Interview with Christopher Hilton, author of The Spectacular Rise, Fall And Rebirth Of Hair Metal.

Interview with author, Christopher Hilton

by JP


Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a fan of Hair Metal.

I am simply a self-admitted “hair metal” uberfan who’s been living and breathing the music and artists for the past 35 years, who also happens to enjoy writing. In all honesty, I am not a huge fan of the term hair metal, but that’s an entire conversation unto itself. In truth, back in the early-to-mid ‘80s, prior to my teen years, I was actually more a fan of pop music—bands like Huey Lewis and the News, Billy Idol, Loverboy, Bryan Adams…heck, even Cyndi Lauper, if you can believe that. Then, in 1986, about a year after its release, a friend played me a cassette of Motley Crue’s Theatre of Pain, and that’s what really started to plant the seeds of something different (for me, anyway).

But my real moment of truth, by far, came a little over a year later. I don’t have many childhood memories that I remember clearly, but I quite vividly recall the first time I heard “Welcome To The Jungle” from Guns N’ Roses’ debut album, Appetite For Destruction. Our Junior High bus driver would graciously let the “cool” kids (not me, mind you) submit their favorite cassettes for play on the ride to school. I will never forget the feeling I had upon hearing the song’s dramatic, haunting opening and wicked, chugging guitar riff, not to mention Axl Rose’s snarling vocal stylings as he intentionally stuttered the phrasing “watch it bring you to your shun n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n knees, knees”! I was instantly captivated and mesmerized. I had never heard anything like it. For sure, Guns N’ Roses was something entirely different versus the pop-artists of the time or even the Bon Jovi or Del Leppard-ish hair metal that had managed to break through up until that point; it was intense, angry, and ferocious—and it was real. The sound simply leaped out of the speakers and demanded my attention.

For me, the rest, as they say, was history. From that point forward, the train was already barreling down the tracks, and I simply couldn’t get enough of anything and everything ‘80s-hard rock and heavy metal. It became a huge part of my life. And now, here we are, more than 30 years later, and the genre is still an immense part of my world, culminating in this book.

Is this your first book?  What inspired you to write it?

I have always dabbled in writing, and had previously put together a hard-cover memoir-type book with a bunch of crazy tales from my college days, along with a couple of other short stories on different subjects, but this is my first official foray into formal publishing. When I first started the book, and even at least as far as halfway through, I actually never had any intention of publishing it. It was just something I was doing for myself, or maybe for a small group of friends. It wasn’t until later on that I started to think it might really be something fit for broader consumption.

I have read just about everything there is to read about hair metal, and there are many impressive individual pieces of writing out there every day, from something as small as a news post or an album review, to a band interview…all the way up through great autobiographies by people like Slash, or Sebastian Bach, or Motley Crue’s The Dirt, just to name a few. But, aside from my innate love of the music, I always though the missing piece was something that tied it all together, an interconnected narrative that truly reflected the overarching arc of the genre as an entity— how it came to reach dizzying heights of success, only to suddenly and spectacularly implode almost overnight, and then find relevant life again at a later point—that is quite a story in and of itself, not to mention all of the spectacular tales and music along the way. Honestly, it was the book I always wished someone else had written so I could enjoy reading it =-). I can only hope I did the fantastic subject matter justice.

From conception to coming off the printing press, how long did it take?

The bulk of the effort took a fairly brief 18 months, but there was quite a bit of work compressed into that short time frame. I typically put in 2-3 hours of writing each weekday (unfortunately, I also have a “day job”), and often as many as 12-20 hours each weekend. I kept to a very strict timetable of pages and chapters scheduled to be completed or re-proofed every week, month, etc. I felt if I didn’t approach it that way, the book could have easily wound up taking several years to finish, and I really wanted to see it completed quicker than that. I estimate the project consumed about 1,400 hours, in total.

Did you have any special writing routine or style?

Once I decided on the book’s overall structure, it was really just a matter of telling the story from a chronological point of view. As I approached each year (chapter), I usually began by going through my own personal collection of over 2,000 hard-rock, glam-rock, heavy metal CDs to isolate those albums issued in the specified time frame, and then went about the difficult process of deciding which bands and music would get the most “press” in that chapter versus others that would be relegated to lesser footnotes. I would then jot down as many mental notes as possible regarding the many stories, interviews and other sources of anecdotes and information I had absorbed over the years related to those records (along with any other major hair metal events during that time that weren’t album-related). From there it was simply a matter of drafting the initial text, then going back and consistently re-reading and re-editing.

How was the editing process? Painful? 

Speaking of editing…funny you should ask. “Painful” might not be the best word, more like “arduous” or perhaps “tedious”, but then again, maybe “painful” actually is the best word. I remember finally finishing the last chapter after about 10 months of work—it was a wonderful feeling, and I naively thought I was mostly “finished,” with, in my mind, perhaps some minor “proofing” to do. Little did I know, in many ways, the real work was just beginning.

Re-reading, proofing, scrubbing and sharpening each paragraph, sentence and word was admittedly exhausting. Each chapter took almost a full week each re-read. And then, after I finished the full text, I would go back and do it again, wondering how I could have missed so many things the last time. This methodology continued for at least 4-5 iterations; at some point, your brain apparently starts reading what you “intended” to write versus what you actually wrote, and the process begins to result in diminishing levels of return. Finally, confident I had got the book to a decent place, I sent the text off to a professional proofreader. Even upon getting it back from them, however, I still found words and grammar that needed to be tweaked. Honestly, as a self-professed perfectionist, I think the process could have gone on forever, but at some point, I guess you have to call it “done”, as long as you are confident what you have is it sufficiently high in quality.

Do you have any plans for a sequel?  I understand you had to cut a lot of the original material? 

One of the most difficult parts of writing the book was deciding which bands/music/stories would make the final cut. There is simply so much great “hair metal” material to work with, the book’s original outline was over 800 pages! Despite my desire to represent the genre as comprehensively as possible, I knew that even the most hardcore fan likely wasn’t up for a 800-page dissertation, and the physical print version of the book would have been unwieldy, to say the least.

And so began the long, hard process of trimming down the book down and cutting the fat. It was difficult not only because I was forced to exclude so many great stories, but because there are always hardcore, devoted fans of all kinds of different bands and albums that I didn’t want to disappoint by giving “their” favorite artist less press than groups they could possibly deem less worthy. Difficult choices had to be made, and some were admittedly subjective, but I suppose it was a necessary evil. The finished version of the book came in at 448 pages, which is probably still way too long in the eyes of many.

But no, no plans for a sequel outside of demand presenting itself for it. Most of the material cut out was from the 2002-2019 time frame, so it would certainly be possible to revisit those years in greater detail, but, candidly, the book consumed about 90% of my free-time for the better part of two years, so there are other projects I probably need to get back to. Not so say, though, that I wouldn’t really enjoy it if the occasion presented itself. It would be fun to perhaps focus on smaller ad-hoc hair metal writings in the future, such as doing deep dives into certain albums or lesser-known bands. For example, I have been dying to write a 40,000-word treatise on the ridiculous insanity that surrounded the dramatic 12-year making of the train wreck that was Chinese Democracy (actually, maybe that doesn’t sound like such a good idea after all).

How has initial reception been? 

Honestly, I have been overwhelmed and humbly flattered by the amount of positive feedback the book has received. But make no mistake, it’s not really me as an author that deserves any significant portion of any praise the book is fortunate enough to receive, it’s really the subject matter—the artists and the music—that deserve all the credit. I can only hope I did an adequate job trying to piece it all together and provide some overarching framework, perspective, and of course, personal opinion =-)

Tell us a bit about your on-line presence with your website Hair Metal Forever?

I have to confess, prior to this book, my on-line presence was basically non-existent. Social media is just something I have never had any interest in, really. I had no Facebook account, no Instagram, no Twitter, and certainly no website. That said, I recognize that these types of avenues are a big part of raising awareness to the book, so I at least set up the website (www.HairMetalForever.com) where people could go to learn a little more about the book and myself, view a couple pictures, read some reviews, and have direct links to contact me or purchase the book from Amazon. It is nothing overly fancy, but hopefully serves its purpose. I also set up a Facebook account where I have been fortunate enough to hear from several wonderful readers, but I have yet to dip my toes into anything beyond that. It is an admitted weak spot—the book probably deserves better marketing than I give it J

What were some of the biggest revelations you had when your book all came together?

Gosh, I’m not sure I had any true “revelations,” per se, but, humility aside, I remember thinking it turned out to be something that was, hopefully, pretty special (or, at least, a significant personal accomplishment)…that, with a bit of luck, the amazing fans of this genre would find it of interest—something to give them a smile, or a spark of fond nostalgia, or possibly provide some enjoyment via turning them on to a few stories or music of which they may not have been aware.

Lastly, in a broader context, what is the universal and enduring appeal of Hair Metal?

This type of music simply meant (and often still means) so much to those that grew up on it (and quite a few new followers as well). Being a fan of hard rock and heavy metal in the ‘80s was akin to being a member of an exclusive society—a grouping of all types of brothers and sisters that could come together with a fierce passion and enthusiasm for a shared interest. It gave many people who didn’t feel they necessarily had a place to “fit” an opportunity to belong to and be a part of something special.

And, without a doubt, the amazing spectacle of the bands and the rocking, anthem-based nature of the music was as huge part of the allure. The universal appeal may have been the scorching guitars and catchy hooks, impassioned vocals, flashiness and fashion, glamourous lifestyle, or just the general over-the-top extravaganza of the whole thing at the time…but the enduring appeal is perhaps the nostalgia and desire people have to revisit or hold onto the glory days of their youth, oftentimes along with their continuing desire and need for the natural sense of escapism the music provides. At its core, I believe hair metal is about dreams, expression, and escapism. Music exists to make us feel emotions, and the one sentiment we could all use a bit more of in today’s often-challenging environment is a little fun and happiness.

Perhaps Warrant guitarist Joey Allen said it best…

“The music wasn’t meant to be groundbreaking. We were just out to have a good time and try to translate that to the people who worked 9-to-5. We wanted to say ‘Hey, for now, you don’t have to worry about work or your bills; just come out and party with us. That’s what we were all about. It’s something the current generation of rockers seems to have forgotten. I meet a lot of these guys on the road, and they always say, ‘God, you were in a band when it was fun.’ If I can say anything, it’s don’t forget to have a good time; don’t take it so seriously. We’re not trying to save the world or whatever; we’re musicians. People enjoy the music because it takes them to another place. Don’t forget to have fun!”


www.hairmetalforever.com

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