Best rock band in Kitchener, best sunsets in the world. Enjoy.
RECORD STORE TALES #919: Robert Grass
During the summer of 1988, we were lucky to have some cottage visits with the Szabo family. They had been friends for years. Robert Szabo is now a successful guitar player/singer/songwriter. Back then he was a neighbour from school, but his younger siblings Steve and Michelle were also good friends. They came to visit us at our cottage, and then we went to go and visit them at their place in Grand Bend. A much busier beach town.
When they came to visit us, we treated them to a backyard barbecue and some fun and amusements. Steven and Michelle came; Rob was busy elsewhere. We busted out the games and, as usual, improvised. We played a drawing game based on the TV show Win, Lose or Draw. You had to draw sketches and people guessed the words you were trying to draw. We used coloured markers and went to town on good ol’ lined paper.
We were having a great time but after a few rounds, people were guessing too easily. I decided to throw a curve ball and pick something to draw that would be harder to guess. A musical artist but an obvious one that people associated with me. I chose “Robert Plant”, because I thought it was a recognizable enough name, but not an obvious pick. Young kids in 1988 were not all familiar with Robert Plant, but some of us were.
Two words. First word!
I drew Steven and Michelle’s family, with Robert as the tallest. They successfully guessed “Robert” as the first word. I hoped this wasn’t too easy.
Second word. I grabbed a green marker and started drawing plants. They were having trouble guessing the second word. Shrubs, weeds, and….
“ROBERT GRASS!” yelled my sister Kathryn, seemingly in victory.
I laughed. “Who the hell is Robert Grass?” I asked.
“I don’t know!” she answered.
A logical answer I suppose since I did draw some grass with my plants. After much laughter and giggling, they eventually got the correct guy, Robert Plant, which made a lot more sense than Robert Grass. And within a year or so, my sister even owned Now and Zen on cassette! That more than made up for her wrong guess.
Can you identify this strange vehicle?
RECORD STORE TALES #917: The Dangerous Walk of Death
Some of my fond childhood places no longer exist. What I would give to see some of those places again, as they were in my memories. Hi-Way Market, the old Record Store at the mall, or my grandpa’s old place in Guelph. Scant photos exist today.
I did find a couple of pictures from one old place that is no longer as it was. And that place is called the Dangerous Walk of Death.
One of the fulfilling activities at the cottage was to go for a long walk. If you said “I’m going for a walk,” it could mean you’d be gone for hours. There was so much to explore in just our little subdivision. If we walked to the north, there was a river and sometimes we’d walk along the riverbed and explore it inland. To the south was another river and the Dangerous Walk of Death.
My dad and sister discovered this place. There was a road to the south we called the “K” road. Today it is Kuehner Street. It had developments on both sides and came to an abrupt end after several cottages. It ended at a trail, and that is where our fun began. When we were very young, I used to scared my sister by telling her that “Henry the Hermit” lived in the very woods that our little trail crossed through. (I also convinced my cousin that sharks could swim up through the pipes into the toilets.)
When you entered the trail, you were immediately swallowed by the trees and things got dark quickly. It was a narrow space but you never passed anyone else. You had to walk single file. It seemed to be our place and our place alone.
If you traced this trail all the way to the end, there was a clearing where an old abandoned cottage once burned down. Then, the river that my dad dubbed “Dead Man’s River”. He called it that for good reason. Snapping turtles were known to make their home there. We were careful not to step in the waters of Dead Man’s River.
Today there is a quaint little walking bridge that takes you over to the next subdivision. In our day, it was only possible to cross when the riverbed was dry. But crossing was not the way to the Dangerous Walk of Death. To embark on that journey, one had to follow the river inland.
Once again, my dad and sister found the inland path. It had obviously been purposely cleared by someone many years ago. It ran parallel to the river, through the deep forest. Dad used to tell us that many of these trails were original indigenous hunting grounds. He was probably right. Artefacts were found by an archaeological team several years ago that proved the original inhabitants used to fish there. We were acutely aware that we were on very old land when we went on our walks. The wilderness had probably not changed that much and it was easy to imagine stepping back in time and bumping into a tribe of fishermen and hunters. They would have had a different name for this place.
Inland we walked, through different kinds of terrain. There was one area we called “stump land”. You had to watch your step, and walking there at night was foolish. Many times did one of us trip in our journey through stump land.
In the middle of stump land was a very small clearing with a large rock in the middle of it. Sitting Rock. This was our stopping point. It was quite scenic. The sun would dance through the trees making spectacular patterns of light on the ground. Fortunately I have a picture of this very place as it was in the mid-90s. An ex-girlfriend and I made a trip to the lake in August 1995 and took this picture. A much skinnier me is seated upon the rock. My Jann Arden “Insensitive” hat, a free promo from the Record Store, sits on my melon. And there I am on my mossy seat. I used to think this would be a cool spot to film a music video — me on acoustic guitar. Once, I sketched a picture of how cool I’d look playing acoustic guitar on top of Sitting Rock, me and my mullet and a guitar I couldn’t play. In the real photo, to my right you can see the trail behind. But this was not the place to turn back. Greater challenges and better views were ahead.
Following the trail further inland, you would reach a spot that appeared to be the end of the line. However if you pushed through the overgrown branches, you would find a sparsely wooded area that went steeply uphill. Watch your step that you don’t go over the Cliffs of Insanity.
This was the end of our odyssey. Here the trees cleared again and you could look down upon the river below. I do not have a picture of the view from here, but I do have a picture of us crouching at the edge of the cliff. The only hint of the chasm beneath are the trees behind us. You can tell from the distance and height of these trees that there must be a large gorge behind.
Here we usually turned back. In younger and more adventurous years we kept venturing inland through the woods until we finally hit the main road. Then we would walk back home. But that way was far longer and stank of anticlimax. Our pilgrimage’s natural end was at the cliffs and I’m glad I at least have a partial photographic document of this walk.
If Sitting Rock is still there, then it is inaccessible and on private land. These photos could be the only ones that exist of our old stomping grounds. And before us, the ones that lived off this land.
RECORD STORE TALES #910: Fox on the Run
There’s a wily fox that’s been prowling the grounds up at the lake. This weekend I caught my first real sight of him. I saw him twice in one day. He has no fear of humans. He is usually carrying prey in his mouth. I’ve named him Reddy, after Reddy Fox from the classic children’s cartoon The Green Forest.
The first time I saw the fox, I was on the front porch rocking away as I often do. The porch did a lot of rocking this weekend. The star of the show was the new album by Adrian Smith and Richie Kotzen. The debut Smith/Kotzen CD is turning into an early summer favourite. In particular, the song “Running” is quite incredible. I didn’t know how well the two very different singer/guitarists would mesh. Like cream and coffee. Glowing review to come.
Styx, Kiss, Queen, Ace Frehley, Rush, and Marillion all saw a lot of porch action this weekend. I was playing one of them when the fox ran past again, this time up close and personal. I saw a flash of red and then the movement. He was swift. He moved with the steady determination of a wild animal completely disinterested in its surroundings. He was within six feet me of when he strode past. It made a hacking sound. It did not care that I was there, nor anyone else that he galloped past on his way to wherever he was going.
On neither appearance did I have any chance of grabbing a picture. There was no way. It happened in two seconds. There only chance would have been if he walked past during the rare instances I was running my lake cam. But he never did. I know I’ll see him again. His blatant disregard for humans means he’ll be back. He wasn’t phased by the Schnauzers barking at him either. He’s like a Borg, only interested in one thing and that’s where he’s going. So long as you’re not in his way, he’s completely disinterested. He moves swiftly with no hesitation and no pause. It was an interesting thing to feel so completely outside of nature at that moment.
I’ve been coming to this place for almost five decades. I missed a few summers, but a fox is a rare sighting indeed. We’ve had plenty of rabbits, porcupine, skunks, and even a few deer and one bear. Foxes are elusive. Not this guy though.
I doubt I will ever be quick enough to get a picture of that fox, but I will make sure to keep my eyes open for a sighting. At least we know he’s not afraid of the sound of music. I have the new Styx on deck for next weekend. Let’s see what happens.
RECORD STORE TALES #907: Lake Listenin’
These days, I like playing music at the lake that takes me back in time. Maybe that’s the curse of getting older. Everything reminds me of something else. Since that’s the case, I might as well make the most of it. If I’m having a good time at the lake, there is nothing better than music that reminds me of having a good time at the lake.
I set the scene with a very relaxing drive, to the 80s tunes of Kim Mitchell’s self-titled EP, plus Shakin’ Like a Human Being, and The Sport of Kings by Triumph. It was golden.
Instead of diving right into the nostalgia pool right away again upon arrival, I officially started the weekend with some music that is new to me: Coney Hatch and Andy Curran. My current favourite Coney Hatch tunes are “First Time For Everything” from Outa Hand, and “She’s Gone” & “Wrong Side of Town” from Friction. Arriving Thursday night, these tunes, along with Curran’s “No Tattoos”, led our evening on the porch, watching the sun set. Not only did the tunes get us psyched for the weekend, but also next week’s LeBrain Train. Andy is our guest again, so I am preparing once more.
I closed the night studying up for the next day’s episode: the Nigel Tufnel Top Ten Judas Priest albums. This “remastered” episode was an update on one that Harrison and I did on Facebook Live a year ago. I re-watched the episode from the previous year, very much enjoying myself. Harrison and I had a great time the first outing, though the second one surely topped it!
When I’m at the lake, I try to keep the volume to a reasonable level. I like to take a walk to the end of the driveway and down the road and check the levels. A little music at the end of the driveway is OK but I don’t want to hear myself down the road. However, I said “to hell with that” for the rest of the weekend, when the neighbours had a loud party on the Friday night.
“I hope they enjoy ‘Detroit Rock City’ at 6:00 am,” I said.
So that’s how my Saturday began: Destroyer, cranked. Destroyer has never been my favourite Kiss album by a long shot, but for some reason it just clicked with me that morning. The cool breeze coming off the lake, the birds and squirrels bickering over my head; and Kiss Destroyer on the speakers. Things you don’t think would go together, but in my brain, actually do. I would have played Destroyer at the lake as a kid — many times. The difference was, now nobody was telling me to turn it down. Apparently that “if it’s too loud, you’re too old” thing doesn’t apply. As I get older, I love it loud.
After Destroyer came Rock and Roll Over, Dynasty, and the complete audio to the video Exposed. This included all the studio tracks from the music videos, all the live tracks exclusive to the video, and even that little nugget of Paul and Gene harmonizing on “I’ll Be Back” by the Beatles. As a kid, I made something similar on a cassette. I recorded all the live stuff and “I’ll Be Back” from the VHS tape and made an album out of it. I left off the music videos. Today, I ripped all the music from the DVD directly to mp3 and made a double album out of it! I sat there in wonder listening, imagining what my younger self would have thought of such an audio miracle.
That’s a lot of Kiss though; solid Kiss with no other bands breaking the streak. When I did finally need an intermission from Kiss, I chose Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind. I actually bought that album at the lake in the summer of ’85, at an old record store that used to exist on the main street.
As far as volume goes, keep in mind I’m blasting my music on a $24 pair of speakers from Amazon. The guy partying across the street must have had something stronger because I could identify “The Impression That I Get” by the Bosstones easily from my seat on the porch.
“I hope they like Star Wars,” I said as I cued up The Empire Strikes Back on my Disney Plus.
I had another revelation while watching Empire. Objectively, it could be the best Star Wars, but because nostalgia is my thing, I flashed back to 1980. 1981. 1982. 1983. The golden era of Star Wars fandom. For a long time, at that ripe age, we were left with two major cliffhangers. What would happen to the frozen Han Solo, and was Darth Vader lying about being Luke’s father? Hard to believe but we spent years — an eternity of a child’s age, a significant fraction of our lives — not knowing the answers.
We also had to spend this time making up things to do with our Han Solo figures. He was frozen in carbonite at this time. Sometimes I took my Solo figure and froze him in ice in the freezer. We used our imaginations. Empire was such a huge part of our childhood. For me the Empire era ran from age seven to just before age eleven. It was the Star Wars for which I had all the collector’s cards (first series), the soundtrack, the “story of” record, the comic, the novel, colouring books, and just about everything else you could buy. The bedsheets — check. Dixie cups — check. Burger King glasses — also check. We had a good chunk of Kenner figures from that era. We had everything we could possibly get our hands on.
Except the movie itself. That, we could not recreate on a whim. We brought our toys, our comics and our cards to the lake so we could re-imagine the movie. But we could not watch it.
That was a luxury that was not lost on me as I sat on the porch watching the Battle of Hoth. I smiled ear to ear knowing this. Something unimaginable during the actual Empire era. Though, we did indeed see The Empire Strikes Back at the lake. And it wasn’t the special editions. We saw the original, at the drive-in. It was in a double feature with a bicycling movie called Breaking Away, which we slept through. My sister slept through most of Empire, too! She was only three.
I took a break in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back to take a dip in the water. But the Sooners had come.
“Sooners” is how my dad refers to the people who show up to go to the beach for day. I wondered what “Sooners” meant so I looked it up. He must have got it from one of his cowboy movies. Sooner: “a person settling on land in the early West before its official opening to settlement in order to gain the prior claim allowed by law to the first settler after official opening.”
I don’t see how that applies to the beachgoers, but the name stuck.
Anyway there were a bunch of Sooners at the beach. There was Man-Bun and his two girlfriends, and a family of seven who parked their bikes right in front of our place. I know my dad would have had a fit. The bikes were well out of the way, but it’s no fun trying to back your car out of the driveway with any kind of obstruction, so I get it.
The Sooners weren’t as bad as the renters. They had a huge dog — the size of a small pony — that kept going after Jen any time we walked down the path to the beach on our own property. They’d scold the dog but not put him on a leash. I say “him” because his name was clearly Frank. Who names their dog Frank? Seriously.
I don’t know who held the party that night. The salvos of US-grade fireworks began when I was sleeping. Jen says they were still going off at 1 am. I say “US-grade” fireworks because I know the difference. There are the kind you can buy in the convenience stores here, and there are the ones you can’t. This was the stuff you can’t. On and on and on it went. It seemed to be coming from the renters’ place. When I went down to the beach the following morning, their firepit was still smouldering. Late night party fire?
What could I do? I woke up and blasted Aerosmith. I played them while packing the car, on the car system, doors open. I hope you like Toys in the Attic.
Sooners and renters aside, summer has gotten off to a tremendous start. Maybe next time, I’ll play all new albums and make some new memories. It doesn’t particularly matter — the setting is conducive to to anything you want to listen to. And now that I can bring my entire music collection with me in my pocket, I am limited only by my own whims.
I am a lucky guy.
Always happy to showcase tunes for Max the Axe, local heavy metal hero and legend!
Here’s another video of cottage memories to help keep us warm during the winter. A little dark, a little stormy, but a lovely if short fall weekend. Headphones recommended. I didn’t take a lot of pictures this time, so only a short song was necessary – “Blood Runs Red” from Million Dollar Threats.
GETTING MORE TALE #859: Big Water
When I was really small, just a toddler, I can remember having a couple names for this place: “Big Water” and “Lake Water Stones”. 48 years ago was my first summer at Lake Water Stones, better known as Lake Huron. Lorne Beach is the exact location. These patches of land have been in my family for many decades. The original cottage that Grampa Winter owned is still there, now occupied by Dr. Kathryn. A lot has changed but not our family’s long roots in that dark sandy soil.
There were several times in my younger years when I didn’t want to be there. In those foolish years I’d rather be here near the telephone line and creature comforts. I can remember in the mid 80s at the cottage, my dad had to drive into town to make a phone call. I had to tape all my precious wrestling matches at home and pray that they recorded.
Perspective changes and so does technology. Now there’s no place I’d rather be than Lake Water Stones.
2018 changed everything for us. That was the year Jen’s mom died. Almost like the year without a summer. We spent the whole season in hospital rooms and corridors, and hotels in Toronto. After she passed we spent the whole fall cleaning out her house. When we finally got back to the lake in spring 2019, we had learned to cherish and savour it more.
As if we needed a reminder how uncertain life can be, 2020 gave us a whole new perspective. “Essential travel only.” No road trips to cottage country. They were wary of outsiders stealing their toilet paper, or spreading disease from the city. As time wore on, we questioned whether we would be able to go at all.
I kept a positive attitude and I made the most of our time stuck at home. I took advantage of my little patio, listening to tunes out there and doing several live streams in the fresh air. Better than nothing. A small patch of outdoors sure beats staying in all the time. A little bit of blowing wind feels good on the skin.
Ontario was still on shaky ground and not yet in Phase 2 of re-opening when Jen and I finally returned to the lake at the end of May. We missed the long weekend, usually a reliable starting point for a happy summer. Instead we had a cold, dark weekend highlighted by the ominous “Premises Closed” signs posted at the beach entrance points.
I remember walking into the cottage and taking a breath of the woody smelling air. You don’t notice it after 10 minutes, but it’s so strong at first sniff. We were having a quiet weekend, no stops in town and we didn’t even tell anyone besides family that we were going. Only when I tested the internet connection with a live stream was it obvious where we were. Non-essential travel was frowned upon but I looked at this trip as essential to the mental health of two people who were quarantining pretty strictly.
Phase 2 began in early June and at that point we tried to make it up every other weekend, working around my parents’ schedule. We wanted to maintain some distancing. I had some goals I wanted to accomplish this summer. Tossing out the planned accomplishments for Summer 2020, the new goals were attainable in an altered season.
- I wanted to live stream outdoors from the lake — and we did this many times.
- I wanted to eat steak every weekend we were there — and we did.
- Swim as much as weather permitted — we did.
- Mental health being the theme of 2020, I wanted to have a virtual counselling appointment from the porch. I did two. The setting was incredible.
- Create as much photo and video content as I could to remember the place by in the winter. Mission accomplished.
Setting realistic goals helped me make the most of this summer. I feel more prepared for the fall. And I’m really looking forward to 2021, when I might be able to add some more goals to the list. (Still hoping to cook a wagyu steak on my own grill.)
Here’s gratitude for a great 2020 season regardless of the obstacles. Hoping for better next year.
GETTING MORE TALE #857: Obsessed With Rock
As this summer flies by, I’m reminded of seasons past. My dad always took the same vacations in the summer: one week in July and two in August. That means we’d be up at the cottage for that time, and I wanted to be well stocked with music. Meaning, I had to bring all my music. All my cassettes, all my vinyl. Everything.
It was a process, to say the least. All my tape cases had to be wedged between seats of the car, and I had “a few” tape cases. Then I took apart my jury-rigged stereo setup and carefully prepared it for transportation. I taped down the tone arm on the turntable so it wouldn’t fly about. I packed up all my wires, head cleaners, and record brushes. My ghetto blaster and record player were loaded onto a seat in the car, with my dad’s old 8-track deck/receiver at the bottom. I was using it as a pre-amp for the turntable, and it worked after a fashion.
My treasured Kiss cassettes were not in a case. They occupied a shelf in my bedroom, with two custom ceramic Kiss bookends. I placed the bookends and tapes into a plastic grocery bag for transport. Upon arrival at the lake, I set them all up on another shelf, always in chronological order. It’s funny to think that I didn’t get an obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis until I was in my 40s. I was pretty clearly already there in my early teens.
Once I got everything hooked up again at the cottage (stealing extension cords from other rooms), I’d begin blasting the rock. With OCD firmly in control, I first had to finish listening to whatever tape was in my Walkman during the car trip. Only then would I choose what I would be listening to that night.
It’s all very clearly obsessive behaviour, but I guess people were not as aware of various mental health issues back then in the 80s.
Then and now, I loved listening to music at the lake. I liked to blast it, which sometimes earned a noise complaint from the parents. They were pretty good about it though. They indulged my musical obsession though never quite understanding it. I only had one true love and it was rock and roll.
Something else I enjoyed very much was buying new music while on summer vacation at the lake. There were not many stores that carried anything good. Don’s Hi-Fi, and Stedman’s were all that was available when I was really young. They sure didn’t have much. Still, listening to Priest…Live! when it was brand new, and breaking the seal at the lake was special. It’s hard to articulate exactly what was special about it. Your normal listening space is a familiar place. Most things you hear, you first played in your own home. When you get to experience an album on less familiar territory for the first few times, it develops a different flavour. It’s not something you can hear, it’s just something you can feel. I guess that’s why I always see myself playing darts in the back yard at the lake every time I hear Priest…Live!
Perhaps that is a feeling only a music obsessive gets.
When we returned from vacation, it felt like I would be welcoming my new albums into their new home. This is where you live now, Priest. This is where I am going to be experiencing you from now on.
I never claimed to be normal. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve often boasted of not just “liking” music, but actually “loving” it deeply. Maybe the only thing I’m actually boasting about is mental illness!
Whatever. These are all good memories. Although I speak fondly of it today, as a kid I would have chosen to stay home if I was old enough. I missed being away from my friends, my rock magazines, my Pepsi Power Hour and all that stuff. I missed talking about and listening to music with my best friend Bob. Truth told, by packing up all music with me and hauling it up to the lake, I was trying to retain one aspect of being at home, which is my music collection. Today the obsession remains, but I can do the same job with a laptop. Crazy! I never would have imagined that as a kid.
There are worse things to be hooked on other than rock and roll. If it makes you feel so good, can it be so bad?
Self explanatory. Music by MAX THE AXE: “Livin’ the Country” and “More” from Overload.