GETTING MORE TALE #539: Been a long time since I been to Frankenmuth
Frankenmuth Michigan is a small Bavarian hamlet/tourist trap not too far from the Canada border. Some people love going; I seem to be one of the only dissenting voices. My best friend Peter introduced us to the Frankenmuth tradition. His family would typically go once a year, staying at the Bavarian Inn. The big draws to the town are two. One is the big “family style” chicken dinner at Zehnder’s, where the food just keeps coming. The other attraction is Bronner’s, an all-year-round Christmas store. Some in my family seemed absolutely thrilled to be buying our Christmas ornaments in April.
Frankenmuth seemed a long way to go for some chicken and Christmas ornaments. However, it’s not too far for a shopping excursion focused on music, so that’s what I turned it into for me. In the three years I went to Frankenmuth, I found plenty of goodies, and accumulated some entertaining memories.
My first year was 1992. I had just finished writing all my final exams for my first year classes at Laurier. The Freddie Mercury Tribute concert had just aired. I taped the whole thing, and then recorded it to cassette (three 100 minute tapes). I tossed that into the Walkman, and joined the family for our first US road trip together.
The Mercury concert was special. Queen shared the stage with some luminaries as David Bowie (RIP), George Michael (RIP), Mick Ronson (RIP), and many more. Vivian Campbell played live with Def Leppard for the first time. Tony Iommi and James Hetfield shared the stage with Queen on “Stone Cold Crazy”. Guns N’ Roses were there, and Axl got to sing with new friend Elton John. The excitement in the air was genuine. There was talk afterwards of someone charismatic, like George Michael or Gary Cherone joining Queen permanently so they could continue.
Our first road stop was a McDonalds in a small town just outside of Flint. The washroom stunk of piss so badly that my dad couldn’t even use it. Great first impression, Michigan!
When we got to the Bavarian Inn, I had the chance to watch MTV for the first time at length. After all I’d heard about it, I was disappointed to see it was not nearly as good as Canada’s MuchMusic. The American coverage of the Mercury concert (which was re-running all weekend) was truncated compared to what we saw in Canada. MuchMusic had Erica Ehm and others on site at Wembley interviewing the stars and covering behind-the-scenes, while the US coverage cut away to other things. The food at the Bavarian Inn was incredible, including what I remember to be the best omelette I’ve ever tasted.
I can’t say that I cared for the family style chicken dinner. “Family style” isn’t my thing (where everybody has the same dinner, all served together on big platters). If I’m eating out, I will rarely order chicken. Seemed like a big waste of a night out, to go and eat somewhere that serves chicken dinner just like you get at home. But I didn’t make these decisions, I just complained about them!
On the way home, we stopped at a Target store in Port Huron. My first Target store; I had never even heard of them before. This is where I made my first US music purchases. In stock was the cassette single for “Let’s Get Rocked” by Def Leppard. This featured the bonus track “Only After Dark”, a Mick Ronson track, who had just played at the Mercury concert! The other item I picked up was Slaughter’s new The Wild Life CD, which had a different cover than the ones I’d seen in Canada. It still appears to be the rarest version today.
The 1993 trip was even better, because this time Peter came with us. In 1993, Peter was the man with the plan. He was looking for something. Something very specific, that as of yet was not released in Canada. He had read about this new comedy tape called The Jerky Boys, and he was determined to find a copy. And find a copy he did.
We found The Jerky Boys at a record store just on the outskirts of Frankenmuth. At the same store, I picked five tapes that I couldn’t get back home: Savatage’s first albums Sirens (1983), The Dungeons are Calling (1985), Power of the Night (1986) and the brand new Edge of Thorns (1993). There was also Richie Kotzen’s third album, Electric Joy. These fine records meant that the summer of 1993 was filled with sounds both heavy and complex. The Kotzen album was a whole level beyond was I was used to listening to. As for Savatage, they heavied up my tastes at a time when I was craving faster/heavier/louder.
I spent a lot of time absorbing each of these albums, but it was The Jerky Boys that dominated the car tape deck on that Frankenmuth trip. Peter and I listened to the entire thing through. Tarbash the Egyptian Magician, Sol Rosenberg and his glasses (he can’t see goddammit), and the whole gang had us laughing so hard, my sides actually hurt. When the tape was done, we put it on repeat and played it again. I’m not sure if my mom and dad enjoyed the Jerky Boys as much as I did. I started calling people “sizzlechest” and responding to questions with “listen jerky, I don’t need to talk to you.”
What a summer.
This Frankenmuth trip was also my Karaoke debut. I chose “The Immigrant Song”. And I fucking killed it, in my opinion! Like Axl Rose gyrating on meth, I owned that stage. The heels of my cowboy boots stomped the boards, keeping their own beat. I asked my entire family to leave the room, but I lost my place in the song when I caught them spying around a corner.
On we sweep, with threshing oar, our only goal will be the western shore.
That was a fantastic trip. Mission accomplished, with both the music shopping and the Jerky Boys acquisition. On my third and final year going to Frankenmuth, Peter really upped his game. Once again, the goal was to acquire something that we could not get in Canada.
Instead of travelling in one car, we did a convoy with two. Peter and I needed transportation of our own to run the missions we were planning.
As much as MTV did not impress me on my first US trip, our goal this time was dependant on MTV.
“Let’s rent a VCR and tape some episodes of Beavis and Butthead!” We didn’t get the show in Canada.
That is exactly what we did. We drove over to the local video store, and rented a VCR. You might think renting a VCR in a foreign country might be difficult, but it wasn’t. We hooked it up to the hotel TV (much easier than doing something like this today — more on that in a future instalment of Getting More Tale also involving Peter). Tuning up MTV, we watched some music before Beavis and Butthead was scheduled.
This time, MTV really pissed me off. They gleefully ran the embarrassing 1994 Motley Crue interview that the band infamously walked out of. But the band didn’t do themselves any favours in that interview. MTV baited them a bit with the questions, but they didn’t have to attack Vince Neil in their answers. “No one cares anyway,” said Nikki Sixx when asked about his former frontman. Pushed further, they were asked to comment on Vince’s recent jet-ski accident that put him in hospital with broken ribs. Laughing, Mick Mars asked “What happened to the coral reef?” Sixx answered, “Hey, when 300 pounds of blubber lands on a coral reef, there’s gonna be some dust flying around.”
The question that killed the interview was about “women, hairspray and fire.” MTV ran the segment complete with Nikki mocking the question, while showing images of women, hairspray and fire from their music videos. Stick in a fork in that lineup; it was done. No matter how good that 1994 Motley Crue album was (and is), that interview polished off the attempted comeback in one stroke.
We recorded a couple episodes of Beavis and Butthead and called it a night. The next day we did some music and comic book shopping. US exclusive once more: Quiet Riot’s reunion album Terrified found and liberated. I didn’t even know they had come out with anything new. A cassette single for “Heaven Help” by Lenny Kravitz also found its way home with me. I scored an oversized Black Sabbath comic (Rock-It Comics) and Transformers: Generation 2 #1 with the silver foil fold out cover.
With another successful trip in the books, we packed our bags and checked out. The last mission to run was returning the VCR to the video store. There was only one snag. We were primed and ready to head home early…and the video store opened at noon. We had to kill some hours driving around, but when that store opened we got the hell out of dodge. Not the greatest return trip ever, but at least we had Lenny Kravitz.
I stopped going to Frankenmuth after that trip, although Peter and his family returned yearly for some chicken and Christmas ornaments. My family too. My mom tells me of a memorable trip that ended in the hospital! Four years ago my mother, father and sister made a trip where they did the usual; Frankenmuth chicken and the Christmas store. They also ate a lot of junk food; pizza, hot dogs, French fries and candy. On the way home they stopped along the 401 for more French fries. That night my mother ended up in the hospital with a gall bladder attack. It was serious enough that she had it removed two weeks later. Thank goodness they were home when it happened as they never bothered with extra insurance for a short trip to the US.
As years went on, I ran into people all the time who had gone to Frankenmuth for a vacation. Inevitably, they will always talk about three things: the Bavarian Inn, the chicken dinners, and the Christmas store. None of them seem to have any stories about cool comic books, or finding rare tapes and CDs in Frankenmuth. Very few of them have done Karaoke, and none have performed “The Immigrant Song” at the Bavarian Inn. Nobody rented a VCR to record Beavis and Butthead, and then have to wait hours for the store to open to return said VCR. Nobody even discovered the Jerky Boys on their Michigan trips.
I guess that means that Peter and I are the only ones who did Frankenmuth right.