Rock n Roll, Dead on a Toilet

Last night’s post ended on Motley Crue – just as last year actually ended Motley Crue. For whatever reason, my fondness for the Crue has never paralleled my love for bands like Poison. To me, listening to the Crue has always been a bit like picking off a scab: strangely satisfying but also kind of gross and probably not something you’ll admit to in good company. However, it has reminded me of a little moment in time where my fate (somewhat) intersected with the fate of that band.

A few years ago, the guys in the band wrote a book: The Dirt. It’s one of those tell-all rocker autobiographies. It gave me quite a lot of giggles and more than a few moments of “Eeewww!” The bit about the groupies playing kitty cats, and licking up handfuls of… um… roadie cream, was particularly edifying. What the hell is wrong with some women?

However, it’s not the bit about writing a book that brought our destinies together.

It all stretched back to 1989…

The band’s fifth studio album, Dr. Feelgood had gone gang-busters and made Motley Crue a huge worldwide smash. After years of touring, and drug and alcohol abuse, they cleaned up (sort of) and went on the road for a massive three-year stint… The result of which was that they all (understandably) burnt out, their marriages collapsed, they fell off the wagon, and they decided that they hated each other. Locking them all in a studio after that was a very bad idea (but record companies are not necessarily known for their good judgment). After a few months of trying to record, the band staged a mutiny and fired the singer, Vince Neil. They hired a new singer, John Corabi, discovered industrial rock, and decided to write songs about politics (rather than prostitutes).

Now, this next album (the self-titled Motley Crue) came out in 1994 – and a lot had changed over the intervening years. Hair Metal had come and gone. Even Grunge had come and gone. Kurt Cobain would shortly put a gun in his mouth. Industrial rock’s short flirtation with fashion was also about to end… and I was 16, and just starting my Sixth Form Journalism class.

Sixth Form Journalism was responsible for writing and editing the school’s quarterly newspaper. It was one of very few writing courses at my High School. The teacher explained from the very beginning that she would teach us the technique, but we were collectively responsible for determining the paper’s content. The students had editorial control.

One of the first assignments we collectively received was to write an arts review. It could be about anything: a movie, a book, an album, a show – just so long as it was arts-related and 300 words long. This was about a week after the album Motley Crue came out, and I knew exactly what I was going to review. I’d been dying to buy the album anyway.

Now, I wish I still had a copy of the review that I wrote – I suspect that I later threw them all away in disgust. I bought the album, I listened to it a few times over, and I liked it – I really liked it. To this day I think it’s their most underrated work. It wasn’t Motley Crue like anyone had seen before, but that wasn’t a bad thing. They’d replaced the dirty, sexy edge with a real hardness which did them credit. I picked up my pen and I started to write:
“A month ago, I picked up a music magazine. It had a picture of Nikki Sixx on the cover, picking his nose. I thought to myself, “They haven’t changed a bit.” And judging by this album: I was kind of right, but mostly wrong.”

It was a good opening paragraph if I did say so myself.

However, I also knew that I was going out on one hell of a limb by reviewing Motley Crue. I guess, while they had been in the studio, I had been living in the real world. As it turned out, the Crue toured in 1994 to support their new album… but nobody came. Arenas were half-full or less, so they downgraded to theaters… and then clubs. They sent crew and trucks home. The record company cut back so hard that each member of the band had to stump up $75,000 to keep the tour rolling. But anyone could see that it was a bad investment – even them. And, unceremoniously, they cut to tour short and went home with their tails between their legs. Such was the painful, humiliating death of Heavy Metal in the early 1990s.

Of course, I already knew that Heavy Metal was dead. While they had been in fancy hotels and recording studios for most of the early 1990s, I had been locked in a toilet for Rock ‘n’ Roll. I’d had my hand slashed open for Alice Cooper (no kidding). I’d been stabbed with a compass for Ozzy Osbourne (still not kidding). I had one friend in the whole world, and she lived in another city. Even she didn’t wholly believe what I went through… until we walked down the street together one holiday break and a group of girls I’d never seen before started yelling at us and laughing and following us. They knew from my clothes and my hair that I was into the wrong kind of music, and they weren’t going to let me get away with it – it was scary but I was pretty fatalistic by that point. In the mornings, while I waited for the bus that carried me to that hellish place I called High School, I had to stare at a piece of graffiti scrawled on the bus shelter. Someone, in a late-80s fit of passion had emblazoned the wall with a small but passable logo for my favorite band: Poison. Since then, someone had scribbled underneath it, in an uncharacteristic moment of brutal self-revelation: “sux coz they’re old”. It killed me a little bit more each day.

I knew that no one would like the subject of my first review, but I hoped that they would still appreciate the art – even if the only art that anyone was appreciating was my ability to write a good review. And I was kind of right… but mostly wrong.

The week after I handed in my assignment, the teacher swept back into our Journalism class and chewed everybody out. Almost without exception, she declared, the reviews she’d received were terrible – badly written, badly structured, poor grammar, pointless drivel. There was only one which should make the grade for a professional newspaper – and we could all stand to learn a lot from that person. She flicked on the OHP and laid down a transparency of the only passable review, so that she could show us all what she meant. And to my horror, I was now faced with my own assignment… but so was everybody else.

I squirmed in my seat. After the ear-bashing that she’d just given everybody, I hardly thought that they’d be warmly disposed to be looking at a review for Motley Crue. But sentence by sentence our teacher took apart my assignment and showed everyone why it worked. She loved it. She’d made no corrections or edits. It was pithy, funny, accurate, and within the word limit. She commended me for being the best writer in the class… I wanted to be sucked into the floor.

When she opened the forum for discussion, I knew what was coming. At first there was silence, and then one particularly brassy strawberry-blonde broke the ice with her best ice-pick sneer: “No… Way!” The whole class immediately launched into a riot of how this review would never make any paper that they controlled. It was Motley Crue. NOBODY cared about Motley Crue. They’re old. They’re stupid. They suck. Even my (snort) grandad wouldn’t listen to those old faggots! Oh my Gawd, they still wore leather pants!… The girl who said that last bit had a picture of Jim Morrison on her folder, and I smirked a little even as I pulled my face down into my chest and let my hair cover my eyes.

The teacher rallied to my defense – she seemed shocked and appalled at what was happening. She stammered that the subject matter should be irrelevant – the review was well-written and enjoyable. She looked at me for support – pleading with her eyes for me to step up and defend my own work – but I just sunk lower into my chair. I’d heard it all before, and I wasn’t stupid enough to pour gasoline on the fire. By then, I’d been kicked so many times that I just didn’t bite back any more – I just let them stomp all over me until they got bored.

After the prescribed period of open attack, the bell rang and the whole class packed up and left. I was a bit slower than the rest, I suppose. And I still had to wipe off a tear or two which I’d been trying to hide. As I walked past the teacher’s desk, she handed me back my review, with my A+ grade, and apologized. “I don’t know what just happened,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

I just shrugged. “I have.”

And she looked at me with a kind of impotent sympathy that I’d never before witnessed. That: I-really-want-to-help-you-but-I-don’t-know-how kind of look. I think she was genuinely sorry that she’d put me up on the block like that, only to have to watch me get squashed.

“You need to keep writing,” was all she said. “I mean it.”

“Thanks,” and I forced a sort of a tired smile. They could all go to hell. I already knew that I wasn’t going to last out the year, so it didn’t really matter anyway.

And it was true: the quality of the art didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was what the mob thought… And the mob didn’t like me – for no other reason than that I was me. Such was the painful, pointless, malicious assassination of Heavy Metal in the early 1990s.

But, hey! At least I didn’t lose $75,000 in the process!…

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