Heavy Mettle

Harlan Hendrickson wants to prove that '80s rock and roll is not noise pollution.

The '80s pop metal is key, though. "It's fun, period," Hendrickson says. "But there's also a nostalgic factor to it. It was the hottest stuff out back in the day, back when all you worried about was keg parties and dating. And the music, while there's some trappings of message, it's basically girls, cars, drugs and rock and roll and having a good time. You know, 'My car is cool. Let's drive down the street and play some music.'"

But although the music might be lighthearted, Hendrickson's listeners, he says, "are very serious. They don't snicker at all about this stuff. They live and breathe it and are very knowledgeable. They know it."

"Blackheart" is a 28-year-old computer consultant and local devotee of the Monsters show. He and his wife crave the program for its comprehensive exploration of the music he loves. "It's real music," Blackheart says of '80s metal. "Those bands didn't use computers. They did it from the heart; they did it in the studio pulling eighteen-hour shifts, working their butts off. You don't see those kinds of bands anymore."

A wild and crazy guy: Harlan Hendrickson with Skid Row.
A wild and crazy guy: Harlan Hendrickson with Skid Row.
Harlan Hendrickson with Tesla.
Harlan Hendrickson with Tesla.

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With Harlan Hendrickson
Midnight to 2 a.m. Sundays, KRFX-FM/103.5
 

By the same token, he is aware that the music is a subject of derision to many, and for good reason. He'll revisit his tapes of MTV's late Headbanger's Ball show, and, he says, "It's really funny, and you can see why people were making fun of you. But the music itself -- there's a lot in it that's not in today's music. The music is good."

Hendrickson's also not above making good-natured jabs at acts that put looks before music. (He rates Nelson as one of the worst offenders of the past and Creed as the "the worst band ever.") "The Iron Maiden guys had long hair, too," he notes, "but they weren't as pretty as your girlfriend. That's when guys had to draw the line." Yet even the most Dippity-Do-enhanced bands get their due on Hendrickson's show. The "Harlan's Haircut" segment looks back at songs by one-hit-wonder acts and other forgettable bands. He also profiles metal's sappiest power ballads or suspect band-personnel moves; he once hosted a "funeral" for Kiss when the band (one of Hendrickson's favorites) replaced original drummer Peter Criss with another makeup-wearing beater.

According to Hendrickson, the metal acts of yore have held up because they paired great chops and songs with a trait lacking in acts like Staind and Limp Bizkit: humor. "David Lee Roth is the patron saint of Monsters of Rock," Hendrickson says. "He's it -- the best frontman that ever was." A moment later, Hendrickson reaches for a prized memento on his office shelf: a copy of the first Van Halen record, signed by Roth with the inscription "To Harlan, Never give up." Roth, Hendrickson adds, "was very serious about his art."

More and more listeners are getting serious about the once-maligned metal of the Reagan era. Chuck Klosterman, an Akron, Ohio, music writer, has released a hilarious new book detailing the role the music played while he and his pals were growing up in North Dakota. Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota is a first-person account that tackles its subject with both scholarship and humor. Klosterman's theory on why '80s metal has returned?

"I think the main thing that's driving it is that a lot of the people who were raised on this music are now getting to an age where they can say, 'Hey, this was important, if for no other reason than it was important to me and my friends.'"

In his book, Klosterman states that one reason the hard-edged sound connected with kids was the dangerous image of its creators and the music itself. The music of Clapton, he writes in Fargo, is akin to a sensual massage from one's longtime lover, but "listening to Van Halen is like having the best sex of your life with three foxy nursing students you met at a Tastee-Freez."

Some say that metal's life was cut short by the arrival of Nirvana and the grunge movement. "Nevermind ended the whole evolution of glam rock," Hendrickson says. "It kind of put it back into perspective."

"When we saw Nirvana coming, we knew rock was going to die for a while," echoes Blackheart. "But I told my friends, 'I guarantee you, in five to ten years, a lot of these bands are going to have a comeback.' I was right." At his recent ten-year class reunion, he notes, DJs "were getting inundated with requests for hair-band music."

"Today it seems kind of cool to live like Axl Rose," adds Klosterman. "That's awesome, much more exciting than being a member of the band Live or Matchbox 20.... I'm amazed by the number of people who insist that the music completely resonates with them."

Hendrickson's Web site, themonstersofrock.com, is averaging 5,000 hits a month. Along the way, Hendrickson himself has become something of a celebrity among the nation's metal lovers. That stature may grow in the next few months, as he hopes to secure a national syndication deal that will put Monsters of Rock on as many as sixty stations around the nation. (That will give Dee Snyder's House of Hair metal show, which Hendrickson replaced locally on the Fox, some hard-edged national competition.)

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