Heavy Metal Rockers Say They Want More Respect

Times Staff Writer

Chains . . . black sleeveless “Megadeath” T-shirts . . . leather pants . . . fish-net stockings . . . pink Tina Turner hair. . . .

As one sober hotel guest put it, the cocktail lounge at the Sheraton Universal on Saturday night looked like the bar scene from “Star Wars.”

More than a thousand heavy metal enthusiasts showed up this past weekend for the first-ever hard-rock music convention, “Foundations Forum ‘88,” and most were in full headbanger regalia. Rattled tourists might have thought they’d made a wrong turn at the Universal Studios tour and wound up on the set of a science-fiction movie, but the bad boys and girls of pop music knew exactly why they were there.


“We’re at the top of the sales chart, yet we’re at the back of the bus as far as radio airplay,” said Chrysalis Records president Mike Bone in his keynote address on Friday. Heavy metal bands such as Judas Priest and Metallica sell millions of records, but their work is rarely heard on the radio.

The theme of the panel discussions and the lunchtime chatter and the various speeches were all the same:

Heavy metal gets no respect, no airplay, no credibility, yet accounts for up to 40% of rock record sales.

Indeed, the current top single in the U.S. is Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and four of the Top-10 albums on Billboard’s best-seller charts are hard-rock entries.

“Usually whenever you go to one of these conventions, you’ve got some guy in a three-piece suit talking about all the opportunity available,” said Dave Preschel, manager of the heavy metal band Damien. “There’s no bull at this (convention).”

The bracing but honest truth as it was given at “Foundations Forum” is that virtually everyone involved on the business side of pop music likes the money that thrash-and-trash bands generate, but they would much rather keep the neo-punk image at arm’s length.

“Why do you think MTV only puts us on in the middle of the night?” asked one disgruntled rocker with shoulder-length locks and a Budweiser in one hand. “They don’t want to upset anybody, that’s why.”

The list of complaints that Bone enumerated in his keynote address recurred throughout the convention:

--Most radio stations, including album rock stations such as KLOS-FM (95.5) and KROQ-FM (106.7) in Los Angeles, seldom program heavy metal artists. Top-40 stations such as KPWR-FM (105.9) and KIIS-FM (102.7), the two most popular stations in Los Angeles, don’t play heavy metal at all. KNAC-FM (105.5) in Long Beach is the only commercial station in Southern California that offers a steady diet of hard, hard rock ‘n’ roll.

--MTV’s token programming of heavy metal videos is usually after midnight on a program entitled “Headbanger’s Ball.”

--Metal bands are plagued with the image of decadent, death-loving adolescents, heavy into satanism, sex and suicide. Violence at heavy metal concerts always gets maximum publicity while the happy-go-lucky party image that metal bands would like to promote gets ignored.

“Violence happens at a lot of shows,” said Frank Bello of Anthrax, speaking during a Saturday artists’ panel on the future of heavy metal. “You can’t blame it on the band. You get violence at country & Western shows too.”

“It’s all about having a good time. It’s not about death,” said Marq Torien, lead singer of Bullet Boys.

But a list of the bands represented on a compact disc sampler for the first “Foundations Forum” seemed to belie that benign notion. S.A.D.O., Suicidal Tendencies, Dead End and Helloween were among the roster of 23 heavy metal acts performing such compositions as “Kamikaze,” “Racial Slaughter” and “Cold Blood.”

Indeed, when several wives of prominent national politicians (such as Sen. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.) and James Baker, former Secretary of the Treasury) launched a campaign against violent rock lyrics three years ago, heavy metal was their chief target.

Film maker Penelope Spheeris, who documented the Los Angeles heavy metal subculture in “The Decline of Western Civilization, Part Two: The Metal Years,” described this music that many adults find abrasive, obscene and loud as “misunderstood.”

Adolescents often turn to heavy metal because they don’t get love at home, she said.

Said Metallica lead singer Dave Mustaine between beers: “If you want to impress somebody’s parents, why don’t you go do their gardening?”