Kenner

#909.5: Visual Supplemental – It Was Back in the Summer of ’83, There’s a Reason I Remember It Well

RECORD STORE TALES #909.5:
Visual Supplemental
It Was Back in the Summer of ’83, There’s a Reason I Remember It Well

AUTHOR’S NOTE: To enjoy this supplemental chapter, please be sure to have first finished reading Record Store Tales #909: It Was Back in the Summer of ’83, There’s a Reason I Remember It Well!


We both loved and feared when cousin Geoff came to visit.  So full of energy.  Much more than me.  We had great times, but usually tinged with a hint of destruction.  This is a kid who gave himself the nickname ‘Alligator’.

Geoff’s visit in the summer of ’83 launched with a trip to the lake.  My Aunt Lynda loves the cottage and so it was a special place for her too.  The photos tell the stories.  As a kid (and adult) I was obsessed with lighthouses, and my Grandfather made this amazing example.  It had lights inside and opening doors.  But you can see, we kids just treated it as another toy!  It appears that Geoff knocked out one of the windows, which is hanging from the edge.

You can see us playing Star Wars at the lighthouse.  I can identify my Bossk figure dangling from the top.  Kathryn and Geoff were right there with me, with their figures.  I look like I’m just immersed in that world.  A galaxy far, far away yet in our back yard.  You couldn’t have found three happier kids.

After returning from the lake, the main part of our adventure began.

Geoff’s grandparents on his dad’s side owned a huge piece of property in the country with a swimming pool, and the most amazing landscape to explore.  Grassy fields gave way to trees, and I don’t think we ever hit the end of the property when we went walking.  It simply went on forever.  Any time we went there, it was a treat.  We spent a few days at the property that summer, swimming and running pretending we were Jedi or superheroes.

I’m glad that we have some pics of that place.  Not a lot.  Mostly the pool.  None of the sprawling real estate and endless fields behind.  None of that cool organ they had in the living room.  None of the steep cliff, with stairway and landings, that that went from the house down to the pool.  But we have lots of the pool.  Imagine “Sister Christian” playing behind as you swim.

It always came back to Star Wars.  Return of the Jedi was brand new.  When Geoff was visiting, we wanted to see it again in the theatre, but as explained in the story, we were vetoed by the adults.  We saw Superman III instead.  (Be sure to read the full story.)   And, as described in many previous chapters, you couldn’t just watch a Star Wars at home like today.  So we had to use our imaginations.  I can easily see what we are reading in this picture.

The lightning from the Emperor’s fingers gives it away.  That is the read-along record/book set for Return of the Jedi.  It was the best way to enjoy the story at home.  Look at the three of us reading along, lost in that world, oblivious to the camera.

The record itself is spinning on my parents’ system behind us, the very system that I later made my own.  It seemed so huge then; not so big in the pictures.  All of our records — mine and my parents too — would have been in that cabinet behind us!  Also barely visible just behind me is my beige Fisher-Price mono tape recorder.  That thing was indestructible.

The three of us sat there, listening and reading as Darth Vader turned back to the light.  In a few short years, everything would have changed.  The decor, the media we listened to, and the entertainment we consumed.  Star Wars was on its last legs and the next record to enter that cabinet was not Star Wars.  It was not from a movie at all, although it certainly tried to be.  A band called Styx would soon be replacing John Williams on the platter.  Who could have guessed that this picture of us enjoying a Star Wars record together would the last time?

#909: It Was Back in the Summer of ’83, There’s a Reason I Remember It Well

RECORD STORE TALES #909:
It Was Back in the Summer of ’83, There’s a Reason I Remember It Well

Part 1.

Put yourself in my 10 year old (going on 11) shoes.  Imagine the summer of 1983.  We were surrounded with nothing but the coolest stuff.  The A-Team was huge.  Michael Knight was riding high.  There was a new Star Wars coming.  There were even two new varieties of Coke:  Caffeine Free Coke, and Caffeine Free Diet Coke.  I didn’t know what caffeine was, I just wanted to try them all.

The first sign that we had a cool year ahead of us was when my mom came home with a new box of cereal one day.  It was probably Cheerios; regular or Honey-Nut.  On the front:  “STAR WARS BOOKLET INSIDE!”  This must be in advance of the new Star Wars movie, Revenge of the…what?  The title had been changed to Return of the Jedi.  Less edgy to be sure.  We learned that George Lucas changed it because Jedi do not take revenge.*

These cereal box booklets were our first look at some of the iconic new images from Episode VI.  Speeder bike troopers, Jabba the Hutt, and the unfinished new Death Star.  This image surprised me the most, even more than Jabba’s ghastly physique.  It didn’t make sense that the Empire would build a brand new Death Star, when the first was destroyed so easily.  But that was our first glimpse of what was to come.  We couldn’t wait to get the new toys.  I had dreams of anticipation building towards the release of the movie.

Next into our lives came the official Marvel Comics adaptation, which of course told the entire story before we saw the movie.  We waited for crowds to die down before going to see a new movie.  I had the single issue “Marvel Super Special”, my best friend Bob Schipper had the four-issue limited series.  About half way through reading the comic, I stopped myself in shock.

“Teddy bears?” I gasped.  “There is no way George Lucas would put teddy bears in Star Wars.”

But he did.  He put teddy bears in Star Wars.  Fortunately, the Ewoks were cooler on screen — fierce but funny warriors that I could accept if not embrace.  It just seemed so…sudden.  Calculated.  Even as children, we sensed this.  Jedi was the most “kiddie” of all the films, with the cutesy bears and burp jokes.

Then came the day we finally saw the movie in theaters.  I think we went with my schoolmate Ian Johnson, although my sister remembers that as our second time.  I know we joked around with him before the film — what if the whole thing was a big tease and they never found Han Solo?  We laughed at the idea of the Millenium Falcon flying around for the whole film, and never finding Solo.  Making you have to wait ’til the next movie…or the next…before Han finally came back.  Of course, we knew that wasn’t going to really happen.  We knew this was the final movie in the trilogy.  (We didn’t foresee we’d have to wait 16 years to get another Star Wars, or 32 years to get to the “what happens next” part.)

I can’t remember exactly how I felt through the film.  Awe at Luke’s cool new Jedi look.  Confusion as to how I was supposed to take Vader — the villain I hated — as redeemed.  I legitimately hated Darth Vader.  Could I forgive him?  Not at first.  “Look at his eyes,” said my dad.  “He was good again.”

We universally loved the speeder bike chase through the woods.  The busy space battle that eventually goes into the very superstructure of the Death Star.  And yes, Han Solo’s return.  Finally, we had use for our Han action figures again!

Oh yes, the action figures.  The Return of the Jedi wave was the best of the series yet.  We started getting our first new figures from the series around the same time my cousin Geoffrey rolled into town.


Part 2.

We both loved and feared when cousin Geoff came to visit.  So full of energy.  Much more than me.  We had great times, but usually tinged with a hint of destruction.  This is a kid who gave himself the nickname “Alligator”.  1983 was one of those wild summers.  We had the best times with Geoff, but I still came home with an injury.

It began with new toys.  My mom took Geoff, my sister and I to Stanley Park Mall.  We each got to pick one new Star Wars figure.  It was unanimous who we thought was best.   We each decided on the new Luke.  What a figure!  A cloth cloak, a laser pistol, and a lightsaber were packed inside the plastic bubble.  Three accessories!  Unprecedented.  Then, as told in Record Store Tales #653:

We 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.

Geoff’s grandparents on his dad’s side owned a huge piece of property in the country with a swimming pool, and the most amazing landscape to explore.  Grassy fields gave way to trees, and I don’t think we ever hit the end of the property when we went walking.  It simply went on forever.  Any time we went there, it was a treat.  We spent a few days at the prorperty that summer, swimming and running pretending we were Jedi or superheroes.

The house had an amazing “back yard”.  There was a steep downwards incline, which you traversed via a series of stairs and landings.  To us it was huge!   It seemed like you were climbing down a mountain.  At the bottom: the swimming pool and all the land you could run through for hours.

There was a radio and a barbecue.  I remember hearing “Sister Christian” on the radio for the second or third time ever.  I didn’t know the name of the song, or the band, but I heard neighbours playing it on their stereos.  I assumed the song was called “Motorhead” by Motorhead because on a fuzzy radio, that’s sure what it sounded like.  “Motorhead!  What’s your price for flight?”

We had a great time swimming whenever we felt like it, and playing Star Wars the rest of the day.  Our figure collections were growing.  By the end of the summer, I had an Imperial Guard and Kathryn had her first Ewok, Logray the “medicine man” of the tribe.  Lando in his new disguise had also landed in our collection.  The figures really were outstanding this time, with more attention to detail and accessories.

But you can’t play Star Wars forever (especially when one of us has a Luke with no weapons) and so we explored the countryside.  As described earlier, my cousin Geoff had a lot more energy than me, and physics tells us that energy cannot be destroyed, merely transformed.  He transformed his into force.  We were playing some sort of game in the grass, involving running and hiding.  At one point Geoff spotted me and came barrelling my way.  I dove out of his path into a bush.  I thought I had escaped the pain, but the pain was only beginning.

The skin on my hand was starting to sting and bump, for I sought shelter amongst the stinging nettles.

It was bad!  My aunt got some creams and bandaged up my arm.  My hand was numb for hours.  And we were going to see a movie that night!


Part 3.

There were no cineplexes.  Our family movie tradition was going downtown for dinner and a flick.  My mom remembers the restaurant well:   “It was owned by Tommy Chaggaris, who owned the Fairway restaurant at Fairview Mall.  The restaurant was called The Chaggaris’.”

They made really good chicken.  Cousin Geoff used to simply call it “Tommy’s Chicken” when we would take him.  My mom continues: “Dad knew Tommy Chaggaris quite well, and he always treated us like royalty. He was very wealthy and owned restaurants and strip malls all over the city.  His wife lives across the street from friends of ours. He is long gone. A really nice guy.”  This is where it gets funny.  Sometimes Geoff would simplify the name and tell people “We went to Tommy’s place for chicken!”  I guess there was a strip club in town also called Tommy’s, so that story often needed extra clarification.

The plan was to see Return of the Jedi again, this time with Geoff.  However, we were told by the adults that the sound in the theater where Jedi was showing was really bad.  I didn’t care, neither did Kathryn or Geoff, but the adults didn’t want to spend money on a movie and not understand the dialogue because of dodgy speakers.  Fair enough, so we chose Superman III instead.  I had the novelisation, but now we were going to see the latest chapter of Superman.  One of our other favourite franchises of the 80s.

We knew it was getting poor reviews, but what else was playing in 1983?  War Games, Octopussy and Trading Places were a little more mature than we were.  And nobody wanted to see Jaws 3 in 3D!  So Superman III it was, partly by default and partly because how bad could a Superman movie really be?

Kind of bad.  But I liked Richard Pryor**, and he made me laugh in Superman III.  Kathryn and I both liked the part where he got drunk wearing the gigantic foam cowboy hat.  We did not like the real villains.  We preferred Lois Lane to Lana Lang.  We would rather have not seen Superman turn evil due to a synthetic form of kryptonite.  We didn’t get the scene where Clark Kent fought Evil Supes.  Was it real or was it metaphorical?  It was weird, is what it was to us.

We came back to the beautiful house in the woods and discussed the movie.  We never accepted that a computer could challenge Superman, but that was the big climax.  Superman vs a computer built by Richard Pryor.  A computer that seemed to be able to improvise and turn people into computer zombies at will.  And had weird video game-like displays with sound effects taken from the Atari Pac-Man game.

“The worst Superman,” was our unanimous vote.  But we got to see it — always a treat in itself.  Even if a movie was bad, going there was still a treat.

It wouldn’t have been a proper summer without an injury, so I’m glad Geoff helped me check off all the boxes in 1983 (and a few other years!).  We had a blast.  Spending all day with Star Wars action figures or in a big swimming pool with the sun on our backs and Caffeine Free Coke in our hands.  It was the last summer of the Star Wars era.  Toys changed, and when Geoff returned in 1984, we were onto something new.  Something that was More Than Meets The Eye.  But there was a definite shift.  1983 closed a chapter.  With Star Wars having drawn to a close, the vacuum had to be filled.  At the same time, I was getting older and discovering new interests.  In 1984, the favourite contender was an American rock and roll band out of Los Angeles called Quiet Riot.

I still cannot really let go of the fact that Geoff lost Luke’s gun and lightsaber within minutes of opening him.  Those things are going for like $80 now!


 

*Revenge of the Jedi caused a problem for the folks over at Paramount, working on Star Trek II: The Vengeance of Khan.  In order to avoid problems, they changed the title of their film to The Wrath of Khan.  

** At that point, Pryor’s career was shifting to younger age groups.  He had a revelation in 1979 after a trip to Africa, after which he ceased using the “n” word in his routines.  1982’s The Toy exposed kids our age to Pryor.  Ironically, The Toy was directed by Richard Donner who also directed Superman: The Movie.  Yet Superman II and III were credited to Richard Lester, who geared them in a slapstick comedic direction.  This is one of Superman III‘s defining traits.

#781: What Happened to C-3PO’s Hand? (Video story)

GETTING MORE TALE #781: What Happened to C-3PO’s Hand? The Story

Pardon the volume on this video, I really struggled with it and then said “fuck it”.

#763: L’Empire contre-attaque

GETTING MORE TALE #763: L’Empire contre-attaque

We didn’t have a VCR in 1980.  You could rent them; this was usually reserved for special occasions.   That meant, unlike today, we couldn’t just watch the latest Star Wars any time we felt like it.  The best way to re-experience the movie was on your own, with action figures and soundtracks.  The Empire Strikes Back was my favourite album at that time.  I played certain tracks on those records so often with my kid fingers that they started to skip.

I used my parents’ big living room hi-fi.  Giant wooden speakers as heavy as oak doors.  A turntable, an 8-track, and a receiver.  Once I discovered Star Wars, I think I used it more than they did.  The Empire Strikes Back came in a luxurious gatefold, with photos from the film, liner notes, and a generous booklet.  It didn’t take long for the rips and tears to set in; that record was well loved.  Usually, I would plug in the set of headphones and listen quietly while turning the pages of that booklet.  On weekends, my sister and I would probably set up a big battlefield and re-enact the movies, with the soundtrack playing in the background.  The most frequently played tracks were “Yoda’s Theme”, “The Asteroid Field” and of course “The Imperial March”.  Sometimes we would ambitiously re-enact the entire movie in sequence using the whole soundtrack.

We had to improvise.  There were lots of characters and vehicles we didn’t have.  When the Wampa ice monster attacks Luke Skywalker and knocks him off his tawn-tawn, we had to use Chewbacca as a stand-in for the monster.  Before we had a Boba Fett, we used a Micronaut with an actual missile-firing backpack.  We didn’t have an AT-AT, so we used my sister’s cardboard Jawa sandcrawler.  The centrepiece of our play time was usually my huge Millennium Falcon toy.

Before anyone gets too nostalgic for the good old days, I’ll remind you those Kenner toys were actually quite shit.  My two biggest toys, the Falcon and the X-Wing, both broke immediately out of the box.  The wings on the X-Wing never worked right and I had to wedge marker lids in the wings to keep them open.  The hinge for the boarding ramp of the Falcon snapped when my dad put it together.  He tried to glue it, but ultimately the door was held on by an ugly piece of masking tape.  Sturdy toys they were not, and parts were always popping off.  The guns refused to stay on the wings of the X-Wing.  The canopy of the Falcon always popped open mid-flight.  It too eventually got locked down by masking tape.

During these huge play battles, my sister and I would take over the entire living room floor.  There was a coffee table that usually acted as Imperial headquarters.  You could park a TIE fighter on the shelf underneath.  All the while, John Williams and the London Symphony spun behind us.  I’d flip sides and cue up another track, or just play “The Imperial March” again.

When we were done playing Empire, we would do our own original stories.  We usually set these “pre-Empire“, since Han Solo was frozen in carbonite at the end of the movie.   He was a favourite character and we had two Han Solo action figures:  original Han and Hoth Han.  I loved Hoth Han.  Not only did he look cool but he was the only figure you could take his gun and plug into a holster on his hip.  It was hard to really make good coherant “pre-Empire” stories though, because we also wanted to play with other cool figures like Lando, and Yoda.  It didn’t particularly matter because we had tremendous fun without a logical story.

I’ll say it again:  improvisation.  We built a custom multi-level Cloud City out of cardboard boxes.  It had sliding doors and sort of an elevator.  We made our own figure-compatible vehicles out of Lego.  Before I had a figure of Han Solo frozen in carbonite, I took my Solo and put him in a glass of water.  If I put him in the freezer for a few hours, I’d have a frozen Han ready to go for the next adventure.  My dad was bemused to go into the freezer and find Han Solo in there so frequently.

No matter the story or setting, the Millennium Falcon was there.  You could fit several figures in it, with two in the cockpit, one in the gunner’s chair, and several tossed into the opening rear compartment.  The cool thing about the gunner’s chair was that it rotated in sync with the top quad-cannons.  The Falcon’s rear compartment was equipped with a space chess table (called Dejarik), a Jedi training area (you know, for that one scene), and a smuggler’s compartment with secret hatch.  This made it more of a playset than a ship, but it did have several features that made it more a ship than a playset as well.  Close up the rear compartment, raise the working landing gear, and you are airborne.  The Falcon also had sound effects and a large battery compartment where the escape pod would have been.  While playing on the living room floor, if the track “The Asteroid Field” was playing, you just had to get the Falcon ready for take off.  Close the ramp, the canopy, and the rear compartment.  Raise the landing gear and you were space-bound!  Then I’d fly the ship around the living room in sync with the swells and crescendos of the theme.  It really felt like Star Wars at that point.

In 1981, the first Indiana Jones soundtrack was released, also composed by John Williams.  It was official then:  Williams was my favourite.  I didn’t have very many records; most of the others were “Story Of” soundtracks with full narration and dialogue.  That was another way to re-live a movie in a pre-VHS household, but I kept coming back to the actual movie scores.  I outgrew the “Story Of” records but not the scores.  Even so, nothing topped the original two-record set of The Empire Strikes Back.  When Return of the Jedi was released in ’83, it was only a single record.  It didn’t have as many memorable cues.  I loved and cherished it, but not as much as Empire.

Besides, in 1983 something else happened besides the end of the Star Wars trilogy.  I was getting older, and there was this new song out.  I heard four words — “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto“, and my world shifted once again!  But that, friends, is another story.

 

#542: Guy Zemmiton

A biographical tale about world-renowned bass clarinetist Kathryn Ladano, a champion of improvised music…and my sister.

GETTING MORE TALE #542: Guy Zemmiton

My sister had a favourite Star Wars figure when we were small. There were so many to choose from. I had plenty of my own favourites. Droids such as IG-88 and 2-1B were cool and different. Yoda was special because he came with a record four accessories: his belt, cloak, walking stick and snake. But my sister’s favourite was Luke, in his X-Wing pilot outfit. It was released in 1978 and went beautifully with the X-Wing toy I got for Christmas that year. My sister Kathryn called him “Luke, the guy with the helmet on”. When she said “guy with the helmet on,” it came out as “Guy Zemmiton”. She was three.

We spent hours setting up massive wars on our living room floor. Guy Zemmiton would heroically defend the Rebellion from Darth Vader and the Empire. [See Record Store Tales Part 0: A Few Words for Days Gone By] Star Wars and its action figures were our universe back then.

We knew there was a second Star Wars movie coming.  The Empire Strikes Back was finally released right around the time Kathryn got incredibly sick.

One night she was complaining about a “sore tongue”.  I remember my parents frantically running around the house in the middle of the night.  “I want some juice,” I heard her croak from another room.  My dad said they had to take her to the hospital.  They got a babysitter.  I was incredibly upset and Kathryn remembered me looking down from the top of the stairs as they carried her away.   It was a rare condition called epiglottitis that can affect children and causes their airways to close.  Bill Bixby, star of The Incredible Hulk as David Banner, had a son who died of epiglottitis.  She was in that hospital in an air tent with a tube down her throat before she started getting better and visitors were allowed.

marvel_special_edition_esbThis whole time I was very worried and my dad decided to take me to see The Empire Strikes Back just the two of us, while my mom stayed with Kathryn in the hospital as she did every day.  In the movie theater lobby, they were selling oversized Marvel Empire Strikes Back comics and my dad bought one for me!  The movie was amazing.  I didn’t like seeing “Guy Zemmiton” being hurt, but the snow walker scene was an instant hit.  We left the theater to go and see my sister at the hospital.  I wasn’t to tell her that we had seen “Guy Zemmiton”, as we didn’t want to upset her.  That made it hard to explain where the comic came from, but I was so excited to see her.

A couple weeks later she came home, and dad took the whole family out to see Empire.  Kathryn was elated to get to see “Guy Zemmiton”, especially since there were so many scenes of Luke in that very outfit!  But my dad was a tease.  The whole time before the movie started he was claiming we were in the wrong theater.  “No Guy Zemmiton here,” he said.  “This theater is showing Captain Peachfuzz and the Penguins!”  He may have actually convinced her that we were about to see Captain Peachfuzz and the Penguins, and I was beginning to wonder myself!  It was with great relief that we saw “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” on the screen in big blue letters.  “I thought this was Captain Peachfuzz and the Penguins,” whispered my dad.

“Guy Zemmiton” was thrilling and my sister was in her glory finally having seen his latest adventure.   It was great for everything to finally be back to normal.

I read that comic book over and over again the whole summer, and later on we even got to go see Empire again.  It was at a drive-in and Empire was the second feature.  I think we both fell asleep long before the movie was over.

A lot of people say Empire is their favourite Star Wars, but for Kathryn, she really means it.  Empire was central to a scary time (that she still remembers clearly) when she almost died.  Not every three year old kid can claim that.