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November 29, 2007

Book Notes - Craig Williams ("Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

I missed the glam metal heydays of the 80's and early 90's, being ensconced in indie rock's jangly guitars and sensitive songwriting. Luckily, Craig Williams captures the Sunset Strip scene in his personal perspective in his memoir, Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants. Williams gives a firsthand account of the Los Angeles rock world from the perspective of a participant (he played in the band Onyxxx, which gained a modicum of notoriety). The book's tales of youth, excess, and especially the music industry are often fascinating, especially of the young musicians chasing their dreams.

In his own words, here is Craig Williams' Book Notes essay for his memoir, Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants:

I don’t mean to sound too dramatic, but I believe rock music to be the most important human invention since the printing press. Although I’m willing to bet Guttenberg didn’t hang out with nearly as many Playboy playmates as, say, Nikki Sixx did. I say this not only because I think hyperbole is the greatest literary device in history…EVER…but also because there are few activities I engage in where rock doesn’t play some role. It is the thing upon which all other things in my life are constructed.

Inarguably, without rock music the events of my book, Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants, could not have transpired. I also doubt that I could have written the book without the “Leather Pants Mix” I put together before the writing could even begin. The mix contained just over 1000 songs, making up slightly more than two days of nothing but what musicologists refer to as “ass rock.” Not only did the music motivate me while I wrote, it also triggered memories that, in retrospect, may have been better repressed.

Each chapter of Leather Pants uses the name of one of these songs as its title. As playlists go, I’m fully aware that 19 songs of glam metal might drive many people to suicide. Not in the cool, mysterious way that listening to Ozzy or Judas Priest allegedly did, but it’s just a little too heavy with bands like Extreme, Great White, and W.A.S.P. for public consumption. Many of the songs, in fact, made me wonder, “How did I ever think this was good?” In an earnest effort to answer this query, I have put together the following playlist, which combines some of the early tunes that formed my musical tastes, and some of the greats from the hair metal era.

AC/DC, “There’s Gonna Be Some Rockin’”

I actually think this is just a great way to start this party. Not only does this song kick ass, but I think of all the bands that came to prominence during the 1980s, none of them hold up as well as AC/DC does. It’s simple blues rock with the transcendent energy of Angus Young’s guitar. All you really need to do to understand the timelessness of this track is to imagine that Bon Scott, the singer, is a fat black woman, rather than a pale, thin, white Australian alcoholic. At its best, this is what butt rock should be, and what any good rock star wannabe dreams of achieving.

ABBA, “Take a Chance on Me”

Oh yes I did. And I’m not trying to be ironic here. Some of my earliest musical memories are of listening to an ABBA cassette in the car while my mom and I plowed northbound through the Sierra Nevada on highway 395. Specifically, I recall singing the Bjorn and Benny male vocal (Take a chance/Take a chance/Take a chica chance chance) while my mom took the female Anni-Frid/Agnetha melody (If you change your mind/I’ll be the first in line…) When you’re weaned on this kind of music, it almost makes shit like Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” look pretty good, don’t you think?

Motley Crue, “Looks That Kill”

Ground zero as far as my rock star fantasy goes. Filthy, menacing and, for a boy growing up in southern California, local, this song and its accompanying video on MTV made the ten-year-old me do filthy, naughty things, like smoke my first cigarette. Which is exactly what rock music is supposed to do to a kid.

Xanadu, Olivia Newton John and Electric Light Orchestra

Sigh. I don’t know if it was her voice, those satin short shorts, or the roller skates, but Ms. Newton John turned me into the adolescent dreamer that roams the pages of Leather Pants. I still can’t listen to this song without feeling that little twinge of a love unrequited. Be well, dear Olivia.

Def Leppard, “Rock of Ages”

This song kicks off with that weird Unta gleeten glaten globen lyric, purportedly some kind of satanic backwards message. And when you’re ten or eleven, there could be nothing cooler. The track is also really heavy on cowbell, which is to glam metal what piano is to Tchaikovsky. With producer Mutt Lang on board, this was the first “pop metal” I’d ever heard and would, by the time the Def got to the Hysteria album, hold dominion over the music world.

Donna Summer, “Hot Stuff”

I blame my mom for this one, too. It was her cassette tape I’d steal and listen to late at night and imagine that I was playing guitar in Donna Summer’s band. I don’t even know if Donna Summer had a band, but this song features an absurdly overblown, complicated riff, and the guitar solo rips.

Ratt, “Round and Round”

Out on the street/That’s where we meet… As an awkward adolescent (is there any other kind?) looking for a place to fit in, this sounded pretty good to me. And by “the street,” I assumed Ratt’s frontman Stephen Pearcy was referring to LA’s Sunset Strip. Ratt was another emerging local band, part of the same scene as Van Halen, W.A.S.P., the Crue, Poison, Guns ‘N Roses, L.A. Guns, Faster Pussycat, Poison, Warrant, et al. The proximity of this scene to my suburban Orange County home only made the delusion that I could make it as a rock star that much more powerful.

The Police, “Invisible Sun”

One of the first albums I ever purchased on my own was The Police’s “Ghost in the Machine,” although it was only because my older brother forced me to. This song was the only one on the album that made any kind of sense to me, especially …lookin’ like something that the cat dragged in, which, of course, presciently alluded to the title of Poison’s first album.

Van Halen, “Hot for Teacher” and “Panama”

Sorry, but it’s impossible for me to limit myself to only one of these tracks. They are two of very few five-star songs on the Leather Pants mix (along with VH’s “Unchained” and pretty much everything by GNR), and they simply transformed my twelve-year-old universe. Van Halen invented the hair metal genre and, on these tracks, perfected it. Tyler, our lead singer, got this album for his 12th birthday and in one day we went from playing with plastic army men to assembling a rock n’ roll army of our own.

Missing Persons, “Words”

I bought Missing Persons’s EP at the same time I picked up “Ghost in the Machine.” I was pretty into some of the early New Wave stuff, and I suppose I could have wound up with a Flock of Seagulls haircut just as easily as I wound up with the hair style that’s on the cover of Leather Pants. Between the makeup, the hair, and the guitar work of Warren Cuccurullo, Missing Persons was practically a hair metal band except for the fact that lead singer Dale Bozzio was actually a woman, not just pretending to be.

Guns N’ Roses, “Welcome to the Jungle”

Possibly the most important opening riff in the history of the genre, this song floundered on radio and MTV before people discovered GNR through the more friendly “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” By combining metal, blues, and punk, they created something called “Sleaze Rock.” I actually remember being a little scared of these guys when I first heard them, as they had a genuine sense of chaos and danger. I hate to sound old, but they just don’t make ‘em like this any more.

Electric Light Orchestra, “Don’t Bring Me Down”

I was a huge Beatles fan and no one did the Beatles better than ELO mastermind and producer Jeff Lynne. Ubiquitous in the summer of 1979, this song was a safe entree for a six-year-old into the world of rock. With a simple beat and chord progression, and the very sing-able, Don’t let me down…Bruce, ELO inspired me to take my earliest stabs at writing my own music.

Faster Pussycat, “No Room for Emotion”

Also in the “Sleaze Rock” genre, Faster Pussycat is still one of my favorite bands of the era. This song plays a special role in Leather Pants, oozing from the radio during the intro of our band’s stuttering drummer, Kyle Siegel. While the stutter made him incapable of keeping beat (he was always just a half beat behind), he was able to use it to his advantage in seducing young ladies. The title of the song, I suppose, refers as much to Kyle’s character as it does to the hair metal movement as a whole.

Craig Williams and Mom, Have You Seen My Leather Pants links:

the book's page at its publisher

Daily Nebraskan review
Entertainment Weekly review

OC Register profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)