What is the greatest documentary ever made? Ken Burns’ THE CIVIL WAR? Alex Gibney’s ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM? CRUMB? CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS? HOOP DREAMS? THE THIN BLUE LINE?
Pencils down. Those are all great, important films, but the greatest documentary film ever made is, without question, Penelope Spheeris’ THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART II: THE METAL YEARS.
Shot in Los Angeles in the late ’80s, the film features interviews with the rich, successful, elders of heavy metal at the time — Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Alice Cooper, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons — talking about the freedom of metal and how it saved rock and roll from its own excesses, and everyone is in embarrassing period clothing (except for Lemmy) and everyone seems totally addled by either drugs (Ozzy) or money (Gene Simmons) or pussy (Paul Stanley) or some combination of all three. It’s all more amusing than insightful, but it is worth watching.
But what really makes this film amazing is all the unfamous bands who are also interviewed, and who contributed performances to the movie, insisting (against all the available evidence) that they’re definitely going to make it, they’re definitely going to be rich in a year or two, there is no backup plan. Their atrocious performances, along with the torrent of casual misogyny and drug and alcohol abuse, make clear — particularly now, 25 years later, when Odin and London and Seduce and Wet Cherry have conclusively failed to make any kind of impression on the world at large — that these guys are delusional and going nowhere, except back to their parents’ garages by way of the free clinic and probably a rehab or two.
Anyone who has seen this movie — and if you haven’t, I would encourage you to try and find it in a less crappy-looking format, though it isn’t on any of the streaming services and appears to be out of print — remembers the Chris Holmes scene, simultaneously amusing in its ridiculousness and heartbreaking in its pathos.
Chris Holmes was lead shredder for the metal band W.A.S.P., a band whose t-shirts I remember and whose name supposedly stood for We Are Satan’s People (though Wikipedia has numerous other thoughts on the matter). This is all I remember about W.A.S.P., because although I definitely bought my share of dumb metal records in the ’80s, I couldn’t name a single W.A.S.P. song or album, so I can’t say whether he was a great guitarist or not (and I can’t find any YouTube evidence from the ’80s either way, which may be evidence in itself).
Anyway, Holmes is unique among THE METAL YEARS’ interview subjects, in that he is neither an aspiring rock star nor a very rich one in decline; he is in the thick of the life of a workaday, touring rock star: He is still getting girls in his hotel room four at a time, he is still accumulating gold records, and he is still a good-looking young guy, though he also calls himself “a piece of crap” and predicts he’ll be dead within ten years:
Oh god. Every time I watch that I just think over and over, HIS POOR MOTHER. And I assume that his prediction came true. For anyone looking for proof that the rock and roll lifestyle chews people up and spits them out, this clip must have been a godsend.
But last week, a video came through my Facebook feed via a friend of a friend labeled “W.A.S.P. Chris finally sings!” and it has to be seen to be believed. If the pool interview doesn’t scare you straight, this one ought to do the trick:
So many questions: Is this a joke? Is this really the same guy that gave an interview fully clothed in a floating chaise and dumped vodka into his face? Because that guy was a fit, handsome (if sloppy drunk) blond-haired Adonis, and this guy looks like Mankind the wrestler, right down to the missing teeth. What was the plan with the green screen? Were they going to put in some demon flames in post, but got thwarted by the fact that the screen is hanging crooked and doesn’t reach the top of the frame? What’s the story with the electronic drums behind him? If no one is going to play them, why are they in the video? Has Chris Holmes gone completely deaf, or just partially? Because no one with working ears would release this song. Did he get the guy from the “___________ Shreds” videos to play lead? Wait: IS HE THE GUY FROM THE “___________ Shreds” VIDEOS?
On the plus side, though, it’s nice to see that his mother is still alive and well enough to appear in the video with him, although I’d have advised against the tube top.
Don’t let this happen to you, kids: every year of touring takes four years off your life, which is why this dude looks like he’s been dead since 2006. Stay in school, stay off drugs, take it easy with the alcohol, and for God’s sake, if you have recorded certified gold albums and A) no longer possess those gold records because you snorted them and B) can’t find anyone to play the fake drums in your basement for your self-produced solo music video, DON’T RELEASE IT.
For real though, watch THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART II: THE METAL YEARS. I found it right here, in two parts (sorry it looks like shit):