The punches came hard and fast. The day hovered like a fucking prizefighter, and the springtime sun had plenty to do with it. So did the alcoholic blue-collar hero named Will.
Lying on my back, I could smell gasoline, the blood and the orange blossoms, and the outline of his head maneuvered a strange shadow across my body.
The whole thing moved like a dream, one instant into another, in long, colorless moments. Luckily, the gun had nothing to do with it.
It all started over Van Halen--Hagar-era specifically--and the absurd recommendation that I should "not be such a closed-minded shithead" to the awesomeness of Halen; and whatever it was that held my reservations about something as blessed as Halen had rendered me not of our species, something unsubstantial and sideshow worthy, like, as he put it, "nigger music."
The midday bar kept a close guard on the unemployed and destitute, a smoky security blanket with a silent flitter of ESPN in the corner. A work-a-day, blue-collar drunk like Will was an aberration there. I wasn't.
Maybe drinking that day wasn't the best idea. It has been my experience that boozing in sun-lit hours inevitably leads to grave unpleasantness that night--like inertia, puking or getting one's head bashed in.
Alcohol, much like rock 'n' roll, is best served post-sundown.
The jukebox was spinning Allman Brothers, Alabama and Guns N' Roses. A Tom Petty turn was a luxury. Overall the juke was barely tolerable, but not life-threatening.
That is, until the dean of all things insufferable and unsentimental began to blare forth. That unwashed and absolute sound of midlife dude-vanity, overextended and amplified. The sound of Hagar's Halen.
One Hagar-the-horrible-led Halen tune after another magnified the sense of failure in the room: "Why Can't This Be Love?," "Poundcake," "Best of Both Worlds." For me it was the slow, dull soundtrack to somebody dying.
"I fuckin' can't take this shit," I said to no one in particular. "Sammy Hagar is a fag."
The bald man with the blue shirt got up from his slacked perch down the bar and sat on the stool next to mine. He put his elbows on the bar and lit a cigarette. He was 40, maybe, saffron complected with short, quick capillary twists on fleshy cheekbones and an oval tag on his shirt inscribed with the name "Will." His hair was but thin wisps, ineffective as cover to a growing presence of glossy scalp. A nervous joggle in both of his legs matched a perpetual twitch in his right hand, the one with which he was drinking.
Though the temperature in the bar was maybe 72 degrees, a thin glaze of sweat still covered the unclothed areas of his skin--his arms, hands, head and neck. He was flabby, not fat, loud and pathetic.
"What's wrong with Sammy Hagar?" he asked flatly, looking straight ahead. Will had that cinder-block-and-milk-crate disregard, that obtuse pickup-truck-driving patronization; a sickening assumption that he was a superior being. Will was bigger than me.
After a hearty gulp of draft, I asserted myself with a rare moment of bravery. "I think Hagar's an insufferable dork, an every-woman's-nightmare homophobe."
"You're wrong, shitface," he hastily burped at me, filling my face with a deadly, beery gas. "He just takes no shit from women. Shitface."
Shitface was my new name.
I cut in, this time louder: "Sammy Hagar is the only man on earth suffering from penis envy. His lyrics are facile, chickenshit tripe. He's ugly, too. And besides, he inexcusably played in a band with that fat, balding guy on bass--a worthless sack of lard who should be taken out back by the compost heap and shot."
In Will's face I saw an accumulation of anger, an endless 50-hour work-week's worth of blue-collar/liquor rage, a lifetime's worth of jail sentences. And his eyes revealed zero. No color, no life, no home. In that face, I understood the definition of blind rage.
The bar's few shadows holding cue sticks annulled their languid stance and chimed, "Fight, fight."
I found myself outside behind the bar, face to face with Will. A gun appeared in Will's twitchy right hand.
"Give me strength," I prayed, "and give me mercy."
Already the sun had changed directions, starting its long slant down into the west, where in a few hours it would set.
"Pussy," I sneered.
In a flash, paisleys intervened in the space between my brain and my eyes. My nasal cavity imploded to the tune of, strangely enough, "Poundcake."
Hagar's sexist refrains played out through the bar's rear exit, fueling Will's blue-collared, well-instructed fists. The dry loam rushed to slap my back: "I so love my baby's poundcake/Homegrown and down-home/yeah that's the one/Still cookin' with that old time, long lost recipe/Lemme get on some o' that/Uh-ah uh-ho ho/Uh-ah uh-ho ho. I want some o' that."
I don't know what it was. It could have been that otherworldly confidence bought cheaply with many beers. Or . . .
Flip to local AOR, listen for "Mas Tequila" and see above.
Alive and Well
For a month or so back in the early '80s, when QR lucked on a pair of old Slade tunes, every miserable kid attending Hollywood's Guitar Institute had wood for Carlos Cavazo: his blond power shag, wee-wee do-lu-do-do-lu-do wee-wee do-lu-do guitar hysterics and macho chick-magnet persona was an easy grasp.
But at no time did any kid, anywhere, ever want to be Kevin Dubrow, Rudy Sarzo or Frankie Banali--Cavazo's ancillary bandmates in Quiet Riot. For good reason: QR had no elements of cool. No sex, no drugs, no rock 'n' roll; there was simply too much mouth-breathing and baldness going on (then, Dubrow had more fuzz on his palms than on his head; today, as we all know, the opposite is true).
Here's the new record. Here's a line from said new record (sung with substantial Sebastian Bach verve): "I'm an angry young (?) man/When I can't get enough/I'm an angry young man/When push comes to shove."
Enough of that.
Even so, QR is more deserving of a backward nod than, say, Judas Priest. We mean, what other pointy guitar band from the '80s can claim to have kept some blessed old glam heroes off the dole? Great White? No, Ian Hunter is/was already filthy rich. Thanks to Cavazo and co., old Noddy and Jimmy Lea were, for a few years at least, kept in quality lager and smokes. At least Dubrow has his mom.
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This week's Billboard sees the decade's worst, just in time to vote for same. At number 80 with a bullet is Godsmack, a trumped-up take of flanneled Seattle with even more metalish misery than Alice in Chains (a song from whom Godsmack got its name).
The dour video "Whatever" is up MTV's ass and over-pierced herds across the nation are laying out allowance money galore for this, faster than you can say "Orgy is over." It's enough to make Soundgarden seem sentimental, like a black-and-white movie on late-night TV. Scary.
Even better: suck in yer guts, 'cause this summer's Rock Never Stops Tour will soon be kicking in, featuring Ted Nugent, Night Ranger, Quiet Riot and Slaughter, starting July 1 and running through September 6. Yee haw!
Contact Bill Blake at his online address: email@example.com