Dressed to Kill: A hard rock retrospective part 4

The 1990’s were, obviously, a very confusing time. With Ellen making her big announcement near the start of the decade, to the revelations of the Bill and Monica scandal, the decade was over run with sexually confusing expressions dominating the news cycle. None of them were more shocking than seeing Marilyn Manson walk out on stage at the MTV music awards in his leather speedo singing about “The Beautiful People” to the bewildered youth sitting at home wondering what to make of this new “shock rocker” taking the world by storm.

Manson was not the first shock rock band, and they certainly weren’t the last. Unlike previous bands discussed, shock rockers aren’t identified by their sound, some are glam rock, others thrasher metal, while others a mix of industrial electro rock fused with 80’s dance pop. What united them was their ability to rely on stage antics, publicity stunts, and a growing anti-establishment movement that wanted to tear down the walls of Capitalism once and for all. Let’s start at the beginning.

You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog

Believe it or not, the first “shock rocker” was the King of Rock N Roll himself, Elvis Presley. Although his music and movies were very tame even by standards of the day, his stage antics lead to all sorts of controversies. All he had to do was shake his hips and stir young girls crazy. Of course the uptight mothers of those sexually aroused teen girls swooning for Mr. Presley didn’t take it laying down. They tried to have him banned from even appearing on television with the compromise being the camera had to stay above the waste.

I can’t get no satisfaction

To some the Rolling Stones are the turning point where rock n roll sheds it’s pop sound and returns to it’s urban blues roots. To others it’s just the continuation of the degradation of American culture. No matter where you stand the Stones rose to such prominence in the world of Rock music that to this day, the premiere authority on rock music is a magazine named after the band. Not quite as tame as Elvis, they certainly could fall into the camp of more shocking rock bands of the day.

School’s Out

There is no denying that shock rock as we know it today started the moment Alice Cooper stepped onto the scene. His theatrics, outrageous costumes, decidedly darker music themes, and eye shadow did more to create room for the counter-culture than any band before, or since. While their famous record, and the world-renown title track, were created by an entirely different band than who would later take on the name, the lead singer was really the star of the show anyways.

Ozzy

The Prince of darkness himself is easily one of the most recognizable early heavy metal rockers and clearly one of the pioneers of the shock rock genre. Of course he wasn’t the first to come onto the scene, he took it to dark places nobody else was willing to go. He was also well known for his theatrics, and is often mistaken for Alice Cooper, who both have similar styles in some ways. Black Sabbath and all bands inspired by are living proof that just being shock rock on the surface doesn’t mean the music itself can’t be taken seriously.

I Wanna Rock N Roll All Night

If you weren’t a member of the KISS Army you probably weren’t a hard rock fanatic in the 1970’s. It’s okay, I wasn’t even alive. What I do know about the and comes from second hand stories my mom told me, and what I learned from the classic comedy Detroit Rock City about a group of misfits on a road trip determined to see the band live in concert.

KISS is a prime example of a band whose style and image personifies the shock rock look and attitude, yet their music is so much softer and tamer than their image would have you imagine. Even in comparison to other hard rock bands of the time their music was very tame for the image they projected. Not that it was bad, they are still one of my favorite hard rock bands, but if you played a KISS song for someone and never showed them a poster or image of the band, you wouldn’t think they were shock rock at all.

They band was good at one thing even more than making music, business. They were not so much a band as they were a brand. They sold comic books, dolls, even video games, all trying to exemplify the shock rock image of children of the night. Yet somehow they managed to get away with recording a disco album and nobody even bothered to notice the irony. Hey it was a damn good song and still one of my favorites so can’t fault them for knowing how to make money.

Twisted Sister

By the time to get into the 1980’s there isn’t much left that shocks the metal world. You have already had Ozzy allegedly biting the head off a bat, or was it Alice Cooper? Yeah google how often those two get mixed up. There was the whole KISS backlash, you had Judas Priest on the scene and even a host of bands giving people reasons to label rock music as satanic or demonic. So when you see the cross-dressing Twister Sister come on the scene you think, okay, now I’ve seen it all. Now unlike KISS whose image didn’t fit their music, Twister Sister at least had a solid 80’s metal sound that blended in with the other hard rock bands of the time. The 80’s didn’t really see that many other cross dressing bands, aside from the one Boy George headlined, it still helped ease Americans into at least accepting there were people with different lifestyles, even if they didn’t accept those lifestyles quite yet.

Nine Inch Nails

To be more specific, Trent Reznor. This time he went in the opposite direction. The sound he created was infinitely harder and more shocking in many ways than the look he portrayed. On the surface he was just another heavy metal looking dude, nothing special. But his music, especially Head Like the Hole, really brought industrial music to the main stage. Maybe there are those who wouldn’t put NiN on a list of shock rockers, but he clearly paved the way for the mother of them all so he deserves a spot in this timeline.

Antichrist Superstar

Before I get too deep, Marilyn Manson is one of my favorite bands of all time. From the cover songs Sweat Dreams or Tainted Love, among many others; to their rock anthems The Beautiful People, Rock is Dead; to their darker tracks like Deformography, Worm Boy; or their WTF tracks like Kiddy Grinder, or Sh*tty Chicken Gang Bang, the band does shock rock better than any band before. Their music, style, videos, persona, and themes are a perfect storm of counter culture done right. Nothing about the band says conformity. During a time when rock bands sounded like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, or The Goo Goo Dolls, Manson was finding ways to churn the stomachs of their loyal followers, harshest critics, and even their peers, all while constantly putting out records that told stories that had to be experienced not just heard. The phrase nobody does it better always comes to mind when I think of Marilyn Manson and shock rock.

Other bands like Garbage, Godsmack, Orgy, etc., would come onto the scene and push the envelope of what was decent and acceptable with many more to follow. By the end of the 1990’s heavy metal, hard rock and rock n roll had each splintered into more than a dozen sub-genres, scenes and movements each equally important to their respective followers.

 

Delve into the mind of THE RAT… if you dare.

When I was in the first grade I started signing my school papers with my initials, R.A.T., partly because I had bad hand writing, that is a story for another day, so I was trying to save time but also partly because, well back then I was pretty lazy, and partly because once I discovered my initials spelled out a word I thought it was fun. It didn’t stay fun forever as time went on I became stuck with the name, The Rat, which I currently wish would die out. But who is The Rat? Read on to find out more.

It started in 1997. Up to that point¬† had pretty much stopped signing my name as such and forgot about that silly initial thing. At least until one day, when I was in the 9th grade, I turned in a paper with just my initials, just because I wrote it in a hurry and added my name last second. It was for my science class,¬† didn’t get long well with my science teacher anyways so I figured screw it. Well some of the jackals in my class thought it was funny, and being mostly Spanish speaking they began calling me “la rata” or “the rat” in Spanish.

But it goes just a little deeper than that. Not the name but the underlying “persona” that I would invent as a form of identity shield. When I was much younger I had gotten used to being picked up and bullied in school. As such I developed a dislike for, well, everyone. So I went out of my way to discourage other kids from associating with me because I just wanted to be left alone. During my early days I discovered I had a very strong fascination with the Nightmare on Elm Street movie franchise. I suppose much of this could be tied to my being a kid in the 80’s, which at that time Freddy Krueger pretty much dominated the media scene, from MTV to everything inbetween. In 1996 I heard a song on the radio by a fairly new band called Marylin Manson. At first I was drawn to the music, the song that played on the radio all the time was “The Beautiful People,” to this day one of my favorite’s in the heavy metal genre. Although I learned later Manson wasn’t exactly true heavy metal, I still liked his music. It was dark, thematic and reminded me a lot of those Freddy films I had become so obsessed with. During my high school years I day-dreamed of forming my own shock rock metal band, even going so far as wanting to mimic the long hair, make up and stylish clothing that went along with it. But well I didn’t have it in me to put on that public mask that bands like Manson, Kiss, Twisted Sister, and others, wore. Instead I took a different approach.

I had always been divided between my love of the dark, loud, and angry metal music, with the violent, aggressive, and severely more angry gangsta rap music. My attraction to both forms of music was still a part of that persona, if I was seen listening to loud, offensive, and very violent music I figured it would be a good buffer to keep people away. For the most part, it worked. Decent people noticed quickly that a guy listening to “Natural Born Killers” by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre from the Murder was the Case soundtrack as loud as my speakers could play it, well that was a guy to avoid. I also wore a very angry expression on my face and became used to wearing torn, dirty and very rugged clothing to further cement the persona of not just an out cast, but a dark soul to be feared and avoided. I started to take the persona, or the act, onto the internet off and on. Partly because I was still trying to remain tough and distant but also because I hated confrontation. The problem is, this doesn’t work online, in real life you get the whole picture, the image, the scruffiness and you understand what I was going for. But online I just came off as a jerk, a troll even by most definitions.

After many years of justifying this dual personality/persona, it wasn’t just inspired by rock bands like Manson, it was further justified by the poster child for the image I was going for, the infamous Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, aka, Slim Shady. His dual persona image in his music fit what I was trying to do perfectly. I wanted to be seen as clean cut and respectable by those who took the time to get to know me, but feared and seen as a pretty mean dude by those I wished to keep my distance from. I had trouble taking this online and I also, eventually, had trouble separating the two in real life as well. Eventually I decided to take it a step further.

The Rat wasn’t getting the point across. So I changed my music persona name to DJ Serial Killa, taken from a Snoop Dogg song from his debut album, Doggystyle. Now as a kid thanks to the graphic, almost pornographic cartoon in the album art, it didn’t take long for me to figure out what “doggystyle” was referring to. Needless to say I figured if the good guy, or rapper, was The Rat, then the DJ, or the mysterious one pulling the puppet strings, had to be worse, thus I took on the name DJ Serial Killa. Of course I also adopted the phrase, or motto, that as a DJ I justified the name as I “murdered the competition, and there was a whole lot of competition.

I will admit as a rapper, I suck. I can, when I put my mind to it, write good poems, and by extension song lyrics. However I never applied this to my rapping, partly because I honestly never took it that seriously, partly because I kind of was “too white” deep down and there was also the matter of my voice, I hated how it sounded so I never put my full honest attention into my rapping. That being said I will freely say, and I can back this up with examples, my DJ’ing ability was pretty good. I didn’t do much of the Jazzy Jeff/Beastie Boys spinning vinyl records, but I could DJ, or disc jockey a party like no body’s business. This I developed through my years of not just making endless supplies of mix tapes, yes literal cassette tapes, but also mix cd’s, and evnetually playlists. I became skilled at telling which songs fit together in a set, or mood, and which songs blended together smoothly. And I can also show examples of music I mixed myself, using a variety of methods ranging from playing samples and keyboards using my own instrumentals, to the famous hip-hop production technique of mixing loops and samples. Still my DJ or production ability was far better than my rapping thus the DJ name had to have a much strong pull to it.

So what is the point? Just sharing a little bit of why I used to let people call me “THE RAT” and why, especially in recent years, I have shifted away from using that name. I am not ashamed of who I am, look I produced 6 underground records, some I put in stores some I only shared with friends, show me your musical works and I will say okay you can talk to me about names, until then, I can say I did something with my life I wanted to do, not everyone can say that. Lately I have been contemplating making a new musical production, or starting up a new venture online. Whatever I end up doing it will always be for the same purpose, sharing my ideas with people who might be interested for one reason or another.

Will I ever go back to being “THE RAT”? No I don’t think so. I know one thing is for sure, I might never get my chance to play in a shock rock metal band, at least I did get a chance to record an almost gangsta rap but not really gangsta rap, hip-hop record. And there is something to be said of a person doing what they want in life and not being bothered by what other people think. I never got to be as “goth” as I wanted, but I did push the boundaries of what I could get away with as much as possible. Looking back, yes I did take some things to far, something I have to live with to this day. I guess that is part of life, we all have skeletons in our closet, I just think if you dig too deep you might not like what you find. And that is okay, because honestly Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins, he made us into a new creation so while The Rat is no more and DJ Serial Killa was always just bad idea for a name, the reality is all the dark and not very Christian things I was either witness to or an accessory to, are all in the past. Going forward life has improved tremendously and I believe things will only ever get better.