I am, as the blog post I enthusiastically bashed out after Travis the chimp went buckwild may have indicated, a ghoul. I’ve been a ghoul since I was a child. In fact, this post only came about thanks to a tasteless combination of the recent YouTube leak of UK funnyman legend Tommy Cooper’s onstage death – a playground legend the day after in 1984, and last week’s US face transplant revelations. Those two unpleasantries brought one name back from the recesses of my grey matter – Mr James Vance.
Only a few years back, a colleague revealed to me that there was footage of Mr Vance -a heavy metal martyr of the highest order, speaking on a US documentary surrounding the daft Judas Priest subliminal message suicide trial. For the uninitiated, whereas many are content to sit around, paint their nails black and feel a misguided sense of emotional kinship with wusses like Pete Wentz, in 1985, James listened to some metal, got wasted with his friend, watched him blow his head off and tried it himself.
Except he was the victim of a macabre fail, and lived without a fair amount of his face. While today’s attempts at shotgun face restoration are hardly ‘Face/Off’ slick, James looked like he’d been reassembled with staples, crayons and crazy glue. And there he is in ‘Dream Decievers’, zipping around on his bike and petting his dog. Look in the encyclopedia under ‘METAL’ and Vance’s pellet-blasted features should be there. No text necessary.
Sadly James passed away from an methadone overdose in 1988, 3 years after the infamous evening, but ‘Dream Decievers’ captures the breed of disaffected metal fan that only suburbia, and a brace of some of the finest rock music ever, could breed. It’s a profoundly grim documentary that’s hardly impartial – wisely taking the side of Halford and company in the idiotic subliminal message trial, and with it’s haunting footage of a maimed James ruminating on his state of being, it’s easy to overlook the fantastic footage of sullen, black t-shirted young men explaining how metal figures in their day-to-day life, and that age-old lament – parents just don’t understand.
It overtakes any of Larry Clark’s body of work by offering a bizarre cast of characters, and an atmosphere that age, VHS quality, dark subject matter and that matter-of-fact PBS bleakness. These metal kids are some sullen style kings. Homeboy mixing the Kurtis Blow and Blue Oyster Bar hat is on some next shit. No high street quasi-hipster tee reprints or naïve overpriced Japanese brand reappropriations here.
By all accounts, ‘Dream Decievers’ floats in DVD limbo because of music licensing issues – the downfall of many a great documentary and movie (consider that it was one of the reasons that ‘Wild Style’ had an alteration during Flash’s kitchen scene). It also marked some kind of precedent that you can read about here. From that article, just a few months old, it alludes that there’s a release on the horizon. It’s heavy stuff, far beyond the powerchords, but an essential document regardless. Fortunately, such is its mythical draw that it gets uploaded, then pulled down, then it reappears somewhere else on the internet time and time again.
You know you’ve just gone to the brink when Tim Hunter’s ‘River’s Edge’ (1986) is a post’s lighter note, but the suburban metal nihilism is echoed in a disaffected bunch who don’t give a fuck. I Know one thing – if I had a clothing label, I’d theme an entire season on Crispin’s look in this film. As Layne, driving around in a crazy souped-up car high on acid pumping Metal Blade-era Slayer spouting slurred schemes, he owns the film. The movie is actually rooted in a brutal truth, though it seems Hunter brought it up-to-date in line with the metal mood of the time.
1996’s ‘Paradise Lost’ feels like the sequel to ‘Dream Decievers’ in mood as well as subject matter (part 3 is on the horizon) proving that there’s a price to pay for being a smalltown metalhead beyond ill-fated bravado with a Winchester. The West Memphis 3 know this only too well. Whatever the truth, this is an example of another satanic panic getting in the way of common sense when it came to dispensing justice.
Wow. This was a pretty grim blog entry. How can I lighten the mood? Easy. While ‘Dream Decievers’ brought the bleakness in 1992, back in 1986, John Heyn and Jeff Krulik set up a camera in the parking lot outside a Judas Priest show in Maryland. No one shot their face off, but they did edit their footage down to half an hour of acid and weed daddled gibbering, twinned with some outfits that made David Lee Roth in his leaping prime look like Don Draper by comparison. The results make up ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot’.
Of course, everybody wants to live the dream, here’s Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P. living the dream in ‘The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years’ – pool, plus lilo, plus vodka plus disapproving mum equals comedy. Again, this, the follow-up and the classic first chapter are in DVD limbo too from licensing issues. Hopefully this will be remedied soon.