A witty journey into the demimonde of 1980s heavy-metal music by way of the High Plains.
Klosterman, now a music critic for the Akron Beacon Journal, grew up in a farm town in North Dakota whose 500 residents included dozens of teenagers who categorized themselves on the basis of the music they liked. For Klosterman and a few of his beer-chugging pals, that music was heavy metal: the guaranteed-to-drive-parents-insane, bottom-heavy fuel of the rural dispossessed. Characterized by a “beautiful combination of virtuosity and imbecility,” 1980s-era heavy metal was guaranteed to polarize; critics hated it, but the kids (who lived and breathed for albums like Mötley Crüe’s Shout at the Devil and Ozzy Osborne’s Diary of a Madman) were as confident of the righteousness of their cause as was any old-hippie fan of the Grateful Dead or the Beatles. The author engages in plenty of sociologizing and philosophizing as he takes an amiable, booze-soaked ramble through the genre, listing favorite albums and musing on the merits of big-hair bands like Cinderella and Whitesnake and the relative status of guitarists like Eddie Van Halen—who regularly earns top honors in magazine lists of the greatest guitar players of all time. (Klosterman, perhaps heretically, allows that Jimi Hendrix was the better axman, adding, “Van Halen remains the most influential guitar of all time, but only because nobody can figure out how to rip Hendrix off.”) A big bonus comes toward the end when Klosterman assembles a list of “essential” albums, which he ranks by the amount of money someone would have to pay him never to listen to them again—a mere $66 for Van Halen’s 1984, but a walloping $5,001 for Guns N’ Roses’ undeniably great Appetite for Destruction.
This is what Lester Bangs would have written had he been a farmboy raised on a diet of Skid Row and KISS. Unfailingly smart and demonically opinionated, it could even make a few converts to the music Tipper Gore once loved to hate.