Armagideon Time

This week’s featured record is the third platter sent my way by my good pal (and occasional collaborator) Daniel Butler. After I complained about the asking prices of used vinyl, Daniel asked me to shoot him a wantlist to check against the inventory of the place where he worked.

Most of my requests were the stuff of pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, but Dee’s persistence (and generosity) managed to net me copies of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Warren Zevon’s Excitable Boy, and…

…Quiet Riot’s Metal Health.

I added the 1983 LP to the list for sentimental reasons more than anything else, but I was still thrilled when opened the protective shipping sleeve and found it inside. (Daniel would only tell me he found “something” on my list and wait for me to discover exactly what.)

As a whiter-than-boy who grew up in a blue collar enclave, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I went through a metalhead phase. Actually, I underwent two of them over the course of my adolescence, with the first outbreak emerging during the tail end of my primary school and beginning of my junior high days. The pop metal boom of the early Eighties struck at the precise moment to have maximum impact among the circle of tweener dipshits I ran with at the time. It drifted in on the tailwind of the entrenched Zep, Sabbath, and Maiden fandoms we associated with the cool-as-fuck older kids in the neighborhood, who’d park their rusted out muscle cars and unfinished custom van conversions in the leadburning shops’ parking lot on weekend afternoons and get ‘faced.

Those acne-scarred demigods had nothing but disdain for the new crop of long-haired hard rockers, but that did little to dissuade our devotion to these pop metal sounds of the now. Any (homophobically phrased) jeers about authenticity were lost in the novelty and — most importantly — extremely videogenic nature of the associated bands. Leather, spikes, spandex, crazy-ass looking instruments, wild make-up and absurd hair — these dudes were the stuff vicarious dreams were made of, living out fantasies of vague rebellion one four minute concept video at a time. Terms like “cheesy” or “ridiculous” are alien concepts to a twelve year old whose main goals are to assert his growing desire for independence though music his parents will despise.

(In my case, “one of my parents” because my mom made friends with a lot of local wannabe metal gods at the speaker factory where she worked. She invited them to family barbecues, went to their shows, and one of them dated — then got married to — my father’s youngest sister for a while.)

I recall being really into Twisted Sister and the Scorpions for a while, but Quiet Riot ended up being the band I latched on to during those days. Not really sure why, though I can recall fucking up an attempt at sketching the band’s logo on the back of my 7th grade history notebook. Instead of “QUIET,” I ended up writing “QUOIT” in big, block, ball-point etched letters. I tried to save face by adding an “S” to the end, and drawing a stick figure playing ring-toss with a “No, I didn’t mean QUIET” word balloon pointing at his mouth.

It didn’t stop mocking laughter of my classmates, but at least I made an effort to control the narrative.

For all my Eighties pop metal fandom, I didn’t own any recordings associated with the scene apart from a (probably shoplifted) tape of the Scorpions’ World Wide Live my cousin passed on to me for a buck. There wasn’t really a need to, as I got a steady fix by way of the songs’ ubiquity on the scores of bandwagon-jumping music video programs and my friends shitty portable cassette players. (One time a bunch of us sat around our friend Todd’s kitchen table listening to the entirety of Stay Hungry and dicking around with a Ouija board until ten at night. On the bike ride home, I was convinced Satan was going to hop out of the woods beside the road and attack me.)

It was entirely an environmental phenomenon. After my circle of neighborhood pals got scattered by the social stratification of middle school and the videos dropped out of rotation, it simply ceased to be. It remained a guilty secret for years afterward, kept under wraps lest it invite eyerolls and mockery from the thrash metal and punk scenesters I fell in with during high school and college. At best, it was the stuff of self-deprecating jokes about being a dumbass kid in a suburban backwater. At worst, it was an invitation for attack from someone seeking to deflect from their own embarrassing fandom with a pre-emptive strike. You’d have been better off admitting to liking disco among those jokers than confessing you kinda sorta thought Ratt wasn’t half bad for six months in 1984.

Flash forward to my late twenties, when I was scouring various fileshare networks to compile an extensive archive of early Eighties music videos. I agonized for weeks over whether to add metal to the mix before having a strange moment of clarity. I’d grown beyond anyone worth impressing. My last metalhead pal from the old days had used a Celine Dion jam for his wedding music and remaining punk rock pal admitted to breaking his CD-ROM with a copy of the Alan Parsons Project’s greatest hits. I was already listening to Styx and Kylie and Donna Summer without shame, and Maura already knew about my white trash roots. “Coolness” be damned, pop metal was just as much a part of my tweener glory days as Duran Duran and the Human League ever were.

Even with this newfound sense of acceptance, pop metal music doesn’t occupy a huge space in my listening rotation. It’s very much a situational thing ideally suited for warm summer afternoons and certain retrogaming experiences. It’s an occasional itch, but I’m glad I have a copy of Metal Health around to scratch it when it does surface.

Also, the number of times I’ve kicked off a work shift with a spin of the title track has reached the upper double digits over the past eighteen months.

When a sea of troubles looms, let power chords and adolescent bravado light thy path.

Related posts:

  1. Back to Wax #3: Taking flight
  2. Back to Wax #4: A right treat
  3. Back to Wax #26: The eternal war

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