Will I ever tell the grandkids about how, fifteen years ago, I was among a hundred like-minded miscreants crashing the gates of a Judas Priest concert, inebriated and ticketless? Is this to be filed under "proud rebellion" or "embarrassing fiasco" in my musical memory bank? Back then, you couldnt hawk a loogie in the school hall at ELHS without hitting someone in a black Priest T-shirt. To a kid just discovering the joys of making parents scowl, the camaraderie of shared noise and the aphrodisiac effect that leather jackets have on girls with big hair and tiny skirts, Judas Priest were metal Buddhas. It didnt matter that they had to put colored stickers on their guitars so theyd know how to play the notes. They rode Harleys on-stage and could take a lame Joan Baez song like "Diamonds And Rust" and blow it up into the goofiest heavy metal dirge this side of Spinal Taps "Big Bottom." In fact, not even the mighty Tap can drive teenagers to Satanism and suicide with subliminal lyrics, as Priest was once accused of doing (the band actually had to defend themselves in court).
Ah my foes and ah my friends, back in their heyday, this British quintet once rocked the world. Okay, a lot of us suspected that lead singer Rob Halford was a pole smoker. You know, a fudge packer. Er, uh, he was queer ("get used to it"). I mean, he looked like Freddie Mercurys boytoy, all dolled up in his leather studs, his cute little fetish belt and that ersatz biker hat. He dressed like the lipstick kids from every Frankie Goes To Hollywood video, so most of us knew that something was up. What about those easily influenced metalheads who worshipped Rob and dressed just like him, all the while thinking that they were the epitome of macho heterosexual studness? Do they all feel betrayed now? Some do. Ive talked to them. They shake their heads and look down while they speak of Halford, like the guy on Jerry Springer whos just been told that his fiancee had a sex change.
Priests peak year was probably 1984, with the release of Screaming For Vengeance, a million seller for the band. Then came the slide into oblivion - Defenders Of The Faith (uggh), Turbo (eech) and Live (the most eloquent I can come up with is retchspew). Still, few po white boys like me can resist pumping their fists to classic cuts like "The Ripper," "Tyrant," "Stained Class" and "Living After Midnight" (and who knew what Rob was pumping with his own fist backstage?). Is there any better music to ball to? And Priest concerts were hard rock summit meetings like no other. 20,000 angry, disaffected and slightly drunk teenagers all gathered together to pay tribute to sonic gods. The Ram It Down tour was sublime metal heaven. Even the stage set was designed to look like a steel mill, with gurgling vats of molten metal and clanging wheels and cogs everywhere.
But all great bands must end (listen up, Mick n Keith). As things went downhill, Rob quit Priest in 93 to form Fight. Guitarist Glenn Tipton doesnt waste words describing the split. "It wasnt a shock initially that Rob wanted to do a solo project. He got our blessing to go ahead and do it. But it quickly escalated on the managerial side and eventually Rob expressed that he didnt want to continue with Bill Curbishley, whod been our long-standing manager and a friend of the band. Ive got the greatest respect for Bill, so once that started it was never easy to reconcile the situation." Legal battles ensued, between Rob, Columbia Records and management, and eventually the burning flame flickered into darkness. "Its a very sad thing," says Tipton, "that Robs search for a solo career - and everybodys free to do what they want in this band - has deprived kids of Priest as it was. Its sad, but thats life, and far be it from me to say its a wrong decision." Its worth noting that Tipton characterizes the groups fans as "kids"...it is, after all, entry level music. Rudimentary rock. Lots of thumping and humping and crude poses self-consciously designed to appeal to libidinous teenagers. But thats why we loved them, isnt it, even that balding scrote lickin singer!
No doubt inspired by the success of fellow comeback cartoons Kiss, a few members of the band want to turn it up to eleven just one more time before shuffling off for the tar pits. Unfortunately, theres not enough Priest fans left in the world to storm their concerts anymore. Priest has returned, not with a bang but with a whisper, fronted by a copycat lead singer hired out of (I shit thee not) a Priest tribute band. Yes, theyre that desperate. And poor Rob is trying his hand a political awareness, techno and environmentalism with his new project, Two. I hear it gets played in Soho leather bars full of men with walrus mustaches and spiked cock rings, but it sure aint blasting from any car stereos Ive come across. The dream is long since over, our revels now are ended and all thats left is to be embarrassed at whats become of the once reigning metal gods. And I thought Iron Maiden had a sad story. Or that the Kiss reunion was the ultimate act of pathetic greed.
Oh well. At least AC/DC can still rock our world (please, Angus, Im beggin ya - dont come out of the closet!).