Born to Rock & Roll

by Alun Thomas

Heavy Metal experienced a double dose of tragedy -- when in the space of two months -- thrash greats Chuck Schuldiner and Paul Baloff died. Coupled with Testament men Chuck Billy and James Murphy being struck down by cancer, it is difficult to understand why such bad luck has affected men of this genre.

I have never been a fan of Death, Schuldiner's groundbreaking death metal band of the late 80s and 90s. They were competent but never quite caught my ear. I felt Schuldiner's best work came with 1995's ''Symbolic,'' more traditional, far from the confines of the ''Scream Bloody Gore'' and ''Leprosy'' days of 1987 and 88. The man matured his sound leaps and bounds as he got older but maintained his basic thrash heaviness. He soldiered on well after he was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, which was instrumental in his passing, with the Control Denied project. Schuldiner was a metal warrior, as stupid as that sounds. I read numerous interviews over a ten year period where he defended metal no matter what. When metal hit the bottom in 1995 he blasted Korn, saying they had no place in the metal racks next to Iron Maiden. He was right.

Paul Baloff only recorded one full length album in his career but it was one of the all time thrash classics -- 1985's 'Bonded By Blood' -- which was rawer than Slayer or Metallica in that period. Baloff's peculiar growl was his trademark and it is to his credit that he was always considered Exodus' front man even though Steve De Souza went on to record four albums with the band after he left in 1986. Baloff returned for a reunion in 1995 and had played on and off with the band until he suffered a stroke in late January and was taken off life support just a day later. Shocking stuff. He was only 41.

Schuldiner was in his 30s. Hopefully the other afflicted musicians, Billy and Murphy, recover to full health. These two men now join other rockers lost along the way, like Bon Scott, Phil Lynott, Keith Moon, Alex HarveyŠ how many more. The waste of premature life and talent is one to regret. For the generation who grew up with Schuldiner and Baloff, the deaths must come as real blows, just like these other men's would at the time. I think about Lynott and company more, simply because I listen to their music on a more regular basis -- every day in fact. It is true they died before I was even aware of their existence, but as I hear their music I wonder what they might have gone on to do, just like others may think about the current casualties.

In a way Lynott, Scott and Moon were destined to die. They seemed a bit too dangerous and wild, more so than the average man. Lynott and Scott in particular seemed like regular guys though, writing songs you could relate to. When I hear the title cut to Thin Lizzy's ''Renegade,'' I hear a man who has a story to tell. A song about a kid on the wrong side of the tracks, it could have been the theme song to any BBC drama from 1982, like ''Boys From The Black Stuff,'' a show few Americans would ever understand. Lynott wrote many songs about never giving up; he was a fighter. I can be feeling broke and beat but as soon as I hear Lizzy's ''We Will Be Strong'' I feel positive -- with the knowledge I'm on top again. He had that power to inspire. I feel like I know the man, even though he died in 1986. Out of any rocker I've ever seen this man might have been the ultimate real deal.

But Bon Scott pushes close. He treaded the same territory as Lynott, booze and drugs leading to his demise. Unlike Schuldiner and Baloff, their deaths were from self-inflicted negative causes. But one look at Scott and it's what you would expect. A real man, wearing no shirt, torn jeans, bruising physique, doing everything you wished you could. He was a star. Not of the Tom Cruise variety, or a likewise poofter, but one that the kids could identify with. It is fascinating to imagine what direction AC/DC would have gone in if he was still alive. But he left behind a big enough legacy to erase such thoughts, because there will never be anyone that roguish ever again. Now we are seeing what the veteran rockers are like as they move into their late 50s and 60s.

If you have seen Roger Daltrey lately then you will know. Not only is Daltrey still belting it out with The Who but in the same shape physically as he was in the mid 70s. Age has nothing to do with being able to get out there and rock. If Lynott and Scott were around they would be doing the same thing. They didn't know how to do anything else. I'm sure Baloff and Schuldiner would have gone on forever, too.

Let's be thankful we still have Ian Gillan, Biff Byford, Pete Townshend, Lemmy and others like them. They won't be around forever. For too long people have put them down. Look what happens when they are gone; people realize just how much they are missed. From Moon to Baloff we will remember, they were born to rock and roll.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website March 6, 2002

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