(5) europe, "the final countdown"
(4) ozzy osbourne & lita ford, "close my eyes forever"
and plays 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 3/19.
The Final Countdown or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Shred: nick greer on europe
Shredding has been an important preoccupation of mine for much of my life. Given a Torino Red Duo-Sonic and a 25-watt Peavey practice amp for my 8th birthday by my spacy but indulgent uncle, my course was set, the destination all but destined. I wasn’t going to be the guy stage left hiding behind his bangs and his barre chords, I was going to be the lead guitarist, an axe-wielder, the face-melter, panty-dropper. Jimmy Page at the Garden. Zappa at the Palladium. Hendrix at Woodstock. Clapton is God.
Except I didn’t want the spotlight and the spotlight didn’t especially want me: I’m still not exactly sure. By the time I was taking lessons, I’d already logged hours absorbing the slack of early 90s MTV. I liked the doomsday psychedelia of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” the overexposed angst of Candlebox’s “Far Behind,” the streetlit accusations of Green Day’s “When I Come Around.” If a song had a solo, I wanted it to hit me half-time and phased-out, wailing with accidental feedback not pinched harmonics. I wanted fuzz and flannel and undirected frustration, anything but the increasingly polished virtuosity of rock from decades past, hair metal being the most recent and therefore worst example. Hair metal was sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll taken to their illogical conclusions: style with no substance, lead with no rhythm. It was opulent and self-absorbed, showy in its masculinity, guitars braced between thighs like second cocks, but this made it kind of fruity too, a bunch of guys wearing tight leather and leopard print, hair permed and lips glossed, more interested in bragging about the chicks they’d banged than the music. Music I needed to be honest and rough.
It’s easy enough to understand why I felt the way I did. My parents were quintessential yuppies of the Reagan era, educated boomers who put out their roaches and cut their hair when they moved to the city to ride the bull market all the way to three kids and a house in the suburbs. They wanted their blonde-haired, blue-eyed boys to grow up as comfortably as they had, and the soundtrack to this was equally idealistic and unconflicted. The music they listened to—if they listened to music at all—was the slick, commercial soft rock of their soft, commercial life, one I wanted to have nothing to do with, being the squirmy, confrontational, and ultimately spoiled boy I was.
It was only a matter of time before I’d get sucked into nu-metal then punk and hardcore and emo and beyond, but not without conflicted feelings about the expectations of that first guitar. That best-intentioned, neoliberal push to take the stage that you’ve so rightly earned. How do you say no to such an invitation? I didn’t have an answer to the question, so I went about the business of badness in harmless fashion. What resonated with me most was pop-punk and melodic hardcore, stuff with uptight drumming and clever, snide lyrics. Before I saw NOFX at Warped Tour in 2002, I learned their entire discography on guitar and bass, and could sing along too:
A buttoned collar, starched and bleached
Constricting veins, the blood flow to the brain slows
They're so fuckin ordinary white
Don't call me white, don't call me white
Soon I wasn’t just playing for hours a day, but practicing. In my high school’s jazz band, I was second chair to the son of a professional guitarist. He’d been going to conservatory every weekend since he was five and would drop jaws with precise performances of “Asturias” and “Malagueña” and I wanted to be that good, better, best, so I practiced, composed, read, wrote—all different forms of study, the very thing that I should have been telling to fuck off. In college, the same college where my parents met, I majored in music where I wrote a thesis on mathematical structures in 20th century music. The summer after my sophomore year I interned at Pandora, the path paved again by my uncle, who’d founded and sold a successful audio software company, and was now an investor in the space. And so the prodigal son returns the obedient one, having never really left. In other words, despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage—a song I returned to when I was sick of listening to Webern, writing about Bartok, thinking about them, about thinking.
It was around this time that I discovered Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” This would’ve been at the height of millennial ‘80s nostalgia, when it seemed like every party at my small, preppy New England college peaked on a sloppy singalong to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” among a phalanx of popped collars. But what better song to celebrate and prolong the end of the night than “The Final Countdown”? Released the year that I and most of my classmates were born, it is an almost perfect expression of the contradictory and self-satisfied energies that were fueling White America in the mid-eighties. Like one of the biggest stars of that time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, “The Final Countdown” is Teutonic pedigree meets American technocracy, an übermensch made all the more über by modern, maybe even futuristic tech. The song’s main melody is a triumphant, neoclassical trumpet line, synthesized into an anthem for space travel, though the lyrics are vacuous enough that they’re also not so slyly about ejaculation: “We’re heading for Venus (Venus).” Like a lot of metal, it’s a confusion of mythic images reinforcing white male power that are presented with such smiling confidence there’s little opportunity to question it. This assumptiveness is even embedded in the declaration of the song’s title, “The Final Countdown,” and it’s in the band’s name too. As J.D. Considine observed in his review of the album: “You have to figure that any band with gall enough to take the name of a continent isn't going to settle for a modest musical approach.” This is music for taking the name of a continent.
Had I first heard this as the soundtrack to the crew team’s fist-pumping, it might’ve triggered a gag reflex, but instead I encountered it in a context that made the song a critique of the same bluster it was meant to celebrate. It’s a specific context, but one I imagine is bizarrely common: on Arrested Development, as the entrance music for Will Arnett’s George Oscar Bluth as he peacocks around stage with a knife between his teeth, pumping up the audience for one of his ill-fated “illusions”:
It’s the perfect pair for the trust-fund magician. Equal parts cocksure and insecure, it’s silly and puffed-up with unearned but totally sincere gravitas. In this setting, the song is not a paean to progress, but a caricature of white male obliviousness. [Ron Howard voice]: And, as another eldest son trying too hard to make his parents proud, Nick couldn’t help but laugh at himself.
As if to confirm this realization, a week after Gob took the stage at The Gothic Castle (to be mistaken for The Gothic Asshole), I stumbled upon and immediately bought a copy of The Final Countdown at a church rummage sale. I listened and listened, learning the song on guitar though the impulses that drove me, while still impassioned, weren’t so tortured, so weighed down by the burden of proof. The song’s solo, a deceptively easy shred, came in a sightread or two. I’d ham it up for my friends, making pained, orgasmic Nigel Tufnel faces during the sweeps. I was mocking the empty indulgences of the song while also capitulating to them, letting them wash over me like the spotlight I’d worked so hard to earn and deny in the same gestures. The song was a guilty pleasure in the fullest sense: a guilt that helped me refine my experience of pleasure, pleasures that spoke to the limitations of guilt.
I can still hear this shift in the music I was recording at the time: moody, directionless songs where shredding is just another texture, another surface.
In “Sefirot,” the shred is mixed so far into the background it’s barely audible, more an echo or a ghost of the once-great lead guitar. In “Odalisque,” the shred is front and center, but too much so, my guitar and preamp and IO all cranked to the proverbial eleven, the track clipping and picking up every hot scrape as I picked or slid around the fretboard. It’s alluding to the virtuosity of lead guitar more than it’s actually virtuostic. In fact, it’s messy, but that’s its essence: juvenilia that doesn’t care what it is or isn’t—punk, essentially. I recorded it in a single, breathless take. I didn’t and still don’t expect people to enjoy it or care about it, myself included, especially. But because of this it sounds all the more honest.
Knowing I was going to write this essay, I listened to the song again for what must’ve been the first time in years, probably since the last time I rewatched Arrested Development, only to find it doesn’t give me the same joy and awareness it once did. I even tried picking the song back up on guitar, but I lost my chops pretty quickly after graduating and getting swept up into my own explorations of yuppiedom and its renunciation. If anything, the song and the decade that birthed it seem even more of a joke if not also a lazy but effective way to sell car insurance, but during a time when the country is being run by suits as absurd as the schlockiest corporate villains of a save-the-community-center movie, it’s hard to laugh along. If this song was the soundtrack to the decline of western civilization, why hasn’t it died yet? It’s “The Final Countdown” but it’s still being played, and here I am, taking a stage I haven’t really earned, rejecting and basking in its spotlight, for this, my solo.
Nick Greer is a writer and never-been guitarist from the San Francisco Bay Area. He holds an MFA Creative Writing from The University of Arizona and edits Territory, a literary project about maps, and Goodnight, Sweet Prince, a digital literary zine about side characters in movies and other media.
MATTHEW CONLEY ON OZZY OSBOURNE & LITA FORD'S "CLOSE MY EYES FOREVER"
Two people wander a possibly abandoned studio/performance space and consider the depths of being as the lights swirl and any audience falls away.
Baby, I get so scared inside and I don’t really understand
is it love that’s on my mind, or is it fantasy?
One, a young blond woman hardly contained by her ripped blue jeans, sometimes sways and bends over suddenly as if a poison has been ingested. The other, a man whose hairdo almost doubles his height and weight, is somehow completely unaffected by the wind that sometimes plagues her.
Heaven is in the palm of my hand and it’s waiting here for you.
What am I supposed to do with a childhood tragedy?
We don’t question whether the two are lovers, but in a possible suicide pact? It seems that their paths are incompatible, and the conversation teeters on the disjointed drivel that usually accompanies relationship endings. . .but who is to blame, or if they will go together, and how will the end come, can only be revealed a peek at a time, as if clad in the aforementioned “pants.”
If I close my eyes forever, will it all remain unchanged?
If I close my eyes forever, will it all remain the same?
It’s 1988, and Hair Metal is about to die. Long the darling of MTV and curse of the PMRC, all shock value has worn off and other voices in American music (most notably rap) are gaining prominence purveying that kryptonite of hedonism: the real. Somewhere in the mildewed garages of the Northwest grunge is being born from a punk sense of said reality. When coiffures change so quickly they fall out of favor, how could a genre so attached ever survive?
Ozzy Osbourne, the idiot savant of metal, knows it, the real death toll (“Cherry Pie” by Warrant) in the not-too-distant horizon. The Breakfast Club clones and the “too drool for school” (my group) bleed for it as surely as the posturing fur-poles who populate my South Jersey high school love to lick their fingers and randomly add vocal high notes to conversations to demonstrate “shredness” (“riffness” in SNJ parlance).
Sometimes, it’s hard to hold on, so hard to hold on to my dreams. . .
it isn’t always what it seems when you’re face-to-face with me!
This isn’t just chaotic spew coming from hurting hearts going through a melodramatic life change, however, this is something deeper: an actual death mass for the genre itself. Not the 12-minute doom-laden stroke-fest Ozzy himself helped pioneer but the first, quick, violent spasm that foretells true and not imaginary demise. The first Osbourne lines here are not flailing or even contradictory but exactly what we expect from his crystal ball: tropes, all disaster but no landing, nonsensical, starting with an almost farcical hint of doom. He might as well be singing “Make a joke and I will cry / and you will laugh and I will die” .
And so we have Lita Ford and OO late-night drinking at the urging of wife Sharon to come up with a song to promote Lita’s third album with inflatable gorilla (no lie) in attendance . As Ozzy tells it, he’s pissed at having to fly back and forth from Britain to the States for the session, then the video, then tour dates . . .Ford’s account is a suspicion-raising tale of being too drunk to drive Ozzy home but not the gorilla . Both seem to regret that the song is a hit, but there must have been some fun in the session (OO: “Operatic album side?” LF: “Not my style.” OO: “Yeah, if I hold a straight face love.”) and I prefer to see them both giggling madly at the thought of Tipper Gore coughing up a gleaming-Jesus lung when she heard the lyrics.
And like a dagger you stick me in the heart and taste the blood from my veins,
and when we sleep would you shelter me in your warm and darkened grave?
Because if this is a suicide song, it’s these two vastly different (nature not nurture) artists sticking the dagger into Hair Metal, its ridiculous gestures of wild abandon and in the salon, gothic varnishing, light gender-play, and ultimately blame placed on women. It should affect us differently today than then but it doesn’t (much does, indeed, remain). Suicide is strongly suggested, sure, in the way that your creepy high school boyfriend suggested he was gonna when you broke up with him but then he only bragged to his buddies (“Cherry Pie”) about gross shit. And that’s the palatable (ugh) story woven here, two lovers having THAT dreaded conversation, wandering through a probably empty performance space (as shown in the video). But what could never be admitted, not even by the lower-class lad from Birmingham to himself, is that this is a parody (C. Obvious, 88).
’But would you ever take me?’ ‘No, I just can’t take the pain.’
‘But would you ever trust me?’ ‘No I’ll never feel the same!’
Hair Metal won’t age well, he knows it, and mirthful little imp that he is he makes sure to undercut the song’s premise by admitting his own mutability. And I daresay Lita agrees, with her “Solo that Would Make Neil Young Blush”. . .will all this effort be simply washed away by the capriciousness of a few slow notes played on the bottom neck? All the time spent in make-up over the years, all the poses repeated ad nauseam for the shoot? . . . with so much YES YES YES echoing in the high archways the subculture did what any problematic human does in said situation: it holds on for much longer than it should. The lovers never take the final leap.
I know I’ve been so hard on you. I know I’ve told you lies.
If I could have just one more wish? I’d wipe the cobwebs from my eyes!
That’s actually your hair, Ms. Ford.
 “Paranoid.” Black Sabbath. Paranoid. London: Warner Brother Records. 1970.
 “Close My Eyes Forever by Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford.” Song Facts. Song Facts, LLC. Web. January 29, 2018.
 Giles, Jeff. “Ozzy Osbourne Recalls His Accidental Hit with Lita Ford.” Ultimate Classic Rock. Couldn’t locate sponsor in the short time I didn’t want to be on the site. Web. February 12, 2018.
Matthew Conley has recently joined the faculty of Central New Mexico College in Albuquerque