, and Bruce Dickinson.  They didn’t call me “Fag Boy”, in fact their lyrics encouraged me to dig for strength.  Recovering from my illness, I had built this wall of metal around me.  It would be my armour for life.

I don’t know if those kids remember calling me “Fag Boy”, or if they would admit it.  I know I wouldn’t recognize Hartman if I saw him today.  They used to talk about forgiveness a lot in Catholic school.  You can forgive, but you never forget.

 

#833: Juice Tin Saw Blades (Part One of the 1986 Saga)

GETTING MORE TALE #833: Juice Tin Saw Blades

Part One of the 1986 Saga

It was Bob Schipper that discovered if you cut out the top of a juice tin, and then continue to cut teeth into it, you could make yourself a replica saw blade wrist band like the ones wielded by Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P.  Bob was always the one inventing things.  He was the most creative of us.  He was usually the instigator.

We had to improvise with our rock n’ roll accessories.  Neither of us had the resources or the parental approval to make or wear leather studded wristbands.  You could buy studs at the local mall rock shop (there were rock shops opening up everywhere) but instead of trying to do that, we made our own out of the same juice tins.  Before too long we had studded wristbands made of black electrical tape backed by cardboard and tin.

What I really wanted to do, but failed to achieve in a realistic looking way, was to make Vince Neil’s arm gauntlet.  He had this wrist piece that appeared to have a crossbow bolt launcher on it.  It looked lethal!  Though I tried, I couldn’t make anything that looked quite like it.

Bob was also working on a jean jacket project, with buttons and a huge back patch of Iron Maiden’s Powerslave.  Buying a back patch was an important component of the jacket.  He had to pick a cool image that meant a lot to him, because it would be his identity, at least from behind!  The only thing people would know about him from behind was that he liked whatever band his back patch was.  The Powerslave choice was perfect.  When Bob eventually outgrew the jacket, he took the back patch off and sewed it to the front of his guitar amp.  That he blunted the sound of the amp wasn’t the issue — looking cool was the point.  At least he got a lot of mileage out of that patch.

Meanwhile we’d drink as much apple juice as we could, to gather more raw materials for our precious projects.  A soup tin, for example, could be carved into the shape of a ninja star.  Scouring our recycling bins for more, we would create our little weapons and throw them at trees, trying to get them to stick.  In the summer of 1985 we had an entire arsenal made of tin.  Each throwing star was only good for one or two throws before they were blunted and deformed.  Bob got the idea to buy throwing knives instead…improvised throwing knives.

We went to the Zellers store, bought a set of the cheapest possible kitchen paring knives, took them home and threw them at trees.  A paring knife would last longer than a soup tin throwing star, but not by much.

Hey, give us some credit!  We didn’t steal mom’s knives and wreck them.  We bought our own!

It was an innocent time, but we’d heard that the cops would give you a warning if you were downtown wearing spikes.  Not studs, but spikes — the pointy kind.  So we kept to our neighbourhood with the juice tin sawblades and throwing stars.  I can remember one Sunday, riding my bike solo with my juice tin sawblades on.  I ran into a kid I knew who had a good laugh at me.  I never wore them again.  They were pretty haggard.

You can imagine how silly we looked, riding around on our BMX bikes with studded wrist bands that smelled like soup.  Short-haired boys with just a tiny fringe of growth at the back.  “Leave the back long,” we’d tell the barbers though they never did.  “I have to cut off the dead ends,” they’d respond.  And you’d come out of the salon with short hair again.

You know, mom and dad used to give me a hard time about the way I looked, but thinking back they probably had good reason!

 

#789: Run 2 the Hills

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 1:  Run to the Hills!

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #789:  Run 2 the Hills

I still remember the first time I heard Iron Maiden.  I actually remember many childhood listening sessions involving Iron Maiden.  Some were solo, some were in groups.  We could talk as the day is long about how amazing Iron Maiden were in 1985.  Are they actually the greatest heavy metal band of all time?  Sure, but we don’t need to get into that here.

The two albums with the greatest personal impact in the early days were Piece of Mind and Live After Death.  It was those two albums that I owned on vinyl, and therefore had the lyric sheets to examine.  Playing them today enables me to use a sort of spiritual time machine.  I can transport my consciousness into the body of my 12 year old self and feel what it was like listening to Maiden when it was all new to me.

Iron Maiden had a forbidden quality, unspoken but undeniable.  They seemed far, far more dangerous than anything I’d been interested in before.  Styx?  Michael Jackson?  Kids’ stuff.  Iron Maiden had historical lyrics, good for educational value, sure.  For a young Catholic in the mid-80s, they were definitely adult entertainment.  Suddenly, the lyrics I was hearing were dominated by death, something that teachers and parents tried to steer kids away from.  Early Maiden is thick with death, like a metal mortuary.

“Fly to live, do or die.”

“To ashes his grave.”

“If you’re gonna die, die with your boots on.”

“You’ll die as you lived in the flash of the blade.”

“Iron Maiden wants you for dead.”

“For the love of living death.”

“Death in life is your ideal.”

“He killed our tribes, he killed our creed.”

“Fought for the splendor, fought to the death.”

“They dropped down dead, 200 men.”

Heavy stuff.  Adult frowns could be felt through the walls as we listened to our Iron Maiden albums.  At that age, every time I listened to Maiden, or Priest, or Sabbath, a little bit of the Catholic guilt always lurked behind me.  “This is bad stuff,” whispered the voice in my head.  “Not wholesome.  Very dangerous.  You’re playing with fire.”

I spent a lot of time with my best friend Bob pouring over the lyrics.  He didn’t have Live After Death on LP like I did, only cassette, so my lyric sheet was indispensable.  By no measure did we understand all that we were reading, but we picked up enough.  We all knew the legend of Icarus, so “Flight of Icarus” was cut and dried.  We picked up on a lot of it, even if we didn’t understand every line and verse.  It was clear their songs were stories, like mini-movies.  And entertaining they were!  We had actual discussions about this stuff, in between sessions of arguing about which Maiden member was coolest.  (I liked Adrian best.  Nobody picked Dave Murray.  George Balasz used to say that Dave looked like he was always thinking “I got something dirty on my mind”.  The rest of us disagreed.)

I was always mentally prepared for any confrontation with any Catholic teacher who took issue with my choice of listening to Iron Maiden.  I gathered some of their more educational lyrics, like “The Trooper”, which I could dissect on a dime.  It even taught me a new word — “acrid”.  I noted that even in some of the most negative sounding songs, like “Die With Your Boots On”, there was a positive twist.  “The truth of all predictions is always in your hands.”  We didn’t know what “Die With Your Boots On” was really about (Nostradamus); that one really eluded us.  The message that we honed in on was “the future is not set” and nobody is doomed to a particular fate.

One track that I thought the teachers would have objected to the most was “Powerslave”.  Lines like “I’m a god, why can’t I live on?” would be considered blasphemous.  Later on, after learning some Egyptian history in highschool, the lyrics suddenly made complete sense.  The pharoah was considered by his people to be a living god.  That’s it!  Now the lyrics made sense.  The pharoah, in first-person storytelling, approaches death and realizes too late that he will not live forever.  Their faith is a lie.  He fears death, and after succumbing, he feels pity for his successor.  “For he is a man and a god, and he will die too.”  It’s quite a poignant tale when taken apart.  It would make a fantastic short story (as I tuck the idea away for future expansion).

And “Aces High”?  That song was so significant that I wrote an entire chapter about it.  When school finally got around to covering the Battle of Britain in the highschool, I already knew the story.  I knew it because Iron Maiden were the launching point.  My dad took over my World War II education from there.  If I was going to be learning history from long-haired-hooligan music, he was going to make sure I knew the whole story.  They showed the ensemble film Battle of Britain in class, but for me it was a re-run of “movie night with Dad”.

Maiden passed the lyrical integrity test for a 12 year old.  The didn’t sing lovey-dovey nonsense that I couldn’t relate to.  Not all the songs could be brilliant, of course.  Even then, I knew “Quest for Fire” wasn’t good.  “In a time, when dinosaurs walked the Earth…”  What!?  No!  I knew that humans and dinosaurs weren’t contemporary to each other; how come Steve Harris didn’t?  One minor misstep.  Most importantly, Maiden passed the feel test.  The power of the music combined with Bruce Dickinson’s confident, defiant air-raid siren voice.  It stirred a boy’s sense of personal strength.  You could feel it.  The effect was almost like a drug.  Almost, but far more nourishing for the soul.

It doesn’t take much to regain those old feelings.  The right setting and the right Maiden albums are all it takes.  Then I’m running free.  Yeah!

#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!

#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 Animalize Live Uncensored.  I figured, she’d ask what I was listening to, I’d say Kiss Animalize Live Uncensored 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!