Monday, January 30, 2012

BC2012: Hell Bent for Leather by Seb Hunter

I love Chuck Klosterman, but Hell Bent for Leather is the book Fargo Rock City should have been. Anyone who grew up during the 1980s with even a passing interest in heavy metal would love this book.

Although my favorite group in fifth grade was AC/DC, I was never a metalhead. I watched a lot of MTV (so I know songs like Ratt's "Round and Round" by heart even though I never bought the album) and I loved Appetite for Destruction, but I was never a part of the scene. I could have been an above-average poseur, had I wanted to be, but I was too busy exploring the music of the late 1960s.

Hunter traces his own heavy metal history, starting with the holy experience of hearing his first AC/DC song in 1981 (he's a year younger than I am and "discovered" AC/DC a year after I did*). He went much deeper into metal: buying lots of albums, reading magazines like Kerrang! (he lived/lives in the U.K.), learning to play guitar, and eventually forming several unsuccessful bands. Hunter weaves informational commentary about metal into his memoir, describing the guitars played by metal heroes, sub-genres like death metal, the typical metal stage show, women in metal (funny, after 20 years of hip hop I had forgotten metal's reputation for misogyny!), the ubiquitous live double-album, and more. His writing is funny, self-deprecating, and entertaining throughout (which I expected after reading How to be a Better Person). It's only January, but so far Hell Bent for Leather is the book I've enjoyed the most.

* One thing I have to admit here finally: Although I give my dad shit about liking crap like Journey, the truth is he had pretty good taste in music (I can't really use the present tense since I don't think he's bought any new music in quite some time). Hunter describes his family being rather horrified by AC/DC, but my dad owned Back in Black and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap before I did. There were certain songs he didn't want me to listen to -- the same songs Hunter lists, much to my amusement -- but of course that never works with kids. How could he deny me a classic like "Big Balls"?!? But seriously, my dad was only in his thirties during my teens. One day in 1981 (he was 31, I was 11), he took me along to Flipside Records** and bought a bunch of albums (he had a gift certificate) including Ozzy Osbourne's Blizzard of Ozz and Blue Oyster Cult's Fire of Unknown Origin (I think he bought Pink Floyd's The Wall and maybe Zenyatta Mondatta by the Police that day, too). All kids should be so lucky music-wise to have young parents.

** A moment of silence, please, for all the great Chicagoland record stores that have disappeared including local chains like Flipside, Rose, Appletree, and Crow's Nest as well as Record Swap and Music Warehouse. I devoted a large portion of my teenage budget to keeping them alive.

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