Grade 8

#858: School Days

GETTING MORE TALE #858: School Days

Did anybody really enjoy doing speeches in school?  I dreaded them year after year.  Pick a subject, write a speech, memorize it, time it right, and then it’s showtime.  My first speech was an award winner.  In was in grade three, and I wrote a speech about falling into the Athabasca glacier on my summer vacation.  It was a hit.  But that didn’t get me off the hook.  Year after year, you had to keep coming up with new speeches.

Grade five was Pac-Man, and it didn’t do as well.  Not that I minded.  I wanted to do just well enough, not so well that I had to do it again in a semi-finals.  I was obsessed with Pac-Man that year.  I truly had Pac-Man fever.  In my speech I discussed sequels like Ms. Pac-Man, and how the Atari 2600 version was such a disappointment.

In eighth grade I changed things up considerably and did my speech on Kiss.  I can tell you that the teacher Mrs. Powers visibly reacted every time I said the words Hotter Than Hell.  My speech was like a condensed version of Kisstory, a predecessor perhaps to what I like to do today.  It was actually really good although it was mostly off the cuff.  I knew I wasn’t going to get a good grade because of the subject matter, and I knew a speech about Kiss wasn’t going to make it to any kind of semi-finals, and I really knew they didn’t like the word “hell”.  Name dropping Mick Jagger didn’t help.  But it was really good, natural sounding and I only stumbled a couple of times.

The teachers didn’t really want you to do a speech about rock bands, but I was determined to express myself.  I didn’t want to spend five minutes talking about, I dunno, making steak sandwiches.  I could have whipped up an easy speech on Antarctic exploration or World War II, and gotten a better mark.  The more I look back, I guess I was a teeny tiny bit of a rebel.  But it was the teachers who gave me shit about my Judas Priest shirt that brought it on.

In grade nine I did my speech about Iron Maiden.  I should have diversified.  I could have spoken about nuclear power, Baron Von Richthofen, or Wrestlemania.  To my credit I was always good at telling a story, and I made them interesting.  I just tried to squeeze music into my schoolwork any chance I could.  If the jocks could do a speech about baseball, I should be able to do one about heavy metal.  I do remember one guy had a really well written comedic speech about a blind date.  If I knew fiction was a category I would have tried a hand at that!

In later years I did more expansive independent studies on other subjects, but still managed to work in music.  I did it for a sociology project and a few English ones.  And why not?  I couldn’t do that in algebra, physics, chemistry, or calculus.

These little acts of rock and roll rebellion didn’t get me an A, but I did well enough to be admitted to Wilfrid Laurier University in 1991.  So:  no regrets.  I can still write about Manfred von Richthofen if I want, and I’m fortunate enough that you would probably still read it.  I’ve written about history (tied into music) here a number of times.  I’m sure I’ll do it again.  And why not?  It’s easy to tie this stuff to music; Iced Earth have a song about Richthofen.  Queen have a song about Robert Falcon Scott.  Iron Maiden have songs about everything that ever happened.  The field is wide open.

 

#353: Hotter Than Hell

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#353: Hotter Than Hell

Grade 8 was a shitty year. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of that shitty school.  I had it up to here [holds hand right below chin] with the bullies and teachers.  I had a fight with a bully at the beginning of the year, which at least kept that one off my case for the rest of it.  That was also the year I got mono!  The only thing that really helped get me through was rock and roll, and especially Kiss.  Way back in Part 3 of Record Store Tales, I acquired Hotter Than Hell on LP, in very bad condition.  I almost immediately traded it away for a bunch of other records and swag, but not before dubbing a copy on a terrible Scotch blank tape.  As explained in great detail  in Part 3, I grew to love Hotter Than Hell despite its flaws.  Sonically, it was arguably Kiss’ worst album.  I was listening to a scratched LP via a 120 minute Scotch tape that was prone to stretch and warble.  I had Kiss’ worst sounding album on the worst sounding format!  Yet something about it kept drawing me back.

Sound issues aside, there’s no denying Hotter Than Hell is a powerful record.  Perennial Kiss klassics such as “Got to Choose”, “Hotter Than Hell”, “Parasite”, and “Let Me Go, Rock and Roll” can be found right here.  It also has one of Peter Criss’ best tunes (albeit written by Paul Stanley) called “Mainline”.  I found myself immediately hooked on Peter’s raspy voice.  I surmised that “Mainline” wasn’t a hit, since it neither appeared on Alive! nor Double Platinum.  I couldn’t figure out why.  “If Kiss have songs this good that never became hits,” I reasoned, “the rest of their albums must also be pretty good.”

Right after “Mainline” was another amazing song that I fell for: “Coming Home”.  This Stanley ode to the road was chosen many years later as the opening track for Kiss’ MTV Unplugged.  Back then, to me it was another classic that should have been a hit.  The nucleus of the album became four key songs that I could not get enough of:  “Coming Home”, “Mainline”, “Hotter Than Hell” and “Got to Choose”.  Later on, “All the Way” expanded that list to five.

Those tunes kept me going.  If I was having a rotten day at school, I could hum “Coming Home” to myself and feel better.  For a French assignment, we had to record an introductory paragraph about ourselves, approximately 30-60 seconds long.  We were allowed to do this with music in the background.  I chose the opening riff to “Got to Choose” for mine. First chord — then, “Je m’appelle Michèle…” I talked for the instrumental part, and was finished before the opening line of the song. But I kept the tape running for a moment longer before I did a fade-out: “Baby, you know I heard the neighbors say…” Just so I could work a little bit of Kiss into my French class. I was probably the only one who noticed.

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The bullies picked on me pretty hard in grade 8.  I was assigned “flag duty”, which meant I was the guy who had to put the flag up every morning.  Drawing attention to myself was never a fun thing in grade 8, and I had to do it every morning.  Walking down the hall to the coughs of “Fag Boy” — a clever name derived from “Flag Boy” — was a daily torment.  They also liked to make fun of my boots, which today would have been cooler than hell, since they were vintage, but then just added to misery.  Thursdays were wood shop class, which meant a bus ride to another school downtown.  That bus ride was without a doubt the worst part of each week.  I was prone to getting sick on Thursdays, for some reason….

When I got mono (for real) I missed most of the end of grade 8, but not before being shamed in front of the entire class by my teacher.  “Shame on you!” she said, because I picked the wrong school.  We all had to choose which highschool we wanted to go to.  We were usually expected to choose the Catholic school, but there was no way in hell I was doing that.  You couldn’t have dragged me along with those kids, believe me.  There was just no way.   I chose Grand River Collegiate, which was closer.  Plus my best friend Bob, who was two years older than me, went to that school.  It would be cool to see him every day at lunch time.  We never had any classes together for obvious reasons, but we conspired to get lockers side by side once.  We had a great time in highschool.  Those were the golden years!

Certainly better than grade 8.  I’ve never told all of these stories publicly before.  It is what it is, and all is certainly forgiven now.  The interesting thing is how these experiences collided to really galvanize my love of that Hotter Than Hell album.  Listening to it today still brings back memories of gym class, waiting for it to finally end, humming “Coming Home” to myself.  And that, friends, is why such a terrible sounding record is so important to me!

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