music

#966: Crossing the Line

As hinted in the past, there are many Record Store Tales that have gone untold.  Some I have been asked not to share.  Some I’ve waited years to write, in hope that the past two decades will put some distance between the events and the people concerned.

RECORD STORE TALES #966:  Crossing the Line

It took time for the world to catch up to my needs.  As an introvert, I hadn’t had much luck meeting girls.  I said stupid things, I put my foot in my mouth, I didn’t know how to introduce myself.  I’d tried going to the bars with friends, I’d been set up on dates, but I had no success.  Thanks to the internet, I was soon able to make a better first impression, online.  There I could take my time with my words and hopefully make a connection with someone.  It was the summer of 1999, when I met a local girl named Jen online (not the one I married, I must like the name).  We got along great so she decided to meet me in person.  I was not hard to find, working at the local Record Store.

Convenient, yes.  Smart, no.

Though I was at the end of my shift and it was OK for me to chat, my boss did not like the looks of Jen.  She was exceptionally tall, and worked as a bouncer at Oktoberfest because she could physically handle herself.  But that wasn’t the boss man’s problem.  His issue was that she had a piercing in her bottom lip.

I know, right?  In 1999, a labret piercing wasn’t as common, and my boss absolutely hated piercings.  He flat out told us once that he would not hire a guy that might have been fully qualified for the job because he had a ring in his nose.

He warned me against “crazy girls”, and then proceeded to tell one of our customers all about it behind my back.

The customer that we called “Tony Macaroni” was in one day and wanted to check out some newer metal releases.  (I was always trying to sell him on Bruce Dickinson who he found to be too “Satantic”, thanks to the Chemical Wedding album.)  Tony said to me, “So your boss tells me you’re dating a…” he paused looking for the appropriate words.  “A different kind of girl.”  He probably meant to say “freak” or “weirdo”.

“Huh?” I responded in confusion.  Jen and I never actually got to dating, but I knew what was up.  The boss was telling Tony about this “freak” he spotted me with in the store.  I guess he found that amusing enough to share.

I really should have spoken to the boss then and there about privacy and overstepping his bounds.  But I found him intimidating, and so I said nothing.  As a business owner in charge of dozens of people, he certainly should have known better.

The funny thing is that I’m still friends with that Jen.  We never hooked up romantically, but she’s a solid human.

The next incidents happened in 2003.  Again, he involved himself in my dating life.  I had recently turned 30 and for the first time in my life, was getting turned down by girls in their mid-20s for being “too old”.  29 was fine, but 30 was apparently over the top.  Unable to turn back the clock, I was not happy when this started happening.

I had one weakness back then.  I liked to talk.  Some of the other store managers were friends, and I would periodically call them up and ask for advice.  The boss absolutely hated when we talked on the phone to employees at other stores.  It meant that during the phone call, there were two people not working.  I did this too often and got caught.  The next day he pulled me into the office for a chat.  Then I made another mistake.

The correct course of action would have been to keep my mouth shut and accept a slap on the wrist.  Instead, I opened up.  I told my boss about how I wasn’t enjoying turning 30, how I just found a gray hair, and how this girl I was seeing decided to break it off because she was 24 or 25 and her parents wouldn’t like that I was 30.

“What’s her middle name?” he asked me.

I could not remember her middle name.

“Well she couldn’t have meant that much to you if you don’t even know her middle name.  What are her parents’ names?” he continued.

The meeting ended with him handing me a slip of paper with a phone number written on it.  I consider this to be the second time the line was crossed.  “Give these people a call, it’s counselling”.  It wasn’t an EAP program, it was a piece of paper with a phone number written on it and I felt very uncomfortable.  Legally and ethically, no lines were crossed.  But I left that meeting feeling pressured.  Later on, he did follow up and asked if I called the number.  I had tossed the paper out.

The third and final time he crossed the line with me, it was unambiguous.  I have no idea what his issue was this time, because I only heard about it after the fact.  Behind my back, he had called my parents!  My parents!  He called them to tell them that Mike was “used to doing things the old way,” and not adapting to the “new way”.  I am not sure exactly what he was on about.  There were lots of possibilities.  Maybe it was the time I did some employee reviews on the “old” forms because I didn’t have any of the “new” ones. Or maybe it was when I got piercings of my own.  Nobody knows anymore, but when he made that one phone call, he went a step too far and my dad isn’t quick to forgive.

Over the years, I’ve been accused of being unfair and too harsh towards the store ownership.  I don’t think so.  Not when you know the context.  Best thing I ever did for myself was quit.

* That was my fault.  The copier was right next to the office bully‘s desk so I probably neglected to copy the new forms out of avoidance.

#948: Post-script

RECORD STORE TALES #948:  Post-script

In this life, at least since 2018, we have learned to take nothing for granted.  We treat every trip to the cottage like it’s the last, but I really didn’t expect to get back this late in the season.

With some Judas Priest on the stereo (Sad Wings of Destiny), we made one more uneventful trip up north.  The weather forecast was not good, but the Friday was still lovely.  We arrived early afternoon and I set up my laptop and speakers on the front porch for what really might be the last time in 2021.  I did not waste a note of music.  It was raining but the overhang kept me dry.  Listening to song after song, I chose my Top 5 best album closing tracks for that night’s show.  Finalized!

The best office you could want, rain or shine

I can’t remember the last time we made it to the lake this late in October.  Friday I wore shorts.  Saturday was another story….

I woke up early Saturday morning and went for a walk in the pitch black.  It was wet from the rain but otherwise warm and dead quiet.  A few hours later, the wind and rain picked up and Saturday became an “indoor day”.

I went down to the beach for a few moments to capture some video but I couldn’t make it further than the treeline.  The wind was blasting the rain right through my clothes.  It’s been many years since I’ve experienced that kind of weather.  We battened down the hatches and prepared for a cold one.  It was a good day for movies, music and toys.  The heat went on and so did the long pants!

You can feel this picture

Sunday was the really interesting day.  The reality was hitting me that it could possibly be months before we saw this place again.  I was trying to really absorb the sounds, sights and feelings.  I had two flashbacks, and they were intense.

The first happened in the early morning.  I was cleaning the kitchen and put on some tunes to work to.  I chose Rock and Roll Over by Kiss, as it had the classic Kiss vibe I wanted and strong cottage memories associated with it.  The first time I heard Rock and Roll Over was there at the cottage – it was the last Kiss studio album I needed.  I would have been about 15.  As I was washing the dishes, singing and dancing to “Mr. Speed” I suddenly had the first flashback.  I was in that very kitchen with my best friend Bob and I was a teenager again.  We were doing the dishes and rocking out to Kiss.  It was entirely in my imagination.  We never washed the dishes to Kiss that I can think of.  Yes the parents would usually ask us to help with the dishes, and any time we had company over, I conceded because I didn’t want to look like a spoiled brat.  But we never did it with music playing, that I can remember.  But we would have if we could.

It was such an intense feeling that I needed to stop what I was doing and take a breath.  I could literally see us both, washing the dishes and rocking to Kiss.  It probably never happened that way but my flashback didn’t care.

Once that intense experience had passed and the kitchen was clean, I went outside to wander and take some last pictures.  My 49th season in this place.  An awesome season and truly one of the very best.   It was then that I had the second intense flashback.

49 years

I was walking around the side of the cottage, thinking about how awesome it was to be walking around shirtless in this paradise all summer.  And then suddenly – I was.  For a brief moment the sun was blasting my shirtless skin.  And then it was over.  It was like when Will Byers suddenly flashes into the Update Down on Stranger Things.  In a blink it ended and was gone.  I just enjoyed the experience.  I’d like more flashbacks like this to happen.  It’s all about the setting and the mindset.

Once Jen and I had finished packing, I was locking up and I noticed her at the end of the driveway staring at the lake.  It is her favourite place in the world; she calls it her “safe place”.  I joined her and asked if she wanted to take one more look around.  We walked down to the windy beach one more time and just drank it all in.  The sight of the churning lake, the sound of the crashing waves, and the feeling of the wind on our skin.

And that was it.  With heavy heart we started the car and hit the road.  If that was the end of the season, by God we had a good one!  Some of the best tunes, meals, swimming, live shows and videos were had this year.  An unforgettable summer, interviewing rock stars from the comfort of the front porch with Lake Huron before me.  Top that, 2022.

 

Awesome Show & Tell! Top Music We’d Save From a Fire on the LeBrain Train

Let’s have a huge round of applause for our awesome panel tonight!  Showing off all our most beloved treasures, this show was a bounty of beautiful musical mana.

We didn’t stick strictly to the idea of saving “albums” from a fire.  We just made it “music” and in some cases it was “musical memorabilia”.  All good — all valuable in their own way.  Some valuable in serious monetary ways!  Wait until you hear how much some of these things cost today!

Special features tonight included:

  • Tons of show & tell! – Gene Simmons’ Vault, Metallica’s Fan Can #4, autographs, vinyl, cassettes, CDs & VHS!
  • The return of “The Author Reads“, the first in over 16 months.  This time I read Record Store Tales Part 19:  “The Rules” which directly related to my #1 pick.  (2:55:00 of the stream.)
  • Great stories from Aaron about his awesome Nana and B.B. King.

 

Thanks for watching and the awesome comments.  See you next week!

 

 

FIRE! What Music Would You Save? Join the discussion on the LeBrain Train

The LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike and Friends

Episode 80 – Nigel Tufnel Top Music We’d Save From A Fire

We’ve all heard the question while hanging with pals over a couple drinks.  “What albums would you save from a fire?”  Nobody even wants to think of it!  But as a fun exercise, tonight we’ll tell you our Nigel Tufnel Top Ten Albums We’d Save From A Fire!  Whatever gets saved, you can be you’ll hear about some treasures that are very near and dear to our hearts.

Your panel this week:

Expect lots of show & tell.  John owns The Vault… I own a Fan Can… will these items make our lists?  What will be left to burn?  Find out tonight.

Friday August 20, 7:00 PM E.S.T. on Facebook:  MikeLeBrain and YouTube:  Mike LeBrain.


SCHEDULE:

  • Greg Fraser of Storm Force returns!  Friday September 24 7:00 PM

 

#929: “The Neanderthal Flute”

RECORD STORE TALES #929:  “The Neanderthal Flute”

When Beethoven invented music in 334 BC, he had no idea we would owe him a debt of gratitude over two millennia later.   When his friend, Presley of Elvis, heard this wonderful sound, he decided to pin some strings to a piece of wood and created the first guitar.

That’s how it all started right?  Beethoven, Bach, Elvis, the Beatles?

Music has likely been with us since the dawn of abstract thought.  Ancient evidence is difficult to find, since most musical instruments would have decayed to nothing over tens of thousands of years.  Without physical remains, an “invention” of music is difficult to date.  Even musical notation came much later.  According to Dr. Kathryn Ladano at Wilfrid Laurier University, those who played ancient music “were improvisers. Improvisation has to be the oldest and first form of music, before anything was written or passed down in the oral tradition.”

The oldest musical artefacts we have are flutes made of bone.   The most ancient of these could be the 45,000 year old Divje Babe flute, discovered in Slovenia in 1995.  It was dated using the Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) technique.  The bone is commonly called the “Neanderthal flute” but there is no consensus on who made it…if anyone.   If indeed it is a flute, it would be the oldest known musical instrument ever found.

There are other, younger known bone flutes, but the Divje Babe femur would be the most ancient found by far.  What we do know with certainty is very little.  It has never appeared on a Jethro Tull album for one thing, which is truly unfortunate.  The Divje Babe flute is a broken juvenile cave bear bone, with two clear holes, and possibly the remains of two more at either broken end.  Bones with holes in them are common.  Rather than a flute, it could just be a fluke – a piece of bear femur, pierced by the teeth of a predator.

We have theories.  Was the bone just left as-is by an animal?  Both ends are damaged, probably by a predator looking for the tasty marrow inside.  Tests were made with metal castings of various predator teeth.  The hole alignment does not match any known animal’s teeth, but the holes could have been made at different times rather than simultaneously.  Canadian musicologist Bob Fink thinks it unlikely that such a situation would result in four holes in a straight line.  Tests also showed that bones often broke when trying to duplicate an animal bite.  Finally, we can’t rule out that the holes could be a modern hoax, nor can we rule out Ian Anderson as a suspect.

As humans, we hope the bone is the first known musical instrument and there is some evidence to support that.  For one, the bone appears to be cleaned of marrow, since the inner and outer surfaces are the same colour.  This would be necessary if it were a flute.  The holes are also quite circular, which is unlike most oval-shaped bite holes.  There are no marks on the bottom of the bone, which you would expect if it was between an animal’s jaws.  It takes a lot of pressure to bite a hole in a bear femur.  However there are also no tool marks, which are common on actual man-made bone flutes.

Here’s the most interesting evidence, if not the most compelling.  According to Fink, the four holes line up with the “do, re, mi, fa” of the diatonic scale.  Can you imagine?  45,000 years ago, somebody playing “do re mi” on a bone flute.  Perhaps for ceremonial, religious reasons.  Maybe just to entertain the tribe with a hit song.  Binding communities together, person by person.  Expanding the capabilities of the human brain one note at a time.  The same scale we play today.*

Before you get too excited about the possibilities, the bone is a juvenile cave bear and would not have been very long even before it was broken.  One study (by Nowell and Chase) indicates that the bone would have had to be twice its natural length to play the diatonic scale.  Fink countered this with the possibility of an added mouthpiece that extended its length.

Why not use modern technology to create a replica flute and try to play it?  In 2011, Matija Turk and  Ljuben Dimkaroski did just that.   Their study showed “it was possible to perform a series of musical articulations and ornamentations such as legato, staccato, double and triple tonguing, flutter-tonguing, glissando, chromatic scales, trills, broken chords, interval leaps, and melodic successions from the lowest to the highest tones.”  Furthermore Dimkaroski found that a longer bone was not necessary to play music.  The reconstructed instrument had a three and a half octave range and was less like a flute and more akin to modern woodwinds.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the flute is that it could have been made by our Neanderthal cousins, which would prove that music is a trait shared by two species and not just ours.  Even if the bone really was carved by Neanderthals, there is no way for us to know for certain.  It could have been left in the cave much later on by a wandering human.

We do not have all the answers yet, but the possibility of the same musical scale that we use today being at least 45,000 years old is an enticing one.  It sets the imagination on fire with possibilities.  You could go back in time and play “Heartbreak Hotel” on this ancient flute in that dark cave, if the theories hold true.  What an incredible thought that is.

 

* Dr. Ladano notes, “Even if it didn’t match with the western major or minor tonal system, it isn’t any less valid. Other cultures use different scales and maybe the maker of this flute used a different scale system as well.”

#928: Rockin’ the Computer From Then to Now

RECORD STORE TALES #928: Rockin’ the Computer From Then to Now

It’s funny to think about my parents being on the cutting edge of technology, but back in the day, we had all the cool stuff.  In my earliest memories we had a Lloyd’s Pong machine.  It came with two paddles and a really cool light gun assembly that you could customise with a stock or silencer.  It was primitive but very few people had video games in the home back then.

You wouldn’t call the Lloyd’s a “computer”, but our next device was specifically marketed as a “video computer system”. The Atari 2600 console was beloved by our family for many years.  There was a big sale.  You could get the console with two games (Combat and Space Invaders), two joysticks, and two paddles.  Our family grabbed one as did everyone else in the neighbourhood.  While the games were not as sophisticated as those in the arcade (or any other home entertainment system), they were the most popular.  And then one day in 1984, in front of that Atari 2600, I had the musical epiphany that changed the course of my life.  Iron Maiden and Snoopy & the Red Baron collided in such a way that my life would never be the same.  From that point forward, computers and music would be intertwined in my life.  Music enhances everything from gaming to homework.

Cousin Geoff “Captain Destructo” wrecking our Atari joysticks while playing Snoopy & the Red Baron on the 2600

I had always been into soundtrack music, but when I was given a Fisher Price mono tape recorder as a young kid, I was able to record whatever I wanted.  I made a compilation of all my favourite Atari 2600 musical themes.  My sister and I would walk around the house humming those game tunes, so I recorded them for us to enjoy.  Ms. Pac Man in particular had a good musical theme.

The next evolution in our computing lives was when my dad got an IBM PC through work.  Not one but two 5 1/4″ floppy disc drives.  Monochrome monitor.  The ability to copy games from friends.   That computer kept us going for many years until the early 90s when I wanted something new that could handle modern word processing for school.  Not a very good computer, but a new one at least.  It was regular upgrades from there:  a modem, and finally the near-mythical CD-ROM drive.

Dad at the original PC

The first thing I did as soon as we got a CD-ROM drive was to buy something that truly combined the world of computers and music.  In a way, CD-ROM was a new format in music, an upgrade from simple CD.  Having a drive on the computer opened up my world to things I couldn’t play before, such as Queensryche’s Promised Land.  (I first bought Alice In Chains’ Jar of Flies CD-ROM but couldn’t get it to work, so I exchanged it for another Seattle band.)  There I sat at the keyboard, clicking on my mouse and virtually touring Big Log, the island studio that Queensryche recorded the album in.  The CD-ROM also included a video game, and the prize for winning the video game was a brand new song.  Queensryche specially recorded “Two Mile High”, an acoustic song, for the game.  I never won the game, but I figured out what file the song was, and recorded it to a tape deck via the PC’s audio-out jack.  And let me tell you, I thought it was pretty cool to gain an exclusive song by expanding my tech to play a new format.  Collectors are kind of nuts that way.

When I started working at the Record Store, Trevor and I would check out CDs that had exclusive CD-ROM content, such as Tales from the Punchbowl by Primus.  There was a special “enhanced” reissue that included visual content for your computer.  This became common practice in the 1990s.  And so, it became important to always have a computer able to keep up with the newest releases.

Ozzy had screen savers.  The Tea Party had exclusive videos.  I never found out what Alice In Chains had.  We learned quickly at the Record Store that these “enhanced” CDs gave some people problems with playback, especially if they tried to play the album on an older computer.  We had many returns.  The alternative was to exchange the disc for a version manufactured by Columbia House.  They usually lacked the enhanced content for your computer, which was causing some customers the playback issues.  The feedback we received was that the Columbia House versions played fine!

With the advent of cheaper memory and better computers, my collection began the ongoing migration to digital copy.  Having a decent computer is more important than ever.  In fact now I do most of my listening right here in front of the screen.  The subwoofer gives me plenty of depth.  This is something I could never have imagined, even back in the early CD-ROM days.  Only in the last 10 years has listening to music on the computer been smooth and decent sounding.  Tech got faster and cheaper and now the computer is my main station.

I’ve had so many computers over the years that I’ve lost track of them all.  The new laptop I bought doesn’t have an optical media drive at all, which alarmed me.  I will always need the ability to have my CD collection interact with my digital machine.  Will my future be external drives that play increasingly obsolete formats?  Kang only knows, as this ride has been unpredictable so far.  I guess we’ll see what changes in the next 10 years.  I just know that it will change.

BOOK REVIEW: Gord Downie & Jeff Lemire – Secret Path (2016)

GORD DOWNIE & LEFF LEMIRE – Secret Path (2016 Simon and Schuster)

Residential schools are Canada’s shame.

History cannot be buried forever.  Eventually, atrocities are brought to light.  This terrible secret is no longer hiding in the dark.  It has shown the world that even the great nation of Canada has skeletons.  Tens of thousands of them.  Children, taken away from their families, and forced to assimilate.  Forced to lose their language, culture, and way of life.  All in the misguided and shameful effort to “civilize the savage” and “bring the heathens to God”.  Thus, “saving” them.

Thousands of these children never came home from the residential school system.  How many?  With bodies being unearthed daily, we may never know the true tally.  If Gord Downie were alive today, what would he have to say about these discoveries?

Downie and Jeff Lemire tried to tell us.  In 2016 they released Secret Path, a gorgeous and painful graphic novel to accompany the Downie album of the same name.  The book comes with a download code so you can listen along, and read the full lyrics.  It is the story of Chanie Wenjack, Anishinaabe by birth, raised in northern Ontario.  The residential school forced him to change his name to “Charlie”.  This is not ancient history.  This only happened in 1966.  The Beatles were the biggest band in the world.  Our parents were living normal lives.  Meanwhile, Wenjack and thousands like him were abused and tormented at residential schools all over the country, not even afforded the dignity of their own names.

At age 12, Wenjack ran away.  Home was 370 miles.  He never made it.  Secret Path is his story.


The book has no text other than the album’s lyrics.  Listening along is the best way to appreciate the rich images.  You must take time to study the lines and shading, for each page is rich with beauty and detail.

It was October of ’66 and the story begins with Chanie already on his way home.  Alone, following the train tracks, Wenjack is illustrated in stark black, blue and white.  The trees are bare, and ravens circle free overhead.  Chanie’s story is told in the form of flashbacks.   His thoughts go back to happier times, fishing with his father.  These memories are in full, beautiful watercolour.  Lemire captures the love in his drawings.

“My dad is not a wild man.  He doesn’t even drink.”

Chanie’s memories then go back to his first day at school.  Like a prisoner, he was issued a new haircut and new clothes.  His sorrow leaks through the pages.  He then thinks back to the morning of October 16.  Unable to tolerate any more abuse, Wenjack and two friends made a run for it.

“Now?”  “Not yet.”

“Now?”  “Now yes.”

They stayed briefly with the family of the other two boys, but Chanie wanted to return to his own home.  On his own, and only with a railway map, a windbreaker, and a jar with seven matches inside, Chanie followed the rail.  Only seven matches.

“And I kept them dry.  And as long as there were six, I’d be fine.”

“As long as there were five.”

“As long as there were four…”

His thoughts return once again to the school.  Sexual abuse is alluded to.  Chanie continues to run on his secret path, but he also tries to escape from his memories.  They are never far behind.  Only happy dreams of his father bring warmth, and they are gloriously painted in fall colours.  As he weakens, hallucinations manifest, both good and bad.  He wishes for revenge, and to see his father one more time.  The raven circles overhead.

“I’ll just close my eyes.  I’ll just catch my breath.”

While there is no way to really know the thoughts and feelings of Chanie Wenjack during his final walk, Secret Path is not a work of fiction.  It happened.  And now we know that Chanie is one of thousands.  Chanie Wenjack did not die on that train track from exposure to the elements.  He died of genocide.

If this book does not make you feel, then consult a doctor because something is wrong with your heart.

5/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020 United Artists)
Directed by Dean Parisot

I went into Bill & Ted 3 not expecting much, due to the poor reviews and long-ass time since the second movie (1991).  I came out thinking everybody else got it wrong, and Bill & Ted Face the Music could actually be the best of the series.

Keywords:  “the series”.  This isn’t The Godfather we’re competing with.  Once you shed the rosy glow of nostalgia, realize one thing:  Bill & Ted were never great.  They were always fun, headbanging nonsense.  There was some wit and some great performances thanks to George Carlin and William Sadler, but Bill & Ted were never great.  The movies didn’t make a lot of sense where time travel is concerned, and were essentially just vehicles for the two dumb guys to have dumb adventures.

What is amazing is that the two “dumb guys” (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) wanted to come back.  They seemed to be having fun making the movie, which means it’s fun to watch.  What’s new in the last 30 years?  Not only are Bill & Ted still together, but they are still together with their medieval princesses too!  And they even have children — Thea and Billie.  And they are chips right off the old blocks.

One catch though.  Although Bill & Ted’s band Wyld Stallions achieved some early success, they quickly dropped off the map* and never wrote the song that would bring the world together.   And if they don’t do it before 7:17 PM, the universe will cease to exist!  (That doesn’t make sense?  Well neither did the first two films!)

The movie splits into two tangents here, both equally entertaining.  The affable Bill & Ted decide to go into the future, and just steal the song from their future selves.  Meanwhile, Billie and Thea have their own idea:  form the band that will back their dads when they play the song.  They borrow a time machine from Kelly, who is the daughter of Rufus (George Carlin).  Kelly is trying to warn their dads about a time travelling assassin robot (named Dennis) sent back to kill them.

While Bill & Ted encounter increasingly older versions of themselves as they travel further trying to find the song, Billie and Thea recruit Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Mozart, legendary Ling Lun, and a cave drummer from the stone age named Grom — the greatest musicians in history.   This is where Bill & Ted Face the Music really surpasses its forebears.  While it was fun seeing Bill & Ted recruit historical figures and going to hell in the past, this time it’s actually about the music.  For three movies, we are told that Wyld Stallions will unite the world in music.  Only in the third is the music actually a significant part of the movie.  It’s fun seeing Hendrix jam with Mozart despite the language (and time) barrier.

Spoilers from this point.  Bill & Ted screw up worse and worse the further they go.  Their future selves try to trick their past selves into stealing a song from Dave Grohl, which backfires and ends up with future Bill and future Ted in the slammer.  Their princesses abandon them.  Dennis lasers everybody to death (including himself) and they all end up in a familiar landscape:  Hell.  But that’s OK.  Turns out that Bill & Ted’s former bassist lives nearby.  Yes, it’s William Sadler as Death, who we learn quit Wyld Stallions to go solo years ago.  (We couldn’t get George Carlin back, but we did get William Sadler, and that’s just awesome.)  The clock ticks on and all seems lost, but don’t worry — Kid Cudi shows up to help with the quantum mathematics.

But what about the song?  As Mr. Holland’s Opus proved adequately, when you build up a piece of music in the audience’s mind, nothing will meet that expectation.  And as Dave Grohl is well aware “this is not the greatest song in the world, this is just a tribute.”  Given that no piece of music will ever satisfy an audience when you build it up as “the song that will save the universe”, this movie took an interesting turn.  It is revealed that the song itself wasn’t as important as getting everyone in the world to play along simultaneously.  It’s like a big “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and sing in harmony” situation.  And our heroes have a time machine, so they can make sure they get the message (and an instrument to play along) out to everyone in the world.  Don’t think about it the time travel stuff too hard!

End spoilers.  

Keanu Reeves, and Alex Winter in particular, are so much fun to revisit as these characters.  Keanu is a little more laid back, but Bill & Ted are in their late 40s (while the actors are in their 50s).  They’re not as enthusiastic as they once were.  But they are still Bill & Ted, bonded at the hip, and going to couples therapy as a quartet with their princesses.

Because of its focus on the music, Bill & Ted 3 surpasses the previous two movies.  There’s little “wheedly-wheedly” air guitar and shenanigans.  They don’t run around saying “excellent” and “bogus” all the time.  The endgame of Bill & Ted has always been that one day they would save the world with their music, yet the previous two movies didn’t focus on music.  The first one was about collecting historical figures to pass the highschool history exam.  A fun and fresh premise indeed.  The second went dark, having them assassinated by future robots and journeying through hell.  The third combines the two ideas, but this time with historical musicians.  Rock, jazz, classical, and I had to look up Ling Lun!

You get the sense that Keanu and Alex realized that there is a certain innocence to Bill & Ted that requires younger characters.  Their daughters (played by Samara Weaving – niece of Hugo, and Brigette Lundy-Pain) fill those roles and do it, pardon the pun, excellently.  You need that wide-eyed excitement.  Bill & Ted have already travelled through time, met Socrates and did it all twice — they have nothing to be wide-eyed about.  To them it’s old hat, even ending up in Hell one more time.

The Bill & Ted movies are, objectively, dumb movies.  The two lead characters are, objectively, dumb.  But dumb can be classic, as Stooge aficionados know, and updating a classic is really difficult to do.  Just ask the Farrelly brothers.  Ted Theodore Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esquire managed to have a third adventure appropriate to their ages, while finally saving the world as George Carlin promised they would.  Nothing new added to the stew.  By finally focusing on the music, potential is fulfilled.

3.5/5 stars

* Their experimental opus “That Which Binds Us Through Time: The Chemical, Physical and Biological Nature of Love; an Exploration of The Meaning of Meaning, Part 1” is not a hit.

#889: The Dreadnoks

RECORD STORE TALES #889: The Dreadnoks

I’ve always had trouble letting go.  Even though rock music was my true obsession, there was some overlap.  Even  into grade nine, I still bought GI Joe comics and figures.  It was always hard letting go of an obsession.  My “favourite things”, in order of discovery were:

  1. Star Wars until its natural end in 1983-84.
  2. GI Joe/Transformers from 1984 to 1986-87.
  3. Rock music from 1984 to present.
  4. WWF Wrestling from 1985 to 1990.

You can see how the evolution of this worked.  A GI Joe figure was in the same scale as Star Wars, but with far more articulation well suited to an older kid.  The first wave of figures even featured real-world accurate weapons.  They were a natural step for a kid still wanting that action figure experience, but geared for someone older.  Transformers went hand in hand, since Marvel were producing a comic line to go for each.  Transformers resembled the die-cast cars that older kids (and adults) collected and displayed.

I discovered heavy metal music on December 26, 1984.  A  few months later, wrestling appeared on my radar with the very first Wrestlemania.  A lot of those guys looked like rock stars, with crazy costumes, long hair and male bravado.

As my interests shifted and evolved, so did my collections.  The Star Wars toys were put into storage in the crawl space.  I was given tape boxes, Christmas after Christmas, to store my growing music collection.  A typical Christmas would see me receiving some new tapes and action figures.  I’d sit in my bedroom reading GI Joe comics while rocking out to Long Way to Heaven by Helix.  I was a weird kid but I liked what I liked and didn’t much care.

The Joe characters diversified along with me.  In 1984 they got a little more outlandish with the introduction of Zartan and the Dreadnoks.  Zartan, the master of disguise, was a deluxe action figure whose skin colour turned blue in direct sunlight.  This gimmick only worked outdoors, which meant we played with Zartan outside in the summer while giving him a rest in the winter.  His backup didn’t arrive on toy shelves until 1985.  They were three bikers named the Dreadnoks:  Buzzer, the Brit with a ponytail and a chainsaw, the mohawked Ripper, and the flamethrower Torch who had a bit of a Lemmy beard going on.  Their Mad Max inspired outfits would have allowed them to fit into a rock band quite easily, if only they came with musical instruments instead of weapons.  They’d make a cool punk trio.

The Dreadnoks expanded their lineup the following year.  On explosives came Monkeywrench, bearded and obsessed with Guy Fawkes.  Then in a deluxe set came the vehicle driver Thrasher, and his definitely Mad Max inspired Thunder Machine car.  Made of bits and pieces of scrap, it hit the same post-apocalyptic notes as the other Dreadnoks, as well as rock bands like Motley Crue, Kiss, and Armored Saint.  Thrasher had a punk rock streak of green in his hair.  And now they were a quintet.  They were literally begging for me to make them custom musical instruments.

There were always wooden match sticks in the house, so I used them for guitar necks, drum stands, drumsticks, and a microphone.  Cardboard boxes were cut up to make the bodies of guitars and a few drums and cymbals.  Black electrical tape held them all together.  And so the Dreadnoks became a five piece band, and I put them on display in my bedroom on a shelf with my Kiss cassettes.

If only I had a picture of my Dreadnok band.  Not everybody had a camera back then.  Even if you did, it seemed film was always out!  You can imagine what they looked like!

 

#883: Live! Bootlegs – the Prequel

A prequel to Record Store Tales #286: Live! Bootlegs

 

RECORD STORE TALES #883:  Live! Bootlegs – the Prequel

 

I didn’t discover “bootlegs” right away.  But inevitably, I had my first encounter and was confused by what I saw.

The setting:  Dr. Disc, 1988 or ’89.  Downtown Kitchener.  In the store with best friend Bob and one of his friends.  Browsing in the cassettes, I had worked my way over to Guns N’ Roses, a band I was still learning about.  Something about an EP that came before Appetite?  But what I saw was not that.  In fact, there multiple Guns bootlegs in their cassette section, only I didn’t know they were called “bootlegs”, or what that even meant.  Each one seemed to have a different member on the front.  One had Slash, one had Axl, one even had Izzy.  They were printed on different coloured paper.  They had songs I never heard, like “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.  Live shows from the last few years.

Were they official releases?  They had to be if they were sitting there in a store, right?  But A&A Records at the mall didn’t have these.

I didn’t get of the Guns tapes.  I didn’t have the money, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have taken a chance.

My knowledge of bootlegs was limited.  In my mind, I associated the word with the kind of bootleg records they had to buy in communist Russia.  Since you could not buy American music in the Soviet Union in the time of the Iron Curtain, fans got creative.  There is a famous series of Beatles bootleg records, etched into X-ray photographs.  It was the right kind of material to cut the music on.  Like a flexi-disc.  When I heard the word “bootleg album”, I associated it with an album that was illegal to own, but somehow you got a copy of a copy.  Not live recordings smuggled out of a gig and sold for profit.

I finally put the pieces together when I bought the book Kiss On Fire on December 27, 1990.  In the back:  a massive list of live Kiss bootlegs, from Wicked Lester to the Asylum tour.  Tracklists, cover art, the works.  Suddenly, it clicked.

“These must be bootlegs!” I whispered to myself in awe.

“We must have them,” said my OCD to my unconscious self.


I acquired my first live bootleg from Rob Vuckovich in 1992.  It was David Lee Roth live in Toronto on the Eat ‘Em and Smile tour with Steve Vai.  It was just a taped copy on a Maxell UR 90, but it was my first.  My sister got an early Barenaked Ladies gig on tape shortly after, including the rare “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl”.  Then in 1994 she bootlegged her own Barenaked Ladies show on the Maybe You Should Drive tour!

Around this time, my sister and I also started attending record shows a couple times a year.  Bootlegs were now available on CD.  And there were many.  Who to choose?

Black Sabbath with Ozzy, or with Dio?  Def Leppard before Rick Allen was even in the band?  Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Motley Crue’s final gig with Vince Neil…so many to choose from!

Interestingly enough, the idea of one band member being on the cover art carried into the CD age.  By my side at one show was Bob once again.  I flipped through the Kiss.  There were so many!  I picked one out with Gene on the cover.  Not knowing what bootlegs were himself, Bob thought they were solo albums.  “Don’t get one with just Gene!” he advised.  It wasn’t something I wanted anyway — it was from the Animalize tour, which I already had represented on VHS at home.  I wanted something I didn’t have anything from yet.  There it was!  The Revenge club tour!  Unholy Kisses, they called the disc.  Stupid name, great setlist.  I only hoped it sounded good when I got it home.  They used to let you listen to it before you bought it, but I think I was too shy and just bought it.  As it turns out, I loved it.  Every thump and every shout.

That’s the thing about bootlegs.  You really never knew what the sound was going to be like.  Or even if the gig advertised was the gig you were buying.  Or just because it sounded good at the start, will it still sound good at the end?  Or did the guy recording it have to move to a different seat next to a loud dude?  A soundboard recording was almost a too-good-to-be-true find.  One thing you were certain not to hear:  overdubs.  No overdubs on a bootleg!  They were raw and authentic.

I had made a good “first bootleg” purchase.  A whole new world opened before me.  There were not just live bootlegs, no!  Also demos, remixes, even B-sides.  And among them, some great, and some dreadfully bad choices!


Hear about some of the great ones this Friday, February 26 on the LeBrain Train: 2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano