Wednesday, June 27, 2012

You're so profane, I bet you think this blog is about you

When I was a kid, there were two songs that I heard and instantly felt cooler than everyone else on the block. (To be fair, there were only three other houses on the block and like 800 people in the whole town, so the competition was not fierce.) I don't remember a lot from my childhood, but for some reason I remember exactly where I was and who I was with when I first heard Babylon by Faster Pussycat.

When I was with my girl friends, they/we listened to Belinda Carlisle and Madonna and Whitney Houston. But at home, I was in love with the pure sleaze of Pussycat. There was just something about the self-titled Faster Pussycat album that my fellow 13-year old girls just did not understand. They were so invested in Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam, there's no way I could bring them over to the dark side and make them see the unsophisticated delicacy that is Faster Pussycat. It's an under-appreciated work of art and when I was a kid, it was my secret escape from the rest of the world.

25 years later, it still feels that way. Unfortunately, the band seemed to have consistently bad timing. Their first album was released right around the same time as the Guns n' Roses juggernaut, Appetite for Destruction. By the end of the 80s, the market was flooded with hard rocking bands with fabulous hair and only the titans of hard rock and metal stayed on the charts as the music industry searched to find the embarrassing music of the 90s to replace the embarrassing music of the 80s. But I'm not here to give an oral history of hard rock and heavy metal, there are plenty of places on the internet to find opinions on that. There is only one reason I bring it up and that is: Faster Pussycat is coming to the DC Metro area on July 1st and I am so freaking excited!!! 

I hadn't heard their album in years, so I downloaded it (from Amazon mp3 - Pay for your music, people!!) The memories instantly came rushing back. I really was the coolest kid, probably on the whole street, even. The first time I heard the opening pussy sequence of Babylon, I was in love. These guys made no secret about what they are all about and I loved it! I saw the lead singer, Taime Downe, on a rerun of That Metal Show recently. Again, this guy seems to have classic bad timing keeping him from the spotlight. He was on the same episode as Jani Lane, the lead singer of Warrant. Before the episode had even aired, Jani Lane tragically passed away, it will now be remembered as Jani Lane's final interview. Rest in peace, Jani.

Coincidentally, the other aforementioned "remember the moment I heard it" song that I mentioned was by Warrant, although it was not a "song" per se, but a track on the Cherry Pie album called Ode to Tipper Gore. This was in reference to the PMRC hearings and I remember buying the album, thinking "What's this?" and then hearing a mash-up of profanity taken from Warrant's shows. It was unexpected and funny, and seemed to my young ears such an act of rebellion that I was reminded once again, I'm the coolest kid on the block just for owning this! But Warrant and PMRC are a story for another time.

There are other songs that have made an impression or spoke to me throughout my life, but for some reason, at this time in my life, I needed the profane rebellion of rock stars to keep me going. I didn't have a particularly happy childhood. It was definitely boring, living in a small town in the Midwest with the same 20 people in my class year-after-year. The most exciting thing in our little world would be getting a new kid in school. My world was very, very small and familiar, and that can be extremely oppressive to a young kid who is curious about the world. So, to hear the music and all the excess of the hard rocking bands of the 80s with their screaming guitars and their sex, drugs, and rock & roll lifestyle breathed life into me. It didn't make me go out and do drugs and go crazy (Did you hear that, Tipper? I turned out okay!) Honestly, I'm in my late 30s and I've never even smoked pot, let alone whatever other substance kids who listened to heavy metal were accused of doing. I never got any tattoos or piercings and someone once told me I look like someone who has an iPod full of Carly Simon music. (I do not have ANY Carly Simon music on my ipod or elsewhere, thankyouverymuch.) My point here is, that music with innuendo and profanity and whatever else uptight people hated about it, was not a bad influence. In fact, it was the best thing I could have hoped for. Closing the door to my bedroom and rocking out to bands like Faster Pussycat, Def Leppard, Warrant, Van Halen (among others) is the release that I needed to remind me that there was a bigger world out there. I wouldn't always be a kid in a small town with rules to follow and no place to go to have fun. And when I was 18, I moved to a bigger small town and got a job and took classes at a community college. A few years later, I moved to a college town and worked two jobs and took classes at the University of Iowa for several years until I finally (finally!) finished two bachelor's degrees.

After finishing school, I moved to a major metropolitan area and I got a job, and fell in love with a big city where important things happen. There are more people on my Metro train during my commute than were in my entire town growing up. That never ceases to amaze me. My entire community for 18 years of my life would amount to the same as the number of commuters battling it out for a seat on the train every morning. I still see the District of Columbia with the same eyes as my 13-year old self, and it never ceases to amaze me what this city has to offer. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad, and this Sunday it's going to be awesome when I take a short drive and hear that same voice that gave me hope from the despair of my pre-teen years. I am going to see Faster Pussycat perform live at Empire, along with many other amazing and under-rated, under-appreciated artists. And if I happen to see Taime Downe in the venue at some point I'd like to buy that man a drink. It's the least I could do for someone who made me the coolest kid on the block.

I was going to finish up there, but I feel that it is only fair to share an opposing viewpoint. If my brother reads this, he will likely tell you that I was NOT the coolest kid on the block, and in fact not even the coolest kid in my household. When I emailed him to tell him about the show on Sunday, I asked him if he remembered that song, Babylon, because I remember him being there when I heard it for the first time, oh so many years ago. He replied, "Hell yes I remember it. I have the CD in both my cars and both my home and garage cd players. If a week goes by that I haven't heard that song at least one time than I was probably in jain (for a week)." I'm pretty sure he meant to say jail and that was just a joke to illustrate his conviction. I don't believe for a minute that they don't listen to Faster Pussycat in jail. But it did make me very happy to know that he has the same connection to the music. I'm not kidding, that town was extremely boring, and every adult just sounded to us like they were just babblin' on and on. I can't wait to see some hard rockin' 80s music on Sunday! 

Seriously though, I am cooler than my brother. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

A review of the new movie Rock of Ages

I really want to be kind to this movie. I knew that I would likely be disappointed, but I walked into the theater prepared to give it a chance. While I knew that the musical numbers would not stand up to the original artists, I reminded myself that maybe this is a good thing. Maybe this will introduce a new, younger audience to some music that has not gotten the respect it deserves over time. I tried to see the movie as a tribute to the great bands of the 80s. I tried.  I really, really tried.

I failed.  I hate it.  I hate this movie so bad.

No... no... then I remind myself that I am going to the concert in July! I bought tickets to the "Rock of Ages" tour! Def Leppard, Poison and Lita Ford, all on the same ticket! This movie is bringing the music back!  Yayyy?  Aw who the hell am I kidding? Poison and Def Leppard have never stopped entertaining people and they both have the same band members they've had for nearly thirty years. I'm done f-f-f-foolin' myself about this movie. It was like watching people at karaoke completely botch my favorite songs. It was painful.

So then I have to wonder - who is this movie for? It is not for people in my generation who grew up with this music because (I  will speak for my entire generation here) the music sounds awful to us because we know how much better it sounds with the original vocalists. So, is it for the younger generation? To tell the story of the Sunset Strip to people who vaguely recognize this music from Guitar Hero and American Idol? That is really the only possible audience I can think of. Only a young person would not understand how cruel it is to start off with the opening riffs of the Scorpions, followed by a female singing the lead vocals. Seriously, that's torture. I don't personally know what it is like for a heterosexual man to hire a prostitute and then find out mid-coitus that the beautiful woman he just paid to have sex with is actually a man in drag, but I imagine it is very similar to how I felt when I heard Julianne Hough's voice along with the music of my youth. Again, I admit that I've never been a heterosexual man in that situation, but I'm 99.9% sure that this is exactly the same feeling.

Perhaps it's just me. Maybe I found the movie more objectionable because I feel such a personal connection with the music of this time period. This year I have seen Van Halen in concert twice, and I saw so many 80s metal bands at the M3 festival a couple of weeks ago and it has reminded me how underrated the musicians are. I don't know anyone in DC who is interested in seeing the same bands that I am. Most of my friends laugh at my choice of music and get a trivial look on their face when I get excited about Def Leppard or Motley Crue or Kix. The sad truth is that the music that I loved growing up, now classified as Glam Metal, or 80s Hair Bands... however you choose to classify them, they seem to be judged in retrospect at face value. And their faces... well, they are full of makeup and their hair is full of Aqua Net. History has not been fair to the musicians, and it's unfortunate. These bands surfaced about the same time that Mtv and music videos became an essential way for artists to get exposure. So yeah, they had the hair and the glam and the costumes, because that's how you made it in the 80s. It didn't matter how good the music was if you didn't have stage presence. Which is why I find it a bit ironic in this movie that they a point of mocking boy bands as a gimmick to capitalize on a new music trend. At one point, a manager decides that metal is out and tries to turn a metal band into a boy band because "that's what people want nowadays." But I view this entire movie as being the same kind of mockery as the brightly colored boy band members. If the whole point of the fake boy band was to not "sell out" and stay true to yourself, then why have I did I just spend two hours watching them turn 80s music into an episode of American Idol? I don't think that they make a strong case in making fun of pre-fab boy bands when their male and female leads appear to have started their respective careers in reality television. To me, this is just the movie industry capitalizing on the shallow popularity of reality TV in the same way the music industry seized the trend and manufactured boy bands in the 80s.

I really, really wanted to be kind to this movie and appreciate the music. Instead, I'm going to grab my iPod and appreciate the real music. If you grew up with the same music that I did, I recommend you do the same.