Strap It On

    Helmet

by Neil Perry

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Befitting their status as the cool-headed titans of riff culture, Helmet have recorded a version of a Black Sabbath song. Black Sabbath wrote three of the greatest drug songs ever: 'Snowblind' (cocaine), 'Fairies Wear Boots' (acid), and 'sweetleaf' (dope). Black Sabbath took a lot of drugs.

Perhaps wisely, Helmet have chosen another song: 'Lord of This World' (from the 1971 Sabbath LP 'Masters Of Reality') and customized it accordingly. The song is minus a verse because, says voice of Helmet, Page Hamilton, "it went on a bit." Has this song been a long-time favorite, Page?

"No."

Actually it's a lie to say that Helmet chose the song. Ozzy Osbourne chose it for them.

 

Ozzy Osbourne: a man for all seasons

Page: "We're in this movie called The Jerky Boys [apparently something to do with the notorious phone pranksters of the same name], and Ozzy plays our manager. Our main motivation for doing the movie, in fact, was that we'd get to hang out with Ozzy Osbourne. Then we heard that he was a huge Helmet fan. It was funny to have him suggest a Sabbath song for us to cover. His lyrics, they're kind of ... well , 'Lord of This World,' it's not ghouls and goblins, there's the peace/love/hippie vibe in there; the twisted drug vibe; a social conscience thing too. But one of Ozzy`s marks on rock music was the way he sculpted these beautiful, pentatonic melodies that were so distinctive and single-minded."

"What turned me onto him was just hearing him talk on chat shows. For a guy who's done so much damage to himself with substances, he has such a grip on things. But we didn't get to spend too much time with him because on the first day of filming his son shot his little sister in the leg with a BB gun. He was freaking—we talked but he was kind of out there."

"When I was a kid, I listened to Led Zeppelin, and then I got into jazz and forgot totally about rock. Then after the jazz phase, I started to really appreciate what people like Ozzy and Sabbath did. There's always parts of the song that I wish weren't there, but they had the essence. The shit was there. And 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' was the best fucking riff of all time."

 

Helmet's subliminal CD packing

The recently released third Helmet album, 'Betty', came in a fluorescent, lime-green case (doesn't sound very subliminal to me!—Ed). If you store your CD`s in a messy pile and in no particular order—a bit like Our Price—and come in tired after a hard day and want to listen to some music but can't face rummaging through the CD mountain, 'Betty' saves the day. Wherever it is, you can spot it , glowing, quietly confident. You reach for it with gratitude. Unless you sort your life out, you might listen to nothing else.

Page: "Cool."

 

Betty who?

"Betty is no one in particular. It's one of the finest names I can think of in music... Miles Davis used it, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers... 'Back Seat Betty,' 'Come Along Betty'. Then there's Betty Page. It's a percussive name, but it also represents this perfect mother. I was thinking more of a mom-type character."

The photograph on the album has a kind of 'Twin Peaks' type quality about it.

"Exactly. Laura Dern is Betty, man. I'd love to have Laura Dern on our album cover... she's awesome. Laura Dern has what my girlfriend calls The Infinity Face. When she cries, the bottom of her mouth goes so far down, it's like rubber. She makes great faces. Laura Dern is Betty."

Does the image you used on the sleeve represent anything to you?

"I suppose a fake sense of security. Also, I think in England you have Sharons. Well we have Bettys. Also, I have photographs of my grandparents in Oregon in front of those fake flowers back-drops... this is one of those portraits where they use fake stuff. I just wanted to go for something that was pleasantly eerie. I do think that it serves to put people off that you need to lump everything into this big package of aggressive male music. HM, industrial, blah, blah, blah; to sell our music we don't need some heavily-bicepped guy, or a smashed car, or... gimme a break. Our first single had a skull crusher on it. It seemed descriptive of the music. But as we emerged from the underground world into the visible one, I'm more inclined as a musician to try something new."

The latest Pantera album sleeve depicts a huge drill going up someone's arse.

"I know."

 

The old 'Helmet lyricist as beat poet' chestnut

Someone compared your lyrics, or at least your style of putting lyrics together, as similar to that of the beat poets. Apparently.

"Like, I can't complete sentences, or write paragraphs that make any sense? I don't have to, I'm writing rock lyrics, heh heh! I guess I smoked too much pot and read too much Ginsberg."

To me they seem like overheard conversations, snippets.

"Absolutely. I was walking in New York a few days ago, hot day, and passed these three scruffy dudes, wannabe punk types. One was saying, 'I dunno what they call it there but in France they call it steak tar tar. It's awesome. It's like raw burger, only with mayo man...'"

"You realize you're absorbing all this nonsense of human existence. In New York your personal life is for everyone to observe. This is how human beings live on top of each other. Very real. Very amusing too. And it helps you, because you get to laugh at other people's traumas. I take notes. I run home and write stuff down. Especially in the summer, it's mayhem. Constantly being hit for change, verbally abused. If you just walk in a straight line you get all this, 'So, think you're a tough guy, huh?' You see, people get bored there. Some people never leave it their entire lives, this fucking little island, so they need entertainment."

 

American geography lessons

Unusually for an American, Page knows where Europe is. He even ventured to the place of his own accord.

"Our geography lessons at school were, 'What's the capital of Idaho?' I got so tired of America when—God, sorry, something really violent is happening out on the street—um, yeah, when Reagan was elected in 1980. I was 20 years old. I was fed up with this country. The lack of awareness. So I went to Germany for a year, and went to Greece, Poland and Czechoslovakia. It's frustrating... I partly understand it: because of the sheer size of the US, people in middle America have no exposure to foreign culture, none whatsoever."

"I remember watching the news during the Vietnam war as a kid, this is a small town, 25,000 people, in Oregon. A logging and pear-pickng town. Watching this far away place where Americans were getting killed. But from our perspective we were winning, because there were more dead Vietnamese than dead Americans. This was my world view then. And something would happen in New York and that would be almost the same as a place as distant as Vietnam. It's very sad really."

 

The Jesus Lizard's David Yow

"I put David Yow up there with my favorite singers, who are also the greatest front men—Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and David Yow. I consider those four to be the most captivating. David Yow has no regard for anything when he is on stage, and that's a great thing to watch. David helped free me up from worrying about things like, what's the point of the song? Where the words are going? He just takes a perspective and goes from there. Incredible energy, incredible intensity."

"I was just talking to someone in Japan about the charts—fuck the charts. I know the Jesus Lizard album won't go into the Billboard Top whatever, and the majority of people who listen to Stone Temple Pilots won't know about the Jesus Lizard. But in ten years time, many people will still be discovering the Jesus Lizard. The Stooges are legends now, but back then they had a terrible time. Does anyone woop and holler about Simple Minds now? Weren't they the best, biggest, hottest and freshest sound around 1980 or whatever? Or Robert Palmer. If you can't listen to music just for the fact that it's music, if you have to look at a fucking chart, well I'm sorry..."

You do know that Bernard's left Suede, don't you...

"Oh no. Oh my. That news hasn't hit America yet. I was reading this thing that said the British music press has such an impact on the scene there, this whole quick hype, disposable thing, that no roots have been put down, and that's why there are no bands coming out of that world. The music has been geared to selling records today, and fuck tomorrow. Most American or Australian, or whatever musicians got into music because of a British band, be it '60s, '70s or '80s. And now there's this scene where everyone's crying because Suede's guitarist has left and no one in the rest of the world gives a flying fuck."

"All you've got now are brand new bands who are described as being kind of like the not-so-new bands, the war horses, heh, heh. It's so funny you can refer to 'classic Elastica'. Yeah! Mmmm! Have they put a record out yet? I don't know man, but they've played three gigs, so they must be amazing. Many American musicians have been saying this in interviews—Neil Young has, even Kurt Cobain was—God, the British scene is absolutely fucked, it's not even about music over there."

"I know that the American musicians read the UK press and get very

 

Walking on the moon

"For all mankind... yeah, right. Going to the moon was the grossest statement. Were we trying to improve the situation in France? Were we trying to get Turkey on it's feet? Going to the moon was America saying, 'Fuck everyone else.'"

 

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