first round game
(3) ratt, "round and round"
(14) blue murder, "valley of the kings"
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 3/8.
brian oliu on ratt's "round and round"
The secret is that “Round and Round” is a testament to the world—a lens blurred by whatever mist is left over by hair spray and fog machines; each choreographed chunk of a guitar riff a proclamation of loudness; that this, somehow, is our true self.
The secret is that the band name was a bad pun on “Mickey Mouse”—what if the cupcake sheen of Southern California hid the true rodent; that everything was much more sinister than it seemed. How we think nothing of a mouse, yet everything of a rat—their elongated bodies, the gaps in their teeth.
The secret is that the popularity of Out of the Cellar is accredited to combining the large sweeping riffs of early glam metal, with the more technical staccato picking style found in 1970s prog and British rock.
The secret is that as a child, my parents found a rat underneath my crib—a story they did not tell me until I was much older, and something that I am eternally thankful for. Of how this story was told after me, as a melodramatic teenager, was upset at the sight of a field mouse scurrying across the tile floor before disappearing into a coffee mug. Things could be worse, my parents told me, and this was true: the ratio of body to fur is important when thinking about rodents.
The secret is that, yes, it is Tawny Kitaen on the cover of Out of the Cellar, crawling toward a back alley crawlspace covered in fog and smoke. Kitaen was the high school girlfriend of guitarist Robbin Crosby, dying her bleach blonde hair bright red for the shoot, because Crosby preferred brunettes.
The secret is that I never listened to hair metal when I was younger—at least not on my own. I grew up on a steady diet of Motown’s Greatest Hits, pop country, and the soundtrack to The Big Chill—the same rotation found in the tape deck of my mother’s Volvo; the one with the torn ceiling and the chunk of foam missing from the passenger-side front seat. My mother had a love for Van Halen—the vastly underrated Sammy Hagar years, and would play “Love Comes Walking In” on repeat on those mornings where I would purposely miss the bus because I couldn’t bear the name calling as I tried to find an empty seat for my body and backpack, both stretched to their limits.
The secret is that my familiarity with “Round and Round” comes mostly from those Hair Metal Compilation commercials that would play ad nauseam during late night cable television binges. Each song would only get about three seconds of air time, typically choosing to highlight the chorus of these iconic hits and quite often choosing the moment of the song where the title was sung for maximum effect. Here I go again on my own. Every rose has it’s thorn. Round and Round. With love we’ll find a way just give it time.
The secret is that everyone in the video is a fan: the butler, when setting the table, reveals a metal studded bracelet. No one is disgusted when, instead of what presumes to be a dinner roast, is revealed as a swirl of rats under a metal serving plate. The noise from the attic is welcomed—it is not interrupting anything.
The secret is in the house I grew up in, there was a tiny crawlspace where I would hide. I wouldn’t dare go too far, because my mother told me that the insulation would make me itch. One time, I got to close, and it brushed up against my arm—I was worried that the itch would be so bad that I’d want to scratch off my own skin, but the sensation never came.
The secret is that the song appears to be multiple songs at once: a story that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Sonically, this is a theme in most hair metal songs: there is always room for a guitar solo that doesn’t quite match the rest of the song—an extended break where the audience is treated to a self-aware aside where it is the guitarist’s time to shine.
The secret is that I too feel this way about writing—that it is impossible for me to craft something without telling my own truth; that somehow, some way, I will get my solo, even if it doesn’t adhere to the story.
The secret is that the cover features Kitaen on her hands and knees returning to the cellar, rather than away—as if this is a return of sorts; she has seen the real world and wishes to go back underground, through the dense fog toward something known, rather than being amongst the unfamiliar.
The secret is Stephen Pearcy, the lead singer of Ratt, wanted to be a top fuel race car driver and had no interest in music. When Pearcy was eleven, Pearcy was the victim of a hit and run accident while on his bicycle and was laid up in a hospital for six months. During that time, a friend brought him an acoustic guitar.
The secret is that ideally, everything should be compartmentalized. Crosby later played with Bon Jovi. DeMartini played with Whitesnake. Pearcy formed a band with the drummer from Cinderella. The spinning model in the video is known best for playing Dirty Diana. Tawny Kitaen is known as the woman in the Whitesnake videos, not the cover model for Out of the Cellar.
The secret is that no one is really surprised when Warren DeMartini comes crashing through the ceiling and lands on the dinner table—it’s as if they knew that this was inevitable; that the floor would give out in the middle of the dinner party.
The secret is that when I was eleven years old, I wanted to be a lot of things too: a musician, a chef, a writer. While a friend and I were waiting in my mother’s Volvo while she returned a book to the library, my friend pulled the emergency break, and the car started to roll down the slope of the parking lot. Panicked, I jumped out of the backseat of the car, only to have the front tire of the car roll over my ankle. I did not go to the hospital for six months. I did not pick up a guitar for the first time. I don’t know why I’m telling you these things.
The secret, of course, is that Milton Berle plays two parts in the video: the head of household and the wife.
The secret is that Milton Berle agreed to be in the video at the request of his nephew Marshall, who was Ratt’s manager at the time. Berle’s characters are the first to leave the scene of the video due to the loud music because family favors don’t extend to full-day shoots.
The secret is that we are perpetually in the attic, waiting to be heard.
The secret is that the debutant, the one with the long gloves, the one with the pearls, is secretly a lover of RATT—she hears the double guitars and feels drawn to the attic, slowly climbing up the stairs in hopes that the door remains open for her.
The secret is that Robbin Crosby, the writer of “Round and Round”, had a pancreatic condition that caused him to balloon up to over 400 lbs. “It’s not like I am a pig or a slob,” Crosby said in an interview just before his death in 2002.
The secret is that I wanted to leave the theatre during The Witches, when Anjelica Houston’s character turns Luke into a rat—how he gasps when his face begins to elongate and his body starts to shrink into nothing. Instead, I stayed, not wanting to be chided by my friends—of how the fat kid got what he deserved, just like in the film—how dare we feel too much.
The secret is that I too weighed close to 400 lbs, but it’s not like I am a pig or a slob.
The secret is that we find meaning in everything that we see: that our lives are circular, cyclical.
The secret is at a recent fundraiser in town, a woman was dancing along to the sounds of the cobbled together cover band. The woman was by herself and moved in a way that can only be described as “kind of ridiculous”. And yet the dance looked so familiar—not necessarily in that the woman was emulating something, but in the fact that it struck a chord somewhere in the same way that memory is circular. I had seen the dance before—it wasn’t until much later that I realized it was the dance of the woman in the “Round and Round” video: the odd tight spins, the long arms not knowing what to do with themselves.
The secret is that the model in the "Round and Round" video is dead too.
The secret is that the lyrics seem to be two concepts spliced together. If you were to hear only the chorus, it is a love song—about how through everything love perseveres, if we give it time. That love, and therefore a happy ending, is always inevitable. And yet when you listen to the verses, it is a song of revenge: of abusing ourselves, of putting those who oppose who we are on “your shelf”. The pessimism is apparent: that everything is the same, so it’s no use fighting anything anymore.
The secret is that there are multiple Ratts: Ratt featuring Stephen Pearcy, Ratt, Bobby Blotzer’s Ratt Experience, Dirty Rats, Rat Bastards. Somehow the true Ratt exists between all of these variations; if you were to spin the gyroscope in such a way to meld all of the parts together, you could find a way to assemble something that resembles a whole.
The secret is that upon re-watching the video, I was waiting for the debutant to turn into a rat—how low she gets to the ground, how it appears as if she is molting out of her skin.
The secret is that I am trying to find myself in these songs: of how when my mother’s new car came with a six-CD changer, I burned her a mix of her favorite hair metal songs: of how when I was looking to fill out the 90 minutes, I included “Round and Round” solely because of that hair metal compilation commercial—that in hopes a sum of parts can somehow become whole.
The secret is that in admitting things you believe to be secrets, you find yourself confessing things of little consequence in the grand scheme of things: secrets, when out of context, get lost in the drywall. There is no shedding of gloves, of kicking through a dress, of smearing of makeup to transform yourself into something truer than what you have been.
The secret is the neon light is always on us; tonight and all nights.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives and
teaches in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two chapbooks and
four full-length collections, most recently the lyric-memoir i/o
(Civil Coping Mechanisms), and Enter Your Initials For Record Keeping
(Cobalt Press), a collection of essays on NBA Jam. Recent essays on
topics ranging from long distance running to professional wrestling
appear in The Collagist, Catapult, The Rumpus, Runner's World, and
jim warner on blue murder's "valley of the kings"
A good China cymbal has a harsh, punctuating splash to its sound.
They are born of alloys and impure metals, mounted upside down, and no two sound alike. Hand hammered and inexpensive, they are seen as an accent piece to a drum kit. Drummers and cymbals are as superstitious and ritualistic as ballplayers and their bats. Case in point: as a teenage drummer, I received a bit of unsolicited advice from a salesperson at a Robert M. Sides Family Music Center: “Bury your 20 inch Zildjian in your backyard for a month. That’ll help give the cymbal an earthy tone to your crash/ride.” I never could convince my dad to let me plant a $250 copper seed in his neglected garden, but in the oft moments I think about drums and drumming, I dream of the one that got away, a 17” Carmine Appice Signature Series China cymbal.
Carmine Appice, stick twirling pisan with the fu-manchu provided the thump and verve for a few bands which would only in the High Fidelity light of day get their due: Vanilla Fudge, Cactus, but there are few songs which carry his stamp like “Valley of the Kings” by Blue Murder. With a DNA tracing back to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” the seven-plus minute centerpiece of Blue Murder’s self-titled LP is the definition of epic. Swelling synth-strings, wailing wall vocals, and John Sykes’ six string pyro all paced by the swaggering bombast of Appice’s drums. The toms, wet with ’80s reverb, herald the coming of a sideman supergroup, ready to be greater than the sum of its power trio parts.
form a nest in his stomach
You know that a brass plaque and a granite base is out of your price range in 1989, so you settle on a granite gravemaker and carving a cabin scene into its face. The head stone’s edges are imperfect, rough hewn straight from a quarry probably not too far from Hazelton, PA. The funeral plot is a table set for two, with one partner waiting without patience or plan. The sod and straw is stark contrast to the rapidly freezing earth around the grave. Halloween is days away but winter is already here, you feel it in your belly. The neighbors send yet another tray of pastries. They go stale in their cardboard box.
rows of amplifiers
hum with anticipation
Phil Lynott is dead and buried in Ireland a good three years before Blue Murder’s video for “Valley of the Kings” makes medium rotation on MTV. At the time of his death, the press release calls it a heart attack. John Sykes, plucked from metal obscurity a few years earlier, knows better. Phil Lynott needed a new guitarist to help complete the latest (and last) Thin Lizzy LP, Thunder and Lightning, and by 1983, John Sykes’ first band Tygers of Pan Tang was already a casualty of the press-labeled New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). He had tried out for Ozzy and Dio, losing out to other six-slingers, but when Phil Lynott calls, Sykes took his 1970 Les Paul straight into the studio and Thin Lizzy’s subsequent farewell tour. There’s talk of a new solo project for Lynott, with John Sykes set to be in tow. But there’s heroin. Between shows. Between toes. Between potential and reality. Phil Lynott became a slender shadow and not long for the world. He gave John Sykes his blessing to join Whitesnake and returned to Dublin. As Sykes is working with David Coverdale on Whitesnake’s own Zeppelin-sized rocker (“In the Still of the Night”), Phil Lynott died with his mother at his side, a hard living receipt paid in full.
hard coal pouring whiskey over roses
It wasn’t a deathbed promise, but you always wanted to be an American citizen and with your father-in-law’s passing, it gave you inspiration to begin the naturalization process. Learning American history was easier than learning how to drive; your son was old enough to sit with you for hours if needed to learn and listen. He wasn’t the best teacher, but his school books were. Social studies classes taught while he slept, a textbook slid out and back in to his backpack between doing dishes and making his lunch for school the next day. You thought about the empty space on the courthouse bench where LeRoy “Fat” Warner would’ve sat and smiled as you took your oath of naturalization, blush rising from his cheeks and filling his bald scalp. You willingly traded the three stars and the sun of the Filipino flag for the red, white, and blue. Your husband wore his navy ball cap, removed it for the Pledge of Allegiance.
stone on stone
a valley with echo
Blue Murder comes together shortly after John Sykes gets fired from Whitesnake in 1986. As Sykes co-wrote nearly all the songs on Whitesnake’s breakthrough LP, he is quickly snatched up by Geffen Records and set on the path to MTV stardom. The machine begins to work behind him. The power trio configuration gets filled out by veteran bass player Tony Franklin (from the recently dissolved Jimmy Page project The Firm) and the aforementioned Carmine Appice on drums. “Valley of the Kings” is an interesting call for a single: it’s nearly eight minutes long and is as much a showcase for Appice’s drumming as it is Sykes vocals and guitar.
Usually the term supergroup is reserved for all star outings. When Cream continued the critical coronation of Eric Clapton as God, the band’s pedigree had a lustre to it: The Yardbirds, John Mayall and the BluesBreakers, the Graham Bond Organization. From these foundations, Cream’s quartet of records set the standard for not only supergroup but power trio. Only in the acrimony of the band’s break up did ego truly emerge. Only in revisionist history did Cream become more about Clapton than Baker and Bruce.
Much like Cream, Blue Murder is as much about the songs as it was the virtuosity. Ripe with Egyptian allusions and cascading harmonies, “Valley of the Kings” takes the Zeppelin blueprint put forth in “Kashmir” (sprawling song length, exotic locale and myth, accents of foreign instruments) and gives it bombastic production values, tailor made for compact disc. In between sessions for Bon Jovi’s New Jersey and The Cult’s Sonic Temple, producer Bob Rock pushes the drums into the front of the mix. The pound and propulsion in each drum fill carries with it a drama and awe fit for a Pharaoh's ambition, or at least a band’s desire for platinum albums and sold out arenas.
detach at the wrist
You left your father and the Philippines in 1971, flying from Manila to Northeastern Pennsylvania. You met your in-laws and winter weather while your husband finished out his naval service in Virginia. You wouldn’t return to Culassi for another thirty-six years. Your father died in 1986. You and Jim sent money home to build a crypt. A third world tomb resting near the rice paddies and sugar cane and the Sulu Sea. When you finally come home to Antique, Culasi you have trouble sleeping in your sister’s house. The concrete is smooth and shows the handiwork of your artisan cousins. Your son snores and turns in his molave bed. It’s a local hardwood usually reserved for shipbuilding. It suits your boy.
When you finally visit your father’s grave, you are stunned by its disrepair. The stone lid is lined with melted candles barely hiding fissures. The wet season has already begun to scrub your father’s name away. The whole of the crypt feels like it's sinking into jungle clearing. Your brothers pass a bottle to themselves. You will send more money home to restore this grave. You will ask for regular photo updates from the tomb. You doubt you’ll ever go back to Culassi.
prevent the flood
One rumor has it that David Coverdale threatened to withhold his follow-up to 1987’s self-titled Whitesnake LP (a multi-platinum juggernaut) for Geffen if they promoted Blue Murder’s debut. By 1989, Geffen had become home to Aerosmith and the then-up-and-coming Guns N’ Roses. Whether the stories are true and Coverdale used his influence to help bury Blue Murder, the facts remain the album became a critical favorite but stalled when it came to actual album sales, peaking at #69 on the Billboard charts. By the time a second LP made it to the record racks in 1993, Appice and Franklin were out of the band due to “creative differences,” Nirvana and grunge were in vogue, and John Sykes was already thinking about a solo career. Years later, Sykes squashes rumors of reuniting with Appice and Franklin, saying frankly that he is/was the only one signed by the label as Blue Murder . His current live set includes songs from Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake.
turns to ash
I ask my mom about Fat’s funeral. I remember or misremember aunts and uncles saying I look like my grandfather. Fat was a slender rail of a man, cancer quietly eating away at him the entirety of my life. When I tell my mom this memory, she looks at me and says that I don’t look like Fat or her father who was as equally rail thin. I think about the drum kit I sold for rent money when I was in my twenties but I can only remember the 17” Carmine Appice Signature Series China. I can almost hear it, long after I’ve stopped listening to Blue Murder. Its imperfect punctuation with a brief decay fills my living room.
Jim Warner was fired over the phone from his high school band Tangled Web. His latest collection of poetry Actual Miles was released this year from Sundress Publications. Jim is the host of the literary podcast Citizen Lit and is a faculty member of Arcadia University's MFA program. He lives in Philadelphia with wife Aubrie Cox.