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Wild side: The psychology of hair bands

The psychology of 80s music
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Women control most things in this world (and that’s not a bad thing), and trends in music are no exception. Aside from the death and taxes cliché, there are two certainties in life. All women love Mexican food and 80s music. No matter what period it was (or is) in music, the female consumer dictates what is popular, and more importantly what sells. Did you ever visit Los Angeles in the 1980s or see pictures? That wasn’t smog. That was a cloud of hair spray that drew in women from all over the world to swoon for something that doesn’t exist – the criminal “bad boy” with a soft side of sentimentality and romantic nature that rivals “The Notebook.” If men dictated trends in music, they would also have popularized something that doesn’t exist. They would search for the super hot model with a heart of gold, who is monogamous to one man-but at the same time picks up other hot girls for threesomes. And she cooks bacon after it’s all over every time. The world of 80s music was a cocaine fueled backward sexual fantasy of decadence and whimsical, yet sentimental, sensuality. And we all bought it hook, line, and sinker.

What made the 80s so fascinating was that it was a unique time like no other where the lines of social groups and cliques were as clearly defined as they ever had been, or have been since. From the ashes of punk rock and stadium rock such as the Ramones and Cheap Trick in the 1970s, rose new wave such as The Cure and The Talking Heads. People traded in their ripped jeans, leather jackets, and guitars for plaid pants, neck ties, fedoras, and synthesizers. The soft rock and disco of the 1970s morphed together into its bastard son, modern pop music such as Whitney Houston and Madonna, which is still considered timeless today. Bruce Springsteen even changed his sound to fit the times when recording his “Born in the USA” album replacing guitar and saxophone melodies with keyboards and synthesizers. We even saw the rise of a new genre all together that some considered a fad like disco, rap music. Boy were those critics wrong. We also unfortunately saw the birth of the boy band craze when New Kids on the Block made 11-year-old girls world-wide ready to hump the monkey bars at school during recess.

Aside from all of this change, one extremely outlandish thing was happening. The theatric rock of the late 70s into the early 80s such as KISS, David Bowie, and Queen transformed into grown men cross-dressing like women and playing very over-produced melodramatic rock with a hint of raunch that later became known as “hair metal.” And you know what, it worked. Bands such as Poison, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Slaughter, and Skid Row were selling records at an unprecedented level. It’s not just because women loved the idea of a romantic bad boy though guy (cough, cough “Dirty Dancing”), it was also because the music was just simply fun for everyone.

It wasn’t just a simple roll of the dice. For the first time in decades, the young and emerging generation wasn’t faced with war or social unrest like kids in the 60s and 70s. (In retrospect, we should probably have had our eyes open a little more to see what was beneath the surface and out of public sight and knowledge, but that’s another story for another time.) People were ready for the tumultuous times to be over. They were ready for “party time.” I can say that I really came of age in the 90s, but I remember the 80s well growing up in North Carolina. Sure, we had the Cold War going on, but we also had Reagan. Wall Street was surging, so the economy was on an up-swing and the Reagan Administration spun patriotic propaganda so effectively the Republican Party is still living and surviving off of those few years three decades later. My point is that the psyche of the American public was incredibly optimistic in a way it hadn’t been since the 1920s. The Doors or Led Zeppelin wouldn’t have done well during this time. The sound of those bands matched the psychological state of the people. “Strange Days” was great for the people in 1967 mired in civil unrest and the Vietnam War. Not so great in 1987 when the top things on a lot of minds were Hulkamania, Nintendo, and big hair. The rock band Poison opened a song chanting “I want action tonight! Satisfaction all night!” How perfect was that for its time?

Let’s take a closer look at hair metal, or its more-appropriate name-cross-dressing rock. The word ‘metal,’ in the term ‘hair metal’ should be used very loosely. Heavy metal music has so-many sub-genres it is hard to keep up. Bands such as Slayer and Opeth fall into death metal. Bands such as Metallica and Pantera lean more toward thrash metal. Bands such as Stryper and Shining Star fall under the absolutely ridiculous Christian metal sub-genre. Bands such as Deep Purple and Apocalyptica sway into the neo-classical metal spectrum. And then out in front leading the pack we have glam metal (or hair metal). There is no “metal” involved here, which is why I am changing its name to cross-dressing rock. The reason for doing that is to set it apart psychologically. Death metal, thrash metal, speed metal; they all shared commonaliies that have actually been studied at Westminster University. Those that are drawn to the music, on both the musician and fan side, tend to have several things in common in regards to their personalities. For the most part, they tend to be open to new experiences, they desire the need to be an individual, they tend to be non-religious, and they tend to have a lower sense of self-esteem. Think about that. Overly-heavy guitars, severely extreme tempos, frantic double-bass drumming combined together make quite a cacaphony of sound that makes a lot of noise and gets a lot of attention. Getting attention sure does build one’s self-esteem because it builds a sense of importance. Whose attention would they be trying to get? Women of course. The only conceivable reason a man gets out of bed in the morning or does anything productive in life is for the hopes of getting that impossible woman that doesn’t exist outside of adult film that I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. You don’t really think a man would go into debt for something as stupid as a Ferrari out of good practical sense do you? Some men honk their car horns to get women’s attention. Some men strive to work on Wall Street to get women’s attention. Some men buy big pickup trucks and act like ignorant rednecks to get women’s attention. Some men shoot up public places hoping that being a bad-ass murderer will get women’s attention. And some men scream and drone out their sexual frustrations into a microphone backed by a symphony of heavy metal music. Ladies, in case you weren’t aware, most everything that happens in this world happens to get the attention of the .001% percent of you. Obviously men haven’t progressed as far as once thought since the beginning of recorded history.

So what makes cross-dressing rock any different? These obviously straight men dressing like women every day and covering the Sunset Strip in a daze of Vidal Sassoon hair products were doing what every man has wanted to do since the dawn of time - getting women’s attention. And you know what? They did it better than anyone ever has. They had a secret weapon. They created something new. That one thing that drove (and still drives) women crazy. That oasis in the desert. They created a mythical figure, like Thor or Clark Kent, that doesn’t exist. That bad boy with a soft side. He’s rough and tough on the exterior, but with a romantic, yet animalistic sexual appetite performed at the height of a Greek God. He will be a tough guy and protect you through all space and time, but still be sensitive enough to be emotionally vulnerable behind closed doors.

We can’t ever call these bands unintelligent or uncreative. They created something nobody else ever had. Yet, they did it dressed like women. Therefore it wasn’t ‘threatening’ to women. Brett Michaels’ penis isn’t threatening because he is a rough and tough sentimental bad boy that is in touch with his feminine side. Give me a break. We all know he is bald under that bandanna and stupid hat. But if you want to make woman’s hormones move as fast as passing stars in the Millennium Falcon, just have him sing “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn.” Game over.

The music wasn’t particularly complex. It wasn’t particularly mind-stimulating. It wasn’t even particularly thoughtful. But what it did have was genius. The music of the 1990s turned a more emotional, raw, and intellectually meaningful corner. However, sometimes a mindless good time is all you want, or need. That’s what made the music of the 1980s so special and timeless. You can turn on most any song from the 1980s and know without a doubt when it was made simply due to its sound and mood within the first ten seconds. Give it a try. It’s pretty amazing. The music of the 80s, particularly cross-dressing rock, will live forever like it or not. I for one am glad it is part of the legacy of rock. Nirvana never would have happened otherwise and I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this article. Funny the way things work out.

If you’re a music lover, pick up a copy of my novel, “A Fire That Wouldn’t Go Out,” on Amazon and the Apple iBookstore.

Dustin M Pardue
@dustinmpardue