As it debuts at No. 14 on the New York Times’ coveted list, longtime metal journos Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock talk about their must-read new book and the staying power of glam metal
1980s glam metal – sometimes derided as “hair metal” – is finally getting proper attention and respect with the March 16 publication of Nöthin’ But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the ’80s Hard Rock Explosion.
The book is an ultra-candid oral history of that colorful, character-filled era, as told to authors Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock by dozens of artists, managers, record company executives, producers, and others who experienced the rambunctious scene firsthand.
Beaujour and Bienstock met 25 years ago when they were working at Guitar World magazine, and they bonded over their shared love for this type of music (even though it was decidedly out of favor at that time). “It’s the music that we grew up on and love,” Bienstock says, and Beaujour agrees: “We are truly fans of this genre.”
They began talking about writing a book about 1980s glam metal, but as Bienstock says, “We always found a reason to not do it, I think, because we knew how big of a project it would be. We knew how deep into it we would get. I know, at least on my end, that that was a little frightening to think about.”
Two decades after they first began discussing the idea, though, it suddenly seemed like the time was right for a book like this when these artists suddenly started selling out larger venues again. “I think we had a weird sixth sense that when we started this thing, even though it was three or four years ago, that it had to get done – that if we didn’t finally get off our butts, we were going to miss the boat,” Beaujour says.
Beaujour speculates that this was no longer a much-maligned musical genre because “enough time has passed that the stigma has really faded, and the songs have become part of the classic rock pantheon now. Poison is classic rock, and Def Leppard is classic rock – that’s why they can fill a stadium now. I think that it’s survived long enough that it’s now immune to a lot of the derision.”
Once they decided they were finally going to write this book, Beaujour and Bienstock threw themselves into it with gusto, interviewing a multitude of people from all across the scene, from the artists themselves to the behind-the-scenes movers and shakers. The goal, Bienstock says, was to create a “really immersive treatment where you’re getting everybody to tell the story in a way it hasn’t been told before, and also in a way that is a little bit more respectful than how it’s usually told.”
While the book does delve into some stories about the outrageous clothes and makeup, drugs, and groupies that have made glam metal particularly notorious, the narrative throughout Nöthin’ But a Good Time also makes it clear that debauchery is far from the only thing that defines this scene. “We really got into what makes this music great, and also what made that time in the music industry so interesting and so unique,” Bienstock says. “Despite what a lot of people think, this was not a corporatized major [record] label-created slick, packaged sound and look.”
Nöthin’ But a Good Time also examines the enormous amount of hard work and dedication it took for these bands to finally break through to mainstream success. “These guys at the beginning had next to nothing,” Bienstock says. “They had no money. They had no prospects. Nobody wanted to sign them or know anything about them. All these bands talk about how, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, it was all about punk and New Wave, and that’s all the labels wanted. So the only thing that [glam metal artists] could do was to do it on their own: create the look and the stage show and act like they were playing at Madison Square Garden and get people through the door. These guys really persevered.”
The book shows how two longtime bands in the scene, Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister, finally landed record deals and found major commercial success. That opened the floodgates for a slew of other artists such as Poison, Ratt, Dokken, Great White, and numerous others who would go on to dominate radio and MTV throughout the 1980s. Despite this popularity, however, glam metal still didn’t receive the same respect that other genres have enjoyed. While some guitarists were highly praised for their virtuosity, much of the focus remained on artists’ wild appearances and antics, rather than their musicianship. This is, the authors say, an oversight that they wanted to help remedy with this book.
“Because of visual things, videos or whatever, they weren’t acknowledged by the world at large for being super accomplished on a level with jazz players and stuff like that,” Beaujour says. “A lot of these guys have really devoted their entire lives to their instrument. Really to the detriment, maybe, of some social skills and other forms of evolution. That’s what they do. They’re like pro athletes. It’s like being an Olympic gymnast or something. It’s that level of dedication.”
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Even so, there’s no denying that a big part of this music’s appeal came from the hard-partying image that these artists pursued, both onstage and off. This book does take a frank look at this lifestyle, though it does not dwell unduly on it. Beaujour and Bienstock acknowledge that some of the things they cover in the book definitely would be unacceptable by today’s standards, but it wasn’t their intention to shame anyone.
“We were not looking to have people apologize for what they did or re-evaluate what they did back then, because that was just the way that it went down. It was a different time,” Bienstock says. “Our intention was just to give an authentic picture of what it was and then people can take away from it what they want.” Beaujour agrees: “They were 22 [years old] in 1987, and now they’re in their fifties, so you are talking to people who have some perspective and who have evolved. You have to give people credit for changing.”
There are some serious moments in Nöthin’ But a Good Time, particularly when the interview subjects talk about the despair they felt as grunge rendered glam metal instantly unpopular. After flying so high in the 1980s, the following decade was a cruel crash back down into obscurity for these musicians. The bewilderment that they express about that experience is palpable.
Fortunately, the genre has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, which gives this book a happy ending. Both Bienstock and Beajour agree that it is gratifying to play a part in helping these artists get continue to gain the recognition they deserve.
As Bienstock says with a laugh, “If it was possible to actually sit down and start another book on hair metal, I would happily do it again.”
VIDEO: Nöthin’ But a Good Time trailer