By Wil Forbis
A few weeks ago, I purchased
a speakerphone to enable myself to record the various phone interviews
I might find necessary to perform in the pursuit of raising the journalistic
value of this magazine. (There was also the added incentive that I might
lower my phone sex charges by recording a conversation once and..uhh,
"using" it over and over.) After I had the thing unpacked and set up,
I felt it would be prudent to conduct some sort of field test by actually
calling someone and recording the result. The lucky recipient of my
test was my old chum and noted zinester Chuck Swaim, a fellow who can
easily be persuaded to blab on endlessly about subjects no sane person
would care about. (You can hear my in-person interview with Chuck in
Real Audio here.) A quick dialing
and I managed to catch Chuck in the middle of a home
recording session of some of his poetry, but the can of 211 Malt
Liquor he was tastefully consuming made him more than willing to pursue
my venture and test out the phone. So we chatted a bit, mainly about
what was happening in his neck of the woods, Olympia Washington, a place
that had been a home base of mine for a year in the early nineties.
Olympia was a capitol of the lo-fi punk scene so I decided to ask Chuck's
opinion of the current sonic emanations coming from the various "musicians"
inhabiting his burg. I did so by saying, "Hey, Chuck, what's happening
in the Olympia music scene?" Chuck, at first drew back in mindful awe
of the simple brilliance as to which I had approached the subject, then
prattled off a few of the new local bands I'd never heard of. I began
to regret even raising the issue when he mentioned one name in particular.
"Oh, Wil," he said, "There is one band here I think you'd like. An all
female, AC/DC cover band called Hell's Belles! Everybody loves them."
To this, I was taken aback.
I'd heard of Hell's Belles, they'd been circulating around the clubs
of my recent hometown, Seattle, right around the time I'd left. It sounded
like a solid concept: chicks pumping out some of the greatest rock ever
created, and serving it with a healthy dose of irony since it would
be persons of the female gender performing such songs as "Giving the
Dog a Bone" or "Big Balls" (I would happily eat a worm and cucumber
sandwich to hear a chick deliver the chorus from the classic "Sink The
Pink".) I didn't hasten to assume that Chuck was right in his assertion
that I would love this band, but I was puzzled, nay, flabbergasted by
his statement that "Everybody loves them." After all, this was Olympia,
Washington we were talking about, a place rich with political correctness
and derision for anything that could be called mainstream. At the local
college, Evergreen, they had whole courses in "Identifying Male Oppression
and Penis Symbols in the Films of Mike Nichols" and street corner hipsters
would go to great lengths to explain to you that the material in their
sweater was "Genuine Peruvian Yak hair made by non-oppressed workers."
How could these dull witted PC Nazis possible have any appreciation
of a cover band extolling the virtues (however tongue and cheek) of
rock masters such as AC/DC?
You might assume me to be
overreacting. "Sure, these Olympia nuts may be a bunch of monkey-scrotum-fondlers,"
you say. (You did say that, right?) "But it doesn't seem like a stretch
for them to lighten up and enjoy a mock metal band." By saying that
you a merely showcasing your ignorance, my friend. In my days there,
Olympians didn't know the meaning of the term of "lighten up" unless
it was to "lighten up" a George Bush doll they were planning on burning
in effigy. Real Rock and Roll... you know, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith,
The Stones, was considered anathema... even enjoying it on silly level
was beyond reproach. By listening to such cock rockers you were helping
to ensure that Aboriginal women would never get access to abortions
and that the Bolivian flightless iguana would be extinct within twenty
years. (I even developed what I called "The AC/DC test." Whenever I
found myself at an Olympia party I would wait till the current music
selection on the stereo ended and replace it with some Angus and Co.
The test was to see how long it lasted before it got substituted with
Nirvana. I'm sad to say that I don't think we ever even got through
The truth is, the selections
on the approved Olympia play list were quite limited. Nirvana was the
mainstream breakout that had managed to escape the criticism of being
corporate sellouts (Followed next, perhaps, by Jane's Addiction.) The
gamut of the Olympia and Washington DC riot grrls bands were okay, allowing
the girls to feel empowered and the boys to trick their way into sleeping
with girls who felt empowered. Various local "sensitive boy" punk bands
were in as well, Beat Happening, Some Velvet Sidewalk and the like.
Basically the music scene was so emasculated they might as well had
a "Check your Scrotums at the Door" sign when you pulled past the Olympia
To be honest, I despised
most of those bands. Not because I was opposed to the feminism or punk
ideology of the music (I've always like the Dead Kennedy even though
I disagree with a lot of Jello Biafra's beliefs.), rather I disliked
the songs for same reason Betty Frieden would've disliked them: They
sounded like crap! The D.I.Y. philosophy that had encouraged a generation
of alternative teens to pick up guitar was resulting in really, really
awful music. Sounds capable of lowering the sperm count of male elephants
from miles away (and increasing it in females) were regularly heard
from the basements and practice studios around town. And since the philosophy
or moral relativism was now being applied to music criticism, none of
these inept minstrels could find anyone honest enough to tell them the
truth about their music ("Even though my ears are bleeding and I'm about
to pass out, I feel your band is creating a valid aesthetic statement
that can be properly understood in the context of blah, blah, blah….")
So I was surprised to hear
that AC/DC were now coming into vogue in the capitol of wussy rock.
In fact, had this been the only instance to verify these claims I might've
passed it off as a fluke. But not long after, I picked the new album
by the all female group, The
Donnas, and couldn't help notice the AC/DC influence playing itself
out in their music. (An influence The Donnas have readily acknowledged
in interviews.) And get this: The Donnas are on tour with seminal, Olympia
riot grrls, BratMobile. On top of that, punksters of all faiths and
creeds are readily commenting on their acceptance of AC/DC as genuine
rocksters worthy of note (Here's an example.)
Truthfully, I think this
is part of a grander change. I was recently surprised to see London
based Acid Logic blogger, Tarryn
Stewart, lump punk/noise bands such as At The Drive In and Trail
of Dead in with groups like the Def-Tones and Tool. Upon questioning
her on the subject, I found that it's not uncommon for European youth
to group together such bands, even though here in the states they are
separated by electric fences (despite the fact that the Def-Tones and
Trail of Dead probably have more in common that they have differences.)
The lines that separated music when I was in my early twenties are disappearing.
Generation Y never learned the strict rules of disenfranchisement that
were laid out by the punk revolution of the early nineties (though they
may create their own equally obtrusive rules) so they have no problem
putting on a cd of Black Sabbath followed by Mogwai. And it's with this
spirit of musical desegregation I find myself looking back on the musical
nazis of of my Olympia days and fighting the intense urge to yell, "I
won!" and pee in their faces.
You gotta admit, it's funny
how different styles of music change and come to represent new things
to new groups of people. Maybe not "ha-ha" funny, like watching the
death of a baby, but sort of "that's interesting" funny. And I have
to admit that it's even hit me. A couple years ago I got a hold of the
Joan Jett produced Bikini Kill singles and now I play them all the time.
I've even developed a healthy respect for Beat Happening lead singer
Calvin Johnson's baritone. In truth, by holding out on these bands,
I was being a music nazi of sorts myself, refusing to listen to them
because the people who disliked "my" music liked them. Recognizing such
flaws in myself gives me hope, and combined with my never ending obsession
with criticizing those around me, I truly believe we may some day be
able to stand together, arm in arm and deliver a rousing chorus of AC/DC's
Or at least the Donnas'
"Forty Boys in Forty Nights"! Damn, that songs rawwwkkks!
For more metal mayhem, read
the article, Judas
Priest Versus AC/DC at forbisthemighty.com.