Back when I was 16 in high school, Trevor, my link to the wild blue yonder of the Air Force, was a sort of friend that I knew from hanging around other people. He was incredibly into running and keeping fit, which made him different than almost all of my other friends. As a result, we didn’t always see eye to eye since I was a lazy slacker, but when my friend Ken wanted to sell his ticket to Iron Maiden, a concert that we had planned to see for so long, it was Trevor who jumped at the chance to go, so it was like, "OK. Let's do this.
So the next day, Trevor and I jumped into his dad’s black Triumph TR-7 convertible ragtop, and headed off to Allentown to see Iron Maiden. It was a shame that I hadn’t been able to see them in 8th grade, because that was when they changed my world. Piece of Mind, Power Slave, Number of the Beast, Live after Death, and Somewhere in Time made them the epitome of all that was heavy metal. Their artistic skeleton, Eddie, was the coolest rock image that was ever known to man. Their stage show was fantastic, artistic, and dramatic, and I was finally going to see them in all of their live glory! Life was good.
It was just a shame that nobody else was going to see them...
By the time we were driving on Route 222 to go see them, my life had already been changed by the rock show. I had been to see Anthrax, Exodus, and Celtic Frost, which meant well and it was entertaining, but it wasn’t the same as punk energy. In particular, Henry Rollins’ explosive one-man wrecking crew force was the most intense live act I ever saw in the 41 years of my life.
Standing in a bingo hall that was transformed into a club and watching this hardcore punk legend call out all the kids that he wanted in his mosh pit was unlike anything that I had seen or would see in the rest of my life. It was so new and awe inspiring that my pre-16-year old self couldn’t be anything other than thrilled to be a part of this spectacle. Here was this man, standing only in a pair of shorts, sweating, shaved headed, and covered in tattoos of punk bands, philosophical ideas, and random cool stuff. Here I was, a goofy suburban white boy, looking across the room, which couldn’t even masquerade as a club, and there was Rollins who was unlike anything I had ever seen in person. His face was the rock hard Nietzschian special forces assault against weakness, pain, and bullshit, and his intensity kicked into gear as he burst into song. Behind him, the band slammed into full-fledged assault on their guitars and drums. The album title said it all: Hot Animal Machine. Moving through the post-teenage depression and angst that was Black Flag, Rollins was changing into thee warrior of the suburban apocalypse. Of course, in twenty years, he would be the only man in Hollywood who had almost as many jobs as Ryan Seacrest. In addition, he was definitely someone that you would be more interested in sitting down and talking to about life and living than you would with Ryan Seacrest… that is if he had time for you. Then again, I understand him not having time for me. I did kind of barge into his dressing room.
As I wandered back the hallway, I was followed by several Brits, my friend Mike, who we all called by his last name and a few other Americans that were in tow with us. I was first in line, and when I walked into the dressing room and professed my worship of his highness, Rollins just looked at me like I was from Mars.
The look of surprise quickly vanished, and he then angrily asked me how I got backstage. I told him the bouncer let me. He responded that this dude shouldn’t have done that. At the point, the Brits barged in with typical English joviality. Immediately, they asked for autographs. When they got them, they walked out as they had entered, still bubbling with their joy for the universe as Rollins looked over at me, the instigator, and asked what I wanted signed. I told him that all I wanted was for him to stand there and take a picture with me. When we both got into the picture, I called Mike over, and as we stood for the photo, Rollins asked in the most annoyed way that I’d seen since Basic Training if everyone was in the picture now. I said yes, and we left without another word said after some guy we were with who I can’t remember the name of took the picture.
In the end, I had met my hero, and I had offended him in one life-changing moment. Still, it was a great moment that I will always remember (Henry - if you're reading. I'm sorry. I was a jerk, and I shouldn't have done that).
At the time, punk rock and its transitional forms that became grunge, indie rock, and alternative rock took the anger and hostility of metal and replaced it with politics and perhaps more importantly, a sense of trying to describe and explain the existential vacuum that existed in my high school life. Of course, I would have never known it as some deep philosophical concept at the time; I just knew that I didn’t have a car, didn’t have a girlfriend, didn’t have that many friends, didn’t relate to my parents (as many teenagers feel), and I didn’t have any sort of solid future lined up, let alone money or proximity to do the things that I wanted, whatever the hell that was. Without music, I would have been lost to all that was hovering over my head. Who would have known that it was the backdoor that took me into all that I was going to find in literature 10 years later?
There was a part of me that was still clinging onto metal, even after hearing The Smiths’ “There is a Light that Will Never Go Out” on WXPN led me to the classic album The Queen is Dead, which came along and left Kiss, Ozzy, and W.A.S.P. in the dust. Nevertheless, I still found louder, heavier music in early Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer, which sufficed for a year or two, but most of it was just a passing fad until I really got back into hiking in 2013 and used it to energize myself up for pre-hikes (though I tend to go more mellow or poppy on the way back - some of the LaLaLand stuff is just incredible for positive energy).
With my affection for an Emma Stone / Ryan Gosling musical being said, let it also be said that the dudes in Slayer just kick the holy hell out of anything that is frustrating, annoying, or nonsensical to my life. Granted, they’re not relaxing music, and they’re broken out for energy in times of extreme angst, but I will say they’re still one of my favorite bands. How could they not be? Songs like “Disciple,” “Haunting the Chapel,” and “Raining Blood” represent the purest greatness of thrash metal as a genre. For what it’s worth, “Reigning Blood” was number 87 on VH1’s America’s Hard 100. That said, when Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” is number one, it kind of says a lot about the order and fairness of things as well as a definition of what is hard.
Nevertheless, most of the louder metal-core bands of the 1980s, forgettable ensembles such as DRI, Corrosion of Conformity, SOD, and the Cro-Mags faded into nothingness to be replaced with punk staples like Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, Minor Threat and Black Flag, which also faded into obscurity soon after I realized that teenage rebellion really only matters until the pre-frontal cortex fully forms or until you are paying your own room board. All the same, at the time, these were the singers that would make a difference in my life in all of those lonely high school days. Eventually, they would be replaced and modified by more experimental tastes such as Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Bauhaus, Joy Division, the Minutemen, and the late 80’s / early 90’s industrial scene. For all these guys never achieved in commercial success with tours to the Enormodome, they combined to say one thing: The nothingness that was my America at that time was not mine alone. There were many others just like me, and at the same time, while they were different than me, they were also people who didn’t fit in and were looking to belong to something.
Together, we formed a place to go in those 10 months or so after high school and before the Air Force.
However, in 1988, I was still 2 years away from the Air Force. I was still a year from graduating from high school. At the time, I was also three years away from stepping foot in merry ol’ England, a place that would erase much of the American culture void and replace it with the unique wonder that was being able to allow myself to be absorbed in British styles, while still retaining the select parts of the American culture that I liked or would come to call my own identity, which was pretty much all music at the time.
In short, I was light years from getting to know who I really was so that I could journey on Route 80 through Ohio and become who I was truly meant to be.
And in that lost period, I was riding as a passenger on that other highway, Route 222 in Pennsylvania, and I was heading to a concert that would be cancelled for lack of fan support, and then, I was coming home on that same highway.
As we passed the halfway point back to the West Lawn area, I looked over and told Trevor that I was going to fall sleep, and he nodded, as he continued to drive home. I don’t know how long it took my drowsy self to fall asleep in that hot July hazy sun, but no sooner had I fallen asleep than Trevor fell asleep, too. I woke up and felt him driving off the road, the gravel making the speeding car rumble. Then in the shock of my screaming to be awoken in this position, I woke him up too by screaming, “Trevor, we’re going off the road!”
Just like that, we hit a telephone pole, a tree, and a do not pass sign. The car spun around and came to a stop, as Trevor got out of the car to survey the situation. As he did, he started talking to himself.
“I’m going to be grounded forever, I’m not going to get my senior license, My dad is going to kill me.”
I looked back at him and summoned up all that is my trademark sarcasm and lack of sense of reverence for any serious moment.
“Trevor, My head is bleeding. My arm is broken. It’s really not that bad”.
It was then that he turned off the Contour’s “Do You Love Me,” which was playing on the radio because the movie Dirty Dancing had brought back an LP’s worth of oldies but goodies for eighties girls to feel nostalgic about a time they never knew.
And it was then that the other cars began to pull over to help us out.
Medical attention was also soon upon us, and everyone who came to rescue the scrawny kid in the passenger seat with the broken arm kept asking me how many fingers they were holding up and wanting to know if my neck was okay. After a while, the pain and anxiousness that I felt caused me to get annoyed with the repetitive questioning (as I said, I was an annoying teenager), and I told the well-wishers that I had already answered that question. I don’t think they understood my sense of frustration and lack of ability to tolerate pain or process what just happened. I also don’t think that they understood the fact I just wanted to be done with it, but oh well.
At least I was safe for the time being.
When the real medics came, they also asked me if my neck was sore. For some reason, I said yes, and they upped the medical situation as they placed a neck brace on me for 2 days. The neck brace also gave me a Med-Evac ride from Kirbyville to Allentown where I was treated for my broken arm. At the hospital, they cut off my clothes leaving me naked on the table as a male nurse told me to tell him if I had to go the bathroom. Immediately, my nakedness, which hadn’t been an issue suddenly was a very big problem. Where I thought that they would only cut off my shorts, they also cut off my underwear and my cool Metallica T-shirt, which I paid someone to pick up for me at Monsters of Rock for concert price, which is hefty for a teenager! In addition, now I also had to go to the bathroom, which really was a nightmare because if that was the case, then I would have to let a room full of nurses, doctors, and technicians watch me make a steady stream.
Though I tried to control this sensation as best as I could, I eventually had to cave in, and so, in the end, I was forced to face the pee bottle and lose all modesty as they gave me pain killers and prepped me for surgery.
In short order, my parents arrived, and for the first time ever, I felt like I had been meant to survive the incidents of my life for a reason, as if it was part of a greater plan that I had made it this far. At the time, I had no idea what this meant. I just remember feeling like a survivor. There are those incidents that are so momentary or fleeting to the teenage years, but that seem to have little or temporary bearing on a life, have a way of coming back to affect us as something far more than they ever did at the time. They are a lot of what makes us who we are. And this moment, was far from that since it was not a small moment by any means. This glowing neon light of demarcation would hold bearing on my life for some time after this.
But those other events, when they start making more sense in the aftermath, even if that aftermath is all but 30 years removed, that’s saying something.
For all that the feeling of purpose in life would have later, that something else, which was going to have potential implications for the immediate future was what it meant to have a steel plate on my right arm.
This metal device was hinged into place with 3 solid screws boring deep into my radius. As a result, I was barred from entering the military with the plate intact, and therefore, since I couldn’t pass the physical, the Air Force had no time and / or patience for me. The Army talked to me because they wanted to get all of their ducks in a row when it came to meeting new entrant quotas, and to be honest, I wanted to be talked to. I didn’t want to be in school, and I wanted to do something towards a future, which was two-fold thing in that it kept my parents off my back as well.’
Months of uncertainty and stupid high school days passed, and when the plate came out toward the end of my senior year, I still had several weeks to wait before I could get a doctor’s approval to say that I was capable of doing whatever motions it was that I needed to be doing with my arm. Like all things, the necessary time quickly passed, and I was given the note, and then it was off to sign up for the Air Force.
Even in signing up for the Air Force, I was never wooed. There was never a feeling of you’re our boy, so let us take you out to dinner so we can wine you and dine you before we let your ass get yours handed to you in Basic Training. Instead, I was made to feel like a fish that was going to bite, got reeled in, and now here I was, waiting the required amount of time until I would become one of them in some participatorial orgiastic love fest where all my youthful weakness would be the main course. But that's a whole other story, this is a story about Iron Maiden.
Over time, I drifted away from Maiden, but I found them again in 2004, which I'm glad that I did since they were a part of my life as a kid, and some things from our
I finally did get to see Iron Maiden in June at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. They put on a really good show and played a lot of old songs and quite a few newer ones. I have to say that I liked their new disc, which is a collection of extended songs that tend to move closer to 8-10 minutes of jammed out metal. They may be old, but they sure know how to rock. As an older person with a long drive home and an early morning commute, I gave up the encore to get out of the parking lot and missed them doing "Wasted Years," my favorite song of theirs, but still I got to see them do "Book of Souls," "Fear of the Dark," "Powerslave," "Speed of Light," and "The Trooper." and quite a few other great songs. The last song I heard was "Number of the Beast."
So this day is in honor of them and the show I never saw, the one to support the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son tour. There's nothing on here from that disc (of which the best track is "Infinite Dreams"), so here's a live "Wasted Years" from this current tour. Enjoy.