Helix

Rest in Peace original Helix keyboardist Don Simmons

Late yesterday we were informed that Don Simmons, the original founding keyboard player from Helix, had passed away. He was 64.

Simmons played in the original Helix band, with singer Brian Vollmer, drummer Bruce Arnold, guitarist Ron Watson, and bassist Keith “Burt” Zurbrigg. Simmons gigged with Helix from 1974-1976, and was still in the group for a short time when Brent “The Doctor” Doerner joined, beginning the transformation into the modern band.

In 2004, Helix staged a massive reunion that included many of their former surviving members. The original band, including Simmons on keyboards, got up on stage for the first time in 30 years and played “Buff’s Bar Blues”, a mainstay of their early sets. The show was released as the 30th Anniversary Concert.

Don never stopped loving music and continued to play keyboard and guitar. Rest in peace, Don Simmons.

#920: Wild in the Streets – Helix – Center in the Square, Kitchener, 1987

RECORD STORE TALES #920: Wild in the Streets
Helix – Center in the Square, Kitchener, 1987

We simply could not wait to see our first real concert.

As soon as the date was announced, we got tickets:  Helix with a band called Haywire opening.  Center in the Square, downtown Kitchener.  We were second row mezzanine.  Bob and I were so psyched to finally see our first real rock concert.

We wanted to bring a banner that said “HOMETOWN HELIX”.  We dreamed big.

Helix were hot on the road for their new album, Wild in the Streets.  We’d seen the video and knew what their stage show was going to look like.  The stage set played on the brick wall artwork from the album cover, with two ramps on the sides, that resembled the “fangs” in the Helix logo.  We thought those ramps were absolutely badass.  We couldn’t wait to see Brian Vollmer slide down mid-song,

We were not interested in Haywire — too pop.  The two girls in front of us were obviously Haywire fans.  They had the shirts and were going nuts for singer Paul MacAusland.  Bob and I didn’t think much of him, especially when he laid down flat on his face on the stage.  “That’s his stage move?” we questioned.  Bob liked the guitarist, but I wanted to hear some “real” rock, not this.

A kid from our school, Brian Knight, was there in the loges on the side.  He boasted the next day at school that Helix were not that good; he had seen better.  Ironically he later went on to roadie for Helix.  He could be seen in the 1991 MuchMusic special Waltzing with Helix.  He was also acknowledged in Brian Vollmer’s book Gimme An R, albeit his name was misspelled “McKnight”.  Sadly, Brian passed away this year.

What Brian claimed was simply untrue.  It might have been our first real rock concert, but it was a hell of a first.  We didn’t know a lot of the songs but we knew the hits and some of the deep cuts from Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge.  They certainly played everything we wanted to hear, including the new single “Dream On”, “Wild in the Streets”, “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'”, “Rock You”, “Heavy Metal Love”, “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”, “Kids are all Shakin'”, and “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  They also played a new tune that we found amusing.  It went, “Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye” (“Kiss It Goodbye”).  Fritz Hinz took a drum solo, and turned around and shockingly revealed his bare bottom with nothing but a jock strap.  We laughed – we were easily entertained!

The highlight of the show was when Vollmer climbed the loges, and then ran all the way across the mezzanine, right past our noses!  We could hardly believe it.  Bob reached out his hand but Brian didn’t slap it.  I simply made a fist, like “right on man”!  It was amazing how we’d been watching this guy climb up, and then make his way in our direction…and then he ran past and it was over in a second!  Before we knew it he was on the other side, and climbing back down to the stage again.  We knew he had a reputation for climbing on top of things and doing somersaults, but we sure didn’t know that was going to happen when we bought our tickets!

Helix didn’t make as much use of the side ramps as I thought they would, but they did put on a hell of a show.  Doctor Doerner played that big doubleneck that we wanted to see so bad, and of course the “Wild in the Streets” guitar.  We got to see all their stage moves and tricks, and yes, the women in the audience were unlike any we’d ever seen before outside of a video.

We got all the songs we wanted, plus a few we didn’t know like “Dirty Dog”.  They put on one of the most energetic shows that I’m ever likely to see.  It was the MTV/MuchMusic era and all we had seen before were music videos.  The quick cut-and-paste editing of a music video is hard to compete with.  Helix had to work hard on stage, and they went above and beyond that night.

Not a bad “first”.  What I did notice was that Vollmer’s voice sounded thinner than on album.  I wondered if all concerts were like that?  I couldn’t believe how deaf I was afterwards!  Both of us were experiencing this for the first time.  It was a strange sensation and we must have been yelling in the car the whole way home, when my dad came to pick us up.

We couldn’t stop talking about Helix for days.  Weeks.  They didn’t really have to win us over; they were hometown heroes to us.  Instead Helix just cemented our loyalty.  It is said that a great rock show can change a life.  In this case, it simply affirmed everything we had hoped.

Rock Candy reissue

Sean Kelly Rocks the LeBrain Train

No preamble needed here! Just sit back, grab a drink and enjoy the entire 1:45 chat with Sean Kelly below. We tackled just about every project he’s ever been in, from Lee Aaron to Helix to Trapper to Coney to Crash Kelly, 69 Duster, Nelly Furtado, and more.  What’s this about Motley Crue figures?  And hear about the new upcoming Coney Hatch Live in Germany LP, Lee Aaron’s new tunes, and a hell of a lot more.

Sean’s enthusiasm for music and especially rock and roll is contagious.

The interview with Sean begins at the 0:17:30 mark.  Tune in and enjoy!

 

A big thanks to Sean for taking his time to talk to us, and also to Deke for hooking this one up.  You guys rock.

Happy long weekend, Canada!

 

Sean Kelly boards the LeBrain Train, Friday at 7:00 PM!

The LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike and Deke

Episode 65 – Sean Kelly!

Sean Kelly is a busy guy!  He was in fact one of the very first guests to agree to come on the show, back before we had even done anything notable.  We finally got him on the schedule just in time to celebrate two new albums.  One is Lee Aaron’s upcoming Radio On, with its insanely catchy debut single “Cmon”!   The other is Coney Hatch’s brand new Live at the El Mocambo.  As if that wasn’t enough, he recently worked on a new Helix song called “Not My Clowns, Not My Circus”.  Did I mention he’s a busy guy?

Additionally, Kelly is known for his work with Crash Kelly, Trapper, and 69 Duster  You might also be familiar with his collaborations with Gilby Clarke, Nelly Furtado, Emm Gryner, and Carole Pope.  As if that wasn’t enough to do, he also plays classical.  On the side, he put together an EP to go with a book he wrote called Metal On Ice!  Will we have time to ask him about all this activity?  We’ll try!

Superdekes is the guy who asked Sean to come aboard, so let’s give him a round of applause while we’re at it! This is another show you’ll want to make sure you catch live.

Friday May 21, 7:00 PM E.S.T. on Facebook:  MikeLeBrain and YouTube:  Mike LeBrain.

 

UPCOMING SCHEDULE:  All times are Eastern Standard.

Friday May 28:  Dave Lizmi of The Four Horsemen (co-host T-Rev)  7:00 PM

Saturday May 29:  Top Cover Art Designers (with Aaron and Tim Durling from Tim’s Vinyl Confessions)  3:00 PM

Friday June 4:  Top Judas Priest Albums (with Harrison, John 2loud2oldmusic, and Geoff on graphs)  7:00 PM

Friday June 11:  Best “Blind Buys” (with BuriedOnMars, Sarca and J)

Saturday June 12:  Andy Curran of Coney Hatch returns for round 3 (co-host Superdekes)  1:00 PM

Friday June 18:  Author Robert Lawson (co-host Superdekes)  7:00 PM

Friday June 25:  Brian Hamilton of Storm Force (co-host Superdekes)  7:00 PM

 

REVIEW: Sean Kelly – Where the Wood Meets the Wire (2011)

SEAN KELLY – Where the Wood Meets the Wire (2011 Opening Day Entertainment)

By now, we all know Sean Kelly.  Coney Hatch, Lee Aaron, Helix, Crash Kelly, the list goes on and on.  As much as Kelly enjoys rocking out, he’s just as capable of chilling.  His 2011 solo release, Where the Wood Meets the Wire, could be the perfect gateway for those curious about classical music but afraid to dive in.  As stated on the back cover, this album “retools classical guitar works” and that might be just what you needed to get your Schubert on.

By pairing the classical guitar with a little bit of electric, Kelly combines two worlds.  Opener “Adelita” is certainly accessible enough for rock fans, having qualities not unlike a mellow Satriani ballad.  The percussion here is outstanding.

Kelly takes on classical guitar masterworks by composers such as Agustín Barrios and Joseph Kaspar Mertz, displaying some pretty impressive dexterity.  The odd shot of electric guitar is like a punch in the arm.  Some pieces such as “Rujero” (Gaspar Sanz) will appeal to fans of Blackmore’s Night.

Another highlight is an acoustic instrumental rendering of Gowan’s classic “A Criminal Mind”.  Appropriately listed as “Une Mente Criminale”, this brilliant arrangement is a worthy re-imagining of the original.  The unmistakable melody translates into the classical style quite well.  It becomes a bit of a tango halfway through when the tempo is cranked up!

Finally, a familiar voice joins in on the final track “Ave Maria”, and it is Brian Vollmer of Helix.  Vollmer, trained in Bel Canto, is a frequent Kelly collaborator in the rock world, so his crossover here is a real treat.  You get to hear what Vollmer can do that doesn’t apply to Helix.  What Kelly and Vollmer both share is a fearless inclination to explore styles and techniques usually untapped by rockers.

If the classical world still holds a nose to modern music like it seemed to when we were younger, Where the Wood Meets the Wire might be met with indifference by purists.  For those who don’t think boundaries between genres are a big deal, Where the Wood Meets the Wire could end up being a favourite.  Only way to find out is to listen.

4/5 stars

Don’t miss Sean Kelly on the LeBrain Train Friday May 21 at 7:00 PM

#884: The Long Walk Home

RECORD STORE TALES #884: The Long Walk Home

In theory, it should have taken 15 minutes for us to walk home from school.

Cross the busy Ottawa Street with the crossing guard.  Down Ottawa, left on Crosby and then right on Secord.  All the way down Secord to Hickson, Inlet and home.  Sometimes if my dad was driving home from work at the same time, he’d see us walking and pick us up.

The reality was, we usually took a lot longer.  My dad used to say that we “dawdled home”.  Most of the time, we trudged it on foot.  We began at the start in clumps of kids, who would peel off singly or in pairs for their own homes as we walked the route.

The other day I was driving that way, and decided to take a spin down Secord and the old route.  The roads were slushy and the snowbanks were high, and suddenly I had a flashback.  Why does it seem like we were always walking home in the middle of winter?  Those are the most powerful memories.  Dodging snowballs thrown by other kids, trudging through deep snow trying to make a “short cut”.  Coming home soaked and cold.  Eating some Scotch broth for lunch and then back to school for the afternoon.  I’ve driven that way lots of times, but only this one time — in the winter, with snowbanks at kid-level — did I have a flashback.

One of the only shields from the cruel outside world that I had as a kid was music.  At the moment I was driving, suddenly the power chords in “Little Death (Mary Mary)” by the Barstool Prophets hit the speakers.  “I would have loved this song as a kid,” I said aloud.

I never knew who my friends were back in those days.  A kid who claimed to be my friend one week would be a bully the next week.  There were one or two kids I knew I could trust, like Allan Runstedtler.  He was too nice and smart a kid to get caught up in that stuff, but he walked home from school in the opposite direction.  There was nobody else I could count on to stick up for me.  KK was just as likely to be throwing the snowballs at me.  Ian Johnson used to get under my skin.  “Name five songs by Iron Maiden,” he would say, instead of just teaching me about Iron Maiden like my real friends did.  But my real friends, from my neighbourhood, didn’t go to that shitty Catholic school.

The thing that I was discovering was that music like Iron Maiden made me feel good.  It made me feel temporarily bulletproof.  Something about those proud, defiant power chords.  I felt more capable of projecting pride and defiance if I had Iron Maiden behind me.  Helix, Kiss, Judas Priest — these were the bands that kept me trudging through the snow while being pelted from behind.

The Barstool Prophets song had the same effect.  As the flashbacks hit me, the guitar riff of “Little Death” pushed back against them.  Yes, I would have loved the song as a kid, had time travel existed back then.  Still working on my flux capacitor, but I’m getting there.  It’s strange, but sometimes I sit there and imagine if I had been able to allow my past self to hear certain songs.  I imagine my younger self’s reaction.  It makes me emotional.  That’s the only kind of time travel I’m able to do.  I didn’t have a bad childhood by any means, but man those bullies did a number on me.  I made it well into my 30s before being able to assess the damage that followed me right into adulthood.  I think the hardest part was not knowing who I could trust.  As it turns out, almost nobody.  By the end of the eighth grade, only Allan hadn’t picked on me.  And then I was rid of them forever as I changed school systems.

I would try to memorize songs as best as I could so I could keep them in my head while I was at school.  The teachers were part of the problem and the defiant nature of heavy metal music was, shall we say, not appreciated by Mrs. Powers.  I don’t think she commended its aesthetics, nor song titles like “Hotter Than Hell“.  She wasn’t one of my supporters as the grade school days drew to a close.  Nor was Ian Johnson, Kenny Lawrence, Kevin Kirby or any of my supposed “friends” in class.  My only friends in that cold depressing classroom were the songs by Helix and Kiss in my head.  I drew guitars in art class.

There’s a flashback for you.  Ian Johnson may have mockingly quizzed me on how many Iron Maiden songs I could name, but he vastly underestimated just what that music meant to me.  A year later he cut his hair short and was into something else.  My love affair with music never ended and only grew with me through time.  The Barstool Prophets have just shared a serious emotional moment with me, which allows them automatic entry into my soul’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  It’s a pretty serious honour.  Please takes your seats with the other immortals enshrined within.  Graham Greer, Glenn Forrester, Al Morier, and Bobby Tamas — otherwise known as the Barstool Prophets — welcome to the hallowed Hall of Fame!

 

#867: You Keep Me Rockin’

GETTING MORE TALE #867: You Keep Me Rockin’

I love Helix.  They were one of the first rock bands I ever heard.

There are a handful of Helix albums that I play less frequently today.  I tend to gravitate towards “underdog” albums besides the “big four” on Capitol Records.  I can usually be found spinning Breaking Loose, It’s a Business Doing Pleasure, B-Sides and other lesser-known classics.

As an ending to this past summer of 2020, I decided to change it up and spin some classic 80s Helix, the stuff I grew up with.  I chose Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge and Long Way to Heaven in the car.  As per usual, like an old movie, images, thoughts and feelings came flooding back with every song.

Razor’s Edge was my first Helix, and considered the “big one”, with hits like “Rock You”, “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’” and “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want”.  The first memory that came back was how disappointed I was with that Capitol cassette when I got it as a gift as a kid of 13 years old.  In Canada at least, Capitol cassettes in the early 1980s were of awful quality.  They always seemed to play slow.  I undoubtedly heard the album play sluggish and warbly for years.

That wasn’t all.  I scanned through the credits and noticed something that I thought was peculiar.

“They didn’t write the only songs on here that I know!”  Even as a kid, I noticed!

“Rock You” was a Bob Halligan Jr. composition.  The other two songs were covers (Crazy Elephant and A Foot in Cold Water respectively).  For the first few listens, I had a hard time getting into Helix’s own originals.  I wondered if I even actually liked Helix at all!  But then as now, I didn’t just fast-forward to the songs I liked.  I played the whole tape front to back every time.  I’m not sure when I started doing that — listening to an album in full, and only in full.  It came later in childhood.  When I played my Styx and John Williams records I tended to just skip around to the tracks I liked.  It’s possible that the change to listening to full albums was a combination of the cassette format with my good ol’ OCD.

I was new to “heavy metal” music, and Helix were one of the heaviest bands I’d heard.  My young ears were not acclimated yet.  Only one Helix original jumped out at me on first listen, and  to me it was clearly the hit that wasn’t:  “Feel the Fire”.  It sounded like a rewrite of “Heavy Metal Love”, which wasn’t on the album.  I liked it because I didn’t have “Heavy Metal Love” (didn’t even know what album it was on), so “Feel the Fire” would do instead.

Time went on, and then suddenly another song clicked: the atmospheric and thumping closing track, “You Keep Me Rockin’”.  I enjoyed the dusky intro before the song kicked into gear.  I can remember listening to this in the family minivan.  Because my own Sony Walkman and Sanyo ghetto blaster couldn’t play Capitol tapes properly, I liked to give them a spin in a car tape deck, which usually had the power to play the tapes at the proper speed.  I cannot remember exactly where we were parked, but it was definitely on a cottage holiday.  It might have been in the parking lot of The Chapel in Underwood Ontario.  I would rather wait in the car listening to music while the parental units were in there browsing.  “You Keep Me Rockin’” came on and I distinctly remember thinking “I’ve never noticed this cool slow part before, but it’s good.”  As if it was the first time, I heard that thunderous riff.  I played it a couple times before I relinquished control of the tape deck back to the parents.

Long Way to Heaven came next into my life, probably Christmas of ’86.  I remember there was a flyer in the newspaper with cassettes on sale.  A&A Records, perhaps?  I circled Yngwie Malmsteen’s Trilogy and Long Way to Heaven by Helix.  Both tapes suffered from the slow warble that was a Capitol trademark in my collection.

Long Way to Heaven brings back fewer memories.  Though the album cover was better, the music is less memorable to me.  No cover tunes this time, though there were two Halligan co-writes.  I remember thinking the old-fashioned harmonies on “Don’t Touch the Merchandise” were cool, and they sound just as good today.  You can really hear the smooth voice of Doctor Doerner in there.

Two of my strongest memories of Long Way to Heaven had to do with the lyrics.  “School of Hard Knocks” confused me.  Was this about highschool?  Was this what I was in for?  A school of hard knocks?  “It’s a long long education” sang vocalist Brian Vollmer.  This caused a bit of a panic for me as I worried about the next year at school!  Then there was “Bangin’ Off-A-The Bricks”.   While the lyrics were about starting out in a rock and roll band, all I could think was “do these guys really beat their heads on brick walls?”  I couldn’t tell but it seemed like it.  “We were just getting our kicks,” sang Brian, but I couldn’t understand what was fun about it.  Any metaphors went right over my head.

I also wondered what my Catholic school teachers would have thought about lines like “It’s a long long way to heaven, but only three short steps to hell.”  But I also didn’t care what they thought.

Those cassettes were hard to listen to, but by 1989 came the answer:  Over 60 Minutes With… was the first Helix CD, compiling the best songs from the first three Capitol records.  There were even three unreleased songs, and they were great!  Finally I had the chance to appreciate deep cuts, by hearing them with the sonics they always deserved.  Fan favourites such as “Animal House” and “Young & Wreckless”.  New stuff like “Everybody Pays the Price”.  Songs I never heard before like “Does A Fool Ever Learn” from No Rest for the Wicked.

I wasn’t able to listen to Helix properly until I had a CD player.  That happened, and it’s been true love ever since.  I’ve been a Helix supporter for many years now and I’m still proud to wear their shirts!

 

 

REVIEW: Helix – Eat Sleep Rock (2020)

HELIX – Eat Sleep Rock (2020 Perris)

If there’s one thing you can count on, even in 2020, it’s that Helix keep on keeping on. 46 years running, and a new compilation CD on the shelves called Eat Sleep Rock.  Sounds a bit like Brian Vollmer’s life story!  Helix have given us two new songs and nine previously released numbers.  As has been the case recently, the cover art is by former guitarist Brent “The Doctor” Doerner.

We love Helix, but opening with “The Story of Helix” is a bit of a misfire.  I get that it would be a great opener for Helix’s acoustic gigs (it even has band member intros), but it’s a sluggish start to an album.  On this track, Brian Vollmer takes us through Helix history, with the odd musical segues through “Billy Oxygen”, “She Loves You”, “Heavy Metal Love”, and “Lick It Up” among others as the story progresses.  Even “Teen Spirit” in the 90s, “when everything went to shit”.  But what didn’t kill them made Helix stronger and they’ve certainly made great albums since.  Some of their best in fact.  Eat Sleep Rock contains shining gems aplenty of post-grunge-era Helix rawk.  But “The Story of Helix” should have been left for the last track on the album.

The good news is that Vollmer proudly proclaims he will “NEVER” retire!  And if the second song, “Eat – Sleep – Rock” is any indication, that’s a good thing.  This is a HEAVY Helix.  Produced by Daryl Gray, with guitars aided and abetted by Sean Kelly, this one smokes.  There ain’t no rest for the wicked, as “Eat – Sleep – Rock” resoundingly demonstrates.  Long-time Helix fans are going to love this newbie that recalls the fire and fury of 1984 all over again.

As mentioned in “The Story of Helix”, the 90s were not kind to Kitchener’s favourite band.  That said, they still put out three excellent albums in that decade, the last of which was 1998’s half-ALIVE.  It was the first Helix release in five years and included some new material to go with the live side.  “Shock City Psycho Rock” and “Wrecking Ball” (both heavy hitters) are two of the best.  “Shock City” is an upbeat boogie, and “Wrecking Ball” just slams.  Giving these two songs fresh attention is a good thing.

Brian Vollmer’s solo album When Pigs Fly (1999) is a Helix album in all but name, so “I’m A Live Frankenstein” is a valid addition.  This grinder has a hint of industrial rock and Helix alumnus Brian Doerner on drums.  It sounds a little out of place, but as Vollmer alluded, the 90s were a weird time.

“Even Jesus (Wasn’t Loved In His Hometown)” is a scorcher originally from the excellent Bastard of the Blues (2014).  That album is criminally forgotten, and it’s actually under-represented here.  The guitar hook and chorus melody will gnaw away at you until it’s right in your brain.  “Cyber Space Girl” (from 2007’s The Power of Rock and Roll) hasn’t been on a compilation before.  It’s another great tune from a tragically forgotten album.  The Power of Rock and Roll was loaded with heavy melodic tunes, and “Cyber Space Girl” definitely deserves a revisit.  Even better though is “When the Bitters Get the Better of You” from the superb Vagabond Bones (2009).  That was the first Helix album to feature Daryl Gray, Greg “Fritz” Hinz, and Doctor Doerner since the 90s.  They loaded it with top-notch songs and “Bitters” is just one of many.  It’s another boogie, so get down!

Later, in 2017, Helix issued a bitchin’ 12″ single for “The Devil is Having a Party Tonight” and “The Tequila Song”.  Both those songs resurface here.  I’ve said it before, but Helix have written a better song about tequila than Sammy Hagar ever has or will.  As for the classic metal sounds of “Devil”, it has a positively beastly bass groove.  These are both great tunes.  Now you can get them affordably on CD.  And of course, “(Gene Simmons Says) Rock Is Dead” (from 2016’s Rock-It Science) still stands up.  It ran the risk of being a novelty, but holds up in the present.  Gene did proclaim rock to be dead, many times.  I’m glad he was wrong.  If he wasn’t, then Brian Vollmer couldn’t still Eat Sleep Rock today!  But he can, and so the Helix band keep putting out worthwhile new material.

The track listing for this CD was well chosen as there is minimal overlap with other compilations (with three in common with Rock-It Science).  It spotlights songs that haven’t have their rightful day in the sun.  The only thing I’d do is move “The Story of Helix” to the end.  Minor quibble aside, if you haven’t bought a new Helix album in a while then now’s the time.

4/5 stars

Covideo 7: Bet You Thought I Was Done Making These Things

Yes folks is my first “Covideo” since April. Why? Why not. C-19 is back in Ontario for a second wave, and so are my Covideos!

In this video you can check out a couple Amazon unboxings (one toy, one CD) and get updated on the live streaming. Just a fun video, with hopefully improved production values over the ones I made in March and April.

#856: Why Metal?

GETTING MORE TALE #856: Why Metal?

As you’re aware, I’ve been doing a lot of introspection lately.  I hope you don’t mind.  A lot of my reflection has been to my distant past.  As I look back, I am reminded how music was always there in my life.  One of my first truly beloved records was the original soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back.  The bombast, drama and power of those pieces really appealed to me.  It’s safe to say that I discovered music through Star Wars and John Williams.  Until they came along, music was just something that was around me.  It wasn’t inside me until Star Wars.

They stopped making Star Wars movies (or did they…?) in 1983, coincidentally the same year that Quiet Riot released Metal Health, and Styx came out with “Mr. Roboto”.  I simply jumped from one train to the other!  They were both going in the same direction so it wasn’t much of a leap.  Rock music was very much about bombast, drama and power.  And it stuck with me, bonded at a molecular level.

But why metal?  There were other trains I could have boarded.  At school, every other kid was into Duran Duran.  I couldn’t have given a crap about Duran Duran, even if they were in a James Bond movie!  So why metal?

The first factor to examine would be peer groups.  Essentially, I had two:  the school kids and the neighbourhood kids.  The school kids were, frankly, assholes.  But none of them lived in my neighbourhood.  It was like growing up in two separate worlds.  My classmates weren’t near me and I was fine with that.  Every time I came home, it was like I had entered a safe zone.  The older kids in my neighbourhood were legends.  Bob Schipper, Rob Szabo, and George Balasz.  They were the ones I looked up to and they were all rocking the metal.  Szabo’s favourite bands?  Motley Crue and Stryper.  Balasz liked Kiss.  Schipper was into Iron Maiden.

We would gather on front stoops with boomboxes powered by D-cell batteries.  Van Halen cassettes would be passed around like a joint.  I heard Maiden Japan by Iron Maiden on my front patio for the first time because George brought it over.  The guys were eager to educate me.  Quiet Riot, Helix, Judas Priest, W.A.S.P., Black Sabbath were names I was trying to memorize.  I had a few things mixed up though.  I thought the song “Sister Christian” by was Motorhead, because when they sing “Motorin’!” I heard “Motorhead”.  So sure.

On the other hand, the peer group at school was mostly what we called “wavers”.  They liked Mr. Mister and Michael Jackson and whatever else, I simply wanted nothing to do with it.  At an instinctive level, I think these people repulsed me.  I had witnessed and been victim to their cruelty.  I wanted nothing to do with their music or their sports and I think that was largely unconscious.  I would have loved if they liked me instead of mocking me; it would have made life easier.  Obviously I had given up trying.  So why not?  Heavy metal music was like Musica proibita in Catholic school.  There were a few headbangers — I didn’t like them either — but just a few.  Those guys thought it was hilarious that I was still into Quiet Riot in 1985 when they had moved onto Van Halen.  They would challenge me to “name three songs by Helix” to see if they could trip me up.  That was the difference between the rock guys at school, and my friends at home.  The guys at home would have just taught me what songs were by Helix.

Fucking school assholes.

An other notable factor on the road to heavy metal that has to be mentioned is the one nobody wants to talk about:  puberty!  But it is true that the bands I was discovering were (mostly) masculine manly men, and soon I would be wanting to attract a mate like they taught us in sex ed class.  To exude masculinity, I chose metal.  I am certain that was a conscious decision.  Despite the long hair, the guy in Iron Maiden was clearly a tougher dude than the guy in Duran Duran.  If there was going to be a fistfight, I wanted to be on the Maiden guy’s side.  Easy choice.  It seemed that simple in grade seven.

Of course, heavy metal music had the opposite effect in trying to attract girls.  It absolutely repelled them, every single one of them.  The fact that I just went double-down on the metal showed that my love for the music was genuine.  Girls didn’t like metal, but I did, and I was already too committed to discovering all the bands I could.  I was living in the rabbit hole.

A gleaming, riveted stainless steel rabbit hole.  With a million watt stereo system.

Parental approval?  Not really.  Though they liked Bob Schipper, they didn’t know what to make of this metal music.  They tolerated it, and never gave me a hard time about any of the bands I liked.  They probably would have preferred Springsteen like the family across the street listened to.  But hey, they bought me the tapes I wanted for Christmas, and they let me tape the videos on TV, so a big applause to my parents.  I think my dad was worried that I was becoming such an introvert.  I remember him telling me “Garnet Lasby doesn’t sit in his room listening to tapes all day.”

When he said that, all I could hear in my head were the Kiss lyrics, “Get me out of this rock and roll hell, take me far away.”  I was so confused.  I loved listening to music in my room.  The only thing better was listening to music with my friends.  Was it bad?  I really thought about it, but obviously decided to follow my heart.

One more factor in my journey to metal that is easily overlooked but must be accounted for:  the fact that rock and roll is one big soap opera with enough drama, violence and musical brilliance to fill an entire Star Wars trilogy.  As my friends taught me the songs, they also introduced me to the stories.  “This is Randy Rhoads.  He was the greatest until he died in a plane crash.”  And Kiss?  Woah nelly, there was every kind of story within Kisstory!  How many guitar players?  And crazy costumes and characters to go with the story?  Buying a Kiss album was never just “buying a Kiss album”.  It was always buying a issue of a comic book.  What would Kiss sound like this time?  What seedy subjects would they be wrestling with on a lyrical level?  What would the cover look like and what colour would the logo be?

It seems obvious now, but the only way for me to go was metal.  In every single alternate universe, I am a metal fan.

Music allowed me to rewrite my persona a bit.  I hoped that, instead of that nerdy kid with the Star Wars fetish, I would be remembered as the nerdy kid that was really into music.  (Music that is still popular today, incidentally.)  Why metal?  Because it really only could have been metal.