Richie Blackmore's Rainbow--"Man On The Silver Mountain" (mp3)
Rainbow--"Rainbow In The Dark" (mp2)
Funny how things line-up. Yesterday, the announced death of Ronnie James Dio to stomach cancer. Today, a conversation about a festival of student bands at another school leading a discussion about earplugs and hearing loss, misspent nights at rock concerts in my youth. The price my ears have paid. Stir it all up in my brain and what do you get: heavy metal.
I was never much of a metalhead, but growing up in the 70's, unless you owned nothing but Seals and Crofts, you couldn't help being on the fringe of it--Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep (coming to Riverbend), and countless others had hits that made it onto FM stations, if not even occasionally AM stations. Heavy metal was mainstream.
I'm talking, of course, about 1st generation heavy metal. Once Van Halen came onto the scene with the same kinds of riffs and speedy guitar licks, but with girls as the subject matter of all their songs instead of Sturm und Drang anthems about ambiguous battles between good and evil (think "Iron Man" or even "Smoke On The Water"), the torch was passed. Boston, Def Leppard, Poison, and their ilk were the logical progression.
The original heavy metal was not happy music. It was not a soundtrack for love on a waterbed. Zeppelin maybe, Black Sabbath, no. It was simply droning, pounding, electric riffing best suited to a stupefying intake of marijuana or worse. It was music exploring the lower boundaries of consciousness played by virtuoso musicians, often with classical training, that perfectly captured the downer sensibilities of post-Watergate, post-60's, post-peace, love, and happiness America.
My first arena concert: Deep Purple. 1973. Sixth row. Civic Arena. Pittsburgh. Seated right in front of a massive wall of speakers. As was typical of those days, a confused triple-bill with David Gray opening (wrote "Outlaw Man," covered by the Eagles on Desperado), followed by a very, very, very late Billy Preston who only had time for two songs, his current funky hit "Will It Go Round In Circles" and one other. Made no sense as openers for a crowd primed for Deep Purple in their prime, still milking Machine Head and featuring a bit of Who Do We Think We Are as well.
Deep Purple played two hours. Deep Purple played 6 songs. You do the math.
"Lazy." "Space Truckin'." "Highway Star." "Child In Time." "My Woman From Tokyo." "Smoke On the Water." That was it (not necessarily in that order).
From that 6th row in front of that massive wall of speakers, Richie Blackmore's guitar, Jon Lord's organ, Ian Gillian's voice all pushed the upper limits of what my ears could tolerate. If there were girls there, I didn't notice them. If there were girls at any of those heavy metal shows, they weren't the kind my mother was going to let me date. The smell of reefer hung thickly in the air. Cigarettes flamed or glowed everywhere. I don't know what the ushers were expected to do.
And I'm not sure we, the early 70's concertgoers, knew what to do either. That close to the stage, but it isn't like we were moshing or dancing or even standing. We were sitting in our seats, politely passing whatever came from the left or the right while the noise blasted us further into oblivion.
Though I would see Led Zeppelin later that year, first stadium concert, Deep Purple was my only real foray into that hardcore heavy metal scene. Led Zeppelin was somehow different and bigger. And yeah, I saw Kiss a couple of years later for something to do during Christmas break my first year of college, and yeah, I saw Blue Oyster Cult a year or so after that in the Philadelphia Spectrum, with my coat over my head while people threw M-80's from the upper decks during the show, but those were even more fringe experiences.
See, I actually liked Deep Purple. I still do. Those old songs still hold up in their own way. Even though they are extremely dated in their sensibilities, in the kind of voice required to front such a band, in the riffs that have become cliches, the songs also convey a real sense of passion that comes from rock (not rock 'n roll) being so young and a band having the chance to define it and carve out their own space with each album.
And, just to finish the story, in case you didn't know, when guitarist Richie Blackmore left Deep Purple around 1975, he formed Richie Blackmore's Rainbow and choose Ronnie James Dio as the lead singer, the man who many mourn today.