Fleur the Kiwi
No, I didn’t utter those words, for two main reasons. 1) Having grown up in a non-U.S. part of the erstwhile British empire, I say “Mum,” not “Mom,” and 2) I have, alack, never owned a pair of leather pants, in any colour (<– note British spelling). And, not incidentally, I’ve never fantasized about being a rock star.
Craig A. Williams did. The disease entered his soul at the age of 7, and by the time he turned 17 he and his band Onyxx (originally Onyx, later Onyxxx, for copyright reasons) had headlined a sold-out show at the Roxy on the Sunset Strip, counted a number of actual strippers among their diehard fans, and had been thrown out of a hotel for partying too hard with groupies and fans. And, most memorably for him, he had gently cupped a proffered breast in one hand and signed it with a Sharpie clutched in the other. Not long after that momentous achievement, the band of hair metal wannabes (all still in high school) imploded, at the same time as the scene itself did … and the dream was over.
Williams has never recovered, though, and his memoir of that time (it was, of course, he who said the sentence that graces the top of this post and the cover of his book), while being in many places laugh-out-loud funny (so-described books rarely make me laugh aloud, but this one did, because that era is so easy to mock. One example from an early chapter: “Literally, the word ‘inspire’ signifies breathing in that which is around you, and by 1988, the music world had been seized by big-haired, leather-clad warriors, having nothing but a good time whilst pouring sugar all over themselves.”), is also poignantly nostalgic for an almost-realised fantasy that can — and will — never be recaptured. Craig will live the rest of his life, all 30 or 50 or 70 years of it, knowing that the one thing, the only thing he ever really wanted to do, to be, to live for and by and through, was almost his reality and never will be again. For a fleeting nine months, he was a rock star. (Albeit a minor one in a small milieu, but that milieu was the epicenter of the rock world.)
From my experience on the periphery of live rock fandom, I understand. I understand completely.
Rock stardom and its first cousin, live rock fandom, are diseases which, like cancer (don’t condemn me for this analogy; my mum and my favourite granny died of cancer when I was a kid so I know the gravity of the disease), are inherent in the cells; they just need the right trigger, the right catalyst to flare into life and rampage rampant. Most people live entire lives never being struck by that catalyst, others, however …
There’s something about live rock music, something that’s shared by performers and fans alike. It’s the music, and it’s the connection through the music, through the love of being there, performing the music, watching, listening to that music being performed; from rock musician to rock fan and back again. The love is reflected, a beam ricocheting between stage and audience.
It’s why rock stars in their 60s (Cheap Trick, Aerosmith) and almost 70s (Rolling Stones — I know they’re not touring this year; humour me) who reached the pinnacle of worldwide fame, and second- and third-tier bands that never made it bigger than a few cheesy videos on early MTV or a gold album at the height of the hair band frenzy (Faster Pussycat, Tesla), bands with lineups that change more frequently than a punk changes hair colour, still travel across any country where they command a following (or can at least pack 50 or 100 fans into a small venue) via van, tour bus, and, occasionally, plane, day after day for weeks or months on end. Night after night, playing to an audience of 1200 or 12 as if it were a sold-out stadium crowd of 40,000, giving it their all — smiling, repeating the same banter, pulling the same tricks, and doing what the disease commands them to do above all else, for if they weren’t to do it, the cost might be their love for life … rocking out.
It’s why grown men who are in all other respects sane pile themselves plus guitars, amps, and other gear into a van and drive 10 hours along a construction-clogged interstate on a 90F day to arrive late at their next scheduled venue, where they are not allowed to take the stage, chat and exchange hugs with a few audience members/fans who come outside to see what’s going on, sell a few T-shirts and tanktops out of the back of the van, and then, unable to do what they love to do most, what they drove those 10 hours to do, at somewhere near midnight they get back in the van and head back down the interstate to the town where the next night’s gig is scheduled to be played (BulletBoys).
It’s what makes Steven Adler keep dissolving and recreating his bands, in slightly different form (Suki Jones, Adler’s Appetite [one of my favourite live bands], Adler), and touring, even though, because he never dissolves the band’s relationship with its promoter, the crowd at many shows numbers maybe 50. For Steven Adler. The drumming maestro of Welcome to the Jungle, Paradise City, Sweet Child O’ Mine, songs that in quarter of a century have never lost their power. Plus, his smile could light a universe, and when he’s on stage in the center of the horseshoe that is his drum kit, what you see, behind the flashing drumsticks, beneath the golden mane, is that smile.
And it’s why we keep coming out to see them.