01 July 2012

Golfing with Alice Cooper

I had the good fortune to see (2) of my favorite acts from my aforementioned misspent youth recently, Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden.  For a myriad of reasons, I was never able to get my body in the same town as IM back in the day so this was def a ‘can’t miss’ show.  I must say that I was a little disappointed in the Maiden set list – is it too much to ask to see Powerslave live?  Apparently so, but they made up for it with Run to the Hills, Two Minutes to Midnight, Phantom of the Opera…now that I’m thinking about it, it wouldn’t have sucked if they would have played Charlotte the Harlot if they were going to dig that deep into the catalogue.  I guess you can’t expect a band that’s been active since 1975 to do it all in 2 ½ hours, but seriously, how do you not play Powerslave?  The show wasn’t quite as epic as the video link above but it was as epic for me.  I’ll get back to the show but first, I would be remiss if I didn’t get into the glorious spectacle that is the Heavy Metal Parking Lot.

I’ve tried to elucidate this sub-cultural phenomenon to people before and they look at me like I have (3) heads sprouting from my shoulders.  If you’re not an aficionado, I don’t suppose you would have any frame of reference for understanding.  And if you’re not well versed in what’s left of the scene, these words are probably falling on deaf ears and I’m okay with that.  I will try once more to make you understand. 

It’s like being at a college football game tailgate but we are all cheering for the same team and we are all the best of friends.  The same people who were at the hundreds of shows I saw in the ’80s are still there – you never forget, right?  The only difference is now they bring their kids.  Parents with kids, frisbee, grillin’, chillin’, nefarious unarticulated clouds of weed smoke, cops, corn hole, devil horn salutes to distant car stereos, future (and possibly current) serial killers, beers, burgers, fist pumps, shenanigans – my strange utopia.  Old and young, rich and poor communing united behind a shared love of the band, the music, the thing.

People who don’t fit in anywhere else in the world, fit in here.  That always has been and remains the allure of Heavy Metal – it gave kids who were pissed off at their parents, or their teachers or probation officer or whatever else a venue to come together and forget it all, to scream it out, to slam themselves into each other in acknowledgement of shared struggle.  20+ years later, why should it be different?  It’s not, really. The things that vex us are different from what they were then, but the day to day vexing is the same.  I submit that a Heavy Metal Parking Lot represents the best possible case scenario of what the human condition is capable of.  There is no judgment.  No one is better than the other.  No one is smarter than.  No one is more successful than the other. There is no ‘red’ or ‘blue’ political posturing.  I’m sure that I’ve slapped hands with, “bumped” into and / or head-butted dudes that vote the other way.  None of the trappings of modern society, popular culture matter here.  We come together in black t-shirts and faded jeans on gravel and asphalt parking lots to celebrate the one thing that we can all agree on – the music. 

That’s what it was for me when I was a kid and all of those memories flooded back and consumed me that Saturday night.  On the rare occasion that I’ve found myself in an adult version of those teenage lots, I’ve found myself transported to a place and time where nothing mattered except the music.  For years that was enough, and if I let myself be honest with myself it still is.  How else can I explain my morning mandatory Metallica?  That music bound, binds me still to a family, a strange dysfunctional one yes, but a family nevertheless – a family that would lay themselves down on train tracks without asking, knowing I would do the same.

Those parking lot scenes from my youth are as entwined into the fabric of the story of my life as much or more than almost anything I can recall.  Being a kid doesn’t come easy for some of us – growing up is even harder sometimes.  To abate this, we occasionally would gather by the thousands before a rock show to reassure each other that it was okay to be different.  Most of us grew up in small towns in the middle of nowhere.  We were agitated, completed disaffected, dangerously bored.  It’s where the weird kids you remember from high school went to not feel weird.  The lot was always as important as, if not more than, the show itself.  What no one could ever understand is that the music was / is only the vehicle through which we communicated – the only way possible for some.  That’s how some guys are and I was one of those guys as a teen.  The fact that I had hair down to my ass when I was a kid had nothing to do with the music – it had all to do with positioning myself in the only community that I ever felt accepted into until I moved to the EAV. The lot was a tribal affirmation of my worth.  Without this occasional reassuring, Mississippi would have swallowed me whole.    

There are few things that I’ve encountered in my life that warm my heart as much as seeing a (10) year old in full Alice Cooper makeup or a father showing his son how to properly tuck the thumb when making devil horns.  It gives me hope for the future of this country.  I could bounce around the reality and the supposed of what a Heavy Metal Parking Lot is as long as I could coax my fingers to move and you will probably never get it.  If you do, you do.  If you don’t, you never will. So be it.

The show was incredible.  Alice didn’t disappoint and was up to his usual antics – the boa constrictor and top hat and cane, the onstage murder, the 20 foot animatronic Frankenstein – he even cut his head off in the guillotine and then sang I Love the Dead holding his own severed head.  It’s all so kitschy now, but it apparently scared the shit out of my parents’ generation.  Billion Dollar Babies, I’m Eighteen, Wicked Young Man.  He opened with Black Widow and closed with School’s Out.  As he left the stage, he whispered loudly into the mic, “You’re all sick things!”  Epic.

Intermission: when the head-bangers hit the head, buy a t-shirt, beer up and chain-smoke before the next set.  This is when emotions and tensions are at their highest and when if there is going to be a fight it usually pops.  If the first band does their job, they leave the crowd in a frenzied, maniacal state wanting more and this was definitely the case this night.  Having made a promise to myself to not get caught up this time, I discreetly did my thing, hurried back to the patch of grass we’d staked out and waited to have my mind blown by Iron Maiden.

It’s hard to explain what Iron Maiden is to me.  They were a different kind of band.  They were the thinking-man’s Heavy Metal, right?  They didn’t write songs about fast cars and strippers.  The first Maiden song I ever heard was Rime of the Ancient Mariner – an adaptation of the 18th century English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s classic of the same name.  This was heavy in a way I had never known prior to and I loved it.  Still do.  When his contemporaries were crashing their Lamborghinis after leaving the “Riot” House, Bruce Dickinson was practicing to become a world-class fencer.  When his opening acts were cancelling shows to go to rehab, he was training to become a commercial pilot.  The songs he penned were epic in scale and content and his band-mates joined in with equally epic chord progressions, intricate beats and mind-numbing, thundering bass lines.  Steve Harris is the most adroit bass player in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.  Nicko McBrain has about a hundred drums and cymbals in his kit and he hits every single one on every song. The harmonic framework of Dave and Adrian’s blistering, progressive dueling guitars is the foreground against which the low end is pounded.  Put this all together and what you have is unbelievable, inimitable music.   Combine it with the band’s larger than life mascot ‘Eddie’ and trademark visual on a warm June night in the ATL and you have a perfect recipe for a face-melting of epic, if not biblical proportions.

I left the show stunned, as if I had been tazed.

The next morning, I woke up sore – like having been run over by a train sore.  I dragged myself out of bed anyway with an 8:00 tee time looming.  Driving around the block to the course I was dreading who they might pair me with. My local frowns on single play and I’ve never had good luck when I go there solo.  Much to my surprise I walked into the clubhouse to see another long-hair checking in at the counter.  I thought to myself, maybe he was at the show and we’ll have that to pass the time.  As expected, we were paired and I absently introduced myself walking to the cart.  “Pleased to meet you, name’s Alice.”  What?  That’s right, the planets had finally aligned, my karmic destiny was being fulfilled and my dream of golfing with Alice Cooper was about to become a historical fact!  I was a babbling idiot, I couldn’t stop talking, I was nervous as hell.  I’m a hack – AC is an actual skilled golfer.  He’s going to think I’m an asshole.  It’s a short course; you can hold your own with this guy even if he is the Prince of Darkness.

We did rock-paper-devil horns to see who teed off first and of course he won.  As he was lining up his first shot I struggled to get a grip on myself and was just settling into the realization of and starting to truly feel the gravity of the situation.  Keep it together brother; this holds all the promise of being the most exceptional Sunday morning of your life.  That’s when I heard and saw the unthinkable.  Right in the middle of his backswing, Maynard hops out of the cart and shouts, “Dude, I’ve got to piss!”  Seriously?  As I was about to berate him for this unforgivable gaff, I couldn’t help but notice how sharply he was dressed.  My (12) year old Dachshund was decked out in full-on old school golf attire, puffing a Cuban with one paw, balancing a half-empty scotch with the other.  “Really, man?  What’s with your friend?” Alice said in disgust, slamming his club into the tee-box turf.  

Son of a Bitch!  I’m dreaming.  It was all a figment of my well-documented over-active imagination.    This was certainly one of my better constructed delusions.  It was absolutely real.  As I stripped off the golf shirt and put my clubs back in the closet (yeah, that real) I was crushed.  A round of golf with Alice Cooper would have certainly been a high-water mark for this old head-banger. 

Alas, my slow train into dementia steams on.     

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