klosterman_black_hatIt seems like twenty-five lifetimes ago, but it was only twenty-five years: An older friend gave me a cassette he’d duplicated from a different cassette (it was the era of “tape dubbing,” which was like file sharing for iguanodons). It was a copy of an album I’d wanted, but the album was only thirty-eight minutes long; that meant there were still seven open minutes at the end of the cassette’s A-side. In order to fill the gap, my friend included an extra song by Metallica. It was a cover of a song by the British band Diamond Head, a group I was completely unfamiliar with. The opening lines of the song deeply disturbed me, mostly because I misinterpreted their meaning (although I suspect the guys in Metallica did, too). The lyrics described bottomless vitriol toward the songwriter’s mother and a desire to burn her alive. The chorus was malicious and straightforward: “Am I evil? Yes I am. Am I evil? I am man.”

Formed in those halcyon, hard-rocking 80s, Armored Saint wasted little time carving their mark into the arm of the L.A metal scene. Built atop heavy riffs, ambitious songwriting and gritty, soulful vocals, Armored Saint battled through the death of guitarist and founding member Dave Prichard, the unpredictable and ever-changing tastes of the music scene, being dropped from a major label and ever-eluding the critical acclaim that their body of work so richly deserved. Yet in the face of one punishing challenge after another, Armored Saint has defiantly soldiered on, recording multiple albums, cultivating a loyal fan base and converting their three decades of making music into one of west coast rock’s most enduring legacies.

Best selling author Joel McIver is a one-man journalistic supernova. While legions of music writers across the planet whimper about making a living and building cred in a shit-paying industry, McIver continues to churn out a head-spinning amount of content, ranging from epic books to fascinating interviews with music’s greatest legends, to thought-provoking essays for some of the world’s most prestigious publications. With three books coming out in 2011 and a slate of new projects underway, he will most assuredly continue to make the rest of us look bad for quite some time.

Known primarily for his biographies of heavy metal and hard rock acts like Metallica and Slayer, McIver’s allegiance is to the story, not the genre. He has chronicled the lives of hip hop legend (and beer spokesman) Ice Cube, soul queen Erykah Badu, punk legends the Sex Pistols and American upstarts the Kings of Leon. Additionally he is the author of the virulently-debated volume The 100 Greatest Metal Guitarists and Extreme Metal I and II, and his twenty books have been translated into nine languages to date.

Many, many moons ago I used to write for a magazine you’ve never heard of. My editor had a curious theory: Rock and roll had hit the wall during the 77-era of punk. It’s not that he didn’t like music made since then. On the contrary, he was a huge Nirvana fan and was a mainstay on the American hardcore scene of the early 1980s. It’s that rock and roll could only get so fast and heavy before it ceased being rock and roll and started being something else.

I respectfully disagree. It’s true that many strains of rock music are too damn tight to allow for the little shimmy-and-wiggle action that puts the “roll” in “rock and roll.” Greg Ginn discovered this during Black Flag’s early days. He compensated by making everyone play at one-quarter speed during rehearsals, working their way up to the mid-tempo hardcore the band’s post-My War years. Motörhead, on the other hand, are a prime example of a band playing music both heavier and faster than punk with more than enough swing in its step to properly be called “rock and roll.”

“Writing about architecture is like dancing to music.”

-Nobody

 

Last summer I gushed over the unbridled majesty of a well-written music biography. The purpose of the essay was to highlight the elements of a compelling rock biography and to point out some of the better examples in the last twenty years. I confess that I also enjoyed writing about the mud shark incident.

“The chick in White Zombie” became an affectionate nickname for me thanks to Beavis and Butthead and legions of Metalheads. It not only singled me out as the only girl in the band, but also as the only girl in a huge boys’ club. A big, sweaty, long-haired, denim and leather, moshing boy’s club. This was the arena of heavy metal, where not only the fans, but the bands, the road crews, the stage crews, the club owners, the managers—were all guys. As a musician, I was head-banging into unchartered territory, hoping to sneak by before anyone noticed. Once I had, I was not only accepted into this club, but fans accepted me on a level reserved for their favorite band members, and bands gave me respect as a musician, songwriter, and performer. I felt extremely lucky and thankful to have bypassed the sexism that was still prevalent at the time and place—at least with the bands and our fans, the people that really mattered.

Of course, being “the chick in White Zombie” wasn’t always easy, but I enjoyed the challenge and the adventure. In the early days, sharing a hotel room with three or four guys required extreme tact, as did the single dressing room we were frequently faced with at clubs and stadiums. Over the years of rigorous touring, I was sick or injured a disproportionate amount of time compared to the guys. It was hard to pull my weight when my gear was the heaviest, although I tried anyway. Later when we were headlining arenas, local stagehands would see me walking from backstage towards the stage at show time and try to stop me, thinking I was a friend or fan of the band. “No one allowed on stage,” they’d bark. Frustrated, I would have to explain that I was in the band as I’d hear the intro tape with my stage cue rolling and watch the pyro firing up. Eventually my bass tech or stage manager would freak out and come looking for me, and only with his assurance would I be allowed to pass. When we played Castle Donnington in 1996, my appearance on stage was so unusual that a TV crew filmed me afterwards, asking what it felt like to be the only girl to have ever performed there in all of history besides Doro Pesch. There were nine other bands playing that day, including Metallica, Skid Row, and Slash’s Snakepit. All the members were men. Even the 80,000-strong audience was 99% male.

Back when White Zombie played with East Village punk and art bands, I would meet other female musicians. But once we crossed the line over into the world of rock and metal, that all ended. I’m sure there were some like-minded girls out in the audience somewhere, but I never met them. The only women I met now were girlfriends or groupies that wanted to get backstage and “meet” the band. Whether that meant clawing their way on stage, or somehow getting past security and the road crew (don’t ask), it was always awkward for me to encounter these women. Especially when the crew had them tagged with a “Tulsa” backstage pass (“a slut,” backwards). Even more bizarre when they got backstage and wanted to meet me, thinking I was a dude. (Yes, that happened.) Once a gay man even placed an ad directed at me in the LA Weekly personals, having mistaken me for a guy. Remember, this was the world of metal, where everyone had long hair. So even though I was wearing hotpants, my stick thin figure and engineer boots left me looking fairly androgynous. I wasn’t helping matters by going by Sean, which is what my parents called me, instead of Shauna. And while I wasn’t trying to purposefully look like a guy, I also never wanted the fact that I was a girl to be an issue: I just wanted to be accepted as a musician and songwriter, first and foremost. So, I was stumped when the interviewer at Donnington asked me that question—the same one that came up in every interview I ever did—how does it feel to be the only girl? I had nothing else to compare it to, having always been the only girl in the scene, and I would banish that line of questioning with some glib response as, ironically, discussing my gender only seemed to belittle what I was trying to achieve: equality.

It is easier to figure out cold fusion than it is to discuss rock and roll journalism without mentioning Mick Wall. He is to music writing what Keith Richards is to the guitar — he didn’t invent it, but he sure as hell made it his own.

Mick Wall began his career writing for a weekly music paper in the late Seventies and a few years later he jumped into a grass roots heavy metal magazine called Kerrang!. He quickly became its most popular writer and now thirty years later, Kerrang! is the biggest music periodical in circulation in the UK, with its own television and radio stations, branded tours, and massive annual awards ceremony.

Like Kerrang!, Mick Wall has also exploded as a force in the arena of rock journalism. He has penned nearly twenty music biographies, tackling a diverse range of subjects from immortal record producer John Peel to the howling tornado that is Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose. Rose was so unsettled by Wall’s book that he called him out by name in the song, “Get in the Ring,” from the Use Your Illusion II album.

I can feel your anxiety from here.

Christmas is just over two weeks away and you’ve still got shopping to do.  You opted for the “lots of little presents” route, instead of the “one big enchilada” route, and now you find yourself a few gifts short of a stocking.  Worse, you’ve got one or more rockers on your list, and they’re such ungrateful snobs that you’re afraid to get them anything having to do with music for fear of the inevitable snarky comment ending with the word “lame.”

What’s an elf to do?

Relax- I’ve got you covered.

Sometime during the summer I turned thirteen, my neighbor, who was about three years older, began wearing corduroy pants with little flying ducks embroidered on them.

When a friend strikes out in a bold new direction like this, it can be a scary ordeal for everyone around him.  It can also present a number of opportunities.  Realizing that the onset of the mallard-inspired cords would likely usher in the obsolescence of all things non-preppy, I petitioned for and became the grateful beneficiary of a number of his now-unwanted possessions.  Specifically, his copy of The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty.  And most importantly, his copy of the Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman.

My life hasn’t been the same since.

De gustibus non est disputandum.

Even before I became a Latin major in college (another in a long and colorful string of jackass moves by yours truly), I knew what this sentence meant.  It basically means “there’s no accounting for taste.”

From my earliest age, music has been manna for my soul.  It has been one of the primary platforms where I relate to the world (and to myself).  From my first album (Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”), to my first concert (Aerosmith, 1984, Worcester, MA), through tens of thousands of LPs, cassettes, cds, MP3s, concerts, shows, festivals, mix tapes, radio stations, etc., right up to the last time I played guitar (twenty minutes ago), music has accompanied me in virtually all endeavors, big and small.  As I compose this article, I am listening to the album “Wrecking Ball,” by Dead Confederate.

For every trip I’ve taken, there has been a corresponding mix.  Every relationship, an artist. I have go-to albums for every mood, and to this day few things excite me more than making a mix for a friend.  My tastes, like Tiger Woods’ girlfriends, are all over the place.