Tales From the Stage: An insightful collection of stories that tracks the careers of these ’80s era musicians all the way to present day
Review by David Feltman
The concept behind Michael Toney’s “Tales From the Stage” is so simple and effortless that I’m envious I didn’t think of it first. Compile interviews from various hard rock and heavy metal musicians and voila, instant book. The result is an insightful collection of stories that tracks the careers of these ’80s era musicians all the way to present day.
Many of the interview questions are generic form questions posed to everyone, including: “When is your birthday?” “Marital status?” and “What’s your craziest groupie story?” As a result of these cookie cutter questions, the interviews start out a little dry and unconversational. But all of the interviews really start to open up once Toney gets into the subject specific questions. These are the questions that present the most provocative tidbits of life on the road. Who knew so many bands kept squirt guns filled with piss on stage as a form of self-defense or that Tracii Guns drinks a glass of chocolate milk after every show?
The most fascinating aspect of rock and roll life revealed in “Tales From the Stage” is the secret economies of a professional musician. From who has to pay for strings to how publishing rights are split on songs for different groups glimpses an aspect of the rock and roll world that’s often closed to outsiders. It’s no surprise to learn that Gene Simmons will scoop up the lion’s share of publishing rights if you work on a song with him, but it’s more interesting to see how many of these guys still have joe jobs and gig with cover bands to make ends meet. “Don’t give up your day job, dude!” advises Megadeth guitarist Jay Reynolds as he laments over having sold his condo in Redondo Beach. “I should have never sold it. It’s probably worth a couple million bucks today.” In short, getting a record deal and making it as a musician doesn’t translate to making it financially.
The structure of the book is a bare-bones Q & A style approach that makes the overall product feel a little thin despite its interesting content. Toney inexplicably forgoes any sort of introduction for his interviews, robbing them of some much needed background information not to mention context. He also completely misses some great opportunities to tie all of the interviews together with some common themes. In the introduction, he points out that almost everyone interviewed mentions the grunge era choking out 80s metal unsolicited. But if that was such an unexpectedly shared perspective, why wouldn’t you press deeper on the subject? Toney also mentions a sort of fraternal fandom shared between his subjects and that bleeds through in some of their responses. Guns even gives a shout out to Birmingham-based indie band beitthemeans. But Toney fails to take advantage of this in the interviews and push it to the surface.
There are some definite shortcomings to “Tales From the Stage.” Despite crediting over 25 photographers, the photos are sparse and occasionally recycled. But this book is a lot of fun in spite of these complaints. There is plenty of room for improvement for “Volume 2,” but Toney has definitely discovered a winning formula for metal nerds of all stripes.