Gimme an R (R!)
Whatcha got? (Rock!)
And whatcha gonna do? (Rock you!)
If that snippet of lyrics doesn't have you breaking out the air guitar and already banging your head, then this book ain't for you. On the other hand, if it has you grinning like a maniac and longing for the days of long hair and leather, then you owe it to yourself to read Metal on Ice. Subtitled Tales from Canada's Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes, this is a nostalgic look back at the history of hard rock and heavy metal in the great white north.
Sean Kelly has done an admirable job of tracing the evolution of rock north of the 49th parallel, and just why it was so hard to translate homegrown success south of the border. Interspersed with comments and stories from the bands themselves, Kelly weaves a story that's as enjoyable as it is easy to read. There's a lot of humor here, often at our own expense (good naturedly, of course), but also some tales of record company politics and human tragedy that will leave you shaking your head. Really, given the distances they had to travel, the climate they had to navigate, and the limitations of a world without YouTube or even Napster, it's amazing any of these bands managed to find success they did.
Kelly takes us on a journey from playing cover tunes in small town bars and clubs, to headlining cultural shrines like Maple Leaf Gardens and the Molson Forum. He takes us from video breakthroughs on the small screen of Much Music's Power Hour, to the big time success found in the glossy pages of Hit Parader and Circus Magazine. Inevitably, he also takes us through the era of Grunge that so quickly ended so many careers, and into today's nostalgic resurgence of 80s rock. In between, he establishes a close-knit family of musicians that almost begs its own musical version of six degrees of separation. Not surprisingly, he also reveals just how much of the 'image' we remember was so carefully cultivated by music company executives, sometimes right down to the name of the bands.
One thing you won't find here is larger-than-life tales of rock star excess . . . of ridiculous orgies, hotel vandalism, rampant drug abuse, and antagonistic violence. He does address the smattering of urban legends that cropped up around bands like Sven Gali, but is just as quick to dismiss them and get to the roots of the matter. Stereotypical Canadian politeness aside, there just wasn't time for that kind of hedonism, not when you were living out of an old van and driving day and night across the country to get to your next gig.
Perhaps the greatest part of reading Metal on Ice is remembering bands we forgot. Sure, Brighton Rock, Helix, Honeymoon Suite, and Killer Dwarfs are part of my regular playlist, but Kelly has sent me searching for classic tracks that I hadn't head in years . . . decades even. Suddenly, bands like Coney Hatch, Haywire, Harem Scarem, Slik Toxik, and Sven Gali are back on my radar, and I'm constantly driving my wife crazy with declarations of "I remember this song!" even as I'm cranking the stereo up another notch.
Whether you care anything about the music industry or not, give this a read. It's as much a story of rags-to-riches success as it is anything else. More than just a nostalgic journey, it's also a reminder that sometimes loving what you do is its own reward. The music industry may have a New Girl Now, but we can still Stand Tall and remember the days when we were Young, Wild, and Free, trading mix-tapes on the Monkey Bars, and having a Helluvatime dreaming of Canada's own Metal Queen.Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins