dan slessor

#993: IAM

RECORD STORE TALES #993: IAM

Rest in peace, Shannon Larratt.  Rest in peace, Rachel Larratt.  Both gone now, hopefully to a better place.

In the decades before the WordPress community, there was one place I could go to feel like I belonged.  In 1999, a Toronto native named Shannon Larratt created a community.  He called it “IAM” – “I am” – and it was a place for tattooed and/or pierced individuals to feel welcome.  You might remember Shannon and Rachel from their brief cameo in the Kevin Smith movie Clerks II.  Remember the “freaks”?  That was Shannon and Rachel.

I joined in the year 2000 and began making new friends, close and far.  Sarge was on there.  The Legendary Klopeks were on there.  The Lizardman was on there.  Dan Slessor from Kerrang Magazine, though Kerrang was still in his future.  It was growing, and growing fast.

IAM was different.  Shannon ensured it was not just a safe place, but also a cool place.  You could pay for a membership, or just submit stories and photos for credit.  I did both, but mostly paid, because I wanted to support the community, as did most people.  It’s hard to describe just what made it so special.  It was set as my home page on my browser.  I even had an app in the toolbar that notified me when I had new IAM messages.  I’d open my window and in front of me would be a grid of photos — the most recent IAM profiles that posted updates, in the form of a blog or photos.  It was always exciting to see a friend or girl that I liked post an update!  Or someone who had not been around a while.

There was one character named Raynutz.  He had no visible piercings or tattoos (the one and only qualifier for membership), and his was the very very last profile on the grid (which you could skip through page by page).  This meant it was one of the oldest since his first post was his only post.  All he had was a mullet and a pair of Ray-Bans.  Nobody knew the story behind Raynutz.  I always suspected it was a joke test account made by Shannon, but he would never tell.  Raynutz became pure legend by not interacting with people at all.  Hundreds of messages were sent to his inbox; nobody received a reply.  This eventually led to Shannon selling a “Raynutz Ate My Balls” T-shirt.

Sarge told me he knew the identity of Raynutz, but could never reveal it.

The Raynutz Ate My Balls shirt eventually inspired Sarge to create the popular Purp Ate My Balls shirt, with my face on it.  I went by the name “Purpendicular” after a favourite Deep Purple album.  At one point, I deleted my account after a bad day at work, but I received so many “what happened?” emails that I decided to come back.  I decided on a fresh start with the name “Dewey Finn”, named after Jack Black’s character in School of Rock.  As such, I decided to create a discussion forum called “School of Rock” where each day I would prepare “lessons” for the “class”.  Obscure rock trivia stuff, like listing all the Black Sabbath singers right down to Dave Walker and Rob Halford.  It became so popular that the School of Rock forum was one of the site’s most popular, third only to Shannon’s and my own personal journals!  At least for a couple weeks, I topped the charts!  I learned quickly that keeping up that pace was impossible and eventually I slid down the charts, but usually remained in the top 20.  It was fun and a precursor to becoming LeBrain.

What about that journal?  You guessed it — those journal entries formed the basis of many of the original (and ongoing) Record Store Tales.  Unfortunately I lost many of them when I deleted my Purpendicular profile and started Dewey Finn, and I wish I hadn’t.  I posted reviews, record reviews, and all sorts of personal stuff that I wish I still had.  Incriminating evidence against the people at the Record Store who were making life miserable for me.  Actual records of the days that “the bully” decided not to speak to me for three weeks at a time.  Customer stories galore.  Writings of what I was listening to and when.  I had so much good shit in there!  I posted minimum five times per day, with lists, pictures or stories.  One of my biggest regrets is hitting that delete button.  I remember Shannon wrote some funny code into it.  When you confirmed you wanted to delete your IAM page, the text came back, “Your IAM page is now deleted, throw your computer in the garbage.”

They had big BMEcons in Toronto.  People would come from all around the world.  They’d get tattooed, pierced, suspended, drunk, high, who knows!  I didn’t go, but I do know it was a good time with music and fellowship.

My interaction with Shannon was minimal, and none with Rachel, who continued on with the site after he passed.  Now I have heard that Rachel is gone too.  It seems surreal.  We lost Sarge earlier this year too.  Fortunately most of us are still around.  Mike, Liz, Shoe, and RooRaaah (those are all real names not aliases) are still my friends.  Shoe used to live in England, and now resides in Toronto, but I still have an old mix tape that she sent me from the UK back in 2002 or 2003.  Mix TAPE.

The only elephant remaining in the room might be the question “didja meet any girls there?”  I refer you to Record Store Tales #909:  2000 Dates and the girl I dubbed “Guelph #2”!  There were others — the girl that dumped me while I was in a hotel room in Barrie Ontario was an IAM girl.  The last of them was Thunder Bay Girl, who I swear to this day probably dumped all the hundreds of cassettes that I gave her into the landfill.  I was 30 and she was in her early 20s and I was learning that age did matter.  It was a lot of fun hanging out with these girls with hardware in their nips but I was emotionally in an unhappy place and I eventually realized that dating these young goth girls wasn’t the answer.

Here’s something interesting though.  In those IAM days, I thought that I hadn’t really figured out who I was yet.  But there I was the whole time:  the music-mad journaling guy, documenting the minutia of life.  And the Record Store Tales will continue on.

#811: Ride the Tiger

GETTING MORE TALE #811:  Ride the Tiger
Holy Diver,
You’ve been down too long in the midnight sea,
Oh what’s becoming of me.
Ride the tiger,
You can see his stripes but you know he’s clean,
Oh don’t you see what I mean.

I can’t believe it has been this long.  20 frickin’ years ago I started talking to a metalhead in England named Dan Slessor, from Brighton.  He has since deleted his social media and I’m no longer in touch with him.  Hi Dan!  I hope you are well.  Drop me a line.

I was very happy for him when Dan told me had started writing for Kerrang!  (I still have an issue with one of his articles, and Josh Homme on the cover.)  He had achieved the Dream.  Best of all, he got to interview rock stars for the magazine:  Tom Araya, David Coverdale, Joe Elliott….

And Ronnie James goddamn Dio!

One of Dan’s signature moves was to ask bands a joke question, in hope that they have a sense of humour and it would loosen things up.  It worked with Tom Araya when Dan asked him if Slayer ever killed time on the tour bus by seeing how many pencils they could stuff in their pubes.

I recently dug up an old message from Dan.  It was just after he interviewed Dio.  And folks, I can testify that in May 2008, Dan did ask Dio if he had ever ridden a tiger.

Dan told me that while Ronnie did answer in the negative, “Dio was awesome dude – and judging by his amusement, I think I’m the first person to ever ask him if he’d actually ridden a tiger….”

Ronnie passed away only two years after that interview.  You gotta give Dan credit for that one!  I don’t know anyone else who has asked Dio that question.

Dan, I hope you are doing well and if you stumble upon this, please drop me a line, I’d love to catch up!

 

Part 259: New Release Twos-days

A sequel to Part 97:  New Release Tuesdays.

Part 259:  New Release Twos-days

New releases were almost always Tuesdays.   There are only so many Tuesdays in a year, and many music stars avoid releasing their albums on the same day as a rival’s.  Others like to go head to head, or try to beat other artists to the punch by releasing their albums early.  Record labels plan release strategies around these Tuesdays like generals going to war.  Advertising blitzes are ordered, interview campaigns co-ordinated, and personnel rallied.

Most often, bands didn’t want to compete with rival bands over limited consumer dollars.  On June 14, 2005, the three big releases we stocked that day weren’t fighting over the same customers.  Foo Fighters’ In Your Honor was the album I had been waiting for, but my good buddy Dan Slessor from Kerrang! magazine sent me a UK copy with the bonus track “The Sign” so I was going to keep waiting until  it arrived.  In Your Honor and its single “Best Of You” remain highlights of the Foo œuvre.  I expected steady sales.

On the same day, the Backstreet Boys returned from a lengthy hiatus.  Extending that hiatus was the release date of their comeback CD Never Gone (ha ha) which was pushed back almost a year.  I didn’t expect much mileage out of this album.  Then in the rap section, we had Fat Joe.  All Or Nothing was the name of his album.  Rap was usually a quiet but reliable seller.  Although some rap albums were sluggish and often died quickly, if you ordered in conservative quantities we could usually do well with rap.  You just had to know when to drop the title before people stopped buying it.  This is the kind of argument I would get into with our Head Office people all the time.  Sometimes they were right, sometimes they were wrong and I was right.  However I felt that they often used my well-known love of Heavy Metal music against my arguments, any time I was in favour of dropping a rap or dance title.  “You just want to get rid of it because you don’t like it,” they would say.  There’s just nothing you can say when somebody has that set in their minds already.

Anyway, on this Tuesday I proved to be wrong about first-day sales predictions.  I dug up my journal from that day.  And the winner is…

A tie!

Date: 2005/06/14 17:35

I have sold just as many Backstreet Boys as Foo Fighters today.

But nobody bought Fat Joe.

For the record, I’m also the one who predicted that Nick Carter’s solo album would outsell Justin Timberlake’s.  It really didn’t turn out at all like that!

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier (2010)

Part 43 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

SAM_1865

IRON MAIDEN – The Final Frontier (2010, EMI)

Iron Maiden had a hell of an album to live up to when they recorded The Final Frontier.  2006’s A Matter of Life and Death was a total triumph, a complex driving metal masterpiece.  Witness:  Not one but two 5/5 star reviews here on LeBrain’s Blog alone.

The Final Frontier begins daringly, with an incredible piece of music unlike anything Maiden have ever attempted before.  The rhythmic intro “Satellite 15…” begins sounding like an improvised piece, but knowing Steve Harris and Adrian Smith who wrote it, it was anything but.  It has a looseness that sounds like improvisation, but then Nicko’s persistent drum patterns ground it.  Bruce’s plaintive vocals speak of “drifting way off course now” and trying to contact Earth, without success.    The piece is loaded with tension, which is released only as it breaks into the first actual song, “The Final Frontier”.

Continuing the lyrical theme, Steve writes of drifting through space, alone, unable to bid his family farewell.  Musically this is anthemic Maiden as Steve and Adrian have been known to write before, with a catchy riff and chorus.  Some of the guitar work is reminiscent of 1986’s Somewhere In Time.  I find it daring to team such a catchy metal tune with an abstract intro like “Satellite 15…”

Without letting up for a second, the lead single “El Dorado” gallops through the speakers.  And yes, it’s an actual vintage Maiden galloping start!  Written by the triumvirate of Steve, Adrian, and Bruce (who have written so many classics in the past), “El Dorado” careens through multiple sections all tied together by the effortless playing of the band.  Adrian’s catchy yet exotic solo is a highlight.  It’s not an obvious single at almost 7 minutes long, but this length is necessary to contain all the different riffs and sections.  None of them are extraneous; every bit of this song is as good as the last, although it sounds like Bruce is reaching for notes too high on the chorus.

SAM_1872

The heaviness lets up briefly for the start of “Mother of Mercy”, a brief but epic sounding track that could have fit happily on the Brave New World CD.  Yet it’s even more riff laden than anything on that album, continuing The Final Frontier‘s tendency to cram awesome guitar after awesome guitar into one song.  It’s a mere five minutes long, written again by Steve and Adrian, with another catchy chorus delivered with power by Bruce.  A song like this proves that Maiden can be brief yet still cram all of their power and talent into a catchy five minute number.  The lyrics question the deadly combination of war and religion.

How much more epic can you get?  None more epic than the chorus of “Coming Home”.  A Smith/Dickinson/Harris epic, the lyrics reflect Bruce’s love of aviation within one of the best choruses they’ve ever written.  By any other band this might be considered a “power ballad”, but at no point in its six minute length do I really consider it as such.  This is surely one of the best songs on The Final Frontier.  There’s even a bluesy guitar solo (probably Davey) to fit the melancholy mood of the song.

“The Alchemist” is the shortest song on the album, but the first that is a traditional fast Maiden scorcher.  It has a solid Janick Gers riff (who co-wrote it with Bruce and Steve) and Bruce spits out the quick verses.  Janick’s solo is his typical manic style, but as a song, this is the weakest on the album thus far.  It’s not as memorable or impactful as the four previous, but a fast one is required to balance out the more progressive material elsewhere.

And speaking of more progressive material, “Isle of Avalon”, written by Steve and Adrian, takes us back into that territory.  Nine minutes long, it is very different lyrically from anything Steve’s done before:  Celtic legends and mythology and all that.  And of course, it has multiple riffs, time changes and melodies to keep the listening entranced through the whole length.  It’s an effortless listen despite its complexity, simply because it’s loaded with great guitar parts.

One of my favourite tunes is next:  “Starblind”.  It’s another Bruce/Steve/Adrian masterpiece, and not too brief at almost eight minutes long.  It starts slow, but the main riff kicks in at 50 seconds. Be prepared to be pummeled!  Bruce delivers an epic chorus, while the lyrics seem to be another condemnation of corrupt religious figures (a traditional Maiden topic).  Nicko’s drum patterns are anything but simple; this is one more progressive Maiden masterpiece.

SAM_1867

The heaviness of “Starblind” is replaced by the acoustic intro of “The Talisman”.  Yet another eight minute epic track, “The Talisman” was written by Steve and Janick.  2 1/2 minutes in, you’re assaulted with the next in what seems like an endless stream of  incredible Maiden riffs.  Bruce wails away of a treacherous ocean journey.   Steve has written some of his catchiest melodies yet, with plenty of twists and turns.  Yet another classic.

“The Man Who Would Be King” also starts slow, before moving into a classic sounding Maiden guitar harmony riff.  This one was written by Steve and Dave Murray.  Again, it’s not brief:  Over eight minutes of riffs, melodies and changes.  Lyrically, it doesn’t seem to have any great connection to the book or movie, The Man Who Would Be King.  Musically, it’s another complex amalgam of amazing parts acting as a whole.  Songs like these, there is no way to fully appreciate them after just one listen.  Even now I’m finding new appreciation for “The Man Who Would Be King”.  It has some sections that sound more “vintage” Maiden than anything else on The Final Frontier, but they’re over in a blink and onto the next section!  This is a hell of a song to digest, must like the rest of the album.

Finally, the end of your journey into The Final Frontier:  the epic track “When The Wild Wind Blows”.  This is my personal favourite song, ten minutes of non-stop drama.  This is the Harris album epic; the song that lives up to the legacy set by previous epics such as “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”.  Lyrically, it’s an end-0f-the-world scenario, as they huddle in their bunkers waiting for apocalypse from the sky.  When the world doesn’t end, they are found dead anyway, having consumed poison.  Once again, the song has many different sections, each one more powerful than the last, all wrapped in those trademark Maiden guitar melodies.

There is no denying that The Final Frontier is a challenging listen.  It is also a rewarding listen, a complete journey with a start, middle and ending.  Very few bands can manage an album like this fully 30 years into their recording careers.  Maiden have managed to do so, and not only that, but with their strongest lineup intact strong as ever.  With the production talents of Kevin Shirley, the band managed a crisp sound that strikes a balance between polished and live.

Melvyn Grant has returned to do the cover; easily his best cover with Iron Maiden.  An alien Eddie searches a derelict alien vessel for some kind of key.  I don’t get it, but I don’t care.  I’m a sucker for the alien motif.  Two of my favourite things combined at long last — Iron Maiden, and aliens!

For the first time ever, there are no B-sides to discuss.  There was only one single, which was “El Dorado”.  Dan Slessor from Kerrang! magazine sent me a promotional copy of the single, a really nice collectible in a 7″ sleeve (with even printed “wear marks” to make it look like a vinyl single is inside)!  It can be seen below for your enjoyment.  Disappointingly though, it is merely a CD-R, not an actual factory pressed CD.  I guess the old days have finally passed.  Why send out an expensive promo single when everybody else is simply sending electronic files?

Lastly, there was a deluxe “Mission Edition” of this album made available with interview footage conducted by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen; unfortunately this content was not compatible in Canada so I never bought it.  My copy did come with a cool Final Frontier sticker though.

5/5 stars