The music that defines me

I was having trouble getting to sleep last night and found myself thinking about adding a new song to my little sidebar. Then I started thinking that the whole title of the entry over there isn’t accurate and hardly reflects what it was that I initially intended it to be. When I first started posting those songs over there, the songs that I was referring to were all either fairly obscure, or the b-sides of the radio singles at the very least. The last couple of them that I have posted were just random songs that really don’t have any meaning to me, other than I can remember a particular experience that I associate with them. Not that it was ever my intention to prove that I was a hard core fan of any band in the early days just by claiming that I used to have some of their bootlegged stuff (like Metallica for instance -I really should have let that thought go, I think I just disproved my point), but I didn’t want it to be just a space filler with a popular song from a couple of decades ago (in fact, I wanted it to be a space filler with an obscure song from a couple of decades ago. The idea was to turn people on to some stuff that they had probably never listened to, not to remind them of what was popular when they were young). With that in mind, I am setting out to come up with something to put over there that more accurately reflects the intentions that I based the idea on in the first place. Consider that fair warning.

Now I am left with all the other songs, the main stream stuff, and nothing to do with it. So I have decided that, just for fun, I am going to compile a list of the ten songs that had the biggest influence on me. These are going to be songs that obviously had a huge influence on the kind of music that I listen to today, but also songs that I actually think had an impact on the course that my life took. When you think back on it, I am sure that you will remember some songs that really defined areas of your life, your attitude at the time, the decisions you made. For better or worse, I think we can all probably narrow our vast audio libraries down to about ten songs that really shaped and molded our character and actions over the years. Whether you started to rebel against the authority figures in your school because that was what The Sex Pistols told you was cool, or you formed a band because Night Ranger was seriously scoring chicks with their ballads, you have to admit that the songs had a lot more influence over you than just what you were listening to while you were smoking weed in your parents’ basement.

We will consider this an experiment. I am going to try to make it ten songs, but I am sure that the number will likely go up when I find that another song was just too huge for one reason or another. In situations where there were several songs that were all popular or influencing me at the same time, I am going to pick one to go with, although I will probably note the other ones as well, but it will only count as one entry. I am also not going to presume to put these in an order of how much influence they actually had in relation to one another, only that I know they had an influence. For that reason I will try to put them in chronological order, starting with the days when I was but a wee lad -Back when I would sing B-I-N-G-O and think I was rocking out. Well, enough preamble.

1)Queen: Another One Bites the Dust
Growing up in Oregon, we had no rock radio stations or even top 40 for that matter. The only music that I had heard up to that point had been country and the stuff that my parents had on vinyl -this included a lot of the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, the Beatles- none of which I really ever got into. I did listen to the Beach Boys quite a bit, but when your options are the Beach Boys or listening to some woman practicing for the spelling bee over and over again (the song was called “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”), you take what you can get. My oldest brother got a tape deck (long before the era of the boom box) and brought home a tape that had Another One Bites the Dust on it. Another song that was on the tape (which was just a copy, and a horrible one at that) was Don’t Try Suicide. Needless to say, these songs were quite the departure from the Man in Black and Tanya Tucker. I was far too young at that point to realize that Queen was a reference to Freddie Mercury’s sexuality, and didn’t care why everyone seemed to hate these guys, all I knew was that the instruments in that music straight rocked, and I wanted to hear more of it. There was also a controversy about the song Another One Bites the Dust because if you play it backwards it sounds like it is saying “it’s fun to smoke marijuana”. I tried that later in life (both the drug and playing the song backwards) and can confirm both -though you really have to be listening to actually make the slurred audio sound like those words. Of course if that is what you are trying to hear it wouldn’t be so difficult. Queen forever! (hmm. I would have put money on me never typing that phrase.)

2)Nazareth: Hair of the Dog
I remember this song being popular at about the same time as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: I Love Rock and Roll. Whether that is the product of a muddled mind or they actually were released at the same time I may never know. Both were huge on the playground in the third grade though, and we would huddle around Nathan’s tiny little tape recorder to listen to them every day at recess. In the end, Nazareth gets the nod over Joan Jett only because it introduced “Son of a Bitch” to my lexicon. Certainly not the only time I would let music make my little mouth say things that made my mother blush, but the first to be sure. I bet if you were to look on some historical numbers, there were probably a lot more third-graders getting reprimanded in 1981 for saying son of a bitch than any other year in history. Nazareth was leading our charge! While none of us really understood what their songs were really about, particularly songs like Cocaine, and even Love Hurts was something that would be another five or six years before we would be seeing the business end of, a third-grader really thinks that anyone who actually says “son of a bitch” in a song is the coolest person on the planet, and will try to emulate them in every way. Long live Nazareth, you sons of bitches! (yes, the plural version loses a bit of the oomph, but what are you gonna do?)

3)Quiet Riot: Cum On Feel the Noize.
Now I could have picked any song off of this album, as it was the first hard rock album that I owned (yes, on vinyl) and I wore it straight the fuck out. It was also the first time I had ever actually heard a guitar solo (Battle Axe). Simply put, this album blew my mind. Between Cum on Feel the Noize and Metal Health, I was bound to never be that innocent, doe-eyed child again. I was starting to experience the world around me, and ready to feel the noize already. I should probably have known better than to idolize some idiots that couldn’t spell come or noise properly, but I was young. I would later learn that the misspelling of cum was probably intentional, though I never did find any reason for the misspelling of noize. But these guys are rockers, so I assume that they probably didn’t really excel in grammar school. Again, these guys were cool, I wanted to be like them. I was ready to “feel the noize” while I was “banging my head”. My parents were less than enthused. Quiet Riot Rulez!

4)AC/DC: Back in Black.
Chronologically, this one is in the wrong place. I think it would be number two on the list if I was going by release dates alone, but I didn’t actually hear this until 1984. Kind of an interesting story to it: There were kids in two age groups where I lived, those in my age range, and those that were about eight years older. There weren’t really any kids in between. The ones who lived just behind us were of the eight year older variety, and had a huge party one weekend, I assume while their parents were out of town. Sometime during the party, someone yanked Back in Black off of the record player and winged it. It ended up in my back yard, where I found it a couple of days later while mowing the lawn. It was either that or it was a gift from God, dropped there to turn me on to the Devil’s Music, which would make for a much better story, but it probably isn’t true. Back in Black also holds the distinction of being the only album that I have ever owned on Lp, 8-track, cassette, CD, and now mp3. Anyone who listens to rock will have to have this one somewhere on their list of greatest albums of all time. You could search forever and probably never find a more gritty, no-frills, in-your-face rock album. These guys weren’t about showboating, although they are all excellent with their instruments, they wanted to kick you in the gut with a tight, powerful song that made you throw your fist in the air. Let’s just say that I bought into that mentality completely. The road that I started to meander down when I first heard Queen a few years prior was now being paved in solid Black. It probably helps that some show (the 700 club or something) was saying that the name stood for anti Christ/devil’s children. Oooh, telling a youngster that listening to this music would make your parents afraid of you might not have been the best move you religious nutjobs… AC/DC Forever! \m/

5)The Hair Bands: I Remember You while Every Rose Has it’s Thorn in Heaven. But, you are my Love of a Lifetime and I Think I Love You, possibly More Than Words can say. But,Is This Love?, ’cause if it isn’t, I Won’t Forget You ’cause I am nothing Without You. Well, Love Bites, but Girl, Don’t Go Away Mad or I’ll Close My Eyes Forever and let Don’t Know What You’ve Got(’til it’s gone) put me to sleep. Alas, here I am Alone Again, Without You
(I chose Every Rose has its Thorn for the sample) Yeah, there were a bunch of them. I was walking a slippery slope there for a while, watching all the girls getting all squishy listening to that dribble. But, being that I had a penis and no functioning brain at that point, I was all about the hair bands (if you try to deny that you listened to it, you are probably a liar). I don’t really remember any of the songs per se, but I sure do remember who I was getting to second base with while listening to them. I was coppin’ me some feels. I probably wouldn’t have known what to do if I had managed to get their pants off anyway, but boy them was some times. That is also why I would never want to have a daughter; If any fourteen year old boy ever did the things that this fourteen year old boy was doing to thirteen year old girls, and he was doing it to my daughter, well, I just wouldn’t want to be the boy in that situation. Good thing I knew that when I was playing with the panty hamsters. I did have to leave rather unexpectedly, and with blistering speed on more than one occasion. Because of this music, well my desire to play with the panty hamsters really, I was dressing exactly like all of the hair bands -some would call it cross dressing. Praise be to the baby Jesus that I was pretty camera shy at the time, and as such there is very little visual evidence of the lengths I was willing to go to play me some tonsil hockey while trying to hide various appendages in various orifices (ahh, isn’t that romantic?). Ummm, long live the hair bands, or whatever, I can’t really throw the horns on this one. (no one ever said I was going to be proud of the music)

6)Metallica: Master of Puppets
Holy mother-fucking fuck! I mean, fuck. I mean, well, just, well, fuck! A kid in my school by the name of Jason Thrush wanted to borrow five bucks from me one day, but I didn’t trust him to pay me back. He gave me this tape as collateral. I had never heard of Metallica before (was I ever so pure?) and found the gravestones intriguing. What was this, some satanic music? What would it hurt to listen to just a little bit? It was in the middle of the first song when I put it in, but I used my snazzy new tape deck to auto-fast-forward to the start of the next song (that was some cool technology, huh?) and started the song. And. Well. Fuck. That shit just kicks you in the teeth and dares you to come back for more. Man, I knew I was never going to be the same again. Jason never got his tape back, and “Fuck it all with Fucking no regrets” would become my motto for the next decade or so (probably not a good call), and I desperately wanted to be Metallica. At the time, the Metallica fan club was actually based in Roseburg, Oregon (where I lived) and there were all sorts of rumors going around that they actually originated there (which was completely bogus, it was actually just a guy that lived there that wanted to be Metallica a little bit worse than me dedicating himself to spreading the word). It was about this time that I took to wearing a string of bullets from a machine gun around my wrist when I went to school (don’t remember what type of gun it was, my buddy Steve stole them from the National Guard while he was there one weekend a month, two weeks a year), oh yeah, they were actually blanks too. I started to grow my hair out, not shower nearly enough, wear nothing but black t-shirts and jeans, and I bought a guitar. The guitar was a “Memphis” brand, just some cheap ass, blue electric guitar. I couldn’t play a single note, honestly couldn’t even tune the thing (never would have been able to since the tremolo was broken and the neck looked like a topographic map of a mountain chain), but I slapped Metallica stickers all over that son of a bitch (hooray Nazareth) and carried it everywhere I went. I seem to recall that I actually used some nail polish (it was what I had, remember the hair bands?) to write “EET FUK” on it, as a tribute to James Hetfield. Some might say my fascination might have been borderline unhealthy, they would be wrong. My obsession with them was so complete as to be damn near self-destructive. Metallica! Fuck it all with Fucking no regrets! (interesting aside about regret. It is soooooo much better to regret something that you didn’t do (I should have bought that IBM stock back in 78) than to regret something that you did do (ahh shit, now where am I gonna put the body). Just thought I would throw that out there.)

7)Metallica: Enter Sandman.
I would have liked to not have to put two Metallica songs right next to each other, but I simply have to. Enter Sandman was what forced me to actually buy a playable guitar and start to learn some notes. I have never been so obsessed with anything in my life -not before or since- than I was with the guitar at that point. I would play that thing like 10 hours a day, possibly more. It was in my hands while I watched t.v., I took it with me when I was in the car with Dave, I actually skipped a lot of days of school to stay home and practice. I wanted desperately to be able to play, and slowly, over about a year, I started to get good. I was never all that great at lead, I mean, I could belt out a few solos, but I didn’t really know a lot of modes and scales so they all pretty much sounded the same. What I could do was play every song on Metallica’s Black album note for note, front to back. My buddy Steve also played the guitar, and Dean’s grandparents bought him a nice Tama drum kit, then we all obsessed about being Metallica together. Every weekend was spent at Dean’s house (none of us had a car to haul the drums) jamming Metallica way to fucking loud. As the time went by, we started to do all of Metallica’s stuff, including the ones that most garage bands stay away from just due to the sheer speed of them -Blackened (the forearm cries), Battery (I miss one note in that one every fucking time), Creeping Death (down-picking madness), Disposable Heroes (all hail the quintuplet), The Four Horsemen (what is that, like 7/5 time or something?) Master of Puppets (again, all down-picking), you name any song you can think of, as long as it is Metallica, and we could play that shit start to finish, note for note (with the exception of that one note in Battery that I always missed). Yes, we were Metallica. Well, we lacked the originality, the money, the fans, the talent, the equipment, and a few other things, but other than that… Metal Militia!


8.)Megadeth: Holy Wars…The Punishment Due.
I was sitting at Dean’s house (his mom had an awesome stereo system that she really only ever used to listen to Alice Cooper’s song The Man Behind the Mask), when Sean came over and popped a CD in the tray, turned the radio up to like 28 (it was digital, went to 30) and started cranking out this one. That intro just kicked my ass, remember, I was all about guitars now. IMHO, that song has not one, not two, but three of the coolest guitar riffs ever written in it. I was sooooo hooked. Within a week, I had every Megadeth album CD in my collection and was listening to/learning to play the ones that I thought were the coolest. I would never have the success playing Megadeth like I did with Metallica; Metallica has straight forward riffs, repeat it four times and you got your song; Megadeth has weird riffs that have different fills damn near every bar, the two guitars are rarely ever doing the same thing, and trying to learn it made my head hurt as much as my fingers. I was able to play everything from the Countdown to Extinction album, and few choice songs from other albums: In My Darkest Hour, Lucretia, Rust in Peace, and even some that weren’t on either of those two albums! So, while Megadeth had a great influence on my playing, and while I consider them my favorite band of all time (I almost pissed myself when I found out that my wife got me tickets to go see them live less than a year ago -even though Mustaine is the only original member still in the band. The crowd at that show was an odd mix, lots of guys my age and a lot of teens, but man Megadeth -what is left of them- rocked that fucking place.), I never had the drive to want to be Megadeth. You can only try to be one band, right? And Vic is about the second coolest mascot ever, with the see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil irons all bolted to the skull. Yeah, you can’t go wrong with Megadeth, but they are hardly a band anymore, so, Mustaine forever!


9)Slayer: Skeletons of Society.
I was going down the road to metal stardom, but I still wasn’t comfortable with all the satanic overtones that Slayer put into their music. I was raised as a church-going little tyke, and while I was still undecided on the whole existence of God issue, I didn’t want to be actively pissing him off if he was really out there. Skeletons of Society was the first Slayer song that I heard -someone was playing it on their car stereo while we were kicking around a hackeysack under the bridge-, and I found that the lyrics weren’t evil at all(a lot of pop-ups through that link, sorry about that). I wouldn’t go so far as to call Slayer political activists or anything, but the lyrics, at least to this one, put me more in mind of a cautionary tale of the future of mankind than, say, selling your soul. The guitar work in Slayer is pretty extraordinary, both Hanneman and King could easily be the only guitarist in the band, but having both of them allows for some beautiful harmonic melodies (no, really), and blistering dueling solos. I found that I kind of liked the way that people left me alone when I was sporting the “Spill the Blood” t-shirt, so I went with it. My dad thought I was completely nuts, hell he might have been right. The good thing is that while I was listening to the music, hanging around with the wrong crowd, and getting into all sorts of illegal mischief, I managed to keep away from the drugs (I did smoke a little weed), which is more than I can say for a lot of the guys that I used to hang out with. So, Slayer kind of helped me realize that I am a pretty introspective, and that I don’t really need want to be the guy that is the center of attention. I do just find in social situations, and don’t actively avoid them, I just find that I much prefer being alone (with my wife now) than being out following a crowd. 666, Baby! Those religious nuts stay away!


10)Slipknot: Duality.
I have to end this with something fairly recent, and I think Slipknot’s Duality is a good one. While many from my generation have since had children of their own, and now find themselves frightened of the way that their children are dressing, the masks that the guys in this band wear, and all of the very things that my dad was concerned about when I was their age, I find myself still relating to these kids. Sure, I do find a bit of humor in the fact that they are all dressing up exactly like their idols in some vain attempt to find their individuality, but that is exactly what I did when I was their age -I bet their parents did too, though they may have tried to look like the preppy guy from Revenge of the Nerds instead of Jason from Friday the Thirteenth-. Ten years from now that music won’t be shocking or cutting-edge, it will be in rotation on some classic rock station somewhere. The new generation of kids will move on to the newer, heavier music, and I will be right there with them; The creepy old guy at the concert in a Metallica t-shirt, throwing a goat way past its prime, trying not to break my hip in the mosh pit. Because when you strip away the kabuki masks, the multi-colored contacts, the black eye make-up, and the horrible hair-dos, what you have left is the music, and if it doesn’t kick you in the teeth, it isn’t worth listening to.

We will call those my tentative ten. I may change them at some later date if the fancy strikes me, but for now it will have to do.

As I expected, I am completely disappointed with one of the entries, but that is what happens when I try to keep it down to 10. Number 7 on the little list there is the one that actually forced me to buy a guitar, so it has to be there, but in order for it to be there, I had to kind of overlook the fact that it was the beginning of the decline of possibly the greatest metal band ever. At roughly the same time as Metallica started pussing out, there was another band that had just got a major record deal and was most certainly not concerned with shortening and sweetening their songs in the interest of better radio airplay. I give you my first glaring omission:

Pantera: Mouth for War.
This was Pantera’s second (studio) album, and while I did own Cowboys From Hell, it had to fight for precious play time with such albums as Megadeth’s Rust in Peace and Metallica’s …And Justice for All, tough gig. At the same time as Vulgar Display of Power was released, however, Megadeth and Metallica had just released what were by far their most radio-friendly and technically accurate albums in Countdown to Extinction and Metallica’s Black Album. While I loved those albums for their ease, and thus my introduction to the guitar, it was ultimately that ease that pushed me away from them as well. Pantera was like the lover I ran to when my first two lovers were asleep, and I just needed that dirty, dirty sex… They provided.(I really need to come up with some better analogies) Again, I could easily have chosen any song from this album, and in the end it really comes down to a particular guitar riff that made me go with this one. Hair bands were still in the spotlight, but starting their decline, Nirvana had just exploded onto the scene (they almost made it onto the list as well), and the monsters of rock were pandering to the audience of the New Kids on the Block, when Pantera dropped this one. The whole album comes across as pretty real; when you listen to Walk, you go away from it thinking to yourself that you probably don’t want to cross Phil Anselmo, lest he get Fucking Hostile.

I am sure there were a lot of other bands out there that were still playing gritty, heavy shit without apologies, just like Pantera, and the best part is that they genuinely didn’t seem to give a fuck if you listened to it or not. Hell, Pantera realized early on that they were being a bunch of posers with the spandex and hairspray and gave up that image to let the music speak for them. I am probably not a very good Pantera fan, since I only own three of their albums, and the mood really has to hit me before one of them hits my stereo (i.e. I need to be pretty angry). But I was angry back in 1991 when Megadeth, Metallica, hell, even Ozzy all released albums that were and are some of the best albums ever, but which also gave them the mainstream exposure that would ultimately lead to their transformation from underground phenomenon to over-produced pin-up boys. Pantera was there to kick you in the teeth, when the other bands were off getting manicures.

Man it sucked when Darrell got killed on stage a few years ago. Pantera was broken up at that point (why does that always have to happen when a band gets so damn good), but DamagePlan straight rocked. I heard rumors at the time that they guy who killed him thought that it was his (Darrell’s) fault that Pantera broke up. While I have no way to know if that is true, it sure seems like the wrong way to go about getting the band back together. It just seems so sick and wrong and that some psychopath is able to get on stage and gun down one of the best guitarists to ever pick up the instrument, yet no one has yet managed to do the same to any of the myriad 16 year-old, MTV created, pin-up icons whose only talent is their ability to dress like sluts and lip-synch the words that some unknown vocalist layed to track months before the concert. I guess I should say it would be a crying shame if that happened, but I am not going to. Not that I am bitter or anything…

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