Ask a Shredder, Vol. 1

9 Sep

EDITOR’S NOTE: Most metal fans remember Foäm — if they remember the group at all — as one of the genre’s cruelest tragedies. Their 1986 debut, Soaked to the Elbowz (Atlantic), was roundly hailed as a landmark achievement, even by the persnickety Rolling Stone (“In a toothless season of Ozzy’s blank ‘Shot in the Dark,’” declared Frederic Braunstein, “Soaked stands tall, a refreshingly edgy clamor.”) The majority of praise, however, was reserved for Foäm’s lead guitarist , 24-year-old Angus Blastt (real name: Brandon Corr), a fleet-fingered virtuoso favorably compared to Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, and Tommy Bolin — “schooled in blues, fluent in showman shriek,” as one critic put it.

To promote the album, Atlantic arranged for Blastt to contribute a monthly column to Circus magazine, in which he responded to reader mail and reflected on his growing fame as his band embarked on its first major American tour. “Ask a Shredder” soon became the periodical’s most popular feature.

It all came to an unfortunate end in May 1987, when, during sessions for Foäm’s much-ballyhooed Soaked follow-up, Blastt was involved in a severe automobile accident. Contrary to popular rumor, no illicit substances were involved. Not that Blastt could have denied such spurious allegations: by the time paramedics arrived, he’d slipped into a coma. Eyewitnesses claimed that his final conscious words in the 20th century were “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light,” which was not only a Dylan Thomas passage, but also the chorus to “Gnaw’n Bonez (Hollywood),” Foäm’s newest single.

Blastt’s family prayed daily for his eventual return. His parents, Mitchell and Gretchen, kept vigil at his bedside for two decades and change, despite Mitchell’s failing health. In 2001 he was diagnosed with cancer. Six painful years later, he quietly slipped away, leaving Gretchen to watch over their only son alone. Meanwhile, the world turned and changed as Angus soundly slept.

Then, on April 19, 2009, he stirred. Opened his eyes. Felt a rampage of memories and emotions. The last conscious seconds of his near-fatal crash returned with violent clarity. His first impulse was to brush glass fragments from his hair. But he couldn’t move his arms, and, as he later discovered, the baldness so prevalent on his mother’s side had finally claimed him as well. At some point someone had shaved it all off, anyway, saving him the trouble.

He was alarmed to awaken in a hospital bed, and outright despondent to learn that he’d missed 23 years of his life. Yet he was determined to persevere. After 16 months of intensive therapy, he regained limited use of his arms, although he was never to walk again.

Returning to his mother’s house, he discovered, in the entry closet, an unopened mailbag of “Ask a Shredder” correspondence. Although Circus was no more, and Foäm were largely forgotten, Angus Blastt resolved to respond to every single letter.

This is the first in an ongoing series.

**************************

January 9, 1987

Hey Angus!!!! I’m 16 and when I was younger I thought WASP was awesome—but then I heard you guys and saw what rock and roll really is!!!! Dood you guys make WASP look like you know whats…it starts with p and ends with y and you eat it in the middle!!!! Anyway…I was wondering how you guys got your ideas for guitar solos and all that…esp. the 1 on “Shondi’s Revenge”…that one BURNS!!!! Anyways…thanks man!!!!

Eric Swan
Ann Arbor, MI

**************************

September 8, 2010

Eric:

First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t apologize for the unconscionable delay. Unfortunately — and perhaps you’ll recall or have at least read about it — I was comatose from May 5, 1987, until April of last year. My parents fretted over my deterioration, fearing I’d be a vegetable if I ever regained consciousness. But through the grace of God, I survived, with most of my faculties intact. It hurts to type for extended periods, but I’ll manage.

Miss my father, though. He passed on a few years back and I never got the chance to tell him how much I loved him. I hope both your parents are still around. Do you believe in an afterlife, Eric? I find that the concept brings me much-needed comfort and peace.

You’ll likely be surprised to hear from me. I’m not sure if this is even the right address, or if it can be forwarded. I haven’t kept abreast of developments in post-office technology (by the way: computers — who knew?). Mail service was abysmal in my day. But I figured, “What the hell?”

Do you even remember Foäm? It feels like a zillion years ago, even to me. It’s a shame we were reduced to heavy metal’s novelty campfire booga-booga. I was just listening to our first album today; I’d forgotten just how good it was. Aside from the keyboards, it doesn’t sound dated at all. Maybe someone’ll put it back in print, add some of the demos we’d worked up for the second album, which — trivia bonus! — we’d planned to call Pass the Torture. Silly pun, I know, but those were the times.

Anyway, I already feel like I’m rambling, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to express my thoughts on paper in quite a while. I’m still getting used to the world outside. Like, redboxes. I mean, wow. Talk about a mind-blower. You drive up, feed it your credit card, and out pops a movie on a little disc. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but I remember when VCRs were all the rage — and expensive! And if you wanted to watch movies at home, you had to go to video stores and hope they had what you wanted. Now everything’s out there and there’s plenty of it. Don’t even get me started on this Internet. To think of all the money I blew on pornography in magazine form…just kidding! You’ve got to have a sense of humor in my condition, Eric. It’s the only thing that keeps you from breaking down in huge pools of doom. Hmmm. Huge Pools of Doom. How’s that for an album title?

How old are you now, Eric? About 39-40? It’s funny, but I have this vision of you on your 40th birthday, engulfed in a loving brood: a dedicated wife, maybe someone you met in college while studying Philosophy. You have two daughters and a son. The oldest girl is 13. Her eyes dance in sync with the candles on your cake. She watches expectantly as you welcome another year in your own stoic way. What must she be thinking as she observes this ritual, which by now has become commonplace to you. Or do you still find joy in this annual fete? Tell me: have you retained that sense of wonder? Do you still even listen to music? Do you follow the latest sounds, or do you cling to your generation’s heroes as the last gasp of authenticity? Do you punch past your daughter’s Katy Perry while driving your hybrid to the mall? Do you chide your son for calling Papa Roach metal, when the metal you knew was so pure and true it had yet to be butt-fucked in a dirty train yard? Do you ever exhume your copy of Soaked to the Elbowz, cue up “Shondi’s Revenge,” and announce, “Yeah, now this is music” over your children’s embarrassed protests? I hope you still listen to all that your ears can take. It’s a healthy sign, I think.

Speaking of “Shondi’s Revenge,” you ask in your letter how I came up with the solo. But before I answer, let me just say that the guys in W.A.S.P. were cool to Foäm. Blackie was older than most of us, so we couldn’t help but respect him. Chris Holmes — he may have been a fuck-up in other respects, but I never doubted his chops. So while I’m honored that you dug what we did, pitting us against each other is unfair. They’d fallen out of favor by that time; we were just the next lucky suckers in line. It’s a precarious achievement, the top, and you never cling to it for long.

As weird as it sounds, I’m sorry Foäm couldn’t succeed without me. I wish they could have rebounded from what happened and continued making music. I’m proud of what we accomplished — no matter how insignificant it may be in the overall culture — but those guys had so much more to say. Even if they were wheezing along on their umpteenth lineup through a sorry string of sunken state fairs and sad-wracked taverns into comic oblivion, I would have much rather seen a slow downward drift than an anticlimactic hairpin plummet, although the latter is admittedly more metal.

But, yes, “Shondi’s Revenge.” It’s embarrassing to admit this, but Shondi was the actual name of a Minnesota transplant that turned tricks on Fountain and Vine circa 1982. Another time, a wilder life. As the father of a 26-year-old (!) daughter (born “Rikki,” though I understand she goes by “Theresa” now — which is cool with me, since many of those metal names rusted with age) myself, I certainly don’t condone that lifestyle today.

Anyway, Shondi had this john with the unlikely name of Patrick. He was an abusive putz, always knocking the ladies around. Real tough guy. Well, one night he stung her painted cheek one time too many and she loosed a universe of unholy shit on his sorry ass. Slashed him up bad, covered him in street smiles, put the prick in the hospital. You remember the line “With every swipe of the knife / I regain what I lost so hard and long ago”? That was Shondi to a “t” — or an “s,” if you like. She was like a sister to Foäm. We thanked her on the record, ’cause she helped finance the demos that got us the Atlantic deal. I wonder if she’s still around. Damn. So many people in my past tense, vanished to the blackest sea.

As for the solo, well, that was the sound of gratitude. Pure and simple. Relief that she was part of our lives, that she watched over us, slipped us a burger now and then when we got tired of spackling Wonder bread with Crisco. It’s also the sound of a summer night in ’76, fireworks punching potholes in the sky. It’s the hands of Mary Louise Hewitt combing undying love through your hair as you listened to Aerosmith’s “You See Me Crying” and hoped the orchestra never stopped, because Aerosmith liked to end albums with ballads and you couldn’t handle silence; you wanted the moment, the feeling, in perpetuity. Those walls, that bedroom, the frilly lace at a bedspread’s tip. You throw everything in, Eric, and you pray it comes out in a voice that’s distinctly yours.

Well, as much as I’ve enjoyed answering your letter, I suppose I should wrap it up. No encore for the wicked, ha ha, just a final bow after the song you came to hear. I hope you’re happy and successful, and that you’ve never forgotten to hear the music.

May all your days be later
May your nights be even better
And may your life be blessed with zest
Sincerely,
Ask a Shredder

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