Growing up in LA, I played freelance gigs whenever I could squeeze them in between classwork. One I particularly enjoyed was the Asian Philharmonic Society, where I was a member of their all-anglo percussion section. One of my fellow players was a student in my teacher’s studio at CalState LA. She was quiet, serious, and wore black combat boots, and when she said she had a band, I was expecting something like Sonic Youth.
But in the late 80s, drummers who wanted to make a living weren’t playing art rock, they were playing hair metal. My friend hit the stage with hair and makeup that would have fit right in at a Poison concert.
Having seen so many talented friends struggle to make a living in music, I don’t blame anyone for trying to get whatever edge they can, even if that means playing in an all-girl hair metal band with a lead flute—which, for the record, was every bit as bad an idea as it sounds.
Hair metal is such an obvious target of derision, there’s hardly any point in attacking it. I’m mostly just disappointed. The bands who made hair metal should have been great: they practiced a lot; they liked The Rolling Stones, The Ramones, The Clash, The Damned, Wire. A group of misfits and outcasts like that should have produced LA’s answer to the New York Dolls.
Instead, we got crap like Mötley Crüe and Warrant. In fairness, they sold truckloads of records, which they promptly converted to truckloads of drugs. Say what you want about hair metal bands, the hedonism and debauchery they sang about was no affectation.
The only band that really delivered on the promise was Guns N’ Roses (the unconventional apostrophe replacing the more metal-inflected umlaut that had been a mainstay of ersatz-heavy band names since Blue Öyster Cult in the late 60s). About bloody time.
On a clandestine late-night MTV binge, I heard Welcome To the Jungle for the first time. Finally, here was music that gave the (vicarious) transgressive thrill that had been missing from hair metal all along.
The drum parts were also unbelievably easy, which meant that when my friends and I covered Sweet Child O’ Mine in our rock band, I could get swept up in the show as much as my friends in the audience.