“We’re living ‘til it’s over like the angels do” – Blue Halo
In the latter part of the 90s, I was in and out of rehab every six months or so. I’m not bragging, man, it’s just a fact. So while I was out chasing bottles of vodka with bottles of cough medicine and/or getting tossed into the drunk tank for the weekend, rock’n’roll was falling to pieces right before my bloodshot eyes. There was nothing I could do about it, really. I woulda helped If I could’ve. How or why nu-metal came to fruition at the tail-end of the alt-rock decade is a debate for another day. I mean, sometimes a plague of locusts destroys your town, there’s no real reason why. It just happens. And that’s what happened.
Click on the radio in ’99 and you’d hear waves of rap-rock crossover and screamy-mopey “metal” bands that were as far away from Manowar or even Guns N’ Roses as you and I are from our glory days. Nu-metal was an attempt by the record labels create the next grunge, only this time they snatched the movement not from the soggy climes of a hip town like Seattle, but from suburban shopping malls. Nu-metal was the sound of bored, middle-class rage, the empty threats of teenagers in oversized t-shirts raging against nothing in particular. I don’t want to dwell on it too much, but some of the biggest “rock” acts of the year included Korn, Limp Bizkit, Staind and Static X. It was exactly like the flash metal land-rush of the mid 80’s only much, much worse. And that’s what life was like. No wonder I drank.
So, did no one protest this march of the horribles? Was no one able to stand up for real rock n’ roll in 1999? Well, there was a minor but significant wave of AC/DC rip-offs who released albums that year: Buckcherry, New American Shame, Loudmouth, American Pearl, Nashville Pussy. Only the former made any real headway on the radio, though. Scandinavian action rock was bubbling up in the underground – The Hellacopters and Gluecifer released a split EP, Respect the Rock America to warn us of our impending doom – and stoner rock was slowly creeping through the desert. But otherwise, no. No one did. Except for one band. One band had the guts to stand-up for rock n’ roll and shout from the rooftops that it was still alive and well. That band? The Toilet Boys.
Miss Guy was/is a cross-dressing, platinum-blonde DJ who was inspired to form a rock’n’roll band in 1995 after seeing Debbie Harry perform. Initially, the Toilet Boys was meant to be a one-off, a singular dazzling performance of glam/shock rock full of lasers, confetti cannons, fire-breathing, spandex, and gritty, high-velocity glitter-punk. But the Toilet Boys got such a positive response that they decided to keep it going. A few years later, the band released their seminal EP Living Like a Millionaire, a hand-clapping, foot-stomping collection of glam jams that proved the band was more than a lost weekend of drugs and public fornication.
By the time they released Sinners and Saints a year later, they were so cocky about it all that they didn’t even bother to title half the tracks. Sinners and Saints is basically nothing but Ace Frehley riffs and a banging cowbell for 20 minutes, and it’s a fucking masterpiece. It’s like the Sunset strip bands of the 80’s had better taste in rock n’ roll. If Ratt knew who the Stooges were, they might’ve been The Toilet Boys. But maybe they were too hip for their own good, because despite touring the country (and the world) with the Chili Peppers and Orgy, they never really escaped the confines of NYC. The band still gets together every so often, but the dream was essentially over by 2001, which was incidentally an even worse year for rock n’roll (and everything else) than 1999.
As the 2000s clicked in and Napster took hold, the idea of a cabal of record labels deciding what “the kids” were gonna listen to next made less and less sense. The infrastructure was falling apart, and there was no way to align radio, magazines, and MTV to go along with yet another rock movement. So they focused on more impressionable tweens and launched the boy band craze. And essentially, they’ve stuck with the tweens ever since, leaving rock fans to scramble around and figure out shit on their own. Which is fine. But it would have been fun if one of those labels decided to invest in the future of the Toilet Boys. They represented everything that was good and noble and true about rock, and everybody just shrugged and went back to their backwards baseball caps. It’s a real tragedy, if you ask me. What kind of amazing world would this be if Miss Guy was on the cover of Rolling Stone in 2000? There’s no way we woulda ended up with George Bush if we had Miss Guy. No goddamn way.
PS. A couple years later Lady Gaga stole the whole fucking act, gave it a disco beat, and made a billion dollars. True story.
**Next: One of Slash’s old bands. **