Helix

#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.

 

#841: Happy Canada Day! 11 Tunes

Happy Canada Day from LeBrain HQ to you.  I know this is rough one, a weird one, and a difficult one.  I’m going to ignore the current goings-on and everything else that has to do with Canada Day, and present to you Eleven Canadian Songs You Need to Hear Right Now.  Enjoy!

1. Helix – “Billy Oxygen”

2. Arkells – “Leather Jacket”

3. July Talk – “Picturing Love”

4. The Guess Who – “Albert Flasher”

5. Blue Rodeo – “Side of the Road”

6. Harem Scarem – “Slowly Slipping Away”

7. Rush – “Vital Signs”

8. Gordon Lightfoot – “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” (re-recorded version)

9. Monster Truck – “Don’t Tell Me How to Live”

10. Kim Mitchell – “Rumour Has It”

11. Thor – “Keep the Dogs Away”

REVIEW: My Wicked Twin – 3 Engines (2020)

MY WICKED TWIN – 3 Engines (2020)

Like a bolt out of the blue, My Wicked Twin (Brent & Brian Doerner) have a new album out, their fourth, called 3 Engines.  A tight set with 10 songs in the 3-4 minute range, 3 Engines rocks.  Let’s have a listen.

“Gone Nomad”, the heavier than hell opener, is a tricky number that recalls Max Webster, but amped up.  “I’ve got a gun if we disagree,” sings Brent in an electronically treated voice, appropriate to the tune.  By the second track, “Light From Within”, we are in more traditional hard rock territory…until the corner bar piano kicks in!  Clearly nobody was afraid of taking chances.  The dark guitar hook is terrific on this one, as is the melodic bass.  Melody is also the focus of “Things I Wanna Do” a quirky modern sounding track with programmed beats and patches of keyboard.  Dig the engines revving!  “Give and Take” sounds like a natural followup, and it’s interesting to hear so much focus on the vocal melodies this time out.  Clearly a lot of effort went into them.

“Escaping California” has a dreamy quality, with spare use of keyboards that set the scene.  But it’s the following song, “House on the Highway”, that is the most fun.  Who doesn’t love a little banjo?  It adds variety and a little down-home quality and there’s nothing wrong with that.  “House on the Highway” for the win.

For heavy, you want “Digital Veins”.  The guitars and keys complement each other nicely.  “Rock and roll is what I am used to,” sings Brent, but he’s also not afraid to stretch out within those confines.  There’s a cool 80s vibe to “Digital Veins”.  Then “Half Broken” has an interesting rhythm to accompany the cool keys and guitars.  Killer solo here.  “Running Out of Time” has an accelerated pace but also some seriously tasty twang.  The album ends with “Brain Dance”, a cool party tune with a serious thump.  Wicked guitars, with varied tones and licks.

3 Engines is different, and that’s good.  The keyboards add an atmospheric tone, and it’s not dissimilar to old Max Webster.  The electronic treatment on the drums and vocals works, and complement the music.  My Wicked Twin have taken some leaps and bounds on this album, and ended up with some accomplished tunes.  Not for headbangin’.  3 Engines rocks, but it rocks smart.

4/5 stars

Additional musicians:

Paul Chapman – guitar solo on “Running Out of Time”
Jim Mclean – guitar and co-writer on “Light”
Rob Kemp – guitar on “Light”
Graham Smith – bass on “House” and “Light”

VHS Archives #92: On the set of “The Storm” with Helix (1990)

Helix made a bit of a comeback in 1990.  Their last studio album was three years prior.   Brent “The Doctor” Doerner was gone.  And their new platter, Back For Another Taste, was just a little different.  It was also their best in many years — maybe ever.  A little more serious.  The new video for “The Storm” reflected that.

MuchMusic was on set to watch “The Storm” being made, and got to talk to Brian Vollmer and Daryl Gray.  Longevity and the importance of music video are discussed here. From Hostess Sneak Previews in spring 1990.

 


#793: Helix Jacket Guy

GETTING MORE TALE #793: Helix Jacket Guy

I don’t remember everything that happened at the Record Store, I admit, and I remember less and less each passing year.  Certain events and characters have slipped my mind.  Fortunately we have the written word to remind us.  Here is an abridged conversation.


David:  “Didn’t there used to be a crazy dude who came to (your old store in) Kitchener in a Helix jacket?

Mike:  “I am unfamiliar with that gentleman.  We did however receive visits from Snake the Tattoo Man (who was in a Helix video).  He threatened Neil.

Matt:  “I do remember the Helix jacket guy, and he was a little crazy…I can’t believe you don’t remember that guy Mike…although it wasn’t nearly as good as the jacket “Rokken With Dokken”.

VHS Archives #77: Brian Vollmer of Helix co-hosts the Power Hour (1987)

One of the best early Power Hour co-hosts.  Helix mainman Brian Vollmer stopped by the Pepsi Power Hour with Laurie Brown to discuss their new album Wild in the Streets.  He also brought with him a Helix “Rockumentary” filmed at the Capitol Records building.

Topics covered:

  • The album cover
  • Jagger
  • AC/DC
  • Touring
  • A mythical future Helix album called Blood, Guts & Beer
  • The next video

Added bonus:  stay tuned to the end for a Music World TV ad for Wild in the Streets!

 

WTF Search Terms: Snake the Tattoo Man edition

WTF SEARCH TERMS XLII: Snake the Tattoo Man edition

It has been six months since the last WTF Search Terms, and in that time, search terms have been dominated by the one and only Snake the Tattoo Man.

Snake is a character I encountered back in the Record Store days, as recounted in Record Store Tales Part 118:  Famous Persons.  There are three main things Snake is known for:

  1. Getting over 90% of his body tattooed.
  2. Being a guest on the Phil Donahue show because of discrimination against his tattoos.
  3. Subsequently starring in the Helix music video for “Running Wild in the 21st Century”.

People have been doing as lot of searching for Snake in 2019.  They don’t always get the video right (Helix), or the TV show (Donahue) or the city (London).  But they sure do wanna do see the Snake!  I’ve highlighted some of the funniest mistakes.

  • aerosmith video featuring snake tattoo man
  • bill also known as snake lots of tattoos from st thomas ont that was in a movie and on montel show around 1991-2000
  • pictures of a guy named snake in london ontario with tatoos
  • pictures of snake the tattoo man london ontario
  • image of snake the tattoed man from london on
  • snake london ontario
  • snake london ontario tattoo
  • snake tatto man
  • snake the tatto man
  • snake from london ontario
  • snake man covered in tattoos
  • london ontario snake guy
  • brantford man named bill fully tattooed
  • snake’s first claim to fame was appearing on the phil donahue show
  • helix what was snake mans tattoos real name he is from london ont
  • phil donahue with snake man tattoo guy london ont

Learn more about Snake in the MuchMusic interview below, taken from my personal collection!

 

REVIEW: Helix – Icon (2018)

HAPPY CANADA DAY from LeBrain and Superdekes! HELIX double feature!

HELIX – Icon (2018 Universal vinyl)

New Helix vinyl?  Yes please.

The Icon series of compilations used to be a budget CD line that you could pick up for $5 or under.  Now, you can even get ’em on vinyl.  Buy ’em direct from Helix mainman Brian Vollmer and he’ll sign it for you.  This copy is signed by all five current Helix members, including a pre-injury Fritz Hinz.

As far as Helix compilations go, you can’t do much with just 11 tracks.  Even so, Icon has some surprises and plenty of pleasers.  There’s also enough difference from 2016’s compilation Rock It Science to justify it.  Opening with the one-two punch of “Rock You” and “Heavy Metal Love”, Helix top loaded this thing with their best known songs.  Perfect for the newcomer, or just a great party.

From there it’s “The Dirty Dog”, a long time Helix concert favourite.  This is followed in quick succession by some great singles:  “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'”, “Wild in the Streets” and the dark ballad “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  All three songs are considered to be Helix classics.  “Deep Cuts the Knife”, written by guitarist Paul Hackman, is a particularly powerful ballad.  The entire first side is from the Capitol Records years, featuring the best known Helix lineup:  Vollmer, Hinz, Hackman, Brent Doerner and Daryl Gray.

Side two has a different flavour.  Only the hit “The Kids are All Shakin'” originates in the 1980s.  This top Helix pop rock track is followed by the Helix of the 90s and today.  “Good to the Last Drop” is another ballad, but much brighter than “Deep Cuts the Knife”.  This is the original album mix, with minimal keyboards.  Then it’s “Runnin’ Wild in the 21st Century”, kicking your teeth in at lightspeed.  The last two songs feature some help from guitarist extraordinaire Sean Kelly.  A razor sharp “Even Jesus Wasn’t Loved in His Home Town” comes from 2014’s excellent Bastard of the Blues.  The aggressive rocker is based on the fact that Helix can’t even their new songs played on the radio in their home town of Kitchener, Ontario.  Finally, the 2016 single “Gene Simmons Says (Rock Is Dead)” tells the demon where it’s at!  Maybe Helix don’t get radio play in Canada but rock ain’t dead — not if Vollmer and Co. have anything to say about it!

When it comes to Helix compilations, they are so numerous that you can really take your pick.  If you really care about the band, then just buy ’em direct from Vollmer at Planet Helix.  There are loads to choose from, but only this one was ever made on vinyl.  Or, you can just go CD!  Either way, support the boys if you’re gonna buy some Helix.

4/5 stars

#747: Top 11 Rock Songs About Aliens

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 148:  Navigate the Seas of the Sun

GETTING MORE TALE #747: Top 11 Rock Songs About Aliens

UFOs, life on other planets, first contact…these are subjects rarely explored in lyrics, right? If you start digging, there are actually more songs about it than you know. Make a list of songs about aliens, not human astronauts like “Space Oddity” or “Rocket Man”. (Both great tracks indeed, but not about alien intelligence.)

I also left off “Hanger 18” by Megadeth, even though the video is a landmark for aliens in rock music.  The lyrics deal mostly with Area 51, a military base, with only a few lines about aliens.  “Foreign life forms inventory, Suspended state of cryogenics.”

Do you have a favourite alien song? Check out the list below. You’ll find one alien-related subject among them that dominates the rest. Can you guess what it is?


11. Judas Priest – “Abductors”
Key lyric:  “They come at night and they infiltrate you, They paralyse and they mentally rape you.”

When Rob Halford left Priest, Glenn Tipton took over writing the lyrics. Tipton is…well, he’s not a poet. “Abductors” is at the bottom of this list because the words are just a list of metaphors for maiming someone. That the maiming is done in an alien abduction seems secondary.

10. Van Halen – “Love Walks In”
Key lyric: “Some kind of alien, Waits for the opening.”

This one has a tenuous connection with aliens at best, but I wanted to include it because it’s such a well known song. Sammy Hagar believes he has been abducted by aliens.  That alone makes this song a significant entry.  The lyric “Contact, asleep or awake,” can easily be interpreted as being about alien contact.

9. Dio – Magica (album)
Key lyric:  “Now we understand. All traces of Magica must be eliminated. Infection. Infection. Delete, delete…”

Ronnie James Dio only lived long enough to make one concept album of a planned trilogy. It was a sci-fi fantasy epic called Magica. The saga takes place on another planet called Blessing, which is visited by alien explorers centuries later. The fantasy elements are dominant, while the alien setting serves more as a bookend.

8. Fu Manchu – “King of the Road”
Key lyric: “Under forty over is UFO, Hell bent stacked in rows, The galaxy is lined with hundreds more, Small town you bet we’re sure.”

“King of the Road says you move too slow!” goes the panicked chorus.  Fu Manchu’s lyrics are usually vague, and more about setting a scene.  This one involves a chase and a repeat abduction.  “All through my head it’s happenin’ over again.”

7. Bruce Dickinson – “Abduction”
Key lyric:  “Are you the truth to sit in judgement on my sins?  Evil laser gadgets come to penetrate my skin.”

Bruce Dickinson makes them impression of a well-read science fiction fan.  “Abduction” is one of his most blatant lyrics on the subject.  He does a considerably better job of it than Judas Priest.

6. Helix – “Billy Oxygen”
Key lyric: “The ship’s landing gear was down, People started to gather round. The door slowly started to open, People were ready to listen. He said my name is Billy Oxygen, And I am the mission commander.”

Written by guitarist Brent Doerner, this Helix song was a little different than the usual rock fare.  Yes, Helix are known for writing about “Women, Whiskey & Sin”, but sometimes aliens too!  Billy Oxygen is the commander of the DS-335, and all he really wants to do is get high with some aliens.  Why not?  But he’s only got 14 days to fly!

5. Blue Oyster Cult – “Take Me Away”
Key lyric:  “Strange shapes light up the night, I’ve never seen ’em though I hope I might. Don’t ask if they are real, The men in black, their lips are sealed.”

Blue Oyster Cult get major points for singing about the men in black, long before Will Smith was doing it.  Clearly the B.O.C. guys (or at least Eric Bloom) know their conspiracy theories.  An earlier version with lyrics by Aldo Nova was called “Psycho Ward”.

4. Ace Frehley – “Remember Me”
Key lyric:  “Well I’m staring down from Venus in the dead of night, My mind is thinking back to when the world was right.”

Of course, Ace has quite a few songs about space, but they’re mostly double entendres like “Rocket Ride” (by Kiss).  “Remember Me” is a little more thoughtful.  An alien is watching from nearby Venus, a common theme from the golden age of science fiction.  He laments that Earthlings continue to wage war instead of feeding the starving.  The alien goes to Earth with a message:  make peace, or you’re not gonna last!  Very similar to Klaatu’s message in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

3. Steve Vai – “Little Green Men”
Key Lyric: “You look-a real keen, Even though you are green, With those big, large heads, Something off of the movie screen.”

Steve has a few titles about aliens, but some are instrumental. “Little Green Men” is a comical song that quotes the musical theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind!  Thank you, John Williams.

2. Barstool Prophets – “Thrusters”
Key lyric: “Just as I rise to leave, I hear the old familiar sound, Of thrusters pounding atmosphere.”

There’s a loner out there in a field looking up at the sky, waiting to see something — anything.  “I have spent many nights, Staring at the sky, All the distant stars that shine, How I’ve longed to make them mine.”  Then he finally hears the sound of the ships returning.  “I knew that they’d come back for me.”

1. Blue Rodeo – “Cynthia”
Key lyric:  “And you stood in their beam of light, And they showed you the bones on the moon, Well I hope I get to go there, With you real soon.”

Here’s a real curve ball for #1.  Did you expect Blue Rodeo to be on the list?

Greg Keelor is in love with Cynthia, who tells him stories of being abducted by aliens.  “So you saw that Fire in the Sky, well I think that’s so cool,” says Greg, referencing the film.  He doesn’t think she’s crazy.  “You are nobody’s fool,” he sings.  “Cynthia” is unusually upbeat and happy song about aliens, though really it’s just about that crush of new love.  Greg’s so head over heels, he’d follow her anywhere.  “Cynthia won’t you take me to Pyramid Lake with you.  We could watch the space ships, Maybe they’d take us on a trip, To that never ending sky.”  Incidentally, Pyramid Lake is near Jasper, Alberta, and lakes are common areas for UFO sightings.  One wonders if “Cynthia” is based on a real person that Greg may have met.


At least six of these songs are about being abducted by aliens, using the word “abducted” in a broad sense, even if the person goes willingly.  “King of the Road” is open to interpretation.  Ace Frehley’s is surprisingly one of the more thoughtful songs, with its classic message of “make love not war” brought by an alien intelligence.

It’s Blue Rodeo who have the best tune about aliens.  By framing it in a love story and using vibrant lyrics, “Cynthia” is the winner.

 

VHS Archives #33: Brian Vollmer and Snake the Tattoo Man on Much (1990)

“Outside of Toronto…that’s Kitchener anyway.”  – Dan Gallagher

This is a real treasure!  A legendary interview, it does not appear to be anywhere else online.  It’s also the only video I know of to have one of my old customers in it — Snake the Tattoo Man.  To be fair, Snake was T-Rev’s customer first.  Trevor sent him to me, because he knew I was a huge Helix fan.  Snake’s first claim to fame was appearing on the Phil Donahue show.  Snake has over 90% of his body tattooed, and was kicked out of a mall in London Ontario simply because of the way he looked.  His next bout with stardom was when he was cast in the Helix video for “Running Wild in the 21st Century”, one of their best songs!

MuchMusic’s Dan Gallagher talked to Brian Vollmer and Snake outside Speaker’s Corner in the spring of 1990.  Of course Snake’s tattoos are discussed, and a new technology called “Surround Sound” is rolled out.  Which of course you won’t hear, since Much was broadcast in stereo and I was recording in mono!

Great, classic interview that I proud to bring back to the world via Youtube.