Heavy Mettle

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

Harlan Hendrickson has issued a challenge to all the closet lovers of '80s metal: It's time to step up -- fist held high, pinkie and index fingers extended -- and get ready to rock.

"There's no need to be embarrassed any- more for loving Mötley Crüe," he says proudly.

Grab a bandanna and pass the teasing comb: The hair-band era has found a champion, scholar and historian in Hendrickson, a Denver-based DJ who spreads his message via his show, Monsters of Rock Radio Network. Started last February, the Network has become a hit with headbangers along the Front Range who melt down to its weekly two-hour dose of heavy metal and hard-candy rock. The show (heard locally on 103.5/the Fox each Sunday from midnight to 2 a.m.) has become a guilty pleasure for those who hunger for the music of their youth.

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.

"It's the classic rock of a new generation," Hendrickson says boldly. "Kids that are my age -- 30, 35 -- it was their Zeppelin and Stones of the day. But people aren't getting it when they turn on the radio. I quench their thirst."

Hendrickson's DJ efforts are familiar to many in the area, though they might not know it. For the past three years, he's served as director of marketing and promotions for the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche, doubling as the music programmer for games at the Pepsi Center. This year he's also hand-ling music duties for the Broncos. All told, his local listening audience numbers in the millions; he reaches that audience, in large part, through his beloved metal. Hendrickson's sports playlist includes everything from tried-and-true cuts by Queen and Gary Glitter to Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart My Heart," Quiet Riot's "Cum On Feel the Noize," Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" and other less-known rock ballads. They are songs designed to motivate fans and players alike.

"When you go into 'For Those About to Rock, We Salute You,' people feel that," he says, referencing one of several AC/DC tunes in his arena arsenal. "The best jock-rock anthems are the ones with four or five chords, the big chorus and the big beat on the two and four. It's easy to understand; it's simple, but it's heavy."

Simple and heavy is a formula that seems to endure. Monsters of Rock has been picked up by stations in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado Springs -- and Hendrickson says more stations are slated to sign on in the coming year. Monsters currently holds the number-one or number-two slot among males 18-34 at all of the stations that carry it.

Much of the show's appeal lies with Hendrickson himself. His on-air persona is much like his real personality: amped, fast-talking and friendly, with a palpable enthusiasm and intelligence. His voice bears a slight tough-guy tinge that recalls his Philadelphia upbringing, and his insight into his music of choice reflects his own professional credibility. Hendrickson, once the talent buyer for New York's famed Ritz nightclub, played bass in a number of rock bands through the '80s and '90s. His roots-rock trio, Hot Water, released its debut CD on Elektra in 1996 and toured with the Gin Blossoms, Spin Doctors and other FM stars of the time before being dropped by the label. What led to the dumping?

"We spent a lot of money, didn't sell any records. No one came to see us, and no one liked the record," he says, laughing.

His love of pop metal might have also played a part in Hot Water's demise. During Elektra's push of its disc, Hot Water Music, the group was offered tours with the Wallflowers and Hootie & the Blowfish. The band passed on those offers in order to travel with boyhood idols Cheap Trick. "The label was like, 'Guys, you don't want to do that. It's a bad business move.' But we were like little kids. We wanted to meet Cheap Trick and hang out with them. That's one of the many reasons why we never did anything and I'm here talking to you about my radio gig."

But Hendrickson's background as a musician landed him a wealth of connections, with Cheap Trick and other acts that now make studio appearances on his show. Recent guests have included an A-list of bad-boy rockers such as AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, Dokken, Slash, Ratt and many others. Quiet Riot debuted its latest recording on Hendrickson's show. Hendrickson and his guests engage in in-depth discussions of various metal minutiae, as well as light repartee about less musical things. (Def Leppard's drummer, Rex Allen, recently joked with Hendrickson about the troubles a film producer would have finding a one-armed drummer to play his role in a made-for-TV movie.)

The song selections on Monsters are its biggest draw, however. Hendrickson plays hits and deeper album cuts by such artists as Led Zeppelin, Sweet, Cheap Trick and T. Rex, along with the Me Decade stuff he loves. "The mainstay is definitely the mid-'80s -- the Mötleys, Van Halen, Kiss, L.A. Guns; that's the mainframe. Then we'll dip into the bands that watered it down a little bit -- the Wingers, Firehouse, that sort of stuff." He'll also play new tracks from people like Alice Cooper, Slash and others who fill arenas but can't get a minute on the radio. Newer acts such as Marvelous Three, Kid Rock and Buck Cherry make the show occasionally, too.

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 trappingsof 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 Monstersshow. 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."

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 Ballshow, 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.)

In the meantime, he wants you to know it's time to break out the spandex jeans and the headband collection, to wear that Whitesnake T-shirt with honor. It's okay to want to rock and roll all night and party every day, even if your ability to actually do so is years behind you.

"You don't need to drive around with your windows rolled all the way up when you're listening to this music," he says. "You can turn it up at the stoplights again. I don't want to get too political, but the world has changed a lot. This music brings back a better time, when all you had to worry about was what Atari game you were going to buy and having your ten bucks to throw in for your beer, rather than when the next rent payment is due and how you're going to pay your cell-phone bill. It all has to do with fun; it's as simple as that.

"With everything going on in the world today," he adds, "people can use some fun music."

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