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.

Herr Jack Heads For The Deutsche Ecke In The Sky

February 25, 2009

As freshman in high school, my friends and I had a choice between a language to study – German or Spanish. Several of us opted for the former for the sole reason that we knew the Spanish club made an almost annual trek south of the border.

We had our sights set trans-Atlantic (although the German club had only made that trip once). We placed our hopes in the hands of Herr Jack (as he was known to us).

Herr Jack’s surname was German and it translated into “bow maker,” a fact of which we were reminded daily. It might have struck us as oddly compulsive, but it did not strike us as foreshadowing.

His obsession with Latin might have provided another hint at his impending collapse. Entering class, Herr Jack would soon be delivering an impassioned speech on the value of learning Latin; his example would always be “caido” – to kill. He would ask for English derivations and we would offer the obvious ones such as homicide and suicide.

After witnessing regular performances of this skit, I prepared for the next occurrence, compiling a list and dazzling him with vulpicide and other words decidedly difficult to make use of in casual conversation.

He was impressed.

We just thought he was a frustrated Latin teacher.

Soon, it was the buzzing of the clock in the classroom that had Herr Jack’s attention. The noise was outside the hearing range of my classmates and I (as well as most canines), but it drove him to distraction, resulting in entire classes lost while Herr Jack bellowed – his eyes bulging and perspiration beading on his balding pate – about the non-existent irritant.

His antics grew increasingly puzzling. He would decide that a lovely winter’s day would be the perfect time to have class outside in an area he had dubbed the Deutsche Ecke (or, German Corner).

We managed to convince him that, perhaps, we should watch a Deutschland Spiegel filmstrip indoors rather than conjugate verbs in the sub-zero weather outdoors.

The madness behind Herr Jack’s methods became apparent one day in gym class. In the locker room, several of us were admiring the towel that Wayne, our school’s star wrestler, had wrapped around his waist – a simple white towel marked as the property of the state mental institute.

“I got it from my old man,” he replied. “He came back with a dozen from the last time he was in.”

We all nodded with admiration and interest. At fifteen, this was new and uncharted ground for us. It was like those kids finding the dead body in the movie Stand By Me.

“Hey, you know what?” Wayne asked, addressing us. “Did you know that my old man did time there with Mr. Bogenhersteller about ten years ago? They used to play checkers and bet on baseball games on the television.”

It wasn’t long after this revelation that we entered German class one afternoon to find that Herr Jack had been replaced by a portly woman named Edna. We would all drop German the following year.

For me, Germany would have to wait for another fifteen years.

I learned that Herr Jack passed away last week.

Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Jack. I hope that you’ve found a Deutsche Ecke which is warmer than ours was that February day.

Nena – 99 Luftballoons
I’ve posted this one before, but couldn’t it be argued that it is the most widely-known German pop song ever? Also, we were Herr Jack’s students in the autumn of 1983 when we began hearing Nena on 97X. We managed to get him to devote an entire class to listening to it (the German version, of course as radio quickly latched on to the English version).

Scorpions – No One Like You
I think that I long ago reached a saturation point on Rock You Like A Hurricane. Besides, my friend Brad had turned me on to the Scorpions with their previous record, Blackout, during the summer of 1982.

Actually, No One Like You got a fair amount of airplay in our part of the world – on radio and blaring out of the older kids Camaros and Trans Ams that summer.

Fury In The Slaughterhouse – Every Generation Got Its Own Disease
I received a copy of Fury In The Slaughterhouse’s album Mono in 1993 and did find this song to be interesting enough to hold on to it. It’s hypnotic and a bit menacing.

Aside from the fact that they were German, I knew (know) nothing about them, but, on their All-Music Guide entry, they are described as Germany’s U2 and have allegedly sold more records than any other band in that country (recently, passing the Scorpions).

Far Corporation- Stairway To Heaven
Far Corporation was a collection of German session musicians put together by producer Frank Farian (who would later work with Milli Vanilli). Rounding out the group was drummer Simon Phillips and several members of Toto including guitarist Steve Lukather. I believe Robin McAuley (who was in the group McAuley Schenker with guitarist Michael Schenker – who was a founding member of the Scorpions) handles the vocals.

Their cover of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven got a lot of airplay on our local album rock station for about two weeks in the autumn of 1985 (I imagine the public outcry was deafening). This version must be a single edit as the version I remember kicked into a thumping, bass-heavy instrumental section that reminded me of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax where this one fades out.