There is no true escape, I’m watching all the time


Chicago has its annual Pride parade tomorrow, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to go. When I lived in the part of Chicago where the parade takes place, it was always a highlight of the summer. I’m sure that it still is, too, but since I don’t live in Boystown anymore, it’s not the same as it was for me. I have a feeling that the Supreme Court’s decision this week to strike down DOMA will add a little bit extra to this year’s festivities, too.

I’ve come a long way on gays in my lifetime, as many people have. And one of the markers on this is Judas Priest. I remember listening to Screaming for Vengeance my freshman year in high school, back in the early 1980s, but never suspecting that frontman Rob Halford was gay. All I knew was that the leather and studs look he introduced into the heavy metal genre was not the way I would ever dress, but it looked sufficiently badass and was therefore cool. The title of this post is taken from a line in the song Electric Eye, which seemed to be about 30 years ahead of the NSA curve.

When Rob Halford came out in the 1990s, I realized that the leather and all of that was not quite what I thought it was. But he had the same amazing voice, and the same kickass songs that I listened to as an angry and confused teenager. Nothing was any different, except that he told the world about who he was.

The social pressures that once prevented Elton John from coming out, and kept Freddie Mercury and George Michael and Johnny Ray and who knows how many others in the closet–or worse, forced them to present themselves as ladies’ men–have greatly changed through the years. And this is a good thing, because great music is great music, no matter who makes it.

Happy Pride to everyone reading this, in June of 2013 and every month after that as well.

Re-imagining the 80s

Last night I accompanied my daughters and a friend of theirs to a concert by a band called Big Time Rush. The show seemed to be fun for them, but as I went to the top of the lawn, looking for as much solitude as I could find in a sea of screaming young girls, I started thinking about the recent movie “Rock of Ages“. It occurred to me that I never really wrote anything about it in this space, and this is as good a time as I am likely to get to discuss it, so here goes:

The movie itself is based on a Broadway show, which I haven’t seen and am not likely to. Musicals seem to lose something, artistically speaking, when they transition from Broadway to Hollywood. The shows were written for the stage, and grafting them onto another format typically doesn’t work too well. I enjoyed RENT a lot when I saw it on stage, but I couldn’t make it through to the end of the movie version. Mamma Mia was the same thing: the musical was entertaining, but the film version, not so much.

With that in mind, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and a number of other Hollywood actors took a shot at turning the musical “Rock of Ages” into a movie. I’m a child of the 80s, and I’ve written about the music from that decade many times here. So it was fun to hear some of these songs in a movie, even though I didn’t much care for the two leads at the center of the obligatory romance story (Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta). The Glee-style mashups of “Juke Box Hero/I Love Rock and Roll” and “We Built this City/We’re not Gonna Take it” seemed unnecessary to me, too. They’re songs that can, and should, stand alone by themselves, at least in my mind. I realize that makes me somewhat old-fashioned, or at least a purist, but so be it. I’ve been called worse things.

The gay subplot between Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand’s characters was certainly funny, but gay issues themselves weren’t really visible in the 1980s. I have no doubt that closeted romances like that existed, but consider what happened to Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford. Before he came out in 1998, he had left the band in 1992, and they continued on with with a singer from a Judas Priest tribute band in his place. Halford says that the music scene today is different than it was back in the 1980s, but it wasn’t the way that Rock of Ages suggests, either. The Baldwin and Brand characters would have had to keep things on the down low, to use a more modern phrase.

But the biggest disappointment was Tom Cruise’s channeling of Axl Rose, singing Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive“. He mangled the songs, in my mind, and I’ll hope that anyone who hears them in the movie also buys the original source material on iTunes. It can’t be that the Tom Cruise version of these songs is the only version that a person gets to hear.

My daughter liked the part in the movie about the boy band, named “Z Guyeezz”  who were clearly a shot at New Kids on the Block. The rockers in the movie show their disdain for this record-company concocted act, but it does have an element of truth to it, I suppose. These bands are created in a lab, so to speak, in order to fill a perceived need in the marketplace, without regard to whether or not they’re any good, musically.

And so it was last night, as I waited for Big Time Rush to take the stage after a couple of lightweight opening acts. When they finally went on, and the teen screaming began in full force, I posted on my Facebook page that the current version of “Z Guyeezz” had just gone onstage. My daughter indicated that this annoyed her, probably because it hit a bit too close to the bone. We both laughed at the ridiculous boy band in the movie, but not even two months later, there she was in the crowd at just such a show, with me along to serve as her driver, and to pad the show’s gate receipts.

I love my 80s hair metal, and I always will, so Tom Cruise and the others can sing it if they want to. I’m sure that REO Speedwagon and Night Ranger and Foreigner and all of the others featured in the movie are getting a nice income boost as a result. But as far as the movie-from a Broadway play-about the years I was growing up is concerned, I’ll keep the actual period in mind, and let Broadway and Hollywood off with a polite, yet firm rock and roll salute. And not the two-finger variety that Tom Cruise gives in the picture above, either.

Are you happy, Rock Hall?

Word of Axl Rose dissing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, just days before the induction ceremony, struck me as vindication for what I wrote last year about the band not being suitable for induction. I stated, at that time, that Appetite for Destruction was worthy of Hall of Fame induction, and the “November Rain” video was, as well. Both are achievements that I’d be hard-pressed to find a parallel to.

With that being said, the band itself has been a dysfunctional mess for almost 20 years. Or at least the lineup that produced those great achievements is a mess. Without Slash’s guitar, there is no Guns n’ Roses. As far as Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler, and Matt Sorum are concerned, it would be nice to have at least some of them involved in the induction, too. But the head member, the one who apparently owns the band’s name all to himself, is the one I can do without.

Rock bands have tended to operate on the opposite principle. Journey somehow soldiers on without Steve Perry. Boston is going on tour without the late Brad Delp. Judas Priest got by for a decade without Rob Halford. And Queen without Freddie Mercury is about to become a reality, too. There is lots of precedent for this sort of thing.

But Guns n’ Roses  (i.e., Axl Rose) has turned that on its head. You and I could be in Guns n’ Roses, if that’s what Axl wanted. And Slash and the others can play together, as they have in Velvet Revolver, but they can’t use the name that Axl controls. So you have the mess that now exists: Axl wants Guns n’ Roses to be thought of as the band he leads, while if they tried to show up and play at the induction ceremony, nobody there would know who any of them were (besides Axl, that is).

If the Velvet Revolver contingent showed up at the induction ceremony and played “Paradise City,” with Kid Rock or anyone else on vocals, Axl would feel pretty stupid (if he can even feel this way at all. I have my doubts). His letter states that he doesn’t want to be inducted in absentia. But for this one moment, he doesn’t have control over what Guns n’ Roses is. He could have issued this statement months ago, and the people who are planning to be in Cleveland to see them perform on Saturday night may or may not have gone ahead and booked the flights, reserved the hotel rooms, and made other necessary arrangements.

Would the ceremony still be sold out, as the website claims it is, if Axl’s intentions were made known last winter? We can’t know that for certain. But just as Axl routinely disrespects fans by starting concerts hours later than they’re supposed to start, he also disrespected, I have to believe, the fans who were planning a trip to Cleveland this weekend. I’m hoping that Slash and the others who once made up Guns n’ Roses show up instead, to deliver a pointed message to Axl. He sure has left himself open to getting one, in my view.

I’ve written about how the ongoing exclusion of KISS from the Rock Hall is wrong, in my view. They wrote the rock anthem that everyone knows, judging from the reception they received on Dancing With the Stars this week. That song is Hall-worthy all by itself, but it’s looking like KISS might not ever get in. RUSH is worthy of getting in, too, but they’re also on the outside looking in.

The Rock Hall people–apparently not embarrassed enough by the spectacle of Van Halen’s induction without any actual Van Halens being present–have upped the ante with Guns n’ Roses this year. We’ll see how it all plays out, I suppose, but there will be lots and lots of awkwardness in Cleveland on Saturday night. Welcome to the Jungle, Jann Wenner.