So I was about 600 words into this week’s Throwback about an old TV-Movie featuring Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter I found in some old TV listings and then suddenly realized I hated it. What I was writing, not the Hal Holbrook movie; I’m sure it’s fine.
Desperate for another topic, I looked at the calendar and realized that it’s now March, and earlier in February I promised Mike Katz, who sits on the other side of my shared cube wall here in the office, that I’d designate this month “Heavy Metal March,” in honor of our many, many discussions about music, heavy metal or otherwise. Quite exactly what such designation might mean to me I don’t remember. Until I figure that out, how about I use this week’s column to share a whole treasure trove of some of the “heaviest” items I could find in some of our old papers, consisting of just a few of the many, and boy howdy do I mean the many, ads from Ted’s Warehouse that are lurking around on nearly every entertainment page of the Journal Gazette I’ve ever looked at.
I don’t know if this is still the case, but if you grew up any time near the ‘80s and even, like me, the late ‘80s-early-‘90s, you went through a heavy metal phase. It’s just the way of things. And my heavy metal phase was even more unlikely given that I grew up without several of the factors that usually lead a young boy down the dark path of such things: I didn’t have an older brother, and I didn’t have MTV. This means I didn’t have anyone older standing over my shoulder telling me Men at Work, Duran Duran, Falco, and all that other poncy WSOY-FM slop I was grooving to was stupid when I really should have been listening to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
And because I didn’t have MTV that also means the decade’s big boom of “hair metal” and all its various participants, Poison, Warrant, Ratt, Slaughter, White Lion, Great White, Cinderella, Britney Fox, Tesla, Bullet Boys and (ugh) Dokken, just to name a few, went briskly right on past me while I was championing teen dance pop like Paula Abdul and C+C Music Factory. And if any of you hair metal fans feel like writing in to tell me that any of those bands I mentioned weren’t really hair metal, please don’t. They were. Notice I didn’t include Whitesnake, so give me some credit for that.
Sometime in junior high things started to change. I was inducted very quickly into heavy metal music even though I was listening to dweeby “college rock” like R.E.M. which made me a square amongst squares. But I knew enough about classic rock (thanks to my father) to be accepted by those back-of-the-bus ne’er-do-wells who loved metal, and I had a dual tape deck stereo, which meant some of my new junior high buddies didn’t just want me as a friend, they needed me as a friend to help make their mix tapes for them.
So off the school bus I’d hop, carrying, no lie, a 10-pound duffel bag full of borrowed cassette tapes from their heavy metal libraries with handwritten instructions walking me through what songs went where and in what order. Oh, what a time that was, using that chest of drawers I still own as a standing desk, with my pad of paper, a brick of cassette tapes, headphones in, and manipulating those hard-to-push “play” and “record” buttons until I got callouses, while discovering the kind of evil music that everyone else my age who had MTV and a basement was already way ahead of me on.
From the aforementioned twin titans Maiden and Priest, to other bands with such lovely names as Megadeth, Slayer, Queensryche, Overkill, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Faith No More, Anthrax, and those fun guys in Sacred Reich thrown in there thanks a K-Tel “Mega Metal” compilation thrown into that duffel bag with the song (ahem) “Surf Nicaragua”.
Heavy metal ran as a background task in my musical development of the early ‘90s. While I ran back and forth from Mattoon to Positively Fourth Street in Charleston for all that “independent” rock a thrift-store hoodie-wearing dork like myself was supposed to be listening to -- Husker Du, The Replacements, Dinosaur Jr., Superchunk, and yes, Mattoon legends The Didjits -- there was a part of me who got a thrill finding a beat-up cassette for Judas Priest’s “Sad Wings of Destiny” in a pawn shop used bin. There’s a great ‘70s-style piano ballad on that one called “Epitaph” that makes about 80 percent of the “here’s some music I like” mixes I make for friends today. Doesn’t sound like the cheeriest song title, I know, but it beats “Angel of Death,” right?
And going by some of these old Ted’s ads, those “grown folks” (as in…old enough to get into bars when I was still trying on shoes at Payless each year for the new school year) of the era loved their heavy metal too. Literally all I had to do was type in the words “Iron Maiden” and I got dozens of these little Ted’s ads, each and every one featuring a repertoire of the same cover material, making me wonder just what the difference was between any of these bands, except for their weirdly spelled names. Hey, it was the era for such things; even my ill-rehearsed but scrappy high school garage band had a name we purposely misspelled. That kind of thing was “edgy” back then. Or should I say “edjye”.
I say this with love; I’m positive there are plenty of folks reading this who do know the difference because you were in one of those bands, or maybe you knew one of the musicians, or maybe you were there. Heck, you maybe even clipped one of those coupons. Memories of local music loom large in our memories, I’ve discovered. Hey, we couldn’t all play sports, right?
I don’t listen to as much metal as I used to. Seeing those records on my shelves now is like seeing a snapshot of a time when I was a geek, geekily listening to music that was also for geeks, but just geeks of a different stripe. So in the event you happen to be one of my younger readers, and oh how it delights me that some too-smart-for-their-own-good local kid is borrowing the Saturday paper from their parents to read my column, let me impart some advice. Sure music today is different than it was when I was your age, but let me tell you, no matter how out of place you may feel at school, I guarantee you’ve got more in common with the back of the bus kids than you think.