Of all the mixtape CDs I've ever made for Louise (some by request, some in the vain hope of persuading her to listen to some miserable racket that only a sad muso like me or Dave or Miller could ever like), one in particular has been worshipped above all others. So popular has this CD been that she's insisted I make copies for all her friends - not that I'd every comply with such a request, because obviously Home Taping Is Killing Music (or something).
The contents of this much-admired compilation? Country hits of the 70's? Best of Britpop Also-Rans? Now That's What I Call Gregorian Chants?
None of the above. Instead, the tracklisting goes something like this... Whitesnake - Here I Go Again... Kiss - Crazy, Crazy Nights... Poison - Every Rose Has Its Thorn... Bon Jovi - Living On A Prayer... Rainbow... Van Halen... Extreme... Alice Cooper... Europe... You get the picture.
What surprises you more? That I have these records in my collection (after reading the first two chapters of My Life In Music, perhaps that's not such a shock) or that intelligent, otherwise well-adjusted young women in their 30's would dig 80's hair metal as much as they apparently do? After all, if you actually listen to the lyrics of - or examine the lifestyle espoused by - the artists in question, they're a bunch of sexist idiots, aren't they? Whitesnake's biggest hit came on the back of a video in which David Coverdale's supermodel wife basically had sex with a car (apparently she later claimed credit for making the band as popular as they became - and asked for a cut of the royalties). Famed sexaholic Gene Simmons of KISS claimed that a good rock guitarist "plays (the instrument) with his dick". And Skid Row's Sebastian Bach, on being asked to explain the story behind his band's track, 'Big Guns', helpfully explained, "Well, you know, we like big tits." You can see why such philosophy would appeal to a 15 year-old boy - a walking male hormone... but surely right-thinking women everywhere should turn their noses up at such sexist nonsense and go listen to Tori Amos... right?
This is just one of the issues discussed in Chuck Klosterman's excellent music memoir and cultural commentary Fargo Rock City. Klosterman - a ferociously intelligent music critic and... I dunno, pop cultural historian - is a new discovery, but rest assured he's someone I'll be reading a lot more of in the future.
Klosterman's aim is to write the first serious critical appraisal of the most maligned musical genre ever - from a fan's perspective. As he explains in his intro:
"If someone wrote an essay insisting Thin Lizzy provided the backbone for his teen experience in the mid 1970s, every rock critic in America would nod their heads in agreement. A serious discussion on the metaphorical significance of Jailbreak would be totally acceptable. I just happen to think the same dialogue can be had about Slippery When Wet."
Having set out his stall, Klosterman goes on to examine the history of a music which traces its roots back to both Black Sabbath and T-Rex (in America it was popularly known as 'glam metal') and ask why it proved so popular with teenage boys (and girls!) across the world. Along the way he tackles sexism, bad perms, satanic influences and teenage suicide, the rise of the pop video, and just what it was like to be a teenage metalhead.
Despite my earlier record collection confessions, my knowledge of glam metal is actually pretty limited. I know the tracks that were big UK hits and appeared on compilations, but apart from The Jove and Guns 'n' Roses, I can't say I ever bought any albums or worn any T-shirts. I don't know half the bands Klosterman refers to, and I've never heard half the songs... but that didn't stop me enjoying the hell out of this book. Klosterman writes with a Nick Hornby-esque passion (and a wider musical knowledge that allows him to cross-reference many different genres) and a hugely entertaining voice that reminded me of Bryson or Malcolm Gladwell at their best. Although he's adept at dealing with cultural and sociological criticism, the true success of Fargo Rock City is the way the author keeps it all so grounded in personal anecdote - from the time his father criticised another farmer's livestock as a "motley crew" and couldn't understand why his children dissolved into laughter... to the way the heavy metal lifestyle drove him into unapologetic alcoholism... to his complete list of cock rock classics - along with the exact amount of money you'd need to pay him to never listen to that record again (Ozzy Osborne - Blizzard Of Oz: $1,000).
Not just a book for metalheads then (reformed or otherwise), as David Byrne says on the back cover blurb (and you can't get much further away from poodle-rock than Talking Heads):
"This man is a great writer, and the book is not just about hair metal bands but about how music feels."
In closing, here's a girl having sex with a car... Is it sexist? You decide.