first round game
(3) whitesnake, "here i go again"
(14) krokus, "eat the rich"
& whitesnake moves 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 3/5.
On Knowing What it Means: "here i go again" in five licks by lisa wells
That it is not a great song is perhaps the first observation. It is not a great song and yet, it seems inevitable. Could you imagine our world without it? We would be poorer. Certainly there is no shortage of material appropriate to the task of pushing the Honda’s pedal to the metal, a wounded but determined look in your eye, driving away from wherever you’ve been: the Willow Creek Apartment complex, say, on 185th and Baseline, in the year 1991, a we-will-rock-you 4x4 time pulsing you into the unknown, on your own again—but little of that material inflects so insistently in a whammied minor key, and no other provides the afterimage of Tawny Kitaen draped in a gauzy white gown, seriously splayed atop the hoods of not one, but two Jaguar XJs, before the artificial fog takes her over, (her moves born of the director’s injunction to “jazz”). Ghost woman, dream woman… the hauntress.
I don’t mean it as a put-down, for it is this selfsame not-greatness that frees the song to become something else: an anthem, a bar-and-grill jukebox rebuke to the ex who’s wandered in on another’s arm. If a great song seems to speak directly to you, an individual, to take you subtly by the hand and lead you through its controlling metaphor, then this song is one of those guys working the tarmac in a neon parka, waving his glow sticks in the dark. Clear orientation is a requisite of mass appeal, how to feel now, and now, and now? More important even than an infectious hook.
“Here I Go Again,” the singer reflects in 1998: “I’ve met so many people who’ve said to me that song came to them at the right time in their lives when they identified with it so much it gave them strength to go on.” He’s quoting himself, anointing himself; the song beseeches the Lord for such strength, a sudden burst of soul so deeply felt it seems to have been thrown into his body from afar. He is at a crossroads, a fork in the yellow wood. For ten long seconds he weighs two paths the song might take, one to soulful expression, one to profitable schlock. Lord Coverdale, waste ye no more time. The hook drops like a guillotine, severing pathos from the sheer, super-burnished wall of sound. His hair grows bigger. The hobo becomes the drifter.
Road trips in the Honda CRX with mother, ages 8 through 11. My implicit consent to any cassette she might visit upon the deck. “Roadies” Volumes I and II. “Return of the Roadies” and, let us not forget, “Revenge of the Roadies.” Compilations that favored the 10-minute ballad-medley, rock songs with “movements.” Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”; Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”; “Bohemian Rhapsody,” naturally—all consonant with her love of Broadway musicals. She’d been a thespian in adolescence; she loved Pippen and Unsinkable Molly Brown. You don’t usually hear them compared but they’re overlapping aesthetics. Ditto, I suppose, her love of Meat Loaf's “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” a high school musical review as styled by Sam Kinison. These sides could uplift as surely as they rendered wistful. Moodier drives were scored by Survivor’s “The Search is Over,” Journey’s “Faithfully.” I’m certain whole divisions of RCA have made payroll exploiting the potent nostalgia of the working class Midwesterner, a nostalgia that set in instantaneously between high school graduation and the first shitty j-o-b.
Once I reached an age of dissent we compromised to alternate selections. Because my mother liked beautiful singing voices, I gravitated toward grunge and punk. If the production value was garbage and the vocals were scorched earth, all the better. By high school, our tastes dovetailed on certain of these artists—bands like Journey and Whitesnake were novelty in my circle. She listened in earnest, I listened as an ironist. My ability to lip-sync along and air-guitar the solos for my stoned friends turned out to be a good party trick.
It happens that my father is a heavy metal drummer, but once upon a time (1980) he played in a top-40 cover band called Night Castle:
My mother was their singer. She reports that on the afternoon of her audition, she watched my father descend a stair, shirtless, in nothing but a pair of bib overalls, and it was in that moment she knew he was the one. Later, divorced and bankrupt, the ultimate meaning of this meeting was revised, was “meant to be,” so that yours truly could be born—in 1982, same year the first iteration of “Here I Go Again” was scored in vinyl. I don’t believe in coincidence.
Whitesnake might be British in origin, but theirs is a quintessentially American story. And no detail of their story is more American than the fact that there is no band. There was, once, a rag tag assembly of actual musicians, aging men with beer bellies and acne scars; a keyboardist dressed in aviators and scarves with a brushy black moustache seemingly affixed to his lip with glue. He’s going as “coke dealer” for Halloween.
Then the “band” is composed of hired actors, their long hair has body, and their bodies have no hair at all.
Then the band is fully one decade younger, in excellent cardiovascular health; backlit castrati with golden curls that leap and fornicate sweetly with their double-necked guitars.
Whoever they are, were, they’re history now. Pink-slipped.
Through these phantom configurations, one persona remains constant: David Coverdale—though even he undergoes transformation worthy of a split screen. In the before video, he is brunette, pale in mom jeans, his sluggish, uninspired slide down the mic-stand reminiscent of a bored pole-dancer. In the before, he is somber, cast in blue light, cheesy keys masquerade as a single organ, and disco harmonies issue from the mouths of his disheveled doowop boys. It’s difficult to imagine anyone getting revved by the 1982 urtext. There is a gesturing toward sex that doesn’t believe its own performance, a pantomime, playing at “rock star” in some suburban garage. Not at all the tight, streamlined little engine that is the 1987 video.
In the after he is blonde, tanned, tailored, his full mouth at maximum pout. In the after, he stares and smolders, his gestures are precise. Tawny Kitaen strokes his leg, fingers his flowing locks, and never mind the asynchronous narratives, a protagonist for whom “on his own” means in the company of a beautiful former gymnast with a smile like a toothpaste model. This is America, bummer-trips don’t pay, and Coverdale is 100% self-made American. The man drives his prized white Jag with his head tipped back, maw gaped wide as a Pez dispenser, reckless, readied for Tawny’s tonguing. He is an open throated fledgling preparing to receive the mother bird’s allotment of ground detritivore. He’s whatever he wants to be. In America, a man reinvents himself any time he pleases, goes ahead on his own. Woman, inasmuch as she exists, is left with the seven-year credit flag, the maladjusted daughter, his name.
After my father left us for Tami, the beautiful 26-year-old Mary Kay saleswoman, certain of these ballads shifted the Honda’s atmosphere in subtle but troubling ways. Their tendency to inspire wet-eyed gazing, down the lonely street of dreams—the dreams disappearing beneath the wheels of the Honda, like the hours in a life, faster than they could be comprehended. “The Search is Over” was among those most likely to inspire intense grooving. The speaker who, tired of womanizing and wandering, speaks to his long-suffering love, tells her “I took for granted the friend I have in you.”
Now the miles stretch out behind me, loves that I have lost
Broken hearts lie victims of the game
Then good luck, it finally stuck like lightning from the blue
Every highway leading me back to you
The singer voiced her transparent wish to be returned to, to be recognized for the quality person she was, the steadfast friend. This was the most a woman could hope for, to serve as the port in his storm. Or so it seemed to me when I was 13. Now it seems just as likely the friend she was returning to was herself, the girl before she was subsumed in the agenda of the other, her own anima or whatever.
But no tune elicited such meaningful staring as “Here I Go Again,” which might also provoke a tender biting of the lip, a bit of light drumming on the steering wheel, an extra saucy tug on the gear shifter. As a child in the passenger seat, these atmospheric shifts frightened me. As a teen, I was mortified. The inner life she so masterfully concealed was suddenly on display and available to all comers. And underneath that, the deeper embarrassment of watching your parent indulge the same self-mythologizing fantasy life that you do every day, your own melodrama mirrored back, your shared abandonment.
Meanwhile, certain correspondences suggested the existence of a greater meaning. Take, for instance, my father’s young mistress, Tami Cain, whose name bore a homophonic relationship to Tawny Kitaen, (Kitaen in turn, a perfect portmanteau of kitten and cocaine). Tami bore a striking physical likeness to Tawny: tall, substantial women, with big lips and teased-out auburn hair (both Geena Davis clones, slightly more terrestrial). Tawny and her kittenish tumbling, sober, relapsed, sober. Tami, “sober,” at a wedding reception in 1994 riding an inflatable corona bottle and singing along to “Space Cowboy.” Tawny, later arrested for assault and battery after kicking husband number three repeatedly in the face, and later still for possession (cocaine), had a taste for “pretty boys with long hair.” Tami too loved long hair, and instructed my father in the use of box-dye, home permanent, hairdryer, maximum hold Aquanet. A decade after their courtship began, when the recession of his hairline forced his hand, my father cut it off. She was gone within the year.
Samson was betrayed. Lord Coverdale’s hair only increased. As he told an interviewer in 2001, “I take care of this mane the same as the rest of me. I’m thrilled to be blessed with it. I’ve been working with my hairdresser so that for this tour it’s going to be the longest it’s been since Reading 1980. It just keeps growing.”
It seems quaint now, but worth noting that a certain bending of gender norms was a characteristic of so-called “hair” bands, with their tight pants and fringed crop tops and huge Permasofted manes. “It got louder and louder,” said Coverdale, “and so did I, to the point now where I have to get dressed up like a ‘girly man’ and tease one’s questionable bangs or hair and it's all becoming a bit...boring.”
In fact, anxiety of these overtones was credited for the change in lyrics between 1982 (like a hobo) and 1987 (like a drifter), his fear of being misheard as singing “homo.” I hadn’t heard the hobo version, but my child-brain converted the radio hit’s Drifter to Twister, a mishearing only lately corrected in the writing of this essay. And I don’t think it’s a half-bad substitution. Hobo was a poor choice to begin with, not on account of some homophobic paranoia, but because its sonic-value is rubber. Drifter is svelte, and this was an improvement. But what wild force traverses this world more determinedly alone than a twister? What better force of nature to metaphorize Coverdale himself, with his one slender leg touching down, keeping time, his form expanding to a flurry at the crown, then disappearing to become something else. Like a twister, born from dust and wind and opposing pressures, I shall shred this earth and to dust return.
So spake the drifter: “Mine was a modest sort of epiphany where I just thought to myself: ‘I’m too old to carry around this anger, this bitterness, and this resentment. It’s excessive emotional baggage that I don’t wanna have.’”
Yeah. Me too.
I realize now, embedded in my embarrassment was fascination. Fascination for the woman I spent most of every day with and knew next to nothing about. The eldest child of a 1950s Father Knows Best nuclear arrangement; a good girl who did as she was told without making a fuss, and strove at every turn to subtract herself from the equation. To be perfect was the goal, and the perfect require nothing, mourn nothing—she kept her wounds to herself. The central message of her life was that she did not matter very much. And in the CRX, in her moment of wounded mattering, I felt myself disappear. There she went again on her own. I could not look away.
I’d been so hungry for a glimpse of her inner life I regularly snooped in her closet while she was at work, becoming intimately familiar with the contents of the cardboard box marked memories. It was there I happened on the first poem that ever touched me, an apostrophe she’d penned herself, addressed to my absent father, ending on the rhetorical lament “Isn’t there anywhere on earth for the three of us?” I was flattered to be considered, to be included in their dyad—the three of us—and relieved to find textual evidence of the pain she refused to speak of, but which was nevertheless articulated in her every gesture. It was proof: something bad happened.
She thought she was on the road alone, but she was not. I was tuned to her every signal, observing with the vigilant intensity of a child the only road I’d ever known. This is the sad and beautiful pact of the parent-child relationship; we are inextricable, for good or ill, and few of us manage to go very far away in the end. When we go, we are never on our own. Not after we’ve moved apart, disowned each other, cut ties. Not after one or the other of us is laid in the ground. We hold on for the rest of our days.
Lisa Wells is a poet and nonfiction writer from Portland, Oregon. Her debut collection of poetry, THE FIX, was selected by Brenda Shaughnessy for the 2017 Iowa Poetry Prize. A new book of nonfiction, Believers, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2019.
eric scott fischl on krokus's "eat the rich"
One of the early regrets of my life was missing Def Leppard’s 1983 Pyromania tour. I tend to mention that loss, apropos of nothing, at infrequent intervals. Well, I’m sorry your aunt just died—I am—but, man, listen: it was Pyromania. In 1983, I lived in Casper, Wyoming, a small, dreary, windblown town soon on its way to petroleum-fueled economic collapse. Concerts, big, epic spectacle concerts, these were few and far between. Casper was more likely to get country and western acts on the intermountain shit-kicker circuit than arena rock. Later, though, I did get to see ZZ Top’s Eliminator tour at the Casper Events Center, which introduced a whole stadium, or at least me, to the new kind of rock and roll laser-light display we’d all be smoking pot to a few years later at planetaria across this great nation of ours. Alas, though, Def Leppard passed me by in 1983.
In doing some initial research for this Krokus essay, I learned three things right away:
First: at the time of the Pyromania tour, I would have been 10 years old. Of course my parents, then—or any responsible, Reagan-admiring parent (and I was, also, taken to see Ronald Reagan at the Natrona County airport in Casper around this same time, not a great trade for Def Leppard as I see it)—wouldn’t have let me go to the concert, even under the ostensible supervision of a friend’s 16-year-old brother. Parenting was, by and large, a more relaxed game in those heady days of the early 80’s, but there were still at least some lines drawn.
I’d always assumed I’d been a little older when Def Leppard came through town, though, a memory of a memory grown fogged with years, but now I know better, and the fires of injustice no longer burn so brightly inside me. Mother, I’m sorry I said those things. But, man, still: it was Pyromania.
Another fact, then: Krokus was one of the opening acts for the Pyromania tour, until they were kicked off the tour for misbehavior. This will prove important.
And item the third: it turns out Krokus was—or is—Swiss in nationality. Maybe everyone knew that already, but this was a strange revelation for me, for reasons that shall become clear.
So. Regarding Switzerland, and Krokus, I learned something else, specific to 1983, the year the Headhunter album came out, which includes the track Eat the Rich. Permit me to quote from entirely factual and accurate news source Wikipedia: "Bassist/keyboardist/percussionist Chris von Rohr was fired in late 1983 due to his extroverted article published in a main Swiss newspaper exposing the band's rock ’n’ roll habits ..." [Italics mine]
Let that sink in for a moment.
Exposing the band’s rock ’n’ roll habits.
Now, I don’t like to lazily stereotype any particular nationality, except when it is convenient or amusing, so I must beg your forgiveness, as I am going to do just that.
A rock band expresses disapproval for being outed for “rock‘n’roll habits”.
I’m sorry, but this seems comically Swiss in temperament. Clocks and chocolate Swiss. Guards with halberds Swiss. I ask you: can you imagine another, non-Swiss, band of the era and genre—say, Crüe, or Van Halen—not just doubling down on said reports of misbehavior? You want to see some habits? That’s the American or British route. I’d like to think that Germans would just be a little too intense about it; Danes, just a shrug and smile. Swiss Krokus, though, at least if one believes Wikipedia (yes, I know), merely frowned in Teutonic disapproval and sent their founding member packing for his loose, undiplomatic tongue. Never mind what the band actually got up to (and recall that they were thrown off the Pyromania tour, which seems at least somewhat impressive, as behavior is measured): Krokus didn’t want it spoken of. In Zurich, gray-suited bankers atop piles of anonymous, secret, ill-gotten gold must have swelled with national pride at that. What happens on tour, or in the vault, stays there.
This brings me at long last to Eat the Rich.
I don’t want to say that the song is spoiled—far from it—now that I know Krokus is Swiss. Nor do I want to tar the tune with that brush … but let’s get to it.
I've been down, I've been beat, I've been tossed into the street
Beggin' nickels, beggin' dimes, just to get my bottle of wine.
So the tune begins. At first, a striding, punchy intro heavy on the snare and guitar, which gets the head bobbing nicely. The lyrics, when they come sauntering in over this, are delivered in a lazy, bluesy, midrange swagger reminiscent of The Cult’s Ian Astbury. But, these first two lines delivered, Marc Storace does a bait and switch, quickly reaching down and changing gears, and we’re kicked vocally up into the high register, a Bon Scott edge-of-falsetto wail:
Some say life she's a lady, kinda soft, kinda shady
I can tell you life is rich, she's no lady, she's a bitch
They suck my body out, but friend there is no doubt
I'm gonna pay the devil his dues, 'cause I'm sick of being abused
Yeah, man, we’re with you! Because you know what? Life is a bitch, isn’t she? We’ve all been there, brother, kicked around when we’re just trying to get ahead. Beat down. I don’t rightly understand what having one’s “body sucked out” constitutes, at least in this context, but I think I get the gist of it. We’re all sick of being abused, am I right?
At this point, your teeth are starting to clench and your knuckles whiten. You’re fired up. That guitar and snare jogging along, the bass thrumming in your guts and Marc’s high whine in your ears, it’s moving you to the natural conclusion:
Eat the rich (the rich!), eat the rich (the rich!), don't you know life is a bitch
Eat the rich (the rich!), eat the rich (the rich!), out of the palace and into the ditch
YEAH, man, eat the rich! Eat ‘em! Those fuckers are…wait, wait. Wait. I’m sorry, you’ve lost me a little, Marc. Work with me here. So, all right, I suppose the connection is implied: if I’m in the street begging nickels and dimes for a bottle of Blauburgunder, it’s because some fat plutocrat—for whom life most decidedly is not a bitch, but some buxom and nubile young lady of easy virtue, perched atop your knee in an apron and puffed sleeves—has put me there. OK, now I get it. Great, I’m with you, good, good. So yeah, man, let’s rise up! It’s a revolution, the forces of history are primed. But, wait, I’m sorry, again, I really am, it’s just that I have a hard time with the idea of Swiss revolutionaries, Marc. At least after the Sonderbundskrieg of 1847, your month-long civil war in which not quite 100 people died, and those mostly from accidents of friendly fire. After that, everything was peachy again, wasn’t it. You remember the Sonderbundskrieg, Marc? Rest of Krokus? No? No one? Oh, that’s right, you people live in a stable, prosperous democracy, and have done so for donkey’s years.
So I have to be honest, now: the first time I heard Eat the Rich again, after the serpent of the Internet tempted me to take a bite of that apple of Helvetic knowledge, the entire context of the tune was changed. Oh, I was still fired up; the music put a burning in my belly. Honest. I really wanted to eat the rich, right there at the first chorus, and yet I worried that I was being played, that I had been played all those years.
Because maybe Krokus wasn’t entirely sincere about class warfare; maybe their commitment to dialectical materialism was, at best, thin. And, you know what? Headhunter went gold, and made a boat-load of money. So those guys were The Rich, at least in 1983, or before the debts caught up. Plus, they were Swiss, so you know they were avoiding taxes.
But who gives a shit about any of that?
Because you’re goddamn right you’re bopping your head just a few seconds into the Eat the Rich, making fists and punching the air at the chorus. Each subsequent verse and chorus ratchets the tension up, and then you’re into a tasty instrumental section, the strings trading fours, licks back and forth, snare cracking along up front in the mix, and now we’re into the guitar solo, bang, right on up high, and you’re rocking along with it.
That neck of yours is getting sore from the exercise and, by the time we’re back into the chorus to the outro you want to grab the rich by their thick suety overfed throats, gnaw their bones down into bite-size pieces because YEAH, MAN, fuck them, you just wanted that bottle of wine, you’re tired of their fat-cat bullshit. No more. You’re angry, but it’s the good kind of anger that feels like fun, warm and electric, the kind that you makes you think you can run a four-minute mile, or climb Everest, or charm the most beautiful girl in the bar. Or you would, if THE MAN wasn’t keeping you down.
But still, you’re banging. Eat the rich (the rich!), eat the rich (the rich!) … you’re pumping along on the two and four and you’re going to make some changes in this world. You are. You’re going to seize the means of production and produce some goddamn justice, that’s what you’re going to do, Chuck.
That’s the power of rock and roll.
But, finally, alas, four minutes or so in, you’re wearing out. Your throat hurts, you’re a little wheezy in the lungs. That old tennis injury is making your elbow ache, and the seats in the minivan aren’t the greatest for lumbar support, just let that be said. The fire that burns brightest burns the shortest, after all, and Katie has an appointment at the orthodontist you have to get her to.
Any longer, then, and you just wouldn’t be able keep up, your dialectical fury betrayed by the vagaries of your mortal body. But just at the right time, just then, Eat the Rich brings it all to a close, giving you the out.
There’s one more chorus, the last line repeated, and then a long pause for breath. You exhale, spent, thinking that’s it, but then Marc comes back, wailing slow and final, a plangent lament:
They suck my body oooouuuuut
Which, c’mon, I still don’t fucking understand.
Eric Scott Fischl is the author of the speculative historical novels Dr. Potter's Medicine Show and The Trials of Solomon Parker. An aspiring recluse, he lives in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains, where he cultivates mystique.