Book Review: Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? The Tale of a Teen Rock Wannabe Who Almost Was by Craig A. Williams

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Many a teen boy has dreamed of strapping on an electric guitar, joining a band, playing to cheering crowds, getting it on with groupies and achieving both fame and fortune. For most of them, this is just a dream. But for Craig A. Williams, this dream was nearly a reality, and he documents his experiences in his book, Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants?

While still in his teens, Williams played lead guitar in an LA-based heavy metal band, Onyxx (later, Onyxxx). Originally called Onyx, the band added the extra xx-s to avoid copyright infringement due to a hip-hop group also named Onyx. And perhaps because their band was just too much rock for one measly X. Managed by a Loni Anderson look-alike, Onyxxx journeyed from small school gigs to the hottest clubs on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip.

Williams first embraced his musical dreams when he wrote a song using his Casio keyboard. The seeds of musical greatness were sown, but Williams knew making music on a Casio keyboard was too dorky for words, so he picked up an electric guitar. Soon he joined forces with some high school chums — lead singer Tyler, bassist Sunil and drummer Kyle — and formed Onyxxx.

Laying the groundwork for rock and roll stardom, Onyxxx went from playing for their classmates in suburban LA to less than enthusiastic audiences at seedy dives. Despite these humble beginnings, Onyxxx’s manager believed they could make it big, and be the New Kids on the Block of glam heavy metal. It was the pre-grunge days where Guns ‘n Roses, Poison and Motley Crue were MTV staples. Before long Onyxxx were playing shows at such notable venues like the Troubadour and the Roxy. Their shows garnered them a sizable fan-base, including some very willing groupies. Williams thought he had reached the pinnacle of rock and roll paradise when he autographed a girl’s breast for the very first time.

But like lots of other rock bands on the verge of fame, Onyxxx had to deal with their share of problems. Tyler, though a charismatic frontman, was often a total jerk to those who crossed his path. Sunil was frequently bullied due to his East Indian heritage. And despite being a drummer, Kyle didn’t have the best sense of rhythm. Onyxxx also dealt with trials familiar to anyone who has seen at least one episode of VH-1′s “Behind the Music,” including rampant drug use, unsavory club managers, psycho fans and fighting among band members.

But Williams had other issues that probably weren’t bothering Axl Rose or Tommy Lee at the time: the life of a teenaged boy. When he wasn’t rockin’ out on-stage, Williams argued with his parents about doing his chores and his homework, studied for exams, and tried to maneuver the halls of his high school. Williams lived in two very different worlds, which kind of made him the Hannah Montana of glam heavy metal (egad, remember a time when Miley Cyrus was known as Hannah Montana and not a girl who uses a foam finger the way the inventor never intended?).

Sadly, Onyxxx was not meant to be. Even without the drug use, mismanagement and squabbles among the band members, glam heavy metal was about to be toppled by flannel-clad grunge bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. By their senior year, Onyxxx was on the verge of breaking up. They were also on the verge of adulthood, which included college, jobs and other not exactly glamorous responsibilities.

Onyxxx’s loss is our gain. Williams proves himself to be an entertaining writer. He is able to look at his rock and roll past with both insight and humor. He’s self-deprecating and at the same time he is truly proud of almost grabbing the brass ring of stardom. Any rock fan who treasures his or her copy of Appetite for Destruction will get misty-eyed over days gone by. And kids who think of Bret Michaels as a reality TV star, not the lead singer of Poison, will be able to relate to a teenage Williams’ desire for freedom and fun. Williams is a fresh new voice, and has written a very honest book about the music industry. Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants? is a head bangin’ good time.

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Book Review: Let’s Spend the Night Together-Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.

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“Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.”-unknown

Years ago, when I was starry-eyed girl in a vintage frock and a pair of Doc Martens, I picked up a unassuming paperback book. That book was I’m With the Band written by Pamela Des Barres. I completely devoured Ms. Des Barres lusty tales of backstage romance. I couldn’t so much relate to the debauchery and drugs, but I could relate to being consumed by rock music and wanting to be close to the people who created it. Apparently Des Barres and I are not alone. And “Miss Pamela” has written about this in her latest book, Let’s Spend the Night Together: Backstage Secrets of Rock Muses and Supergroupies.

Say the word groupie and what do you think? Slut? Golddigger? Bimbo? Des Barres looks beyond that damning word and gets to heart of several women’s (and one man’s) rock and roll confessionals. And in an odd way, I found many of these women to be strong feminists, eschewing the “lifescript” and striking out on their own unique paths.

One notable super groupie portrayed in Let’s Spend the Night Together is former burlesque dancer, Tura Satana. Exotic Satana (known as Miss Japan Beautiful) met a young Elvis Presley and claims to have taught the King of Rock and Roll how to move on the stage and in bed. To me, anyone who taught Elvis how to dance and how to give head deserves to be canonized. According to Satana, Elvis even proposed to her. Of course, we all know Elvis ended up marrying Priscilla, but that hasn’t stopped Satana from wearing his diamond engagement ring to this day.

You’ve probably heard of Cynthia Plaster Caster. She gained notoriety for casting the erect penises of famous rock stars, most notable being Jimi Hendrix. We even get a photograph of “recovering groupie” Plaster Caster holding the rock legend’s casted member also known as the “Penis de Milo.” In this chapter, Plaster Caster tells how as a shy artistic girl, she came up with her unique art form and how they were nearly stolen by Frank Zappa’s former manager.

Bebe Buell may be best known as actress Liv Tyler’s mom. But back in the day, she was also the alluring arm candy of such rock notables as Rick Nielson, Todd Rundgren and Liv’s daddy, Steven Tyler. Buell much prefers the term “muse” to “groupie.” And though that might sound pretentious, Buell does have a point. Many of these women aren’t necessarily easily disposable objects. Look at your music collection. Many of your favorite songs were probably inspired by girlfriends, lovers and wives.

I was very intrigued by Lexa Vonn. Ms. Vonn founded the LA-based publicity machine the Plastics. Vonn and her fellow glam-goth lovelies do a lot more than hang around backstage offering sexual favors. They are very instrumental in promoting up and coming rock acts. Ms. Vonn also works as a burlesque dancer and rock journalist, and confesses to having a very strong friendship with Marilyn Manson.

There are other notable groupies in Let’s Spend the Night Together. Cassandra Peterson, who you probably better as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, spent some time in the groupie trenches. So did belly dancer extraordinaire, Princess Farhana (born Pleasant Gehman). Actress Patti D’Arbanville shares her stories as does Gail Zappa, the widow of Frank Zappa. And boy groupie Pleather gives rock and roll girls what they’ve got coming. And yes, “sweet, sweet” Connie Hamzy, celebrated in the   Grand Funk Railroad’s song “We’re an American Band” (“Sweet, sweet Connie, doin’ her act/ She had the whole show and that’s a natural fact.”) also has a chapter. I’ll spare you the details on her shenanigans. You have to read it to believe it.

However, not all groupie stories are created equal. I found heavy metal groupies Patty and Lisa tiring and tedious, but that could be because heavy metal is not my thing. And somehow I couldn’t share Tina King’s pride and joy in giving Kid Rock a blow job. Kid Rock, people!

Let’s Spend the Night Together also gives intimate glimpses of the men who play the devil’s music. Apparently Kurt Cobain liked to dress up in women’s clothing, and Billy Idol likes to have stuff shoved up his butt. Who knew? However, I’m still trying to understand the appeal of Faster, Pussycat’s Taime Downe. He is name-dropped quite a bit in the book.

In the end, I found Let’s Spend the Night Together to be a fun, juicy read. I often stayed up way past my bedtime going from chapter to chapter. Des Barres gives her subjects a great deal of dignity and respect, and writes in a wonderfully breezy “just between us girls” style. You’ve got another hit, Miss Pamela!

Writer’s Block

Writer's Block PhotoOnce again I’m back in the land of the crazy, busy. We got a bunch of last minute work at the office so that means I’ll be working lots of overtime for the next few weeks, lots of 12-hour days (including Saturdays).

So needless to say I might be a bit absent from this blog for a while. I do have a draft that I’m going to publish shortly in honor of Earth Day. And I have a couple of reviews I’m going to work on in the brief pockets of time I do have. One is a memoir and the other is a novel, both quite good.

And of course, I’m always on the prowl for more books to read, so that is one of my goals.

What else? Well, I’d like to thank Wes from the blog VOICES: FILM & TV | PART II. He left a pingback to my review of Charles R. Cross’s book Cobain: Unseen. And Wes also wrote a very heartfelt tribute to Cobain at his blog. Please read it. I highly recommend it.

Cobain Unseen by Charles R. Cross

Cobain UnseenHard to believe but 20 years ago this month Nirvana’s front man, Kurt Cobain, died at 27-years-old from an apparent self-inflicted gun shot wound. A few years ago, a publisher contacted me about reviewing one its books on Cobain. I decided to dust it off and publish it here.

It seems anything that can be written about the late Kurt Cobain has been written. But with Charles R. Cross’ new book Cobain Unseen, readers get fascinating glimpse of Cobain not only as a rock star, but also as a child, artist, husband and father.

Cobain Unseen is an illustrated book filled with new photographs of Cobain, his band mates, wife Courtney Love, and daughter Frances Bean. Also included are Cobain’s artwork, which often reveals his inner torment. Readers will also find reproductions of Nirvana stickers, early flyers of advertising Nirvana gigs, handwritten lyrics, a VIP backstage pass and a promotional postcard regarding Nirvana’s 1992 Saturday Night Live appearance.

More personally, there are reproductions of Cobain’s other effects, including a greeting card he made as a child, a school art award certificate, and a hand-written note to Michael Stipe. One of the most disturbing and heartbreaking aspects of Cobain Unseen is a “Dear Diary””excerpt written on loose-leaf paper. In a few paragraphs, Cobain expresses that he thinks he knows what’s wrong with him, his faults, his insecurities, his problems. He wonders if he continues to worry about his problems and his problems with others, they might get worse. This brief diary entry is a sad glimpse into Cobain’s inner torment.

Torment was a common theme in Cobain’s life. He was born months before the summer of love in 1967, in Aberdeen, Washington. His parents were very young, didn’t have much money and divorced when Cobain was a child. Throughout his life, Cobain was plagued by health problems, including stomach troubles and scoliosis. He was also put on Ritalin for his hyperactivity.

However, Cobain was a highly creative child. Art and music were forms of escape. As soon as he was able to hold a crayon or pencil, Cobain was drawing. He spent hours making his original works of art, and his parents thought he might study art in college. Cobain also experimented with putty and clay. His childhood room was covered with his art work, and his art work was also well-accepted by his peers.

Music was also important to Kurt, and his musical aspirations were supported by his aunt Mari, herself a singer. As a teen-ager, Cobain was given a guitar and discovered punk music. He started to write songs, and art continued to be positive force in his life. After high school, Cobain struggled, often living on food stamps and getting evicted from dumpy apartments. However, he also formed the band Nirvana and began to hone Nirvana’s distinctive grunge sound.

Despite the idea that Cobain was a slacker, not concerned with fame and fortune, he was hugely ambitious when it came to his music. He spent lots of time writing songs, sending demos to different record labels and playing endless gigs. “Overnight” success came in 1991, when the Gen X anthem, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” of Nirvana’s seminal release Nevermind became a huge hit. For far too long, music was total dreck, with the likes of Color Me Badd, MC Hammer and Paula Abdul topping the charts. Nirvana and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became manna from Heaven for many rock fans (including yours truly).

Along the way, Cobain met and married Hole frontwoman, Courtney Love, and they had a daughter, Frances Bean. The marriage was at times loving, and at other times tumultuous, but Cobain aspired to be a devoted father to little Frances. He also continued to be plagued by health troubles and soon became addicted to heroin.

Professionally, Nirvana reached the heights of fame. They released three studio albums and toured throughout the world. Cobain was called the voice of a disaffected generation. However, stardom did not sit well with him. Today, where even the most untalented celebrities try to extend their fifteen minutes of fame by appearing in movies or putting out their own fashion lines, Cobain considered himself an artist, not a rock star. He bit the hand that fed him, had squabbles with his record label and didn’t always care about pleasing his fans.

Ultimately, Cobain could no longer handle the physical, mental and emotional misery that plagued him, and he committed suicide in April of 1994, leaving fans devastated and people wondering what could have been.

But Nirvana fans know all of this already, and Cross covered Cobain’s life in his notable biography, Heavier Than Heaven. However, that doesn’t mean Cobain Unseen isn’t a fascinating read. Cobain Unseen is more than a biography of Cobain’s life. It’s also a biography of his art. Childhood photos feature a tow-headed Cobain in front of an art easel or playing a tambourine. His art work conveys his stomach and back problems with the use of raw meat, bones, skeletons and doll parts. The reader will see heart-shaped boxed Cobain collected, and photos of Cobain with daughter Frances show a very tender and sweet side of Cobain. Also included in Cobain Unseen is a CD of Cobain’s spoken-word material, and an interview with Cross about his research for the book.

Cobain Unseen is vanguard of biography. Not satisfied with text and photos, I believe readers today want tactile and tangible personal items of the famous people they admire and want to learn more about. Cobain Unseen is an intriguing inside look at the creativity and the madness of one of rock’s biggest icons. Cobain Unseen is one of the most definitive rock biographies I have ever seen…and felt.