Rock/Pop > Versus
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When making heavy music, nothing complicates matters like having a tiny speck of brainpower to question the accepted traditions. "Ummm, why are we wearing this festive garb again? And how does making these trudging sounds help me get laid?" It's a lot easier, after all, if you just plug in and play duh rock. Why do you suppose there are more Foghat albums than Led Zeppelin ones? Hey, you try working in J.R.R. Tolkien references after you've titled your album In the Mood for Something Rude. Or Boogie Motel.
This isn't to say that you don't occasionally have great thinkers playing weighty rock. James "Iggy Pop" Osterberg Jr. had an article he scribed about Caesar and Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire published in an established journal of classical scholarship in 1995 ... which makes his ponying up for a plate of Alpo on "I Wanna Be You Dog" all the more remarkable. And with the expansive lexicon and free jazz influences the MC5 had at their disposal, these guys knew when to switch off the smarts and just go "chop! chop! chop! chop! chop! chop!" when a song called for it. And don't even get Ted Nugent started on Marcel Proust!
That's why it's almost kismet to discover that two of the sharpest, wittiest bands ever to play in a drop D tuning are appearing in the Motor City the very same week. With the original Van Halen, you had the ultimate party band, featuring an extroverted frontman who took nothing seriously and a guy toiling beside him much like a modern Thomas Edison, reinventing guitar playing for the next century as his means to compete. Who's to say that Eddie Van Halen would've ever thought of applying Bob Vila power-tool techniques to the six-string if he hadn't been blessed with the goofiest band to trounce the floorboards since Freddie and the Dreamers?
And then you have Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme and a rotating cast of characters changing up their sound from album to album, and even song to song, with one constant credo in mind: to constantly fuck with people still expecting reconstituted Kyuss.
The David Lee Roth-era Van Halen and QOTSA have had it both ways from the beginning, satisfying the rock intelligentsia hip enough to catch the humor, while pacifying an audience that combs its unibrow and says in one collective Lennie Smalls drone: "Deez guys are speakin' tuh meee!"
So, join us now, won't you, as we look back on the conscious efforts of VH Mach 1 and QOTSA to reach out to 20th and 21st century Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals who buy the biggest armfuls of merch, grunt the loudest for encores and cower in fear every time the cigarette lighters come out.
On their 1978 self-titled debut, Van Halen secured the knuckle-dragging segment of the heavy metal audience with this credo from "Running with the Devil": "I found the simple life weren't so simple." Only Paris Hilton (with her mouth full) and people who regularly do two chicks at the same time (like Diamond Dave) could find this grammatically acceptable.
On Queens of the Stone Age's 1998 self-titled debut, Josh Homme adopts the Tarzan syntax for "Give the Mule What He Wants": "The mule want it/The mule want it Sunday." Hey, you got problem with mule?
Like his Warner Bros. label mate Daffy Duck, seasoned pacifist Diamond Dave would much rather leave a chickenshit imprint of himself hotfooting through a bedroom wall than fight some lady's "mean old man" (see: "One Foot Out the Door").
The Queens appeal to man's most basic fighting instinct road rage which includes losing your temper with the thoroughfare itself during "Six Shooter." ("Fuck this road/Well, fuck you too/I'll fuckin' kill your best friend/What you fuckin' gonna do?"). Then Nick Olivieri follows it with a chorus of "Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, pow!" Which we believe technically constitutes a seven-shooter.
Censored cave drawings
Some retail chains (likely beginning with "Wal" and ending in "Mart") refused to stock Van Halen's 1984 album because its drawing of a Cupid smoking cigarettes might encourage real-life winged cherubs to ingest Joe Camels.
The inner sleeve of Rated X, the vinyl version of Queens' Rated R album, contained pornographic art, but even the record company balked at including the smutty penis drawings Josh Homme provided. No word on whether he was also made to stand in front of the class.
Carnal caveman desires
Van Halen videos always appealed to their baser base but the Pasadena boys apparently crossed a line with their "Oh! Pretty Woman" video, which MTV banned for its depiction of two midgets groping a tied-up woman who turns out to be a dude in drag at the end. Like that never happens! Japanese video outlets, however, only objected to Michael Anthony's pudgy depiction of a samurai warrior because it was "disrespectful."
In their new video for "3's and 7's," QOTSA recruits four hot devil dolls to bloody up and torture a guy named "The Colonel" with a hook for a hand. If this were the Bratz movie, it'd still be in theaters!
Homo erectus (or lending testosterone to other tribes)
Eddie Van Halen plays the epochal guitar solo on Michael Jackson's "Beat It," beginning a pop-R&B crossover that, luckily for Eddie and Valerie's boy Wolfgang, didn't result in Neverland sleepovers.
QOTSA lent a hand on the 2002 World Wrestling compilation album, Tough Enough, Vol. 2. The title, alas, was a bit of a misnomer, since Vince McMahon and company weren't tough enough to beat the World Wildlife Fund in a court of law when it lost the right to call itself the WWF and now must simply go by WW. World Wars I & II could not be reached for comment.
Skilled hunters and gatherers
On "Everybody Wants Some!" Roth pursues his prey with tribal beat and a spoken word interlude that includes complimenting said quarry on her stockings and high heels, while directing her like a furniture mover ("Yeah, that's it, a little more to the right, a little more ..."). When all this fails to score some flesh, he offers "Look, I'll pay you for it" by the time of the fadeout.
On their new album, Era Vulgaris, QOTSA runs the gamut between half-hearted romanticism on "Make It Wit Chu" ("If I told you that I knew about the sun and the moon, I'd be untrue") to cut-to-the-chase frankness when romancing the swine on "Run Pig Run (Here I Come)."
Underachieving with rock
"Have you seen Junior's grades?" On Women & Children First, two songs implicate rock 'n' roll as a justification for failure. Besides the aforementioned "And the Cradle Will Rock," there's the lesser-known "Fools" on which Dave states "I listen to too much rock 'n' roll."
There's a song on Lullabies to Paralyze where QOTSA's Homme screams: "I hate rock 'n' roll!" Yeah, I don't much feel like looking for the title, either.
Maybe it was Eddie's influence, but on Women & Children First, two songs have both women and children lagging a distant second behind whiskey.
The entire lyric for QOTSA's "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" includes a roll call of "Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol" with honorable mentions to "co-co-co-co-co-cocaine." The darn thing is the song might've won over even more Neanderthals if it had just included Whippets.
On "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love," Diamond Dave reiterates that he has neither anything you could call "real love" nor anyone waiting for him at home. Of course, if he had, then maybe there'd be a "Dave. Jr." joining Wolfgang Van Halen and doing midair leaps on this 2007 VH reunion tour ... and Roth Sr. would be home playing pinochle with Michael Anthony.
On "First It Giveth," QOTSA quotes '70s pop eunuch Peter Frampton by snarling "I'm in you/You're in me" ... but then adds: "I can't tell."
Man, that bodes really badly for future reproduction.
Van Halen performs Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Dr., Detroit; 313-396-7600; and on Monday, Oct. 22, at the Palace, 4 Championship Dr., Auburn Hills; 248-377-8200. Queens of the Stone Age performs Tuesday, Oct. 23, the Fillmore, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451.
Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.