December 13, 2017
I love the band Steel Panther.
For real. I’m a huge and unapologetic fan, which probably has a few people clicking off this post already. So be it. I can’t be all things to all people, try as I might.
In fact, I more than love Steel Panther. I’m actually fascinated by Steel Panther and their unconventional but undeniable rise to success in the music world.
For the uninitiated, Steel Panther is a hair metal band from Los Angeles. More specifically, Steel Panther is a parody of a hair metal band from Los Angeles. They’re an outrageous exaggeration of the sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle, with lyrics that are irredeemably sexist, misogynistic, stupid, juvenile, profane, and filthy. And, for those of us with a certain sense of humour, often very, very funny.
The songs are a joke, but a funny thing happened on the way to the punchline: In lampooning rock stars, Steel Panther have themselves become rock stars. Don’t believe me? Just ask the 2,000 or so people who were at the show I attended recently in Toronto, singing every word at the top of their lungs. Ask the tens of thousands who see them on the main stage at some of the biggest music festivals in the world. That’s rock star stuff, and all without a single song that can be played on commercial radio!
But this isn’t about whether Steel Panther is a good band. It’s about the fact that they found a way. These guys aren’t twenty-something punks having a laugh. They’re in their 40s and 50s, and they’ve been slugging it out in the LA club scene for years. They’ve been in and out of high profile bands, generally after those bands reached their peak. They’ve played covers and done all of the usual stuff. I’m sure they all reached a point where they thought it would never happen for them, but they found something that worked and they’ve given it all they’ve got. They created the characters. They did the work. They took their shot. They made it and they earned it.
I respect that.
Guess what else? They’re great at what they do. Sure the lyrics are a joke, but the music isn’t. Those dudes can play. They’ve put in the hours on their instruments. Their songs rock and their live shows are a pile of fun. That doesn’t happen by accident. They had to work at it like every other successful band on the planet, toughing it out and touring constantly. They've leveraged modern platforms like YouTube and other social media sites. They had to reach a point where they could have the gear, the crew, the business team, and the means to put on the shows they do. It takes money. It takes time. It takes real commitment.
The thing is the dream can happen in ways you might not expect. I doubt any of those guys imagined when they started in music that something like Steel Panther would be their ticket. When it worked for them, they were open to it and embraced it, even with people laughing at them. People still laugh at them, but I’m willing to bet none of the laughers have as much fun at work as Steel Panther does.
I’m learning that flexibility is important. I spent a lot of years trying to be a fiction writer, but it didn’t work for me, at least at the time. I wrote, but I didn’t break through, and I was so determined that I was a novelist that I wouldn’t consider any other type of writing. That drove me to depression and writer’s block and all kinds of lost time. I’ve had to be open to the idea that writing for me might be something different than I thought. Sometimes you have to be willing to let go of an idea, ride a certain wave, and see where it leads. That can be very hard to do, especially when your ego starts getting in the way.
The good news is you don’t have to like Steel Panther’s music, lyrics, comic sensibilities, or story to learn from them. They are definitely not for everyone, but I think their lessons can be if you’re willing to look past the surface. Hang in there. Do what you love. Work hard at it. Be open to possibility. Ignore the haters. If you find something that clicks, accept it, be as good as you can be, and give it all you’ve got. If the industry seems stacked against you, subvert the industry and win anyway.
And, for crying out loud, laugh once in a while.
It’ll do you wonders.