Nostalgia in Rawk N’ Rowl

Listening to Mötley Crüe’s newest this weekend led me to an odd realization: the musicians of my youth (and, shudder, this is true of me too) are getting old enough to engage in the game of “Remember When?” in their music. Nostalgia has wormed its way into my musical habits, and I am not sure I am happy about this.*

I should have realized it when Betty Blowtorch put “Big Hair, Broken Heart” on Are You Man Enough?, but the lyrics for it are so funny, that the nostalgic glances at 80’s rock in L.A. were easy for me to overlook.

First of all, the girls namecheck just about everyone who frequented Sunset Strip in the late 80’s hair period, including Lita Ford, who they credit with inspiring the song with an appearance on VH-1, the home of rock nostalgia.** The end result is rather like watching Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years, except that Randy O and his chaps are missing in action. The song’s refrain, “where did all the hair bands go”*** is clearly nostalgic, though playful, given the context of the song that also cheerfully declares: “We loved our long haired rock-n-roll men, we really, really did. Sure, we were considered groupie sluts. And who cared if we were groupie sluts, because you know what? We were having a good time. And we didn’t give a shit back then.” Ah, the days of Troubadour and Gazzarri’s and groupies: “party hard and die real young”**** The men are likewise described humorously (if truthfully): “Aqua Net, ratted-up hair, eyeliner and lipstick too. Spandex pants and cowboy boots. He then blew me a kiss with those ruby red lips.” In short, like Decline, everything is a tad bit too silly to take seriously. If you think I’m kidding, or have never seen the film, check this out. If bacon-frying Ozzy (a visual homage to Darby Crash in the original Decline) weren’t silly enough, the concept of “demetalling” certainly is.

Funny stuff, yes?

Down at the Whiskey,” on the other hand, not so much. In fact, if I were to get right down to it, most of Saints of Los Angeles is a paean to what once was–or what we imagine once was, at least (which is nostagla at its most fundamental). The celebrations are similar to those in “Big Hair” as in “We never made as dime, but god we had a good time…” and “LA Girls they paid the rent, while we got drunk on sunset strip, and all the cash they made we spent on tattoos and cigarettes.”***** We futher celebrate “sleeping in our clothes” and “getting high,” all while we are “living out our dreams down at the Whiskey.” True, Betty Blowtorch namechecks even more than the Crüe, but…I can’t quite put my finger on it, but somehow “Down at the Whiskey” drips in nostalgia, rather than playfulness.

I suppose it comes down to the treatment of the elements. Stacked heels, Aquanet, drugs, and lipstick may be prominent in “Big Hair,” but the song tends to privilege the silly: the make up tricks, the spandex pants…the goofiness that was our 80’s. The Crüe (who are themselves namechecked in “Big Hair”), especially as voiced by Vince in this song, privilege the rags part of their”rags to riches” story; it was so good back then in the cockroach infested apartments! Back when we could get totally fucked up and have nothing to be responsible for other than showing up (note to Axl–>that’s where you screwed the pooch, dude). “Down at the Whiskey” doesn’t deal with the sillier elements of the 80s, which is probably why the nostalgia was so much more apparent to me.

What drew my attention to the lyrics of “Down at the Whiskey” was noticing that the rhythm and the melody don’t sync up, which may be an iPod thing, but I’m not sure, as this is the only copy I have. Anyway, for whatever reason, that drew my attention more closely to the lyrics that I had previously not given a great deal of thought to. And, in the end, I’m not sure what to make of the creeping nostalgia (hell, the Poison tour–or any other reunion/farewell/whatever tour for that matter–are examples of the nostalgia creep…the much dreamt of original line-up GNR tour sure as hell would be) in my music library, other than we aren’t getting younger. I hope to hell Wasted Heart will be devoid of such.

*Obligatory caveat: That I am listening to Motley Crue (or Guns N’ Roses, Melissa Etheridge, Joan Jett, Poison, and the innumerable other 1980’s era groups) is itself an act of nostalgia. I know this. I even (occasionally) embrace this.

**See also Rock of Love, seasons 1,2, 4, 8, 12 and so forth. Or don’t. I can’t watch it–far too terrifying, so in good conscience, I can’t recommend that you watch it either. But, Bret Michaels wants you to watch it. Trust me; he only mentioned the friggin’ show 8 times during the 2 hour concert. And what’s her name was there (many thanks to my cousin for identifying what’s her name when she (w.h.n.) was being mobbed by Bret-groupies, because I was lost. I have, sad to say, since forgotten her (w.h.n) name); she was the advertising, I guess.

***Answer: to the barbershop. Check them out–with the exception of Slash and Axl, everyone got a haircut. And Axl, well, not sure hair extensions count.

****Actually, a surprising number of us made it out alive. Really, who in the world would have believed in 1988 that all five original Guns N’ Roses members would still be alive? And they don’t necessarily look any worse for the wear; Duff has remarked that he’s pretty sure that he was pickled by all the alcohol he imbibed. That said, unfortunately, Bianca, our Betty Blowtorch ringleader, is no longer among our numbers. R.I.P Lady Bianca.

*****LA Girls have a number of songs dedicated to the debauchery they supported, and one can safely assume that in all honesty, no one remembers most of what happened. The 80s Sunset Strip scene was Benjamin history at work; we need the voices of everyone in order to even begin to approach a truth. GNR geek moment: see “It’s So Easy,” “Nightrain,” and/or and the myriad references to Tupperware bowls full of cocaine. That would be in addition to the heroin stories, smoking crack on the plane, and the references to dilaudid experimentation. Did I mention the part where no one remembers what the hell anyone was doing???

2 responses to “Nostalgia in Rawk N’ Rowl

  1. Hm. Wondering how this might work as the jumping off point of your talk at NSU next month…


  2. Srsly. I think it would be grand, don’t you? Actually, I’m working on a piece on punk which probably wouldn’t be any better for that talk! Dr. L has no idea what she’s getting into.

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