(13) loudness, "crazy nights"
(3) twisted sister, "we're not gonna take it"
and plays in the final four
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 3/27.
in praise of vagueness: on twisted sister's "we're not gonna take it" by Kathleen Rooney
My pen despairs of ever producing anything as divinely vague as Twisted Sister’s anthem, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Distinctively indistinct, ambiguous and therefore open to a multitude of interpretations, the song’s meaning and tone are simultaneously as nebulous yet unmistakable as the golden nimbus of Dee Snider’s mane in Twisted Sister’s glamorous heyday.
“We’re not gonna take it,” the song begins, “No, we ain’t gonna take it / We’re not gonna take it anymore,” the vagueness gaining strength for being collective, that very first “we’re” drawing any and all who care to join into a triumphant first-person plural, an open call to be a small part of something larger.
Listening to the song and imagining what “it” is that “we” are not going to take affords a pleasure akin to staring at the sky and announcing what shapes we see in the clouds, only louder, more defiant, and in the key of E Major. Spacious and welcoming, the lyrics and the video invite us to contemplate the nature of the “it”—Oppression? Authoritarianism? Being jerked around by toughs and tyrants who prey upon and exploit those they perceive as possessing less power?—without limiting the “it” to any finite thing.
My sophomore year English teacher at Downers Grove North High School in the Chicago suburbs was a supremely kind and badass man named Mr. Lester who was pretty metal himself. He commuted to and from the school by motorcycle and wore the same perfect outfit every day of the week: ripped blue jeans, a black V-neck T-shirt, and two silver POW/MIA bracelets for friends he had lost in the Vietnam War. His tresses would have provoked envy in any hair metal band member. Long and dark and steel-wool curly, streaked with a bit of melancholy gray, his locks were so bold and unruly as to seem barely contained by the series of ponytail holders he employed to keep the coils in check.
One of the best teachers I ever had, Mr. Lester taught a series of highly specific and prescriptive rules on how to be a better writer, which I still use myself and now teach to my own students. One of them was to beware of the pronoun “it”; “it,” Mr. Lester said, is vague and can therefore almost always be replaced with a more precise word or phrase. And he was right; replacing “it” whenever possible strengthens practically any argument. But Mr. Lester (rest in power) was a wise and reasonable man, and, listening to “We’re Not Gonna Take It” on repeat as I write this essay, I believe that he would fully embrace Twisted Sister’s hymn to rebellion as a classic exception that proves his rule. For the “it” and its vagueness imbue the song with its indomitable power, and to replace that pronoun with a particular noun or phrase could only make it less mighty, not more.
Released on April 27, 1984, the song—with its themes of insubordination against unjust authority and insurrection against “the powers that be” who would dare presume to “pick our destiny”—resonated immediately with listeners. Reaching number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” became Twisted Sister’s only Top 40 hit, helping its album Stay Hungry go multi-platinum, with sales of over three million copies.
It’s impossible to pin down and name what one particular thing the song is about because its aboutness is so capacious. But in the indelible and MTV-friendly slapstick video directed by Marty Callner, at least part of the irrepressible joie de vivre arises from smashing that nonpareil of a bully, the heteronormative patriarchy as repped by the douche-y, normcore dad who first appears verbally berating his son. Upstairs in his bedroom, we see the boy absorbed in practicing Twisted Sister songs on his guitar, until Mean Dad shows up. The son just wants to rock, but Mean Dad won’t let him—that is until a colossal chord blows Mean Dad out the window of the suburban house and spins the kid into a grown-up Dee Snider. The resistance begins.
Played by Mark Metcalf, known for his role as the cruel ROTC leader Douglas C. Neidermeyer in 1978’s Animal House, this nefarious father figure mugs his way through the video like a sadistic Wile E. Coyote rebooted for the eighties, winding up defeated and supine on the ground at the end. The winsome and cartoonish narrative evokes a committedly dorky vibe that calls to mind both a professional wrestling show and a piece of musical theater as staged by a troupe of insouciant high schoolers.
In other, similar songs that take up the cause of defending one’s human right to rock, the villains and authority figures are often depicted as effete and feminine; in the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right to Party,” for instance, Mom busts in and says “What’s that noise?” But here, the Metcalf character embodies the worst kind of domineering masculine jackass, whereas Dee and his glam-clad glitter crew stand in appealing contrast as the heroic and hard-to-classify gender-bending weirdos.
Another not entirely typically masculine artist, the English poet A.E. Housman, said that the task of poetry is “to transfuse emotion—not to transmit thought.” The high-flown feelings of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and the song’s deliberate avoidance of articulating any ideology beyond “nope, we refuse to accept the unacceptable” serve to render it poetic, versatile, and above all enduring. Long on emotionality but short on specifics, the lyrics are just general enough to apply to almost any team of underdogs standing up for themselves.
So too does that vagueness enable the song’s collectiveness. Metal is often constructed as the provenance of outsiders where a self-selecting type of unusual person can go to find their fellow freaky people. In his surprisingly endearing and self-aware 2012 autobiography, Shut Up and Give Me the Mic, (Chapter 17, for instance, is called “I’m Snider Than You Are”), front-man Dee Snider recounts his adolescence, hanging out with his “outcast friends” and struggling with the desire to be popular. He felt as if he “were fading away, becoming just a part of the background to the beautiful people living exciting lives.” Then “I decided I wasn’t going to take it. One day I just realized that if I didn’t resist […] I would become just another nameless, faceless person in the world. I made a conscious decision that day that I would no longer give a shit what other people thought.” In doing so, he went on to write the ultimate fight song for masses of other people who had ever felt the same.
Musically, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is not really hair metal so much as it is pub rock. The solo doesn’t contain much actual shredding; it’s simply a guitar recapitulation of the melody for the chorus. But those are not criticisms. Up-tempo and pounding, led by Snider’s gruff voice and abrasive vocal style, the song’s simplicity makes it unforgettable.
Moreover, one must note that Twisted Sister’s sensational outfits contain abundant shredding, and the made-up faces of the band members gleam, shining a ferocious light to re-enchant the disenchanted.
Pub rock is music of the working class, and so is metal. Thus, who better than Frankfurt School philosopher and sociologist Theodor Adorno to further illuminate the magnificence of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”? In his “On Lyric Poetry and Society,” Adorno writes that, “It is commonly said that a perfect lyric poem must possess totality or universality, must provide the whole within the bounds of the poem and the infinite within the poem’s finitude.” In that sense, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is a perfect lyric poem.
Adorno also says that “the pressures of the struggle for survival allow only a few human beings to grasp the universal through immersion in the self or to develop as autonomous subjects capable of freely expressing themselves. The others, however, those who not only stand alienated, as though they were objects, facing the disconcerted poetic subject but who have also literally been degraded to objects of history, have the same right, or a greater right, to grope for the sounds in which sufferings and dreams are welded. This inalienable right has asserted itself again and again, in forms however impure, mutilated, fragmentary, and intermittent.”
Snider gives the alienated a shared voice for their inalienable right to resist. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” gives us the sounds for which we, as humans, are forever groping, the song’s vagueness awarding the individual lyric its collective power; not “I” but “we.”
Snider has recounted that in composing the song, he felt inspired by Slade’s “Girls Rock Your Boys” and the Christmas carol “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” The latter suggests of whom the “we” might consist: the metal faithful who are not, as the “you” to whom the song is addressed, “so condescending” and whose “gall is never ending,” but rather are the ones who are “right’ and “free,” unafraid to fight to make the “you” see.
Regarding said “you,” it’s hard to think of a sicker burn than:
Your life is trite and jaded
Boring and confiscated
If that’s your best, your best won’t do
No stranger to doing their best, Twisted Sister labored for years to build up a following in the metal clubs and bars of New Jersey and the tri-state area before hitting it big. But maybe the best-best moment in Snider’s autobiography comes during his account of being summoned to Washington, DC to testify before the Senate in 1985 at the behest of the Parents Music Resource Center.
“I’d been asked to speak because not only was ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ on the PMRC’s notorious Filthy 15, a list of the songs they found most objectionable, but at that time, thanks to my rampant overexposure, I was the most recognizable face in heavy metal,” he writes.
The PMRC, founded and led by Senator Al Gore’s then-wife, Tipper, out of a concern over putatively alarming trends in popular music sought to provide a rating system for albums containing offensive material, eventually resulting in the notorious—and in some cases, coveted—“Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” label.
Snider admits that he had to do some research to figure what exactly the moral crusaders were driving at, but once he did: “I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation. I saw it as the metaphorical equivalent of carrying the flag into battle.”
His descriptions of his preparations, both mentally and sartorially, are utterly charming. Even though his fellow testifiers, John Denver and Frank Zappa, dressed, like the Senators before whom they were speaking, in suits and business attire, Dee opted to don his usual rock apparel: “skintight jeans, tigerhead belt, snakeskin boots, sleeveless Twisted Sister T-shirt, and cut-off Twisted Sister denim vest.” Accessorizing, he says, “with my tooth earring, aviator sunglasses, and a touch of mascara, I was ready to kick some PMRC ass.”
His entire statement to the Senate defending free speech in art—which he worked conscientiously on, prepping like a debate team member—is well worth watching in its entirety for its eloquence and reason:
But for the purposes of extolling the value of artistic indistinctness, this passage (at 8:04) is unsurpassed: “The beauty of literature, poetry, and music is that they leave room for the audience to put its own imagination, experience, and dreams into the words.”
And although Snider’s words were largely lost on the PMRC committee, who went ahead with their plans for censorship regardless, one could do worse than Snider’s formula for the necessity of a certain degree of vagueness in order to achieve beauty.
According to philosopher Bertrand Russell in his 1923 lecture, “Vagueness,” “Vagueness, clearly, is a matter of degree,” whereas “Accuracy, on the contrary, is an ideal limit.” To an extent, limits and degrees do bear upon Twisted Sister’s sublimely vague song—it can be about a lot of things, but it can’t be about anything. There are limits.
In an August 2016 interview with Billboard.com, Snider explains that as gloriously indistinct and widely applicable as the anthem is, there are some causes to which he cannot let it apply, including Paul Ryan’s 2012 Vice Presidential campaign. “When I wrote the song I wanted to not be so specific about what I wasn’t taking. Over the years it’s become almost a folk song,” he says. “We’ve got politicians, like Paul Ryan, who’s as anti-choice as you can be, singing at the top of his lungs, ‘We’ve got the right to choose it.’ I’m like, ‘Alright, it’s all about choice and you’re using it as your song. You can’t use that song. You’re anti-choice; you can’t sing my song about choice’.”
And in May of 2016, he rescinded his permission to then Presidential candidate Donald Trump—whom he got to know as a member of the 2012 cast of Celebrity Apprentice—to use “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as a campaign song. “When Trump asked me,” he says “and credit to him, he asked if I was okay, I said, ‘Yeah, we’re friends, go for it.’ Cut to four months later I pick up the phone and go, ‘You gotta stop. I didn’t know what you stood for, we never talked about the wall, banning entire religions from immigrating and things like this. I can no longer appear to support this’.”
The etymology of “vague” meaning “uncertain as to specifics” comes from the Middle French vague of the 1540s, meaning “empty, vacant; wild, uncultivated,” but the best vagueness is crafted such that one can’t pour just anything into that space arbitrarily.
Even earlier, “vague” derives from the Latin vagus meaning “strolling, wandering, rambling,” or, figuratively, “vacillating,” and that vacillation helps explain not only why “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is one of the greatest songs of all time, but also an object lesson in how great art can work generally.
For we listeners get to take the vacancy Snider offers us and fill it. We can stroll ramblingly alongside him, participating in his walk through the song, supplying our own notions of the forces against which we need to rebel. And in this vacillation—by going from Snider’s ideas to the ones in our brains and back again, a million little micro-shifts across the duration of the song—we become Twisted Sister’s collaborators; by the end, all of us have become part of the “we.”
When we sing along, we are not substituitive, not pushing Snider aside to take the mic; we are joining him at center stage, singing together and sharing a moment.
Like anybody who has needed to be buoyed by this song, Snider himself has been through some struggles. He admits as much in his autobiography, describing the whiplash of going from being the host of MTV’s Heavy Metal Mania and playing sold-out arenas to being so broke that he found himself placing flyers advertising his wife Suzette’s hair and make-up business on parked cars’ windshields to keep their family afloat. One of the things, besides his family, that got him through, was poetry.
“Invictus,” Snider’s favorite poem, is admirably indistinct. If we were able to ask its dead author, “William Ernest Henley, what exactly are you invicting against?” then he might reply, “What’ve you got?”
While we’re at it, Henley’s poem is pretty metal in its own right. I mean, “Out of the night that covers me / Black as the pit from pole to pole, / I thank whatever gods may be / for my unconquerable soul”?
We could read the poem and apply the biographical knowledge that Henley wrote it while recovering from surgery to treat the tubercular arthritis which cost him a leg below the knee. But we certainly do not need that specificity to admire its speaker’s perseverance and inner strength. And that ending:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
No wonder Snider loves it so much he has it tattooed on his forearm.
With “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Snider equals or arguably surpasses Henley in his own execution of exquisitely indistinct defiance. For in the world of Twisted Sister, the “unconquerable” soul belongs not merely to one person, but to many: We are the masters, we are the captains.
In the video, at roughly 2:06, drummer A.J. Pero hits his sparkle-covered snare and sends a galaxy of gold shimmering through the air.
And that’s as lovely an illustration as any of why “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is one of the most crucial songs of the last 100 years. We can bang it like a glitter drum when we need to refuse.
A founding editor of Rose Metal Press and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, Kathleen Rooney is the author, most recently, of the novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St Martin’s Press, 2017). With Eric Plattner, she is the co-editor of Rene Magritte: Selected Writings (University of Minnesota Press, 2016). Married to the writer, Martin Seay, she lives in Chicago and teaches at DePaul University. Follow her @KathleenMRooney.
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.