Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll! Hell, Hell, Heavy Metal!
Music, like women and beer, is a matter of taste. I have chosen as my music genre for life — rock and roll. My choice occurred when I was a Senior in Cisco High School, when Beatlemania hit, and I think I bought the first Beatle album at the A&P grocery store where my father worked as the head butcher. Almost a different crowd showed up at my house a week after that purchase each and every night to hear that album — “Meet the Beatles” played all the way through. Bill Adling, Bob Berry, and I like to think we were among the first Beatle fans.
Those two convinced me to like the Fab Four, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, for the music, not just for their radical looks and behavior. I began to like their sound, not just their rebelliousnes. By the time Adling, Berry, Robert Cole, and I had formed the M-4, I was a hooked rock and roll fan. I went retrograde to embrace the anti-establishment forms of early rock and roll to add to the Beatles — the music of Chuck (not Bob) Berry, Little Richard, Motown, and doo-woop. Strangely, not of Elvis — by 1964 he was appearing to becoming too establishment; he had deserted the spirit of the genre despite all the pioneering work he had done for rock. As Chuck said “Hail, Hail, rock ‘n’ roll!”
The British invasion, in the wake of the Beatles, brought the Rolling Stones, The Who, the Animals, the Dave Clark Five, and the Kinks. The Stones, Mick, Keith, Charlie, Bryan, and Bill (not Adling), did something we thought impossible: almost top the Beatles in our minds. That never happened to me, but it was close. I shall never forget that summer after our freshman year at A&M when Bob Berry and I were hiking on US 183 south of Cisco to one of my parents’ farms to camp out, and we heard on the huge battery-powered radio we were lugging (probably on KLIF out of Dallas) “Turn up your radio, here is the latest from the Rolling Stones!” and we heard Keith’s opening riff to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” for the first time.
The US expanded Motown, and the Stones’ popularity made the Blues more widely accepted across the country. James Brown, the Beach Boys, the whole genre of surfing music, and great dance classics like all the versions of twist music (Chubby Checker) quickly added to the mix.
What is it about rock and roll? What gives it its great, broad appeal? I do not believe analyzing music eviscerates its appeal, so I will give it a shot, based upon my own gut feelings about rock: It pisses off parents. Keith Richards of the Stones said that the first thing he and Mick considered about a song or its lyrics is “Will it piss off the parents?” I do not believe it has to be that an older generation must dislike the music of the younger, because that of the younger is chosen for the same reason I chose the Beatles in the first place — it is my music, my choice, something I can call mine even though I am still a teenager; the more the parents hate it the better! Though it started as young people’s music, it is now also old people’s music, music to those of us who never lost that rebellious teenage spirit regardless of our age. At every Stones’ concert I’ve attended, the crowd is at least three generations deep — grandparents in leather jackets with a big red lips and tongue insignia holding the hands of their grandchildren sporting Stones’ regalia.
For, rock ‘n’ roll transcends age and generation nowadays. It always has been the music of protest, of revolution, of teenage rebellion and freedom: the social revolutions of the 60’s, the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement. Rock and roll transcends barriers –social, racial, economic, religious, political. It became apparent to me that Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was correct, “Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix — that’s all you need to know about rock ‘n’ roll!” (or something like that). When I became a parent, I swore I would not battle my children over music. It helped to keep that oath when I caught my younger son Chad swiping my Beatles’ LP’s and playing them in his room on the sly. He “discovered” the Beatles on his own, and then the Stones. That has been repeated in families countless times all over the world. What most of the world does not realize is that that discovery, if you truly love rock, can work the opposite way. My world of rock expanded instead of “circling the wagons.”
I admit I took my two sons to a metal concert early on as a chaperon. But I was open-minded not only because of my earlier oath, but because I had seen Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS interviewed, and I saw behind the make-up two Long Island Jewish boys who had stumbled upon a good thing. It reminded me of John Lennon and Paul McCartney in their first years. The make-up, all the theatrics, was not only to piss the parents off, it was acknowledging that pissing off parents SELLS, and sells big.
My first metal concert was Bon Jovi, preceded by Cinderella, the latter being one of the big glam “hair metal” bands. I was hooked again, not by Bon Jovi, but by Cinderella — not by how they looked, something the girls noted, but how they sounded, something I always listened for; looks do not matter in music, only what comes out of the instruments and vocal chords.
What hooked me was the same thing that hooked me back in 1963-1964. Those opening guitar chords that are the distinct fingerprint of so many great songs; that wailing screaming voice of the front guy or gal. Personally, my singing voice is so bad rock and metal are the only kind of songs I can sing; a good voice is not necessary — listen to the pipes of Bob Dylan and Lemmy Kilmeister of Motorhead; that killer guitar solo somewhere in the middle; that driving, pounding beat laid down by the drummer sweating out 10 pounds through his pores every concert; that bridge into the chorus whose driving beat (not necessarily the words) sticks in your head forever; the ear busting volume. You get the feeling the group on the stage is grabbing you by your shirt, pulling you toward them face-to-face and shouting at you “Listen to this, you son-of-a-bitch!” Now THAT’S music!
I discovered that Cinderella, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue, AC/DC, Judas Priest, KISS, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Dio, Metallica, Ozzy, Slayer, Joan Jett, Accept, Pantera, Godsmack, Warlock, the Scorpions, Rob Zombie, WASP, Slipknot, etc., etc. were doing the same thing that the Beatles, the Stones, The Who, and the Kinks did way back, only with bigger amps. I see a continuous thread through time, the continuation of which Led Zepplin played no small part, even though, for whatever reason, I was never a “lead head.”
When my sons and I could afford it, we went to concert after concert, I never as a chaperon anymore. I have gone by myself when I could find no one to go with me. I am a fan. I’ve been soaked while in the crowd by a “fire-hose” water gun manned by Ozzy himself. I went to the Ozzfest in Smirnoff at Fair Park in Dallas in August of 05 by myself and stayed all day, worth it to see (in order) Slayer, Judas Priest, and Ozzy fronting Sabbath on a reunion tour at the end of the night. My son Chad and I saw an Ozzfest in Ohio during a father-son sports orgy trip where the show ended with (in order) Godsmack, Pantera, and Ozzy. There, we were “treated” by the entire hillside of newly sodded turf being ripped up and hurled toward the stage just because it could be done. I was hit in the side of the face by a “brick” of dirt and grass because I did not duck quickly enough; we watched the concert standing up sideways, our hands propped upon our lower thighs, with our heads swiveling as in a tennis match looking for “incoming” from behind and looking to peek at the stage in front. By the time Ozzy took the stage, most of the hillside’s topsoil was piled almost stage high at Ozzy’s feet. Now, THAT”S music!
I have been on the edge of moshes where I was in danger of getting caught up in it; I quickly would find my older son Dan (larger than I) and stand behind him for protection. I learned by direct observation that if a young woman has on only paint, it is not considered public nudity. I learned that young women on the shoulders of their dates at metal concerts often make it a point of showing everyone that she is not wearing a bra. I learned that if you wear an Iron Maiden shirt, you can engage in the most interesting and weirdest conversations ever with a woman, if she is also wearing an Iron Maiden shirt; what do you talk about to get the conversation started? Iron Maiden, of course! (To appreciate this point some of you might need to know that at Iron Maiden concerts, the crowd is usually 80% male — imagine what that 20% female part must be like!) I have hearing damage because I started wearing ear plugs to metal concerts too late to avoid it; tinnitus is probably inevitable. Now, THAT’S music!
Of course, rock ‘n’ roll, classic or metal, is not for everyone; it is just a matter of taste, to repeat myself. Those who take it seriously can kill themselves; rock and roll is a culture of alcohol and drugs, as a rule. Ask Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bryan Jones of the Stones, and Steve Clark of Def Leppard. Courts have proven that heavy metal is not responsible for kids committing suicide; those kids would probably have killed themselves if they heard a refrigerator hum. Congressional hearings have proven that the smut in heavy metal lyrics are in the minds of the listeners; put a censored label on a metal album, and its sale will skyrocket; Chad used to never buy anything unless it had an explicit lyrics warning label on it.
What about all this devil, Satan, horror, over-sexed, anti-Christian, and sadistic stuff you see associated with heavy metal. Metal has learned, much to its delight, that not only stuff that pisses off parents sells, stuff that scares the hell out of parents sells like hotcakes, too! If “proper” society decided little pink unicorns are somehow evil and perversion personified, there would be a metal band on stage somewhere within a month dressed up like pink unicorns spouting lyrics of improper four-letter words. Now, THAT’S music!
Finally, rock and roll or heavy metal has always had a practical use for me personally; this music has probably saved me thousands of dollars in therapy, saved me far more than I have spent on tickets, souvenir programs, and souvenir concert tee-shirts. It is therapeutic and cathartic to my mind; it is my mental and physical outlet. More times than I can count over the years, when things get backed up, out of control, stupid, crazy, and I’ve “had it up to here” I get in my car after my teaching day is over (most of the time it was my beloved ’66 candy-apple red Mustang), drive up and down the drag with the windows up and the radio volume turned up to the proverbial Spinal Tap’s “11” belting out the lyrics of one of my favorite tunes, like the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper,” the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” or Motley Crue’s “Kick Start My Heart.”
In my head, it’s all one big continuous, seamless concert, with a never-ending encore.