Paul Juser: Do You Wanna Get Rocked?

I used to book concerts for Def Leppard in my living room. They took place after school, and had very few in attendance. Almost exclusively dogs and the occasional cat. The band never showed, but I made sure everyone got their money’s worth. I put a tape in the boom box, and did the album myself, Milli Vanilli style. I performed both vocal and guitar parts interchangeably. I didn’t know what a bass guitar was, and drums were boring. I didn’t know the words to all of the songs, and even still there are some I can’t figure out, but I faked it pretty damn good. Never had a complaint. By the time I hit 9th grade, I found Metal, and Def Leppard was forgotten for more than a decade.

It was probably just to be funny that I started listening to Def Leppard again. Dr. Filth backed me up, and we made car rides miserable with our renditions of “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” We took the joke as far as to go see the band, not once, but twice. The second time was a fairly badass show, with Joan Jett as the opener. The first was at the New York State Fair.

Every stereotype you’ve ever seen about fairs is entirely true. Every fair is exactly like that, if not a little muddier. Why we thought we’d have any fun is beyond me now. Seating was general, and by the time we arrived, the amphitheater was filled. The opening band was already playing, but we could hardly hear them from where we sat. Someone told me later they’d come to this show with the opening band, and I liked that person a little less. I’m sure they had a name. I don’t remember it. They got off the stage mercifully quick.

From the top bleacher, Doc Filth and I stood at on the edge of a seething mass of hormones and chicken wings, and more than half wore cowboy hats. The drum set was minuscule. The band were matchstick figures, but matchstick figures that still could move.

From our perch at the top row, we were well above the heads of all the audience, and the band was just in sight if the lights were high. I’m assuming we had beers. I don’t know why we would ever go to this show if we couldn’t have beers. We sat down and enjoyed our drinks. A pack of girthy redneck girls a few rows down yelled at us for the entire show to get up and dance. That sounded gross. Dr. Filth peppered them with spitwads instead.

Def Lep played the entire A-side of “Hysteria,” much of the B-side, and a few songs from other albums. We saw them touring for Euphoria, some time pre-9/11, and they played no more than two songs off that album. Clearly the band knew where their money was. Even Adrenalize only had a few songs included in the setlist. There was no “Me and My Wine,” or “Answer to the Master.”

We got out alive from Def Leppard at the State Fair. That alone is worth the price of admission. Syracuse is not known to be a city to be hanging around after dark if you don’t have a roof or door. I’ve never had a problem myself, but the people of Upstate NY talk of that city in hushed tones. We headed out of town as fast as we could.

I hear people talk about Cortland, and I still have a chuckle. Since the NY Jets moved their training camp to town, SUNY Cortland has blown up. When I passed through town on Official Police Gazette Business, I was impressed with the diversity of downtown, and I took in a few crazy roller derby bouts with the Crown City Rollers. In my head, Cortland is still the dump town where the Greyhound dropped off passengers in a dirt parking lot. I played a lot of Warhammer in Cortland, and if the table wasn’t so good, I wouldn’t be seen there. Good job, revitalizing, Cortland!

The night we saw Def Leppard at the State Fair it was still Dump Town. The trip should have taken an hour, but we’d been trapped in traffic as the concert crowd dispersed into the hills. We stopped at a Denny’s on the outskirts of Cortland that has since been leveled for a new diner. Dr. Filth might have been vegetarian, and neither of us wanted McDonald’s. For some reason, Wendy’s still didn’t take credit cards, so we had no other choice, and Cortland had nothing else back then.

There wasn’t much to talk about in the show. They were Def Leppard. They played those songs we knew from the radio. They might as well have been the radio, every song was so perfect. A theatre professor in college insisted the Rolling Stones pre-recorded their shows, could it be Def Leppard did the same? I don’t believe I’d be offended if I knew they did.

I re-discovered the band on a whim recently, and am a little embarrassed to admit how much I’ve been listening. Not just the cassettes I had, like Hysteria, and Pyromania, or Adrenalize, which was one of the first CDs I ever purchased. The following year, that store in the mall couldn’t stock enough Slayer for me.

I feel silly now singing along to lyrics that are absurdly sexual, usually only on the highway, where I can roll the windows down and emote without anyone being subjected to me or Joe Elliot. Back then, I never picked up on it. The peaches and cream were right there in front of me, and I had no idea what any of that could mean. I’m more surprised I didn’t get it when I was 20 and had only one thing on my mind. When I was 10, all I needed was the Rock, and Def Leppard brought it hard.

What red-blooded American boy would not be captivated by those ripped jeans, mullets, and Union Jacks. I wanted to be that band. I usually had ripped knees in my jeans anyway, from falling in the yard. In 5th grade I started doing it on purpose, skidding across the driveway to wear them out. Should, for any reason, a knee rip out of my jeans today, I believe I would still wear it. It demonstrates my explosive personality. I don’t think I’d rip them intentionally any longer.

I dressed simply to the State Fair. That was our agreement: don’t draw any undue attention. Plain T-shirt, jeans, that’s it. Don’t draw attention from the filthy degenerate rednecks that came to get their Ferris on. Those apes will drop what they are doing to beat anything they perceive as a fag without any provocation, and cannot be trusted if you take your eyes off them. Dr. Filth, as usual, couldn’t keep his politics off his sleeve, or his chest and back for that matter. He wore a Cradle of Filth T-shirt with a naked angel on the front. She had nice tits. Thankfully, whatever Satanic quote was across the back was covered by his leather jacket. This was August, why was he wearing a leather jacket?

Our waitress came quickly and laid out menus before us. We both ordered sodas without thinking. As soon as she left, I saw the ad to my right for a full carafe of orange juice. At that moment, I knew no soda could ever slake the desperate thirst inside me; I needed OJ, and I needed OJ now.

The waitress returned and placed our sodas before us. I pointed to the advertisement and asked to change my drink order. By far, it was the more expensive item.

“No,” she said, and it was hard to tell if she was joking. She didn’t sound like she was joking. “I already poured this,” she said, giving my soda a little shove. “You’re going to drink it. If you want something else, you have to pay for both.” She was not old enough to be this bitter. We were not old, and she might have been younger than us. I was asking for an up-charge item!

This was pre-9/11, so sodas were still around a dollar. As with now, back then this normally included unlimited free refills. Still, I’ve never been one for wasting food, so I agreed to pay the extra and try to drink the soda I no longer wanted. She brought my juice, the whole event should have been forgotten. She’s neither the first, nor last in a long string of rude Denny’s waitstaff. We went back to talking about Def Leppard.

Their music could not be more manufactured, but they deserve credit for tenacity. The band continues to tour today with a lineup that has not changed since 1991, and only changed then through the death of guitarist Steve Clark. Even with drummer Rick Allen’s famous dismemberment, only a year passed between the release of their two most famous albums, Pyromania and Hysteria. Exactly how many teenage girl souls were sold to Mutt Lang for this staying power is unclear. I don’t care what anyone says, “Let’s Get Rocked” is a badass song.

Our waitress returned with a smile and an armful of plates. With delicacy and ease she laid out Dr. Filth’s spread before him. The Doctor is a large man, and even at a Denny’s he can eat a lot of food. She fawned and cooed and placed every plate in place. She had a soda refill for him as well, though his first was still half full. I only had one plate. She tossed it. The plate bounced and spun in front of me, toppling a few hashbrowns on the table. “That’s what you ordered, isn’t it?” she said curtly, and walked away before I could respond. Dr. Filth insisted we stay and eat our food, but I did not leave a tip. Let’s get the rock outta here.

armAs close as Def Leppard will ever come to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rick Allen throws his severed arm across Cleveland Harbor to the Hall’s doorstep.

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