Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Drive Back in Time: Remembering Heavy Metal Parking Lot

2014 Authors Note: originally published this piece on October 9, 2000.  A few years ago, the website shifted gears and removed archived material like this.  There are a few pieces I wrote for them that I wouldn't mind reviving, but this is surely the main one as it received a passionate response and would go on receiving responses until it was removed from the archives.  I've written a follow-up piece to this article that you can read here.  What appears below may be slightly different from the piece that was published as I'm going from the MS Word I submitted, but not too different. Enjoy.


Time:  May 5, 1986.  Place:  the Capital Centre, Largo, Maryland.  Event:  Judas Priest live in concert, with special guests Dokken.

Actually, in the video Heavy Metal Parking Lot by Jeff Krulik and John Heyn, the event isn’t the concert, but the pre-concert gathering of fans in the Capital Centre’s parking lot.  What seemed like a mundane idea – filming teenage metalheads partying in a parking lot before a concert – has turned into a cult classic, a short documentary that perfectly captured the zeitgeist, if you will, of mid-80’s teenage headbangers.  By that point in music history, metal had been around a good 16 years, and the behavioral patterns (getting wasted, headbanging, man, just rocking in general) had been set in stone.  Heavy Metal Parking Lot may one day serve as an anthropological exhibit, as Krulik and Heyn, simply by asking heavy metal fans rote questions (What’s your name?  Where are you from?  Does Priest rule?) stumbled onto codes of style and behavior that captured the headbanger essence.

For me, it’s a bittersweet documentary, not to mention an obsessive one, as I’ve watched it countless times since ordering it from this site).  Heavy Metal Parking Lot didn’t represent all my friends – it didn’t even represent me.  But it does represent an enormous number of kids I knew in high school.  What’s startling about the documentary is that barring the accents, these kids looked, dressed, spoke and acted exactly like my childhood friends, which serves as a monument to the “let’s be rebels like everyone else” ethic of rock culture that was then just starting to be visually reinforced via MTV.

On that very day in 1986, I was getting similarly wasted, starting a graduation-week bacchanalia with college friends at Penn State as we worked ourselves into a drug/alcohol induced stupor to avoid the cold hard fact that we were about to part ways and enter the “real world.”  We knew the party was coming to a close, and we were going out with a bang.  I remember Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited being on the stereo – not Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance.

I was never a metal head – my metal leanings go as far as Zeppelin, AC/DC and Aerosmith, which is laughably routine to a serious headbanger.  By 1986, I was firmly enmeshed in the then-thriving indie rock scene (Replacements, Camper Van Beethoven, pre-fame R.E.M., dozens of British bands, etc.) and not even paying lip service to metal as I had in high school.  I had spent my last two years of college getting into 60’s soul music, as I had heard Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” late one night on an Oldies station and became an instant apostle.

Such was not the case with many of my high-school friends, who wouldn’t have known who Michael Stipe was if he had run up and bit them on the ass.  They were in the same lot as many of the kids in Heavy Metal Parking Lot:  late teens/early 20’s, white, working class, no recognizable future, being pushed into adulthood via grunt labor, and grabbing onto any vestige of youthful rebellion they could get their hands on.  Metal was always their choice of music, and most likely still is, although I’m certain a documentary on those same kids from that parking lot today would be fairly disheartening.

It was strange how college served as an unofficial divide – headbangers rarely made that next step from high school.  A class thing?  It goes deeper than that, as we were all raised working class.  Some of us wanted to get the hell out.  Others said they did, but seemed to accept it as some sort of fate they had been doomed to by a bad family life, tradition, simple bad luck, etc.  Their “rebellion” seemed more like a burning anger focused on the fact that they were headed straight towards a life they knew they would hate, but couldn’t seem to stop themselves or come up with any rational alternative.  As Heavy Metal Parking Lot illustrates, it’s a strange, volatile place to be.  Below I analyze some scenes from the documentary that left the deepest impressions on me.


I’m David Hilby.  I’m 20 years old.  I’m ready to rock.  David is leaning against his car in the evening sun.  Budweiser in hand.  (A vast majority of kids in the parking lot drink Bud – surprised more weren’t drinking local brew like National Bohemian.)  Aviator shades.  (Far and away, the shades of choice.)  Muscle shirt.  (This, a metal concert shirt, or no shirt at all – surprisingly, only one “Stars and Bars” muscle shirt in the whole crowd.)  Wearing one of those campy neckerchiefs made famous by Mike Reno, lead singer of Loverboy – which makes him stand out as a bit of a pussy.  If he had a mustache, his muscle shirt would say Free Mustache Rides.  But he’s clean-shaven, drunk off his ass and dumb as nails.

His most noticeable accessory is his 13-year-old girlfriend, Dawn, whom he sloppily frenches after declaring his above manifesto.  Dawn’s decked out in a zebra-striped top, with that 80’s metal chick shag and leather bracelet.  She’s a mess.  Guys like David go for girls like Dawn because no sane 20-year-old woman would have him.  He informs the interviewer that he’ll be joining the air force in about two-and-a-half weeks.  Something tells us this will be his selling point when he goes for Dawn’s cherry, assuming he already hasn’t.  She must perform her patriotic duty.  And one day tell her grandchildren of the dork she banged at a Priest concert.  Who knows … this could be one of her better memories.

Gram of Dope

Interviewer:  What’s your name?
Graham:  Graham, man, like “gram” of dope and shit.
Interviewer:  Where are you from:
Graham:  I’m from, fucking, the West Coast … I’m on acid, there’s where I’m at now.

Graham has to be the most famous person from Heavy Metal Parking Lot.  The kid exudes the headbanger ethic.  Shirtless.  Rail thin.  Carrying a beer.  A dead ringer for Malcolm Young from AC/DC.  Glazed eyes.  A liar.  West coast, my ass.  West coast of the Chesapeake Bay is more like it.

Not just with Graham, but all throughout the documentary we are exposed to that horrific mid-Atlantic accent, where the “oh” sound become “ow.”  “Gram of dope” is pronounced “gram of dowp.”  Actually, it’s hard to nail down the accent, not as hard as “ow” but more elongated than “oh.”  If you’ve heard it from folks in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and southern Pennsylvania, you never forget it.

We later see Graham headbanging to a Priest tune blasting from a car’s eight track, and there it is, he’s in his element, so long as he keeps his mouth shut.  The interviewer asks Graham’s friends if Judas Priest is the best heavy metal band.  Having his interest picqued, a blonde-haired kid in a black Slayer t-shirt saunters up behind Graham to explain why Priest rules.  It’s not what he says, but the way he looks.  Long, blonde hair, the metal shag, t-shirt, jeans, holding a cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other, both hands casually placed at waist level.  He offers his Priest insights as a knowing local would give directions to a lost city slicker, with total certainty and a dash of condescension to let the person know he’s a fool for asking such an obvious question.

One of the girls in the gang offers the vital information that they’re going to keep on partying after the concert in Ocean City.  Ow-cean City!  Ow-cean City, dude!

A Dimestore Steve Perry Imitating Rob Halford.  The most obnoxious person in the parking lot is the dimestore Steve Perry who grabs the interviewer’s mike to do a screeching a cappella rendition of Priest’s biggest hit, “Living After Midnight.”  He has black hair cut to replicate the style of Journey’s lead singer, Steve Perry.  Only problem is he has a nose like an aardvark and eyes like a rat.  He’s the kind of person who would say, “Everyone says I look like Steve Perry” although no one ever says it.  He’s in a sleeveless DC-101 t-shirt – DC was (is?) the big rock station out of Washington that played this kind of music – the shirt appears more than a few times throughout the video.

This kid is hammered out of his mind.  The most common look in the documentary? Kids so fucked up they can’t even keep their eyes open.  That heavy-lidded, medicated stare.  His lame Rob Halford imitation suggests that he’s spent a lot of time working on it in front of the bedroom mirror.  To everyone else’s credit in the parking lot, this kid is alone, and headbangers in the background appear to be laughing as he does his heavy metal Bob Goulet routine.

Hell Yeah!  The “Hell Yeah” chick would scare Ray Charles in the dark.  Or the average headbanger the next day when he woke up in the back of his van, still stoned, but hungover enough to realize he had just scored with a woman who more resembled Cousin It than Nicole Kidman.  Red shag hair.  Hang dog face.  Braces.  When asked what she’s there to do, she replies “Part-ay!” and bobs her head.  Not like an angry black woman making her point.  She just bobs her head forward a few times.  Do you like heavy metal?  Hell, yeah!  Head bob, like a woodpecker on quaaludes.

Interviewer:  What would you say if you saw Rob Halford right now?
Hell Yeah:  I’d jump his bownes.

Head bob.  Nineteen Eighty-Six must have been a banner year for “jumping bones.”  Later in the documentary, the interviewer asks a portly chick with too much mascara and skin-tight leopard skin pants the same question about guitarist K.K. Downing.  Her reply?  I’d jump his bownes … I’d jump his bownes!  I’d jump K.K. Downing’s bownes!

Kill ‘Em All, Let God Sort ‘Em Out.  Three kids, two guys outside a run-down street rod and girl in the front seat.  She has dental work like Keith Richards and is posing like she suspects the camera crew may be from Easy Rider magazine.  The two guys outside are old timers, 21 and 19, have seen Priest six times, and are therefore Methuselah and Moses by headbanger standards.  They look like they put in a shift at the factory and want to chill out afterwards.  One of them wears the infamous “Kill ‘Em All, Let God Sort ‘Em Out” Green Beret t-shirt he most likely bought through the ad in the back of last month’s Soldier of Fortune.  This is ironic, as most Green Berets would probably feel this way about everyone in that parking lot.

But wait!  They have another shirt they pull out of the back seat:  “Don’t Get Mad.  Nuke the Bastards.”  A skeleton riding a missile.  Dudes, that’s so fucking cool.  You really are more mature than the average 17-year-old headbanger – or at least possess the sartorial elegance they so clearly lack running around bare-chested.  All that’s missing?  A beer bong.

Headbanger Archetype, Part II.  Two straggly-haired, bare-chested kids sitting against their car.  Kid I with a bandana.  Smoking.  Drinking.  Disinterested looking, amused that some asshole is putting a camera in their faces.

Interviewer:  Who are you here to see tonight?
Kid I:  Your mother!

Kid I leers at the camera, cigarette dangling from his tight lips, satisfied that he gave the only right answer.  Kid II just nods approvingly, admiring his friend’s quick wits.  A perfect moment

The Token Negro Headbanger.  The camera pans down a long line of fans.  Horrific hair.  Baseball concert shirts for Ozzy – the ones with long white sleeves and black bodies.  The occasional kid done up flamboyantly like his freakish, effeminate idols – a rarity as most kids are hard-core working class and just go for the no-nonsense jeans-and-t-shirt look and wouldn’t dare don a pair of spandex pants.  Kids throwing devil signs and middle fingers at the camera – for no apparent reason, save that it’s their way of saying, this is me.  The camera stops on a large black kid in a bandana.  He asks the film crew what’s going on.

Interviewer:  We’re with MTV.
Black Kid:  Bull … shit!

What we don’t see until much later (actually, the addition of Heavy Metal Parking Lot: The Lost Footage at the end of the tape) is that Krulik and Heyn are stereotypical nerds.  This kid was perceptive more than crass in noting that two clowns like this weren’t the kind of glam poster boys MTV hired in the 80’s to cover a metal event.  I only saw three other black people in the documentary, and two of them weren’t talking.

Madonna … She’s a Dick!  The camera cuts to a gang of kids leaning on a car.  One of them stands out – shag-haired heavy metal kid, eyes half shut, zebra striped muscle shirt with matching spandex pants, white leather belt. who grabs the mike and goes to town.  When asked about his philosophy of life, he proclaims, “It sucks shit!”  The other kids all throw their hands over their faces in disbelief.  One of them is a pretty young girl, huge 80’s hair, sipping Jack Daniels and smoking, obviously under-age, and no doubt enthralled by this jack ass.

After a diatribe about “punk” (he probably means new wave bands like Duran Duran that were dominating MTV, as punk was a moot point by 1986) where he sagely puts forth that “punk shit belongs on fucking Mars, man” while pointing at the sky, he lets loose with possibly the most lucid statement of his life:

“Madonna’s can go to hell as far as I’m concerned.  She’s a dick.”

He blurts it out like he’s talking about someone who gave him a wedgie at school in front of a girl he liked.  Had I been in a theater, I would have given him a standing ovation.  He closes out with a reference to “that punk fuck,” slurring his words horribly at the end so the word “fuck” sounds like a threat.  In the lost footage section, presumably just before this interview, the camera lands on this group of kids, and the Spandex Editorialist lets out a shriek that is one-third rock and roll and two-thirds 10-year-old kid.  An amazing sound – the sound of childhood.  The kid is, what, 16 years old, and that sound spooks me, shows how weird life can get in six years, and that some things you never forget how to do, or they turn into something else.  He should have just let out the scream then shut the fuck up.

Timmy Loved Judas Priest. The strangest moment in the documentary is when we come across the two relatively clean-cut kids who got BACKSTAGE PASSES as they emphatically inform us.  How?  It’s a long story.  Turns out their friend Timmy died in a car crash a few weeks earlier.  His mom wrote to Judas Priest’s manager explaining what had happened, and how much he and his friends loved the band, so the manager sent his mother 75 tickets for the show with backstage passes.

End of story?  Hardly.  The looks on their faces, a boy and girl, are amazing as they tell the story.  They start out excited as hell at their luck.  But then you can see hints of shame and sadness that the only reason they’re this “lucky” is because their friend died horribly.  They made a banner for the show (“Timmy Loved Judas Priest”), but you get the impression that some time during the show, or maybe even backstage after meeting the band momentarily among the non-stop motion that’s part of any rock show, either one or both of them stopped and said, “You know what?  Seeing Judas Priest is fun and all … but Timmy’s still dead.”

And maybe it’s that sense of loss that makes these two kids seem more human, less open to ridicule than the average fan carrying on like a maniac.  They’re clearly not stoned, probably not even drunk, and the show has become a sort of pilgrimage, maybe even the only proper send-off for Timmy, who loved Judas Priest.

The Deliverance Air Guitarist.  A bunch of guys hanging out by a van.  A skanky metal chick in leopard-skin blouse and mirror shades.  The interviewer asks if anyone there plays air guitar.  Some jokes, hemming and hawing, then John Holtman is called forward.

The camera focuses on his face … and John Holtman looks like that kid playing banjo on the porch in Deliverance all grown up.  Abnormally large head.  Red hair, wispy beard, pug-nosed.  His beer belly hangs over the belt of his camouflage pants.  He clutches a bottle containing some orange juice/screwdriver concoction.  It’s like the scene in Pulp Fiction where we see the leather freak crawling out of its hiding place.

Holtman goes over to the metal skank, proclaims he’s going to play air guitar on her and tries to grope her while tunelessly bawling out, “Mow, mow, get around, I get around” in imitation of the Beach Boys song, while this woman tries hard not to vomit on him.  I wouldn’t be surprised if his picture is now hanging in post offices all over America, assuming they could ID him before he slipped back into the smoky hills of Appalachia.

Reston, Virginia – Mayberry USA.  A beautiful girl in black spandex pants and tanktop, a Stevie Nicks shawl, surrounded by standard-issue heavy metal dinguses.  She’s there to see Dokken.  No doubt like her worried parents, I don’t know what in the hell she is doing with these guys as it’s like seeing Miss Maryland hanging out with the Hells Angels.  She says her father likes Dokken, which is a lie, as no adult could have possibly liked that forgettable swill at that time, much less now.  Her father probably said that because he’d watched his beautiful little angel slowly devolve into a surly miscreant, and he figures he might be able to cut his parental losses if he just throws her a few bones in terms of musical taste and hopefully can reel her back in before one of these losers knocks her up.  When asked where they’re from, she replies, “Reston, Virginia” then raises her finger to make a point, “Mayberry, U.S.A.”

I don’t recall Andy Griffith having to mace a bunch of obnoxious, Pam-sniffing headbangers harassing senior citizens in front of the general store.  Or Opie laying rubber down Main Street while blasting his Twisted Sister tape.  Mayberry?  Not while there are scumbags like your friends living there, honey.  Not even Ow-cean City.

The Sanest Man in the Parking Lot.  This is the old black parking lot attendant from Jamaica.  A look on his face like he’s spent far too much time dealing with too many drunken assholes.  Says he’s “never seen such a thing in all my life,” but you know he has, time and again, and that the tired look on his face is far more disgust than shock.  Probably goes home and curses white people until he loses his voice – and with the personal experience he’s had working these concerts, I couldn’t blame him.


Yudas Prees Ees Nummer One. The only Hispanic people shown, two guys and a girl, are smiling kids (one with removable front-teeth dentures) in Iron Maiden and Metallica shirts who blurt out the above universal message.  A headbanger who strongly resembles the blonde-haired thug in the Sean Penn reform school flick Bad Boys offers one of the kids a hit from his bottle of Boone’s Farm.  Before drinking, he wisely wipes the bottle’s rim with his shirt, takes a swig, throws his arm out and gives his best “What?  Me Worry?” grin.

But I Cry When He’s Bluuuueeeee!  A gang of guys, tank tops, mirror shades, missing teeth, mesh baseball hats, arm in arm, drunk as skunks, and they chant this obviously well-rehearsed rhyme:

We’re (unintelligible) mice.
And that’s the best kind.
No one fucks with friends of mine.
I’m happy when he’s happy.
But I cry when he’s bluuuuuueeeee!

It sounds like some bizarre rhyme either they, their fathers, other guys in their fire company made up, and it’s something they do when they get hammered and want to indulge in a little male bonding – which is a pretty good thumbnail description of any metal concert.  How this differs from a bunch of old guys in Shriner fezzes bonding after successfully navigating a parade in their mini-convertibles, I have no idea.  A strange little moment?  Perhaps, but even stranger:  One of the guys is mixing Budweiser and 7-UP!  Top that one, Ozzie.
(2014 Authors Note:  In the original comments section for this piece, one of our readers pointed out that they were singing: "We're barroom buddies/And that's the best kind": lyrics from the song "Barroom Buddies" by Clint Eastwood and Merle Haggard, as featured in Eastwood's hit movie, Bronco Billy. 

The Hot Chick from Florida and Her Dog Friend. The interviewer finds a beautiful girl, maybe the best-looking one in the whole damn parking lot, with a short, died-blonde Go-Go’s shag, perfect tan offset by her sexy white bustier.  It’s Kelly McCullis from Florida.  And, unlike Gram of Dope, she really comes off like she’s from there.  We find that this is her first metal concert.  Her doggy-looking friend – you know, the one you’d get stuck gamely groping while Kelly rides your good-looking friend’s baloney pony – is drinking Jack Daniels and Cowke.

This is Kelly’s first heavy metal concert, and, you can tell, her last.  She has that Phil Collins fan look about her, maybe she’ll listen to her quarterback boyfriend’s Van Halen tape when she’s jerking him off in the rec. room with her rubber glove, but no way in hell is she ever again going to let her doggy friend from Maryland drag her to another Priest show.  Especially after she registers disgust and barks, “Get away from me, please” as two heavy-metal dirt bags lean into her near the end of her interview, supposedly to get on camera, but more likely to cop a feel.

The ultimate indiscretion on the film makers’ part occurs at the end of the Lost Footage segment:  the camera gives us a beautiful shot of Kelly walking towards the arena, but … dear lord … with … The Ramones …. singing a fucking Sonny Bono song …. “Needles and Pins” … as background music.  I don’t know if Krulik and Heyn did this as some sort of taunting prank, or some sick in-joke, but to close out a Priest documentary with Ramones music is a tremendous slap in the face to metal fans.  I guarantee any metal fans watching this documentary would blurt out “what the fuck is this” when the song came on, and when told it was the Ramones, would then say, “dude, tell me you’re joking.”  They may as well play “YMCA” or “I Write the Songs” – it would have the same cultural effect.


Then again – is this movie made for headbangers?  Therein lies the crux.  It isn’t.  It’s made for smart asses like me, or Jordan Hoffman, people who will watch it and laugh uproariously at these walking stereotypes.

The problem is, I know these people – if not personally, then take my word for it, I’ve known dozens of people just like them.  And they’d view a documentary like this as if it were a video yearbook, the real one, not the fake one at school where all the popular kids made the rules.  It’s no accident that the only person who suspects the motives of the film makers is a black kid (“Bull … shit!”), while everyone else is too drunk or stoned to care.  Little things occur throughout the documentary to suggest the kids view the camera as a benevolent authority figure to be playfully taunted – Gram of Dope runs up to the camera man and offers him a toke.  Another kids walks straight through a shot, shoving a can of Bud into the lens.  Both acts are met with that sort of “dude, I can’t believe he just did that” laughter.

What I see in that parking lot is a sort of ceremonial “last stand” against what these kids perceive as the outside world.  Never mind that they’ll make more last stands in the future.  And the outside world is far more hostile than whatever they’re perceiving as teenagers living at home.  The pre-concert party is a romantic gesture, entirely within the moment, and signifies that they and a few thousand other like-minded individuals got out of their heads on beer and crank, and partied like there was no tomorrow.  Because the moment they hand over their ticket and enter the arena, they’re acquiescing to the performer and not focusing attention on each other.  Not to mention that tomorrow sucks when it’s a factory job, or another day dealing with brown nosers and jocks at school, or any other adversarial situation they’ve place themselves in.

It hasn’t yet occurred to them that they may be their own worst adversaries, that their parking lot is a highly-defined group as rigid and rule-oriented as any other.  The film makers could have traveled all over the world filming metal concert parking lots and found the exact same results everywhere they went.  As the parking lot is filled with mostly dislocated working-class kids who believe they are not part of their school or community, they paint themselves as rebellious outsiders whom no one could possibly understand … so let’s lay it on thick for these guys with the camera, no on else is ever gonna’ shove a camera in our face unless it’s on COPS.

One look into the frog-lidded eyes of many kids in Heavy Metal Parking Lot will not communicate that sense of subtle recognition, but that’s because it’s most likely ingrained in these kids from countless other encounters with authority figures.  I know what happens to them 14 years on, as I’ve seen it happening with friends: factory closings, divorces, unplanned parenthood, welfare checks, drug and drinking problems, etc.  And if there’s one thing I hate it’s society labeling these people as “white trash” when white people middle class or higher have similar flame outs, but remain invisible to society.  Strange, too, how we have problems finding socially-acceptable labels for black people making the same buffoonish mistakes in droves.

For me, that undertow ran through Heavy Metal Parking Lot.  I recognize it as me bringing my own baggage to the film, but I couldn’t help but think you could make the exact same film about black kids hanging out at a rap concert, except no one would be laughing at or even with them, but sternly mulling over the serious problems facing African-American culture in America today.  The key to Heavy Metal Parking Lot is that working-class white kids in America are no better off, only it serves no one’s political and/or cultural agendas to acknowledge this.  So, kick back, have a laugh, no one’s going to guilt-trip you.  I can’t decide if this is a positive or negative thing – most likely a good bit of both.

Why is Heavy Metal Parking Lot so incredibly funny?  I don’t know, but it is, no matter what level you choose to view it on.  What movies like Clerks, River’s Edge and Dazed and Confused aspire to artistically, Heavy Metal Parking Lot just is.  Hell, yeah!


Anonymous said...

Your arrogant and pathetic review of the kids back in 86 reek of desperation--you seem like someone who would never have fit in nor have been accepted in this you feel above them all in your need to insult these kids. I appreciate the politically correct retort about the Jamaican security guard, of course you'd side with him against these kids. Why don't you accept that this was how it was back then, this was considered cool in those times; regardless of your adolescence. Just appreciate the moment in time without your sniveling condescension or arrogant remarks. They were good times; glad I was there in the middle of it all.

William S. Repsher said...

I'm sorry, what's your name?