It was my senior year of high school. I was playing in a power trio that was essentially the house band at a pizza joint in Union, KY, and desperately hoping that I could somehow parlay terrific test scores and mediocre grades into a college education (which I did, although maybe not quite the way I had anticipated.) I was also the captain of my high school’s quiz team, which would win the state championship that year.
In retrospect, there were a lot of reasons I didn’t fit in very well in high school, and my musical tastes were part of it. My peers on the academic track mainly seemed to listen to the Top 40 and arena rock stuff. A few of the edgier ones listened to the music that MTV was introducing to the heartland. Me? I was listening to hard rock and metal — the kind of stuff more likely associated with the vocational school and shop class guys, and the girls who would hold the guys’ hair when they were puking on a Friday night.
Having always been a bit perverse, I appreciated the incongruity of being both a metal fan and what passed for an intellectual in that time and place. But it really wasn’t a pose. And as I thought about it through the years, I came to realize that I dug it for the same reasons other kids in that period might have gotten into punk — a genre present, but even less acceptable in the Northern KY ‘burbs back then. It was the outlaw vibe.
I was 17, and though I had a driver’s license, I couldn’t drive because 1) I didn’t have a car, and 2) insurance cost money my family didn’t have then. My clothes were typically hand-me-downs from my grandfather or stuff I found at flea markets. I never could get my hair to feather properly, and because my head is square, parting it in the middle made me look like I had been hit in the head with an axe. When they were doing the senior superlatives (Most talented, Cutest couple, etc.), I “won” the election for “Most individualistic.” It was not meant to be a compliment — the girl who won the title was a fundamentalist/evangelical who always wore long skirts and blouses that buttoned at the neck. (In any case, the yearbook people chose not to recognize that particular title that year. They had even said they wouldn’t, but my peers expressed their thoughts anyway.)
So I was aware that I was a misfit, on top of the usual powerlessness a lot of teenaged boys feel. Hard rock/metal, of course, is a soundtrack for power trips — big amps, big drum kits, fantasy, all that good stuff, and the presence of good looking girls who were probably way too “fast” for dorks like me. It was also fun and sometimes challenging to play.
And as it happened, in that season, a band called Quiet Riot (who had paid dues on the bar scene for eight years) released what would become their theme song and the title cut from their debut album. (They would later have bigger hits covering Slade, but that hadn’t happened yet.) The DJs said the song was called “Metal Health,” but it was better known by its chorus/rallying cry: “Bang your head.”
And yeah, QR is now mainly remembered as a guilty pleasure from that era (and as the band that once included early-80s guitar hero Randy Rhoads), easy targets for music snobs pretty much from their first release. But I can tell you that for at least a few of us oddballs, a song with lines like “I really wanna be overrated” and “Hope it annoys you” connected. Yeah, the guitarist looked like the 9th-grade girl up the street and the singer was already showing signs of male pattern baldness, but they got it.
And today, I learned that Frankie Banali, the band’s drummer and longest-enduring original member, died yesterday at the age of 68. He had been diagnosed with stage-IV pancreatic cancer in April of 2019. He’s the second member of the band’s classic lineup to leave us — vocalist Kevin DuBrow died in 2007.
So there goes another piece of my youth, and one that may have even been a little bit formative in that part of my life. So long, Mr. Banali — thanks for the music.