(13) loudness, "crazy nights"
(2) DEF LEPPARD, "POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME"
and cut down the nets as the 2018 march shredness champion
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Then vote. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/31.
ELENA PASSARELLO ON DEF LEPPARD'S "POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME"
I must admit, this essay on Shredness hasn’t been easy to figure out. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” is an awesome song, of course. Listening to it now—almost exactly 30 years after its single release—is still a foam-finger-in-the-air, chest-bump-the-peanut-vendor, climb-a-stripper-pole-ass-first kind of experience. The song’s drum line remains indefatigably stirring, especially when you remember it was pounded out by a guy with twenty-five percent fewer appendages than any other drummer in this tournament (including the drummer who recorded “Rock of Ages”). And the song belongs to what was then the most expensive album in human history and what remains the best-charting Hard Rock record of all time.
But all these superlatives aside, does “Pour Some Sugar on Me” literally SHRED? To answer that, we gotta go the tape, a.k.a. the concert-footage video of the Leppards (the Def?) rocking a few thousand of Denver’s finest one February night in 1988.
Our beloved March Shredness selection committee’s official criteria for any qualifying entry is that the song “must be in the style/genre of Hair Metal [from] 1983-1992.” They go on to define said style/ genre by three features, all of them easily evaluated by watching the “Sugar” video.
It’s tough to call any coif on this band big when in league with the follicular efforts of Messrs. Snider, Rockett, Sixx, etc. I’d rate Def Leppard’s overall hair game as fair to middling. Lead singer Joe Elliot brings MacGyver realness to his layered dishwater mullet, but it doesn’t look like any mousse was ever involved. Back on the drums, Rick “The Thunder God” Allen has pulled his curly lob into a little broccoli floret at the nape of his neck. Guitarist Phil Collen’s hair is short enough to get him a job at the DMV; at one point in the video, Collen offers a little headbang and barely a strand of hair moves. Bassist Rick “Sav” Savage and guitarist Steve “C’mon, Steve!” Clark register a little closer to the Hair Metal ideal; their shaggy layers fall way past their shoulders and sport the texture of labradoodle clippings.
But the only truly big hair in this video appears whenever the camera cuts to the crowd, often lingering on select Def Heads (Leppers?) of the female persuasion. The hair on these young women is uniformly glorious, especially considering they’re not supposed to be the ones in the spotlight. Their bangs launch from their foreheads in cotton candy mushroom clouds, permed to the bejeezus belt and whipping about in these vicious little slaps as the girls shake their hoop earrings from side to side. This, for me, was the official hair of 1988’s babysitters—older, cooler girls full of secrets, with Gucci Crew tapes and gum for days and boys who they called on my cordless phone. Ten-year-old me thought of them whenever this video aired, hoping with all my flat-haired heart that one day my bangs would spike that high and my eyes—ringed in that same navy blue pencil—would find a person, or even a pet, to gaze at the way that these Aqua-netted confections gazed at this band.
In this criterion, “Sugar” falls further behind. Even those girls in the audience just wear tank tops and jeans. The single “flashy” article of clothing I was able to spot after myriad viewings is Sav’s cropped bolero with leopard (Leppard?)-print epaulets. But he pairs the jacket with unbedazzled dark pants and what look like white Reeboks. In fact, the whole band is shod in either sneakers or some nondescript, flat-heeled boot—save The Thunder God, who drums barefoot (perhaps for technical reasons). TG’s also wearing gym shorts(!) and a baggy t-shirt that appears to have his own image silkscreened on the back. Phil Collen’s got on a pair of Obama Mom jeans and a white undershirt for half the video, and for the other half, he’s kept the jeans, but is now bare-chested. He looks like a suburban Dad out mowing the lawn.
My favorite non-flashy sartorial choice belongs to Joe Elliot, who struts around the stage IN A DEF LEPPARD TANK TOP. Holy brand management! And what’s this? In the video’s black-and-white backstage footage, Elliot has on A DIFFERENT DEF LEPPARD SHIRT. Good lord, Joe, was it laundry day or something? Even Peter Cetera had enough sense to select a Bauhaus tee over some Chicago ’84 World Tour merch for the “You’re the Inspiration” video. Wearing your own shirt to your own arena show is the polar opposite of Shredding; it’s akin to putting a novel that you wrote on your syllabus. It’s like that time Mumford and Sons got kicked out of Atlanta’s Claremont Lounge strip club for Snapchatting themselves doing karaoke to their own music. Anyway. Elliot’s lower half does deserve more credit. Though not exactly “flashy,” the jeans he sports are aerated with two perfect ladders of horizontal rips, the kind of distressing that your mom would sigh over if she saw similar pants hanging, new, on a rack at the mall. If anything in this video undeniably involves shredding, it’s Joe’s dungarees.
“SHREDDY, OSTENTATIOUS GUITAR SOLOS”
And here’s where the Shred truly hits the fan. One of my favorite Hair Metal tropes is when the video cuts to a lead guitarist pantomiming his (it’s almost always “his”) scorching—and requisite—solo. In all these clips, the rocker also sells the Shred with corporeal details, like a leg up on an amp or a wagging tongue or a head tipped heavenward in ecstasy. Bonus points if the hairy, flashy soloist is back-to-back with an equally histrionic band mate. But if you’re following along in your YouTube hymnal, you’ll note that this moment does not exist at any point of the “Pour Some Sugar” vid. That’s because there are no prominent guitar solos in this song. Come at me on this; I’ve spent the past weekend combing thru every measure like a litterbox, listening for any run of music that might qualify as a Shred-guitar solo and coming up short. And in the video, most of the guitar footage involves Phil or Steve striking a chord and then floating their pick-hands away from the strings to balance on the sides of their axes while they bop sexily through the next resting measure.
Even the general moments of discernible guitar action are never “shreddy” or “ostentatious.” The entire structure of “Sugar” is built on power chords, which seem to me the opposite of Shred solos, as they involve only the lowest strings and claw-like, close-to-the-headstock fretwork. We do hear the signature “Sugar” lick on top of those chords throughout (starting at 0:32 of the YouTube clip), but said lick only consists of three mid-range notes and a little string bend, repeated. You can find noodlier licks (and bigger hair, and flashier outfits, and actual solos) in 1988 hits by Richard Marx, Taylor Dane, and Jefferson Freaking Starship. So if one had the stomach to do so, one could argue that “Pour Some Sugar on Me” Shreds less than Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” a.k.a. the love theme from the movie Mannequin.
Sure, once the second chorus gets going (around 2:47), Steve Clark plays a lead line over the three-chord stomp we all know and love, but his contribution is a single mid-range note (an F3) repeated over and over and over again, without variation. If this is Shredding, it’s Shredding a la Philip Glass. C’mon, Steve. And perhaps one might make a Shred-case for the eight measures leading into “if you got the peaches/ I got the cream” (which I misheard as “you got the beat ‘cuz I got the feet,” until, like, yesterday). That spot in the song is a perfect launch pad for a searing solo, but instead we hear Clark volleying back and forth between one measly pair of notes using a plucky, reverbed touch. A similar guitar attack is often employed by U2’s the Edge, and I will challenge anyone on the planet who thinks that the Edge can Shred to a screwdriver fight.
In all fairness, I detect something closer to a traditional solo in the final twenty seconds of “Sugar,” but it’s so buried in the sonic lasagna that producer Mutt Lange famously built for Hysteria—exponentially tracked vocals, effects-drowned drum hits, layers of woofs and slides and feedback. You couldn’t sing or air guitar that melody if you tried. I’ve been listening to those thirty seconds with quality headphones all afternoon and I still can’t quite make it out, other than the fact that it’s slow and decidedly un-Shreddy. To fully detect the line, I’d have to be the rock dork equivalent of the princess sleeping on her pea.
This embarrassing amount of headphone time did teach me something, however. In the past three decades, I’ve listened as “Pour Some Sugar on Me” blared from the speakers of infinite Jumbotrons and titty bars. I once heard (and can never un-hear) an auto-tuned-within-an-inch-of-his-life Tom Cruise writhe through the song for the film Rock of Ages. But I’d never given the track a careful listen. Having done just that several dozen times, I now know that “Sugar” isn’t the blunt-force object I assumed it was; this song is spectacularly crafted. Crisp, pounding, and shiny, it’s like sunlight hitting the top of an ocean wave, if the wave was hot, sticky-sweet, and potentially riddled with chlamydia.
The whole album is a marvel, really. Lange’s reported vision for Hysteria was a Hard Rock take on what Quincy Jones did with Thriller: engineered within an inch of its life, jam-packed with radio singles, and full of crossover influences. Weirdly enough, Thriller’s crossover efforts include a toe-dip into metal, thanks to the thirty-second extravaganza of dive bombs and hammer-on-pull-offs that Eddie Van Halen dropped into the middle of “Beat it.” I’m pretty sure “Beat It” is the first Shred guitar track ever to go platinum, and it’s most certainly Shreddier than anything “Sugar” has to offer.
Unlike the other songs on Hysteria, which took most of Reagan’s second term to complete, “Sugar” smacks of spontaneity. This is owed, perhaps, to the fact that Joe Elliot and Mutt Lange tacked the song onto the end of their sessions. The other Defs (Leps? DefLep Schrempf’s?) weren’t even in town when the two started writing; Elliot was cutting vocals alone in the studio, farting around on an acoustic guitar during his coffee break. He’d only figured out “Sugar’s” five-word chorus when Lange walked past him and heard gold in that short line of song. The pair then worked backward, building the lead-in to the chorus (the rising chords behind “take the booooottle!”), and finally the verse structure.
For lyrics, neither had any story or idea in mind. Run-DMC’s reimagined version of “Walk this Way” had basically ruled 1987 radio, and Lange saw “Sugar” as a chance to piggyback off the resulting rap-rock fervor (note the thirsty add of the verbatim phrase “walk this way” to the album’s intro to “Sugar”). But instead of hiring actual rappers, Lange and Elliot just scat-sang through the demos, babbling in quarter notes and then in double time. Elliot says they got the final lyrics via a game of telephone, trying to interpret one another’s gibberish phonemes from the demo into actual words and phrases. The whole composition process took less than a single day. And holy shit, it worked.
I see nothing in our Shredness criteria about lyrics, but maybe this is where “Sugar” gains some ground. Like a lot of good Hair Metal content, the words stick as slogans rather than as poetry. They’re not unlike the work of the big-haired, flashy-outfitted 70’s rocker Marc Bolan—“demolition woman can I be your man” could’ve come straight off Electric Warrior. And speaking of Bolan, something about the lyrical looseness of the lyrics to “Sugar” allows for a wobbly, T-Rexy sexual double vision that’s present in quite a bit of our Shredness cohort.
I know in my bones that such lyrical inexactitude is part of the fun—both in 1988 and today. My buddy Patrick once unearthed a tape of himself singing “Sugar” at some amusement park karaoke booth back in the 80’s, long before his voice changed. Years later, he’d play the tape for me when we were running errands in his Hyundai and I’d lose my shit at the sound of his old chipmunk soprano growling through “love is like a bomb, baby” and “easy operator come a-knockin’ on my door.” The absolute glee in his pipsqueak voice! In it, you heard how Pat knew these words were fun and edgy, but still PG-13 enough to keep him from getting grounded.
I think the pull of “Sugar”—and much of Shred as a whole—is how it can be understood as sexy even if the listener’s not yet sure what sex entails. The practices and body parts alluded to in these lyrics are not exactly direct; I’m a 39-year-old woman who’s been around the block a few times and I have loads of questions for Mutt and Joe: What exact substance is Elliot covered in from his un-moussed “head” to his Keds-clad “feet”? Is this coating the titular “sugar,” or is it something else? Are we describing a physiological byproduct here? If so, whose glandular system is the source of it? Does it “pour” from the “easy operator” or from the man on whose door she knocks? Or should I just be imagining two fully consenting adults dumping champagne all over each other?
The fact that these lyrics boil down to a bunch of hot-nonsense make the song both filthy and virginal, which seems crucial to this genre. Hair Metal sex-talk often sounds like an inexperienced fifteen-year-old trying to brag about all the steamy stuff he does with his girlfriend who “lives in Canada.” Which is to say that when the catchy innuendo typical of this genre marries Lange’s downright Apollonian sonic architecture, there’s no way the product of said union is leaving our consciousness for decades, Shred solos or no.
Which leads me to my present pickle. “Sugar” might not fit our definition of Shred, but the song has lasted like a champ, and it still rocks. What’s more, I think it carries a surprising musical depth that deserves acclamation. But is that enough to advance it in this competition, especially when (and I’m biting my hand as I type this) its very first opponent is a song performed by a band with bigger hair, flashier outfits, and even a tongue-out shreddy solo…and said band is the same damn band that recorded “Pour Some Sugar on Me”?
My only hope for saving this song, I suppose, is to argue that “Sugar” still embodies Shred without checking Shred’s crucial boxes. I’m not even sure this is true, because all that I’ve covered, especially the glimmering production of the song, makes “Sugar” feel less porous and more complex than the majority of its bracket-mates, “Rock of Ages” included. But perhaps none of you care about any of this. Maybe you’ve already figured out that Shred at its very best is a feeling more than a practice. And perhaps in our collected kabillion listenings to “Sugar,” we have felt the Shred in enough intangible ways that our sticky, sweet energy cancels out the band’s uninspired clothes, their chill hair, their neglected whammy bars. Maybe this crowd-generated feeling is what elevates Def Leppard to the Penthouse of Shredness.
I’ve spent too much of my adult life desperate to never substitute feeling for substance, and this might be where I must—where we all must—make an exception. Maybe feeling the ways “Sugar” Shreds is enough to give it wings. Perhaps the white-hot sensation of a thousand guitar solos, of myriad “oooh-Alberto”-stiffened mullets, of countless pink spandex leggings has, for the past thirty years, been thriving in the abstract. You can find evidence of this Shred miracle in every babysitter bopping across her wide-eyed charge’s living room, every Florida catwalk that’s humped IN THE NAME OF LUVVV, and every tween screaming Mutt and Joe’s baby-brained dirty talk into an amusement park recording booth. You can certainly find it in the countless bros who’ve air-guitared their way through the track, pantomiming a blistering solo over the measures where one never existed.
It’s not unlike the moment in Barrie’s Peter Pan when all the children clap their hands and a flashlight turns into Tinker Bell. I can see her right now, newly alive and kicking on the sheer force of youthful belief. Watch her flit to the window, tossing her poufy bangs, shouting while the crowd lifts up its hands to her. The kids sing along as she launches up to the stars, all of them howling the lift into the final chorus, do you take Shredness? One lump or two!
The most metal thing about essayist Elena Passarello is that she and Mastodon's bassist went to the same high school. Here is a photo of what she looked like the year Hysteria was released.
YOU ARE THE HERO: W. TODD KANEKO ON "CRAZY NIGHTS" BY LOUDNESS
It’s the first day of tenth grade in 1984. You’re in traffic safety class, where you’ll spend the next ten weeks watching driving simulation movies with a fake steering wheel on your desk. A long haired dude sits down in front of you, a drummer who wants to start a band, and asks if you know anyone who plays bass guitar. You have never touched a musical instrument outside of that clarinet you spent a month pretending to play in fourth grade—you never practiced, so your mother took the clarinet back to the rental shop and said there would be no more music for you. But guys who are in bands have cool friends and go to parties. You have never been cool in your life, so you look that drummer square in the eye and nod your head. “Yeah,” you hear yourself say. “I play bass.”
You buy a cheap bass and some gear at a neighborhood garage sale. You’re thankful the amplifier is so cheap that your new drummer friend can’t hear you play over the sound of his drums because—well, you can’t play. You spend the next year in your room learning songs by ear, playing along with Mötley Crüe, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and whatever other tapes you have shoplifted. You spend many hours practicing those songs over and over and over again.
Then one year later: Loudness, the first heavy metal band from Japan to score a major record deal in the United States releases their album Thunder in the East—you’re captured by the opening guitar of “Crazy Nights,” which is weirdly hollow and full at the same time, a powerful jam that washes over you like cold fire and 80-grit sandpaper. Akira Takasaki’s guitar cranks out a riff that claws insidious at the air before the rest of the animal surges forth with drums and bass to swallow you whole.
And you would be swallowed gladly, if that was possible, because the chorus makes you a promise: “Rock and roll crazy nights / you are the hero, tonight.” You have heard similar things from other songs. Mötley Crüe implores you to rise up and shout at the devil. Quiet Riot tells you to bang your head for your metal health. Scorpions offer to rock you like a hurricane, and you’ll be all like okay, but the dudes in Loudness look like you. When singer Minoru Niihara says you can be the hero, it’s like he knows your life story.
There are only a few Asian American kids at your high school. Most of your friends are white but they’ve never made you feel like you’re less than them because of your race; however, you know you are different. You look in the mirror at the color of your skin and the shapes of your eyes. Notice the way other kids refuse to acknowledge you. Compare the hue of your hands against your homework in class, brown against the lightness of the paper—then jam your math test in your backpack instead of turning it in.
And there is no one who looks like you playing heavy metal, no one in any of those posters you have plastered on your bedroom walls. Bruce Dickinson, sweat-soaked and snarling under stage lights. Nikki Sixx posing sinister with his spidery hair and weird mascara. Randy Rhoads and Ozzy Osbourne, the saint of the six-string sling hoisted mid-guitar solo into the air by the Prince of Darkness. After Loudness, this heavy metal whiteness will go undisrupted until Living Colour hits in 1988, an African American band that your friends won’t acknowledge as legitimate rock until they learn that their album Vivid was produced by Mick Jagger. You still hate that a nonwhite band has to be endorsed by a white rock star to be accepted as legit.
Whatever—in your love of all things heavy metal, you feel united with your fellow metalheads, banging skulls and stomping feet with hands raised to the sky in that devil-salute that proclaims your rebellion against everything your parents represent, against the principles your school upholds, against society because it’s important to reject society before it rejects you.
After playing in a handful of garage bands in high school, you graduate to playing on the rock circuit in Seattle. When people find out you play in a band, they often look at you and say something like, Asian bass player, huh? That’s a good gimmick. This makes you angrier than you’ll ever admit, and you don’t have an answer for them because all your metal heroes are white people—you’ll feel like a gimmick until you learn in the late eighties that Soundgarden’s bassist is Hiro Yamamoto, and while you won’t ever meet him, knowing he is out there somehow feels reassuring.
In your mid-twenties, you have an opportunity to meet James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins. Your band opens for the Pumpkins on a weeknight in Seattle, but you are too filled with faux-punk rock anger and pride to knock on the door to their private backstage area and talk to him. Later, when you are much older and less proud, you think about how you wanted to ask Iha the same thing you wanted to ask Yamamoto: what do you think about Loudness?
And they would both have instinctively understood that you aren’t trying to group the three of you into some weird Asian rock and roll trio. They would understand your real question: is this all a gimmick?
It was never lost on you, how Loudness named themselves after the stereo volume knob, that symbol of heavy metal’s sway over its fans. In her book Heavy Metal: The Music and its Culture, Deena Weinstein defines heavy metal by its sonic dimension. She says “The essential sonic element in heavy metal is power, expressed as sheer volume. Loudness is meant to overwhelm, to sweep the listener into the sound, and then to lend the listener the sense of power that the sound provides” (23).
KISS sings “I Love It Loud. AC/DC sings “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.” Quiet Riot sings “Cum on Feel the Noize.” And Loudness by virtue of their name just says yes—we are all of that. It’s loudness that sweeps you up and inhabits your body. Other people dance in lines or squares to country twang or shake their hips to Motown, but heavy metal grabs your head and moves it back and forth in a frenzy. And when you strap a bass guitar over your shoulder and wear it slung low across the stage, you can’t help but whip your head along with the audience in front of you, that sea of devil horns and middle fingers aimed at you in a vulgar rock and roll salute. It’s this loudness—your loudness—that has brought you to heavy metal. Because when you were fifteen and alone in the suburbs, you enveloped yourself in loudness, hoping that one day you could harness this power too.
Your friends had so many explanations for the refrain in “Crazy Nights.” M-Z-A is the name of a comet that passes close to the Earth making people go crazier than they do under a full moon. M-Z-A is a drug like XTC, but Asian. M-Z-A is a Japanese word for the devil. Minoru Niihara used to tell people M-Z-A stands for “My Zebra’s Ass.”
Nowadays, Niihara freely says that M-Z-A has no meaning. Like many foreign born rock vocalists in the 80s, Niihara sang phonetically and ended up singing a nonsense track for a pre-production demo of the song. They never came up with anything better for that section, so they just kept M-Z-A. Niihara says it’s “like shouting ‘hey hey hey’ or ‘wow wow wow’ or whatever”—but these phrases have meaning in English. M-Z-A is just three syllables. Three punches thrown at the ceiling. Three beats for emphatic head banging. Fans of Loudness, fans of heavy metal, understand the meaning of M-Z-A, even if it has no meaning. Perhaps, you understand it because without meaning, that lyric “M-Z-A” is just pure loudness.
You don’t speak Japanese, so Japanese metal songs from the 80s are stripped of lyrical content for you. Bands like Earthshaker and Bow Wow and Anthem clearly understood the genre as you understand it, the idiom of raspy guitars and high-pitched vocals, guitar solos that warble dissonant against the against the rest of the song, but propel it to greatness before driving the chorus into a trainwreck. Loudness’s pre-American albums are no different. The chorus of the self-titled track that opens their first Japanese album The Birthday Eve goes, “We are the Loudness / come on now!” The rest of the song is in Japanese, so you have no idea what the words mean, but that doesn’t matter because without lyrical meaning, you hear their music more clearly. It’s obvious to you that before they came to America, Loudness’s songs sounded like heavy metal in its purest form: aggression, power, and volume, all fine-tuned into a hook that earworms itself into your head for days. So once Loudness started writing songs in English, they should have been unstoppable, right? Right?
The video for “Crazy Nights” received relatively heavy play on MTV in 1985. When you watch that video now, you still can’t help but notice how different the band looks from every other metal band that found mainstream success. They snarl and preen as well as the dudes in Mötley Crüe, but for all the makeup and Aqua Net, their faces are still markedly Asian. They are handsome, not in the way that Tommy Lee or Vince Neil are handsome because Loudness can’t ever be that. You can’t ever be that. And you wonder if this is how people saw your younger self (not handsome, just different), or even if it’s how they see your middle-aged self. You moved away from the suburbs almost thirty years ago and now live in Michigan where you can go a week or more without seeing another face that looks like yours.
The other people in the video are also different. There is a weird shot of a bunch of white kids headbanging, the fast-motion camera transposing them to a different time signature than everyone else in the video. Then those Japanese people in front of that glitzy Delish Curry billboard, those schoolchildren waving in a low-angle shot, that smiling woman in the kimono gesturing with delicate fists, those policemen brandishing their nightsticks, all of them chanting with the song: “M-Z-A! M-Z-A!” These are Japanese faces in place of the white faces that permeate most other heavy metal music videos. They are awkward, yet completely into the song. They are Japanese faces that could be your own face looking back at you.
When you load “Crazy Nights” on YouTube, the next song in the playlist is always David Lee Roth’s “Yankee Rose.” You hate this video for mocking so many stereotypes: the immigrant convenience store owner, the sassy black woman, the loud fat woman, and even the two party blondes (The lounge lizard says, “If there’s a conversation, I don’t have to be involved”). And then just before the song begins, Roth appears wearing face paint and wielding a spear. You get it. Sure, it’s a joke, but you can’t help but notice those people the video excludes from metal: black people, fat women, immigrants—it’s painful to watch because you know you’re in there somewhere too.
Meanwhile, in “Crazy Nights” Minoru Niihara sings, “we’re gonna rock and roll you / come get on your feet,” promising the loudness that is at the heart of heavy metal. And America, for the most part, says, “Okay! And hey—you’re Japanese!”
In her book, Deena Weinstein describes the visual dimension of heavy metal, the ways that metal bands use logos, album covers and wardrobes to further convey their sonic messages. Judas Priest is hell bent for leather and chrome. Guns N Roses is half gutter and half glam. Iron Maiden decks all their merch with Eddie, their undead mascot. Twisted Sister, Mötley Crüe, and Poison plaster their faces all in different shades of ghastly. It’s no wonder you can’t help but dig a band with a good gimmick.
Yet it’s difficult for you to dig Loudness’s visual dimension because under the usual heavy metal accoutrements (hairspray, leather), their gimmick becomes their racial markers: they are Japanese and play rock and roll. Loudness broadcasts this overtly with the sharp angles of their band logo and the rising sun image that appears on their T-shirts and album covers. Their stage costumes don’t transform them in the way that most metal bands are normal young men and women who appear onstage as glamorous rock deities. On the contrary, for Loudness, the leather and spandex serve to standardize a band that looks otherwise non-standard for the genre. Loudness is Japanese, and in the midst of the otherwise homogeneous white landscape of American heavy metal in the 80s, that does the trick. Essentially, Loudness’s gimmick is that they are simply Loudness. Pure loudness. Pure heavy metal. It’s a gimmick you wish you could more fully embrace for yourself.
You have always played guitar by ear, but then you discovered YouTube guitar lessons. You found one channel where a dude teaches you how to play “1000 Eyes,” “We Could Be Together,” and so many of the songs on Loudness’s first American album, including the intro to “Crazy Nights,” which has never sounded right when you’ve tried to play it in your living room. The teacher has such reverence for Akira Takasaki, such admiration and respect for Takasaki’s guitar prowess as he calls him the Japanese Eddie Van Halen and compares him to other metal guitar heroes. He shows you the secret to playing that opening lick of “Crazy Nights,” the pinch harmonics on the power chords, muffling the strings with the thumb of your picking hand to create that strange overtone. He might be the best guitar teacher you’ve ever seen on the Internet.
And yet, in many of his Loudness lessons, he calls the band “Roudness” with a mock Japanese accent, even explaining to make sure you understand his joke: “I should pronounce it a-Roudness,” he says. “Roudness. With an R.” There is no malice behind it, probably, but it’s ugly nonetheless. It hurts you, not in its political incorrectness or offensiveness, but in that this is how the world has been talking to you your whole life in one way or another. Heavy metal is beautiful and angry and awesome, yet it likes to remind you that you are always on the outside, even though you can bang your head like a motherfucker.
Ultimately, “Crazy Nights” comes down to everything you and every metalhead wants out of a song. You are still a child of the beast, rock and roller, lightning rider—or maybe you are still that Asian American teenager filled with disquiet and desire, with anxiety about where you belong in the world. If you will ever belong in the world. And heavy metal tells you that there is a story out there where you can be at the center of everything, a story in which you belong—not because you are the right kind of handsome or display the right kind of charm or go to the coolest parties, but because you feel loud. You are white or not white—it shouldn’t have to matter. “Crazy Nights” says you are the hero, tonight. Sure, you might not be the hero tomorrow night, or ever again, for that matter.
But tonight, you’re it.
Tonight, that’s enough to keep you going until tomorrow.
W. Todd Kaneko is the author of The Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor 2014) and co-author with Amorak Huey of Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic 2018). His recent poems and prose can be seen in The Normal School, Barrelhouse, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus and many other places. A Kundiman fellow, he is co-editor of Waxwing magazine and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he teaches at Grand Valley State University. Catch him online at www.toddkaneko.com.