Obsolete and outdated technology can be fascinating to look at. For a long while, it looked like everything was going to go DVD. Even music. There was talk of box sets by bands such as Led Zeppelin or the Beatles that could fit the entire catalogue on one disc. The Digital Versatile Disc all but completely took over from the VHS tape for viewing, so why not for simple household TV recording too? Enter the DVD recorder. This was not the same as a DVD burner for your computer. It was a standalone unit for your home entertainment system, connected to your cable box and ready to go. As you can guess, it failed gloriously. Why? Uncle John’s daily calendar tells us it came down to cost:
While it is considered obsolete now, the DVD recorder had one slight advantage over the typical PVR that you can rent today from Rogers Cable. That is keeping a recording permanently. I’ll give you a great example.
In 1994, my future father-in-law won tickets to go see the Toronto Maple Leafs during the playoffs facing off against the Sharks in San Jose. My future wife came with him, bearing a sign that said “DOUGIE G. FOR PRIME MINISTER”. This is of course a reference to legendary Toronto Maple Leaf center Doug Gilmour. Then my wife saw the unmistakable Canadian hockey broadcaster Don “Grapes” Cherry in the lobby, with his colourful suit and camera crew. She shouted out “GRAPES!” Nobody else in California would have known him as “Grapes” so he knew it was a fellow Canuck. He saw the Dougie G. sign — his favourite player from Kingston, Ontario. He asked her to come on down. That’s how my wife got on Hockey Night in Canada back in 1994. We have a copy of this on video tape, but when the game was re-run a couple years ago, we recorded it including the part with my wife on our Rogers PVR.
It was nice to have it digitally but we always knew we’d lose it if the PVR busted. There’s no way to retrieve a recording from it, according to Rogers. So when it finally kicked the bucket, we lost the hockey recording. No matter; we’ll just wait for the next re-run.
If we only had an old-fashioned DVD recorder, however, we’d have a hard copy that we could have kept safe and sound forever!
Way back, I discussed how the CD store began stocking used DVDs. It was a slam dunk success, once the word got out. When we had built up decent inventory,which took time, DVD sales really took off. At first, our DVD purchases were slow. Not enough people were selling them for us to have a large selection of movies. In order to help maintain our stock, staff members were initially only allowed to buy one DVD per pay period. That was to prevent us from taking all the good stuff (although some figured out ways around this if two must-haves arrived at the same time*). Once inventory exploded, we had boxes and boxes of overstock. We had to add a new center island to the store for the growing movie section. Some days, we’d buy a hundred movies, but only a couple CDs. How things had reversed! We ended up with DVDs in our Bin O’ Bargains. (It was in Joe‘s Bargain Bin that I acquired Incident At Loch Ness.)
This ushered in a whole new set of customers. Now I had customers that weren’t interested in music at all. Many people exclusively bought and sold DVDs. I had some that were only interested in buying TV show seasons, which were expensive back then. Now you can get a whole series for the price of what a season used to cost back then.
My friend and collaborator Aaron hasn’t had cable TV in a dog’s age. Much like myself, he considers most of what’s on TV to be mindless, useless, and brain-rotting. So he ditched his cable.
Meanwhile, I still had my cable, but my growing DVD collection was rendering it obsolete. Once the restrictions were lifted on staff DVD purchases, my collection grew prodigiously. I endeavored to collect complete filmographies from the directors that I liked. I sought all the Kubricks, then everything by Sam Raimi, and Terry Gilliam.
Then one day in 2003, I decided to follow Aaron’s example. If he could do it I could do it too, so I decided that I didn’t need the brain-rotting tube anymore. I was hardly watching it anyway. Rogers don’t like losing customers, the customer service rep asked me, “But what will you watch?” He didn’t get it. I guess not too many people decide they’re not going to watch TV anymore, and this was long before Netflix. Once I declined all his offers for deals and discounts, my cable was disconnected.
I lived happily without cable for five whole years. Only my massive movie and music collection kept me company. I enjoyed saving the money, and I continued to immerse myself in new movies all the time. In fact, in the latter days of the record store, when I was miserable, I was more into movies than music. Music didn’t bring me the joy it once had, it was a dark time for me. That was when movies had their greatest impact on me.
Then I got a new job. Then I got married. To a Maple Leafs fan.
One of the pre-conditions of marriage was that we were getting cable again. Another pre-condition was that Mrs. LeBrain was to get the TV any time there was a hockey game on. During hockey season, that’s three nights a week. I didn’t realize that when the Leafs were (inevitably) knocked out of a playoff position, that Mrs. LeBrain was still going to watch hockey games right to the Stanley Cup. I didn’t get that. My movie watching time went down, and down, and down. Eventually, I just gave up custody of the remote control. I sat by as hockey and then reality TV sadly took over my screen.
I still have my movie collection, pared down a bit, to the 4 or 5 hundred that I love most. I just wish I had more time to watch them! Unfortunately, the Leafs are playing the Florida Panthers tonight. Maybe I can schedule some movie time during the playoffs, since Toronto was eliminated last night.
* to be discussed in a future Record Store Tale…the story of Ivan.
Sausagefest is an annual all-dude, all-meat, countdown of rock. Five of us from the old Record Store attended! This year, there were 110 songs (75 countdowns plus 35 “tributes”). #1 was Max Webster — “Toronto Tontos”. Other artists who made the countdown included Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Kiss, Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Rush, and Tenacious D among others. For the history of this event, check out Record Store Tales Part 30.
HELIX – “All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup” (2012 Helix Records 7″ single)
Helix has their Heavy Mental Christmas – This is the carol I will sing to my great-grandchildren…
All I want for Christmas… Is the Leafs to win the CUP. That is a present worth fighting for.
From my earliest memories I have been “torontomaplegirl”. This song sings to everything that I am. The Toronto Maple Leafs have one of the longest droughts in professional sports, but their fans, oh their fans will be loyal until the end of time.
We load up in cars and airplanes to watch them play in other cities because it is impossible to get decent seats at their Bay Street home. We decorate our homes with a Maple theme and select our cars and clothes in that delicious royal blue that sets us apart. (I convinced LeBrain that we wanted a blue car that I have since named Dougie Carmour.)
“Go LEAFS Go” are the first words we teach our children, and Brian Vollmer has them wonderfully placed throughout the song’s chorus. He makes a quick reference to the hundred year old rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens in a cute way – advising that a Habs jersey would be an unpleasant gift during the Christmas season. He also references 1967: the last year that the Stanley Cup was in the place it belongs. (I have kissed the Stanley Cup on 1967 during a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1994, hoping it would bring the glory back to Toronto – we made it to game 7 of the western conference finals that year.)
The song is available in two places. It can be found on the new Helix Best Of CD covering hits from 1983 – 2012. Available for the serious collector is a vinyl single, autographed by Brian Vollmer in green vinyl. It has a heavy mental “Jingle Bells” on the other side. In future releases, the vinyl will be released in different colours. I am patiently awaiting the Maple Leaf blue coloured single to make it into the LeBrain family home. [The vinyl release also comes with a download code in case you can’t play vinyl — nice touch. – LeBrain]
Now we just have to get working on my Thanksgiving gift wish of firing Gary Bettman so we can get this lockout bullshit taken care of.
Below: Helix sells the single, album and T-shirt as a bundle
Way to leave the closet door open behind you while taking a photo of yourself, LeIdiot!
Brian Vollmer and I, back in in 2007 at Planet Helix!
September 7, 2012: Once again, things are getting exciting on Planet Helix. If the new single / video “All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup” wasn’t enough, there’s also the new anthology, Best Of 1983-2012.
Lead vocalist and founding member of Helix, Brian Vollmer talked to us about these releases, some special upcoming dates, and a lot more.
The new single seems to be off to a good start, according to the song’s co-writer, Sean Kelly. Brian filled us in.
“Sean’s from North Bay [Ontario], and he told me we’re getting airplay up in North Bay on that song.” The video is also doing well: “We’re up over 5000 hits now, and we’re hoping that the video goes viral. It’s early in the season…there might not even be an NHL season this year!”
Oh Brian, don’t get me started on Gary Bettman!
The collector in me was excited about the vinyl release of the single. It’s also going to be on the anthology CD, but the vinyl is designed for collectors in mind.
“I had initially wanted to do vinyl on the Christmas album [A Heavy Mental Christmas], but when we wrote this song, I thought that we’d do vinyl because it’s a collector’s item. It’s kind of a novelty type of thing, and I think that it’ll appeal to not only Helix fans but also Toronto Maple Leafs fans. They might like the vinyl just to have in the rec room up in the bar. We sell it for $19.99 so it makes a great stocking stuffer for people.
“We did it on green vinyl too, to fit in with the season somewhat, and when we go through that pressing we’ll probably change colours.” Just FYI Brian: my wife, Mrs. LeBrain, is really hoping for blue!
“We’ve been trying to write a Leafs song for a couple years,” adds Brian. “We had the working title of ‘I’m Bleeding Blue & White Tonight’. And we never quite got the song together. And then we did a radio session, where we were finishing off [new song] ‘Axe to Grind’, which is also on the anthology album.” Brian was then supposed to meet up with Travis Wood, of the band Whosarmy (from the TV show Cover Me Canada, which Brian also guested on incidentally).
“I didn’t want to go too early, and just sit around at the restaraunt. So we started fooling around and all of a sudden, within a couple of minutes we wrote ‘All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup’. The song was recorded within two weeks.” The hilarious video was done right after that. I forgot to ask Brian if any Habs fans are offended!
All I Want For Christmas is the Leafs to Win the Cup
You can buy the single on the green vinyl in a bundle with a T-shirt and the new CD, Best Of 1983-2012. “The Best Of album I just put out has a lot of tracks that you wouldn’t normally hear [on other best of albums] by Helix. Stuff like ‘Animal Inside’ off the Vagabond Bones album. ‘Get Up’ and ‘Fill Your Head With Rock’ from The Power of Rock and Roll album.”
Coinciding with these releases is the forthcoming Heavy Mental Christmas tour.
“Yes, we just added another date in Cornwall. We have seven dates, mostly through Masonic temples, legions, moose halls, through southern Ontario. It’s a multi-media show. We’re taking out screens, so there’s some video segues between songs, other times there’s still pictures with Christmas themes…some of the cameras that are places strategically around stage are broadcasting whatever member might be doing a solo during the song.”
You may want to consider getting your tickets now, as these shows are special indeed, and feature a new lineup. Not only will you meet the new Helix guitarist, John Claus, but “also Sarah Smith. Sarah Smith is a great London [Ontario] artist, she’s got two CDs out now under her belt, she’s a great addition to the show. Just a smiling, very talented person. She’s on with us instead of Kaleb [“Duckman” Duck, guitars]. Kaleb really didn’t want to do Christmas songs! Initially, we were going to go with one guitar player, and then I thought of Sarah.”
This turned out to be a good decision, according to Brian:
“I always walk out of our Christmas practices with a big smile on my face. I love playing the material, and it’s really fun with this group of people, to do these songs. I wouldn’t want somebody to do any of my projects that wasn’t totally into it.
“It’s a labour of love. We’ve been working on this show over a year now.”
“Setting up the website, and the tickets, and the halls, and putting together the show, learning the show, and getting the multi-media involved.” But it is truly a labour of love, and you can tell by the amount of work that Brian and the band has put in so far.
I mentioned new guitar player John Claus. As previously reported, longtime axeman Brent Doerner will be leaving Helix at the end of September 2012. Brian helps shed some light on this lineup change, and what bringing in a new member does for the band.
“We have two more dates with Brent at the end of this month. One’s at the Rockpile in Toronto, the other’s at the Masonic Temple in Stratford. That’s a multi-media show as well. Tickets are going fast for that one, I think a lot of people want to come and see Brent before he goes.
“Brent’s been in the band since about 1975. No hard feelings with him leaving at all. He just wants to pursue video production, and in fact, Brent will still be involved on a creative level with the band, helping us do our videos.
“I tell everyone that Brent, when he initially came back to the fold, he was only going to be here for six months, and he ended up staying three and a half years! He definitely was better than his word, and stayed for a long time. So I’m really grateful to him for that.”
On John Claus, who will replace Brent:
“He plays piano and guitar. He sings, so he’s a great addition to the band. Nice guy, great personlity. Whenever we hire new people in the band, we don’t want any ego trips. So, to get someone who has a nice personality and just a good human being is a nice thing to have.” John will join the band completed by longtime members Daryl Gray and Greg “Fritz” Hinz, on bass and drums respectively.
The piano aspect will come into play for future shows. Brian reveals that he and John will probably perform “Dream On”, the Nazareth cover, from Helix’s Wild in the Streets album, as a duo during upcoming Helix concerts. “And the Christmas shows, we’re doing ‘Hallelujah'” says Brian of another piano-based cover to look forward to!
It’s great to see Helix continue forward through the years. Brian has worked hard, starting in the 1970’s as an indi artist, and now today continuing down that path. Once again the band is behind their own music releases, selling it themselves. Brian has nothing but praise for the team he’s surrounded himself with in recent years.
“I write with Sean [Kelly] nowadays, he’s a great writer, nice person to work with. Aaron Murray is my producer, he studied from Danny Broadback, who won a Juno for Engineering. And Danny studied with Jack Richardson, who as you know produced Alice Cooper and the Guess Who, and all sorts of people.” Brian adds, “Moe Berg [The Pursuit of Happiness] sometimes comes in to write with us, Sean and I.”
Thanks to Brian Vollmer for updating us on all the new happenings on Planet Helix! Try to get out to see the Heavy Mental Christmas tour, and get tickets while you can!
I’m going to jump ahead. My wife does not feature into the story until very close to the end, although she is a critical component to it. I think it’s only fair that I introduce her early. Jen has, shall we say…good but “flawed” taste in both music, and hockey teams. (Take a guess which one.)
RECORD STORE TALES PART 20: I Believe In A Thing Called Love
When I met Jen in 2005, I knew I had met someone special. I knew this was something I didn’t want to screw up. I didn’t know one day we’d be married, but we might never have met if not for music.
It started with Stompin’ Tom. I think I had told her that I had a stack of new movies, a huge bag of chips & a case of Red Bull, and was ready for the weekend or something. She responded, “Sounds like you’re ready for a Sudbury Saturday Night.” So right then and there, boom! She was speaking my language.
Yes, Jen loves Stompin’ Tom. I said she had flawed taste in music? She still thinks Kurt Cobain is the greatest songwriter since John and Paul. See what I mean? Her favourite radio station is the grunge one on satellite radio. I can only take so much grunge in my daily diet.
We bonded over a mutual love of the Beatles, Foo Fighters, Johnny Cash and the old school of country. She was brought up on a steady diet of Beach Boys and oldies, where I had heard a lot of movie soundtracks and country music growing up.
There are some things I’ll never turn Jen onto. I know that Kiss and Rush are a completely lost cause with her. However, lemme tell you a lil’ secret that Jen doesn’t want people to know about.
One night we were coming home from a party at Lara’s house. I was driving, and Jen had a couple drinks. (She used to drink wine back then.) We were coming back to my place after midnight on the 401. I had Iron Maiden’s latest, A Matter of Life and Death, on the car stereo. Jen was leaning back enjoying the drive, and then she sat up.
“Who are these guys?” she asked.
“This is Iron Maiden,” I responded. The song playing was “For The Greater Good of God”, one of their more epic pieces.
I could tell she was really getting into it. I kept glancing over at her.
“These guys…are…amazing!” she blurted out. “This music is…wow!”
She claims to this day it was just the booze, but every once in a while, I play that song, and I catch her singing along.
Our wedding was pretty amazing. For the ceremony itself, we had a Beatles theme. The girls came in to an acoustic version of “Something” by George, solo. We signed the register to “In My Life” by Johnny Cash. We exited to “Here Comes the Sun”. It was gorgeous outside.
My sister Kathryn played the cocktail hour at the reception with a jazz trio. Her set ended with their rendition of John Williams’ “Cantina Band” from the first Star Wars! Bass clarinet as the lead instrument, with guitar and drums backing…it was the perfect wedding version.
Into the dinner, I snuck in some Zappa (“Peaches En Regelia”) and some Kiss (“And Then She Kissed Me”) We danced to more Beatles, tons of AC/DC, The Darkness, GN’R, and other good stuff. I had the best music of any wedding I’ve ever been to.