Hysterical Masculinity: Def Leppard ca. 198716 June 2010
It’s proof-positive: I’m getting old. The fact that I re-bought Def Leppard’s 1987 album, Hysteria, shows that the best years of my life are over. Or maybe it’s just that I’m trying to get a read on what forces made up my sense of manhood. If Def Leppard wasn’t an influence, I don’t know what was. It was the non-stop background for my life for at least a couple of years. I listened to cassettes of them until they warped from use. Or was it me that was warped?
Men in tight jeans, long hair, singing in alto ranges: none were considered particularly “manly” for the time, but they could clearly get away with it as anti-establishment. As I discussed in a previous post, glam rock was a conscious attempt to rise above sex-specific restrictions. The costumes, make-up and unconventional performances made Def Leppard (and many others) demigods of sexuality.
Perhaps to compensate for their more feminine mannerisms, they tended to flaunt their heterosexual promiscuity. Def Leppard’s Hysteria “wallows in a cess pool of retarded sexuality” (to quote a quote from Marty DeBergi) with lyrics like these:
Inch by inch, mile by mile, what I do I do in style
You got your leather, la-lace, long and lean
Ballistic (a) lipstick dream machine
You got to do it!
Ah, do it, do it!
Hey, c’mon and do it!
Oh, you know I get so (Excitable)
I really get so (Excitable)
I wanna get you (Excitable)
So, c’mon, let’s go!
Surprisingly, these sophomoric gems were offset by astounding musicianship. The key changes, solos, challenging rhythms and multivalent movements were genuine breakthroughs for rock, and far more thoughtful than any of the pop on the radio today.
But back to masculinity. Def Leppard upheld and even exaggerated codes of male promiscuity in order to make their otherwise unmanly antics appear permissible. If there was any question of it being sissy, they could retort that they were just being anti-establishment (see “Gods of War,” track 7). Besides, they could get as much tail as they wanted. If so unmanly, why would all the girls want to sleep with them?
So thanks a lot, Def Leppard. Thanks for teaching me that it was okay for me to move from hegemonic masculinity to a perverse, adolescent masculinity. Thanks for teaching me that spandex and make-up could save me from my Clint Eastwood expectations. Know that my son will never listen to your albums if I have anything to do with it. (But I will, secretly, when I’m feeling depressed and nostalgic. Hysteria is unquestionably one of the top 5 albums of the 80s.)