kiss

#714: Born Again

GETTING MORE TALE #714: Born Again

They probably thought I was going to hell the day I showed up on the first day of school in that Judas Priest T-shirt.  Mrs. Powers was a devout Catholic, with a judgey side to go with it.  She enjoyed publicly humiliating her “misbehaved” students.  I can only imagine what she really thought.  Here was her “A” student, and over summer holidays, he’s got himself a T-shirt that says “Judas Priest” on it.  He’s drawing pictures of guitars in art and doing his class speech on a band called Kiss.  What the devil is with that Ladano kid?

If Catholic school was ever too sedate or solemn, this was magnified 100-fold in the lenses of the 8th grade.

It was the year you made the choice of which highschool to go to.  You’d undergo the Sacrament of Confirmation.  It was their last chance to make sure you didn’t go off the rails and do something stupid, like do drugs or leave the church!

There was a weeklong Catholic retreat to an old convent in Ancaster called Mount Mary.  “Every student I ever had who did not go to Mount Mary grew up to do drugs, or killed themselves,” said Mrs. Powers.  Holy shit!  I didn’t want to be there and it was obvious.  It was the middle of winter and every day had extensive outdoor activities, but worse, you were not allowed to bring any of your music.  No Walkmans, no tapes.  There was a radio tuned to an approved radio station in one of the activity rooms.  I didn’t know what to do, so before we left, I listened to and memorised as many Kiss songs as I could.  Double Platinum worked for my last minute Kiss cramming session.  The song I was most successful with was “Love Gun”.  I had just received a taped copy of The Elder but did not have time to investigate it much.  I had to go to Mount Mary instead.  This intrusion into the wants and desires of my musical passions kind of pissed me off.  I had to wait a week to get into The Elder.  Stupid retreat.  I was so scared of being caught with any contraband that I flushed my candy before getting on the bus.  Humming “Love Gun” in my head, we were off.

Mount Mary conjures up some real discomfort.  They were trying to teach you to be open minded about it but all I can really recall are negative feelings, and some disgusting hot chocolate.  I was isolated from everything I loved and stuck with a bunch of people who I didn’t particularly like, and felt the same towards me.  I knew this because we had to form circles and tell everybody something we liked about them.  Nobody seemed to know much about me at all.  “You like Star Wars, uhhh…and I don’t, but that’s cool.” was the most memorable.

There was a day spent outside in the snow as “hunters” and “hunted”.  I don’t remember the moral of this activity.  The hunters had wooden sticks as rifles, and my bully Steve Hartman was one of them.  The role playing had a bizarre shade of reality.  There were no explanations to us as to why people were selected for their roles.  The hunted were supposed to find some specially marked trees, but I spent most of the time just hiding in the woods from hunters and teachers alike.  There was another day including a long hike up something called “Agony Hill”.

The day we were released from Mount Mary and sent home was cold and wet.  The snow was melting, but it was just dirty slush.  My parents were supposed to pick me up when the busses arrived at the school, but I didn’t see them and vice versa, so lugged a giant heavy suitcase home through the snow.  At least when I got there, a brand new Marvel Transformers comic was waiting for me with my mail in the kitchen.  #17, “The Smelting Pool”, considered one of the best of the series.

“Well that’s over,” I said to myself.  “Now I just have to get through the rest of this school year and it’s freedom.”

That teacher just had a bad impression of me.  There was the rock and roll devilry which seemed to bring humiliating public interrogation.

“How many of you went to church this past Sunday?” she questioned the class.  “Put up your hands.”  She was determined to find out just how devout our behaviour was.  No excuses.

About half the class raised their hands.

“How many of you were there last week?”  A few more hands went up.

“And the week before?”  A couple more.  “How many have been to church in the last month?”  She noticed me, and I noticed her.  My hands were in my laps.

“MICHAEL.”  Radar locked.

“WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU WENT TO CHURCH?” she boomed.

My sister dubbed it “The Hell Hole”.  The school and church are right across from each other

It had been a couple years.  Powers had her “no excuses permitted” policy regarding going to church, so I didn’t even try to explain.  (Essentially her policy was:  You are old enough to go to church on your own now, so don’t tell me your mom was sick.)  I just endured the firepower of Mrs. Powers.  What else could she do; send a note home to my parents?  If I wasn’t going to church, chances are they weren’t either.  And there was a reason for that.

It was an Easter service a couple years prior.  Good Friday mass, very busy, and the church was packed.  My dad always liked to get an aisle seat so that’s what he did on Good Friday.  That was his mistake.

My sister and I had better instincts.  We preferred to hide somewhere in the middle of the pews.  Do you know what our least favourite part of service was?  The part where you have to shake hands and greet your neighbours.  We were shy and would rather not, so we just turned to face each other.  We’d shake hands and say, “Hello sir how are you today?”  “Oh, I’m good sir and how are you?”  We’d do this for as long as we could credibly ignore the adults around us trying to shake our child hands.

On Good Friday we tucked in down the pew while dad sat on the aisle, when the Priest announced that for this special service, volunteers would come and wash your feet if you were sitting on the aisle.  John 13:34:  “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”  My dad has a hard time saying no.  He kicked off his shoes and socks and politely pretended not to be hating every second.  And the family simply stopped going to church after this.  Coincidence?

Mrs. Powers, you can judge all you like.  Maybe my dad was sick of church and I was sick of your shitty school.

One of the heavy metal albums from my childhood that reminds me most of that period is Born Again, by Black Sabbath.  Boy, Powers sure would have hated those lyrics. “Good life is contradiction, because of crucifixion.” You can only imagine, if she knew what was I was hearing!

The devil and the priest can’t exist if one goes away,
It’s just like the battle of the sun and the moon and the night and day,
Force of the devil, that’s we’re all told to fear,
Watch out for religion when he gets too near, too near….

Of course Ian Gillan isn’t a satanist; he’s just a singer!  But those lyrics would have set her head on fire, if the album cover didn’t do that first.  Do we mind “Disturbing the Priest”?  The truth is, the words were inspired by the rehearsal sessions for the album.  They were receiving noise complaints from the local church.  Do we mind “Distrurbing the Priest”?  “Not at all, not at all, not in the least.”  Once you know the genesis of the song, the lyrics fall into place.  Not exactly Catholic-friendly, but certainly not evil.

Evil-sounding though?  Absolutely.  Born Again might be the most traditionally evil sounding metal album in the history of the genre.  That’s why the original mix is so important even though it sounds like the refuse of the Golgothan excremental demon.  The lack of clarity, the muddy haze, and the echoing bottomlessness of it just add to the mystique.  You should not be able to clearly hear what the singer is saying.  It should remind of you a bad hazy dream.  Hell, it’s not the lyrics that make it evil; it’s Geezer’s fuzzy bass!

This article was produced after discussions with friends and acquaintances from different faiths and backgrounds.  Some had similar experiences.  Some are still dealing with residual Catholic guilt.  We were talking old church stories, and all this stuff came flooding back.  The sitting, the kneeling, the hand-shaking…my sister and I singing “Stars” by Hear N’ Aid instead of the hymns…the good and the bad.

One of the school bully kids was killed four years after Mount Mary, riding his motorcycle to work.  I morbidly wondered what Powers thought of that; he went to Mount Mary yet he was on her dead roster.  Would she add that detail for next year’s class?

It’s obvious I still hold a lot of resentment to those school years.  I wonder if that’s why I have such a strong attachment to the heavy metal music of the era.  Let the psychoanalysis begin!

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#713: End of the Road? Paul Stanley’s Voice

GETTING MORE TALE #713: End of the Road? Paul Stanley’s Voice

In 2012, before the release of the last Kiss album Monster, I wrote an editorial about Paul Stanley’s voice problems.  Thanks to the advent of Youtube, anyone can hear how rough Paul’s voice has become in the last decade.  The guy who was once one of the top singers in rock, ever, is now the worst singer in Kiss!

Curiosity in Kiss and Paul’s voice has peaked again due to the End of the Road tour.  I received some hits from a Q&A site called Quora, so I followed the address and checked out the site.  I found something very interesting, from a man named Kevin Richards, who says he was a vocal coach for Paul Stanley and others such as Rod Stewart.  His story checks out.  Mr. Richards answered a question about Paul’s current vocal state, and it was very revealing indeed.

Richards said that Paul’s vocals today are a result of health and age.  He is also trying to live up to his own image too hard.  “He is trying to maintain a stage presence from 25 years ago and doesn’t realize he isn’t in the vocal shape to do so.  He is being VERY STUBBORN in doing anything that changes what he thinks the audiences expectation of the ‘Starchild’ should be. The way he moves, the way he sings, etc.”

Paul is still great as a frontman, but to me, it’s the music that matters more, and the voice is the biggest part of that.  Richards continued, saying he “told Paul that he needs to rethink how he sings his songs because it’s not 1990 or 1984 or 1976 anymore. He had to make adjustments to his vocal delivery and rearrange the set lists to give him more space between his songs. He reluctantly agreed but again stressed the ‘needs’ of the audience. I said ‘yes, but they also have an expectation that you sound good at THEIR concert.  Bad vocal performances aren’t rumour anymore, its on Youtube the next day.'”

You have to admire Paul for wanting to give fans a level of showmanship above and beyond the call of duty, but his priorities seem mixed up.  Richards’ bottom line is that Paul is a “stubborn, aging rocker refusing to accept that he can’t perform like he’s 30 anymore.”  There is even more, so be sure to read what he had to say.

What does Paul think of the current state of his voice? “I’ve been doing a lot recently to make sure that my voice is in great form. If you want to hear me sound like I did on Kiss Alive!, then put on Kiss Alive!

“Great” form?  I’ll let you know how Paul sounds when Kiss hit Toronto in March 2019.  Can Stanley’s voice survive a whole tour?  Will there be more Gene, Eric and Tommy vocals to compensate?  We will find out at the End of the Road.

#712: Does Paul Stanley Get Enough Credit for Writing Killer Riffs?

GETTING MORE TALE #712: Does Paul Stanley Get Enough Credit for Writing Killer Riffs?

Think for a moment about the greatest guitar riffs of all time.  “Smoke on the Water”, “You Really Got Me”, “Iron Man”, and “Whole Lotta Love” might make your own personal favourites.  Indeed, these songs usually show up on any decent list of great rock riffs.  Planet Rock did a dubious list in 2017, featuring the classics and questionable choices like The Darkness.  It also featured a number of hot licks by Hendrix, Ozzy, and Van Halen.  The usual suspects.  They do get points for including Budgie’s “Breadfan”.

I once read a quote by a guitar player* who said he hated Jimmy Page because “He already wrote all the greatest riffs, and I’m jealous.”  Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore, the Young brothers and even the young fellas from Metallica are often credited as the greatest riffmasters in rock.  They’ve all done their part to enrich our lives with memorable, chunky and headbangin’ guitar riffs.  But so have others.

Consider Kiss’ Paul Stanley.  Once upon a time, the singer was considered one of the best with very few rivals.  You’d often see his name on singers’ lists with guys like Freddie Mercury and Ronnie James Dio.  Paul must, absolutely, be considered one of the greatest frontmen in history.  That is hard to dispute.  On the other hand, few give him credit for his guitar.

“I’m no slouch,” said Paul of his guitar playing.  He’s even responsible for some Kiss solos.  But as a riff writer?  We rarely think of Stanley, yet behold the songs!  Looking only at tracks with lone Paul Stanley writing credits, the list of monster riffs is impressive.

  • “Black Diamond”
  • “Hotter Than Hell”
  • “C’mon and Love Me”
  • “Rock Bottom”
  • “God of Thunder”
  • “I Stole Your Love”
  • “Love Gun”
  • “Tonight You Belong To Me”
  • “Magic Touch”

Paul had some pretty awesome riffs on co-written songs like “Mr. Speed”, “Makin’ Love” and “Creatures of the Night”, but since other writers may have contributed, we’ll exclude those.  This list also doesn’t include his catchy acoustic riffs like “Hard Luck Woman”, or lesser-known later material like “Modern Day Delilah”. If you wanted to delve further into Sonic Boom and Monster, there’s plenty of Paul’s guitar thunder without co-writers.  This is strictly a list of the most impactful material:  the 1970s.

So Stanley doesn’t get enough credit.  Does this make him a riff master, up there with the other guys?

I’m going to go out on a limb:  Maybe, leaning towards yes.

“God of Thunder”, “I Stole Your Love” and “Love Gun” are monolithic enough to stand next to an Iommi or Blackmore riff.  Just like a Deep Purple fan knows there is more to them than just “durrh durrh durrh!”, a Kiss fan can recommend a number of rock solid riffs from their albums.  A huge number of those are Paul’s, although certainly Gene did just fine with “Deuce”.  “Deuce”, admitted Gene, is just a Stones lick played backwards.  Paul’s best stuff is less derivative than that.  “God of Thunder” is just that — “God of Thunder”.  You can say it sounds vaguely Sabbathy, but it doesn’t sound like anything specific.  Same with “I Stole Your Love”.  As for “Hotter Than Hell”?  Much like a great Sabbath song, it boasts two killer riffs in one track!

Elitists like to scoff; make fun of adults in makeup and spandex.  Fair enough.  Tony Iommi never needed makeup or particularly tight pants to be a rock star.  Sabbath played with the “Satanic” gimmick but didn’t rely as heavily on image and flash.  Kiss wouldn’t have made it in the first place without the makeup and costumes, but as they developed, they had the music to back it up.

Do yourself a favour and go back to listen to Paul’s classic guitar riffs.  They are often highlights of the song, little rock solid gems that are ready for air guitar.  He really hasn’t received the credit due for coming up with a number of simple, solid and dynamic riffs on his own.  Should his name be spoken with Page, Blackmore, or Young when talking of riffs?  We’ve made our case, so get Kiss’ed on these classics.

 

 

 

Might have been Nuno Bettencourt

#711: Why Kiss Need to Suck it Up and Bring Ace Frehley Back

GETTING MORE TALE #711: Why Kiss Need to Suck it Up and Bring Ace Frehley Back

In a recent episode of Rock Talk with Mitch Lafon, former Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley said, among many things, that it would take $100,000 per show for him to play on Kiss’ recently announced End of the Road tour.  While that amount of money may seem like ransom, Ace might be able to make those kinds of outlandish demands.  He may have Kiss over a barrel of sorts.

Ace is in a good position right now.  2018 is an interesting time for this Kiss farewell tour to happen, because of what Frehley has been up to.  Since acrimoniously splitting with the band in 2001 (after a previous “farewell” tour), Ace has rebuilt his credibility and his standing.  Over the last decade he’s regained the respect of fans who feared he could no longer write, with a series of increasingly good solo albums.  AnomalySpace Invader, and the recent Spaceman have been well received by fans and critics alike.  Most importantly, since 2016, some crazy things have happened.  First Ace reunited with Paul Stanley on Origins, Vol. 1, a covers album.  Then Ace re-ignited his friendship with Gene Simmons, as Gene promoted his Vault box set.  Gene appeared on Spaceman, and now Ace is touring with Gene’s solo band.  Ace appears cozier with Kiss than he was when he was actually in Kiss.

Throw the farewell tour into the mix.  Kiss will be touring with the current lineup of Stanley, Simmons, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer.  Some fans still call Singer and Thayer “scabs”, merely imitating Peter Criss and Ace Frehley.  Eric Singer has won over more fans than Tommy Thayer has.  Perhaps it’s because Singer has been in the band longer and played on the legendary Revenge.  More likely, the fans resent how closely Thayer imitates the licks of Frehley — on the orders of Simmons and Stanley, let’s not forget.  At the end of the day, they sign the paychecks, and the employees play the way they want them to.  That’s why they are still in the jobs all these years later.  Regardless, fans have largely accepted Singer as the drummer in the Cat makeup.  Peter Criss has retired with dignity, and realistic fans know that he’s no longer really capable of playing the kind of tour that Kiss are looking at.  Peter had his farewell with Kiss and his chapter certainly appears to be closed.

Frehley, however, is on a new leg of his career and the quality of his new material is encouraging.  In addition to his ask of $100,000 per show, Ace has also suggested the real way to end Kiss would be one final studio album.  It’s almost as if he’s throwing down the gauntlet to Kiss.  An Infinity Gauntlet with only four stones:  Ace, Paul, Gene and Eric.

A studio album might be a bit far fetched.  Monster is from 2012, and Kiss seem scared of their own shadows in the studio.  But Ace on tour?  It simply has to happen before it’s over.  Not doing so would be a slap in the face.

Fans are going to demand it.  Black Sabbath blew it on their The End tour.  Bill Ward probably couldn’t have done a tour, but to not invite him back, for at least a few songs at the end?  A wasted opportunity that can never be repaired.  The original Black Sabbath were all still alive.  Bill Ward was willing and able.  The Sabbath camp didn’t want to hear it, and so finished with 3/4 of the original band plus Ozzy’s drummer Tommy Clufetos.  It’s sad to say, but the next reunion of the original Black Sabbath might have to be at one of their funerals.

Deep Purple can never reunite their original or even their Mk II lineup.

Led Zeppelin will never be whole again.  Neither will Queen, Styx, Stone Temple Pilots or Soundgarden.  Sabbath had the chance, and they let it go.  Truly a regrettable, ego-driven mistake.

Kiss cannot make the same mistake.  True, without Peter Criss, it’s not the originals, but Criss has not expressed interest or ability.  Ace has.  Repeatedly.  And we know the clean and sober Ace today can do it.  He is on another creative high, and already getting along with Paul and especially Gene.  To lose this opportunity in the face of the fans would be a mistake some would be unwilling to forgive.

Start the tour, as normal, with Tommy.  Bring Ace out for a couple guest appearances.  See how it goes.  I’ll tell you how it will go.  Ace would sing “Shock Me”, the crowd would go bananas, and you’d be forced to do it again.  And again.  And again.  Eventually, Tommy could bow out gracefully having had his farewell.  Ace could take over from that point.  Or do half a show each.  There are many permutations for this to work.  This is almost exactly how Duff McKagan returned to Guns N’ Roses.  You’re Kiss; you can figure it out.

Don’t let money stand in your way, Kiss.  Money is not forever.  History is.  You do not want to go down like Black Sabbath, when you could go out the way fans want to see you.

Nobody knows how much time they have left on Earth.  The next reunion cannot be a funeral.  We also don’t really know how many shows Paul’s voice has left before it’s gone for good.  A reunion with Ace Frehley must happen before it is too late.

What about Vinnie Vincent and Bruce Kulick, you ask?  It would be wonderful to see them guesting too, but let’s not set hopes too high (even though Vinnie has been spotted in Kiss makeup).  Focus on what is important:  that is getting the original Spaceman back for the final leg(s) of this tour.  Fans may have to be vocal.  (As if Kiss fans are anything but.)

What if Kiss just flat out refuse to pay Ace’s greedy ransom, and Ace can’t be negotiated with?  It would be a loss for all parties, particularly the fans.  While Kiss will still play spectacular shows, would ticket sales be any different from the last few tours?  Kiss have always done well enough (that’s why they keep touring), but the 1996 reunion tour made $144 million gross, which Kiss haven’t equalled since.  A farewell tour without Ace, and with Paul’s voice in its current condition, simply won’t touch that.

With Ace though?

With Ace, they would generate a lot more hype, press and positive reviews.  Ace Frehley, playing as great as he is today, could inspire yet another generation of kids to pick up the guitar.  It’s what Ace does.  He is a superstar, and even the most staunch fan must admit that Tommy Thayer is not.  If Kiss want to go out as big as they can, they need Frehley.  It’s that simple.

No dates have been announced yet.  Paul Stanley has teased on his social media that the band is rehearsing.  They’re talking about doing a 25 song set.  There is plenty of time for more pieces to fall into place.  A big piece is Spaceman-shaped.  They need to make it fit.   Without Frehley, The End of the Road tour will just be another Kiss tour.  New costumes, sure.  That alone won’t sell tickets.

Kiss have always been a band that claimed to “listen to the fans” and “gives the fans what they want”.  This then would be Kiss’ last chance to live up to it.

 

 

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – Spaceman (2018)

ACE FREHLEY – Spaceman (2018 eOne)

Ace is back and he told you so!…with a new band.  It’s true.  One of the of the players on Ace’s new disc Spaceman (Scot Coogan) was in his band…until last week.  And that’s all we’re gonna say about that.  Anton Fig and Matt Starr of Mr. Big also handle drum chores.  Ace steps up with new songs, stacks of guitars, and bass too!

Perhaps the showcase moment of the new album is the first Simmons/Frehley co-write in forever, a stomper called “Without You I’m Nothing”.  Almost immediately, without even knowing the details, there is something “Simmons sounding” about it.  Probably because he’s also on bass.  There is something primitively unique about a Gene Simmons bass line.  Ace’s guitar solo, the first of the album, is pure wicked electricity, though he struggles a bit vocally.  It’s a solid opening though, followed by the old-styled “Rockin’ With the Boys”.  It sounds like something written for 1987’s Frehley’s Comet.  It’s all about the chorus.  Then Simmons is back with another co-write (no bass though) on “Your Wish is My Command”.  Ace’s guitars have a crunchy chime, and the focus is catchy melody.

Spaceman was preceded by an excellent EP, Bronx Boy with a brilliant title track.  “Bronx Boy” is back.  That’s Scot Coogan on drums and backing vocals…no wonder he’s pissed about being fired!  Make way for the crunchy stomp “Pursuit of Rock-N-Roll”!  You don’t have to read the credits to know that it’s Anton Fig playing that tricky rhythm.  His unique playing plus Ace’s crunch make this another album highlight (and a song that Ace wrote solo).  That’s followed by a song he didn’t write:  Eddie Money’s “I Wanna Go Back”!  When Ace covers a song, he tends to go for poppier things than you’re used to hearing from him.  Think “Do Ya” from Trouble Walkin’.  This one has the potential to be as fondly regarded.

“Mission to Mars” rocks.  It’s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am rocket ride to the red planet.  Another potential album highlight.  “Off My Back” (Anton Fig on drums) is really strong as well.

Finally (technically) the next in the instrumental “Fractured” series:  “Quantum Flux”.  Technically, because the word “Fractured” isn’t in the title, but it could be considered a spinoff of “Fractured Quantum” from Anomaly.  It’s heavier than the usual, so “Fractured” doesn’t quite suit it.  The acoustic guitars are only a small part of this wide-ranging instrumental.  Songs like “Quantum Flux” are levels above the rest musically.  It’s a tour-de-force.  Ace Frehley is an instrumental genius.  Yeah, we said it!

For Ace Frehley in 2018, Spaceman is a delight.  It is a true fact that the human voice changes as we age, and Ace’s is lower and less dynamic.  Instrumentally he’s never been better, and as a songwriter, he’s done well.

4.25/5 stars

#703: The Lost Chapters – “1986”

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.[1]  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.[2]  [3]

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. [4]

 

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.

  1. My Walkman, loaded up with Kiss Alive II.  I figured, she’d ask what I was listening to, I’d say Kiss Alive II in a cool disinterested voice.
  2. A magnifying glass.
  3. A plentiful supply of things to burn, both alive and dead.  Because nothing says, “come hither, baby,” like the smell of a dead ant.  (It smells a lot like bacon, by the way.)

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.  [5]   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.

 

 


[1] From the moment your parent or guardian says “Get a job.”

[2] This is before PVR’s, kids.  VCR’s too, for those born before 1994.  Do try to keep up.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

 

KISS Announce Final Tour

Did you catch  on America’s Got Talent?  I did — Mitch Lafon advised it would be wise.

Two takeaways:

1. Paul Stanley sounded good.  Much better than recent tours.

2. Kiss announced their upcoming tour will be their last.

Haven’t we heard this before?  Yes we sure have.  Given age, it’s much more believable now.  The tour could last three years according to Gene.

What do you think of this news? Will you catch Kiss for what might be the last time?

 

 

#702: If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out

GETTING MORE TALE #702:  If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out

Summer is gone — it flew by.  We’ve said goodbye to our loved one.  Now it’s time to pick up the pieces, and also to try and get back to whatever “normal” is going to be now.  Time to write.  Not everything was bad.  Lots of tears, but some laughs too.

We stayed in a lot of hotels but I think my favourite is the last one we used, the Fairfield in Brampton.  We had a nice two room suite with a desk that I could use for writing.  I wrote the last instalment of Getting More Tale (#701:  Amazon You Bastards) at that desk at the Fairfield.  It was a really sweet spot!  Good wi-fi too.  We ordered Chinese food from one of Jen’s favourite places, and her cousins came over to visit.

Another hotel (I think the Edward in Toronto) had the most amazing shower I’ve ever experienced.  It had an overhead jet, three more on the vertical, and one of those hand-held shower heads.  You could combine them too.  It had enough settings that you could easily lose half an hour in there.

Having a good stay in a hotel requires several key things.  Add your own to my list:

  1. Music.  Usually in three forms.  I) Mp3 player.  II) Flash drive(s) for car.  III) Laptop.
  2. Headphones for said laptop.  This is both for music and Netflix.  I forgot the headphones on the Labour Day weekend.  I waited at a shitty Canadian Tire store in Toronto to find and buy a $30 pair.  Worth it though.
  3. Books.  I brought a Transformers graphic novel and a Rock Candy magazine given to me by Superdekes.
  4. Enough clothes.  I came short on this one twice this summer.
  5. Whatever personal hygiene products you require.
  6. Earplugs!

My fuck, are those hotel air conditioners loud.

Kiss is good comfort music.  At the Fairfield I spun Unmasked again, for what was probably the third time this week.  Uncle Meat’s words resonated in my head:  “You’re wrong on Unmasked“.  I listened, I enjoyed, I sang along.  Do I like this album?  I must.  It’s certainly problematic, with a lot of outside writing diluting the sauce.  But it also had an increased Ace Frehley participation factor.  Uncle Meat ranked it 4.5/5  steaks, I gave it 3.5/5 stars.  I might have to finally revise it again to 4/5 stars.  The jury will be back soon.

Back to my previous point though:  Kiss is good comfort music.  Many of those albums are time machines.  I can be 13 or 14 years old again, and very clearly so.  Most Kiss albums remind me of summer, but it’s not all just nostalgia.  Nostalgia alone is hollow.  You can’t listen to a song forever just because of nostalgia.  Whether you want to admit it or not, Kiss had the goods.  Barely enough goods, but they had ’em and they also had a style.  Today we say songs are “Kiss-like”, usually referring to the classic Kiss sound of 1974 to 1977.  Ace Frehley had an identifiable sound from day one.  He patented his own fretboard moves.  That’s why when Bob Kulick came aboard to play ghost guitars on Alive II, he was instructed to “make it sound like something Ace would play.”  As for Paul Stanley, there is no slagging the man’s voice in his prime.  He was the goddamn Phantom of the Opera fer fucksakes.  Kiss’ weaknesses are fairly obvious now that we know who really played what on what, but their strengths should also be clear to us.

I needed Kiss this summer.  Kiss helped.  That’s the bottom line.  If air drumming a little bit to “Anything for My Baby” takes my mind away to somewhere good for three minutes, then proceed.

I also had a re-connection with Cat Stevens late this summer.  I’m not sure why, but when “Mum” was sick in the hospital towards the end, I kept hearing one song in my head: “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” from the Harold and Maude soundtrack.  I don’t remember ever watching that movie with Mum, or even hearing that song around her.  I just had a very sudden, profound connection of that song with her when she was sick.

Maybe she was trying to tell me something.

Well, if you want to sing out, sing out,
And if you want to be free, be free,
‘Cause there’s a million things to be,
You know that there are.

It’s a message she might have wanted me to know?

Well, if you want to say yes, say yes,
And if you want to say no, say no,
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go,
You know that there are.

Whatever the connection in my head, I felt strongly enough about it to mix in with the songs we used for the visitation.  And it made me smile, and tear up at the same time.

Cat Stevens wrote some pretty good songs, didn’t he?

Here I am in my late 40s now, and I’m still learning new things about what music does.  Stronger than ever, I say again:  it’s in my blood!

 

#700: How Are You Doing?

GETTING MORE TALE #700: How Are You Doing?

It’s been a week since we lost Mum…and we are doing OK.  Jen’s been focused like an electron microscope on getting things done for the funeral.  My job is scanning photos and preparing music…and catching up on laundry.  Attempting to put a dent into the pile of clothes I call “Sock Mountain”.  I’m assuming reality will hit us later.

For music, Mum would have liked if we used something by my sister Dr. Kathryn.  I hope I can find something appropriate, perhaps from her Stealth CD.  At least one track.  For the reception after, I’m using Mike Slayen’s awesome acoustic guitar album DUDE.  Don’t let the title fool you!  If Mum was well enough, I know she would have been enjoying this album with us.  Probably in the car on the way to the cottage.  She would have loved it.  Me, I would have loved just having Mum with us.

This has been a very hard year for us, and I know the power of music is such that you always associate certain tracks or albums with periods in your life.  Music also has the power to raise the spirits, and it did that for me quite a few times this summer.  On every shitty drive to Toronto on the 401, to every dismal hospital parking lot, my stereo was on.  A lot of albums were repeat listens, and I worry:  “Will I always associate the Bosstones or Blotto with this shitty summer?”

I might.  And that might make the Bosstones or Blotto hard to listen to, down the road.  I think we have to try and make more memories of those bands later on.  Maybe when we finally do return to the cottage.

That aside, we sure did devour a lot of music on the road.  Just last week, between Toronto and the work commute, I polished off Marillion’s The Singles ’82-’88 (12 discs), its followup Singles Box Vol 2 ’89 – ’95 (12 more discs), and a third “box set” of eight more singles. A whopping 1.5 gig of music.  Basically all their singles and B-sides in one massive weeklong stretch.  Meanwhile, back at the office, I had my Kiss flash drive.  Basically, everything I own by Kiss in one place.  I’ve been focused on the studio albums, and each one has been spun more than once.  I realised this:  I never seem to get tired of Kiss!

Whether it was Lick it Up, Hotter Than Hell, Dressed to Kill, Love Gun, Rock and Roll OverDynasty, Unmasked, Creatures…even Asylum got multiple plays in the last couple weeks.  When a band has been your favourite for over 30 years and you can’t explain why, I guess you can just keep playing those albums in rotation.  The later albums…admittedly less so.  The emotional attachment isn’t quite there.

Get this!  While I was bopping to Kiss Unmasked one afternoon, the guy in the office next to me put on “Summerland” by King’s X!  How cool is that?  When was the last time you heard King’s X in the office?  The guy even knew the names of the members.  Said a friend recently turned him onto King’s X, but all he had was the Best Of.  Gotta start somewhere!

Thanks for checking in.  We’ll be OK.  I think we’ll manage to make it through this, but not without the support of friends and loved ones.

#697: Kiss My Ass

GETTING MORE TALE #697: Kiss My Ass

Spring, 1994.

An unemployed 21 year old student not-yet-named LeBrain was having a particularly lazy summer.  In a year I would graduate.  I didn’t have a lot of spending money.

There was a CD store at the mall.  The owner was a friend of my dad’s.  It was within walking distance.  I wandered in once or twice a week.  but their prices were too high.  They had a “buy 10 get 1 free card”, and I’d redeemed one of those (for cassettes) already, but in general I couldn’t afford to buy things there.  Most of my music was coming from Columbia House.

July rolled around, but I hadn’t been to the mall in a while.  There was a bunch of new stuff I was curious about.  David Lee Roth had an album out, and the new Soundgarden was supposed to be incredible.  Kim Mitchell had something new, and there were a bunch of 1993 albums I still wanted.  I took a walk to the mall.

Something was different at the CD store.  Where there were once these red wire clearance bins, there was now a display of…used CDs!?  Quality guaranteed?!  Woah!  I could afford these!

I saw it immediately:  a brand new release sitting there used for $11.99.  Kiss My Ass.  It was only out for about two weeks!  I didn’t care why it was there, it was MINE!  I hated spending full CD prices on a “various artists” album.  In general I’d only get three tracks per album that I wanted.  I preferred to buy stuff like that on cassette, just so I wasn’t paying 20 bucks or more for three songs.  Twelve bucks for Kiss My Ass?  Stop twisting my arm!

I remarked to the owner how excited I was to get this brand new album at such a great price!  He told me they just started selling used CDs.  I learned later the now-legendary story:  it started with about 10 CDs that he brought in from home to sell.  People wanted more, and so he began buying and selling.  So far, it was working well.  He had a few hundred on display, and there were already some great titles in there!

I ran home excited about my score.  The three tracks I was interested in were Lenny Kravitz, Extreme, and Shandi’s Addiction.  I got my required three songs.  Over time, the rest began to appeal more, but I mostly played those three.  When I learned that Kiss themselves played on the Garth Brooks song, I upped it to four.

About a week later, my dad came home from work and instructed me to go to the mall the following morning.  The owner of the CD store wanted to talk to me.

What?

“He’s interested in hiring you,” said my mom.

“Nah,” I answered.  “I ordered a Japanese version of Kiss Alive III.  I bet that came in.”

“Just go to the mall and talk to him,” they both said, and so I put on some nice(r) clothes for what was in effect an interview.  I wore cowboy boots because I didn’t have anything else but sneakers.  He already knew me as a customer, and trusted my dad as well.  We just chatted for a bit.  He told me that his employee Craig would be leaving for school at the end of the summer, and he needed a replacement.  There were only the two of them, so it was actually a bigger deal than just “working at a CD store”.  Craig opened, closed, did bank deposits, and everything else that needed doing, and eventually so would I!

He told me the job was a lot of fun, but also a lot of work.  Sure, sure, stop twisting my arm!

Therefore, the CD copy of Kiss My Ass (that I still own today) is the very first used CD I bought at the store I would eventually work, and also the last one that I bought before actually being hired!  And he was right about the job.  It was hard work, and it was fun.  When I began working there, I used to show up about 30 minutes early just to flip through all the new arrivals.  If something jumped out at me, I’d put it in the front row.  If something was priced too low, I’d tell him.   “This is really rare”.  I impressed him by knowing the details of who was in what bands, and their different side projects.  I told him I learned this stuff by reading the Columbia House catalogue every month.

What an awesome time to work!  The used CDs were on the ground floor.  Soon they’d be 99% of what we did.  I was there for many releases of what are now classic albums.  I’m really proud to have been there for those times, even if not everybody gets that.  It was work and it was fun.  Not everybody gets to have a job they can be passionate about.  When I was there at the beginning, putting in 200% every day, it was simply an amazing time to be alive.