Here's the last from the book "Bang Your Head" by David Konow.
If you liked the sections I posted I suggest pick it up because there
is a lot more bands I didn't even go over.
This section talks about the making of one of the most popular documentaries on Metal
by Penelope Spheeris.
(photo not in "Bang Your Head" book)
The Decline of Western Civilization Pt II, The Metal Years
Pg 312 - 316
In the summer of 1988, metal went back to the movies with The Decline
of Western Civilization Part II, the Metal Years, directed by Penelope
Spheeris. The first Decline documented the LA. punk scene from 1979 to
1980, including such bands as X, Fear, and the Germs.
After the success of the first Decline, Spheeris carved out a unique
niche as a filmmaker. She next made the punk rock urban drama Suburbia,
which became another cult hit, and The Boys Next Door, about two
brothers (one played by Charlie Sheen) who go on a killing spree. One
critic recently speculated the film could have been the inspiration for
Beavis and Butt-head.
Spheeris’s sequel to Decline would be about metal bands, even though
the hair bands on the Sunset Strip were a completely separate world
from the punk bands she previously chronicled. But Spheeris saw the
musicians racing the clock to fame as fascinating material for a film.
“They gave it a real human drama,” she said. “It’s like, ‘We’re devoted,
we’re on the verge of being desperate, we have to make it, we’re run-
ning out of time.’ That’s heavier drama than you get in a lot of scripted
The film features Aerosmith, Stanley and Simmons from Kiss. Lemmy
from Motorhead, Poison, and Megadeth. It also showcases a series of
local bands that had been struggling for years trying to get a record
deal, like London and Odin. Many of the musicians Spheeris inter-
viewed seemed either hopelessly naive or extremely delusional. Most of
them freely admitted they had no backup plans at all. The musicians re-
peated a mantra over and over throughout the film: “But I will make it.”
With the exception of Janet Gardner, lead singer of Vixen, few of the
musicians went anywhere.
A few of the artists interviewed for the film were honest and candid,
such as Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Lemmy, Ozzy
Osbourne, and Alice Cooper. It’s clear watching the film that for many of
the musicians interviewed the music was secondary, merely a vehicle to
get paid and laid. The only thing that was accurate about many of the
interviews was it showed how infuriatingly insincere the L.A. scene had
become. A number of the male musicians openly bragged that they used
the women who supported them. Apparently, many of the musicians re-
lated to Spheeris as one of the guys, and freely admitted their disgust-
ingly sexist attitudes.
(photo not in "Bang Your Head" book)
The strongest moment of Decline Part II comes near the end. Spheeris
wanted to film W.A.S.P., but according to former guitarist Chris Holmes,
when she approached Blackie Lawless, he wanted her to rent out
Perkins Palace to film the band lip-synching with a full audience. She
didn’t have the budget for that and asked Chris if he’d like to be
interviewed for the film solo. “Fuck yeah, no problem,” he said.
Holmes would be back from a tour that week, and he promised
Spheeris he would do it that Sunday. Holmes came home from the road
that Wednesday. The limo driver was supposed to just drive Holmes
and then go back to the chauffeur company, but Holmes had him stay
for several days and bring his friends over to the house where they par-
tied for days.
When Saturday rolled around, Holmes was awake from doing blow
and speed all week. That morning at ten o’clock, Spheeris called
Holmes. A band she was supposed to film had flaked out on her, and she
asked if he could do the interview that day. Not only had Holmes got-
ten no sleep for three days but, he says, he was still jet-lagged. Yet he
agreed to do the interview that day.
As Holmes was leaving the house, his mother Sandy pulled up. She
hadn’t seen her son in a quite a while, so he told her he was going to do
an interview and invited her to come with him. He also brought a shot-
gun in a guitar case along with him. He figured they could use it for
something in the film. Right before they began shooting, Spheeris
asked Sandy if she wanted to be in the movie, and she agreed.
For his segment in the film, Holmes floated in a pool in a foam chair
while his mother sat on a deck chair. He had a bottle of vodka he
continually guzzled from and poured all over himself. Spheeris asked
Holmes if the rock and roll lifestyle was dangerous to his health,
“Health? What do you mean, health?” he replied, his voice drunken and
slurred. “Look at me. What do I look? Forty? Thirty? I’m twenty-nine,
I’m what they call an old fuck.” He told Spheeris that within ten years
he’d probably be dead.
Holmes looked over at his mother, splashing water at her and trying
to make a joke of the interview. “Look at my mom, shit!” he said with a
laugh. Spheeris asked Holmes’s mother if he drank a lot—as if it weren’t
already obvious—and Sandy responded, “Just when he’s awake.” Holmes
said, “I’m a full-blown alcoholic. Five pints, five quarts a day, who cares?
I’m a happy camper. . . . It’s the only thing that makes me free.” Through-
out the interview, Holmes’s mother looked as if she was on the verge of
During the film’s premiere, many in the audience openly laughed
at Holmes. Years later, the scene is incredibly sad to watch. As one re-
viewer noted, “I’ve seen nothing in a movie this year that’s more amaz-
lng than this dipso millionaire rock star drowning in self-hatred while
his mother’s face commands the screen. You’ll remember that face long
after the soundtrack stops echoing in your ears.”
Decline, Part II premiered at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. One
of the poser musicians interviewed for the film rode around in a limo
the whole week convinced he was about to become a huge star. Chris
Holmes came to the premiere with his mother. His leg was in a cast, and
he told reporters he had been shot by the PMRC. London lead singer
Nadir D’Priest was interviewed outside the theater by ABC News. They
had to shoot the right side of his face because he was doing cocaine
in the limo on the way to the film and his other nostril was covered in
Once the film started rolling, many who were in it practically sank in
their seats. Odin guitarist Jeff Duncan says he was so embarrassed by the
film that he felt like putting a bag over his head before walking out of
the theater. Years later, when people recognized him on the street from
the movie, he quotes a line from Animal House: “Fat, drunk and stupid is
no way to go through life, son.” Some of the established musicians in
the film weren’t impressed with it either. “I couldn’t believe the amount
of horseshit in that film,” said Osbourne. “It seemed that all anyone
talked about was partying and getting laid. Whatever happened to
being in a band and playing music?” (Ironically, Spheeris recently
directed a documentary about Osbourne’s Ozzfest tour.)
The premiere after-party was at the mansion of Miles Copeland, the
founder of I.R.S. Records, where the revelers went through ten kegs in
half an hour. The Cathouse’s Joseph Brooks DJ’d the festivities. Even-
tually police helicopters swooped down flashing their lights, and the
London guitarist Lizzie Grey was bitter about the film for years and
claimed that Spheeris used his remarks out of context to make him look
like an idiot. When asked if any of his remarks were taken out of con-
text, Nadir D’Priest said, “I sure hope so.”
Yet there were musicians who appeared in Decline who were grateful
for the opportunity. “I thought it was pretty cool,” says Lizzy Borden
guitarist Gene Allen of the band’s appearance in the film. “Everybody
was portrayed exactly how they are in life. I don’t think it hurt. Any
exposure is good exposure.” Says D’Priest, “Penelope had the right
attitude. She wanted the rawness. To me, Decline was a giant elevator for all
the small bands.”
The Decline of Western Civilization Part II opened to good reviews
many critics called it the perfect companion piece to This is Spinal Tap.
At the time, however, no one could see the film for what it
was: an omen that things would soon be coming to an end.