Read the tattoo. It says, “badass.” Rock has the challenge of sustaining the allure of an ephemerally utopian, nay, self-correcting lifestyle for a handful of qualified misfits who heroically “rock till they drop“. Most people take this fantasy for the umbrella in the drink that it is. They play out the role of misunderstood music genius vicariously via videos and loud speakers. It’s no different than living out other valiant dreams through movies and books. And then there’s real life. Spin the wheel and it usually lands on either hard, boring, or stupid. So arm chair rockers with “too much time on their hands” pacify their losses by curating a headbangers canon that, like most theology, is deeply concerned with posers. Time to pay the bills:
Right now, an old man in a business suit that his wife picked out for him is sitting in a boardroom figuring out what you should look like. Don’t be a number. Don’t be a statistic! Here’s the memo: You are You. You are a self appointed warrior for freedom of expression! Get off at the next exit and try Your Way free for a month. You’ll enjoy a deluge into diplomatic immunity from The Man and read real testimonials from thousands of subscribers who, just like you, have found their own way. Take Billy Bob who writes from San Quentin, CA, “Why, I don’t even pay taxes anymore.” Now that’s living on the edge. Your Way: it’ll have you feeling like yourself in no time.
I caught a ride with one of my parents’ friends from Oregon to Colorado one summer to visit family. I was thirteen and the friend was in his late twenties or early thirties. Like my parents, he fashioned himself an arbiter of good musical taste. At one point, he launched into an oral dissertation about how Foreigner was serious rock and REO Speedwagon was bubblegum. He discounted hair metal as kids stuff that was all right, for what it was, but noted that when a man settles down and has real responsibilities, artists like April Wine were a more sensible choice, as far as that stuff went. His sage advice was lost on me but not his passion. It was an another lesson in how deeply people feel about their music choices and how little this reflects the depth to which to the music itself makes them feel.
Def Leppard’s disposition as a poser band, as deemed by the metal clergy of the day, was due to a combination of things. They were good enough to contend, insofar as bands “battle” for rank with swords of screaming vocals and “axes” that go noodly-noodly-noodly, but not so over the top great as to defeat a champion in vogue. They kept their subject material on the pavement side of the guard rails by avoiding any depth into religion and politics. “Armageddon It” has as much to do with Armageddon, for example, as “Innagadadavida” does with the Garden of Eden. And they managed an appearance on American Bandstand. Dick Clark. And badass. Don’t even go in the same sentence. Long haired, black t-shirt kids (of the proto-Beavis and Butt-Head variety) weren’t tuning in for a dose of Van Halen from the same station that the squares danced to.
Neither Foreigner, April Wine, or REO Speedwagon are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, yet. Def Leppard is a 2019 inductee. This can mean only one thing: the Hall of Fame is an enigma. Speaking to the peculiar order of inductees, The Talking Heads beat AC/DC, the Sex Pistols beat R.E.M., and Leonard Cohen beat Metallica. All of these artists have made contributions to commercial music history worth, at the very least, understanding in context. But if I were reading the whole list of inductees out of context, I’d be hard pressed to derive its intent. King Missile cites only Def Leppard, The Rolling Stones, and Guns N’ Roses as artistic evidence for the genre’s durability in “Rock-n-Roll Will Never Die“. If I were a member of Def Leppard, I’d take more pride in an art-alt-avant-whatever rock peer substantiating my claim to history, however sarcastic (as good rock should be), than some fame project dreamt up by stoner fogies (in a boardroom, most likely).
Def Leppard wasn’t trying to solve world hunger and there’s no evidence that they were trying to solve anything, for that matter. Rather, their repertoire navigates the figuratively weary neon of “dim lights, thick smoke and loud, loud music” pervading one’s grey matter in the Days of Our Lives. For some, getting “High’N’Dry” on Saturday night is what the hokey pokey is all about. (Add pleated white pants to the combination of reasons they caught flak.) Starting out as a country ballad, not unlike the Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts” which was rockified by Nazareth, “Love Bites” took five guys to write and utterly nails the mental dodgeball that plays out when love is new. Now, give me a rainy afternoon with flat, room temperature beer from the night before and the echo of sloppy affections for a lover who is now nowhere to be seen, and there’s no other song I’d rather have for company than “Bringing on the Heartache“. No “Foolin’“!
“It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” opens AC/DC’s second album, T.N.T. They followed that road as far as it goes and Def Leppard was not in hot pursuit with merely good intentions. They went the distance. Some might look for filet mignon on the drive through menu and peel away hungry. The boys from Sheffield never advertised anything they didn’t deliver and there’s no substitute for french fries dipped in a milkshake.