Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Motley Crue: Bringin Pyrotechnics- and me- Back

October 2005 were some pretty dark days for me.

Among several catastrophes I can't begin to describe, a soldier, the only soldier from my husband’s unit, was killed by an IED. Already in a state of emotional instability, the print in the Sunday newspaper leapt at me and burned my insides. With no name attached to the lost soul in the article, I kept repeating “if it were him, you would have known by now,” knowing that in the most delicate situations regarding the military, the media is the last to know.

Military funerals can’t get much more depressing. I mean, funerals in general are somber obviously, but there is some great terrible sadness that looms over a soldier’s interment. I really did not want to go, but a military friend convinced me that it would be good for me. The boots, the helmet and the rifle display, an ominous memorial still dusted with the sands of Mesopotamia. An eerie mannequin of what was his being, now blown to bits and unviewable in the coffin on the pedestal.

Looking out at a crowded auditorium of uniforms, all pressed and orderly and few tears being shed by the hardened troops of all branches that gathered there, I felt like a fool, balling my eyes out for a man I really didn’t know, who was the brother of all these men, whether they knew him or not. Every military spouse envisions herself and her husband in that place and but for the grace of God, it wasn’t my husband’s boots under his coffin and my children sobbing. That is why it is so easy to cry for a man I didn’t know.

The pain was nearly more than I could bear over the next few weeks. Soon after the soldier’s passing, and not too surprisingly but painful none the less, my brother passed away. My brother, mostly unrecognizable from debilitating cirrhosis, was visible in his coffin, unlike the soldier. His Dallas Cowboys blanket draped over him slapped me in the face as a reminder I never really knew him at all. He died in my mind much like my father - last words never being said and a lifetime of unspoken expressions lost to infinity. Two funerals weeks apart droned in my head as mind-numbing sting.

And then…as if the shadow of death had not loomed over my doorstep enough, it made a phone call. My dear high school and college friend was murdered. Another funeral, another family shattered. More acquaintances meeting under unhappy circumstances. His last words to me were that I had such beautiful skin. Its weird I remember that so clearly. His killer was never found.

Only one strange and random savior pulled me up from the drudges of the world- The Dirt, Motley Crue’s patchwork account of their rise to fame and miraculous survival of everything unholy and Rock Star-like. When tragedy strikes, they say its best to identify with other’s tragedy, offering the perspective of “I am not alone” or (at the very least) “ok…things could be worse.”

I know, it sounds completely ridiculous. Motley Crue? Poor little rich rock stars who took too much heroine? I admit I had an odd identifiable relationship with them. Or maybe I was just identifying with the feeling of sinking to the bottom of a Jack Daniels bottle.

Nikki Sixx was unloved and homeless by the age of 16. With nothing left to lose, he stole a guitar, not because he knew how to play but because he had to learn how to play to save him from living under an overpass. Vince Neil was detached and from a broken home but with rock star looks dropped out of school for something greater. Mick Marrs lived with sickness and physical pain. Tommy Lee- well he is just Tommy Lee, happy to be alive and having the only “normal” supportive parenting of the bunch. Typically, he is the only one still having a good time and completely UNsober.

The autobiography was a collection of snippets from each band member’s viewpoint on what was happening to them at the same moments of their career- tragedies, drug use, marriages and divorces, money made and lost- all the while managing to keep it together enough to make killer music. (Slash actually notes in his autobiography that Motley Crue taught Guns N Roses how to manage their tour. He really thought they were a class act. Imagine that.) The account culminates with Nikki Sixx’s notorious heroin overdose, after which he escapes from the hospital to go home and do more heroine. Unwavered by the near tragic demise of their band mate, Motley Crue pays acknowledgement to Nikki’s near death experience by writing one of their biggest hits, “Kick Start My Heart.” Nice.

I guess that’s what I identify with- keeping it all together under extreme circumstances. Making it look easy. I felt like a fucking mess, with wounds still not healed, and everyone kept telling me that I made it look easy. That they couldn’t have gone through what I had done. Fuck, sometimes you have no choice.

The book ends with Vince leaving the band. I remember feeling so angry that they could go through so much and recover only to hate each other, a greater waste than the many thousands of dollars they spent on booze and heroine. I felt such respect for the dedication and devotion they had to their music, despite the wild world that spun around them. The most unserious band, with music all about drugs, girls, sex and girls, so serious about their profession. Nikki drove the band with such conviction, he said, because he had everything to lose and nowhere to go but the streets.

At any rate, flash forward a couple of years: the band has survived reality television, Pam Anderson, and “reunion” tours of countless other lesser talents than themselves making a killing on the road and have come to realize an inspiration from 1984…Cruefest. Cruefest is this summer’s hair band festival of not-so-serious hard rockers hand-picked by Motley Crue, gathered for an evening of beer, cymbal smashing and titty cams…definitely my kind of event.

Younger groups Trapt, Buckcherry, Papa Roach, and Nikki’s newest project Sixx AM carried on the standard tattooed rocker tradition of the Crue adequately. I say adequately because everything The Dirt taught me to admire about the headliners overshadowed all others the second their presence hit the stage.

Like an army whose any single soldier is impressive but rallying together is formidable, Crue feels much more vulnerable individually than as the collective as the years have rolled over them. Vince, whose distinctive bad-boy features had every high school girl swooning in my day, appeared heavy and drunk on his reality show after the breakup. Tommy Lee became everyone’s favorite freak show with a tumultuous relationship with Pam Anderson, THE sex tape (with Pam), fights with Kid Rock (over Pam), and gradually painting every inch of exposed skin with ink (allegedly giving Pam hepatitis). All of this overshadowing his tremendous talent as a musician. None of the members has had much success starting successful individual music endeavors, including Motley Crue minus Vince Neil.

So here they were again on the stage, the power of the collective looking better than ever. Tommy was happy (his Pam back for now), Vince slim and his voice sounding as perfect as the Too Fast for Love days. Nikki still with fabulous big hair, faded tattoos freshened by new girlfriend Kat Von D and Mick, whose body was frail as ever but guitar licks monsterous. Their style had maintained the “hair band” image yet looked fresh and update and, well, as intimidating as ever. Every song was flawless, showing they still had the professionalism to pull it together with a new found seriousness. Yes, even Motley Crue found politics, shifting its banned-by-Christians-everywhere Shout at the Devil from satanic verses to political rhetoric by flashing photos of Bush giving the finger on the jumbotron.

And then there is the lost art of pyrotechnics. Pyrotechnics in the 80’s was like leather jackets, spikes and eyeliner. No respectable rock star got on stage without it. I used to compare the level of success of a band by how many fireworks flew. Then Great White put an end to it, what I thought would be forever, with their club incinerating show in 2003 that killed 97.

My hopes were raised when I saw a glimmer of gerbs at Iron Maiden this summer that pyrotechnics might be returning. The Crue, however, raised it from the dead. Reports, flame projectors, torches, airbursts, the whole deal. I would swear the displays even looked different- as if with a shorter lifespan that made me sense the band had paid a bundle for new, safer technology.

They show ended with Tommy Lee’s rendition of Home Sweet Home on a beautifully graffitied grand piano complimented by a montage of photos on the screens from childhood to the current tour. They survived, I said to myself. I survived, myself replied.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Won't Get Fooled Again

Sometimes I really wish I paid better attention.

This occurred to me last week when the VH-1 Rock Honors paid homage to The Who, the gods of Rock Gods.

I saw The Who in 1989, on either a farewell tour or reunion tour, already proving my point that I really should pay better attention. But as quite common for me, rather than listening carefully to the finer details of life, my attentions were turned toward a boy. I was in Buffalo, NY where I desperately followed the guy I seriously (funny now) thought I would marry, for some twisted reason. I followed him there, clearly knowing I would lose him anyway but held out hope that my valiant effort of traveling to dreamy Buffalo would rescue us. So you’d think consolation of every part of that romantic disaster would be seeing The Who, right? Well, I failed to point out that the aforementioned man of my attention was a roid-raging ex-football player meathead who tried to kill me at every drunken opportunity. The Who being in town was no exception.

Upon arriving at Rich Stadium, 74,000 + capacity home of the Buffalo Bills, Meathead managed to down an entire beer ball almost on his own and then proceeded to harass other tailgaters in the parking lot. This being a reunion/farewell tour, ensured each of the 74,000 seats were full and the parking lot, notorious for its tailgaters, a sea of cars, rockers, trash and humidity. As we made our way through the massive river of humans, Meathead randomly picked a fight…about what again my memory fails me…and proceeded to attempt to punch my lights out in the process. A bit inebriated myself, the next few minutes were a bit blurry but four events that remain in my memory may help summarize the next few minutes of my musical adventure (or nightmare). 1) Cops on horses; 2) Squares of paper laced with acid dots being flung like confetti from Meathead’s pockets; 3) Magic Bus blaring from the coliseum; 4) My concert ticket being shoved into my hand by police as they lead Meathead away. I was alone among the masses.

Once inside the vastness of the arena, I wandered through the concessions trying to fully comprehend just what happened to me. The only guy I know in this riot (and major city for that matter) was just drug off to jail no doubt, I have no money, no phone (this is BCP- Before Cell Phones), no car, but plenty of Who bursting from every seam of the massive concrete bowl. My drunken fog was quickly lifting as rationality took over. Wandering aimlessly for a good hour, luck ran me right into Meathead’s older brother, who we had arrived with but parted ways to join other friends. His brother, the polar opposite, was calm, quiet and willing to become my protector each time his brother went postal, unsurprised as I gave the sob story. He guided me with an unnecessary sense of concern to the area where his friends were and we managed to sober up and enjoy what was left of the show.

The Who’s crowning as the world’s loudest rock band was not unfounded. They shook the house and the masses in it. Roger Daltry, sounding much the same in 2008 as 1989, as I’m sure 1970 or 1963, whose soul-penetrating scream sounded like some strange godly creature not of this earth…it was just thunderous. I recall the “I Can See for Miles” rendition that seemed to go on for 20 minutes (not my favorite Who song) pounding my same-day-hangover. I can’t even really recall the final song, though I assume it was Baba O’Riley, still stupidly concerned about HIM and what the cops had done with him.

The Who did two things for British Rock. They made teenage angst fashionable and they made it EPIC. Yes, The Beatles fathered it and the Rolling Stones mothered it, Zepplin labored and gave birth to it, but The Who nurtured it into the adolescent monster British Rock became. The Who made the child sweet in songs like Pictures of Lily and I Can’t Explain, then put a Mohawk on it in songs like My Generation. I’m a Boy explored youthful sexual identity and Substitute the torment of teenage identity in general. They put out its senses and gave it a pinball machine in Tommy, whose cover scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.

But unlike today’s whiney Emo (and even the 90’s Kurt-Cobain-I-Hate-The-World grunge for that matter), The Who made their teenage revolution epic, not frail and wimpy. Primal, soulful screams, the wind-milling guitar, the destruction of instruments, (and the first casualty of the Rock N Roll dead drummer epidemic)- all ambitious, always bigger and better, pushing the genre of rock n roll, itself still adolescent, on journeys it had not yet taken. All the while, creepy Uncle Pete Townshend holding its hand reassuringly uttering “Don't cry/Don't raise your eye/It's only teenage wasteland.”

Listening to and watching them on VH-1, some 45 years after taking their first baby steps, I was surprisingly, or depressingly, touched by the relevance of every word they sang, discerning and intuitive to the listener discovering them for the first time.

“And the world looks just the same,
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they all flown in the next war.

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again”

Is that Bush they are talking about? Or maybe LBJ? Prime Minister Heath? The essence of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is the consequence of not paying attention, no matter the politician, issue, decade. And that makes their music timelessly relevant, my definition and testament of truly talented artists. And despite my lack of attention, I didn’t need you, VH-1, to remind me of that, but thanks for honoring them anyway.

Each look at the tattered ticket I managed to hold on to as a souvenir, I remind myself of how na├»ve I was. Such an event happening to me today is laughable. My reaction would have received no fear, sympathy or other emotion, except maybe irritation, and a “fuck off” as I reveled in the greatness of rock gods. Instead my Who experience was nothing more than the immature feeling of abandonment, a familiar feeling far less scary to me now.

Today I am grateful to Meathead, despite the fact that he eventually left me back in Albuquerque after a cross-country voyage in his Monte Carlo, disappearing in the night and clearing out my bank account along with every pair of shoes I owned in the trunk of his car. (That’s a whole other story.) His brother’s sweet, sympathetic voice on the line once again protecting me, after my 24 hours of agonizing, breaking the news to me that his brother was somewhere in the Midwest headed home, leaving shards of my broken heart all along the way.

Yes, today I am grateful for him for two reasons. First, he gave me the opportunity to see The Who in the massive arena setting where few concerts exist today. Second, much like The Who’s prime anti-establishment anthem, my once irrational heart beats out a vow it won’t get fooled again.

  • When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. ~Hunter S. Thompson