Friday, March 12, 2010

I Love Heavy Metal from the '80's and Early 90's...Pt. III: Believe in Love

This love's got what it takes to give us one more chance to start, once again...
-Klaus Meine

When I was 15, I fell madly in love with a girl and it fundamentally changed my life in more ways then I could have ever imagined (Fast-forward 16 years, and that woman is now my wife, so clearly, she's impacted my life a great deal, but now we have to rewind 14 years because seventeen year-old Brandon is the subject right now). After having a girlfriend who, with real sincerity, loved me for the "who" and not the "what" for 2 years; seemingly from out of nowhere, I discovered the strangest thing...I had confidence. I liked myself not for what I was in the eyes of my peers, but for who I was in reality and in the eyes of my girlfriend. All of the sudden, I no longer cared about what others thought of me (not that I'm 100% sure I ever really did) because there was someone who wasn't my mom who truly loved me with honesty, innocence, purity, and intensity , and out of everyone I knew, she was easily my favorite, so if she was happy with me as I was, who was I not to feel the same way?

So on a fateful Friday night in the early Spring, I found the new, "self-confident" me at home earlier than expected and slightly drunker to boot. I had 4 warmish Black Label's that were meant to be drank at a party that got busted up far too soon for my liking still stowed away in my backpack, and I wanted to drink them; partly because I wanted to be a little drunker than I was, but mainly because I wanted them gone. If I am to be entirely honest, I was scared my mom might stumble across them and then there would be disappointment (I never really got in trouble for anything I did). So I drank. I drank and started looking for my old tapes.

I don't know why I did this exactly. I was drunk, people do stupid things when they're drunk. My best guess would be that due to my intoxication, I was easily amused and looking at these analog relics of my past sounded funny, but your guess is probably just as valid as mine. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to look at this stuff with no real intention of actually listening to any of them, but as I read the song titles on the back of the Scorpions album Love at First Sting, I had to pop it in. I knew most of the songs, at least the one's I really liked, but there was one, a song called "I'm Leaving You" that I remembered loving. In fact, it was easily my favorite song from the record, but I couldn't recall why. Nothing popped into my head. Not a single line, lick, or note, and it seemed funny to me that I could remember loving a song so much but not actually remember the song at all. I had to hear it. It was a fact finding mission, nothing more. Call it "a journey to the center of me...circa '84". It was a pretty easy track to find. It came right after "Rock Me Like A Hurricane" and that one would be a little hard to miss.

From the opening drum beat, it all came flooding back; every word, every riff, and most importantly, the sweet-ass bass groove that Francis Buchholz laid down during the choruses (the very reason I had loved the song so much in the first place). If it was a conscious decision to stop listening to Metal in 1992, it was a destined accident that I started again 3 years later, because instantaneously I was back in. The Scorps, with special thanks to Francis B., had me hook, line, and sinker. I started going through all of the others there: Dangerous Toys, Poison, White Lion, Megadeth, L.A. Guns, G N'R, Cinderella, Tesla, Great White...the list goes on. I could still sing all of the words, I remembered enough to anticipate my favorite parts of all my favorite songs. It was an awesome night.

But the brain is a powerful tool. We can condition ourselves to feel ways we have no real right to feel, and the veil of shame for liking this music still clung heavily to me, like underwear to the sweatiest balls in the heart of Summer. For two years, I had convinced myself that this music was a waste of tape, so shaking that self-taught lie wasn't easy. My guilt was heavy and great, and because of that I still felt a need to keep my long-overdue reunion a secret...kind of...mostly.

I would crank Def Leppard's High N' Dry in my Oldsmobile, but only when the windows were firmly in their rolled-up position. If my friends were around and I simply could not help but listen to Stryper's "Calling On You", I presented the song to them as though I listened to it more for the sake of irony than from honest enjoyment. Oh, if one of them asked me flat out if I truly liked this music, I would be completely honest, I just attempted to carry myself in a way that would deter a question of that sort. And that was my life, that's how I lived for a while.

With each passing year, I became more and more comfortable listening to this stuff in public, but I was rarely if ever boastful or forthcoming about how much I actually liked it. It remained something more to be chuckled at than to truly like. My friends even started listening to some of the stuff for the same reason. My Junior year of college, it was nearly impossible to go to a friend's party where Dio's "Holy Diver" wasn't blasted. When it was, all of the college girls in their sluttiest party attire and the sweaty meathead's who were desperately trying to get those girls out of those tiny clothes would exit the dance-floor with confused and disgusted looks on their faces, leaving 5 guys who sang all the words in each others faces, excitedly anticipating the moment when R.J.D. would command us to "jump, jump", which we inevitably would do. The song would end, the the latest danceable chart-topper yet to be played would come on, and I would slink back into the shadows, laughing on the outside but pumping my fists on the inside. This was how I lived and liked Metal for years; pretending my appreciation was out of admiration for the ironic rather than sincerity....that is until 2003.

It was 4 A.M. and I was dozing on the couch, unable to sleep but not fully awake, when a video played on MTV 2. At first, I was almost convinced I was dreaming because the song made no sense in the current climate of commercial pop, but as I became more lucid, I realized it wasn't a dream. I've asked myself more than a few times if I would have prefered it to be a dream, as it would have easily been the most lucrative one I have ever had, had I remembered the song that played in it, but I'll be honest with you; never in a million years would I trade reality for the fantasy, no matter how much bank I would have undoubtedly made from being able to regurgitate such a monstrous jam because the song never could have meant as much to me if it was a product of my own imagination. No, this song was real, and it certainly didn't make any "pop" sense, but I understood every last note.

I had never heard this song "I Believe in a Thing Called Love", nor had I ever heard of the proprietors of this jam, The Darkness, but the instant I heard the opening lick, I was brought from semi-consciousness to being wide awake, drinking every face-melting note in, soaking up every ear-blistering, falsetto shriek. This was the very thing I had been waiting for, begging for actually, and I didn't even know it. Before the song was even half over, I knew I would be skipping classes and calling into work in order to find, purchase, and devour this record. I wasn't being irresponsible because I wasn't deciding to do this; it was written in the stars, it was out of my control, it was preordained by some higher power my lowly mortal mind could not, nor deserved to comprehend. This was fate, this was destiny, this was of absolute and vital necessity. I waited on pins and needles for the hour to strike 9 when I could head out and make this album mine.

Oh, I fell asleep on the couch around 8:30 A.M. and slept nearly 13 hours, waking up a little before 9 P.M., realizing that I just might have missed my window to buy this album but like a true addict, I wasn't willing to give up easily. This record would be the fix of the century to a closet Metal junkie, and there were retailers, as unlikely as they were, who were open later than 9 and might have this record. Target was a bust, as was the dreaded Wal-Mart, but low and behold, the trusty Meijer Thrifty Acres (a regional, 24 hour grocery/"everything-else-under-the-sun" store to those people out there reading this who have never lived in the middle of the northern Midwest. As a side note, it is now referred to simply referred to as "Meijer's") came through. At a little after 10, I found The Darkness's debut album Permission to Land in the Meijer's music section. My girlfriend was visiting her parents for the weekend, so to celebrate this triumph of modern music, I decided to also pick up 12 Honey Brown's in the bottle, 20 Basic Menthol Lights in the soft-pack, and who knows how many Altoids in the tin (I like mints when I booze and Altoids are definitely the best mint out there, especially the Spearmint, although they didn't exist at the time...whatevs), and set out to have what I could only assume would be one of the most kick-ass nights in who knows how long.

And that is exactly what I did. I listened to the album front to back 11 times, replaying "Growing on Me" and "...Thing Called Love" occasionally because they both rocked so fucking hard. These figures are accurate, I promise you. I have a keen sense of memory, probably my only real talent (which is why I was so compelled to listen to "I'm Leaving You"; the fact that I couldn't remember it bothered me so much). I was home by 10:30 and I went to sleep at 6 A.M. The album is just short of 40 the math. By the end of the first track, I was calling friends (well, actually, just "friend", singular) to bestow knowledge and enlighten him on the brilliance of what would most certainly be one of the greatest albums in modern rock history.

Permission to Land was (is) unrelenting. From the beginning of the album to then end of it, each song destroyed (destroys) me. It never stopped (stops) kicking my ass. It was (is...I have to stop this whole "parentheses" thing. You probably get the point by now that I feel the same way about this record now as I did when I first heard it. I promise to try to stop being annoying) one of those perfect records; an album with no filler, no weak point, no chink in the armor. From start to finish, it was witty, catchy, and kicked every last inch of my sizable and square ass.

This album was 80's Metal, it just happened to be recorded 13 years after the 80's ended, and it was a wake up call for me. I had to come out of the closet. I could no longer keep my feelings about 80's Metal hidden. I wanted, nay, needed to tell the world about this record. Everyone I knew should hear it. Everyone I knew needed to hear it. Everyone needed to be given the chance to fall in love with this music. Permission to Land was that good, it was that important. I could no longer pretend that Metal from the 80's was simply something funny to listen to because if I did that, no one would possibly take this record that was so undeniably influenced by my heroes of the past seriously, and it deserved to be listened to not as a comedy record but as an honest-to-God, sincere Rock record. But even more so, it opened my eyes to why I loved 80's Metal so damn much.

As much as I love rock from the 90's to the present day, it seems like somewhere around '93/'94 (maybe a little earlier), it became uncool to command your instrument. The better you played, the less cool you were. Virtuoso...hack, sloppy and without any real knowledge of your instrument...visionary....bullshit. Don't get me wrong, the sloppy shit was ridiculous too. Liz Phair, Pavement, John Spencer Blues Explosion, etc, etc...these fuckers were amazing, but there shouldn't have been anything wrong with owning your instrument, yet there was. We can't pin all the blame on the weak-ass hipsters and the "too-cool-for-imagination" crowd though. Metal definitely had a hand in its own demise. We can deal with only so much self-indulgence and overbearing bravado before we throw in the effing towel, and towards the end, Metal certainly couldn't get outside of itself to realize times may in fact be changing, but that doesn't excuse our inability to see that talent and bullshit don't have to equate to a singular sum. Metal could have dialed it down a bit, certainly, but we also could have tried to amp it up.

I guess what I'm driving at is so often I've found that the music of a song is simply a vehicle for melody and vocals, but with Metal, the music and vocals were two separate beasts, or at least two snarling heads on the same kick-ass monster. They coexisted, but didn't need to. The music was it's own force. The music, without vocals, could speak for itself. See, playing the instrument well was not in and of itself the accomplishment, I mean, the dudes in Creed play their instruments extremely well, but Creed sucks (if you like Creed, sorry, but someone had to tell you). No, the accomplishment was playing your instrument so well that you could speak without saying a word.

I remember the first time I heard Metallica's "To Live is to Die" on the ...And Justice for All record. I was blown away. 9 year-old Brandon had never heard something so beautiful and gut-wrenching. In fact, 30 year-old Brandon still has trouble keeping an entirely dry eye when listening to it. There's a part around halfway through the song where the guitar can't simply be called "sad", it's like the guitar is actually crying. It is so somber and grieved. Even to a 9 year-old, it was clear this song was written for Cliff Burton, this was their way of mourning his loss. They didn't need lyrics, they didn't have to tell me their friend died and they missed him, that they loved him and the loss hurt. The guitar did that for them. No words were necessary, only the heartbreaking wail of that guitar. It is still a very magical moment for me every time I hear the song. It is, in fact, the very reason that song is my favorite Metallica song, possibly my favorite Metal song, possibly one of my favorite songs ever. It says more with no words than most others do having the entire lexicon at their fingertips. That was unbelievable, that was magic, that was fucking Metal.

People always assume that Metal was all technique and no soul, but a song like To Live is to Die clearly shows that's not the case, and it's not the exception to the rule. Take Skid Row's Wasted Time, Scorpions' Believe in Love, Iron Maiden's The Duelist, Queensr├┐che's The Mission, I could keep going; all of these songs and so many more have just as much heart and guts as anything else out there.

Of course, there were more than enough bands out there writing songs and making music that was about nothing more than getting fucked up and getting fucked, but even these guys managed to write music that had integrity, regardless of how trite the song itself was. It was the perfect union between sincere creativity and glossy, plastic entertainment. Somehow, these guys managed to be both trivial and brilliant simultaneously, and that's a beautiful thing.

I don't know...when I set out to do this, I think I expected to answer some huge question about life through Heavy Metal, but here I am, clearly at the end, but entirely unclear on how to end this. I guess if you should take anything away it should be that cursory glances are meaningless. The Metal from the 80's and early 90's is occasionally (maybe even often) myopic, misogynistic, simple, self-indulgent, and over-inflated, but it's also passionate, sincere, honest, complex, and beautiful. This music manages to establish, perpetuate, and abolish stereotypes in a single shot. It is a dichotomy in and of itself. Nothing and everything matters all at once. To judge it at face value without reading between the lines is an absolute travesty. There's no doubt that a great deal of it is meaningless, but it's just as true that so much of it matters so very much. Heavy Metal changed, my life...shit, Heavy Metal saved my life, and if one person can read this and decide to see what I'm talking about or even simply understand where I am coming from, understand even in the smallest, most insignificant way what I'm talking about, then it will all be worth it. Of course, even if that doesn't happen, it will still all be worth it because Heavy Metal from the 80"s and early 90's kicks supreme ass and if you don't understand it, I guess that sucks for you because, well...fuckin' Dio, enough said.


  1. Dude, this cannot be the end!!! More metal stories. I tried listening to White Lion at work and couldn't do it, man. They rocked too fuckin hard. I just kept looking up from my research and saying to myself, "this song fuckin' rocks." I literally was talking to myself. (which is why I try and distance myself from tunes I actually like while at work for a rew reasons: 1. So I will not have to associate said awesome tunage with work when I am enjoying said awesome tunage outside of work and 2. i just get too into the good stuff and end up listening intently to the music or talking to my computer about what a great song I'm listening to)

    So then I walked over to refill my glass of water at the filtered water station at the other end of the office (to regain focus). But just ended up lingering by my coworkers' pods/cubicles and asking, "hey, you ever listen to white lion? yeah, they rock."

  2. i need to listen to more metallica.. and i'd also like to hear your take on the 1970's precursor to 80's metal