The Paragon – Chapter 2 – The Past

Back in 1978, I was the singer in a band called Renegade in Northeast Philly. The musicians were already playing together when I joined the band. It was a huge leap for me and was the beginning of my life as a musician. I’ve written about this time in my life and it’s all pretty well documented.

We played the song, Draw The Line by Aerosmith, and Gerry the guitarist asked that I learn and play the guitar part when he did an extended slide solo during the song. I leaped at the opportunity to play guitar so he brought in his old Silvertone to practice and showed me how to play the three notes I needed to play.

Larry, Mike, Chaz, and Jerry

I eventually acquired the guitar from him. He played a blonde post-CBS Fender Stratocaster. He needed money to buy a Valentine’s Day present for his girlfriend and he sold me his old Sears Silvertone for $15. He even threw in the amplifier that came with it. He was a great guitarist and had a cool Stage amp and a Univox Super Fuzz distortion pedal. The equipment he was using became the model of what I wanted to do musically even though I could barely play.

I found this pic on the internet and it is the exact model I owned into the early 80s.

Time went by and I continued to practice every day. Learning the notes on the fretboard and pouring through my sister’s old piano songbooks to learn songs. I would forgo going out to stay in and practice my instrument. My main focus was to learn the basics and then start writing songs. I wrote my first song called Get Lost on that guitar. I had only been playing the guitar for a couple of months. I always had a good ear and a sense of music in my head. I loved rock music since I was a kid, and leaned more toward the harder acts like Steppenwolf rather than The Beatles. I really dug hard-hitting powerful guitar sounds. The heavier the better.

Let’s jump to 1980 and I’m living in Wildwood, New Jersey with my family. My dad had decided that once my older sister went off to college, we’d leave Philly and live at the seashore. Wildwood back then was an absolute wonderland in the summertime. But in the winter it became a desolate awful place for kids and teens to live. There is absolutely nothing to do. It’s a resort/retirement town and only exists because of its location, free beaches, and a boardwalk full of amusement rides.

But I survived the winter and actually thrived when I met a kid who played guitar. We started jamming and later joined a few other guys to form the Union Jacks. My buddy said I probably needed to buy a “real guitar” if I was going to be taking music seriously. I thought this was a great idea and started looking through magazines to see what my favorite guitar heroes were playing.

The one instrument that really struck me as the guitar that was right for me was the Ibanez Iceman. It had to be black and would represent the cool heavy metal/glam image and persona I wanted. I guess once I learned how to play guitar and write songs I didn’t really focus on being a great musician. I just wanted to write good catchy songs and be a rockstar. I remember reading once that the artist, Sting once said, “I saw the Beatles and I wanted to be in a band. I saw Jimi Hendrix and I wanted to be a musician.”

You can read about my whole music saga in my upcoming book, Down The Shore: Stories from my summers in Wildwood, NJ

But for this story, you can click on the link below to get the backstory of this musical instrument.

The Ibanez Iceman

When I saw the film Hard Day’s Night I wanted to be a rockstar. A cool job playing rock music and being hounded by throngs of girls wherever I went. So I always liked being in a band but my focus was on becoming a famous rockstar on my songwriting merits. I figured I could always get other musicians to bring my poetic and musical vision to life with their musical prowess.

So now I had the Iceman and I loved it. I referred to it in the feminine sense like men name their boats female names. It’s a term of endearment. Even though the Iceman had the word MAN in the name, and had sharp edges, an angular body, a hook, and what looked like a stinger I still regarded the instrument as female. She was beautiful and loyal and brought me hours of joy. She was far better than most people I knew. But the instrument still had a very heavy metal masculine image to it. Look at the photo. That’s a metal guitar. You don’t come out onstage with a black Iceman and a Marshall amp behind you and play ballads. You crank hard rock and metal at a loud volume.

I remember seeing a picture of a guitarist playing guitar in a music magazine and he had a black guitar strap with a white lightning bolt on it. I had to get one of those to complete my look. I had the cool Iceman, but my strap was plain black leather and I put neat buttons on it. Buttons were popular back then and my guitar strap was covered in buttons. Buttons with images and words like, I want complete control, I want it all, a picture of Alex from Clockwork Orange, a photo of Farrah Fawcett, etc. Just stuff I liked and thought was cool at the time.

But I wanted that lightning bolt strap to complete my rockstar look. But couldn’t find one anywhere. It was 1979, and I lived in a ghost town so music choices were limited. There was a TV repair shop owned by a guy who had a few guitars and gave lessons, a music store called Back to Earth, and a place called Gilday’s up in Pleasantville. Not much else. It was even difficult to find good music down the shore. All they had was one crappy radio station broadcast out of Atlantic City and if you wanted a cassette by a specific band the store had to special order it for you. I was probably the first person on the island that owned Def Leppard’s first album, On Through The Night, and Some older Judas Priest albums because there was just no call for any of that music where I lived. When I think about how sparse and talentless the population was in Wildwood in the wintertime I’m surprised to this day that we all actually came together and created a viable rock band.

I spoke to my father about the black strap with the lightning bolt and he said he’d see what he could do. He had always come through for all of us on anything we wanted when it came to Christmas, so why not ask Santa himself to procure this elusive item for me? He was great at locating things and bringing them home. I was sure he’d find one for me.

But as time went by, he came to me and said he wasn’t able to find the strap I was looking for. Was it a custom item that the guy I saw wearing it had specially made for him? Maybe. I eventually let it go and continued to play wearing my plain leather one covered in buttons.

The Ibanez Iceman had taken the place of the Sears Silvertone. The guitar that I learned to play and started my songwriting journey on. The guitar looked like a slender Stratocaster, but once you got close to it or held it realized it was one level above being a toy for a child. But it was a great guitar to learn on and it meant a lot to me.

But it eventually started to have electrical problems and spent more time in the closet because it had been replaced by my new girlfriend. My best girl. My beautiful powerful black Iceman. I had a tendency to do that with women back then too. I would have a girl I liked and I would spend time with her. Let’s use Anne as an example. Anne was my little girlfriend at the end of the summer. That lasted into the winter and she would come down and visit with her mom during the winter and we would hang out. I was 17 and she was 14. But I was immature and she was the perfect girlfriend for me. But once I was enrolled in Wildwood High and playing in a new band, I started dating a local girl. She was tall and blonde and I was digging her. New and shiny like the Iceman. Anne slowly became the Silvertone. I thought less about her and enjoyed my time with the girl who was new. I was fickle even back then. I didn’t even feel bad when I dumped Anne to be with the new girl. Anne was a better match than the new girl, but I wanted what I wanted. As the song says, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” The new girl won out because she was available. But because of who I was at the time, once the summer of 1980 broke, I cut them both loose to enjoy all the fresh tourist girls who would arrive in droves each week on vacation.

That was 40 years ago and none of it matters now, but I noticed some interesting parallels in my life lately. The Ibanez Iceman is the only guitar I’ve purchased in the last 40 years. I thought about getting a Gibson Explorer as a second guitar back then, but they were expensive. I had the Iceman and that was enough. I could only play one guitar at a time anyway. The Gibson Explorer would have been a vanity purchase not because of how well it played but because it looked cool. Pretty much why I wanted the Iceman. It looked cool. My decision to spend all of my busboy earnings on a $500 guitar back in 1979 was simply because it looked cool. I wasn’t about the ease of play or tone. I got it because it looked sharp and I had never even played it before I bought it. I just wanted that look. Pretty superficial and shallow thinking. But I’ve always been that way. I’ve put up with so much from so many women because they were beautiful. I was always very forgiving of beauty, mistaking it for sophistication and kindness. When normally beauty is the opposite.

But lately, I’ve been thinking about getting another guitar. Just something simple, inexpensive, and functional. I don’t want to have to drag the Iceman (which is now a valuable collectible antique) out from its case underneath my bed, get it hooked up, and jam. I’d rather just write.

I had spoken to a musician who worked as a delivery driver at the last restaurant where I worked four years ago. He said he would buy blank guitar bodies and necks and build guitars himself. He’s a really talented guitarist but I think it’s more of a pet project than something he was thinking about turning into a business. We chatted about it on a few occasions but nothing ever came out of it.

To be continued next week…

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. 

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

If Only

Los Angeles, CA – September 1980

Jack walked into the nightclub on Sunset Strip. He didn’t dread these meetings, he just never knew what to expect.

He spoke with security and told them he was there to see Marty. He gave the password, and they let him come into the private room in the back. Marty was there sitting at the bar sipping a glass of whiskey.

“Jack! Great to see you, buddy. It’s been too long. Have a seat. What are you drinking?”

“Nothing for me, thanks. What’s on your mind?”

“We’ve got a little situation. Everything’s fine right now, but we’ve heard some things from some of our contacts in Hawaii.”

“Tell me what’s going on.”

“One of our people overheard a guy saying some things to his friends at a bar. We’ve had our eye on this guy for a while, and we think you should look into it.”

“Is there a file yet?”

Marty reached into a leather bag on the floor next to him and produced a folder. He handed it to Jack. He took the folder and flipped through it.

“Is this everything?”

“Well… it’s never everything, Jack. That’s why I called you. Read the file and get to know this individual. We’ve gathered as much intel on this guy’s background as possible. We just feel that things could escalate and that can’t happen.”

“What’s the fee?”

“The usual. But if things get sticky you’ll be compensated accordingly for any extra effort.”

“What’s the time frame on this?”

“Well, we know where he is right now and where he may be going, but not much else.”

“So you just want me to follow him?”

“Yea. Keep an eye on him.”

“We’ll give you his location and the details are in the file. If you want to talk with him at some point, that’s your call. But I really think this needs to be addressed sooner than later. There are a few of these types out there but usually, it never comes to anything. But this one’s got me nervous.”

“Do I need to know who the client is?”

“No. That’s why I brought you in, Jack. You’re good at helping people and doing the right thing when necessary.”

Jack looked at the file. “No previous criminal record. Interesting.”

“Yea. Could be nothing but the client doesn’t want to leave anything to chance.”

“How long’s the job?”

“Hard to say. Could be a month, maybe longer. We really don’t know.”

“Alright. Anything else?”

“Uh, yea. I want you to partner with Adhira.

“Come on. You know I only work alone, Marty.”

“Look… for this job I want you to have her with you. This way you won’t stand out too much.”

“Oh, okay… me and some hot Indian chick. Yea, I won’t stand out at all.”

“You two have worked well together in the past and I think while you’re traveling it’ll just look less conspicuous if it looks like you’re a couple. As I said, this all could turn out to be nothing, but it’s for the best if Adhira is with you.”

“Fine. So what’s next?”

“Here are your tickets to Honolulu. Adhira’s already there. She’ll pick you up at the airport.”

“Okay. You got it.”

Honolulu, HI – September 1980

As night fell on the island, Jack and Adhira had dinner at Roy’s Hawaii Kai.

“Food’s great here, Jack. Remember when we worked that surveillance gig back in’78?”

“Yea. That was a crazy time, Adhira. It’s been two years. You still look the same.”

“You look a little tired, Jack. Have you read the file?”

“Probably jet lag that’s all. Yea, I read it on the plane on the way out. The guy seems a bit nuts but I don’t see the urgency here.”

“Well, if Marty hired you it must mean something. Hey…how bad is your life? You’re in Hawaii for goodness’ sake.”

“Yea, but why are you here, Adhira?”

“Oh, thanks a lot, Jack. Way to make a girl feel welcome.”

“You know what I mean. I always work alone. I just like it that way. Free to move around how and when I want.”

“Marty just thought that for this sort of job, you could use a little company on the road. You know my skills. One of them is to keep whoever I’m with calm and centered. And you know how you you can be.”

“How can I be, Adhira?”

“A little intense. You tend to get a little obsessed with the work sometimes. I’m here to provide you with a bit of balance.”

“Did Marty tell you that about me?”

“There are files on all of us, Jack. Now eat your butterfish.”

Jack grinned and took a mouthful. He looked into Adhira’s dark eyes. She smiled and sipped her wine. He always wondered how such a beautiful woman could end up working at the agency. Her lovely face was framed by raven tresses that tumbled about her shoulders like a moonless river.

“So what’s your take on this guy, Jack?”

“Well, as I said, he seems a little nuts. Textbook upbringing. His father was a sergeant in the air force, and his mom was a nurse. Dad was a little abusive to his mom and he never felt like his old man loved him. That sounds like my family. What son hasn’t thought that about their father?”

“Yea, and he wasn’t athletic in school and sort of a poor student. Kind of a loser.” Adhira frowned.

“Yea, kind of like me. But then there’s all the religious stuff he’s gotten into. I think that’s where the real trouble usually starts. People get these righteous ideas, and some can get a little fanatical about that. My ex-wife was religious and she had a lot of good intentions… if you get what I mean.”

“Yea. The road to hell is paved with them. I get it. He did have some early success working at that kid’s camp in Georgia. Maybe he should have just kept doing that.”

“But I think as he’s gotten older he’s started to unravel a bit. I don’t know what happens to some people. Most of us get disillusioned and sad about stuff, but we move on. Then there are other people who just can’t seem to pull themselves out of it. It’s a shame really.”

Did you see in the file how he started to get into these altercations with the camp counselors and can’t seem to fit in anywhere?”

“Right. Which for some odd reason brings him out here. Kinda weird. It’s expensive to live on this island. It’s a resort. Then he attempts suicide by asphyxiation in his car, but screws that up too when the hose he stuck on the exhaust pipe melts, and he survives. Some people move to California thinking they’ll start a new life. But like the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath, it’s just the last exit for the lost. But why Hawaii to kill yourself?”

“Maybe to die in paradise? Didn’t they give him a job at the mental hospital they stuck him in after his attempted suicide?”

“Yea, but then he got into an altercation with the head nurse and quit. I think the last job he held was as a security guard. Funny how he’s good with the kids at the camp, then works at a hospital, and then in security. It’s like he’s always working in jobs that serve and protect human life. But then he starts drinking, and that’s never a good thing if you’re suffering from mental illness.”

“I think it’s only made his obsessions worse.”

“Yea, booze makes you feel better in the beginning… but after a while, it sledgehammers everything else in your life.”

“Speaking from personal experience, Jack?”

“What do you think?”

Manhattan, NY – December 1980

Jack and Adhira sat in their agency-issued vehicle in front of the hotel where their subject was staying.

“We’ve been on this job for a couple of months and although I’ve enjoyed our time together, Jack. I don’t know what to think now.”

“Yea… He goes to New York, and he wanders around the city and not much else. Then he leaves. We follow him to Atlanta, he meets with a friend and then he’s back in Hawaii. Now here we are back in New York again. It’s just weird. But I believe he’s still thinking about doing something.”

December 7, 1980

Jack and Adhira followed their subject as he walked around the city. Keeping a close tail but far enough away to seem inconspicuous. It was pretty easy in a city as populated as Manhattan. They were standing near the 72nd Street subway entrance when they saw their subject speak to someone for the first time since they’d been following him.

“Jack…look. He’s talking to that guy over there. I wonder what that’s all about? Planning something with him?”

“I don’t know, but doesn’t that guy look like the singer, James Taylor? It’s uncanny.”

“Yea, that’s funny. He really does look like him. Let’s just stay close.”

December 8

It was early morning. Jack and Adhira sat in a cafe across the street from the Sheraton Hotel. They watched as their subject walked out of the hotel lobby.

“He’s on the move. Let’s go.”

They followed him to a local bookstore. He was inside for a few minutes and then exited the store. They again followed him to 72nd Street just off Central Park. He just hung out in front of a large apartment building chatting with people and the doorman. Jack watched from across the street and Adhira went to get the car.

They later sat in the car parked nearly in front of the building. Watching their subject just hanging around the entrance.

“This is boring, Jack. He’s just standing around. He’s not doing anything. Maybe his connection is late or something. This doesn’t make sense. All we’ve seen is a guy chatting with people, and that one lady with the little kid he said hello to. But I don’t think he really knows any of these people.”

10:45pm

“Jack, we’ve been here all day watching this guy. What time is it?”

“Nearly 11 pm. Are there any of those fries left?”

“Here.”

“Thanks. You know what? Stay here. I’m gonna get out and stretch my legs. I’m going to go talk to this guy.”

“What are you going to say?”

“I’ll think of something. Move into the driver’s seat, in case we have to leave again, okay?”

“No problem. But after this, you’re buying me some real food and some strong drinks.”

“You got it.”

Jack exited the car and approached the apartment building’s archway entrance. The subject stood off to his left.

A black limousine pulled up in front of the building and caught Jack’s attention. A man and woman exited the limo and walked toward the entrance.

Jack was right behind the subject at this point. Adhira watched from inside their car. The man and woman walked past the subject and Jack thought he heard the subject say the man’s name. The subject then reached into his pocket and pulled out a gun.

From years of training, Jack was ready. He was always ready. This was what he did for a living.

The hunter.

The problem solver.

Jack emptied the clip of his .38 automatic into the subject’s body. Headshot first followed by a hail of bullets into his body. The subject fell to the ground as the woman with the man screamed and ducked behind her husband. They both turned and looked into Jack’s face.

But only for a moment.

Blood began to pool around the subject’s head as he died on the pavement in front of the building. Guards grabbed the couple and pulled them inside the lobby.

Jack was already gone. He leaped into the car, and Adhira hit the gas. Within minutes they were far from the scene.

“Oh my God! How did you know, Jack?”

“It’s what I do. Just keep driving.”

Los Angeles, CA – December 9

Jack sat alone at the bar in the club on Sunset Strip. He was approached by one of the servers.

“Marty will see you now, sir.”

Jack walked into the back room and sat down in front of Marty’s desk.

“You did good, Jack. Real good.” He placed a briefcase on the desk in front of him.

Jack looked at him and took a sip from his drink. “No.”

“No? but, there’s extra in there.”

“You keep it.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yea. This one’s on me.”

I wrote this story back in 2020 in memory of one of my fallen heroes who was taken from us too soon on December 8, 1980.

If only things could have been different…

Rest in peace, John.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. 

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Merry Christmas, everyone.

If Only – Part 3

Manhattan, NY – December 1980

Jack and Adhira sat in their agency-issued vehicle in front of the hotel where their subject was staying.

“We’ve been on this job for a couple of months and although I’ve enjoyed our time together, Jack. I don’t know what to think now.”

“Yea… He goes to New York, and he wanders around the city and not much else. Then he leaves. We follow him to Atlanta, he meets with a friend and then he’s back in Hawaii. Now here we are back in New York again. It’s just weird. But I believe he’s still thinking about doing something.”

December 7

Jack and Adhira followed their subject as he walked around the city. Keeping a close tail but far enough away to seem inconspicuous. It was pretty easy in a city as populated as Manhattan. They were standing near the 72nd Street subway entrance when they saw their subject speak to someone for the first time since they’d been following him.

“Look, Jack. He’s talking to that guy over there. I wonder what that’s all about? Planning something with him?”

“I don’t know, but doesn’t that guy look like the singer, James Taylor? It’s uncanny.”

“Yea, that’s funny. He really does look like him. Let’s just stay close.”

December 8

It was early morning. Jack and Adhira sat in a cafe across the street from the Sheraton Hotel. They watched as their subject walked out of the hotel lobby.

“He’s on the move. Let’s go.”

They followed him to a local bookstore. He was inside for a few minutes and then exited the store. They again followed him to 72nd street just off Central Park. He just hung out in front of a large apartment building chatting with people and the doorman. Jack watched from across the street and Adhira went to get the car.

Later, they sat in the car parked nearly in front of the building. They watched their subject just hanging around the entrance.

“This is boring, Jack. He’s just standing around. He’s not doing anything. Maybe his connection is late or something. This doesn’t make sense. All we’ve seen is a guy chatting with people and that one lady with the little kid he said hello to. But I don’t think he really knows any of these people.

10:45pm

“Jack, we’ve been here all day watching this guy. What time is it?”

“Nearly 11 pm. Are there any of those fries left?”

“Here.”

“Thanks. You know what? Stay here. I’m gonna get out and stretch my legs. I’m going to go talk to this guy.”

“What are you going to say?”

“I’ll think of something. Move into the driver’s seat, in case we have to leave again, okay.”

“No problem. But after this, you’re buying me some real food and some strong drinks.”

“You got it.”

Jack exited the car and approached the apartment building’s archway entrance. The subject stood off to his left.

A black limousine pulled up in front of the building and caught Jack’s attention. Two people exited the limo and walked toward the entrance.

Jack was right behind the subject at this point. Adhira watched from inside their car. The man and woman walked past the subject and Jack thought he heard the subject say the man’s name. The subject then reached into his pocket and pulled out a gun.

From years of training, Jack was ready. He was always ready. This was what he did for a living.

The hunter.

The equalizer. 

The problem solver.

Jack emptied the clip of his .38 automatic into the subject’s body. Headshot first followed by a hail of bullets into his body. The subject fell to the ground as the woman with the man screamed and ducked behind her husband. The man and woman turned and looked into Jack’s face.

But only for a moment.

Blood began to pool around the subject’s head as he died on the pavement in front of the building. Guards grabbed the couple and pulled them inside the lobby.

Jack was already on the move and leaped into the car as Adhira hit the gas. Within minutes they were far from the scene.

“Oh my God! How did you know, Jack?”

“It’s what I do. Just keep driving.”

Los Angeles, CA – December 9

Jack sat alone at the bar in the club on Sunset Strip. He was approached by one of the servers.

“Marty will see you now, sir.”

Jack walked into the back room and sat down in front of Marty’s desk.

“You did good, Jack. Real good.” He placed a briefcase on the desk in front of him.

Jack looked at him and took a sip from his drink. “No.”

“No? but, there’s extra in there.”

“You keep it.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yea. This one’s on me.”

 

 

I wrote this story back in 2020 in memory of one of my fallen heroes who was taken from us too soon on December 8, 1980. 

If only things could have been different…

Rest in peace, John.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

 

Merry Christmas, everyone. 

 

California Dreamin’ – VIDEON

Santa Monica, CA – 1983

I always loved music and films, so at some point, I decided that working in a music store would be better than working at a restaurant. I applied at several around Los Angeles and got an interview with a chain called Music Plus. They sold albums, tapes, videos, and concert tickets. I remember acquiring tickets to see David Bowie on his Serious Moonlight tour from there! But that’s another story.

Here’s another author’s memories in regard to Music Plus:

https://www.championnewspapers.com/opinion_and_commentary/chino_memories/article_4d1201f6-23d7-11e8-88aa-9faa52530da0.html

They liked me well enough but told me they didn’t have anything available in their music stores. But they were opening a flagship video store on Lincoln Blvd. in Santa Monica.

I knew that VHS and Beta were emerging in the home video market and thought it would be a cool job. Music Plus was a retail chain around LA, and since video was growing they decided to designate a whole store to just videotape sales and rentals.

It was a great idea at the time and the owner was truly a visionary for coming up with the idea. (We all know what happened in the coming years with the arrival of Blockbuster, but this was at the very beginning of the home video craze.)

VCR’s cost over $1500 back then and were the size of old electric typewriters. They weighed a ton and I think Beta was the only format in the beginning. Sony invented Beta and VHS but Beta was the better format. More compact with a simpler mechanism with better sound and video. They sold off the rights to VHS because it was inferior. But more companies bought it up and started making VHS VCRs like crazy. VHS ultimately won out in the format wars simply because more companies manufactured the machines and they were more available to the public. Funny, how the superior format failed to the inferior one simply based on availability. Man-made selection at its best!

I was 20 years old and just happy to not be working in a hot, sweaty kitchen in a bar and grill until midnight every day. This was a cool, clean job in a new industry.

The day manager was this super French guy who was easily well into his forties. He knew a lot about film and especially foreign films so that was cool. In the evenings they had another manager named Renee who was probably around twenty-five. She was short with brown hair and eyes. Kind of cute, but that was ruined by her bitchy personality. She seemed over her head in the position and was always short-tempered and stressed. She was always scheduling me to close with her because she liked me. Even though she was cranky a lot of the time, I knew she dug me. She would always ask me to smoke a joint with her out in the parking lot after work. I obliged because I figured maybe she’d be nicer if I hung out with her.

One night that parking lot smoke turned into a bit more and we ended up back at her place. I was young and didn’t possess the moral compass I have today. (Come on… who am I kidding? You’ve read this blog.)

There was one other girl who worked there most days with me, who was the quintessential 80s girl. (Think one of the members of the band The Go Gos) She was after me as well. Where were all the available men in LA back then? Nothing ever happened between us because I just wasn’t that into her. She seemed weird.

We had a good time working there and it was fun being around all of those movies all day. I learned a lot about film and the video industry working there. The whole store was arranged by studio, not by subject. So we had a section for Warner, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, etc.

The best part was, at lunch you could go in the back and watch a video while dining on your sandwich.

But here’s the interesting part. This was a legit spin-off from a big music store chain. Everything was above board. For the most part.

You won’t believe what the home video experience cost back then. It was a fledgling industry and everything was new, so that means expensive. The machines were a fortune, and the tapes were really pricey as well. Most videotape movies started at $59.95 to purchase. But we did have a rental program. It was $100 to join and to rent a movie it was over $20 and you had to leave a huge deposit on your credit card every time you rented some movies. Isn’t that crazy? It was like renting an automobile!

I remember when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out on videotape. It had made so much money worldwide, they released it for $39.95 on VHS and Beta. This was unheard of. A groundbreaking low price for a blockbuster film.

Next was the making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video and the music video all in one tape. That was released for only $29.95. The lowest price ever offered for a home videotape ever. We sold the hell out of them.

There were NO Disney titles of any kind on VHS and Beta. I think they were waiting to see what the NEW format would do for their stockholders. (Now they own everything!)

We didn’t have hundreds of copies of popular movies back then. Most of the films available were from the past. So everything in the store was from the 70s and back. New movies were in the theaters and it would be years until they landed on video. But there were plenty of great films to watch. But the only place I could check out titles was during lunch in the back.

But here’s the twist to this upstanding business called VIDEON. We sold the occasional tape to some wealthy people who wanted to own some quality films to show their friends and family.

Home video was in its infancy and it was like the wild west back then. Here’s what they did at VIDEON. Say, someone rents a few films. They watch them and return them after the 3 day allocated time. We take that tape in the back room. There is a table with a spool of shrinkable cellophane on a roll and an industrial blow dryer. We rewind the tape and rewrap it in our own little shrink wrap. We sear the creases on the spool so it seals the wrap. We then hit it with the blow dryer and that shrinks the wrap so that it clings to the original box with the tape in it. Does it look brand new? Does it look like it came from the factory? No. But do the customers know that? No.

So basically they were renting movies all the time and then repackaging them and selling them as new to unsuspecting customers. I wasn’t comfortable with this practice because it just didn’t seem right. People were tricked into thinking they were buying something brand new and paying the top retail price. But in actuality were being sold a used product. That smells like fraud to me. It had to be illegal. But like I said, back then it was the wild west. I was getting a paycheck every week so I never said anything about their diabolical criminal enterprise.

The way to tell was, I knew what the rewrapped shrink wrap looked like, and if you looked through the window on the tape, the tape on the spool was slightly uneven. When they’re new, this is not the case.

I don’t know what happened to that company, but I’m sure they were devoured by Blockbuster some years later. (It was the last job I had before leaving California)

It’s funny how when something’s new, it costs a fortune and feels so exclusive. But in a few years, it’s all cheap and available to everyone. Now, it’s all gone. You can simply stream everything. DVDs aren’t even a thing anymore.

But it was a fun job and a peek at was to come in the world of home video in the future.

I recommend you watch the documentary The Last Blockbuster on Netflix. Very interesting. The best bits are about the business and corporate end of that industry. The rest is just a bunch of self-absorbed clowns talking about their love for Blockbuster and home video.

But I will say this one last thing. I do have some wonderful memories of picking up my little daughter on a Friday night and heading over to the local Blockbuster. We’d pick out some movies, popcorn, and candy for the weekend. It was a fun ritual that just about everyone I know once did together.

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You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Type. Tune. Tint. – LAWNDALE Podcast with Tom Kranz

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a gentleman I didn’t know. His name is Tom Kranz, and he’s an author and has his own podcast called Type. Tune. Tint. He asked me if I would be a guest on his show, and of course I agreed!

We talked about my latest book, LAWNDALE and how we’re from the same part of the city and some of our collective history. It was a great experience and I’m really grateful that Tom reached out to me.

I decided that I should share it with you all and hope you enjoy listening to this short piece as much as I did making it with Tom. It’s entitled: Creativity Born in a Philadelphia Row home.

Enjoy!

You can listen to it here:

Here’s the link too:

https://www.buzzsprout.com/1208186/11295399

Here’s some more links to Tom’s work. He’s an accomplished author in his own right! Below is a link to his blog where he talks about LAWNDALE and the process.

Tom’s blog. He wrote a really nice post about me and my creative life. Check it out!

Thank you, Tom!

I’m super excited about being on his podcast and I hope you all enjoy it. I owe this fellow Philadelphian and neighbor a drink the next time he’s in center city!

If you’re one of the few who hasn’t gotten your copy of LAWNDALE, you can order it below.

Thanks once again to everyone who bought my book!

You can check out all of my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every week.

Star Wars Is Cool Again

Star Wars has always been a love of mine. Since it came out in 1977, I’ve been a fan. It was such a huge part of my teenage life just like the band, Aerosmith. We loved Star Wars and everything about the whole mythology for years. But then something occurred in the 90s. George Lucas decided to produce the prequels. If you’re a fan you know how badly that went.

Then there were the sequels in the last few years. Not as bad as the prequels but they just felt like a nostalgic retread to please all the Star Wars fanboys. Just updated versions of the original gems. Sad knock offs for any true fan of the original trilogy.

But a couple of years ago something wonderful happened. They made Rogue One which is a new prequel to the events leading up to the 1977 original, A New Hope. It was a really good and unique story. I liked it and so did my friends. But the sequels were still happening and they just didn’t feel right.

Then they came out with the series The Mandalorian. I watched it and LOVED it. It looked and felt like the original Star Wars from my youth. That’s pretty hard to do, but it’s been done. This is how it all should have gone down after Return of the Jedi, but didn’t. But now here we are exploring these new characters and it has the look and feel of the classic originals. I’m very pleased.

Then last year they came out with the Book of Boba Fett. I didn’t know how that was going to be but my fingers were crossed. I LOVED that too!

I think after 20 years the guys who were teenagers like me when we first encountered Star Wars are now making the new movies and shows. If that’s what it took, then so be it. I’m happy and it’s nice to see that there’s a group of artists that know what they’re doing and are expanding the Star Wars universe the right way.

So to my friends and me there really are only a few true Star Wars projects:

Rogue One – A New Hope – The Empire Strikes Back – Return of the Jedi – The Mandalorian – The Book of Boba Fett.

That’s it so far. If there is anything else after Boba then I haven’t seen it yet at the time of this writing. But we’re headed in the right direction and I think the true fans will agree!

Thank you, Jon Favreau!!!!

Update: The next Star Wars show that is coming out will be on Disney+ and is called Andor, dropping on September 21st. So… YAY!

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Tales of Rock – Who Invented Speed Metal?

Speed metal is an sub-genre of heavy metal music that originated in the late 1970s from NWOBHM and hardcore punk roots. It is described by Allmusic as “extremely fast, abrasive, and technically demanding” music.

Motörhead is often credited as the first band to invent/play speed metal.[1] Some of speed metal’s earlier influences include Deep Purple’s “Fireball” and Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” (which was eventually covered by the thrash metal band Metallica), from their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack,[2] and Deep Purple‘s song “Highway Star“, from their album Machine Head. The latter was called ‘early speed metal’ by Robb Reiner of speed metal band Anvil.[3] Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown“, first released in January 1969, could also be said to be an early template for speed metal as mentioned in Mac Randall’s.[4]

Speed metal eventually evolved into thrash metal.[5] Although many tend to equate the two subgenres, there is a distinct difference between them. In his book Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy MetalIan Christe states that “…thrash metal relies more on long, wrenching rhythmic breaks, while speed metal… is a cleaner and more musically intricate subcategory, still loyal to the dueling melodies of classic metal.”

I’m going to have to say, Queen’s song, Sheer Heart Attack from their LP News of the World does it for me. It’s a mix of punk and metal played at breakneck speed. It is an absolutely furious song that I used to jam out to in my bedroom on my guitar.

Listen to this tune and prove me wrong.

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Theater of the Mind

Philadelphia, PA – 1974

I hated school and I hated everything about Fel’s Junior High School. But, I was always a good reader and loved books and comic books. I had a class at the end of each day called Reading. It was my favorite class. The teacher, Miss Ruscoff (Later Mrs. Dembitzer when she got married) was a nice lady who was actually a good teacher and patient with us kids. I was surprised at how many of the students were poor readers. That must have been stressful for them having to read aloud in class but I never minded doing so. I would not only read aloud, but I would also add feelings and inflections into the story to make it more interesting. I did this naturally because I knew it just sounded better and more interesting that way.

On Fridays, Miss Ruscoff would haul out an old reel to reel tape recorder and play old radio shows for the class. I think most kids put their heads down and napped during the recordings but I loved them.

Radio was king before the advent of television and I thought the shows and stories were really cool. The ones she played were from the 40s and 50s. I sort of wondered why this form of entertainment had gone away. The stories were from series like X Minus 1, Suspense, Inner Sanctum, and several others.

What I liked most about them is that the stories were usually scary and I had a vivid imagination. I loved that they would have the actors doing their roles and they would add sound effects to make it more real. Often the roles on the shows were performed by hollywood stars because many of them got their start on the stage and then on the radio.

When you watch a movie or television the whole thing is spelled out for you. You can see the actors and what they look like, the sets, and all of the action appears before your eyes. It’s all someone else’s vision as to what this story should look like. I’m not knocking TV, but radio shows are brilliant.

They could be darker in content and scarier than anything on TV. Because you couldn’t see anything you had to use your imagination to picture what the characters looked like and what was happening in the story. I just felt it was a far more riveting form of entertainment and the networks could get away with more.

I always remembered listening to all of those great stories and in the 80s I bought a box set of X-Minus 1 old radio shows on cassette. I loved listening to all of those cool stories and it was a bit nostalgic for me even back then.

Philadelphia, PA – 2020-present

During the pandemic, I discover a whole channel of old radio shows on Sirius/XM radio. A whole channel! 24/7 of old radio shows. I discovered so many more shows I had never heard of, like Dark Fantasy, The Whistler, Escape, and Johnny Dollar.

Now I can flop on my bed and listen to all of my favorite stories and use my imagination to create the scenes in the shows. I really find this a great exercise for my creative mind and it’s so restful because it’s a passive activity. I sometimes fall asleep during them and have to listen to them again.

My mother always told me she loved listening to the radio as a kid and would practice her penmanship while she absorbed all of the great stories adapted from good American literature.

It’s a lost art form that still exists today in the form of podcasts. People like podcasts and it’s basically the same thing. You don’t have to watch anything. Just use your imagination and feel the story the way you want to.

Spotify also has all these shows available too. It’s a great way to tap into a lost art form.

Former Fels HS building to be demolished

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Tales of Rock – Origins of the Hard Rock sound of AC/DC

Hard rock is a manifestation of garage rock, surf rock and psychedelic rock, and British blues of the 1960s. It was not until the kinks did this kind of guitar sound begin. Old speakers in London clubs provided a banged-up ratty sound. After a while, the bands started to like the sound the punctured and torn speakers in old amps made. That was a growly sound that would get you fired from a club gig until they started to like it and use it to their advantage.

Listen to what Howlin’ Wolf does with a guitar. Early distortion.

Howlin’ Wolf – How Many More Years – 1951

Link Wray – Rumble – 1958

Distortion, tremolo, and the guitar are dominant. It’s a riff.

Surf and garage coming together. Hard rock is developing.

The Chessman – Cant’s Catch Me – 1966

A hard, customized soundsystem. Volume to kick it in. A disaster at Woodstock and Altamont, crowds moving, in the wake of these two concerts. Rock and roll moves into arenas and out of outdoor parks. You can load up with gear and blast out your music.

Let’s go to Australia. AC/DC doesn’t form until 1973. But there’s a working-class youth that’s coming up that wants out of their lives. The bar scene is about rock music. Sounds a little like mid-70s Foghat.

Carson County Band-Morning Train – 1971

Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs -1971

Now we’re talkin’… That’s starting to sound like hard rock for sure. I love this!

Buffalo – Suzy Sunshine – 1972

The Valentines – Build Me Up Buttercup – 1972

Yea, that backup singer is Bon Scott. Hard to believe that one of the premier voices of 70s hard rock started out singing backup and dressed like that!

Marcus Hook Roll Band – Watch Her Do It Now -1973

Malcolm,  Angus and their older brother George. So we’ve got two of the founding members of AC/DC. You can already hear the pull in the band between pop and rock happening.

Their older is working on her sewing machine and looks down at the steel label hammered into the machine that says, AC/DC – (alternate and direct current) and suggests it to Angus as a name for his new band.  She also suggested the school outfit for Angus. She said he looked so cute in it but it became a snub at authority and school. He only zig-zagged on stage to dodge the bottles thrown at the bands in the hardscrabble roadhouse bars they played in.

Which brings us here…

Oh yea…

There you have it.

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Tales of Rock: Did Kurt Cobain Steal the Riff for Come As You Are?

Happy Memorial Day everyone. Please remember those who gave their lives in this world’s terrible wars.

We all know the song, Come As You Are by Nirvana. It was one of the many hits from their landmark record, Nevermind. That record has achieved triple diamond status. Gold means 500k in album sales. Platinum means 1 million! Diamond status is 10 million units sold. But they’re at triple diamond on this album. That’s 30 million records sold! Phenomenal!

But I was in a store the other day and the song, Eighties by the post-punk group, Killing Joke was playing on their Spotify. I heard one of the employees start singing the lyrics to Come As You Are along with the song.

It got me thinking… did Kurt Cobain hear that song back in the 80s and consciously or subconsciously lift that riff from the song and slow it down in his song, Come As You Are?

Listen to both songs, and you be the judge!

Here’s Nirvana…

Now check out this great song by Killing Joke entitled, Eighties…

Very similar right? I’ve never heard of this comparison before and normally I can pick up on anything similar in songs I hear. Led Zeppelin was famous for stealing songs from other artists and turning them into gold. But this one sounds blatantly similar.

Just thought it was worth sharing. Maybe I’ll do a series on all of the stolen songs in rock!

 

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