Monday, October 17, 2011

A glam punk valentine to Michael Monroe.

So Jeremy and I just went to the Michael Monroe concert and it was goddamned amazing.
Station 4 is a gritty, bare-bricks rock club with dart boards and Coors cans and restrooms that would make your mother cry, and last Sunday night magical things happened in and around it. First, I got to watch Jeremy skip through a piss-scented alley, because he was so excited to get there. Second...Michael F***ing Monroe!

I knew going in I would have a good time, but I was so blown away by what I saw and heard that I will now spend infinity being an ultra-mega-über-geek about him, writing “Jill hearts Michael Monroe” on my Trapper-Keeper, and creating awkward moments by bringing him up out of the blue in conversations about unrelated topics, with people who think Coldplay invented awesome.* Those who know me well know I am fully capable of this Defcon-1 level of nerdery. Like a feral raccoon, new and shiny things can, and sometimes do, stop me in my tracks--and this show was the equivalent of a disco ball glitter bomb going supernova in my face. Yeah, it was that good.

So, who is this magical Michael Monroe? Why, I'm so glad you asked! I will TELL you!

For starters, he's the pretty one in the middle of this album cover from 1982.

Seems kind of cliched, right? Not so fast; according to Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters, “The Hollywood scene changed in just one night after people saw the pictures of Hanoi Rocks. After that everyone was wearing the same kind of hair, clothes, and makeup as Monroe.”** So there you have it; they basically created this look, and everyone else just copied their notes.

What makes this level of influence all the more impressive? Hanoi Rocks were from Finland. Finland! That's about as far from California as you get, but acts like Mötley Crüe, Jet Boy, LA Guns, Ratt, and Poison knew a good thing when they saw it, and immediately purchased scarves and eye shadow. Additionally, the band's musical pull on Guns N' Roses was so powerful that there were rumors Paradise City was just a bunch of Hanoi riffs strung together.

So: if they were so influential, why have you likely never heard of them? Tragically, the band's drummer, Razzle, was killed in a car accident on December 8th, 1984--on the verge of their U.S. breakthrough. Vince Neil of  Mötley Crüe was driving, and both men were intoxicated. Neil got what amounted to a legal slap on the wrist, and his star continued to rise as Hanoi Rocks receded. The band eventually split up. 

About eight years ago, I saw Vince Neil play at the Target Center in Minneapolis (also present: Poison, and a group of random dudes claiming to be Skid Row), and he was stuffed into distressed jeans and an oversized football jersey, phoning in Crüe's greatest hits in front of what appeared to be a wrinkled bed sheet with his name scrawled on it in Magic Marker. He may have been laughing all the way to the bank, but he did not make a compelling argument for the excesses that come with fame and fortune; it was impossible to look at him and think, “Well there's a dude that's living the dream.” He had no swagger.

Michael Monroe, on the other hand, is a poster child for the benefits of healthy living--he doesn't drink or use drugs, and claims to have never spent the night with a groupie, putting himself in the minority of his chosen profession. Monroe takes care of himself and he loves what he does, and it shows. He spent the entire hour and a half of the concert tearing it up: straddling the three foot gap between the stage and the barricade to high-five the audience, gleefully jumping off of the drum stand and climbing onto the speakers, playing saxophone and harmonica like a maniac***, twirling the mic stand in the air like a giant baton, and working the crowd into a frenzy. Even the punk kid with the halo traction neck brace was bouncing up and down.

It gets better, because Michael Monroe is more than just a person: Michael Monroe is also a band, and the band is fantastic. I can't even deal with how freaking awesome they are: U.S. born Steve Conte (New York Dolls) and Sweden's Dregen (Backyard Babies, Hellacopters) on guitars, and Finns Sami Yaffa (founding member of Hanoi Rocks, New York Dolls) and Karl Rockfist (Danzig) on bass and drums. Karl Rockfist should have an exclamation point, don't you think? Karl Rockfist! Rhythm guitarist Dregen has stage charisma for days, he stomps and prowls and runs all over the place, and frankly it's just fun to say his name: Dregen, Dregen, Dregen, Dregen, Dregen. He, Conte and Yaffa provide kickass backing vocals, that actually sound like what you hear on the album-how often does that happen? The level of musicianship is off the charts; as a group, they are about as good as it gets. It astounds me that we live in a world where they are not HUGE, when you think about how many hours of mediocre entertainment you have likely endured.

Here, see for yourself--the sound isn't perfect and it's broad daylight, but it still tells you what you need to know. This was Dregen's first show with the band, and they still sound tight as hell:

The second song, in particular, I will never ever get tired of--they ought to play Got Blood as a form of therapy for people with temporary paralysis, because it is impossible to sit still while listening to it. Learned that one the hard way waiting for the light rail with my headphones in--I'm fairly certain the nice lady next to me thought I was having a seizure.

In summary, if you looked me in the eye and said “Michael Monroe is an immortal Finnish deity who survives on nothing but sunlight and guitar riffs,” I would totally believe you. He is a glittering peacock in leather and eyeliner, a forty-nine-year-old dude who can kick higher than his head, do the splits, and perform backflips off the stage, with a Scandinavian complexion women in their thirties would kill for and plumes of white-blond hair, and I'm telling you if you handed me a test tube full of sulfurous, fizzy green liquid and said “Michael Monroe drank this and that's what made him awesome,” I would slam that sh*t down, no questions asked.

Just look at him! He is in a tree

That would be the best zoo ever, amirite?


is a great f***ing album; it is in fact one of the best albums I have heard in recent memory. You should definitely own it. Don't tell me you don't have room on your iPod for some catchy as hell, bluesy, punk-influenced Glam rock. Stop being such a hipster, and face facts: you need something in your life with a little more kick and and lot less auto-tune. Use it as a palette cleanser between Radiohead and Lady Gaga, if you must, but unless you hate fun (in which case you probably stopped reading this five minutes ago), do give Sensory Overdrive a try. Don't make me go all Clockwork Orange on you.

Oh last tiny little detail:

Yep. Jeremy's Cheshire Cat grin is the Cliff's Notes version of my fangirl ramblings. He has met Kiss, Ozzy,and Rob Zombie. He has interviewed Alice in Chains, Blackie Lawless, Animal Bag, Blind Melon, Ugly Kid Joe, Dee Snider, King's X, Megadeth, Soundgarden, Dream Theater, Pantera, and King Diamond, and he has been to dozens, perhaps hundreds of rock concerts. I have NEVER seen a bigger smile on his face. He jumped around and sang along to every song; it was really quite alarming and amazing, and frankly kind of adorable. Kids get less excited on Christmas morning.

Enough said!

[Yells "ROCK LIKE F***, startling the cat. Apologizes to cat. Hits "publish."]****

* My apologies if this is you...but really. They are a coma in musical form.

** Another quote that I love, from Def Leppard's Joe Elliot: "The only band — and I'm not saying it because we're here (Sweden Rock Festival) — the only band that did pull it off was Hanoi Rocks. I thought Hanoi Rocks were a good band, and they looked… Michael Monroe (Hanoi frontman) was one of the best… I would have shagged him. [Laughs] I like Michael, I think he's sexy, and I'm not gay. And I think Andy McCoy (Hanoi guitarist) does the best kind of Keith Richards... so much better than Mötley Crüe or Poison or any of those bands. They (Hanoi Rocks) were real — the rest of the guys, it was all a bit fake for me."

*** If Wikipedia isn't just telling sweet, sweet lies, Monroe also plays the harp. PLEASE let that not be a euphemism for harmonica, because Holy Mental Image! :)

**** "ROCK LIKE F***" is one of Monroe's favorite things to yell onstage. Hanoi Rocks were, naturally, huge in Japan (to the point that even people in Finland were surprised by the level of Hanoi hysteria in Tokyo), and Japanese band Loudness was known to scream this in broken English during their concerts. I think it's pretty funny.


  1. #1 I have never ever seen Jeremy smile like that.
    #2 I know you are thinking about how you can create the zipper around the eye look with make-up. Is that more than 10% of how cool Michael Monroe is?
    #3 Cuz I know you love, love the music.
    #4 And the shiny, patent leather red boots. In a tree!

  2. Never heard of them. but the video is pretty cool. I may have to check them out. I do remember Vince Neil getting in trouble for drunken driving back in the mid 80s.