Hair Pain Turn

Trashman endures follicle torture after a night at the headbanger's ball

The venue's tone rears its ugly head the moment I walk through the entrance. Dudes cut their eyes at me, chicks whisper. I feel surrounded by a five-foot neutral zone that no one dares enter. I start taking a few notes.

A beastly mook with blinkless eyes seated nearby is suspicious. He fires a series of questions. "What are you writing in that note pad? Are you a writer? Who do you write for?"

I look at him. His hair is long and crimped and the color of a dirt yard. The hair belonging to those whose nights are dedicated to a tradition of sucking bongs and cans of Bud set against a soundtrack of Judas Priest and Manowar.

Warrant's Jani Lane serenades the horde.
Paolo Vescia
Warrant's Jani Lane serenades the horde.
L.A. Guns' Tracii Guns shows some pain.
Paolo Vescia
L.A. Guns' Tracii Guns shows some pain.

"Rolling Stone," I lie.

"Oh, yeah!" he crows, "I got a band, dude!" His eyes belie a look that says, "Fuck with me, bro, and you're dead."

"We're called Death Phinger, Brown Thumb. We're about fighting, 40s and fat chicks. And that's Phinger with a P-h, not an F."

"Death Phinger, Brown Thumb," I say, "with a P-h, eh? Ain't a bad name."

Even when he's not talking, I notice his mouth remains open. Gives him the appearance of a dirtball janitor gawking juvenile derrière sashaying down some high school hallway. "We're the hardest metal to hit the scene. You should see us, we are the real metal shit."

I consider the name Death Phinger, Brown Thumb. Just what could a name like that mean? Just what does "hardest metal" mean these days? I didn't see any urgent need in finding out. I turn to stand in line at will call.

The mook keeps going, his words taking aim at my back. "We're not about this reunion crap. Come see us, dude, you'll see."

The natural impulse would be to turn around and fuck with him, but I choose not to. The night is still young and I'm not drunk yet. Sobriety severely restricts the whims of risk-taking. Sobriety safeguards me from getting my face smashed in.

Queued up for tickets, I imagine that I'm at some DES office lined up for food stamps. It reminds me of a girlfriend who once waited for me back at some stucco, milk-crate-furnished nightmare when I actually did stand in line for food stamps. She had three kids, none of which was mine, and all under the age of 4. The thought makes me shiver.

I hear the mook still going at it. "This reunion crap is for pussies."

I think about the word "pussy." I hate anybody who devalues the pussy so. The mook, however, has a point. I look up at the marquee. I see the names Ratt, Warrant and L.A. Guns.

Joy.

Surrounding us at our vantage point in the half-full venue is a proletariat horde of nearly 1,200 AOR rock radio enthusiasts. All are gathered to drink, puke, pump fists and celebrate the dead -- to raise and consecrate a trio of spooks.

Salvation from the fall of Headbanger's Ball. Talk about your emotional quicksand.

The anachronism here, really, is an insufferable ode to a period Lita Ford once described as a time when "people knew how to rock." The show tonight is not only a revivalist wink donned in simulated hair, distended guts, rescued egos and references to how we, the audience, "can still kick some ass," but also the search for a sad echo that at one time moved this throng.

Many women stand obediently under the arms of their men. And, later, a staff of high-heeled strippers mans the bow of the stage.

On many men, fading tattoos span fattening forearms and biceps, as do bandannas and petty comb-overs weakly disguising retreating hairlines. Open, button-down shirts reveal Burger King breasts in need of support; a myriad of keys to pickup trucks and cinder-block dwellings dangle from belts which keep guts from making southerly drops. Some guzzle beer from plastic cups, and some reek of spoiled relish.

The women, if not summoning ghosts of strippers past, tuck stonewashed jeans into leather ankle or knee-high boots; satin skirts top Slim-Fast/meth-white legs; robin's egg blue eye shadow fills crow's feet lines. Many chicks sip beer from plastic cups. And most reek with late-night QVC perfume buying power.

When L.A. Guns arrives onstage, it's every Spinal Tap/Still Crazy moment bottlenecked and spurted forth like so much foam from a shaken can of beer. It's the glorious accumulation of every cliché fraught with so much self-importance and arrogance that it becomes absurd hard-rock theater. L.A. Guns is actually good at this; it's shtick made easy, and it is by far the best and most authentic band on the bill. And what does that say?

You sense the painful reality that these guys have dedicated their lives to rock 'n' roll since childhood, and now, pushing 40, they've nothing to show for it. There's a desperation in L.A. Guns that I can appreciate.

Singer Phil Lewis' thin white duke-ish frame seems ageless. He can masterfully control the timing of both the song and its gesture. His sinuous feline demeanor and sudden smile can still lay the flutter beneath the skirts of the stripper contingent. Yet Lewis' chuckle-inducing three-front war on baldness (headband + implants + extensions) ruined it for me. Wigs and rock 'n' roll don't mix.

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