Popular vote by Harrison, Jessie, and a bunch of others who picked Iron Maiden’s Bruce Bruce (Bruce Dickinson) for this VHS Archive.
Yes folks it’s 1986, and that means questions about Satanism and devil worship. Oh my.
Popular vote by Harrison, Jessie, and a bunch of others who picked Iron Maiden’s Bruce Bruce (Bruce Dickinson) for this VHS Archive.
Yes folks it’s 1986, and that means questions about Satanism and devil worship. Oh my.
GETTING MORE TALE #730: It’s 2019. How do I play a record backwards?
The fellows from Spinal Tap once lamented that there must be a conspiracy between the Dutch and the Japanese to eliminate any audio medium that you can play backwards.
There’s no proof, but Spinal Tap are not the kind of band who require proof. The Dutch (Phillips) developed the compact cassette. The Dutch and Japanese (Phillips and Sony) created the CD together. You simply couldn’t play either format backwards, like you could with the good ol’ LP. When the record was “finally” replaced by CD, it really did seem like playing music backwards to look for hidden messages was over and done. How was Satan to communicate with teenagers like he did in the 1980s?
The 90s and early 2000s were a dark time for backwards messages. It seemed like playing albums backwards would forever remain a thing of the past. It was actually a real thing that some people did! I have. I played my Iron Maiden Piece of Mind LP backwards to find out what the hell Nicko McBrain was saying at the start of “Still Life”. With the record on the platter, I cued the needle and spun the record backwards with my index finger. It didn’t work very well, because I couldn’t keep a constant speed. The pitch was all over the place. Plus Nicko was using a comical accent, with reverb added. Playing it backwards with a wobbly pitch meant I still could not tell what Nicko was saying!
This method of playing records backward wasn’t good for the player, the needle, or the vinyl. We knew that; we just didn’t care. We had cheap shit and it really didn’t make a difference. The time to play a record backwards was when you had cheap kiddie equipment.
“Oh my God, Chicago kicks ass!”
So how can kids play music backwards today? Without being able to play back-masked messages, can they truly enjoy the albums as completely as we did? Thankfully, playing your records backwards is easier today than ever. Thanks to “computer magic” (using Spinal Tap’s words) you can do it quickly and more easily than ever before.
STEP 1: Download Audacity. It’s free, easy to use, and very solid.
STEP 2: Record your vinyl (forwards) into Audacity using a USB turntable. Or, even easier: load any track from your computer into Audacity. For this demonstration we’re using the aforementioned “Still Life” by Iron Maiden. The backwards spoken word Nicko bit is isolated by deleting the entire rest of the song. (I’ve also boosted the volume on this part, which is quite quiet. Now you can see the waveform more easily.)
STEP 3: Highlight the entire track. Click “Effects” and “Reverse”.
STEP 4: Press play! With just a glance you can see the waveform is completely reversed.
What’s Nicko saying? Even playing it backwards at a constant pitch, it’s still impossible to tell what it is without enlisting the help of the internet, who have already solved this riddle.
“Hmm, hmm!” sniffs Nicko. “What hoo said de t’ing wit de t’ree bonce.” Roughly translated: “What said the thing with the three heads?” You might recognise “what hoo said de t’ing” as one of Nicko’s favourite phrases. It appears again on Maiden’s “Black Bart Blues”. Then he warns, “Dooon’t meddle wit t’ings you don’ unnerstand.” Good advice for anyone. Then finally, a belch! It’s still all but unintelligible, even digitally reversed.
We had much more success with an older record, Great White North by Bob & Doug McKenzie. On the track “Black Holes”, you can choose to highlight and reverse only the backwards part of the track. When you do it in Audacity, it’s a perfect digital reverse. You can play it and it’s indistinguishable from any of the rest of the album. In the waveform below, you can see the reversed section highlighted. When you play the whole track like this, it’s perfectly seamless.
Now you can say that you learned something useful today. Go ahead and try it on your Slayer albums now!
GETTING MORE TALE #724: Balls to Picasso
In 1993, Iron Maiden announced the departure of Bruce Dickinson, and my world was shattered.
“Oh no. Not Iron Maiden too…”
I found out via M.E.A.T Magazine, and because of print magazine lead times, the actual announcement came weeks before I found out.
All the big bands seemed to be losing their key members. Both Motley Crue and Judas Priest were dealing with it, and nobody knew if those bands would survive. Maiden hurt the most; they had been with me the longest. What could Maiden do without Bruce? What could Bruce do without Maiden?
The band tried to keep up appearances, but the split was not amicable. We wouldn’t know this for years. In the meantime, my life changed when I was hired at the Record Store. Though I loved the job, it was starkly obvious that in 1994, heavy metal was passé. Nobody was buying it, while Soundgarden dominated our rock sales. No matter how it panned out, both Bruce and Iron Maiden would be facing uphill climbs.
Bruce’s solo outing Balls to Picasso was released in June. I was surprised that we were carrying it at all, but it wasn’t selling. I hadn’t got it yet; the review in M.E.A.T stated that the Japanese version had a bonus track. Drew Masters claimed the bonus acoustic version of “Tears of the Dragon” was better than the album cut, so I was trying to hold off until I could find the Japanese. All I knew is the album in general was supposed to be very, very different from Iron Maiden.
I never found the Japanese version. In 1994 it was virtually impossible to find Japanese imports, though I asked the boss to try to order one for me. HMV in Toronto carried rare imports, but I didn’t know that.
When a used CD copy of Balls to Picasso was traded in, I waited for the boss to leave for the day and then I eagerly put it on the store player.
Where are you going?
What are you doing?
Why are you looking,
At the cameras eye?
By the first chorus of the first track “Cyclops”, I knew I was going to like the album. Different indeed! Growling guitar sounds backed by exotic percussion were new twists.
There were two songs that sold the album to me immediately. I did not want to live my life any longer without the songs “Change of Heart” and “Tears of the Dragon”. Both songs spoke to me. I was dealing with the fallout from a nasty breakup and the lyrics seemed to apply to my life. Not to mention, the music was brilliant! If Bruce had to leave Iron Maiden to put out a song like “Change of Heart” then so be it. I played the song over and over. I even told the boss how good the album was.
“I was playing the new Bruce Dickinson in the store the other night,” I said, “and it’s really good. Not what you’d expect.”
“Isn’t that too heavy for the store?” he semi-scolded.
“No,” I semi-lied. “It’s pretty light.” I obviously didn’t tell him about the white hot “Sacred Cowboys”!
For some reason I chose to buy the cassette, and I played that tape everywhere. I jammed it in the car for my buddy Aaron. He particularly liked “Shoot All the Clowns” because he’s terrified of clowns. Shooting all the clowns was a sentiment he could get behind.
What I liked about the album was that it was modern sounding (“Shoot All the Clowns” had funk and rap!). I could get away with store play, but yet it had the sterling musicianship and guitar solos that I craved. I could play it for younger friends like Aaron, who would appreciate the modern production and maybe get past the operatic vocals.
Playing “Change of Heart” today is not the same. I’m no longer the heartbroken sad sack of shit. It’s still a brilliant track but I don’t hang on every word anymore. In 1994 it seemed like every line was for me to sing. The feelings it used to stir don’t exist anymore. But man, what a song! The unusual drumming, the guitar work, the singing…it is one of Bruce’s very best, including those he wrote in Iron Maiden.
I can’t say that I am as passionate about Balls to Picasso in 2018 as I was in 1994. I still love it, but I daresay Bruce has made better solo albums in his amazing career since. Still, Balls to Picasso is historically important. It introduced many of us to Roy Z for the first time, and it may have put him on the map. Roy’s work in metal since has been highly respected by connoisseurs worldwide. And then there’s that personal history. I played this album so much during that cold, depressing winter. It still stands up today, with a timelessly clear production and some very strong material.
Obviously things eventually worked out between Bruce and Iron Maiden. He’s been back fronting them for almost 20 years. Things worked out OK for me too. Balls to Picasso was a step in both Bruce’s journey, and mine.
Good day everybody; Harrison here with a public service announcement/review. You see, on the 20th of September 2018, something amazing happened. As part of their endeavours to digitise their archives, the Beat Club (a poor man’s Rockpalast), surreptitiously uploaded a video to YouTube. But this was no ordinary video. It was a video of an Iron Maiden show. As Iron Maiden are renowned for their stinginess with archive material and reissues , this upload was met with celebrations across cyberspace for those in the know. And for those not in the know, here is this review of the show to bring it to your attention. [The video can be found at bottom — LeBrain]
As you will be able to tell, this show falls in the Di’Anno era, of which the only official video release was the six song “Live at the Rainbow” from 1980, which left fans clamouring for more. (Yes, I am aware of the 1980 show on Disc 2 of The Early Days but given its status as a curiosity due to its terrible quality, I’m ignoring it for the purpose of this review). As a side note, while the original six-and-a-half song broadcast of this show has been available as a bootleg for quite a while, this is the full twelve song show (and a little more), without the visual effects of a degrading VHS either. Unfortunately, the audio and video are just ever so slightly out of sync.
We kick things off rather characteristically with the taped “The Ides of March” heralding the band’s arrival onstage and it’s instantly clear, that this is going to be so much better visually than Live at the Rainbow. While yes, the Iron Maiden stage set of the Rainbow is not present, neither is the tape hiss of that show, which, rather obviously, leads to a much better sounding show. That’s not all. The atmospheric theatre lighting of the Rainbow is also gone, having been replaced by the ever-present TV studio lighting. While it does break the immersion a little, the net result is a picture that despite being only 480p, puts virtually every other video from that era (and some after it too ) to shame. It really does look fantastic for its age. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The band have the performance to back it up too. 
The performance commences rather uncharacteristically with “Prowler” following “The Ides…” instead of the quintessential “Ides of March/Wrathchild” combo, although this was well known as “Prowler” opened the original broadcast as well. With Paul Di’Anno and Clive Burr both in fine form, “Prowler” doesn’t get much better than this.
Next up however, is something that did not feature on the original broadcast nor features on any Maiden video since: one of my favourite songs from the debut, “Charlotte the Harlot”. It becomes clear here, as the band kick the energy up to 11, of the great hindrance that Wil Malone’s production on the debut was. Steve Harris is right. It didn’t even begin to capture their ferocity live. Thankfully this mix rectifies that error, and this song is a definite highlight of the show, no mean feat in a Maiden performance. Another broadcast song, “Wrathchild” follows on, with the honour of being the first song of the show from their then unreleased second album. An awesome rendition of the enduring Di’Anno era classic, there’s not much else you can say about any of Maiden’s performances of this song.
On the other hand, there is much to say about the performance of “Remember Tomorrow”, except, not much of it has to do with “Remember Tomorrow”. During the second verse there’s a most interesting sound coming through: the sound of a technical failure, and the band stop playing soon after, having a beer and mucking around with their guitars as the problem is fixed. I’m so glad they left this interlude in. It shows a little bit behind the scenes and is a nice deviation from the main stuff, one that is not often shown, even on these full show sorts of things. Eventually someone decides to stop using up tape, and we cut to the start of the second go at “Remember Tomorrow”, which is done by the numbers in spectacular Maiden fashion.
With things definitely back on track the band plough into “Transylvania”. When it comes to instrumentals, Maiden really knocks it out of the park, and I do wish they’d done more. This performance is no exception, although I do think I might prefer “Genghis Khan” from Killers. Now, despite being one of their few singles at the time, “Running Free” didn’t make it onto Live at the Rainbow. This travesty thankfully does not reoccur here, and while Live After Death boasts the ultimate “Running Free”, Di’Anno and co. are no slouches and that’s reflected in probably one of this line-up’s best performances of the song.
Another Killers song, “Innocent Exile” is next. It’s done well, and as this is before the era of the twig-snapping bass tone, you get a nice full little bass workout from ‘Arry as the intro.  “Sanctuary” comes next. It’s one of my least favourite Di’Anno era songs and I fully believed it outstayed its welcome on subsequent tours. It’s not the best rendition either: Di’Anno mixes some lyrics up and the solos are not up to the usual standard.
Now here’s something interesting though: “Killers”. This show was recorded only 11 days before that release of Killers, yet this version of “Killers” is the most experimental I’ve ever heard it. The intro and the guitar harmonies have a spacey feel to them and there’s even the changing up the lyrics for a couple lines. Di’Anno’s screams being mostly absent for most of the intro only accentuate this experimental vibe. It’s nice to have a good quality video now of the album lyrics (most of them anyway).
“Another Life” is the next song, one that was fade-cut halfway as the credits rolled on the original broadcast. Now it’s here in all its glory: a good, if perhaps almost filler song from Killers. It’s a fiery rendition, but it suffers from “If you’ve heard it once you’ve heard it three times”. The drum solo is sadly but expectedly skipped on this show, pushing this good, if unspectacular song into the background.
This slight lull in awesomeness is immediately rectified with “Phantom of the Opera”. The original Iron Maiden epic, it was played at breakneck pace at the Rainbow show and it’s not much slower here, a slight shame because “Phantom of the Opera” is one of the few songs I think isn’t better when done faster. That being said, it’s still a chunk of pure awesome no matter how you slice it.
Of course, now it wouldn’t be an Iron Maiden show without “Iron Maiden” and it wouldn’t be an awesome rendition of the song without Paul Di’Anno.  The end of the show is signalled in spectacular fashion, with the ever-reliable Eddie making an appearance to send off the show in style. Except that it’s not the end yet. They were recording for TV after all, so the band semi-encore with another rendition of “Sanctuary” to replace the muffed version from before. And then it’s over. One hour’s worth of early classics and deep cuts by the best band on earth. 
Watch now or else.
4.5/5 stars (-0.25 for audio/visual sync issues, -0.25 for lack of Di’Anno screams here and there)
Tracks: – Intro/”Ides of march” – “Prowler” – “Sanctuary” – “Phantom of the Opera” – “Iron Maiden” – “Wrathchild” – “Innocent Exile” – “Sanctuary” – “Another Life”
 This year is the 20th anniversary of the 1998 remasters.
 The 1983 live album and video Alchemy by Dire Straits is a prime example of this. It has terrible lighting, being way too dark most of the time. But then again, most landmark live albums don’t have video components anyway, so we should be grateful to have any sort of video of Alchemy in the first place. Although when it comes to picture quality verse age, you can’t beat Deep Purples Granada 1970 performance.
 Don’t even get me started on the video of The Rolling Stone’s Live at the LA Forum 1975. Complete waste of valuable high-quality film.
 ’Arry’s bass tone on Maiden England ’88 is a thing of beauty. (Actually no, it really isn’t)
 The only Dickinson rendition of this song I think is truly awesome is the Beast Over Hammersmith one.
 Sorry LeBrain.
GETTING MORE TALE #703: The Lost Chapters – “1986”
Part 1: Easter holiday
Easter weekend has always been one of my favourites of the year. While working at the record store, it became much less so. I often could not get away for Easter, plus Easter Monday is only a bank holiday, not a holiday for stiffs working retail. But that’s the life of a grown-up, not a kid. In 1986 we still had the innocence of never had worked an honest day in our lives. Oh sure, we mowed the lawns. Big deal. That was kind of enjoyable. I loved starting our mower’s old gas engine. I loved filling it up with gas.
Aside from lawn mowing and a few winters of forcible shovelling, we had no idea yet of the horrors of the Adult Life. I mean, we kind of knew. We knew that glorious childhood would not last forever. Our teachers ensured this with the constant hammering of, “If you want a good job later, you better do your home work tonight.” We understood, with gloom, that somewhere down the line would come a time when weekends were not free. When we would be out working while Gilligan’s Island was on TV, and how could you go without Gilligan’s Island? How could you live your life without Gilligan, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife? It really didn’t seem possible. 
In those days, we loved a little bit of an extended holiday. Summer holidays were best, followed by Christmas (two weeks), March break (one week), and Easter (four days). Not only that, but the last day of school before a holiday like this was usually a write off, or at least half a write off. The teachers let you goof around. It was almost like a four and a half day break. This made Easter a pretty significant holiday, and we spent a lot of our Easters doing fun stuff. We were either at the cottage, visiting relatives, or both.
Many happy Easter weekends abound in my memories. I can remember spending Easter of ’85 in Ottawa with my family, and our Uncle Gar and Aunt Miriam. I can distinctly remember getting Quiet Riot’s Condition Critical cassette that Easter, as well as a Transformers Insecticon (Shrapnel).
It was Easter of ’86 that was the best of them all. At least, Easter ’86 is the clearest in my memory. I remember it much more clearly than any other. None have had that impact; it was just that magical time of our lives. It was the Age of Discovery. That year, I discovered girls pretty seriously for the first time.
1986 was a turning point in my life. I had spent the previous eight years in a crummy Catholic school populated by all the main subcultures: nerds, jocks, dicks, ugly kids, and girls who listened to Duran Duran. Grade 8 was particularly hard. I was being bullied in a serious way that winter. Not by today’s standards. By today’s standards, this is nothing. By 1986 standards, this was a big deal for a kid. I can remember snow being stuffed down my shirt every Thursday after shop class. Every fucking Thursday. I fucking hated Thursday so fucking much. I can remember kids who I thought were my friends laughing when it happened. Earlier that same term, I can remember Kenny Lawrence volunteering to be my science lab buddy. I was suspicious of his motives, so I asked him why. He said, “Because I think you’re cool”. I let it slide because I needed a lab partner too, but it was soon evident that the real reason was because he knew I’d do all the work and get us a good mark. I was a nice guy even then; too nice, and that’s a trait I still have.
I didn’t fit in with anybody. I was into rock and roll, I was into books, and I knew nothing about sports or Duran Duran and Mr. Mister. Most importantly, I didn’t want to know. Even back then I was true to who I was. I refused to be a fake. Metal on metal, was what I craved. I was going to sell my music soul out to Duran fucking Duran and get a fucking Corey Feldman haircut just because it was the way to get girls into me? If a girl wasn’t into me as I was, Motley Crue and all, then she wasn’t worth it.
Of paramount importance to me was the fact that this was the last year of school before we all took the leap into high school. High school presents one tantalising possibility: The chance to switch school systems, and get away from the Catholic dicks. For anybody who was there, I will testify that the Catholic schools in the 80’s hosted the most and worst dicks you could find back then. Whether that is still true I do not know, but it certainly was true in 1986. I jumped at the chance to get out, and sent in my application to Grand River Collegiate Institute (GRCI).
GRCI presented freedom, but also for the first time ever, a chance to attend school with my best friend Bob. Bob was two years older, and we’d never have a class together, I knew that, but he always tried to get us lockers side by side. Bob was popular, smart, creative, easily the best influence on my life at the time. Most importantly he was tall, physically strong, really cool, and just an absolutely good person. He would protect me from any dicks I might run into. He’d also bring me into his circle of friends; older kids, which was great for me because I fit in better with them. We had similar interests. One of Bob’s friends was a kid named Rob Daniels. Today he’s the host of Visions In Sound on CKWR and a frequent collaborator.
Easter of 1986 represented the end of that dreadful winter, and the beginning of a new hopeful spring. As with many Easters past, we opened up our cottage and went up for the long weekend. We probably didn’t even have the water hooked up yet, because Easter fell in March that year. It was warm, but ice still covered Lake Huron. We have a photo of me, trying to negotiate ice floes out on the lake on our canoe. Much like Ernest Shackleton 70 years earlier, I rowed that canoe through the leads, trying to find open water. Unlike Shackleton, I found myself in the drink, or as we said back then, I got “two soakers”. It was a glorious time to be alive.
At the cottage, my sister and I played board games. A favourite was called Crossbows and Catapults. It had no actual board, but the idea was pretty simple. You built a castle wall out of the bricks provided, focusing on strength and protection of your castle courtyard.
The game came with one crossbow and one catapult per player, as well as discs to fire. The weapons were powered by elastic bands. We still have the game; the elastics dried out but are replaceable. Each player took turns firing at their opponent. Aim was crucial! If you could weaken or destroy your opponent’s wall, you could then try to fire the “King” disc into your opponent’s castle courtyard. If you did, you won. But if you missed, your opponent could capture your King disc. Your only hope then was to rescue him by knocking down your opponent’s tower.
You could also buy expansion sets. One we had was a spring-powered battering ram that was hard to aim but packed enough punch to destroy a wall with only one shot. Another one was a set of castle outposts that had their own built-in catapults. However, they could also be captured with a single well-aimed shot, and then turned against you.
We played for hours, taking up the entire kitchen floor (you needed a smooth flat surface). While we played, we listened to music. My memories are of Motley Crue’s Too Fast For Love cassette – the original Leathür Records mix. We also played the two Quiet Riot cassettes that were out at the time, Metal Health and the aforementioned Condition Critical. My sister loved Quiet Riot and the Crue, but didn’t think much of my Judas Priest or W.A.S.P. cassettes. The previous weekend, MuchMusic debuted the new Judas Priest video, “Turbo Lover”, and I taped that and cranked it outdoors on the back porch. I was also listening to two Christian rock bands called Rez and the Darrell Mansfield Band, which Bob had taped for me. For years all I had of Rez and Mansfield was that crappy sounding cassette (actually unlistenable) until the advent of Amazon and iTunes.
We also played badminton. A picture exists of me playing air guitar on a badminton racquet from that weekend. The yard was big enough to do so, and we didn’t even need a net, we just used the clothesline. It was great fun, and the weekend was warm enough that nobody needed jackets.
Right; girls. I wasn’t picky. Any that would talk to me would do.
My dad’s friend Bill was interested in renting the log cabin next door. Sadly it’s not there anymore. It was owned by an elderly lady who couldn’t use it anymore, so she rented it out. (A year later, we purchased the cabin from her. Sadly we had to tear it down in 2001, as the roof had rot.) Bill had come up with his family to check it out. Bill had a daughter who was my age. And she didn’t know me, at all. She didn’t know I was the fucking loser of the school! She didn’t know my history of saying stupid things at the exact wrong time! She didn’t know I didn’t give a fuck about hockey. I could play up the rocker image. I could be the bad boy. The bad boy with a fucking Crossbows and Catapults on the kitchen floor, but somehow God damn it, a “tough kid”!
As I sat there that afternoon trying to look at her using only my peripheral vision, plans were set in motion. They reserved the cottage for two weeks in early August, giving me much time to formulate my plans. I needed to get her to like me by completely ignoring her! Chicks love guys that are dicks!
That was the anticipation for the coming summer. Not only would I be escaping the Hell that was Catholic school, but this girl my age was going to be spending two weeks at the cabin next door. Now, I had never really spoken to girls before and I had no idea how to go about it. Most of my plans involved grossing her out with insects. 
Part 2: Musical integrity
“We gonna hand the microphone over to…ACE FREHLEY, SHOCK ME!!”
Anybody who’s paid their rock n’ roll taxes knows that this is how Paul Stanley introduces Ace Frehley’s vocal spotlight on the song “Shock Me” from Kiss Alive II. During the winter and spring of 1986, my neighbour George (whom was the kind of kid that you socialised with only so you could access his music library) had taped the album for me. He had also taped such albums as Love Gun and Double Platinum. Best of all was the rare Animalize Live Uncensored video that he had dubbed onto cassette for me. I was well armed with Kiss music by the time summer rolled around. Back then I could scarcely afford to buy more than a couple cassettes a year, since I was still plowing all my allowance into GI Joe and Transformers forces. Yeah, that means at age 13 I was still playing with toys. No big deal. You’re the asshole for thinking so.
Anyway, the dubbed copies sounded terrible, but I didn’t know any better. I had a Walkman, it was a piece of shit, but it was a Walkman. I had a proper ghetto blaster that wasn’t loud enough and a turntable at home, but these were not exactly what you would call portable. If I remember correctly, the ghetto blaster itself took something like nine D-size batteries, enough power for Ace Frehley to “shock me” at any place and any time. However the juice wouldn’t even last for a whole day of music, and the batteries too expensive to replace regularly, so I never did that.
Finally, I graduated grade school. Grade 8, the dicks, Mrs. Powers, and compulsory church services were behind me. Grand 9, highschool, lay ahead in what was guaranteed to be better times. Before that, the summer lay ahead as one final chance to be a kid.
Unfortunately, Bob was not around much that summer. He had left in July for Calgary to stay with his older brother Martin. We promised to correspond via lettermail. This summer, I would be flying solo. At the end of the month, Bill’s family truckster came up to the rented cottage fully loaded and daughter in tow.
I was packed and fully prepared. I had my two cases of cassettes. One case was massive; it held 60 tapes. The other was much smaller, but I had about 100 albums on cassette and LP back then to occupy my time. Many were dubbed, but by then a growing number were not.
Part 3: Musical flashbacks
The way the system worked was brilliant and simple. There was no file sharing. If one of us owned an album, it was the right and privilege of all the neighbor kids to ask you to borrow it for taping purposes. Or, if your equipment was superior they’d ask you to do it for them. However, we all had crappy equipment with the exception of George Balasz. George Balasz didn’t have cassettes either, he still had LPs, which sounded better.
George’s LP collection was very impressive. His Kiss albums were virtually complete. He even had such rarities as the Kiss Killers record, which was a European import. He also had a complete collection of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest records, and I had access to dubbed copies of these whenever I wanted. The only problem was that George was a little fucking creepy.
His family was Hungarian, and happened to be the token white trash family on the street. His house had that awful Beef Soup Whif that Wayne Campbell speaks of. When we were kids, he pissed Bob and I off by stealing certain rare Lego pieces from us. He was older than any of us, so when he started to show us his Playboy collection, we labelled him as a perv rather than a cool kid, which was the opposite effect from what he was going for. He had also stolen Bob’s brother’s bike. He hid it in his garage, which had no door. John simply walked over to George’s house, saw it, and beat the piss out of him. This pleased everyone since nobody liked a thief, the adults didn’t care for George, and John had never done anything violent before in his life. It was the kind of thing everybody whispered about.
“Have you seen John?”
“No, I haven’t seen him in days. Why?”
“GEORGE STOLE HIS BIKE AND JOHN WENT LOOKING FOR IT AND HE FOUND IT IN GEORGE BALASZ’ GARAGE AND THEN HE FOUND GEORGE AND BEAT HIM UP HE PUNCHED HIM RIGHT IN THE FACE AND MAYBE GEORGE WAS EVEN BLEEDING BUT JOHN IS GROUNDED NOW AND GEORGE WON’T GO OUTSIDE BECAUSE EVERYBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT NOW AND PEOPLE KEEP CALLING GEORGE NAMES LIKE THIEF AND JAILBIRD AND HE’S SUCH A LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSER!”
George’s family was not smart with money. Years later, after George had graduated high school, his father passed away. He left them a sum of money which they squandered on new furniture and drapes. My father managed the bank at the time, and counselled them to invest the money. They didn’t. As my father predicted, it did not last, and they were flat broke within a few years and sold their house. It was all very sad.
George had the same affliction. He couldn’t hold onto money or anything else for that matter. This worked to my advantage. I have quite a collection of rare, early GI Joe figures that I got for a buck a piece. He needed the money to buy more records and I was happy to provide it for these figures. I have no idea what the figures are worth today, but certainly more than a buck a piece. I also acquired a complete collection of GI Joe comics in a similar fashion: A buck a piece, maybe a little more for the early issues like 1 and 2.
My collection of comics was pretty sweet, and my collection of toys even sweeter. My music library was coming along nicely. Most importantly, I had developed integrity in my musical taste. I was learning to see qualities that I valued in music. I rejected the bands that seemed like they’d sold out any balls at all to have a hit.
Musically speaking it was a pretty simple time. David Lee Roth had just left Van Halen, and 5150 had just come out, with Sammy. Kiss settled into a strong lineup featuring new guitar player Bruce Kulick and all the kids dug their latest album Asylum. Maiden had dropped a double-live monster on us called Live After Death and we were all eager to find out what their new album would sound like. Priest recently released Turbo which was completely modern sounding, with synthesizers, and most of us thought it was pretty cool. On the rare occasion we could afford a music magazine, we’d read about how Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris were feuding, but we were confident they’d be friends again and make the next Maiden album the best ever.
In summary, I felt pretty cool musically, though not in any other ways.
I knew I wasn’t cool by the standards of kids of the day, but I knew I was cool in the eyes of my true friends and myself. Most important was the integrity factor. If something was deemed uncool at school, such as comic books, I was only more dedicated in my collecting. If a band, such a Quiet Riot, was condemned as being washed up, I still went to the store to check out their new tape whenever it came out. I didn’t care. It was a kind of loyalty; a loyalty to oneself.
Part 4: Clueless
I was armed with the knowledge that I had musical integrity, and a character that was somewhat unique. I was also armed with a BB gun. I was actually a pretty good shot; chicks should find that impressive. That meant that if WWIII broke out right then and there, I could defend any girl’s life. They appreciate that stuff, right? Bob was in Alberta; I was going solo this summer. I was ready as I’d ever be.
My dad’s friends arrived at the cottage and settled into the cabin next door. The next morning I set out on my plans. I figured that I needed a few things to get noticed by a girl.
There I was, wandering the woods between the two cottages, Walkman on my ears and magnifying glass in my heads, burning leaves and bugs. She’d think I was cool; she had to, because this was the only idea I had.
As it turns out, I didn’t get her attention. But her younger brother Mike came out to see what I was doing. Together we bonded by pulling the legs off grasshoppers and then burning what was left. We were the original Beavis and Butt-head. We actually had a lot in common, like Transformers. He came over to read my comic books and we became friends.
That night, our families had decided to have a marshmallow/weenie roast together. They had a huge fireplace there, a cement monster that was slowly crumbling under the weight of so many winters. It was a good time, and it was the first time a girl laughed at something I said in a good way. I’m much funnier now (trust me) but back then I was absolutely useless at making girls laugh. Whatever I said always just came out completely wrong.
I tried to steer the conversation to comfortable territory. I brought up something I knew a lot about, and would impress her. Obviously, I picked WWF wrestling. She said something along the lines of, “Wrestling’s dumb, it’s so fake!” I rose to the sports-entertainment’s defence.
“Wrestling’s not entirely fake. Look at a move like a suplex. You can’t fake that.”
“What’s a suplex?” she queried.
Not knowing how to describe one, the best answer I could come up with was “I don’t know.”
She laughed. Something about that was funny to her, in a good way. I didn’t mean to make her laugh, and I thought she would laugh at me. She didn’t. A first! I was a natural.
Making progress, the next obvious step was to return to my original strategy of gross-outs with insects.
We called them tree toads, but they were cicadas. They look like huge fat grasshoppers, and their high-pitched song could be heard loudly all summer long. It’s a great sound; it means summer is here. That year, we found some tree toads for the first time. We’d heard them but never seen one before. First, we only found their empty shells. Like snakes, they shed their skin leaving behind a hard shell, but they can shed their skins in such a way that the shapes are completely intact. They are an exact duplicate of the insect itself, with a small slit in the back where the tree toad escaped. They were intact right down to their clingy little legs. These legs were clingy enough that you could hang several of these shells from your face thus grossing out any girl you liked. This is what I did. I even got my sister and the other Mike in on it. We both had cicada shells hanging from our cheeks and noses.
For Mike, it was fun because we were grossing out his sister. For me, it was making contact. Any contact! I did the ultimate gross-out when I found a live tree toad and hung him off my face. She left. Somehow, I thought I was being funny.
Having used up the insect strategy, I selected a new one.
Part 5: Being excellent at something
I always knew you had to be excellent at something. I could aim a BB gun and hit a dime. I could also draw.
Death Team was my pride and joy. Bob had shown me how to draw human figures and aliens, and I was good at doing airplanes and tanks. Together we honed our skills. My human figures were getting better all the time. We’d created something called Death Team. I liken it to a concept similar to GI Joe, with a couple modifications. Our guys were all rockers or punks, it was a Canadian team, and it was on paper only. We put together dozens of drawings of characters and vehicles and put them together in a binder. We made some cover art for the binder, we even recorded an audio cassette of us acting out Death Team skits. It was a totally real thing to us and we wanted to get rich by turning it into a toyline or movie.
Our “business card”
I decided to unleash the Great three-inch Death Team binder and casually be drawing some guy in a cool action pose while the girl walked by.
The nice thing was that even though she didn’t care about my drawings of guys with guns, I was having a good time drawing them. Mike came over and joined us. Then he showed us how to play a really fun adventure style game using just a pencil and paper. You’d draw a dungeon, put some obstacles in there, and then verbally guide your friends through the dungeon you’d just drawn and see if they could make it past the obstacles. My sister and I loved it, and the game became much more elaborate between the three of us. Suddenly it wasn’t about impressing the girls anymore, it was about having a blast with this new game we’d invented. We always invented our own games, and 1986 continued that tradition…and then an afternoon was gone.
Eventually the week was gone, too, and we had to go home. My dad had to return to work. I got home, and there was a letter from Bob. He was having a great time in Calgary and asked about updates from home. He was going to go and see Ozzy with some new band called “Metallica” but Ozzy cancelled.
He’d written this letter and drawn a picture. The picture was of me and him rocking out, and a picture of George Balasz at his nerdly best. He wrote in his letter that he picked up a rare copy of Kiss Killers on vinyl. It was the German pressing with the backwards “ZZ” logo.  He was having a good summer with his brother Martin, and Martin’s dog. He wrote, “One thing for sure, I’m getting a dog when I come back to Kitchener.” Maybe Bob didn’t know his mother as well as I did, because I knew there was no way in hell he was getting a dog when he got back to Kitchener. He also said he was getting a computer when he got home, but that also did not materialise. His mom put the kibosh on both.
I was so glad to hear from him. The summer had been pretty quiet without him around. Also, I needed his help. Mike and I were coming up with new Death Team characters every day, and Bob wasn’t there to see them, and offer his own notes. Grade 9 was swiftly approaching and I was worried that I wouldn’t be prepared. I was hoping Bob could help me shop for supplies I’d need for highschool.
My mom, sister and I headed back up to the cottage without my dad who would catch up with us at the end of the week. His friends were still renting next door. When we came back, we had this huge bonfire in our back yard. There was a lot of construction up by the county road, and a lot of trees down. My mom sent me, Mike, and the girl into the woods to bring some of the bigger logs down to burn. We basically stole logs from this construction site, but nobody cared about things like that. We did a hot dog roast, marshmallows, and told jokes.
Saturday night, after my dad got back, we all went into town to see the parade. It was a tradition. Every Saturday night in Kincardine, the local Scottish piper band makes its way down the main street, and everyone follows. When I say everyone, I mean it. The entire town comes out to see it. At 8pm, every Saturday night for the entire summer, the downtown came alive. After the parade, ice cream was the traditional confection.
This particular weekend, there was a clown there, I have no idea why. His name was “Bazo the Clown”. Bazo had grabbed a “bad kid” and was giving him hell. None of knew why, but the sight of Bazo the Clown grabbing this kid and scolding him was something we found absolutely hilarious. We were in stitches. We still speak of Bazo.
I had a few days left to try to make some sort of impact on the girl. Insects didn’t do it, and drawings didn’t do it. Switching back to the concept of making the girl laugh, I figured out a way to include the absent Bob. Bob was funny, and we did some funny recordings together. We recorded skits to audio tapes and we thought they were the funniest fucking things anybody had ever done in the history of comedy.
Bob and I had several hours of these comedy “gold” on tape. Most of them involved us making fun of George Balasz, but he was a pretty easy target. Some of them involved us making fun of Jimmy Swaggart or Oral Roberts. We both watched TV preachers on weekday mornings while waiting for cartoons to start. We thought they were hilarious. Certainly, Ozzy would have been proud of us. The only problem was this was all inside joke comedy that nobody else would get.
I invited Mike and his sister over to take part in a recording session. The idea was to record a sketch that would play on our rivalry. The real idea however was again to attempt to be excellent at something in front of the girl. Also, I hoped to impress her with the size of my cassette collection (as you would). Showing off my musical integrity would do the trick. But, I found out later, you can’t impress a girl who likes Duran Duran with Kiss.
My cassettes were starting to overflow their cases. What I had done to handle the overspill was hand-paint two ceramic bookends with Kiss artwork. I used these bookends to store my Kiss tapes upon my shelves. At least my artwork would have to impress her, if the music did not. I painted all six Kiss masks and a logo. Far from being impressed the girl thought it would be funny to mix up the order of the tapes. Nobody could actually mix them up permanently for my organisational skills were second to none. I had them all back in order soon, chronologically by date of release.
Part 6: Seasons end
It was an excellent summer. It was an excellent time to be alive. The lake was warm, the water levels were high, the waves were crashing on the sandy beach and we took advantage of that for as long as we could.
The summer drew to a close. The days grew shorter. Our games grew sillier. My sister invented something, I guess you’d call it a game, called “The Poo Machine”. Thankfully the details are lost to me. It mostly involved pulling levers and making fart sounds. It kept us occupied and outside.
When we returned home, Bob also arrived back from Calgary. I showed him the Death Team drawings I had done, and hoped for his approval.
He showed me his Kiss record; the one with the German logo. Things were moving back to normal. We got the grade 9 supplies. High school began. I hung out with Bob every day and our friendship got tighter and tighter. A new journey was beginning. I was shedding the skin of the old life. I was a high school kid. Toys were soon gone, replaced by a ravenous insatiable need to collect music. This was a quest Bob shared with me and we bonded. Great music was just around the corner. A new Iron Maiden album was about to come out. The future was golden.
 From the moment your parent or guardian says “Get a job.”
 This is before PVR’s, kids. VCR’s too, for those born before 1994. Do try to keep up.
 I am using Gilligan’s Island as a matter of poetic license. I actually had this thought when I was a teenager about the Beverly Hillbillies. They were always on at noon and I realised one day, I wouldn’t be at home at noon anymore.
 I found out in later that this girl was actually my first kiss. When we were both like, three years old. The deed was done. Her brother Mike, who was cool and I hung out with, dug up a picture of it, which was in his family’s photo album. I didn’t even know we had met before. Mike teased me endlessly. However, to me it meant that at least I had kissed a girl, once. I didn’t remember it, but what the hell, I’ll take it.
 Kiss could not use their lightning bolt SS logo in Germany because it was too similar to the Nazi SS logo. Therefore all German Kiss albums do not have the original lightning bolt SS logo, but use backwards ZZ’s instead. The copy that Bob bought in Calgary that summer is the same copy that I own today.
This one comes from reader Harrison From Down Unda. Harrison, as you know, is a huge Iron Maiden fan. Recently on the subject of shaving my beard off, he suggested I do the half-beard, like Bruce Dickinson did in 1986.
Little did Harrison know that I was way ahead of him, having already done it (and my head) years ago!
Welcome to the first ever Reader Spotlight at mikeladano.com! It’s time to turn the mirror on you!
If you enjoy this feature, it might be the first of several. Be sure to let us know.
There’s a story about how this came to be. The timeline is as follows:
2012: Aaron FINDS THE SULTANS ALBUM and gives it to me for Christmas!
2018: Reader Harrison from Australia alerts me that there is a 2 CD “deluxe edition” of Casual Sex in the Cineplex, in stock at the Canadian Amazon store.
In gratitude, I decided to do a Reader Spotlight on Harrison, a pretty cool guy who has now helped me solidify my music collection even further. Harrison graciously agreed. We had a chat and I asked him ten questions. Then he went and added more on his own!
M: So Harrison, tell us how old you are and where you live, and what you’re doing at school.
H: I’m eighteen (nineteen in July). I live in Perth, Western Australia and I’m currently at university studying Professional Writing and Economics.
M: How did you discover heavy metal?
H: Pure chance, almost. My dad likes Led Zeppelin a lot and my mother likewise with AC/DC, so I guess I kind of always had it in my life but is wasn’t until my uncle passed on his CD collection to my family after digitizing it that I experienced a moment of clarity (to quote LeBrain). Among the many other discs of varying genres was a battered copy of Iron Maiden’s Best of the Beast (2 CD edition but only disc 1 included). By the first chorus of the third song (“Man on the Edge”) I was hooked. That disc got a lot of play thereafter and is single handedly responsible for starting my love of metal.
M: This helps explain why you love the Blaze era so much! Was there ever any other music you loved this much?
H: My dad has varied musical tastes and a diverse collection, so I got to experience a wide variety of artists. Before Iron Maiden came along my favourite band was the Electric Light Orchestra
M: Top five bands — GO!
H: Oh dear, I was dreading this question. Very difficult to do a top five, but here I go anyway.
1. Iron Maiden
2. Black Sabbath
3. Deep Purple
5. Electric Light Orchestra
(Honourable Mentions – Ozzy, Alice Cooper, Blaze, Zeppelin, Slade)
M: You’ve guest reviewed here before and I don’t think you’re done writing reviews. What’s next?
H: Well I’ve got some tales to tell but seeing as you can’t write your memoirs at age 20 that will have to wait until I’m older and (hopefully) wiser. I’m planning for it now though. I enjoy writing and discussing the reviews, so I hope to guest more in the future. I just want to keep them few and far between, to preserve the occasion.
M: Who would win in a street fight: Ozzy or Alice Cooper.
H: Hmm…yes…very deep question…very philosophical. They would never fight though. Ozzy can’t leave his mic stand for more than ten seconds, and Alice is too nice.
But for the sake of the question, Alice would. His head is bigger than a bat’s so he safe, and he once pulled a gun on Elvis. (Although he was promptly shown by Elvis how to deal with an armed man when you are unarmed.)
M: That’s right, Elvis was into Karate. Why the heck do you keep coming back here to read the garbage I post?
H: Firstly, it’s not garbage. Secondly, funny you should ask that, because there’s a bit of a tale involved (there’s a Japanese bonus paragraph if you want). In short, I stumbled upon your 2 CD Best of the Beast review a while back, and I enjoyed it a lot. The personal style and in-depth review was far better than the mediocrity I could scrape up from other sites. I liked it so much that I kept coming back to it (although I did disagree with some points). Eventually I branched out into other Maiden reviews before going the whole hog. It was definitely your writing style that hooked me at the start, followed by your great insights, humour and personality that kept me here.
M: Well thanks! Speaking of writers: Heavy Metal OverLOAD, or OverLORD?
H: Overload (which would make a decent Metallica album title).
M: Do you get a lot of concerts down your way?
H: Not really unfortunately. Of the classic rock and metal bands, AC/DC come here often. Sabbath has a couple times (they even filmed a DVD in Melbourne for some reason). Maiden seem to do it mainly for the album tours. While I’m sure we get a decent amount of concerts here, most of them are not by bands I would see (which might have something to do with the fact that most of them are pensioners now).
M: If you want LeBrain readers to know just one thing about you, what would that be? GO!
Bass – Geezer Butler
Lead Guitar -Joe Satriani
Rhythm Guitar – Tony Iommi
Drums – Nicko McBrain
Vocals – James Hetfield
Keyboards – John Paul Jones
Acoustic/Harmony Guitar – Adrian Smith
Stats of Doom:
First album – Iron Maiden – Killers
First Concert – Haven’t been to one yet. Hoping Iron Maiden’s Legacy of the Beast Tour will be the one.
First Vinyl – Iron Maiden – Maiden Japan (notice a theme yet?)
First Bootleg -Iron Maiden – 24th May 1981
First album bought twice – None yet thankfully
Current Collection size – 45 jewel cases/digipaks
Thanks Harrison for taking part! If you enjoyed this Reader Spotlight, please do let us know in the comments. You could be next!
GETTING MORE TALE #666: 666
“Here is Wisdom, Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast.”
Ye metal fans! You have all heard of the number of the Beast, but do you actually know what it is? Iron Maiden mined the Bible for lyrical ideas in the early days. The Book of Revelation was a favourite of theirs. Of the Beast, it tells us that we can identify him by his number. This is not Satan himself, but the first Beast of the apocalypse, the end of the world. The Beast, it says, comes from the sea. There are many interpretations of the Revelations. Three main schools of thought are that these are prophecies of events that already occurred, will occur in the future, or are happening now in the present day.
The Beast will “rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. (Revelation 13:1)” Scholars say the seven heads represent seven kings. The 10 crowns are 10 more kings that have yet to be crowned. With an appearance like that, why do we need a number to identify the Beast?
Relevation is a symbolic book of the Bible and no one really claims to understand it all. The apocalyptic writings say that the Beast and the false prophet will muster the armies of the world against the man on the “white horse”. When they lose, they are tossed into a “lake of fire”. Some theologians believe the number 666 symbolizes the nations of the Earth that are in conflict with God. In the 1980s, some thought that 666 represented President Reagan, whose full name, Ronald Wilson Reagan, is three names of six letters each – 666. Indeed, Reagan changed his Bel-Air address from 666 St. Cloud Road to 668.
With the imagery and mystery inside, the Book of Revelation is great source material for heavy metal lyrics. The Bible has always been a source for popular music. Pete Seeger wrote “Turn! Turn! Turn!” around the Book of Ecclesiastes, but Revelations is great for darker themes. Iron Maiden (and even Anvil) made the number of the Beast famous to the secular community. Every metal head knows the number of the Beast. Or do they?
It turns out, the number may have been wrong all along. Older and older fragments of the Bible are constantly being unearthed. The oldest manuscript of Revelation chapter 13 (Papyrus 115) found to date is 1700 years old. This ancient fragment gives the number of the Beast as 616.
Scholars today are split. Many think 616 is the original number of the Beast, later changed to the more interesting 666 for aesthetic reasons. Try this trick with a calculator or spreadsheet: The sum of the numbers 1 through 36 is 666.
If this is true, Iron Maiden has a lot to revise, and metal fans may have some tattoos to fix!
GETTING MORE TALE #653: The Reset King (Music and Gaming and other stories)
A sequel to #652: Evolution ’80s: Music and Gaming
Perhaps the greatest awakening I ever had in my life was the moment I first heard Iron Maiden. It was so important to me, it was the first chapter of Record Store Tales — Part 1, “Run to the Hills”. At that early age, music and video games collided I was never the same again. Since that time, music has always been intertwined with gaming and my best buddy Bob. All three combined were responsible for my rock n’ roll epiphany.
Bob and I played a lot of Atari on the weekends. Both families had the Atari 2600, but we both had different selections of games. Depending on whose house we were at, we’d play different games. “Gorf” was one game he had that I didn’t. It was a shooter like “Space Invaders” but with different kinds of levels. More than going for a high score, it was important for us to try and make it through all the levels. Atari games were so limited. “Gorf” had five distinct levels so it was more rewarding to see all five than to rack up high scores.
Same with “Frogger”. That was one of my games, and Bob was very competitive on it. As you progressed up the levels, more obstacles were thrown in your way, like snakes for example. It was exciting to make it to a new level for the first time, but “Frogger” was a hair-triggered game where timing was everything. And Bob used to get very, very excitable when a game of “Frogger” went wrong. That is how he earned the nickname The Reset King.
Here was his thinking. If you lose a level early in “Frogger”, the chances of making it to a new high level were greatly reduced. Bob would rather reset the game than try in futility. So, he’d dive for that reset button on the Atari console, usually while yelling something at the game. “The game is cheating!” was a favourite.
The game is cheating indeed, I suppose. It was easier to let him reset than argue that an Atari 2600 wasn’t sophisticated enough to “cheat” at a video game. “Frogger” was very touchy, but it wasn’t particularly glitchy. If you so much as touched a car, you were dead even if it didn’t technically “hit” you. So it could get frustrating, sure. We would have to eventually cut Bob off from resets or nobody else would get a turn.
And so, he was crowned the Reset King by my dad, who worried he was going to break the damn switch. It was a title Bob rejected because the game was cheating, and because David Dolph across the street was way worse with the reset button.
David Dolph was this bratty kid across the street. His weird family wouldn’t let them play with any toys with guns, like G.I. Joe. But David was no dummy. He had a Transformers collection, because he didn’t tell his mom they came with guns. He was also destructive, and if you let David Dolph near your toys, he’d probably wreck them. We didn’t like David Dolph, but one afternoon we found ourselves at his house playing video games in the basement. It was there that David Dolph faced the Reset King.
They didn’t have an Atari, but they did have a Commodore Vic 20 that you could play games on. We were playing there in the basement, when the Reset King decided to start a game over because it “cheated” early on.
“No fair!” yelled David Dolph. “No fair! It’s my turn now!” He tried to wrestle the controller from Bob’s hand, who didn’t budge. In fact he just continued to stare intently at the TV and play, with the corners of his mouth attempting to conceal a smile. Giving up the fight over the controller, David Dolph burst into tears and ran upstairs. Bob kept playing, a huge grin now upon his face. We stayed until Bob finished playing games!
David Dolph was a weird kid. His parents were really strict and wouldn’t let them listen to music, except for Bruce Springsteen. They approved of the Boss, but heavy metal was satanic to them. The kid was over at our house one afternoon when I was watching music videos on TV with Bob. He was visibly upset by “Rock You” by Helix, and left the house. About a decade later, he sure changed. I often heard him blasting Savatage’s “Hall of the Mountain King” from his bedroom window when his parents weren’t around.
Maybe it’s the narcissist in me, but who was he blasting Savatage for? By that time, Bob and I weren’t even talking to him, so I always wondered if he was blasting it at us.
As much fun as we had over the years, you had to be patient when gaming with Bob. If you wanted play with him, you had to let the Reset King have his way.
The reset button never broke. In fact we still have the same Atari 2600. It works, and we still have all the cartridges…except one. My sister never forgave me for trading away “Superman”. However, I traded “Superman” for my first Kiss (Record Store Tales Part 3: My First Kiss) so clearly I had the greater good in mind.
What did break…frequently…were the controllers. And that wasn’t Bob’s fault. Bob owned an Atari and took good care of his stuff. He was brought up in a Dutch household that understood the value of working for something and taking care of it. None of Bob’s things were broken like David Dolph’s. No, Bob didn’t break our controllers. They were broken by Cousin Geoffrey. Cousin Geoffrey broke…everything.
My cousin is now a father himself, and he understands things a little differently now. I think he doesn’t hold it against me when I say he was fucking annoying to play Atari or Nintendo with. More annoying than the Reset King or David Dolph!
Geoffrey destroyed about three Atari joysticks. I was pretty good at taking them apart and repairing them, but there was only so much I could do. An Atari joystick was a plastic handle that activated four switches on a circuitboard underneath. Geoffrey would push those joysticks so hard that the plastic inside would shatter. I could take it apart and use hot glue to give the inner plastic frame some strength but it was a temporary fix at best. You had to buy new controllers. My dad eventually decreed that Geoffrey was only allowed to play with old, refurbished controllers, not the new ones.
Geoffrey destroyed our original Transformers G1 Frenzy figure, on Christmas day, the same day we got it! He was just a destructive child, and what he didn’t destroy he simply lost. I’ll give you some examples of the chaos he caused.
First trip to Alberta, August 1979. l-r Mike, Geoffrey “Captain Destructo”, and Kathryn
In August 1979, the family took our first trip to Alberta. It was a two week tour starting in Edmonton and going through the mountains. My sister, my cousin and I were often given the same toys to play with, so we wouldn’t fight over them. My sister and my cousin were both given dinky cars of the Batmobile. Were they ever cool. They came with a little metal trailer and a plastic Bat Boat you could tow. We had a lot of fun playing dinky cars on those floors of Alberta motels. They were also small enough to carry around in your pockets.
Geoffrey threw his first Batmobile off a mountain in Jasper. He just wanted to see what would happen if he threw the Batmobile off a moutain. A second Batmobile was bought for him on the same trip. That Batmobile was flushed down the toilet of a rest stop in Canmore. He was eventually given a third Batmobile, which, as far as I know, survived a little longer than the other two.
Geoffrey “Captain Destructo” (in cap) sulking after sacrificing the Batmobile to the Mountain Gods.
Another incident of soul-crushing toy waste happened in the summer of 1983. This time, Geoffrey was visiting us in Ontario. It was the summer of Return of the Jedi. The new figures were out. My mom took us to Zellers and bought each of us a new toy. I chose Luke Skywalker, partly because he came with so many accessories. He came with a new lightsaber, a gun and a cloth cape. Geoffrey got the same figure. We then waited on a bench while my mom did her banking.
“Come on let’s open these,” said Geoffrey. My sister and I always waited until we got home.
Geoffrey ripped open his Luke.
“Why are you opening that now? You’re going to lose the gun. Just wait until we get home. This is our last stop.” I attempted to reason with my cousin but he had Luke out of the package.
Within the first five minutes, he lost the gun. Before we made it home, he lost the lightsaber too.
“I told you so,” was something I relished saying to him. My Luke, by the way, still has all his accessories 35 years later.
What these tales tell us is that cousin Geoffrey was a monsoon of chaos and utter destruction. He also had all the latest stuff, and that included video games. Fortunately for his parents, the original Nintendo Entertainment System had very robust, button-based controllers. He couldn’t break them. He was really good at “Super Mario Bros.” and “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out”. Unfortunately this meant my sister and I didn’t get much gaming time. We died early and often, and he played long lives while earning extra ones. His turns were much longer than ours.
We saw him make it to Mike Tyson once. That was pretty cool. Once he almost made it, but my dad walked in front of the TV during a fight and caused Geoffrey to lose. Boy he sure threw a fit that time!
Here’s the funny thing. When we were kids, my cousin took a lot of energy and patience to keep entertained. When he hit his 20s, he really mellowed out and we bonded like we never have before. And what did we bond over? Music and video games.
I took a trip out to Alberta for a week in 1997. He took me shopping to a couple music stores in Calgary, used and new. I found a rare CD featuring the early one of somebody named Dave Grohl. It was the band Scream, and the CD was No More Censorship. I was kicking off a love affair with Foo Fighters and it was a seriously cool find. Geoffrey was (and always has been) into to Tragically Hip, so I got him a CD by a similar sounding band called the Barstool Prophets. Meanwhile, he turned me onto the Gandharvas with their last album Sold For a Smile. Killer album that I still love (and own two different copies of).
At night, he introduced me to one of the best racing games I’ve ever played. For the N64 system, we spent hours on “Top Gear Rally”. It was such an immersive game for its time. We designed our cars, we discovered shortcuts, and had a blast seeing how far we could make it.
Once again, it wasn’t best scores or best times that mattered. It was seeing how far you could get. Getting to the third or fourth level was rare and required serious skill. It was the most fun I’d had playing video games in many years!
All these memories flow like a stream of consciousness, triggered by certain songs. Early Kiss, AC/DC and Quiet Riot will forever be associated with the old Atari 2600 in the basement. Bob was a constant gaming companion, and he sets off even more memories. Discovering music together, like Whitesnake and Kiss albums. All hail the Reset King. Long may he reign!