Iron Maiden

#950: A Letter To S

Hey S,

I felt like writing again, I hope you don’t mind.  My emails are not the esteemed A Life in Letters by Isaac Asimov, but it’s more about the process of the writing for me.

I’ve been listening to Van Halen in the car a lot.  Long story short:  I’ve been having issues with my music hard drive in the car, with it repeating tracks.  I discovered I could fix it by formatting the drive and starting over.  Certain Van Halen albums used to give me issues in the car, with the repeating songs.  It’s been a pleasure to rock to King Edward this week.  It’s hard to believe but he died over a year ago now.

I remember coming home from work the day he died and I was just in a foul mood.  Not only was I grieving Edward Van Halen, but I felt stupid for grieving someone I never met and never hoped to meet.  It was a torrent of shitty feelings, plus I hadn’t eaten properly.  It was a Tuesday and I had to do laundry or something, and I snapped at Jen.  I felt like an asshole afterwards.  I also remember telling you this story, and you were the one who said it was OK to be grieving.  Until that moment I didn’t really consider that maybe you don’t have to be a psycho to be upset about Van Halen’s death.

Music aside — which was usually warm, fun with instrumental and occasional lyrical depth — Van Halen meant a lot to me.  I must have been 13 years old when I was sitting on the porch with my best friend Bob, hearing 1984 on the tape deck for the first time.  My dad came home from work, heard the noise and asked what we were listening to, as dads often did.  “Van Halen!?” he said.  “Sounds like some kind of tropical disease!”

My dad was always good with one liners!  When we watched music videos on Much, he would mock the singers shrieking their best operatic screams.  “What’s wrong with that man?  Should he go to the hospital?  He sounds like he’s in pain!”

Good memories, all.  I’m very attached to those childhood memories.  I’m trying to commit them all to writing before they’re gone.  Often, lost memories can be triggered by an old photograph.  But there are many things I wish I had video of!  If only there was a tape or photograph of that first time I heard Van Halen.  But film was a precious commodity until the last 15 years or so.  You didn’t just take pictures of you and your friends listening to music on the front porch.

I remember some of the tapes, and conversations.  Iron Maiden’s Maiden Japan was popular in our porch listening sessions.  George would come over from next door, and Bob would come over with his tapes.  My house was right in the middle!  I wonder how much of my happiest childhood memories are due to geographic concerns.  If my house wasn’t right there in the middle of everybody, maybe I never would have been there that day to hear Van Halen or Iron Maiden.

Sometimes I worry that I spend too much time living in the past and trying to recapture those moments.  But then I think about what you would say to that.  “Why are you worried about something that brings you happiness?” I think you might ask.  And you’d be right.  So bring on the Van Halen.  Bring on the Iron Maiden.  Let’s party like it’s 1985.  Might as well go for a soda — nobody hurts, nobody dies.

Mike

 

#938: Tears of a Clown

RECORD STORE TALES #938: Tears of a Clown

Yesterday, September 10, was Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day.  I was reminded of a good story, about a special young man that I met only once.  It was years ago, but for background, I’m going to tell you some things about myself that I’ve never shared publicly before.

The stigma on people who suffer from mental health issues is real.  We get called “crazy” or “weak”.  In reality we are some of the strongest people you will ever meet because we wrestle daily with things just because the chemistry of our brains is a little bit out of whack.  Every day that we finish is a day that we won.  Support is hard to find.  Everybody here should know by now that I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  This is compounded daily by the stresses of supporting a wife sick with untreatable epilepsy.  Nobody can accuse me of having it easy.  I went to the doctor and got some “happy pills” but they didn’t agree with me.  One day when I couldn’t take it anymore, I went back to the doctor and she immediately put me on a sick leave.  I begged her not to.  I didn’t want my work to have to deal with it.  The doctor talked some sense into me.  I went on sick leave, and I made damn sure I did not waste my time.  As far as I was concerned, I might not have been “at” work, but I had to work, and that meant working on myself.

I enrolled in a class called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.  It’s called “CBT” for short, which means something else too. I’ll get into that in a bit.

The people I met at CBT group were just like anyone else I ever met.  There was en executive.  There was a goth.  There were people who worked in finance.  Parents and grandparents.  People who cared for sick family members.  All walks of life.  Some I’m still friends with today.  We worked through things together and it was heavy.  We had some laughs too, as you should, but we dealt with a lot of things in that group.

One of the ladies I met there, “Katy”, became a friend immediately.  She was an office professional in the world of finance.  I think when she was younger, she worked as stage crew for touring bands.  We knew a lot of the same groups.  She was a fan of the Genitorturers, who I believe she worked for in the past.  One day in CBT class she leaned over and with a sly grin and whispered to me, “Do you know what else CBT stands for?”

I had an idea.  Thanks to some friends in the UK tattoo and piercing community, I knew that CBT also stands for “Cock and Ball Torture”.

She laughed that I knew it, and our bond was cemented.  It was an intense class and I needed a friend.  We got sad and anxious as the weeks wound up, and we were set to go back to our lives.  A bunch of us exchanged phone numbers and made plans to stay in touch.  I was really in a state of worry about heading back to work, as was “Katy”.  I wanted to get some new shoes for the job, and she agreed to help me pick out a pair.

“Is it OK if my son comes along?” she asked.  “You’ll like him.”

I did.  I liked him a lot.

I met up with “Katy” and her son “Kenny” at a central Tim Hortons location.  He reminded me of a young Jeremy Taggart from Our Lady Peace.  We drank coffee for an hour or two, while “Kenny” kept me in stitches with his natural sense of humour.  He reminded me of a stand-up comedian.  He just had the natural ability to make people laugh and entertain.  It was one of the best coffee visits I’ve ever had with anyone.  I asked him if he’d ever be interested in working together.  I didn’t have any clear ideas, I just knew that I wanted to do some kind of video with him.  A commentary, a discussion, a stunt…I knew he’d be hilarious.

After coffee we went to a store looking for my new shoes.  When we got there, “Kenny” asked if he could try on some skin-tight spandex workout suits.  He had no reason to try one on…he was not getting into cycling all of a sudden.  I think he just wanted to make us laugh.  He came out of the change room in this ridiculous outfit that was far too tight.  I’m sure his circulation was cut off and he couldn’t feel his feet.  Seeing him pose around the store in this skin-tight wrapping was both awkward and hilarious.  I recall he had a devil of a time trying to get it off.

I really enjoyed my day with them.  I wore my new shoes on my first day back in the office and it felt good to be in the driver’s seat again.  “Katy” and I kept in touch a little bit.  I knew “Kenny” had his own issues, but I was always a big supporter and fan of his.

Then one day in 2015, “Katy” sent me a message on Facebook.  Her son was gone.  I froze in the shock of it.  One day, I guess he just couldn’t take it anymore.  A feeling that I thought I knew, but had never taken further.  I simply could not believe what I was reading.  It seemed impossibly wrong.  This young man, destined to be someone truly special, who made me laugh so hard I couldn’t breathe, was gone.

“It’s always the funniest ones,” I thought to myself.  The year before, Robin Williams took his own life.  Iron Maiden wrote a song about it called “Tears of a Clown”.

“All alone in a crowded room, he tries to force a smile.”  Could I ever relate to that.  “Wonder why he’s feeling down, tears of a clown.”

When I think of all those comedians who struggle or have struggled with their own problems, I think of my friend and her son.  Without exaggeration, one of the funniest people I ever met, if only for a few hours.  It was a long time ago but I still talk about that day.  He was a special kid and I’m sorry that you’ll never get to see the two of us in a video together like I hoped.  It would have been hilarious.

 

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Senjutsu (2021)

IRON MAIDEN – Senjutsu (2021 Parlophone)

Out of the wild blue yonder, Iron Maiden have returned with a new album to allow us to temporarily escape from our pandemic woes.  Once again, it is a 2 CD monster, boasting 82 minutes of music.  With only 10 songs, you can do the math and figure out that most are long-bombers.  The tunes recall all sorts of flavours of Iron Maiden, from Seventh Son to Virtual XI and the Dickinson reunion era.  New influences emerge as well, on this beefy but steadfast Maiden album.  Maiden turned a corner on The X Factor, incorporating quieter atmospheric sections with the riffing, and Senjustu utilizes this technique on many of the tunes.  Senjutsu might be the most Blaze-era-like of the Dickinson albums.

This time Maiden have gone for a Samurai motif with the album artwork, and this is reflected in the opening title track “Senjutsu” (Smith/Harris).  Only the second time, after The Final Frontier, that Maiden have opened with a title track.  It actually has a similar vibe at first to that opener, with stomping drums (which tie into the lyrics).  Nicko McBrain is a superstar on this album.  Then Bruce Dickinson heralds his own return with an exotic melody and still powerful lungs.  Range be damned, he goes for it on every song.  “Senjutsu” is a varied track that relies mostly on a pounding rhythm and is a little different from typical Maiden.

Onto a short 5:00 firecracker, “Stratego” (Gers/Harris) is like a Brave New World song.  To the point, steady gallop, heavy on melody.  Heavy keyboard backing, which is consistent on Senjutsu.  An album highlight if only because there are so few short songs, but strong regardless.

First single “The Writing On the Wall” (Smith/Dickinson) opens with a western motif, a new side to Iron Maiden.  It’s a little drawn out for a single, and takes a few listens to digest.  You could almost say it’s closer to Led Maiden.  In the latter half, Adrian Smith rips out one of those solos that is almost a song unto itself.

Long bomber “Lost In A Lost World” (Harris) unfortunately recalls Spinal Tap’s “Clam Caravan” at the outset.  At the 2:00 mark it drops the Tap and gets to the riff, which is a kicker.  The song meanders a bit, perhaps a little too much, recalling some the Blaze-era’s musical excesses.

“Days of Future Past” (Smith/Dickinson) sounds like reunion-era Maiden, hooky and wailing.  It’s the shortest tune at only four minutes and wastes no time getting to the point.  The effective Smith riff forms the bones of the song, in the tradition of something like “Wicker Man”.

The closer on disc one is called “The Time Machine” (Gers/Harris) and is not based on the movie, nor is it typical Iron Maiden, at least until the gallop returns.  The vocal melody is quite different and keyboards are prominent.  This track could work really well live for those times they want to get the crowd bouncing.

The sound of seagulls and crashing ocean set the stage for “Darkest Hour” (Smith/Dickinson).  Dark, understated, and brilliantly performed by Bruce.  Summoning all the panache he can muster.  The chorus goes full power, and Smith’s solo is something else, a mini composition.  Then Dave Murray comes in with a complementary one, as good as any the duo did in the 80s.

Senjutsu might be defined by its closing trio of songs, all in excess of 10 minutes and all written by Steve Harris.  Indeosyncratic Harris songs, and if you know Iron Maiden then you know what to expect.  Bass intros, soft keyboards, gentle guitar and bashing riffs!

“Death of the Celts” sounds like a sequel to “The Clansman” from Virtual XI (both songs written by Harris).  It lacks the unforgettable cry of “freedom!” but instead has a glorious long instrumental section, and some incredible guitar solo work from Janick Gers, Dave Murray and Adrian Smith in a single row.

A different kind of dark bass intro brings us “The Parchment”, then WHAM!  A riff blasts you in the face.  It’s a little exotic and a lot Iron Maiden.  Think “To Tame a Land” without the Kwisatz Haderach.  Of the Steve epics on this album, “The Parchment” might be the most perfect.  It is definitely the longest.  A big part of its being is a series of great Janick guitar solos, but also a sense of tension.

Finally, “Hell On Earth” is a remarkable closer, as the music goes on and on for a while before Bruce starts singing.  But that music is awesome — textured, powerful, and memorable.  Then Bruce delivers a melody a little left of center, and the song becomes another Maiden classic to be enjoyed years from now, every single time.  So much packed into 11 minutes.  The Maiden March, some wicked Murray soloing, riffs and more.  The total package.  It fades out, and that’s the album.

Janick Gers really shines on this album, as his solos repeatedly jump out of the speakers on tracks like “Stratego”, “The Parchment” and “Death of the Celts”.  Sadly there are no Dave Murray co-writes this time.  Dickinson continues to impress, as he staves off the ravages of time better than many of his contemporaries.  Nicko is a relentless machine, and Adrian and Steve turn in performances as good as the ones they are famous for.

Senjustu, the surprise album that we didn’t see coming, is Iron Maiden doing what they do.  There are a few twists and turns, but this is the album we would have expected from them if we knew they were making one!  There are fans who miss the old days and wish Maiden would put out an old fashioned heavy metal album one more time.  They tried that once with No Prayer for the Dying and it didn’t work.  Maiden have been a metal band with a foot in progressive rock for a long time now, and they show no interest in abandoning this direction.  Long songs with Maidenesque writing and structure is what you will get.  And most of us will just be grateful for it.

4.5/5 stars

#934: What Now?

RECORD STORE TALES #934:  What Now?

I sound like a broken record at the end of every summer.  It’s tough to keep the spirits up at this time of year.  It’s likely I’ve taken my last swim of 2021.  Next time we get to the lake, the sun will be down by the time we arrive.  And then will come the day it is covered with snow, and empty for the winter slumber.

Music helps – music always, always helps.  So does writing.  But it is an annual challenge.

When I was a kid, the end of August would signal the start of the “sad times”.  The back-to-school ads.   Reminders that I was going to have to spend another year with a bunch of bullies again.  Then the colder weather started to roll in.  Our family would take two weeks of vacation in August but back then, they were two cold, rainy weeks. (Not like today.)  You had to start dressing in long pants and sweat shirts.

Shopping for notebooks and new school clothes.  Realizing that a few weeks of warm freedom were about to be replaced by 10 months of misery.  I hated Labour Day weekend.  Back to the “hell hole” as my sister would say.  These feelings stick with me today.  I can’t flip the calendar from August to September without them.

Even though I’m not in school anymore, the heavy heart returns.  I now know that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and it’s something I need to fight every fall.

Last year was a success!  I avoided the seasonal depression.  I spent my summer making lots of videos, to take me back there in my mind when I needed it.  I also had the show, the LeBrain Train, to look forward to every weekend.  This year is different.  The videos and photos don’t have the same impact two years in a row, and since May the LeBrain Train has become more of a burden than a joy.  I need something new to keep my spirits up this winter, and I don’t yet know what that is.  It is true that we have a long September ahead, warm but shorter days.  I hope this mitigating factor helps.  I think what I really need is some new creative spark to keep me looking forward.  Last year it was the LeBrain Train but the burnout factor has ensured that I need something fresh that I can look forward to from September to May.

What used to cheer me up at this time of year?

As a kid I used to be excited for a new season of the Pepsi Power Hour which hasn’t existed in 30 years.  I don’t watch a lot of TV these days, but fortunately Marvel has constant content forthcoming on Disney+.  We have a new Iron Maiden album to look forward to, but the idea of new music from my favourite bands doesn’t have the same excitement factor as when I was 15 years old.  Yes I’m happy there is a new Iron Maiden coming, but compared to the sheer expectation of Seventh Son coming out in ’88?  No chills.

It feels like…work?  Like I haven’t finished digesting The Book of Souls and here comes another one.  I can’t remember how half that album goes, and now we have a new one to get to know.  It’s not like in the old days when I felt literally starved of Iron Maiden because I’d played all their albums over and over and over.  Now, there are so many that you don’t necessarily even play them all in a year.

Back then, getting a new Iron Maiden album felt just as amazing as a new Star Wars or Marvel movie today.  Something you have been anticipating for a while.  Music videos were like movie trailers.  We’d watch repeatedly, we’d pause, and we’d slo-mo trying to glimpse details.  Costumes, instruments, stage sets, all of it.

When I was working at the Record Store, I still didn’t know that this seasonal depression thing was real and not just me.  It often came and went in spurts.  I used to call them a “big blue funk”.  2003 was a very “funky” year for me.  I’d been dumped (twice) by my Radio Station Girl, and even with a new Iron Maiden in my back pocket (Dance of Death, and also a new Deep Purple called Bananas) I still felt like I needed to do something to help me get through the winter.  And there was something I used to do to pick myself up back then, especially if I had my heart broke.  Yes, broken hearts are for assholes, but I chose to get new holes.  On September 3, I went to Stigmata in Guelph and got my nose pierced.

It was my third visit to the tattoo studio that year.  After Radio Station Girl dumped me, I got my lip pierced at Stigmata.  A couple months later I got my tragus pierced — that piece of cartilage at the opening of your ear.  A friend of mine named Lois Sarah had just started piercing there and if I remember the details correctly, I was a guinea pig.  It’s fun to go back and read my notes!

Lois asked if I was ready. I said yes, and she asked me to take a deep breath and exhale….

I said, “Wow, I didn’t feel a thing.”

Lois said, “That’s because it’s not through yet.”

I felt the needle go through at least 3 distinct layers of cartilage. Each one hurt more than the last. On the last layer, I said, “FUCK” and both my legs shot out. 

Lois did a great job and it’s the one piercing that I do still have.

But September 3 2003 was just my nose, nothing too painful.  It was Labour Day weekend once more, and I decided to go for it.  Normally I went to get a piercing with a “wingman” but this was my first time going alone.  I distinctly remember wearing my Iron Bitchface T-shirt.  An uber-cool looking guy with a massive afro shot me an approving glance, so I felt good from the get-go.

I was led to the back room, but not before washing up my hands with disinfectant gel. I sat down in the Very Big Chair, as I liked to call it, and Lois prepared the goods. She marked my nostril with a dot and got the position right where I wanted it. Then she applied some iodine to the area, both inside and out. She tested out the position of the receiving tube, and finally asked me to take a deep breath.  As I exhaled, the needle went in no problem. Almost no pain at all. I’ve been pinched harder.  (By your mom.)

The rest of the year still sucked, nose ring or not.  It was the year of working with the Dandy, a manchild that drove me slowly mad as he sucked up to the big-wigs.  Work was miserable and not getting any better.  But at least I was proactive, and did something that I thought would help.  Something that helped in the past.

I’ve been there and done that with piercings, and though I like the look of them, I don’t enjoy the upkeep.  I prefer to spend my money on something more permanent, like a tattoo.  That’s something to consider, but I think I need to look elsewhere for a bright spot this winter.  Maybe I will find my joy in the live show once again, but I can’t count on it.  Truth be told, I haven’t been feeling it as much since May.  I remember telling Deke that I was struggling and he suggested back then that I take a break.  But I didn’t feel like I could take that break until the end of the summer.  And here we are.

So now I search for some new slant on my creative outlet to revitalize me.  Something to look forward to regularly.  I was very lucky during the winter of 2020-2021.  I hope I can pull it off again!

 

REVIEW: Blaze Bayley – Alive In Poland (2007)

BLAZE BAYLEY – Alive In Poland (2007 Metal Mind Productions)

Blaze Bayley had the honour of fronting Iron Maiden for two albums, and he’s not about to let you forget it.  Six of the 15 tracks on the double Alive In Poland are Maiden.  No fault there, if you were in Maiden you’d play those songs too, and probably more of them.  What Blaze did with his selection is quite adventurous.  Two of them were never played live by Iron Maiden — ever.

It’s no mercy, high octane, pedal to the metal from the get-go.  “Speed of Light” requires no description beyond the title.  It is what it says!  Throw some wicked Maiden-esque guitar harmonies on top.  Blaze is in great voice, full power, and with passionate delivery.  That goes for the entire show.

“The Brave” is borderline thrash but still with a Maiden-y flavour never too far away.  From there Blaze goes into a cranked-up version of “Futureal”, way faster than Maiden played it.  The double bass parts are insane.  It almost goes off the rails but stays intact.  The guitar harmonies somehow sound richer than the original.

One of the fun aspects of this live album is that Blaze was very talkative on stage that night.  Before “Alive”, he goes off on a great rant about a record label who advised him, “Don’t go out on tour Blaze, it doesn’t sell CDs.”  Thankfully he didn’t listen and this album is the fruit of his hard work.  “Alive” is a brilliant track, slowing it does to a mean groove like something out of the early 1990s.  From rhythm to riff, this thing just grinds along with an irresistible beat.  Dig those dissonant chords.

Wolfbane’s “Steel” is retitled “Tough As Steel”, but it’s the same track, only heavier!  Like Grim Reaper, Accept and Loudness rolled into one.  That rolls right into Maiden’s “Man On the Edge”.  Trying to get the festival crowd going, Blaze blasts ’em.  “Fucking wake up!  The gig has started, we have your money now and we don’t give a shit!”  That gets them up, and Blaze plays a pretty faithful version of the Maiden single.  No bassist sounds like Steve Harris, but Blaze’s bassist David Bermudez is able to play the challenging part.  Another lesser known Maiden single, “Virus“, is a total surprise.  This is the full length version with the long intro.  Not one of Maiden’s finest songs, “Virus” is much better live.  It has more life and Blaze really bites into the lyrics.

Disc 2 continues the spree of Maiden songs.  “Two Worlds Collide” was one of the better tunes from Virtual XI and one that Maiden only played on that tour.  “Look For the Truth” from The X Factor, on the other hand, has never been played live.  A shame that is, since the “Oh, oh, oh” refrain works best live.

Back to originals, “Kill and Destroy” is as heavy as it gets.  Post-Maiden, Blaze was unafraid to take things heavier.  Yet there’s still a melodic edge.  Changing pace, “Silicon Messiah” from Blaze’s first solo album is a prescient warning about technology, delivered with pure gusto and intent.  Choppy of riff, loaded with brilliant performances.  Into the brutally heavy “Tenth Dimension”, Blaze is still not letting up one iota.  He just keeps going at 11 the whole way.

A more direct arrangement of Maiden’s “Sign of the Cross” is the first sign of weakness in the voice of mighty Bayley.  He falters at the quiet intro, but recovers when bellowing the verses and chorus.  As the penultimate track, “Sign of the Cross” sets up “Born As A Stranger”, the wicked closer.  Good enough to be a Maiden tune itself, it’s a great track to go out on.  A solid banger, especially the outro.

Alive In Poland certainly isn’t Blaze’s only great live album.  The Andy Sneap-produced As Live As It Gets is also highly rated, where you’ll hear “Dazed and Confused” instead of “Look For the Truth”.  Both have their strengths, but Alive In Poland has a number of tracks that are not on the prior live album.  Buying one doesn’t make the other redundant.

4.5/5 stars

#921.5: All I Wanted For My Birthday Was…

I wasn’t feeling very social on my unhappy worstday.

However, rotten moods eventually fade and I thought I would try to fulfill my social obligations on Tuesday. I picked up Jen and we went to go visit my parents. They had special donuts for us and a birthday card for me.

I couple weeks ago, I was talking to someone about having the vaccine, and the province re-opening. She asked me “What kind of things are you looking forward to doing now that you are vaccinated and things are opening back up?” I have simple needs so I answered, “I’d like to go shopping at Toys R Us and a record store.” So far I’ve done one of those two things. Realizing I had a birthday coming too, I added “and I’d really like to watch TV with my dad.”

Watching television with the old man is an experience. The way he flips channels, his running commentary…I haven’t watched TV with my dad since Christmas 2019. I realized yesterday that the only birthday present that I really needed was to watch TV with my dad.

He had Pawn Stars on. I sat on the couch, and after an hour had gone by…I started to feel normal again.

A guy was selling “rare” picture discs. The Pawn Stars offered him $60 for five. I had one of the five! It was a shaped picture disc for Iron Maiden’s “The Clairvoyant”. I paid $10 for it back in 2001.

The Pawn Stars explained that the discs were not a gold mine, because picture discs have an inferior sound, which is true. Still, $60 for five discs is $12 each USD. And I only paid $10 CAD. So that’s not bad. The same guy also had “Infinite Dreams”, some Pee-Wee Herman, and a Ghostbusters disc.

It was the first time I’ve been in the same room as my parents without worrying about masks, viruses, and sanitizer. It was the first “normal” visit in a year and a half. It felt strange, and then it felt normal.

All I wanted was to watch TV with my dad for my birthday. I got what I wanted.

I feel alright.

REVIEW: Smith/Kotzen – Smith/Kotzen (2021)

SMITH/KOTZEN – Smith/Kotzen (2021 BMG)

Had this album come out 30 years ago, it might have been called Smith/Curran.  According to our good pal Andy Curran from Coney Hatch, Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith has been looking for a project like this for quite some time.  The right partner arrived with soulful singer/songwriter/shredder Richie Kotzen.  As heard on the nine-track debut, everything clicked.  It was Smith’s wife Nathalie that introduced the two.  Friendship turned to jamming, and jamming turned to writing and recording.  We owe Nathalie a huge debt of rocking’ gratitude.

Fans of Kotzen, either via his solo work or the Winery Dogs, won’t be shocked by what they hear.  It is the Maiden fans who are in for an adjustment.  Not that Smith/Kotzen is wimpy — it isn’t at all — but it is vastly different from the traditional metal that Maiden peddle in.  This is a soul/blues/rock fusion from the heart.

None of the nine songs should earn a “skip” in your player.  Each one boasts a wicked blend of guitars and voices.  Who would have thought that two players and singers, so different in style, would mix so naturally?  You can usually pick out who is playing what, but it all works as one monolithic gestalt.  The whole thing is brilliant.  You can choose your own peaks, because everyone will have their own favourites.

“Running” should be an uptempo high point in anyone’s scorebook.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is the power ballad “Scars” (if you want to call it that).  Over six minutes with heartfelt playing and harmonizing over a slow riff — pigeonhole it any way you like.  The guitar tones on this album are rich and sometimes trippy.  Fans of both guitarists are in for a tour-de-force of feel.

Another high water mark is “Glory Road” which may be a slower blues, but boasts a melodic power chorus that you can imagine Iron Maiden pulling off successfully.  That gives way to a wicked series of solo trade-offs that blow the mind and punch the gut all at once.  But if you really like Maiden, there is no way you will not recognize the one and only Nicko McBrain on the Purple-y “Solar Fire”.  (The drums on the rest of the album are performed by Kotzen and Tal Bergman, which Richie and Adrian share bass duties.)  Picture the Coverdale/Hughes/Blackmore vibe.  An album highlight, “Solar Fire” is as hot as the stellar eruptions it’s named for.

Pick a song — “I Wanna Stay”, “Some People”, “Taking My Chances”, or “‘Til Tomorrow”  — all are excellent choices.  Smith/Kotzen has nine remarkable tracks to choose from.  They’ve all been road tested, and given fair play at home and on the porch.  Though they vary in tempo and direction, all nine promise excellent, memorable melodies and powerful playing.  This is an album for the summer of 2021 — an album we need.

4.5/5 stars

#907: Lake Listenin’

RECORD STORE TALES #907: Lake Listenin’

These days, I like playing music at the lake that takes me back in time.  Maybe that’s the curse of getting older.  Everything reminds me of something else.  Since that’s the case, I might as well make the most of it.  If I’m having a good time at the lake, there is nothing better than music that reminds me of having a good time at the lake.

I set the scene with a very relaxing drive, to the 80s tunes of Kim Mitchell’s self-titled EP, plus Shakin’ Like a Human Being, and The Sport of Kings by Triumph.  It was golden.

Instead of diving right into the nostalgia pool right away again upon arrival, I officially started the weekend with some music that is new to me:  Coney Hatch and Andy Curran.  My current favourite Coney Hatch tunes are “First Time For Everything” from Outa Hand, and “She’s Gone” & “Wrong Side of Town” from Friction.  Arriving Thursday night, these tunes, along with Curran’s “No Tattoos”, led our evening on the porch, watching the sun set.  Not only did the tunes get us psyched for the weekend, but also next week’s LeBrain Train.  Andy is our guest again, so I am preparing once more.

I closed the night studying up for the next day’s episode:  the Nigel Tufnel Top Ten Judas Priest albums.  This “remastered” episode was an update on one that Harrison and I did on Facebook Live a year ago.  I re-watched the episode from the previous year, very much enjoying myself.  Harrison and I had a great time the first outing, though the second one surely topped it!

When I’m at the lake, I try to keep the volume to a reasonable level.  I like to take a walk to the end of the driveway and down the road and check the levels.  A little music at the end of the driveway is OK but I don’t want to hear myself down the road.  However, I said “to hell with that” for the rest of the weekend, when the neighbours had a loud party on the Friday night.

“I hope they enjoy ‘Detroit Rock City’ at 6:00 am,” I said.

So that’s how my Saturday began:  Destroyer, cranked.  Destroyer has never been my favourite Kiss album by a long shot, but for some reason it just clicked with me that morning.  The cool breeze coming off the lake, the birds and squirrels bickering over my head; and Kiss Destroyer on the speakers.  Things you don’t think would go together, but in my brain, actually do.  I would have played Destroyer at the lake as a kid — many times.  The difference was, now nobody was telling me to turn it down.  Apparently that “if it’s too loud, you’re too old” thing doesn’t apply.  As I get older, I love it loud.

After Destroyer came Rock and Roll Over, Dynasty, and the complete audio to the video Exposed.  This included all the studio tracks from the music videos, all the live tracks exclusive to the video, and even that little nugget of Paul and Gene harmonizing on “I’ll Be Back” by the Beatles.  As a kid, I made something similar on a cassette.  I recorded all the live stuff and “I’ll Be Back” from the VHS tape and made an album out of it.  I left off the music videos.  Today, I ripped all the music from the DVD directly to mp3 and made a double album out of it!  I sat there in wonder listening, imagining what my younger self would have thought of such an audio miracle.

That’s a lot of Kiss though; solid Kiss with no other bands breaking the streak.  When I did finally need an intermission from Kiss, I chose Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind.  I actually bought that album at the lake in the summer of ’85, at an old record store that used to exist on the main street.

As far as volume goes, keep in mind I’m blasting my music on a $24 pair of speakers from Amazon.  The guy partying across the street must have had something stronger because I could identify “The Impression That I Get” by the Bosstones easily from my seat on the porch.

“I hope they like Star Wars,” I said as I cued up The Empire Strikes Back on my Disney Plus.

I had another revelation while watching Empire.  Objectively, it could be the best Star Wars, but because nostalgia is my thing, I flashed back to 1980.  1981.  1982.  1983.  The golden era of Star Wars fandom.  For a long time, at that ripe age, we were left with two major cliffhangers.  What would happen to the frozen Han Solo, and was Darth Vader lying about being Luke’s father?  Hard to believe but we spent years — an eternity of a child’s age, a significant fraction of our lives — not knowing the answers.

We also had to spend this time making up things to do with our Han Solo figures.  He was frozen in carbonite at this time.  Sometimes I took my Solo figure and froze him in ice in the freezer.  We used our imaginations.  Empire was such a huge part of our childhood.  For me the Empire era ran from age seven to just before age eleven.  It was the Star Wars for which I had all the collector’s cards (first series), the soundtrack, the “story of” record, the comic, the novel, colouring books, and just about everything else you could buy.  The bedsheets — check.  Dixie cups — check.  Burger King glasses — also check.  We had a good chunk of Kenner figures from that era.  We had everything we could possibly get our hands on.

Except the movie itself.  That, we could not recreate on a whim.  We brought our toys, our comics and our cards to the lake so we could re-imagine the movie.  But we could not watch it.

That was a luxury that was not lost on me as I sat on the porch watching the Battle of Hoth.  I smiled ear to ear knowing this.  Something unimaginable during the actual Empire era.  Though, we did indeed see The Empire Strikes Back at the lake.  And it wasn’t the special editions.  We saw the original, at the drive-in.  It was in a double feature with a bicycling movie called Breaking Away, which we slept through.  My sister slept through most of Empire, too!  She was only three.

I took a break in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back to take a dip in the water.  But the Sooners had come.

“Sooners” is how my dad refers to the people who show up to go to the beach for day.  I wondered what “Sooners” meant so I looked it up.  He must have got it from one of his cowboy movies.  Sooner:  “a person settling on land in the early West before its official opening to settlement in order to gain the prior claim allowed by law to the first settler after official opening.”

I don’t see how that applies to the beachgoers, but the name stuck.

Anyway there were a bunch of Sooners at the beach.  There was Man-Bun and his two girlfriends, and a family of seven who parked their bikes right in front of our place.  I know my dad would have had a fit.  The bikes were well out of the way, but it’s no fun trying to back your car out of the driveway with any kind of obstruction, so I get it.

The Sooners weren’t as bad as the renters.  They had a huge dog — the size of a small pony — that kept going after Jen any time we walked down the path to the beach on our own property.  They’d scold the dog but not put him on a leash.  I say “him” because his name was clearly Frank.  Who names their dog Frank?  Seriously.

I don’t know who held the party that night.  The salvos of US-grade fireworks began when I was sleeping.  Jen says they were still going off at 1 am.  I say “US-grade” fireworks because I know the difference.  There are the kind you can buy in the convenience stores here, and there are the ones you can’t.  This was the stuff you can’t.  On and on and on it went.  It seemed to be coming from the renters’ place.  When I went down to the beach the following morning, their firepit was still smouldering.  Late night party fire?

What could I do?  I woke up and blasted Aerosmith.  I played them while packing the car, on the car system, doors open.  I hope you like Toys in the Attic.

Sooners and renters aside, summer has gotten off to a tremendous start.  Maybe next time, I’ll play all new albums and make some new memories.  It doesn’t particularly matter — the setting is conducive to to anything you want to listen to.  And now that I can bring my entire music collection with me in my pocket, I am limited only by my own whims.

I am a lucky guy.

#903: Online Dating in the Brave New World (2000)

Attention:  Mike’s mom.  You don’t need to read this one.  Skip it please.

RECORD STORE TALES #903: Online Dating in the Brave New World (2000)

It was the year 2000 and the world seemed new to me again.  Iron Maiden had a fresh reunion album on the horizon, ushering in a long-awaited rebirth of classic heavy metal.  The snow was melting, and spring was in the air.  Things were going really, really well.  Especially at the Record Store.  My store had a “head office” (actually a broom closet) in its back room.  That’s why the upper management was always breathing down my neck.  But I had heard through the grapevine (actually Tom) that head office was moving to a new location across town.  They never told me, but Tom did.  I was elated.  Things were looking way up.

I also had what at the time I called “the best first date I’d ever been on”.  I even washed my car before driving to Hamilton to see her.  That’s how my parents knew something was up!  Her name was Terra and she fancied herself a photographer.  Strangely her apartment was filled with photos of herself.  That should have served as a warning.  T-Rev also dated a girl who was obsessed with photos of herself, and that didn’t work.  His story was told in a song by local band The Candidates called “Who’s Your Daddy Now?”  “Sold your soul for a photograph, I tore it up and had the last laugh.  Who’s your daddy now? He ain’t got nothin’ on me!”

But I had to take my chances.  The first date went so well that I called up T-Rev on my cell phone and told him I thought I met “the one”.

I did confide in T-Rev one thing that was unusual about Terra.  She didn’t drink or do any drugs, which I liked.  I rarely drank and had never touched a drug.  What was unusual was that Terra was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.  In my mind, trying to ease my concerns, I said “that means neither of us drink or do drugs – so that’s a good thing.”  I wouldn’t be heading out to bars with her, or anything like that.  I had to give her a chance for date #2.

She thought it would be fun to catch a sunrise together.  She lived in Hamilton so it would take me an hour to get there before the sun came.  I had never watched the sunrise with a girl before, so I was on board.  The people at the Record Store thought I had a screw loose.

“You’re going to drive to Hamilton at 5:00 in the morning, to watch a sunrise?” asked one of the supervisors.  They didn’t get why I thought it was such a cool idea.  It sounded romantic to me and I’d never done anything like that before.

I called Terra up the night before our sunrise date and she had suddenly changed her tune.  “That’s reeeaally early,” she complained about her own idea.

So that idea was off.  Instead I came down in the afternoon.  We hung out and watched MuchMusic.  Britney Spears had just come out with “Oops! I Did It Again” and I can remember watching that video in her apartment.  “I want a PVC bodysuit!” said Terra.  I just wanted to do anything but sit around watching MuchMusic.  After a few hours of watching Static X, Disturbed and other staples of the era, I headed home.

Date #3 was the weird one.  She had an AA meeting that night and didn’t want to miss it.  I offered to drop her off on my way home, and that turned into her inviting me to the meeting.  Going to it was one of the most regrettable decisions I’ve ever made in my life.

I didn’t know what I was doing.  I did not realize it was a “closed meeting” or what that meant.  I don’t know why she thought bringing me along was a good idea.  I was curious, and I liked Terra.  I trusted her that this was OK.

The AA meeting was in the basement of a nice church.  We all sat in a circle.  “When it comes your turn to talk, just pass,” said Terra.  So I did.  Instead I listened to stories that, quite frankly, I never should have heard.  Me being there was an invasion of the group’s privacy and I felt uncomfortable immediately.  I wanted out that door.  I waited for an appropriate break.

When the group leader broke the meeting into smaller groups, I said to Terra, “I have to go, I’m not comfortable, I’m really sorry.”  She said it was OK and that we would leave together.  We briefly spoke to the group leader.  His name was Mike too.  “We have groups for beginners too, if you feel you’d like to come back and talk about whatever is going on.”  This made me feel even worse.  I was masquerading as someone I was not, for the sake of sitting next to a girl in this room.  I thanked him and we left together.

I decided that would be our last date.

Which is why I am still surprised I went on date #4.  Mother’s Day weekend 2000.

The phone rang on the Friday night.  “What are you doing this weekend?  Do you want to come and hang out at my mom’s place in Huntsville?”

I silenced the alarm bells going off in my head.  The suddenness of the invite was strange but if she was introducing me to her mom, that sounded alright.  I packed a small bag and headed to Hamilton to pick her up.  A few hours later we were in Huntsville.  We went to a bar where her friends were.  There was a covers band playing.  I found a spot to watch.  They played “War Pigs”.  I was happy.  But where was Terra?  She left me there watching this band while she hung out with her friends.  Outside, one of them passed her a joint and she had a haul.  On the way back to her mom’s place, she said “I really shouldn’t have smoked that joint,” and I was shaking my head wondering what the hell I was thinking.

Her mom was really nice and made me feel very welcome.  They had a beautiful place up in Huntsville.  Huge, with a guest house in the back where I slept.  But by the end of the weekend, her mom was giving her shit for hanging out with her friends instead of the guy who brought her to Huntsville.  I felt the same way.  The whole weekend was her hanging out with friends, and me tagging along.  We never did anything just the two of us.  I felt good that her mom at least recognized there was something fucked up about it.  They had a big argument in the kitchen while I sat in the living room with one of her friends, not speaking, just staring at the newspaper.

I raced back to Kitchener barely in time for Mother’s Day dinner.  This time I really did mean it:  that was the last date.  That was the end of it.  No more.  I never saw her again.  I could tell when I’ve been hosed.  She promised me $50 in gas money that I knew I was never going to see.  I shot off an email mentioning the $50 debt, and that was our last communication.

Iron Maiden came out with a brand new single called “The Wicker Man” which served as my cheer-up.  I bought the CDs and the vinyl and immersed myself in new music.  I always turned back to music when stuff went sour with a girl.  In this case, one of my favourite bands were triumphantly returning with their strongest lineup.  Three lead guitars.  I couldn’t wait to hear it.  Terra was the past, but the “Wicker Man” was the future!  I felt that jolt of energy again.  The life-giving electricity of rock and roll.

Valuable lessons learned here.  Not many of my friends can say that they’ve been to an AA meeting.  I’ve been there and I know it’s not a place for outsiders.  A learning experience and not one I’ll repeat.

 

To be continued….

 

Gallery: Iron Maiden “Eddie” Reaction figures — full set

Check out the photo gallery below for a gander at all 19 Iron Maiden “Eddie” figures by Super7.  This is their line of 3 3/4″ ReAction figures.  Same size and articulation as classic Star Wars.  For a little bonus content, check out the video instead.  Some havoc broke loose during the photo shoot.