parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating the VAN HALEN!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
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photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
for all the (deserved) attention and recognition that EDDIE VAN HALEN gets for his blazingly REVOLUTIONARY technical achievements on his instrument (as evidenced in "ERUPTION"), what often gets lost in the process is how damn CATCHY the debut VAN HALEN (WARNER BROS, 1978) record actually is. the whole album is one banger after another with CLASSIC singles like "RUNNIN' WITH THE DEVIL," "AIN'T TALKIN' 'BOUT LOVE" and "JAMIE'S CRYIN'" as well as lesser known deep cuts like "I'M THE ONE," "LITTLE DREAMER," and "ATOMIC PUNK." even the cover songs are ICONIC, i.e. THE KINKS' "YOU REALLY GOT ME" and JOHN CHARLES BRIM's "ICE CREAM MAN." this is one hell of a debut and it makes sense that other groups throughout the next decade chased its immense allure and formula to ever diminishing returns throughout the GLAM METAL era.
and i feel strongly that despite the band's moniker and EDDIE's status as a guitar god of the first order, the success of the actual group is the result of a unique chemistry made up of four musicians who each contribute to a whole that is far beyond the sum of its parts. there is definitely some interesting alchemy at play here the arguably only other TRANSFORMATIVE acts like THE BEATLES, KRAFTWERK, THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE, DAVID BOWIE or (much later) APHEX TWIN had tasted such rarified air.
take bassist MICHAEL ANTHONY who is debatably the weakest musician in the band whose bass-lines are rudimentary at best, his backing vocals which hit the high notes in a three-part harmony with EDDIE and singer DAVID LEE ROTH are as instrumental to the VAN HALEN sound as anything guitar-related. drummer ALEX VAN HALEN (EDDIE's brother) is as much of a prodigy on the drums as EDDIE on guitar and the duo very much is the LEGENDARY core of VAN HALEN and one of the great rhythm sections in ROCK AND ROLL history. its no wonder that later brothers like VINNIE and DARRELL ABBOT of PANTERA looked towards the VAN HALEN BROTHERS as standard-bearers decades on. the aforementioned ROTH is one of the great frontman of all-time, whose limited vocal range did not deter his ambitions for world domination through sheer CHARISMA and CHUTZPAH to match. the fact that his persona proved so successful is almost PUNK ROCK and DIY in retrospect since the dude is absolutely SELF-MADE. people forget but in their formative years, the band played literally anywhere and everywhere in the greater LOS ANGELES area and had a repertoire of nearly every music genre, which only cemented their on-stage chemistry and technical dexterity alike.
and then there is EDDIE. its one thing to be a VIRTUOSO player with a seemingly limitless knowledge of theory and technique, but entirely another to have the creative capacity and gift to write MEMORABLE songs. EDDIE was both. his crossover adoption of technique associated with CLASSICAL MUSIC (i.e. two-handed tapping on violin) established him as an innovator who expanded the technical vocabulary of what was possible on guitar in a ROCK AND ROLL context, but what made it relevant was how that new texture was utilized as a new emotional palette in song-form. i feel such is key in understanding his brilliance. when i hear a VAN HALEN solo it never feels excessive or overbearing, unlike many of his VIRTUOSO peers and later acolytes. his solos feel solely based in the song at hand and are often expanding on a theme and/or emotion therein. for me that innate ability to intuit such complicated musical terrain and have it musically come of not just cohesive, but emotionally satisfying is what makes him so singularly special.
if you are not familiar with the debut VAN HALEN record, definitely check it out. regardless of your affinity for what came after it, this record is a ROCK AND ROLL goldmine and well worth investigation.
maybe its because THE DIRT (review linked HERE) is arguably the greatest ROCK N ROLL memoir ever written or maybe its because guitarist MICK MARS and drummer TOMMY LEE are such a POTENT tandem, but MOTLEY CRUE is probably the one HAIR METAL / GLAM METAL band i can actually appreciate. for the record i dont consider VAN HALEN, TWISTED SISTER or GUNS N' ROSES as part of that much MALIGNED cultural movement (in my mind they are more CLASSIC ROCK-aligned than anything else). for me the appeal of MOTLEY CRUE is not that far off from the appeal of KISS, which is that they are a MEDIOCRE band (sorry, VINCE NEIL is terrible) that play to their strengths: namely their penchant for SPECTACLE.
by the time i reached my teens in the late 1990s, MOTLEY CRUE were a CULTURAL ANACHRONISM for nearly a decade. the PSEUDO-BONDAGE GEAR worn without irony in the "LOOKS THAT KILL" and "TOO YOUNG TO FALL IN LOVE" videos just look downright RIDICULOUS in retrospect. it was a time and an era dominated by JUDAS PRIEST, obviously. but that EXTREMITY and penchant for SPECTACLE again is what makes SHOUT AT THE DEVIL (ELEKTRA, 1983) and MOTLEY CRUE in general so FASCINATING to watch. for me the standout track is the title track "SHOUT AT THE DEVIL" which has an INDELIBLE mid-tempo groove and stop-start dynamics that really showcase the VERSATILE musicianship of MARS and LEE. and yes i am aware that bassist NIKKI SIXX wrote most of their catalogue, but im not sure that is really saying much. the songwriting and lyrics are probably the LEAST INTERESTING aspect concerning MOTLEY CRUE. plus SIXX disavowed in later years the apparent SATANIC imagery on the record, remember they are shouting at the devil. how lame. for me the music is a soundtrack to their MEMORABLE videos and OVER-THE-TOP live gigs with their MASSIVE explosions and rolling drum cages.
goes to show that a subdued MOTLEY CRUE unplugged performance would probably never work. thank god.
has SHOUT AT THE DEVIL aged well? not really. if you are looking for great METAL from the 1980s then their are plenty of other more INNOVATIVE and POWERFUL acts with better songs like SLAYER, METALLICA, JUDAS PRIEST, CELTIC FROST, VOIVOD, POSSESSED, MERCYFUL FATE / KING DIAMOND, DIO, MEGADETH, CANDLEMASS, ANTHRAX, MOTORHEAD, OVERKILL, CARCASS, DEATH ANGEL and EXODUS among many others. but MOTLEY CRUE is FUN because of their DEBAUCHED BEHAVIOUR and LAWLESS ATTITUDE and especially their SHAMELESS eye for all-things SPECTACLE. so if that interests you definitely check them out. if not, there are plenty of other SUPERIOR options out there.
sometimes ROCK N ROLL bands overthink things. they try to get clever write songs that overly complicated and conceptually dubious for no reason other than because they can.
not TWISTED SISTER.
sonically id argue they are a back-to-basics TRADITIONAL band in the long GLAM ROCK-inspired bands like the NEW YORK DOLLS, THE RAMONES and even KISS. its no frills, meat-and-potatoes ROCK N ROLL but even under such limitations TWISTED SISTER went for maximum impact. look no further than their third record STAY HUNGRY (ATLANTIC, 1984) and their two MEMORABLE singles "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT" and "I WANNA ROCK."
those two songs are the very poster children of bumper sticker song titles and instantly convey a sense of reckless abandon and directionless REBELLION. "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT" has been used at sporting and political events for decades now to the point that it is a fangless parody of itself. but in my estimation thats fine because it is such an ENJOYABLE and SUCCINCT hit of WARPED POP PERFECTION. its impossible to hear and not smile. "I WANNA ROCK" is my personal favorite TWISTED SISTER song because it just cuts right to the chase and never lets up. its a HARD-CHARGING track about the TRANSCENDENT JOY of anticipating and being a part of ROCK N ROLL. there is almost something TRIBAL and COMMUNAL about it. it definitely brings people together with its INCLUSIVE sentiment even if it is more than a bit GOOFY and CARTOONISH.
and that is where i respect DEE SNIDER, who wrote those two songs, as well as his primary collaborator (and TWISTED SISTER founder) JAY JAY FRENCH. they are unafraid to lean in with absolute abandon into the RIDICULOUS theatrics and crushingly SIMPLE song concepts and structures. to me it feels unquestionably RAMONES-y, almost like TWISTED SISTER are the intentionally forgotten LONG ISLAND step children of JOEY and JOHNNY RAMONE.
the rest of STAY HUNGRY is UNINSPIRED and INCONSEQUENTIAL, but those two singles are well worth the price of admission. just leave any semblance of good taste and rock snobbery at the door. you wont be impressing anyone with that here.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
i really enjoyed this film.
not because of its subject necessarily since i have nothing against TWISTED SISTER, their music, their fans or their legacy. what i appreciate about THIS IS F***ING TWISTED SISTER! (ANDREW HORN FILMPRODUKTION, 2014) is that it is two-hour long documentary focused entirely on the tireless struggle to make it in the entertainment industry despite nearly overwhelming odds against the band.
the band spent more than 10 years relentlessly playing and replaying the TRI-STATE bar circuit, building up a rabid following based on SHOCK TACTICS that seemingly glossed over their accomplished MUSICIANSHIP, PRESENCE and STAGECRAFT. their narrative is a populous one since their success was not manufactured over night, but rather organically built up one fan at a time over the crucible of repeat live performances. i thought it was quite refreshing to hear DEE SNIDER and JAY JAY FRENCH speak about the lengths they went to differentiate themselves from the pack and just the general daunting work ethic that they maintained despite years of diminishing returns. it must have felt quite hopeless and downright QUIXOTIC to be in the band throughout the 1970s playing bars in small-town LONG ISLAND, upstate NEW YORK, CONNECTICUT and the JERSEY SHORE.
usually bands in documentaries highlight the glorified heights and record sales of years gone by, but here the band is focused on their salad days when the unspoken connection between band and audience was at its zenith. and looking back that is not to say there arent some CRINGE-INDUCING admissions, such as the DISCO SUCKS shtick that led them to hang an effigy of BARRY WHITE on stage, which went over real well in RACIST parts of upstate NEW YORK where it was confused with a promotion of lynching. yikes! just the idea that the band jumped on the DISCO SUCKS movement at all is a bit DISAPPOINTING given the HOMOPHOBIC and XENOPHOBIC overtones of that popular movement by a largely white heterosexual male audience. there is also a bit of lazy CHAUVINISM and lame attempts at MACHISMO on stage and off throughout THIS IS F***ING TWISTED SISTER! which grew a bit tired. one would think that the band would have been somewhat open to GENDER FLUIDITY or at least the concept of not being outright hostile to other sexual preferences given their stage presence but NO. such was definitely not the case at the time. like KISS, they aped the image of the NEW YORK DOLLS without every coming to terms with its broader meanings and ramifications.
but maybe such RETROGRADE attitudes was all just indicative of a time and place forty years ago. in a sense, i respect them for being open about their past and the choices they dont repeat now. i give them that. i was similarly impressed by how in depth they went back into their years of STRUGGLE, when they were aspirational wannabes living on a dream. doesnt get more AMERICAN than that. it is also a testament to their singular FOCUS, DRIVE and downright STUBBORNNESS that they ultimately succeeded. this documentary is definitely worth checking out and investigating on account of that alone.
i will probably rewatch it again within the year.
so when i think of extroverted ROCK AND ROLL showmen, the first two names i think of are DAVID LEE ROTH and the STARCHILD himself, PAUL STANLEY of KISS. if you have never heard his legendary epic "rock talk" rants in-between songs compiled in the very unofficial compilation PEOPLE, LET ME GET THIS OFF MY CHEST (linked below), do yourself a favor check that out. OH. MY. GOD. that and watching NORM MACDONALD clips on youtube are the only things guaranteed to bring me out of a bad mood.
STANLEY is pure kinetic energy and the ultimate frontman, as he seemingly has no bounds to his enthusiasm in the high church of ROCK AND ROLL. admittedly i am closet KISS fan, as anyone that knows me will attest. where others see a bunch of talentless charlatans, i see true believers in the redeeming power of music... plus they blow shit up. there is nothing deeper to explore in their music. LOVE GUN is what it sounds like, a song about his dick. and why not?
so when i went about reading his memoir FACE THE MUSIC: A LIFE EXPOSED (HARPER COLLINS, 2014) i was at first taken aback but then quickly understood that as a child STANLEY was a nice little JEWISH boy from QUEENS that was painfully introverted. this was due to his being born with a congenital defect called MICROTIA that left him without a right ear, essentially giving him no peripheral hearing or ability to triangulate distance. the idea that through sheer will he became an influential musician just speaks to his drive. and for me that is the secret of KISS and their merchandising empire. along with GENE SIMMONS who likewise grew up in QUEENS an immigrant ISREALI who was made fun of for his accent during his childhood, you really get the sense that music and shameless self-promotion was their meal ticket out of NYC and unto bigger stages. were their songs good? meh. one thing i appreciate about this memoir is when STANLEY openly admits when their songs were shit, specifically whole swathes of the 1980s. i dont think i have ever read another musician be that dismissive of his own work in a memoir before. even SIMMONS stands by MUSIC FROM "THE ELDER" and other schlock they crapped out during those stale years.
i appreciate that honesty.
are there problems with this memoir? of course. MISOGYNY and NARCISSISM are pretty rampant and unchecked throughout this book. i don't know if he truly understands how full of himself he comes off at times. and his talk of sexual conquests is just as boring and disgusting as in SIMMONS memoir, but i guess that was the time and place. i wasn't there thankfully so i don't know.
an aspect i really enjoyed was all the mudslinging at on-again/off-again original members PETER CRISS and ACE FREHLEY. he goes to great lengths to dismiss the basic "dog tricks" CRISS performs as drumming during their reunion gigs, not to speak of his inability to stand up for himself and hid behind his rotating array of wives. FREHLEY, much as in SIMMONS' book, comes off as a lazy drunk that had talent but wasted it. i sense some admiration of sorts deep down there but ultimately a resigned frustration at someone that did not share his drive or need to push his gift to his limits. SIMMONS gets pegged as a self-promoting charlatan who takes credit for the work of others, namely the business prowess of STANLEY and their manager. STANLEY views himself as someone that found happiness and joy in his second marriage and the redemptive power of children. ultimately he hopes for the same for SIMMONS.
this book was probably 100 pages too long and it drags in places, but i thoroughly enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading FREHLEY's book where i hear he rebuts STANLEY and SIMMONS about their claims of his supposed laziness and ANTI-SEMITISM. can't wait.
outside of PRINCE and maybe RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, GUNS N' ROSES is one of the best live bands i have ever witnessed. there is a looseness and sleazy groove to their sound that is very much in the best tradition of FUNK that i feel is often overlooked. makes sense because SLASH and AXL ROSE, at least on the night i saw them years ago GIANT STADIUM, where in top form and just slayed.
in his memoir IT'S SO EASY: AND OTHER LIES (SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2011), GUNS N' ROSES bassist DUFF MCKAGAN recounts his career trajectory from a young SEATTLE street urchin punk kid to being a crucial member of a legendary band to battling drug abuse and gaining sobriety as well as freedom through (gasp) formal education, martial arts and rediscovering family.
it is quite the narrative arc and i want to say straight off that this is one of the better written memoirs i have read in recent memory. this shouldn't be too surprising given his columns for SEATTLE WEEKLY and PLAYBOY over the years that this debut book is recalled from. what i love most about his writing style is that it is conversational yet direct. he isn't trying to win you over with his vocabulary, although you get the sense that wouldn't be difficult for him given the depth of reflection and insight into his former selves that shared his same frame over a lifetime of interesting choices. rather than a tale of exploits, it is more a story of evolution and personal growth, as referenced in the title of a notoriously misogynistic song for which he wrote lyrics. he doesn't necessarily disown that song but acknowledges such were by a different person who wasn't then a father of two daughters. i appreciate that. that was me then, this is me now.
you really get the sense that MCKAGAN is writing this for other musicians who feel cornered into a lifestyle that isn't conducive to personal growth or (again, gasp) responsible long-term decision-making. nobody did debauchery like GUNS N' ROSES and the dude was such a notorious drinker that THE SIMPSONS named their fictional beer in his honor. think about that for a moment.
that same dude kicked his addictions and got a handle on his demons as well as his finances by pursuing a finance degree in order to better serve his fellow musicians with sound advice instead of relying on industry leeches that have sucked dry the marrow of many an artist. it is glorious to hear him speak about studying for exams backstage while on tour of soccer stadiums in SOUTH AMERICA. just a glorious juxtaposition.
even if you are not a fan of the music of GUNS N' ROSES or VELVET REVOLVER, this memoir is worth your time. it defies expectations and shows that through discipline and determination, even the most seemingly wayward souls out there can have a commanding second act.
couldn't recommend it any more forcefully.
to say KISS is controversial is putting it mildly. virtually all my friends HATE this band and everything they stand for: crass commercialism, misogyny, dubious musical ability and heavy reliance on gimmicks. these points are all well taken, but my response has long been that unlike most bands, KISS are unapologetic about who they are, including all those aforementioned attributes. they aren't even concerned with mercurial things like authenticity or artistic credibility, they just want your money and to out-perform and entertain every band on any bill ever. ironically, you could even say they have a very working-class mentality despite their reputation. dare i say DIY PUNK ROCK ethic?
in fact, in his memoir KISS AND MAKE-UP (THREE RIVERS PRESS, 2001), GENE SIMMONS basically recounts his upbringing, career choices and life philosophy and sees about reminding other rock bands that everyone is in the KISS business. and for me that is the main takeaway of this book. all bands have an image that they are selling and every time they sell related merchandise (apparel, posters, etc.), they are inherently in the branding business. maybe KISS takes it to another level selling everything from condoms to caskets, but essentially its the same concept.
a lot of this concern with money and capitalism can no doubt be traced to SIMMONS tight-knit upbringing by his single mother of HUNGARIAN JEWISH descent who was the survivor of her family from a concentration camp during the HOLOCAUST. they had little money and few prospects in ISRAEL, where SIMMONS was born and he oddly enough grew up isolated and obsessed with TV and especially AMERICAN culture. at 8 he immigrated to NYC and settled with his mother in QUEENS where he stumbled initially being fluent in the AMERICAN dialect, despite being fluent in 4 other languages. the torment of those years of being called slow and stupid by other kids for his speaking skills certainly contributed to his combative psyche and he makes no bones about the fact to him, money is purely a conduit to power and influence.
an interesting thing about SIMMONS throughout the book is his disregard for the wider ROCK AND ROLL community. in his mind he was and always will be an outsider. he went to shows not to bask in the glory of the songs ore the communal atmosphere of the audience, but rather to take notes on set design, lights and stagecraft. there was no big message they were attempting to convey or specific consciousness they wished to express, which is incredibly interesting given the revolutionary ethos of the counter culture that has come to define rock music from ELVIS to NIRVANA. there is always a push and pull with culture that pushes the limits of what is acceptable in polite society. KISS in this respect is as shallowly corporate as PEPSI or DISNEY. they are completely populist in that they serve the audience they seek, which is the widest possible.
i just find it interesting, and not in a pejorative way, that someone could be so completely fixated on extracting financial benefits rather than thinking of other intangibles as legacy or cultural influence. it is fascinating to me because ROCK AND ROLL is the bastion of social misfits and experimenters and SIMMONS isolated upbringing should have promoted such. instead he made artistic choices based on popularity, such as his work with people like CHER, MICHAEL BOLTON, DESMOND CHILDS, etc.
fascinating book in that regard. the lecherous sex stuff as well as the infighting between band members bored me to no end. this book would not pass muster in the #METOO era since women are just used and discarded like tissue paper throughout his story. there seemed to be some cognitive dissonance between this behavior and his adoration and hopes for the future with the birth of his daughter. that was confusing.
again, interesting read and recommended for anyone looking for a completely unique look at music not as a vehicle for expression, but financial gain. good luck.
i would like to get this out of the way right at the beginning, this is the greatest book about musicians ever.
and the recent shit film based on it did not do this book justice.
expertly edited (and in all likelihood ghostwritten) by NEW YORK TIMES writer NEIL STRAUSS, THE DIRT: CONFESSIONS OF THE WORLD'S MOST NOTORIOUS ROCK BAND (HARPER COLLINS, 2001) is megalomania personified, which coincidentally also describes the music of its subject, 80s HAIR METAL icons MÖTLEY CRÜE.
i have to hand it to STRAUSS, he really did a stellar job of milking out all the shallow narcissism of his subjects by allowing them each room to shape the narrative. this was done through structuring the book in a way were each chapter was written by one of the four members, each commenting on all that came before. essentially this book is four competing narrators that are by definition unreliable. this decision regarding structure allows the band to demonstrate their callow pettiness and baser drives far better than a straightforward hagiography by a single author could ever do.
it also makes for numerous hilarious moments, where seemingly the reader learns in real-time the numerous trespasses and poor decision-making of members against the other (i.e. sleeping with each other's girlfriends/wives, arguing over who started the band, etc) and their reaction to such. its genius and ultimately you don't believe any of them. its a book that makes you rethink what the definition of "truth" is and if determinism even exists decades before KELLYANNE CONWAY or SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS polluted our national consciousness.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
on a personal side, when i was in undergrad at RUTGERS i took this 20th century british literature class when i got an assignment to compare the JULIAN BARNES novel TALKING IT OVER (VINTAGE 1991) novel to any piece of literature. the professor's main gig was at nearby COLUMBIA and people took this class specifically to try to ingratiate themselves to her in hopes of getting a good word in i guess. TALKING IT OVER is about a love triangle and it is written in first person with three competing narrators, each undercutting the others rendering everyone unreliable. obviously my first thought went to THE DIRT mainly due to its structural similarities. i figure that all four MÖTLEY CRÜE members were liars so technically this "nonfiction" book was really fiction anyway.
long story short the professor was impressed and even read aloud a TOMMY LEE quote to class not fully aware of what she had done. that was easily the highlight of my academic career.
could not recommend this book and more forcefully, its worth it even if you hate their music and HAIR METAL in general. it transcends its subject. a classic.