BOOK REVIEW: "CONFESS" – ROB HALFORD

Rob Halford’s new autobiography shouldn’t be called Confess. The stuff that Halford allegedly “confesses” is nothing anyone will find shocking. I suppose some of his glory hole tales might be off-putting to those who are still squeamish about homosexuality, but they’re no worse than if Confess were written by a straight rocker talking about getting his rocks off with strippers or groupies. A more appropriate title for his memoir would be I Only Wanted to Be Loved, since it seems during most of his life, that is, when not singing for Priest or sitting in a courtroom defending himself against accusations of trying to get his fans to kill themselves, this working class gay bloke from the Black Country – a term given to blue collar factory towns on account of factories producing soot – was just looking for a man to call his own. Did he find him? I ain’t spoilin’ it for ya!

Apparently, if I am to take Halford at his word, if I was a Priest fan in the early 80s and wanted Rob Halford to be my best friend, the only thing I’d have to do is (a) know that he’s gay, and (b) not be bothered by it. At least, that’s the way Halford made it seem. And, if anything, Halford portrays himself as relatively innocent in the gay scene. In one segment, he tells a rather disturbing tale about having his drink spiked and being taken to a room full of men who put their hands all over him and not remembering much of anything after that. In another, he tried to seduce Paul Di’Anno when Iron Maiden opened for Priest in 1980, and all the two ended up doing was getting plastered, with, I’m assuming, Di’Anno being none the wiser.

When I said on my Facebook wall, “I REALLY hope this is more heavy metal history than Turkish bathhouse diaries, but with a title like that, yikes!”, the editor of this here blog commented, “You'll never be able to listen to Priest songs the same way again.” Well, he’s right, but not in the way you’re thinking.

No, the “I wonder if this is a gay dog whistle” speculation ship sailed about 20 years ago. If you’re looking for gay, Raw Deal and All the Way are his proto-coming out songs; curiously, the song Jawbreaker is about a giant cock about to blow its load, but Halford doesn’t specify who is fellating said cock.

Pretty much any of Halford’s sex lyrics, what few of them there are, were probably meant to be listened to from a heterosexual or at least a non-gay-implied perspective. And any other gay lyrics you might find are just a product of your own perverted mind! In fact, unless he’s lying, Halford even said that Island of Domination, a song I was guilty of reading too much into – ya know what images words like “domination” and “throat choker” conjure up - really is just about a scary island full of monsters. 

No, the real thing I was shocked about is that Breaking the Law and Grinder are political songs! That’s right; the same guy who writes about machines taking over humanity, aliens invading the planet, a vigilante killing an entire gang by throwing knives at them, driving through a vast desert landscape on a motorcycle, having sex in a car (yes, that’s what Turbo Lover is about), and defending the metal faith, felt the need to make a social statement. Halford clarified that he’s pretty much apolitical, and he wrote these couple of tunes just as a reflection of what he saw happening at the start of the 80s in Thatcher’s England. But, in any case, I never would have thought Grinder is about Capitalism grinding people up! Okay, Halford admits that the line about “looking for meat” was supposed to be a double entendre.

I also found it kind of surprising that Halford wrote Eat Me Alive while drunk and found it HILARIOUS to write a song about putting a gun to a person’s head and forcing that person to blow you. Yeah, sexual assault is REALLY funny, Rob. I also found it interesting that Parental Guidance, a song I excused as being about a middle-aged man pretending to be a rebellious teenager, was actually written as a response to the PMRC. And, for what it’s worth, Halford explains the reason some of the songs from Turbo, such as Rock You All Around the World, Wild Nights - Hot and Crazy Days, and Hot for Love, have such generic, doofus "cock rock" lyrics is because he was pretty much phoning it in for that album.

But the bottom line is, Halford is one of the best, if not the best, heavy metal singer of all time. And Judas Priest is arguably the second most important heavy metal band of all time. I mean we can argue like a bunch of nerds about how Queen, Sweet, and Rainbow had all come out with proto-speed metal anthems before Priest, but come on. We all know how important the group’s chugging, dual guitar attack and Halford’s soaring vocals were to the development of metal, and how the group pushed the genre forward at the end of the 70s and right into the 80s. 

And Confess is a fun and quick read. But, like most hardcover first editions of celebrity memoirs, it’s hardly worth the cover price. Especially since there will probably be another edition with more chapters and photos. And this book won’t be especially enlightening to hardcore Priest/Fight/Halford solo fans (nobody is a fan of his industrial side project Two) who all know about Halford’s coke addiction, his witnessing his live-in boyfriend commit suicide, or the lawsuit alleging the group put subliminal messages on their records. But, Halford comes off as such a down-to-earth and likeable dude, especially when he talks about feeling bad for kicking a cell phone out of a fan’s hand, that it’s just fun hearing him tell these stories. 

Some interesting things I learned:

  • Rob Halford ran into Christopher Reeve during the filming of Superman: The Movie.
  • Halford saw the Sex Pistols in 1977 and thought they sounded like a metal band.
  • Speaking of the Pistols, unlike John Lydon, Halford loves the queen.
  • Speaking of Queen, Halford was disappointed when Freddie Mercury told him that he doesn’t consider Queen to be a metal band.
  • Rob Halford and Glenn Tipton saw This Is Spinal Tap in the theater and thought it was hilarious.
  • Rob Halford has never heard either of the two albums Priest recorded with Tim “Ripper” Owens.
  • Judas Priest recorded three songs with Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman, the pop-song writing trio known as SAW, but didn’t see fit to release them for obvious reasons.
  • Halford is a Lady Gaga fan. 

One thing I wish Halford would have done more of is talk about the albums. He talks about every single one but doesn’t go into nearly enough detail for a hardcore fan such as myself. I mean, what could have provoked Priest to include the soft-rock ballad Last Rose of Summer on Sin After Sin? Why did the group hire an outside writer for the songs (Take These) Chains and Some Heads Are Gonna Roll off of Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith respectively? Halford mentions why the album Killing Machine was called Hell Bent for Leather in North America but neglects to say why only the North American version has their cover of the Fleetwood Mac song The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown). And why did they try to get their fans to kill themselves by putting subliminal messages on their records? Kidding, kidding! Don’t hit me!

And, not to get too pedantic here, but I also took umbrage with how Halford said that Painkiller was released in a musical landscape now dominated by grunge. Any rock or metal fan worth his salt knows this is patently false. Painkiller was released in the middle of 1990, and grunge didn’t take off in a major way until late 1991/92, after the release of Nevermind. No, Painkiller was released the same year that Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, and Pantera released such platinum and gold selling albums as Rust in Peace, Seasons in the Abyss, Persistence of Time, and Cowboys from Hell respectively; that is, at the height of thrash. To some, this may seem like a trivial detail, but it should be noted that Painkiller was at least partly a reaction to the younger, more aggressive metal bands coming down the pike, NOT a reaction to grunge, as Halford seems to imply.

Maybe these more technical questions are answered in K.K. Downing’s book, Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest. This one is about the most fabulous metal singer of all time and his quest for true love.

Edwin Oslan
Revenge of Riff Raff
30th November, 2020

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