THE 80’s Hair Metal Horror Classic That Wasn’t

Trick or Treat is a movie made in 1986 about a Satanic hair rocker who comes to life through an album played backwards and then uses his guitar to kill high school students. When I was ten, this movie was on pay-per-view, and no-way, no-how were my parents going to let me rent it. But the pay-per-view channel showed previews all day long, and I watched this one over and over again:

I know. Why haven’t you heard of this movie? It’s Carrie meets Ratt’s Invasion of Privacy. Revenge of the Nerds with Vince Neil instead of Ogre. Ultra-timely, it plays on those Tipper Gore-led witch hunts against the likes of Rob Halford and Dee Snider. At one point, Satan incarnate complains under oath that you can’t legislate morality. It’s every parent’s nightmare about the effects of rock music on disaffected teenagers. Why wasn’t Trick or Treat exhibit F that rock n’roll was the Devil’s music for people who actually though KISS stood for “Knights In Service of Satan.” Why, you’re asking, aren’t people watching this at midnight tonight and throwing crap at the screen when demon-rocker Sammi Curr kills the gay guy from Melrose Place? Trick or Treat should be the ultimate time capsule for everything that was stupid and horrible and wonderful about hair metal, packed into the kind of exploitation mid-80s horror movie that we’ve canonized through the hard work of obsessive cults.

But it’s not.

And the reason, sadly is that Sammi Curr – who is supposed to be everything cool and dark about the music – is played by some dude named Tony Fields. According to its Wikipedia page, Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P. was originally set to play Sammi, and that would have made the movie awesome

Blackie would have damn-near perfect; he was just the charismatic anti-icon the movie needed. Instead, Tony Fields was “one of the stars of the chorus line,” and he barely registers. Meanwhile Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne have cameos, and they appear hilariously on the DVD cover even though they don’t even last a combined five minutes in the movie. Ozzy plays a televangelist.

The screenwriters had the right idea. A bullied weiner named Eddie sits in his room and writes embarrassingly personal letters to this scuzzy guitar god. Then Sammi, “Rock’s chosen warrior,” dies in a hotel fire and Eddie gets a hold of the “last record,” which does some weird stuff to his stereo when he plays it. This posthumous effort turns out to be even more affecting than Sammi’s last hits: “F*ck with Fire, Burning Metal, and Torture’s Too Kind.” Of course, playing it backwards only exacerbates things. Playing Eddie, Marc Price looks like a less-intelligent  version of Jesse Eisenberg (which is probably not a phrase  he wants in his obituary).

Sadly, Price’s claim to fame is still as Skippy from Family Ties, the kind of doofus so wussy even other nerds beat him up and he has to be rescued by Tina Yothers. Trick or Treat, recognizing that they have the world-class weiner on their hands, has him get rescued by a girl here too. So Eddie goes home to listen to Sammi Curr’s cacophonous screeching, and despite all his rage, he’s still just a rat in a cage. Until the devil’s music makes him more confident and willing to take on the metrosexual bullies who torment him for some reason (a similar transformation happened to me in high school when I listened to Nelson’s After the Rain).

All hell breaks loose. Kind of. While the film creepily has Sammi’s ghost haunt a Walkman (!) to have his way with the bully’s girlfriend, the rest of the movie is just not absurd enough to register. Which is too bad, because it’s a killer setup, and it should have been at least as memorable as Child’s Play. Trick or Treat is only half as fun as it should be.

Does music really speak to us? In its own trashy way, Trick or Treat argues that it does. Eddie isn’t Charles Manson thinking “Piggies” is about a race war; these songs are truly haunted, invested with the fiendish spirit that Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center assured us were present in Sheena Easton lyrics. The movie is at its best when it suggests those fevered anxieties might be true.

Here’s a loving mock-obituary to Sammi.  And here, apparently, is the whole movie on Youtube.

Faintly Bouncing Around the Room

I posted this on Facebook so I’m carrying it over here:

On Grantland, Steven Hyden wrote an interesting piece about the value and endurance of Phish. If you asked me in 1996, I would have probably said Phish was my favorite active band besides Weezer, and I’m only kind of embarrassed by that. As I’ve often said, if I were savvy enough to find about Superchunk and their like, my life would be drastically different now. If I knew who Leonard Cohen was in 1993, I might be dead.

But in 1996, I spent 80 dollars on a Phish live import in which they played the Beatles White Album. I don’t know what Phish has done since 1998; I wasn’t even aware that they had broken up and gotten back together. I only saw them live once, and thought it was just okay. I haven’t heard a Phish song since STORY OF A GHOST (which I didn’t like). But there are three Phish albums that I still actively listen to: JUNTA, HOIST, and RIFT (my favorite). And while I fall into the category of having my favorite Phish songs be their most conventionally listenable songs, I think these five songs are good on their own merits:

 

Also, do remember that if you buy and pretend to like Suicide’s SUICIDE, it makes up for any number of musical crimes. Any time somebody says, “hey don’t you have every Phish album on cassette tape, including two tapes of “A Live One” because it wouldn’t fit on one tape?”. . . just say, “Frankie Teardrop changed my life.”

 

Oh What A Shame That You Came Here With Some[Thing]: What’s Happening to Ke$ha?

There is a clear distinction between a “warrior” and a “cannibal.” A cannibal destroys, while a warrior defends. Michel de Montaigne disagreed; in the best defense of cannibals ever written, he explains “each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice.” You wanna see some twisted crap, said Michel, look around your so-called Renaissance, Chuck. But all-time-greatest skeptics aside, the cannibal has become – as anthropologist Peter Hulme noted – a “cultural sign of tyranny, brutality, and excess.” Cannibals may live by a basic order or tribual ritual, but they defy the most basic tenet of conventional humanist ethics: the respect for human life. Warrior might be a more neutral term, but it does have an etymological legacy outside of stringent militarism. In The Republic, Plato defined the warrior as the protector of the state, leaving the philosopher to rule. The term has frequently been used to describe figures as diverse as Metta World Peace and the Tasmanian Devil, yet in his 1851 poem addressing Queen Victoria, Alfred Lord Tennyson uses it in a way to emphasize its iconoclasm:

Revered, beloved–O you that hold
A nobler office upon earth
Than arms, or power of brain, or birth
Could give the warrior kings of old,

In his vision for the triumph of modernity (represented in Victoria’s crown), Tennyson pits British politeness against the ever-present nostalgia for classical texts. It’s a similar impulse that led Alexander Pope to polish up the Iliad in case Achilles’ rudeness made British readers gasp. My point is that a warriors ethos, while antiquated, has the stimulating possibility to be either institutionalised (as in Plato) or a wild mercenary force  (like Tony Allen). Not so with cannibals, it would seem: they – to unfairly paraphrase a Brave New World quote I was obsessed with in high school“eat civilization.” There’s more hope for domesticating a raccoon than a honey badger, just as it’s easier to bring a warrior into the fold than a cannibal.

And this pretentious discussion of theoretical lexicography is a long way of saying that Ke$ha is growing up.

You get it, right? Ke$ha’s first EP was called Cannibal and her latest is called Warrior. The EP eventually became Animal, which in her eyes must be a lateral move [correction: Cannibal came out of Animal, not vice versa; whatever, I’m keeping this to be consistent with my prolonged act of pretension]. The significant addition from Warrior and Animal was the song “Tik Tok,” when Ke$ha brags that she wakes up, puts on her glasses, and brushes her teeth with Jack Daniels.

In the video for “Blow,” Ke$ha expressed her aversion to normative behavior by killing James Van Der Beek.

On these breakouts, a startlingly confident and brazen young woman defiantly announces her emptiness; like the Nihilists in The Big Lebowski, she believes in nothing. The dollar sign in the middle of her name is the most most materialistic option available on your keyboard: if you attempt look to her essence (as I’ve dedicated myself to doing), what you’ll find is commodity . This is a woman who would need a Silkwood shower to get all the glitter out of her hair. She seems to be going out of her way to portray herself as the girl most likely to go home with you even though you’ve just met her. We would think that she would be at home in the clubs that are the settings of most of songs. But in “Blow,” her best song, she sings about imploding them. I’ve often felt that Ke$ha would be an inverted ideal for playing Anne Rice’s Lestat, or a Baz Luhrman version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula: she’s vampiric and decadent, destroying the world she inhabits, celebrating her own gothic stupidity while ignoring everything else that exists. Alternately, since pre-Warrior Ke$ha was defined by her cheeky contradictions, she recalls “Beef” from Phantom of the Paradise, glam star of pronounced decadence who is a really a finicky kitty kat premadonna.

Yet, again, she’s growing up, building a Tower to Babel out of glitter and axe body spray and Wayne Coyne’s left-over costumes.

The first four lines of the first and titular track Warrior becomes, perplexingly, the kind of mission statement that her prior work so gloriously lacked:

We were born to break the doors down
Fightin’ till the end
It’s something that’s inside of us
It’s how we’ve always been

Fighting? What?! Something inside us?! A past and a history? It’s first two lines suggest violent imperatives: “break,” “fight.” Walt Whitman also said he wanted to “blow the jambs off the doors,” but Walt Whitman also never wore a headdress made out of his fans’ teeth. In this song, Ke$ha sets up an anti-ethos in which she includes her fans. They too can be misfit warriors, and they’re going to have a “revolution.” Oh dear. The Ke$ha on Cannibal wanted nothing more than to pay as few drinks as possible, but this new version is “ready to fight”!?!?! Has Ke$ha been hanging with Symbionese Liberation Army? When she repeats “Warrior,” she’s not making fun of it. “Warrior” has three clear syllables. When Ke$ha croons, it has at least eight. She’s singing an anthem about being rejected and doing something about it, about “something that’s inside of us” instead of glittery surfaces.

“Die Young” is the take-away track of the album and its admittedly awesome. As she opens, she describes a “heart beat like the beat of a drum,” a tribal rhythm which is about as close as she’ll get to working with Ladysmith Black Manzambo. And here she again celebrates the kind of hedonistic behavior that characterized Cannibal, but its framed by that opening song (and this album cover) about being the self-appointed queen of the misfit toys. And now she’ll keep dancing until she dies, whereas the old Ke$ha would probably just be satisfied with passing out in the bathroom. She wouldn’t die for anything; she’d just get tired and go home.

“Die Young” is also about empowerment, while “Tik Tok” is about doing whatever the f*** you want. That’s the transition that characterizes early- and late-period Ke$ha. For instance, Dirty Love (co-sung by Iggy Pop, who also got “serious” and thus worse) is transcendentally trashy, but it’s a ballad of independence. In it, Ke$ha pushes back against the world rather than revelling in its excesses. Ke$ha has stated that the sound of Warrior is inspired by Iggy’s The Idiot, which is the wrong influence for her. That album was inspired by equal parts Doestoevsky and David Bowie. She should instead be looking to the perfect trash of Ig’s Stooges output: The Stooges, Fun House, and Raw Power. So while I’ m delighted that Iggy and Ke$ha know each other, perhaps carnally, it’s something of a letdown.

When she gets to “All That Matters,” we expect her to sing about eternal love or a red wheelbarrow, but instead she turns back into the gal from Cannibal when she parallels the “beautiful life” (“just wanna get high”) with a meaningful one (“been spending too much energy on stupid shit”). At times, listening to Warrior is like watching a tennis match between the Marquis de Sade and Apollo.  But mostly she’s all “I am woman hear me roar”ing. And this beautifully stupid yet undeniable rich hummingbird might fade to a familiar consonance. In other words, this place about to blow.