Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review: Sheriff McCoy: Outlaw Legend of Hanoi Rocks, by Andy McCoy

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2011
Book cover image and videos from the Internet

Sheriff McCoy: Outlaw Legend of Hanoi Rocks
By Andy McCoy
Bazillion Points Books (Brooklyn)
Original Finnish Printing, 2001; updated edition, 2009
English Translation (by Ike Vil); edited by Polly Watson
190 pages, hardcover; USD $22.95
ISBN: 978-0-9796163-0-3

Watching or reading biographical sources, be it book or DVD, is usually interesting to me, and I will tend go for it, even for artists or bands that I’m not exactly interested in because it’s still appealing to hear about the motivation of what makes an artist tick (though I just turned down a chance to review a career history of ELP; couldn’t care less). And then there’s all the dirt, some times involving musicians I do like.

This is especially true of autobiographies, and ones by the ‘80s hair metal bands seem to be full of excesses of sex, drug, and, of course, rock’n’roll. Well, a variation of r’n’r, anyway. I’ve read Slash’s (Guns ‘N Roses) and the oral history of Mötley Crüe, bands that never meant much to me, but the books were fun reads nonetheless, and had me going to search out the videos in curiosity. They didn’t change my opinions about the sound, but I feel like I know a bit more about the mentality that went behind it.

Another of the bands from this period that meant diddley to me was Hanoi Rocks. I bought the first LP at the time (unlike G’NR or Crüe) because I heard they were “glam” or “punk influenced,” but found instead that they didn’t reach my enjoyment button (though I kept the album). And yet, when the opportunity to read Sheriff McCoy, the autobio by Hanoi Rocks’ guitarist Andy McCoy, I welcomed the chance. The band’s drummer, Razzle, had been killed in a drunk driving incident where Crüe’s vocalist, Vince Neil, was behind the wheel, and I had read Crüe’s take on it, so now I wanted to hear it from a member of Razzle’s crew.

Antti Hulkko (aka Andy) grew up in Sweden and Finland, and had a stereotypical rock kid childhood of love of guitar-focused music, such as rock and blues, forming bands from a young age, at the expense of education. Sex and drugs becomes a staple, relationships suffer, insane band mates and girlfriends come and go, and then fame hits and money comes in the bucketsful, most spent on drugs, rehab, women, cars and toys, and travel. And yet, each story has its own fine points, and Andy makes his story sound intriguing.

His tale is semi-chronological, going though the main points in some order, jumping around a bit here and there, but never to the point of confusion. Some of the Scandi-hoovian names early on can get a bit intimidating and memory-busting, but not enough to make the reader lose interest. I mean, before reading this, I never heard of his first major band, Briard, though I since searched out some of their sounds.

Before I go further, I want to make it clear I enjoyed the book, even if I have any quibbles about it; please read with the sense of humor as I mean it.

The original printing came out in Finland in 2001, and this English translation (by Ike Vil) is from 2009, with updates and a new preface by McCoy. It is a small, quick read hardcover (with jacket), stacked with many black-and-white photos of different stages of McCoy’s life, even if they are not in any chronological order. Most are captioned, and a few are not. There is also a discography at the back, including is post-Hanoi bands like Cherry Bombz, the Suicide Twins (I have these two, too, amazingly enough; might even give them a second listen now), Shooting Gallery, and with Iggy Pop; also listed are comps, guest appearances, and the like. It opens, however, with a class essay he wrote about himself at age 15, and even then, you can see nascent Andy as we come to know him now.

Along with the main crux of the text, there are brief asides on the side of some pages that are more passing thoughts than connected to any one thing in his life story, such as thoughts on everything from spiritual beliefs to capital punishment and the “gift of life.” He also discusses how he sees music in various colors (also known as synesthesia; thank you Julia M for teaching me that factoid). These show a side of Andy that fills in some more foundation.

Having experienced another Scandinavian book translated recently (also on Bazillion Points), the syntax is a bit different and may sound a bit odd and stunted to the American ear; also, many musicians of this period were not proficient in school, so other than writing lyrics, there are some issues, such as the occasional use of double negatives, for example. Here is a paragraph about when Hanoi Rocks went to Asia, and were assaulted by the fervor of the fans there:

“It was just so sick, because they didn’t give two shits if they hurt somebody. They just wanted a piece of us and tried to tear away Mike’s and my hair as a souvenir. Well, they only managed to get one of my earrings; the other was ripped off elsewhere about a year later. I wonder if they sometimes forget that the artist is a human being, too, because these people didn’t seem to think about it at all. I’ve never had a problem giving an autograph if somebody wants it and asks for it, but hell, my body is my own property; it doesn’t belong to anybody else. I think it’s pretty offending when fans get so fanatic that they hurt you, or try to invade your private life however they can. There are a lot of these people around.” [66]

Just a couple of pages later, he goes to some length about the motivation that drove him as opposed to how he views the next musical age that followed (though you could have reprinted this about any generation and it would fit, as Aristotle’s famous quote about “the youth of today” proves:

“I wish that kids today wouldn’t be materialistic like my parents’ generation, like, you gotta have this kind of car, that kind of summer cottage, and blah blah blah. There are some of those idiots in my generation too, I’m sad to say. But at least in Hanoi Rocks we never did anything just for the money. There was so much more behind it. Mike [Monroe, lead singer of Hanoi Rocks] and I formed a band that we would’ve dug ourselves. Later we became rich, and that was something we never dreamed about in the beginning. Nowadays people ask me how much money we made. How much did we make? A fuckin’ lot, I tell you, but we were also very good at spending it, because the money wasn’t as important as it seems to be to some of these guys who save every penny they earn and wait for the interest to grow. What if Razzle had done that? What if he had saved all his money? What good would it do him now that he’s dead, I ask you?” [69]

There are a couple of things I feel I need to point out that stood out for me in a head-scratching way: first, in discussing how a friend was feeling suicidal, he states, “…she tried to crash her car off Mulholland Drive at a spot where there’s a 150-yard drop down a cliff. ... That’s where James Dean and a lot of other people were killed.” Any fact checker will tell you that Dean died on a highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco in San Luis Obispo County.

Another thing is his discussion on how Hanoi Rocks got their name. He states that when trying to come up with a band name with Mike Monroe, “Johnny Thunders’ LAMF, ‘Like a Mother Fucker,’ had just come out, and it had a song about heroin called ‘Chinese Rocks’.” Well, anyone who knows me is aware I’m a fan of Thunders, but it was not a “Johnny Thunders” album, but a Heartbreakers release, and Walter Lure, Billy Rath and Jerry Nolan deserve equal credit. And I could also go on about how “Chinese Rocks” was written by DeeDee Ramone…

There is an amusing, “blind” comment that is obviously about Guns ‘N Roses, where he mentions the unnamed singer “…went nuts because of the money.” Actually, from Slash’s book, it comes across as Axl having been suffering through mental problems for a long time, possibly onset by addictions as much as money, though it manifests itself mostly in control issues. After the looooong Chinese Democracy debacle, well, I’m siding with Slash on this one.

Phew, now that that’s out of my system, I will go on.

There’s actually some very nice props given to Thunders (and even the Dolls gets a nod, no pun intended); in fact, McCoy mentions that his wife of many years now, Angela McCoy-Nicoletti, is a cousin of Johnny Genzale Jr (better known as Johnny Thunders).

There are three constants that flow through the book, sometimes overlapping, sometimes in stand-alone projections, but they are the backbone of Andy’s tale.

1. Sheer debauchery. Lots of sex, drugs - including heroin addictions - and violence were part and parcel of Andy’s life throughout the Hanoi Rocks period, and he states this in both factual and bemused ways. It makes for some very entertaining stories.

2. Preachy. As with many who have gone through extended chemical highs, including alcohol, and have then come out the other side, Andy often goes on anti-drugs / booze rants. I’m not an imbiber in either, so I am not offended by any of this, and am not relating this in any kind of complaining way, just that it is present. Congrats on getting clean, Andy, and I mean that.

3. Spirituality. Andy posits that he believes in God, but it’s clear that not in Judeo-Christian formalized and dogmatized tracts. He often discusses the beauty and joy in life he finds now, and how that spirituality is the foundation of that experience.

There is one other major theme that flows throughout Sheriff McCoy, in some way almost as a second character, and that is Andy’s ego. He apparently is affirmed that Hanoi Rocks was one of the most important bands in the history of the 1980s, if not rock and roll entirely, and everyone either loves him or is jealous of him. Actually, there is no one I know that would list either him or Hanoi Rocks as being any kind of foundation of their taste, including a lot of musicians. I’m not saying they don’t have their place in rock history, especially with the hair band genre, but they have never matched either G’NR nor Crüe in popularity (though, again, none of them had any relevance in my life, or anyone I’m close to). For example, he states, “I’ve noticed so many times that wherever I go in the world, I’m recognized. I have no privacy.” You want to not be recognized? Take off the huge, round hat, the big bandana with the hair standing up above it, the mascara and eye shadow, and that ‘80s fashion that no one else wears anymore. As Christine Lavin may have said, he’s a prisoner of his style (just like the Ramones with the bowl cuts, black jackets over tee-shirts and ripped jeans).

As an aside, I did get a smile when Andy mentions the word “bazillion” at some point, indirectly naming the publishing company that put out this book.

On a further good note (as I said, I did like the book), Andy gives some good and helpful advice for bands starting out and about to sign to a major label, discussing percentages, publishing rights vs. recording deal, producing your own recordings, and the like. Good info that’s worth checking out.

In conclusion, despite my shrugs and shirks, this is a good read, and there are hints at the end that there may be a second volume, which I would be interested in reading. The most important thing Andy says, in my opinion, is in the preface, and its words to live by: “This book is only entertainment for entertainment’s sake, for lovers of rock’n’roll history and people who have a taste for the macabre. Anyway, I hope you have a good read and remember: this is my truth, you have your truth, and there is the universal truth. I try to balance between all of them.”
Bonus videos:

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