a conversation with David Konow      


Bold Type: You spent more than three years writing Bang Your Head. What was the biggest challenge in doing a book like this?

David Konow: There were many, very many. Oh God, it's a book in itself. For a lot of these bands it's a closed circle kind of thing. Even now, a lot of them live in a whole separate world, and if they don't know you, a lot of them won't talk to you. A lot of rock people really don't like the press. A lot of smaller people through their arrogance wrote themselves out of the story completely. Some of the biggest surprises were people who were sort of nobodies who wouldn't talk to me 'cause I hadn't worked at Rolling Stone for a million years and then people who were really huge were like "Sure, what the hell."

BT: Is this antipathy toward writers justified?

David Konow: There've been some pretty unflattering books written about the music business and I think that's part of it. To me, something like Hitmen is sort of the All The President's Men of the record business.

BT: So why did you want to do this?

David Konow: I really felt I needed to record a lot of this stuff that was slipping away. If somebody didn't document this stuff, it would all go for naught, and if I didn't do it nobody else would. So many of the old copies of 'zines and publications like RIP magazine that had covered this music have disappeared already. Some of this stuff, if I or some other fan hadn't held onto it would be completely gone. This is especially true for (less commercial) stuff like speed metal, like the stories of when Slayer was banned from playing San Diego for five years. That was all researched through 'zines.

Even though this was a writer's nightmare, it was also a writer's dream. Say if you were writing a novel, you couldn't invent people like this out of whole cloth. You couldn't invent David Lee Roth. You couldn't invent a better character than Gene Simmons.

BT: Both those guys do put a twist on the American upwardly-mobile-horny-Jewish-guy theme that Philip Roth probably never thought to explore. Despite this, according to stereotype, metal appeals to its' fans on a, um, physical level as opposed to a cerebral one, no?

David Konow: When I was working on the book and I'd tell people about it, I'd get some reactions like "I didn't know (metal fans) could read." I expected that.

BT: In the book, though, you mention a great anecdote about how Stephen King likes to play Anthrax turned up to 11 to scare people away when he needs to write without interruption. That this music can inspire a hugely successful and prolific writer sort of undermines this stereotype of illiteracy, right?

David Konow: Whether you're a writer or a filmmaker or musician, you should do the thing you want to read or watch or hear regardless of what other people think. After Nirvana and the whole grunge thing broke, metal became this huge embarrassment. People who had been into metal acted like they were on trial at Nuremberg, denying that it had ever happened. It was like with Bobby on Dallas where they tried to say it was just a dream.

BT: Why did people who had been a part of this scene suddenly renounce it so quickly?

David Konow: By the end of the eighties with the success of hair bands like Mötley Crue and Poison, the music was really losing its connection to the fans. It became about a look and a lifestyle and being rich and out-of-touch. They would push past the autograph seekers and get in their limos. Also, a lot of bands who had struggled to make it had become very vengeful in the process and got used to lashing out. That actually got worse when they became successful. I don't think Axl Rose has any respect for anybody, for example. On the other hand, Ronnie James Dio still spends up to five hours after a show signing autographs and meeting the kids. When this kind of connection got lost, the fans stopped buying what these bands were selling because the bands didn't believe in what they were doing any more either. Because metal is such a fan-based music, the fans often knew more about the bands than the bands themselves did.

BT: Punk, which happened just a little earlier, also depended on a close identification between the audience and the performer. Why do you think the legacy of punk gets more critical respect today than does metal?

David Konow: When punk came up from New York it was surrounded by art and took longer to develop the stereotypical look and attitude. It took a while before the clichés developed and everybody started trying to look like the Sex Pistols. Part of it too is that metal never got any critical respect even before the '80s. Led Zeppelin was slaughtered by the press, partly because they didn't care what the critics thought.

BT: Wouldn't that have been a good approach for a lot of the eighties bands to take? You write about how Poison resented not being taken seriously and how many of these bands could not watch This is Spinal Tap without literally crying.

David Konow: That was definitely part of their problem and mine in trying to write about them; they don't take criticism very well. Beau Hill produced Winger and he told me they blamed Beavis and Butt-head for killing their careers because they put a 300-pound zit-faced kid in a Winger t-shirt on the show. Would things have been different if they hadn't been so full of themselves?

BT: There seems to be a sort-of retro '80s movement afoot right now that reprises this music in a way that's fifty percent parody and fifty percent fond nostalgia. Or maybe it's closer to a 20%-80% mix in smaller towns. Does this suggest the fans are still out there just waiting for something worth getting excited over?

David Konow: It's an interesting question. I've enjoyed watching American Idol because it's so clear that nobody knows how to package this woman to be the Next Big Thing. Nobody knows what the Next Big Thing looks like at this point. This has happened before when the music business in general has lost its way and then something huge and unexpected like Appetite For Destruction comes along to save it.

BT: So until the Next Big Thing surprises us all, is your book the last word?

David Konow: Hmm. Metal is it's own universe. I've just scratched the surface.

— Interview by John D. Sparks

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    Photo credit: Erik Bauer