I may not be the best person to interview Mike McPadden. He’s a Metallica expert, I grew up on Sondheim and Lilith Fair. He’s been happily employed by the likes of Hustler, and I majored in Womens Studies. But what can I say? McPadden gives great interview. He spoke with Our Town about everything from his new book, If You Like Metallica... (Backbeat Books) to why Playboy has all those pesky articles.
Our Town You seem to be a heavy metal aficionado. What originally drew you to the genre?
Mike McPadden From toddler-hood on, I was a horror movie fanatic; heavy metal is a natural musical transition. I loved KISS and was terrified by them. That commingling of love and terror has driven a lot of my life. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the ’70s, so I developed an interest in punk rock at a very early age. I went to see the Ramones when I was 11. But by the time I got to high school, wimpy European New Wave had supplanted punk. I’d see classmates wearing Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys shirts, but they were actually listening to Depeche Mode and Spandau Ballet. As a result, I reactively embraced whatever a fan of, say, Echo and the Bunnymen would find most repulsive—and that drove me straight back to metal. As I got closer to college in 1986, I veered back toward punk because of the very metal-influenced stuff being done by bands like the Butthole Surfers, Black Flag, and Redd Kross. Then one sunny afternoon I saw a gorgeous punk girl with a Mohawk and some very shocking piercings—for the mid-’80s—bobbling underneath her Metallica “Ride the Lightning” shirt. I walked right up to Tower Records, bought Metallica’s Master of Puppets on cassette and fell in love with that album and that band.
OT So, I know nothing about Metallica. Give me a one paragraph crash course.
MM Metallica emerged from the San Francisco area in 1982 with a shocking sound that combined metal and punk—at a time when the two forms opposed one another—and thereby invented the genre known as thrash. Metallica’s first four albums are revered as masterpieces of extreme rock. In 1991, the same year that grunge broke, Metallica reinvented itself with a more radio-friendly sound. During the ’90s, Metallica soared in the mainstream, but drew scorn from their original supporters. When Metallica sued Napster in 2000, they became known as “the band most hated by its own fans.” The 2008 documentary Some Kind of Monster depicts the group members in deep crisis. In 2010, Metallica came back with a great album, Death Magnetic, and followed up with a bizarre Lou Reed experiment titled Lulu. This June, Metallica will headline its own weekend rock festival in Atlantic City. A new album is scheduled for next year.
OT Consider me schooled. The If You Like series invites experts to write about their field of expertise. What qualifies you?
MM My writing career began in 1991, when I started publishing a Xeroxed ’zine titled Happyland. The subject matter was sleazy living in the last days of New York as a dangerous place, and it included plenty of music coverage. For a hard rock fan, that was a really weird time, Underground heroes Metallica and Nirvana, to name two, were conquering MTV and the pop charts. It was also a golden age of hyper-aggressive music from the Amphetamine Reptile label and a lot of Chicago noise bands. So I wrote about all that. From there, I penned music reviews for a number of publications, including the New York Press, Black Book, and even Screw. I have also written chapter-length essays in books [including] Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth (Feral House, 2001) and The Official Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Book of Lists (Soft Skull, 2012).Yes, I am also a bubblegum pop fanatic. I like any music that’s really up front about what it wants to do to you. Indie rock is a sham!
OT How did you go about structuring the book?
MM The premise of the book is to dig up, point out, and elaborate on bands, movies, books, and such that a fan of Metallica is likely to enjoy—based on their being a fan of Metallica. The story of Metallica itself is remarkably linear, so I used more or less a chronological order. Heavy metal begins with Black Sabbath, so that’s where the book begins.
OT How did you dig up disparate cultural links?
MM Metallica were the first fanatical fans of heavy metal to become heavy metal superstars. As a result, the band has always spoken at length about whom they idolize and who’s influenced them, in addition to actively throwing support to their contemporaries. They’ve also performed many cover songs since their earliest days, so highlighting artists whose work Metallica has performed was natural. Many Metallica songs make references to literature, film, and other media so, lyrically, they left me a pretty clear trail. Drawing oddball connections between seemingly disparate cultural elements is a lot of what I’ve done as a writer. I once wrote a piece on the connections between the first five Ramones albums and the first five Steven Seagal movies.
OT You’re also head writer at Mr.Skin. How did you get involved?
MM I’ve been at Mr. Skin since 2003. I was working for a magazine called Celebrity Skin in New York before that, which essentially did what Mr. Skin does, only in print. Jim McBride, who is Mr. Skin himself—the guy you hear on Howard Stern every week—contacted me through some industry connections and we immediately hit it off. Mr. Skin offered a unique opportunity in that it combines my encyclopedic knowledge of movie history with nipple jokes.
OT Popular graphic sexual imagery seems always to have been paired with intellectual content. Why?
MM Even before Playboy, “men’s magazines” or “adult sophisticates” (I really love that term) had to beef up their nudity content with non-sexual material in order to skirt laws and regulations regarding “redeeming social value.” So if there was a naked woman in there, to avoid strictly appealing to “prurient interests,” publishers would include an article on fishing gear or home electronics or whatever seemed to be of a piece with the magazine’s male identity. Hugh Hefner pushed it to an actual art form, crafting “The Playboy Philosophy” and making the articles every bit as important to his creative statement as the photography—although the articles, of course, are not what sold the magazine. Guccione put his spin on Playboy, giving Penthouse a European flair, and then avant-garde hillbilly Larry Flynt aimed, with Hustler, to burn down what his saw as his competitor’s snooty airs. All adults-only men’s media, up to and largely including the Internet, followed the templates set by those three men. Hustler always appealed to me most because it seemed to literally be against EVERYTHING. In the ’70s and ’80s, porn was equally reviled by the political right, in the form of churches, and the political left, in the form of radical feminism. And Hustler was the most reviled of the vile. That spoke to me profoundly. Society’s attitudes about porn changed in the ’90s, with the left abandoning the issue in the wake of Bill Clinton’s shenanigans, and the Internet pumping smut into everybody’s consciousness around the clock, free of charge. Like most middle-aged men, I miss the old days. But I know there’s no going back.
OT MrSkin continues the intellectual content/smut pairing, which is interesting at a time when the internet, as you said, bursts with free porn.
MM Mr. Skin thrives as a subscription service in the age of free porn because of three key elements: A) we literally have every celebrity nude scene ever made, B) our technology and delivery systems are superior to all other adult sites, and C) the wink-wink, nudge-nudge humor of the editorial combined with absolute expertise on the subject matter makes for a really fun and, I dare say, educational experience. People are willing to pay for Mr. Skin’s level of quality. Famously, Mr. Skin is featured in the movie Knocked Up. The way the guys in the movie react to the site—amazed by its volume, amused by terms like “chesticles” and “furbugerage”—strongly represents what many customers say was their first experience with Mr. Skin. Our goal is to keep that enthusiasm alive. Thirteen years in—which is like thirteen eternities in Internet time—we seem to be living up to the challenge.
"If You Like Metallica..." is available today. Mike McPadden's release party is 7 p.m. June 16th at Salon Tress.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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