You can’t go home again. But, really, do you want to?
The original Decline of Western Civilization focused on the LA Punk scene, and the end of the Baby Boomers. Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years, focusing on Los Angeles’ hair metal scene, documents a generational switch over. Penelope Spheeris was in her mid 30s when she documented the punk scene in the late 70s. By the time she filmed The Metal Years, she had crossed 40 and her daughter, Anna Fox, was fast approaching 20 (and already dating rock stars). Generational difference is all over this movie.
The titans of rock are all quickly aging. Ozzy Osbourne (age: 40) putters around his kitchen in his bathrobe while making breakfast. Chris Holmes (age: 33) from the band W.A.S.P. gives a depressing drunken interview dressed in a leather vest while pouring bottles of vodka over himself while his mother watches. Gene Simmons (age: 38) of K.I.S.S. gives a silly interview while dressed in a metal studded outfit while scamming on the underage girls in a lingerie store. Paul Stanley (age: 35) surrounds himself with scantily clad women on a circular bed. Meanwhile an old geezer leches over scantily clad girls while putting them through a sexy rock beauty contest where the prize is $1000.
Meanwhile, the younger generation is learning all the wrong lessons. One singer says that if he can’t be as big as Led Zeppelin, he’ll kill himself. Another guy is more realistic and says that he hopes to make his money in the stock market. Many of the interviewees feel that being in a band is their job, and they have no career outside of it, depending on the generosity of whichever girl they happen to be fucking at the moment. Besides that, the people in a band seem like they’re just in it for the sex, drugs and alcohol.
The contrast between the impoverished punk scene and the metal scene is the new dominance of materialistic hedonism. The punk bands were interviewed in derelict churches, tiny apartments, and run down kitchens. Their stories searched for meaning in a nihilistic rejection of societal normalcies. The metal interviews all embrace star studded glitz and glamour. Bands are interviewed in hot tubs and swimming pools, and women have fun being the objects of objectification. So few interviews discuss the search for anything meaningful while elevating the need for sex, drugs and financial security.
Of course, in the 10 years that passed, America went from the austere economic strife of post-recession 1970s and moved into the upper-class humping of 1980s Reaganomics. In that way, the changes from punk to metal makes the first two Decline of Western Civilization movies a document of economic change in America. Though poverty hasn’t been eliminated and people are still out of work, everybody is acting like a temporarily embarrassed millionaire. It feels so much like a charade of delusion compared to an adaptation of necessity, but that’s just my bias talking.
We can’t go back again, but some things are better left in the past.