Hair Band Run-Ins

20 Sep

Last week on REDDIT, I stumbled upon a recent video of Paul Stanley (from KISS) singing “Detroit Rock City” live to a sea of new, old, and everything-in-between metalheads. Pyrotechnics went off behind him at one point, igniting the hair on the back of his head. Roadies popped up from nowhere like ninjas in leather vests with chained wallets, not a fire extinguisher in sight, and with their palms, they put out the fast-rising blaze that threatened to basically burn to a crisp our rocker’s face. All this time, Paul did not miss one word. Or one beat. The show must go on, right? Even when you find yourself on fire. I mean, the dedication is there for Paul and the boys. Even at the AARP-worthy age of 70. The incident on video proves it. A quick check on Paul’s life indicates he is worth around $150 million. I suppose if I were worth that much I’d have at least some sort of beefed-up insurance policy on every part of my body, so my hair catching on fire would easily generate, say, more than a few dozen mil for my brethren were the fire to consume the entire caboodle and the kit. Anyway, the clip ended with the song continuing and the crowd rewarding the impromptu firefighters with a healthy round of applause. The incident, the rocker, the usual life-threatening situations created by pyrotechnics at rock shows got me thinking in general:

In my 5+ decades of hanging around I’ve had some weird run-ins with “famous” people. Most of them were musicians. And most of those musicians, if not all, were members of hair bands at the time. One of the run-ins was literal. Not related to music, but I should mention it here because the gent, at that time, had a luxurious full mane worthy of a spot in any of the popular hair bands of the day. So, even though he wasn’t a rock star in the rock music genre, he was considered very much a rock star in his field of work. So I’ll put him in this omnibus, as well.

The year was 1991. I was walking through Georgetown (in D.C.) with a friend on a Sunday early afternoon. We had just had gallons of coffee at some joint on K Street and had concluded a killer best-of-eleven backgammon marathon (he beat me 6-5). We were both buzzing from the caffeine and being quite loud and animated in our conversation. Walking by the front doors of some fancy hotel, we were engaged deeply in our repartee when suddenly I got blindsided by a gorgeously coiffed creature who, from the violent impact, promptly fell on his arse. The man was in the process of hustling out of the hotel, three giant athletic bags around his shoulders, probably focused on the black limo waiting by the curb with the engine running and the driver standing by the open door. I absorbed the impact with not much consequence. I hardly budged, really. I suppose at the time of impact I was fairly well centered or balanced. But there on the ground, among huge bags filled with equipment and two dozen tennis racquets wrapped in air-tight plastic, was rising world superstar, tennis great Andre Agassi.

He was playing that afternoon in the final of what then was called “The D.C. Sovran Bank Tennis Classic.” He was quite nice and apologetic; he did violently merge into me after all. I was merely minding my business. At the time he was dating Brooke Shields. Both my friend and I were huge tennis fans back then, so we thought the incident was quite a nice surprise—a literal run-in with a celebrity. No sign of Brooke, though. Just an entourage of what looked like a couple of bodyguards, coaches, gurus, and some other hangers-on. After Andre got into his limo with his crew, my friend speculated what might have happened were Agassi to be hurt badly enough to forfeit the final. We probably would have never gotten out of there with our lives. Those bodyguards resembled Terminators sent back in time to create mayhem on anyone interfering with their client.

*

In 1986 I was on a flight out of Philly with my friend, Woofie. I was tagging along with him and his parents on a trip to Veracruz. The flight was bound for Mexico City. The plan was to rent a car there and drive southeast to the coast, arriving in Veracruz about 9 hours later. As with any trip overseas, it was going to be a long voyage. But, as 17-year-olds, neither Woofie nor I cared for seemingly inconvenient things like that.

We settled into our seats, which were directly behind the 1st class cabin—during those days, and at least for that flight in particular, there was no barrier or delineation between the sections. Woofie and I sat together. I don’t remember what we did back then to occupy our time. Obviously this was the era before mobiles and the Internet. I would guess we both cranked out some mix tapes on our Walkman. I remember being able to actually read fiction novels on flights at that age, and I remember being heavy into Kafka so I probably had my trusty Trial with me.

AnywaySSS, we’re all settled and good to go when in comes a super tall, lanky rocker-type with jet black hair and complicated leather get up that only tall, lanky rockers in the 80s could get away with. He approaches us, and both Woofie and I recognize him right away. We get a clear, close look at his ugly mug for confirmation. Our respective gazes lock, and he realizes that he has been recognized for who he is, so he smiles slightly and gives us the “all riiiight, all riiiight, all riiight” double guns, followed by the double thumbs-up, before he swings around and takes the last seat in 1st class, just in front of us. We both just sit there giddy and comfy as pearls in oysters. And then give one another a very subtle low five. As if we had actually done or achieved something.

The gent was one Tom Keifer, lead singer and guitarist of hair band Cinderella who, in 1986, was one of the hottest rock-n-roll products out of Philadelphia. No other members joined him, much to our disappointment. We always thought the likes of Cinderella must surely travel together. A band is a unit. The unit stays together, eats and sleeps together, parties together, travels together. I mean, the outfits and hairstyles complemented one another, so there is no way these musical parts would look right individually. Much less on a flight to Mexico City with two metalhead teens trying hard not to show their excitement seep through their pores. The flight was uneventful. Tom Keifer ordered a couple of Bloody Marys. There was no trashing of the cabin, as both Woofie and I hoped. There was no excess or any bad behavior. Not from Tom, not from us. And that was that. Sometimes stories fizzle out, what can I say. To this day I have Tom Keifer’s face vividly ingrained in my memory as he flashed us the double guns. Nobody does those anymore, by the way. Times have changed. And not for the better.

*

In January of 1983 I braved a typical Washington, D.C. ice storm and biked to my nearest record store, a now-defunct chain called Penguin Feather Records, in order to pick up the latest record from a band called Def Leppard. You may have heard of it. They had some hits. The record was out to great fanfare, both from critics and fans alike. It was called Pyromania. I was 14 years old and a big fan of not just Leppard but a ton of other heavier, less poppy, metal bands.

I chained up my Dragster outside the store and barged into the warm space, eyeing the Heavy Metal bins toward the back. The joint was full of people, something I didn’t really think out of place; Pyromania was selling like hotcakes, apparently. Record in hand but still rifling through the Led Zeppelin section, I noticed a small crowd following a diminutive, older, puglike looking man who approached me. The man was slightly taller than what we used to call back then the not politically correct a “midget.” He had on a full leather ensemble, belts with spikes protruding out of the leather, and short, bleached blonde hair. He stopped next to me, crowd gathering around.

Cut to the chase, this was Udo Dirkschneider—lead singer of German heavy metal band Accept. The band had just completed what was called an “in-store” (appearance and signing records for fans), and the boys were now let loose around the small shop to go around and pick up their favorite vinyl, gratis thanks to Penguin Feather. I recognized Udo (I was a fairly decent fan of the band) only after doing a double-take. He was waiting for me to stop thumbing through the Zep section so he could check out the newest offering from L.A. Guns. So he told me in a thick accent.

I was stunned. I had not even an inkling that there’d be a possibility a German metal band like Accept would travel all the way to this relatively small suburb of Washington, D.C. (Greenbelt, MD) for an in-store appearance at Penguin Feather Records, of all places. I mean, believe me, this was your typical small 80s record joint in a strip mall, next to the K-Mart, and in between the mom-and-pop video store and the quintessential “Hunan Village” Chinese restaurant. And now here was Udo Dirkschneider patiently waiting for me to get out of the way. I scrambled to get my copy of Zep’s “In Through the Out Door” and cede the space to the famous man. Meanwhile, I searched for something, anything of value to say. Here was my chance. One brief sentence. And all I could come up with was: “What are you doing in this place?” And dramatically made a large circle with my pointed finger.

It was the conclusion of the meet-and-greet event, and I had just walked into it unknowingly. These things were advertised back then in flyers posted on kiosks and in posters handwritten by store employees and placed in the store’s windows, but I had somehow missed the news. I had walked in like a Gump just looking to drop my hard-earned $6.99 on the newest Leppard record and ended up chit-chatting briefly with the lead singer of Accept about L.A. Guns, Leppard, and a new band making waves in the metal biz: a rowdy group called Motley Crue. It turned out all the members of Udo’s band were very nice, polite guys—nothing like what I’d thought Accept would be like. And it turned out to be a great day for a 14-year-old biking through ice pellets and miserable sleet in the middle of January, looking to buy what became one of the greatest records in rock, and a seminal work by Def Leppard: Pyromania.

*

To me the “Seattle Sound” is not Nirvana or Pearl Jam or Soundgarden or Stone Temple Pilots. No, sir. I am old enough to profess that “the Seattle Sound” is, in my opinionated opinion, Queensryche. Ok, ok, I would be called ignorant if I did not mention Heart. For if we’re going by official dates, they truly are the granddaddies (grandmommies, really) of The Seattle Sound. All respeK and props to the Wilson sisters, still going strong in 2021. They, and Heart, deserve a post all of their own.

My run-in with members of Queensryche was at one of those aforementioned “in-store” appearances. This time I hadn’t pulled a Gump, as in ’83, but actually had waited in line outside a record joint called Waxie Maxie’s in Laurel, Maryland, located in an outdoor mall called Laurel Lakes. Laurel Mall is actually pretty notorious and infamous. It was the location in 1972 at which Alabama Governor George Wallace, the South’s most vocal segregationist running for president, was shot and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his lousy life. I digress, although it’s a pretty important historical digression.

This particular branch of Waxie Maxie’s would eventually hire me as a clerk, but the day I stood in line to meet Queensryche it was as a civilian fan. The band was on tour and making in-store appearances to promote their latest concept album, Operation Mindcrime. In my opinion, even today, this is one of the most brilliant concept albums of all time, up there with The Wall, American Idiot, Red Headed Stranger, Mothership Connection, Quadrophenia, etc. It has everything that, then (1988), was en vogue: dystopian morass, government mind control, brutal secret police, an underground revolution brewing, a lack of future for Mankind. Everything en vogue then and before, that has pretty much come true now.

Despite having waited close to an hour to just get inside, and then hanging around another half hour to meet the band, I could once again come up with nothing to say. I moved from member to member with a dumb smirk on my face, collecting signatures on the back of my record jacket. Once again, I was floored by how nice, kind, and generous each musician was to every person that came across their table. There must have been easily a thousand fans waiting. None of the guys in the band as much as stood to stretch or take a break from signing and schmoozing for hours.

After getting my record signed and tooling around the store for other bargains in the reggae section, I finally squeezed out the door. The line had been cut down to barely a few fans bringing up the rear and you could tell the event was finally closing out. I walked across to a small pizza joint and grabbed 2 slices with xtra cheese to go. Stacking them up and folding down lengthwise, I was a veritable Tony Manero struttin’ down toward the parking lot. Only thing missing was the can of paint and The Bee Gees singing about the New York Times’ effect on Man.

I ducked around the back side of the mall where I had parked, behind the dumpsters and service entrances to the various stores. Weaving around some trash bins I came upon a long-haired skinny creature sucking on a ciggie, shivering, and moving sideways from foot to foot, trying to keep warm. I recognized him: Scott Rockenfield, Queensryche’s drummer. I stopped. Had nothing to offer. Scrambled for something worthy of saying. And came up with: “. . . so . . . uh . . . did you get to work with a click track on the album?” He dropped the butt, stepped on it, sniffled, and said: “Yup.”
“All right, all right, all riiiiiight . . . ,” I said and nodded. “Cool, yea. Cool. . . . “
“Yup,” he said. “Well, I gotta . . . “
“Oh sure, sure. Yea, cool . . . , ” I said. And that was that. Another potential great story for my mullet-wearing grandchildren squandered by a lack of imagination and a star-struck talker’s block. Should’ve just used the ol’ standby “What are you doing in this place?” Although, seeing how it was pretty obvious, that would’ve sounded worse than my feeble attempt at discussing a time-keeping piece of technology used in the recording industry thenadays (and nowadays, as well).

*

The last one (I swear!) comes courtesy of my now ex-brother in law. It’s a good one, and I wish it were me privy to the scene, but I have to give the credit where it belongs. My ex-brother-in-law John is a highly skilled rock guitarist, as well as a scientist. Given those two specific credentials, he could have easily fit into The Offspring.

So John was flying first class from L.A. to Atlanta sometime ’round 2000 or so for some sort of business the lab he was overseeing had with the CDC. Seated a few rows from him, he recognized, was guitar god and icon Yngwie Malmsteen. The axman had apparently put on a tremendous amount of weight since his glory days of the 80s. Nevertheless, John recognized him. But, unlike me, he remained cool and never approached the musician. During the flight, according to John, Yngwie became more and more inebriated. And more and more delinquent, obnoxious, and demanding of the cabin staff. It was (and is) the typical behavior one would expect of the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen, right? I mean, Woofie and I were extremely disappointed with Tom Keifer’s exemplary behavior on that flight to Mexico City.

After some time of this irritant, crew and passengers’ patience having worn thin, a woman a few seats away, finally spoke up and . . . basically called it as she saw it. She let him know exactly what was what and suggested, finger waving (according to John), he show respect and settle down. He was causing enough of a disturbance to be heard all the way to the back of the aircraft.

According to John, Malmsteen suddenly popped up from his seat and in one quick, agile move, he ambulated his 300+ – pound frame across the rows and landed in this poor woman’s lap. Wagging his finger in her face in what I can only assume was a gesture of mockery, red in the face, veins nearly bursting on his forehead, inebriated from vodka and whatever else he might’ve downed pre-flight, Yngwie Malmsteen—perhaps thinking he was on stage performing?—roared in this poor woman’s face: “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? DO YOU? I AM YNGWIE MALMSTEEN! AND YOU SHALL FEEL MY WRATH!!” (No worries; the poor woman did not get to “feel the wrath” of guitar god Yngwie Malmsteen, as the cabin crew was able to get the Swedish axe man off the passenger and eventually calm him down with some magic pills that put our man down into a deep snooze until the end of the flight. This was just pre-9/11 so imagine the army of aviation goons that would’ve descended upon this Swedish god gone wild had this been a year or so later.)

My ex-brother-in-law tells this story in a much funnier way. He, himself, is a big man, an unforgettable physical creature, and when he tells the tale he literally acts it out. If you should be so unlucky to be sitting down, John will accurately re-enact the shocking lap dance the poor passenger woman received, complete with veins popping and a purple, rabid face.

I’ve run out of space and time. This piece is now pushing into short story land and probably not saying half as much as I’d initially thought it could. There was one more run-in I had planned on documenting; ironically with yet another hair band from Sweden, but I don’t think any of you have even an ounce of patience left for this drivel.

Maybe one day though . . . over a pot of good Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.

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