first round game
(4) great white, "once bitten twice shy"
(13) zebra, "tell me what you want"
and plays on
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/9.
Brend Child Fur Dreadeth : kristine langley mahler on great white's "once bitten twice shy"
We didn’t start the fire.
We didn’t even get close. Great White is associated with one famous thing, and it’s not “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” because it’s not even their song. That’s Ian Hunter’s song, Ian Hunter who wrote it as he was leaving Mott the Hoople and Ian Hunter who released it as his first solo single and Ian Hunter who got to #14 on the UK Pop Charts with “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” in 1975. Ian Hunter didn’t chart again until 2007, when his single “When the World Was Round” debuted at #91 and fell off the next week:
It’s also Shaun Cassidy’s song, because Shaun Cassidy tried to reinvent himself too, catapulting out of teen-idol world in 1980 by covering raucous Ian Hunter’s groupie song “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” nightmaring his fanbase with every line Elvis-snarled-quavery and completely unconvincing:
It was no “Da Doo Ron Ron.” The album failed, and Shaun never released another.
But we know. Once bitten.
The history of Great White started inauspiciously, a guitarist (Mark Kendall) teaming up with a singer (Jack Russell) in 1978 and starting a band called “Highway,” then “Livewire,” then “Wires.” JR, like the terrier, got rowdy and got arrested in 1979 for shooting a maid in a failed robbery attempt.
The remnants of the band broke up and Mark Kendall pulled together a new one, hiring another lead singer because, well, JR wasn’t due out of the clink for eight years. But JR was released after eighteen months and demanded an audition for Kendall’s new band and Mark Kendall was bitten but not twice shy; Kendall & Co. kicked out their singer to bring back JR. Great White recorded a few albums, touring and opening for Whitesnake and Judas Priest.
Album #1: Great White
Album #2: Shot in the Dark
Album #3: Once Bitten…
It’s the ellipses that let us know JR was playing the long game. The album cover for #4, “…Twice Shy,” features the lower halves of two chicks with ankle bracelets, their private spots draped with red satin, a cartoonish shark fin cutting through the red “water,” uncomfortably recalling every woman’s fear of having her period and going for a swim:
“…Twice Shy,” to no one’s surprise, featured Great White’s lead single, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” reviving Ian Hunter’s UK Pop Chart #14-“hit” from fourteen years earlier, which is like someone today trying to cover Basement Jaxx’s 2004 “Good Luck.”
Great White amped it harder than Ian Hunter, harder than Shaun Cassidy, filming a typical hair metal music video to support a song whose lyrics are one long admonition about groupie girls:
- The girl in the song is destitute and starving, which has prevented her from comprehending “how a woman should feel.” She’s a “little girl” ostensibly begging outside the bus and the drummer (good old Audie Desbrow, in this iteration) is about to sexually assault her but don’t worry—JR stops Audie from making a statutory mistake.
- The band lets the girl stay on the bus but she’s freezing because their heater’s conveniently “broken” (come over here, baby, let me warm you up) and JR calls the girl a hooker, a hooker who’d witnessed her sister being gang-raped, but her sister was into it; her sister was “givin what she got.”
- The third verse is the worst verse: Groupie Girl’s been upgraded to a “woman” now, shooting up (“die in your sleep,” “blood on my amp”) and fellating JR’s best friend like the most depressing junkie story ever, but JR knows “mama’s little baby” is down for quickies. In some sad universe, someone’s supposed to have been once bitten, twice shy, though no one who’s been hurt here has avoided anything a second time.
- The twist at the end: JR can’t believe his little groupie he raised by hand has had another guy on the side this whole time—she gamed the damn system, posing on guy #2’s record while making JR think he was her only salvation.
The video pulls out every 80s-metal trope—a warehouse, a concert, motorcycles, a band comprised of hairsprayed long blonde lookalikes, guitar shred close-ups, black leather dusters, girls in bra tops getting to sing during the chorus—but the warehouse is virtually empty. There are five girls in the “audience.” It’s like a rehearsal, not a show, and as the song is waning and the girls are chanting, “My, my, my,” the band packs up, gets on the bus as a guy on a proto-Segway pulls into view and there are five guys left in the warehouse—guys who weren’t present during the show—like their girlfriends hopped into the bus and went along with the band and these boys got bitten pretty bad; these boys should have expected this.
The screen warns: “…coming soon to a beach near you…” but the whole show went down in a warehouse; there was nothing beachy about the band except their sharky nickname. How does a black leather duster hold up in the sand?
It’s confusing, but “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” is a party song. No one’s paying any attention to the desperate groupie’s wretched life; we’re all shivering with illicit excitement during the piano break after JR intervened and stopped Audie from “crossing her state line.” We’re all willfully misinterpreting the chorus like it’s our own narrow escape from being dragged down, thinking OOH YEAH, BABY: we’ve been bitten by nasty sexy sirens but we won’t be fooled again! Once bitten, twice shy! Who hasn’t been there?
She’s been there. We’re tricked into thinking it’s a song about JR evading the lock-and-hook of groupie girls, but it’s Groupie Girl’s who’s been bitten, Groupie Girl who should be twice shy but Groupie Girl who goes there, again, with another musician even though she knew better, because sometimes we’re forced into repeating bad decisions, hoping they’ll turn out differently the next time.
Great White got a 1989 Grammy nom for Best Hard Rock Performance, headlining tours with their cover single, releasing five more albums, but in 2000, co-founder Mark Kendall abandoned Great White. The drummer left, the bassist left, and JR was left with one guitarist. Within a year, JR announced he, too, was moving on, and Great White played one final show. But since JR struggled to fill clubs as a solo act, JR rebranded his new band “JR’s Great White,” and tapped Mark Kendall on the shoulder, asking Mark to play some dates with him, just a couple of shows for old times’ sake, buddy.
Like February 20, 2003, at The Station Nightclub in West Warwick, Rhode Island. The marquee outside the club says “Great White” but it’s only JR’s Great White, only promoters trying to shill something attracted audiences, once.
The opening guitar shred of “Desert Moon” rips as the tour manager sets off pyrotechnics, a metal-fucking-move, and JR doesn’t even get to exhort the audience to “shake this town” before the walls are on fire, the ceiling is on fire, the illegal soundproofing foam padding is on fire and the nightclub goes dark, black dark, metal-fucking-dark and carbon monoxide gas gets breathed in once, twice, three times before the audience stops scrambling towards the front door, falls to the floor, unconscious, suffocated. 462 people in the nightclub and 100 people die, another 200+ are burned, trampled, toxic, but they escape, alive.
There’s a documentary about the Station fire, called “The Guest List,” due out later this year. JR is on the left side of the promo poster, looking like he’s in the middle of explaining why people have the story all wrong; there is what must be a fire survivor on the right, one eye missing, nose misshapen, eyelashless and staring up at the viewer, lips pressed closed because he doesn’t need to say a goddamn thing; the story tells itself.
And then oddly, strangely, a tattooed arm dividing the two, rain falling from an Anjelica Huston-lookalike towards a fist holding an unidentifiable tool, then the gravestones in the snow, marked with the tread of footprints of those who’ve returned, again and again.
The filmmaker promises “No one who watches The Guest List will enter a concert venue again without first checking for the exits.”
The tour manager and the owners of the nightclub went to prison, JR paid out a million dollars to the survivors, and JR’s Great White resumed touring, shutting down in 2005 so JR could go to rehab.
But the cat came back, and JR resurrected the original Great White in 2006. JR swore he could never play “Desert Moon” again, but by 2009, Great White was including it on the set list.
Great White Version 2.0 played together for four years and even released another album, but in December 2011, JR left Great White for the second time to revive “JR’s Great White” and the rest of the band was like BRO, BRO, BRO: once bitten, twice shy. Great White made JR lease the name from them, and the rest of the original band reverted to being Great White vs. “JR’s Great White,” the two bands essentially competing for the same hair-metal-reunion-concert slots, playing the same hits.
We can see JR’s Great White at the Brainerd, MN International Raceway in June 2018. Or we can see Great White at the Coleman Veterans Memorial Park in Coleman, Michigan, about 45min northwest of Saginaw, over Memorial Day.
JR’s moved on, man. JR believes in reinvention, JR doesn’t let one mistake—it wasn’t even his mistake but “if it makes it easier for them to grieve the loss of somebody close to them, then my shoulders are big enough,"—damn his life, telling an interviewer this past September, “I hope that people can listen to my story and either not make the same mistakes, or realize that if they do that you can always turn yourself around. You can always say, 'You know what? This isn't the path I wanted to be on,' and you can change that path.”
But Mark Kendall is still scrabbling to escape the plague of JR’s Great White, swearing to TMZ in 2016 that it wasn’t Great White, it was JR’s Great White playing the night of the fire. Why can’t anyone tell the difference?
Maybe because we’ve been bitten. Maybe because we’re constitutionally incapable of being twice shy. Maybe because we’ve all been there and we all reject the vow we used to chant; we get bitten and we always go back for more, hoping that this time we’ll be able to adjust the story. We want to reinvent, we want to reframe, we want a do-over, we want to erase.
To talk about Great White is to talk about the fire; to talk about Great White is to talk about taking chances, again and again. Without their re-recording of “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” Great White might have sunk back into the ocean. Without the band allowing the groupie girl onto their bus, she might have never learned how a woman should feel.
But groupie girls grew up and groupie girls punched their victimizers all the way to the courtroom. We shoved in tampons and we dove back into the shark-infested water believing, like Dubya, we could twist the proverb: if you fool me once, shame on you, fool me…you can’t get fooled again.
A burnt child dreads the fire, but we strike the match anyway.
 An Olde-English maxim recorded in The Proverbs of Hendyng, 13th-century: A burnt child dreads the fire
Kristine Langley Mahler lives on the suburban prairie of Nebraska. She is completing a grant-funded project about immigration/inhabitation on native land, an erasure series on Seventeen's advice to teen girls, and a graduate degree in nonfiction. Her work has been recently published/is forthcoming in New Delta Review, Quarter After Eight, Barrelhouse, and CHEAP POP, where she shreds her memories to ribbons before reassembling them.
will slattery on zebra's "tell me what you want"
Yes, we’re going to talk about the obvious elephant in the room—what the hell is going on in that video? There’s a lady in stripes and some Saran wrap? And a door flying down a hallway? And a water faucet in a mannequin’s head?—but before that I feel it only appropriate to offer a brief gloss on Zebra, perhaps one of the less hair metal-y hair metal bands in this fine tournament. This trio was relatively far removed from the West Coast scene that gave us Dokken, Mötley Crüe, and all those others swaggering, Sunset Strip-playing bros. Zebra, consisting of frontman Randy Jackson, bassist Felix Hanemann, and drummer Guy Gelso (a line-up which has not changed to this day), got their start as a New Orleans-based cover band in the 70s. They mostly covered Zeppelin, but also some Pink Floyd & some Jethro Tull (influences more immediately visible in their other work than in “Tell Me What You Want”; with a little bit of squinting, one can see their broader oeuvre intersecting with musical ley lines which white guys commenting on the internet might describe with some savor as technically proficient or prog-adjacent). Zebra eventually made their way out East, enmeshing themselves in the Long Island club circuit and securing a contract with Atlantic. Their debut album hit #29 on the Billboard 200, though none of their subsequent albums garnered much attention, and they eventually settled into a familiar cycle: occasional club play, solo projects, and quiet hiatus + reunion album.
“Tell Me What You Want” hits many of the right marks for a hair metal song—it’s catchy, loud, a little bombastic, and features some nice falsetto-y howling throughout—though Zebra are interestingly devoid much of the sneer, the swagger, the snarl, the stadium-conquering strut we usually associate with the genre. Just take a look at the video, or at the cover photo for their first album—they’ve got the hair quota met for sure, especially given how Randy Jackson’s brown locks are all a-flowing like a silty river in flood season, but they lack most of the aesthetically pyrotechnical accoutrements that would later lead 90s grunge kids to roll their eyes at an entire decade: no metal studs, no bedazzling, no dye jobs, no heavy eye makeup, no skin-tight leather, no lace, no frills, nothing that could be mistaken for an ill-conceived pirate costume, no silver jewelry, no boots with massive heels, none of those overtly glittery markers of glam machismo with which other hair metal acts sought to mark their status as fuck-yeah-and-fuck-you conquistadors of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. It would be deeply duplicitous to describe Zebra as restrained in an absolute sense (they displayed more sartorial bombast on other occasions, and, well, just look at that video, chock full of trippy mannequin props and dramatic psychosexual mood lighting), but they occupy a position of relative restraint in this, the genre that gave us “Cherry Pie”.
Our tournament contender today occupies a place of longing, frustration, and desire. The speaker is alone and unhappy, and wants their beloved to return to them, and so they implore the object of their affection to “tell me what you want”, thus making reunion possible. Lyrically, this is not a complicated song. The lines are short, clear, and the rhyme scheme unambiguous: “I have given you all / all that I had / but with a slam of the door/ you’ve driven me mad / now I’m sad.” The chorus consists only of the phrase “tell me what you want”, repeated over and over. The lyrics are really just an emotive conduit for Jackson’s vocals—when it comes to the higher range stuff, he’s one of the more skillful singers in this tournament, and he achieves an honest, legitimate sense of vulnerability in this song. I will admit here that I doubt that Zebra will go far in this tournament (they are too peripheral, too outside the major tropes of the genre to advance deep into the bracket), though if you are still undecided, dear reader, you might consider Jackson’s vocal chops as a reason to give Zebra the nod.
The other reason one might throw their banner behind “Tell Me What You Want” is, of course, this obviously low budget, freaky-trippy-what-the-hell music video. In short: the band, clad in all-black, lip sync the song on a soundstage, beset by all manner of vaguely psychosexual images some might call try-hard, while a conventionally attractive woman in a stripped skinsuit writhes about. I have no coherent reading of this video as a whole (nor do I think such a reading is possible), but I will attempt now to offer a brief, annotated catalog of the major moments and their possible significance.
- Our singer approaches his seated friend The Male Mannequin, whose head promptly falls to the floor [a straightforward, literal enactment of the frustration and sadness expressed by the opening lyrics].
- Our singer removes his sunglasses, which fly towards the viewer; The Woman appears, shrouded in mist [an introduction which casts the object of desire as mysterious & sphinx-like, and which maybe(?) wants to do some kind of underworld Orphic typology].
- Red doors slam themselves shut; The Woman writhes; The Woman whispers to The Male Mannequin; The Male Mannequin cries a single fluorescent blue tear [this indicates that there is a distinct Sadness afoot in the world of this song].
- The Woman continues to writhe, this time in a manner more overtly lustful, while our singer croons in frustrated longing from behind bars [look: the 80s were the 80s, and this is probably the most 80s-esque of music genres; misogyny and sexual objectification loom large, perhaps unavoidably so].
- Water pours forth from a faucet placed in the forehead of a flesh-colored Dummy [perhaps this suggests that whatever is held in the male mental reservoir is poured forth or wasted when love is lost?].
- The Woman appears now behind bars and cries a single fluorescent blue tear [a reversal or inversion of subject position: perhaps the manifestly carnal but cruelly aloof sphinx our singer so desires has her own hidden sadness? Also: we are now, after all this, only 1 minute into the video].
- The Woman strikes several triumphant poses with the decapitated head of The Male Mannequin [a straightforward use of the femme fatale or black widow trope; to (heterosexually) love a woman is to risk death and dismemberment].
- The Woman appears now in a gigantic form, startling the musicians [an extension of the above trope, though perhaps one which grants a little more agency to her].
- A red door appears in the face of The Male Mannequin; a red door blasts down the hallway towards the viewer; The Woman continues to cry her single blue tear; a plastic Spider crawls along The Woman’s body; The Woman holds the Spider into her hand and screams into its face; The Male Mannequin continues to cry his single blue tear [I have no idea what to make of any of this, although I am tempted to guess that somebody involved was either really high or really into some kind of pseudo-Jungian something or other].
- The Woman appears lays flat on a red door, perfectly still, mummified in plastic wrap [a cursory, ill-fated Google search has led me to the knowledge that this behavior may be related to a sexual fetish, though I do not quite believe that to be the case here—make of this moment what you will, dear reader].
- The Woman mummified on the door is revealed to be alive; The Woman dancing with our singer is revealed to be The Female Mannequin; The Woman again poses triumphantly with the decapitated head of The Male Mannequin [although the video is rife with objectification, there can be no question where power truly lies in this psychosexual dream world].
- A clock appears in the forehead of The Male Mannequin; a door appears in the forehead of The Male Mannequin; the face of the Female Mannequin is refracted in mirror-like surfaces; our singer clutches the door upon which The Woman was once mummified as he pours out his frustrated desire; The Woman appears mummified upon the door once more; The Woman repeatedly appears and disappears from the door, each time mummified anew; The Woman writhes in front of the nonplussed drummer; The Woman whispers again to The Male Mannequin; The Male Mannequin cries a tear of a slightly darker blue; our singer clutches his hair in Orphic anguish at his lost love [see notes to item 9].
- The Woman gestures seductively at the viewer from behind bars [see who gets the last word?].
This might not add up to all that much more than a variation on the well-established 80s video vixen concept, but I’ve come to respect the gusto with which this project tries to accomplish its own aesthetic aims. “Tell Me What You Want” is a little more pyscho-something trippy, a little less glammy, a little more anguished, a little less full of cock rock bullshit than the other contenders in this tournament. But it still nails maybe the only truly fundamental characteristic of hair metal: it full-throatedly embraces its own excess.
Will Slattery is an essayist and teacher who lives in Tucson, Arizona. He currently serves as the managing editor for Essay Daily. He would like to thank his 9th Grade English students at BTN for tolerating the many, many times he played this song in class over the past 3 months. He can be reached easily on Twitter: @wjaslattery.