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Imagine you’re an 18 year-old bloke born and raised in Sheffield, England. You’ve just finished high school, have no plans for university, and are trying to figure out what to do with your life. There aren’t many apparent options. Sheffield is a gray, aging steel town, and if you don’t think of something else you’re going to end up working in a factory. Or maybe not, because the local economy is shit and a lot of the steel mills are closing.

The one thing you have going for you is you’re an aspiring musician. One day you miss a bus and find yourself talking to another chap who’s in a band. He invites you to audition. You’re thrilled at the prospect of joining an actual band, and you want to play guitar, but it’s clear your skills aren’t quite up to the task. Or at least not playing an instrument. To your surprise the band asks you to become their lead singer, which at that point is the greatest moment of your life.

A few months later your band adds another guitarist and pretty soon the five of you are rehearsing in an abandoned spoon factory. You feel like you’re pretty good, especially for a bunch of kids just out of high school. You borrow some money from your parents and record an EP and to your surprise, a famous BBC DJ plays it often. Within a year you’re approached by a major record label, and just like that, you’re a professional musician.

You’re taken to Ringo Starr’s house to record your first album, where you bathe in alcohol and complete a record in a mere 18 days. In months you’re invited to the United States to tour with one of the most popular bands in the world. You’re voted the best new band of the year by a rock magazine you actually read. And just when you think life couldn’t possibly get better, you’re approached by a famous record producer, who offers to help with your second album.You wonder what you did to deserve all this success. You certainly were never asked to pay any dues.

Your second album isn’t as easy to record as the first. The new producer is more demanding than the last. He teaches you to sing better and your band mates to play their instruments better. The recording takes three months, which feels like an eternity compared to the first, but when you’re done you realize you don’t like the first album anymore. The new one sounds polished, like a real band made it.

And the album sells better than the last, but not nearly as well as you hope. And if you can’t create a great record with the best producer alive, maybe you just don’t have the talent. You keep touring with some of the world’s best known rock outfits, and you put on good shows, but maybe your own material is just not good enough to push you to the next level.

But you’ve always been a band on whom Lady Luck can’t help but smile, and soon enough it happens again. The famous music producer makes you a deal, one worthy of Faust. Turn yourself over to me, he says. Give me complete control of your next album. Let me help you write it. I want to change the way rock albums are recorded, and I want to do it with you guys. You aren’t going to like it, because it’s a painstaking process. But if you trust me, I’ll make you the biggest band in the world.

What would you say to something like that? You’ve come so far from Sheffield, and you’ve had a lot of fun, but what you really want is what everyone wants: money, sold-out arenas, international fame. Here’s a guy who claims he can give it to you. He’s done it before. Do you trust him? Of course you do.

But you have no idea at the time what such a deal really entails. That having everything you want in the world might still not be enough.

First of all, the producer doesn’t want you to write songs in the typical way. He wants you and your band mates to spend hours just brainstorming guitar riffs. And when one of you thinks of something good, the producer won’t record it in the regular way. Play it one string at a time, he says, and we’ll construct the chord electronically, using multi-track tapes. You feel like a fool and you wonder if the genius producer has lost his mind.

You spend months and months recording, playing and singing to a drum machine, because your human drummer can’t keep proper time. Not when you are building songs one millisecond after another. Six months go by and you haven’t finished a single track in its entirety. Your voice is worn out from screaming the same lyrics over and over, in a register well above your comfort level. What ends up on tape are hundreds of guitars and vocal tracks, what a rock orchestra might sound like. And since the producer doesn’t like the background vocals of the other band members, he records most of those himself. Is the guy even human?

But at the end it all comes together. A year after you begin—a full year this time—you have completed an album. Forty-five minutes of polished hard rock that sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before. It’s somehow dense like Boston with an edge like AC/DC. You find it difficult to believe a couple thousand hours in the studio, recording music in a way you don’t really understand, is this album. But the producer has done exactly what he said he would do.

And when it’s released, the album is nothing short of a commercial sensation.It sells in excess of 100,000 copies every week for nearly the entire calendar year and turns you into a household name. It moves six million units, and you play the United States in support of it, ending your tour in front of a stadium of 55,000 fans screaming your name. A Gallup poll conducted the next year names you the most popular rock band in America. All this, you think, in exchange for turning your creative reins over to a famous producer. Did you make the right choice? Is that even a question?

Now all you have to do, to prove your success wasn’t a fluke, is sit down and record another album. It should be easy enough with the genius on your side, right?

Except a few months into writing, tragedy strikes. Your drummer gets into a bad car accident, and his injuries are so severe that he loses his left arm. For a while you do nothing but console your friend, who assumes his new life as a rock star is over forever. When he cries every day and falls into depression, you don’t imagine one day his lost arm will become a joke to music fans everywhere.

Around the same time, your genius producer tells you he won’t be available to produce the next album. So now you have no drummer and no producer, and the previous album, so miraculous when you first heard it, has become a burden. You don’t know how to make another one that sounds like it. You’re totally lost. Two years and two producers later, you’ve got nothing on tape worth keeping, and you must surely wonder if you really have talent or ever had talent.

To help cheer up your depressed drummer, the two of you sit down one day with a couple of engineers to draw up an electronic kit that could conceivably be played with one arm. While your drummer attempts to figure this out, the genius producer finally returns and decides to help you finish the album. Suddenly everything in the world is right again…except now you’re in for another eighteen excruciating months of recording. And by the time you’re done, the costs to produce this album will prove so staggering that you’ll need to sell almost five million copies just to break even.

And there’s no guarantee it’ll sell at all, not when you’re attempting to evolve even farther away from your original hard rock audience. The updated sound sought by the genius producer uses methods at the very edge of what is technically possible at the time, methods that will eventually make their way to nearly every modern music production. But by now you’ll do whatever he says, because you weren’t able to do it on your own.

At the end of the recording sessions, finishing up the very last track, the producer hears you tinkering with the guitar during a break and asks what you’re playing. You tell him it’s just some lame idea you had, but the genius disagrees. He believes the melody you just played could become the most popular song you’ve ever written. You and the rest of the band reluctantly agree to record one more track, adding to the already astronomical costs of the album, and then, finally, you’re done. The producer disappears with the tapes you’ve given years to record and spends four months mixing them into an album. Four months. You’re not even sure what he’s doing at this point.

Still, the record proves to be a gigantic success. It takes a while, but when the important track is released (which in fact becomes your most famous song and one of the most commercially successful of all time), the album begins to sell at an astronomical rate, as many as one million copies per week. Your drummer has returned to the stage and becomes a hero. And there is a short period of time at the height of the record’s success, during your 236-show world tour, where you really are the most popular band in the world, just as you always wanted to be.

But still you’re left to wonder: Is it because of your talent? Could you have done it without the genius? After all, he never produces another of your albums, and your popularity declines markedly after he’s gone. Meanwhile, the genius’ next project (a woman who eventually becomes his wife) goes on to sell even more albums than you.

And at what cost, this commercial success? Your drummer has recovered in fantastic fashion, but a few years later one of your lead guitarists dies from a depression-related drug and alcohol overdose. And as the years wear on, the legacy of your music does not match the money you’ve earned from it. The sound you worked so hard to perfect, at the behest of the genius, is now regarded as too polished. The lyrics don’t make sense. Your voice is ruined from trying to sing notes you could barely hit in your prime, and even though you continue to play stadiums more than thirty years after your first-ever tour, the performances everyone wants to hear are the songs you recorded with the (evil) genius.

Worst of all, plenty of rock fans regard your band as a bad joke, representative of a musical decade that said too little too loudly.

So now take yourself backwards, rewind, through all the hotel rooms loaded with drugs and alcohol and naked women, through the years you spent learning from the most commercially successful music producer in history, back through the lyrics you never intended to mean anything, that you wrote in jest because you were having a laugh, because you only ever wanted to make music people could happily sing along with in their convertibles, go back to the sold-out arenas and millions of fans screaming your name, proudly wearing your famous Union Jack T-shirt, to the 24-hour music video channel you helped make famous, back to Ringo Starr’s house, to the first tiny gigs you played, back to the spoon factory, to the steel city where so many kids had no real chance for a bright future, all the way to that place on the road where you met a fellow musician only because you missed your bus.

Are you glad you missed it?

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Richard Cox RICHARD COX is the author of Thomas World, as well as The God Particle and Rift. He can be reached on Facebook or at his personal web site, www.richardcox.net.

131 Responses to “The Devil Went Down to Sheffield”

  1. Becky Palapala says:

    Well, frankly, there weren’t too many 80s rock bands that survived the grunge transition. After all, the grunge “movement” was, in large part, music-based and specifically a disapproving reaction to the excess and polish and glam of 80s rock, right?

    I mean, I think Mutt probably foresaw that. Being a genius and all.

    But I don’t think they would have stood much of a chance even if he had stayed on.

    The only band to really come through the 90s with a shred of dignity was Bon Jovi, and they only did because they cut their hair and accepted their roll as aging rockers, following their aging fanbase to the world of white picket suburbia and “respectable,” inoffensive public personae.

    • Richard Cox says:

      It is true Def Leppard are still touring and releasing records. They’ve been around for thirty years. But I do wonder sometimes what it’s like to be playing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” for the 450,000th time. Surely it gets annoying after a while.

      Mutt definitely saw the end was coming, and he very astutely moved his craft to country music, where musical innovation moves at a glacial pace. To them his sound was brand new again.

      I really wish the Leps would appeal to their core audience, instead of continuing to try to find new younger listeners. A la Bon Jovi, as you pointed out.

      But if you can put up with the big 80s sound, I don’t think there is an example of more carefully built and painstakingly recorded rock than their Hysteria album. Behind the goofy lyrics, the technical prowess is astounding. You just aren’t going to find much to talk about later. It’s mean to be fun, not deep.

    • Reno Romero says:

      Hmmm. Can’t say Bon Jovi came out of the 80s with dignity. To who? For us musicians they were a joke in the 80s and are even more of a joke now. I will give them credit for surviving “the business.” That’s saying a lot. But their music is tame and mamby pamby and is an easy sell regardless of trends. They’d be a hit in the 50s. Their Bon Jovi!

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Musicians think a lot of musicians are jokes, just like writers think a lot of writers are jokes.

        It’s to be expected and not all that interesting. In short, what musicians think doesn’t matter to me in this case.

        Bon Jovi cut their hair, graduated from their spandex, and continued to make music that sold exceptionally well into the 90s, straight through the grunge movement invented to reject them and beyond. It worked, in my opinion, because they chose to play to their audience as that audience matured, not just as they aged. It’s an important distinction. None of them nose-dived out of fame into some highly publicized addiction scandal, they weren’t washed-up rockers getting busted in high-profile transsexual prostitution cases, they didn’t fall to the wayside, laying there bloating like, say, an Axl Rose, and so on. Musicians’ opinions of the quality of their music doesn’t even enter into it.

        • Reno Romero says:

          You’re right, Becky. I understand what you’re saying. But not dignity. Not artistic dignity anyway. They sold their shit by hook or crook. And good for them. They busted their asses for their fame and whatnot. But on an artistic front they’re soul dead and suck oranges. In all my years hanging around lame musicians I’ve never ONCE heard one of them say: Bon Jovi was a musical influence. they simply don’t have what it takes to be an influence. They’re too soft. There’s nothing remotely interesting or unique (which is hard to do let’s face it) about their music. That’s like saying Gene Simmons is a great bass player. A businessman? Probably not one better. A musician? Pfft. I have an 8th grader that will take him out.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Good thing no one’s talking about artistic dignity, then.

          Or I mean, you are. And that’s fine. I just have no opinion on their artistic dignity.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Have I somehow given you the impression that I am a fan of Bon Jovi or that I am advocating for the quality of their music? Is that what’s happening here?

          I haven’t listened to Bon Jovi on purpose since Slippery When Wet, and in my defense, I was, like, 8 years old.

          So there’s really no need to take to the warpath if they have somehow wronged you in the past. I’m not the friend of your enemy, Reno. I’m just not their enemy, either. I really don’t give much of a shit about them either way.

    • Reno Romero says:

      Hmmm. Can’t say Bon Jovi came out of the 80s with dignity. To who? For us musicians they were a joke in the 80s and are even more of a joke now. I will give them credit for surviving “the business.” That’s saying a lot. But their music is tame and mamby pamby and is an easy sell regardless of trends. They’d be a hit in the 50s. They’re Bon Jovi!

  2. Becky Palapala says:

    But now, I must go listen to that awesome song, which reminds me of being at the playground with my babysitter, listening to my walkman on the swingset, and when she asked & I told her what I was listening to, she was like, “Really??? They’re my favorite band!”

    I felt super, super cool.

  3. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    80s and Rock don’t mix well. New Wave and New Romantics rule! Unabashedly!

    On a another note: Wonderfully written piece!

    • Richard Cox says:

      You know, when I write or am in a pensive mood, there are plenty of 80s bands I can turn to. It wasn’t all hair metal. But when I want to smile and have fun, I happily listen to meaningless and glossy rock music. I like the variety.

      And thanks for your kind comment!

  4. Zara Potts says:

    Do you know, Richrob – I have never heard a single song from Def Leppard?
    I couldn’t name a song of theirs if I tried. The only thing I know about them is their one-armed drummer.

    But you wrote this so well – it’s absorbing and compelling and chock full of information and written with a lovely poignant tone. I may not be a fan of Def Leppard but you can definitely count me as a fan of yours.

    I bet he is glad to have missed that bus – I’ve never been to Sheffield, but I did live in Leicester and it was just grim. A depressing, industrial, shitty place that I’m sure was similar to Sheffield. It always makes me wonder how these things happen. Is it luck? Is it talent? Is it the right producer? I guess maybe it’s a combination.

    Thanks for such a great piece. I said somewhere else on the boards that it feels like Christmas on TNB at the moment – All these presents to unwrap and the surprises hidden inside are awesome.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I’m fairly sure I sang “Pour Some Sugar on Me” for you in Dallas, did I not?? Hahaha.

      Thanks for your kind words, ZaraPotts. It was a challenge to write this in a way that might appeal to someone besides a dyed-in-the-wool fan. I do often wonder what ingredients are necessary for success, however you define that success. These chaps had a goal in mind, and among all of the aspiring musicians in the world, they were able to accomplish it. So you have to give them some credit for that.

      But I also wonder if they ever think about their evil genius producer and wonder if their success is really his. The sales of Mutt’s produced albums approach 200 million copies. And the Zomba label he is part owner of is now one of the biggest record companies in the world. His commercial success is staggering.

      • Zara Potts says:

        Now that you mention it… It’s starting to come back to me… :-)

        But is that really them? I always thought that was ‘Poison?’ You have made a liar of me, it would seem that I have heard them. Grrrr.

        Oh, and I liked your use of the word ‘bloke’… I can hear you saying it and it’s making me laugh. Bloke with a texan accent. I’m going to start practising.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Poison? POISON?? There’s hardly a bigger insult to levy against them, ZaraPotts.

          You like me saying bloke, eh? I also said chap. I was channeling my inner Englishman.

        • Zara Potts says:

          Oops.
          I’m sure you told me that song was by ‘Poison.’
          You probably did, because that’s the kind of tricky bloke you are.

          You should say bloke in every sentence, Richrob. That would make me happy.
          And chap. And Cobber. And Mate.
          Say those too…

        • Richard Cox says:

          Cobber? I can only guess what term implies.

        • Zara Potts says:

          Ewww. I know what you’re thinking. That’s gross. And I only know what you’re thinking because I’m pretty sure it was you who explained the term ‘corn holed’ to me.

          Cobber means friend.

          Like you would say” “This is my cobber, Simon.” Only boys use it, though.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I don’t know exactly how offensive this is, but I learned the term “bummer” on the BBC “The Office,” and somehow “cobber” sounded like a word of similar origin. So I guess I’m wrong?

          This comment thread is making me laugh.

        • Zara Potts says:

          You are so wrong.

          Cobber is a nice word. Although I have to say that now you have put some dodgy connotations onto it – it’s starting to sound like a bad word!

          Thanks for wrecking our quaint English expressions, Richrob. You are such a terror.

          Bummer has two meanings. I’m guessing you are laughing at the meaning that doesn’t imply ‘having a bad time.’???

          Mental!

        • Richard Cox says:

          As I understand it, “bummer” only has one meaning in American English. The other one was new to me. And it makes me laugh. Apologies to all bummers.

          I have to say, every time I watch The Office and Extras, I pick up new jokes I missed before because I didn’t understand some colloquialism or cultural reference. That’s part of the reason I enjoy them so much.

          Mental, indeed!

        • Zara Potts says:

          It’s the silliest word ever.

          Bummer.

          Actually, wait.

          Bumming may be the silliest word ever.

  5. Lorna says:

    Dumb luck. It’s the best kind of luck to have.

    Very well written.

    I’m off to youtube to relive my youth now.

  6. Irene Zion says:

    Richard,

    I don’t see why you have to choose.

  7. Irene Zion says:

    Richard,

    I’m sorry I don’t have much more to say about this.
    I don’t know anything about music or sports.
    I think he’d be glad he missed the bus, though.
    At least he had a real wild ride.
    Who among us can say that?

    • Richard Cox says:

      Funny, when I wrote this I kept thinking, “Irene doesn’t like posts about music. She probably won’t even read it.” ;-)

      Also, the original title of this was “A Wild Ride over Stony Ground” because that’s a lyric from one of their better-known songs. So see, you do know something about music.

  8. Jude says:

    Like Zara, I didn’t know a lot about Def Leppard – only that they had a one-armed drummer and played metal (probably why they never caught my ear). Your piece was not only written in a way that completely captured my attention, but I learned a whole lot as well.

    Occasionally while having coffee at a local café, I like to read the rock mags, and this is a piece that I would have read, not because of the subject, but because the first paragraph pulled me in. You made it personal and intriguing because of that wonderful word which opened your piece – imagine.

    Love this. Richrob, the new rock writer…

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thank you, JudePotts. You always leave such kind comments.

      I’m glad you found their story interesting. Writing about a band whose music has little to say means you have to tell the story of the musicians themselves. Which in the end is perhaps more interesting anyway.

      And just think if Joe had caught his bus…

      • Jude says:

        If Joe had caught his bus, you would have had no story to write about… and that would be more tragic than the non-existence of Def Leppard.

  9. Jude says:

    Oh and I forgot to say how much I loved the title.

  10. Matt says:

    You know, aside from “Pour Some Sugar on Me” I don’t think I could name a single Def Leppard song. I was just never big on hair metal, ever, to the point where I’ve had difficulty telling some of the bands apart. And I can’t listen to it without thinking of the guys in This Is Spinal Tap.

    Still, this is a nicely-written piece. I think I probably would have been happy to miss that bus, too.

    • Richard Cox says:

      One of the drawbacks of having albums that sell so well is the legion of copycat artists that crop up. Most of the bands considered “hair metal” are really Def Leppard knockoffs. Their album Pyromania injected new life into an area of music that had become stale. Together with Thriller, it helped rescue the music industry from a long sales slump.

      Beginning in 1984, the “hair metal” craze took off in the wake of DL’s success. Even Bon Jovi borrowed from them. And after Hysteria was released in 1987, it happened all over again, and by then the writing was on the wall. Almost all the popular rock music of the time was self-indulgent and representative of a hedonistic decade. Even U2 became arena rock heroes.

      So it’s understandable why the music of the time is largely overlooked. But when I listen to DL now, I hear a band sweating blood and tears to make the best music they could, rather than focus on the era that helped shape it.

      P.S. This is Spinal Tap. Hahahahahaha.

  11. Gloria Harrison says:

    What a love letter. I think this is the best thing you’ve ever written. Gloria Harrison likes your post.

    Mutt Lange is a turd. What he did to Shania… Genius doesn’t excuse turd behavior.

    When I lived in Dallas, there was a morning show that played a game called “One Arm or Two.” They would play a DL song and you had to call in and say whether it was recorded before or after Rick Allen lost his arm. You would have been a shoe-in.

    I loved Def Leppard. I haven’t heard them in years. But when I do hear them, much like Bon Jovi, I tap the hell out of my toes.

    This is great, Richard.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
      hahahahahahahahahaha
      hahahahahahaha
      hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
      hahahahahahahahahahaha
      hahahaha
      hahaha
      haha
      ha.

      I’m sorry, Rick Allen, but the One Arm or Two contest is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. And yes, Gloria, I could guess those answers in fractions of a second.

      Thank you for liking this so much. I wasn’t fond of it until the very end, and still I thought it might not prove relevant to anyone besides me, except maybe Joe Daly and Art Edwards. And really, not even them. ;-)

      Regarding Mutt and his straying ways, it’s interesting even the guys behind the scenes in the rock world can’t help themselves. Ha.

      • Gloria Harrison says:

        I’d also like to point out that the woman that he left Shania for is not as attractive. Yes, yes. We’ve had the discussion(s) about the importance of looks blah, blah, blah. I happen to think Shania is adorable and, though I’m no fan of her music, I like her. I feel about her the way most people feel about Sandra Bullock (who I think has a head-banger’s sized neck, like Jason Newsted, and who’s acting I loathe.) Shania = America’s sweetheart. Well, Canada’s, actually… At any rate: YOU DON’T HURT SHANIA!

        • Richard Cox says:

          Shania Twain is hot. I read interviews back when she was really popular and she would complain about her legs being too big. And I’m thinking, girl, your brain is broken because you have a perfect body.

          In any case, most of the women Tiger was with weren’t as hot as his wife, either. There’s a lot more at work there. As we have discussed many times.

          Also, it’s no coincidence that Mutt found success in country music. I hate country as a general rule, but I’m convinced he found inspiration in the work of Jerry Reed (the truck driver in Smokey & the Bandit). Of all people. But if you know what to listen for, you can hear distinct similarities in the song construction of some of DL’s songs and Reed’s. In addition, Shania’s hit “Any Man of Mine” takes its verse structure directly from “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

          Incestuous, no?

        • Zara Potts says:

          Actually, we don’t like Shania that much down here in little old New Zealand.

          She bought up huge tracts of land in our beautiful South Island and then tried to keep all the locals off the land.

          But we took her to court and forced her keep the public access to the land open for everybody to enjoy.

          Silly Shania. Doesn’t she know you can’t mess with Kiwi’s and their land???

        • Richard Cox says:

          That doesn’t sound like a very nice thing to do, but that doesn’t change the fact that her body is well-proportioned. I’d like to be a Mad Man in her world.

        • Gloria Harrison says:

          Oh, Zara, that’s really disappointing. I want to believe that she had misinformed “People” pulling those strings and that it wasn’t darling Shania’s fault. :( But if it was her fault, I hope you guys gave her a serious What For.

          @Richard – there’s really no excuse for her body to be as beautiful as it except that she hit the lottery.

        • Zara Potts says:

          I think we may have run her out of town, G!

  12. Ashley (NOLady) says:

    What a great piece!
    What made you go at it from that angle?
    Brilliant!

    I’m not a big DL fan but still, even now, you cannot walk down Bourbon Street without hearing some wasted tourist scream the lyrics to pour some sugar.

    …Always makes me smile.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thank you, Ashley.

      I chose this angle because, when I read a lot of writing about rock bands, the consensus seems to be there is little to say about an outfit like Def Leppard. Which, from a lyrical standpoint, what a band stands for, is true to a large extent. You can only go on for so long about how difficult it is to record layer upon layer of vocal and guitar tracks and how arduous a task it is to synch them up and make it sound sort of like actual humans singing and playing instruments.

      But I wondered if, for anyone who may not respect this type of music, what choice they would make were they in Joe Elliott’s shoes. We know what choice almost anyone would make. So I thought it would be interesting to put the reader in his place and experience it through his eyes…at least as well as I could considering I am not him and have never talked to him.

      However, I did have the chance to go backstage at a DL concert a few years ago. I took a picture with Rick Allen (the one-armed drummer) and Phil Collen, one of their famous lead guitarists. That was cool. :-)

  13. Cheryl says:

    I LOVED “Pyromania”… and I loathed “Hysteria”. It may have been painstakingly produced and I have no doubt about its technical genuis, but my experience listening to it – most especially “Pour Some Sugar on Me” – is something akin to being stabbed in the brain stem with a white hot poker. And not in a good way. Even my sincere admiration for Rick Allen could not overcome it.

    Maybe it’s not them – maybe it’s me. But although my musical tastes had stretched by the time “Hysteria” dropped, I still found love in my heart for Guns n’ Roses and Metallica, so I can appreciate some good ‘ol headbanging.

    I don’t know, it’s hard to analyze one’s (ahem) high school musical tastes in retrospect. I just know I’d take “Pyromania” any day of the week, and would be fine and dandy with never hearing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” ever again. This is not pretentiousness – I of all people have zero music cred. I trust that it is technically a good song and appreciate a great sing-along-with-the-convertible-top-down song as much as anyone. For reasons I can neither control nor properly articulate, I just effin hate that effin song.

    He’d be a fool to wish he’d caught that bus – it’s been an interesting ride. When I see a Def Leppard show advertised these days, though, it occurs to me they must have changed their minds:
    “I got somethin to say! It’s better to buuurrrrn out… than FADE AAAWWWWAAAAAAYYYYYYYY!”

    Of course, that is a motto for the young. It’s different when you have something to lose, or when you’ve already lost something that you can never get back. Like, you know, your arm.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Cheryl! It’s Cheryl! Holy shit! Woooooooo!! Aagggggghhhhhhhhhh!!! **breathes into paperbag**

      Hi, Cheryl.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Cheryl, your opinion is the one shared by most real “rock” fans, even among DL’s base. From a hard rock perspective, it’s difficult to argue with you. The place I came from was, as a younger kid, I never listened to metal. For some reason, probably because of certain friends, I listened to the Top 40 FM station. So Pyromania was a quantum leap forward for me in terms of the type of music I would listen to. And the only reason I really enjoyed it was because of the melodic guitars.

      That’s why I find Hysteria to be their masterpiece, because it borrowed even more from pop music. Which is entirely backward if you enjoyed DL because they had once been a hard rock band.

      Of course today I listen to all different types of music, hard rock and otherwise, so I totally see your point. But for whatever reason I don’t feel any differently about Hysteria. It’s grandfathered in, I suppose.

      And your point about fading away is perfect. If they really believed that they would have quit while they were ahead. But it’s difficult to quit something you love. Just look at Brett Favre.

      • Cheryl says:

        Absolutely – that’s why I added the “motto for the young” part. As long as I never have to listen to that one accursed song again :) I hope they love playing rock and roll and that’s why they keep at it. And good for them! I’d be doing that too, if I could.

        We are really hard on aging entertainers. Just like the rest of us, some of us do it gracefully, and others not so much. But all of us get old, and all of us have at least one thing we’re “too old” to do and still do because we love it. I have to respect people who love what they do.

        And I get it about grandfathering in songs or bands that were important at certain life stages. No judgement here. I don’t even consider myself a “real rock fan”, or musically literate. I just like what I like, and absolutely detest what I absolutely detest. Most of the people I know have affection for that song. It’s supposed to be fun!

        Please don’t make me look at Brett Favre… please?

  14. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Aw, I enjoyed this one. I once had those angular letters sketched out on the insole of my Chuck Taylors. You know, for all the ribbing they suffer for Hysteria and the abysmal Adrenalize, High and Dry and Pyromania have some really good, still-listenable songs on it. Also, if you flatten out the twang in Shania’s Mutt-era songs and add a few guitar layers, those are pretty much Def Leppard Mutt-era songs. That guy had serious sway. Like Bob Rock lording over Metallica. Good stuff, Richard!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Ha! Awesome. I used to write those angular letters on all my notebooks. So goofy.

      Adrenalize is embarrassing, I’m sorry to say. It’s like they took the pop elements from Hysteria they thought worked and built a shell of an album from that. But it’s hard to blame them, considering Steve Clark died during that time, and I guess they had no idea rock music was taking a drastic 180 degree turn away from them.

      Did you ever listen to Slang? That’s their 1996 attempt to change with the times. The concept of it doesn’t match their personalities at all, but to be honest their best post-80s songs are on that album. It’s way better than it gets credit for, mainly because it was released during the heady days of grunge and it had their name on it.

  15. Unabashed, unashamed, unironic lover of all things Lep, who, in my mind, musically, is up there with Zep.

    But you knew that.

    If I were the “you,” and I’d known, ahead of time, what could happen, I wouldn’t even buy a ticket for the bus. I’d just wait by the side of the road, playing my guitar, trying to get better at it.

    I don’t think it can really be a question of “evil genius” (or even the “genius”) and Def Leppard, as though Elliot and the boys did not, themselves, possess some genius. Man could sing. Other man could drum better than most guys in rock one handed. I mean, that’s a whole other level of stupid awesome.

    I own the entire discography. Their later stuff is overlooked and underrated. “Slang” is a great song. It’s not “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” but it’s up there with the other great stuff. Their cover of “Waterloo Sunset” is terrific.

    Lange, on the other hand . . . “Genius?” Not sure. His most recent projects were Nickelback and Maroon 5. The latter wasn’t bad (“Misery” is a terrific little song), but they were largely mediocre and rather forgettable; nothing Lange did prompted another “How You Remind Me,” for example. He also produced stuff by both Celine Dion and the Backstreet Boys.

    I mean, say what you will about Def Leppard, but at least they never worked with Celine Dion, right? Sure, you could say they sold out. Every week, apparently, every copy of every record, and every night, too, every seat in every house.

    I think, in fact, what’s most sad in the age of iTunes and Kindle is that nobody can really sell out anymore. I always wanted to sell out, but that’s not really possible when that one file can be pretty much reproduced ad infinitum. How does one sell out of a PDF?

    Lange produced a lot of other CDs around the same time as that Def Leppard run. A couple by AC/DC. Foreigner. Later, Bryan Adams. Not really sure either Highway to Hell or Back in Black equals (much less bests) any of the Def Leppard CDs, so maybe it wasn’t really just Lange. Of course, I know you’re only positing the genius as part of the profluent idea of the essay, but I would at least acknowledge that perhaps part of the alchemical conflagration was the meeting of two geniuses, or, as in this case, several. Being able to play and entertain as well as Def Leppard can is, after all, a form of genius, I think. Then again, I’m also the guy who might argue that there’s as much genius in “Pour Some Sugar on Me” as in Beethoven’s Ninth. Different sorts/kinds, perhaps, but genius nonetheless.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I mentioned the Slang album above. I find myself listening to it as often or more so than High ‘n’ Dry, so that’s saying something. And there’s a couple of decent tracks on the newest album, including the amusing Bad Actress.

      I believe the relationship between DL and Mutt was definitely symbiotic. Mutt is a gifted songwriter and arranger. But he obviously thrives when he works with musicians who bring their own ideas. I’ve watched the Classic Albums episode about Hysteria and you can easily see the band’s gift for melody. But prior to Mutt’s eventual involvement in the production and writing sessions, they were floundering because they were sold on his way of doing things, but they couldn’t do it themselves.

      I’m not embarrassed to be a fan, or else I wouldn’t have written this post, but I do look at their contribution to music a bit differently than you. They are a fun band. They can write and perform a variety of musical types, as evidenced by the tracks on Slang. They are extremely talented musicians. But I don’t look at them in the same way I would, say Led Zeppelin. Zep recorded some fun songs, but they certainly had more to say. Zep is a more creative band. DL’s most important differentiating factor is the musical production on their best albums, and that’s something they must share with Mutt. I don’t listen to them when I want to be inspired…I listen to them when I want some purely aural entertainment or to hum along with something. Aside from their lives, there’s little to talk about outside of their recording techniques, which are mainly of interest to recording engineers. I don’t mean that negatively. If you look on last.fm, they are my fourth most-listened band. But everything else I listen to these days is far different.

      In a way it’s analogous to entertainment fiction versus serious fiction. I know you totally disagree. But for me, entertainment fiction is a fun experience and might get you talking about an “issue” or event or concept in the story. Serious fiction will make you think about what the author has to say, what the subtext is, about symbolism and what the characters and their lives mean to me and to humanity. Def Leppard is very, very well written entertainment fiction, whereas Led Zeppelin or Radiohead would be something akin to serious fiction. In my opinion.

      • I think it would be cool if we, as writers, took entertainment seriously.

        You know. Like Shakespeare.

        I like Zep. Mainly their early stuff, from their self-titled era. Pretty much up until “Rock and Roll.”

        Radiohead’s best CD was their first, and I don’t think they’ve ever been so good as they were with “Creep.” Now, there was a song. Talking about seminal songs that became cultural touchstones and really sort of became something bigger than themselves, “Creep” was basically Radiohead’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

        Genius. Just different sorts.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I think a writer or musician can be both. I suppose the distinction in my mind is one is purely entertainment, while the other could be just as entertaining but have more going on below the surface.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          AHhhhh hahahahahaha.

          Nothing.

          Nothing at all.

          You know what Shakespeare took seriously? Getting PAID.

          Lucky for him, he was also a savant.

        • Shakespeare got paid by entertaining. Word by word, shilling by shilling, arse by arse.

          Like Def Leppard.

          Which prompts me to: when adjusted for inflation, how much, in terms of actual financial compensation for the plays, did Shakespeare actually make? As much as Def Leppard? More?

          I mean, given his transition from actor to playwright, he was sort of the George Clooney of his time, except probably without the directing credits, maybe.

        • Apparently, he made sixty pounds–currently about $96–in 1597. Anyone know how much that is in 2010 US dollars? Or somesuchlike?

        • dwoz says:

          any of you that thinks you’re not an entertainer when you’re writing…like, that you might be an artist or something…is in for hurt.

        • dwoz says:

          I found this…


          The cost of living
          Now that we know what a thalar or a ducat is worth in terms of other currencies how much did people need to live on? And how does it compare to prices today? A general guide is that in the early 17th century 1 English pence was roughly the equivalent of one English pound 400 years later. This means that 1 guilder is worth about £24 or US$36. This is only approximate and it is important to note that in the 17th century manufactured goods were much more expensive in relative terms than they are today. Due to the lack of mechanization clothing was expensive because it was such a labour intensive task. On the other hand taxation was more on imports, exports and farm production (tithes) than on general income. A lot of people could escape taxation altogether which means that their wages go further than you might expect.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          @Will: as of 2007, 60 pounds in 1600 is worth about 9,000 pounds. I’ll leave you with the rest of the math. That’s pre-2008 crash.

          No one said Shakespeare was rich.

          He wrote for the money to survive.

          Writing like your life depends on it–because your life actually depends on it–has its merits, apparently.

          @dwoz: The rallying cry of the hopelessly jaded.

          No one hates an artist like a person who wishes s/he were an artist.

        • Richard Cox says:

          @dwoz: Yes, I clarified my point above. Anything I read or watch or listen to, assuming I’m not in school, better be entertaining. But it seems to me there are creative works that bring more to the experience, that merit further consideration beyond simply entertaining me. They make me think about the experience later, ask questions, they reveal themselves and their complexity over time.

          Your statement, “…like, that you might be an artist or something…” strikes me as a bit sour. You don’t think writers create works of art?

          @Will: Arguing which song or album is better than another isn’t going to get us very far. I love the song Creep, but Pablo Honey as an album leaves me wanting more. I listen to the others far more because the experience seems much richer to me. I think about the songs more. That’s all I mean. No one can argue that any one work is objectively better than another, but at least we can discuss what individual works mean to us, what they evoke in us, and what we find in them the closer we look.

        • dwoz says:

          Richard, I can’t find anything in what I just said that precludes the possibility of some art sneaking into the entertainment. Probably it happens by mistake.

          There’s not the slightest bit of jaded or sour in that statement. It speaks, on a COMPLETELY different level than the one you took it at, to the idea of just exactly why one does something like writing or playing music or painting or dancing. Is it to “create art?” if so, then God help you. Is it to “let your soul speak”? then you may…just MAY have a chance.

          I’m talking about intent and motivation, and how that ultimately relates to the consumer of your output. Who, at the bottom, is only there for one of two reasons…either to have his world knocked a little bit sideways, or have it set back to rights. Or, perhaps, just to mark the time it takes for his last meal to traverse the duodenum, signaling that it’s time for another meal.

          In our writing, we should aspire to accomplish one of the first two, hopefully will actually manage to cover the third.

          @becky: art never did, never does, and never will exist for it’s own sake. ditto the “artist”. I know that is hard to take, but it’s really very interesting what happens to your work when you understand it.

          Music producers, ultimately, are either archivists, or are artists who’s palette is the raw talent of others, and who’s canvas is the suspension of disbelief in the illusion.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I find it strange to be defending writing as art considering my first two novels are thrillers. Clearly I wasn’t attempting to only “create art.”

          In any case, I don’t see what’s so difficult to understand about some creative works having more to say about human nature and relationships and being more complex than others. I can be entertained by Michael Crichton or by Ernest Hemingway, but one created characters that generations will remember. The other is mainly remembered for dinosaurs.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          dwoz, I don’t know how you came to be the final word on the nature of art. Your declarative certainty is not encouraging of creedence.

          I guess I’m just going to have to say I think you’re wrong, and leave it at that.

        • My personal feeling–and thus my personal approach–has always been that art is born out of entertainment, for varying definitions thereof. Paint a pretty picture, sing and play a song that makes people’s toes tap, write an exciting story or direct an interesting movie . . . those are high ideals themselves. My feeling–which differs from many others’–is that fineness in craft and execution comes first, and art is a position of excellence achieved through that. My tastes in fiction and music bear that out, but that’s why I like Def Leppard more than Radiohead and Rift more than Freedom. It’s why I still agree that Shakespeare in Love deserved Best Picture more than Saving Private Ryan. The latter might have been more technically interesting/shot, and sure the recreations were shattering in terms of accuracy, but ultimately it failed to work, at least for me, as a moviegoer, because it bored me endlessly, with the titular Private Ryan basically the same sort of plot coupon as Frodo’s ring, which basically made the whole movie, to steal a Kevin Smith joke, little more than a bunch army motherfuckers walking. Shakespeare in Love, on the other hand, I found exhilarating and exciting and fun.

          I’ve never sat down to make or create art. I’ve sat down to write a story, with the general aspiration that doing so well might achieve art.

          Here’s hoping.

        • “I can be entertained by Michael Crichton or by Ernest Hemingway, but one created characters that generations will remember. The other is mainly remembered for dinosaurs.”

          Oddly, I remember one for a couple of novellas I don’t really remember the plots besides that one had something about rabbits and in the other, some guy got stuck on a boat while fishing, oh, and that story where two characters sit at some table in some nondescript bar and talk about . . . something that probably isn’t either hills or white elephants.

          The other, I remember for one of the longest-running dramas in television history and a string of truly exciting movies that crossed genre, broke bounds, and addressed social issues before many other people were giving them much thought. The reveal of the brontosaurus herd in Jurassic Park is–technically, cinematically, and artistically–more jaw-dropping to more people than the reveal that Rosebud was some old dead guy’s sled.

          Most people, I would posit, don’t read Hemingway for entertainment; they read him either because the general cultural attitude–rightly or wrongly–is that he wrote good stuff or because some professor assigned a story. There is, in general, a huge divide between what is canon/respected by critics & academicians and what is popular and consumed by a wide audience, or at least there is now; by some measures, including popularity, Shakespeare could be said to have been the King of his day.

          “I don’t see what’s so difficult to understand about some creative works having more to say about human nature and relationships and being more complex than others.”

          I don’t think it’s a difficulty of understanding. I’m not sure, and speak only for myself. I think my feeling is that all those things are fine, but . . . I don’t quite know how to put this, besides indirectly, so I’ll go with sometimes I read things like Freedom and think that Franzen’s commentary about human nature and relationships might have been better served as a series of essays concerning sociology and psychology. It’s like with Ayn Rand. I mean, I get that she had some political/economic message to deliver, but in which case, why not deliver that message as an essay on politics and economy? Like, a treatise, or something?

          Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind a message or something in my fiction. But I guess my feeling is that there’d better be a good, exciting story first with a definite beginning, middle, and end and a good climax and resolution. Of course, one can break those rules, alter that form, but I feel like one must have and demonstrate a valid reason for doing so.

          What it comes down to: all things serve story. Art, aspiration, commentary, etc. secondary.

          Which, I realize, conflicts with a lot of what people call art. These are just my feelings about my craft, telling stories, and the possibility of art.

        • Richard Cox says:

          Will, you seem to be allergic to literature taught or appreciated by academics. I fear this allergy renders you unable or unwilling to interpret many brilliant authors and novels and stories that you would otherwise enjoy and could help you (and anyone) understand their own writing better.

          On a whim, I went to Wikipedia and grabbed this:

          “The New York Times wrote in 1926 of Hemingway’s first novel: “No amount of analysis can convey the quality of The Sun Also Rises. It is a truly gripping story, told in a lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame”.[156] The Sun Also Rises is written in the spare, tightly written prose, for which Hemingway is famous; a style that has influenced countless crime and pulp fiction novels.[157] In 1954, when Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, it was for “his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.”"

          I realize you will probably dismiss the quote out of hand because it was written by the NYT. But the lines “…that puts more literary English to shame” or “…a style that has influenced countless crime and pulp fiction novels” ought to tell you something. He was a writer of the people, of the common man. He wrote simply and yet told stories of great richness and complexity. And yet you claim he doesn’t write entertainment and the only reason he’s read at all is because some professor assigns him?

          Or in the case of modern fiction, if someone labels it as “literary,” you seem to immediately disregard it. Okay, so you don’t like Franzen. Did you ever read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides? You want to talk about entertainment? I was floored by that novel. A sprawling, multi-generational epic that, when it was over, I wanted to pick it up and start again. But if it’s shelved in the literature section, does that mean it’s too highbrow and boring?

          But never mind that. In your comments above, your own logic confuses me. You don’t like Saving Private Ryan for all its technical excellence, but then you love Jurassic Park because someone drew a nice-looking digital dinosaur. Surely, if the brontosaurus had not looked real, you wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much. The reveal was the technology. And the T-Rex jeep chase, that was thrilling. But in the end, the human characters are secondary. They are rescued by a deus ex machina, even, when the T-Rex eats the raptor. If you want to know the truth, after the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan, I got bored, too. I agree with you. But how is Jurassic any different?

          I wonder if Stephen King had chosen not to write speculative fiction, if you would like him. You use him as an example of a writer for the common people, but he’s a special case. Some of his work is of literary quality, and it’s dismissed (wrongly, in my opinion) because of the subject matter. He and Crichton do not write similarly. With all due respect to Crichton, and I’ve read most of his novels, it’s not fair in my opinion to include him in a conversation with King.

          You’ve attached yourself to Shakespeare for some reason, and that’s great because he was a master storyteller for sure. But I think you’re missing out on so many others because you’re so desperately offended by the idea of “highbrow” literature that it makes your skin crawl. I don’t like elitism any more than you do, and I agree there are plenty of snotty literature academics out there. But I fear there are many wonderful works of literature that you’re missing out on because the chip on your shoulder has completely obscured your view.

        • Matt says:

          With a couple of exceptions, all of Crichton’s books amount to the exact same plot: “Look at this wonder of science! Imagine the things we can do with it! Oh no – it’s gone horribly wrong! People are dying!” And he was only a notch or two above Dan Brown in terms of the quality of the prose.

        • “Will, you seem to be allergic to literature taught or appreciated by academics.”

          To some degree, I suppose. I think, lately, people have been oversimplifying my comments, though. Here, for example, you could be right, but I’m not sure, given that I taught literature, as an academic, last semester. Great class. We went from Harry Potter through . . . er. I don’t remember the last thing we read. It was a pretty eclectic reading list, though. I tried to give students a glimpse of prose fiction as a whole, from back in the day up to now. Not sure how successful that was, but the students seemed to do pretty well. I even taught a Hemingway story. That one about the three dudes, in the bar, or something (though my feeling toward Hemingway is that that wouldn’t narrow it down any). You know which one I liked a lot? “Sonny’s Blues.” Great story. I liked “Party Down the Square.”

          “I fear there are many wonderful works of literature that you’re missing out on because the chip on your shoulder has completely obscured your view.”

          I’ve been getting accused of chips on my shoulder lately. I don’t get it. I’m not really angry about anything. I guess because I’m opinionated? Maybe I’m too forcefully so? I don’t know; I keep getting told everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, so I tend not to hesitate putting mine forward.

        • Richard Cox says:

          @Matt: It’s the same reason I grew out of Koontz as a kid. Guy with a dog meets mysterious woman with dark hair and hilarity ensues.

          And, you know, everyone’s taste is different, but when I read his prose now…well, it’s just not for me.

        • dwoz says:

          @richard:

          In any case, I don’t see what’s so difficult to understand about some creative works having more to say about human nature and relationships and being more complex than others.

          I am wondering why you keep hammering this. Where did you get the notion that I disagree?

          @ Becky:

          yes, by all means, let’s leave it at that.

          @Will:

          We’re walking the same line here, you and I. I’ve met a LOT of “I am an ARTIST” artists in my life…and so many of them were self-important twits with dreary, overwrought works of no depth or importance. I’ve also met a lot of folks who, in the process of expressing themselves in their chosen medium, manage to produce sublime works of “Capital A” Art.

          The blighters from the first group were little better than interior decorators who self-describe as the next Miro…and presumptuous derivative hacks that think they’re the new Lennon/McCartney.

          I know that sounds awfully presumptuous on my part…who the fuck, after all, am I? It’s just about impossible to describe what I’m trying to describe without being accused of being an elitist idiot who thinks his own feces is made of gold and smells like flowers. That’s not the point at all.

          Since this post was about music and musicians and producers and what measure of success…what did you think about the point differentiating between producer-as-archivist compared to producer-as-illusionist?

          Why would one be more valid or more real or more-or-less emasculating to the artist?

          Is your position that Def Leppard would never have amounted to anything in terms of economic success, without the producer-as-illusionist?

  16. Tawni says:

    Years ago, I dated a recording engineer who told me about the crazily extreme layering of vocal tracks Mutt did for their records. Insane. I instantly knew you were talking about Def Leppard when you mentioned the genius producer.

    I loved that band back in the day, like every other Midwestern white kid. But as a grown-up musician, it kind of depresses me that such sterile, heartless, nonsensical songs ever achieved such popularity. It makes me want to listen to them again to try to figure out why they were so beloved back then. Was it just a dumb fun thing? Dumb fun definitely has its place. (:

    This was a good story, Richard!

    • Richard Cox says:

      Hi Tawni!

      I know what you mean about the music not having heart. If you understand how they wrote the songs, figuring out the riffs and arrangements and then finally fitting words to them at the end, you see how the vocals were meant to be nothing more than another instrument. And Mutt’s idea of music that would sell is different than something that would have much “soul” to it.

      That being said, it doesn’t make me enjoy listening to it any less. It’s a very different experience from any of the music I’ve picked up as an adult. But it’s still an enjoyable one.

      P.S. I’m halfway into reading your Coffee piece but I have to run to basketball. When I get back I’ll finish and let you know what I think. :-)

  17. I love anything about musical obsessiveness, Richard, and really enjoyed this, even though for me Def Lep more or less epitomized a scene and style I felt entitled to deride without mercy in my teens.

    Having said that, some of my fave perm-metal lyrics of all time, from 1980′s On Through The Night, the immortal ballad Rock Brigade:

    Watch out for the rock brigade (rock brigade)
    Oh no, it’s the rock brigade (rock brigade)
    Look out for the rock brigade
    Leading you away, away

    So when they hit your town you’d better get down
    I’m telling no lies to you mister
    Cause they live for rock’n'roll they’ll try to steal your soul
    Might even try to steal your sister

    Watch out for the rock brigade (rock brigade)
    Oh no it’s the rock brigade (rock brigade)
    Look out for the rock brigade
    Leading you away, away, away

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Sean. To be honest, based on other music posts I’ve read here at TNB, I expected most everyone to say they derided DL’s scene without mercy. This post was carefully worded to express my love for the band while recognizing their weaknesses. I think they deserve more credit than they receive, but I also realize their legacy is not completely unearned.

      To be perfectly transparent, here are my top 5 bands by number of plays according to last.fm since June 2005:

      1. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: 2,497
      2. Boards of Canada: 2,435
      3. Radiohead: 2,262
      4. Def Leppard: 2,211
      5. Juno Reactor: 1,911

      But even after listening to them 2211 times in the past five years, I still have no clue what those lyrics above mean.

  18. Greg Olear says:

    This was great, Richard. I for one am glad Joe missed the bus. Love may bite, but DL fucking rocks. (I bought “Hysteria” the day it came out, and was glad I did).

  19. Jessica Blau says:

    Great piece, as usual!

    I, like Zara, have never listened to Def Leppard that I know of.

    And as for “rather be lucky or good,” what do most people answer to that? Interesting question. I guess it depends on how competitive you are versus how committed to the “art” or the process you are.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Jessica. I don’t know the answer to that. I think I’d rather be good so I could claim it was all me if I did something awesome. But being talented at something is a lot of genetic luck in itself, isn’t it?

  20. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Honest truth, Richard, I clicked on this piece only because you wrote it and I enjoy your writing. I really don’t give a tinker’s damn about DL and don’t usually bother with music posts – just not my schtick. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be about a human being. This was damned good. Thanks for posting it.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, sir. I appreciate you having a look, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. I, too, liked that it was about a human being and not just an album or a sound. Thanks again.

  21. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    I got a flashback of junior high. It was late in the evening, and our school newspaper advisor let us play records. The boys kept playing “Photograph” over and over again. It blared through the empty hallway. Rubber cement fumes and Def Leppard. Wow.

    What I like about this piece is how humanizing it is. It’s about choices, made with hope and pressure, ambition and fear. There’s no one right answer. What seems like a sell-out to one person might be a saving grace to another. If given the keys to the Gates of Fame and Fortune, I have no clue what I’d do. I’m not there now.

    Good work, Richard.

    • Richard Cox says:

      I love the serendipitous nature of his moment at the bus stop. And from there his life becomes a series of choices (often obvious, but still choices) that lead him all the way to the dream he always wanted.

      Thank you, Ronlyn.

  22. Mary Richert says:

    No other writer has ever made me care about Def Leppard. Excellent work, RC.

  23. Slade Ham says:

    Ahhh, such fun. Knowing you, I had the sneaking suspicion that it was Def Leppard piece, and then obviously the loss of Rick’s arm cinched it. What’s odd, is that I knew virtually NONE of this about them. The pacing to this was perfect.

    Someone should send this to Joe Elliot. He’s probably on Facebook, hahaha :)

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, man. I didn’t know how many people would figure it out ahead of the arm thing. I wrote about it anonymously so readers could enjoy the story without preconceived notions, but of course when the arm comes off, so does the mask.

      I wonder if Joe would like this or be offended by it. Even though I’m a huge fan, I tried to be as honest as possible, and that means everything can’t be roses.

  24. Joe Daly says:

    Jesus Christ, Coxy, this is fucking awesome.

    It’s great to see DL get more and more credit for their contribution to music. Sure, the production (over-production, in some people’s estimation), will always find the band having to prove that they are every bit as talented as the studio albums sound. But more than anything, they have written some of rock’s most memorable anthems. Love them or hate them, most people can rattle off the names of at least a few DL songs and pretty much anyone will know a DL song when they hear one.

    I love the way you use hypothetical situations and rhetorical questions to create the band’s history. I’m also jealous that you have found a new way to make music writing interesting.

    I am going to hit the “Add Comment” button and go put on Hysteria, which I believe is a tragically underrated album.

    Rock on, man. This was awesome.

    • Richard Cox says:

      You just made my day with your comment, Joe. Of everyone on here, I was most curious about your opinion because I always enjoy your posts about music. And I’ve told you before I didn’t necessarily feel qualified to write about music, not understanding theory well enough. But this is a human story about choices and serendipity and such, plus I knew their history so well that I only had to do a bit of research to fill it out.

      I believe DL are an underrated band, and Hysteria in particular seems to get the lion’s share of the bad vibes for leaning too far toward pop. But it’s my favorite, and Pyromania next.

      Thanks again. I’m going to read your comment 10 or 20 more times this evening. Ha.

  25. Art Edwards says:

    The answer: Hell yes!

    What a lovely path you’ve taken us down, Richard, and not just because I saw them in 1983 in Peoria, IL.

    And bought a Union Jack T.

    Saturday Night, I’m high!

    Art

  26. This is just a fantastic work, Richrob.

    You’ve created a wonderful story here. I take almost everything back that I said about a DL intervention.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Why thanks, Rock Star. I’m glad to see you enjoyed a story written about your kind. You know, rock stars.

      DL intervention? That would be like staging an intervention with you for being too metal.

  27. jmblaine says:

    yes sir yes sir
    you are singing my song here

    when it’s all said and done
    you’d just like to find a way back
    to the spoon factory

    There is fame
    & there are the philosophical
    lessons of fame
    & anyone who can tell both stories
    I am completely with.

    “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” is
    not a guilty pleasure.
    It’s just awesome.
    More?

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, JMB. I assume that’s a rhetorical question at the end, but it doesn’t have to be. I bet there are plenty of famous folks out there who might choose differently if they could go back.

      “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” is great. They did a live version during the Hysteria tour I really liked. I’m not a big fan of their live stuff but that one is good.

      More what?

  28. jmblaine says:

    Could you do
    one on Motley Crue?
    Motorhead?
    Cinderella?

    By the way,
    Adventures of Mixerman
    was one of my favorite
    books last year

    • Richard Cox says:

      Dude, thanks for turning me onto that Mixerman book. I started reading it on his site and I’m loving it.

      I think Motley Crue has has their fair share of exposure. Ha. But Cinderella. Hmm…

  29. Erika Rae says:

    For me, Tulsa will forever conjure “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. It was our theme song! And this post rocked so much I can hardly stand it. SO good. I love how you went forward and then rewound to show the connections. And it all started with missing a bus and a spoon factory. Brilliant. BRILLIANT.

  30. Mandy says:

    I like the way you wrote this. Of course I thought it was The Beatles until you got to that business about the one-armed drummer.

    I went to a Def Leppard concert in 1988, I think. I only went because a friend’s dad had a suite at The Palace and the only song I knew was “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”

    I wonder if you could get a job writing scripts for “VH1′s Behind the Music?”

    :-D

    • Richard Cox says:

      I’m glad I fooled you. For a little while, at least. The arm is pretty much a dead giveaway.

      I watched DL’s “Behind the Music” episode, which is actually among their highest-rated shows ever, I believe. Plus VH1 made an actual movie about the band as well, like with actors and everything. Anthony Michael Hall played Mutt Lange. What a miscast.

      Anyway, I probably assimilated a lot of that for this piece, so I’m not sure VH1 would see a need to hire me. Ha.

  31. Judy Prince says:

    I like the backwards chrono, Richard. Very effective. And I don’t know how I’d answer your asking whether I’d be glad I missed my bus. Tough to contemplate, but, then, I’m able to contemplate the choices, and they were not.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, Judy. I think he’d probably say he was glad he missed the bus, but you never know. I’d also be interested to know what might have happened had they never met the genius producer. What would their career have been like then?

      • Judy Prince says:

        You’ve opened an existential debate, Richard. What do you think, contemplating, for example, bits of your own life?

  32. Thanks for sharing this, Richard. A very polished and poignant piece. I played the Pyromania album on full volume for hours on end for a year straight while in 8th grade. My mother probably knows the lyrics better than I do.

    How does it go? Qltime glouten gleebin globin?

  33. Alternate title for your piece:

    It’s Better to Burn Out, Then Fade Away

    • Richard Cox says:

      Thanks, James. I still remember the first time I heard Rock of Ages. Never imagined I’d be writing this piece 27 years later.

      And to your point about the title, I did tinker with the idea of titling it It’s Better to Fade Away than Burn Out. Or some such play on words. But I couldn’t think of something clever enough.

  34. Simon Smithson says:

    You know, I had no idea about any of this behind-the-scenes stuff with Def Leppard. I knew only about their drummer, and that was all. I came in just as grunge was starting, which is, as Becky pointed out, as far as I know, a reaction to hair metal.

    There’s a story from a musician I can’t remember – maybe Peter Buck? He and his wife were at a concert by, I don’t know, David Crosby or something (honestly, I’m telling this story so badly… some prog rock legend, basically), and he was playing a suit with buttons that created the sound of a woman orgasming.

    Buck’s (possibly) wife turned to him and said ‘I think I see now why punk had to happen.’

    • Richard Cox says:

      It’s funny how ideas perpetuate themselves, what people remember, how things don’t have to be accurate to be accepted. On the one hand it’s pretty funny that a band would have a one-armed drummer, but on the other, for Rick and the band, his tragedy and subsequent recovery were life changing events. And for most non-fans, it’s the only memorable thing about the band.

      The world is a funny place.

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  36. [...] RICHARD COX is bringin’ on the heartache. [...]

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