The Frivolous Fun of 80’s Hair Metal

They were hairy and kooky, obnoxious and spooky, and altogether ooky, the metal bands of the 80’s. As fashionable as it was to love these L.A.-based heavy metal in the 80’s, it became just as fashionable to openly despise them in the 90’s.

I grew to “loathe” them too, until a co-worker said, “They’re not Bob Dylan, or John Lennon, I get it, but c’mon, they’re fun.” I immediately dismissed that response, because the guy who said it was a doofus. His musical tastes did not define his doofosity, but it was everything else that led me to dismiss just about everything that came out of his mouth. Yet, to my amazement this simple line, from a very simple man, fundamentally changed the way I listen to music. I became a “C’mon, they’re fun” guy too.

Prior to loathing them, I went through a heavy metal phase when I was a teenager. I owned a cassette tape of every major, and many minor Los Angeles-based, hair, glam metal band available. When I aged out of it, I sought serious, brilliantly complex music, but when doofus said what he said, I realized that I was taking myself far too serious. My takeaway was we can all seek complex arrangements in our music from artistic musicians, but let’s not forget to keep it fun. 

The beauty of the music of this era, this doofus reminded me all those years ago, and the book Nothin’ but a Good Time reminded me recently, was that the glam metal music of the ’80’s never claimed to be anything more than what it was. Say what you want about the bands of this era, and the music they wrote, but they never tried to be vital or important. They never wrote a seven minute opus on the Fall of the Roman Empire and how it might correlate with the modern rise of technology. The music of the Los Angeles-based hair bands were all about having a party, abusing their body with whatever substances they could find, having conjugal relationships, and any other forms of excess they could find to have a good time. As the book points out, they practiced what they preached.    

Shortly after I grew out of my love of hairy metal, I sought clever and complex music, but I never enjoyed deep songs with meaningful lyrics. This might be a result of listening to so many thousands of hours of metal music in my teens, but I have always considered deep, meaningful songs so silly. They do nothing for me. Whether romantic, socially conscious, or any other form of importance a songwriter tries to achieve with clever lyrics they hope we find intellectual, but they never reached me on that level. Some people seek philosophical substance in their music, and some seek it in other venues. 

We’ve all read critics dissect lyrics for the deep meaning the author intended, but most of them either have something to do with something political or social, or they contain some oblique, or over the top, reference to drug use. I listen to that music, and I repeat it numerous times, but it doesn’t affect me in anyway. Vocals, and vocal inflections, should be used as another instrument in a song. If they do it well, I’ll listen, but I don’t understand why we should care what Thom Yorke of Radiohead has to say about his view of the world any more than we do Bret Michaels of Poison. In this vein, Michaels’ lyrics might be more respectable, because he doesn’t engage in any of the “look at me ain’t I smart?” type of the self-indulgent lyrics inherent in Yorke’s work. 

Most of the “vital and important” music critics of the era loathed heavy metal, but we fans didn’t care. We didn’t need Nothin’ but a Good Time, and that served to undermine the power of the music critic industry. The critics knew that most of the hairy metal bands didn’t know how to play their own instruments, and they panned them for not only ignoring socially significant issues but damaging some. They loathed these bands for thumbing their nose at consequential issues, and they deemed them inconsequential. No one I knew cared. We wanted to play their music at our parties, and we wanted to play that same music in our cars while we remembered those parties. The book Nothin’ But a Good Time reminded those of a certain age that we no longer need to feel ashamed of loving that music for what it was, when it happened, because we were just kids back then who wanted to have fun.

How bad were the hairy metal bands of the 80’s? How good were they? It depends on whom you ask and when you ask them. As the book points out, the era was all about timing. Those who were in a Los Angeles-based heavy metal band between 1984 and 1988 who learned how the other half lives for a while, and they indulged in every excess they could think up. If a heavy metal, glam band had all of the above and they released an album as late as 1989 to 1990, a major record label probably signed them, but every album they made went straight to the $.99 bin. The idea that sales are all about timing is not a novel concept of course, but I don’t think any era in music was as stark as the heavy metal era of the 80’s was.

Were Motley Crue (‘83), Ratt (’84), Poison (‘85) that much better than Bang Tango (’89), Junkyard (’89), or Dangerous Toys (’89)? When we listen to classic rock radio today, which bands do we hear? How many of us even know the latter three? One would think that if the latter bands had music that was just as good that they would eventually rise to some levels of prominence. They didn’t, in part, because the more prominent bands of the era tapped into a time and place of the zeitgeist that will presumably never die in some quarters. 

What happened in the intervening years, some of those band members interviewed in Nothin’ but a Good Time say the dynamic in the industry experienced a subtle shift when Guns N’ Roses changed it a little in 1987. Others not in the book, say the industry tilted further away from the “Rock and Roll all night and party every day” rock theme when the funk-rap hybrid bands Faith No More (’89) and Red Hot Chili Peppers (first noteworthy album ’89) arrived on the scene, but most acknowledge that the Seattle, grunge movement led by Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991 sounded the death knell of the hairy metal of the 80’s.

To read about 98% of most modern critics, the modern reader might believe that Kurt Cobain single-handedly killed ‘80’s hairy metal. The critics write this, because they loved everything about Cobain, Nirvana, and the single Smells like Teen Spirit. They love the narrative that ten minutes after Smells like Teen Spirit aired on Mtv, everyone knew the heavy metal movement was over. Some of the artists interviewed in this book, however, suggest that Slash might’ve done more to end the mid-80’s version of hair metal than Cobain. I consider that an intriguing notion, considering that most put the heart of heavy metal’s reign over the music industry between ’84 and ’89, and that it began to wane two years before Nevermind was released. As factual as that statement appears to be, according to record sales and Mtv plays, it’s not as compelling as the narrative that suggests one band, one man, and one song ended it all. Others claim that Mother Love Bone, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden did something so different in the years preceding Nevermind that they laid the Times-they–are-a-changing groundwork to pave the way for Nevermind. Regardless the who, what, and whens of the argument, Nevermind did put the final stake in the heart of the dying carcass that was the hairy metal of the ‘80’s.


As compelling as the argument of the death of heavy metal is, the tale of the birth of heavy metal might be as interesting. Almost every artist of the era lists Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin as the forefathers of their sound, and others state that the first Black Sabbath album, AC/DC’s Back in Black, and Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, and Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry all played a role. The over-the-top look, the stage theatrics, and the simple, arena, sing-a-long rock songs intended for nothing but fun, however, belong to KISS. Put simply, if KISS didn’t rule the 70’s, the hair metal movement of the 80’s probably doesn’t happen. Nothin’ But a Good Time mentions KISS a couple of times, but for the most part this book strives to cover the scene in this era, and it provides little backdrop for who (other than Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister) might have inspired it. Yet, if KISS inspired the movement, it would be a stretch to say they were the catalyst for the era. KISS came out in ’73, and they hit their peak commercial value between ’75 and ’77. Why did it take seven years for bands like Poison and Motley Crue to take their influence to platinum success?   

The missing link, in my humble opinion, arose from a shift the British band Def Leppard made away from their more traditional heavy metal sound to a more polished, catchy pop-metal sound that proved more radio friendly when they made the relatively successful High N’ Dry in ’81. In ’83, Def Leppard took that concept up a notch with the release of Pyromania. Pyromania’s success did not happen overnight, but in my world, it seemed no one I knew had ever heard of a group called Def Leppard on Thursday. By Monday, everyone I knew was wearing the Def Leppard Union Jack sleeveless T-shirt. The groundswell was almost that immediate.

The primary difference between Def Leppard and KISS, in my world, was defined among the teenaged girls I knew. I knew teenage girls who liked KISS, especially the song Beth, but the number of girls who loved a rock band was unprecedented in my world. When the songs from Pyromania hit the radio, it was the closest thing I’ve experienced to Beatlemania. Every teenage girl I knew listened to Pyromania and when teenage girls love something that much teenage boys pay attention, and they eventually learn to love it. Def Leppard’s formula of providing pop friendly rock music with catchy lyrics appealed to the girls before it did the guys I knew.    

The success of Def Leppard’s Pyromania (’83) led to Poison’s success (in ’85), and Motley Crue’s shift from their KISS-inspired (’83) album Shout at the Devil to the more female friendly Theater of Pain (in ’85). The formula Def Leppard set (by selling 6 million albums at the time) was to release a hard rock single followed by a more radio friendly ballad led every 80’s heavy metal act who followed, to include a more female friendly ballad.

The book Nothin’ But a Good Time begins right about here. The book doesn’t mention the integral role Def Leppard played, but after the success of Pyromania, every major label tried to sign their own version of Def Leppard/Kiss between 1984 and 1988. Most metal bands signed during this era went gold (selling 500,000 units sold), and some went platinum (1,000,000 units sold) to multi-platinum. As evidence of how crazy this signing spree became, a member of a band called Bang Tango said, “We weren’t even a real band when we were signed, and we had to learn quickly.”

Were most of the 80’s hair metal bands ridiculously excessive? Were they politically incorrect? Did they have the lyric “baby” in every song, at least once? Were they everything critics loathe? Probably, but in many ways that’s why we loved those bands. The big-hair-glam heavy metal sound was for the non-cerebral and non-political party we were all having as teenagers in the mid-80’s.    

At some point, the whole L.A.-based, hair metal, glam scene died. The definitions of when and how this happened differ, but it did die. Some bands were still being signed to major record companies, and in this book those bands say that they paid their dues, and they felt like they wrote a decent album, but the record company didn’t promote them the way they would have two years prior. The companies didn’t pour a ton of money into the band’s videos in a manner they would have two years prior either. They claimed that they were just as talented, or more so, than other bands who made millions two years prior. They missed the signing spree, and the multi-platinum awards for any band who could string together a halfway decent heavy metal ballad. They missed the crucial money making part of the era by two years.

For those of us who were young, easily-influenced teenagers during this era, the polished pop metal to heavy metal music produced during this era will always be “ours”. It seduced us into believing life could be fun, and it could be one big party that doesn’t have to end. Logic dictates that everything has to end, however, and there came a point where glam metal needed to die. An era defined by excess eventually became so excessive that it became a parody of itself, and those of us who once loved it developed a love/hate relationship that eventually came to an end, until someone reminded us how fun the music from the era was. Even with that, however, some of the artists interviewed in the book Nothin’ But a Good Time now admit that it became obnoxiously excessive, and it had to die under its own weight. Someone had to come along and burn the field to prepare for the harvest of something different and new. These facts about life and art can be as hard to accept as they are to deny, and as the book lists a number of bands who have experienced on nostalgia/reunion tours that some of them claim are as financially successful as those they did in their heyday. 

“Write jokes, get paid,” was the philosophy Jay Leno followed throughout his career in comedy. He said this to his fellow comedians who thought they could use comedy to change the world. The glam metal of the ’80’s followed Jay’s philosophy. They wrote fun, little meaningless songs that they hoped young people would buy, and we did, by the millions. The music was not important, vital, or consequential, but for those of us who lived through the era remember it as a lot of fun. When we comb through music timelines, with critics who write such things, we’ll see the lists of the seminal artists who defined an era and helped change the world, and we won’t find any of 80’s artists on those lists. Those of us who lived through the era know what a ridiculous time it was in music, in terms defined by music critics, but if we were to write a eulogy on the time period, we might say something like, “I don’t care what you write, or what you say, it was music that was fun to crank at parties and in our car, and you can take all of your self-indulgent clap trap about vital, important, and consequential music and shove it.” 

When a Kiss is Just a Kiss

“Why do people kiss?” my nephew asked his parents when he was younger.

“Because that’s their way of saying I love you,” answered his mother.

“Why don’t they just say it then?” he asked.  “Why do they have to kiss?”

This question has surely been asked by curious adolescents of their somewhat befuddled and giggling parents, for as long as children and parents have been interacting. The reason that most parents experience immediate confusion, in the wake of such a question, could have something to do with the fact that most adults have taken kissing for granted for so long, and that it’s been such a staple in the process for so long, that they haven’t stepped back to ask “Why?” since they were adolescents.

Puddy and Elaine

Most parents probably dismiss the peck as the source of their child’s inquiry, and focus their search for an answer on the saliva sharing smooch. Most adults probably assume –assigning their own thoughts to the question–that their child has already accepted the “Hello” and “Goodbye” peck as a fundamental part of the process of greeting and dismissing their loved ones, and that the nature of the child’s curiosity regards why a man would want to suck on a woman’s saliva, in a city park, to express love, and why the two of them would enjoy that elongated transfer of fluids so much that they would want to do it more often?

“One hypothesis,” posed by Noam Shpancer, of Psychology Today, “Is that (the sloppy smooch) might be a mechanism for gathering information about a potential sexual partner. A kiss brings you in close –close enough to smell and taste chemicals that carry immunological information. Our saliva carries hormonal messages: Close contact with a person’s breath, lips, and teeth informs us about his or her health and hygiene– and thus potential as a mate. Research also suggests a range of other functions, such as expressing and reinforcing feelings of trust and intimacy and facilitating sexual intercourse. The meaning of a kiss depends on who’s doing the kissing.”

If my nephew forced his mother to explore this further. She could’ve said something along the lines of, “A woman learns a lot from a kiss.” She need not go as in depth as Noam Shpancer did. She could’ve simply said that a quality kiss shows a woman that you’re paying attention and that your affection for her is real.

“If you’re simply kissing her with ulterior motives,” she could say, “a woman will know. Some of the times a kiss is just a kiss, but some of the times it means something, and a woman will know the difference.”

My nephew was not, and is not, of the age to understand the term “end game”, but I’m guessing that that was the crux of his follow up question, “Why don’t they just say it then? Why do they have to kiss?” Why doesn’t a guy just walk up to the woman in the park and say, “I love you,” and walk away when he’s determined that she knows he’s being genuine?

I’m sure that his mother would then say something along the lines of, “Because saying ‘I love you’ can be easily faked, and a girl needs to know that you love her, and physically showing her, with a meaningful kiss, proves it to her. A woman can feel your intentions.” This basically goes to the chemistry, and the Chemistry that Shpancer described, in a woman knowing and knowing in her conscious and subconscious determinations, but that would’ve been way over the head of my nephew, of course, and it would’ve only led to more questions about the abstracts of need, emotion, and fulfillment that he was too young to understand.

My nephew is male, of course, and to read the Psychology Today piece’s listing of the 2007 findings in the Evolutionary Psychology piece, he might never understand when a kiss is just a kiss on the level that those of the female gender do. For to a male, a kiss is rarely as important as it is to a female. If he thinks he’s going to arrive at an answer, he will chase it. He will want to kiss a girl his age, and he will be confused when it’s over when he doesn’t achieve clarity, but he will continue to kiss girls, because he knows it means something to them. When he has ulterior motives, he might try to add bits of information to a kiss, but if his recipient has as much omniscience as his mom and Noam Shpancer theorize the recipient will know when such additions are false. When he genuinely likes a girl, and those additional ingredients he adds are more organic, he will wonder what the difference was. My advice, is my nephew ever asks me for advice, is do not think, just do. As Olivia Newton-John sang in Grease, “Feel your way.”

In their findings, the Evolutionary Psychology poll lists that 86% of women polled would not have sex with someone without kissing them first; while only 47% of males say they would not. Their takeaway was that:

“For women, the smell and taste of their kissing partner weighs heavily in their decision to pursue closer contact. Men routinely expect that kissing will lead to intercourse and tend to characterize “a good kiss” as one leading to sex.”

The next poll probably gets to the heart of my nephew’s follow up question better, as it asks the genders how important kissing is. In this 2013 poll taken by the Archives of Sexual Behavior, there is the suggestion that kissing may never be as important to my nephew as the girls he’s kissing, as men rank the importance of kissing as a 3.8, on a scale of one to five, while women rank it as a 4.2. Their takeaway was that:

“Women rank kissing as more important in all kinds of romantic relationships than men do; men also tend to consider it less important as relationships go on.”

The perfect illustration of the minutiae involved in a kiss comes from (where else?) the television sitcom Seinfeld. In an episode of the series, entitled The Face Painter, the side character David Puddy informs the character Elaine Benes, that he will no longer “Support the team” by painting his face for hockey matches, because Elaine is embarrassed by it. She is visibly touched by the idea that Puddy would alter his life in such a manner just for her, and to celebrate this new understanding in their relationship Puddy says:

“Ah, c’mere,” as he nears her for a kiss. “All right,” he says when that celebratory kiss is concluded, and he’s up and moving towards the door, “I gotta go home and get changed before the game. I’ll be back, we’ll make out.”

This scene is brilliant on so many comedic levels, not the least of which is the depiction of the value each gender places on kissing. Puddy acknowledges that some sort of romantic punctuation is needed for the agreement they’ve just made, and he basically says, “All right. Here!” to initiate that kiss. The comedic value of the situation occurs when that kiss, this romantic punctuation, is concluded, and Puddy simply says “All right” as if to say ‘now that that’s over, I need to get things done.’ The very human element of “Enjoying that transfer of fluids so much that he wants to do more often” is then dispelled by Puddy saying once he’s done with something (changing clothes), they can start doing something else (making out). He thereby places the idea of making a seemingly transformative change of his life (no more face painting) with the act of changing his clothes, and the excessive kissing involved in making out is unceremoniously placed on the same level, which is coupled with the overall theme of the exchange: that he’ll do what she wants, but that he’s only doing it for her.

The subtext of this exchange surprises the once visibly touched Elaine for she thought she had a read on the situation. “You’d do that for me?” she asks when Puddy announces that he will no longer be painting his face. She believed they achieved a new understanding, and she was so touched that he would make such a transformation that before he announced his (after the kiss) conclusion, she was breathlessly holding her hand to her heart. She also appeared on the verge of tears believing that her otherwise unsentimental boyfriend would be making such a life-altering sacrifice for her by sealing it with a kiss. She appeared to believe that this sacrifice, and that kiss, suggested a brighter future, and a better understanding, between the two of them as a couple. When Puddy stands and says what he says, it dispels all of the conclusions Elaine derived from the situation, and the idea that a “woman always knows”. And her only takeaway, as the scene closes, could be that Puddy, like most stereotypical jarheads, will go through the motions to please a woman, but it actually means little-to-nothing to them.

Most boys spend their adolescence believing that their mother knows all, until they find out she doesn’t, but they continue to do the things necessary to please her, and fortify this illusion, until most boys become better men for it. Some boys put their heart into it, and live their lives, and kiss their girlfriends with the belief that their mothers know all, and how they treat their mother will be an indicator for how they will go on to treat all women. Others, like the fictional character Puddy, go through the motions to make their mother happy, and to them a kiss is much lower than a 3.8 on a scale of one to five.

My sister-in-law asked me if I wanted to take a crack at answering my nephew’s questions, and I informed her that it’s probably better that I don’t. It’s probably better that he run the optimistic and loving course her answer put him on. He’ll likely become a better man by trying to prove to all the women around him that he can be meaningful and moving when he wants to be, and when that time comes for him to plant that profoundly spiritual kiss on that one, special woman, he’ll do it with such belief that he can make her believe it too. And, he’ll hopefully get all that done before he falls prey to the cynical notion that some of the times a kiss is just a kiss to get women to shut up about wanting to kiss all the time.

Rilalities V: Challenges and Insecurities

The 6’5” Guy

“I’m six foot five,” a man named Joe said when I met him. He did not work this into his greeting, and he did not say it in the early minutes of our introduction but it hung over his sizable head until he acknowledged it.

Those fortunate enough to meet Joe will discover the reason we learn about his height soon after learning his first name. The natural inclination of most is to drop their last name soon after saying their first name. Some drop their last name soon after mentioning their first name as a matter of habit, and some do it because they’re so proud of their family and heritage. Others might mention their occupation soon after mentioning their first name. I didn’t learn any of that from Joe in the brief moments Joe and I spoke. I learned that Joe was 6’5”. Joe was more 6’5” than he was Joe, and those fortunate enough to have a conversation with him that extends beyond superficial pleasantries will learn how 6’5” he is. If the conversation we share with Joe evolves into a minutes-long discussion, and the listener doesn’t acknowledge his height in anyway, he’ll break the news to them:

“I’m six foot five!”

Although Joe and I spoke for a total of about three minutes, I had the impression that the man could’ve written a bestseller, won the Heisman Trophy, saved children from a fire, or discovered the cure for cancer, and his height would still be his greatest and worst attribute. No matter what happens to him in life, I think Joe will prefer to have “Here lies Joe. He was 6’5” chiseled into his gravestone.

Joe was an interesting guy. He appeared to be conversant on a wide range of topics, and he managed to tell some stories from his life in an impressively timely manner, but everything he spoke of kept coming back to that refrain of his life.

His height was the reason he had trouble finding chairs to sit in with comfort, the reason his 5’3” mother was always on him about stuff, and the reason he couldn’t be as particular as he wanted to be about the clothing he wore:

“You can’t be finicky about clothes when you’re 6’5” and built like me.”

Joe, we should also note, was broad-shouldered. This attribute, coupled with the idea that he was 6’5” was the reason he had trouble going door-to-door to talk to people.

“Would you be comfortable discussing politics, if a man my size came-a-knocking on your door?”

His height was also the reason, he informed me, that he had such trouble finding a decent woman. That subject matter may have shocked most people, or at least made them somewhat uncomfortable, as most people would deem such a discussion inordinately intimate for a conversation between two people meeting for the first time. I had a best friend in high school who was 6’7” however, so I was well versed in the travails of being an abnormally tall male in America today, and I was used to my friend going into such intimate details with people he just met. Joe and I did try, at various intervals, to move on to other topics, but he was unable to let the fact that he was 6’5” go as easily as I was.

What struck me as odd was that I never mentioned his height, and I don’t think I provided any verbal or physical cues that called attention to it. Was that the point though? I later wondered. Was my refusal to acknowledge his height such an aberration to his experience that until I acknowledged it in some way, he would not be able to move on until one of us did?

Being a tall man has numerous advantages, but it has almost as many disadvantages. As I wrote, I was well versed in the travails of being an abnormally tall man in America. I knew, for example, that a person’s height is the first thing people notice when another is taller than 6’3”, and the thing they talk about after the person leaves. “How would you like it if no matter what you said, ’Man he is a big fella ain’t he?’ is the only thing they have to say about you after you leave?” When you’re 6’5” people pester another about in malls. It’s the reason some guys won’t mess with you and the reason others do. It’s also the reason some women want to date you and others don’t. A 6’5” man could be the most charming person in the world, in other words, and most people will have preconceived notions about them based on their height.

With that in mind, one would think that an abnormally tall male, or a woman with abnormally large breasts, would find it refreshing when they’ve finally encountered someone who seems to be genuinely unconcerned with their attribute(s). One would think that they might find it refreshing when they’ve finally found a person who is willing to talk geopolitics with them without looking down their shirt, or saying, “How’s the weather up there?” One would think that someone who broke those patterns of human interaction would receive a bright smile as a reward, and maybe even something along the lines of, “Thank you. You may not even know why I’m thanking you, but thank you!” Yet, tall men and large-breasted women, just like all humans with exaggerated attributes, become so accustomed to these patterns of interaction that they feel compelled to draw your attention to them just to complete a line of dialogue comfortably.

Most people try to avoid talking about a trait they generally considered a negative, and they will do everything they can to avoid noticing it. When they consider that person’s attribute a positive, most people think you should feel privileged to have it, so they don’t mind drawing attention to it. “You’re tall Joe!” they will say, or “I wish I had those,” and they will add something along the lines of, “You should feel privileged.”

As my conversation with Joe continued, and he began to belabor the point of his height, I thought he was trying to assert some sort of dominance. I may have been wrong on that note, and it might have had more to do with everything I thought later, but I began to rebel against his theme by making a concerted effort to avoid the topic of his height. Our conversation ended soon thereafter, and we moved onto other people at the gathering.

“What did you say to Joe?” our mutual friend later asked. She thought Joe and I would have so much in common that we would hit it off.

“Why?” I asked.

“He says he doesn’t think you two hit it off.” When I asked her for more details, our mutual friend said, “He said he can’t put a finger on it, but he doesn’t like you as much as I thought he would.”

Without going into what I deem to be the unnecessary details of our otherwise innocuous conversation, I can tell you that the conversation I had with Joe involved no disagreements. To my mind, there were not even moments of subtle tension, and there certainly were no overt ones, but he didn’t like me. Now, I’m not one of those people who thinks every person has to like me, and if they don’t I think there has to be something wrong with them, but to my mind this conversation I had with Joe proved to be amicable if not pleasant. Joe and I also proved to be as like-minded on certain topics as our mutual friend thought we would be. The only thing I did, and that which I presume led Joe to state that I didn’t live up to the characteristics our mutual friend detailed for him, was refuse to acknowledge he was 6’5” in anyway, and I think he thought that if I was’t going to do that, I was probably a phony.

Going Clear—

Anytime I finish a book as fantastic as Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear, I wonder what I am going to do with my free time?  The book gives credence to Phillip Roth’s line about non-fiction being stranger than fiction.  A complaint that an reviewer posed was: “If everything Wright writes is factual, why would anyone want to join the Scientology religion?”  This reviewer stated that this was the only point, and a central point, that they found lacking in the book.  If I were this reviewer’s teacher, and I lived by the credo, there’s no such thing as a stupid question, I would simply require that student reread the book.

Kiss in Rolling Stone—

Anyone that thinks that being “king of the hill, top of the heap, and ‘A’ number one” means that you will be able control your press, should read the March 28, 2014, issue of Rolling Stone magazine.  Kiss may no longer be the band that sells platinum records every year, and they may be more about marketing than music at this point in their career, but this Rolling Stone article was supposed to be about their soon-to-occur induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  To read this piece in the Rolling Stone, however, that fact means little-to-nothing.

This piece of rock journalism was so shockingly brutal that one has to imagine that Gene Simmons is still throwing some of his much detailed Kiss memorabilia at the wall when he thinks about it.  All four members of the band Kiss came under attack from the author of the piece, but the author reserved most of his unprofessional brutality for Gene.  This writer’s attacks were so petty and snarky that a regular reader of Rolling Stone would suspect that Gene was a Republican candidate running for office.  Yet, Gene’s not even a Republican voter, as he has made it public that he voted for both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton twice.

This article would also be an excellent read for journalism students seeking answers on what not to do with subjects they’re covering in an article.  Having never taken a journalism course, I would have to imagine that one of the primary rules discussed in a Journalism 101 class is: “The articles that you write are not about you.  No one will be reading your article to learn what you think, unless you’re writing an opinion piece.  If you’re covering a subject in a journalistic manner, however, remember that your readers are only reading your article to learn more about the subject.  It’s not about you.  Your readers won’t care about your opinion, your preferences, or what you think about the subject you’re covering, so be careful how you frame their answers.  If your subject says something stupid, infantile, or in any way revealing of their character, put that statement on the record, but do not comment, or frame, that quote in anyway.  That’s not your job.”  Judging by the course journalism has followed in the last generation, I’m quite sure that most journalism schools now include an asterisk with each of these rules that states: “Unless your subject is a Republican politician.”  As I wrote, however, Gene Simmons is not a Republican voter.


“This guy sounds like a complete fraud,” a writer said of a fellow writer I was describing.  I wasn’t even done with my description of this fellow writer, when this writer interrupted me with her blunt characterization.  I wasn’t shocked by her assessment of this fellow writer.  She had said as much of other, more established writers, but it was apparent to me that this woman believed that by diminishing all other writers around her, her stature as a writer would somehow be fortified.  Had this been the first time I heard any writer say such a thing, I would’ve passed her comments off as flaws in her character, but I’ve heard a number of novices, and well-established writers, engage in the this practice.  If you’ve ever heard a U.F.O. chaser, a ghost hunter, or some fortune teller attempt to establish their bona fides by telling you that every other person engaged in their craft are fraudulent, then you have some idea what I’m detailing here.

Knowing how hard it is to come up with ideas, and execute those ideas to the point of proper completion, one would think that a writer would bend over backwards to extend professional courtesies to anyone trying to do the same.  If you think that, you’ve never sat down with a group of writers.

“You can say he’s a poor writer,” I said, “But are you saying he’s not a writer?”

“I’m saying he’s probably a hack,” she responded.  She didn’t arc her nose upward after saying that, but that’s how I now remember it.  It seemed like such a violation of the code, on so many levels, that it was hard to comprehend how she could be so brutal.

She cut me off before I could ask her what she meant by “hack”.  I know the general term applies to writers that write just to write, and churn out poor quality submissions for financial gain, but she had never read this person’s material.  She had never even met the man.  Yet, he was a hack in a manner that made her appear adept at using the word.

One essential component to avoid being called a hack, apparently, is to write so little that everything you write can be perceived as enlightened, or divine in nature.  If you want to avoid being a hack, you should never write what others might consider mundane.  Yet, those of us that truly love the minutiae involved in writing, believe that it’s only through exploring the mundane that moments of inspiration can be discovered.    

One key component to being in a position to level such a charge, and have that charge stick –I now know after reading her material— is to never allow those that hear you level it, read your material.  Your charge should remain an indefinable accusation that leaves you with the dignified, nose-in-the-air air about you.

Her material brought to mind the one key component of storytelling that every writer should focus on —be they a writer of vital, substantial material, or a hack— make sure it’s interesting.  Translation: You can be the most gifted writer the world has ever read, but if your material is not interesting, no one will care. 

In the face of the constructive comments (see negative) this woman received from our group, she said, “Perhaps, I’m a better editor, than I am a writer.”  Translation: I have little in the way of creative talent, but I am, indeed, gifted in the art of telling others how little they have.