Blogging in E minor
Usually just a bunch of silly crap.

The Metal Years

Much like the unwelcome jolt one would experience from being rear-ended by an 18-wheeler in standstill traffic, the 80’s have been thrust into my consciousness yet again.

            This happens to me on occasion. Most recently, the combination of seeing an old Ratt video and finding myself experiencing some rather unpleasant, all-too-familiar circumstances have caused me to take an introspective glance backwards.

            Usually, I don’t reflect upon the period with fond memories. The decade kicked off with my parents’ divorce while I was a freshman. From there followed dropping out of high school, living in poverty and several unsuccessful attempts to break into musical superstardom with some rather hard-luck acts. By the time the decade ended, I was cynical and exhausted and awaiting blood test results. I was willing to try anything to get my life on track.

            For better or worse, the 80’s were my coming-of-age era. Whereas the hippies had the 60’s, Generation X had the 80’s. The Boomers had transistor radios; we had our MTV.

            My cohorts and I, like the generations that preceded us, must learn to take responsibility for our times. The 50’s experienced Elvis and drive-in restaurants. The 60’s witnessed the Moon Landing, race riots and Woodstock. The 70’s laid claim to Watergate, disco and the Bicentennial. We had Hasselhoff and his talking car.

            The decade is most identifiable by its trademark hairstyles. These ranged from punky spikes . . . to sculptured coifs . . . to giant mall hair . . . to the now-maligned mullet — the common denominator being product, and lots of it.

            The fashion progression was as strangely diverse and as distinctively ridiculous as the hair. Think Miami Vice. Imagine Madonna’s Lucky Star video. Recall Michael Jackson’s Thriller get-up. And don’t forget glam rock, with its animal-print spandex, tight-fitting leather, dangling earrings and day-glow bandanas. See what I mean?

            Despite this levity, a new breed of economic players was running the show. Old World Unions were being busted and Big Business was finding new and creative ways to exploit the masses – legally. Predatory entrepreneurs were buying up controlling interests in established corporations, selling off their assets like scrap, and sending their employees off packing.

            Ronald Reagan, the actor-president, charmed the soccer moms — the manifestation of a middle class with realigning political affiliations — with a genteel, grandfatherly reassurance. Like many of my fellow objectors, I thought he was the Antichrist. As it turns out, he was merely a senile puppet controlled by the bankers, businessmen and Christian fundamentalist who pulled the strings off camera from the rafters above.

            In America of the 1980’s, the country catered to families and businesses exclusively. As far as the rest of us were concerned, we were completely irrelevant.

            But despite my tribulations, there were good times. I had bandmates, several tight friendships and nights of seemingly endless partying. And then there were the women. . . .

            I am reminded of the movie The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years. The film followed the glam rock movement in LA from 1986-1988.

            The documentary featured established acts such as Alice Cooper, Kiss and Ozzy Osbourne, the latter being interviewed while he is cooking breakfast. At the time, Ozzy is both witty AND intelligible, as he appears in makeup and a robe, giving him the appearance of a middle-aged housewife.

            “Ozzy,” the off-camera interviewer asks, “What kind of drugs have you tried?”

            The camera then pans to his shaking hands, spilling juice on the counter as he attempts to pour into a glass: “I’ve had marijuana, and cocaine and heroin . . .”

            The film showcases up-and-coming talent, such as the bands Poison, Vixxen and WASP, as well. While being interviewed, guitarist Chris Holmes floats in his pool, fully clothed and inebriated, as his mother looks on speechlessly. “I’m just a piece of crap!” Holmes proclaims, as he attempts to gather in several floating bottles of Vodka.

            “Chris,” the unseen interviewer asks, “Where do you see yourself ten years from now?”

            “I’ll be dead . . . glug, glug . . . you can come visit me in my graveyard!”

            Theatrics aside,  The Metal Years succeeds in telling the story of the droves of unknowns who were struggling to piece together a day-to-day living, many of whom would never realize their dreams of stardom. This was my story as well.

            I could related to living in cars, handing out flyers on the streets, and splitting the door charge receipts from the night’s gig with three or four other band members.

            There were the temp jobs, which included loading trucks, assembly work and picking up garbage. One day I was working in slaughterhouse in East St. Louis at a job not dissimilar to that of a dish washer. The only difference was that I was cleaning out containers of blood. For a few weeks out of the year I would make a modest return delivering phone books – assuming I had an operational vehicle. And I sold blood plasma when there was no work. Again, it was an era of exploitation.

            However, much like the struggling musicians in The Metal Years, I received most of my sustenance from young women. The ladies of the genre – being spared the workplace discrimination that men who looked like women had experienced – typically had jobs. They fed me, clothed me, drove me around and provided me with a place to sleep when necessary. Perhaps this was their way of patronizing the arts.

                      The critical viewer would probably conclude that much of The Metal Years was put on. Ozzy revealed later that he wasn’t actually in his kitchen, Chris Holmes shows no reaction to pouring “alcohol” into his eyes, and a scene where Kiss’s Paul Stanley is interviewed while lying in bed with several scantily clad women probably resulted from a casting call to an agency. Nevertheless, the film does accurately reveal the underlying realities of the industry.

            For better or worse, the 80’s made me what I am today. The hard knocks I experienced during this Aqua Net encrusted decade turned me from an insecure, suburban misfit with very few prospects into the self-starting, problem-solving leader I am today.

            When these unsolicited flashbacks occur, I can’t help but laugh at the pop culture prevalent during the days of my youth – the hair, the silly clothes and the posing musicians. Nevertheless, there still is something about the 80’s women that really gets me going!

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2 Responses to “The Metal Years”

  1. Well you said it best, it made you who you are today. Glad I was there to share and witness it with you, my friend. You really need to consider writing a book.


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