Thursday, July 8, 2010

It's Not Ozzy's Fault

Over the last few years — more than that, really — I kind of lost interest in Ozzy Osbourne. To me, his mystique was gone, drained dry to the bottom of the barrel. Other than a few tracks on Black Rain, none of the albums released after No More Tears seemed interesting. The music, and his diabolical image, were displaced by the marquee value of reality show buffoonery. The prince of darkness had become America's favorite TV dad.

Hitch a ride with Mr. Peabody and Sherman, setting the dials on the WABAC machine to 1981, and you'll understand my disappointment.

Blizzard of Ozz was monumental in so many ways. The songwriting was top-notch, and Ozzy was singing at his peak. Plus, Randy Rhoads enabled Ozzy to sidestep comparisons to his former band, Black Sabbath, because Randy was a different sort of guitar hero than Tony Iommi.

But it was the stories whispered in third period classrooms that made Ozzy dangerous. Some, like reports that he demanded his audience to perform acts of animal cruelty, were not true. Others — famously, the dove, the bat, and the Alamo — were fact. And moms and dads clamped down on letting kids participate in the fun: ‶Don't think you're going to that Ozzy Osbourne concert!″

The exhilaration of that danger was intoxicating. People feared Ozzy, and proclaiming allegiance by wearing his concert t-shirts, or driving around with the windows rolled down, cranking Diary of a Madman at top volume, made people look at you with genuine alarm. And contempt.

Sure, the response to Ozzy's musical output rose and fell like waves. Bark at the Moon was cherished; The Ultimate Sin, not so much. Zakk Wylde joining the ranks in 1987 was the wave rising again, first with No Rest for the Wicked, then cresting with No More Tears.

Then my appreciation of Ozzy Osbourne's music began to wane. Ozzmosis slipped under my radar, and Down to Earth said little to me. I did like Black Rain when I heard it for the first time, at the Madison Avenue offices of Sony Records. But other than playing a few tracks on my Caffeine Bomb radio show, that one drifted away, too.

Then, earlier this year, two things happened: I ready Ozzy's autobiography, and I listened to his new album, Scream.

Scream caught my attention because it took a turn off the beaten path of sounding complacent. The typical elements of the past few Ozzy albums that I expected were not there. Look, it's not Blizzard, it's not Diary. It's not No More Tears. But it demonstrates effort, unlike the contrived formula of Ozzmosis and Down to Earth. It begs more than listening once or twice, which is an accomplishment in a culture of shuffling and iTunes singles.

But his book, I am Ozzy, made me understand that Ozzy was never anything other than a poor kid from Birmingham, struggling with the limitations of his economic upbringing, and schooling rendered ineffective because of attention deficit disorder. He was a song and dance man, a clown, tap dancing himself away from bullies and into the fondness of his peers.

He never aspired to be the delivery man for the devil; he just wanted people to like him. We canonized him as the prince of darkness; we made him the poster child for delinquency; we created the expectation of who Ozzy should be. He just wanted to entertain us.

Over the last decade, since The Osbournes pulled back the curtain on the illusion we created, it's been easy to condemn Ozzy. Footage of his unsteady shuffle become a doddering, incoherent punchline. We laughed — mostly at, not with — and bemoaned the sad failing of our unholy hero. It never occurred to us that he hadn't changed, we just wiped our lenses and finally saw him for himself.

That Ozzy — the real Ozzy — didn't empower us. For all the tales of his wild rebelliousness that we used to armor ourselves against the world, Ozzy has always been harmless — harmless as a fart in church, like John Mellencamp once told Playboy magazine. So, if he was harmless, that in turn made us defenseless, and in fear we turned on him.

That realization, after reading his book, washed away the contempt I've felt for Ozzy over the last ten-plus years. I don't begrudge his career choices any more, or feel disdain for The Osbournes and albums like Down to Earth. It's not his fault that we insisted on perceiving him as our unholy saviour. He was never anything other than a poor British kid, eager to entertain us, and desperate to be liked.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Conversations: Ronnie James Dio

I count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to chat with Ronnie James Dio numerous times over the years, and see him perform even more. He was always kind and considerate, a wonderful gentleman who was playful about my love of the Red Sox and his of the Yankees.

What follows is the transcription from our very first conversation, originally published at

Since his earliest days as a member of Rainbow with Ritchie Blackmore, vocalist Ronnie James Dio has been familiar to fans of the hard rock genre. First, with Rainbow, then with Black Sabbath and, most notably, Dio, he has been the originator of some of the most recognizable classic albums of the genre, combining the exciting sound of heavy rock with imaginative, fantasy-inspired lyrics. Currently celebrating the release of the band Dio’s very first full-length live release titled
Dio’s Inferno—The Last in Live, Ronnie took time to chat with Prime Choice about a number of topics, ranging from the state of contemporary music to religion, his love of science fiction and biographical literature, and his fanatic support of his beloved New York sports teams. He even alluded to the idea of a concept album that will be his next project, harking back to the style of songs from albums such as Holy Diver and The Last in Line. And, he wanted to express his fondness for his former Rainbow bandmate, drummer Cozy Powell, who had unfortunately lost his life in a traffic accident only days prior to this conversation.

Why is now a particularly good time to release a live album?

I don’t know if right now is the right time. It certainly wasn’t predicated upon it being a good time to release a live album. It was because I’ve been trying to do this for quite a long time now. After we had the first two albums of ours, Holy Diver and Last In Line, both which were very successful, I thought, then, that that was the perfect time to do it. There were a lot of hits from both those albums and we would’ve been able to capture the original band. But our record company at the time, Warner Bros., wanted studio albums. I’m sure it was a matter of money. So, we never really got a chance to do it. Finally, with a new record company and a tour that was going to last for a year-and-a-half, we approached them with it and they said, “Yeah! Let’s do it, it’ll be great.” So, it was just more timing than anything else.

Are there plans for a companion home video?

There were going to be. We had [filmed] a show in Bremen, Germany at the same time we had recorded one of those shows. As of this particular moment, it’s not in the works. But, it’s a possibility. I think I’d rather do it in a different situation where I had a little bit more control. It was kind of spur-of-the-moment.

One thing that I find interesting about this live album is that it doesn’t acknowledge Sacred Heart, Dream Evil, or Lock Up The Wolves. Any particular reason why?

I think one of the things is that there are so many songs from the first two albums that we’re kind of forced to do, things that have been more of our signature material. Plus, a few other reasons, I guess. Sacred Heart and Lock Up The Wolves were not the happiest of projects. We also did nothing from Dream Evil, either, so there are three albums we didn’t touch from. With Lock Up The Wolves, the entire band had changed. Now, Vinnie [Appice]’s back with us, of course, and has been for a long time. I just felt maybe I was gonna be putting things on him that maybe—he wasn’t involved in, if you know what I mean. I thought maybe it was better if we just didn’t do it at that time. The other two albums, again, Sacred Heart was the album that—shortly after we started touring to support that album, Vivian [Campbell] was gone. And, the making of the album was not the happiest of times. And so, perhaps for that reason, we just neglected it. The same with Dream Evil—another unhappy time—perhaps. Another guitar player change with Craig Goldy coming in. I think, perhaps, just bad tastes in our mouth, a little bit; we decided not to do those. One good positive thing about it is we get a chance to do them now because we’re running out of material. We’ve done almost everything else before, so, yeah, we’ll probably touch on those; I’m sure we will. I’d like to do a couple tracks from the Sacred Heart album this time on the road. And, something from Dream Evil, and something from Lock Up The Wolves. So we’ll catch up with those.

One of the things about this live album that I found most appealing is how real it sounds. I mean, with the headphones on, it’s really not too much of a jump of the imagination to feeling like you’re actually at the show.

Well, it was an incredible audience, a really exceptional audience that particular evening that we did most of the tracks from this album. That was outside of Chicago in Shaumberg. We did choose a couple tracks from other places in the world because we did want to make it a world tour live album. But most of them were from Chicago. The audience at that night was just wonderful and I think it shows in the performance as well. I mean, if you don’t have a great audience there, you’re not really gonna put out. Everything really went well that night. It was a real magical night, and my only concern, really, Roger, was that I thought it sounded too good. [Snickers] I thought that maybe the album sounded almost as good as a studio album, and then there was an audience with it. But I guess in the long run, that’s okay. Thanks for your compliment. That makes me feel a little bit better about it. I think it was the matter of the connection with the audience. And that happened almost every show we played anyway, so the audience was an as-important part of this album as we were.

In all honesty, after a certain point in your career, I haven’t really been too familiar with some of the stuff that you were doing. When I got this album and listened to it, it was great. It just brought back a lot of memories, like, Yeah! I remember this stuff, and I remember why I love this stuff. I don’t want to compare it to a studio album, but with a lot of live albums, there’s a tendency of, Well, y’know, this doesn’t sound so great. But it just seems with this piece, everything came through: the audience, the performances.

Well, it was important for us to be sure that the audience were included in this. Again, without their spark that night—all those nights, really—we wouldn’t have been nearly as good as we were. My feeling just was about it sounding like maybe it wasn’t a live album. I just thought the performances were so good. I mean, let’s face it, when you do a live album, you go in and you mix the thing. And there are some mistakes here and there, and you have to fix them. But the thing I’m most proud of is that there were very few fixes on this. So there were some, of course, but not very many, which showed the consistency of the band from not only that show, but of all the other ones that we did. Maybe that consistency made me think, Gee, if there were a few more mistakes, maybe it would sound like it was more live. I just can’t bring myself to do that, and, again, the band is just so good that it comes across as, perhaps, too polished. I certainly hope not. Per your compliment, I think, obviously, it sounds like a live album, so that’s what we were looking for.

Well, it sounds like you and the rest of the band are definitely having a great time.

We had a great time. We always have a good time. I mean, once you find the right people in place, once you put them there and you know that they feel the same as you do about the music that you’re making and the music that you want to make—plus the fact that we’re all friends—why play in a band with someone you hate, just because he’s a good player? I never would do that. But everyone has always been chosen because we got along well. This band gets along particularly well, and we’ve been together—actually, Vinnie and I have been together for eighteen years, Tracy has been with us for five. So, it’s a long enough time for us to have really gotten to know each other, personally and musically, and I really do think it shows.

There seems to be a lot of controversy surrounding Tracy G. and his ability as a guitarist, which strikes me as very odd.

And me.

Personally, his sound, to me, seems to be much more instinctive than calculated. It sounds really raw, like it comes from the street.

That’s exactly what Tracy is.

What’s the trick to getting such a reality-based sound to mesh with such imaginative lyrics from some of the classic material?

Well, Tracy, for a start, knows his sound very well, and that sound that he has is the sound I was looking for. I think my favorite guitar sound will always be from Tony Iommi. Tony really invented that particular sound, that huge, massive, redwood tree sound that just never goes away and just carries everything along with it. And Tracy, when he came into the band, had exactly that same sound and that same idea, which is, of course, the reason we chose him. I think that a lot of the criticism of Tracy is because he doesn’t play—he doesn’t solo the way that Ritchie Blackmore did, or Vivian Campbell did, or other guitar players in other bands who were from the Gee, I love to play my guitar, listen to this kind of attitude. And Tracy’s not like that. Tracy’s a band person, and I think you hit upon where the sound—especially the sound of his rhythm playing [comes from]. I mean, he really fits into the band so well. That’s what he wants to do. Solo is his second nature. I’ve always found Tracy to be a great soloist. I think the thing that’s disserved most Dio-based fans is that he toys around a lot more with modern attitudes which is, perhaps to their mind, a lot more noise than it is those soaring solos that they’re used to hearing from people like Ritchie. But I think that’s a modern approach, and I see no reason to go back and be something that we don’t want to be. I’m sure it’s very hurtful to Tracy, this kind of criticism, because I think he knows how proficient he is. And certainly the rest of us do. I think it’’s hard to put a real finger on what exactly the problem is. I just think that people expected something different than what we gave them with Tracy, and they expected that he would be fired after the first time he didn’t play one of those solos. Well then, it’s not the case. He’s the player we wanted to play with, and he’s the one we’ll continue to play with.

Speaking from that point of view about people expecting certain solos and a certain sound, one of the things I really liked about this record—especially with the older material from, say, Rainbow and Sabbath—a lot of the bluesiness that I feel is at the base of all of it comes through on this, which I thought was wonderful. And, quite honestly, I think a lot of the guitar players that you’ve had throughout the progression of Dio really didn’t touch upon that.

Oh, I think so. I think you’re absolutely right. You’ve gotta remember that Vivian came from a different place. I don’t mean geographically, but he came from a different place in his mind. He wanted to be a blues player. I think that’s such a misused application to music: Yeah, I wanna play the blues. I mean, to me, if you’re gonna be a blues player, than I guess you should probably be B.B. King [or] Muddy Waters. These are the people who lived it and played it. Y’know, you go from that to Eric Clapton. I mean, that stuff was all done by people from the Mississippi area. Blues was an inherent part of their culture. Suddenly, it’s jumped upon by, y’know, by Eric Clapton and others like that. I mean, I’m not trying to have a go at Eric Clapton for this, it’s not his fault. I hear him play the same riffs over and over and over again, the same little diddly-diddlies that he plays, and I just don’t find that imaginative. But under the guise of the blues, it’s okay. The blues player. So I think that that’s a real misnomer, and it’s certainly misplaced when it comes to describing Vivian, to describing Craig Goldy who played with us. I think the young kid we had, Rowan [Robertson], was a lot more bluesy than any of the others. But Tracy, he’s a real blues merchant. He knows the blues, he likes that kind of music very much, and I think he’s been able to interpolate it very well inside—as you suggested—the kind of writing that I do, the imaginative lyrical writing. He was just the right choice, I thought. Just as, I think that people in the beginning probably thought that my inclusion in Black Sabbath was going to be What’s this all about? I mean, here’s a guy who sings and writes these kind of lyrics, and he’s going to this band following what came before, which was wonderful in its inventiveness. But I think that they felt that this was going to be the wrong match, too, and that was proved wrong as well. And I think what happens is that because guitar players and vocalists are very important parts of rock and roll—y’know, the great combinations like Jagger and Richards and so on and so forth. When you look for that, you have to find a player like Tracy or a player like Tony who is going to be influenced by what the singer has to give him, and the singer influenced by what the guitar player is going to give him. In Tony’s case, and in Tracy’s case, I found that. In Vivian’s case, I didn’t really find that. Vivian had to be controlled a little bit more. He would fly away at any particular moment on something he believed in, and it wasn’t the right thing for this band. The same with Craig. Craig Goldy thought that I wanted to be in Rainbow again, so he played that way and wrote that way and thought that way. When the reality struck, it was always Tony who was my favorite to play with. And, of course, Tracy second.

Well, it’s interesting what you were just saying about people’s expectations concerning Black Sabbath. It’s funny, because I get into a lot of disagreements, musically, with people because as much as I love Sabbath, I love the old Sabbath material. I love Ozzy Osbourne, but I love Ozzy Osbourne as a solo artist. Personally, my preferred version of Sabbath is the stuff that you did with them. And I’m not saying this because I’m speaking to you right now. For some reason, it just fits. I don’t like Ozzy as Sabbath’s vocalist.

Well, I’d like to say I agree with you. [Roger laughs] I think he was perfect for the early stuff. I mean, absolutely perfect. I think they had a lot of magic involved in what they did. They did it first, and I thought he was perfect for that. But his solo career has given him a chance to do a lot more things that Ozzy is all about. With Sabbath, you must understand that Ozzy wasn’t a really prolific writer in that band. I think he only wrote one piece with the band. Although, lyrically, everything was written by Geezer Butler. I think there’s been a lot of credit given to Ozzy that he probably didn’t deserve. Maybe now he’s realizing that credit with his solo career. I mean, it’s been a blockbuster of a solo career, and he’s done so well and he’s been handled very well. But with Sabbath, I think you’re always going to get those concerns with the people who loved Sabbath the way they were, and suddenly in comes this other person, especially a guy coming from Rainbow. What, from Sabbath to Rainbow? God, I can’t believe this is going to happen. But I think we turned it around for them, and we gave them something that Sabbath wasn’t, and that was a much more musical band. I think Tony was always a lot more musical, but he needed someone to spark that musicality; someone who could talk to him in musicians terms, which I just don’t think Ozzy was capable of doing. And, again, these are not slags on Ozzy. Please don’t take ‘em that way, I’m just trying to explain the situation as I saw it, and as I was involved in it. I could tell you many more things that you would probably be surprised at, but I’m not going to do that. With my inclusion in the band, Tony and I, we just hit a chord. It wasn’t a C, it wasn’t a D, but we hit that chord within ourselves. We were able to very quickly create things, just because of Tony’s basic nature, and because of my, perhaps, more adventurous nature. I think it made Tony play so much better. He just became the guitar player that I knew he could be. Now, believe me, I’m not taking the credit for all this, but I just think that it’s situations that make you better. Just as with Rainbow, I became so much better because I had a brilliant musician like Ritchie to work with and to write with, and to learn from. And, I think the same thing happened with Sabbath, but we were more on the same terms—grown up and had had some success, of course me not nearly as much as they had in the early days. But this was a time when their last two albums, Technical Ecstacy and Never Say Die had really died a death and they just fell apart. And it was time for Sabbath to be recreated, and that’s what we were lucky enough to do. We didn’t consciously think of it that way. We just offered our talents to each other and that’s the way it came out. We were very, very fortunate.

Perhaps, maybe, people’s opinions just stem from at what point in an artist’s career that they jump on.

I think so. I mean, I hear the same thing, Roger, that you say. There are people who just don’t want to know about anything after Sabbath when Ozzy was gone. And there are people who don’t want to know anything about Sabbath before Ronnie came into the band. That’s just the way life is. You have people who are adamant about it. I mean, Sabbath, in a lot of ways, their old fans are more like Grateful Dead fans than anything else; they never forget. And, that band, of course, has influenced so many younger bands of today, and it’s always kind of wrapped up in Ozzy. But the people from the next generation really didn’t know a lot about Ozzy and accepted myself and that band with me in it as Black Sabbath. Of course, our success speaks for itself. We did touch some nerves with some people. It’s just a shame the two have to be pigeon-holed like that: before Ozzy, after Ozzy, etcetera, etcetera. Hey, it was Black Sabbath and we were able to keep the banner flying for it, which is the thing I’m most proud of. [I’m] very, very proud of the fact that Sabbath got to be back where it deserved to be. Unfortunately, Tony made some wrong decisions after the couple of the albums that we did together and kind of diluted the band so much, just with person after person after person, and I think that the music didn’t really relate to what Sabbath was anymore. It became, I don’t know, just a little bit too poppy and stupid, maybe. In its lyrical approach, anyway. I certainly can’t blame Tony and Geezer for that because somebody else was doing that at the time. I’ll stop with that now. I could go on forever.

[Laughs] Alright. Let’s talk about the fact that I think there are a lot of great hard rock and heavy metal bands that are currently becoming really active again. You guys, [Judas] Priest, [Iron] Maiden, UFO have all just released wonderful new albums and I think a lot of other bands seem to be ready to follow suit. Do you think that we fans are poised for a metal renaissance?

I don’t think it’ll ever be the way it was before. I don’t think it’ll be a renaissance. No, I don’t think so. I think what it has to be—first, we must understand that the premise of rock and roll is that it’s usually young music made by young people for other young people. It’s a generational thing; people grab onto their own music. Well, metal had its run through its generation; it went away. Perhaps, rightfully so at that particular point. It’s place was taken again by a revival of punk—alternative music, of course—which left this music in a lurch. Well, a generation has gone by now. They’re disenchanted with hearing the same old things from the same old alternative people now, so they look for something else. Well, nothing new has really been created, so they harken back to what was really good, classy music and have somewhat rediscovered it again. But it can never be the same. It can’t be people just reforming and carrying on and [saying], “We’re back again.” I look at it this way: this is a band that only at one time did it go away from itself, and that was when Vinnie and I went back with Geezer and Tony and did the third of the albums that we recorded together—studio albums—called Dehumanizer. Following that album, we went back to Dio again. So, I don’t consider us to be anything like the people who have reformed and replaced people wholesale. We’ve carried on. We just continue to play, and we will continue to play and be as modern as we possibly can. The others that come along, I just sometimes find them to be people who couldn’t succeed when they broke up. Couldn’t carry on with other careers—other solo careers, whatever it may have been—and find now this hole, this big gap in the musical appreciation society. And people have said, “Yeah, we’ll get back together again; people wanna hear it again.” It makes no sense to me unless it’s like a Dio or a Priest or whoever else is making an album. You have to go out there and stay in that arena. Make another studio project and don’t let it be like what it was before. Take a step forward. Then I think that the old bands have some viability. But if they’re just coming back to go out and play places to make a buck and show off their paunch, I see no reason for that.

I think, too, if you’re saying to carry it on and grow, I think it’s definitely important, though, that you maintain some sort of semblance of what you’re known for, as opposed to just going off on a complete tangent.

Of course, of course. If you do something off a tangent, then you become a bandwagon-hopper. People jumping on a bandwagon means they couldn’t succeed with the kind of music you always made. “Hey, what’s happening today? Oh, I see. Let me shave my head off and put some shorts on and stumble around the stage. They’ll think I’m current.” No, I totally agree with you. I think that’s the wrong, wrong, wrong thing to do. We were talking about a renaissance of this, or its resurgence of some kind. It has to be part and parcel of tradition and modernism. It has to be. We can’t just blindly say, “Okay, we’re back again and we’re going to play the same old dribble for you.” It can’t happen. That’s what killed it in the first place. Bands have to listen to the new music that’s coming out there and take some examples from what they’re doing. They’re doing some different things. They’re breaking rules, maybe they don’t even know it. But they are. They’re playing things out of time and time against time. I mean, I think that that’s what music is supposed to be all about. But a lot of the bands from the “old times” are still sticking with their same tried and true formula. Hey, if that’s what they want to do, that’s up to them. Fine. From a personal, pleasing myself aspect, I never could do that. I have to listen to what’s going on and try to be part of that as well.

One of the nice things, though, is [that] no matter how you progress, it all fits together. I think this live album is a perfect testament to that. You’ve got material that goes back to the earliest days of your career up until now. You can see the growth and the differences, but it all fits together very well.

Oh, it does, yeah. We haven’t strayed so far away from what we were or from our traditions that we have become guys who have jumped on a bandwagon or done something that’s so confusing to our fans. We’ve done a few confusing things to our fans. I think our last album was confusing to our base Dio fans because they always expect you to be what you were. Lyrically, if you have been Mister Fantasy like I have, they expect that to be the same. If you’re Mister Positive and Mister Optimistic, they expect the same. And as soon as you turn around and don’t do that, either musically, with taking too many modern steps, or lyrically, by talking about things that interest you or social comments, which I did on the last album, I think they become very confused. That doesn’t mean that I must stop my progression because if I stop the progression in my heart and in my soul, then I won’t play this music anymore. I don’t want to be someone who just rests on his laurels. I need to go forward somewhere. And, I think that the last thing that we did was a bit confusing to people because the lyrical content was very much pointed to a social aspect. The next album that we do—I mean, I’m not stupid, either. I learn things along the way, and you learn from the people that you talk to who come to see you. And I talk to them all the time. I’m going to spend three or four hours usually, out in the cold, signing autographs for them. Not because I have to, but because I want to. I want to because they are there to support me, they always have been. They’ll wait out in the cold, why shouldn’t I? Plus the fact that I learn from them. For God’s sake, I ask them things: “What did you think of this? What did you think of that? Should we do something different?” And they tell me. So, gleaning that kind of information, I’m going to put that to good use for the next album we do, which, I would like to make a concept album, which gives me the reason to do songs that were much more in the ilk of Holy Diver, Last In Line, Sacred Heart, those kind of things. Yet to also remain current. Because if you have a reason and a theme to write your songs around, then it’s not bandwagon-hopping at all. There’s a reason for it: “This song needs to have fantasy inside of it to explain this story that I’m trying to put together for you.” So, it makes sense to me to do it that way. And I think only a concept album makes sense to go back and be retro at any point of doing material like we used to do. And so, that is what we’ll do next time. As long as I’ve convinced myself that it’s okay, then I’m cool. But the first time I think that I’m becoming Chubby Checker and doing “The Twist” again, or that I’m becoming someone who shouldn’t be in a new musical arena, then I’m very dissatisfied. But I’m satisfied now because I know what I have to do the next time. And the live album [is] not just filling a gap between studio albums, because that’s not what it is. I just happened to be able to do a live album for the first time, and its release meant that we certainly couldn’t release a studio album on its heels because it would defeat the purpose of its promotion. But the next album, as I say, will be something more special for us.

With that in mind, what is the basis of the story line that you have in mind behind the concept album?

Well, if I told you that, you’d steal it on me, Rog! I’ve got a few ideas in mind. I’m sure that it will be science fiction-come-gothic fantasy tale because that is what I do best, and I think that is what most people remember me for or expect from me. As of yet, I’ve not titled it. I really don’t have the complete story line down or anything, but I know what I want to do with it. Usually, the things we write, we write together. I will have to conceive this one so they know what I’m doing, of course, but most of the time I’m inspired by the music that we play when we write. Without that, then I just become the dictator who says, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do today.” I don’t want to be that. I’ve always been in bands, I’ve always been in groups. I want to remain with that feeling. I think that together you can be so much stronger than alone. And I just love to interact with the people who have ideas that I don’t—guitar players and drummers and keyboard players and bass players. That’s what we will do the next time. Probably a lot of this will be put together in the writing, but it will be a concept.

Well, when did you first become interested in the fantasy aspects of mythology and such?

As a kid, really. Probably when I first was able to read, like five years old, six years old—something like that. I mean, I wasn’t reading Dick and Jane at that time. I’ve always been a kind of grown-up little kid—and little is the operative word there. I’m an only child, so I spent a lot of time to my own devices. I just, early on, fell in love with—I mean, when I was really able to read the things and understand them, y’know, eight or nine years old, I think the first book that I read was Ivanhoe, and I was just knocked out by that. Suddenly, being alone all the time and being able to use your imagination, I was able to put myself into those positions. I just fell in love with the idea of that romantic notion that the white knight kills the black knight and the dragon is slain and the damsel is saved, and everyone goes off into the sunset very happily with a big castle in the background. It was just a chance for me to really use my imagination because all of those things were really—a lot of them weren’t things that we knew about. We still, to this day, are not sure where King Arthur’s castle was; we’re not sure that the legend that’s been passed down is true in any degree. So, it’s an imagination thing. That’s when I started being very involved in it, as a young kid. Then, I think after that it was science fiction. The two of them together because science fiction, to me, has always been—the people who have written from Clark to Asimov, Bradbury, etcetera, etcetera...even as far back as H.G. Wells, these are people who predicted, who prognosticated so long ago of things that were going to be and have all come true. I mean, look at Clark with 2001. How long ago was it written? Now we’ve had men on the moon and all these things that are happening now. So that was another chance for me to use my imagination about what there was out there [and] what could be. A lot of science fiction writers cloak their stories in the same romantic, gothic chivalrous kind of attitudes. The things were just perfect for me to read, and that’s what I spent a lot of my time reading. That, and I think the third thing I liked a lot—and still do—are biographies. Biographies or autobiographies. I like to know why people succeeded; why they did or why they didn’t. So those are the three writing patterns that I follow, starting with the fantasy of Ivanhoe, and then carrying on from science fiction to biographies.

I really relate to that because I, myself, am an only child and a lot of the same things you’ve mentioned—y’know, you’re tucked away in a corner and your imagination just carries you away.

Yes, it does. I mean, sometimes it’s good to be an only child. I don’t know any different, and you don’t either, so I guess it’s good, right?

Exactly! The only thing is [parents] always know who did it.

That true, that’s very true. Of course, I had friends as well who were maybe not only children, but who were involved in that too, who liked that same kind of thing. We would spend our time together talking about it and imagining what it would be like. Of course, being alone and using my own devices, yeah, that was great. But also having friends that felt the same way I do, it gives you a little bit more of a solid feeling, knowing as a person dealing with yourself all the time that there are others out there thinking like that. I get this, kind of like The X Files—y’know, I believe that there are things out there...that kind of thing.

Are you looking forward to this made-for-television movie about Merlin the enchanter?

I am looking forward to it, as a matter of fact. Yes. The film that I really liked—I liked the effects, but I wasn’t sure about Sean Connery as the voice of it—was the one about the dragon?

Oh, yeah!

It was a wonderful concept. I just think it fell just a little bit short. I think maybe it just fell a little bit short with me because I’m so involved in it, and maybe I saw it from the way I wanted it to be portrayed. But I waited for that one for a long time and then was a little bit disappointed in it. Yeah, the Merlin thing should be great. Truthfully, I just saw the first two installments of From The Earth To The Moon.

Oh, how were they?

Oh, unbelievable. Unbelievable. I love that era so much anyway. I mean, just the adventuresome spirit of those astronauts. To me, just to see them strapped alone in this capsule being shot up by a rocket to go one time around the Earth—or, in the first instance, not even to go around the Earth—was amazing. And the calmness of the people who were in that capsule, I’ve always just been stunned by that. It was such a wonderful program. You should watch it. I think it’s once a month, they show two episodes, so I’m sure that they’ll be repeating it throughout this month. If you get a chance, look at it. It’s very, very, very well done. I think Tom Hanks did a brilliant job of it.

Actually, something that I just saw recently that I thought was fantastic—I don’t know if you’ve seen it—was the movie Contact.

I’ve seen Contact probably seven or eight times; I have it on pay-per-view. I read the book first, didn’t like the book. Liked the film a bit better because it at least brought it to the imagination. But in both cases, I very, very much did not like the ending of it at all. It didn’t go to the place that I wanted it to go to. There was contact, but as you saw the film, there was only contact between her and her father in some way, who was supposed to be representing some other unearthly being. It was very confusing to me. I thought that the effects—when they strapped her into that thing and she went through the wormhole, I thought that was unbelievable! That I loved. I liked it all up until—I just thought that the end let me down.

I agree with you. I was let down by the ending. But on the other hand, it also made me think what would really happen if something like that actually did happen, because we are so skeptical as people.

That’s true. I think it would not nearly have gone as quickly as building that thing that they told them about. And especially now after a couple films that deal with that premise, some people are probably scared about it. But, y’know, we don’t know what our government thinks. The only thing that we do know is that our government doesn’t usually think, and certainly doesn’t give too much of a damn about us as private citizens. So it would be their decision in the end, and I’m sure it would be a decision if there were to be contact that in their minds would mean the best for them or the best for us, so that they would think. I don’t know how our government would handle it. I guess a lot of it would depend on who was the President, who were the people in place. I mean, these are things that I’ve never really thought about. But if there were contact, when, say, Herbert Hoover was in office, or Calvin Coolidge, they would’ve gone, “Get outta here! We don’t want anything to do with it. These things don’t happen.” I think it would make a difference as to who was in the government.

Oh, certainly.

I mean, what if they went to—what if the first aliens made contact in Russia in the times of Stalin, or even later than that when communism was fully in place? Who knows what would’ve happened. We, as self-centered Americans, always think, Well, of course they’re going to go to Washington first. Or New York, or they’re going to go to Orlando to see Disneyland before they contact us, and because we are that self-centered. But who knows? I think a lot of it would be dependent upon—although if we’re talking about beings who are brilliant enough to be here from another galaxy or another place, then, obviously, we’re not gonna have much of a say in it, I don’t think. It’s either gonna be like the old Twilight Zone thing, “To Serve Man,” one of those kind of things where—I don’t know if you remember the episode—a spacecraft had come to the Earth and the people who came out were Earth-like in nature. No, that’s a lie, they weren’t. They were very different. The guy who played Lurch in The Addams Family played the main role, so you could see how big they were; they had big bulbous heads. They convinced everybody that they were there for one purpose, and that was to serve man. And at the end, it turned out that To Serve Man was a cookbook and they were taking all these people back to their home planet to eat them. So who knows? [Laughs] That’s a possibility, too.

I came across an interview with you that was published on the internet that really seemed to prod you about religion and your beliefs, and your opinions of the Catholic church. When I started to read the interview, I thought it was interesting, but then it just got to the point where it seemed like the interviewer kept prodding you, and prodding you, and prodding you about it. It made me wonder if you’ve ever read the book, Another Roadside Attraction, by Tom Robbins.

No, I haven’t.

After reading [that] interview where the guy kept prodding you, it’s something I think you would enjoy. Basically, the premise of the book is that this guy falls in with the Vatican. He finds a series of catacombs underneath the Vatican, and they’re all open, with the exception of one. And the open ones have valuable artwork and treasures and so forth. Through a freak accident of nature there’s an earthquake. While everyone is rushing out of the Vatican, this one guy goes to the catacombs. The sealed catacomb is thrown open and he finds the body of Christ, and finds that it’s all a sham. So, he steals the body and takes off with it.

Oh my God!

It’s done in a very humorous way; it’s very, very abstract and very, very bizarre. I don’t know why, but when I read that interview, it made me think of the book. It was something that I [thought] you might get a kick out of.

I can see the connection there, a little bit, yeah, and I was prodded quite a bit. I think it’s very important that people do not try to shove their, either political or religious or any views on others. It’s okay to be helpful along the way and explain why this may be and why this may not be and give people choices, but to ram my religious beliefs down anybody’s throat is wrong. But, the guy did keep going on, and on, and on about it. I think I mentioned to him about the Catholic church. And my feeling about the Catholic church, having been brought up a Catholic, was that I felt that they tried to capture you with scare tactics. And that bothered me very much as a young kid. I’m sure that’s changed, too. I’m not the youngest man on Earth anymore, so I can’t talk in terms of what teenagers go through these days. But I know that, as a kid, when I was introduced to the Catholic church, it was a very, very scary situation. To be introduced to these nuns—I had no idea what these were. What are they dressed like that for? You’re taught that you have to fear God: “God loves you, but you’ve gotta be afraid of him ‘cause he’s gonna kick your ass!” I mean, don’t tell me that. Looking around, the first time I was in a church and there were these statues with stone eyes, not life-like at all. And up on the cross—there’s this piece of board in the shape of a cross with a guy nailed to it. I mean, good Lord, ease me into it. Y’know, kiss me first—that’s kind of an Andrew Dice Clay thing. Give me some foreplay first, don’t just nail me into it. Luckily for me, again, I was a really grown-up young kid—I was probably an adult before I was even born—and I could deal it. But I saw kids crying and...this is no way for a religion to be. And I didn’t ever see a change. So when I had the opportunity not to have to go to the Catholic church all the time—’cause initially, of course, you do things for your parents and with your parents. And when I got to the point where I didn’t have to do that anymore, I just refused to go there. I always felt that my God was inside of me, my devil was inside of me, and that related to everyone else, too. I just became kind of a Taoist, in that good and evil reside in all of us and it’s up to each one of us to make that choice. And that’s where I like my religion to remain, because it’s my belief and my belief is sacred to me. No one can change my attitudes and no one should try to. By me discussing that with him in such grotesque length, I think it takes more away from my belief and the strength of my belief than anything else. I mean, I think things get diluted by too many explanations. I was happy for my upbringing because it was a very moral upbringing; I think everyone should be brought up in a church atmosphere like that, or a temple, or a mosque, whatever it may be, because you have good values given to you. Y’know, respect this person, respect that person, don’t kill, don’t steal. Everyone doesn’t follow those examples, but at least they were there for the taking, so I think it was a great upbringing for me. But eventually, especially being a person of the world as I became, you see so many injustices, it makes you really stop and think about God and your place in the universe. For all that, I just chose, and still do choose to believe, as I said before, in the Taoist way.

Well, it’s interesting, too, because you think about all these people that do force their beliefs down other people’s throats and insist that that’s the way. Well, who’s to say? I’ve always wondered, alright, well, you have the people that devote their whole life to a particular organized religion as that being the way. What happens when it’s Judgement Day and you’re before your maker, and you find out that you’ve devoted your whole life to the wrong concept?

[Amused] Yeah, well, I’ve thought about that, so I try not to think of it that way, Rog. If we think about it that way, that means, well, what the hell’s the difference. I’ve got one out of ten chance of choosing the right religion anyway, so I may as well just let it all rip. It’s an interesting concept. I’ve thought about that often. That, and the fact that unless our God figure needs to put either himself or herself in a physical presence that we can understand, then is God really the person that we think it is? We picture, I think, God or Christ sitting on a throne someplace. And when we die, we pass before him and he’s got clouds around him. I mean, that’s just the vision that we’ve been given all these years, but that’s got to be so unreal. I really, really do believe that personified, were he that all-caring and all-powerful, I wouldn’t see some of the suffering that I see on this Earth. That’s the thing that always bothered me about the God concept, was that if God is a fair god and God is a good god, then why do so many people that I know who have done nothing but good in their lives have had to suffer so much. There will always be an answer from the theologian about that one. That will be, “Well, because you’re placed upon this Earth to go through these crisises so you can be a better spirit when you die.” Well, this is the life I know, and this is when I want it to be good. I don’t want it to be good later on. I’m not one who believes strongly in reincarnation, and I’m not one who really strongly believes in the life after death concept. I really believe that this is it for us, that this is heaven and this is hell. I can’t conceive of myself—I was thinking about this last night, as a matter of fact, Rog. I thought, Well, now, if I die, I hope I don’t come back as some poor, starving little kid in Africa! I thought, well, how are you going to know that? How are you possibly going to know that you did that? So, wouldn’t the point of reincarnation if we’re placed upon this world to keep reaching higher plains, shouldn’t we know what came before so we can avoid those pitfalls or to be a better person? For all those reasons, I just tend not to believe in that. And I’d like to think that my place on this Earth is to do the best I can for the people around me. And the best for myself, as well, to be the best person I can possibly can be. And then, what comes afterwards, comes afterwards. There you go.

One last stab at all the religious stuff—I agree with you as far as building your own beliefs because I remember watching the movie, The Last Temptation Of Christ, when it came out. And I remember all the hubbub about it and the people picketing and everything. And I remember I watched the movie, and it was interesting because they’re showing all this and they’re showing the last temptation and people are getting in such an uproar. And it’s like, “Wait a minute...I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t there when he was on the cross, so for all I know, this could be his last temptation.” And that’s the thing. I think it’s just so interpretive.

Well, it’s interpretive, and I think that the greatest example of that is The Life Of Brian. I mean, I think when it comes to the furor and the uproar that people have about touching any kind of religious attitude, that is nothing but a funny film. Irreverent, yes, but they did not put the Christ figure; they had Brian. It was just a wonderful premise. What if there was some other guy who people thought was the Christ figure? It was just a great idea. But the furor over it. And we’re talking—what was that, maybe fifteen years ago? Maybe not even that long ago. Look how things have changed. Almost anything is acceptable these days, aside from the fact that poor Salman Rushdie, because he wrote that stupid book, is hiding for the rest of his life. But religion and life are something that, to me, are completely and totally separate, and should be. But they’re aren’t; it’s not allowed to be. There’s always an inquisition seeming to pop up somewhere. If they’re not going after Larry Flynt, they’re going after somebody else. As long as they don’t come after me, I’m happy. Or you, Roger, or you.

Thank you! On a lighter note, it’s been pretty well documented that you’re a sports afficionado.


Who are your teams?

I’m from New York, originally, so my teams are almost exclusively New York teams. I’m a New York Rangers fan; I’m a New York Knicks fan; I’m a New York Giants fan; I’m a New York Yankee fan—probably the most staunch Yankee fan on Earth. All the teams that I grew up with, I loved. I mean, I hated the Giants, I hated the Dodgers, I hated everybody else who competed against my team. Of course, I hate Boston—

Ah, God!

You’ve got to, you’ve got to!

I live in New England! I’m in Connecticut!

I can’t help it. Just remember, Bucky Dent when he blasted that home run, that little pipsqueak hit that home run, I was the happiest person on Earth. I mean, I always felt very bad for Boston fans. It’s really cool because there are a lot of Yankee fans in Boston. Well, this is probably when the Yankees were the winning team and Boston were doing nothing after we copped Babe Ruth and all the other things we did to you. I think people needed some heroes to deal with, and, let’s face it, Boston isn’t that far down the road from New York. So, I’ve always felt an affinity to Boston people. I love the Celtics, love the Celtics. I thought the Celtics were the team—loved Larry Bird, he was the man. But, y’know, I’ll always be a Knicks fan. I mean, even though the horrible suffering they’re going through now, I’ll always be a Knicks fan. But I love all sports, I really do. I like European football—soccer. I’m not crazy yet about American soccer. It’s too much of a money game for me, and I think it’s going to be very hard, aside from the Hispanic population in this country, to really take hold; they seem to be the ones who support it. I know here in L.A., when the American World Cup team played Mexico at the Rose Bowl, I think, there were pretty close to a hundred thousand people. And, ninety-nine thousand of them were Mexicans who were throwing beer, spitting, throwing bottles of urine on the American players. I mean, this is our country, isn’t it? I forgot about that. Well, that shows you right away that the support is from the Hispanic community and not from the vast majority of people in this country. We already had one league that went down, the first World Soccer League. I find it hard to get into soccer in this country, but I’ll watch it. Anything else, tennis, golf, you name it, I love it.

It’s funny, I remember growing up with the huge, huge rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Oh, of course.

Now, it seems like it’s shifting over to football, especially with [Bill] Parcells being with the Jets. Oh boy...that’s a big thing up here.

Well, he’s being sued now, Parcells is, and the Jets, by [Bob] Craft for some other tampering thing. I mean, he just won’t let Parcells go. He figures, You let me down, you son of a bitch. You left my team. We could’ve won the Super Bowl, so screw you. Well, y’know, the man made the decision he had to make. I’m glad he’s at the Jets, myself, because I prefer the Jets over the Patriots, just because I’m a New Yorker. [Laughs] The sports world today is so unbelievable. I mean, look at what’s happening in baseball. You’ve got Mike Piazza who’s probably one of the greatest baseball players ever to play, and he’s just not able to get the money he wants. He wants more than they’re offering him, and now the fans are booing him. And here’s a guy who’s kept the Dodgers viable for the last three or four years. He goes to the plate for the first time, he’s introduced, and the Dodger fans boo him. Now that’s going to really make him feel like staying here, isn’t it? But it’s all about money. He wants to be the highest [paid] player ever, and he’ll get that distinction. But a month later, somebody’s going to make more money than he is and it’s never going to end. And who suffers? The fans. Fans gotta pay for more ticket prices. A beer at Dodger Stadium is now five bucks. I mean, what’s that all about?! Aside from the fact that I don’t like American beer for a start, they’re going to make me pay five bucks for something I’m only going to rent and pee out in a few minutes anyway, and have to go to the toilet at Dodger Stadium and line-up for about an hour. It just makes no sense to me. Basketball tickets have gone up here. Laker tickets went from something like twelve or thirteen bucks to twenty-five bucks for the worst seats. It’s just out of control, and I think it’s the fan that’s going to suffer.

It’s a shame that it’s become so much about money because I remember growing up as a kid, before I got interested in music, my heroes were sports figures. You didn’t hear about sports figures changing teams every season for money.

They didn’t. For one reason, there was no free agency then, either. That’s what’s made the great difference, free agency. Like you’re saying, when you supported your Boston team, you knew who was going to be on that team every year.


I always knew DiMaggio and Mantle, that those guys were always going to be on the Yankee team, even though they were only making, at tops, a hundred thousand dollars a year. These were players—look at what Ted Williams made. He probably never made more than a hundred grand, and this is the greatest hitter the game has ever seen. So, y’know, it’s societal, and it’s generational as well. Unfortunately, we see it from the times when everything was fine. Everything was cool, so we, of course, seem to be these jaded old farts who look back going, “Well, y’know, when I was a kid, it was not like that.” That’s just the way it is. We have to understand that the world we live in has changed, and we can’t sit around and gripe about it. It’s almost like, I think, when the big bands died and all the guys in the big bands were there going, “This rock and roll crap. That’s not music. It’s never going to happen.” It’s the same thing. You have to have an open mind about it. Accept the music, accept the monetary situation that we have, and just get on with your life.

Word has it that the festival-style tour initially scheduled for this summer fell through. What are your plans?

We’ll probably tour in May ourselves, May and June. We won’t be doing anything extensive this year because, of course, it’s a live album. It’s very difficult to go out and support a live album because you’re basically doing the same things they just heard on the live album. And usually with a studio album, of course, people want to hear the songs that they’ve heard on...I almost said “record.” I’m showing my age again. On CD or on digital formats, whatever it may be. They want to hear those songs come alive from that thing. So, for us, we’ll do a couple months, and then we have another studio album to deliver in February, so it’s going to take a while to write that. So, a couple months of touring, probably May and June, maybe into July. Perhaps we’ll go over to Europe and catch a couple festivals. The rest of our time will be spent this year writing that next album.

So your touring time in the States, you’ll be on your own, headlining.

Unless something interesting comes up. It’s not like we sit back and go, “Well, [we’re] not gonna play with them. They’re not big enough,” or “We’re better than they are.” I mean, that’s ridiculous. The point is to put a good package together. It doesn’t really matter where you play, whether you close the show or don’t close the show. Truthfully, not closing the show is the best place you can be. Second before closing, that’s perfect, because by the time you’ve bludgeoned them to death, the next poor band’s gotta come up, and everybody’s drunk, falling about. It’s really a better position. That’s one way, I guess, to rationalize that you’re not closing the show. It makes sense from a business standpoint. The point is, the music has suffered in the last five or six years, of course, with no more radio outlets for it because, obviously, commercial sponsors don’t want to buy the time on a station that’s not going to be heard. That leaves us now having to do something that’s going to give us a little bit of credibility more. So, if that means putting some packages together like the one that was suggested, which I thought was good: the Maiden one, and us, and UFO, and Yngwie, and W.A.S.P. I thought it would have been an excellent show.

Oh, me too!

The problem with that always is that people want more money. “Oh, no, we can’t do it for that. We need more money. We’ know who we are. We’” In that case, you’ve got promoters out there going, “Well, we’re not going to make any money. You can charge all you want, but we’re not going to do the tour.” So, I’m sure that that’s one of the main reasons why it fell apart, was probably just a little too much greed and not enough sensibility, knowing you should go out and play. Play first, you can make the money later. If you do well, then you’ll deserve the money. And if you don’t, then you shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Obviously, from a business standpoint and earning a living, it isn’t favorable, but as far as the way the market has gone for this type of music, from a fan’s point of view, it’s great. Now, there’s all these bands that I never, ever, in my wildest dreams when I was younger would’ve imagined that I could have seen in such an intimate setting. Y’know, My God, I can see Ronnie James Dio in a place this size?! The acoustics are wonderful!

Well, you see, what you get on that level is you get the real thing. There’s nothing to hide behind. No band can hide behind all of the lights and all of the the things that always go right. And, you’re not distancing yourself from your audience. The ones who don’t survive are the ones who can’t get close to the audience, because then they’re shown-up for the no-talents that they really are. When you get into those situations, you’ve got to put out. I mean, that person’s standing right nose-to-nose with you. He can hear you without a microphone and he can hear you without your amplifier, so you’ve got to put out. We’re lucky because we’ve done so many of those big stadium gigs before with all the stage sets that we’ve brought, we have a mindset. Our mindset is that no matter where we play, this is a stadium for us; you play that way. When you see us play, and other bands like us, too, I’m sure, a few here and there, you get the intimate setting, but that incredible rush and attitude of a concert show in an intimate setting. And I think there’s nothing like it. I love to play it that way.

Well, I don’t think I really have much more.

Okay, Rog. No more religious questions?

No, not at all. I’m not going to badger you. [Laughs]

I was all prepared for you, too. I was going to say “no.” [Laughs] In case you didn’t know about this, Rog, because you didn’t ask me about this, so I’m assuming that you didn’t know...did you know that Cozy Powell was killed two nights ago?

Y’know, I did and didn’t. I got an e-mail from a friend of mine, but it was dated April 1st, so I thought, Oh, maybe it’s an April Fool’s gag. Oh, that’s a shame.

No, it happened a couple days ago, so it was after the first. He was, in fact, involved in a traffic accident and, I guess, hit a center divider at about a hundred miles per hour and was killed. Just horrible, because you’re talking about a legend, this guy.

One of the greatest drummers.

Absolutely. And, one of the greatest people on Earth, too. A guy who lived his life on the edge, and lived as fast—and, I’m sure, he’s more than happy to die that way, knowing Cozy as I did. I think that’s the way he wanted to go. So, he’s probably tooling around up in heaven somewhere. He’s got his Ferrari out, racing around the throne, or whatever goes on up there. I just wanted to mention it to you because I think he deserves all the attention he possibly can get. I put him right up there with John Bonham and Jeff Porcaro, and all the great players that passed away.

Oh, I agree with you. I’ve had the privilege of seeing him live in different musical situations with different bands. No matter what he was doing, he—it’s indescribable what he brought to it.

Absolutely. He put out. He was a hundred and ten percent every time he played. The man used the biggest sticks on the face of the Earth; they were like pine trees, just kind of whittled down a little bit. Just a very special person, and we’re just all going to miss him so much. He was real supportive. He had just this wonderful spirit that you couldn’t help but catch. Again, I just wanted to mention it to you, just in case you didn’t know, Rog. You could maybe put something in there.

Absolutely, absolutely.

Great, I appreciate that.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fear of Retribution: Heavy Metal Yankees Fans

Following a very cool Ace Frehley gig at Mohegan Sun casino last Friday night, my friend and I were sharing a late night, post-beers bite at one of the resturants. Scot Coogan and Anthony Esposito from Ace's band came in with our mutual friend, Phil Dieli, and the ball-busting started over my Red Sox cap.

Phil is a Staten Island native, so his love of the Yankees is understandable — a grotesque flaw of his otherwise stand-up character, but understandable. And Scot and Anthony are members of Ace's band, and Phil tells me Ace is a huge Yankees fan, so it's all in good fun.

There's a lot of ball-busting between those of us in the music business who are passionate Red Sox and Yankees fans. Playful affection, sure, but there's an underlying viciousness to the shots taken at one another. A few years ago, during a photo shoot at Eddie Malluk's NYC studio, Zakk Wylde gave me a ration of shit about my ever-present Sox hat. Standing behind Eddie, I watched, while Zakk bellowed between shots to "take off that goddamn hat!"

Joking that I knew he secretly wanted to wear it during the session, the dominant posing broke down to silly grins and lots of giggling, revealing that same goofy kid who joined Ozzy's band in 1988. During our interview, Zakk repeatedly called our conversation between a Red Sox fan and a Yankees fan a meeting of the titans, comparing it to Ted Williams hanging out with Joe DiMaggio.

You really don't hear much about prominent metal guys being fans of other teams, although that sorry bastard Snake Sabo admittedly loves the Mets. Massachusetts singers Brian Fair and Sully Erna are die-hard Sox fans. Staind singer Aaron Lewis even sings in "Massachusetts" about wearing his Red Sox hat with pride.

Brian's Shadows Fall bandmate, Jason Bittner, is someone to whom I regularly give lots of shit about the Yankees. Scott Ian from Anthrax is another vocal Yankees fan, and Blackie Lawless's uncle, Ryne Duren, actually pitched for the team in the '50s.

Blackie and I once cleared a table at a wedding reception with our shared stories of childhood innocence and cheering for the Yankees and Red Sox, respectively. I was actually on the road with W.A.S.P. when franchise Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was traded to the Cubs in 2004. I woke up on the bus that morning to an inordinate amount of ball-busting from Ryne Duren's nephew.

W.A.S.P. bassist Mike Duda is a Connecticut native, and a lifelong Red Sox fan. He also loves Schlitz. Somewhere along the way, we deemed that shitty beer totemic of Sox luck: the luck is in the Schlitz. There's even a can in my refrigerator, personalized by Duda with a Sharpie during his visit home a few years back, with explicit instructions to only open it in the event that the Sox are losing the World Series — the rally Schlitz.

Although he's usually recognized first as an auto racing enthusiast, Rachel Bolan is also a huge Yankees fan. Throughout the season, he's usually the first one to text me with a smart ass remark about the Red Sox. So, with Opening Day less than two weeks away, and the defending World Champion Yankees starting the season at Fenway Park, it was preemptive to text him today and ask where I should send his subscription to Red Sox magazine.

"Bite it," was the response.

One of my favorite instances of Yankees/Red Sox ball-busting involves Rachel. Skid Row played two nights in Connecticut, and at the lobby call the following morning, he asked if I would FedEx his guitars to him. Shipping them was less expensive than paying airline baggage fees for the barely oversized cases.

It would be seven weeks before their next gig, a festival date in Sweden. The odds were pretty good that he wouldn't take a good look at the instruments before then, much less open the cases. So I bought two 12" x 12" static cling stickers of the Red Sox logo and adhered one to each of his basses, basically covering the entire back of the bodies.

I figured he wouldn't notice them until some point during the set in front of 30,000-plus people, in a classic gotcha moment. The cases were shipped, I let him know they were en route, and waited.

There was no word. Days turned into weeks, until shortly before the band would be leaving for Sweden. I got a text message that read, "It's on!" and an attached photo of one of the basses with the giant Red Sox logo.

That was three years ago. Retribution has surely been building, and knowing what will someday come, I'm almost afraid...

Monday, March 8, 2010

El Diablo

Do you read album liner notes? You know, the lyrics, album credits, and the long list of thanks to everyone who helped the artist complete that piece of work?

I do. Always have, since I was a kid, wondering how each person made an impact on that album. And I know how cool it is to read one's own name, to know you affected someone in some way, in turn affecting their creative output. Sometimes there's even a show of affection in the form of a teasing nickname, such as Roger "fucking Red Sox" Lotring in one CD booklet.

And there's usually a phrase at the end of those lists that thanks anyone the band might have forgotten. Something of a friendship disclaimer to cover their asses.

I've been left off a list of thanks by mistake. My name was listed twice, as part of the singer's list, and also the collective band list. The proofreading process inadvertently removed my name from both lists, rather than just one or the other. That omission was only realized once the band got the finished CDs from the manufacturer, and they had to rock-paper-scissors to decide which unlucky bastard would be stuck with the task of telling me.

Personally, imagining them struggling to decide who would be the bearer of bad news is much more fun than actually seeing my name in print.

The point is, when you're trying to remember every single person who helped you accomplish something, there's an inordinate amount of pressure to not forget anyone — which usually means you will.

Which brings us to Sion Smith. Sion — or El Diablo, as I affectionately still refer to him — is a good English lad with a penchant for painting himself up in Kiss or Alice Cooper makeup, the choice depending on the day. He was the editor-in-chief of Zero when we met via email.

I became a contributing writer to that magazine, then later a relaunch of Sion's previous publishing venture, Burn magazine. Sion got it — still gets it, actually. In an age of instant Internet gratification and no-wait digital downloading, a time of ambivalence toward mystique, he remains a champion for the concept of heroes being iconic and music being magic. Man behind the curtain be damned, he's a proponent of the idea of there being a Wizard, a wonderful wizard.

When it came time to compile a list of thanks for Full Metal Jackie Certified: The 50 Most Influential Heavy Metal Songs of the '80s and the True Stories Behind Their Lyrics, including the magazine editors for whom I wrote was a no-brainer, especially those who took a chance on me, such as Greig O'Brien, Paul Gargano, and Sion.

So, of course, during the proofreading process, I completely missed the fact that one name is listed twice and Sion's omitted altogether.

Sion is one of the people who helped get me to the point of being able to say I'm a published author. If you read my thank you list in the book, make a mental note to include the name Sion Smith. Better yet, check out his work at Tales from the Zodiac Lung, because it's damn good and worth your time.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Phoenix Rising! Musicians United to Benefit the Victims of the Station Nightclub Fire

Standing onstage during the Phoenix Rising concert, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider read through a list of people behind the scenes who made the benefit show a reality. Much to his surprise, the last name read was Scott Dunbar. The 29-year-old survivor's fortuitous correspondance with Troy Luccketta led to the Telsa drummer's commitment to the victims of The Station nightclub fire.

Dunbar, a lifelong Metal Edge reader who frequents nearly every hard rock show that plays in the region, says there was a lot of thought before attending a concert again after the fire. "I definitely had a few doubts in my mind," he remembers. "I questioned if it was right for me to be going." But there was never any question that he would ultimately continue to support live music and his favorite bands—even Great White. "You just have to go with your instincts," he says, aware that support is a point of contention between some survivors and families.

Sixteen acts took the stage at the Dunkin' Donuts Center for a 4-hour show that crossed over musical genres. The 5,430 attendance seemed sparse, given the 14,000-plus capacity of the downtown Providence arena. Empty seats at the back of the hall were a woeful sight at first, but seemed to matter less as the night progressed. Snider served as a masterful emcee, provoking a proud sense of self-reliance in the face of five years of neglect from the mainstream music industry to the fourth deadliest nightclub fire in US history.

Gary Hoey opened the show with his "Star-Spangled Banner," followed by DC Talk singer Kevin Max with "Amazing Grace." His haunting take on David Bowie's "Heroes" with Stryper guitarist Oz Fox moved some to tears, but the night mostly seemed a jubilant celebration of love and life.

Several instances of players guesting with each other were prominent, including Boston guitarists Tom Scholz and Gary Pihl joining Stryper on "Peace Of Mind." Scholz, acknowledge from the stage as having donated $10,000 in addition to performing, was in the minority of area musicians on the bill. Although Snider denounced their abscence backstage, he put a more positive spin on the lack of regional bands like Godsmack and Aerosmith by encouraging applause for New Englanders who did appear when introducing Aaron Lewis.

The Staind singer was a visible highlight of the night with "It's Been Awhile" and cover of Bob Seger's "Turn The Page," and also former Mr. Big frontman Eric Martin who drew a rousing response with "To Be With You." Surprisingly, for an event perceived as a hard rock show, John Rich, Gretchen Wilson and Dierks Bentley were cheered for their set that included a country version of AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long," and a powerful cover of Heart's "Straight On."

Rolling Stone, Metal Edge and regional TV stations represented some of the media reporting on the event. Todd King, a Station fire survivor and fund board member who co-organized the concert, was the center of attention as much as the bands scrambling backstage before the show. VH1 filmed the activity onstage and off for Aftermath: The Station Fire Five Years Later that aired a month later. Dunbar thinks increased media awareness is not only necessary to raise funds, but also to underscore that due to the severity of their injuries, many survivors will always need assistance. "It's taken five years just to get to this point. There's a lot of people who need some serious help," he says, thinking the variety of talent broadened awareness beyond being just a hair band problem.

"Just guys who love music" is how Scott remembers Derek Gray and Eugene "Gino" Avilez, two friends with him who died in the Station fire. He counts King's X a week earlier as the last concert they saw together, where they made plans to see Great White. Dunbar remembers the car stereo malfunctioning halfway to West Warwick, forcing them to talk. "We were able to really talk," he reflects about the conversation that included plans to revive Metal Action, his defunct fanzine that was admittedly distributed by "sticking it in Metal Edge magazines at Barnes & Noble."

"We talked about a lot of stuff. If we had the CD player blasting, we wouldn't have been able to talk like we did. I thank God when I think about it, that that CD player broke."

In addition to the one hundred people who died in the fire, approximately two hundred were injured. More than sixty children lost one or both parents as a result of the blaze. Despite settlements worth millions of dollars, disbursement of any money will not be immediate. As Snider explained during aToday show segment on the fifth anniversary of the fire, estimated allotments of $50,000 to $70,000 per person will not go far toward paying outstanding medical costs, much less a lifetime of daily living expenses.

Dee alluded all night that the Station Family Fund has basically taken care of their own for the past five years. Dunbar says he's come to know many fellow survivors and family members as a result of the tight-knit family of people affected by the fire. "It's a common bond that you share, so you definitely get to know a lot of people who were unfortunately involved in this situation."

Watching the audience that included people who were visibly survivors, the realization that it could have been any of us was potent. Joe Kinan, who joined the onstage all-star singalong of "We're Not Gonna Take It," has no left eye, ears or fingers. Hospitalized for nearly a year following the fire, he's endured over one hundred surgeries so far. Seeing him put the reality of the aftermath into perspective. The triumphant elation of the Phoenix Rising concert receded the following day back to the routine of daily life, but it was hard not to try to imagine the painful reality of Joe's daily life.

For the victims and families of those lost in the Station nightclub fire, that night will never end. Phoenix Rising is the beginning of never forgetting them. Visit for more information about the Station Family Fund.

Originally published in Metal Edge, June 2008

Remembering Our Rock & Roll Family Affected by The Station Nightclub Fire

Thursday, February 20th, 2003 will forever be remembered as the date of the most horrible catastrophe in the history of rock ’n’ roll. Living only forty minutes from West Warwick, both my wife and I had been to The Station many times before, and seeing the footage of the club immersed in flame for the first time is something neither of us will ever forget.

Great White was scheduled to film a live concert DVD three nights later in Hartford, where I was going to review the show for Metal Edge. But the afternoon of the show at The Station, their publicist mistakenly called to confirm the guest list for that night, then remembered that, “Oh, wait, you wanted to go to Hartford, right?”

The eerie hindsight of that phone call still makes me feel uncomfortable.

Watching the news break throughout Friday, it never occured to me that anyone would have thought that we might have been there. But that day of phone calls and e-mail was one of the most overwhelming things I’ve ever felt, surprised to realize how many people truly care about us. It was also one of the saddest things I’ve ever felt, calling my worried family and friends to let them know that we weren’t there, knowning that somewhere, somebody else’s family wasn’t going to get that reassuring call.

It took me about four months to be ready to see what happened that night in Rhode Island. Driving down I-95 around 2:00 a.m. after spending a day with Skid Row in Massachusetts, something just compelled me to take Exit 8B and make the familiar turn down Cowesett Avenue for the first time since before the fire. The debris of the building had been cleared away, leaving a cemetery without graves. Makeshift crosses and small keepsake relics were laid across the level, open space, and slowly, one by one, in the privacy of that night, I paid reverence to every single one of them.

Then I figured out where I would have been standing when the fire started. Using the neighboring building and the still-standing marquee as landmarks, I measured the distance from where I would have been to the door as twelve paces.

Twelve paces. Only twelve fucking paces, but I still would have died.

Their ghosts are there, and standing among them you can physically feel the chill, and a choking sadness that will probably never go away. When I got home that night, I cried, sobbing to my wife — not because I would have died, but because one hundred other people did.

For the survivors and the families of the victims of The Station nightclub fire, that night will never end. Remember them, as often as you remember the family and friends who were lost. Remember the “concert friends” you see at every show and know that any one of us could have been among these hundred people:

Louis S. Alves
Kevin Anderson
Stacie Angers
Christopher Arruda
Eugene Avilez
Tina Ayer
Karla Bagtaz
Mary H. Baker
Thomas Barnett
Lauren Beauchaine
Steven Thomas Blom
William C. “Billy” Bonardi III
Richard A. Cabral Jr.
Kristine Carbone
William Cartwright
Edward B. Corbett III
Michael Cordier
Alfred Crisostomi
Robert J. Croteau
Lisa D’Andrea
Matthew P. Darby
Dina Ann DeMaio
Albert Anthony DiBonaventura
Christina DiRienzo
Kevin J. Dunn
Lori K. Durante
Edward Ervanian
Thomas Fleming
Rachel Florio-DePietro
Mark Fontaine
Daniel Frederickson
Michael Fresolo
James Gahan
Melvin Gerfin
Laura Gillet
Charline E. Gingras-Fick
Michael James Gonsalves
James Gooden
Derek Gray
Skott Greene
Scott Griffith
Pamela Gruttadauria
Bonnie L. Hamelin
Jude Henault
Andrew Hoban
Abbie L. Hoisington
Michael Hoogasian
Sandy Hoogasian
Carlton “Bud” Howorth III
Eric J. Hyer
Derek Brian Johnson
Lisa Kelly
Tracy F. King
Michael Joseph Kulz
Keith Lapierre
Dale Latulippe
Stephen M. Libera
John M. Longiaru
Ty Longley
Andrea Mancini
Keith A. Mancini
Steven Mancini
Judith Manzo
Thomas Frank Marion
Jeffrey Martin
Tammy Mattera-Housa
Kristen Leigh McQuarrie
Thomas Medeiros
Samuel Miceli
Donna M. Mitchell
Leigh Ann Moreau
Ryan M. Morin
Jason Morton
Beth Ellen Mosczynski
Katherine O’Donnell
Nicholas Philip O’Neill
Matthew James Pickett
Carlos L. Pimentel Sr.
Christopher Prouty
Jeffrey Rader
Theresa Rakoski
Robert L. Reisner III
Walter Rich
Donald Roderiques
Tracey Romanoff
Joseph Rossi
Bridget Sanetti
Rebecca E. Shaw
Mitchell C. Shubert
Dennis Smith
Victor Stark
Benjamin Suffoletto
Linda Suffoletto
Shawn Sweet
Jason Sylvester
Sarah Jane Telgarsky
Kelly Viera
Kevin Washburn
Everett “Tommy” Woodmansee
Robert Daniel Young

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Back to the Beginning, Literally

Karen Grossman, a good friend of mine, has suggested more than once that my written work should be archived online for interested readers to...uh...well, to read.

I like the idea. Besides, personally, it would be kind of cool for me to trace the written path of the last 18 years. Some of it is already lurking out there online; a lot of it exists in the pages of magazines like Metal Edge. Some of it is in CD booklets and box set liner notes, and most recently an actual book.

My first attempt at music journalism was Prime Choice. Michael Jenkins and I had grand ideas that it would be like Rolling Stone, but with the anti-establishment, music-loving integrity that magazine had lost years before. We knew nothing about publishing, but the camaraderie of loving music was the only thing we thought we needed to be print media moguls.

I was an ex-English major college dropout, laid off from retail management. Michael quit his job at Strawberries Records & Tapes to sell advertising. Together, with an Apple II computer, financed at an ungodly interest rate, our plan was entertainment media domination. There was no way we could fail.

The Prime Choice story is better saved for another blog, or maybe even another book, but getting back to the idea of an archive, it was the publication for which I wrote my very first review. It had plenty of cliche music review phrases, providing very little substance beyond a recitation of what songs were played. Throw in an aversion to commas that resulted in a few run-on sentences, some transparent attempts to come across as an industry insider, and you'll certainly ask yourself: this guy actually went on to become an author and get paid as a professional music journalist? Shit, I could do this.

Which is exactly what I thought when I started writing about music.

Providence Civic Center
May 4, 1992

Just for the record, there weren't any explosions or laser light displays at this show. No trampolines or trapeze bars. Come to think of it, I didn't notice any bungee jumping going on either. Nope. Just five good ol' boys and a wall of Marshalls jacked to 10. No carnival theatrics, no bullshit.

The evening began unceremoniously as guitarist Frank Hannon strolled out in full view of the house lights. Fellow guitarist Tommy Skeoch—his hair pulled up in reminiscence of Belushi's Saturday Night Live samurai skits—hobbled out moments later (his left leg in a brace, the result of daredevilry during a tour break) to trade bursts of guitar fire until, one by one, the rest of the group wandered onstage. The crowd was up and Tesla was off and running with "Cumin' Atcha Live" From their first LP, Mechanical Resonance.

Songs from the band's recent Psychotic Supper album provided the framework for much of the show, including "Had Enough," "Change in the Weather," and the Steve Clark-dedicated "Song & Emotion." And, of course, "Call It What You Want" and "What You Give." Given their recent radio and MTV support, the inclusion of these two songs wasn't surprising; the absence of "Edison′s Medicine" was. Since it was the first single from the album, not to mention a strong song, I was pretty sure it would have been included in the set.

Jeff Keith's voice was an anomaly. Why this man didn't lose his voice, I'll never understand. For nearly two hours, he maintained his distinctive harshness without sacrificing any delivery power. Absolutely amazing. Following a full throttle, blood-curdling scream that closed "Time," he announced: "It's time to play y'all a little acoustic shit, man," and he easily down-shifted his voice for an acoustic set that began with "The Way It Is."

Perhaps the release of Five Man Acoustical Jam and the subsequent popularity of its single, "Signs," offered Tesla the security to perform live acoustically, something even the mighty Zeppelin never seemed comfortable enough with to attempt in America. In any case, for a crowd that had settled down—it almost seemed like people were getting restless—the acoustic set brought people to their feet, clapping and singing along with "Signs," of course, and an inspired version of "Paradise," featuring bassist Brian Wheat on keyboards.

Considering that most arenas were initially designed with sporting events in mind and not music, Tesla′s sound could have easily been at the mercy of the rafters of the Providence Civic Center. Their sound crew deserved a well-earned round of drinks (no, I didn't offer) for versatility. Troy Luccketta′s drums consistently rattled filling, while the acoustic set rang crystal clear.

Rather than presumptuously wasting time waiting for screams of adulation before the encore, Jeff Keith refreshingly stated: "Ya either wanna hear more, or ya don't," and hinted that they were "gonna jam on somethin' in E," and surprise—Steve Miller's "The Joker." The real surprise came when Frank Hannon assumed lead vocals on an incredible cover of Peter Frampton′s "Do You Feel Like I Do," complete with voice box. "Gettin′ Better" closed the show and a stomping, screaming audience was left with Jeff Keith′s unorthodox farewell: "We'll see ya round like a donut."

Originally published in Prime Choice, Volume 1, Issue 1 — May/June 1992