Until the Key Club starts hosting weekly Grunge Skool nights, or Penelope Spheeris directs The Decline of Western Civilization Part IV: The Flannel Years, it looks like nostalgia for ’80s hair metal — much like its new-wave counterpart — is here to stay. Witness the popularity of VH1 Classic and its countless Where are they now? and Who were they then? specials. Even U.K. imports the Darkness experienced a brief, very brief, stateside success just a few years back, while Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach has been schlepping around the country on the Guns N’ Roses tour. Blame author Steven Blush — who also penned American Hardcore: A Tribal History — for perpetrating the new American Hair Metal, a pictorial history of the genre from Crüe to Winger, featuring vintage shots by rock photogs William Hames, Eddie Malluk and Frank White.
All male and all white, the heroes of ’80s metal dressed like chicks to get chicks — remember the old adage The closer to God, the greater the groupies? (Hence the bottle of Aqua Net Super Hold on the first page, welcoming the reader.) For the record, the distinction of Biggest Hair went to Jim Gillette, singer of L.A.’s Nitro, whose six-octave pipes also reached the heavens (he shattered glass — imported crystal wine goblets, to be exact).
Loosely categorized into themes, American Hair Metal starts with the genre’s beginnings in the ’70s and takes you through all the sex (“Never fuck on balconies, especially if you’re drunk,” once warned Warrant’s Janie Lane); drinking (“Puking is the second best release to orgasm,” said Bach); and drugs (there’s an entire timeline of Nikki Sixx’s famous last words). Also titillating is commentary on cross-dressing (“It takes a real man to wear makeup,” proclaimed Poison’s Brett Michaels) and band beefs (Poison vs. Guns N’ Roses, Dokken vs. Dokken). Blush forgoes current interviews with his subjects and instead culls quotes from bygone magazines like Rip and Circus for even more comical results. Ratt front man Stephen Pearcy, for example, must’ve had some pirate fetish back in the day, babbling, “We’re gladiators — pirate, hippie gladiators” and “Our tour bus is like our pirate ship — it’s where we rape and pillage.”
Of course, it’s always saddest when bands announce their own greatness and guarantee longevity. Quiet Riot’s Kevin DuBrow might not have said, “I’m not worried about our audience disappearing, because we can always count on our fans,” if he knew he and the boys would one day be playing at a nudist colony in Michigan. Funniest, though, are the lyrics, and Blush has dug up some real beauts, like “Gonna drive my love inside you/gonna nail your ass to the floor” by Great White. Tugs at the heart, doesn’t it?
The band bios also include some interesting factoids: For example, drummer Mark Michals was booted out of Faster Pussycat after being busted for FedExing heroin to himself. Ratt guitarist Robbin Crosby died of AIDS in 2002. In the case of King Kobra vocalist Mark Free, dude became a lady: Free underwent a sex change and was reborn as Marcie Free. And after years of wondering, you’ll finally learn that Stryper, those Bible-throwing boys from Buena Park, stood for Salvation Through Redemption Yielding Peace, Encouragement and . . . ah, Christ, it’s too long.
AMERICAN HAIR METAL | By STEVEN BLUSH | Feral House | 176 pages | $23 paperback