Sunday, February 14, 2010

I Love Heavy Metal from the '80's and Early 90's...Pt. II: Love Turns to Hate?

I still love you, but, I still burn...
-Layne Stayley

If there's a point in my life that could be made into a "coming-of-age" movie, it would be the summer of 1992. I had spent my entire life believing what I thought was a single undeniable truth; nice guys did not finish last. At that point, that staunch belief had yet to pay off. But I was only 14. Let's face it, that's not a whole lot of real-time life to make any concrete decisions about anything. That's not to say that at the time, fourteen years-old didn't seem like an eternity. When you're 14, it seems like you've grown as much as you possibly can. Of course, it never occurred to me that I had felt the same way about life exactly one year prior when I was 13, and going back another year to when I was 12, and so on and so on...but foresight is not the strength of the young. Frankly, I think 30 may be the age that most of us begin to realize that what you do at any singular given moment in time will ultimately not define the remainder of your life. Mistakes can be correctable, wrongs often are righted, change is possible, but when you're young, it seems like who you are at that exact moment in time is who you will always be.

...And I was a nice kid. That's who I was. Oh, I made some monumental blunders and got in my fare share of trouble: talking out of turn in class, detentions, phone calls home to Mom (the fucking worst), creating cruel nicknames for peers that were undeserved or at least more about malice than justice but when it became obvious to me that my ill behavior, in whatever shape it managed to manifest itself, had actually hurt the person it was aimed at, I generally felt devastated and would do nearly anything I could to make it up to the wounded victim, because I was a nice guy and I liked it that way. I was nice and one day, someday soon, being a good guy would pay off.

It didn't matter that the most "desirable" (do I use quotes too much?) girls I had met had always ended up liking bully dickheads who made fun of the small, defenseless kid with glasses, or the bookish girl with early-onset body image issues. If it wasn't that brand of douche, it was the affluent kids who were their own special kind of cock. I'm not saying that if you grew up wealthy it automatically means the words "bitch" or "bastard" applies to you, but out of the crop people I knew personally, it seemed the amount of money your family had was in direct correlation to how great the stench of ass wafted off of you.

Still, none of this mattered; nice guys did not finish last. The way I saw it, we simply got a later start. See, I've always been a hopeless romantic, just without any real sense for romance. But as a childhood Metalhead, I had learned about love from songs like Bon Jovi's "I'd Die for You" (still easily the most kick-ass jam on Slippery When Wet). That's what I thought love was or at least what love should be. I was just going to wait for the one who I'd die for, cry for, do any thing for, lie for...a Juliet for this clueless Romeo. I was just going to continue to be a nice guy. But then things changed in the summer of 1992.

I became fed up. I guess we all have our breaking point and I had reached mine. Without going into too great of detail (this thing will be long enough without throwing in yet another story), I decided to trade my white neckerchief and shiny silver star for a black stetson and a handlebar mustache. And it worked. I got what I wanted. I got the girl and lost my virginity to boot. (Just to clarify, it was two different girls, part of the new "asshole approach" I had adopted that summer .) I had schemed and did some rather underhanded things that summer to get what I wanted, and shocking enough, it payed off...for a while. As it turns out, my soul wasn't worth all that much and the return from it's sale was only a short term yield. Eventually, for various reasons, information fluttered to and from the "major players" in my neighborhood and alliances were compromised and secrets exposed; the warm summer air was rife with deception. Turns out I wasn't the only villain on my block in the summer of '92, just the stupidest one. I had betrayed one of the fundamental and inherent parts of me, and in the end, my world as I know it collapsed in on itself.

So over the course of three months I fell in love, got laid, and watched all of my friendships unravel, some I unavoidably and helplessly watched disintegrate, others I unconsciously but actively destroyed. As those few remaining days of summer faded into nothing but memory and regret, I realized three things about myself: 1.) Nice guys may in fact finish last, but assholes are always done first, 2.) (and most important), my actions had an effect and were capable of fundamentally altering other people's lives and my relationships with them, and 3.) I adored boobs.

Sex was good. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it immensely, but the act itself was far less amazing to me than the boobies that were intrinsically a part of it. The funny thing is, they weren't even very good boobs. In the grand scheme of things (I hope that woman doesn't read this), they were the worst boobs I've ever seen in real life. Still, they were unbelievably awesome, one of the great and brilliant wonders of this universe.

Why? I don't know. It's an age-old question, isn't it? Men are bewildered and astounded by breasts. Big ones, small ones, tanned ones, pale ones, real ones, fake ones, they all seem positively dynamite. And after my first real-life encounter with a set of knockers (you got to love funny, crass least I do), no matter how ultimately weird they were (and they were weird, believe me), they were remarkable and beautiful and both physically and emotionally moving. Certainly, it's not that I hadn't noticed boobs before losing my virginity. I enjoyed stealing sideways glances at girls walking around the mall or seeing pictures of bare breasts prior to my first tangible encounter, but slimy ogling and glossy pin-up pages could never do justice to the genuine article.

I tell you this only because when school started that fall, I was now hyper-aware of the blossomed bodies of my female peers. Having an in-the-flesh relationship with boobs, in spite of how fleeting (or maybe because of it), made that addiction place in my brain "ping", and I now had to dedicate at least a somewhat significant part of my time attempting to get a fix.

It probably goes without saying, but this was a tough spot to be in because, as shocking as it may come to many people (sarcasm is a difficult thing to convey in writing), I was not what you would call a "lady's man". To my credit, over the course of the next year, I did manage to get an opportunity to touch/feel/see two different sets of these astounding orbs of biological and evolutionary perfection, but that's just ego-boosting, He-Man posturing, because that's all ultimately inconsequential to the story I'm telling here (especially because that's not all that impressive of a feat). My point is, I had a taste of boobs (pun both gross and intended), and I absolutely needed more.

So what's a chubby fourteen year-old boy to do? How does someone such as myself improve his chances of getting an opportunity to have a close, intimate relationship with breasts? I saw two ways. One was with looks, which I was screwed on. I don't believe I was or am an ugly fellow by an means, but I'm certainly no Adonis or Arthur Fonzarelli, so physical appearance was not going to be my key to open the gate to the land of boobs. The only other way, but maybe the more crucial, substantial, possibly sure-fire way gain access to the holy land beneath the bra was "cool".

Being cool in 8th grade is the holy fucking grail. It is the quality that, if obtained, can transcend looks, intelligence, economic status. The way I saw it, if you were "cool", you were "in", both socially and, I assumed, sexually. It would have to be an open invitation to the world of "Awesome", and without a doubt, that world included access to breasts.

"What in the hell does any of this have to do with Heavy Metal?", you ask. Simple. In 1992, the climate in the world of music had begun to change. Slowly and sadly, but undoubtedly sure, Heavy Metal was fading from being the cool absolute to being unequivocally not. But Heavy Metal was my life. As much as I wanted to ignore it, the writing was on the wall and in my mind, Slaughter or Dokken would be a major detriment to my achievement of sweetness.

How was I to pick? Tits or Metal, which one mattered more? I was in a precarious situation. On the one hand, I had discovered and liked, nay, loved music that was outwardly perceived as definitively not Metal, although I would have argued against that idea at the time. You very well may say "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was the end of Heavy Metal, but I respectfully and adamantly disagree. Not only could the "Alternative" bands co-exist with the Metal bands of the day, those bands actually became a sort of "new" Metal (not to be confused with the atrocious Nu Metal). The first time I heard Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, and Alice in Chains was on MTV's Headbanger's Ball. Some of it (most notably Ned's and Pumpkins) were in the Ball's three-video block called "The Fringe"; bands who were heavier than standard rock, but weren't 100% Heavy Metal, but most of the bands that ultimately came to be tagged with the "Grunge" or "Alternative" label were played side by side with Tesla, Death Angel, White Lion, Megadeth, King Diamond and Queensrÿche. No one, at least not MTV (and in 1990, to a twelve year-old, there was no one else), was making the distinguishing difference between the two.

I would wager a guess and say that the majority of the "older" fans that these bands initially managed to garner were Metal fans. The relationship between old (or, as I prefer to think of it, classic) and new seemed mutualistic at first. Mötley Crüe's first "greatest hits" compilation, Decade of Decadence was released one month after Nirvana's Nevermind, and over the course of the next year, the collection managed to sell 2 million copies. Clearly, if Nirvana's major label debut was the final nail in the coffin, that couldn't have happened. But let's play Devil's advocate for a second and and pretend I believe that Nirvana killed Metal. ...Teen Spirit was a major hit by December of '91. D.O.D. continued to sell massive amounts for nearly another 9 months. If Nirvana was the Grim Reaper to Metal, wouldn't 3, 4, maybe 6 months on the outside be enough to demolish the house that Metal built? I would think so, but it didn't. It seemed that the old had given the new exposure and the new had given the old a revitalization. These two different musical avenues could both coexist in my heart. But could they coexist socially? On the charts and in the minds of my peers, nothing had changed, but to a devout Metalhead like myself, the downfall had begun, regardless of how infinitesimal. The declination was so small and slow that, commercially, it almost couldn't be tracked. To the naked eye, it didn't exist. It was virtually unnoticeable, but was nonetheless existent. By the time my 8th grade school year was underway, it didn't take a rocket scientist to see the music I had loved for so very long could potentially be a stumbling block on my road to "cool", and this was a fact that plagued me.

Tits/Metal; should I stay loyal to the safety and comfort of my history, or would I find a greater joy in discovery? It certainly seemed like it had to be one or the other. Maybe it was ridiculous. Maybe I was being melodramatic. Maybe I didn't have to choose, but it certainly seemed like it, and making that decision was easily one of the most gut-wrenching predicaments I had ever found myself in.

Before I go on, I would like to clarify ideas about the genre that may be confusing. In the 80's, there were three different families operating under the Metal blanket.
The two most popular were the 1.) less threatening and most commercially successful of the genre: the Glam Metal guys. These bands were your Poison's, Def Leppard's, Bon Jovi's, and later M.C.'s. Then 2.) you had the sonic opposite, the "moral and spiritual" threats. These guys were heavier, louder, faster, more brutal. Bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, Death Angel, and Mercyful Fate fell into this category. They're lyrics seemed more polluting to the mind and damning to the soul. They sang about death, violence, anger, religion, blood. The lyrics seemed far more evil and wicked than the "Glam" guys. Of course, with growth, it's clear that this grouping was far more socially conscious and less ethically damaging than the earlier sect and were (in most cases) not evil at all. (Out the aforementioned bands, Mercyful Fate and Slayer had they're moments of pure and unadulterated fury/hate/Satanica.) For the most part, these bands simply sang songs that attempted to expose injustice, intolerance, cruelty, bigotry; the inconsistency of "normal" life. Then we have 3.) the in-between of these two: Q.R., Iron Maiden, GNR, Dokken, early MC. These guys were heavier than "Glam", but not nearly as heavy as the serious "balls-in-a-vice" Metal of the thrash and speed genres. They were catchy but not poppy. Their message was threatening to the social structure of Reagan-era, conservative America but without the bluntness of the Thrash/Speed set. They could open for a Glam band or have a Thrash band open for them. They were the nearly perfect union between the two extremes.

But regardless of how different one band may have been from another, there was a single unifying factor that pulsed through all of the music...rebellion. No matter how overtly aggressive or comparatively passive, these bands were comprised of people who felt rejected by normal society. See, the thing about Heavy Metal that most people neglect to realize is it was/is one of the most nonexclusive clubs someone can belong to. There's only a couple of essential factors: a love for the music and a desperate desire to "Rock". It didn't matter how down-trodden, how outcast, how different, how "uncool" you were in the eyes of normal society, if you loved Metal, you were "Metal". You were part of a family. You could sit down to lunch in your school's cafeteria wearing a Ratt t-shirt, and see a guy who you've never met, never spoken to before wearing a Kiss t-shirt from across the room, and you instantly understood each other. One of the guys could have been rich, the other poor, one black, the other white, one gay, the other straight, one thin and fit, the other a fat fatty, and still, you had a brother, a cohort. Regardless of how different you were, you were one in the same.

For a kid who spent his life being fat and on the outskirts of normalcy and unconditional acceptance, having that feeling of community outside of a loving family was a huge deal. I didn't really have any peers as a young Metalhead, but I had respect from those who loved my music. They may have been older than I was and had no desire to hang out with me (thank God...Could you imagine?), but they were still willing to acknowledge my existence, and what's more, they validated that existence, they made me feel like I was someone of importance, a person of worth, a boy who mattered. But more importantly, I had the music. I could listen to songs penned by society's outcasts and feel like I had allies. There were people who understood me out there. That was huge.

Tits were amazing, but I had to be cool to get them, and to be cool in 1992, I had to give up that sense of belonging. Granted, if I achieved the level of cool necessary to cradle a breast in my hand, I would most likely once again feel like I was a a part of something. But with my future being uncertain, I was faced with the question; Do I stick with something that gave me a figurative sense of intimacy, or do I take a chance on the possibility of literal, physical intimacy? The decision tore me apart.

In the end, I went with boobs. The gravitational pull of those globes was too great to resist. They're round, soft, beautiful, fun, fantastic, but I'd be remiss if I didn't express to you that the decision was made only because Metal didn't produce. I had told myself that the tunes had to defend themselves. There wasn't music I loved more than Metal, but there was still music I loved. I wouldn't lose out on music if I gave up Metal, but if I went with Metal, I would most certainly miss out on boobs. Metal had to convince me. An album had to come out that mattered so much, that sounded so good, that kicked so much ass that boobs ceased to matter. That album never came.

That doesn't mean the decision was easy. I struggled. I hurt. I gave up one of the only things that had ever truly mattered to me in pursuit of something that very well may have been unattainable. As sad as it is to admit, I killed a part of myself on the day I swore off Metal. Oh, I found it again; I managed to resurrect the shit out that part of me when I realized a few years later that trying to fall in line and live up to some social rubric of cool was one of the most fruitless quests ever and that I was far more happy with myself when I was simply comfortable with who I was and listening to the music I loved, regardless of how "cool" it was. Touching boobs and liking Heavy Metal could be symbiotic as long you were happy with being yourself, but that was too sophisticated an idea for me to grasp at the time, so I gave Metal up.

Like I said, some boobs came, most didn't. In the end, I found a girl in 9th grade who I loved who loved me for who I was and not what I was and that love eventually gave me the confidence to reignite that old, lost flame, but that's a story for another day, the third chapter in my "I Love Heavy Metal" saga. Ultimately, if you take anything away from this, it should be 1.) Be true to yourself. Life is much better when you are. 2.) Heavy Metal kicks serious ass. And 3.) Boobs are amazing enough to die for.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I Love Heavy Metal from the '80's and Early 90's...Pt. I: In the Beginning

In the beginning
Good always overpowered the evils
Of all man's sins...
But in time
The nations grew weak
And our cities fell to slums
While evil stood strong
In the dusts of hell
Lurked the blackest of hates
For he whom they feared
Awaited them... Now many many lifetimes later
Lay destroyed, beaten down,
Only the corpses of rebels
Ashes of dreams
And blood stained streets
It has been written that
"Those who have the youth
Have the future"
So come now, children of the beast
Be strong
And Shout at the Devil...

-Nikki Sixx

Heavy Metal saved my life. I know it sounds silly, melodramatic, crazy, but that doesn't make it any less true. To understand this, there are two things you need to know about me: 1., I am an addict. I have that thing in my brain that turns something I love into a preoccupation, and that preoccupation turns into obsession, and then obsession turns into desperate need. It started at an extremely young age. My first jones was for action figures. I loved those little plastic men with all of my heart. The actual accumulation of the toys was secondary. Don't get me wrong, obtaining "Battle-Action Armor He-Man" was kick-ass, but plotting, planning, dwelling on the figure was far more appealing. I would look at the tiny comic books or the box-backs where other available figures were displayed, and I would dream about them. I would imagine the epic battles that could take place. I was addicted to action figures. I was three, three fucking years old and this was how I spent my time. Insane, I know, because let's face it, I'm at least a tiny bit nuts, whatever...

2., I am lazy. Having too many things to do makes me mentally shut down. Oh, I get those things done, I'm just so angry about being a "functioning, productive, responsible" human being that in order to accomplish any of the things necessary to call myself an "adult", I have to go on auto-pilot lest my already unstable mind be pushed even further into Loonyland. This also means that if I want to actually get done the things i set in front of myself, I have to be realistic and not put too much on my plate at any given time. I have to make things manageable or I will instead manage to get nothing done.

"So just how did Metal save my life exactly?", you ask. The answer is simple; Heavy Metal quickly became the addiction. That addiction (eventually) turned into a full blown to music period, a monkey I still carry on my back to this day (don't worry, it will soon all make sense). It's like any addiction story you've ever heard, the first taste made me want, the second one made me need.

The story goes that my brother went on a school trip to Toronto and wanted to get everyone souvenirs. He asked me what I wanted Toronto, and after seeing the video for the lead-off single from Ronnie James Dio's first solo album, a recently four-year old Brandon asked if Toronto had "Rainbow in the Dark"?, because if they did, that's what I wanted. I wanted "Rainbow in the Dark". Being a good big brother, Scott came home with a copy of Dio's "Holy Diver" on cassette. But it wasn't until four months later when Mötley Crüe's second record "Shout at the Devil" came out that I was truly hooked.

I saw the video for "Looks that Kill" (two videos...does that make MTV my pusher?) and I needed it. But see, this time it was 100% different. Four-year old Brandon had a rather wild and overactive imagination that often, for one reason or another, turned to the macabre. I was scared of a whole mess of stuff and it didn't take much to set me off. I refused to go down the cereal isle at Meijer because they had Kiss puffy stickers and painted up Gene Simmons sent me reeling. If I saw those stickers, there was a good chance I wouldn't be sleeping that night. It was a fucking sticker. I was scared of a sticker. Don't ask me, because I have no idea. All I know is I avoided the cereal isle like the plague, but I digress. "Looks that Kill" was the most amazing thing that had ever touched my ears. The guitar part for the chorus was the most brilliant thing I had ever heard (to this day I still think it's one of the most inspired licks in history).

But Mick Mars; my God, I had never seen a living soul more terror-inspiring than him. Simmons be damned, Mars was grade A, #1, "I'm going to puke and pee at the same time because I'm so scared" material. I was convinced this guy ate children. He ate little one's for breakfast and lunch and a bigger one from dinner. And there was no doubt in my mind that he was like a spider; he liked his meals alive. And what's worse, I was on the menu.

I could picture it in my mind; I would be roused from a dead sleep to the sound of awesome guitar being played just outside my bedroom window, and the righteous tuneage would pull me outside like a moth to a flame. He would lull me with increasingly sweet licks and then when I was at my most mesmerized, he would precede to devour me whole, leaving nothing but a pile of little bones. It was going to happen unless I could just forget about the Crüe. If I could just stop loving the song, if I could stop wanting the tape, all I had to do was not listen to Mötley Crüe and I would slip off his radar. But I couldn't, it was just too damn good. In the face of death, and a particularly gruesome one at that, I still wanted Shout at the Devil. Consequences were no longer a factor. Death did not matter, not if it meant I could rock out to the Crüe. So instead of doing the smart thing and denouncing the supreme sweetness that was Mötley Crüe and live, I chose to love the Crüe for my few remaining days and die an early death.

Mick Mars never showed up to eat me which was awesome. But from that point on, I was a Metalhead in the worst way. Mötley Crüe gave way to Poison, who gave way to Def Leppard, who gave way to Tesla, who gave way to Metallica, who gave way to Queensrÿche, who gave way to Anthrax, Megadeth, Death Angel, and a virtual ton of other bands. But see, here's the point; addiction's hard work. If you think otherwise, you clearly are not an addict. Getting addicted to something isn't all that hard, but maintaining said addiction is complicated and exhausting. And with each new addiction, the maintenance grows all the more tasking. But as I said, I'm lazy. Trying to maintain multiple addictions is tough work, and seeing as how I hate work, I've had to pick only the most important things to become/remain addicted to.

As a kid, it was action figures and Heavy Metal. By around age seven or eight, I added soda-pop into the repertoire. As I got older, pop continued to stay strong and action figures were replaced by boobs. Eventually I added a love/hate, on-again/off-again relationship with tobacco, but the only constant, absolutely necessary addiction has remained music. You see, without music, there would have been room for booze or drugs. I tried my best to be a fan of drugs but they were just too much work. Finding someone to buy them from, finding money to buy them. I had to buy Super-Big Gulps and cd's and my seasonal outdoor maintenance money only went so far. On top of that, the work of returning home after doing the drugs and appearing "straight" was way too much for a louse such as myself. Not to mention they made me feel fuzzy and stupid.

And booze, well alcohol is a fantastic stress-reliever/vice ( I am actually drinking a finely brewed Busch Light beer from an all too classy aluminum can as I write this) but just as it was/is with narcotics, finding the extra money to purchase the delicious ales and lagers I enjoy so much is simply too much extra expended energy. I have records to buy and I only make so much money, and I find nearly all distilled liquids to be vile concoctions, even the quality, pricey ones make my stomach quake and quiver a little, so the cheap ones are simply out of the question. That's not even figuring hangovers into the equation. So booze is, addictionaly speaking, absolutely a "no-go".

But here's the thing...if you take Metal out of my life, you take away the sum and total of music as well and then a huge "addiction space" opens up. Without that early addiction to Metal, I can guarantee you I'd either be an alcoholic or dope-fiend. And although smokes certainly aren't "life-friendly", without Metal, I'd be on an even faster track to Deadsville. This, my friends is how Heavy Metal saved my life, and I will be eternally grateful to the Gods of Rock for bestowing it upon me.