Back in the day – the only day that ever really mattered, the 1980s – heavy metal music was about the only way, absent an errant missile strike by the Soviet Union, for young people to watch their oppressors suffer, be they parent, teacher, Congressman, or cop. While their pursed lips, crooked fingers, and humorless facades said no, our mullets and acne responded in kind, headbanging an emphatic yes from sea to shining sea. The nation’s youth were, for likely the final time, united in rebellion. As if channeling a spirit of lost generations, we felt the noise, shouted at the devil, barked at the moon, and stayed hungry. We rode the lightning, defended the faith, licked it up, and lived somewhere just south of heaven. The world’s ugliest human beings, once doomed to a sad isolation of stumbling through dark, airless tombs, were now getting laid as if by divine right. The meaningless void of 70s arena rock was long forgotten. Disco, forever and always the least introspective music in human history, had been murdered at last before cheering crowds. Power had its back to the wall. The establishment was in retreat. For a brief time, it seemed like we might change a thing or two. And then came Operation: Mindcrime. Hell, we just might change the whole enchilada.
Fluff artists like Bret Michaels and Vince Neil might tell you differently, but heavy metal’s goal was always revolution. Not the superficial kind, like removing those Parental Advisory stickers from cassette tapes or something, but real, substantive change. Overthrow, dammit, with bodies in the streets. Sure, the movement was fronted by some of the stupidest human beings ever to walk upright, but we had our idealism. We hated war, so it had to stop. I’m pretty sure even if attacked. Just close down the military and walk away. Poor people were noble and true, and we wanted to feed them. But our government just couldn’t mind its own business. We pretty much wanted it gone, but unlike today’s Libertarians, we needed guys like Ted Kennedy for the big projects, like libraries and roads and shit. Our hatred of the feds was a music thing: stay out of our record shops, our bedrooms, and our porno booths, because sex and drugs and fighting back meant everything to us. Taxes? We didn’t pay them, so what were they but something rich folks should contribute more of so we could be left alone? Yeah, man, we really hated people with money. Like, more than Tipper Gore. Soak ‘em, is what we yelled from the rooftops, and the music reflected that populist spirit. We were the commoners, and we sprang from the dirt to take on the posers, the pretentious, and the pompous alike.
Sure, like all revolutions, the cause failed miserably, with most of us moving on to even worse musical escapades (the 90s make the 80s seem like the fucking Renaissance). But even in retrospect, there’s an understanding that, even though it was doomed from the start, it was still worth a shot. No one in a t-shirt and jeans ever did anything worth a damn, but the air was thick with possibility then, and the fun was in the not knowing. Heavy metal saw the enemy, called it by name, and worked non-stop to strike it down from its lofty perch. And even when we weren’t exactly concerned with holding truth to power, we got one hell of a kick out of scaring all the right people. Women, seniors, people in suits – they were a gray, amorphous blob of mediocrity, and we loved the fire, blood, and bad attitudes that drove them to the other side of the auditorium. Eventually, we loathed everyone who gave a shit. If you played a sport, you sold out. If you wanted to be more, you were a conformist. And if you were patriotic, faithful, or devoted, you were the ultimate sucker. It was a rapid push from social concern to comfortable nihilism, but it was a necessary evolution. Eventually, metal had to just throw its hands up and admit that the world could suck it for all it cared. It was about the music. And people hating our everlasting guts. Despised, we knew we were winning.
But it’s 2013 now, and heavy metal is a dead letter, except of course for the nostalgia circuit, which improbably has Ratt still earning a living a quarter-century beyond its expiration date. And while we love our old bands, still, it’s not for anything they have to say. It’s about memory and youth, and we know the train done left the station. Maybe some of the dinosaurs still retain a shred or two of genuine belief, but it means even less when shouted from one of the few recognizable holes on some death mask. Someone may yet take us to the promised land, but it’s not going to be a dude still wearing spandex at sixty. So where does that leave the metal empire? In sum, it leaves us with Madison Rising. They are the long and the short of the modern scene, and where we’ve been tending for a generation now. If the past shook a fist, they salute a flag. From hating war to serving in one. From being on the side of the guy sticking it to the man, to being the man shooting that same guy in the face. Yes, even, from comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, to wanting to be the comfortable right down the line. It’s heavy metal, but the kind even Richard Nixon could dig. The kind for a new age. The sort of shit they might play in a board room to get people motivated for the layoffs. The only surprise is that Gene Simmons didn’t think of it first.
For the uninitiated (which included me up until about ten minutes ago, as I hadn’t even heard of Madison Rising until I caught the end of a segment on Fox News) the band – led by vocalist Dave Bray, guitarists Alex Bodnar and Chris Schreiner, bassist Alex Bodnar, and drummer Sam Fishman – was cobbled together out of spare parts in 2011 by Purple Eagle Entertainment CEO and Founder Richard Mgrdechian. Previously a NASA engineer and investment banker, Richard naturally turned his sights on the heavy metal music scene, seeing a void in the marketplace for a pro-America, pro-gun, pro-war, anti-immigrant rock group to take the nation by storm. Country music was already safely in the hands of God, and Prussian Blue had experienced a bad break up, so why not tackle a new genre? A genre previously held by liberals, fanatics, and those bent on bringing the country down? Now I won’t say the whole thing’s as contrived as the Backstreet Boys or One Direction (MR writes their own music, thank you very much), but this Mgrdechian guy is no less slimy than that fat Philip Seymour Hoffman-ish slob who went to jail for a $300 million Ponzi scheme soon after forming the boy band O-Town. Maybe more so. All O-Town wanted, after all, was to make young girls cry. Madison Rising, however, is after us all. It’s the most chilling grab for power since the Night of the Long Knives.
“Right to Bear” – God, how I wish this was just another gay anthem. Nope, we’re in gun nut territory, and every man not armed to the hilt is, as you would expect, “a citizen they control.” But it’s more than that. The opening shot is every NRA wet dream writ large: a chance not only to kill, but to kill with full legal right. “Late one night as I came home,” Bray growls, “And saw the front door broken in.” Grabbing his piece and running inside, the hunky ex-Navy serviceman finds “who lurks within” and eventually, stands face to face with the thief. “Man you should have seen him run,” he snarls, “When I cocked that .45.” First question: why wasn’t your gun already cocked? You saw the broken door and waited to cock the gun until you looked the criminal in the eyes? Already he’s a liar. Maybe there was no actual break in. But he continues: “It’s one of my rights as a free man / To protect my home when needed / I demand my right to bear arms / It’s one of my rights as a free man.” Yes, you said that. And we all agree. But no one actually broke into your house. At least not right before you came home. I’m thinking this guy was fucking your wife and this is the story you’re telling the cop after the fact. Fine, you’re singing the story. It’s still horseshit. But he’s serious: “Disarm the voting country-men / And society will fall.” No one has ever used the word ‘disarm’ in any conversation. Certainly no politician. But even if they did, that will bring down the country? But I pre-judge. Maybe he gets to the increasing gap between rich and poor with a later song. I mean, it’s early.
“Soldiers of America” – Well, I’m guessing it’s another gun song, only this time, they’re being wielded by our best and brightest. Distinguishable from the opening dirge only by the singer’s insistence on using even more gruff, this ode to our fighting men dispenses with subtlety altogether and goes straight for the cheap seats: “They are the soldiers of America / They put their lives on the line / Gave up their own right to freedom / So you could have yours and I could have mine.” Outside of the fact that such lyrics could have been penned by Orrin Hatch or even the drunkest Tea Partier, let’s consider the essential contradiction: soldiers are not themselves free. They gave it up so we could have ours. So our liberty rests, then, on the tenderest of principles: the zero-sum game where you are free only when I am, well, not. Once I am free again, you will be unfree. So I’ll have to surrender my freedom – again – so you can be free. It’s pretty complicated, apparently. And here I thought these guys just needed a way to pay for college. But this is about paying tribute. I mean, these guys are far away while we sit at home getting fat: “(they got) no dinner with the family / (they got) no home, no luxury car / Just a ‘welcome to the battlefield’ / It’s time to go to war.” I have no family, a shitty car, and am a paycheck from homelessness. Is this song about me, too? We’ve split the atom, put a man on the moon, and can get cell service in a cave. Still no originality concerning music and the military.
“Rally the Youth” – I’ll admit it: this is one sexy song. It opens with orgasmic swagger, like it’s seducing the kids for a righteous cause. The lyrics even speak to unending possibility: “Listen up little man / You can’t just dream about tomorrow / You’ve got to take a stand / To make it happen / Shut off the TV and let’s get packing.” Have they turned liberal so soon? By the third song? They sound, dare I say it, angry. They keep on it: “Rally the youth come on let’s go / We’ve been asleep for way too long / The world is changing / So stop complaining / Before it’s too late.” What are they after? Whatever it is, sounds radical, even dangerous. Global warming? Gun violence? Stagnant wages? Corporate malfeasance? By the next stanza, it sounds like Eugene Freakin’ Debs is at the mike: “Judging by your paycheck / Do you think you’ve succeeded? / There’s more to life than work without meaning / People are in need / Can’t you hear them all screaming?” I started to move a bit. Decent solo, man. Even the drums are kickin’ it. Then the denouement: “Blind our freedoms / They blind and bind our freedoms.” I see. Now I re-examine. Your paycheck is low because of the taxes. Perhaps if they got rid of the minimum wage you’d make even more money. And regulations! You could have your 40-hours with benefits were it not for Obamacare. Sorry! Forever and always, the conservative who speaks of liberty is never talking about an actual human being. But there I go again. Corporations are human beings, per the Supreme Court. Take note: metal’s first anthem for the young so they can argue in favor of lower pay. Catchy!
“Honk if You Want Peace” – Piano! Is this the group’s first ballad? It would not be out of place on a Savatage record, to be honest. And then the anger kicks in. I’ll cut to the chase, people. This is a song about war protesters so clogging the streets that a father with a dying little girl cannot make it in time to the hospital. Oh, no? “They’re in the car, it won’t be far / Their angel they can save / But as they turn the corner / She’s destined for the grave / Jeering mobs and tie-dyed slobs / People lying in the street / Whistles, drums, and megaphones / Everyone repeat.” So people who exercise their First Amendment rights (we’ll call that song “Right to Speech”) are actually more dangerous than the wars they seek to stop? It’s a curious logic, but we did lose Vietnam because of Woodstock, if I’m not mistaken. We’ll continue. All kids who are in college and not serving Uncle Sam are selfish, lazy, and “jaded.” Quite possibly homosexual. Being opposed to war is as silly as a slogan, and the complexity of thought behind pacifism can be reduced to the very same. No soldier would say this, of course, as many of our bravest fighting men have vigorously opposed war. I mean, they would know its horrors better than anyone. Read the words above Eisenhower’s grave, for chrissakes. Then I see it: lyrics by Richard Mgrdechian. That fuck! The chicken heart with the biggest dick, right? He probably lost his daughter while driving drunk and now wants to blame it on some hippie sleeping in the road. The hospital wasn’t far. Liberalism got in the way. The ultimate death panel.
“Walking through that Door” – I knew the Winger tune was bound to come along, and here it is. It’s a poppy little ditty, but it lacks the masculine urging of the earlier songs. And this dude’s voice is starting to sound wildly overproduced. And another military anthem so soon? Can I catch my breath first? He’s a man, she’s a woman, and he’s off to war. Duty, and all that. “I found myself overseas / Just protecting the dreams that we have / And there’s nothing more important / Than giving all I have to give.” Again with the protecting. But sure, we’ll accept his logic. My biggest dream of the past year was to receive a tweet from William Shatner. And so it happened. Would this not have happened had the singer stayed home? I get that you have to tell yourself you’re doing more than sweating and dying for some old white guy’s stock options, but enough with saying your daily activities keep me from the grave. A sick bus driver affects more lives than what you do, sir, but I’m guessing you’ll have something to say about that. “I love my family, but I serve my country / And I’ll be the man who swore an oath / To those above me / And I’ll fight harder / And I won’t be martyred / And I’ll make it home / So all my children know me.” PTSD and traumatic brain injuries might have a different opinion, buster. Funny how no one’s mentioning conservative-led budget cuts.
“American Dream” – What an opening! The singer roars, as it atop a speaker at a stadium concert. He waves his hands, we raise ours. Unity, band and audience. We’re ready for where he’s taking us. Hell, man, we all love an anthem. Conservatives most of all. Rally the troops, and all that. If they could get away with it, Republicans would dispense with all forms of communication save the anthem. They don’t do much, but they do slogans. Here, it’s pure genius. Welcome to our country, the song beckons: “But many people come from far away / To live in peace and true equality / And feel the strong wind of democracy / I see a vision of the Promised Land.” Sounds cozy, right? Again, they have this shit down to a science. “The beauty of our sovereign nation shines / From the hearts of every countryman / Into the yearning minds of our children / For the hungry world we plant the seeds.” Sure, it’s boilerplate stuff that conveniently fits at the national convention of either party, but it’s also loose enough to be adapted by Goebbels. Patriotism is like that – it never sounds like less than a belligerent call to arms. But we all love America, don’t we? The right likes America shrouded in myth and superstition, the left prefers it straight, no chaser. Love it or leave it takes on love it and change it. But Madison Rising, as a packaged product and not some organic band slinging hash for its supper, reflects the generalized when need be, but lies in wait for the true war to begin. ‘Welcome’ will take a turn later, I assure you. I’ve already seen the song title.
“Hallowed Ground” – Seven songs in, and no less than three have been devoted to the military. But unlike the other rousing tunes, this is the softer side of war: the burial. “His virtue was felt by all, who he came to know / Rare is one like him, a kind and gentle soul / Taught me how to stand tall, when face to face with fear / Before his last fight he gathered up his men / And he said: Bury me, bury me in hallowed ground.” Now, none of us know this man. We take it on faith that he’s a decent guy and worthy of our honor. But what if the exact opposite is true? Take World War II: 400,000 Americans died, and yes, all sacrificed for a noble cause. But isn’t it safe to say that a good 30-40,000 were dreadful human beings? Maybe their hometowns were glad to see them ship out. Maybe one was a rapist, or a thief, or some cranky manager down at the feed store who routinely cheated customers. I’m willing to bet even Normandy houses the bodies of a few guys who were not missed. If a guy is an abusive prick, does dying in battle erase the wounds he inflicted on those back home? Madison Rising wouldn’t be the first to argue in the affirmative, nor will it be the last. We tend to see our soldiers in very simplistic terms, and all of them deserve a salute, even if they hate blacks, beat women, or cheat on their taxes. Or, if we believe the press, has every man who has ever died in war been a saint? Lucky us, then, for leaving the shitstains at home to be exposed as cowards. At bottom, songs like this are just tired and obvious. “Oh will there ever be, more honest men like he?” I’m pretty sure I can find a few, Cap’n.
“Where Was the Media Then” – Oh, shit. Richard Mgrdechian is back again, and he’s going after the old conservative standby. First off, this is an angry song. Bray’s tone is decidedly snotty. “Stooges with their cameras / Watch our every move / Waiting for that one mistake / Some footage they can use.” Okay, so far, so good. Right and left alike can relate to the vultures in the media. Gossip is king, and hard news long ago left the building. Fair enough. “Exploit the children / Puppet the weak / Rile the masses again.” Again, this could go either way. I’m fairly sure that ‘rile the masses’ line is code for class warfare, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. “When vegans kill in the name of peace / Holy men curse the white / Beheadings in Afghanistan / They vilify the Right / Voter fraud is just ignored / Acorns don’t exist / But when the lies are exposed / It’s Murdoch they insist.” Yes! Finally, the old bugger just comes out and says it. Okay, so the ‘holy man’ is Rev. Wright, the Acorn line is cute, if dated, but what the hell are murdering vegans? Does he think Muslims are vegans? I really don’t know. But the line is delivered with such authority, I half believed it, regardless of where it comes from. And why is the right still bitching about a lack of media representation? Only they continue to get riled up about the “big three” networks any longer. I mean, do you know anyone who gets their news from Dan Rather? Maybe Richard should have waited for that 60 Minutes report on Benghazi before pissing all over himself.
“Before the Hyphens Came” – Here it is, the expected flip side to “American Dream.” Yeah, we want you, but on our terms. “We were all Americans,” he claims, “Before the hyphens came.” Really, before or after the Chinese Exclusion Act? Before or after we set quotas to keep out Eastern Europeans? You mean, around the period of the early 20th century, when New York City was defined by its ethnic enclaves, crushing poverty, and rigid segregation? Maybe it came to pass after we told the Ship of Fools to take its Jews back to the ovens. “Somewhere down along the line / Someone had the great idea / To divide us up by heritage / And profit from that fear.” Well, yes, Madison Rising, someone did, and I’m fairly certain you’d be having tea with them right about now if you could. This mythical time, when we were all Americans, regardless of birth, race, gender, or social class? For exactly sixteen minutes on 9/11. The rest of the time, we’ve hated each other. If division hasn’t been enforced by law, we’ve chosen it. This goes for all of us, band Rising. “When people cared ‘bout who you were / And less about your name.” Again, let’s have a year. Because you might be curious to know that for about a thirty-year stretch, 95% of Hollywood actors changed their names because studio heads knew we weren’t about to see some Polack make love to a gypsy. Everyone Anglicized, and it wasn’t done out of love. Americans are xenophobic creeps at bottom, and the hyphens came because your lot tried to make all of us the same: bland, boring, and white as sourdough. But we’ll assume that you can define this “American culture” that stands as the ultimate ideal, an ideal beyond division. What is it? What are its qualities? Baseball? Yeah, no immigrants over there, then and now. A Totino’s frozen pizza? Nothing. Not a thing. The essence of Americanism is that there is no “pure” American. “Forget about your color / Forget about your name”? You first, Mr. Mgrdechian.
“In the Days that Reagan Ruled” – It’s fitting that they save the best for last; a patriotic, rousing wall of flame starting with a driving drum beat that would not be out of place at the Tomb of the Unknown. You’ll salute and like it, mister. “Searching in the distance / For a shining city on a hill / For I was told in days of old / That it would be there still.” No Reagan lust is ever complete without that ‘city on a hill’ shit, and all these years later, no one really knows what it means. The obvious conclusion is that it’s a gated community with a private police force, complete with charity, not state aid, and a decided lack of brown people, but we’ll pretend the city can stuff all of us in, like some right-wing Noah’s Ark. “The people can’t communicate / No language as a glue / And the communists in Hollywood / Who tell you what to do.” Okay, so no communists. Thank god there are only three actual communists left in the world. Then a bitter chorus: “In the Days that Reagan Ruled / He was the Gipper, he had the knack / He took a bullet and he still came back / In the Days that Reagan Ruled / He was an honest man with a simple dream / A dream we should all hold true.” He had the knack? That’s the best you can say about him? They really shouldn’t let Mgrdechian write any more songs. “California was still the Golden State / Our culture we could celebrate / Our First Lady still had some class / No race-baiters talking all of their trash.” Translation: California was tolerable before the Mexicans, and no more black First Ladies. Anything else? “No hostages he’d let you hold, not for a day.” From Iran, or in general? Can we subvert the Constitution to get them back, though? Cuz that would be cool. And shouldn’t there be a few extra stanzas for the Beirut bombing, Pan Am bombing, escalating AIDS crisis, widening gap between rich and poor, the ’82 recession, the stroll through a Nazi cemetery, exploding deficits, etc.,? Just a line about jelly beans to close the show? Nicely done, Madison Rising. Nicely done.
What should we take from Madison Rising, other than the fact that no band worth knowing has ever made its television debut on Huckabee? Unlike 80s metal, then and now, the current “fight with the power” incarnation is, simply put, a huge bore. Is there anything worse than trying to rock out with the establishment riding shotgun? It’s like fist-bumping your parents after getting laid in their bed. Rooting for the Pinkertons in a labor war. Applauding the Indian massacre in Little Big Man. Or that SNL sketch where Johnny Rotten finally decided that Maggie Thatcher was pretty nice, after all. Madison Rising is not against the system, but certain people running that system. What will they tackle next? The virtue of eliminating the capital gains tax? Health savings accounts? Imagine, if you will, Ozzy singing about free trade. Heavy metal fed into feelings of alienation, loneliness, and wanting to strangle the captain of the football team. With Madison Rising, we’re part of a big club again, so long as you pray, hit the firing range, work out, and cheer the very man you once wanted dead. Back then, when we heard “no truth, no justice, the American Way” (Sacred Reich), it meant illegal wars in Central America, rich screwing poor, and media lies to promote unchecked consumerism. Now, Madison Rising apes the same language to get us fired up about the tyranny of having health insurance, gun laws, and how to spend those thirty-five media minutes not saturated with unquestioned militarism. Maybe you’ll spend it with Madison Rising.
It’s metal. For your mom.