Ümlaüt Abüse!

Bands come and go, but Blue Öyster Cult abides

My modicum of interest in the "thinking man's heavy metal band," as they're so frequently called, began on the school bus in second grade.

I was nonplussed by much of the seat graffiti on the bus, left there by reprobate high school students in their never-ending quest to a) confuse and therefore impress second-graders, and b) scare adults. The most frequently appearing symbol was, I would later learn, that of Blue Öyster Cult, which is said to be a variation of the symbol for the Greek god Kronos. It's an upside-down question mark with three lines radiating out from the dot. To my second-grade mind, this symbol held mysterious and frightening portent, like some kind of Vo-Tech ankh, and quite frankly, it troubled me for years until I figured out what the hell it was.

My next exposure to the netherworld-occupying Long Islanders known as Blue Öyster Cult (as meaningless as "Dream of the Blue Turtles," B.Ö.C. has also been named Oaxaca and Soft White Underbelly in its time) was during the nascency of MTV. Hard to believe that the network that is now home to the Simpson sisters and whatever the hell The Inferno II is, was rocking B.Ö.C. in 1981 and 1982. "Burnin' for You," a hit for B.Ö.C. from their Fire of Unknown Origin LP, was in heavy MTV rotation in those halcyon early days. It had a tangy central riff, some unintentional guitar skankage (really, B.Ö.C. was influenced by many things, but it's hard to believe that reggae is in that mix, and yet, there it is), a monster solo, and the totally awesome dümb metal lyric, "I'm livin' for givin' the devil his due / I'm burnin', I'm burnin', I'm burnin' for yew." And the video was like a stoner's Candyland--B.Ö.C. hanging out by what looked like the world's biggest fire pit, around which are gathered revelers in blue denim and more shitty cars than the average AutoZone parking lot. Such a fantasy still exists in the zeitgeist, but the soundtrack for it now is Eminem, and the cars are all imported. So is the denim.

By the time I was a high school senior, all the metalheads who weren't total morons were into the extremely goofy Queensrÿche--Operation Mindcrime was a high-pitched, noodly, Wagnerian opus that supplanted the need for B.Ö.C. in the amygdalae of the Hessian Nation. Sure, there were those that would still occasionally pump "Godzilla," B.Ö.C.'s late '70s hit from the album Spectre, from the tinny speakers in their Cutlasses and Monte Carlos, but such moments were now the exception to the rule in Christian Metal Nation ("Stryper Rules, dude! Er, uh, Stryper helps the Lord to Rule!").

So what does this mean for the band whose most recent high-profile exposure came at the hands of Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken in a memorable, impossibly funny Saturday Night Live skit ("I got a fever, and the only cure is more cowbell!" says Walken as producer Jim Dickinson in the skit)? It means that since they're still around, they have a proven ability to weather any changes in the cultural climate and just do their thing. Coinciding with the Metallica cover of "Astronomy" (on Metallica's 1998 Garage, Inc. ), B.Ö.C. released Heaven Forbid, their first album of new material in more than a decade, and subsequently followed it up with The Curse of the Hidden Mirror (sounds like that might get them in dutch with J.K. Rowling).

Like with any extant band that can enumerate its age in decades, B.Ö.C. has undergone several lineup changes, but retains Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, the original guitarist responsible for the Byrds-by-way-of-Jimmy Page riffage on "(Don't Fear) the Reaper," and vocalist Eric Bloom, who is along with Roeser most closely associated with the B.Ö.C. sound. Founding member Richard Meltzer went on to renown as a critic whose only peers were Lester Bangs and Nick Tosches, and now lives in Portland. Without Meltzer's restraining influence, Bloom's gone a bit nutty with the Michael Moorcock-based sci-fi songs, but on some level, that's what people seek from the B.Ö.C.--access to a mysterious world that exists only in the minds of its creators and followers, and on the seats of junkyard school buses everywhere.

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