Teaching Reflections 9/21

Posted in Uncategorized on September 21, 2022 by Mike

As a personal goal for this school year, I wanted to reflect each week on what transpired, hoping that might lead to some insight into what I do well and what I need to work on. The thought that I’d actually be more deliberate in writing was a motivation as well. So of course it’s taken me a full six weeks to sit down and actually write my first one.

Today was a good day (yes, Ice Cube has immediately come to mind). I talked to my dual kids about how we don’t often like thinking about opposing arguments and discussed the text’s “collaborative rhetoric” chapter which their first paper is based on. I tell my students every year that I thrive on discussion – it’s what I truly enjoy in my classroom – and being able to talk about how we all hate having to think about why others believe the things they do is just human.

My activity I planned for them could have been stronger. I found an article critical of Biden and one critical of Trump and had them read through the one they thought they’d disagree with more, answering questions geared toward thinking about why they got defensive about the argument being put forth. But, as one of my students early on asked, “what if we dislike both Biden and Trump?”

Fair enough, kid.

Now I’m waiting to have a discussion with one of my newspaper staffers about him not doing a thing for the paper this six weeks. He was a bit of a worry when we took him on last year, but he tended to get most things done (though he’s not the strongest student). Now he just seems more distracted by everything else. Will have to tell him he’s not going to the journalism conference in two weeks, and will have to prove that he’s actually interested in being a part of the staff over the next three weeks or I’ll find another class he can be in. Our NP staff is so dependent on everyone getting their work done; he’s put a burden on everyone else by slacking off entirely.

Last point for today: our on level teachers have a real problem with student apathy. As one of my teachers pointed out during lunch, teachers not being able to seriously hold students accountable for late work is a real grind for them. When the constant question seems to be “what can teachers do to help their struggling students?” – a fair question, but one that ignores the reality that the VAST majority of students are putting themselves in this position by not doing anything in class – it wears on us as teachers.

OK, enough for now.

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, Part V: Miscellaneous Debris…

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

In the fall of 1990, Alice in Chains released Facelift, preceding Nirvana’s Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten by a year. Now, Nirvana had already released Bleach (1989), but that sold only about 40000 copies so, sure, you knew about Nirvana before “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit MTV. Right. Of course, there was also Soundgarden, who had released Ultramega OK (1988) and Louder Than Love (1989) so it’s important to understand that Seattle bands were already there, they just weren’t nationally known (don’t come at me with Mother Love Bone and Mudhoney – I know about them, too).

Alice in Chains definitely began changing the music scene. I remember walking into Marooned Records as a freshman at Texas A&M and seeing Facelift alongside Warrant’s Cherry Pie and thinking, damn, that album cover is freaky-looking. Then I bought Cherry Pie and AC/DC’s The Razor’s Edge and spent the next couple months rocking out to them. So, yeah, it took some time for my musical preferences to shift to grunge. Here’s a couple more obscure albums that kept me in hair metal my freshman year of college.

I KNOW I owned this album, but I also know I haven’t thought about this band since 1991. Then, about two months ago, Chauncey and Freddie were taking an internet break from their work in the school library, went down a wormhole and found an article listing the top 50 hair metal acts of all time (or some such). Kik Tracee came in at the upper 40s, I forget where. Before coming back to the album for this post, I only clearly recalled the single “Don’t Need Rules“, a fairly standard hair metal number. Listening to the rest of the album, I admit there’s not a lot more I do remember – maybe “Velvet Crush” and “Rattlesnake Eyes (Strawberry Jam)“. Stephen Shareaux’s voice suggests Axl Rose from time to time, particularly on “Big Western Sky“. Their cover of “Mrs. Robinson” does exactly what a cover should – put a new spin on the original – though I’m not sure it makes the song something I’d ever listen to again. Thinking about it, No Rules may very well have been the last hair metal debut album I bought, as by mid ’91 I was moving on to heavy metal and grunge.

This one’s a bit of a cheat, as Follow for Now isn’t hair metal. This album IS obscure and fits the time frame, though, so I’m throwing it in just so you can be introduced to/be reminded of the kick-ass “Milkbone“. Credit my twin brother for my finding this one, as I think he was working at a Hastings in Seguin at this point and was able to acquire basically anything he thought was cool, and this album’s cool. Combining a lot of different influences (rap, metal, blues, funk), the album never found a wide audience and was the band’s only release. Beyond “Milkbone”, the album boasts a cover of Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero” (in the words of Flavor Flav, “Daamn, Boy!”) and then there’s “Time“, reminiscent of Faith No More’s “Zombie Eaters”. “Fire N’ Snakes“, “6’s and 7’s” and “Evil Wheel” bring the funk. Listen to “White Hood” and “Trust” and maybe you’ll understand Colin Kaepernick wasn’t saying anything that Black Americans haven’t been saying, oh, forever.

I think if this album was released a couple years later than it was, it blows up.

My last year of teaching I’m going to do a unit on figurative language and use hair metal song lyrics as my examples, starting with Salty Dog’s “Come Along” (“Sweet little baby, she’s my hot dog bun”). Silly lyrics aside, “Come Along” still ROCKS – I can listen to that one ten times in a row. “Cats Got Nine“, “Ring My Bell” “Heave Hard (She Comes Easy)” – Every Dog Has Its Day is unabashedly crotch rock and it’s fun. Lead singer Jimmi Bleacher’s vocals wail (reminding me a bit of Cinderella’s Tom Kieffer, though Bleacher’s practically smirking in every song), and really highlights how having a distinctive singer makes the band. While there are plenty of riffs throughout the album (“Slow Daze“), they emphasize the blues rock with a cover of “Spoonful” and “Just Like a Woman“, and “Lonesome Fool” just has a great hook and banjo line.

Why just one album then? It’s actually pretty damned funny (to me, probably not to the band): the members apparently weren’t told they had to pay back their studio recording costs. And being on the tail-end of the genre, I don’t know that they ever got even. Still a damn good album.

Next time: I’m wrapping this series up.

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, Part IV: 1989 – 3 albums that WEREN’T Dr. Feelgood…

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

1989’s biggest hair metal release was inarguably Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood. It spent two weeks as Billboard’s number one album that year and includes at least five songs strip clubs still have on heavy rotation to this day. Er, so I’ve been told.

But odds are Feelgood isn’t the only hair metal album you remember from that year: Skid Row’s debut album was released in January (giving us “Youth Gone Wild“, “18 and Life” and “I Remember You“) and Warrant would follow with their Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (“Down Boys“, the ballads “Sometimes She Cries” and “Heaven“). Other established acts like White Lion, Tesla, and Great White offered up notable albums as well (like me, I’m sure you still have GW’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” imprinted on your brain despite all your best efforts).

But, as you know by now, I’m not here to tell you about stuff you remember. Here are three more albums I was listening to back in the summer of ’89:

Tora Tora’s Surprise Attack begins with a rocker, “Love’s a Bitch“, and demonstrates everything this band had going for it: their vocalist, Anthony Corder, has a high-pitched wail that rivals Vince Neil’s at times and their lead guitarist, Keith Douglas, just spits out riff after riff. Corder’s vocals, for me, distanced Tora Tora from other bands, and their Tennessee roots are prominent in bluesy numbers like “Hard Times” and “Walking Shoes“. “Guilty” and “Walking Shoes” were the singles that led me to buy the album – listen for the guitar stutter after the first chorus in “Guilty” to get an idea what I found awesome as a 17 year old non-guitar player (I still do, actually). “Walking Shoes” is just fun – if you don’t like this one do you even like music? Sure, some songs are pretty standard stuff – “She’s Good, She’s Bad“, “One For the Road“, I’m looking at you – though I’m finding I can still sing along to most tracks 30 years later.

I mentioned Bang Tango in an earlier post when I explained funk metal. They still had one foot in the glam scene (see album cover) but their bass line-heavy tunes help differentiate them from, say, Poison. What I think will grab your attention is singer Joe Leste’s scream-like singing. The first track, “Attack of Life” will initially surprise with its vocals. Coming back to the album, many of these songs have incredibly catchy choruses – “Someone Like You” was the band’s single (and one I still listened to even before starting this series of posts), “Breaking Up a Heart of Stone“‘s makes up a bit for the Leste’s crooning lyrics, and just try NOT singing to “Wrap My Wings“. “Don’t Stop Now” (another fun one) and “Love Injection” (heh) are heavy on the funk and the album’s contributions to the crotch rock playlist. The band would release Dancin’ On Coals in 1991 but folded when their third album was shelved by their record company.

You probably don’t need to listen to this one.

THIS IS A SONG ABOUT A FISH! AND FISH ARE BAD! BAAAD!

Hair metal wasn’t all about girls and partying. It was also about juvenile humor. Lord Tracy combined all three into Deaf Gods of Babylon, an admittedly ridiculous album that combines any number of different styles into something that kind of works – kind of. Named for a popular porn star (er, so I’m told) it was led by former Pantera singer Terry Glaze and there’s not a song on the album that should be taken seriously. There’s guitar heroics (the 30 second “Barney’s Wank”) and anthem rockers (“Whatchadoin'” and “In Your Eyes”). AC/DC has an influence (“Submission” and “She’s A Bitch”) and even some bluesy numbers (“King of the Nighttime Cowboys” and “East Coast Rose”). “Out With the Boys” was their one real single, though you may have missed the one time it got played on the radio. They also venture into Beastie Boys/RUN DMC territory with “3 H.C.” “Piranha” is their thrash metal song about the existential dangers faced when we realize just how alone we are…wait, no, it’s just about the fish.

Hey, you want thoughtful lyrics, you’re reading the wrong blog. Go listen to “Jeremy” or something…

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, Part III: Sleazy Come, Sleazy Go…

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

“Sleaze Metal”, a reference to the genre’s devotion to excess, to decadence, doesn’t mean a whole lot when looking at hair metal bands and trying to tie any particular one to the term. Mötley Crüe, Warrant, Poison, Guns N’ Roses, Ratt, Skid Row, ad infinitum, all were “sleazy” in their own ways, whether you knew about their off-stage antics or were only familiar with the music. But if you’re over 40 you probably listened to Mötley Crüe, you remember singing along to Warrant’s “Cherry Pie,” and can probably name a handful of songs from each of the others. Here are some runners up you may not have thought about in a while, if at all.

In 1987, Faster Pussycat’s self-titled first album dropped two weeks before GNR’s Appetite. You don’t remember it. OK, that’s probably a bit unfair because the catchy “Bathroom Wall” had some airplay (why a song that contemplates fate and chance gets less attention than Tommy Tutone’s bathroom wall-inspired pop hit “867-5309/Jenny” is beyond me) and if you watched late night cable in 1989 you might have seen the band featured in “The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II“. For me though, the song I kept coming back to was “Babylon” a rap/rock hybrid (kinda) that preceded Anthrax’s ACTUAL hybrid “I’m the Man” by a year.

Their follow-up, 1989’s Wake Me When It’s Over went gold, so there’s a real chance readers will recall this one, if for nothing else than its single “House of Pain“, a ballad about growing up fatherless. This album also offered up the eminently listenable “Poison Ivy“, “Slip of the Tongue” and their ode to sadomasochism “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way“, all riff-heavy party rockers with choruses meant to sing along to (yeah, I can still sing all the lyrics). Moving away from their glam rock sound, there were a few more blues-inspired tunes, including “Tattoo” and “Cryin’ Shame“. They would put out one or two more albums in the 90s, one of which I remember including an uninspired cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”

I saw Faster Pussycat open for KISS at the Starplex Ampitheatre in 1990 (along with Slaughter, who was getting a lot of attention for their power ballad “Fly to the Angels“). Pussycat closed with “Babylon”, as I recall, and the frontman, Taime Down (yeah, that’s his name) came out with what I want to say was a BMW steering wheel on a big gold chain around his neck. Felt a little racist. My brother bought one of their concert shirts emblazoned with “WAKE THE F@$K UP, DICKHEAD!” on the back. Our mom saw it a couple weeks later and read him the riot act about how when he left the house he was representing our family. I, being St. Michael, had not bought that particular shirt.

Dangerous Toys’ mascot, Bill Z. Plenty of 40+ year old guys walking around with tattoos of this clown on their back.

Another band that sold a lot of copies of its first album (1989), Texas’ Dangerous Toys had one real hit, “Teas’n, Pleas’n“, a hard rock song with a riff that made me wish I could play the guitar. This song JAMS. They would later release “Scared” as another single, but nothing else matched “Teas’n, Pleas’n” for me: at the age of 17 I was of the opinion that any metal song including a deliberate tempo change (“I don’t even make my own rules…”) was an automatic winner. “Outlaw” saw the band incorporate the western/cowboy/Texas mythos, and is probably the most standard straight up rock song on the album, though not particularly memorable (“Ten Boots (Stompin’)“, though, has a huge bass line and may rival it). Lyrically, Toys often exhibited a deliberate sense of humor: “Sportin’ A Woody” and “Take Me Drunk” were drunken partiers. And what is maybe an unfair complaint: because of this strain of humor, most of the songs couldn’t be taken all that seriously. “Bones in the Gutter“, for instance, told from the perspective of a hired killer who worked on the cheap, is somewhat forgettable beyond the ridiculous premise of the song. Toys would put out a couple more albums, but like most hair metal bands couldn’t sustain a career as their sound just got tired/uninspiring.

Interesting to note that another Texas metal band, Pantera, after putting out a number of standard glam metal albums through the late 80s, would release its seminal Cowboys from Hell just a year later (1990). Bands needed to grow or they died out quick.

I might’ve included the Netherlands’ Sleeze Beez in my Scandinavian (ok fine, Magnus, northern Europe) metal blog, but their name dictated my placing them here. I bought Screwed, Blued and Tattooed (1990) solely on the strength of “Stranger Than Paradise“, a song with an inspired chorus even if the lyrics don’t make much sense. Buying music in the late 80s was always a crap shoot – you’d hear a song on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball and go to the mall looking for the album at Camelot Music. Outside of that one song that brought you to the mall, you weren’t sure what you were going to get, and that led to a lot of tapes that would get a listen or two and then put back in the case in favor of, well, Extreme. Listening to Screwed…, it’s definitely got some catchy hooks here and there (“Damned if We Do, Damned if We Don’t“, the Bon Jovi-ish “Rock in the Western World“) but outside of two or three songs, musically and lyrically it’s the same old same old. The guitar heroics on the album aren’t anything you couldn’t hear on fifteen other albums that past year.

I’m going to close out this post with Love/Hate’s Black Out in the Red Room (1990). They had their roots in the LA glam scene, and finally got this album released just as the genre was in its death throes. Let me say this first: the title song is heavy and holds up to this day. DAMN. True confession time: my first semester at A&M I took a handball course as my required phys. ed. I entered a few tournaments and would blast this song in my dorm room before I made my way across campus to the courts. I may have written “LOVE” on one hand and “HATE” on the other at one point (gloves were part of the gear). Yeah, I love this song.

The rest of the album is absolute sleaze. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll all the way. The singer, Jizzy Pearl (I’m beginning to think a lot of these L.A. guys might’ve adopted some stage names) has this slurry, high pitched screech that utterly fits the subject matter – he sells every song. “Rock Queen” and “Tumbleweed” follow up “Black Out” – the album doesn’t slow down (helps that most songs clock in at 2:30 – 3:30 minutes – totaling about 40 minutes of in your face debauchery). “Why Do You Think They Call it Dope?” has a chorus I can still belt out today. “Fuel to Run“, “One More Round“, “Slutsy Tipsy“, “Mary Jane” – yeah, Love/Hate had a theme. What I think pulls this one away from other hair metal bands is that they didn’t seem to be aiming for hits/radio play – “Dope” got some play, but not much else beyond that. There are certainly no acoustic ballads here.

That attitude would come back and bite the band, but not how you might think. As the band members wrote songs for their second album, they aimed for MORE radio friendly fare. Their label told them they needed to keep their rough edges, and rejected everything they had written at that point. Maybe as a result of these differences, their second album, Wasted in America, ended up being a commercial failure and they soon got dropped by the label.

Live fast, die young, rock and roll.

Next time: Hair metal gets the blues. Maybe. I’m making this up as I go.

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, An Interlude – I Hope the Russians Love Their Hair Metal Too.

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

During my senior year in high school I had the opportunity to write for the DeSoto High School newspaper, The Eagle Eye. I’m a bit foggy on how that came about, though I must have taken journalism as an elective mainly because the alternative, a public speaking class, scared me to death.

ANYWAY, one of my contributions to the paper was a review of an album by Gorky Park, a hair metal band out of Russia which, in the Era of Glasnost, had made a small splash here in the States largely due to Jon Bon Jovi taking an interest and getting them a record deal. My review ended by suggesting the band was set up for more success, a testament to my musical tastes and business acumen.

Flash forward 30+ years and Russia is back to its “Evil Empire” ways, invading Ukraine and threatening nuclear strikes. So I thought it appropriate we take a look back at Gorky Park’s album and try to figure out why it didn’t lead to real change in Russia’s -isms.

The band’s logo is still pretty damn cool.

As alluded to above, this album was produced by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, and their influence is easily heard through most of the songs. But since we already had Bon Jovi doing Bon Jovi songs a lot better, the album suffers from never breaking new ground or possessing its own identity – listening to it again it’s clear any number of bands at the time could’ve put out this album.

The song that introduced the band to the States is “Bang“, an anthemic rocker reminiscent of some of Europe and Def Leppard’s radio pop. Pretty standard stuff – and easily forgettable. Other guitar-driven songs include “Hit Me With the News“, “Danger” and “Peace in Our Time” a song in which Bon Jovi, Sambora AND Bon Jovi’s drummer Tico Torres play; it’s got a catchy chorus and Sambora’s trademark guitar squeal, but the members of Gorky Park take a back seat entirely. Gorky Park’s cover of The Who’s “My Generation” is solid, though, and something off the album I probably listened to more than anything else when I was 17. Some bands are too beholden to the original to make cover songs their own – *cough*Weezer*cough* – but this one I still like.

Perhaps due to Bon Jovi and Sambora’s production, this album is overladen with ballads. “Try to Find Me” made it to the Billboard Top 100 in 1990, and it’s easy to understand why – it’s sentimental and easy to sway to on a dimly lit dance floor. Some readers of this blog may even remember it. “Within Your Eyes” and “Fortress” take a few cues from Whitesnake and Motley Crue’s power ballads, but again, nothing sticks.

And there it is: listening to the album, I’m recognizing how little of an impact this album had on me. Maybe it was just that there was a glut of hair metal at the time, and in three weeks I’d be on to the next band’s release. But there’s nothing outside of “Bang” that I clearly remember, and nothing I’d sing along to. There aren’t many 80s hair albums that I can actually say that about.

Anyway, here’s that 17 year old senior’s thoughts on the album. Shout out to Pam for sharing it on Facebook so many years ago…

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, Part II – The Scandinavian Invasion

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

In 1986 the Swedish band Europe released The Final Countdown, an album chock-full of pop metal hits and ballads including the eponymous single still heard in every stadium where professional sports are played. Right now you can hear the keyboard intro you attempted to plink out with one finger at least once on your best friend’s piano/keyboard until they told you to knock it off.

da-da-dah duh.. da-da-dah dah duh…

That album went triple platinum: five singles were released, including “Carrie“, which was probably single-handedly responsible for the rise in the teen pregnancy rate among the denim-wearing, hair teased-to-the-sky demographic of 1987:

Holy shit, I just made that up! You mean I was right?

The Final Countdown would be Europe’s biggest album, and even their guitarist thought it was too much and quit the band afterward. But they weren’t the only Scandinavian band to make it across the pond, just the biggest. And because, as I warned you, this blog series is about the more obscure albums I was listening to, here are three more.

D.A.D. is a Danish band whose album No Fuel Left For the Pilgrims saw some success here in the States, selling 100,000 copies (re: Wikipedia). Released in March of ’89, it was actually the band’s third album but first international one. D.A.D. stood for “Disneyland After Dark”, but the House of Mouse had problems with them using that name so the band simply abbreviated it. Of the three albums I’m going with today, this is the most straight forward rocker – “Rim of Hell” has a huge sing-along chorus and should’ve been a bigger hit. The other single, “Sleeping My Day Away“, caught more radio play and its sound is what you’ll get on most of the album’s tracks. “Jihad” and “Ill Will” (this one is a favorite) though, are thisclose to thrash metal – I’m willing to bet they felt like it live. Lead singer Jesper Binzer’s growly vocals were also a bit of a departure from most hair metal bands at the time, and as such there’s not a proper ballad on this album. This is not a complaint. Yeah, this BAND should’ve been bigger than they were.

“Scr-screamin’ gui-gui-guitar!” – if you were 17 in 1989 and heard the beginning of Shotgun Messiah’s “Shout it Out” and didn’t immediately crank the volume, well, you probably listened to country or Madonna. Listening to it again, it sounds like it took cues from the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right (to Party)” and KISS. Another band out of Sweden, Messiah were very much a glam band a la Poison and Crue. Their guitarist, Harry Cody was another gunslinger, as evidenced by the licks/riffs on every damn song and the instrumental on this album, “The Explorer” – epic. I remember reading in Rolling Stone that Cody refused to play it in concert – something about not wanting to be like other lead guitarists playing solos during shows, as I recall. The rest of the songs on the album didn’t offer much in the way of originality, but as alluded to before, originality wasn’t the genre’s selling point (hell, it sold about 500,000 copies in the US).

By 1989, some bands probably began realizing being labeled “hair metal” was limiting their appeal and started giving themselves other monikers. “Funk metal” was one such label used by bands like Extreme, Bang Tango (more on them in a later post, I think), and Electric Boys, yet another band out of Sweden. Funk metal tended to emphasize the bass guitar a bit more prominently and were often riff heavy, and Funk-O-Metal Carpet Ride is a perfect example. This is a fun album, and one I listened well into freshmen year of college. Electric Boys’ singer, Conny Bloom, had a distinctive bluesy sound, getting away from the wailers more prominent on rock radio. Take a listen to “If I Had a Car” – definitely groove-driven. Their most popular song, “All Lips and Hips“, should’ve been bigger – it has an awesome riff and if you had some subwoofers in your car you’d get noticed playing this one. “Captain of my Soul” has a powerful chorus (I definitely hear some “Mississippi Queen” in that one) and then there’s “Rags to Riches,” the album’s best example of funk metal. The harmonies this band had – well, nothing compares to Van Halen’s Michael Anthony, but these are pretty damn good, too. “Into the Woods” closes out the album; I still bang my head to its riff, and the outro still gives me shivers (jump ahead to 2:50 as it moves just to full-on metal guitar). Electric Boys is still putting out albums, which makes me happy…

So, I’m not even trying to be exhaustive here, so if you’ve happened upon this blog and want to rail on me for forgetting some other European hair metal band, don’t be that person. Feel free, though, to remind me. Meanwhile, I’m going to go listen to “Ill Will” again.

Next week I think I’m going more sleezy.

The last years of 80s Hair Metal, Part I – Extreme: More Than “More Than Words”

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

“Extreme? Are you kidding? I thought you were going with bands I wouldn’t know!”

Yeah, I’m starting this series with a band most of you remember only for the single that shot their sophomore album, Pornograffitti (1990), to double platinum sales: “More Than Words”, the admittedly beautiful acoustic ballad highlighted by Gary Cherone’s vocals and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt’s harmonies (the video for the song memorably showed bassist Pat Badger and drummer Paul Geary sitting this one out). For reference, their follow up album, III Sides to Every Story (1992), only sold 700,000 copies (which would be followed by Waiting For the Punchline (1995) – I think I may be the only one who bought that one).

Extreme is a bit different from the other bands I’m going to end up featuring here as “More Than Words” actually made them a (somewhat) household name for a couple years, and the band survived well into the 90s (and even released a fifth album in 2008, Saudades de Rock, which, yes, I bought). But Pornograffitti was set up by their self-titled first album (1989), and it’s that album I’m going to be addressing here as it made Extreme my favorite band for the remainder of my teenage years.

Yeah, this first album cover didn’t really help differentiate them from other hair acts at the time. Their logo, though, would be drawn on my spiral notebook covers my entire senior year.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) actually introduced me to Extreme – a portion of their single “Play With Me” played during a scene where several figures from history run amok at the local mall. Now, if this were Poison, a song entitled “Play With Me” would’ve gone an entirely different direction. And, sure, the title is loaded with connotation, but the lyrics demonstrate a cleverness that would manifest itself throughout this album – check out “Flesh N Blood” (a very much tongue-in-cheek song about cannibalism) and “Smoke Signals” (like “Play With Me”, the lyrics were more a compilation of phrases, this time about warnings).

Sure, Extreme had its share of crotch-rock songs: “Wind Me Up“, “Teacher’s Pet” and “Little Girls” were all fairly boilerplate women-appreciation numbers. Know your audience. But all of them were catchy tunes (I admit I still know ALL the lyrics – this tape rarely left my player that summer), and the lyrics at times seemed to be sung with a knowing wink. Admittedly listening to “Little Girls” is a bit cringey now, but maybe that was the point. KISS practically made a living on songs about underage girls, and in ’88 Winger’s “Seventeen” had been a huge hit. With “Little Girls”, Extreme cranks that sentiment up to eleven.

Now, the only musical instrument I ever learned how to play was the cornet during my middle school years, so I can’t speak intelligently on the musical arrangements of the songs or anything like that. But I can say Nuno Bettencourt was/is a guitar GOD. “Play With Me” is an obvious example of his guitar-slinging, and I put him on par with EVH at the time, skill-wise (clearly Nuno was influenced by Eddie, as most guitarists of the time were). More than that, Bettencourt was just a consummate musician; reading the liner notes I was amazed at everything Bettencourt did for that album: instruments beyond the guitar, the orchestration, he had a hand in everything. Showcasing his guitar-chops, there were two solo tracks on this first album, one introducing another of the album’s singles, “Mutha (Don’t Want to Go to School Today)” and one closing out “Rock a Bye Bye“, a song commenting on abortion.

It’s “Rock a Bye Bye” and another, “Watching, Waiting” that, for me, separated Extreme from most other hair bands I was listening to. Cherone and Bettencourt took some risks with their song-writing – I’m fairly confident in saying no other metal bands at the time were addressing abortion in their songs. And then there’s “Watching, Waiting” – a song about Christ’s crucifixion told from the point of view of one of the criminals on a cross and a Roman soldier. Don’t get me wrong, these songs weren’t “preachy” – Extreme wasn’t Stryper. But they suggested what I alluded to in this series’ introduction: bands unable to offer up something new at this point were pretty much doomed. A secular-focused band in every other aspect, these two songs made an impression on 16 year old me, and even if I wasn’t aware at the time of Martin Luther’s comment about it being better to think of the church while in the tavern, rather than thinking about the tavern while in church, these songs suggest Cherone was.

Finally, there’s the first album’s anthem, and my personal anthem that summer, “Kid Ego“. I imagine this is the song that got the band signed, as it’s just a rocker with a huge fist-pounding riff. This was Extreme’s “Down Boys” (Warrant) or “Youth Gone Wild” (Skid Row), though it didn’t have the popularity of either of those songs. Cherone apparently says the song makes him cringe now, but what does he know, anyway?

I never was able to see Extreme in concert – the closest I came was watching the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert back in 1992 (I think MTV televised it?). Their medley of Queen songs blew every other act away, and reaffirmed to me that they were a special talent in a era glutted with look-alikes. If you haven’t seen it, maybe it will convince you too.

The last years of 80s Hair Metal – Intro.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on February 10, 2022 by Mike

A look back at some albums you probably don’t remember…

I was a teenager through most of the ’80s and as such lived through the heyday of hair metal (otherwise known as glam metal, pop metal, or my favorite, “crotch rock”, as these bands’ lyrics often revolved around getting laid). I’d assume most people over 40 have some association with this music as bands like Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi and Poison tended to stick around the Billboard charts during the late 80s, competing with more traditional pop acts like Madonna, Phil Collins and Michael Jackson, though songs by all could be heard on any mainstream pop station then (I’m thinking back to Dallas’s 97.1 The Eagle right now).

Hair metal would culminate with Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction (1987), just a monstrous rock album without a loser of a song on it. This album gave us “Paradise City”, “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, all songs you’d hear in heavy rotation on any pop/rock radio station from 1987 onward but also songs you STILL listen to today (if you’re still reading this post you know you do). While Guns N’ Roses would continue to see a great deal of success with their Use Your Illusion follow up double album (and the multitude of film-like MTV videos it spawned). nothing GNR put out would ever match their first album, and after Illusion GNR ended up devolving into Axl Rose’s seemingly decades long Chinese Democracy vanity project.

Now, there is the argument that GNR wasn’t actually “hair metal” – that they were hard rock and I understand the objection: the songs off Appetite had a different feel to them when compared to, say, Poison’s Look What the Cat Dragged In from the year before or even Crüe’s Girls, Girls, Girls released the same year as Appetite. Still, GNR had pretty strong ties to the L.A. glam scene, and early on the band’s appearance reflected some of those influences. If anything, GNR’s emergence marked a need for bands to start moving away from the pop metal scene (not many did), but the sheer popularity of its music was similar to most other inarguable hair bands at the time. I doubt many contemporaries would make a huge distinction – even GNR deliberately competed to take away Crüe’s “bad boys” crown that first year.

I say Appetite was the culmination of the hair metal genre as after 1987, while a lot of hair metal was still to come (as this series of blogs I’m planning will illustrate), Appetite proved to be a cultural touchstone – nothing matched it. Sure, 1989 saw Mötley Crüe release the hugely popular Dr. Feelgood and Skid Row’s self-titled album debuted the same year, but the die had been cast – everything after felt “been there, done that.” Hair metal bands weren’t able to offer up anything actually new and then along came Nirvana and the rest of the grunge scene to put the genre down for good. I mean, Mötley Crüe released three albums after Feelgood, and Poison released at least four after Open Up and Say…Ahh – can you name any one of them?

In 1987 I turned 15 and by that point was cutting my teeth on established 80s rock acts: Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, The Cars, and other bands that filled the airwaves at the time. From 1987 through 1990 I bought A LOT of hair metal albums. These cassette tapes would end up littering the floor of my ’81 Buick Regal as I made my way through high school and filling up storage cases placed beside the boxes of comic books I collected. Posters of these bands would decorate the walls of my bedroom over the next few years (I never broke my mom of the habit of calling GNR “Blood and Guts” when she would enter my room) and I even made it to a few concerts at what was then Starplex Amphitheatre.

What I’m saying is, when I was 17, I LOVED those bands.

So, for a reason I’ll get into later, I’ve decided to take a look at some of those bands’ albums I was listening to as I was finishing high school. Not the albums everyone remembers – I don’t really feel the need to look back at Ratt’s Reach for the Sky and explain why “Way Cool Jr.” might still hold up (I’m not sure it does). But there are bands whose albums I bought for THAT ONE SONG that MTV played the video for that ONE WEEK in July in 1989, whose lyrics I for some reason STILL KNOW, and as I am close to turning 50 I guess I’m interested in reminiscing a bit with a part of my youth that occupied so much of my time 30+ years ago.

Now where to begin…?

My Uncle Leroy – a story

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2021 by Mike

My uncle, Leroy Hahn, passed away from Alzheimer’s last Saturday at the age of 86. He was a farmer his entire life and as his son Bobby said at Leroy’s funeral today, an intuitive mechanic who had an innate ability to solve the problems he faced as a working farmer (Bobby related a story about Leroy combining two tractor engines to get more power, resulting in a tractor with four large drive wheels and an elaborate setup involving two clutches that had to be engaged in the correct order).

When I was younger I found Uncle Leroy…intimidating (to be honest I still found him intimidating when I was 45). He was a huge man – I suppose a lifetime working the land will result in that, and I know my brothers and I marveled at the size and strength of his hands. My dad – eleven years younger than Leroy who as a boy worked for Leroy in the fields – related a story about Leroy that stuck with the three of us about Leroy’s strength, and I thought I’d retell it here.

It may be a bit apocryphal, and as Adam said the other day, I hope nobody tells me if it’s actually not true.

It seems Leroy was attempting to loosen a bolt and broke a wrench in half while doing so. The wrench having come from Sears, and thus holding a lifetime warranty, allowed Leroy to return it and get a replacement.

In talking to the Sears sales rep, the rep looked at the broken wrench and agreed it should be replaced, but added to Leroy, “Yeah, wrenches will often break like that when you use a cheater bar.”

Now, for those who don’t know the term, a “cheater bar” is a piece of pipe that would be placed over the handle of the wrench, which would then offer more “torque” in attempting to loosen a tight bolt or valve. Using these kinds of things would probably void the warranty of the wrench as well, but I think the rep just thought he’d call Leroy on it a bit.

Leroy told the rep he didn’t use a cheater bar. When the sales guy looked unconvinced, Leroy asked, “You have a vice here?” When the guy nodded, Leroy had him get another wrench and tighten it in the vice. That done, Leroy took the wrench in both hands and 1-2-3, jerked hard and – BAM – broke the wrench in two. With his bare hands.

“I didn’t use a cheater bar.” Leroy got his replacement wrench.

Of course, Leroy HAD been using a cheater bar when he broke the wrench, but I guess he felt he needed to prove a point.

Dad told us Leroy’s arms were sore for days afterward.

***

Leroy loved his family and God, and I saw this every time I was around him. Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease, and to hear how it affected him this past year makes me understand his passing is a blessing. I know Leroy’s enjoying a long deserved rest now…

What else are fools good for?

Posted in Uncategorized on January 22, 2021 by Mike

There’s a scene in the 1996 film The Crucible (a very good rendition of Arthur Miller’s play starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder) where the girls who have been accusing various Salem residents of witchcraft faint together as a group when one of the accused reasonably (even obviously) questions in court how he could possibly be guilty of the crimes when he has to hobble around on two crutches, and has been known by the accuser’s family for years.

Upon seeing the girls lying on the floor, another resident, Martha Corey, a no-nonsense woman, guffaws while the other attendees gasp in shock. The town sheriff attempts to rebuke her: “How dare you mock them, Martha Corey!” to which she replies, “What else are fools good for?”

This scene came to mind recently when I posted an article by Kevin Williamson to my Facebook feed. It’s a biting article that takes to task Trump and all who deify him, pointing out just how ignominious Trump’s presidency has been. Trump is and always has been a cretin, and completely unqualified – intellectually, morally, emotionally – for the office. I’ve been upfront about my feelings about Trump since the day he announced his candidacy, and the past four years (culminating in an attempted coup by MAGA Trump supporters) have done nothing but prove me right.

Now that he’s gone, I’m seeing a lot of calls for unity, both at the national level and on social media. I get that, and I want to see this nation less divided, too. But unity is a pipe-dream as long as we’re willing to turn a blind eye to or placate those who choose to ignore reality. We have MILLIONS of people in this country, including elected representatives, who argued and still believe this election was rigged/stolen by the Democrats. I’m supposed to accept that their point of view is in some way valid? That I should pay any attention to them? What do they give in return? A promise not to engage in any more coups?

No, I’m with Martha Corey on this one. People who willfully choose to delude themselves and commit themselves to lies deserve to be mocked, need to be mocked. Trump’s unprecedented commitment to lying during his four years shouldn’t be forgotten, nor should his inflammation of the crowds who stormed the Capitol.

If January 6 should teach us anything, it’s that this country can no longer afford to ignore its fools.