Yakima’s little secret

funny, recording, Yakima No Comments »

Back in the day, I used to be very clever with the outgoing messages on my answering machine.  It was the kind with the two micro-cassettes in it, and the sound quality was great.  That may sound like a ridiculous or trivial detail to mention in the context of an answering machine, but it was the only one I ever had in which you could have background music, or sound effects, or whatever you wanted.  The other advantage of the tapes is that you could create messages that were huge in length; only limited by the length of the tape. I used to hold the machine up next to the speaker of my stereo and play sound effects or music behind things I would say.  Sometimes they were long, rambling messages, but other times they were miniscule, nonsensical ones, like, “I’m going to play a guitar solo for you now,” followed by five seconds of a blazing, 80’s metal scale.  One of my favorites was simply me saying, “Hello?” and then I left a long pause, followed by the beep.  People would invariably start talking, only to have the beep interrupt them, which would completely derail their trains of thought.  Friends would sometimes call my number when they knew I was at work, just to hear what I’d put on the machine that week.

The various roommates I had back then not only didn’t mind the weird outgoing messages, they actively encouraged them, and occasionally participated themselves.  The all-time best one, which I kept up for quite a while, was one that my friend and I directly quoted from a phone-sex line.  We used to dial random things like 1-800-SEX-4-YOU, or any combination we could think of, and one of the ones we stumbled upon had a hilariously detailed introduction, which we promptly wrote down and adapted, almost verbatim, into our own message.  I’ll transcribe it like a script, since that’s how it’ll make the most sense.

ME [reading in a low, seductive voice]:  Thank you for calling Yakima’s Little Secret.  Straight men and women, press ‘1.’

ROOMMATE [in an even lower, more seductive voice]:  Gay men and women, press ‘2.’  For the man-to-man Cruise Line, press ‘3.’  For the Tool Line (and he put a funny emphasis on the word ‘tool’), press ‘4.’

ME:  Please have your credit card information handy, and thank you again for calling Yakima’s Little Secret.

BEEP.

Coincidentally enough, less than a week after we had created this message, ClassicRockRadioStation’s morning show announced a contest for the best outgoing answering machine messages, the best of which would be played on the air.  I worked nights at the time, so I never listened to the show, which meant that I woke up to find a bunch of messages, starting with one from a friend.  “Dude!  [RadioStation] is doing an answering machine message contest, so I called in your number for the show.  You’re totally gonna win.  See ya!”

The next couple of messages were blank, followed by laughter, which meant that the station had called, listened, and hung up.  The final message was, “This is Scott and Dave from RadioStationMorningShow, and your message has been selected as our favorite, so you can expect to hear it on the air.  Congratulations!”

Naturally, I had slept through all of the hoopla, since I don’t like mornings and I REALLY don’t like those cloying morning radio shows, but a few friends heard it, and the show’s hosts played it a number of times on the air.  “How about that Tool Line, Dave?  I think I want to call it.”  “Yakima’s Little Secret, indeed.”  That evening, when I arrived to work at CrazyVideoStore, a bunch of people told me that they’d heard it too.

For the record, my dad hated every single one of those messages.  Each of his calls would start with a variation on the theme of, “Do I have the right number?  I don’t even know, because there’s no name or anything, and I guess I’ll have to hope that this is correct.  Anyway, if it IS correct, please blahblahwhateverblahblah.”

After a number of years of faithful service, that answering machine finally gave up the ghost.  The digital ones that replaced it limited you to something like ten or fifteen seconds’ worth of a message, which was too short a time to really hit my stride.  I felt that I’d lost a tiny but important creative outlet.

The other factor in the death of the weird messages was the natural human process of aging.  After many years of creating strange or funny messages, it got to be hard to keep improving on the art form.  I’d always try to one-up myself, without repeating, and it’s more difficult than you might think.  Also, that kind of stuff is funny when you’re nineteen, but by the time you get to be twenty-four or twenty-five, it becomes a bit juvenile, and you look for more productive outlets for your creativity.  At some point it’s an issue of Trying To Be Clever, rather than simple fun, and the charm of doing it wears off.

These days, my message is totally generic and lame.  In fact, I don’t even remember what it says, because I never hear it.  I do realize, of course, that I could punch it up on EyePhone and listen, but I’m content to keep that little mystery unsolved.  Incidentally, I’m still friends with the person who made Yakima’s Little Secret with me, and we have plenty of fun leaving each other funny voice mails, instead of worrying about what our outgoing messages are.

I do occasionally toy with the idea of making weird messages again.  Technology has come so far, with ringtones and all that, I could easily turn my boring message into a big production, but what would that accomplish?  Hardly anybody uses a phone as a phone anymore.  I use mine as more of a miniature laptop computer than as a phone.  Everybody texts and Skypes, and e-mails, or (dare I even say it) hangs out in person.

So chalk this up to a funny memory of antiquated technology, I guess, and how for some things, there’s just no substitute for tapes.  I wish I’d kept the tapes, at least.  One of them got eaten (which was always a problem with tapes, micro- or otherwise), but the other one would have been a nice souvenir to have from that time.  I have a couple others floating around, including the one that my friend made by smuggling his micro-cassette recorder down his pants to get it into the Paul McCartney concert (in 1990, at the Kingdome in Seattle, on Paul’s first ‘comeback’ tour since his days in Wings), but all you can hear on the tape is me singing along.  You can hardly hear Paul at all.  That would be a pointless funny thing to try and record onto my computer someday when I have absolutely nothing better to do.

Thank you for reading all of this, and thank you for calling Yakima’s Little Secret.  Vive le micro-cassette!

 

Vinnie Vincent, part two

blogging, funny, music, pictures, sad, true 1 Comment »

When I left you hanging at the edge of the cliff with Vinnie’s story, I didn’t realize that it would take A MONTH AND A HALF to get back to the story. Huge apologies for that.

When we left off, Vinnie had disbanded his Invasion band (truth be told, the singer and bassist quit and formed the band Slaughter, which was much more successful, and still exists today), and the so-called ‘grunge’ of Seattle made 80’s metal obsolete. The guys from Kiss are pretty tight-lipped about their dealings with Vinnie, but Gene Simmons famously called him “the most self-destructive person I’ve ever met.” Vinnie also apparently reneged on contracts with Kiss, or failed to sign them completely, and even ended up suing the band—twice!—for songwriting royalties he felt he was owed. Apparently the courts didn’t agree, since he lost both of the lawsuits.

In the late 80’s, he also dabbled in songwriting for other people, including—somewhat surprisingly—The Bangles.

Color me surprised, then, when in 1992, Vinnie got called to write songs with Kiss again for their Revenge record. Most people didn’t see that one coming, but apparently he swore up and down to Gene and Paul that he was sorry for all the shenanigans he’d pulled, and that he wanted to make a fresh start with the group. They agreed, but it soon became obvious that Vinnie was still Vinnie, and that it wasn’t going to work out.

Vinnie has spent the intervening years as a recluse, turning up at occasional Kiss conventions, and even awkwardly sitting in with a tribute band in Sweden called Kiss This. Watching Vinnie fake his way through these songs is hilarious and priceless, since he clearly doesn’t know them. The guitar solos you hear in the video aren’t played by Vinnie, they’re played by the band’s usual guitarist. I suspect that Vinnie’s guitar isn’t even plugged in. See what you think.

These days, Vinnie seems to have become obsessed with embellishing his reputation. In 2011, he was offering an online chat session on his web site for the admission price of five hundred dollars. He sells his own brand of V-shaped guitars for the astronomical price of nine thousand dollars, unless you want the gold-plated one, which boosts the price to well over twelve thousand dollars. Good luck with that, Vinnie. And his questionable reputation still lives on. The guy who wrote the following piece (in 2011!) is a guitar maker who used to do some work for Vinnie, and who also currently sells his own V-shaped guitars.

“In my past experiences with Vinnie I am aware of certain issues that will likely trainwreck this instrument. If you want details contact the Jackson Custom Shop, they will tell you why they discontinued the original model. In the case of many multitalented individuals there are certain eccentricities that cause them to become their own worst enemies. I am and always will be a fan of Vinnie’s work but working with Vinnie was very unproductive for us.”

Six months before the online chat thing happened, however, he had a bit of a kerfuffle with his wife, allegedly punching her in the face and dragging her through broken glass, before she drove herself to the police station in Nashville, where the couple live today. Also, the police found a bunch of dead dogs, who had apparently been killed by their ‘aggressive’ dog, on their property. Here’s the news story from the incident.

The picture I posted at the end of my previous blog entry was his mug shot from that night.

It would be unacceptable not to let Vinnie speak for himself, regarding all the things I’ve posted here so far. I came across this rebuttal on another web site:

There is much to say to all of you but the most important thing for me to let you know is that what you have been reading is not true. Irresponsible reporting and fabrication of events that never happened destroys people’s lives, and that is exactly what has happened.

It’s very unfortunate we live in times where you’re guilty even if you’re innocent, but it’s the way of the world now. It’s also sad to me that not only do the media get away with publishing unsubstantiated sensationalized reports that are then taken as ‘the truth’, but people now routinely hide behind their computers and usernames to intentionally inflict enormous damage without consequence, all for their own amusement. What they don’t know is the pain they cause will always be greater than their fabrication or exaggeration.

About my precious dogs: My dogs and cat have been, are, and will always be the most important thing in my whole life. I love them more than my words can say. I look at dogs and cats as ‘perfect little people’ with loving and unconditional hearts that I believe God gifted to us to help comfort us through our lives, which always seems to be filled with pain in one way or another.

I have 20 dogs that were rescued since 1999 from unspeakable and horrible abuse. I never turned my back or said no if a dog or cat needed a loving home. Each one of them is spoiled rotten; great food, love, comfort, care and shelter. They never leave my side and sit with me when I watch videos or when I play my guitar, the sound of which seems to fascinate them.

Out of my twenty dogs, half of them are big dogs and the others are small. Fencing was put up to separate the big dogs from the little ones who could roam without any problem. One day, without my knowing, some of the big dogs accidentally got loose somehow and killed three of my babies. When I found out, it was too late. I was shattered and just too devastated for words. I still am and always will be. I will never get over it and I will always live with a pain greater than that of anything I had ever known or ever will know. I wrapped them each in blankets and laid them to rest in ‘caskets’ where I made a cross and wrote the words to ‘Danny Boy’ on their casket.

The weather had been pretty bad here for awhile and an excavator was planned to come the property to dig up the ground so I could give them a proper burial when this terrible thing happened.

I only hope someday we’ll be together and I can watch them once again run in the meadows under the deep blue skies.

As for the despicable reports regarding my beloved dogs, those who know me know I would never harm any animal as they are God’s most beautiful and innocent of creations. I’m a vegetarian because of my respect for all animals.

For those of you who wrongfully accused and judged me based on these ‘stories, I understand because I would feel the same way if it was the truth. But it’s not the truth. So, to all who perpetuated these cruel and vicious lies, may the truth bring you to your senses so you can stop these terrible and unfounded accusations.

About the domestic situation: As you must know, this is a private matter that I cannot comment on at this time. Please don’t believe everything you read. I would never hurt anyone – ever. What has been reported is an absolutely inaccurate depiction of the events that occurred that evening. When it’s time, the truth will be known.

In all, God gave me a silver lining to this terrible time by putting a long-lost family back together through this tragedy and for that, it was worth what I am going through. Unfortunately, this ‘incident’ caused my loved ones, who suffered through another emotionally devastating experience, to suffer a new burden they didn’t need to bear. As much as they are hurting for me and from this, they’re still there for me. I am a lucky person.

I’m an immensely private person and these events have caused me great pain and emotional anguish.

I am requesting that you respect my privacy and that of my family during this difficult time and not engage in harmful useless gossip posted on blogs and forums.

My music: It has been my greatest desire to put out my new music, including remixed/remastered tracks that I am very proud of which many of you seem to enjoy, but I have experienced setbacks that hindered and delayed my plans. I am hoping to work through it all and get back on track. I would appreciate it if you could please bear with me.

About the Vinnie Vincent model guitar: My website is in the process of being constructed. Keep watching YouTube for the link to the site and for the video catalog. The Vinnie website will be a fun place to visit with everything Vinnie Vincent: music, photos, and the Vinnie Vincent guitar in all its glory.

After all this research and writing, I have to admit that feel bad for Vinnie. His rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags story is a fairly tragic one, and I would hate to see him become just another rock and roll casualty, but I fear the worst. I learned to play guitar to many of the songs that he wrote, and his guitar playing is part of my musical DNA. I have both of his albums, and I still listen to them much more often than you might think I would. My intention with this two-part story was to provide a sort of tribute to Vinnie, but his story, compelling though it may be, is a troubling one. It seems to me that his woes are self-inflicted. He’s made some bad decisions, and burned some bridges that he shouldn’t have burned. That being said, I’m still a fan of his, somewhere deep down in my heart of hearts, but I’m also an adult and a professional musician in my own right—on a much smaller scale, admittedly—who’s had to deal with the slings and arrows of not-so-outrageous fortune in my own ways.

If these stories have compelled you to explore Vinnie’s musical career further, I recommend that you check out his iTunes page, as well as the Kiss albums Creatures of the Night (my personal favorite) and Lick It Up. And, as always, thank you for reading all of this.

We now return you to BFS&T’s regularly scheduled programming (whatever that is!), already in progress.

Vinnie Vincent, part one

funny, music, pictures, sad, true, Yakima 2 Comments »

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time around this blog, you know that occasionally I get too busy to write, but then I rebound with a huge entry, often about either musicology or childhood.  This entry manages to include both, which means—naturally—that it will be a very long entry.  Don’t let that deter you, though; you also know by now that I would never steer you wrong or share things with you that I didn’t think were important or interesting enough to share.

I recently started reading Chuck Klosterman’s book Fargo Rock City, about heavy metal from the 1980’s, to which time has not been kind. He takes the position that while it may look a little strange from the outside, particularly with almost thirty years of hindsight, those who loved that music—including Chuck and myself—feel that it did a lot for us back then, but that it hasn’t received the respect that it deserves. The book is also autobiographical, about a disaffected kid growing up in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, who connected deeply with a style of music that offered glimpses of a strange new world and a completely different lifestyle. I can definitely relate.

Klosterman’s obsessive knowledge of the bands has made me nostalgic for that music, and I’ve gone back recently and reconnected with some of the stuff I used to love. My personal favorites were Kiss, Dokken, Ratt, Triumph, Dio, and Ozzy Osbourne. I should admit that some of them have held up better over time than others have. The first cassette I bought was Shout at the Devil by Mötley Crüe (umlauts intentional) in 1983, and the last was All Systems Go by Vinnie Vincent in 1989. Much has been written about Mötley Crüe, but precious little has been written about Vinnie Vincent, whose story is extremely interesting, even if (and possibly especially if) you know absolutely nothing about either him or heavy metal.

Vinnie became an instant celebrity when he replaced Kiss’s original and longtime lead guitarist, but I think a little bit of context is in order. Kiss was in trouble in 1982. They had sold millions of records throughout the 1970’s, but times—as well as musical tastes—were changing. Kiss had also jumped the shark with a couple of strange (pronounced “crappy”) albums in a row; a disco one and their famous flop Music From “The Elder,” which is a bizarre cross between Pete Townshend, David Bowie, and a Broadway musical. It was seriously weird, and their fans didn’t know what to do with it, but they DID know not to buy it.  The band needed to find their way back, and in doing so, a couple of painful changes were necessary.

The original drummer, Peter Criss, was the first to go. He had been suffering from the excesses of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle for quite some time, and was injured in a car crash which left him out of commission for a while. The band had to postpone or cancel much of their subsequent tour, and Peter’s drinking and drug use had become a problem, so he was fired on May 18, 1980. I had to look up that date, but you can understand why I might have overlooked that tidbit in the news of the day, because I was too busy paying attention to Mount St. Helens, which erupted early that morning and buried Yakima (the town in which I grew up, and the nearest big town in the path of the eruption) under an inch or two of ash. So we had bigger things to deal with than some drummer being fired in New York City.

But I digress.

Next to be handed his walking papers was the original guitarist, Ace Frehley. He, like Peter Criss, had spent many years drinking heavily, even going so far as to bring cases of Dom Perignon champagne with him when he was on tour.  He was constantly drunk onstage and in interviews, and the other band members had had enough. Ace, like the public, was also frustrated with the musical direction the band had taken, and was tired of always being outvoted by the band’s leaders, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons.

The firing of Ace Frehley was undoubtedly a great opportunity for any guitarist.  Kiss knew they had to deliver the goods as they finished their next record, Creatures of the Night, and they spent months auditioning players. Ace was pictured on the cover of Creatures, but he only played on a couple of the songs. Rick Derringer (you may know him from this song) supposedly played on one, as well as the guitarist from Mister Mister (you may know them from this song), but Paul and Gene wanted someone who could write songs as well, and they gave the nod to Vincent Cusano, who had been a studio guitarist and songwriter kicking around the New York scene of the 1970’s.  Gene Simmons rechristened him Vinnie Vincent, and his place in rock history was secured.  He’s third from left in this picture:

Vinnie landed one of the biggest gigs in rock and roll. The album was the strongest Kiss had created in quite a few years (it remains my favorite of their albums), and it even spawned a couple of hits on the then-fledgling MTV.  The band was back on top, with a great new drummer and a fiery lead guitarist. But Vinnie was a tough sell for the fans. Replacing an original band member is no easy task, and Vinnie never felt like a ‘true’ member of Kiss.  Even his stage persona, the Ankh Warrior, didn’t quite rise to the mythological status of Gene’s Demon or Paul’s Star Child, and Vinnie seemed a bit amorphous or strange compared to them.

His playing, however, was stellar, and he also brought tremendous songwriting skills to the band. After the success of the Creatures album and tour, the band decided it was time for another big change, and decided to appear without their makeup for the first time. The album Lick It Up was a huge and instant success, thanks in no small part to Vinnie’s contributions.  The band went on an extensive world tour and prepared for their next steps. Vinnie’s on the left in this picture:

But by this time—1984—the cracks were beginning to show. Vinnie didn’t fit in with the other guys, and they weren’t getting along very well. He also didn’t feel that he was being fairly compensated for his songwriting. The royalties for some of their biggest hits of the time went to Gene and Paul, who kept Vinnie and drummer Eric Carr on salary as ‘for hire’ sidemen, rather than full-fledged band members. This rubbed Vinnie the wrong way, because he felt he had contributed much more than the somewhat low status of a sideman would take into account.  It was decided that he should leave the band. He sued Kiss for royalties, but was unsuccessful.

Still very much in the limelight, he took some time to write more songs and put together his own band, called the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, the intent of which was to be bigger-than-life in every way.  I couldn’t wait to hear it. I eagerly awaited its arrival in the record store, and bought it before I’d ever heard a note of it. I’d been reading in the magazines like Circus and Hit Parader that he used a gigantic number of amps on stage, he dressed more flashily, and could shred like nobody else. The drummer played crazy fills, and the singer sang higher than anyone else. It was completely over the top.  Here’s their biggest hit song, “Boyz Are Gonna Rock.”

I’m not gonna lie; this song is dumb.  I thought so when the fifteen-year-old version of me first bought the tape, and I still think so today.  The first time I saw the video, I probably thought—in my addled teenage way—something eloquent like, “What the fuck was that?” They all looked ridiculously feminine, even in comparison to the other bands at the time, which is serious competition indeed.  To wit:

Cinderella. . .

. . .and Vinnie Vincent Invasion:

See what I mean?  He and the band just seemed like used-up gay prostitutes compared to other bands, which didn’t match the aggressiveness of the music. People didn’t know what to make of Vinnie.  He did have some great songs on that first album, but it didn’t sell particularly well, and the over-the-top nature of his guitar playing left a bit to be desired. Even on a slow, bluesy song, he tried to cram as many notes as possible into the guitar solo, with hilarious results.

Great riff, great song, horrendous guitar solo.  Even as a kid, when I was learning to play the guitar, I felt like if he could just settle down for thirty seconds and play tastefully—the way he did in Kiss—he’d really be onto something.

He seemed to have read my mind with his second and final album, All Systems Go. The songs were better, the sound quality of the album was better, and he played much more tastefully.  One of the songs, Love Kills, was written for one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and he had a couple of other hits from the album as well.  My favorite song of his, “That Time of Year,” is on this album.

But if Vinnie was a hard sell for metal fans, he was an even more difficult one for the general public, whose metal tastes could only allow enough room for the likes of Def Leppard.  People couldn’t really get past his strange looks and over-the-top style. Add all that to the fact that by 1990, metal was on its way out.  Nirvana would put the final nail in its coffin in less than a year, and Vinnie and his compatriots would be relegated to the bargain bins of the record stores.

Like I said before, time has not been kind to 80’s metal, and Vinnie has become one of the de facto elder statesmen of the genre.  But his story is far from over, and it gets super weird, so this seems like a good place for a cliffhanger.

To be continued. . .

doppelganger

funny, Portland, true No Comments »

checker:  Hey, were you in here earlier tonight?

me:  Nope.

checker:  Hunh. . .’cause there’s someone who looks just like you.

me:  I’ve heard that before, actually.

checker:  You have a doppul—what’s that word?

me:  Doppelganger.

checker:  Oh, yeah. . .’doppelganger.’  He looks exactly like you, but he was wearing a blue shirt.

me (wearing a multi-colored striped shirt):  Crazy!  But yeah, I’ve heard that I have at least one in town.  My main doppelganger is from Massachusetts, though.

checker:  (long, awkward pause) Well, Mr. [my last name], you saved six dollars and forty-nine cents.

me:  Excellent.

checker:  Have a good evening.

me:  Thanks, you too.

 

you are quoting Shakespeare

funny No Comments »

If you cannot understand my argument, and declare, “It’s Greek to me,” you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise—why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a foregone conclusion that you are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high time and that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then—to give the devil his due—if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then—by Jove!  O Lord!  Tut, tut!  For goodness’ sake!  What the dickens!  But me no buts—it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.

–English journalist Barry Levin, quoted in “The Story of English.” by McCrum, Cran and MacNeil