May 29, 2020 The Decade That Rocked (Book Review)
When it comes to Heavy Metal, if the 1960s were the warm-up, and the 1970s the opener, then the 1980s were the main act. Tastes may vary – the puffy hairdos and eye-searing fashions probably do not do much for people nowadays. Still, one cannot deny this decade was when the likes of Van Halen, Bon Jovi, and Twisted Sister peaked. Aerosmith and Ozzy Osbourne got reborn, and Metallica and Guns N’Roses started catching on and hinting towards new directions for the genre.
One of the people who caught the highs, lows, and middles of the era’s top acts was photographer Mark ‘Weissguy’ Weiss. The man went from getting arrested for selling his snaps outside a KISS concert to being part of some of the decade’s most historic concerts, including Live Aid, and classic album covers, such as Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (1986). Now, thanks to help from Author Richard Bienstock (Guitars of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2014, Kurt Cobain: A Montage of Heck 2015), Weiss’ story can be told.
Due out on June 2nd, 2020 via Insight Editions, Weiss & Bienstock’s The Decade That Rocked starts with Weiss’ beginnings in the 1970s, then covers his career in the ’80s year by year before closing off at 1990. His stories of working with the era’s biggest acts are joined by interviews with Ozzy Osbourne, Dee Snider, Nikki Sixx, and Rob Halford, who also wrote the book’s foreword. That is not to mention the many examples of Weiss’ photography, including never-before and rarely seen photographs of the Rock legends he worked with. It sounds like a must-buy for any die-hard metalhead, if only for the snaps. What about the rest of it? Is it the total package?
It certainly makes for a snappy read. The intro chapter does not dwell on Weiss’ beginnings so much as jump from one point to another. It does not feel too brief either, as one usually gets enough details for each anecdote – say, Weiss using the family bathroom as a darkroom, or getting known as ‘the kid with the pics’ for his 5x7s and 8x10s at school. It starts getting beefier once it gets into the start of Weiss’ professional career, lighting concert sets, and submitting snaps for magazines.
Of course, Weiss’ handiwork is peppered throughout the book, be it his first selfie, concert work, and official shoots. There are at least 1 or 2 photos per page acting either as a visual chronology of his career, or to set the stage as what to expect. Some even have a few lines of praise, or even a full paragraph or two, from the photo’s subject for Weiss’ work. It sounds a bit much on the face of it. However, his reputation did not just spring up yesterday. He really captures the spirit of the likes of KISS and Alice Cooper, be it from official sets or from backstage prep and goofing around.
If this feels like too much, Weiss goes into the lows alongside the highs in the text. Like hoping to make up for his nosebleed seats at a Peter Frampton concert by using an enlarger, only to discover film grain. Or getting chewed out by the future Sharon Osbourne for shooting Ozzy in a pink tutu in 1981. Some encounters are more standard than others, but there are plenty that really go into how wild the era was for Rock.
Still, there are a few down points. The interviews are not so much interviews as extra blurb snippets to go alongside the photos every other page or so. One likely was not expecting the chapters to suddenly break away into a one-on-one with Nikki Sixx and the like. Otherwise Halford’s foreword and music historian Eddie Trunk’s afterword would be sandwiching a lot of Midwords. That said, it does come off more like beefier versions of those positive review clips from movie and game posters. Luckily, the extra beef is usually more interesting than a star bar, with the interviewees giving their own recollections to certain shoots.
Nonetheless, The Decade That Rocked makes for interesting reading. Sure, the plethora of photos are likely to be the highlight for metalheads – especially those who remember Van Halen and even Dokken in their glory years. While there are a ton of them, the text still stands out from the images in the way it traces Weiss’ ups and downs as he rides the Rock train. Not to mention the ups and downs of the genre itself across the 1980s. The book is sure to be a treat for fans of the era, and even for those slightly curious. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives The Decade That Rocked 4 out of 5 stars.