(8) vixen, "edge of a broken heart"
(10) warlock, "all we are"
to secure its spot 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. Then vote. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/27.
chelsea biondolillo on vixen's "edge of a broken heart"
A brief history (in words and pictures) of my rise toward and escape from high school, and Vixen’s rise and fall from fame—both of which happened between 1987-1991.
A couple of weeks into the 1986 school year, my parents moved from Portland to Oregon City, a mostly blue collar suburb about ten miles away. My city friends warned me about the “preppies” out in the sticks, how they popped their collars, teased their mullets, and listened to hair metal. Though I joked along, I took mental notes about what it would take to fit in out there.
My eighth-grade school picture demonstrates how far I’d managed to not come in a year. It’s not that I was opposed to big hair or shoulder pads—I had the Thompson Twins on endless repeat that year—it’s that I just didn’t know how to do it. My hair drooped lankly by second period no matter what I did. I hated collars and pastels.
The women of Vixen however, were at least publicly not sweating such details. As lead guitarist of the band, Jan Kuehnemund told Aamer Haseem of VH1’s short-lived reality TV show, Bands Reunited, in 2004 of the band’s look, there was “not really a whole lot of planning, on the clothing. What we were wearing was stuff we liked. We were just girls doing our hair, doing our makeup.”
In the earliest publicity pictures of the band-as-we-know-them, they look like they have done it all themselves. Their acid wash and leather fringe look like off-the-rack from Miller’s Outpost or Contempo Casuals. Their hair looks more frayed than styled. They are the kind of glamorous in this photo that the girls who lived next door to me aspired to, which is to say, an LA-by-way-of-the-sticks kind.
Though the kernel of the band formed in St. Paul, MN, the lineup that would become known as “classic” moved to California in the mid-80s to join the rock scene immortalized in ’87 by Penelope Spheeris’s The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years.
VIXEN “classic” lineup:
Janet Gardner—lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Jan Kuehnemund—lead guitar, background vocals
Share Pedersen—bass, background vocals
Roxy Petrucci—drums, background vocals
When I look at the earliest pictures of Vixen, I see flyover country’s idea of Hollywood metal. This is also what I see in many of the faces from my high school yearbooks.
I picture Linda, an Oregon City girl whose bangs were teased so tall she had to hunch forward to fit in the passenger seat of her mom’s Corolla.
I picture pre-teen Tonya Harding hand-sewing her skate costumes—she would have gone to the high school just one depressed suburb over from mine, if she hadn’t dropped out—using fabric from the Mill End store we all shopped at.
There’s a brief scene in Decline, when Spheeris asks a baby-faced Janet Gardner if she has a back-up plan, in case Vixen doesn’t make it, and Janet says, smiling big, “No such thing. No back up.”
One girl I knew in the 9th grade wasn’t allowed to use hairspray, because her Jehovah’s Witness mother thought it Satanic. But every couple of weeks or so, when this girl got on the school bus, she’d brandish a pink can of contraband Aquanet and announce to everyone that it was time to do her hair. A mob would form as she aspirated glue around and around her head. Hands would reach in to scrunch and push clumps from tip to root. Brushes and combs were contributed to the cause. Then the crowd would part and she’d be laughing and patting at her giant sunburst of a mess of hair, which she’d later have to rip and yank flat before the bus dropped her back off at home. I remember the long hiss from the can, and the sound of all her ends splitting in the afternoon. It didn’t seem like fun, during or after.
That same year, I was old enough to start “running around downtown” with one of my old friends. I gave up trying to fit in with the subdivision kids, and switched to black lipstick (absolutely verboten in my school picture) and the flatter hair I saw downtown. More Calamity Jane, less Lizzy Borden. More Kim Gordon, less Lita Ford.
Vixen, meanwhile was not only into that suburbs-hit-it-big vibe, they were leading the charge. In 1988, they were signed to EMI, and released their first album, Vixen. “Edge of a Broken Heart,” with its big open notes and head-banging 4/4 time, combined with boilerplate lost-love lyrics, was the first single. And that was no mistake: “Edge” was written by Richard Marx (music) and Fee Waybill of The Tubes (lyrics) at the request of their shared label. The album credits on Vixen include four producers, four lead engineers, and fifteen writers in addition to Jan and Janet.
“Edge” made it to number 26 on Billboard’s Hot 100 that year, but it couldn’t hold the spot. While Marx is on the year-end list, with “Hold on to the Nights,” Vixen is not.
Despite it being their biggest year as a band, it still wasn’t easy.
At best, they were ladies first, rockers second. In a flashback clip on Bands Reunited, Jan tells an interviewer, “People would come up to us, and they’d tell us that halfway through the show, they forgot they were listening to a female band. They were just having a good time.”
At worst, they were a gimmick to sell records. Toward the end of the reunion show, Share Pedersen (now Ross) reminisces with her bandmates about how “…at the beginning of every tour, the guys in the other band? and the crew?—remember? At the side of the curtain, to see if we actually played our instruments!” The women all nod.
I like to think, based on the promo picture of the band for “Cryin’,” the second single released that year, they, like me, have heard a bit of goth’s clarion call. They were surely in the process of refining and defining their “look”—Jan’s ‘fox’ striped clip-in hair piece has made its appearance, while Roxy Petrucci has traded her acid-wash bustier for leather. Janet’s hair is less wingy at the temples and Share’s has more height, which suggests a stylist on board.
The weekend before I started high school, I was “missing” for a couple of days. It is worth noting that no one knew this until after I’d come back home. I did not run away. I was not lost. But, I’d been loose downtown with a very bad influence, and once my mom figured out what we’d done, I was grounded for a year. What I see in this picture is a desperate attempt to play the part of someone following the rules. I am wearing colors other than black and I have even tried to pouf up my bangs again, and again, I have failed.
I have always hated this picture.
The women of Vixen, meanwhile, have been touring hard in their picture. They spent 1989 supporting their singles and opening for huge names like Ozzy and The Scorpions all over the world. In August, they played with Bon Jovi, Europe, and Skid Row to a crowd of 66,000 metalheads in the UK. And just a couple of months later, they were back in the studio, but this time, without Marx or Waybill’s writing help.
In another 80s flashback clip, Share says, “the writing is so much easier now, because we trust each other,” but sitting with Haseem in 2004, she admitted that the opposite was true. In 1989, she says Jan and Roxy were trying to find songwriters who could whip up another hit while she and Janet felt, “…let’s keep the writing in the band. No outside writers at all. We don’t need it. Why are we doing it? That’s bullshit.”
By my junior year (no longer grounded), I’d collected around me a host of poor but well-read friends, and we aspired, even if vaguely, to getting the fuck out. In this year’s school picture, I see that bluster and resolve. I’d made a pact with a couple other girls not to smile for the camera. I was proudly wearing a second-hand men’s jacket. This is the year I’d saved up enough for my first pair of Doc Martens.
I was so sure I’d go to art school after graduation that I’d stubbornly refused to sign up for math classes, even though my guidance counselor said I’d need three years of math to get into any “regular” college as a fallback plan. I am clearly saying No such thing—no backup, here.
Vixen, too, were forging ahead, despite rumblings of dissatisfaction from the ranks. The bullshit that Share and Janet had called out in ’89 carried on into 1990. They’d managed to limit their sophomore release, Rev it Up, to one producer, but they couldn’t stop the flood of fill-in writers. Pedersen and Gardner are the sole writers credited on only four of the album’s eleven tracks. The other seven songs are written in part by other people, at least a dinner party’s worth, including members of lesser-known glam metal acts like Keel and Autograph, and writers who’d pinch hit for Eric Clapton, Heart, Elton John, and Whitney Houston.
I know this year was tough on the band personally, but they look the most comfortable in their leather, lace, and big hair, here. That October, they played their new single on the Arsenio Hall Show, giving them a chance to reach a wider audience. Even still, in an interview for his book Flashbacks to Happiness: Eighties Music Revisited (2005), Share told Randolph Michaels “people thought we were lip-synching. They didn’t think it was really us singing!”
My friends and I were headed toward the post-glam grunge aesthetic waving our working-class roots as a stubborn standard, while Vixen were all-in on Southern California’s sheer sleeves, pale pink against shiny black, and brocade-for-days party scene. Somehow, even after years of teasing and curling irons and hairspray, their hair looks better. In this picture, they look a little like they think glam can last forever.
My senior pictures were taken by my grandmother in her front yard, which is now, over a year after her death, my yard. We tacked up a piece of paisley fabric from Mill End and I got myself all goth-glammed out, and she snapped away. I was headed to art school in the fall, as I’d predicted, and I was working hard to carve out some aesthetic for myself that felt true and safe. While crashing hard into Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana, and Nine Inch Nails, I was also listening to a lot of Mazzy Star and Smashing Pumpkins. What I was not even considering listening to, was hair metal.
And it turns out I wasn’t alone. Share told VH1 that the band broke up in ‘91 because Jan was too nice, too swayed by the opinions of others, but also “it just seemed like the whole era was over anyway, and it was just time to call it a day.” To hear the band retell it, they broke up over the suggestion of a second (or replacement) guitarist, but the tension had been high for months. They weren’t alone, either. Many of the bands in Spheeris’s film didn’t make it out of the early nineties. (Though many saw an inexplicable resurgence in 2001, according to their Wikipedia pages.)
Reliving the 80s in the mid-aughts
When I found a YouTube copy of the 2004 VH1’s Bands Reunited Vixen show, I watched with a mix of discomfort and fascination. I hate seeing people thrown together in awkward situations designed for maximum drama. Which is what seemed to be going on as Haseem surprises the bandmates one by one. We see Jan express disbelief that the others will go for it from behind what looks like her office-job desk. We see Janet, who says she’s a stay-at-home mom going through dental hygienist training, bite her lip and say, “I haven’t been singing at all.” Roxy, ever the badass, is of course into it, but says that she’s been “playing [drums] with myself a lot lately.” While Share, ambushed as she knits with friends at a yarn store, and looking every bit the diy-punk-“Stitch n Bitcher” so popular in the early aughts, seems most to have moved on creatively. She’s got other music projects going on, and needs a lot of peer pressure from the other knitters to say yes.
Except, further research found the band had been together in various incarnations for years—all except Share. Janet, who said her “life had gone in a completely different direction” since the breakup, who “only sings for my son these days,” who seemed the most nervous about performing, the most wigged out by the possibility of having to face Jan after all those years—had been playing with Roxy in a version of the band since 1997, even recording an album in 1998. And Jan, for all her quiet anger at getting kicked out, had been playing guitar with Janet and Roxy since 2001. I know that no one believes that reality TV is real, but... For all their early struggle to be taken seriously as musicians, to be seen as authentic rockers, it seemed the phoniest of theatrics.
In 2004, I too went to an 80s party, held not by a TV show, but by a coworker at my newly acquired corporate desk job. I remember aspiring to a John-Hughes-Molly-Ringwald look (not pictured: a wide-shouldered petal pink brocade long suit jacket, which I rented for the occasion), but a certain Vixenesque glam influence is undeniable. I’d also like the record to show that I kept those curls up all night. Turns out there’s no magic to it, it just takes a fucking TON of hairspray.
The women of Vixen would try to spin the reunited line up into a steady thing, but it fell apart quickly. Jan, using the name and three new musicians, released some music in 2005, and then tried again in 2013 to get the original members back together. Share, Roxy and Janet all agree that they’d signed on, but the announcement was delayed by Jan’s sudden cancer diagnosis. She died just a few months later. The three remaining members reunited, as promised, and with a new guitarist they are still touring today. They’ve got 12 dates this year, including three in Europe and one with Lita Ford.
Chelsea Biondolillo is the author of two prose chapbooks: Ologies and #Lovesong (Etchings Press, UIndy). Her essays have appeared widely online and in print, and have been collected in Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016, Waveform: Twenty-first Century Essays by Women, and How We Speak To One Another: an Essay Daily Reader. She has an MFA in creative writing and environmental studies, and is a regulatory analyst by day and an online adjunct by night. She lives outside Portland, Oregon on a couple of acres in the shadow of Mt. Hood and blogs irregularly at roamingcowgirl.com .
MEGAN CAMPBELL ON WARLOCK'S "ALL WE ARE"
I was a mere metal dilettante back in the 1980s: a junior high kid who eagerly consumed whatever MTV offered in prime time, but rarely bothered with Headbanger’s Ball, even when I was allowed to stay up late. I was dimly aware of bands like Iron Maiden and Megadeth, and staunchly assumed that they were scary and I would hate them. My tastes were solidly in the Poison/Whitesnake/GnR camp, and often much more embarrassing than that (Winger’s “Seventeen,” anyone?). Thus, I began my Warlock/Doro journey as an adult, without the rosy glasses of fan nostalgia. I did, however, feel a tinge of righteous anger: Why was young me only shown the dude bands? Huh, MTV? Let’s talk about women in metal! Let’s talk about the dearth of female role models for my 13 year-old hair metal-loving self (because I did love it, until “Cherry Pie” killed that love by truly sucking, and “Smells like Teen Spirit” buried it by rocking out in a whole new, leather-free way). Why DIDN’T I know about Doro? She’s The Metal Queen of Germany, for fuck’s sake! BECAUSE OF THE MTV PATRIARCHY, THAT’S WHY!
Propelled by the general awesomeness of the video for “All We Are” (more on that later), I dove right into Doro Studies. But something unexpected happened: the deeper I dug in, the less I found. Doro is . . . incredibly earnest. She’s a vegan! She loves music, especially rock music, of course. She LOVES her fans. She donates heavily to a charity for women and girls. She has some training in graphic design, and she paints in her free time. She loves martial arts, especially obscure ones, like Filipino stick fighting. As an aside to all of these fascinating facts, she needs you to know that no one ever treated her badly: the men were all so respectful! At a certain point I was confronted with an uncomfortable dual realization: Doro truly was the role model my dumb and undiscriminating teen self needed, but that same self would have had no interest in her.
Young Dorothee Pesch was only 16 when she started her first band, its name morphing from Snakebite to Beast to Attack, before finally settling on Warlock in 1982. The band’s lineup also shifted around: by 1982 it was comprised of Doro, Peter Szigeti, Michael Eurich, Thomas Studier, and Rudy Graf. They found a manager and recorded their first album, Burning the Witches, in 1984. Two more albums—Hellbound and True as Steel—followed, along with some success among the metalheads of Europe. The single “Fight for Rock” (off of True as Steel)got American airplay as well. In 1986, Doro was the first woman to front a band at a Monsters of Rock show—it was held at an English castle and Warlock played with Motorhead, Def Leppard, Ozzy Osbourne, and the Scorpions.
Triumph and Agony, generally considered their breakthrough album, appeared on the scene in 1987. Warlock had an almost entirely new lineup by then, as Graf, Szigeti, and Rittel had all left and been replaced by Niko Arvanitis, Tommy Bolan, and Tommy Hendriksen. Doro, with her long blond locks and truly excellent rock vocals, was the band’s main draw, a fact emphasized by the album’s GLORIOUS album art:
Two singles from the album made it into heavy rotation on Headbanger’s Ball: “All We Are” and “Fur Immer,” a German-language track with a video set in the Louisiana bayou. However, the album fell a bit flat with US audiences. Metal purists found it too poppy, and its crisp production had none of the genre’s trademark sludginess.
Thirty years on, Triumph and Agony feels like an absolute time capsule from its era: short (just 40 minutes in total), with that careful mix of wheat and chaff I associate with The Time Before Cassingles (to say nothing of iTunes). There are a few stadium-ready rock bangers, a couple of power ballads, and a “political” song (“East Meets West,” the album’s weakest effort, ahem). Triumph and Agony wears its mainstream ambitions on its sleeve, which had to be one more mark against it in the metal community. I personally listened VERY KEENLY to lyrics like “My heart is a lion / That no-one can tame” (from the middling power ballad “Make Time for Love”) hoping to glean a little more insight into Doro’s mind; my only observation is that she, along with her band, had rather perfunctory feelings about ballads. By 1988, Doro was the only original member of Warlock left in the band—she fought to retain the name, but eventually bowed to record company pressure and changed it to, simply, Doro. She has continued to both tour and occasionally record, including a 2000 album titled Calling the Wild, which features a cover of Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.” Doro wears a white wedding dress in the enjoyably Goth-lite video, but I couldn’t help but note that there is no groom:
Warlock/Doro’s career bio is the essence of moderate, workmanlike musical success, but let’s forget about that for now. Instead, travel with me to 1987 Los Angeles, specifically the LA River Basin, setting of the video for “All We Are.” There weren’t a lot of great hair metal videos as of 1987 (fight me)—I mean, there’s Ratt’s “Round and Round,” some Van Halen, and then a lot of bands trying (and failing) to re-create the antic level of David Lee Roth. But this video? This is a great video. A ghoulish warlock magically stalls a stretch of LA traffic, and beams Doro and band onto a makeshift stage. There’s a shot of Doro’s leather-clad crotch, which I am going to go ahead and call feminist crotch parity. There’s a gratuitous explosion. Eventually, the stunned drivers and passengers exit their vehicles and begin to ROCK, because this was before we were all dead inside. “All We Are” is absolutely the best track on Triumph and Agony, a call to rebellion that aims higher than teen clichés: “I know you know we’re all incomplete / Let’s get together and let’s get some relief.”
Because I’d never seen this video before last summer, I embraced Warlock with a welcome surge of “There’s cool stuff I never knew about!” energy. I suppose on some level I was hoping to unearth some L7-style, tampon-throwing, riot grrl anger. But not so much. Interviews with Doro (at least, the ones in English, which is not her first language) have a numbing sameness. In them, she pleads her love of music, politely demurs to answer women-in-rock type questions, and praises her fellow musicians, often including nice anecdotes about Blackie Lawless (of W.A.S.P.) and Lemmy from Motorhead. She says things like: “That’s really why I’ve never been married or had any kids; the music is always the most important thing to me. And the fans! Music is always what I wanted to do.” The wall around her personal life is inviolable, the interviewers deferential.
One of the only upsides to my long and storied love/hate relationship with the website Jezebel is its frequent dissection of the Cool Girl archetype. You know her: she’s a girl but she’s, like, cool. She likes sports! She not prissy about her hair, like other girls. She HATES drama, just like you! She won’t get after you for going out with your friends too much, or drinking too much, or whatever too much. She also will daintily refrain from parsing the point at which coolness becomes inextricable from self-abnegation. I’m as guilty as anyone of Cool Girl-ing my way through my 90s youth, and it was such a relief when someone put a name to this particular coping mechanism. Thus, adult 2018 me has to wonder: is Doro truly an earnest, rock-loving German born under a lucky star, or is she Cool Girl-ing us all?
She was certainly careful never to allow herself to be portrayed as a plaything—the ignominious and inevitable fate of video girls and groupies, who must have represented about 99% of hair metal-adjacent women. Remember that album art? Multiple sources thoughtfully noted that it was created with her full consent, thank you very much. Videos and other footage of her with the various members of Warlock always depict an easy camaraderie—no winking machismo on the part of the men and no cutesy deferring to the lads from Doro herself. But also no real sense of who she is.
As far as I can remember, I shed my desire for a leather bustier and donned my 90s flannel without any lingering sadness. But this left my teenaged assumptions about hair metal more or less unexamined. My junior high self had eagerly bought into a party-hard narrative that I now realize was mostly a fiction (as well as particular to hair metal; real metal is nerdy). Hair metal required not just leather and guitars, it also demanded a carefully cultivated veneer of loucheness, one that was sometimes real (ahem, RATT), sometimes tragic (Steven Adler, Robbin Crosby, Steve Clark, Jani Lane), but often just a pose—a pose that Doro (and women in general) were wise to avoid. In fact, I wonder if it’s a pose even available to women. Drinking, drugging, and banging groupies (of any gender) certainly wouldn’t have added to a woman’s cachet in the 1980s (and maybe not now, either). Once I started looking, I couldn’t help but notice that the metal women of the 80s treaded carefully indeed around this issue. Take, for example, the Vixen video for “Edge of a Broken Heart,” one of the best-known hair metal tracks by a female band. It features them performing in sexy costumes, sure, but the off-stage footage includes such wild and crazy things as working out, cavorting in a kids’ playground, riding a tour bus with pen/notebook in hand, and chastely kissing their producer Richard Marx on the cheek.
It’s probably not surprising that the virgin/whore dichotomy (which is what we’re talking about here) applies to hair metal, but for me it brings up a more complex problem: if women in hair metal were chiefly depicted as party favors for male band members, then what exactly was the role of women musicians in this genre? Refusing to be objectified is well and good, but where does it leave you? If we believe Doro—unmarried, childless Doro, with her extra long pale blonde hair—there was plenty of room on the stage for hair metal women. But where is the space for them in our collective memories of hair metal, amid all the cleavage shots and penis shaped microphones and hip thrusts? If women had to sidestep so many of the trappings of the genre, doesn’t it become a little too easy for the memoirists and cultural historians and music writers to sidestep them and decide: Well, she wasn’t really hair metal. Or metal. Or anything.
And so we are left with: Doro the Unknowable, Doro the Pure. Musician. Vegan. Painter. Leather bustier-wearer (the bustiers are custom made of vegan pleather by fairly paid artisans). No one ever treated her badly, okay?
Megan Campbell is one half of the official March Shredness Selection Committee and the proprietor of Bad Cholla Vintage.