30 January 2014

Knock 'Em Dead, Kid - ANTIVENIN and the Crüe

Yesterday, Mötley Crüe held a press conference announcing their final tour in 2014 (for realsies this time), and the music-critic cynic in me nearly ruptured something internally, trying so hard not to give a shit.

But I can’t front.

You see, the whole reason there's even a hint of music-critic cynicism in there, is because of a maladjusted ten-year-old buried inside me who will forever rep the Crüe, or at least what their first two albums have come to mean to me over the years (alright, I’ll be honest, Theatre of Pain gets a pass too, but more on that in a bit). I can’t say I’m sad to see them finally put it to bed, but there’s a tiny light inside me that’s flickering out with their retirement, for sure.

Late 1985, I was ten years old – and a dorky, out-of-place, sixth-grade heavy-metal fan. Being out-of-place came with the territory of always being the new kid in class. From grades four to seven, I went to five different schools, three of them in a small town in the East Kootenays of BC. It was not the easiest thing to make lasting friends. But the music was there for me. Metal was peaking in the mainstream then; me and the handful of other fledgling bangers in school cut our teeth on KISS, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, and Ratt. There were a few older kids in school, too, seventh grade - peach-fuzz and stolen-smokes types, who would introduce us to "heavier stuff" like Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne, too. 

But that fall was all about Mötley Crüe, who had just released their cover of Brownsville Station’s “Smokin’ In The Boys Room”, to über-success across FM rock radio and this new thing called MuchMusic. Everybody loved the Crüe. Fucking Everybody. I had just gotten Theatre of Pain for my birthday at the end of August (cool Aunt Carol hits a home run again), and it quickly usurped all my other cassettes for Walkman time. Things seemed to be going good, I’d made some good friends in the neighborhood, and five of us had competed in an air band (remember those?) competition at school and won (doing “I Wanna Rock” in Twisted-Sister-costume, to an audience of 'small-town' parents, who were way not into seeing and hearing a group of pre-teen boys loudly air-rocking-out in full heavy metal drag). More importantly, I was finally starting to feel like I belonged.

Of course, shortly after Christmas my folks decided to buy a home across town and leave our rented-duplex days behind. Fuck. Another new neighborhood, new school, new classroom full of staring eyes at the new kid, new “period of adjustment”.

Becoming more fully immersed what little heavy metal culture was available to me, being of limited funds, and living in a cultural vaporlock, I’d buy whatever metal magazines I’d find in neighborhood convenience stores. Circus and Hit Parader, usually. Here’s where that penchant to write about heavy metal first reared its ugly head, I guess. But what really got me, were seeing pictures of the Crüe that were a few years old by 1985 – namely their Shout At The Devil get-ups, where they didn’t look so much like the pink-and-white glamour pusses of Theatre, but were decked out in black and red leather, Road-Warrior-type shit. Growing up a KISS fan, the aesthetics grabbed me right away. I knew I had to hear their older records at once. I guilted my mom into buying me Shout, after an unfortunate raw-potato-eating incident. I got Too Fast For Love shortly after that, and it’s right about then that it all turned.

Call it unseen forces at work, kismet, fate, destiny – but it was heavy metal music that got me through the rest of that school year, and the year after. The new school situation kinda sucked. A lot. The New Kid sheen wore off way quick, and suddenly I once again became the Weird Kid, the outcast, the loner. One day that year, not long after the move, I’ll never forget it, was the only time in my life I got singled out, shamed, and bullied by a chanting, ridiculing classroom full of unsupervised kids for being the lone metalhead. It was a hard lesson, but I hardened with it, on the inside. Fine. You go ahead and push me out of the circle, and see how fast my middle fingers go up.

So what did I turn to? A pair of headphones, and the first two Mötley Crüe records. I was absolutely smitten with those records, they oozed FUCK YOU when that was all I felt day after day. No, I was no outward rebel, on the outside I was a well-adjusted kid – but I seethed in a silence headphone-deafened by Mick Mars’ rude, roaring guitar and Nikki Sixx’s fuck-the-world lyrics. The pentagram iconography, warnings of backwards messages in the liner notes, four sullen, stone-faced, rail-thin dudes in Mad Max garb, it was a warning to squares. It had attitude. And that attitude gave me a bitter resolve, an inner strength in being the loner. Those idiots in my class, they could keep their shitty Corey Hart and Whitney Houston albums, a bunch of small-town small minds playing it safe while mocking, jeering, and shoving me around for not buying into it.

Those first two Mötley records resonate with me to this day. I’ll always count them among my all-time favorite albums. Not least because they kept me going when a classroom full of dickheads tried their best to make me stop.

Of course - two years later, when Girls, Girls, Girls came out, all of the exact same assholes (I can still name names) who jeered and taunted me for loving Shout At The Devil jumped on the bandwagon and got with the Mötley program. Fickle pack of sycophantic mushheads, a pox on them all.

Now - nearly thirty years later, regardless of whatever the Crüe became, or what I became, I can still throw Shout or Too Fast on the disky and instantly feel that self-righteous surge of fist-in-the-air power that heavy metal gives to the fan it speaks to. If you're reading this, I'm sure you've felt it too. THIS is why there is elitism in our music, because to us, OUR MUSIC wasn’t meant for those jerks who gave us a hard time for liking it – but that’s another unnecessary thinkpiece for another day.

Ultimately, I’m not sad to see Mötley Crüe go, they’ve been well past their prime for ages. I saw them fail to fill a Kamloops arena in 1999, and it was a bummer. Tommy was fresh out of jail and at the height of his yo-dawg phase (he actually said to the audience, and I quote, “They had this nigga in a cage!”, pointing to himself) - and he couldn't even be bothered to do a drum solo. Vince wheezed through half of his vocals, and got the audience to sing what he couldn't. Nikki was subdued. Mars, of course, fuckin’ ruled.

Nevertheless, I’ll still see Mötley Crüe when the final tour comes to my town in November (cheap seats, not this $4,000 "VIP experience" bullshit)

Because that ten-year-old inside me, the one with his fist in the air, needs to say goodbye one last time.

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