My name is George Murray and I am a closet head-banger.
Actually, these days, I’m more a head-nodder. But in the past I have listened to and loved hard rock and heavy metal. For twenty years I’ve kept this shame relatively secret, hiding behind masks of punk, new wave, industrial, folk, grunge, hip hop, Brit pop and alt-indie rock.
No more. I will be free of this subterfuge, and you will be burdened with the knowledge. You will be my sin eaters. I admit to the following, and no more:
1. My first concert was Ozzy Osbourne. I was twelve years old and accompanied by Greg, my best friend from seventh grade. The year must have been 1983. There were two giant mechanical bats on either side of the stage and everyone smelled like dope. I was pretty scared, but the other fans around us were too stoned to be mean. Some dude kept calling me Frodo.
2. The heavy metal kids in high school, those skinny denim-clad smokers who took a lot of shop and hung out in the parking lot, were not my friends. I just couldn’t support wearing Harley-Davidson painters’ caps and black concert shirts with white, three-quarter-length sleeves. I did have a mullet, though, for a while. I was in the Drama Club and I drew pictures, so I tried to like Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and Ministry. And I did. Really. I loved them. I grew my hair into shapes. I considered dying it jet-black. I am a redhead. This would not have been good.
3. At fifteen, I attended the last concert of Canadian rock gods Triumph. I had “run away from home” to my friend’s house down the road, and found out he was skipping school in order to hop a boxcar down to Toronto for the gig. Tagging along was a skill of mine. Triumph was famous for their light and laser show, and I was thrilled to be going. Then I realized it was a day concert, outdoors at Canada’s Wonderland. The sun was brilliant, but it weren’t no laser show. Rik Emmett, alone on stage, played Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” for a good ten minutes on his electric guitar. I thought his hands were going to spontaneously erupt into flame. I didn’t know it then, but the girl I would date when I was eighteen was sitting right behind me yelling at me to sit the fuck down. Apparently, I ignored her. I was fighting the good fight, after all.
4. At seventeen, I played in a band that covered many songs, including some by the Ramones and the Cult. Not so bad, you say? Well, we also covered Poison and Whitesnake, and we never had a single paying gig. Our big hit was a medley of “Wild Thing,” “Wild Flower” and “Born to Be Wild.” Yeah.
5. At twenty-three, I reunited with my long-time pal Jay to see a trashy Canadian rock band (unfortunately) named the Killer Dwarfs at the Hot Rox in Brampton. (It’s worth noting that a year or two earlier I had worn through the band’s Method to the Madness cassette at the song “Driftin’ Back,” a mushy ballad. I was unemployed and driftin’ back across the continent at the time in my pickup truck with rust in the wheel wells.) We were the only two guys there wearing university jackets, and Jay knocked back so much beer that he had to be carried out. The whole night was spent leaning drunkenly against a bar railing overlooking the pit in front of the stage. I was kind of bleary-eyed and dozy when I realized they were playing my song. I turned to nudge Jay and he was literally passed out in a puddle of beer. A pitcher had fallen over and it was deep enough that his left nostril was blowing bubbles in the suds. I have no idea how we got home, but I somehow managed to remember to get a T-shirt.
6. At twenty-four, my buddy Walt and I started a water bottle fight at Molson Park in Barrie during the Metallica/Suicidal Tendencies/Danzig concert. Some guys behind us were being dickheads and we were feeling tough. I sprayed water on one of them and then threw the bottle in his face. He threw back, but it went over my head and hit a big guy in front of us. When he wheeled on me, I innocently pointed at the guys behind us. Pandemonium. It got so bad someone pegged James Hetfield in the head. It was like plastic rain. One bottle, half-full, hit me under the eye. People got seriously hurt. It made the local news.
7. At the lowest moment in my mid-twenties, I found myself in front of April Wine and Goddo at a racetrack in southwestern Ontario. I was camping there with Walt, getting stoned amongst the bikers. The night before, I had pulled Walt out of a campfire he’d drunkenly fallen into. He was laughing as I rolled him around on the ground to smother the flames.
8. At twenty-eight, when I returned from living abroad in Italy, I sold some CDs in lieu of getting a job. For some reason, unknown to me now, I sold my original GNR Appetite for Destruction. To this day, I count this as a major sign of my depression at the time.
9. Recently I realized that the last few cars I’ve rented have been returned with the radio set to 97.7 HTZ FM. How can this be? I am a lifelong 102.1 CFNY (“The Edge”) listener. I swear! The dial must have slipped! I can’t explain it otherwise.
10. The lightning round: I have, wide-eyed with performative lust, pumped a fist and jumped from my bed (knees bent, heels against ass) during the first thunderous guitars of “Come Sail Away” by Styx. I have strained to meet the vocal range of Steve Perry from Journey while singing in the shower. I have listened to “I Remember You” by Skid Row on repeat and cried. I have drunkenly picked fights while the bass riff from “Enter Sandman” played in my head. I have played air guitar to Heart’s “Barracuda,” whammy bar and all. I have sung “Fat-bottomed girls, you make the rockin’ world go ’round” and meant it. I have made it to third base while stoned and listening to Zeppelin. And when commanded by Van Halen, oh yes, I have jumped.
Now I am thirty-three, in my Jesus year. Every now and then I still try to quit. The problem is, I have high-speed Internet access and an electronic jukebox. I have over 1,000 MP3s (all legally downloaded, of course), many of which are so lame and embarrassing I can’t even name them here in my confession. (Can you say Golden Earring? Fog Hat? Grand Funk Railroad? Scorpions? Ratt? Mötley Crüe? Poison? Lynyrd Skynyrd? Indigo Girls? Wait, not that last one. That’s for another confession.)
Sometimes I think I’m fine. I convince myself that it’s out of my system because I can dig albums by the Strokes and the Stills. I have tried to kill it by discovering jazz and classical, folk and alt-rock. Last year I even bought a Dixie Chicks album, ostensibly for the Fleetwood Mac cover. As my bankcard swiped through, I instantly regretted it. I felt as though I had amputated some small part of me: a finger or toe, something I don’t think of as all that useful until I need to carry an extra bag or count to ten. It makes me feel old to know that CD is in my tower. It makes me feel as dirty as the only banjo at a hoedown.
Yet, even still, something keeps pulling me back to the rock and I find myself in the used CD stores flipping through the strangely small “E” section looking for Europe. I cringe like a junkie having his umpteenth epiphany.
These days I listen to my CDs and MP3s with headphones on so I don’t wake the baby. I sit in my leather rocking chair, nodding my head in silence and making anguished faces as I update my literary website. Occasionally I air drum. It’s shameful. Utterly shameful.
I love it.
Paul Winner is on vacation this week. His editor humbly submits the preceding column in his stead.