In her 2005 book, Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell cites Henry Adams’ response to the 1881 killing of President James Garfield: “The cynical impudence with which the reformers have tried to manufacture an ideal statesman out of the late shady politician beats anything in novel-writing.”
Those words stuck with me last week when I learned that Quiet Riot singer Kevin DuBrow was found dead in his Las Vegas home at the age of 52. Martyrdom plays a funny trick on our memories and critical faculties, and pop stars benefit from it just as readily as politicians.
DuBrow’s friends recall what a kind, warm guy he was in private, and there’s no reason to doubt that. And, whatever the cause of death (which is still undetermined in this case), it’s inevitably sad when anyone passes away at such a young age.
But when WASP’s Blackie Lawless lauds DuBrow as “one of the best singers rock has ever seen,” and Poison drummer Rikki Rockett says, “Let’s remember the colossal contributions that he made,” you feel compelled to make sure they’re not paying tribute to Otis Redding or Kurt Cobain.
With all due respect to the deceased, DuBrow was a wretched singer, a preening screacher who trash-talked his competition and annoyed his bandmates by constantly hogging the media attention. And Quiet Riot was historic, yes, but in much the same way Vanilla Ice was historic. They proved that if you pander enough, you can put metal across to the masses. Aside from kicking open the door for Motley Crue and Twisted Sister, they accomplished exactly two things:
1. Put royalty money in Slade’s pockets with covers of “Cum On Feel the Noize” and “Mama Weer All Crazee Now.”
2. Provided the template for the Beastie Boys’ breakthrough “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)” video with 1984’s “Party All Night,” which featured a group of nerds having their innocent pizza party overtaken by drunken bikers and strippers, who trash the house and hire Quiet Riot to belittle the bookworms with a bunch of boorish odes to decadence.
DuBrow paid a lot of dues for that cheesy moment of triumph, and, in a way, he earned it.