Covid-19

#859: Big Water

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.

#851: Freestylin’ 8 – Back to the Future

GETTING MORE TALE #851: Freestylin’ 8 – Back to the Future

“May you have interesting times.”  Have you heard that saying before?  They call it the “Chinese curse” but there’s no evidence it originated in China.  There is little doubt that today we are living in interesting times.  Historic times, too.  The days we are living through now are the days that your children and grandchildren will be studying in school.  Remember asking your grandparents what World War II was like?  Kids one day will be asking you about the great pandemic of 2020-2021.

In recent days we’ve seen some worthwhile attempts to get “back to normal”, specifically with entertainment.  Concerts are a thing again, albeit most of them are different from the ones we remember.  Drive-in concerts could help get us through this period.  Live-streamed concerts have also started.  Bands have used the downtime to jam, write, and record.  It is reported that the Scorpions and the Cult are back in the studio working on new albums.

The landscape has also been devastated.  Venues are closing at a blurry pace, with Rhapsody Barrel Bar being the latest local casualty in a dizzying series.  When this is all over, I believe we will see demand for sports events, movies and concerts as if Covid never happened.  In the meantime, people have to put food on their tables.  There are no easy answers.

I’ll tell you one thing, though:  I’m glad for once that I’m not a parent.  I have enough to deal with.  Talking to my folks the other night, my mom said “I don’t think I would have sent you back to school if this pandemic happened when you were kids.”  I don’t think I would have wanted to go back.  Right now all I can do is cross my fingers, say a prayer and hope that the kids going back now will be safe.  In Canada, we just don’t know yet.  We’ll be finding out soon enough.

It’s true that I have a lot on my plate.  I don’t need to get into the work details — you all have problems, too.  But here we are in late August and I haven’t missed a day (except for scheduled vacations of course).  There were many times I didn’t think I could finish a whole day, but I did it.  But the hard times are relentless.  On August 14, Jen lost her grandfather, a proud Air Force veteran with the wisdom of a sage.  Yet another loss for poor Jen, who nevertheless keeps on getting up and going at it every single day.  This in the same year I lost my Uncle Don.  It’s been hard on our family.  My grandmother turned 96 and is just aching to get out of the house.  She still lives in her own home but can’t go anywhere except out onto the driveway, due to the dangers of Covid when combined with her age.

I’ve talked about this a number of times already, but my 2020 was stressful well before Covid hit our shores and I decided to get some help.  According to my records my first counselling session was February 7.  I’m very lucky that I had good support already setup when lockdown began a little over a month later!  All of this coincided with deep desire to delve back into childhood memories, and music.  I’ve been focused on music I used to enjoy in my teens.  Kiss has dominated.  Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Europe, Frehley’s Comet.  Stuff from happy summers of the past.

It’s incredible how, in the correct mindset, these albums have created aural time travel for me.  I don’t even have to close my eyes, but all the feelings and images and words from that time come back to me like pictures on a screen.  When I listen to The Final Countdown, all I can think of is spring, 1987.  With Frehley’s Comet, suddenly it’s July.  The last time I played Frehley’s Comet, I was at the cottage.  I yelled over to my sister (she’s two lots over to the left), “Hey!  I’m playing the album you gave me for my birthday in 1987.  What is it?”  Without hesitation she yelled back, “Frehley’s Comet!”  She remembered!  That’s pretty cool.

You know what?  These have been interesting times.  I’ve been on my own personal journey, and it probably wouldn’t have taken the same path if it wasn’t for Covid.  As shitty as 2020 has been (and make no mistake, this has been a shit show of a year) I cannot deny that it came with some personal good.  The only thing better than discovering new music for the first time is rediscovering it with fresh eyes, ears and soul.  Take it in anew.  Relive the experience and rejuvenate.

#846: The United Federation of Planets

GETTING MORE TALE #846: The United Federation of Planets

I used to be an optimist.  In my younger, more impressionable 20s, I felt like humankind had the universe by the balls.  The things we could achieve when united were remarkable but only the tip of what we could do collectively.  Where did I think we’d be by 2020?

Not here, that’s for damn sure!  I didn’t think we’d have the flying car, or free energy.  I thought we’d be on a better road than this.

At that younger age, I immersed myself seriously in science fiction.  Clarke in particular, but Roddenberry was also crucial to my mindset.  The optimistic future of Star Trek was the one I chose to believe in.  Gene Roddenberry was not wrong about what humanity could do when united.  I believed unity was our ultimate destiny, as we left behind our tribal pasts and prejudices.  I thought it was inevitable that eventually we would have something like the United Federation of Planets.  Prosperity through technology and collective wisdom.

It makes me sad and broken to see that we have not made many strides towards Roddenberry’s future, but have taken many steps backwards.  What would Gene think?  While I think he would be delighted to see that technology has leaped faster in some regards than he predicted, he would also be crushed by our continued divisions.

It’s in the news every day.  People are angry.  Some have forgotten the basic manners that their mothers taught them while others are behaving like, frankly, assholes.  Covid has us all stressed, and it has brought some of us together more closely while dividing others even more sharply.  I try to consume as little news as possible but it’s all but unavoidable to see this bullshit.  Even if one only reads music news, it is everywhere.  Ratt and Bobby Blotzer’s son feuding with Sebastian Bach and Dee Snider over the wearing of masks during this pandemic.  This cultural tension has pervaded every aspect of society.  At least you can buy some sweet Kiss-branded masks now.  Yet the amount of hate in the air over this issue is actually quite scary.

Incidentally as a side note, as our economy continues to be devastated by this disease, every brand in the world should start making masks.  Metallica, Maple Leafs, Kiss, Kellogg’s Froot Loops.  People are going to buy them and it’s time to strike while the iron is hot.  Only by adapting to this pandemic are we going to save businesses.  But back to where we were.

I used to believe good would always triumph over evil.  That is what all my favourite stories taught me.  Good is stronger.  Show humanity some adversity and we will unite and overcome.

Roddenberry did predict we’d need a Third World War before we get there.  I hope he was wrong about that too.

Star Trek was popular because people wanted to live in that world.  Star Trek fans exist in every part of the political spectrum.  Millions dreamed of being the helmsman on a starship, and to live in that world.  A world where the Earth knows no war, no poverty and no starvation.  Some of Arthur C. Clarke’s fiction was equally optimistic.  I figured guys as smart as Clarke, who conceived the communication satellite, were smart enough that they were probably right about the future.  Yet here we are, stuck in the mire like it’s still the 1950s.

Of course it’s not too late.  We can still turn around and say “I don’t care if you are this or that, and believe in A, B or C.”  We’re going to have to.  Why can’t everybody see this?  Humanity has no hope of survival if we can’t rise above our tribal differences.

 

#844: Happy Birthday in the Age of Covid

GETTING MORE TALE #844: Happy Birthday in the Age of Covid

 

All I wanted for my birthday was one more weekend at the lake.  During the time of Covid, that’s never been a certainty.

My parents are not young anymore (although my mom would probably fool you).  I have a 96 year old grandmother that my mom cares for.  We have to be extra, extra, extra careful about everything.  The Ontario government announced Phase 3 of re-opening last week and so my mom and dad decided that we could try spending some time under one roof together for my birthday.  I got my wish.

Packing my electronics and my Marvel figures, Jen and I headed up to the cottage Thursday night.  Lately, especially this year, I’ve been trying to roadtrip exclusively to music that I would have played there when I was a kid.  Usually that’s Kiss but this weekend I decided to shake it up and play some Europe.  The Final Countdown and Out of this World were both acquired at the cottage the first time when they were new.  Playing them on the way there was really trippy.  This resulted in a future Europe-based story that I look forward to sharing.

The first thing we did was jump in the lake for a swim.  I clocked in nine swims this past weekend.  The footage wasn’t as stunning as last week; the lake was murkier.  Instead of worrying about making videos, I just decided to enjoy it and live in the moment.  (There are plusses to both approaches, but the wavy video from last week can’t be topped.)

We ate steak for almost every meal.  I cooked a slab of blue-rare perfection that became steak & eggs the following morning.  I sat outside and watched Marvel movies all weekend.  The Incredible Hulk, Ant-Man, and Captain America: Civil War.  I cranked the tunes outdoors as well:  Europe again, and classic Kiss.  Dynasty, Unmasked, and Gene’s solo album were all air-guitared live on the deck.

I was still worried about my parents and their comfort.  After seeking advice, I decided to set up sanitising stations at the door and on the deck.  They arrived on Saturday afternoon bearing hot, fresh French fries courtesy of a local stand called the Cheesy Monkey.  Later that afternoon they had a small party with cake.  My sister came over and next door neighbour Paul stopped by.  Everybody was six feet apart and we handled things like snacks and drinks very carefully.  My dad bought me a stick of meat and everybody else got me Marvel figures.  Do they know me or what?  I think our trial run for having everybody together at the cottage worked out pretty well.  This really helps relieve the stress.

Something else interesting happened this weekend.  First, flash your minds back to 2002.  Marillion were pioneering a new kind of live release, a subscription based series of archive recordings called the Front Row Club.  I was a subscriber from beginning to end (2002-2008) and never missed a release.  One of the perks that early subscribers received was an exclusive Front Row Club T-shirt.  I had completely forgotten about it, until my mom handed it back to me this weekend.  Somehow, it had become the property of my late Uncle Don.  I don’t remember giving it to him, and I don’t think he liked Marillion, but my mom found it in his shirts.  Now it’s back in my closet again.  We’ll never know how or why!

We left Sunday afternoon after an exciting rain storm, though not as big as we’ve seen before.  Then we went to go and visit Grandma who only turned 96 a week ago!  The good news is that she looks exactly the same as she did when she was 95.  We had a great visit though she really hopes we can get back to something more normal soon.  Can’t say that I blame her, but it was actually a pretty normal birthday for me.

The cottage is a special place in terms of family history and mental well-being.  It’s a place I’ve always enjoyed showing off and I hope you can get a taste of paradise from the pictures.

Thank you everyone for the birthday wishes!  I haven’t finished responding to every one and I may have missed a few.  It sure could have been a heck of a lot worse.

 

REVIEW: Scorpions – “Sign of Hope” (2020)

SCORPIONS – “Sign of Hope” (2020 single)

The Scorpions, in the midst of writing their next album, are the latest band to release a lockdown single in 2020.  It will come as no surprise that it’s a ballad.  “Sign of Hope” is a reassuring song from the guys who know how to write ballads (and reaaaally know how to paaartaaaaaaay!).  Of course a ballad is appropriate for these sombre times.  “Sign of Hope” sounds like Scorpions circa 1996, the Pure Instinct album.  It’s gentle and peaceful.  For accompaniment, it’s primarily acoustic guitars, with slight electric guitar accents that pop in and out.  It’s actually quite a good ballad, short and to the point.  The sparse arrangement really lets us hear the nuances of guitar, and Klaus Meine’s voice.  It’s well written and memorable enough.

One could ask, “Why do we need another Scorpions ballad?”  Perhaps the simplest answer is because the Scorpions are still around making music.  So why not?  Will they ever top “Still Loving You” or “In Trance”?  It doesn’t matter, because they are in their 55th year and are still creating.

“I see empty places, empty roads,” sings Klaus, and though the streets are fuller now it’s hard to forget the sight of a deserted world.  It also strangely seems like such a long time ago that this all began.  But the Scorpions reassure us that “it’s gonna be alright,” and eventually it will be.  We are getting there.  We are indeed seeing signs of hope, but everybody needs to treat themselves well.  So treat yourself to some music and grab the new Scorpions on iTunes.

3/5 stars

I also really like the single artwork, I think it’s striking and has several layers of meaning.  It’s also nice to see the word CANADA so prominently!

#837: Freestylin’ 7 – Into Best Buy

GETTING MORE TALE #837: Freestylin’ 7 – Into Best Buy

I hadn’t set foot inside a store since March 15.  Three months later on Jun 13, I broke this long streak and went into Best Buy.

We’ve been trying to stick to essential trips, and Mrs. LeBrain was doing the groceries and other essential shopping while I worked.  Ontario entered “Phase 2” of re-opening on June 12 so it felt like a good time to see how shopping had changed.

There was no lineup, but there were clear and nicely marked spaces for you to wait outside.  At the front was a gentleman in a mask.  Even with the mask I recognized him from a previous Best Buy excursion, back before the shit hit the fan.  He asked what I was looking for that day, and I said “laptop speakers”.  He instructed me to follow the arrows on the floor until I got to the computer monitors.  You can still walk around and browse, but they are trying to keep things efficient.

Most customers wore masks but they were not mandatory.  I have chosen to wear a mask in public.  To coin a phrase from our Prime Minister, I don’t want to speak “moistly” on people.  I tend to do that.  Of course as soon as I walked in, a maskless guy was meandering against the arrows talking on his cell phone.  Of course.

Best Buy have this re-opening well in hand.  They were organized, friendly and asked us to use hand sanitizer on our way in.  After a squirt and a quick walk around, I found the exact laptop speakers I was looking for.  $27.  Cheap and simple.   Looked around a bit more, and headed for the cash registers.  No line there either.  Mission accomplished with no fuss and no muss.

New speakers in action.  Uncle Meat made fun of my porch music choice.

The Covid world definitely looks different from the pre-Covid world but I think we can deal with this.  It’s going to take patience and a willingness to play ball.  There was a story on the weekend of a man entering a mall in Guelph where masks are mandatory.  When he refused to wear one, he coughed on the mall employee and fled.  This kind of behavior is disgusting.  Retail workers have it bad enough.  I’ve had people throw things at me but never had bodily fluids fired in my direction during a pandemic.  If you think wearing a mask is infringing upon your freedom, then take a stand and don’t shop at those places.  Vote with your wallet.  Don’t cough or spit, and don’t give a retail workers a hard time.  You’re the asshole if you do.  In the meantime, I will wear my mask.  I wear it to protect you from my flying spittle when I talk.  I’m not afraid.  I care.  You’re welcome.  I don’t care if you think I look stupid or not.

I look stupid on my best days anyway.

After Best Buy, we took a drive.  Streets were busy like a normal Saturday in the summer.  You couldn’t tell anything was amiss from the roads.  Restaurants, not so much.  Meals are permitted on patios.  Places with open patios looked comfortably full to the new Covid standards.  Establishments without had empty parking lots.  Elsewhere, we saw a lineup at the Nike store that went around the building.  Must have had a sale.  I don’t need shoes that badly!

I did need shoes, actually, but then I ordered some online.  It was actually better than shopping in store.  No picking through boxes looking for my size in a style I liked.  I simply clicked the shoes I wanted, clicked the colour, and picked my size.  They fit perfectly when they arrived a few days later.  Most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned, actually.  I could get used to this.  In fact, why should I buy shoes in a store again when there is a better selection online?  I hate shopping for shoes!

Yes, the world has changed.  It will continue to change, and our old world is gone.  Look at music.  Doro Pesch played a concert to a drive-in audience, and it looked cool.  Artists are constantly live streaming chats and performances now.  We adapt.  Some restaurants, businesses and rock bands will not survive.  The economy is still being ravaged.  Most bands will not return to the concert stage until 2021.

In the meantime, people are hungry for entertainment.  Bands and record labels would be wise to release stuff from the vaults during this time.  Unreleased live recordings?  Put ‘em out.  B-sides and outtakes?  Release them.  There has never been a better time for a band to put out of a box set of rarities.  Record stores are opening and need the business.

Unless our collective mistakes cause another surge and another lockdown, I am optimistic.  We have made it through three months of this.  While in some respects we are looking at a lost summer ahead of us, I think we still have a lot to look forward to.

Doro

 

 

 

REVIEW: Queen + Adam Lambert – “You Are the Champions” (2020)

QUEEN + ADAM LAMBERT – “You Are the Champions” (2020 iTunes)

Queen were one of the earlier groups out of the gate with new “lockdown” recordings.  From their homes they re-recorded “We Are the Champions”, dedicated to frontline workers, with Adam Lambert to raise money for the World Health Organisation’s “Solidarity Response Fund”.  Whatever the cause may be, we are here to review the music.

The idea here is that Queen are not the champions this time — we are!  Together we have locked down and sacrificed, and we are doing it for each other.  The lyrics don’t really fit but we know what Queen meant.  Lambert doesn’t actually change the words to “You are the champions” until the halfway point.

This track is the familiar Queen arrangement, though shortened by a verse.  Adam Lambert is a fine singer, as he proves in the outro.  Queen didn’t go with the big layered vocals here; perhaps you need a recording studio to do that.  Instead Lambert’s voice takes the spotlight by itself.  Even the instrumentation is sparse — no solos, and only a couple Brian May guitar noodles to savour.

There’s a striking music video with stark footage of empty streets.  I like that Lambert did his hair and makeup to the nines while the other two look casual.  Let’s join Queen and Adam in thanking our frontline healthcare workers — and thank you Queen for recording again.  How about a new album next time?

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – “Don’t Give Up” (2020 iTunes)

ALICE COOPER – “Don’t Give Up” (2020 iTunes)

Thank God for Alice Cooper! 50 years ago, he was considered by the mainstream to be nothing more than an untalented shock rocker. In 2020, he is inspiring people to keep on keepin’ on. He’s got a powerful message for anyone who needs to hear it.

“Don’t Give Up” is the most direct, the most topical and the least “Alice” song that the Coop has ever done. Why the “least” Alice? Because this time he is not playing a character. He’s not telling some horrifying bedtime story. Or is he? “Don’t Give Up” is about Coronavirus and blatantly so.

“Yeah, I know you’re struggling right now. We all are, in different ways. It’s like a new world that we don’t even know. It’s hard to sleep, even harder to dream. But look, you got seven billion brothers and sisters all in the same boat! So don’t panic. Life has a way of surviving and going on and on. We’re not fragile and we sure don’t break easy.”

This single was recorded in home studios.  It’s accompanied by a cool video expertly produced by Canuck Frank Gryner, using footage sent in by fans.  It is so rare for Alice to really make a statement that pertains to current events.  And it is a very specific song; there are no underlying stories or metaphors to untangle.  But when you think about Coop, it’s not really surprising that he came out of the gates so fast with a song like this.  Alice Cooper is a human being that cares about other human beings.  The message is simple:  keep fighting and don’t give up.  Sometimes people need to actually hear the words.

Musically you could call “Don’t Give Up” a power ballad.  It has a very 80’s guitar figure, with Alice speaking his message over it.  The chorus is more modern, with Alice singing as plaintively as he can.  “Don’t Give Up” is unremarkable as a rock ballad, but as a lyrical accomplishment, Alice has forged new ground 50 years on.  He has written some remarkably powerful words.

“Our enemy is a cold, indiscriminate monster.  It doesn’t care if you’re old or a newborn.  It exists to kill.  You and I are nothing to it.  It has no heart or soul or conscience.  Do we fear it? Yeah! Do we cower before it? Hell no! We’re the blood-n-guts human race. And we win.”

The important thing that Alice says here is that it is alright to be afraid.  Look, Alice has fought demons, and if this scares him then there is no shame in feeling fear.  People are being labelled as cowards for wearing a mask in public.   Alice is right — we will win, and we will do whatever it takes to win.  If you’re scared right now, you tell ’em that Alice Cooper said that’s OK.

3.5/5 stars

 

Sunday Chuckle: How to Protect Yourself & Others With Mask & Gloves

These pamphlets showed up at our work mysteriously one morning.  Somebody else tossed them in the trash as soon as they realized who provided them!

We already know from Tom Cruise that only a Scientologist can help when there’s a car accident.  Perhaps only a Scientologist can prevent Covid-19?

Sunday Chuckle: Sh*tface

Uncle Meat likes to (teasingly) call me “Bum Face” during my live streams.  However the fact is I am now a Shit Face.  Look at this mask that Mrs. LeBrain bought for me.  Typical, eh?  I can’t get no respect!