Donnie lived a few houses down from me as a kid. As we were the same age, we knew each other from school, but he was one of those second-tier friends we all have growing up – not your first choice but someone to hang out with if options were limited.
(or, if the kid’s family had a pool)
I actually hung out with Donnie a fair amount during those last summers before I could drive. There were only a handful of kids in our age group in the neighborhood, so, we needed every warm body we had to have a baseball game.
When we opted to play hoops, Donnie had the home-court incentive of having a court with an eight-foot goal on which some of us could dunk. So, we’d hang out at his house.
There was usually a boom box when we played hoops, especially during the summer, which meant an inevitible argument. It was Donnie’s court and, by law, Donnie’s decision.
I was good with most of his choices. I remember him having stuff like The Go-Gos and Missing Persons, and I vividly recollect him having Men At Work’s second album, Cargo, as he played that one into the ground.
And, then, overnight, he went metalhead.
He was the first metalhead I’d ever known.
Donnie was a slight kid, with lank strands of blonde hair. His eyes were rather beady and darted back and forth behind wire-rimmed glasses. His nose would twitch in a manner that made me think of a rodent.
The offbeat music of Men At Work suited him.
It created a juxtaposition that struck me as odd and comical when I’d look through his cassettes and find Krokus, Mötley Crüe, and Twisted Sister titles where The Fixx had been a week before.
He was quite serious about these bands that I knew mostly from leafing through Circus in the drugstore, having already read Rolling Stone.
(those were pretty much the only music magazines that the store stocked on a regular – or even erratic – schedule)
Sometime in ’84, my buddy Beej informed me of cassette that his brother David had. The tape had a home-made cover that made me think it could have been done by a very rambunctious six-year old with poor motor skills.
It was Donnie.
As best as we could make out, the band was called Room Of Doom and one of the songs had the same title.
(it did work for Big Country)
The songs were actual metal songs by other bands – and not instrumentals – over which Donnie delivered his own lyrics, sometimes using a cookie monster-style. I suppose that he was a bit of a visionary.
It was dreadful. I still remember one of the lyrics from Room Of Doom – “I met a man named Jake, so I killed him with a rake.”
I suppose that a rake could be wielded with menace. Maybe.
The tape made the rounds for a few days and was soon forgotten. I had forgotten about it until, for whatever reason, the incident popped into my head the other day.
Of course, in a post-Columbine world, Donnie would have likely been disappeared.
Then, again, in a post-You Tube world, he might have become a sensation.
The outcome was more mundane and less tragic. Donnie was just some kid who liked heavy metal. I saw him several years ago on a trip to our hometown. He was cruising the main drag of town near the movie theater.
Something loud was blaring from his car stereo.
It was like being back in 1984.
1983 saw heavy metal go mainstream with acts like Def Leppard and Quiet Riot selling millions of albums and getting airplay on radio and the fledgling MTV.
Though I suppose it could be debated as to what bands were or weren’t heavy metal, here are four songs from acts that, during the summer of ’84, I’m sure I saw while perusing Circus or heard on 96Rock…
Van Halen – Panama
Panama immediately makes me think of MTV as the channel finally became available in our town in 1984 and, that summer, I must have seen the video for the song several hundred times (and we didn’t even have cable). I’d go over to my friend Beej’s house, we’d turn on MTV, and, more often than not, we’d hear the drone of the airplane that opened the video before the band crashed into the song.
What odds would you have gotten in Vegas that a year later, Van Halen would be no more?
Def Leppard – Bringin’ On The Heartbreak
from Vault: Def Leppard Greatest Hits (1980–1995)
Def Leppard’s Pyromania had been one of the best-selling albums of ’83 and I think that I heard just about every song on the album on the radio at some point. As it began to lose steam in ’84, the band’s previous album, High ‘N Dry, was reissued.
Bringin’ On The Heartache was remixed and gave radio something new to play from the band, but it was the video for the song Me And My Wine – a new track added to High ‘N Dry – that seemed to be on MTV when Panama wasn’t.
(we waited for almost three years to get MTV and the only two songs that I got to see that first summer were those two)
Ratt – Wanted Man
from Out Of The Cellar
By the time school ended in ’84, there was a lot of hard rock/heavy metal on the radio, but it was Ratt that had one of the songs of the summer with Round And Round. The song seemed to be everywhere that summer – especially blasting from cars – and it truly is difficult to dislodge it from the brain.
It didn’t get played as much, but I quite liked the more mid-tempo Wanted Man . It has a swagger and I always picture a spaghetti Western in my head when I hear the song.
Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve – A Whiter Shade Of Pale
from Through the Fire
HSAS brought together Sammy Hagar, Journey guitarist Neal Schon, bassist Kenny Aaronson, and drummer Michael Shrieve – the latter two had been in Santana together.
Hearing the group’s version of Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale on radio might have been the first time I ever heard the song.
I don’t think that the original is quite as iconic here in the States as it seems to be in the UK, but it’s a beautifully trippy song and I could have done worse in experiencing it for the first time than hearing this version.