Thursday, November 11, 2010

Radio Days vol. 3

After a long absence, which I hope made everybody's hearts grow even fonder, it is time to revisit my past once again. I started working at Radio Ung when I was 13 and depended on buses or a very kind father taking me back home, my voice was breaking, my hair was at the beginning stages of a mullet, and I had started looking at my mother's guitar, really wanting to learn how to play it. I was there when they closed their doors in 1990 - at which point I had turned 18, my voice was deeper, I was driving, my hair was long, and I was playing in a band myself - albeit sporadically. Those five years shaped me immensely, and much of that started with the chance encounter that got me involved in Radio Ung.

But enough generalities... As I think I wrote last time, I started working with Jon Inge Lund - and our engineer was Steinar Stjerna for a while, then Geir Gautvik took over. Our information came mainly from magazines like Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, although I have to admit that I did collect quite a few issues of the Swedish music magazine Okej, which seemed to feature Kiss in at least every other issue. I will have to get back to Kiss in a later post, because Kiss happened to be the only band I ever listened to from 1980 to about 1984/85, and I still have a connection to them and their music. However, due to Okej being very Kiss-centered, information about other band started filtering in: WASP, Mötley Crüe, Twisted Sister, Scorpions, and other bands from the more glam-filled scene that at that point was labeled heavy metal (I think the discussion of what was metal then based on todays standards becomes rather ridiculous, as it was hard to imagine too many of these bands getting any airplay on traditional radio stations until Twisted Sister released I Wanna Rock and We're Not Gonna Take It from Stay Hungry - because it was considered metal). Later on, the literature was enhance by me purchasing The International Encyclopedia of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, which was a goldmine for lineups and discographies. It is hard, in the age of Allmusic and Wikipedia, to imagine how hard it was to get information about bands and their music - so the metal radio shows really played an important role in discovering new music and getting information about the bands and artists.

As time went by, Flazz lost Jon Inge to the army (Norway has conscription, so he had one year of military service to do), and when he returned, his involvement was reduced to Balladehjørnet (the ballad corner), which was a segment dedicated to power ballads. In the meantime, Flazz changed name twice - first to Metal Rendez-Vous, named for an album by Swiss band Krokus, then to Madhouse, with the Anthrax classic played in the intro - and it was expanded from 30 minutes to a full hour. There was also an assortment of people coming and going during this period, including both Jan Are Hansen and Geir Saanum. However, Jon Inge finally found his way back, along with Ståle Gundersen, and the three of us were essentially the final lineup of Madhouse, a show that had started up as Flazz five years or so earlier (I have to admit I am sketchy on part of the history before I started - and even during my time there, my memory is like a Swiss cheese).

When the name changed to Madhouse, the character of the show also changed. At that point, our tastes had expanded, so we decided to have a broader approach to our show than just metal - so we became a rock show instead. I have to confess that the main reason for this was to be able to play songs by U2, whom all three of us really loved. This was in the days following The Joshua Tree and leading up to Rattle and Hum - and I still remember the anticipation felt when I went to the movie theater to watch Rattle and Hum. It was an oddity for the late 80s, as the music film for the silver screen was a dying breed at that point. I had seen Hal Ashby's Let's Spend The Night Together about The Rolling Stones, and I caught (This Is) Spinal Tap when it was released (although most of the humor went over my head at that time - but now it is among my favorites). Ståle, Jon Inge, and I had several memorable moments, but I think the one that stands out is when we had an all-night special at the end of 1989, celebrating the decade in rock. I still remember laying out records on the studio floor based on what year they were released, selecting songs from each of them, working our way chronologically from 1980 to 1989.

In addition to Flazz/Metal Rendez-Vous/Madhouse, I was also involved with Bjarne, which was a humor show with long, drawn-out skits about close to nothing. It was always reporters talking about some nonsensical local issues, such as making one of the steepest hills in Trondheim into a skateboarding ramp - or a skit about a reporter at a wine-tasting event, getting more and more drunk, with the names of the wines getting more and more creative - and harder and harder to pronounce.

But in 1990 it was all over. Radio Ung was over and done with. I did follow some of the people from Radio Ung over to NB Radio - NB being Norges Blindeforbund (Norwegian Association for the Blind), doing both Bjarne and a magazine format Sunday night show, mainly focusing on cultural events (and I was doing record reviews). But by the time I graduated high school in 1991, I thought all my radio days were gone for good. NB Radio wasn't as fulfilling as Radio Ung had been - the family feeling was all gone, as we now were the newcomers - and I wasn't doing Madhouse anymore, which had been my home for five years.

Of course... there is some music to be played as well... Here is Anthrax with Madhouse:

My favorite moment from Rattle and Hum has to be Exit - which I think is a criminally overlooked song from The Joshua Tree.

And since I mentioned Spinal Tap, here is one of the many highlights from that movie as well!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Radio Days vol. 2

After my nervous and fumbling introduction to live radio broadcasts, it was time to set up a meeting with The Guy - the one responsible for Flazz (creative spelling of dandruff, which is a known side effect of long hair - which is what the rockers were supposed to have). I was told he would be in the studio taping next week's show the coming Friday, so after school I once again got on the bus and took it up to Flatåsen, which was the name of the suburb where Studio 45 was located.

I remember being nervous, and my jean jacket was replaced with a grey and pastel yellow coat for the occasion - which is significant, as it had pockets that could be zipped up. I entered the control room, where The Guy was going over the plans for the show with his engineer, but something seemed off... There was something with the eyes of the engineer that didn't look quite right, and there was a dog in the studio - with a white harness. It was a seeing eye dog - and the engineer was Steinar Stjerna, who was blind, but really taught me all I needed to know about engineering.

I think this is an aside worth mentioning, because Steinar really taught me to rely upon my ears rather than my eyes when doing any kind of sound engineering. While this may seem self-evident, it is very common to look at the VU meters to try to keep them fairly level throughout a broadcast - but what that does not take into consideration is the dynamics. Someone talking does not have the same fullness or body as a band playing together, and this fullness also translates as higher volume (also, different pitches played at the same volume registers at different volumes by the human ear) - meaning that even though the VU meter may be nice and steady hovering around the same reference point, the subjective experience is that the music is played louder than the people talking. This is what Steinar effectively taught me - it was a "use the force, Luke" moment, when I was able to move away from relying on instruments and rather focus on what I could hear.

Anyway, The Guy turned out to be a high school student, already sporting his trademark mustache (which now is gone). He was 4 years older than me (which would have made him 17 at the time), and we quickly developed a friendship that still is strong. His name was Jon Inge Lund, and after getting the initial information as well as some more information about what music I liked, he pointed to the angular rectangular bulge in my coat pocket and asked what tapes I had brought with me. I pulled out two cassettes I had borrowed from Jan Are, probably that same day, and they were Whitesnake's Love Hunter and Ready an' Willing. Seeing that I had two tapes from one band, he quickly asked if I knew anything about them - we could maybe do a special show on Whitesnake? Unfortunately, I didn't know a whole lot, so the plans for a Whitesnake special was shelved. However, I did join Flazz, and I quickly adapted to the show's special feature: Heavytoppen, which was a hard rock top 10 (or maybe 6, I don't remember the number of songs) where we invited listeners to both nominate songs and vote on them. It was a rather ecletic list, with Mercyful Fate's Night of the Unborn, Accept's Fast as a Shark, and, later on, one of my favorites: Deep Purple's Perfect Strangers.

On that note, I think it is time to finish up this installment of Radio Days. As usual, I will leave you with a little music. For those of you who only know Whitesnake from their late 80s music (Still of the Night, Here I Go Again, Is This Love etc.), it is worth knowing that they started out as a very blues based outfit, right from the ashes of Deep Purple. It has always been David Coverdale's band, and he eventually grabbed first Jon Lord, then Ian Paice from Deep Purple for some of his late 70s and early 80s recordings. One of my favorite Whitesnake songs was on the very first album, but I loved it from their Live... From the Heart of the City album: There Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City.

Then, straight from Heavytoppen, Deep Purple with the title track from their 1985 comeback album, Perfect Strangers:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Yup. I know I want to write more about my radio days - and it is coming regardless of whether you want it or not. However, Ronnie James Dio recently passed away, and I thought it necessary to spend a couple of minutes with this little giant. He was always the size of an Elf, which also happened to be the name of one of his first bands, but he packed a giant voice in that little body of his.

I first encountered Dio very indirectly. It was on a band trip to Stavern, in the southern part of Norway. We stayed at a school, sleeping on the floor in a class room. I believe the school was white, and against this white backdrop, a long-haired guitar player who I believe played the saxophone and a short-haired (read buzz cut) singer (also a sax player, I believe - although I am a little more fuzzy about that) ended up looking like silhouettes. The guitar player was playing a riff that was as powerful as it was simple, and the singer belted out lines that have been with me ever since: "Holy diver, you've been down too long in the midnight sea..."

I was hooked. Instantly. I didn't buy the album right away - as this would have been around the time it was released, but I ended up buying the record in the basement of Playtime, which also set the stage for my second chance encounter with Dio. I wrote about both Playtime and this chance encounter with Dio in an earlier entry. Later I discovered that Dio not only had played with Ritchie Blackmore (in Rainbow), but that he also sang for Black Sabbath on two studio albums and one live album, making him one of three singers who spent time with both Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi, two of hard rock/heavy metal's early guitarists who developed and set the standard for what heavy metal guitars should be all about. The other two are Ian Gillan and Glen Hughes, who both spent time in Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Dio immediately made his mark on Black Sabbath as well, as is evidenced by the song Heaven and Hell from 1980:

When Ronnie James Dio died after a fight with stomach cancer on May 16, he finally lost the fight against the dragon. This image has been recurring in many of his songs and albums - heavily inspired by fantasy and wizardry long before Harry Potter made it fashionable. I remember trying to decode the lyrics to The Last in Line, and I could not understand what he meant by "we're off to the witch, we may never, never, never come home but the magic that we'll feel is worth a lifetime." 25 years later and far more proficient in English, it makes more sense, although I sometimes do believe he lost meaning in the imagery in his songs.

I never met him. I never even saw him in real life. But I still feel his loss. A great voice is silenced, but his music will live on.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Radio Days vol. 1

I miss radio. After discovering NPR, I can say that I don't miss the listening part, as I do my fair share every day: Michigan Radio is my travel companion for both my morning and afternoon commute. But I miss being a part of a team creating the broadcasts. I think I spent about 8 years working with weekly broadcasts (sometimes more often). Most of it as the host/DJ of various music shows, predominantly focusing on the heavier sides of rock; however, I also spent quite some time as an engineer, making sure the programs sounded the way they should - and I enjoyed that as much as anything.

My radio career (as much as you can call volunteering a career) began the summer of 1985 through a series of rather unbelievable coincidences. I was 13 years old, and one day I found myself home alone (I believe my parents and sister had left to visit my grandmother). Being home alone and bored, I picked up the phone and called a party line, which was pretty new at this point - and, I believe it still was free. After the normal series of hellos, I ended up talking to two girls (which, of course was what I wanted to do anyway). We hit it off fairly well, and I ended up agreeing to travel across town to hang out for a while. I met up with them, and we ended up just talking, sitting down at some benches in their neighborhood. I did not know the first part of the unbelievable coincidences at the time, but one of the girls I was talking to was the daughter of my best friend Arve's mother's partner. In other words, she was his step-sister, but since she lived with her mother, I had never met her, nor did I know she existed.

Anyway, we were sitting outside, just hanging out and talking as a couple of guys walk by. They knew the girls and started talking to us. One of them, Chip Peters was his name (by no means a Norwegian name - but then again, he had at least one parent who was either English or American), noticed the patches and buttons on my jeans and jean jacket (at least a Dio patch, probably a Rainbow patch, and a couple of Kiss buttons - it was my standard fare at that time) and decided he would quiz me about music. I was able to answer all of his questions but one (what motorcycle does Rob Halford of Judas Priest ride on stage?), which must have impressed him. He told me that he had just started working for Radio Ung (ung=young), which was one of many brand new radio station in Trondheim that had started up as a result of an opening of airwaves to other actors than the nationally owned NRK, and then he proceeded to ask me if I wanted to start working there as well - because they had a rock show that I might be able to work for. I said, "sure," and we agreed to meet later that week so that I could meet the managing editor to see if this actually could happen.

I still remember my first meeting. Once again I took the bus to the other side of town, and I met Chip as planned. When we walked over to the studio, I was very surprised to see that it was in the basement of a large apartment building, which again was a part of a complex of apartment buildings - similar, yet more upscale, to the American projects. Studio 45 was located in Øvre Flatåsvei 45, it was owned by Trondheim Kommune (municipality). In the daytime, they ran job training/sysselsetting (essentially giving the unemployed something to do) programs, but in the late afternoon and evening, the two radio studios that made up Lydverkstedet (the sound workshop) were used by volunteer organizations who started their own radio stations - and that is where Radio Ung fit into the patchwork of activities taking place in a very small space.

So I enter the studio. Immediately to my left, there is a large office with windows all around it, which is the only way natural light enters the premises. To my right, we have Lille Studio (the little studio), lockers, then Store Studio (the big studio). Finally, behind the office on the left hand side, there is a common area, and that is where Jørund Hølaas, managing editor, meets and greets me. Whether he actually sized me up or not, I am not sure, but I remember it as him taking a close look at me, then asking me a couple of questions before saying, "OK, come in the studio with me, we have to run an outro right away." I started trembling. I was only expecting to find out whether or not I would be starting - not to actually get on the air. But I did it. I joined him in the studio - I said my one line (which I wish I could remember) as a part of the closing of the broadcast of the program "Give Peace a Chance," and then it was all over. The show was done, and my first time in front of a microphone was over with. It happened so fast that I didn't get the chance to get really nervous. I was then told that I should come to the studio again that Friday to meet the host of Flazz, which was the hard rock show I was going to join. But for now, here is John Lennon singing the song that named the radio program I first was associated with: Give Peace a Chance.

Also - since it still grinds me that I got this question wrong, here is Rob Halford entering the stage on his motorcycle. The song is Hell Bent for Leather:

And, finally, since a Dio patch probably was to blame for my radio entrance, and since he, according to everything I have ever read, is the nicest guy in metal (and please don't argue about him being metal or not), here is Dio with Egypt (The Chains Ar On), which is one of my personal favorite Dio tracks...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Record Store Day Part IV - Vertigo

Ok - so I know that I am skipping a big chunk of my life, but so be it. I am going to move ahead from the record stores of my teenage years into my current favorite hangout - Vertigo in Grand Rapids. After all, this is all about Record Store Day, which is this coming Saturday (April 17), and anyone who is able to do so should go to Vertigo (on 129 Division Ave. in Grand Rapids) or to their local record store to show support. Herm has invited bands to play, so it will be a great day for music lovers to stop by - and there is exclusive new music released in the independent music stores that day: Sonic Youth release their Hits Are For Squares on LP, Soundgarden are reprinting their vinyl Hunted Down single, new music from Elvis Costello, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, Them Crooked Vultures, Queens of the Stone Age and much, much more...

This store has had me trawling both the used CD bins and the regular price bins for hours, just savoring the opportunity to actually physically look through collections of CDs that are out of the mainstream. They have the mainstream music as well, of course, but I believe it can be hard to compete with the easy access at the bigger chains, both when it comes to supercenters and big box electronics retail (I refuse to name names - I only namedrop Vertigo these days). Moreover, if I start really feeling the urge, I can browse through the many vinyl bins they also have - which indeed is a treat for me! I have not done it yet, but the similarities with both Playtime and Rockin' are many - so this is truly an oasis for me.

Even more than that, the prices are reasonable. Actually, they are more than reasonable, they are excellent! Both the hybrid monsters that call themselves record stores and are found in malls and the bookstores that also sell music tend to overprice every single CD - with prices closing in on $20 - but Vertigo sells full price CDs for around $15 for the most part - and often for even less (usually not much more than all the big boxes or the supermarkets who also push prices down). So what has happened is that I, even if I could save about a dollar on some of the CDs if I bought them elsewhere, return to Vertigo. I'd say that I stop by about once a week - at least - although I don't buy everytime I am there. And therein lies the answer - the reason that I still would buy a CD there if it got even a little more expensive. I actually interact with people making it a holistic music shopping experience again. And Herm, John, and the rest of the employees truly make it a great experience.

Isis - 20 Minutes/40 Years from Wavering Radiant

Now, let me try to explain what I am talking about. Last summer, Knut Hervik, a high school friend from Norway, suggested that I check out Isis and Kylesa. After purchasing Isis' spectacular album Wavering Radiant, I decided that I needed to listen to more of their albums. They had most in stock - but not all of them. However, after a brief chat with Herm, they were ordered, and not too much later they were in stock. Then, of course, John picked up on what I was listening to, and he suggested that I check out some of the other bands either on HydraHead Records or featuring members of Isis (Aaron Turner of Isis is also head of HydraHead Records). That lead me to both Jodis and Khanate, which both play painfully slow doom metal with vocals that truly convey agony and pain - and maybe a little angst. While this was intriguing and interesting, I was also led in the direction of the more ambient soundscapes of Isis taken to new highs - with bands and projects like Windmills By The Ocean and Red Sparowes (their latest, The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer is spectacular). This in turn led me to the more post rock/post metal bands of Pelican and Russian Circles - and then Herm suggested Explosions in the Sky. Then I started finding out what Brian Cook, the bass player for Russian Circles, had been up to before, which led me to more hardcore bands like These Arms Are Snakes and a band I have written about earlier: Botch.

So what is the point about all this? I mean, what I have done is namedrop a bunch of out-of-the-mainstream bands. The point is that my musical taste is developing again - big time. Through the relationship I have with Herm, John, and the rest of the staff at Vertigo, I have been able to discover music I otherwise would not have had any idea existed. I might eventually have heard of them, but this way I am somewhat engaging in dialog about music again - with people who care as much about music as I do. I really love having found a real record store again, one run by people who actually care about music and who strive to offer the kinds of music radio and TV seems to forget. Because of this, I don't buy music elsewhere anymore - at least not often. If Herm doesn't have it, he will get it. It might take a while - but it always ends up in his store. And - as the name of the store suggests - Herm is a Hitchcock fan. How can you go wrong with that?

Red Sparowes - Giving Birth to Imagined Saviors (from The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer)

Red Sparowes - Alone and Unaware, The Landscape Was Transformed In Front Of Our Eyes - live at The Knitting Factory, 2006

Red Sparowes - sampler from The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer

Friday, April 02, 2010

Record Store Day part III - Rockin'

I am still getting ready for Record Store Day on April 17 - and the next record store that was very important for me was...

I think I first met Åge, who was the person who started Rockin' at Playtime. If I remember things correctly, he was one of the people running the main floor who actually let me in after they closed on a Friday afternoon so that I could pick up Manowar's newly released Fighting the World in time for our weekly radio show, which I believe might have been called Metal Rendez-Vous at that point (it was originally called Flazz, which is the Norwegian word for dandruff but with more evil spelling than the two S's that should be at the end, then it changed to Metal Rendez-Vous after the Krokus album before it sailed into the sunset as Madhouse after the Anthrax song). the interesting thing about Manowar is that I also decided that it would be nice to have a phone interview with one of their members, so I called up the international phone directory in Norway and wondered if they had a phone number for Joey deMaio. I knew what city he lived in, I believe it was somewhere in New England, and I was ecstatic when the lady on the other end of the line actually gave me his phone number.

I should add at this point that I started working in a local radio station when I was 13, so I would not have been much older than 13 or 14 when I tried this. Anyway, I was very mindful of the time difference, so one day at what I thought was the perfect time, I picked up my parents' old gray rotary phone and dialled what seemed like an endless string of numbers. The phone rang on the other line, with a different sound than I was used to. I was excited beyond words - and then... Someone picked up the phone. The voice on the other end said "Hello?" but it was not the voice I was expecting - rather it was the voice of a woman, and if I were to guess her age, I would guess at least the 50s. I stuttered out that I was calling from Norway - and this was at the time that I was speaking with the much more proper British accent than the American accent I currently mimic as much as I can - and wondered if I could talk to Joey deMaio to see if I could interview him for my local radio station. The lady was very nice in explaining to me that he was at work but that he would be home shortly. However, she was wondering why someone would want to interview her husband? My alarm bells went off and I almost panicked - but I managed to let her know that I wanted to talk about his music. At that point, she was catching on to what was going on, and she said that her husband was not the one in the band. Mortified I apologized for the inconvenience and hung up, trembling both because of my very naive assumption that there only would be one Joey deMaio and because I would have to explain the increased phone bill to my parents without triumphantly talking about the interview I was going to land...

Anyway, Rockin' was established as a record store towards the end of the 1980s when Åge opened a store in Prinsens Gate in Trondheim. It wasn't very big, but it had everything you could ask for in classic rock, hard rock, and the various genres of heavy metal (and please remember that the definition of the different genres has evolved a lot since then). Since my show, which I think by then had been renamed Madhouse, needed new music and the record companies didn't regard my station as important enough to get us very many promos, I needed a way to get new music to play on the radio. We were commercial-free, but we entered into a gentleman's agreement with Åge and Rockin' that we would let our listeners know where we got our records if he would let us borrow an album or two every week. It was absolutely fantastic. I got to listen to so many new artists that way that I wouldn't have found otherwise - and two of the bands I really remember discovering this way were Extreme - whose first album is a brilliant rocker in the Van Halen tradition - and Faith No More, whose The Real Thing album changed the way I looked at music forever. While I'll get back to Faith No More, Extreme warrants a brief interlude with Mutha (Don't wanna go to school today)

Rockin' ended up moving into the back room of a record store chain - Hysj Hysj - on Nordre Gate, and they were still keeping metal alive in Trondheim in the 90s, but my main relationship with the store was when they were in Prinsens Gate. Åge was one of the great guys - I believe he had a deep love for Deep Purple, but he also kept up with the newer music. I always felt welcome in his store as well, and I used to stop by just to look around quite frequently long after my radio show ended in 1990. Rockin' was always a more dingy store, with the smell of old cigarette smoke permeating the room unless it was covered by Åge lighting up a new one.

As I said, Faith No More's The Real Thing really changed the way I looked at music. It is a genre-hopping masterpiece that made me start looking for music that challenged me, music that defied conventions. I have followed Patton's career ever since 1990, and I got to see Mr. Bungle on their Disco Volante tour back in 1996, I believe. FNM toured Europe last year, and I have seen clips from their spectacular performances - I hope I get the chance to see them myself. If not - here is Epic, from The Real Thing. I know it is the single and that everybody knows it, but I simply fail to tire of this song! The first version is live from Brixton Academy, 1990, while they still were able to deal with Big Jim Martin on guitar:

The second version is from their reunion tour last year from the Lowlands festival. Mike Bordin on drums looks exactly the same still - although maybe a little grayer dreads...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Record Store Day Part II - Mail Music

Record Store Day preview continued

Mail Music
Reidar Karlsen was a man who saw the need for a catalog based record store that wasn't limited to Trondheim. He had a solid background for starting a mail-order record store, because if memory serves me right, he used to be a mailman for the Norwegian Postal Service. He was also the neighbor of one of my closest friends, Jon Inge, so as soon as he opened Mail Music, my wallet was in severe trouble. The main office was a room in his apartment, and while his predominant market was mail order, he also used this as his showroom and store. My big downfall was that his apartment was only blocks away from Rosenborg Ungdomsskole, which is where I went to middle school. I spent many a recess in his store, talking about music and sometimes convincing him to take in new music I knew was on the way in.

In 8th grade, my friend Arve and I were very involved in writing and publishing a newspaper for our class. There were about 30 in the class, and we charged a modest sum for the paper, which was published biweekly. The money was spent on letraset and other supplies we needed, as everything was typed on one electric and one manual typewriter, headlines were tediously assembled from letraset, and any pictures were held in place with a little bit of glue, since the people supplying the pictures usually would want them back after they had been printed. Arve's dad had a xerox copier, I don't know how he got it or why he had it, but that was our printing station, and that enabled us to have a lot of fun. In addition to regular supplies, we also bought prizes for weekly music quizzes, supplied by yours truly - and this is where Mail Music comes into play.

For at least a quiz or two, the prize was a good old-fashioned single (the 45 RPM kind) of the winner's choice from Mail Music. This got expensive, so at one point we decided to buy singles from the sales bin to use as prizes. I believed we bought 3 copies of Danish singing sensation Nanna's single Buster, which also was from a TV series. I have to admit it is a crappy song - and an even crappier prize, but what made this a seriously bad decision on our behalf was that the first winner with the new prize was the one person in class who was picked on the most - Trond. I have to admit that I would like this order of events to be correct, but I am not positive that is the case. The truth is that if we indeed decided to do this to pick on Trond, I must have told myself the official story so many times that I actually believe it. So where that leaves me today is slightly confused and somewhat embarrassed - if for no other reason than the fact that no-one deserves to be punished for winning a quiz, which receiving the Nanna single really was.

However, Mail Music was much more than this. It was a place to hang out - and it was a place to find the Maxi single of Alice Cooper's He's Back. It was where I bought Master of Puppets as soon as it was released - and thus got hooked on Metallica. It was also a place I literally ran to on one occasion. I lived a good two miles away from my middle school and Mail Music - and it was up a hill and then down a much longer hill to get there. I was anxiously awaiting Iron Maiden's double live album Live After Death, and it had not arrived during the school day. When I came home, I called him up again, and yes, Live After Death was there - but it was almost time to close. So I ran. Granted, this was when I was far more fit than I currently am - and there was also a lot less of me to cart around - but it was still a workout. I got there in time, bought the album, and when I came home, I called my good friend Jan Are, to see if he wanted to come over for the first listen. I remember both of us being mesmerized as Churchill's Speech started the album and segued into Aces High - after all, Iron Maiden was the reason we were friends.

Jan Are wore an Iron Maiden shirt with the Powerslave design - and his nickname was Power because of this. If I recall things right, our friendship started with him asking me if I liked Heavy Metal. I said I did - and he said he did. He then asked if I had any good albums - and all I could remember was my dad's Deep Purple album Made in Europe. He asked me if he could borrow that album if he let me borrow Iron Maiden's Powerslave - we both agreed, and we were friends. Things were so much simpler in 6th grade. So here - in memory of Mail Music and as a tribute to the one and only Jan Are "Power" Hansen - is Iron Maiden with Powerslave from Live After Death.

And just so there is no doubt as to how evil we were in selecting the Nanna single - here is Buster

Record Store Day Part I - Playtime

April 17 is Record Store Day, so I thought to myself, what better excuse to talk a little about the record stores that have played such a huge part of my formative years...

The first record store I ever visited was Playtime. It was in an old wooden building downtown Trondheim that now houses the pub Three Lions. It pains me to see this former temple of vinyl turned into a house of worship for the anglofiles, but there really hasn't been a decent store there since they closed their doors in the late 80s or thereabout. When you entered the store, they had bins upon bins of vinyl - and they had the mandatory tape racks as well. This was where they kept all the new stuff - the things they still could charge full price for. When I started shopping there, I think the price was around NOK 70 per record or tape, but before too long, the price was around NOK 100, which is the price I remember paying most of the time - as long as the music was new.

While the main floor was nice and had all the important new releases - especially from the hair bands of the 80s, the basement was the holy grail. Nice Price albums were the main feature of the basement - they were older releases not selling that well anymore and discounted to NOK 49.50. Some were of more foreign origin. I still remember Mexican pressings of Kiss' Love Gun and Rock and Roll Over - and the Black Sabbath box set Hand of Doom, which I also believe could have been of Mexican origin, featuring the first four Black Sabbath albums on flimsy vinyl and without any of the original artwork.

Playtime was also where I purchased most of the presents I ever gave to people. My good friend Arve received many an old ZZ Top tape purchased in this basement - often even cheaper than the NOK 49.50. I think I got him most of the pre-Eliminator releases - and then I made good use of them myself. Copying records and albums to tapes was a very common occurrence, and I think my parents' basement still holds a huge box of tapes I made throughout my adolescence.

I also discovered new music there. I kinda liked what Phil Lynnott had done with Gary Moore (Out in the Fields was a huge hit for the two of them), so I thought I should pick up a Thin Lizzy album. I ended up with Live Life from 1983, which I thoroughly enjoyed, although it was not being recognized as one of their best. I also picked up a cassette once that set my tastes off towards the more progressive music. I had friends who really liked Deep Purple, and it was in the Playtime basement I realized that Ritchie Blackmore had formed another band after leaving Deep Purple: Rainbow. I ended up buying a tape that had a cool cover - the image of a hand coming from a stormy sea and grasping a rainbow. It was called Rainbow Rising. I did not know that the singer was the Holy Diver himself, Mr. Ronnie James Dio, so I was very surprised when I read the cover to find out who played in the band. While I liked the entire tape, the goosebumps appeared when I heard the final track: Stargazer. It still gives me the chills. And for that - and as a tribute to Playtime, which truly was the treasure chest of my youth - here is the original version as recorded by Rainbow in 1976 - and as a nice bonus, a version by Dream Theater from 2009 - eerily close to the original.

Dream Theater - from Black Clouds and Silver Linings:

Friday, March 26, 2010

O Fortuna

When I was 19 years old, Oliver Stones' movie glorifying and mythologizing Jim Morrison was released. I was mesmerized by the movie and by the music - and believe me, I will get back to writing about The Doors again later, no matter how sporadic my entries appear to be - but the movie also introduced me to the music of Carl Orff - specifically O Fortuna from Carmina Burana. The music is powerful, and its usage evoked a similar effect to Kubrick's use of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in 2001: A Space Odyssey - at least to me.

Anyway, The Doors also marks a personal low for me, in that it represents the only time I have left the movie theater before the movie was over - I usually sit through most of the credits if I still can see them (i.e. if people are not blocking the view). I think this is related to the reason I cannot stop buying CDs and go completely digital - I still need those booklets. As an aside, I have to ask what's going on with the DVD booklets that now are virtually non-existent. I guess that people are so used to getting information online that they don't read the inserts anymore... In my defense, when I left the movie before it was over, I was seeing it for the second time (I know, long interjections do disrupt the flow - but I couldn't help myself). Furthermore, it happened during my time as 'russ,' which essentially is a high school senior about to graduate during the week leading up to our national holiday, which is May 17. My friends, who had smuggled beer, or maybe it was moonshine, into the theater, were getting more and more drunk throughout the movie (and I was being my sober self, unfortunately - it means I can still remember this), and one of them just didn't care for the fat, drunken junkie version of Jim Morrison at the end, so he insisted we should leave - and I was actually happy to oblige.

While I am tempted to write more about the time as russ, I think I should get back to the reason I started this little rant, and that was O Fortuna. I recently purchased the CD Unifying Themes Redux by the band Botch, and it had a version of O Fortuna on it that was done just right... Their style is labeled as Mathcore, although I am not sure what that really means. I like the unbridled aggression in every aspect of their music, combined with some very intense freak-out moments, and although it isn't their song, their arrangement of O Fortuna certainly represents this. I got into Botch after discovering Brian Cook in Russian Circles. He is a very interesting bass player, and his chops lay the framework for their very interesting arrangement. He also played in These Arms Are Snakes - and a handful of other bands. I think I need to get back to him a little later - but in the meantime, please enjoy - and play it LOUD!