Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rock n' Roll Heaven: A New Jersey institution (Guest post)

"Storytime With Metal Inquisition", a nationwide project throughout public libraries, which teaches kids about metal and metal history. A special thanks to Megaforce Records for its contributions to this important program.




If there's one thing that all of us at Metal Inquisition seem to do a fair amount of, it would have to be living in the past. In my case, I mostly seem to dwell on the most amazing moments in metal history...and I thus celebrate landmark moments like Forbidden's "Twisted To Form" album, as well as that one time that Mille from Kreator hosted Headbanger's Ball. Mr. Sergeant D, being a younger-in-spirit type of guy, chooses instead to celebrate the past by practicing Forced Entry riffs on his reverse headstock Jackson dinky. My brother, Skullkrusher, opts for quiet and relaxing evenings at home, sipping on a fine beverage while blasting the Wermacht LP. Mr Gene Hoglan's Balls, a quality human being if there ever was one, chooses to drive around Newark airport while listening to the Grindcrusher compilation in cassette format. However we choose to celebrate our metal past, one thing is for sure, it's a part of who we are today. It's for that reason that just a couple of weeks ago, I posted an homage (of sorts) to thrash metal empresario and label owner Jonny Z. Much like spraying insecticide under a washing machine tends to upset the roaches living under it, that post seemed to stir the sleeping Jersey residents who had memories of Jonny and his great record store. One such Jersey resident (who I have just unwillingly compared to a cockroach...but really...no Jersey resident would take that as an insult) who commented on that post was "Anon". This person, one filled with metal memories of the scene from back in the day (and the memorabilia to back it up) has granted us rare access into his metal archives. Why is access to his archives "rare"? Because I'm guessing that these things are kept in his mom's attic...and although he still lives at home, his mom gets super angry when he goes up there and makes a mess of her quilting supplies and christmas ornaments. With that in mind, you should understand how rare and impressive his insights and mementos are. Afterall, I think we could all use more upbeat and informative posts these days. Why do we all need upbeat posts? Because of the economy? Because of the high unemployment rate? Well, sort of. You see, Metal Church, the other amazing Seattle band (Forced Entry being the first) have called it quits! As a result, five more unskilled douchebags are now entering the ranks of the unemployed in the greater Seattle area. Because of that bit of sad news, all of us at the MI corporate offices are wearing black today...as we mourn the death of a band whose catalog we were barely aware of...and whose name was nearly as putrid as Exciter. It's for that reason that we should treasure this guest post. Enjoy it, and think of it as "metal storytime" with uncle Anon. Unlike when you had storytime with your uncle Earl, however, Anon won't touch you in a funny place, or try to play "hide the pickle" with you. Enjoy.




__________________________________________________________________

In the interest of fairness I must preface this by going on record as saying that Jonny and everyone else associated with RnR Heaven were always stand-up people in their dealings with me. Jonny was a pretty cool guy and always respectful towards his oftentimes annoying customers. Whether it was foresight or just plain luck, he certainly took the ball and ran with it. When I first started going to his little shop, he was just a weird guy selling totally obscure imported metal records by bands no one had ever heard of. He may not have created it single-handedly, but he was most definitely a major contributor to the overall metal scene, no question. Any jibes I direct towards Johnny Z or his store are all strictly good-natured and in the spirit of fun. That said, on to my pics.






The original RnR Heaven T-shirt. Yes, it’s all stretched out and crookedy but bear in mind that it is a 27 year old shirt, it’s only a few molecules away from disintegrating completely at this point. It’s been un-wearable for decades; I only still have it for purposes of mindless nostalgia like this. If you wore it to the store you got a 10% discount on everything you bought. I think that’s supposed to be Icarus (as in Maiden’s “Flight Of…”). What Icarus has to do with rock and roll, I don’t know. I also don’t know why the Rt. 18 flea market referred to itself as being “international”, the only difference between it and any other NJ flea market was that the quality of their merchandise was much lower.






The reverse of the shirt, featuring a somewhat morbid and rather odd list of dead rock stars (and Murry the K for some reason, who was an old-time radio DJ). When it was first conceived, RnR Heaven was a “rock and roll” imports-only shop, it just so happened that at the time all of the in-demand import records were metal records from England and Europe. A niche market was born and Jonny Z was all too happy to fill that niche. Which explains why a shop noted for being heavily associated with all things metal had an official T-shirt featuring names having little or nothing to do with “metal” at all.




This picture just screams, “future Rock and Roll Hall Of Famers”, doesn’t it? Homo-erotic catch phrases and demo titles aside, this is the tape that made Ron McGovney the answer to the trivia question he is today. You can’t see it well in this awful picture but the tape itself is very helpfully labeled “Metallica demo”, quite possibly in Johnny’s very own handwriting. I was his only customer on one especially slow Sunday afternoon in early 1983 and Jonny convinced me to drop $5 on this demo by a hot new band he was planning on seriously getting behind in a big way. I succumbed to his pitch and although I had no idea at the time, it was the start of a love-hate-more hate-even more-hate relationship that persists to this very day. Who’d have thunk it?



Note how James and Lars went out of the way to state how Cliff didn’t play bass on the demo while simultaneously ignoring the guy who did. Certain behaviors are obviously deeply rooted. I dug the demo, I liked Hetfield’s goofy high-pitched vocals and I thought the lyrics to “Jump In The Fire” and “The Mechanics” were better than the “Kill 'Em ALl” versions. It really sounded like shit though, unless you turned the bass on your stereo all the way down it was basically unlistenable, much like everything they’ve recorded since 1988 (except with those recordings it’s best to turn the VOLUME all the way down).




“Welcome To Hell” picture disc. In late 1982 into 83 Venom had developed a pretty decent following around the N.J. area. The music was laughably simplistic and the lyrics and imagery were ridiculously campy and silly, but at the time they were as “extreme” as metal got. Venom had a video for “Witching Hour” which Jonny had playing at his store on a continuous loop and it absolutely scared the shit out of random shoppers passing by. The various longhaired freaks that congregated at "the Heaven" really stood out among the old ladies shopping for cheap tube socks. When bands like Venom, Anthrax, Metallica and etc. did in-store appearances it was absolutely surreal. Guys like Cronos and Dave Mustaine got plenty of double takes while strolling around the decidedly lower-middle class flea market environment, especially when they were decked out in white furry Viking boots, fringy white leather jackets, bullet belts and hand grenades.



In '82 Jonny had promoted a few live shows. Anvil and Manowar both performed at the flea market itself (seriously) and he also promoted a Halloween show featuring Riot, Raven and Anvil. In 83 he brought Venom over from England for their first stateside appearance. “The Blitz Is On” refers to a planned series of shows that never really materialized as he envisioned, but he managed to put together some memorable concerts that year nonetheless. Unfortunately I did not attend the Venom show, a fact that still irks me to this day. My first concert ended up being the Raven/Metallica “Kill Em All For One” show that took place later in 1983. I still haven’t managed to see Venom yet and based upon projections of their current career path it’s unlikely I ever will. At this point I doubt I'm missing much anyway.





Check this out, a 45RPM Venom single (featuring “In Nomine Satanas” as the B-side). Note the Venom logo on the record label, it’s actually hand drawn with a black marker, quite possibly by a member of Venom themselves. “Bloodlust” was followed by the legendary “Black Metal” LP a few months later. I once owned a personally autographed copy of “Black Metal”; however that treasure was somehow lost to the ages. Believe it or not, I received “Black Metal” (had it signed later) as a Christmas gift from my mother, who ventured into RnR Heaven in search of a gift certificate which, of course, RnR Heaven did not offer back during those nascent days (come to think of it I'm not sure if they ever did). It is truly a testament (no pun intended) to the man’s salesmanship abilities that Johnny was able to convince my half-cool/half-clueless mom that “Black Metal” and Witchfinder General’s “Death Penalty” were the perfect Xmas gifts for the young metalhead in her life. These presents were quite a surprise to say the least, talk about being caught off-guard.






RnR Heaven’s customer base strongly advocated the killing of posers, as this poster indicates. The guy being threatened by that thrash monster is wearing a Ratt T-shirt which in 1980's NJ was a perfectly valid excuse for killing someone (as it still arguably may be now). Ever since Paul Baloff died, you don’t hear much about killing posers anymore and that’s a shame. It was a shared sentiment that really brought a tight-knit scene that much closer together. After all, what could be more metal than murdering someone because their taste in music and clothes is slightly different than yours?



About the flea market
The flea market was located in East Brunswick, NJ which is in Middlesex County. Back in the 1980’s the Middlesex County prosecutor was a guy named Rockoff (seriously). Rockoff waged this really bizarre crusade against everything related to the burgeoning metal scene. He was always in the local newspapers going on and on about backwards messages, satanic cults, the whole nine yards. He would prominently feature the poster above in his anti-metal press conferences as evidence that this metal scene led to cult activity, drug use and violence. The guy was like a character from a Twisted Sister video or something. He was, of course, mocked relentlessly via word of mouth and letters-to-the-editor because we didn’t have an Internet we could use to goof on things back in those days.


About Jonny Z
I can say with certainty that Johnny Z definitely coined the term, “power metal”. A poster for a Manowar show he was promoting (or maybe it was Exciter) contained the phrase, “The Death Of Heavy Metal…The Birth Of Power Metal”. Of all his many contributions to the genre, that may be one of his most impressive. Unfortunately I have no physical proof of this, you'll just have to trust me.


The end of an era
RnR Heaven moved to an actual storefront in Clark, NJ sometime in 1984 I believe. Clark (a blink-&-you'll-miss-it town in north-central NJ) was a considerably longer ride for me but I was still a regular customer nonetheless. The Rt. 18 shop was only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday while the Clark store had normal business hours, which was nice. I bought “Ride The Lightning” there, on that Metallica VH1 special they show a still picture of a long line of headbangers queuing up to buy their copy and I am in fact in that line. The store did pretty well in its new digs for a few years, but by 1986-87 it was all coming to a close. By that time RnR Heaven wasn’t unique anymore, you could find a healthy metal selection at pretty much any record store and all the bands once available solely via import, could be found anywhere. Jonny’s legendary record shop began to lose its relevance and quietly slipped away without much fanfare. His Megaforce label, having lost most of its heavy hitters to the major labels, re-tooled itself and got behind such bands as King’s X, Nudeswirl, Love and Rockets and String Cheese Incident, none of whom had quite the impact of his earlier acts.


He certainly left an interesting legacy which is more than a lot of people can say. His impact on many dozens of long-haired, anti-social potheads who came of age during the early to mid 1980’s in the central NJ area cannot be denied. Who knows, without Johnny Z we may have had to consider Iron Maiden the epitome of totally over-the-top insane heavy metal for several more years. Neil Turbin's voice may never have been recorded on vinyl for posterity. Billy Milano would have remained jobless and Overkill would have remained the title of a Motorhead album and nothing more. It's all too horrible to contemplate. Here’s to Jon Zazula, Rock N Roll Heaven and to all who enjoyed my humble little trip down Nostalgia Lane.

27 comments:

  1. That was awesome! Your bit about the prosecutor named "Rockoff" reminded me of my 7th grade music teacher who was a born-again and once dedicated a class to backward-masking... Did you know that "Another One Bites the Dust" contains the hidden message "I want marijuana"? I do, thanks to Mrs. Whats-her-face...

    ReplyDelete
  2. this is the tape that made Ron McGovney the answer to the trivia question he is today

    A++

    ReplyDelete
  3. great post...do more! that is all.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, we need to post more. It's true. When the blog started, there were five people, each posting one day of the week. For the last year or so, Sergeant D and I have been producing about 95% of the content. Perhaps other people can do daily posts on their blogs about knitting or baking or whatever...but clearly it's harder for us. Is it our lack of ability? Is it the lack of content that exists within the realm of metal? Let's compromise and say it's both.

    By the way, should I be offended when I put up a post and only like two people comment? Perhaps I shouldn't be offended...but I am!

    ReplyDelete
  5. By the way, should I be offended when I put up a post and only like two people comment? Perhaps I shouldn't be offended...but I am!

    SLAAAAAYER!!!

    LAck of ability within readers as well man.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Amazing post!

    But no BC13 = no pissed off comments.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Overkill L.A. would have still existed (and gave the name to a fitting/killer band). But who would write "Wrecking Crew"? Such things always balance out.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Anon, sweet piece man!
    I love the history lesson, especially the Metallica part.

    A+

    ReplyDelete
  9. Sweet article, man.
    Also, it looks like the little girl in the picture has a mayhem shirt on first glance, but I think it's actually a butterfly...
    so it goes...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anon Old School Metal GuyAugust 12, 2009 at 8:18 PM

    I'm a little hurt, Lucho. Not by the cockroach crack, I hear far worse every day during my morning commute. But do you really think I'd store such priceless heirlooms in that sweltering attic? Those records would warp and be (even more) worthless. No, they are safely stored in the climate controlled hall closet, along with my bronzed baby shoes, old report cards and a tiny velvet bag which contains the last minute sliver of my self-respect. Mom's holding that for me in the unlikely event that I may need it again.

    I sometimes wonder if Ron McGovney still tries to convince people he was once in Metallica. I also wonder if anyone ever actually believes him.

    Ron: "Hey baby, I used to play bass in Metallica, buy you a drink?"
    Barfly: "Bullshit, you were never in Metallica!"
    Ron: "Sure I was! Look, they mention me briefly in this article, (pulls tattered, yellowed copy of Kick Ass Monthly from back pocket) see? My name's highlighted."
    Barfly: "What'd you do, print this yourself? Get away from me, loser." (reaches for pepper spray)

    As cheesy and poorly produced as the demo was, it still sounds way better than St. Anger (although what doesn't?)

    R.I.P. Metal Church, that 1st album was pretty popular around here back then. I am quite frankly surprised to hear that they were still (more or less) active. Who knew?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anon, I'm sorry, I forgot that you mentioned the climate controlled space that you keep these in. Silly me!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anon Old School Metal GuyAugust 12, 2009 at 9:57 PM

    Bear in mind, those T shirts were made in the USA (back in olden times things were still manufactured in the US) so they begin to degrade instantly when exposed to light, water, air, sound and/or human sweat. My old Chevy Vega was the same way.

    ReplyDelete
  13. @ Lucho
    I can't remember when I saw a post on here with only two comments. But I don't want you to get butt hurt, so next time you post, I will comment multiple times.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Good guest post Anon! I'd love to see some pics of Mustaine with those white boots... Anyway, I can picture it in my head. I don't know why, but it's not surrealistic to imagine Mustaine wearing shit like that.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anon Old School Metal GuyAugust 13, 2009 at 2:00 PM

    Unfortunately the digital camera didn't exist back then, we had to use this stuff called "film" that had to be "developed" before you could see the pictures. It was a whole complicated process and usually more trouble than it was worth.

    ReplyDelete
  16. It really sounded like shit though, unless you turned the bass on your stereo all the way down it was basically unlistenable, much like everything they’ve recorded since 1988 (except with those recordings it’s best to turn the VOLUME all the way down).

    Brilliant....

    More posts like this please. For people like me who can remember times before Myspace!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Very cool trip down memory lane here Anon & Lucho. If I may say that you guys are the greatest contemporary crime fighting duo this side of the internets. What's the crime? everything today that goes under the "metal" banner. If only you guys could do a video piece and interview Jonny Z and all others that were around in those days, hell even Anon's mom recounting that fateful day at the RnR Heaven, think about it. In any case keep it up, this shit is priceless.
    P.S. please keep Sgt. D away from the puter!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Goosebumps reading this article...i used to shop in clark all the time!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Dude...GREAT write up! I lived a few blocks from the Rock n Roll Heaven store in Clark. I was born in 1974, so I was just a 10 year old kid or so. I loved that store and it played a major role in my musical tastes. My brother was 2 years younger, we used to sneak off to that place every chance we could. We actually lived in Rahway, which was right on he other side of the street. We used sneak away from the playground to the store. I love seeing that POSERS MUST DIE flyer! I haven't seen that for so many years. My mother threw anything metal away if she found it, and unfortunately some cool shit was lost.

    I remember meeting Megadeth there at their in-store appearance. I also remember meeting members of Overkill, Adrenalin OD, and Fantom Warrior. I bought Ride The Lightning there, I think it was right after it was released. I remember Metal Maria and a guy named Brian. They used to let us pick out any LP we wanted to hear and would play it for us. They told us to do good in school, and gave us cassettes for good grades..I shit u not! Gargoyle's "Violence is Golden" demo, Suicidal Tendencies s/t, Celtic Frost "Emperor's Return", Exciter "Long Live the Loud" were all obtained from good report cards!

    I bought SOD the day it came out, and wanted to buy the MENTORS "You Axed for I". Brian said..."No way, no mentors...you guys are lucky I sold you SOD."

    I remember the store vividly. This post is awesome, as I only knew a little bit about the flea market store.

    I remember a little stand in the store that had Bruce Springsteen and other stuff like that on display...just a tiny section. We used to laugh at those record. The place was probably tiny, but to a 10 year old it seemed big. I remember the magazine table in the middle, and the posters all over the window. they had a little magazine picture of Bette Midler too and you could see her snatch...we used to chuckle at that shit.

    my address is deadgoat666@yahoo.com

    any other r n roll heaven stories, feel free to email me!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Dude...GREAT write up! I lived a few blocks from the Rock n Roll Heaven store in Clark. I was born in 1974, so I was just a 10 year old kid or so. I loved that store and it played a major role in my musical tastes. My brother was 2 years younger, we used to sneak off to that place every chance we could. We actually lived in Rahway, which was right on he other side of the street. We used sneak away from the playground to the store. I love seeing that POSERS MUST DIE flyer! I haven't seen that for so many years. My mother threw anything metal away if she found it, and unfortunately some cool shit was lost.

    I remember meeting Megadeth there at their in-store appearance. I also remember meeting members of Overkill, Adrenalin OD, and Fantom Warrior. I bought Ride The Lightning there, I think it was right after it was released. I remember Metal Maria and a guy named Brian. They used to let us pick out any LP we wanted to hear and would play it for us. They told us to do good in school, and gave us cassettes for good grades..I shit u not! Gargoyle's "Violence is Golden" demo, Suicidal Tendencies s/t, Celtic Frost "Emperor's Return", Exciter "Long Live the Loud" were all obtained from good report cards!

    I bought SOD the day it came out, and wanted to buy the MENTORS "You Axed for I". Brian said..."No way, no mentors...you guys are lucky I sold you SOD."

    I remember the store vividly. This post is awesome, as I only knew a little bit about the flea market store.

    I remember a little stand in the store that had Bruce Springsteen and other stuff like that on display...just a tiny section. We used to laugh at those record. The place was probably tiny, but to a 10 year old it seemed big. I remember the magazine table in the middle, and the posters all over the window. they had a little magazine picture of Bette Midler too and you could see her snatch...we used to chuckle at that shit.

    my address is deadgoat666@yahoo.com

    any other r n roll heaven stories, feel free to email me!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Nice post. Thank you. I got out of the military late in '81 and enjoyed the metal scene in nj and nyc. I had forgotten too much and you reminded me of some good times. I am now the old dude in the pit at mayhem fest, but I can still headbang with my daughters' friends. Thanks again.

    ReplyDelete
  22. To the good old days...
    I remember talking to Jonny Z about the bands and buying Number of the Beast from him on album. The Halloween bash with Raven, Anvil & Riot. Oh man, to go back to those days one more time. Excellent post! Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  23. There is a newly created RNR Heaven page on Facebook for those of you that are on there. I set it up after reading this and the sister article that goes with it. Check it out: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=121653211236401&set=a.121649851236737.20336.121648217903567#!/pages/Rock-N-Roll-Heaven-Clark-NJ-Record-Store/121648217903567?v=wall

    ReplyDelete
  24. Am I remembering correctly when I recall a young wheelchair bound metal head working at the first shop in the Rt. 18 flea market? I was just a little kid but I remember that shop pretty well.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Anonymous Old School Metal GuyMarch 31, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    Uncle Basso: You are remembering correctly, he was severely handicapped and friends of his actually ran the shop. He later moved to another store in South River, it didn't last long. I'd heard various rumors about him and his shop but I don't know the back story there myself.

    I'm the original author of this article, wanted to report that there's actually going to be a RnR Heaven reunion in May, featuring Anvil, Raven and The Rods among others. Johnny Z himself is supposed to be there, hopefully I'll get the chance to chat with him.

    As for that old flea market, it's finally met its demise for good. Gonna be another Wal-Mart. Good ol' NJ....

    ReplyDelete
  26. Hello,

    Does anyone remember a heavy metal band from New Jersey called WHITE BAT? I heard
    WHITE BAT played on Long Island college radio station 88.1 FM WCWP's "Rock and Roll Weekend" show in 1983/1984. I only remember a song called "Run and Hide" from WHITE BAT, but I know they also had several other songs. Any information on this very rare early '80's heavy metal band would be appreciated. My email address is: thoros@sbcglobal.net.

    DS

    ReplyDelete
  27. Very excellent to see your job . Like it so much, Thanks .

    ReplyDelete