Split Single frontman Jason Narducy is a universally beloved lifer, having first appeared on the scene at age 11 in the ‘80s Chicago punk band Verböten. He fronted Epic/Sony alt-rockers Verbow during the ‘90s alt-rock bubble, then spent nearly a decade as the bassist and backup vocalist for folks like Bob Mould, Robert Pollard, Telekinesis and Superchunk. Split Single’s Metal Frames was released in 2016.
I recently took a taxi from O’Hare Airport to my home in Evanston, Illinois. I couldn’t see the large driver very well in the dark of night, but he wanted to talk.
“I’m just trying to be nice to everyone now, man. I’ve really changed.”
“You’re trying to be nice?” I asked, gently, not sure where this conversation or, for that matter, this vehicle was going.
“Someone mailed back my pouch, man! Some stranger! Some angel!” He holds up a cloth folder with a zipper.
“What was in it?” My mind raced with possible dark answers. I like adventure and meeting people who have lived unusual lives, but at this point I just wanted to get home, so I was hoping his answer would be easy to digest.
“A month ago, my pouch disappeared. My papers, my money — gone! I didn’t have it for a month, man. I thought I would never see it again. Then it appeared in my mailbox! Nothing missing from it, man. Now I need to show the world my thanks. I’m a nice man now.”
It’s stressful to feel vulnerable — when you know important things are in the hands of strangers. As a musician, I think about that. Every time I release an album, I’m an open target for a range of opinions. Each time I walk on stage, there will be a reaction to the music. I welcome these opinions and reactions, but I empathize with almost every musical person who at least gets off their ass and tries this line of work. Being a musician is the best job anywhere (for me, it’s the best third job because I have three), but it is not stress-free.
Can you imagine a band that is immune to this state of defenselessness? Bands like the Replacements, Guided by Voices and Oasis proclaimed not to care what critics thought of their albums. I’m not so sure. When critics eased their adoration for these excellent rock groups, they did seem to care.
In August of 2012, on a Bob Mould Band tour, I had a night off in Helsinki, Finland. Our tour manager, Mick Brown, asked me to join him for a pint at a local pub. We sat down in a corner of the bar and chatted about our families. I looked up at one of the dozens of TVs hanging from the walls as a hair metal band video came on. This was a genre that eluded me when it happened in the ’80s. I never related to the outfits, hairstyles, bizarre guitar and drum tones, corny lyrics, objectification of women, women who liked to be objectified… It was all so alien, and it didn’t help that they looked like aliens to me. I struggled to find redeeming qualities in this approach to rock, and there was nothing remotely metal about these clowny groups. To put it more succinctly, Poison is probably the worst band I have ever heard. No offense to them. I’m sure they’re very nice aliens.
So this ’80s hair metal video is playing (loudly) in the Helsinki bar. The video looks like you think it would, and the music sounds like you think it would. But… wait a minute. What did the singer just belt out? “My heart belongs to you/ My love is pure and true/ My heart belongs to you/but my dong is community property”?
WHAAAAT?!? How did I miss this band? Is the humor intentional? Who cares? This is brilliant. Steel Panther is the first ’80s hair metal band that I might like, if only for the hilarious lyrics.
Then it got better. I found out they are not from the ’80s at all. They are contemporary and even filmed a mockumentary (everybody’s doing these, apparently, and here’s mine) about how they inspired many bands in the ’80s but could never break out on their own.
Steel Panther are not my first-favorite ’80s hair metal band. They are my second-favorite 80s comedy hair metal band. Though they do not go to 11, they are really fucking good. They are fantastic players who write catchy, funny songs. As an example of their wit, here are some titles from their new album, All You Can Eat:
“Ten Strikes You’re Out”
“Fucking My Heart in the Ass”
“B.V.S.” [Big Vagina Syndrome]
“You’re Beautiful When You Don’t Talk”
“Gang Bang at the Old Folks Home”
At college parties, my friend Ross and I would put on songs 17-37 from They Might Be Giants’ Apollo 18 album. We’d be doubled over in laughter at the very funny 4-to-27-second music snippets while other drunken people looked at us, confused. We didn’t care. There’s something about laughing that hard that protects one from being sensitive to judgment. We were having too much fun to be bothered by what others might be thinking.
Steel Panther have a similar immunity. Don’t like their music? They’re mocking that style of music! Don’t like joke bands? Then don’t come to the party – they’re having too much fun to miss you. They couldn’t care less about what the critics think of their albums because they don’t need critical acclaim. I hope Steel Panther enjoys this freedom. It isn’t available to many musicians.