Yesterday I was out walking,
trying to exercise some flab away. My MP3 player was blasting in my
earholes and I remembered that I'd been planning to blog about my long
and winding path to punk rock fandom. Most of my friends down here in
southwestern Ohio know me as a punker, but they only know the most
recent installment of my musical saga.
Back when I was six, the first band to mesmerize me was Kiss.
Before Kiss, I'd become a music junkie--thanks to my mom playing the
Beatles, Rod Stewart, and old school country around the house. But, our
little family had just moved out into the country and our neighbor down
the road had invited us over. We had no friends in the new 'hood, so we
pedaled our bikes (or walked, hell, I don't remember) to this kid's
house. After goofing around outside for a while, this kid had us come
into his bedroom so he could play Kiss Alive (on vinyl!). We
were all sprawled on the bedroom floor, jamming to classics like
"Detroit Rock City" when, all the sudden, my brother (Nick) starts
screaming at me for no reason. It must've taken a few panicked shouts
to snap me out of my trance, but I remember looking at him and yelling,
"What? What's your problem?" Nick looked me as if I were mentally
handicapped, and pointed to my right hand, which was bleeding all over
the carpet. There was no pain whatsoever. Everyone in the room was
horrified. Except me. I had no idea why my hand was pumping crimson goo
all over the orange shag. Until Nick pointed again, at the metal,
oscillating fan that I'd accidentally been using as a thumb guillotine.
Our new neighbor?s mom had to rush me to the emergency room for
stitches. The fan?s blade had cut almost all the way to the bone.
Still, I wasn?t really fazed. Later that afternoon I went swimming with
a bandaged digit. Such was the power of rock to ensnare my fragile
little mind. After several years of collecting every scrap
of Kiss merch we could get our hands on (the bubble gum in packs of
Kiss cards tasted like ass, by the way), our passion for greasepaint
gods eventually faded. From there on out, I recall wandering in a
musical wasteland, enjoying the sugary sweetness of the different pop
rock flavors I heard on the radio or saw on TV. My friends at school
would introduce me to an artist, I'd wear their LP's out, then move on
again. But nothing ever ripped my face off like Kiss had. It wasn?t
until last year that I learned the connection Kiss has to punk.
Apparently, they rehearsed in the same building as the legendary
proto-punks the New York Dolls. At the time, Kiss wore nothing but blue
jeans and t-shirts on stage. When Gene Simmons saw how many groupies
the glammed out Dolls had hanging around their practice room, Kiss
decided that makeup (albeit in the scary, not pretty direction) was the
way to go.
Finally, in 1983, Nick came home from football practice with an
evil cassette. On the cover were four Kiss meets Mad Max characters, a
pentagram and flames. At the time I was wearing out Prince's Purple Rain
album, so I scoffed at my brother for listening to a bunch of devil
worshippers. But, after a few days of that cassette lying around the
bedroom, calling out to me with all of the allure of Eden's forbidden
fruit, I gave in. Nick wasn't home. He wouldn't know. Headphones would
keep Mom and Dad out of the equation. So, I nervously popped Motley
Crue's Shout at the Devil into my Walkman and pushed play, wondering when god was going to strike me down with a bolt of lightening.
It didn't take long for the Crue to rip my pasty white face off.
I was too young to realize that the only good musician in the band was
Tommy Lee. All I knew was they had all of the attitude and snotty
rebellion that my life had been missing for almost a decade. They
flirted with eternal damnation with every power chord and snarled
lyric. Nikki Sixx quickly became my hero in life. He could look cooler
than any other human being alive without even trying. Some people (see
Joe Perry, for example) just ooze rock star charisma. At the time, I
had no idea that Nikki considered the Crue's music (at least their Too Fast for Love
album) punk. Honestly, at that time, I probably didn?t have a clue what
punk was. Growing up out in the middle of sheep fucker Ohio will have
that effect on you. For the next four years the Crue
dominated my every waking moment. My walls were covered with their
posters. My wardrobe was dominated by their shirts and back patches
(Mom was oh-so thrilled when I wore my jean jacket with their Shout At the Devil
back patch sewn on it to church on Sundays). I read every interview I
could get my hands on. Nikki Sixx never failed to mention up and coming
bands that he thought were cool. The most important one was Guns n?
Roses. As soon as he dropped their name, I was off to buy their stuff. I bought Gn?R?s Live Like a Suicide
E.P. out of a mail order ad in the back of a rock rag. While it was
advertised as an indie-released live E.P., it was actually a
camouflaged Geffen studio release with added audience noise. It took a
while to grow on me, but I could tell greater things were coming from
this group of LA misfits. The cassette lived in my Walkman. My trendy
peers at school made fun of me for it, saying such sage-like things as,
?Gun n? Roses? What the hell?s that? Sounds like some kind of gun
club.? And I would shake my head and say, ?Just wait. These guys?ll be
huge.? And they laughed at me.
When their first full length was released in 1987, I made Mom drive 45 minutes to the nearest mall so I could buy Appetite for Destruction.
Nearly crackling with anticipation, I popped that cassette in on the
way home. From the very beginning of the infamous digital delay guitar
intro of ?Welcome to the Jungle? I felt my face being ripped off. Only
this time, instead of a fan also trying to remove a digit, my mother
was screaming and yelling about Axl?s lyrics. And I was equally
oblivious to the distraction. Not to mention the huge punk influence on
these lunatic freaks. Duff McKagan?s entire rock n? roll being is punk
rock to the nth degree. Axl worshipped the Sex Pistols. Slash loved the
Damned. Izzy idolized Hanoi Rocks. Stephen Adler? Well, he was the
spastic cocker spaniel along for the windows-down ride.
Along with the Crue, Guns had the biggest impact on me as a music
fanatic and musician. My bass playing still resembles Duff?s. His
locked into the drums octave accenting style has stuck with me all
these years. And I still have a penchant for bands that blur disparate
genres. Guns mixed everything that is great about blues, metal, punk,
and pop. Dual guitar attacks split into schizophrenic stereo still
light my fire. Just listen to Appetite on headphones. On the
left Izzy?s sloppy, lazy Keith Richards playing perfectly weaves in and
out of and compliments Slash?s Joe Perry meets Metallica riffing.
There?s no way those two styles should work together, but somehow they
do. They?re like a marriage everyone predicted to go down in flames
that ended up lasting forever. And Mr. Adler?s spastic, bubbly drum
style still sounds great to me. Can you tell I?m reading the new biography of Guns (Watch You Bleed)
right now? The author can get pretty heavy handed and cheesy at times,
but he?s succeeded in getting me to re-appreciate one of the most, if
not THE most, influential album in my life so far. Gradually, I was being (subliminally) lead toward a destined collision with punk rock. I just didn?t know it yet. (To be continued)