Considering the inventive, meditative, cagey nature of the top-shelf metallic hardcore he’s long delivered as guitarist of the towering Shai Hulud, it perhaps will not come as too much of a surprise for readers to learn Matthew Fox is also one of the more introspective, thoughtful, incisive interviewees in the kingdom of heaviness. So when Fox mentioned he’d written a long piece on wrestling with how to commemorate the end of 2016 deaths of major figures from his childhood who took a backseat — then and now — to his heavy metal and hardcore heroes…well, we jumped at the opportunity to publish it as a guest column.
Read on, friends…
I started writing this piece the day after George Michael died, the day before Carrie Fisher passed. My goal was to finish writing on the day after what I didn’t know at the time was “a day in-between deaths.” It was to end optimistically, wishing a complete and speedy recovery to Ms. Fisher, who I was certain would pull through, having absolutely no evidence to support my feelings. Upon Carrie Fisher’s unfortunate death, followed by her mother, Debbie Reynolds, the very next day, I was fresh out of cheeky tongue-in-cheek humor to continue in form.
Two weeks later, I began again. And to quote Excel — one of less than a handful of bands of whom I audibly stated I liked better than Metallica at one point in my life — “These are my thoughts:”
Far from going unnoticed, 2016 was quite a brutal year in regard to celebrity deaths. Before proceeding, on a more civilian note, I do hope you and your loved ones are healthy and still with you.
Being a musician — and I use that term very loosely — it felt wrong not to publicly acknowledge the passing of George Michael. His untimely death was truly sad to hear. Funny I feel obligated to make mention of this, but not everyone acknowledging a celebrity’s passing is waving a flag of lifetime fandom for the recently deceased. Speaking for myself, outside of the movie Labyrinth I’ve never heard David Bowie. And genuinely never cared about Prince’s music, especially not “BatDance” or any music related to the film.
Yet via Shai Hulud’s social media pages I genuinely paid both artists hopefully what read as more than modicums of respect upon their deaths.
To qualify a bit, David Bowie was before my time, and while growing up I was never exposed to his music; I still haven’t been, nor, to take responsibility for myself, have I made an effort to hear any — though after his death I did ask a friend what album one should start with. Based on what I think his music might sound like, I may be able to appreciate it as an adult, but at, say, 11 — remembering that little shit — I can assert not whether I would have liked it. Rather: I definitely had zero interest in hearing it. Zero.
I’d heard plenty of Prince, however.
When I was in middle school, continuing on at approximately age 11, Prince was one of the biggest rockstars in the world; Purple Rain was massive. So massive, the album had its own folder — those in their 40’s might remember the Rock & Roll school folders available in the 80’s. They were more expensive and less effective than Trapper Keepers (Google it), but no Trapper Keeper I recall emblazoned the cover of Quiet Riot’s album Metal Health.
There were quite a few Rock & Roll Folders — doubtful that’s what they were actually named. (A quick Google yielded no results, and I gave up after a coupla clicks). The folders were fun: Picture an actual LP cover, its vinyl pulled out about halfway, mentally shrink that to a size appropriate for holding the homework your dog didn’t eat, and that was what may or may not have been called a “Rock & Roll Folder.” In case I haven’t been clear, these were legitimate folders, flimsy — fell apart after only a few trips to school and back, or at least mine did — but legitimate, sold as school supplies at K-Mart and everything. Even the back of the folder was the back of the respective album. (Can’t remember what, if anything, was on the inside. Fun facts and member stats possibly.) They were really cool and, for kids taken by music, like myself, a no-brainer. These were our folders. Anything to help make school bearable.
I vividly remember the Purple Rain folder. I don’t remember a Madonna folder, but there had to be one. I know there was a Michael Jackson folder, certainly one for Thriller, and it stands to reason a folder for Off The Wall, too. Others that most likely existed: The Cars. Adam Ant. Cyndi Lauper. Billy Idol, Huey Lewis and the News, The Police, Culture Club, Duran Duran — there were folders for some number of popular bands/artists who made waves that at least came close to leaking into the mainstream in terms of “units sold” in the early 80’s.
Most of the music-loving kids of Crystal Lake Middle School — no joke — had folders of the aforementioned and the like. My choices were cooler. I thought so, anyway. I had the above stated Quiet Riot Metal Health folder; Twisted Sister Stay Hungry, Van Halen 1984, Def Leppard Pyromania. If indeed Journey had a folder I had a Journey folder. Were there a Kiss folder — think Gene Simmons would have permitted Kiss not to have a folder? — I had it. I didn’t have Motley Crüe’s Shout at the Devil folder because I believe that folder is how I first learned about them; shortly thereafter they became my absolute favorite band, dethroning Twisted Sister. (Sorry, Dee. RIP, AJ.)
I also vividly remember the Iron Maiden Powerslave folder, thought it looked awesome and wanted to get it, but that was next level. I wasn’t there yet; I didn’t even hear Iron Maiden until a few years later.
For whatever reason, I’ve always had a natural disinclination for most Pop Music — I say “most” because enjoying “Take On Me” by A-Ha cracks the door ajar allowing Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and the odd Lionel Richie and Tears For Fears song to sneak in. I also currently love Chumbawamba, but to relegate their music as “Pop,” while begrudgingly fitting, as surely many a frat boy drunkenly danced like an asshole to “Tubthumping,” seems insulting and inaccurate.
Further driving the point home, I did not like Madonna. I did not like A Flock Of Seagulls. I did not like Wang Chung, whatever the hell they sound like. Listening to the radio in the early 80’s was usually tortuous — not much has changed. If Frankie Goes To Hollywood or any music most of my classmates loved polluted the same airwaves The Ramones wanted, I dove onto the tuner desperate to find a station playing “My Ding-A-Ling” by Chuck Berry or the recently banned — “Well, that’s what I heard!” – Peter Venkman — “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.” “Weird” Al Yankovic and Men At Work were also welcome substitutes if I wasn’t able to have one of my own cassettes blasting.
All the above stated, I wasn’t devastated the day Prince died.
To “devastate” me a celebrity, or anyone for that matter, would have to have had some emotional impact on my life. For example, I was indifferent about my father’s death. But losing Muhammad Ali hurt. Losing Sense Field/Further Seems Forever singer Jon Bunch also hurt — and hit close to home, expressly closer than losing my father. To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee, Bill Nunn (Do The Right Thing, Regarding Henry, Things To Do In Denver…), Tony Burton (Rocky 1-6)…in some manner(s) I connected with these people and/or their work, and their deaths snapped some of my heartstrings.
My father does not have that distinction. Nor does Prince.
When Thrash Metal broke in the mid 80’s, to us thrashers Bon Jovi was the archenemy (no pun intended). Before Bon Jovi, just two or three years earlier…it was Wham!
Wham! was the antithesis to W.A.S.P. and Motley Crüe — Shout At The Devil, specifically. More so than Stryper — much more so than Stryper. Go on, ask any hard rock/heavy metal loving middle schooler in 1984 what band they hated most; nine out of ten agree: Wham!
Don’t believe me? Good luck trying to prove otherwise.
Believe me, Wham! was everything people with musical tastes similar to mine despised. It was happy, and fun, and harmless, and frilly — “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” was “Pop” music in 3-D! Offensively in your face. Sickeningly sweet; suffocating you with pre teeny-bopper flavored cotton candy. Tickled to death by someone in an adorable bunny costume.
Future Metalli-kids, oblivious to world events and tragedies and hostages and Ronald Reagan, we were vigilantly fending off the music, and worse yet, the fans of Wham!, that was our war. Our weapons… better choices in Rock & Roll folders. Locked and loaded.
It was fun being a kid.
Time is truly magic, and when coupled with maturity, a terraformer. Case in point: I state wholeheartedly as a 43 year old man, “Careless Whisper” by Wham!/George Michael is a beautiful song.
But, sure, I do prefer Obituary.
Heavy Metal in its various iterations will always be my music of choice — in abridged examples here are some I’m sure a majority of you will agree with:
* Hard Rock/Proto Metal (Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin)
* Crossover (D. R. I, Cryptic Slaughter, Uncle Slam)
* Progressive (Voivod, D. B. C, Opeth)
* Hardcore/Punk (Bad Brains, Misfits, Suicidal Tendencies)
* Doom (Celtic Frost, Candlemass)
* Death (Vader, Napalm Death)
* Thrash Metal, my most cherished music (insert the obvious choices here, but don’t forget Nuclear Assault and Sabbat)
As you surely understand by now, ten times over, I am not a lifelong fan, or a fan at all, of David Bowie or Prince. Despite not being a fan, acknowledging their deaths was important, because…
1. The obvious: They were immensely talented; their contributions to music matter (whether the ignoramus author of this repetitve, verbose article enjoys them or not), and there is no doubt they will inspire future musicians forever.
2. The author of this repetitive, verbose article — though positively an ignoramus — is not an asshole: And he can view things objectively. Upon occasion. Against his will. If you give him cookies.
Approaching the wrap-up, one might ask… Why did I not publicly acknowledge George Michael’s passing until now…
To a lesser extent, because I wasn’t interested in wading through a slew of “So, now you’re a George Michael fan” comments, feeling the need to justify my paying of respect to a musician whose music simply did not enrich my life — which in no way should be misinterpreted as a slight to his very apparent ability as a singer and songwriter.
To a greater extent, I’ve wanted to comment on the what I find to be foolish “All of a sudden everyone loves (deceased celebrity) now” retorts for some time. George Michael was the perfect channel. I have no lifetime fan flag to fly for him, only great respect for his talent, incredible career, and how he touched, brought joy, comfort, tears, and entertainment to a number of people most bands, Metal or otherwise, couldn’t reach if their audiences multiplied exponentially.
Far from going unnoticed, 2016 was quite a brutal year…
May we all remember everyone who has ever made us think, feel, laugh, or love.
Up the irons,
P. S. Love, respect, and deep condolences to the fans, friends, and family members of Dave Franklin, singer of the long running New Jersey Hardcore band, Vision, who died in 2017, far too young.
**Ah, and please allow me this last, brief anecdote! After seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (SPOILER ALERT), because one of the Mon Calamari in order to destroy the force field by bringing down Star Destroyers by means of ramming mentioned the “Hammerhead Corvette,” I sang those exact words to the tune of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” for hours. Try it.**