(3) twisted sister, "we're not gonna take it"
(7) nelson, "(can't live without your) love and affection"
and plays in the elite 8
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/21.
in praise of vagueness: on twisted sister's "we're not gonna take it" by Kathleen Rooney
My pen despairs of ever producing anything as divinely vague as Twisted Sister’s anthem, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
Distinctively indistinct, ambiguous and therefore open to a multitude of interpretations, the song’s meaning and tone are simultaneously as nebulous yet unmistakable as the golden nimbus of Dee Snider’s mane in Twisted Sister’s glamorous heyday.
“We’re not gonna take it,” the song begins, “No, we ain’t gonna take it / We’re not gonna take it anymore,” the vagueness gaining strength for being collective, that very first “we’re” drawing any and all who care to join into a triumphant first-person plural, an open call to be a small part of something larger.
Listening to the song and imagining what “it” is that “we” are not going to take affords a pleasure akin to staring at the sky and announcing what shapes we see in the clouds, only louder, more defiant, and in the key of E Major. Spacious and welcoming, the lyrics and the video invite us to contemplate the nature of the “it”—Oppression? Authoritarianism? Being jerked around by toughs and tyrants who prey upon and exploit those they perceive as possessing less power?—without limiting the “it” to any finite thing.
My sophomore year English teacher at Downers Grove North High School in the Chicago suburbs was a supremely kind and badass man named Mr. Lester who was pretty metal himself. He commuted to and from the school by motorcycle and wore the same perfect outfit every day of the week: ripped blue jeans, a black V-neck T-shirt, and two silver POW/MIA bracelets for friends he had lost in the Vietnam War. His tresses would have provoked envy in any hair metal band member. Long and dark and steel-wool curly, streaked with a bit of melancholy gray, his locks were so bold and unruly as to seem barely contained by the series of ponytail holders he employed to keep the coils in check.
One of the best teachers I ever had, Mr. Lester taught a series of highly specific and prescriptive rules on how to be a better writer, which I still use myself and now teach to my own students. One of them was to beware of the pronoun “it”; “it,” Mr. Lester said, is vague and can therefore almost always be replaced with a more precise word or phrase. And he was right; replacing “it” whenever possible strengthens practically any argument. But Mr. Lester (rest in power) was a wise and reasonable man, and, listening to “We’re Not Gonna Take It” on repeat as I write this essay, I believe that he would fully embrace Twisted Sister’s hymn to rebellion as a classic exception that proves his rule. For the “it” and its vagueness imbue the song with its indomitable power, and to replace that pronoun with a particular noun or phrase could only make it less mighty, not more.
Released on April 27, 1984, the song—with its themes of insubordination against unjust authority and insurrection against “the powers that be” who would dare presume to “pick our destiny”—resonated immediately with listeners. Reaching number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” became Twisted Sister’s only Top 40 hit, helping its album Stay Hungry go multi-platinum, with sales of over three million copies.
It’s impossible to pin down and name what one particular thing the song is about because its aboutness is so capacious. But in the indelible and MTV-friendly slapstick video directed by Marty Callner, at least part of the irrepressible joie de vivre arises from smashing that nonpareil of a bully, the heteronormative patriarchy as repped by the douche-y, normcore dad who first appears verbally berating his son. Upstairs in his bedroom, we see the boy absorbed in practicing Twisted Sister songs on his guitar, until Mean Dad shows up. The son just wants to rock, but Mean Dad won’t let him—that is until a colossal chord blows Mean Dad out the window of the suburban house and spins the kid into a grown-up Dee Snider. The resistance begins.
Played by Mark Metcalf, known for his role as the cruel ROTC leader Douglas C. Neidermeyer in 1978’s Animal House, this nefarious father figure mugs his way through the video like a sadistic Wile E. Coyote rebooted for the eighties, winding up defeated and supine on the ground at the end. The winsome and cartoonish narrative evokes a committedly dorky vibe that calls to mind both a professional wrestling show and a piece of musical theater as staged by a troupe of insouciant high schoolers.
In other, similar songs that take up the cause of defending one’s human right to rock, the villains and authority figures are often depicted as effete and feminine; in the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right to Party,” for instance, Mom busts in and says “What’s that noise?” But here, the Metcalf character embodies the worst kind of domineering masculine jackass, whereas Dee and his glam-clad glitter crew stand in appealing contrast as the heroic and hard-to-classify gender-bending weirdos.
Another not entirely typically masculine artist, the English poet A.E. Housman, said that the task of poetry is “to transfuse emotion—not to transmit thought.” The high-flown feelings of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and the song’s deliberate avoidance of articulating any ideology beyond “nope, we refuse to accept the unacceptable” serve to render it poetic, versatile, and above all enduring. Long on emotionality but short on specifics, the lyrics are just general enough to apply to almost any team of underdogs standing up for themselves.
So too does that vagueness enable the song’s collectiveness. Metal is often constructed as the provenance of outsiders where a self-selecting type of unusual person can go to find their fellow freaky people. In his surprisingly endearing and self-aware 2012 autobiography, Shut Up and Give Me the Mic, (Chapter 17, for instance, is called “I’m Snider Than You Are”), front-man Dee Snider recounts his adolescence, hanging out with his “outcast friends” and struggling with the desire to be popular. He felt as if he “were fading away, becoming just a part of the background to the beautiful people living exciting lives.” Then “I decided I wasn’t going to take it. One day I just realized that if I didn’t resist […] I would become just another nameless, faceless person in the world. I made a conscious decision that day that I would no longer give a shit what other people thought.” In doing so, he went on to write the ultimate fight song for masses of other people who had ever felt the same.
Musically, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is not really hair metal so much as it is pub rock. The solo doesn’t contain much actual shredding; it’s simply a guitar recapitulation of the melody for the chorus. But those are not criticisms. Up-tempo and pounding, led by Snider’s gruff voice and abrasive vocal style, the song’s simplicity makes it unforgettable.
Moreover, one must note that Twisted Sister’s sensational outfits contain abundant shredding, and the made-up faces of the band members gleam, shining a ferocious light to re-enchant the disenchanted.
Pub rock is music of the working class, and so is metal. Thus, who better than Frankfurt School philosopher and sociologist Theodor Adorno to further illuminate the magnificence of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”? In his “On Lyric Poetry and Society,” Adorno writes that, “It is commonly said that a perfect lyric poem must possess totality or universality, must provide the whole within the bounds of the poem and the infinite within the poem’s finitude.” In that sense, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is a perfect lyric poem.
Adorno also says that “the pressures of the struggle for survival allow only a few human beings to grasp the universal through immersion in the self or to develop as autonomous subjects capable of freely expressing themselves. The others, however, those who not only stand alienated, as though they were objects, facing the disconcerted poetic subject but who have also literally been degraded to objects of history, have the same right, or a greater right, to grope for the sounds in which sufferings and dreams are welded. This inalienable right has asserted itself again and again, in forms however impure, mutilated, fragmentary, and intermittent.”
Snider gives the alienated a shared voice for their inalienable right to resist. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” gives us the sounds for which we, as humans, are forever groping, the song’s vagueness awarding the individual lyric its collective power; not “I” but “we.”
Snider has recounted that in composing the song, he felt inspired by Slade’s “Girls Rock Your Boys” and the Christmas carol “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” The latter suggests of whom the “we” might consist: the metal faithful who are not, as the “you” to whom the song is addressed, “so condescending” and whose “gall is never ending,” but rather are the ones who are “right’ and “free,” unafraid to fight to make the “you” see.
Regarding said “you,” it’s hard to think of a sicker burn than:
Your life is trite and jaded
Boring and confiscated
If that’s your best, your best won’t do
No stranger to doing their best, Twisted Sister labored for years to build up a following in the metal clubs and bars of New Jersey and the tri-state area before hitting it big. But maybe the best-best moment in Snider’s autobiography comes during his account of being summoned to Washington, DC to testify before the Senate in 1985 at the behest of the Parents Music Resource Center.
“I’d been asked to speak because not only was ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ on the PMRC’s notorious Filthy 15, a list of the songs they found most objectionable, but at that time, thanks to my rampant overexposure, I was the most recognizable face in heavy metal,” he writes.
The PMRC, founded and led by Senator Al Gore’s then-wife, Tipper, out of a concern over putatively alarming trends in popular music sought to provide a rating system for albums containing offensive material, eventually resulting in the notorious—and in some cases, coveted—“Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” label.
Snider admits that he had to do some research to figure what exactly the moral crusaders were driving at, but once he did: “I didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation. I saw it as the metaphorical equivalent of carrying the flag into battle.”
His descriptions of his preparations, both mentally and sartorially, are utterly charming. Even though his fellow testifiers, John Denver and Frank Zappa, dressed, like the Senators before whom they were speaking, in suits and business attire, Dee opted to don his usual rock apparel: “skintight jeans, tigerhead belt, snakeskin boots, sleeveless Twisted Sister T-shirt, and cut-off Twisted Sister denim vest.” Accessorizing, he says, “with my tooth earring, aviator sunglasses, and a touch of mascara, I was ready to kick some PMRC ass.”
His entire statement to the Senate defending free speech in art—which he worked conscientiously on, prepping like a debate team member—is well worth watching in its entirety for its eloquence and reason:
But for the purposes of extolling the value of artistic indistinctness, this passage (at 8:04) is unsurpassed: “The beauty of literature, poetry, and music is that they leave room for the audience to put its own imagination, experience, and dreams into the words.”
And although Snider’s words were largely lost on the PMRC committee, who went ahead with their plans for censorship regardless, one could do worse than Snider’s formula for the necessity of a certain degree of vagueness in order to achieve beauty.
According to philosopher Bertrand Russell in his 1923 lecture, “Vagueness,” “Vagueness, clearly, is a matter of degree,” whereas “Accuracy, on the contrary, is an ideal limit.” To an extent, limits and degrees do bear upon Twisted Sister’s sublimely vague song—it can be about a lot of things, but it can’t be about anything. There are limits.
In an August 2016 interview with Billboard.com, Snider explains that as gloriously indistinct and widely applicable as the anthem is, there are some causes to which he cannot let it apply, including Paul Ryan’s 2012 Vice Presidential campaign. “When I wrote the song I wanted to not be so specific about what I wasn’t taking. Over the years it’s become almost a folk song,” he says. “We’ve got politicians, like Paul Ryan, who’s as anti-choice as you can be, singing at the top of his lungs, ‘We’ve got the right to choose it.’ I’m like, ‘Alright, it’s all about choice and you’re using it as your song. You can’t use that song. You’re anti-choice; you can’t sing my song about choice’.”
And in May of 2016, he rescinded his permission to then Presidential candidate Donald Trump—whom he got to know as a member of the 2012 cast of Celebrity Apprentice—to use “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as a campaign song. “When Trump asked me,” he says “and credit to him, he asked if I was okay, I said, ‘Yeah, we’re friends, go for it.’ Cut to four months later I pick up the phone and go, ‘You gotta stop. I didn’t know what you stood for, we never talked about the wall, banning entire religions from immigrating and things like this. I can no longer appear to support this’.”
The etymology of “vague” meaning “uncertain as to specifics” comes from the Middle French vague of the 1540s, meaning “empty, vacant; wild, uncultivated,” but the best vagueness is crafted such that one can’t pour just anything into that space arbitrarily.
Even earlier, “vague” derives from the Latin vagus meaning “strolling, wandering, rambling,” or, figuratively, “vacillating,” and that vacillation helps explain not only why “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is one of the greatest songs of all time, but also an object lesson in how great art can work generally.
For we listeners get to take the vacancy Snider offers us and fill it. We can stroll ramblingly alongside him, participating in his walk through the song, supplying our own notions of the forces against which we need to rebel. And in this vacillation—by going from Snider’s ideas to the ones in our brains and back again, a million little micro-shifts across the duration of the song—we become Twisted Sister’s collaborators; by the end, all of us have become part of the “we.”
When we sing along, we are not substituitive, not pushing Snider aside to take the mic; we are joining him at center stage, singing together and sharing a moment.
Like anybody who has needed to be buoyed by this song, Snider himself has been through some struggles. He admits as much in his autobiography, describing the whiplash of going from being the host of MTV’s Heavy Metal Mania and playing sold-out arenas to being so broke that he found himself placing flyers advertising his wife Suzette’s hair and make-up business on parked cars’ windshields to keep their family afloat. One of the things, besides his family, that got him through, was poetry.
“Invictus,” Snider’s favorite poem, is admirably indistinct. If we were able to ask its dead author, “William Ernest Henley, what exactly are you invicting against?” then he might reply, “What’ve you got?”
While we’re at it, Henley’s poem is pretty metal in its own right. I mean, “Out of the night that covers me / Black as the pit from pole to pole, / I thank whatever gods may be / for my unconquerable soul”?
We could read the poem and apply the biographical knowledge that Henley wrote it while recovering from surgery to treat the tubercular arthritis which cost him a leg below the knee. But we certainly do not need that specificity to admire its speaker’s perseverance and inner strength. And that ending:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
No wonder Snider loves it so much he has it tattooed on his forearm.
With “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Snider equals or arguably surpasses Henley in his own execution of exquisitely indistinct defiance. For in the world of Twisted Sister, the “unconquerable” soul belongs not merely to one person, but to many: We are the masters, we are the captains.
In the video, at roughly 2:06, drummer A.J. Pero hits his sparkle-covered snare and sends a galaxy of gold shimmering through the air.
And that’s as lovely an illustration as any of why “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is one of the most crucial songs of the last 100 years. We can bang it like a glitter drum when we need to refuse.
A founding editor of Rose Metal Press and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, Kathleen Rooney is the author, most recently, of the novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St Martin’s Press, 2017). With Eric Plattner, she is the co-editor of Rene Magritte: Selected Writings (University of Minnesota Press, 2016). Married to the writer, Martin Seay, she lives in Chicago and teaches at DePaul University. Follow her @KathleenMRooney.
JONI TEVIS ON NELSON'S "(CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT YOUR) LOVE AND AFFECTION"
Begin in black and white, two brothers fooling around with guitars in a plain room. One’s distracted, daydreaming about the girl on the magazine cover. Okay. This one’s for her.And we fade into Technicolor, a bigger room with furnishings lavish and eccentric. Persian rug on the floor, silks in pink and orange and poppy red draped from the ceiling. Here she comes. Mmm, just like an angel.
The camera pans up through grasses, seedheads, wisps of smoke. Two singers, three guitarists, a drummer, and a white grand piano that nobody plays. You work ten years to get your big break and it all comes down to a bored teenager holding the remote control. You’ve got a split second to catch her eye.
Let’s talk about the clothes for a second. Specifically, 1:32. One brother wears a denim jacket in a pale wash with striped lapels, and blue jeans, also very pale, and very tight. So tight. These jeans are a legitimate avenue of inquiry. Back then Levi’s manufactured their jeans in Southern textile mills, which matters, because the acrobatics demanded by this shoot will require durable denim. Over these impressive jeans, he wears crimson above-the-knee boots in suede, or maybe velvet.—Wait! I think those are spats! A woman twirls past in a bikini, yellow on her front and pink behind. Move it, bikini lady! I need to see if those are spats.
He looks great. I can’t lie. They both do. The denim jacket the other brother wears is a deeper indigo, and the top button of his white shirt is undone. His jeans—pale but not as pale as his brother’s, and tight, but ditto not as tight—are ripped at the knees, and the fringe of their rip echoes the fringe on his jacket. His pointy-toe boots are black. How can you smile while singing?
The year is 1990. Nelson Mandela, released from prison, goes on a tour of the United States, to great acclaim. Germany reunifies. Jim Henson and Sammy Davis, Jr., die on the same day. The first Gulf War begins, the number of librarians in the United States peaks, the Chunnel is completed, and on June 26, when the mercury in Phoenix hits 122 degrees, Nelson releases their first album, After the Rain.
This video, for “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection,” is the first video the brothers have ever made, and their label hires a bigtime director to shoot. There’s a lot to see. Two staircases that lead nowhere, a TV screen showing a giant blue eyeball, shafts of light sluicing down from spot bulbs overhead. It is a bright bubble of a scene, “Alice in Wonderland,” said Gunnar on the phone recently when we (thrillingly!) discussed this. Nine big speakers at least. Footage sped up and slowed down to emphasize the joy and ridiculousness of all our movements. This is the world, the video says, and the plants are artificial and the girl lip synchs and the wind blowing their fabulous white-gold hair comes from a fan offstage, but the joy is real. Oh yeah. Filmed in a windowless hangar, so the heat and smog outside, the crushed paper cup from Burger King skipping along in the gritty exhaust thrown out by the city bus with a page of classified ads clinging to its mesh intake, none of that can intrude on this world. Which makes this a perfect teenage song, a hermetic daydream where the atmosphere is lust of a kind that admits no actual bodied life. At the end of the video, snow falls upward, and linked halos of light float over the brothers.
And it works. Their playing to the camera, their hijinks on the Stairs to Nowhere. Said Gunnar, “It snapped, it popped, it floated from the radio for a reason.” This song, their debut single, hits #1, and After the Rain goes double platinum, which means it sells two million copies. To put that into perspective, in 1990 two million people lived in Detroit and Dallas put together. A copy of this album for every man, woman, and child in those towns. Two million copies, friends. One of those copies belonged to me.
Back then I was a freshman at Wren High School in Piedmont, South Carolina. I babysat for pocket money, $1.50 per hour per kid, work I did not enjoy. I played French horn in the school band. I went to prom with Steve, who I’m pretty sure was gay, but this didn’t dawn on me until years later. In English class, we read a one-page synopsis of The Scarlet Letter. In French class, the boys annoyed Dr. Chivers by poking a hole in Mont Blanc on his big rubberized topo map of France. Wrote Bruce Britt in the LA Daily News in 1991, “The duo’s hummable first single, ‘(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection’ is so potently romantic it brings dormant prom-night memories rushing back.”
It doesn’t feel like heavy metal, in part because it’s so sunny. “What we grew up listening to wasn’t blues,” said Gunnar. “It’s pretty easy to make a rock song sound tough when your DNA is the blues. But when your DNA is folk, it’s harder.” How do we trawl the ocean floor to remember who we used to be? After the Rain was one of the first albums I chose for myself; I got it through the Columbia Record Club, where you could get twelve tapes for the price of one.
Gunnar and Matthew Nelson are the twin sons of Kristin Harmon and Rick Nelson. Growing up, thanks to my mom, I knew Rick Nelson’s Greatest Hits by heart. “Travelin’ Man,” “Hello Mary Lou,” “Poor Little Fool,” “It’s Late,” “You Are the Only One.” Speaking their names puts me back in my parents’ car, driving home from town on a summer night, but since we had this album in vinyl we couldn’t have listened to it there. I must have had the songs running a loop through my head. Well, they were catchy.
And of all Rick Nelson’s songs, “Garden Party” is my favorite. Released when he was 32 years old, in some ways it’s a commentary on his childhood fame as the younger son on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet with his parents, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, as well as his stint as a teen idol, a term originally coined to describe him. The intensity of his fans’ adulation might be best illustrated by this quote from a May 1960 interview: “Perhaps the most embarrassing moment in my career was when six girls tried to fling themselves under my car, and shouted to me to run over them,” Rick Nelson said. “That sort of thing can be very frightening!”
“Garden Party” marked an artistic shift for Rick, and I asked Gunnar about it. “He’d always wanted to play at Madison Square Garden,” he said. It seemed his dream had come true when a promoter contacted him about doing a show there, but the audience had more of a throwback in mind. “So he gets there and it’s 22,000 poodle skirts and saddle shoes. He could feel the unease building,” Gunnar said. “When you’re on TV it tends to burn you into people’s minds at a certain time.” Those TV characters, he said, “gave you comfort. You could rely on that. But he’s doing his own thing.”
Together, over the phone in my office, we repeat the lines:
I said hello to “Mary Lou,” she belongs to me
When I sang a song about a honky tonk, it was time to leave.
Which is about Rick singing a cover of the Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women” and the audience booing him off the stage, a significant distance from fans begging you to run over them with your car. That gets me thinking about artistic reinvention, about the clash between creation and commerce. We won’t allow famous people to age; it’s something we can’t forgive. We say, rock or country, which is it, stay in your lane. We sing along. We say, I had your poster on my wall. We ink your doodles on our forearms, our shoulders, as once we drew them on the cardboard covers of our notebooks during Algebra II.
We think we know you. We think you owe us something. On New Year’s Eve in 1985, Rick Nelson’s plane crashed in a cow pasture northeast of Dallas, killing him. The twins were 18 years old. He was 45. I remember how stunned we were when we heard the news, and even now, all these years later, it grieves me to write the words.
BACKWARDS AND FORWARDS
Let’s watch the video again. I know it will help me feel better. By 1:43, there’s been a costume change, and THE DUSTER appears. New clothes! But the same guitars, which helps you tell them apart. Gunnar: Slightly darker jeans than before, but THE DUSTER is the main event, and it’s amazing, cut close to the body and sewn from a rose brocade figured with flowers and lined with velvet. Matthew wears skintight black leather pants, or possibly chaps, with lace-up detailing on the sides of thighs, along with a long-sleeved tie-dye shirt.
By comparison, the dress their crush wears is a snooze. Sleeveless ivory, sequined, sweetheart neckline, fringe. And she’s serious in her dark lipstick. She doesn’t get to shred on the guitar like the guys in the band do, although at one point she stands in a golden chiffon shift like Winged Mercury carved on a ship’s prow. She’s the muse, the imagined listener who inspires the writing of the song. The audience of one.
I ask Gunnar about the clothes in the video, and what he says warrants a block quote:
We went to Western Costume and pulled some things, old military uniforms. We’d been reading Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey. There was a theme to what we were pulling. We took it to (costume designer) Diane Estelle. We took half of our publishing advance and self-financed the costumes. Everyone had a look. We had a band meeting, and we asked everyone, what would you like to see in your stage costume? Symbols—like the bird flying through the cloud, for “After the Rain”—all the symbols are in white in the liner of the pale blue duster. If you freeze-frame the video, you can see them. People all around the country have tattoos of those symbols.
And I love the attention paid to the artifice of the video, how the film speeds up and slows down so you notice the filmed quality of it. “Visually it was stunning,” said Gunnar, “but it was also very funny.” There’s a moment when everything slows down around them, but the brothers keep singing at the normal rate of the music. For that, they had to learn to play the music at twice the speed so they would look natural when the rest of the scene was slowed. In order for the bird to fly backward and the snow to fall up at the end of the video, he said, “we had to learn that music backwards.” So that the filmmaker could reverse the film and make the bird fly up while the brothers played in what looked like a natural way.
“The whole philosophy of the trip,” Gunnar said, “is that nothing is left to chance.”
“Ecstasy” comes from the Greek “ekstasis,” which means “standing outside of oneself.” I mention this because if you still the video at 1:28 you see the drummer, Bobby Rock, in a state of complete ecstasy, head thrown back, mouth open, eyes half-shut, mane of dark hair flung behind him, arms half-bent and raised with sticks in each hand, biceps swollen—he’s wearing a red muscle tee so you can see what you’re dealing with here—and the shirt is very revealing, weirdly this feels more revealing than the woman jete’ing past in her bikini, maybe because we’re more inured to seeing women scantily clad? Or maybe because he just looks more mammalian. You can see a lot of dark chest hair, and the fringe that hangs down behind his arm looks like a swatch of armpit hair, though it probably isn’t. Around his neck he wears a gold chain, and the force of his drumming has slung it aside.
Look at his mouth. Half-open, lips curved in in a faint smile. He’s not playing to the camera—he just loves this fill. This shot lasts for a fraction of a second but it’s enough. The smooth alabaster of his enormous biceps, the attitude of surrender in his raised arms. He’d be doing this if nobody were watching; it’s a gig, but he’s playing this music for himself. We don’t often see ourselves in a moment of unguarded release, which is why it’s so striking to see him here, naked in a way, taken, joyous.
And of course I think of Bernini’s sculpture St. Teresa in Ecstasy, completed in 1652, in which the saint’s mouth hangs open and her eyes flutter shut, overcome by the power of God’s love, personified by a minxy cherub holding a fistful of golden arrows. Arrows that gleam like the cymbals of hammered brass in Bobby Rock’s drum kit, arrows brilliant as the sheets of white-bright hair the brothers toss, so smooth and straight I wonder if they ironed them. The cast of St. Teresa’s face is more serious, yes, but erase the body hair (just a detail anyway) and the expression is the same.
Note the theatricality of both video and sculpture—shafts of light, white dove flying toward the rafters, theater-curtain velvet lining those fabulous dusters. But the best part of the link is the ferocity of desire, whether for Cindy Crawford or the divine. Said St. Teresa in her Autobiography: “The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.”
Let’s talk about inheritance, debt. Let’s talk about Buddy Holly. You don’t like crazy music. You don’t like rockin’ bands. You’re so square. But I don’t care. All six of the band members gather in a tight cluster next to the grassy pond: Matthew Nelson, Gunnar Nelson, Joey Cathcart, Brett Garsed, Paul Mirkovich, Bobby Rock air-drumming with his sticks. By the last chorus The Girl’s smiling, hair pulled up in a side pony as she lip synchs “Baby!”
ONE THING THAT I KNOW FOR SURE
It is 1990. As Nelson and Winnie Mandela wave to the crowd in Boston, in DC, in New York. The day the song hits number one, the twins turn 22, having endured family-shattering tragedy, and despite that writing this glad, yearning song. There is grief and pain in life, and sometimes too there is relief. Said Gunnar, “When I have done my best as an artist, it’s been living that philosophy—‘you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.’” Said Gunnar, “’Love and Affection’ would not have existed if ‘Garden Party’ had not come first.”
And under the mucky seabed, under the heavy water, the great earthmovers slowly approach each other. And Checkpoint Charlie becomes a museum I will visit in 1998, and where in the gift shop you can buy pens that write with disappearing ink. The twirling bikini girl’s name is Judie Aronson, and on her Twitter bio she describes herself as “One of the lucky ones.” Bobby Rock, currently on tour with Lita Ford, likes to post articles about weight-lifting routines for drummers, and pictures from the vantage point of his drum kit—arena empty at sound check, flashy with lights during the show. When my husband and I made a deed change on our house not long ago, the contract read “five dollars, plus love and affection.” “Love us or hate us, you’re gonna know who we are,” Gunnar said. “We didn’t want to be Bon Jovi. We didn’t want to be Skid Row. We didn’t want to be Warrant. We wanted to be us.” Begins one translation of the Odyssey, “Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices, who wandered full many ways after he had sacked the sacred citadel.” “What is creation, anyway?” writes novelist Miguel de Unamuno. “Go as far as you possibly can,” Gunnar told me on the phone. “Dare to go there. Dare to be stupid. It is fucking liberating.”
Joni Tevis is the author of two books of essays, most recently The World Is On Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse. Her essays have appeared in Orion, Oxford American, Poets & Writers, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. She teaches at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina.