It's a god-given fact that most, if not all, of the original punk rock fans were into hard rock beforehand. But when punk and metal crossed paths in the early '80s, most punks weren't willing to own up to that fact. There's no doubt that thrash metal polarized the hardcore scene, but even so, too many punks were pissing all over the same Black Sabbath records they listened to ten years earlier just because they didn't want to lose their so-called street cred. I was not one of these people, I'm happy to admit. Growing up in northern New Jersey, I lived quite close not only to the Misfits but also the HQs of Megaforce Records, the label that launched Metallica. (Perhaps it's no accident, then, that they would've heard the Misfits!)
In 1983 I bought Motorhead's "Ace Of Spades" after hearing some of the local punks tell me it was "pretty good for heavy metal." One listen to the title track and I almost felt like I was one with the local metal kids. But how many of the local metalheads even liked Motorhead? To them, metal was AC/DC and Van Halen. And most of them thought punk sucked, and delighted in sharing this opinion with me at every given turn.
With Motorhead under my belt, it's no surprise that I loved power metal from the very first time I heard Venom on WMSC radio out of Montclair State College. I could sense immediately that this was not your typical metal sound. WMSC devoted its entire Saturday afternoon and evening programming schedule to heavy metal, and it wasn't long before the underground thrash metal "tape traders" took it over, playing new bands from all over the world who sounded more like punk than metal. (One of these tape trader DJs in particular, Gene Khoury, should rightfully be credited with turning me on to Venom, Hellhammer, and Sodom... especially since he is now a born-again Christian.) I began taping WMSC regularly and before long, I was buying thrash metal records, beginning with Venom's "Blood Lust" 45 and moving forward from there. Hellhammer's "Apocalyptic Raids" soon became my number one favorite, and yeah, I admit I bought the first two Metallica albums and enjoyed both at the time. So it was only a matter of time before I attended a metal show, right?
And so, on Saturday night, December 15, 1984, I finally went to one. The mighty Motorhead were the headliners on a triple bill combining them with two bands from the new metal underground. I picked up my pal Jim "Rex" Hogan at the William Paterson College domitories, and off we went to Passaic. The Capitol Theater was packed to the rafters with metalheads. The ladies were gorgeous but most of them were on the arms of the scruffiest dirtbags you'd never want to see them with. Security could not possibly have cared less about people smoking weed, so you guessed it... a stoner metal Christmas party complete with appropriate party favors.
The first band was a trio named Exciter, from Toronto, who were signed to Megaforce. I was impressed not only by their music but the fact that their drummer was also the lead singer, and I've always had a strange fascination with bands whose drummers sing lead. I liked 'em enough to buy their first album the following week.
The next band up was Mercyful Fate. Now, I've come to appreciate this band in recent years. But god, I hated them back in '84, and so did all my friends of the era. They were definitely not popular with any of the punks who liked power metal, and most of those in attendance flocked back to the lobby in droves when King Diamond and his merry men took over. But this must have been an off night for them, because before long even some of the folks who dug them were returning to the lobby going "Man, they suck tonight." (It should be noted that Mercyful Fate broke up just four months later.)
At long last it was time for Motorhead. Of course, by late '84, Lemmy had ditched the lineup that recorded all their classic material, but it didn't matter -- the night clearly belonged to him anyway. It was the last night of their tour and he wanted all us New Jersey metalheads to dance -- "Get up or get out!" He also urged the ladies in the audience to "make this last night really special for us" by showing him their tits. At one point, he brought out a young, well-endowed lady named Colleen and introduced her as "the best looking member of our road crew we've ever had." I don't recall her showing her boobs, but I do remember the big scream she greeted the crowd with. But for me, the absolute highlight of the show, apart from having my request for "Overkill" that I kept screaming out between every song ultimately honored as the very last song of the night, was when Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics came out to help Lemmy sing "No Class," sounding like the female version of her duet partner the whole time. I never had the honor of seeing the Plasmatics live (though old friends of mine did, and have some great stories to tell), so this was the next best thing for sure.
It was phenomenal, and yes, it was loud. No, make that LOUD. Again, that night was a Saturday. My ears didn't stop ringing till the following Wednesday. With all the recent reports of erratic performances and health scares, Lemmy is another one I'm proud to say I saw in his prime. Let us all pray now for his continued survival.