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:

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