Book Review: Hell Bent for Leather
So, since exams were over on Friday evening, I’ve been absorbing all the books I’ve been collecting all semester and just haven’t had time to read yet. Yesterday I read Hell Bent for Leather: Confessions of a Heavy Metal Addict by Seb Hunter. I’ve seen this book compared to Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman quite a lot. Yes, they do have similar premises: kid grows up in boring little town, loves rock n roll, scares his parents, eventually grows up and writes a book about his experience growing up in the 1980’s. The main difference is that 1) Seb actually aspired to make it as a rock star, whereas Klosterman went to college and got a degree; and 2) Seb lives in England, and Klosterman lived in North Dakota (or wherever Fargo is). While in Europe it seems that the headbangers followed the same basic trends, the bands they idolized were different. Dogs D’Amour instead of Poison? Hanoi Rocks instead of Motley Crue? REALLY? Should have expected it, I guess. They obviously weren’t flocking to LA like the Americans were, they went to London…of course their influences would include more European bands (which the Americans, as usual, prettymuch ignore). The little differences were interesting to notice, although they weren’t that obvious at first.
Plus, this book made a lot more sense than Klosterman’s book. I love Chuck and I think he has a lot of great things to say, but he doesn’t ever write off of a clear thesis. He just rambles about things. He takes a lot of tangents. Which is fine, but sometimes confusing. Seb has a pretty straightforward way of writing.He is honest, and maybe even a little detached from the story. He doesn’t paint himself to be better than he is…in fact, he is pretty self-depreciating, which made me feel a whole heck of a lot better about myself and how very little I really know!
Seb was a kid who threw himself heart and soul into metal in the 1980’s…he had the long dyed black hair and lipstick and funny hats and who knows what else. He played guitar, although he admits he wasn’t spectacular at it, and half the time he doesn’t seem to have a clue what was going on around him. He couldn’t keep a job, dropped out of school, and ended up on the streets of London, playing in a band and living his dream. That is, until the early 1990’s, when he realized the dream was over, cut his hair and started over with a more “normal” life (I assume. He’s working in the book trade and his hair is still short…according to the picture on the book jacket)
Overall, I thought HBFL was funny and interesting to read, and Seb had a lot of great things to say, and good insight. I don’t know if I learned anything, persay…but I didn’t read it to have a better understanding of what hair metal is. I read it to hear his experience and see what it was like for one kid trying to make it in the business. I read because I like to learn about people. I rarely ever read fiction…mostly memoirs and biographies, now. I like to know what makes you who you are and why you like the things you do. That’s probably what drew me to music in the first place…it is one of the few places in society where it is still acceptable for people to let themselves be vulnerable and be real.
As you know, I was too young to experience all this madness firsthand, although I am kind of doing it over through the Swedish glam scene. It’s still different, though, than what it was in the heyday, I’ve no doubt. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like just to take a leap of faith, throw away everything I’ve got, and just see if I can make it somewhere. Not in music…no chance of that…but in something else I love. I really admire people who do that. I wouldn’t expect to do it forever, but I want to do something I love while I’m young enough to do it (in the words of KISS…it is never too late to work 9-5). I want to do something daring when I graduate…like move somewhere crazy or take a job I never thought I’d be able to do and just see what it’s like. I’m sick of the pressure to just live an average life. You know, live in the same stupid little North Carolina town my whole life, get a boring job, get married, have a family…and then perhaps if you’re not too tired when you retire you can travel and do something fun. Nothing wrong with that, but at this point the whole job/family thing isn’t really on my radar. Maybe every 20-something with just a year of school left and a life just beginning starts to feel that way…I know in high school, I was fine with the prospects of just getting married and being normal. I don’t know what changed in me. But this book was refreshing, just because it showed a kid who did take his chance, and he failed, yes…but he’s doing ok now. It wasn’t the end of the world. And plus, now he has a story worth writing about.
Maybe that’s why I’ve become so insanely drawn to rock n roll now, that I would spend my whole day listening to it and writing about it…its all about doing something different and being real and taking a chance…and I guess that’s what I really want to do.
Anyway, all that said, I recommend the book. 🙂 I wouldn’t think you’d have to be a fan of metal or glam to enjoy it.