A Heavy Metal Valentine

When Kristi and I were growing up and had just come back from Germany, we were spoiled for a couple of years because we had access to MTV. But then we moved to a small town where we had cable but no MTV for the first year we lived there. Luckily my resourceful sister had taped the best heavy metal videos from Headbangers Ball, which takes a real knack because you don’t want to record commercials or crappy videos. Her transitions were seamless, and that VCR tape was the loop and soundtrack to some angsty teenage years. We would watch that tape every day and I still remember the order of the videos. It started with Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” and then segued to KISS’s “I Love It Loud.”

 

We still have that tape. One day I’m going to get that transferred to DVD, and then we will be the happiest sisters in all the world. Sometimes we stay up late and play a game on YouTube, where we surprise each other by dialing up metal videos, which the next person has to feed off, and so on. But I’d still like to listen and look at old Metal Music—666—My Shit.

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Now I’m working on my heavy metal novel (about twenty thousand words in), and one of the first things I do when I’m writing is compose a playlist that thematically relates to what I’m working on. Here’s the first playlist I’ve come up with, and I’d like to have about four more so nothing gets stale. I’ve put up the music on 8tracks—my heavy metal valentine to you—and Kristi lettered and decorated it à la high school heavy metal and horror, which is what my story’s about.

A Heavy Metal Valentine

Sadly I wasn’t introduced to the awesome pairing of horror director Dario Argento and heavy metal band Goblin until after college, but all good things can wait. I would have probably died of the awesomeness if I saw their work too young.

Vixen was a lady metal band put togeher like some of the boy bands of the eighties and nineties, N’ SYNC and New Kids on the Block, and the only prerequisite was that a member be a female and hot. That’s something I’ve struggled and thought a lot about with metal—why did the ladies always have to be so tarted up?—and an issue I find myself writing about.

Whitesnake introduced what was probably the first video vixen—Tawny Kitaen—who was the epitome of the metal chick in the eighties, but she was always featured as an accessory to the band. First she dated the guy in RATT, then she made the rounds with Mötley Crüe and Whitesnake, until she went batshit crazy and beat her ex-husband with a shoe.

I do include Joan Jett on my list, though she spans many genres—punk, hard rock blues—and might not be considered heavy metal by some. She embraced the bad, tough girl ethos, though, which was what it meant to be a heavy metal lady and taking what you wanted.

And then, of course, we have the reigning highnesses of metal—Lita Ford and Doro Pesch. They’re the real-life versions of the warrior woman from Heavy Metal magazine.

The Heroin Diaries: A Heavy Metal Cautionary Tale

I like reading biographies, memoirs, etc., about heavy metal—well, about a lot of music, really, but I especially like heavy metal because of the costumes, makeup, and pageantry that was so much a part of heavy metal, as well as the decadence and excess that came along with it. Nikki Sixx is one of the key figures in heavy metal. Though quite a few sources say he wasn’t much of a bass player, he was the guy who had the vision for Mötley Crüe. He was the one who put together the band, which became a prototype for so many of the metal bands in the ’80s, and who wrote their songs. He dated Lita Ford at the start of his career, and they were supposed to be involved in black magic during that period, to the point where knives and forks would spontaneously stick in their walls and ceiling. He died of a heroin overdose, but then came back from the dead to leave a bad joke about it on his answering machine. He’s a heavy metal legend.

In The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star, Nikki and others, who were a part of his life during this time in 1987, talk about that turbulent period. The first thing I noticed right away in Nikki’s diaries is how articulate and intelligent he is. Between shooting up and hiding out in his closet with his guns and drugs, he’s reading classics like George Orwell’s Animal Farm and William Burrough’s Naked Lunch while obsessively chronicling this dysfunctional year, which stands out as the gold medal winner of all his dysfunctional years.

He writes about his cohorts in drug abuse. There’s Vanity, once Prince’s neophyte who has since been ousted. She’s Nikki’s freebasing buddy and sometimes girlfriend, though she drives him and the rest of the band crazy with her exploits, embarrassing them, and you’d think that would be hard to do to a band like Mötley Crüe. She writes about these druggie years twenty years later as a Bible banger like Blackie Lawless. It’s funny how some of the crazier characters reach a point and then go in the complete opposite direction of what they were known for. (My mother still hasn’t forgiven Alice Cooper for becoming a Republican.) Slash is another one of Nikki’s drug buddies, who always end up peeing the bed or couch whenever he passes out at Nikki’s house, and was actually there the night that Nikki Sixx died. Nikki had a near-death experience that night and saw his body being loaded into the ambulance on a gurney with a sheet drawn up over his body.

Some of the most interesting parts of the book happen when Nikki goes on tour with the rest of the band to support the Girls, Girls, Girls album. First, he has to clean up slightly; he knows he can’t be strung out on heroin, traveling city to city with no idea when or where he’ll find another reliable source. But that doesn’t count cocaine or alcohol, which he considers as something like cheese and crackers, nothing to get really undone about.

During this tour, Nikki gets along best with drummer Tommy Lee, so much so that they are known as the Toxic Twins for the amount of drugs and alcohol that they do as well as their penchant for high jinks. Lead singer Vince Neil is suffering from Lead Singer Syndrome, according to quite a few sources, while Mick Mars is on Nikki’s shit list for breaking the one rule that he made—no sleeping with the backup singers.

And while Mötley Crüe is touring, there is a lot of sleeping around going on. At every venue, women are lined up waiting for their chance with a member of the Crüe; they’re waiting to service them at airports and everywhere else in between. Nikki talks about doing lines of cocaine off of groupies’ backsides and recalls a past tour where he and Tommy Lee both had a girl during a song while KISS was onstage. A lot of the bad behavior and drug use is chalked up to boredom—there’s only so much these guys can get up to in empty hotel rooms it seems.

I’ve always had an uneasy truce with heavy metal and how groupies end up being treated by members of the band. But these women allow this behavior, and a lot of the times, they instigate it. The band is inundated with willing flesh—underwear and naked pictures rain down on the stage wherever they go—so I guess I can see how they might get to the point where they would treat human beings in such a casual fashion. As for the women, I imagine that for them it is a chance to commune with their heroes, the modern poets who somehow manage to touch their souls in a way that nothing else has. Maybe they don’t think they have anything else they can offer. Or maybe it’s a badge of pride for them to be able to say that they had sex with a member of Mötley Crüe and by proxy they are a desirable person because of this. I don’t know, but somehow I feel slimy after reading those parts.

Heavy Metal Memories, or Being a Lady in the ’80s

One of the great things about being a military brat is the ability to transform yourself when you move somewhere else. A lot of people live in the same place for all of their elementary, middle, and high school years, and they might get pigeonholed for a few standout events that they didn’t even intend. Then they’re forever known as the brain, the athlete, or the burnout. With the military, my sister and I were able to make ourselves over every couple of years or so because we would move to a place where nobody knew us. Nobody had ever met us; it was a clean slate.

I think my favorite metamorphosis happened, though, when my dad was out of the military. I was a freshman in high school and so shy and awkward that I could go for days without speaking. I wrote poetry that rhymed and hung out in the art room during lunch painting so I didn’t have to interact with others. I owned a pastel-pink sweater and wore it proudly.

Now, my younger sister, Kristi, was in junior high and having a hard time with school authorities, who thought she was on drugs (she wasn’t). She was into metal, had a thing for Blackie Lawless, and wore leopard-print spandex with her hair dyed black and cut in a Joan Jett shag. Her world revolved around music, and the heights of ecstasy came when she was able to go to concerts.

My parents were pretty liberal, but they had their limits—one was Kristi could not go to metal concerts by herself. My mother accompanied her to a few, but I imagine nothing can be more embarrassing than having your mom in tow at a Mötley Crüe concert. That’s how I came into the picture. Kristi wanted to go to a KISS concert but without Mom and Dad, so she leaned on me. It wasn’t too hard to convince me. Concert tickets were still pretty cheap then, running around $20, which I could easily afford with my babysitting money.

Before we went to the concert, Kristi insisted on dressing me. She said I would look out of place, so I let her. She ratted my virgin hair, so thin it couldn’t hold a bobby pin properly; did my makeup with lots of black eyeliner; and dressed me in some of her clothes—a red-and-black striped shirt, black tank top, black spandex, and black high-heeled boots left over from my Madonna Desperately Seeking Susan phase. I was a woman transformed and felt completely weird and freaked out. It was like I was in a costume. I never knew my hair could go so high.

Waiting on line to go through the metal detectors, I got pissed at Kristi as I surveyed the crowd. Barely anybody was dressed like us; they wore jeans and T-shirts and looked comfortable. They could blend. Me, I was now more than six feet tall with my high-heeled boots and teased hair, and so … glittery. People stared and I hated it. Once we cleared the metal detectors, Kristi ditched me to hit the floor, telling me that was the best place to be because you could get up close.

I was mad. I wanted to hide in the bleachers and just get the whole concert over with. I went and picked out a seat all by my lonesome, sat down with my arms crossed, and just glowered, hating everybody. Now, usually when I pulled my pissed teen routine, everybody just ignored me. Not this time. This time it seemed like people were afraid of me, giving me wary glances, and though the place was packed, I had a semicircle of space around me until the last minute. And even then, rather than ignoring me and plunking themselves down like they usually did, people asked me first. “Excuse me, miss”—gesturing toward the seats—“are those empty? Are you waiting for your friends?”

I think I shrugged my shoulders, afraid to speak, but inside, I thought, Holy shit! People are afraid of me. This is genius! A transformation came over me: I sat up taller, I straightened my shoulders, and when the band came on, I stood up with everybody else and stayed on my feet the whole night. It was cathartic seeing these loud bands, knowing the lyrics and being able to sing out loud without worrying about anybody commenting on my off-key voice, and having beer spilled on me. I liked Gene Simmons with his tough-guy look but not Paul Stanley so much with his idiotic stage patter between songs. He said the band had been in Madison, Wisconsin, the night before, the dairy state, and he could tell because all the girls had huge breasts. Immediately that set off a douche bag alert, and I hated him for the rest of my metal days. Gene Simmons was a little more reserved back then. Had he opened his mouth, I’m sure I would have hated him too.

After that, I had my metal metamorphosis. I liked the music because it was angry for the most part, which was how I felt inside. I loved the fashion associated with metal because it set me apart. I already felt like a freak, but putting that on display made me become braver than I would have ever believed. My hair went from blonde to red, then redder and redder, and high—how high I would tease it. And the wardrobe was pretty cheap. From thriftier times in our family, my sister and I had learned how to use scissors and a needle, and we were able to transform plain T-shirts to cropped tops and so on, though Kristi was always better at it than me. She had a pair of artfully frayed jeans and had sewn a snakeskin scarf in as a back panel. How I coveted them. Of course, my ass was always an inch bigger than hers so I could never borrow them.