music

#1006: Too Many Cooks

RECORD STORE TAILS #1006: Too Many Cooks

Every so often, a thought or a memory has casting my mind back onto the old Record Store Days.

You probably don’t often think about a job that you quit almost 20 years ago now.  Then again, you probably didn’t work in a Record Store.

It was the Dream Job.  I always wanted to work in some way with music, and selling CDs was pretty high on my list.  It truly was everything I had hoped for.  I acquired hundreds of rare treasures, out of print CDs and things I never knew existed.  I got them with a discount, and I got to listen to music every day.  Lifelong friends were made.  That’s something I never thought would happen from a workplace.

The Record Store also put me back in touch with friends I had seen in years.  The Store was located at the local mall, the epicenter of the neighbourhood.  Banking, groceries, and everything you needed could be found at the Mall, and so a lot of the people I went to school with drifted in through my doors.  Some managed to stay in touch since then, thanks to social media.  I would not trade those connections for the world.

I know a young fella who now works at one of the many stores that I did time in.  It was one of my least favourite stores, in fact.  I hated working at that location.  The customers were not, shall we say, the upper crust of society in that neighbourhood.  But the kid loves his job!  Have things changed, or did I get it wrong? That’s what I ask myself sometimes.  Did I misrepresent those years in Record Store Tales?  Was I unfair?

The first two years were really awesome.  I looked forward to going to work every day.  I got there early and stayed late.  There is no question that the fun atmosphere changed when we started to expand.  10 years later I was having panic attacks.  Too many years of a retail job that was treated with as much urgency as a doctor’s or a lawyer’s.  Family came second.  Performance was everything.  Weakness was inapplicable.

Too many cooks spoil the brew.

At the end I had three bosses, and it was kind of shady how some of that went down.

I never looked forward to work anymore.  I still got there early, but that was more to take my own time opening.  Get ahead on some things.  Listen to music.  Fill orders.  I still do that today in my current job.  I arrive early, and slowly and casually start getting stuff done before we’re officially open for business.  Make a coffee.  Read some news.  Answer emails, before the phone starts ringing.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but the boss told me, “If you worked at IBM, coming in early to do extra is considered bad work habits.”  I distinctly remember him saying that.  I simply could not win with them.  It was a record store, not IBM!  Who cares what IBM do?  They don’t buy and sell used CDs from the public.

I’ve said before that there were cliques at the Record Store, and I stand by that claim.  I never felt like I belonged.  I was the only hard rocking sci-fi nerd with severe social anxiety.  I wasn’t hanging out with the right people at the right bars, because that’s not my thing.  Being invited out to the bar doesn’t count.   I.  Did.  Not.  Fit.  In.  I stand by that.  And I maintain that people in power did let their personal lives leak into their work life.

No.  Upon reflection I feel like I was fair in my previous assessments.  I will say that I am guilty of one thing in my writing.  Once I knew that people at the Record Store were reading, I let that influence my writing too much.  Too often, I wrote with that knowledge in the back of my head, whether consciously or unconsciously.  Perhaps that was unavoidable.

Too many cooks spoil the brew,
Wanna be the king of the world,
Yeah, and too many jailers makin’ the news,
Wanna be the king of the world.

#848: Dear Bob [Reblog]

Happy birthday, big guy!


Dear Bob,

I know we don’t get to talk much anymore.  I think the last time I saw you was at a funeral.  We both have our own lives now.  You have four kids to raise, and I have a Jen to take care of and cherish.  While we have separate journeys now, I will always remember and treasure our shared origins.  We were the lucky few to grow up on a very special street in a neighbourhood like no other.

Some of my earliest memories are of us playing in the front yard.  You were two years older but at that young age it hardly mattered.  All that mattered were our adventures.  It started with dinky cars, Lego and plastic swords.  Do you remember building little garages for our cars?  I do.  You showed me how.  A few twigs stuck into the ground covered with a grass roof, and we had multi-car garages right in the front lawn.

You taught me how to improvise our fun.  With cardboard boxes, we constructed a Cloud City for my Star Wars guys to play around in.  Do you remember showing me how to make little sliding pocket doors?  Or how about that board game we came up with on our own?  It was huge!  How many of my mom’s shoeboxes did we cut up to make that?  We used my Army Men for the pieces.  We constructed traps for them, that could you trigger with the pull of a thread.  Mom eventually said “No more shoeboxes!”

I could go on, and on, and on about how we created our own worlds to live in.  The drawings, a huge binder of which I still have!  We designed our own video game.  We wanted to submit it to Atari.  Then, when my family got a computer, we discovered a new world:  word processing!  No more pen and paper; now we could really come up with stories.  The program was called IBM Writer’s Assistant and we pushed the limits of what we could achieve.  We co-wrote the Adventures of Comet-tron, though it was your idea.  I even sold copies of our “book” at a garage sale.  25 cents each, and there were two issues!

Building obstacle courses in the back yard.  Improvising audio equipment with little more than a few wires and black electrical tape.  Riding our bikes, exploring the trails.  Renting horror movies and pausing to see fake rubber props.  Writing down the rules to our own invented version of street volleyball.  These are all things I did with my best friend.  If I didn’t have you, do you think “Double Bounce Volleyball” ever would have been conceived, much less documented with actual rules?  Chances are high that the only reason I owned a volleyball was because you had one first.

It’s funny that you studied architecture later in life, because I remember us sitting down with pencils and designing our future houses.  In our blueprints, we still lived on the same street.  We bulldozed all the other houses, and added on to our own (things like swimming pools and helipads and secret tunnels and overhead bridges).  We put new houses for our families to live in, while our original homes were connected by an enclosed bridge so we could hang out without even having to go out!

As your interests changed, so did mine.  Where you led I was eager to follow.  Music was next.  Do you realize how lucky I was to have you and other older kids around the neighbourhood?  While my classmates were listening to music they’d be embarrassed by in six months, you guys had discovered Van Halen.

Do you remember our front porch listening sessions?  One of us would plug in the stereo, and somebody else would bring over the Van Halen.

“Van Halen!?” said my dad as he came home from work.  “Sounds like some kind of tropical disease!”

And so began the long tradition of my dad creating memorable quotes about rock bands.  Wouldn’t have happened without you.  Your dad had some good ones too.

“Is there something wrong with that man?” he mocked when Bruce Dickinson was screaming the high notes.

Classic!  Absolutely classic.  You were not only there for it, but you were the guy who supplied the music for them to mock!

What I’m getting at here is this.  I need to really let you know how much you shaped my life, and how much I looked up to you.  I wanted to be you.  For years I was your mini-me.  You were smart, you were cool, you were big and strong and creative and everything I wanted to be.  I had nobody like you at my school.  Why did you have to go to a different school?  How life would have been different if you were able to stand up for me during the dark times.

I’ll never forget one thing you did for me.  It was grade six.  My bully Steve went at me really hard that year.  He made me cry in class.  It’s not a good feeling, crying publicly with 30 of your peers.  All I could think is how badly I wished you were there to stop him.  Stop all of them.  Then one day, you did make an appearance.  Our schools had March break during two different weeks.  During your March break, you got on your bike and paid me a visit during recess.  None of those kids had ever seen you before.  Maybe they thought you were my imaginary friend.  Not any more!  Steve actually fell flat down on his back when he saw how much bigger you were.  The memory still makes me smile.

I don’t know if you really understood how bad I had it at school.  It was a daily living nightmare.  You were the opposite of that.  I’d come home, phone you up, and 10 minutes later we’d be in the back yard jumping hurdles made of lawn chairs, and everything was forgotten.  You just got me; we shared the exact same sense of humour.  Nothing can gravitate two friends together like a shared love of laughing at the same things.  You also drew out and nurtured my creative side.  Anytime you came up with something cool on your own (which was frequent) you’d share it with me and together we’d expand on it.  It was the exact opposite of what I had at school.  There, nobody understood me.  There, nobody nurtured me.  There, nobody laughed with me.  Only at me.

You were my hero, man.  You were my Wolverine or Iron Man.  Funny enough, I got into Marvel comics because that’s what you read!  Do you remember reading comics on the patio?  Hawkeye was your favourite Avenger back then.

I mean it when I say you were my hero.  You were smart and popular and I was just happy to be the sidekick!  When I finally made it to highschool, you sneakily got an extra locker next to mine.  I felt so cool sharing that illicit locker, like part of an elite club.  We had some excellent times in highschool.  You bought a black guitar and so for contrast I bought a white one.  We never really put the effort in, but we did have fun drawing our logo.  “Paragon” was the name you chose for our band.  We never really learned to play, but we made a music video.  I know you’ll never forget that.  Together we spent a week after hours at the school in the editing suite, finishing the video with a very tight deadline.  We did it, though.  It was hard work.  We fought through technical issues and were recognized for our efforts by having our video shown at the local 1989 Charlie Awards.  What an honour for us.

I know for a fact that I would not be the person I am today had we not crossed paths 40-some years ago.  I think I’d still find ways to be creative, but the things I do today are just extensions of the things we did then.  Sequels, reboots, remasterings.  I like to think that I’m continuing with the projects we started together.  Together we made a music video and two movies.  Today, I make several music videos every year!  And as hard as it is to believe, I even completely re-edited one of the movies we made 30 years ago.  Finishing the work that we started.

It’s OK that you went to college and started your own life.  It was always going to be that way.  We were never really going to bulldoze the neighbourhood and live in connected houses.  Back then, I was never able to express how important you were — and still are.  You helped me survive.  I knew that all I had to do was endure a week at school.  On Saturday it would be us again, you and me, racing cars, flying starships or hosting our own shows.  Despite everything I had to go through at school, I always have considered it a good childhood.  The best childhood.  And that’s because I had you, my best friend.  We embarked on truly great adventures, and they far outweigh the damage the other kids could do.  When it was you and me, they couldn’t touch me.  They weren’t a part of the worlds we were building out of cardboard and Scotch tape.  You projected a force field around yourself and nobody would touch you.  In turn you were able to shield me with it too.  That was a tremendous gift that you can’t understand unless you were the beneficiary.

Do you remember why you chose the name “Paragon” for our band that never was?  “Because it means we’re the best,” you said.  It was true!  We were the best.  We were the paragon of friendships with adventures that shaped a lifetime.  Thank you for sharing that with me.

 

 

#995: Terminology

RECORD STORE TALES #995: Terminology

All of us music-heads do it:  we like to celebrate the anniversaries of our favourite (and occasionally not-so-favourite) albums!  But how do you like to say it?  That’s up to you.  Is there a right and wrong way to do it?

I’ll tell you one thing you’ll never hear me say:  “This album dropped on this day…”

I do not use the word “dropped” to refer to an album release.  I know that’s what the kids say today.  That’s precisely why I won’t say it.

A lot people say “Celebrate the anniversary of this album’s release today…” which is perfectly fine.  No issue.  Lots of big words that my fat thumbs have trouble typing on my phone though.

So I choose something simple and easy for my fingers to mash out on my phone while I’m eating my Cheerios.  I choose to say “Happy birthday to this album!”

I don’t write long album birthday posts.  Instead I simply paste the link to my review (when applicable) and post “Happy birthday!”  I figure the review has most of the info if anybody cares enough to click it.

Two people have questioned my use of the word “birthday” in this context:  rock journalist Mitch Lafon, and one loyal LeBrain Train viewer who you might be able to guess.  I get it, I really do.  Wishing “happy birthday” to an album?  Is an album “born”?

According to Merriam Webster dictionary, the word “birth” can also mean “to give rise to”.  Even so, I like to have fun with words and use them in ways not always intended.  I’m also not the only person to wish a “happy birthday” to an inanimate object.

Look, it’s real simple.  I won’t say “dropped”, and I don’t like the word “anniversary” (or typing it with my thumbs).  I’ve chosen “happy birthday” for my album anniversary celebrations, and I think most people understand “Oh, he means it must have been released on this day.”  I find a lot of arguments in the music community comes down to what I consider semantics.  You’ll see all kinds of debates on what “metal” really is, or what qualifies members of a band as “original”.  We care about these things because we’re music fans.

Admittedly, for me to type “Happy birthday!” on social media for an album, instead of a proper sentence about its release, is an act of laziness.  But social media itself is an embodiment of laziness so I won’t apologize for that.

How do you post about an album’s anniversary?  Are albums “born”?  Does anyone actually care about English anymore?  Let us know in the comments.

#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