Vinnie Vincent, part one

funny, music, pictures, sad, true, Yakima 2 Comments »

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time around this blog, you know that occasionally I get too busy to write, but then I rebound with a huge entry, often about either musicology or childhood.  This entry manages to include both, which means—naturally—that it will be a very long entry.  Don’t let that deter you, though; you also know by now that I would never steer you wrong or share things with you that I didn’t think were important or interesting enough to share.

I recently started reading Chuck Klosterman’s book Fargo Rock City, about heavy metal from the 1980’s, to which time has not been kind. He takes the position that while it may look a little strange from the outside, particularly with almost thirty years of hindsight, those who loved that music—including Chuck and myself—feel that it did a lot for us back then, but that it hasn’t received the respect that it deserves. The book is also autobiographical, about a disaffected kid growing up in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, who connected deeply with a style of music that offered glimpses of a strange new world and a completely different lifestyle. I can definitely relate.

Klosterman’s obsessive knowledge of the bands has made me nostalgic for that music, and I’ve gone back recently and reconnected with some of the stuff I used to love. My personal favorites were Kiss, Dokken, Ratt, Triumph, Dio, and Ozzy Osbourne. I should admit that some of them have held up better over time than others have. The first cassette I bought was Shout at the Devil by Mötley Crüe (umlauts intentional) in 1983, and the last was All Systems Go by Vinnie Vincent in 1989. Much has been written about Mötley Crüe, but precious little has been written about Vinnie Vincent, whose story is extremely interesting, even if (and possibly especially if) you know absolutely nothing about either him or heavy metal.

Vinnie became an instant celebrity when he replaced Kiss’s original and longtime lead guitarist, but I think a little bit of context is in order. Kiss was in trouble in 1982. They had sold millions of records throughout the 1970’s, but times—as well as musical tastes—were changing. Kiss had also jumped the shark with a couple of strange (pronounced “crappy”) albums in a row; a disco one and their famous flop Music From “The Elder,” which is a bizarre cross between Pete Townshend, David Bowie, and a Broadway musical. It was seriously weird, and their fans didn’t know what to do with it, but they DID know not to buy it.  The band needed to find their way back, and in doing so, a couple of painful changes were necessary.

The original drummer, Peter Criss, was the first to go. He had been suffering from the excesses of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle for quite some time, and was injured in a car crash which left him out of commission for a while. The band had to postpone or cancel much of their subsequent tour, and Peter’s drinking and drug use had become a problem, so he was fired on May 18, 1980. I had to look up that date, but you can understand why I might have overlooked that tidbit in the news of the day, because I was too busy paying attention to Mount St. Helens, which erupted early that morning and buried Yakima (the town in which I grew up, and the nearest big town in the path of the eruption) under an inch or two of ash. So we had bigger things to deal with than some drummer being fired in New York City.

But I digress.

Next to be handed his walking papers was the original guitarist, Ace Frehley. He, like Peter Criss, had spent many years drinking heavily, even going so far as to bring cases of Dom Perignon champagne with him when he was on tour.  He was constantly drunk onstage and in interviews, and the other band members had had enough. Ace, like the public, was also frustrated with the musical direction the band had taken, and was tired of always being outvoted by the band’s leaders, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons.

The firing of Ace Frehley was undoubtedly a great opportunity for any guitarist.  Kiss knew they had to deliver the goods as they finished their next record, Creatures of the Night, and they spent months auditioning players. Ace was pictured on the cover of Creatures, but he only played on a couple of the songs. Rick Derringer (you may know him from this song) supposedly played on one, as well as the guitarist from Mister Mister (you may know them from this song), but Paul and Gene wanted someone who could write songs as well, and they gave the nod to Vincent Cusano, who had been a studio guitarist and songwriter kicking around the New York scene of the 1970’s.  Gene Simmons rechristened him Vinnie Vincent, and his place in rock history was secured.  He’s third from left in this picture:

Vinnie landed one of the biggest gigs in rock and roll. The album was the strongest Kiss had created in quite a few years (it remains my favorite of their albums), and it even spawned a couple of hits on the then-fledgling MTV.  The band was back on top, with a great new drummer and a fiery lead guitarist. But Vinnie was a tough sell for the fans. Replacing an original band member is no easy task, and Vinnie never felt like a ‘true’ member of Kiss.  Even his stage persona, the Ankh Warrior, didn’t quite rise to the mythological status of Gene’s Demon or Paul’s Star Child, and Vinnie seemed a bit amorphous or strange compared to them.

His playing, however, was stellar, and he also brought tremendous songwriting skills to the band. After the success of the Creatures album and tour, the band decided it was time for another big change, and decided to appear without their makeup for the first time. The album Lick It Up was a huge and instant success, thanks in no small part to Vinnie’s contributions.  The band went on an extensive world tour and prepared for their next steps. Vinnie’s on the left in this picture:

But by this time—1984—the cracks were beginning to show. Vinnie didn’t fit in with the other guys, and they weren’t getting along very well. He also didn’t feel that he was being fairly compensated for his songwriting. The royalties for some of their biggest hits of the time went to Gene and Paul, who kept Vinnie and drummer Eric Carr on salary as ‘for hire’ sidemen, rather than full-fledged band members. This rubbed Vinnie the wrong way, because he felt he had contributed much more than the somewhat low status of a sideman would take into account.  It was decided that he should leave the band. He sued Kiss for royalties, but was unsuccessful.

Still very much in the limelight, he took some time to write more songs and put together his own band, called the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, the intent of which was to be bigger-than-life in every way.  I couldn’t wait to hear it. I eagerly awaited its arrival in the record store, and bought it before I’d ever heard a note of it. I’d been reading in the magazines like Circus and Hit Parader that he used a gigantic number of amps on stage, he dressed more flashily, and could shred like nobody else. The drummer played crazy fills, and the singer sang higher than anyone else. It was completely over the top.  Here’s their biggest hit song, “Boyz Are Gonna Rock.”

I’m not gonna lie; this song is dumb.  I thought so when the fifteen-year-old version of me first bought the tape, and I still think so today.  The first time I saw the video, I probably thought—in my addled teenage way—something eloquent like, “What the fuck was that?” They all looked ridiculously feminine, even in comparison to the other bands at the time, which is serious competition indeed.  To wit:

Cinderella. . .

. . .and Vinnie Vincent Invasion:

See what I mean?  He and the band just seemed like used-up gay prostitutes compared to other bands, which didn’t match the aggressiveness of the music. People didn’t know what to make of Vinnie.  He did have some great songs on that first album, but it didn’t sell particularly well, and the over-the-top nature of his guitar playing left a bit to be desired. Even on a slow, bluesy song, he tried to cram as many notes as possible into the guitar solo, with hilarious results.

Great riff, great song, horrendous guitar solo.  Even as a kid, when I was learning to play the guitar, I felt like if he could just settle down for thirty seconds and play tastefully—the way he did in Kiss—he’d really be onto something.

He seemed to have read my mind with his second and final album, All Systems Go. The songs were better, the sound quality of the album was better, and he played much more tastefully.  One of the songs, Love Kills, was written for one of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and he had a couple of other hits from the album as well.  My favorite song of his, “That Time of Year,” is on this album.

But if Vinnie was a hard sell for metal fans, he was an even more difficult one for the general public, whose metal tastes could only allow enough room for the likes of Def Leppard.  People couldn’t really get past his strange looks and over-the-top style. Add all that to the fact that by 1990, metal was on its way out.  Nirvana would put the final nail in its coffin in less than a year, and Vinnie and his compatriots would be relegated to the bargain bins of the record stores.

Like I said before, time has not been kind to 80’s metal, and Vinnie has become one of the de facto elder statesmen of the genre.  But his story is far from over, and it gets super weird, so this seems like a good place for a cliffhanger.

To be continued. . .

weird storm

Oregon, Portland No Comments »

Portland just got hit by the craziest storm.  We had 40-mile-per-hour winds, torrential rain, thunder and lightning like I’ve never heard (something like two hundred strikes in the last couple of hours), and now it seems to have passed, as if to say, “Enh. . .I’m done with you now, Portland.”

Really weird.

I was supposed to have a gig tonight, but I decided to give it a miss because of the weather, and the traffic, and the fallen trees, and all of that.  If I thought we’d have had an audience, I’d have happily made the trip out there, but the newscasters were telling everyone to stay home, and I could imagine driving an hour out to the gig, only to be playing for an empty room.  Not worth it.

We had reports of a funnel cloud over the area that my gig was supposed to take place, but luckily the golf-ball-sized hail never did materialize.  I moved my car underneath a tree in my neighborhood to keep it safe, which seems to have been an unnecessary precaution, but we do still have plenty of thunderstorms on the way tonight.  A tornado was reported just off of the Oregon coast, near Lincoln City, which is pretty mind-boggling.  That NEVER happens.


I guess if you want a Portland weather report, you’ll have already been reading elsewhere, but I’m okay, and the power stayed on the whole time (unlike the homes of fifty thousand other people in the Portland area), so the worst is over.

disconnected and connected

beautiful, blogging, cello, music, pictures, Portland, sad No Comments »

This Christmas season has been stressful, disappointing, exhausting, and marked by a conspicuous lack of financial means, all of which has left me feeling less than inspired to write much lately.  I’m still around, just completely broke (again. . .for the fifth consecutive month!), incredibly busy and stressed out.  Trying like crazy to feel like my usual happy-go-lucky self, with varying degrees of success.

The weather here in Portland is warming, and it’s been raining steadily for the last couple of days, so much of the snow is melting and disappearing.  We now have flood warnings in effect for parts of town and the state.  I took the chains off my car, one of which had broken and was hanging on by a mere thread inside the wheel.  I didn’t even realize it was still attached (I thought it fell off on the freeway the other day, and I haven’t driven since then) until I went out today to take off the remaining right one and saw the left one barely poking out from underneath the car.   I ruined my yellow rain jacket in the process, by getting grease all over both arms.  Niiiiice.   Well, it’s true that I wanted a new rain jacket anyway.

I found out yesterday that my grandma died on Christmas Day, at the age of 96.  For the record, I should mention that my brother and I didn’t know her very well.  I feel more disconnected and strange about it than anything else.  My family isn’t particularly close, on either side, either geographically or emotionally, and that’s what makes me saddest of all.  We hadn’t seen her for ten years, and it had been at least that long before that.  I’d been intending to reach out to her again lately, actually, and a couple of months ago, I got her address from my dad so that I could write to her and send some pictures.  He told me that I’d better do it soon, because she was ‘starting to lose it’, and that she’d been taking a turn for the worse these last few months.  I really regret that I didn’t write like I intended to, and that the time got away from me.  I wish that I’d had the chance to reconnect with her in some way.

I thought she’d be particularly happy to know that I play the cello now, because my grandpa (who died when I was about nine, but who I hadn’t seen since I was six) used to play the cello also.  I didn’t even know that until one day when I was about twenty-six or something, and I happened to mention to my dad, “I think it would be really great to learn how to play the cello.”

He gave me a strange, thunderstruck look and said, “I wish you would have said something earlier.”  He told me about my grandpa, and how he had an orchestra-quality instrument that was at my grandma’s house, but that she had recently GIVEN AWAY.  My dad continued.  “In fact, he put himself through college on a cello scholarship, I believe, and he played semi-professionally back in the 1920’s and 30’s.  After he died, his cello was in her attic, untouched and unused, for decades.  She kept it this whole time, hoping that maybe one of you guys would show some interest in it, but you never said anything, so she gave it to a student at her church.  She would have gladly given you his cello for nothing.”   My jaw literally dropped.

I didn’t get a cello and start playing until about four and a half years ago, when I saw an ad for one online, and offered to trade one of my electric guitars for it.  The person accepted, and I’ve been a happy cellist ever since.  Mine turned out to be an excellent quality instrument, an Ernst Heinrich Roth from the early 1960’s.  It needed quite a few repairs and modifications, since it had had a difficult life in a public school district.  I got done the repairs done as I was able to, and now it’s a perfectly good semi-professional level instrument.   I loveitloveitloveitloveitloveit.  It has a full, warm sound that newer instruments just can’t replicate.

And yes, sometimes when I’m playing, I wonder what they would think.  My grandpa, who knew the instrument so well, and my grandma, who kept it faithfully in the hopes that one of her children or grandchildren would play one day, to keep a connection with them and give them a gift they would very likely treasure for their entire lives.

Here are some pictures for you, grandma.  Wish you could have seen them, and also heard what was happening in my life when they were being taken.

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Snowed In 2: The Next Day

beautiful, blogging, love, pictures, Portland 1 Comment »

After yesterday’s post, I walked out and about in my neighborhood and took a few pictures.  This neighborhood is beautiful anyway, but with this much snow it’s even more beautiful.  And the Christmas lights and everything. . .it’s just an amazing treat.

Here are the ones from last night. . .

houselights irvington neighborhood

. . .before I went home to my sort of warm apartment.   I woke up this morning to go to work, and found that it had snowed a couple more inches overnight.  I had to take a picture of my forlorn little car.


Luckily, my friend was warming up his truck to take his girlfriend to work, and they offered to drive me also, since her work is right near mine.  That really made my morning.  There were only a handful of us who actually made it in to work today, and it was so cold inside the building that most of us bailed out after a few hours.  I left at noon, and I’d worn my jacket and scarf the entire time, and even my hood occasionally.  Three people left around ten-thirty, but I stayed until my fingers couldn’t really type anymore.  There were a couple of diehards who stayed on after I left, but they didn’t think they’d be there for long.

I certainly wasn’t the only one who was home from work today, either.  The streets were filled with families and couples who were out enjoying the snow.  And they were friendly, too!  I couldn’t believe it.  Everybody greeted me, or waved, or smiled, or even flirted, in a way that (I’m here to tell you) they rarely do.  I kept thinking, ‘Where was all this friendliness in all those times when I was feeling lonely and sad, and felt like something must be wrong with me because no one would so much as glance at me when I was walking on the street?’  But that’s neither here nor there.  It was nice, and I appreciated it.  It was so nice, in fact, that I kinda wanted to stay out longer, and keep crossing paths with people, on purpose.

I stopped in at Aztec Willie’s for a yummy burrito, which gave me enough energy to shovel my sidewalk, which I found still sucks after all these years.  You’d think that with technology being the way it is, there’d be some sort of process that could make the act of shoveling obsolete.  C’mon, science, can we get on that, please?  The polar bears need all the ice they can get.  Isn’t there some way to get this up (or down) to them?  I mean, JEEZ.

So then it was time to deal with my car.  I got all the snow off it, but the windows and sides are encased in ice that’s about a quarter of an inch thick.  Clearly I’m going nowhere today, unless it’s by foot.

This couple had the right idea; forego the driving and the walking, and go straight on to skiing.


I also have a smallish secret that I’d like to let you in on.  Every time I see her walking on the other side of the street, to the grocery store or something, I want to say, ‘want to go to breakfast?’ or ‘your eyes are beautiful; what color are they?’ or ‘ditch the zero and get with the hero’. . .you know, something really romantic like that to completely sweep her off her feet.

Anyway, don’t tell her I said all that.  She and her guy seem really genuine and nice, and I don’t want to mess that up for them.  Really I don’t.

So to change the subject back to the actual one we’re SUPPOSED to be talking about, I’ll leave you with this nice picture of my snowy, wonderful neighborhood.


snowed in

beautiful, pictures, Portland, recording, sad No Comments »

This weekend we’ve had quite the snowstorm, which is extremely unusual for Portland.  I’ve lived here for almost thirteen years, and I haven’t seen snow like this before.

Yesterday I was supposed to go to a Christmas party in an eastern suburb of Portland, so I got my car all scraped off and warmed up, and it drove fine (six inches is not a lot of snow), but the air was so cold, and there was so much blowing snow that the windows kept freezing over, and I kept having to stop and scrape them off every few blocks.  That got old really quickly, so I called my friends and said, “I’m gonna have to veto this trip.”  They actually persevered and drove out, but ended up staying overnight (which RockShowGirl and I weren’t prepared to do; luckily we stayed home), and I just got a call from them saying that their car was stuck and that they were waiting for a bus.  Luckily, they just now caught one.

Earlier this afternoon, I wanted to take a walk and get some pictures of my neighborhood, on my way to ApparentlySafestGrocery, since this much snow is so uncommon.   The pictures I took didn’t end up being very compelling, but here’s what the neighborhood looks like.

snowyneighborhood victoriansnow

Some good Samaritan took the liberty of pulling lots of the wipers off of the windshields of cars, so that they won’t get frozen when the freezing rain starts.  Wait a minute. . .what am I saying?  It’s already started.

icedhonda icedcars

Most people are heeding the advice of the weather forecasts and not driving.  In fact, I saw lots of people who appeared to be out walking in the snow just for fun.  One family had a young son who decided to ski, and I thought that would make a nice picture, so I grabbed my camera, and as soon as I did, the kid fell face first into the snow.  I’m not gonna lie; it was hilarious.


So I ran my errand, bought my ingredients, and came back to make dinner, which consisted of mushrooms, red peppers, onions and garlic cooked in red wine, butter, salt and pepper.  The vegetables were then served over a bed of linguine.  (I’ve always wanted to say ‘bed of linguine’, can’t you tell?)  It may very well have been the best dinner ever.  You should totally try to make it yourself; it’s easy, delicious, sexy, and totally improvised.  You just start adding ingredients and seasonings to your own taste, and it’s perfectly acceptable to taste it while you’re cooking to see how it’s coming along.

So now I’m in for the night, but I’ll leave you with a short video to show you what it was like today outside my apartment.   The snow was falling, and the wind was blowing, and it was all very pretty.

The Plan for this evening is to get all bundled up and walk out to Broadway, to take some pictures of the snow and the Christmas lights.  Wish me luck!