(13) loudness, "crazy nights"
(5) scorpions, "rock you like a hurricane"
and play on in the sweet 16
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 3/14.
pubes: matt fredrickson on scorpions' "rock you like a hurricane
Pubes • Ages 10-13
I don’t precisely remember the first time I noticed my pubic hair. I have a picture in my mind of what it looked like, but for all I know that image is actually a best friend showing me his freshly acquired patch. Likewise, I don’t remember the first time I heard Rock You Like a Hurricane by Scorpions. What I do know is the emotional memory of both firsts is the same: Holy shit what the fuck is this?! The electricity of seeing your genital hair take form; the raw energy of epic guitar distortion.
Growing up in the 80s, we didn’t have internet porn to molest our young minds at the click of a mouse or tap of a screen. Instead, we found it in nature. No, I don’t mean we watched wildlife documentaries. We, quite literally, found porno magazines in nature. Like, under rocks. In the crook of a tree with Busch beer cans strewn about. A few paces down the hill, in the woods, below that one road that kind of ran by the university. I still marvel at our ability as boys to find it. There was this whole underground knowledge of porn stashes. And it was always the weirdest shit. I’m still haunted by the image of a woman awkwardly squeezing one breast through the mechanical components of a motorcycle. I recall contemplating, in my sweet young mind, that cannot be a good idea...she could burn her boob beyond repair.
We weren’t yet using porn in its intended manner. At least I wasn’t. But, viewing it with friends was certainly formative and important. It was the fuel for a bunch of truly ignorant exploratory discussions of sex. It was one of the main reasons we went outside and got exercise. I see now, though, our camaraderie of bewilderhorny was also a way to shelter against the Rock-You-Like-a-Hurricane of sprouting pubes and girls growing breasts.
Masturbation • Ages 14-19
As I was growing older and learning the self-gratification trade, I came to understand that Rock You Like a Hurricane meant something like Fuck You A Lot Pretty Hard. This added to magic of the song, the glory of rock stars, and left me in wonderment of the lives of German Sex Beasts on Tour.
From the time I started my masturbation career, of course, it would be six years before I would lose my virginity. So, my inspiration was some mix of Spiegel catalogs, woodland porn, and a wholly abstract vision of how being inside a woman might feel. Here, a Scorps solo was a perfect musical analogue to sex in my mind. No foreplay. Forceful, hammer-on pull-off hammer-on pull-off, then meandering, the floodwaters of an exploded dam washing over a community of innocents below. Twelve bars seemed like plenty of time to get the job done and reach maximum exhilaration.
The problem with masturbating is that when you are done, you are not crowned Lord of Heavy Metal and Fucking. You are an awkward teenager with goop on your hand whose family really needs to get into the bathroom already please for the love of god. Meanwhile, Scorpions are somewhere cranking up the Hurricane Machine for another 24 hours of bacchanalia.
So, I learned to play guitar, too. Loud guitar. I started playing in a band. The band moved from Michigan to Louisiana. There are no hurricanes in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Blinded by the Light • Ages 20-23
I lost my virginity the same year my mom hung herself.
Looking back now, it’s very hard to accept that those events happened at the same age. Not so much from a practical standpoint. Obviously, one can lose a family member and have sex in the same year. Still, they seem separate life tracks. Alternate dimensions. Alternate light sources. Chromatic dissonance.
At the very least, my life became a guitar string struck with massive attack. A hard vibration sending an excited and distorted waveform into the amplifier of my budding union with alcohol.
In the crests of the signal, I am having sex for the first time, and she is four years older. More importantly, she is ten older in sex years. She lets me play guitar while she rides on top of me. In fact she demands it. I am rocking like a tropical depression, at least.
In the troughs, denial. Oblivion. The dropping pressure that invites the storm.
At the zero crossings, all is soundless. Motion obscured by the mysteries of the x-axis. I can’t breathe. The one I came out of took herself out. Vaginas are a big deal.
Waveform Entropy (Can Be Gross) • Ages 24-32
Me was afraid to let that string stop vibrating.
Me learned to strum it ferociously.
Me learned to play it underwater.
Me went to the STD clinic several times.
Me developed an anxiety disorder.
My band occasionally covered Rock You Like a Hurricane.
Pull up! • Ages 33-37
Fortunately, my better self never completely stopped transmitting. A dutiful blinking red beacon atop a faraway tower on the nighttime horizon line. A carrier wave I managed to tune into just in time to hear her voice. AM radio on a dusk to dawn drive. Secret and true and the glow of the dashboard lights. Warming sunrise. Cup of coffee. Let’s get married. We’re home.
This was also when I started to truly hear the lyrics to the verses in Rock You Like a Hurricane.
The bitch is hungry, she needs to tell
So give her inches and feed her well
Lust is in cages till storm breaks loose
Just have to make it with someone I choose
The night is calling, I have to go
The wolf is hungry, he runs the show
He's licking his lips, he's ready to win
On the hunt tonight for love at first sting
Well, shit. What else haven’t I been hearing?
#MeThrough • Ages 38-present
Can you really call it change if you simply start being the person you always knew you should be? Or, does it just mean you’ve become less lazy?
Having children doesn’t necessarily make somebody more whole, lightningbolted into a wise seer of greater truth. It does, for most of us reasonably ethical people, force you to be less lazy. There are a couple more heads to keep above water in a hurricane, for example.
In turn, being less lazy can become its own habit. You may start to listen for nuance. If you don’t hear the exact phrasing of your four year-old son’s protest, you’ll never manipulate him into putting on his shoes. And you’ll be late. And worlds will burn. If you waste minutes screaming, and create fear and sadness in your 2 year-old daughter’s eyes, you’ll lose precious time trying to reconstruct your heart.
And, this is the actual hard part, you’ll never get to enjoy Rock You Like a Hurricane without ickiness. Yeah, you’ll love the guitar. You’ll chant along, fist pumping, all the way to the crescendo. But, at the end, you’ll be a teenager again with all of that goopy aftermath. Dude, you got off to what exactly?
Still, here, before the next transition, I want so badly to Rock My Lovely Wife Like a Hurricane. Just the chorus. I’m not a misogynist. Right? Right? I’m happy, but I’m also fucking tired. I’m always listening for the lyrics now.
Matt Fredrickson writing his bio in the third person tends to vacillate between being self-deprecating and having delusions of importance. For example, he’s an okay dad and partner who is also working to modernize the music distribution paradigm by releasing mutable albums in the form of interactive VR software.
When not in the third person, I prefer wood fired saunas and staring at big lakes with a drink in my hand.
YOU ARE THE HERO: W. TODD KANEKO ON "CRAZY NIGHTS" BY LOUDNESS
It’s the first day of tenth grade in 1984. You’re in traffic safety class, where you’ll spend the next ten weeks watching driving simulation movies with a fake steering wheel on your desk. A long haired dude sits down in front of you, a drummer who wants to start a band, and asks if you know anyone who plays bass guitar. You have never touched a musical instrument outside of that clarinet you spent a month pretending to play in fourth grade—you never practiced, so your mother took the clarinet back to the rental shop and said there would be no more music for you. But guys who are in bands have cool friends and go to parties. You have never been cool in your life, so you look that drummer square in the eye and nod your head. “Yeah,” you hear yourself say. “I play bass.”
You buy a cheap bass and some gear at a neighborhood garage sale. You’re thankful the amplifier is so cheap that your new drummer friend can’t hear you play over the sound of his drums because—well, you can’t play. You spend the next year in your room learning songs by ear, playing along with Mötley Crüe, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and whatever other tapes you have shoplifted. You spend many hours practicing those songs over and over and over again.
Then one year later: Loudness, the first heavy metal band from Japan to score a major record deal in the United States releases their album Thunder in the East—you’re captured by the opening guitar of “Crazy Nights,” which is weirdly hollow and full at the same time, a powerful jam that washes over you like cold fire and 80-grit sandpaper. Akira Takasaki’s guitar cranks out a riff that claws insidious at the air before the rest of the animal surges forth with drums and bass to swallow you whole.
And you would be swallowed gladly, if that was possible, because the chorus makes you a promise: “Rock and roll crazy nights / you are the hero, tonight.” You have heard similar things from other songs. Mötley Crüe implores you to rise up and shout at the devil. Quiet Riot tells you to bang your head for your metal health. Scorpions offer to rock you like a hurricane, and you’ll be all like okay, but the dudes in Loudness look like you. When singer Minoru Niihara says you can be the hero, it’s like he knows your life story.
There are only a few Asian American kids at your high school. Most of your friends are white but they’ve never made you feel like you’re less than them because of your race; however, you know you are different. You look in the mirror at the color of your skin and the shapes of your eyes. Notice the way other kids refuse to acknowledge you. Compare the hue of your hands against your homework in class, brown against the lightness of the paper—then jam your math test in your backpack instead of turning it in.
And there is no one who looks like you playing heavy metal, no one in any of those posters you have plastered on your bedroom walls. Bruce Dickinson, sweat-soaked and snarling under stage lights. Nikki Sixx posing sinister with his spidery hair and weird mascara. Randy Rhoads and Ozzy Osbourne, the saint of the six-string sling hoisted mid-guitar solo into the air by the Prince of Darkness. After Loudness, this heavy metal whiteness will go undisrupted until Living Colour hits in 1988, an African American band that your friends won’t acknowledge as legitimate rock until they learn that their album Vivid was produced by Mick Jagger. You still hate that a nonwhite band has to be endorsed by a white rock star to be accepted as legit.
Whatever—in your love of all things heavy metal, you feel united with your fellow metalheads, banging skulls and stomping feet with hands raised to the sky in that devil-salute that proclaims your rebellion against everything your parents represent, against the principles your school upholds, against society because it’s important to reject society before it rejects you.
After playing in a handful of garage bands in high school, you graduate to playing on the rock circuit in Seattle. When people find out you play in a band, they often look at you and say something like, Asian bass player, huh? That’s a good gimmick. This makes you angrier than you’ll ever admit, and you don’t have an answer for them because all your metal heroes are white people—you’ll feel like a gimmick until you learn in the late eighties that Soundgarden’s bassist is Hiro Yamamoto, and while you won’t ever meet him, knowing he is out there somehow feels reassuring.
In your mid-twenties, you have an opportunity to meet James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins. Your band opens for the Pumpkins on a weeknight in Seattle, but you are too filled with faux-punk rock anger and pride to knock on the door to their private backstage area and talk to him. Later, when you are much older and less proud, you think about how you wanted to ask Iha the same thing you wanted to ask Yamamoto: what do you think about Loudness?
And they would both have instinctively understood that you aren’t trying to group the three of you into some weird Asian rock and roll trio. They would understand your real question: is this all a gimmick?
It was never lost on you, how Loudness named themselves after the stereo volume knob, that symbol of heavy metal’s sway over its fans. In her book Heavy Metal: The Music and its Culture, Deena Weinstein defines heavy metal by its sonic dimension. She says “The essential sonic element in heavy metal is power, expressed as sheer volume. Loudness is meant to overwhelm, to sweep the listener into the sound, and then to lend the listener the sense of power that the sound provides” (23).
KISS sings “I Love It Loud. AC/DC sings “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.” Quiet Riot sings “Cum on Feel the Noize.” And Loudness by virtue of their name just says yes—we are all of that. It’s loudness that sweeps you up and inhabits your body. Other people dance in lines or squares to country twang or shake their hips to Motown, but heavy metal grabs your head and moves it back and forth in a frenzy. And when you strap a bass guitar over your shoulder and wear it slung low across the stage, you can’t help but whip your head along with the audience in front of you, that sea of devil horns and middle fingers aimed at you in a vulgar rock and roll salute. It’s this loudness—your loudness—that has brought you to heavy metal. Because when you were fifteen and alone in the suburbs, you enveloped yourself in loudness, hoping that one day you could harness this power too.
Your friends had so many explanations for the refrain in “Crazy Nights.” M-Z-A is the name of a comet that passes close to the Earth making people go crazier than they do under a full moon. M-Z-A is a drug like XTC, but Asian. M-Z-A is a Japanese word for the devil. Minoru Niihara used to tell people M-Z-A stands for “My Zebra’s Ass.”
Nowadays, Niihara freely says that M-Z-A has no meaning. Like many foreign born rock vocalists in the 80s, Niihara sang phonetically and ended up singing a nonsense track for a pre-production demo of the song. They never came up with anything better for that section, so they just kept M-Z-A. Niihara says it’s “like shouting ‘hey hey hey’ or ‘wow wow wow’ or whatever”—but these phrases have meaning in English. M-Z-A is just three syllables. Three punches thrown at the ceiling. Three beats for emphatic head banging. Fans of Loudness, fans of heavy metal, understand the meaning of M-Z-A, even if it has no meaning. Perhaps, you understand it because without meaning, that lyric “M-Z-A” is just pure loudness.
You don’t speak Japanese, so Japanese metal songs from the 80s are stripped of lyrical content for you. Bands like Earthshaker and Bow Wow and Anthem clearly understood the genre as you understand it, the idiom of raspy guitars and high-pitched vocals, guitar solos that warble dissonant against the against the rest of the song, but propel it to greatness before driving the chorus into a trainwreck. Loudness’s pre-American albums are no different. The chorus of the self-titled track that opens their first Japanese album The Birthday Eve goes, “We are the Loudness / come on now!” The rest of the song is in Japanese, so you have no idea what the words mean, but that doesn’t matter because without lyrical meaning, you hear their music more clearly. It’s obvious to you that before they came to America, Loudness’s songs sounded like heavy metal in its purest form: aggression, power, and volume, all fine-tuned into a hook that earworms itself into your head for days. So once Loudness started writing songs in English, they should have been unstoppable, right? Right?
The video for “Crazy Nights” received relatively heavy play on MTV in 1985. When you watch that video now, you still can’t help but notice how different the band looks from every other metal band that found mainstream success. They snarl and preen as well as the dudes in Mötley Crüe, but for all the makeup and Aqua Net, their faces are still markedly Asian. They are handsome, not in the way that Tommy Lee or Vince Neil are handsome because Loudness can’t ever be that. You can’t ever be that. And you wonder if this is how people saw your younger self (not handsome, just different), or even if it’s how they see your middle-aged self. You moved away from the suburbs almost thirty years ago and now live in Michigan where you can go a week or more without seeing another face that looks like yours.
The other people in the video are also different. There is a weird shot of a bunch of white kids headbanging, the fast-motion camera transposing them to a different time signature than everyone else in the video. Then those Japanese people in front of that glitzy Delish Curry billboard, those schoolchildren waving in a low-angle shot, that smiling woman in the kimono gesturing with delicate fists, those policemen brandishing their nightsticks, all of them chanting with the song: “M-Z-A! M-Z-A!” These are Japanese faces in place of the white faces that permeate most other heavy metal music videos. They are awkward, yet completely into the song. They are Japanese faces that could be your own face looking back at you.
When you load “Crazy Nights” on YouTube, the next song in the playlist is always David Lee Roth’s “Yankee Rose.” You hate this video for mocking so many stereotypes: the immigrant convenience store owner, the sassy black woman, the loud fat woman, and even the two party blondes (The lounge lizard says, “If there’s a conversation, I don’t have to be involved”). And then just before the song begins, Roth appears wearing face paint and wielding a spear. You get it. Sure, it’s a joke, but you can’t help but notice those people the video excludes from metal: black people, fat women, immigrants—it’s painful to watch because you know you’re in there somewhere too.
Meanwhile, in “Crazy Nights” Minoru Niihara sings, “we’re gonna rock and roll you / come get on your feet,” promising the loudness that is at the heart of heavy metal. And America, for the most part, says, “Okay! And hey—you’re Japanese!”
In her book, Deena Weinstein describes the visual dimension of heavy metal, the ways that metal bands use logos, album covers and wardrobes to further convey their sonic messages. Judas Priest is hell bent for leather and chrome. Guns N Roses is half gutter and half glam. Iron Maiden decks all their merch with Eddie, their undead mascot. Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe, and Poison plaster their faces all in different shades of ghastly. It’s no wonder you can’t help but dig a band with a good gimmick.
Yet it’s difficult for you to dig Loudness’s visual dimension because under the usual heavy metal accoutrements (hairspray, leather), their gimmick becomes their racial markers: they are Japanese and play rock and roll. Loudness broadcasts this overtly with the sharp angles of their band logo and the rising sun image that appears on their T-shirts and album covers. Their stage costumes don’t transform them in the way that most metal bands are normal young men and women who appear onstage as glamorous rock deities. On the contrary, for Loudness, the leather and spandex serve to standardize a band that looks otherwise non-standard for the genre. Loudness is Japanese, and in the midst of the otherwise homogeneous white landscape of American heavy metal in the 80s, that does the trick. Essentially, Loudness’s gimmick is that they are simply Loudness. Pure loudness. Pure heavy metal. It’s a gimmick you wish you could more fully embrace for yourself.
You have always played guitar by ear, but then you discovered YouTube guitar lessons. You found one channel where a dude teaches you how to play “1000 Eyes,” “We Could Be Together,” and so many of the songs on Loudness’s first American album, including the intro to “Crazy Nights,” which has never sounded right when you’ve tried to play it in your living room. The teacher has such reverence for Akira Takasaki, such admiration and respect for Takasaki’s guitar prowess as he calls him the Japanese Eddie Van Halen and compares him to other metal guitar heroes. He shows you the secret to playing that opening lick of “Crazy Nights,” the pinch harmonics on the power chords, muffling the strings with the thumb of your picking hand to create that strange overtone. He might be the best guitar teacher you’ve ever seen on the Internet.
And yet, in many of his Loudness lessons, he calls the band “Roudness” with a mock Japanese accent, even explaining to make sure you understand his joke: “I should pronounce it a-Roudness,” he says. “Roudness. With an R.” There is no malice behind it, probably, but it’s ugly nonetheless. It hurts you, not in its political incorrectness or offensiveness, but in that this is how the world has been talking to you your whole life in one way or another. Heavy metal is beautiful and angry and awesome, yet it likes to remind you that you are always on the outside, even though you can bang your head like a motherfucker.
Ultimately, “Crazy Nights” comes down to everything you and every metalhead wants out of a song. You are still a child of the beast, rock and roller, lightning rider—or maybe you are still that Asian American teenager filled with disquiet and desire, with anxiety about where you belong in the world. If you will ever belong in the world. And heavy metal tells you that there is a story out there where you can be at the center of everything, a story in which you belong—not because you are the right kind of handsome or display the right kind of charm or go to the coolest parties, but because you feel loud. You are white or not white—it shouldn’t have to matter. “Crazy Nights” says you are the hero, tonight. Sure, you might not be the hero tomorrow night, or ever again, for that matter.
But tonight, you’re it.
Tonight, that’s enough to keep you going until tomorrow.
W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor 2014) and co-author with Amorak Huey of Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic 2018). His recent poems and prose can be seen in The Normal School, Barrelhouse, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus and many other places. A Kundiman fellow, he is co-editor of Waxwing magazine and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he teaches at Grand Valley State University. Catch him online at www.toddkaneko.com.