a.k.a. the profile of a writer and her salvation
I can’t remember how old I was when my father came home with Def Leppard’s LP , “On Through the Night”, but I know I was young. The truck flying through space intrigued my little eyes, and the artist inside me couldn’t resist but play this album over and over. Looking back now, the only track I really remember with any persecution is “Hello America”. It was such a heavy album, and for a little one, maybe of seven, this was probably not the best choice for a child to listen to.
My father was in the music industry, so exposure was encouraged, not forbidden, in our household. Our LP had an extra track, one that had only been released in the UK. This single was called “Ring of Fire”. It was haunting, and it wrapped it’s velvety chords around my soul, forever making me a Def Leppard fan.
I was a typical teen. It’s fair to say my first crush was David Cassidy, and next in line was an all-too-sexy Rick Springfield. However, with the release of High ’N’ Dry, those posters were ripped down and replaced with those of Joe Elliott, Rick Savage, and the duo of Phil Collen and Steve Clark.
These were pivotal years for me. Teenage angst in any situation is something to behold. I was no exception. There was nothing special about my situation. My father was a kind, stable man who traveled more often than not for work. He was an alcoholic, but a kind one. My mother, on the other hand, was one fucked up son of a bitch…and I use those words kindly. She was psychotic. In those days, Child Protective Services was something for children who were abused by beatings; broken bones, scars and bruises that could be seen. My brother and I were wounded from the inside out. Left with the paranoid schizophrenic outbursts of a woman outside her mind, I found solace in the haunting lyrics in nearly every song on this album.
Point 1 – Album of the Ages High ‘N’ Dry was the first real US hit for Def Leppard. The boys were now U.S. bound. “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” was the breakthrough hit, the U.S. had never seen something like this. U.S. fans never knew of a bandmate change, and were enraptured with the duo on Collen and Clark on guitars. Fans instantly fell in love with the mysterious “glam metal” album of the ages. This was a new era. This was poetry told to a solid beat that qualified as heavy metal, but wasn’t really. “Let it Go” was a small burst hit in the US, and sold just enough singles to bring High ’N’ Dry into the Billboard Top 40, officially making them a U.S. hit.
Personally, High ’N’ Dry was my safe place. Our house was just large enough for me to find a place to hide in a dark laundry cabinet in the bathroom where no one ever knew I was. I would take my Walkman and listen to the tracks over and over. Every word from: “Let it Go”, “No No No”, “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”, “Lady Strange”, and “Mirror Mirror” rang through my head at all hours. Those lyrics were an escape for me.
“Switch 625”, a single that never was, written by the late Steve Clark would sooth me and make me forget the outside world. I was a little older now, and old enough to know when to escape. Mother loved me, and doted on me…especially when she had been drinking. I was her red-headed princess, and I could do no wrong. She would feed me drugs to keep me quiet while her boyfriends admired me…and admire me, they did. There aren’t enough drugs in the world for a child to ingest to know what kind of sickness was inflicted on me by those men. They were kind men. They never hurt me, or so they thought. In these moments my body couldn’t move. I was too drugged to escape, but my head would move into the music, and bring focus elsewhere. Elsewhere meant survival.
My brother wasn’t as lucky. The verbal abuse continued. There were beatings, but never strong enough to leave marks. She was careful. It was these Def Leppard songs that were so heavy they drowned out the world. At the same time, they were soft enough to keep my spirit humble. They kept me strong, and inspired me to write my first novella. In my 5th grade classes I would hide a notebook and pull it out as often as I could, using the album as my key to tell our story through the words of Def Leppard. If only I had that notebook now, I’m sure we would all laugh, but that 5th grade girl and 8th grade boy would somehow find the strength to escape all over again.
The abuse came to a halt one spring afternoon. My mother beat my brother and kicked him down the stairs so hard that it broke his ribs. Finally. The irony of this was, it was the physical bruises that lead to our escape. My father took us away, and we never saw her again.
It was a long time before I could pull that cassette back out. In fact, so long that it had gone bad. Some of the tracks had warped, so we replaced it. Upon replacing it, “No No No” had been softened to a lighter, less abrupt ending and, “Me and My Wine” had been added in for good measure. It was like a special gift from the Lep boys to me. As if the personally reached through the wires to tell me that they cared, and that it was going to be okay.
Point 2 “Gunter glieben glauchen globen.” – These nonsensical German words that mean absolutely nothing would go down in infamy as generations to come were vexed and tried to understand their meaning. “Rock of Ages”, the first hit off the multi-national award winning third album Pyromania would be a game changer.
Point 3 – Pyromania While High ’N’ Dry had put the boys on the scene, Pyromania made sure they were here to stay. With the musical genius of producer Mutt Lange, it was a marriage made in heaven. Every track on this album was noticed!
This was the pivotal Wall equivalent of glam rock. If The Beatles had been bigger than Jesus, at that moment, Def Leppard would rival the biggest Brit band of all time. “Photograph”, a tribute to Joe Elliott’s childhood obsession with Marilyn Monroe, would kick Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” off the Billboard’s Top 100 number one slot! It also would become the most requested video on MTV of all time. “Rock Rock Till You Drop” was a bit heavy for typical Def Leppard fans, but stations couldn’t get enough. Finally, “Too Late For Love” and “Billy’s Got a Gun” topped out the charts before the last and largest single, “Foolin’” would bring the album full circle. The Def Leppard boys were at the top of their game. Nothing could go wrong.
In my personal corner of survival, I couldn’t get this new album in my hands fast enough. My Walkman ate batteries like chocolate while I wore out this new treasure. We were free. My father, while still traveling, had full custody of my brother and I. We had a new stepmother to tote. What could be wrong? Nothing… and everything.
A new city. A new continent. A new world. New schools. New friends… I was awkward. My hair was too big and my body was too lanky. I was now a 6th grader, developing boobs, and was the tallest girl in my class. I had to wear a bra. I was tortured, bullied, every day. My brother, on the other hand, couldn’t have been happier. He was at the height of his popularity in high school and loving it. Again, I found my solace in my window seat of my bedroom. “Lady Strange” and “Mirror, Mirror” still echoed through my head, but now I had a new collection of mental images to go with these beautiful new songs. Glam Rock. Is that really what these boys were?
What was glam rock anyway? My 13 year old self decided it was time to pay proper tribute to the boys I loved so much. I bought a photo album and began collecting anything and everything I could on the band. I collected articles, photographs, anything! They stayed tucked within the walls of this bulging album and were read every single day.
In that time, to say I became a little obsessed with Joe Elliott would be an understatement. I had never heard such a siren of a voice in a man before. In “Photograph”, his words rang out like fire that seemed to burn in a single strand forever. He gave life to pain, grieving, love and mercy as he longed for this woman he could never possibly have…much like the feelings I had for him.
Point 4- Tragedy. I can still hear the news as clear as if it were yesterday. December 31, 1984, drummer Rick Allen was driving down a country road outside Sheffield, England when he lost control of his car and crashed into a concrete wall. The accident took his left arm, and, to me, the future of Def Leppard along with it. I thought, “Def Leppard could not continue without Rick Allen”, and that Rick Allen would never play again.
Point 5- Triumph. Throughout the two years following the accident, Rick Allen regained his composure and decided to fight. Nothing like this had ever been done before. Special rigging and a custom kit was made to accommodate Rick, so he could play with his feet in place of his arm. With just one rehearsal, Rick emerged onto the stage to a raging standing ovation at the Monsters of Rock tour, 1986.
Point 6- The Lazarus Effect. It had been 4 years since the release, fire and rage of Pyromania. Rick had lost an arm. Def Leppard released Hysteria in August of 1987 with baited breath. This was a turning point.
At 17, standing by the edge of a pool in the summer heat I heard it. I will never forget. Over the speakers of the public pool, where so many of my friends had gathered. We were in mid conversation. I had a lemon quench in my hand. The familiar and lost sound of Joe’s, “Love me like a bomb…bomb” radiated through the air. I literally dropped the quench and fell to my knees. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” blew through the summer heat, and just like that, everything was right with the world again.
I ran home. I had to have this new album. Of course it wasn’t out yet, but the cassette single was. It’s B-side was “Love Bites”, a song which later would become the ultimate lust and craving for Joe Elliott.
You see, I had made a decision that summer. I had made friends. My brother had moved on and joined the navy. I now had a baby sister who I was left to watch most of the time.
My grades were OK.
I hated my life.
I hated my stepmother.
My stepmother hated me.
I hated everything except the kindness of my grandparents, who were not as welcoming as they had once been. I was a teenager with all the appropriate hormones to go along with it. On the outside I was fun-loving, joyful and ready to take on the world. I had no plans for college because I knew I wouldn’t be going. I didn’t care if I turned in my assignments or not. I knew it wouldn’t matter. I wouldn’t be there for the turn of 1988. I had written the proper letters. The plan was in place. I knew where and what I would do. There would be no failing. This was not a cry for help. This was the end to my pain. The end to a life I no longer wanted or needed. It also was the end to my father’s pain for the subsequent damage that he had no idea he had put me through.
However, something changed. That afternoon there were interviews everywhere. Rick Allen told his story of survival. Joe Elliot told the stories of Rick giving up and his multiple suicide attempts. I suddenly realized this was normal. I was fucking NORMAL. These feelings of hopelessness were okay. Fuck, I didn’t even lose an arm! This man lost an arm. A drummer lost his GODDAMN ARM, and came back from it! If he could do that, I could live. Someone saved my life tonight, Sugarbear.
Point 7- Fuck you, Michael Jackson. To that point, Thriller had been the biggest selling record of all time. Within a week, Hysteria pushed Thriller off the charts and zoomed into the number one position. This album was happy. Glam metal was gone (thank God!). There was something more serious, more charismatic and just better about this album. The videos came out, one by one. Then, “Hysteria” was released. The single crooned it’s way onto MTV. In a set of blue lights, a blue suit, and a perfectly tailored mullet that still works to this day, Joe Elliot makes a slow turn toward the camera. With the mic in his right hand and the mic stand in his left hand, Joe sang straight to me with words that cut into my soul. His eyes penetrated through all the pain I’d ever felt to that point. All at once, I fell in love. I don’t know if it was the song, those eyes, or the mullet, but to this day I cannot turn the station when “Hysteria” comes on. The boys were back, and with a vengeance!
Point 8- Just When we Thought the Worst was Over In August of 1988, Steve Clark made the cover of Guitar magazine. His angelic white hair scattered over his head in the shock of perfection that was the epitome of rock and roll. His ripped white t-shirt fell over one shoulder with the epic red guitar that was Steve. Of course, the half-burnt cigarette hanging from his lips and the all-too-real bags under his eyes reminded us that he was a real rock star. Unfortunately, he led the life of a rock star. Drugs and rock & roll were his life. That, along with his beautiful fiance’, Lorelei. At the age of 30, and on hiatus from the Hysteria tour, Steve went on a bender. He was found dead in his hotel suite on January 8, 1991 from accidental alcohol poisoning. Even now, writing these words, that day screams back into my memory.
Point 9- Adrenalize… finally. The band promised it would never wait so long between albums again. However, four years passed before Adrenalize was released onto the scene. “Let’s Get Rocked”, the debut single came with a video of charismatic cartoon characters, which had never been tried up to that point. This album, again, was a new sound for the Def Leppard. “White Lightning”, which Steve Clark had worked on before his death became a B-side, but a favorite to cult Leppard fans. While Adrenalize would never top anywhere close to the rise of Hysteria, it was just as relevant. Some fans believe Def Leppard sold out, became too “pop”. However, if you listen to the album, you find the full depth of the Def Leppard soul. It’s in there, and it’s longing for the sound of Steve. It’s missing Steve, aching for him. We allowed it to mourn.
My copy, then on CD, would be played until too worn to play anymore. I went through 3 copies. It was my early college years when this song was released. I can remember driving with the windows down through the calm neighborhood of the elementary school to pick up my now growing sister. I am reminded that without Rick Allen’s will to live, those happy afternoons of loud music and McDonald’s ice cream would’ve never happened.
Point 10 – In The Round, In Your Face Through the pain and triumph, it was time the Leppard boys saw some happiness and some real action. They planned the most elaborate tour ever done to date. The “In the Round, In your Face” tour would be something no band to that point had ever tried. The stage would sit in the middle and rotate. Fans on all sides would get views of the band and see a realm of new performances like nothing done before. The band would emerge from a hidden vault under the stage, as if they appeared from thin air. It was a thing of beauty. Vivian Campbell, former guitarist for Whitesnake had stepped in to not replace Steve, but to pay homage to him and fill the missing void with his particular skill and talents. It’s hard for me to consider Vivian one of the true Leppard boys. This is something I’m working on, and probably should seek therapy for!
In October 1993 Retro Active was released with little notice. A minor liking of two singles released off the album, “Miss You In a Heartbeat”, and “Two Steps Behind”, saw the Lep boys in a new light. These were much softer hits. However, true Leppard fans would find hope and heart in this album. Some of the original songs left off of other albums were finally released. “Ring of Fire”, was released in a more defined, cleaned up style that left me reeling with emotion. “I Wanna Be Your Hero” was under-rated, haunting, and just upbeat enough to take us back to the roots of On Through the Night. The public should have given the album more of a chance. They would have seen more depth in the album, which was so easily dismissed with the release of Vault: Greatest Hits.
This story is unfinished. There are so many highlights in this letter that deserve more depth. Now, in 2016, a full 39 years after the release of their first album, our boys are again on tour! The tour is selling out to full stadiums all over the United States. There are so many questions waiting to be answered, mysteries, and things left to be said. Let’s continue this summer. We’ll see you on the road, boys.
~ Yours always
a surviving fan
Images courtesy Getty 2016