There was an article about Heavy Metal Parking Lot (HMPL) that appeared in Concourse magazine a couple of years back called ‘The Deranged True Story Of Heavy Metal Parking Lot, The Citizen Kane Of Wasted Teenage Metalness’. In a lengthy, yet unnecessary expose, Dave McKenna analyses HMPL as a period piece, and writes that it is now the subject of a university of Maryland study. The movie is a really fascinating primary source,” says Laura Schnitker, an ethnomusicologist and curator for the libraries at the University of Maryland, explaining the school’s push to procure the Heavy Metal Parking Lot papers. “You’re getting a firsthand look at a community, a subculture from a very musically specific time in history. The heavy metal years were quite something in the history of popular music, and the movie offers you a glimpse of this really distinctive, fascinating and kind of repelling working class culture that shares a love of a certain kind of music.” What we have now is this incredible body of anthropological studies that also happens to be extremely entertaining and very funny,” says Jim Healy, who runs the University of Wisconsin’s Cinematique program, dedicated to connoisseurs of obscure movies. “If you want to see how a certain demographic looked and behaved in 1986, watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot.”
You know something, as someone who was a metal head in 1986 – this academic scrutiny is ludicrous. Here’s my take on it. I have grown weary of pundits over analysing HMPL, and looking deeper into it than what it really is – or was. Particularly modern day HM fans who were too young to be there in 86, yet continue to scrutinise HMPL beyond belief, and in turn elevating it (and it’s ‘cast’ or ‘stars’) to a status that belies its original intent. More about original intent soon.
In Australia in the early to mid 80s – big HM concerts were few and far between, and unlike in the States, kids did not gather in their cars en masse outside the concert venue – waiting for the doors to open. (I’ve been to venues like the Capital Centre s in the States, where the venue is in the middle of nowhere, no bars or pubs nearby, just kids hanging around in their cars, waiting for the venue to open).
Being a metal head up until 1987 was a magical time (and I’ll get back to 1987 a bit later). To be into metal in Australia in the first part of the 80s was to be part of an underground. Metal was not the dominant and commercial force it would become, it was music for outcasts, social misfits, and other kids who didn’t fit into the mainstream, the jock, surfie or cheerleader set. Metal was NOT popular.
In the US, Reagan’s right wing conservatism bred a whole breed of disaffected youth. In every suburb across white bread America, metal was on the rise. 83-86 in particular were fruitful years. When Quiet Riot broke out of LA in 83 with Metal Health, metal’s ascent in suburbia was assured. The sounds of Ratt, Motley Crue, Scorpions, Van Halen, Twisted Sister, WASP, Maiden, KISS and Ozzy followed – as of course did Judas Priest, who had been making inroads in the states since 1980’s British Steel’. To be a fan of these bands was in many ways tribal. Magazines like Hit Parader and Circus and Rock Faces were bibles for the converted.
Metal with flash, with loud guitars always resonated with kids – be it those in menial working class jobs, or those sitting in high school halls throughout middle America. This was the setting – this was America of the mid 80s.
Reagan inherited almost 12% unemployment from the Carter Administration. The four pillars of Reagan’s economic policy were to reduce the growth of government spending, reduce the federal income tax and capital gains tax, reduce government regulation, and tighten the money supply in order to reduce inflation. This resulted in a widening of the income gap, an atmosphere of greed, and the national debt tripling in eight years. Throw in Reagan’s War on Drugs and arch conservatism against evil rock n roll – and kids all round faced an uncertain, some would say bleak future. Yet they related to metal – a voice that spoke to them. We’re Not Gonna Take It, Come On Feel The Noize, Freewheel Burnin’, You Got Another Thing Comin………
And so it was in this flux like socio political environment that these kids existed. I’m just scene setting here. It’s May 1986 – Priest and Dokken were coming to town – a chance to let your hair down, clock out of the factory, put the school books away – get loose, and forget about your humdrum existence. Get in the old Trans-Am, crank up the cassette player, get some beer or pot, head to the show with your friends and indulge in an age old pre-concert ritual….and that’s it. THAT is HMPL. Nothing more than that.
Except you get two smart arse A-grade nerds with wanna be Spielberg aspirations, turn up with their video camera (at a time when people didn’t have video cameras) with the intention of demeaning their subjects. THAT’S the intent. Sticking a camera in front of a kid who is hammered and asking him to articulate why he likes Judas Priest is a cheap shot, and more than a little cringe worthy. Easy targets.
According to the article, ‘film makers’ John Heyn and Jeff Krulik (who were both 18 year old certifiable geeks) didn’t hold any lengthy pre-production meetings or storyboarding sessions in the days leading up to the concert. There was no strategy at all other than to just show up and roll tape. “Heyn and Krulik had scheduled a double-date for later that night to go see Jayne Mansfield and Little Richard’s pioneering 1956 rock feature film at an art-house theater.” Credibility in tact right? Check. For two 18 year old squares, aren’t these two hip.
Heyn suggested they show up before a concert and just work with whatever they find in the parking lot. They had no particular band in mind, Krulik says, but Judas Priest’s Turbo tour was coming up at the Capital Centre. Krulik and Heyn weren’t Priest or metal fans—their musical tastes leaned more to new wave—but they’d seen enough kids with mullets and black t-shirts at the mall to surmise that the band would attract an interesting demographic.
We knew people like this existed,” says Heyn. “But we’d never seen them all in one place, with everybody behaving a particular way and wearing a 3/4 tee-shirt and rocking a mullet.”
It amazes me that Heyn and Krulik continue to gain life out of HMPL, attending film festivals and other gatherings, sometimes with the ‘stars’ of HMPL. The fact that Heyn and Krulik have scored such longevity from this reeks. “We knew people like this existed”, says he. Excuse me? These are the same ‘people’ who nowadays are happy to be paraded around and make appearances at HMPL screenings, exploited yet again like freak show exhibits. Show some dignity people, please. They were stoned or drunk kids 32 years ago at a priest concert. And ?
Heyn and Kruilk have continued to make a buck off this which I don’t have a problem with – yet when it becomes the subject matter for a university study ? Enough is enough. Nowadays, Heyn and Krulik talk up their role as pioneers, cutting edge film makers. Surely people can see through that right? Maybe not.
I note another example where Chris Czynszak and Aaron Camaro of the Decibel Geek Podcast staged a ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot Reunion’ at Nashville’s Rock n Pod Expo in 2017. Both these podcasters, being too young to experience the glorious period of metal to 86, sit with Krulik at their side and continue to blow the whole HMPL thing way out of proportion, elevating it, making it something it was not. They even dragged out ‘cast members’ Gram of Dope and the geezer with the DC101 tee shirt to add authenticity. Affording these people celebrity status? Really?
It’s pitiful to watch these geezers sit in front of a camera like a side show attraction, happy to bask in the attention – with Czynszak and Camaro bestowing upon the ‘stars’ unwarranted celebrity status – stemming from a fleeting moment 32 years ago when they were either drunk, high or both. For as I said, in 86 they were drunk/stoned kids at a concert sprouting incoherent ramblings. That’s it. Yet they are NOT celebrities, they have zero to offer. What can they say? Yep, that was me. The inarticulate DC 101 guy even dishes out the ‘metal still rules’ chestnut. Dude, ever get the feeling you’ve been had? Where is your self-respect or dignity? People were laughing AT YOU all those years ago – and now? Stevie Wonder could see that none of these cast members were ever gonna end up working at Wall Street, and they ended up where life, predictably, took them. It’s pathetic to watch.
Graham ‘Gram of Dope’ Owens has stretched his Warhol moment to the limit. The guy has a book out – really?
Anyway – I think I made the point. It was a great time to be a metal head in the mid 80s – before Bon Jovi came along and sanitised it all and diluted the lines a year later. If you weren’t there – sure, it easy to look at HMPL and laugh along – but it does not deserve the significance as a social document of significance, and never ending discourse – that is placed upon it.