In the Christmases of youth when families were bigger and healthier, it was close to a week-long celebration. December 27 was a day we looked forward to annually.
Before I started working at the Record Store, we would depart for Stratford Ontario mid-day on the 27th for an early birthday celebration. My sister’s birthday is the 28th, and she would have a second party that day too! Stratford has a lot of really cool stores, especially if you’re looking for comics, books and board games like I was. There was a small record store as well, and my sister and I would hit up these stores while my mother and aunt shopped for clothes and knick-knacks for what felt like hours upon hours. One thing I know for sure: we were the ones waiting for them, and not vice-versa!
I acquired many treasures in Stratford in those days. After shopping, we would head to my aunt and uncle’s place for warming up. My sister would receive her gifts, and we would eat treats while waiting for the main course to arrive: garlic spaghetti, agio e olio, my absolute favourite. Then we would settle in for a movie (always a comedy). It was always a special day even though it wasn’t my birthday.
Even when we were young, I remember we were allowed to play some of our new tapes on my uncle’s big stereo during dinner. I can recall listening to Kiss. Smashes, Thrashes & Hits? Dynasty? I can’t remember – could have been either, or both, but I know we listened to Kiss during dinner (or dessert). My uncle made us listen to someone named Juice Newton.
In the Record Store days, I would only be able to make it for dinner and not the fun shopping part. Stratford is a little colder and snowier, and I recall having to step over massive snowbanks to get to parked cars. The cool shops made it worth it. I came home with Stratford with Transformers comics, Star Trek comics, loads of science fiction books, and rare board games. There was also a Scottish-themed shop where I bought Billy Connolly CDs and DVDs, Jaffa cakes, and other treats.
“Peak Stratford” would have been Dec 27 1990: the year I found Kiss On Fire at the book store. All those bootlegs! I sat and read during dinner amazed at all the records I now knew I had to collect! What a score for a kid.
Ah, 16! The age you’re supposed to get your driver’s license and go on dates with girls. Maybe even get a part time job. Except I did none of that.
The summer of 1988 was much like any summer. It was marked by new music, trips to the cottage, and another visit from Captain Destructo, my cousin Geoff. Predator was in the movie theaters and WWF wrestling was hot. Summer was not going to suck.
Super Mario on the NES
I was well tanned from days at the beach, and when Geoff and family rolled into the cottage that July, Geoff brought his new toy: a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). This was a whole new world for us. I had never seen Super Mario Brothers or Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. I sure saw a lot of them when Geoff came to visit. Saw. Not played. I played a little bit, but Geoff monopolised the game. I’ll never forget when he was playing Punch-Out and he was down to the second last boxer. He thought he was going to knock him out and move on to Mike Tyson. However my dad walked in front of the screen, Geoff started screaming, and lost the game. You would have thought he lost the invasion at Normandy for all the fuss. Me, I just would have liked another turn at the game.
Video games were exciting, but nothing was better than playing outside. With Predator hot in the cinemas, and lots of plastic guns to play with, we scattered into the forest hunting for the stealthy alien. Geoff insisted he was Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger). That made me Blain (Jesse Ventura). We forced my sister Kathryn to play Hawkins (Shane Black), the worst character and first one to die in the film. Eventually we let her play Billy the tracker (Sonny Landham).
I love how this trailer gives away the whole movie.
Leaping, dodging, climbing. We owned that forest.
There is so much joy running through the woods with plastic guns pretending to hunt a space alien. And the best part was, in the movie the Predator was invisible for most of the time: we didn’t need anybody to play the bad guy. It didn’t take much imagination to pretend to see movement in the forest. We were a team of three on a quest. I know that this is one of the happiest summer memories for all three of us.
After a few days at the lake, we returned home to Kitchener, with Geoff still in tow. We hung out in the basement watching WWF and the Pepsi Power Hour. Cinderella were hot with “Gypsy Road” and I had to get that album. Long Cold Winter was an odd title for a summer album, but it was most definitely a summer album. I could not wait to get it but I had a birthday coming and I wasn’t allowed to buy stuff for myself until after.
For what was probably the last time, we went with Geoff to his grandfather’s huge property for an afternoon in the pool. One last splash, in the bright figure-8 shaped pool. That giant pond behind us in the background. Maintaining that summer tan.
The three big albums for me that summer were Long Cold Winter by Cinderella, Second Sighting by Ace Frehley, and Ram It Down by Judas Priest. I loved it for all its flaws. It was heavy and I thought it had five potential single-worthy songs: “Ram It Down”, “Heavy Metal”, “Hard As Iron”, and “Blood Red Skies”, in addition to the already-released “Johnny B. Goode”. Only the Chuck Berry cover made it to music video form. I waited all summer for a music video for “Blood Red Skies” to finally hit. I could always predict the next single, and I just knew it had to be “Blood Red Skies”. Week after week, I waited. I dreaded missing it during vacation at the cottage. I just knew it would be any week now. I had a dream one night of what it would look like. There Priest were on the bridge of some kind of spaceship, hovering over the landscape beneath the blood red skies. It never came. I thought if Priest released a video for “Blood Red Skies”, it would chart. Into the fall, Priest never released another single. A disappointment and a mistake.
Into August, I finally got my copy of Cinderella. After one listen correctly predicted that “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Til It’s Gone)” would be the second video. I always looked forward to the new videos by bands, but like Judas Priest, Frehley disappointed me by never releasing a second video for Second Sighting. I thought there were a number of potential hits, such as “Fallen Angel”, “Time Ain’t Running Out”, “New Kind of Lover” and “Juvenile Delinquent”.
In Stratford, visiting my Aunt and Uncle, I picked up Live + 1, also by Ace Frehley. The Space Ace had two releases in 1988, with one being a live/studio EP. This weekend was the first time I experienced strong insomnia. I remember tossing and turning the entire night, not falling asleep once for even a minute. Seeing the sun come up. I was getting more and more upset that I couldn’t sleep, which made it worse.
Another cassette picked up that summer in Stratford was High ‘N’ Dry, which became an immediate favourite. Def Leppard were the biggest band in the world that summer. Hysteria was selling like hotcakes. It didn’t take off in ’87, but when “Pour Some Sugar On Me” hit, that was all it took. Many nights were spent listening to the radio at the lake, waiting for “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. Hysteria‘s singles were harder to predict. I didn’t expect there to be seven of them, but I definitely thought “Love and Affection” would make it before “Rocket” did.
We visited with our friends the Szabos, we played games, and we listened to a lot of music. I had my heavy metal, my sister had Glass Tiger and was starting to get into Def Leppard. Our Walkmen came with us everywhere. As the summer drew to an end we made a trip up to Tobermory to take the S.S. Chi-Cheemaun to Manitoulin island. I loved boats and islands but the trip was a bit of a bore. The gift shop didn’t have a lot to keep us entertained. I bought one of those black and white wrestling magazines, and a wooden postcard to send to nobody. It took a while for me to get my sea legs. I felt nauseous and wasn’t sure I could eat. Eventually the rocking of the boat became fun. The wind on the top deck was exactly like the “Jack, I’m flying!” scene in Titanic.
There was more, much more, but who can remember it all? Watching Rob Halford interviewed on the Pepsi Power Hour, recording it, and watching it over and over again. Seeing new Van Halen (“When It’s Love”) on TV. Suffering through rumours of Kiss breaking up. Looking for the latest Def Leppard 7″ singles at Zellers. So many memories, jumbled and out of order, hard to keep all straight.
The summer ended on a high, but what I didn’t know is that was only a precursor to my happiest school year, grade 11. Hair metal was peaking but it was about to get even bigger in ’89. Everything was in sync. Summer, music, school — all extraordinary in 1988.
GETTING MORE TALE #817: Breaking Up With a Radio Station Girl
What followed this was actually one of the top five worst weeks of my life. I was house and dog sitting for my parents, when I suddenly got a throat infection. So I got dumped by this girl, I can’t swallow anymore, I’m taking care of two houses and a stubborn dog, that’s enough to handle already. Schnauzers, you know how they are. Well this one particular bad schnauzer is named Ani. Ani pooped herself and got all the poop matted in her butt fur. It was stuck in there so bad that I had to cut it out with a scissors, and then bathe her, all just minutes before I had to leave for work. And then, just when I thought that the week was over and things would get back to normal soon, I busted my glasses. I was scraping the ice off my windshield, and I slipped. I somehow got caught onto the antenna which sprung loose and thwacked me right in the face. My glasses, minus one lens, were down in the snow. A fucking brilliant week.
Many of the old Record Store Tales today seem unfinished. So I dated a Radio Station Girl — what happened next?
It was close to the end of winter 2003. It was a week much like this one. Elli was coming down to spend the weekend. She worked two jobs. Due to her shifts at the radio station and the Blockbuster Video, we usually only got a few hours together before she had to head to another job. She surprised me earlier in the week with a visit at the Record Store. Since she was living in Stratford without a car, that surprise visit made my day. In an email she even called me the “best boyfriend ever” for the first time. Yes, this weekend was going to be awesome! Everything was coming up Mikey.
I drove down to Stratford to pick her up on the Saturday night. Something was immediately off. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I asked her if she was hungry. She answered, in a strange child-like voice, “Chick-en”.
“Yeah you want some chicken? Do you want me to stop for some McNuggets?”
That was all I could get out of her. It was a bad sign. The entire weekend was…cold. She was unaffectionate and distant. I couldn’t figure it out. She didn’t seem interested in anything and even though she was supposed to stay Monday night too, she bailed early.
Everything felt wrong. When the week resumed and everybody was back to work, she stopped responding to my emails. I thought I was the “best boyfriend ever”. Now I couldn’t even get the time of day.
And I was starting to feel sick again. My throat was sore. I toiled through the week and I was supposed to see Elli again on the weekend. I hoped to resolve whatever was going on between us, but I already knew it was over. Before I left the house on Sunday night to see her, I told a friend that I was “going out to get dumped by a girl.”
I was disappointed at best, and very angry at worst, that I had to drive to Stratford for her to dump me. The third and final breakup. At least she did it in person. She said she was applying for jobs at radio stations coast to coast. I offered to help, adding “but I don’t think you really want my help.” I was right. She didn’t want anyone tying her to home, and it was over for good this time. I put on my coat and boots and headed back to Kitchener.
I was seething with anger, but the sore throat was lingering, making everything worse.
My parents bought me some Chloroseptic throat spray, which temporarily helped. But I didn’t realize (because I hadn’t seen a doctor in 14 years) was that I had a full-on throat infection. Before too long the pain was unmanageable.
The parents were going on a trip and I was housesitting and dogsitting for them. This was the beginning of one of the legendary Top Five worst weeks of my life. The parents bought groceries for the week. I was really looking forward to the jalapeño potato chips that I picked out, but I couldn’t get even one down. My throat was ablaze with hot, stinging pain. It was like I had a molten hot steel ball bearing in my throat. Every swallow hurt, even when lubricated with ice water. The infection had also screwed up my taste buds and everything was sour. I was a sad sack of shit on top of it all. Even the dog couldn’t cheer me up.
It was a harsh winter. Scraping the ice off my car, I caught myself on the antenna. It came back and hit me right in the face, knocking a lens out of my glasses. That was it – rock bottom. I had enough. Or so I thought.
I remember lying in bed in pain, unable to swallow. I prayed to God. I said, “I can handle being dumped, and I can handle this sore throat, but I can’t handle both at the same time.” I couldn’t get any time off work. There was nobody available to fill in, except for half a day on the Friday. I realized I didn’t have a choice and would have to see a doctor.
On the Thursday, just as I was leaving for work, the dog took a shit, got it all matted in her butt fur, and proceeded to wipe herself on the carpet. I chased her around in frustration, dunked her fighting into the wash bin, got a pair of scissors, and painstakingly cut all the shit out. I cleaned the carpet and headed to work in sad frustration.
Like a miracle, my throat cleared up on the Friday. I didn’t need to go to the doctor.
My heart took a little longer to heal. But heal it did. VoiVod released a new album on March 3 and that was the start of it. It was their first album with Snake on lead vocals in a decade, and their first ever with “Jasonic” (Jason Newsted) on bass. The lead single was an old fashioned speed rocker called “We Carry On”. The title spoke to me as much as the riffs.
Music heals all…except throat infections.
So we are ready for more adventures? No crystal ball to see the future. Driven by a need to create, On every mile we ride our fate. In my heart, In my soul, In my blood, In my bones. It really does make you feel strong, Like you would be forever young. Day after day sharing and giving, Reinventing the ways of thinking. In my heart, In my soul, In my blood, In my bones, In my hands, On my face, In my eyes, Here’s my rage. This is our time, This is our song, This is our lives, We carry on. No need to say, it’s far from pure, Once you’ve touched it, there is no cure. We ride our way throughout the sun, We just got here, and now we’re gone. In my dreams, In my hope, In my fear, In my goals, In the sky, All around, In the light, Underground. This is our time, This is our song, This is our lives, We carry on.
RECORD STORE TALES Part 15: Dating a Radio Station Girl
You would think a Record Store Dude and a Radio Station Girl would make beautiful music together. (Sorry I couldn’t resist saying that…I promise I’ll never do it again.)
When I first starting dating Radio Station Girl in 2003, I was really excited. She seemed pretty cool and she worked at a radio station, so how awesome was that? We had the music career thing happening.
Disappointingly, she turned out to be so un-musical, it was crushing. She worked at 1240 CJCS in Stratford Ontario. They were in what she called the “oldies” format. She also enjoyed cheesy stuff like Barenaked Ladies.
Our first date was the Kelsey’s on the main street of Stratford. She was moonlighting at Blockbuster video, so I picked her up there and we went to Kelsey’s. It was February and it was snowing but we were having a great time talking about our respective careers, food, and movies.
Then the Beatles came on. I can’t remember which song. Either way it seemed like a good topic of conversation. George Harrison’s death was still fresh in my memory, as he was my favourite one.
“Elli, who’s your favourite Beatle?” I queried.
“I don’t know. I can’t name any of them.”
Say what? Whathefuck??
She worked at a radio station, and couldn’t name a Beatle?
John Lennon maybe? Ring any bells?
I really should have known. Honest. But is bad musical taste enough to not date someone? If it is, it’s a crime I’ve commited on numerous occassions. I dated girls who listened to crap dance music, and no fewer than three who have seen New Kids on the Block live. That I know of. That is, there were three who admit it.
I married one of them, but let’s not get into that now! I love my wife dearly, in spite of and sometimes because of her flaws.
Anyway, the musical sins continued. She made me download a whole bunch of crappy songs and burn them for her, because in Stratford in 2003, all they had was dial-up. It was truly awful, like not even kidding awful.
We broke up three times total. That is, she dumped me three times.
The first time we got back together, she emailed me saying she just finished eating a tub of Hagan Daas. This guy I worked with says, “That means she wants you back, dude.” She did, and we got back together. I made her a mix CD with “Disturbing the Priest” by Black Sabbath on there. Just a little surprise, you know? Like a middle finger for dumping me in the first place and then eating a tub of ice cream and changing her mind.
The second time we broke up, I think she probably just got back together with me so she had a date to this one CJCS radio station charity event appearance. That was actually cool, I got to throw a pie at her face. Afterwards, I forced her to listen to Thick as a Brick in the car as sort of a retribution. She had never heard Jethro Tull before in her life. She didn’t get it.
There would be no third reconciliation. She made up a bullshit story about moving to Vancouver, and I never saw her again. The nice thing about that is that I’d never have to hear Moxy Fruvous, Puddle of Mudd, or fucking Gilbert O’Sullivan ever again.
What followed this was actually one of the top five worst weeks of my life. I was house and dog sitting for my parents, when I suddenly got a throat infection. So I got dumped by this girl, I can’t swallow anymore, I’m taking care of two houses and a stubborn dog, that’s enough to handle already. Schnauzers, you know how they are. Well this one particular bad schnauzer is named Ani. Ani pooped herself and got all the poop matted in her butt fur. It was stuck in there so bad that I had to cut it out with a scissors, and then bathe her, all just minutes before I had to leave for work. And then, just when I thought that the week was over and things would get back to normal soon, I busted my glasses. I was scraping the ice off my windshield, and I slipped. I somehow got caught onto the antenna which sprung loose and thwacked me right in the face. My glasses, minus one lens, was down in the snow. A fucking brilliant week.