Every bloke must go through a rock or metal phase – I think it must be some force of nature, or maybe something that can be explained by science, but I certainly went through a brief but interesting flirtation with “rawk” in the late 80s. In particular, I developed a strange love for Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction, and their brand of shock/scuzz rock.
Please find below what could perhaps be considered to be their most mainstream, least offensive, most romantic single:
Awwwwwwww… look, it’s a love song, innit?
She’s a bip bop dirty star-shine thing
She kissed my skin like an angel’s wing
Solid gold love in a rat skin fur
Planet earths spin in space for her
Blue static fizz on a detuned station
Sleeping beauty with a bad reputation
Divine, drunk goddess of love
In 1987, I took my A Level exams in Art & Design, English Literature and Drama & Theatre Studies, and I got pretty good results (B in Art, and C grades in English and Drama). At that time, I was considering doing a degree in Theatre Design because I though it would be a great way of combining my love for Art and Drama into a career that would be creative and interesting. I had no real aspirations to become rich – coming from a background where my family did not have a comfortable 80s experience, I could have gone for the money (like some people did) like a born again yuppie but I decided that it was not me. I wanted creative satisfaction.
Ultimately things worked out differently (for reasons that I’ll explain sometime) but for the immediate future, September 1987 would see me going to Newport College of Art to undertake a Foundation Course. Yes, back in those dim and distant days, if you wanted to undertake an Art based degree course, your experience of Art at A Level was somehow considered to be not enough therefore you were “encouraged” (in other words, expected) to take a Foundation Course where your mind would be opened up to all types of art experience that had been denied you at A Level. Yeah, I though it was a bullshit argument too but that was the way it was so I was set up for a year of taking the bus from Cwmbran to Newport.
Something happened during the year that I was doing my Foundation Course – I think I went a little nuts. In school, I was forever the nice guy who would be positive and fun and generally be as good a person to be around as I could possibly be. In college, I started to push the boundaries of what I considered to be acceptable – starting with swearing like a fucking trooper. The music of Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction certainly fits into this pushing of the boundaries of acceptability – let me add in “Backseat Education” as perhaps a better example than my main choice of “Planet Girl”, for reasons that will become quickly apparent:
Go listen to the album, “Tattooed Beat Messiah”, and you will find even more dodgy lyrical content on there that would probably result in serious Daily Mail headlines if it was released in the context of today. However, back in the late 80s, it was released with a minor fuss and then people got over it.
However, I’m also partly convinced that my brief association with metal was partly influenced by my association with two very different and equally dedicated metal-heads: Andy and Si, who also attended the Foundation Art Course along with me.
Andy was a fan of what would be described as either glam-metal or hair-metal (depending upon the attitude of the person describing it, and how much derisive they were being towards the music). Andy had the obligatory long shaggy blond hair associated with the glam-metal brigade, usually squeezed underneath a black fedora (or was it a trilby?) style hat that I thought looked really cool (yeah, remember my Bowie obsession? I had loads of cheap trilby style hats from Topman or Burtons or wherever I could get them). Andy in particular seemed to wear jeans that were unbelievably skinny, aided by the fact that he was unbelievably wiry at the time. Yup, he had “the look”.
Andy would occasionally put together a tape of music for me (errr, for you young people reading this, a tape was a format where you would take the music from your vinyl and rerecord into a format suitable for your Walkman or “Ghetto blaster” for the purposes of listening “on the move” – yeah, digital has made some things much easier although it has taken the romance out of creating the “mixtape”). I remember the like of Poison and Hannoi Rocks being on these tapes. I’m pretty certain that Whitesnake and Cheap Trick would have made an appearance at some point too.
Let’s put up an example so you can understand the type of music that I was getting from Andy:
Yes, Bon Jovi at the height of their “Living’ On A Prayer” fame (from the rather enjoyable “Sleppery When Wet” album) would have been ranked as part of the glam-metal brigade, possibly along with the likes of Def Leppard and many many others.
Glam metal was the radio friendly face of late 80s rock/metal. Look at the video of Poison again, and you won’t be surprised to learn that many of the glam-metal bands came out of the LA area of the USA. The history can be traced back to the likes of Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Van Halen, Kiss, Boston and even The New York Dolls. In the 80s, it was bands like Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Poison, Ratt, Cinderella, Warrant and Stryper who took to international levels of commercial success. Go to YouTube and find the video for “Welcome To The Jungle” by Guns ‘n’ Roses, and you will see them looking completely unlike them – yup, even G’n’R were influenced by the glam-metal movement.
Glam metal was ok – I liked lots of the songs that I heard on the radio. Who couldn’t like “Livin’ On A Prayer” by Bon Jovi?
Now Si was a different type of metal-head – he was a purveyor of the finest thrash metal aesthetic around. Whereas Andy was the living embodiment of the glam-metal aesthetic, Si was the embodiment of thrash. Si would meet me at the bus stop every morning wearing his regulation outfit of jeans and band t-shirt. If the weather was extremely cold, he would wear a V-neck pullover. I don’t ever remember seeing him wear a coat, even when it was pissing down with rain. I don’t remember him getting ill – he must’ve had the immune system of Wolverine.
Now the key element was obviously the band t-shirt. Si’s t-shirts were an indication of his allegiance to an elite group of metal bands – Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer are the ones that I remember the most. Sometimes I would get a tape of the music behind these mythical t-shirts: Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and Slayer’s “Reign In Blood” are the two that I remember the most. Anthrax had a chart hit in 1987 with “Bring The Noise” when they joined with Public Enemy so I had some idea what the thrash aesthetic was about. Here is “Master of Puppets” to compare with the Poison track:
Funnily enough, later in life, I really came to appreciate how Metallica went about challenging what was considered to be metal, particularly through things like their “S&M” project in collaboration with The San Francisco Symphony (under the directorship of Michael Kamen). One of my fave albums of recent years was the collaboration with Metallica and Lou Reed, “Lulu”, that almost totally nobody like. I do like being a bit bloody minded and difficult at times.
Yeah, so Andy and Si represented the two differing musical influences that I found myself bouncing between during my year during Foundation Art in Newport (and then there was my girlfriend’s love of musical theatre which also has a part to play because Zodiac Mindwarp was actually a character that was created and played out by music journalist and writer Mark Manning, in much the same way as David Bowie played Ziggy Stardust – and went equally as unhinged as Bowie went too).
Yeah, there was always going to be an art rock influence in there somewhere.
She’s a bullet-proof poem
Dance trance drugs in a star war zone
Laser beam lips give me kiss of life
Sex explosion with baby midnight
Psychotic erotic want to mad energy
Electrons snap when she touch me
Divine, drunk, goddess of love oh yeah
So, is it any surprise that I found my musical tastes heading further in the direction of rock / metal during this time? After all, chart music was dominated by the clean cut production factory of Stock, Aitkin and Waterman songs. The only alternative that I started to hear on the radio was the increasing presence of house music that was starting to filter across from the parties happening on the island of Ibiza. It was a weird, disjointed time to be a fan of music.
So thanks to you both Andy and Si for your friendship during that weird and wonderful year in Newport, before we all went our separate ways. My memory is shit but bits and pieces come back, especially when I play Zodiac Mindwarp. Thanks for opening my ears to new music experiences – it is an attitude that I have tried to keep with me, to never shut myself off from any style of music until I’ve heard it for myself and made my own judgement about it. That is why this blog is not really about reviewing music, it is more about the meaning of music and the associations that it can create when you become emotionally invested in it.
Oh, and why did I choose “Planet Girl” rather than any of the other singles, such as “Prime Mover” which was actually a great song?
Oh listen to the chorus again.
I said you goddess of love
I love you planet girl
Yeah, you know who I think of every time I hear this, don’t you?
Ah, young love.