Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Top 10 Bands that Dress to Kill

Elvis wore a leather jacket, Jim Morrison wore leather pants and Nash the Slash...remember him?
Well, he wore surgical bandages all over his head, a white top hat and sunglasses. Some bands use clothes as part of the act, and for some, it becomes the act. In no particular order, here are 10 bands that took their fashion choices to the next level. Remember, we're not here to judge, as it probably seemed like a good idea at the time and also they were very likely high out of their minds on cocaine.

1. Judas Priest

Before there was Megadeath, Motley Crue and Metallica, there was the Priest. Judas Priest that is. Sometime late in the 70’s, they started taking their metal image very seriously and began to dress the part. Think S & M club meets a really skinny, slightly effeminate motorcycle gang. We had seen leather pants on lots of dudes before but Judas Priest really went the extra mile, adding studs to everything and upping the tightness factor. Right or wrong, they may have been solely responsible for the fashion choices of countless 80’s metal bands that followed. The Scorpions, Whitesnake, Slaughter, Ratt, and those of that ilk. That’s a lot of leather legacy.

2. Primus

They have been labeled the weirdest band in the world. If that means singing Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver dressed up as pigs, then yes, they may be contenders to the title. The madness of Primus is directly proportional to the amount of Les Claypool in the mix. If we follow him through his career of solo projects and side bands, a dress up theme is never far off. Claypool seems to pull oddball characters into his orbit like a giant black hole of weirdness. Members of Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade have been known to wear Planet of the Apes masks, reptilian costumes  and other critter themed gear during concerts. And yes, in the Bucket of Bernie Brains band, he had a guitar player that wore a KFC bucket over his head.

3. Devo

Devo put a nerd-rock twist on the dress up game and often sported what looked like B-movie Hazmat suits and plastic planters on their heads. They loved outfits and they loved symmetry, always uniform in their dress. As kids, maybe they all wanted to be astronauts when they grew up because there seems to be a science fiction theme going on with all those outfits.

4. Slipknot

I don’t know anything about Slipknot or their music, except that they scare the crap out of me. From the state of their outfits, I’m guessing thrash metal mixed with a dash of crazy. Like Kiss, this is one of those bands that says “to hell with dress up, we’re going deep into character and we’re not coming out until we’re washed up and ready for our own reality show.” Thumbs up for the commitment boys.

5.Village People

When I was in grade four, I got a copy of the Village People for my birthday.
I was fascinated by the cover photo, depicting them as the heroic looking macho men that they were. Then sometime later, my sister revealed to me that they were in fact, super gay.

 “No they’re not.” I replied, because the only gay person I knew was Jack Tripper from Three’s Company (even though he was faking) and he did not dress cool like the village people.

“Look at how tough looking the construction guy is.” I countered.

“His jeans are ripped. And look at the motorcycle guy…he has all that leather and a moustache.”

“That’s what gay men dress like.” She said.

“Do you really think you could ride a motorcycle in pants with no butt coverage?”

I was not convinced. Regardless, setting aside the actual functionality of the outfits and the cultural stereotyping, they still managed to sell 100 million records along the way. Political correctness wouldn’t be invented for a few years yet, so no harm no foul I suppose.

6. Kiss

To merely say that Kiss wore costumes is a bit like saying Muhammad Ali merely boxed. Kiss took what Alice Cooper was doing in the wardrobe department, multiplied it by 10 and suddenly they became game changers. They added make-up and became comic book characters that could sing and play (sort of). The outfits did change over the years by the way. I learned about some of the nuances and evolution of the Kiss costumes one year when I was researching for an airband performance. (Yes, it was that serious). Any Kiss fanatic will be able to match the era with the costume variations, but I’m not in that camp. I do know however, that between 1973 and 1983, they never played a show without the costumes and make-up, igniting a furious marketing storm that still goes on to this day. They still play live occasionally, but those first 10 years were what made them.

7. Gwar

Gwar is hard to explain if you have never seen what they wear. Think of low budget special effects creatures like the ones in the old Power Rangers t.v. show and you are pretty much there. There is a comedic aspect to them that goes along with their graphic lyrics so at least they're consistent in their ridiculousness. They are not scary like Slipknot, but they are original and they beat them to the punch. They upped the ante from Kiss and Alice Cooper and turned it into a freak show latex-extravaganza of metal. In the family tree of dress up,
No Gwar = no Slipknot.

8. Abba

This band had a couple of things going for them that created the perfect storm of outfits. First off, it was the disco era, so one wasn’t limited by good taste. Secondly, they had that strange incestuous couples thing going on, which provided endless combinations of outfits. The guys would match one day, the blonds would match the next, and then they would all dress the same the following. Their costume designer must have been in heaven with all those rhinestones and sequins. Maybe he had a be-dazzler. If you want to see exactly the extent of the jumpsuit madness, do a Google image search and prepare to be astounded by what you can do with polyester.

9. George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic

Where to begin? This band is one great big potpourri of space trippin’ eccentrics. Their fearless leader, George Clinton himself, stirring the funk soul stew. They rode on the Mothership in some seriously unfiltered outfits. Unlike some of the other large ensemble bands of the day, P-Funk had no rhyme or reason to the clothes, with everyone making a personal statement. They seemed to have toned things down in the later years, but any of the old photos from the 70’s show some truly inspired wardrobe choices.

10. Earth, Wind and Fire

These cats were all about unity. Whether they were wearing dashikis, gold lame or those crazy robes, they did it with style. Even the afros were coifed to the same length. There was a lot of Motown sensibility to their dress code that they carried through their career. These guys could bring it and they had the dance steps to match.

Your homework…one of my favorites. Shining Star by Earth, Wind and Fire.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

26 miles

Lyrics to a song I wrote and hope to record....

Thirty years ago, I saw it on TV
When he dipped his foot, right into the sea
He was just a boy, acting like a man
Escorted out of town, by a yellow van

I’ll tell you what it means, to be all alone
A lonely West Coast boy, three thousand miles from home
30 days of rain, all along the way
26 miles he ran, each and every day


What I didn’t know
What no one dared to say
He might not make it
Might not make it to Thunder Bay

Sometime in July, on highway sixty nine
Headed up to Timmins, when we passed him by
Collecting money, from beside the van
I reached out the window, threw a dollar in the can


I still see him now, always on the run
A forever memory, forever twenty one
Heroes don’t come easy, it takes a lot of might
They sometimes win the battle, and sometimes lose the fight

What I didn’t know
What no one dared to say
He never made it
Never made it past halfway

(But the)The whole world knows your name today

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Greatest Party Never Told

Most children’s birthday parties follow a generic formula that has been carefully crafted and refined over the last forty years. A fail safe method if you will, unfortunately designed not for the tot in mind, but solely to keep parents from losing their minds.  Kids arrive at 1pm, followed by a contained activity, right into pizza, presents, cake and then home at 4pm. The hours of start and finish are negotiable, as long as you stick to the 3 hour window and don’t try to do anything too radical such as sending them outside with lawn darts. A formula followed through the ages and all across the land.

Unless, that is, you came up in the 70’s and were part of a small cadre of boys lucky enough to be invited to a party hosted by my friend Dale. You see, Dale lived in the country on a tree farm absolutely riddled with death traps at every turn. He would occasionally show up at school with a cast or a twisted ankle.

“Fell off the roof of the chicken coop” he would say, shrugging it off. Standard fare really, for a farm kid.

A perfect venue, for a collection of 11 year old boys. It’s not a surprise that I don’t recall any birthday cakes or gifts from these affairs. What stands out is being dropped off on a Saturday, late in April, and charging around looking for the group who would already be immersed in a death defying activity. It could be climbing the interior ladder of the silo and launching one’s self into the grain pile below, or playing hide and seek amidst the tightly packed evergreens stored in the dark recesses below the barn.
The tree farm was a strange and glorious conglomeration of out-buildings, barns and machinery, just waiting to be explored. The farm itself was mostly staffed with Jamaicans who lived in the basement of the rambling farmhouse where Dale’s family lived. Regulars with names like Moses and Dudley, who would return year after year to trim trees and then take blue jeans and shoes back to Jamaica with them. Dale told me they were always shooting pigeons in the silo and making stew with their catch. He snuck me down to the barracks once when they were out working, which consisted of one main room full of cots and a couple of fold out tables, a bathroom and a tiny kitchen. I bumped my head on a pair of hawk’s feet hanging from the door jamb leading outside.

“They eat hawks?” I asked, morbidly curious.
“Nope.” Dale replied.  ”They’re for voodoo. I think Dudley is going to put a hex on someone.”
“What’s that smell?” asked my 10 year old self.
“It’s drugs. You know…Marijuana,” Dale replied nonchalantly. “They’re not supposed to smoke it down here, but they do anyway.”
Well, that explained where Dale got his supplies later on.

Outdoors there were endless curiosities to be found. There was a drive shed that always had a topless calendar posted on the wall and a lunch room with a broken vending machine where a kid could jam a skinny arm up into the works and grab a free chocolate bar. One building had a slaughter pit in it, leftover from when a beef farm operated on the property. The game was to get dropped down in and see if you could scale your way back up the concrete walls and get out. Dale and I later painted lines on the floor and turned it into a handball court for a period of time.

The most notable feature though, the piece de resistance, if you will, was the main barn itself. This was where most of the fun-slash-dangerous activities took place and quite frankly, it’s a miracle that no one gave themselves a spinal injury. You see, there is a thing which all farm kids know about called a hay mow. This is basically a giant pile of loose hay, which was how it was stored before they started making it into bales. It functions like the foam pit that acrobats train with, only it’s a bit harder, a bit scratchier and a whole lot dustier.  There was a rope swing that you could use to toss yourself into the mow with, or for the more daring, there was the barn beam challenge. This involved climbing up a hundred year old wooden ladder, inching out onto a 10 inch beam and getting up the courage to jump. For those more daring, you could climb up to the highest beam, one which nearly touched the roof and from which a fall in the wrong direction would certainly bring serious damage.

Then there was the barn roof itself, which I’m pretty sure was off limits, but we climbed it anyway. You could get on the roof on the low side and then, depending on how slippery your shoes were, you could work your way up to the peak and look over the high side, which provided a serious thrill because of the massive drop. If you were slipping, you had to use the steel rivets as purchase, which is not much between you and sliding back down. If you could get up and follow the ridge over to the south peak, there was a valley where all the snow slid off and created a giant pile below. Because it was April, there was usually enough left to and jump into if you had the right technique. The trick was to slide while staying on your feet and not let your pant leg get caught on a rivet on the way down or you were in big trouble.

One year, there was a giant inner tube that someone had pulled out of a tractor tire. There was also a quarter mile long driveway, with a pretty decent slope to it. You see where I’m going with this? I abhorred any kind of spinning activity as a kid, so I only did it like, 3 times. If you made it the whole way, someone would have to stand at the road to stop you from crossing the concession and possibly getting run over by a truck. If you didn’t make it, it was preferable to careen off sideways and crash in the apple orchard as opposed to taking a spill on the gravel driveway.

I don’t exactly remember when those epic birthday parties stopped. Probably around grade 8, when we got too cool for them and wanted to go to parties with girls.  Since then, I’ve been to tons of parties with girls and the funny thing is, I never really did anything at them as cool as swan diving into a hayloft from 10 meters up.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

How to half-ass everything

I wrote a book once. An honest-to- God novel with 175 000 words, complete with all the necessary literary elements such as a plot and all those other fiddly bits that make up every other novel. It was read by exactly 3 people, and while the contents may have been mostly rubbish, I was proud that I stuck with it and finished the damn thing.

How did I do it you ask? A combination of ignorance, narcissism and good old fashioned work. Being blissfully unaware of ones supposed limitations is a big help. Basically I walk around like Mr. Bean, bumbling through things in my own bull headed way. Books are not supposed to be written by guys like me. They are supposed to be written by struggling yet brilliant journalism majors or quirky housewives who sit around all day dreaming up tales of vampire love. On the other hand, if one wakes up thinking, “Hmmm…I think I’ll write a book”, then by all means hop to it young man. The same goes for dry-walling your basement, digging a pond in your backyard or running a ten mile obstacle course at the advanced age of 43. Be like Nike and just do it.

I’m taking the saying “jack of all trades, master of none” to new levels. I've done a lot of things in my day, some of them very badly, while others achieved a solid level of mediocrity. Giving yourself a chance is the key. Most times I go into these things blind, like the time I reformatted my hard drive using very cryptic, hand written instructions from a guy that couldn't really speak English. It didn't end well.

My list of accomplishments reads more like a list of attempts, and that, I think, is a good thing. For example, I play half- assed rhythm guitar in a band. Sometimes I forget the chord progression in the Neil Young song I’m playing and I’ll never learn the solo from Sweet Child of Mine but damn do I have fun on jam night! I’ve written and recorded about 10 songs of which a few might even be fit for public consumption. Are they great songs? No. Am I richer for the experience? Hell yeah, it was amazing. I got to wear the fancy headphones and sing into the microphone with the nylon thingy in front of it that stops your spit from making popping noises. 

How about the time, at age 38, I joined a competitive soccer team after a 25 year hiatus from the game?
“I can run”, I thought. “I've still got my moves from grade six”. 
Perhaps I underestimated the level of play in the league. Most teams were peppered with Europeans who grew breathing soccer the way Canadians do with hockey. Guys with names like Salvatore and Pavel who had footwork moves that could turn you inside out. Fortunately for me, it turns out if you have no skill in men’s over 35 soccer, you can survive on superior cardio and heart. Think Forrest Gump. 

Other questionable yet intrepid things I have done include such undertakings such as re-canvasing a canoe, building a website, starting a blog and wearing skinny jeans. When I learned it was possible to make your own charcoal in a 55 gallon drum, that became my summer project last year. I had one small explosion when gas fumes got into the barrel before I lit the fire, but other than that, it was a smashing success. Once I get going on these things, I have a bit of compulsiveness that takes over – until the next flight of fancy takes my imagination that is. 

There is something very satisfying in trying the unknown whether you achieve success or not. I want to be the guy who brews his own beer and can do a brake job on his car. I am desperate to weld something. Oh…and I’m going to build a wood fired sauna. Don’t fall into the trap of winning and success and all that crap. Wade into the task with a positive attitude and blatant disregard for what you think you can or cannot do. You might make a mess of things and ruin a completely good hard drive, but at the very least you’ll end up with a really good story.

Making charcoal in a barrel....