Fear the Cheaper


At the end of the movie The Stoned Age, Eric Bloom and Don Roeser are standing outside a Southern California convenience store at midnight, lamely trying to peddle Blue Öyster Cult concert T’s to two teenage fans (the boys even drive a battered VW with the mark of Saturn spray painted on the hood) who are the central characters of the flick. They fail. Offstage, the kids don’t recognize their rock and roll heroes and accuse them of selling pirated merchandise. As heavy metal Rodney Dangerfields, Eric and Don were funny.

But it was only an act!

You see, for the last 10 years or so, every time I go into a record store I check the Blue Öyster Cult bin. It’s a task that has required a generous helping of sunny-minded, blind optimism. For more than 10 years there has been no respect—nothing but belligerently mediocre and redundant reissues of greatest-hits packages, a two-CD collection (far too graciously termed a “box set”) distinguished only by one of the most intelligence-insulting band histories committed to glossy paper, yet another “classic hits” package pointlessly rerecorded with ringers used to replace the Bouchard brothers, an unenthusiastic “new” recording uncannily named Heaven Forbid (on an indie), and one really worn-out scam: the “24-karat gold” master series that fanatics, the band’s target audience, discovered could be surpassed with an evening’s time, a vinyl original in average condition, hacker homebrew music-file editing software, and $1.00-a-copy CD-R blanks bought at the office supply store.

Even the original art was screwed on its way to the digital age, many BÖC tray cards being defaced by the addition of a hideous white strip of no obvious value other than to accidentally create the impression that one is purchasing, well, a counterfeit knocked off by someone who didn’t give a damn.

It is a shameful profile for one of the country’s original breakthrough hard rock/heavy metal bands. So shameful, it suggests that those responsible for the BÖC catalog are not only unimaginative and technically slack but also goldbrickers of some stature—people seemingly more benighted than even Stoned Age caricatures notorious only for consumption of illness-provoking drafts of budget sweet liquors and urinating in ice-cube trays when nobody’s looking.

Very few hard rock bands from the same generation have been on the rotten end of similarly shabby archival treatment. For instance, such utter nobodies in terms of sales as Paris, Legs Diamond, and Earth Quake—and there are many more to mention—have fared better in the last year alone. Call this phenomenon Smith’s Hysteretic Integration of Total Excellence (SHITE), where the probability that legacy catalog will be rendered into crap can be predicted by a curve that rises exponentially to absolute certainty as the hard rock act’s net profit approaches or exceeds one million dollars U.S. It works: Earth Quake, for example, having accumulated approximately 20 dollars or less in net profit over the course of their career, would have been expected, employing SHITE, to get the red-carpet treatment. And the equation neatly explains why Judas Priest also suffer from wretchedly remastered CDs and white-stripe disease.

But the real reason for this tear is the re-arrival of For the Heavy Metal Kids and the Yardbirds, a live EP/CD of BÖC performing at a pizza parlor in Rochester in ’72 that, I am informed, floats in and out of limited bootleg circulation every few years. The provenance is that it’s a CD of a famous Columbia promo issued to radio shortly after the appearance of the first Blue Öyster Cult album.

For the Heavy Metal Kids has fairly obviously been mastered from original plastic. Listen close and you detect the light surface noise and rumble of turntable machinery, perfect in this case because it is precisely what BÖC sounded like back in someone’s smelling-of-caked-joy-rag bedroom circa 1972. The tone is hot, airless as if heard in a stereo-equipped pine box, the band pressing stiflingly close upon the audience through a paralyzing smog of brutish, antique amplification.

Eric Bloom laughs maniacally and asks, “Wazzup, man?” as japing bullyboys chant, “You’d kill, you’d maim.” This is eclipsed by the best performance of “Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll” on record. The number stalks the room in a transfixing exhibition of vulgar power, the signature riff pitting the guitar against the kick bass and floor tom in a bare-knuckles gang fight with the singer as referee. The packaging is a gatefold decorated with the half-menacing faux-Hunter S. Thompson gibber of “Transmaniacon MC.” The disc even takes a stab at furthering the mythos of Gawlik.

In other words, the beating heart of For the Heavy Metal Kids brings everything BÖC’s history merits to the table—its early mysterious harshness, the strong whiff of an impression that those who partook of it were members in a dream-world club of intellectual men of action and heavy-handed motorcycle thugs—everything the expected age-of-information product does not or will not provide.

And it’s on a weird label named Munster.