“Yeah, I’m on acid man, that’s where I am …”
You hear the praise about John Heyn and Jeff Krulik’s Heavy Metal Parking Lot and think it can’t be true. A 16-minute videotaped documentary about the Metalheads waiting for a Judas Priest/Dokken concert at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland can’t be this religious experience as everyone says, supposedly making it a viewing favorite for Nirvana on tour. Needing more than a decade to ever get a theatrical showing outside of DC, the film was bootlegged widely and shared amongst die-hard Metal fans and the rock world in general. It’s an explicitly candid account of America’s youth in the mid-80s and their affinity for loud melodic music to drink, take drugs, and have sex to. Most everyone interviewed is in their teens or early twenties—the 21-year olds admitting to the fact they are old-timers now having seen Priest six times already—and all are in some state of inebriation.
From a guy on acid, another on who knows what talking about his girl ‘tripping Jack Daniels’ and how punk sucks and Madonna is a ‘dick’, to a girl getting her buzz on at her first ever Metal show, the characters put on camera are hilarious in their rabid fanaticism. This is a lifestyle and no one shies from the spotlight, no one refuses to give his/her name and age, no one fears retribution for admitting illicit drug use. It’s a Metal show and the clientele are kindred souls ready to party to their hearts content knowing they may not remember a second of what happened. They may even find a complete lack of memory as the goal. Wardrobe fantastically spans band t-shirts, ratty wears able to be ruined even more, clubbing dance-dresses and teased hair, to the coup de grâce of a head-to-toe black and white zebra print male get-up. The theatrics are just as important as the music and these fans know it, embrace it, and live it.
I’m sure the film holds an immense level of sentimentality for anyone who lived and partied this hard in the 80s—unfortunately I was four at the time of filming. It captures the spirit of the decade and the generation who was swept into its carnal auditory movement. While the older generation still clung to punk as a counter-culture sound full of politics and opinions, the youngsters discovered their own brand of musical Bible in Priest. The band were sex symbols for the woman—as evidenced by more than one reference to girls wanting a chance to ‘meet’ Rob Halford, et al—and idols of the men, using their electric energy to feed upon for pleasure, confidence, and escape from the daily grind. Metal took America by storm as one Capital Centre employee, a transplant from Jamaica, says he had never seen anything like it. A zoo of hormones and illegal activity, the air was of companionship and love, a new breed of hippies donning ripped dress, leather, and long hair to headbang through the rhythm.
Heyn and Krulik captured the excitement and tone to perfection, telling these kids they were with MTV and really allowing them to open up with unplanned rants and raves. Some are loquacious to an annoying level while others are so stoned they can only manage a steady stream of ‘hell yeah’ to answer every question. I’m not sure what today’s equivalent would be, or if it is still my generation’s love of the mosh pit mentality, bringing headbanging to an extreme of full body punishment, but I’m sure people of all ages could watch and see a little something to recall the times they’d be standing in the lot pre-gaming with a six-pack and some treats to gain a heightened state of consciousness. These kids are ready for fun and Priest and Dokken are ready to give it to them. But the music is more than just the bands; it’s also about the audience buying into the art and allowing it to grab hold without letting go. Heavy Metal Parking Lot depicts the pulse that kept the music going.