(10) warlock, "all we are"
(3) whitesnake, "here i go again"
and plays on in the elite 8!
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 3/23.
On Knowing What it Means: "here i go again" in five licks by lisa wells
That it is not a great song is perhaps the first observation. It is not a great song and yet, it seems inevitable. Could you imagine our world without it? We would be poorer. Certainly there is no shortage of material appropriate to the task of pushing the Honda’s pedal to the metal, a wounded but determined look in your eye, driving away from wherever you’ve been: the Willow Creek Apartment complex, say, on 185th and Baseline, in the year 1991, a we-will-rock-you 4x4 time pulsing you into the unknown, on your own again—but little of that material inflects so insistently in a whammied minor key, and no other provides the afterimage of Tawny Kitaen draped in a gauzy white gown, seriously splayed atop the hoods of not one, but two Jaguar XJs, before the artificial fog takes her over, (her moves born of the director’s injunction to “jazz”). Ghost woman, dream woman… the hauntress.
I don’t mean it as a put-down, for it is this selfsame not-greatness that frees the song to become something else: an anthem, a bar-and-grill jukebox rebuke to the ex who’s wandered in on another’s arm. If a great song seems to speak directly to you, an individual, to take you subtly by the hand and lead you through its controlling metaphor, then this song is one of those guys working the tarmac in a neon parka, waving his glow sticks in the dark. Clear orientation is a requisite of mass appeal, how to feel now, and now, and now? More important even than an infectious hook.
“Here I Go Again,” the singer reflects in 1998: “I’ve met so many people who’ve said to me that song came to them at the right time in their lives when they identified with it so much it gave them strength to go on.” He’s quoting himself, anointing himself; the song beseeches the Lord for such strength, a sudden burst of soul so deeply felt it seems to have been thrown into his body from afar. He is at a crossroads, a fork in the yellow wood. For ten long seconds he weighs two paths the song might take, one to soulful expression, one to profitable schlock. Lord Coverdale, waste ye no more time. The hook drops like a guillotine, severing pathos from the sheer, super-burnished wall of sound. His hair grows bigger. The hobo becomes the drifter.
Road trips in the Honda CRX with mother, ages 8 through 11. My implicit consent to any cassette she might visit upon the deck. “Roadies” Volumes I and II. “Return of the Roadies” and, let us not forget, “Revenge of the Roadies.” Compilations that favored the 10-minute ballad-medley, rock songs with “movements.” Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”; Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”; “Bohemian Rhapsody,” naturally—all consonant with her love of Broadway musicals. She’d been a thespian in adolescence; she loved Pippen and Unsinkable Molly Brown. You don’t usually hear them compared but they’re overlapping aesthetics. Ditto, I suppose, her love of Meat Loaf's “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” a high school musical review as styled by Sam Kinison. These sides could uplift as surely as they rendered wistful. Moodier drives were scored by Survivor’s “The Search is Over,” Journey’s “Faithfully.” I’m certain whole divisions of RCA have made payroll exploiting the potent nostalgia of the working class Midwesterner, a nostalgia that set in instantaneously between high school graduation and the first shitty j-o-b.
Once I reached an age of dissent we compromised to alternate selections. Because my mother liked beautiful singing voices, I gravitated toward grunge and punk. If the production value was garbage and the vocals were scorched earth, all the better. By high school, our tastes dovetailed on certain of these artists—bands like Journey and Whitesnake were novelty in my circle. She listened in earnest, I listened as an ironist. My ability to lip-sync along and air-guitar the solos for my stoned friends turned out to be a good party trick.
It happens that my father is a heavy metal drummer, but once upon a time (1980) he played in a top-40 cover band called Night Castle:
My mother was their singer. She reports that on the afternoon of her audition, she watched my father descend a stair, shirtless, in nothing but a pair of bib overalls, and it was in that moment she knew he was the one. Later, divorced and bankrupt, the ultimate meaning of this meeting was revised, was “meant to be,” so that yours truly could be born—in 1982, same year the first iteration of “Here I Go Again” was scored in vinyl. I don’t believe in coincidence.
Whitesnake might be British in origin, but theirs is a quintessentially American story. And no detail of their story is more American than the fact that there is no band. There was, once, a rag tag assembly of actual musicians, aging men with beer bellies and acne scars; a keyboardist dressed in aviators and scarves with a brushy black moustache seemingly affixed to his lip with glue. He’s going as “coke dealer” for Halloween.
Then the “band” is composed of hired actors, their long hair has body, and their bodies have no hair at all.
Then the band is fully one decade younger, in excellent cardiovascular health; backlit castrati with golden curls that leap and fornicate sweetly with their double-necked guitars.
Whoever they are, were, they’re history now. Pink-slipped.
Through these phantom configurations, one persona remains constant: David Coverdale—though even he undergoes transformation worthy of a split screen. In the before video, he is brunette, pale in mom jeans, his sluggish, uninspired slide down the mic-stand reminiscent of a bored pole-dancer. In the before, he is somber, cast in blue light, cheesy keys masquerade as a single organ, and disco harmonies issue from the mouths of his disheveled doowop boys. It’s difficult to imagine anyone getting revved by the 1982 urtext. There is a gesturing toward sex that doesn’t believe its own performance, a pantomime, playing at “rock star” in some suburban garage. Not at all the tight, streamlined little engine that is the 1987 video.
In the after he is blonde, tanned, tailored, his full mouth at maximum pout. In the after, he stares and smolders, his gestures are precise. Tawny Kitaen strokes his leg, fingers his flowing locks, and never mind the asynchronous narratives, a protagonist for whom “on his own” means in the company of a beautiful former gymnast with a smile like a toothpaste model. This is America, bummer-trips don’t pay, and Coverdale is 100% self-made American. The man drives his prized white Jag with his head tipped back, maw gaped wide as a Pez dispenser, reckless, readied for Tawny’s tonguing. He is an open throated fledgling preparing to receive the mother bird’s allotment of ground detritivore. He’s whatever he wants to be. In America, a man reinvents himself any time he pleases, goes ahead on his own. Woman, inasmuch as she exists, is left with the seven-year credit flag, the maladjusted daughter, his name.
After my father left us for Tami, the beautiful 26-year-old Mary Kay saleswoman, certain of these ballads shifted the Honda’s atmosphere in subtle but troubling ways. Their tendency to inspire wet-eyed gazing, down the lonely street of dreams—the dreams disappearing beneath the wheels of the Honda, like the hours in a life, faster than they could be comprehended. “The Search is Over” was among those most likely to inspire intense grooving. The speaker who, tired of womanizing and wandering, speaks to his long-suffering love, tells her “I took for granted the friend I have in you.”
Now the miles stretch out behind me, loves that I have lost
Broken hearts lie victims of the game
Then good luck, it finally stuck like lightning from the blue
Every highway leading me back to you
The singer voiced her transparent wish to be returned to, to be recognized for the quality person she was, the steadfast friend. This was the most a woman could hope for, to serve as the port in his storm. Or so it seemed to me when I was 13. Now it seems just as likely the friend she was returning to was herself, the girl before she was subsumed in the agenda of the other, her own anima or whatever.
But no tune elicited such meaningful staring as “Here I Go Again,” which might also provoke a tender biting of the lip, a bit of light drumming on the steering wheel, an extra saucy tug on the gear shifter. As a child in the passenger seat, these atmospheric shifts frightened me. As a teen, I was mortified. The inner life she so masterfully concealed was suddenly on display and available to all comers. And underneath that, the deeper embarrassment of watching your parent indulge the same self-mythologizing fantasy life that you do every day, your own melodrama mirrored back, your shared abandonment.
Meanwhile, certain correspondences suggested the existence of a greater meaning. Take, for instance, my father’s young mistress, Tami Cain, whose name bore a homophonic relationship to Tawny Kitaen, (Kitaen in turn, a perfect portmanteau of kitten and cocaine). Tami bore a striking physical likeness to Tawny: tall, substantial women, with big lips and teased-out auburn hair (both Geena Davis clones, slightly more terrestrial). Tawny and her kittenish tumbling, sober, relapsed, sober. Tami, “sober,” at a wedding reception in 1994 riding an inflatable corona bottle and singing along to “Space Cowboy.” Tawny, later arrested for assault and battery after kicking husband number three repeatedly in the face, and later still for possession (cocaine), had a taste for “pretty boys with long hair.” Tami too loved long hair, and instructed my father in the use of box-dye, home permanent, hairdryer, maximum hold Aquanet. A decade after their courtship began, when the recession of his hairline forced his hand, my father cut it off. She was gone within the year.
Samson was betrayed. Lord Coverdale’s hair only increased. As he told an interviewer in 2001, “I take care of this mane the same as the rest of me. I’m thrilled to be blessed with it. I’ve been working with my hairdresser so that for this tour it’s going to be the longest it’s been since Reading 1980. It just keeps growing.”
It seems quaint now, but worth noting that a certain bending of gender norms was a characteristic of so-called “hair” bands, with their tight pants and fringed crop tops and huge Permasofted manes. “It got louder and louder,” said Coverdale, “and so did I, to the point now where I have to get dressed up like a ‘girly man’ and tease one’s questionable bangs or hair and it's all becoming a bit...boring.”
In fact, anxiety of these overtones was credited for the change in lyrics between 1982 (like a hobo) and 1987 (like a drifter), his fear of being misheard as singing “homo.” I hadn’t heard the hobo version, but my child-brain converted the radio hit’s Drifter to Twister, a mishearing only lately corrected in the writing of this essay. And I don’t think it’s a half-bad substitution. Hobo was a poor choice to begin with, not on account of some homophobic paranoia, but because its sonic-value is rubber. Drifter is svelte, and this was an improvement. But what wild force traverses this world more determinedly alone than a twister? What better force of nature to metaphorize Coverdale himself, with his one slender leg touching down, keeping time, his form expanding to a flurry at the crown, then disappearing to become something else. Like a twister, born from dust and wind and opposing pressures, I shall shred this earth and to dust return.
So spake the drifter: “Mine was a modest sort of epiphany where I just thought to myself: ‘I’m too old to carry around this anger, this bitterness, and this resentment. It’s excessive emotional baggage that I don’t wanna have.’”
Yeah. Me too.
I realize now, embedded in my embarrassment was fascination. Fascination for the woman I spent most of every day with and knew next to nothing about. The eldest child of a 1950s Father Knows Best nuclear arrangement; a good girl who did as she was told without making a fuss, and strove at every turn to subtract herself from the equation. To be perfect was the goal, and the perfect require nothing, mourn nothing—she kept her wounds to herself. The central message of her life was that she did not matter very much. And in the CRX, in her moment of wounded mattering, I felt myself disappear. There she went again on her own. I could not look away.
I’d been so hungry for a glimpse of her inner life I regularly snooped in her closet while she was at work, becoming intimately familiar with the contents of the cardboard box marked memories. It was there I happened on the first poem that ever touched me, an apostrophe she’d penned herself, addressed to my absent father, ending on the rhetorical lament “Isn’t there anywhere on earth for the three of us?” I was flattered to be considered, to be included in their dyad—the three of us—and relieved to find textual evidence of the pain she refused to speak of, but which was nevertheless articulated in her every gesture. It was proof: something bad happened.
She thought she was on the road alone, but she was not. I was tuned to her every signal, observing with the vigilant intensity of a child the only road I’d ever known. This is the sad and beautiful pact of the parent-child relationship; we are inextricable, for good or ill, and few of us manage to go very far away in the end. When we go, we are never on our own. Not after we’ve moved apart, disowned each other, cut ties. Not after one or the other of us is laid in the ground. We hold on for the rest of our days.
Lisa Wells is a poet and nonfiction writer from Portland, Oregon. Her debut collection of poetry, THE FIX, was selected by Brenda Shaughnessy for the 2017 Iowa Poetry Prize. A new book of nonfiction, Believers, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2019.
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.