Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tales from the Stage by Michael Toney

The world of music is a primordial soup that has so many flavors and styles that it is almost impossible to breakdown a small "chunk" of a genre so attacking an entire genre is not only impossible but it is truly an exercise in futility.  As an example for someone to claim they like "country" music opens the realm of possibilities within that open pit that is said genre.  Don't get me wrong, I haven't a predisposition either for or against the genre (country music), I do enjoy some of the works that have fallen forth from its artists.  Unlike the answer given to the characters of "Joliet" Jake and Elwood Blues in the classic movie "The Blues Brothers" when they asked the proprietor of "Bob's Country Bunker" what kinds of music they play in the establishment (her reply "Oh, we have both kinds: Country AND Western"), country music has so many variants within itself.  Why am I mentioning country music right now?...

The reason is as simple as "country and western", you see country music fans have country rock, country pop, classic country, country and western (I almost feel like the guy talking about shrimp in Forrest Gump) thus there is more to it than just the classification of "Country".  Consider if you will heavy metal for a moment and the potential areas of classification it can provide (no I won't be channeling "Gump" again).  When one thinks back to the '80's one typically thinks to bands with huge hair, spandex and pancake makeup, although there was much more to "Metal" than that stereotype.

Hair metal as it seems to be commonly known as now has had its fair share of characters and some excellent musicians but for many of them when the "Hair Metal" genre began to peter out, their musical lives continued.  (Okay side note time, the "Bob's Country Bunker" quote was simply used because it over simplified an entire genre of music and not because this is about country music).  The entire world of music has those "survivors" and unless they stay within the eye of the general public they float away into a simple side note.  More than just a few of the bands we remember with fondness have had more than just one iteration.  Although those changes might not be "covert", there may be a change or two that would be surprising.

As bands change line-ups many of our favorites seem to disappear, never to be heard from again.  In a society where the infatuation with the "Lady Gaga" type of celebrity seemingly trumps "yesterday's heroes", we find ourselves wondering "whatever happened to...".  Recently I read a book called "Tales from the Stage" by Michael Toney and through those pages lay the lives of so many musicians that I remembered fondly.

Toney's book is so much more than a "whatever happened too..." book, it provided insight into the musicians lives, in their own words.  Instead of rambling on and on about a specific band associated with an individual artist, Toney had a stroke of genius.  It is possible to blather on and on (be nice, I don't "blather") but Toney went to the artists themselves and asked simple questions about everything from the artists hometown, to what they prefer to drink on stage.  The simplicity of the questions makes the interviews with each artist more personal and their answers are frank and more importantly straight from the heart.

In writing this book Toney went to some very interesting artists, some real surprises too for that matter.  If you were to think about bands from the '80's "hair metal" genre such as Grand Funk Railroad, the Scorpions, KISS, LA Guns, W.A.S.P. and Stryper and then consider each of those bands were represented by a member of each, its not beyond the realm of impressive.

Overwhelming would be the easiest way to describe potential questions for any of the artists but Toney seemed to be a natural in his selections.  Some of the answers provided in the book actually answered questions I've had for years.  As an example when asked about a famous scene from the movie "Decline of the Western Civilization II", Chris Holmes (W.A.S.P.) was asked about the vodka he was drinking (Holmes was in a swimming pool being interviewed while he poured two bottles of vodka in his mouth).  Holmes was candid with his answer as well as the reflection back to impact on his young fans.  Thinking back to that scene I remember the overwhelming feeling of disdain as well as disappointment in such a great artist.  Holmes is just one of the artists that appear within the pages of the book, and none should be discounted.

As I look forward to my next "musical journey", one of the people featured within this book has helped answer a question I have had for a very long time now (long as in a couple of years).  I will be attending the "L.A. Guns" concert at the Mississippi Moon Bar on September 21st, and as there are currently two iterations of the band I was always curious to any side of the story as to why there are two iterations.  This book features an interview with Tracii Guns and his explanation of the reasons why.  Guns explanation is fascinating as is his entire interview, its telling and really forthcoming (good stuff).  The music industry is rife with stories like this, and they aren't always from just the artists.

Other "interviewees" of note include Eddie Trunk (Host - "That Metal Show"), as well as Brian Slagel (Chairman / CEO - Metal Blade Records) show a side of music that few rarely see.  Mr. Trunk provides a very interesting side that is in some dimension "humanizing" and beyond expectations.  Trunk shows the side from fan to TV host and radio personality while taking time to explain his world (Trunk's interview is one of my favorites).  Slagel gives the perspective of record executive and fan in such a way that he takes the "evil edge" that seems to trail those in his role while showing insight that only "insiders" seem to be privy to.

"Tales from the Stage" is a fascinating look into rock music, and many of its key players.  While the book provides one with great stories as only the artists themselves can, it also opens a window into their souls.  I really enjoyed this book, and I thank Mr. Toney for writing it.  If you are a fan of '80's rock, an artist from the period or just nosy (relax that's a joke, I'm just as nosy). do yourself a favor and get a copy.  It's worth every minute!!!

If you are interested in this incredible book, take a look and buy it here: http://www.talesfromthestage.com/

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