Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: Bringing Metal to the Children: by Zakk Wylde, with Eric Hendrikx

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet

Bringing Metal to the Children: The complete berzerker’s guide to world tour domination
By Zakk Wylde, with Eric Hendrikx
William Morrow (New York)
An imprint of Hal HarperCollins Publishers
293 pages; $14.99: 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-200275-4

Bayonne, New Jersey’s Jeffrey Phillip Wielandt has made quite the name for himself in certain circles, such as Berzerker, The Ghost of Rock Past, and Chode, to mention just a few. But those into metal guitar will most likely recognize him by the moniker Zakk Wylde.

With his various guitars and their proprietary circular design, Wylde has been a major influence on the heavy world through his connections to Ozzy Osborne (solo stuff), his own band, the Black Label Society, his world-renowned home-based Black Vatican recording studio, and especially his ego. Now you can add author to the list…sorta.

This book is not exactly a standard autobiography for a number of reasons. For example, it does not follow any kind of chronological order. It’s more like whatever appears in the author’s head at the moment is what is discussed¸ though mostly it’s about schlongs (did you get the “chode” notation above?)¸ sex and metal mentality, though I’d be incorrect to say it is stream of conscious; I would be willing, however, to posit it as scream of consciousness. But more on that later.

We read through Jeffr… I mean Zakk’s life in soundbites, some coherent, some less so. There are equally questionable comments from other metal musicians, friends, and the likes of the murdered (d. 2004) guitarist of Pantera, Dimebag Darrell “Dimebag” Abbott’s partner, Rita Haney, who colloquially describes the truth-life deep friendship between the two musicians for a few pages. There are also some words from John “JD” DeServio, a life-long friend and partner who Wylde ridicules continuously throughout the book to the point of yeah, yeah, we get it.

Within the wide scope of the book, one section discusses the instruments and brands used by Zakk, which feels like more from the heart than just a commercial. Many musicians, especially guitarists (and drummers) are endorsers of a particular brand of instrumentation, significantly when the musician in question is one of the designers of that particular model, or series of models in the case of Wylde. For guitar affectionados and collectors, this is mucho grande importante informacion. It’s sort of the musician nerd version of baseball card stats, or what was the number on the “whoosing” door Spock went through in Episode #7.

But what makes this autobiography unique is that if the “with” of Eric Hendrikx is actually writing the book, there is somewhat of an upfrontness about it, though it technically makes this a biography rather than an auto. At various points, it seems like Wylde jumps in and makes corrections to the stories being told (or invented, apparently). Either this is merely a truly clever device, or it is the truth, but either way, it’s one of the ways that makes this readable.

Which leads me to one of the problems I have with the book: the information we are given is actually sparse within the framework of the, well, let’s call it a narrative for the sake of explanation. Most of what the reader gets is filled with is the equivalent of listening to a ‘70s or ‘80s wrestler ranting and raving at top volume. This book could have been in all caps and been appropriate. There’s boasting of manliness, like givin’ it to the wife, Barbaranne; though also some self-deprecation – for example, in some portions he discusses how huge his wanger is, and in others, how small it is (again, I bring up “Chode”). Somewhere in my head I keep hearing Handsome Dick of the Dictators’ screed at the beginning of “Two Tub Man” (“…They’re all goin’ under the thunda of Manitoba!”).

There is even a bit of philosophizing, on how to succeed in life, but I can hardly picture Machiavelli saying, “So, for all you have done for me, I am about to pay you back tenfold… and here it is: Work your fucking ass off, you lazy piece of shit!!!” Think I’ll go knit a pillow cover with that loving thought. Other advice is presented in a multiple choice quiz for how to be a rock star, with questions that include “What do you do when you’re onstage and you need to take a shit?”

Between talking about his religion (he is a devout Catholic, despite the vulgarity, alcohol use, and frank / rank sex talk) and either insulting everyone or calling them “Father” (e.g., Father Eric [Clapton] or “Pope” (e.g., Pope [Jimmy] Page) everything is in the extreme. And, as I said, suddenly Zakk will come out with a comment in a sidebar saying, “Well, that’s not true,” or “Here’s what really happened…” While this device is somewhat interesting, though occasionally the main writing is beyond childish and belligerent, then it becomes cumbersome and nearly oppressive.

Hey, I want to learn a little bit about a musician I don’t know too well, and by the time I finished this, well, yeah, I guess I did know more about the pretender-to-the-throne-of-Odin guitarist and wannabe Berzerker, but it’s the weeding through all the bullshit to find the nuggets that I found annoying.

There is a lot of humor in the book’s anecdotes that I also found funny, such as when William Shatner makes an appearance at the Black Vatican to record something or other. The Jewish Canadian and the non-Norwegian Viking seemed to have hit if off quite well. Speaking of which, check out Shatner’s plug on the back of the book’s cover. Had me sayin’ “No way” in a Wayne Campbell voice.

Now, there are going to be many fans of the man and the genre that are going to think this is a hoot an’a half, and that is great. If you’re into this guy, know about him enough to enjoy the ride rather than relying on the auto/bio to know the subject, go-at-‘er and have a blast. But for someone like me, who is more punk or folkie than metal (e.g., I learned “Paranoid” first by the Dickies, then by Black Sabbath), it’s like a very loud needle in an even more vague haystack.

In fact, there actually is a somewhat good nature to all the banter, cursing, posturing machismo, and adolescent boy mentality. Unfortunately, there is also a large share of misogyny, as well. Zakk (or Hendrikx) fills many pages with descriptors of wife Barbaranne like “Warden,” and that’s one of the nicer ones. There’s (I’m sure mock) descriptions of body parts (of both parties), and while I enjoy the good story about on the road and at home, even dismissedly, in this case I found it kinda…icky. Another example is that Rita, the girlfriend of his good friend, is referred to as “Dimebag’s Hag” in the section header of her comments.

For yet a further illustration, the book is full of really wonderful photographs, of the man, of the studio, band insignias, on the road, onstage, and of bandmates (in black and white throughout, and glossy color ones in a section), but try to find one of Barbaranne, his life partner. If I were her, I would be miffed more about that than anything said about her. Basically I had to look her up on the Internet to see what she looked like.

Much of this feels like the equivalent of cartoon violence or something like Jackass, but in the heavy metal world, there is a place for it, and I’m sure fans are going to relish this chance to join in the larger-than-life world.

And, may I say about the non-Norwegian guitar god of Asgard. Uff Da. Now pass the lefsa and let’s party.

Bonus videos:

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book Review: Shell Shocked, by Howard Kaylan with Jeff Tamarkin

 Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2013
Images from the Internet


Shell Shocked: My life with the Turtles, Flo & Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc…
By Howard Kaylan, with Jeff Tamarkin
Backbeat Books (Milwaukee)
An imprint of Hal Leonard
277 pages; $24.99: 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61780-846-3

When little Howie Kaplan grew up, sorta, he was known by many names; but we know him as Eddie, and especially by Howard Kaylan. If you sprouted listening to ‘60s radio, you knew his chubby face, facial hair, and principally his voice.

Sure, he has backed up some of the biggest music stars of the ‘70s, such as Zappa, Springsteen (do you really need a given names?), Marc Bolan, Alice Cooper, and even the Ramones.

While the even more physically memorably hirsute and chunky Mark Volman (aka Phlorescent Leech, or Flo, for short) has been his partner for umpteen years, it’s Kaylan you think of when you hear the pride and joy of “Elenore,” “Happy Together,” “You Showed Me,” “She’d Rather Be With Me,” et-cet-trah.

Starting life as a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn, then upstate New York, and finally transplanted in his formative years to sunny SoCal, his life changed – as with so many others of his generation – with the introduction of rock and roll, the Beatles, and then Bobby Dylan (also a man of many names).

Fame came early for Kaylan and Volman, and with quick success and youth, along with the period in history that was exploding around them, also arose what Ian Dury would famously coin, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.

I have read a number of autobios of musicians, such as Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys), Slash (Guns n’ Roses / Velvet Revolver) and Andy McCoy (Hanoi Rocks), and there is a similar trajectory with a difference in that while they were poor and fighting to get off the mean streets, Kaylan grew up middle class and had a relatively decent childhood. And yet they have all had ups and downs in their career, making and losing tons of cash, the involvement of drugs, wild stories on the road, and multiple partners and wives. However, as far as the descriptors go, the bigger distinction is that Kaylan approaches the whole meshugas with a wicked sense of humor, usually pointed at his own faults and failings. For example, from page 76:

So, not to brag or compare myself to an NBA player, but it was astounding to me, as a not-so-attractive teenager, how many women I was able to “be with” – and this continued into the ‘80s: lined up in the hallways, crossing paths in the lobby preceding the shift change… [sic] Of course, with each lady came baggage. I heard more stories about parents and brothers and unfaithful boyfriends and school than I care to recall. In fact, fortunately, I recall none of them. A switch in my brain could accept a certain amount of palaver without even taking it in. Click. Ah! That’s better. Now I don’t hear a word you’re saying. Oh, is that your bra?

Every bio has its own quirk. For example, Slash repeats the line “all things considered” into the ground. For Kaylan, it’s more like a cliffhanger with the verbal tic lines of, to paraphrase, “I should have known what would happen next…” Note that is my observation, not a complaint. It comes across as the reader is on the ascension of a roller coaster, and you’re about to hit the peak of the upward climb leading to, wheeeee.

My one bone to pick is that as well as the good times, I also wanted to learn about the lean. He mentions that he had to go on unemployment a few times, but never really dives into the depth of what that entailed or was like for him. It was more like a sigh of “oy” than getting the feeling of any kind of depth on the topic. The only despair he does invite the reader into with some feeling is the death of some loved ones, such as Marc Bolan.

Naturally, there is a lot in the book of the Turtles period, of Zappa, on tour with Alice Cooper (I saw Flo and Eddie open for Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies tour at Madison Square Garden on June 23, 1973), but short shrift about the period after, during the mid-1980s until present, other than a few mentions of going into the studio with various musicians as back-up, like the abovementioned Ramones. I laughed when he describes working with Boston’s garage legends DMZ and Jeff “Monoman” Conolly (I saw Conolly’s the Lyres a few times, but never DMZ), whose music he describes as “punk”; I’m not sure, however, if Kaylan knows the difference between ‘60s-style punk and punk rock, but I digress…

Kaylan has the pleasure of knowing, meeting or seeing the performance of some of the most important rock legends of his day, from Hendrix to Joplin, and bedding a bevy of beautiful women, such as Miss Pamela (DesBarres). While he doesn’t shy away from indiscretions, such as his own, Volman’s or those of the late Zappa (d. 1993; I wonder what Gail Zappa thinks of this book), he discusses rather than describes in detail (a point I applaude).

Even with all the trials and tribulations of Kaylan’s life, much like his music this is a feel-good book, such as he describes the sound of the Turtles, a style they adapted, changing from folk rock after they heard the Lovin’ Spoonful. It’s more of an enjoyable beach read than, say, something academic or meant to give a deep message, like Jim Carroll’s (d. 2009) overrated The Basketball Diaries (1978). If you are at all familiar with the sound of the Turtles, that will give you an indication of the zeitgeist of the book, if you extrapolate a tad.

Unsurprisingly, Penn Gillette’s forward is wicked funny and caustic, and yet gives the impression of fandom and loyalty to a band and man he never expected to like, yet learned there’s more to the music than appears at first listen.

This book is based on Kaylan’s extensive journals that he kept throughout his career. To help him edit his writing, Kaylan wisely chose music historian and writer Jeff Tamarkin, who famously wrote Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of the Jefferson Airplane in 2003. His vast knowledge of the music scene on the West Coast during the 1960s and ‘70s certainly helped. I’m hoping he can perhaps persuade Kaylan to write a more detailed expose of his life in the last half, as this is so focused on the first.

Bonus videos:

Friday, July 5, 2013