Strange time, the 1980s. The 70s, where I came from, had been about sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, in any old order you fancied. Sure, there had been money too, for groovy pads and road trips to Katmandu. Even occasional health fads: vegetarianism, TM, bathing more than once a week. But mostly there had been an overarching emphasis on simply doing your own thing. Taking it to the max, Jack. Especially if it involved a degree of what these days they call self-medicating.
To wake up one day, then, rub your eyes and discover yourself in a land called the 80s, as I finally did in about 1984, was decidedly disturbing. Thrust suddenly into a world where something called Perrier Water had replaced Jack Daniels and everyone was giving up smoking – even joints, dope now being regarded as thoroughly déclassé – was like a bomb going off. The whole thing left behind a trail of devastation. Even the music had melted into an amorphous blob of niche-driven nonsense. Reared on Hendrix and Zeppelin, I had no idea what to make of distant descendants like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. It was still rock music, even my damaged senses could see that, but apparently rebuilt out of Leggo by a spotty teenage boy with no female friends. Whatsoever.
Nevertheless, this is where we were in the world, it seemed, and I was determined not to be left behind. So I plunged in. Not just with bands like Priest and Maiden, who made much more sense to me once I’d seen them live, but with the whole 80s shebang. I didn’t exactly lose my 70s perspective – dope would always be in fashion chez Wall, as would bottles of tequila, large breasts and noisy cars that went fast and broke-down easily – but I did take on some new, post-Thatcher, rocking-Reagan type habits. Most life-changing of all was joining a gym.
Ah, yes. The age of No Pain No Gain was upon us and while I would never Just Say No I was weirdly willing to subject my body to the full wrath of a personal trainer named Jamie who was so fierce he had been thrown out of the Australian Navy for frightening the others. Or something. It was hard to take in what he was saying as I gasped, sweated and often just howled my way through another of what Jamie called his “heavy metal regimes.”
It wasn’t just me, either. At one point in the late-80s, I looked around the gym in London that Jamie ruled with his various rods of iron and saw Steve Vai, Bruce Dickinson, Phil Collen from Def Leppard, Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde and – bloody hell! – even that icon of late-80s reprobation and ill-wind, Zodiac Mindwarp.
No, wait. I must have been suffering from a protein-shake induced brainstorm. They weren’t all there at one time, it just seemed like it to me sometimes as I sat there trying to move my arms and legs again. Mostly, I would see Phil Collen. Which was weird as on the road with Leppard I mostly hung-out with the other guitarist Steve Clark, and the only workouts we took part in involved much smaller mirrors and much longer white lines. By day, though, there I would be, furiously pedalling away on one of those bikes that go nowhere, while Phil sweated it out next to me, going nowhere even faster. For a skinny guy, he was surprisingly strong too. Able to lift weights guys twice his size would shy away from.
Zakk Wylde was another regular whenever he was in town. No big bushy beard or half-empty beer bottles for young Zakk in those days, I can assure you. Just big muscles and a handy paper bag full of yoghurt-coated raisins for afters, as I recall. It was like having a Great Dane puppy hanging round you. All huge paws and big smiley eyes, leaping around letting everyone know how happy he was just to be there while the rest of us waited impatiently for his owner to come back and retrieve him.
Steve Vai, who also came along during one trip, was much more low-key. Slender, sensitive Steve took one look at bones-into-dust Jamie and informed him he wouldn’t be needing his “help” as he had his own “special programme” worked out for him by a Tibetan monk in Los Angeles reincarnated from Buddha himself. Or possibly David Lee Roth. Either way, Steve gave Jamie a very wide berth.
In hindsight, this was probably wise. For Jamie didn’t take prisoners. When Bruce Dickinson put in a surprise appearance one day, Jamie gave him what those of us in the know called his two-in-one special. That is, he made sure this would be Bruce’s first workout at the gym – and his last. Sure enough, 60 agonising minutes later Bruce hobbled out swearing never to return. He later told me “it was three days before the pain stopped.”
Not that we found that sort of thing funny, of course. (Not much.) Jamie just didn’t know when to stop. Once I overheard him telling Phil Collen’s then girlfriend that she had “the biggest minge I’ve ever seen!” Fortunately, she appeared to take this as a compliment though none of us who overheard this exchange were entirely convinced Jamie meant it that way. Indeed, compliments were few and far between down on Jamie’s iron-pumping killing floor. The nearest I ever got to one when he came over to check I was all right after throwing up my breakfast in the changing room. “That’s when you know you’ve trained hard,” he told me and I felt momentarily proud. Then added: “Not like the snivelling little Sheila you usually train like.”
Oh, and Zodiac Mindwarp? Yes, he did come in one day. Only to stand around in his distressed leathers, blue granny glasses and three-week beard and pull a face when he saw me. I had just given his first album a review which suggested he had only ever written one good song – and simply repeated it over and over.
He looked at me as I hung upside down from another of Jamie’s torture machines and sneered: “Who’s a cunt now then?”
At least, that’s what I think he said. It might have been, “just two more,” or some such. But somehow I doubt it…