Stanley Park Mall

#720: Domo Arigato

Join me for some   for the rest of this week!

GETTING MORE TALE #720: Domo Arigato

It was grade 5, and Allan Runstedtler was to blame for my first rock and roll album.

At school, I played a tape I made with three songs on it.  It was a clear blue 120 minute Scotch cassette.  “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” by AC/DC was first, followed by “The Mighty Quinn” by Manfred Mann.  The third might have been “Ooby Dooby” by Roy Orbison.  AC/DC was my favourite because of the chorus.  “He sounds like he has a frog in his throat!” I squealed.  We just referred to Bon Scott (we didn’t know his name) as “the guy with the frog in his throat”.  I thought the song was hilarious, and that went double for “Big Balls” since it had “Balls” in the title.

“You have to hear ‘Mr. Roboto’,” said Allan.  “It’s by a group called Styx.  But it’s not spelled like ‘sticks’.  It’s spelled S-T-Y-X.”

Cool!

I went to his house one afternoon with my trusty Fisher-Price mono tape deck.  That thing was built like a tank.  Wherever it is, it probably still works beautifully.  Allan had the Styx LP, Kilroy Was Here, featuring “Mr. Roboto” as the lead track.  He explained the concept of the story to me:  a futuristic world where rock music was outlawed.  We familiarized ourselves with the characters.  Kilroy, the protagonist, was played by someone named Dennis DeYoung.  Jonathan Chance, the secondary hero character, was Tommy Shaw.  Meanwhile the evil Dr. Righteous was portrayed by the sinister looking James Young.  We scanned the album credits and figured out who sang each song.  (The Panozzo brothers were Lt. Vanish and Col. Hyde, but we couldn’t figure out their roles in the story.)  The LP came in a deluxe gatefold, with full lyrics and pictures from the video (which we had never seen).  On the cover were the masks of two “Robotos” that reminded me of the centurions from the movie The Black Hole.

Since that time, I learned that Kilroy was a Dennis project and the other guys weren’t too happy with it.  As kids in the moment, the whole thing seemed custom built for us!  The music was (mostly) good (I’ll get to that) and there were robots and heroes and good vs. evil.  There was a story to follow along.  There was production value in the packaging.  This wasn’t just stupid rock music to us.  It seemed part of something much bigger.  At Allan’s house, I recorded the album on my tape deck, open air style.  We quietly crept upstairs while the LP side played so we wouldn’t ruin the recording with noise.  When we heard the music stop, we went back down and flipped the record.  Tiptoeing back upstairs to the sound of “Heavy Metal Poisoning” is a one-of-a-kind memory.

We poured over the liner notes.  I observed, “It’s weird that Dr. Righteous is against heavy metal music, but he’s fighting back using a heavy metal song.” The hypocrisy was not lost on Allan and I.  “Heavy Metal Poisoning” was Dr. Righteous’ message to the kids of future America.

What the devil’s goin’ on,
Why don’t you turn that music down,
You’re going deaf and that’s for sure,
But all you do is scream for more.

It was the heaviest song on the album, and at that point probably the heaviest music I ever heard in my life!   And I had a good point.  Dr. Righteous was clearly against heavy metal music, but here he was presenting his message in a heavy rock song!

I brought the tape home.  I was so excited to have some music of my own.  “I can’t wait to play my new tape for Grandma,” I said to my mom for reasons completely unknown to me.

“I’m sure she’ll be thrilled,” mom deadpanned.

Even at that age, a taped copy wasn’t good enough.  I had to get the album.  The pictures, the lyrics, the liner notes…it was all necessary.  Mom took me to Zellers at the mall where I purchased my own copy, and my very first rock album.  It sat in my collection next to my beloved John Williams soundtracks.  After all, Kilroy Was Here is a soundtrack of sorts!  Only this time, the movie was in our imaginations.  Allan and I used to discuss what that movie would be like.

I memorized every word to “Mr. Roboto”, not to mention every “ooh” and “ahh”.  I sat in the basement and wrote them out on paper.  I also figured out that I didn’t like every song equally.  Allan and I were pretty much on the same page as to the good/bad songs.

My list of the “good” songs, in order from best on down:

  1. “Mr. Roboto”
  2. “Don’t Let It End (Reprise)”
  3. “Double Life”
  4. “High Time”
  5. “Cold War”
  6. “Heavy Metal Poisoning”

I never listened to any of the ballads.  We were simply not interested.  “Don’t Let It End” was nothing like the reprise version, which was essentially “Mr. Roboto” over again!  In my kid-sphere, I was oblivious to the fact that in the larger world, “Don’t Let It End” was a hit.  I just didn’t care.  Couldn’t have told you how “Haven’t We Been Here Before” or “Just Get Through This Night” went if you paid me.  For Allan and I, Kilroy Was Here just had six songs.  Well, five songs and a reprise.

Sad to say, but I temporarily “outgrew” Styx.  The “moment of clarity” was when I first heard Iron Maiden.  I tuned into heavy metal exclusively at that point, and discarded my old music.  (Which wasn’t much — just some soundtracks and a Springsteen tape.)  I remember playing the Styx album during the start of the heavy metal years, and it was suddenly too soft and pop for me.  I lost the record at some point, either in a move or at a garage sale.  I didn’t hear Kilroy again until a friend picked up a copy for me in Toronto, on CD.  I was 32.

Guess what!  I don’t mind the ballads anymore.  “Just Get Through This Night”, in particular, is outstanding.

To Allan I would like to say:  domo arigato, for getting me into Styx!

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#715: The Lost Chapters – “The First Year”

These paragraphs were chopped from Record Store Tales Part 6:  The Record Store, Year 1.  I dunno why.

 

GETTING MORE TALE #715: The Lost Chapters – “The First Year”

Ever seen High Fidelity with John Cusack?  When Cusack says, “I hired these guys to come in three days a week, and they started coming in every day.  There’s nothing I can do to stop it.”  That was us.  That me and T-Rev.  The boss man hired on Trev in the fall, two months after I started.  We worked opposite nights and opposite weekends.  We were like ships passing in the night.  We never would have gotten to be such tight friends if we didn’t keep coming into the store every freaking day!

See, as used CD store, we got in new inventory every day.  We were getting in cool shit.  I was just beginning to transfer my music collection over from cassette to CD, so I just started to upgrade and buy up old back catalogue.  I snagged You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll by Twisted Sister that year, which was a big deal to me because it was deleted at the time.  I got some Dio CDs that I never had before.  I began collecting Rush in earnest.  We had rarities too.  I got a split King’s X / Faith No More live bootleg called Kings of the Absurb which is pretty damn good.  I really got quite a few CD singles at that time too.  A few previously unknown Faith No More singles dropped into my lap.  It was crucial to come in frequently.  If you didn’t, you might miss something you were looking for.  Or something you didn’t know you were looking for.

After two months of shadowing the owner, I was working solo and loving it.  I got to pick my own music every night, within reason.  There were obscure rules.  Judas Priest was out, but Soundgarden was OK.  Anything that was a new charting release was considered OK for store play.  We were allowed to open anything to play it, as long as we didn’t abuse that.  For the first while we were even allowed to bring music from home.

That ended when I brought in a bunch of recent purchases to listen to one morning.  They included an indi band from Toronto, called Feel, formerly known as Russian Blue.  The sound was vital, and the early 90s buzz was that Toronto was going to be the next Seattle.  I was all over these bands, like Slash Puppet, Russian Blue, Attitude (later Jesus Chris), Gypsy Jayne, and the rest.

[An aside:  I caught a little flak when I took in a used copy of Slash Puppet.  “This is an indi band,” the boss complained.  “It’ll sell,” I defended myself.  “Trust me I know this band.”  I knew half a dozen customers by name that I could recommend it to.  I sold it to the first of those guys to come in, this insurance guy named Tony who loved 80s rock.  He bought it after one listen.]

The day I had my personal Feel This CD in the store player, a customer noticed it.  He thought it was cool, wanted it, and asked how much.  I had to tell him it was my own personal copy, and no I couldn’t order it in because it was an indi band.  He would have to write to the band to get a copy, and I wrote down the information inside the CD for him.

The boss thought this was kind of a silly situation, and rightfully so.  Why play music we weren’t selling and were not able to sell?  This was a store.  So that ended.  No more bringing music from home.  I guess I’m the guy who ruined it for generations of Record Store employees to come.

 

#697: Kiss My Ass

GETTING MORE TALE #697: Kiss My Ass

Spring, 1994.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

#649: Denizens of “The Mall”

GETTING MORE TALE #649: Denizens of “The Mall”

Every mall has its questionable denizens.  I’m not talking about mall rats or bargain hunters.  I mean the people that are there every single day, not doing much of anything, just…being.

Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener, where I spent most of my childhood and early work life, had plenty of characters.

One of the first I was aware of was named “Butts”.  Nobody knew his real name, but he earned the nickname Butts by fishing cigarette butts out of ashtrays.  He was there frequently, and if not he was mining the ashtrays at Fairview Mall instead.  We left him alone, but one kid from school named Kevin Kirby decided to make fun of Butts one day.  Butts responded with a flurry of F-bombs.  It all seemed rather sad to me and not at all funny.  A kid making fun of this guy, and him telling a little kid to fuck off?  Why not just leave him alone?  I’m sure Butts was made fun of regularly, but Kirby was generally a dick.  (Any time he teamed up with me on a school project I did all the work and he coasted off my grade.)

Sue came along a little later.  She was in a bad car accident and was in a walker.  She really liked the Record Store I worked in, and had a bit of a crush on the owner.  We didn’t actually know about the crush until she gave him a Valentine’s Day card.  She used to park her walker at the front counter and talk to him for hours.  We didn’t assume that meant she had a crush, because there were lots of lonely people in the mall who just liked to talk.  It was one of the drawbacks of working there.  One day before leaving she gave him a card, and the owner didn’t realise it was a valentine.  He opened it in front of us, and we all saw it.  He was super embarrassed and really tried to avoid Sue after that.  I witnessed him taking a huge dive behind the counter to avoid her when she strolled by!  And that wasn’t an isolated incident.  I learned from it – I took a few dives behind the counter myself over the years.

The last regular denizen to discuss was the saddest and I don’t know what happened to him.  He was known as Johnny Walker.  Like Butts, nobody knew his real name although his first name may actually have been John.  They called him Johnny Walker because he would walk around the mall all day, every day.  The mall was like a big rectangle, and he would complete numerous circuits through the day.  He talked to himself as he did, mumbling away as he walked.  If you overheard him, it would sound like a normal conversation but with just one person talking.

I’ve been trying to find out what happened to Johnny Walker but nobody seems to know.  People at the mall said he was rich and didn’t work or need to work.  Maybe it was an inheritance.  Maybe an insurance claim.  Nobody knew.  His clothes weren’t ratty and he was clean shaven, but there was clearly something wrong with him.  It was no act.

The general rule of thumb was “just ignore him”.  Sometimes kids would make fun of him and he’d get loud and violent.  He’d been kicked out of the mall a few times after a violent or loud spell.  Then he’d go to a different mall to walk around, before finally returning to Stanley Park again.  He was never gone too long.

As told in Record Store Tales Part 6, I only dealt with Johnny Walker once at the Record Store.  He strolled in, talking to himself.  I took a deep breath and hoped nothing would set him off.  He walked, talked, and picked out a tape.  He came up to the counter and immediately stopped talking to himself.  I sold him the tape, gave him his change, and he walked out again, sharply resuming his conversation with himself.

All I really know about Johnny Walker is that at one point, he listened to tapes.

I hated seeing highschool mallrat kids following him around and shouting at him to “shut up”.  If Johnny got loud and violent, I have a feeling the kids were the root cause most of the time.  I’m sure they thought it was hilarious to harass this obviously damaged person.  But he was still a person, a human being.  Although it was sometimes startling to see someone walking around talking to themselves, it would have been nice if parents taught their kids a little respect.  We don’t know anybody’s secret battles.  Walker minded his own business any time I was present.

If anyone knows what happened to Butts, Sue, or Johnny Walker please drop us a line or leave a comment.  I hope they are all doing better.

 

 

 

 

 

#648: “The Mall”

GETTING MORE TALE #648:  “The Mall”

For the first 23 or 24 years of my life, Stanley Park Mall was my epicenter. If I said “Mom, I’m going to the mall!” she knew where I meant. It wasn’t the biggest mall, and certainly not the best. But it was my mall.

This very typical mall, on Ottawa Street in Kitchener, opened in 1969. It was nothing special. There was nowhere to buy music, until it expanded with a Zellers store circa 1973. As small children, we weren’t interested in music yet. Instead it was Zellers’ toy section that had us enthralled.

In 1977 my mother took me to Stanley Park to look for a birthday present for a neighbor named John Schipper, older brother of my best friend Bob. “Look mom! The movie we just saw!” I exclaimed as I laid eyes on my first Star Wars figures. My mom bought C3P0 for John, and R2D2 for me, so we could play together. Little did she know what she got me into, by buying my first Star Wars figure at that Zellers store. But to be fair, who could have known?

The mall also had a bank, and my dad soon transferred there as its manager. I used to feel like such a big shot, strolling into my dad’s office. He’d let us sit at his desk and play with his calculator and telephone. I can even remember helping him with spelling on an internal memo!  Once, when my sister was sitting in his chair, she pushed the button for the silent alarm. “Hmmm, this doesn’t do anything,” she thought. After she left, the cops arrived in force to answer the alarm. My dad realised what happened too late!

With my dad working there, plus the Zellers store, it was our main destination for shopping or just being kids. It was walking distance from home. When I was old enough to cross streets by myself, my friends and I made regular trips on our bikes. The Little Short Stop store was our main hangout. We would buy candy, pop, chips, comic books, and Star Wars or Indiana Jones cards. I managed to get a full set of The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I got them slowly, pack by pack, and by trading with friends. There was a neighbor who had the one Indiana Jones card I still needed called “I Hate Snakes”. A trade was made and I completed my set. I wish I knew what happened to all the doubles and triples of those cards.

When I was older, that Little Short Stop was my store for amassing a huge collection of rock and wrestling magazines. Hit Parader was my main title and I had a complete set of every issue from 1987-1990.

The mall was also right close to our grade school. Many of my friends would “cut through” the mall as a short cut to get home. One fellow, Chris, tells me he was sometimes chased around by mall security.  Naughty kid.

I remember there was a short-lived video store there. My dad refused to rent the Twisted Sister Stay Hungry video for me. He didn’t like the look of the “guy with the ham bone” on the front cover.

In 1987, something remarkable happened. Stanley Park Mall got its first actual record store: A&A Records and Tapes. Suddenly I had close access to all kinds of music, including 12” singles. I remember flipping through their Aerosmith and Europe singles, thinking “Woah, there are songs here I have never heard of.”

We still checked Zellers, but A&A became the place for us. In fact there were even A&A coupons on the back of every box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. $1.00 off tapes! We sure cashed in a lot of A&A coupons that year. I loved checking out their front charts too. Vinyl was still happening, and the front chart was a big huge display of records. Much larger and more eye catching than a CD chart. I remember rejoicing when Judas Priest’s Ram It Down was on it.

I have clear memories of Bob Schipper and I walking to the mall in early April of 1988 to pick up a new release. Two copies of course; one for each of us. Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was an album we had been looking forward to, and we both got it on that cold Saturday in April 1988.  (It took a while to adjust to the new Maiden sound, but Bob’s immediate favourite was “Infinite Dreams”.)

In 1989 I got my first real job, and it was at that very mall. The grocery store Zehrs was my first pay cheque. I cut my hair short for that job and was teased for it at school. Not only that, but suddenly I also needed glasses!  It was a pretty drastic image change.  But it was a cool work experience. Not only was I working at Zehrs with my best friend Bob, but my dad was still working in the mall too. All three of us in one place!

I was pretty loyal to A&A during those years at the mall, but in 1990 they went under. The last thing I ever bought at an A&A (though a different location) was a CD of Steve Vai’s Flex-Able and some blank tapes.

Yet every cloud has a silver lining. A former employee of A&A Records at our mall location decided to open a business of his own. Guess who he went to for the bank loan?  My dad!  Six months after A&A closed, he opened his own record store in that mall. The rest is history. The store that I now call “The Record Store” hired me on in July of 1994. And he’s still in business in 2018, albeit not in that mall anymore which suffered a slow and steady decline in the 90s.

There are no record stores in the mall anymore. Zellers went under, and Walmart took over. Their tiny little entertainment section is the only place to buy a CD. The bank is still there, and so is the grocery store, but my Little Short Shop is long gone. There isn’t much left. No Baskin Robbins, no 31 flavors.  Bargain shops and discount stores have replaced all the places I used to frequent as a kid. Sad, but not unexpected.

The strange thing is, as much as the mall has changed, I still get a huge shot of nostalgia when I walk into that Walmart that used to be my Zellers. Like a déjà vu, suddenly I am hit with the memory of finding a rare GI Joe, or flipping through Judas Priest tapes. The mall I knew from long ago is no longer the same, but the memory remains.