Monday, September 9, 2013

Video Flashback: Black Sabbath - "Trashed"

Of Black Sabbath's many albums, I can easily say -- though this is still supposed by many to be anathema -- that Born Again was early on and still remains one of my favorites.  Ian Gillan's collaboration with the band was short-lived and, from his description, ill-fated.  But, that period produced some excellently playful, grit-guitar heavy, imaginative songs that, for me, ought to be Sabbath standards:  Digital Bitch, Hot Line, Disturbing the Priest -- and of course one of the heaviest metal songs ever composed, Zero the Hero.  The entire album -- panned by many at the time -- has really stood the test of decades.  The songs have aged well without becoming dated and faded.  And, this holds as well for the opening track, Trashed.

I didn't actually get to see this early-MTV era video for the tune until just a few years ago.  I bought Born Again as an album, and played it enough times to wear the record down quite a bit, back in 1984, along with a trove of 8 or 9 other Metal LPs through the gimmicky Columbia Record Club  (effectively tripling the size of my metal record collection!), so Trashed early on became one of those songs permanently burnt into the figurative mp3s of my own wetware memory.  It's quite interesting to watch this video -- or rather the two videos, as you'll see below -- looking back retrospectively from the vantage point of several decades.


Two Versions of the Video

There's an "official" version of the video, the one which, cleaned up considerably, mainly by taking out all of the scantily clad rocker-dressed "women of the manor"and naughty nurses, and eliminating the bulk of the bottle-breaking violence,  substituting somewhat more band footage in its place, and a few bits of more standard zombies-after-the-living stuff.  Here's that "official." ok-for-public consumption version.




You can compare it against the alternate version. 


Now, which of these is more metal?  Interesting question isn't it?


Which Version is more Metal?

So glad you asked. . . . But (so many philosophers would say), it really depends on just what you mean by 'metal,' now doesn't it?  How are you defining it?  In what sense are you using the term?

I'm going to sidestep this line of familiar dialectic for a moment and shift focus to a different way of framing the question, by asking a different question instead.  How precisely do the videos differ?  It's the same excellent, pounding and driving (pun intended!) track of music underlying both of them -- no difference there.  What about the narrative sequences?  What story or stories are told through the images?

First, let's think about what remains the same:
  • some of the scenes of the blue-shirted, short-haired protagonist engaging aggressively with the bartender
  • the "Brands Hatch" Grand Prix style racing footage
  • the driving the car about scenes, along with the loss of control, and the car landing in the pond
  • the graveyard with the zombies rising out of the graves
  • the Mr. Miracle lying appeal to God in church scene
  • the fight with the zombies during Toni Iomi's guitar solo
  • the ambulance showing up and the protagonist getting in
  • and. . . the protagonist launching himself out of the ambulance and into the night
So, there's seemingly the core of a coherent common narrative, a visual story line that has something to do with the lyrics -- getting drunk on tequila, taking the car out for a late night drunken high-speed drive, crashing the car, ending up alone in a graveyard, getting chased by zombies to a church, pleading with a very creepy Janus-headed God, fighting the zombies, getting in the ambulance, and then getting out.  It has to be said that the first portions map onto the lyrics a bit more closely -- but after all the medium is music video, and directors must be allowed some imaginative license, don't they?

What's different?  Well, a lot.  The ladies of the manor, supplemented by the nurses, play a pretty major visual and dramatic role in the second video, don't they?  Zombies play a major role in both, but the first zombies actually turn out to be female ones -- the ladies -- early on, and there's a fascinating scene towards the end with each of the women of the manor coupled up with a zombie, cavorting at a club.  There's also the play of black hoods -- the women unveiled by the protagonist, and him hooded as they push him into the car.  The ambulance, filled by zombies in the official version, is filled by women in the alternate version.

If you just think about the very last scene, it reads differently depending on what has preceded it.  In the official version, it makes perfect sense for the protagonist to bust out of the ambulance and run off -- he's escaping zombies after all.  His action is a bit more ambiguous in the alternative version -- true, the ladies are somewhat zombified, and it's unclear whether any of them are still in the ambulance -- but the zombies seem rather more mellow (they drag him to the ambulance, and they all ride to the bar, where zombies pair up with kinda-zombie-ladies).  Is he getting out because he's a third wheel?  Because zombies aren't for him?  Because he's sobering up and has had enough adventure? 

Another element that ends up largely getting cut from the alternative as it is transformed into the official video is the tension and violence -- perhaps even rivalry -- between  the barkeep and the young rocker protagonist.  They both break bottles on each other's heads at different points.  The barkeep also seems to be the one setting up, or at least facilitating, the strange interplay with the beautiful-bodied, rocker-garbed, hooded women


Richer Narrative and Heavy Metal Ethos

The official version peels away and discards a number of the elements that make the alternative video a much more coherent piece, a story that both makes more sense and offers more interesting ambiguities and unresolved images to mull over.  It effectively vacates nearly all of the female characters -- admittedly not ones whose absence any feminist critic s going to mourn! -- from the scene, leaving behind a practically all-male ensemble -- male protagonist, barkeep, creepy god, zombies, and ambulance driver -- punctuated by an all male bad.  It pushes the "ladies of the manor" back from the screen into the realm of the imagined or referred to -- the lyrics as sung.

One might respond that the song is really about driving around blitzed on tequilla and getting into a crash -- so the official version captures and represents that narrative better.  But, is that really true?  I don't think so -- the emphasis on the zombies effectively trumps the car scenes.  And, I think that one can argue that the Mr. Miracle-church portion is a bit impoverished in the official version.  It's not just driving around drunk whose consequences he's pleading with Mr. Miracle to absolve him -- it's the entire out of control, sex, violence, drugs and rock and roll package.

The sexuality and the violence -- both of which are handled in an essentially playful rather than primarily threatening, let alone starkly realistic, manner in the video -- are integral dimensions to the story of heavy drinking, taking a high-performance car, and driving high until a dangerous crash.  This lends a different degree of depth to the alternative video, a greater capacity to communicate and play (both musically and amusingly) within the scope of an ethos -- a sort of meaningful way of life, a style permeating relationships and interactions just as much as choices and actions.  Metal has an ethos,  or perhaps better a set of overlapping ethe (the plural in Greek for the term) -- and this song meanders around within it.

There's more to be said about this song in other respects, I think -- but this is a convenient place to draw these reflections to a close.  I'll leave you with an excellent review of the song, from Encyclopedia Metallicum -- and the album itself.