If rock ‘n’ roll’s never gonna die, it’s my kids who’ll be keeping it alive…
“Oh no!” I said, sitting in bed, reading the news. “Neil Peart died.”
“What?” said the Missus.
“Neil Peart died. He was the drummer in Rush.”
“Tchah!” she said. “When you went ‘Oh no!’ like that, I thought it was something important.
“My life hasn’t been affected in any way by Rush. I couldn’t name a single Rush song.”
Two thoughts occurred to me at this point: No. 1 was that this was probably an inadequate epitaph for Peart – a clever, kind man once voted Rolling Stone’s 4th best drummer of all time.
No. 2 was: will Heavy Metal ever get the respect it deserves?
For 40-odd years, now, I’ve had to live with people dissing metal. As a devotee of what Def Leppard termed bludgeon rifferama, I’ve grown used to living in the margins of musical acceptability. To being part of a strange and derided subculture.
As long as I can remember, people have been casually slagging off the sounds that I love – like the time I was 17, and on a double date with my Metal-loving sidekick and our significant others.
My mate had UFO on his car stereo, with Michael Schenker making his axe wail, like Mozart with a Flying V – but the girls complained.
When we said: ‘Schenker’s a legend. He’s been making a sound like since he was seventeen,” his squeeze retorted: “Sounds more like seventeen months.”
Fast forward almost 40 years to 2019, to the guitar shop where I was test-driving an amplifier, as part of my ongoing Midlife Crisis.
In a pause between laying out my best Van Halen riffs, the shop manager – a dead ringer for the hippy heroin dealer in Pulp Fiction – was heard to opine: “All music is fine by me. Except playing in a Heavy Metal band or something. That’s just not cool.”
Now that a decent interval has passed, I would like personally to apologise for inviting Satan in to a Black Sabbath show at the Hammersmith Odeon in January 1982 (thankfully, in hindsight, he declined to show up).“
It’s always been an embarrassment to me that I’m a Headbanger, but I just can’t help myself.
Nowadays, I find myself continually regressing to the late 70s and the early 80s – the glory days of the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) – by You Tubing early Iron Maiden, or downloading the whole of Saxon’s (somewhat patchy) greatest hits.
The NWOBHM period was the best of times, and the worst of times, for a Metal fan. The enduring un-coolness of the genre, the easy-to-laugh at lyrics and terrible clothes one felt obliged* to wear made you want to keep your love a somewhat guilty secret.
Yet heavy bands like Rush, Saxon, Judas Priest and Maiden were regularly troubling the charts, and this also bred a certain stubborn pride in us: a ‘No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care’, underdog mindset.
Even though we thought the music was powerful, beautiful, uplifting, we adopted a defensive, defiant kind of attitude to protect it.
Something like: ‘Yes we’re dirty and we’re nasty and we don’t care (sticks tongue out and does devil-worshipping thing with his hands).” **
Every time a metal band had a hit single, it was an event to be celebrated, even when the (very uncool) Rainbow made No 3. In the UK charts in 1981 with ‘I Surrender’.
Eagerly recording the song’s ascent on the Top 40 radio show every Sunday, the fifteen- year-old me was moved to scribble excitedly in his week to a page pocket diary: “Rainbow up to Number Seven (but Rondinelli still not as good as Cozy Powell)!”
It’s one of the bittersweet aspects of nostalgia pieces like this that the Rondinelli versus Powell sticksman debate, and 1980s Metal’s other bruising intercenine ‘offs’ – including the Graham Bonnet vs Joe Lynn Turner vs Gary Barden vocalists’ dust-up, and the Schenker contra Paul ‘Tonka’ Chapman guitar wars – now look set to be lost to obscurity forever.
Even if I still remember them, like some cobwebby Old Fogey who once saw Bradman or Ranjitsinji bat and always wants to talk about it, it just doesn’t matter now.
The 70s and 80s rock gods may have left us, but their sound lives on – molten in the veins of my son and daughter.”
Metal musicians like Peart and their bands are dying off anyway. Priest, UFO, and Rush have all done their farewell tours, while others aren’t fit enough to bang a drum anymore.
I saw UFO on their 50th anniversary recently, bringing the kids along and watching proudly as they wigged out to ‘Rock Bottom’ amid a sea of gentle greybeards who all looked like me, except that they were still in double denim.
And this is my insurance policy – the kids. The 70s and 80s rock gods may have left us, but their sound lives on – molten in the veins of the son and daughter I’ve managed to indoctrinate.
My little girl recently delighted some young fogey at work by revealing that she was listening to Leppard, and not Taylor Swift.
I listen to my children’s playlists and hear that they are full of my Metal: of Kiss and Quo, Schenker still making it wail and Bon Scott forever in his irresistible pomp
So Heavy Metal will always be derided and uncool but it is tenacious, like an old ear infection that you can’t get rid of. And I’m proud to have played my part in the propagation of the fungus.
To paraphrase the cod-metal band Bad News: “Heavy Metal – Top Of The Class. You can stuff the rest of it up your arse!”
* What other explanation is there for my persistently rocking double denim, primary coloured sweatshirt and cowboy boots at a time in my life when looking cool is supposed to be the be-all and end-all?
** Now that a decent interval has passed, I would like personally to apologise for my own – somewhat peer-pressure inspired – inviting Satan in to a Black Sabbath show at the Hammersmith Odeon in January 1982 (thankfully, in hindsight, he declined to show up).