De Do Do Do, De Da Da Dwayne

November 17, 2010

I didn’t meet Dwayne until I entered high school. Though our hometown was a speck, we had attended different schools until our freshman year. I had been subjected to Catholic school and Dwayne had attended the public school.

And, even though our town was so small and I knew a lot of the kids at the public school, Dwayne lived a good twenty miles outside of town in a two-story farmhouse, nestled in a small, wooded valley with only a few other houses within easy walking distance.

But I knew his name by the time I was in junior high. He was some unstoppable, unbeatable wrestler.

Some of my football teammates also wrestled and all of them spoke with a reverential awe of Dwayne.

Several other friends wrestled once we reached high school and it was through them, as well as having classes together, that I met Dwayne.

We got on well.

(then again, everyone got on well with Dwayne)

He was short but formidable, slightly bowlegged with a mop of dirty blonde hair. His athletic ability was obvious the first time that I watched him do a handstand on his chair in the middle of class.

(usually to the great consternation of Herr Jack in German class)

After gym class, the towel he’d use in the locker room revealed his warped sense of humor. The white towel was inscribed with black letter that noted it to be “property of the Mississinewa State Hospital.”

We knew that to be a psyche hospital in the southern part of the State, though we were more colorful and less politically correct in our description.

“Yeah,” Dwayne replied, confirming the towel’s origin. “The old man swiped a bunch the last time he was in.”

I recall him groggily telling us as to why he was so tired one morning between classes.

“The old man went mental last night,” he yawned. “I decided to sleep in the woods.”

The explanation was presented as though such zaniness was reasonable to expect.

The classes that I had with Dwayne had potential to be entertaining and sometimes memorable. Today, I’m sure that he’d have been dosed with chemistry at the first handstand, but, for the most part, even our teachers were charmed by his antics as they were usually good-natured and resulted in no casualties.

The only thing that I recall him doing that might have been considered grounds for dismissal occurred during our junior year. Thanks to the inability of our school board to properly vet not one but two teachers, the English class that I had fall semester was on our third teacher before Thanksgiving.

This instability led to the inmates taking over the asylum. It wasn’t exactly the prison colony in Alien III, but the class was far more prone to stretches of chaos and disorder than our others.

I sat in the back row with my buddy Bosco and mostly stayed out of the fray. It was forty-five minutes during I mostly just stared into space, sleeping with my eyes open.

One afternoon, as Teacher #3 stood at the blackboard, conjugating something in chalk, Dwayne popped up out of his seat in the front row and there was a sudden explosion of yellow.

Bosco squinted at the board – his eyesight was questionable – and asked me what happened.

“I think Dwayne threw an orange at the board.”

(it was actually an egg)

A half dozen of us were ushered to the principal’s office for interrogation; Bosco and I both pleaded ignorance.

(convincingly, I’m sure)

As we left school that day, we asked how he had beaten the rap.

“I told him that I sit in the front row,” he replied. “I’d have to be crazy to pull a stunt like that.”

He climbed into his beat-up Camaro, and – with the stereo blaring – sped off.

If I had to guess, it was probably 96Rock – an album rock station from Hamilton, Ohio – which Dwayne had blasting that day. Here are four random songs I very much recall hearing on the station during the early ’80s…

Russ Ballard – Voices
from Russ Ballard

Englishman Russ Ballard had ties to The Zombies and Argent and success penning hits like Rainbow’s Since You Been Gone, Santana’s Winning, and America’s You Can Do Magic.

In our part of the world, Ballard got played on several stations with On The Rebound and The Fire Still Burns from his solo albums. And the moody Voices was mammoth, but it seemed to be one of those songs that everyone knew, but no one knew who the singer.

Lita Ford – Gotta Let Go
from Dancin’ On The Edge

In 1984, I certainly knew the music of Joan Jett and I imagine I had heard a song or two by The Runaways, but Gotta Let Go was the first time I’d heard a song by Joan’s former Runaway bandmate, Lita Ford.

I know that I’d seen Ford in Circus magazine and, as I had seen and read about her in Circus magazine, I undoubtedly assumed she was music for numbskulls. And though the oh-so ’80s metal of Gotta Let Go is hardly rocket surgery, it’s got an indeniable charm.

Kansas – Fight Fire With Fire
from Drastic Measures

This wasn’t Dust In The Wind.

When I hear Fight Fire With Fire, I think of seeing the clip for the song on Friday Night Videos in the autumn of ’83. I have always considered it to be the greatest video with swarms of giant mosquitos in it that I’ve ever seen.

Rewatching it, there are not swarms of giant mosquitos. There is one giant mosquito that looks – quite frankly – to be shoddily constructed.

(quite disappointing…)

Prism – Don’t Let Him Know
from Small Change

Prism never really broke through in the States, but I recall several songs by the Canadian band on the radio as a kid. None more so than their lone US Top Forty hit Don’t Let Him Know.

Written by Jim Vallance and a pre-fame Bryan Adams, the stomping rock song is an earworm. During the winter of 1982, Don’t Let Him Know was constantly blaring from the juke box at the bowling alley where my friends and I would hang out.

(it’s as Midwestern rock, circa ’82, as it gets)

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Some Metal For Steve (Or, How I Got Stuck On A Tour Bus And Watched Human Evolution Take A Step Backwards)

October 15, 2009

heavy_metal_280265I never went through a metal phase during my high school years (or at any other time, for that matter).

Oh, I thought some of it was marvelous, simply smashing stuff, but I was never drawn to an album merely because it was an excuse to make devil horns, offer diabolical instructions when played backwards, or had been endorsed on MTV’s Headbangers Ball.

During high school, my friend Chris did have a cassette onto one side he had taped the first album by Men Without Hats; side two, Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast.

(I still enjoy the works of both bands to this day – as documented here, and here)

In college, though, I shared an apartment with a roommate whom I worked with at a record store. He was an excellent roommate, though, there were moments of friction, but these rifts were limited to the five to seven nights a week that I’d wake him at two in the morning after a night of watching cover bands and having a few drinks.

Between the two of us, I think we had somewhere in the range of five-hundred CDs, which was a staggering amount in 1989/1990. Visitors to our apartment would stand slack jawed and addled before the towering wall of music we had amassed.

(these visitors, usually village lasses charmed by the roommate, would often end up being angry and vengeful once the roommate had moved on, resulting in the need to leave my German Shepherd uncrated to ward off the ones who threatened to break in – no one ever did, but the dog did rip up most of the kitchen linoleum)

This roommate was a metal enthusiast.

Oh, he listened to a lot of different music, but its Danger Danger’s Bang Bang – or is it the other way around – that would end up on a soundtrack of our time together. Or, some rare, early Mötley Crüe self-issued releases on their own Leathür Records imprint.

And, one of the more goofily memorable events of those years was attending a club show – a triple bill of Steelheart, Bullet Boys, and Great White.

(this was a good decade before the last act became infamous)

The tickets were comps, the club was packed, and the roommate and I enthusiastically mocked Bullet Boys’ lead singer and David Lee Roth knock-off Marq Torien as he practiced Roth-like jumps in the parking lot.

The Spinal Tapness of that scene paled to one occurring later as we hung out on the tour bus of Steelheart with their label rep – who had invited us – and a rather dim contingency of cardboard cut-out metalheads.

As Bon Jovi’s relatively recent hit Wanted Dead Or Alive blared from the stereo, one of Steelheart’s members stood in the middle of the bus and hoisted a beer.

Bon Jovi sang of being a cowboy, but riding on a steel horse as opposed to one of the equine variety.

Steelheart guy shook his head in agreement with the words.

“This is like being a cowboy.”

He raised his arms, motioning all around him.

“And this is the steel horse he’s singing about.”

It was a stirring thing to have witnessed.

It must have been how the guys who were present for the invention of fire felt.

The roommate and I still e-mail on occasion. He recently took me to task for posting music by Ray Parker, Jr. So, here’s some hair metal to balance out the universe…

Mötley Crüe – Too Young To Fall In Love
from Shout At The Devil

Mötley Crüe always struck me as being…well, not exactly Mensa candidates. They did have a handful of songs that I thought were good, mindless fun (and Too Young To Fall In Love was accompanied by a bizarrely comical video)

Years later I would actually have a neighbor that was an ex-girlfriend of lead singer Vince Neil.

Ratt – Way Cool Jr.
from Reach For The Sky

While hardly rediscovering fire, Ratt never seemed to suffer from a shortage of insanely hooky songs. I mean, even their album cuts would immediately lodge in my brain upon hearing them.

And, in another odd connection, I own an amp that allegedly belonged to one of the band’s members.

Lita Ford – Kiss Me Deadly
from Back To The Cave

Lita never did much for me, not that I was ever exposed to much of her music aside from a couple of songs. Of course, Kiss Me Deadly was inescapable on the radio and a record store co-worker (not the roommate) would throw on Back To The Cave each and every chance that she got.

And, yes, I actually have a connection to Lita as, years after she had her brief period of success, I would become friends with someone that had been a member of her band during that short heydey.

Scorpions – Still Loving You
from Love At First Sting

Despite my relative disinterest in metal, Scorpions hooked me with their Blackout album and the song No One Like You. Unlike the other acts here, I actually owned several of their albums.

As for a connection to them, I don’t think I have even a tenuous one. However, if I recall correctly, the ex-roommate’s father was a big fan of Still Loving You on which lead singer Klaus Meine cranks the angst, melodrama, and remorse in his vocals to eleven.