Saturday, 11 February 2006

Why I Am Always the Hero or the Religious Guy?

Tonight I thought I would post a batch of memes or, as I like to call them, "quiz thingies." With the exception of the "Which Big O Character Are You" Quiz (which was part of an article on The Big O), I have never posted memes on my blog because I feel like they are something of a cop out. To me if someone is going to post an entry to his or her blog, it should be something somewhat substantial. But it's Saturday night and after having written an epic, five part history of heavy metal, I am just about written out for the week. Here then, are a bunch of quiz thingies with some running commentary.

Let's start with a Sin City quiz...

You scored as Hartigan.
You are Hartigan.
You expect a lot from yourself. You want to do what is right, but if you don't succeed you can be very hard on youself. When things seem grim, litte things keep you going such as letters or gestures from others. A strong believer in justice, you always keep your values. Continue to make the most of your life, but make sure to ease up on yourself a little.

Hartigan

88%

Marv

68%

Gail

65%

Nancy

58%

Dwight

48%

Becky

20%

Yellow bastard.

18%

Shellie

18%

Jackie Boy

8%

Which Sin City character are you (new version)?
created with QuizFarm.com


Okay, given the nature of most of the characters in Sin City, it was a safe bet I would be Hartigan, given nearly every other character is a sociopath... In both Frank Miller's comic books and the movie based upon them, he and Marv are about the closest things to truly heroic figures. And I must admit that I would be willing to die for someone I cared about and I think I would even face the greatest obstacles for them (I have gone without sleep or eating, for instance...). Given that, I probably do have a good deal in common with Hartigan--at least more than most Sin City characters (which is probably a good thing).

Now for the Firefly Quiz...

You scored as Shepherd Book. Meria Book: Shepherd with a mysterious past.

Alliance Forces lick your boots when you show them your Ident Card.

You have the power to unleash your hair and frighten young girls.

And for a man of the cloth, you are awful damned good in a fight.

Shepherd Book

75%

Inara, the "Companion"

63%

Simon, the Doctor

56%

Jayne Cobb, resident bad-ass

56%

First Mate Zoe

56%

Captain Malcolm Reynolds

44%

Kaylee, the Mechanic

38%

RiVER

19%

Wash, the Pilot

19%

FiREFLY QUIZ
created with QuizFarm.com


Okay, I can see myself as Shepherd Book (well, outside of unleashing my hair and frightening young girls, anyway....) Besides Jayne, he was always my favourite character. And, while I am not a Christian as Book is, I am deeply religous. But how on Earth did Inara come in as the second closest to me? Being a Companion would violate my morals. I am not the least bit seductive or flirtatious (at least with just anyone). And then there is the fact that I think I probably have more in common with Malcolm than I do Inara...

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Okay, another religious figure. Notice a pattern developing? I have said I am deeply religious. And I know I can be mysterious. And I know I am short (not as short as Yoda granted...). But, seriously, did I have to be Yoda? Couldn't I be Mace Windu? He's religous and mysterious. And totally wicked with a light sabre....

Now onto The Big O Quiz...

Which Big O character are you?
Which Big O character are you?


Anyone else who wants to take the quiz, here's a link to it Paradigm City Personality Quiz

Of all the quizzes, this one makes the most sense to me. I mean, I do dress in black a lot. And I tend to be independent and a bit of a perfectionist. And, like Hartigan, Roger is willing to sacrifice himself for those he loves. Of course, given the number of religious types I am scoring as (Shepherd Book, Yoda...), I probably only scored as Roger Smith because there aren't any priests on The Big O...

Finally, let's see who I would be in Pulp Fiction...

What Pulp Fiction Character Are You?

You don't tolerate s***. The .45 you carry in you pocket is scary, but your words are the real threat, especially when you decide to get Biblical. Try to take it easy, but maintain that edge of yours, which tends to keep people wary in your presence.

Take the What Pulp Fiction Character Are You? quiz.



There's that religion thing again. Okay, Jules isn't a priest or a Jedi, but he does quote the Bible a lot and he has a habit of philosophising quite a bit (at least when killing people...). And, quite frankly, I would rather be a philosophical, professional killer than a simple professional killer...

All in all I think I've learned very little from this exericise. The quizzes have confirmed some things that I have long thought of myself. First, that I am strongly religious. I have always tended towards the spiritual side of life. That I would be Book in Firefly or Jules in Pulp Fiction is then no surprise (I still question Yoda though...). Second, I can be mysterious. Book, Yoda, Roger Smith, even Jules, are enigmas to those around them. I had a roommate who once described me as a deep well whose depths you never really see. Third, I am a blatant romantic. It should be no surprise, then, that I could be Hartigan or Roger Smith, two men who would die or face even worse fates for the ones they love. Four, I have always wanted to be the heroic type, although I am not sure I really am. Like both Hartigan and Smith I do have a strict code of honour that I try to abide by. I cannot always say that I succeed. Of course, if I am the hero, then I have to wonder why I don't get the girl...

Friday, 10 February 2006

A History of Heavy Metal Part Five: Fell on Black Days

From the beginnings of the British New Wave of Heavy Metal in the late Seventies, heavy metal's rise in popularity into the Eighties was very gradual. By no means did it happen overnight. On the other hand, its decline in popularity in the early Nineties seemed to me to be swift and final. Creem once more shifted its focus, this time from heavy metal bands to the grunge bands then becoming popular. In 1994 MTV cancelled The Headbanger's Ball. Many heavy metal bands lost their contracts. Older, established heavy metal bands broke up.

I suppose of the causes of heavy metal's decline in popularity is debatable. There are some who have theorised that metal's fall in popularity may have largely been due to the emergence of grunge, in the form of such bands as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. While I suspect that the rise of grunge may well have been a contributing factor in heavy metal's decline, by no means do I think it was the only cause. An equally important cause, perhaps more imporant, was the fact that as the Eighties became the Nineties many of the older, established heavy metal bands either broke up or changed personnel. In 1991 vocalist Rob Halford left Judas Priest and the band never quite recovered. Throughout the Eighties, Black Sabbath had changed personnel to the point that the only original member left was Tony Iommi. With no new heavy metal bands that could quite fill the void left by legendary groups, it is perhaps no wonder the genre went into decline.

Of course, I suspect the primary reason that heavy metal delcined in popularity was that a simple case of overexposure. From the release of Def Leppard's Pyromania in 1983 into the early Nineties, heavy metal had enjoyed unprecedented popularity. Indeed, there was point where it seemed as if any guy with a guitar, long hair, makeup, and leather pants could get a record deal. After literally dozens of heavy metal bands had emerged over the decade, people were perhaps simply ready for a change. In other words, the public was simply tired of heavy metal.

This is not to say that heavy metal died out completely. Metallica and Megadeth continued to be popular in the new decade. New heavy metal bands did rise and even become popular. One heavy metal band that grew yet more popular in the Nineties was one that is now, in my humble opinion, often misidentified as grunge. Soundgarden was formed in 1984 by lead singer Chris Cornell and bassist Hiro Yamamoto. They released their first album for a major label, Louder than Love, in 1989. Their sound was obviously influenced by both Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, with a touch of MC5 thrown in for good measure. They sounded more like classic heavy metal than many then current heavy metal bands. In fact, they sounded more like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin than they did Nirvana and Alice in Chains. I always thought that the identification of Soundgarden as grunge was simply a marketing ploy. They're from Seattle. Heavy metal is declining in popularity. Let's call them grunge! Curiously, they were identified as heavy metal upon their debut... Regardless, they remained popular until their break up in 1996.

Another heavy metal band that maintained its popularity in the Nineties was Pantera. Pantera had actually been around since 1981, but did not see any real success until their album Cowboys from Hell. They were the leading proponents of a form of heavy metal called groove metal. Groove metal is perhaps best considered thrash metal in which drums and vocals are emphasised over guitar riffs (what riffs there are tend to be slow or mid-tempo). While Pantera remained popular through the mid-Nineties, they appear to have been one of those bands one either loved or hated (I hated them myself). The band was criticised for allegedly taking their groove metal sound from New Orleans based Exhorder. Dave Mustaine also accused Pantera of ripping off Megadeth. The band broke up in 2001. Sadly, their former lead vocalist, Darrell Abbot, would be murdered by a crazed fan in 2004.

Many debate whether Guns 'N' Roses is a hard rock band or a heavy metal band. I always saw them as a heavy metal band in the Aerosmith mode (although quite a bit meaner). From their debut album Appetite for Destruction, Guns 'N' Roses were a success. Unfortunately, internal tension towards the mid-Nineties would result in changes in the personnel of the band. This in turn would put an end to GNR's success. Currently Velvet Revolver(formed by former GNR members) sounds more like GNR than Guns 'N' Roses does.

While a few bands survived and even thrived into the Nineties, new bands also arose and even became popular. This was the case of Monster Magnet. Monster Magnet was formed in 1989 by vocalist Dave Wyndorf, guitarist John McBain, drummer Tom Diello, and bassist Tim Cronin. Their first album Spine of God, was relesed in 1991. Monster Magnet was quite literally a throwback to the early days of heavy metal. Their sound combined elements of early Black Sabbath with elements of Hawkwind. The subject matter of their songs sometimes tended towards the fantastic. In the song "Melt" they make reference to the late Jack Kirby (one of their idols), while Marvel Comics character Modok is mentioned in the song "Baby Gotterdammerung." Like Blue Oyster Cult, Monster Magnet is a heavy metal band for geeks.

While Monster Magnet was enamoured of classic Marvel Comics, White Zombie was enamoured of classic horror movies. Indeed, their name comes from the classic horror movie of the same name. Formed in 1985 by Rob Zombie, the band's major label debut was La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1, released in 1992. The band was characterised by a heavy bass sound and imagery that could have been drawn from any number of movies from Universal in the Thirties. The band remained popular until their breakup in 1998, after which Rob Zombie launched a successful solo career (keeping his midnight movie image in tact). They were among the best metal bands of the Nineties.

Of course, White Zombie were not the only heavy metal artists in the Nineties to draw upon horror movie imagery. In 1989 Brian Warner formed the band The Spooky Kids and transformed himself into Marilyn Manson. Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids drew upon influences from heavy metal and glam rock (the influence of Alice Cooper and The New York Dolls being the most obvious). The group was based upon the idea of the dichotomy of good and evil. Their stage shows were reminiscent of both Alice Cooper and W.A.S.P. And like Alice Cooper and W.A.S.P., Marilyn Manson generated his own share of controversy.

With the exception of these bands and a few others, heavy metal was out of the public eye for the most part for much of the Nineties. It would take a heavy metal legend to revive the form. In 1996 Ozzy Osbourne the first Ozzfest, a touring collection of heavy metal acts, both classic and new. A highlight of the festival has been the occasional reunions of the original members of Black Sabbath. Ozzfest once more brought heavy metal back to the public eye and, as a result, new heavy metal bands arose and old heavy metal bands saw their careers revived.

Indeed, the Nineties would see the rise of yet another heavy metal subgenre--nu metal. Nu metal combined heavy metal with elements of grunge, electronica, and progressive rock. Actually, nu metal wasn't all that new. It can be argued that it originated with the band Tool, who formed in 1990. The band's sound is an odd mix of King Crimson, Rush, and Jane's Addiction. The band maintained their popularity for the entirety of the Nineties and has even remained somewhat popular to this day. Other nu metal bands include Korn and Deftones. I have to question whether other nu metal bands can be called metal at all. Limp Bizkit (possibly the worst name for a band in the history of music), Papa Roach, Godsmack, and P.O.D. smack (no pun intended) too much of rap to me to be considered metal.

Heavy metal has yet to reattain the popularity it had in the Eighties, but it is at least more visible now. In fact, just as Monster Magnet returned to classic metal in the Nineties, so too does Avenged Sevenfold in the Naughts. The band's obvious inspiration are such classic groups as Iron Maiden and GNR.

I don't know if heavy metal will ever again be as popular as it once was, but, for better or worse, I know I will always listen to it. When I was less than a decade old I was exposed to the music of Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin. Among the first albums I bought were those by Judas Priest and AC/DC. In the Eighties I listened to Iron Maiden and Queensryche. By the Nineties I was listening to White Zombie and Monster Magnet. I still own all of my W.A.S.P. albums.

Quite naturally, I do have a few opinions about heavy metal. One is that it seems to me that what constitutes heavy metal is largely subjective. In the early Seventies, Grand Funk Railroad was considered heavy metal. There are very few headbangers today who consider them metal. In the early Eighties there were some who counted Van Halen as a heavy metal band. I doubt that there are too many who still do today. In the Nineties Soundgarden was considered grunge, even though they sounded more like Black Sabbath than Nirvana. One man's heavy metal is another man's hard rock. Or in the case of some of the so called nu metal bands, rap (or something that rhymes with rap...).

I also have to admit that it is sometimes hard to take heavy metal seriously. Sad as it may seem, This is Spinal Tap is funny because so many of the cliches it sends up are true. Many of the metal bands of the Eighties could barely play their instruments (Venom, anyone?). Many of the metal bands of the Eighties wrote songs that make "Sex Farm" by Spinal Tap look like "A Day in the Life" by The Beatles (remember "Cherry Pie" by Warrant...). Sexism was rampant in Eighties metal...Spinal Tap's proposed album cover for Smell the Glove was nothing unusual for an Eighties metal band. And don't get me started about Eighties metal fashion. Black leather is cool, but there is a point where one can wear too much leather (I shudder to think what I looked like back then...).

While I must admit that I know all too well the foibles and follies of heavy metal throughout the history, it is still a form of music I love dearly. Short of the British Invasion bands and power pop (The Beatles and Cheap Trick are my favourite bands of all time), it is my favourite subgenre of rock music. And I must admit, I would like nothing more than for Monster Magnet to replace Fifty Cent in the IPods of today's youth. One can always hope...

Thursday, 9 February 2006

A History of Heavy Metal Part Four: The Last Command

The British New Wave of Heavy Metal effectively revived the form in United Kingdom. At the same time, however, it did something quite unexpected. With the success of such British groups as Judas Priest and Def Leppard, there was a new demand for heavy metal in the United States and elsewhere. And soon American heavy metal bands would arise to meet that demand.

Heavy metal would reach its peak in popularity in the Eighties. Perhaps there can be no greater sign that a genre is popular than when it is ripe for parody. The faux documentary This is Spinal Tap, releasead in 1984, mocked every heavy metal cliche there was; perhaps for this reason, the movie's greatest fans are also metalheads. The popularity of heavy metal was also reflected on the playlists of MTV (for you youngsters out there, MTV played videos back then...). Indeed, in 1985 a show dedicated solely to heavy metal, Headbanger's Ball, debuted on that cable channel. Older magazines such as Creem shifted their focus to heavy metal, while new magazines dedicated to the genre, such as Kerrang, arose.

Perhaps unforuntately, the vast majority of heavy metal bands in the Eighties probably belonged to the subgenre known variously as "hair metal," "glam metal," or "pop metal." This was a pop based form of metal which focused primarily on sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll for subject matter and was centred on short, catchy songs. In my humble opinion, the hair bands could be roughly divided into two camps. The first were those bands which drew heavily upon The New York Dolls and KISS for inspiration. They wore make up, outrageous fashions, and, of course, long hair. The second were those bands which drew more heavily upon Van Halen (a hard rock band, but one which influenced heavy metal), Aerosmith, and Def Leppard. Among most hardcore headbangers, neither camp of pop metal was particularly respected.

Examples of the New York Dolls/KISS type pop metal bands were Twisted Sister, Motley Crue, and Poison. Twisted Sister had actually been around since the Seventies; indeed, members of the band had actually been a part of Wicked Lester (the predecessor to KISS). In some respects they were actually a parody of a glam band, with Dee Snyder looking like a latter day Milton Berle in drag. Between their image and the quality of their music, they were hard to take seriously. Motley Crue was perhaps the most popular of the glam metal bands. They were almost blatantly a KISS ripoff, to the point that in Creem or another magazine, when asked why KISS stopped wearing their make up, Gene Simmons replied, "Because we didn't want to be accused of imitating Motley Crue..." Unfortunately, Motley Crue was never as good as KISS. As bad as Twisted Sister and Motley Crue might seem to some, they were not nearly as bad as Poison. The band's fashion sense was obviously taken from The New York Dolls. Their sound on the other hand was liberally taken from (some might say "ripped off") KISS and even the kings of power pop Cheap Trick (their first hit "Talk Dirty to Me" takes its riff from the Cheap Trick song "She's Tight"). The only thing that kept Poison from being the nadir of glam metal were the many other terrible pop metal bands out there.

Indeed, it seems as if the worst hair bands belonged not to the New York Dolls/KISS camp, but to the Van Halen/Aerosmith/Def Leppard camp. Examples of bands of this type were Warrant, Winger, and Slaughter. Warrant was perhaps the worst of three, performing pop based, sex obsessed songs that were as cheesey as they come. Indeed, they may have written the single worst heavy metal song of all time--the notorous "Cherry Pie." Winger looked good compared to Warrant. At least the worst thing that could be said about them is that their songs were fairly generic and sappy. Indeed, they were masters of the power ballad. Slaughter may have been the best of the three. They at least produced a few listenable songs, although, like Winger, they were pretty generic for the most part.

Here I should mention three bands that are sometimes grouped with the hair metal bands, but probably should not. The first is Ratt. Formed in 1978 by Stephen Pearcy, their earliest songs drew more from the classic Britpop band Sweet than anything else (listen to "Ballroom Blitz" and then listen to "Round and Round" if you don't believe me). Second, as the years wore on, Ratt's music would become more blues based. While they shared the "glam" image with Motley Crue and Warrant, they were in a different league entirely. Quite simply, they were good.

Another band that should not be counted as a hair band, although some consider them the epitome of such, is Cinderella. Their first album, Night Songs, was almost certainly pop metal, albeit a superior form of pop metal with touches of power pop thrown in. Starting with their second album, Long Cold Winter, however, the band grew bluesier in style. Indeed, I seem to remember many of their original fans being turned off by the change in style. As for myself, I loved it.

The third band that should not be counted as a glam metal band is W.A.S.P. Indeed, I must point out that here is nothing glamourous about them. W.A.S.P. was essentially Alice Cooper for the Eighties. Like Alice Cooper, they drew upon horror movie imagery for their stage shows and their fashion sense. Indeed, at their shows they would throw raw meat at the audience and even tie semi-naked models to a torture rack (perhaps I should not even menton Blackie Lawless' flame throwing cod piece...). As to their music, it was far harder than anything the pop metal bands ever performed and didn't just deal with sex, but with various fantastic themes ("Mantronic" was about a cyborg), violence, rebellion, and several other subjects.

Indeed, W.A.S.P. became the primary targets of the organisation called the Parents Music Resource Center, or PMRC for short, even though there were even more offensive groups out there (Venom, for one). From the very beginning heavy metal had generated controversy. Accusations of Satanism had been levelled at Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin early on. At the peak of its popularity in the Eighties, however, heavy metal found itself regularly under attack. The PMRC had taken it upon itself to clean up pop music. Initially they focused on such mainstream artists as Prince and Madonna, but eventually they turned their eyes towards heavy metal. In 1985 the PMRC released a list of they called the "Filthy Fifteen," those songs that they considered the most offensive. No less than nine of the songs listed were by heavy metal artists (curiously, "Animal (I **** Like a Beast)" by W.A.S.P. only came in at #9...).

The PMRC did not generate the only controversy regarding heavy metal. In 1986 Ozzy Osbourne was sued when it was claimed that his song "Suicide Solution" drove two teenagers to kill themselves (never mind the song is against suicide). In 1990 Judas Priest was sued because it was claimed an alleged subliminal message in "Better by You Better Than Me" (from Stained Class) led to a suicide. The lawsuit was dismissed when it was shown that there was no subliminal message. Collectively, Judas Priest pointed out the ludciousness of it all with the simple fact that it would be counterproductive to kill off their fan base...

As popular as heavy metal was in the Eighties and as many bands were recording at the time, the subgenre was bound to change. Almost from the beginning of the decade heavy metal began to diversify into different forms. I've already discussed progressive metal and pop metal, now it is time I discussed thrash metal. Thrash emerged from combining the sound of the British New Wave of Heavy Metal with elements of harcore punk. It is generally more agressive than traditional heavy metal, with faster guitar riffs and heavy drumming. Judas Priest utilised some of the techniques that would later be identified with thrash as early as Stained Class in 1978. Ironically, it was perhaps two bands that have often not been taken very seriously that were largely responsible for the emergence of thrash metal. Venom (which had been around since 1979--Henry Rollins of punk band Black Flag once compared them to Spinal Tap...) and Slayer (formed in 1981) sped up the sound of the BNWHM and combined it with elements of punk. I remember in the early Eighties that neither band was particulary respected. Nonetheless, they are responsible for creating thrash.

By far the most influential thrash metal band would be Metallica. In fact, they are reportedly the most successful heavy metal band in history. Metallica was formed in 1981 by Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield. They released their debut album, Kill 'Em All, in 1983, but it was their second album, Ride the Lightning, that really brought them to the fore of heavy metal music. Unlike Venom and Slayer, Metallica has always had a reputation as competent musicians. They are one of the few major heavy metal bands to maintain their popularity well into the Nineties, although their stance on internet file sharing late in the decade may well have driven off many fans.

The other major thrash metal band is Megadeth. The band was formed in 1983 by former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine and bassist David Ellefson. The band's sound was a comibination of thrash, speed metal (a form of heavy metal similar to thrash, but more melodic), and punk. Their debut album, Killing is My Business...and Business is Good, released in 1984, was less than impressive. But in 1986 they released their second album, Peace Sells...But Who's Buying to critical acclaim. Like Metallica, Megadeth eschewed the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll themes of the pop metal bands for other subject matter. Namely, Megadeth is one of the few heavy metal bands to incoroporate political themes into their songs.

Another heavy metal subgenre grew out of thrash. Death metal, also called black metal (I suppose some might consider them different genres--I can't tell the difference myself...), is characterised by heavy rhythm guitar and vocals that are little more than yelling or screaming. It is its lyrical content, however, that really sets it apart. Death metal or black metal focuses on mortality, the occult, Satanism, and a stance firmly against Christianity. Like thrash, the form's origins lie with Venom and Slayer. In fact, Venom coined the term "black metal." The genre perhaps dates to 1980 when Venom decided to litter their songs with Satanic references. Death metal or black metal have never achieved widespread popularity, no doubt due to the subject matter of their songs. The subgenre also tends to be more popular in Europe than America. At any rate, death metal and black metal bands continue to exist to this day.

For most of the Eighties, heavy metal continued to be popular. In fact, hair metal has become one of the rock subgenres most identified with the decade. Common sense dictates that no musical genre could maintain such popularity forever and with the onset of the Nineties, the popularity of heavy metal would falter. Indeed, for a time it seemed as if the end of heavy metal was at hand...

To be continued...

Wednesday, 8 February 2006

A History of Heavy Metal Part Three: Rock of Ages

The release of Judas Priest's second album, Second Wings of Destiny, is widely believed to have sparked the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (also known by the abbreviation NWOBHM). While there was a great diversity of styles within the NWOBHM, the bands within the movement were largely characterised by the loudness of their music and its speed (they played faster than Black Sabbath ever did). Most of the bands also had an idealised working class image (no surprise given Judas Priest's origins in Birmingham and Iron Maiden's origins in East London).

Aside from Judas Priest, perhaps the most important band to emerge from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was Iron Maiden. The band was formed in London by bassist Steve Harris, who had previously been with Gypsy's Kiss and Smiler, and guitarist Dave Murray. Like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden's sound is characterised by dual lead guitars. In Iron Maiden's case, however, it is also characterised by staccato rhythms and a basis in the blues. The band was obviously influenced by earlier British metal bands, such as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Their first album, Iron Maiden, released in 1980, was a success. It was with their second album, Killers, released in 1981, that their success was cemented. They have continued to be one of the major heavy metal bands since that time. One thing that has set Iron Maiden apart is the subject matter of their songs. Like Blue Oyster Cult, they often draw upon fantasy, science fiction, and even history for inspiration. What may be their best known song, "The Trooper," has its basis in Napoleonic warfare. From their first album, "Phantom of the Opera," deals with the famous character of the same name. Among their most famous songs is one based on the movie The Wicker Man. If it is doubted that Iron Maiden are genuine geeks, then one need look no further than the song "The Prisoner," based on the TV series of the same name and complete with the show's spoken introduction!

While Iron Maiden may well have been the most important heavy metal band to emerge from the British New Wave of Heavy Metal, they were by no means the most successful. That honour would go to Def Leppard. While Iron Maiden was a heavy metal band more in the Judas Priest mould, Def Leppard drew more upon traditional rock, glam rock, and AOR. In fact, it has been a matter of debate since the band debuted as to whether they are heavy metal or hard rock. My own thought is that whether Def Leppard is heavy metal or hard rock depends on the album or the song one is talking about. Regardless, the band was formed in 1977 by Rick Savage, Pete Willis, and Tony Kenning. Their first album On Through the Night, released in March 1980, could perhaps best be described as hard rock. The album reached the UK's top 15, although it did not perform well in the United States. Their second album, High 'N' Dry, released in 1982, was more firmly heavy metal. It also brought the band their first real attention in the United States. It was with their third album, Pyromania, that Def Leppard was propelled to rock superstardom. Another album that can be considered heavy metal, the album featured the hit single "Photograph" and was an enormous success in the United States (although they were virtually ignored in their native UK). Following an accident in which drummer Rick Allen lost an arm, the band would not release their fourth album, Hysteria, until 1987. It was the first Def Lepp album to do well in the UK since their first album and was a hit in the United States as well. The album also marked a shift from the heavy metal style of their second and third albums. While some songs ("Women") are heavy metal, others ("Pour Some Sugar on Me") seem to me to be hard rock. With subsequent albums Def Leppard would move more towards hard rock than heavy metal. Regardless, they would have an enormous impact on heavy metal. Alongside Kiss and the hard rock band Van Halen, they would influence the pop metal bands that would arise in America later in the decade.

While Def Leppard would be an undoubted commercial success, Motorhead would not be. Formed in 1975 by Lemmy Kilmister (formerly of Hawkwind), Motorhead utilised a dual guitar set up and tended to play their music very fast. In many respects, they were a forerunner of speed metal or thrash metal. Their self titled debut was released in 1977. By the early 80s they would be hitting the British top 40, although in the United States they largely remained a cult band. Their popularity would fade even more in the Nineties, although they have maintained a loyal following for their entire history. Indeed, the fact that they foresaw thrash metal is enough to cement their place in rock history.

Of course, while the NWOBHM was taking place, it would be a mistake to think that there were not other heavy metal bands forming elsewhere. Among the most important heavy metal bands in the history of the subgenre formed not in the UK or U.S., but in Hanover, Germany. Scorpions can trace their history back to 1969 when Rudolf Schenker, his brother Michael, and Klaus Meine formed a band. The original Scorpions would release one album (Lonesome Crow in 1972) and break up, but Rudolf Schenker and vocalist Klaus Meine would later join the band Dawn Road. That band would become a new (and current) version of Scorpions. Although successuful in Europe, success in the United States eluded them until the release of Lovedrive in 1979, which reached #55 on the Billboard album charts. Subsequent albums also did well in America until the release of Love at First Sting in 1984, which firmly established Scorpions as one of the top heavy metal bands even in the States. Although they reached the peak of their popularity, Scorpions continue to record and still have a worldwide following. Their style was similar in many respects to that of the NWOBHM, with an additional emphasis on the rhythm section.

While Scorpions' career was underway in Germany, a group arose in America that was in some respects similar to the bands of the British New Wave of Heavy Metal. Manowar was formed by Joey DiMaio, a pyrotechnic for Black Sabbath, guitarist Ross the Boss (then playing with Black Sabbath support band Shakin Street), vocalist Eric Adams, and drummer Donnie Hamzik in 1980. It was with their third album, Hail to England, that the band started to attract attention. They were named by The Guinness Book Of World Records as the world's loudest band not long after the album's release. Indeed, it should be no surprise that Manowar should be loud. Their sound could be aptly described as epic and was heavy influenced by the music of Wagner. Manowar aslo differed from other heavy metal bands in that they believed that heavy metal should be uplifting. They preferred to write about heroes than sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Indeed, perhaps only Manowar could write a 28 minute song on the Greek hero Achilles... Manowar has never been a commercial success, although they have always maintained a loyal cult following. They are still recording to this day and still boast a legion of fans.

The New Wave of British Heavy Metal also produced a slough of other bands, ranging from Saxon to Girlschool to Venom to Grim Reaper (who would be the nadir of heavy metal if not for the American pop metal bands...). While the NWBHM was under way, however, there were other developments in heavy metal. There had been classical influences in the subgenre ever since heavy metal had began. Indeed, they are noticeable in several Deep Purple songs dating from the early Seventies. By the late Seventies and early Eighties, however, the influence became more pronounced. Although not a heavy metal artist, guitarist Eddie Van Halen had started experimenting with classical guitar as early as Van Halen's first album. Heavy metal artists followed Van Halen's lead. Among the earliest such artists was Swedish guitarist Yngwe Malmsteen. Playing with various bands in the early Eighties, Malmsteen released a solo album Rising Force in 1984. Yngwe would be followed in utilising classical techniques by the rise of progressive metal.

Progressive metal is essentially a cross between progressive rock (which had used classical techniques from the beginning--King Crimson and Yes are examples of the genre) and heavy metal. The prime example of progressive metal is the band Queensryche. The group was formed in Bellevue, Washington by Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton in 1981. By 1983 they released an EP, Queen of the Ryche, on their own label. Later that year they signed with EMI. Their self titled debut album would peak at #81 on the Billboard album charts. It was their album Rage for Order, released in 1986 that brought them to the attention of the public. The song "Gonna Get Close to You" received a good deal of airplay. Their breakthrough effort, however, was the concept album Operation: Mindcrime released in 1988. Similar to The Manchurian Candidate, Operation: Mindcrime centred on Nikki, a drug addict brainwashed by the sinister Dr. X into peforming assassinations. It peaked at #50 on the Billboard charts, while the track "I Don't Believe in Love" received a good deal of airplay. Queensryche continued to be popular following the release of Operation: Mindcrime, although their popularity faltered in the Nineties like so many other metal bands. They are still together and still recording.

Progressive metal would produce other bands in the Eighties, although none as well known as Queensryche. Even within progressive metal styles could vary. Dream Theater remained closer to the progressive rock bands, such as Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, in sound. The band Fates Warning tended to sound more like metal bands such as Iron Maiden. At the other end of the spectrum is King's X, who tended to be more melodic and to draw more upon mainstream rock.

With the British New Wave of Heavy Metal underway and classical influences creeping into heavy metal, something unexpected would happen in the early Eighties. After years of being just one of a number of rock subgnres, heavy metal would soar in popularity. For much of the decade, heavy metal would be one of the most popular musical forms around. And the subgenre would spawn yet even more subgenres of its own.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 7 February 2006

A History of Heavy Metal Part Two: Heading Out to the Highway

Nineteen seventy saw the release of Black Sabbath's self titled debut album. Although no one may have realised it at the time, it was a turning point for rock music. After all, Black Sabbath was the first, full fledged heavy metal album. It made it all the way to the top ten album chart in the United Kingdom. In the United States it only managed to reach the top 40, but it remained there over a year. Heavy metal, it seemed was here to stay.

Having originated in Britain, the early years of heavy metal was largely dominated by British bands. Deep Purple had made their debut before Black Sabbath had even formed, all the way back in 1967. Their debut album was released in October 1968 and already boasted some material that was, if not heavy metal, at least proto-metal. As the years passed, however, Deep Purple's sound grew heavier. By the time of their album Fireball, released in 1971, they were pretty much a heavy metal band. With the release of Machine Head in 1972, there could be little doubt of that fact.

While Deep Purple would evolve into a heavy metal band, Uriah Heep was arguably a heavy metal band from the beginning. Their debut album, Very 'Eavy...Very 'Umble, featured distorted guitar combined with a loud organ. On later albums Uriah Heep would shift back and forth from heavy metal to progressive rock, often on the same album. Although largely unknown today, it was Uriah Heep who, along with Deep Purple, first introduced classical influneces to heavy metal.

If Uriah Heep is hardly remembered, then Black Widow may well be largely forgotten. The band was formed in 1967 in Leicester as Pesky Gee. By 1970 the band had changed their name to "Black Widow." If Fundamentalists have always objected to the music of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, then the music of Black Widow could well have given them heart attacks. Their debut album, Sacrifice, was filled with references to devil worship, black magic, and other elements of the occult. Their stage show at the time even featured the mock sacrifice of a maiden. Despite all of this (or perhaps because of it), Sacrifice crept into the British top 40 albums. Their second, self titled album moved away from demonic subject matter, as did their third album as well. Sadly for Black Widow, their success would decline as well. Although more a progressive rock band along the lines of Jethro Tull than a true heavy metal band, it seems likely Black Widow had some influence on the genre.

A bit better known than Black Widow was the band UFO. Formed in 1969, their debut album was released in 1971. In some respects UFO was ahead of their time. Their sound could be described as Led Zeppelin meets Iron Maiden. It is perhaps for this reason that they met with little success--they were too far ahead of their time. Regardless, they would have a lasting impact, being cited as an influence by both Megadeth and Metallica.

Most of the early British heavy metal bands came from England, but not all of them. Nazareth was formed in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1968. By 1970 they would move to London and by 1971 they would release their self titled debut. Meeting with little success with their early albums, Nazareth would finally see success with their third album, Razamanaz. With the 1975 release of Hair of the Dog, with their remake of "Love Hurts," they would see success on both sides of the Atlantic.

Of course, not every early heavy metal band was British. In fact, among the most successful bands of the era was one that proudly proclaimed themselves to be "an American band." Grand Funk Railroad was formed in 1969 by former members of Terry Knight & the Pack and ? & the Mysterians. By 1970 they would become the top selling band in America. Despite this, Grand Funk Railroad never received much respect. Critics despised them and bewailed the fact that they were successful. Despite this, Grand Funk Railroad would have a lasting impact on artists as diverse as Prince and Bon Jovi. That having been said, there are very few today, if any, who would consider their work to be heavy metal (I am one of those people).

If it is questionable whether Grand Funk Railroad was ever really heavy metal, there can be no doubt that Blue Oyster Cult is and always has been. In fact, Sandy Pearlman, their original manager claims to have been the first person to have ever used the term "heavy metal" of music. The band formed in the late Sixties in New York as Soft White Underbelly and eventually changed their name to Blue Oyster Cult in 1970 (the name comes from an in joke involving blue point oysters). Their self titled debut album was released in January 1972. Even on that first album it was clear that they were something different. Some of the songs, such as "Workshop of the Telescopes" and "Transmaniacon MC" contained openly fantastic lyrics. Blue Oyster Cult would continue to mine fantasy and science fiction for subject matter, even working with fantasy writer Michael Moorcock on a few tunes. Indeed, their two biggest hits both deal with fantastic subject matter--"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" and "Godzilla." Forget Rush. Forget the Alan Parson Project. Blue Oyster Cult is the band for geeks.

Pre-dating Blue Oyster Cult and having a greater impact on heavy metal was Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper was the name of both the band and of its lead singer (born Vincent Furnier). Formed in the late Sixties, Alice released two albums on Frank Zappa's label to little success. Their third album (and their first on a major label), Love It to Death, not only cemented the band's sound, but its success as well. Ultimately, their stage show would gain them as much attention as their music. Their image (and the image Alice has retained in his solo career) was largely drawn from old horror movies, Gothic literature, and even vaudeville. In any one of Alice Cooper's stage shows from the Seventies, one might see guillotines, electric chairs, boa constrictors, and a lot of fake blood. Between songs that skirted the line between traditional rock and heavy metal, Alice Cooper would become one of the biggest acts of the early Seventies. They would also have a lasting impact on heavy metal, influencing bands from KISS to W.A.S.P. Indeed, Cooper himself has been referred to as "the Father of Metal" and "the Founder of Shock Rock."

By the mid-Seventies many of the early bands had either broken up or faded away. This did not mean the end of heavy metal, as new bands simply arose to take their place. The band Aerosmith was formed in Boston in 1970 by Steve Tyler, Joe Perry, and Tom Hamilton. By 1973 they would release their self titled debut album, featuring the hit single "Dream On." They would go onto become one of the most successful bands of the Seventies and one of the longest running heavy metal groups. Then as now, Aerosmith's sound tended to be more blues based than other heavy metal bands, Indeed, on some songs their music almost sounds like heavy metalised boogie woogie. Aerosmith would have a lasting influence on bands from Cinderella to Guns 'n' Roses.

Of course, if Aerosmith was influential, then KISS was even more so. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley formed Rainbow (not to be confused with Ritchie Blackmore's later band of the same name) in 1970. The band would eventually become Wicked Lester and would even win a contract with Epic, although no albums were ever released. At long last they renamed themselves KISS. In the beginning they modelled themselves after the New York Dolls, but found the feminine, glam makeup that the Dolls wore not much to their liking. The four members of KISS then designed their own makeup and created their own personas--Paul Stanley became the Star Child, Gene Simmons became the Demon, Ace Frehley became the Spaceman, and Peter Criss became the Cat. For their stage show they took their cue from Alice Cooper, complete with fire breathing, explosions, and, of course, fake blood. As to their music, like Alice Cooper, KISS straddled the line between traditional rock and heavy metal. Their songs were usually only a little over three minutes and filled with hooks. But they were also filled with distorted guitars and heavy drums. The influence of KISS is impossible to calculate. In fact, as sad as it might seem, KISS might well have been the group most responsible for creating the hair bands of the Eighties.

While most of the major heavy metal bands of the mid-Seventies came from America, there is one that hailed from Australia. AC/DC was formed in 1973 in Sydney by Angus and Malcolm Young. They soon became one of the most successful bands in Australia. This led to a record deal with Atlantic Records and success in the UK and America. In the United States the band would have a hit with their album Highway to Hell. They have continued to be one of the top bands in the world, even surviving the death of original lead singer Bon Scott. They have become one of the longest running rock acts around.

While the United States produced most of the major heavy metal bands of the late to mid Seventies, this did not mean that Britain was down for the count. Partly as a reaction to punk rock and partly to fill the void left by the older heavy meal bands, there emerged a New Wave of British Metal. On the vanguard of this wave was the band Judas Priest. The band had actually been formed all the way back in 1969 in Birmingham, England (given this is also Black Sabbath's hometown, Birmingham should perhaps be considered he capitol of heavy metaldom...) by K. K. Downing and Ian Hill. Their first album, Rocka Rolla, was released in 1974. It was their second album, Sad Wings of Destiny, however, that brought them fame. The album is often counted as the first in the British New Wave of Heavy Metal. Others go even further, counting it alongside the band's third and fourth albums, Sin After Sin (1977) and Stained Class (1978), as the first albums to define "pure" heavy metal. For the time Priest's sound was unique, defined by twin lead guitars and dual rhythm guitars. Others had used dual lead guitars before Judas Priest, but none were as consistent in their use. Throughout the Eighties, Judas Priest was one of the most successful heavy metal bands and among hardcore headbangers often counted as the heavy metal band. Only when original lead singer Rob Halford left the band did their popularity decline.

Judas Priest sparked the New Wave of British Metal. And for the first few years of the Eighties heavy metal was once more dominated by the British. And given just how many heavy metal bands were around in the Eighties, it could be argued that they sparked something else as well....

To be continued....

Monday, 6 February 2006

A History of Heavy Metal Part One: The Beginning

I suppose everyone has various genres of music that have played large roles in their lives. For me the music of the British Invasion and its American descendant, power pop, would prove to be very influential. But they are hardly the only subgenres of rock music that have had a large impact on my life. From a young age I must confess that I have been a metalhead. For those of you who do not know what a "metalhead" is, it is quite simply someone who listens to the subgenre of rock music known as "heavy metal."

Stylistically, heavy metal is not an easy music form to define. Part of the problem is much of what defines heavy metal is the sheer loudness of the music. The form has traditionally been characterised by distorted guitars played at incredibly high volumes. For some people, then, Van Halen may be sufficiently loud enough to be classified as "heavy metal." For me, well, they are not. It seems to me that for a band to be heavy metal they must go beyond the simple use of power chords. In addition to the use of distorted guitars played loudly, I would also include the use of very basic rhythms, and often repeated guitar riffs. Moreso than any other subgenre of rock save perhaps power pop, heavy metal is driven by guitars.

While it is hard to define heavy metal as a music form, there can be little doubt that its name is an apt description of the music. Sadly, the origins of the term "heavy metal" for a subgenre of rock are largely unknown. The term was in use as early as the 19th century when it was used of cannons and other artillery. Since the 1930s the term was used in chemistry and metallurgy to refer to metals with a specific gravity of over 5.0 (both lead and mercury are heavy metals). The word "heavy" itself came into use among beatniks of the Fifties as a term meaning "profound" or "signifcant." And as anyone who has read the liner notes to Iron Butterfly's album In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida knows, the term "heavy" was eventually applied to music. Indeed, their first album was named Heavy.

As to how "heavy" music gave way to "heavy metal," that is another question entirely. William S. Burroughs used the term in his 1962 novel The Soft Machine. Not only is the term used as a metaphor for drugs, but the novel also features a character named Uranian Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid (apparently the Uranians were really addicted to heavy metals.... ). Although tracing the origins of "heavy metal" as a musical term to Burroughs is exceedingly popular, it must be pointed out that in none of his works does he apply the term to music. It seems to me, then, that the term "heavy metal" for music may have its origins from two sources. The first is the use of the Beatnik term "heavy" with regards to music, cited above. The second is to be found in the lyrics of one of the most iconic rock songs of all time, "Born to Be Wild":

"I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin' with the wind
And the feelin' that I'm under"

The song seems to be quite obviously talking about riding a motorcycle, hence the use of the term "heavy metal thunder" to refer to the roar of its engine. It is the first recorded use of the words "heavy metal" in a rock song. What is more, it is a song that could be considered a prototype for heavy metal music itself. Quite simply, it seems more likely to me that it was Mars Bonfire, not William S. Burroughs, who led to the widespread application of the term "heavy metal" to a subgenre of rock music.

Regardless, the earliest documented use of the term "heavy metal" appeared in May 1971 in an issue of Creem. In a review of the Sir Lord Baltimore album Kingdom Come, critic Mike Saunders used the term "heavy metal" for a musical form for the first time in print (you can read the historic review here). Fellow Creem critics Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh followed Saunders in using the term of bands such as Black Sabbath, Vanilla Fudge, and Led Zeppelin.

While the origins of "heavy metal" as a musical term are hard to trace, the genesis of the music is not. Like power pop, heavy metal has its roots in the bands of the British Invasion. The Britpop of the early to mid-Sixties was largely driven by electric guitars. When The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds played blues, they used electric guitars. The Kinks and The Who introduced the use of power chords into rock music. Indeed, "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" by The Kinks and "I Can See For Miles" by The Who can both be considered proto-metal songs. The Beatles themselves would have a profound influence on the development of heavy metal. On Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band it can be aruged that both "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band" and, especially, its reprise, can be considered proto-metal.The Kinks, The Who, and The Beatles would be followed by Cream. Often considered one of the first supergroups, Cream combined the psychedelic sound with blues. American band Vanilla Fudge, whose first album was released in 1967, did the same. Not surprisingly, many of the earliest bands to perform heavy metal, had started out playing the blues.

More so than Cream, Iron Butterfly and Jimi Hendrix would have an enormous influence on heavy metal. In fact, as pointed out above, Iron Butterfly may have influenced the choice of the term "heavy metal" for the new music. Their first album was entitled Heavy. And in the liner notes of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida they explained their name--"Iron- symbolic of something heavy as in sound, Butterfly- light, appealing and versatile...an object that can be used freely in the imagination..." Their sound, which involved instruments played at high volume, could be counted as proto-metal. Jimi Hendrix, who took guitar playing to new extremes, would have even more influence on the subgenre. He played blues influenced rock at incredible volume and often used distortion, not to mention repetitve guitar riffs. "Foxy Lady" can easily be counted as a proto-metal song.

Of course, none of this answers the question of what the first heavy metal song was. Some will argue for Blue Cheer's remake of the Eddie Cochran song "Summertime Blues," released in 1968. My thought is that it is merely proto-metal--old time rock 'n' roll amped up to ridiculous extremes. For me the honour of the first heavy metal song goes to The Beatles and, hard as it is to believe, Paul McCartney. On the album The Beatles, better known as The White Album, there is a McCartney composition called "Helter Skelter." McCartney was inspired by The Who's "I Can See For Miles" to write something even harder. What he wrote was heavy metal--distorted guitars, a loud, repetitive, guitar riff, screaming--all the ingredients are there.

If it is hard to settle upon the first heavy metal song, it is even harder to decide upon the first heavy metal band. Many would give the title to Led Zeppelin. Formed in the wake of the breakup of The Yardbirds by Jimmy Page, the band played blues with distorted chords. Despite this, I tend to think of Led Zeppelin as a hard rock band that had an enormous influence on the development of heavy metal, a hard rock band many of whose songs could be considered heavy metal. For the first true, heavy metal band, we must look elsewhere in England.

That elsewhere is Birmingham, England, where in 1967 John "Ozzy" Osbourne, Terence Butler, Bill Ward, and Tony Iommi formed a group called the Polka Tulk Blues Band. The group blended elements of blues and European folk music with distorted guitar and power chords. Polka Tulk (as the band's name as so shortened) later became Earth. Learning that there was another band by that name, they took their name from one of their songs, which in turn took its name from a Boris Karloff movie--Black Sabbath. Not only did Black Sabbath cement the musical elements of heavy metal, but they also cemented the thematic elements of its lyrics. Not only did they deal with darker issues than the average rock band of the era (anger at authority, disatisfaction with life, et. al.), but with such fantastic themes as the occult ("N.I.B."), science fiction (notably "Iron Man"), and so on. Black Sabbath's influence can be seen on many, if not most, heavy metal bands that have followed in their wake.

Regardless of whom one considers the first heavy metal band, one thing is clear. By 1969, the time for heavy metal music had arrived.

To be continued....

Sunday, 5 February 2006

Al Lewis and Betty Friedan R.I.P.

Al Lewis, best known as television's Granndpa Munster, died Friday night. Many biographies listed the year of his birth as 1910, but according to his son Ted Lewis it was actually 1923. That would have made Al Lewis 82 years old. Regardless, his career spanned nearly 50 years.

Lewis was born Albert Meister in upper New York state. His family moved to Brooklyn when he was still fairly young. In high school Lewis proved to have a gift for basketball. The game would interest him for the rest of his life, to the point that he would even serve as a scout for various high school teams. While young he performed in the cirucs before deciding to go to college. Al Lewis worked in the circus before deciding to go to college. He eventually earned a PhD in child psychology. For some time he was a teacher and even wrote two books for children. Eventually, however, he turned to acting, enrolling in Paul Mann's Actor's Workshop in New York City. He worked in burlesque theatres, eventually making his way to Broadway.

By 1959 Lewis made his first appearance on television, on an episode of the series Decoy. That same year he appeared on The U. S. Steel Hour. He would go onto guest star in such series as The Phil Silvers Show and Naked City, as well as films such as Pretty Boy Floyd and The World of Henry Orient. He got his big break as Officer Leo Schnauser on the classic sitcom Car 56, Where Are You. It was on this series that he first worked with Fred Gwynne, with whom he would again work on The Munsters.

While The Munsters only lasted two years, it left Lewis typecast and he worked sporadically in film and television. He would appear in such movies as Used Cars and Married to the Mob. On television he continued to make guest appearances, appearing on such shows as Here's Lucy and Taxi. Later in his life he would host his own WBAI radio show and was a frequent guest on Howard Stern's show. At one point he actually shocked the shock jock with a chant against the FCC that was obscene enough that Stern went for the delay button.

I have to admit that I am not a big fan of The Munsters. Created by the folks who brought us Leave It to Beaver (Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher), it impressed me as one of the poorer sitcoms to ever air on television. But I have to admit that The Munsters was a case of the cast being better than the material they were doing. Both Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis were brilliant, and what few laughs are to be had on any give Munsters almost always came from them. Indeed, it is a shame that both Gwynne and Lewis are not known for their work on Car 54, Where Are You, one of the most hilarious sitcoms to ever air. Given the proper material, Al Lewis could be one of the funniest men on television. Even though he was merely a supporting character on Car 54, Where Are You, (Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne were the leads), Lewis shined on that show. And he was brilliant in many of his other, often brief bits in movies and TV shows. Indeed, I remember him well as Judge H. H. Harrison from the movie Used Cars. At any rate, I am saddened by his passing. He was a very funny man who was used too little in film and on television.

This weekend has also seen the passing of pioneering feminist Betty Friedan. She died yesterday, which was also her 85th birthday, from congestive heart failure.

Friedan graduated from Smith College in 1942. She later attended the University of California, where she did graudate work in psychology. Working as a journalist for union publications, Friedan eventually did a survey among her fellow Smith College graduates on their current lives and expectations. The survey became an article, which focused on the unease which many educated women felt in our society at the time. The article was rejected by every women's magazine to which Friedan submitted it in 1958.

Friedan then expanded the article into the book The Feminine Mystique. Essentially the book attacked the then current belief that the most fulfilling role any woman could find in life was through marriage and childbearing. Essentially, at best a women could only live vicariously through her husband and children. Published in 1963, The Feminine Mystique became a best seller. It also spurred the feminist movement. Indeed, Friedan would co-found the National Organisaton for Women (also known as NOW) in 1966.

In addition to The Feminine Mystique, Friedan also wrote The Second Stage (in which she argued that feminism must address family issues), The Fountain of Age (in which she attacked ageism), and Life So Far (a memoir).

I read The Feminine Mystique in high school and since that time I have admired Betty Friedan. Unlike many latter day feminists, she never sought to villify men. Instead, she largely saw the oppresion of women as a situation created by social and economic pressures rather than some conspiracy on the part of the male sex. Indeed, it must be pointed out that many of her fiercest opponents were women. And she always did point out that the "feminine mystique" was nearly as much of a disservice to men as it was women.

Friedan was a brilliant woman and one who fiercely defended those beliefs she held dear. She was also a feminist who realised that women need men and vice versa. As one of those people I have always admired, I must say that I am saddened by her passing.