Friday, October 26, 2012

Classic Music Video of the Week: Bon Jovi, "Dead or Alive"

Metal ruled the small Nebraska town where I grew up back in the 80s.  The Old Gold-smoking, mullet-sporting dead end kids wore Metallica and Slayer shirts on a nearly constant basis, blasting the strains of Judas Priest from their rusted-out Chevys and Fords as the cruised up and down the main drag.  Apart from those rough-edged future drop outs, metal meant the hair-sprayed processed cheese of the likes of Motley Crue, Def Leppard, and Bon Jovi, or the psychotic crank-shot of Guns n' Roses.

I am proud to say that I liked the latter band, but totally eschewed hair metal.  Back in those days I listened to a rather odd combination of rap and oldies.  The Monkees and Beatles fought for slots in my Walkman with Young MC and Eric B and Rakim.  I made one, single song exception to my disdain for the likes of Warrant/Poison/Whitesnake: Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive."

Apart from this song I couldn't stand the group.  Their lead singer was a preening be-spandexed pretty boy, and their music overblown and lacking guts.  However, I could never resist the eerie, descending, jangly guitar that opens "Dead of Alive."  That, combined with the guitar drone in the background, sounded like driving down the interstate on a rainy day while being passed by a semi-truck.  It's full of the usual "life on the road" cliches, but elevates them to a kind of surreally ridiculous audacity.  What kind of person has the galling lack of taste/brass balls to compose a line like "I walk these streets with a loaded six string on my back" with a straight face, and sing it with complete commitment?

It's the video, however, that really elevated the song for me.  In an era of videos so sugary with bright colors that they made my teeth hurt, it was shot in stark black and white, and consisted mostly of documentary footage.  We see band members in disheveled hotel rooms, looking jet lagged, and with bags under their eyes between the shots of them rocking out on the stage and fans pledging their devotion with an almost religious fervor.  The stage scenes, full of much musical grimacing and overwrought gestures, made much less of an impact on me than one single shot (at 1:46) of one of the band members with bed head rubbing his eyes with a facial expression that says "dammit, I'm exhausted and I now have to go back to work."  It's a great little demystifying glimpse into life behind the curtain, and one that made being a rock star seem even more romantic, in a strange way, than I had ever felt it to be.  It was good to know the flip side of seeing a million faces, and rocking them all.

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