The premier of Ontario explains what a “lockdown” is vs. a “shutdown”.*
The premier of Ontario explains what a “lockdown” is vs. a “shutdown”.*
GETTING MORE TALE #878: Building Empires
On multiple occasions I’ve said the best years working at the Record Store were the early years. 1994, 1995, into 1996…I’d never been happier working hard, and maybe never will be again. There was no corporate head office, no regional managers, and minimal pre-fab signage that all looked the same. It was just a few of us, die hard music fans, and a Record Store. We were in the process of building empires!
The boss was always looking to expand our CD inventory. Rarities of any kind were hard to find in Kitchener. Be they singles, Japanese imports, or live bootlegs, they were hard to come by. Periodically, let’s say once every couple months, the boss would drive to Toronto to pick up our weekly inventory orders from Records on Wheels. R.O.W. didn’t carry anything particularly rare, just the major label hits that we needed. Occasionally the boss would stop at other retailers in Toronto to pick up live bootlegs. Nirvana, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N’ Roses, whatever was popular. There were a couple stores in Toronto that had massive amounts of bootleg CDs. He’d bring them back here and sell them for around $40. Nobody in Kitchener had access to that kind of stock. They weren’t cheap and we didn’t make any profit off them, but they sure made us look better. A lot better. It gave us a chance to catch up a little bit with Sam’s and Encore in the “cool” stakes.
We also tried some more obscure distributors. One of them carried UK, US and Japanese imports. But again they were expensive and we had to hope they’d sell. These distributors were really unreliable. Long backorders were a problem, and there was no guarantee we’d get what we ordered. We sometimes got lucky. Nirvana’s Hormoaning was in demand, and we did get a few of those.
I’ll never forget this one Nirvana kid who wanted Hormoaning so bad. He didn’t have enough cash so he kept trading in discs until he had enough credit to cover it. You had to trade in a lot of CDs to cover $40 plus tax. But he got his Hormoaning. Until he had to trade that one in, too. And he did.
There was another guy (he kind of looked like a little troll doll), and he worked up at Carry On Comics in Waterloo. I think his brother was friends with the owner, and that’s why he started coming in. He had his eyes set on an R.E.M. bootleg, specifically because it had a song called “Where’s Captain Kirk?”. It was one of R.E.M.’s non-album singles, a cover of a band called Spizzenergi.
I was beamed aboard the Starship Enterprise,
What I felt what I saw was a total surprise,
I looked around and wondered can this be,
Or is this the start of my insanity.
Oh but its true,
As we went warp factor 2,
And I met all of the crew,
Where’s Captain Kirk?
The comic book guy salivated over that CD until he finally had enough cash to buy it. I didn’t think he was serious. He used to talk about buying this vintage Millenium Falcon toy and hanging it from his ceiling. He was serious this time!
I managed to snag a couple live bootlegs. No discounts on these! Nine Inch Nails – Woodstock ’94, and Guns N’ Roses Covering ‘Em were both favourites of mine. Money well spent and still in the collection today. The boss hated that we took some of his good Toronto stock. He was selling them virtually at cost, so that’s why we had to pay full price. But he really, really did not appreciate when T-Rev and I bought stuff like that. Here he was, stocking them to make our store look cooler…but in swoops T-Rev and metal Mike! Maybe he should have charged more for them, across the board. Where else in town were you going to find them?
On one of those early Toronto runs, the boss was one of the first victims of the Ontario NDP government’s photo radar project. In order to curb speeding, the NDP launched the 400-series highway photo radar. The boss was caught speeding on the 401 and found a nice photo and fine in his mailbox. It was from one of the trips back from R.O.W. The project was only semi-successful. Drivers experimented with methods of covering up their license plates from photo radar cameras, and over 5000 photos were deemed useless. The incoming Mike Harris government campaigned on getting rid of photo radar, and they did immediately after taking office. The great experiment was over, but the boss was one of the drivers dinged. All he was trying to do was bring us some rock and roll! But it was the first and only photo radar picture I saw back then.
Damn government always cutting into our profits!
Behind the scenes, he was building empires. He announced that he wanted us to buy even more stock from the public. Trade-in CDs were big business but we were now going to be buying for two stores. Or more.
It was just the beginning!
A sequel to #774.5: Seasons Ends. Buckle up, it’s a busy one!
GETTING MORE TALE #785: Seasons End (Oh Deer)
+ BONUS Nutshell Review: El Camino – A Breaking Bad Movie
+ BONUS Star Wars – The Black Series 6″ figures “Abandoned” Video Reviews
“Be careful of the deer problem,” said my dad when I phoned him from Lucknow, about 20 or 30 minutes away from the cottage.
“Don’t worry, I’ll drive safe,” I reassured him in that voice that hardly reassured him.
“You know about the deer problem?” he asked to confirm.
No, but now I did. Funny thing; I’d been driving up to the lake by myself for over 20 years and never came close to hitting a deer. There are warning signs along all the major roads, some with flashing yellow lights. Turns out Thanksgiving 2019 was my first on-the-road deer sighting.
It got dark quick after Lucknow, and soon it was like pitch. I had been driving slower since the sun went down but it was Jen who saw the deer first. I slowed down carefully until he jumped away unto the brush. The guy behind me wasn’t paying attention and almost rear-ended me.
It’s so strange to review the dashcam footage afterwards. What felt like an eternal moment of tense surprise was really only seven seconds.*
Until that moment, we were wrapped deep in Iron Maiden. I played the first album, with Paul Di’Anno, and the bonus tracks for the full-on experience. This was music I’d been listening to for 35 years and under the weight of all that nostalgia, I immediately began singing along. I remember “Charlotte the Harlot” coming up just as we were detouring past a town called Dorking. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s funny. Once completed, we switched over to Piece of Mind. That’s the Maiden studio album that I have the longest deep relationship with. Every word was dancing on my tongue, even “Revelations”. But then again, I remember having that song memorised back in highschool. My friend Andy and I sang it back to a rap kid named Patrick Barnes who claimed that metal lyrics are just unintelligible noise and nonsense.
All this Maiden reminiscence led to the writing of a new future chapter of Getting More Tale called “Run 2 the Hills”, a direct sequel to Record Store Tales Part 1. Look for that one in the near future.
We had the near miss with the deer after both albums were complete, and I’d started on random tunes from Powerslave. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was the song playing when Bambi was spared by some good driving.
Upon arrival, I had get my Netflix fired up to watch El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. Nutshell review:
I didn’t think I cared where Jesse Pinkman went at the end of Breaking Bad. Turns out, I cared enough to watch this well-written coda to a great TV series. Aaron Paul rules, equipped with very little dialogue and only his body language. Paul gives us a hard insight to the PTSD-infested survivor Pinkman. Every cameo you desire is in store via relevant flashbacks, fleshing out the original series a little bit. After a while, you, like Pinkman, are disoriented and can’t remember if you’re watching past or present.
It was a little freaky when I finished the film, went on Twitter, and saw Bryan Cranston announced that Robert Forster had died, just after I watched his final film.
In the morning I wrote up the rough draft of my new Maiden chapter while it was all fresh in my head, but I otherwise accomplished very little, creatively speaking.
I tried, I really did try. When mom & dad stepped out of the house for a few minutes I thought I could squeeze in time for a Star Wars Black Series video review. You’ll see what happened. Something like this occurred any time I attempted to make a video. So what you see is what you get; I gave up!
For entertainment use only. Back off, fanboys!
Instead of using my creative juices for this one final weekend of the lake this season, I decided to pour it into cooking instead. I picked up three beautiful steaks and a pound of lobster tail. I made some garlic butter, clarified it, and put the tail on the grill. Everything was phenomenal. I felt like we ended the season right with these meals.
There was the traditional turkey dinner the following night too, stuffed with goodness, but I feel the lobster tail and the steaks really put a cap on the season.
The drive home was enabled by Twisted Sister’s Live at the Marquee and The Razors Edge by AC/DC. I don’t know how often I’ve played The Razors Edge in the car since it came out before I could drive. Could this have been the first time? I liked it better in the car than I do sitting at home. As for Twisted Sister, Live at the Marquee is by far their greatest live product. The raw heavy stage purity can’t be touched.
And now we are home, preparing for the arrival of winter routines and monotony. Hibernation begins. But spring will return again, and with it, so will the roadtrips, the steaks, and the sun.
Stay warm, my friends!
* It was just a young deer When you start having more frequent animal sightings in cottage country like this, it means they are being displaced from somewhere else. There has been a lot of building and development this year.
GETTING MORE TALE #783: Take A Look at this Photograph
One day in mid ’95, Tom Morwood brought a camera to work at ye olde Record Store. It was the earliest of days, and I was still working at the original mall store. “What are you taking pictures in this place for?” He snapped one of me flashing the devil horns behind the counter. “Just for the memories man,” he answered. I’m glad he did it.
He dug up that very same old photo recently, and a like a rush of blood, suddenly memories flooded my brain. I barely recognised myself, but the store? I’ll never forget it. Let’s have a look at the anatomy of this picture and dissect it for details!
Before we went corporate, most of the signage was hand made. Most was done by T-Rev, though “DJ Donny D” helped. “NOW PLAYING”, “CD CASES”, “RAP/DANCE”. It looks totally ghetto, like a real record store. None of this professionally printed generic signage like today. Now all the stores have to look exactly the same, like a chain. Back then we could be artistic and do what we wanted. The boss didn’t think I was very good at making signs so he let T-Rev do the majority. He was probably right, though it wasn’t for lack of effort, just ability. And it looks like an actual cool record store. Not a video arcade or whatever they’re trying to be today.
There’s one sign that isn’t hand made, and that’s the “no smoking” sticker at the cash register! Can you imagine needing that sticker in a store today? Also: cash register! The first and last one I ever used. Everything was done on computers after this store closed.
It looks black. It was not black. I dyed my hair dark once in 2000, but this picture is not from 2000 (as we’ll get to). It must just be the lighting. That’s definitely me though. You can just make out my mullet. I loved that Laurier sweatshirt! I’m guessing it’s not summer; it must be a colder month or I wouldn’t be wearing a sweatshirt. I’m assuming here, but I look really goofy and totally uncool.
On the top left of the photo you can clearly make out CD and cassette copies of REM’s Monster. That dates this photo to sometime in 1995. The album came out in ’94 but Tom wasn’t hired until ’95. There’s no way it was still front racked all the way into 1996, so it has to be ’95. I can’t make out the other titles on the front rack. You can see the plastic security cases that we kept the CDs and tapes in. Anti-theft devices were not cheap, by the way, but a future chapter called “A Case For Security” will get into this in more detail.
We used to sell Rolling Stone and Spin. Funny enough, here we have them displayed in a rack for Vibe magazine! We stopped carrying Vibe in 1994 but kept using the rack.
If you glance over to the far right, you can see a vertical line in the wall slats. That’s actually a corner; the back wall was a mirror. As told in Getting More Tale #409, it fooled some people. One day an elderly gentleman asked me if “that section back there is closed to cripples and old men?” Nope, it’s just a mirror, not a secret room! We must have kept it pretty clean if we fooled him!
Notice there are no clear CD cases there? Just the ones with the black spines? We didn’t carry clear cases. If memory serves, our supplier didn’t carry them until a year or two later. That meant clear cases were a rare treasured commodity to us. I have a few memories of needing clear trays to replace broken ones, but not having any lying around. We had to conserve them.
See all those CDs behind me? Those are overstock – additional copies of stuff that was already on display on the racks. Generally these were titles that were not moving, and I can absolutely guarantee that there are multiple copies Motley Crue ’94 and David Lee Roth’s Your Filthy Little Mouth in this picture.
Detail #8: Happiness.
Don’t let the metal faced scowl fool you. This was my happy place. I don’t care what ex-bosses and regional managers thought. That store was special. One of the bosses used to tell me that my nostalgia for the old store was warped by rose-coloured glasses. I disagree. Look at this picture. It’s one guy working in a cramped little music store. There is nobody looking over my shoulder, no “suits” wheeling and dealing. We were free to make that store as cool as possible. We could listen to music of our choosing with few but sensible limits. Nothing like the spiteful “No Kiss” rule of later years. (Although you can see here I didn’t display anything under the “Now Playing” sign. I didn’t like the way the alligator clip could scuff up a case.) We were responsible for cashing out, doing the bank deposit, and closing up.
Sure, it was a little like working in caveman times to a certain degree. We had no computer, just a gnarly old cash register. If you look behind me, under the overstock shelves you can see boxes full of clear plastic baggies. Each one had a CD inside. If somebody wanted to know if we had a used CD in stock, we’d flip through the baggies which were in alphabetical order. Not an exact science but we got the job done.
As the store got bigger, we became more sophisticated, had more buying power, and better stock as a result. Yet it’s the original store that I’m nostalgic for, not the second or third one with the larger floor space and computerized inventory. Those stores had their own perks and problems, but they didn’t have as much personality. Some may disagree. This isn’t a critique on the owner, either. He had to do what he had to do in order to grow, put bread on his table, and follow his own dreams. We understand. He had a vision and it led him to success. Together as a tight team, we ran a pretty cool music store. We all contributed ideas and our talents, and did the best with what we had. The fact that so many people tell me they have fond memories of that store means it couldn’t have been all that bad.
When I look at this photograph all I see are good memories. Thanks for the foresight, Tom.
I’ve had this camera for just a week, and look at this fool.
The first weekend of August is a long weekend in Ontario. It’s called the Civic holiday, but people in retail still have to work it. I did, almost every single year at the Record Store. This year we spent the holiday at the lake, where I secretly began work on the next review series here at mikeladano.com. With the encouragement of my good buddy Superdekes, two posts were completed at the lake, on the front porch. You couldn’t have asked for a better setting.
As usual I’ve assembled a video of some of our weekend fun, all to the tune of Max the Axe (“My Daddy Was A Murderin’ Man”, and “Call of the Wild”). Check out crystal clear waters, mountains of food, and rock and roll. And of course that sneak preview for our next review series!
GETTING MORE TALE #770: Encore!
I’ve been avoiding downtown Kitchener for the last couple years. All that construction (five years’ worth) installing our new light-rail transit system…it’s been hellacious. But that construction is now over, and the LRT train (called the ION) is running every 15 minutes. Only two years behind schedule! And guess where one of the stops is? Right by legendary record store Encore Records. Perfect! No need to worry about parking.
Mrs. LeBrain and I hopped on a bus to the mall, and a few minutes later the train pulled in. Using the free Wi-fi, I live-streamed myself making goofy faces on our new train. The ride was quiet and fast since it only stopped a handful of times. These new trains are lovely! Now that they are finally running, I can see that the headaches will be worth it. Clean and quick – I’d use the ION again. It’s a shame but there are still people who hate the train so much that they would actually like to spend taxpayer money on ripping up the tracks! What a waste that would be. Let’s give this LRT a fair shake.
We disembarked the train at the City Hall stop, only a brief walk from Encore. Not only was this my first ride on the train, but also my first visit to Encore since they moved from their old Queen St. location. The new store, though not wheelchair accessible, seemed bigger and cleaner. Old pal Al “The” King was there, happily still slinging the rock for us patrons.
We chatted a bit. Al really enjoyed working at Encore. There was a guy that I trained at my old Record Store about 15 years ago. He left shortly after to work at Encore, and he’s still there! When you find a place you enjoy working, I guess you stay!
Time to go look at music….
It didn’t take long for me to exceed my budget for the day. First snag was from the new release rack: The Beaches’ excellent new EP The Professional, $9.99. A great recording; it will be getting a few spins this summer. Next: the used CD racks. Plenty of stock as usual. I came looking for old Styx, but there was no used Styx that I needed. Instead I grabbed three Scorpions remasters: World Wide Live (with DVD), Savage Amusement (with DVD), and Animal Magnetism. $20 each.
Whoops! I already owned Animal Magnetism. No big deal; looks like some lucky person will be getting a free copy from me. I really have to keep track of reissues better. This is happening more and more frequently as my collection grows.
I still wanted some more classic Styx. I’ve been playing my Styx albums repeatedly. I needed some more classics to throw in the shuffle, so I moved on to the new CD racks. There I picked up Pieces of Eight and Crystal Ball. $9.99 each. One by one and I’ll get them all.
Continuing through the racks of new stock, I spied two Kick Axe remasters by Rock Candy. I’ve wanted both these albums for a long time: Vices and Welcome to the Club, $22.99 each. I’ve spun through both twice and was impressed with both the music and liner notes. What an underrated singer George Criston is. This sparked more Kick Axe purchases later on Discogs and Amazon. The third album, Rock the World, is coming in the form of another Rock Candy remaster. And thanks to the excellent liner notes inside Vices, I also tracked down some early Kick Axe on Discogs. Debut single “Week-End Ride” / “One More Time” from 1981 is inbound! Also coming, from the same year, is a compilation LP called Playboy Street Rock. Kick Axe have a live track on that called “Reality is the Nightmare”. It’s going to be cool hearing those early songs, which had a different singer.
It’s funny about Kick Axe. One of the first buttons I ever bought for my jacket was Vices. It only took close to 40 years to finally get the album.
Finally we closed the Encore trip with some vinyl. A lovely reissue of Alice Cooper’s Zipper Catches Skin, on clear “black smoke” vinyl. It looks and sounds great, and now I finally have all the Alice Cooper studio albums.
We bid farewell to Al and headed home again on the ION. Now that the train is up and running, I do believe I’ll be making Encore a fairly regular weekend stop.
Music by Max the Axe.
“Overload” from the CD Overload (2008)