Sex, Drugs, & Awesome Hair

The glamtacular history of 1980s heavy metal in the Twin Cities

He remembers most things with a smile—like when he is asked: "Was there a lot of partying?"

"Massive sex and groupies and parties," he says. And drugs. Bart remembers "scene" dealers—in it for the girls. At the after-show parties, the dealers would supply the bands for free. "They'd just drop eight balls on the table."

Bart remembers his Dare Force days like they belonged to somebody else: "We'd play gigs at night, then party, then wake up the next day in the band house and go rollerblading around all the lakes and just hang out until the gig that night. What a life."

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See more photos in our GALLERY of 1980s metal promo stills from the Twin Cities and our SLIDESHOW of modern hair metal heroes Hairball.

For more on the bands featured here, including video, read Jeff Severns Guntzel's REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK. Plus, revisit the past with scanned ADVERTISEMENTS from City Pages era archives.

IN 1982, Brynn Arens was a wildly enthusiastic, 21-year-old guitar player who had been playing in bands since the fifth grade, when he used to haul his amp to his drummer friend's house on a sled. He had joined a new band, and before the group even had any gigs to advertise, he drove out to the parking lot of a Dare Force show with a stack of flyers to stick under windshield wipers. "LOOK OUT!" the flyer began. "HERE THEY COME! THE GREATEST BAND EVER INVENTED! OBSESSION!"

Today, at a south Minneapolis coffee shop, Arens sips from a hot chocolate and spreads out some old Obsession photos on the table. The young men in the photo look absurd. Spandex, torn shirts, and big hair. The singer, for some reason, is wearing a lab coat.

Arens is as psyched about Obsession now as he was then. He's done well with himself. The now-defunct Flipp, Arens's most successful rock band, played Woodstock in 1999 in front of hundreds of thousands of people. He's recorded with Sean Lennon and Christina Aguilera. And still he gets fired up talking about his early-'80s metal band.

Anyone who remembers the band remembers the theatrics. Brian Bart recalls squeezing into packed Obsession shows and thinking: "They are so damn entertaining. People don't get excited like this for Dare Force."

A City Pages review of an Obsession show at Ryan's Corner in 1992 calls the band "muscular Nazi Rockettes in a heavy metal cartoon." And this is a compliment. "Obsession should really be seen and heard," wrote Eric Lindbom, "because theatrics were a vital part of the package."

In the quiet coffee shop on Hiawatha, Arens gets up from his seat to demonstrate exactly what Bart and Lindbom were talking about.

He had this thing, he said—crouching down, then jumping—where "I'd do like 50 air splits in a row at the end of the show. Then I'd collapse to the floor." The bit was that he had run out of gas—he needed a recharge. There was an over-sized electrical outlet he built as a set piece. He would play-act exhaustion, "then our roadie would attach a cord to my back. And behind the drums he fit this giant plug into the outlet. The plug would light up. I'd come back to life and they'd kick on the fog machine. Then sparks would fly and I'd be jumping around again. It was so fucking cool."

The light show was a series of car headlights Arens picked up for next to nothing at a junkyard. "I'd string 12 of them together in a box. It was like 50 cars coming right at you!"

He even made his own clothes. "My look was sort of Johnny Thunders meets Alice Cooper—with a little Paul Stanley thrown in for good measure," Arens says.

All of his tinkering paid off. The band had a huge following. When they moved from clubs to ballrooms and started filling those, the band hired a guy to stand at the door with a clicker and count heads to protect against getting ripped off by the promoter at the end of the night. "Just because there is money to be had," he says, "doesn't mean it'll be sent to you in your mailbox."

In 1984, the band started getting opening slots for national metal acts. Their first was at First Avenue, opening for Accept, whose Balls to the Wall record had just exploded. Obsession had a 40-minute set planned—all originals ("We were one of the few bands in town who could actually do that," he says). Arens had never met a national act before. He talked himself down from getting there early. He wanted to project professionalism: not too early, not too late. When he got to the club, he headed straight for the dressing room. He pushed the door open, he says, thinking: "They're talking about the shit that's going through my head every day—guitars and amps and building lights and..."

Inside there was a woman lying on a desk. The band and their road crew were there, and somebody was penetrating her with a beer bottle.

More than two decades later Brynn, now a father of three, clutches his chest as he replays the scene: "My...heart...was...just...broken."

"That was my first real rock 'n' roll dressing room," Arens says. "My first real concert. I literally walked in from nothing...to that. I told it to my psychiatrist."

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