If ever there was a visual time capsule that shows the hedonistic, over-indulgent lifestyle of heavy metal and the fans in the ’80s, its Jeff Krulik and John Heyn’s 17-minute documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Shot outside of the Capitol Centre in Landover, Maryland (which was torn down in 2002) before the Judas Priest/Dokken concert on May 31st, 1986, the duo’s devilish plan to record and make fun of Metal fans on camera turned into a cult phenomenon and later an independent film triumph. For such a project it was the perfect time and event to break out the video camera for, as heavy metal had by then infected all forms of mainstream US media and was seeing some focused attention from MTV (see 1986: Puppets and Hairspray, The Year of The Metal Fork). Judas Priest’s 10th studio album Turbo, although a letdown stylistically and image wise for fans of the band’s earlier work, was released in April of 1986 and the Fuel For Life Tour was in high demand as Dokken’s most recent Under Lock And Key album had done quite well since it’s release in November of 1985. And with Judas Priest having such a long history already, the combination of young and older fans would be bigger than ever during that tour.
Mullets, muscle cars, alcohol and unchained adolescence make up the majority of the footage in Heavy Metal Parking Lot, but for those who have a kinship with metal music or for those that simply grew up in that era, it’s uncomfortably easy to relate to the characters who offer themselves so freely to the camera. Although this cinematic snow globe of 80s youth physically happened just outside of Washington D.C., this was a grand representation of heavy metal America at the time. For better or worse, HMPL is a train wreck you can’t turn away from. Whether it’s Zebraman’s $300 poser outfit and drunken ramblings (“Madonna can go to hell for all I care, she’s a dick…”, “All that punk shit belongs on Mars”), 20-year-old Dave Helvey and his 13-year-old girlfriend Dawn who are ready to rock, burnout Graham and his “joint across America” idea or the white-trash, barefoot princess who begrudgingly brags about her scabbed knee from “getting it in a car,” Krulik and Heyn’s heavy metal voyage-to-nowhere from 30 years ago is as real as it gets.
Growing up in the rural Central Midwest, I didn’t see Heavy Metal Parking Lot until the mid-90s once VHS bootleg copies of the film began infiltrating the smaller regions of the country. A friend of a friend popped it in at a party (go figure) while I and several others watched in utter fascination. Not only was I shocked that someone had caught these incredible characters and interviews on tape, but also because not just a decade previous I experienced the Fuel For Life Tour a mere 9 days before the documented event I was historically watching on tape. Thus began my love affair with this short piece of heavy metal history, and to this day not only do I enjoy watching HMPL at random times but I can still fondly recall my own version of these events with smiling detail. Yes, I lived my own Heavy Metal Parking Lot!
May 22, 1986 was the last day of high school before summer break, and classes were dismissed early around 1pm. The tour was hitting our area on the same day at Sandstone Amphitheater just West of Kansas City, a killer outdoor venue that was still fairly new at the time and operates to this day. My best friend Patrick and I had purchased tickets to the show months previous, as did my older brother and 3 of our closer metal-loving pals. The plan, up to a week or so before, was that I was going to ride with Patrick in his truck and my older brother would take our other friends in the ’77 Camaro that we both owned. However the weekend before, Patrick had a small accident with a lawnmower that had him laid up in the hospital, and just days before the show he informed me that he couldn’t go and that I would have to make other arrangements. So Plan B be was now me riding with my brother and our 3 friends in the Camaro, and at Patrick’s request I had to try to sell his ticket at the venue as we couldn’t find any late takers at school (scalping was still highly illegal at the time, so this idea scared the hell out of me). Being younger than the other guys and a last-minute addition, I of course had to ride “backseat on the hump” in the Camaro the entire way there and back. Not a problem, we had only seen a few concerts before this so I was willing to do whatever it took just to not miss the event. The 5 of us left for the show directly from the school parking lot, with a case and a half of Budweiser and plenty of metal cassettes in tow.
Upon arriving in the Sandstone dirt parking lot we immediately secured a spot for the Camaro next to a small gathering of brethren Metal fans who were blasting Master Of Puppets (Metallica had just been in KC supporting Ozzy a month previous) from an early 70s Nova. We quickly made acquaintances, popped the trunk and dove in to the remainder of our beer. The gates were still a couple of hours from opening, and the parking lot seemed almost half full of 14 to 25 year olds all indulging in alcohol, weed, viciously loud stereos and some good fucking times. Cops on horseback were slowing trolling the area, so as minors we had to be smart about our consumption. As we had already downed 4 or 5 beers each on the two hour ride, I found myself pretty buzzed and fearless as I set out on my own to try to sell Patrick’s ticket and make his money back (a mere $17.00 or so at the time, after service fees). He and I had scored 15th row seats, while my brother and friends were back in the 23rd row.
Sandstone, like most other outdoor venues, has a cheaper general admission lawn area behind the reserved seat sections. We decided that we would keep both of the 15th row tickets and sell one of the others, therefore 2 of would have better seats for the show. Every person I hit up on my quest, discretely of course, already had a ticket to the show. I must have tried for half an hour to unload it, and I even began to play on peoples’ sympathies by telling them about my pal’s unfortunate accident. It didn’t help me sell the ticket, but I did receive a few sympathetic and tasty libations while conversing with these total strangers. Finally I headed back to the Camaro convinced we were going to eat this ticket. One of the guys from the Nova crew heard me telling my brother and friends about my lack of luck, and he wanted to know how good the ticket was I was trying to sell. After telling him it was in the 23rd row, he showed us his general admission lawn seat and said that he would trade me his lawn ticket for the reserved one plus that cassette copy of Master Of Puppets and most of a 750ml bottle of Evans Williams whiskey. Now this entire time I was trying to actually sell the ticket to make my buddy’s money back for him, but after coming up empty with hundreds of people already this trade didn’t seem like a bad deal at all. I only had Master Of Puppets on vinyl, so having the album on the only other viable format would be a bonus. And dammit, we were almost out of Budweiser. Sure man, let’s make a deal!
We proceeded to polish off the rest of our beer and that bottle of whiskey with our new friends, swapping stories and talking metal while getting more inebriated and gearing up for the actual show. At one point I headed to the edge of the parking lot to take another piss, and along with 10 or 12 other kids as we all relieved ourselves on the same wooden privacy fence. Nothing like trying to write a Slayer or Iron Maiden logo with your own urine while trying to keep a sober balance. My brother and friends literally drew straws to see who would sit in the 15th row with me, and after hearing George Lynch’s guitar tech warm up his rig at full volume we decided it was probably time to head inside and grab our seats. The show was fantastic, especially since it was my first outdoor metal concert. As much as I still despise the Turbo album, seeing Judas Priest for the first time was awesome, and they played enough older material that it turned out to be an overall great set list. After Priest was finished we filed out with the other 15,000 fans and began the long ride home. Although I’d probably consumed more alcohol that night than any previous time in my life, the excitement of the show kept me awake for the entire trip. It was a perfect night to end the school year and to kick off what would be an eventful summer, and the parking lot session previous to the show was the first of dozens of similar gatherings that I would experience over the next couple of decades. The day after my first Heavy Metal Parking Lot wasn’t near as much fun, as I had to inform my buddy Patrick that I couldn’t sell his ticket and that we had traded it for a worse ticket, some booze and a Metallica cassette. He had Puppets on vinyl too, so he wasn’t too thrilled, to say the least. Pretty sure it took him years to forgive me.
Heavy Metal Parking Lot rose above the bootleg ranks a long time ago, as well as crossing over to fans that could care less about heavy netal or 1980s style or culture. The film precedes anything “reality” based, and is more entertaining on a human level than most present day multi-million dollar motion pictures or theater productions. You simply can’t write a script for something like this, you have to capture an impulsive moment and entice people enough to express themselves naturally and with no preconception to results or consequences. HMPL was ranked as Rolling Stone‘s 33rd greatest rock doc of all time, and South By Southwest just had a 30th Anniversary outdoor screening in Austin, TX last week. Jeff Krulik has gone on to extend his legacy by producing and releasing Neil Diamond Parking Lot among some others, and in 2004 TrioTV ran and 8-episode series called Parking Lot featuring the fans of Motorhead, 50Cent, Cher, Dolly Parton and even some professional wrestlers. The idea of capturing obsessive fans before seeing their entertainment heroes in person has continued on, and I doubt the fascination and entertaining results will end anytime soon.
I actually met Jeff Krulik at Amoeba Records in Hollywood in 2005 completely by accident (at least this guy said he was Krulik), and he enthusiastically informed me that the film would be released on DVD for its 20th anniversary. Although most of you have seen it already, it’s highly recommended that you purchase the physical version, as there are bonus goodies including some “where are they now” footage and impromptu interviews with Zebraman, the DC-101 Rob Halford singing impersonator and others. Also in 2005 I hosted an post-show party after the Motorhead/C.O.C. tour stop in Los Angeles (Lemmy didn’t make the party unfortunately) and during a group conversation about HMPL a radio industry friend of mine divulged that his friend Jay that was with him was none other than the guy in the film from Reston, VA (his attractive sister was the Dokken fan). Immediately Jay and I struck up a conversation and I discovered that he was also in the radio promotions end of the music industry and was actually my A&M Records contact when I was doing college radio years before. So not only do I love HMPL because I lived it and can closely relate to the characters, but I’ve also experienced personal connections with a couple of the people directly involved with the film since. It’s not really a small world, just a more connected one now that we all have smart phones in the parking lots with us. And it doesn’t matter which style of heavy metal you’re a fan of, what kind of booze you like to drink before a show, what outfit you wear or what kind of muscle car you drive, like Zebraman said…it all rules.