- Published on Monday, 03 October 2011 12:38
- Written by George Washburn
- Hits: 682
By the time sixth grade rolled around I was in full-on music discovery mode. Without going back to look at my old school yearbooks I’m thinking this would have been the end of ’83 through ’84. I made some pretty good discoveries during this time – Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Van Halen, Deep Purple and that madman of heavy metal, Ozzy Osbourne.
Yeah, technically I already knew about Ozzy since I was listening to Sabbath, but I hadn’t yet heard any of his solo material. I can’t say for sure whether or not I even knew at the time that he was the original singer for Sabbath. I just know that during this time I picked up a copy of my first music magazine, Hit Parader. I swear it was likely the August 1984 issue, but I can’t say for certain. You see, I just spent the last hour trying to track this issue down and I’ve learned two things. One: Internet coverage of Hit Parader magazine in the 80s is practically non-existent and two: I’m losing my mind over the fact that I can’t find the issue cover I remember.
The August 1984 issue has a picture of David Lee Roth on the cover, and the articles listed on the cover seem right, however the photo on the front is not the same and now I’m obsessed with finding a copy of the correct cover. You see, on the one I had, David Lee Roth was shirtless and wearing spandex pants with his thumbs in the waistband revealing some of that stomach hair that’s starting to make the transition into pubes. I remember this for several reasons. The first reason is because it was my first rock magazine; I read that thing backwards and forward a dozen times. The other reason is because I remember my mom being offended by the picture, thereby making it cool.
I know this issue exists. I’m not crazy. I wanted to include an image and never believed it would be so difficult to find. Now that I can’t find it I’m questioning the accuracy of my memory (but I know I am right.) I wonder if I still have that issue in a box somewhere. I have to say I’m very unimpressed with Hit Parader for not having some kind of archive. I’m ready to go dig through all the boxes in the garage on the chance that I kept the issue. This is about to become an obsessive compulsive need to find this issue. Argh.
Anyway, it was Ozzy I was speaking of, not David Lee Roth. I first became aware of Ozzy in some article that was talking about how Ozzy shows were being picketed by people calling him a devil worshiper. This made Ozzy instantly taboo, so of course I needed to know more. He had bitten off the dove head by this point, and “Bark at the Moon,” which featured Ozzy as a werewolf on the cover, was the latest album. I thought it was crazy that people were getting so upset over someone’s music so I picked up “Bark at the Moon” to see what all the fuss was about. As always, it was a lot of ignorant hot air. Randy Rhoads was only gone a few years at this point and this was the first studio album without him. Jake E. Lee was no Randy (no one is), but he rocked as far as I was concerned. Thus began a decades long relationship with Ozzy Osbourne.
Speaking of Randy Rhoads, his former band Quiet Riot, who had two Japanese albums already, released their first U.S. album “Metal Health” and became hugely successful on the strength of the title track and a cover of Slade’s “Cum on Feel the Noise.” I remember buying the cassette at K-Mart. I felt so cool because they were so current and popular and as far as I knew, brand new. There were actually only one or two other songs I liked beyond the hits, but the ones I liked, I played the hell out of them.
One of the biggest hard rock albums at the time was Def Leppard’s “Pyromania.” For reasons I don’t recall it actually took me awhile to pick up this album; it was probably out for a year or so before I finally got it from Columbia House. I just remember everyone going crazy for this album, and then one day while doing the dinner dishes I heard “Foolin’” on my mom’s little radio and I understood what all the hype was about. Soon after that it was added to my collection. I spent a lot of time poring over the album cover wondering what was supposed to be going on in the picture. Incidentally, this is where I first learned the definition of pyromania. It’s still my favorite Def Leppard album.
Another band that was starting to hit it big at this time was Motley Crue. Their second album “Shout At The Devil” really made me stand up and take notice. I remember seeing someone wearing a t-shirt with the album cover on it, and I’d never seen anything glam before, so my first impression was that Vince Neil was a hot blonde chic who wasn’t really wearing much on top. I thought that was hot. When I learned they were all guys, I kept looking at it sidewise unsure whether to believe it. The funny thing is that they weren’t even all that glam yet; this was still the post-apocalyptic Road Warrior look.
The black and red color scheme along with the pentagram made “Shout At The Devil” another target for religious zealots. Motley Crue picked up the flag of teenage rebellion from Ozzy and ran with it. If you haven’t, you should read about the exploits of Ozzy and Crue when they toured together. It’s amazing they are all still alive. I ended up buying a used copy of “Shout At The Devil” on cassette from someone at school. I loved every track on it and they became another one of my favorite bands during this period. Along with “Stay Hungry” this album appealed to my teen angst.
Moving back to subject of David Lee Roth, 6th grade was also the year I discovered Van Halen. I saw older kids with Van Halen t-shirts and I remember a school locker in my hallway that had a big VH with wings logo drawn on it in magic marker. I needed to hear Van Halen, so I headed back to K-Mart and picked up the most current release “1984.” Not the album I would start someone on if they asked me about Van Halen, but regardless, I loved it. The album was full of hits like “Jump”, “Panama”, “Hot For Teacher” and one of my favorite Van Halen songs, “I’ll Wait.” It was much more keyboard oriented than earlier albums. The album cover intrigued me as well; it features a winged cherub smoking with an open pack of cigarettes sitting in front of it while it looks over its shoulder. My mom wasn’t real thrilled with this one either.
Deep Purple of course had been around for many years by this point, but they first came to my attention with their album “Perfect Strangers.” This was another Columbia House acquisition, and I’m not really sure why I decided to get it. Maybe someone recommended them, but I’d never heard “Smoke on the Water” or any of the other 70s Purple. Whatever the reason, I ordered it and I liked it. “Knocking At Your Back Door” was my favorite song from the album, though all the sexual innuendo in the song went completely over my head. At the time I didn’t really care for the title track, but in the years since it has become one of my fave Purple tracks.
The very first concert I ever wanted to attend was the tour for “Perfect Strangers.” I saw an ad in the newspaper that they were coming to town, the first tour I’d ever noticed in our area, and asked my parents if I could go. Not surprisingly, they said no. I was a little bummed out but I didn’t fight it too hard. It was another couple years before I tried to get permission for a show, but I’ll save that unfortunate story for when I write about that period.
Sixth grade kept the metal ball rolling. Slowly I was becoming educated and discovering more and more heavy music. Hit Parader, along with other magazines like Circus and Rip turned me on to all kinds of bands I’d never heard before. I still use magazines like Decibel, Metal Hammer and Terrorizer for discovering new bands. There really weren’t that many people I knew at the time who were into metal, so magazines were really my only option. The following year, which I will discuss next time, I discovered two bands that would become part of my heavy metal foundation: Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
Now you’ll have to excuse me while I go tear up the garage looking for that damn magazine.
- Published on Tuesday, 06 September 2011 12:36
- Written by George Washburn
- Hits: 493
I like to think that I’m a fairly patient person these days. This has not always been the case though; I was a very impatient kid and I know I drove a lot of people crazy with my need for instant gratification. So while my system of saving up lunch money in order to buy new cassette tapes yielded consistent results, it generally meant waiting around two weeks to have enough cash for new music. Now that I was turned on to the world of music I was constantly making new discoveries and I hated waiting. I didn’t have any better ideas though, so the lunch money scam would have to do for a while.
Then one day I came across an advertisement for the Columbia House Record and Tape Club. This seemed too good to be true; they would give me 12 records or tapes for one penny? Sure, I had to buy a bunch more at “regular club price”, which was generally a couple dollars more than Record Town at the mall (and shipping and handling on top of that,) but damn, I had like three years to do it, and at that age (12ish?) thinking that far ahead wasn’t really something I was capable of doing. The only thing that really got through to me, which kept flashing over and over in my mind, was 12 cassettes for one penny. That would more than double my collection in one shot. I had to do it.
As I recall it took a lot of begging and pleading with my parents to get permission to join the club. They knew the deal with places like Columbia House and were hesitant to let me walk into that trap. But I was determined and after promising to be responsible for sending back the monthly order card on time, they allowed me to join. (Bringing up that card just reminded me of what a pain in the ass pre-internet life could be. Columbia House would send you a catalog and an order form each month in the mail, and there would always be a selection of the month based on the style of music you said you liked in your initial application. You had two or three years to meet your purchase obligation with them, so you didn’t have to order every month, but if you didn’t want anything you still had to send back the order card with basically a “no thanks” checked otherwise after a certain date they would go ahead and ship you the selection of the month. I got burned on that a couple times, it was never a good thing.)
Thinking about this again after all these years, I am again feeling the excitement I felt when deciding on my twelve selections. I just now paused to bring up a web browser and look up Columbia House, only to find that they no longer traffic in music. Like so many other things I used to enjoy, they aren’t around anymore. I think this is when you start to feel old, when all the things you knew growing up aren’t around anymore. The establishments you frequented go out of business. The baseball players you idolized as a kid retire, get into the hall of fame, and become managers and sportscasters. The movie stars you used to love don’t seem to make many movies anymore, and when they do they are supporting characters. And of course all the TV shows get cancelled eventually, and maybe they go into syndication just like the shows I would watch every day of my summer vacation. Time waits for no one.
Anyway, I could only remember ten of the twelve, but as long as it has been, I’m surprised I remembered as many as I did. The following were some of those selections:
AC/DC – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
AC/DC – For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)
Black Sabbath – We Sold Our Soul For Rock And Roll
Black Sabbath – Mob Rules
The Cars – Shake it up
Kiss – Animalize
The Police – Synchronicity
Prince – 1999
Twisted Sister – Stay Hungry
ZZ Top – Eliminator
This was the first time I heard most of these bands. I’d heard AC/DC and Prince before but the rest I picked up on recommendations from friends.
My first acquaintance with AC/DC was the song “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” which I heard on the radio and I thought he was actually saying “Dirty Deeds and the Dunder Jeep”. I felt like I was missing something, what the hell was a dunder jeep? Don’t you love the goofy lyrics we make up as kids to fill in the blanks?
Prince’s “1999” I picked up because I already had “Purple Rain” and because I heard it had a dirty song on there (“Let’s Pretend We’re Married”). I knew about Kiss from the trading cards when I was younger, but I had never heard their music.
This was my introduction to heavy metal bands. I think I did pretty well jumping in with AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Kiss and Twisted Sister. As luck would have it, with both AC/DC and Black Sabbath I picked one album from the original singer and one album featuring the singer that replaced them. I didn’t know either band had more than one singer, so I was a little confused at first, and there was no Google to help me out. Asking around eventually got me the low-down on Bon/Brian and Ozzy/Dio.
I’d like to tell you that Black Sabbath parted the clouds and brought down the revelation that metal was my true path, but I cannot. Of the bands in that initial order the one that captured my mind and my heart first was Twisted Sister. Maybe this was because “Stay Hungry” was then brand new, or maybe it was the shock value of the way the band dressed (drag queens from hell). I’m betting it was the over the top strong personality of Dee Snider combined with the fist pounding anthems that I could relate to as a downtrodden teen. Twisted Sister quickly became one of my favorite bands and to this day I still love them.
Twisted Sister may have been my favorite, but the others got plenty of play too. “We Sold Our Soul For Rock And Roll” is a collection of early Sabbath songs, and it was definitely the heaviest music I’d ever heard. “Black Sabbath” was so evil and creepy with the bells and the rain and Tony Iommi’s monster guitar riffs. “Iron Man” is where I learned to bang my head. I recall dancing around my bedroom like an epileptic zombie while playing air guitar to that song. “War Pigs” woke and stoked my young sense of liberal outrage at the blight of war. Ronnie James Dio singing “The Sign of The Southern Cross” blew my mind.
“Animalize” is far from the best Kiss album, but I guess it wasn’t such a bad album for me to start with. “Heaven’s On Fire” was the first guitar riff I ever learned to play (on one string of course). Regardless of how it holds up against the rest of the Kiss discography, “Animalize”, every single track of it, will always be special to me. I wonder how long that “period of wonder” lasts? That time where no matter what crappy music you like, twenty years later you feel such nostalgia for it that you love it above all other music. Once you reach a certain age it seems like the music doesn’t imprint on you the same way anymore. There is plenty of current music that I enjoy, but nothing can ever make me feel the same way as the music I grew up with. I’m so glad I never liked ABBA as a kid.
Now the seed had been planted and metal was beginning to grow on me. While I still enjoyed rock music like The Police and The Cars, it was the metal that really spoke to my spirit. Soon I would encounter a whole slew of new metal bands to enjoy.
- Published on Monday, 01 August 2011 12:35
- Written by George Washburn
- Hits: 452
Now that I had been bitten by the music bug I wanted to hear more. This was in the dark ages before the Internet and being a kid without income I had to find new music by listening to the local rock radio stations. I recall enjoying Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” and Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra”. It sucked waiting around all day hoping the radio stations would play the songs we wanted to hear, so my friends and I would call up the radio station every day and request songs. The person at the radio station would thank us for our request and then we would run off to the little clock/radio in my room to wait impatiently for our requests to be played. Sometimes they were played quickly and we felt like gods of the airwaves for having the power to influence the radio. Other times we would wait and wait and never hear our song.
In what must have been early 1983 I heard a song on the radio that I simply could not get enough of, and was unwilling to wait at the mercy of the radio DJs. This song spoke to me and made my fifth grade self realize that music was to live and die for. I’m not ashamed to say that the song was “Mr. Roboto” by Styx. I loved this song like no other, and unsurprisingly, I became determined to own this masterpiece. And so it came to pass, with monies acquired somehow (probably an allowance), that I came to purchase my first album, Styx’s “Kilroy Was Here” on cassette tape. I played that song over and over and over never getting my fill of it (and I’m sure until my parents wanted to throttle me.)
One of the greatest things about the invention of the compact disc was the fact that if you wanted to play a song repeatedly you didn’t have to hit rewind and wait for the tape to go back to the beginning. Compact discs weren’t around yet (or at least not widely available), and it would be a number of years yet before I would start purchasing my music in that format, so for the time being I spent a lot of time on that rewind button. None of that mattered though; I had arrived in rock and roll nirvana. The song has been making a comeback lately in car commercials and other places, and while my wife rolls her eyes, I still love the song.
My second music purchase was (I’ve read) the first purchase for many of my generation, and though it came out several months prior to the release of the “Kilroy Was Here” album, I guess it took a couple months to gain my attention (probably because I was so infatuated with that silly robot man). Yes, it took me awhile to notice the arrival of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. However, once he had my attention it was some time before I could think to move on to anything else.
“Thriller” as everyone knows was a monster success for Michael Jackson. From my young perspective (and maybe from everyone else’s as well) it seemed like MJ had taken over the world. “Beat It” was easily my favorite song. Any kid that found themselves the object of torture and ridicule for the neighborhood bully could easily relate to Michael taking a stand, even if it meant getting your ass handed to you. I had yet to experience heavy metal, but to me this song was hard (check out the metal cover by Raintime) and made me fantasize about throwing down with anyone that gave me a hard time.
Then of course there was “Billie Jean.” Honestly it was years before I understood what “Billie Jean” was about, and by then it seemed pretty ludicrous that anyone would be accusing MJ of having fathered their kid. Still, it was a great tune and the fact that it came directly after “Beat It” meant I could wait a little longer before rewinding the tape.
Once I felt the need to own any music that I enjoyed (here began the obsession that still compels me to acquire all known music) I had to come up with a way to finance this blossoming addiction. Middle class white boy that I was it never occurred to me to turn to more nefarious means of generating cash, so I did the only thing that came to mind. Every day I received a dollar from my mom to buy a school lunch. And every day I would pocket that dollar and do without lunch in order to save up enough to purchase my next cassette. “Thriller” was the first album to be purchased using this technique and more would follow. Before too much longer I would be introduced to the heavier side of music.
- Published on Monday, 04 July 2011 12:32
- Written by George Washburn
- Hits: 254
Not that it matters much in the scheme of this story, but I was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. I have no memories of the place, but someday I’d like to go by there and have a look around. I did most of my growing up in the village of Dexter located in southeastern Michigan. Growing up there it seemed a town like any other, at least from my sheltered perspective.
It wasn’t until much later when I moved to the east coast that I realized just how small town it really was. I don’t know when I first realized that my school in Dexter was almost entirely white kids. Maybe it was when people from out of town made jokes about the KKK, or when my non-Caucasian friends from Ann Arbor would decline to come to Dexter for fear of the aforementioned hate-monger group. I never really looked at people or the world in terms of color, so maybe that’s why I never noticed.
People from Ann Arbor, when finding out I came from Dexter, always inevitably asked if I was a farmer or if I lived on a farm. That never made any sense to me either as I lived in a neighborhood. Sure there were farms out there, but I didn’t know that many people that lived on them. To my way of thinking we just lived in a less crowded area.
Anyway, the point is I came from a small town. My graduating class was somewhere around one hundred and forty students. While I wasn’t on speaking terms with everyone, I could easily identify anyone in my grade by name. I’ve since learned that my whole high school was smaller in size than a single grade level in schools from larger towns. When I hear about people whose graduating class was seven hundred people or more, I can only shake my head in wonder. While I wasn’t friends with all the people in my class, it was still a comfort to know who they all were; they made up the entirety of my world back then and not walking the halls with strangers certainly contributed to my comfort zone.
Not that I would realize any of this at the time. It’s only now that I can look back and wonder how much worse it would have been for me in the vast anonymity of a larger school. While I was certainly a victim of my own teenage insecurities, at least over time I knew who was safe and who wasn’t and could plan my day and routes to class accordingly. Though, perhaps if there had been more anonymity maybe I would have felt more like a drop in the bucket and worried less about how I fit into the grand scheme.
Regardless of what may or may not have been, kindergarten through high school was a rough time for me, just like it is for most people. I won’t go into all the “I was a quiet kid” and “people pushed me around” speeches; kids treat each other terrible and that’s a fact of life. As much as I hated it all back then I still can’t help but look back on it now with the warm fuzzy glow of nostalgia. So I guess it couldn’t have really been too bad. Compared to adulthood it was a breeze.
Really all you need to know about my childhood is that it was mostly music-free. Other than being completely crazy for the TV show “The Monkees” and singing their theme song over and over and over ad nauseam, up until the fifth grade I really had no awareness of music or the music scene in terms of bands and albums. My parents didn’t play a lot of music around the house (or if they did I didn’t notice) and it wasn’t something that really came up much on the playground (thought I do recall “flipping” trading cards on the playground and wondering what the deal was with KISS whenever I came across one of their cards. Despite their make-up and crazy looks I didn’t really make any musical connection, I just thought they were weird.)
I don’t recall how old I was when I first started taking an interest in music, but it must have been third or fourth grade. It’s rather embarrassing to tell, but my first musical obsessions were television theme songs. Mind you the 80s had some pretty kick ass television themes back then (I say sarcastically). I used to record them from the television onto a small tape recorder and play them back over and over; probably drove my parents’ nuts.
I recall being particularly fascinated with the songs from “Different Strokes” and “The Facts of Life”. But I quickly moved into more mature territory with themes from “M.A.S.H.” and “Magnum P.I.” I even went a little country when I got down to the songs from “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “The Fall Guy”. And I wondered why being a kid was tough?
When I hit the fifth grade this all changed. A kid in my neighborhood, for reasons I no longer remember, let me borrow two cassette tapes to play in my tape recorder. Those albums were John Cougar’s (no Mellencamp yet) “American Fool” and The J. Geils Band’s “Freeze Frame.” I didn’t really know what to make of them when he gave them to me, but I gave them a listen anyhow and the world of rock and roll suddenly unfolded itself in front of me. This was the proverbial sky opening wide and the choir of angels singing through the golden light. This stuff was GOOD.
While “Freeze Frame” was a good album, I just could not get enough “American Fool”. I recall listening to “Hurts So Good” constantly and jumping up and down on my bed (in what I like to think of as a pre-mosh thank you very much.) That was the first album to move me, and to this day I cannot help but love me some Cougar/Mellencamp. Maybe it was the small town in Mellencamp reaching out to the small town in me, or maybe it was just good rock and roll. Either way, I’d now acquired an appetite for music.
- Published on Sunday, 12 June 2011 12:31
- Written by George Washburn
- Hits: 271
So why am I writing this right now? How did I get to the point where I actually convinced myself that this was a good idea? I'll have to get back to you on the second question. As for the first question, I’ve been mulling this idea over for several years now and for whatever reason I now have both the time and inclination to proceed down this shaky path. My good friend Buke (Matthew Buchan) has made repeated requests for just this type of project over the last few years and if he knew I was breaking ground right now I’m sure he would be overjoyed. I actually started this project awhile ago and was attempting to put it all down at once, but I was frequently stalled as real life would throw obstacles in my way and inevitably distract me from this project. In an effort to keep myself inspired and appease Buke, I've decided to serialize the story and post it out bit by bit on my blog, RockMusicCritic.com. So blame Buke for pushing me down this path and making me think that maybe I had something worth telling and the skill with which to tell it.
Chuck Klosterman has something to do with this as well. Not that I’ve ever met or spoken with Chuck; not that he has the slightest idea who I am or that I even exist. But I know Chuck’s work, and like many others, I’m sure, I have felt a kindred spirit while reading his books and articles. Chuck and I are of an approximate age and are both products of the American Mid-West. We both came from small towns and were influenced by the music and culture of heavy metal during our teenage years and beyond.
Chuck, however, is a trained and talented professional writer for whom I have the utmost respect, while I on the other hand have no journalistic training beyond a college-level creative writing class (something my wife can attest to, as she made my pages bleed red whenever she edited them) and have never taken on a writing project this ambitious before. I’m writing from my not inconsiderable gut here and I don’t necessarily know where my prepositions are supposed to be at. I don’t pay much attention to whether I’m using active or passive voice, at least not while the words are flowing out of me. I don’t really notice the difference between “George is writing down the story” or “The story was written down by George.” Do I say "Chuck and I" or "Chuck and me"? I'm not going to let these technical details dissuade me from doing my best to give birth to this monstrosity, so it will be what it will be. Hopefully if this is ever read by another person, they will forgive me my many grammatical mistakes (that would be you honey, thanks!)
So now that we are both aware of the obvious differences between Mr. Klosterman and myself, why should you continue reading this when you could be running out to the bookstore (ok, Amazon, who uses bookstores anymore) and picking up something quality from Chuck? Well, again, I don’t have a good answer for you. If you haven’t done so already I highly recommend reading anything and everything by Chuck Klosterman you can get your hands on. But I can tell you why I felt compelled to write this piece: The heavier side of metal.
Chuck has written some great material about hair metal bands and their ilk, and he’s touched some on thrashy bands like Metallica, but there is a whole other world of metal out there that, I expect due to his tastes, he has yet to cover. Death metal, black metal, grindcore, and all the variations and sub-genres that metal twists itself into, I would like to discuss these as well. Certainly I’ll be clumsily retreading some ground that Chuck has already covered while telling of my formative years, but I’d like to think that those frontiers beyond where Chuck left off are open and mine to claim. And while I may not be the most adept writer or the most enthralling storyteller, I will do my best to pass on to you the things I’ve lived and listened to while growing up metal. If I’ve failed to hold your attention this far, I offer my apologies. Go check out Fargo Rock City instead, for that will surely not disappoint. UP THE IRONS!!!!!!