childhood

#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!

 

Advertisements

#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.